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Strangers in the Night | The Nation

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Strangers in the Night

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Citizen Kang #14 Strangers in the Night Congresswoman Kang tries the indirect route to the truth and finds some things are just tough to swallow.

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Gary Phillips
Gary Phillips's short stories have appeared, most recently, in Los Angeles Noir (Akashic) and in Full House (G.P....

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In this last episode we mostly wrap things up, but leave a few strange matters for earthly or cosmic interpretation.

Breakfast turns violent, more is revealed, and while a decent president gets elected, there's no rest for Congresswoman Kang.

Representative Kang said, "Am I to understand, Ms. Lassiter, that you can't reassure us the monies Congress specifically allocated for this purpose are being spent in accordance with our wishes?" As she spoke, she tapped her finger on the dais, the sound picked up on her mike.

The Senior Assistant Deputy, Outpatient Rehabilitation, of the Department of Veterans Affairs leaned forward and uttered, "That's not what I meant, Congresswoman." She leaned back, a thin sheen of sweat covering her top lip.

"Explain, please."

Lassiter consulted a file lying next to her on the table, then leaned forward again. "Post the report from Defense's Mental Health Task Force, my department was, naturally, keen to make sure previous lax attitudes did not prevail regarding returning service personnel."

Kang wanted to step down there and slap the shit out of this bureaucrat and her practiced bureaucratese. Instead, she said, "I'm aware of that, Ms. Lassiter, and this body recognizes your department's expressed vigilance on this matter. But I believe my question was clear, as I'd like to make sure your efforts at oversight are matched by, you know, it being done."

Lassiter blinked slowly and carefully responded. "I would be less than candid if I said there wasn't still resistance in some quarters as to the legitimacy of PTSD and PTSD-related syndromes. That and the often-cited increasing costs of payout of benefits from the VA for these, ah... maladies."

Thank you, Paul Wolfowitz and William Kristol, for our ever-deepening mudhole, Kang reflected. "So you're saying that even now, after reports in the press and hearings here on the Hill, certain military personnel, the brass if you will, are actively discouraging and, in fact, harassing our soldiers, Marines, what have you, diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disability?"

Lassiter affirmed that, and added, "As you may also know, we are seeing more cases of what is called traumatic brain injury, TBI it's termed."

"This is typified by such things as temporary memory loss and blackouts, possible tiredness," Kang announced, having read of this ailment's increasing due to concussions from explosions experienced by the GIs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Yes, that is so.""

Kang noted that her time was almost out and asked, "Are there particular bases where this resistance, as you say, has been concentrated, Ms. Lassiter?" Mindful of the exposé NPR did about officers denying stress claims at Ft. Carson.

The Senior Assistant deputy fussed with her papers. "I'm not sure I've compiled that, Congresswoman."

"Surely you have some anecdotal observations."

"I really wouldn't want to get into that without corroborating data."

"Isn't it the case that there are, in fact, particular bases that have opposed PTSD and/or TBI designations of enlisted personnel where Night Star, a subsidiary of the Fallenbee Directive that supplies armor and armament for our military vehicles, has a presence? That is, this firm has a too-cozy relationship with some of the upper echelon?"

Lassiter blanched and was saved as the chairman of the subcommittee gaveled a close to Kang's time.

"The gentlewoman from California's time is up," the chairman said.

"Will my colleague from Arkansas grant me a portion of his time. Two minutes?"

The gentlemen from Arkansas would not. "I have some matters of pressing and pertinent interests to my constituents I'd like to pursue," the Congressman said, putting a drawl into his voice to let any insomniac home folks who might see this early one Sunday morning on C-SPAN know he only had their best interests at heart. He then went on to praise Ms. Lassiter and the fine work her department was doing. The matter of Night Star was dropped for the time being.

After the hearing concluded for the day, Kang chatted with her next-door rep, Delores Huerta, in the hallway. Huerta's district abutted hers.

"The hell you up to, Cynthia? There's no connection between Night Star plucking our colonels and generals for private sector pimping and their recalcitrance in okaying mental trauma designations." She paused, a crooked smile on her handsome face. "Or are you privy to information suggesting where our war eagles are getting their marching orders from in this regard?"

Kang considered bullshitting her friend, but she'd call her on it and, anyway, she need allies as she tried to untangle the varied entities in the grip of Mace Gilmore's tentacles. "I'm trying to create an avenue to get at the Fallenbee Directive."

Huerta frowned, absently massaging the area of her arm where she wore a nicotine patch below the material of her coat and blouse. This was her fourth attempt at quitting. "There's plenty of evil, greedy cocksucking corporations you can go after, what's your hard-on about them?"

"You have such a lovely way to turn a phrase."

"Flattery will get you nada."

"For now I'll say I have reason to believe this particular malevolent entity is behind the death of a good and dear friend. "

"Grish Waller shot himself, C.K." The two walked along the Hall of Columns, passing the statue of Ethan Allen.

"Maybe he was helped."

"Before you get all McKinney on me, why would this megalith go after one lone ex-Congressman?"

"I intend to find out. But I'm not going around spouting any of this until I have some evidence."

"Or create the opportunity," Huerta noted."But whatever this is," her friend whispered, touching Kang's shoulder, "don't you go sacrificing your career on wild tangents and ideas best left for midnight UFO radio or Pacifica." She winked.

"I won't," Kang assured her.

"You better not."

They walked and talked some more, then Kang said goodbye to Huerta, who had to catch a late flight back to California. Eventually she wound up in the cafeteria in the Rayburn Building having a vegetarian sandwich and a diet soda. Her cell chimed.

"Connie," she said after answering and hearing the younger man's voice. "You got my message."

"Cy got ahold of me," he answered, referring to her brother Cyrus.

"After you made bail?"

"Oh, you know about that."

"Not that I'm passing judgment, but what's up with you and Lacy? Or are you going to tell me you two are just strangers in the night?"

"You didn't call me just to gossip."

"Lacy's tied into this mess, Connie."

"I don't know," he mumbled, his voice trailing away.

"We need to talk about Cenine Gilmore and Dieter Countryman."

He breathed audibly, then said, "I shouldn't, Cynthia."

"If you're jammed up somehow, Connie, I can make moves to help you."

"Look, I--" he began, then there was a shout and suddenly the phone went dead.

To Be Continued...

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