Author’s note: This post is the seventh chapter of “Interrupted Podcast”, the fourth part of a series that began with the novelette, “Painful Realization“. Each chapter in this tale is a separate post. If you just got here, the story begins in Chapter 1.
(Part 4 of a series)
by P. Orin Zack
Arthur Fox calmly checked the time while waiting for the board Secretary to finish reading the minutes from their last meeting. The fingerprints on the glass of ice water in front of him were slowly fading, and he had begun making silent bets about which would complete first. The unscheduled meeting was important enough to wedge in before the dinner his daughter was preparing for him at his townhouse, but he didn’t want to keep them waiting too long. She said she had invited a guest this time, a man that she’d previously only spoken about in whispered tones, and even then not by his real name.
Fox had spearheaded the creation of CoMedPro, the community mediation program, after giving up his seat in Congress, in part due to the inspiration provided by his daughter. While part of an activist group a few years earlier, she’d coordinated a series of international videoconferences as a way to foster peace between college students here in Virginia and those in countries whose religious and political leaders encouraged people to despise the US. Following her example, and contrary to the preening attitude of some of his congressional colleagues, he chose to not take a position of power in the organization he created. For her, foregoing such roles had something to do with what she called ‘Wobbly organizational tactics’, but Arthur saw it as a way to express his interest in the work of the organization over any prestige it might afford him.
The bet lost, he first took a sip of water and then the floor. “As you’ve all probably heard by now,” he said, making brief eye contact with each of the other people at the table, “many of our affiliate groups across the country have reported problems. The city or county police forces in those areas have either lost their civilian partners through sudden disinterest, or have had to sideline them after getting sucked into whatever conflict they were attempting to cool. It’s falling apart.”
Katheryn, the former pilot who liaised with the police departments, absently slid her hand a few inches toward him. “Careful, Arthur,” she said gently. “Imagery like that just begs for drama. We purposely avoided command-and-control relationships for just that reason. The network can’t ‘fall apart’. It’ll adapt. The forces were all supposed to recruit alternate partners for situations like this, weren’t they?”
He closed his eyes and sighed. “In some cases, those were the alternates. And whatever it is that’s going on, it’s also affecting the men and women in blue. When we lose one of the officers who volunteered to champion an affiliate group, we lose a node in that network. That’s already happened.”
Lloyd, the lawyer to Arthur’s left, nodded. “And when it did, officers at neighboring nodes who kept in contact with them responded as they were supposed to, and spoke to leadership to make someone else available for this.”
Fox was somber. “Did it happen? Did they free up someone else?”
“In some cases.”
“So, we’ve lost some of the civilian partners, some affiliate officers, and even some nodes.” Fox look at each of the others in turn. “Have we miscalculated here? Would we have been better off trying to control this operation from the top?”
Katheryn adjusted in her seat. “I don’t think so. When our partners work to find ways to get the parties to a dispute to engage with one another, they can’t be seen as tools of any power structure or they won’t be trusted. The workshops we ran demonstrated the problems that causes. Lloyd, what’s our exposure here? Can we have our affiliates step up their recruitment efforts and scale back the vetting process without risking the standards we’ve tried to set?”
“Well,” the lawyer said, “we have been approached by other entities — corporations and non-profits — who would like to apply our methods in their own areas. And I’ve been told that some of our civilian partners have engaged people they know to assist in one way or another. For example, there’s someone out in Washington State with a particularly good handle on mob psychology who’s been assisting our civilian mediator. All of these things pose legal risks, of course. I don’t think that person I mentioned is even credentialed, but he’s been remarkably effective. Maybe the best thing we can do is suggest that each node seek advise from local counsel about whatever special situations they’re facing.”
From there, the meeting devolved into a cascade of implementational rat-holes which Fox felt only served to distract them from confronting the underlying cause of their troubles, whatever that might have been. His resolve to drag the discussion back to that issue grew more tenuous each time he thought about it. Deflated, and with the heat of his initial intensity softened to a cozy warmth, he tuned out the discussion and let the meeting glide to a seemingly satisfactory conclusion. The quiet trip home afterwards was shaded by an elusive thought he kept swatting at about this being one of the downsides to not having a strict hierarchy. By the time he reached his townhouse, all he could say about it was that he’d pulled back from dogging the issue he’d brought up, and didn’t have the slightest idea why.
Melissa was just answering her phone when he opened the door, so he caught her eye and headed past her into the kitchen to see what she’d prepared for dinner for him and her mystery guest. After checking that she wasn’t watching, he leaned over over to sniff the dish of stir-fried chicken and smiled at the scent of garlic and ginger. Beside it was a bowl of peas dusted with crushed red pepper, and the cutting board held an apple, raisins, walnuts and some spices that he thought would be more at home beside some cookie dough.
“He should be here any minute, Gisella,” his daughter told the phone as she stepped into the kitchen. “What’s going on?” Arthur Fox indicated the assembled ingredients and was about to mime his confusion when her eyebrows raised at whatever she’d just been told. Then she expelled a breath and said, “He what? Hold on, my dad’s with me. I’m putting you on speaker.”
“Hi, Congressman Fox,” the phone voice said. “This is Gisella Killarney from the activist group Melissa used to hang with. I’m at SeaTac airport, and Derek Boa, the founder of the group, was just arrested again.”
Fox stepped closer. “What do you mean, ‘again’?”
“You heard about the recent trouble at the border crossing in Blaine?”
“That was him.”
He exchanged confused looks with his daughter. “And now?”
“Now,” Gisella said, “he’s apparently been tagged as a suspected terrorist. He texted me when they left him alone for a few minutes. When he was spotted chatting with a protest organizer, they took him into what they’re calling ‘preventative custody’. Is that even a thing, sir?”
While Arthur Fox was apologizing for the depth of his ignorance, there was an unfinished pattern of knocks at the front door, and Melissa left the room muttering something about someone named Craig possibly knowing what it meant.
“…and even so,” he said as Melissa returned with an unfamiliar young man, “there’s not much I can do, now that I’ve retired from congress.”
“He’s here now, Gis’,” she told the phone. “What’s the message?”
“Hi… Ron,” Gisella said, sounding a bit sheepish. “Is it okay to talk now?”
He stepped closer. “Yeah, and you might as well use my real name. I’m probably going to be looking for work real soon.”
“You can explain that later, Craig. Right now, I’m feeling kinda spooked. Derek asked me to tell you that there’s a pattern in some curve you two spoke about. The organizer he spoke with said there were peculiar quiet periods that happen every day now at about eight in the morning and then two in the afternoon.”
“That may help, thanks.”
“But there’s something else, Craig, something I wouldn’t have noticed if I wasn’t doing late-night gaming sessions for the company I’m working for. There are similar periods just before eight in the evening and just before two in the morning. Is this important?”
Craig bit his lower lip. “It might be. Maybe there’s something that matches that timing sequence.”
Fox gaped. Who was this guy? While Melissa and her mystery guest excitedly chatted with Gisella about what they might be able to do for Mr. Boa, he offered a silent prayer, thankful that he hadn’t been dragged into whatever this was while still in office. When the call was over, he gave his daughter a weary look, and barely above a whisper asked, “What was that?”
(To be continued…)
Copyright 2019 by P. Orin Zack