This story is by Tony Hawley and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
General Morales, Security Intelligence Council chairman, knew there was no contingency plan for this as NSA director Scalise continued:
“Admiral, there is no doubt. Intel confirms PRC chairman Chou not only reads minds, he does it long distance. There’s activity here and in France. His purpose is undefined but we don’t expect it’s friendly.”
Admiral Saad remained skeptical. “Damn it Scalise, if you’re saying Chou could be listening in now … does he even speak english … what’s the Army’s position on this Morales?”
Putting his thoughts aside, General Morales replied: “It’s the biggest threat to National security since ’61; it threatens Democracy itself. Any solutions before we inform the President … I presume he doesn’t know?”
“Not yet, daily briefings have been cancelled,” said Scalise.
The Admiral snorted peevishly: “Who knows how the old man’s likely to react. Sweetie, can you keep him occupied while we work up some options? What are the spooks doing?”
Ignoring the sexist jibe, the Presidential Advisor nodded.
CIA director Dalhaus, used to the Admiral’s manners, stood to speak: “The Company has been studying this phenomenon for years and has extensive data. There are recorded cases of mind-reading but, chairman Chou appears to be remarkably proficient. Electronics can’t touch it; the solution is to utilize a like individual to intercept his ‘broadcasts’, identify his intent and block it … ideally.”
“And if they fail?” someone asked.
“Psychosis usually results.”
“This is all mumbo-jumbo bull,” Admiral Saad had little time for sci-fi conspiracy theories. “No doubt you’ll get your way, as usual, and our budgets will pay. Navy will move a carrier closer to the area as a warning. That’ll help them read our minds.”
“The USAF will close air-space,” added another.
“With no objections then,” General Morales announced. “The CIA and FBI will attempt to engage and neutralize and will report back next meeting. Scalise, leak the usual to the NYT, that might slow him up. We will deny until mission end.”
The next morning, Sarah Goldstein corralled the dog into the yard and her son into the car. She listed aloud everything she’d packed him for school, still pissed about last week’s lunch-time call from that judgmental deputy head.
“Seat-belt Zac,” she reminded as she reversed from the garage.
She had been juggling the perfect-mother and substitute-father roles since Zac’s father had left with his PA, a pretentious brat who would soon lose interest, between his snoring and his gross buddies. Sarah smiled. She still had Zac, her ‘Little Prince’ with his golden hair and lovable laugh. And Dopey would be back, full of remorse, eventually. ‘Dopey’ was her latest endearment for her husband who honestly thought she wouldn’t know.
Outside the school, Zac endured the usual last minute instruction and red-lipped kiss on the cheek before he could escape her grip and run into the school-yard. Making work on time was Sarah’s next goal and she waited for the black SUV to pass. Instead, it stopped alongside, blocking her way, and two men jumped into her car.
“Agents Stone and Borello, FBI. Quietly move to our vehicle maam. Borello will take your car and will collect Zac after school. We’ve notified the sideshow their psychic had an unexpected emergency,” he smiled at his joke. Sarah ignored him but noticed the second agent was female.
“Am I under arrest?” was all she could think to say.
“Not unless you resist maam,” seemed final so she collected her purse and cell.
Downtown, the director spoke in a melancholy tone to Sarah about homeland security and duty to country. They expected her to contact this man Chou, find out what he was doing and try to stop him. Dead-ass bizarre, she thought, as she signed multiple waivers before being ushered out.
“And remember Mrs Goldstein,” the director called, “Zac is safe with us.”
It left her unsure whether he was comforting or threatening her?
She followed an agent to a door with her house number on it. The cute oddly shaped brass numbers Dopey had made.
“May as well be comfortable to work.” he handed over her indoor sweats. “There’s a red call button inside if you need.” Entering the room, she felt an odd familiarity before she realized everything was from her family-room. Someone’s OCD, she thought, gladly changing into sweats.
Grown resolute by necessity, she lay on the sofa, steadied her breathing and turned her mind inwards. To Sarah the question was not; how could a sideshow clairvoyant contact a foreign spy, but when.
By afternoon, desperate and tired, she pictured Zac, distraught, waiting at school for her pick-up.
It was then she noticed a presence, sensed the words:
“Her grades are high enough. Do they accept PRC students?”
Sarah seized the moment: “Chairman Chou, sir? How can we help you?”
“Not Chou … ‘Sharman Who,'” came the reply. “You know my show at Far East Cabaret, ‘The Comical Clairvoyant’?” He paused for effect then continued: “I get my best material here and shop university for daughter. Our esteemed Chairman may be tyrant, not tantric. Who tell you think this?”
Really? Sarah thought, imagining the headlines – Nation Under Threat From Comical Clairvoyants. What about the constant FBI ‘cover-ups’ and ‘clean-up-jobs’ she’d seen on TV? What now? Was Zac destined to grow-up in some obscure, mid-west town? Would she disappear on a secret, midnight flight? How would they survive this moronic mission?
‘Who’ laughed now: “Work the room lady. Give audience what they want. Tell them, you contacted His Illustriousness. He shop for University for number one daughter. Tell them, he go to Paris – it heap cheaper. Say they won’t hear from him again, which they won’t. Problem solved. Easy.”
Still in sweats, Sarah rode the lift down; relieved to be free but apprehensive about Zac. At the lobby, the doors slid open to reveal Dopey, arm around Zac, waiting with Agent Borello..