Something Went Really Wrong
By Jordan Muncz
Instead of Forward
If you’re afraid of what you might learn, stop reading now – this isn’t for you. Furthermore, I have no proof. It was quick and mostly quiet and by 5AM all that was left was the sound of helicopters leaving the city. Anyone that might have heard anything, gunshots, screams, sirens, wouldn’t have gotten very far into it – internet searches yielded error messages, and there was nothing on TV but the usual: gang shootouts, potheads causing traffic jams on the GWB and Columbia University sprucing up their campus for graduation.
I’m here to tell you, the military dumped sick people into the Hudson River. Call the Pentagon and they’ll reassure you, they’ve heard the rumors, but isn’t it ridiculous? And they’re not in the business of spreading crazy rumors. The newspapers will do the same, exactly the same…
After you read what I’ve written, you…, well you might think I’m crazy, or jealous, trying to take down academia because I’m not Ivy League. I have my opinions, but that’s not what this is about. It’s just where it happened.
What this is about: people disappeared that night. I did what research I could. I called the NYPD but when I told them I had a blog, and it wasn’t the New York Times, they could neither confirm nor deny “the rumors”.
Like I told you, I can’t prove anything, but there are facts. Ollie Kun-He is missing. His father is owner of The Founding Father’s Burger Joint, where the explosion at the center of the mayhem took place. I tried contacting his parents but Ms. Kun-He’s answering machine says she’s travelling in Korea indefinitely.
So, a day that won’t live in history. The few media outlets that heard about what might have been happening didn’t run the story. Then there’s the floating head. „American Beauty” on Instagram and the story is that ISIS is claiming it. Right. They infiltrated NYC to put a hit on one guy, if you want to believe those opportunists…
Of course my book has a hero. He’s a security guard. I know his family, well, I used to know them. After what happened, when I asked for news about „Tony,” his job, his new girlfriend, my friend, his uncle, replied „Tony who.”
Finally, don’t try to find me because I’m in hiding. Anyway, it will be hard to find me because you don’t know my gender, age, not much of anything. At least I hope, because there are people looking for me who know how to look.
In my book you’ll meet an assassin. I’ve called him John Rambo, nice name, no? Doesn’t matter, what does matter is that he’s real and at large. General Pistone has a clear interest in him, as does Congresswoman Calder. This should be enough for you to understand what’s at stake for me or my future family, if I live long enough to have one.
So, how does that sound to you? A crazy person with no evidence telling you the world you live in is worse than you thought. Still, I’m writing so I have to imagine there are readers curious enough. But if that’s you, please consider this a coming of age book. Your own coming of age.
Somewhere, two hundred miles south of Manhattan, between Washington DC and suburban Maryland, a petit mustached man in his 60s sprawled across a California King sized bed staring up at a screen covering half the wall. Ratty bottle blond hair reflected a not quite successful grasping at youth long gone. The glass in his hand suggested full awareness.
Silvester Stallone’s character John Rambo had distracted him for the last 92 minutes but the credits of First Blood scrolled quickly by and fun time was over. He started like Rambo: a soft spoken Vietnam War American officer hated by his superiors for his excellence. But he’d chosen a different path. Matthew Pistone stayed within the system and became the general in charge of the most magnificent program ever: M.A.R.T.F., the Military Advanced Research Task Force.
The first U.S. President, General Washington, signed the Executive Order approving the creation and the public financing of the Union Military Fund, the U.M.F., which was the previous incarnation of the M.A.R.T.F. When the Battle of Harlem enabled General Washington’s successful retreat from Manhattan, the General knew he owed his success to two men, one of whom was a barely civilized brute, better yet, a human killing machine, sent in the nick of time by his dear Russian friend, Empress Catherine the Great. After much planning, the battlefield’s wilderness proved propitious for the new military plan. An asylum for the violently insane provided the cover-up for the General’s military experiments.
Pistone viewed General Washington as his direct predecessor. Two revolutionary generals aiming for the larger good: the triumph of the American Union in a world full of ignorant but belligerent enemies. He checked the time. It was past midnight.
A bead of perspiration was crawling down his forehead. He dreaded his daily video exchange with Dr. Vodă. He despised his dependence on a woman, especially one who controlled his success. Dr. Ana Vodă! She had no idea how many times he had planned her demise, how many times he visualized her skull squashed, her impenetrable brain coming out of her eye sockets, nostrils and ears. Unfortunately, over the years, that moment seemed to retreat into the unknown future rather than get closer. For twenty years he had to put up with her, a stupid Romanian woman who was the first understand that the plague was part of the answer to his quest.
The answer had been out there for all to grasp from the beginning, since the first house for veterans of the Revolutionary War, widows, and orphans was built. Some of them became plague-infested. Most plague-ridden patients would die within days after being admitted, but some wouldn’t. The Asylum books mentioned that a patient developed signs of unbridled cannibalism right before dying. They described her as a human moth of rampant violence. She infested others by biting them. But she never attacked the Hero of the Battle of Harlem. She had attacked and infested the U.M.F. managing team, but not the Russian soldier. She avoided him, and together they cohabitated peacefully, until his handler asked him to kill her, and he obliged. But the problem did not end with her. In time other human moths were housed could only be contained, and their only guardian was the Russian brute.
No one understood their plague connection, until Dr. Vodă came along. She had studied the so-called “Soviet walking dead” and was going to share the bacterial root of their cannibalistic disintegration in exchange for a Nobel Prize in medicine, when NATO thankfully stopped her. That was two decades ago, and save some generalities she still had not kept her end of the bargain: her life in exchange for a formula how to use the plague for military aims.
“Damn that woman,” Pistone murmured. “Damn all useless women,” he added and smiled at his imagined redundancy. Unsure where his thoughts would take him, he sipped a long mouthful of bourbon. The amber liquid was barely covering the ice rocking from one wall to the other of the heavy crystal glass. Swallowing it slowly, Pistone remembered that it used to be enough to take his thoughts away from his project, and release himself into more mundane fare, such as the Mexican help he’d kept in the basement since his wife’s unexpected departure. Now, everything was becoming more complicated. The Mexican was useless without a little pill’s help, taken 45 minutes earlier.
“Damn all women and men like me who need them. Why can’t I be happy with my Cuban cigar and Jim Bean?”
He felt both aroused and appalled when his dead wife came to mind. She hung herself right in front of the house so he would not miss her when he returned from Bosnia. He knew from the start that he’d married the wrong woman, but he thought bourbon would mask the mistake. He took another sip. It did for a while: until their son had come out as the sissy of the month at the Naval Academy. He could have been embarrassed and humiliated by his failure; instead Pistone rose from his ashes and arranged to be transferred to Bosnia in charge of naval maneuvers. His son had followed him shortly.
“Gosh, Jim Beam. I am getting old and emotional.”
During the 1990s war, in saloons all over the Balkans, Marines would put a stack of quarters on the bar and then girls would squat and pick up as many as they could. One night, a burly Marine showed up and after drinking a barrel of whatever they served, and having soaked in it a pile of quarters, he stacked them on the bar. It remained unclear whether the General’s son saw him and approached him, or whether the Marine did not care whose son was around and hunched over so no one else could see him continue his deed. He took a lighter and held the flame on those quarters till they were so hot that when he enticed a girl to come over, and she squatted over the quarters, it smelled like roasted pork. He laughed and left the bar as the other customers were coming to their senses under the girl’s piercing screams. When her brother came to take her to the hospital or home, the young Pistone was the only American in sight. He was quietly crying and he refused to defend himself when the Serbian brute crushed his head with his bare hands staring him in the eyes. When the General arrived and saw what had happened, he took the Serbian under his wing and made him an auxiliary in the American army under the new name of John Rambo.
Lying in bed with one leg hanging in his sheep-skin slippers, in a large silk blood red pajama and a well-tightened robe, Pistone was finishing his large glass of bourbon on ice. His eyes were touring the wall pictures. The older shot was of him between Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev in Berlin. The next one showed him welcoming First Lady Hillary Clinton to Bosnia. He looked mesmerized at Hillary’s hairstyle, as if contemplating her more recent hairdos. His gaze stopped on the picture of him chatting with Donald Rumsfeld in 2006.
“Jim Beam, we’ve had a good run.” The words lolled out of his mouth.
His beeper vibrated. He read the message.
“I will attend Knowlton’s Conference tomorrow morning at 9 AM at Columbia University. Have John meet me at the Waldorf at 7 AM.”
“Roger,” he replied and smiled. He grew up dreaming of Celeste. Her family had a ranch in Montana and his dad worked in their stables. Young Matthew saw Celeste when she started her first riding class but they spoke when she sought him the afternoon she came home a day earlier from boarding school. He could still remember craving to bury his face in her plaid skirt while her fragile bare arms took his head between her hands and pulled his temple-skin back and kissed his eyes with such tenderness. Each time afterwards he wished she would never stop. And they never stopped until her father, Representative Carter of Montana, summoned him to his office one day and told him what he could achieve if he didn’t dodge the draft. Celeste was sulking in a nearby rocking chair nodding in approval, like daddy’s little girl she was.
He closed his eyes to push away the anger and frustration and let only the fondremembrance come through. He then stretched to take a cigar from the humidifying box he kept on the night table but he failed. His late wife was staring at him with discontent from the sole small-size picture in the room. It was shot in Bosnia, when she had come to beg him to have their son transferred back to the U.S. He laughed at her request. Two days later their son would be killed in that bar. At least he did not have to put up with two funerals. By the time his son’s corpse reached U.S. soil, his wife had become a human pendulum in their imposing oak tree.
“Damn you, Rosa. Come here, you bitch. How many times did I tell you to take this frame away from my bedroom?” He got up nimbly to better scream at the Mexican. Doing so, he pressed the remote and he changed its source from Amazon to C-Span.
He stood still, unclear whether he had done it or not. It took him a moment to realize it was a recording of the Congressional Hearing of the House of Representatives, Subcommittee of National Security and Foreign Affairs, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. It was titled, The Rise of the Drones: Unmanned Systems and the Future of War, and Mr. Theodor, its Chairperson was addressing Representative Celeste Calder, Republican of Maine, as beautiful as ever, Matthew Pistone thought and decided to watch:
“Congresswoman Calder, there are critics of your steadfast support of the military and now for its increased reliance on drones. They point out the reportedly high number of civilian casualties, yours and President Obama’s drone war has caused.”
“What an idiot,” Pistone hissed at the TV. “The exact numbers have never been produced.”
“It’s not just a number. It represents a certain number of coffins, side by side, combatants and civilians.”
“Celeste, tell the idiot to shut up,” Pistone encouraged her when he saw her replying.
“Chairperson Theodor, when we talk about the dead, suddenly everybody is declared an innocent victim, because our brave United States of America pays for every innocent victim, $300.”
“That’s my girl,” Pistone sounded excited.
“Congresswoman Calder, another criticism is that strikes do more to stoke anti-Americanism than they do to weaken our enemies. A quick skim of any Pakistani newspaper provides some evidence to support this theory.”
“Celeste, he is bullying you. Show him, ma belle, show him he’s an idiot.” Pistone screamed at the TV and looked agitated.
“Congress cannot vouch for that evidence. Chairperson Theodor. Do you read Pakistani because I do not and I have to rely on an interpreter’s translation and his accent is very thick making it hard for me to understand what he says. I am trying to say that numbers in that part of the world are approximate. But, we do appreciate that this is particularly relevant in the era of counterinsurgency doctrine, the central tenet of which is first do no harm.”
Pistone stood up staring at the TV in ecstasy while Celeste answered.
“It also may be the case that we are fighting wars with modern technology under an antiquated set of laws. For example, if the United States uses unmanned weapons systems, does that require an official declaration of war or an authorization for the use of force? Do the Geneva Conventions, written in 1949, govern the prosecution of unmanned war? Finally, we already know that unmanned pilots are showing signs of equal or greater stress from combat compared to traditional pilots. The stress of fighting a war thousands of miles away then minutes later joining your family at the dinner table presents mental health challenges traditional pilots do not have to face.”
Celeste was good. In so many ways. But she would not be able to keep the tide from turning without some palpable support. He needed to talk to Vodă. M.A.R.T.F. was the future of armed conflicts and she held the key to his success. He beeped her.
“Not now, General,” Dr. Ana Vodă replied. “I’m cleaning.”
The womanly chores he forced her to do calmed him down. Everything in her lab was automized, but she still had to clean, to pick up after her lab specimens.