This is a continuing part of Denobis and the Creative Writing Club’s “communal Story,” published each week on Thursday. Each chapter will be written by a new member of Denobis. The story is set in both Soviet Russia and the US during the 1950’s. It features the Soviets, mysterious deaths, and a demon-what’s not to like?
By Alexandre DuBroy
Thursday 22nd, 1955
James Wood’s cozy office on the 3rd floor of the Secret Service building had been very busy the last few days. He’d had no less than two dozen meetings since Monday, and the crisp paper calendar on the wall signaled Thursday wasn’t even over. He’d been going almost non-stop, and he had finally resolved to shut his door and get something done. He’d procured himself a steaming cup of coffee in a bright white ceramic mug and finally relaxed, in a chair that reminded him more of sitting on a sack of potatoes than the springy filling he’d been promised. His coffee sat gently on the left hand side of his desk next to a slick black phone. He swore…if it rang…
He stared it down for a few seconds before deciding it wasn’t going to betray him, and then grabbed a pen and started scribbling notes in front of him. He began to drift into the mind numbing world of bureaucracy before the phone couldn’t hold it any longer and gave a sudden curt ring. James startled out of his red tape trance, knocking the yet untouched cup of coffee off the side of the desk in the sudden movement to answer. He swore something unintelligible just as he picked up the phone, hoping whoever it was didn’t hear him. Luckily, the caller seemed oblivious.
The voice on the other end was the deep voice of a man he knew but wish he didn’t, a pompous kind of fellow over at the CIA who had enjoyed a few to many sirloins in his day.
Carl Thomson, the portly CIA man spoke at him in his gruff voice: “Woody! Yeah, Woodsie! Get over here right away! You’re not going to believe it – secretary of the Interior, you remember that pencil stick of a man, the one who always smelled of booze – dead as a doornail!”
“For the third time, it is Woods not Woody, and yeah I’ll be right over.”
“Okay, Woody. I always knew you were a good guy. See you in a jingle!”
James slammed the phone down, gave an exasperated sigh and just stared at the puddle of coffee seeping into the carpet. Rest was a long ways away apparently. He grabbed his smooth black leather briefcase and made for the door. As he ran out, he briefly intimated to Cathy, his young secretary, that there’d been a slight incident in his office. Cathy, looking sharp and definitely overworked just glared at him, before just muttering that she’d get to it, before turning back to the Mount Everest of white and yellow papers littering her desk.
Through the elevator that smelled like something had died in it, and out the revolving doors he hailed a cab. One quickly sighted him and pulled up to the curb. Taxis were always eager to fleece government officials; he had a sneaking suspicion they jacked their prices up whenever someone who looked mildly bureaucratic stepped in.
He squeezed into the small vehicle, grunting out “Department of the Interior please.” The cabbie nodded his head and sped off. The voyage passed in a blur as the events of the past few weeks swirled in his head. He’d taken little notice when the Secretary of Labor had passed away of a reportedly a sudden heart attack. The Secretary had been a contentious figure in Washington politics, and wasn’t missed by many. A week later he read another article mourning the passing of the Secretary of Commerce, a man whom was, in contrast to the Secretary of Labor, well liked. James remembered having drinks with him a few years ago at a Christmas party and had found him to be agreeable. But last week, when the Secretary of Agriculture had been found stiff as a broom in his office, the Service went into high alert. He did appreciate that for once the resulting meeting was not dry and stuffy, although he was remiss that it took three deaths to liven up office life.
He rejoiced at the opportunity to get out into the field, and the opportunity had come sooner than he thought it would. Just as he began thinking about the death of the erstwhile Secretary of the Interior, the cab stopped, and Wood began fishing for his wallet. He curtly paid the bearded cabbie and ran into the lobby of the eponymous Department of the Interior. He walked up to the group of official looking types, having a conversation in hushed tones. Just his luck, the man who appeared to be in charge was the round bellied CIA man, Carl Thomas, who had talked to him earlier.
Thomas saw him approaching him and hollered out. “Woodson! Someone was telling me you had a theory on what the blazes is happening here, so I thought I’d talk to ya, let you see the Secretary.”
Woodson followed him, the group of CIA and FBI types close behind, as he began walking up set of stairs towards a decadent office swarming with police officers and press. Camera flashes lit up the office like little bolts of lightning. Sitting like some kind of deposed king in the middle of it all was the Secretary of the Interior. He was slouched over in his posh office chair, white faced. No bullet wounds, no blood. It looked as if he took a nap and had forgotten to wake up from it.
One of the other agents, a wizened older gent, spoke up. “No wounds, no needle marks, none of that. Not cyanide, could have been some new poison or formulation but it would had to have been quite fast acting.”
“Why would that have been?” probed Woods.
“His assistant over there,” the old man gestured at a shaken looking young lad in the corner, “says he left the office for about a minute to fetch some documents and when he got back the secretary was slumped over in his chair, dead. He let out a pretty good scream at that point.”
Another one of the agents piped up. “Assistant could have drugged him.”
Woods shot back. “Nah, bloke looks honestly broken up about it. He’s got the thousand yard stare. Now maybe if this was a one off thing I’d investigate it further but I suspect we’re dealing with more than just disgruntled employees.”
Thomas brought his gruff back voice into the fray. “The Mob’s been looking to off a few of these gents for years, and the Mafia’s wanted to off the rest of ‘em. Perhaps it was several different organizations, who saw opportunities open up.”
“Too complicated. Too organized,” replied Woods.
“Well what is it then, since you seem to have all the answers Wooders?” the ruffled Thomas exclaimed.
“Well we know very little about the whole thing. But looks like someone’s edging their way up the presidential line of succession,” the agents muttered back in forth in agreement and worry, “and that they’re very organized-“
Wood’s elocution was interrupted by the graying old agent. “You aren’t about to say the Soviets are you? What is this, amateur hour? Soviets are testy but they aren’t stupid.”
Woods, looking slightly annoyed but not disgruntled, carried on. “I had a conversation the other day, in which I posited that perhaps it is the Soviets, but not in the capacity we’ve been led to expect. Soviet leadership is engaged in a bitter struggle for power, and I doubt that it would have been a political decision. However I suspect a military plot. Maybe to seize power, maybe a lone wolf, maybe something more sinister.”
The other members looked at him, calculating what he’d just said.
Thomas spoke first. “Woods, that’s a real…bright idea. You know what, I’ll put you in charge of a little investigation about all this. I’ll give you some people, some resources. You might be on to something.”
The group broke down into discussion of some other practical issues about the death of the secretary, while Woods stood, not sure if he should be excited he’d been given charge of a something, or fuming that he had been given what essentially amounted a pacification. He suspected that they’d go back and snicker about what they got some Secret Service chump to do whilst they’d go on their own investigations. Each person would want credit for themselves. If he was successful, Carl would claim it was his idea. Not that he thought they expected tons of him. The only reason he was involved in all this in the first place was because his boss (the head of the secret service to be fair) didn’t want to stake his own reputation, and thus sent a more junior agent out to take any falls that might come.
A team of medics had come in to take the erstwhile secretary out of there, and were pushing the press out of the way. Woods noticed a young looking reporter, who was trying to talk to a police officer on the other side of the room. The officer seemed unamused and exasperated. Woods decided to peel himself away from the group of agents, who had somehow had the audacity to talk about interagency politics while a dead guy was being wheeled out next to them.
Woods smoothly walked up to the bickering reporter and police duo.
The reporter started stammering. “I-I-I have something very important and if you could just-“
The officer interrupted him with “Get out of here you media scum. I knew you were trying to pull a fast one on me. I’m no fool.”
The officer turned to look at the guy in a suit who had just appeared. “What do you want?” he barked.
“I was just coming here to escort this gent out,” replied Woods. The officer looked satisfied. The reporter looked terrified.
The reporter looked disheartened and tried to say something, before giving up, looking glumly at Woods. He began to follow Woods out the door, as the officer gazed on, feeling vindicated.
Out of earshot of the office, the reporter tried to speak once more, although I came out in a quickly spoken glob of words. “I swear I didn’t do anything I was just trying to take some photographs and I just wanted a good article and-“
Woods stopped walking and turned to quiet him. “Look, pal, I believe ya. Just trying to get you away from that environment. Everyone’s a little on edge. Here, I haven’t introduced myself. I’m James Wood, I’m from the Government. I’m part of this investigation here, and heard you say a little something about having something rather important. A lot of people don’t take young guys like you seriously, but I do. What do you have?”
The reporter looked flabbergasted. “I…umm…well….I was here this morning to do some investigative reporting on corruption, and I was just taking some photos to test my camera, and I saw something weird. I can’t describe it to you, but I got a photo of it. I didn’t think much of it until I heard a scream and all this happened. I still have to get them developed and it’s probably nothing…”
“You’d be surprised how fast nothing becomes something real big. Do you have any idea what you saw?
The young reporter perked up a little. “Well I swore, and it could just my eyes deceiving me, but I swore I saw a flying old man….”
Check back next Thursday for Chapter 2!