2015 | Issue Seven | Fiction
DIANE, IT’S 11:30 AM. I’m standing before a plate glass window in the hallway in Philadelphia. The gray sky that greeted my arrival here has since turned into rain. On the street below me is a group of pedestrians huddled underneath the overhang of what appears to be a cheesesteak cart, their coats pulled up around their necks. They look like a painting. A group of lost souls.
I’ve just finished my meeting with the Number Two around here. He’s brought me up to speed on the latest news from Pittsburgh. I’d expected to meet with G, but it seems G dispatched himself westward immediately upon receiving the news about his agent. Or agents. Let’s not forget there were two Bureau men involved. Although as of yesterday, it’s safe to say Win—excuse me, Agent W—it’s safe to say Agent W is a Bureau man no longer.
Diane, you’ll pardon the abbreviated names. Number Two has requested I use pseudonyms in these recordings. G’s orders. Apparently, they’ve had trouble with leaks, particularly as regards the ongoing investigation led by an Agent Jeffries—that is—well, forget it, I’ve said his name. Agent Jeffries. Does Washington know about the leaks? Should we be keeping a tab on them? Maybe we could get someone up here. Mention it to the Big Man.
As for Pittsburgh. It’s a nasty business. I can see why Washington wanted me there. We go tomorrow.
Diane, it’s funny. I can’t help feeling there’s something wrong here. Something beyond the obvious. This pseudonym business, for instance. It scratches the surface of a larger problem. I need to give these thoughts some space to grow. Coffee should help—strong, black coffee, which as you know is my preference. That’s another thing that’s wrong—the coffee served in our meeting tasted like dishwater. People say that about coffee, I know. But I mean it—the coffee tasted as if dishtowels had been soaking in it.
Remind me to tell you about the dream I had on the train.
Diane, my search for coffee took me to a pizzeria near the Bureau, where I had one slice of regular cheese, a small garden salad and a passable cup of Joe. After I’d eaten, I sat and looked into the rain. Across the street, I observed a homeless man struggling with an umbrella he pulled from a trashcan. It was warped, its spindles bent, but he seemed determined to get it working, even if that meant standing in the rain.
It’s funny, how weather causes the mind to wander. I found myself thinking all the way back to Missoula. There was the time—this would’ve been while I was in law school—Victoria and I blew a tire on the Fairmont during a downpour. She was certain she could fix it. She was always handy. I begged her not to, but she insisted. She worked in the pouring rain right up until the moment the tow truck arrived, which meant I had to stand in the rain beside her, holding my own weatherbeaten umbrella. Diane, we got soaked. But that was Victoria, wasn’t it? She never gave up on an idea.
Let me try to articulate something that’s been bothering me. How could a protection assignment go so wrong that we lose our witness, have one agent grievously injured and the other reduced to a babbling mess? And who is behind such a thing? How do we find that person? That’s a question we now have to answer.
Here’s another one: Have you ever heard of a situation in which an agent was assigned to protect his own wife? I suppose that’s a question for G. It’s hard to imagine a decision like that happening on his watch. But then again, here we are.
Speaking of G. As I sat in the pizzeria thinking about the above, a neon sign flickered on opposite me. There was a bar there that I had not previously noticed, now getting ready for a night’s business. By all appearances a rundown place, but the sign could not have been more striking. It was a rose, bright blue in color. Given what the blue rose means to us, and the fact G was in my head at that very moment, the sight of it there in the rain gave me chills. Could I regard this as a mere coincidence? You know how I feel: When two separate events occur simultaneously, pertaining to the same object of inquiry, we must always pay strict attention. I left the pizzeria and crossed the street, but the door to the place was still locked, and no one answered.
Diane, let me ask you. Have you ever been to the Philadelphia office? Have you noticed how strange a place it is? It’s an extremely large building, yet there’s hardly anyone there. Where’s the administrative staff? Where are the filing cabinets? Haven’t these guys heard of computers? It’s 1985, for Pete’s sake. Where are the consoles? All they’ve got are a bunch of empty desks and a handful of agents that stand around and look at them. It’s like everyone in Philadelphia is waiting for something to happen.
Yes, that’s exactly it. It feels perpetually like the moment just before something happens. Remind me to mention this to the Big Man.
Tonight, on my way out of the building, I stopped into the men’s room for the usual reason. There was a lanky fellow at the sink as I went in. He wore a floral shirt and a linen suit. It was an outfit better suited to the Tropics than a rainy December at the Bureau. He had a can of pomade and was scraping a plastic comb in it. I suppose my reaction was noticeable. The man winked at me in the mirror. He said, Buenos Aires.
When I emerged, I described the man to Number Two.
Oh, he said. That’s Jeffries.
I was surprised. Jeffries, whose investigation has been compromised? Why was he dressed like that?
It’s a secret, Number Two said. He won’t tell. He doesn’t want to lose it.
Do you see what I mean? The more I think about it, the more I think we should get someone up here from Washington. Let’s find a fresh-faced guy to play the role of new recruit. Or you know what? Maybe we could get you here, Diane. You’ve been wanting a change of pace. Think it over. You could do the secretary routine. Put a fresh pair of eyes on whatever’s going on. Let’s talk when I get back.
Diane, it’s just after midnight. About twenty minutes ago, I awoke with an overwhelming feeling of dread. I can’t remember if I was dreaming before I woke. But I’m left with the sort of anxiety I’ve not felt for years. Not since Victoria.
I’m glad I have you to talk to, even if it’s just through this machine.
I haven’t told you about the dream I had on the train. I wonder if I dreamed the same dream just a minute ago? No, I can’t believe I did. The dream on the train was confusing, but it was peaceful. It was also crystal clear—I could see it perfectly after I woke, and I can still remember every detail now. Whereas whatever terrible dream I’ve just had is already vanished from my mind. If I truly dreamed anything at all.
As you know, my studies have recently turned to the School of Whispered Transmission, with a particular focus on the Drukpa Lineage, founded in the twelfth century when nine dragons appeared to Tsangpa Gyare. Western observers often interpret the Drukpa to be followers of a Left Hand path, possessors of Black Logic. But as far as I can tell, they are simply adherents of Vajrayana. In any case, it’s a fascinating practice.
In my dream, I found myself on a high grassy plain, facing a gray mountain range. I assume this was the Tibetan Plateau, which previously I’d only seen in books. Before me was an old fellow in ceremonial robes. A proper Red Hat, Diane, red hat and all. This was vibrating in the wind that came across the steppe. The man’s lips were moving, although because of the wind or because of the dream, no words made it to my ears.
As I stood there, trying to puzzle out his message, a thick rope fell lazily from the sky. Its end brushed against the grass. This rope seemed to be anchored to a point somewhere high above, although as I looked upward I could not discern such an anchor. There was just the rope trailing away until it vanished. The monk smiled and pointed upward. Suddenly, I caught his meaning. In my studies, I’ve encountered tales of great teachers who climbed down to earth from the ineffable places in order to enlighten the people. But I’ve never read of an ordinary person who climbed up a rope to wherever the teachers came from. Could this old man really want me to do that? And how was such a thing even possible?
Suddenly, my perspective changed. I was outside of my body, looking at myself from below as I began to shuffle up the rope. I attempted to yell something, to stop me from going, but it was no use. Up I went, growing ever smaller on the rope until I disappeared completely into the gray sky.
Then I was awake on the train, pulling into Philadelphia. I’m left with two important questions. Why did I climb up that rope, Diane? And where exactly did I go?
Diane, it’s early. I’ve still not slept. It began to feel as if my uneasiness were being reflected back at me from the walls of my room. So I left the hotel. And have been walking the empty streets in widening circles. I’m nearly at the Bureau. Maybe I should go inside and wait for the ride to Pittsburgh? I hate to think of it. They’d probably take one look and lock me up with W.
There’s a light rain falling, but I have a warm jacket.
A little while ago, I found myself passing the bar with the neon rose. I almost pulled at the door. The sign was lit, despite the hour, and there seemed to be people inside. I wonder if—
Diane, let me tell you. A long dark space. A strobe light. Sitting at the bar, a narrow, severe man with a very long, almost impossibly long beard. Here is what he said to me. Are you looking for Victoria? Diane, that’s what he said! Are you looking for Victoria! At the back of the bar, a blue curtain, a woman in a sparkling red dress, beams coming off in the spotlight. A blue rose in her hair. I knew something was wrong and I turned to leave and there in front of me was W. A halo of flames surrounding his head. Diane, he wasn’t there. How could he be there? He’s in the loony bin in Pittsburgh. They put him there today. I’m supposed to go there tomorrow. But there he was. And a halo of flame. I’ll get to the bottom of it. If I don’t make my ride, have Gordon check whether there’s a bar across from the pizzeria. Have him check whether there’s a pizzeria. Tell Jeffries I’m beginning to see it. Tell him I said good luck in Buenos Aires. I wish I could explain this better. But you’ll figure it out, Diane. You always do. Where do I go if I climb up the rope?
Diane— [Recording ends.] 💣
ANDREW BLOSSOM is the founding editor of MAKEOUT CREEK, the editor of THE EVIL ONE, the author of I’VE GOT A MESSAGE FOR YOU AND YOU’RE NOT GOING TO LIKE IT, and a co-editor of RICHMOND NOIR. His work has appeared on LOVE + RADIO and the website of Scarecrow Video.
Copyright Andrew Blossom
Photo by George Allen