Friday, March 26, 2021

Fear of Foley

Note for readers

This story sprang from an idea:

... and even had a comment from "Ralph" before it was really underway:

Mr. Higham, it is fascinating reading a story as it is coming alive. I will continue to check back in to see how Miss Magnolia fares.

Story now completed.


'Have a look at that lady going by, Chas,' said Ken Young to his visitor from England, just arrived, bag hastily dumped in his bedroom, now back in the front room with the polished floor and rug, 'the one with the baby boy in the push chair and the toddler girl walking beside her.'

'The pretty one or that one over by the store?’

‘The pretty one - pink and soft greys, cuddly, brownish hair. Now smelling the blossom on that low hanging branch. Now the toddler’s smelling it and the baby wants out of that push chair.’

'Butter wouldn't melt.'

‘That’s where you’d be wrong. She notices fine detail, that one, a bit like Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple … only younger. Sharp as anything and yet meanders, becomes interested in things and goes off on tangents. Former Azalea Trail girl - you know about them?’

‘I’ve heard about them – they dress in antediluvian outfits, huge hooped dresses -’

‘Antebellum, Chas, not antediluvian ... pre Civil War. Have a look at this over here, news item from your part of the world.’ He went to the laptop, found the article and clicked:

'I call her Miss Magnolia,' Ken went on. 'One of a dying breed. Being a lady does not always mean the disapproving look - this one has a mischievous look. Keep your eye on her for now and consider this – not long ago, she was late for a luncheon, didn’t want to make the grand entrance, so climbed up the outside of the building and in through the open gap, seated herself while others were looking out for her the other way.’


‘Yep. Another tale - strolling with her husband by the river one afternoon, some rude girls blocking the way, she was about to give one of them a quick nudge into the water, he apparently convinced her not to. You don’t mess with Miss Magnolia.’

‘You say Miss Magnolia. They're her grandchildren?’

‘They are.  It's just an expression. She’s one of the old breed, manners, part of this corner of the south, resents the crass carpetbaggers buying in – that’s my expression, not hers. These people are bringing their culture with them - a culture they're supposed to be escaping from, figure that one out.  There’s a world culture taking over, Chas ... and it doesn't look good.’

‘And she’s opposed? Then she’s in danger.’

‘Very much so, I keep telling her to lie low. That’s why, with all the eyes watching as she goes by, some of those eyes are looking out for her, we’d be out there like a shot.  But she hates people fussing over her and ‘protecting’ her.’

'You sound as if you care for her.'

'Many do, many depend on her ... and yet she's so cute and well ... enough of that.'

‘But other eyes are planning something more grisly for her you think?’

‘You’d have to think so – there are some nasty things around these parts lately – sirens, helicopter, planes overhead most times – something’s going down. In fact that’s why Virginia and I have taken this place, it’s why, when you said you were coming to the States, you were always going to be coerced down here by us.’

Chas looked across at the greying mass of hair and was intrigued. ‘I’m thinking the reason she doesn’t want to be crowded is she has other things going on.  I’m thinking she’s carrying something in that baby carriage.’  

‘You guessed right,’ grinned the retired lawyer. ‘But I still don’t think you’ve hit it yet, what she has there. It’s not an Armalite, nor an Uzi, it’s something more hi-tech that I don’t know, it’s vaguely involved in sending pulses.’

‘Or blocking them. I know of these things.  Remind me not to get into an argument with her.’

‘You won’t meet her.  Also, she hates being put on pedestals, says if she fell down, she might damage something.’

‘Where’s she headed now?’

‘Place called Foley, there’s a monument in Centennial Plaza, epicentre for all the activity going on overhead. Have a quick look at this printout:’ He stepped over to the laptop and brought this up:

‘Rendition?  The planes I mean.’

‘Could be, among other things.  We think there's something else going down, which is where you come in.  There've been many things happening - land sold off, change of designated purpose. If you take out the commercial and light aircraft, you still have a pretty regular back and forth - more than standard flights I mean.’

Chas was reflecting. ‘She can’t walk the toddler and also push the walker all that way.’

‘They’ll be met a bit further along, she’s just been checking in with me.’

‘Has she just? I’ll resist the temptation to ask how - you've had no call.’

‘Quite right. Time for lunch.’


Chas now met the diminutive Virginia - unusual that it had taken so long to meet her and immediately his suspicions were raised. If anything, he'd have said she was at home in this kitchen/diner and Ken was less at home in the living room.  Curious.  Plus she was about thirty years younger, maybe less. Quite curious indeed.

And another thing - normally if someone visits and there are people home, those people would come to greet the visitor but in Virginia’s case ... she hadn’t. What’s more, she’d remained as quiet as a little mouse, keeping her own counsel and yet here was this scrumptious lunch of gumbo and various bits and pieces, plus a winning smile. An interesting character - he'd not want to cross her either.


The two men went out to the back ‘yard’, except it was not so much a yard as a riverfront, with one interesting aspect, around this neighbourhood anyway – no dock, nowhere to tie up. Not only that but there were no table and chairs on the grass but instead a U shaped brick wall some three yards along the short sides, four yards along the side nearest the house and about six feet high. 

They had to walk around that to get into the space.

Inside, there was an electric barbecue against one of the short walls, table and chairs near the other short wall - over the brickwork was a lattice of fine wire.  Ken went over to an alcove, reached into a hatch in the wall, took out three pieces of material, synthetic, yet modern, hi-tech fabric as strong as steel, but in the form of a squarish scarf, he handed one to Chas and another to Virginia who’d just come to join them with the drinks.

‘Er … how to wear this?’ asked Chas.

‘You’ve never seen westerns?’ she replied.

‘I see.’

‘Tea?’ she asked.

Her guest grinned because there was no question whether he’d like it or not, whether he needed sugar or not - it was now poured from the jug with the ice cubes and that was that.

‘Plenty more inside,’ she added. Uh huh. 

Ken explained. ‘There are different parties around this area, Chas - different groups, different  demographics – if you’ve already looked at a map of the US and Caribbean, it’d be obvious this is a prime corridor for "non-regular visitors". Plus we have hurricanes. We’re smack bang in the middle of it – it seems a pastoral scene ... truth is ...  it’s more like Beirut.

What makes it worse is that even the straightest acting people, the nicest – they could be the ones – Magnolia calls them Pod People. I don’t mean from outer space … at least I didn’t mean that earlier … now I’m not so sure. We’ve had rogue outfits before, of course we have, splinter groups who felt things were not tight enough, the agenda wasn't going forward fast enough – that’s always been … this is different.  There are different parties interested in this area now, more than before.’

‘You mean,’ said Chas, ‘difficult to know whom to trust these days?’

‘That's what it comes down to,' put in Virginia.  'Keep watching, Chas, watch the river.  More tea?’  She poured it, irrespective.  Truth was, it was required in this heat.

There was a bit of traffic on the water, a fair bit of bird life, probably creatures below the surface too, he thought, maybe gators, depended on the season. He was about to ask when what should chug by at the end of the grass but a boat with two men, one a bit older, one younger but seemingly not the son, and there, in prime place in the centre of the runabout, was Miss Magnolia, riverboat queen supreme, with grandchildren. Eat yer heart out, Katherine Hepburn.

The younger man stepped back, loaded something into a barrel of some kind, not a firearm but a projectile thrower of sorts.  There was a cylinder sticking out the end, he fired it towards them, it landed ten feet in from the bank, cheery wave from Miss Magnolia, the old chap opened the throttle and off they went.  

Ken sauntered down, brought the cylinder back, took out the sheets, handed one to Chas, Virginia was already reading another.  Chas looked down and saw it was a profile of him, one and a half pages, Ken was grinning.

‘All right, Ken, how about you open up about all this?’

‘There’s a naval training area not far from here, including an airstrip, there’s another further down.  Quite regular, one of five connected with Pensacola, they’re not really the issue.  
The issue you yourself know about - you were looking into it in England.  You also know the names Aquino, Gottlieb, Jolyon, you know about Omaha.  

There are rogue elements on all bases - question is which illegal trade they’re in - is it tobacco, rum ... or stepping up - narcotics ... or to go the whole hog, the real money spinner - kids and baby parts. It’s a mire, a swamp ... no point asking anyone because the one you ask leads you astray and then you later have a boating accident.’

‘Then what are you hoping to achieve ... if that’s the level you’re up against?  Seems to me a one way trip as gator food.’

‘Yep and it also involves high ranking people, even church people, especially them.  Truth is - many folk around here are genuinely devout, committed, but if you get the wrong one, if the phone call is made ...’

‘I see.’  He took another sip. ‘Where do I come into this?’

'We show you, we name names, then once you go back - you publicise from over there, plus what you were planning to do here anyway.  It's the system we're looking to uncover, the grand plan, the thing they're really after.  I notice you ran a link on a Polish film producer who had footage, we've all seen that sort of thing, we know it goes on, we're nauseated.'

'I get the picture.'

He took a sip or two and returned to the subject.  'The issue is not the obvious crooks - we know them, they’re just enemy.  More dangerous are the hidden ones who pretend not to be.  After them come the dupes and they're legion.  Your biggest task is to assess us, assess everyone, because it won't be the first and won't be the last time people will come to you as lambs ... and they're good at it, very good.  In your case, Chas, we know the honeytrap is an effective weapon.'

'More tea?' asked Virginia, in case this went off the rails.


Chas had rented a car, as they’d discussed and agreed, and was headed for Pensacola, Route 98.  

There’d been Hertz and Enterprise to rent from but he'd been advised to try this new outfit with no connection to the town. Two years ago it had arrived and was doing some trade, not a lot - main thing was it accepted cash since the change in the DC administration, and as Chas had a fair amount of the folding stuff, courtesy of their operating fund which in itself was of interest to various parties, it seemed the way to go.

So there he'd been outside U-Drive, 9 a.m. Saturday morning, he'd had to register his passport with them but aside from that, it was cash on the counter, more for the full tank he'd opted for, insurance by law and away he'd gone.   


Last anyone had seen.  He was supposed to check in via a second cell phone number every half hour until out of range, then a second cell phone number - friend of Ken's. He had a second phone as well, lent him by Virginia and that was for when he was out of range with the first.

He'd not been far from the Bridge of Perdition as he'd called it on the last call, around 11:20 a.m.  Then ... nothing.

Time for some shopping for Virginia at the Family Dollar Store, but not the local, one twenty miles away.  Anything Ken needed?


Virginia  saw the lady in question over in one corner, sorting through some of the day’s offerings.  It was 2:25 p.m.

'Magnolia, hi!'

She swung round. ‘Ginny, hi!  Alone?'

'Well, you know.  What are you looking for?'

'Nothing in particular.'  With that, she brought up on her phone a youtube of the Allman Brothers' Eat a Peach song Blue Sky.  ‘Just love the lyrics to this - I often think of Carolina on a Sunday, strange that.  And the other one I can’t get out of my head - Bourbon Street, Louis Prima version.  There was a different version but I’ve lost it now.’

‘I'm always losing things too, I lost something this morning as a matter of fact, just before noon.'


'Yep, documentary on the British invasion.  Music. See any good movies lately?

'I like the old movies.  Last night it was The Unwelcome Guest, from 1913 would you believe.'

'Never saw it - definitely not that one.  I quite like Commandos Strike at Dawn but that’s blue sky thinking.  Personally, I think Night of the Hunter is more the style - there's just something more fulfilling in a movie at night, the later the better.'

'You know your Gish movies.'

'Tragic figure really, like some others, never really made it to paradise.'

Virginia looked down at the other's screen and this was displayed:

'Oh look at the time,' said Magnolia, 'have to rush.  Lovely seeing you again, Ginny.’

'You're a life saver, Magnolia.'

'We do our best.  Bye dear.'


Back home, she dumped the bags inside the kitchen and called him.  He appeared.

‘Ken, too hot, let’s go outside, I’ll grab the jug and glasses, you get the masks.’

‘Shouldn’t we be moving?  Things to do, people to find.’

‘All in good time, let’s just talk for awhile.’ 

In their alcove, masks in place, he recounted the conversation with Magnolia almost word for word, with the various clues registering as she went on.

'I also saw Jo-Anne's sons today, powerful boys they are now.  Saying they like the nightlife.  Have to admit, it's not for me anymore, that way of living - you're getting on too.'

'Does this have to be so cryptic?'

'Yep, you know the score.  They hang around with Tyler, remember him?'

'Should be enough manpower but what happens to them after that?  Jo-Anne's a lovely lady, I'm not all that happy her boys will be in the spotlight like that.'

'What else can we do?  Jo-Anne knows how this thing goes, her boys are useful customers, they're in demand.  They'd need to take a short vacation after this, get some blue sky further east.'


As night finally fell, the major obstacle in this rescue was the lie of the land - Bourbon Street had a large number of retirees in new single storey condos, some still empty and it was one of those in which Chas, it seemed, was being held - probably gagged or drugged, there was going to be some noise, plus retirees were notoriously light sleepers.

There was forest behind but they’d have to cross open ground unless ... well, if they could co-opt a copter.

And why was Chas being held in such a place so easily attacked - it sure looked like both sides were flushing the other side out, testing.  

The interest in this rescue was not going to be the rescue itself - it was going to be Magnolia’s intel, plus where Chas then led the watchers.  There was a lot riding on this tonight.


The crescent moon helped, also the air traffic overhead, each and every day and night now.  

A helicopter pulled away from its formation, three lines dropped, three figures went down, leader soon reported there were no guards whatever, doors were locked, yes, easily opened, there he was, trussed up on a bed in the master bedroom ... soon untrussed, groggy, yes, had been put out ... relatively easy getting him harnessed and lifted, hauled onboard, there they were - the four men and strangely, one woman in the pilot’s seat, not communicating with anyone.


Within eight minutes, he was lowered again in no man’s land, heavily wooded, river nearby, three of the men followed him down their ropes, the fourth retrieved the lines and the copter swung away.


Another eight minutes and the copter landed in a carpark, a man ran forward, two got out, he got in, took off and presumably rejoined his brothers.  Too too easy.


By now, one canoe and two kayaks were near silently, under the overhead air traffic, gliding down Bon Secours, no light, except at a distance.  Chas was in the canoe and he was coming out of it.  The paddler stopped, delivered him a blow to the skull and he was out like a light again.

The canoes slid down that stream until they reached a tributary, paddled up there and stopped at a dock, the two other paddlers lifted Chas out and they headed for a prefab hut under a holiday house.  Once inside, they waited for the man to come out of it, refreshments were disributed.

Said Lyndon, 'What you hit him for, Claire?'

'People in the undergrowth, watching, he was a liability back there.' Hard lady and yet one easilystressed at times, thought Lyndon.

Chas was coming out of it, Claire slipped out of the hut and found cover some distance away.  In the hut, he was rubbing head and neck, said, 'Ouch, what hit me?'

'Overhanging branch I think,' said Lyndon. 'Now, time for your report - plenty to eat on the table.'

'They got me at Chagrin Point, I was checking the place out because it was one we were exploring overseas - much incoming there and my brief was to make a nuisance of myself - so I went down there.  They advised me to accompany them, I did.'

'Right, we're going to leave you in here for now, collected later, ok?  Plenty of food and drink as I said'

'Fine, fine.'


Three of them pulled the kayaks into a dock - she'd taken a spare kayak and paddle, the two others had carried the boats through the undergrowth to an adjoining tributary - then hard paddling for an hour on the river - light was just starting to come up, so it was time to head for cover.  John had stayed behind to observe.

It was Lowell's mother's holiday place they were at now, she being in Daphne at this moment.  The kayaks were taken out and stored in the hut, they were ready for breakfast which Claire insisted on making if they'd take care of other matters.

Around the table, Lowell this time asked, 'Why did you really clobber him?'

'This,' she said.  On the mobile, she brought up the report:

'There's no way Chas was going to get close to that beach unless he charmed his way in. Sorry, I don't buy this.'

'What's with the guy then?' asked Lyndon. 'I mean what's he going to do now?  Someone picking him up from there?'

'Not our business.  John just observes and reports.'

'This Chas - one of theirs?'

'Not sure,' said Claire. Tall, friendly and yet remote, her fair hair was entrancing them as she knew it must - she had to remind them again: 'Strictly business, boys.'

Lowell: 'Are we going to check him out then, over in England I mean?'

'Being done.  Mamma's onto it.  So far nothing showing up.  A puzzle.'

'But why would he have stopped and gone down there?  If he had a good reason, why not say so?'

'Yes,' said Claire, 'that's been going through my mind too.'


Mid Monday

There was a purpose to meeting under the walkway in Lillian, not far from Perdition, instead of where they'd originally planned - Bamahenge near the Marina near Josephine. 

What that told Magnolia was they weren't the only ones with a keen interest in the goings on ... and the goings on were many, so much so that they had to concentrate on one aspect only at any one time. 

There'd been beach curfew breaking, attempts at beach parties, there were naughty tourists in condos with their usual lifestyles, there was illegal produce coming through - all that was standard but not so much illegals - that was more a Texan issue, Floridian. It was just too darned obvious to authorities with all the boats, marinas, traffic from New Orleans, there were known elements among the naval personnel tied in with local baddies - all that was a known-known, but it wasn't the main game.

Those things which had always been - the locals would not be too fussed, they might look away, they had their own lives. But there was one issue which locals would never countenance and no doubt at one of their surreptitious meetings, someone must have floated the idea of jamming the entire area overnight, coinciding with a storm which would also keep people hunkered down but nowhere near hurricane level. 

If you've taken out all power, all electrics but not portable electronics, plus there's a storm brewing - you can get away with a hell of a lot.

As Magnolia now reminded all for the umpteenth time - 'all' being the three others bobbed down one side of this play area, eyes on the walkway - this was all about the trafficking of minors not foreign minors either but kids from this country.  They'd compiled a list ranging from people in the chamber of commerce in a town further up towards Mobile, certainly a couple of people in Josephine, others in Foley, there were eight all up they knew were in on it, it was a massive operation, beyond Magnolia's reach and her reach was far.

The thing was, as Magnolia reminded them again, other eyes would be watching what came in from offshore, from the waterways further in from Gulf Shores - official eyes from shadow sections could take care of those - while the real game was those from the country itself going out.  There was huge money in this, huge blackmail too.

'Why not meet at Bamahenge?' whispered Ken.

'Someone tipped them.  if you wait, they trip themselves up and make that one little error.  They look for main dangers and forget about small dangers who come from nowhere.'

'Pardon, Magnolia Mamma,' said Jo-Anne, 'but it's like a hydra.  OK, we take these photos now, we even expose the villains publicly - someone in a council office covers it up, goes slow, documents are lost. Even if one of two go down after a long legal case - so what?  New ones take their place.  It's a battle against a tsunami.' 

'Yes, Jo-Anne, but it's not them we want, it's the one giving the orders in the first place - and in this case, we know who it is and we can't just expose her - she gives the order and that's us gone.  She's prominent in a church in the area, she's widely respected.  The only way is to catch her in a place she has no reason to be in, show that to people, they start wondering. Is that someone coming now by the way?'

It certainly was.  Magnolia Mamma continued.  'We observe, right, we note, we make no moves, even if we know the people coming down these steps, we let 'em go right on by. If it's a woman with an up-do though, someone y'all know, and if it's also someone, a man, not very tall, a bit wide, wearing wire glasses, then that confirms it?  We discuss it later.  Much later.'

At the top of the walkway now appeared a group of people, maybe six - hang on, eight - and yes, there was the 'lady' in question but the issue was who the others were.  Two no one seemed to recognise, from out of town most like, one was Ms Up-do's bodyguard and chauffeur, which left two others - seven, not eight - one was the wide man described, yup - Magnolia smiled and nodded, good.  The last one was Chas.  Predictable.

Deep in discussion, the party stepped down until they'd gone past, seemingly not aware, security so lax they must have felt invulnerable and that had Claire scanning the area 360.  Ken had the conversation recorded - they'd really been incredibly lax ... but then again, the four of them were technically lawbreaking by being out here - the restrictions were not going to be lifted for a week.

The news channels mentioned a storm brewing out of season, way too early - Magnolia could not see them leaving this to chance.  There was much to do the next couple of days.


Magnolia had one vulnerability beyond the usual - a very bad experience of a couple of storms over the years and the very idea she'd be out and about during one was maybe her best protection - it was simply unthinkable.

And that was part of what she resented in folk - for ages, her thoughts on why this happened or that happened, her thoughts on what birds did, little critters on the ground too, why some people went bad, what was behind it - she saw these things and was humoured for it. None so blind as those who will not, cannot see. But she was careful, she kept her own peace while observing.  She'd had plenty of time to think.  And organise.  And cultivate. In some quarters, she'd be seen as quite a dangerous lady.


She was, at this moment, being driven by an emergency worker, Mark, from Elberta, someone who'd always come through before.  Mark vaguely knew why they were spying on the airport but could not know the whole story.  He trusted her.

The storm was already brewing, she had clammy palms but also a determination to see this night through.  He glanced across, all 6'4" of him, at her determined 5'1" and thought she was amazingly plucky.  The others had thought she was crazy.  She was in the emergency worker outfit.

There was a signal she was now awaiting by pager, not phone.  There were too many ifs - if the pager would work, if the operators had been shut down, if this was electric, not electronic, if this, if that. She prayed it would all go off as planned.

The signal was going to mean one thing - the convoy of victims had pulled in at the airport, the device she had between her feet and hands now, like a spike with a round container on top was about to receive its signal from Pensacola.

And what that meant was that some sort of tower had a device itself and would also get that signal - the area's electricity, services, everything was about to be shut down.  If it did, she was still short of her river by some distance.  Word was it was not an EM pulse, it was more mechanical but  - the bicycle in the back of this van was still there, the kayak was on the river waiting. There were so many things which could kick in to stop her getting away if Mark's van stopped. 

She had a real fear of Foley now for perhaps the first time - had she taken care of all the details?  She thought back over and over it, suppressing the fear which wanted to rise up inside her throat.  Down, down, down.

She looked again at the spike in her hand, the device attached to it, she'd been shown how to use it, how to lock onto the signal in the tower - the good thing was that physical positioning was not the issue - it would seek out the tower itself - the thing was concealment of the device among the foliage and she knew just the place for it - she knew just the giant potted plant for the job. Who else would think of potted plants as places to conceal devices?


They were close now, still on the 98, it was time, she put in a prayer.  She asked him to stop, there was something she had to do which he was going to thank her for tomorrow, she was going to save his family tonight, he knew of her eccentricity as he saw it, but he also knew she meant what she said, he was well aware of the device she'd been carrying and didn't want to know, anything for his family was ok by him.

Mark set her down and she went straight to the pot, shoved in the spike, opened the little cover, watched the reading change, watched the locking as she'd been taught - enormous relief but it was still not over yet.


Back in the van, he headed for the tributary where someone was supposedly waiting for her.  

Now cars were zooming along the road, including police, she needed to be set down this last time and she'd make her own way.  'And Mark, if you’re pushed on any of this, you did pick up a young lady, you can even say you set her down here, but don't say anything other than that.  All right? Don't volunteer anything not askd for but also don't be uncooperative.  Be neutral, ok?'  She hugged him. 'You're a  sweety.'

She got out, probably now reasonably safe - hiding out had been one of her specialties as a girl - the invisble girl.


There was something major happening out there now, as if there'd been an emergency.

That sounded a strange observation as there was a minor emergency, wasn't there?  There was this strange storm, wasn't there, but what she was seeing was beyond all reason now, cars everywhere, going every which way.  She prayed the spike would not be found, she prayed those kids had been found by now, had been sprung, she hoped that evil lot were in custody.  her job was done that way, her job now was to stay alive, uncaptured, to protect her family.


She dropped down the last six feet to the bottom of the bank, a double canoe slid into view from her right, she looked and nodded, then got in.

Virginia and she paddled home, a twenty-five minute trip.  

They stopped paddling to take a breather, she made a call on the mobile and just said she wanted to see the woman, tomorrow, on that very road she'd walked the baby and the toddler. If the woman did not come, she'd be exposed.  The other end clicked off.


Once inside their fourth house, the one they never used, the messages all went out, she prayed that Chas had found his contact - it was going to be five hours before he was out of the country and that man was in for a very rough sail home.  He'd send a cryptic message from the other end she now explained to Virginia.


It was time.  A diminutive lady, quietly determined, with a baby boy in a push chair and the toddler girl walking beside her, meandering down a road under a canopy of foliage.  She was still pretty, wearing pink and soft greys, brownish hair glistening in the broken light.

They ambled along, not stopping though to smell any flowers this time, which had the toddler wondering what was going on.

Onwards they went, she looked down to smile at something the toddler had said.

Then onwards they continued.

A woman in quite a state stepped out into the road in front of them and just said: 'Mamma.'

'Jo-Anne.'  Then: 'Just tell me how you could have been party to that.'

'What's it to you?'

'Oh it's nothing to me, Jo-Anne, I can tell you.  It's everything to you though.  You do know that, don't you?  You've threatened everyone, including your sons.  That's unforgivable.'

The woman started playing mock violin, stopped by Magnolia: 'Listen, I'm giving you an out, purely on account of Lyndon and Lowell, on account of past times, past neighbours.'

'Save your breath.'  In an instant, she'd whipped out a small pistol, something struck her hand and she dropped the gun, grabbing her wrist with the other hand, excruciating pain, she kept looking left and right, expecting something to happen and when it didn't, she dropped to her knees.  

'It's over ... isn't it?'

'Not necessarily, I told you that. It's over for three mayors, two governors and for all the others.'

'Why though?  Why did you have it in for Up-do especially?'

'She lied to me.  To my face.'

'Just that?  Not for those children?'

'For all of it, but that lie just tipped it over the edge, the arrogance.'

'What now?'

'You go your way, we go ours.'

The woman was nonplussed, she had no idea which way to react ... how ... what ...

She turned on her heel, wrist still in her other hand, and went back to the bushes to await further instructions from someone.  Anyone.   Magnolia and entourage continued their little jaunt in the morning cool.

At the corner she was joined by Ken. ‘Dangerous using a directed microwave.’

‘You know about it then.’

‘Pretty obvious.  Mark worked on that unit, they’ve been after low range for ages, seeks fast moving solid objects in its direction, boils the hand briefly too. Weapons are getting nasty now - not sure if non-lethal is much better than conventional.’

‘They disable, they don’t kill.’

‘In your hands maybe.’

‘They’re the only hands to have em.’

‘All right, you asked to see me.’

‘Keep walking, Ken, many eyes, many devices still on.  Spike’s still in the pot?  Good.  No one on their side wants to be seen, no one on ours.  Going to be tricky retrieving that.  Needs to be switched off coz I can't see those muvvers in Pensacola doing it.’

‘That’s if anyone’s seen it.’

‘Oh come on, it wasn't that well hidden, not if they've tumbled to how it works, which they must have done.  We're either mutually watching or else -’

‘Or else they’ve changed the pulse in the tower and the spike doesn't matter any more. Something more like Vigilant.  Endless battle.  Can you speak of Chas?’

‘Yep but not here.  We'll meet as arranged.’  The natives were getting restless. ‘Ken, I’ll have to go. He was ok, Chas, he had to play it that way, it gave him quite a few names.  We knew most of it, now they do in England too, those on the ‘good’ side.  It might help. Say hello to Ginny for me.'  She was chuckling.  'Ciao.’

And they were gone.  He watched for some moments, then went back to the car.


it was a Wednesday, they'd all converged from different directions on the prefab below the deck, some by boat, some by car, then on foot, they had only fifteen minutes to be on the safe side, Claire had prepared the meal, this was a question answering session.

'When are we going to have some sort of normality again?' was the first question by Virginia, baby on her lap, gazing at his mama. 'Why did we even need to run this thing about Dad and I in that place?'

'For Chas, for eyes and ears watching.'

'Yes but why that ridiculous wall with the wiring?  Why all the cloak and dagger?'

'Effect.  keep them guessing.'

'But Dad gave it away with all that being in love with Magnolia stuff.'

'I quite enjoyed it,' smiled 'Magnolia'.  'After a while, it was exciting, quite fun.'

'Quite?  You're sounding English.'

'I've noticed,' grimaced her husband.

'So?  It was fun.  Now ask your questions coz we're not out of this yet by any means.'

'All right, Mom,' asked Claire. 'What's with this pulse thing?  Why did it shut down power but not electronics, airwaves, services? How did your spike change that?'

'It didn't.  The power shutdown wasn't us, it could never be us - it was them, the ones we're fighting.  All my device did was stop the EM pulse.  And even I don't know who our benefactor was, but who's complaining?'

'But,' said Ken, 'you're still not off the hook - what stopped the flight out?'

'Mark, Tyler, a couple of officers.  There was nothing super clever there, just apprehension of the pilots, the crew, the plane was just sitting there and we knew the good people, the bad and the not-known among the emergency crews, among the police.'

'So you were a decoy.  My wife in danger.'

'Ken, it's our mission, isn't it?  Part of it. Gives me a break, the girls are grown up, gives them a break, you still have me home at night, it protected our grandchildren and those poor souls in their clutches, plus we're funded - I couldn't tell you all of it because you still have contact with work and there are two people there -'

'Yes, OK, no need to name them. For how much longer?'

Said Claire, half exasperated: 'Who knows? Things really have changed, Dad, it's going to take a lot to break this horror up.  We have to keep regrouping, reorganising, staying one step ahead.'

'I knew that.  Just asking for the record.  We have to go.  Time's up.'



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