Excerpt of Summit Seekers

A duopoly exposed.

A duopoly exposed.

SUMMIT SEEKERS

by

Gary S Sloan

Amazon Edition

Copyright 2011 by Gary S Sloan

Amazon Edition, License Notes

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* * * * *

 

Dedication

 

To the disempowered and weakened,

To the abused and refused.

To any human who has suffered,

At the hands of indifference,

May this story speak to your heart,

And provide you needed joy.

To the oppressor,

May you shudder at your avarice,

 And your selfishness.

* * * * *

CHAPTER ONE

Why bother?

Jonathan Heally raised his straight Scotch, took a slow drink, and looked beyond the edge of the hardwood bar. On the back wall, the clock read 1:30 — 1:30 Thursday morning.

Groaning, Heally shut his blue eyes and began to dig at his temples. The full-bodied liquor satisfied his taste, but the alcohol left him befuddled and wanton. At the moment, his head hurt and his tongue felt like a chock of white oak. Why bother? he asked again, with cynicism.

For six hours, Heally had sat in Bernie’s Club, first watching the last four innings of yet another boring baseball game, as the Colorado Rockies lost their fourth outing in two weeks, this stinker to the St. Louis Cardinals. August in Denver was usually exciting. But to Jonathan Heally, time, place and mood no longer mattered.

After the ballgame, Jonathan’s attention drifted to the patrons of the small nightclub. The crowd was diverse, races and genders brought together over plentiful spirits and simple comfort food — all served up quick and easy, accompanied by Bernie’s universal smile.

From the bar, no single person stood out in Jonathan’s inspection, all patrons absorbing the night in smiles and motions spawned by the moment, nobody oppressed by doom and gloom.

Likewise, if any of the crowd had bothered to inspect Jonathan Heally, they would have noticed a person drawn by dark thoughts. He was the 33-year-old man with straight blond hair, seated on the barstool, most well-groomed, dressed in a soft yellow shirt and tan casual slacks. He was the person whose head seemed hoisted on a neck too weak to bear its weight, and with hands that scrubbed at his face, even when the Rockies managed a great play with the baseball.

From behind the bar, Bernie had tried conversation several times. Gloom and doom in the food and spirit business are like cold rain on an Independence Day Parade. They scatter the patrons and smother the hallowed festival. So Bernie had tried in earnest to lighten the forlorn man’s mood — but nothing seemed to penetrate the hardened shell that encased Jonathan Heally’s dark, suppressed world.

Sad as it seemed, Scotch was all the morose man allowed in, so Bernie shut his trap and kept on pouring, careful to space out the booze with bowls of salted peanuts and plenty of crisp pretzels. Wouldn’t do to have a patron sheer off a power pole somewhere along Colorado Boulevard. The Glendale area in Denver bristled with hungry young police officers eager to gain experience booking any offender, and implicating any accessory to the crime, like nightclub owners who serve depressed patrons too many tumblers of cheap booze.

After all, Bernie was a businessman — so Bernie was careful not to implicate himself. Further, Bernie didn’t care what storms raged inside Jonathan Heally’s dark world. Only that the pathetic man pay as he struggled against his tempests, and not allow them to batter anybody else. So far, Jonathan Heally had fought his battle quite ably, and quite alone. And for Businessman Bernie, that’s the way a good customer should behave.

But now, Jonathan Heally squirmed on his red-leather barstool, wrinkled his narrow nose and looked at himself in the mirror behind the liquor bottles. His slender, tanned face peered back faint and weak, and soaked with mood-altering alcohol. Soft music played in the background, offering Frank Sinatra’s version of That’s Life. Jonathan listened as Ol’ Blue Eyes’ leathery tenor crooned on top of masterful arranging and superb musicianship. On the ending chord, Jonathan managed to smile. Am I the only person under 60 that appreciates Sinatra and the composers, arrangers and musicians who made him shine? Often Jonathan thought he was the only person that experienced anything significant. Hmm, he thought, in a sort of morose self-pity. Some psychiatrist might label me manic-depressive with such inward absorption. Possibly right, too. But what the heck does a shrink know? Does a shrink feel my pain? Does a shrink experience my confusion?

Jonathan released his gaze from the mirror and stared at Bernie’s back, as he dried a tall glass and placed it on the middle shelf along the back wall.

“Got black coffee?” Jonathan asked with a thick tongue. He raised his glass and finished the last of his Scotch, save one small ice cube, which he sucked into his mouth. When one drinks, one should always do a proper job. Do it proper, whatever the job may be. Such had always been Jonathan Heally’s motto.

Bernie turned and nodded with a glint of approval in his dark eyes. Coffee on the breath would favor the club owner’s position, if a blood-alcohol test were administered. Pleased, Bernie returned with a large mug of the hot, steaming, black equalizer.

“Drink up, buddy,” he said as he slid a coaster over and placed the tan mug on the counter. “Stuff’s good for what ails you,” and he gave a wry grin and returned to his work.

“Hmm … good for what ails me?” Jonathan asked in a mutter. “More likely good for what ails you.” Then Jonathan snickered at his cynicism, took up the coffee mug and blew over the rim.

He checked the clock again. One-fifty. Within hours, the mass of Denver’s humanity would rise from slumber and busy themselves with preparation for the upcoming workday. The breadwinners of the Mile High City, the vast labor force driven to support the grand experiment of capitalism, the consumer class, the spenders and savers, the managers and workers — the entire lot anxious to make a mark in the magnanimous society of the good ol’ U.S. of A. Jonathan sneered in disgust, because once again he found himself excluded. Once again, the glorious magnanimity of Corporate America had seen fit to lay him off.

“Despicable low-life jerks,” Jonathan said in a low growl, as he considered his current situation. If this had been the second, third or fourth time he had experienced such treatment, Jonathan would have absorbed the shock to his self-esteem, and moved on like all workers must in a capitalist society in constant flux.

However, this wasn’t the second, third, nor fourth, but the eighth time Jonathan had received a pink slip — the eighth time he had been sacrificed on the altar of malfeasance, by self-aggrandizing, shortsighted business moguls. Beyond doubt, eight was enough, and Jonathan was more than just disgusted; he was on the farthest edge of outrage.

Jonathan narrowed his eyes as another morose thought climbed up from the depths of his anger. Perhaps it’s you, Jonathan. Yeah, you’re a sloppy worker. Either that or you’re unreliable and nonproductive. Of course, that’s what the system would say. But Jonathan simply did not believe the corporate world’s obfuscation.

Further, the commercial media would label him a failure, or tag him as a malcontent, or a general nuisance to the wisdom-merchants who stand upfront to navigate their business vessels into oblivion. After all, high-powered decision makers always do what’s best for the majority. Commercial Democracy at its rock-solid finest. The brilliant leading the dim-witted. The Gods over the Demons. The faithful over the wayward. “It’s all a load of crap,” Jonathan said.

Then the man who sat alone at the bar sucked in a mouthful of hot coffee and swished the liquid over his palette. He considered spitting the bitter stuff out. But what good would vulgarity do? Would moral outrage somehow alter the past? Not for an instant, and Jonathan Heally knew it.

Jonathan Heally also knew something everybody else knew, but refused to discuss. When a corporation needs fast money the primary solution is to sacrifice the swimmers over the dead weight. Though they never admit it, well-ensconced managers realize that future promotions depend on their ability to sacrifice decency at the hands of indecency.

Across the corporate landscape, decision makers conjure ill-advised plans and good, honest, well-deserving people end up paying for the decision makers’ flagrant stupidity. Especially, the white male — hearty in spirit, girded with eternal optimism, who stands tall on their list of sacrificial lambs. Yes, the white guy is the easy target, the unprotected one that moseys through life, unsecured by political correctness, motherhood, gender protection or sexual preference.

Once again, Jonathan Heally stared into the mirror behind the liquor bottles. He wanted to hurt somebody, anybody, even himself, the unfairness so outraged him.

Suddenly, Jonathan sensed an epiphany — a new beginning, and also a new ending. He sensed the futility of a life forever forced into resurrection. He sensed that the pain of too many rejections left him no way out beyond self-destruction.

Nope, no resurrection of mind, body and spirit this time, Jonathan considered. This time somebody, somewhere, will have to sweep up the litter of a life sacrificed on the altar of somebody else’s convenience. A life infused with capacity and constrained by incapability. A campaign of talent destroyed by the less talented, crushed by envy and weakness and shallowness. Give me the path of least resistance that savors the stupid over the intelligent, and I give you the good old U.S. of A.

Jonathan Heally slugged down the last of his coffee, and ground his molars into the bitters that spilled from the bottom of the mug. If it’s the dregs they offer, then let them clean up their own disgusting mess. Let them drink the slag of a life gone awry by arrogance and mean-spiritedness. Let them save themselves and destroy themselves at the same time.

Morbid thoughts came up out of Jonathan’s soul like deep, dark demons. He glared into the mirror and allowed the dark beings their voices. Let them die at the hands of ignorance and direness. Let them eat their cake and swallow the grounds of their black souls. And let their cake represent the last of my spirit — a spirit cleaved against a mighty mountaintop, somewhere off in the vast Rocky Mountain Range.

Jonathan Heally placed his coffee mug down on the counter, and nodded to his blurred image in the mirror. He fumbled 40 dollars out of his wallet and dropped the bills onto the bar top. Even in a sodden stupor, he was still able to figure his bar tab with accuracy. The total came to 32 dollars, leaving an eight-dollar tip for Bernie’s services. Unemployed, with no real prospects for work, Jonathan still felt an obligation to his fellow humans.

Pushing away from the bar, Jonathan turned around and moved off toward the front door as straight as his drunkenness allowed. Indeed, Jonathan Heally would leave Bernie’s Club with a solid plan for the future. Oh, his plan wouldn’t represent an Earth-shattering implementation. But Jonathan hoped it would at least prove useful. Nope — no bad decision making like the corporate world manifests with ease. Just a well-laid plan, executed to perfection — clean, decisive and final.

“Ha,” he laughed, as he approached the door. “It’s all so simple, and so very, very honest. I’ll do it. I’ll take their final victory away from them. Steal their thunder and wield the lightning myself.

“Oh, yes, I’ll play God, just like they play God. But this time we play for keeps, you sorry, spineless, jerks. This time it’s for all the marbles and I’m holding the shooter. Screw all of you,” and then Jonathan Heally shouldered through the door and entered the cool Colorado night.

A soft moon shone through a thin blanket of gray clouds. Jonathan looked up and sneered. Straightaway, he squared his shoulders, shook his head and began to stumble off. Later that day, he would perform his final dance, thank you very much. Jonathan Heally’s final, pathetic dance on the grand stage of American life.

Screw all the critics who condemn my performance.

And screw all the cretins who administer the system.

* * * * *

For the drained spirit of Jonathan Heally, the drive home seemed to linger forever. Eventually, he pulled his dark blue pickup into the covered parking space provided by his condominium complex, thankful his slow drive home had implicated neither Bernie, nor Bernie’s reputable emporium.

Jonathan lived in a decent area, the old Lowry Air Force Base on the eastern edge of Denver. Lowry was the base made famous by Dwight D. Eisenhower during his presidency back in the ’50s. “Ike” even had his own quarters in the very building where Jonathan lived, and often golfed on the same layout where Jonathan golfed, although Jonathan liked to think he golfed much better.

The sell-off of Lowry Air Force Base came under President William Jefferson Clinton, and thereafter, Jonathan’s building was revitalized into small, well-priced, single-family condominium units.

Jonathan became indebted for his condo two years ago, during a short, yet prosperous, stint with Western Mountain Bell — the telecom giant headquartered in upper downtown Denver. After all, debt is American, but back-leveraged debt is less than wise, and Jonathan signed the line on a conventional loan, rather than an Adjustable Rate Mortgage, a seduction he considered dangerous to himself and to the economy as a whole. Western Mountain Bell lulled him into taking the plunge, and Jonathan dived into the deep economic waters like a true Olympian.

But of course, Western Mountain Bell, in spite of solid profits, released their CEO, and hired another visionary, who promised even greater earnings. As one might expect, the corporation’s new plan required cost restructuring that mandated tossing out as many workers as possible to inflate the value of its stock.

Often this meant the white guy — the only demographic in America who enjoyed no protection. The Jew boy of modern capitalism. The ultimate fall guy against corporate self-examination. The pawn of the status quo. The blessed savior of Mary’s Sacred Womb. Jonathan Heally, able technical writer, among others.

Jonathan considered the details of the layoff at Western Mountain Bell, and also his most recent, the layoff at IWI Incorporated, as he drove down Alameda Avenue on his way home. He considered the unfairness of all eight of his bad encounters at the hands of the corporate world over the last 11 years — and he considered his decision. He considered, also, the rightness of his mind in spite of his drunkenness. There was no changing course now. The final dance awaited, and he guaranteed a good and fitting show for any who cared to observe.

Once inside his condo, Jonathan staggered to the bedroom and collapsed, still clothed, onto his bed. Then he rolled over and resettled to soon fall asleep.

The final dance?

Oh, the dance would prove final, all right. And Jonathan Heally would dance his dance alone, just as he had lived his life the same. Thank you, America the Beautiful. Fire up the ovens and cremate another ne’er-do-well. Deem yourself noble and ignore your democratic underpinnings. America, where all men are created equal, all men except the white male. The silent sufferer for the masses. A man to make his mother proud. And nobody cared — except, of course, for your local, friendly undertaker.

* * * * *

CHAPTER TWO

Jonathan Heally blew air out of his lungs to release the tightness in his chest. He shot quick, nervous glances to the east and west, and pulled back on the yoke to raise the nose of the Cessna Skyhawk off the runway. CentennialAirport flew past in a soft blur of light and dark. Southeast Denver would hear the plane take-off, but would never hear it land. Jonathan Heally had just finished filing what would become a one-way flight plan.

Beyond the windscreen, the night sky shone clear with unlimited visibility. The clock showed 10:05 pm and the thermometer read 62 degrees. Jonathan had reserved the Skyhawk over three weeks ago, several days before he received his layoff notice at IWI Incorporated in Englewood, a suburb south of Denver.

Times had been reasonable then. Jonathan had labored at IWI for over 18 months, and all signs indicated complete job security. Then came the word of centralization, a gathering of Information Technology resources to headquarters in Minneapolis. And, of course, Minneapolis’ hires took precedent over more expendable elements. Who was expendable? Molly Jensen — single with two school-aged kids — wasn’t. Nor was James Wilson, an affable black man in his mid-thirties, who supported a wife and three small children.

Jonathan’s technical writing team had been three — then fell to zero. Both Molly and James were reassigned to new Help Desk positions in Englewood, although at less pay. But a job is a job, and Jonathan would have accepted one with gratitude had one been offered.

Of course, the Human Resources Department, ever vigilant in their duties, labored in despair over who would go and who would stay, to end up making the easy choice, and crush the guy, not of color. After all, checkout his resume.

Jonathan blinked several times and tried to concentrate, as he banked the Skyhawk 90 degrees to port. A large commercial jetliner flew ten miles out over the foothills at 25,000 feet, in a slow, measured descent toward Denver International. Another plane, smaller and less daunting, approached north to south, lower in altitude, heading toward Centennial, where Jonathan had just taken off.

The sky glistened with starlight and a large silver moon dominated the night. Jonathan felt invigorated by the flight, but a decision is a decision, and required carrying out to the fullest.

That part of Jonathan Heally’s brain, the Human Resources Department of his thinking, had proposed the alternative over the eighth Scotch earlier that morning at Bernie’s Club. Jonathan’s management team most high — his defiance and disgust with the system — had agreed without controversy upon the plan. Firm and binding, the Board of Directors had signed off, and Jonathan Heally, Incorporated, would liquidate all assets with no further discussion, thank you very much. No fretting, no fuss, no regret, market share lost with no fresh ideas to reverse the decline, the 33-year-old company would go the way of all failing enterprises: Spread its assets over the business landscape, where any and all takers may browse, rummage and sidle off strengthened by the failed enterprise’s losses. After all, profit/loss is the American way.

Take the fools who endure public humiliation on reality television for the limited prospect of fame and fortune. Profit/loss is the American way.

Take the boneheads who crash their bodies into other boneheads in pursuit of meaningless territory during football contests. Profit/loss is the American way.

Take the intellectual who contemplates goodness, kindness and fairness. Away, Gandhi worshiper. You’re nothing but a wistful fool. Gather neither your aimlessness, nor your weakness before the almighty idol of convention. We know so much and you know so little. Dash your idealism to Earth and spread your tired guts out for the buzzards to gather over, and know that your time among us was insignificant. History is on our side. Profit/loss is the American way.

Within minutes, Jonathan Heally had the small single-engine Skyhawk cruising along at 5,000 feet. His flight plan had logged a simple outing, a night circumference of the metropolitan area, no more than 200 nautical miles total. Nothing fancy, just a well-controlled joy ride, the very backbone of the recreational flier.

Jonathan had taken on 28 gallons of aviation fuel, half filling each tank, to avoid weighing down the airplane. His plan was to climb to 10,000 feet, cruise at 60 percent power, and wind his way through the mountaintops, until he could take a straight vector on Long’s Peak. Then he planned to max out the altitude of the Skyhawk — around 13,500 feet, depending on barometric pressure and air temperature — and fly the small plane right into the summit. Quick, painless and simple. Total liquidation of Jonathan Heally, Incorporated. Gather the scavengers and feast on the remains. Survival of the fittest. Keen business competition. Profit/loss is the American way.

Jonathan checked his heading and his air speed — 280 degrees at 115 knots. Just as he planned. Below, the small Denver suburb of Wheat Ridge sparkled with ground lights. Jonathan could see 44th Avenue and the small apartment he had rented beside a placid lake some 11 years ago.

Young, full of hope and strength and goodwill for the future, the small place had been Jonathan’s first home, beyond his room at the University of Colorado. Soon after, the first job came with ease, paved with outstanding academic achievement.

EnerSoft, a Denver-based oil and gas software house — small, cutting edge and bold — gave Jonathan his first opportunity to shine. But his light burned with brilliance for the first year, thereafter dimming ever more under the cutthroat ruthlessness of his fellow employees. Even now, Jonathan shuddered with disgust at the stupidity of the majority of them, small-minded simpletons ever keen to intimidate their colleagues in a childish effort to ameliorate themselves. Geez, but the workplace is a disgraceful environment, Jonathan considered. Most of the people are so incredibly insensitive in their treatment of their fellow employees — nothing more than steely-eyed, flesh-devouring predators.

Jonathan supposed the nature of a small company derived its essence from the top. Bill Hynert of EnerSoft had seemed a likable enough fellow. But his company, although successful in the beginning, was destined to fail. Hynert’s mistake, in Jonathan’s mind, was a total misunderstanding of the synergy necessary to keep an operation functioning at peak efficiency. The paradigm he provided, one of youthful exuberance and stone cold confidence, opened a treasure trove of gold for Hynert, but gave him no wisdom in the graces of longevity. In the end, EnerSoft devoured itself; and to Jonathan’s great sadness, he soon discovered that his career path stretched before him, one disgraceful encounter after another, until he could no longer endure.

Jonathan massaged his temples with his right hand. The loud reassuring grind of the Lycoming engine filled the cockpit of the Skyhawk. The air inside was stuffy, so Jonathan opened a small air duct and directed the flow over his face. The coolness made him smile. In paradox, the pleasantness of the flight reassured him of his decision.

Soon, less than an hour from now, he would face the reckoning of his Board of Directors, and life would perish in a fiery crash into the summit of Long’s Peak. Had he longed for this from the beginning? he wondered. Had fate played a perfect hand in the sordid game of Jonathan Heally’s life? Or had he been dealt treasonous cards by a corrupt and vicious system? Jonathan chuckled and shrugged. No matter, I’m tired to the bone, sick of the game, and disgusted beyond reproach. Spent and whittled right down to a nub, the time’s arrived to liquidate. Jonathan gave a decisive nod and darkened his brow.

The next 45 minutes passed in a flash of considerations. Will the Skyhawk climb high enough in the thin mountain air to reach the summit of Long’s Peak? Will the power plant overheat? Will the flight control system respond as designed in the thin atmosphere? Jonathan didn’t know why such trivia were important to him, but all the details pulled on him anyway. Next, Jonathan checked his fuel gauge. Sixteen gallons remained in the two tanks. Would he make the six o’clock news? he wondered. He sneered at his selfish consideration. “Who cares?” he asked. “What is this anyway … a Columbine Massacre?” Jonathan wiggled the wings of the Skyhawk for fun, and tried to clear his mind. Ahead, he could see the altitude beacon on top of Long’s Peak. He pulled back on the yoke and nosed the Skyhawk upward. “Let’s see what you can do, little fellow,” he said with happiness. “We’re almost home. Yes, we’re almost home.”

The Skyhawk climbed at a steady pace, even at 85 percent power, and soon pinned the altimeter at 13,000 feet. “You’re a stout little climber, aren’t you?” Jonathan asked. “A really big heart for such a small frame.”

Ahead, the beacon flashed in alternating pulses of red and white. The lights remained framed above the nose of the Skyhawk, but ever so little now. Jonathan added ten percent more power and tried to climb to the light. Maybe I’ll clip the beacon on the way down. What a great target. Dead center bull’s-eye. How super is that? Do the job properly now. Whatever you do, do the job properly. Jonathan steadied the climbing airplane and readied himself for the final, fateful dive.

Three minutes later the red and white pulses flashed to Jonathan’s front, no more than 20 nautical miles away. Ten minutes of life left. Ten minutes to make his peace with a society that had beaten him to a frothing pulp, disgraced and degraded him, defiled his fundamental sense of fair play, and stolen his last vestige of dignity.

Nine minutes now.

Eight.

The Skyhawk ground onward oblivious to the sacrifice the little-plane-that-could would soon make. The Board of Directors said liquidate — and you, my stouthearted little friend, are part of their decision.

Seven minutes and then six.

Jonathan thought of the wicked beast of a woman, Donna Dade, the wretched man-witch that gave him his layoff notice from IWI. How her pale blue eyes had glinted at the pain she suffered upon him, the up-turn of her dry thin, cold lips, and the filth of her demeanor. How she had heaved the ax of rejection into his heart with such glee. The taste of blood is heady, indeed, isn’t it, man-witch? Taste the potion once and you’re forever smitten. Kill. Kill. Kill. Smite. Smite. Smite. And dream at will of your next encounter with sinister powers unleashed against the innocent. Ride your mission to the summits of power. Seek ye more and demand aggrandizement. Seek ye the summit and know yourself worthy. One minute.

Jonathan Heally steadied the Skyhawk and nosed the plane forward just a bit. The beacon flashed in welcome. The engine ground out its symphony of death as the cold air flowed over Jonathan’s dry brow. Ever closer. Ever closer. Steady now. A little lower. A smidgen to starboard. Off the throttle a touch. Hold the heading. Hold the heading right there. Yes. The time has come to layoff the insignificant job of life.

Suddenly, a powerful, white light burst into the cockpit of the Skyhawk. Out of instinct, Jonathan yanked the yoke back to bring the plane out of the dive, but just as suddenly, the light blinked out. Jonathan gasped. Ahead he saw something incredible. He blinked his eyes in disbelief. He looked past the windscreen of the cockpit again. Nope, no denying it. A gleaming disk-like craft hovered in the air a short distance ahead. Jonathan banked hard right to avoid a collision, but the disk anticipated the danger and sped upward, then tilted forward and flew off to the east at an amazing speed.

“Crimany, a flying saucer,” Jonathan said.

Without thought, he banked hard left and jammed the throttle to the max. The Lycoming bellowed as the Skyhawk sped forward. Just that fast the chase was on, and Jonathan’s destiny with suicide vanished in a sudden rush of excitement.

Adventure surged through Jonathan’s veins, as he bent forward and stared at the gleaming silver disk, while the strange craft sped into the star-encrusted sky.

“Heck, I’ll never keep pace,” he said. “It’s so fast and agile. Geez, it’s really a flying saucer. I can’t believe it.” Jonathan slapped his knee in exhilaration.

The disk slowed then, as if pausing.

“Ah-ha, you want to play, huh? Well, play we certainly will,” Jonathan said. “I’ll catch up with you soon … just don’t disappear into the night.”

Instead of speeding off, the saucer stopped, and began to hover just to the front of the small plane. Jonathan yelled in triumph. He could see the shell of the small craft — metallic, silvery smooth, absent of rivets or sections. Jonathan dropped the nose of the Skyhawk to fly under the strange object. He craned his head upward to inspect the saucer’s undercarriage. In a flash, he passed beneath the chassis. “Incredible. The freaking thing is really there.”

Then Jonathan banked hard to return to the area. As soon as the plane turned, the same overpowering light overwhelmed the cockpit. Jonathan screamed and blinked his eyes against the brightness. He tried to steer out of the glare, but to his horror, his arms refused to react. Petrified, Jonathan realized the Skyhawk’s engine had died and his airplane no longer flew.

“What the…?” he asked.

Suspended somewhere over the mountains at 13,500 feet, the Skyhawk hung motionless in the sky. Somehow, the strange disk had taken control of Jonathan’s aircraft.

“Oh my no … the freaking thing has captured me.”

Then everything blacked out and Jonathan Heally’s head fell to one side; and he tumbled hopelessly into a coma of endless darkness.

* * * * *

CHAPTER THREE

Jonathan opened his eyes and shrieked. The nose of the Cessna Skyhawk pointed downward, and the plane was locked in a steep dive toward the altitude beacon on top of Long’s Peak. Jonathan yanked up on the yoke with all his might, but the Skyhawk failed to respond.

“Come on,” he said, pulling ever harder, his feet crammed into the deck, his back pressed solid against the pilot’s seat.

“Level off. Come on, level off.”

The pulses of the beacon flashed ever closer, ever brighter. Red. White. Red. White. Even in the darkness, Jonathan could see the summit house now, the stone, open-door pavilion, where hikers and visitors sheltered from the wind and cold that always thrashed the top of the mountain. A crash seemed unavoidable. The Skyhawk proved committed to the dive and refused to budge toward the distant horizon.

The cold rush from the open air duct spilled over Jonathan’s sweaty face. The Skyhawk shuddered and the engine whined in anguish, as the prop spun at maximum revolutions. Jonathan shut his eyes to the inevitable. Death seemed certain. He felt the plane lurch downward and he knew his life would soon disappear. He gritted his teeth, and in a fleeting second considered dying. His spirit rebelled, and he realized he wanted to live. Yet the Earth rushed ever closer. Ever more daunting. Ever more certain.

Suddenly a burst of wind caught the Skyhawk’s wings and thrust the small plane upward. Jonathan’s head flew backward into the headrest. His eyes burst open and he stared at the altitude tower in front of the plane, closing-in fast — so very, very fast. He threw the yoke to the right and maneuvered the ailerons for maximum response. The plane banked with abruptness, but nosed ever downward. Jonathan threw the yoke back to the left to skirt the tower and pull out of the fall. The plane still balked. Another strong gust blasted the underbelly of the Skyhawk, and lifted the airframe ever so much. Jonathan scrambled to gain control, and after great effort and worthy piloting, somehow stabilized the airplane. Jonathan yanked his head around in time to see the summit beacon flash goodbye as the Skyhawk sped past. Death had miraculously been averted by the whims of the upslope winds. Jonathan yelled in triumph, his face flushed with joy and surprise.

“What the heck were you doing asleep at the helm?” he asked. “Are you totally insane?”

Jonathan took a deep breath and released the air with a whoosh. He considered his foolishness, his ironclad stupidity. Never had he lost control of an aircraft, let alone given one over to the fancies of unpiloted flight. He shook his head in utter disbelief. He couldn’t believe he had fallen asleep. He shook his head again, trying to clear away the cobwebs of dismay. What the heck just happened? Why was I flying out over Long’s Peak anyway? Didn’t I plan a leisure spin around Denver a couple of times? Wasn’t that my original plan? He strained to think with clearness, but his thoughts spun about in his brain like wild and disparate whirlwinds. He tried to put the world back into order, but something seemed oddly out of place. A strange undercurrent flowed beneath his everyday being, something he sensed more than he felt. “Am I sick or something?” he asked. “Was the fling at Bernie’s last night too much? Am I still drunk? Geez, how stupid is that?”

Jonathan gathered himself and tried to reason through his confusion. His heart shuddered as he considered his fuel load. He remembered he had taken only half the Skyhawk’s capacity. After all, his flight plan had logged nothing but a recreational spin in the night over Denver. How in the world had he flown so far off course? The fuel gauge read less than 11 gallons — barely enough fuel to return to Centennial. Jonathan grabbed another deep breath and savored its goodness. “Not a word to anyone,” he told himself. “The FAA will yank my license in a second, if they suspect blackouts or Narcolepsy.” But one of the two conditions had to explain the situation. Jonathan seethed when he considered the consequences. No job now thanks to that oozing man-witch, Donna Dade, and the heartless money mongers she sucks up to at IWI. No job, no health insurance — another labor tactic suffered on the cruelly enslaved American worker. And the costs of testing for said medical conditions would prove well beyond Jonathan’s means. Another outrage of American Society. As a result, he might well lose everything, even his condo at Lowry, if he submitted to the necessary exams. He sneered, not remembering for an instant his original intent, that of killing himself, out in the clear, cold sky over Long’s Peak. At the moment, Jonathan Heally remained perplexed about everything.

Indeed, Jonathan — locked in the throes of depression — had intended to murder himself out of sheer despair tonight. Then came the strange encounter with the disk-like craft, the frightful moment of capture by some strange and powerful force field that suspended the Skyhawk in mid-air, that turned Jonathan’s muscle control off like a child’s night-light, and his consciousness out like the very grip of death. None of this did Jonathan Heally recall. All that remained was the paralyzing notion that he had somehow lost control of his mental faculties. That he had come close to destruction, save a fortuitous awakening, seconds before smashing his small plane into the trillion-ton boulder field on top of Long’s Peak.

“Crimany, what’s happening to me?” he asked.

He squirmed in the pilot’s seat and looked out at the distant lights of Denver, then settled back and began to busy himself with flying his airplane.

“Just get this machine onto the tarmac at Centennial, for Chrissake. I can sort out the details later.”

Jonathan steeled himself and set about the job of piloting the Skyhawk back home. Doing a proper job was a virtue Jonathan always prided himself on, though he had no way of remembering his failure at hand earlier that night.

The original job description demanded he kill himself, and here he was, flying back to civilization, having failed at the task. Little did he know that his job description had suddenly changed, and there remained plenty of work to accomplish.

Jonathan Heally, Incorporated, was back in business and tasked with the near impossible. What had been a frightening experience with death, would soon reveal itself as a mind-boggling restatement of his current worth on this, the third planet from the sun. But right then, Jonathan Heally was ignorant of everything, save the immediate requirement. Get this sweet little single-engine machine back on the ground at Centennial, before the ground meets said machine in an irrevocable conflict. No fuel meant no power. Of that Jonathan was positive. Yet even absolutes, such as the force of gravity, would come under question in Jonathan’s near future.

“Just land this plane and sort out the details later,” he said again, as he flew into the night. The job was scripted, and as far as Jonathan Heally’s conscious mind was concerned, he would perform exactly as expected.

“Just land this plane.”

And that is exactly what Jonathan Heally managed — on fumes and courage, and the feeling there was much more to understand, and much more yet to accomplish.

* * * * *

The next morning, Jonathan arose and decided to go out for breakfast, instead of staying in and battling his insecurities of little or no future with little or no will to continue. And now he had the added prospect of ill-health. It all seemed much too formidable, so he decided a calming breakfast, with plenty of hot coffee, surrounded by lots of people, would help.

In addition, he reasoned with pride, that an outing among the masses would help settle him, a mixing among all the other folks in this big, cold, impersonal, and indifferent city, might soothe his wilted spirit, and gain him some much-needed strength. Might even help him understand his predicament. Anything would help.

An hour later, Jonathan found himself behind the wheel of his pickup truck, and driving the short distance, to one of his favorite little restaurants, along Havana Street in East Denver — Sally’s Home Stove.

When he arrived, Jonathan took a seat in the middle of the dining area, where he surrounded himself with as many people as possible. Noisy conversations and delicious smells filled the dining room, and Jonathan settled into the mix, grateful for the security the restaurant provided. A copy of the Denver Post sat on the table, and, at once, Jonathan grabbed the newspaper, just to occupy himself with the superficial.

The waitress arrived — a tall, lithe woman, college-age, quite pretty, tantalizing figure — detached from her job out of sheer boredom. “Good morning,” she said. “You ready to order?”

Jonathan hadn’t looked at the menu, but a small restaurant, early Friday morning, held little surprise for the culinary palette.

“Ham and scrambled eggs. Grits and whole wheat toast and a cup of hot coffee, if you don’t mind?” Jonathan smiled into the pretty woman’s face as she jotted his order onto her green pad.

“Coming right up,” she said as she turned away. Then she walked off to the kitchen with good intent in her hips and fine legs.

Jonathan sighed at her passing, took up the paper and read the headline: “World Economic Summit Expects Protest Problem. Delegates On Heightened Alert.”

Jonathan sneered and chuckled. “Now that’s just what this town needs is a load of fat-assed jerks meeting to come up with more ways to strangle the commonplace, workaday world.” Jonathan tightened his brow, took a measured breath and began to read the article.

“’Next Monday, the city of Denver is proud to host its first World Economic Summit (WES) at the DenverTradeCenter in mid-downtown. International business leader, Klaus Wilhelm Kruger, founder of WES, opens the first session at nine in the morning. Theme of this year’s summit is ‘International Goodwill Through Economic Prosperity For All’.”

“Oh, please,” Jonathan said. “‘Economic Prosperity For All.’ What a witless cliché. There’s not one of those fat, cowardly, criminals that isn’t worth millions upon millions, all sucked from the coffers of the noble working class. All those lardy cretins do is converse and plot in world-class luxury, while the majority of people slave away on the slicing block of their enormous greed and disgusting self-righteousness. Geez, but I think I’m going to throw-up.”

Jonathan read on until the propaganda began to outrage him. Then he looked further down the front page for an article less volatile. Another headline jumped out, at once: “Avian Flu – A Certain Pandemic?”

“Researchers at the World Health Organization’s Disease Control Project (WHODCP) are concerned the Avian Influenza A virus might jump species from birds to humans. The disease now infects a significant population of two rural villages in Northern Vietnam. Five villagers have died from the latest outbreak.

“Although the link remains unestablished, scientists are certain within reason, that a worldwide pandemic is possible and intend using the upcoming World Economic Summit in Denver, Colorado, to initiate an international vaccination program.

“Klaus Kruger, founder of WES and Chief Executive Officer of AgriGrowth Industries, the international agribusiness conglomerate headquartered in Frankfurt, Germany, has been advised of the importance of suitable response, and his office has assured the press discussions will commence on this important issue. Kruger stated adequate measures would take place to safeguard the world’s population.

“Thirty-thousand chickens in Vietnam have been destroyed, as a precaution against further infection.”

Jonathan smacked his lips and shook his head. For some reason, the article struck a harmonious chord in his psyche. He had never been an activist in the past. But now, just reading these articles raised serious questions in his mind, questions that demanded immediate and significant answers.

Jonathan knew that Europe was against genetic manipulation of any kind, and that AgriGrowth Industries had invested vast sums into genetically modified organisms (GMOs). What would the World Economic Summit’s stance on future research in GMOs be? After all, GMOs were the mainstay of AgriGrowth Industries thrust into the future. Screwing around with eons of evolution for the sake of expediency seemed dangerous to Jonathan — a kind of Russian Roulette with a test tube. Indeed, what would the WES think of grains modified for increased yield, health and nutrition?

Further, what would Klaus Kruger, and his army of sycophants at WES, stand to gain by fewer homegrown chickens — or fewer cattle or whatever?

The answers seemed obvious to Jonathan – more profit and coercion over independent producers — the family-owned farmer and the small-time rancher.

Jonathan had heard that Congress considered legislation requiring every farm animal in the land take a radio-frequency identification tag (RFID), to track it all day any day, under the guise of a safer national food supply. And of course, who loses under the new law? Why, the small rancher and farmer, of course. The folks who can least afford the immense overhead, unlike the huge corporate producers that are subsidized at taxpayers’ expense. More profit and less competition for agribusiness, a familiar symphony across the classical landscape of big business bullying.

“Selfish pigs,” Jonathan said, as he crumpled the edges of the newspaper in his fists.

“Pardon me?” came a cute voice.

Jonathan looked up to see his waitress, holding a steaming coffee cup in one hand, and his hot breakfast platter in the other.

Jonathan averted his eyes out of embarrassment. “Sorry. It’s just something I read that upset me.”

The pretty waitress smiled. She had long brunette hair, straight and raised in a bun, white picturesque teeth and brown eyes, large, warm and welcoming.

Jonathan smiled back in kind.

“You read the article about the World Economic Summit then?” she asked with interest.

Jonathan nodded in disgust.

“So, you’re familiar with AgriGrowth Industries ongoing efforts to market genetically modified organisms?”

Jonathan’s disgust deepened. “Right down to my roots.”

“Well, I don’t blame your anger. I’m angry, too. Did you know that the Federal Drug Administration has stated that Americans have no right to know whether their foods have been genetically modified?”

“Really,” Jonathan said. “In other words, those grits you’re serving me could have an altered genetic code and neither you nor I will ever know?”

The waitress pursed her fine lips and nodded. “Until, of course, you die from malnutrition, or poisoning, or cancerous growths consuming your most important body parts.”

Jonathan looked at the plate in the waitress’s hand. “Hochimama. You expect me to eat that now?”

The waitress shrugged her dainty shoulders. “Choice is yours. You know, if you want to make some real noise, why not join me and a few of my friends next Monday to protest? There’s never enough courage in humanity at large. Seems you’re a person with guts enough to stand up for what he believes, even in the heat of the all-consuming, fire-breathing dragon.”

Jonathan looked at the young woman, around 24, noticing at once the passion in her sparkling, brown eyes. “Hmm, I don’t know. Looks to me like you might have a really fiery breath of your own. It kind of shows in your eyes.”

The waitress placed Jonathan’s breakfast in front of him, and straightened herself tall. “Suppose so. You see, I’m a nutritionist in the making … a nutritionist with a conscience.”

Jonathan snickered. “Rather rare nowadays, I expect.”

“Rare as unmodified foodstuffs, I’d say.”

Jonathan laughed and extended his hand. “Hi, I’m Jonathan Heally. A new member of the growing ranks of the unemployed. I’m a laid off technical writer. I pen really exciting stuff like software manuals and the like. Books where the hero never competes, let alone loses.”

“And the heroine … she never wins either?”

“Exactly. Unless you consider the corporate interests, that benefit from the sales of mundane products, to be the hermaphroditic protagonist. Then the woman always wins.”

“And we the people always lose,” the waitress said, finishing off the metaphor with an edge. “Hi, Jonathan Heally, I’m Angela Preston, third semester graduate student at the University of Colorado. Nice to meet you. So what do you think? Is heroism part of your makeup?”

Jonathan tightened his lips and tilted his head. “You asking me to walk into the dragon’s fire for a lost cause?”

“Pretty much,” Angela said with a large smile.

“Win One for the Gipper?”

Angela’s big eyes brightened, pleased with the wordplay. “No. Win One from the Gipper, friend.”

Jonathan grinned at the pretty young woman’s reference to the God incarnate of the ultra-conservative business sector, Ronald Reagan. “Will you bale me out if I get arrested? I’m feeling a little feisty about this whole thing, I might as well tell you.”

“Of course … it’s part of the protester’s code. No two from any cell of four may go over the line. That way there are always three to protect one.”

“So if I’m one, who are the other two lucky members of your cell?”

“My friend Megan and my twin brother, Donald.”

Jonathan touched a finger to his lips. “All right, Angela Preston, future nutritionist with a conscience, where and when do we commence our rebel-rousing?”

“Monday morning, seven o’clock sharp. CivicCenterPark, by the southern most column. Dress comfortably, and bring an extra pair of underwear and a toothbrush. Never know where you might spend the night.”

Jonathan grinned. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world. Boxers or briefs?” he asked.

“Boxers are recommended, especially the kind that carry a counterpunch.”

Jonathan feigned ducking a punch and threw a fist into the air. “Boxers it is. More freedom that way, huh, Angela?”

Angela mocked a frown. “No way. I’m not touching that. Now eat your inorganic grits, Rocky, and leave me a tidy tip. With that much enthusiasm, I might need the money Monday for the bailiff.”

Jonathan laughed again. “Okay, my pretty vitamin lady. See you on Monday at seven o-clock sharp.”

Angela nodded and turned to leave. Only then did Jonathan notice her firm, shapely fanny, moving unfettered beneath her tight, black pants. “Guess a toothbrush is all you’ll be bringing,” he said to her backside, as she walked into the kitchen. The last Jonathan saw of Angela Preston, was a throw of her delicate hand out of disregard, as she disappeared behind the swinging kitchen door.

Jonathan sighed and looked down at his breakfast. Suddenly the food didn’t appear too appetizing. He shrugged and began to eat his grits, but for some reason nothing on the plate appealed to him. “Hmm, guess I got a job after all,” he said. “Just doesn’t pay too good, that’s all.”

With that, Jonathan placed a ten-dollar bill on the table, took a quick sip of his coffee, and went off to buy two new pairs of boxer shorts. Never say that Jonathan Heally, Incorporated, doesn’t follow-up on a deal. And if a job needed done, Angela Preston had hired herself the right enterprise, to see it through to the finish. Success or failure, Jonathan Heally, Incorporated, was on the job, and brimming with that good old competitive spirit called ambition. Healthy competition, the breakfast of champions. Jonathan couldn’t wait to sink his teeth into the bawdy flesh of the WES fat cats first thing Monday morning.

Little did he know, the depth of the brutality that would follow.

* * * * *

CHAPTER FOUR

 

Angela Preston climbed onto the base of one of the tall concrete columns — one of many that formed a large, broken circle inside CivicCenterPark near downtown Denver. From there, she peered out over the huge crowd that had gathered for the march on the DenverTradeCenter, where the World Economic Summit would soon convene.

Her large brown eyes scanned the mass of people and shifted across Broadway Avenue to the lawn of the ColoradoStateCapitolBuilding, where an acoustic guitar band had begun to play. She frowned when she failed to pick out her target.

“Don’t see him anywhere, Angela?” a young woman asked.

Angela winced, and looked down at her best friend, who stood next to the base of the column. “Not yet, Megan. So many people, it’s hard to see anybody specific.”

“Come on, deary,” Megan said. “Do you really think this guy’s going to show up? You only served him breakfast, you know.”

Angela’s expression stiffened as she continued to scan the gathering. Although she hated it, Megan’s point seemed reasonable. It was true that Angela deemed her encounter with Jonathan Heally last Friday significant, having sensed something special about the guy. But as Megan had said, Angela’s impression of him didn’t mitigate anything other than a chance encounter, a few words spoken in superficial exchange, with nothing to merit meaningful involvement into her personal affairs.

“Yeah, guess you’re right, Megan. But he seemed so genuine and compassionate when we talked. Seemed certain he had legitimate feelings about all the injustices that blight the world.”

Megan’s smile showed a hint of sarcasm. “Careful, girl, your passion is starting to show. If you ask me, the guy’s just another bird dog. Words are cheap, especially when spoken to a pretty face.”

Angela looked down and scowled. “Oh, Megan, sometimes you’re such a cynic. It wasn’t like that at all.”

Megan lifted her head. “Oh, yeah, well what about that comment he made about you bringing ‘only a toothbrush’? I suppose that was perfectly innocent.”

Angela’s expression darkened. “Hmm, guess you’re right. You know, it really disappoints me when I misjudge character. I thought I had a pretty accurate peg on the guy, like there was something beneath the surface that made him special.”

“Oh, I’m sure he’s got more than enough beneath the surface that he considers special, Angela. But it has nothing to do with social injustice. It’s got much more to do with leveling the playing field horizontally, if you get my drift.”

Angela jumped off the base of the column and landed with a soft grunt. “Oh, all right, Meg, I’ll get my head out of the clouds. You’re probably right. The guy was just another jerk. Come on, let’s go join Donald in the line-up. We sure don’t want to miss the beginning of the march.”

“Hi, Angela.”

Megan and Angela turned toward the sound of the enthusiastic voice. Angela smiled at once. “Oh, there you are, Jonathan. I’m so glad to see you. Megan and I were worried you were going to miss the party.”

Megan shied away at the sight of Jonathan, feeling embarrassed about misjudging him, but bounced back once Angela introduced her.

“Nice to meet you, Megan,” Jonathan said. “So, when do I start yelling and what do I yell? My blood’s boiling and I’m hankering to make a difference.”

Angela beamed. “Sounds great, Jonathan. Come on, let’s go change the world one chant at a time. By the way, did you bring your toothbrush and your extra boxers?”

“Right here in my fanny pack. You?”

Angela smiled and glanced at Megan. “That’s for me to know and you to wonder. Come on, let’s go stir the broth a little.”

They walked off and headed toward the mass of people that were organizing into a rough formation that would soon march up Broadway Avenue to turn down 17th Street. There the mass of activists planned to surround the DenverTradeCenter, where they would protest against runaway Globalism and ecologically irresponsible economies, insolent banking practices of the Bank of International Settlements and general greed run amok out of rampant self-aggrandizement.

A few minutes later, the march set-off in a random fashion, banners and placards held high, with slogans denouncing problematic issues such as the International Monetary Fund, uncontrolled deforestation, corporate greed, global warming, and of course, low-minded agribusiness and its controversial practice of genetically modifying organisms to increase crop-yields and lower production costs.

This last issue, of course, was the most important to Angela Preston and her cell of social activists, save that of Jonathan Heally, who was just darn-well peeved at the selfishness of corporate leadership, and its egregious practice of masking gross incompetence by destroying the professional lives of its workforce.

The march continued on then with lots of shouts and whoops, and incessant chanting amid outlandish signs and even more outlandish costumes. Some really bad music joined the cacophony, disjointed and undirected, free and easy, from songs by Woody Guthrie to the Stray Dogs. Acoustic guitars twanged and mouth harps whined to mix with lots of bonding, with enthusiasm enough to bind the protest together into a cohesive and contemplative whole.

It was around 8:30 in the morning when the protesters arrived at the DenverTradeCenter. With every advancing block, the parade route grew more populated with security forces — the Denver police in their blues, Federal dark suits with hand held radios and tiny flesh-colored earpieces with large bulges beneath their cheap suit coats.

Overhead, helicopters circled, some concerned with preventing the news — the machines of the FBI and the Denver Police Department — while local reporters in their TV choppers prowled the skies with riot on their minds. Anything for national exposure.

Soon limousines began to arrive, a steady stream of plastic chrome and pigmented shine, to unload dignitaries from across the globe. Thick-shouldered bodyguards in dark glasses poured out first, ushered their charges forth, and hustled them into the tall building amid lurid shouts from the enthusiastic crowd. Police barricades enforced by Denver’s finest — outfitted in full riot gear — held back the crowd with hard expressions and hard-soled jackboots.

At about a quarter to nine, a long black six-door Mercedes pulled to the curb and produced Klaus Kruger, the founder of the World Economic Summit. The WES had been his vision, an annual gathering of the global elite, who behind closed doors, would participate in high level discussions about world trade and corporate strategies to further strengthen their economic stranglehold on the world. Of course, no media — sympathetic or otherwise — were allowed access. To the activists in the street this bordered on Fascism. But since the summit held no affiliation with any official agency, public access was not mandated. The privilege to act behind closed doors was legal, and the powerful group of global elitists exercised their mandate to the fullest.

Boos arose from the crowd as the short, rotund, bald-headed man disappeared into the building.

“Did you see that disgusting toad?” Donald asked Angela, who stood by his side. “Gosh, wish I was a fly on the wall of whatever room he’s in. The words out of that squirrel’s mouth would likely break his mother’s heart.”

Jonathan grinned at Donald. He had only met Angela’s twin brother two hours ago, yet felt an instant kinship with him. Young, charismatic and handsome, with quick intelligent brown eyes, Jonathan had to admit that Donald looked the exact counterpart of the pretty, brunette lady who called him “Twiny” with obvious pride.

“You really want to hear what they’re saying inside?” Jonathan asked without forethought.

Donald laughed. “You bet. And so does every person standing on this side of the barrier. They’re all a bunch of elitist, pulpy, pseudo-intellectual retards, who are sucking the soul out of everything under the sun. Wow, wish I could hide behind the curtain and listen while they connive to screw over mankind, detail by disgusting detail.”

“Yes, me too. What say we go in and take a listen?”

Donald stared at Jonathan with fierce eyes. “Hey, Angela, did you hear what Jonathan said? He thinks we can just waltz inside the DenverTradeCenter and sit down and listen while all the fat cats banter about their extortionist ways.” Donald laughed with sarcasm. “Are you for real, man? Who do you think you are anyway … Jose Bove? The cops would lock us behind bars before we could regurgitate our social security numbers … if they didn’t outright shoot us first.”

Jonathan listened to Donald’s words. What he said made perfect sense to his conscious thinking, but Jonathan’s desire to challenge the authority of the summit seemed to come from somewhere inside his gut, from a place he didn’t understand.

“Okay, suit yourself, Donald,” Jonathan said. “I’m going inside anyway. The rest of you can stay out here and scream at the walls, if you want.”

Then Jonathan did the extraordinary. Without concern for life, limb or well-being, he pushed his way through the crowd, climbed over the yellow barrier and crossed the street, intent on entering the building.

“For crying out loud, Angela, would you look at that idiot? He’s going to get arrested. I’ve got to go get him.”

Angela grabbed Donald’s arm. “No, Twiny. Let him go. It’s up to him. If he wants to sacrifice himself to the cause, it’s his decision.”

Megan looked on with glowing, appreciative eyes, as Jonathan marched onward.

But to everyone’s amazement, Jonathan sauntered right past the guards at the entrance to the building, without a word out of any of them. It was as if they couldn’t see him.

At the revolving glass door, Jonathan turned back and yelled to his new friends. “I’ll meet you at CivicCenterPark at four o’clock and let you know what I find out.” Then he turned and entered the building.

“I can’t believe it,” Donald said. “He really did it. That’s it, I going inside, too. Anybody want to join me?”

Speechless, Angela and Megan stared at each other.

“See everyone at four o’clock.”

But the instant Donald tried to cross the barrier, four brawny policemen converged on him and blocked his way. At once, the crowd cheered Donald forward, encouraging him to climb over the barrier and confront the hard-nosed authorities. But Angela surged forward, grabbed Donald’s waist and held on tight as she could.

“It’s all right, officers, I’ve got him,” Angela said, tightening her grip around Donald’s mid-section. But Donald fought in earnest, adamant about duplicating Jonathan’s feat.

“Megan, help me,” Angela said in desperation.

A short struggle ensued, before Donald acquiesced.

Once Angela and Megan had led him away, Donald became animated. “Jonathan … he’s one of them. He’s a security agent or something … a plant inside our ranks to spy on us.”

Angela stopped short and looked into Donald’s wild eyes. “Of course. But, why do you suppose the authorities are targeting us?”

“Maybe they’re after all of us,” Megan broke in, quick to add to the paranoia. “Maybe they’re trying to catch us in something illegal so they can arrest us.” Megan glanced around as if Big Brother loomed everywhere.

Donald looked around, too. “Yeah, silence us. Break up our ranks. Geez, I’ll bet the whole crowd’s crawling with them. I’ve heard that the police plant spies in the ranks of their enemies. We’d better get out of here before they close in. If they’re that interested in breaking us up, they can trump up any charge they want and keep us locked up for days … even weeks. Wait, The Patriot Act. That’s their excuse. For Chrissake, the sorry retards are about to shut us down. Let’s get the heck outta here right now.”

Angela and Megan shot furtive glances around them. In the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave”, intolerance was on the rise, and along with Donald, they turned and began to scurry out of the area. They were scared. Really scared. And right then all they wanted was to get out before the hammer dropped, and squashed them like pesky, little irritants.

As soon as they broke from the crowd, they ran as fast as their young, strong legs could carry them. The Patriot Act stood before them in all its nationalistic fervor. “You’re either with us. Or you’re with the terrorists.” And Angela Preston’s cell of activists had been penetrated right down to the bone marrow. When would the loathsome knocks come at their doors? they wondered. The wiretaps and the extortionist confiscations? Got any firearms? Hands behind your back. Habeas Corpus had been imprisoned in the cell across from them.

Three-quarters of the Preston cell ran for their very lives from fear — the precise reaction the great propaganda machine intended. Contrive a devilish boogieman and deem him responsible — Saddam Hussein, Ho Chi Min, Joseph Stalin, Adolph Hitler — the problematical bad guy du jour; or perhaps a mind-boggling cataclysm, like a comet or asteroid, or maybe even the avian flu. Anything frightening and obfuscated enough would do. Mix in a vapid, incestuous media, which couldn’t spot truth if truth rumbled in on a Panzer Tank, and you have the perfect formula for mass manipulation. And Jonathan Heally had all their numbers, for certain.

Run enemies run — for your days are numbered. Never mind that Jonathan Heally was as innocent as a newborn. After all, everybody needs a boogieman to blame and right then, Jonathan Heally proved familiar and convenient. And all he had done was stop in for breakfast and read the front page of the Denver Post. Angela Preston had enticed him, and Jonathan had swallowed the bait. Now he was not only laid off, but wrongfully implicated out of ignorance. Does this sound like a totalitarian regime? Make the spied upon the spies. Turn on your friends. Rat on your neighbors. Why, they’ll never come for me. I’m one of them. But wait. What’s that knock at my door? Twiny is that you?

* * * * *

Five minutes had passed since Jonathan had pranced free as you please into the lobby of the DenverTradeCenter — five minutes spent trying to figure how best to infiltrate the inner workings of the global elite.

A concierge sat at attention behind a gray marble desk in the middle of the large sunlit foyer, looking out at the street with anxiety, as if World War III had just busted loose right outside the window.

Jonathan had walked past the guy without notice some time ago; and now Jonathan looked back at him and scratched his chin. Don’t know what’s going on out in the street. But whatever it is, it sure got me into the building.

Then Jonathan turned and peered further into the DenverTradeCenter, when a deep dread overcame him. “Geez, how crazy is this? All this is going to do is earn me a night in jail or worse. I’d better get the heck out of here right now.”

But just as Jonathan turned to leave, a group of business executives, CEO types, dressed in tailored suits and expensive shoes, entered the lobby. Jonathan stiffened, certain of confrontation. But to his surprise, the executives walked past without a word.

Jonathan just shrugged and watched them walk on, marching in virtual lockstep, as they swung their briefcases in rhythm at their sides. Hey, maybe nobody cares if I entered the building, Jonathan mused. Why not check the place out? I’ve gotten this far … what can a few more minutes hurt?

Once the businessmen had turned the corner, Jonathan followed, still battling with his decision. But the pounding in his chest egged him forward.

As Jonathan watched the well-heeled businessmen from behind, he thought: Ha, guess going for the gold is better than standing around in the lobby like a street person waiting for a handout. Yet, Jonathan still could not believe nobody had confronted him.

Here I am, wandering around in ratty jeans and a Che Guevara T-shirt and nobody gives me a second thought. Geez, I guess “Viva La Revolucion” doesn’t mean much to these people … or they can’t read a word of Spanish. Then Jonathan chuckled.

Soon, the businessmen turned down a long carpeted hallway, and walked up one flight of stairs, sliding their free hands over the clear plastic banister. At the top, they entered the lobby of a large auditorium served by three sets of double doors. Jonathan thought the mahogany doors imposing in their hugeness, but didn’t let the intimidation weaken his resolve.

Then the businessmen chose the first set of doors on the right and entered where they confidently flashed invitations to the guard just inside the doorway. Jonathan decided he stood a better chance at the last set of doors and quickly hurried along.

When Jonathan looked past the entrance, he noticed another guard standing off to one side. Jonathan frowned and started to leave, but the guard turned to talk to a man in the back row, so Jonathan steeled himself, slipped past and hurried to the far wall, where he found an empty seat.

Settling in, Jonathan frowned at the comfort of the tall easy chair, expensive and sumptuous. To the front sat a small walnut desk provided for note taking. For Jonathan, the desk served well as a footrest, the lower shelf anyway, and he slipped out of his fanny pack, took out his palm-sized recorder, and looked to the stage, where garish green backlighting lit a large, walnut podium. Conversation filled the hall and bright indirect lighting ran the length of the outside walls.

Soon the lights dimmed and the hum of conversation died. Behind the podium, a black curtain parted to reveal a huge multi-screened monitor. Suddenly, an image flashed alive and the crowd came to a complete, reverential hush.

The large image on the monitor — a crest of sorts — showed a Golden Eagle perched atop a stylized olive branch with seven separate locations across the globe pictured in the background. Jonathan made a game of identifying each of them.

The first was Victoria Falls in Africa. The second, the Rock of Gibraltar off the southwestern tip of Europe.

Easy so far, Jonathan thought as he focused his eyes on the next.

“Hmm, right here at home,” Jonathan said, as he recognized the Grand Canyon in North America.

Then came Ayers Rock in the Outback of Australia, followed by the southern face of Mount Everest in Asia. The Amazon River in South America came next, to end with the Abbot Ice Shelf, bordering EightsCoast in Antarctica.

That last one was pretty tough, Jonathan thought. But, by golly I got it.

Jonathan let his eyes pass over each natural wonder, each representing one of the seven continents of the world.

“Are these jerks so indoctrinated as to believe their own propaganda?” Jonathan asked in a whisper. “Do they actually believe such absolute beauty can go unspoiled by the oppressive hand of greed? What an absurd notion,” Jonathan said, as he slapped his thigh and laughed – a large generous laugh loud enough to raise attention. The gray-haired fellow in front of Jonathan turned around and glared at the security guard, who leaned against the back wall nearby, and Jonathan felt certain he had been found out, but resettled at once when he saw the guard just shrug.

Then Jonathan turned to look back at the huge image and his anger surged. Why don’t they show the massive deforestation in South America? he wondered. Or the Larson B Ice Shelf collapsing in Antarctica? What about the grotesque carnage at the Kimberley Hole in Africa? Or the many Chinese who ride their bicycles wearing surgical masks everyday in Shanghai? Why not Three Mile Island in North America? Or runaway glacial melting in the European Alps? he continued, growing more and more furious. How about the gross misuse of freshwater in Australia that has bankrupted the continent? Jonathan shook his head in total disgust. “What a conglomeration of shortsighted dolts,” he said. “No way can I stomach what these morons are going to cram down my throat.” Then he started to get up and leave.

Suddenly the lights brightened and Klaus Kruger stepped onto the wide stage and began to walk short-legged toward the podium. Enthusiastic applause broke out.

Jonathan coughed into his hand as a pain shot up from his stomach. He belched and pardoned himself to nobody at all, then resettled in his chair and did his level best to prepare for the drivel that would follow. He steeled himself to watch and listen. He hoped he would garner more than a throbbing stomachache.

* * * * *

To his credit, Jonathan Heally sat through all six hours of the presentations, enduring many speakers, hand-picked representatives of Big Oil, Coal and Nuclear, Big Pharma, Agribusiness, Mining, Forestry, Manufacturing, Service Sector and all the rest. Over-indulged, profane charlatans of what is best for the petty masses, spouting off about their research and development, market trends, major breakthroughs in technologies, strategies for the future, and all the rest of the garbage that makes them so delirious with aggrandizement.

Jonathan sat through the whole show and wondered why all the secrecy; nothing he had heard during the entire program wasn’t available in any trade journal, industry study, or university paper. It all seemed so much hogwash. And when all the presentations had finished, Jonathan found himself walking out amid the opulent, chattering throng, once again unnoticed, once again disregarded.

As he left the building and crossed 17th Street, a few protesters remained along the sidewalk, shouting their insults, at the police, indulging their fantasies that all their hoopla could somehow make a difference.

Jonathan turned down the street and hurried off toward CivicCenterPark, while fretting over what he would tell his new friends. Nothing came of the six hours of boredom he had forced himself to endure. Now he realized why nobody cared confront his intrusion. They knew what would follow was nothing more than tripe of the first order, so why care if some schmuck in old jeans, a Che Guevara T-shirt, and rummy white sneakers crashed their sacred meeting? There was nothing to learn anyway. Jonathan speculated the majority of the representatives endured the quotidian summit for the cuisine, booze and prostitutes anyway — each vice tax-deductible, of course. What an incredible sham. Why, just thinking about such disgraceful behavior sickened Jonathan no end, blackening his spirit all the way back to CivicCenterPark.

When he arrived at the column, the time was five minutes to four. Unfortunately, all Jonathan found were some weary panhandlers crashed under the shade of a wispy, old Cottonwood.

After waiting for over an hour, Jonathan gave up, and began walking back to his truck. He reasoned his friends had either missed the connection, or were involved in another, more interesting enterprise. Thus, he found himself alone in what had been a sea of activism, engaged by his own curiosity to plow deeper into the inner workings of the WES, and all the disgusting elitists that perverted the gathering’s potential.

As he drove home along 6th Avenue, the newly evolved social activist wracked his brain for any clue the long day’s proceedings might have revealed. Something, he thought, had to have been said that could thrust me further into the designs of these Globalists. Yet, for the life of me, I can’t see it.

So, Jonathan just drove home, where he prepared a simple plate of spaghetti, drank a glass of cold water, and consumed a nutritious salad, accented with extra virgin olive oil. Something had to have been said, he reasoned. But nothing came to mind, so he took a quick shower and went off to bed a dissatisfied newly evolved social activist.

Even in a dream state, the idea never occurred to him that Monday’s excursion into the sacred realm of the powered-elite had been orchestrated from afar. Neither did Jonathan contemplate that his infiltration into their secured ranks was something invisible to their eyes, their omniscient and omnipresent security cameras, lost to any of the sensors of their high-powered protective systems. Jonathan Heally remained unaware that at certain, preferred moments of his stroll through life, he remained invisible to his contemporaries, lost to all but the people his manipulators desired interact with him.

As far as Denver, Colorado was concerned, Jonathan Heally had stayed inside his condo the entire day. Beyond his new friends, nobody else, not one solitary soul, laid eyes on him today. Nobody smelled him. Nobody felt him. Even his truck went veiled in secrecy. And the irony of this whole arrangement was that the only people privy to his existence the entire day were no longer his friends. For at that very moment, they were scared witless of him, and vowed good riddance, as quickly as they had come to know him.

That would sadden Jonathan Heally, since the day had been most fascinating, a time spent fortified with a mission of compassion and worthiness. Indeed, Jonathan had arrived home with his extra toothbrush unused and his extra pair of boxers still folded and unworn. Truly, the experience had made for a landmark day. If only he could somehow figure out the missing angle, the link that would provide him the next step in his determined investigation, the forbidden connection that escaped him.

Instead, Jonathan slept excited at the prospect of tomorrow, but frustrated at his inability to see beyond the fog of normal events. He slept nonetheless, a simple sleep, a man clueless to circumstance. He slept the sleep of the innocent. But all that was soon to change.

Jonathan Heally, Incorporated, would soon go cosmic. And, at the moment, he possessed not an inkling of what awaited him.

* * * * *

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