Wednesday, January 29, 2014

31. Hearts of gold and darkness

It was during the flight home from Dublin to Cheyenne, when the dust clouds of all the activities, especially of her dream tiger hunt, had settled, did she begin to see the minefields and pitfalls in her mental terrain.  A seed of doubt had been festering in her subconscious, which now was sprouting into her awareness.  
Her first question was the same as the one she asked about Mark and his way of life, which now applied to her father and his:  Why?  
"Why would my father, an out-of-the-closet White Supremacist, and an advocate at least in principle and rhetoric of what amounts to ethnic cleansing, be suddenly so thoughtful, kind and generous as to go out of his way to make 'good-will gifts' to those peoples he doesn't personally know, and whom collectively he had denigrated as 'subhuman' and 'monkeys'?  Why would he contribute $200,000 to my tiger venture, something he has no interest in, just so I would deliver his 'gifts' to the other side of the world?  Is he now for some reason feeling contrite, if 'contrition' is a word in his vocabulary?  And, practically speaking, well, there might be a small bit of sense in the case of that so-called 'hospital' in tiny Namibia, but what good would such miniscule amounts of morphine do for such huge populations of such technologically advanced nations as China, India and Japan?  Why would my father go through all this trouble and expense, and put me through so much - outside of the tiger hunt of course - to just benefit a few dozen people for whom he has no feeling, in the countries for which he has shown nothing but disdain and contempt?  That's not like him at all; where people are concerned, he thinks in terms of millions of souls, at least the 144,000 people chosen for the Rapture.  And even if he does stoop to the puny number of merely dozens, why, for example, would he choose the monks in a Buddhist temple out of all the people in China?  And the Hindu temple in India?  And the Shinto temple in Japan?..."

At this point of her contemplation, she did a double-take.  A pattern was taking shape - the thrice repeated word "temple"... 

She resumed, "Is there a religious aspect to these 'good-will gifts'?  But these are Asian religions, which he detests..."  A long pause.  "Now, here is something.  What if these are not 'good-will gifts' after all, but 'bad-will... curses'?"

And then the mosques in Pakistan, Kuwait and Egypt that followed, and the synagogue in Israel, and the Eastern Orthodox Church in Russia, and the very Catholic St. Peter's Cathedral...  A shiver shoot up her spine.

"And if indeed they are bad-will curses against these religions, harm are they intended to cause?" 

Goose bumps rose on her forearms.  
Then her thoughts flicked back to the bottle Mark.  She was beginning to be seriously concerned about what was in the bottle she had inserted into his "time machine".  And then, she was horrified at the thought that a sample of it could have been injected into her own vein.  

On the part of Mark, he did not discard what was in the syringe, but submitted it to the lab lab for GC analysis.  The result came back and confirmed that it was indeed pure morphine.  Other matters pressed, and the matter was shelved.
This, he had thought, would settle his suspicion and restore his calm, but something kept nagging at him in the back of his mind.  After some inaction, he took the silver box to a locksmith, extracted from it the bottle of white powder, which he brought to an associate's lab in the physics department of the University of Chicago for analysis by X-Ray Diffraction Crystallography.  To his astonishment, but not too much to his surprise, the white powder was in fact two different substances stacked in two layers, with the top 10% being crystalline morphine and the bottom 90% being something else which a standard university physics lab could not identify.  He did keep a copy of the diffraction pattern of the unknown substance and thought about having it examined by a specialist upon his return to Canada within a couple of weeks, but dismissed the idea of crossing the border with the substance in his possession, in case it was indeed illicit.  So, for him, it was either doing nothing about it and letting the bottle and its content go into the future via his time capsule, or doing nothing about it but excluding it from the "time machine" (as the time capsule has come to be called by some), or get to the bottom of it while he was still in the U.S..  

Of course, there was a fourth alternative, and that was to question Rebecca directly about it, but broaching the subject with her, in case she was indeed dealing in illicit substances, could alert an entire crime ring, which might or might not be known to the law or be already under investigation.  It might even bring him bodily harm along the lines of witness elimination.  

So, all in all, neither Rebecca nor Mark contacted each other, though they each did something without the other's knowledge.  What Rebecca did was to call the hotel in Chicago and asked if Mark was still there.  He was, but only for another night.  She took the earliest available flight back to Chicago and planted a tracking device in the rear plastic bumper of Mark's car.  On Mark's side, what he did was to exclude the silver box from the time capsule, on the premise that if later it was proven clean, it could always be re-inserted.  He did not feel a sense of urgency to identify the substance, due to the little subconscious voice saying, "It is meant for 2050, so no break neck hurry." 

The next morning, the tracking device alerted Rebecca's hand-held that Mark was on the move.  When her caught sight of Mark's silver hybrid, it was on I-90, heading west.  She pulled her rental car back a couple of hundred yards and settled in for the long haul.  

But it wasn't such a long haul after all, at least in terms of driving.  Mark pulled into Janesville, Wisconsin, a mere 60 miles from downtown Chicago, and parked at the curb outside of a residential house.  She parked her car a block away and monitored Mark's car through binoculars.  She saw Mark move a couple of bags into the house, but not his time capsule.  

It did turn out to be a long haul in terms of time in slow-motion and excruciating boredom.  She sat in her car for the rest of the day into the night except for a couple of quick restroom breaks at a nearby 7-11 when she also brought sandwiches to be washed down with cold coffee in her car.  

At long last, the lights in the house went out.  She waited another hour, which brought her clock past midnight, then she walked casually to Mark's car, expertly picked the lock of its trunk, and there the capsule was.  She quickly screwed open the capsule, planning on taking out her silver box then stealing into the night.  But to her dismay, it was not there.

When Mark arrived at his friend Amy's place in Janesville, Wisconsin, he carried Rebecca's silver box down into his guest room, all the while pondering what to do with it.  Along his pondering, he constructed a few scenarios as to what the powder might be, some plausible, others outlandish.  For the sake of safety first and foremost, he assumed the worst case scenario, which was that it was a weaponized chemical weapons, or even worse, biological weapon, in which case the powder was to be handled with extreme care.  

His next question was whether he should bring it to the attention of the authorities.  On this point, he brought out Rebecca's flash drive and plugged it into his laptop.  There was a picture folder and a video folder.  The picture folder contained a common theme of Rebecca grinning behind some animal she had just killed.  There were exceptions - a few showing her as a child with a tall and handsome man and a beautiful woman franking her.  There were a few of her with a dark haired man.  The titles of these pictures bore the name of "Roger", her late husband.  Something sounded a distant alarm.  Then, it dawned on him.  The "Roger" in the five-second segment of her love-video had salt-and-pepper hair.  The video folder contained mostly hunting clips, dozens of them.  There was one labeled "Aerial".  He clicked open that one, and smiled at its being the one he posted that had gone viral.  And then, there was one titled "In-tent".  This was the one she had asked him not to watch, but under the present circumstances, it would be the one to watch, and he spot-watched it, and from the get go, he was appalled to see that the "Roger" in the video was none other than the president of the United States, and the video would qualify for XXX-rating.  This complicated the alternative of bringing the matter to the authorities.  Would they be duty-bound to pass it all the way up to the White House, the First Lady in specific?  He could not bear the thought of her viewing it.  On the other hand, he could not leave out the video - "withholding evidence" sprang to mind.

There was a dilemma, and a big one.  If the powder was a WMD, he would not be able to identify what it was without using a military or counter-terrorism lab, and using one would be tantamount to reporting the whole thing to the authorities, including the "In-tent" video, at which point he would find himself back to Square One.

His best course of action, for now, appeared to be no action, at least until he had found out more about Rebecca Bates.  Had he included the silver box and buried the time capsule, the evil genie would just sit in the bottle within the capsule for decades before being exhumed and released, to wrought whatever destruction it was meant to bring.  So what was the urgency?

But then, he arrived at this thought:  Were the substance a WMD  against future generations, it could well have a contemporary counterpart against present generations, and if so, the leisurely three-decade time frame would become an in-your-face emergency.  And in Mark's mind, it just did.

He went back to his computer and googled "Rebecca Bates".  There were dozens of pages of articles and videos, most of which from hunting magazines, television hunting shows and Youtube.  But on Page 1, there was a link to a blog series titled [The 12 Most Vile], in which Rebecca Bates was ranked #2, right after Sarah Paylin.  The author's name was Shannon Stone.

Then he recalled in sharp focus.  Shannon Stone was the star witness at the congressional hearing of bill HR 1724 sponsored by Senator Alan Wells (D-WA), the one about safeguarding the Constitution against being undermined and eroded by state laws, especially hunting laws, which he attended as part of his own preparation for testifying at the congressional hearing of bill HR 1896 sponsored by Senator John Buchanan (D-MI), the one about barring tar sands oil from entering the United States and halting the proliferation of tar sands pipelines.

Shannon's face, figure and mannerism materialized in his mind's eye, her voice rang in his inner ears, and a sense of admiration filled his heart.  The fact that she had a DUI in her past mattered not in the present other than that she had conquered the addiction.  And her courage of standing up against armed intruders, her sense of justice, her conviction and fighting spirit...  A comparison between the two women was inevitable, and it was then that it occurred to him: the two women looked a lot alike, so much so that they could be sisters if not twins, the main distinction being that one had dark hair and a heart of gold, while the other had golden hair and a heart of darkness.

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