I’m still buzzing from too much Splurge the night before. Sitting at my desk in the DCIA office, I’m hiding behind my newspaper to avoid triggering the waves of empathy the drug releases every time someone walks by. The phone on my desk signals, but I don’t pick up. I don’t consider myself on the clock until my second cup of coffee.
There are only a few people in the office. It’s mostly the younger agents doing an internet search for signs of the Hidden Ones. The Hidden Ones had remained hidden for millennia until they suddenly revealed their existence two years ago, so I think it’s a pretty safe bet that whatever we find will have been planted. But these kids think, if it isn’t on the internet, it doesn’t exist. One of them looks up from the computer and asks, out of the corner of her mouth, “Another rough night, Hunter?”
“You know it!” I say jauntily. But I think, you don’t know the half of it.
The hard fact is that this has become a normal morning for me. I know that I’m doing way too much Splurge. It’s the sex, it’s just so much better on Splurge…and now that Brandy is in to it, we’re doing it like rabbits. That is, if rabbits have slow, long, meditative sex.
And, no doubt that Splurge makes me a better operative. That’s part of its addictiveness, it helps me do my job better. I can see the patterns before they happen. With Splurge, I know what a person will do before they do. But there’s a limit and I know that I passed it last night…and, truth be told, many previous nights.
A weakly undulating red light shines through the door. The movement of the others in the office slows. I have the feeling that something strong and secret is about to come through the office door. The lingering Splurge-high reveals the shifting patterns.
Sammi Pringle comes in and marches straight back to Ryder’s office. She has a mannish haircut, dark brown clothes, not wearing any makeup. She comes in like the last part of a long, epic tracking shot from the street up to this office.
I don’t really know her, but I know I don’t like her. She glances my way, but I duck behind my paper. I couldn’t decide if she looks like she has balls, or just acts that way. But nice tits. OK, I admit it, I’m sexist, but in a cute, old-fashioned way.
But really, she’s younger than me and you just don’t want to get into a relationship with that generation. Unless, of course, you’re “friends” on MicroFace. Anything deeper, like face-to-face communication, is just too uncomfortable. They’re good for little more than booty-calls, but to their credit, most of them know that.
Sammi transferred in less than a year ago from some two-bit office in Podunk, Idaho. In that time, she’s climbed the DCIA’s hierarchy like a jungle gym. Some careers are meteoric, but Sammi’s was rockettes-like. If sex had nothing to do with her rise, it wasn’t because she wasn’t trying. Not that she did anything unprofessional, she just happened to always fall in love with whomever could best help her career. Can she help it if she’s a loving person? But even her critics had to admit that she’d cracked cases that were worthy of promotion. Within a year, she’d solved a cryptographic problem that was thought unsolvable, allowing us to break a major Hidden code; and freed a terrorist hostage at the Lincoln monument with smooth talk to get near and deadly aim when she was close enough.
Sammi knocks and Ryder opens his door. As the door closes, I see that another man is already waiting in Ryder’s office. John Diamond, the recently-retired, former head of the agency. Diamond was head when my Dad was still alive. In fact, he was the one who sent Dad on his final mission. I didn’t hold that against him. I had many other reasons not to trust him.
Diamond reminds me of Rupert Davies who played Smiley in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. I guess that would make my father Richard Burton, but I don’t see dear old Dad letting himself be shot because of a woman. “What the hell do you think spies are, moral philosophers measuring everything they do against the word of God?”
I always think in film scenes. Often, my own life feels like a movie, at least the best parts do. In the movies, there’s always a purpose, always a meaning. So, it’s pleasant to imagine that you’re playing a part. But living your life as a movie can get complicated. On the one hand, you’re the contemplative observer watching the hero in another absurd situation; on the other hand, you’re the one caught in the absurd situation. I wouldn’t mind so much if it were an exciting thriller, but mostly it just seems like one of those quirky indie films with no plot and bad acting.
Meanwhile, I’d finished my morning coffees and had started looking around my desk trying to decide what to do first. I’ve been working on a low-level background investigation into the Hidden Ones, but I wasn’t making any real progress.
It was only in 2023 that the Hidden Ones revealed they had long lived amongst us. Sometimes called the Freemasons, other times, the Illuminati, the Hidden Ones varied their organizational appearance in order to escape detection. For the last century, the Hidden Ones lived as monks and nuns secreted in the Catholic Church. Nobody ever counts how many nuns are in the Convent. Nobody really checks their gender. Everybody politely ignores their children. They are virtually unsurveilled.
Science-fiction writers had often imagined the shock of an alien invasion, but the Hidden Ones’ revelation has been more shocking than any alien. They were already among us and had been for some time. They are our doppelgangers. They look just like us, but are different in every undefinable way. Nobody even knows whether they are alive or just replicants that simulate life. Are they human or a monster’s fantastic facade? Do they have a soul; or are they a soul? They are everything that we’ve repressed, everything that we might have been. They know all our secrets and are the root of every conceivable conspiracy. They are at the very heart of every type of xenophobia and Überfremdung, the hidden strangers living among us.
The media and government focused on the Hidden Ones 24/7. The news was an interminable succession of “Hidden Ones” alarms. Every government action was directed at the Hidden Ones’ threat. Every day saw a new Hidden Ones Security Advisory. Every accident was presented as a possible Hidden attack. Every stranger was a Hidden infiltrator and every neighbor a Hidden collaborator. All government agencies, all institutional resources, all military planning, all homeland securities were focused on these constantly changing pseudo-crises.
But who am I to complain? It gives me a job to do. I just wonder how much longer the hysteria can last. The Hidden Ones appear to be entirely benign. They have never attacked. The Hidden Ones never even threaten. People’s lives are untouched. No stranger turns out to be a Hidden agent. No neighbor is a collaborator. Most people never see a Hidden One. In fact, people have become much more concerned about the government than about the Hidden Ones.
Sammi had been in Ryder’s office for 20 minutes when the door opens. Ryder sticks his head out, yells “Hunter!” and motions me in.
As I walk into the office, Ryder asks, “Hunter, you know agent Pringle?”
“Just by reputation,” I say, raising my eyebrows provocatively.
Sammi turns in her chair and offers me her hand. As I shake it, I hear her say, “Agent Leary, likewise, I’m sure,” in a surprisingly good imitation of Marilyn Monroe.
Ryder clears his throat, “Hunter, I want you to drop your current investigation. We have an assignment for you and Sammi. I’ll let John tell you about it.”
Diamond turns to Sammi and me. “I’m here because…well, when Sammi started asking around about Project Oedipus, I’m the one she was sent to. I guess I know as much about the Project as anybody. But I’m just here as a resource. I don’t want to step on any toes.”
Ryder nods his head in assent.
“During Iraqi Freedom IV, the military raided a highly secure bunker that they thought might be a Hidden Ones’ cache,” Diamond begins. “They captured an archive of films along with some unusual equipment. We’ve had time to examine them since and our experts say that these films have been specially formulated…you might say they’re weaponized films. They’re made to be addictive. Every expert has declared them to be dangerous in the extreme. In fact, we lost a number of good people in the investigation. Releasing these movies would be like releasing atomic bombs. Simply put, they would destroy civilization. In addition, a number of world leaders were exposed to these leaving them vulnerable to scandal and blackmail.”
Ryder adds, “And now, some Hollywood producer wants to make a documentary.” He hands me a copy of the ad. “Here’s the notice that was brought to our attention. Sammi’s seen it.”
HOLLYWOOD, CA (September 26, 2025) – Sound City Pictures and GF Films announced today that Angelina Jolie will narrate a documentary to be produced by BaBa Streisand Productions. The title is Project Oedipus: The Strange Truth. It reveals the secret, deep-state conspiracy to addict our leaders and spawn sex scandals.
It seems like the normal PR crap that Hollywood is so good at producing. Half the movies in theaters are about some secret conspiracy or other. But it’s strange that it’s called Project Oedipus.
“What are these captured films? Can we see one?” I ask.
“No,” Ryder says. “They’ve decided it’s above our pay grade.”
Diamond smiles wryly, “Above mine too.”
“We’ll want to interview those who’ve seen them, so we know what we’re dealing with.”
“Afraid not,” says Ryder. “Your job is to find out everything you can about the film that’s being made. That’s all, just investigate. You don’t really need to dig up the past to do that.”
“What do we have on the people making the film?” asks Sammi.
That’s what the big files on my desk are,” says Ryder.
“OK, OK.” I say. “I get it that you want me to investigate without being able to view what I’m investigating. And I’m not supposed to look at how it affected the powers that be. That’s screwy, but OK, I’ll go along…need to know and all of that crap. But I still have one question.” I turn to face Sammi. “What does she do?”
Her face stays expressionless, but you didn’t need Splurge to see her tension rise.
Ryder looks down at his desk and says, “Hunter, you need a partner on this one.”
“OK, but why her?”
Ryder looks up with heat in his eyes. “Because she’s a damn good agent.” Then he adds, “Maybe she can straighten you out.”
“A little emasculating, but I serve at your command.” I flash him an oily smile.
“This is nonsense. If agent Hunter doesn’t want to work on this case, I’ll do it with another agent,” says Sammi. “You never been assigned a partner before?”
I shrug. “So, we’ll fly out to Hollywood together. It could be fun.”
“Good,” Ryder says. “It’s settled.”
Standing up, Sammi says, “We’ll get going on these files.” She picks up a little over half the files and hands them to me.
“You got a minute?” I ask Ryder.
“Uh, not really,” Ryder answers.
“I’ll meet you at the desk in a few secs,” I say to Sammi. “I’ve got to talk to the boss.”
At DCIA, it doesn’t take much to get along with your boss. You just nod your head as he talks about the good old days, pretend you agree with his latest crank theories about the government, and act all gung-ho about your new assignment. I’ve never done any of those and I’m not about to start now.
I’m surprised that Diamond stays too, but that wasn’t going to stop me from having my say. Ryder looks resigned. Once the door has closed behind Sammi, he stares into my eyes and asks, “Are you high on Splurge now?”
“No,” I lie. “Why are you putting me with Little Miss Parvenu?”
“Hunter, the order directed that you be put with a woman agent. Maybe they’re just hoping you’ll pick your balls off the floor, put them back in their sack and start acting like a man.”
“I work better alone. Why don’t you just give her something to do on the internet? That always keeps the young entertained.”
“I note your recommendation for the record,” Ryder says wearily. “Anything else you want to piss and moan about?”
“I’ve got other complaints, but nobody listens. So…Sir! No Sir!” And I salute.
“Well then, let me have my say,” begins Ryder. “You need to think seriously about how much you’re relying on drugs to make your cases. I know we gave you the Splurge. And I know you think you’re a better agent on it. But is this really healthy?”
“Actually, it is,” I say. “Splurge lowers cholesterol. It’s one of those little ironies of pharmacology.”
“I’m not going to argue with you. You know what it’s done to just about everyone else who’s used it. If you aren’t already addicted, you soon will be.”
“That’s why I have a psych eval every week. If addiction creeps up on me, you’ll be the first to know. Undoubtedly, before me.”
“I don’t trust no fucking eval,” Ryder growls. “If I was your father, I’d stop you from using. I think your own father would, if he were alive. But I’m not. I’m your boss. As long as you continue to do the work, I’ll tell Quentin to let you have what you need.”
Why did Ryder have to bring up Dad? Why remind me of somebody I never stop thinking about?
“Your father did what he needed to do to serve this country,” Diamond interjects. “He believed in this country. He believed in America. He was a patriot and ready to put his life on the line. But he wouldn’t cross that line. He wouldn’t do drugs. He never needed them to get the job done.”
“Yeh, Dad was a true Patriot and so a better man than me, but you’re wrong about the drugs. He drank every day I knew him. My earliest memories are of him drunk. He needed the drug to forget what his patriotism had led him to.”
“You have your memories. I have mine. But…” Diamond pauses, apparently thinking better of it. Maybe he’s thinking of the rumors of his own alcoholism.
Ryder got up from his desk. “I don’t want to have a fucking family reunion here. You’ve got Agent Pringle as a partner. Do your job and watch yourself. Now I’ve got work to do. Bon voyage and it’ll be nice not seeing your mug around the office for a few days.”
I go to get my requisition of Splurge from Quentin before Ryder changes his mind. Quentin is our department’s Creative Pharmacologist. He’s the sort of mad genius that used to work for multi-national conglomerates, but which the DCIA has impressed into duty. There was a time when such prodigies would have contributed to making new soap or cosmetics or blockbuster drugs or chemical power plants. Since the Hidden Ones’ revelation, all science and technology has been appropriated by the government to prepare us for a conflict with them.
Quentin’s lab is in the sub-basement and requires switching to a second elevator with its own security. As it descends, the elevator gives out a screeching cry, like metal claws scraping along a soul. I step out into the neon-lighted hallway to Quentin’s lab. On one side of the hall, there’s a garish scene painted like a primitive mural. On the other side are disgusting stick figures and meaningless graffiti. Nobody could remember exactly when the decorations had appeared, but everyone agreed that it must have been for one of Quentin’s parties. They are notorious.
The security has already tracked and identified me and I hear the portal to the lab unlock. I walk through into a profusion of PCR machines, centrifuges, flasks, crucibles, alembics, DNA and protein synthesizers. There stood Quentin in front of his homemade, cobbled-together, liquid coffee extractor. “Would you like a cup?” he asks as I approach.
“To the best of my knowledge,” he says.
“Sure, why not.”
“I just got the requisition order for your Splurge. I can get it together for you. Anything else you need? I’ve developed a new Neuro-enhancer. It increases pattern recognition about 70 percent. The only problem is that it also gives you explosive diarrhea. I mean, they actually lift you off the stool! Some shit came out Zemniski’s nose during the testing.”
“No thanks.” I stay a few paces away as we talk, because you never knew what Quentin was going to smell like. Sometimes his fumes alone could get you high.
“Suit yourself. How much Splurge would you like?”
“Let’s say 500 doses.”
He turns so that I could see the bright orange concentric circles around his irises. “Yow, that’s a lot of firepower. Are you sure you’re just using this for work?” He laughs.
“You know, it all seems like work these days.”
“Amen to that,” Quentin says, as he opens the supply cabinet. “What modalities would you like? We can now offer you a long-lasting time release.”
“Really? What do you call long lasting?”
“Months,” he pauses. “Actually, we’re not really sure yet. It’s been months since we first took it.”
“Half for the vape. And half in minjectables. Quentin, let me ask you, well, if you don’t mind, let me ask you about addiction. Would that be OK?”
“Sure,” he says.
“Do you ever worry about it? About addiction?”
“Of course. All the time. But I love the risk. After all, it’s the risk of a wild, explosive pleasure. A big bang. Even if you lose to the addiction, you at least get that final charge. An addiction is simply your unconscious pleasure winning. It has beat out your conscious decisions. Unconscious pleasure doesn’t always beat conscious decisions, but you wouldn’t get rich betting against it.”
“But why do some people become addicted and others don’t? The biopsychiatrists tell me it’s genetic.”
“We think we’re coming to understand that. All the people who haven’t become addicts have had a kind of personality appear to them. We’re calling them “manifestations.” Usually happens around ten days into a Splurge binge. You’re the only one who had a manifestation the first time. Also, the only one to have so many different manifestations. Four’s the record, so you’re the big Kahuna.”
I’d volunteered for Splurge experimentation before I even knew what it was. After receiving my first dose, Quentin had allowed me to go outside onto the DCIA’s campus. I was staring off into the patterns congealing on the park-like landscape when a glowing figure began walking towards me from a far-off distance. For many minutes, he was only a speck of a figure, barely moving closer, despite his long, quick strides. But suddenly he was beside me, a faceless man in a dark business suit, glowing green.
“Do you have a better understanding of these manifestations?” I ask. “They seem so real, like real people, or actually, like Gods.”
“Everything with Splurge is pattern recognition. We’re always receiving little micro-sensory inputs from our environment. With Splurge, you organize that pattern into a personality. I’ve only got two, but they’re both crazy as hell, always telling me to do wild shit.”
As I remember, he was wild before he started doing Splurge. “With all this new stuff, what have you been on lately?”
“I still like Splurge a lot,” he says grabbing handfuls of drugs and tossing them into a bag. “But I’m working out how it interacts with various other cognitive drugs. So far, the interactions are not at all what you’d expect. If you’ve got a little time, I’ll tell you how they might be useful.”
“No, I need to get going.” I would come to regret this decision. It wasn’t often that Quentin is this close to sane, but I don’t have time to talk about the new stuff. I want to get home before Brandy.
I put down the half-cup of liquid coffee extract, pick up the bag of drugs, say goodbye and leave the way I came.
Despite my efforts, I don’t beat Brandy home. She has taken the afternoon off and is waiting for me when I come in the door. She immediately stands up, lets her robe drop to the floor and says, “I want you to ravish me.” She takes a step toward me. “Did you score from Quentin?” she asks anxiously.
“Slow down, babe. I just got home. Besides, I might need a little alone time. I have to get ready for a trip to LA.”
“Well, LA is great. You can have plenty of alone time when you get to LA,” she says as she presses her naked body against me.
“No. I’d rather not. I’m not really in the mood,” I say sternly.
“But I’ve learned a new move in my Tantric Yoga class.”
“No means no,” I say.
Later, after we’d done the Splurge and had sex, Brandy says, from her crumpled position on the floor, “This stuff is positively addictive!”
“Obviously,” I reply. “Now take off. I need to get packing for my flight.”
“But, baby, I’ll pack for you,” she pouts. “I’m staying until morning so that you can get off just right.” She starts giggling. “Yeh, I’ll work my ass off to get you off.” She melts into giggly purrs.
“OK, but no Splurge. I’ve got to be straight for that flight to LA tomorrow.”
I wake up the next morning, coughing from the vape smoke being blown into my nose. Without saying a word, Brandy turns me over on my stomach and I feel the Splurge vapors being blown up my ass. As the hot fumes hit my prostrate, I begin to careen toward ecstasy. She blows with a slow, steady rhythm as she reaches around to grab my erection. I start to come. Fortunately, Brandy began plenty early. This is going to be a long, slow, languorous orgasm.
I make the plane and am seated with Sammi in economy. Damn the budget cutters, I remember when we used to ride in front with the business class. Being a gentleman, I let her have the aisle and wind up with a prim, elderly woman on my right. I’m still on a Splurge-high from this morning’s escapade and overwhelmed with emotional patterns from all the people on the plane. At first, I’m alarmed by the murderous emotional patterns coming from someone two seats ahead of me, but I relax when I see that it’s only a mother with her teenage daughter.
Sammi tries to start a conversation. “What do you think of LA?”
However, I can’t concentrate because of the low-cut blouse she wears. I’ve been trying not to let things like that distract me, but with the Splurge, her breasts appear to be pulsing with a faint bluish light. I mumble that I prefer not to talk about it.
“Look, are you going to be pissy for the whole flight?” she crosses her arms over those pulsating tits.
Shaking my head, I say, “No. I’m over that. I just have history with Ryder. His Daddy instinct can be triggered by a young thing such as yourself. But really, I just don’t have a lot to say this morning.”
“OK, whatever,” she says as she opens her laptop.
“Actually,” I say, “I’m looking forward to it. Especially when I heard that we’re going to have to share a room.”
“What are you talking about?” she asks, angrily turning her guns in my direction.
“Yeh, it saves money and it’s more gender-neutral, anyway. Men and women agents are to share the room, and even the bed together.”
“Oh, I get it now. Is that how you seduce your women? You’re certainly living up to your reputation.”
“And what’s my reputation?”
“That you’re some kind of a sex pervert. Or something along those lines. How do you plead?”
“It’s probably better than I deserve.”
“And what about me? What’s my reputation?” she asks.
“That you’re always saying weird shit.” I pause to quickly consider the ramifications. “And that you use sex to advance your career.” I look into her eyes. “How do you plead?”
Sammi takes a minute to think. “I can see where you might come to that conclusion. Maybe, in a sense, it’s true. I just don’t think about sex the same way as others.”
“What does that mean?” I ask. I was starting to like this girl, and for more than the light show every time she leaned forward. “How do you think about sex?”
“You really want to know what I think of sex?” She asks mischievously batting her eyes and shaking her cleavage.
“Sure.” I feel a silly grin coming on my face. I look over my shoulder and see that the elderly woman next to me has leaned forward with the same grin.
“I look at it rationally,” She begins. “To understand a variable, you must vary it. You can learn a great deal about sex just by looking at how it changes from time to time and place to place.”
“What do you mean? Sex is sex.” I put great emphasis on the phrase for the entertainment of the elderly woman to my right. “‘That Ol’ Same Thing,’ isn’t that what the song says?”
“No, it’s not. Different cultures think about it differently, do it differently, have different facts of life about it. The Sambia believe that sex is about passing on your strength-giving sperm to the next generation of boys, and they spend many years of their young lives sucking older men off and then being sucked off themselves. A number of cultures claim never to have sex, although they have numerous children. In many cultures there is nothing that two women could do together that would be called sexual, in others everything that two women do together is sexual.
“It’s so diverse that it’s difficult to come up with a definition that would accommodate all its variety. I mean, just try to define it. How can you tell what’s sexual and what’s not? The only way you can tell that something is or isn’t sexual is because society tells you so, there’s no other common criteria.”
I’m starting to settle into her thinking and I’m no longer distracted by the glowing breasts. The Splurge-high is now augmenting my focus instead of distracting it. The glow that emanated from her breasts has become more ambient, suffusing the entire scene in a gentle, bluish light. I’m starting to see why Quentin said that, in the right environment, Splurge could work like a study drug. “But I thought that sex was for making babies and for pleasure. So, if it does those two things, isn’t it sex no matter the culture?”
“Don’t you do lots of sexual things that don’t fit this definition? For all I know, you might have had sex this morning. Probably with yourself,” she wrinkled her nose. “We call that sex, don’t we, even if it might not have been about making babies?”
I’d often wondered if I give off some “tell’ when I’ve just had sex. Do I just look goofier? Did Sammi pick up on that? I say, “Ok. Pleasure then. Sex is anything that brings you pleasure, that gets you ‘off’ and makes you feel free from repression.” This is starting to feel like a couple of kids discussing the size of the universe over a joint.
“I’ve no idea if your morning pull brought you pleasure, or if you just do it out of a sense of duty to the brotherhood of man. What does that have to do with whether it’s sex? This whole pleasure idea is peculiar to the modern, Western notion of sex. No other culture has thought that pleasure is the main goal of sex. The Wogeo of New Guinea found strong sexual sensations in ritual cutting of their penis. Was it pleasure? Who can say? Many more cultures have seen sex as a move within a family system, rather than as pleasure. Sex was at the center of a marriage which united two families. The individual’s pleasure was irrelevant. People were lucky if they found pleasure by chance. It certainly wasn’t the goal.”
“You talk about it so analytically, as if you’re some uninvolved observer who studied us in school. Are you saying there’s something wrong with our focus on pleasure?”
“Pleasure is so vague that it hardly matters. Anything can be called pleasurable. For the sadist, even pain. But it’s not rational to think that we find freedom through sex. Unlike pleasure, freedom actually means something. It means being in control of your own destiny. And for most people in this culture, sex is just the opposite. Sex is stronger than they are. They must serve sex unless, out of their freedom, they intentionally choose to be a slave to sex. Only in that sense, could it be said that sex is freedom. But that’s the kind of freedom that every addict has.”
“This, right here, is why people think you’re weird,” I say. “Who says this kind of shit? Tell you what, I’m just going to close my eyes and ponder the deeper meaning of sex. Wake me if they come by with food.”
Oh perfect, I think, an anthropology major for a partner. I turn slowly away from Sammi, but I still catch the elderly lady next to me gaping open-mouthed. Becoming aware of her impropriety, she slowly closes her eyes and pretends to be asleep, even mumbling a couple of times, “I’m dreaming.” I quickly follow her cue.
I awake to a sharp elbow bruising my rib. “We’ve landed.” Sammi says. I reach under my arm to make sure I have my gun, but then remember that I’d checked it with luggage. Only passengers in first class are allowed to carry guns and my government is too cheap to book me in first class. The elderly woman in the window seat sits demurely looking down as we grab our briefcases and exit the plane.
LAX is, once again, undergoing a multi-billion-dollar renovation. Passageways are narrowed by construction as billionaires and celebrities elbow past one another. You have the feeling that you’re an extra in an epic set in Sodom’s uptown or, maybe, Gomorrah’s downtown. At least there are no more Hare Krishnas, Moonies or Ayn-ers. These days, you don’t have to join a cult to think the world revolves around what you believe. Or maybe, everybody’s already joined that cult.
As we wait for baggage, I call the number that Ryder gave me, an ex-military who’d retired to Orange County. “Admiral Wynn’s residence,” says the man who answers.
When I identify myself, he says that the Admiral is expecting me.
After a pause, I hear a rough voice, “This is Wynn. Is that Hunter?”
“There’s a helicopter waiting for you. My man should be there now to get you. He’s a big guy with a crew cut.”
“I think I see him,” I say as a huge man, possibly some sort of cross between gorilla and human, lumbers toward me through the airport crowd. Between his large, hairy, protruding ears, there is indeed a crew cut, although it’s hardly his most distinctive feature. As he grabs our suitcases, I flash on an old Samsonite commercial, and hope that he won’t start throwing them around. He leads us past security with a nod to the TSA officer, who knowingly nods back.
The airport shrinks behind as the helicopter lifts us high over the city. In a few minutes, we’re leaving behind the crossword streets and matchbox cars and coming out over the ocean with the Queen Mary below us. Coming back along the coast, the helicopter descends across acres of fenced-in, landscaped greenery toward a heliport perched on a cliff overlooking the Pacific. About 200 yards away is a three-story house, in the modern style of stucco, concrete, wood and steel that so resembles a prison. The pilot points toward the front door where an erect older man stands. The crew-cut man/ape follows with our luggage.
“Come in, come in,” the Admiral calls as we hurry over. Inside is an expansive foyer with grey-veined marble floors, two sweeping staircases and, across a far sitting room, a view of the ocean. Although it looks airy and open, I get the feeling of many hidden spaces and alcoves from which one could watch. The house smells of an inner sanctum.
“I’m Hunter Leary and this is agent Sammi Pringle.”
“Yes, yes, Hunter, I remember you,” says the Admiral. “But let’s go down to my office for the introductions. Security, you know.” He leads us down the marbled stairs to a large, windowless, open room that must have once been a ballroom but is now filled with desks and frenetic workers. We walk under an ornate crystal chandelier to a large office that had been installed at the back.
“My humble home,” says the Admiral as he shuts the door behind us.
Last time I saw Wynn, he was in dress blues with four stars on his collar. Today, he’s in mottled fatigues and a linen Guayabera shirt. As he extends his hand, I’m reminded of his missing fingers. We shake and he quickly pivots to Sammi who extends her hand to shake his two fingers and a thumb.
Turning to me, he asks how Ryder’s doing. “Fine, sir. Still giving everyone hell.” Wynn smiles, but with only half his face. The other half stares passively ahead, like some Batman villain. It’s said that the right side of his face, usually inert, could come to frenetic life with uncontrollable facial gestures. I’m glad that I’m entirely down from the Splurge. I’m not sure I could have suppressed the shudders that tingled in me now.
He leans back on his desk, and asks, “What’s this all about?
“Are you familiar with Operation Oedipus?” I ask.
“Not really, but I’ve heard the usual rumors.”
“Frankly, we don’t know much more, but we’ve been sent to investigate this.” I hand him a copy of the press clipping.
Wynn quickly reads it and asks, “So what can I do?”
“The home office seems to think that you have some connections to the film world and that you may be able to make some introductions,” I say tentatively.
“I do have investments in the industry. Mostly, I’ve invested in low budget films with pro-American or business-friendly messages. Why don’t you give me a couple of minutes to call around and see if I can find out who’s producing this.”
Wynn sits in the chair behind his desk, and says, to no visible person, “Madge, get me Seymour Borscht on the phone.” A disembodied female voice delivers a crisp, “Yes, sir.”
A moment later, “Wynn? This is Borscht.”
“Morrie, listen, there’s a documentary in production named ‘Project Oedipus.’ Any idea who’s putting up the money for this thing?”
“Originally it was AJ and Babbs but they’ve both pulled out. I’m sure you heard about Babbs’ plastic surgery disfigurement. She’ll be tied up for months trying to fix it. Meanwhile, AJ has decided that she likes the disfigured look and is planning on spending the next few months in surgery trying to replicate it. I think the Babbitt brothers are invested. I think they’re looking for more money. Why?”
“I’ve got some possible investors. Do you think they could meet the Babbitts?”
“Sure, I can call and make an appointment. Also, I’m sure the boys will be at Jorge’s party tonight, if your people are on a short clock.”
“Thanks, Morrie. Let me talk to them and I’ll let you know.”
After hanging up, Wynn asks, “Do you want to play the investors?”
“Who are the Babbitt brothers?” asks Sammi.
“Business men, however I should warn you that they mostly back the kind of movies that people call porn. If Streisand and Joline are gone and the Babbitts are in, the movie may be setting a new course. Do you want to arrange a meeting?”
“Who’s Jorge?” I ask.
“Jorge Mendez. Surely you’ve heard of him, if you haven’t seen one of his movies.”
“Ahh, that Jorge.”
“Do you want to meet the brothers at the party tonight? I could ask Morrie to take you along and introduce you. It wouldn’t be a problem.”
“Why not,” I say. “We don’t have anything else to do.”
Wynn speaks into the air again, “Tarzanson, come into my office.”
Soon after, the gorilla-man opens the door and Wynn asks him to show us to a room where we could freshen up. “You’ll have dinner here and then Morrie will take you to Jorge’s. I’m afraid that I already have an appointment for this evening, but Tarzanson and Gaston will take care of you. Let them know if you need anything.”
We follow the apeman up the stairs to the foyer and down a hall lined with movie posters. The first is imaginatively titled, “Tit, Tit, Tit, Tit & Ass.” We pass three more on the way to our rooms, “Straps and Strap-ons,” “Big and Ugly III,” and “Tougher Titties: The Revenge.” There are at least a dozen more posters further down the hall. I couldn’t make out the titles, but the titillating graphics are an unmistakable indication of the genre. I guess these are the pro-American films that Wynn invested in. God Bless America!
The apeman opens a door and gestures to indicate that I should go in. The room is sparse and modern. On the bed is a robe and some clothing. Next to the bed is a tall, thin man in braided livery. The apeman and the livery man nod at each other.
“Good afternoon sir, I’m Gaston. The Admiral has told me to take care of you. If you would care to freshen up, the bathroom is through that door. You should find all the necessary toiletries, but please let me know if you need anything else.
“Also, I’ve laid out the sort of clothing that might be worn by a film investor.” He gestures to a pair of faded jeans and an unbleached, silk shirt. “I believe that I’ve got the size right, but please let me know if they are not entirely satisfactory.”
“Thank you, Gaston,” I say. I’d encountered them in previous assignments, but I was always a little uncomfortable with these gentlemen’s gentlemen. It’s not anybody’s aspiration, today. When I’ve had to investigate their lives, they all seemed sad and unlucky. Nevertheless, Gaston seems more to play the part than to actually be a servant. But perhaps all good servants play the part and I just didn’t see that before.
“Dinner will be served in two hours. You could have drinks on the patio or stay here to rest.”
“Drinks on the patio in a half hour would be perfect.”
“Shall I see if Miss Pringle would like to join you?”
Later, Sammi and I sit on the patio sipping our drinks. Behind us are the huge windows of the sitting room. In front is a pool with an in-water bar. Beyond that is the Pacific Ocean. On either side of us is a profusion of fantastic tropical plants. One species, about six foot high, seemed to track us as Gaston led us across to our seats. As we begin to talk, they shiver in synchronicity with our voices.
“How did an ex-admiral end up with all of this?” Sammi sweeps her arm to take in the house and ocean.
“He’s an advisor and sometimes, a procurer,” I say.
“An advisor to whom?”
“…to AssetCorp, mostly. As you probably know from all the criminal charges, they do things for the CIA that the CIA doesn’t want to be caught doing. And, on the side, Wynn procures weapons for anybody who will pay him. He’s said to have a primo selection of chemical weapons for the discerning warlord.
“In the early 90s, AssetCorp was accused of an atrocity, much like those in the news lately. Wynn had just become the youngest to ever be promoted to Admiral and he was chosen to chair a hearing on the accusations. Despite overwhelming evidence, AssetCorp was exonerated on all counts. Soon after, Wynn retired from the Navy and became an advisor to AssetCorp.“
“Apparently, that was a very profitable decision,” Sammi says.
“He’s also said to be a liaison between AssetCorp and a powerful group based in the Middle-East, and both sides have a very lucrative way of expressing their gratitude.”
“Who’s the Middle East group?” Sammi asks.
“We don’t know. We’re not even sure they have a name, but they seem to have their finger in everything.”
As Sammi and I finish our drinks, Gaston comes out, “Dinner is ready, sir. Would you like it served on the patio?”
I’m not sure that the ‘sir’ was meant for her, but Sammi answers, “That would be lovely.”
Gaston steps to the patio door and gestures to four men who carry chairs and a table laden with plates, glasses, silverware and linen out to the patio. Gaston sets the table and invites us to take our seats.
We eat Kobe steak and delicate onion rings with hot mustard sauce as the sun sets over the ocean. From the moment that the meat is brought out, the shivering plants increase their motion and begin to turn from a dull, dark green to something more like the stem of a rhubarb. Perhaps it’s the wind, but when Sammi pushes her unfinished meat away, the closest plant seemed to bend a couple of feet closer.
When Gaston returns, I ask what kind of plants they are. Gaston says, “Don’t worry, sir. They act that way with everyone. They are just trying to get a reaction. It is best to ignore them. Just don’t let them think that you are afraid.”
“Why, what happens then?”
“As the Admiral is fond of saying, that is on a need-to-know basis.”
Dressing for the evening, I look at my reflection in the full-length mirror. Not too bad, I think, for mid-thirties. I’ve got a few extra pounds and in some clothes, my gut sticks out more than I’d like, but the loose linen shirt hides my deficits and the tight jeans show off my assets. Women have told me that my ass makes them want to reach out and grab something. OK, not many, but it did happen once.
When I come out into the sitting room, Sammi is ready. She’s also wearing tight jeans, but with a luxurious, cashmere top of varied brown tones. It blends seamlessly into her short brown hair and its tightness also accentuates her two, matching, best features.
Morrie arrives in his white Bentley to pick us up. On the way to the party, he keeps up a string of chatter until we arrive at the gate to Jorge’s. Mostly Morrie talks about gossip that he’s heard or that he thought we’d heard, confirming or denying it. He seems to know the true story behind every account and it’s usually much worse than any rumor. If I’d been a regular reader of Popular People or Everywhere Enquirer magazines, I would’ve found what he said fascinating. I love movies, but I hate all the gossip around them. I found myself wondering if I’d be able to fit into the strange rituals of Hollywood, or if I’ll stick out like an anthropologist at a cannibal feast.
As we pull up to the gate, Morrie unrolls the window and says, “Hello, Dwight.”
“Good evening, Mr. Borscht.”
“Are the Babbitts here yet?”
“Yes, sir, about 20 minutes ago.”
Morrie surreptitiously hands him a bill. “Call me if you hear any more about that thing.”
“I will, sir.” Dwight waves us in.
We drive about half a mile to the house, where we turn our car over to one of the valets, who Morrie also seems to know personally. The three of us walk slowly up the stairs toward the front door. The stairway curves so that we face the ocean before we turn left to the entryway. The view is of the breaking waves and the crystalline, star-sprinkled sky. I notice that the lawn and much of the beach is dotted with small tents, each with a different colored pendant over it. Although I saw the doorman check the ID of the couple ahead of us, he immediately recognizes Morrie and waves him in. “These two are with me,” Morrie says as the doorman stares suspiciously at us.
Inside, there is a wide hall lined with antique mirrors and benches. On one of the benches is a box half-filled with colored handkerchiefs. Above it a sign says “TAKE ONE,” so we do. I stuff mine into my pocket.
At the end of the hall are open stairs down into an immense, sunken atrium. From the top of the stairs, you could look upon a crowd of about 100 people, mostly in groups of twos and threes, outlined against a two-story clear-glass backdrop. Hanging from the underlighted ceiling is a large neon sign that says, “SWAP MEET.”
Morrie pushes us down the stairs to the left. At the foot of the stairs is an oversize bench which seats three women holding full martini glasses aloft. Their necks sway slightly back-and-forth as they stare passively into the far distance. “Don’t make eye contact,” Morrie whispers desperately, as he grabs Sammi and puts himself between her and the women.
“Who are they?”
“Those are the wives,” he hisses.
The latest in Ironic White Pop is coming over the mansion’s sound system. Somebody was making a fortune by recycling Barry Manilow with cutting-edge polyrhythms. “Is that Snoopy Pupy?” asks Sammi, pointing. Most of the crowd is white--by which I mean, dark-tan—but there’s a cluster of even whiter people dressed in black with an imposing African American man at the center. It looks like an outtake from Blade, the third or fourth movie in the franchise, I forget which, but the one with the disco scene.
“Yes,” Says Morrie. “Jorge usually has a couple of token rappers at his parties, but not too many or people who don’t want the publicity might end up with their pictures in the paper. He likes the old gangsta’s. Of course, Pupy has changed a lot since he was born again, but he might have been booked for this gig before he converted last month, or maybe he’s just backsliding.”
“I’m impressed you know the Snoopy Puppy guy,” I say to Sammi.
“Pupy, not Puppy,” she replies.
“I’ve got to go and check on some deals,” says Morrie. “I’ll be back in about twenty minutes. Don’t wander too far and I’ll bring the Babbitts back to you. There’s the bar. Why don’t you hang around there and I’ll find you.”
As we walk toward the bar, I notice that the music gets dramatically louder and softer as we move from point to point. People had grouped themselves along this pattern to dance in twos and threes where the music is loud and to talk where it’s quiet.
“Let’s get a drink in our hands and maybe see what we can find out about the Babbitts that might be useful.”
“OK, get me a bourbon,” says Sammi.
Waiting at the bar to get the drinks, I try to start a conversation with the guy next to me, “Are you just here for the free drinks?” I chuckle appropriately.
His face goes white as if I’d guessed his deepest secret. “Nothin’s really free,” he mumbles down to his drink.
I turn to the man on my right and give him the “guy” nod. He glares back at me with the same insane fervor that I’d seen in pictures of Charles Manson. I slowly back away from the bar, being sure to keep my hands in sight and not make any sudden moves.
Sammi seems to be doing better. She’s talking to a tall, impossibly thin brunette with those expensive implants that look so real until they move. As I walk up, Sammi says, “Hunter this is Sheila. She was about to say what those tents outside are for. Go ahead, dear.”
“Did you get a handkerchief when you came in?” We nod. “Well those match the pennants on top of the tents.” We nod again. “And see, Sammi and mine match.” We look blankly at her. “Yours will match someone’s, too,” she says to me. We try to get more information out of her, but she just keeps saying that she and Sammi match and seems uninterested in explaining anything else.
“Do you know anything about the Babbitt brothers?” I change the subject.
“Sure. Are you in the industry?” asks Sheila, batting her eyelids over cold, dead eyes.
“No, we aren’t really in the industry. We’re just investors.”
“Darling, that is the industry. People are always raising money for movies; they only occasionally make them.”
“Did you get us drinks?” asks Sammi.
“No, I had to leave before I could get them.”
“Leave? You don’t have to leave. Sheila dear, we’re having bourbon, anything for you?”
I make my way to the other bar across the room, just to avoid trouble. After scooching, snaking, sidling, slithering, inching, edging my way through the crowd, I’m within sight of the bar. Luckily, there are no menacing men around it. In fact, there’s no one near it at all except for a burly bartender behind the bar leaning forward and glaring out with both hands firmly planted in front of him. As I draw closer, I see that in front of the bartender on the bar is a shotgun. His expression looks like he’d been playing Charades and had drawn the word, “Insanity.” I sigh, turn around, and begin to make my way back across the room.
By the time I get back, Sheila and Sammi have drinks. God love her, Sammi even has a drink for me, although it is a pink slipper. She hands it to me as she continues listening intently to Sheila.
“Anyway,” Sheila continues, “If I were going to rank a woman by their man’s suit, a Brioni is way better than a Dormeuil.”
I hate these saccharine, bubblegum, ersatz mixtures, I think to myself while staring at my drink. I wave as I see Morrie coming over with two identical, overweight, blond men trailing an entourage. They look like a couple of Babbitts.
Morrie introduces us. “They are particular friends of the Admiral.”
“Yes,” I say. “The Admiral told us that you are good people to talk to if we’re looking to invest in a movie.”
The Babbitt brothers stare distantly at us. One leans slightly left, while the other leans just as slightly right. One, or maybe both, begin to emit a faint hissing noise, like the quiet passing of a malodourous gas. Almost thirty seconds pass with no one saying anything. Finally, one of the brothers says, “We always have something to invest in. We’ll talk to the Admiral. If he says you’re alright, then we’ll sit down and figure out how we can make money together.”
The other brother says, “Let us put you in touch with one of our people and he’ll call you to set something up. OK? Joe, come up here.” He gestures to his entourage.
A man comes forward. He is young, bald, clearly Italian. I’m guessing his last name is Soprano or Corleone.
“Joe, this is Hunter and Sammi. I want you to take care of them. We might be doing some business together.”
Joe shakes both of our hands and then slips me his card. I was wrong about Soprano, it says Joseph Iago. “Iago,” I say. “Will you betray Othello?”
“I never betrayed nobody. I don’t care what they say,” Joe exclaims indignantly.
“No, I mean your name’s Iago.”
“And in the play Iago betrays Othello.”
“Are you trying to start something? I told you, I never betrayed nobody. Anybody who says I did…”
One of the brothers intervenes, “He’s talking about the Shakespeare play,” he says to Joe.
“They don’t cover that in the juvenile detention center,” the other brother says to me.
“I never ratted out nobody in juvie neither. Unless they deserved it,” says Joe as he stalks off.
“We better go after him. Don’t worry, you’ll hear from him,” one brother says to me.
“Joe’s such a puzzle. You’ll never know that he’s holding a grudge until months later, and oops there it is,” says the other departing brother. As the entourage moves away, I notice that it is actually two entourages, but it’s impossible to tell the two apart.
Suddenly, in the middle of “Copacabana,” the Ironic White Pop is replaced. The sound system cranks up “Change Partners” by Nash or Stills or one of the old LA hippies.
“Do you have your handkerchief?” Morrie asks me. I pull it out of my pocket. “Let me see if I can find your match.” He grabs it and heads into the crowd.
I notice that the crowd is thinning now as people go two-by-two out the side doors and onto the grass outside. Some point toward different pennants and then walk in that direction.
“Hunter, I want you to meet Bell. Bell this is Hunter,” says Morrie.
Bell looks like Sarah Michelle Gellar playing Buffy about the age she graduated from Hellmouth High. I want to carry her books and fight demons with her.
“Bell, this is Hunter’s first time here and he doesn’t know what the handkerchiefs are for,” says Morrie.
“Did you get a handkerchief when you came in?” I nod. “Well those match the flag-thingy on top of the tents.” I nod again. “And see, yours and mine match. Come on let’s find our tent.”
She takes hold of my hand and leads me like an innocent child to one of the tents for I knew not what.
Inside the tent is a large bed, a futuristic chair and a rack with various implements, some of which faintly resemble sex toys. Bell begins to remove her clothes.
“Buffy in the buff,” I murmur. To get things started, I slip a Splurge minjectable out of my pocket and surreptitiously give myself a quick dose in the butt as I pull off my pants and grind my hips to a stripper song that I’m loudly humming.
Naked, with the drug starting to come on, I hear Bell ask, “Would you like to snort some coke off me?”
“Sure,” I say with artificial eagerness. Of course, I’d been given cocaine during DCIA training, but I have to admit that it never did much for me. I just felt a little speedy for an hour or so.
Bell gets a vial from her pants. She lays back on the edge of the bed and sprinkles a line of powder on her stomach, going down to her neatly trimmed short hairs. She hands me a small straw, lays her head back, lets her legs fall apart and waits. With drawn breath, I swoop down the line starting at her navel and following its thick, powdery trail down to her pubic hairs. As I rub my nose in her hairs and slip my tongue into her, I suddenly feel something new coming on. This is not Splurge and it certainly is not cocaine. It plays with my senses in rapidly ascending and descending scales. I remember what Quentin had said about Splurge and other drugs. This must have been what he was talking about.
Memories are flooding into me. I think they’re from Bell. Her taste and smell overwhelm me and I’m dazed by her blurry childhood memory of someone’s (her father’s?) large penis. I then see her walking in on her mother and father, followed by a memory of some great pain combined with the fervent wish to disappear.
“Do you want to sit in the hochschnellen chair?” she asks.
“What?” I ask hoarsely.
“Sit here,” she says.
As I sink into its seat, the splurge/cocaine high is sending rockets of varicolored lights exploding from my eyes. I sit back and put my hands upon the perfectly positioned arms. Pliable bands of leather and wire spring from the chair and wrap around my wrists, biceps, thighs and ankles. The seat begins to vibrate in a most vulgar way. The leather secretes a viscous fluid. I feel the hydraulics of the chair fill with a spurting power. The chair’s seat lifts and propels my pelvis, with its engorged protrusion, forward. Bell’s mouth waits there in the chair’s obscene path. The chair works me back and forth, back and forth, again and again, rocking me, cradling me, comforting me. With each thrust, my mind fills with more of her sexual memories and dirty fantasies, until I feel stretched out of shape by the hugeness of it. All my tension gathers in my penis waiting to erupt into Bell’s mouth.
“Stop,” Bell says on the down stroke. The chair immediately stops.
“I have a surprise, a good surprise for you. Do you want a surprise?”
“Yes,” I croak.
“First, I’ll put a blindfold on you.” She grabs her handkerchief and ties it around my eyes. She’s surprisingly professional at adjusting it. I can’t see a thing.
“I’ll be right back,” and before I could protest, she’s gone.
After a few minutes alone, my senses go into an overload crisis. I’m buffeted by feelings, sounds, visions and hallucinations. I struggle to remember how to breathe, was it in or out or both in quick succession?
I think Bell returns or multiple Bells return. I hear three hearts beating over mine. I have a vision of the heavens being pulled back. The giant hand of a meddling god reaches down to move a man-shaped pawn. My hard cock is pushed into a cunt as my chair re-engages. I see her with young children playfully pointing at each other’s naked groins; I see her first experience of young love with three others on a sunset beach; I feel the complexity of emotions as she watches a loved cousin getting married to a close friend.
Bell rips the blindfold off me. In front of me is Sammi’s ass, the chair plunging me in and out. She’s still blindfolded and passionately kissing Sheila. Bell reaches down to stroke my balls. I pass out with a sigh as I come.