Overshadowed by and linked to the President's Murder – The Murder of Karyn Cookie Kupcinet
KARYN "COOKIE" KUPCINET https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karyn_Kupcinet https://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/June-2004/The-Lost-World-of-Kup/index.php?cparticle=7&siarticle=6&requiressl=true Karyn Kupcinet looked like Natalie Wood. That is to say that Karyn Kupcinet was simply gorgeous. If Karyn was alive today she would have some stories to tell. Apparently Warren Beatty made a pass at a young Karyn. Karyn knew Jessica Lange and her father was Irv Kupcinet (newspaper columnist for the Chicago Sun Times). She made appearances on Perry Mason, The Donna Reed Show and was personally offered a part in a movie by Jerry Lewis – who adored Karyn. Unfortunately rather than an old lady with glitzy stories of Hollywood, Karyn’s legacy is as a footnote in bat-shit conspiracy theories. In researching the Karyn Kupcinet case I bought a copy of James Ellroy’s CRIME WAVE which has a segment on the Kupcinet murder. The language used by Ellroy is course and crude and fits in with his L.A noir style. The location: A courtyard complex off Sunset Strip. The Victim: A drug-addicted and eating-disordered dilettante. The date of death: 28th November 1963 (Six-days after JFK’s assassination in Dallas). Mark Goddard found Karyn on the 30th November 1963 at 7pm. Discovery: Mark was worried about Karyn. Mark is a TV actor. His wife Marcia waits in the car. Some of you may know Mark Goddard from playing Major Don West and Sgt. Ballard in The Detectives. As Mark approaches Karyn’s apartment, he knocks on the door. There’s no answer. Mark sees a light inside. He tries the door, it pops open. Mark is scared. He goes back to the car and gets Marcia. As they both enter the apartment, the TV is on and the sound down low and there on the couch is a naked, stretched out Karyn. Karyn is dead. Karyn Kupcinet was 22 years old. Mark revealed to the patrol cops the following: Karyn was a close friend, they had met in 1961. They saw Karyn Wednesday night. She said that she was seeing a therapist. Karyn was dating actor Andy Prine. The romance was dying and Karyn was in a state of depression. She had been sending love letters to Andy and herself. Cause of Death: The coroner’s office concluded that Kupcinet’s cause of death was strangulation and her hyoid bone in her throat was broken. Background: A note found in Kupcinet’s apartment read as follows: I’m no good. I’m not really that pretty. My figure’s fat and will never be the way my mother wants it. I won’t let it be what she wants... What happens to me-or my Andy?Why doesn’t he want me? Karyn had her own personal issues. She was abusing diet pills and fretted over her weight since high school. She had been arrested for shoplifting. In July 1963 Karyn had an illegal abortion after falling pregnant with Andy Prine. Karyn had sent Andy abusive messages consisting of letters cut out of a magazine. Despite being a prime suspect Andy Prine has never been charged with Karyn’s murder and Irv Kupcinet himself believes that Andy was not involved in Karyn’s slaying (as mentioned in Irv Kupcinet’s memoirs). Possible motive for Andy Prine? His acting career was nose-diving and he blamed Karyn for this. Prine believed that she set out to ruin his career. Sixty-years on we know that this hasn’t been the case for Prine and his acting career; he was after all cast as “Angry Man” in the 2005 remake of Starsky and Hutch. Andy Prine turned over to the LAPD the notes received from Karyn Kupcinet prior to her death, they are as follows: - WANT YOUR HOT BODY; ONLY TAMPAX WILL STOP YOUR FERTILITY PROBLEM. - YOU WILL NEED PROTECTION. BEN CASEY CAUGHT MESSAGE FOR YOUR BEAU YOU HAVEN’T MUCH TIME FOR DREAMS. - FORGET FAME AND ROMANCE WITH AGEING GLEN FORD DEVIL MUST KILL YOU. - YOUR LADY NEEDS SURGERY SUDDENLY. EXPECT TO GET BAD BREAKS WHEREVER YOU GO. YOUR RICH BEAUTY HAS NO TIME. - ARE YOU GOING TO LATIN AMERICA OR FLORIDAY? LET YOUR BEAUTIFUL VIRGIN BECOME LONESOME AND SO EASY TO MAKE. BET K KUP TASTES AS GOOD AS IT LOOKS. BLOW. - YOU ARE THE CERTAIN GIRL TO DIE. - YOU MAY DIE WITHOUT NOBODY. WINNE OF LONELINESS WANTS DEATH UNTIL SOMEONE SPECIAL CARES. Upon searching the victim’s apartment the magazines and scotch tape were found to make the letters. Karyn had sent the letters to Andy – and herself. In 1957 Hope Lange was nominated for an Oscar. She had her breakout performance in Peyton Place. Her brother David Lange emerged as a person of interest in this case. David Lange was a Hollywood script reader. Apparently David Lange told an anonymous tipster “I killed her, you know.” David said this was a joke and explained his whereabouts on the night in question by claiming he was having dinner at Natalie Wood’s house until 11:30pm. David Lange took a polygraph test but this was ruled as inconclusive. David claimed he never really knew Karyn and in 2007 he stated that he had only met her once and the next time he saw her “she was getting carried out of the courtyard in a bodybag.” David Lange however admits making the joke that he killed her. James Ellroy has speculated that Karyn’s murderer was Karyn Kupcinet. Either by accident or on purpose, Ellroy suggests that Karyn may have been strung out on pills and may have “clipped her hyoid bone on the coffee table.” The Kupcinet family take umbrage to these theories as Kari Kupcinet-Kriser states “He’s the only one in 40 years who has ever.... every policeman will tell you it’s a murder.” And the case is officially designated as a homicide. JFK Researcher Penn Jones Jr claims that an unidentified woman called her local operator twenty minutes before the shooting of JFK and warned that the president was going to be shot. Jones alleges that this was Karyn Kupcinet. The theory goes that Irv Kupcinet, a man with a lot of power and connections, had informed Karyn of the hit. Neither the age, sound nor details of the voice in question matches Karyn’s according to the witnesses. It was further alleged that Jack Ruby himself tipped off Irv, who told Karyn, who informed an operator on that fateful day in 1963. This of course is denied by the Kupcinet family. However; it is stated that Irv Kupcinet did know Jack Ruby allegedly in the 1940s Chicago but the only source I can quote on this is Penn again, which leads this “association” to be questionable. https://spartacus-educational.com/JFKkupcinet.htm Penn’s theory further expands that it was the Italian-American Mafia that was behind the slaying of Karyn in her Los Angeles home. When the Oliver Stone film JFK was due to be released in 1991, NBC’s Today Show listed Kupcinet first in a broadcast surrounding mysterious deaths and heavily linked this to JFK – a bandwagon piece of tabloid journalism. Irv Kupcinet heavily criticised the piece in his columns in the Chicago Sun-Times. Now we have gotten the poppycock out of the way, let’s move on shall we... The Coroner Harold Kade was a drunk and a lousy coroner. A theory is that Dr Kade broke the hyoid bone himself. Rumour has it that he used to make jokes about accidentally breaking Karyn’s neck: “Well, at least I didn’t break the hyoid bone on that one.” This is unsubstantiated rumour and in no way can a definitive source be found on Dr Kade’s alcoholism, incompetence and poor sense of humour. The Other Suspects There was of course freelance writer Edwin Rubin and Robert Hathaway – the last to see Karyn alive on the preceding Wednesday night. 11/27/63 – Rubin and Hathaway stay around Karyn’s to watch TV awhile. Rubin allegedly left before midnight to meet two girls but Rubin doesn’t mention it at the time. In November 1966 Rubin calls LA homicide to revise his version of events and mentions the meeting of two girls. Rubin did not give the story three days after the crime. He recalled the girls three years after the crime. LAPD then contacted Hathaway – Hathaway refutes the revised statement given by Rubin and then proceeds to change his own statement. Despite intense questioning of Hathaway and Rubin, and further pressure on Lange – who refused two polygraph tests 1966-1969 (on the advices of his lawyer) – no further action was taken. DARLING “COOKIE” KARYN KUPCINET MARCH 61941 – NOV 28 1963 The 1970 Edition of John Austin’s Hollywood’s Unsolved Mysteries devotes an entire chapter to this case alongside James Ellroy’s Crime Wave which I have heavily quoted (chapter Glamour Jungle). I think the big question around Karyn’s death remains as to whether this was accidental and a series of unfortunate coincidences or if this was a case of a toxic love affair turned murderous. The political spin that people put on this is a product of the closeness to JFK’s assassination but ultimately to link Karyn to the president is sheer ridiculousness. With car-halting beauty and charisma to boot and a powerful, respected father, who knows where Karyn could have gone in her life and it is a tragedy that she was taken from us at the age of 22. That being said; it seems apparent that she had her own demons to conquer and much like Marilyn Monroe, she never got the help she needed before it was too late.
Kris, an adjunct professor from New York, is a championship bar trivia team player;
Nicole, an OB-GYN from California, is obsessed with her cat; and
Sid, a retired school psychologist from New Jersey, knows it's possible (but harder) to learn when you're older. Sid entered the game as a one-day champ with winnings of $25,874.
Sid increased his lead on DD3, but both opponents managed to stay in range going into FJ, with Sid at $16,600, Nicole with $9,800 and Kris at $9,600. DD1, $800 - ABBREVIATED ABC - In the Anglican Church, ABC refers to this high personage (Kris won the window maximum of $1,000.) DD2, $2,000 - MEDICINE MEN - A 2019 surgery on a 60-year-old woman revealed a nearly 50-year-old mitral valve that this South African man had implanted (Kris lost $4,200 on a true DD.) DD3, $1,600 - & THEN WHAT HAPPENED? - In 1846 he sued in Missouri state court to be freed from slavery & in 1857 the U S. Supreme Court ruled against him (Sid won $2,000 from his score of $7,000 vs. $5,000 for Nicole.) FJ - U.N. MEMBERS - It incorporated the "one country, two systems" principle in its constitution in 1982 & put it into practice after a 1997 reunification Only Kris was correct and was absolutely astonished that he won, adding $7,001 for a victory worth $16,601. Wagering strategy: Strangely, on FJ both Kris and Nicole wagered to finish ahead of Sid by one dollar if Sid had wagered $0, so if Nicole had been correct we would have had a tiebreaker clue. Given how rare it is for the FJ leader in a non-runaway to bet $0, this shouldn't be the basis of a bet size for a player in second or third. Celebrity slip-ups: No one recognized a vintage photo of former Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth, or knew the alliterative "Children of a Lesser God" Oscar-winning actress who works with people with disabilities, Marlee Matlin. This day in Trebekistan: Alex tipped off the results during the FJ reveal when below his response, Kris wrote "And who is going to hire this PhD" and the host commented, "You're correct...you may not need anybody to hire you." Correct Qs: DD1 - Who is the Archbishop of Canterbury? DD2 - Who was Barnard? DD3 - Who was Dred Scott? FJ - What is China?
Michael locks everyone in the office in order to protect them from the 'Rona. Plus a webcam workday.
Int. Office – Entrance – D1 ANGELA walks into the office wearing a hazmat suit. MICHAEL is waiting outside his office. He is fidgeting his hands. MICHAEL Good morning, Angela. Is that a new outfit? His voice trails off as she keeps her head down and hurries to her seat in accounting. INT. OFFICE – ACCOUNTING - D1 KEVIN (laughing) It’s a pandemic, not a raindemic, you can take off the coat. ANGELA It’s a hazmat suit, so I don’t get your germs. KEVIN Come on Angela, everyone knows you’ll be fine if you buy toilet paper. OSCAR You’re both wrong. Just wash your hands and don’t touch your face. INT. OFFICE – BULL PEN - D1 Andy enters the office wearing full scrubs-- over his feet, hair, torso, legs-- and a mask on his face. Only a small window for his eyes is visible. He’s still friendly. He waves to everyone as he goes to his seat. INT. OFFICE – PHYLLIS AND STANLEY’S DESKS – D1 Stanley rolls his eyes as Andy sits down and unpacks his items. ANDY Good morning. ANDY TALKING HEAD ANDY I find it’s always best to follow the lead of the professionals. What are the professionals doing? Wearing outfits a bit like these. Acknowledges/shows off his scrubs. Camera zooms out, to see better INT. OFFICE – BULLPEN – D1 Michael nervously turns toward the rest of the office as MEREDITH walks in. She wipes her nose with her arm as the camera turns with Michael. He prepares to make an announcement. MICHAEL (CONT’D) Listen up, I know things are a little tense, but this office is a Corona free zone. It is not allowed in, in fact, it is illegal! DWIGHT Actually, there’s no way to prevent the spread of the virus to this office. MICHAEL (More nervous) Well, then we’ll banish it to the annex. Problem solved. PHYLLIS Is there any new protocol for disinfecting our workspace? MICHAEL Yes, there is. I have plenty of Lysol wipes and toilet paper in my car. I bought everything they had at at the store yesterday. Disapproving noises. PAM (scolding) Michael… MICHAEL Shhh! I don’t wanna hear it. You should be thanking me; While crazy people are piling all the toilet paper in Scranton in their carts, I will be sharing with all of you. More disapproval. ANGELA But you’re one of the crazy people buying all the toilet paper! MICHAEL Out of love! Michael escapes into his office. Angela rolls her eyes and goes to sit back down. INT. MICHAEL’S OFFICE – D1 Dwight enters the room carrying some type of poster, Michael is staring at his computer screen. He exhales air he had been holding in as he sees Dwight. MICHAEL Do I sound contagious? DWIGHT Hmm… You haven’t said enough to tell. MICHAEL (Stares at the screen) What about sneezing? I don’t think I’ve been sneezing. Can you hold back a sneeze without knowing? DWIGHT Of course I can. But Michael, I had an idea. Michael finally rips himself from the screen and looks at Dwight. MICHAEL (in a voice) About what? DWIGHT We need to use this toilet paper shortage to our advantage. MICHAEL (nodding along) Yes, very good idea. I had the same idea. Um, what were you thinking specifically? Dwight props up the poster and points a long extendable pointer at the curtain covering it. DWIGHT What does the world need right now? Michael takes a moment to think. MICHAEL A cure? A vaccine? DWIGHT False. We need toilet paper. Dwight uncovers the poster and reveals a bathroom with a stack of paper. DWIGHT (CONT’D) What do you call paper in a bathroom, perhaps on a toilet? MICHAEL (Without thinking too hard) Paper on a toilet? Toilet paper? Hey! Toilet paper! DWIGHT (Doing that Dwight happy smirk at the camera) Exactly. We can roll our paper into tight rolls, and probably get away with cutting it into thirds. Once that’s a success, we can move on to paper towels! Then with a little glue, paper cups… MICHAEL (offended) Are you insane? We cannot let people use our good paper on… on their anuses! DWIGHT That is a great point! Would you want to let the good people of Scranton wipe their anuses with crappy paper? MICHAEL Well, no. Especially not crappy crappy paper. DWIGHT And it’s only a matter of time before other paper companies start doing the exact same thing. Prince Family Paper! Staples! Office Depot! We need to be ahead of this. MICHAEL I could see Staples selling butt paper. Michael keeps pondering. MICHAEL (CONT’D) David Wallace always likes innovation. Why don’t you go around the office and ask everyone what they would do if they got desperate for toilet paper. DWIGHT I’m on it. INT. OFFICE - BREAK ROOM - D1 Several people are eating lunch. Dwight is leaning against one of the vending machines. Jim and Pam are at a table. Kelly is sitting with Meredith. Angela walks in only to retriever her lunch. It’s in an air tight, metal box. She is disgusted by their food being exposed to the air and to each other. ANGELA Does social distancing mean nothing to you? DWIGHT It means less than nothing to a Schrute. Superior genes. JIM That is going to get you killed. PAM Don’t you think you should be just a little careful in case your genes are less superior than you thought? DWIGHT Pfff. That’s like saying we should use pesticides to destroy insects. DWIGHT – TALKING HEAD DWIGHT At Schrute farms, we never use pesticides on our crops. Insects kill the weak and only the strong survive. Natural selection. We use the same method with children. I never went to the doctor as a child, and I survived because I am not weak. Meredith holds up her hand to high five Dwight. MEREDITH Yeah! I sold my insurance. What a waste of booze money. Dwight rejects the interaction. Meredith sneezes. The room vacates. INT. OFFICE – CREED’S DESK Kelly enters the office and hands Creed some money. KELLY TALKING HEAD KELLY Creed knows someone who has early access to the vaccine and because he’s so cool, he let me buy one half off. It still wasn’t cheap, but it was worth it. CREED TALKING HEAD CREED That wasn’t a vaccine. KELLY Do you have another one for Ryan? He doesn’t wash his hands. Not even after he goes to the bathroom, even though I keep telling him “Ryan! Wash your hands, silly!” That’s super gross. But he’s all, oh, whatever, like I mean, I have a super hot girlfriend…” RYAN Kelly, what are you doing? You said you would sign up for my new social media platform. Ryan looks at the camera. RYAN (CONT’D) Facebook.net. Keep up with friends and family on a convenient digital platform. PAM Hasn’t the real Facebook been proven to make people feel more depressed? RYAN Facebook.net can assure you will feel empowered by comparing yourself to rich vacationing relatives. Use at your own risk. KELLY No one is going to want to use your stupid Facebook rip off especially not right now! Creed’s going to give you the vaccine and we will be the only ones left standing! RYAN I am not taking any vaccines without an actual doctor or nurse. Everyone is paying attention to them now and Jim looks at the camera with concern. KELLY Why not!? RYAN What about the tapeworm, Kelly? Dwight appears, standing over them with a clipboard. DWIGHT What would you do if you ran out of toilet paper? KELLY What? I don’t know. We’re in the middle of-- RYAN That’s a great question. I did the responsible thing and bought as much as I could find. I’m selling it on Ebay for only forty bucks a roll. Dwight has a creepy grin on his face. Walking in between Ryan and Kelly, he approaches Creed. DWIGHT And if you had the misfortune of running out of toilet paper? CREED I already have run out. Now I only use Dunder Mifflin paper for my bathroom needs. Dwight’s grin increases in severity. He walks away. CREED TALKING HEAD CREED That’s a lie. These are dark times. If they find out you have toilet paper, you’re dead. The truth is, I don’t use toilet paper. Trees in the park make new leaves every year, so I haven’t had a need for it in over thirty years. But that’s something that a person with toilet paper says. INT. OFFICE – JIM AND DWIGHT’S OFFICE – D1 Jim is rubbing yellow flowers around Dwight’s desk. On his phone, computer, chair, and then puts the flowers into the bottom of his pencil cup. JIM TALKING HEAD JIM A few years ago, we went on a nature retreat with a few other people from sales. To annoy Dwight, I gathered some of these yellow flowers and gave them to him. Instantly, he started to sneeze. Turns out, he’s got an allergy. This is information I’ve waited long enough to use. INT. MICHAEL’S OFFICE – D1 We are behind the desk looking at Michael’s computer. It is the news. MICHAEL (nervous) It’s not looking good. It is not looking good. Michael points to the screen. MICHAEL (CONT’D) There are five confirmed cases here in Scranton. Five! Camera follows him into the bull pen MICHAEL (CONT’D) Everyone, conference room in one minute! This is urgent! Let’s go, people! The crowd shuffles in and takes their seats. There is an easel with paper on it. Angela raises her hand. MICHAEL (CONT’D) Yes, tiny? ANGELA This is not the recommended six feet distance, and it’s a gathering of over ten people. MICHAEL Okay, no problem. Toby get out. Toby leaves, but the rest try to explain that there are still too many people. PHYLLIS There’s still over ten people. MICHAEL (eager to get the meeting started) I don’t count because I’m running the meeting, Dwight has supper genes, you can’t have Jim without Pam, Angela is so short a leaf could tip her over, and I don’t see color, so Oscar, Stanley, and Kelly aren’t here either. That’s under ten, right? They protest, and explain his incompetence. Dwight is sneezing. DWIGHT (Voice is hoarse) Listen to Michael and we get out of here sooner. They quiet down, and lean away from Dwight. MICHAEL Thank you. Now. My announcement is that we need to think about how we’re going to beat this. What are we going to do to not die. PHYLLIS I’m not too worried. I’ve been washing my hands and disinfecting the things I touch. MICHAEL No, that’s not good enough. I have a better idea. Michael steps to the easel and flips a page up and over the back. It reveals a written word: AGORAPHOBIA. MICHAEL (CONT’D) Agoraphobia is the fear of going outside. We have made fun of these people for centuries, but now the agoraphobics will be the only people who survive this apocalypse. We all need to become agoraphobic. How to we do this? DWIGHT Trauma in most cases. MICHAEL Good idea, we need to traumatize you people. Any ideas? Camera cuts to the audience Kelly is talking to Ryan; she’s not listening to Michael. KELLY I’m going to go to the beach, and see a movie… I bet I’ll be the only person there. Well, aside from you. That’ll be so cool. (whistful) We’ll roam the empty streets together like a fairytale! RYAN Which fairytale would that be? Dwight and Michael are bouncing ideas off each other. MICHAEL No, Dwight, that’s just going to make them afraid of shovels, not nature. Dwight is coughing, but tries to play it off. DWIGHT I could hit them with the shovel outside. MICHAEL (Not convinced, but considering) Well, hmm. No, I have an easier way to keep everyone safe. We will be hunkering down here at the office until this pandemic passes. Outrage. JIM You cannot be serious. ANGELA What about my cats? PHYLLIS And Bob? MEREDITH Eh, I’m on board. My kids in juvie, so I got nothing better to do. MICHAEL See, Meredith thinks it’s a good idea. STANLEY I am not spending my next few weeks here with you in this office. ANGELA Look at Dwight, he’s sick. How do we know he’s not spreading the virus to us? DWIGHT (sneezing) I cannot get your little pandemic. MICHAEL As your boss I am commanding you all to stay. I am making an executive order. PAM You can’t do that. MICHAEL David Wallace told me that I need to do whatever I need to do to make sure you stay safe. JIM He means send us home! MICHAEL That’s a terrible idea. First of all, none of our clients will get paper, second, how will I make sure you all stay safe? We are a family and families need to be together during times of need. So bring your kids and your cats and your refrigerator husbands and we’ll set up living space for all of you. OSCAR This sounds like a breeding ground for Covid-19. MICHAEL Oscar, you know nothing of breeding. Now, I need people to go to the store and get the essentials. We need dinners for two… three months. Food, more refrigerators, cabinets, dishware…” Michael knocks on the window of the conference room. MICHAEL (CONT’D) TOBY! TOBY GO TO THE STORE! INT. ANNEX – D1 - CONTINUOUS Michael has crime scene tape and is taping off sections of the office with it. Everyone is following him around trying to get him to reconsider. PAM What are you doing with that tape? That’s for crimescenes. MICHAEL TALKING HEAD MICHAEL I bought this tape at my favorite prankstore in downtown Scranton. I usually use it for Toby’s desk. Or sometimes Toby himself. INT. ANNEX – D1 – CONTINUOUS MICHAEL Everyone is going to work from home! Everyone is delighted. PAM Really? Michael tapes off a generous area that also contained Kelly and Ryan’s desk. MICHAEL This is the new home of Kelly and Ryan! Everyone groans and realizes what he meant. RYAN Wait, why do we have to share a house? KELLY Oh! It’s a dream come true! Come on Ryan, let’s settle into our new home. MICHAEL Let’s see, okay, Michael enters the break room. MICHAEL (CONT’D) This will be Phyllis and Bob Vance’s house. KEVIN Heeey, why do they get the house with the snacks? MICHAEL Well, because they just adopted someone with a love of terrible junk food! Kevin’s face lights up KEVIN Me? MICHAEL Yes! Get on in there! Kevin runs in. PHYLLIS This is crazy, Michael! MICHAEL They called Einstein crazy too. Michael looks around the room full of unoccupied desks. MICHAEL (CONT’D) We need to clear out this area, because I want to put the conference room table in here. It will be our new place to eat. DWIGHT I’ll do it, Michael. They follow Michael into the kitchen. He opens the closet. MICHAEL When Toby comes back, he will live here. Creed has the women’s bathroom. Meredith has the men’s. Creed is delighted, Meredith shrugs, but is okay with the arrangement. Camera cuts out INT. OFFICE – BULLPEN - D1 Tape ropes off the different areas. In each section, some space is left untaped to be a doorway. People are moving furniture, Michael is observing. Dwight is making a fort at reception, Stanley is at quality assurance, Andy is in the sales area. Angela is in accounting. Jim and Pam are in the conference room. Michael walks into the conference room. INT. OFFICE – CONFERENCE ROOM - D1 MICHAEL (happy) How are you settling in? JIM No one is going to sleep here tonight. Dwight appears in the doorway, he is holding a handkerchief and wiping his nose. DWIGHT False. I handle the front line, thus controlling who goes in and out. I broke all doors leading outside. PAM What do you mean “broke?” DWIGHT I stuck tiny pieces of wood underneath, superglued the door to the frame and knocked off the handles with a fire extinguisher. JIM (worried, beginning to panic) So we’re actually stuck in here? Jim and Pam rush out to check the doors. Jim goes to the back stairwell. Pam goes to the main entrance. Dwight stops her at the makeshift tape doorway to reception. DWIGHT You can’t trespass in my house. PAM It’s still work hours, so I am allowed in. Dwight grumbles but let’s her pass. The door handle is broken. It won’t budge. Jim comes back holding a broken door handle. INT. OFFICE – BULLPEN - D1 JIM Dwight and Michael have locked us in here! The doors are broken. He holds up the handle. The employees become upset. STANLEY Like I said before, I am not staying in this building all night with you. ANGELA How are my cats going to eat? MICHAEL (annoyed, commanding) It isn’t ideal. I know that. Do you think I want Toby to be here? Of course not, but I am dealing with it. Now everyone, it is almost five o’clock so settle into your houses! INT. OFFICE – BULLPEN – D1 Tension is high. We see Michael enter the bathroom. The office gathers in the Bullpen. PHYLLIS What are we going to do? RYAN There has to be a way to get out of here. Any way. It doesn’t even have to be legal. JIM I’m going to call David Wallace. Dwight polishes a sword at reception. DWIGHT You wouldn’t dare. Michael yells from the bathroom. He was spooked. MEREDITH You’re the one who put me in there. MICHAEL Well I forgot! (regret) God! Why would I put you in the bathroom? Michael enters the bullpen with everyone. JIM Michael, you can’t keep us here. The group agrees. Michael shushes them. MICHAEL I am keeping you safe! ANGELA You’re going to get us all sick! The group again agrees and voices their concern. Meredith enters the bullpen. MEREDITH I don’t know what you’re all freaked out about. I’ve got the virus and I ain’t worried. Panic grows in the crowd, they rush to disband Angela screams and runs, Dwight shoos her away and puts on an alarm, Andy and Michael take off. Kelly runs to the annex, pulling Ryan with her. DWIGHT Remain calm. ANDY (failing to open a window) We’re all gonna die! MICHAEL OH MY GOD! EVERYONE GET TO YOUR HOUSES! MEREDITH, YOU ARE BANISHED TO THE ANNEX! JIM Why did you come to work?! Meredith gets a cup of water from the water cooler, touching the spout. MEREDITH ‘Cause I ain’t worried. It’s the flu. Angela covers her hazmat suit in hand sanitizer as she runs to the annex with most of the others. Michael escapes into his office, and shuts the blinds. Dwight tries to regain order. The alarm is still going off. DWIGHT Wash your hands, stay away from infected parasite, and you probably won’t die. The clock strikes 5:00 INT. MICHAEL’S OFFICE - D1 We spy through the blinds outside of his office. Michael is on the phone with David Wallace. DAVID WALLACE Why did I get a call from Jim saying that you’ve locked them in the office? MICHAEL What? Did he say that? DAVID WALLACE Why are you still in the office, Michael? Did you let everyone go home? Michael holds his hand over his face. He’s full of regret. MICHAEL Okay, okay, you were right. This was a horrible idea. I have allowed Meredith to expose herself to everyone in the office… and I mean that in more ways than one. DAVID WALLACE What do you mean by that Michael? MICHAEL I don’t want to talk about it. DAVID WALLACE It doesn’t matter. Michael, we’ve made the decision to ask everyone to not come in tomorrow. MICHAEL You’re shutting us down? DAVID WALLACE Yes. They can work from home. But for that they need to get home. INT. OFFICE – BULLPEN – D1 Michael emerges from his office. MICHAEL Dwight, fix the doors. DWIGHT But then they’ll escape. MICHAEL Good. Let them escape. I have failed. Because of Meredith and Toby, it is not safe here. The general mood of the office changes. They’re happy they can go home. Everyone moves the furniture back and removes the tape. They get ready to leave for the day. INT. OFFICE – DWIGHT AND JIM’S DESKS – D1 Dwight is still sick. While Jim is getting his things together, Dwight remains at his desk. JIM Are you staying late? DWIGHT (sneezing) I don’t need to stay late. JIM That wasn’t the question. Dwight doesn’t respond. We see his computer screen. He’s researching coronavirus symptoms. INT. MICHAEL’S HOUSE – OFFICE - D2 Michael is scrambling around his home office area (one of the upstairs bedrooms). He’s rerouting wires and adjusting his webcam. He’s very excited. MICHAEL TALKING HEAD MICHAEL Today we are going to be doing our work virtually. As the manager, my job is to make sure everyone is being managed, so we are going to be on an all-day conference call. INT. MICHAEL’S HOUSE – OFFICE - D2 Michael finally sits down. He looks back at the non webcam camera with excitement. Then he looks back to the screen and waits. Toby is the first to join. Michael’s enthusiasm is gone. He’s disgusted. MICHAEL Out of all the people who could have joined first. TOBY I’m just coming to work. MICHAEL This is great, now I’m alone in the room with Toby. How do I know you didn’t kill everyone else? TOBY Michael, I already told you I’m not the Scranton Strangler. MICHAEL I doubt that very much considering-- Jim and Pam’s shared webcam joins onto the screen. PAM Morning, Michael, can you hear me? Michael is delighted to see them and forgets about Toby. MICHAEL Loud and clear, good morning to you too! I think today is going to be great! Oscar pops up. He has a bland background. Before Michael can greet him, Andy joins. He is somewhere not gaudy but definitely wealthy. There is also Cornell memorabilia. ANDY Greetings coworkers! Kevin joins just after, his background is messy and he has toilet paper rolls off to the side. Then Phyllis who joins with the help of Bob Vance PHYLLIS Thanks, Bob. Good morning everyone. Next is the office webcam with Dwight and Ryan. A webcam was placed on Pam’s monitor and it has been turned to face Dwight’s desk. Ryan is sitting at Jim’s desk. DWIGHT I am here. JIM Hey, Dwight. Still sneezing? DWIGHT You will never get my medical records. I don’t have any. (laughs triumphantly) Jim makes a face at his webcam. Kelly joins the call and sees Ryan. She gasps. Creed and Meredith silently join during the exchange. KELLY Ryan! Are you at the office? RYAN Why would you think that Kelly? DWIGHT I came to the office because I have superior genes. The temp is here because he’s an idiot. RYAN TALKING HEAD RYAN Am I worried about the virus? Isn’t everyone? (A moment) I’m kind of hoping I get it. Maybe Kelly will stay away from me. INT. MICHAEL’S HOUSE – OFFICE – D2 Angela joins. Her background has a lot of cats. Both real and statues, along with cat pictures on the walls. It is very neat, proper, and practical. ANGELA Sorry I’m late. Bandit was chewing on the wires. MICHAEL (shocked) Oh my God! Don’t worry about it! Michael turns to the camera. MICHAEL (CONT’D) (still shocked but lessening) I thought bandits were only in westerns. Everyone settles in their workspaces. DWIGHT TALKING HEAD DWIGHT This morning when I woke up I felt fine. Yes, I had symptoms yesterday, and yes, I may have caught the Coronavirus from Meredith. However, my superior genes have obliterated it in record speed. INT. MICHAEL’S HOUSE – OFFICE – D2 MICHAEL That seems to be everyone. PHYLLIS (squinting at the screen) No, I don’t see Stanley. MICHAEL Stanley doesn’t have a computer so he unfortunately can’t be here with us. STANLEY TALKING HEAD STANLEY I do have a computer. And since Michael doesn’t know that, I can do my work alone with no interruptions. Which is something I’ve wanted for a very long time. INT. MICHAEL’S HOUSE – OFFICE – D2 Everyone is working on their work. We see everyone at once on the screen, some are taking calls, some are looking intently at their own screens. An empty corner remains. Suddenly, another webcam pops up. It’s Toby. TOBY Michael, you can’t keep removing me from the call. Michael is working. He doesn’t look up from his papers. MICHAEL You probably removed yourself subconsciously. TOBY I didn’t. In the office webcam, Ryan is at a trash can away from his desk. Dwight is working uninterrupted. RYAN Hey, Michael, the garbage can is full. MICHAEL Just use a different one, the night cleaners were told not to come in. DWIGHT TALKING HEAD DWIGHT I’m not surprised the night cleaners didn’t come in. Poor work ethic. When I came in early this morning, I had to clean my desk once I realized they hadn’t eradicated the stickiness and the rather pleasant odor from yesterday. INT. MICHAEL’S HOUSE – OFFICE - D2 Creed has disappeared from his webcam. RYAN Oh, who’s making fun of me now? I just sold another four rolls of tp. The office groans. Meredith starts coughing. Angela is the webcam next to her. Despite being in different houses, Angela jumps from her seat and yelps. ANGELA Michael! Please move me away from Meredith and her germs! Meredith exaggerates her coughing. Angela cowers away further, almost off the webcam. Michael moves Angela’s webcam and replaces it with Andy. Everyone interacts with the moving webcams. (They look up if someone is traveling around them). MICHAEL Okay… ANDY Hey! I don’t want to be next to her! She’s got (more hushed) the ‘Rona! MEREDITH Yeah, bring ‘em all over here. I’ll cough on everyone! DWIGHT You will stop spewing germs right now. Meredith coughs in the directions of various people. Kelly drops to the ground. Dwight gets a weapon and looks at the screen to try and align an attack on Meredith. Michael tries to arrange the webcams in an agreeable way. Everyone is moved to the right side of the screen, they begin to overlap. Everyone starts protesting. They don’t like how they’re being moved and overlapped. Meredith is then moved to the bottom left corner. MEREDITH HEY! PUT ME DOWN! PAM But I can’t see everyone now. OSCAR I think not being able to see each other will make us more productive. MICHAEL No, it's important. I’m on it. Michael starts resizing the webcams. He shrinks Angela’s webcam the most. ANGELA Why do I have to be the smallest? MICHAEL That should be obvious. JIM Then why is Kevin the second smallest? Michael enters deep thought. MICHAEL You’re right. Kevin should be twice the size of Angela. Michael resizes Kevin to be bigger than when he started. Due to his resizing there is even less space than when he began. TOBY Michael, you can just reset everyone by clicking the icon on the toolbar. We should really get back to work. This is highly distracting. MICHAEL No, Toby! This is not social distancing. Hear that? Toby wants you all to get sick! The group begins arguing. MICHAEL (CONT’D) Everyone! I’ve got the solution. My task for today will be rearranging the webcams. I don’t care if it takes me the whole day, or the whole week, or even until the Coronavirus is completely and utterly destroyed! They quiet down. Creed comes back and sits down. He pulls over a giant container of money and puts some cash inside. Then he gets to work along with everyone else. THE END Thanks to folks on dundermifflin for giving me ideas of alternate terms for Coronavirus. They're spot on.
The Institute Director - Chapters One through Six (Pages 1 - 30)
Chapter One Tuesday, July 16th, 2019 In a warehouse parking lot near Walter Reed Medical Center, the Mormon institute director fumbled with the cellophaned pack, retrieving and lighting his first cigarette in thirty-eight years. He barely inhaled as he smoked it through, surprised how familiar it was to his senses. The ash glowed orange and the smoke spun his head as it wafted out the car’s open windows. He looked at his hands as he lit his second, wondering if the small tremors were from the fresh nicotine, the high stakes of the day or another dose of guilt settling into his bones. Ben Samuels remembered he’d scarcely heard his alarm go off that morning, as he’d been up and dressed. His wife had hit snooze and returned to her sleep. She didn’t think to check on him, nor make an effort to rise. Would Marge have done different had she known what was happening? Maybe, maybe not -- she’d become so distant over the past months. He stared down at his cigarette. I bet she’d notice this. ..... That morning alarm rang as Ben stood with a vacant gaze out his kitchen window, oatmeal bubbling on the stove. Dawn’s light gathered across the plain backyard, the sky clear and the grass begging a mow -- the start of a hot July day in Morgantown, West Virginia. Oats done, he grabbed milk from the fridge and made his way to the table, wholly uninterested in the meal. He pushed aside his old high school yearbook and opened his laptop, commencing a read-through of his regular websites as he ate -- the Mormon Newsroom, USA Today, Consumer Reports and Amazon, the last to check on a backordered hedge trimmer blade. Only then did he reluctantly click onto the front page of the local paper. He finished his breakfast as he re-read the article detailing John Southland’s bike accident. Though it failed to identify him by his correct name, Ben knew it was his old college roommate under the police blanket in the photos. He sighed and picked up his yearbook for the third time since learning of John’s death, or John’s murder or whatever it had been. Rogers High School, Spokane, Washington. Class of 1979. Page forty-four, Samuels before Southland, both their senior pictures on the same tuxedoed page. He ran his finger along a faded ballpoint line drawn circuitous between the two of them, “Race On!” written in the margin. Forty years and now a funeral instead of a class reunion, not that John would have attended anyway. Should he call the authorities? Wake up Marge and tell her everything? His main thought was to do nothing. The paper showed the situation in-hand and it was really none of his business. But Ben couldn’t shake the dread that had gripped him during John’s surprise visit the week before. He looked around his quiet kitchen half-expecting a calamity to break out. Nothing out of order besides the squeak of the air conditioner, he took a bright yellow USB thumb drive from his pocket and inserted it into his computer. He keyed down and opened the lone video file, still amazed at John’s resolve. There it was -- a silent and grainy footage, a prisoner restrained and bleeding at the end of a penitentiary hallway. Two men exiting the frame, the bald one halfway out and unrecognizable, the other tall and in view. The tall man turning back. Ben winced as the man pulled out what must have been a syringe full of something evil and plunged it into the prisoner’s neck. The prisoner struggled, then slumped at his feet. Ben scooted his chair close and watched again -- starting, stopping, reversing and witnessing once more. It was the most horrible thing he’d ever seen. But had John been correct? He looked up at Marge’s knick-knacks on the plaster wall. Staring back was a kitschy cross-stitch their oldest daughter had finished fifteen years prior. It read ‘Just Do It,’ the famous quote from both the Mormon prophet Spencer Kimball and a certain Oregon shoe company. John Southland had been so convinced and so desperate for help. Ben had heard him out in his institute office but done nothing. Now he was dead, like he’d predicted, and Ben had his evidence. Just Do It. He turned and rummaged through a worn-out credenza drawer, finding a red envelope. He grabbed a half-sheet of paper, searched for a location on his web browser, wrote his note and sealed it up. A final glance at the cross-stitch and the decision was made. Ben quietly put his dishes in the sink and hurried to his car, an uneasy three-hour drive to Washington, DC ahead of him.
Chapter Two Two Weeks Prior The only thing interesting about the old split-level colonial atop North Tremont Avenue was its view toward Greensburg’s historic beaux-arts courthouse. The county kept it lit at night and John Southland had come to appreciate its ostentatious dome. He gazed at it most evenings with cold beer in hand, sitting on the concrete steps outside the postwar brick and clapboard home. The panorama was between telephone wires and across a wide working-class valley, the house on the wrong side of the tracks and long-ago apportioned into three separate apartments to maximize revenue. John had been given the walkup on the main floor -- a creaky sitting room in front of a Formica kitchen with two worn-out bedrooms down a hall. Beneath him was a small basement unit, the third apartment accessed from the blacktop alley around the back. For most, it would be a dilapidated and bleak place to live. For John, it was a mansion. He reveled in the freedom and the space, twenty years of incarceration fresh in his rearview mirror. The small pleasure of a beer with a view seemed almost magical from day one. He hadn’t met many neighbors yet. There’d been an occasional ‘Hello, I’m Jimmy Montano,’ but John had remained quiet, taking to heart his WITSEC Inspector’s advice to start slow with the introductions. He filled his plate instead with his new job and all the rules and regulations that came with being a parolee within the U.S. Marshals Service Witness Protection Program. The secret he held also made him careful, a ticking bomb tucked an inch below his veneer. There’d been only one purchase beyond the necessities, an old Bianchi Celeste from a pawnshop owner who had little concept of its worth. They agreed on a hundred dollars and soon the mint green racer was performing like a European custom. John set out to regain his pre-prison cycling form, spending his evenings and off-days riding the hills of Pennsylvania’s Westmoreland County. He was careful to not cross the government line as WITSEC rules didn’t allow such excursions for at least six months. His other pastime was more critical -- finding Ben Samuels. Early attempts had been fruitless. His old friend’s name was nowhere to be found on the Mormon Church’s voluminous website. John checked multiple times, waiting over a month before calling the 800 number in Salt Lake City, not wanting one shred of connection to the threat that beset him. Out of options, he used the counter phone at the downtown library after a final attempt searching the site. “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, how may I help you?” “I’m trying to get in touch with one of your employees. A man who works for your church.” “Name please.” “Ben Samuels.” “Which department?” “No idea. Sorry.” “Just a moment.” The woman was quickly back on the line. “Yes, I found him. He works for the CES.” “CES?” “Church Educational System. I’ll transfer you.” The phone clicked and another woman picked up the call. “CES, how may I help you?” “Ben Samuels, please.” “Who?” “I’d like to speak with Ben Samuels.” “…May I ask who you’re with?” “No one, ma’am. I’m just trying to reach him.” “He no longer works here, in our offices.” “Can you transfer me to his location?” “Please hold a moment.” “I’m an old friend of his.” “Yes sir. Please hold.” The line switched and John found himself listening to what he recognized as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It was thirty seconds before someone came back on. “This is Associate Director Oscar Trejo, may I ask who’s calling?” The authority in the man’s voice made John want to hang up. “…James. James Montano. I’m trying to reach Ben Samuels.” “I see. Well, I can tell you he’s no longer here.” “Does he still work for your church?” “For the time being. He’s out east, in West Virginia.” John stood up straight. Ben was nearby. “Do you have a number?” “I must ask, are you with the press?” “The press? You mean like a reporter?” “Yes sir.” “No, nothing like that. Just a friend.” John held his breath. The administrator paused, then relented. “…OK, I’ll take you at your word. I’ll give you back to my secretary and she can provide the phone number to the Morgantown Institute.” John didn’t wait, hanging up as the Tabernacle Choir started a new hymn. He walked back to his allotted computer terminal and keyed in “Mormon Institute, Morgantown West Virginia.” The screen refreshed and the location came up. It was no more than an hour away. The proximity and the urgency of the story he needed to share made the trip too tempting, WITSEC rules be damned. He bummed a ride from a co-worker as soon as he could. They left early and were back in Greensburg by noon, John sullen and quiet on the way home. He’d tried his best to convince Ben in his office, but it didn’t seem his former soigneur was going to help. It left John only one option. He called his WITSEC inspector and made an appointment to share what he knew. At least the video on the remaining USB thumb drive was in good condition. He’d become adept at hiding it, choosing a space under a loose floorboard the day he arrived. He was anxious the night before the meeting. The last thing he wanted was to be hurled back into prison on some sort of technicality. He tossed and turned until settling into a deep sleep after 2am, oblivious to the quiet crunch of a C-rake lock pick and the turn of his front door knob. ..... John woke to the barrel of a Glock pistol shoved against his shoulder, the beam of a flashlight dancing across the bed. “Wake up.” John rolled over. The handgun and nine hundred lumens flashed in his eyes. “What’s going on?” “Get dressed. You’re going for a ride.” “What? Turn that light off.” “Get up. That’s the last time I’m going to tell you.” John scooted to the edge of the bed. “Who are you?” “A friend or a nightmare. Your decision. Like I said, it’s time for a ride. Put on your bike gear.” John’s head cleared. He stood and didn’t ask any more questions -- the intruder wasn’t playing a game. He went to the dresser and pulled on his lone pair of bike shorts, then picked up his socks and cycling shoes. The man tossed him a T-shirt hanging from a chair. “Slow and steady. Head out the front door.” A panel van waited outside. Its cargo door was open and a driver sat behind a tinted window. John’s Bianchi was already stowed in the back. He got in and sat beside it while the man with the gun jumped in after him and slid the door shut. The van pulled away from the curb, the Glock held steady toward John’s chest. John didn’t understand. Why the bike? If they were going to kill him, they’d have shot him in bed. Did they know about the video? “Where are we going?” The man wagged his gun. “Shut up. Just sit there.” Maybe it was something else? Someone he’d testified against returning to settle a score? A midnight visit from one of the cartels? There were too many enemies to keep straight and it would do no good to ask. He went quiet, focusing his eyes beyond his captor, out the back windows. He could tell by the streetlights and the storefronts they were headed south on State Highway 119 over I-70 toward Uniontown, and that they turned east on Pechin Parkway after the county fairgrounds. Even in the dark it was easy to track the route. He’d ridden it several times over the six weeks he’d lived in Greensburg. A mile further and the van came to a stop in front of a deserted cement plant. The driver got out and walked away. In the distance, John heard a chain rattle and a gate swing open. There was a whistle back toward the van. The man with the gun turned on his flashlight and slid open the door. “Put on your shoes.” John did as he was told and followed him outside. “Forgetting something?” “What?” “Your bike. You can ride home from here.” A car’s headlights appeared around the bend as John stepped back to the van. The car slowed as it passed and the man lowered his gun. John thought to jump into the road, but it went by before he had the chance. The man was undeterred. “Get your bike and ride.” John pulled the Bianchi forward and onto the ground. He spun it around and climbed on. The man turned off his flashlight and stepped close, the scene illuminated only by the van’s taillights. John noticed his captor was at least four inches shorter than himself. “One more thing.” The man leaned in and thrust a five-inch tactical knife through John’s right side, even with his stomach. It penetrated his abdomen, slicing his liver, spleen and tearing through his intestines. John screamed and collapsed to his handlebars, the knife held hard inside him, the pain both sharp and dull. The man wrapped his other arm around John’s back and held him steady. John gasped, his gut burning and blood starting to spill. “Why?” The man yanked the knife out and dropped it to the ground. He grabbed his gun and pressed it to the back of John’s skull. “Justice for the people you murdered. Now ride home. If you make it, you’ll live.” John didn’t move, blood flowing down his side. He tried to speak but fluid pooled in his throat. The man gave him a shove. “Ride!” There was nothing left to do. John pushed off and clicked into his pedals, his right hand pressing his wound and tears streaming down his face. The Glock followed his every move. Fifty yards, one hundred yards and forward. John was delirious and confused with only his God-given talent keeping him upright. He thought of Greensburg, his new home. The stone steps, the beer. His new job, his new life. There was no way he’d make it. A cry for help on the main road was his only hope. But there had to be separation. He had to get away. He ignored the wound and tried to stand from his saddle, pouring what little he had left into the bike. He’d made it almost a half mile before he sensed headlights gaining on him, the whine of a powerful engine closing in. John tried to swerve, but the blood loss caused his reactions to slow. The empty cement truck hit him square at forty miles an hour, its barrel spinning as the undercarriage bounced over him like an animal in the roadway. John’s last thought was of his old college roommate, a final prayer sent skyward that Ben Samuels would do the right thing.
Chapter Three Tuesday, July 16th The courier service delivered the red envelope to the front security desk of the Robert F. Kennedy Justice Building during the lunch hour. It was examined and time-stamped by the Mail Services Risk Assessment Team and hand-delivered to Susan Rivas, the United States Solicitor General’s Confidential Secretary. The unusual color caught her attention. She found it odd, a short note marked “For the immediate eyes of the United States Solicitor General only,” with no return address. Deciding it was warranted and straightening her skirt, Susan took it through the whitewood archway into the solicitor’s office. She found Walter Peterson alone and busy, three hours into a session of summer prep for the upcoming autumn Supreme Court term. He’d finished the lunch she’d brought him from the executive dining room and there’d been no other interruptions since the morning’s staff meeting. He glanced up as she passed the flag array by the chesterfield sofas, coming forward to his desk. Handed the envelope, he emptied it and read the half-sheet scrap inside. “I am an LDS Institute Director. I know what you are doing. Meet tonight at 10pm, 5300 West Cedar, Bethesda, Maryland.” Susan stood silent, watching him turn it over and look back at the envelope. He found a similar result -- there was nothing indicating authorship outside shaky penmanship. He looked at her and again at the letter. “Who delivered this?” “Mail Services brought it to my desk. Any idea what it’s about?” “No.” “Anything you’d have me do?” “…Nothing. I’ll check it through Chris later.” “Are you sure? I could have him come over, maybe the FBI as well?” “I’ll take care of it.” Susan was used to the abruptness. She knew to be on her toes around the solicitor. “Alright. Anything else for me?” Peterson re-read the short message and then laid it down. “Has SCOTUS gotten back about October’s schedule? Everyone was concerned this morning. The session is still three months away, but it’s normal to have a draft docket by now.” Susan shook her head. The Supreme Court’s administrative officer had told her it would be several more days. Peterson grunted and adjusted his reading glasses. “What about the Penitentiary Commission? I’ve made a couple site visits as the attorney general requested. If I’m going again it needs to be soon, before we ramp to full speed for the fall.” “I’ll check that for you. The calendar has a Commission meeting next week. You know, the AG isn’t expecting you to attend everything as you’re doing this ad hoc.” “All hands on deck, Susan. Besides, it gets me out and around the country. Boots on the ground, so to speak.” “Yes sir.” He nodded and returned to his files. Susan had to hide a half-grin as she walked away. The idea of her venerable Mormon boss a ‘boots on the ground’ anything was farcical. Bald, obese and unfit for any activity requiring sturdy shoes, she’d never met a man more behind the desk, blue blood and patrician. A woman on her block was LDS and Susan knew her to be the sweetest neighbor around. She couldn’t imagine Peterson neighbor to anyone. She glanced back from the doorway. Peterson had picked up the phone and was starting a call, the anonymous note in his hand. Susan turned to her workstation and watched the PBX screen. Deputy U.S. Marshal Chris Powers’ line went active five seconds later.
Chapter Four Ben found more time on his hands than he’d anticipated after watching the courier deliver his note. He drove north out of downtown to the small Bethesda warehouse he’d chosen online. Arriving, he found it unfenced and back from the main road, secluded with hills and heavy trees bordering two sides. He circled it and set the stage. Light pole placements were noted, as was the fact there were no exterior cameras in place. He marked a corner spot to park and patted himself on the back as he left. It seemed perfect. He continued north on Old Georgetown Road through DC suburbia and past a large shopping area. His Honda Accord then merged east onto the Capital Beltway. He smiled as mecca quickly appeared on his left. Though half-hidden in the dense summer green, it stood elegant and soaring above the landscape. The Washington, DC LDS Temple, the single-most recognizable Mormon setting on the American east coast. He exited Georgia Avenue and was soon in the busy parking lot, the spired white building in front of him. Ben felt no inclination to go inside. It was enough to be on the grounds, even in the summer heat. It brought the first bit of peace since his visit with John. He found a garden bench across from his car, walked over and sat down. Bowing his head, he offered a short prayer for guidance and help -- even a sign that he was on the right path. That the solicitor general was also LDS and had probably sat on the same bench loomed large in his mind. Walter Peterson was one of the most famous Latter-day Saints in the world, Mormons looking to him with much the same esteem as the senior leaders of their church. A cult of personality existed, his name mentioned in the same breath with Hall of Fame LDS athletes, entertainers and politicians. Few Latter-day Saints were held in higher regard. A surprise appointment by an unconventional president three years prior, Peterson’s Senate confirmation had been can’t-miss television for Mormons across the country. His legal acumen and forceful confidence impressed everyone and left his church community beaming with pride. Peterson being such a prominent member of his church had been the tipping point in Ben’s decision to confront him. As the good solicitor surely desired protection of his image and standing, Ben reasoned he’d be amenable to such a discussion. The hope was for a brother-to-brother recognition, some sort of ease-the-throttle-back, get everything on the table, save-face. Foolish? Yes. Dangerous? Maybe. He at least took comfort that Mormons were well-known for such admirable foolishness on occasion. An older, Sunday-dressed couple turned toward him, smiling and holding hands as they walked. Ben shook his head and sighed. His own marriage was far from a mirror image. As Peterson had risen, he’d gone the other way. Purpose had eluded him since his demotion and transfer to West Virginia, his wife feeling the effects even more so. Though they’d both fought depression and a sense of futility in their new surrounds, Marge had isolated herself to the point their relationship had started to strain -- Ben’s ‘what can I do to help’ met too-often with a cold stare and the covers pulled tight. The couple approached. Ben realized he had no tie on and probably looked out of place. He compensated by standing to greet them. The woman smiled. “Such a beautiful day to be at the temple.” “Yes Ma’am.” She stopped and pointed to cars across the parking lot. “The different license plates are always so interesting.” “Excuse me?” “Look at that row. People here today from Virginia, Ohio, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Massachusetts. I love that. Summer vacation must have them on the road -- so nice they chose to come to the House of the Lord along their way.” Ben played along, pointing at his car backed into its spot. “What about that one?” The woman looked and then turned back, perplexed. “I have no idea, it doesn’t have a front plate.” Ben smiled. “That’s mine. I live in West Virginia where front plates aren’t required.” The woman laughed. “We’ll include you in our count anyway.” Keen to beat the heat, the woman’s husband patted her arm and looked toward Ben. “You have a nice day.” Ben stood staring at the cars as they walked off. It was interesting commentary, something to share with his students back at the institute in Morgantown. He thought of all the license plates he’d owned over the course of his life. Washington, Arizona, Florida, Texas, Utah and now West Virginia. He’d have a nice display for his garage had he kept them. Then, an instant realization of a flaw. Ben looked down the walk at the elderly couple and back at his car. If Peterson had his plate checked, he’d discover who he was. Ben wasn’t ready for that. If John Southland had been correct, Peterson was a menace. The short-lived peace in his heart evaporated. He felt the entire impetuous idea unravel, the grand confrontation less noble by the second. You’re going to get yourself killed. He returned to his car with his shoulders low and exited the lot without another thought toward the temple. He headed west, toward the shopping centers on Old Georgetown Road, intent on lunch and little else.
Chapter Five June 1st, 1990 CES Area Director Oscar Trejo waited for his boss on the eighth floor of the LDS Church Office Building. He was off the clock and self-conscious minus a suit, visiting Salt Lake City on a vacation day to attend a family function. He hadn’t planned on the summons and was glad he at least had a white shirt and tie to wear. Ushered into Associate Director Ronald Hayes’s large office by a secretary and left alone, Trejo found an oversized U.S. map propped on an easel beside the desk. Multi-colored stickpins were placed in college towns throughout the eastern United States. Trejo figured they were potential sites for the new Regional Select Institutes, knowing Church Educational System leadership had appointed Hayes to oversee the project. He was studying the map when the Associate Director entered and shut the door. Trejo pointed at the stick pins and spoke with his usual candor. “Are these what I think they are?” Hayes smiled. “If by ‘these’ you mean potential Regional Select Institute sites, the answer is yes.” “May I speak freely, sir?” “I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Trejo ran his index finger down the right side of the map. “I don’t like it.” “What’s not to like?” “These ‘RSI’s. I don’t like the concept or the philosophy. Are we really going to encourage these students to not come to Brigham Young University or institute programs in Utah, urging them instead to stay back east for college?” “That’s the general idea, yes.” Hayes scooted past Trejo and sat down at his desk. He opened the center drawer and retrieved a paper-clipped set of four index cards. Trejo continued as he moved to a chair opposite his boss. “Why would we do that? How is it better than bringing them out west? Many of the eastern programs have less than a hundred students.” Hayes took a deep breath and looked across the desk. “How are you, Oscar?” Trejo grinned, realizing he’d jumped ahead. “Fine, sir.” “Wife and kids?” “Everyone’s good. They’re all waiting for me at my in-laws’. We’re attending a high school graduation tonight.” “Who’s graduating?” “My wife’s sister.” “Wow. I know you’re the youngest of our Area Directors, but to have a sister-in-law graduating from high school is quite something. How old are you?” “I’m thirty-eight, my wife’s thirty-three. She’s the oldest in her family, with eight brothers and sisters. This is the last of them.” “Well, I hope you enjoy yourselves. When are you heading back to Arizona?” “Tomorrow. The family will stay here a while, now that school’s out. How did you know I was even in Utah?” “Simple. I called your office in Phoenix and found you were on the road. Your secretary gave me the number where you were staying.” “How can I help?” “For starters, let me address your point about low enrollment at our eastern institutes. What about the students there now, Oscar? Don’t you think they would appreciate extra resources and more LDS kids joining them?” Trejo ignored the logic. “It seems like we’re conducting an experiment which might hurt more than help in the long run.” “The long run is why we’re doing this. The idea is to foster organic, regional growth. LDS students staying in their home areas to attend college, meeting others doing the same, marrying and settling where they’re from. Growing the church that way.” “Sounds pie in the sky.” Hayes shuffled his cards. “What about your Arizona Area? If I’m not mistaken, you have over five thousand Mormon students attending non-LDS colleges and their adjacent institutes down there. Why not shoot for those numbers elsewhere? Ignoring these sorts of things not only stalls the growth of our institutes outside the inter-mountain west, it very well hinders the growth of the church in those regions as well. How many of these kids who come to Utah wind up going back to where they’re from after they graduate? And what happens to those areas of the church when they leave? Like a leaky faucet, a constant drip of strength exiting the very places that not only need them, but the spots these young folks call home. And where do they wind up? They either stay here, where we already have an overflowing strength, or land in a third place with no roots and a yearning to move yet again. No Oscar, I don’t see it like you seem to anymore. Fortifying institute programs to retain many of these students in their home areas is what we should be doing, and these RSI’s are just what the doctor ordered.” Hayes doled out the index cards across his desk. Trejo sat forward and watched. College Station, Texas; Gainesville, Florida; Blacksburg, Virginia and East Lansing, Michigan. Texas A&M, the University of Florida, Virginia Tech and Michigan State -- already four of the largest institute programs east of the Rocky Mountains. Hayes looked up and continued. “These are the four we’ve decided to start with and the groundwork has already been laid. Marketing materials have been drafted and Church architects have visited the sites, submitting plans to renovate and expand each one. I now have to recommend additional staff, including full-fledged assistant directors at each location.” Hayes picked up a card and got to his point. “Tell me about this fellow you have in Mesa, Ben Samuels.” “Samuels? Great guy with a full head of steam.” “So I’ve heard. He has a Master’s in Higher Education and was baptized in an institute font. If his interview goes well, I’m thinking of sending him here….” Hayes handed Trejo the card in his hand. Trejo took it, reading it aloud. “Gainesville, Florida. The University of Florida.” He turned serious. “Well, if you’re going to do this, I think Ben’s perfect. Amazing really. How did you hear about him?” “He’s inquired about moving from our high school seminary programs to the collegiate institutes.” Trejo smiled. “He’s an interesting case study. A convert who never attended high school seminary, now teaching it and doing quite well. He’s been in Mesa several years and seems content, but it wouldn’t surprise me if bigger things were ahead for Ben.” “He grew up in Spokane, Washington, right?” “I think so. He joined the church while attending Washington State University, in Pullman. He’s told me that. His wife introduced him to the missionaries, back when they were dating.” “I look forward to meeting him.” “I have a different idea for you. If you’re serious about this ‘homegrown’ business, why not assign someone who happens to be from Florida to be the new assistant director? Send that person home and leave Samuels in Arizona. We’d hate to lose him.” Hayes put his elbows on his desk and leaned forward. “Excellent question, Oscar. It goes to my larger point. We’ve actually looked into that, at all four sites. Would you believe we don’t have a single qualified CES employee who hails from Texas, Florida, Virginia or Michigan? Think about that -- it’s a telling fact. Twenty or thirty years from now, we hope to find a different circumstance. Maybe you’ll be sitting in my chair by then. If you are, I hope you’ll find more options than I have today.” Trejo wasn’t ready to quit. “I still don’t like it, sir. As a parent, I’ll do everything I can to get my kids to one of our church colleges and would only consider something like an RSI as a last resort. I wouldn’t even want them at the major Arizona universities attending the institute programs I oversee. I want them here in Utah, where we’re at our best.” “I understand, and we’re not interested in weakening the church schools. This will be an additional, fortified resource to work in tandem with what we have here in the inter-mountain west. Let’s not forget, these institute programs already exist. Our goal is to strengthen them, create a few gems to shine bright and give the LDS students from these areas another solid option to consider.” “What about financial considerations? One of the great benefits of church colleges is the tithing-supported low cost. Certainly BYU is a cheaper option than the University of Florida.” “We’re working on that as well. As part of the roll-out, LDS endowments and scholarships will be set up and encouraged at each RSI site. We’ll be asking the membership to consider donations. It’ll defray the cost differences and further enhance the visibility and viability of the programs.” “Do you think you’ll get much in the way of contributions?” “I’m confident we will. These programs might be small, but they’ve had their successes over the years. We’ll be reaching out to the alumni, as well as the general membership. I believe it will work, and work well.” “Florida would be lucky to have someone like Ben Samuels. Why not send him to Washington, where he’s from? I’m sure he’d love that. I visited his classroom a couple months ago. He had a Washington State banner on his wall.” Hayes reached over and retrieved the card from his area director. “No, it’s east of the Rockies where the interest lies. If these four programs are successful, we’ll expand from there. As you’ve said, it seems Ben will do well wherever he’s assigned. At least for now, it’s Florida that’s in the cards for him.”
Chapter Six Tuesday, July 16th Ben was still smoking when the black SUV entered the parking lot and disappeared to the other side of the warehouse. Opening his door, he cursed himself for being so dramatic with the cigarettes. He’d smoked for three hours straight, more in remembrance of a life long passed than any desire to calm his nerves. He got out, stubbed his last one and threw the almost-empty pack in a nearby dumpster. Enough of that. He took a deep breath and headed the other way around, rehearsing what he would say. I know what you did. I know what you are doing… The SUV’s yellow fog lamps brightened his path as he turned the final corner, the vehicle fifty yards ahead. A man was standing outside the open driver’s door. He reached in and flipped on the high beams, assaulting Ben’s eyes with a blinding white. “That’s far enough.” Ben stopped and raised his hands halfway as the man came toward him. He was short and thin, quite the opposite from what Ben knew of Walter Peterson’s large build. The man’s suit, tie and confident gait identified him as a deputy or agent, a man with a badge and a gun. He approached, looked Ben over and then patted him down, spinning him around to double-check. “What’s your name and what do you want with the Solicitor General?” “I need to speak with him.” “I need to see some ID.” “I’d rather not disclose who I am. Is he with you?” “Did you write that note?” Ben started to answer but saw another man climb out of the SUV, shutting the door behind him. “Chris, it’s ok, send him over.” Chris forced a smile. “I guess you win. Follow me.” Peterson’s thickset frame cast a wide shadow in the dim light. Tall and overweight to a fault without a hair on his head, he resembled a former athlete who’d let himself go, his glory years decades behind him. He was dressed to match his guard, but as they came to the passenger side of the SUV, Ben could tell his suit and tie were from a much better store -- the United States Solicitor General before him. Ben hesitated then stepped close, an image of his dead friend appearing in his mind. Peterson wrinkled his nose and leaned back on his heels. “Who are you and what’s this cloak and dagger business about?” Ben glanced at Chris, astonished he’d made it to the moment at hand. He turned and looked Peterson in the eye. “Never mind who I am. I’m here about James Montano.” Peterson raised his eyebrows. “Who?” “I’m sure you know the name.” Peterson scraped his shoe across the asphalt. “The note you wrote this morning. You’re an institute director for the Church? Where?” “Yes, I work for the Church out here. Telling you that was the only way I could get this meeting. But I’m not here to talk about me. I want to talk about James Montano.” “Again, I don’t know anyone by that name. To be honest, this is quite strange. If you aren’t going to tell me more about you, this little waste of my time is over.” Peterson turned and reached for his door. Ben gathered himself and brought forward his case. “I think you killed him…. And if you did, I know he’s not the only one.” His fist on the handle, Peterson stared at the reflection in the window and seemed lost in thought. He then straightened and swung back, his demeanor cold, his voice that of a seasoned prosecutor. “First, would that be cigarettes I smell? Mormon institute director? I think not.” Ben tried to reply but was cut off. “Second, I have no idea what you’re talking about and it’s obvious you don’t know what you’re doing here. Third, though I haven’t had the privilege of an introduction, you seem to know who I am. I would think that might give you pause. I know nothing of a ‘James Montano.’ I suggest you slink back to your car and head home before you find yourself in serious trouble.” Ben pressed as Chris stepped forward to intercede. “James ‘Jimmy’ Montano, AKA John Southland, witness protection case WS436C. Found dead in a ditch three days ago, south of Greensburg, Pennsylvania. He came to me last week, told me everything and gave me proof.” Peterson’s bald head cocked to the right, his eyes widening at the mention of John’s real name. He dropped his hand from the SUV’s door and started toward Ben, raising his chin like a prizefighter sizing up an opponent. Ben caught his breath and stepped back. Chris grabbed his arm and shuffled him off, letting him go in front of the headlights. “Stand still with your hands where I can see them. Stay like that until we leave.” Awash in the light, Ben watched as Chris went back behind Peterson, who stood glaring his way. He opened the rear passenger door and tugged on the solicitor general’s coat. “Come on boss, let’s go.” Peterson sneered and shook his head, then turned and climbed back into the vehicle. Chris retreated to his driver’s seat and put the SUV into reverse. Ben stayed put, his nerves shot and mind racing, the taste of something much worse than cigarettes in his mouth. ..... Peterson pulled out his phone and sent a text to Neck, stationed nearby in a stand of hackberry trees. -Stand down. He looked out the window and up the hill, catching a glimpse of his lanky security assistant lowering his sniper rifle. Peterson then turned toward the windshield and took stock of the so-called institute director. Just under six feet tall and waspy white, he had a pot belly, balding salt and pepper hair, cheap shoes, wire-framed glasses and a skittish demeanor. The typical build of a fellow Mormon in his mid-fifties. Though he resisted the thought, he had to admit -- every box was checked. “Proof? What proof could he have?” He ordered Chris to step on it and they were gone.
I had no intention of ever going back. All these months later, and the Nicki Minaj Experience still haunted me. Still lingered in my dreams and nightmares. Ash and I were only there for a few weeks but what felt like years given the sexual mania. I felt exhausted from sex both pleasurable and taboo. All of it enjoyable even through the pain. Of course, by the time Nicki let us go, I was more than ready to leave her L.A. pink palace behind for our cozy apartment in Albany, Georgia. Even if Ashley wasn’t. And even if I never did get a biography out of it. Being a newly-freed sex slave did present some problems. No longer could I rely on the Queen spoiling us. Soon, my book money ran dry. My series of odd jobs from 911 trainee to 7th grade English teacher were predictable disasters. Here I was back to being a deadbeat horror writer. My small, loyal fanbase glad to see me churning out stories… Even if I was struggling to make any real cash. And on top of everything else, my ass was still sore heading into December. That being said, there were some positives to come out of this most bizarre encounter. I was finally in great shape… From skinny to muscular thanks to Nicki’s physical demands. I’m sure Ashley appreciated it… Not to mention the versatility in the bedroom Onika Maraj coerced out of me. So yeah, Ashley and I’s sex life was better than ever. More adventurous than ever… And even the NoSleep inspired by our Nicki trip collected somewhat of a cult following. But I was still broke. Still unemployed. And while Ashley could seamlessly blend back into her upper-level HR gig, I felt empty not supporting her as best I could. As best as I should. I was still the clown boyfriend forever chasing horror stardom. Then there were the flashbacks… Those surreal wild weeks with Nicki forever embedded in my mind. The group sex, the pegging. Everything stayed a movie in my memories. Of course, no one believed me. Rather my NoSleep story became more famous for its erotic potency than scares. Who knew being held captive by a beautiful talent like Nicki could be seen as torture? Then again, I guess I’d have felt the same until actually living it. Until actually surviving the sex. With Christmas on the horizon, I was gonna try to move on. Neither the booze nor writing had helped me escape. So fuck it, maybe the holidays would. Only Nicki’s songs were a siren call I couldn’t ignore. Especially since my girlfriend was such a Barb. Every time “Super Bass” or “Bed” swept through me, I was whisked off to the Minaj mansion. Back to that exciting, eerie mess. And then came the phone call. All on an inconsequential Tuesday afternoon. I was home alone, stuck on our living room couch when the L.A. area code drew me in. I lowered my can of Miller Lite. Knowing exactly who it was… Conflicted, I stared at my laptop screen. At the latest horror story likely to go nowhere… All while the phone’s buzzing stayed persistent. Tempting me. Finally, I just had to give in. Nicki’s cackling immediately greeted me. Already she was in Roman mode. “Rawneee,” said that faux British accent. Surrounded by Ashley’s psychedelic tapestries, I leaned back on the couch. Gazed at our many framed photos from trips to all places random and bizarre… Even one we took with Nicki during that fateful stay. “Hey,” I replied with a forced chuckle. Struggling to keep calm, I stole another sip of beer. “It’s, uh, been awhile.” “It’s been too long, baby!” Nicki yelled, her beaming voice and personality shining through. “I’ve been following you but it’s not quite the same.” “What, you’re stalking me?” I joked. Like a soothing pink buzzsaw, Nicki’s laughter erupted once more. “Not stalking… I was just thinking about what you wrote.” “Well, I haven’t heard from any lawyers yet-” “No, it’s not that! Trust me, I would’ve taken care of your ass by now if that was it.” “I can only imagine...” “But I liked it,” the Queen said. Her voice was getting lower. Restrained by real emotions. “Well, I appreciate it-” “That’s one of the reasons I wanted to call you,” she continued. “I wanted to talk to you about it some more in L.A.” Intrigued, I ran a hand through my dark brown swoop. The bangs at the mercy of my nerves. “I don’t know, man. After last time…” “Come on, Rhonnie!” said Nicki’s sharp response. “We all enjoyed last time.” I didn’t say a word. Deep down, I couldn’t… The trip was fun after all. Dark, wild, and mysterious. Nothing short of memorable. And certainly fun for both Ash and Nicki. “You know I’m right,” Nicki continued. “I wanted to discuss your story some more. Your writing‘s phenomenal as always. You know I love your style, man!” The compliments struck me hard… I couldn’t help but smile. “Hey, I appreciate it.” “Look, I’ll buy your ticket, you can stay here a few days.” I hesitated. My green eyes looked toward our pictures. Within the frames, there was Ashley matching my 5’8 slender frame. Her smooth brown skin matched by those gorgeous Trinidad features: an elegant smile, smoldering stare, and immense strength to spare. She was Nicki without the fame, filters, or touch-ups. And considering Ashley’s personality and her own well-endowed chest, I wasn’t complaining. Even with the Queen herself on the line... “Rhonnie, you know you want to,” Nicki said, her voice persistent but not pleading. Nicki was too confident to beg. Not that she ever needed to. Not with her power. Finally, I let out a drunken sigh. “Look, last time was great and all, but we got… we got fucking sidetracked.” “So?” Nicki teased. “I don’t know...” “Look, things won’t get that crazy. Ashley won’t be there so I won’t be on you as much-” I sat up straight, uneasy. “What do you mean she won’t be there?” Nicki’s soft laugh felt hollow to my nerves. “It’s gonna be like last time! Nothing against her, I love that bitch!” “I’m aware…” “We both looovvvee you, Rhonnie,” Nicki added. “But we got business to take care of. Just the two of us, the writing. You don’t see me bringing you and all these other guys up here when I be recording.” Simultaneously savoring and dreading the memories, I pressed the phone closer to my ear. “Yeah but we saw how that shit turned out. There was no book-” “It turned out just fine,” Nicki gushed. I went silent. The reality is Ash had her fun. She trusted Nicki, and I knew she’d let me go… Here in this inner war, I did the only thing I could do: I finished my beer. Nicki chuckled. “There’s no reason not to come, Rhonnie. Not like your brokeass has anything better to do!” I let my own laughter collide into hers. As if we were already there together. Already buzzed. “Well. You got me.” I crushed the Miller Lite can. “Just bring that ass here!” A prisoner of Nicki’s, I faced the laptop. The story I was still working on. “We’ve got some writing to do!” Nicki teased. “We’re gonna work on this together. No distractions, excuses… None of that stuff me and Ashley wanted last time...” From here, I could envision Nicki Minaj in “normal” mode. Well, normal for this persona. Probably a tight dress, curly long hair. All business and beauty. “This is just about your stories, Rhonnie,” Nicki said. “Just my stories?” I questioned. “Amongst other things…” Nicki replied. “But mostly your stories. You Ashley’s bitch, man. What kinda bitch you think I am taking my homegirl’s bitch?” Flashing a smile, I nodded. “Fuck it. I’m down.” “Okay. I’ll keep in touch.” The nerves returning, I sifted in my seat. “Well, wait, can I like call you back?” Instead of reassurance, I got that Wicked Witch of Trinidad laugh. “Call me back!? You so funny, Rhonnie!” “What…” “This is a burner phone, bitch! I find you, nobody finds me!” Such a line should’ve scared me. Especially given our history… and Nicki’s wild instability. But somehow, I found it amusing. Fuck it, even cute. That day, I got the okay from Ashley. In fact, she was excited. A carnal glint crept through her when I told her about the trip. About going back to Nickiland. “Oh, that’ll be fun!” Ashley beamed. Lying in bed together, I felt her hands squeeze tighter to mine. Ash’s enthusiasm even overshadowing the latest episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race. “And she’s paying you! Oh my God, that’s amazing, Rhonnie!” I adjusted my oversized glasses. The classic Dahmer frames. “Yeah, she called me. She said she missed me.” Reminiscent of Nicki, Ashley’s personality could change quick. Maybe not as severe… but still extreme. Just from mentioning Onika Maraj, Ash had zipped from exhausted HR boss to drooling fangirl... And now she was all over me. “Oh, you gotta go, babe!” Ashley yelled. “She obviously likes you! Oh my God, this could be your big break!” Feeling her tremble in my grip, I watched Ashley lean in closer. Her smile omnipresent. Her body in flames. Possessed by the Queen. “Yeah, I guess I should go,” my deep voice finally said. “Just tell her I said hey!” Ashley then gave me a kiss. “I will.” Still I struggled to match her joy. Or Nicki’s eager euphoria for that matter. “That’s so cool!” Ash rambled on. “My next vacation, we’re going back!” “We will, babe.” Deranged panic struck Ash. She grabbed her fit chest. The chunky stomach only she could see. “Shit, just let me lose this tummy first!” I hugged her close. “What stomach, weirdo?” Ashley still squeezed her stomach. Literally grasping at skinny straws to prove her point. “I can’t let her see me like this! Aw, fuck!” Reassuring Ashley, I kept my arm around her as I pushed her hands away. “Stop it, babe! You’re skinny.” Ashley turned toward me. The idiotic insecurities still obvious. Even on the model’s frame she had. “I wouldn’t lie to you about that” I said. I clutched her arm, clinging to the muscles she’d been working on. “You a fit bit.” Finally, Ashley gave me that gorgeous smile. The one that’d held me captive for almost three years now. “You and Nicki both got nothing to worry about,” I added. “You’re my Queen.” Snapping into aggression, Ashley draped her arms around my neck. A lover’s noose. “You bet your ass,” she said in a sly, seductive tone. Her grin got bigger. Yet another personality change was forming… but one I was happy to see. “I like the sound of that…” “Fuck, I wanna go back!” “We will-“ I started. Like an uncaged animal, Ash lunged in, running her hands up and down my chest. Her touch swift but firm. Feeling along my minor abs coming in… “We had so much fun last time, Rhonnie!” she yelled. We gotta go!” I watched her hands slide further down. One toward my ass, one toward my crotch. The sheer mention of Minaj had sent my girlfriend into a frenzy… Ash a Barb forever… “I can’t wait to go back to Nicki’s!” she continued. I cracked a smile. “I mean we can-” With a ferocious flourish, Ash slammed me on to the bed. The soft landing somehow got my adrenaline going. My body all hot. Pinning me there, Ashley smirked upon me. My girl literally so high above me. Not to mention stronger… I couldn’t move. Couldn’t talk. I was fucking dominated… Ash lunged in toward my face. This was the most sultry and smooth she’d been since L.A. Not to mention the most confident. Her hungry gaze hovered over me. “Here,” she teased. She tore off my shirt in a steamy split second. “Let me send you off on that vacation… the right way!” Ashley added a Nicki purr. I chuckled. “Sounds amazing…” “On your knees!” Ashley shouted. “What-“ Showing off her strength, Ashley flipped me over. Put me right on my stomach. Literally on my knees. Caught up in the moment, I couldn’t talk. I can’t lie, Ashley was getting me hot. Especially when she did all the work... When it was her turn to channel her rap idol. I stole a look over at the T.V. At all the drag queens watching Ashley and I’s intense intimacy. Ash put one hand around my erect dick, the other on my ass. She leaned in behind my ear. No chance at a whisper. “Let me get you ready for the Queen!” she cackled. By December tenth, I was on the plane. Gone from chilly Georgia to ever-sunny L.A. The few calls and texts from Nicki were vague... Playful but cryptic. All I knew was someone was supposed to pick me up at LAX. I’d asked if it was Kellan but Nicki liked to ramble over my questions… “I’ll take care of you,” she repeated in a manic mantra. “We’ll take care of you, Rhonnie.” Rather than the casual warmth I encountered last time, I was greeted by two cold guards. A black man and woman. Both of them beyond attractive in their stylish dark suits and even darker sunglasses. Both of them beyond swoll. They didn’t say a word. Didn’t smile. Hell, they didn’t even hold my one carry-one bag for me. Instead, I followed them out to a tank of a red SUV. Our short drive feeling longer from both tension and traffic. None of my casual banter worked. Nor did my goofy grin. Instead, these two were stoic statues. Bodyguard caricatures straight out of a bland action movie. With even less character and charisma than Nicki’s many wax figures. Through the tense silence, I leaned back. Awkward. The only noise naturally the radio’s Nicki Minaj marathon. Finally, the familiar iron-pike gate opened. And then we descended upon the Minaj mansion. I kept talking to Ash on the phone, her excitement obvious even through text. Holding my carry-on, I stepped out. My every move under the watch of a million cameras. They were bigger this time around. Cinematic surveillance... I followed the bodyguards past the psychedelic pillars. The pink Lamborghini. Right up to the front porch where the Queen herself awaited. Under Ashley’s guidance, I made sure to dress well. Tight khakis and my cherished green polo. No Dahmer glasses. Ash was sure Nicki would approve. The fading twilight sun still couldn’t suppress Mrs. Majesty’s radiance. Standing between two towering tiki torches, she had the poise of a Pagan Goddess. The strength of Joan Of Arc. The defiance of Cleopatra. And best of all, she was herself in the moment. Onika. No gaudy jewelry, her long hair hanging down. Not much make-up. She wore an ugly Christmas sweater featuring her smirking Bitmoji. Her green cargo pants a baggy fit. The type of hipster gear that’d gone out of style in 99 yet worn by Nicki as if she were stealing the red carpet. She was Goddamn beautiful. I could see Nicki’s sly smile. The glint glowing in those brown eyes. Now just a few feet away, I stole a glance at the house’s array of Christmas decorations. The wreaths both green and pink. Big bulb holiday lights lining up and down the roof. And yes, a black Santa Claus. Having no snow or cold didn’t hurt the Christmas spirit here. Not on Nicki’s watch. Nicki waved. “Hey, strangerrr…” she teased. I started for the steps. “I made it.” Before I could get any further, the guards ambushed me. Polite enough, I suppose… If not fast and furious. Both the man and woman patted me down in thorough fashion. All to the tune of Nicki’s snorting laughter. “Really…” I deadpanned. Nicki walked up to me. “I had to up security, boo.” Eager hands grasped my ass and dick. I flashed a glare at the guards. Their slick smiles. “We know how you horror writers are,” Nicki continued. Equal parts polite and cold, the female guard snatched my carry-on. I watched her stocky frame stand beside the man. Neither of them saying a word. “We gotta be careful,” Nicki added. She stopped right in front of me. That pretty face a mask for her many warped ideas. “But I’m glad you’re here, Rhonnie. Honestly.” I nodded at the guards. “Apparently, they are too.” “I mean can you blame them…” Flashing those pearly whites, Nicki encircled me. Her steps slow, seductive. Intrigued, I stood in place. Watching a fire spread across Nicki’s expression. A hunger. Nicki was undressing me with her eyes… Admiring me like I was part of her personally curated gigolo lineup. One I was sure she had around somewhere… But I wasn’t complaining. “Me and Ashley got you looking good,” Nicki continued. “You dress so nice!” I watched her every move. Relaxing in the perfect weather. “And you been working out!” Nicki remarked. She stole a grab at my ass. A snug squeeze. “Mmm, got that donk I see!” “Yeah, I’m finally getting abs…” I said in a humblebrag. The Nicki gaze honed in on my chest. “I can tell!” She draped an arm around my broad shoulders. Leaned in real close. “Let me get a hug.” She pulled me toward her. Not so much a hug but suffocation. Nicki’s immense strength no longer a surprise to me… Not after the last trip. With my celebrity crush just inches away, I tried to suppress the desire. The body heat. God knows those security guards were eating this up… The two of them an enthralled audience. Especially once Nicki started feeling along my chest. Nicki closed her eyes. Pleasure joining her carnal craving. “I swear you’d be my Zac Efron or Bieber.” Flattered, I faced Nicki. “I like to think young Kyle MacLachlan…” Nicki burst out laughing. Uproarious but not sadistic. “From Twin Peaks! Blue Velvet.” She stared me up and down again. Taking her sweetass time. “Oh shit, you ain’t lying!” “You got good taste,” I remarked. “Indeed.” With a flirtatious touch, she pushed aside my hair. The swoop. “But I always wanted a Zac Efron up in here.” I struggled to keep my cool… Goddamn, it was tough. “So tell me, Rhonnie,” Nicki began. Her smile latched onto me. “Who do I look like?” I smirked. “Cardi B.” Laughing, Nicki gave me a shove. “Bitch!” Playing along, I shrugged. “Hey, you asked.” “Yeah, but not her sorryass!” “Well, if you want me to be honest, I’ll go Thandie Newton.” Much better… Nicki nodded her head in agreement. “I like that.” She glided in closer toward me. Her female gaze beaming. “See, you know you’re shit too.” Keeping my distance, I looked up. Saw how nighttime now descended upon us. “I had a crush on her back in the day…” “Like you did with me, right?” I stole a glance over at the front door. At the wreath smorgasbord. “Yeah,” I replied as I faced Onika. “But that was back in the day. Back when I looked like shit…” “Oh, I don’t know about that.” Slow but steady, Nicki’s hand brushed against my pants. “Not with that face.” No matter how hard I could control myself, I couldn’t control biology. I couldn’t control my dick. Embracing her power and sex appeal, Nicki’s hand strayed toward my erect outline. “Or that D…” she teased. Yeah, I was conflicted. But somehow, I managed to hold her back. “Okay, uh, maybe we should go inside.” Nicki just kept that mischievous smile. “What? Our chemistry is that dead to you.” The British Roman Zolanski accent took over. Campaigning for an Oscar, Nicki threw her hands up. The hammy acting in hyperdrive. Given my last visit, I had no idea if she was just being funny… or giving in to madness. “Oh no, darling! What we had was so BUE-TEE-FULL…” Cringing, I avoided all eye contact. But I had nowhere to turn. The guards only gave me glares… And in the darkness, the Christmas lights further basked Nicki in a most glorious glow. Lunging forward, Nicki squeezed my shoulders. “You carn’t throw it away, darling!” I gave a nervous laugh. “You’re something else…” But Nicki wouldn’t stop. The histrionics consumed her. “Oh, darling! Darling-” In my hand, my cell phone vibrated to life. A shrill siren interrupting Nicki’s performance. Like an offended actress, Nicki went quiet and glowered. Gone was the cheer. The charismatic wackiness. In came the dark side of her dominance. I looked down at Ashley’s text message: I love you! Be safe! “Hold on!” I told Nicki. Responding out of both love and duty, I began typing up a reply: I love you t Moving quick, Nicki snatched the phone out of my hands. “Whoa, what the fuck!” I yelled. I came face to face with Nicki. The Queen back in her confident element. Back to that grin. “I thought you remembered, Ronald,” she said, her voice back to its precise perfection. Strolling over by the stairs, she twirled the phone. “No cell phones when you’re writing with me…” I followed her between those warm tiki torches. The gateway to Heaven and Hell. “Can I at least text Ashley back?” Scoffing, Nicki confronted me. “Now why do that when she knows I’ll take care of you.” Showing theatrical flair, Nicki pulled out the collar of her sweater and dropped the phone straight in. Right into the strongbox of her huge boobs. “Nice…” Nicki’s triumphant smile got bigger. Given her sheer size, who knew what else was hiding in those breasts? “Real classy,” I added. The familiar snorting laughter hit me. Not that Nicki’s laughter bothered me… regardless of its hideous sound. “Man, you and I know Ashley loves you. She told me!” “Yeah, but I can’t even text her…” Nicki gripped my hand. “You’re a writer. You’re self-sufficient!” She started pulling me toward the mansion. Pushed her hair aside to face me. “Just like me.” We entered her fortress. Nothing had changed too much. Nicki memorabilia was still scattered about. The home bars were glorious. The walls conquered by various portraits of black icons both in entertainment and civil rights movements. The mansion just clean and colorful. Then I realized how many more cameras there were. Their watchful eyes stayed on me. Glued to my every move. No different than Nicki, I thought... Of course, the Christmas decorations were even wilder in here. Heavy red stockings hung above an infrared fireplace. The towering Christmas tree wore ornaments gaudier than Nicki’s VMA wardrobes. And I’ll be damned if the living room didn’t have a miniature tree that was nothing more than a tall marijuana plant. But fuck, it was cold. Shivering, I followed Nicki through the living room. “Can you put on the heat, please?” Nicki stopped and threw up her arms. “Bitch, it’s Christmas!” The henchwoman jammed the carry-on straight into my chest, startling me. “You know I’m gonna do it big this time of year!” Nicki continued. Recovering from the collision, I watched the two guards go into a small room. One overran by more Christmas lights. From here, I could see the mini dancefloor, a turntable. A narrow staircase tucked away in the back. The Queen had apparently added her own club since the last time I was here. And right now, we had a Yuletide takeover. Whitney’s “Do You Hear What I Hear” reverberated from that room. And all through the house... I watched those guards go up the stairs. Disappearing further within this castle… But not until the woman flashed me a knowing smile. A flirty wink. With unhinged pleasure, Nicki squeezed my ass once more. “Come on, I gotta show you more!” Annoyed, I backed away from her. “Shit, how have you not been MeToo’d yet!” Nicki let out an uproarious laugh. She pointed a finger at me. Her laughter the wail of a smug banshee. Albeit, a pretty one... I flashed a smile. “Naw, I’m serious-” “You think I need to get on the MeToo shitlist!” Nicki joked. She took a confident step toward me. Pointed at her vibrant heart. “Me? Like what about Cardi and Katy Perry, Rhonnie! I don’t see them bitches getting MeToo’d!” “Okay, you’re right-” Nicki motioned toward me. “And what about you, Rhonnie. You cute but you’re a weird fucking horror writer, man. Writing weirdass sex shit about me.” I couldn’t fight back. I even cringed. That barb stung… But at least Nicki’s smile had softened the blow. “Even if what I wrote was true?” Undeterred, Nicki grabbed my shoulder. “We’ll get to that.” I gave her a confused look. Only Nicki could be so cryptic and seductive... Before I could respond, Nicki entered manic mode. She snatched my arm and pulled me toward the kitchen. “We’ve gotta get moving! There’s so much I wanna tell you.” Clinging to my carry-on, I saw more booze. An arsenal of holiday snacks. Antique snowman cookie jars… More of Nicki’s Yuletide cheer. Rather than blue or white, I was in for a pink Christmas. Whitney’s majestic voice followed us. The dancefloor’s stereo Nicki’s personal carolers. “You’re not kidding about this Christmas stuff…” I joked. “I told you!” Nicki replied. An eager reindeer leading the way, Nicki guided us into a hallway. A familiar one, sure. I recognized the bedroom doors. The gym. And of course, the fateful “Club Staff” at the end of the hall: Nicki’s personal wax museum. The scene of my wildest sex… Not to mention Nicki’s own dark, twisted, dominant fantasies. Nicki parked us at “my” bedroom door. Keeping the conversation flowing, I leaned against the wall. Still recovering from the flight. The returning memories. “I’m guessing you’re gonna do a Christmas album next?” Nicki chuckled as she opened the door. “I can’t. You know me, rhonnie14.” She smiled at me. “Maybe when I’m all old and washed-up.” “So never then?” I said, unable to control my flirting. “Preeeciseleee…” Nicki pulled the door open and waved inside. “After you, boo.” I entered. Unable to escape the holiday playlist vortex. Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime.” The room was preserved in the way a grieving parent never changes their deceased kids’ bedrooms. Everything was the same. The horror posters, the movie books. My own desk. Pure Rhonnieworld. Nicki followed in behind me. Stopping by the desk, I faced her. “Happy late Birthday by the way,” I said, showing no snark at all. Only sincerity. Nicki didn’t know how to react. Her body trembled from sentimental emotions rather than excitement. “Aww, thank you…” . “No problem.” Nicki’s mischievous grin then returned. And so did her ogling. “You owe me some cake…” She stole an enthusiastic glance behind me. Laughing, I waved her off. “Whoa, cool it!” Yet I couldn’t help but feel delight… Nicki pointed toward the carry-on. “Just drop your shit and take a shower! I don’t want you with no germs and shit after that nastyass flight!” “Man, you are paranoid…” “Cautious,” Nicki corrected. Now in the bright bedroom light, I got a better view of Chun-Li, Roman, or whatever you wanted to call her. Whatever personality she was today. But the fact is Nicki looked better than ever. Again, still only 5’2 but somehow stronger. She had the heart of a lion, the cool composure of Pam Grier. Sure, the huge breasts and booty were flaunted even in the baggier clothing… but just a few days after her thirty-seventh Birthday and Nicki was somehow still in her early prime. Nicki pointed toward the hallway. “And try to stay out of the staff room this time.” The bizarre memories flashed through my mind. I couldn’t hide the smirk. “I’ll try-” “Don’t go in there unless I tell you.” “I understand.” Feeling more relaxed, I placed the bag on the ground. Somehow, the room soothed me. Nicki was one Hell of a decorator. “Say, uh, where’s Kellan at?” I asked. Playing up the melodramatics, Nicki gave me a weird look. “Who!?” “Kellan. The guy from Trinidad.” All I got was silence from Nicki. Uncomfortable silence. Annoyed, my hands went wild. Rhonnie now channeling those same melodramatics. “He was here last time with me, you, and Ashley. You know… Like.” I pointed toward my crotch. Nicki cracked up. “Oh yeah, I remember! Yeah, he went back to Trinidad.” “Oh, okay...” Nicki stepped right up to me. “He said he misses you.” Cornered by two smiling Nickis, one on smooth skin and the other on hideous wool, I chuckled. “Yeah, I bet…” “Oh, come now,” Nicki teased. She ran a hand along my arm. “We had fun. The four of us.” I stayed distant. Or at least pretended to. Not an easy task with the Queen being this… aggressive. I pulled away from her. “But like… what about your husband? I mean…” Now feeling paranoid myself, I stole a glance toward the open doorway. “Is he like fucking here?” Nicki cracked up. “Zoo? You scared or something, Rhonnie?” The pressure was getting to me. Both from Nicki’s beauty and this cold Goddamn mansion. “I mean I’m not an idiot,” I said. “I saw you got married which… makes this whole thing even weirder.” Nicki leaned in closer. “But you still came.” She caressed my face. “Didn’t you?” I held up my trembling hands. Restraining the rap Goddess. “Yeah, but I thought we were just gonna talk?” Yet another change happened. Nicki The Comedienne appeared… “Oh, right, to talk,” said a voice going to its deepest, driest depths. And of course, she was talking with her hands. “That’s the only reason I came, Nicki…” Yeah, she was imitating me, alright. “Nice…” I remarked. Nicki gave me a slight shove. Given her sneaky strength, I still stumbled back against the desk. “Look, I brought you here for a reason, Rhonnie,” Nicki said, her voice back to its normal tone. “This is about the writing, not just sleeping around and having fun.” “Okay, that’s all I was asking.” “And for the record, Kenneth’s not here, alright. So don’t get all scared and tip-toe around like you got a stick up your ass!” “Dick up my ass?” I deadpanned. Laughing, Nicki gave me another push. “Stop playing!” “Alright, so like Zoo’s cool with this?” “Duh!” Less worried, I leaned back against the desk. “I mean damn, can you blame me-” Nicki waved me off. “Naw, he ain’t the jealous type. Not even with your Efron-looking ass.” “Glad to know!” Nicki looked me up and down. Simultaneously allurred and amused. “Seriously, you look young as fuck… you sure you’re twenty-eight? I’d be scared I done fucked a High School Musical bitch or something. Y’all’d be MeTooing my ass for statutory rape.” Basking in Nicki’s female gaze, I stood up. “Well, that sure as Hell didn’t stop you last time.” Once more, Nicki cackled. Maybe a genuine reaction… or a chance for her to fall against my chest. “You’re so crazy, Rhonnie! Oh my God!” Then all of a sudden, she got quiet. She backed away in an instant. Not from fear but compulsion... Nicki’s mind off to the races again. “What’s up?” I said. “Nothing.” The Queen pointed toward the closet. “Just change clothes after you shower, alright!” She started to leave. “Okay, cool.” Stopping in the doorway, Nicki faced me. “Meet me in the studio when you’re done. You know the drill.” I flashed her a thumbs up. “Sounds like a plan-” Before I could finish, the door slammed shut in one swift slam. I stood there in the tense silence. Nicki was gone. Link To Part 2 14
A flat chested country girl from County Cork or "To The Shores of Tripoli"
[Author's notes in comments for translations and details. Enjoy!] Near Banbridge town, in the County Down One morning last July Down a bóithrín green came a sweet cailín And she smiled as she passed me by. She looked so sweet from her two bare feet To the sheen of her nut brown hair Such a winsome elf, I'm ashamed of myself For the see of her standing there. Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines Assigned to the 76th MEU, TFSS James Mattis 23 years since first contact, 5 years until Operation Inchon The side doors of the UV-70 Mamba opened and I let my feet hang over the side. The trees below me were a blur as we flew past. A wave of hot air washed over me as I leaned my head out of the dropship. It was either from the planet’s tropical biome or the fact that half the colony was on fire. The crew chief to my left swung a 14mm machine gun out the door and loaded a belt into it with a satisfying thrwack. He leaned his own head out of the door to get his own bearings. He turned to us and held up 5 fingers and shouted, “FIVE MINUTES”. “FIVE MINUTES” shouted back the 12 Marines and one Navy Corpsman, all of us copying his gesture. “Hey O’Hare” said a German voice from behind me. I turned around to look at the source. Corporal Blucher was checking the Marines’ gear one last time. He turned after aggressively tightening down a strap on one of the boots who had apparently not secured his body armor well enough. “What the fuck are we supposed to do if you get shot first?”. “I don’t know, have Doc Stevens fix me up?” I replied. “Fuck no, stay next to me. Let Garcia take point since he wants to let his Scheiße hang loose” said the Prussian corporal as he pushed the well corrected PFC away and towards me. Not counting Doc, Blucher was the oldest one of us at 23, and he was an Old Corps salt dog to the bone. He didn’t take shit, but he didn’t give it either. He was a dick sure, but he was always right about it. “Aye corporal” Cùl tòna, I’ve been on that ship for months! I just want to get my feet back on solid ground already I complained as I heaved my legs back from the edge and took my place next to the squad leader. On paper a squad leader is supposed to be a sergeant and the assistant squad leader a corporal. But things don’t work the way they’re supposed to in the Marine Corps. They work the Marine Corps way in the Marine Corps! So, we were short on NCOs and making do with a corporal and a senior lance corporal as the assistant. “Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of chances to get some today” said the senior lance corporal in question. He depolarized his visor so I could see his shit eating grin. He was just as happy to be off the ship as we all were. The side of his helmet said, Don’t Panic!. He said he read it in a book once. Good advice I suppose. “But if you do take a round, we are kinda fucked” he added. “Ach you’ll figure it out Thompson” I said to the American. He was a bit more of an eejit, but he knew what he was doing most of the time. A comm link isn’t that hard to use! Everyone else just likes having a comm nerd to yell at. “THREE MINUTES” yelled the crew chief breaking me from my internal ranting. “THREE MINUTES” we all replied. I began taking inventory of my kit for the thousandth time. One M89A5 assault rifle, check. 6 spare magazines with 32 rounds of 5mm Terran Caseless each, check. One M77A2 pistol, check. 2 spare magazines with 18 rounds of 9mm Dillon each, check. One comm link with a tactical bracer, check. One field drone, check. Two frags, one flashbang, two marking beacons, and a rainbow of smoke grenades across my belt; check. One first aid kit, check. One mostly full hydration bladder, check. Some rat fucked MRE snacks, check. One ka-bar, check. One multitool and a roll of electrical tape, check. One semi crumbled pack of cigarettes plus a lighter, fucking check. Also, Blucher had me snag a thermite grenade incase this went “Mogadishu” on us. Whatever that means. All of that plus my helmet and body armor and this was turning into quite the load. Who’s fecking idea was it to give the 1.6-meter 50 kilogram Irish girl all this gear? Oh right, mine when I dropped out of uni and enlisted. Sufficed that everything was still there I looked back through the open door. The Mamba had banked to the left and gave me a good view of the city without having to lean out of the damn thing. Ok maybe three quarters of the colony was on fire. Christ, this was the kind of shite that made the Taurans get all worked up at The Table. They were constantly crying about how “humans can’t be trusted”. How we are a race of undisciplined children that haven’t even left behind their regional identities. That it wasn’t right that a fledgling race be given free reign the of stars and colonization of unclaimed worlds. That our unchecked expansion invited these kinds of attacks. That we still weren’t ready. To be honest, they just sounded jealous. At least the Dracs and a few of the rest made good trading partners. “ONE MINUTE” “ONE MINUTE” A silence came over the inside of the dropship. It wasn’t out of fear or anything. Oh no, we were all too damn excited to be scared. You can’t stick a bunch of Marines on a ship with nothing to do but lift weights and masturbate for months and expect us to not want to kill something. Come to think of it they probably do it on purpose. When you take into account that my number one rule is “don’t fuck Marines in 1/9” and the fact that I can’t stand sailors long enough to get into bed with one, you can see what I had been directing my energy towards. When word came down that some pirates had torched a mining town and a bunch of civvies needed saving, we couldn’t get kitted up fast enough. Getting paid to kill a bunch of gigantic pieces of shite that zero people will miss? Fucking ‘rah. “THIRTY SECONDS” “THIRTY SECONDS” “Condition one weapons!” ordered Blucher. The dropship was filled with the sound of slightly less satisfying thrwicks as we chambered rounds into our weapons. The digital round counter on my rifle read 32 to confirm that it was loaded. If I had the genetic predisposition for it, I probably would’ve been sporting a hard on. I almost felt bad for the dumb bastards. Almost. From Bantry Bay up to Derry Quay From Galway to Dublin town No maid I've seen like the fair cailín That I met in the County Down. The engines roared as we approached the ground and the ship shuddered when the landing gear touched the surface. We spilled out of the side doors and formed into a semicircle in front of the ship, crouching and facing outward. No orders were needed, we had practiced this same maneuver dozens if not hundreds of times. The Mamba’s engines roared again as it took off and flew over and away from us, leaving us in a field that separated the colony from the planet’s massive rainforest. “O’Hare call it in” said Blucher. “Reaper 3 Actual, Reaper 3-1. We have reached phase line Budweiser and are pushing to phase line Busch” I said into my helmet’s integrated mic as I keyed my comm. Whoever comes up with these objective names needs to learn what a real beer is. Why can’t there ever be a phase line Guinness? Fucking yanks wouldn’t know a good pint if I shoved one up their arse. “Copy 3-1, out” replied the disembodied voice of our platoon commander. The other 2 squads of 3rd platoon reported themselves as well and the lieutenant responded accordingly. “Van Dusen your team takes point. Tokugawa, Petrov fall in behind, squad column. Let’s get a fucking move on!” commanded Blucher. “Rah” “Yut” “Kill” responded the South African, Japanese, and Ukrainian team leaders respectfully. Again, they were supposed to be corporals, but experienced lance corporals could do the job just as well. “O’Hare you fucking pogue! What did I tell you? Stay next to me!” shouted Blucher as we started to move out and form into staggered columns down a semi paved road surrounded by abandoned homes and storefronts. Everyone that hadn’t been already evacuated was held up at the government house with the rest of Charlie company. “Rah corporal” I prefer battery powered grunt thank you very much. “Thompson hang back with Doc and make sure everyone has their spacing” Blucher continued. “Slay bodies” “All Reaper 3 callsigns be advised, Reaper 6’s comms are down. Coordinate with Reaper 2 Actual. How copy, over?” our lieutenant said. I checked my tac bracer and sure enough the CO’s callsign had dropped off the net. 1st, 2nd, and Weapons platoon were at least still up. Fecking hell Ali! Get your shite together, you’re making us comm guys look bad. “Copy”, said 3-2. “Lima Charlie”, said 3-3. “Solid copy”, I said. “Roger, out” “What the fuck did he say? It was cutting out” said an annoyed Corporal Blucher. “The CO’s comm is down. We’re talking to 2nd until they unfuck it” I answered. Blucher grumbled something in German and smacked the side of his helmet a couple of times. It doesn’t work like that but ok. Our helmets had integrated UHF comms for the squad level so we could talk outside of shouting distance, but anything beyond that needed a comm link. They had a feature where they could wirelessly connect to a nearby comm so the TCS (Tactical Communications Specialist that is) wouldn’t have to be constantly repeating what he heard like an ancient radio operator. But as we learned during field exercises in 29 Palms and on Luna it liked to shit out on you when you started moving. The link has 2 cables so that you can hook it up to your helmet and get a much more reliable connection. It’s good for the TCS but I would basically have to be piggybacking Blucher if he wanted to use the other one. We pushed further into the city towards the simple two story building that was our objective, keeping our eyes and ears open for any sign of trouble. The inferno continued to blaze and engulf more and more of the mining town. The sound of weapons platoon’s medium machine guns and enemy plasma weapons clashing were getting louder now. Every now and then I could hear them touch off a rocket and some grenade launchers. “What about your shortwave?” I asked finally. “The cable gets in the way of my speed reloads” answered Blucher. A bhastaird bhreallghnùisigh! Why does everyone have to try and make my job harder? A shortwave was essentially a handheld comm link issued to officers and NCOs that you could fit into a pouch on the front of your plate carrier (or an empty magazine pouch if supply ran out). It didn’t have the same output as the bigger ones but it could do the job in a pinch. As she onward sped, sure I scratched my head, And I looked with a feelin' rare, And I says, says I, to a passer-by, "Who's the maid with the nut brown hair?" Well he looked at me and he said to me, "That's the gem of Ireland's crown. Young Rosie McCann from the banks of the Bann, She's the star of the County Down." As we approached an intersection Garcia gave the hand signal for a danger area. Again, no orders were needed as just about every Marine has done this thousands of times since boot camp. One fireteam pulls security while the other two get across. There are to be four Marines that have their weapons trained on either direction of the road, two on each side. I dropped down to a knee and took my post on the corner of a building, resting my rifle on the wall. Van Dusen was across from me mirroring my position. Blucher put a hand on my shoulder as Tokugawa’s team went across. “Alright send it”. “3 Actual, 3-1. We have reached phase line Busch and are approaching objective Icehouse”. This is an insult to real beer. “Copy 3-1, out”. Without taking my eyes off the road I was overcome with a sudden desire to be a cheeky cunt, “Ya know corporal, as soon as we get libo I-OH FUCK”. Before I could finish a figure stepped out of an alley and turned to me. It looked like a human, sort of. If a human had veiny beet red skin, completely black eyes, no ears save for the holes on either side of its head, coarse fur like hair, a squashed rectangular nose, 4 fingers and the body of a tall dwarf. Not like a little person but like a proper mythical dwarf. It seemed very surprised to see me. It was carrying a plasma rifle and was wearing a strange x-shaped harness on its chest over a red jumpsuit. Its black eyes went wide, and it opened its mouth of shark like teeth as if to say something. I quickly decided that I had no intention of hearing its opinions as it raised its weapon at me. I fired 3 rounds in rapid succession. Two to the chest, one to the pelvic girdle. My rifle’s integrated suppressor muzzling my shots to a quick phwip. The harness must’ve been some kind of personal shield because a flash of light emitted from the alien pirate as my first rounds tore into it. Probably designed to redirect energy from plasma weapons, not absorb a 5mm fin stabilized discarding sabot at 10 meters traveling just a bit over Mach 3. Surprise fecker! You’re dealing with proper Human weapons now you gobshite! My third shot into its pelvis dropped it like a bag of hammers and it laid on the ground gurgling in a pool of black blood. Van Dusen shot it twice in the head for posterity’s sake. “HOLY FECKING SHITE I GOT ONE!” I yelled. I just popped my cherry! Not the gross awkward one with all the blood but the fun cool one with all the blood. “Keep your fucking pants on O’Hare!” said Blucher. “Let’s fucking go Petrov! Get your Marines across!” He pumped his forearm vertically up and down, the hand signal for "hurry the fuck up". “At least we know who it is now, bru. Fucking Kats!” chimed in Van Dusen. As if on que to defend their honor from the Afrikaner’s insult more Katavarian pirates began appearing from further down the road. I flicked my rifle off safe again as Blucher, Van Dusen, and I poured fired down the road. The Kats seemed woefully unprepared to have been caught in the middle of a Terran Federal Marine Corps infantry platoon’s advance. They were firing wildly as we cut them down, their shields doing little to protect them from our high velocity rounds. Red faces were appearing from around alleys and behind windows trying to take potshots at us. Christ, were these guys taking a fecking nap when we showed up? For every flash of red that I saw I fired 2-3 rounds. Sometimes I’d be rewarded with a flash of a broken shield and an alien howl, other times they’d duck out of the way before I got a good sight picture. It did seem like I was drawing more than my fair share of their ire, probably on account of the antenna sticking out of my back that said “Look at me! I’m important!”. Van Dusen fired his under barrel grenade launcher into a store front where some of them had set up a firing position. No doubt taking cover when they realized their shields were doing fuck all. The 40mm HEDP shell exploding in their face was our way of saying “nice try but still get fucked”. “No shit it’s Kats! It’s always fucking Kats!” said Doc Stevens as he ran across. The Katavarians barely had a presence at The Table. Their government was a powerless operation that just existed to say “oops sorry what can we do” whenever another pirate band attacked shipping lanes or colonies. And as the newest race to discover FTL technology it was mostly us that fell victim to their attacks on our outer colonies. And to be quite frank, we were getting very tired of their shit. Like today. “At least their physiology is pretty similar to ours” he added as he got across and took a position next to Van Dusen. I put a burst into one of them that had appeared on a roof holding a shoulder fired weapon. It fell to the ground in a heap. “Can you translate that to crayon, bru?” quipped Van Dusen. He knew what he was talking about but he just liked being a prick. Especially to navy guys. “Bloody hell, their important bits are the same as our important bits” sighed the HM2 from Liverpool. “Yeah, I kind of figured that out when I shot one in the head and it fucking died, Doc. Thompson hurry it up!” said Blucher as he slammed a fresh magazine into his rifle. The Kats’ fire was slowing down now, and it seemed as if they had decided that discretion was the better part of valor. I guess that’s what happens when you go from raiding colonies with token Planetary Guard forces to facing a bunch of grunts that have had nothing to do but think about killing for the past 2 months. “Last Marine!” said Thompson as he touched my shoulder and ran past, letting me know that he was the last one in the formation to cross behind us. “O’Hare call it in and let’s get moving” ordered Blucher. “Copy”, I keyed my comm “3-2, 3-1. Be advised we have engaged a reinforced squad sized element. They are breaking contact and oscar mike to your pos. How copy over?” “Solid copy 3-1, we’ll be waiting for them” “Roger, out”. I couldn’t help but smile under my helmet. Imagine the look on their faces when they run into more Marines! “Ok O’Hare your turn!” I sprinted across and relieved Van Dusen. Seconds later Blucher came across and touched my shoulder. “Last Marine” he sighed. “Ok are we good to go? Team leaders?” The three team leaders responded positively that their Marines were in fact alive and had all of their important bits. “Alright form it back up and let’s double time it” ordered our squad leader. From Bantry Bay up to Derry Quay From Galway to Dublin town No maid I've seen like the fair cailín That I met in the County Down. “3 Actual, 3-1. We have reached objective Icehouse and are setting up overwatch”. “Good to go 3-1, out”. As I touched off a marking beacon to confirm to everyone all the way up to the Mattis where we were Blucher cursed and smacked the side of his helmet again. “Still?” I asked. “Yeah...” he admitted. “Here let me fix it. Hold still feisì” I said, adding my Gaeilge when he began to protest. “The fuck did you just call me?” spat Blucher. “Nothing at all Corporal!” I quickly answered. Oops. “Du Fickfehler” he answered. Despite the exchange he let me get to work. I grabbed the end of the cable from the shortwave under his left armpit and pulled out and under his arm to get it as far away from his mag pouches as I could. I ran it back up to his helmet and plugged it into the port under where he had written “Kerle, wollt ihr ewig leben?”. Whatever that means. He held up a thumb when he heard the rest of 3rd platoon reporting their positions. Corona and Miller? Janey Mac I’m surrounded by heathens! “What’s so hard about cursing in English?” asked Thompson. “It’s so much more fun in Irish!” I said hoping Blucher wasn’t paying attention. “If you have 40 ways of saying “fuck you” why would you use just the one?” chimed in Lance Corporal Singh, our designated marksman. I gave her a fist bump and laid down in between her and Blucher. She had something in Sanskrit written on her helmet. I ought to ask her what that means. Thompson nodded at this response and went back to looking at what we all were. Objective Icehouse was a simple two story building with a flat roof. The only thing special about it was that orbital imagery from the Mattis indicated that it gave us a pretty good over watch position to the government house. 2nd and 3rd squads got similarly positioned buildings. I was on the roof with Blucher, Thompson, and Singh. The rest of the squad was set up on the floor below us or on street level. From here we could see the rest of Charlie Company exchanging fire with what was left of the Kats. Tracers streaked out from the government house towards assortments of buildings the pirates were firing back from. They must’ve started to wise up because they were holding back at a range that their shields might’ve done something now. They were firing back with whatever heavier plasma weapons and lasers they had. It wasn’t doing much though, and they were starting to try and push forward. They had to have been getting desperate. Stuck between an advancing inferno that they started, and an infantry company that they pissed off, with their extraction burning up in the atmosphere. Their only hope for salvation was to flee into the rainforest and hope they could call for another pirate band that could use the numbers before more Marines came and mopped them up. I bet whatever unobtanium this colony was mining doesn’t sound worth it anymore. It used to be that they would just surrender at the first sign of trouble or cut their loses and flee. But we stopped handing Kat prisoners back over when we found out we had captured the same band half a dozen times just for the joke of the Kat government to release them and have them back attacking us. Not anymore, new procedure was to treat every Kat vessel as a potential threat and engage the confirmed ones at every opportunity. Provided they didn’t have any hostages outright destroying them was the best option. This made some of the other races get all jittery (especially the Taurans) but fuck them. If the want to attack us they can turn big rocks into little rocks on Mars for all eternity. So, most of the company had landed after the rest of the battalion got who they could, and we were held in reserve to cover their push to the last evac site. The plan was to cover them, hold off whatever the Kats threw at us while the engineers cleared a landing zone for the Albatrosses, and then get the fuck out. “Get the drone up. I don’t want any more fucking surprises” said Blucher. “Roger” I answered fishing the field drone out of its polymer case. Its four propellers sprang out and spun to life as I activated it from my tac bracer. The hummingbird sized device flew out of my hand and in front of our position. With my bracer I controlled its movements and got a visual from it’s on board camera. Normal visuals weren’t doing me any good, so I switched over to thermals and was greeted with a white hot screen. The fire along with the planet’s climate was overloading the system. I turned down the sensitivity until I got a good visual of my surroundings. A Kat’s internal body temperature was a little higher than that of a human. This made them all that easier to spot them on thermals. First, I swept the buildings directly in front of us. Nothing. Then I started branching out. Block by block, darting my little drone up and down alleys and streets looking for Kats that thought they could hide. Eventually, I found something. About 200 meters up and to the right of us. In another two story building was a blob of orange and red. “Corporal I got something” I said without looking up from my bracer. The heat was enough to be a Kat, but it looked all wrong. Like it had two heads or something. From what I could tell it looked to be crouched or sitting in a closet in the center of building away from any doors or windows. I tried getting inside but with all the windows and doors closed there was nothing I could do. Fuck. “Let me see” Blucher said crawling over to me. I held out my forearm for him to see and he studied it for a moment. “Eh it’s probably one of those fuckers trying to hide out. Either way it’s out of the way of the extraction route and if it suddenly gets brave Singh can perforate it from here”. Singh put up a “rock on” hand signal at this. “But Corporal what if- “ “No” “Corporal I really think- “ “Shut the fuck up, Lance Corporal!” Thompson put a hand on my shoulder, “What happens if we send out a team and they get bogged down out there? What happens if we get rushed and we’re not at strength? What happens if we send out some Marines and they get chopped up just to find it’s another Kat? Everyone is supposed to be at the government house”. I turned to look at him and frowned. His eyes were worried and doubtful. He was thinking the same thing I was. But he was right. And so was Blucher. As much of an arsehole as he was, he didn’t want to go home with 8 Marines in his squad instead of 12. But things don’t work the way they’re supposed to. “C’mon get your head in the game” said Singh playfully smacking my helmet. Yeah ok, it’s nothing. Gotta be here in the now. I marked the building on my map and went back to looking through my rifle. “All Reaper 3 callsigns you are clear to engage” “Light them the fuck up!” commanded Blucher. With that the 12 Marines and one Corpsman in Objective Icehouse began suppressing the more threatening sources of Katavarian fire. To our left and right the Marines in Objectives Corona and Miller were doing the same. Singh’s M109 DMR was spitting out 7.5mm Martian polymer cases with a dull fwup. I switched my optic from 1x to 4x so I could get a better look at what we were shooting at. The Kats’ shields were doing them some good at this range. It took 2 good hits for their shields to drop. It was hard to get good targets though so most of us were just trying to suppress the buildings, puffs of dust kicking up from our rounds hitting the walls. I would’ve put my weapon on burst or even auto if I thought that I wouldn’t burn through the rest of my mags. I did get to see some of Singh’s shots “canoe” a few of them so that was nice. But even though they were redirecting some of their guns to us it wasn’t enough to take the heat off the government house. “MAAWS?” Thompson asked anxiously. “MAAWS” agreed Blucher. “Fuck yeah! Hey get that fucking MAAWS up here!” Thompson yelled down the staircase, not that he had to with the internal comms. He was just excited. I heard Petrov yelling Ukrainian obscenities at his Marines to sprint up the stairs. And I’m the one that has to keep her pants on? Two Marines raced out of the staircase and took a knee behind us. One holding the Man portable, Antitank, Antipersonnel, Weapon System and the other taking a bundle of 70mm rockets off his back. “2 Actual, 3-1. Be advised we’re engaging with our MAAWS” I said into my mic. “A-firm 3-1. Standing by to give you BDA” replied 2nd Platoon’s commander. “You know which one you’re shooting at right?” asked Thompson. “Yes, Lance Corporal” replied the rocket team. Fucking boots. They were the same rank technically but “billet before rank” and all that. Blucher, the micromanaging kraut that he is, wasn’t convinced and said, “Singh put some tracers on it”. She promptly retrieved a fresh magazine that had a strip of red electrical tape on it. She replaced the magazine she already had loaded with it and chambered a round. She fired two rounds that glowed as they flew towards the building we were engaging. The two Marines nodded their heads. “Hey, load a thermo” Thompson said to the assistant gunner. Blucher looked at him as if to say “really?” but didn’t continue. This was going to be fun. The assistant took out a rocket with a thick orange band from the case. He twisted the tip and loaded it into the rear of the weapon. Once it was in, he then tapped the gunner’s helmet twice to confirm the weapon was armed. Now it was up to the gunner. The scope on the MAAWS had a range finder and a targeting computer so the gunner didn’t have to sling rockets at his target until he got it right. It told him exactly were to hold based on the distance to the target, angle of attack, and munition being fired. All he had to do was hold it steady and pull the trigger. “On target!” announced the gunner. “CLEAR BACKBLAST!” “BACKBLAST CLEAR!” confirmed his assistant. “ROCKET!” PWOP FWOOOOOOOM The 70mm thermobaric rocket streaked out from the Marine’s shoulder and over our heads. My eyes were glued to it in anticipation. What’s great about thermobaric weapons is that they don’t just explode, they implode. It works by igniting the oxygen in the air, which results in a vacuum. The air in the immediate atmosphere will then come rushing in. This has the effect of sucking anything in in the immediate vicinity. Like walls. Also, apparently, they contain some kind of chemical that if exposed to it too often will give you cancer. But that’s for the VA to worry about. The shot couldn’t have been more perfect. The rocket shot straight through a window and into the building. First the explosion, igniting the available oxygen and burning the Kats’ lungs from the inside. And then the implosion. The walls of the house caved in on themselves and the whole thing came down. If anything in there wasn’t already dead, it was now. Eleven Marines and one Navy Corpsman roared in excitement as our target was turned into a pile of dust and rubble from the inside out. Second and Third squads must’ve gotten the same idea because rockets streaked out from their positions towards their targets. “Good fucking shit boots!” applauded Thompson. “Aye Lance Corporal!” “Lock it up! Lock it the fuck up!” commanded Blucher when our celebrating went on for a second too long. “Good hit 3-1, position destroyed, estimate 10 EKIA. Pushing Reaper 4 to you now.” “Copy, out. Corporal you get that?” I said turning my head to Blucher. He put up a thumb in affirmation. Yeah that’s right fecker I know I’m good at my job. Weapons platoon began spilling out of the government house and double timed it up the main road towards us. First the machine gun section, then mortars, and finally engineers. They would bolster our defenses while the engineers secured a landing zone. The Albatrosses needed a lot of space. Then the rest of the company would move the civvies knowing they were under a protective blanket of machine guns, mortars and rifle fire. The gunners were moving hard with their guns on their shoulders and their assistants following behind laden with belts of ammunition and spare barrels. Squads started breaking off from the section and one headed towards our position. A machine gun squad consisted of two machine guns with two Marines per gun plus a squad leader. In this case all of these Marines were lance corporals in true Marine Corps fashion. “Marines coming in!” announced the machine gunners one after another as they entered our building. Soon a burst raced out from the floor below us. “GUN ONE UP!” Another burst. “GUN TWO UP!”. With that the 7.5mm general purpose machine guns began their dance of death. One gun would fire a burst of 6 rounds, and then the other gun would take over. This way, it was a constant stream of fire without eating up all their ammo. While one team was loading. The other was firing. While one was changing barrels, the other was putting rounds down range. The GPMGs weren’t suppressed like our rifles, so it was quite the racket. But the noise was gas sometimes! Sometimes I think I should’ve chosen 0331 but then I see their platoon sergeant make them do gun drills all day and I think better of it. One bad decision is enough thank you very much. We watched their tracers speed towards the Kats that had fancied themselves brave and were setting up on the rubble. The guns caught a few in the open with the opening bursts and the rest dove for cover. We followed suit and began picking off those we could while the machine guns kept them suppressed. At this range Singh got most of the good hits but every now and then the rest of us would catch one. First and Second Platoons started moving now. Along with them were battered looking civilians, constables, and planetary guardsmen. The Marines surrounded them as they moved down the street. Some of them were carrying their wounded. Others were carrying their dead. I had to give it to those “parental guidances”. They didn’t have our training or equipment (some of these guys had M89A1s!), but this was their home. And they weren’t leaving it without a fight. Aside from the Marines the procession was quite the clusterfuck. Wounded constables and guardsmen hobbling along. Families holding their children and whatever possessions they were able to grab. And these are only the people that made it. The crowd finally got to us and the Marines started reinforcing positions or securing the civilians while the Corpsmen got to work on the wounded. The mortarmen finally got to work and started shelling the government house with their 60mm tubes so the Kats couldn’t use it. No doubt they had their guns preset and were just waiting for everyone to get clear. “LANCE CORPORAL O’HARE!” called a voice from street level. “Better go” sighed Blucher. Fuck me. I stood up and quickly made my way down and out of our house. I was greeted by the sight of our CO, Captain DuBois, and a very confused looking tactical communications specialist. And the sound of the engineers blowing down trees and buildings with det cord. “Kill sir” I said trotting up to him. “Excellent, would you please assist Lance Corporal Ali with getting comms back up” said the French officer. “On it sir” I answered trying not to sound like a cunt about. Ali was fiddling with his bracer when I took a knee next to him. “I don’t know what happened! It just dropped data all of a sudden!” he said. I grabbed his arm and turned it so I could look at his screen. “Rinne tù margairlì crànach de” I whistled looking at the absolute hell of a readout. “What?” Ali asked. I sighed and started punching through the options, “Did you load the encryption keys before you loaded the frequencies?” “…no” he admitted. “You have to! If not, sometimes the data won’t take, and it’ll just drop after a few hours”. “Why does it work like that?” “How the feck should I know? It just does! Look, do you have backups?” “No” “Jesus wept”, fucking headquarters nerds. I pulled a cable out from my own bracer and plugged it into his. I was sure to upload the encryption keys first and show him what I did. “Grand, now get comm checks”. You’re lucky I like redundancies fecker. The captain laughed the kind of laugh officers do whenever they want to feel heroic. “Corporal Blucher!” The Prussian’s helmet poked out over the edge of the roof, “Yes sir?” “You are no longer allowed to have O’Hare to yourself! She will be my personal TCS from now on!” “Aye sir” Blucher said dejectedly, there was a reparations joke in there somewhere. Fucking hell, I hate being dependable. I can deal with the kraut and the yank but if I have to follow some frog shiny around all day I’ll go mental! I took a look around the area that Charlie company had occupied. The CO was talking to the Mattis and trying to look like he knew what he was doing. The XO was pretending like he mattered. And First Sergeant was yelling at the mortarmen. In that regard everything is exactly as it’s supposed to be. Then my mood changed. There were families comforting their children. People were looking at what was left of their lives in their hands. They had it good here and a solid future for their kids and now they would be refugees until they found somewhere else. I saw Doc Stevens and some other corpsmen triaging the wounded. There were kids among them. Their bodies were scarred by plasma burns. The Kats didn’t have rules of engagement. If they weren’t going to take you as a hostage, they didn’t have use for you. And these are the ones that made it. “O’Hare if you’re done get the fuck back here!” “Rah Corporal!” [Continued in comments]
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