(* No idea why but this is the most popular of the Dark Winter: The Great Divide, sample chapters. Anyway REPOST.*)
The Great Divide Game should have been cancelled! It was completely irresponsible on the part of the Universities to hold it during what we now know to be a pandemic. The tragedy of yesterday was compounded by the fact that it was a completely unnecessary one.
One made much worse by the presence of an unrestrained military presence that...
New York Times Opinion Editorial, tomorrow’s edition.
Major John Castle was quietly waiting in his tree. Standing on his bleeding foot, ignoring (or at least pretending to ignore) the pain and hoping the pressure would force a clot to form. There were only a few zombies left underneath him, snapping at him from time to time. Going nuts whenever new drops of his blood would drip down out of the tree on them.
Since he had a moment or two to mull things over. He did a quick review in his mind. Officially, he needed to report this but not yet. He’d have to call 911 just to try and cover his ass to the extent that he could.
He’d just seen the last of the horde vanishing over the hill, charging hell for leather at Spartan Stadium.
The first priority, the absolute, no shit, by-God first priority was getting Oksana Kerensky the hell out of there. Without her the project would be on life support. Right now, she was The Irreplaceable Man.
John thumbed down his contact list.
“Shocker,” Sergeant Major Cahn didn’t really answer a phone, so much as he challenged the world to defy the fact that he was Shocker. It hadn’t yet.
John knew he didn’t have to bother with preliminaries with Cahn. “Shocker, get the Package out of there now. You have inbound.”
“Acknowledged. Shocker, Out,” came the answer before the line was cut. John could assume that was one less thing he had to worry about, or at least there was literally no one better he could have on the job.
Next, call Garrison Wheaton. He sighed inwardly, knowing he was going to have to be careful about what he said there. Gary was going to ask a lot of awkward questions. Honest and forthright answers to those would not be in John’s best interests. Not with Wheaton taking careful note of them with a keen eye towards getting John ejected from his campus, and preferably his entire life.
On the other hand, it would look very bad indeed if he didn’t send Wheaton some kind of heads up. Professional courtesy and all that.
He thumbed down his contact list to dickweedgary and hit the dial button. After two rings, the voicemail answered informing the caller that President Wheaton was in a meeting and that the caller was invited to leave a message, so on and so forth.
Two rings. Which of course meant that that little shit had looked at John’s name before routing the call the voicemail. Dickweed.
Fine. He’d done his job.
“President Wheaton, this is Major Castle, Commanding Officer of Security Forces for Special MAGTF 192. Call me immediately. Repeat, immediately! There has been a major security breach. Your lives are in clear and imminent danger. Castle out”
Asscoverex operations completed. At least so far as that was possible while stuck in a tree.
Now for emergency services. His thumb stabbed 9-1-1. And then his thumb paused above call button. You called 911 to report burglaries, break-ins, shots fired. Not to mention the odd heart attack or house fire. But what the hell did they know about a zombie attack? Not to mention a huge zombie attack. Those operators were hard workers but they had checklists they had to go through and what John was going to report was nowhere on anyone’s check list. This was up there with Martian Invasion.
How much time was going to be wasted on the other end trying to figure out who to kick this to?
John cleared 911, opened his contact list and thumbed down to an icon of a beautiful and well curved latina bending slightly over, just enough to bring her curves to sharper prominence and making a kissy face at the camera. He smiled slightly before he dialed.
A blurry non-robotic, sleep deprived voice answered.
“Chelle, it’s me”
The voice brightened instantly.
Not now, John told his flutterly heart. Barefoot in a tree, zombies snapping at your heels, you’ve just killed four used-to-be-humans. And a girl’s voice on the phone is giving Mister Happy some pretty unrealistic ideas. You are in your mid-thirties. Back. On. The. Clock. “Look, this an official phone call. If you aren’t on duty, you’ll need to put your State Trooper hat on. Are you on duty?”
The answer to that took longer than John expected and confused him considerably, “Okay, I won’t ask why your duties took you there, but better you than me. Now listen, Chelle, there has been a break-out from the Treatment Station on campus. It’s a big one. Maybe the entire population. I have no idea how, but they have formed a big troop something over company strength and they are headed for Spartan Stadium!”
There was pause on the other end.
And then a few frantic words were spoken quietly.
John whispered in reply, “oh...my god!.”
Terry Jackson’s F-150 finally shit the bed in Spartan Stadium’s parking lot. He jumped out and pelted hard. Jackson wasn’t sure why he had done what he’d done. Maybe he was looking for someplace that felt safe. Maybe he was just running to someplace that he knew inside out. Maybe he wanted to go home one last time. The place he had always felt the more secure to him than anyplace else in the world. The massive building that looked like a fortress from the outside.
He was panting hard, his breath chugging out of his mouth like a steam engine in the cold. He could hear the slap of hands and feet on concrete as he ran. He fought an instinct to look back. He was sure he would be safe in a moment. Just twenty more yards and he would be through an imposing archway marked FIELD ENTRANCE in Spartan Green.
Half time was coming up. The doors were tragically wide open.
Terry Jackson wasn’t the only one who was thinking that way. There were plenty of people milling around the entrance. U of M’s band was doing the courtesy show this year. All of them tried to get through the Field Entrance at once.
The barest patina of frost had cascaded across the fine chiseled features of Charlotte Castle’s face at the sight of Chelle Vasquez. And it vanished like ground frost at sunrise, as she smiled with professional warmth at her visitors. “Oh, please do come in,” her lilting contralto voice carried the effortless graciousness of countless generations of Carolina women.
Charlotte Castle had been a career military wife for most of her life. She was a belle whose parents had been career Marines. Charlotte had been born to it. The progression of her life from birth to Chatham Hall to her post graduate year attending balls at Annapolis, had been an uninterrupted flow uphill.
Being the wife of a University (acting) President was really just a lateral career move for her. No real change in job skills required. Make sure the women above you know your face. Make certain the women beneath you know their place. Be friends with everyone, unless you shouldn’t be. She had been bred to her business.
It bothered Charlotte, from a semi-professional standpoint, that she had just shown the slut with the huge tits her real face. Even for a moment. It wasn’t done; it lacked acumen, it lacked precision. Possibly Charlotte could play it off as closet racism. That was slightly preferable and was slightly true.
“Please, come in! Por favor venga!” She said brightly, over rolling the Rrs like any proper liberal should. It was only slightly condescending.
“Gracias, Señora Castle,” the fat one replied with a spanish accent even more overdone than her own.
“Gracias,” Charlotte was silently pleased that the Vasquez girl’s eyes had dropped just a little.
Charlotte directed them to a home office directly adjacent to the front door. She wasn’t fond of it being a home office. Clearly, it was meant to be a parlor. Charlotte approved of the concept of parlors. A semi-public room that invited the world into your home while keeping it locked out, for the most part.
The odious little fat one with the greasy, bad skin plopped himself down into one of the chairs without invitation. At least the woman had the sense to wait until invited.
Charlotte considered, then took her husband-to-be’s Big Important Chair.
“Oh, por favor que nos sentaran,” Charlotte waived Vasquez to another seat.
Charlotte toyed with the idea of conducting the entire meeting in Spanish but decided that the little toad would have trouble keeping up.
“My dear Corporal (as was),” she said with a smile, “Vasquez. I was only expecting to see Mister Medina...”
“Gregory, please,” Gregory was trying to both be friendly and call attention back to himself.
“..but not you, This is a delight” Charlotte ignored the interruption, staying focused on Vasquez.
“I hope the boys are well, Madame,” Chelle said neutrally.
“Oh, yes. They are at game today in Garrison’s VIP box. Quite a treat for them,” Gary had wanted them no where near him on game day. Charlotte knew that of course. The Great Divide Game was far too important a time for him to do some major shmoozing. Which was why she had never suggested it to him. She played on his insecurities regarding her ex-husband, and then let him open that door as a way to upstage John. She needed an empty house for this meeting.
“I’m sure,” the Vasquez girl said..
“Yes,” she replied, then she turned her attention on Gregory. “How may I help you, Gregory?”
“Um,” he was a little flustered, “I was expecting to see President Wheaton.”
“Yes, I’m sure you were,” Charlotte said with a smile that was only slightly toothy. “And I’m sure you understand he would like to have just a little daylight between himself and the Attorney General.” Charlotte smiled again. “Garrison and I are partners. And I expect you to treat me as such,” the frost descended again, but it was deliberate this time.
“Oh, oh, of course,” Greggory babbled leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. “You see, Gina...Ms Kent. Would like you to know...or rather like your partner to know... Or rather both you and your partner to know that...”
While the little toad droned on about things that Charlotte was already perfectly aware of, she turned her attention back to Vasquez.
Charlotte had been aware of Vasquez back when the Cubano girl was assigned to her husband’s company in Afghanistan. She took her husband to lunch once a week on Fridays. The timing would also let her avoid seeing Dickie, whom she knew would be doing barrack’s inspection on Friday mornings. It was, in part, a little relationship maintenance. It was also a little getting to meet his junior officers and let them pay fawning attention to her. Good politics on both sides. She would make a few CO’s wife’s hellos and how are you doings? Sympathize with those whose problems she could do nothing about and occasionally taking note of those with the odd problem she could genuinely attend to. It was where Charlotte had first met Vasquez.
When Vasquez’s father had died while the unit was deployed, Charlotte attended the old Master Sergeant’s funeral with her in person. Sent flowers and signed the register. Stayed next to the girl during the service. She had even driven Vasquez back to the airport when her bereavement leave was over and she had to go back to Afghanistan. Little things like that helped her husband’s reputation within the Marine Corps. They were both well thought of, for it. She didn’t even have to advertise it all that much.
When Alpha company rotated back, a few Marines who either couldn’t get home or in the case of Vasquez, no longer had a home to go to, were invited over for Thanksgiving dinner.
It was expected of her. And besides, with company present, Dickie’s presence was, for a change, tolerable.
Dinner went well, naturally. Charlotte would not have permitted it to do otherwise. John carved the turkey at the head of the table, as he was supposed to. The Marines rough-housed with the boys, as they were supposed to. Football was watched, as it was supposed to.
Beer was provided, but wine was offered as well.
The Vasquez girl had stuck close to her. They were the only girls in the house and she seemed to be trying hard to impress Charlotte. Which Charlotte initially found somewhat charming. Everything the girl had worn had been a thrift store rescue, right down to the shoes. But in spite of that, it all worked together. Rather nicely, in fact. Chelle Vasquez actually had a nascent fashion sense and was doing it on a Corporal’s salary.
Charlotte had been favorably enough pleased that she had considered making an improvement project out of Vasquez. She needed a little refinement, but there was some material to work with. Charlotte could have some fun with it.
Then she had caught a momentary shared glance between Vasquez and John.
The next day she had informed her husband that if he didn’t get rid of Vasquez, he was going to be investigated for adultery.
John informed Charlotte stonily that, one; there was nothing going on between himself and Corporal Vasquez. So the investigation would make her look like an idiot. Two; he was not going to ruin a Marine’s career due the fact that his wife had decided she wanted to try being insane for a while. And, three; he would be sleeping on the couch for the next month.
Which he did.
Even after she had repeatedly invited him back to bed.
When Vasquez had finished her hitch and been discharged, that had indeed seemed to be the end of the matter. Charlotte had even been a little embarrassed over the incident, and embarrassment did not come naturally to Charlotte Castle.
Girls were attracted to her husband. She had been used to that for years. In truth, she was often amused by it. It was impossible for them not be. John commanded attention. Occasionally, if she caught a girl who didn’t know either of them ogling him, she would slide up to her and breathe, “Oh my, look at that.” The sultry nods and breathy murmurs of agreement tickled her vastly.
And she was certainly enough of a grown up not to snarl every time he looked at a woman. It was in his nature. John Castle was a man among men. Really, a man among boys given the state of the world.
Charlotte was unusually capable at self-analysis. One of her hideous father’s more useful bequests to her. She wrote off the incident as an over-reaction of a woman who was now in her thirties being leery of a woman in her twenties.
That was the end of matter, so far as she we concerned.
Then her private detective reported John’s lunch with the girl.
Charlotte had been listening with only half an ear to the little toad’s croakings. Gary was making mistakes in his political alliances. Gina Kent might go far, but she needed to prove she would remember her friends. Or more exactly, her friends’ debts. There was little point in doing favors for someone who wouldn’t return them. Sending this Medina flunky to her as a go between was slightly...well, not insulting, really, just inartful. It wasn’t appreciated.
All of which was secondary to the fact that Garrison was making a spectacular mistake by going behind her mother’s back. I suppose he felt he didn’t have anything to lose with her anyway, Charlotte thought. He was wrong. Angering her mother was one thing. Making an active enemy out of General Darlene Sertorio was a terrifying threat that Gary wasn’t remotely taking seriously enough.
Why is Vasquez here? Charlotte asked herself. It can’t be anything subtle. This young fool is all about feelings, not logic. Did he bring her here as challenge to me? He didn’t know he’d be seeing me. What is this about? Charlotte decided to try something that was fundamentally against her nature.
“Chelle, why are you here?” She asked with frank coldness.
“I’m honestly just along for the ride, Senora,” Chelle was getting tired of the act herself.
She glanced suggestively towards Medina. “So both him and my husband?” Charlotte teased with just a touch of venom.
“He’s not your husband anymore,” Chelle blurted. Then, Damn it, I’m way too damn tired, Chelle raged to herself. “I’m not seeing him in anything but a professional capacity.”
The glistening Gregory creature was suddenly even more sweaty, “Uh, is there a problem? Is there something I can do to help?”
Okay that answers that. Charlotte decided. Clearly, Chelle was going to play it cute with her. Gregory Medina on the other hand was fundamentally incapable of cuteness of any kind.
“She and I have a history, Gregory. Why on Earth did you bring her? Was it to insult me to my face?”
He didn’t quite gnaw his own leg off panicking. But, “Nonono. You see Mrs... Mam...Senora! Detective Vasquez and I are working on a case, you see. She really is just along for ride. She’s actually my driver because I don’t drive. I’m watching my carbon footprint, so I prefer to take public transportation, or bicycling, or...”
Charlotte was barely able contain her laughter. Biking? You? Your idea of watching your Carbon footprint is getting your friends to drive you everywhere. The accent that you have been poorly covering up is from Washington Heights, Manhattan. You don’t drive because you’ve never learned how.
“What case are you working together?” Charlotte had a very good idea but she couldn’t quite believe that that was a priority given the state of the world.
“It has to do with Sergeant Major Cahn but we really can’t...”
“Have your dog wait in the car,” Charlotte interrupted coldly.
Gregory blinked and looked quickly back and forth. If a man had said that to Chelle, well that wouldn’t be allowed. He would definitely stand up for her if that had been a man but...but what was he...?
“It’s all right, Gregory,” Chelle said kindly to him as she rose. “I will not stand in another woman’s house while she insults me to my face.” She walked with quiet dignity to the door, “It truly embarrasses me to say I once admired you, Ma’am.”
Charlotte nodded, pleased. She was expecting something along the lines of, “I find the term dog racially inflammatory etcetera, etcetera,” and pointless threats. Well, the girl had learned a little something from me after all. Good for her.
“Gregory,” Charlotte turned sharply on the sweating little man. “The deal Gina Kent is offering my husband-to-be is as dead as a doorknob.”
Gregory Medina’s face went white.
“It was an ill advised venture in the first place.”
“No. Wait. Please,” Gregory was close to begging. His world was collapsing around him. Gina had sent him on a very simple mission. And he had blown it completely by bringing that stupid, big-titted cop with him. Why had he wanted to impress her? When it was Gina that he truly loved.
“No, Gregory, it was a very bad idea. The security situation is clearly deteriorating and I would far rather have Marine fire power on hand than rely on Garrison’s campus police,” she stated starkly.
“Which brings us to you, Gregory,” Charlotte Castle said with a reptilian smile. “You will be reporting a fairly major failure. In fact, I was planning to phone Gina Kent, in a sobbing insulted rage, and tell her how you paraded my ex husband’s mistress in front of me when demanding political favors.”
Charlotte was utterly disgusted to see actual big fat tears roll down Medina’s face. A runt of the litter that should have been drowned at birth.
“However,” her tone of voice offered a sliver of hope. “Maybe I’m developing a soft spot for you, Gregory.” She waited gauging his response
He wiped away the tears, suddenly looking hopeful.
“Maybe I will help you out, after all.”
He smiled his rubbery wet smile at her. Charlotte tamped down her personal revulsion. “But if you want my help. It’s kiss the ring time, Greggory.”
Charlotte Castle literally presented her hand for him to kiss. “I am your patrona now, Gregory. I will require your absolute loyalty.”
Whirring in the unreality of the moment, Gregory took her hand. She grabbed his pudgy, mushy fingers in her claw like grip and jerked downward. Gregory slipped off the chair and landed on his knees in front of her.
This is very...this isn’t right. She’s..., It’s wrong of her to demand this, Greggory wailed inside.
She lifted an eyebrow.
He kissed her hand.
“Very good, Gregory,” she said with distant warmth. “Please let me help you up.” She didn’t really help him as he stumbled to his feet.
“Gina Kent desires, for a number of reasons, the head of Sergeant Major Cahn. Correct?” Charlotte wasn’t really asking. That was how everything had added up.
Gregory’s head bobbed.
“You shall now present it to her, either with a ribbon around it or without. Your choice,” Charlotte smiled.
Gregory smiled cautiously, “I’m waiting...Patrona.”
“If he lied about his assets, that would be enough to get his bail rescinded and land him back in jail, correct?” Charlotte asked. “Even if the rape charge evaporates, he can be hit with perjury.”
“Well yes,” Gregory said peevishly, “I already know he’s lying about that, but I would have to prove it. That’s the problem.”
“I am willing to sign an affidavit, swearing that Sergeant Major Cahn sold the farm that my ex-husband now lives on. Market value approximately four hundred thousand dollars, for the princely sum of one dollar.”
“What?” Greggory breathed, his pupils going wide.
“It’s quite true,” Charlotte said. “In fact I can help you trace a lot of the money out of the Caymans. I assume that is where your road block is?” She asked in the sweetness of certainty.
“Oh my fucking God, yes,” Gregory was nearly bouncing up and down. “I’ve got him. I’ve really got him. That’s it! We can press for a lot of other things on the basis of that. Taxes if nothing else.”
“Language, Gregory,” Charlotte gently chided.
“Yes, yes, sorry Patrona. But holy shit yes!”
“Gregory, you probably have a few calls to go make,” Charlotte started shuttling him towards the door.
“Oh man, I sure do, gracias, Patrona!” He wiggled his eyebrows up and down at her and to her annoyance grabbed her hand and kissed it again.
“Very Good, Gregory,” she said jerking her hand back. “You may go now.”
It took a few more seconds of his bobbing up and down to get him out the door.
Chelle was outside leaning against her car. In considerable self disgust, she fished a pack of Winston’s out of her purse. She was young. There was time to quit again when the world wasn’t exploding. And if it didn’t stop exploding, what did it matter?
She had the tip of the cancer stick in her mouth and was just about to light it when her phone buzzed. She jumped enough that she lost her cigarette. Annoyed she snatched her phone off her belt and then her heart melted at the picture of the caller.
“Chelle, it’s me”
“Hey, you,” Chelle answered in a low voice with an exhausted happy smile.
“Look this an official phone call. If you aren’t on duty you’ll need to put your State Trooper hat on. Are you on duty?”
Chelle was very annoyed at that. That was not what she wanted to hear from her almost boyfriend right now. Lock it down WM. Make the shit happen. “Yes, I am...kind of. I’m at your ex-harpy’s house, at the moment. What do you need Major?”
“Okay, I won’t ask why your duties took you there but better you than me. Now listen, Chelle, there has been a break out from the Treatment Station on campus. It’s a big one. Maybe the entire population. I have no idea how but they have formed a big troop, something over company strength and they are headed for Spartan Stadium!”
Blood drained from Chelle’s face. A cold that had nothing to do with the air washed over her from head to foot. There were about a dozen calls she had to make immediately. “On it! No wait! Oh shit, John! The boys. Your boys are at Spartan Stadium!”
Garrison Wheaton, acting President of Michigan State University, was in his element and loving it.
The University President’s VIP box overlooking the endzone of Spartan Stadium was a major job perk. Not that he spent a lot of time in it during a game. Not unless he needed some alone time with a potential donor or needed to shore up one that had been getting less generous than in previous years. Today, however, he was using it as a dumping ground for his fascist step-kids.
Gary far preferred working the room at the Huntington Club. This was the only way to enjoy college football so far as Wheaton was concerned. The lounge looked for the all the world like the lobby of a Hilton. The music was gently unobtrusive, the lighting was kept soft and comfortable. The seats were well padded with fine, dark leather.
The roar of the crowd was pleasingly deafened and the frigid November cold kept happily at bay. The fans at this rarefied altitude weren’t as loud or as boisterous as the groundlings below. Although a few of liked to pretend that they were. Gary sighed a little and his smile drooped a bit. He was going to have to drop by Bill Vanderjagt’s suite in a few. Which would be cold and ridiculous. The man had a private box, why the hell did he open the windows in the November, strip to the waist and paint himself Green and White? Good Lord, the man is a billionaire. Just wear an expensive team jacket like sane people and quit pretending you love game as much poor people.
Gary circled the room, remembering to smile hugely and be on the lookout for people that were scowling at him covertly. Nobody up here was unimportant. If they didn’t like him, he needed to change that.
He stopped scanning long enough to treat himself to the pleasure of drinking in his newly acquired domain. Feeling expansive in his own self pleasure, he was willing to grant that it wasn’t truly perfect. He wished something could be done about the color scheme, for example. The decor, sadly, was just a bit stark. It had to be. Michigan State’s Green and White livery, naturally, had to predominate. But there wasn’t a lot you could do with white as a base. It gave things a bare and well...spartan...appearance. A little too barracks room, a little too middle class drab for Gary’s personal taste. Also, there were large flat screens were everywhere. It gave the whole room an air of being little more than a well-to-do sports bar.
Which was exactly what it was.
That being the nice thing about the Huntington Club; it was the only place in the stadium that you could legally consume alcohol, at least until half time.
Gary was walking around the room with a big white smile on his face and a Heineken beer in his left hand. The label carefully positioned outward in case anyone snapped his picture. The university had a sponsorship deal with them, which Garrison valued, rather a lot. Although it was creating some moderate bad feelz amongst Michigan Breweries. If Short’s Brewery is ever in a position to cough up Heineken-sized donations, he would be happy to change his preferred public brand. He didn’t really care. When the day was over, he was going to treat himself a Lake Michigan Shores Riesling to try and wash the taste of beer out of his mouth.
Still, he couldn’t be bothered to care about any of that. It was all minor stuff compared to what he got out of this.
Which was the knowledge that he had made it, and he was damned if he wasn’t staying here. This was his territory, now. His domain. He was never giving it up again. He was on top, at the age of forty two. The youngest MSU president this century.
Yeah, there were quite a few others on the faculty that wanted his job, but the donors were everything. Today was going to go a long way towards sewing them up. Most of the sky box leases were held by them.
He was hoping Charlotte would get done with whatever bullshit the state AG wanted. He was glad she had stepped in to help with that. He needed to be here today.
Gary Wheaton wasn’t quite honest enough with himself to admit that he wouldn’t have gotten here without Charlotte. Wouldn’t have even seriously considered making a play for his new job when a brief window of opportunity was opened, without her gently guiding hand. In fact, he probably wouldn’t have noticed there was a window in the first place.
Woah, speak of the devil. Gary spotted someone who he wished was scowling at him. Instead he was smiling brightly. Doctor Simon Connell, Dean of the College of Natural Sciences. And the number one in-house competitor for Garrison’s job.
Much to Gary’s disgust, Nat Sci was a powerful enough college within the University to able to afford its own skybox. So far as Wheaton was concerned, this was like robbing Peter to pay Paul. Worse still, Connell’s skybox was sandwiched between those of a beloved elder statesman, retired MSU football coach, and the very bank that this club was named after.
Doctor Connell was smiling and laughing at something the banker said, while getting a friendly back slap from the ex-coach. Connell had been at MSU quite a bit longer than Gary and was well connected within the state of Michigan at large.
He was reliably rumored to have friends in the Big Three Families of Grand Rapids Three quarters of that dull Republican Stronghold was named after them and they weren’t notable donors to MSU...yet, preferring, instead, to spread their largesse on that ridiculous “University” just west of their fiefdom.
Connell wanted his job. The only reason he didn’t have it was that a big chunk of the faculty and most of the administration didn’t want to see someone like him seizing control of MSU.
If Connell got in, dear God, the man was going to gut the administration. Shut down half the social sciences studies department and drastically expand his own domain as well as medical, genetics and of all things agriculture. Michigan State University had come way too far in the world to go back to being Michigan Agricultural College.
“Simon!” Wheaton called out with as much enthusiasm as he could fake, as he walked toward the group. The ex-coach smiled vaguely. He wasn’t a fan of Gary’s, but wasn’t actively making trouble for him, either. Although everyone knew who he favored for Wheaton’s job. He honestly thought Gary was just a placeholder. The banker, on the other hand...
...Oh shit! Gary was panicking inside. He couldn’t remember the banker’s name. He knew they had been introduced and he couldn’t haul up the man’s name. He couldn’t ask for the man’s name again, it wasn’t done. Why wasn’t Charlotte here, yet? She never forgot anyone’s damn name or their wive’s names or pet’s names or their favorite drinks or birthdays or who had been sick in their family or if their kids... Kids!
Gary breathed an internal sigh of relief by the time he reached the cluster. The banker had brought his kid along. This was going to work out big time.
“Simon,” repeated with a smile that was glued in place.
“Wheaton,” came the deep voiced, naturally confident reply.
Not President Wheaton, Garrison noted sourly. But Wheaton. Like he was my equal.
Gary turned, “well, Coach, the Wolverines are giving us a run for our money this year. Wish you were still on the field.” It was a reasonably polite thing to say.
“Oh, I think our new boy is doing better as a coach than I ever did,” The Old Coach said in an ‘aw shucks,’ tone of voice. One that invited everyone nearby to contradict him and assure all and sundry that no, no, he was still the best coach the university had ever had.
There was just a moment or two of an embarrassed pause while everyone waited for everyone else to speak first. Then they all spoke at once. Saying that yes, indeed, he was the greatest coach in the history of MSU despite the fact that the “new boy” had blown his record completely out of the water. MSU was looking good for another Cotton Bowl bid, which would be the second one for the new coach. The old coach had never delivered a single major bowl.
“No question, it’s just not the same without you on the field.”
“You are what it’s all about really.”
“The program wouldn’t exist today, without you.”
The old man nodded in rich self-satisfaction...then slapped Connell on the back again before heading to the bar.
Wheaton looked after him, fighting to keep his professional smile on his face. His phone vibrated. Normally, he would have just ignored it. But in this case, Gary decided to start a conversation with Simon and then interrupt it in order to take this very important phone call. The life of University President is not his own you understand, Simon.
“So Simon, how goes Nat-Sci’s plans for the All University Open-House?”
“Actually...” Simon began brightly.
“Without the Kerensky’s, I mean,” Wheaton said with a malicious smile. The loss of Maxim Kerensky and his daughter to the Special Project had been a painful blow to the genetics wing of the Natural Science Department.
The banker looked a little lost at that.
“Well honestly, Gary,” Simon continued in a calm, confident, and not at all irritated by childish tactics tone of voice.
“Excuse me for juuust a second,” Gary smiled and pulled out his ringing cell phone. Then his face dropped when he saw it was from John Castle. He angrily stabbed the voicemail button.
“My spring drive to recruit grad students wasn’t dependent on Old Man Maxim. I’ve learned my lesson there,” he gave a wise and knowing wink at the banker. Who gave a sagacious half chuckle in reply. Even if he didn’t know what this was all about, he was happy to pretend that he was wise enough to understand.
“Frankly, Wheaton, I think you should turn off the electronic leash before you come to a game,” Connell chided brightly.
“Sorry, Simon but as the University President I have responsibilities that never leave me off the hook,” Gary sniffed importantly.
“Oh, I understand that,” Simon agreed, “But I also know the importance of budgeting my personal time, as well as delegating responsibilities.”
“Some of us don’t have that option,” Gary said trying to catch the banker’s eye and capture his valuable agreement..
“Oh nonsense, Wheaton, of course you do,” Simon smiled broadly. “For instance, my assistant monitors my calls during the game. If something comes up that truly needs my attention, I get a call from the bar.”
“A little old fashioned,” Gary said coldly.
“A lot to be said for not chucking out the tried and true in favor of the new and completely unproven,” he shifted his gaze to the banker, “Eh, Bill?”
“Definitely,” the older man half-sputtered clearly remembering some disaster by a young and overeager underling.
This was turning into a catastrophe. Gary was nearly frantic, but he had one last hand to play. Garrison Wheaton smiled at the Banker’s son, “So are you enjoying the game, Future Spartan?”
Please say, yes!
Please say, yes!
“Oh yeah, this great!”
“Levi is a huge fan!” The banker said proudly. Sure, he was a bank president, but if your son didn’t love football, what did you really have?
“Is that so, Levi?” Gary asked.
Levi nodded emphatically.
Time to play my hole card, Gary decided. “Who is your favorite player?”
There was probably no question about that one. Although it didn’t really matter all that much what the answer would be.
“Roy Scheer! He is unbelievable!” Levi was nearly bouncing up and down in excitement.
“No, question about that!” And there wasn’t. That fifth year Education Major was packing the stands like no one else had in twenty years. To say nothing of packing in the donors.
Gary knelt down and looked Levi In the eye. “Roy is actually a friend of mine,” which was stretching the truth quite a bit, but Scheer would do whatever Gary told him.. “How would you like to meet him after the game?”
Levi’s eyes went wide in shock and joy. He looked frantically back and forth between his father and Gary . His mouth an open ‘O,’ widely sucking in breath. Was this happening? Was this indeed and truly, honestly happening?
Finally, Levi remembered he needed to say some magic words. Something this good was usually not allowed in his world. “Dad, can I pleasepleaseplease? Can I please meet him?”
“Hmm,” the banker said in a teasing tone of voice that was actually leaving Gary almost as frantic as his son. “I think we can do that, yes.”
“YES!” The boy jumped up and down in ecstatic delight.
“Shh! Levi,” his father said sternly. “People are watching.”
“Sorry Dad, Sorry! Sorry!” Levi said in an ‘I’ll be good voice,’ but he was clearly barely holding it together.
Gary looked up at Doctor Connell with a genuine smile on his face.
There are somethings that are only within the power of Gary Wheaton to grant. Connell didn’t look happy. He had been successfully one-upped. Then he looked thoughtful. And then he smiled in turn, “aren’t your boys here today? Isn’t your youngest about Levi’s age?”
Brett Castle was only physically near Levi’s age. Mentally he was older than some of the grad students.
“You brought your boys today, didn’t you, Wheaton?” Simon had met Charlotte’s weird progeny before. Clearly, he was trying to maneuver Gary into locking this kid into a box with those monsters. Doubtless in the hope that young Levi would end up being dangled by his ankles out the skybox window.
“Really?” the banker said a little too brightly for Gary’s liking. He was a good father, but the idea of dumping his son for a bit and hitting the bar before the halftime ban came down had some real appeal.
How to lie my way out of this? Gary wondered desperately.
Then he stopped worrying about that, because he clearly had another much bigger problem to worry about.
Gerrold Herdsman, the head of Athletic Department at the University of Michigan was storming out of an elevator, his face beet red and eyes bloodshot and locked on Garrison Wheaton. Snot was pouring out of his nose in three-foot-long streams of mucus. It was dripping all over the big gold M on his tie tack.
Briefly, Wheaton was terrified that Gerrold had somehow gone zombie since he had last talked to him twenty minutes ago. Then Herdsman spoke and Gary was suddenly even more terrified, “Wheaton! What the fucking fuck is wrong with your pet fucking Marines?”
Before Gary could start disowning Castle and his clearly insane band of thugs, a cacophony of screams started to batter at the windows of the Huntington Club.
As if seventy-five thousand voice had suddenly cried out in terror...and indeed they had.
That solves several problems at once, Charlotte thought to herself. Discarding John in favor of Gary was a perfectly sensible thing to do at the time, Charlotte thought to herself. John was not going to be able to adjust to life at higher headquarters. Not given the current low trust environment pervading the military. He’s too old fashioned. He actually has to respect his superiors. He would have landed a battalion command with my very active help but he would undoubtedly shoot himself in the foot before he could make full bird. Charlotte nodded to herself as she went down to the basement. Let alone General. It was just out of the question. It wasn’t going to happen.
There was no point in sticking around for the inevitable theater of career failure that was coming John’s way. Not with my own looks starting to fade, Charlotte thought with brutal self honesty.
Charlotte shifted a box marked Xmas to the side and started dialing in the combination to a floor safe. She rooted about, pulling out a wads of cash and a .357 Smith & Wesson 686 snubby. Finally, she found a cell phone with ‘Boost’ inscribed on it.
She went up the stairs and out to her car.
Gregory won’t call the cops immediately. He will want to dance like a retarded monkey before his Gina Kent, in person. Then they will have to find a judge after that. Call it four to five hours before the warrant is issued. Gregory will undoubtedly call to keep me informed, Charlotte concluded as she drove into the Wesco Station.
Charlotte used a debit card to get the gas pumping while she fired up the cell phone.
A few snaps of her thumbs and the message was sent.
Dickie they are coming to you arrest you. It is happening for real this time. Get out now.
Charlotte then broke the cell phone in half and tossed the pieces in the trash before driving off.