Robert Pearson sat, leaning back in his chair, one arm stretching forgotten across his desk. The television was on, and while his eyes lingered in its direction, he felt a million miles away.
“As preparations for the memorial service continue in Cedarford, many are still questioning the President’s response to the tragedy which claimed the lives of more than three thousand men, women and children.”
He held a pen in his right hand, turning it this way and that, clicking the tip in and out–remnants of a nervous habit he’d picked up when he quit smoking five years before. He’d started smoking again in May, but hadn’t given up the pen.
“This was an attack which struck at the very foundations of this great nation of ours,” some pundit was saying. “It was an attack at the heart of America and today, one year later, we’re no closer to eradicating the threat of global terrorism.”
The images on the screen changed and Robert saw two photos, faces he recognized instantly.
“The President is expected to honor Agents Jack Frost and Peter Driscoll of the FBI, the brave men who gave their lives during the raid of the Al Qaeda hideout in Cedar Mills.”
Robert swallowed the lump in his throat.
“I don’t know why we’re honoring these people. They failed. They’re job–”
“What a bunch of BS. This terrorist cell wasn’t planning to detonate a dirty bomb in New Hampshire. They were hours away from moving it to a major metropolitan area–and then we’re not talking about thousands dead. We’re talking tens of thousands, maybe even millions-”
Robert heard a knock. “Deputy Director?”
He turned his head and saw Daniel Price standing in his doorway. He hoped he kept the distaste off his face. Robert took up the remote control and muted the television.
“Mr. Price. It’s always a pleasure.”
The President’s gopher smiled, an expression that made him look stupid and devious at the same time.
“Sir, I’m here to deliver an updated itinerary.”
Sure, Robert thought. That’s all you’re here for. You came all the way over here to hand me a single sheet of paper. He reached out his hand and Price crossed the distance between them.
“What’s the good word, Mr. Price?”
Robert took off his glasses and dropped them on the desk. He was probably imagining it, but his new desk just didn’t sound right. Nothing about his new office in Boston was right.
“There’s nothing else?”
Price didn’t exactly look uncomfortable, but his expression was close enough to amuse the Deputy Director. Robert knew he’d ruined some of the man’s fun, knew Price would have pulled the same routine as always: get half-way out the door, then turn around with an “oh yeah…”
“The President wanted me to let you know…after the election he intends to bring in the EU and China.”
Robert raised his eyebrows and leaned back in his chair again. He suddenly felt very old and very tired, but forced a smile in response. “I see.”
“We couldn’t keep them out of it forever,” Price said.
“No. We couldn’t.”
“He’ll also be creating a new task force, new administration.”
“That’s probably wise.”
Price shifted on his feet. Robert could almost taste the man’s frustration. The very first time he’d met him, Robert recognized Price for what he was: a weasel, attracted to power for the worst reasons. He liked his job because it gave him a front row seat to watch the powerful as they shit on the powerless.
Robert wasn’t reacting, wasn’t getting angry, and it was throwing the little bastard off his game.
“Well,” Price said. “I should be going.”
“Take care. Get some sleep. No need for us all to be burning the midnight oil.”
The weasel frowned and fidgeted with the seam of his pant leg as he stood. At last, and with what looked like a flash of anger, he turned and walked–stalked–out of the room.
Robert turned back to the television, not bothering to bring back the sound.
They were showing photos of the victims again.
“Only the pretty ones, though,” his wife had said during the first circus. Her cynicism had stung him then, but a year had convinced him she was right.
He saw the blond blogger’s face, Samantha Devlin. He thought it was a little funny that none of the media outlets ever called her a journalist, she was only ever a blogger, or sometimes a paranormal investigator. Never one of their own.
Susan Holterman was next, in a photo with her father. Sheriff William Holterman. The sheriff hadn’t perished in the attack, but had died as a result of injuries sustained while pursuing the suspects.
At least, that’s the story everyone was telling.
It was a good story, too. Robert had written most of it.
His eyes found Susan’s. Both sets were blue, but his were two shades paler, while Susan’s eyes were electric, piercing. The kind that could freeze or burn depending on how she held you with them.
Only sixteen. Robert figured her father had spent more than one night awake and worrying about teenaged boys.
The camera cut to a press conference from earlier in the year. Mary Holterman, Susan’s mother, stood next to the President of the United States. She wore a black dress, hat, and veil, but of course the latter was pulled back so all the world could see her running mascara.
She was another one Robert had sized up quickly, and one of the worst human beings he’d ever encountered–murderers included. Mary Holterman had done the talk show circuit three times over, published two books, and had loved every single minute of the last year.
He picked up the remote, about to shut off the television, when he saw the photos of his agents again. Robert froze, the remote forgotten in his hand like the pen he still held in the other.
He stared, swallowed again, and asked the same question he’d asked himself every day since it had happened.
“Where the fuck did you go?”
Home was a too-quiet house, with too much space, in too nice a neighborhood for a single man.
The word stung him like a slap every time it crossed his mind.
Robert locked the front door and dropped his mail on the table in the hall. The growing pile of envelopes and fliers shifted when the latest batch hit, threatening to spill onto the floor.
“I’m home,” he said to the empty silence.
He passed the jacket he’d forgotten that morning and walked straight to the kitchen for a beer. The clock on the stove glowed brightly. One in the morning. One on the nose. The only other light came from the blinking answering machine, an anachronism he absolutely refused to replace with voice mail.
There’d be one message. Maybe two. Maybe four. All from Joan asking about the goddamned papers again. He made a promise to himself to sign them before he went to bed, just to shut her up once and for all.
“Easy, Pearson,” he said when he opened the door to the fridge and took out an amber bottle.
It’s not her fault, he thought. Don’t get angry with her.
“I’ve been reassigned to Boston,” he’d said a year before. “I’ve been appointed to head the investigation into the Cedar Mills incident.”
Then the fight had started, another fight to the mat. They’d had so many over the years. Fewer than some, but they’d had them. He hadn’t expected that one to be their last fight as a couple, though. The end came swifter than he’d ever seen coming.
He shrugged off the memory and popped the bottle’s cap using the edge of the counter. Robert did that a lot lately, mostly because Joan had forbidden it when they lived together. He took a sip and stood alone in the dark.
The next day was going to be busy. The anniversary of the attack. One year after a group of terrorists, threatened by an FBI raid, had set off a dirty bomb and killed everyone and everything within a mile of Cedar Mills.
Lies didn’t bother him. Robert had been the Bureau too long, and risen too high, to lose any sleep over the ones he told.
But they say every lie conceals a truth. And what haunted him, what he thought might be driving him completely crazy, was that this time he didn’t know what truth he was hiding.
None of them did.
Written by Jeff Clough, Maynedon is an ongoing story, a dark serial with elements of urban fantasy and horror. New episodes are published every Monday before noon, Eastern Standard Time. Please let me know if you enjoy it.