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Condor in the stacks, p.5
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       Condor in the Stacks, p.5

           James Grady
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  Run, catch that elevator, roll in with the tub. A man and a woman ride with you. He’s a gaudy green St. Patrick’s Day tie. She looks tired. Neither of them cares about you, about what happens in your crotch if the elevator somehow sparks static electricity.

  Next floor plan in the iPhone.

  Stacks, row after row of wooden shelves and burnable books and there, under a bookshelf, another cell phone wired goo ball. Rubber bands bind this apparatus to a clear plastic water bottle full of a gray gel that a bomb will burst into a fireball.

  Lay the bottle of napalm atop the cell phones in the wheeled tub.

  Your underpants are full.

  Cinch the rubber bands from that bomb around the ankles of your pants. Feed a snake of C4 down alongside your naked leg in the black jeans.

  Roll on oh so slowly.

  Hours, it takes him hours, slowed more by every load of C4 he stuffs in his pants, inside his blue shirt, in the sleeves of his black leather jacket.

  Hours, he rolls through the Jefferson building for hours following iPhone maps made by an obsessed fanatic. Rolls past tours of ordinary citizens, past men and women with lanyard I.D. Rumbles down office corridors, through the main reading room with its gilded dome ceiling, until the final red X on the last swooped-to page of the iPhone’s uploaded maps represents only another pulled apart bomb.

  In an office corridor, a door: mens room.

  Cradle all the napalm water bottles in your arms.

  The restroom is bright and mirrored, a storm of lemon ammonia.

  And empty.

  Lay screwed open water bottles in the sink so they gluck gluck down that drain.

  One bottle won’t fit. Shuffle it into the silver metal stall.

  Can’t stop, exhausted, drained, slide down that stall wall, slump to sitting on the floor, hugging the toilet like some two beers too many teenager.

  The C4 padding his body makes it hard to move, but he drains the last non-recyclable water bottle into the toilet. That silver handle pushes down with a whoosh.

  The world does not explode.

  He crawled out of the stall. Made sure the water bottles in the sink were empty. Left them there. Left the tub of cellphones and wires in the hall for janitors to puzzle over. Dumped Jeremy’s laptop in a litter barrel. Waddled to an elevator, a hall, down corridors and down the tunnel slope to the Adams building toward his own office.

  Kept going.

  Up, main floor, the blonde went this way, there’s the door to the street, you can—

  Man’s voice behind Condor yells: “You!”

  The blue pinstripe suit DOSP. Who blinks. Leans back from the smell of sweat and some kind of nuts, back from the haggard wild-eyed man in the black leather jacket.

  “Are you quite all right, Mister … Vin?”

  “Does that matter?” says this pitiful excuse for a government employee foisted on the DOSP by another agency.

  Who then unzips his black leather jacket, fumbles inside it, pulls out—

  A fountain pen Vin hands to the DOSP, saying: “’Guess I’m a sword guy.”

  Vin waddled away from his stricken silent LOC boss.

  Stepped out into twilight town.

  They’ll never let you get away with this.

  Capital Hill sidewalk. Suit and ties with briefcases and work-stuffed backpacks, kids on scooters. That woman’s walking a dog. The cool air promises spring. An umbrella of night cups the marble city. Some guy outside a bar over on Pennsylvania Avenue sings Danny Boy. Budding trees along the curb make a canopy against the streetlights’ shine and just keep going, one foot in front of the other.

  Go slow so nothing shakes out of your clothes.

  Talking heads blather from an unseen TV, insist this, know that, sell whatever.

  Waves of light dance on that three story high townhouse alley wall. Music in the air from the alley courtyard’s flowing light. Laughter.

  Barbecue and green beer inspired the St. Paddy’s Day party thrown by the not-yet-thirty men and women in that group house. They did their due diligence, reassured their neighbors, come on over, we’re getting a couple of kegs, buckets of ice for Cokes and white wine, craft or foreign beers for palates that had become pickier since college. There was a table for munchies. Texted invites blasted out at 4:20 before “everybody” headed out to the holiday bars after work. Zack rigged his laptop and speakers, played DJ so any woman who wanted a song had to talk to him and his wingman who was a whiz at voter precinct analyses but could never read a curl of lipstick.

  Bodies packed the alley.

  Everybody worked their look, the cool stance, the way to turn your face to scan the crowd, the right smile. Lots of cheap suits and work ensembles, khakis and sports jackets, jeans that fit better than Condor’s bulging pants. Cyber screens glow in the crowd like the stars of a universe centered by whoever holds the cellphone. Hormones and testosterone amidst smoke from the two troughs made from a fifty-gallon drum sliced lengthwise by a long gone tenant of yore. Those two barbecue barrels started out the evening filled by charcoal briquettes and a Whump! of lighter fluid. By the time Condor’d eased his way to the center of the churning crowd, a couple guys from a townhouse up the street had tossed firewood onto the coals so flames leapt high and danced shadows on the alley courtyard’s walls. The crowd surged as Zack turned up the volume on a headbanger song from the wild daze of their parents.

  Who were Condor’s age.

  Or younger.

  Hate that song, he thought.

  He reached the inner edge of the crowd who amidst the flickering light tried not to see the getting there debts pressing down on them or the pollution from the barrel fires trapping tomorrow’s sun. They’d made it here to this city, this place, this idea. They worked for the hero who’d brought them to town, for Congress of course that would matter, so would the group/the project/the committee/the caucus/the association/the website they staffed, the Administration circus ring that let them parade lions or tigers or bears, oh my, the downtown for dollars firm that pulled levers, the Agency or Department they powered with their sweat and so they could, they should sweat here, now, in the flickering fire light of an alley courtyard. Swaying. Looking. Hoping for a connection—heart, mind, flesh, community: get what you can, if nothing else a contact, a move toward more. The music surged. An American beat they all knew pulsed this crowd who were white and black, Hispanic and Asian, men and women and maybe more, who came from purple mountains’ majesty and fruited plains to claim the capital city for this dream or that, to punch a ticket for their career, to get something done or get a deal, to do or to be—that is this city’s true question and they, oh they, they were the answer now.

  Near the burning barrels, a dozen couples jumped and jived to their generation’s music blaring out of the speakers. Glowing cellphones and green dotted the crowd—bowlers, top hats. Over there was a woman in green foil boa. That woman blew a noisemaker as she shuffled and danced solo—not alone, no, she was not alone, don’t anyone dare think that she was alone. She saw him, a guy old enough to be her father, all battered face lost in space, heard herself yell the question you always ask in Washington: “What do you do?”

  He felt the heat of the flames.

  “Hey old guy!” yelled Zack, DJ earphones cupped around his neck like the hands of a strangler. “This one’s for you. My dad loves it.”

  Zack keyboarded a YouTubed live concert, Bruce Springsteen blasting Badlands.

  Cranked up the volume as elsewhere in this empire city night, silver lip looped Kim shyly thanked a man with a mustache for being the knight by her side, for dinner, for sure, coffee at work tomorrow morning, for however much more they might have.

  But in that alley, in that pounding drums and crashing guitars night, lovers like that became just part of the intensity of it all, like individual books in the library stacks of stories stretching into our savage forever.

  Call him Vin. Call him Condor.

  His arms shot
toward the heaven in that black smoked night and he shuffled to the music’s blare, arms waving, feet sliding into the dancing crowd.

  A roar seized the revelers. A roar that pulled other arms toward heaven, a roar that became the whole crowd bopping with the beat, the hard driving invisible anthem.

  “Go old guy!” shouts someone.

  A silver-haired frenzy in black leather and jeans rocks through the younger crowd to the burning barrels, to the fire itself, reaches inside his jacket, throws something into those flames, something that lands with a shower of sparks and a sizzle and crackles and on, on he dances, pulling more of that magic fuel out of his jacket, out of its sleeves, out his—Oh My God! He’s pulling stuff out of his pants and throwing it on the fire! Every throw makes him lighter, wilder, then he’s dancing hands free in the air, stomping feet with the crowd bouncing around him. “Old guy! Old guy!” Cop cruisers cut the night with red and blue spinning lights. The crowd throbs. “Old guy! Old Guy!” Burning almonds and fireplace wood, barbecue and come hither perfume, a reckless whiff of rebel herb that will become legal and corporate by the decade’s end. “Old guy! Old Guy!” There are bodies in a basement, mysteries to be found, questions clean of his fingerprints, books to be treasured. There are lovers sharing moments, dreamers dancing in the night, madmen in our marble city, and amidst those who are not his children, through the fog of his crazy, the swirl of his ghosts, the weight of his locked-up years, surging in Condor is the certainty that this oh this, this is the real world.

  Ghosts In Our Eyes

  I am grateful to be haunted by the authors who swirled through this story: L. Frank Baum, Harlan Ellison, William Faulkner, Ian Fleming, Theodore Seuss Geisel, Adam Hall, Dashiell Hammett, Lao-Tzu, Harper Lee, John le Carre, Philip MacDonald, Anais Nin, Li Po, Harold Robbins, Bruce Springsteen, John Steinbeck, Dariel Telfer, Kurt Vonnegut, Donald E. Westlake (aka Alan Marshall), E.B. White.

  About the Author

  James Grady (b. 1949) is the author of screenplays, articles, and over a dozen critically acclaimed thrillers. Born in Shelby, Montana, Grady worked a variety of odd jobs, from hay bucker to gravedigger, before graduating from the University of Montana with a degree in journalism. In 1973, after years of acquiring rejection slips for short stories and poems, Grady sold his first novel: Six Days of the Condor, a sensational bestseller that was eventually adapted into a film starring Robert Redford.

  After moving to Washington, DC, Grady worked for a syndicated columnist, investigating everything from espionage to drug trafficking. He quit after four years to focus on his own writing, and has spent the last three decades composing thrillers and screenplays. His body of work has won him France’s Grand Prix du Roman Noir, Italy’s Raymond Chandler Award, and Japan’s Baka-Misu literary prize. Grady’s most recent novel is Mad Dogs (2006). He and his wife live in a suburb of Washington, DC.

  All rights reserved, including without limitation the right to reproduce this ebook or any portion thereof in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the publisher.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2015 by James Grady

  Cover design by Mauricio Díaz


  Published in 2016 by Road Integrated Media, Inc.

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  James Grady, Condor in the Stacks



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