In the den of lions
My first words to the man, "So what happened? Was he one of your guys?"
The chief looked at me, at all of three of us. He was amazed. I could feel it coming from him like a boy wearing an itchy sweater. There was no way he could believe what happened, and yet it did. Clearing his throat first, he then directed his comments toward Happy. "Doctor Peters, I have learned that our men have captured someone on the rooftop three buildings south of here. His capture came after our men had previously inspected the premises for signs of anyone. Having not found any person at the time of that inspection, the roof of the premise was vacated by our people in order to place them at more advantageous positions. When arriving on the rooftop, our men discovered a man with what appeared to be a hunting rifle. It had a large scope on it. The man has been disarmed and is being detained as we speak."
Now he turned toward me again. Then he held his hand up to silence me, and the others. As he listened to his com link, his face changed again. "The man struggled with our agents and during the struggle, he fell, hitting his head against something on the roof. I couldn't hear what it was. But now they're transporting him themselves to... Wait. Somewhere. The man is no longer breathing, they're not sure what happened when he fell."
We stood waiting for more information. We just waited. Then behind and across the street, us one of the black vans pulled out of the underground garage entrance and screamed out onto the roadway, then down toward the building. It was all surreal to me. I had done something that it would appear would have saved the life of the Vice President. On my first day, my first outing. And it surprised all those around me. Even my compatriots. And it had nothing to do with my ability with which I was scouted and recruited to be here.
Nevertheless, it felt good.
Our chief was just staring at me now. I think he had never experienced what it was that we did before. There was only that story about Squeaky with which Mac and the others rested upon as legend. Today, a new legend. And it wasn't even me. Anyone looking up at that time would have seen the glinting reflection.
Oh well, I wasn’t about to say anything now. The chief began again. "Alright, let's not get a big head about this. We still have a job to do. And we need to prepare for that. That's our focus now. And, and, Doc, you, what's your name?" I told him. "Thank you. I'm a bit in shock. This has been something we all dread. But thank you both."
And with that he walked back across the street and over to where the stanchions formed the barricade. Following him, the four of us stood by him a moment, then we moved up the steps to go stand by the entrance again. I believe that all of us were under the impression that now we were to be forgotten, that the duties of the upcoming public appearance were to take precedence and we would be once again, those oddballs that were just there.
Then as we watched, the regulars walked back from both up the street, and from down. They met with the chief, who animatedly was talking to them all. Turning toward us, they all trotted up the stairs. Trotted. As we stood there, they each came up and shook my hand, Most even shook the hands of Mac and Jake. They all congratulated me on catching a possible assassin.
Well that was unexpected.
The friendliness of the group, their acceptance of us now, was unexpected. I had hoped for a change one day. That was why I had talked to Todd about us. Now, well, things might proceed faster than anticipated. A good thing, I think. Five years had passed since the incidents with President Ford. This was a reminder as to why we were here, why they had to tolerate this group of outsiders to the inner sanctum of the men that protected America’s royal families. Without even trying, I had made my friends into heroes. They shared this achievement.
The rest of the morning went without incident. The VP arrived, we watched, scanned the crowds. The appearance, or whatever inside came and went. Leaving, was a repeat of the arrival, nothing. Flawless as Todd told us. We all got back into the towncars and drove back to the facility where we lived, and learned. Now I was pretty sure there would be even more discussion about this incident today. And I wasn’t quite sure what to say about what had happened. It had nothing to do with the gift.
I thought it odd that all of the towncars drove to the facility along with the one we were riding in. Ours was once again last in line, and we waited our turn to descend on the elevator. Once down in the underground garage, I was amazed at the fact that now the garage was full. Towncars, black vans, limos, and some cars I had never seen before were packed in all the spots. Our driver pulled up to the double doors and then he shut off the engine. We exited, and Happy opened the doors so we could walk into the classroom. It was filled with men. Most in black suits, some in the black clothes of the elite assassins. And there in the front, wearing a tan suit, Walter Mondale.
The VP then started to wave his arms around and yelled out. “Attention, attention everyone. They’re here.” And he walked through the crowd and came over to me. Grabbing my arm, he dragged me over to the front of the room.
“My God Dennis, you’ve once again proven to all of us why we have you all here. Tell me what went through your mind when you found the guy on the roof.”
Looking about me, I was a bit shocked that now I was the center of attention. All conversation had stopped. All eyes were focused on me. I was unsure what to say. I didn’t feel as though what they expected of me was worthy of attention. So I said the truth. “Um, well thanks. But I have got to pee.”
The room burst out in laughter. There was a rejoicing in my humanity, a distancing of myself from the object that they all wanted to believe I was, and seeing me as a human. I wasn’t a superhuman, I was a real human. I made my way through the crowd, which parted to allowed me to leave, to go relieve myself. I went outside the doors to the main area of our section of the facility, and went to the restroom just outside the classroom. There, I found solitude. Briefly. Others came in, Happy, Jake, and Todd as well. We all had been held together, in a function of gratitude from those waiting to bestow upon me, accolades.
“Shit Dennis, I never expected this to happen.” Happy said. Smiles. Ecstatic. He believed in what we did, this was conformation that what we did and why we were here doing what we did was important. He wasn’t wrong. Except about this latest event. No one could know that it had nothing to do with why we, our group, were here. It was nothing more than sunlight glinting off a steel barrel. No matter what anyone wanted to believe.
It was now, with Happy saying that to me, that I knew that this bit of information, I had to take to my grave. I couldn’t alter the general perception of the reality that those in the next room believed to be the truth. The Service believed that my abilities saved the VP from an assassin. My compatriots believed I was a superman. That I could do more than they. And that this event, of which had little to do with our gifts, cemented our continued existence within this world of secrecy. This world within a world. My new life.
Jake now walked over to me. “Well Dennis, if you thought Katy was interested before, she’ll be impressed now. You’re going to be the reason why we get funding next year. Shit man, why we get funding forever.”
Even Todd laughed at that. The reality though as I considered it, was frightening. What happened today, would have consequences that affected all of us. As frightening as that was for a guy that just left the world of alcoholism and returned to the world of the living. It's been quite a return.
Standing by the door, I waited for the others to finish. We should all return as a group, the Triumvirate. Well, plus Todd. He seemed like a nice guy and he was in fact extremely pleased that the event happened while on his watch. So we all made our way back to the classroom and there the entire crowd was celebrating with champagne. Glasses were put in our hands and that's when Andre came over with a bottle of sparkling cider. Pouring some in each of our glasses, the VP then called for everyone's attention again.
"Everyone. I just want all of you to know how pleased we all are that we have your group here assisting the Service. It might be true that we don't understand how you do it. But we sure are glad you CAN do it. Here's to the newest member of the fraternity of the Guardians, Dennis the Menace. Cheers!"
And the cheering was loud and long. Everyone drank up, glasses were refilled. The emotional outpouring was indeed of happiness. Gratitude. And a tiny bit of jealousy. That was to be expected, I believe that everyone everywhere is jealous of their coworkers success. Even though they say they aren't. It's just human nature.
Shaking so many hands, given so many new names, and all with congratulatory wishes. It was all a strange thing for a guy like me to experience. Just the previous day these same men had been the ones that considered those like me as outcasts.
A tap on my shoulder and I turned to see Mac beside me. He cocked his head toward the doors and I excused myself from the three men of the elite sharpshooter assassin group that had cornered me and were describing in graphic detail the gaping wound the man received when he fell onto a pipe sticking up out of the roof top. I was quite happy to leave with not knowing the end to the story. It was becoming quite, graphic.
Out in the hall, Mac began to walk down the corridor past our personal rooms. We got to the first common room and went in. Following him in I was surprised to see Maplefeld sitting there on the couch. And next to him, the chief of the regulars from this morning. Both stood as we entered. The Assistant Director came over and shook my hand. "Mr. Mennacio, I want to express my gratitude toward you for what it was that you accomplished today. It was an amazing thing. My men had already cleared the building roof top, sealed the doors leading up from the top floor, and had gone on to the next building. If you hadn't identified the man, well, I hate to think what would have happened.” Shaking his head, his face betrayed the incredulity of my abilities. “It’s been over five years since the Squeaky Fromme incident, and frankly, although nothing has happened in that time, I, well, I’ve had my doubts about all of you. Not as of today though. Again, thank you.”
Then the chief shook my hand as well. “I heard about it then, I was in DC that time. Today though, it was right there, right in front of me. I have no doubts about any of you now.”
“Thank you, both of you. Mr. Maplefield, let me apologize for what I did the other day. It was the only way I could get the men to relax and that was what gave me the clues as to which ones were carrying.” I began.
Mapplefield interrupted me. “No no no, don’t worry about that. Mac here told me about it. I was a bit embarrassed to be sure, but everything you said was correct, and today, wow. Today you proved it.”
“Okay, sorry though, I should have thought it through better. But what about the guy on the roof? Did you find out anything about him?”
The chief now brightened as he began his story. “We found out a lot about him. He was dead before they took him off the roof, but they still took him to the hospital to get it official. We then went to his apartment over in Falls Church and went in. He had pictures of the hotel and news clippings of the VP’s appearance. Not much else there for us to explain why though.”
“We’ve decided not to announce to the press what happened. With primaries starting, we just thought it best not to publicize anything that might tip the scales and drive some other crazy to try same thing. So, after tonight’s celebration, no other mention of it is going to happen. We did brief the President though. He’s a bit shook up. Understandably.” Said Mapplefield.
Mac nodded his agreement. “Probably a wise move.”
Walking toward the entrance, Mapplefield then told us. “We’re heading to the celebration. Mac wants to talk to you. We’ll see you there in a few. Congratulations again Mr. Mennacio.”
As they left, Mac was all smiles. Shaking his head, he began. “I’ve no idea you could do such a thing Dennis. I’m very pleased that I was able to find you. You’ve singlehandedly justified our existence once again. I’m impressed.”
Now I was in a quandary. How, or should I keep the truth from this man. My mentor. I couldn’t in all honesty. “Mac. It wasn’t what you think. Sorry. I was looking up at the roofs, looking for the sharpshooters and saw a glint of sunlight off something. That bit of glare, I thought might be a rifle and asked the chief it was theirs. That’s all it was. Nothing to do with the gift.”
The smile left, the furrows on his brow returned. “Well, don’t say anything to anyone about this. Let this be our secret. We don’t need to alter anyone’s perception of events. And our role.”
“I haven’t. I won’t. Believe me, I had no idea it was a big deal until we arrived here and all these people were here. At the location, no one really said a word to me. The regulars all thanked me, but then it was business as usual for the rest of the day. I had no idea this would happen.”
Mac looked at me, smiles once again. “You should have seen the party for Happy and Donny when they stopped Squeaky from shooting Ford. It was huge. It went on all night. That was over on H Street and it was something.”
“Well, I’m tired, it was a long day wearing a suit in this heat and humidity. Man, summers here are worse than Arizona.”
Laughing now Mac looked at me. “Dennis, don’t discount your ability in this though. It’s possible that the glint of sunlight could have been anything, a piece of foil blowing in the breeze, or a bird holding something. Anything. Your ability recognized it was a man. I think that’s what counts here.”
Letting that sink in, I answered back. “I guess I hadn’t thought about that. I saw it. I knew it was a man. So I asked. I just don’t know. I couldn’t feel anything else about the man though.”
“Well Dennis, I’m glad you asked. But for now, let’s not let that bit of information out.”
And with that, we both walked out to rejoin the festivities.