Elliot Chan – Assembly
The country estate of Hollow Rock had become a beehive of activity as Paramours the world over assembled. By the time we got back, the roads leading up to the front gates were lined with clean cars and big SUVs. Attendants stood by to provide directions. And as soon as we entered, oddly enough, my first thought was that my room had been commandeered to accommodate the influx of visitors. Selfish, I know.
For the first time since my orientation, the halls were packed. Paramours I’d never seen before were there in groups, entourages with their assistants and teams that may or may not have been official members. Everyone looked important. Everyone hurried to and from. It was crazy. I sensed panic in my bones.
I looked over my shoulder. She and I were like stones in a relentless stream of urgent faces. She looked to me for answers, as if I’d experienced that level of pandemonium before.
It was Jake. I heard his voice before I saw him. I wasn’t exactly the tallest guy in the hall. The crew cut colonel came shouldering towards us as he waved off questions. I wasn’t sure how many Paramours Jake had sponsored over the years, but I imagined there were quite a few. He encouraged everyone to just hurry into the auditorium.
As soon as Jake was within arm’s reach, he yanked me up and ushered me into a private library. He tried to slam the door but Gladys was there to catch it.
“Um, darlin, could you give us a second? I need to speak to El alone.”
“If it’s about me, I’d rather I stay.”
“GET OUT!” Jake snapped.
“Fuck off! Don’t yell at me!”
“Gladys. I’m sorry. I didn’t meant to yell. Listen. Everyone’s congregating in the main assembly hall. Why don’t you go on ahead and take a seat. We’ll be there shortly. Please. I insist.” He said, biting his lip.
Gladys was still frazzled but stepped out and closed the door.
“Look, I’m sorry I didn’t get your permission to run off but I was confident I’d be safe. I could handle her.”
“Where’d you go?” He asked.
“Surrey. You know Bruce Lorry’s place.”
“Yes…and what have you been up to?”
“Training.” I said, squinting, somewhat offended.
“Training. What kind of training?”
“Jake, I’ve fought the Swords before. My mother is almost twice my age and she whooped my ass like she was still in her prime. So I asked Gladys to train me to prevent that from happening again. She was gracious enough to oblige. Dude, what exactly is your problem with this? Are you really that mad I didn’t tell you? Check your flippin’ e-mail, chief.”
Jake nodded with his hands on his hips. Lookin’ like a high school principal.
“Honestly, why are you pressing me on this. We’re just friends, Jake.”
“It’s just…you gotta be really careful here, Elliot. Alright? Now, I know you’re ten times brighter than I was at your age. But if you’ve learned nothing from our brothers, it’s that beauty can blind us from the truth. It can compromise our personal constitutions and coax us down a path by which there’s no turning back.”
“Hang on,” I cringed. “I thought you said you trusted her.”
“Elliot, I trust that in the end Gladys will do exactly what Gladys wants.”
“So you don’t trust me then?”
“Would you?” He asked. “How can any man know what they’ll do when they step out into uncharted territory?”
“Wasn’t I properly trained to prepare for just that? To ward off deception and seduction?” I stressed.
“We both know there’s no substitution for the real thing. The love of a mother is not the same as the love of a potential mate.”
“Buchanan! They’re starting.”
The call came through his earpiece and loud enough for me to hear.
“Just be careful, would ya? And I don’t care that you left without telling me. You’re a good kid. I don’t want to lose you, alright.”
“Damn…” I thought. I had no idea Jake cared so much. When he left out into the hallway, I noticed it wasn’t as noisy as before. I suspected everyone had found their way to their seats. Meanwhile I was leaning against a bookcase, spinning a globe by the nudge of my thumb, pondering his words, questioning myself. Gladys entered and stood in the doorway, her blonde hair shimmering in the light.
“Are we going?” She asked.
“You’re not going to ask what he talk to me about?”
“I already know. Let’s go.”
I smirked. Gladys…of course she knew.
The auditorium was large enough to house 3,000 and every seat was occupied. Gladys and I were down near the bottom, fourth row from the stage. Lincoln was giving the presentation with the Senior Council sitting on stage behind the podium.
A big screen flashed the headlines we saw in Surrey. The First Lady was indeed dead. It was declared a homicide and the President of the United States was being questioned in connection with the murder.
Lincoln spoke, “Our man on the ground can confirm that the First Lady was indeed strangled to death by an instrument that’s most likely a tie or a belt. The evidence looks damning for the president and you can bet your ass his political opponents will drop breadcrumb after breadcrumb, slowly frothing the mainstream into a frenzy, turning it into the biggest conspiracy since JFK.
“What the public doesn’t know, though I suspect they soon will, is that the First Lady was having an affair with the Vice President. I suspect, the opposition will keep this under wraps until election season, therein guaranteeing victory for the first female president in U.S. history. As we all know the former Secretary never fully left the spotlight following her defeat. She’s been publishing tell-alls, mudslinging her own party, and jumping on every scandal to pander to an audience, all susceptible to emotions and blind to facts. But after this, the people will come calling for the President’s head and she’ll be right up there, holding the ax.
“Now we’ve known for a while now that the Society has backed her play, silencing her critics, facilitating her ascension despite the numerous blunders that’s plagued her administrations. Ladies and gentlemen, mark my words. If we do not correct this course, she will be the next president of the United States. It will be the end of Western Civilization as we know it.”
“So what if it is? Are we in the business of protecting America or the innocent?” said an Israeli nationalist from the audience.
“How many innocents do you think will die if the cornerstone of civilization crumbles?” replied an American.
“Bullocks, mate. The United States ain’t the center of the universe,” declared an Australian.
“Actually, it is gentlemen.” said the elderly Lord Dathan of English Parliament. “As one who’s old enough to have seen the entire world engulfed in flames, I can assure you that the United State’s role in global prosperity is extremely pivotal.
“Just look back at the second World War. After the first, U.S. Congress adopted an isolationist sentiment. Many Americans believed the government should take a step back, stop policing the world, meddling in foreign affairs and all that.
“However, my friends, that is exactly how a madman like Hitler was able to rise to power in the first place. It started with the invasion of Austria and Czechoslovakia with very little recourse. The world was so timid about intervening after the first war, they did nothing to stop Hitler or undermine his advancement.”
“Then look what happened!” Lincoln said, jumping in. “Hitler invaded Poland. Millions of innocent people lost their lives.”
“Spoken like a true Imperialist.” Benaiah said. “As if America’s the answer to all our problems. Lest we forget their inability to act against Saudi Arabia after 9/11 all just their keep oil supplier relationships intact. Let alone the disaster that was Vietnam.”
“Classic strawman, Benaiah.” Lincoln retorted. “And you’re missing the point. America’s just a young nation across the Atlantic. It is my nation, but for the point I’m trying to make, the hell with it. In this world, in this modern age, every country, citizen, and community on earth is connected now more so than ever. There has to be a nation to step up and take that leadership role. If not the United States, fine. Then the U.K. or Spain, or Russia. Be my guest! But whomever is number one, it is incumbent upon that nation to intervene and do what it can to prevent another world war.”
The assembly grumbled.
“Is this what it’s comes down to?!” Ravi, the Columbian shot out of his seat to shout. “Does the council truly believe that a female president in the White House will result in another world war?”
“It’s not just any female, Ravi.” Lord Dathan answered. “She’s a proxy. Women can be stern, powerful leaders. I can speak for all Britannia when I say that. But a woman, or man, anyone in office who’s bought and paid for, their every action dictated by a shadow organization…this is evil. This is corruption! They’ve undermined the power of the people to serve their own agenda.”
“My point exactly!” Benaiah said. “By your own admission, you reveal the futility of interference. What you’ve just described is no better than what’s already happening in American politics.”
“His point, Benaiah, is that it can always get worse. And with the Swords of St. Catherine…well, I challenge you. Other than the Third Reich, can you name a greater threat to prosperity?” Lincoln questioned.
Again, the assembly grumbled.
“A room full of small-minded men!” Her voice rose above all others. Little Bo Peep projected so well, loud enough for all to hear and she was still sitting down.
“The Swords of St. Catherine don’t care whether or not the world falls apart. Don’t you get it? What the society, what the Swords of St. Catherine care about more than money, more than land, or fame, is control. They desire the power to dictate culture, politics, education. Conflict is just an ingredient for the caldron, a concoction by which such results are produced.”
“Gladys…” I whispered.
“For those who don’t know, Ms. Gladys Vandelay here used to be one of the Swords of St. Catherine.” Lincoln introduced.
Almost at once, a wave of shock-horror befell the bemoaning Paramours like a ripple in the lake. I kept hearing, “she can’t be trusted” or “this is just a ruse. She’s a poison aimed to infect us from within. Why is she here? She shouldn’t be here!”
Gladys continued, “If everyone’s dead, there’d be no one to rule. The Society isn’t out to start a world war. At the same time, if that’s what happens, so be it. They’re aim is to replace man atop the hegemony. They’ve already done it in the U.K. They’re doing it in Australia, the U.S is next. Russia and Japan won’t be far behind. But it’s like magic. If the world knows the trick, then the illusion has no effect. If the world knows that there’s a secret society hell-bent on world domination, they won’t let it happen.
“That’s why the Swords tried to kill your Marcus Angel. That’s why they put every opposing voice in the same category of lunatics like the supremacists or far-right extremists. That’s why they want a female president, a puppet controlled by the Society’s leadership. The Society already controls the entertainment industry, what people hear, watch, and read, what they think is cool or lame. Once they latch their talons into politics and control legislation…the world will truly be theirs. And when that happens, there won’t be a world war. Or rather…the war they’ve been fighting for centuries will come to an end. Victory will be theirs.”
“Don’t you mean yours as well? Once a Sword always a Sword as far as I’m concerned,” said the ever skeptical Benaiah.
“Believe what you want. As for me, I cannot standby idly and listen to another word of such stupidity. All this talk of correcting the course and protecting the innocent, ignorance is the greatest evil. And sadly this auditorium reeks of it.”
The auditorium exploded in uproar. Gladys stormed through the aisle and down the steps on her way to the exit as Paramours wagged their fingers and slung their accusations. It was difficult to watch. More than that, her logic struck a chord with me. Something about what she said made sense, but at the same time, conflicted with something deep within my own personal constitution.
After another thirty-minute debate, Lord Dathan took to the podium and encouraged everyone to delve into all his or her resources to get to the bottom of the White House scandal. Everyone was instructed to contact their people, their agents, their sleeper cells, any staffers, anyone in national security or the private IT sector to dig up whatever they could to exonerate the president and counter the accusations levied against him. Even if it meant hacking into classified files or stealing information directly from private servers. Everything was a go. They were calling in all cars for this one. I’d never seen anything like it, a mission where the entire assembly of Paramours would combine all their efforts on a single objective.
As everyone prepared to depart Hollow Rock, I found Jake and Lincoln followed by a huddle of investigators. I couldn’t hear the entirety of their conversation but I did pick up that they were going to Washington D.C. They almost seemed excited, like it was a competition and they’d be damned if they were going to lose to the Swords.
Then, Jake spotted me out of the corner of his eye. He stopped in the middle of the hallway with his attendees folding around us.
“What should I do? How can I help?” I asked him.
Lincoln and Jake exchanged glances, as if they had been talking about me behind my back.
“We need you to stay here, Elliot.” said Lincoln. “I know you want to help out but with a scandal of this magnitude, you can bet your ass that your mother’s network will have hundreds of cameras scanning every nook and cranny. The last thing we need is for you to get spotted and have to divert the brothers to your rescue and protection.”
“Don’t argue. Now’s not the time. Just stay here and dig up anything you can that will help our brothers in the field. That’s an order.” Lincoln said.
I wanted to remind these assholes that this wasn’t the military, but I understood where he was coming from. I simply nodded and off they went.
“I’m glad you’re not going.”
Jake and Lincoln had just turned a corner when I saw Gladys standing by my side. It was odd. She was dressed rugged for travel.
“You can come with me instead.” She said.
I threw up my hands. “Where to?”
“To take down the Society.” She said with this ambitious grin that should have been my first red flag to run the other way.
“Come along.” She said in a hurried stroll down the hall. When I asked what she meant, I was almost embarrassed because it sounded like I was running out of breath just trying to keep up.
“You heard what I said in there. I wasn’t just blowing smoke, Ellie. It’s good that everyone’s taking me seriously. They have every right to be but they’re going about it the wrong way. Even if they find a way to clear the president’s name, it won’t stop the society from fulfilling their mission, it’ll only prolong their efforts and they’ll find some other way to get their proxy in as president. It’s going to happen. It’s inevitable. The only way to stop the Society is the same way all societies have fallen throughout history. From within.”
“And I don’t suppose you’d like to elaborate on that?”
“You know, El, for a deep-thinking creature you sure are dense. Don’t you see? All this time, you guys had the key all along. You just didn’t know it.”
Suddenly, I realized we were in the medical wing. We were heading for a certain recovery room. When we got there, Marcus was wide-awake and sitting up, watching the news. He turned to us with a puzzled expression.
Gladys smiled, so sweet and innocent. My hands begged for an explanation but all she did was usher me in with that freakish strength before closing the door behind us. Without saying a word, she went to each window peering into the hallway and closed all the blinds.
“What’s going on?” Marcus asked. “No one’s told me anything. Is this the Society? Did they do this?”
A bit flustered, I scratched my head and answered, “Yeah. Almost everyone is deploying to get this situation under control.”
“So messed up.” Marcus groaned. “I heard the First Lady was strangled. It supposed to be all about female empowerment, yet they’d do this to one of their own? Deplorable!”
“Just because a person is born a woman, doesn’t make them one of their own. In the eyes of a Sword, they’re just punishing the First Lady for marrying an oaf like the president to begin with.” Gladys replied.
“Who are you?” Marcus finally asked her.
Gladys extended and shook his hand. “Gladys Vandelay, at your service. The ward here is my lackey, Elliot Chan. And you sir, are the highly coveted Marcus Angel. I have heard so much about you! And I hope I’m not being too bold in saying this but you are indeed amazing. You have no idea how many lives you’ve touched, do you? If it weren’t for you, this world would be truly a lost cause.”
“Damn, Gladys…” I uttered. “Don’t you think you’re laying it on a bit thick? I said I owed him a debt of gratitude. It’s not like the guy saved my life or nothin’.”
“Yeah, no, I’m not talking about you, dummy.” She quipped as she leaned over the bed and stared at Marcus like an object in a snow globe.
“Tell me, Marcus, by any chance do you know of a woman named Anna Marie?”
Immediately, Marcus’s eyes widened and his chest deflated. He started to look around as if he was in danger. In a panic, he squirmed, kicking in the bed to sit up before Gladys took hold of his wrists.
“Calm down! Anna’s not here. No one’s here to hurt you. I just had to make sure you were the one.”
“The one? Gladys, what are you talking about?! Enough with this cryptic shit, man!” I stressed.
She explained. “When I was with the Swords of St. Catherine, I befriended one of their most formidable operatives. And when I say formidable, let’s just say I’m willing to stake my life on the fact that she could probably slay ten men on her own. Her name is Anna Marie.”
“My Anna Marie?”
“That’s right!” Gladys whispered. “Now ask me, how do you think I know your name.”
“She told you?” Marcus asked.
“Yes! That’s right! As I said, Anna and I became good friends. And as Ellie here can attest, that’s no easy feat, being my friend. She confided in me. Because I caught her in a moment of crippling depression. She was depressed. Sullen. Heartbroken. Over you. She told me that she killed the only one who ever knew the real her. She told me his name was Marcus Angel.”
Marcus’s eyes began to gloss over with tears. I had never heard of this Anna Marie person. It was one of Gladys’s closely guarded secrets. But the wheels started churning and everything was beginning to make sense. It wasn’t until Gladys saw Marcus a couple months back that she decided to train me. Was this her plan from the get-go? And what was even stranger was that Marcus didn’t ask any questions. Was he so naïve, or was everything Gladys said so true and spot on that he was utterly left speechless?
“Gladys. What are you doing?” I finally asked.
She was still leaning over his bed when she turned with that look in her eye. It was a paralyzing stare that conveyed, “you know damn well what I’m doing. Now don’t do anything stupid.”
I turned for the door and as soon as I touched the knob, I heard the metallic click of a Glock.
“Just listen.” She said.
“Or you’ll shoot me?” I growled.
“Just listen. Marcus is the main reason you were able to learn about the society, right? You owe him your allegiance. Not the Paramours.”
“Marcus is a paramour!” I shouted.
“He is not! Nor am I. Marcus was brought here. If I’m not mistaken, he was unconscious. He had no say in the matter.”
“You deceitful bitch!” I said, almost laughing through my frustrations. “Jake was right. He was right about you all along.”
“Just listen! Listen to what I have to say and if you still want to run like an emasculated little whelp with his tail between his legs, then go. But forewarning, I won’t be stopped. You’ll only be leading lambs to the slaughter by trying to interfere with my plans.”
“Do you even know who you sound like? You sound like one of them!”
“I told you the society could only be destroyed from within. With Anna on our side, no one can stop us. Believe that.”
“You really mean to kill them all, don’t you?” I barked.
“Well, hopefully as many as I can. I suspect I won’t survive long, but Anna will. You don’t know her, Elliot. She’s the only one who can take down the Society. She shot you, right Marcus? But that was only after you were already riddled and struck by a car. She didn’t shoot you to kill you. It was her initiation. She shot you because she thought you were already dead and there was no other option. Don’t you see? Out of all the men in her life, she loved you the most. She loves you still. I’ve seen it. Anna may have everyone else fooled, but at heart, she is not a Sword of St. Catherine. I suspect there are others like us, but with Anna, there’s no mistake. I willing to stake my life on it.”
“Can I go now?” I said, unimpressed.
“If you must.”
Just as I opened the door, I heard, “Wait.”
It was Marcus.
“Elliot, I understand how you feel. Your sense of loyalty and duty. I don’t want to impede on that. But if what she says is true and you do feel indebted to me, I have a favor to ask. Please.”
I was shaking my head, “What is it?”
“I’d like to see her again. All this time I’ve spent cooped up here, she’s all I ever think about. Her eyes, her lips, her voice. I just want to see her one more time. I promise I won’t convince her to kill any one. Whatever this one has planned, I doubt it’ll happen all in one day, so you’ll have plenty of time to warn the others. But please, only after I see her. Please. Consider it my mission as a Paramour. Just as I heard others had aided you in your mission to see your mother.”