Monster Behind The Masks

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Chapter 10


“The best things in life aren’t things.”

We strolled along Sausalito boardwalk working off our feast of French foods. The lingering taste of garlic and butter from the escargot remained on my palette. Anna’s words—which language authority might deem “cliché,” echoed through the air, bouncing off the churning water.

“That’s the theme I used for my baby announcements for Tyler. It read The Best Things in Life are Worth Waiting For.” I zipped my jacket up, retrieving gloves from the pockets. A thundering crash of waves hit the imposing rock outcroppings. We turned around, heading back towards the art studios.

Anna drifted along the walkway, rubbing her arms to ward off the sudden chill. “Until now, I couldn’t let go of those—things—in my girls’ bedroom,” she admitted. “I held on, unable to accept that they’re gone.” Sorrow added weight to her voice.

“Understandable,” was all I could say. I couldn’t even let go of Tyler’s belongings now, not wanting him to grow up before I had a chance to enjoy his youth and the treasure of memories it brought. In no time he’ll be married, have a job, maybe kids, and a real adult life and responsibilities will be ever-present in his existence. He, and every other child, deserves a childhood.

We added pep to our pace and it wasn’t long before we were back to the restaurant, crossing over to the stretch of art galleries. I wanted to ask Anna for an update on the art gallery break-in, the murders, and entire cryptic dove thing, but she continued:

“I’ll do it…I’ll purge those things in the room and…”

A silence fell between us, amplifying the bustle of shoppers strife in the streets. “Want to sit, Anna?” There was a cozy bench under a gas tiki-torch, the street adorned with tiny white lights.

Without another word, we sat watching people rush by. They were lugging various gifts, filling the air with laughter, or shouting restlessness.

I waited. Anna sighed, then announced, “I’m hesitant to talk to Pierre about your idea how to dispose of the bag of Bianca’s clothes.”

“Does he even realize the bag’s there?” I questioned. How I knew the answer was beyond me.

“No,” she replied, her eyes avoiding mine.

My heart skipped a beat. My mind wandered. Does he want to know? Should he know?

As if an x-ray vision allowed her to read my thoughts, Anna spoke, “I can’t tell him about it. It’d kill him. He is way too sensitive about losing our girls, even more so than me. He’d likely sleep with the bag cradled in his arms as if holding his baby girl again.”

Weariness hung in Anna’s voice. I announced, “I’m so happy Jared will make use of Tyler’s old Dynastar skis.” I hoped I didn’t sound insensitive switching topic so abruptly. There’s only so much advice a person can give.

“He’s stoked for the trip!” Anna lifted wistful, bewitching eyes toward me. “Thank God I have Jared. Remember those playdates he had with Tyler? Seems just yesterday.”

“Yes, I can still see Jared at age four, with plenty of untamable blonde hair. He could have been mistaken for a girl. He fit right in with the kids, like the final puzzle piece.”

Memories ignited within Anna’s eyes. Those bittersweet flashbacks caused her to well up. But within a couple of rapid blinks, they were gone. “Speaking of playdates, do you ever see the others from our former group? Stan? Brenda? And who was that couple with the twins, the ones that had a pile of family money fall into their laps?”

“Charlotte and Bryan. I see a few of them around town, yet we don’t get together anymore because we came together for the sake of our children with playdates and sports. Our kids branched out to new friends.” I explained.

“Your kids have grown.” Mixed emotions played on Anna’s face. Nostalgia sat on the bench beside me, hands covered her eyes. I thought she’d cry, but instead, she smiled through the pain of her own children denied the chance of blossoming into fine ladies.

A fresh salty sea breeze brushed our hair, while the beautiful view of sailboats and the marina delighted our senses. It was not quite as chill as it was walking on the boardwalk.

We sat for a moment, each tangled in our own wistfulness. Anna’s mention of Charlotte and Bryan Garrity reminded me of when Tyler played baseball with their boys. What an amazing couple. He stepped away from his inherited power after seeing his dad’s riches were born from unscrupulous political activities— including war.

I turned to Anna, my voice echoing into the crisp Sausalito air, “I admire those two…Bryan and Charlotte. Despite inheriting over twenty-five million dollars from his old man, they both still work in their respective fields doing good for the world. Rather than live high-off-the hog, they donated a ton to humanitarian causes. We need more people like that!”

“She worked in Ecology, I remember—so she still does that?” Anna inquired, a stray hair teased by a gentle kiss from the breeze, which she scraped from her face.

“Yup, still saving the planet rather than being part of the elite destroying it. She sees firsthand the need to link global ecology with a moral global economy. She no longer has to work, but does to make a difference. What a gal. And he still runs his landscape architect business, designing eco-friendly properties. They are a power couple for the environment.”

“Nice to know someone is protecting the planet, perhaps my grandson will have a life before Earth disappears,” she said with a tinge of sarcasm. “He is now thirteen and unscrupulous leaders are still blowing things up, destroying his world. It’s bomb and build, bomb and build. I want him to stay innocent…young—” she paused for a moment before continuing.

Warier of the massive US Military than “terrorism,” and how America has forfeited liberties out of a shadow government-induced irrational fear, my psyche switched from where this could go. The words leaped out, “Seems the kids grow up too fast.” I at once wanted to take back the comment. Her girls never had the chance, nor will they ever. Yet, Anna still smiled—focused again on the parents.

“And how ’bout Stan? He’s an interesting man—still playing Mr. Mom?”

I shook my head firmly, “Heck no, that ended years ago. Stan finished grad school, works as an Environmental Sustainability Lawyer focused on corporate abuse.”

“Wow, commendable, turning his own battle with cancer around to help people!” Her words were heavy with pride. “I remember his illness was traced to chemicals he was exposed to on the job.” Anna pondered this further, evident through a far-off gaze.

I shifted quickly on the bench, my heart both warm and heavy with the thought— “Yeah, he’s amazing, a human rights lawyer. His most recent case involves a local teen who developed cancer from exposure to toxic fumes blown into her neighborhood from a nearby oil refinery.”

“Local? Where’s she live?” Anna asked.

“Richmond, I know the girl, goes to school with Tyler.” I pushed the vulnerability of those who live near oil refineries out of my mind. I didn’t have enough space left to worry about those too.

Anna mentioned, “We can see one of those refineries from your backyard—good thing you are far away from it.”

“Yeah, the industry culprit can be eerily seen from my house atop the picturesque hill. What a contrast of gorgeous bay view, palm trees, blooming cactus and smokestacks fuming from a rusty petroleum factory —Beauty and the Beast.”

Anna clicked her tongue, “good for the local coffers, I suppose.” She finished off her words with a shrug.

“Hmm…good for something. Also, a stark reminder how oil mixes with politics, pollution and endless wars seamlessly blending in with the surreal beauty surrounding us.” I commented, my eyes stroking the current horizon, wondering what evils lurked within its beauty.

“Everything’s about money, including how the courts wanted to make Brandon Garth a wasted by-product of our unjust legal system.” Anna mentioned, referring to the boy who fatally struck her daughter in a tragic skateboarding accident.

I nodded, grateful for people like Anna. Imagine, less needless revenge and more human compassion in the world. Understanding. Tolerance. The planet would be a different place if more people lived by this philosophy.

Anna moved the conversation along, breaking from any more talk of her daughter’s demise. She asked, “Do you still go to PTA meetings?”

“Heck no…I’m just volunteering at the school once a week. I tried going to one recently and walked out when the discussion turned to chocolate and vanilla cupcakes. Seriously, I was once making million-dollar decisions and now I am listening to parents and teachers argue over such trivial bullshit!” I laughed at the irony of it.

Deep down, I savored the cupcake decisions, anything to make a child smile in their magical little space, oblivious to the terrors of the world. Inside, I realized those silly decisions to keep the kids happy just might have been more meaningful than a few of those controversial million-dollar decisions but kept that tidbit to myself.

Anna laughed, then rolled her shoulders, straightening. Her eyes caught the soft classical white lights flickering along the street. “Too bad the art galleries are closed, it’d be a nice way to end the evening.”

“Want to window shop along Caledonia Street?” I asked. Anna tightened her big brown scarf around her simple, yet elegant v-neck sweater, and I noticed the gold and crystal statement necklace she wore. I adored the way Anna always looked so classically beautiful.

“I kind of like sitting here—besides, I’m familiar with the amazing art studios and shops in Sausalito.”

“Well come to think of it, I’ve window shopped enough stores I can’t afford. Speaking of art galleries, what’s the latest on the Exotic Exposure murder mystery?”

“Not such a mystery anymore, it was definitely Ava’s dad, Diego Ramirez who killed Johnny—and the prison guard. He’s been arrested.” Anna removed a hairpin, letting her chestnut mane cascade, golden highlights shimmered in the night.

“Why didn’t I see anything on the news?” As soon as the question fell from my lips, I had a probable answer.

Anna raised her left eyebrow with an incredulous smile. “Are you kidding?” Her eyebrow raised that much further. “The same reason many CIA scandals are covered up.”

“Well, there’s still plenty of mystery left behind with the two dead doves.” Those baffling birds never stop intriguing me. A never-ending enigma straight from a bestselling crime/thriller novel.

“I’ve heard nothing from the cops, and I’d rather never talk to them again anyhow. But Ava Ramirez seemed like someone I’d want to talk to…and so, I did!” She casually dropped a bomb as if discussing a school bake fair.

“You—” my mouth dropped. I could feel my face crinkle. Did she really just say what I think she did? Am I missing something? Had I misheard her? Her revealing of such huge news in such a laid-back manner astounded me.

“Spoke to the girl who stole my art, killed her doves, and wrote a Pablo Picasso anti-war quote on the back of my painting. She’s fascinating.” Again, she spoke as if this was nothing more than some gossip or juicy tidbit.

“So… you casually called her and forgave her for vandalizing your art gallery and leaving behind a dead bird—”

“No!” She cut me off. “Not letting her off the hook—she was involved in stealing at least a million dollars’ worth of art which may never be restored. I merely tolerated listening to her side of the story.” She raised a hand to emphasize that she hadn’t and won’t be forgiving the girl anytime soon.

“Which is?”

“She admitted being entangled in the art theft, she and her best friend Paige worked with her dad. He was the ringleader and wanted the art too, but for a different motive. She claims he wanted my Delacroix to use as a political weapon at CIA headquarters.” Her voice lowered as if fearsome that someone was eave’s dropping on our conversation. They could be—probably were.

“A political weapon?” I gasped.

Anna became animated, “Yes, and it might make sense. The CIA has been said to use modern art, in particular, abstract expressionist artists, as pawns of the Cold War—a form of benevolent propaganda.” She explained whilst gesturing emphatically.

“But Delacroix was a French Romanticist—” I was confused.

“Which uses a similar blend of color, religious and political symbolism. The Delacroix he took from my gallery is a reproduction of Liberty Leading the People.”

I rolled my hands, “Go on.”

Anna continued with more hand gestures and melodramatic expressions, “She also reiterated the story about her and Paige wanting to sell the art for college tuition.”

“Did she explain her version of why her father framed them for murdering Johnny, then posted a million to bail her out of prison yet has no money to put her through school?” A serious case of bipolar disorder came to mind. This mystery tangled more and more, forming endless knots that I desperately wanted unknotting.

“She mentioned her dad is a misogynist. He thinks women don’t belong in college, or in business—have no say in any matter of importance. According to Ava, Diego dude said he’d never considered paying a dime for her college tuition.” Anna shook her head, disgust visible through a stiff jaw and flaring nostrils. I echoed the sentiment, repulsed by such sexism.

“Nice father—likely buddies with the current nutcases in the White House.” I felt for the girl, to have such a pig for a father.

“I asked her about the symbolic message with blood drops on the doves. She said the forensics team had it right, and she elaborated: she placed the olive branch into the second doves’ right claw as a mockery of our leaders claiming world peace can be found at the end of a gun barrel.”

Or worse, with big nuclear ‘buttons.’ I winced, then it dawned on me: “Interesting…so the doves were symbolic of the U.S. Seal?”

“Uh-huh, and the second doves’ neck was broken. Ava had positioned the bird’s head away from the olive branch, towards the left claw where she had placed thirteen sticks.”

I envisioned the U.S. Great Seal, my heart beating to a faster rhythm. “To show the thirteen arrows of the ‘power of war.’ Wow, this is deep shit.” A hand instinctively cradled my jaw as if the information added an actual weight to my brain.

Anna nodded, “Yup…Ava said she tried to convey how the olive branch has never been extended, even though the American eagle faces it—and how this negatively affects her generation. How it kills world peace.”

If you kill a dove, you kill peace.

“A true revolutionist.” I admired the girl, despite her part in robbing my friend to survive her future. Needs, I guess. “But why wasn’t any of this mentioned during questioning, or taped? Why now?”

“There was a lot of intimidation. Diego threatened not only the lives of law enforcement if they exposed his actions. He told Ava, his own daughter, he’d kill her if she talked about the murders he committed and framed on her— or how the symbolic messages she left behind with the doves reflect what he secretly does for work.” She explained, with seriousness and compassion drilled into every word.

“How does she know so much about her dad’s work, when the CIA keeps its historic involvement in the power-hungry drug and war cabal so secretive?” I asked. I found it hard to believe that such a man would let his daughter discover this, or put himself in a position where this information could be easily found.

“She’s overheard one too many of his conversations surrounding secret missions when he least expected it. In short, she knows too much.” Anna shifted on the wooden bench. Nervous? She turned to see a ferry coming in.

“I can’t help but see a connection…the political issues starving America’s public schools, over-the-top academic and financial stress, the girls’ motive for the art theft, the symbolic messages reflecting our cultural obsession with nebulous ‘foreign enemies’ and resultant violence within. How it’s all about money and power. The dots connect.”

George’s words echoed in my mind: sometimes I wish you never connected the dots of corporate America to perpetual war, our cultural ecosystem being polluted and mass surveillance.

And then, on top of everything, there’s Anna’s ordeal floating in the periphery. Her daughters’ blood-in-a bag staring back at her like a reminder of how we are expected to want a foul retaliation onto the innocent boy who heartbreakingly hit her on a foggy street one day, thirteen years ago. A tragic accident attempted to be turned into profit for the prosecutor and revenge money into Anna’s pocket.

“Yup…the elites sell war, fire, and fury—and the American people buy it.” Anna lowered her black Prada handbag from her shoulder to the ground, rummaging to grab a lip gloss.

“It’s surprising you were able to get Ava speaking to you on the phone—”

“Oh, no…no. She wouldn’t speak over the phone. She had said in a guarded tone, ’Let’s meet in person.’ We met at my loft, and she opened up to me. She said her dad and his team eavesdropped over the phone, spied on any emails, or other communications. Then she dropped a bomb on me…”

Anna trailed off, and seemed reluctant or afraid to say more. I became uncomfortable on the bench and asked if she wanted to have a latte at the enchanting corner coffee shop.

I looked around, reminded we are in one of the most popular and pretty places in California, right over the famed Golden Gate Bridge. Again, the surreal outer beauty of America while the hidden beast within preys its power upon us.

A man in a leprechaun hat started playing music on the sidewalk. The melodic twangs of his guitar filled the air, bringing our discussion to a halt. Mournful tunes flowed from his silky voice. As we strolled, each of us dropped bills into his tip jar. He tossed a smile our way and continued to sing.

While walking, Anna whipped out her cell phone and said, “I bet Ava will meet us now at the coffee shop. She lives right at the edge of Tiburon.”

I stopped short and brought my hands up, crossing them over my chest. “You’re serious? You’ve become attached enough to this cagy girl that robbed your art gallery and killed her doves to just call her on a whim—”

Anna interrupting me, “Shhh! Her phones ringing.” Then she walked a few feet away and I sensed she wanted privacy.

I whispered, “Isn’t she in prison for the art theft?”

“She’s awaiting another trial, leave me alone while I—“Hello, Ava?”

I used the moment to check my own messages, and realized there was a text from George.

Utah is booked. Tahoe is booked. Get pumped for some great skiing!

My heart raced with excitement, especially getting Tyler on his first trip to ski Utah’s steeps and deeps. He’ll love it, and we have a ski in-ski out condo, hot tub and pool at both Squaw Valley and Snowbird ski resorts.

Anna called over to me from the other side of the sidewalk, “Ava is on her way! I think I succeeded in gaining her trust, as I hadn’t kept harping on about the art theft. I showed her I care.”

“You care, about even those who hurt you the most. Such a compassionate humanitarian.” I flashed back to the biggest demonstration of this, when she dropped the case against Brandon Garth. “So…what should I expect with this girl?”

“You can expect to see a very pretty nearly twenty year old Mexican girl with long brown hair, big brown eyes and an award-winning smile—too skinny to be called healthy, with an edgy outlook.”

“I guess the anxiety can be expected, with her shithole of a dad.” I felt bad for the girl, despite her appalling acts of helping to rob Anna’s art gallery, then killing her birds for show and tell.

Glancing around spellbinding Sausalito, my mind drifted back to being on the French Riviera. It looks so much the same to me. People sipping fine wines by the waterfront, the sun-kissed coast and quiet charm wrapped in bougainvillea. Brilliant white boats sparkled the waters’ edge

We meandered on cobbled sidewalks towards the café, passing unique waterfront hotspots. Art galleries, antique shops, chic-bars and restaurants were plotted along the streets, warm and inviting. The bitter tang of coffee issued from the stores, blending in with the scent of desserts intermingling with the sea-born fog. And other scents, of burning wood from beach bonfires and eucalyptus. It was nearly empty, just a few stragglers wandering along browsing and chatting. The lightest breeze tapped wind chimes and shook palm trees.

Arriving at the cute café resembling a craftsman-style bungalow, a bald man in a blazer and bow tie looking every bit the fierce gentleman he was held the door open for us.

We took a seat in a cozy corner on a swank orange sofa. Anna ordered a decaf coffee when the Barista came by and I got a classic frothy latte. He asked if we’d like to order something to eat, and we decided to share a macaron with raspberry. The pastries were huge here, more like a small pie.

I glanced around the rustic café and delighted in the contrast of bay view and fireplace, warm atmosphere with relaxing music. It felt like being in someone’s house. “You must be getting so excited for the French Alps, Anna!” I was thrilled that in a few days, we’d both be swooshing down the ski slopes and loving the great outdoors.

“You don’t know the half of it, it’s been too long since I’ve felt the adrenaline rush of my skis gliding over snow-capped peaks.” Anna’s eyes glazed over, and I could see the pleasure mixed with pain.

We sipped our coffee, and I declared I needed to use the restroom. On the way into the ladies room I discovered this quaint café offers more than gourmet coffee. I passed by a myriad of plants and flowers, room sprays, and an entire section for wine tasting under vintage-looking lights.

Upon leaving the restroom stall, I was greeted by lovely bouquets of roses and several decorative baskets full of toiletries. I started smelling and trying out the lavender scented lotions, rosemary and sage soaps, and salon-grade hair spray. Last, I rolled a Tahitian Gardenia perfumed oil over my wrists. Charming. I realized I’d been gone for at least twenty minutes and headed back.

I rounded the corner and saw Anna talking to Ava. We were the only patrons left in the café this late, which was a good thing to help the girl feel comfortable enough to talk. She needed to lift and lighten the mental load she carried.

And what I heard stopped me in my tracks….

Ava was crying, letting it all out. “My dad brought me to a dark place in the city; some kind of lab that looked like a secret prison. I saw like…seven young men and women strapped to tables with IV drops, all drugged in some way.”

“What the—” my mouth flew open as if that knowledge physically pried my lips apart. There goes my bathroom stress fix. Both women turned their heads towards me, and Anna said, “Caryssa, this is Ava.”

I approached the delicate, pale-faced girl and gently shook her hand. I wanted to hug her, but hoped the tenderness reflected in my eyes was enough to make her feel welcomed.

Ava smiled at me, the tears fresh on her cheeks. “I’ll tell you what the fuck they were doing, feeding kids mind-control drugs. It’s to sway them into doing bad things for bad guys…I think they’re all in the CIA.” Ava paused, eyes darting around, as if making sure no one was within earshot.

Anna piped in, “Come to think of it, I overheard my dad talking about this when I was just a young girl—during his Vietnam horror. He was programmed and exploited to kill.”

“How…how do you know that the agency is doing this now, Ava?” I asked. I too, had heard snippets of accusations that the CIA still did these things, yet was appalled a nineteen year old has to have this family betrayal in her mind.

Ava hesitated, the haunted look of a broken spirit creeping out of beautiful, light brown eyes. She resembled Jennifer Lopez, I thought. “Half my childhood, I thought my dad was a used car salesman. That’s what he told us. I never questioned it—he had a classic car collection of old Porsches and Mercedes so it matched his personality. Then I overheard him talking when he thought I wasn’t home—it was just before I turned sixteen. So I became my own spy. I snooped, and found his agency badge in his sock drawer.”

We remained silent a moment. This had to be therapeutic for her, and I wondered if she’d ever told anyone this, even her best friend Paige. How long has she held this all in? “Have you ever told anyone what your dad does?” I asked her.

“Only my mom, who made the mistake of confronting him. That’s when she disappeared. I haven’t seen my mother since my sixteenth birthday.” Fresh tears slid from the girl’s eyes, and she quickly looked away.

Without looking at either of us, she sadly whispered, “I’ve never fully trusted my dad since then.” She turned her eyes back towards Anna. “I heard him yell at my mother when she asked him why he never told her the truth about his job, he screamed “I’ll have to kill you if you tell anyone. Her mysterious disappearance was never solved, but I think he killed her or had her murdered.”

God almighty. Connecting the dots….Connecting the dots…

I’d heard the heroin epidemic in America is directly linked to the CIA, among other things within our political system itself. A multibillion-dollar industry. “Omigod, it’s just like when the CIA was feeding kids in the Army LSD cocktails back in the 50’s through the 70’s.”

It was Anna who spoke now, “Yup, to lure them into clandestine military missions, make them submissive to killing abroad. Same behavioral control, different drugs—”

Ava chimed in, “My dad was working at that creepy place in the city with a head of Homeland Security who tried to strap me to a table— but my dad told him no, not yet.” Ava’s hands shook as she lifted her cappuccino.

“You too? Why?” I asked, wishing for a glass of wine rather than latte. This secret shit going down can drive anyone to drink.

“He thinks I should join the military like he did, and not follow my dream to go to Stanford. We are a military family, starting with my ancestors stationed in bases on Angel Island in 1863. My great grandfather was sent to the pacific during WWII, and my dad insists I should be carrying on the family tradition.”

Similar to Julie, I thought. Holding onto her dad’s legacy, not able to let go. I asked Ava, “Why are they so adamant on not making this your choice rather than theirs?”

Ava swallowed a sip of her newly refreshed Cappuccino and seemed to ponder this for a moment. “I dunno, but the whole team of them seem to think I’m a danger to our country for being anti-war. My dad said he should have me killed to ’protect the American people.’

I blurted out, “Just following orders. Nice defense!”

Soft relaxing music played in the background, with the sounds of waterfalls. A weird contrast to the conversation.

Anna asked, “So, are they using heroin now on their test subjects?” I kept an eye on the Barista so he doesn’t think we’re conspiracy nuts.

Ava nodded her head, “Pretty sure, yeah. I heard the men say heroin makes people feel like superman and they think they can conquer all those phantom enemies, leap over tall buildings. They mentioned increasing the opium dosage for one of the kids, a black boy around eighteen, as he screamed, “you’re next Ava, you’re next!”

“God almighty, what monsters.” I had a sudden recollection of a story I heard while working in the computer internetworking world, of a Stanford student that took acid tests to a lab in San Francisco long ago for this same purpose. This is unbelievable, yet I knew truth lay in these stories. Quite a world that has been spawned from the federal government, moneyed power and war.

The words tumbled out of Anna’s mouth, “Of course, the glorified war narrative is told over and over again, furthering the naïve recruits into clichés and ideologies peddled by teachers, film-makers and eloquent politicians.”

As if defending her father, Ava said, “My dad is as encoded like a robot as they make their victims. He has never been the same since Afghanistan.”

We nodded our assent to this. “The CIA isn’t acting alone on this either.” Anna seemingly directed the statement to nobody in particular.

“No.” I answered. “I figure it’s a team of people way at the top of the big defense contractors—way up in the overlap between corporate America and the federal government. I certainly never swam in those dark waters when I worked in Silicon Valley, yet I learned more about it than I’d care to admit.”

“I can imagine, since the intelligence community, defense contractors and tech-industry are so linked.” Anna took a bite of macron raspberry as she said this. “Are you hungry Ava? This is dessert for us, we just chowed down French food. We can order you—”

Ava jumped in, “No thanks, I haven’t had much of an appetite lately—but wanted to say there’s something else strange. There was nude artwork splashed all over the prison-like place, mostly by French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. I wonder if my dad had hoped to steal erotic artwork the night we robbed you’re art gallery.”

The way Ava so casually mentioned her part in the art theft unnerved me. This girl is not all there, kind of a “Gone Girl.” Not surprising with her screwed up childhood.

I glanced out a window and saw the surreal shoreline and the tall tip of the Golden Gate Bridge, noticing the flowers all along the rocks. So peaceful.

Anna eyes narrowed, then moved from side to side as if calculating something. “But… I never carried erotic pieces.” she said while putting her coffee cup down.

“No erotic art at Exotic Exposure—sorry Mr. CIA!” I laughed, to which Anna smirked. “Erotic art, huh? So, was there sex abuse involved also?”

“Yup,” Ava was still visibly shaking. “The CIA produce super spies and program their subjects as ‘robot agents’ through use of drugs, hypnosis and shock treatments, brainwashing them to conduct acts of terror, assassinations, and sexual favors. I saw records on this during my personal spy efforts through my dad’s stuff—it all looked covered up in the name of ‘national security.’ More horrific revelations leaped from her tongue.

I grasped the meaning then, like something sharp and jagged in my hands. Like a sculpture made of broken glass.

“They’re using people, America’s youth, as political weapons, just like the art. Fucking with their heads.”

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