Monster Behind The Masks

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Chapter 17


“Jules, Jules, you’re crushing my ribs, girl!”

I couldn’t let go of my brother, afraid I’d lose him forever—this sweet man who went from trying to save the raccoons as a young boy to saving humanity from more train crashes, only to be accused of being a terrorist.

“Well look at you! There’s nothing left of you. It wouldn’t take much to break your bones!”

Making light of Jackson’s stressful ordeal seemed to be working, as his laugh lines were put to the test—a wonderful sight I had no plan to smooth away.

We stood at the edge of my garden rooftop, with a clear view of Angel Island. Jackson became silent. The only thing escaping his lips were nervous laughs full of obvious relief. But something else hovered.

“So, I told you your buddy Steve stopped by here months ago, pissed at the injustice —said he’d get a team together to fight for you. Looks like it worked! I signed the petition, by the way. Is that what got you off the hook? I read that over one-hundred thousand people signed it.”

Jackson pulled two wine glasses from my new cabinet. Ignoring my statement about the petition, he remarked, “Nice wine rack, looks like solid cherry wood!” As his fingers grazed the natural finish I noticed his hands shaking. He then stood rigidly and jiggled the contents of his pants pockets.

As much as I loved my new wine rack, it wasn’t important. My baby brother was free yet fidgety. “Jackson?”

He looked into my eyes, and I saw emotions I’ve never seen in him. Anger. Fear. Doubt.

“Jack…you’re free, you’re okay. What’s up? You didn’t answer my question. Did the petition get you off?” I wanted to hug him again but had already nearly crushed his fragile spirit.

“The petition helped. If anything, it made a statement.” He sat down on my patio recliner chair, squirming to get comfortable. He adjusted and readjusted the cushion under his butt. His eyes closed, and he rubbed his temples.

“But it’s not what set you free?” I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach thinking of the million-dollar bail statement Steve had mentioned. “What did it take?”

Another nervous laugh escaped Jack’s throat. He tensed and threw a searching glance into the mist of the evening darkness. What was he looking for? His dignity? Those fucking bastards, look what they’ve done to my baby brother.

“Oh, the same thing that makes the world go round—or is the root of all evil depending on one’s perspective.” Jackson took a sip of wine and smiled. Only, it was a forced, unhappy smile. His lips pressed together with squinted eyes.

I thought about college tuition for his kids and tried to push my own resentment aside to offer support. He needed my love, not bitterness. Then I remembered the petition Steve started as a fundraiser. “Jackson…how much came out of your own pocket?” I braced for the answer.

Jackson held the wine glass to the soft beam of light radiating from my apartment and pushed the recliner back further. His silhouette was suspended in darkness and I could not make out the expression on his face as he looked across the bay.

I could feel him trying to reestablish the simple childhood love and joy that connected us. As if to buy a moment, he took another sip of wine. We sipped together in a silence broken only by the sound of crickets. I waited.

Finally, Jackson answered. “Just 100K.”

Just? That’s a tenth of a million dollars!” I felt my hackles rise and for a split-second almost smashed my wine glass against the brick wall.

“Jules, it is what it is. Would you rather me rot in a cell for no reason? My friends raised a lot of cash to get me out. It’s water under the bridge—I really don’t want to talk about it.” He got up, grabbed the bottle of wine and with trembling hands poured himself another glass. I wondered about Jackson’s drinking—but now was hardly the time to broach the topic.

“Now I feel guilty for my small contribution.” I sulked.

Jackson looked at me with a fierce tenderness. “You give the best support anyone can, Jules—sisterly love.”

I liked this answer. It gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling. My brother is the deepest soul mate I’ve ever had, other than Feisty.

Feisty. My parakeet was not only able to mimic what humans said, he could decipher what was said and decode meaning. My beloved social animal got himself killed for saying too much.

A sudden flashback to the words of Agent Flock with the Glock as she stood exactly where we stood now, “Shortly after a suspected terrorist attack in New York City, your brother was seen taking photos at the Times Square subway station. He was arrested for not cooperating with the police.”

The warm and fuzzy feeling disappeared. “Is your job still secure? I asked, feeling disconcerted.

“Yes, but not the five billion budgeted for the first phase of the high-speed-rail project I spearheaded. It got dropped. There are some powerful people killing public transit projects—”

“Caryssa claims the Lock Family has people canvassing neighborhoods,” I interrupted. “Political activists for those oil tycoons trying to stop high-speed-rail progress.”

Jackson leaned toward me with a furrowed brow. “Actually, we’ve discussed this in meetings. It’s happening. People are going door-to-door saying to voters, ’do you want to stop higher sales taxes?’ Then saying, ’can we count on you to vote no on public transit plans?’

“But…really? I had wondered if it’s another of Caryssa’s conspiracy theories—she even thinks big dark money came after you in the subway.” A creepy sensation ran down my spine.

The creepy sensation only intensified after Jackson said, “I actually believe the Lock family is behind this, as my proposed project ran counter to their promotion of pipelines.”

Trying to act brave, I insisted, “If anyone came to my place saying this shit, I’d slam the door!” I was defending my brother’s livelihood more than the ideology.

Jackson sucked down the last drop of his wine, throwing his head back. “Let’s go inside, I’m cold, it feels chilly.”

I followed him back down the loft ladder into my studio apartment, shutting the latch behind me. The fog was rolling in, but not enough to make me feel cold. I worried about his strange symptoms.

Jackson was staring at me, or past me. I followed his absent-minded gaze to my corner desk where a twelve-inch Liberty ship model was proudly displayed. He slowly proclaimed, in a near whisper, “Dad hand-built that model. He was likely as excited about making this tiny replica as the real cargo ship.”

“I remember watching him create it, with his dental technician friend that helped him. It wasn’t all that long ago in the scheme of things…what, the late 90’s? He sculpted in from wax and cast it in metal.” My mind floated back to my father scratch-building the model with no use of any kit. He was not only a skilled ship-builder but a master modeler.

Jackson stepped closer to the casting and peered in. There, with a light rust appearance for realism, stood a small model of the SS William A. Richardson, the first Liberty ship our dad helped build. It sat on an authentic mahogany wooden base, an accurate replica of the original ship.

“Dad had quite the sense of humor,” I mentioned. Rather than label his model with the ships actual name, he had tagged his little toy, ’Ugly Duckling One, Marinship.’

“He always made us laugh.” Jackson opened the latch to the display case box, and a newspaper clipping fell to the floor. I looked down at the yellowed paper dated October 16, 1942. An edge tear on the front page made it difficult to read: ’Twenty-thousand people flock to Sausalito to witness the first Liberty ship launched at Marinship.’

Stooping to pick up the paper, Jackson said, “So interesting seeing all this unravel in the news long before either of us were born.” He turned the sticky yellowed front page and pointed to a photo. “Good looking dude!”

A photo of our handsome father stared back at us, with a headline: “Thomas Taylor—engineer, built ships for the War Effort.”

“You look just like him.” I gently kissed Jackson on the cheek.

Jackson shoved the paper back into the case, almost forcefully. “He must be rolling around in his grave,” he declared in a snappy tone of voice. “I remember overhearing him tell mom his only regret was how he made money, especially going into the ’defense’ industry after the war.”

I was taken aback and couldn’t respond. Jackson seemed to recognize my shock, and he added, “I mean…really? We need to invest in infrastructure, not our war economy! My means of supporting my family is being squashed due to this, this negative historic buildup.”

“Well don’t take it out on dad’s livelihood!” I didn’t want to argue with him, he’d been through enough. But I’d heard enough. “If it weren’t for his high salary, we never would have enjoyed our childhood living in the Sausalito Hills, vacations in Carmel and Shell Beach—”

“It’s not dad I’m mad at. It’s…it’s…all connected, Jules!”

“What’s connected?”

Jackson ran a hand through his hair, then raised both arms and shrugged, “I don’t know. Everything, I guess. Me being accused of being a terrorist, your bird being murdered, even Anna’s art gallery robbery and murder scene. And those freaking stinking bloody doves!” He spun in a circle as if to take in my apartment.

Then he stared at me. “Don’t you get it? Can’t you see this? Jules…they came looking for me here.”

Shaking my head in denial, I headed to the kitchenette to open a second bottle of wine. He spread out both hands against me as if to stop me. “Jules…Jules, somebody killed Feisty—angry after not finding me here. It’s my fault—”

“It’s not your fault, nothing’s your fault! Don’t even say that!” Bewildered with this mysterious outside force tainting my loving family bonds, I hurled the corkscrew into the sink hard, causing a loud crashing sound. Jackson jumped, overly startled.

A string of mental images flashed before me: The FBI terrorist task force appearing at my place, Fiesty’s blood on the cobblestones, Anna’s description of the symbolic messages left behind with the doves. My eyes darted from my dad’s model Liberty ship back to Jackson. I caught a reflection of my bright red hair in the mirror and made a mental note to get to the hairdresser to tone it down a bit.

Jackson continued, ’Liberty.’ The word is the first victim of war fought in its name! Now Washington continues to claim the need to export all that liberty.”

Then the words written on Anna’s Picasso painting, by the daughter of a rogue CIA Agent slapped me in the face. “I stand for life against death. I stand for peace against war.”

As if reading my mind, Jackson said, “Think, Jules! What was the message that girl who killed her doves tried to convey? Seriously, what is terrorism? War is terrorism on a bigger budget!”

Now my hands trembled as much as Jackson’s as I frantically twisted the corkscrew. I turned to him and repeated; “bloody teardrops left under the dove’s eyes symbolize being blinded by an elusive enemy. Three blood drops left on the breasts symbolize a removal of our society’s heart.”

It was like a light bulb turned on. I frowned when recognition dawned. Jackson is right. It’s all interconnected—to billionaire industrialist.

Follow the money.

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