Monster Behind The Masks

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Chapter 7

CARYSSA

We alternated our weekends with camping and hiking in Tahoe, or enjoying a multitude of outdoor activities in the Bay Area, soaking up nature wherever we could. There was little that fresh air and exercise couldn’t fix, or at least significantly help. When one lives in company of such natural beauty and splendor, it would be foolish to not take advantage. Then again, the same could be said about being alive and living your life to the fullest capacity.

On this balmy early autumn morning, I indulged in an invigorating mountain bike ride with Tyler, then my green thumbs – and fingers – got to work in the garden. Today’s project involved an abundance of succulents—a mix and match of color, form and textures.

I sipped an afternoon latte while absorbed in Dan Brown’s latest novel in my backyard. Now and then my sight would stray to my garden creation, filling me with pride. So much color, with flowers sprouting off many cacti, palms skirting them casting off a purple and pink desert-like charm.

I drink in the Golden Gate Bridge with fairylike streams of fog rolling over and through its fiery beams, then continue with Brown’s masterpiece. Anna was on her way from Sausalito. I had been looking forward to hearing the latest of her mysterious life events. The second dead dove discovered with symbolic messages in blood, and she hinted at an interesting twist in the murder case. I couldn’t help but be intrigued.

My iPhone pings. A message from Anna. Stopped 4 gas. I’m just over the bridge in Richmond. Will b there soon!

Through clicks and flicks courtesy of my thumb, I replied. Great! Just come through to the backyard, I’m living the moment in paradise!

Closing my book and leaving the fictional world, I dashed to my kitchen, programming the espresso machine for a vanilla ginger latte for Anna. Multitasking, I steamed milk while washing the newly plucked berries from my garden. I couldn’t wait for her arrival, this beautiful, sophisticated friend from Paris, with her tragic yet exciting background. With her huge heart, able to think first of the life of a young man before her own tragic loss of her daughters.

By the time I’d returned to my wicker sofa, Anna arrived. “Bonjour! Oh, you have lattes! I brought a bottle of Château-Grillet, straight from France, and some goat cheese stuffed apricots.”

“Do you prefer wine? I can always save the latte for George who should be home—”

“Oh, nonsense! I’ll enjoy this lovely latte. I can smell it from here, blending in with the delightful scents from your yard—you’ve made my favorite, with ginger! This bottle of wine is for you to toast your love of life. Share it with your hubby tonight at the dinner table.”

I motioned for Anna to sit, scooting her latte closer to the bowl of berries and apricots, boasting a visible freshness complimented by the sun.

Anna picked up my book, a frown setting into her face as her eyes smoothed over the cover. “How did you get the new Dan Brown novel so quickly? It’s not even released yet,” She spoke with high-pitch, surprise raising her tone.

“Yes it is, just released and I got it fresh off Amazon. And I have to say, your life sounds like one of his novels. All art and beauty, architecture, symbols and mystery, murder and—”

She derailed my positive comparison with the more dreary dank comparison, cutting into my sentence with darkness.

“Death and tragedy, and questioning the religious, political and legal powers that be if doing what they expected of me—burying my daughters in more family tragedy, could be the moral thing to do. Yup, I’m a Robert Langdon character, falling into fascinating, dreadful situations.” Anna laughed. A giddy, nervous cackle that spoke volumes of her ever-continuing struggles.

I wanted to kick myself. “Oh, I am so sorry Anna for bringing this up.” It dawned in my gut. I wanted to learn to balance my captivation with having a friend with such suspense in her life whilst remembering her sensitivity and engaging in conversation appropriately. With the horrific reality of it all. “How are you doing?” I asked, tickled by a slight breeze.

“I must be okay, as right now I see penises. One, two, three penises in your garden!” Anna laughed so hard her face glowed red as her eyes puddled.

Looking where she pointed, my eyes landed on the Phallic Cactus plants resembling prickly green penises. “Out of all my beautiful plants, you notice those…are you sure you’re getting enough these days, Anna?” I teased.

“Oh, I’m getting plenty enough lately. Pierre and are like newlyweds, we can’t keep our hands off each other!” Anna smirked, a cheeky laugh slipping out. “You must not be getting enough, so you need to plant penises!” She winked.

“Well, when I planted them, they didn’t look so much like dicks.” I chuckled. “My landscape is a place of beauty and relaxation.” I sipped my latte while staring at the bay, the sun warming my face and wind tussling my hair, also stirring a smile on my face. “I think you brought up the ‘prickly’ cactus as a distraction from the subject.”

“No, I want to talk about my situation. So…you know about the prison guard murdered at the Redwood City correctional facility—where the two young women wanted for the murder of my art gallery security guard are held. You know there’s another dove, same symbolic message in blood?” Anna hesitated, satisfying an itch on her nose.

“And I know about your La Paloma painting with the Picasso quote written on the back by one of the girls.” I decided wine did sound good after all. What better pairing is there than wine with art and murder mysteries?

“Okay. But what you don’t know is, the two girls may have nothing to do with the murders.” Anna gawked into my eyes, gauging my reaction.

My mouth fell open, shock landing on my tongue while I raised a finger. “Now this is getting good. We need to savor that wine you brought—be right back.” I ran up to get a corkscrew and two glasses.

I popped the cork and filled the two wine glasses with the fruity refreshment. Glugs echoed from the glasses as I served generous portions to Anna and I. I clunked a glass in front of her, and one sat cradled in my hands. Anna had hardly noticed this, caught in her mind and determined not to tangle the tale and keep everything straight.

“Tell me more!” I continued, enticed by intrigue.

“Well, an FBI Agent came to our home—”

“What? Now the freaking FBI is involved?” I blurted, words streaming from my mouth. “What happened with Sergeant Coral?” I couldn’t believe it. I was being blasted with revelation after revelation.

“Let me finish, I was getting there! The FBI has an Art Theft Division. They went through my surveillance videos, discovering a man was filmed both the night of my art gallery break-in, as well as at the prison. He was positively identified as Diego Ramirez. Ava’s dad.” She explained, eyes as round as dinner plates.

Recognition clicked on in my head. The CIA Agent. Something seemed strange, not sitting well with me. “Why didn’t Sergeant Coral look at that video?”

Anna inhaled heavily, fortifying her lungs with air. Needing to take the edge off, she took a sip of wine. She admired the panoramic view from my backyard as if to drink not just wine but the serenity. Then persevered “He actually had asked me for security footage, and I told him I had not used my security cameras in a while since the crime rate is so low in Sausalito. The cost of running all that high-tech equipment was too much. I didn’t even know my security cameras were streaming videos that night—” she shrugged, sitting the wine down. I watched it slosh for a moment before it settled.

“I remember now. You mentioned Johnny had called you earlier in the evening, saying he saw suspicious activity.” I alternated a sip between my latte and wine, which as horrid as it sounds, actually made a delicious combo tempting my palate. Like a Ginger-Sangria made with white wine. I relished the combination of flavors while Anna continued.

“Yes, isn’t that sad? Johnny set up the surveillance camera that caught his own killer on tape.” Anna plucked a goat cheese filled apricot, popped it into her mouth, and closed her eyes.

“So, they’re sure it was this Diego dude, the CIA Agent? Hmm, not surprised. He is the brother of my former boss, who now makes killer bots. They’re all in bed together, creating the America we see today—defined by militarism, surveillance, and shadow government.” I topped off our glasses with more wine, sensing we’d need it.

“Oh, I’m on the same page with you on that one, USA is like the former Soviet Union. But what does surprise me is it means he set up his own daughter and her best friend.” A hummingbird swooped to my feeder, hovering for a few seconds. Anna smiled as it flew backward, up, down, sideways then flitted away.

“Why does that surprise you? You acknowledged agent provocateurs are among the head of our foreign policy. And here’s America, with youth perpetually going off to war to spill their blood for the invisible money power working to enslave mankind.” My neighbor started playing music, and Airstreams Electra sent Buddha-like relaxing tones flowing through my yard.

“Invisible money power?” Anna scooped up her wine glass and fiddled with the stem. She stared at the fluid, as she absently swirled it, watching the alcohol lick the inside of the glass.

“Yes, the Triangle of Power: corporations, executive government and US’CIA-led coups against foreign governments. That spy agency was created not to discover secrets for ‘national security,’ but to fabricate ideologies and disinformation to finance both sides of wars—”

“I overheard, as a little girl, that the Vietnam War was created by the CIA.” Anna’s face contorted into a sneer. “Imagine….my dad could still be alive today.”

I sat my hand on Anna’s shoulder, my lips sank in sadness. Nothing need be said. My heart forever cried for her inner child.

After a moment, acknowledging her turmoil and hoping to distract her from it, I continued “Okay, so back to Diego dude—you said he was a former executive of DataRodent, the largest search engine company in the world. In reality, the tech giant is a political think-tank for foreign policy formation funded by the CIA and NSA. Throughout history the CIA has been framing and blaming whole nations, governments, and people to instigate wars.”

“I’m trying to see the connection between the conspiracy theory and the murders—” a line burrowed between her brows.

“Oh come on, Anna!” I flung my arms out. “The phrase ‘conspiracy theory’ has devolved into a freaking cliché! Why should we question if a crazed agent who worked ‘intelligence’ ops in Afghanistan would do such monstrous things to his own kid?”

Anna kept her head down, sight running along the table as if she believed answers would be hidden in the furniture. “Because I still don’t understand why he framed his own daughter. What was his motive?” She asked, face drawing tighter in confusion. Her tone was one of frustration as if deliberately being kept out of the loop.

I wondered if her remorse for her own daughters’ tragedies held a blanket over her eyes, keeping her from seeing this man’s true identity: A scheming murderer. Like many other military officers, perhaps his once vibrant soul has been ravaged by PTSD provoked by his ill-fated career.

“Motive? Anna, he’s implicated in the murders of Johnny and another innocent man. He works for a covert operation that has committed atrocities for decades. The CIA has been placing social activist on a ‘watch list.’ They don’t want people to be humanitarians. It interferes with their clandestine operations. Motive? His daughter is an antiwar protestor who wants peace and money for education. My guess? He wanted to silence her.” I shrugged, having explained it as clearly as possible.

“But…makes no sense, he bails her out of prison then implicates her?” Anna was not buying my idea. Although she does have a valid point, I wondered if he didn’t frame her— then got buried in parental guilt…I found a finger running along my lip as I pondered this possibility.

As if on cue and capable of conscious thought, the neighbor’s music switched to the song, World, by Dan Bern. I couldn’t help but wonder if they wanted to imbue our conversation with mental clarity to forestall the world’s careening drunkenly into madness.

We sat for a moment enjoying the gentle, flower-scented breeze as my consciousness drifted back to when I first discovered the dark side of the CIA and other federal agencies.

I worked in the alluring world of computers and the internet. Contracts for the overseas sales of IT systems crossed my desk on a daily basis fueling our permanent war economy… My mind flits there, but it won’t land.

Anna swayed to the music, smiling into the sunshine. I love how we can engage in an ‘intense’ conversation while maintaining the calm. She said, “Well, I do think worldwide corruption keeps going, with people not even blinking an eye.”

I took a dollar out of my purse. It crinkled in my fingers. “This creepy eye sure doesn’t seem to blink, just keeps staring at us.” I pointed at the Egyptian pyramid with the all-seeing eye glowing on top. “It’s a Masonic symbol. It’s—”

“Supposed to be the Eye of God watching over us.” Anna completed my sentence.

“Bullshit!” I scoffed. “More evil has been carried out in the name of God than anything. FDR ordered this symbolism placed on the dollar back in 1935. With ‘In God We Trust.’ The mystery behind all these symbols is a puzzle.”

I was riding on a little buzz courtesy of the wine. “This is the best white wine I’ve ever tasted.”

Anna laughed, “It should be, I brought it back from France’s premier Rhone Valley wine region—not that I paid a dime for it. I know the growers. A bottle can sell for as much as $295 a pop!” Her eyebrows reached for her hairline.

“What? Whether you were given this wine as a gift or not, this is an extravagant rendezvous. You should have told me, I wouldn’t have opened it.” I gestured to the half empty bottle.

Anna’s hands moved outwards in a rapid twist of the wrist, brushing my worry away. “Nonsense, we are talking money, why not drink it?” She pointed to the dollar bill still in my hand. “So, where were you going with that? The Illuminati?”

I hesitated, taking a greedy gulp of air. “I don’t want to go there. Yet, there’s some covert shit going on besides what’s fed to us in the media—the world is controlled by three corporations: The City of London, Washington D.C. and the Vatican.”

Anna snatched a sprinkling can from my garden rack, and started feeding a few plants, focused now on my potted palms. Her eyes didn’t falter from the plants as she spoke, “The high-tech industry so linked to global arms sales is frightening. Imagine if we let the money flow into something like clean energy instead of spy satellites and war machines.”

The sexy high-tech world I worked in. I tried to chase away the almighty semiconductor chip and its early link to military contracts. “Having dictators spit ‘fire and fury’ over the world coalescing into today’s forever wars, coupled with raging hurricanes and wildfires, mass shootings, the heartbreaking opioid epidemic is too much!”

“And on a lesser scale, having my tiny art gallery in upscale Sausalito robbed and a security guard bludgeoned to death?” Anna’s head tilted to one side as she asked this as if it was the weight of the question that knocked her head off-kilter.

It’s like a symbol of an apocalypse now. “Are you still questioning if the CIA Agent framed his daughter—”

“No, I am convinced he set up the girls to be implicated with the murders. I’m even beginning to think he may have been involved with the art theft. There’s a standing joke in the art industry that the CIA has quite an art collection at their clandestine art gallery in Washington. Who the hell would sell artwork to the CIA?” I questioned, scraping hair from my face that had slipped onto my forehead thanks to the meddlesome breeze.

“You certainly wouldn’t sell the agency artwork, after their little sneak performance with Vietnam.”

Anna nodded, adding, “The CIA secretly used modern art as a political weapon back in the 50’s and 60’s. A covert op to support Cold War propaganda.”

I crossed my arms in defiance of the hideous arms race that brought us to where we are today, with nonstop violence. “Yes, I read that culture and art was driven into the Cold War, to make it look all ‘sexy’ at taxpayers’ expense.” I couldn’t help but tut.

My sight was driven to the landscape and the shadow of a figure on the nearby hill cast by the sun.

It moved. I tensed.

“Girl, be subtle; look down there towards the trees. I think someone’s watching us.” I muttered, reigning back anxiousness. Was he a threat? Was he dangerous? Were we deliberately being watched? Mountains of questions forced their way into my racing thoughts, matching my now-racing pulse.

Anna’s gaze drifted across the hill and settled on the fleeting shape. “He left. Maybe he’s just a hiker enjoying the trails. After all, you live in this beautiful setting near open space.” She spoke with such calm, not a spec of nerves. If only I could say the same.

I didn’t want to alarm her, but it seems that someone is always hanging in the periphery whenever I get together with her or Julie.

Anna continued, “I still think that Ava Ramirez killed her pets and left the symbolic messages and Picasso peace quote behind.”

My hand went to my neck as I thought of the girls transferring the victim’s blood, drop by drop onto the dove’s breasts and beneath the eyes like teardrops. A symbol of fire and death. Did they?

“This murder and art theft cases are shrouded in mystery, I still wonder why the girls’ fingerprints were found on the weapon…I mean your bronze sculpture.”

Anna raised her eyebrows while shaking her head decisively. “You were the first to mention the CIA is famous for framing people. DNA evidence can be fabricated and planted at crime scenes.” She reminded me.

“But fingerprints? It’s not just DNA how can—”

“Why do we keep going back and forth like a ping pong ball? Caryss, this is the CIA, experts at espionage and secrecy. I imagine they know a few fingerprint forgery methods.” Her head rested on her fist, which unraveled as she spoke behind her fingers as if someone was tuned into her debate.

I topped off our glasses, laughing internally how two wine lubricated mothers had turned into private investigators in a backyard paradise. As if alcohol had turned us into ruthless sleuths unearthing lies and deceit. “So Ava and perhaps her friend killed the doves to—”

Anna jerked forward, index finger in the air, connecting another dot, “Maybe it was a rebellion against her dad for the chaotic society he helped shape? Doves resemble peace. CIA agents don’t want peace. They make money from war. Besides the emotional pollution her father’s job brought her, I forgot to tell you something else.”

“New mystery! Oh boy, do we need some more wine?” I teased.

“Heck no, I’d never get over the bridge back to Sausalito. Anyhow, I researched Ava’s family background and found out her Mom vanished in 2008. Her body never found.”

A new weight landed on the conversation, bringing my jaw to the table and widening my eyes.

“Oh my God, this sounds too much like stories of other CIA agent’s wives gone missing or murdered.” My mind raced back to an artist, Mary Pinchot Meyer, murdered in Washington D.C. in the 60’s. She challenged the CIA and US Foreign Policy. The story was she had just finished a painting at her nearby art studio…I chased the thought away. “Tell me, Anna, you’re not talking to any feds, are you? Don’t talk to the FBI again—”

“I haven’t spoken to any law enforcement for a week, not even Sergeant Coral who I’m beginning to think was fired for saying too much to me—” She slipped out.

“The FBI has also entrusted you with their secrets. You are too beautiful Anna, inside and out. People talk to you.” I looked away, willing a hummingbird hovering over my feeder to blanket my mind in stillness.

Anna crossed her arms, a gesture I rarely see in her. I hoped I wasn’t creating a barrier between us. She lifted her head, “Well, the dove, symbolic of balance and peace of the deepest kind, is also the symbol of motherhood. I wonder if the message left behind in the blood drops was meant to not only represent lack of social justice and world peace, but her inner calm crushed when her Mom went missing.” She guessed, kneading her temples. Clearly, this intense discussion came with a physical weight lodging in her skull, expanding with every new speculation and consideration.

I thought about this. “If you kill the dove, you kill peace.” I declared, hitting the nail on the head.

“Yes…a symbol of love and peace, silenced.”

As for the next few minutes, our chatter was also silenced with this sudden realization and its unnerving presence.

***

“Julie wants to have a gathering,” Anna told me, whilst leaving my house. “Her brother is in town with his wife and kids. Pierre will be on a business trip, but I’m going. Next Saturday if you can make it.”

I stopped rinsing my wine glasses and turned to her. “So, Jackson is out of jail? That’s great!”

“Yes, especially since he is innocent. This is hard on him, and Julie. It’s hard for the kids. They never know if law enforcement will accuse daddy again.” Anna lacquered her lips in gloss while fishing for her keys. The girl from Paris is quite the multitasker. “It will be at her adorable little apartment in Sausalito—you know where it is.”

“Sounds great…are kids invited?”

“I think so, but her place is so small, can’t imagine her entertaining kids. No place to run.” Her eyes joined her hands in the hunt for her keys.

“Come to think of it, George and Tyler will be on a scout’s trip next weekend anyhow. So if I come alone she can’t shove her political viewpoints down my kid’s throat.”

Anna’s lips puckering into a frown, her almond eyes narrowing. “I haven’t heard Julie talk politics in a while. I wouldn’t worry about it.”

“Well, she uses phony jargon like ‘freedom fighter’ or ‘national security’ imposing opinions on extremist foreign policy. Condoning political violence goes against the enlightened morals I try to instill in my child. I won’t tolerate—”

“Caryss, we’ve been through this.” She jumped in, speaking through glimmering lips made even shinier by the sun. “Don’t worry. She let go, after her brother’s ordeal. I talked to Jackson, he told me today his sister has been knocked off her fantasy freedom cloud.”

That’s a relief!

I hugged Anna goodbye, then my eyes found hers. “I’ll try to make it over. I have a community fundraiser to go to.” I had been supporting several causes including donating to the hordes of families affected by California’s smoldering fires.

“Well, there’s something you could discuss with Julie. She too is involved in a local fundraiser. It’s called Foundation for Innocence, supporting the victims throughout America accused of terrorism. It’s become a huge problem.” She informed me. I felt for her, I really did. But I didn’t agree with her political views. Understatement. Unless she really had seen the light? I hoped so. While I don’t like to let political views stand in the way of friendship, I couldn’t help judge someone with such a lack of awareness. Or pity their gullibility. However, I am human. Her situation did tug on my heart strings.

My mind drifted back to reading about the multitude of innocent young teens arrested for “terror threats” for simply posting political satire on Facebook or playing online video games, including a 13-year-old girl. Our federal government has become what our forefathers sought to destroy. It’s outrageous. If it weren’t for people sharing my viewpoints and pulling the wool from their own eyes, I’d be deeply discouraged about the fate of our planet.

No bloody war ever destroyed tyranny. I thought of a James Madison quote, “If tyranny and oppression came to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.”

It yanked at my heart and tortured my soul.

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