The Truth Will Out
A motley crew in the mud wade;
to the dreaded Vault we MADE!
Sorry, couldn’t help myself.
I am a poet on a shelf.
OK, really, I’m done now. Honest. I’m no de Sade…
So on we did trod.
Sun fallen, I lead the way around the school to the Den from the outside, not willing to trash my good name forever by revealing the secret entrance from the inside. In tail, in no particular order, were Ash, Evelyn(this was a mission, got to keep things formal), Matron, and Taggart, his fingers around Ash’s neck. He managed to hold on for longer than 8 seconds, so Rodeo fans rejoice. Still, some heroes are never happy.
‘Agent,’ Matron ground her teeth like five out of five dentists didn’t recommend. ‘If there is a secret hiding place in my school, then I think St. Croix is using it to hide valuable property, and thus, I don’t want her to escape while we investigate.’
I stepped in some mud, but Evelyn pushed me on before I could scream out newly learned profanities. So attentive and there for me.
‘I’d chain her down to the bed. Five different ways, and she’d be sedated.’
‘We’re here.’ I said. The Den of Iniquity.
Moments later we stood before the terrifying Vault. Even if the dead people behind it were dead, I’m sure their ghosts wanted to suck my bones dry. This was a mistake. The dead were burying their dead—let’s walk away and keep up our end. Our duty was to pretend we never die, their duty was to stay dead. That's fair, I say.
‘Well,’ Taggart said to himself in the nicotine stained causeway. ‘This is new to me.’
Matron denied any knowledge of the door, which was probably true, as she wasn’t a smoker. ‘How did you learn of this place, Archer?’
I had to think fast, but nothing coming. ‘I was dared in here once.’
‘It was for Freemason ceremonies. Esoteric ones.’ Everyone turned to my Snuggle Bunny. She looked self-conscious, then took Taggart’s flashlight and my handkerchief, and scrubbed away some of the caked dirt on the corners. Hieroglyphics! ‘This school used to be for masons, right? These weird engravings, and the out of the way location, must make it some secret temple for high ranking priests or something, right?’
I glared at her. How could she not have told me? Sure, nightmares, but how cool was that? Daydreaming Indiana Jones and me excavating the school's underground for postmodern mythical treasures could have made my time a little sweeter, let me tell ya. Oh, shit. I’m a lesbian. Evelyn was my Indiana Jones. I had to step in line to that. I’d buy her a hat when we got out. And the whip so… no, just the hat.
Taggart had one hand on Ash’s neck, but took back his flashlight with the other to investigate. Matron tapped her foot, glaring at his back. Evelyn took the opportunity to whisper, ‘I told you I’m going to run this place someday.’
‘You are awesome. What’s your hat size?’
Matron tapped until she got the attention she felt she deserved. ‘History is fun, but look at that lock. We’ll never get it open. We might as well go to sleep and I shall call a construction team for tomorrow.’
‘Oh,’ I’d almost forgotten Ash was there. ‘If I could borrow a hair pin I’m sure I could—‘ Taggart jerked her neck to shush the beast like you would a leashed dog barking at an Amish neighbor delivering homemade pie to welcome you to the neighborhood.
‘My arm is getting sore, sir.’
‘Archer!’ Matron growled and I jumped. Taggart reacted.
‘Fuck. Wait, I think… I think that did it.’ Taggart put his back into it. He twisted his foothold, bent a little, but I kept the flashlight right on his grinding, shoving, irresistible backside forcing down a spiritual door of innocence and secret power that couldn’t be as powerful as Taggart’s hips until Evelyn kicked me.
The rust cracked and the door swung easy, sending Taggart through like a cartoon character. Then Ash accused, ‘That’s it!
‘NoooOOOOOOOOO.’ Evelyn said, so I kicked her. ‘OW! I mean,’ now she whispered, ‘yes,’ then turned back half way in time for Ash to shove her into the Vault after Taggart.
Ash hugged me the fastest hug of my life. ‘Thanks, I’m out of here.’ I grappled her.
‘No, I got an angle for you to get out for keeps! Don’t be a fool!’ While we struggled a very funny thing happened. Hysterical, really. Matron Danielle Gregor karate jabbed each of us in the shoulder. I didn’t know if I still had my arms. Stunned and helpless, she shoved us in the Vault of my nightmares, tossed in a fire grenade, and pulled the massive door shut with a BASH while Taggart tripped over us to stop her, losing his flashlight. I saw the last sliver of light and knew it might be my last.
Hyperventilating, I darted my eyes around the dark room until I turned blind, deaf, hot, and suffering from singed hair. The room came alive, and I could see it was maybe fifteen by fifteen feet, but half of that, the rear half, was crammed with Cold Relief Cream cans and boxes of paperwork and money in flames, and the fire gave me enough light to see that the smoke wasn’t venting.
Paper is thin wood. Wood. Wood burns. Goddamn wood had my number after all.
Evelyn was on her feet, rubbing her head. Ash backed into a corner. Taggart found his flashlight and went to work on the lock.
My hearing returned as fast as it left me. Taggart said, ‘She jammed it.’ He looked around like most men look for the perfect sized Philip’s Head screwdriver in a messy garage. He was solid, but there was a wild, angry animal inside him that stretched its chains. And then Ash screamed.
On her knees, she dug her face into the stone corner of the room, screeching like nothing I’d ever heard before, but I bet it was worse than those bats in that cave her former mechanic boss battled a DDU spy. She dug and flailed and slammed her pretty head into brick again and again. I saw a fingernail cut off with a splat on a stone.
Taggart grabbed me and threw me to Ash; Evelyn followed. My limbs half worked again. I grabbed at her but she was too strong and wild, and she wouldn’t stop screaming. I looked at Evelyn(and I definitely needed Evelyn now, not Snuggle Bunny), and she agreed. We hit Ash at two angles, me from above, Evelyn from below. It was a tussle, but we got her on her belly. I had an arm and her head pressed to the ground so she couldn’t bang it, Evelyn had everything else. She still screamed and pleaded and begged. I couldn’t understand it, but there was definitely a “mom” and “dad” in her slobbering. I wanted my mommy and daddy too.
Taggart used his jacket to wave the smoke from the ceiling against the walls. Idiot, what was he thinking? We’re in a confined space. There was no way—and then it hit me. I was going to die. I learned that knowing you are going to die is just like dying. It’s like falling asleep when you’re not at all tired, and feeling, bit by bit, how nothing feels. It didn’t feel cold. It felt like nothing. You don’t feel your insides until they hurt or they go away, meaning you do feel your insides without appreciating them until they go Carmen San Diego.
Then Taggart responded. He threw himself at a segment of the wall and watched the smoke he just wafted against it. I thought he’d lost it, but then he waived his jacket four times at the spot, keeping his eyes sharp on one spot. I followed his eyes, and there it was. Venting smoking. Venting out, and fuck death we were going to live.
Taggart put his jacket back on as he studied the wall.
‘Hurry!’ I Felt like an idiot saying that, but I couldn’t think of any other way to help but to give my vote, and that’s how I learned the importance of voting.
Taggart flipped out his kit and poked the wall here and there while I experienced a drop in oxygen. Evelyn coughed once, then repeatedly. I think I did too. Taggart, fire moving around him, bit into his left wrist, his eyes blood red, and kept jabbing at different nooks in the wall.
I didn’t feel like I was dying anymore. Everything was quite fine, really. I was sleepy, but that was ok because I could use a nap. Ash kept moaning, and I wanted to tell her it was going to be ok because… the thing, I couldn’t remember, but we were safe now. Then she gave me an elbow to my chin and I was awake for three seconds and knew I was going to die before I was ok again.
Stunned, maybe the eighth time that day, I watched Ash tangle with Snuggle Bunny. Sigh…. didn’t Snuggle Bunny know everything was ok? Stop fighting! If you need to wrestle with a girl, hey, I’m right here. Except first I needed a pillow and a few days of sleep. Hmmmm... I love being warm. A little house cat curled up before the living room fire.
Taggart gave Ash the same jab to the shoulder Matron gave her(and me) just a few hours ago, grabbed her, pointed at me, then ran into the smoke. Damn it, Taggart, we were perfectly safe here! Taggart found a door! There was no reason to run away. Just wait until Taggart opened the door and—
Evelyn picked me up without even asking (which is a violation of our consent agreement), there was a lot of cigarette smoking, then I vomited on the cool stone floor of a smoke free corridor. I’d need that extra fifteen minutes of shower time for sure.
* * *
Sitting, Evelyn cleaned my mouth with my handkerchief(which was made for spanking generated tears but it worked on partially digested food nonetheless) while Taggart held Ash rolled up in his lap. Her skirt was up and all over the place, and I was amazed at how much the man she sat on didn’t seem to notice. He whispered to her down from freaking out status to soft whimpering.
‘What’s the deal?’ I whispered, looking around the dank stone corridor lit by modern bulbs on bolted wires running across the ceiling.
‘Didn’t you hear her?’ Evelyn whispered back. ‘I think her parents… when she was a kid, I think she saw her parents’ house burn down with them in it.’
‘Oh…’ Damn it. Why does shit like that happen? ‘I… I don’t…’
Evelyn finished cleaning me and got to hugging. ‘Nobody knows what to say. It’s just horrible.’
‘He knows what to say. Apparently.’
‘Apparently Taggart knows everything.’
Five minutes and Ash was almost back, but still wrapped up like a baby, her head on Taggart’s shoulder. I could see Taggart desperate to get moving, but he couldn’t leave Ash a wreck either. A minute later Ash poked her head up and whispered back. Taggart shook her to her feet, and slapped her across the face so hard she would have fallen if he didn’t hold her up. A full arch slap with the force of kicking mule.
I went to scratch his eyes out, but Evelyn put me in a strangle hold.
‘Ashley Thomas St. Croix, it happened! It wasn’t your fault, and your parents would have burned and died a thousand times so you could live one life. Their child lived, so their lives were successful, understand? Understand!?’ Ash stood up to him. She was back, but I was afraid there would be another fight and that one of them would die, and we couldn’t afford to lose either. Thankfully, Ash dropped in the most inhuman of fashion and nodded a consent, bitter as it was. Her panic and anguish were replaced with hatred. It hurt my stomach to see it. The mindset was something I saw, I swear, but I can’t explain it, then or now. ‘Good, because if we don’t move quick their lives will be made a failure. Everyone in this school is in danger. Can you move?’
‘Yes.’ Evelyn spoke for us.
‘Good, come on.’
Taggart took his jacket off of Ash and put it back on himself, checked some pockets to sort himself out, then moved down the passage. We followed.
‘How…’ Ash wiped her nose with her sleeve and pretended nothing happened. She needed a good talking to about emotions, but now wasn’t the time. ‘How- how did we get out?’
‘Taggart found a secret passage way.’ I answered. ‘Which begs the question…’
This is going to be difficult to describe, but it seemed to me that Taggart put most of his mind on the passage, and allocated only a little smidgen to talk to us girls so we wouldn’t panic, so his answers sounded more like internal rebukes than explanations. See? Tough stuff I’m dealing with here. I don’t pretend to be any Shirley Jackson, but I will play her on TV for the right sized check.
‘Begging a question is a logical fallacy. You mean, “which leads us to the next question”, which is how did I know about the door. I didn’t, I deducted a door.’
‘Which leads us to—‘
‘The rust on the Vault door. That door hadn’t been opened in decades, yet those cans were new, so they must have gotten there another way.’
‘Rust can be faked.’ Ash said, her tone obstinate as ever.
‘I thought of that, but three facts suggested otherwise.’ Taggart tapped a light bulb and rung his fingers through the electrical cords, following them, occasionally stopping to read words on them. 'First, the Freemasons are excellent magicians, and all magicians need an escape route to fake apport and asport. Second, it would be inefficient to put rust on a door every time they needed to open it twice a month, as the tracts suggest. Third, and most important, they couldn’t very well carry the cans from the South Fence to the Vault without risking being seen, even at night. Or the money back.’
Evelyn shook her head. ‘You keep saying “they”. So, Gregor has a deal to scam us out of some cash for her cans, enough cash to kill for, but—‘ Evelyn stopped talking and thought as we walked down this never ending (and creepy) Indiana Jones type hallway. Damn it, a whip would comfort here and now, but I'm still not getting her one. ‘Why would she go and kill us over this? For some money? She must know she’d get caught and tried for murder after you disappeared.’
Taggart stopped to check the wall for something I don’t know what. He studied in silence long enough for me to want to scream. What the Hell was going on here? Answer me. My parents pay your salary!
‘She’s DDU.’ Taggart moved further down the passage.
‘Yeah right.’ I said before thinking.
‘What do you think happens if I don’t report in every eight hours?’ Nobody answered. ‘An army attacks. I’m not exaggerating. Agents, yes of course, but also copters, tanks, soldiers, satellite realignments—everything. Even grave digger detachments.’ That last addition didn’t sound like a very funny joke.
‘But she could leave us in the Vault.’ My sarcasm defense melted a tab. My stomach started to hurt. I felt like I was in bed after a nightmare, my dad explaining to me that, “yes indeed, the spaces under beds are homes for child eating monsters that can't be stopped, so be careful. Goodnight, baby. I hope I'll see you in the morning.”
Taggart spoke low and harsh, and feminism be damned—I couldn’t argue against that tone.
‘I have beacons implanted in my bones. A matron would know that. And it makes sense. We’ve gotten reports that the DDU has upped production of cans that fit the specs of Relief cans. We thought it was for a new type of drug. May be still. But we know they’ve been siphoning more and more money from our economy. These reform schools are perfect. Isolated, few adults, no police, girls minding their business out of fear of the cane. Indoctrination.’
Evelyn clutched me in shock, but we kept walking. ‘The essay topic change! No wonder she hated my paper!’ It must be true. I accepted the grave fact. There wasn’t one passive tense sentence in the whole brilliant thing. Her essay proved a masterpiece. Only a DDU bitch could hate it. Oh, and the whole freedom of the individual thing. Had to love that. But not one passive tense sentence! You try it.
‘Yeah,’ Taggart stopped, so we did as well. ‘Kids are vulnerable.’ He muttered, looking up and around, touching the wall, even jumping to touch the ceiling.
Ash looked back from wince we come, then at her feet, and counted with her fingers. Not really counting with her fingers, but using them as numerical bench marks. ‘We’re twenty feet from the stables.’ I didn’t even know we were heading south. I slapped my head.
The fucking SOUTH FENCE again. Those tire tracks Ash went on and on about. That’s how Gregor got the cans in. That’s why the fence was so well guarded. That’s why Gregor caned Ash so hard for snooping about. That’s why everything that could be done to keep a girl away from the South Fence was done in spades. And near the South Fence were the stables and Foxtrot’s shed.
‘Yeah. About twenty.’ Taggart finished inspecting the walls, then looked at us. ‘Look, Gregor knows the jig is up. She knows she’ll be caught, so she knows we’re going to find out everything about the operation, and a lot more that would cripple their operation. That means she has to destroy the school.’
‘WHAT?’ That was me blurting.
‘It’s her only play. Killing all the students will cause a panic, will reduce faith in our governments ability to protect the people, which is our first responsibility. If people lose that faith, then nothing else we do matters. It’ll generate calls for the old ways, the brutal ways. Simple prisons to turn citizens against their country. Close our country, crippling our economy. She wont let herself be caught—she knows too much. And by blowing up the school she destroys any useful evidence linking the scam to the DDU. They'll be hearings and witch hunts, all the press. Law suits. It'll be a good blow. The smart move.' Even Ash wilted. ‘But not all the evidence will be destroyed. Our side will figure out her operation. The truth will out. But too late to do much good.’
I asked, ever calm, ‘How can you be so sure they’ll blow up the school?’
‘Because I know how they think. They think in groups.’ Taggart answered. And fast.
He stared us down hard, somehow looking each of us in the eyes all at the same time. Ash and Evelyn looked confused, and so did I until I slapped my head, which is the only way to get me to think. Well, everyone seems to think slapping my butt works pretty good, too.
‘Oh my God. The DDU is selling cans in all the other Reform schools. She’s going to… she’s going to tell all the other… agents all over the country to blow up the other schools.’
‘But.’ Evelyn couldn’t take it all in all at once. Neither could I, I must admit. I knew it, but I didn’t know what I knew right away. ‘That’s thousands of people.’
‘Tens of thousands.’ Ash was grave, but dig a little deeper and you’d find wraith. That psychotic fury inside my crazy friend might have even given me hope. ‘Forty-three Reform schools. I’ve been to seven.’
‘So many murdered,’ Taggart’s tone became guttural. ‘We will have to start a war, even if the war serves the DDU. We wont have a choice. Millions will die.’
This isn’t right. It was way too surreal. Millions will die? Hours ago my biggest fear was getting spanked, for crying out loud. I am not adult enough for this crap! I never wanted to be this adult. I acted a certain way so I’d never have to be this adult.
Evelyn said, ‘She must have already made the call. It wont take long.’
I, here, must admit an intrusive thought. Here, in the tunnel, I was safe. I would not be one of the tens of thousands. I would live on, and my parents would be so grateful and loving to me after this horrible day was over. They’d freak when their TV told them of the holocaust. Then they’d learn I survived and rush to me and hug me and never let me go and daily cover me in chocolate and buy me anything I want and I…
‘Look at me.’ We obeyed the man from Praxis. ‘None of that is going to happen. I hate this, I hate to do this to you, but I need all the help I can get. This is too important. You’re all adults by age, and I need you to act like adults tonight, which means, I need you all to obey me. Like the military. Do what I tell you, when I tell you. You agree? If not, stay here until it’s over.’
‘I’m in, sir.’ Ash said it like another person. Like a person eager for authority, which is to say, like Ash’s Evil Twin, who is good.
‘Me too.’ Evelyn spoke for us, but I wasn’t sure.
* * *
We watched Taggart climb the ladder to Foxtrots’ shack. Then we listened to Taggart attack, subdue, and torture that creepy old grounds keeper. Ash flew up the ladder, then Evelyn, then me, not wanting to be alone.
The shack was rickety and dirty. Foxtrot, his ancient arm and leg broken, was none-the-less tied up with electrical cord and on the floor. Taggart tore furniture apart until he found a computer in a cactus planter. It was black and modern, and contrasted greatly with the wooden décor. No wires. Taggart clicked and clacked on the keyboard, gave up on breaking the code after five seconds and jumped on the twisted old man, a knee landing on a twisted leg.
Obviously, there was a scream.
And then another. ‘Turn around!’
Evelyn turned on the spot like a good soldier, then turned me around with more force than was necessary. She had my head at my neck, doing a good job of restricting my view. It didn’t occur to me to shrug her off. I couldn’t see Foxtrot, but I could turn enough to see Ash. Ash watched what I couldn’t, a hard look on her face. Evelyn, unlike me, could talk.
‘We don’t know he’s with them.’
‘Of course he is.’ Ash spat out.
‘The computer, the shack by the South Fence, the passage entrance opening in his shack.’
‘But still… what?’
Taggart screamed words I didn’t know. A lot of “j’s” and “t’s”. It wasn’t anything European or Asian or African… it was too concise. Very. It was artificial.
Evelyn tried to control her breathing, but failed, so she talked to pretend to have control. ‘That’s the Didactic Language. Invented…’ Taggart must have done something horrible to that old man because my bones heard the next scream. I longed for the dank, dark tunnel. ‘Invented to remove nuance… oh, can’t this end? What if he’s just a creepy old man?’
Foxtrot answered Taggart with the same “j’s” and “t’s”. Ash looked satisfied. I didn’t understand the argot, but I know it couldn’t be gibberish. It was too consistent, and Taggart stopped doing whatever he was doing, and listened. Then a CLUNK and I forced a turn to see him at the computer, entering codes. Foxtrot cringed and crumpled along the wall. He twitched until he went limp.
‘OK. Good.’ Taggart dropped his head and closed his eyes. He decided, put his fingers on the keypad, and I heard the distinct sounds of four-wheelers not forty feet away.
‘No.’ I murmured. A cliché idiot was I.
‘Get back in the passage.’ Taggart clicked away at the computer while we failed to obey him. He repeated himself, and we repeated failure to obey him. Boy, I sure hope he doesn’t spank me before DDU agents slit my throat.
‘OK, word is out. But they’re not going to get here in time. Southdown is remote on purpose. For trouble makers.’
‘What about the military base?’ I asked.
‘Two hours away.’
Bobby or Harrison drove two hours just to ball me? I. Am. Hot!
Taggart shoved us, one by one, under a window and pointed a finger in our faces, one by one, and, in no uncertain terms, told us to stay put or he’d kill us. Then he punched Foxtrot’s lights out. It took him half a second to find the best weapon in the shack. A short rusty old ax. Against guns?
‘Listen,’ he whispered, crouched before us. ‘I have to neutralized them before we can move to the school’s main building. I have to do this alone, or I’ll lose the element of surprise. I need you in the school. The school is our objective; these clowns are just an obstacle.’ He tested the blade of his ax with his fingers. Not sharp enough to cut skin. ‘If I fail, immediately approach the school along the tree line, enter the school, and turn the main generator off. After that, hide or make a run for it. Our boys are coming by air. Stay low until the fights over.’
‘But you don’t even know how many are out there.’ Evelyn said.
‘We’re not in a position to pick our battles. Stay put.’ Taggart opened a rear window and climbed out without making a noise a dog could hear. Damn he had a great ass. I looked at the other girls. Evelyn bit her lip, but seemed in control. Ash, and I’m not making this up, looked at the window with a queer, contemplative look. So, she was human after all.
‘I want to confess something before I die.’
Evelyn jabbed me between rib three and four. ‘Don’t jinx us!’
‘Sweetheart, we’re up Jinxed Creek without a Jaddle. Anyway, I hid the Third Accounts Gregor was looking for in Lauren's teddy bear Dr. Featherstone without telling Lauren. So… sorry.’
Given our current situation, and my apologetic tone, I didn’t think I deserved those looks.
Men spoke that same weird tongue. I counted at least six voices, but they’re could have been thirty for all I knew. They were having problems getting men over the fence. One very loud, very in charge voice gave what must have been an order, and then I heard the clang of the dreaded South Fence meeting its fate. Sic semper tyrannis.
The South Wall rested in the dirt, like a lot of my friends would soon. I wanted to help, and I would, but we couldn’t win. At least Taggart got the word out and the rest of the Reform schools had a square chance.
Three screams, cut short, then gun fire. Taggart had engaged during the chaos of the fence falling. Evelyn rose to look through the window, so I grabbed her with all the wrestling skills Coach Van Brown paddled into me. It was a pitched battle until the gun fire stopped. We stopped fighting. We stopped breathing.
That very in charge voice yelled questions while someone got his ass kicked. They got Taggart. They got him, and were going to beat it out of him. I’m guessing the DDU agents weren’t using a paddle.
What? I looked around. The vixen! Maniac! Human my ass; she was deadhead!
We let go and shot to the window. Two men held a bloodied and clothes torn Taggart on his knees. Goddamn did he look hot. A third kicked him in the stomach. The forth and final, the commanding voice, pointed a pistol at Taggart. Black leather overcoat and sharp hat, tall and strong, though his face was emaciated and withered. He held an handkerchief against a blood flooding cheek. He repeated his question. “Jar tango res tinale?” Taggart ignored him and dealt with the pain. The commander added, “Tinalae” as a statement. He tossed his handkerchief aside and two handed the pistol to steady it. His face was a geyser of blood until Ash rode a horse over him. Chest to chest, a horse beats a man. Ash, showing off her animal husbandry, pulled on the reins, and the black horse danced over the fallen bastard until his face didn’t have any blood left to bleed.
Taggart’s legs grappled the man who kicked him, pulled himself free from the two holding his arms, then broke their necks faster than I could say, “He broke their necks!” Taggart pushed a corpse off and got to his knees. He scrambled across the battlefield to the enemies equipment. Only then did I notice the other axe opened bodies, but I didn’t count them. I didn’t even count the times I vomited. My dentist will be pissed, I thought.
This couldn’t be happening to me. I wish I just got spanked again.