DATELINE: 12 January 2023The phone trilled softly on Grady Nibs' nightstand, breaking the early morning quite. In a small day-bed next to the nightstand, a rumpled form stirred. Slowly an arm reached from under the covers, pulled a pillow over what might have been the form's head. The arm slowly crawled back under the covers. The phone continued to trill. And trill. And trill.
Officials at the Four Corners Men's Penitentiary today Issued a press release stating that Dave Coleslaw, rear-admiral of the Church of Scientology (sidebar, pg 7), died in the early morning hours while incarcerated for first degree murder. Coleslaw, 65, was serving a ten- year prison term for the slaying of a jealous lover in a gay bar in downtown Kallister, New Mexico, three years ago. Preliminary autopsy shows Coleslaw died of intense, massive rectal hemmoraging sometime late last night. He was found this morning in the showers, face down over the drain, clutching the soap. Police have not ruled out homicide, but according to warden Meyers, he was not known to have any enemies in the prison. "Every man in here loved the little guy," Meyers said. "This is a terrible personal tragedy for every man here who knew him."
"Uhhhh," a soft sound issued from the bed. The pillow shifted, tumbling to the floor as the form stirred. A hand appeared, griped a fistful of blankets, and tossed the edge of the warm fabric to the foot of the bed.
Sitting up, eyes still closed, Nibs picked up the trilling phone and grunted into it.
"Wrong number," he muttered into the voice pickup, not bothering to thumb on the vid. "Have a nice life." Before he could put the phone down, an urgent voice issued from the earpiece.
"Grady! Get down here! The world is comming to an end. Get down here now! The whole goddamned city's falling into rubble and ruin!"
Grady Nibs opened one eye and squinted through a torn, dirty window curtain, fighting his vision to focus on the squalid pile of grey and silver buildings outside. Absently he used his free hand to scratch his balls. The time was twenty-three minutes past nine o'clock. The world comming to an end? That'd make a hell of a story, Nibs silently reflected.
"Are you there?! Nibs? NIBS?!"
"Uh, yeah," Grady said, opening the other eye reluctantly. It was his boss and college friend, Russel England. "I'm here, Russel. Looks like the city's still here, too, far as I can tell." Grady continued to scratch his balls. "I've got the day off, remember? Seems you gave it to me, as I recall. . . ."
"Listen, Grady," the voice on the phone said, pitching its tone an octave lower for emphasis. "Two hours ago, bombs ripped through two Federeal Buildings here in Los Angeles. One hour ago the Hall of Records was blown to hell-and-gone. Ten minutes ago the Signal Hill Police Department was replaced by a city-block-sized crater. Another bomb, likely related, exploded at Arizona's FBI HQ. We're getting bombing reports from Nevada, Oregon, and Florida, and Feds are expecting hundreds, maybe thousands more nation-wide!"
Grady Nibs stiffened, both eyes now wide open. He gripped the phone hard. "Feed!" he snapped.
"Not yet," Russel said. That meant Northside Global News didn't have the story on the wire yet. After two hours?! That didn't make sense. "Didn't I say we need you down here?! Damnit, get your ass down here: you're our face on this."
Grady was surprised that his boss wanted him to appear on the video broadcasts reporting this news. That, too, did not make sense.
"How are the bombs being placed and detonated?" Grady asked.
"That's the dildo, Nibs. At every site it appears the bomber happily, egarly pushed the detonator while holding a suitcase with a bomb in it."
"No, unholy shits. The FBI, what's left of it 'round here anyhow, have received, seconds before each explosion, phone calls from a woman claiming the bombers are members of that freaky Scientology cult you go on and on about. She also claims she has delivered to every major video news media a vid tape explaining the whys and hows."
"Ah!" Grady got the connection. "You want me to explain to the world what the cult is about." He was Northside Global News' resident expert on the cult. "Don't they believe in radio, too?"
Russel ignored the ill-timed wit. "We haven't found a copy of this tape yet..."
"We aren't major enough?"
"... but we want you here for comment afterwards if we do air it."
"I'm on my way. Be there in ten," Grady said, swinging his feet off the bed and onto the floor.
"You can do it in eight, Nibs. You've done it before." The line went dead before Grady could replace it on the recharge.
Grady paused a second, picked the phone back up, and dialed a number. A few seconds past before the other end picked up. "Lima, romeo, hotel," he said clearly. "Cover ten minutes, date stamp, time stamp." He put the phone back down.
The drive to Northside Global News was uneventful. If the city knew it was being blown up, one Federal building at a time, it didn't seem to know or care. Grady assumed government buildings throughout the city were being evaccuated. The freeway seemed as crowded as usual.
Grady Nibs parked his MG Midget in the City Desk Editor's parking spot right at the front of the lobby, and left it there at a run. He had never parked in the CDE's parking spot before, and he wondered idly what kind of trouble the blasphemous act of a mere reporter taking an editor's parking place would get him into.
When the elevator door opened onto the fifth floor, the first thing Grady heard, among the buzz of excitment bubbling up from the expansive, crowded newsroom, was a scrawny copy yelling in a puberty-mangling squeek "Live feed! Vid one!" The room fell silent as a reporter turned up the sound on a vid screen.
On the screen was a burley woman dressed in a thick wool jacket, clutching a microphone with one hand while pressing an earpiece to her left ear with the other. In the top right corner of the screen the Northside Global News logo revolved: a globe with a space satilite over the North pole, raining down electromagnetic waves to the entire northern hemisphere. Grady always thought that logo seemed rather sinister, as if a death ray was exterminating all life on half the world.
Behind the newswoman, a ruined city block could be partly seen. Cement pillars had been sundered to rubble. Steel supports lay cast about, bent and twisted like maimed victims; some appeared to reach up out of the rubble as if grasping for salvation from their ruin. Glass, plastic, alumninum sheeting, pipes, and a vast assortment of furnature, in various levels of distruction, were scattered everywhere. The newswoman's body was blocking roughly half of the view.
Grady joined the reporters, copies, researchers, backmen, frontmen, and editors clumped around the vid monitor. "Shut up!" someone said, though no one had been talking. Everyone was listening intently to the newswoman.
"Almost an hour ago," the woman began. She paused, narrowed her eyes slightly, apparently listening to her earpiece, then began again. "Twenty-five minutes ago this pile of rubble was the Signal Hill Police Department. Behind me you can see LA County and Orange County Search and Rescue teams frantically searching through the rubble, looking for survivors."
"We can't see a goddamned thing!" someone in the newsroom said. "Your fat ass is in the way!"
"Shut up!" someone else said.
". . . without much to go on at the moment," the newswoman was saying. "The Anaheim Police Department said it was likely that the building was occupied at the time the bomb went off. It's too early to know for sure how many were in the building at the time, but rough estimates put the figure at well over one hundred officers and support crew. If the camera would pan to the right, you can see a corner of the building is still standing." The camera panned to the left a moment, then swung to the right, past the newswoman, and zoomed onto a corner of the ruined building. One wall was still partly standing, though upper floors had colapsed and were leaning against the wall.
"What you're looking at is part of the garage. If there are survivors, they'll be there or nowhere. Search teams are using dogs in that area."
The camera zoomed out to its previous view, focusing back on the newswoman. She had a practiced look of sorrow and dismay on her face, marred somewhat by an excited gleam in her eyes that she couldn't quite hide. Clearly, she was delighted to be the first newsperson on the scean.
"She needs to work on her 'I'm Sincearly Sorry For The Dead, Dying, and Forever Maimed' face a bit," Grady commented wryly.
"Shut up!" several people barked. Someone giggled.
Russel England took that moment to step out of the elevator unnoticed, and join the group standing around the video monitor.
"I've been trying to get the Anahiem Police's media representative back over here to talk to me again, but as you can see, every officer on the scean is too busy in the search for live victims."
"We can't see shit! Your fat ass is in the way again!" the same guy in the newsroom yelled. No one told him to shut up this time.
"Hi, Nibs," Russel said, still looking at the vid. Grady grunted, turned from the crowed, and walked over to his desk. Russel watched the vid screen for a few minutes, then said "Someone find out who that camera operator is so I can fire her, okay?" and walked over to where Grady had sat down.
"We found the tape. Some bright lad in security found it outside the main lobby door, and threw it in the trash."
"Union guy, eh?" Grady said, looking up.
"Nibs, this is bloody hell serious. Many thousands of people have been killed. ARE being killed! Hundreds of millions of dollars worth of property in this city alone have been utterly destroyed. We've now got reports of buildings in Utah, Montana, Washington, and New Mexico being blown off the face of the planet! Not just government buildings, Nibs, also but newspapers, hospitals, psychiatric hospices. God knows what else!" Russel was often anoyed at Grady's twisted sense of humor, but to joke at a time like this! It was unconscienable.
Grady diped his head slightly, silently acknowleging the chastizement. He told his friend the truth. "You know I always joke when I'm in shock, Russel. It helps me bear the unbearable. Remember when I was going through my divorce? I was the life of the party." He paused, then asked "When do you want my face?"
"Now. Get to studeo three pronto. You'll see the tape while we air it, then Morning Anchor will ask you questions. It's your job to prime her with INTELLIGENT questions while the vid runs."
"Terrific. Do I get a shower first?"
"No. The morning women viewers love rumpled, tossled- haired boys," Russle smirked. "Move it, Nibs."
Grady Nibs stood up out of his chair. "One thing, Russel." he said. "How could it have taken NGN almost two-and-a half hours to get vid on this? I thought Morning Editor, Helena Nobrain, was better than that." Russel England grimaced.
"Would you believe that she gave five of her key people, personal friends of hers, the day off work today, without clearing it with me first? I'd fire her ass, only she didn't show up either." Grady grimaced, mimicing his boss.
"Any bets she's a member of Scientology?" Grady asked?
"Yeah, but why cripple our Morning crew? Don't they want all the media coverage they can get?"
Grady thought for a few seconds about that. "You say she made sure her 'personal friends' were not here today. Russle, maybe she believes or knows this building is targeted for bombing! You said other news buildings in other states have been blown up. Years ago I, that is WE, printed some criticle articles on Scientology. Maybe we're on their bomb list."
Russle blanched. "We can't evaculate; we have news to report.... we don't KNOW for sure if we're a target." Grady started at Russle, catching and holding his eyes. "Yeah, damn you. You're right. I'll get the building evacuated. YOU can still do a five-minute face, then get studio three evacuated." Grady nodded.
"Hell of a day, huh Russel?" Grady said as he walked to the elevator. Russel grunted and then picked up a phone.
Grady punched the "UP" elevator button, and wondered if the building would be blown to Hell before it arrived. When it did arrive he chuckled to himself at the thought.
His mirth cut short when the doors open to reveal Morning Editor, Ms. Helena Nobrain, standing inside. She was holding a large suitcase in one hand. Tears streamed down her elderly, withered face. She stared past Grady, as if he were a long distance away. "Uh," Grady said. He noticed her other hand holding a small object that looked like a black box. A wire ran from the box in her right hand to the suitcase in her left. "Uh, um," Grady continuted. Helena steped forward, between the elevator doors, causing them to stay open.
"He's dead," Helena Nobrain said softly, as if to herself. Tears continuted to flow down her old prune face. "Dave Coleslaw's dead." Her eyes shifted to focus on Grady, who was blocking her exit. "Earth's last holy man has left his body behind. That's the sign. Now everyone must drop their body. You understand, don't you Grady?" She lifted the small black box. Grady could see a small button on one side. "It's End Of Cycle for everyone, Grady."
Grady Nibs' blood turned to ice in his veins; he stared in horror as Helena's thumb shifted from the side of her small box and settled just above the button. He couldn't think; couldn't breathe. He was as good as dead.
Which meant he had nothing to lose if he tried to prevent her from pushing the button. Even if he failed, the outcome would be the same. He did what he did best: he used his mouth against her.
"Before you kill us, Helena, I just want to tell you how much of an obnoxious, sniviling, bend-over- and-spread-them-for-the-crowd woman you've always been." Helena's jaw droped open slightly, shocked. Grady lunged at her, slamming into her as he grabed the wire leading out of the suitcase. He yanked the wire out of the suitcase with all his strenghth just as Helena hit the elevator wall with a loud "Oooooph!"
***** PART TWO TO FOLLOW SOME DAY*****