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Chapter 1 – Borne to Be Wylde

May 10, 2012

BOOK ONE – THE RED FOX

Chapter 1 – “Borne to Be Wylde”

Now – Entrance to the Holland Tunnel, Jersey City, New Jersey

“What do you mean, ‘it’s closed’?”

The Department of Homeland Security and its various sub-parts had spread to various locations to guard borders and items of interest to potential terrorists. This included tunnels, bridges, skyscrapers, and tourist attractions including a petting zoo in Ohio, a car museum in Illinois, and a house made of mud or something similar in Alabama. The only explanation for the latter Eli Schneider could puzzle out was of course pork barrel spending. All entrances and exits to and from Manhattan were also included. Thirty plus percent unemployment and unprecedented profits on Wall Street were a formula for unrest.

The twenty-something border guard clacked her pen on her report book once at Eli’s question. It wasn’t, as such moves often were, an attempt at intimidation, but rather a sort of stutter. She had to think to remember what the reason was they were given, which parts were for public consumption and which parts were not.

Basically, the old man in the car was giving her a hard time. However, he was doing so in such a way that she couldn’t bring herself to shift into rude mode, even though it was a Monday in New Jersey. He seemed like a very nice old gentleman, and somehow also seemed familiar, though she couldn’t place him.

“Denise, darling…”

Oh, this old fella was a charmer, for sure.

“I really need to get to my office in SoHo. Is there no way I can get there?”

“Corporate helicopters are cleared if they are scheduled and cleared through us.”

“Hm. I hate to fly… Fly or stay in Jersey… Fly. New Jersey. Hm…”

He almost seemed to be dozing off or falling into a hypnotic trance until he asked brightly, “What’s all this fuss about again?”

“A terror threat.”

“OK. And what is that threat?”

“Blowing up the tunnel.”

“Uh-huh. And what would the result of that be?”

She was starting to find she could bring her rudeness to the fore after all. He reminded her of her high school chemistry teacher. She had had a tendency to make blond jokes, and query students—especially Denise!—randomly on the previous evening’s assigned reading. The woman was rumored to have a half dozen or so cats living with her at any time.

“What’s a mole, Denise?”

She stared blankly.

“C’mon, Denise! What’s a mole?”

“A small furry animal that digs in the ground, right?”

The snickering started. Even some of the football players who rarely paid attention (they rarely had to, the school protected their star athletes) were laughing. The one who sat up front, John, looked at her in disbelief.

“I thought this was Chemistry. Isn’t that biology?” Denise added.

The entire class—including “the Catwoman” herself—erupted with laughter. Denise may not have read the chapter assigned nor know how to refer to the amount of a substance, but she saved herself further interrogation that day by being funny in spite of herself. Sometimes a smile or a joke got you out of trouble.

Denise was getting a headache now, though. She was a grownup darn it, and some old smarty-pants in a fancy suit and car was not going to get the better of her now.

“Look…”

“Water. Water would be the result. Water would pour in. The Hudson would fill the tunnel. Fully. Then water would gush out on both sides, washing away you, me, your co-workers, those police and their cars, that van with the two FBI agents in it pretending to be TV repairmen, and most everything else we see. Only that black helicopter overhead will be spared.”

“Sir, I have my orders. There’s a threat. Some industrialist said he was going to blow it up. And that’s all…”

She suddenly started recalling where she had seen the man before. The stranger part of his comments stirred her memory to this morning’s meeting. It was the briefing they got. This was the guy, the madman, who threatened to blow up the Tunnel.

“Get out of the car!”

The order came not from Denise but from another guard that had rushed over after recognizing Eli Schneider’s face on the surveillance camera. The young man was a little older than Denise, though his rough voice made him seem much older. It was a tough sounding voice that could be in movies, war pictures. Hell, he could do Batman cartoon voice overs. That voice gave Clint Eastwood from his Spaghetti western days a run for his money.

You see, in this world there’s two kinds of people, my friend…

He had his pepper sprayer in his left hand, his right was on the butt of his sidearm still in its holster, the snap to which was open.

“He says there’s FBI watching in that van,” Denise giggled in spite of herself. Things had been very boring recently until today.

“Alright,” Schneider got out slowly.

“Hands up!” came the croak.

“I really don’t see the need for any of this. Just need to get to work. This is really messing up—”

“Corporal, search the car!”

She went to the passenger side and started looking in the glove compartment, under the seat, between the seats, the back seat.

“You’re ass is mine, Schneider.”

“Well enough. Just don’t tase me, bro.

“It’s pepper spray dumbaAAAAHHH!!!”

The retort was cut short by a quick jolt of 250 kV AC running up the arm attached to the hand that touched Eli’s jacket. Quick incapacitation activated and deactivated by voice key phrases.

Don’t spazz!

Eli needed it deactivated lest he accidentally touch the electrified part of the coat himself. He still hadn’t worked out how to avoid that problem, apart from wearing gloves that appeared to be just skin and hands. He didn’t like how they felt wearing them, though.

The TV repair van was moving now, attempting to get out of line and closer to Schneider’s car. The police nearby had seen the good sergeant hit the asphalt and were drawing weapons and beads and closing in.

Schneider got back into his car, took a quick glance at Denise’s read end as she tried to open his briefcase in the back and started the engine.

“He said I was free to go. Mistake. Misunderstanding. Case of mistaken identity.”

“Huh?”

She sat back down in the passenger seat warily looking past Eli out the window.

“Look! A squirrel!”

He pointed behind Denise. The lady guard looked at the old man as if he had three heads. That was a very odd thing to say. Now quite certain that this man was not at all what he seemed, she did not bother to look where he pointed.

Never was a very good diversion anyway.

Eli pressed a button under the top of the dash just above the speedometer. The passenger door opened wide and the seat tilted 75 degrees to the right. Denise found herself on the asphalt as well.

He could hear shouts and nearly simultaneous insults questioning his parents’ wedlock, and comparing him to various body parts and other slang. He released the button and the seat flew back in and the door shut.

Three officers pulled the hoarse-voiced, immobile sergeant away from the car. Two others helped Denise to get out of range. Then they opened fire.

The bullets ricocheted off the exterior with such obvious effect that there was an almost immediate call for cease-fire. It was, as is often the case when over-zealousness takes over, half a minute until the order was actually complied with.

The vehicle disappeared quickly into the black hole that lead into a ceramic intestine that opened up to a mouth on the other end and the Big Apple beyond.

“Where’s he going, anyway? Get Manhattan on the radio. We got him trapped in the Tunnel.”

The orange-red car had knocked the wood barrier aside as if it were made of cardboard and Schneider sped off into the darkness of the Tunnel like a bat into Hell. Now inside, he could try to formulate a game plan.

It had been a long time since he had checked out a woman’s body. They didn’t make them like that back when he competed as a Fighting Violet for NYU. The other team members were mostly better fencers, but they didn’t have that other secret occupation to contend with. Maya, of course, had been the exception, though that had been karate…

Maya…

His teammates were reasonable, responsible members of society. For example, Risto had both scored in the Olympics and later become a successful dentist.

Not so Schneider, though he had certainly made money and become a household name as CEO of SchneiderCorp. But his former secret alter ego, the Red Fox, had just been revealed on national television along with impossible film footage of him shooting “industrialist” Harold Roarke in a hospital forty years ago.

And then there had been those impossible sightings. Maya was dead, he knew… So who was it he kept seeing periodically in crowd? Or was it something inside his own head? Hell, for that matter, had he phoned in the terrorist threat and then forgotten he did it?

If there was something seriously wrong in his skull, Dr. Klapper couldn’t find it. Neither could his psychiatrist Dr. Gurkski.

Not Charles Bonnet syndrome… no macular degeneration and the symptoms of that most often resembled seeing leprechauns, not murdered lovers.

Not schizophrenia. He was paranoid, but only a little. You didn’t survive the things he had, didn’t build a corporate empire without being a bit more cautious, judicious than the average Joe. But he was not any more insane than any other near-genius. It just often appeared that way to those who could not puzzle out why he did what he did, said what he said.

Yes, the drive and border action was a trip down memory lane and an attempt to figure out what in Hades was going on. These were the kinds of things you thought about in between getting into and out of tight spots when you were a former costumed vigilante. The Red Fox was riding again, though the Gray Fox might have been a more accurate monicker at this point given the shade of his hair.

Eli hummed to himself. It helped to relax him when he drove.

Why didn’t they mention Phoebus?

He flipped on the satellite radio to hear that SCI had dropped ten dollars a share on the NASDAQ on the news that the founder and CEO was not only a murderer and a suspected terrorist, but there were also some questions about impropriety with regards to money laundering and doing business with countries with whom it was illegal to do so. The ticker dip cost him a few million and change.

“Ah, well. Easy come, easy go.”

The surveillance cameras in the tunnel must have been malfunctioning. At least that’s what the operators thought. One moment the car was there, plainly visible, and the next it was gone.

Perhaps if the screen had been larger, they would have been able to note the exhaust coming from seemingly nowhere in particular for a few seconds, but the car was able to go exhaustless as well as invisible and then relatively quiet on top of that. The only down side was it had to slow down for the latter portions of the trick. Another upside of the experimental car was that the onboard computer could maneuver the tunnel all by itself, freeing the driver to make a phone call.

It was the latest in nanofiber tech that provided the cloaking. Lightwaves passed from one side of the car and were projected out the other. It wasn’t perfect, but unless you knew where to look, it was difficult to spot the flaws in the visual effect. It was a long, empty tunnel, so switching lanes wasn’t a problem. Predicting where the vehicle was…was.

He at last got through the switchboard to Klapper.

“Doc! Eli. Any news?”

“Everything’s come up negative. You sure you haven’t… aren’t maybe having flashbacks?”

Ridiculous.

“Nope.”

“Well, I’m not sure what to do. Another MRI. Or maybe call a rabbi.”

“No problem. Must be something else. Thanks!”

The doctor confirmed what he already knew: he wasn’t insane, nor was there anything wrong with his brain or eyesight beyond the normal problems a man of his years might have. So, what then was causing the sightings…?

He was fast approaching the other end of the tunnel. He needed to make another call. He got the secretary. Doug was a busy attorney.

“Have him switch on the news and then give me a call, okay Caitlin? That’s a dear. Ciao!”

Schneider took back control and slowed the vehicle to a crawl. The other end of the tunnel was problematic on several levels.

First, there was the very large police barricade. More than twenty cars lined up and the usual blue wooden barricades.

In addition to that, however, there was a large number of people lined up in the westbound area hoping to actually get in to New Jersey. And they seemed persistent. Some had gotten out of their cars in frustration and were impatiently asking the border guards and police what the holdup was.

‘Well, ya see, some crazy man said he was going to blow up the Tunnel. Don’t worry, we have him trapped inside.’

The entire area was crowded with cars and civilians. He turned the car sharply to the right. He eased it past the barricade and onto the sidewalk area. He saw a cop notice the noise as it hopped up the curb. It wouldn’t be long now.

That damn helicopter was hovering about as well.

The police were onto him now. They started turning and pulling their cars around. He gassed it and turned off the special effects. They were useless now anyway. Had the helicopter pilot called in his little trick in advance of the cop spreading the word?

“How about this one, Mendoza?”

He popped the trunk from the controls left of the steering column. The wind took care of the rest.

Cash money flew out the back of the car. The westbounders saw it almost immediately and ran over to grab some. Given the choice of faster entry into Jersey or money, they had chosen to eat and pay their rent and mortgages. In the current situation of twenty-five percent unemployment and some thirty percent dedicated to keeping that twenty-five in line (which made absolutely no economic sense), they had chosen wisely.

“There’s hope for humanity yet!”

He was blocks ahead of the police before they could clear a path in the crowd of money-grabbers to pursue him. The chopper, on the other hand was right on top of him.

Doug called just as he was making a corner and skidding.

“I’m in a bit of a spot.”

“I know. You’re on TV.”

“Ah. Well, see what you can do.”

Eli slowed but ignored the traffic lights until (he had heard it worked this way) the NYPD orders went through to give him green all of the way. A fleet of squad cars followed him.

—–

©2011, 2012 Christopher C. Knall

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