End of Truth (Excerpt #5)



The dreaded rush home. It was the same every weekday. Cars filled the roads and were filled with pushy people, all urgently trying to get home after a long day. Any semblance of courtesy was not to be found as cars packed closely together, forming a caterpillar of colored metal, as if that would somehow speed their progress. One smoking exhaust pipe after another for as far as could be seen, the owners grasping their steering wheel with both hands, the angry faces, the snarl of lips. Michael hated it.

Ahead was one of Washington’s famous circles, the cars entering one at at time, others dashing around the circle, cutting across lanes, exiting in haste to avoid being swept around again. Michael allowed himself a chuckle. The only time the circles actually worked was when the traffic was light enough not to need them. He suddenly felt the urge to communicate with a fellow traveler and rolled down his drivers window, looking across at the adjacent car, stopped only a foot away. When he caught the driver’s attention he asked, by making suggestive arm motions, that she roll down her passenger window. She ignored him and responded by crowding the car in front of her. Michael sighed and rolled his window back up. At least the noise was somewhat reduced this way. On an impulse, he turned sharply right into a nearly empty side street. As he rolled along, he noticed the litter, the beaten parked cars, the broken or missing glass. This was a poor neighborhood and one which might be hostile to an establishment figure in a suit, like himself. It was not typical of Michael to venture off the beaten path, but Washington is rather simple in its layout. Most streets are either north- south or east-west. Excepting, of course, the large diagonals, radiating like the arms of a star, all from a nidus, the historic and political centers. He turned left at the next corner but instantly realized that it was a bad choice, being even worse than the first. Not only detritus littered the street, but also groups of people standing around, watching as he passed. Even in his peripheral vision, he could see and feel the eyes, the unfriendly faces. In his head he heard ugly epithets they silently willed that he know. A mistake to come this way, an urge to beat the system which wasn’t working.

Michael’s peripheral vision saw a motion before he heard the first ‘whack.’ Then another. A small crack appeared in his windshield, the lower right corner. At first it appeared small, a nearly imperceptible divot, a chip, from which sprang rays of light advancing from the center, the vision of Ra brought to life by the impact of stone against glass. As he drove, the area rapidly expanded, quickly covering the right half of the windshield, then coalescing into smaller divisions, subdividing farther and farther until the largest fragment was measured in millimeters. Michael knew what was to happen next and understood that in a few short moments, the entire glass would be sagging and might collapse into his lap, the car rendered useless by a small stone. Looking around, he preferred not to stop until he reached some area less likely to produce a small gang of angry youths as soon as he emerged from his car. He turned corners again and urged the car along by the pressure of his foot, but the resulting onrushing air pushed the glass inward enough to contact the top of his steering wheel. He had to stop.

Michael pulled over to the curb, leaving the motor running and reaching for his cellphone, trying to decide whom to call first. He noticed the red glow, an indication that his battery was about to expire. Dialing Jennifer first, he allowed it to ring a dozen times, realizing that either she was unavailable or had decided to not pick up his call. Either was possible. His second choice never happened because the phone shut down before he could dial. That was the moment the glass started to fall inward, a fragment at a time, then whole honeycombed sheets, until the only remnants were little jagged teeth at the periphery. Michael got out, brushed the glass from his clothing and stood beside the car, deciding on his next step, when he noticed the adjacent house on the other side of the sidewalk. There was a man watching him from the small porch. At first, Michael felt a sensation of alarm but then realized that the man was older and in a wheelchair. He gave a little wave of acknowledgment which wasn’t returned. Looking back and forth at the street, he tried to determine the best way out on foot. This was an area infrequently visited by cabs and then only when they were called.

“I heard breaking glass,” the man on the porch observed. Michael looked again and realized that the man might not be able to see him, the dark glasses he wore not a fashion statement, perhaps not functional, other than to hide sightless eyes.

“Yes, my windshield just fell out,” Michael summarized, thinking but not adding the helpless feeling he had without phone communication.

“What are you going to do about it?” Yes, that was the pressing question, Michael acknowledged.

“I’ll have to get a ride, but my phone just went dead. What is the best direction for me to walk?”

“I would go north from here. You might not want to do that.” The man’s advice was undoubtedly sound, but where did that leave Michael’s choices? He looked up and down the street again unsure of what to do.

“Or you could come up and sit with me while we call for your ride.”

“I would very much appreciate that,” Michael said and started toward the porch. As if she had been listening, an older woman opened the door enough to look at Michael. She was heavy, with close-cropped hair, sprinkled heavily with grey. Michael could feel the eyes that raked him over much like a scanner at an airport terminal.

“Want a wrecker?” she asked, still not smiling at him.

“Yes, that’s probably best,” Michael answered, not really wanting to give the number for the White House switchboard.

“That’s a start,” the older man agreed. “Pull up a chair, and we’ll talk until it shows up.” He waved his arm vaguely to a nearby small rocker, obviously there for his wife to use. After Michael hesitantly sat down and looked around, he found the man smiling at him but not in a friendly way, more of an amused, knowing smile that older people do when a younger one makes a bigger problem from a small one.

“My name is Michael. Thanks for the assistance.”

“Not done anything yet…does Michael come with a last name or are you more like Prince and don’t need one?” The amused smile continued, making Michael feel somewhat defensive.

“Greenburg. My last name is Greenburg. And may I ask yours?”

“Most certainly. You should call me Josiah.”

“Is that your first or last name?” Michael asked.

“It’s my name, though May often calls me Joe, as you might hear. I allow that with her.”

There was a long moment of silence while Michael decided if he wanted to attempt any more conversation. He hoped that the wrecker would arrive shortly. “Have you lived in Washington long?” Michael asked, trying to break the silence.

“Yes. Very long. You?”

“Going on 6 years now.”

“With the Government?”

“Yes. A lot of people in this city are.”

Michael studied Josiah’s face trying without success to determine his age. The sunglasses made it harder. He had greying, but not grey, hair on his head, but his carefully trimmed lower lip beard was grey and wispy. His tattered sweater looked like a old comfortable hand knit and covered his arms in folds, leaving his gnarled hands exposed, gripping the arms of the wheelchair.

“You were in Congress,” Josiah declared without looking at Michael. It was not a question but a statement.

“Used to be. No longer. I stepped down last year. How did you know?”

“I can see a little out of one eye. It was they way you stood; the way people stand when they are used to having other people do things for them. I guessed also.” He fell silent again.

The door opened and May leaned out. “Joe. Want anything?”

“Always you, my dear, you know that,” Josiah said before the door closed again without a reply. Josiah chuckled softly. “That always gets her, but she isn’t in the mood today with you here.” He started rubbing one knee which was giving him some pain. “So…an ex-congressman. You should have returned home, wherever that is. You didn’t…meaning you found some work in Washington or your wife didn’t want to leave.”

“Correct both times,” Michael said. “I’m acting as a liaison for my party…and my wife likes it here.”

“And you don’t, do you?”

“I’m feeling disconnected, if you can understand that. I’m not sure I do.”

“Yes. I understand. You are feeling that you don’t belong in Washington any longer, that same feeling also bringing problems into your marriage. If I’m getting too personal, just tell me.”

“No, not at all. You are very perceptive.”

“In my situation, I’ve not much else left but my observations, so I spend my time thinking and analyzing.” The door opened again and May emerged carrying a tray with two beverage glasses.

“Thought you both could use a drink of tea. Your wrecker will be along…but when, I don’t know.”

“That’s very nice of you. Thanks so much.” Michael said. May gave a small smile and disappeared back inside.

“We grew up in the South. In the South, you always drink iced tea on an afternoon,” Josiah explained. “Liaison, you said.” He paused, taking a long drink. “That would mean contact with the other party, wouldn’t it? Does that mean the White House?”


“And the ‘other party’ occupies the White House at the moment,” Josiah said aloud. It was not a question but an astute observation.

“Exactly,” Michael admitted.

“I’m thinking that since your wife has settled in…and you are in a thankless job… that she may not be the shoulder to cry on that she was. She wouldn’t want to hear it.”

Michael was silent. The probing was accurate, inceptive and painful. He took a drink of bitter tea. “Again, you are especially good at putting things together. I’m impressed.”

“I’m not judging you, Michael, you have to believe that. But, my mind occasionally goes places. You might call it a flight of fancy or just speculation. They tell me that Washington has more women than men, and most of the women are single. Is that what you’ve heard also?”

“By observation, it seems true enough,” Michael admitted. You didn’t have to be clairvoyant to see all the young women who were working but also available. The town was full of them. Michael had an uncomfortable feeling that the next query was going to get very personal. He decided to ask the next question and direct the conversation away from him. “What did you do before you retired?” Michael asked.

“That’s simple. I’m not retired. Not at all. I’m doing the same thing I always did, except I’m getting better at it.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You see, Michael, I observe, I think, I reason and learn just sitting here as the world goes by. People like you are too busy living to see the things I do. I have time, and I use it.”


Alexander Francis

End of Truth (Excerpt #4)


The Capital Steps

It didn’t take long, about as far as the front edge of the Reflecting Pool, before his upper lip started to drip, causing him to dab at it with his already damp handkerchief. He intended to walk down the Washington Mall from the Capital, but he could see trucks parked along the pedestrian walkway, then half-remembered hearing or seeing something about ongoing repairs. Instead, he cut north and headed toward Constitution, intending to walk the entire way to his car, which was, hopefully, still in the deck on 17th and Pennsylvania. After a few more steps, he felt the trickle start down his sides, under his underwear and along his spine. A bright, though hazy, sun hung in the sky, baking everything it saw and making him realize that he would be drenched in his own fluids in half the time it would take to reach his car.

Anger, frustration, as well as the humiliation he was expected to take in stride had built up, as it did on most days, until his only option was to walk it off, sweating and cooking under the sun, his excess energy spent reaching his car, the fight dissipated… at least until the following day. He should be used to it by now. His prior service in the Air Force and two terms as a U.S. Representative had taught him, if nothing else, to agree when you don’t agree and to shut up when you want to talk or fight back.

Michael took a deep breath and squinted against the light. Ahead and slightly south was the spire of the Washington Monument, jabbing into the blue cloudless sky, at what, he had been never sure. Some expert in the cluster of museums and exhibits along the Mall would know the meaning of the original Egyptian obelisks, but did the designer and builder of the Washington Monument feel that same way or did he just use a familiar shape, an expected design, to add a monumental element to the Washington sky, one copied by example from the ancient Romans, the French, the English who all had stolen obelisks from Egypt at one time or another. The grandeur of Washington, its stately buildings constructed of white stone, rising larger than humans as individuals can hope to achieve, simply was another idea stolen from the Romans and before them, the Greeks. The colonial fathers are given credit, but ancient ideas were there to copy long before their birth.

Michael walked with determination, covering the two miles easily as he usually did but giving him time to think and analyze his day and speculate about the days ahead. Glancing behind him as the Capital receded and ahead as the grounds of the White House loomed, he felt the essence of the city, its buildings, its history, its illusions and its pretense. All necessary for the heart, the core, of a great collection of people who have had a long history of self-determination and survival.

As he thought about it, the newer buildings, the ones from the twentieth century, were not as grand or stately as the Roman copies scattered about. The Romans got it right, and capital buildings of most of the western world have copied their essence throughout history. Until now… when the accountants, the lawyers, the supervisors and the people’s representatives have their say, and their say is to build conventionally, cheaply, rectangularly and without distinction. The resulting trade-off is obvious.

The very idea of representative government was copied as well and from the same ancient sources. Even many of the same words had been kept…council, senate, podium, rostrum and so on. Michael was part of the system and had actually felt part of it, for awhile. It was sinking in that his voice didn’t matter, never did. Other issues, other causes, other parties were important. Not ideas, nor ideals. It was all an illusion for the voting public who only saw and heard what they were told. The cattle who lined up on election day to vote into power those whose name they recognized or whom their party put forward.

A man with a chisel may chip away at a mountain his whole life without removing a significant part of it, but he will leave a mark, his life and work will be noticed. Chip away at politics though, and you will never leave a scratch. It will go on the way it has always gone, toward a hidden destiny, one not obvious before it arrives, then without stopping will change direction and move again. A wild train crossing and recrossing time, with no stops, no hesitation, no waiting for instructions, no sense of wrong or right. And one, in Michael’s opinion, that was headed in the wrong direction.


Alexander Francis

End of Truth (Excerpt #3)


Jennifer Whispered

Jennifer whispered in his ear, her lips caressing his face as she spoke. It was like being kissed by a shy little girl, one too young to know what effect she had. Michael turned, looked into her face and pulled her to his lips. It was one of those encounters so engaging that their teeth touched, their tongues intertwined by wishes of their own, a moment when he realized that kissing like this should also be considered sexual contact.
“I can’t wait for the wedding, Michael,” she beamed. “But you never told me about our honeymoon. I have to prepare clothes, you know. And there is the thing about a current passport.” She was trying once again to pull it out of him, and he felt himself weakening. After all, she had a right to know, and she was correct about the clothes. He had decided that Japan would be an exotic, romantic location for a honeymoon, partially because he had been stationed there in the Air Force for over a year and knew all the places she would like.

“You should allow me to surprise you, Jennifer. I won’t have anything left if you keep digging into my brain like that. Anyway, it isn’t fair to French kiss me and then pull away. It’s pure torture, and you know it.”

Jennifer laughed and stood up, turning to face him, her face all smiles but her eyes darting those looks of passion at him. She put her arms over her head and stretched, twisting at the waist as she did so, giving him a long look at her female curves, the ones he, as yet, had only imagined. Her head turned toward him as she relaxed, a teasing look coming over her while she puckered and mock kissed him.

“You little devil,” Michael hissed. “You set me on fire on purpose so many times that I can’t even remember how many. I’m already so hard from your kiss that I can’t stand without embarrassment, and now you show me the rest of you, and you know exactly what I want. Have you no pity?”

Jennifer giggled and pulled a strand of her shiny hair over her lips imitating a mustache. Her eyes danced with fire, then she dove into him, pushing between his legs with her body and sliding provocatively into his arms. “Tortured? Had enough?” she asked. Before he could say anything, she continued, “Now tell me what I asked about. Where?”

He gently put his hand on her buttock, ready to pull it away if she had any sign of refusal. She didn’t, but it was just another tease, because they both knew that going farther was off limits. Especially on the sofa of her parent’s screen porch, and most certainly not with them within shouting distance. “I give. The Orient…but that is as far as I go. You can torture me all you want, and that’s all I’ll say.”

“Wait, my precious intended, that’s not sufficient. Part of the Orient is tropical, part is cold. I have to know which.” She put her lips to his, but didn’t kiss him, just looked into his eyes, waiting on what she knew he would disclose.

Michael slapped her on the butt and pushed her away, something he really didn’t want to do, but the tumescence he was experiencing had to be eased, because any moment her mother might wander onto the porch wondering what they were up to. “Not a chance. You’d better prepare for both, just in case.”

Standing again, Jennifer pointed to his trouser front and said, “Omygod, you weren’t kidding!” She started to howl with laugher at his predicament.

“Something wrong, Jennifer?” came from the house. Her mother was listening, as usual. They could hear her footsteps coming closer. Michael looked around for some cover, some excuse, some method of disguise, even a pillow would do. Just as the screen door opened, Jennifer flung herself on his lap and put her arms around his neck, kissing him quickly on the forehead.

“My, my, children. I’m glad I came in when I did and not later. You know that it’s only three weeks until your wedding and then…well, just don’t let me see it,” Thelma said and placed a large plate of chocolate chip cookies on the table. Michael was used to the very strict principles of this house, and even though he felt otherwise, he strictly observed the rules, spoken and implied. The girl in his lap was worth any wait, any torment or turmoil. Jennifer was as pure as rainwater, a wholesome young woman whose deep passions were obviously present even though she mostly managed to control them, unlike himself. Michael kissed her on her forehead while her mother watched, then gave her a wink that her mother couldn’t see. Jennifer winked back.

With a frown, Thelma looked over her glasses at Jennifer, a bad sign. “Your father and I were wondering…” she paused, summoning up some unpleasant thought. Jennifer turned toward her, listening intently and letting go Michael’s neck. “Your degree. What are your plans? I mean, it’s such a waste. We had high…” She let the words she meant to say form in their brains, the intent clear.

“Nothing to worry about, Mother,” Jennifer said and stood up, her hand on Michael’s shoulder, as if to enlist his support, his voice, knowing that he felt the same. “I am finishing school, getting my degree, just as we planned. Michael and I decided on this long ago.”

“But, child, you are moving away. You can’t go to college like that.”

“Sure, Mother, sure I can. I’ll just change schools, that’s all.”
Thelma nodded unconvincingly, dropping the subject which concerned her most. Her daughter would be the first in the family with a law degree. The idea was so appealing that she had bragged to her friends and extended family. Jennifer’s marriage wasn’t as important in her eyes as a career. She could always get another man and with her looks, a more important man.

“I have to tell you something, Mother,” Michael said. “Hope you don’t mind me calling you mother…I think of you in that way, you should know. My point is to tell you that when we get back to my…our…hometown, the first thing I am going to do is to run for public office. I intend to run for Congress eventually, and we’ll live in Georgetown. That’s closer, don’t you see. And a woman with a law degree in Washington can always find work. We won’t let you down.”

Thelma paused to reflect before agreeing that such news was most persuasive. Yes, that is what she wanted to hear. Her daughter would be protected in that way, no matter what happened to their marriage. She gave them a big smile and, without another word, left the room, closing the door behind her as if an invitation to their privacy.


Alexander Francis