Night Missions, Night Visions

Chapter Six

Acid Dreams

 

Eight Years Ago

Jakarta, Indonesia

Under the cover of a moonlit night, an MH-60 Apache helicopter descends silently onto the rooftop of a skyscraper in downtown Jakarta. Four CCI operatives descend from the helicopter. As soon as the last person is clear, the helicopter ascends once more and disappears into the night. The top level of the building is the headquarters of former high-level Jordanian intelligence operative Omar Al-Khatib. He previously served as a Defense Intelligence Agency liaison until going rogue a few months earlier. Al-Khatib was in possession of the highly sensitive Missile Defense Protocol (MDP) discs. The discs outline the entire U.S. missile defense infrastructure, including launch codes, missile silo sites, and mobile units. This information would be invaluable to a number of American enemies abroad. Al-Khatib’s apparent duplicity has severely strained relations between Jordanian and U.S. military intelligence. And both the Americans and the Jordanians wanted him back, badly.

This CCI unit was specifically tasked by the DIA to retrieve Al-Khatib by any means at their disposal. Their strike team is small but lethal; consisting of Conrad, Blankenchip, and team leader Major Paul James, with support officer David Breslin. Breslin breaks away from the trio to the main building’s main circuit breaker to override the failsafe mechanism.  The other three deactivate the roof’s cameras and motion sensors before quickly moving in to observe Al-Khatib’s office through the skylight. 

Major James turns to Blankenchip. “Do we have visual confirmation of the package?”

“Affirmative,” Blankenchip replies as he peers through his night-vision-enhanced binoculars. “I spot four bogies–three security guards and Al-Khatib.

“Good.” Major James turns to Conrad. “Do you have the flash-bang grenades?”

She nods.  

“All right, the package is isolated.” He radios Breslin. “Lights out on my count.”

“Copy that, Major.”

The three of them strap on their AN/PVS-5 night-vision goggles in preparation.

James begins the countdown.

“We go in on three. One…two…THREE!”

Breslin cuts power to Al-Khatib’s office and the once brightly lit space is suddenly immersed in darkness. The trio bursts through the skylight with shards of glass dispersing through the air like stardust. Conrad reaches inside her tactical webbing to pull out three flash-bang grenades. She hurls them into the midst of the security guards, disorienting them. One of the guards draws his Uzi and shoots wildly through the smoke. Bullets ricochet off the walls and floor, with one of them barely missing Blankenchip’s head. He fires back with his Beretta M92F pistol, wounding the guard in his shoulder. Conrad dispatches the second guard by plunging her Night Force knife into his midsection before he can let off a shot. The guard collapses to the floor without an utterance. James shoots Al-Khatib’s last guard in the right flank and leg. After the chaos settles, he turns his pistol-mounted flashlight on Al-Khatib, who takes refuge behind an overturned desk chair.

“Put your hands up!” James orders.

Al-Khatib staggers to his feet as he gathers himself. Aside from some coughing from the smoke, he seems otherwise unfazed by the intrusion. 

“So, this is the famed CCI squad? Hanahan and Davis must be getting lax in their recruitment standards,” Al-Khatib says with contempt.

Not at all pleased with his glib tone, Blankenchip gets right to the point. “Cut the crap, where are the MDP discs?”

“Now why would I want to give you that information? They have to be worth at least a billion dollars on the black market.”  

“Look, we can do this the hard way or the easy way. The choice is yours,” James says.

“Way I see it,” Blankenchip chimes in, “he doesn’t have a choice.”

“I believe you’re right,” Al-Khatib replies, seemingly at ease with his fate.

He turns to the computer console on his bullet-ridden desk and types in his security password. Thankfully, the computer was still operational. The disc tray under the console opens and a rotating array of discs slides out. Al-Khatib removes the tray’s contents and walks toward them.

“Here are your discs.”

James grabs the discs from him and hands them to Conrad, keeping his eyes and weapon steady on Al-Khatib. “I want authenticity verification.”

Conrad inserts the discs into her mini-laptop. Within seconds the analysis program reads the discs to confirm that they are the originals.

“They’re legit. All the protocols and countermeasures are present and intact,” she replies.

“Any copies made?” James inquires.

“I checked the duplication history and it’s clean. No extra copies were made.”

“Good.” Major James turns to Al-Khatib. “Now, Mr. Al-Khatib, I think it would be wise of you to come with us without a struggle.”

Al-Khatib complies with the order. Major James pats him down for any weapons before turning him around. James pins Al-Khatib’s chest to the wall, and places handcuffs on him.

Conrad radios Breslin. “We’ve obtained the package. We’re heading up.”

“Copy that,” Breslin replies. “I’ll rendezvous at the extraction point.”

The quartet leaves by way of the stairwell; Conrad and Blankenchip lead the way, closely trailed by Al-Khatib and James, who are roughly fifteen feet behind them. The Apache helicopter is in clear view as they reach the rooftop. Just moments before entering the helicopter, Al-Khatib turns to look at James.

“You honestly thought that I would go this easily?”

Al-Khatib taps on one of the cuff links on his shirt, detonating the micro-explosives within the lining of it.

The explosion’s force hurls Conrad and Blankenchip into the side of the helicopter. Their ears ring so loud they can’t even hear each other. Blankenchip struggles to get to his feet as Conrad tries to make out any body through the thick smoke from the explosion. Her goggles were more of a hindrance than a help. She rips them off to get a better view and turns to see James lying lifeless on the ground just a few feet from her, his body burned to a nearly unrecognizable degree. She rushes to his side and starts to perform vigorous chest compressions, trying to bring him back. Ultimately, her effort proves fruitless.

Breslin yells at Blankenchip to get on the helicopter. He nods and runs to gather Conrad.

“We gotta go!” Blankenchip says as he pulls her away from James’s body.

“But we can’t just leave him!”

“He’s dead, Alicia,” Blankenchip says coldly. “PJ knew the risks when he signed up. Now let’s get the hell outta here!”

Blankenchip forcefully yanks her away from James’s body. As he does so, James’s dog tag is ripped from his neck as Conrad clutches onto it. 

 

Conrad Residence

Silver Spring, Maryland

 

“Get up, Alicia,” are the words Conrad hears as she’s woken from her dream by her younger brother Cameron.

“What happened?” Conrad mutters as she shakes off the effects of sleep.

“You were screaming.”

“I was?” She’s still slightly disorientated.

“You were having a nightmare, Alicia.” Cameron’s concern for his sister is evident in his voice.

Even though he’s seventeen years younger than his sister, he takes it upon himself to assume the dual roles of watchful brother and man of the house. It’s an unnecessary burden, but nonetheless he’s chosen to accept it.

“I guess I was,” Conrad says, now settling down from being jolted out of her dream state.

He glances at the digital clock on her bedstand.

“It’s 12:45. Didn’t you say you had a meeting at two?”

“Yeah, but what are you doing home so early? I thought you had AAU practice?”

Playing competitive basketball has been in the Conrads’ blood for years. Their father, John Conrad, was an All-American during his high school years. Conrad herself was also an All-American at Springbrook High School, so it’s only natural that Cameron would follow suit. He’s been playing on the AAU team since he started middle school. He’s pretty good too, averaging sixteen points, ten rebounds, and five assists per game. Just like his big sister was, he was highly sought after by dozens of Division I colleges.

“We ended an hour early,” Cameron answers. “I called and left a message on your phone for a ride.”

Conrad picks up her cell phone from the bed stand and looks at the screen to see that she indeed missed Cameron’s call. She puts her head in her hand.

“I’m sorry, Cam. I was at a meeting this morning, and I crashed as soon as I got home.”

Cameron has sadly grown accustomed to being let down by his older sister. It always seems that affairs of work always take precedence over family for his sister. At least, that’s what it felt like to him.

“I figured as much,” he replies, the discontent clear in his voice.

The young man exits the room, leaving Conrad alone.

 

 

All Characters copyright and trademark Paa-Kofi Obeng

Secret Service

Image courtesy of Encyclopedia.com

 

Chapter Five

Mister President

 

Oval Office

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

 

The White House is intended to be one of the most secure buildings on the planet. Common sense says it would have to be, considering that it houses the most powerful person in the Free World. Yet, two would-be infiltrators from the militia group, the National Freedom Alliance, have managed to infiltrate the Oval Office. The men, one of them armed with an H&K P-10 pistol and the other with a Mac 10 submachine gun, train their weapons on the back of the president’s chair. They think they have the president right where they want him.

The pistol-toting infiltrator speaks up. “All right, Mr. President, you’re gonna listen to our demands or we’re blowin’ this building sky high.”

No response comes from the man in the chair. The two men look at each other in exasperation, agitated by the president’s seeming disregard for the threat they pose. The second man reaches over to turn his chair around.

“Hey, listen to the man when he’s talkin’ to…you…”

The militia man’s voice shrinks to that of a preadolescent boy as he discovers that the person sitting in the president’s chair is actually Secret Service agent Terrell Morrison. The men stare at him dumbfounded. Morrison responds to their obvious shock with some levity.

“What? You were expecting someone a little lighter and thinner?”

They quickly compose themselves and fire their weapons. Before the first bullet can pierce his body, Morrison converts his six-foot, eight-frame from flesh into solid steel.

The bullets tear through his clothes but ricochet off his steel skin. Without hesitation he quickly grabs the submachine gun from the man closest to him, and flips it around to the butt end. He delivers a devastating blow to the infiltrator’s left temple. The impact knocks the man unconscious. The second man, being the wiser, makes a beeline out of the room, but not before letting off a few rounds as he retreats. When he reaches the exit, to his mortification, he’s greeted by three Secret Service agents. The agents waste no time tackling him to the ground and clasping handcuffs around his wrists.

Morrison converts his body back to its natural state, gleaming steel skin recedes to reveal warm flesh and blood. He frantically pats down his suit.

“What’s wrong?” his colleague Jeff Garner asks.

Morrison reaches into his right breast pocket and pulls out a gold wedding band with the engraving: “T&D.”

“There it is,” Morrison says with a smile.

He kisses the ring and puts it back on. Then he looks at the remains of his suit and laments. “I paid over two grand for this thing. What a waste.”

“Next time, you might want to leave the Dolce and Gabbana at home,” Garner comments.

Feigning shock at his friend’s lack of designer-brand savvy, Morrison says, “It’s actually Kenneth Cole.”

“Sorry,” Garner replies with eyebrows raised, as if to say, “Excuse me.”

Morrison smiles and quickly changes the subject. “Did you guys get all the audio on that?”

“Yes, we did. Those idiots won’t see the light of day for a long time.”

“What about the planted explosives?”

“We retrieved and deactivated all of them.”

“Good. Tell Stiles he can bring the president back in from the safe room now.”

“Copy that.” Garner taps his earpiece lightly. “All clear, let the eagle out of the nest.” He shifts his attention back to Morrison.

“So, are you ready for your big press conference today?”

Morrison lets the corners of his mouth betray a warm smile. “Yeah, but not until after I get a bite to eat. I’m starving like you wouldn’t believe!”

 

All characters copyright and trademark Paa-Kofi Obeng

Two Americas

It has been a sobering last few days in the U.S. The recent shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling and the retaliatory killing of five Dallas police officers have had a chilling effect on America’s psyche. Some are shocked, many are angry and many more are scared. How could this happen? What could have been done to avoid these deaths?

To many who viewed the separate videos of Castile and Sterling it was shocking to witness the killing of these two men. Sadly, this is something that we’ve seen all too often over the past few years with the deaths of Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and Akai Gurley at the hands of police. Don’t get me wrong I appreciate the police and appreciate what they do very much. I also understand that they have a very tough job and have to make split second life or death decisions. Their bravery is unparalleled. But there has to be a change.

Across the country we have seen movements spawn such as “Black Lives Matter” and other ones such as “Blue Lives Matter,” but there is something that has to be said about getting to some real solutions. The main problem is perception. Many in the black community feel like the police are not serving as protectors and rather predators while some in the police community feel like they are targeted because of the uniform that they wear.

The contentious relationship that African-Americans have in this country dates back to Civil War era and earlier with the systemic  criminalization of black people through laws enacted by many states that forbade things such as reading, smoking in public, neglecting to step out of the way of a white person approached on a walkway and so forth. There were also vagrancy laws in that stipulated that unemployed individuals could be jailed and leased out as labor–these laws targeted newly freed slaves in particular, and ironically placed them back into the service of the very slave owners that they were freed from.

Conversely, there are the senseless killings of police in Dallas as well as the 2014 ambush style killing of two police officers in their cruiser. With instances like this it can be easy to see why some police officers would be on edge.

I know that many average Americans were unaware of the contentious and some times deadly encounters that people in the African-American community face with police. It was until these very graphic videos surfaced that people’s eyes started to open and reality began to set in. It’s as if we live in two America’s. One where police are perceived as protectors for all and another where they are perceived as predators to certain communities. In a classic Christopher Priest-written issue of Black Panther, T’Challa captures this sentiment perfectly.

Image Courtesy of Black Panther vol. 2 issue 8 (1998)

Indeed, how many nations are in this land? I believe that things can get better once people start acknowledging each other’s grievances and fears, that’s when some progress can happen. I truly hope that someday we can achieve the ideal that is America, “Out of many, one”

The Invincible Riri Williams

Tony’s a goner! That’s right, Tony Stark is done as Iron Man. I’m so glad that arrogant, smug jerk is gone. Ok, ok now I know that was a little harsh. But it’s true. Time magazine revealed that at the end of the current Civil War II storyline in the comics the original Iron Man, Tony Stark, will be stepping down as Iron Man and he’ll be replaced by a genius 15-year-old African American woman named Riri Williams (No, not this Riri)

 

Image Courtesy of movieweb.com

For a little background, she’s an MIT student who reverse engineers one of Stark’s old armors (the guy leaves them around like old underwear) and catches Stark’s attention as a result. Pretty dope. I definitely couldn’t do that at age 15. I was too busy trying to pass Algebra II!

Bendis says that his inspiration for the character came while he was working on a defunct TV show in Chicago, he was inspired by the story of an African American woman who overcame tragedy in her neighborhood to go to college. He stated that he felt like this was the modern superhero story.

I think that it’s great that Brian Michael Bendis (BMB) is trying to diversify comics. I call him the trailblazer, he was the one that brought Miles Morales to the comic world. And I do applaud both he and Marvel for trying to create characters more reflective of America as it is now.

Image courtesy of fusion.net

 

Now there is the other side.

There are some people who are somewhat upset with the fact that the character was not created by a person of color. David Betancourt from the Washington Post noted that Black Twitter was in a tizzy over the reveal.  Some feel that an authentic black female voice should be the one writing the character. The greater concern too is that although the characters are more diverse, the creative teams behind them are not. If we can have Ta-Nehisi Coates writing Black Panther then we sure enough should be able to have a modern day Jackie Ormes  drawing the New Iron Man.

Secondly I have issue with the name Riri. It sounds a little too stereotypical to me. Why can’t the character just be called something like Rianne? As a side point, there have been studies that showed that job applicants with “black” sounding names were less likely to get hired. And I am thinking, will that be the case with comic buyers and Riri?

One of my other concerns is that the inspiration for this character was based on “oppressed minority who overcomes terrible obstacles” narrative that we have heard time and time again. Why not base it on a black woman who was middle class? I don’t know maybe I’m overthinking it.

Also I wonder with (SPOILER ALERT) Rhodey dying in the Civil War II, is Riri a consolation prize? Kill an old black character and replace them with a newer model.

Last gripe, Mike Deodato. I just do not like his artwork. I think his inks are too dark and his action scenes leave a lot to be desired.

Image courtesy of bleedingcool.com

Well, I’ve had my say. What do you all think out there? Are you going to buy the comic? Would you like to see Riri in an MCU movie? Please sound off below.

Unlikable Superman

Image Courtesy of : Google Images.

For starters I actually enjoyed Batman v Superman. Even though I only saw the movie once.  I promise I will eventually see the movie a second time. Unfortunately the majority of the hard core fanboy movie-going audience didn’t enjoy the film as much as I. Even though the film has to date made an impressive $325 million domestically and $863 million worldwide, many critics have unfortunately panned the film. With a Rotten Tomatoes score of 27%, this film was barely given a chance by the critics. Some of the criticisms ranged from the fact that the story line was incoherent to the fact that Batman kills.

I understand some of the criticisms but I think that some of these criticisms border on cruel and unreasonable. The fact that one particular person doesn’t like a movie doesn’t mean that everyone else should dislike it as well. I believe that people are entitled to their opinion but I do not think that you are allowed to impose your opinion on others, and then have the audacity to shame others that don’t share your same views on the subject. In this case that would be Batman v Superman.

Now, that being said, I do want to point something out that has been a problem in these last two DC extended Universe films which was that Superman kind of seemed like a jerk. I know that he is starting out his role as the iconic figure we know and love but I mean c’mon, please make him a little bit likable. I am all for realism but I always felt like Superman was a creature of the light (whereas Batman is of the dark). With the way Supes has been portrayed he’s appeared a little too cocky ans self-serving. For example, (SPOILER WARNING) he goes out of his way to save Lois Lane to the point that he shoves a guy through multiple walls. I have heard a well thought out defense of that move but I feel like Superman could’ve easily tried a different tact. Also he seems so tortured all the time, he’s like one of your Debbie-Downer co-workers who always has something bad to say about something (yeah you know who they are). All these things add up to a Superman that I don’s hate, but also one that I am not particularly fond of.

Moving forward, I hope that Superman does lighten up. I think that he’s one of the characters in the comicbook lexicon who is about brightness and hope (I mean his family crest does mean ‘Hope’ for goodness sake). I think that if they focus on once again making Superman a character we can look up to and have joy in, then that will hit the sweet spot that many fans are looking for.

That’s my take. What do you all think out there?

 

Feds

Image Courtesy of Techjaws.

 

Chapter Four

Feds

Shadyside Café

Venice Beach, California

Agent John Arrowhawk is growing impatient, for good reason. He’s sitting alone at a wire-framed table covered by an umbrella shade waiting for arms dealer, Derrick “D-Tech” Sylvester. What kind of silly nickname is D-Tech, anyway? Arrowhawk wonders as he checks his watch. The arms dealer is more than thirty minutes behind schedule, and Arrowhawk fears that the deal may have already fallen through before it’s begun.

Sylvester supplies weapons to many in Southern California’s criminal underworld. He also has ties to many South and Central American drug lords. Posing as a rising cocaine trafficker in the L.A. underworld, Arrowhawk has arranged a buy with Sylvester. He’s been working on this meeting for weeks, with hopes of not only arresting Sylvester, but also obtaining his client list. Arrowhawk taps his earpiece.

“He’s got cold feet, the deal’s off-”

His field leader interrupts. “Hold it, we got him on surveil, he’s heading right for you.”

At that moment, a thin man with a close-cropped hair, and dressed in an Armani suit, arrives at Arrowhawk’s table. His appearance comes off more like a GQ cover model than an arms dealer. The well-dressed man pulls up a chair across from Arrowhawk.

“You got the money?” he asks calmly.

“No money till I see the merchandise,” Arrowhawk answers.

Sylvester nods and the two get up from their outdoor table and head inside the café. The pair walk past the various café patrons and into a side room just across from the kitchen. In the room are an oval wooden table and three chairs.

Sylvester places a two large metallic suitcases side by side on the table and opens them. Within the foam-lined cases lies an assortment of weaponry, including two Glock-36s, one Walther 9mm submachine gun, and an Uzi.

“This is just a sample,” Sylvester says. “I’ll take you to the rest once I see the cash.”

Arrowhawk looks at the weapons and then at Sylvester. He presses a button on his wristwatch. “Thanks, but that’s all I needed to see.”

The door is kicked open, and suddenly, Sylvester is accosted by a slew of café patrons. Unknown to Sylvester, most of the café patrons are in fact undercover agents. He slips his right arm free to grab the Glock from one of the suitcases. Arrowhawk closes the lid of the second suitcase and bats the gun out of Sylvester’s hand with it. He’s then slammed to the ground face-first with his arms pulled behind his back.

“You set me up!” a bewildered Sylvester blurts.

“Way to state the obvious, Tech,” Arrowhawk replies.

“I’ll get you! You ain’t seen the last of me!”

“‘You ain’t seen the last of me.’” Arrowhawk mocks. “Do you know how utterly unoriginal that sounds? You sound like a perp from a bad cop drama. Let’s be honest, you’re just mad ‘cause you got caught.”

He slaps Sylvester on the back of the head as he’s lifted off the ground by one of the agents.

“You gotta be slick, my man.”

Arrowhawk motions to the agent. “Get him out of here. I want him in interrogation within the next half hour. Also, make sure we get a team to the industrial park to recover the rest of his caché.”

“Right away sir,” the agent says. “But, I’m just curious, why didn’t you just zap him when he pulled the gun on you?”

“Because it would’ve been too dangerous in close quarters like this. I can’t risk one of our guys getting hurt.” As he turns to walk away, one of his colleagues pulls him aside.

“Samuels is on the line for you, John.”

He takes the cell phone. “Arrowhawk.”

L.A. office Special Agent in Charge Kevin Samuels comes on the line. Arrowhawk worked briefly under Samuels as his ASAC, but stepped down shortly after the Kerrington affair. The two still maintain a fun yet professional relationship.

“How did it go?”

Arrowhawk responds in his own slightly satirical way.

“As well as it could have. Some of these arms dealers aren’t that bright. They wouldn’t recognize a sting operation if it ran up and bit them in the crotch.”

“You know, I really could’ve done without that mental image, John.”

“Sorry.”

“Anyway, make sure you write up your field report before your hot-shot press conference.”

“The Vigil thing?”

“Yeah.”

“What time was it again?”

“Do I look like your secretary?”

“No, sir, but you are one of the most informed and astute people I know,” Arrowhawk responds.

“Enough with the brown-nosing. It’s at two o’clock, east coast time.”

All characters are trademark and copyright Paa-Kofi Obeng

 

 

 

 

Spy Woman Part 2

Chapter Three (continued)

Super Sleuth

SVR[1] Headquarters

Yasenevo 11 Kolpachny

Moscow, Russia

She reaches the roof, where her extraction team hovers above in an MH-60 Enhanced Black Hawk helicopter. Clemens motions for her to jump in. Just as she leaps for the helicopter, a bullet grazes the side of her right leg. Fighting Bull stumbles and barely grabs hold of a landing skid with her left hand as the helicopter begins its ascent. As she dangles from the helicopter she draws a black Sig Sauer P-225 from her shoulder holster and returns fire on the guard who shot her. The bullet pierces his chest, and his body crumples to the ground.

Fighting Bull loses her grip, but before she can fall too far, Clemens snatches her left wrist and pulls her into the cabin. Their gunner returns fire with two mounted 7.62mm miniguns as the pilot releases burst flares from the M-130 flare dispenser, disorienting their attackers and covering their escape.

Fighting Bull hands the jump drive to her operations officer. 

“That was too close, Cynthia,” Clemens comments.

“I know,” Fighting Bull counters. “It won’t happen again.”

“You said that in Sarajevo, and in Kandahar before that.”

Fighting Bull nods contritely. Deep down, she is not truly penitent. The fact is that she thrives on episodes like this. To her, the rush of being on the precipice of death is akin to being high on cocaine. One could rightly assert that Cynthia Fighting Bull was an adrenaline junkie with no intention of ever going into rehab. Competent though she is at her job, her love of excessive risk-taking is her one major flaw as an agent.

Clemens inserts the jump drive into his laptop’s USB port and begins transferring the encrypted files to Langley’s server. The on-board medic bandages Fighting Bull’s leg wound. Thankfully for her, there is just superficial damage with minimal blood loss.

With the release of superhuman growth hormone from her anterior pituitary gland, she transforms from the Andropov identity back into her original slim five-foot, five-inch frame. Her protean ability is both amazing and unsettling to witness, best described as wax melting, with Andropov’s visage liquefying away to reveal Fighting Bull’s true face. Clemens looks up from his laptop to catch this process.

“No matter how many times you do that it still gives me the creeps,” he comments.

 Fighting Bull smiles and ties her long, light brown hair into a pony tail as she takes a cabin seat. She grabs the duffle bag with her change of clothes from the side of her chair and places it in her lap. An unfortunate downside to her ability is that she can’t transform her clothes whenever she does a shape change. Thus, she is constantly required to have a change of clothes on hand to fit her original body frame.

“Cynthia, you want to grab something to drink before we head home?” the pilot asks.

“You know she doesn’t drink Barton,” Clemens says. “Just worry about getting us home.”

Fighting Bull nods at Clemens then looks down at her phone. She notices the time and sees that she is almost late in giving her video debrief to her handler. She touches the overhead flat-screen monitor above her, agent Tony Dickson appears onscreen.

 “How was it?”

            She responds with a smirk. “Smooth as a baby’s bottom. They didn’t have the slightest clue that I was even there.”

          “Yeah right, and there’s a bridge in New York that I’d like to sell you. I saw your little fiasco from the SATVID.[2] Next time, leave when Clemens tells you to!” Dickson chides.

 “Now where would the fun be in that?”

 “It’s all fun and games until I’m reading your eulogy.”

 “I understand. I won’t make that mistake again, sir. So when’s my next assignment?”

 “You won’t have one. You have a press conference to go to, remember?”

 “Uh, no. When did this come about?” 

“Didn’t you get the memo about being sanctioned into that new special task force?” Dickson retorts matter-of-factly.

 “No, sir.”

 “You sure?”

 “Positive.”

Back at Langley, Dickson clicks the Microsoft Outlook icon on his computer screen and retrieves the errant e-mail. He pauses as he reads.

            “On second thought, scratch that. There’s no way you could’ve gotten that memo because I’m staring at the copy that I was supposed to e-mail you. Sorry, I must’ve forgotten to send it. My bad.”

“‘My bad?’ Sir, isn’t it you who always reminds me that this CIA stands for the Central Intelligence Agency, not the Center for the Inept and Amnesic?”

[1] Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki—Russian Foreign Intelligence Service

[2] SATellite VIDeo

All characters and story trademark and copyright of Paa-Kofi Obeng 

Red Tape

Image Courtesy of Photoaltan

 

Chapter Two

Bureaucrats

 

Interstate 495

The Washington Beltway

Conrad navigates the perpetually congested Washington Beltway in her late-model Ford SUV, with the intent of getting to her Silver Spring home before lunchtime. Although her eyes are fixed on the road, her mind drifts back to the meeting with Hanahan. The thought of being active again is both appealing and honestly quite frightening—How would she transition back to active duty? What would she do to keep them all on the same page? These thoughts run through her mind just before the ringtone of James Brown’s “The Big Payback” from her cell breaks through her fugue. She looks at the caller ID and sees that it’s Maurice Hodges, case officer with the Montgomery County Department of Child Welfare Services. Hodges has been a constant thorn in her side since the beginning of her custody case with the county. Her disposition immediately changes as she lifts the phone to her ear.

In a flat voice she answers, “Conrad.”

            Maurice Hodges’s voice is the perfect amalgam of the character Steve Urkel from the 1990s television show Family Matters and comic actor and economist Ben Stein.    

“Yes, Ms. Conrad, this is Maurice Hodges from the Department of Child Welfare Services.”

She can’t help but grit her teeth every time he opens his mouth.

“Yeah, I know who you are. What exactly is it that you want?”

“Just calling to remind you of your pending court date.”

“Yes, I do remember, Mr. Hodges. Is there anything else you would like to waste my daytime minutes on?”

Hodges is put off by the curt response and pauses a moment to gather himself before responding.

“No, nothing else, but I have to say, your tone and manner are quite rude, considering that you’re one of our decorated servicewomen—”

She interrupts him mid-sentence. “Look, I’d love to listen to your diatribe on proper phone etiquette, but unlike some people–such as yourself–I use the air I breathe to do work that actually matters. So if you’ll excuse me…”

She presses the “End” button on her phone and flings it into the lap of the passenger seat. The absolute nerve of him…he seriously needs to invest in getting a life. I promised mom that I’d keep us together. There is no way they’re taking Camille and Cameron away from me.

Conrad turns on her multimedia player and plugs it into the center console audio-input jack. Her SUV is suddenly immersed in the sounds of James Taylor’s Fire and Rain. Little did she know how prescient that song title would be.      

 

Characters copyright and trademark Paa-Kofi Obeng 

Spy Woman Part 1

 

Chapter Three

Super Sleuth

SVR[1] Headquarters

Yasenevo 11 Kolpachny

Moscow, Russia

The Cold War has been over for decades, but the CIA still has a penchant for keeping tabs on its Russian sister agency. This provides covert operations officers like Agent Cynthia Fighting Bull a world of job security. Her current assignment—retrieving files on former Soviet nuclear scientists from the SVR archives—is going smoothly so far. Her ability to shape-shift is no doubt helping this along.

She operates under the guise of SVR Security Chief, General Anatoly Andropov.

Her operations officer, Dalton Clemens, talks to her over the radio earpiece, addressing her by her call-sign.

“Chameleon, your exit window closes in thirty seconds. Have you secured the package?”

“That’s affirmative; I’m almost done,” Fighting Bull responds.

After downloading the file, she pulls the jump drive out of the computer’s USB port and tucks it into her coat pocket. Clemens comes back in her ear.

“Chameleon, infrared is picking up movement in your direction.”

She taps her earpiece before responding. “I’m leaving now.”

As she proceeds to the exit, much to her surprise (and chagrin), she bumps into the genuine General Andropov. Mutually stunned by this encounter, they both pause.  

“What the hell?!” Andropov blurts out in his native Russian.

Fighting Bull hesitates briefly as Andropov reaches for the H&K P-10 pistol in his left shoulder holster. Regaining her mental bearings, she kicks the pistol out of his right hand and follows through with a forceful roundhouse to the chest. The impact knocks the wind out of Andropov. He loses his balance and tumbles to the ground. She sprints out of the room just as the back of his head hits the floor.

A trio of security guards walks by to find one Andropov sprinting out of the archive room while another is sprawled on the floor. The guards are understandably confused by what they see. The real Andropov, struggling for air, orders the guards, “G-get him.”

The men pull out their Kalashnikov rifles and begin firing on Fighting Bull, as they chase after her. She deftly navigates a myriad of corridors and stairwells. Shattered pieces of plaster splatter across her face as bullets pierce the walls, just narrowly missing her.

[1] Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki—Russian Foreign Intelligence Service

Characters Trademark and Copyright Paa-Kofi Obeng 

Oscars so…..?

Image courtesy of ABC

So it’s that time of year again…award season is upon us. The red carpet is being rolled out in Hollywood. But this year is a little different (or maybe not so different?).  The controversy over the lack of diversity among the Oscar nominees has put a cloud over the ceremony. Especially with the #OscarsSoWhite rampant on Twitter it doesn’t take Tom Hanks telling us “Houston we have a problem,”(yes, I couldn’t resist the Apollo 13 reference) to let us know that there is something seriously wrong going on here.

Even some high profile stars are boycotting the Oscars, with Jada Pinkett Smith being one of the most prominent ones.

Many people are bemoaning this outcry by saying that people of color should be patient, as Michael Caine recently mentioned. That’s like Lyndon Baines Johnson telling Dr. King to be patient for the Voting Rights Act.

Going beyond the Oscars there is a real problem with diversity in our entertainment arena. In a recent study conducted by USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, they found that out of 109 motion pictures evaluated only 7% had a racially balanced cast. The study also found that at least half or more of all media evaluated (film, television, streaming) failed to portray one speaking or named Asian or Asian American on screen. Of the lead characters in film, only 21.8% were an underrepresented minority, which is 16.1% below the U.S. Census number.

Behind the camera things weren’t much better. Only 12.7% of film directors were from an underrepresented minority group, and out of that they named just two Black women: Ava DuVernay (Selma) and Amma Asante (Belle)—who happens to be Ghanaian.

The major studios overall did not fair much better. No studio scored an inclusion score above 25% across all metrics. Only Sony and Viacom achieved a Fully Inclusive score for underrepresented minority characters and leads. The authors of the study credit films like About Last Night, Selma and Top Five for helping to bolster their respective scores.

The authors suggest ways to remedy this including: targeted inclusion goals, countering mythologizing in decision making with evidence (i.e. thought that minority leads can’t do well at the box office), and building inclusive consideration lists.

I think some people are afraid and think that others are taking their piece of the pie. No. It’s not about taking a piece of someone’s pie, it’s about making the pie bigger.

Your thoughts are welcome.