“Johansen get in here.” Supervisory Special Agent Dennis McElroy yelled from inside his office. The noise boomed out his office and down the hall.
“I’m right here,” Agent Johansen said, stepping inside the door.
McElroy tossed a manila folder at him hitting him in the chest. Johansen barely caught it, keeping its contents from spilling. He righted the large folder and read the label on the folder.
“Twenty-nine Palms?” He said aloud. “So, it’s come to this?” He directed towards McElroy.
“Goddamn right Johansen. It’s come to this and I demand you give this case your best. No, I expect you to dig real deep and do better than your best. I want this case figured out to my satisfaction. Do I make myself clear?”
Twenty-Six years with the Agency and now I find myself headed out to the middle of nowhere investigating boogeymen, Johansen thought to himself. Twenty fucking nine Palms, California; the Devil’s ass-crack, the Devil’s nut-sack.
“Why me and how in the hell did I get here?” He asked aloud.
“I’ll tell you how you got here and why you,” Agent McElroy yelled. “You got here because you pissed off the right people or the wrong people. You came to Phoenix because nobody else wanted you. You got here because after terrorism, the drug trade and a few little things like illegal weapons trading, the Agency is too overworked and too under-funded to send anybody worth spit to Twenty-nine Palms. So you will take this case and go do your damn job.”
Johansen thumbed through the pages in the file. He whistled and rolled his eyes. “All my years, 26 years I’ve been with the Agency and you want me to go investigate the strange behavior of a small band of idiots.”
“You’re here because you’re being forced to retire next month. Your career is on the rocks and right now you are in jeopardy of having 26 years be defined by the outcome of your last few assignments.”
“Maybe I’ll just retire now.”
“You won’t retire until you complete that case,” Agent McElroy barked. “You already made your deal. I get to keep you busy for a month and this case should suffice for that purpose.”
“It’s a case no one else wants.” Johansen dropped the case file on McElroy’s desk.
“You’re right about that. Just remember you submitted for early retirement in an agreement to avoid prosecution for real-estate deals you made with a man who’s in jail right now. Don’t forget that, because I won’t.”
“Oh. Are we on first name basis now? How about we keep it professional, Johansen.”
Okay. Supervisory Special Agent McElroy, look, maybe everybody I escaped prosecution, they think I got over, but there’s more to the story—“
“Looking for a little sympathy from me? You want sympathy? Well you can find that in the dictionary between shit and syphilis. But you won't find it here. There’s always more to every story. I’ve read your file, Johansen, and I’ve got one word for you, loyalty. You got to keep your money and the land. You got to avoid doing time. You don’t have a conviction in your record officially, but in my mind, you’re still guilty. You sent a good man to prison, a man I went to the Academy with, and you skated free. If it were up to me, your slimy ass would been investigating spooky lights in Adak, Alaska. So you will do us both a favor. Find out what’s going on in Twenty-nine Palms and then submit your report when you’re done.”
McElroy slid the case file back to Johansen.
Johansen stood there staring at his Supervisory Special Agent. Johansen was almost a foot taller and outweighed the man by 50 pounds at least. He imagined his hands around the McElroy’s throat. He imagined squeezing his throat until his tiny little bald head popped like a greasy little pimple. He tried to calm down. He tried to calm down.
The people here don’t know how much I’ve lost, my family, my rank, my respect, forced to move to Phoenix. I had big plans for my career—save the world, stop terrorists, save people, help make the world a better place, serve my country, no chance of any of that now. Twenty-six years and all anyone wants to talk about is a a bullshit case against a dirty agent. Was it all worth it? It’s all temporary. It’s all temporary, he tried to tell himself.
Picking up the case file folder, he left McElroy’s office and entered an office just across the hallway. Johansen slammed the door to his new office, hard, just to be sure everyone heard it. He looked around the small tight room that surely used to be a broom closet.
McElroy opened Johansen’s door. “You meet your assistants tomorrow at 0900. I suggest you read the entire file by then.” He closed the door softly.
Johansen opened his file drawer and pulled out a hefty brushed-aluminum flask. He swallowed three large gulps of whiskey.
The next morning, Johansen sipped Alka-Seltzer in mixed water from small white styrofoam cup, hoping to wash away his hangover and mental fog. Workers at the rehab facility in Twenty-nine Palms let him use a vacant office for interviews.
“This is a joke,” Johansen said after meeting his team. “Gerald here, 14 years old, still in middle school, you hear voices. Aubrey here, 32 years old, a truck driver with no known address, and you can predict bad things. Maggie here, 45 years old, a stay at home mom, married to a Colonel in the Marine Corps. You actually appear normal in comparison to these two, but you hallucinate that demons are after you, according to this case file. Lucky me. Two completely certifiable witnesses and a psychotic soccer mom.”
“I don’t see demons,” Maggie offered after they all sat down.
“I’m sure you don’t, honey,” Johansen replied.
“It’s Aliens,” she said.
“Excuse me?” Johansen asked.
Maggie smiled at him. “I see aliens. They’re not demons. They’re aliens. Well, I’m pretty sure they’re aliens, but I guess demons are sort of like aliens, right?”
Johansen leaned back in his chair and looked at the trio sitting across the desk from him. Three smiling faces that were each different from the other, but each had that same wild look in their eyes. Johansen had seen that wild-eyed look before while interrogating serial killers. They sat calmly as if they were waiting at a bus stop. Johansen tried to calm down. He sipped more of his morning drink.
“Well, don’t you want to ask us some questions about the case?” Aubrey the truck driver asked. He had hazel colored eyes and messy hair crammed under a blue ball cap with the word Peterbilt on a red logo. He had a hard time sitting still for very long. Johansen detected a Nashville twang.
Johansen rubbed his temple and wondered if it was too early to start drinking. He calculated the time difference from DC. That would mean he was dead on his normal East Coast drinking schedule. He opened his file drawer.
Maggie spoke next. “Before you start drinking so early this morning, will you please discuss with us your plans for bringing our loved ones back from the mothership?” Maggie was a tall woman with dark hair with wisps of gray showing. She avoided eye contact. Although she wore no make-up at all, Johansen sensed she was very attractive, yet reclusive. She had just barely a hint of a Spanish accent.
“I want to hear how you intend to stop the earthquake that will destroy Hoover Dam,” Aubrey added.
“And I would like to get rid of all the aliens who are passing themselves off as humans at my school,” Gerald requested as if requesting his meal be king-sized at a Jack-In-The-Box drive through. Gerald was an Asian kid with thick glasses, chubby, wearing clothes that were too tight and too small.
“In case you’re wondering how you got here,” Maggie said. “You got here because you have nothing personal at stake in this case.”
“Also because you are a criminal,” Aubrey added. “If you find out anything, it won’t take much to discredit you.”
“Let’s not forget that you’re a loser,” Gerald said from behind his thick glasses.
“More importantly,” Maggie said, touching Gerald on the arm, “You have the Agency credentials we need to complete our team.”
“Plus you’re a loser,” Gerald added again. “I’m sorry. I just don’t get to say that very often to anybody over the age of 14 without getting beat up.”
Johansen retrieved the case file from his file drawer. He looked at it. He pulled several documents out of the heavy envelops each marked “Agent Johansen, T. J. - EYES ONLY.” He looked at the wall calendar and thought, I need to hang on for 30 more days; just one month, one more month.
The two months of working with his team seemed to have gone by in a blur. Johansen twisted and rotated his hands to relieve the pressure from the handcuffs on his wrists. He flexed his ankles to restore circulation to his feet.
“Agent Johansen, explain yourself.”
Johansen was now seated in an unknown room similar to a large courtroom or a large interrogation room. A senior Agency rep, no name given, as if Johansen should know who she was, sat directly in front of him with recording devices pointed in his direction.
Johansen looked into the lens of the main device and squinted from lights that prevented him from seeing who addressed him. To the left and to the right he could see outlines of maybe 10-12 people who were also all unknown to him.
He then looked down at his shackled hands. His hands had remained shackled for the entire chartered flight from LAX to Reagan.
He looked down at his hands now. They were no longer 51 years old. They looked younger if not for the bruising of the handcuffs. He was sober for the last two months. He had lost about 30 pounds. His hands showed signs of a low body fat and exceptional fitness from being so busy with what he had been doing. There was no need for the impressive figure seated before him to give reference to what she meant by her order for an explanation. Johansen knew precisely what he was being asked about.
“Before I begin, I would like it noted for the record that I requested legal representation and that representation has so far been denied to me. I would also like to note for the record that I believe I have been drugged.”
“Your concerns have been noted,” the authority figure said.
Johansen, defeated, began. “They uncovered a large cadre of aliens in the desert. Aliens crash-landed there more than 50 years ago. My cooperating team met at the tri-county mental hospital after they were each diagnosed with various problems. They could detect these aliens. They each were sensitive to different alien technology and by chance they met at the Arling Rehab Hospital and decided to do something about it. They started writing to the Agency more than 6 months ago and only now did anyone take them seriously. I took them seriously.
When I met them, they showed me how much they could detect. Gerald, the kid could hear the radio transmissions the aliens hid in the static between the channels of our radios and TV signals. Aubrey was peculiar. He could sense when bad things would happen such as earthquakes and other alien generated problems. They’re both dead now.”
“What of this woman, Maggie Valenzuela, married name Mitchell?”
“I think Maggie is dead too.” Johansen answered. “She would frequently claim she could see aliens. I found out she really could. When she would see aliens she would only be able to utter one phrase, ‘I tawt I taw a putty tat.’ I laughed about that at first, but it was true. She could see them.”
“Do you claim responsibility for the deaths of your teammates and of the more than 25 other people believed killed in the 60 days you have been on this case?”
“No. It’s much worse than you know. I claim responsibility for the deaths of 106 aliens passing themselves off as humans. We only killed 23 people and these casualties could not be helped. The people were, they were contaminated with alien technology.”
“Agent Johansen,” the central authority figure in the high seat said, “You trained various people in anti-government tactics. You hijacked multiple shipments of military weapons. You taught terrorists how to infiltrate government agencies. You just may be responsible for the assassination plans of various government figures. Sadly, you’ve been busy the last 60 days creating havoc and committing acts of terrorism. Mass shootings? Bombing people’s homes? Hacking into government security systems?
We will question you now on the record here in the presence of key Senate Chairpersons for Intelligence, Defense, Homeland Security, and Foreign Affairs. You will admit to your part in these attacks against the government and then you will be incarcerated in a maximum-security mental facility for the rest of your life. We will explain your actions by the documented love affair you had with Maggie Valenzuela over the past 60 days. The public will believe that love and the use of illicit drugs were strong contributing factors in your psychotic delusions. Your reference to an alien conspiracy will not be uttered again from this point forward. You are simply a delusional murderous terrorist cult leader. You understand?”
It was more of an order than a question. Johansen continued looking at his hands.
“Are there any questions for me or Agent Johansen the figure asked her staff, looking left and then right. One figure silhouetted by bright lights raised a hand. This figure came closer to the microphone, moving in a familiar way, Johansen thought. The figure then reached towards the microphone and with a quiet voice uttered something hardly discernable, but completely familiar to Johansen.
“I’m sorry Senator Murry, would you mind please speaking up,” the central authority figure said.
“I tawt I taw a putty tat,” the figure in the light said again. “I tawt I taw a putty tat,” louder, and then screaming, “I tawt I taw a putty tat!”
Johansen squinted, seeing the outline of a woman he knew, the woman he had loved. It was Maggie, dressed in a business suit. Johansen got one last look at his hands and one last look at the glimmering light reflected in Maggie’s eyes as she was tackled to the floor. She pulled a cord in her jacket. Then the entire room filled with the blinding force and light of a powerful explosion.
Yeah baby, was Johansen’s final thought. This whole damn room is full of putty tats.