Editor’s Note: LR Net is currently running excerpts from Philip Becnel’s new satirical novel, Freedom City. In it, he envisions a fascistic post-Trump America. But, fortunately, a band of merry pranksters sets out to bring down fools in high places.
This week, we begin with chapter 1.
An aside, if you want to see more of Freedom City, without waiting for more excerpts here, you can purchase the complete text from a variety of online retailers, some of which you can see at this site.
Origins 1: Beach Sands
By Philip Becnel
“This may be the best martini I’ve ever had.” Beach Sands, Esq., forty-eight, son of former-hippies, beard brushed with gray, cheeks pink from gin, raised his glass to the beautiful bartender, whose nametag identified her as “Grace D.” Based on her accent, he guessed she was from the Philippines. A foreigner working for an anti-immigrant demagogue: it figured.
“Thank you, sir.”
“You don’t have to—” No, it was better she didn’t know his name. He took another sip. Salt and juniper berries: proof of Dionysus’ existence. “Nobody goes out of their way to be honest anymore.”
“I try to be honest.” She reached up to return the bottle of pricy gin to its perch on an upper shelf. Her skirt climbed up her pantyhose and clung high up on her slender hamstrings. Her uniform and the wall of bottles behind the counter were likely designed for just that effect.
“Everyone tries to be honest, but nobody goes out of their way anymore.”
The bartender turned, un-clung her skirt, and began busying herself at the sink.
Beach emptied half his glass. “Sometimes we lie because we don’t say something that needs to be said. For example, I hate this fucking place, but the three martinis you’ve made were excellent. It would have been dishonest had I left without acknowledging it.”
“There are other times when something is so obviously wrong that not speaking up about it is a lie.”
“What brings you to Trump International Hotel?” she asked.
She laughed. “Now you’re being dishonest, sir.”
“Am I?” Beach finished his drink. “I’ll tell you what, let’s play a game.”
“I’m working. I can’t play games.”
Beach swiveled toward the lobby behind him. Magnificent crystal chandeliers dangled from white-painted trusses, which zigzagged across the massive room. All of the sofas and dining tables were empty. Besides a housekeeper pushing a cart stacked with clean linens along an exterior corridor a hundred feet above the trusses, they were the only ones there. He turned back to the bar. “You get to ask me a question—any question—and then I get to ask you a question, and we both have to answer honestly.”
“Like truth or dare?”
“Right, but without the dare part.”
She opened her mouth and then closed it. Her eyes dropped to his tie, on which he had already dribbled some of his martini.
Beach’s gray suit was at one time the nicest he owned, reserved for the opening arguments of his felony trials, but that was ten years ago. Now one of the sleeves was missing a button and the lapels were a bit too wide. A bulge in his jacket pocket made the whole suit seem ill fitting. In the bartender’s eyes he would have seemed comparatively mediocre sitting next to her regular customers: Saudi royalty and Russian oligarchs.
“Why are you really here?” she asked.
Beach finished his glass and rested the stem gingerly on the bar. “I admit biological warfare is only one reason I’m here.” He glanced at his watch—3:58 p.m.—and he pointed to one of the hotel rooms beyond the trusses. “My girlfriend is up there right now fucking someone she met on Craigslist.”
Her mouth opened. This time it stayed open. “Really?”
“Really. Now it’s my turn to ask you a question.”
“But you didn’t tell me—”
“We never agreed on giving any explanations beyond the bare truth.” He rested two hundred-dollar bills on the counter. “How do you feel about working here, knowing what these people stand for?”
She took the bills from the counter and walked to the cash register, where she pressed some buttons, waited for the receipts to print, placed those and Beach’s change in a book, and set the book on the bar in front of him. “I don’t care about politics,” she said. “I have a two-year-old son.”
“An honest answer,” Beach replied, sliding the book back to her without opening it.
Like clockwork, Clare Swan, his twenty-seven-year-old-legal-assistant and friend-with-benefits, emerged from an elevator and glided across the lobby as smoothly as if she were riding a Segway. Her gray pencil skirt was twisted slightly askew, and her chestnut hair, before arranged in a neat ponytail, was now free and gently tussled. But these were details only Beach would have noticed. He grinned appreciatively. Clare smirked and walked to the bar, sitting down beside him.
“Welcome to Trump—” Grace D. began.
Clare held up her palm. “I’m good, thank you.”
“How was it?” Beach put a hand on her knee and began sliding it up her skirt. He couldn’t help himself. She smelled like sex. It made him crazy.
With thumb and forefinger, Clare removed Beach’s hand from her thigh as if it was a glove found on the sidewalk. She then turned it over and placed in its palm a plastic card: the room key and elevator fob she had swiped from her date. She glanced at the bartender, who was again busying herself at the sink. “The… meeting went well. Are you ready?”
“I’ll meet you outside.”
Beach watched Clare sashay to the exit. She was built like a thirteen-year-old boy, which is how he liked his women: no hips, flat chest, knobby knees, and an underdeveloped frontal lobe. He was a lucky man. He stuck the fob in his pants pocket and turned back to the bartender.
“That’s your girlfriend?” she asked.
“It’s complicated. Thanks for the drinks, Grace D. You’ve been swell.”
Beach stumbled into the restroom, where he lightened his gin-sodden bladder on the floor directly beside the toilet and wrestled a paper lunch-bag containing a Mason jar from his coat pocket. On the nights when he had drunk too much gin—which was most nights—he was fond of proclaiming to anyone within earshot, “The only thing worse than a bedbug is a hypocrite.” Sometimes Beach replaced the word “hypocrite” with other objects of his disdain: “racists,” “fascists,” “religious nuts,” “Mike Pence apologists,” and sometimes “Phillies fans.”
When he was still married to Sarah, their house had been twice infested with bedbugs. It was a nightmare of 1980’s Hollywood slasher-film proportions. It started when they began discovering welts on their extremities, which they first rationalized must be mosquito bites (Talk about being dishonest with yourself). It was only when they saw splotches of black blood on the sheets that they figured out what was happening: a full-blown bedbug infestation. They had to pay an exterminator named Willy thousands of dollars to get rid of the evil little things. It took weeks, and it was the final straw ending in his divorce.
Willy told them bedbugs mate through traumatic insemination. The male literally pierces the female’s body with its penis and injects its sperm into her abdominal cavity. A more evil creature Beach couldn’t imagine, except…
“The only thing worse than a bedbug is a fascist enabler,” he said to himself as he peaked into the bag and turned the jar around in the light. Thousands of bedbugs climbed along the inside of the jar, looking for a way out—looking for a way to eat flesh, shit out black blood, and ruin lives.
Bag in hand, he left the restroom, hung a right toward the elevator lobby, and swiped the fob that afforded him access all the way up to the penthouse level. This was no easy task. Security at the Trump International Hotel was tight, even with Trump dead now for three months. But Clare’s Craigslist date, Garth Simonson, was a project manager for a security outfit called Backwater Mercenaries. Garth lived in Fairfax, Virginia, just an hour away. Staying in the penthouse suite, even though he really had no need to be there, not only gave him an excuse to be away from home and cheat on his wife; it would also help his company get Department of Defense contracts. Booking the overpriced rooms was the easiest way to bribe the regime. Welcome to post-Trump America.
On the hotel’s top floor, Beach carefully unscrewed the Mason jar, leaving the mouth just below the lip of the bag. He then strolled the corridor and casually shook out five or six bedbugs near the door of each room. When he was done with the top floor, he rested the cap back on the jar, accidently squishing two of the critters (Nobody promised there would be no casualties). He brushed off two or three that had escaped onto the carpet. He then took the elevator one floor down, where he repeated what he had done on the penthouse level.
When he traveled down three floors and had shaken the last of the bugs out of the jar, he rested it and the paper bag, still open, in the trash receptacle of a cleaning cart. It would be a month before the hotel was completely infested. In the hotel business, news of a massive bedbug infestation was bound to cost them a fortune in treatments and lost bribes. Willy had only charged Beach five hundred dollars to collect the bugs, and it had only taken him three weeks.
Three blocks away, Clare was straddling her bicycle, absentmindedly staring at her phone. She had put her hair back in a ponytail and was now wearing a bike helmet. “How did it go?” she asked.
“They won’t know what hit them.”
He moved to kiss her, but she held out her hand. “Not until you change clothes and take a shower. Let’s go to the other hotel.”
“Then you’ll tell me what you did up in the room?”
“He was good with his hands.”
Beach snorted. She went back to looking at her phone while he yanked off his tie and tossed it in a trashcan. He did the same with his coat and trousers, until he was standing on the street in dress shoes and socks, a pair of day-glow orange boxers, and a once-white t-shirt that was now dyed bachelor-pink. Realizing he had thrown away his wallet and keys, he reached into the trashcan, fished out his trousers, returned them to the receptacle, and fumbled with his bike lock. The hotel where they would clean up and rehash the day’s adventure was near Dupont Circle, less than a mile away. There were clean clothes waiting for him there.
“Do you love me?” he asked as he climbed on his bike.
She looked up at him again for the first time in five minutes and burst out laughing. “Are you riding to the hotel like that?”
“Fuck the world.”
She tossed her phone in her bag and shot up 15th Street like a lithe, hipster rocket. He pedaled hard to catch up. She was more than twenty years younger than him and at least fifty pounds lighter, and she was also athletic. She rode her bike everywhere, didn’t own a car, didn’t eat meat, did yoga, swam, and eschewed sweets. Beach did none of that. He could feel what was left of the gin sloshing around in his belly. He was no match for her.
Thankfully, she caught a red light on Connecticut Avenue, allowing him to pull up next to her, panting heavily. “What else was he good at?”
“You have to wait.” She shot into the intersection, despite the red light, weaved past several slow-moving cars, and disappeared into the congestion of Dupont Circle.