The Message and the Messenger


“Did he mention camphor? That’s flammable, isn’t it? And the fertilizer. I know I heard Ortho. That’s the truck bomb fertilizer, what they used in Oklahoma City, isn’t it? Does Camphor do anything explosives-wise? I heard Omar’s voice. I think. Did anybody hear anyone say ‘Omar?’ And did they say Weed Be Gone or was it we’d better get going?” Bringing a Sharon pronouncement to a safe landing was difficult to hear; frequently she had to land at an alternate airport or just ditch.

“It was Chamfer, Sharon. Not Camphor. I think it has to do with tricycles. Why they’re harder to steer. I didn’t hear Omar’s name and I’m pretty sure I heard Green Thumb. Pat?” Marco’s talent was to unload the plane after Sharon landed.

Pat hated being put on the spot. “Ortho, Green Thumb, and chamfer. Are we listening to people plot putting together a tricycle bomb?”

“We’re sure OASIS is there, right?” Sharon was a tad slow on facetiousness. “Where are they on anybody’s watch lists?”

Marco struggled to provide a little clarity on the results of the bug attempts. “That we’re sure of, Sharon. Facial rec picked up two OASIS heavies coming in. But there’s still no OASIS link to Carpenter except these two showing up at the same place as Carpenter. Could be a troublemaker poker game; the bug didn’t pick up the first part of Carpenter talking. We don’t know what the festivities were all about. And they’re on plenty of watch lists, but only for countries with petroleum providing more than 7% GDP. Never a suspicion of violence. Not with Carpenter, either. Poker game, political meeting, poetry reading, podcast rehearsal. Nothing we heard indicates a plot or conspiracy of any kind, let alone a violent attack.”

Sharon couldn’t resist the temptation to sound like she knew what she was talking about. “And what about the late-night snack? Didn’t I see Café Rakka on a list of Brotherhood fronts? They’re bugged too, aren’t they? Didn’t we pick up the girl, the Pedicab Union one, going in there with some guy after the meet?”

Marco suppressed an immutable need to sigh. “They were sitting outside. We didn’t pick up much except for Uncle and Coffeepot. Coffeepot was in Turkish, Hafinjan. Code?”

Felicity, the newbie in Group 42, had been silent, following the advice of her dad, also a spook of sorts. She kept her mouth shut, listened, digested, absorbed, and was now ready to say something hopefully intelligent.

“Bernard Carpenter and OASIS both have manifestoes, yes? Carpenter’s public resignation of his commission was seen at best as kicking a man while he’s down and at worst treason. Omar’s declaration of the Reformed Social Caliphate was anathema to any mid-east country with oil. He’s managed to extort six billion dollars from eight countries just to shut him up for a little while. Two people meeting in a group three blocks from the General Assembly of the United Nations, both viewed darkly. That doesn’t get us to at least exploring actionability? I think this deserves another read, especially after all these years:

Dear General Westmoreland,

Bill, you and I go back a ways, don’t we? You made it to the top and I made it to the top of artillery in-country. I can forgive myself for ordering the remote, faceless killing of the enemy. But I will never, repeat, never forgive myself for turning these kids, math geeks and gear heads, into killers. Not for this war, anyway.

Bill, I’ve put in my time and I submit the resignation of my commission forthwith. It will be my job now to make sure a snafu like this doesn’t happen again.

Your comrade,


“What happens to people when they can’t forgive themselves? And what do people do who swear to stop things? And Omar!

“To stop our faith from living off of the ichor of the world, sickening the old, the young, the weak, robbing the poor, ignoring glorious unlimited sunlight The Most High causes to shine on our lands.

“This guy has an agenda aside from getting paid off to go away.” Felicity was soaked in her own sweat and breathing hard by the time she wrapped up, but by the look in Marco’s and Pat’s eyes, she had done it. Sharon, nominally in charge, took a clue from the old hands and patted Felicity on the back.

“Let’s get this monkey a hat, a tin cup, and an organ grinder.”




Andrew Paul Grell

Andrew Paul Grell lives in a park in Manhattan with Melody, his wife, and their Malti-poo puppy, Cyrus King of Persia. At 60, he is an “emerging writer,” author of the recently released science fiction novel SCAPEGOATS: The Goat Protocols. Andrew has been anthologized in American Writers Review, Surprised by Joy, Grumpy Old Gods 2, and What Sort of Fuckery is This. He also makes appearances in Writers Newsletter and is proud to be an Ugly Writer.  By day he uses mathematical models to ferret out fraud, and he gets everywhere by bicycle. 


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Thursday, January 16, 2020 - 23:11