Excerpt for Insecurity in the Homeland: The Terrorist and Me by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Insecurity in the Homeland: The Terrorist and Me

By: Dick Sem

Copyright 2018 Dick Sem

Smashwords Edition



Tuesday – Him

They – those who guided me since the torments of my youth – have told me of their plans for me. The time is near, they say, when I will compensate them in blood. I obediently and patiently await my holy and terrible mission.


Tuesday - Her

Mom insisted on going to the pet shop, and there was no saying, “No” to Mother.

Especially when her inner voices sent her on an errand.

As I drove her to the big pet shop in the mall, the one with no sad-eyed puppies and kittens, I protested, “Mom, you really don’t need a pet. After all, you do have Lummox and …Dad to keep you company.” Lummox was the ruling member of her teddy bear dynasty, a group that received more love and attention than us human kids. “If you’d like, I’ll come over a few times a week and poop on your lawn and shed hair all over your furniture. And then you can feed me and scratch me behind the ears for doing absolutely nothing constructive.”

“Oh, Kate, you always overreact. I’m perfectly capable of caring for a pet and I could use the company. Besides, animals are so much nicer than people. Animals don’t lie and start wars, you know.” I pictured a lion tearing into an antelope. The antelope might have a different perspective.

“Listen to me, Mom,” I said in my most adamant voice, “when you die, any critters that out-live you go right into Tupperware containers, especially any that squeak, squawk, chirp or breathe water.” I pictured my own dog and cat in huge clear plastic containers and shuddered a bit. But a point had to be made. “I really mean it, I will cremate them right alongside you and you can feed and clean them in heaven.”

She smiled her aren’t I a sweet and innocent old lady smile that worked on everybody but me and my sister. “Now you’re just talking silly. I raised you to love and respect animals and I know you couldn’t harm a fly. Besides, I’m just going to the pet store to look. I probably won’t get anything. Or maybe I’ll pick up a pull toy for sweet Maggie. I know she’d like that.” Nicely played. Maggie was my dog, my own surrogate child.


As we walked through the mall toward the pet store, I pulled back a little and watched Mom walking ahead. Even at seventy-five she was still pretty spry, at least physically. She tried not to dress like an old lady and a passerby might have estimated her age at no more than sixty-five. That passerby never would have imagined the flying monkeys camped inside of her skull, just waiting for the right moment to manipulate her into one of her public ‘displays.’ I did, however, envy her child-like, wide-eyed fascination with everything she saw. Every store, every window display, was a new delight for her.

She stopped in front of one of the maybe twenty shoe stores and, eying a blood-red pair of high-heeled shoes, squealed with a girlish, “Oooo! Kate, I just love those shoes. I must go in and try them on.”

The shoes, with their long spiky heels and pointy toes, looked like a pair of open pocket knives. “Mom, you’ve never worn anything over one inch high. You’ll fall off of those and break your neck. Besides, they look a bit …whorey.”

She looked up at me with horror. “Kate Damon, you’re getting prejudiced in your solitary barren years. We shouldn’t consider ourselves above someone else, just because they sell their …, what’s that smell?” The shoes now forgotten, she scanned the distance, attempting to locate the source of this new distraction.

“That’s just the bath store next store. They sell all those flowery and fruity soaps and shampoos.”

She wrinkled her nose. “Smells like the produce section of a funeral parlor. I’d probably sneeze all over their soaps and shampoos if I went in there. They’d be washing snot off of their bottles for a week.” Her gaze shifted to view the mall itself, with its shiny chrome and marble and mile-long skylight. She spotted a strolling police officer, grinned, and took off toward him.

Oh, God, I thought, not a cop. I trotted behind her, wishing she had a cane or walker to slow her down. “Mom, where are you going? What about the pet store?” Any port in a storm.

“Officer,” she called. “May I please have a word with you?”

Unfortunately for him he was one of the polite ones, and he replied, “Yes, ma’am, how can I help you?” Those were probably going to be the first words later written in his incident report, I thought.

“Well, young man,” she said, giving him her resolute granny look, “I was just studying the wonderful design of this amazing place and I couldn’t help but think that the money that went into building this …edifice could have been so much better spent feeding starving orphans in Siam. Why were you so wasteful? Those brown babies are making our sweaters with their little stubby fingers while we enjoy hot pretzels in air conditioned splendor. It doesn’t seem right, does it?”

“Ma’am,” the patient officer replied, “I don’t think there is a Siam anymore. I believe Siam is now called Thailand.”

Good for him. Sometimes raising a new subject could throw her off the chase. Kind of like tossing a dead rabbit at a bloodhound on the scent. “Mom, I don’t think the officer had anything to do with building this mall.” I smiled weakly at the cop. “I’m sorry, officer. Sometimes my mother misunderstands.”

“Don’t patronize me, Kate. I perfectly well do know there is a Siam. It had a bald king who lusted after a young white teacher. And they danced and sang a lot. But the king died because he smoked too much. And …” She stopped to think for a moment. She looked around and blinked, as if she had just woken from a dream. She looked at the officer as if he had just appeared there before her. “Um, I’m sorry officer, was there anything else? We were just on our way to the pet store and, if you’re done with us, we’d like to move along. There’s nothing more to see here.”

He tapped his hat, nodded and said, “No, ma’am, that will be all. You ladies have a nice day.” He gave me a wink as we walked away. I could use a tolerant man like that in my life, I thought.

What a pitiful pair Mom and I made.


“What do you mean, ‘my solitary barren years?’”

We were in the pet store and Mom had been studying a rope ladder apparently designed for parrots. “Oh, Kate, there you go again being all sensitive. I just stated a fact that is as obvious as the nose on your face to any person who might lay eyes on you. You’re a beautiful girl, but people can just tell that you haven’t been fulfilled. You lack that certain glow that all mothers have.” She held the damn ladder up to me. “Now, isn’t this the cutest thing? I would love to be a parrot so I could climb on this.”

“Forget the ladder, Mom. I’ll tell you about the ‘glow’ that mothers have. It’s a look of pain and exhaustion and regret. I see how those little ankle biters torment their mothers and I thank God for my dog and cat.”

Mom began to say something and I cut her off with, “And no, I won’t end up as one of those crazy ladies with seventy cats and newspapers piled high to the ceiling. I have a career, friends who love me and a happy life, and that’s all I need.”

Mom was examining a fur pouch that apparently was intended as a nest for parrots. She peered into it and said, “Do you think a parrot would bite my finger off, dear? I’ve heard they do that, and I really wouldn’t care for that at all.”

“Mom, I …,” I began to say. “Oh, never mind. I’m going to the department store to buy some underwear. You stay here and enjoy yourself, but don’t talk to anyone. Okay? And remember that parrots live like seventy years which is beyond your and my remaining life spans, so don’t even think about it.” She would be spending at least another hour investigating every pet toy and caged critter, and I didn’t need her offering her opinions in the lingerie department. I would be critic enough, thank you.


I returned as quickly as possible but, as I entered the pet store, I found my mother covered by at least twelve multi-colored cockatiels. One sat on her head and the rest were distributed across her shoulders and outspread arms. She stood next to a large glass-walled box in which the birds had earlier been minding their own business. Two store employees stood nearby, nervously wondering how to get their birds back into the box. A small crowd of onlookers was gathering at the store entrance.

When Mom saw me she grinned widely and said, “There you are, honey. See all my new friends? I put my arm down into their container and they marched, one by one, onto me. Isn’t this wonderful?”

I had to admit that animals took to Mom. They probably sensed a kindred spirit, driven by instincts and reasoning at the most elemental levels. “Mom, put those birds back. Look, they’re crapping all over your blouse.”

A boy whose badge said, ‘store manager,’ approached me and said, “We’re sorry about this. I’ve never seen anything like that. They just swarmed all over her. We tried to remove them from her, but they hiss and snap at us. I guess we’ll have to get the heavy gloves and the net.”

I reached toward the nearest bird and, sure enough, it fanned its wings, hissed and lunged at me. I jumped back before losing a knuckle. Mom had become their territory. “You don’t need to apologize. My mother has a way with such creatures.”

To Mom I said, “Mom, you make them return to their home right now. Understand? Or I swear I’ll never take you out again.” I was forced to deploy one of the few weapons I had left. “They’re getting the heavy gloves and net for you,” I continued. “I know how you hate the net.”

“Oh, all right, but they were just enjoying some time out. They sometimes need a change of scenery, too.” She lowered her right arm into their enclosure and, as if hearing some silent order, the birds waddled single file back onto the branch. “Ooo’s” and “aaah’s” went up from the spectators, but I was unimpressed. I had seen stranger things in my time.


As we drove back from the mall, I looked at Mom sitting next to me. She was smiling contentedly, thinking about her very successful outing. I had to admit that it could have gone much worse.

And don’t get me wrong. I love my mother dearly, even after a childhood cowering before the screaming alcoholic schizophrenic she was then. She had mellowed into a mostly lovable eccentric, and that was just fine by me.

I looked at a park as we passed and thought that actually life was pretty good. Mom had settled down considerably from her more ferocious years, my job was moving along, and I had a loving dog and cat waiting to welcome me home. I felt more safe and secure than I had for a long time.

Little did I know that a monster who would forever change my life lurked not two blocks away. Little did I know that a good man would lose his life tonight on this very street.


Wednesday – Him

I watch the pagans, the heathens, with revulsion. They are weak and clueless, corrupted by their reality television and fragile faiths. Soon they will find the body and know my commitment, the clarity of my vision. Then they will blunder through their investigation and uncover nothing more than their own incompetence. All the while I will hover near, plotting my next holy deed.


Wednesday - Her

Even from the bathroom, I could hear the bed’s call.

Come back to me. I still retain a warm spot for you. The cat is but a leap away. Return to me. You will be perfectly safe under my covers. Nobody will judge you here. I will impose no reports, no meetings. In place of worries and doubts I will reward you with sweet dreams of selfless lovemaking unflawed by snoring or drooling.

I considered returning for one more moment under the sheets, but I knew, from past experience, peril lingered down that path. The bed was a false refuge. There was no way three layers of fabric could fend off the Real World. Right?

I looked into the mirror for the first time this day, and still no Gal Gadot. But not too shabby. I still cleaned up pretty well and, in my family, forty was way less than the half-way point. Menopause was still mostly way out there on the horizon. Most everything was still where it’s supposed to be.

Maggie, my Lab/Shepherd/Mystery Ingredients Mix, rescued me from my contemplation with a cold nose to my right buttock. “Maggie! Jeez! Where are your manners? Anyplace else that would be sexual harassment, young lady.”

Maggie rolled onto her back. A belly scratch rectified all wrongs in dog logic.

“Not now, babe. The center of your world, the leader of our pack, is facing the evil Quarterly Performance Review today. And tonight my evil sister’s coming over. Please give me these few last minutes of peace and quiet.” The last I saw as I closed the bathroom door were Maggie’s sad brown eyes. Everyone in my world is so damn needy.


Here I was, Kate Damon, the Security Manager of Rosenthal Industries, the fourth largest producer of bicycle seats in the world, swinging my almost paid for Kia into “Siberia,” the parking lot most distant from the Employees’ Entrance. A longer than anticipated line at the pharmacy, a stop for pointless birth control pills, caused the nine-o-five arrival and what would be a two block walk through a steady drizzle. Why do I do this to myself? A bag of M&M’s would have worked just as well as those damn pills, and the candy machine was twenty paces from my office. Here I was, the drowned rat, all ready to face the ferret in a polo shirt. I could hear David now, “Been out in the rain, huh?” A snicker, a quick glance at my chest, and on with business.

I swiped my keycard past the electronic reader mounted outside the Employees’ Entrance. It blinked green, then red. A click, then another, and the door remained locked. Damn! They were supposed to have fixed that last night. I pressed the intercom button and spoke into it. “Juan, it’s Kate. Please release the door.”

The intercom speaker hissed and a youthful male voice replied, “Kate? Hmm, I’m not sure I know a Kate. Please provide the secret password, ma’am.”

Shit. It was Matt. Within two hours everyone in the company would know the Security Manager couldn’t get past her own damn card reader. “Matt, open this door right now. I’m having a bad morning. You don’t want to be back on locker room surveillance.”

“Okay, okay, I’m just messing with you. Hold on.” The door release buzzed.


David Cummings, the Director of Risk Management and my boss, was a man uncomfortable with the world of people. Born an accountant, he gravitated toward the ambiguous certainties of insurance and actuarial tables - numbers and conventions that had little connection with interpersonal relationships. His almost subconscious fascination with my breasts was, to me, a slightly perverse indicator of his humanity

I entered David’s office, closed the door, and squeezed myself into one of the two chairs before his desk. The company, in its wisdom, had planned a full foot between chairs and desks in director-sized offices. I, in my “sensitive role,” warranted an office that was formerly a phone room. I had grown to despise the sight of concrete block.

David looked up, noticed my damp hair, and began with, “It looks like it’s been raining.” The snicker. “Thanks for coming, Kate. Neither of us care for these things, but your continuing development is vital. Before we begin, though, I should show you a chart I’ve put together that indicates a trend of concern.” He held up a sheet riotous with multi-colored bars, lines and arrows.

“I don’t think the chart’s on my chest, David.”

His eyes shot up. “My eyes were focused in the far distance. It’s how I concentrate, sometimes. Certainly nothing personal.”

“So you say you’re looking right through me. I don’t know which is worse.”

David frowned and shook the sheet. “Please, Kate, you’re trying to sidetrack me again. This data states that our losses, especially internal thefts, have been declining every year over the last three years. Frankly, some of the brass are wondering why we need you anymore.”

“Gee, I don’t know, could it be because I’ve been doing my job? Could it be that every piece of crap in this dump would probably grow legs and walk out if I wasn’t on it all of the goddamn time? Hmm? What do you think, David?” I tilted my head. He was so easy to mess with.

David raised his hands, as if to stop my attack. “Kate, Kate. That sort of outburst has alienated more than just me. In fact that was one of the topics of your Performance Review.” He pointed to a booklet on his desk. “Some people think you’re a bit out of control.”

“Some people? Who? The brass who want me out? Only idiots face my sarcasm.”

“Need I remind you that I’m your boss? Others respect me, why don’t you?”

I leaned back in my chair and looked up at the stained ceiling. “I respect you, David, I guess, in a sort of creepy kind of way. I’m sorry I spouted off. I’ve had a rough morning. But my question to you is, have you stuck up for me, have you explained that a decline in losses is a good thing for the company? Stuff not stolen is stuff they can sell, for Christ’s sake.”

“Yes, of course I explained that to them, but you know how they can be. All their decisions are based on the next quarter and what the analysts think. Security is just a necessary evil, a non-productive expense. You and I don’t make bicycle seats, so we’re overhead.”

“So, should I begin looking for another job? Can I go back home to bed, because, I’ve got to tell you, that sounds mighty appealing to me right now.”

David randomly moved papers around his desktop. “No, no, you’re okay. Don’t worry. Even now they’re off worrying about something else. But we need to work on your attitude, Kate. You work hard, but perhaps you’re not as sensitive to others’ feelings as you should be. In fact, that’s right here on the fourth page.” He opened the booklet and I entered the Quarterly Performance Review Gauntlet.


I took the long way back to my office, through the warehouse, to cool down. The empty space allowed me to think without fear of my lips being seen moving. Need to develop leadership qualities! Work on communications skills! Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. He has the perfect, complete gall to advise me on how to relate to people. He couldn’t relate to his own mother, let alone to his employees. Calm down, Kate. You go through this every three months, and life goes on. You’ve got a job to do, now go do it, woman.

I took another detour to pass Scott Turner’s office. Scott was the Safety Manager, a total geek, and the secret object of my lust. His lust only blossomed when OSHA released new regulations or a new case of hazmat suits arrived. Give me some of that industrial hygiene, baby. I chuckled. Scott was a good guy, even sweet. When he wasn’t getting all dorky over industrial safety matters, he actually had a gentle sense of humor. While he understood that he and I were good friends and allies against the company’s bureaucratic follies, he missed or ignored every subtle and not so subtle overture I had ever made, and I had made more than a few.

Scott’s office door was locked, so I knocked. A voice from around the corner said, “I think he’s out. Went to some conference or some such shit.” I looked up and saw Tom, the daytime custodial engineer, step out of an adjacent hall. Tom creeped me out just a bit. He was painfully gaunt, almost emaciated, with hollow cheeks, sunken eyes and a few teeth missing. He grinned broadly and moved his mop from one hand to the other and said, “Howdy, Miss Kate. You’re looking a little peaked this morning.” He could read people with a glance, and that added to the creep-out factor. “Mr. Scott never came in today. I can let you into his office if you need that. Of course, I suppose the Security Manager can get into any office she wants to.” A wink and a gappy grin.

I turned away from the door and headed down the hall, moving along the far wall. “Thanks, Tom. It was nothing. I’ll catch Scott tomorrow.”

From behind I heard, “Suit yourself, Miss Kate. I’m sure Scott will feel real, real bad he didn’t get to see y’all.”

Just keep moving.


When I got back to the Security Monitoring Station, Matt was reclining in a swivel chair, feet up on the console. He yanked his feet down when he saw me, knocking two pens off the counter in the process. “Matt, how many times have I told you, feet off the console. This isn’t your easy chair at home. What do you think people think of that? They’re working like slaves out there in the plant, and here you are all stretched out and comfy.”

He gave his best hurt puppy look. “I’m sorry, Miss Damon. Usually nobody comes by at this time. Besides, I do my best thinking reclined.” He smiled as devilishly as his boyish face could pull off.

“Okay, Matt, I’ll bite. What were you thinking about? It better not be about Kathy in Human Resources. She’s got to be ten years older than you. And, how do I say it nicely, she’s way out of your league.”

“No, ma’am, it’s a Security Department issue. Did you hear about Sergeant Steve? He found a fire again last night on his rounds. It was a small one - in a closet in that closed-up area by Door Sixteen. He put it out - it’s all in his report.” He pointed to a packet of papers on the nearby desk. “And the big shots don’t think we’re so important. If you ask me, this place would be gone if we weren’t here protecting it at all hours. And I know we make less than the janitors.”

Damn. Steve found another fire. What does that mean, he finds and puts out two fires in six months, and not one other fire has occurred in this place in ten years? Sergeant Steve Goldsmith, the third shift officer, was one of our best, all spit-polish and enthusiasm. His reports were three times as long as anyone else’s and he was full of suggestions. He was consumed by his desire to become a police officer. And now he found a second damn fire. He’ll get a letter of commendation and lots of praise, once again. Damn. To Matt I responded, “Okay, Matt, that’s enough. We’ve talked about this, what, maybe sixty times? That’s the way things are here. Now, why don’t you take a walk and let me catch up.”

Matt nodded, put on his uniform hat and headed out the door. I picked up the report and walked into my office - my closet, which opened off of the Security Monitoring Station. I sat in my squeaky chair at my grey metal desk and read Sergeant Steve’s report. It read like a police report and chronologically outlined every careful and deliberate step he had taken. He and his actions should have given me a moment of pride and joy, but it just started an itch. Management will be thrilled and we’ll look good, but how do fires only happen on his shift? How does he always happen to be where they are, when they’re still small enough to put out with a handy nearby extinguisher? I’ll need to come in early tomorrow and catch him before he gets off his shift. He won’t appreciate the grilling he’s going to get.

If it weren’t for other people, my life would be just fucking perfect.


I left a bit early that evening to get my place a bit straighter. My older sister, Patti, was coming over and I didn’t want to provide any more ammunition for her critiques of me and my life. Dog and cat hair made her frown with disgust and sneeze with disapproval. My love life horrified her and the inside of my refrigerator was always good for a gasp or two.

When I walked through the doorway of my townhouse, Maggie was there waiting for me, but no wagging. She had that guilty look punctuated by a tail tucked far between her legs. A glance back toward the kitchen sealed her fate. There’s no question dogs have consciences.

“Maggie, now what did you do?” I stepped past her as she half-heartedly rolled over on her back. “If you got into the garbage I’m going to have to kill you.” I felt a twinge of guilt myself when I remembered I had forgotten to put the garbage can up out of her reach when I had left this morning.

The kitchen floor was covered with a selection of wrappers, cans, bones and fruit rinds. Maggie had carefully sorted through everything and had undoubtedly eaten anything remotely consumable. She would be pooping bits of plastic and bone for days. “Maggie, damn it, you knew Aunt Patti was coming over, and you still did this?” She peeked around the door. “You’re just lucky I don’t have time to kill you. Now get out of here.” Her head disappeared. I knew she would find a corner to hide in for the rest of the evening.

I spent the next two hours cleaning her mess, along with mine. All the while my body gradually tensed as my sister’s arrival neared. If I saw her any more often than this, I would be long dead from a heart seizure. Or in prison for murder. But I love her almost like a sister, I reminded myself.

She knocked at my front door at seven. Maggie barked twice, then retreated to some secret place. She had learned, as a puppy, that Patti wasn’t a dog lover, and that her voice was harsh to sensitive dog ears. Hell, it could peel paint.

As Patti entered, she sniffed once and wrinkled her nose - dog and cat smells. She hugged me and said, “Hey, Sis, you’re still too skinny.” I squirmed out of her grip. I’m not a hugger, unless it’s someone I care for. And I’m definitely not skinny - unless you compare me to her matronly bulk. The words “shithouse” and “brick” have been used to describe Patti.

Patti circled the kitchen, taking in every nick, spot, smudge and flake, and moved into my family room. My decorating style is an eclectic mix of Colonial, Modern and Country - the best of hand-me-downs and floor samples. Unlike Patti, I could never get myself to spend more than two percent of my income on stuff that just about nobody will ever see. “I wish you would let me do a makeover of this place. You must admit you have no sense of style whatsoever.” With two fingers she picked up my favorite vase, proudly won with five quarters at a carnival game booth at the Wisconsin State Fair, and looked at it as if it were a dead snake. “You know, Kate, Mom hates how you live.” I knew Mom didn’t give a shit how I lived, as long as I retained the theoretical ability to conceive.

She sat on my flowered wing-back chair, that with the least hair, looked me over, and said, “Kate, if I were you I would think about my life. You’re a smart, beautiful girl and yet you persist here, working as a glorified guard. You don’t have a man in your life, do you? If I were you I would move back to Madison by us so we could help you get your life back together.”

“Well, hello to you, too, Patti. Everything is fine with me - thanks for asking. Oh, and I’m not you.”

She huffed and rolled her eyes toward my cracked ceiling, and said, “Whatever.” I will fire people for rolling their eyes at me, let alone saying, “Whatever,” but now I must smile and nod like a monkey and hold my anger in check until I can kick a few pillows later. She smiled and said, “I’m so sorry Kate. It’s only because we love you and we want you to be happy. I know you do your best.”

“Who exactly is this ‘we’ you’re talking about? It can’t be Mom, and Dad is long gone. Our brother won’t even talk to you, and your husband could care less about my career and men.”

She shook her head and smiled sadly, as if she were talking to a hopelessly confused child. “Don’t be so hostile, it makes the wrinkles show at the sides of your eyes.” A wrinkled glare from me and she changed the subject, “C’mon, let’s go. I know a Mexican place not too far from here, and I’m buying.” She stood and headed toward the door, and I followed, the sad little clown trailing the parade float. Just a few more hours of abuse and Maggie and I could forget our pain with sweet sleep.


Thursday - Him

The sun rises on a new world.

They found him last night, lying in the grass watching the eternal stars with his dead eyes. Perhaps he has found his sort of salvation, perhaps not.

I care not.

I will again face this day playing the role of worker and servant. They will look through me and not know the greatness, the steadfast commitment, lingering so close. For even the saints were once unknown and forced to play the servant role.

My martyrdom lies far off, but I can wait. Someday my acts will be recorded in a new testament, the new holy book, and they will all come to know the days of the prophets and His retribution have returned.

But now I smile and participate. I play their meaningless games and watch them socialize aimlessly. Each of them is marked, for each serves a god of profit and self-interest, a god who will wither away on their day of judgment.


Thursday – Her

I awoke at three-thirty a.m., a half hour before my alarm was set to ring. My internal clock was set a half hour fast, and now I would waste precious sleep time thinking. I began reflecting on my upcoming meeting with Sergeant Steve, but that only made my heart beat faster. A faint bubble of pain in my chest reminded me of last night’s guacamole eaten way too late and of Patti’s relentless meddling. My cat, Shitty, short for Shitty Kitty, stretched and shifted her position at my side. Maggie moaned softly on the floor next to the bed. I laid on my back staring up at the blinking green light of the smoke detector.

I pondered my pointless, meaningless life and future, but that only further raised the heart rate. I remembered this Saturday evening would be my third date with Mark. I wondered how far I would let him go. He wanted it all, but he’s a guy and that’s the way they’re supposed to be. I imagined that I gave it all up, right here in this bed, wrinkled sheets and all. I imagined Mark was a better lover than he likely was, and that every kiss and touch was perfect. I even moaned softly before the damn alarm went off. I jumped and Shitty hissed at me. Maggie leaped to her feet, ready for action, the hair on her back raised.

Another day in my world.


I arrived at the plant at five-thirty, more than two hours before my normal starting time. I let myself in with my card and walked the deserted halls toward the Security Station. Factories and office buildings have their own personalities at night. Empty offices and unoccupied machines stood silent, like museum displays of the Workplace of the early Twenty-first Century. Sounds unheard during the day asserted themselves now - the mutter of the air compressors, the murmur of fans, the flutter of time clocks re-setting themselves.

The Security Station was empty, but signs of Steve’s presence lingered. His jacket was draped over the chair and his lunch box waited on the corner of the desk. His nearly completed daily activity report was at the center of the desk. I picked it up and marveled at the perfect printing and almost obsessive thoroughness. I reminded myself it was time they started logging their reports on the computer, like the rest of the world. Steve would be on the last of his rounds, hopefully not “finding” a fire tonight.

I unlocked my office and turned on the light. I sat in my squeaky chair and faced the doorway, waiting for my prey to arrive.

I heard Steve’s foot steps before he turned into the Security Station. The open door to his left caught his attention and he lurched only a bit when he saw me. His face immediately lit up with a broad smile as he said, “Ms. Damon. You gave me quite a start.” He stepped into my office. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you here this early. Is there anything I can do for you?”

I nodded toward a chair and he sat down, still smiling. He looked so fresh and innocent. So young. Fifteen years earlier I would have been quite distracted by that smile, but now he was only a boy who needed a good talking to. “Steve, I came in early so I could see you.”

“You didn’t need to do that, Ms. Damon. I could have stayed late. It would’ve been no problem at all.”

His politeness was wasted on me. “I wanted to talk to you privately, and 5:30 in this place is pretty private. Steve, I heard you found a fire on your Tuesday night shift.”

His smile broadened. “Yes, ma’am, I did. I think some construction or maintenance guys were sneaking a smoke in that closet. It looked like the paper in there smoldered for awhile. Lucky I caught it early. You know, there are acetylene tanks not far away.”

I sighed and said, “Steve, this is the second fire you found on your rounds in little more than six months. That’s only two fires in this entire place in more than ten years, and you happened to be there for both when they were just starting. Doesn’t that seem like an amazing coincidence?”

His face moved from the smile to puzzlement, a wide-eyed realization, then to a darkening anger, all in a few seconds. “Are you implying I started those fires? Are you saying I would start a fire and then put it out? How crazy would that be?”

“You tell me, Steve. There have been thousands of guard tours of this place over the years. Why haven’t they found fires? Why only you?”

He shifted in his chair as if to rise, but then sank back. He glared at me. “Did you ever think that maybe, just maybe, I’m one of your best officers? That maybe I’m the only one who checks all the fucking closets and back corners?”

“Come on, Steve, that doesn’t make sense. If you’re saying the other officers have been missing fires, this place would have burned down long ago.”

“I did not start those fires.” He underlined each word. “Do you have any evidence other than a suspicion? I don’t think you do.”

I decided to take a different tack. I’m not good at pre-dawn confrontations. “Steve, I understand and appreciate your diligence. I know you want to become a police officer, and it’s natural to want to have a heroic act or two on your resume. Hell, I was a security guard once, too. I know how boring the graveyard shift can be. There were times I tried to make things a bit more exciting. After all, what’s the harm? You start a little fire, have the extinguisher at the ready, and nobody gets hurt. No harm, no foul.”

He leaped from his seat and stood over me. I wished I was taller. And standing. “Don’t patronize me. I read all about interviewing and interrogation techniques, too, you know, so you can’t pull that bullshit on me. You’ll have to do a lot better than that. Now I’m going to go in there and finish my report. Will there be anything else, Ms. Damon?” The wild look in his eyes drove me back into my chair, but only for a moment. Not the typical shifting eyes of a guilty wrongdoer, I thought. More like the look of someone on a mission.

“Take the rest of your shift off, Sergeant Goldsmith. I’ll cover it for you.” I leaned forward and gave him my sternest look. I was not going to lose control of this situation.

“Am I fired? Suspended?”

“No, but I think we should both think more about all of this. Call me this afternoon.”

“Right. Sure. Whatever. You’re not going to mess with my reputation and my career.”

“Steve, if you were in my shoes you’d wonder about this, too. Think about it.”

“Yeah, right.” He turned and walked out, leaving his lunchbox, but I wasn’t about to call him back.

For minutes I sat there staring at the open door. In the distance I thought I heard a door slam. I should be so much better at this stuff, I thought. Now I went and alienated one of my best people on a damn hunch. More than a hunch, I contradicted myself. My next step would be to take the long walk to see Stacy Stevens, the Director of Human Resources.

And tonight I would be going to see Mom. This day already totally sucked and it hadn’t even begun.


Stacy Stevens was the embodiment of a corporate climber. Always perfectly fit, perfectly dressed, and perfectly damn beautiful, I admired her only because her looks and sexuality hadn’t primarily driven her success. That could be attributed to her brains, her drive and her almost supernatural ability to do and say the right thing at the right time, at least from the perspective of executive management. Everyone knew that for Stacy, Human Resources was merely a stepping stone to a corner office in some huge, ethically challenged international corporation.

This morning I waited in the Human Resources waiting area, sitting in a metal desk chair, reading a three year old copy of People magazine when Stacy’s always optimistic secretary, Sophia, came out to fetch me. When I entered Stacy’s office I was again impressed by how she had turned a slug of an office into a decorator’s wet dream. The walls were taupe, or what I imagined taupe might be. The furniture was a slice of Danish simplicity and a multi-colored piece of crappy abstract wall art framed Stacy sitting at her desk. It looked as if someone had upchucked on the wall of an art gallery. Everything in the room, including Stacy, was calculatingly designed to make an impression. I felt like a big old dirty roach scuttling onto her Persian throw rug.

Beaming a damn perfect smile while extending a perfectly manicured dainty hand, she came around the desk. Don’t be so cranky, I corrected myself. We exchanged forgettable small talk before I explained the Sergeant Steve situation, finishing with his walking out the door.

She paused for a moment, intertwining her fingers pensively before her chin. “You know, Kate, for someone who once told me that I took the ‘Human’ out of ‘Human Resources,’ you didn’t handle this as sensitively as you might have. I really wish you had discussed this with me before you waylaid this poor guy.”

“Poor guy? Waylaid? Jeez, Stacy, he could have burned this whole joint down just to enhance his resume. I’m his supervisor, and I needed to deal with him right away.”

She smiled in a smirky, superior manner that, in another time and place, would have had me going over the desk at her. “He allegedly started this fire. Coincidences do happen, Kate. People do win the lottery. Or what if someone is trying to frame Steve, or you? And as to you being his supervisor, we have had discussions before about your tendency to fly off the handle. I admire your dedication to protecting this facility, but you do tend to be too focused. Now your Steve Goldsmith might have a legitimate complaint against us - and you. I will call him at home today and attempt to mediate this before it really gets out of line.”

I regretted not going over the desk at her. “Now I’m the bad guy? We might be dealing with a fucking arsonist, but heaven forbid I wasn’t sensitive enough. I had come in here hoping to discuss a suspension and investigation with you, and now here I am in trouble for doing my job?” You’re sounding way too whiny, Kate.

Her perfectly made up face switched to a perfect simulation of sympathy and understanding. “Kate, Kate. You’re not in trouble. You know I - we - value your service and we know we need someone with your strength and dedication in your position. But we need more evidence of wrongdoing, or at least intention, before we can take action against this man. I will defuse this and we will put him back to work. I don’t think he’ll be stepping out of line for a long while after this, do you?”

I looked down at her rug, the delinquent girl before the principal’s desk. “No, I suppose not. But you’ll be the first to know if I learn anything else about him.”

“Fair enough, Kate, but please, please, don’t let him think you’re harassing or following him. Let’s not make this worse than it might already be. Now I must run to another meeting.”

I knew when I was dismissed and I left her office, my tail tucked firmly between my legs. Working with Sergeant Steve from now on would be such a pleasure.


I returned to the Security Office where Lieutenant Juan was watching the monitors. Juan gave me a wry smile when I walked in that said, I heard about Steve, and what a mess. He said, “Hey, Kate, busy morning?” Juan had worked in the plant for much longer than I and played the wise Grandpa role to me and the rest of the security officers. His calm and rational manner well complemented my sometimes volatile way. More often his orderliness balanced my tendency toward disorder.

“Don’t go there, Juan. Not right now. I’ll fill you in later, but for now I’m still licking my wounds. If Steve Goldsmith should call today, refer him to Stacy Stevens.”

Juan nodded and pretended to study one of the monitors. “You know, Steve is a little too gung ho for my taste. Sometimes he goes over the top. He sees terrorists behind every bush. Speaking of terrorists, did you see the paper?” He passed me the front section of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Toward the bottom of the first page was the headline, “Body found in city park. Terrorist link investigated.”

I said, “That park’s only a mile or so from here.”

“Not only that, the dead guy worked here. He drove a fork lift on the loading dock.”

I read the name but it didn’t ring a bell. My eyebrows raised when I read that “Jihad” had been written on his chest in red marker. His throat had been slashed. I looked up at Juan. “Whoa. Jihad? The cops will be all over that one.”

Juan nodded. “And the F.B.I. too, I bet. I’m surprised it’s not the main headline. Al Queda or ISIS in Milwaukee. Wow.”

“Don’t jump to conclusions, Juan. This is probably just some local crackpot trying to draw attention away from his true motives. Crackpots used to scrawl swastikas on everything. Now it’s Islamist slogans.”

Juan panned the front parking lot camera to the Main Entrance. “Could be, but you know the cops will swarm this place. They’ll be asking who knew this guy and might have been pissed off at him.”

Shit. I knew he was right. I didn’t need that kind of attention right now. I had a good relationship with the local police, but some of them couldn’t seem to understand they can’t just come in, poking around and interviewing whomever they please in a place of business. The lawyers and risk managers get all spooky. Several years ago we had been on the receiving end of a major theft ring and I had spent half my time corralling cops. But you’re being foolish and selfish, Kate. Some poor guy was dead and the police would just be doing their jobs. And I had to go see Mom tonight. What else could go ... Don’t jinx yourself, Kate.


Early in the afternoon I took a walk to Scott Turner’s office. I thanked God he was in. His office walls were covered with bookcases sagging with every book, binder and video known to man on Safety and Industrial Hygiene, whatever Industrial Hygiene was. Stacks of paper covered his desk and credenza and, among it all, sat the subject of my misbegotten lust. Scott’s hair, as usual, was uncombed and hung down across his forehead. His glasses had slid down on his nose but his blue eyes flashed a welcome. He certainly didn’t attract me with his physical attributes, but he projected a sweet and warm humor that always made me feel comfortable and liked, and apparently that was enough to fire up my unrequited lust. Go figure.

He smiled. “Kate. I was just thinking about you. Everyone is talking about the murder. Pretty scary stuff, huh?”

“Yeah, I guess.” I didn’t really want to talk about murders. “The police have already called me and I’ll be seeing them tomorrow morning. They want to talk to people who knew and worked with Tim Williamson, the dead guy. I didn’t know him, did you?”

Scott scratched his head. “Yeah, he drove his fork lift into a pillar a few years ago and I had to investigate the accident and counsel him on safe driving. I hate those damn things. Despite everything we do, they’re accidents waiting to happen.”

“What, fork lifts or their drivers?” I laughed but he didn’t get it. Scott didn’t see humor in good Safety. His nerdiness was oddly appealing.

“Do you think it was terrorists? What would terrorists care about a fork lift driver working in a factory in a run-down industrial area?”

“You got me. This isn’t my line of work. I just hope it’s the first and last.”

He tilted his head and studied me. “You look beat, Kate.” I cursed myself for not combing and fixing up before I came down here.

“It’s been a tough couple of days. I suppose you heard about the fire.”

His smile brightened. “Yeah, I heard one of your guys found and extinguished a small fire the other night. I went over to that closet and it’s amazing anyone could find it, let alone check in it. That’s just great, Kate.”

“Not so great, Scott.” I related the entire Steve tragedy, complete with my comeuppance in Lady Stacy MacBeth’s office.

Scott shook his head and looked down at his desk. “Wow. That’s a new wrinkle for me. I experienced an arson incident years ago at another employer, but I would have never dreamed a security officer would set a fire just to look good. If he did it, he’s got to be one confused fellow.”

“Or he won the small fire lottery. Beyond the fantastic coincidence of it all, I don’t know how I can come up with more evidence against him. Our very efficient maintenance crew cleaned up the closet yesterday, so there’s nothing there. Steve’s criminal and past employment record is clear. All I can do is keep an eye on him and hope he moves on before he gets an itch to manufacture another heroic act.”

We talked for awhile longer and, as usual, Scott calmed me. Scott could calm a rabid wolverine. He had a way that made everyone like him. Unlike some who piss off everyone they run into, a trait I proudly claim to be part of my genetic inheritance.


That evening, as I drove to the primary source of my incomparable genetic legacy, I wondered which Mom I would be encountering. Mom had lived the tortured life of a schizophrenic, but now the lack of alcohol and the moderating effect of old age had smoothed out many of the rough edges. Occasionally I found her on a day when her old demons made themselves manifest. On those days she talked and argued with invisible friends and tormentors and I was seen as more of a rival than a daughter. I recalled the days of horror years ago when the booze fueled her insanity to levels that petrified Dad and us kids. Nowadays she had mostly settled into a calm and even loving fog. Only for the last ten years or so, since she had abandoned the sauce, had I grown to know the person underneath, the person who could be almost normal.

This night Mom was fine. She had even bathed and put on make-up in her chaotic manner. Her fine hair was a tangle of grey, but I had long ago given up trying to keep that combed. She was on a root beer kick, so there was nothing else in the house to drink, other than tap water. She sat in her big old easy chair, and four stuffed teddy bears occupied a chair to her right. To her left was a shelf covered with little statuettes of sickeningly cute big-headed porcelain children all afflicted with ocular giantism. The house was fairly clean, for the first time in history, thanks to the weekly cleaning lady I had hired. I recently forced cable TV on Mom and she had discovered, after fighting me every step of the way, the wonders of more than three channels. She watched animal and decorating shows from morning till night, breaking only for the news. She swore she was an expert on castrating bulls and flipping houses.

I sat in a small wing-back chair I had purchased just for my use. The rest of the furniture, all relics of my childhood, freaked me out. We were sharing small talk when I made the mistake of mentioning my upcoming date with Mark.

“That reminds me dear, just the other day Lummox said that you might be happy living with a nice girl. Maybe the two of you could someday adopt a child. An orphan child. Like from Nepal or Sacramento or one of those other faraway places.” Lummox was a stuffed bear who predated even me. His counsel carried weight in this world.

“Mom, you and ... Lummox have always been opposed to ... alternate lifestyles. What brought this about?” I was more fascinated than offended.

She reached for Lummox, the most worn and faded of the bears, and held him up. “Lummox has realized, honey, that it’s more important to be with the one you love. Their gender is irrelevant. Isn’t that right, Lummie?” She shook the bear and its head wobbled in agreement on its worn shoulders.

“Boy, that’s a transformation. I remember when Lummox convinced you to send that veiled threatening letter to President Carter. That was an exciting time, for sure. Now Bashful, on the other hand,” I pointed to a small grey bear, “always was a moderate. She’s the one who convinced you not to harass that poor black magazine salesman. Remember him?” I wondered what my friends would think if they overheard this conversation.

“Yes, Bashful always was the soft one. But what do you think? The more I think about it, the more I think this would be the way for you. And you and your girlfriend could share Bashful until you find a child.”

I was impressed she was offering Bashful to me, even under those conditions. “Mom, stop. I appreciate your suggestion, but I am heterosexual all the way. It’s guys for me or nothing, that’s the way I’m wired, I’m afraid. But if Bashful prefers lady bears, that’s cool with me.”

The discussion was unceremoniously ended when Mom realized it was time for the nine o’clock news. True to my run of bad luck, the first story covered was the finding of the body marked with “Jihad.” True to modern news shows, the story was targeted to tantalizing and terrifying the viewers with questions like, “Have terrorists targeted Milwaukee?” “Where will the alleged terrorists strike next?” “Are you safe from terrorists? More after this message.”

Mom looked at me with horror. “That man was found near where you work, wasn’t he? I worry every day about you and that job of yours. I wanted you to be a nurse, you know. Now you’re out fighting terrorists. Oh, my.”

“You know I didn’t become a nurse because cleaning people’s messes and looking at blood makes me puke. And I don’t fight terrorists. I protect a company from thieves and vandals, mostly. I’m sure whoever did that wasn’t a terrorist. I bet, in fact, they’ll eventually learn the killer had some other motive, like involvement in a stuffed bear love triangle.”

“Stop it, Kate. You never take anything seriously. You really should do something else. You’re a bright young woman. Why, just the other day your father said that you could have been a lawyer if you had been serious about your school work.” She pointed at the ceramic cookie jar in the corner containing Dad’s ashes.

I guess I didn’t mention Dad.

I believe that talking to live dogs and cats is a significant step up the sanity ladder.


Friday - Him

The drums beat. The trumpets blare. The voices call.

And I see all the way through.

Today I will sacrifice another. I have chosen him not for his sins but for his habits. And for his proximity. Last night he dreamed the last of his dreams and today he will face his final judgment. I regret that I must cause an innocent his end, and I will pray for his soul.

His loss will be but one more small step. One more step toward waking them up to their blindness. To their folly. To their sickness.

To their destiny.


Friday – Her

Just five more minutes. Five more to salvage a sweet dream. Five more to delay the cold reality of morning. Five more to pretend I will stay here all day. Five more before Shitty disentangles herself from my leg and begins her daily bitching session.

My role in life is to be her heated pillow and any movement on my part is a violation of the purpose of my existence. I opened one eye and observed rain drops chasing each other down my window. Perfect. I rolled over and my one open eye revealed a wet black nose resting on the edge of the bed. The “whoof” of a sneeze sprayed my face and told me, “let me outside or I pee in your shoes. And don’t get me started on where I might poop.” I closed my eyes and thought of Scott. I knew that office romances were fraught with peril, but my fantasies were innocent. Well, not quite innocent, but surely harmless.

The alarm buzzer detonated next to my ear. Scott vanished as Shitty leaped, leaving a burning scratch on my shin. I cursed and Maggie scurried out of the room, leaving a puddle behind for me to step into.

The day could only get better. Right?


Matt was in the Security Station when I arrived at work. He was writing his report when I entered but, when he saw me, he leaned back in his squeaky chair and grinned broadly. The cat chewing on a canary if ever there was one. “Mornin’, Miss Damon. You’re looking particularly well put together on such a rainy morning. Ma’am.”

I dropped my purse on a desk and placed my hands on my hips. “Okay, Matt, what happened? I don’t get that particular smile after a quiet night.”

His grin broadened, if that was possible. “Oh nothing, except I caught one of the cleaners … umm …, masturbating, last night. He was in the second floor conference room, feet up on a chair, pants down to his ankles, just having a good old time.”

Just when you think you’ve heard it all. This place is a microcosm of every sort of stupid and crazy behavior known to mankind. “So, what did you do?”

Matt scratched the back of his head, “You wouldn’t believe it. He had just made the final turn and was on the home stretch but he hadn’t quite reached the finish line, if you know what I mean.”

“I have no idea what you mean, Matt. Your analogies are just so damn subtle. Now, can you tell me what you did without any reference to a horse race? Or, for that matter, rockets or baseball games.”

“When he saw me he must’ve jumped three feet. He tried to sit up but the chairs scooted off in opposite directions and he fell to the floor, right on his bare butt. Slap! Crash! He rolled over and tried to stand up while pulling his pants up. You should have seen it. He fell against the wall and almost knocked down one of those fancy original paintings they have up there. I wasn’t going to help him. No way. I didn’t want to touch anything. You know?” Matt was enjoying this way too much.

“Okay, let’s assume you somehow got him and his pants up. What did you do then?”

“You should have heard him. He totally forgot how to speak English and was going on in some language – I’m guessing Eastern European, but I could be wrong. He looked like he was pleading with his hands clasped and all. I thought he was going to cry. I can’t handle men crying, so it’s real good he didn’t. You know?”

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