Errata Literary Magazine

Bucks County Writers Workshop

In Sickness and in Health, 'Till Terror Doth Us Part
by Alan Shils

"Ken, you're sick!" John tugged on his red plaid shirt which seemed to get tighter as the night wore on.

"Think so? After what they did to me? You got a bad perspective, Johnny, my friend."

"You can't do shit like that, man. Nobody can. It isn't . . .fair."

"Oh, now there's a great concept. Faiiiir-ness." Ken gave the word a contemptuous smirk as he scratched his prematurely bald head. "They treated me real fair didn't they? Destroyed my business, they did. Real fair of them, wasn't it?" he took a long drink of beer. " Well, it's payback time. Remember, Johnny, I was spat on by the regulators, the courts, the mayor, the press, everyone. Now, I have to make it happen my way."

"Not that way, Ken. Hey, a lot of great projects were stalled for years. But when they did get the go-ahead they were fantastic. The Brooklyn Bridge got off to a messy start and the Statue of Liberty was stalled for a long time. There's a million examples. It just takes time."

"Time? I seriously doubt I'll live to see it happen if I keep trying it their way and their way can't happen because they have so much invested in the way things work so rottenly now. Even if everything were approved today, even if it were funded today, it would take five, perhaps ten years to complete the system. I'm out of time. I'm putting the pressure on."

"Not that way, Ken. Too much damage. People can get hurt. Innocent people. They..."

"Risk to innocent people is minimal in the early a.m. I don't want to kill people. Killing people is not only the simplest thing in the world to do, it's also the stupidest thing to do. Killing messes up a lot of blameless hard-working people and gets everyone riled up against you. No killing. I want change without mayhem. I want the fat-cats to realize what the loss of their transportation means and how my new system could solve all their problems. When I get done with them they will have to build it."

"Maybe they will build it. But one thing's for sure; they'll build it without you 'cause you'll be in jail."

"I don't care about me anymore."

"That's your problem, Ken. I've had enough. And enough beer. Forget it. Finish up and let's get going. I have a meeting tomorrow . . . today . . . and I have to be awake for it. See you next week?"


John looked at his dispirited buddy Ken and had the strange feeling that he would never see him again.

~ Two Nights later ~

The overloaded antique shed runway, scratching only enough lift to slowly creep up into darkness. Ken babied the World-War-II bargain out of Teeterboro airport. His thin lips formed a morose smile. Nobody knew he was here and what he was going to do. He was low above Route 4, crawling over sleeping Englewood, New Jersey at two-thirty a.m. The once proud Allied workhorse screwed its four growling props through the cool dense air, topped the last ridge and was suddenly high over the moonless Hudson River.

Ken slid the plane into a gentle bank and let it lose fifty feet of altitude as he aimed for Ashburton Avenue on the west side of Westchester County, New York. As he leveled, he caught brief reflections of the short flash the first bomb made that he had released only a few seconds earlier. It mangled the Metro North railroad's Hudson Division right-of-way tracks that seemed only inches above the East bank of the river. The next targets were Route 9 and 9A. More flashing reflections made Ken more determined than ever. Fifteen hundred pounds lighter, he adjusted course to lighten it more as the fourth target came into view.

That was the intersection of the Saw Mill River Parkway at the West end of the Cross County Parkway. One more bomb gone and Ken pulled the yoke back to coax the nose up. The fifth bomb dropped the Cross County Parkway bridge onto the New York State Throughway. If he hadn't lost the first two tons of bombs and weight of burned fuel he wouldn't have made the up-hill climb. Just past the big shopping center he dropped another five hundred pounder to set some of the Cross County Parkway to rest on the Bronx River Parkway and smashed the same railroad's Harlem Division tracks. Seconds later he ruined the Hutchinson River Parkway intersection. Ken banked right and his last two bombs demolished the intersection of I-95 and US 1 and the same railroad's New Haven line to the Connecticut bedrooms. Amazing, he thought. New York City, so mighty, bottlenecks to a congested couple of miles just north of the city.

When he felt the release of his last bomb and actually heard the explosion as well as saw the flash, he banked right heading between City and Hart Islands. Now, he breathed a sigh of comfort. All the bomb release solenoids had worked. He was fearful that one or two might hang-up. They were old and even though he had tested their electrical circuits many times and soaked the mechanism in WD-40 one never knew if a malfunction might happen.

Slightly west of Hewlett Point, he ditched the plane. Before hitting the water, he shut the fuel valves and killed all electrical power gliding to a gentle splash to avoid fire and attention. He tossed a boat out while pulling its inflation cord and the little glob of rubber burst into shape. He stepped in, holding the small electric fishing motor. The plane sank immediately as it was all open. No doors, no windows, no heaters, no radios except one for ground control. He had no equipment that only added weight. And, he had rigged the bomb-door hinges so that when he opened the doors they would fall into the Hudson.

The plane sank immediately. Ken was sorry to see the old bird go. They don't build 'em like that any more, he told himself for the last time.

He steered the tiny fishing boat past Kings Point to a small inlet near Saddle Rock. When he reached the desolate spot he deflated the boat while walking thirty yards to his garage. He unlocked the door, set the rubber boat down, strapped the night-vision glasses onto his head and picked up a broom. He went back to the spot where he met land, and, walking backwards, blended his footsteps into the rest of the dirt and sand. He backed through the light-tight door, locked it, turned off the glasses and switched on lights.

Well, that went smoother than a baby's bottom, he thought. All you need are three things: Planning, planning and more planning. But he had no time to replay his success. He walked to his balloon and tested the batteries, message and transmitter. He turned on the timer, turned off the room lights and opened the opaque skylight. Ken released the balloon by its trailing antenna wire, closed the skylight and put on the lights. The direction of the breeze was fine, just as predicted. After three minutes, he and the Coast Guard began receiving the repeating message until the tiny charge detonated and the balloon's payload sank in the Atlantic miles off Long Island's South Shore.

Next, Ken inspected his radio controlled, TV-guided, large, heavy and very expensive helicopter. It sported two dozen thin rockets in pods on either side of the little chopper. He was all set to sever the remaining bridge and tunnel connections to Manhattan. Tomorrow night. If necessary.

Ken turned on his TV. CNN and the rest of the media vultures were cranking into high gear. They fired up their satellite dishes like giant woks to flash-microwave-cook the next batch of fresh spiced devastation. ('Ya want fries with that body-count, bud?') They worked fast as they had a lot of practice. Earthquake, bombing or war, no matter, they were the best at serving tantalizing dishes of destruction; the Olympic champions of carnage catering. They tracked the flight path. They woke the Prez. 'Mumbles' must have had a prepared micro-speech for just such an occasion. Can't beat a top notch West Wing. His tongue used to trip over itself but he was getting a little smoother with each crisis. Words like these should pry a few hundred million more out of congress for another assault on terrorism. Why is it always a 'war', Ken wondered? War on terror. War on cancer. War on poverty. War on smoking. Odd how nobody ever declared a war on war. And, Ken muttered aloud to himself, "How dare that clown compare me to a terrorist!"

Oh hell! They found a body. "It appears to be lifeless," said a faceless reporter. I'm sorry! How many more? My war shouldn't be a dying one. What of the person's family? I can't make it up to them. Windows were reported as broken in nearby buildings, one guy getting badly cut as he slept under his window.

Finally, Ken heard the part he wanted. Transportation to the north of the city would be ended for weeks. Perhaps months. Then, more bad news. A driver was trapped in his small truck under bridge debris. He seemed to be so severely injured they doubted he would survive long enough to be rescued. Another! Perhaps a third! This is the bad part. I'm sorry. I'M SORRY!

Ken turned off the TV and sank lower into his 'think' chair. He closed his eyes, now wet. Wet as much for the innocent victims as for himself. In a few hours the count would stop at thirteen dead and five injured. All involving bridges. Luckily, he didn't hit a train. Only track and there were no workmen on the rails. That was a relief. The body count was peanuts compared to other attacks but it didn't matter; one body was one too many. Until now it had all been technical. Now, blood mixed with the aluminum, steel and semiconductors. It was inevitable but that didn't make it right. No forgiveness. I'll be misunderstood. I know I will. No matter what the priests and rabbis said, carnage is carnage and you can't always put it back together. This was a new dimension for Ken. He had always split fine hairs distinguishing between differences in death. How the accidental killing of a child by a stray bullet was different from the deliberate shooting of another child. But now things were beginning to blend in blood, the most ancient solvent second only to water. A dead innocent kid is a dead innocent kid. And, a kid's father dead is part of the same deal. Isn't it? Or, is it? How fine a hair can one split? I'll give a warning tomorrow night. Give them time to clear the bridges and tunnels of traffic and personnel.

Exhausted, mentally and physically, Ken fell into a very disturbed sleep.

~ Next Morning ~

Johnny turned on CNN as he did every morning when he awakened, "Just to see if the world is still here," he joked to friends. This morning's 'data-breakfast' said part of the world wasn't here. Reporters were falling over each other describing the "devastation" in lower Westchester County. They insisted it was not due to an earthquake. They didn't know what the cause was though a few specialists interviewed thought it was due to bombing, probably from the air though it may have been ground work from vehicles or pre-planted explosives. They wanted to blame Islamic extremists but had no basis. Maybe they actually learned from Oklahoma City not to jump to unfounded conclusions? Experts would need time to investigate.

"I don't need any time," Johnny muttered. "It was that crazy bastard, Ken." He stared at the TV trying to collect his thoughts. It hit him that, so far, ten dead were found. "There may be more," it was reported. None were yet identified. I have to call the police, Johnny told himself. With what? I don't absolutely know it was Ken. But, who else could it be? He reached for the phone. He retracted his hand. I have to find Ken.

Bucks County Writers Workshop