David Peters has been unemployed for months. The former brilliant marketing guy is caught in a relentless downward spiral; he's been wearing the same T-shirt for weeks. His lawn looks like a hayfield, the car is belching blue smoke, and his wife is ready to kill him. He's convinced the government is behind it all.
Tired of pointless job interviews, David divides his time between coffee at a local diner and do-it-yourself science explorations. During one of these explorations David devises a new twist on time-lapse photography, revealing secret patterns of behavior in everyday life. He combines his time-lapse ingenuity with satellite images to uncover patterns on a grand scale. Now, if only someone would take him seriously.
The government takes David quite seriously when they realize he has uncovered a human catastrophe they are desperately trying to hide. When his wife becomes a victim herself, David's conspiracy theories become all too real. He seeks the advice of an expert, only to discover that he has tapped into a primal legacy, and the government wants a piece of it. At every turn the stakes get larger, until finally David finds himself at the crossroads of good and evil. Now his creativity and brilliance will be put to the ultimate test. The future of humanity is on the line.
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Read an Excerpt
DANCE OF THE INNOCENTSA Novel
By TODD R. LOCKWOOD
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Todd R. Lockwood
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJerome Roberts agonized over how he'd break the news to Catherine, the flight attendant he met online. They hadn't met face to face yet, but Jerome knew it was only a matter of time. Sooner or later, he'd have to come clean. Catherine knew practically everything about Jerome—his taste in music, his favorite foods, his hobbies. She'd even seen his picture. The problem was his job. Jerome told Catherine that he worked for the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, which was true. What he neglected to mention was his job description: janitor. Jerome's pager let out a shriek, and a new message appeared:
Prepare Room 99 for 9:00 a.m. meeting
Jerome parked his floor polisher and hustled to the elevator. Instead of selecting a floor, he inserted a pass card and punched in a six-digit code. It was a long ride. Room 99 resided in a hollowed-out cavern, several hundred feet below the CDC basement level. Only a handful of people outside the CDC even knew it existed. Jerome remembered only one other time Room 99 had been used: during the anthrax attacks.
Room 99 resembled the Situation Room at the White House, only larger. It could accommodate several dozen people, and it included support facilities to house and feed them for extended periods, if necessary. This high-tech crisis center dealt with catastrophe head on. From deep within the earth, decisions would be made, actions implemented, and millions of lives might be saved.
At Robins Air Force Base in nearby Macon, a phalanx of helicopters lifted off the tarmac, headed for Atlanta. The cargo included officials from the National Institutes of Health and the Pentagon, as well as physicians from Harvard, Yale, and other elite medical institutions.
Jerome stepped off the elevator to find a dozen CDC personnel already at work. Blue-suited maintenance workers cleaned and vacuumed. AV technicians checked their equipment. "This is a test, check, one, two," a voice boomed through speakers in the ceiling. Blue and white CDC logos filled each of three large plasma displays. The logo on the center display then disappeared—replaced by the seal of the president of the United States. Jerome tried his best not to stare at it.
"Jerome, check the supplies in the restrooms," his supervisor barked.
"I'm on it." Jerome pushed a supply cart to the women's restroom and cracked open the door. "Maintenance," he shouted. No response. Jerome went inside and checked the soap, paper towels, and toilet tissue. Everything looked fine, so he headed to the men's room. The last stall in the men's room needed tissue. Jerome grabbed a fresh roll from his cart. He extended his janitor key ring, unlocked the holder, and slid the new roll into place. Then he locked the stall door, dropped his blue coveralls, and lowered himself onto the seat. "Man! The president!" Jerome whispered. "Something big must be goin' down." Could this be the big one everybody's been worried about, he wondered, a dirty bomb or bioattack?
"Attention," a voice blared from a speaker in the men's room ceiling, "all persons without high-security clearance must vacate Room 99 immediately."
"Oh, shit. Are you are doggin' me?" Jerome heard a two-way radio outside the men's room. He lifted his feet up against the back of the stall door. The men's room door opened, and a security guard walked in. The guard eyed the restroom, but didn't notice the last stall was locked. He gave the all clear on his radio and left.
Up in the CDC main lobby, physicians, researchers, and military brass rushed through security and descended to Room 99. At the White House, the president and his senior staff assembled in the Situation Room, where they were connected to Room 99 via secure satellite video link.
"We are live with the White House," a CDC aide announced. "The president is online."
Dr. Charles Miller, CDC's executive director, took his seat, and a hush fell over the room. Miller's imposing form sent a clear message about who was in charge. "Mr. President, esteemed doctors, members of the security, military, and intelligence communities ..."
Jerome sat quietly on the toilet as Dr. Miller's words emanated from the men's room loudspeaker.
"I'm going to cut right to the chase. We have a crisis."
* * *
In Minneapolis, the morning parade commenced. Cell phone commuters and minivan moms dominated the streets. Makeup was checked in rearview mirrors, coffee juggled. Necktied guys and smart-suited women vied for position. Everyone had a place to go and a reason to be there—everyone except David Peters.
Peters sputtered along in his venerable Honda Accord, trailed by billows of blue smoke. He practically had the northbound lane to himself. He scanned the faces in the oncoming cars. He could just imagine their upscale homes and widescreen plasma TVs. In the rearview mirror, he caught a glimpse of himself—forty-five years old, a guy who built a career on selling other people's ideas, a guy who needed a haircut and a job.
Things had gotten a little rough around the edges for David Peters since he was let go. His former tidiness had given way to a sidewalk-cowboy patina, featuring a tattered motorcycle jacket from his twenties. Wiry stubble played at the corners of his mouth. Salt and pepper hair crept over his collar like a relentless clock, counting the days until the next mortgage payment. The gym membership and the BlackBerry were history. David plummeted in a back-to-basics spiral, with no end in sight.
The steering wheel felt sticky in David's hands, likely from the coffee spill a few days before. Candy wrappers and month-old newspapers lined the floor. The Honda needed a good cleaning inside and out, but David thought it more logical to deal with the car's mechanical issues first. He knew what the car needed, but couldn't bring himself to spend the money. Consequently, neither the repairs nor the cleaning was likely to happen anytime soon. The belching Honda was a rolling tribute to indecision. To David, the car embodied one of the great ironies of being unemployed: that you need to look prosperous to get a job that will make you prosperous. His life had become one great chicken-and-egg conundrum.
While he tried to look forward, David couldn't help looking back. He'd had a promising and successful marketing career, and then one day he didn't. The plain truth of it was, he'd been outsourced—replaced by a young marketing guy in Pakistan named Raj Nabi, who no doubt worked for a fraction of David's salary. For David, it was hard to believe it had come to this. Marketing jobs were supposed to be immune to the scourge of outsourcing. It was long believed that only Americans could sell products to Americans. But the Internet and satellite television changed everything. Now there were young English-speaking people in Pakistan and India who knew quite well what was on the minds of Americans. These outsiders had become the new, hip marketing paradigm, and corporations were eating it up.
David and Raj Nabi had traded a couple of polite e-mails right after the axe came down. David knew he couldn't very well hold Raj Nabi responsible for the situation. He lived in a rich country and Raj did not. It was a simple matter of economics. Nonetheless, David felt a twinge of antipathy when he thought about how his life had changed. It'd been five months already, with no real prospects.
David's life teetered between comfort and oblivion. Just getting by in America was no small feat. Gone were the Kerouacian days when you could survive on the edge, taking in the street-level view just for the adventure of it. Inflation had changed everything. The distance between a roof over your head and homeless was approaching six figures. People were slipping through the cracks everywhere. Where do they go, David wondered, those people who lose their grip on the American dream?
Belching blue clouds, David navigated his customary route to Max's Diner: eleven blocks north, past Crystal Lake, past North Minneapolis High School where his wife Julia taught, and then over to Broadway. Max's was a well-maintained relic of the sixties. So was Sue, the waitress, her platinum hair spray-sculpted into a Petula Clark throwback with bangs jutting out like an awning. Coors beer can earrings dangled at each side. Sue was in remarkable shape for her years, packing her figure impressively into the two-tone uniform. She'd been working at Max's since the eighties, earning herself the honorary title of head waitress. Over the years, Sue had developed a bartender-like wisdom. She'd seen all kinds.
Through the front window, Sue saw David climb out of his car. She primped herself and grabbed the coffeepot. David's cup awaited him at his usual spot at the counter, with cream and extra sugar. Johnny Cash wafted from the Seeburg, its translucent red buttons aglow. "Hey there, good lookin'," Sue chirped—her standard greeting for any guy under sixty.
"Hey, Sue." David swung onto the stool and leaned into his coffee. He scanned the diner on the unlikely chance there was someone there he knew. Most of the customers were old enough to be retired, or if not, they were out of work or worse. A postman who never said a word occupied his usual stool at the other end of the counter.
"So, how's the job search going?" Sue's beer cans jangled.
"So far, so good. I've got the shrubs planted and the windows washed. Next, it's the lawn."
"You sound pretty handy to me. I bet the wife is happy to have you around."
"Well, that can be a double-edged sword. Let's just say I'm operating on borrowed time."
"You and me both, honey," Sue confided.
David took another sip of coffee.
"You know, I bet there's somebody out there looking for a guy just like you."
"A forty-five-year-old marketing guy? Don't count on it. Jobs like mine are going to Pakistan and India. It's the new global marketplace. The American dream turns out to be the American nightmare."
Sue opened up the newspaper. "Let's check your horoscope."
David sipped his coffee and listened.
"What was your ...?"
"Aries," David muttered.
"Hmmm. Aries ... 'You have a gift. You can see what no one else can see. While most see only trees, you see the forest. A discovery could change your life forever.'"
David shook his head. "Can you believe this bullshit? Excuse my French, but can you believe people actually take this stuff seriously?"
"You're not a horoscope guy, huh?"
"How about a horoscope that says, 'A job awaits you at 111 Main Street, includes private office and full benefits.' It's all part of a government mind control plot anyway, these horoscopes."
"Mind control?" Sue chuckled.
David's voice took on a humorless tone. "I saw it on the Internet. The feds won't admit to it, but you can see what they're doing, playing with people's minds, moving the masses. Nobody knows exactly how they do it, but believe me, they're up to something."
Sue raised her eyebrows and stepped back from the counter.
David changed his tone. "Okay, okay, I know this must sound a little bit out there, but not everything is what it appears to be. Believe me, I know. I'm a marketing guy."
"You had me worried there for a minute," Sue said. "I thought you were another one of my nutcases."
"Talk to me in a few months. I'll be communicating with aliens."
"Being out of work can change people. I've seen it." Sue folded her arms in front of her. "Somethin's gonna happen for you," she said. "I can feel it in my bones."
* * *
David's wife, Julia, stood in front of her tenth-grade biology class. She had a well-maintained look—precise and youthful, and if it were not for her confidence, she might have been mistaken for a student. "Today, we're going to discuss biomass. Can anyone tell us what biomass is a measure of?"
Several hands went up. Julia motioned to one of them.
"Biomass is a way to measure the density of living things within a given area."
"That's right," Julia said. "When we talk about a biomass of sharks in the ocean, we mean the average number of sharks in a certain area multiplied by the average mass of one of those sharks. Species of very low mass, such as insects, must exist in much greater numbers to achieve the same biomass as larger animals. Greater biomass can give a species a competitive advantage within its territory, but if that biomass becomes too great, the species can become a victim of its own success. We saw this in the 1930s with the dramatic rise and fall of locust populations across the Great Plains."
A hand went up in the front row.
"Wouldn't a species be able to see this coming?"
"Good question. Very few species have the ability to step back and see the big picture, to see beyond their own individual needs, to plan for the future."
Another hand went up. "What about honeybees?"
"A honeybee colony is what we call an intelligent biomass. Each honeybee has a very simple job to do, but the colony as a whole is capable of complex tasks, such as hive building. The colony appears to have intelligence beyond that of an individual honeybee. How can that be?"
"Are the bees' brains connected together somehow?" a student asked.
"For years, there have been theories about groups of insects or animals acting as if they were a single organism, combining their brain power to create a singular being known as a superorganism. Superorganisms are more fiction than fact. While it's true that a honeybee colony appears to have more intelligence than an individual honeybee, it's not real intelligence; it's pseudo-intelligence," Julia explained. "It's also known as swarm or flocking behavior. When a group of organisms gather together, they respond to each other in predictable ways. These responses are based purely on instinct. In a honeybee colony, individuals are born to fulfill particular roles in the colony. By simply responding to each other and doing what comes naturally to them, a colony of honeybees can build a complex hive. None of the bees has the ability to step back and say, 'Gee, what a nice hive we're building here.' They're oblivious to the big picture."
A hand went up in the front row. "What makes them stay together then?"
"Nearly all species have found that there is safety in numbers. So one of the most basic instincts of all organisms is to stay near the group."
Julia chalked a horizontal line across the blackboard. "If this line represents the range of biological complexity—from single-celled creatures to human beings—you will notice that, as organisms become more complex, they rely less on flocking behavior for their survival. Human beings are the most autonomous creatures on the planet. Evolution has pushed us in a direction that favors autonomy. Can anyone think of an example of flocking behavior in humans?"
* * *
David tugged on the lawn mower starter cord. The mower sputtered and died. He pulled the cord again. Nothing. The grass was long, almost too long to mow. Soon he'd have to call in the professionals, which was something he didn't want to do. "Why do we have to mow the damn grass anyway," David muttered. "Where is it written that grass has to be mowed? It's unnatural for grass to be mowed. It probably all started as a marketing gimmick, just like diamonds."
David heard a turbine-like sound down the street and swung his head around. A black Porsche convertible slithered down the block. It was Mike Stewart, a neighbor from two blocks down. He slowed to a stop in front of David's house. "Hey, lookin' a little shaggy there," Stewart called. It was an attempt at humor, but David wasn't amused.
"My Porsche mower is in the shop," David retorted.
"I'd get a couple of goats, if I were you."
"Thanks, I'll try that."
The Porsche rolled on, and David resumed pulling the starter cord. "Start, you son of a ..." David threw his whole body into it. The engine coughed a mocking reply. He pulled the cord again and again, working himself into a sweaty frenzy.
Julia pulled into the driveway. She climbed out of her car and stood a few yards away.
"This lousy piece of crap," David growled.
"Maybe you should get it fixed," Julia said.
David responded with a steely glare and gave the cord another yank. "If I take it back to where we bought it, they'll replace a thirty-nine-cent part and charge us seventy-five dollars."
Excerpted from DANCE OF THE INNOCENTS by TODD R. LOCKWOOD Copyright © 2011 by Todd R. Lockwood. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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