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Issue number twelve


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Dirty Bomb by Ron Sandvik



When I first got the word deep in the recesses of Cheyenne Mountain that the bomb was dirty and the brass was fearful, immediately so was I. Moreover, I was mortified, though not prominent in the job description it was clearly my job to say, "and God doesn't make mistakes." I didn't believe it myself, but bound by duty; could I say it? I waved my security card through the checkpoints and gates, wondering exactly how dirty, what kind of dirt I would encounter. Radios squawked, intercoms bristled with acronyms for codes, conditions were reported and the officers were tense as they gave me the orders. As I ascended the various elevators up the secure shafts poking down through the mountain, it was hard to believe that at this point in my career I would ever be expected to actually do my job. But here I was, stripped of all identification; jumpsuit zipped up, specialty bags in hand, special non-skid boots squeaking on the well-waxed floors toward the unknown.

A lot of thoughts raced through my mind as I waited while the plane wound up its engines to take me to the bomb. I mean there was the wall, and glasnost, and zeitgeist and a peace dividend and Bulgarian teens watching MTV. Since all that, beyond the maintenance of the spaces we worked in, there wasn't anything to really do. It was a cushy job. I mean even the number of cable channels we get from what country is classified. Jesus, we all stood down and just sat in those comfy chairs down in our section of the mountain. They were designed to be comfortable and protective in the event of a nuclear incident. Even a triple airburst EMP pre-emptive strike couldn't knock out the 12-way adjustable electric motors. Cleaning up a dirty bomb was almost off the horizon of possibility, all I had to do was rack up the rest of my twenty years, find the good fly-fishing in America--and hang loose.

Then there was 9/11 and our shifts doubled. Bad enough, ask me. From the TV footage I saw, we lost a lot of guys like me. Janitors. Maintenance workers. Cops. Firefighters. I should have figured for a dirty bomb then. Like the rest of the old-timers in my outfit, I just didn't want to think about it.

That day in the mountain I had just assumed my shift from Kreitzer when the alarm went sixteen short bursts, one long one, then sixteen more short bursts. He smiled and scurried away onto the next elevator out of there. That was the special alarm for my team, or more precisely--me. We'd never heard it before outside of drills, so I was a bit bewildered at first. However, when you've being collecting a check as long as I have from these guys, when they dial 16/1/16 you've got to accept the charges.

In an underground conference room they showed me the satellite and aerial recon shots, gave me reports from all agencies and levels of command, showed me the field reports and the research and analysis. However, they couldn't be sure, they were just going to have to send in the experts, the specialists with training in such matters. They didn't seem to care that nobody had ever been called from our unit. They just wanted the mess cleaned up.

They shuttled me to DC in a hopped up jet of some kind and immediately right into a helicopter. From there they stuffed me in a limo--obviously a Secret Service guy--the dude was a little too tense to be Capitol Security. They drove me to some posh five-star hotel. I thought it strange, they usually put me up in Econo-Lodge or Super 8, and damn glad to be there too I'll tell you without all that tipping. But this joint, Buddy, if the hat check girl smiled at you--it cost you a tip. I cursed that bomb right there, I admit. When the agents escorted me up the elevator they each produced impossibly small machine guns and spoke into earpieces before the elevator doors opened.

I stepped off the elevator. Two serious looking security types with guns like I've never seen guarded a doorway. For all the people in America, in the Department of Defense it finally came come to me, Sal Palatucci, a kid from Queens who simply filled out an application for the civil service after being declared unfit for duty in Vietnam by force of flat feet. Unlikely as it seemed, I was the only guy who could solve the nation's problem on this day. The serious guns opened the door and shoved me in.

There was the bomb. Sleeping on a double bed comfortably stretched out with an obscene smile on his face. He was snoring lightly. About the room there were a lot of booze bottles and overflowing ashtrays. The micro-fridge was pulled out and tipped over on its door and was making some odd noises from the compressor. Apparently the bomb had been holed up here awhile. There were a couple of studded dog collars and a pair of ridiculously high pumps--in a size larger than most women could wear--flung about the room. A half-used case of assorted liquor, Kahlua and some old cream were where the TV should have been. Stuffed in the dresser I found a latex body suit, a pair of chrome welding goggles, and a computer with its hard drive full of porn. The bomb's shaving case was loaded with dope. Three 8-balls, 30 joints, a large baggie of X, three bags of who knows what, a deodorant stick cleverly packed with coke and some straight razors. The bomb knew how to party. I flushed what I could and put the rest in a bag sealed with tape reading classified.

I had to admit while wadding a bag full of atrociously soiled leather goods that I would have been a lot more scared over the years if I'd have seen this before. But the bomb had always kept it under control, discrete. According to the Secret Service, he'd occasionally take on a couple of Persian call girls from Kennedy Square, or some high class leather bitch from an escort service on K-Street in Northwest specializing in Farsi-speaking whores. No, this was the bomb's worst mess yet.

He lay there, asleep and covered in excrement and blood. I began washing the bomb, muttering like a sailor. "All the time they say he's getting smarter. If he's so smart why does he hit the kids? Do you know how hard women and children are to clean off titanium? He could at least have laid down Saran Wrap or waxed paper first." Bitching, I threw sealed bags to the secret service guys and they were repulsed at the stench in them. Even through all the training all those years, I was nauseous myself.

The bomb, groggy, woke up and fixed a logy gaze at me. After an interval, I began cleaning him up with the appropriate solvents strong enough to get down to paint, not so strong as to get down to the metal. I scrubbed hard, angry with this mess. He just lay there, letting me scrub him furiously without any protest. Neither of us said anything for a long time, and then he broke the silence.

"Who was it this time?" He asked.
"I don't really know, terrorists maybe," I answered, quietly.
"I thought you'd know. The last guy did. I thought they briefed you guys."
"Sir, I'm just a janitor from Cheyenne Mountain."
"That's what they tell me I am." The bomb smirked, "I clean up messes too. Jesus, Cheyenne Mountain, this must have been serious. The last guy was just a GS-8 from Walter Reed Hospital."

I cleaned him and he obligingly rolled over so I could get his other side.
He looked me in the eye. There it was--that so-dangerous 1000-yard stare. This was the training drill we'd gone over so many times in the Mountain. In the training they said you could almost predict the very words he would ask and like clockwork he said, "What am I doing here? I mean, I'm so…so…"
"You're doing what the rest of us are. Protecting American interests, our way of life."
"Well what the fuck are they exactly? What is our way of life? Why is it always me? I mean--I wish someone could tell me . . . I hate myself. I wish I was never born." He sobbed.
As my training dictated, I hugged him. "You're here because God put you here. And God doesn't make mistakes."

His eyes searched mine. This was the critical point, I couldn't waver in my appearance of belief or he'd smell bullshit. I wiped a bit of human brain from his eyebrow. He slumped a bit in my arms.
"Really?" He was tentative.
"Really. Lets go back to the base and get a nice cup of hot cocoa."
The bomb lay there trying to remember.
"Yeah, hot cocoa. God doesn't make mistakes."

Nothing was more obscene than this dirty bomb. Nothing could say fuck-you to the cosmos better than his mushroom cloud. Yet, I was surprised as how docile he was, how fragile and insecure he was ultimately. Like a predatory virus that will certainly kill if contracted, but unable to live outside a host for even a few seconds. I glanced about looking to see if I'd missed anything. A Barbie Doll was suggestively posed on the window valance. She'd watched the whole thing from above the fray. I plucked her from her perch and handed her to the bomb. He smiled wanly and together we emerged from the room. He leaned on me clinging to the doll as we entered the elevator to go back home.



Ron Sandvik used a variety of fad diets to lose so much weight that he is actually lighter than air. He drifts about the sky above Cedar Falls, Iowa, and a small throng of children chase him from below thinking he is their lost balloon. An unnamed government agency and two UFO enthusiasts track him about the area in a mutually rented van, occasionally shooting him with a pellet gun to see if he'll burst, give up the fad diets, or sometimes simply from the frustrated boredom that often accompanies surveillance operations.


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