13 February 2009

"Art Attack"

By Curtis C. Chen

"You can't smoke in here, sir."

Rodney sighed. "So where can I smoke?"

"The east wing patio." The nurse pointed to a map.

"That's the other side of the hospital."

"Yes, sir."

He grumbled and shoved the cigarettes back into his pocket.

"Have you tried the patch?" the nurse asked.

He squinted at her. "Great idea. I'll ask my physician."

"Of course," the nurse said. "Best to make sure there won't be any adverse interactions with your current medication. Sir."

Another voice behind him said, "Lieutenant Geyerson? You can go in now."


Private Jeremy Dean and his squad had been patrolling the Hindu Kush mountains when they found a cave filled with prehistoric wall paintings and heavily armed Taliban. Dean had returned to the US last week for surgery.

"Do you know why I'm here, Private?" Rodney asked.

Dean nodded. "The cave paintings, right?"

Dean had been taking pictures before the ambush. Gunfire had gouged away most of the painted rock, and Dean's photos were the only remaining record.

"You don't think they're prehistoric," Dean continued, "because it doesn't fit archaeological theory or something."

Rodney flipped through his case file. He noticed Dean folding his arms when one particular photo went by.

"Actually," Rodney said, "I'm wondering why your squadmates have all killed themselves."

Dean blinked. "What?"

Rodney fanned out the crime scene and autopsy photos. "Hallmark. Cheng. Barron. They're all dead."

Dean stared at the photos. "How? Why?"

"You tell me," Rodney said. "These men didn't show any signs of depression or PTSD, but they all committed suicide within the last week."

Dean shook his head in silence.

Rodney sighed. "Look, no one would blame you. Maybe you found some drugs in that cave. Maybe it was cash. You decide a few dead terrorists aren't going to miss their loot, so you kill them and bury the treasure. Am I getting warm here?"

Dean glared at him. "I want a lawyer. Sir."

Rodney rolled his eyes. "I am your lawyer."


"So your winning personality didn't get him to talk. I'm shocked."

Colonel James MacAllister exhaled into Rodney's face. There were more smokers than there was elbow room on the fourth floor balcony.

"He's hiding something. Dean took one look at this photo and clammed up. It's probably where they found the loot." Rodney thumbed through his file, but couldn't find the photo. He turned over the folder and drew on the back. "It was a circular symbol--like this."

It took no effort at all to remember the image. It loomed large and clear in his mind, as if it wanted out.

The next thing Rodney knew, he was lying on the ground, being held down by MacAllister and two other officers.

"What the hell!" Rodney shouted.

MacAllister frowned at him. "You just tried to climb over the railing!"

Rodney looked at the symbol he'd drawn on the folder, and he felt it again, pressing against his consciousness.

"I need to get back to the VA," he said.

"Good idea," MacAllister said. "It's about time you had your head examined."


Audio: "Art Attack"


Music: "A town called kill" by amanyth, licensed under Creative Commons from ccMixter.

As if you couldn't guess, the template for the "Rodney" character was Dr. McKay from Stargate Atlantis. I can't really do David Hewlett's voice, but hopefully I captured some of his spirit.

Bonus round: Toward the end of this week's reading, there are a couple of things I'm not too happy with, but I was in a hurry to finish the recording. Be the first to correctly identify both warts and win a prize! Send your guesses to: 512words+20artattack@gmail.com



The title of this week's story is a probably futile attempt to beat Larry "Snarky Comment" Hosken at his game. To head him off at the sass, if you will. (Actually, I love the one-liners. I'm just peeved that they're usually wittier than my actual stories.)

The inspiration for this week's story was a recent AP article about the "alarming spike" in US Army suicides last month:
"In January [of 2009], we lost more soldiers to suicide than to al-Qaida," said Paul Rieckhoff, director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. He urged "bold and immediate action" by the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.
I have nothing but respect for the men and women of the armed forces. They are the defenders of our liberty, by choice, and they deserve better. They have earned better.

(ObTangent: Go read why screenwriter John Rogers thinks "[the movie] 300 is startlingly anti-American.")

I admit that I did, once upon a time, watch JAG. Partly because the Top Gun-lite flavor appealed to my inner teenager, but mostly for Tracey Needham. And I also appreciated the Quantum Leap fan convention that showed up in one episode for absolutely no reason. All hail inside baseball.

In the world of televised police procedurals, the undisputed king is Law & Order. But only the original--none of that SUV or Criminal Intent or Diet Caffeine-Free Zero crap for me. Sam Waterston FTW!

Finally: A shout out to my friends Aaron, Loren, and Mike, who are very much alive and well, unlike their namesakes in the story. I needed three surnames, and they were the first trio that came to mind. (Well, okay, the second, but I couldn't exactly name three modern American infantrymen Athos, Porthos, and Aramis.)