By: S. Scott Bullock
“Yes! We are everywhere. Yes, we have been here from the beginning of civilization. No. We don’t know each other or where we came from or what information anyone else has. But I will tell you what I DO know. If you don’t let me go… if I don’t do what I was put here to do… something horrible is going to happen.” The young man sat back in his chair and stared at the cop.
“Name?” The cop said.
“I told you! I don’t have a name, I only have a job.” The young man shifted his handcuffed wrists, which were attached to a bracket on the table of the interrogation room. He intertwined his fingers in a prayer. “Please. I am literally begging you. Just let me do this job and then you can throw me in jail. You can execute me. You can do whatever you want with me. But please. Please. I have to do this.”
The door to the room opened and a six-foot five, African-American man in a deep blue suit walked into the room carrying a file folder. He glanced over at the uniformed cop and nodded his head. The cop got up and left the room closing the door behind him.
“Hi.” The man said sitting across the table from the young man. “I’m Detective Warren. What’s your name?”
“Please, not again.” The young man said lowering his head.
“What do you mean?” Warren asked.
“Please let me do my job. Please.”
“Okay. Here’s the deal.” Warren began and opened the folder. “Driving at an unsafe speed. No identification. Open container. Concealed weapon. Stolen car.” Warren closed the file and looked up at the young man. “Does that about cover it?”
“I stole the car and drove it too fast. The alcohol and gun were in the car already.”
“Where were you headed, in such a hurry?”
“Here. San Diego, California.”
“What is your job.”
“Please take me where I need to go and then you can do whatever you want with me. Please.” The young man dropped his head and began to sob.
“We’re going to have to call you John Doe, since we don’t have any other information.” Warren said putting his hand on the sobbing young man’s hands. “And were going to bring in a psychiatrist to have you evaluated. She’ll be here in a half an hour or so.”
“My job.” John Doe said through his tears.
“That is one scraggly looking kid.” Dr. Mara said to Detective Warren. They stood on the opposite side of the two-way mirror that occupied the entire upper south wall of the interrogation room.
“If he is a kid.” Warren said. “We don’t know anything at all. Except, five foot six, shoulder length blond hair, blue eyes, no tattoos, two three inch scars at the base of his spine.”
“You stripped him?” Dr. Mara said looking up at Warren.
“He came in shirtless.”
“I’ll talk to him now.” Dr. Mara said looking back through the glass at John Doe.
The door to the interrogation room opened and John Doe looked up and into Dr. Mara’s eyes. She could tell immediately that he was dangerously close to full-out panic.
“MY JOB!” He cried out to her. “Please. Will you help me?”
“I will help you.” Mara said sitting across from him. “I will. But you’ve got to help us too. First you need to inhale slowly and exhale even slower. Will you do that? Will you do that for me.”
He inhaled deeply and then exhaled.
“Excellent. Now one more time.”
He did as she asked.
“Tomorrow.” He said calming. “Tomorrow, July 4th. I’ve got to be there tomorrow, July 4th at 3:38 pm. Can you help me get there?”
“First things, first.” Mara said. “My name is Dr. Janet Mara. I’m a psychiatrist. I’m here to evaluate your mental health and stability. Do you understand so far?”
“Yes.” John Doe said. “I’m new formed but I have the collective knowledge.”
“New formed?” She asked.
“Yes. Three days ago. Could you take these off?” He asked raising his cuffed wrists.
“I promise that they will come off as soon as we know a little bit more about you, okay?” She asked and put her hand on his. He looked down at it, then back to Mara’s face and then back to her hand.
“I’m sorry for the pain you are in.” John Doe said softly.
Mara flinched almost imperceptibly.
“This isn’t about me, John. This is about you. Do you have a name?” She maintained her well practiced demeanor. “It’s very important that we identify you.”
“We don’t have names. We have jobs.”
“Who are ‘we’, John?” Dr. Mara pulled out a legal pad from her briefcase. She took out her favorite pen. It was an antique fountain pen given to her by her father.
“That pen means a great deal to you.” He said.
“Yes. It was given to me by my father when I…”
“Graduated.” He said finishing her sentence.
“Yes.” She said. “Good guess. Who are ‘we’ John?”
“I told this all to the first cop and then the second one and then the third one.” He said shifting in his seat.
“I know. And I’m sorry that I need you to tell it all over again, but I need you to do just that. Tell me everything you told the police officers and anything more you can think of. Okay?”
“We are ‘Ripplers’” He said.
“And what are ‘Ripplers’.” She asked writing on her pad.
“We stop the course of events.”
“Disasters that befall human kind.” He said and a single tear fell from his eye to the table.
“And how do you do that? How do you stop the course of events?” She said handing him a tissue from a tiny pack in her briefcase.
“We stop the ripple.” John Doe said laying his head on his cuffed wrists and dabbing at his eyes with the tissue. “I need you to help me do my job. Please.”
“I will John. I promise. Can you tell me what your job is?”
“I have to go to San Diego, California. I have to go to 3409 Crestview Drive. I have to go to the backyard patio wall on July 4th at 3:38 pm. I have to crush the single black ant that is crawling on the fourth cinder-block from the left.” He raised his head and looked at Mara. “Help me.”
“An ant?” Dr. Mara said, writing. “Your job is to kill an ant?”
“Yes.” John Doe said. “Please help me.”
“Why do you need to kill an ant, John?” She looked up and into his eyes.
“I don’t know. We never know. We only know when, where and how. We never know why.”
“The Ripplers?” Mara asked.
“What will happen if you don’t kill the ant?” She asked looking down at her pad.
“Something horrible.” John Doe answered. “Something horrible.”
“Well.” She said. “We need to kill that old ant. But first I need some more information, okay?”
“Yes. Okay. Thank you so much. Thank you. Can we talk on the way?” He was smiling for the first time since his arrest.
“We can’t leave just yet.” She said. “But I will get those cuffs off of you.” She got up and went to the door. She opened it and called out. “Josh, can we get these cuffs off of him?” She sat back down. “They’ll be in with the key in a minute. Now. Back to The Ripplers.”
“How many of you are there?”
“I don’t know.”
“Oh, no. Many, many more.”
“Millions, I think.”
“And where do you all live?” She asked writing.
“We don’t live.” He began. “We are formed when needed.”
“Formed from what?”
“I don’t know.”
“Formed from where?”
“I don’t know.”
“Okay.” Dr. Mara said putting down her pad and pen. “We’re going about this wrong. John, I need you to tell me all you know about Ripplers and how they work. Can you do that John? Can you tell me everything you know?”
“Ripplers.” He began. “Stop the ripples of circumstance that cause disasters, tragedies and holocausts whether human or nature initiated.”
“Okay.” She said picking up her pen and writing.
“We are formed when a ripple is perceived to begin by The Others.”
“The Others?” She asked writing faster.
“Those who watch out for human kind.”
“Oh. And where do The Others live?”
“They don’t live.”
“No. They do not live, they are not dead. They are.”
“And why don’t they stop the ripples themselves?”
“They have no form. They need us to physically intervene.”
“And why do they care about human kind?”
“They care for all and every.”
“All and every?”
“Yes. All that are and every that is.”
“Oh. Wow. Okay. Have you ever met one of them?”
John Doe let out a laugh. It was a laugh filled with frustration and sorrow.
“That’s funny?” Mara asked him raising an eyebrow.
“It’s sad.” He said. “I’m so sad. I will never make you understand. I don’t even understand myself. I only know what I have to do. And if I don’t…”
“Something horrible will happen.” She finished his sentence.
“Yes.” He said as the door opened.
A uniformed cop came over and unlocked John Doe’s handcuffs. John Doe rubbed his wrists.
“Thank you.” He said to both the cop and Dr. Mara.
“Thanks, Josh.” She said to the cop.
“You sure he’s safe?” Josh asked her pointing to John Doe.
“Yes. I’m sure. Thank you Josh.”
“Okay. Yell if he tries to kill you.” He said over his shoulder as he left the room.
“Why would I try to kill you?” John Doe asked, concerned.
“He was just kidding, John. Now. I’m going to get some coffee, would you like some? Or some water?” She asked getting up from her seat.
“No thank you.” He said sitting back into his chair. “Please hurry though. Please.”
“Okay.” She said and smiled. “Be right back.”
She went into the viewing room and met Detective Warren who had been watching the interview though the two-way mirror.
“That is one F’d up nutcase.” Warren said to her.
“Hardly the clinical term I’d use, Darnell. I’d say most definitely paranoid. Maybe schizophrenic. With a bit of clinical narcissism thrown in.”
They watched as John Doe got up and began pacing around the room.
“He dangerous?” Warren asked.
“I don’t think so. Not to humans anyway. But I wouldn’t want to be around him if I was an ant.”
“No shit. What the hell was that all about anyway?” Warren poured two coffees. “Here you go. No cream. No sugar.”
“Black.” She said and smiled at him. “Like my man.” She leaned in and up on her toes. She kissed his cheek.
“How’d he know that stuff?” Warren asked.
“What stuff?” Mara said blowing on her coffee to cool it.
“He knew you were in pain and he knew about your fountain pen.”
“Oh, sugar lumps.” She said sipping her coffee. “Look at my hand.” She held it up to him, and wiggled her fingers. “See these unattractive knotty knuckles? Those are evidence of my arthritis. Evidence of my ‘pain’.”
“Oh.” Warren said a bit chagrined. “And the pen?”
“He guessed. He finished a sentence that I already started and gave information in. It was a good guess. A stab. But he made it and it worked.”
“Wow.” Warren said putting his hand on her waist. “You’re something else.”
“Four years undergrad, four years for the M.D., four years residency and ten years in practice does that to a girl.” She said grabbing a handful of his butt. “I gotta get back in there for round two But I need to talk to Josh first.”
Warren kissed her cheek again and she walked out of the room.
“My job.” John Doe said as Dr. Mara walked back into the room ten minutes later. “You’ve been gone so long. You promised.”
“I certainly did.” She said sitting down. “Sit down with me for a minute. I want to talk a little bit more, first. Okay? Sit down.”
John Doe sat down and put his hands on the table. He rubbed at the red marks left by the handcuffs on his wrists.
“Do they still hurt?” Dr. Mara asked him, pointing to his wrists.
“A little.” He said. “Nothing like yours.”
“You noticed my arthritis?” She asked him and carefully watched his body language.
“Your what?” He asked, confused.
“We’re going to take you to a medical facility tonight, John.” She said, taking control. “Overnight. For observation.”
“But you can’t!” He shouted. “You promised!”
“Just for the night, John.”
Officer Trendall opened the door and walked in carrying a small evidence tube.
“Oh good. Josh.” She said then turned to John Doe and took his hand. “Breath in deeply for me again, and then breath out very slowly.”
“Again.” She said to him.
He did again.
“I had to go all the way to the dumpster behind Hank’s Liquor but I found em. A damn conga line going back and forth.” He handed the small glass, rubber-corked vile to Dr. Mara.
“Thank you Josh. This will help a great deal.” She said, concealing the contents of the vile in her closed hand.
“Yell if he tries to kill you.” Officer Trendall said walking out of the room.
“Not funny the second time either, Josh. And please bring in my medical bag.”
“I would never try to kill you.” John Doe said quietly. “Or anybody.”
“I know, John. I believe you.” She put her hand on his. “I want to ask you something. If you can’t make it to your job tomorrow, can ‘The Others’ send another ‘Rippler’?”
“No.” He said and his expression melted into fear.
“Why not?” She asked him and he pulled his hand away from hers.
“No time. Ripplers take three days to form. No time for a new one.”
“Okay. I understand.” She put her closed hand on the table in front of John Doe. “Now, I’ve got something here in my hand that I think is going to make you feel a lot better.” She opened her hand and revealed the glass vile. Inside it a tiny black ant ran frantically around.
“What is that?” John Doe asked.
“It’s your ant, John.” She said putting the vile down in front of him. “You can open the vile, let it out and you can do your job. Go ahead, John. Do your job.”
“I don’t understand.” He said. “I don’t understand.”
“The ant you must kill. Your job. You can do it here. Right here now.”
John Doe looked up at her and realization changed his expression from sad confusion to fury. He swept his hand violently across the table knocking the vile into the far wall. It shattered just as Officer Trendall stepped back into the room with Dr. Mara’s medical bag.
“Hey!” Trendall shouted. “What the hell is….”
“THAT’S NOT THE ANT! THE ANT IS AT 3409 CRESTVIEW DRIVE TOMORROW JULY FORTH AT 3:38 PM!!!” John Doe shouted leaping up. “MY JOB!” John Doe broke for the door and Trendall tackled him and threw him to the ground. John Doe began to scream incoherently then. The only recognizable word being ‘job’. Trendall held him down and Mara moved to her bag as Detective Warren ran into the room. She took out a vial and syringe. She filled the syringe, voided the air pocket and approached John Doe.
“Hold him tightly.” She said to Trendall and stabbed the syringe into John Doe’s shoulder. She pressed the plunger and injected the sedative.
John Doe continued screaming and Mara shouted over the din.
“A couple minutes!” Just hold him down a couple more minutes!”
Mara and Warren sat in the station lunch room several hours later. They both had unfinished cups of coffee in front of them.
“And the people at 3409?” Mara said and sipped her coffee.
“A family. The O’Briens. Mom and Dad and three kids aged two to nine.” Warren said leaning back in his chair. “They don’t know anyone who meets John Doe’s description. Haven’t been contacted by him or anyone of a suspicious nature. As a matter of fact the lady, Toni, said that their life bordered on dull and she would have welcomed some excitement.” He shook his head. “Some people.”
“Well.” Mara began. “They won’t get any from poor John Doe. He’s in lock-down at Paxton Memorial. Sedated, strapped in and monitors glued to every part of his body. He’s the state’s problem now. Poor thing. He was a sweet kid.”
“Maybe he’ll be an exterminator some day.” Warren laughed and sipped his coffee.
At exactly 3:38pm the following day, July 4th, an Argentinian black ant crawled with great purpose across the forth cinder-block from the left on the back patio wall of 3409 Crestview Drive in San Diego, California. It was racing and leaving a pheromone trail all along its path. It had found a food and water supply of great abundance and it was hurrying back to its colony with the information. By 3:45 the ant had reached its colony, conveyed the information and began to lead the way back along the pheromone trail to the small crack in the foundation of the two story, mid-century house at 3409 Crestview.
The unending line of ants made their way into the kitchen and up to the counter next to the sink where only an hour before, Deacon O’Brien, whom the family called Deeko, the middle child, six years old, had left the unfinished and unwanted remainder of his salmon patty sandwich. Deeko wasn’t fond of salmon patties and preferred to move on immediately to his dessert. Tiger tail twinkies.
As the ants swarmed the remains of the salmon patty, tearing off great ant sized hunks in there mandibles and starting a second line that paralleled the first that returned to the colony, Deeko sat in the TV room watching reruns of Bewitched on Netflix. He had finished off his second Tiger Tail when he heard his mother holler from the kitchen.
“DAMN IT DEEKO!” She yelled. “You left your … and GOD! All these ants!!!”
Deeko jumped up and headed to the front door.
“I’m going over to Terry’s!” He shouted, ran out and slammed the door behind him.
Toni O’Brien looked at the long black, undulating line of ants, seemingly going in two directions at once.
“I am SO SICK OF THIS!” She shouted at them. “How many times are we going to have to deal with you bastards!” She squatted down and opened the under-sink cabinet. She grabbed the Raid Ant & Roach killer. “Caio you mothers.” She hissed and sprayed a swath of poison along the trail. She sprayed from sandwich to the perceived point of entry and then sprayed some more. The noxious smell of floral-scented insecticide became overwhelming and she pushed open the over-sink window. She opened the back kitchen door and turned on the ceiling fan.
A cry came from a back bedroom and Toni knew that it was her youngest, two-year old Dillon. They called him Dill Pickle and Dill Pickle was up from his nap and hungry.
“I’m coming angel!” She shouted toward Dillon’s room. “I’ve just got to wipe up this mess.”
She pulled a wad of paper towels from a roll on the fancy brass holder and begin wiping up the dead ants and insecticide. She did the same with the half-eaten, dead ant covered, sandwich. She dropped the vile mess into the trash and soaked a sponge with hot water. She poured a generous amount of dish soap on the sponge and wiped at the counter where the poison had been sprayed. She threw the sponge in the sink, and ran hot water over it. She left the tap running as she headed for the baby’s room.
Dillon stood up in his crib. When Toni walked into the room he began bouncing up and down and sucking frantically on his pacifier through a huge smile. His arms were held up in the ‘lift-me-outta-here’ position and Toni obliged.
“Let’s check your sleepy-time and get your supper.” She checked his sleepy-time diaper and found it unspoiled. She pulled out his pacifier, threw it into the crib, picked him up and made her way back to the kitchen. “We’re gonna have your favorite, Dill Pickle.” She said sitting him in his high chair. “Alphabet Spaghetti O’s!” She pulled his Oscar the grouch bowl and his special Elmo spoon out of the drying rack that was sitting next to the sink. She turned off the running tap and opened the pantry.
An hour later, Dillon began to cry while sitting next to his oldest brother, Sean, on the couch. He fell to one side and started to twitch. A bit of foam was forming at the sides of his mouth and the crying turned into sounds of choking or drowning. Sean jumped up and yelled to his mother.
“MOM!” Sean screamed. “MOM COME IN HERE! DILL! SOMETHING’S WRONG!”
Two weeks later, on July 18th, Dr. Mara and Detective Warren sat at an open air restaurant having a long anticipated, non-working, lunch date. The sea breeze brought scents of ocean brine and freshly planted rosemary. The sun was hot, but the cool breeze turned the high temperature down to mild perfection. A waitress, bone thin and brittle, was standing at their two-top table taking their order.
“Fries?” The waitress asked Warren.
“Yes, please.” Warren said putting down his menu. “The garlic ones, right? You still have the garlic ones?”
“You bet.” The waitress said writing on her pad. “Drink?”
“House red. Large.” He said and smiled at Dr. Mara.
“Okey dokey.” The waitress said taking both menus. “I’ll be back with your ice tea and your wine right away.”
Warren pulled his chair around closer to Mara.
“My news.” He began. “Will beat your news, guaranteed.”
“Go for it, Detective.” Mara said. “But I doubt it.”
“Twenty-two hundred and six people died and a thousand more injured in the explosion at Petco Park on the forth. That’s the final tally I got this morning.”
“Oh god.” Mara said quietly.
“It could have been worse since the place holds over forty-two thousand and it was filled up because of the Padres game and the giant fireworks show that was supposed to happen that night.”
“Who did it?” Mara asked him.
“Final word is the nebulous ‘Domestic Terrorist’. But we know for sure, and this my love is where it starts getting weird and you ain’t gonna believe just how weird it ends up, we know that the explosives were brought in by truck. A delivery truck filled with concession supplies. And we know this because the punk-ass, insufficiently trained kid who was acting as a gate guard told us. He said that he looked into the moving van sized truck and saw boxes of hamburger buns and mustard packets and stuff for the concessions. He said he opened up a couple of the boxes and found buns and cans of nacho cheese sauce and everything looked kosher to him. But what the dumbshit didn’t do was crawl inside and look behind the boxes where he would have found four-hundred pounds of military grade explosives.”
“Why was he in charge of the gate if he was so incompetent?” Mara asked as the waitress came back with their drinks.
“Here’s your tea.” The waitress said setting a dew covered glass in front of Dr. Mara. “And your wine.. LARGE.” She said smiling and setting the extra large wine glass in front of Detective Warren. “I’ll be back in a few with your lunch.” She said and walked over to a table occupied by two men who sat very close to each other and touched hands a lot.
“Why was he in charge?” Mara asked again.
“Because the guard that is normally at that gate was late that day.”
“Would HE have looked deeper into the truck.” She asked sipping her iced tea.
“That particular guard is a cop by day. And his specialty is training methods for recognizing and deterring potential terrorist attacks. He teaches the damn class at the academy! He moonlights as a guard at Petco Park. By day he’s La Jolla P.D. So, he was late to Petco because he was breaking up a fight in a Hospital Parking lot here in San Diego.”
“Why was he here in San Diego?” Mara asked.
“Wait.” Warren said and took a swig of wine. “So this Tom Gotlund, that’s the cop’s name, Tommy the Cop Gotlund, is on his police cycle. He’s heading back to La Jolla to turn in the bike and change his clothes and get to his night gig at Petco Park and he’s stopped at an intersection and this BMW comes racing up to the four-stop sign intersection blaring its horn, going about sixty and zooms right through without stopping. Right in front of Tommy the Cop who is heading back to the office to clock out. Well, Tommy the Cop is a good cop and he can’t let turbo-charged BMW get away with it so he goes in pursuit. He chases the BMW for about six blocks when the BMW turns into the driveway of the emergency room of South Hills Hospital. He pulls up behind the BMW just as a woman is jumping out with a toddler in her arms and running inside yelling something about ‘my baby’ ‘my baby’.”
“Oh my god.” Mara said again.
“So…. Tommy the Cop goes inside and finds out that the lady was driving like a loon because something was desperately wrong with her two-year old son, convulsions or something, and she needed to get him help. Which she did. Tommy the Cop is satisfied that all is kosher and he doesn’t need to further burden the lady with a citation or warning and he exits the ER and sees, much to his pissed-off dismay, two drunks duke-ing it out in parking lot.”
“Poor guy.” Mara said and sipped her ice tea.
“Yeah. All Tommy the Cop wants to do is clock out and get to his night gig and now he has to break up a brawl. So he goes to just break it up when one of the drunks goes for Tommy The Cop’s gun and Tommy the Cop levels the guy, cuffs him, calls for back up and lands himself three hours of booking and paper work. Which means he’s going to be REALLY late to his night gig.”
“How does this qualify as weird, Darnell?” Mara asked as the waitress came over balancing their lunch plates.
“Shrimp salad, dressing on the side.” She said setting the plate in front of Dr. Mara. “And Double Blue Cheese Burger and garlic fries for the handsome gentleman.” She set the plate down and winked at Detective Warren then turned and winked at Dr. Mara. “Enjoy folks.” She said and disappeared into the restaurant.
“I’m handsome.” Warren said grinning at Mara.
“You are. But I am starting to question your ability to judge what is truly weird. Would you like to hear what is truly weird, Darnell? Because I have a story for you, if you would.”
“I’m not done.” Warren said putting a garlic-butter soaked fry into his mouth.
“Finish, then.” Mara said. “And try not to breath on me.
“So the reason the explosives get through security was because the guard that would have discovered them was breaking up a fight in a parking lot and he was in that parking lot because he was chasing a speeding car and the car was speeding because a woman was taking her gravely ill child to the emergency room.”
“I got all that.” Mara said picking up her fork and loading it with salad.
“The woman.” Warren began. “Was Antoinette O’Brien. Otherwise known as Toni. She was taking her youngest son, Dillon, to the hospital because he had ingested insecticide accidentally sprayed onto his bowl and spoon.”
“Awful yes. Weird no.” Mara said stabbing another fork full.
“Toni O’Brien and her family live at 3409 Crestview Drive in San Diego and the insecticide was ant poison that she had sprayed all over her counter when an incursion of black ants invaded her kitchen.”
Mara stopped dead. Her fork full of salad halfway between plate and mouth.
“Oh my dear god.” She said and put her fork down. “Oh my dear…. Darnell…my news… my news is.” She put her hand to her mouth.
“What?” Warren said putting his hand on top of her other hand.
“I had an appointment at Paxton Memorial today.” Mara said looking at Warren with tears welling in her eyes. “I thought, since I was there, I’d look up John Doe and see how he was doing.” She stopped and looked down at her salad.
“And?” Warren prodded.
“Two weeks ago, on July 4th, the day after we admitted him, at exactly 3:38 pm, the active duty nurse saw a flat line on the remote heart monitor for John Doe. She rushed to the room and found he was gone.”
“He died?” Warren asked, mouth agape.
“No, Darnell. He was literally gone. The wrist and ankle restraints were still closed and locked. The pillow and bed were indented where his head and body had been and the leads for all the vitals monitors were laying on the bed in the exact position they would be if a body were in it. No windows. No way out but past the nurses station. He was gone.”
“How’s your lunch folks?” The waitress asked standing over the two of them and blocking out the sun. “Save room for dessert. Today we have home made Fudge-Ripple ice cream.”