Post 78 – ‘Oh yes … total chaos everywhere!’ bit.ly/31Rag2P

There were helicopters over the Hudson and Central Park with police sirens wailing all the way down from Harlem. It could all have been just a bad dream. But the phone was ringing beside my bed, and my news agency assistant editor was hysterical. ‘There have been explosions in Brooklyn and Manhattan,’ he yelled. ‘And there are people protesting all over the place … can you get out there now, Rudi, and see what’s happening … and Jed called to say he wants to see you when he gets in this morning.’

            Sure – no problem. I was curious as I got out of bed and looked along the Hudson from one of my apartment windows. I could see a police helicopter hovering, and sirens were still wailing on the streets. ‘We’ve had enough of white cops shooting and assaulting us for no reason,’ a black guy said when I spoke with him earlier at a ‘Black Lives Matter’ protest rally in Brooklyn. It all seemed to be rather serious, and my wife was staring at me from a picture in our once shared living room. But she wasn’t around now, and the last time we spoke she said we should maybe get a divorce. 

            I stopped a cab on the corner of 100th Street – only I didn’t think the driver wanted to go to Central Park or any further down into Manhattan. ‘It is crazy all around the tourist streets,’ he said. ‘And blacks are throwing rocks at the cops.’ He was a Hungarian migrant he told me when I said I’d make the trip worth his while. ‘Always I wanted to come here,’ he told me. ‘In East Europe we think the US life is good – but now I not sure any more … these black people are out of control – and you must be careful if you see any.’

            There was a woman’s voice on the cab radio speaking with horror about an explosion in Times Square. ‘We have reports that our Governor has called in the National Guard,’ she said, ‘and the Mayor has requested that people stay inside their homes and business premises until it is safe to go out onto the streets.’

            There were large crowds facing lines of cops around Central Park. ‘This is totally fucking weird,’ a young guy said when I got out of my cab. He was a student at Harvard who had come to New York for a family birthday celebration. I cautiously showed my news agency ID to a cop who was prepared to talk provided we retreated from the jeering crowd in front of us. ‘These people have no legitimate grievances,’ he told me. ‘They’re just taking any opportunity to fuck it all up … and it’s been like this since our new President took over in the White House.’

            The cops, however, were holding back on firing into the demonstrators or going for them with truncheons. But it was something I had never witnessed before in New York, and the Mexican cab driver who took me down to Times Square was baffled by what was happening. ‘If this continues,’ he said, ‘I will go back to Cancun, where at least it’s peaceful. Because this is not what I expected when I crossed your border into Texas.’

            The entrance to an apartment block had been shattered by the explosion in Times Square and several people had been killed, with at least a dozen others injured. ‘I’ve never seen anything like this,’ an elderly Chinese guy said, ‘and I’ve lived with my family here in New York for almost half a century.’

            I wanted to see what had happened in Brooklyn where a cafe had apparently been blown up with several casualties. But the bridge was closed and my news agency editor, Jed, was calling from Washington Square. ‘Come over here now, Rudi,’ he said, ‘and make it quick, because the National Guard is being deployed, and they may cut off a lot of Manhattan.’ On the way down I was diverted from the entrance to our President’s Trump Tower, which had cops with automatic weapons all around the fifty story building. I was nervous about walking any further, but the streets were unusually clear for what would normally be a busy working day, and I got to Washington Square without any problems.

            ‘So what’s happening out there?’ the Puerto Rican doorman asked when he had checked my ID, which he didn’t normally do. ‘I think a lot of people are unhappy,’ I said. I had never seen it as bad as this before anywhere in the States – although our new President did get some folk agitated when he first took office.

            ‘If this happened in Puerto Rico, the military would be out in force,’ the doorman told me. ‘And if anyone looked the wrong way at a soldier, they would be shot – with no questions afterwards.’

            I hadn’t been to my doorman’s country, but I did appreciate that Latinos could get excited if there was any trouble and the troops had bullets for their guns. I wasn’t sure what to expect on the eighth floor of our building, but the newsroom was full, and one of our reporters had a head injury from when a protestor hit him in Brooklyn as our guy tried to get a shot of him waving a flag picture of our President with a swastika above his head.

            My editor Jed’s tie was loose and he hadn’t shaved. But our executive chairman gave me a welcoming grin as Jed escorted two of my colleagues out of his office. ‘What’s happening here is serious,’ he said when he returned, and our chairman nodded in agreement. ‘There is a spontaneity that’s difficult to explain,’ Jed said. ‘But there are indications of similar tendencies all around Europe and our board members feel we need to reflect this in the bulletins we send out to our clients.’

            ‘It is indeed very unusual, Rudi,’ my chairman said. ‘But the agitation in Europe does seem to be filtering into what we’re now starting to experience in the States – and particularly so over the past twenty-four hours. We feel we need someone over there now who can report back to us on what’s happening – and we reckon you’re the right person for this, Rudi.’

            OK – I’m a little puzzled, but I nod like I’m on board, which gets me a grin from our chairman. His migrant relatives came originally from Sardinia where they were being threatened by the local mafia. But it’s now down to Jed to tell me where I’ve got to go to and what I need to concentrate on. He was focusing on my face and his mouth was opening when the phone rang on his desk. He seemed nervous as he respectfully took the call, during which he said ‘yes’ several times and concluded with ‘sure – we’re here right now, and we look forward to seeing you both shortly.’

            ‘It’s those people from Washington,’ he said to our Chairman as he replaced the phone receiver. ‘They’re on their way in from the airport just now … with a military escort.’

            Our Chairman nodded and then took control. ‘We have been asked to assist our State Department in Washington,’ he said to me. ‘And we have of course agreed. The people on their way in from the airport both work for the Government, and they will give you a clear indication of what they’ll want you to do while you’re working overseas for us, Rudi.’

*************

            Jed fastened up his tie and ran a comb through his hair as we waited – and within minutes a pot of coffee had arrived with a generous plate of fresh croissants. I wanted to probe a little, but our Chairman had ushered me towards a chair where I stayed until a smiling secretary arrived with two guys in suits.

            ‘Gentlemen – it’s good to see you again,’ our Chairman said. ‘And this is Rudi Flynn, who we are happy to send to Europe and beyond on your behalf.’

            ‘Hi Rudi,’ one of them said, offering his hand as he approached. ‘I’m Jim McQuaid, and this is Frank Bracken. We both work for our Government’s State Department in Washington, and we are concerned about the way it’s going just now in various parts of the world. We need someone like yourself, who works as a journalist, to go out and see what’s happening – initially in Europe, but perhaps later in some other countries.’

            Jed and our Chairman were both looking at me encouragingly, and I needed to be careful. I was simply a youngish Irish American with quite a good job. I wasn’t a spy or a member of the Washington Government, and I wasn’t sure what McQuaid and Bracken were actually after.

            ‘I would of course wish to do whatever I could to assist the State Department,’ I said cautiously. ‘But I have to say I’m not really sure about what you actually want me to do in Europe or elsewhere.’

            ‘It’s not a problem, and we’ll go through the brief with you,’ McQuaid said with a friendly smile. ‘But first off, I’d really like to try one of those croissants and maybe some coffee.’

            The agreeable secretary was outside, and she returned with a smile as soon as Jed called her. The croissants she served us with were delicious and very welcome, as indeed was the coffee. But when we had all sampled this improvised breakfast, McQuaid and Bracken drew up a couple of chairs so that they could focus on myself, Jed and our Chairman.

            ‘We got news of what was happening here in New York as we left Washington,’ McQuaid said and Bracken nodded. ‘It is certainly unusual, but we have recently had similarly unsettling incidents in other parts of our country, which give us cause for concern.’

            Our new President had certainly rocked the boat on a number of occasions since coming to office. But I wanted to know what these two State Department guys were after in Europe.

            ‘We are concerned about the political situation in France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Eastern Europe, Britain and Ireland,’ McQuaid said pre-emptively. ‘With the possible exception of Ireland, there are anti-Islamic and serious rightist movements that are gaining support in all of these countries just now, Rudi … and this is primarily what we would like you to check out initially, starting perhaps with Southern Ireland where nationalists have been burning Union Jacks outside the once Protestant university at Trinity College in Dublin. There has also been some Islamist activity in Ireland, along with threats to the Protestant community in West Cork from Republicans who may or may not have links with the IRA.’

            My father had a farm up near Yosemite in the US, and all I had ever heard from him about Ireland was to do with the mid-nineteenth century potato famine that had virtually halved the population and driven many of my Irish ancestors to the US.   

            OK – I didn’t have any problems about going over to Ireland and then progressing to other countries in Europe. But who should I report to and would I still do some journalism?

            ‘Yes, of course,’ Bracken said with a slight lisp. ‘You are already reasonably well known as a journalist, so we would expect you to still file reports on whatever you discover. Jed will continue to be your main contact, and if we want you to go for anything specifically, we will place the request through your office here. But if at any stage you have problems while you are abroad, we would expect you to go straight to the nearest US embassy and just give them your name. They will then do whatever they can to assist you. Also, because of the nature of your work for us, the State Department will enhance your salary, which will continue to be paid by your agency here, along with any expenses you may incur on our behalf.’

            And that was it. There were parting handshakes all round, along with reassuring smiles from the two State Department guys, who were then taken back downstairs by our obliging secretary. When they were gone, Jed, our Chairman and I looked out of the window to see if we could spot our visitors military escorts. But they were nowhere to be seen, and our Chairman was already taking a full bottle of Irish whisky from his brief case.

            ‘In the five years you’ve been with us, Rudi,’ he said, ‘you’ve done some excellent work. But now that you are about to serve your country, I think it would be appropriate for us to wish you well with a good luck toast.’

            Jed had already found some glasses, which our Chairman filled with generous measures of whisky, and when we had toasted each other I took my first swig of the Jameson’s.

            ‘Your intuition is first rate, Rudi,’ Jed said before our next glass. ‘You quickly get a feel for what’s happening, wherever you are … and that’s all you’ll need for this assignment. Just go in and work out what’s going on. Take initiatives if you feel they’re appropriate … then let us know what you find, and what you think may happen next.’ \