False Flag: An Average Thursday (Part 1 of 2)
Painting by Demar Douglas
The champagne colored 2017 Chevrolet Impala whipped around the corner of Wilshire and Lorraine to skooch up to the police motorcycle protecting a movie shoot. The mustachioed, paunchy motorcycle cop got up off of the bike to approach the driver, but then sat back down when the tall, Black man flashed a laminated badge on a lanyard around his neck showing a Teamsters logo and the words "SHOP STEWARD."
The Black man — a slight sheen of sweat beginning along the lines of his sharp fade haircut, a blue polo shirt and sharply pressed khakis on his body — held the laminated badge up as he rushed past production assistants and craft services workers to find the Emmy Award-winning director making her second leap into feature film, Becky Griffiths.
Griffiths' sun-dappled skin was partially shielded by her Dodgers baseball cap, a clipboard and a tablet sitting on her ripped jeans as she watched something on a monitor. She saw the man walking up and set the tablet and clipboard on the monitor, standing up.
"No!" she exclaimed, "No! No! I am not doing this with you today, Malik Brown! This set is completely compliant with Teamsters regulations, I don't ..."
Smiling, Brown chuckled. "I just need to talk to you for a minute about some Union concerns ..."
"Malik!" she protested. "I have given every break, I've followed every ..."
Brown rubbed his right hand across his face, the glint in the United Siblings ring on his finger catching the light as he interrupted her, saying, "You misunderstand, ma'am. This is a Union concern."
The wind out of her sails, Griffiths pursed her lips and stared up at the taller Brown. She then yelled over her right shoulder, eyes locked with his, "everybody take lunch, we're back in 60, thank you!"
Without another word, Griffiths stormed towards her trailer and Brown followed behind dutifully. Griffiths threw the door open and walked through, with Brown gently closing it behind himself.
Griffiths threw herself down into a chair and grabbed a bottled water, saying, "I thought the agreement was that our other work together would stay secretive."
Brown leaned against the trailer wall and crossed his arms. "I would not be here on that kind of business if it wasn't an emergency, but you need to shut down shooting in the next thirty minutes."
Griffiths choked on her water and sat up. "I have six more hours of shooting left today! The covert op is supposed to make it through to the mayor's house today ..."
"... and they would, have done that," Brown shrugged, "if a DangerWatch strike team wasn't parked in a camouflaged van one block over, ready to bust in and snag them. That's why your ‘effects team' is already packing up."
Griffiths frowned. "No, that's not right," she protested. "My production bonus is contingent on this heist happening."
"I know, and I'm sorry," Brown nodded. "However, if they find the tunnel, they'll connect the Union of the Snake with you, and that's bad for both of our optics. You'd be done in Hollywood, and our hidden hand behind currently undiscovered scenes would be revealed. Neither of us want that."
Griffiths sat back in the seat. "You're right. I don't like it, but you're right. Wait, why three hours?"
"Oh, that," Brown said awkwardly. "Well, the asset still needs acquiring, so they're going to use a more ... direct approach."
Griffiths frowned. "Please tell me they're not gonna fly those ridiculous one-man helicopters and costumed troops through Hancock Park."
"They're called ‘Bushmasters' and yes, there will be four of them here today, along with some Rattlesnakes ..."
"Those creepy robots?" Griffiths asked, shocked. "Oh, yeah, I don't want to be anywhere near them. Okay, whatever ..."
Griffiths tossed her empty water bottle over her shoulder, where it landed on a pile of them, and walked past him to leave the trailer.
"Lunch is over!" She yelled as she stepped down, "we're losing daylight here, people, come on!"
Brown chuckled and waited a moment before he left the trailer, letting the chaos cover his exit. He traded salutes with the motorcycle cop out front and climbed into the Impala, and the cop waived him out, forcing an oncoming Tesla to wait.
As he turned right on Sixth Street, he glanced down at the laundry van camouflaging what he knew was a strike team from his competition. "Hey, Nuance," he chuckled as the hard piano line of Kendrick Lamar's "Humble" resonated from the speakers.
In that van, a woman codenamed Nuance squinted at his car as it made the turn, captured by drone cameras in the trees, her short brown hair hanging over her eyes. She wore a sensible fatigue jumpsuit that still gave hints of her fit physique underneath.
"What you got there, Nuance?" Jester asked. A burly, deceptively friendly looking blonde guy in a brightly colored vintage Karl Kani shirt with vertical stripes, he was normally the face used for clandestine operations, working as backup for this tactical gig.
"Teamster shop steward flew in the movie set around the block, then just leaves it in a tizzy," she responded suspiciously.
Jester looks over a display on a tablet. "DMV lists him as Malik Brown. Lives in Inglewood, no priors ..."
Operator — a Black man in his forties with a mustache and a low afro under his green beret — looked down at his hands, clasped between his knees as he sat near the door. He wore a tight fitting camouflaged shirt and baggy camo pants over his tall, barrel-chested frame.
"Connected to the Union of the Snake?" Underground asked. Sitting next to Operator, he was a wiry dark skinned Black man in his late twenties, wearing a black bandanna around his head with night vision goggles hanging around his neck as he held on to a Knight's Armament Company's light assault machine gun like an old friend.
A light whirring sound came from the front of the van as Black Fury turned around. Few members of the DangerWatch team ever remembered seeing him out of the prototype armored suit that gave him both relentless degrees of firepower and protection from almost anything.
"He's no terrorist," Black Fury's voice came through the speaker, "he's a hopped up truck driver. I can see his file in my HUD, he's a lifelong member of United Siblings. They make the Kiwanis Club look like drugged out ravers. Let's keep our heads on a swivel, The Martial says the Union is hitting the Mayor's house, somehow."
Jack Flack — just past fifty years old but still one of the most physically fit members of the team, wearing his characteristic grey leather flack jacket and gray cargo pants, his black beret stiff and well maintained — nodded. "BF's right. They can try to hit this, but since we have eyes inside, they'll never catch us slipping."
All but Operator, lost in their own thoughts, chuckled at that.
On then freeway, the sounds of Kendrick Lamar got interrupted by the car's Bluetooth connection trilling. Heading east, Brown said, "What's good, Isabella?"
On the other end of the phone, looking out of the 33rd floor corner window of a downtown high rise, Isabella de la Maza swept her long black hair out of her eye as she typed on a holographic keyboard in mid air, her shoeless feet up on her kidney shaped desk. A high powered sniper rifle hung on the wall behind her, just under her MBA from the Wharton School and her bachelor's in finance from Harvard. "No catchphrase? I'm disappointed. Did you clear Cinematic for today's op?"
Brown replied, "I talk to you too much for a catchphrase. I did clear Cinematic but she didn't like it. Clearwater is a go. I'm on the run, can you Signal him?"
"Sure can, and maybe Cinematic will come in under budget for a change," de la Maza said, typing furiously. "I was gonna ask you if you could help Maraud with some stuff coming through the Shipping Crate in San Pedro, but the team calendar says you're on your way to Watts?"
A Corvette whipped by Brown's car in the Fast Pass lane on Brown's left at more than a hundred miles per hour, with a California Highway Patrol car going by almost as fast. "Yeah," he said, shaking his head at the chase, "that's why that stop was a big pain in the butt. I had to come from the data center in Tarzana, and I've got some fantastic possible recruits at Verbum Dei. They've been a solid feeder school for us, and I'd like to respect that."
De la Maza responded, "Your file says you're an alum. I didn't take you for the sentimental type."
Brown frowned, ignoring the bait, "Uh huh. Anyway, if you call Quiana, she can handle your boyfriend's concerns in San Pedro, you don't need me for that."
"He's not my boyfriend!" de la Maza protested. "You know what? Never mind, bye, Malik!"
The line clicked and Kendrick's voice continued to fill the car as Brown started getting over to exit on the 105. Overhead, a five small red single-man Bushmaster helicopters flew over heading northwest, followed by a Garter -- a bulky, modified Sikorsky CH-54 carrying a huge boxy section that Brown suspected was full of Rattlesnakes, robotic heavy assault troopers.
"Branding needs to put more logos on those things for the upgrade next year," Brown muttered to himself as he glanced back at them, making his way to the right lane at last. As he leaned into the turn heading east, he held up his watch and said, "Hey, Scaley, remind me to ask Quianna to ask Herb to get worked up at the next city council meeting about domestic action by federal troops."
A "boop" sound through the car's speakers sounded before a soothing female voice repeated the instruction back.
"Hey Scaley," Brown said as he raced towards the Central Avenue exit. "Remind me to get the insurance adjustors from today's action to try and levy repair costs against the city's budget."
A similar affirmative tone and repetition of the instruction let him know that it was locked into his phone, and Quianna would see it as well to keep him honest.
A few moments later, Brown's Impala drove north past East 112th street, a stone's throw from the infamous Nickerson Gardens housing projects, in front of the flag pole in front of Verbum Dei High School's white walls. Brown pulled up right in front of two teenaged boys, one scratching his dreadlocks and the other fidgeting. Brown jogged out from his door and extended a hand to the tall, dark skinned, gray haired man waiting with the boys.
"Mister Valentine!" Brown said with a smile, shaking the man's hand. "What can Brown do for you?"
Valentine chuckled — he didn't hear that so often, so it was funny to him.
"Mister Brown, so good to see you again!" Valentine replied. "May I introduce you to two of my best students, Dante Turner ..."
The nervous, fidgety kid with a tightly tapered fade extended a hand and tried to hold eye contact as he shook hands.
"Good to meet you, Mister Turner," Brown smiled at the boy.
"... and this is Micah Payton," Valentine continued.
The dreadlocked boy was sullen but extended a hand, his mouth set in what seemed like a permanent frown.
"Mister Payton," Brown smiled. "Thank you both for your time."
"Micah scored a 1430 on his SAT," Valentine said, beaming at the teenager, "and Dante has had all A's and perfect attendance for more than six years in a row."
Brown nodded appreciatively. "That's very impressive. You brothers hungry? Wanna get some dinner and hear my pitch?"
The boys nodded and Brown swept a hand towards his car. Shaking hands with Valentine, he noticed as both boys got in that Payton rushed for the front seat. He joined them in the car and pulled the car back into the flow of traffic on Central.
Both boys glanced at each other as they heard Kendrick Lamar fade into the voice of YG on "Big Bank Take Little Bank."
"So, what would you two say your parents want from you, in the future?" Brown asked, eyes on the road.
Payton slumped down in his seat. Turner in the back seat said, "My mom wants me to go to college and be a lawyer, or something." He calmed down a little and said, "My dad died from a heart attack when I was nine."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Brown said, turning back to regard the boy.
"I'm in a foster home," Payton said sullenly. "They just said I gotta go next year, so I guess I'll try to go to college or something."
"Is that what you both want to do?" Brown asked.
Turner sat back in the back seat. "I don't know," he said. "Maybe."
"I seen videos of rich Black guys get hemmed up by cops in Beverly Hills," Payton sneered. "Don't matter what I do, it's all messed up."
Brown regarded the two of them, considering it. Payton is a pessimist, Brown considered. Turner is more passive. Okay.
"What if I told you," Brown said with a slight smile, "there was a way for you both to make good money, be safe from the cops ... and get away with almost anything?"
A black and white clad man in a cape flew rapidly across the freeway, heading northeast rapidly.
"I'd say you think we like Messenger up there," Payton scoffed, looking up at the figure receding from view.
"Not exactly," Brown chuckled, " but hang on ... check this out."
Brown tapped on the dashboard and it opened up to reveal a seven inch screen. He tapped an "alerts" button and a the music cut out as a news report showed a battle between the Union of the Snake and Dangerwatch near Wilshire Boulevard that nearly demolished the Harbor Building. On the screen, Black Fury's armored suit hurtles through the air, smashing through the powdery white walls of the looming edifice. The five Bushmaster helicopters flitted around, peppering the ground with gunfire.
"What kind of after market kit you got to get this transforming dashboard screen?" Payton asked, his eyes suddenly bright with interest as he gingerly touched the edges, examining it.
Brown chuckled and said, "Perceptive, but we'll get to that in a minute. You probably know DangerWatch's story, right? They are the best of the military, they have endless cash coming through, right? But the Union of the Snake showed up with six helicopters, going toe to toe with them. How?"
Turner pondered, "That news report says there's five helicopters ..."
Payton, thinking, looked at Brown and said, "They got money from somewhere. They must have some secret source or something."
Brown, driving fast and weaving through traffic, but completely at ease, asked, "That's a lot of money. Where could they get enough money to fight the best of the United States military?"
Payton raised an eyebrow and flopped back in his seat. "You using the Socratic method, so you must know, so why don't you just tell us, man?"
As YG faded out, Brown tapped the dash and the music switched to Ramsey Lewis' "Do What You Wanna."
"You know the Socratic method?" Brown smiled at Payton. "That's very good. All right, well, if a private organization has enough money to fight the United States military, toe to toe, around the world and on American soil, they have way more than money. They have access. They have a plan. Those helicopters didn't fly from overseas."
In the back seat, Turner made a nervous sound and said, "... the Union of the Snake is a terrorist organization. Criminals. What they do is against the law."
Brown glanced back and nodded. "That's absolutely correct. However, has the Onyx Dragon ever gone to jail?"
Both boys sat up at the mention of the name, a personality that ranked alongside Scarface in the urban crime hierarchy, an untouchable killer with a series of fire mixtapes, crazy music videos with real battle footage, a body count numbering in the dozens and the only Black man publicly running with the world's most dangerous organization.
"Has Wrecking Ball ever stood trial?" Brown continued. "Heck, nobody even knows who runs the Union of the Snake, do they? All those helicopters and crazy jeeps, somebody has to fix them. All the guns, somebody unpacks those from crates. Where do they keep all that stuff?"
Payton, interested, peered over despite his crossed arms. "Socratic again?"
Brown smiles at the boy, thinking, this one is the easy one. "Okay, here's my pitch. Mr. Valentine was my teacher at Verbum Dei. He introduced me to the man who used to have my job, a man who retired to live in a big house with a pool and two dope cars in Calabasas. I started working for that man, and now I help young people find a way that's better than the rat race."
Turner piped up, "So ... wait, you're like a military recruiter ... but for The Union of the Snake? You want us to be criminals?"
Help me help you, young brother, Brown thought to himself. "Students at Verbum Dei are too smart to dress up in wild colored costumes with a machine gun in their hands. There's no shortage of people signing up to do that. I looked at your transcripts before I came. Dante, in just two years you could be a master of C++, Python, Java and SQL, the way you're going. Micah, you have the organizational eye of a project manager, with the way you've organized extracurricular activities at the school and kept up your grades. Both of you could be making six figures a year by the time you're twenty, own a home by 22, all while filling your taxes legally, doing jobs that may be connected to the Union of the Snake, yes, but where you could never be arrested. Or, we can go have some dinner, I can drop you back at your places, you can get a bunch of student loans or fight for scholarships and struggle with low credit ratings. Your call."
The three of them sat in silence as the car pulled into downtown Los Angeles traffic.
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