Tuesday, November 22, 2011

11/11-12/11 - The Week of the Hunt pt. 2

12:48 PM

SPYGOD appears outside the towering retirement home in a puff of smoke and burning exhaust, having pushed his machine as hard and fast as it can go. The jetpack's dying throes match his mood perfectly.

Right now he could murder a serious drink, along with anyone who !@#$ looks at him funny.

"Sir," the Agent in charge of this detail hails him from the doors, where most of the team stand impotently: "I'm glad you made it, sir. It's not going well in there."

"Brief me on the way, then," SPYGOD snarls, handing his jetpack to one of the Agents by the door as he storms on past: "We get once chance at this and then we're !@#$. Just like this whole !@#$ day. !@#$ !@#$ this !@#$ !@#$..."

No, he's not happy. Not even remotely. In the words of one the Presidents he used to serve at the pleasure of, this !@#$'s gone right down the toilet.

And SPYGOD feels like he's dodging toilet paper all the way down into the dark. 

* * *

Today was supposed to be perfect. Numerous teams were supposed to fan out across America, Mexico, Canada, a few of the more scenic European countries, and, in one case, Peru. They were supposed to swoop in on every last member of the original Left Handed Legion that was still alive and locatable, in perfect synchronicity. And they were supposed to drag them all back to The Flier for extended interrogation sessions with SPYGOD, himself.

Instead, they got bumpkiss.

Every single person on the list is either gone, dead, or in a hospital after bungling their escape. Phone records show that every single member of on the list received a phone call early yesterday. And while they don't have transcripts, yet, they know that the calls were very short. No more than twenty seconds long.

Just enough time to give a code phrase, and maybe an additional warning or two.

Every single person was warned. Every single person knew that The COMPANY was coming to get them. Every one bolted, or at least tried to.

And right now the only person with the answers is in a retirement home's hospital ward, suffering from a badly broken arm and not likely to last the night, given the shock to her already frail system.

SPYGOD got here as quickly as he could, cursing his luck, the time, and every single !@#$ thing that crossed his flightpath on the way over here. Now he just hopes he's not too late to get some sort of information from this elderly woman.

That and maybe one of those serious drinks. It may make certain things a lot less excruciating.

* * *
The old lady in question is a tiny sour pickle of a woman, scowling at everything in her line of sight. Agents have her in lockdown in the infirmary, where she's recuperating after her little adventure yesterday -- the one that left three orderlies seriously wounded, and her arm broken in three places.

SPYGOD and the Agent in charge of things stomp into the room like they own it, which, for now at least, is 100% true. He looks down at the woman and smirks, letting her nasty looks wash over him like nasty sewer runoff. 

"So, Florence Abignale," he says: "Or should I say Liosliath Flores? That was your birth name."

"!@#$ you," the old lady spits: "What the !@#$ do you know about it?"

"Oh, I know everything, Florence," he says, nodding to one of the Agents, who grins and leaves the room: "I know that you used to rob banks with four of your friends, back in the 30's. I know that, in the 40's, the five of you worked for the Department of War in Europe, under different names. 

"I know that you continued to work for your government in the 50's, also under different names, doing slightly different work. And I know that, since then, you've been hiding out under another assumed name, and doing work for your friends in The Legion on the sly.

"Finally, I know that you had to stop doing that about ten years ago, when it became apparent to even your stubborn old !@#$ that you couldn't do fieldwork anymore with your arthritis acting up. So you came here and had to fall back on being an operator."

He stops and looks askance: "I think that's all I know. I'd like to know a little bit more, though. Like, for example, you got a phone call, yesterday? What the !@#$ did it say, and what the !@#$ did it mean?"

"I thought SPYGOD knew all?" Florence/Liosliath snorts: "You're so smart, !@#$, you figure it out."
"I think I will, thank you," he says as one of the Agents comes back into the room. In his hands is a long, metal rod that's half white and half black. It almost like a softball bat, only more stylized. 

Also, it has small knobs at the black end, and smells of ozone. 

"Liosliath Flores, AKA Columbine," SPYGOD continues, regarding the business end of the bat: "Last surviving and functional member of the Harlequinade. Pierrot died in France in 1943. Pantaloon was captured in Turkey while in Agency business, back in 59, and got !@#$ to death in his cell. Or so they say. Clown went to jail in Alabama after a solo robbery went south, in '63, and died in the prison infirmary of a heart attack with his sentence only half completed. And Harlequin's in a medical coma in Detroit. They tell me the phone in his old room rang 13 times the other day. Pity no one picked it up."

More scowling from her, but no talking. 

"You know, I gotta !@#$ hand it to you, lady. It's clunky and heavy, but you crazy kids invented the taser 40 years before everyone else did. Who did it? Pantaloon? Charles McTaggart? His files indicate he had a background in electrical engineering."

Yet more scowling, but her lips are quivering. It's a tell.

"Now you, you came up with the dance and tumbling based martial arts you all used in the crimes. I've seen the films. Nice work there, too."

"Well thank you," she spits: "I want a lawyer."

"No, no lawyers," he says, rapping the ceiling with the business end of the bat. It snaps and crackles, blackening the paint. "No lawyers, no cops. No nurses or doctors, either. Especially after that !@#$ you pulled yesterday. It's just you and me and the truth, now, Liosliath.

"And If I were you I'd start talking."

"Or what? You'll torture me? Good luck with that, you !@#$ queer. They've got me so doped up right now it's a wonder I can even understand what you're !@#$ saying."

SPYGOD turns to the Agent in charge: "That true, son?"

"They did give her some local anesthetic for her arm, sir. It's in a bad way."

"Did they now?" he says: "Silly !@#$ should have had more milk growing up."

"!@#$ you," the woman says: "I want that lawyer in here!"

"I wouldn't !@#$ you with his !@#$, lady," SPYGOD says: "I know where your girly parts have been. All those sweaty, four-guy hookups after a bank job. You weren't even 15, yet, were you?"

He looks at the business end of the bat. He looks at her waist, under the blanket. He looks back at the bat. 

He grins.

"When's the last time you got some action, Liosliath?" he asks, smacking the roof with the bat and making sparks fall down onto the bed: "Was Reagan still in office?"

"You wouldn't..."

"Lady, right now is not a good !@#$ time to tell me what I would and wouldn't do. Right now I got a few leads on what I need to know, and you're one of them. Right now you're all that stands between me and getting my hands around the Legion's throat.

"And if you think I won't do what you think I'm about to do for that information..."

He says nothing. She starts to go into hysterics. But by the time she's done screaming and yelling SPYGOD has all he needs to know.

* * *
"I want every strike team we got on this case to pack up and head for their rendezvous point," SPYGOD says, rushing out the front doors and retrieving his jetpack from the bewildered Agent he handed it off to: "Don't worry about being stealthy. If they've got visual confirmation, take them down."

"Understood, sir. Do you want lethal, non-lethal, or ultra-lethal?"

"I want them !@#$ flambeed. But leave me at least ten percent in shape to answer questions. There's still some explaining to do."

"Very good, sir. Where will you be?"

"Are you kidding me?" SPYGOD asks, putting the jetpack on and lighting it up: "It's Philadelphia, son. This is the city of brotherly love. I'm gonna go get my !@#$ sucked."

And then he's up, up, and away -- with the occasional sputter.


"Agent Armatrading," Agent S says, picking up SPYGOD's call on the deck of the Flier: "Go ahead, sir."

"Agent, we've got ourselves a cluster!@#$ here," SPYGOD says, dodging yet another helicopter: "Cancel all my evening appointments and slash everything for tomorrow, too. It's a whole new ballgame as of right !@#$ now."

"You got it, sir," S says, trying not to chuckle at how well his 'cluster!@#$' worked out: "What's the gameplan?"

"The Flier will be receiving a !@#$load of data from the Agents on the ground here in Philly," he says without thinking: "Then all the Agents standing around with their thumbs up their !@#$ get a free, all expenses paid working vacation to scenic Omaha, tonight."

"Oh? What's in Omaha? The Gerald Ford birthsite?" he asks, somewhat conspiratorially. He knows full well what's there.

Or what was there, anyway.
(And oh, does the real Agent Armatrading scream at that. It makes this all the more fun.)

"Bit over the current paygrade, there, Agent," he chuckles: "But, just between you and me... let's just say some some rest home escapees are gonna get that old time religion. Right up their wrinkled !@#$."

"Amen to that, sir." He laughs, just not too much.

"Amen, Agent. Let us prey. SPYGOD out."
Agent S leaves the deck for five minutes, after that. Using an unsecure line he makes a call to a number. On the other end is an actor being paid to have a bland conversation with a complete stranger on any topic that stranger wants to talk about.
S identifies himself as the actor's sister, and talks about getting together in a few weeks for pizza. Someplace nice in New Jersey. Oh, how about Gardin's? Sounds like a plan.
They hang up. S goes back to work, smirking imperceptibly. The actor goes back to reading this week's People, and is soon interrupted by another call. Then another.

All these calls are monitored. All of them have someone in Langley listening in, cocking an ear for identifying names and telltale codes.

In the case of Agent S, who has gotten hold of the Agency as soon as possible, the news is a relief: SPYGOD is on the move, but knows only so much. Not nearly enough.
And it will soon be too late to do anything.

8:30 PM 
So, let's talk about the exact dictionary definition of cluster!@#$. It'll keep me from shooting holes in my ceiling again. Not that there's anything wrong with that, exactly, but it tends to scare the cat.

And when BeeBee gets scared, she shoots at me, which is never any !@#$ good.

Not that there actually is such an entry in the dictionary, son. Believe me, I've looked. I've even written a few pointed letters in to the eggheads who get together and actually make the !@#$ things, and let them know they also need entries for "fart!@#$," "robo!@#$," and "!@#$ !@#$."

Oddly enough, they actually write back. Usually pretty politely, too. And nine times out of ten they're aware that the words exist, but don't believe they've been around long enough to enter into what they call "the general parlance," which is a fancy way of saying even your !@#$ grandmother the soap opera addict knows what it means.
("Hey, grandma, why did they cancel 'General Hospital?'" "Oh, it was one big cluster!@#$ behind the cameras, kiddo. If it wasn't for Guiding Light I'd be screwed.")
But since they won't do it, here's my try:
Cluster!@#$ is a noun. I guess it can also be a verb, but it's a little clumsy. I never hear anyone saying "I cluster!@#$ the operation all by myself, sir." I also never hear it being used as an adverb ("That was a cluster!@#$y attempt at infiltration, Agent"). I supposed you could use it as a pronoun ("Go ask Cluster!@#$ over there what happened."), though that seems a little sloppy. 

And as far as interjections go, "oh, cluster!@#$!" could be used, technically, but why do that when you have so many other colorful, more apt words and phrases to use?

I remember one episode of The Simpsons where someone told Homer that he was the textbook definition of stupid, or something. When he asked what that meant, he was told that, in the dictionary, next to "stupid," there was a photo of him. 

So what does a textbook definition of "Cluster!@#$" look like? It looks like this operation, so far.

Day one, we go after the remnants of the Left Handed Legion, only to find out someone tipped our hand to them. I thought I took care of our mole problem, but it seems we may have another traitor, or at least a really bad problem with bugs.
So we have Agents all over North America, Europe, and !@#$ Peru of all places kicking in doors and windows, only to find out that most of the birds have flown the !@#$ coop. And this is, by any definition of the word, a Cluster!@#$.

Thankfully, we get lucky, and there's at least one person who failed to fly due to a busted wing. It seems the old weapon she used to rob banks with is now too heavy for her to do real hit-and-run damage with, anymore, except to herself. (Well, that and a few nurses and security personnel.)
After scaring the living !@#$ out of her, I get the information that the Left Handed Legion was going to meet at a warehouse in Omaha, Nebraska. It's the dead bang center of the country, apparently. I don't know if the guy from Peru was coming in or not, but it's a days trip for most folks, and two days for the others.

No problem, I think. I tell the Agents to regroup and head to the warehouse. Well, guess what. It's !@#$ empty. It was just a staging ground, apparently, and they've since taken off in a fleet of buses and trucks, all going different directions. 

So I get this news while I'm in the middle of getting one of the best, slow and deep mouth!@#$ I've had in a while, which officially makes this even more cluster!@#$ier. 

(Yes, it's not grammatically correct. !@#$ you.)

And then we get a line on where those buses and trucks are going. We follow them by satellite and pinpoint where they're most likely to wind up. Now, to yours truly, this sounds suspiciously like a set-up or a distraction, but it's all we've got for right now, so we go for it. 

They rendezvous in Flagstaff, Arizona. You know what's in Flagstaff? Jack and !@#$.

Every single one of those trucks and buses were rigged. The drivers were androids. The doors and windows were locked down, and the air filtration systems were loaded with poison gas, followed by really nasty sludge gas.
Sludge gas is nasty !@#$. It dissolves the bonds that hold organic things together. You get dosed with it, you start falling apart.
You get bathed in a cloud of it, you're nothing but bones in less than an hour. 

Every single one of those old !@#$ was told to flee for their lives and rendezvous in Omaha, and then put onto vehicles that were going to take them somewhere safe. Our pathologists aren't sure when they died, but they must have died badly. If the poison gas didn't kill them, the sludge did.

And, of course, no brain matter, no N machine.

Which essentially means that we have achieved the apotheosis of cluster!@#$. This is the most cluster!@#$iest thing we've had happen in a while. They knew we were coming, they prepared for it, and they saw to it that no one would be in any shape to tell us anything, dead or alive.

Have I said, recently, how much of a terrible, utter bastard The Big Man is? This is it. He'd kill dozens of his old cohorts rather than let them fall into our hands, afraid that we might learn more about how he had them operating the current system of Legion operatives from their hiding places, disguised as normal old folks. 

Of course, I still have a few tricks up my sleeves. I'm not beaten yet. But I'd be lying if I said I was as sure about this operation as I was just one day ago. 

Here I thought we were playing for keeps, but Biggs has shown us what it really means. He's truly fearless about sacrificing his own people. That takes some real !@#$; !@#$ that I might not really have, after all. 

But I'm adding those deaths to the list. I may have wanted most of them dead, anyway, but at least I was !@#$ honest about it. These folks thought they were on their way to safety, and he turned them all into human chili. 

Cue the dictionary. Here's the face of The Big Man, right next to "Monster."

(SPYGOD is listening to Open (The Cure) and having a mystery drink)

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