Friday, March 16, 2012

3/3/12 - If You've Got The Information, I Have Got the Crime - pt 1

The first houseguest arrives at Ten in the morning, and rings the doorbell with what could only be called annoyed confidence. She got into town two hours earlier, at Eight, and spent the intervening time both locating the house on Emma St., and then trying to find parking.

Her host wasn't kidding when he said the place was hard to find, and when he opens the door, and she doesn't quite recognize him -- at least at first -- she understands exactly what he meant.

She travels light, as always. Just a small, metal suitcase along with her handbag. She also has a paper sack full of luscious, ripe tomatoes, which her host gleefully accepts.

"Third bedroom on the left, up the stairs," SPYGOD informs her: "Bathroom's across the way. Beer's in the fridge. Make yourself at home."

"Where are the others?" She asks, scoping the place out and finding the interior defenses are quite to her loking.

"On the way," he says: "Hopefully they remembered their shopping assignments, or this is going to suck !@#$."

* * *

Many miles away, in the White House basement, Colonel Richter stares down at an old man seated at a desk in a small, bare room, sweating under harsh lights. The old man has long, silver hair and Native American features, rocky as flint. His eyes are closed, and he doesn't seem to be breathing. 

In spite of the obvious pressure he's under, right now, the old man seems serene -- almost as placid as a lake no one's disturbed for decades. Richter, on the other hand, looks like he hasn't taken a good, solid !@#$ in a week.

"Wayfinder?" he demands: "You've been like this for hours. I need an answer, mister."

"Leave him alone," a middle-aged woman standing nearby says, something of the old man's face residing in her own: "I won't have you bullying him."

"Look, lady," Richter snaps, rounding on her: "I have cut you a tremendous amount of slack due to his age and the fact that you're his granddaughter-"

"Great-granddaughter," the woman corrects him, not bothering to look in his direction: "And if you had bothered to read his files, you would know that this is not an exact science."

"Which means what, exactly?"

"It means that sometimes the answer comes in a moment, sometimes a day, sometimes several days. The Mystery does not abide by our timetable, Mr. Richter." 

"Maybe you don't understand the position I'm in. I've been tasked to find SPYGOD. Your grandfather, great grandfather, whatever -- he's already dropped the ball on finding him. The best thing we can do is track his known associates and hope they lead us to him. And so far, all I've got to show for it is you getting in my face for getting in his."

"You also have our bill for services rendered," the woman smiles: "I expect you to pay it, even if you're too slow to act on it. That was our agreement."

"Fine, lady. But I swear, if he tells us Naples, again, I'm !@#$ing ripping the agreement up and !@#$ing on it," Richter threatens. 

"Have you been there, lately?" the old man speaks, coming out of his trance. His great-granddaughter quickly brings him water, shooting nasty looks at Richter as she does.

"So?" Richter asks, leaning into the old man. Wayfinder doesn't seem in the least bit threatened, and takes his time in answering.

"You were correct," he says: "At least three people associated with him are on their way to a single location. It can't be a coincidence."

"Excellent," the Colonel says, whistling for one of his many subordinates to get paper out for notes, and for another to start calling up databases: "Where are they going?"

"South Florida," he says: "South South Florida. The Keys. I tracked them as far down as Sugar Loaf, in separate cars, maybe one hour intervals. But the one in the lead's going further."

"Key West?" one of the subordinates says: "I thought I heard he hated that place?"

Richter just looks at the man, who promptly shuts up and gets back to doing what he wasn't told. 

* * *
The next caller comes an hour and a half later. He's an older man with harsh, tanned features partially hidden behind large, old-style "horse blinder" sunglasses, and wearing a dignified hat of some older, European make. He has a hefty cane that he clearly doesn't need in order to walk, and carries a large, rolling suitcase behind him.

SPYGOD opens the door and clasps the man's hand. They just sort of look at each other and smile.

"Hi," his previous guest says, "Nice to meet you. I'm Cl-"

"No real names, please," SPYGOD and the old man say simultaneously. The old man's accent is as European as his hat, but not quite identifiable.

"The codenames? Seriously?" She mock protests.

"Seriously," the old man says, pulling the suitcase the rest of the way in and closing the door behind him with a good THUMP.  

"Well, okay, then," she says: "I'm Eunice."

"Really?" the old man says, handing a paper bag to SPYGOD, seemingly out of nowhere: "Then you may call me Thurston, young lady."

SPYGOD looks in the bag, opens it up, smells it, and sighs: "Now those are excellent onions, Thurston." 

"You are quite welcome. And what shall we be calling you, then?"

SPYGOD grins: "The Skipper, of course."

* * *
Myron falls over, grimacing and trying not to cry.

The door guard's been in a good mood all morning long, and has chosen to reward the world for the day's kindness by being more than a little unkind to his favorite prisoner. First it was refusing to push his food tray all the way through the shuttered flap, forcing Myron to reach his hand in and pull it out, and then barging into the cell to beat him for putting his hands into the flap.

The guard's got a thing for testicles, apparently. This is the third time in as many days he's swung for Myron's.

"Bet you think you're better than me," the guard hisses, swinging again and connecting, this time with the back of Myron's skull: "Bet you think all that time you spent in uniform with that traitor makes you better than me. Do you think that? Huh?"

Myron just stays quiet. It's not worth giving the !@#$er any satisfaction.

The guard screams some more, and swings some more. At some point, Myron's poor, battered noggin starts to betray him, and he finds himself slipping out of consciousness.

You just remember something for me, Myron, SPYGOD tells him, now and all that time ago, in Costa Rica, after things went to !@#$ and Myron was drunk in a hotel room bathtub ten hours out of the day: If there's ever a time when I'm not in favor, anymore, you need to be in the Heptagon. I don't care how you get there. You get your fat !@#$ there, and get in charge of the prison wing. 

And when you do, here's what you need to remember...

He wakes up when the guard's been gone some time. At first he thinks he's seriously bleeding, then he wonders why he's been sweating so much. Then he realizes it's not blood or sweat -- it's urine. The guard's, at a guess.

Myron just laughs, already planning ahead.

* * *

The next time the door rings, a large Asian man is standing there, holding a paper bag with both hands and wearing a large backpack. He bows politely when Eunice opens the door, and smiles when she asks who he is: "I would be Roy," he says, trilling the 'r' halfway to an 'l': "I have brought the red pepper."

"Gilligan" isn't too far behind. A whip-thin man with a bedeviled look in his eyes who saunters through the door as though he's a puck on an air hockey table, he tosses his bag over to SPYGOD, slips into the nearest chair, and crosses one leg over the other.

"That's a lot of garlic, Gilligan," SPYGOD says.

"It takes a lot of doing to get a bag of garlic costing exactly six dollars and sixty-six cents," the newcomer announces, his voice eerie and high: "I should appreciate it if my artistry were properly applauded."

"And who are you, then?" the old man asks, sipping one of the interesting wines SPYGOD had in the fridge: "An artist?"

"I am the Devil," the man whispers, leaning forward with his finger on his lips: "and I come to do the Devil's work."

The old man scowls at the answer, and the Asian fellow belly-laughs. It's distinctly unnerving.

The next guest to appear was apparently here all along. A pudgy man with Native American features and a t-shirt proclaiming himself QUEER AS !@#$ comes up from a door to the basement, sighing as he does.

"I think it'll hold, SPY- er, Skipper," he says, seeing that the guests are here: "Pardon me, ya'll. Didn't realize we were on the !@#$ing clock."

"Mary Ann?" Eunice asks.

"Very good!" he replies, going into the kitchen: "Pardon me while I have a word with the Skip?"

"What did you bring to the party, then?" Gilligan demands.

"Dessert, white boy," Mary Ann replies with a wink, and then saunters into the kitchen.

"An interesting meal this will be," the old man groans.

* * *

Chicken Cacciatore: it's how SPYGOD remembers his sainted, ill-tempered grandmother. 

He remembers her bent over a stove from when he left in the morning to when he came home in the afternoon, yammering in Italian at her husband, the drunken layabout, and demanding he give her some wine. He also remembers her thwacking him about the skull with a big, metal spoon when he refused to cough it up. 

(All these years later, he still remembers the divots and concavities on his grandfather's bald pate, and wonders if they were war wounds, like he claimed, or signs of his wife's strange, domestic rages.)

He doesn't get the luxury of cooking for guests, all that often. But then, he often feels soiled making such a nice meal just for himself. He thinks good food should be shared, which is perhaps why he's happy to live off takeaways and frozen !@#$ most nights.

Tonight is special, though. Tonight is the night something ends, and something else starts.

Tonight's a good night to bust this one out and let it loose. 

The chicken should have been killed that morning, and not frozen. Frozen chicken is for !@#$ers who don't appreciate what they're putting into their mouths. Some salt and pepper and more salt, sodium guidelines be !@#$ed, and then slap them around in flour for a time.

The oil should be nice and hot by now. Toss the chicken in, all at once or in portions, and heat them until they're nice and just brown all over.

Meanwhile, other things should have been done. Onions and red peppers diced, garlic peeled and slivered, tomatoes diced and left to sit in their own juice. Once the chicken's all done, everything but the tomatoes goes into the same pan to get soft. Maybe five minutes of mindless stirring and the occasional taste, which gives him more time to eavesdrop on his house guests.

Then there's the wine. His grandfather had a taste for a cheap as !@#$, dry white, so that's what his grandmother used. He, on the other hand, has ready access to a world of vino, and always uses a Garganega, common to Verona, where his family came from. 

He remembers her wistful complaints that she could never get it over in America. When he makes this, he uses it to honor her memory. 

(And her thundering metal spoon, often used on children who hung around the kitchen too long when she was trying to !@#$ing cook.)

You wait for the wine to boil down to half of what you threw in. The fumes should be intoxicating by now. And when they probably can't get any better, in go the tomatoes, along with fresh oregano and basil, and maybe another shot of salt for the !@#$ of it.

In goes the chicken. Stir around and simmer, maybe taking the opportunity to pass around some munchies, or at least get another beer. The pasta should be cooking by now, preferably something with a lot of spirals to catch all the sauce. Like fusilli, which he's using tonight.

After that, there's just making sure the table is set for eight, the table wine is ready to serve, and the salad is tossed and ready to go. 

He can't resist leaning into the doorway, watching his six guests -- none of whom know one another -- alternate between feeling each other out and deflecting others' questions. They don't notice him at first, but sooner or later Gilligan falls silent and just looks at him. The others quickly follow suit.

"Lady and gentlemen," he says: "Dinner is served."

"We will be discussing business afterwards, I trust?" the old man says, clearly weary of this game SPYGOD's roped him into.

"You bet your !@#$ing !@#$," their host says: "But if we're gonna go risk our !@#$es to save the world, we !@#$ing better have a last supper, don't you think?"

On that point, there is no disagreement. 

(SPYGOD is listening to Opportunities (Pet Shop Boys) and having some awesome white wine of uncertain vintage)

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