Dinner is a simple but filling affair: Chicken Cacciatore, a salad of local greens and tomatoes, and fresh, crusty bread. There’s white wine by the jug and dark beer by the bottle, not to mention Diet Coke by the can for those who abstain.
Six people around a table set for seven, each trying to make light conversation while warily eying one another. All of SPYGOD’s guests are unacquainted with one another, and know only their host. In their line of work, such a gathering is ominous and suspicious – quite possibly very dangerous.
But it is a sign of either their esteem or trust in their host that they put such reservations aside – if only for the moment – and enjoy their meal.
Like SPYGOD said, this might be the last supper. It would be criminal to not enjoy it.
* * *
“So what do we know about these people?” Colonel Richter asks, looking at the dossiers his subordinates have assembled based on Wayfinder’s long-range scans.
“Well, sir, he’s got an interesting crew here,” a COMPANY Agent says, pulling one over for the Colonel to see: a pudgy Native American man beams for what is obviously a mugshot, probably taken at the Heptagon.
"John Leaping Deer, aka Gosheven ," Richter says: "A shapeshifter, huh? Aren't they kind of rare?"
"Like a Democrat at a gun show, sir," the Agent confirms: "This guy's special, though. He can do his body and clothing, right down to the DNA and fibers, just based on a moment's touch. They picked him up for several counts of robbery, down in Orlando, back in '05. Had him locked up in isolation for a couple years, and then he just sort of vanished from his cell."
"How often does that happen?"
"Not very, but when it does, from what I've been led to understand, it's usually because SPYGOD had them off doing something special for him."
"So he kills the President, runs to Key West, and this !@#$er's waiting for him. I can see all kinds of damage being done by those two."
"Well, speaking of damage, there's this guy," the Agent says, handing over another dossier. A stoic looking Asian man regards the camera with what is either well-practiced disinterest or the far-seeing look.
“Now I know that one,” the Colonel says, tapping the face: “Japanese guy. Silent infiltration specialist. Does a lot of work for the Self Defense Force, but gets a lot of leeway. What’s the name…”
“Chinmoku,” the Agent says: “’Silence.’ AKA Honda Takeshi. And, begging the Colonel’s pardon, but merely describing him as just a silent infiltration specialist is like saying Steve Vai is just a guitarist. Most of the reason why he gets so much leeway is because he’s the only living person who’s mastered the Hungry Ghost Path of Kung Fu.”
“What happened to the others?”
“They didn’t survive the training.”
* * *
“This meal has been excellent, Skipper,” Roy – that is, Chinmoku – says, pushing his plate away: “I thank you for your hospitality and your excellent wine.”
“And now I suppose you want to know what the !@#$ I brought you all here for,” SPYGOD says, having a swig of that wine, himself: “Why Key West? Why us?”
“Why you?” Eunice – that is, Whisper – asks, still working on her chicken.
“Why indeed,” SPYGOD replies, filling his glass with more wine from the jug: “Straight up, there is a certain subject we are not !@#$ing talking about. I think you can !@#$ing guess what it is. You may be tempted to bring it up. Do us all a favor. Don’t.”
“I’m not mad about your tailor,” the one known as Gilligan says, still pushing his food around his plate with his fork. He hasn’t eaten or drunk a thing since they started the meal.
“I’m not crazy about working for presidential assassins, either,” Whisper says: “Looks bad on my record, you know?”
“Oooo, snap,” Mary Ann – otherwise known as Gosheven – intones, looking to his host and blackmailer for some kind of response. The smile he sees on SPYGOD’s face scares him, just a little.
“There will be no !@#$ing record of your having ever been here at all once our business is completed,” he says: “Everyone here that lives walks away with two million dollars. Those of you who owe me, our debts are cleared. Those of you who owe me nothing, I owe you.”
“How about an explanation, then?” the woman says, smiling and putting her elbows on the table: “Why did you kill the President?”
Total silence falls around the table. The other diners hitch a breath and clearly expect someone to die – except Chinmoku, who seems to be accepting of such things, and Gilligan, who’s snickering, but not at the situation. Whisper just keeps on eating, either unafraid or unimpressed.
“We get out of this one alive,” SPYGOD says, “You can collect your marker by way of an explanation, if that’s really how you want to settle the debt.”
“Good to know,” she says, and continues eating.
* * *
"I know this lady, too," Richter says, holding up Whisper's dossier: "Gail Reynolds. Former Army. She was the ladykiller."
"Ladykiller?" The Agent asks, looking at her files: "Oh, right. The female sniper."
"That would be her, son. Back during the Nineties, there was this stupid !@#$ing idea to let women try out for limited combat roles. They figured sniping would be a safe thing, since they'd be stuck up in a !@#$ing tree and less likely to have the boys trying to get into her uniform."
"I take it she aced it."
"With flying colors. And then they decided to make her an expert in breaking into places. And then they decided to make sure she could mess people up with handguns. And then they decided to give her the skill set to take people down without firing her guns."
"What, like that dumb Christian Bale movie with the great fight scenes?"
"Got it in one, son. Only even less believable. They kept adding layers to her onion, and she aced everything they threw at her, right up until the harassment thing."
"Someone tried to get into her uniform?"
"No, she tried to get into someone else's," the Colonel replies: "The Army looks down on fraternization, you understand."
The Agent shrugs: "We sort of encourage it, apparently, sir."
"Well, good for you all. Bottom line, she was drummed out. Next thing we know she's in Europe, working for MI-6. Then the French. Spanish. Italians. Turks. Saudis, which had to be a real treat for her. Egypt. India. Thailand..."
"Is there anyone she hasn't worked for?" the Agent asks, looking at the rest of her accordion fold of a dossier.
"Us, son. And let's put it this way, if we wanted to get her, we'd have to send that slaphead with the barcode on the back of his neck from that one videogame, and even then he'd be best advised to put his affairs in order. That !@#$ is fearless, peerless, and certifiably !@#$ing nuts."
"Not bad looking, either."
"Yeah, well, don't tell her that."
* * *
"So what is the mission, then?' the old man -- Thurston, also known as Dr. Krwi -- asks, sipping at his wine: "I see a killer with no fear, an artist of war who won't kill, a man uncomfortable in his own skin, and a man who is not himself--"
"He means me," Gilligan says, still pushing his uneaten food around his plate.
"But I am having a hard time deciding how they link up with my own talents," the man finishes.
"If I may ask, how did you know about my code?" Chimoku inquires.
"I can see the stain of murder upon the soul, my friend," he replies: "Yours, I am happy to say, is as white as the mountain snow of my homeland."
"Or death," Chinmoku says, smiling at his own, private joke.
"I guess that makes me black as the ace of spades," Whisper says: "Unless there's a difference between killing and murder."
"Well, young lady-"
"Potatoes and goldfish," Gilligan says: "Philosophy makes me want to !@#$ a dead dog in front of a church. Can we immanentize the eschaton, here?"
"Can we who-why the what-the-!@#$, now?' Gosheven asks.
"He means can we !@#$ing get on with the show, Mary Ann," SPYGOD says: "Why don't you wheel our last dinner guest in from the sitting room?"
"Okay," the man says, getting up to go into the room in question. Just before dinner he'd been seen huffing and puffing to bring something up from the basement into that room, though no one else got a good look at what it was.
"You've all been chosen for this mission for one simple reason," SPYGOD explains: "You either have the capability of killing a !@#$ing lot of people in a clandestine assault that's going to go non-clandestine really !@#$ing quickly, or you have the capability of doing a clandestine assault that's going to stay both clandestine and non-lethal, while the previously-mentioned clandestine-non-clandestine, way !@#$ing lethal assault is going on."
"So that's me, Roy, and Gilligan, then?" Whisper asks.
Gilligan picks up his knife and slams it into the plate, breaking it in two: "I don't kill. He does. I don't kill. He does. He does. He. Does. He."
"Ooookay," Whisper says, putting her hands up and having another sip of wine: "Forget I asked."
"You may wish to revise your hypothesis, my dear," the old man says, chuckling.
"It's you me, and Roy, honey," Gosheven answers the question, pushing a wheelchair into the room. A heavily-restrained man, apparently insensate -- or at least uncaring as to his plight -- is bound to it, a thick sack with no holes over his head.
"Exactly," SPYGOD says: "Which means the good doctor..., excuse me, Thurston, here, along with Gilligan and myself, are going to be handling the wetwork."
"Dear god..." Thurston says, looking at the man in the wheelchair as Gosheven puts him at the seventh place, all the way down the table, directly across from SPYGOD.
"God has nothing to do with this," SPYGOD says, and nods to Gosheven, who pulls the sackcloth off.
The face of the man underneath is a wrinkled, pale sneer -- hideous fangs bared like an angry cat. His eyes have gone black and red, and the once-thick head of black hair has gone wild and gray, but one can almost tell it's Ernest Hemingway.
And then Dr. Krwi is up, pulling the sword out of his cane and making ready to leap across the table and behead the thing.
* * *
"Jaroslaw Jurek, otherwise known as Dr. Krwi," the Agent says: "Doctor Blood. Polish, born in Tyczyn, in the shadow of the Carpathians. Combat magician with a specialty in fighting the sunlight-challenged population."
"Vampires?" Richter asks: "Oh, go !@#$ing figure. Of course there are vampires involved in this !@#$."
"They do exist, sir. Not in the numbers they once did, and nowhere near as powerful as they're portrayed, but the haemovoric contagion has been genetically isolated and studied since the 40's. Unfortunately, there's still only one cure."
"And that would be this old !@#$, huh?"
"He would. The Germans were in league with some bloodsuckers, back during World War II. He was part of the Polish resistance having to deal with them. The only survivor out of that group, apparently. Soviets had him on retainer for decades, then there were no Soviets, but plenty of Russian vampires."
"Now, not so many," the Agent says: "Crazy, they say, but really effective."
"Is anyone in this little shindig anything approaching normal?" Richter asks.
"Well, not this guy," the Agent replies, holding up the final dossier: "Now, this is really scary, sir. Wayfinder didn't actually ID him, per se. This guy came up as a blank."
"A blank? Son, how can someone be a !@#$ing blank?"
"It's possible for some people to disguise their spiritual traces, sir. SPYGOD can do it if he wants to, for example. There are others who can do it as well, but it's highly rare. There are some technological means to replicate it, too, but they're pretty wonky--"
"Okay, so if it's a blank, why do we have a dossier?"
"Because this same blank has been felt at various times when a certain person of interest has been active. Which means, we're maybe 85% sure that this person of interest is sitting with SPYGOD as we speak."
He hands the dossier over to Colonel Richter. The man's skin visibly blanches, and he has to sit down.
"Oh my !@#$ing God," he says: "The news just keeps getting worse."
* * *
Gilligan won't stop giggling. This is just too !@#$ing funny.
Gosheven's turned into a replica of Dr. Krwi, right down to the silver swordcane he's brandishing, and keeping him at bay by putting that blade right up against his neck. The only way they can be told apart is by the fear in Gosheven's eyes, and the white hot hate in the Doctor's.
"We won't be killing anyone, here, tonight, Thurston," SPYGOD says, keeping both hands on the table.
"It's an upier," the old man insists: "He has to die."
"Maybe someday, but not today," SPYGOD says: "We need him for this mission. And I need you for this mission. So why don't we all just take a deep breath, zip our pants back up, and sit down."
The threat in the statement is implicit, but it still takes a very unnerving five seconds for the doctor to break off the attack, sheathe his sword, and sit back down. No apology is offered for his outburst, and Gosheven gives him a very nasty look as he shifts back into his own, natural form.
"Mary Ann, why don't you give Ginger some Pabst Blue Ribbon?"
Gilligan laughs again, apparently getting the joke all too well.
"So we are allied with one of my mortal enemies, then?" Dr. Krwi asks: "What good can come from this?"
"Sometimes one must clasp one hand of the enemy in order to strike the other," Chinmoku offers: "I would suspect that is what we are doing?"
"Got it in one," SPYGOD says: "We're going to need him in order to infiltrate La Casa de La Sangre, in Havana."
Gilligan stops laughing. No one can think of anything to say, all of a sudden. Even Dr. Krwi seems a little taken aback by the notion.
"So why are we infiltrating bloodsucker central?" Whisper finally asks. (It would be her, wouldn't it?)
"Because those folks have something I need," SPYGOD says: "Something we're all going to need if we're going to save the world from what's coming."
* * *
"So we have a !@#$ scary gunslinger, a !@#$ scary martial artist, an insane geriatric vampire killer, a shapeshifter, and... this !@#$hole."
"That crazy, deadly !@#$hole, sir," the Agent corrects Colonel Richter, handing him a much needed third cup of coffee from the canteen: "And SPYGOD."
"And we have no idea what they're doing. None at all. None of these dossiers have much in the way of a connection, other than the fact that they all either worked for him or with him, or else got busted by him and we think they're working for him, now."
"Well, two of them are masters of going non-lethal, but could be ultra-lethal, and in fact one of those two is capable of switching back and forth. The other two are all ultra-lethal, all the time. And one of them's a natural for getting them into places where they might need to open a can of buttkick, be it lethal or otherwise."
"Which still doesn't get us any closer to a solution," Richter says.
Just then one of his subordinates busts into the room: "Sir, I've got a message for you. You're not going to believe this..."
"After all this?" Richter says, waving his hands over the dossiers.
The Agent takes it and looks at it: "Well I'll be !@#$ed. Sir, we have an answer."
"What it is it?"
"One of the people at this party is apparently not what he or she purports to be," the Agent says, handing it over: "They're willing to give us the goods. They say they'll give us the address, and people, and plan, provided we let them squeak away and hand over-"
"Two and a half million dollars?" Richter finishes: "Who the !@#$ has that kind of money lying around?"
"We can, in an instant."
"Well, SPYGOD was a billionaire, sir. When this happened, we froze all his funds, which were quite substantial. He had quite a nest egg saved up, all in all. Really good portfolio for someone who spent his day shooting at desks and-"
"Maybe you shouldn't be singing your former boss' praises right now, son."
"Oh, he isn't my boss, sir," the Agent says: "He never was. I got transferred in from Secret Service a couple weeks back."
"Oh? I wasn't aware of that?"
"Absolutely, sir. All the Agents who wouldn't get with the program, or turned out to be too loyal to him? They're gone. Everyone there now is either someone who never worked under him, or never liked him to begin with, or got sick after what happened and want to make up for their part in it."
"So I can count on the COMPANY to do what's necessary to bring him in?"
"Absolutely, sir," the Agent says: "So what do you say we unfreeze a couple million and bag us an assassin?"
* * *
After dinner, and the explaining of The Plan -- OPERATION CRUCIFIJO, of course -- SPYGOD decides to take a drink and a smoke out on the veranda. The late night is warm and balmy, and the moon is lovely in the sky.
"I wished to apologize for my behavior during dinner," Dr. Krwi says, coming up behind him: "I have many habits I have accumulated over the years. They keep me alive, but not always polite."
"It's okay, Thurston," SPYGOD says, offering him a smoke, which the old man politely declines: "I did kind of !@#$ing spring that on everyone."
"Perhaps next time we can have cannoli for dessert instead of the undead?"
"I'll take it under advisement. I do a mean tiramisu, too, but the secret's to make it nine parts booze to one part biscuit-"
"There is one other thing, if you will allow me," the old man interrupts: "I know you do not wish to speak of your... predicament...?"
SPYGOD shoots him a look that could break steel.
"So we will not. But given your current situation, I cannot help but wonder...."
"Spit it out, doc."
"A group this size? Even for such an arduous undertaking, I feel it is too large. It would not surprise me if there is not at least one traitor within it. Possibly two?"
SPYGOD looks at him, then smiles, and then looks up at the moon.
"That's precisely what I'm counting on, Thurston."
(SPYGOD is listening to Opportunities (Pet Shop Boys, Disco Remix) and having a hand-rolled Cuban cigar. Because he !@#$ing can.)