Saturday, March 31, 2012

3/5/12 - This Is the Name of the Game

As much as I hate Havana (and boy, do I ever !@#$ing hate Havana) I have to be honest: it does have a marvelous !@#$ing sunrise.

I slipped into the Gulf just after dawn, this morning, and came back out again just before Noon. I must have swam halfway to Miami and back, ignoring the warning buoys and evading the sorry coastal patrol that Comrade Fidel uses to keep people from leaving his island paradise.

(It helps when you don't have to breathe all that often.)

What was I doing? Well, son, you remember what I'm here for, and just make some educated guesses. It's enough to know I made it there and back, isn't it?

The beachside hotel we're staying at is cheap, blissfully anonymous, and has a decent chunk of sand and surf associated with it. The food's not great, but it's close to a few decent, cheap places that'll take care of that little problem. And, best of all, the owner's a scumbag I have !@#$ing afraid for his life, which means nothing we do will be reported to anyone.

The bad news? Well, you'll note I just referred to the manager as a scumbag. Part of that scumbagginess is his willing to cater to certain types of Continental scum, most notably the sort who are interested in Havana's sleazier side attractions.

You know the kind I'm talking about. The lobby is peppered with young girls dressed much older than they should be, all hanging out close to the hotel's disaster of a restaurant. And there's no question what they're doing there.

When I say young, son, I'm not being generous. One of them was 13 if she was a day. And if you point this out to the fat greasy stain of a front desk manager, he waves a hand and gives you that look.

You know that look. The one that says "I can't be bothered to care."

Ah, Havana. I could spend years here, exploring every single !@#$ing crack and corner, and never ever fully list all the things I !@#$ing hate about this place.

No, really, son. This place is a !@#$hole. It was a !@#$hole before the revolution, when the mob was running it. It was a lethal !@#$hole during and after the revolution. And it's a !@#$hole now, too, only a little less deadly.

I can see why the Eurotrash like it, though. There's a sense of timelessness brought on by invisible poverty and a lack of civic pride. If you're European and you got money, and you want to get on a plane for vacation, you go to Monaco or Dubai. If you don't, there's places like Cuba, where nice decor, Spanish charm, and the sort of well-policed streets that only a fascist state can provide meets travel on the cheap.

Other than the food and beer, which can be pretty !@#$ good, I'd really rather be somewhere else. But then we're not here for the tourism, are we? No we are not. We are here to hide the !@#$ out while the plan comes together.

A plan that's hit some bumps... at least so the others think.

No, son. Things are not quite what they seem, right now. And, no, I'm not going to !@#$ing give it all away. Just be patient and all will eventually make itself clear.

I'm having a beer on my room's veranda, right now, watching the Sun come down. The doc's up in his room, reading his Bible and freaking the !@#$ out after yesterday. Chinmoku and Whisper are in her room, down the hall, talking about certain things while communicating other things in what is most likely sign language.

(We had a separate discussion, the three of us, about certain things when I got back from my swim. To say it changes some things is a !@#$ing understatement. So they have lots to talk about.)

Ernest? He's in my bathtub, full of Pabst and tied up. Every so often I go in there, yank the gag out of his mouth, and make him explain the plan to me. If he forgets something I put a match out between his toes. He's doing a super job of remembering, I have to say.

That leaves Gilligan. Otherwise known as Crazyface.

He's sitting in his room, looking at the mask. Listening to it whisper to him. Show him things.

Terrible, beautiful things.

He's been sick about three times today, thinking about all the horrible things he did back at my place in Key West. And every time he throws up he thinks about how badly he wants to put the !@#$ing thing back on and do it again.

It's like a drug, really. Just like !@#$ing heroin. You know it's going to make you jumpy, sweaty, sick, unable to eat, limp as a dead fish, and likely to blow a half ton of liquid !@#$ out your ass. But once you've got that nasty, slimy monkey wormed into you like a bot fly, you'll suffer all !@#$ and more just to get the bliss that the rush brings you.

That's where he's at, right now: staring at his fix and counting the seconds until he can be allowed to have it.

He's strong enough to wait until tomorrow. I know that, or I wouldn't have picked him for the mission. Or at least that's what I keep !@#$ing telling myself, and hoping it's true.

For all our sakes, he has to hold on.

And while I listen in on him, down there, whispering to his mask and remembering all the good, bloody times they've had together, I think about how much of what I do is all about keeping people like him from happening.

You know about the water, by now, but I'm talking about something different. I'm talking about what happens when ordinary humans get their hands on something horrifically !@#$ing powerful that has no business being seen by us, let alone used.

I mean, look at The Chamber. !@#$ing supernazis get their hands on that thing, and next thing you know they're stripmining it for alien tech. Then we wind up with sick regimes of cloning and a mommy shoggoth.

There's the Object, too. I have the bad feeling that's about to blow up in our faces, soon, if it hasn't already.

As for me, well, there's The Chandra Eye. I had no real !@#$ing idea what it would do to me when I put it in, except that I'd be using it to save the world. And I did, but good !@#$ing Jesus what has it done to me? Every time I turn around I find out I have some new !@#$ing superpower that I don't know what to do with, yet.

And immortality. Wrap your head around that for a minute, son. I'm going to live forever, unless some !@#$ing schmuck finds a way to actually kill me. Never grow any older. Lose all my friends and lovers, and family if I ever have any.

And yeah, I can keep making more friends and family, but once you've seen your children grow old and die, and then your !@#$ing grandchildren do the same thing, it puts you off the whole !@#$ing idea.

(Not that I know from personal experience. But I have a few long-lived friends, and got to hold their hands and cry with them when it happened. You have no idea how bad that was.)

But what happens if I take it out? What will they do with it? And by "they" I mean scientists and politicians, not to mention any crazy !@#$hole who wants to break into whatever vault they throw it into and take it for themselves.

This is the problem, you see. It's like with nukes or biological weapons. Once you make them, you can't unmake them. You're stuck with them. You have to learn to live with them.

And that means you have to do a whole lot of !@#$ work making sure that people who don't deserve them don't get their hands on them. That's a lot of the COMPANY's remit, right there. Making sure that objects that can turn an ordinary person into a strategic talent don't get handed out like candy to any freak who happens to find them lying around.

Our friend in the room down the way being a case in point. Poor guy was normal, near as anyone could tell. Just another schlub who did his job, loved his wife, brought home the bacon. Might have had 1.5 kids and a dog with a suitably onomotopoeic name for all we know.

(Maybe a lazily evil cat with a deceptively childish handle, not unlike yours truly.)

But then he was in the wrong place at the right time, and the mask found him. Now... well, it's a good day when we can keep him from putting it on. And it's also a good day when we can get him to put it on just long enough to do what we need him to do, and then get him to take it back off again before he kills the wrong people by accident on purpose.

Containment, pure and simple. We try and give a purpose to people we can reason with, and either put controls on the people that aren't inclined to play along, or lock them down until they'll play, or we find a way to control them. Sometimes that never happens, and we've got the prisons to back it up.

That's what this mission is really all about, son. Finding something that couldn't play along, and getting it into the hands of the people who need it. That and a few other, strategic issues... but we'll deal with them when they happen, day after tomorrow.

That leaves me just eight days to deal with this Ides of March !@#$. Cutting it pretty tight, really. But I can do it. I'm positive I can do this.

As long as everyone else plays their part, and knows their cues.

Speaking of which, I think the person I hired to deal with the little problem downstairs just pulled up out front. Let's see if he leaves a few of the Johns living or gets cute. I can never tell with this guy.

(SPYGOD is listening to Single-Bilingual (Pet Shop Boys) and having a Bucanero Max)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

3/4/12 - And in the Distance a Police Car - Pt. 2

Running down Greene St., SPYGOD times how long he can leave the button off before every single bullet in the world comes flying right at him. The sane answer is "five seconds ago, you dumb !@#$," but he doesn't listen to it.

He needs to buy Chinmoku and Whispers some more time to get to the rendezvous point, but at the same time he has to extract the rest of the team from his house on Emma St. ASAFP. Saying this is going to be really !@#$ing tricky is a little like saying he's in a little trouble with the law, right now.

But it wouldn't be the first time he's had to improvise on the run and under fire, now would it?

The promised bullets start whistling past his ears, except they're not bullets. They're flechettes -- super-heated ones at that. Just like the ones that GORGON was firing at him, back in West Papua, what seems a lifetime ago now.

A few more pieces come together in the rotating file he calls "!@#$. My. Life."  But by then he's two and a half blocks into an epic sprint and not slowing the !@#$ down for anyone, let alone to do the one thing he told his people not to do. Especially since they're not trying to kill him, but simply herd him -- otherwise he'd probably be dead by now.

His plan is to outrun the snipers, get someplace clear, and call in the support he's been holding back on. But all that changes once he sees who they've brought in to deal with him.

She walks out into middle of the street, halfway down the last block. She doesn't have the whole of her old costume on, but he'd remember those cheekbones anywhere. He'd say he remembered her smile, too, but she's not smiling.

Mrs. Liberty stands there, well in advance of a very large group of well-armored COMPANY Agents, standing in a line just where Greene curves and becomes Elizabeth. All of them are armed with the finest non-lethal capture ordinance a near-endless triple-black budget can buy: Electrowebshooters, mind-tasers, cocoon bombs, and a couple Zeno pistols.

That's the kicker, right there. He might be able to shrug off a few of those other things, but once the ZPs come into play he'll be helpless -- trapped by theoretical physics and unable to run away. He'll be piled on before he can really get back up to speed.

And then it's either kill or die.

The flechettes stop whistling past as he approaches her. They don't seem to want to kill her by accident. That's a good sign, though not entirely reassuring.

"Good to see you again, Liberty," he says, slowing down just a little and putting his gun away: "Caught your act on FOX. Sorry they !@#$ing put you through that."

"I'm sorry, too," Mrs. Liberty says, hefting a very large weapon that even SPYGOD has never seen, before: "(REDACTED), please. You have to come back with us."

"I can't," he says, slowly jogging towards her: "I appreciate that you trust me, (REDACTED), but I can't."

"Why not? For God's sake, just come back and explain what happened. I know there has to be some kind of explanation for this."

"Does there?" he asks, holding up his hands, though not in surrender: "Maybe they're right. Maybe I just cracked up when I got fired. Maybe I got bought out or blackmailed. Or maybe I got tired of taking that sniveling, liberal !@#$'s orders, forced the issue, and killed him after he fired me. There's a million different theories. Pick one."

"I don't buy any of them," she says, aiming the gun at his face and turning it on. It whines strangely and lights up with alternating green and orange lights.

"Then what do you think?"

"I think it's a good thing no one's listening into our conversation right now, (REDACTED)," she says, smiling as she pats the gun: "So you could tell me what's going on, right?"

He looks at her for a moment, and just smiles. She sighs, and smiles back, nodding.

Then he reaches forward, faster than anyone can see, and slugs her in the temple. She goes down unconscious, falling to the road in a graceless heap.

He grabs the weapon she was going to use on him and fires it at the Agents down the way. A scattered, wide, chattering beam of green and orange light shoots out the business end, and every single Agent who gets hit with it falls over, twitching and moaning as they drop.

"Hmmm," he notes: "They finally got this !@#$er working, huh?"

Another salvo of flechettes head his way. This time they're not trying to herd him -- they're trying to !@#$ing kill him. Fair enough, but they're going to have to get a bead on him, first.

He hits a few buttons on the gun and slings it over his shoulder. Then he grabs Mrs. Liberty and flings her back down the street, towards the Agents he just knocked out.

Then he runs into a nearby store, which he's used a couple times since he's been down here. It's the world-famous Peppers of Key West, which boasts an impressive collection of hot sauces from all around the world.

A COMPANY Agent in plainclothes is inside, by the door, keeping employees and customers unlucky enough to have been out today inside, where it's presumably safe. SPYGOD does not recognize him, and therefore does not feel the least bit bad when he clocks him so hard his jaw breaks into at least four pieces. His teeth hit the ground just before he does.

"If you have asthma, you need to !@#$ing leave, now," SPYGOD announces, going for the locked vault on the wall. The one where they keep the "weapons grade" hot sauces: stuff too noxiously powerful -- and ridiculously expensive -- to have out on the floor.

"Sir, please!" one of the staff protests: "That bottle's sixteen million Scoville Units! We'll have to evacuate the entire block!"

"Well, better start running, then?" SPYGOD says, smashing the glass and grabbing the tall, sinister looking bottle. He grins like a mad bomber, and the guests and staff run like !@#$ out the back.

The gun has been ticking towards a nasty explosion since he changed the power differentials, and is just about to blow. He can hear the shooters converging on his position, and picks up the scrambled chatter between them. They have no orders to let him live, now.

Okay, then.

He drops the bottle into the barrel of the gun. Then he wads it shut with some packing material. Then he heaves it towards the front of the store, and, holding his breath, ducks down behind the counter.

Putting his hands over his eyes, nose, and mouth, he sends a signal to the support. NOW. 

Then the explosion happens, and the world goes sideways.

* * *
Whisper is slinking along Bahama St. -- parallel to Duval, one block Northeast -- when she hears the first volley of loud shots along where SPYGOD was running. She ducks behind a tree and waits to see who reacts and who doesn't. Everyone seems to be stunned and shocked, so she figures she's out of the kill zone, at last.

She doesn't get careless, though. She freezes for a time, pretending to be one with the tree she's ducked behind. And when she starts moving again, she stays low and slinky.

Sloppy Joes was an adventure. Plainclothes Agents were waiting for them, and weren't shy about letting her know they'd been expecting her. Fortunately for her, when they followed her into the back, she had lots of things available to use as improvised weapons; fortunately for them, they were all non-lethal.

(SPYGOD did say no killing. And, after what happened to Gosheven, she was of no mind to cross him.)

After that, it was out the ceiling through the ductwork in the kitchen, over the rooftops, past the snipers, down a tree, and then onto the street. She'd been moving quietly since then, trying to avoid any detection whatsoever, and apparently succeeding.

Still, no cockiness. No hurry, either. Just one foot in front of the other like the entire world was !@#$ing mined. One foot in front of the other-

"You know, that is really impressive," a fellow decides to inform her, just as he loops an arm around her neck and puts a knife up to her eye: "I had no idea you were this good. I should have asked double my normal fee."

She says nothing, taking stock of the situation. She does not know this person, but he seems to know her. He's also not dressed for this kind of work -- a long, green greatcoat? WTF? -- and not well muscled or stocky, but with a strong grip.

A Strategic Talent, probably. Just her !@#$ing luck.

"See, there's two kinds of infiltration artists," the guy goes on: "The ones who think they're good, and the ones who are. And you are good, Whisper. You're very good. But not as good as me."

She still says nothing. There's ten ways she can maim him from this angle, and three ways to kill him, but each way will require her to sacrifice her eye.

It's a choice no sniper wants to make, and he obviously knows this.

"So let me explain what's going to happen, here," he says: "You and I are going to wait right here. The COMPANY is homing in on my signal and sending over Agents. You'll go with them, and... well, whatever happens after that point isn't my concern. I'm getting paid not to care, you understand-"

Then the explosion happens.

He tenses for just a second. She doesn't. Before he can come to grips with the change in situation, she's already moving to block his knife and turn the game around.

She decides on a quick elbow to the ribcage, right at the center of things. If you do it fast and hard enough, the cartilage can be rammed into the heart. Even if that doesn't kill your opponent, it'll puncture the pleural sac, and cause all kinds of pain, discomfort, and possible life-threatening conditions.

It's a special way to say "!@#$ you," she finds.

Unfortunately, his ribcage is made of sterner stuff. She doesn't quite break her elbow, but the pain and shock carry her forward, allowing her to turn around and get a better look at the man who threatened her eye.

"You?" she asks, remembering him from a few Interpol circulars. Long, straight black hair. Poisonous green eyes. Hooked nose.

"Me," he replies, tossing the knife from hand to hand: "And you know what? !@#$ my fee. I think I'm just going to kill you."

Whisper smiles and puts up her fists, ready to make him eat those words. But then she registers surprise at his surprise as his knife vanishes from his hand.

"I think there will be no killing today," Chinmoku announces, stepping out from behind the man: "Not from you, at least."

The man twists and goes to pull out another knife. Chinmoku reaches out with his hand and passes it through the man's chest and out the other side, as though he was not there. The assassin gasps, turns white, and falls down, mouth opening and closing like a dying goldfish.

"He will recover, in time," Chinmoku says, walking slowly and calmly away from him.

"What the !@#$ did you do?" Whisper asks, astounded.

"I showed him... the truth. It is not a thing to be taken lightly."

"Was that Hungry Ghost Kung Fu?” Whisper asks, astonished.

“No,” Chinmoku says, smiling slightly: “It is one of the many techniques they taught me, but it is not the technique, itself.”

“This is one of those things I just shouldn’t ask, isn’t it?” She says, and takes his continuing to smile as an affirmative.

“We should hurry to the other side of the island, as he suggested,” Chinmoku says: “Your would-be killer will face his demons. Hopefully he will learn something from them.”

“And if not?”

“Then when next he comes after you, he will be truly terrible to encounter.”

“!@#$ing great,” Whisper says, and, with her companion in crime by her side, decides to abandon stealth in favor of speed.

Not the safest play in the book by any means, but it’ll work for now.

* * *
SPYGOD holds his breath for a full ten minutes. When his skin doesn't sting so much, he opens his eyes, ever so carefully, and, not being blinded, decides to take a breath. When he doesn't fall over gasping for air, and decides the hot sauce has dispersed enough, and gets up from behind the counter.

The street outside is littered with Agents, all of whom are gasping and wheezing, even through their gas masks. He can only imagine that their eyes are screwed shut in pain, too. 

He picks up one of the flechette guns from a stricken Agent. Hefting it, and checking its weight, he comes to a nasty conclusion. It almost makes him rescind his own order, but he decides mercy would be a good thing, in spite of it all.

Instead, he grabs three, along with as many ammunition packs as he can get his hands on. You never know when they might come in handy...

Right about then, the cloak on his support drops. There is the rushing sound of alien engines, directly above him, and he smiles and waves as Lady Gilda appears, a cat wearing flight goggles at her controls.

"About !@#$ing time, Bee-Bee," he says, running up the Nazi UFO's waiting gangplank to get on board.

"Potselui mou zhopy," the cat hisses as SPYGOD takes over the driver's seat, going to cuddle with her beloved AK-47 now that she's done her job.

By the time she's fallen asleep, SPYGOD has already flown over to the chosen rendezvous point and collected Whisper and Chinmoku. She's about to complain about her lost luggage when he adjusts course for the house on Emma St.

"I got enough non-lethal ordinance on this ship to take care of most of the Agents," he explains: "But we may still have a fight on our hands. Hope you're up for it."

Chinmoku just smiles: "I am afraid you will be both positively and negatively surprised by what we find at your home."


"The ghosts have multiplied."

"Oh... oh !@#$," SPYGOD hisses, and steps on the gas. 

Sure enough, the house is a charnel mess. When they land, it's to hover above a back yard filled with the dead: scores of Agents sliced into dozens of pieces apiece, some of which are still warm and twitching. 

SPYGOD stomps down the gangplank and right into his house, clearly unhappy. What's inside it doesn't make him feel much better about things. The floor is simply littered with bodies, strewn with guts, and soaked in blood. They're stacked like cordwood in some areas, where they fell against some horrible, relentless foe.

Dr. Krwi is by the stairwell, standing watch over Ernest. He's as white as a sheet and popping heart medication, his hands shaking as he tries to get the pills into his mouth.

"I am so sorry," the man stammers: "I tried to keep your orders. I did. But..."

SPYGOD just nods, knowing what must have happened: "Where is he?"

"Not he," Dr. Krwi says: "It. My friend, what have you allied us with?"

"You know, I love what you've done with the place," Gilligan says, sauntering in from the dining room, kicking someone's head in front of him like a grotesque soccerball: "All the earth tones? Very prosaic. But next time you set up shop? I think you should go art deco."

"Just get in the flying saucer, please," SPYGOD says, not really sure what to say, right now, but hoping the man can still !@#$ing obey some orders. Thankfully, he does.

"What is he?" the doctor asks, hoping the man doesn't hear as he leaves the house.

"There's some theological debate about that,"  SPYGOD replies: "None of it is good."

* * *

The house comes apart very quickly, after that. Dr. Krwi wheels the vampire out, trying to keep him out of direct sunlight. Whisper retrieves everyone else's luggage and supplies. And, just before they head out, Chinmoku kneels down amongst the dead, silently working to send the unquiet ones amongst their number on their way. 

He might not be able to grant them absolution or revenge, but at least he can point them in the way they should go.

"This could have gone a lot better," Whisper says to SPYGOD, once they're all on board the UFO and the cloak's been put back up: "What the !@#$ happened down there?"

"We were late getting back to base," SPYGOD says, punching in coordinates and setting course for Cuba: "And while we were dawdling, He came out."

"That's my him he's talking about," Gilligan says from where he sits in the corner, examining his "soccerball": "Sorry about that. I'd say it won't happen again, but... well..."

And there is silence in the Lady Gilda, interrupted only by the cat's snoring.

(SPYGOD is listening to Suburbia - The Full Horror (Pet Shop Boys) and hitting the black heroin to stay awake)


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

3/4/12 - And in the Distance a Police Car - Pt. 1

The first sign that something's gone pear-shaped is the silence.

Key West normally isn't all that quiet. There's always the sound of your neighbors talking, cars and buses puttering along the streets, and -- of course -- the ever-present tourists, drunk or sober. Birds whirling overhead. The tropical winds.


But sometime around Noon, after a long, leisurely shower and some time to digest the outline of the plan they discussed last night, Dr. Krwi becomes pointedly aware that he's not hearing anywhere as much background noise as he was, yesterday.

Of course, it is Sunday. He did hear church bells, earlier, when he started to stir. Maybe there are more good Christian people in this town than his earlier observations would have indicated.

But when it becomes apparent he hasn't heard a car go by in a half an hour, and hasn't seen a single pedestrian walking along in that time, he knows something is seriously awry.

He crosses the hall to Gilligan's room. The mad fellow went to bed early, last night, and hasn't stirred, since. Hopefully he's awake in there -- Krwi would hate to go in and find him doing something unseemly and insane.

"Gilligan, are you awake?"

"I don't sleep," the man says: "Sleep is for the dead."

"And you're not dead, yet."

"Ask my pathologist. What's up, doc?"

"I wonder if you might.... have an opinion on the coconuts," he says through the closed door, cursing the clumsy phrases they've been forced to use thus far.

"The windows are lined, Thurston," the man: "The walls are proofed. This place is a void. They can't bug us or hear us."

"Then why are we speaking in code, here?"

"Practice makes perfect."

"I see. Well, perhaps you could lend me your opinion as to our current security status? I have not heard anything for the last half an hour-"

"They've been watching us an hour before that, Doc," Gilligan says: "I give them between ten and fifteen minutes before they come in."

Dr. Kwri starts, but then gets control of himself. Fighting living people. It's been a while.

"We have a problem, then," the old man says: "We are divided. The others went out to do some shopping or run errands."

"So it's just the Millionaire and the Lovable Screwup to watch the Minnow, huh?" Gilligan laughs, and from the creaks Dr. Krwi can hear, possibly getting up off the bed: "Too bad we have a handicap."

"What's that?"

"I just called SPYGOD to tell him. He says he's working on it. But we are not, I repeat, not to engage with lethal force."

"I do not usually kill the living," the old man says, proud of that fact.

"Well, that's a !@#$ing problem," Gilligan says, rattling around in the room: "Because all he does is kill. Which means you're going to have to carry it for him, Doc."


"Him," the man says, pulling open the door to reveal that he's as naked as !@#$: "I'm not dressed, you see."

"'Clothes make the man?'" Kwri asks, trying to avoid looking at the many scars -- obviously self-inflicted -- on the man's body.

"Not a man," Gilligan says, eyes burning with terrible truth: "Fenris Wolf. World Serpent. Seven Handed Eater of Suns. Last Survivor of a Dying Planet. Last God from the Land of Black Mirrors. All here. All in me."

"Then we had better get ready for a siege," the doctor says, walking away from the man and his dangerous and insane eyes: "And put on some pants, will you? I do not think you will want them to taser you there."

"Only way I can even get off these days..." Gilligan chuckles, looking for the clothes he wore yesterday. No sense getting new ones messed up.

Especially since they won't be using tasers, this time. 

* * *

"So, is there any point to this conch chowder at all?" Chinmoku asks, hands folded behind his back as he strolls up Duval street with Gosheven and Whisper, just three people amongst a lot of tourists and Sunday morning strollers: "I have had three bowls this day from three different places. None of them are what might be called of interest."

"Honey, it's !@#$," Gosheven says, letting his hands do most of the talking, as always: "It's here, it's edible, and you can cook it up, but it ain't like clams or nothing. It's just tasteless protein."

"Yeah, well, so's what you were eating this morning," Whisper says, looking over her shoulder. Something is unnerving her.

"What are you talking about, girl?"

"That guy you had to meet? Don't tell me you didn't !@#$ him."

"Oh, !@#$. That's just business. Because, that protein's salty. You oughta know that."

"Not lately," she mutters, looking over her other shoulder. Something is not right, here. The noise coming from Sloppy Joes, coming up on their right, makes it hard to tell, but still...

"We have been watched since we left the last store," Chinmoku says: "Four men close behind us, four further up ahead. Many more teams, elsewhere, watching."

"How do you know that?" Gosheven asks, looking around.

"The ghosts are chatty, today," he replies: "It would be best if we pretended we did not realize something was wrong, and that we were merely lost."

"Right," Whisper says, pulling out the cheap-!@#$ map the wino tried to sell her, six blocks and two hours ago: "Duval and Greene. We're running out of road to stroll up and lose ourselves in, and way too far from the Minnow to leg it back there."

"Perhaps you should call the Skipper and inform him that we have a problem, Mary Ann," Chinmoku says.

"The Skipper knows already," a man announces, moving in from their left and looking like he's checking the time: "They're back at the Minnow, too. This is going to make things interesting."

"Oh my !@#$ing God," Gosheven says, knowing it's SPYGOD, even if he can't quite see that it is: "How did they...? This soon? How?"

"You tell me," SPYGOD says, and then shoots the man right in the head.

Gosheven falls down, brains flopping all over a nearby wall and the pavement behind him. Neither Whisper nor Chinmoku so much as gasp, but the tourists scream and start to run for cover.

"You will, of course, not explain later," Chinmoku says, unfolding his hands from behind his back.

"Get to the other side of the Island," SPYGOD says: "I'll meet you there. Do not !@#$ing kill any of them. They might not be my people, but they're our people."

Whisper nods, and lopes into Sloppy Joes, seeking cover in anonymity. Chinmoku calmly walks across the street, moving between stopped cars and getting ready for the inevitable confrontation.

And SPYGOD twists his button, revealing himself to all.

"Key West? Where's the !@#$ing party at?" he asks, shooting a few more times into the sky, and then booking down Greene st as fast as his fine, gay legs will take him.

* * *

The first Agent through the back door at the house on Emma St. is typical of the new breed of COMPANY Agent.

He's Brett McKenzie, a 30-something member of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (still just "ATF," thank you very much). A week after the President was assassinated, he received word that he and many other "gateknockers" were being transferred to the beleaguered Agency, to take up jobs being vacated by those no longer willing, or cleared, to serve in that highly-secure capacity. And, since then, he and a number of other Agents from various other Agencies have been trying to get the runaway organization back under control.

One can only imagine his shock and pleasant surprise at learning, less than a few hours ago, that he was going to be in a group tasked with taking down Public Enemy #1, himself. Having never been a fan of Superheroes in general, the idea that he could be the one to plant the !@#$er in the ground -- or at least a jail cell, as he was supposed to be immortal and !@#$ -- was like icing on top of the really !@#$ good cake of being feted and congratulated by a grateful nation.

To be fair, he was warned. He was told that SPYGOD was amazingly dangerous. He was told that he had numerous, very dangerous individuals along with him, in or around this house. He was told that, to be truthful, they were going to be footsoldiers and distractions while much more powerful assets dealt with SPYGOD, himself. They might get one of his helpers, maybe, but the main target should be left up to professionals.

(!@#$ing Superheroes, in other words.)

But the thought of bagging the man has all but consumed him -- and all his fellows, for that matter. They might settle for one of his pet freaks, but they all want to see SPYGOD's eyepatched kisser right in front of the really big, really dangerous gun they're getting to use on this mission. They had no idea weapons like this even !@#$ing existed, but here they all are, handling something from one of those sci-fi RPGs they play on the Xbox after hours.

(Immortal, huh? Let's see how !@#$ing immortal SPYGOD is when a bazillion rounds of high-tech, white-hot flechetes are going through his nasal cavity at a rate too high to even think about.)

Which is why Brett McKenzie, along with everyone behind him at the back door, and quite a few people at the front, are going to be spending a lot of time in a nearby hospital. Overconfidence causes poor attention, poor attention means missing !@#$, and missing !@#$ means that !@#$ happens.

Usually to you.

Brett McKenzie's personal brand of !@#$ involves a rube goldberg of rope, kitchen implements, high pressure hornet spray, and a cigarette lighter. He doesn't realize the lit spraycan sproinging towards his face is a bomb until it goes off and catches him on fire. And while he's going down, screaming for help and gagging on bugkiller, he doesn't quite understand that the whirling, flashing thing he's seeing isn't a cavalcade of stars, but rather a silver blade, being quickly and expertly used to unhand his fellow Agents, and puncture key points of their armor.

Dr. Krwi says he's sorry to each and every man he maims here, today. They'll live, though, provided they're smart enough to apply direct pressure to the stump. And anyone dumb enough to try and ignore the pain and keep fighting will probably bleed out of the little holes he made in their underarms as a follow-up.

There's a lot of splashing and panic coming from the front door, or what's left of it. The porch was specially weighted to collapse if too many people were on it. The pool of waiting water hasn't been cleaned in at least two decades, to hear SPYGOD tell it, and no one in full riot armor is going to be able to float so well.

"That would be the end of the first wave," he says, backing into the dining room where Gilligan is waiting, now fully dressed and sitting in a chair, sweating profusely. In his hands is what looks like a silver facemask, with a curious set of grooves on the front. They make a pattern that almost looks like a smiley face, and he's done nothing but stare at it since he got down here.

"We need to leave, old man," he says: "If you want them alive, we need to run."

"We cannot," Krwi says: "We must stay here and protect the ipier. Without him, the plan is nothing."

"Then they'd better get here !@#$ing quick, Preacherman" the madman replies, looking up: "I feel the devil knocking at my door."

(SPYGOD is listening to Suburbia (Pet Shop Boys) and drinking the wind as he runs for cover)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

3/3/12 - If You've Got The Information, I Have Got the Crime - pt 2

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."

"And now?"

"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.)

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)