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Chapter XV

The inside of the Spiny Toad was a poorly lit haze of beer signs, sweaty back-lit faces and pool cues held like ceremonial spears. Agent Shield wound his way through the locals, careful not to make waves. Melissa did not help him in this. She had done something in the car, thrown some kind of switch. The men in the tavern watched her pass with keen intensity. He followed at enough distance to make sure the interest was casual, not professional.

Shield set up station at the far end of the bar. The bartender, a whiskered, half-bald man cowboy set down two trays of peanuts and waited expectantly.

“What do you have on draft?” asked Shield.

“Beer,” said the bartender and if he meant this as a joke, his face betrayed no sign.

“The local beer then.”

He nodded hesitantly, as though Shield had offered to repaint his house. “You won’t like it.”

“Why, because it’s strong?”

“No, because it tastes like piss. We have some…

Chapter XIV

Frankie held up a folder of Melvin Lain and tried to believe in him. 

Melvin was a new identity, not too storied, consisting of a folder only a few documents thick. There were suggestions on make-up and accent, sketches of personal past, and vast areas left to the ingenuity of the agent. Virgin territory.

Well, Frankie thought to himself, Melvin is supposed to be wealthy so let’s go about making him look the part. He put a few tailored suits together on the bed and mixed around bow ties, cummerbunds, and cufflinks until he had something that looked so bland and dismal it had to have cost a million bucks. He’d be made the instant he put on anything that didn’t belong on him; Melvin was nouveau riche, a Detroit technocrat with ambitions of joining the jet set. He wasn’t going to “get it” yet.

He made sure the suit almost fit him but the glasses he chose were unfashionably thick and didn’t match the shape of his face. He exfoliated his hands and applied liberal amounts of moisturizer. In …

Chapter XIII

“It will not doubt be a relief to you, Mr. Duncan, that your wife is nearly finished.” Agent LeHaze, now Mrs. Duncan, applied the last touch of mascara to her eyelashes and pulled back from the vanity. Marcus glanced over, aware they were running behind but determined not to show it. He had finally gotten word from D and they would need to rush to meet the rendez-vous.

Tugging at the cummerbund, Shield grimaced. “Oodles.”

LeHaze had been fidgeting with her makeup and dress all night in preparation for going out. Shield didn’t quite see what the big deal was. They were meeting Agent D at the Spiny Toad, a little roadhouse just inside the town limits. Agent D had flown into Dallas last night, she was liable to be exhausted.

“The plan,” he said, to fill the room with a sound other than female agent’s pacing, “Is to meet her at the rendezvous point, establish mission parameters and follow first contact procedures. There should be no complications. This is…

Chapter XII

The touchdown in Dallas went without incident. Equally unproblematic was the trip south by government vehicle to Waco. The town was uncharming, reminding Marcus of all the dusty locales he had tried to forget over the years, including his own benighted hometown in Upstate New York. Dull, self-satisfied types milling about in taverns and crisscrossing from the same dozen or so shops. People too ignorant to know what was being done in their name, too dumb to care.

Marcus drove to a better part of the town and pulled into a long driveway. Their destination was hid by a stand of old birch trees; an impressively ornate red mansion, done in an American Gothic style with black trim and a battalion of statuary dotting the lawn. A valet assumed responsibility for their ride and luggage, while the three of them, Marcus, Frankie, LeHaze, headed into the interior of the Crimson Elephant Courtyard.

The inside was no less imposing. Every square inch of wall was either covered …

Chapter XI

Frankie leaned against the walls of the elevator, his heart rate returning to an even thrum. By the time the doors opened, he was back to copacetic, ready to face the world.

Mullihan’s cavernous underground garage was filled with domestic sedans, in the standard browns, blues, and greys. His own vehicle stood in a distant corner, a spot purposely chosen as far from the entering and exiting traffic as possible.

Frankie didn’t drive a sedan. He drove a red Shelby Cobra, with white exhaust pipes nestled low along its frame. He loved this car – considered it one of the truly great masterpieces of human creation. The Cobra could roar from 0 to 60 in the span of a few heart beats and take curves like it was on rails. Put it on a ramp and gun the engine, Frankie figured he had a better than even chance to beat Apollo to the moon.

Even as his footsteps echoed back to him, his smile faded though. A figure stepped from behind a concrete pillar, and even though she wore a wh…

Chapter X

The basement of the Mullihan Building was a byzantine collection of narrow passageways, cramped rooms and crowded storage lockers. The lighting consisted of flickering, harsh fluorescents and the occasional contraband lamp. The corporate culture of Section Starfire was notable in the staid and proper world of Federal bureaucracy. The agency recruited almost solely on the basis of idealistic political fervor. The agency itself had been created as a rear-guard action during the first tumultuous 100 days of the Roosevelt administration. FDR was concerned that his attempt to rescue capitalism from itself would attract leftist resistance. Bringing his worst critics into the political process would go a long way to preventing the failure of the New Deal. The SSF were active throughout the later part of the decade in investigating reactionaries, militant fundamentalists, and Charles Lindbergh. With World War II, their sphere of action became increasingly subsumed by the OSS, the father of th…

Chapter IX

Shield sat in his chair, a French 75 in front of him, each stroke of the kick drum setting up a ripple in the center of the wide glass. The music from the Ramsey Lewis trio was not so loud it obliterated conversation, but loud enough to dissuade eavesdroppers. That was why Marcus had chosen the spot for meeting the first name on the Chief’s list.

Liaison Melissa. LeHaze powerfully exemplified the advantages of ambitions and high-impact paramilitary training. Her face was strong, with a long thin jaw, a sharply slanting nose and eyes the color of November drizzle. She had a sober, measured manner and a curl to her smile that could cause stage one hypertension.

“I fail to understand why we are following this lead?” her fingers quickly leafed through the mission briefing. Her rifling paused over the photo of Gunther Thulewaite, an unimpressive, sour-faced individual with a severely reduced hairline. “This man? The file says he’s a rare animal trader. What does this …

Chapter VIII

The Chief flipped through Duchampski’s folder, pulling out photographs, inspecting each with faint distaste. Once or twice he sighed, removed a piece of paper and threw it into a waste bin.

“I’m not surprised you decided to enlist Dr. Duchampski, Spaceman, but you are of course aware of his reputation?”

“I’m aware,” said Spaceman, a hot towel draped across his forehead.

Agent Shield stood in the rear of Meeting Room Indigo, his arms crossed, feeling superfluous. The information from the herpetologist was cryptic, contradictory in places. Each paper contained a series of crude pencil drawings, a few mathematical formula and a list of letters arranged in two columns. It was like no code system he was aware of and yet the Chief and Spaceman read it with apparent ease.  After two years as an active agent, Shield saw how little he truly understood about the organization he fought for.

“Well, baby, it was the right thing to do,” said the Chief finally, setting both folders aside. Spaceman p…

Chapter VII

Dr. Duchampski had quick hands, full eyebrows and a curved, large pored nose that drooped over his upper lip like some sort of proboscis. His small round glasses were balanced about half way down this extraordinary appendage, constantly threatening to spill off his face.

“Yes, yes, Section Starfire, I would love to help you,” he said. “Love to help as much as I can. How can I help?”

“We have a sample of a liquid that…”


“That you want me to identify. Yes, I know that. I knew that from the second you knocked my door.”

“Alright then,” Marcus said. “So, what is it?”

The old man took the vial Spaceman had not destroyed and held it up to the light, his hand trembling. The amber liquid glittered. He scrunched his impressive eyebrows together and snorted once.

“I don’t like this,” he said. “Don’t like this at all.”

Spaceman glanced over, nervous, “How so?”

Dr. Duchampski gazed curiously at Spaceman, who up to this moment had not made a single sound in the herpetologist’s office. After a long, awkward…

Chapter VI

The two agents walked from their car to the rear entrance of the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. Marcus flashed his badge at the guard moving to intercept them and barely slowed down as the doors swung open.

“It’s this way” Spaceman said, leading them between innumerable shelves of biological specimens. The occasional work bench bore the scattered remains of animals or primitive or not-so-primitive hominids.

“You’re strangely quiet,” Spaceman observed.

“I don’t have anything much to say right at this moment.”

“You’re sore about what happened in the meeting.”

Shield wheeled around. “I just got chewed out by the chief for no good goddamn reason about a problem you did your best to create! Damn right I’m sore.”

An attendant type leaned out from between the next tier of bookshelves and shushed them. Shield almost drew his service pistol right then and there.
“Look, I’m not sure why the chief assigned us to wo…