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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 have to do with lethal snakes? And what do lethal snakes, for that matter, concern of the US government?”

Spaceman surprised Shield by finally speaking up. He had been nursing a vodka and coke since arriving at the Bohemian Caverns and had said little, even less to Shield. Although it would be flattering to think otherwise, Marcus doubted his partner’s silence had anything to do with him. The inebriate was probably just hung-over. “We think Mr. Thulewaite is responsible for illegally importing these reptiles into the United States for the purpose of a controlled breeding program.”

“I’ll repeat, why does the US government care?”

“We should care because the venom from these animals are being used to create a ruthlessly obedient military force for use against our interests by a radical Anarchist organization,” said Marcus; uncomfortable with the party line.

LeHaze appeared unimpressed. “The Anti-Cerebrists.”

“Yes,” said Spaceman, between sips of his drink.

“I’ve spend the past year cataloguing all of the various threats facing this government, Peruvian Communists, radical Lebanonese nationalists, Quebecois Separatists…I’ve never once come across any memo about a group planning mass brain-washings.”

“Not brainwashing,” Marcus said. “That’s incorrect terminology. Brainwashing implies that certain politically incorrect thoughts are being expunged in favor of a new ideology. The AC’s favor complete mentality deletion. They seek a new human race free of the chains of thought and sentience.”

Spaceman put his drink down and frowned. “There’s some internal debate whether the ideal human intelligence would lie closer to an orangutan or a marmoset, but the intent is clear.”

LeHaze smirked. “Why on earth would they want that, seems like an oddly self-defeating ideology, wouldn’t you say? Do they have very stringent qualifications? If I was a simpleton, for example, would I be overqualified?”

“You don’t get it,” said Spaceman, not elaborating.

“What am I not getting? The Anti-Cerebrists, even if they do exist, are a joke.”

“Yes, but if they have a system to create hordes of brainless automatons, human robots, then they become a threat,” said Shield.

LeHaze sighed and reclined into her chair. “Fine, if this is what the NSA wants me to spend my time, babysitting you two, who am I to say otherwise?”

“That’s the spirit,” Spaceman said without irony.

Sometime later Marcus stepped out of the nightclub to find Spaceman waiting for him. The interrogator was just finishing his seventeenth or eighteenth cigarette.

“What’s the deal with LeHaze?”

“No choice,” Marcus said.

The Chief told him Section Starfire’s active agents were on a drug sting in California; they had to pull some strings to get another qualified agent involved.

“Didn’t she recruit you,” Spaceman asked flatly, apparently already knowing the truth but wanting to see if his partner would level with him.

Marcus nodded. “It’s complicated. She found me for the NSA but…”

“You didn’t have quite the required level of fascism.”

“Something like that.”

“None the less, our new friend did raise an interesting question.”


“Why does the NSA care about the AC’s?”

“Probably nothing,” Marcus admitted.

“So, it hasn’t occurred to you that NSA agreeing to joining our little snipe hunt probably has more to do with the agents involved in our mission than the mission itself?”

“I have no idea what you mean.”

Spaceman gestured with his cigarette at the braces covering Marcus’ hands. “This would be an excellent opportunity for poaching.”

Marcus had to admit Spaceman had a point. The bureaucratic turf wars were beginning to turn decisively against the Section. LBJ had never been a fan, but at least he was a Democrat and understood its use. There was writing on the wall that suggested the next administration would be reactionary in nature. The student movement had turned against institutional liberalism and Hubert Humphrey was handicapped by his own connection to LBJ’s blunders. If the plutocrats returned to the White House, the Section could return to the bad old days of Truman. If the NSA wanted to donate one of their crypto analysts to the cause, let them. She wasn’t going to get in the way.

“So this is it,” Spaceman stubbed his cigarette out. “Us, LeHaze and the desk jockey you’re meeting tomorrow.”

“We do have one more agent,” Marcus pulled out his own pack. “We’re meeting her in Dallas.”

“I don’t think so.”

Shield allowed himself a long, cold appraisal of the man before him. “You don’t think so what?”

Spaceman smiled “I think I’ll leave you the pleasure of meeting Agent D. I’m going to leave tomorrow on a red-eye and set up a safe house.”

“Do you know Agent D?”

“Not her, but I met her predecessor. Charming guy. Nearly collapsed a house on me after we got into a disagreement over by-laws.”

Marcus lit his cigarette. “I can’t imagine how that could happen.”

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Link to First Chapter


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