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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 moment, the doctor turned back to Agent Shield.

“This is a naturally occurring toxin that I last saw in 1953 in the jungles of Burma. This is liquid is the distilled venom of the notorious Burmese Tiger Snake.”

Agent Shield glanced at Spaceman. Spaceman was studying his fingernails.
“What is the nature of the toxin?”

“Bizarre, absolutely unique,” said the herpetologist. “There are certain species that have the ability to vary the potency of their venom, or that produce a toxin with both hemolytic and neurological effects. The Burmese Tiger Snake is like a slithering pharmacy, able to modulate its venom’s potency along both axes. I have not heard of any recent scholarship on this issue but I was one of the first Westerners to actually see this animal and the mayhem it creates.”

Needing little prompting, Dr. Duchampski launched into his tale of a year-long trek through the deepest realms of the Burmese rainforest. He had joined the expedition fresh out of grad school, to search for new zoological specimens for the Smithsonian. His team found monkeys, arachnids, and reptiles never before known to science, but grew increasingly fascinated with the rumors they heard from villages of a most unusual snake. The experienced scientists on the expedition decided the creature couldn’t be countenanced by science. The locals described a snake of between one and three meters in length with ability to chemically lobotomize its victims. Their reports contradicted several respected herpetological theories.

Dr. Duchampski, however, grew convinced the stories had some basis in fact and won approval for a side project to press farther into the jungle. After only two months they found a place recently overrun by the creatures. The herpetologist was able to examine some of the surviving victims and found men rendered feeble and drooling, forced to depend on the care of their relatives for the rest of their lives. He left the jungle shaken, no less so for the unmistakable sense he had that the Tiger Snakes actively avoided discovery. The only specimen he could return was rotted and unconvincing. The Tiger Snake remained an apocryphal footnote to their expedition.

“Why are they called Tiger Snakes?” Shield asked. “Are they striped like Tigers?”

Dr. Duchampski stared at the agent like he had suggested they were named after his grandmother. “No, they are called Tiger Snakes because they are fierce like tigers. You have simply no idea of their malevolent rapacity. They are as close to pure evil as I will allow myself to describe the product of natural evolution. These snakes were seen going out of their way to cause misery. Enfeeble one village’s best hunter one week after spoiling their crops. Killing an infant while cradled in their sleeping mother’s arms. After two months I grew convinced they were watching us, studying us even as we studied them.”
Agent Shield, despite himself, felt a shudder run down the length of his back.

“They are pure, unmitigated evil and I say that as a man who has dedicated his life to the objective scientific study of snakes and reptiles.”

Dr. Duchampski slid his eyes over to rest on the troubled, nervous features of Spaceman. “The only thing I could possibly detest more than these animals is the man who once betrayed me in North Africa. A man who stole my daughter’s heart and then abandoned her to the slums of Casablanca.”

“Why in God’s name were you in North Africa?” Spaceman’s eyes and mouth twitched uncontrollably. “Horrible place, full of sand, scorpions, and dirty little alleyways.”

“You speak like someone who’s been there once or twice,” said Dr. Duchampski, his face lined with suspicion.

Hoping to avert the impending train-wreck, Agent Shield interrupted. “If you hate these animals so much, then you can help us most by telling us how someone would go about harvesting Tiger Snake venom.”

With one last withering look at Spaceman, the herpetologist hefted an overstuffed folder and dropped into Shield’s arms.

“I hope it helps you more than it did me.”

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Chapter LXI

“Frankie, listen to me. You have to pull the trigger.”

Frankie was silent. The rifle rested at his shoulder, just like he had practiced. He had D sighted, the slender cross-hairs pointing to spot just over her right eye. There was a slight Eastern wind which would pull the rifle to the left. He made his calibrations and rested his finger on the trigger. Perhaps a dozen men who could make this shot. He was one of them.

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