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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 by a painting showcasing some bucolic moment of cowboy life or hidden behind more statues. The air was cool, dry, and quiet; the normal sounds of a hotel – the bustling of bellhops, the complaints of customers, the clamor of the kitchen – almost entirely absent. Frankie directed the bellhop to set his bags by a black, overstuffed sofa and then immediately went to the hotel’s bar. Marcus and LeHaze headed for the room.

There they found Spaceman reclining in the chaise lounge of their room. His hair was cut short, his complexion bronzed with some kind of subtle cosmetic. The robe he wore was white, embroidered in gold and green thread, open at the throat to reveal a crescent and star.

LeHaze smiled. “Mr. Rasheed Suliman, pleased to make your acquaintance.”

“You’ll excuse me if I don’t stand, I am a little stoned.”

Shield coughed into his fist. “Look, have you made any progress?”

The card Spaceman produced was bone white, with a single word embossed on the surface: “Zanzibar.” Shield flipped it over but the reverse was completely blank.

“You’re going to have to help me on this one,” Shield flopped his brief case down on the bed. “What’s the significance?”

“Only that it’s the room the next evening party will be held at the Thulewaite Ranch. Every single person of merit in Texarkana will be there for conversation, Cuban cigars and plans for global capitalist hegemony. There will be vices on offer, of course, tailored pleasures for particular tastes. That’s where Rasheed will come in.”

Shield chuckled. At least the cover identity wouldn’t demand much from Spaceman in terms of acting. Suliman had been built up as a transnational drug dealer of almost Charles Elliot proportions, serving as a conduit for Near Eastern hashish to every civilized extremity of the globe. Parts of the cover story were fabrication, parts were the composite exploits of nearly three decades of Section Starfire agents. For all Shield knew, some of that history had been written by Spaceman himself. It was certainly in keeping with his style.

“So tell me, how are we getting in?”

Spaceman’s mouth popped open and then abruptly shut.

“What?” Shield demanded.

“I didn’t realize you were planning on infiltrating the ranch.”

“What else would we do?”

He frowned as if unable to answer that. Then, “Will your identities hold?”

“Agent LeHaze and mine will work, we’re rich married industrials; it won’t be too long before we get the nod once the right people know we’re in town.”

“And Two-eyes? I understand he got the Melvin Lain cover.”

“He’ll make it work,” LeHaze said.

Spaceman’s eyes flicked over to her. “Something of reputation he’s built for himself.”

“That was the CIA.”

Spaceman waved his hands dismissively. “Skunks don’t switch stripes.”

“No, they usually don’t,” Marcus locked eyes with Spaceman. Looking to avoid more awkwardness, he switched topics. “Tell me about the compound.”

“They haven’t shown me much of it, my visit was pretty much the guest lodge and the ballroom where Saturday’s event will be. I made out a few cabins and a barn set a little ways past the main gate. After that is the scrub land.”

“What about security?”

“Ridiculous. They went to the trouble of fencing in almost all of the front lot of the ranch and they have motion sensors and tripwires set up from all the other directions.” Tapped his cigarette case. “But what would be the point? The ranch spans literally 1,000s of acres, just immense. To be inserted far enough away so no one notices a car engine, we’d set ourselves up for at least a fortnight’s walk. We need to get in the front or not at all.”

“I guess I better practice tying a tie.”

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Chapter I

When the light came back on, the room was empty save for a corpse and two baffled agents of Section Starfire, the premier Anarchist Spy Agency employed by the United States government.

Two trained pairs of eyes quickly scanned the room and found it devoid of anything worth mentioning besides an old battle-scarred table along one wall and a book shelf against the other and, of course, the body of the man Spaceman had just shot. For his part, Marcus Delacroix, Agent Shield, stood across the room from him, blinking in the sudden light, unable to focus. On the table by his right hand was a squat metal object about the same color and shape as a wheel of cheddar cheese. Instantly recognizing this object, Spaceman allowed himself a rare moment of panic.

Pushing past Marcus, Space dashed to the door and tried the handle. Inevitably, it was locked.

“Do you know what this is?” said Marcus, slowly regaining his faculties.

“Yes,” said Spaceman as he darted to the b…

Chapter LIX

“Do not worry,” said Necropolis. He was sitting at one of the pews, his legs kicked up on the headrest in front of him. There was a hymn book flopped over one knee and Nikolas was smiling. “What we need to do is not complicated.”

“Are we talking about the ten-hour long ceremony with an entire freight car of exotic compounds and rare animal parts, and enough priests for a baseball game? That ceremony? The Gemini program seems somewhat less complicated.”

“Reasonably complicated, is how I’d describe it.”

“Then what are you talking about?”

“The ceremony is window-dressing. I need the priests and their descendants to keep this place sacred and unmolested, and they need something to believe in. We both get something.

“No, Spaceman, what I was referring to was your part in all of this. All you have to do is survive. After that your life will become as complicated or as simple as your will dictates.”

“I don’t buy that either.”

It was late in the day, and the change had begun for Necropolis. His face…

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.

“This is the way it has to be, Frankie,” Marcus said. Was that nerves in his voice, or genuine terror. “If she doesn’t die, then The Master will just go on. We get this one chance and that’s it.”

In the scope, D was going through a strange contortion. Her body shuddered and she threw her head backwards as she rose first to her feet and then straight up into the air, suspended a full foot above the ground. When he had her reacquired, she was looking right at him. This was impossible, but it was plainly and obviously true. The girl knew where they were.

“Why do we need to kill…