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Chapter XVI

Spaceman liked riding in cars. Not driving them, that required concentration. But to be able to sit back in the decadent embrace of soft leather, the pulse of acceleration launching him from one place to another, automobiles offered a sensation second only to junk.

Speaking of which…

He snuck a hand into the left breast pocket of his seersucker jacket to withdraw a blue lacquer snuff box. Once applied to each nostril, the china brown flattened his thoughts into a weightless, trembling membrane, and he spared no more consideration of the armed goons hunched to either side of him in the back of the Rolls Royce. He sat serene in the palm of God, sweet darkness lapping against his skin.

From a certain perspective, Thulewaite’s decision to send armed escorts was a good sign. Gunther was more of a royalist than the typical Texan plutocrat; things that fell into his domain belonged to him and elicited his responsibility to guard his possessions. Spaceman felt comforted by this thought.

Sometime later the car slowed and exited the county highway to cruise down a bumpier wagon track. Far in the distance, Spaceman could pick out the ranch’s lights. As the buzz from the heroin faded, his senses again crystallized into jagged and uncomfortable coherence. One of the goons had placed his holster against his ample right hip. It now dug painfully into Spaceman’s side.

“Certainly seems like a well-attended soiree,” he said, warming up the Suliman accent. The goons grunted.

When the car coasted to a stop, one of Gunther’s flunkies was on hand to greet him. He even offered to carry the large leather case Spaceman produced from the trunk.

“No can do,” he smiled, already attaching himself to the case with a pair of steel handcuffs. “Wouldn’t be much of a party without this case.”

The functionaries’ knowing smiles suggested Gunther hired men with golden arms.

“I desire to go to the Zanzibar Room,” Spaceman said with deliberate flourish. The functionary bowed expansively and led the way. Many of the faces they encountered were familiar to Spaceman, indeed they would be familiar to anyone who watched the news or read tabloids once in a while. The brightest and most affluent of Texarkana was here on tonight, talking and chatting and imbibing exotic cocktails. Somewhat tense now that he was post-high, Spaceman felt watched. He knew it was simply Rasheed that they wanted, but his fevered brain fell prone to paranoia. Only great restraint and SSF training prevented him from bolting when a hand suddenly clapped over his shoulder and wheeled him about.

Gunther was a short man, barely rising to Spaceman’s collarbone, but he exuded a powerful aura. His red, broad face shone up at Spaceman, lips curled in a jocular, if not altogether friendly, smile. The meaty hand that had turned him around was still there with paralyzing strength. It was rumored Thulewaite had killed his first mountain lion at 14, snapped his neck with his own bare hands.

“It is good to see you again, Rasheed,” said Thulewaite, now grinning. “How long has it been since Mogadishu? Four years, five years?”

Not for the first time, Spaceman had no idea what the person across from him was talking about. “Perhaps four?” he offered.

“I have to confess to some surprise finding your name on the invite list. Not that I have any hard feelings, you understand…but you seem remarkably spry considering the bullet I put through your knee.”

“All praise to Allah.”

“And to have escaped that factory, boy I would have wagered that as being a death-trap, what with the flames and falling debris and all. I felt just terrible leaving you there.”

“Water under the bridge.”

As Thulewaite’s face hardened, his grip tightened.

“Now Rasheed, you know how much I enjoy a good yarn, don’t play hard to get,” The sounds of the party seemed very far away. “I would like to know how you survived all that. If you did survive, that is.”

Oddly, Spaceman felt his panic drain away. SSF’s frugality with cover identities made awkward encounters like these just a matter of time. It did bother Spaceman he couldn’t remember if the incident had happened to him or another agent; information like that might be useful. Ah well…

“Fortune favors the brave,” said Spaceman, as he helped himself to a passing hors d'oeuvre.


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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.

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

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