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Chapter XXIV

After this cynical observation, Shield felt the residual enjoyment of the party drain away. Fatigue – for the party, for these people – settled into his bones. Time to call it a night.

“Tomorrow will be the tough part,” he murmured in the room he shared with Agent LeHaze. “We have the information, now we have to find some way of acting on it.”

She cast skeptical eyes towards him. “Or,” she paused. “Or, we could turn this over to the regular law enforcement agencies. The FBI, the Texas Rangers, hell, the Fish and Wildlife Department would work…”

“Fish and Wildlife, are you kidding me?” Shield gave up pulling off his left shoes and flopped back on the bed. “That agency is hopelessly compromised with Eisenhower appointees. Asking them to close down the Thulewaite Ranch is like asking Richard Nixon to run the Justice Department.”

“Be careful what you wish for,” said LeHaze, brightly.

“That’s not a wish,” he growled back and then exhaled sharply. Shield had a sudden sense of the enormous weight of events transpiring around him. His country was well in to the second half of the final century of the millennium, enmeshed in a war with seemingly no end. There were so many conspiracies and cabals running around that it was difficult to say who even had their finger on that infamous button. The further men like James Angelton and Hoover bored into the underbelly of America looking for Communists the more what they dredged up became the nation’s new topsoil. The reviled was becoming the norm, the values of freedom and personal liberty pressed down deep into the filth. Maybe only outlaws had the perspective for moral judgements.

Why was he on a mission against the AC’s? He knew in his heart that they were dangerous, that it was imperative to stop them, but the same could be said of a dozen other similarly improbable acronyms. This was life in the realm of the grey and ambiguous. Part of him wanted to be done with it, wanted it to be someone else’s problem.

“This is our burden,” he said simply. “And if we don’t do it, then no one else will bother.”

“It ever occur to you that maybe you shouldn’t bother?”

“If this is another attempt to denigrate the Section then you can stop right there.”

“I’m not denigrating anything; I want you to listen for a moment,” LeHaze eased herself onto the bed, watching him over her shoulder. “In all the time I’ve known you, you’ve always been a straight arrow.”

“I believe in freedom and progress.”

She lay near the foot of the bed, legs curled up “I do too.”

“You believe in privilege and advancement, which are not quite the same things.”

“Old arguments fall into old ruts,” her fingers smoothed a rumple in the sheets, “Maybe we should try some new ground.”

Shield plucked the bowtie from around his collar and draped it over the closet door. “Be my guest.”

“The Anti-Cerebrists, besides having a ridiculous manifesto do have some common reference points with our nation’s enemies.”

“Marx, Engles, Bakunin, and Goldman; yes, yes, your point?”

Her eyes sparkled. “So, other than the obvious fact that you draw a government salary, why should you be opposed? Or to put it more directly, there are plenty of other organs of this government concerned with beating back the Red Tide, why does the one anarchist agency feel the need to shoulder the entire burden?”

“You said this was going to be a new argument, so far it doesn’t sound that way. Our charter back in the Roosevelt days was pretty clear, our bonafides in the International Labor Movement make us the ideal vehicle for American values. Even you have to admit that the AC’s are bad actors. The CIA would just wipe them out or start ferreting out their obscure links with decent people. We do the job clean, neat and quickly.”

He caught her smiling at him. “I sound like a pamphlet, don’t I?”

“It’s amusing, I never said it was a joke.”

“Hah, hah.”

“Oh, come on Marcus,” she propped up her head. “Isn’t it awfully uncomfortable carrying around the entire world?”

He felt her gaze. The only light in the room was from a small pink lamp on the stand behind her. Lost in shadow, her face was a frame of glowing hair and a sad, perfectly curving mouth. He took a step towards the bed.

“There’s no reason you have to cut yourself off,” she said. “Not when you have someone here who wants in.”

He did not resist when she slid her hands up the lapels of his suit and pulled him down. He knew they were going to kiss, knew that was a bad idea, and decided he didn’t care. That momentary loss of control, of simply letting his body do what it wanted to do, was better than anything that followed. There had been women before, but never one able to reach inside him and exposed what he had so carefully sought to hide. She unlocked him, turned him inside out, and left him gasping for air, obliterated.

They nestled together, he brushing the strands of her soft hair away from her forehead as she lay on his chest. Every once in a while he would take his finger and run it carefully along the outside edge of her ear.

“Tomorrow,” she breathed, simultaneously making an observation and a question.

“We’ll wait until Frankie enters the pit,” he said, squeezing the bridge of his nose between thumb and index finger. “You should watch D, make sure she doesn’t get in trouble. Suliman is in deep, he’ll have to swim to the surface on his own.”

“Where will you be?”

“Trying to find where the bastards keep the snakes.”

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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.

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“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.”

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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.

“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.

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