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Chapter XXVII

Frankie took a step backward, keeping his eyes on the serpents as they writhed on their hooks. While still out of striking range, the snakes lashed from one side to the other, desperate to sink their fangs into his skin. Two choices and two choices only. The first was letting them enter the pit and taking a few down quickly and wear down the rest. That might be the smart move if his opponents were smaller but the sheer size of the snakes argued against that approach.

So, on to Plan B.

While the snakes still descended into the pit, Frankie dashed forward, leaping in the air. His knife flashed and two of the snakes hung limply, blood raining down. Another jump and he caught a third by surprise. A fourth snake nearly caught him in the shoulder but he deflected it. He landed badly, out of position for the remaining serpents as they dropped from their hooks. Normal snakes might have slithered away but not the tiger snakes.

Frankie snap rolled right, dodging a strike aimed at his neck and then another at his arm. They slid around him, following the curve of the pit.

Abruptly, he felt a surge of anger. He was not going to die here, not as another hidden statistic of the Cold War. A snake reared up to his left and he swept his knife in a wide arc. Its head fell into its own coils. Another came at his legs and he stabbed down. In its death throes it wrapped its body up his right arm, trapping the blade.

The audience was clapping politely now and giving him encouragements. Frankie felt a weird certainty that he was going to make it. Something else seemed to be guiding his hands and lending speed to his actions. Frankie was fast, but he wasn’t this fast.

One more left, and it left the pit wall, its long green body undulating in long, sensuous waves. He had known human adversaries with less grit and determination. Backing up, he waited until it struck to his right. Frankie flung his coil-snared arm in front of him and the snake took the bait, chomping down on its dead compatriot. Frankie grabbed the living snake with his free left arm and broke its neck. Both snakes slipped from his arm.

The crowd fell silent as Frankie climbed out of the pit. Some were already filing out of the barn, show over. Gunther too made his way out of the barn, disappointment clearly written on his face. Frankie looked up and saw D, her eyes opaque and distant, hands clenched in front of her. She had done something for him, he realized, some sort of spell or witchcraft to keep him in the fight.

She snapped out of her trance and looked down at Frankie. Her gaze held a terrible awareness of his intentions. She knew why he had joined the mission and had saved him anyway. As the crowd milled out of the stands, part of him knew that this was his chance. He looked down at his blade and let it fall from his dumb fingers. If LeHaze wanted D dead, she’d have to do it herself.

It was at that moment that a group of men came spilling out of a nearby equipment shed. Before Frankie had time to do more than wipe the sweat off his brow, he and agent D were flanked on all sides by armed men, weapons leveled at them. Gunter stepped from behind the screen of guards, a smug grin stuck on his face.

“Well, done Marvin Lain,” Gunter said. “Very impressive.”

“You have a funny way of celebrating,” Frankie said.

“Funny? There’s nothing funny about this, Mr. Lain. You lied to my face about who you are and who you work for. I don’t reckon that’s much of a joke at all.”

Considering his options, Frankie let his eyes rest briefly on the knife at his feet. Better to go down fighting, he thought, a warrior to the end. Before he moved a finger, though, he felt a curious itchy sensation crawl across this arms and back. Had D said something? Frankie saw a flash of green, and flew from the ground. He fell face-first in the dust, biting his tongue, already spinning off into the black.



(This concludes Part One of "Agent Shield and Spaceman")

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