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©02 The Media Desk
Sitting at our table one night, with our extended family in place. I wondered what my life would have been like had I not took the bait the Bishop had dangled in front of me so long ago.
I had been theHunter now for, well, for years. Sometimes barely finishing one assignment before starting another one. At other times, I wondered if he had forgotten about me. But as he had said several times in chat, "We are the last resort of the Law."
Occasionally it seemed we had been the first choice of the Law, but in each and every case I had checked out, all other options had been exhausted. The Law had failed.
And it was for a variety of reasons. Internal corruption in local agencies, jurisdictional conflicts that the bad guys waltzed through, or as in the case of my most recent job; willful exploitation of a crack in the system. I had used means other law enforcement types would have had to kick and scream in court to use, some evidence I had collected went through a virtual car wash to be used. Some could not be used, directly. But when confronted by the evidence, some of the bad guys confessed, or copped a plea, or in a few cases, vanished off the face of the Earth.
"Curiously, I have always thought of my circle of supervisory agents and a select few field ops as some of my best friends. Even though they don't know my real name." Centre said.
"You know Huntie's real name?" Keia asked him.
"Of course." Then he looked at me. I was making a face like he was about to give away a state secret. "But then again, it's my job."
Conga stopped eating and looked at me. "I don't know it."
Thunder shook her head and gave Allied Forces another bite.
"He always be Huntie to me, but I know it." Keia smiled.
"You should. You married him." Thunder grinned.
"I have a real name." Conga used his bread and scraped everything on his plate into a pile for easier access.
"Several." Centre said.
Allied Forces giggled and said something that could have been "Hairy."
Conga scowled at him. "Don't go spreading that around."
Thunder smiled her radiant glowing smile, "Hairy?" She giggled.
"Conga's Hairy." Keia snickered.
I started to say something, but the huge man aimed a beefy finger at me and growled. I decided it was safer to just laugh.
"That and a few others." Centre saved me. "I believe your CDL is in the name of Derwin."
Conga went into full sulk mode and finished his dinner.
"Da-win" Allied Forces said laughing. It was a real laugh. His first real laugh since he was poisoned last year.
The memory of the man responsible for that made my stomach tighten. The way he begged for his life. The way Centre's face looked as he shot him. The breaking boards, the politician's fall into oblivion.
I blinked, I had been far far away.
I looked over at Allied Forces. Over the last couple of months he had made great progress. Most of the time now he was pretty good. He could hold a simple conversation, he could almost stand up. He had a little more control of himself physically and was learning to control his electric wheelchair around the house.
I had even rigged a couple of basic computer games so he could play them with a modified joystick contraption. It had been his Christmas present from me and Keia. And Allied Forces, Tommy, had been as eager as a child to show his dad, Centre, what he could do with them.
The doctors and therapists were even happier with them than Centre. The games forced him to concentrate on finer movements and demanded more control and concentration than their exercises. And he enjoyed it. Which, at least from where I stood watching him, was what counted.
After dinner it was my turn to clean Allied Forces up, Centre volunteered to help with his son, as usual. He still had problems once in awhile with some bodily functions. But it was OK.
Later I joined Conga and the others outside as Tommy took a nap with the monkey watching over him. Conga was smoking a huge cigar.
"Cuba." He said proudly, "A real one."
"He brought back souvenirs." Centre said chewing on his.
"No Huntie." Keia said.
"I wasn't even thinking about it." I said. It was almost true.
We walked around back by the creek and watched some otters chase each other through the brush on the other side until they disappeared under a log.
Finally we walked silently back into the house, making sure not to disturb anyone that might be sleeping.
The next weekend, the extended family in residence changed a bit, Conga was replaced by Rathskeller. Thunder left and Second Grace came in with an agent named Greystone that couldn't wait to thank Keia for some information she had sent him.
The other reason Greystone was there was to be fitted for and trained with some rather esoteric surveillance equipment. Fiber optic and high power zoom cameras, long range high sensitivity microphones, wireless phone eavesdropping bugs, even email and fax snoopers.
We spent the weekend making him comfortable with these gadgets.
Greystone was not comfortable with high tech gear. He preferred the direct approach, classic techniques, water glasses on the wall next door and like that.
Unfortunately, when your target is on a houseboat in the middle of Lake Meade, those techniques don't work real well.
We got him comfortable with the stuff. But I wasn't happy.
"Just let me go. I'll work the stuff and show him the ins and outs and then next time, he'll be fine."
Centre shook his head. "Not this time. If he blows it, I'll consider it."
"Then I'll run him through it all again."
Second Grace nodded. He agreed. I took Greystone out to the Chesapeake Bay and we played with the toys on a boat. He got better with them.
The next weekend Conga and Second Grace cornered me.
"You blew it." Conga said.
I had no idea what he was talking about. Second Grace pulled me down for a simply brutal kiss.
"You spend too much time in convents." I said to her.
She grinned, "Maybe not enough. But you're the one that did it."
"What? What did I do?"
Conga smiled, then he elbowed Grace, "You tell him."
She laughed out loud. "You." She looked at me strangely, she sighed, "There's an opening for a technical ops trainer."
"Yeah, has been, so? I told the Bishop I wasn't interested."
Conga roared with laughter. "You don't get it. You are already it. Greystone was your first pupil."
"But you and Rathskeller did the training."
She shook her head. "Hardly. Where was I most of the day?"
I thought about it. "In with Allied Forces."
"And you said yourself Rathskeller was almost dangerous with the fiber optics."
I smiled at a story about him and a laser and his fingernail. I nodded to Conga. "So if I had worked with him and he had gone out there and sunk his boat and blown his cover..."
"Centre would have sent you to Siberia."
Knowing his slow burning fuse to a supernova temper, that might not be too far off. I nodded thoughtfully. My own drive to use technology to its best maximum application had led me to make sure Greystone could do everything he might possibly need to do.
"But it worked. He got the tapes he needed to get, they came out great. And now."
"You've been it. But now its official." Centre said from behind me.
I turned around. The man was there, with Keia, and Allied Forces in his all terrain wheelchair with his little friend on his shoulder.
Centre handed me a new ID card, with C.O.T. on it. I stood there. Allied Forces clapped a couple of times and the rest joined in.
I didn't make a speech.
But I still got to go out on missions.
My next one, a couple of weeks later, was simply to plant bugs on tramp freighters. All sorts of bugs. While posing as a Coast Guard safety inspector.
We could tell where the ship was going now right down to which gangway the crew used to get on and off. By sniffing the air in the cargo holds, we could tell, for the most part, what was being loaded. We could hear everything said on the bridge, monitor the radios, and even know how much weight it was carrying. So we would know, for instance, if a ship that was supposed to be carrying cotton was full of say, guns going to South America and cocaine coming back without ever setting foot on it. Not that anybody would want to know such a thing.
It wasn't the most exciting mission I had even been on. But it was a challenge. I made sure everything we planted looked like it not only belonged there, it had been there since the ship had started rusting. Then I had to make sure they worked.
I did six merchant ships in four days.
When I got home I was bent and bruised and tired and exhausted.
But, it had reminded me of other adventures, and other people, and some better times.
Allied Forces got a giggle out of it when I told him about having to fight off some rather aggressive rats in one hold while I put in a couple of sensors.
My missions got fewer, my training sessions got more frequent.
I found myself longing for the chase, the challenge.
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