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the Value of theHunter

ch 45

     I sat and moped.
     Second Grace sat opposite me. Keia came back in after putting Allied Forces to bed. Bishop42 was on the speaker. Conga had run out to get something, but he promised me he wasn't done with me.
     "There was nothing you could have done." The Bishop said. "The Colonel is one of my best. He said they didn't stand a chance."
     Second Grace nodded. "You helped train Kraut right?"
     I nodded.
     "He took your second choice for sidearm right?"
     I nodded again. Kraut didn't like the sheer mass of the .454. He opted for a old stand by, the .45 government. No slouch of a gun by any standard.
     The speaker spoke back up. "You rated him good to exceptional on your training. He knew his equipment, and I believe you told me he was better than you on intuitively picking up clues and axillary information."
     "Yeah. He was."
     "This is a dangerous business. Sometimes more than others. You should know that better than anyone." The Bishop said. "I passed over other agents to send you on bad missions because I knew they didn't have that reflexive instinct you have to know when the fireworks were about to start."
     "Sometimes I didn't." I put my hand over my stomach. There was a reminder there of a situation I had walked into. With the Colonel in fact.
     "But most of the time you did." Second Grace said to me.
     "You and the others gave him everything he needed. He had been an agent for two years. He wasn't a greenhorn any more." The Bishop said slowly.
     "Huntie. You can't blame yourself." Keia said softly.
     "I know."
     The room was silent.
     "I keep running over his briefing for the mission. Was there anything I left out. Was there a piece of equipment that would have made a difference."
     "Sometimes, even if we do all we can do, there is nothing we can do."
     Second Grace agreed with him, "You can make all the right moves and still loose."
     Keia took my hand and squeezed it. "Like in games you play."
     There was nothing to do but agree. In fact, one game I had been recently working on from home operated on the basis that if you didn't make any mistakes, you'd die. To get through a couple of the stages, you had to take some damage or miss a couple of the clues. If not, the program reacted and simply blew you away.
     "Precisely." The Bishop said agreeing with Keia, except he was talking about a different game. "I have played many chess matches perfectly, I made no mistakes, and lost."
     Centre laughed out loud. "But you were playing a three time European champion."
     The speaker snorted, "That fact changes nothing. The conclusion is sound."

     I let them continue on the subject. I had to accept it.
     No matter what hindsight revealed, regardless that the investigation into the incident had concluded the result of the mission was not the fault of the agents. No matter the collaboration of witnesses and a State Trooper, I still felt there was something I could have said, something I could have done, maybe even gone with them, to prevent it.

     Later I was upstairs in the armory doing some work to a shotgun stock.
     Second Grace walked in.
     She just stood there.
     "So tell me what's wrong." She said.
     "You're upset that a man you trained is dead."
     "Yeah. You've said it yourself. When Simon bought it you felt like you'd failed."
     "And Conga still wishes it was him instead of Tommy." I gestured downstairs to the room where Allied Forces lay, not quite a vegetable, but certainly not a man any more.
     "True enough."
     "What about Rathskeller almost resigning over that mess last year?"
     "We all deal with it in our own way." She looked at the walls, some of her surliness was gone. "I've been at this for a long time... a real long time. And I've lost two agents, well, actually three, one killed, one wounded to the point where he had to quit, and another that went mad."
     "Went mad?"
     "He snapped one day. Just snapped. Ended up in a hospital for awhile. Now I think he's selling baskets on the beach in Florida."
     "Sounds good. Does he need a partner."
     She ran her hand across the wall map of the US, ending at Florida. "If I thought he did, I'd join him right now. Before I loose another one."
     "It never gets any easier right?"
     "You don't want it to. I still wonder if I could have seen Bean's mind going. Maybe I should have given him a psych test. Maybe I should have grounded him."
     "Maybe he was going anyway and no matter what you did, he'd went nuts anyway."
     She turned toward me and her eyes went right through me.
     "Maybe I should listen to my own advice." I said.
     She walked up to me, and looked at me. Then she took my face in her hands and kissed me tenderly.
     Then she was out the door.
     I nodded to myself.
     Slowly I walked downstairs. They were all sitting in the living room watching an old movie. I walked over to Allied Forces and put my hand on his shoulder, he looked up at me with those sad and understanding eyes, this job had done worse to him than it had to the agents that had been killed. Then I looked around the room. Keia, my wife, my love, being theHunter had brought her to me. Second Grace, even though I don't know her real name, I count her as one of my best friends. Centre, who was here simply to be with the son he had almost lost to this curious hobby. Conga was back, he sat on the floor chewing his way through a huge stick of beef jerky.
     "OK. I don't like it, but it happens." I said. "And it could happen to any one of us at any time, and like with Kraut, it could be just some looser with a hot pistol instead of an 81 or a Mafioso with a machine gun."
     Conga stopped chewing and nodded.
     "I really didn't ask to do this, but I chose to. And I am glad I did. I am more now than I was. I've done things and been places that some people haven't even dreamed of."
     Centre pursed his lips, thinking.
     "And while I don't want to be in the middle of another war, if I have to do it. In spite of how I feel for Keia and our baby, I'll do it."
     Keia put her hand on her belly and smiled at me.
     "And I know, if it came down to it, I could count on every one of our agents to be right behind me."
     Second Grace looked away. Then she wiped her eye. For her, that was a flood of emotion.
     "So. While I'm not over it. I'm past it. I got an email from the Bishop he needs somebody to go straighten out a mess in Nashville."
     I looked at Allied Forces, his lower lip shook, "You. Go. Nashv'l." He said.
     Keia looked at me, then the others. "Huntie go Nashville." She said.
     The others clapped, "Huntie go Nashville." They said more or less together.
     "They make fun of me." She protested.
     "Huntie go Nashville." I said taking her by the hands and pulling her up.

     In Nashville. My job was really simple. But implementing it was rather difficult.
     I was smuggled into the middle of a giant music production complex. And set up in the back of a semi-forgotten storeroom with my laptop. I was sorting through records.
     No, literally, I was sorting records. LPs, actual thirty three and a thirds, some forty-fives, a few seventy-eights, even some thick heavy sixteen RPM disks.
     Checking labels against printouts of copyrights, production notes, and then against verified recordings of the artists on CD or tape or whatever. And then comparing all of that against two brand new albums.
     What I was trying to prove was rather esoteric. And a little bit weird.
     No, a lot weird.
     There was a hot new band out, releasing a lot of covers of ancient, classic country songs. Except for one problem. They supposedly didn't exist.
     The rumor had it that some techno-whiz in the company had taken the old masters, ran them through a computer, added some synthetic machine generated background, and released the album as his discovery of this great new talent.
     So here I was. When I thought I had a pattern one minute, the next shot it down.
     Two days. Three. I thought I'd be better off sleeping on some boxes in the storeroom. My motel room was over what announced itself as a 'Honkey Tonk'. I guess that meant loud bad country music until three in the morning.
     Then I had a break.
     A big one.
     Most of the old country songs had been recorded by the original artists several times. Sometimes live, sometimes on the radio, sometimes in a studio. But by the same group.
     Where I had gotten a partial match on part of a song on the new album from the old one, the rest wasn't there.
     I spent the next four hours just ransacking the place for more editions of the same song. Then it was just a matter of audio cut and paste.
     I got the song within a matter of like seventy-five percent similarity with the new one without a whole lot of work. I did one more song on the new album just to make sure.
     Same result. Sixty percent match without breaking a sweat.
     I had pieces and bits from other songs that matched.
     So I packed up.
     There was no doubt. Whoever had filed the protest that had been buried under paperwork in court by the record company's lawyers had been right.
     Technology used for the wrong ends, motivated by greed, was robbing the artists, or in most of these cases, their estates.
     I turned it all over to the Bishop.
     About two weeks later I saw in the paper about how two executives inside the company had been indicted, the company fined, others turned state's evidence, and still others told to stick around and not try to renew their passports.

     A couple of months later I got home from a meeting in town about a file system I had tested for my former, and now part time current, employer to find something new in the big living room of the old house.
     "Record man send it. It come from the Bishop." Keia said gesturing to a fantastically extensive stereo system.
     Allied Forces barely moved his hand and pushed a button on a remote control.
     It didn't just sound good.
     It sounded like we were front row center at the Grand Olde Opry.
     "I love this job." I said to Keia as we danced.

end 45 value

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