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©02 The Media Desk
Except for the occasional training run to teach an agent how to use a new gadget. I was Bishop43 more than I cared to admit.
Even Keia slipped once in awhile and called me 'Bishop' instead of 'Huntie'.
Our daughter was into the mobile claw machine stage of being two.
Allied Forces had made enough progress that he had moved into a group home in the area where he lived in his own specialized apartment. I had made arrangements with my former employer so that Tommy could have a part time job testing new hardware and software for the disabled. And he did it very well, he took it very seriously and sent them lengthy detailed evaluations of everything he did.
Everything was going swell until Tom from Africa sent me a letter.
A real letter, in an envelope with a stamp on it.
It was chatty and talked about the nightclub we had gone to and the lady I had met and traveled with, but right in the middle of a sentence about going on a camera safari the next time I was over there were the two words 'scan this' with a file extension in small print behind it. I glanced over the rest of the letter and put it in my scanner.
I saved the scanned file with the suggested extension and opened it.
My screen was full of names and ID numbers and last known whereabouts and habits and so on.
We finally had a definitive list of all surviving 81's.
The chill I felt looking at it was physical.
Several of the 81's were in this area.
Bishop42 reluctantly approved my plan.
I would go out and make contact with the 81's. Letting them know that we knew who and what they were, and as long as they didn't get out of line, they'd never hear from us again.
If they got stupid. We would deal with the situation.
Conga got out of Falcon's helicopter and bound toward the house.
He had lost a little weight recently and looked more like he did when I first met him. He was still a bear of a man, but now he wasn't quite a Sumo.
Falcon got out and followed shortly. He had a little idea about what was up.
"Hey Hunter!" Conga bellowed as hey stomped into the kitchen and made a bee line for the tea pot.
"Hey Conga." I said back and smiled at Falcon.
"You ain't gonna believe this but I'm supposed to meet the Bishop here." He grinned.
"No kidding." I answered.
"Yeah, all the message said was to bring this." He laid his baster on the table.
Falcon was fighting saying anything.
"Just that the Bishop would have his and we were going to go on a mission about an '81. Falcon's going to fly us."
I nodded and moved some papers that were on the table.
Conga's eyes appraised my Baster, but he didn't seem to add it all up.
Finally I finished my tea and picked up the weapon. "Mine's charged. Ready?" I said to Falcon.
"You're it." Conga said to me. "You're the new blasted Bishop."
I stuck out my hand. "Bishop43, glad to meet you."
He looked from me to Keia to Falcon and back.
Then he shook my hand like he was afraid to hurt me.
"But for this mission, I'm Hunter." I said carefully to him. "This has been approved by everybody and their sister."
Conga nodded. "I got it. Then I'll forget I was ever here today."
"Very good. Here's the profiles we're working today." I gave him some papers.
"Huntie." Keia said. "Please be extra careful."
I nodded, "Yes ma'am."
The first '81 we dropped in on was rather a let down.
He was at work, running the lunch counter and bar in an airport hotel. We walked up to him and asked him if he was Arthur.
"Who wants to know?" He said.
I produced my Department of Justice ID, he simply nodded.
"Did you ever volunteer for a special mission for the armed forces in the early eighties?" Conga asked him.
The guy took off his glasses.
Dark red eyes peered out at us.
"Did you keep a small rather funny looking weapon they gave you for your mission?" I asked him.
He shook his head. "Nah, I was never issued one. I stayed in this country and worked at Aberdeen testing stuff."
"Are there any others from your outfit around here?"
"There was." He said. "You guys want something to drink?"
"Coffee if you got it." I answered.
Conga looked at the row of bottles, but he said, "Coffee's fine."
The bartender brought three large mugs of coffee and we sat at a table near the back of the almost empty bar. A few businessmen sat around another table shuffling papers and eating shrimp. An older couple was near the front eating lunch.
"It's still early for the lunch crowd. In about an hour you won't be able to get in here." The manager said as he poured six packs of sugar in his coffee.
"It's a nice place." Conga said.
"Now about the others." I tried to get back on subject.
"There was three of us in town. We stayed in touch, you know, exchange gossip, reminisce."
"What happened to the other two?"
"Rosalie died last year." Arthur sipped his coffee. Then he put two more packs in the cup. "You guys know about us right? Imagine this, after everything they did to us, and everything we used to be able to do, Rosie caught the flu and died from it, believe it or not."
"The flu?" Conga said.
"The flu. Hell, if I get a cold it takes me a month to get over it."
I remembered reading something about immune system problems after the change. "I've heard of problems like that before."
"What happened to the other one?" Conga asked.
"He was always a loner. You know, he hardly ever called, but he stopped by here once in awhile for our shrimp pizza. But I haven't seen him lately."
"What's his name?" I asked him.
"Elmer, believe it or not."
I reached into my pocket and got out my list. "Elmer Jorgenson. Code name Stanford."
"He was last seen in Annapolis. Working on a fishing boat. But that's been six months ago."
Arthur thought about it. "That's about the last time he was here."
Conga played with his empty cup. "Did he have any friends or family?"
The manager shook his head. "Nah, none of us did. I do now, after a fashion, my ex-sister-in-law is here. You know, being a RedEye is nice sometimes, my brother won't come anywhere near me."
"So she feels safe from him with you." I said, the note was part of the info I had on Arthur.
He fell silent for a minute. "If you guys find out what happened to Elmer, can you let me know? I mean, if it doesn't violate national security or something."
"I'll tell him you said 'hi' too."
Falcon rocked toward Annapolis.
You see, Falcon just doesn't 'fly' anywhere. The volume of the music in the helicopter was deafening. As I looked out the window I was eye level with a cell phone tower that was speeding by at an incredible rate.
We even passed a small private plane whose pilot seemed rather surprised when we roared by.
A car met us at the Naval Academy field.
We rode into town in the black staff car, then out to the docks where the fishing fleet tied up.
The boat we were looking for was called 'Abigail III'.
Conga walked into the harbor master's office and asked about the boat.
He came back with a long face.
"He said Abby three capsized in a storm last winter. Elmer worked here and there on other boats, then vanished awhile back. He doesn't know where he went."
I put 'missing' next to his name.
Our next name was in Atlanta.
Our discussion with one Mr. Warren Halsworth AKA 'Heavy' was conducted through a screen door and the opening the chain on his front door would allow.
He was our man, and all he wanted from us was to be left alone.
"Nope." He responded when we asked him if he had his weapon. "They tooked it when they throwed me out of the program."
Was he interested in a procedure that would reverse his condition.
"Can we do anything for you?" I asked.
Falcon flew us further south. We went to the last known address of one Miss Angel Payton. Her code name was 'Zoom', her occupation was listed as travel agent.
Through some fraud and deceit we got a possible forwarding address for Zoom.
Then we flew further south.
I liked Fort Myers as soon as I saw it, my first thought was to bring Keia down here on vacation sometime.
Our lead was a dead end, but they did have a recent address for her.
It seems Angel had changed occupations and was now working in a bar outside Miami.
An adult bar.
Conga walked in unabashedly and paid the cover for all three of us.
Then he talked to the bouncer who was just as big around, but a foot taller than Conga.
Angel was now listed as Starr and would be on in one of the cages in about half an hour. After she danced her set, we could see if she'd be interested in dancing for our office picnic.
The dancer in the cage right now was nice enough looking. I would highly recommend her plastic surgeon to anybody.
After a beer, three for Conga, the blond picked up her discarded costume and stepped out of the cage to some generous applause.
Starr stepped out. She was dressed as a biker, complete with wrap around coal black riding glasses.
During her set, everything but the glasses and boots came off.
Falcon was at the cage door when she stepped out. It cost Falcon twenty dollars just to have her come over and talk to us.
"You're cops." She said. Putting on her leather shorts.
"Not exactly. We're here about your former occupation." I said.
"My travel agent license lapsed last month. I'm not renewing it."
"Before that." Conga said.
Her face blanched. "I... I don't know what you're talking about."
"Class five. Seat nine." I said from my notes.
She looked at me coldly. "What do you want?"
"We're just touching base with everybody. Seeing how things are." I said.
"Checking on the whereabouts of any equipment you may have been issued."
She looked over at Falcon. "I don't have anything of Uncle Sam's, and you ain't getting your money back either."
"Is there anything we can do for you?"
Her expression changed. "You're not like the others."
My antenna came to full alert. "Others."
She looked from one to another of us. Then she nodded and put on her leather jacket. "They come around here once in awhile and try to recruit me."
"Did they leave a number where they could be reached. I'd be interested in talking to them." I said.
She took off her glasses and stared at me with the brightest red eyes you can imagine. "They wouldn't talk to you."
I held her gaze.
"But. I think I'd like you to talk to them. I'll call them and tell them to come here and see me."
Falcon nodded as she zipped up her jacket. "When do you think they'll come."
"Tomorrow night after my second shift."
"We'll have to come back and watch you again." Conga smiled.
She grinned back. "If you tip good, I'll do a special dance for you."
I reached into my wallet and took out one of the Treasury Departments finest portraits. I slid it across the table to her.
"I'll dance all night for you." She smiled and put her glasses back on.
She went back and made the call, Falcon went with her.
"They'll be here tonight." He said with a grin. "In about an hour. She was very persuasive."
I saw it differently. "That means they're in Miami someplace." I looked at Conga, he nodded. "I want to find out who she called."
"Already got it. It's a portable." He gave me the number.
"So we set and wait." I said.
Conga smiled and picked up his beer and a handful of chips and looked at the girl in the cage. "No problem!" He said.
"Your wife is going to kill me for bringing you here." I told him.
"AH heck no, she'll probably thank you for it." He shoved the chips in his mouth.
Falcon said he wanted to get something a little heavier than his sidearm in case things went badly.
I reached into my pocket and took out my baster. "Here." I handed it to him.
"Jesus!" He said not wanting to take it.
"I'd rather you were behind me with this than an M-16."
"I've got the other one." Conga told him. "The Bish... I mean, Hunter will talk to them, I'll be close cover, you stay in the background."
"Besides, I've gotten to like this thing more than those." I showed him the handle of the big gun peaking out from under my jacket.
"Will that take down an '81?" Falcon said looking at it.
I gave him one of my spare rounds. "Jacketed hollow point with center post, 300 grains of angry metal. They'll know they been shot."
He swallowed and gave it back to me. "I like the Doc Holiday holster, nice touch."
"It works." I turned my attention back to the blond that was trying to look like she enjoyed dancing.
After the next dancer Starr/Zoom/Angel walked by our table and whispered to us, "At the bar, the two guys and the woman in red." And she kept on walking.
The taller of the two guys was wearing very dark sunglasses.
Starr took her turn in the cage and danced up a storm.
Then when she got out she signaled the people at the bar to follow her.
We followed them.
Down the hall to one side of the stage we walked into the dancer's locker/dressing room. Angel was in there with the trio.
"Hello folks." I said to them.
"Who are you?" The taller guy asked me. "You I know." He said to Conga. He reached into his coat and came out with a baster.
I dove behind a table and Conga ducked out the door as a blast of liquid heat tore up the wall. I aimed for the tall guy but missed as he jumped sideways. Zoom tore the woman up. The second guy was flat on the floor hiding. Conga let loose a baster shot at the tall guy, he went down but was still in the fight, I got him in the shoulder with my next shot and he dropped his weapon as his arm stopped working.
"It's over." I told the woman as Zoom held her three feet off the floor against the wall.
The tall guy was a mess, but still alive. Purple blood covered the floor.
"Who are you?"
"Tong." He said.
"Who are you working for?"
"Used to be Hover. I went freelance when you guys got onto him." He nodded towards the guy on the floor.
I kicked his weapon out of his reach and left him there.
The guy on the floor understood the meaning of the hot barrel of my revolver against the side of his head to mean 'talk'.
"I recruit hitters. For different ones that need special talents."
"Her?" I nodded toward the woman against the wall, now being held up by one of angel's arms across her chest.
"She wants her to kill her husband. When he makes love to her, you know, cheating on his wife."
I almost laughed.
If it weren't for the guy barely alive leaking purple blood all over the floor I would have left them for the local cops. But since the '81's were still considered classified. We had to call our people and some others in to clean up the mess and take him to a secure military hospital.
Mr. Hit Man Recruiter was given over to the tender mercies of the Dade County cops later. After certain facts of life were explained to him. Including how hungry the sharks were this time of year.
Tong I crossed off my list, even though he was supposed to be in Brazil.
Our next stop was in Houston.
Our man was working for an oil company as a chief dispatcher manager.
He was happy to see us.
We got a tour of his facility, he bought us lunch. And introduced us to another 81 on our list who was working as a mechanic in his shop.
I checked off the manager, also known as 'Marvel' and the mechanic 'Saigon' from our list.
Marvel only said his baster was at the bottom of the Black Sea. He smiled when Falcon asked him why, but didn't answer.
Saigon knew exactly where his baster was.
Empty, partially disassembled, and mounted in a block of clear plastic over his mantel.
Next we flew into the Black Hills to find an 81 on an Indian Reservation.
After many dead ends and wild goose chases we ended up in a 'town' of about five buildings, two of which were, for lack of a better description, ramshackle tumble-down huts.
"Cover me." I said.
"No, Bishop. Sorry. I'll do it. You cover me." Conga said.
I couldn't argue. I held the big gun aimed at all sorts of possible targets, none of which were human by the way.
Falcon was on the other side of the car, performing the same service.
"Jonesie." Conga said loudly.
On the third call a voice filtered out of one of the not so abused buildings.
"Yeah." Followed by a string of half English curse words.
"Can we talk to you?"
"Ya already are, and ya got enough hardware to start a war. You Feds?"
"What'cha want wit me?"
"Just checking up on you."
Jonesie came out wearing what used to be camo-shorts and no shirt and stood on the leaning front porch with a shotgun in his arms. He was the fattest most out of shape '81 I had ever heard of. His off red eyes peered out at us. Note for the record, after years of extreme sun exposure the skin of an 81 takes on an unhealthy bluish tint.
"Nobody checked on me all these years."
"Your not easy to find." I said from the other side of the car.
He nodded. "You see I'm OK and I ain't gone nowhere. I ain't seen Hover in years, and I don't want to work for no Chinese."
Conga smiled and lowered his weapon. "You got one of these?"
"Not no more. It's no good for huntin'"
"Cooks the rabbit before you even skin it." Falcon laughed.
"Somet'in' like that."
In Los Angeles we tracked down an '81 to an old folks home.
As a patient. Dying of liver failure.
Jorgan talked for three hours about everything. Told us the whole story of the program, including the monkeys they changed and killed, and the dogs that died far too soon after the change. But with the people, it worked.
He was the oldest man ever changed, and spent years in the field.
His real name was something I didn't even want to try to say, but he went by Jorgan, it was even on his medical chart. The red eyes and purple blood was explained on his chart as complications from his rare liver disease and his medication.
He gave us a key to his safety deposit box downtown and a letter to let us into it.
There we retrieved three basters and some index cards with tiny printing on them.
The last '81 in the States was also in Southern California.
In the middle of the Mojave Desert, not far from where the famous Mojave Phone Booth once stood.
He was listed at a prospector on the sheet.
We checked in with park rangers and an outfitter store that sold everything from computer software to snakebite kits.
The directions to his camp had nothing to do with the real world.
Then after being real good and lost for two days, we stumbled across it.
I crossed off 'Lather'.
He was dead.
We couldn't figure out what killed him either.
Conga dug a rough grave and we put his dried out and partially animal eaten remains in it.
According to our list. Lather was the last one in this country that we had any leads on.
Falcon relished the chance to fly almost non-stop back across the country.
"We can do it in one stop for fuel!" Falcon announced as we packed the helicopter for the trip.
I shook my head. "How long will we end up sitting in this thing?"
"Fourteen hours." He said without batting an eye.
"No no, no no no." Conga said.
I think he meant it.
"I could authorize two first class tickets on a commercial carrier..."
"OK... where do you want to stop?" Falcon surrendered.
"I know a great steak place in Phoenix." Conga said.
"And there's a nice hotel I stayed at once in Stanta Fe." I added.
Falcon shook his head and climbed into the cockpit.
"Remember that blues bar in Memphis?" I asked them.
"I want to spend a day fishing in the Ozarks." Falcon said getting into the spirit of things.
Actually, I wanted to get home as soon as possible, but given the Hobson's choice of a red-eye flight across country on a jet or a day in the helicopter, fishing in the Ozarks sounded reasonable.
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