Part 1. Ezekiel, Thursday, June 4th. 7:30pm
He stood at the center of his domain. The teak rail formed a polished oval of oil, spell, and prayer. The boat was not as large as some in the marina; but what it lacked in sheer size it made up for in elegance. The 30 foot cabin was topped by a second smaller oval of teak railing which terminated at the bow in a wood and brass captain’s wheel. These too had been treated with the rituals of sanctuary and protection, rendering their inner circle doubly secure. Light illuminated various portholes, giving tantalizing glimpses of heavy wood furniture and thick carpet. This was his haven. The protection it afforded rendered it an island of soothing constancy in the midst of deliberate chaos.
He did not need these luxuries. The security of the marina, of his boat, of the social position he had earned were not necessities. They were a pleasant fiction crafted from wealth and guile. No, he did not require this fantasy, but he did enjoy it.
His business was centered upon foreign conglomerates which were not likely to hear about his proclivities or care were they to be discovered. His considerable wealth was distributed geographically, financially, and categorically. He was as secure as he could discretely make himself.
Slowly, he drew a curved dagger from his cane. The silver bird’s head balanced the weapon perfectly. This and the tattoo were the only remnants of his greatest folly. Even now he had to be vigilant against the legacy of that error.
With an economical motion he struck at a phantom opponent. He ran the ball of his thumb across the edge, drawing a thin line of blood. At the sanguinary touch, swirling runes seemed to swim to the surface of the black ceramic, chasing the crimson droplets.
Looking down at the instrument of his last resort, he knew that it was not his life that his pupils sought. They wanted completion of their instruction.
They would not come all at once. They would come to him as this first one had, probing and cajoling. Only in the last extreme would they resort to force. He smiled. They had known him as a formidable opponent in times past. He was more powerful than they could possibly imagine now. Let them come, yes let them come. He would teach them; though not the lesson they sought.
Part 2. Michael, Friday, June 5th. 8:45am
People don’t know how many times coffee has prevented tragedy. In my case, it is the restraining influence that keeps me from doing a little unscheduled cleaning of the gene pool. I think stupid people do what comes naturally whether I’m there or not, they’re just more likely to follow their instincts when I’m around. Whatever the reason, I got to work with a heaping dose of road rage on top of my headache. Aspirin seems to be less effective as I get older, or maybe the headaches are becoming resistant.
Whatever, I’m a big boy, I can take it. Anyway, I sat down to the glamorous job of a federal agent with a less than sonny disposition.
When you want to put the puzzle pieces of an event together, your best bet is to get as much data in one place as possible and then sort for common elements. People aren’t reliable observers. Your average citizen’s memories are tainted by what they want to have seen and by the details their mind fills in. Very few people are trained to remember event details in a precise and objective manner.
So, at 8:45am I was sitting in my office with my feet up on my desk, listening to a recording of a city patrolman questioning the neighborhood octogenarian. She just happened to be out with her little dog when my most recent victim decided to get up close and personal with public transportation. When Toto was doing his business she “saw the whole thing don’t ya know. Well most of it, from around the corner like.” At least she admitted that she hadn’t watched the event in 3d high definition.
I was starting to get into the swing of things, mechanically notating names, times, common elements, when the devil teamed up with Murphy to give me some really undeserved karma.
It started with someone whistling the theme to the Andy Griffith show outside my office. Then a smiling hulk of a man filled my door. He was balled with a huge handle bar mustache. His dark eyes twinkled with unnatural good cheer.
“Good morning Michael. It is a beautiful day no?”
“Sure Sanchez. Whatever you say.”
I paused the recording and looked at the guy questioningly. Julio Sanchez is either a want-to-be thug or a genius with really good taste, I can’t tell which. Today he was wearing a silk Tommy Bahama blazer, black slacks, a red polo shirt, and timberland boots that looked like they hadn’t seen a day on hard pavement. A single gold hoop pierced his left ear. Bulging muscles made his six foot frame seem larger than it had any right to be.
“I keep telling you Michael, the coffee; it’s no good for you. A little tea, a brisk five mile jog in the morning, you’ll be perfecto! I have your best interests in mind here Michael, especially since we’re partners.”
That did it. My feet hit the floor with a decisive thump. I leaned forward toward the idiot, murder in my heart, the fact that my boss was most likely downstairs providing my only source of restraint.
“We—are—not—partners. We have to work together, fine. I can deal with it. But, don’t you be saying we’re partners, because we’re not. You’re on special assignment for this project, that’s all.”
He grinned and walked over to grab one of my office chairs. He sat down and carefully checked the hang of his shoulder holster.
“The boss says we’re partners, we’re partners Michael. You’ll teach me the savvy ways of a special agent in charge. I will provide you with metric tons of fashion sense and suave sophisticated technical advice. Together we will save the country, break hearts and look oh-so-good doing it. Now, what are we going to do today?”
I opened my mouth to put this invader of my sanctum in his place but didn’t get to say anything before he barged ahead, one foot tapping incessantly.
“No, let me guess. I’ve read the case file, I’ve analyzed the evidence. Together we’ll infiltrate the occult adversary of the city. We’ll shake up a few of your informants on the street, I’ll be silent and threatening while you play good cop. We’ll interview the people at the hotel where the latest victim was staying, possibly a few single women in need of reassurance after yesterday’s tragic events no?”
I sighed, his enthusiasm putting paid to my anger.
“No. This is what I’m talking about man. You’re a scientist, a math man. What we do here, it’s not James bond.”
“Well of course not, he’s not as good looking as we are. And, we have bigger guns!”
So he wanted to be an agent did he? Well I could fix this little problem right now.
“OK. You want savvy special agent in charge, I’ve got just the thing. Follow me.”
I stood up and grabbed a few disks from my desk top and walked out the door, the prospect of finally putting Sanchez in his place adding a little spring to my step.
He and I, we don’t get along. He thinks my grumpy I’m-not-a-morning-person routine is an act. I hate morning people, really, seriously. He has this romantic view of what a special agent does. He buys expensive clothes, practices card games, says “Sanchez, Julio Sanchez” in the mirror, that sort of thing. Man knows his periodic tables, no question. But he thinks being a field agent is drinking martinis “shaken not stirred” and having a cup of Yin Hao with breakfast.
I grinned. Let’s see how he felt about being an agent after this.
---An hour and a half later---
“You know Michael; they have computer programs that take care of this kind of thing.”
“Shh, we’re getting to the good part.”
“Ah, the good part.”
Sanchez leaned forward, a fierce grin on his face, his eyes glued to the projection on the wall from the recorded security cam of one of the corner stores where my most recent victim had met his end. He looked like a kid at Christmas, waiting for his parents to bring out the really big gift.
He waited...and waited...and waited...
“Nothing is happening.”
“Michael, you said this is the good part.”
“You weren’t talking about the movie?”
“You’re a jerk Michael.”
“Sitting here, watching you, best part of sitting in an office chair for an hour and a half watching surveillance tapes.”
“You listen to music while you do this, play cards?”
“Nope, breaks your concentration. You might miss something.”
Sanchez turned away from the image on the wall and looked at me.
“Why? Working with me, I thought it was a good thing.”
I turned off the recording and rested my elbows on my knees.
“You ever get an intern?”
“Sure, all the time. Its part of working for the government, you have to Sheppard the young ones into flight.”
“Nicky gives you some critical evidence; do you give it to your intern?”
“Of course not. I do it myself.”
“Exactly. You are the king of the lab. You could probably beet me arm wrestling every time. I bet you’re the man when it comes to small talk, Doctor Sanchez and all that.
I got a job to do here man. I’d love to play Sherlock and Dr. Watson with you, but people are dead and Nicky wants this taken care of A.S.A.P. I don’t have time to screw around. It isn’t personal, it’s professional.”
Sanchez sighed and looked across the conference table at me. His shoulders slumped and his hands twisted in his lap. God, I love self-righteous ass kicking, but this was more like puppy kicking.
“You know why I joined DHS?”
“No life stories Julio, I feel bad for you but there’s not much I can do about it.”
He held up a hand to stop me.
“I want you to understand. When I got my second post doctoral degree, I had a choice. I could have started teaching or working for the private sector like most people at my level. There is much money in those areas, especially if you have cross-disciplinary degrees, which I do. I come from a poor family, and my father always used to tell me that if I was so smart maybe I’d help someone some day.
So, I joined up with DHS. I wanted to be a field agent, but they said I was over-qualified. You know, I blew all their tests out of the water, but they wanted me to play with peetry dishes and Bunsen burners. They wanted to say that Dr. Sanchez worked for them and isn’t that a long resume he has.”
He held his hands a few feet apart and winked suggestively at me.
“So I told Nicholas I was tired of being too smart and I wanted a transfer over to a field office. He told me that if I could make myself useful to you, then he might consider my request.”
I took a second to really look at him. He was fit and well dressed; the picture of what the agency wants their dashing young men to present to the public. His eyes were old though. They were intent on me, not begging or expectant. He was determined, focused, driven.
“Why’d you pick homeland security? You’re a smart guy. There are lots of other agencies where you could make a difference where the ladder wouldn’t be as hard to climb.”
“Some people, a war starts, they say they want to serve their country. They stick their chests out and join the coast guard or the fire department. Some people, they believe in what their country stands for, they join up, they enlist, they take the oath and ship out to fight the good fight. We need the coast guard, the firemen; they put their life at risk for others all the time. You know what I’m saying here?”
I nodded at him and made a motion with one hand to continue.
“I saw the towers fall, the burning pillars crumble. I want to be part of the agency whose name begins with “homeland.” I don’t want to sit in a lab and write up reports, I want to walk the walk and talk the talk. Lots of people say it; they want to serve their country. They just want to get promoted, to talk the talk. I can’t look in the mirror and tell myself I’ve done something worthwhile in the lab. Important, necessary, but not worthwhile.”
He lapsed into silence, holding my gaze. There’s not much you can say to that.
“You want to make a difference?…You want me to show you how to kick ass and take names so that Nicky will make you a full time field agent?”
“I don’t have time to be nice to you Julio. The I have a dream speech doesn’t mean you have what I need or that you have what it takes to do the job. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“OK, I’m not Ramirez and you’re not Conner Macleod of the clan Macleod. I tell you what to do; you do it, no questions.”
He just shrugged and made a flicking gesture with one hand.
“You say jump, I say how high?”
“Exactly. So here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to go out for lunch. You’re going to get changed into a plane-Jane suit, something a little more government and a little less drug dealer. Then when I get back, we’re going to talk to a contact of mine. We set?”
“Can do sir.”
There was a little bit of mockery in the response, but not enough to matter.
“Oh, and Julio?”
He stopped, half way out the door, not wasting any time.
“Geek squad does make a difference, even if they do it with pocket protectors.”
“You have no idea how much we socially inept individuals value your high opinion.”
He turned and left. I stood up and made my way toward my favorite local spot for a liquid lunch. The word “partner” makes me nervous, but aid, apprentice, those words I can work with on a temporary basis.