THE MADAGASCAR MATTER – Chapter One (Full)

Chapter One

I flew in­to An­tana­nari­vo at 9pm on Tues­day night af­ter hav­ing bounced my way across half the world from where I’d been pre­vi­ous­ly in Ed­mon­ton, Al­ber­ta. When I left, the cold weath­er of the Cana­di­an win­ter saw me off in tem­per­atures of twen­ty be­low. Land­ing, the pi­lot in­formed us that the cur­rent tem­per­ature in the cap­ital city of Mada­gas­car was a balmy eighty-​five and hu­mid.

I trav­eled light. It was a habit drilled in­to us back in the Acade­my. Less bag­gage means you can move quick­er, skirt cus­toms lines, and get out of the air­port as fast as pos­si­ble. My in­struc­tors al­ways harped on the fact that air­ports were too con­fin­ing. If shit went down, the last thing you want­ed was a gun bat­tle be­tween you and your tar­get amid a hun­dred se­cu­ri­ty types all look­ing for an ex­cuse to fi­nal­ly fire their is­sue sidearm.

My pass­port was French and the of­fi­cial who glanced at it and broke in­to a toothy grin. “Bon soir, M’sieur.”

I smiled back. “Bon soir.”

He glanced through the pass­port, but I didn’t wor­ry. The Coun­cil wouldn’t dream of sup­ply­ing their ac­tive Fix­ers with any­thing but a le­git­imate pass­port. Mine came right from the cen­tral pass­port of­fice in Paris, craft­ed with care by a French vam­pire who then for­ward­ed it on to the Coun­cil, know­ing very lit­tle of who would be us­ing it and why, on­ly that for all in­tents and pur­pos­es of this as­sign­ment, my home res­idence was in St. Ger­main-​des-​Pres, which worked out well since the place was filled with jazz clubs and I was on a ma­jor Dex­ter Gor­don kick any­way.

The cus­toms of­fi­cial stamped my pass­port and hand­ed it back to me. I smiled. “Mer­ci.”

“De rien.”

I walked out of the air­port and in­to the thick soup of hu­mid night air. I took a breath and glanced around. Ze­ro had men­tioned there would be a con­tact by the taxi stand. I made my way over and watched a line of beat up Dat­suns un­du­late like an inch­worm as each seg­ment scooped up a pas­sen­ger and then dis­en­gaged from the rest of the line.

“You’re late.”

I knew the voice and couldn’t help the smile that broke out over my face. “I didn’t ex­pect to see you here.”

“Didn’t I tell you there’d be a con­tact?”

I nod­ded. Ze­ro looked re­laxed, his bald head gleamed in the glow of the yel­low light bulbs over­head. “Yeah, but I thought you were in Lon­don.”

“I was. Now I’m here.” He led me away from the taxi line by my arm and we walked to­ward the park­ing lot. “We’ve got plen­ty to dis­cuss.”

“Like why there are two of us on this op.”

Ze­ro nod­ded. “This one goes back, my friend. Back a lot longer than any­thing in re­cent mem­ory.”

“How far?”

Ze­ro point­ed up ahead at a Range Rover. When­ev­er you had to drive in a third world coun­try, there was noth­ing bet­ter. “We can talk in­side. Too many ears in these parts.”

I glanced around but couldn’t make out any­thing de­spite my ex­cel­lent night vi­sion. But I trust­ed Ze­ro with my life and if he said there were lis­ten­ers out there, that meant we stayed mum un­til it was safe to do oth­er­wise.

Ze­ro ap­proached the Range Rover and reached up in­to the wheel well. His hand came out a mo­ment lat­er with the mag­net­ic case. He took the key out, un­locked the door and slid in­side, reach­ing over to un­lock my door. The in­te­ri­or of the car was hu­mid and hot. “How’d you wran­gle this?”

He shrugged. “Coun­cil set it up. Had some­one swing by ear­li­er and park it here.”

“I’m al­ready im­pressed with the lev­el of in­volve­ment here. What the hell’s go­ing on?”

Ze­ro start­ed the en­gine and turned on the ra­dio. A night­ly news pro­gram in Mala­gasy, one of the of­fi­cial lan­guages in Mada­gas­car, poured out of the speak­ers. “We ride in­to town tonight and first thing in the morn­ing, we have our first meet­ing.”

“With who?”

Ze­ro placed his hands on the steer­ing wheel. “Guy who knows how to find the man we’re look­ing for.”

The way Ze­ro’s fore­head creased con­cerned me. I’d been on my own now for al­most ten years. Ze­ro’s sud­den reap­pear­ance on a mis­sion had me won­der­ing what was go­ing on.

He glanced over and grinned. “You haven’t screwed up, if that’s what you’re think­ing, Law­son.”

“I’m not sure what to think.”

“Been a while since we last worked to­geth­er, hasn’t it?”

“I thought I was through with the ap­pren­tice thing.”

He nod­ded. “You are. This has noth­ing to do with your pro­fi­cien­cy at com­plet­ing as­sign­ments. It has ev­ery­thing to do with the rather un­ortho­dox na­ture of this as­sign­ment.”

We drove down the wind­ing streets that led in­to the cap­ital. A lot of the homes were still built out of wood that had been yanked out of the forests to the north­west of the city. At one time, the rul­ing class even had a palace built out of wood. It had been re­placed with one made of brick and stone.

Ze­ro kept the gas on and we sped down the nar­row lanes. Around us, the squat build­ings seemed to lean in. Lights flick­ered in win­dows. Elec­tric­ity might be a rar­ity in some parts, it seemed.

“You ev­er heard of the Mada­gas­car Plan?”

I glanced back at Ze­ro. The crease in his fore­head looked deep­er now. He was deep in thought. “No.” I shrugged. “Should I have?”

“Not nec­es­sar­ily. It was be­fore your cen­ten­ni­al, any­way. I’d be sur­prised if you knew about it at all.”

“So, tell me.”

“When the Nazis came to pow­er in the mid-1930s, one of their de­signs on the Eu­ro­pean Jews was to ship them all off to this is­land. Ba­si­cal­ly, they want­ed them out of fortress Eu­rope and some­where far away. Mada­gas­car was con­sid­ered ide­al for the pur­pose.”

“What-​they would have sim­ply im­pris­oned them here?”

Ze­ro shrugged. “I think the full de­tails of the plan in­volved some sort of mass ex­ter­mi­na­tion once the cap­tives were here. But no one re­al­ly knows be­cause the plan nev­er got much be­yond be­ing just that.”

“So, why are we here now? The sec­ond world war was a long time ago. Thir­ty-​two years to be ex­act.”

Ze­ro eyed me in the dark­ness. “We’re here be­cause the per­son who for­mu­lat­ed the Mada­gas­car Plan was one of us.”

“A vam­pire?” I smirked. “You’re jok­ing, of course. How in the hell would Hitler have al­lowed such a thing?”

“Don’t be naïve, Law­son. You’re too good for that. You know as well as I do that the Coun­cil has mem­bers of our race em­bed­ded in ev­ery pow­er­ful or­ga­ni­za­tion in the world.”

“Sure, but the Nazis?”

“They were an­oth­er po­lit­ical par­ty like all of the rest we’ve ev­er in­fil­trat­ed. No one knew what their po­ten­tial was un­til it was too late. And dur­ing that time, there weren’t as many ac­tive Fix­ers as there are now. It blew up be­fore we could step in.”

“And our man on the in­side? He was swayed?”

“He be­came a sym­pa­thiz­er to the ma­ni­acal plans of Hitler. We’ve al­ways worked hard to co­ex­ist with oth­er races. But who knows what hap­pened? Could be the stress of work­ing un­der­cov­er too long. You know the risks. What can hap­pen.”

“You for­get who you are. On­ly what you’re try­ing to be.”

“The lies be­come the truth,” said Ze­ro. “This guy be­came what he sup­pos­ed­ly hat­ed.”

“You say sup­pos­ed­ly.”

“There’s some ev­idence now that he might have duped the Coun­cil.”

“He was in league with the Nazis the en­tire time?”

Ze­ro nod­ded. “It’s pos­si­ble. Some of our kind over the years haven’t al­ways ac­cept­ed the idea that we should be in the shad­ows. They claim the birthright that hu­mans have al­ways owned. That puts us in a del­icate po­si­tion.”

“And this guy-“

“Prob­ably want­ed noth­ing more than to see the Jews ex­ter­mi­nat­ed as a means of set­ting oth­er geno­cides in mo­tion.”

“To­day the Jews, to­mor­row the Chi­nese, and so on…”

“Sure. With all of that go­ing on, who would ev­er as­sume that there was an un­known race work­ing be­hind the scenes to po­si­tion them­selves?”

“That kind of plan would take a hel­lu­va long time.”

Ze­ro smiled. “Well, we do have that ben­efit of a longer lifes­pan. He might well have been very pa­tient.”

Ze­ro rolled to a stop in front of a run­down ho­tel. “Home for the night.”

I looked at the four-​sto­ry struc­ture and winced. I’d been in a lot of crap­py joints in my rel­ative­ly short time in the field, but this was pret­ty aw­ful. The bal­conies sagged and the wood sup­port­ing the struc­ture looked like it was ready to cave in at any mo­ment. “This place safe?”

Ze­ro shrugged. “By safe, I as­sume you mean it will keep us pro­tect­ed in the event our pres­ence here hasn’t gone un­no­ticed. You’re not com­ment­ing on the over­all struc­tural in­tegri­ty.”

“Ac­tu­al­ly, that’s ex­act­ly what I’m ask­ing.”

“Oh, well, in that case, no. It’s not safe at all.” He peered out of the wind­shield. “If I had to haz­ard a guess, I’d say a good rain will bring it down.” He grinned. “Lucky for us, rain’s not in the fore­cast.” He pulled the Range Rover around the back­side of the build­ing and parked it.

“One more thing.”

I looked at him as he reached un­der the driv­er’s seat and came up with a pair of pis­tols. He hand­ed me one. The Brown­ing 9mm felt heav­ier than I re­mem­bered, but I’d been us­ing the Beretta late­ly. I popped the mag­azine out, checked the top round and then topped it off be­fore slid­ing the mag­azine back in­to the pis­tol. Ze­ro racked his slide and glanced at me.

“We’ve got ac­cess to oth­er weapons if we need them.”

“Will we?”

Ze­ro’s smile flashed in the dark­ness. “They don’t ask stal­lions to haul hay­seed, Law­son.”

We slid out in­to the hu­mid night and Ze­ro led us in­side.

I stopped him. “So wait – which one of us is the stal­lion?”

Ze­ro shook his head and wan­dered in­side. I stayed on the front stoop in the shad­ows a few min­utes longer, watch­ing for any traf­fic that might have coast­ed in af­ter us. A good surveil­lance team would know how to ap­proach with­out show­ing their hand.

But the night didn’t re­veal any­thing. On­ly a few scat­tered souls loi­tered in this part of town. I could smell the des­per­ation in the air, though, and that’s nev­er a good thing. Des­per­ate peo­ple are like­ly to try any­thing. I didn’t want any of them com­ing up on me while I tried to get some sleep.

“Law­son.”

I glanced up. Ze­ro waved me in­side. We walked past the front desk where the clerk had al­ready gone back to read­ing a news­pa­per. The stairs lead­ing up to the third floor might have been made out of tooth­picks.

“Don’t say it,” said Ze­ro as we crest­ed an­oth­er floor.

“Just hap­py we haven’t plum­met­ed to our deaths yet.”

We stopped out­side a door and Ze­ro hand­ed me a key. “You’re next door.”

“Usu­al wake up?”

“Yeah.”

I heft­ed my bag and nod­ded. “See you then.”

I en­tered and tossed my bag on the bed. The springs groaned as the bag land­ed. I checked the room quick­ly, not­ing that it was clear of any­one wait­ing to kill me. At least for now.

A small door led to the bal­cony over­look­ing the street and I opened the win­dows up as well. A breeze blew in and cooled the in­te­ri­or down, but it was still hot. The room felt like an oven and I won­dered how Ze­ro was far­ing. The heat nev­er both­ered him as much as it did me, but he hat­ed the cold.

I checked the room for any lis­ten­ing de­vices, but truth be told, there weren’t a whole lot of place for them to hide. All the usu­al sus­pects – be­hind the mir­ror, the tele­phone, the pot of wilt­ing flow­ers, the over­head light – were clean. It didn’t mean the place was se­cure, but if there were any elec­tron­ic bugs, I couldn’t find them.

The show­er wa­ter ran brown for a bout five min­utes be­fore fi­nal­ly turn­ing clear. I got a luke­warm tem­per­ature, stripped down and stepped in­side. I’m not big on long show­ers – too much time in a com­pro­mis­ing po­si­tion – so I lath­ered up and got out, wrap­ping a tow­el around me while I dug some fresh clothes out of my bag.

Dressed again, I sat down on the edge of the bed and fished the hair­brush out of my kit. The han­dle un­screwed and a test tube filled with blood slid out in­to my hand. I frowned, popped the lid off and downed the con­tents be­fore I could re­al­ly taste any of it.

Weird, huh? A vam­pire who can’t even stand the taste of blood. Well, that’s me. I didn’t ask to be born in­to this race of liv­ing blood­suck­ers and giv­en my pref­er­ence, I’d much rather have been part of the sect of hu­man­ity my kind branched off from. The food’s a hel­lu­va lot bet­ter.

I don’t even call it blood. To me, it’s a lot eas­ier to drink if I call it “juice.” Hey, at least I’m hon­est about my per­son­al hang-​ups.

Re­vi­tal­ized as I was, the jour­ney had me think­ing about sleep, es­pe­cial­ly since Ze­ro had promised one of his fa­mous ear­ly-​morn­ing wake-​up calls. To Ze­ro, four in the morn­ing was a good time to wake up. I much pre­fer sleep­ing in when I can. Late­ly, that hadn’t been of­ten.

I slid the Brown­ing un­der the pil­low and then laid on the bed. I leaned back and found the pil­low, de­spite its thread­bare ap­pear­ance, ac­tu­al­ly cra­dled my head nice­ly. A soft breeze blew in from out­side and I let my eyes close, breath­ing in time to my slow­ing heart­beat…the rhythm of the heat…

…it in­vad­ed my dreams that night. Far off on a high plain where the tall grass whipped to and fro stood a man sil­hou­et­ted by a blis­ter­ing sun. I could hear the sound of trib­al drums far off. The sun bit in­to my eyes, mak­ing me squint. I tast­ed the salt of my own sweat, my tongue felt thick and mossy. I craved wa­ter. Shade. A cool breeze. The man danced in time to the grass whip­ping around him. Clouds of dust caked the air. I strug­gled to breathe. And I could see he held some­thing in his hands. With a sud­den thrust, he seemed to stab it right at my heart-

-click.

Some sounds have the pow­er to jerk you right out of a deep sleep. Es­pe­cial­ly when you’ve been trained to in­stant­ly cat­ego­rize them and re­al­ize ex­act­ly what they meant.

I snapped my eyes open.

The sun from my dreams was re­placed by a bril­liant white flash­light burn­ing in­to my face. But the light didn’t both­er me.

The Colt 1911 that had been out­fit­ted with a cus­tom sound sup­pres­sor point­ing right at my chest with its ham­mer drawn back, ready to fire both­ered me a whole lot more.

© 2010 by Jon F. Merz All rights re­served

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