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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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?”
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-
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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