Another clueless, airhead model

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Zombies of Dungpileton

Chapter 4

All characters, living or dead, and locations or events in this web novel are entirely fictitious or merely coincidental. 

General Langford looked down into the pit, helpless with the barrels of two AR-15s nudged against his back.  Beside him, the thin man smiled as the battle progressed below.

Race had the advantage of martial arts skill and free will over his approaching assailants, each wielding a machete and axe in their hands.  He thought speed would be on his side also until unbelievably, the Samoan was quickly upon him. He barely evaded the machete slicing down towards his skull.  Race hoped the brute would slow down if he could evade him for a few more minutes. But there were two of them now upon him.  He backpedaled, contorting, ducking to avoid a buzz saw of flaying weapons until his back was against the wall.  When he crouched to avoid another arcing death blow by the farm boy, the axe instead glanced off the concrete wall and sank deep into the thigh of the Samoan.  No howls of pain emanated but it was sufficient to hobble him, exposing his other leg to a thrusting kick from Race.  It buckled inward, shattered bones cutting into arteries and forcing the Samoan to the floor.  Race quickly snatched the machete from his hand, moving to the table to put it between him and the farm boy.  This zombie was slowing down but remained deliberate and had an arm length that could reach across the table.  His blows were parried with flying sparks but with a force that sent Race staggering backwards.  Again he was assailed with both axe and machete, blocking one, side-stepping the other but never getting the leverage to retaliate with a kick or close enough to use his machete.  The relentless assault threw him off balance and on the floor.  The farm boy charged Race, axe raised for a disemboweling blow.  Race sprang up to meet him in half swing, thrusting his machete deep into the man’s upper torso and out his back.  The farm boys’ momentum still sent both men forward until the lummox lost his footing and fell to the ground.  Race fell to his side, rolling into a crouch but the farm boy was now lifeless, a stream of blood flowing from his body towards the Samoan, now crawling towards Race with his hacked leg leaving a trail of blood across the floor.  Approaching him, Race picked up the axe and with a grunt swung it down with all his strength into the zombie’s skull.  It cracked open followed by a jerk of the body, then death. Panting, Race looked upwards at the thin man.  “Bravo Mr. Banner” was his first words to Race.  He ordered the scientist on the stairwell to release the stairs to the floor.  Race calmly joined the group at top level, dispelling thoughts of strangling the thin man when he saw the guards having him at a disadvantage. 

The thin man spoke.  Mr. Banner, your reputation has indeed preceded you.  Please, have a seat.  Race and Langford sat adjacent to each other, facing the thin man with his guards behind him.  The scientists had left the room.  Mr.  Banner, you must understand there was a need to judge your capabilities and loyalty to our operation.  You have exceeded my expectations and now I will inform you where we intend to go from here.  The thin man retrieved from his briefcase a folder of papers which he slid across the table to Race.

Race, if I may call you Race?  Race didn’t say a word.  Race, in that folder are your mission orders.  I’ll briefly touch on the background.  Our parasite variant is ready for dispersal in Dungpileton.  Your mission will be to facilitate it throughout the population and monitor the results.  Of course, due to the imprinting of the zombies on such a massive scale it will be necessary for you to work with other operatives to ensure they are present when infection takes hold.  Therefore, it is incumbent upon you to infect the citizens in a manner where they will imprint only in small groups.  Those two men you dispatched imprinted on me within two hours however, our labs have a prototype variant that will infect an individual within ten minutes.  You are to arrive in Dungpileton in two days to meet our operatives and devise a way to infect the population in a steady, controlled manner.  Any questions? Race stared back at the thin man.  He was successful in gaining some measure of trust with him but in this business trust was a weakness.  It made you let your guard down and more often than it resulted in permanent termination.  He could count on one hand the people he trusted with his life and that, more than anything had kept him alive.  His only reply was “no questions” and with that the thin man said good day and left the room followed by his guards.Race looked at Langeford.  Both were aware they were still being monitored.  In situations such as this they used benign, coded sentences which indicated where to securely meet. Well sir, I have my orders and only two days to prepare.  I wanted to take in a hike at Big Bend National park but that will have to wait. 

Good luck, the general replied.

Big Bend National Park.  Texas

There were five sites throughout the United States which Race and Langeford agreed upon to rendezvous without fear of surveillance.   One was Mt. Emory, the tallest peak in Big Bend National Park.  The day following Area 51, Race drove a rented vehicle from El Paso to the park.   Hiking seven miles into the Chisos Mountains, he waited for Langford to arrive two hours later at the top of Emory Peak, 7825 feet above sea level.  Still winded, the general sat down among the boulders, pinon pines (Pinus edulis) and mountain mahogany (Cercocarpos montanus).  You know Race, I’m no longer a spring chicken so can’t you find an easier place to meet?  Race replied with a smile.  Sir, with technology the way it is now this may be the only place left but in thirty minutes the geosynchronous orbit of our satellites will be able to zero in on our location.   With that the men quickly coordinated their plans.

Race, I’m afraid there is only one person you can trust when you are working in Dungpileton.  The thin man’s operatives are aware of the rogue botanist but only as a thorn in the side of their intentions to convert the nearby wildlife refuges into oil drilling facilities.  He and his biological coworkers have thus far kept the drillers confined to isolated sites but only after intense persistence and with the help of friends at the upper echelons of the Fish and Wildlife Service.  However, one by one those friends have retired or met an untimely demise.  The Family has its tentacles in every level of the government.   It’s up to you to ensure this operation doesn’t come to fruition.  At this point we are taking one step forward for every two steps back.  We need this victory and will work from there to take out the Family’s influence in other agencies but it starts now. The two men shook hands, departing on separate paths to their respective vehicles at a parking lot near the trail head. 

Texas State Capital.  Austin

Governor Rich Parry looked out his window several stories above the bustling activity of Congress Avenue.  It wasn’t the matters of governance on his mind, rather it was a certain young man he noticed working for the state speaker of the house.  His informants revealed the man was gay and with this was a golden opportunity to blackmail him into doing whatever sexual indulgences the governor fancied.  The nightmare that was the republican campaign for president was not without its consequences.  The facade of his political invincibility was laid bare for the country to witness and ridicule.  It was embarrassing but something that will past with the next big news cycle.   He mused, "I'm still a king in Texas so that smug, rich Mormon bastard can have his presidential campaign.   The country will be done with him after his defeat in November.  After that he can go back to his dressage horses and car elevators and offshore bank accounts.  No use getting worked up over it, I'm back to doing what I love best - exploiting the office of the governor for profit and debauchery".  

Parry's ascension to the highest office in the state relied on two factors: his rugged good looks and the sheepish Texas electorate.  Like his predecessor, Rich lacked an innate intelligence but knew when to defer to advisers for political gain.  The republicans in this state were no different than elsewhere - conditioned from birth to crave a patriarch, someone to reassure them their race was chosen by God to lead humanity.  It was almost too easy to get this far.  Throw in a platitude here and there about Mexicans storming over the border to have their anchor babies and vehemently profess his love for God and the witless voters will send him to Austin every time.  "Like shooting fish in a barrel".  The presidency of Barack Obama was a godsend to him, a wellspring of Caucasian paranoia he would exploit time and again.   The democrats were his bitch, impotent and spineless, unable to galvanize the Hispanic dominated population to vote for them and unable to finance credible opponents against GOP candidates statewide or in the U.S. Congress.  Oil and gas production was up throughout the state thanks to fraking and unimpeded by a toothless Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.  Yes there was still going to be a deficit in the billions next year but another bailout from Washington will cancel it out and the state media will be too scared to report this.  It would be a trivial matter to convince the majority of voters that he and his cronies in the statehouse had once again made Texas an economic powerhouse despite ranking with the highest high school dropout rate, the the worst health care availability and still, the most polluted state in the nation.  The billion dollar Enterprise Fund to corporations was an endless quid pro quo pipeline of money to his campaign coffers.  Yes, life was good he thought until the daydreaming was interrupted by a buzz from his desk intercom.  It was his secretary, reminding him he had a fund raising engagement with his wife this evening.  Dammit, he growled to himself.  His willingness to have a wife for political gain struck a raw nerve in him and festered more with every year they stayed married.  Only his periodic tryst with young men made his situation with her bearable.   He resigned himself to the evening’s events when the secretary again buzzed him.  Governor, there are also two gentlemen here who would like to speak with you and insist they don’t need an appointment.  A look of dread fell upon the governor’s face for only certain individuals would be so brazen as to visit without prior authorization.  They were representatives from the Family.  “Send them in” the governor glumly replied, his facial features quickly changing to a faux inviting expression.

“Gentlemen, welcome”.

Two men entered his office, one portly in stature and the other a very large body guard.  The portly man wore a black three piece suit with a gold crucifix around a barely discernible neck.  He sat down without invitation and began speaking.  Rich, my boy, how are you?  He said this in a manner that didn’t expect a reply and the governor complied.  Rich, I’m here today because of distressing news that oil production on wildlife refuges in this state is far behind forecaster output.  The governor protested meekly. But sir, those are federal lands.  Oil companies have no jurisdiction to increase oil production other than to take advantage of the mineral rights.  It was true.  The refuges in Texas had imminent domain above ground but they didn’t hold the mineral rights below the surface and that included oil and gas extraction.  However, drilling production was slowed due to regulations dictating where to drill depending on the damage to critical wildlife habitat.  The Family believed that oil was a God given right to extract and no production-impeding regulation was going to usurp the word of God.  The portly man grew incensed at the Governor’s excuse.  His rotund head took on a hue of red as his once jovial manner was replaced with a sinister demeanor. 

Listen hear, Rich.  There is no difference between Federal and State lands as far as God is concerned.  The Family fully intends to profit from this oil boom to fund our mission to make this country once again bow to the word of the Lord.  To assist you, we’ve sent our two best assassins to take care of the two biggest troublemakers at the Victoria and San Bertram wildlife refuges outside Dungpileton.  Once the biologist and botanist are removed, your people will have free reign to put oil wells anywhere on those refuges.  From there, oil and gas production will snowball on wildlife refuges across the state.  That is all I need on this Rich. 
"Yes sir, thank you sir"

The governor was grateful he didn’t incurred a more serious wrath from the Family.  The assassins will do the job for him and he would be back on track to fulfilling his agenda with that young man.  He assumed their business was finished and walked to the door to show the two men out but the portly man had one more matter to attend to.  Are you forgetting something Rich?  The governor, with his back to the men, grimaced then turned around.  He walked over, knelt in front of the man and unzipped the fly of his trousers. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Zombies of Dungpileton

Chapter 3

 All characters, living or dead, and locations or events in this web novel are entirely fictitious or merely coincidental.  

Yosemite National Park, California

Race thought about that day in Texas nine years ago as he sat, legs extending into air, on a jutting boulder of El Capitan’s North Slope.  This place, this mountain in the park was the last place he and Terrance climbed together.  Now it is the resting place of his cremated remains .  Race needed to hike before meeting General Langford in Nevada in two days; one more day in the park to think about why he was chosen so close to retirement to monitor the parasitic infection of a large town.  No use denying it; years of emotionless assassinations had made him the perfect candidate for the job.  Or so his superiors thought.  Race had no intention of riding into the sunset with this last mission on his conscious.  And neither did General Langford.  There was a pervasive rot working its way throughout all the U.S. intelligence Agencies.  A putrefaction call The Family.  Objecting to the mission however, would solicit immediate suspicions and take Race and the general out of the loop of the Family's grand plan.  Better to play the part, be the good soldier, or Marine as it were, and see how far the Family’s influence had metastasized. 
Area 51, Nevada

At Las Vegas International Airport, Race met his military driver for the 85 mile trip to Area 51; a detached outpost of Edwards Air Force Base.  The driver, an Air Force airman, said nothing other than asking for his photo, written credentials and palm and retinal scans once they were in the Humvee.  An equally wooden co-driver rummaged through his clothing bag and satchel; scanning for listening devices and GPS tracers.  When satisfied, the escorts joined civilian vehicles on State Highway 93.  They all knew the routine; information was on a need to know basis and besides, the airmen wouldn’t be given this assignment in the most heavily guarded facility in the world if they were the congenial type.  These two were the best of the best for this job and would give their lives to safeguard Race because that was their orders but this was as far as it went.  They wouldn’t hesitate to kill him if the order was relayed to do so in route.  Race learned this lesson early in his career and used it to survive during the purging of agents to cover up lies leading up to the second Gulf War.  After that he never failed to size up and plan for immediate survival contingencies with whomever escorted him.  His every move was monitored by the co-driver on an in-dash TV monitor but Race gave the man no reason for suspicion.  He only stared out the window at the Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia) in this Mohave Desert while he drank from his Sigg water bottle.  Rookies, he thought; they checked the contents of his bottle but didn’t give it a field chemical analysis.  Had they, the analysis would fine more than just water.  It fascinated Race to no end how much plants intertwined with so many of his missions over the years and the Rogue Botanist was his most important goner in this respect.  The botanist knew this assignment would put him in a precarious position where his loyalty would be questioned with certain instruments used to monitor signs of stress such as elevated heart rate and skin temperature.  A concoction of fetid passionflower (Passiflora foetida) and corn salad (Valerianella locusta) in his water would be sufficient to suppress any acceleration in his vitals. 

The Humvee tuned onto Nevada State Route 375, then turning off  onto a dusty road until stopped by a heavy iron gate.  A sign on the gate read U.S. Air Force’s Nevada Testing Range -   a 4,687 square miles property with Area 51 at its center.  At this point no unauthorized personnel were allowed and if anyone was foolish to test this rule they would not get far for motion and visual sensors and vigilant patrolling by Wackenhut private security guards would promptly have them in the custody of the Lincoln County sheriff.  These guards were present at the first four checkpoints, giving as much scrutiny to Race’s escorts as he.  No words were exchanged, just a passing of papers, contents searching and scans followed by a motioning to continue to the next checkpoint.  At the last checkpoint Race keened in on a portable radio news report about two missing linemen of the University of Nevada Wolfpack football team – “No word on the whereabouts of Chad Stevens and Aleki Tulafono, both reported missing after last seen together at…”  

Inside Area 51 proper the escorts drove to an unmarked, 3 acre cinder block building with no apparent stories.  When the vehicle stopped, two guards exited a lone air conditioned shack near the entrance.  These guards were more animated only in they needed to explain to Race his possessions would enter the building through an x-ray tunnel built into the exterior walls.  This was the last time Race was given the same search and credential-verifying protocol. Inside, Race retrieved his bag and satchel but his bottle was thrown into a natural gas incinerator built into the floor.  Another military escort of two airmen led him to a hallway with doors coded alpha numerically.  The senior enlisted of the two opened the last door, D-5, and motioned for Race to step inside.  Inside he was relieved to see General Langeford in the presence of two middle-age women in lab coats. Scientists he presumed.  In the shadows beyond the reach of the florescent lights stood a thin man in a dark three-piece suit.  A gold crucifix hung around his neck.  He said nothing, just gazing intensely at Race.  They stood around a table with a digital projector displaying on the wall a slide presentation depicting what appeared to be microscopic protists stained with cobalt-blue dye .  The temperature in the room hovered around 55 degrees; making it easier for body heat sensors to measure detectable changes in Race’s vitals.  Somewhere in the wall Race was sure there were ultra-sensitive listening devices to monitor his heart rate and breathing.
General Langeford broke the silence. 

Agent Banner, I’m glad you could make it to the base on such short notice.  These women (gesturing to the scientists) will fill you in on the background of the Toxoplasma I discussed briefly with you last week.  They will remain unnamed for security purposes.

Langeford had yet to acknowledge the thin man.  Scientist #1 began the discussion.
Agent Banner, we are here to show you the latest developments on the effects of our latest variant of the Toxoplasma gondii.  The next slides will showed the pathway the parasite takes in the human body after it is ingested as a cyst which protects it from from the stomach's digestive acids.  Here, it releases sporozoites which differentiate into tachyzoites, invading cells and multiplying until the cell membrane bursts.  At this stage the tachyzoites reform into cysts in the brain, imbedding in the frontal cortex.  We are still researching the mechanisms behind its ability to control the host but we do know that at this point the host body will exhibit a lack of response to external stimuli until it is in the presence of another human.  The first person they see in this state will become the only person they slavishly obey.  We still don’t understand why and also unexplained is the ability of the parasite to manipulate the neuropathways to produce congenital analgesia or inability to feel physical pain. 

The slide show ended.  Scientist #2 continued.   

Agent Banner, please follow me down the staircase.  The perimeter of the room was an optical illusion; twenty square feet partitioned by a four foot concrete wall at its center.  Another wall was thirty feet further on.  Between these walls was a 40 foot drop into pit with a wall-bolted, metal spiral staircase leading down to the floor.  As Race decended the stairs he viewed the entirety of the pit and two very large men standing side by side along the wall.  In front of them was a table displaying two hatchets and machetes.  Both stared forward blankly.   Banner further observed both men to weigh about 350 plus pounds with a height of at least 6.5 feet.  Their arms were festooned with tattoos of wolves and the logo of the University of Nevada.  One was Caucasian, maybe a farm boy Race mused, from the dwindling desert farms that had dared to squeeze water out of sand.  The other was of Polynesian descent, possibly Samoan with black hair beyond his shoulders.  Immediately Race solved the mystery of the two missing linemen but played it cool.  Nearing ground level the last of the stairs were raised from the floor by hydraulics.  The scientist stopped to push a button which released the last five feet of stairs to the floor.  Stepping down, they approached the men. 

Scientist #2: These test subjects consumed our latest genetic variant of the parasite with the ability to reach the brain in approximately 2 hours.  Race listened intensely, observing the men but silence and the sound of footsteps made him turn his head to see the scientist quickly ascend the stairs and retract the staircase.  Above Race the thin man peered over the wall, calling out to the two large men at the table.
Gentlemen, kill the man in front of you using the weapons on the table.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Vegetation monitoring

I left Angleton at 0500 for the Trinity NWR HQ and arrived about 0650, not far from the little town of Moss Hill.  Biologist Laurie Lomas and her field tech, Catharine (Cat) who was just out of high school.  They had the UTV loaded and ready to go.  We left for the monitoring unit 15 minutes later.  I followed in trace for about 15 minutes where we pulled off the side of Hwy 105 W onto an old, partially asphalt road to a gated bridge over a creek where we rode into the unit.  This was a forested unit much like any representing most areas of east Texas near the Big Thicket.  We were monitoring 40 sites where Laurie conducted her bird counts and this vegetation monitoring will be used in the data to analyze populations of migrant and resident birds .  
And the rains kept a'coming.  We were wet immediately and stayed that way for the next 3 days in the field.  If it wasn’t for Write in the Rain paper there would be no way we could document the vegetation at every transect.  Pencil or Pen, it worked nearly flawlessly in the torrential rains.  Temperatures in the 80’s and walking kept us from hypothermia.  In short, this is how the monitoring went:

Thomas: FRPE, section 1, section 3.  FRPE was the botanical code for Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvannica), section 1 indicated a diameter of 0-5 cm, section 3 indicated 2-12 m height. 
Laurie: Smilax species, RUTR?  Smilax is green briar, RUTR is the botanical code for dewberry (Rubus trivalis). 
Cat was my transcriber.  I think we peaked the Bell Curve at 75 species.  Cherokee sedge was the dominant ground species. Deciduous holly, green ash, parsley hawthorn and Post and Texas oaks were the dominant trees.

The rains never let up for long over the next 3 days.  Day 1-2 was 9+ hours and Day 3 was 6+.  Everything and anything out there stung, bit, grabbed, pulled and stuck you.  We wore Carthart trousers which offset most thorns and prickles but it was like walking with wet canvas around your legs.  Eventually that hard canvas starting rubbing holes in your skin. Each site had 4, 46 meter transect lines with 4, 3x10 meter blocks to identify the species within them.  It looks like I’ll do this again next week.  

Saturday, July 07, 2012

The Rogue Botanist and the Zombies of Dungpileton

 All characters, living or dead, and locations or events in this web novel are entirely fictitious or merely coincidental. 

 Chapter 2

Both of Banner’s parents were CIA Spooks and maintained strict privacy in his small house outside Langley, Virginia.  By his teenage years it was obvious to Race his parents’ so-called jobs as computer technicians was a ruse but he never questioned it.  As an only child he benefited from their doting; giving him the best education and training in the martial arts and leading to degrees in Middle Eastern studies and philosophy by his 18th birthday.  Race shunned his well-to-do peers who would give birth to another generation of lazy, self-entitled children.  He knew where he wanted to be and it wasn’t in a suit figuring out how to sidestep toothless banking regulations.   Fluency in Arabic and Farsi proved advantageous when he enlisted in the Marines before the first Gulf War.  After the rare promotion to Staff Sargent within four years, it was a natural progression to acceptance as an NSA operative when he retired from the Marines.  He never looked back.

Had Race spent more time at Ft. Meade he would have full knowledge of General Langefords’ background leading up to his appointment as director, his numerous commendations and medals for valor and leadership from the Vietnam Conflict to the second Gulf War.  Unbeknownst to Race was Langeford's internal NSA battles to save his career and maybe his life during the purgings by The Family.  Likewise, with the myriad of covert operations every year to keep track of there was no time for Langeford to read of Banner’s connection with Dungpileton and what transpired there in May 2003.  

May 2003
As a field agent, Race had the luxury of avoiding the tedium of administrative responsibilities.  At least as far as supervision was concerned.  Nevertheless, he was not oblivious to the recent influx of new agents with scant covert skills or basic operatives' acumen.  Also not lost on him was the connection between these agents and their relationship with powerful congressmen and large donors to President Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign.  So it came as no surprise (but much agitation) to him to receive orders to babysit a newbie agent for two weeks on a mission in Dungpileton, TX.  He had two hours to review agent Jim Corning’s dossier before picking him up from Houston's Hobby Airport.   
Jim Corning

·         Nephew of John Corning, republican senator from Texas. 
·        Yale graduate.  Graduating at the bottom of his class with a degree in political science. 
·        No second language skills
·        Rudimentary computer skills
·        Three DUIs
DUIs?  Race muttered to himself.  “That alone would not get a call back from the recruiting agent.   

He continued to read.
           DUIs dismissed after judicial review
·         Prostitution solicitation dismissed after judicial review
·         Internal review by Yale board of directors on suspicion of employing a student to attend his classes and take his exams - dismissed for lack of evidence.

“Holy shit!”  This guy is the mirror image of the president during his years at Yale.  If Dan Rather had the Agency’s report on Bush, he would never have resigned in disgrace from CBS News.  It was not his call to leak to the media the whoring and cocaine use by the president and besides history would judge Bush and it would not be kind.  He was grateful agent Terrance Ford was joining him for backup.  Ford, a retired Marine lieutenant, joined the Agency soon after Banner and both careers took similar paths.  In Banner’s opinion, Ford’s legendary success with cracking the Chinese’s submarine launch codes was reason enough to make him director.  It shouldn’t have mattered that Ford was black but it did to the republican dominated Senate Intelligence Committee.  His nomination never stood a chance. 

“Terrance! Over here” Race spoke up as he waved his arms about the airport crowd.  He wasn’t hard to spot in a crowd at 6’4 with an athletic build of a man half his age.  The men greeted each other with powerful handshakes and hugs. “How’s it going old man?” were Terrance’s sarcastic first words though both men were only in their mid-forties.  “Not bad, old fart” Race replied.

Terrance cut to the chase.  “Well, let’s get on with it Race”.  Since Terrance was flying out of Houston to Istanbul in two days he took the opportunity to see his old friend and maybe get in a little ribbing about the baby Race had to sit.  Besides, he was curious to meet Race’s Goner contact in this region albeit it wasn’t germane to the case.  A Goner was Agency slang for unofficial operatives which by all rights should be agents but were too far gone to pass the strict guidelines for mental stability.  Nevertheless, they served an important role in the security of the United States with loyalty beyond reproach.  All Terrance knew was the goner was known as the Rogue Botanist. 

Corning’s fight arrived thirty minutes later.  With Jim’s photo in hand the men waited at the arrival gate, looking for a doughy, pasty faced individual with thinning black hair.  Jim entered from the gate scanning the crowd and locked eyes on the two men.  He greeted each with a flaccid, sweaty handshake followed by a knowing glance from Race to the smirking Terrance. 

Race told both men there wasn’t much time to check out leads in Dungpileton and suggested they all spend time tonight looking over the mission at the Best Western hotel.  The mission was a favor owed to the Director from the FBI Director.  Domestic counterintelligence was the FBI’s forte but this case had world reaching consequences which heavily involved the NSA.  Computer hackers traced to Dungpileton were overriding protocols at the port of Houston leading to a lack of high security designation for sophisticated guidance missile motherboards destined for the United Kingdom.  These motherboards were reclassified as obsolete computer parts to be recycled in Malaysia but ultimately would fall into the hands of the Chinese government.  A chance double check by custom agents alerted authorities to the operation before the parts left the United States but the trail was still hot.  Jim was annoyed at the abrupt meeting tonight.  He was hungry and a little antsy for cocaine and a hooker. He agreed to the timetable while simultaneously plotting to take care of business.

The mission ended abruptly five hours later.  More often than not plans are always evolving and timetables changing.  Such was the case tonight at the hotel.  Race received word the hackers were on the move and quickly informed Terrance and Jim.  Race and Terrance were veterans of changing plans; always keeping the bare minimum of clothes and toiletries out of their luggage and therefore always packed and ready to go in minutes.  Annoyed at Jim’s foot dragging, both men approached the door of his room and, drawing closer, heard the angry yelling of a woman.

“You asshole, the deal was one-hundred for the coke and fifty for the fuck”.  “Keep it quiet bitch” replied the voice of Jim followed by a loud smack of skin on skin.  Race looked at Terrance and without a word threw his body against the door, splintering it from the jam and propelling him into the room.  They found Jim naked standing over an equally naked woman sobbing and spitting blood on the carpet from a large gash on her lip.  On the night stand, in three rows, was a powered substance.

Jim, what the fuck is going on here was Race’s first words although he knew the answer before speaking.  Rather incredulous, Jim responded, “Stupid bitch is trying to rip me off” and with a cocaine-induced bravado approached Terrance and Race to confront them about the sudden entrance.  This was the last of his mistakes that night.  At arm’s length Terrance shot out his massive hand, throttling Jim’s neck. Thick, corded muscles flex throughout Terrance’s arm as his continued to squeeze until Race intervened. 
“Alright Terrance, let him go” and with that Jim was released, crumpling to the carpet.  Race looked at the hooker and with a slight, wordless motion of his head towards the door indicated she should leave now. She gathered her clothes and raced out of the room.  Regaining his breath Jim concentrated his anger on Terrance.  “You fucking nigger, when I tell my dad what you did the Family will cut up you and feed you to the sharks”.  A threat from a piss-ant like Jim barely solicited  notice from Terrance.  He tuned to Race, “I guess this mission is scrubbed, want to get a beer?”  Race agreed and both men walked out of the room, glad to not deal with Jim for the moment.  The threat about the Family intrigued them neither man knew of the festering influence it had throughout the intelligence agencies.  Later that night Terrance received an abrupt mission statement to take a plane out of Houston for South Korea.  Not unusual and not warranting suspicion.  Brief goodbyes were the norm followed by a promise to meet again when there was free time. 

In the morning Race put in a five mile run to mulled over what to do about Jim.  When finished, he entered his room to the sound of his cell phone ringing on the night stand. The number indicated it was straight from Ft. Meade.  “Agent Banner”, the unknown voice said with no emotion, “Agent Ford’s body was retrieved from the Gulf of Mexico by the Coast Guard this morning.  The body was headless but the implanted tracker confirmed it was him”.  Race stood stoic, replied with a “thank you” and hung up.  Someday the accumulation of friends and love ones who perished during his 14 years of service would come forth in a volcanic outpouring of grief but not today.  In his business it was rare to know the identity of an agents’ assassination but this time he had no doubt who instigated the hit.  Calmly, he dressed, packed his clothes and walked to Jim’s room. The door was askew and partially closed.  Knocking, Race called out to Jim.  “Jim, we have a new assignment and need to fly out in an hour”.  Expecting no reply Race pushed the door open to find Jim asleep.  The white lines on the night stand were now a faint white trace.  Shaking Jim awake Race repeated himself.  Groggy, Jim acknowledged and after taking an hour to shower and pack joined Race at the rental SUV. 

Driving on state highway 523 out of town, Race turned onto Hitchin's Hill road towards the Victoria National Wildlife Refuge.  During this time he filled Jim in on the mission but kept details vague. 
“Jim, we are to rendezvous with a helicopter at a driving tour loop on the Victoria Refuge.  That’s all I know for now.  We’ll get details in route to the area of operation.”  Twenty minutes later they turned onto a three mile stretch of road to an education center and continued on a gravel road designated as the tour loop.  Signs on the roadside pointed to shallow ponds populated with wading birds and the occasional alligator.  When Race was sure there were no vehicles present he pulled into an enclave of salt cedars where an historic monument described the planting of these trees as part of a homestead in the 18th century.  Here, he told Jim that this was the rendezvous site.  Jim left the car, peering between the cedar groves to a sweeping vastness of prairie grasses but couldn’t envision how a helicopter would land among the knee high mounds. 

“Race, there’s no clearing for the…”  He never finished his sentence.  Race had approached from behind with a garrote over Jim’s head and around his neck, slicing into his windpipe.  Jim clawed at the wire, trying to get his fingers between it and his neck.  Unable to do so, he frantically swung his arms backwards in an attempt to hit Race.  In less than twenty seconds he was losing his breath and blacking out, arms falling limply to his side.  Race maintained tension on the garrote until he was sure Jim was either dead or soon to be dead from having his trachea sliced nearly in half.  It was messy, blood still running in streams down Jim’s neck and staining the sleeves of Race’s shirt but it was quiet and there no tourists, especially the birdwatchers who were gathered in groves to observe a rare sighting of a black-tailed godwit in another area of the refuge.

Taking out a joint from his silver cigarette case, Race lit it and took a long drag before calling the rogue botanist on his phone.  The death was prearranged therefore; all Race had to say was “time for the cleanup”.  No words other than “OK” were spoken on the other line.  In thirty minutes a late model Toyota 4-runner rambled down the gravel road to parked alongside the SUV.   A balding, fit looking Caucasian male in his fifties got out of the car and approached the back of the SUV where he found Race halfway through his joint.  Jim was at his feet, the last of his blood staining the grassy ground.  The botanist was in the uniform of his federal agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Wearing the uniform would allay suspicions from tourists.   It was 0800 and typical of coastal weather; balmy and already 85 degrees.  Mosquitoes swarmed around the men and Jim's now dead body.  Both men gave no indication of a greeting for there would be time for that another day.  The uniformed man had down pat the protocol from past cleanups for Race, allowing Race to leave the scene with only a nod and giving rest of the joint to his goner.  As he drove away he glanced in his rear mirror to see the botanist drag Jim’s body to the back of his vehicle.  At a location off limits from tourists the botanist ate a  cold breakfast burrito and finished the joint.  He was waiting on the Fixer. Fortunately events occurred at the right place and time because the Fixer was in Houston as a representative for Great Britain’s MI5; teaching agents on the permanent disposal of bodies.  Two hours later the Fixer arrived at the given GPS coordinates in a pickup truck with one 55 gallon blue plastic barrel in the bed and fifty boxes labeled “Fluorosulfuric acid (HFSO3)”.  In the cab was his wife Chelsea whom he first met when she was on an operation for the CIA in Burma.  They left the truck to find the botanist hunched over a plant. 

“Dig this! Spiranthes vernalis, one of my favorites” said the botanist as he inspected the orchid. The Fixer replied in his coarse, working man’s British accent. “Are you done wanking off to that plant because I have classes to teach back in Houston?”

Nick! Keep it professional, Chelsea implored..  To say Chelsea was “striking in her beauty” would be a disservice.  It was a sore point with Nick because Chelsea prompted the longing, body length gazes of every man she encountered.  But she and Nick knew this was not the case with the botanist.  According to NSA records he was a classic nymphomaniac yet to the chagrin of Chelsea also abided by a code to never let his eyes stray from the face of a married woman.  Just once she wanted to tell him “Hey, my eyes are up here!” 

The botanist pulled himself away from the orchid.  “Hey y’all, this looks like an easy cleanup”.  Nick and Chelsea concurred.  The barrel was removed from the truck and as Chelsea held it secure on its side, the men heaved Jim’s body inside it.  After lifting it up onto the truck bed the men donned goggles, gas masks, rubber apron and gloves and removed the jugs of acid from the boxes.  As each man pour acid over the body, the resulting reaction with skin and water released gases of hydrofluoric acid which were carried away downwind.  Chelsea maintained a position upwind, complimenting herself again on the wise decision to bring a hooded mosquito jacket but forgot about the fire ants swarming about her shoes and making their way up her legs.  Both men took a few seconds to entertain themselves at the site of Chelsea cursing and slapping at the ants as they injected stingers laded with formic acid into her legs.  “Fucking ants, if it isn’t the mosquitoes it’s the fucking fire ants or chiggers or some other little bitch bug”! 

When the last jug of the acid topped off the body, the barrel lid was snapped shut and secured with side clamps.  The men disrobed their protective garments and within a moment the truck with its two passengers and a soon-to-be slurry mix of Jim was on its way back to Houston.  The barrel was destined for filtration to reuse the acid and what was left of Jim, maybe only teeth, would be buried in Mt. Trashmore, the local landfill and highest point in Brazoria County.  With the mission completed on his end the rogue botanist went back to his latest plant fixation; contemplating how to extract N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) from nearby species of acacia.