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.
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.
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.
· 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.