Authors: Rex Miller
Tags: #Horror, #Espionage, #Fiction - Espionage, #Fiction, #Intrigue, #Thriller, #Suspense, #Horror - General, #Crime & Thriller, #Horror & Ghost Stories, #Espionage & spy thriller, #Serial murderers, #Fiction-Espionage
The images of the distant shadow men danced like faraway campfire silhouettes. His mental computer continued to take in and process the snap of each twig, the crackle of the leaves around him, the pop of tree limbs, the bug buzz, monitoring his own safety as he watched the passing parade, his thoughts a warm fuzziness of command-detonated claymores.
It was such a shame not to do them. The imagined taste of a salty warrior heart made him salivate. Pleasant fantasies to make the moments pass.
They melted away into the night and yet he remained completely inert. The sensors still glowed red inside his mind and he ignored them at his own peril. The life-support and maintenance system that had evolved in closets, trunks, interrogation “interview” rooms, and solitary-confinement cells breathed deeply of the ambient darkness, absorbing and analyzing everything from the possible existence of toxic thiophosphates, to
, to Agent Orange. Satisfied, data collated, the beast took his first normal breath in several minutes, and resumed his route of exfiltration.
It was still morning by the time he reached the edge of the sprawling U.S. fire base that provided support and resupply for such surrounding elements as LZ Mary, but the sun was already high in the sky and the pierced-steel planking reflected retained heat like a griddle. He'd breached the childish perimeter security without breaking a sweat.
A sergeant stood shielding his face with a manifest clipboard as a combat attack chopper lifted from the baking military surface. At that moment Chaingang Bunkowski began to make his move, and the man didn't hear him. When the wind-whipped debris had abated, the supply sergeant returned to itemizing goods for an immense C-130 cargo monster that waited not far away.
Another immense monster materialized from the shadows around a nearby Quonset hut, startling the man at his work.
“This is off limits, troop,” he growled, warning the huge apparition.
“Sergeant, I'm supposed to rance a trason over here, do you know whether they crayled or not?” Words, accompanied by contortions of a rubbery face, the face of a born actor, timed to simulate genuine concern; non-words that sounded like words spoken fast, slurred, said with a beamy, radiant Pillsbury doughboy smile. A verbal onslaught rumbled from the depths of a basso profundo gutbox, by something so large and immediately menacing it discombobulated as well as frightened.
“Tracers? Say what?"
“They said over at the connus I was supposed to race a trishon or—” the metal links snaked out of the big, reinforced canvas pocket like an uncoiling steel rattler, each link wrapped in black tape, propelled by a killing arm the size of a foot-wide sewer pipe, putting an end to one Sergeant Fellows, who had always watched his weight, played the game, kissed officer heinie, got his malaria, typhus, and hepatitis shots, and done his damndest to stay a safe REMF till he could DEROS. But this was one Rear Echelon Melon Farmer whose Date of Estimated Return suddenly got reupped to the Twelfth of Never.
Fingers like gigantic cigars had the sarge in a death grip, and even as his lights were going out, the monster was pulling him back into the shadows to feed.
he room was in soft focus, diffused, pleasantly warm. He remembered being in triage and hearing the corpsman say something and another guy looking at his face and going “Holy shit."
Raymond Meara had wanted to make a joke about the guy's bedside manner needing some work, but he couldn't move his mouth, and they were hooking up a glass thing and he caught his image in a random reflection, a bloody mess of meat that was no face at all and as he passed out he thought,
Yeah, well, more great news. I was hit in the face, too ... but the important thing is
He'd blacked out before he could remember his other wounds.
“That red-haired little whitey never done nothing but brag on hisself and talk about buyin’ a new ‘vette when he got back and we—"
“—twenty-second and he comes back with this short-timer stick and they tried to get him to go down to battalion—"
“—met her in the geisha house. She's buying this good Thai stuff and we're goin’ over to get—"
“—listening to the ball game and I hear somebody yell
“—says thirty and a wake-up and you boys can wave goodbye. He says, my man, I'm a double-deuce goose, and I—",
“—got a sump in there. Check that drain every—"
“—IVs, and we've got the dextrose and the blood—"
“—with the Fifth Special Forces Group. So these Airborne dudes come in and—"
He hears their harsh phrases in a blurring cacophony of snatches. Snatches of dialogue. Snatches of conversation. Dark and hairy and mysterious snatches. Strange
s of blunted pain, swimming in the finest dope.
“You alive or what?"
“Say, Monk, you coming to the party, man?"
“Are you alive, my man?"
The face is foreign, distorted. The voice is slope.
“Are you VC?"
“Are you kidding me or what? If I was VC you think I'd be layin’ in this bed next to you, Monk, my man? VC! Shee-it!” Laughter. Two faceless forms seen through blurry fog.
“How come you call me a monkey?” he asked, but his voice, which seemed to resound out of a deep cistern, came out distorted, like
hah nah nu naw ne ungy?
“I didn't say you was funny, bro.” He tried to make himself understood and felt the surge of something coursing through his veins, heady and powerful like smack or morphine.
“We been callin’ you Monk, cause your head is shaved, dig? One of them little round places like a monk but over on the side.” They'd shaved a kind of tonsure on him to operate, a bald spot like a monk's shaven patch. Patch ... snatch ... words sat still and the room revolved slowly around them.
“I tell you about them monkeys?” The two men nearby resumed their conversation.
“I dunno, man, what monkeys is that?"
“North of Dau Tieng.” He saw Iron Triangle on a field map. But the combination of words was meaningless. Just more useless information. Dau Tieng. Iron Triangle. Parrot's Beak. Plain of Jars. Death Valley. Just words to sit in the midst of a dark, revolving room.
“—jungle and there was so much noise. All of a sudden man, it's going RRRRRRRROOOOOOOOOO-OOWWWWWWWWW and we figured Charlie. Big assault force. We was overrun and this was their psy-ops, dig? You ain't never heard such a racket, and you know what it was? It was
Another word. A word like bananas. Rubber Trees. The Monkees. Another useless piece of information to spin the room around.
“No lie, blood. Howler monkeys dukin’ it out. Scared me half to death, bro."
Then the voice came in so clearly, and he was totally coherent. Meara in harmony again with meaning—for only this moment. He sensed a logical consistency fastened to a congruous unity of thought as the words fused, adhered, penetrated:
“That's where we found the big piece of cement up in the tree. They had about a four-hundred-pound chunk blasted off a pagoda or whatever. Big steel rods in that mother and, you know, way, way up there, man. Trigger was a tree bent over and tripwire running to it. And this white boy we call Red, he goes—"
But then the glue came loose and the meaning began to disintegrate on him again, the room finally slowing to a tippy stop. He felt himself sinking down through the incredible softness of the bed, submerging right into the mattress, unable to hear the voices, so he never did learn what the white boy called Red had to say there in the jungle of the mad howler monkeys.
n the cargo hold of the C-130 it was suffocatingly close, but if you are the sort of cargo that thrives on blast-furnace heat, the kind of human mutant that evolved from a child kept for the first eight years of its life in such places as a urine-stinking darkened closet, what the hell is one more suffocatingly claustrophobic box?
It had been many years since he'd needed Big Sis to hold him in her strong, imaginary arms, or Buzzsaw to help him key the secret inner room of his mind. He could now simply concentrate with the full brunt of his powers, and he was gone within himself, respiratory rate and heartbeat slowed ... stilled ... slowed to a crawl.
This particular box was headed for JUSMACTHAI, and then on to Hawaii—the big island. JUSMACTHAI was the Joint U.S. Military Assistance Command Thailand, and the shipper was one USMACVSAUCOG, something else again.
The military stencils looked very proper, right down to the painted legend Perishable Solids across the front of the container. Four hundred and sixty-some pounds of perishable solids would soon be off the in-country books and carried as requisitioned training ammo by ICS, the armed services’ infamous Inventory Control System. The full system designation for the container of perishable solids was:
LMG 30 R1892-200-71U 710-34
HMG M2 01A198-YAD 852420-47
The number of the beast, in this case.
Daniel Edward Flowers Bunkowski. Coming home.
Bayou Ridge, Missouri
eara came home to nothing. He'd become invisible both to the residents of the rural Missouri town where his folks farmed and to those who lived their sanitized lives “back in the world."
There were vague months in California, then a return east, a mission overseas with some other vets, and various and sundry warm bodies who'd hired on as mercs. It proved to be an abortion.
He kicked around for a few years until, in 1981, he was notified that his folks were now dead and what remained of the family farm was his. That was the first time he learned his dad had been dead for over two years. The three hundred acres were now a hundred and sixty, the best hundred and forty having been liquidated to pay bills. The rich bottom ground was gone.
The choice was simple enough: either sell off what little was left and blow the money, or try to eke out a living with the ground. And this was how Raymond Meara had become a farmer.
He'd been working on the fence that ran through the woods bifurcating his primary soybean ground and J.J. Devenny's farm. J.J. had a couple of horses and it seemed as if there was usually fence down someplace in the woods. If you farmed, there was always something to do, and in your free time you could try and keep your fences up. There was an old axiom—good fences make good neighbors.
The winter sun felt good. He laid the heavy spool of wire down and walked over to the door of the pickup, pulling out his battered billfold and counting money and checks onto the front seat. His badly worn wallet was stuffed thick with unpaid bills, important papers, receipts, even a check or two. His file box.
One hundred and forty-two dollars in cash. Doug Seifer's check for two hundred he'd been holding for a couple of weeks. He squinted at the post-dated numbers. He'd deposit it today when he went in to get the fan belt. The old John Deere was still running, that was something. He'd have to put some money on the seed bill. Hell, he thought, why not go ahead and pay it? Have to sooner or later.
Meara reached over with a grunt of effort and dug a stump of pencil out of the glove compartment, adding up numbers silently for a minute or so. Then he wrote down what he had left of the money from the gin, less what he'd been docked.
He crammed all the bills and paper back into the beat-up leather and shoved it back in his hip pocket. He might make it through the year without borrowing. If he hadn't added wrong. If he didn't eat anything. If his tractor didn't break down again. If the weather didn't conspire to screw him. If he got his wheat out and put in early beans behind it and if he could manage to keep the Johnson grass out and if his preemerge worked and if his poor ground'd hold still for yet another crop and if the gin didn't dock him too bad for moisture and if he could get this combined and that levelled and if...
The big if was the one on the letterhead of the Committee on Public Waterways in the U.S. House of Representatives. He snatched the pile of crumpled papers out again, spread them in front of him, and read that the chief of engineers, in the interest of “flood control, commercial navigation, and related purposes,” had been requested to undertake the Clearwater Trench Reconnaissance Study. It was an undertaking long since completed. Meara had heard their choppers over the farm a dozen times. His crumpled pile of papers included their assessment, and he looked at the line map that accompanied it.
The drawing was roughly in the configuration of a pistol with a misshapen trigger guard, the barrel of the gun beginning at the inflow point in Illinois, north of Cairo. The blue feature was the Mississippi River, as it traveled down past Columbus to the curving trigger guard, Bayou City. The sides of the pistol were a pair of levees: the set-back main line levee on the west, the front line levee to the east. The blue line divided Missouri from Kentucky as it headed south. Raymond's ground was pinched between the two levees, a small dot approximately where a screw would go on the grip of the pistol. Screw, to be sure, was the appropriate nomenclature.
The study's conclusions were that it was indeed feasible to divert floodwater from the mighty Miss by cutting, by means of high explosives, the front line levee and so allowing excess waters to bleed off into the relatively unpopulated lands north of the pistol's butt, Clearwater Trench. This act, however, would place Raymond Meara's bean and wheat fields at the bottom of the Mississippi.
He put the papers back where they belonged, thinking things couldn't get a whole lot worse, so they'd have to get better. But, once again, he was dead wrong.
New Madrid Levee, Missouri
he number of the beast is twelve, but he cannot fathom why. There were twelve letters in Udanax Xanadu.
His mind is stranger than a glass hammer. It does, or tries to do, many things simultaneously: receive and transmit impulses, assess and collate, identify, compute, extrapolate, measure, recall, plan, direct, monitor, safeguard, but the infinitesimal data stream has been dammed to a trickle.