October 7th, midafternoon, local time
Johannesburg, South Africa
Donovan Loupe stepped from the plane and followed the line of people down to the baggage claim area. He approached the carousel, drew his bag from the conveyer belt and walked outside to a line of taxicabs.
With a practiced tongue, he spoke to the driver, who glanced back and simply replied, "I speak English."
Loupe eased into the backseat with his bag and closed the door. "I suppose my dialect isn't as polished as I thought. I'm headed to the other end of Johannesburg." He passed a piece of paper up to the driver. "This is the address." The car began moving forward.
Donovan glanced out the window – a sign on a post, which read, "ORTIA," had a CCTV camera mounted to face the line of taxicabs pulling out of the airport. Donovan lifted his hand towards the window, creating a shadowy blur over the lens until after his cab passed the post.
The cab moved onto the main road headed south-west towards downtown. A few exits later, the cab driver pulled into the far lane and took the ramp that led to the slums at the edge of the city. "Are you sure this is the right address?"
"It is," said Donovan.
"Are you in the drug trade?"
Donovan snorted. "If I was, I wouldn't be taking a cab because it doesn't command intimidation or respect."
"Very true." As the cab began passing houses, the thumping hip-hop of Kwaito filled the air. The driver, without thinking about it, nodded his head in rhythm to the bass line groove. "Awee leak, this old school giving me massive memories of the nineties. I don't suppose this is what you listen to wherever you're from – sorry about the volume; they play it massive loud in this area, it'll keep you up all night but you'll want to party, yeah?"
"I listen to music for the lyrical content," said Donovan, adding, "The one blasting from the house party we're passing… the message may be apolitical but the undertones are about strife and struggle from this city's past. I've seen Johannesburg in ninety-six and it was… very bad."
"You don't look that old," said the cabbie. "I was born in ninety-two. I wouldn't know. Your stop is up ahead. Are you sure it's a good idea for you to be walking around here dressed sharp, white man?"
"I'll be fine. I've arranged for further transportation from here on out but thank you for the concern."
The cab slowed to a halt in front of the largest house in the area. However, it was also the most run down; the boarded windows and cinderblock door gave the two story structure a less-than-pleasant vibe. The cab driver took a moment to look over the address then he glanced back at Donovan. "Are you sure?"
"I am. Thank you." Loupe withdrew American currency and passed the generous bill up to the driver. "I think, when you exchange this, you'll find that it will cover the amount of the tariff, with a large tip; forget you ever saw me." He slipped from the back door, took his bag and shut the door behind himself. The cab turned about in the driveway then headed back the way it came.
Donovan paused to withdraw a cellphone from his pocket. He thumbed the device then studied an image on the screen. He put it back into his pocket, shifted his bag to his other hand then headed around behind the house.
The rear door opened with a measure of applied force. Donovan propped it open with his luggage bag then cleared his throat and said, "I know you're home – turn on the lights."
A single bulb illuminated the ceiling at the center of a large room. Several men pointed assault rifles at Donovan. Another man with a machete approached and put the blade against the Loupe’s left temple. "I could split your skull, white devil. So what brings you here and how did you get this address?"
"I understand you're holding someone of interest… an American who looks like me. Where is he?"
"We're holding nobody. And we don't like trespassers."
Donovan glanced at the other men in the room. "I'm looking for a man that looks like me." No one answered.
The man with the machete said, "They don't speak English very well. But more importantly they listen to me, not you. We don't care about you Americans. Your life is about to get very difficult for walking into our place uninvited. You're brave to ignore me when I have such a big knife against the side of your face but you're still mistaken."
"No, I'm not. It was in the news that he was found after escaping a government facility. It was aired on the news from CCTV footage: He appeared to blast a hole in the wall of the complex using shadows. I've come across intelligence that suggests the government has given him to you for unofficial holding. I'm here to retrieve him, officially. And, if I may just correct you… I'm not American. The other gentleman was born in America; I was born in England."
"Think you're smart with me, huh?" The man with the large blade pulled it back then swung it at Donovan. Loupe focused his upper body into a shadow form, so that the machete passed through harmlessly. The men blinked, as did the man in front of Donovan. "How did you do that?"
"I've come for the man identified as Eric Loupe. He's twenty-seven years old, brown hair and has a lot of similar facial features to me."
"You all look alike! How did you make it so that my knife would go through you? Tell me!"
Loupe rolled his eyes. "I'm here for Eric. Twenty-seven, looks like me. Where is he? I know he's here because the information comes from a reliable source. Answer my question."
Again, the man swung his machete and it passed through Donovan's torso and out the other side. The shadow, cast by the airline luggage in the doorway, rose up and wrapped about the man's neck. It lifted him into the air, which created another shadow beneath him from proximity to the light bulb on the ceiling.
"I'm looking for Eric Loupe. He was arrested by authorities and brought here unofficially. Where is he? I won't ask again. If you don't answer my question with your next breath, I'll search the house for myself."
"He's in the basement!" shouted the man with the knife, his voice somewhat muffled and strained, held aloft by the throat. "The cellar!"
"Yes, I know what a basement is," said Loupe. "If I let you down are you going to make trouble?"
Donovan waved his hand. The man up near the ceiling flew towards the men with the guns, knocking all of them to the ground. "Attack me again and I'll defend myself. Trust me, friend, it won't be pleasant for you." He walked past the men and into the next room.
Another man with a handgun approached Donovan from the left. Loupe heard the hammer cock. He briefly shifted into his tenebrous shadow form. His upper body created a shroud around the pistol. It fired but the muffled discharge put a nearly-silent bullet hole in the wall.
Donovan resumed his physical shape, with his right fist around the weapon. He jerked it from the gunman's hand then backhanded the shooter across the face with it.
The man spiraled into a filthy table at the center of the room then fell to the floor. Loupe pointed the gun at him and asked, "Which way to the basement?"
"…is the second door on your left, man." He trailed off from what English he knew to a string of harsh words in Afrikaans.
Donovan placed the barrel of the pistol against the man's forehead. "I don't like the tone of your 'Kitchen Dutch,' young man. I also don't appreciate being called a 'white devil' by you or your friend with the big knife just because you're a low class racist."
The man backed up from the weapon, semi covering his face with his hands, palms held outwards. "I'm not low class, I speak five languages. Shona, Afrikaans, English, Zulu and Xhosa. But you're breaking into my house and I am angry."
"Your house needs decorating and a lot of repair. It looks abandoned," said Donovan, adding, "Your behavior is equally cringe-worthy. The words you speak are tactless and small-minded. Now, down to business; I'm looking for a man named Eric Loupe. I'm told he's in your basement. If you take me to him, I will return your weapon without further incident."
"Yes, yes very well then, follow me." The man cleared his throat and walked past Donovan, headed for a door on the left up ahead. "I am Mombasa; yes, spelled like the city in Kenya. Who told you we have someone in our basement?"
"It doesn't matter," said Donovan. "Your doormen confirmed it, however, so I'm here for him. Move."
Mombasa opened the door and turned on a light switch at the top of the steps. They creaked softly beneath the weight of the men. At the bottom of the stairs, the house owner pointed to a man tied to a chair with a blindfold and gag.
Donovan ground his teeth together. "Eric Loupe? Nod your head if you're alright; shake it if you're in need of medical attention." He waited then sighed in relief when the prisoner nodded three times. He approached the younger man, removed the gag and the blindfold then knelt behind the chair.
The shadow-master placed his hand over the front of the weapon, enshrouded it with darkness then fired the pistol to break the lock on the shackles that held Eric's hands behind his back. The muffled gunshot caused Eric to flinch.
Donovan helped Eric to his feet then said, "We're leaving. Stay close." He glanced back at the other man and said, "Mombasa. I hope we never have to meet again. If you try and attack us when I go upstairs… you won't live to regret it. Do you understand?"
The man nodded in reply. "Yes, yes I do. Just go. You've got what you've come for, now leave."
Donovan pulled Eric's left arm up to support the young man's weight. They took the stairs together with short side-steps then moved up through the main floor, headed back the way Donovan came in.
The shadow-master stopped at the sight of four armed men in the main room. Footfalls came up the stairs with Mombasa boxing in the two.
"I changed my mind. You broke into my home, and now you're trying to take a prisoner that we are entrusted to watch. He is dangerous, like you, because he attacked people. Go on, Eric Loupe, tell this other man what you've done."
Eric replied in a groggy voice. "It's true. I walked into a busy bank, took out a forty-five and shot eleven people. I turned the gun on myself because I saved the last round for me – the gun jammed and I was arrested. I threw my hands outwards and a black cloud knocked everyone down, shattered the windows and flipped cars in the streets. Then a security guard struck me in the head and I woke up here."
With a casual shrug, Donovan said, "Your ability manifested. You don't know how to control it yet. Typically it happens when you're younger than this but that's of no matter. Come, we're leaving."
Eric sighed through his nose then murmured, "I don't know who you are, but I attacked those people. I shot the gun as calm as if I were ordering fast food. Everything else is a blur."
"I have answers as well as questions for you when we leave here." Donovan frowned thoughtfully then added, "Call me Don." He licked his lips then said, "The black cloud you mentioned… did it look like this?" With a wave of his hand, shadows of the gunmen rose up from the floor, wrapped around the Kalashnikov rifles and pointed the weapons back at their owners. "And did you do…this?" The tendrils of shade used the assault rifles like baseball bats, knocking the men to the floor.
"Holy Jesus," Eric whispered. "How did the Government do this to us?"
Donovan chuckled. "This is something you're born with, Eric. The Government isn't involved." A gunshot rang out from behind. The round caused an insect-like sound in Donovan's ear as it flew by his head. "Excuse me, young man," he said then turned himself and Eric back towards the last standing man in the house. "Mombasa, do you remember what I told you downstairs?"
"You are the devil," said the African man with trembling hands. "And if I kill you, it is because I was given the strength to do so by a higher power."
Donovan narrowed his gaze and adjusted his tie with his free hand. As if to make a silent statement, he held his hand out, palm up then clenched it into a fist. The gloom of the basement reached up from the staircase and coiled around Mombasa's ankles then pulled him down the steps.
The African man cried out in surprise and fear, swallowed by the cellar. He thumped down the stairs, end over end and came to a crashing halt from the last three steps giving out beneath him. A cloud of dust waft up from the basement door.
With care and grace, Donovan turned himself and Eric back towards the house's rear exit. They walked through the main room together and towards the propped door. Donovan picked up his bag on the way out and shut the door behind himself.
"Young man, I have a lot of questions about why you foolishly walked into a public place and started shooting. But those can wait. First and foremost, why did you summon shadows in public? In front of a security camera, no less. That was foolish. If your last name wasn’t Loupe, I wouldn't be so tolerant of your behavior."
Eric limped alongside of Donovan, putting his weight onto the well-dressed man's shoulder. "I have no idea what’s going on. When I woke up, my memory loss was severe. Jamais Vu, I think it's called. I was cold but it was like I'd never experienced cold before. It was… intense. All I remember was hanging up a phone, walking through the doors and pointing a gun… pulling the trigger eleven times then putting it to my head. I squeezed the trigger without thinking about it… then… nothing. I put the gun down on the ground and started walking towards the exit doors, and then the police ran in through the front doors… two officers. I lifted my hands. The glass windows broke, they went flying, and their car went flying. Then I was struck from behind. I pivoted as I fell, I landed on my back and I was looking up at a bank security officer; his badge was different from the police. I blanked out and woke up unable to remember anything before hanging up the payphone."
Donovan stared at him for a moment as the two crossed the back yard. "Sounds like you remember every little detail after ending your phone call. Do you remember which phone booth?"
"I do. But nothing before hanging up a receiver in a phone booth. I don't even remember where I'm from, just that my name is Eric because you and the other man called me by that name and it felt familiar."
"You mentioned the Government." Donovan guided Eric into the street. At the top of the block, the paving ended but the street continued on as dirt.
"Yeah… I did, didn't I? I'm not feeling well. I don't remember anything about the Government, or which Government for that matter. The word popped into my head when I heard my name. Shouldn't I be in a jail cell, though? Why was I in that man's basement?"
"I'm not sure." Donovan felt Eric start to stumble. He grasped hold of Eric's belt, keeping the younger man aloft. "Not much further. You can make it."
"They gave me a Morphine injection and a Diazepam pill about four hours ago. At first I had trouble breathing but… I'm still here. It kept me from wanting to try and escape. I heard the man on the phone tell Mombasa how much of each drug to give me. I have good hearing and he was close enough that I could hear both sides of the conversation. He was coming from California to experiment on me. Mombasa referred to the man on the phone as, 'Doctor.' Does that mean anything to you?"
Donovan frowned. "Unfortunately. You're lucky to be alive. It sounds like they gave you an overdose, which could have caused you serious respiratory problems. You sound clear-headed, though."
"Clearheaded, huh? You mean because I remembered stuff after hanging up that payphone? Yeah. I'm just tired. I appreciate the help. Who are you?"
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you, Eric." He turned the next corner and they continued up the sand-swept block. At the end of the street, in front of an empty lot, an RV sat in silence. Donovan fished the keys out of his pocket, careful not to drop his bag or Eric.
Donovan came around the rear passenger side, unlocked the door and put his bag on the ground then helped the younger man up three steps. He guided Eric to a bed at the back and said, "Lay across it from left to right because things might get a little bumpy and I don't want you rolling out of bed."
Without another word, Donovan walked back to the open door on the side, retrieved his bag and pulled the door shut. He went up to the front, slid into the driver's seat and started the V-6. It took a moment for the mile-weary Chevy engine to turn over. He put it into gear and eased into the accelerator.
A hole appeared in the windshield. The bullet disappeared into the upholstery of the empty passenger seat. The vinyl cracked, creating a split from the headrest all the way down to the bottom of the backrest. Donovan squinted at people in the distance, up where the road was paved. He floored the gas pedal and the RV lurched forward.
Donovan waved his left hand aggressively. Afternoon shadows cast by one of the houses crept into the dusty pavement and moved from right to left like a wave. Two gunmen tumbled to the ground in an empty ditch.
The RV hummed by them with a grunt of the shocks as it transitioned back onto the cracked asphalt. Another bullet thumped against the back of the RV. He cut to the left, making the turn rather wide then took another right, heading out to the main road.
Donovan sighed softly, relaxing himself. The loomed ahead. He fished his cellphone from his pocket, then used a finger to dig out a Bluetooth. He dialed a number then put the phone into a cup holder. Donovan pushed it into his ear just as the line picked up on the other end. "It's me. I have him. He's in no condition to fly yet. He's having trouble breathing at this point. I appreciate you having someone leave this RV so close by. It worked better than having a taxi. He's lying down in the back, right now."
A voice on the other end said, "Donovan, we have a problem and you're the closest person. I'm sorry but I need you to do something for me."
"Just tell me."
The man on the phone sighed. "As much as I appreciate you fetching someone wielding their abilities in public… I have more trouble in South Africa and believe me when I tell you that this one is high maintenance. I've just learned that a young blonde girl with extremely advanced psychokinetic abilities is in Johannesburg. She was there to find some woman who may or may not have an Esoteric ability…
"While monitoring the city's CCTV feeds to determine if any of them may have seen your face, my I.T. boy recognized the blonde girl I mentioned. Said he'd had a one night stand with her. She was unconscious over a man's shoulder – the footage was dated less than two hours ago. We followed his progress on the CCTV footage archive server used by police and tracked his whereabouts to a building not far from your location. She looks young but is about twice your age and…"
"Karla Howard," whispered Donovan with a shake of his head. He cleared his throat then spoke aloud again. "She's in trouble? Text me the address."
"This girl is highly regarded as dangerous and rebellious. She won't hesitate to use her abilities in public and, while intelligent, is beyond our control."
"I'll handle it," he replied. "What of the other woman? Shall I retrieve them both?"
The man on the phone grew quiet briefly then said, "If you're able; she is a fascination of Lance. But this young-looking girl is the priority. Because of her personality and because of the strength of her abilities, we have to assume that whoever captured her may be tenfold more dangerous. Move forward in shadow form and do whatever is necessary to ensure you remain unharmed."
"Just text me the address. Do you have any identification on the man that has her?"
"We have no record of him. If he's supernatural, he's unregistered."
Donovan rubbed his forehead and frowned. "Anything else I should know of importance?"
"Indeed," said the voice over the line. "This girl is on a personal crusade against Doctor Aris Falcon. If she wishes to act like a commando, then treat her as a prisoner of war."
"Understood," replied Loupe. "Speaking of Falcon, Eric Loupe said he overheard his captors talking to a 'doctor' from 'California.' Perhaps we should put this blonde rogue at Falcon's backdoor and let our problems work themselves out."
"That's a gamble," said the man on the phone. "Donovan… if he obtained her ability he would be able to teleport. It would make him very difficult to kill. Be careful. She's an unknown element and a wildcard. A very… very… wild card. You may want to keep her sedated if you find her."
"Alright. I understand. I'll check in with you shortly." Donovan thumbed the earpiece, then sighed in irritation. Seconds later his phone vibrated. He checked the text message than copied the text and put it into the phone's GPS navigation program.
Loupe frowned again. "Karla… what on earth are you doing here in South Africa?" He propped the phone in the cup holder at an angle so that he could see the screen then followed the directions towards the downtown area.
6:35 pm local time
Karla Howard stirred, and struggled with a grunt. She wore a blind fold but could see natural light filtering in on the sides of the fabric. With her hands behind her back and unable to see, she felt useless.
After a moment to clear her mind, she called out, "Hey! I can feel the warmth on my face, so you've got me near a window. Aren't you people supposed to hide me in a dark closet so I don't even know the time of day? …Rookies."
A gruff voice came from behind her. "Ah. You've awoken. Very good. Your little stunt caused us to lose track of Patience Ubysh. That is a problem for us. You know, we had to go back to files in the fifties and sixties to figure out your identity? Very impressive that you haven't aged."
She replied to the man with a long-winded sigh. "Oh Christ, here we go."
"I don't think He can help you. Christ died for our sins, not for yours. You're a demon, correct? A spawn of Hell? You still have all your sins; you're beyond salvation."
"Look," Karla said, "Christ didn't die for anyone's sins. I have to be convinced He was more than a Jewish teacher who did carpentry on the side."
The man's voice sounded somewhat surprised. "You're a demon and you don't even believe in your enemy's Son?"
"God isn't my enemy," Karla told him, testing the ropes that bound her wrists behind the backrest. "And Jesus didn't die for anyone's sins. He died for a really good book deal – it's the best damn selling book in history. Let's not get started on this topic, pal. All my friends believe in Jesus; I choose not to. Freedom of religion. Don't hate. So, what brings the American G-men to South Africa? I thought we agreed to let bygones be bygones, like, three weeks ago…"
"Two reasons. Patience, of course, and because we have to pick up an operative that botched their escape plan; seems their gun jammed on the last bullet. And I'm not FBI."
She nodded, able to feel the restraints that went over her shoulders, beneath her collarbone, and across her navel. "So, who then? 'Never Say Anything?' Or maybe 'Crappy Intelligence Agency?' You're the only two agencies with access to the FBI files created on me back in the old Hoover days. What'd they call that crap? COINTELPRO?" she said, purposefully pronouncing it 'Coin-tell-pro.' "Sounds like a crappy pay-phone company. They were supposed to be embroiled in political crap but their agents tracked me on occasion."
The man sighed. "Because you were seducing their agents. You won't seduce me, however, because I'm gay," he lied. "And I'm no pushover. I'm here on business and I take my job seriously."
"So, you know what I can do, then huh?"
"I never said I believe it. I'm just following orders and reading files. It seems you're delusional and my country considers you a threat. Whoever did your plastic surgery should be working for my office... although, you look too young. Like a teenage girl."
"Untie me, I'll show you what I can do."
"My agent, who said he was lucky to have caught you off guard in that elevator, claims that you are immensely dangerous. We won't be taking any risks with you. So, Karla, what's your new last name?"
"I'll just change it."
"Listen, little girl, I've already got your information. I just wanted to see if you're going to lie to me with every breath. I think you're disgusting. I don't believe in demons. I wanted to see how delusional you are, so I brought it up. I don't know how you got these sealed files, or if you're copying the work of the real Karla, or maybe if you're related to her, but I'm going to get to the bottom of what makes you tick, kid."
"Well, I'm already keyed up from the bondage – you must either be really good with your boyfriend, or you must have been one hell of a sailor; these knots are serious."
He ran his fingers back through his hair then took a deep breath to relax himself. "Husband, Miss Howard. I have a husband," he told her in a convincing tone. "And I don't want your cheap one-liner replies about my choice in spouse."
She shook her head with a chuckle. "Sweetheart, I'm not against the LBGT community. I have no preference. So, where is Mister Cunningham, the one who surprised me in the elevator? I want to shake his hand; a mortal that managed to best a supernatural. Impressive stuff."
"He's looking for the target. If supernatural people existed, to the extent of what’s written in your file, I'd have a record of that. We'd be capturing your kind and using you to further our work to make the world a better place. But we don't have time for this storybook fiction crap."
Karla groaned in annoyance. "Seriously? I don't have time for this nonsense." Her forearms glowed a brilliant pink and she tensed up. The thick rope and metallic handcuffs broke, the chain restraints on her ankles snapped, sending two metal links skittering across the floor.
She reached up and withdrew her blindfold then stood up. The chair lifted, still tied to her backside. She then leaned back, using telekinesis to supercharge her body's downward inertia. The wooden chair broke beneath her.
The man pulled his weapon and pointed it at her. She glared at him briefly with a look of disappointment.
"What?" the agent asked.
"I just…" Karla trailed off then shrugged. "I had expected you to look metrosexual and fashionable, sorry." Again, she shrugged. "You're big, though. You know, for an agent and all. A little like Cunningham, who obviously is far from being gay. Although he’s more of an ape. Big shoulders. He's actually on my shit list right now." Her eyes lowered, drinking in the gray suite with a blue tie. Her gaze continued down to his masculine hands; he thumbed the hammer on the pistol pointed in her face.
"Thanks for the wakeup call; I've put on a lot of weight over the last year and a half. I'll stop what I'm doing right now and call Jenny Craig. Now, put your hands on your head, fingers interlaced and kneel down."
Karla smirked at his sarcastic reply. "Oh, didn't you get the memo? We ladies only like being told what to do when our clothes are off. Should I strip tease first? Then you can try ordering me around again. But this time, say it like you mean it." She gauged his expression, quick to note his wondering eyes. Karla pondered if he was exploring her figure or sizing her up. She cleared her throat.
He blinked and lifted his eyes back to her face. "You should probably know I'm a very good shot."
"You can't hit me, hon. So, let me get this straight," she said with a smirk. "You're gay. Obviously you're a 'bear,' hon… so show me some of that legendary open-mindedness. I mean, c'mon, you won't even take a moment to entertain the thought of me wielding powers like some sort of comic book character?" She got to her feet, brushing her sleeves to fix the wrinkles in her blouse caused by the ropes from earlier.
"Being open-minded does not mean I have to believe in stuff that isn't realistic. So, where'd you get your escape training? Which country?"
"Oh hush." She wiggled a finger, causing his gun to buck in his hand. She then caught the bullet in her other hand and smiled.
The man winced from the obnoxious discharge sound. The door burst open with two armed men. They aimed their submachine guns into the room then pointed the weapons at her and started shouting.
"All this noise," she murmured with a sigh. Karla teleported both guns from their hands. They reappeared, floating, between her left hand and the nearby window. "Fabrique Nationale Project-90 SMG, fires fifty rounds with arguably crappy accuracy at a rate of nine hundred rounds per minute, right? The ultimate Spray-And-Pray toy gun… in my opinion, of course. Not as impressive as a fifty cal, but not bad, either. So…" She lifted the pistol round in her palm and examined it. "Mm," she mused aloud, as though studying two art pieces. "The juxtaposition is very stark. The P90's five-seven by twenty-eight is a much better bullet than this little dinky forty-five you're shooting from your handgun." She back-waved her hand in a dismissive fashion. The hovering weapons went through the window, sending glass to the floor. "Okay! Now that I have your attention."
One of the men in the door withdrew their handgun, brought it up and fired it. Karla flinched at the sound and instinctively disappeared. She reappeared in front of the office door and threw her right palm out. The round in her hand disappeared into the shooter's vest. With the added inertia wave behind the bullet, the gunner was thrown back from the doorway, through a plaster wall across the hall.
"Okay," Karla said with a sharp tone, "I'm almost impressed. I didn't see that one coming. Shame on me for not paying better attention to all three of you at the same time. But I don't have time to play these games." She disappeared once more.
Karla Howard reappeared at the center of the room. She opened her blouse then wrapped her knuckles against a Kevlar vest. "I'm such a high priority government target that you gave me a vest while I was out?" She plucked a handgun round from her right side. "That would have gone through my appendix and probably come out either through my spine or my left kidney. Fatal torso shot, for sure." Her gaze met that of the man at the desk. "Well? Say something."
In a soft tone, he said, "You have tears in your eyes."
"Yeah? Do I? It hurt!" she snapped. Karla took a breath, ground her teeth together for a moment then asked, "So, do you believe me now? Do you believe your FBI files? Why did you guys come after Ubysh?" She cut her eyes to the doorway where two more agents came into the hallway to check on the man that had gone through the wall. The other stayed in the doorway, handgun trained on her. She cut her gaze to the weapon and smirked. "Despite your understanding of physics, I can react to something faster than a bullet because of my limited control over temporal mechanics. If I see or hear you fire it, I'll catch it. Want to try?"
The man at the desk held his hand up towards the remaining gunman in the doorway. "I've already shot at her. Just hold your fire." He kept his eyes trained on Karla. "Listen, I'm impressed by what you've done. I'm not sure how you did it, or if I can understand what I've just seen but… it raises questions. I'm impressed, okay? We need to talk this out. Why were you protecting Patience Ubysh?"
"What time is it?" she asked. "And incidentally, what should I call you?"
"Agent Gregory Watson. I'm going to check my phone all right? I don't have a wristwatch. Okay," he paused, glanced at the screen then told her, "It's almost seven. I usually use my cellphone to check the time," he said, buying time with her. "So why were you with Patience?" He released his phone to his desktop.
Karla folded her arms. "That's okay. I don't wear a wristwatch either. A ring watch isn't so bad, if I have to wear one. If I have it on longer than a few hours, that small temporal field I mentioned… it slows down the watch. For some reason, my cellphone never has that problem."
Watson came out from behind his desk and put his gun by the computer screen then moved to sit on his desk. He lifted his hands so she could see they were empty, then he folded them in his lap. "Okay, I'm not a threat to you anymore, okay? And a cellphone stays synchronized with an internet chronological server to stay accurate – watches don't do that. Now… tell me about Patience."
"I need her help. So, Agent, why are your people trying to grab her? Is that what the CIA does now? It abducts people? I thought Ford banned abductions and assassinations back in, like, ’76?"
He shook his head, unfolded his hands and held them outwards again. "No, no, wait… You have the wrong idea here. We were going to her house to try and stage an abduction. We feel she may be in danger because another investigation back in the states has led us to her. We feel she has a part in something out in the Atlantic Ocean. Know anything about that?"
Karla paused for a moment to ponder what Lance said a while back. "Don't tell me you guys are looking for Atlantis... are you?"
Watson furrowed his brows. "Are you joking?"
"Okay, had to ask." She unfolded, then refolded her arms. "Greg, are you staring at my tits?"
"Pardon? No, I'm not, Miss Howard." He paused for a moment and they glared at one another then he frowned. "Just because I'm gay doesn't mean I dislike breasts. I just feel the plumbing is… just, not for me. I'm not into the self-lubricating thing," he said, quoting an argument made by a gay friend back in the states.
Karla snorted, then erupted into effeminate laughter. "Your mouth self-lubricates when giving head, Greg. You know, I've been called many things… one of which is a 'spatula,' because I've flipped more gay guys than…"
"Okay, stop." He held his hands outwards then placed his palms on his knees. "Do you know where we can find Patience? We have to protect her. She's in danger."
"What branch are you with?" asked Karla.
"My credentials are in my wallet. I'll get them out slowly; just stay calm and…"
Karla rolled her sun-illuminated green eyes then glanced towards the window with a shake of her head. "Oh shut up and show me your wallet. Don't act like I have a gun pointed at you, Greg. You know, I'm supposed to keep people in the dark about what I can do. It starts up a lot of drama."
“Drama? Why would you think that?” He withdrew his wallet and flipped it open.
Karla smirked then pushed a lock of blonde back from her shoulder, slid her finger up the strand, then tucked it behind her ear. "I have a friend who used to go by 'Methos.' He would call it 'heuristics.' That’s a fancy word for 'experience,' dear." She eyed the identification then rubbed her chin thoughtfully. In a lower voice, she mused, "He's a total math geek; loves his little math words." She folded her arms then spoke at normal volume again, "Greg, what you now know about me will be considered classified at the highest tier of classification – yes, I know that sounded redundant.
"You'll probably disappear for several days of debriefing. I don't have time to wait that long. I need to know why you need Patience Ubysh. We might be working on the same problem from two angles and, let's face it… supernatural abilities are probably just as highly classified as whatever you're working on out in the Atlantic. So. Let's go; out with it."
Greg Watson eyed her for a moment then said, "I can tell you that there's some sort of artifact out in the Atlantic and my country wants it kept quiet for now. I can't talk about it, especially not here."
Karla ran her fingers back through her hair with a look of frustration. She glared at the soldier in the doorway. "Excuse us, the grownups need to talk." The demoness waved her hand at him. He flew back from the doorway and the door slammed shut. Karla wiggled a finger and a small lock rotated on the knob by a half turn. “Now we can talk in private.”
“A locked door doesn’t make this room into a SCIF, young lady.”
“Too bad,” she said in a flat tone. “I need answers. Do you know the name Aris Falcon?”
"No. I only know my own role in this."
She pushed her fingers back into her hair, shoving the locks into waves then she dropped her hands to her sides. "You're a small fish, Greg Watson. I'm a big fish. I might be the main fish. I'm working on a solution to a mess that is bigger than everything you've seen today. If you're not part of my solution, then you're part of my problem. So either help me or stay out of my way."
"I can't shoot you. If I could, you'd be dead. So what choices are you leaving me, here? I already don't trust women outside of a professional atmosphere. What more do you want from me?"
"What a load of crap – so why don't you trust women?"
"It's why people in the 'Good Ole' Boys Network' won't let a woman become the Secretary of Defense yet; she might get moody and nuke someone. How can I trust someone that has their mental state compromised by emotions and chemical imbalances every twenty-eight days? TV commercials depict women as being just fine whenever they need their Always rag; if you ask me that is 'a load of crap,' kid."
With a chuckle, Karla brought a fingertip to her chin. "Well, gee, you're right about that. A more realistic tampon commercial should be a girl, sitting in bed, crying for no apparent reason, surrounded by chocolate. Her boyfriend comes in. She turns to him, facing the camera, and says, 'I'm sorry I was a hateful, foul-mouthed, binge eating maniac this week. But now that I've got my period, hold me and tell me I'm pretty.' Some girls can't handle their own bodies." She grinned and shook her head.
Karla put her hands on her hips, changed her tone and continued. "You're kidding me with that shit right? That's not really how you feel, you're putting me on. C'mon, give us girls our due, agent; women that are motivated enough to work as your boss or as the president of a country… guess what? They are sophisticated, classy and intelligent enough to maintain professionalism at all times. Yes, even when they're on their period. What a shocker. …Yes, I know what 'the shocker' is, don't go there."
He cocked his head and narrowed his gaze at her then stuffed his wallet back into his pocket. "You're amusing."
"You need to drop the misogynistic crap or risk being a troglodyte forever," she said, adding, "Seriously, agent. Here's a secret for you: I've met my fair share of gay guys that have been far more dramatic than a woman on her worst flow day. I've seen straight guys that are more likely to spread rumors and gossip than a group of girls in a high school locker room. We're not all evil – even us demons."
"Touché." He offered her a weak smile. "You don't act like a teenage girl."
"I'm not." She caught a glimpse of movement on the floor to the left of his desk. She watched the shadow move then smiled inwardly. "Look, Agent Watson, I'll make this simple for you. No one is going to believe a little girl kicked the crap out of you and two other operatives. You're going to spend more time debriefing than you are working. I can help you with that. In fact, I can make your debriefing last less than one day and the paperwork will be reduced to a simple form – maybe two."
"How do you figure?" he asked, brows lifted.
"I'll knock you out cold and you pretend you never saw anything. Plausible deniability." She lifted her right hand and showed him the slug in her palm. "This is the forty-five that came from your gun. The same one I used on the gunner in the hall before I threw'em through a wall… Now it's your word against theirs because they have no proof your weapon discharged. I suggest you clean it and then replace that round. Clean your desk so there's no discharge residue. I'll find you when I need more information on this operation in the Atlantic Ocean. I'll find you when I need to find out what you learned about Patience Ubysh. Deal?"
"No deal. I don't make deals; I do my job." He reached beneath his desk and pressed an unseen switch. "Sorry. Your offer was pretty good but I'm a professional."
The door flew open, its knob slammed into the wall. A man with a rifle stepped into the room. "Down on the floor, now!"
Karla smirked at him then glanced back at Watson. She brought her hands to her cheeks and gasped as if in surprise. "You've got guys kicking in the door! Awesome! If this was a movie, I'd be dazzled by the special effects!" She then turned back to the gunman in the doorway and shrugged, recognizing him from the elevator. "Oh, look!" she cried in mock joy. "It's 'Rape Ape!' again! The world's most sophisticated gorilla! Y'know, he's hung like a Silverback Gorilla, too. …That's not a compliment, by the way." Her gaze panned to Watson then back to the large no-neck man. "I'm not impressed, J. Cunningham. You won't catch me off guard again."
"I've put you down once before, I can do it again, little girl," he said, ignoring her accusations.
"Greg, pal, you should ask your goon about how he was gonna try and fuck me before I tossed him around like a little bitch." She turned to Cunningham and asked, "How's the shoulder, thigh and crotch feeling, Tiny?"
A grimace of remembrance washed over his expression. "I said to get down on the floor!" he shouted.
"No, 'Short Jabber,' I was just leaving and now you're in my way."
"You're not going anywhere," he said. He aimed down the length of an assault rifle, keeping it trained on her. "Get down on the deck, interlace your fingers behind your head and stay quiet."
Karla glanced down at the liquid shadow of the desk again then cleared her throat. "Did you guys know I can also attack you with your own shadows?"
"Now you're just being dramatic," said Watson. "Shadows aren't comprised of matter. They're the absence of illumination."
"So if I wanted to grab that guy's gun using his shadow… then break his nose with it and throw the gun out the window…" She smiled brightly. "You know I can do that, right?"
"I've heard enough," Cunningham said in a firm tone. "Get on the deck!"
"Sim, sim, salabim," Karla cried, then she pointed at the man in the doorway. His shadow rose up from beneath his feet, wrapped around his rifle then jerked it from his grip. All at once, the rifle buttstock went up into his face, breaking his nose. A tooth rattled across the floor.
The large man teetered back then fell in the hallway adjacent to the hole in the plaster wall. The shadow moved about then seemed to fling the weapon through the window. Karla clapped her hands and preened. "See? Defenestration at its finest. Again. You know nothing, Agent Watson. You're ignorant; I'm Super Hadji without a turban, little man. Now pay attention: I'll find you again and I'll want more answers the next time you see me. You'd better have them ready."
The succubus reached for her handbag. It appeared on her shoulder. She reached inside then smiled upon feeling Kuda’s warm furry body within.
He stared at her for a moment before saying, "You're crazy, little girl."
"Unless you want to see 'crazy,' don't use that word to a woman's face, little boy." Karla waved a finger. The door on the ground lifted up and slid into place in the doorway. "There, all fixed. The frame is broken, though. That's your problem, Greg. You'll have to add that to the ole' expense report." She smiled, blew him a kiss then said, "Now, watch as I jump out your window like a ninja." She turned about and dashed towards the window then dove through the glassless section.
Once outside, Karla teleported herself to the roof. The demoness appeared behind a man with binoculars and a sniper rifle. She waved her hand and teleported him down to the ground, about ten stories below. A moment later, Donovan appeared behind her, materializing from soupy shadow. He stepped forward and folded his arms, adjacent to the girl then sighed with a frown. "Karla, what are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same thing," she said with a smile. "I saw you slinking around on the floor back in that guy's office. Thanks for the help; I doubt you got my Jonny Quest reference, so thank you for paying attention to my cue. Now their records on me will be inconsistent. The FBI's file doesn't mention shadow mastery, nor does it mention teleportation, since that's a new one for me. So the CIA's record won't match the FBI one and it may wind up getting disregarded as…"
"Karla, I understand how disinformation works. Why are you here?"
"I came to find a girl that can help me piece things together,” she explained. “But the CIA spooked her. Then that no-necked goon that had the M-16 caught me off guard. I blinked and he slammed my head into the back of an elevator."
She rubbed her forehead and frowned. "It hurt. Then they tied me up, blindfolded me and didn't even tell me what the safety word was. Don't worry, though. It was all good, clean, kinky fun. Oh, and for the record, I'd already escaped when you came along. What'a bunch of amateurs."
Donovan adjusted his tie then shook his head. "Karla, I was sent here to find a man whose ability manifested by accident. Turns out he's my descendent. More to the point, the person who guided me to Eric by phone… he told me you were in trouble. He told me where to find you. He also told me that you're considered beyond dangerous."
She beamed brightly with delight. "I am dangerous! Just not to you. Did you tell Steven that I went down on you a little while back?"
"No. He has no idea that we're friends, just like I have no idea how you know who I spoke to, especially since I don't know their identity. I have to go. I need to get Eric back to the states and figure out how to help him."
"Well, now you know who called you; what's wrong with this kid, Eric? Why does he need help? What sort of trouble is he in?"
Donovan shook his head with a frown. "He has gaps in his memory. Said the last thing he remembers is that he was using a pay-phone. Then he walks into a public area, shoots people then tries to shoot himself. He was lucky he botched it; the last round jammed instead of firing. He said he remembers something about the United States government but nothing helpful. Besides learning how to control his ability of wielding shadows, Eric needs help to remember what caused him to act in such a way. He doesn't have the personality to kill someone – something isn't adding up."
Karla snapped her fingers. "The CIA guy said they were here to pick up an agent that botched up their 'escape plan' because the last bullet in the gun jammed. You're telling me this kid tried using that bullet on himself?"
"I'm afraid so," Donovan replied. "He doesn't remember why he did it. He doesn't recall wanting to kill himself. Fact is, he doesn't want to die now. He's glad the gun jammed. I couldn't even tell my contact that I'm related to the young man. I can't mention you, either. I'm not exactly enthusiastic about my situation."
"Good God, everything is kinda' related," she said. Karla glanced over the edge of the roof then shook her head. "We should move before those guys make their way up here. I teleported their sniper down to the ground, heh." She turned to Donovan and smiled again. "Thanks for checking on me. I appreciate it, no matter how the cards fell together. Tell your 'handler' that I escaped. I need to find this girl, Patience Ubysh. I think she has information about whatever it is that Falcon wants to do."
"Karla… you're causing trouble."
She tightened her jaw and leered at him. "No, I'm not. I'm working alone to stop Aris Falcon. Why? Because I can't find anyone else to help me. But you know what? I'm big enough to admit that I can't do this alone. I mean, I can if I had to, but in order to speed up my work, I need help."
Donovan eyed her. "Stop being a little rebel. The remaining supernatural community sees you as a Pariah. No one will help you, except for myself and Lance. And it's not even our job or place to do so."
"That's because we immortals have to stick together. We're a rare breed."
"Karla, you're going to have to put on your big girl britches and deal with it."
"Well now, it's about time you got some balls. Listen, sweetheart, I'm not only putting on my big girl panties, I'm also putting on my bitch bra, my shit-kicker boots and my spiked leather belt with the boy-toy belt buckle. So don't tell me to 'deal with it,' I got this covered. I'll make my own team, Donovan. I'll find people whose abilities are only just manifesting, then I'll train them to..."
"Karla! Stop talking and listen to yourself! Aris Falcon killed so many supernatural people that those who are left are no match. You want to make a ragtag group of people who can't even control their abilities… people who don't know how to tap into their own potential…? I was wrong about you: You're crazy. Stay away from Eric."
"Okay, no need to get nasty; I’m only suggesting it because I can train them the right way," she said then threw her hands up into the air. Both Karla and Donovan disappeared from the rooftop seconds before the door leading to the roof flew open from a Primacord blast. Agents poured onto the empty roof.
Down on the street level, Donovan glanced around himself then started walking towards the RV parked two blocks up. Karla hurried after him and said, "Hey, where ya' goin'? I need help, yeah, but I'm not going after people who shot up a public place then botched their own suicide. I could use your help, though."
"I've been helping you since I met you. But I cannot help you on an official level. I'm doing what I can without becoming too involved. You don't even have a plan."
"I have an outline of a plan. The Parker twins can help me steal back the artifacts taken by Aris Falcon, then the rest of my hand-selected team helps me kill the sunnuvabitch."
Donovan opened the RV's driver door and said, "No matter what, you'll always be a better thief than the Parker family because you can teleport things. I don't see why you'd need to enlist their help. They don't even have an active power."
"Because they're good hearted, hardworking people. I know Jon. I think they can help me. I'll build the rest of my team as I see fit."
Donovan sighed. "Karla, Jon Parker was nothing more than a celebrity. Not because of his ability as a thief, but because of how he used his wealth and because of his grace on a sports field. But he's dead now."
Karla blinked. "What? Since when?"
"You've been so focused on South Africa, you seriously didn't know he died?"
"No, of course not, what happened?"
Donovan shrugged then climbed up into the driver's seat. "Look it up on the internet – you're savvy with that sort of thing. Far more than I am. I saw it on the airplane on a television. You know, where we old school types receive information. Last I heard, his daughter is in a coma; I think it's medically induced. As you can see, the Parker family is already in over its collective head. They cannot help you."
"Piss off," Karla snapped. "That girl can defend herself. I've seen her do it. She and her brother were held at gunpoint. Seconds later, she shot all three gunmen. There's no way she was attacked badly enough to need medical help …unless." A frown marred her face.
Donovan nodded in agreement. "Indeed – if she was attacked by something supernatural then she wouldn't have a fair chance. That would just prove my point, though: this is bigger than a family of thieves can handle."
“They can help me stop Aris Falcon. Y'know, that man needs to be stopped, Donnie.”
"I agree. He's killing our kind; he's hunting us."
"He's doing worse than that," Karla replied with a frown. "He's been imbuing himself with the abilities of compatable supernaturals, meaning he's becoming powerful and unpredictable. His jackass mercenaries managed to exterminate the European Esoteric Alliance. He's also got people out there stealing artifacts.”
“Now what?” he asked.
“Lance – I've been working with him."
"Oh? Just like I've been working with…" Donovan found himself cut off.
"Yeah, I've all over as of late and I've been tracking people down to put all the pieces together."
"What've you found?"
"You're not going to like this, Donnie."
"Just tell me," he said. Donovan glanced over his shoulder, seeing Eric still lying on the mattress all the way in the back.
"Donovan…" she moved closer then spoke softly. "Lance knows more than he's letting on. He was somehow involved in something huge out in the Atlantic Ocean. Then Aris Falcon stepped in and somehow backtracked Lance's work. He either took over where Lance left off or he found a way to undo what Lance was doing. I can't be sure yet. But it's huge. Stay safe; I'll be in touch." She then lifted a hand and pointed a lacquered nail towards a traffic signal in the distance. "Get tinted windows. This city uses closed circuit television cameras to spy on its citizens; they call it fighting crime, and the cameras… they're not as closed circuit as the city would like the name to imply. They upload the footage to a server. The cops can see what's going on. That means anyone with decent hacking skills can watch everything."
"Know, you, of the CCTV?"
“Cut that out,” she said. “I research what I need to avoid, Donnie. If I was seen on one earlier, it was because I was knocked out.”
He eyed her for a moment then said, "That was how my friend located you. Those cameras are the reason I'm here."
"If Steven can hack in, so can the CIA, Aris Falcon's people and a long list of others. Good guys, bad guys… just keep your head down, okay?" She put her foot up on the bottom of the step beneath the door, leaned up and kissed him. "Thanks for coming to check on me. It's nice to know if I was really in serious trouble that you'd have been there to help."
Donovan offered a thin smile. "Where're you headed?"
She leaned forward and peered at a clock on the RV's dashboard. "Hmm, 7:30, huh? Well, I think I'll be heading back to San Francisco. But I'm not going to fly."
"Boat?" he asked, eyebrows furrowed. "I thought you could teleport rapidly from place to place, blinking in and out until you reach your destination?"
Karla rolled her eyes then glared at him. "If you use your abilities for a long period of time in a focused way in a chaotic environment… doesn't it wear you out?"
"It… can become taxing, yes."
"Try crossing nearly eleven thousand miles without getting tired," she said. "An airplane took twenty-six hours if you count the layovers. A jet at super-cruise might be able to do it in less than fourteen. With in-air refueling. I’m exhausted after thirty minutes. "
Donovan lifted his hands defensively then put them onto the steering wheel.
She stepped back from the door of the RV and stretched. "You're going to need a safe way out of the country now that you have a kid belonging to the CIA." She fished coins from a pocket and handed them up to Donovan with a smile. "Take these Krugerrands; I don't know how many Rand they're worth but gold is good everywhere and anywhere. I'll see you soon."
Donovan took the handful of gold coins then glanced back at her, brows furrowed. "How did you get this?"
"It's because I'm more than just some salacious little quim. Now get moving."
"You may have suppressed your accent but you still speak like you're from England." Donovan offered a hint of a grin at the corner of his mouth.
"Heh. Yeah, sometimes. I'll see you when I get back to the states. I plan on finding the twins, first, getting them to safety and then I'll look you up. Things have changed – it's time to get back into the game, hon."
"You just know everything that's going on, don't you?" said Donovan with a wry grin.
"Well, not everything. I can't figure out where that CIA guy fits in. Greg Watson. I've been alive since the sixteen hundreds; I've been watching the government boys nearly as long… but," she ran her hands back over her hair, pushing back locks of her bangs. "It's frustrating! I can't figure him out."
"I don't know what side he's on. All I know is that he lied to me about being gay."
Donovan quirked his brows, creating several scrunched up lines on his forehead. "I don't even care to understand how the conversation came up but… why do you think he lied?"
"Because he was ogling my chest; gay guys look me in the eye. He wanted me to think I have no power over him. Thing is… I didn't." She snapped her fingers then said, "I bet he was in love. That's the only time I can't seduce a guy. Anyhow, I have a feeling one of us may see him again. Keep an eye out for him, he's a wildcard and…"
Donovan interrupted her with a smirk. "Funny, people say the same about you."
Karla's expression brightened. "You've really been practicing your word tract to fit into the modern world better. I'm proud of you Sugar Daddy." She saw him squirm from the pet name. Karla beamed with delight. "As I was saying, until we know more about him, I think he's…"
An explosion rocked the building from where she'd just come. The top four levels of glass panel windows burst. The fiery blast completely engulfed the top four floors. Another explosion ruptured from the rooftop, creating a pillar of dark smoke directly above the building.
"To hell with this," Karla said. She climbed up over Donovan's lap and into the passenger seat. "Hit the gas. Jesus, that's all I need. Christ. The CIA will receive a report that Watson came up against me… then the building blows up minutes after he tells his superiors that I escaped. They're going to think I did it. As if."
Donovan sighed and shook his head. "Just sit back and try to stay quiet for now. We have to sort this out." He eased into the accelerator and the RV moved forward.
Karla slipped out of her seat and began pacing through the RV. "Greg Watson... that was his name. God… I wonder if he's dead, now."
"Perhaps… Karla, pass up the bottle of Purell, please." He reached a hand back between the two front seats of the RV. He closed his fingers around the bottle once it met his palm then pumped the solution into his hands, scrubbing like a surgeon while carefully keeping the wheel straight. "I threw a man down a flight of steps. I don't know if he lived and it's bothering me." He put the Purell into one of the cup holders.
"Toughen up, sweetheart. Did he deserve to be thrown down the stairs?"
"Very much so."
"Then stop letting that sort of thing bother you. If he died, he deserved it. If he sat up at the bottom with a few bumps and bruises then it wasn't his time."
Donovan placed both hands firmly back on the steering wheel with a sigh. "One thing is for sure… there were most likely people who died when that building exploded. I didn't see anyone evacuate beforehand."
"It was their time," she replied. "Let's get our asses back to America. I want to test a theory."
"A theory?" He glanced at a mirror in the windshield then back at the road. "What theory."
"I think Lance and Steven are playing both sides for the middle in order to satisfy their ulterior motives. I want to know what they're up to and whose side they're really on. And there's only one way to get close enough to get into their business."
"Sex and collusion?"
Karla tittered in delight. "Donovan! You're finally getting it!"
"Dear God. Just… stay away from Eric."
She walked to the back of the RV and looked over the man strewn out across the mattress. "He's a good looking man, Donovan. Like a young version of you but with gorgeous hands. Damn." She paused and leaned closer. "He has commercial hands, look how nice he keeps his nails. Whoever he is, he's gorgeous."
Donovan rolled his eyes in silence. His attention moved to the incoming lane – two fire trucks raced by the RV, headed back towards the burning building in the central business district. "I have a feeling we're traveling back to California together." He shook his head with a somber sigh. "It's going to be an interesting night."
“Yeah,” she murmured. “Guess I’m flying after all. I’m going to need a stiff drink. So what’s the plan, now?”
“We lay low, Karla. No major purchases. No fighting mercenaries. We play dead. For all they know, you were still in that building when it went up. I’ll arrange for you to stowaway on a cargo ship. Keep your head down for right now.”
“Dammit. Fine. Could still use that stiff drink, though.”