Horizon’s Shadow

by Gary Clifton

part 1


“Hello, hello, good God, hello,” Nathan St. Croix shout-stammered into the cellular. He would have swallowed the damned thing to shut it up.

“Is it raining in St. Louis?” rasped the husky voice on the other end.

St. Croix was in no shape for secret passwords. “Good Christ, Chadsey, yes, it’s me. And it’s four a.m. down here.” St. Croix heaved himself upright onto the edge of the mattress.

“Boxcar, this is Trapdoor. Maintain security protocol. That is an order. Do not say my name again. Is it raining in Mexico City?”

“Oh for God’s sake, Chadsey, it hasn’t rained since... uh...” — he flipped on a bedside lamp — “for three weeks.” He was providing the coded response to his desk officer in Langley, Virginia, confirming he’d received his last written instruction package three weeks earlier. “Now, what in the hell do you want in the middle of the night?”

St. Croix had partied with the Comandante of the Mexican Federal Judicial Police, two of his lieutenants and several prostitutes until about an hour before. His expanding headache was well on route to critical mass.

“Code seven red alert, Boxcar. Mandatory that you locate, isolate, and take into custody a female American citizen by close of business today.”

“Chadsey, there are only twenty-plus million people in Mexico City, which would include about six thousand female Americans. Would there be an outside chance of some sort of location and other identity information, like a name? Or do we just grab some babe at random?”

“Dammit, don’t say my name again!”

St. Croix had always assumed Chadsey was a nom de guerre. They’d never met, but who the hell would name their kid Chadsey to begin with? Besides, the telephone system was so highly scrambled that the techs who maintained it often got lost in the middle.

Of course, the techs were machines, too: clones who looked reasonably human but never required sleep, never wasted time discussing sex or football and were thus able to spend all eternity trying to keep the Eastern Federation’s counter-intelligence clones from intruding into Langley’s not always so secret communications system.

St. Croix had read in old books that prior to the nuclear exchange of 2028, an entertainment medium known as a three-ring circus had been available to the masses. Chadsey had to be a descendant of one of the circus clowns.

The room spun dangerously. No time for intensive analysis of the screwed-up world of clandestine intrigue in 2061. “Yes, sir, Trapdoor, I understand. Now what the hell do you want me to do? And why don’t you just send instructions down in the regular shuttle?”

“Dammit, Boxcar, we don’t need to let the other side have any more chances at our written material than necessary.”

“Actually, it’s more like four sides down here, depending on which alliances are honored on a given day, plus two or three more who sorta bounce with the wind. Now what the hell do you want in the middle of the night?”

Since everyone on all sides had more or less full knowledge of the roster of the entire intelligence community south of the United States by both real and code names, St. Croix had always viewed the world of pseudo-secrecy with scorn. But the pay was good and he didn’t exactly have alternatives.

“Go ahead, Chad... uh, Trapdoor,” St, Croix said wearily. A shard of pain traversed his skull like the electrical shock he’d undergone years before at the “Farm” in rural Maryland.

“Female’s real name is Madeline Gilmore, blonde, 26, attractive... I’m sending you a photograph. We have reason to believe she got out the back door with at least part of the plans for the new JX-7, Down-Fire Model. Detain her until we can send somebody down to shuttle her little ass back up here.”

St. Croix sat in abject, booze-agony, wondering what the hell a JX-7 was. But if he’d learned anything in his years of association with Langley, he knew that asking was as futile as trying to breathe water.

* * *

St. Croix had been a DEA Agent for twenty years until he shot and killed two kids he had mistakenly thought were robbing a U.S. Government-owned liquor store in St. Louis eight years before. After he had evaporated both with his DEA-issue service thruster, the locals informed him he had exterminated the manager’s two teen-age sons.

Condemned and ready for the bureaucratic punishment of shipment off-world to labor in the titanium mines of the planet Saldonia Exceptus, his life had essentially ended. As he sat in the St. Louis County Jail, guards had unceremoniously dragged him down to an interview room, where he was confronted by a pair of sixtyish ladies, both with a full load of large gray hair.

“I’m Ms. East,” the first fragile little creature spoke up. “Mr. St. Croix, you’re in what we call a hell of a fix.”

“We?”

The second lady, Ms. North, her eyes as cold gray as her mass of hair, explained in detail they were from the Central Intelligence Agency and that St. Croix had just been impressed into service. His assignment would be in South America, and he would never be allowed to return to the U.S., under penalty of death. Or he could opt to be colonized to another planet and be history of a different nature.

St. Croix nearly blurted some comment to the effect that spies were supposed to look like Daniel Craig in the ancient movies, not his aunt Emma. In view of the circumstances, he listened instead. Hell yes, he’d go south in lieu of straight up in a prison shuttle.

“What would I be doing?”

“What you’re told,” Ms. East replied softly.

In addition to the two recently departed misfired teenagers, St. Croix had killed two dopers while in service with DEA, neither remotely related to the two dead boys. No stranger to the harsh realities, he asked, “We talking wet work here?”

Ms. North smiled sweetly. “Afraid we ask the questions, Mr. St. Croix. I believe I said ‘as you’re told’. And, be advised, you are not an employee of the Agency. You are a contractor with no benefits. Remain mindful, sir, the Director of the CIA is now the permanent Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff with control over all military and related activity worldwide. Her appointment is for life... And, sir, so is yours.”

He had been around the world of black ops enough to recognize instantly that as a Langley contractor, he no longer really existed; he was a classic example of a fully expendable asset. In view of no options, all he could do was dumbly nod his head and disappear from society forever.

With no wife, no children, parents long dead, and only an estranged sister in Fresno, being AWOL would be relatively easy. Later, he learned the St. Louis cops had told the grieving relatives of the two dead teenagers he had been killed trying to escape. Nathan St. Croix was, officially, already deader than hell.

As the years bore on, the business of murder became, while not easier, nonetheless more routine. He had actually gotten to where he could go part of a full afternoon without seeing the contorted, terrified faces of an irregular array of his kills.

The good news was that he wasn’t required to work more than a few days of the year; the pay was triple his DEA salary; and, with the inactivity, his golf game had improved eight strokes.

After six years in Bolivia and fourteen execution murders — Langley called them “corrections” — the Bolivian National Police issued several arrest warrants for him. Langley plunked him in a sleazy motel in teeming Mexico City.

In two years in the Mexican capital, he had “corrected” four more human beings, worked at his golf game, and drunk too much tequila. Occasionally, as today, Langley would give him odd assignments.

Beyond the regular, non-descript packets Langley sent down which always contained exactly nothing, he never saw another written word from the CIA. Actual assignments always were initiated by a telephone call from Chadsey — if Chadsey even existed — telling him he would be contacted in person by an agency operative with full instructions about who was next on St. Croix’s “corrections” agenda.

St. Croix had invariably struggled to bite his tongue when the messengers finally made contact. They were always different individuals, and they were invariably careful to instruct St. Croix that he was only a lowly contractor while said delivery boy or gal was genuine CIA: a fully trained operative. As if he gave a damn.

He was particularly disgusted when, after a kill, he was required to contact Chadsey, go through the password routine and say only, “Kettledrums.” And then hang up. The code word told Langley to cancel any and all records of the mark that St. Croix had just “corrected.”

* * *


Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2015 by Gary Clifton

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