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Author's Note:

Book 2 of the trilogy, Running the Infinite, begins with the machinations of various CIA officers who have at least limited knowledge of what has taken place inside Cutler County. One of these operators, Errol Villeceour, is in Paris as events explode in the Rocky Mountains, and is hastily called home by his partner, Preston, who claims that another officer, Gonzalez, has succeeded in capturing Malabar and bringing him to a safehouse near CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. He also reveals, once Villeceour arrives, that Preston, Gonzalez, and Malabar have all somehow disappeared from a subterranean interrogation room at CIA headquarters.

 

 

This is parts 2 & 3 of a 3-section opening chapter

 

II.

 

             Preston received a call from the taxi service to notify him they were pulling into the parking lot, and he told them not to bother coming up to the apartment; he and the arresting agent could manage their prisoner as far as the taxi without further assistance. This Malabar looked like some kind of rumpled playboy in his suit jacket and open, white collar, not to mention the fact that he had a bullet wound in his shoulder, inflicted during Gonzalez’ efforts to subdue him in Cutler County. He’d been treated at Zebra Station, and the grogginess caused by the painkiller probably rendered the man even less of a security risk.

             Still, there was no room for error. If the distance they had to walk was further than the curbside, Preston might have called in the taxi drivers. After taking a glance out the window to confirm the taxi was here, he crossed the room to un-cuff Malabar from the radiator. “Let’s go. Ride’s here.”

            They took him outside: Preston followed as Gonzalez guided Malabar down the stairs to street level. The whole time, Preston’s hand rested on the butt of his Smith, inside his jacket. As soon as they were on the sidewalk, Malabar said, “I need to use the bathroom.”

            “Is that supposed to be funny? Agent Gonzalez, you didn’t tell me our friend was a comedian.”

            “Oh, that’s the least of his surprises.”

            “Listen,” said Malabar, “since we’re friends, how about letting me drive?”

            “We’re friends,” Preston admitted, “but right now I barely trust you enough to walk without ankle-chains. How my mood swings from here depends entirely on you.”

            “You mean ‘assuming I allow you to keep me around long enough for it to swing one way or another.’”

            “That’s not exactly what I meant, no.”

            The taxi was a black, windowless truck which always reminded of those paddy-wagon type trucks in silent movies about Keystone Cops. In the rear was a large, enclosed compartment, where Preston, Gonzalez and Malabar would sit for the drive to Langley.

            During the ride, Malabar said nothing more. There was a surgeon waiting to properly treat the wound when they arrived, and Preston informed Gonzalez of his intention to begin the debriefing immediately following Malabar’s release from the doctor’s care, while the painkillers would still be affecting the subject’s mind. Watching the doctor work, Gonzalez raised concerns about the prudence of doing what Preston suggested. “We want him weak-willed,” Preston explained. “Trust me. I’ve handled enough interrogations to know.”

            The room in which this interrogation would commence was small, containing nothing but a table, chairs, and recording equipment; the latter being a simple microphone on a table-stand and digital-audio recorder. The only two men present were Preston and Gonzalez. Taking a seat beside Malabar at the table, Gonzalez didn’t remove the cuffs joining his left wrist to the prisoner’s right. Preston wasted no time switching on the recorder, and then asked Malabar to state his name for the record.

        “Why should I tell you my name, when you haven’t even told me yours?”

        "My name is Agent Preston. Agent Gonzalez you already know. Now, your name and occupation, please, for the record.”

“For the record? My title is Sir Malabar. I am the proprietor of several businesses both here and abroad.”

        “’Sir’—as in: you’re a knight? That would make your identity known to the English government.”

         “Known, yes, though I’m sure they’ll deny it.”

“And why is that?”

“I’m not at liberty to say.”

“Well, I’ll call you a knight when that’s confirmed. As for being secretive, I can assure you these proceedings will not be made public knowledge. For now, you’re a guest of the United

States Central Intelligence Agency. How long precisely you remain a guest depends on your level of cooperation.”

“As I said, I am the proprietor—”

“The Festival,” Gonzalez interrupted. “Stop screwing around. You know exactly what we’re asking about.”

Malabar looked at him with an incredulous expression. “Festival?”

Gonzalez sighed. “Are you sure you want to start this way? Animosity is not going to work to your advantage, I promise.”

“Animosity? I’d say the chance of avoiding animosity fled when you shot me.”

“I warned you that would happen. Look at it as a learning experience. I will resort—”

Preston hit the ‘stop’ button on the recorder fast enough to stop Gonzalez short. Gonzalez forced himself to relax, averting his eyes from Malabar to stare at the tabletop while he counted silently to ten. Preston picked up the ball. “We can do this many ways, most of which you will not enjoy. We’re here to get information out of you and failure, on our part, is unacceptable. Now, I’m going to try this again.” He rested his finger on the ‘record’ button. “If you continue to be uncooperative, I am going to change my tactics. Do you understand?”

Malabar nodded, silently, and Preston turned the recorder back on.

“I understand that you’ll resort to torture, if need be.”

The words were out before Preston could turn off the recorder again. Much too late, he hit the ‘stop’ button, anyway.

“That’s right. I will torture you. Whatever knowledge you have about spatial travel is more than even our own government knows. You think I won’t pull that information out of you with pliers if I have to?” Preston pulled out his cell phone and laid it on the table.

“Maybe I can start us off,” Gonzalez suggested. “I see no reason why we can’t include my own debriefing in this. Malabar already knows all of it, anyway.”

Preston thought about it, finally agreed, and hit the ‘record’ button.

Three days ago, I received a phone call from a man calling himself Lazarus Cane, who informed me that you would be in Cutler County on a specific date. He made several allegations about you, pertaining to your proprietorship of what he called a ‘Festival of Others.’ I admit now that I thought Cane was perpetuating some kind of a wild hoax, until his allegations were corroborated by people in our own Agency. If the rumors are to be believed, you have unequivocal evidence proving the validity of what many of us have always believed was only mythological in nature.”

Malabar’s expression remained cool. “Mr. Cane is a very disturbed young man, Agent Gonzalez.”

“So far, everything he’s said has turned out to be true.”

Malabar shrugged. “I’m sorry, Agent. I’m aware of no such festival.”

Gonzalez glanced at Preston, and saw the agent’s unspoken expression of compliance for what needed to be done next. Preston picked up the cell phone and pressed numbers.

“It’s a shame,” Gonzalez admitted. “I would have assumed you’d be a better businessman than this.”

“I wasn’t aware that I had any business with the CIA until you were so kind to inform me of that fact just now, but I usually adhere to a strict policy of doing no business with those who include firearms and torture as viable methods to settling disputes.”

“There are far worse negotiating tools than a bullet, but you’ll know more about that very soon. I’m not sure why you’re bothering to lie to us; maybe it’s because you’re not aware how long I was actually present in Cutler County. Allow me to enlighten you: I was posing as a waiter at the Quincey Ballroom the very morning of the same day one of your little exhibits decided to start slaughtering the clientele. Cane forced me to drive him, Mayor Kiln, and your own man, Agent Teller, to Kiln’s house outside of town. Kiln and Cane planned to serve me as the main course. I remember several things happening after that, but I’m not quite sure why they happened. The next thing I knew, someone threw two hand grenades into Kiln’s house. Thank god I was being held in the basement.”

Malabar made a point of not voicing his agreement that Agent Gonzalez had survived his evening in the company of two werewolves.

“Who blew up Kiln’s house?”

“I would imagine one of Mayor Kiln’s enemies.”

Preston hung up. “I’m asking you, Malabar: talk to us. I really don’t want to do what you’re forcing us into.”

“And I’m warning you,” Malabar answered, “this place is starting to bore me very quickly.”

“I think he wants to go back to Cutler County,” said Gonzalez. “Is that it? Are the inmates running the asylum, Malabar, while you’re away?”

Malabar sighed, as though he was the one receiving no satisfaction, instead of the one denying it.

“What about your men; the ones you sent into Cutler County after Lazarus Cane? They’re still there, aren’t they, stuck with all of those evil things, somehow. Or did you intend for them to die there?”

A light knock on the door prevented Malabar from answering—assuming he’d had any intention of doing so in the first place. Preston rose and let a man into the room who was easily six-five and wore an undistinguishing navy blue suit which implied to Malabar the handiwork of an F.B.I. tailor.

The man did not make eye contact with any of the others in the room as he approached the table, laying on its surface a black medical satchel that remained closed, allowing Malabar’s imagination to provide its contents.

 

 

III.

           

Villeceour’s commercial flight entered U.S. airspace five hours later and was met by a storm over the eastern seaboard that cordially escorted it all the way to the runway. Rain followed his cab diligently all the way to Langley. He’d finally managed to reach Rooker during their descent into (airport), and Rooker had suggested they meet at “Old Ed’s Orchard” as soon as Villeceour could get there. When he was less than five minutes away, he called Rooker once more.

        Rooker was Gonzalez’s mentor, a thirty-year veteran with no apparent signs of retirement on the horizon. Rooker had long ago left behind anything else meaningful in his private life; more or less married to the Agency to which he’d dedicated most of his professional life. Rooker had been consulted soon after Gonzalez received the “Cane Phone Call” which preceded his going to Cutler County. Rooker was the one who’d heard of Malabar, before. In case of a ruse, Villeceour and Preston had been designated to step in should the situation escalate beyond Gonzalez’s level of experience.

It took an hour to reach the bar outside Langley called “Old Ed’s Orchard,” and the rain never even slowed to a drizzle. The only cars parked outside were Rooker’s black mini-van with the soccer-ball sticker in the bottom right corner of the back window and the pickup truck belonging to “Old Ed,” the owner. Villeceour paid off the cab, took his two suitcases from the trunk, and went inside.

        The place had once been a bed-and-breakfast, converted to a tasteful saloon back in the eighties, mostly catering to off-duty spooks. Old Ed was sitting at one of the tables in the dining room, reading a newspaper. He looked up to Villeceour as he walked in from the rain, waving him toward the back, through the kitchen.

        Rooker was out back, standing under an attached carport, smoking a cigar. By way of greeting Villeceour, he said, “It’s a sad day when even Ed’s Orchard falls to the unrelenting changes of time. Would you believe I have to stand out here now whenever I want a smoke?”

Villeceour joined him next to Old Ed’s tarp-covered pride and joy: a cherry-red ’56 Duster. More than once, Ed had pulled that tarp back for guests in the off-season and everyone at Langley had seen it at least once.

        “I haven’t been able to reach Preston since Paris.”

        “I wish I could enlighten you, but I’m in the same boat as you.”

“What about this Malabar fellow? I’m assuming he’s locked down somewhere by now. Where’s Gonzalez?”

“They’re missing,” Rooker admitted. “Malabar, Preston, and Gonzalez; gone since sometime soon after they reached Langely. I came in this morning to be briefed, and walked into an empty interrogation room.”

“You mean they took him somewhere? Why would they do that?”

“Your guess is as good as any, right now. The taxi service reported their time-of-arrival at the Wesley Retirement Community, where we have the safe house, at 11:30 pm last night. The taxi reported a second time, per procedure, when they were en route to the Farm. All three were delivered intact. Preston signed in and was witnessed by several agents accompanying Malabar to a med station, where a surgeon administered medical attention to Malabar’s shoulder wound. After that, Gonzalez and Preston sequestered Malabar in an interrogation room, which no one saw them walk out of for the rest of the night. None of our cameras or personnel saw them leave the Farm, either.”

        “So they’re still there, somewhere. When was the last time you talked to Preston?”

        “He called me just before he arrived at the safe house and told me Gonzalez had called him from Zebra Station in Royale, Colorado, requesting Preston to meet them at the safe house in D.C. immediately, that he was bringing in a prisoner. I talked to Preston once more after he arrived at the retirement community and had taken stock of the situation inside. He said Gonzalez and Malabar were already waiting for him.”

        Rooker paused to let that run around in Villeceour’s mind, but didn’t have to wait long. “Preston told me that on the phone before I left for the airport.”

Rooker smoked his cigar, and raised an eyebrow to Villeceour. “It might be plausible that Preston was lying, except that the taxi service was on the scene maybe fifteen minutes after that. I think we might be prudent to bypass any further skepticism, Errol. I’ve been hearing rumors of this guy, Malabar, ever since I started with the Agency. He’s been a campfire story up until now. The question I’m asking is: if he can really move like that—that fast, invisibly—then what about everything else I’ve heard about him?”

       “Perhaps you could fill me in on some of those stories.”

“I’d say they’re required information as of now.”

Villeceour looked out to the field behind Old Ed’s, taking in the hills in the distance, the trees in the foreground, the rain.

“We have to find this guy Cane, at the same time we’re looking for Preston. Do we know if Cane is still in Cutler County?”

“If he is, he’s hiding well, as are two-thirds of the county’s population. I assume you’ve been briefed on the current status of things in the county?”

        "Not formally briefed, but they’re talking about the quarantine on French news programs. All they’re saying is that the entire county is off-limits to the general public; nothing about anybody missing.”

       “Then allow me to bring you up to speed. Anyone who didn’t evacuate Cutler County is missing. So far, we’ve located no bodies except one, no evidence of where they went, no evidence of who took them. The contamination story is in place to keep the public out, which gives us a good amount of time to get in front of this thing, but of course there’s nothing wrong with the air in that place and sooner or later people are going to quit humoring us. Whole families are missing, Errol. Relatives are demanding bodies and we have none to give them. If someone upstairs has the real story, it has yet to filter down to me. The spin factory is claiming the spill wasn’t a terrorist act, but results of the investigation need to be staged, and quick. The story revolves around this Malabar fellow and Cane, and right now, we don’t have either one.”

“You said no bodies were found except one. Do we have an ID, yet?”

“I’m waiting for it, now. The FBI team found him. It’s a male, killed from a gunshot wound to the back of the head, which destroyed our chances for matching dental records.”

“Most of the town’s people are missing. That means some are not?”

“About a third of the town evacuated after what they all describe as some kind of red lightning which ripped the sky open.”

“Red lightning? Is that confirmed?”

“Meteorologists reported a strange friction in the air over Cutler County, but no red lightning.”

Villeceour puzzled over this quickly. “We’re looking at some kind of mass hallucination, here.”

“It gets worse. Certain people are reporting terrible noises that came from the vicinity of Main Street and Clawson in the town of Belmont. Some describe the sound of human screams; some report hearing a roar that sounded like someone had released all the lions from the zoo … except that there is no zoo in Cutler County. No one saw what caused any of these noises, but several claim to have ventured into the area after the noises had ceased.”

Villeceour noticed the disconnection take place in Rooker’s eyes, watched it happen and recognized it as a habit evolved from years of seeing bad things, himself. He waited patiently for the senior agent to adjust to the information he was preparing to share.

“They describe finding human remains, enough to make an entire intersection look like the beach at Normandy.”

        Villeceour was just as desensitized as any good spook, but unexplained carnage was no willing compatriot to sustaining cynicism. He took a breath before asking what events exactly were detailed in Gonzalez’s report.

        “Gonzalez didn’t witness the specific situation, but his observations are even more outlandish.”

        Villeceour waited, but it wasn’t easy to keep from pressing.

        "I don’t know how else to put this … I think Gonzalez was affected by the same hallucinatory experience that hit everyone else.”

        “What do you mean?”

“He says the people in that intersection were slaughtered by werewolves.”

“Werewolves …? You mean, like, the Wolf Man?”

        Rooker looked right at him. He wasn’t smiling.

 

End of Excerpt/Back to "Running the Infinite" Table of Contents