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Black Trump

Black Trump

Black Trump 19


  But Sprout - she had been what he lived for, what he fought for, every minute since she was born. He had sacrificed more than he ever imagined he had for her.

  These bastards had her. That meant he would do what they asked. Period.

  Or at least until I figure out a way to call my friends.

  Something the CIA spook said snagged his preconscious mind, and snapped his attention back like an elastic band.

  "What are you saying, man?"

  "That the Black Trump virus has a flaw," Casaday replied, "which you are going to help us correct."

  Mark stopped dead. Layton grabbed his arm, applied his pain grip again. "No way."

  Casaday laughed as if that was the funniest thing he'd heard all month. "Yes, way," he said. "Dr. Meadows, permit me to introduce your research associates, Dr. Carter Jarnavon and Oberstleutnant Gunther Ditmar."

  They had reached the underground lab's far end, where desks and computer workstations formed a U-shaped niche. Two men stood waiting. Both were evident Westerners of medium height. That summed up their similarities.

  The first wore a lab coat, horn-rimmed glasses, and an expression of earnestness that elsewhere and elsewhen might have been comical. "I'm Jarnavon," he said, thrusting out a pale hand. "I can't tell you how honored I am to meet you, Dr. Meadows. I've read everything you ever published. You were something of an idol of mine, growing up. A pioneer in my field in genetic engineering."

  Mark looked down at the hand as if it had died some time ago and begun to smell. Jarnavon's face fell. It was a square, near-handsome face, clean-cut, and could not possibly be as young as it looked.

  "My friends call me Carter," the young man said in words that stumbled out. "I, uh, I hope you'll call me that, too."

  Mark looked at the other man, who nodded crisply to him. He was a heavyset specimen in a blotched and crumpled linen suit, who stank impressively of tobacco, alcohol, sweat and mildew. He had a moon face, protuberant Baby Huey lips, and one black eyebrow that stretched right across his forehead. He wore a horrible little green fedora, with a brief feather stuck in the band, like something a Bavarian tourist might wear on a jaunt up to SchloB Neuschwannstein.

  "Herr Doktor Professor Meadows," he said. From his academic German, Mark recalled that Oberstleutnant meant "lieutenant colonel." He wondered what a lieutenant colonel of anything might find to do in this lab.

  "It's just Herr Doctor," Mark said reflectively. "I don't, like, have a chair anywhere."

  "That's a terrible injustice," Jarnavon piped up. "If you help us here, maybe we'll be able to do something about that in the future."

  "As if I have any future, if you nutcases kill off all the wild cards," Mark said. Jarnavon jerked his head back as if Mark had slapped him. "I can commit suicide a lot easier without helping you, Casaday."

  "We're not asking you to commit suicide, Dr. Meadows," Casaday said briskly. "Obviously, we can protect you from the Trump when it's released. And then a simple vasectomy to make sure you don't do any more pissing in the gene pool, and we all go our separate ways.

  "Yeah. Right.

  Casaday chuckled. "That's why we have the Colonel, here, on the team. You might call him your incentive."

  "What are you talking about?"

  "Well, see, not all mercenaries of the Cold War era got their jobs through Soldier of Fortune. Quite a lot were working the other side, if you catch my drift. For example, the Colonel here belonged to an elite cadre dispatched by the former East German Stasi to the far corners of the Earth. They specialized in teaching the fine points of physical interrogation to Third World counterintelligence agencies."

  Ditmar smiled a greasy smile. "Heart and minds," he said.

  "The Colonel is a second-generation torturer," Casaday said. "His father worked for the Gestapo before the Soviets caught him. Then he worked for them. Gunther here was raised in the business, so to speak."

  He nodded. The two men in black pajamas thrust Sprout at the German. Mark tried to intercept her, but Layton held him back. Ditmar grabbed the girl, held her. His hands were unusually large, with long fingers. Despite his flabbiness he held the writhing Sprout without apparent effort.

  "So," Casaday said. "The problem with our Black Trump is that it only remains viable for three to four generations. What we need you to do is fiddle with this bug until it gets more staying power."

  He looked significantly at Ditmar. The former East German stroked Sprout's long blond hair with the back of one stranglers hand and smiled wetly at Mark.

  "If you actually do the work for us, and don't jack us around, not only will we make sure you get to live, but I won't let Gunther here play with your baby girl. Am I generous, or what?"

  "Please prove obstreperous, Dr. Meadows." Ditmar said. Along with his Katzenjammer Kids accent, he had trouble pronouncing his "r"s, which made him sound like a Nazi Elmer Fudd. The threat's cartoonish quality, combined with the sick certainty that this wasn't a fucking game, pierced Mark like a stainless steel probe to the medulla.

  The torturer smiled. His upper right canine was steel.

  "I like little blond girls," he said.

  ♥ ♦ ♣ ♠

  "How do I look?" Jerry Strauss asked as he inspected himself in the mirror. Her voice was low, throaty, seductive.

  "You look more like Peregrine than Peregrine does," Jay reassured him.

  "Just so no one expects me to fly." Jerry fluttered his huge white wings nervously and tugged down on the hem of the short black dress so it revealed a shade more cleavage.

  "That's too much, Jay," Bradley Finn said. "You can see the top of his nipples."

  "Her nipples," Jay corrected. Pronouns were confusing when dealing with his junior partner.

  "Whatever," Finn said irritably. He shifted the cumbersome minicam from one shoulder to the other. "Peregrine never wears anything that revealing."

  "Oh, I don't know," Jay said. "You ever see her Playboy layout? Anyway, at the moment we're more concerned about Eric Fleming's dick than Peri's TV-Q."

  "If his dick works anything like mine, we're on the right track," Sascha Starfin put in. "I believe I'm in love."

  Jay couldn't resist a glance down at the front of Sascha's trousers. There was an impressive tenting effect going on. "Looks like love to me," he admitted.

  Jerry turned around to see for himself. "Sorry, Sascha, I'm saving myself for Mister Fleming." He gave his wings a coquettish flutter.

  "Your lips are saying no, but your mind is shouting yes, yes, yes!" Sascha replied, smoothing his pencil-thin mustache with the back of his hand. With mirrorshades in place to cover the smooth skin where most people kept their eyes, Sascha could pass as a nat, and his telepathy - though limited to surface thoughts - was a real plus in any interrogation.

  Bradley Finn was getting annoyed. "This goddamned camera is heavy. Are we going to do this or not?"

  "Might as well," Jay said. "Can't dance."

  The rental company had delivered the mini van to the hotel parking lot. Jay got in the driver's side door, realized that the steering wheel was missing, and slid over. Jerry-Peri started to get in beside him, until her wings got tangled up in the door frame. "How the hell does she ever sit down with these things sticking out of her back?" he complained.

  "I think they fold up somehow," Finn put in from the back of the van, where he and Sascha were loading the minicam and the sound equipment.

  "Maybe hers fold up," Jerry-Peri said. "Mine don't seem to." She-he gave an annoyed flap, and feathers went flying everywhere. Somehow he-she managed to get inside the van, hunched over and wedged around sideways in the passenger seat. The little black dress had hiked up over her crotch, and the dark shadow of her pubic hair was visible through her white silk panties. Glancing over, Jay had to admit that the view looked just like he remembered from Playboy. When Jerry did an impersonation, he went all the way.

  "It's a short drive," Jay said, turning the ignition. He flicked the lever to signal that he was pulling out, and hi
s wiper blades started up. This driving-on-the-wrong-side business wasn't going to be as simple as it looked.

  On the way there, Finn started getting anxious. "Do you really think this hare-brained scheme is going to work? Fleming is a Card Shark, he hates wild cards, why would he consent to an interview with Peregrine?"

  "He hates wild cards but he loves actresses, models, and sexy babes," Jay said. "When a man's good sense says one thing and his dick says something else, bet on his dick every time. Trust me, I went to detective school."

  "What if he decides to check our credentials?" Finn asked. "What if he phones New York and finds out the real Peregrine is right there taping her show, half a world away from Australia?"

  "Now why would he do something like that?" Jay asked.

  "I don't know why," Finn said. Jay could see his long blond tail flicking nervously in the rearview mirror. "Maybe he's paranoid. Maybe he's cautious. Maybe he's a member of a secret conspiracy and he's used to checking out everything, just in case. Just assume for a moment that he does check, and he finds out that Creighton isn't really Peregrine, what then?"

  "Then we're fucked," Jay said, as he pulled up in front of the offices of the Townsville Drover.

  ♥ ♦ ♣ ♠

  There were bars on the hut window through which Mark watched his daughter. Beyond that, he had to admit her quarters weren't bad. Though the one-room structure looked like an ordinary bamboo hut, it was sealed, with air-conditioning inside, as the chill beating off the glass windowpane demonstrated. There was a bed and a dresser, and a pile of colorful stuffed toys including Sprout's favorite pink bear. Sprout herself sat on a stool with her back to the window, while two Black Karen women in black pajamas fussed over her hair.

  "These dinks think we're funny-looking," O. K. Casaday remarked, "but they can't get enough of that long blond hair."

  "Huh," Mark grunted. He turned away. The movement apparently tweaked the peripheral vision of one of the local women, eliciting a reaction Sprout caught - because suddenly her face was pressed against the window, muffled voice screaming, "Daddy! Daddy!"

  Mark turned back, pressed his lips to the glass over hers for a kiss. Then he tore himself free and went loping across the compound with great-legged strides, tears pouring down his face. Big black crows picking over the hard-packed earth jumped up out of his path with caws of complaint and wheeled into the red explosion of sunset over the evergreen-oak woods.

  "You see, Meadows?" asked Casaday, matching Mark stride for stride. "We're not total monsters. We believe in the carrot as well as the stick. Wait'll you see your quarters; they're even plusher."

  Mark moistened his lips with his tongue, forced himself to think about something other than Sprout and the danger he had placed her in by being - what? Too smart? Too weak? He had no idea what he might have done differently, but he could not shake the conviction that he was to blame.

  "Quite an operation you got here," he said huskily. "I saw the poppy fields on the flight in. Aren't you afraid a KH-12 will spot them?"

  Casaday's face creased in a frown. "Where in hell does a hippie burnout hear about the Keyhole bird?"

  Mark just looked at him. Casaday laughed and slapped his substantial forehead. "Of course. Where did I leave my brain today? Your dad used to be head of the Space Command."

  "And I used to be Chancellor of Free Vietnam," Mark said. "I know a little bit about American spy satellites."

  "Well, think about who actually owns and operates the birds. That's why we have such good leverage on Marshal Hti, here. If it weren't for our goodwill, the DEA could feed the Myanmar government the serial numbers on the guards' fucking rifles. Rangoon goons would hit this camp like a plague of fucking locusts.

  "I thought the U.S. had repudiated you bastards."

  "You mean us Sharks?" Casaday snorted. "Well, officially - too bad that Jesus-freak asshole Barnett turned out to be such a wimp, but fuck, what do you expect from politicians? They have no balls, by definition. No, we're outside the law now, just like your favorite Mel Gibson character. And just like your favorite Mel Gibson character, we still have some friends on the inside, if you know what I mean."

  "I don't have a favorite Mel Gibson character," Mark said.

  His quarters were fairly nice as trailers went. Mark always had a sort of prejudice against them, which he vaguely suspected was class-based. It was one of the old metal rounded hunchbacked ones, maybe thirty feet long and about twelve wide, with a living room, kitchen, bedroom, and bath. There was even a TV with remote-control and VCR, hooked into the compound's satellite dish. Though the consumer electronics were reasonably up-to-date, Mark suspected the trailer itself dated from the Vietnam War. The furnishings were comfortable enough, smelling only slightly of wet rot, and the air-conditioning was sufficient to keep the awful daytime heat at bay.

  Not bad. For Hell.

  ♥ ♦ ♣ ♠

  Ireland, as Ray watched it unroll outside the limo's window, was the greenest country he'd ever seen. The blush of early summer was on the land. Cottages gleamed whitely among the emerald lawns and fields. Roses were scattered about like unburning red stars. It gave Ray the creeps. Made him feel like he'd fallen onto a postcard.

  They drove from the airport to a hotel on the outskirts of Dublin where Flint dropped them off.

  "You're sure we can't help in the search, Brigadier?" Harvest asked.

  The British ace shook his head ponderously. "I doubt anyone would open up to strangers. We have local men canvassing the villages and farms, looking for witnesses to the parachuting. Besides, you should rest after your long flight. With any luck we'll turn something up by tomorrow."

  They got adjoining rooms. Ray was still restless and edgy, despite or maybe because he hadn't slept during the crossing. He tried watching television but there was nothing interesting on the few available channels. For awhile he watched a sport that seemed to be a cross between football, soccer, and free-lance mayhem, but he couldn't figure out the rules and the thick accents of the announcers annoyed him. He shut off the TV, paced the room for awhile, then stopped before the connecting door between his room and Harvest's. He knocked and heard a faint, "Come in," from the other side of the door.

  Harvest was sitting up in bed, poring over one of her ever-present dossiers. She still wore her skirt but had taken off her blouse to reveal a blue-satin and lace teddy.

  "I thought," Ray said, "we should talk or something. Make some plans."

  Harvest smiled. "Or something?" she said.

  Why the hell not? Ray thought. He crossed the room, leaned over and braced himself with his arms against the headboard. He kissed Harvest hard. He pulled back after a moment, and looked down at her and smiled.

  She slugged him. It wasn't a slap or a gentle tap. It was a shot to the jaw that rocked his head back.

  "Hey!" he protested.

  "Nobody kisses me without my permission," she said, staring hard at him.

  Ray rubbed his jaw. "Well, excuse me for not asking - "

  "All right," Harvest said. She grabbed his tie and yanked. He wasn't expecting it. He fell down on top of her. She held his tie as she pulled his face to hers and kissed him fiercely. Her tongue went into his mouth and fought with his.

  "Hummpphh."

  Ray wanted to say something but her mouth swallowed his words, and then he quickly forgot what he was going to say anyway. She released his tie and rolled him over so that she was on top, straddling him. She unzipped and shimmied out of her skirt. Underneath she wore silk stockings and a garter belt that matched her teddy. She looked down at him, still smiling.

  "You're a big talker, Ray. How are you for action?"

  "I think you'll find that I'm big enough."

  "We'll see," she said, and tore his shirt open, sending buttons flying all over the room.

  Sometime later, the phone rang. Ray reached over her and picked it up.

  "Hello," said Flint's whispery voice. It sounded even more ghost-like over the phone. "I trus
t I'm not interrupting anything."

  "Nope," Ray said. "Close though."

  "We found two parachutes abandoned near a field. Only the field was outside Belfast, not Dublin."

  "Damn Bushorn," Ray said. "We've lost another day to his lies."

  "It's too late to do anything tonight. Tomorrow we'll motor to Belfast. I'll ring you up first thing in the morning."

  "First thing," Ray said. He hung up the phone and leaned back on his side.

  Harvest was looking at him. During their love making she had shed her teddy. She lay against the sheets, exposing her lithe, athletic body to Ray's appreciative gaze.

  "You hear what the whispering rock had to say?"

  She nodded. "Enough. We'd better get some sleep." She swiveled onto her side and slung a silk-clad thigh over Ray's hip. "Take my stockings off."

  Ray grinned. "It'll be a pleasure."

  ♥ ♦ ♣ ♠

  FIVE

  "Gregg, is meeting Churchill really going to do any good?"

  Hannah asked the question in the dark of the room. Brian and the Fists had taken them to a run-down apartment building deep in the warrens of the Belfast jokertown while the message to Churchill was sent. It will take a few days, Brian had said. But he'll get it. Scarlet Will was just outside the door, and Gregg knew the man was there as much to guard against them leaving as to protect them.

  Hannah sat on the sagging mattress of the bed; Gregg hopped up alongside her. The only light in the room was what managed to get through the grimy windowshade that looked out onto an alley and the building across from them.