The F.B.I. can no longer help Agent Lila Banks. Andrey Jones – her former target – was ahead of her moves. After using her for his own purposes, he framed her for murder. Now it turns out he has more in store for her – a mission that will change her forever, full of action, danger and secrets. In this episode Lila is forced on the path to track down the project Reptile Man.
No point insisting on, “I’m an F.B.I. agent.” They disregard that information at the police station as if on purpose. There’s no detective in a bare-walled room looking ominous and interested, just uniforms around a cuffed woman in a chair, talking to a bored clerk who pecks away at his keyboard. He doesn’t seem moved by my supposed murder. He draws the conclusion that what started off as consensual sex spiced with some bondage ended badly. I have enough experience to know I better leave it at that.
Andrey Jones’ plot worked perfectly for him, and he’s obviously bought off some of the police too. Still, in 24 hours max Chief Schwarz should be able to find me – or so experience encourages me. My perspectives darken in only a few of those hours though – I’m thrown in a cell with angry-looking prostitutes and drug dealers, but the worst one is a drag queen.
“Heard you’re a cop,” she – or he – says.
“I’m not a cop, I’m a financial analyst,” I say evenly, but he – or she – is set on kicking my ass.
“F.B.I., no less.”
I look up from the bench. The others gathered around the drag queen, looking down on me with clear purpose. One of them cracks her knuckles to make sure the message comes through. I don’t even wonder how they know – Andrey Jones put the information in here to make things difficult for me, surely. I take a deep breath and press my eyes shut as the first punch strikes like lightning and sends me crouching on the floor.
I keep enough presence of mind to retreat under the bench, which makes it difficult for their kicks to find me. But the drag queen pulls me out, and all I can do is take the snail-shell position to protect myself. It must be divine intervention that all my ribs stay intact until I hear the cell gate fling open, and the warden step in with cusses and rubber-rod swings.
The attackers now scattered, the warden grabs me under my armpits and pulls me up, then settles me roughly back on the bench. I’m dizzy and scared stiff for another hour, but the craze of the moment cooled down for the ladies, not to mention that it drained them, so I’m safe for now. Later my heart leaps to clog my throat as the drag queen stands up to resume action, but then the gate opens again and Mr. Bad and Mr. Worse make their entrance. I’m so relieved to see them I can barely believe it.
They grab my arms one on each side and escort me down a neon-lit corridor with sickly green walls. I look down at my legs in the orange prison overalls, and the realization that I’m a convict hits me hard. When a metal door opens to a prison bus I’m sure there’s no escape for me anymore – my life is in their hands. I’m tired, and I welcome the swaying and bumping drive to wherever they might take me – I’m too beat from all points of view to care about that either.
Our destination reveals itself as an airport. I’m alone with the driver in the bus when we reach it, Mr. Bad and Mr. Worse at the back. All the others have been dropped off at different institutions. My body’s all bruised and tender as they escort me through whipping wind across a field to a jet with no windows, strapping me to a metal seat like the prisoner that I am. My head hangs, dirty and sweaty strands that lost all hue of blonde hanging like rags on the sides of my face. As the machine starts trembling and the engines humming I see a pair of black shoes slipping under my eyes.
I look up to see Andrey Jones in the seat across from me, wearing a suit but looking athletic, his face business-straight but young and what I called attractive before all this, his reddish brown eyes drilling into mine. A surge of hatred fuels me, and I jolt from my seat with a cry, but the straps bite into my flesh, forcing me back down. Something softens in his gaze, making the bastard look almost hurt.
“I understand your rage. But it’s no use to you or to me.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard that before,” I hiss. The edges of my eyes are burning, and I wish I could scratch him bloody.
He looks down and swallows whatever his feelings, then throws a file on my knees.
“The reptile-man. What do you know about it?”
Now I understand why my hands are free. I take the file and leaf angrily through it. I recognize the report indeed – I wrote it. I hurl it back at him.
“I don’t know anything more than this file says.”
“And what does it say?”
“You actually expect me to narrate twenty pages now?”
“Just the essential.”
I want to defy him so bad, but his stare is steady and patient. He’s more rested, and has more energy to play this game than I do. “Give me some water, my throat feels scrubbed.”
He presses a button, and Mr. Bad brings a glass of water. It feels like honey down my throat, but every gulp hurts.
“More, please,” I say as I hand him back the glass. I make an effort to look back at Jones as Mr. Bad departs. “I met Dr. Randolph Kalb back when I was with my first employers. We met in Heidelberg, Germany. He’s a high-class geneticist, and he worked for one of our subcontractors, but these subcontractors billed for the development of supplements, while Kalb’s reports were on genetic testing. I looked deeper into that, and certain tests could only be performed on humans. That’s how I got suspicious.”
“Why did you look deeper?”
“I see you’re eager to blame me of the same wickedness you blame my employers of,” I spew. “But I had to know this stuff in order to determine if it could be deduced from tax. You can’t deduce cement if you’re a hairdresser, you know, except in special circumstances. You should know all this, you’re a broker.”
“I’m not really a broker. My support comes from my organization.”
I remember what he told me on our first meeting, and let it go. “Well, we can dive into accounting details, or we can stick to the subject.”
“Stick to the subject,” he commands and squares his shoulders.
“I went to the F.B.I. with this. Chief Schwarz asked me to work with them on the case. That’s how I had the means to determine Randolph Kalb did experiments on humans, and that one of his projects was called the reptile-man, but I never discovered more than that. I only discovered what money-tracking – yes, black-money tracking too – revealed. Chief Schwarz delved deeper into the case, he knows much more.”
Jones’ jaw tightens. “And you accepted ignorance? Just like that, knowing you’d supported experimentation on humans? When you had the chance to discover the details, you just threw your hands in the air and moved on?”
“There were more important things I could do –,” and I want to list them, but Jones’ face goes stone-hard.
“More important things? More important than ending the slaughter?”
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you. I could help track down more of those bastards. It was only wise to let trained people like Chief Schwarz and the operations boys take care of the commando matters, don’t you think?”
No, Andrey Jones doesn’t think. He pulls an ace from under his sleeve.
“Why didn’t you turn in Ivan Basarab, Lila? Why didn’t you turn in your first direct boss? You nailed all the others, but him you helped get away from the F.B.I.”
The answer to that catches in my throat, but at this very moment Mr. Bad thankfully appears with the second glass of water. It’s a bit misty, like tap water, but I gulp it down and use the chance to think of how to put it. I hyperventilate, so I keep quiet and strain Jones’ patience yet more. He glares at me as angrily as a troll as he speaks the next words.
“Your sparing Basarab had consequences, Lila, as I’m sure you know. He’s a scientist himself, an early genius who graduated at fuckin’ 12, you should’ve known how dangerous he was.”
I shake my head. “He’s not dangerous. He’s not a geneticist. He’s –“,
“I know what he is. Can’t you put two and two together? His skills are even more threatening than Kalb’s.”
My eyesight begins to cloud, and my head feels heavy.
“And now, Lila, you will have a taste of the vile things you allowed to be bestowed on the world. First, you will lead me to Kalb.”
The Sandman leans in heavy on my lids, a weighty sleep making me numb – the water. I don’t feel my feet anymore, the numbness crawling fast like tentacles through my entire body. Jones takes my limp arm and injects something in it.
“Lose a word on me or this mission, and I’ll kill you in pain.”
I fall like a stone.
When I wake up I’m in a cage, hands muddy and tied with rope to the grates. I first feel my eyes and face, then the rest of my body to my toes. It happens fast, before I gather myself and remember what happened. As soon as I’m fully aware I scream and jolt, tugging myself from the ropes. I’m naked, oily and muddy all over. A curtain gets yanked aside and a circus clown looks down at me. I freeze, trying to make sense of it.
“There she is,” the clown says, “from a cheap brothel, she was so stoned they feared she’d die on their hands. They were happy to get rid of her.”
“No family?” another voice speaks, but I can’t see a face.
“No family. No friends. No papers. No identity. She’s tabula rasa.”
“She’s perfect.” This time the face appears to join the clown. Leathery skin, icy eyes, the impassible-faced German. Dr. Randolph Kalb. I realize what’s happening, and I cry out in dread.
Liked this? Check out the previous episodes on the Stories for Coffee Breaks section on this site, and stay tuned for a new episode of Hyperion on Thursday – he will maneuver the Swine into his trap as the tension builds up to the boiling point.
Here is the whole schedule for this week (Stories and Quizzes), and if you have a particular love for graphics don’t miss the cover reveal for the Christmas Stories – Suspense & Mystery for Adults on Sunday. The e-book will be released on Amazon on the 22nd of December, and it will contain all three stories of Hyperion, Saphira and Lila in full – including final goody parts that will not be included in the episodes on this site. So if you’re thinking of a nice last-minute present for your friends and family, this may just be it.
UPDATE – Lila’s whole story has been published in the Christmas Story Book for Adults.
Please feel free to roam this site for all the goodies it has to offer, and take advantage to the fullest. Enjoy!
Picture from www.pinterest.com