Friday, February 06, 2009
Free Fiction: "Secret Histories: Jake Carmody, 1961"
The following is a standalone chapter from Cybermancy Incorporated (which is currently out of print, but is available on the Kindle), and features a few characters and concepts connected with my new novel, End of the Century. I refer anyone interested in learning more about Bureau Zero and MI-8 to the final post in my Secret Services series, which I'll likely be posting in the next week or two.
by Chris Roberson
Jake Carmody, agent of Bureau Zero, sat at the vingt-et-un table killing time. His target was not due to arrive in Monte Carlo until the next morning, and so Agent Carmody was whiling away the hours gambling, both in order to establish his cover as wealthy American industrialist on vacation and because, frankly, it beat the alternatives. After a couple of hours at it he was ahead, winning more often than losing, but not by much.
The assignment was a simple one, a straightforward extraction operation. He was to make contact with a scientist named Werner Eckhardt, try to convince him to defect to the US, and if he couldn’t, to handle matters accordingly. The section chiefs back at Bureau Zero were already drooling over the prospect of getting Eckhardt in their stable of hired intellects, so Carmody was fairly sure he wouldn’t be getting the warmest of receptions in the event he had to “handle matters accordingly.”
Carmody was dealt a queen and a seven, but the dealer was showing a ten so he decided to hit. It was a risk, but he wasn’t playing with his own money, so he didn’t mind so much.
“A bold move,” said an angel’s voice in a British accent at his elbow. “Or should I say, a rash one?”
Carmody turned slightly, his gaze taking in the statuesque brunette to his left. She’d sat down at the table a few hands back, and had been playing conservatively. She wasn’t exactly Carmody’s type, but in her form-fitting black gown, hung off the shoulder, it hardly mattered.
“We’ll see,” Carmody said softly.
The dealer laid out a five, expressionless.
“Rash, then?” the brunette added, smiling slightly.
“It would seem so,” Carmody answered.
The brunette stood pat on a nine and an eight, and when the dealer added a king to the ten and five in his hand, accepted her winnings graciously.
“Are you here on business, Mister…?” the brunette asked, stacking her chips in front of her in neat rows of fortification.
“Carmody,” he replied. “Jake Carmody.” He always used his real name when on assignment, shifting all the other aspects of his aliases and cover identities around this kernel of truth like the moon in orbit around the earth. He never worried. The agency to which he reported, Bureau Zero, was so secretive that no one in the standard intelligence community even knew it existed, not even the stuffed shirts at the FBI or the high-strung nuts over at the CIA. The Bureau handled matters unsuited to the customary intelligence channels, matters that would either pass unnoticed by more conventional operatives, or else drive them stark raving mad. There were rumblings around the head office that the new man in the White House had been asking too many questions, poking around in appropriations and mandated sanctions that were best left untouched, but if push came to shove there were always means of dealing with that sort of thing.
The brunette took Carmody’s proffered hand.
“Diana,” she answered, as though that was all the name she’d ever needed. “Charmed.” She let drop Carmody’s hand, and anted up. She then looked at Carmody sidelong, her eyes half-lidded. “But you still haven’t answered my question.”
Carmody tossed in the requisite chips, and turned back to Diana.
“No,” he said, “I don’t suppose I have. The answer is no, I’m afraid. I’m just vacationing.”
“And all alone?” Diana asked, glancing at the bare third finger on Carmody’s left hand. “Is there no Mrs. Carmody?”
“Only my mother,” he answered, wincing slightly despite himself. He quickly added, “And you? What brings you to Monte Carlo?”
“I am a scientist by profession, Mr. Carmody,” she answered, “and I’m here representing the Physics Department at Oxford to the Conference on New Technologies. It’s held here, I suspect, to give poor schoolmarms like myself the opportunity to dress up and go out a night or two.”
Carmody would hardly have pegged her as a schoolmarm, but that wasn’t the bit of her spiel that caught his attention. The Conference on New Technologies, an annual meeting of the best and brightest minds the world had to offer, had been started up by a consortium of researchers a few years after the Second World War. Everyone who was anyone in the scientific community regularly attended, including the maddest of mad scientists, Werner Eckhardt.
When, in the last days of WWII, the Allies had done their dash and grab for any and every German scientist they could find, they had hardly stopped to think who they might end up with. The game at that stage was one of numbers, the more the merrier, and the question of what to do with all these eggheads would wait until they had got back safely behind their own borders. Everyone was after the rocket boys for preference, naturally, but they’d take whomever they would lay their hands on. And that was how Werner Eckhardt came to be a citizen of the Soviet Union.
When the Science Committee in Moscow got around to Eckhardt, they had trouble deciding where to place him. They’d got their hands on a fair number of rocket scientists, though to be fair perhaps not the quality of those snatched up by the Americans, but the Committee found they had no notion of what to do with someone like Eckhardt.
In the early thirties, when Hitler was a name few Germans knew, and fewer took seriously, Eckhardt was a promising young physicist fresh from the University of Heidelberg, destined for a life of quiet contemplation and anonymity. At the urging of a former classmate, Eckhardt went to a meeting of a secret organization called Thule Society, and was instantly captivated. The Thule Society had dedicated itself to reclaiming the lost glory of the German people, an ideal which burned as bright in the mind of young Werner Eckhardt as it did in another member of the society, a frustrated artist named Adolf. Through the Thule Society, Eckhardt was exposed to the world of the occult, of means and ways not hinted at in his university education. He explored these avenues hungrily, like a starving man clawing for food, and in time developed his own unique fusion of technology and the occult, which he insisted be used only in the service of the German people. Over the years, though, the means became much more significant to Eckhardt than the ends, so that by the time the Russians pulled him from his bombed-out laboratory in Berlin, Eckhardt hardly cared to what use his work was put, so long as the work was allowed to continue. Few in the Third Reich had any idea what Eckhardt was up to late nights in his lab, and those that did regretted the knowledge. The Soviets, in the end, followed true to form, and found a place for him; they put him to work making weapons.
“Are you alright?” Diana asked, when Carmody had failed to respond to the dealer’s request.
“Just a little distracted,” Carmody answered, and stood on nineteen.
The dealer turned over an ace to join the king he had showing, and the game was through. Carmody smiled a bit wearily to Diana, who patted his arm in mock sympathy.
“There are times, perhaps,” she said, “when it pays to be rash.”
For the last few hands, the pair had been alone at the table. Now, they were joined by two more, women who looked enough alike to be mirror images, if not for their different hairstyles. One wore a fire engine red dress, cut low at the neck and high on the thigh, while the other wore a matching dress in dark forest green. They glanced at Carmody, casually, but didn’t speak.
Carmody, of course, recognized them at once, as they had him. He had run into them more times than he could count over the course of the past years, always on opposing sides, and while Carmody usually got the better of them, he couldn’t say it had been easy. They were the Fox twins, Melody and Harmony, and they were among the highest priced killers the world of espionage and organize crime had to offer.
Carmody couldn’t begin to guess who they might be working for now, but he was almost certain he knew their target. The only thing of interest for months in Monte Carlo was the Conference on New Technologies, and the only mind of interest at the Conference was Werner Eckhardt.
Diana seemed to catch the glances going silently back and forth between Carmody and the two women, and looked at him with… jealousy? Carmody wasn’t sure if he could trust his instincts, but he could swear that the woman was taking an almost proprietary interest in him. He’d had so little experience with women, provided one didn’t count the numberless femme fatales and seductresses who tried on a seemingly weekly basis either to kill him or pervert him to their causes. Little experience with real women, at any rate, the kind who didn’t carry poisoned blades in their stockings and derringer pistols tucked down their cleavage.
Carmody wasn’t sure where all of this might be heading, but he didn’t like the looks of it. He’d made his living off of going by his instincts, and his instincts were telling him to leave.
“I think,” he said, pushing back his chair from the table and slowly rising to his feet, “that I’ve had enough of 21 for one night. Perhaps I’ll get a bit of air.”
“I’ll join you,” Diana seconded, rising. She paused, a bit sheepishly, and added, “if that’s all right with you.”
Carmody smiled, and offered her his arm. Together, they walked from the table and towards the open balconies, leaving the twin sisters without mercy to play with themselves.
The next morning found Carmody showered and shaved, enjoying his breakfast on the hotel veranda. He had bags under his eyes, and a pulled muscle in his back, but he hardly minded. The night had gone on well into the morning hours, and it was nearly dawn before Diana had finally left and gone back to her hotel. They talked for hours in the open air, then talked hours more back at his hotel room over a bottle of wine, and then the talking had stopped and they moved on to other things.
Women were a luxury Carmody rarely allowed himself. He knew it was a cliché, the stuff of pulp magazines and comic books, but he really felt that allowing a woman to get close to him, bringing someone into his life, would only put them in danger. He felt that he was always under the gun, and it would be criminal to expose anyone else to those sorts of risks. Still, the life of a secret agent became lonely at times, and he did love the way Diana laughed…
Carmody shook his head, dropping his half-buttered toast back onto the plate and pushing the remainder of his meal from him. This was the other risk of getting involved with a woman, the other reason to run. The distractions, the constant preoccupation with anything that wasn’t work. To an average man, it could be a nuisance; to someone in Carmody’s position, it could be fatal.
He was about to rise, to make his way across town to the Conference on New Technologies, when he was stopped short by two visions of loveliness that appeared at either elbow.
“Leaving so soon?” said the vision on the right.
“But we’ve only just arrived,” added the one on the right.
Harmony and Melody gently guided Carmody back to his seat, each with a hand on one elbow, and Carmody didn’t struggle. It was neither the time nor the place. The Fox twins didn’t seem like they were planning trouble, not right away at any rate, and in the event that they did he had more than a few tricks up his sleeve waiting for them. Literally.
The twins sat down opposite Carmody at the table, genteelly, and smiled warmly at him from beneath their broad-brimmed summer hats.
“It’s been a while, Jake,” Harmony said.
“Vancouver, wasn’t it?” Melody added.
“Something like that,” Carmody answered, tense. “What’s the play, girls? Who are you working for this time out?”
The two tittered, almost girlish, glancing at one another and averting their eyes from Carmody’s. It was a few long seconds before they answered, breathless, seeming to have to hold back laughter.
“We’re working for no one, Jake,” Melody answered.
“No one but ourselves,” Harmony added.
“We have to look after our own interests, now and again,” said Melody.
It was suddenly becoming clear, and Carmody wasn’t liking the look of it. The Fox twins had no doubt socked away a considerable amount of capital over the past few years, and were not without their own unique “charms.” If they were trying to woo Werner Eckhardt to their services, and by some miracle succeeded… They could very well make the jump from high-priced assassins to players on an international scale. With the leverage Eckhardt’s rather unique weaponry provided, the Fox sisters could become a power to rival some of the smaller countries in Europe, possibly even Great Britain. The Cold War would be getting a great deal warmer.
“I don’t have time for this,” Carmody said brusquely. His chair slid back from the table with a squeal.
“Do you have to run off so soon?” asked Harmony, smiling seductively.
“We thought that, if we pooled our resources, we might have more time for, shall we say, recreation?” added Melody.
“I’m sorry, ladies,” Carmody answered, wiping his hands on a cloth napkin and dropping it onto his plate. “I’m afraid I’ve lost my appetite.”
Carmody stood, turned, and walked away. He needed to make sure he got to Eckhardt first, or at the very least make certain his offer was the more attractive one. Casting a quick glance back at the two visions of loveliness smiling over his abandoned breakfast, he wondered if such a thing were possible.
The meet with Eckhardt had gone exactly as planned. Carmody had made his way into the Conference, using his credentials as an American industrialist to get past security, and had buttonholed Eckhardt in the men’s room with a photograph and a promise. The photo was of Eckhardt’s daughter, whom he’d thought killed before the war’s end during an Allied bombing raid. The picture didn’t show the five year old girl she’d been there, but a bright shining and well-scrubbed twenty-two-year-old on an American college campus. Was it really Eckhardt’s daughter? Had she really survived the bombing, in a coma, to be brought to the US by a well meaning American family? Was Eckhardt being given the chance to reunite with the one remaining thread of his tattered family tapestry? Carmody didn’t know, and didn’t care. He’d been given the picture and story by his superiors at Bureau Zero, and like a good little spook he did what he was told.
Eckhardt was, to say the least, captivated. He couldn’t take his eyes off the picture, couldn’t stop pelting Carmody with questions. Carmody thought it a bit heartless to take the picture back, and to answer only enough of the old man’s questions to keep him interested, but there were procedures to be followed in these sorts of circumstances, rules to be obeyed.
The arrangements were made quickly, without preamble. Eckhardt was to leave the Conference, that very minute, with Carmody, and rendezvous with American agents at the international airport. Once onboard the plane gassed and ready on the runway, Eckhardt would be escorted back to the States, there to be reunited with his daughter. And, it went without saying, to be put to work for the Bureau, building a better mouse trap than those he’d provided the Soviets. Carmody would stay on in Monte Carlo, making sure that all the loose ends were covered.
They managed to get out of the building without incident, but when they reached the secluded spot in which Carmody had secreted his car, they ran into trouble. Trouble in matching fire engine red and forest green dresses.
Melody and Harmony stood to either side of Carmody, their pistols trained at his forehead, all flirting forgotten. They seemed to have decided that Eckhardt was leaving with them, in their employ, or not at all.
“What is the meaning of this?” demanded Eckhardt. “Who are these women?”
“Your new employers, they hope,” Carmody answered, his hands in the air.
“Such a bright boy,” Melody said.
“Too bad he’s not got much of a future ahead of him,” added Harmony.
Carmody shifted slightly from side to side, on the balls of his feet, looking for an opening. There wasn’t one.
“Well?” asked Harmony. “How’s it going to go?”
“Hard?” Melody asked. Then she added, seductively, “Or soft?”
“Neither, I should hope,” came a voice from the shadows.
The Fox twins turned, just startled enough to give Carmody a chance to make his play. He pointed towards Melody with his left hand, palm down, and then slapped his left forearm with his right hand. With a click, a fletched metal dart flew from the casing above his wrist, thudding into Melody’s chest a full inch, pumping a fast-acting toxin into her system that rendered her immobile in a matter of heartbeats. She’d live, but it would be weeks before the bruise would heal. Carmody allowed himself a slight smile. He always kept something up his sleeve in case of trouble.
His last ditch spent, Carmody turned to Harmony, hoping for a miracle. Watching her collapse to the ground, with the sound of crackling and the smell of ozone in the air, Carmody knew his miracle had arrived just in time.
A woman stepped out from the shadows, reeling in the electrical line that an instant before had pumped enough voltage into Harmony to power a small town for an afternoon. It was Diana, the woman from the night, and the morning, before.
“But…” Carmody began, weakly.
“It’s alright,” Diana answered, smiling sardonically. “I’m on your side, more or less. Now let’s get Eckhardt to the airport, and be quick about it.”
Carmody helped steer Eckhardt to the car, his mind a rush of questions.
“But who…” Carmody began again, getting little further this time out.
“I’m with MI8,” the woman answered, “British Special Intelligence. We handle these sorts of things, much like your own Bureau I might say.”
“I’ll be damned,” Carmody whispered.
“I should hope not,” the woman said. She extended a hand, which Carmody accepted absently, unable to take his eyes from her face. “But we haven’t been formally introduced, have we? My name is Bonaventure. Diana Bonaventure.”
They got Eckhardt to the airport, and onto the plane, without interference from the Soviets or any other interests. He was soon on his way to America, to build bigger and brighter bombs and weapons for the greater glory of the American people. His daughter proved to be genuine enough, though perhaps not as happy to see her father as he was to see her.
As for Carmody, he and Diana Bonaventure stayed longer in Monte Carlo than anyone had expected, and when asked by their respective agencies what the delay might be, they would each answer that there were more loose ends needing tying up than anyone could have imagined.
(c) 2009 Monkeybrain, Inc.
You might not (yet) be Michael Moorcock with the multibraided and multifaceted Carmody-Bonaventure clan adventures, but you are certainly getting in the ball park.