Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Tooth and Claw: Words and Shadows, part one

Prologue, Whispers at the Window

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

                Vernon Christopher stands in the Winslow-Lindbergh Regional Airport arrivals terminal, holding a placard that simply reads, JONES.  He had needed to think about this decision quite a lot more than he would have liked.
                Last night, he had received a terse note in his mailbox, hastily written:  KELLY, JONES.  W-L RGNL, UAL f718.  So he had to pick up KELLY, JONES at the airport; but KELLY, JONES would doubtless have no more idea how to identify him than he would have of how to identify KELLY, JONES.  So he decided to stand with a sign, as he’d seen done in movies.  He’d be wearing a suit, after all, and wouldn’t look out of place.
                But what to write on it?  Just KELLY might draw attention from all the Kellys who might be excited to get surprise limo service; just JONES could do the same for all the Joneses; KELLY, JONES would perhaps be indiscreet.  And how would he recognize this KELLY, JONES, anyway?  Was she a woman named Kelly Jones who had a mix-up in her personnel file?  Or a man, for that matter?  Or was this person actually named Jones Kelly – as someone with a given name easily switched with his surname himself, Vernon Christopher was sympathetic to the plight of this KELLY, JONES, whoever he or she was. 
               And KELLY, JONES wouldn’t be the first such kindred spirit Vernon Christopher had met.  When he was serving in the army, he and one Sergeant Robert Amy had been assigned to drive a Captain to a base in the middle of the night.  Sergeant Amy, listed as AMY, ROBERT, had been mistaken for a female, and accordingly assigned a bunk in the women’s barracks.  Having stowed his gear in the dark and stripped down for his well-deserved rack time, he heard a female voice ask, “Who’s there?” as he slipped under the covers.  The joke had quickly gone around that he’d slept with every enlisted woman on the base – but his wife had the distinct misfortune of hearing about it from the Captain at Thanksgiving dinner.
                Vernon decided that JONES was the safer option after sleeping on the decision, and so here he stood, placard in hand, awaiting his ambiguously named contact.  The note itself had been delivered by David Hart, his police contact and fellow Hunter.  After the gruesome murders on the twenty-first, Vernon and his group of Hunters had a more or less direct line into the investigation.  When there had been two similar whole-household murders the following night in Winslow, there had been a media blackout:  whatever was going on, there seemed to be copycats at work, which theory was swiftly borne out on the twenty-third.  And on the twenty-fourth.  And on the twenty-fifth, the same night the Holsinger meteorite was mysteriously stolen from the Barringer Crater Museum.  The police had briefly considered that the murders might have been a distraction to provide cover for the theft, but that theory was scrapped when the bloody crimes resumed the very next night.  And the next.
                On the twenty-eighth, after a dozen such crimes had been committed – all men, all living on the Southwest end of Winslow, all of whom had killed their entire families before disappearing – the decision had been made to send in a spook from DC.  David Hart was as surprised as the rest of his cell to find out that their extracurricular activities had not gone unnoticed by the authorities; Hunters struck at the evils in the shadows on the fringe of society, seeking to conceal their very existence not only for their own safety, but also for the sanity of the general populace.  So when David Hart received a phone call that a special agent from a task force with no official existence would be sent to work the case with them off the record, it came at him from out of left field.
                For Special Agent Jones Kelly, it was all in a day’s work.  Task Force Whiteout was formed as a covert organization to keep tabs on other covert organizations, and keep the world at large in the dark:  a convoluted knot of “oversight” formed a circuitous and nigh-impenetrable perimeter around them, within which was an informational black hole.  Once some bit of funding or paperwork crossed the event horizon of Task Force Whiteout, it never came back out.  The organization had been founded on two principles:  the world is text; and keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.
                Following the Satanic ritual abuse panic of the 1980s, an FBI investigation into the matter headed by Kenneth Lanning concluded in 1992 that there were no Satanic cults breeding, mutilating, and murdering children in the name of “The Dark Lord Satan.”  To the letter, this report was correct, and even honest:  no single murder had ever been traced to an explicitly Satanic organization, no “baby farms” had been uncovered, and every single religious cult investigated (from backwoods hillbillies to the so-called “power elite”) turned out to be nothing more than pretenders to the dark arts.
                But on the edges of the investigation, in the shadows just beyond where Lanning and his ilk had cast their persistent investigative glare, there had been something.  Certain persons, reported missing for only the space of a few months, seemed to have aged years during their absence; certain others, missing for decades, reappeared no older than they had been at the time of their disappearance.  Some suspects proved supremely frustrating to track down, seeming to vanish into thin air after turning down a dark alley or entering a closed room, never to be seen again; while no hard evidence linked them to any crimes, their absolute disappearance left a nagging loose end only to be found in margins and loose notes.  And other persons subject to investigation yielded extraordinarily curious but ultimately inconclusive details, appearing no more than middle-aged despite being well into their retirements.
                All in all, it called for a follow-up investigation, but off the books; the days of highly-publicized and rigorously-overseen commissions and reports were clearly over.  And so Task Force Whiteout had been formed.
                The results were not immediate, but they were steady:  over time, the existence of the various kin had been uncovered, the extent of their infiltration into the government had been more or less firmly established, and the unquestionable conclusion had been drawn that there were indeed things that went bump in the night.  Not only did Task Force Whiteout bump back, but they turned the very weapons and methods of their enemies against them, taking Nietzsche’s admonition against gazing into the abyss as their motto.
                And so, some two decades past the inception of Task Force Whiteout, Special Agent Jones Kelly arrived at Winslow-Lindbergh Regional Airport to meet Vernon Christopher regarding the grisly murders of the past ten days.

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