Bud pulled on his finger, then another finger, then his cigarette. If anyone was paying attention, they would’ve known that was his tell. He knew it, so he only did it when no one was looking. Except Buzz, but Buzz didn’t count.
“You anticipate any surprises?” Buzz asked, pushing his hair from his forehead.
Bud rubbed his eyes. “I feel like it’s either we live or die by the slightest suspicion with these freaks.”“This is our kind of detail then, right?” Buzz drew his lips back and showed his teeth, “We’re farther in than anyone.”
Bud arched an eyebrow. “How much you had today?”
“Just enough. Maybe. I don’t know. Deep cover, right?” Buzz tapped the side of his head.
Bud dragged hard on his Chesterfield, slightly shook his head. Buzz was one of those spooks who came on like a true blue G-man until he went under, and then he would lose himself. That “Buzz” nickname was not ironic; he wore a jarhead’s heavy razored cranium well past basic training whenever he wasn’t working. Not ideal for an agent, who would generally grow out their hair and beards in order to fit any role they might need to play, but it was like even real life needed him to play a character. Bud thought he was wound too tight. The cock of the walk kind of cats tended to slip up and crack up in their foxholes when the shells started falling. Would’ve preferred another partner. Luckily, they generally worked independently of each other, but not this go around. This time the two were facing each other, leaning against separate buildings in a New Jersey alleyway, about to commit to a long con.
“If we fuck up, here…” Bud began, “…it could mean the end of everything. ”
“Well, civilization, maybe. There’s still Bushmen in the Congo and shit, right? No one will bomb them.” Buzz said, Bud smirked. “Looks like our ride is here.”
A long black limousine pulled up. The back door swung open. The two men climbed in, met two more men. One wore a gray flannel suit and nondescript, side parted haircut. The other was clad in black pants and turtleneck, a shaved head and severe beard, angled sharply. No one shook hands.
The man in the suit pointed at Buzz. “This is Roger Simms. Career criminal. Specializes in breaking and entering.” Then, he pointed at Bud, “Theodore Gribb. Saxophonist. Explosives and munitions expert.”
Buzz and Bud held their poker faces tight. The severely bearded man nodded. The suited man produced an ivory pipe with symbols carved into it from his breast pocket. Buzz and Bud each hit it, hard. White smoke filled the air. The severely bearded man began to speak.
“Like all pledges, you have smoked the Sheeba. But not like this. This is the strongest grade available in this hemisphere. This well help us become better acquainted.” He placed his fingertips together. Bud thought of the way rain sounded on the roof of his childhood home. Buzz struggled to remember his training, but instead kept trying to recall how old his son would be by now. The severely bearded man continued.
“There are no threats, here. Threats are for the weak. Intimidation is for schoolyard bullies. My associate would not have brought you here were you not ready to hear what I have to say. I trust that you follow the news? You know what’s happening in Cuba, at least what you are allowed to know? This Bay Of Pigs?”
Buzz and Bud nodded. Their eyes were glassy. The car was moving, going in circles around the city. They felt as if they were floating along in the sky.
“We will be giving a slight push. Your skills will be put to good use. Do you know my name?”
Buzz and Bud shook their heads.
“Good. You do not need to know. You just need to know who I represent.” He held up a round, glassy ball. Inside, a scorpion and a frog were frozen in place, as if encased in amber. “The scorpion asked the frog -or toad, it makes little difference, after all- for a ride across the river. The amphibian hesitated, but agreed. Halfway across, the scorpion stung him, dooming them both to drown in the cold river. He pleaded with the scorpion. ‘Why would you do that? Now we both die, for what?’ Do you know the answer?”
Buzz’s lips began to move. No sound emerged. Bud glanced at him, then spoke. “It’s the scorpion’s basic nature.”
The severely bearded man’s eyes grew warm, he let loose a semi-smile.
Bud heard the word, Buzz felt it vibrate. The severely bearded man kept talking.
“History will end soon. You will help make it so. We must make God pay for making this world so cruel and bitter, backwards and cold. It will become uninhabitable after we have done what we must, once the pieces fall into place. Death is merely another plateau.”
Buzz began to drip saliva. Bud held tighter. He felt as if fur was growing from his eyelids, growing long. His teeth felt like stone rocks. He remembered tones of tunes in his head, the drip of reality. He remembered words his old friend Ben had said to him about skewered perspectives. He pictured himself driving a vehicle, and heavy rain falling. The rain would pummel the glass of the windshield, but he would look ahead, watch the road. The lines he would see upon it were reality. Ignore the rain. Resist the gaze of the rear view mirrors. Focus ahead, watch the road. He kept his mug straight, asked a question.
“What do you need us to do?”
The severely bearded man extended a finger at Buzz. “I need to know that his volition is strong.”
Bud nudged Buzz. He spat words. “Focus, Roger.”
Buzz wiggled his head, and finally spoke. “I can break into anything, he can blow up anything, and we won’t be high when he do it. I want to die soon, and I want everyone else to be dead, too.I was brought up wrong, I guess. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m in the middle of eating a gingerbread house behind the sun.”
The man in the gray suit snickered.
“Well…” the severely bearded man said, “…I must say, that sums it all up nicely.”