“He’s a loose end left over from the cold war. Seems the Politburo dreamed him up in the mid 80’s for deep cover work. When the USSR dissolved, he fell through the cracks and they lost control of him. Now he’s gone bad.”
Jackson was looking at me, apparently waiting for some sort of an intelligent response. He wasn’t going to get one from me.
“Hmmmm.” I said instead.
“You mean, why did they develop a spy moose in the first place? Good question. But think about it; who would suspect?”
I nodded. Pure genius.
“So what has this spy moose been doing since he broke ranks with the former USSR?” I asked.
“Beg your pardon?”
“Corn. And wheat. Barley and hops. Lentils sometimes.”
“No shit,” I said, searching my bag of clues and not finding any.
“You look confused,” Jackson said. “You should be. The free world has never had a threat like this before.” He paused for dramatic effect. “Zodar’s a crop killer.”
“A cop killer?”
“No, crop killer. More technically termed as Agricultural Homicide. A progressive, systematic annihilation of the entire Fruit & Vegetable group.”
“Wow is right. With his mighty antlers he’s already leveled most of the commercial farms in Asia and Eastern Europe. At his present rate, he’ll have completed his work there by the end of the year. After that, we believe he’ll then move into Africa to wipe out their farming industry.”
“That part won’t take long.”
“We expect a week or two, tops. And then, he’ll move west into -”
“Iowa!” I said, my eyes opening wide with the realization. “This is serious.”
“Even more than you think. Our intelligence abroad has brought another juicy tidbit of information to our attention as well. It seems the destruction of all fruits and vegetables has the nasty side effect of putting a real hurtin’ on the Bread & Cereal group.”
“My God. I never would’ve thought...”
I had to admit that by this point I was getting quite frightened. Many of these grains were fairly important to certain types of beverages I enjoyed; namely alcoholic ones. But suddenly, just before I became a quivering mound of spineless flesh quaking in fear on the floor, a thought hit me -
“Wait a minute Burroughs, I’ve got one question. Why don’t we just replant the fields after Zodar has left?”
Jackson stared at me for a long second. “What are you trying to do, ruin the plot?”
“What? Well, no, but – ”
“Then shut up. Trust me, this is a bad thing.”
“Okay, okay, I’m sorry,” I said, deciding it was time to change subjects. “So why ‘Code Red’? If he’s such a nuisance, why don’t you just take him out?”
“I wish it were THAT EASY. YOU SEE, HE HAS SPECIAL ABILITIES.”
“How so? And by the way Jackson, you’re talking in all caps.”
“SORRY ABOut that,” he said, shifting back to lower case. “Like I said, it won’t be that easy. Zodar was not so much trained as he was created. I’m not saying that he’s like an android or a Six Million Dollar Moose – do you remember that show? The Six Million Dollar Man?”
I admitted I did.
“What a joke that was! No way would he have been that cheap! Hell, we couldn’t make a bionic sperm with only six million dollars! I can’t believe the public even bought that premise! What a ridiculous concept! I can’t stop shouting!”
And with that we both burst into long and hearty laughter. I pulled out a beer bong and we chugged some O’Douls and pretended we were Beavis and Butthead for a few minutes.
“At any rate,” Jackson said, back to business, “We just don’t know that much about his past. But that doesn’t matter much anyway because the problem is the present. Whatever he is, Zodar has a big trump card that he often plays when he gets in a jam: He’s a shape-shifter. He can assume any form, any identity. People, things, animals - anything at all.”
“What about adverbs?”
“Well, not those I guess. But just about any noun you can think of should be no problem for him at all. A perfect camouflage whenever he wants.”
“That could make it tough.”
“That’s why I’m here. An ordinary hit team won’t work. We can’t even find him. We need your special skills on this.
“On the bright side,” he continued, “he does have a couple of flaws. For one thing, his antlers always seem to be exposed, no matter what form he takes. Turn into a bus; antlers where the side mirrors should be. A cup of coffee; big old honkin’ antlers hanging off the sides. You get the picture.”
“Good to know. Might be useful.”
I looked under the photo and saw a dossier on what we knew about the hoofed villain. There was not much: Educated in foreign languages, ballet, and skullduggery at the Central Moscow Community College. Four years of undergraduate KGB training in Siberia. Proficient in Judo, Karate, Kung Fu, Antler Fu. On assignment (classified -whereabouts unknown) from 1986 to 1992. Started getting paranoid and unpredictable during the collapse of communist Russia (job security suspected as most probable cause). Officially reported as having turned in 1993. Whereabouts unknown from 1993 until 2004 when a 150 acre wheat farm was found completely destroyed by what was then technically described as “some sort of big mammal”.
That was it.
I stubbed out my cigarette, wondering exactly when I had lit it. Or when I had started smoking for that matter.
“So. What is it exactly that you want from me?”
“That’s it? Just find him?”
“That’s it. You locate him, we do the rest.”
“Don’t you worry about that. You just find him.”
I had to admit the little gray suited sleazebag had my attention. This wasn’t an assignment, it was a piewalk. No, cakewalk, cakewalk, that’s what it was.
“I don’t work for free, even for Uncle Sam. And I don’t work cheap, especially for Uncle Sam. This will cost you.”
“Don’t worry about that either. You pull this off and you’ll be well taken care of. Just keep track of your receipts.”
“No money up front?”
Jackson held out his hands. “Mr. Lassiter, please understand the sensitivity of the situation. Officially, I’m not even here. The Agency can have no traceable involvement in your actions. Should you run into trouble, a large sum of cash could be traced back to us. We can’t have that. You understand, of course, that we would deny even knowing you if this becomes public. If you succeed, however, it all gets swept away and you become quite a wealthy man.”
It was definitely a tempting offer. Aside from the fact that there was nothing in it for me except a vague promise of some future grant of an unspecified financial reward by a man I had never even met before, it was perhaps the opportunity of a lifetime.
I turned on my potter’s wheel and starting making a bowl as I mulled it over. Nothing quite like wet clay in your hands, spinning round and round, to relax the brain. Soon I was fast asleep.
I was awakened with a rough shake. Jackson again. Damn him.
“So what do you think Lassiter?”
“What do I think? I think it’s a bad idea to pull the wheels off of three Hot Wheels cars and stuff them up your nose so far that you have to go to the hospital to have them removed. I know that doesn’t really apply to this case, but still . . . ”
“The assignment Lassiter. Will you take the assignment? I have to bring an answer back to Rochester.”
“Thought you guys were out of Langley.”
“Dammit. How does everybody know that? Yes, yes, Langley.”
I let him squirm for a few more seconds. Boy, did I have this situation under control or what?
“Alright. Deal. But I’m gonna need some help on this.”
“Lassiter, I already told you, we can’t – ”
“No, no, no. I’m not asking you for anything. I just want you to know that I won’t be doing this alone. I have my own people.”
“Are they good?”
“Are they good? Are they good? Is that what you’re asking me?”
“That was the question,” Jackson replied.
I leaned back in my chair and crossed by hands behind my head. “Let’s just say that they’re . . . . not average.”
“Above average I assume.”
“Yeah, you could assume that,” I told him. I didn’t tell him that he’d be wrong as hell, but sure, he could assume that.
“Well then. I’ll leave you to your work. There’s no time to waste.” He rose and gathered his things. I kept a close eye on him to make sure he didn’t try to gather some of mine. “I’ll be in touch periodically to check your progress.”
“Yeah, got it,” I said. “Hey, just one more question, Jackson.”
“You said the moose had a couple of flaws. Besides the thing with the antlers, is there anything else I should know?”
Jackson Samuel Burroughs smiled as he walked out the door. “Yeah. He loves the ladies.”
And that’s when I knew I would get him.
Next Week: Chapter 2