It was Francis Steyer's personal cell. Red in the face, he nervously muted the call. After all, it was just an insurance salesperson soliciting him for business.
'I apologize for the interruption, ladies and gentlemen,' he said.
But the Pentagon staff were less than pleasant looking. But Prof. Steyer could see that. And it was altogether expected, yet, oddly reassuring.
At least he knew they were listening.
And he continued with the presentation, using his Bluetooth laser pointer to change slides.
'As we are all here very familiar with, stealth warfare was heavily employed in the Cold War. Small arms combat evolved into a Golden Age of exploits and campaigns waged by our commando units. Eventually, one branch of the secret ops created mercenaries to avoid international conflicts and diplomatic nightmares. One of these guilds of licensed killers was Deathbird: the top tier organization under supreme command of the United States without officially existing on paper (or anywhere else for that matter).'
He changed slides.
'Sevo Letcher was the commander of this elite unit: ex-special forces marine—-outpacing the intelligence community simply due to his unlimited resources. The invaluable connections he made through hundreds of operations allowed him to infiltrate governments virtually undetected. The countermeasures we had in place to vouchsafe the military's integrity was a competing organization that Deathbird knew nothing of. Eventually, Letcher did turn his back on his country in favor of racketeering. He purposely misled the Pentagon down a rabbit hole to deceive the US armed forces whilst he jacked funding from the senate committees. In other words, Sevo Letcher used his expertise to gain profit, fully corrupting Deathbird.'
At this point he made the mistake of sipping his bottle of lemon flavored water. Though he was refreshed by the cool liquid, he had the damnedest time screwing the cap back on. His nerves were shot. The cap spun off onto the carpet somewhere in the dimly lit room.
'Archimedes: who needs him?' He tried to play it off with a joke. But no one laughed. He did the old ehem and carried on.
'Following the late 1990s, Deathbird had to be dismantled. The private accounts were seized and sold off to Interpol or recycled through UN channels instead of traditional Pentagon plumbing. It was another failsafe to prevent Deathbird from confiscating our funds. Sevo knew his options were too tight then. It was only natural to display his interest in negotiating.'
Changing slides again, he was finally calming down. The worst had already happened. Thank God, he mumbled to himself.
'But that all turned sour and the damn fool was killed somewhere outside St. Petersburg, Russia. Of all people to kill him it was his own team. Deathbird had become a degenerate cesspool eating away at its own filth. It needed cleaning up.
'We attempted to squash the compromised merc group by consolidating select remnants into task force EDA, or Elemental Deathbird Assault. Following Sevo's assassination, we had built an army of commandos able and willing to disrupt any government they pleased, including the United States and our beloved pseudo state, the United Nations.
'The Chinese, the Russians, and the Israelis all wanted what we had. The continued existence of the mercenary threat aggravated diplomatic negotiations and further irritated present dysfunctions. The blame was on the world, not us. They were responsible for creating our monster. Now, they were going to be the ones to end it. EDA was the foolproof option and it still damn well is.'
He didn't get the applause he was hoping for.
Col. Donald Michelson looked at him with pity and ushered the professor back to his chair.
'Thank you, Dr. Steyer,' Colonel Michelson announced. 'On behalf of the Pentagon, we are obliged to hear what the senate committee has to say. Ultimately, our chairpersons reserve the right to amend these suggestions on behalf of the Board.'
Dr. Steyer nodded hesitantly in the background as Michelson continued addressing the table.
After the meeting, Steyer frantically called his greatest source for grant funding.
'I don't think it worked, Miss Petrovic,' he said.
He paused and looked around him. He was in a park. The sun was shining. A couple jogged past him. Readjusting his facial mask per the pandemic guidelines for 2021, Steyer listened carefully for his instructions.
'I'm here, now,' he said.
He looked ahead at a service shed.
'I see it,' he acknowledged.
Cautiously he approached. The door was unlocked.
'Miss Petrovic?' he asked over the phone.
But the call had abruptly ended without his knowing.
Inside the shed he discovered a tall man in a black suit. The man was seated in an old carriage pulled by a black horse. The carriage had four lanterns. The horse was facing the ramp that led down into a dark underground tunnel. The stranger's face was expressionless, save for a bizarrely small grin. The lips were ruby red and the skin looked like rubber. The eyes were blackened over with soot. At first Steyer believed it to be just a mask. When the lips moved he knew otherwise.
Steyer was handed a Manila folder. The stranger wore white cotton gloves.
'Inside you'll find the cash,' the stranger said in an extremely dark voice. This jolted Dr. Steyer's jumpy nerves so much so that he fumbled the exchange, dropping the envelope onto the wet ground. Apparently it was an access point to the local water main.
'Dear God, I am so sorry!' the professor apologized.
'Good day, doctor,' the stranger said.
And Steyer's frightening host descended back into the tunnel whence it came.