After the animals
What Stryker told me sounded like an Ian Flemming novel. He'd been born Max Ruegan in Stuttgart, Germany, and was raised in the Hitler Youth. His father, Viktor, had been one of the original SS, elite security cronies for Adolf long before he came to power. In 1929 Viktor was killed in a street brawl with gang of reds. Young Max was then given special treatment; from the age of seven he was groomed as both a soldier and a spy.
By age fifteen he had apprenticed in all types of engineering and had earned his first college degree. He was an expert with weapons and explosives, spoke fluently in all European languages, plus many Asian languages. When the war began in '39, he was a 17-year-old second lieutenant in a secret SS unit that specialized in deep infiltration of allied forces, usually to assassinate suspected double agents. After seeing action in Poland, Belgium and France, he was badly wounded in Russia. Evacuated back across the Danube just before the massive Soviet counter-offensive in '43.
After a nearly year of rehab he was posted as a staff advisary officer to Otto Guntch, an intamate member of Hitler's inner circle, privied to all sorts of classified Nazi information. By war's end he was a captain. He and Guntch had actually been the ones who burned Hitler and Ava Brawn's bodies. One year later Max Ruegan was Johann Styker, placed in Argintina by Odessa, the post-war Nazi underground.
For two years he relaxed, decompressing after a lifetime of totalitarian structuring. But even his RnR was filled with intigue and danger. He posessed a moderate fortune in various forms of wealth, spoils acquired through his status and cunning during the war. Mountains of currency, precious metals and stones, artworks and antiques of all kinds. A plethora of authentic Nazi memorabilia, archives and artifacts,(a submarine and a cargo tanker), much of it baptized in fire, blood and acts of the diabolical.
He openned a small museum in Buenos Aires, brazenly diplaying his collection to a sellect clientele, charging outrageous entry fees. In 1948, after more than doubling his wealth and insuring the whole collection, Stryker staged an elabortate hiest. With help from former Nazi collegues he stole his entire gallary, including functional fixtures of the museum itself; door knobs, sconces, furniture, even the guest book and marquee.
After collecting the insurance money, Stryker had everything shipped to a 5000-acre island he'd purchased 100 miles of the coast of Sri Lanka. He dubbed the island Les Fuaves, French for 'wild beasts', a turn of the century art movement inadvertently named after the works of Matisse. Except for a small rubber plantation that dated back to the early 1600s, most of Les Fuaves was unexplored jungle with a few hundred indiginous natives who would come to worship Stryker like a God.
The rubber plantation was reactivated and became the front for Stryker's new enterprise, ASPECT, an invisible world wide spy empire with tentacles that would someday reach off the planet. Les Fuaves would become both a place of learning and a retreat. With methods he learned as a child Stryker trained young pordigies in his hard earned tradecraft and recruted seasoned, yet disenchanted agents from other organizations. ASPECT gained tons of valuable intelligence, personel, and gave sanctuary to deep-cover agents who came in from the cold to recuperate, or sometimes to simply die in peace.
By 1950 Les Fuaves was fully transformed into ASPECT's elite training academy. At the age of 28, Stryker ran the most ubiquitous intelligence agency in the world. He was able play both sides of the fence with ease, and very few knew he and his organization existed. America's newly formed CIA, the KGB, East Germany's Staza, Israel's Massude and all its Islamic enemies; even China, North Korea and Japan were within his gaze.
Before World War II ended, Stryker had read several classified documents written to Hitler by his top generals suggesting a link-up with Japan in Indo-China. Not only was the region strategicly optimal, its natural resources and shipping potential were huge. If the two axis powers had been able to secure the area, their cause may have been sustained for centuries. Seeing more opportunity for ASPECT to grow, Stryker set his sights there. During most of the 50s ASPECT was deep in Vietnam. He worked secretly for both France and America, all the while bilking money and intel out of the Russians.
"The fifties was the best time to be in Vietnam," he said to me in a matter-of-fact tone. "Big money, little fuss. And besides, I loved screwing over the KGB."
But in 1960 he was offered a large contract to kill Fidel Castro, who had just taken over Cuba. Stryker took the job, shifting most of his opperatives to the Americas. After pulling a few strings he was able to pose as an East German diplomat. For nearly two years he played himself as a powerful yes-man, his flawless Spanish and loyal retinue, chumming it up on a first-name-basis with Fidel. He could've easily killed the flamboyant dictator and escaped to Miami with his team in 24 hours. But he cooly bided his time, hoping the price for the job would go up. But just days before the Bay of Pigs fiasco the price doubled, not to kill Castro, but to simply pull his team out and vanish. The mission had been a financial success, however; his team's identity had been compromised. He hadn't lost a single opperative during the long, dangerous ordeal, but a bad taste had been left in Stryker's mouth. A few months later, with the possibility of nuclear war looming, he wished he'd killed Castro for free.
He was then offered another lucrative contract that kept ASPECT in America. The plan was to stage an attempted assassination on President Kennedy, then, let a dimwitted former US Marine who'd flunked out of the spy-game take credit for thwarting the hit. This would hopefully expose 'Permindex', a key element of the 'Illuminati'; but it didn't work. Even Stryker himself was duped. Not only was Kennedy killed, the simple minded Marine, who was suppose to be set up as a good-old-boy-hero, was instead framed for the assassination and killed on live TV two days later. Stryker told me all this as if I'd never heard of Ozwald, Ruby or the JFK Assassination.
"Shortly after Deley Plaza," said Stryker as something bright-red flashed across the glass of his spectacles, "I secretly contacted Jim Garrison, pursuading him to investigate the New Orleans angle on the assassination. He was already aware of Ozwald's connection to David Ferry, but I gave him the names of Guy Bannister and Clay Shaw. This was all very dangerous, but if he dug deep enough I knew he might expose some of what really happened. He did an admirable job, but these people were protected from sources bigger than Permindex, sources I've yet to fully recognize."
After these two set-backs, Stryker was so pissed he left the US and again set his sights on Vietnam. Things were crazy, and within a year the Americans were running the whole show. The money rolled in and ASPECT became even more powerfull, more invisible. In less than two decades it had grown from a multi-million dollar organization to a multi-billion dollar one. But all this had come at a great cost; during the 60s many of his best opperatives were killed or never seen again.
By 1970 Stryker realized that Vietnam was all but done as an endeaver. His last big contract in the region was with the CIA. They were offering 5 million dead, 10 million alive for Pol Pot, the cult-like leader of Cambodia's bloody Khmer Rouge. In '72 one of Stryker's teams was able to nab Pot.
"The CIA unit we gave him to seemed quite surprized; they couldn't believe we'd got'm alive, but they gave us the ten mill." Stryker paused to pull out some fancy european cigarettes. Another image then moved across his spectacles. "A month later I heard they let'm go, released him back into the jungle.
"Fortunately I had two very good men deep inside the Khmer Rouge, so we were able to get him again six months later. My CIA contact was furious; he demanded that I let Pot go. I told him that if I couldn't get another ten million, I'd gladly kill Pot and take the five million. He said I was crazy, that he'd see me in hell first. I then told him I'd kill Pot for nothing, and the only way I'd let'm go was for twenty million. Forty-eight hours later I handed Pot over to the same CIA team as before. I got the twenty million in cash, plus an official request to never again pursue the man. Of course he was released once more to continue his bloody campaign in Cambodia."
I sat there staring at Stryker as he lit the cigarette. Images still danced in the glass of his spectacles. I looked down at the flask; the dragon was still eating the monolith. I noticed that each part of the monolith grew back after the dragon swallowed it. The dragon's fury seemed fueled by this strange phenomenon. Suddenly another dragon landed on the other monolith and began to eat. Why did these hallucinations not trouble me?
I looked back at Stryker, who was holding out his pack of cigarettes. The pack was a dark blood-red with gold writing that looked French. I took one and lit it with my Zippo.
"I stayed in Cambodia until seventy-eight, observing from the jungle what the Khmer Rouge did to its people." Stryker tilted his head back to exhale. Through swirls of smoke I could see a look of reflection in his eyes. "I was paid quite handsomely for this observation. I watched them empty Phenom Phen, a modern city of over two million people, march them into the jungle at Pot's bidding, exterminating those who had anything worthy to offer human society. Satrie's children they were, making a test run for the future. On a smaller scale it was much worse than anything we'd done. At least we'd rewarded competence.
"I went back to Les Fauves to regroup; I'd lost a lot of very good opperatives, many of them intimate freinds." Stryker took another drag from the cigarette, thinking. "Dear friends.
"I had plenty of money, more than I could spend, but ASPECT was nearly crippled as an agency. So I changed my method of opperation. I kept ASPECT even futher back in the shadows, playing more of an observation roll. I was driven more by intrigue than necessity and began specializing more in raw intelligence than opperations. Through the eightys and ninetys I ran ASPECT this way.
"Then, last summer, I began receiving
messages from an old contact of mine in Jerusalem. 'Laugh, wolf, laugh.', and, 'Come out and play.' Old code phrases from over a half a century ago."
Stryker then looked right at me. The images were still there in his spectacles and I had a strong desire to ask him about them, paranoia taking hold. Instead, I asked, "What the fuck do you want?"
"Do you recall why you let me in, James? Why I came to see you?"
I thought for a moment. "Clint. You came about Clint. You said you had information about his death."
Stryker slowly reached inside his coat and pulled out a large manella envelope, held it for a second then handed it to me. He didn't say a word as I openned it and began to examine its contents: three sheets of paper and a white legal-size envelope with some weight to it. In the upper right hand corner of the first sheet was a small photo of Clint Saucea. Fighting back tears, I stood and noticed it was a forensic ballistic report regarding his murder. Most of the sheet was a layout-graph of the bullet, but in a small bar collumn next to the photo was the date 8-18-01, the day he was killed. I glanced at the next sheet; it too was a ballistic report in the same formate. Its photo was of a New York police officer named Bobby Myers, killed on 8-28-01, just four days ago. He looked very Irish. Just as I was about to look at the third sheet, a similarity in the two graphs caught my eye. I dropped the third sheet and the small envelope, then began to pace around the cluttered room.
"It's the same gun," I whispered.
"We've been looking for this guy for nearly a year now." Styker said. "We think he came into the US here in New Orleans by way of Puerto Rico. His name is Belael Galoth Raqul Akar, also known as........"
"The Black Dragon." I interupted without looking at Stryker. I was standing in front of the window, my attention still on the two ballistic reports I held in each hand side by side at eye level. A light patter of rain began to fall across the Quarter. Voices rose in a vague din from the street below, small herds of morning tourists ducking under the balconies.
Suddenly Stryker was at my side, his blue eyes fixed on the rain. "You've seen him, haven't you? You know what Akar looks like?"
"You're goddamn right!" I shouted, turning to the Nazi, crumpling the sheets as I pounded them against my chest. "I know exactly what that camel-jocky-motherfucker looks like! He killed my partner. He fuck'n killed Clint."I began to cry. Not weeping like the blithering idiot on TV, just hard tears, my face screwed into a knot of bitternes as I looked out the window. The dragons were still there in the glass playing their eating game with the regenerative monoliths.
Through all this I could see steam rising off Conti, hovering over the street like a spectral blanket. Fine sheets of rain swirled around the spire of St. Louis Cathedral. Towering above it in the background was the upper helm of a massive cargo tanker moving slowly along the unseen Mississippi.
"Akar," said Stryker, "was born in Mecca in the late sixties and raised in Cairo. His father was hung for being part of the assassination of Egyption President Anwar Sedat in eighty-two. A year later his mother died in prison as an accomplice. Akar was then fostered for nearly a decade at an elite training acadamy in Tangier, Morocco. The acadamy was run by Ayman Zawary, a wealthy Islamic doctor, second in command of Osama Bin Ladin's terrorist group, Al Queida. Akar is very well educated, speaks many languages, and as you already know, very suave, cunning and utterly ruthless. He has deep contacts throughout the underworld, many of them in Afganastan and Columbia, enabling him to obtain vast amounts of heroin and cocain which he sells to finance terrorism."
"Do you know where he is?" I asked suddenly, tears still in my eyes as I babbled. "Cause if you do, just point and I'll go kill'm, if that's what ya want. Is that it? Ya need some one to go'n kill the bastard, and ya can't do it yourself, so ya need me to cap the guy. No problem. Just tell me where he is. Ya don't even have to pay me. I don't even give a fuck if I die. In fact, I wanna die. But ya probably aw'ready know that, don't ya? Can't use one your own guys and ya know I'm all fucked up, so ya get me to do it for free. And since I don't mind die'n, that's an added bonus.........."
"Please, James, please." Stryker cut me off. I noticed he'd picked the third sheet and the white envelope off the floor and was holding them out to me. "I wish it were that easy."
The third sheet was a profile of another New York cop named Felix Manendez. He'd been Bobby Myers' partner, and I assumed was still alive and well. I ripped open the white envelope. It was full of cash, a thick stack of hundred dollar bills. And there was something else, a one-way train ticket to New York City.
"What's this?" I asked.
"You have to go to New York, James," said Stryker.
"New York! New York City!" I balked, saying it just like the hot sauce commercial. "What'a ya mean, I gotta go to New York?"
"You have to go to New York," Stryker said, leaning forward touching me with his finger, "make contact with Manendez and find out if he too has seen Akar. Something is about to happen and he has to be found."
"I can't go to New York. I thought he was back here in New Orleans and that's why ya came, to get me to kill'm. I mean, look at me, I'm a mess. I'm in no contidion to go to New York. I'm all fucked up, gotta wet brain. And, I'm under investigation here. One'a the department's best cops is dead and they wanna know why. Shit, I'm even a suspect. I can't just up and leave. Why do I gotta go? You're the big secret spook with all the contacts. Send one'a your cronies to do it. Why I gotta go?"
"Because you've seen him!" Stryker raised his voice. "Other than a general description, height, weight, hair and eye color; nobody knows what he looks like. We don't even have childhood photos to go by. But you've seen him." He pointed at the sheet in my hand. "Manendez, Myers' partner; it's very likely that he too has seen Akar."
This really messed with my already fucked up head. Could I be the only one besides this Manendez who can possitivly identify Akar? I could see the importance in this, but it seemed to increase my fear. I looked more carefully at the train ticket. Conrad Joe. All the trains that came into New Orleans had unusual monikers, but I'd never heard of this one.
"Where's the feather, James?" Stryker asked after a long moment of silence.
"What?" I looked up at him, another flash of crimson from the window catching the corner of my eye.
"Akar always leaves a feather on his victims, a calling card of sorts. You have it, don't you?"
I thought for a second, then turned and walked over to the bed. After shuffling through my gym bag, I pulled out a long dark-red feather. I studied it for a moment, then walked back to Stryker and handed it to him.
"He dropped it on Clint after he shot'm. I must've picked it up without thinking. Forgot all about it until now."
"American Bald Eagle," said Stryker as he examined the feather, slowly twirlling it in his fingers. "symbol of your country's strength and integrity. We're not exactly sure what this means, some kind of voodoo shit. One just like it was left on Myers in New York. It'd been dipped in the blood of thirteen different animals, all of them indiginous to North America. Three months ago a dead US Customs agent in San Juan also had a blood-feather left on him. Other strange yet similar idems have been left on the bodies of dead cops in Europe over the past year. I have someone in the Interior Department that might be able to help with this, but so far it's a mystery to us."
Stryker paused to look at his watch, then reached in his shirt pocket, pulled out a business card and handed it to me.
"Your train leaves at noon," he said. "You still have time to get cleaned up, but you need to hurry. This is your contact, Gabreal Jenairo. He's an old friend, very reliable; has a small cafe in Lower Spanish Harlem. When you get there ask for a Cuban on Rye. He'll provide you a safe place to stay and things you might need. Manendez works at the Twenty-Third precinct. You need to find him, but be discrete. Remember, you're not working for NOPD; you're working for me. I'll meet you there in a few days; I have important busness in Florida first. If things go right, I might be able to give you your life back, detective."
Stryker pulled out the pack of cigarettes, handed them to me, then turned and moved to the door.
"Wait," I said, holding out the flask. "You forgot this."
"You keep it," he said, turning back to me.
"You'll need it more than I will."
Stryker just stood there a moment, looking at me with his thoughtful blue eyes.
"You're going into the jaws of death, detective, and there is no telling when they will close."
Then suddenly he was gone, vanished. But after that I could see him again openning the door, then silently step through it. Then he was back, looking at me, again turning to leave, again dissappearing from the room. This seemed to happen over and over, like a faulty vidio. Stryker would be standing at the door looking at me, then suddenly he'd be gone, eclipsed by the room, until finally I was alone.
I looked around, closed my eyes, shook my head and reopenned them. Had that strange man really been here? Or had he been a figment of my imagination? I looked at the flask in my hand, the white envelope full of cash and the train ticket to New York. He'd been real alright. I turned and headed for the bathroom to shower.
It took me fifteen minutes to get ready, but it seemed like only seconds. I was standing at the door surveying the room, the gym bag slung over my left shoulder. What a mess. I pulled out a hundred dollar bill and placed it on the table by the chair, a gratuity for the house, some good karma perhaps for my journey.
When I openned the door a strange kalidoscopic blur filled the hallway. All these hallucinations were beginning to annoy me. I'd drank nearly a pint of cognac, so why were they still with me? The DTs were gone; I felt normal but still I was seeing things.
I stepped through the door and felt an unusual sensation, as if I'd moved a much longer distance than just one step. I turned and looked back into the room. The monoliths were protruding up through the floor. The two dragons had stopped eating and were now just staring at me. Behind them was an endless symmetry of holes.
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