7.2 - Protect and Serve
The displays of casual cruelty dropped to acceptable levels as Darius and I worked our way south from the execution site. There were still signs of the carnage on Mass - congealing pools of blood that shined like oil in the soft light and grisly shards of shrapnel jutting from doors and trees - but the fine young sadists who caused that carnage were all headed north. With no one to kill, they grew bored and went in search of teachers to execute and stray dogs to torture. All the better for us, although the Briggs had not been kind enough to spare the vehicles in their path. What cars we found on the street and in the side lots and church parking lots had been totaled by fighting and were useless except as shields in the very unfortunate event that a bored fascist decided to take a few shots at us.
And so we went, down through the park and into the college kid neighborhoods, then back up to the downtown area with as much cautious as we could possibly manage. As we passed the courthouse, I saw it - a single car with no obvious damage, sitting in a small lot besides that old theater I’d passed so many times. Don’t you hate it when you spend all day looking for something and find it in one of the first places you looked? Maybe I was distracted by the mounted machine gun the Briggs had put on top of the retro-styled marquis, or the times of coming massacres they had helpfully spelled out in the vintage movable letters.
It was perfect - the doors were even unlocked.
I recognized the rusty gears in that voice. “Mason. Here to catch a show? I hear ‘Border Jumper Hunt’ is really intense.”
Agent Mason marched out of the alley behind the theater, stuffing something into the absurd trench coat that barely cleared the trash-strewn ground. “You have an astounding ability to maintain your wit through a crisis.”
“Yeah, they should really study my brain, find out how to harness this power for good.”
Agent Mason’s warm grimace disappeared as he took note of an unidentified person in the area. “Who’s this?”
“Who are you?” said Darius, not at all in the mood.
“All right, cool off everyone,” I said. “Darius, this is Special Agent Mason, a good friend of mine when he’s not looking for an excuse to throw me in Supermax. Mason, this is Darius Jagunjagun.”
“Some relation to the anthropology professor, I assume,” said Agent Mason. “I see that you’re still spending time with radicals, Gainsborough.”
“Relax your servos, Agent,” I said. “His father the professor was just murdered by some people attached to your old buddy from Missouri.”
“Brigg.” If you looked closely, you could see traces of steam escaping from Agent Mason’s ears.
“Is that why you’re here?” I said.
“Not officially,” said Agent Mason. “I’ve been told to remain on site to investigate two things: the assassination of Joshua Jameson by parties unknown, and the breakdown in the OSIS chain of command that led to this general disorder.”
“Can’t be that hard with Jameson. Sure, just about everyone wanted him dead, but how many people could have made that shot?”
“Actually...” Agent Mason eyeballed Darius. “...As a presumptive member of a radical organization, I can’t disclose this information with you present.”
“Are you kiddin’?” said Darius. “You’ll talk to him but I’m a risk?”
“Believe me Mason, this guy hates the radical leadership as much as anyone back in Quantico,” I said. “Most of the guys following Brinkley want nothing to do with him and the feeling is mutual.”
“Very well.” Agent Mason relaxed as much as he ever did. “Shortly before the shooting, an unknown party broke into an OSIS equipment vehicle and stole the suspected murder weapon, and experimental semi-automated high-precision rifle known colloquially as the Bow of Artemis.”
“The weapon uses a non-visible laser range finder to paint the target, after which a computerized aiming reticle helps the user adjust the weapon to the proper pitch. Provided the weapon was properly calibrated, anyone with working knowledge of the system had a very high chance of making that shot.” Agent Mason nodded with vigor. “And they tell me that the system was no harder to use than a Digital Pardner.”
“All right, you’re looking for a thief.”
“And a lot of those around in the aftermath of the OSIS collapse. The Brigg militias and the radicals have helped themselves.” Agent Mason pulled out a leather-bound memo book. “In addition to the Bow of Artemis, the following articles of military hardware have gone missing: three light assault vehicles, forty-two suits of Type III ballistic armor, two crates of MP5 submachine guns, 6,000 rounds of ammunition, one -”
“I think I get the gist,” I said. “Good luck with your investigation, we’re off to appropriate some vehicles.”
Agent Mason held up his hand. “Hold it, Gainsborough. There’s something we need to discuss.”
“Okay. We could chat over pizza, but I think all the places got burned out.”
“Gainsborough, I need you to be serious for one minute.”
“I think I can manage that.”
“Good. I need you to kill Leroy Brigg.”
I assume that most of you have never had a complete stranger ask you to commit homicide for them, although perhaps this is more common than I assume. For those of you who are virgins to this particular experience, all I can tell you is that it’s an oddly revelatory moment. The request gives you just enough time to go back through your personal history in search of that explanation as to why someone would think you were a hitman. When the asker is a federal agent of the United States of America, it makes you wonder if you really don’t know that much about your own life.
In my case, my response was general denial that the request was made at all. “...I’m sorry?”
Agent Mason pulled a small handgun out of one of his coat pockets. “Use this and dispose of it when you’re finished. Remember that the human body can be unexpectedly resilient to damage, so don’t hesitate to empty the magazine. Though if possible, save one round to deliver directly into the base of the skull.”
I stared at the gun in Agent Mason’s hand. “A questionable act for a Fed, Mason. To start with, let’s address the fact that you tried to solicit a murder from a journalist.”
“You’re not my first choice, Gainsborough, but you’re the one they’re seeking.”
“Brigg has been talking his followers, telling them not to hurt you but to bring you to his estate alive. He’ll let you into his home and you’ll a large number of bullets into his heart and brain.”
“Nope, not gonna do that.”
“Goddamn it Gainsborough, you bastard! Don’t turn away from me!” This sort of unalloyed rage was new from Agent Mason. It was as if he was turning into a real human being right in front of me. “I’m giving you a chance to do something important for the first time in your useless life!”
“You’re asking me to commit a felony.”
“I’m asking you to save thousands of lives. Maybe more.” Agent Mason’s hand tightened around the gun. “I’ve been looking into Brigg and all of his associates, and I’ve concluded that there is no command structure. His group leaders are just the biggest psychopaths under his command. Beyond that, there’s nothing. Almost none of these men have any military or law enforcement background. They’re uneducated, unstable and violent. His ‘army’ is just a collection of neo-Nazi cranks, reconstituted lone wolf terrorists in the making, arsenal-building militia washouts and the kind of everyday psychopaths who kill stray cats for fun. The only thing keeping them together is Leroy Brigg’s voice in their heads. If someone mutes that voice, then all of this stops! Can you grasp that, Gainsborough?”
Darius stepped forward. “I’ll do it. I’ll kill Brigg for you.”
Agent Mason rotated to face Darius. “You’re willing to take this risk? Unlike Gainsborough, you won’t have easy access to the target.”
“I’m fine with risk.” Darius held out his hand. “Give me the gun.”
“Very well.” Agent Mason passed the gun to Darius. “You’re doing the country a great service.”
“Yeah.” Darius eyed the gun with hungry eyes. “I might need to use a few bullets for something else first.”
“If you plan to commit any other crimes with that weapon, then don’t tell me about it,” said Agent Mason. “It’s important that I maintain plausible deniability for any and all violent acts.”
“Well, now you really do sound like a Fed,” I said.
“Then we’re done here.” Agent Mason backed away from us with remarkable precision, stepping over debris that he couldn’t possibly see. “I need to leave, my duties take me elsewhere. I still have a murder to solve, one that will hopefully calm some of these...inner demons. And then I must call my wife and deal with my contentious relationship with my stepchildren. Good luck to both of you.”
And then he was gone, vanished into the long shadows. I waited until I was positive he was gone to acquire the vehicle (no hints for any of you aspiring car thieves) and then Darius and I drove back to the safe house in silence. It wasn’t because of anything we saw or our encounter with Agent Mason. It was mostly because I was holding my breath the whole time, waiting for the Briggs to find us.