Black Shadows

Prologue

Moscow, Russia, 1963

There were perks and downfalls to being a spy. Taylor McCain had figured it out. One of the downfalls was that you never knew who you would be working with on a field mission, if you ended up working with anyone at all. All his men were dead, and now, he had to wonder if he really was going to be next. In the dark of the warehouse, he felt completely lonely and small. Only for a second. Then he remembered that he had a job to do, and McCain the lethal weapon returned. One of the very few perks was being hard and as emotionally prone as a statue at will.

Unlike the guards’ tan clothing, his black outfit seamlessly melted into the shadows, turning him into a part of the night. There was a moment of silence as the guard he was fighting fell to the cold concrete floor; he looked around for the coward who had run away. It was difficult to keep his breathing normal. He could sense that the coward was there, hiding somewhere, but the shadows relented nothing. The darkness was like a blanket being stuffed into his nose, slowly suffocating him. There was a sound to his right. When he looked, nothing. He swore. The stupid coward was playing games with him. Unless he had run away to get help, and in that case McCain had to move quickly if he didn’t want to be ambushed. Adjusting the bag under his bullet-proof jacket, he stepped into the semi-darkness, the mild light feeling like razors in his eyes. Every instinct screamed at him to go back to the dark.

He was caught from behind. The coward pinned McCain’s arms to his side with one arm and doled out punches with the other. McCain ducked after the first blow to the jaw, but the guard anticipated this and caught him square in the eye. His night-vision goggles exploded, and he figured that if they hadn’t been there, his eye would have been crushed. Okay, so the guard wasn’t a coward. Finally, some action! While the guard was pulling back his arm for another hit, McCain threw all his weight away from the guard, and the guard was knocked off balance for a split second, long enough for McCain to get out of his grasp. McCain did an aerial flip, clipping the guard in the chin with his foot and snapping his head back. He landed beside the gun he had kicked out of the guard’s hand. The guard rebounded from the blow almost immediately, but by then McCain had the gun ready to shoot, and he did so. The guard slumped over the dog pile of nine others. Despite the fact that he had been in the field for many years, McCain didn’t like the sight of dead bodies. He didn’t like killing people, period, mostly because it made Beth upset, and also because it just didn’t feel right. In any case, it was his job, and Adrik Borolvnol had underestimated him. McCain was more than willing to capitalize on Borolvnol’s fatal mistake.

It hadn’t taken much to subdue the lazy, imbecilic guards, and this one was the only one who had put up a real fight. With gentle fingers he reached down and closed the guard’s blue eyes, laying a hand on him for a moment. This guard was a fighter like him, and it was a shame to take one more fighter out of the world.

Rest well.

After slipping the guns out the ninth-story window, he prowled the halls looking for Borolvnol. McCain was working alone tonight, and he was still one of the most lethal spies in the CDA. Or at least, he worked for the CDA when Jethro was willing to pay enough. The thought of how much this was going to cost the old geezer made him smile happily.

The hallway was dark, except for the arrhythmic flicker that came from the walls, and there was no sound except for the occasional whir or spark of something he had blown up. Borolvnol was a computer tech genius, to say the least, and his latest invention was covering the inner walls of the building with camera lenses to produce a three-dimensional image of hallway activity. It was incredible just to be in the presence of such genius, considering that television was still a rare commodity.

It had taken him seconds to figure out which wires would disconnect the security systems, and now the cameras glimmered apathetically. Borolvnol’s computer room was at the end of the hall.

He opened the door a crack. Borolvnol was seated in front of the largest of fifteen computer screens assembled in various places around the darkened room, in a high-backed wing chair. The screen he was looking at was almost six feet across. McCain ducked in soundlessly behind a large filing cabinet, continuing to stare in awe. Borolvnol was almost done writing out the code; the entire screen was filled with numbers and letters the same font size as a normal book, millions upon thousands of characters grouped together. As McCain watched, waiting for the opportunity to make his move, Borolvnol completed the code. It was the most incredible thing he had ever seen.

Before Borolvnol could press the escape key, McCain had him in a headlock.

“McCain!” Borolvnol gagged, kicking wildly. The steel in McCain’s muscles was inescapable. He could tell Borolvnol said the first thing that came to his mind: “I should have known!”

“Why?” asked McCain with a laugh. “That would mean I didn’t do my job.”

The weasel-eyed man must have known there was no hope for him now that his HQ had been infiltrated and he rested in the arms of Death. He tried to spit on his captor and snarled in an asphyxiated tone, “I would have gotten away with it.” Borolvnol probably spent so much time in his lair that he could only think of novel quips to say in his final moments. For a brief second, he realized that he was going to have to kill this pathetically genius human being.

McCain gazed down at Borolvnol, choosing not to answer. This was the man whom he had hunted for nearly eight years, following the lead of countless others who had failed. Borolvnol was almost sixty years old, and McCain was young and lithe. It would be him who would succeed. McCain hadn’t expected anything less than victory, but the fact that it was this easy made him a little leery. How had he gotten this good at taking lives? Killing somebody’s son? Even though it was Borolvnol who was about to die, it was McCain’s life that flashed before his eyes. That was it, just a flash: all it really consisted of was manipulating, killing, and subduing people to get things. Things that, though nearly irreplaceable, could certainly not replace the life of a person.

What was wrong with him lately?

His weasel eyes were green, McCain realized, not really knowing why he was taking note of this now. He felt like he was falling down a well. A feeling which he had experienced, once, back when things were normal and he had a normal job on his brother’s farm. Beth had had green eyes too. Except Borolvnol’s eyes were sparkling with hatred, and Beth’s were always laughing.

Snap out of it.

With a half-smile, McCain flexed his arm, twisted, and broke Borolvnol’s neck, cutting off a scream from the little old man. He let the body drop to the cold stone floor. Somebody from the city would probably come along soon to his rescue. Now, the code…

He sat down in the chair, annoyed by the way it almost sagged to the floor. With all the money Borolvnol made with his smuggled technology, he couldn’t afford to get decent chairs. Cheapskate. The chair put him in such a sour mood he wished that Jethro had sent someone else to do the job. He was tired, hadn’t slept in days. His hate for a chair, that his arch nemesis had sat in multiple times plotting new evil genius schemes, ran almost as deep as his distaste for the man himself. It was a contaminated chair. He looked up from his stewing when there was a noise in the hallway, and quickly refocused on the task at hand.

Where others had failed to deliver, McCain had come prepared. The code could not be deleted in any way, and was programmed to initiate at the first sign of destructive disturbance, so blowing up the place was also out of the question until he had safely subdued the code. McCain ran his gloved fingers over the touch screen, caressing it until he found the release tab. He gently pealed it over, pieces of the code becoming misshapen. The insides of the computer were now laid out before him. McCain lifted from his shoulder the heavy-duty-material bag that had somehow survived previous carnage. It was hard to see in the dark, and he had lost his night vision glasses, but it appeared that all the pinkie-fingernail-sized chips were in place. All one-thousand-five-hundred of them. He found the drive in the screen and inserted a chip. With a few cautious swipes on the keyboard, the code began downloading itself. He watched as digits disappeared. His plan was actually working? He listened for an automated voice telling him that something bad was going to happen, and it didn’t come. Another chip was inserted when the first one was full, and it drank up the information like an elephant at an oasis. While waiting for the chips to fill up, he wandered around the emporium, gazing at Borolvnol’s life work. There was a prototype for something called “colour TV”, and a stolen blueprint of one of NASA’s space shuttles. Another prototype was for a touch screen that worked by sensing skin instead of just pressure. There was even one for computers that could fit in a briefcase with screens less than a foot across. The technology Borolvnol came up with…sometimes McCain wondered why he hadn’t let any of it out, even though he knew the evil man didn’t want someone hanging over his shoulder as he plotted to take over the world. Borolvnol could have been a benevolent millionaire if he had just walked on the light side instead of dark.

McCain knew he wasn’t always on the right side of the tracks either, but he only followed the people he was chasing.

Nearly an hour later, all the chips were full and the screen lay bare and empty before him. He didn’t take any time to congratulate himself. The job was only halfway done. He stepped over Borolvnol’s dead body and cautiously opened the door. As he had suspected, they had the place surrounded, and about four or five of them were patrolling the hallway. He slammed back against the wall, but it was too late. One of them saw him. There was no way he was going to escape if he stayed in the room, so he covertly tossed a ten-minute time bomb into the corner of the room and ploughed right through the night-watchers. He planted adhesive grenades on three of the other guards and then sprinted down the hall, evading them as best he could for the time it took them to blow up. One of them shot his foot, the only place not covered in a bullet proof layer. The pain travelled up his body and escaped as a barely concealed scream. He had to protect the chips. That was the only thing that kept him going. That and the fact that he would soon be blown to smithereens along with Adrik Borolvnol if he didn’t get out of the building. There were still two of them on his tail, shooting like madmen. McCain threw another grenade on the wall and barely made it through to the other side before it collapsed on the guards. It hadn’t killed them but at least they wouldn’t get out before the building blew. He stopped for a short repose to check his watch and favour his wounded foot, which now felt like it could kill him if the pain got any worse. The chips were still strapped safely inside his bullet-proof jacket. He had three more grenades and T minus ninety-eight seconds before his bomb was going to go off.

Was it enough time?

He burst through the door into the chilly pre-dawn air. As he had hoped, all twelve of the guards were assembled outside, guns ready. His throat was tight, making it even harder to breathe, and he realized he was scared for the first time since he was a kid. Fighting now this terror and the pain in his foot, he stepped out onto the concrete steps. “I’m going to blow this place up!” he shouted, waving the grenade in the air as they shot at him. “I have Adrik as a hostage and I’m going to blow him up!” He dove back inside, on the run again. A bone in his foot cracked, making stars swim in front of his eyes. With a great amount of effort, he hauled himself onto the high and deep window ledge above the door, watching as the guards streamed in. One, two, three…only ten of them came in. They found the dead bomb he had tossed in. It was beeping, and that sure caught their attention. McCain allowed himself a laugh. Others combed the place, looking for him. The guard with the bomb carefully picked it up and gave it to one of the other lemmings to dispose of it outside. That meant that there were three outside, and there was still thirty seconds before the bomb would go off. That could prove problematic, unless he came back. Two lemmings was one thing, three was a whole new nursery rhyme. When there was just ten seconds left, he tossed another grenade as far as he could, successfully pulling all nine guards farther away from the door. There was a long barrage of gunfire. He realized they must have found his hologram he had forgotten on the second level stairs.  And as soon as they had shot out the projector, he would have simply disappeared without a trace, and they would be going even deeper into the maze-like building to find “him”. Man, he was a damn good spy. The gunfire was the cover he needed to blow out the window with a low calibre explosive. Glass rained down onto the pavement outside like diamonds; he stayed in the shadow cast by the roof overhang. Five seconds to go. To his delight, two more guards came in.

Three…two…one….

The bomb went off.

He jumped.  

He enjoyed jumping off buildings. If only he hadn’t had a wounded foot. It twisted under him when he made contact with the pavement, and he almost threw up it hurt so badly. In the split second before he righted from his tuck-and-roll, he saw the last guard on the concrete steps, and a split second later he was gone, engulfed in flames and falling debris. McCain bounced up and sprinted away as fast as he could, racing the shockwave. He couldn’t get far enough away, and most of his hair was singed off. Something flew out from the blaze as another explosion twisted the air around him and hit him in the head. It was a hand. Too bad it didn’t send a new foot my way, he thought sarcastically through gritted teeth. It would be a long limp to his car.

The warehouse behind him crackled and popped like logs on a fire, minor explosions vibrating the ground once in a while. It smelled like gasoline and burning bodies. He turned back once to observe the flaming concrete building. At least it wouldn’t burn to the ground. Maybe the souls of the thirty dead people would haunt the warehouse when they rebuilt it.

Mission accomplished.

McCain shivered. He was alive, and everyone else was not. That, ladies and gentleman, is how one man kills twenty-odd people in an hour and a half all by himself. He shook off the feelings of regret and a flood of relief washed over him. Borolvnol was dead. It was over. Finally. He could see his car in the distance, a silhouette in the approaching dawn. And he also saw that it wasn’t actually over. He wasn’t as alone as he thought.

Jethro and his men were all leaning against the car, staring at him with huge dopey smiles as he got closer. McCain rolled his eyes heavenward. Really? Was this really happening now, after all the trouble he had gone through? Protect the chips, protect the chips. How was he supposed to do that when Jethro was sure to take them away and use the destructive code for himself? He fell to his knees, not needing many acting skills to portray that he was in great pain and completely exhausted. In the time it took them to get to him, McCain had signalled his brother Crawford who was waiting with the Bell 206 a couple miles away. The explosion site was just visible in the distance.

“Hey, good job out there, McCain!” Jethro said, grinning like a proud father. Jethro was a short man, portly, with thinning grey hair and eyes the shade of the discoloured skin on a dead fetal pig. And he looked so smug, as if it was he who had cheated death several times.

“You could have helped,” McCain gasped, clutching his foot, He needed to stall. “I took down twenty-six men almost all by myself and all you guys were doing was watching?” The rotors of the Bell were coming closer. “Do you know how many of yours were shot down because of you?” Dowell, Hanfield, Smithson, Thornton and Larson all dead, buried in the wreckage. All of them were nice enough people, all had wives or girlfriends whom they had known since grade school, and Dowell had two beautiful daughters, the oldest of whom would be entering high school in the fall.

“Knew you could get the job done,” Jethro drawled. “We just got here ten minutes ago. Thought you were doing a fine job.” He tilted his head. “Where are the chips?”

McCain winced as one of the guys prodded his swollen bloody foot and cut away his boot. “That’s the thing,” he snarled angrily. “I had them and was going to go, but they surrounded me and the bag fell. The guy ran off with it like some little kid. Now we are going to have to get it back because you ‘just got here.’” He didn’t have to work too hard to put the needed amount of venom into his voice.

Jethro fell for it, and his brows went up in anger. “So you didn’t do your job—!”

McCain held up a hand. “Jethro, I killed Borolvnol and blew up his computers, I did the transfer, and now someone else is keeping the chips safe for us, whether he’s dead and buried or in a getaway car right now. All we have to do is get them back.”  Remembering to wait for the second signal, Crawford stopped the helicopter just out of earshot of anyone who wasn’t listening for it.

“Are you simplistic now, McCain? Is that what happened to you?”

McCain cocked his head and kept his gaze steady. At the same time that he hauled himself into a sitting position, he squeezed his arm to activate the other signal to Crawford. “Are you saying it’s too hard for you to do?” he asked condescendingly. He had never really liked Jethro, but he was always generous with his money when he needed a job to be done. He wasn’t all that smart. It’s what he was good at: not doing any work. He always knew just the right person to do the job for him. “I can do it if you want me to, but I just thought you needed a real job since you did nothing tonight. You can either go after the car or wait till the fire dies down to go digging in there, but if you don’t need me to do your job again, I am done for the year. I mean it. Here comes Crawford now.”

Everyone jumped away as the helicopter hovered overhead. Crawford came down the rope ladder.

“Hey, bro, got your signal!” Crawford shouted over the rotors. McCain resisted the urge to slap his forehead. Crawford was always begging to be allowed to come on missions with his brother, and McCain was always reciting the long list of reasons why that would be the dumbest idea in history. The only thing McCain allowed Crawford to be was his getaway car, or in this case, getaway copter.

The first rays of sun were sliding over the distant line of trees and dusting the prairie land and blue body of the Bell with gold. it smelled like morning. The sight reminded him of his days on the farm when he was still oblivious of all this espionage crap. Was it really just six years ago? He felt like he had been doing this for six lifetimes. “Seems like you got yourself in a bind!” Crawford’s hair was getting too long and it blew around in the rotor-generated wind.

“Help me up, please,” said McCain. To Jethro, “Call me if you need a real man to do the job. I’ll be in Jamaica.”

Jethro flipped him the bird. I’ll miss you too, buddy, McCain thought as he saluted back respectably.

He settled in the seat of the helicopter, watching as everything grew small and farther away. They all watched him fly off, ties settling back on their dress-shirt-clad chests as the wind died down. The sunlight touched their faces and made them shine goldenly, like angels or something. They were no angels, he thought sourly. He didn’t believe that they had really only come at the end of the raid. Jethro would have wanted to make sure he didn’t run off, as he was doing now. Even if he wasn’t that good at making sure people didn’t slip out from under his nose, he had the resources to track him down later. He wondered how long the lie he had told Jethro would hold up. Since the man had fallen for it hook, line and sinker he figured he had at least a couple weeks before he would die. The thought was less than comforting, making his stomach tighten. It couldn’t matter. He knew they couldn’t have the code. No one could, because everything always ended up in the wrong hands. McCain had never been a particularly noble person, but he knew that he had the power to save the world in the heavy duty bag resting in his lap, and darn if he wasn’t going to use it. For now, he needed to catch up on missed sleep. Desperately.

As they flew over the jewel like Caribbean sea a couple days later, he asked Crawford to slow the Bell down a little.

He took one chip out of the bag, and let it fall into the water. a wave kept it up for a second, and the sun reflecting off of it blinded him. when he blinked the spots out of his eyes, it was gone. one down, one-thousand, four-hundred-ninety-nine to go. Why not just dump them all in and let the ocean spread them around? Because he had never gotten a chance to actually see the world. He was either passing through or blowing parts of it up. instead of taking souvenirs, he would leave them behind. For a minute he actually smiled as he closed up the bag again. this was going to be fun.

“You know what, Crawford?” McCain said as he settled back into his seat. “Forget Jamaica. Lets go to Paris. I’ve always wanted to see the Eiffel tower.” And Big Ben, the Taj Mahal, Ground zero…

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