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By William W. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 1993 William W. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
He was being chased. Same old dream. He knew it was a dream. Scared the crap out of him anyway. "No!" he shouted, and the shout woke him. He opened his eyes, sitting up in bed. "Damnit!" he said, swinging his legs off the bed and planting his feet on the cool floor.
His dogs came rushing into the bedroom, nails clicking on the tile. Skipper sat on the floor by his bed and June hopped up on the bed. Johnny named the dog June because that's the month he found her, or she found him — whatever. He'd rescued Skipper from the local pound just hours before he was to have been put to sleep. Both of them were part husky, part chow, and the rest was mutt.
June licked him on the side of the face and he petted her. "It's all right," Johnny assured the dog. "It's OK." He looked at the luminous numbers on the clock. Five o'clock. Time to get up anyway.
He pulled on jeans and moccasins and let the dogs out for their morning toilet and run around the fenced five acres that sat in the middle of his one hundred acres — also fenced, but not as securely as the "compound," as he called it.
He did not turn on any lights until he reached the kitchen. He didn't have to. He knew where every piece of furniture was located. If a chair was three inches left or right or forward or backward of center, he'd know it. He also knew where every gun in the house was located.
He made coffee, and when it was brewed he filled a mug and walked out to the screened-in front porch and sat down. It was then he noticed that the dogs were sitting together, close to the screen door, their husky-marked faces looking skyward. June whined and Johnny opened the screen door and let them in. They came in quickly, almost knocking him down in their haste.
"Hey, gang. What's the matter with you two?" This was not like them. Early April in Northeast Louisiana and cool for this time of year. The dogs usually liked to stay outside until the sun came up. Not this morning.
Then Johnny heard the sound. A curious sound. Sort of like the fluttering of many wings. It grew louder and louder. Then silence. He looked around for the dogs. They had vanished. He looked into the den. June was under the coffee table and Skipper was clean out of sight. Probably under the kitchen table. That's where he usually headed whenever a thunderstorm came roaring in. And in this part of Louisiana, thunder-bumpers occurred with depressing regularity.
"Something sure scared you two," Johnny said. Then he returned to his chair on the porch and drank his coffee.
Johnny lived about fifty miles southeast of Monroe, and about thirty-five miles north and slightly west of Natchez, Mississippi, not too far from the Tensas River. He lived in the great big fat middle of nowhere, and that's the way he liked it.
He was not from this part of the country, but when he retired from the military he'd had no desire at all to return to his roots. There was nothing there for him. He'd run away from home at fourteen, lied about his age and joined the Army at fifteen, and stayed in the service for twenty six years, retiring a full Bird Colonel. While in the service he'd gotten his GSA and then earned a Master's degree. He was a Mustang: an officer who'd risen from the ranks. Twenty of those twenty-six years he'd spent in one form of intelligence or the other. He'd worked for ASA, CIA, DIA, NSA, and a dozen other intelligence-gathering organizations all over the world. Johnny MacBride was not his real name. He hadn't used his real name in so many years, at times he had trouble remembering what it was.
His Army records listed him as forty-four years old. He was actually forty-one. His personality profile stated that he was a loner. That was an understatement. His psychological down-training (CRIP — Civilian Reindoctrination Program) was a failure. It wasn't that Johnny didn't like people — he just didn't trust many of them. He didn't trust them because most civilians did not have the vaguest idea what they would do in any given situation. Johnny knew exactly what he would do in any situation. Johnny did not think like most people. He was not hotheaded; few successful intelligence operatives are. Like most intelligence officers, Johnny would think things through, plan carefully, and then react. There are people buried all over the world who had the misfortune to confront a skilled and trained spook. But in many cases, their demise usually came months or even years after the confrontation. Many people misinterpret caution for cowardice. That quite often proves to be a fatal mistake ... somewhere down the line. Spooks have long memories, and they are very, very vindictive.
Johnny was finishing his second cup of coffee before the dogs once more ventured out onto the porch. He petted them both and they calmed down.
Except for the dogs, Johnny lived alone. He had never been married. He'd never had time for marriage. He didn't think he'd ever been in love. He'd been in heat lots of time, but come the dawn, the heat had always cooled.
Johnny MacBride was neither handsome nor bad-looking. He was six feet tall with brown hair and dark green eyes. His heritage was Scotch-Irish and Scandinavian. He was in very good physical condition, maintaining a strict regime of physical conditioning. He wasn't a fanatic on the subject of exercise; he simply worked out at least an hour every day and had done so for years.
Johnny showered and shaved then checked his larder to see if he needed to go into town for anything. He was low on a number of things so he decided to drive into town and buy groceries and pick up his mail — it was a weekly outing for him.
Johnny owned two vehicles, a new Ford pickup truck, F150 series, with four-wheel drive, and a '65 Ford Mustang that he had spent years lovingly restoring to near mint condition. He'd take the pickup since he wanted to buy some lumber in addition to the groceries.
Standing by the gate that led to the garage, he looked back at his house. When he'd bought this land some ten years back, he had a crew come in from out of town to build the home to his specifications. At first glance, it looked like an ordinary home. It wasn't. It was a fort. The home was three feet off the ground, built on huge pilings. The outside was cypress; between the cypress and the inside paneling was concrete blocks filled with sand. The windows were bulletproof. The home was a quarter of a mile from a parish road, the drive leading to the home a deliberately twisting one so any vehicle approaching could not raise any speed to ram the gates.
This was not paranoia on Johnny's part. A dozen terrorist groups around the world had offered thousands and thousands of dollars to anyone who could bring back Johnny's head in a sack. Only one group — so far — had learned of Johnny's new locale and they'd sent a team in to take him out about six months back, just a few months after Johnny had moved in. A week after the attempted assassination, four bodies had been found floating in the Tensas River down in Catahoula Parish. They could not be identified because they had neither heads nor hands.
The local sheriff had opined that, "Somebody sure had a grudge against their ass."
Just a few hundred yards after pulling out onto the blacktop parish road, Johnny stopped and parked on the shoulder, putting on his emergency flashers and walked across the road to a ditch. He stood looking down at what was left of a cow. The poor beast had what appeared to be slash marks all over its hide. He turned at the sounds of an approaching car and when he saw it was a Louisiana state trooper, he waved the driver to a halt.
The trooper rolled down the window and asked, "Trouble, sir?"
"Dead cow in the ditch," Johnny replied. "But I never saw anything quite like the markings on the body."
The trooper clicked on his rotating lights and parked. He got out and looked at the cow. "Damn!" he said. "I'm with you, mister. Looks like ... hell, I don't know what it looks like." The trooper took a deep breath and instantly regretted it. "What's that smell?"
"It's sort of like ammonia, isn't it?"
"Yeah. Sort of."
Johnny walked into the dry ditch and squatted down by the carcass, looking closely at the markings on the hide. The carcass seemed to be shrunken. And now that he was close, he could see that there were hundreds of those strange markings all over the animal's body.
"That's a funny-looking cow," the trooper remarked. "Something's wrong with it. It looks like ... it's been shrunk."
Then Johnny knew what was wrong. "Shit!" he said.
"No blood. This animal's been drained of blood."
"Take a look for yourself."
The trooper looked, and looked again. "Jesus Christ. I think you're right." He reached out to touch the carcass with a finger and Johnny's voice stopped him.
"Put a glove on."
The trooper cut eyes to him. "Why?"
"Because you've cut your finger and if you touch that cut to this carcass, you run the risk of rabies."
The trooper jerked his hand back. "Rabies! Why do you say that?"
"Because I know what, or who, did this."
"Would you like to share that information with me?"
Johnny did and the trooper blinked a couple of times. "You're sure?"
"Ninety-nine percent certain. But I never heard of them this far north."
"Hell, they're all over the United States, aren't they?"
"Not this kind."
"Are you deliberately trying to spook me?" Johnny smiled.
"You find this funny?"
"Only your choice of words, trooper." He stood up and the trooper stood with him.
"I know who you are now," the trooper said. "You're the guy who bought the old Perkins place."
"That's right." Johnny extended his hand. "Johnny MacBride."
The trooper shook hands. "Mark Hayden. I have to call this in, but I don't want to use the radio. Too damn many scanners around and something like this could cause a panic."
"You're sure right about that. My place is right down the road. You want to use the phone there?"
"I'd appreciate it."
On the short drive back to his house, Johnny appraised the trooper. About thirty or so, he figured, and competent. Very competent. The trooper had old eyes for one so young. Like my own, Johnny thought. He had noticed the tag on the front bumper of the trooper's car. SWAT. Good man to know, Johnny summed up.
The commander of the troop, Captain Alden, was not impressed. "Bats, huh? Bats killed a cow. A whole cow?"
"It's sort of hard to just kill part of a cow, Captain," Mark said.
"Don't get cute, Hayden. This day is starting off crappy enough without you and your jokes. Put this ... what's-his-name on the hom."
Mark held the phone out and Johnny took it. "Johnny MacBride here."
"You some sort of expert on bats, Mr. Bride."
"That's MacBride, Captain."
"I'm no expert, Captain. But I've spent a lot of time in countries where these types of bats call home. I've been in their caves and know what they smell like. And I've seen what they can do."
"And you're convinced this was ... wait a minute. Wait a minute. Back up here, Mr. MacBride. You said, 'These types of bats,' right?"
"Just plain ol' ordinary bats, right?"
Mark Hayden was staring at Johnny, a curious expression on his face. He had taken out a package of chewing tobacco and was just about to drop a load in his mouth.
"No?" Captain Alden said.
"That's right. These are not the ordinary, very beneficial to humankind bats, Captain. These bats, if I'm right, are very dangerous. They can carry rabies and bubonic plague. Just to name a couple of disasters."
"Do they have a name, Mr. MacBride?:"
"Yes. I did some research on them some years back. If I'm pronouncing it right, they're called Diphylla Ecaudata."
Trooper Hayden was chomping away contentedly.
Johnny said, "They're better known as the Hairy-Legged Vampire Bat."
Trooper Hayden swallowed his chewing tobacco.
Once Captain Alden got over his shock, he moved very quickly and contacted the right people. While Trooper Hayden was puking up his swallowed chewing tobacco in Johnny's sink, some experts in the field of Chiroptera were being helicoptered in. A little bit shaky on his feet and somewhat pale, Trooper Hayden returned to the dead cow and made certain no one came near it, except for Johnny, who was busy taking pictures of the dead beast.
"I probably ought to order you to stop that," Mark said.
"I thought so. Oh, to hell with it. You'll probably sell them to the press."
"I assure you, Mark, I stay just as far away from the press as possible."
"You wanted by the law somewhere?" Mark asked with a smile.
Johnny laughed with him. "I'm sure I am in some foreign countries, but not under this name."
"You're an ex-govemment-spook, aren't you?"
"Why do you say that?" Johnny had shot two rolls of 35 mm film and he returned the expensive camera to its case and laid it on the seat of his truck.
"Several things. Your home is a damn fort. You've got more security gear in and around that place than a bank. There are enough antennas stuck around your place to transmit and receive from Mars. You're very security conscious. And I hope you have some sort of authorization to carry that little pistol you have in your back pocket."
Johnny laughed and showed the trooper a Federal permit, authorizing him to carry a concealed weapon. Mark grinned, shook his head and said, "That's the first one of those I think I've ever seen. Signed by the Attorney General. Interesting. You ex-CIA?"
"Let's just say I did intelligence work for various agencies for over twenty years. I'm a retired Army Colonel. Full Bird."
"Retirement pay must be pretty good."
"I made a lot of good investments over the years. I'm comfortable."
Johnny looked at the trooper. This was one very sharp young man, who used his bumbling, easy-grinning, tobacco-chewing, country-boy ways to disguise a quick mind. "If you mean are there any terrorist groups who might take an interest in my whereabouts, if there are, they won't find me."
"I think four of them did about six months ago, Mr. MacBride."
Johnny smiled at him. "Then arrest me."
Mark returned the smile. "I don't like terrorist groups, Mr. MacBride ..."
"Johnny. Let's keep it just Johnny."
"Fine, Johnny. I think terrorist groups are cowards. They kill innocent people for every dumb-assed cause that you can think of. Besides, Johnny ... I lost my oldest brother at the Marine Barracks in Lebanon."
Johnny nodded. At that instant, the two men understood each other. And the trooper and the ex-spook formed a bond of friendship as they stood on the shoulder of a blacktop road, a few yards from a dead cow.
Captain Alden drove up, and a sergeant from the troop pulled in right behind him. Mark introduced Johnny and the four of them turned and looked at the cow.
Alden knelt down and stared at the mutilated hide. "Teeth marks," he finally said. "But very odd ones."
"Much larger than I've ever seen," Johnny said. "And I've seen dozens of cases of bat bites in South America and Mexico."
Captain Alden nodded his head. He stood up and faced Johnny. "I ran a check on you, Mr. MacBride. Or tried to. You're clean as a whistle in the state of Louisiana. But Federal? Now that got interesting. And frustrating. We'll have to have a long chat sometime. Larger bite marks than you've ever seen, huh? Well, that really makes my day. You have any more surprises for me?"
"I'm fresh out, Captain. But I'll think on it some."
Captain Alden was a streetwise cop. He was no political appointee to troop commander ... at least as much as one can not be in nearly any state of the Union. He had never had PI — Political Influence — stamped on any recommendation for promotion. He had been wounded in the line of duty once, and had dropped the hammer on criminals twice, both of them killing shots.
And he was getting some curious vibes about Johnny MacBride. MacBride was a retired Army Colonel, spending over twenty years in intelligence. But what the computer printout didn't say spoke volumes. Captain Alden concluded that Johnny MacBride was a very dangerous man. The chest-pounding, loudmouth bully boys are almost always full of hot air and bullshit. The quiet, very self-assured and confident ones, like MacBride, will kill you without blinking.
Johnny took a couple of keys out of his pocket and handed them to Mark. "You all will be wanting to keep this quiet. I suggest you use my home as a BO for a time."
Excerpted from Bats by William W. Johnstone. Copyright © 1993 William W. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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