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By Mack Maloney
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1997 Mack Maloney
All rights reserved.
It was a calm night in the Himalayas.
Where usually the winds blew at 50 knots or more and snow fell almost continuously, this night there was no gale, no frozen precipitation, no sign of the elements at all.
At the top of the mountain called Ch'aya, known as one of the coldest, windiest, most inhospitable places on earth, an eerie silence had settled around the small Be'hei temple and its row of guesthouses nearby. It was close to midnight and the stars above were twinkling madly. The monks within the temple grounds were awakened by the lack of wind; they were so unused to the silence, it actually roused them from their slumber.
Concern quickly gripped the Be'hei monastery. Candles were lit, prayer bells began tolling. The monks had read about this sort of thing. It was a phenomenon that had been written down in their ancient texts by hands that had passed on centuries before. No wind. No blowing snow. The sky seemed as if on fire. Be warned, the ancients had written. You are not being spared from the never-ending tempest that makes Ch'aya the holy place it is.
Rather you are in the eye of the eternal storm.
In one guesthouse, however, no candles had been lit. This was the small hut at the far end of the temple grounds, the dwelling closest to the edge. Inside slept a beautiful girl. Blond, supple, and youngish in face and form, she was named Chloe. She was naked, her enchanting body covered with a single layer of lambskin. She did not realize that a frightening calm had come over Ch'aya Mountain. She was too busy having a dream.
Out beyond the orbit of Pluto, in a region of space millions of miles from the sun, there is a place known as the Oort Cloud. It is here, scientists discovered years ago, that comets reside—massive chunks of ice and space dust, some weighing trillions of tons. Most are caught in a gravitational netherworld, slaved to travel long, looping flight paths, just out of reach of the pull of the sun. They are orphans, second-class citizens of the solar system that if not for a quirk of fate might have formed into planets 15 billion years ago. Instead, they are eternal transients.
But the universe could be a funny place as well as a mysterious one. Sometimes it would rely on the Oort Cloud to provide a cosmic joke. One of the comets would stray just enough toward the sun to get caught in its gravitational pull and thus begin a long, perilous journey inward. In Chloe's dream, she could see exactly that kind of thing happening. A massive comet many times larger than what would be considered normal had been captured by the sun's attraction and was slowly but surely heading into the solar system. But in her dream, Chloe could see a gigantic hand actually pushing the comet, steering it, controlling its movements as it began to tumble at a velocity rising to 100 miles per second. And behind the gigantic hand came a screech that echoed across the cosmos. It was a rather frightening sound—and an indistinguishable one as well. Was it a man's voice or a woman's? It was hard to tell. But in Chloe's dream, the voice belonged to what she perceived to be the Supreme Being.
God was laughing.
This hand had flicked the gigantic comet not just toward the sun, but right at the planet Earth. It must have happened centuries earlier, for the trip from the Oort Cloud to the inner solar system was a long one, even at a speed of 360,000 miles an hour.
That was the cruel thing about cosmic jokes.
It could take eons before the punchline was delivered.
When Chloe woke up in tears some time later, two monks were standing over her bed.
Though bound to a life of celibacy and denial of earthly pleasures, the pair of holy men could not help but look down at her lovely naked body and begin thinking thoughts they shouldn't.
She stirred and was surprised that her eyes and cheeks were so wet. The men startled her for a moment—she caught them looking and quickly pulled the lambskin back around her. But she knew them and knew they would not harm her and that the only reason they were here was because they were concerned for her.
"What is it? What's wrong?" she asked, wiping away the tears.
"We heard you weeping," one monk said, gathering his saffron robes around him. "And ..."
"And things are wrong ... outside."
"What disturbed you?" the second monk asked. "Why were you crying in your sleep?"
Chloe thought a moment—then it came flooding back to her. The huge comet. The gigantic hand. The frightening laugh.
She told them everything and began crying again, and the monks did, too. They really didn't have to hear very much. They knew what she had dreamed, knew what it meant. They sat down on her bed and hugged her. All concern of modesty forgotten, she allowed the lambskin to slip away and hugged them back.
"The stars have begun to fall," one of the monks whispered. "Just as it was written. Now it is only a matter of time ..."
They sat there, the three of them, and cried until morning.
By that time, the wind outside had picked up again and the blowing snow had returned.CHAPTER 2
Saint Ann's Island, the Caribbean
The man they called Pooch was having a strange dream, too.
He was floating on his back atop the calm, clear waters off Saint Ann's Cove, barely flicking his hands and feet, yet moving quite quickly. He was surrounded by girls, at least six of them. They were all beautiful, all young, all topless. They had their hands all over him. On his chest. Running through his hair, down his pants. They were rubbing him, caressing him, stroking him. It was heavenly.
This was a very odd dream for Pooch to have for several reasons. First, he could not swim. Though he had lived more than two-thirds of his life on this beautiful Caribbean island, he hated the water, hated the thought of getting near it, for fear he would somehow stumble in and get caught in the undertow and suddenly be in over his head. To be skimming along the surface of the water was a very alien thing for him to be doing, awake or asleep.
Dreaming about six young, topless girls lusting over him was also very odd for him. Pooch was 71 years old, bearded, grizzled, with a serious case of roly-poly. Thoughts as graphic as these hadn't venture into his dirty old mind in nearly two decades. At least, not for this long, anyway.
The third reason this was all very strange was that Pooch was hopelessly drunk, lying in the gutter of Saint Ann's only paved street, his bulbous winestained nose pointing directly up at a sky that was gradually darkening and beginning to twinkle with stars. This was a normal state of affairs for him. Rum was indeed a demon, and it had had Pooch by the ass for as long as he could remember.
Dulled brain cells and all, though, when Pooch woke up, he remembered his dream in its entirety, right down to the little nipples on one of the girls and the giant bazzooms on another. A smile found its way across his crooked yellow teeth. With a rare spring in his shorts, he lifted himself out of the gutter and began the long stagger home.
Pooch lived on a small riverlet called the Dink which ran out from Smugglers' Cove, which in turn flowed into Saint Ann's Bay. His house was a two-story affair, much more ornate than one would have thought for a man of Pooch's demeanor. But the Poochman had a profession, and it was a profitable one by this day's standards. Originally from the hills of West Virginia, Pooch had been a pharmacist's mate in the old U.S. Navy. These twin experiences had ingrained two life lessons in him. From his upbringing, he knew how to make and bottle whiskey. From his service days, he knew how to make drugs. Pooch was Saint Ann's moonshiner and druggist, a beach-conch Dr. Feelgood.
He'd been dropping off a delivery of whiskey to the local saloon when the rum had gotten him again. That was twelve hours ago, and now at last he was going home to sleep it off. He trudged out onto the beach and then across the Dink; the water was only about a foot deep here and the stream was narrow, as the tide was just about to turn. Reaching the high stairs to his back door, he took each one with a grunt or a groan, counting them off as he did every time he was in this condition, knowing that once he made it to the twenties, he was close to the top.
He finally reached the last step and now had only to contend with the locked door and the balky key that always gave him trouble, stinking drunk or not.
But this night Pooch had a surprise waiting for him. His back door was open. Not just unlocked, but wide, wide open.
He saw it and it gave him a start. Stinko though he was, he damn sure remembered locking the door behind him when he'd left that morning because he'd almost dropped his case of precious hootch in the process of getting the key to work.
Why was it open?
He got his answer as soon as he tripped through the entranceway. Two men were waiting inside, sitting on his couch and looking as relaxed and calm as if they lived there. He stared at them for a long while, trying to make some sense of their faces, reflected in only the bare light of some candles and a single weak 25-watt bulb. Did he knows these guys? He really thought not.
They were Asians, or at least, people from the Pacific Rim. They were both about the same height, same weight, and same frame, and both were wearing the same nondescript sand-colored combat fatigues favored by mercenaries around the world. These uniforms were virtually free of insignia or levels of rank, but each had a thin red braid running across the collar and down the thin lapels.
Even Pooch's sodden brain knew what this meant—and suddenly he thought he was going to lose control of his bladder.
"Can ... can I help you?" he managed to stutter. It was not all that unusual that he would come home to find customers waiting for him; they were just never inside his house before.
"You are the man who makes drugs?" one asked, his accent thick, his English barely decipherable. "Speed? Coke? XTC?"
"I am," Pooch replied, settling down a bit at the thought that these guys might just be here to do some business. "All three of those and more."
"And whiskey, too?" the other asked.
"Again, yes," Pooch slurred, finally coming into the room and closing the door behind him. Outside, the sea suddenly sounded very loud.
"What quantities do you have of these things?" the first man asked. "You have much whiskey? Much drugs?"
Pooch couldn't get his eyes off those red braids. Why would these guys come all the way here to find him?
"I have large quantities of whatever you need, I'm sure," he stuttered in reply. "And discounted prices, at that."
The two men looked at each other and smiled, but not in amusement.
"May we see your stores?" the number one guy asked. "We would like an idea how much we will have to transport."
Pooch nearly fell over. "You want it all?" he asked, both terrified at the thought and salivating at what a payday it might bring if he sold them everything he had hidden in his cellar.
"Oh, yes," the second man replied. "All of it—and more."
Less than a minute later, they were climbing down into the vast storage chamber beneath Pooch's beach house.
One wall was covered with cases of bottled whiskey, 2,700 fifths in all. Another wall was similarly hidden by kegs of "Greed," a lethal combination of 150-proof rum and 99-proof whiskey which reminded some people of both mead and grog, hence the name. On the wall furthest from the ladder, three clear plastic vats were hanging. These held about 500 pounds each of Pooch's own recipe for "Scratch," a volatile mixture of cocaine, meta-amphetamine, and XTC. In the fourth corner stood two huge wooden barrels, each containing 200 pounds of pure China white heroin, just set out to dry.
Pooch stood back and cast an admiring eye on this treasure trove of mind alterants, all of it produced by his own hand, most of it nonfatal if used wisely.
The two visitors seemed unimpressed by Pooch's stash, though. With a sniff, they noted that the China White wasn't really that white and the mixture of coke, speed, and XTC was a rather amateurish combination. The whiskey smelled bad, and the Greed, well, they didn't so much as take a whiff of it.
"But it is guaranteed to do the job," Pooch insisted, hurt that the pair was downgrading what was his life's work these days. "Or your money back ..."
The two Asian men laughed slightly at this, though not because they were amused.
"Additionally," one said, "this isn't nearly enough for our purposes."
Pooch thought his ears needed cleaning. Before them were close to a ton of drugs and hundreds of gallons of liquor.
"Jeezus, how much do you guys want?" he asked them.
They laughed again and then led Pooch out the lower hatch door from the storage area. From here they stepped out onto the beach just below Pooch's home. It was now nighttime and the horizon was studded with stars.
"Take a look," one of the men ordered Pooch. "Out there."
Pooch was becoming very frightened now but felt it wise to go along with these two.
He squinted his inebriated eyes to the far horizon, and sure enough he could see first one, then two, then three, then a half dozen ships' lights blinking through the early evening haze. Even with his poor eyesight he could see the vessels were massive. The dark silhouettes of huge guns were also quite apparent.
Now a chill ran down Pooch's spine and up again. The Asian men. Their red braided collars. Their brash behavior. And now the huge warships anchored offshore. All these things combined to make his worst fear come true. Just as he'd suspected, the two men were from the hated much-feared Asian Mercenary Cult.
He turned back to the men to see one was now brandishing a razor blade.
"Your puny collection is far too small for us," the man said with a sinister grin. "But we will take it anyway."
Pooch could hardly speak at this point. "Take it, yes," he stuttered. "For free. As a gift. From me ..."
"You're very kind, old man," the razor-toting stranger said. "But not kind enough ..."
In the flick of his wrist, the men slashed a hole in Pooch's neck just an inch above the jugular. Pooch bellowed, but his cry was cut short when the man savagely cut him again across his right cheek and then again above the left eye.
The wounds were ghastly and very bloody—and that was the point. The men knocked Pooch to his feet and kicked him twice in the stomach. Then one pulled out a small walkie-talkie and was soon speaking to someone aboard the nearest battleship. The brief conversation ordered those aboard to come ashore to raid Pooch's underground vault for drugs and liquor.
This done, the men picked up Pooch and carried him kicking and screaming to the small motor launch they'd hidden beneath the reeds near his beach house. Fighting the growing waves, they quickly puttered to a point about 200 yards offshore. The launches from the lead battleship passed them now, on their way in to steal Pooch's supply. There were sneers and laughter as these men saw what their colleagues had done to Pooch—and realized what they were about to do.
At about 300 yards out, they slashed the writhing Pooch again, tearing long gashes in his arms, legs, and chest. None of these wounds would prove instantly fatal—that was the whole point. Pooch was screaming—he hated being on the water as much as he hated getting sliced—but his cries were drowned out by the sound of the small navy of motorboats moving in from the battleships toward shore.
Finally the two men grew tired of cutting Pooch; now it was time to go for the kill. Taking handfuls of the old man's blood, they leaned over and wrung it into the water. Then they waited. Not a minute passed before they saw the telltale fins of a fast-approaching school of hammerhead sharks.
At this point, they picked poor Pooch up by his hands and feet and sent him screaming into the water.
"Drugs kill, old man," one yelled at him, as the sharks began taking chunks from his body.
"And drinking is bad for your health," laughed the other as Pooch, what was left of him, was carried below the surface. Seconds later, only an oily slick of blood and a few pieces of ragged clothing remained.
Their entertainment over, the two men restarted their launch's engine and headed back to the closest battleship.
They still had much work to do tonight.
Excerpted from Wingman by Mack Maloney. Copyright © 1997 Mack Maloney. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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