My dreams are always surreal, but very rarely involve sex of any kind. So, when the image that inspired this story cropped up for a few seconds one night, it stood out in later recollection. I decided that it just might be worth fleshing out ... so to speak.
As he carried in his carry-out dinner, he immediately noticed the glow coming into the darkened kitchen from the living room of his condominium. Many people would not have been sure if they had left a light on, but his career demanded meticulous attention to detail. The fact that the alarm showed no signs of tampering was another bad omen.
Silently placing the boxes of Chinese food on the counter, he glanced at the phone. The line appeared to still be live; it hadn't been cut. As expected, the message light wasn't blinking. He had little contact with his family and the nature of his work discouraged socializing.
All this had taken scant seconds. He drew the gun from his shoulder holster and advanced to the doorway. Flashy home ambushes were vastly more common in fiction than reality, and any operative sent for assassination would be unlikely to be clumsy enough to make his presence so obvious ... but that was no reason not to be careful. He hadn't been in this kind of situation in years, but it was like riding a bicycle. The muscles remembered.
He quickly peeked around the corner, and jerked back to review what he'd glimpsed. One man, sitting casually in the recliner, a book held open on his lap. No obvious weapons or backup.
"I am unarmed, Mr. Harper," came the voice from the living room. "Please, come in. I am anxious to finally meet you." A rich, cultured baritone with a faint accent; Portugese, or maybe Spanish. Latin American, certainly. But it had been close to a decade since he'd been stationed in South America...
He stepped in cautiously, eyes roving, gun at the ready. After a rapid survey of the room, he moved to a secure point with a view of all entrances and adopted a classic two-handed Weaver stance, targeting the intruder's chest. "All right, you have sixty seconds to explain why you should live."
A slight, Mona-Lisa smile had appeared on the man's face. He was middle-aged; probably in his late forties but in excellent shape. Dark hair, slim moustache, a Latin cast to the skin; the suit he wore was impeccably styled. He seemed entirely at ease; either he was running an impressive bluff or else he was supremely confident. "My business will take rather longer than that, I fear."
"So far, you're not convincing me. Fifty seconds."
"I suppose introductions are in order. You, of course, are Stephen William Harper, former field operative and current intelligence analyst at the CIA. My name is Vinicius Filinto Henriques Ferreira. Does the name remind you of anything?"
"Nothing in particular. Thirty seconds."
"Perhaps you recall my neice, Juilia Carmina Melo Ferreira?"
A split second to look up the name in his memory, then he squeezed the trigger - the muscles never forgot. But nothing happened. It dawned on him that his hands were empty. The gun was gone. No ... he grabbed for the weight at his shoulder, and found the gun back in its holster. The handle felt cool as he yanked it out again, as if he hadn't been holding it at all. Alarmed, he re-targeted the man one-handed and tried to fire.
Again, his hand was empty. Thoroughly confused, he saw the gun, holster and all, sitting on the end table next to Vinicius. He began to feel actual nervousness. Whatever else was going on, Ferreira was clearly an amateur; professionals avoided such drama. A frightened operative was dangerous.
"I see you do remember. Excellent reflexes, by the way." The smile was full and condescending now. "They are, however, quite useless against me, as you can see."
Steve was understandably unnerved, but a former Army Ranger didn't give up easily, whatever the situation. He stalled for time. "What exactly is your game here?" he asked as he shifted his weight.
"My 'game' is perfectly..." He stopped short as Steve made his move, leaping forward and swinging the base of his hand in a short arc calculated to snap the man's neck. It failed to connect and he struggled to keep his balance. He numbly registered that he was back on the other side of the room, and Ferreira was well out of reach.
There was a pause as the two men regarded each other, displaying equally startled expressions. Then Ferreira burst out laughing.
Steve felt a flicker of panic this time, but he clamped down on the emotion with long-practiced surety and maintained control. Clearly there was something going on here he didn't understand. Until he could sort things out, he'd allow Ferreira to think he was in charge.
Cooly, he bit out, "That's a neat trick. How's it work?"
Ferreira, too, had regained his composure - though his eyes still twinkled. "Magic, of course," he stated matter-of-factly.
Hearing, out loud, the word that had been rattling in the back of his mind was oddly calming. Now Steve was sure it was an angle, a con. An impressive effect, to be sure, and he was definitely in trouble ... but that would make it even more valuable after he'd turned the tables, somehow. "Riiiiight..." he drawled.
"Your disbelief is quite understandable, even under the circumstances. Most 'mystics' are fools or madmen or charlatans. Only a few, a very few, know how to contact the ... entities that lie beyond this plane, and fewer still dare to face the terrible risks and costs of such contact. I myself would not have attempted it..." he trailed off, and favored Steve with an icy stare. Steve had been a ruthless handler for over seven years, and a soldier and 'wet-work' field operative for nine years before that. He still felt a thrill of anxiety at that stare.
" ... but you and your people... inspired me."
Again, stalling for time was called for. "It was nothing personal. I wasn't even..." Steve began.
"Spare me," Ferreira interrupted. "I know she meant nothing to you. But I am here to make it personal."
It had been a minor incident midway in Steve's career with the agency. He doubted he'd even thought of the operation three times since then, but now he wracked his brain for details. He'd been acting as station chief in Brazil at the time; he'd assigned one of his operatives seduce and turn a young secretary at the then-newly-formed ABIN (Brazil's current intelligence service). They'd been able to intercept and cut off a mole from an allied country with the information she'd turned over. There had been no way to hide where the tip had come from, however, so he'd transferred his agent to another country and cut the secretary - Julia Ferreira - loose.
"Do you know what happened to her after you monsters played with her heart? No, you never bothered to check. She fell into despair, still pining for your snake of an agent. Then she took to drugs, and came apart quickly. She was killed on the street by her pimp, less than a year after your little triumph." The bitterness and venom in his voice confirmed that Ferreira was definitely not going to be professional about this.
He paused for a moment, reflecting, sadness and regret writ large on his expressive face. "Julia had been very dear to me. I could not have loved her more had she been my own. When I returned from my travels she was gone, and my brother, her father, was a broken man."
His attention returned to the present, as he looked up at Steve. "I swore vengeance that day. It has taken years to prepare, years full of dark deeds and fearsome bargains. But I gained the power to find those who had wronged my blood, and give to them my wrath."
"I know you're angry," Steve said, placatingly. "But as I said, I wasn't personally involved. I never even met..."
Ferreira cut him off. "What is the phrase? 'The buck stops here?' You approved it, oversaw it. You are responsible."
"I'd think you'd be a lot more pissed off at the guy who actually carried out the..."
Another brusque interruption: "He has already been dealt with. Simply to get the attention of what are commonly called 'demons' requires ... certain sacrifices." He radiated grim satisfaction. Steve had always been good at reading people; it was a vital part of his job, and indeed a survival skill in his profession. Very few people, even pros, could lie to his face. Ferreira was not a pro; obviously a passionate man, he wore his heart on his sleeve.
Steve knew now that he wasn't lying. This man really believed what he was saying. Given what had already happened in the past few minutes, he couldn't be sure the stranger was actually insane. Of course, if he weren't, it might be worse...
Ferreira was speaking. "I give to you now my curse. You shall know what Julia knew, feel all she felt. You, too, shall betray your country for love." He smiled. "And I shall be the instrument of your downfall. The beings I have bargained with are far beyond the human. They do not fit in our little categories of 'good' or 'evil', they are truly incomprehensible. But I have met their price, and they are not without a sense of humor. Together we determined a punishment exactly tailored to your crime."
He gestured, and Steve felt a fleeting moment of dizziness; his vision blurred for an instant, then resharpened. It was almost too short to recognize. He stood for a few heartbeats, waiting for the other shoe to drop, but nothing else happened. He exhaled, only then realizing he'd been holding his breath.
.... There is more of this story ...