Zeus and Io - Books 1 and 2
Copyright 2012,2013 by Harry Carton
I woke up in the front seat of a Chevy. Me – Lt. Harvey Middleman, USN Ret., late of the SEALs, paranoid supreme, man with a head full of Master Chief Martinez – squinting at the sun streaming in through the dirt-streaked windows. I had not done anything of my usual pre-sleep routine – not one thing: not the shaving, not the careful packing of clothes, not the change of shoes, not the putting on of sweat pants and t-shirt, not even the checking of my perimeter to ensure safety. I looked over at Sonny, awake and panting quietly on the passenger side of the Chevy. The dog watched while I moved the gun from my lap to its hiding place, under the front seat. At least I didn't blow my nuts off while I slept.
The driver's side door complained with a squeak and a groan when I opened it and Sonny's nose was in my back as I exited the car. He ran to the garage door and looked back at me expectantly. I could almost see him crossing his legs and hopping in place. I opened the door and he ran out to the nearest bush and watered it thoroughly; I was more circumspect. I looked around, saw that my neighbors' houses were a long distance away, that nobody was in sight, and went around to the side of the garage, where I couldn't be seen, and watered a bush there.
Comanche, TX, was a nice peaceful town, full of nice peaceful Texans almost all of whom were packing heat. As an occasional resident, I viewed the town as one whose young adults had left for the big city. The outskirts of Comanche were even more deserted. My rented villa here consisted of a four room house, which I maintained in decent shape, and a detached garage, in which I stored all kinds of junk. Under and in the junk were all kinds of treasures, mostly money and some guns, but included were some pictures: one of Carolyn and me on our honeymoon, and one of my squad. I had been stopping here from time to time to establish that the place wasn't empty. Ostensibly, I worked on a pipeline for an unnamed oil and gas company, did business with some of the local establishments, and generally minded my own business. In other words, this was my fall back residence in case 'they' came after me.
And now, 'they' were after me. I wondered if 'they' had a picture of me.
Sonny and I got back into the car and headed downtown for some grub. I didn't keep much here, and certainly didn't have any dog chow. When I got to Carmella's Cantina I left Sonny in charge of our vehicle and went inside. The place was run by three sisters, all about 80 lbs overweight, all about 4'10" and which ever one was cooking could make anything taste good; I could never tell if any of them was the eponymous Carmella. It wasn't exactly TexMex food, and they were slow to adopt new items – they took a long time to add grits to their menu, even longer to add ranch and French salad dressings to their offering. It was the local brunch eatery where the hoi polloi of Comanche hung out.
I went up to the counter and asked for a plate of migas – the Mexican equivalent of scrambled eggs with whatever-you-got-in-the-kitchen – and a plastic bowl of water for my dog.
"Ay! Hyew got un perro! Where did hyew fin' heem? Let me esee!" She grabbed a plastic bowl from under the counter, filled it up and was out the door before I could make up a story about finding him. Outside, she headed straight for my car, and the black and white head that was hanging out the window. The other two sisters came to the front window to see what the fuss was about. Carmella #1 put the bowl on the pavement and opened the door. Sonny was out of the car like a shot, and was busy inspecting her feet and legs to make sure she wasn't from Mars. That accomplished, he inhaled the water like a camel coming in from the desert.
She stood over him, and when he was finished, she pointed a finger at him and came out with some number of Spanish words – could have been one long one, or ten mashed together, or something in between. Carmella #1 picked up the bowl and came inside. She rattled off a whole paragraph to her sisters. The sisters went off to their usual posts, and the other customers began to smile.
"You gon' and showed a dawg to Rosalea, son. You are 'bout to get a big talkin' to on how to treat a dawg proper. Rosalea practically runs the ASPCA when she ain't workin' here," said an old feller with a beat up cowboy hat and skin that had been roasted by the Texas sun until it looked like shoe leather.
"Yep. Don't matter how good you's treated him so far, you gonna hear about it all over," said another.
"Might as well take a seat. This could take a while," advised a third. They were all laughing, partly at me, and partly at the situation, which I'd guessed had happened before – maybe only twenty times.
It was nice to be in the company of regular folks. Folks I did not have to fear. Oh, these plain ol' country boys would shoot me in a minute if I was to do them or their kin harm, but they weren't out to get me. Whether they'd sell me out for a pile of gold was another story, and my faith in my fellow man didn't go that far. But they weren't out to get me.
As I sat down, Rosalea and her sister, Carmella #2(?), came out from the kitchen, with a basin of water and a big plate of migas. Both the water and the chow went outside, where Sonny was glad to start in on disposing of them. Carmella #3 brought out a smaller plate of migas for me. That, with a cup of coffee, started me in on disposing of them.
Rosalea came and leaned on the other side of the counter. "Meester, hyew got to give your perro more agua. Hyew unnerstan'? Agua. Water. Si? An' he needs to eat regular, too."
"Rosalea, I've been giving him plenty of water and food. But we had a long drive last night, and he didn't get dinner. So I came to town to get him some food. OK?"
"Si. Hyew should get heem clipped too. Hyew know, so he don' make any puppies with the ladies?" And she went on to give me the official story about how there were millions of unwanted puppies and everybody should not let their dogs make more, and etc.
I allowed how I would think about it, but I couldn't promise anything. But if HE wants to, then I surely would bring him in.
"Hokay," she was a little dejected but seemed used to it. "He a smart perro, too. I tol' heem to stay and not run away after he ees finish eatin'. He unnerstans' Spanish, I theenk, 'cause he eesn' goin' nowhere." I looked outside, and Sonny was back in the car, head hanging over the open window frame.
"Yup. He's pretty smart." I had been shoveling food in my mouth throughout her speech, and was about finished. I pulled out my billfold. "What do I owe you for the breakfast for me and my pooch. I have to go and get him some food, now."
"Oh, hyew jes' breeng heem aroun' to the Hay-S-P-C-Hay. Ees on the corner, tree blocks down. They get you fix up for food – good for heem food ... And is $7.75 for hyew, and nothin' for the perro."
I took out a twenty and told her the change was for the ASPCA.
Back in the car, I scratched Sonny behind the ears. "You made a friend, ol' man. Only she wants to have your balls clipped." He passed a little gas – maybe he really does understand what I'm saying. He had the good grace to look embarrassed.
I did indeed go to the Hay-S-P-C-Hay and got some of their premium dog food, several stainless steel bowls and a collar. Couldn't have some local Barney Fife decide Sonny was unowned and put him in the doggie hoosegow. Sonny didn't understand the collar – he'd gone without one all the years he'd been on the ranch and didn't see the need for one now. But he didn't have opposable thumbs, so he couldn't get the damn thing off. The local general store had enough food to satisfy my needs for the foreseeable future.
Back at the house, I recovered my laptop and duffles from the truck and brought them inside. On the laptop, I buzzed Io in the chat room and waited.
Her: Hello, Zeus. I hope you are well.
Me: Hiya, Io. Listen, can you hook me up with an anonymous internet connection? I'm ... well you can see where I am.
Her: Yes, I can do that easily. Wait one.
A pause, and my laptop screen flashed.
Her again: Done. We can talk freely now. I have scrambled our conversations also and I shall erase them from the game server when we are done.
Me: I don't understand how you can do that so fast.
Her: I anticipated the need to do that and had some applications ready ... Did you have any trouble at Thr.Tx?
Me: I was forewarned, thanks for that, so the potential trouble was not a problem. I don't want to impose, so tell me if I'm overloading you with requests. Could you watch the local papers up there for the next few days? I'm looking for an injury outside of town, to someone from Atlanta.
Her: I shall tell you when I can not handle your requests. Would checking the hospital and police records be helpful?
Me: That's too much. You must have other things to do, besides helping me.
Her: Honestly, I have got nothing else to fill my time. I am between assignments at the moment, working on my backlog of self-assigned tasks. That is why I am in DCQ so often. I enjoy smashing orcs. So you will be saving some poor orc's life by giving me something else to do.
Me: Well, OK then. The hospital and police would probably be better than the newspapers.
Her: I assume that Team Alpha is now down to three investigators?
Me: Investigators? That's a laugh. They made so many rudimentary mistakes in the few moments I was watching them. They're more like the Keystone Cops.
Her: I do not recognize that reference.
Me: Sorry. It was an old time movie group that bumbled along. I saw them on TV when I was growing up.
Her: It is not a problem. I just scanned the Keystone Cops online. So, "the mistakes they made happened after a great deal of energy and activity, or there was a lack of coordination among the members of the group." That's from Wikipedia.
Me: You continue to amaze me, Io. Sometimes I think you're superhuman.
Her: I count it as a good day when I achieve human status.
Me: LOL. How are things in Minn? Did you get moved?
Her: That is in progress. I do not expect any problems.
Me: Well, good luck with that. Listen, I should go. I have to terminate my existence as Harvey Middleman. I made the mistake of renting that mobile home under my real name, so it has to die now. They can find that out too quickly. I guess I'm really Zeus now. No other real identity.
Her: All right. Alexander R. Hobart's papers and ID are waiting for you in Austin. His background is very complete, you can look him up on the internet. I will send you a detailed email with a summary of his life. It is not too different from Harvey Middleman's. He has a permanent address in Austin now.
Me: Oh. OK. I'm leaving now.poof~
Not wanting to leave my real identity with any sort of financial problems, I terminated the services he was using: electric, phone, cable, and sent a note to the ranch manager that I wouldn't be using the double wide after the end of that current month. I did a bit of electronic banking too, to pay the final bills. Thank goodness I didn't have more than a few hundred dollars in his bank account left, 'cause I couldn't retrieve that without leaving a trace. Well, maybe Io could do that, but it wasn't worth bothering her with small requests.
I wound up staring at the date in the corner of the bank's page, until my eyes lost focus: May 7.
May 17 was one year, eight months and fourteen days after we entered Afghanistan. And half a day later, I was standing by the left side of my humvee when there was a big splash of light, a big boom, and Martinez' brains were hitting me in the face. He took most of the damage that should have been mine. The pain he must have endured. At least it was fast – as if that mattered. He was dead. I was alive. If I'd told him to get on the other side of the humvee he'd be alive. His wife and child would have a Raoul to play with today.
Martinez' voice wasn't dead though. "Whoa there L.T. Who put you in charge of deciding who was gonna live and who was gonna die? OK, so you flash back to that damn IED. I sure wish we hadn't stopped where we did. But we did. Didn't they teach you anything in that damn Officer Training program? You can't go back. No do overs. You make the best call you can and what happens, happens.
"Yeah, my wife was busted up about it, and that lasted almost six months. But she's got another guy now, and he loves my daughter almost as good as I could have. Maybe better, 'cause he's not a f-ing SEAL who gets himself killed. Thank God my daughter won't remember too much about me, she was only three.
"It ain't your fault, L.T. Not even one chance in a million you should have called a different deployment."
"Bullshit, Master Chief. If I'd called it different, then it would have been my brains that splashed over the back of a humvee."
"How would that work? You gonna spend your time talking to a jeep's brain? Now I know you are crazy. No body wants to talk to a jeep."
For the millionth time I wondered about Lou Trezciewicz. He was in front of Martinez, and should have taken a bigger hit than even the M.C. But all he got was some shrapnel. I concentrated on the seconds between the explosion and when my lights went out. I could see Trezciewicz go down, then the Chief. The IED was more aft then I had thought.
A big light, a big boom, and then blackness.
Sonny's head on my thigh woke me up. I looked outside and it was almost dark. I'd spent the whole fucking day staring at a bank's website, one that had long since signed me out for inactivity. Were these episodes getting worse or better?
Lou Trezciewicz. He was always grousing about the P.T. Made me think of my promise to myself to get into shape. I looked outside at the thermometer: 93 degrees (F.) at 6:20. A cool evening, typical for Texas in July. It was May, of course, but...