X PROLOGUE

0. SLICK

The chill night air numbed his ears. He put his hands to them, as if to check that they hadn’t fallen off yet. Pins and needles assailed them. They were ears that had heard much over the years. The wind didn’t blow; it was just cold for no reason, cold because the city faced an ocean, the wind redacted as if it feared the man and what he was about to do. The cold echoed the block of ice his heart had become. He crossed the street at the corner of 15th and Corcoran in Dupont Circle, where brownstones luxurious on the inside were made close and impersonal on the outside. They loomed over him like the high shoulders of many tall men, judging him for what he was about to do. Looking up at the chalkboard sky, even through the smog of city light, he could still see a few stars, so distant and dispassionate of life and death on this tiny blue ball.
The man looked like that guy. He looked like some dude: just an inch below average height; stocky and bald with a neat goatee at the bottom of his brown, square-jawed face. He sported patent-leather loafers with rubber soles and boot-cut jeans. He had traded his customary black leather for a charcoal pea coat, the pockets of which protected his hands from November in Washington, DC. They were hands that needed to be deft and unencumbered by the cold if he was to be successful tonight.
No matter the outcome, he would never wear any of these clothes again.
Like the wool to his leather, he took care to replace his chesty military swagger with a shuffling huddle courtesy of the cold just as much as his tradecraft.
The city’s clustered architecture, like many east coast cities, made it friendly to the joggers and power-walkers he passed in their sweats and head warmers. About an hour ago the metro station a few blocks west had bled the masses onto the streets: white people, black people, Asians and Latinos. But that was then, and now the rush hour of commuters making their way from bus terminals, cabs and trains was mostly over. Just the occasional power-walker posed a threat as a future witness. Just the occasional jogger.
Before the night was over he would have to do some jogging of his own.

“Why are you here?” Kirksey said flatly.
Farooq X was confused. That was a question he should have been asking Kirksey.
“Here” was a smart split-level house in the luxurious and renowned Dupont Circle. The house’s exterior had aluminum siding uncommon for this neighborhood, not a brick to be seen. Before coming inside, X had counted the windows on the front and sides of the house, noting the dimensions of them without even thinking about it. The dining room he was sitting in had a window facing the street, and was interconnected with the kitchen. He had taken a peek down the hall opposite the kitchen and dining room on his way in, noting three broad doors that had to be bedrooms and a skinny one, probably a closet. He guessed there was probably another bedroom downstairs. X had been greeted at the door by an ill-mannered light-skinned brother. And here was Kirksey. He wondered what only two guys would need a four-bedroom safe house for.
X sat at the end of a long pink-flavored marble dining room table. Awaiting an answer to his question at the opposite end was Colonel Marcus Kirksey, the man who had approached X in a karaoke bar in Abernathy, New Africa almost a week ago. At six foot five, Kirksey was an immense, immensely ugly man with a grayish dark complexion, like black zombies in the movies, probably from too many hours spent in windowless rooms, plotting. The bags under his red, steady eyes that seemed to notice everything around him effortlessly were heavy and black.
“Well? Whatcha doin here, son?” Kirksey asked more emphatically. His vast body hadn’t moved an inch.
X threw his hands out in defeat. “I don’t know what you’re getting at. One minute I’m in a bar in Abernathy chillin with some coworkers, gettin my vodka & cranberry on. Next thing I know, here you come, materializing from out of nowhere like some intelligence genie, askin me do I feel like I got a greater destiny in the world. What’s that you said to me? ‘A world where I’m just takin muthafuckas out instead of watching terrorists tear our country apart.’”
“Probably not the weirdest encounter you ever had in a bar,” Kirksey said.
It took X a moment to realize that Kirksey, with an expression as changeless as a profile etched in the side of a mountain, had just cracked a good-natured gay joke.
“If you was anybody else I would’ve told you to fuck off,” X said. “Considering how much you seemed to know about me and what I do, I probably would’ve done worse.”
“Why didn’t you?” Kirksey asked.
“I see you around HQ sometimes,” X answered. “Everyone knows about The Colonel. You fought in the Independence War. Nobody knows what you do now. We just know you’re important.”
“So what did you think when I said what I said to you in that bar?” Kirksey asked.
X wanted to look out the window when he answered, but the blinds behind Kirksey closed out the autumn afternoon. He looked down at his hands, clasped on the table like Kirksey’s.
“I thought about Spearhead,” X said, feeling foolish. “I always thought it was a myth, y’know? A legend. But ‘takin muthafuckas out?’ I gotta admit, that made me think Spearhead might be real. I know how crazy that sounds, but you asked.”
Kirksey said, “So you figured Spearhead’s not real?”
“That’s what I thought,” X said. “Til I met you at the bar, anyway. I still don’t know for sure.”
Kirksey sat there peering at X for so long that he started to feel like he had failed some sort of test. Perhaps a psych test, like the ones MOI had administered during his initial training without his knowledge, to gauge whether recruits like himself were flowers that would wilt under pressure or bloodthirsty wolves who would jeopardize missions through naked bloodlust.
Finally, Kirksey said, “We’ve been watching you for a while, X. You were working the Knights of Mary Phagan and, without a single clue pushing you in the right direction, you figured them out. And you found out we have a mole. Neville told you to find that mole. And you did. He told you to follow that mole.”
“Yeah,” X agreed.
“But you had troubles,” Kirksey said. “Where’s the mole’s safe houses? Have you figured that part out yet?”
“No,” X admitted.
Kirksey said, “Then it’s a good thing I had my own people following you and your work.”
X furled his eyebrows. “What do you mean?”
“Every time you went after something in your investigation of Mary Phagan and couldn’t find the answer, we were there. You did good, but I’ve had my men backing you up. You’re only one man, after all. Wanna know where Freeman’s DC safe house is?”
X felt insulted. “Mr. Kirksey, I’ve spent the last two months trying to find that nigga’s safe houses. I know he’s got one in DC. I figured that out on my own. It was only gonna be a matter of time before I found it. And you tellin me you know where it’s at already?”
Kirksey gestured his bald black head toward the window behind him. “Look out that window, X. That’s where Freeman’s safe house is.”

And here he was.
The townhouses were old-school Washington, built in the nineteen-fifties. It was baroque and classical. That day, looking at the edifice through the blinds of the house across the street, that house that loomed, same as it ever was, across the street, all windows dark.
As if there really was no one in it.
Standing in the middle of the parking lot before the townhouses, X looked down at his pea coat’s top button, which housed a tiny camera that fed the video of whatever he did to Kirksey. He wondered what was the purpose of this stupid button camera if Kirksey could just pick up a damn Washington Post and read about X’s exploits there.
X felt a minor sense of OCD. Strapped to his left was a silenced Beretta Slimline 9mm that caressed his ribs.
Strapped to the right side of him was a silenced Heckler & Koch Semi-Automatic Gun. Just in case shit didn’t go as expected. The straps chafed like hell and, despite the pea coat, it was as cold as the night, a steely annoying reminder of what could go wrong.
You can do this, X told himself, marching toward Freeman’s front door. You can do this, you pussy. You’ve done this before. Quit hyping yourself up.
Had he needed a hype-man when he’d been Commander of the New African Army’s Fifty-Fourth Division Special Forces in the September War? Had he needed to become a goddamn Padawan learner when he had taken out the very White Supremacist who had tried to kill him less than a year ago?
No.
Absolutely not. He was a vessel of karma, fate’s executioner, and what he was about to do to Freeman was nothing less than
fucking
holy.

“What do you want from me?” X asked, standing with his hands held out in front of the blinds through which he had just seen Freeman scurry into his traitor’s hideout.
Kirksey said, “I should be asking you that question.”
X wondered if Kirksey was psychic. Or maybe he had initiated so many recruits that he could practically read their minds.
“The Freeman case is your baby. You’ve been trailing this muthafucka for the better part of a year, even before you knew who you were looking for “You got talents as rare as ESP,” Kirksey said. “You got a good nose, a sixth sense, but I don’t think you know it yet. Or maybe you don’t have enough faith in your hunches. You got the blood of a killer flowing through your veins, but you’ve rarely exercised that gift outside of open war. You’ve demonstrated over the past couple years that you can hunt your prey without necessarily killing it, which is what New Africa’s Ministry of Intelligence specializes in. Hunt the bastards down, and let politics or the brute force of others make the final decision based on the intelligence you’ve gleaned.” A journey without a destination. X felt like he was on the precipice of something huge. But discovering what that was would be on his own terms. On the brink of complete confession he steeled himself.
“Tell me what you’re talking about, sir,” X said. Let’s skip all the bullshit.
Kirksey said, “Spearhead is real.”
X pretended Kirksey’s statement didn’t chill him to the bone. His eyes barely wavered from Kirksey’s.
“Not bad,” Kirksey mumbled, grading a test X hadn’t known had even been administered.
“I’m the commander of Spearhead,” Kirksey said. “There’s no point playin’ around- we don’t officially exist on anyone’s radar. MOI, Army Intelligence 504, none of that. So we don’t actually have a name. But I like the Army slang, the titles and descriptions to each man’s job. Long-gunners. Shooters. Commanders. We’re a bunch of whitey-killin soldier boys anyway. Til you tell me you ain’t down, I’m Colonel Kirksey. Got me?”
X said, “I gotcha.”
“Most of what you hear about Spearhead is bullshit,” Kirksey said. “But we are the ones that get shit done, X. That bomb that blew up a Klan safe house in Seattle? That was us. So was the one that blew up that Black Robe Legion safe house. And shot that Grand Dragon in San Francisco.”
“Oh shit,” X said. “That was you?”
“That was us,” Kirksey said.
X reined in his surprise. “So what does Spearhead want with me?”
“I want you to join us,” Kirksey said. “I already told you why I feel you’re up to the job. But Spearhead’s got rules. There’s something you’ve got to do before you can join us.”

Freeman’s townhouse was the second one in a row of them. The first two were one-bedrooms: there was a one-bedroom stranger’s townhouse (which Kirksey had informed him belonged to a single twenty-nine year-old who worked from 9 am to 9 pm at a telemarketing firm, and it was 9:03 pm. There was, of course, Freeman’s one-bedroom next door, rent and bills payable to the bullshit Wachovia checking account of one Damian Bell. Next to that, the row of townhouses developed high shoulders, and kept them for the next eight doors down, as the rest were two-bedroom townhouses with two floors and a basement. The one next to “Damian Bell’s” housed a single white female with two small children who shared the other room, both upstairs.
He promised himself they wouldn’t wind up in his field of fire.
X walked to the side of the twenty-nine year-old’s townhouse and hid in the bush next to it. He pulled out of the pocket of his blue jeans his standard-issue Blackberry.
The Blackberry possessed all the normal applications he wanted, plus a few reserved for Intelligence Ministry employees according to the parameters of their jobs.
X selected an app simply entitled BUG_03, withdrew a crimson colored Samsung WEP 20, the smallest Bluetooth on the market, from his pocket. He positioned it in his ear and listened.

“Spearhead is primarily an assassination unit,” Kirksey explained. “We do other things, too. Your typical espionage, handling agents, information-gathering, disinformation, etcetera. Sometimes we handle cases of terrorism, and do some counter-terrorism, act as an extension of city SWAT or the Internal Security Department’s Hostage Rescue Team, and that’s part of the reason we have ranks. Sometimes we work with Army Intelligence Unit 504. We’ve been known to throw in our lot with the New African Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines as Special Ops soldiers. But we never reveal to the public what we really are. And keeping ranks and designations in line with New African military helps keep our cover while maintaining an amount of order with whoever we work with, and with what we do. I’m the commander, no matter what. We have a unit leader, a second-in-command, some special ops shooters, a couple of long-riflemen and some tech people, so we can liaise with whoever we work with, but still work on our own…especially for the assassination part. Spearhead is the only organization in the New African government with the authority to kill without consent, courtesy of the Prime Minister himself, and that’s why we’re so secret.
“It makes sense that Spearhead’s just an Intelligence Ministry rumor. We select our soldiers carefully, but not everyone passes the tests we give them, especially the one I’m about to give you. All applicants- I’m sorry, recruits; no one can apply for a unit that doesn’t exist- you’re all required to have some sort of experience as part of military special forces, and experience in the Ministry of Intelligence. That, coupled with daily military training and several courses in espionage, pretty much ensures Spearhead has men- and women- well-versed in both tactical warfare and espionage.”
“You mentioned tests,” X said. “What kind of tests?”
“There’s one big one,” Kirksey said, “and a bunch of little ones. You pass the big one, and the other tests’ll make you a shoe-in. You fail that one test- you can imagine what happens after that.”
“No more Colonel Kirksey,” X guessed.
“That’s right,” Colonel Kirksey said. “Any idiot could guess that’s how word of Spearhead got out. Some reject- maybe two or three, maybe more- probably talked about Spearhead when he couldn’t get in.”
“Seems to imply some kind of character defect ya’ll didn’t catch on to,” X said.
Kirksey’s attitude shifted ever so subtly from curt to stern. So the little fuck thought he had some balls on him.
“Be that as it may, talkin about Spearhead if you don’t get in’ll get you in trouble. We found out who one of the bastards was. He spent three years in federal prison, just for getting too loose with classified information while he was out drinkin with one of his coworkers. The other snitches, whoever they are, didn’t mete out too much information. Neither did the guy we caught, come to think of it. It’s bad enough, telling even one person about Spearhead. I’m guessing those guys didn’t reveal too much about Spearhead. Ninety percent of what you’ve heard about Spearhead is bullshit, I promise you. And it’s dumb as hell to tell even one coworker about Spearhead. The well-trained spies of the Intelligence Ministry can be about as secretive as gossiping church ladies. But whoever else snitched about Spearhead wasn’t dumb enough to reveal key information about us. You don’t run around spillin confidential information about an assassination unit without smartening up mid-sentence.
“I understand this isn’t a decision easily made, but we don’t have much time.” Colonel Kirksey looked at the gold Rolex on his left wrist, just short of the cuff of his fitted charcoal suit. “It’s 11:08 am. If you’re down, you’ll meet me here at eleven AM tomorrow. If you’re even one minute late, you’re out. If you know you’re out right now, save me a day and tell me now so I can have my team accomplish your test for you. I ain’t givin you a number to call, so if you don’t show up tomorrow, I’ll understand. You won’t get a second chance.”
Kirksey sat and stared at X for a while. Then he said, “You can show yourself out, X.” He looked at his watch again. “You got twenty-three hours and fifty minutes to make up your mind.”
Kirksey gave X a wan salute and began shuffling through some files in manila folders with a ballpoint pen balanced between his fingers, his eyes perusing the documents as if X had already left.
X did get up and leave the safe house. Striding down the front walkway, he turned his head to look one last time at the split-level. Window inserts lined the door through which he saw the eyes of the light-skinned black man, about the same age as X, who had let him in on his arrival. X wasn’t far enough from the door to keep from hearing the locks clasp and slide into place.
Climbing into the rented Malibu he had parked on the curb, X thought about everything Kirksey had just told him, as he would the rest of the night he knew he would spend in a Ramada Inn three minutes up the street. Instead of on a flight bound for Abernathy, the capitol of New Africa. He was a man who tried to avoid blindly following his gut, just like Kirksey had observed. That temporary doorman was going to become his teammate if his gut was correct. Colonel Mark Kirksey was going to be his boss.
Glancing at the townhouses retreating in his rearview mirror, X knew he didn’t need twenty-three hours and fifty minutes to make up his mind.
The next day saw the pretty boy opening the front door of the split-level X had departed twenty-three hours and forty-nine minutes ago. He was led to the same dining room he had talked to Kirksey in the day before. X sat in the same chair. Everything was the same as it had been the day before, yet the day itself and the decision that would be made in the course of it gave the ordinary a special little shine, like drinking at noon.
Without preamble, Kirksey said, “Four days ago you intercepted an e-mail sent to Freeman from an unknown source telling him to meet them at room 753 of the St. Regis Hotel on November seventh. In your report to your superior- Sam Neville- you showed proof that Freeman’s been supplying the Knights of Mary Phagan, the United States’ largest and most sophisticated sect of the Ku Klux Klan, with information including but not limited to the location of MOI’s Los Angeles safe house, the identity of one of our New York case officers and at least three of the American businesses we use as fronts. Correct?”
“Yessir,” said X.
“And based off the wording of previous e-mails between Freeman and his Mary Phagan contacts, what do you think this meeting’s going to be about?”
X said, “I think Freeman’s going to give the KKK the names and home addresses of no less than ten MOI case officers. Home addresses in New Africa, obviously. Our border control’s a fuckin joke, honestly, and it wouldn’t be hard for a group of Phaganites, with the kind of resources they have, to cross the border and start some sort of shit. These are case officers we’re talking about, so it’s hit or miss whether or not they could be caught at home.
“But the same doesn’t exactly go for their families.”
“Give me more,” Kirksey said. “Give me motivation.”
“I’ve been following the money,” X said. “Freeman’s got a bank account he thinks no one knows about. He opened it on September twenty-fifth of last year, the same month his e-mail and phone records show he began communication with the Knights of Mary Phagan. Over the past year he’s deposited a total of $338,721. It’s an American bank, and each deposit has always been huge. If he can put the money in a Swiss or Cayman bank account, perhaps there’s a way to show it going in, but not how much is actually in the account itself. Hell, the smallest deposit into that account is larger than any check the Intel Ministry’s ever cut me. And the same goes for him; I’ve seen his motivation. I think Freeman’s gonna meet the Phaganites because of the kind of power they wield. They’ve paid him far more for his services than any of the other Klans could, and I bet they didn’t even bat an eyelash at the cost. Sophistication? Mary Phagan’s got it in spades. They’re a perfect cross-section of American bigots. They got four million members nationwide ranging from poor white trash to middle Americans to lawyers, politicians and businessmen. It’s those heavy-hitters that got my attention, but especially the politicians. We ain’t talkin small-town mayors and city councilmen. It’s Phaganites in Senate Judiciary committees and higher-ups in America’s intelligence community I’m concerned about. It’s bad enough he’s planning on selling out so many of his own people, but he could’ve done that by dead drop, same as he’s been doing. But meeting his co-conspirators in person tells me something.”
“What does it tell you?” Kirksey asked disinterestedly, as if he already knew.
“It tells me he wants out,” X said. “Freeman’s an incognegro. We reserve that term for anybody that’s black but looks white, right? Because we turned Jim Crow on its ear and told the whiteys they could do whatever they want in our government as long as they can go to the Ancestry Bureau and claim at least 1/16th African heritage. Most of our cogs can claim a lot more than that, but Freeman’s as white as they come, right on the 1/16th line. And he’s an immigrant, too. Moved to New Africa in high school and joined our Air Force for a year after high school, but only because he had to. Only because New Africa throws every able-bodied black man in the military for a year. He could’ve dodged it like a lot of guys do. Could’ve moved back to America for a year and came back. But he didn’t, and I guess that’s part of the reason MOI hired him. But he’s not one of us, and he’s been proving it for the past year or so.
“He’s on thin ice already, being an émigré New African incognegro working for MOI. He knows he can’t get away with this shit much longer. I think he’s going to try for diplomatic immunity through Mary Phagan’s higher-ups, guys that can pull strings, on the premise that he’ll give them even more intel than just ten of our guys.
“Not to imply ten guys isn’t a lot,” X said when Kirksey looked at him crazy.
Kirksey said, “That’s exactly what we were thinking.”
Kirksey said, “Your final test for entrance into Spearhead is to eliminate Freeman before he meets his Klan contacts three days from now. Accept or decline?”
X said, “Accept.”
Kirksey asked if he was sure.
“By ‘eliminate,’” X said, “you do mean-“
“Free his soul from his muthafuckin body,” Kirksey stated.
“Accept.”
X was a true believer. He honest-to-God couldn’t understand why anyone would have a problem with taking care of an active threat like Freeman. He didn’t understand the why of it, just that those people existed. X wondered if this was the way they always did it, snatching up Ministry of Intelligence personnel, probably with military experience. But pulling the trigger on someone who’s looking dead at you, the preparation involved in taking out just one guy, X thought. A different thing from just shootin some guy with a whole platoon of other men backing you up. You have to organize and carry out nothing less than cold-blooded murder all by your lonesome.
But X was sure.
Kirksey said, “These are the stipulations:
“You’re going to get anything associated with Freeman out of that apartment, or else destroy any information in Freeman’s safe house that can be traced back to us. As far as the cops are concerned, some phantom named Damian Bell had died or was murdered, whatever the cause of death. You have my permission to accomplish that in any way as you see fit, as long as it’s before he meets with the Phaganites. Deal?”
“Deal.”
“You got thirty-six hours. You best get crackin, boy.”

X heard, “Come on, come on.” X heard the sharp clapping of loafers on a wood floor, steady as a metronome as Freeman strode back and forth through “Damian Bell’s” townhouse.
X heard: “Dammit.”
And he heard something flat and plastic slap something flat and plastic. Freeman had closed his cell phone. Grumbled curses accompanied Freeman’s nervous pacing.

The day before yesterday, X procured from Cintas a uniform to mark him as a member of the townhouses’ maintenance crew. The townhouses’ property manager didn’t know X had things he needed to do in “Damian Bell’s” residence, but X was dressed for the part, and could bullshit his way through the rest if he was spotted.
The screen door at “Damian Bell’s” patio was no problem. The dumb bastard hadn’t bothered locking it.
From X’s toolbox he withdrew a handle magnet. He held the magnet close, so close to the handle of the door, just to the left of it…
And moved it quickly, decisively to the right. He heard the latch open. He pulled the handle. The townhouse was open to him. Once inside, X made a beeline for the front door. Freeman was an incognegro with white-boy blond hair long enough to sacrifice a strand in the name of secrecy. A hair lay on the neck of the doorknob. The wind currents accompanying X as he ransacked the man’s house would surely blow it down, sooner or later. He plucked it up, observed it as if it shed some new light into who he was hunting. It did, actually. As long as the Department of Ancestry could prove you were 1/16th black, you were allowed to work for the government. All other applicants need not apply. And incognegroes were essential in X’s line of work. But a lot of people didn’t trust them, a mistrust based solely on the fact that they looked just like the enemy. X wasn’t like that. He knew how valuable they could be. Hell, he even owed his life to one, back in the days of the September War. Freeman was an affront to every incognegro in New Africa and, moreover, to every cog in MOI who was crucial in defending the country of X’s birth. X sagely placed the hair strand Freeman used to protect his fake residence from interlopers on the floor by the door.
X spent the next four hours wreaking havoc in Freeman’s safe house. X went through all of the clothes (of which there was very little) in his dresser and closet, tapping the heels of loafers, listening for the telltale hollow that would house a bug or a slick. He opened up smoke detectors. Bug-free. He unscrewed ventilation grilles. No cameras or caches. At the end of his search he decided that Freeman was either too lazy to cover his ass by bugging the place or he was a master spy who had hidden the bug or the camera somewhere a junior field officer spending four hours delicately ransacking the place wouldn’t find. Perhaps the walls.
X ran his hands over the wall, looking for inconsistencies. They ended up being in the usual apartment-ravaged places. Wide lumps were outlined from an era devoid of doorstoppers. If Freeman was clever enough to plant bugs in the townhouse walls at those specific points, there was nothing X could do about it.
But Freeman wasn’t that clever, X realized. Aside from the bugs and other forms of surveillance, he was looking for slicks, for the little hiding places spies kept their neat spy shit in case it all came hitting the fan.
The first slick he found was in so obvious a place that Freeman may as well have kept the information sitting out on the coffee table.
X went from door to door within the confines of Freeman’s townhouse. He couldn’t help but grin every time he knocked on and opened the bathroom or bedroom door, like Avon, like a girl scout, like a Jehovah’s Witness.
And so it was that X, after patting down the bathroom door, took from his toolbox a black and red Black and Decker power drill equipped with a Phillips head bit. He loosened the screws in the door and propped it up on the threshold. He didn’t even have to run his hand along the corpse of where that door had been to find his treasure. Beneath the brass tabs where the door had been screwed in was an almost perfect square crudely cut into the white wood, the lines jagged and beige.
X dug his index finger into a wedge at the top of the square, which was about as big as his Blackberry.
Pulling the jigsaw piece away, a sandwich bag full of cards and a round, flat little plastic bug dropped toward the floor. X caught them midway through its descent. He held the baggie in the fingers of his right hand while he looked at the bug in his left palm for a while. It felt so odd. He had known Freeman was a double agent, but here was the solid evidence of his treachery in X’s hands. A bug to protect Freeman from his own comrades. And the baggie: driver’s licenses in five different names in five of those fifty United States. Passports in three of those names.
The second slick X found was just above the wall of Freeman’s basement. The walls were concrete, but a thorough search of the six-inch tall ring of insulation lining the area between the concrete and the ceiling revealed one particular area where the insulation seemed to have been removed and stuffed back into place.
He removed the insulation and found a shoe box. X shook his head in disapproval.
He opened the big Nike sneaker box.
Ah. Now he gets his dick wet.
Guns.
Magnum .357. 9mm Glock. Silencers for both.
He also found a black case that housed an AK-47.
And there was still another shoebox behind that one. He opened it up and found it full of documents. He smiled. Oh, I’m keepin these, he thought.
{NOTE: the contents of the 3rd box (something to do with Scott Smith) should be revealed much later, Lost-style, study Lost to find out when}
There was one last shoebox. He opened it up and looked inside. Grenades.
The third slick was the hardest to find, but Freeman had gotten so sloppy that it had been found just as easily as the other two.
X, in Freeman’s bedroom, had checked Freeman’s cigar box, where amateurs always kept their secrets, stronghold of the soccer dad. He turned the cigar box upside-down on Freeman’s bed, emptying its contents. A pair of tiny keys to a padlock, a gram of White Widow he was tempted to pocket, a pack of gum, assorted humdrummery. No pay dirt. Just dirt.
X put the items back in the cigar box and placed it exactly where he had found it. Then he stood there and thought.
And thought some more.
X took a mental picture of the bed, sheets made to military perfection. Freeman had spent a peaceful year in the military, as was required of every fit New African 18-25-year-old male. His military career, while short and uneventful, made his betrayal all the more repugnant.
X stripped the mattress, flipped it and found what he was looking for.
Tucked into the middle of the mattress’s blue background and white daffodils was a thin foot-long seam as tight as a surgery wound wound up in blue thread.
X, well-prepared as he was, didn’t happen to have a needle and thread handy. Sharp as his mind was, the pattern in the seam was random in certain places. The best he could do was to take a picture with his Blackberry and sew the same pattern using the thread that was already present. Oddly enough, the boy who saw everything remembered his grandmother’s long hours at the sewing machine. He smiled. Every little bit helped.
X replaced the sheets and blankets to perfection. Fuck you, Freeman, he thought. I was in the military too.
When the bed looked perfect, X wasted no time pulling out one of the drawers in Freeman’s dresser and setting it on the bed. He placed the clothes he had folded neatly after going through the pockets earlier just beside the drawer. There were few; MOI employees were well-paid, but their paychecks weren’t bountiful enough to supplant the wardrobes of their covers. Where Freeman was lacking in tradecraft, he compensated in financial alacrity. The money in his secret bank account showed automatic withdrawals only for the $900 rent on his townhouse. He had personally withdrawn only $835, an amount that corresponded perfectly with two round-trip Abernathy-DC ticket stubs X had found shredded at the bottom of the garbage can in the kitchen.
He turned the empty drawer upside down, tossed it back on the bed, replaced the clothes in the drawer exactly the way they had been and put the drawer back in the dresser. He pulled out the drawer beside it, put the clothes on the bed, turned the empty drawer upside down, knocked on it just to be sure, replaced the clothes in the drawer, shut the drawer. He pulled out the drawer beside it, put the clothes on the bed, turned the empty drawer upside down, knocked on the bottom of it and replaced the clothes and the drawer. He opened the drawer below that one.
Repeat.
He opened the drawer beside that one.
Repeat.
He opened the drawer below that one.
He knew where Captain Obvious’s next slick was.
But he had to be sure.
Repeat.
Except he didn’t have to knock on the drawer, or feel it up like a prom night date.
X turned the sock and underwear drawer upside down. A 17”x33” rectangle of plywood dropped to the bed, accompanied by a pile of papers that fluttered a bit from the fall.
X looked at the papers. They showed Klan connections to the company THAT IS A SUBSIDIARY OR WILL BECOME A COMPANY THAT WILL BECOME A SUBSIDIARY OF THE COMPANY INVOLVED IN THE RNA SABOTAGE. Interesting. He would definitely be coming back for this later.
He packed everything back where it belonged. He did a quick run-through of the entire townhouse. Everything seemed to be in its right place.
Almost everything.
X went to the front door and kneeled to search the tile floor. He found his quarry.
X replaced the hair strand ever-so-delicately on the neck of the doorknob. He stood and backed away from it as cautiously as if it were a bomb, lest he should send it sailing right back down to the floor again. Once he made it to the patio door, he opened it carefully and extricated himself, sliding the door closed just as warily. He used the handle magnet to lock the door back up. It took a long time, but it worked. He pulled the handle just to be sure. It was locked. He put his magnet back in his toolbox and slid the screen door shut.
X took a walk up the street to his rented Malibu and made to drive off.
After turning the ignition, X looked in his rearview mirror at Freeman’s townhouse, and remembered what his father had said so sardonically, almost sarcastically, when X had told him he had been inducted into the Ministry of Intelligence.
“Looks like lil Rookie’s gettin called up to the big leagues.”
X looked at that townhouse.
You ain’t never lied, Daddy.
He drove off.

Freeman’s phone rang.
Paydirt.
Freeman said, “Hello?”
Silence.
“Well where the fuck are you?”
Silence.
“No, it’s not some kind of power-play. And fuck you very much for saying so, asshole, I-”
Silence.
“No, this is bullshit, Red!”
Red. Who are you?
“This is bullshit! You know how loyal I’ve been to you? I gave you-” he lowered his voice dramatically, as if X wouldn’t be able to hear him anyway- “I gave you Arthurs, I gave you the whole LA safehouse for God’s sake…so don’t you talk to me about loyalty.”
Silence.
“Really? Really? You know what- okay. Where are you right now?”
Silence.
“Are you fuckin kidding me?”
Silence.
“Well yes, do come in, most distinguished guests,” Freeman said sarcastically. A plastic slap of the cell phone closing. “Assholes,” Freeman muttered.
X heard Freeman’s loafers retreat across the hardwood floor, the sound of the front door’s deadbolt snapping open.
X wondered what the hell was going on. Freeman’s last little sarcastic comment gave him a clue, but he couldn’t quite believe what was almost in front of his face.
Freeman’s street was a quiet one, accentuating the smooth sound of a six-cylinder engine softly growing louder and louder. Peeking through the bushes, he saw a cream-colored Jaguar XK glide down the sleepy street, past the very house from which he had been given this mission. The Jag braked and eased into the townhouse parking lot and parked in a handicap space just a few feet from Freeman’s front door.
Into the dark night from the light car dimly-lit by the lot’s security lights stepped two white men wearing mossy oak camouflage coats. The driver, at 6’5", was immense with beer-gut and muscle X couldn’t help but notice even through the coat. His long black hair was tied back into a ponytail that rode the collar of his coat. His small eyes, behind thick little glasses, were deep-set into his beefy face, and looked more cruel than his thin slit of a mouth.
The other guy was a ginger of average height with clear blue eyes, even in the dark. His head was too big for what X guessed was a rangy body. Rough skin was taut around a jaw that could take a punch. His temples were dished in under his plain-jane gray baseball cap. X knew this man as Red.
He knew both men, actually. The big guy with the ponytail was Jimmy Scanlon, and he was no one to fuck with. Scanlon was the Grand Wizard of The Knights Of Mary Phagan’s DC branch. The Knights of Mary Phagan had chapters in each of the forty-eight contiguous United States of America, but Washington, DC was no exception. It was one of the most important Ku Klux Klan cells in America, in the most influential city in the land…commanded by this bumpkin. Scanlon was a high school dropout who had gone on to earn his GED and, three years after that, his associate’s degree in political science from an online university.
Not that there was anything wrong with that. His own father’s mentor had been a high school dropout educated predominantly in prison, yet the man was known to this day, even to those who opposed his beliefs, as one of the preeminent intellectuals of the twentieth century.
But fucking Scanlon? X had few words to describe him. The most prominent that came to mind was douchebag. He was a daddy’s boy Klansman who had rodden his pop’s coattails to the top.
However, in that regard, there were many in the Intel Ministry who had said the same of X. He had earned his stripes, all the way…but he couldn’t ignore the fact that his father had known, worked with or saved the lives of men and women who had necessitated his rise to the very moment he now crouched in, outside a traitor’s townhouse, behind a bush.
Red was a different matter. He was Scanlon’s Grand Dragon, his second-in-command. He had been a poor kid from South Carolina who had grown up around uncles and parents of friends who dressed themselves in white bed sheets at night and held meetings in the woods wearing said bed sheets to piss and moan about the niggers and kykes taking over the world while doing nothing to stop them. Admission to Duke University had been admission to pursue his chosen major in economics…it had admitted him into late-night drinking sessions with men who eventually revealed themselves members of the Ku Klux Klan, who dominated college campuses the country over. And the rest was history.
But what the hell are you doing here? X wondered. He had known Freeman would eventually meet with emissaries of the Knights of Mary Phagan. He had suspected that, and had planned to do what he was about to do to Freeman before Freeman could ever get to that point. But it seemed that Freeman and his cohorts were at that point already.
So what are you going to do about it?

“What the fuck took you so long?” Freeman asked as the white men entered his “home”. He locked the deadbolt behind them.
“We had some other business that needed taking care of,” Red said. {note: this is IMPORTANT for later!}
Freeman looked Red dead in the eye.
“You got a problem, chief?” Red asked amicably.
“Yeah, I got a problem,” Freeman said. He looked directly at Scanlon. “You were supposed to come alone.”
“Red follows me wherever I go,” Scanlon said lasciviously. “It’s like Lil Bo Peep. He’s been with me the other couple times we’ve met, I didn’t think it’d be a problem.”
“Yeah, well, it is a problem,” Freeman said. “We made a deal, and bringing your crony here was not part of the deal.”
“Well, what do you expect me to do?” Scanlon said. “Throw him out on his ass? I’m his ride! What do you want me to do, make him wait in the car like a dog? In the cold?”
Freeman chuckled a little.
“What’s so funny?” Red asked.
Freeman’s chuckling died down, then he blurted, “You guys’re dicks, man! Let’s talk some business.”
Clomping of boots, clacking of loafers. Bodies fell into a couch and a recliner.
“I don’t think I got time for bullshit so let’s get right down to business,” Freeman said. “I want out.”
“Out of what?” a nasal man asked. That would be Red.
“Out of the game,” Freeman said.
Red looked hurt. He held his hands out. “So what you’re saying is you don’t want to deal with us anymore.”
“No, that’s not what I’m saying at all,” Freeman said.
“Good,” said Scanlon. “Because that would not be a good move for you.”
“Oh, fuck you, Scanlon,” Freeman said. “Save the threats for someone who’s scared of you. I got the goods on you and everyone above you, so don’t try and play me like that. And anyway, I want out of the whole thing; I don’t want to get away from you guys. I want to get away from those guys. I want diplomatic immunity.”
“Are you fuckin crazy, man?” Red laughed. “We’re the Klan, not the CIA! What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about all those heavy contacts you guys got in the government. In the CIA. The NSA. Don’t you play me for a fool- I know you guys’ve got Larry Thomas in your pocket. He’s on the Senate Intelligence Committee. And he’s a card-carrying member of the Knights of Mary Phagan. He’s from Illinois. The other Senator from Illinois is being courted by Mary Phagan and, from what I hear, those two are very good friends, part of the reason you guys are talking to him in the first place. So I want immunity, dammit. All the intel I’ve given you doesn’t even scratch the surface. You can have it all. More importantly, the US can have it all. How do you think your friends in the CIA and the NSA would feel about getting a hell of a lot more information on a foreign intelligence agency that frequently operates within the US’s borders? That’s how careers get made, gentlemen. And I haven’t even mentioned what I know about our special little friend in Mary Phagan.” He smiled. “Diplomatic immunity. I don’t care how you make it happen. Just do it.”
“Okay,” Scanlon said. "Okay. Even if we could make that happen, those guys don’t have enough info right now to guarantee they could…‘hook you up.’ You give us one good thing to set the ball rolling, and I’ll bet my bottom dollar they’ll grant you immunity.”
“The identity of the Grand Dragon of The Knights of Mary Phagan’s not enough,” Freeman said sarcastically.
“We can discredit that,” Red said. “Give us more.”
Freeman called Red a smart-ass and said, “You tell them I can give them”- he whispered, as if he knew someone was listening, as if X couldn’t hear him whisper- “I can give them the headquarters of New Africa’s Intelligence Ministry.”

Fuck this, X thought. He was crouched just outside Freeman’s living room window. He had heard everything that had been discussed in duplicate, in his bluetooth and, occasionally, through the window pane.
He withdrew from the inside of his coat the KWA M11 that had been leaning against his ribs in a holster the past couple hours. From the pocket of his pea coat he took out a silencer, and spun it into the barrel of the rifle. He released the safety. He listened.
“Freeman,” Scanlon said, “we already know where New Africa’s Intelligence Ministry is. Everyone knows where-”

“No they don’t,” Freeman said. “That’s where the real intel’s at. You can…you can betray New Africa for so long before they catch up to you. But none of you guys know the real location of the Ministry of Intelligence. But I can tell you.”
Scanlon leaned forward on the couch to say something, his finger pointing skyward-
-and, accompanied by the brief sound of rushing wind and shattering glass, Scanlon’s head burst into a cloud of red particles.
Red and Freeman looked this way and that as quickly as scattering roaches, Red reaching inside his jacket-
-before Red’s head exploded into a crimson gush of blood-covered brains and effluvia, his hat hopping off a head that had become a massacre in less than a second, plopping wetly to the floor, his slack body relaxing into Freeman’s couch.

X pointed the barrel of his silenced KWA M11 at the shadow of Al Freeman through the crippled venetian blinds.
He had taken a risk shooting at shadows barely visible through the blinds, using string-holes on their periphery to calculate the bastards’ locations.
But Freeman got up and ran.
X was faster.

Oh my God! is what Freeman thought as he made a dash for the front door. Oh my God I’m too late they found out!
He bolted down the hall, unlocked the door, opened it-
-and was greeted by the business end of a silenced AK-47, and the dark face beyond.
“Go back inside,” X said.
Freeman stared at the gun, slack-jawed.
“NOW,” X snapped.
Instant compliance. Freeman looked back into his townhouse, his hands inexplicably in the air, and backed into it, at the behest of X’s gun.
“What do you want from me?” Freeman asked after X had closed the door behind him with his foot.
“I wanna know why,” X said. “I understand that last little thing you was talkin about. Tradin intel for money? I get that. But I don’t understand why you chose them. The fuckin KKK. When you could’ve had the CIA right from the get-go. The NSA. Larry Thomas and his subcommittee. Why them? Why the Klan?”
Freeman stared at X. “Because all my intel was valuable to them, that’s why. I’ve had plenty of intel for the MOI. Valuable intel. And they never-”
“Yeah whatever don’t care anymore,” X said, and shot Freeman twice in the chest.
X looked at Freeman for a while, because that’s what you’re supposed to do after you shoot someone. He waited for some special feeling or insight. He saw only a traitor who had fallen off his couch and was bleeding out on his own floor, choking on the blood that flooded his lungs.
X searched his heart for sympathy and found none. He shot Freeman in the side of his face.
He still felt nothing.
Except the need to ransack Freeman’s apartment.
X went wild. He “found” the guns. He “found” the passports.
And now the mattress.
X pulled a Bowie knife out of his belt. He flipped the mattress and cut right along the seam he had re-sewn. He dug carefully into the fluffiness through the hard, sharp springs until he found what he was looking for, paper bending against his knuckles.
X pulled from the overturned mattress a manilla envelope. He unclasped it, and dumped the contents onto Freeman’s dresser.
Bank statements…
But not for Freeman.
X grinned. Looks like Christmas just came a little early for Farooq X, he thought sardonically.
X slipped the contents of the envelope back where it belonged and slipped the envelope itself into the darkness within his pea coat.
X went to the front door and peeked outside. There was no one around. He went to the patio door, slid it open, looked outside. Nothing.
X left the patio door open as he plucked from the inside of his coat one of the three grenades he had just retrieved from Freeman’s basement stash.
He pulled the pin and tossed it right next to what was left of Freeman’s face; he ran for the patio door, closed it and ran across Freeman’s back lawn.
He was on the sidewalk, halfway down the block when Freeman’s townhouse exploded.

Colonel Marcus Kirksey stood in front of a window in a bedroom on the second story of the safe house. The blinds were closed but for one slit he’d left open at eye level. He had a can of Diet Mountain Dew in his hand.
He watched the black outline of a man dart across Freeman’s back yard and disappear behind the garage of a nearby house. Freeman’s townhouse erupted into a maelstrom of fire that blew out the windows and the patio door, and sent the front door sailing into a nearby Jaguar. {note: park the Jag right by the door, using a handicap sign}
Kirksey stood there a while, admiring the carnage, letting the caffeine in his soda do its thing. He would need it for all the paperwork he was going to have to do on the flight back to Abernathy, and all the haranguing to be done in the morning.
Perry X had been the man to impart his wisdom concerning the importance of caffeine. It sharpened one’s synapses and, if consumed correctly, one could sleep for an hour or two right after drinking it and wake up fully refreshed.
Kirksey, unlike Perry, found the taste of coffee repulsive; soda suited him just fine. But the habit Perry had taught him had served him well over the decades and, thousands of gallons of soda later, tonight was no different.
He heard sirens in the distance as he watched the initial explosion batten itself down to a blaze that licked the cold night from windows, neighbors dressed in comfortable clothes in the parking lot gawking.
The door behind Kirksey opened, admitting no light; the entire house was dark but for a dull, golden glow that accentuated Kirksey’s features through the blinds. A man walked across the plush carpet and stopped just beside Kirksey. He looked through the blinds with Kirksey, he was only an inch shorter than his boss.
“How’d he do?” Carl Cross asked.
“You see a fire, don’t you?” Col. Mark Kirksey responded.
“No collateral?” Cross asked.
Kirksey said, “You see that white girl with the black t-shirt and the red pajama pants? The one with the kid in her arm and another little kid right next to her? And that shirtless white guy in the white basketball shorts? That’s our collateral damage.”
“Our damage,” Cross said. “So it’s official then?”
The Colonel said, “Even despite that little trick we laid on him at the end, he did his thing. He didn’t know the Phaganites would change the date and location of their next meeting with Freeman. Freeman didn’t even know. But that boy still performed admirably. It’s official.”

X PROLOGUE

StanCornerstone

Joined January 2013

  • Artist
    Notes

Artist's Description

This is the prologue to “X”. Basically what “X” is is an alternate timeline type of thing. In the 1960s and 70s black folks, instead of gravitating toward the Civil Rights movement’s way of achieving freedom, followed the ideals of the Black Panthers, The Nation of Islam and other more radical groups by lobbying for their own country and, through various geopolitical maneuvering, mostly involving African countries making deals with NATO countries to trade resources for African-American freedom, achieved just that: our own country, the Republic of New Africa.As this is a rough draft, the Republic of New Africa occupies half of Georgia, a state I used to live in. Coming drafts will place them in someplace a bit more realistic, perhaps a portion of Texas.
Anyway, this story is set in the present. Farooq X, its protagonist, is a spy for New Africa who will help illuminate this world, as well as the circumstances and ideologies that differentiate this world from ours, and how they relate to ours.

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