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Rogue Agent: Chapter 3
THREE

Killer McCoy was lying in bed, an easy smile spread from ear to ear as he quietly sighed with contentment. He would have to get up soon. He had a weekend's worth of videos to double check once he got into the office, plus the new interns would be starting their work with him later that day. But for the moment, Killer just wanted to feel the warm softness of the sheets, listen to the rain pattering on the window, and meditate on the changes that had taken place in his life over the past twelve months. He watched silently for a while as the diffused daylight slowly seeped through the wood-slatted window blinds of his bedroom, the grey light melding with grey paint like two lovers comfortable in one another's presence.

The analogy made him grin even wider.

It wasn't long before the stillness was broken by the pitter-patter of six tiny feet shuffling down the hallway. From the living room, he could hear Matthew whispering something to Wolfie II and the Huskie's tags jingling in response. It wouldn't be long now before the TV was blaring Spongebob Squarepants. Carefully, so as not to disturb the - Killer snuck a glance under the sheet - yep, still naked woman sleeping beside him, he slipped out from the covers, stretched, and grabbed his bathrobe off the back of the door before heading out to check on his son.

"Morning, Matt."

The child's face lit up at the sound of his voice. "Uncle Killer!" he exclaimed, "look what me and Wolfie made for my guys out of Lego bricks!"

Killer smiled at the oddly-shaped blob of plastic blocks. "That's neat, buddy. Why don't you show me what it does while we make breakfast?"

"Okay!" Matthew scrambled behind Killer into the adjoining kitchen, his creation in one hand and his favorite G.I. Joe in the other. "It's a special computer, like Mr. Hax has in his office at your work."

"Is it, now?"

"Yeah! See, this button here helps my guy win, and if he pulls this lever, a little couch pops out like at Mr. Baron's office, and if he pulls this lever..." Matthew dropped G.I. Joe as he worked to pop open a box on the side of his contraption. "A little pizza pops out! Cool, huh?"

Killer reached down to grab a skillet. "That's awesome, bud."

"Oh, oh!" Matthew was practically dancing now with excitement. "I almost forgot the best part! See, there's a phone, so my guy can be on Teamspeak and talk to Evanus and Sir!"

Killer had to chuckle at that. Matthew had gotten along very well with Deededee's kids the last time they'd all been together, around Christmas, but Evanus Prime had quickly become an idol to the younger boy when he took the time to show Matthew how to play Smash Bros. Varyar had even let the pair do a (heavily supervised) stream together on the condition the boys call him "Sir," which they had continued to do ever since.

"Do you think Evanus will come to my birthday party?"

"Probably." Killer cracked some eggs into a bowl and whisked them together with some milk and vanilla while he waited for the skillet to heat. "I'll check with Mr. Dee when I get to the office, just to be sure. Alright, now, can you bring me the bread?"

As the boy scampered over to the pantry cupboard, Killer let out a very soft sigh. It was hard to believe Matthew was about to turn seven years old. For seven long years, ever since that first frantic phone call when Candi told him she was carrying his child, Killer had done the best he could to be a real father to the boy. He worked hard to make sure they had a comfortable home, spent time teaching him to read and safely handle firearms, all the while hoping that someday Candi would finally confess to her family the identity of Matthew's father. He understood her initial trepidation - the Lysergs' mother had been the last daughter of the Hatfield family, and Granny Hatfield was not about to let the centuries-old feud with the McCoys go to rest in the history books. For seven years, Candi insisted they keep the secret; it would kill her grandmother to know that the girl she'd raised as her own after Candi and Lyserg's mother died had gone off and fallen in love with a McCoy.

As far as Killer was concerned, if the old biddy wanted to throw a temper tantrum over the lineage of the beautiful child he and Candi had been blessed with, she could go fuck herself. But Candi had a hold on him like no one he'd ever met. He could still see the soft sadness in those velvety violet eyes as he held her under the weeping willow at the edge of the Lyserg family ranch. "Please, Killer," she'd begged, "Granny won't be around much longer. Wait'll she passes. The rest of the family will come around after that, I know it, but not until then. And I couldn't bear to be cast out like that. Wait'll she goes, then I'll say yes."

Killer never could say no to her. Seven years he'd gone through hell for her, but he'd never say no. And then when Lyserg found out...

"This kind, Uncle Killer?"

Killer's thoughts snapped back to present as Matthew waved a loaf of wheat bread over his head.

"Yeah, that'll do, buddy. Bring it here. You think you can dip it and get it on the griddle?"

Killer smiled and scooped the boy up on a stool, showing him how to check the griddle's heat and flip the coated bread onto the hot surface, toasting it just right. They had just flipped the second batch when Matthew threw his tiny arms around Killer's chest in a hug.

"I love you, Uncle Killer."

"I love you, too, buddy." More than you can possibly know, he thought.

A third voice from behind them drawled gently, "Aw, now, my two favorite boys. I'm gettin' a lil' jealous standin' here all by myself..."

"Mommy!" Matthew clambered down and rushed over to his mother's waiting arms. "Uncle Killer's gonna see if Evanus can come to my birthday party!"

"Is he, now?" Candi's eyes twinkled at Killer from across the room as he turned back to finish breakfast. "And have you decided what you want for your birthday, my love?"

Killer froze mid-turn as he heard his son's childish voice reply, "I want Uncle Killer to be my real dad."

The mother said nothing, though Killer could feel her gaze upon him as he slowly resumed finishing breakfast. "Go wash up, bud," he called over his shoulder. "And pick up your toys; you left one of your guys over here."

Matthew picked up his guy from the floor and scampered out as Candi wrapped her arms around Killer's waist from behind and nuzzled his neck.

"I swear I had nothing to do with that," Killer mumbled as her nuzzles turned to tiny kisses. He flipped the last piece of toast onto the platter and turned the burners off as she pulled him around towards her.

Candi was still silent as he wrapped his arms around her, her violet eyes mining deeply into his very soul as if searching for something. After a moment, he kissed her gently on the forehead. "What's on your mind?"

"I was just thinking..." She looked away for a moment toward where Matthew had gone, and when she looked back again, her eyes were full of regret. "Maybe we should tell him. Everyone else knows now, and we don't have to tell him about why Granny doesn't call or visit..."

"Candi," Killer interrupted. "You know how I feel about this. You know how I've always felt about this. I understand what you were trying to do, but I've always felt the boy needs to know who his father is. If Granny wants to shun Matthew for being a McCoy, then the bitch never deserved him anyway. Or you, for that matter. I know you're pissed at your brother, but Christ! Look at the difference in our lives these past few months! We're finally living together, like a normal family. My parents have embraced Matthew like their own, without them even knowing he is, in fact, their own."

Candi looked away in shame at those last words, tears welling in her eyes. For another long moment, neither of them said anything, then Candi sadly shook her head. "I made you wait so long..." she sniffled, trying to pull away. "I wouldn't blame you for hating me after going through all that."

"Hey. Hey hey hey hey." Killer pulled her back to him, holding her close as he buried her face in his chest. "It's alright, babe. Shhh. Don't be dramatic. We're together now. How could you think I could ever hate you? I'd marry you in a heartbeat if you'd say yes."

She gasped, tilting her head up at him while tears streaked down her cheeks. "Do you mean that?"

Killer looked at her in confusion. "Of course I do. I've always wanted to marry you."

Candi got quiet again, blinking the tears back as she tried to get a hold of herself, then suddenly threw her arms around his neck.

"Then ask me," she whispered breathlessly into his ear.

*****

On the other side of the Atlantic, Hax was happily typing away on the laptop, finishing a new analysis script and feeling rather pleased with the elegance of his coding. He set it to run the final test, grinning into his coffee as he leaned back in his chair and watched the module run its course perfectly. All that, and in about half the time that he'd initially expected. He was just deciding whether or not to slip out for an early lunch when a knock came on his door. Hax groaned inwardly as a chubby face poked its way into his little sat-com room, grinning with earnest.

One distinct disadvantage to having worked remotely in the States for so long was that when the assistant for his department left, Hax had had little say in the hiring of the replacement. Working with Gertrude remotely had been fine; she'd mucked up a few things early on, but Baroness reminded him of the difficulties inherent in taking all direction through his text chats, so Hax gave her the benefit of the doubt. Once back in the UK, however, his vexation with the woman grew exponentially. She certainly meant well, and Hax could even have brought himself to tolerate her mistakes...if she learned from them. Gertrude wasn't, and her relation to the boss meant he was unlikely to be rid of her any time soon. Pairing that with the woman's love of heavy perfume and reality television programmes, Hax had made a point to be less and less sociable in the weeks since his return, reverting back to text-based directions and giving the explicit instructions to stay out of the sat-com room unless a critical situation arose (appending, of course, a detailed and very specific list of what he considered 'critical' situations). This proved exceptionally prudent after she'd caught him returning from lunch one day with some items for the newly named Darth Rasus, pouncing upon this perceived commonality by sharing way too much information for Hax's liking about her own nine "feline companions" at home.

Now, however, Hax was concerned as to why his assistant was peering into his room, grinning like the cat who'd just caught the canary.

"I'm sorry to disturb you, Mr. Haxor," Gertrude wheezed gently, "but you weren't responding to my texts or instant messages, and your phone line has been busy so long I thought you might be finishing up a teleconference..."

"Oh! Erm...yes, we'd... just finished," Hax fibbed, reluctantly setting the receiver of his desk phone back in its cradle. "Though I expect I'll be in another one for the better part of the afternoon." And certainly not just avoiding you, he thought to himself.

"Fantastic! Well, I just came to check and to let you know your girlfriend is waiting in the conference room for you. Shall I put some coffee on?"

Hax nearly dropped his mug as he flipped his chair up straight. "My what?"

"Your girlfriend? Ms. LaFaye? Or, oh..." Gertrude stammered. "I'm sorry, I saw her picture in your things when Mr. Andrews had me unpack your office, and I thought...oh, dear..."

Mary. The web ninja felt the colour drain from his face. Fuck.

"Gertrude," Hax said very quietly, "please tell me you didn't call Ms. LaFaye..."

"Oh, no! No, no, no, no." She rushed the words out, her large frame tottering on her heeled shoes as she swayed a little in the doorway. "No, she just asked to see you privately, and I wasn't sure if you were working on anything sensitive..."

Hax groaned. "Gertrude, again, we work in a technological research facility. Our company holds government contracts. Everything we do is sensitive."

"Oh, you know what I mean." The woman waved her hands in that nervous way people do when they aren't sure how to extract themselves from an embarrassment. The movement wafted a fresh cloud of Eau de Aging Cat Lady in the web ninja's direction. "In any case, she's in conference room C."

"Thank you," he replied, trying desperately not to choke. "Please let her know I'll be down in a few moments."

Hax waited until Gertrude shut the door and he heard her heavy footsteps start down the corridor, then quickly kicked his chair backwards on its rollers, fumbling madly at the old lock on the rarely-opened window sash. His lungs were burning for want of breath when he finally managed to get the window open, gulping in the cold, damp spring air into his grateful chest and allowing the country breeze to flush out the perfume from his office. Of all the things governments impose regulations upon, he thought, the dispensing of noxious perfumes to a public inept at not overusing them should be number one on that list.

Having been properly purged of the offending fragrance, Hax made a point of carefully folding his typing mitts and adjusting his tie, waiting just long enough so as to not give the impression of being excited to see Mary, but not quite so long as to appear her time was of no concern. After re-locking the window, he made sure his lab was secured before venturing out of the research wing and down toward his company's common area.

Gertrude was just returning to her desk as he passed through. Nibbling a pastry (she always seemed to be nibbling a pastry, he thought), she noticed he looked slightly more polished than a few minutes before and smiled at him conspiratorially. "She does seem a lovely girl, Mr. Haxor," she ventured. "Perhaps...?"

Hax couldn't help but glare at her, not saying a word as Gertrude finally sat down and sulkily busied herself at something else.

Continuing down the hall, he considered knocking before entering the conference room, but stopped himself just before doing so. This was his work place, damn it, and she an unannounced guest. She had no right to come here, of all places, to sully the environment with some spy shit. The few clues she'd provided in regards to her initial request weren't nearly enough to get even a reasonable idea as to what might be going on, and his requests for more details or calling in outside help were met with the usual bureaucratic bullshit of "need to know" and "national security." Well, sod it. If she'd come to sulk at him for not being more helpful, he'd remind her in no uncertain terms how it was she who was aiding in his hands being tied.

Being now properly furious at the situation, Hax pushed the door open with vigor, fully intending to let loose on her with everything on his mind.

Inside the small conference room, Mary was pacing the floor when Hax finally entered. The expression on her face immediately gave the web ninja pause. A combination of her spiritual beliefs and her experience in some of the darker parts of intelligence meant Mary was not the type to be easily agitated, yet her face showed a concern that bordered on fear. She smiled at him weakly. "I need a voice of reason."

Hax quietly closed the door and drew chairs for them both. "Go on."

Mary pulled a folder from her bag and handed it to the web ninja. "So after a lull in our weird crimes, a murder has taken place. A young woman was found tied and brutally stabbed to death at the base of Glastonbury Tor, her body splayed out inside a ring of salt and candles. Blood was used to draw those same symbols I'd shown you before; samples are being sent to determine whether it was the victim's or something else."

"Certainly a big jump from break-ins and animal sacrifices. Do they know who she is? Any potential motive?"

"Not yet. The body was found early this morning by an elderly couple from the village; thankfully they called the authorities straightaway, but keeping the tourists and onlookers at bay until we arrived didn't leave the constables with much extra manpower to start questioning. All they know is that the victim doesn't appear to be anyone from the village."

The web ninja felt a little queasy as he flipped through the crime scene photos Mary gave him, the poor girl's naked body exposed to the elements. He peered a little closer. "Did those animals carve symbols into her flesh as well?"

His companion nodded solemnly. "There were runic marks all over her body, which seemed to be words or phrases of some kind. If magickal in nature, there is a possibility of it being some kind of incantation. We'll know more after it goes to our cult experts and they verify which runic alphabet it is. There were two specific symbols, however, that I recognized." Mary drew her chair closer, taking the stack of images from Hax and flipping through until she found what she was looking for. "The one carved just over the heart is the symbol for gift. The one carved just above it is death."

She set the photograph on the table in front of him, and Hax felt his stomach plummet as he saw the girl's face clearly for the first time. He involuntarily kicked back from the table, taking a deep breath as Mary quietly said, "Don't worry, it's not her. I had the same thought and had her whereabouts checked before I came here."

Hax exhaled slowly, regaining his composure. "I'm somewhat surprised you know what the Baroness looks like."

Mary's cheeks flushed slightly. "I don't know why," she said, glancing sideways at him. "She conducts a weekly internet broadcast, and I've always been...interested in your endeavors."

He looked at her dubiously. "Game streams and related shows never appeared to be an interesting endeavor for you, however interested I may be."

"And magick and the paranormal are at cross-purposes to everything you've traditionally been interested in," she reminded him, "yet here we are."

Hax took another breath and drew back to the table, focusing on the task at hand. "So am I to surmise that your wanting my to be your 'voice of reason' is to suggest the victim's resemblance to my friend is coincidental? Because it could be, but it also might not. From what you've shared so far, it's too soon to tell."

"Yes, yes, of course," Mary sighed. "It's just...very unnerving, when people use the Arts for nefarious means. That's not what they're meant for, and those who start casting for dark purposes..."

"You're still practising, then?" Hax scoffed. "I'm surprised he is okay with that."

She flushed again. "Charles..."

"No, I'm sorry, you're right," Hax interrupted testily. "It's none of my business. Was there anything else odd with the case thus far for which you needed my 'reasonable' expertise?"

Mary stared at him a moment, clearly hurt, but he didn't care. He hadn't wanted to be a part of this in the first place, and was starting to regret agreeing to help her. Finally, she cleared her throat.

"There was one more thing, something that might interest you. When they found the body, the couple said that they could hear an odd music coming from the base of the Tor, but they couldn't see any people about, nor determine the source of the music. They described it as sounding almost like an old music box, but with a staticky quality to it. The constables found a small radio in a crevice of the tower wall near the body, still transmitting the music. But when they went to switch it off, a voice came over the waves reciting a series of numbers before going back to the music. This happened a few more times before they realised the transmission appeared to be on a loop; they're trying to trace the source of the transmission now." Mary grimaced. "I heard it. The music alone is really unnerving, but the voice...it was like I heard it before. Robotic. Almost like something you'd hear for a voicemail announcement, or-"

"Or an old video game?" Hax asked quietly.

"Perhaps. I'll get a recording sent over to you straightaway." She shifted uncomfortably. "You look like you might already have an idea of what it is."

Hax looked at the photograph again, his brow furrowing with concern. "I hope I'm wrong," he said, staring at the dead face looking back at him. "But if not, your victim's appearance is certainly no coincidence."


*****

Jen McCafferty started writing the adventures of RCM as a joke in 2014 - a joke which snowballed into an entire story universe and some real-life RCM innovations. Rogue Agent is the third book in the series.

All the way to the beginning
Crap, what happened last time?
ON WITH THE STORY!
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