Chains
rating: +52+x

It was Agent Johnson’s first day on the field. He was given patrol duty, nothing dangerous, but he was still extremely nervous about the entire affair. What if he wasn’t ready, he asked the commander, what if he screws things up? Commander said he shouldn’t worry, that they’re putting him under the supervision of one of their best.

“You Johnson?” A voice came from a shiny black Dodge Charger that parked next to the bench Johnson was sitting on. Johnson nodded.

“Hop in.”

The driver was a middle aged, solidly built man in a wrinkled grey suit and a terrible green tie. Johnson didn’t know what he was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t this.

“Agent Cohen, I presume?”

“The one and only. So, you’re the rookie they want me to babysit? No, don’t answer that, of course you are. Is this your first time on the streets?”

“Yeah, sorry.”

“Nothing to be sorry about, we all got to start somewhere, eh? Be a good kid and hand me a cigarette from that pack in the glove compartment. Take one for yourself, too.”

“No thanks, I don’t smoke.”

Cohen gave him an incredulous look. “A field agent not smoking? That’s a first. Well, to each his own, I suppose.”

For some reason, Johnson felt the need to explain himself. “It’s just that, the wife doesn’t like me smoking, she says it stinks up the house.” He didn’t add that he didn't much care for the smell himself.

Cohen nodded, giving him an empathic grin. “Women. Can’t live with them.”

“Can’t live without them?”

Cohen started the engine, and the Charger grumbled to life. “Your words, not mine.”

Agent Johnson didn’t know what to make of this scruffy man, and Cohen didn’t seem to be the type to start a conversation. So, Johnston decided to take the initiative. “Say, Cohen, how did you start your career here?" He said, just trying to make conversation, "They recruited me straight out of the academy.” Johnson was proud of that; he was first in his class.

“Argentina, 1955.”

Johnson blinked. “Wait, twenty years ago, Argentina-” He suddenly went pale. “Your first case was the Maker of Chains!? Jesus Christ, Cohen!”

Cohen just kept on driving, making several questionably legal maneuverings to get ahead in traffic. “Funny thing is, I wasn’t even a part of the Foundation back then. I just happened to come across the Maker while I was handling my own business.”

“What business?”

“Hunting.”

“I didn’t know Argentina was a popular hunting ground.”

“Not for animals, it wasn’t. C’mon kid, you look bright enough, do the math. I was a young, Jewish man hunting in Argentina in the 50’s. What do you think I was hunting?”

“Oh. Were you in- Oh. I’m so sorry.”

“Yeah, so am I. I was the only one left of my family. From a town of almost a thousand, less than fifty survived. I had nothing left in the world. Nothing but vengeance. I spent the first ten years after the war making life miserable for the monsters that took my family from me.”

"You are being awfully open about this, Cohen. Doing what you did wasn't exactly legal."

Cohen narrowed his eyes. "You think I care? I'd launch a fucking parade declaring I did it if I could, and to hell the consequences. Some people might tell you revenge is an empty emotion, that you get no satisfaction from it. Those people obviously never did what I did. Revenge is fucking fantastic."

Seeing the expression on his face, Johnson knew it would be unwise to pursue this line of conversation any further. “So, you were in Argentina hunting…” he continued.

The older man seemed to relax a bit. “Henrich Krause. He was a small fry, a petty piece of scum compared to some of the others I got. He used to command the confiscation of Jewish property in some parts of Hungary. A death clerk. I didn’t care. I wanted to end him, slowly and painfully. The Maker got to him first.”

“Can you tell me what happened there? They wouldn’t tell us much at orientation, just that it was nasty.”

“Krause was living in a small village about an hour’s drive from Buenos Aires. My sources told me he started a new life there, living under a pseudonym. He even had a new family to replace the one he left in Germany when he fled. A real piece of work, that guy was. It was late at night when I got to Fin del Camino de la Aldea. It wasn’t hard telling which house was his- it was the only one with a welcome sign in German. The bastard must have thought he was completely safe. How wrong he was.”

Cohen parked the car in front of a greasy spoon diner, but made no move to exit the car. He took another smoke, fumbling with the car lighter. Nearly burning himself, he finally managed to get it lit, and took a long draw. He went on:

“I could tell something was wrong the moment I stepped on his perfect front lawn. The door was open, but there were no lights inside. I thought someone could have gotten to him first, maybe some of those Mossad boys I’ve been hearing about, but for some reason I didn’t think that was the case. Something was rotten here. Drawing my gun, I got in. Krause must have had some obsession with clocks, because the place was full of them- cuckoo clocks, big grandfather clocks, you name it, he had it.”

“And the Maker of Chains?”

“Hold your horses, I’m getting to it. I scanned the entire house, and found nothing except more damn clocks. Only place left was the tool shed outside. I saw signs of struggle in the back yard, but not many. Whatever got Krause overwhelmed him pretty quickly. There was a trail leading to the shed, and a few drops of blood too. I kicked open the door.”

Cohen stopped, and abruptly got up and stepped out of the car. Johnson hurried after him.

“And what? What did you see?”

Cohen sighed. “Kid, we're about to have lunch, and talking about what I saw in that shed is a sure-fire way to spoil my appetite. Suffice to say there were chains, and blood. The Maker wasn’t done with its meal, I caught him right in the middle of Krause’s wife. Krause himself was knocked out cold, but unharmed. His little girl, however…”

Cohen gave Johnson a sour look. “See, now you’ve done it. I was looking forward to lunch, and you spoiled it. Might as well get on with the patrol, get back in the car.”

Johnson complied, and Cohen took the Charger out to the road again. He opened the window and spat.

“I was too late to save her. The Maker, it… already devoured her, transformed her. Made her its own. I don’t care if her father was what he was, no kid deserves that. She was still alive, in a manner, but even as inexperience as I was back then, I knew she was gone. The chains were everywhere- around her hands and legs, through her skin, her mouth, her eyes. I nearly wet myself, but I still had enough good sense in me to run for it. The Maker, not wanting to leave a meal behind, sent the child after me. As I ran I could hear the clinking of her chains, the sound of them dragging through the dirt. I have no idea how she-it managed to catch up to me, but it did. I turned around just in time to watch it-her lunge at me. You have to understand, I didn't have a choice. “

“You shot her?”

Cohen looked away from Johnson, pretending to adjust the side mirror.

“Got her right between the eyes. The poor thing never stood a chance. Even though I was scared shitless, I couldn't just leave her like that. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I picked her up and brought her inside, to what I guessed was her room. I laid her amidst her toys and dolls, locked the door behind me, and sat there next to her with my gun pointed at the door. I could hear Krause screaming from the shed, for what seemed like hours. Despite myself, I eventually fell asleep, and when I woke up it was morning. I heard voices coming from the back yard, and saw men standing there, inspecting the shed. One of them noticed me and called me to come down, said that I had nothing to worry about, that they took care of everything. They were lying, of course, the Maker simply escaped during the night. It took us five more years to catch it, and plenty of sweat and blood. ”

“And then?”

“Their commander asked who I was, and for some reason, I told him the truth. I told him why I came there, told everything I saw the night before, and what I did. He just listened. When I was done, he said I had two choices: either I could come with him and get a job defending people from things like the creature I saw, or he could put a bullet through my head.”

Johnson blinked. “That seems…harsh.”

Cohen just shrugged. “They didn’t have those fancy amnesiacs back then, and recruitment was a lot more, well, straightforward at times- the Foundation was still hurting pretty bad from the war, you see. Naturally, I took the job. I don't regret it either."

"Why do you think the commander recruited you?"

"Besides my charm and good looks? Because I was a man with nothing to lose, with nothing tying him to the world. That's a useful quality to have in an agent- means nobody can't get much leverage on him," Suddenly, Cohen's expression changed, and for the first time Johnson could see real warmth on the man's face. "It didn't quite worked out the way they planned, though. I met my wife working for the Foundation. I still have no idea what a smart woman like her ever found in a moron like me, but I'm not complaining, that's for sure." Cohen looked back at Johnson and smiled. "My eldest can't be much younger than you."

"I have some again."

The hours passed, leisurely flowing with the rhythm of the Chargers' engine, until finally it was time to call it a day. Cohen gave Johnson a lift home. As Johnson was stepping out of the car, he turned back and asked: "How do you deal with all of that? Not just the Maker, everything you've been through? How could you move on, keep on going? How could anyone?"

Cohen gave him a strange look. "Who said I ever moved on? In a way, it will always be 1955 for me. Like it will always be 1942. When you've been broken the way I was, you don't ever get whole again. You just have to try and glue what's left of you as best you can. "

"Then how do you do it? Why?"

"I do it because someone has to. And because I need to, for my own sanity. No one can protect humanity from itself, so the least we can do is protect it from everything else. Remember our words, son."

"Secure, Contain, Protect."

"Sometimes it can be easy to forget that last one. But really, it's the only one that counts. We took those chains on ourselves by choice. You remember that." With that, he drove away.

As Johnson watched the Charger turn a corner and disappear, he knew he would.

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