Written by Whatopercy
I can't easily tell you the story of how I met Charles.
It was the fall of 2001. In the past year, the country was rearing its ugly head, drool dripping from its fangs as a bee stung it right in the unmentionables. I was caught up in the passion of the times, ready to kick some Middle Eastern buttocks. For us teenagers, that meant joining the SWAT's-uprooting the weeds at home before heading to their source.
Looking back now, I see that I was a fanatical, brickheaded youngster with delusions of grandeur, but that's not the point.
I entered a New York police academy the same month those old titans gave way from their lofty perchs. Already had my bachelors degree, so the training wouldn't take so long. Six months and four weeks later, I was dressed in my blues and whites-ready to chew into the cesspit that was the city of gold.
We struck with the speed of a thunderbolt. I can't remember how many houses we assaulted, how many doors we kicked in, how many people we shot. For some reason, our exploits never even made the news. Every time we clicked on the box it was something about a big pop musician of the day.
I'm not sure when I woke up to the lie. Frankly, I can't remember anymore. Those drugs they gave me must have really done their jobs swell.
They left me one memory. We were supposedly knocking on the door of a terrorist weapons smuggling operation. At least five teams showed up at the jumpoff point for the assault. The captain in charge of the raid was a massive man, over six feet tall and strong as an ox. He had a peculiar tattoo on the dorsal of his left hand, a six sided star with the eye of Horus imprinted with impeccable care in the center.
When our trucks rolled up, it suddenly occurred to me that we had diverged into suburbia. We hummed over to a small, olive green house. As we unloaded equipment from the supply van and distributed it, a grimy, wide eyed garden gnome eyeballed us with an unsettling stare.
I was part of the rear guard, but, being adjacent to a small window, I could see everything going on in the building.
It was a family, eating supper, laughing around the table. There was a girl, probably in her teens, about my age when I first got into the business. A somber, surly man with deep pits under his eyes sat at the seat closest to me. As he turned for a drink, I got a look at his arm. It had been melted off.
Not ripped off, you understand, or cut off. It had been melted. I could see ridges and dark plains of the flesh, an abominable mound where the shoulder should have been. A moment later, a bright light filled the room. Our captain shot the father instantly, and an officer shot the daughter a moment later when she screamed, her blood exploding against the window. It's no problem to shoot someone who killed your mother with a plane; it's a whole different story when you start shooting tired men with ashen arms.
I'm not exactly sure how it happened, but somehow I ended up in a Mexican standoff with my captain and an invisible sniper, the mother hysterically sobbing over the shattered body of her dead daughter. I could see vast hatred in his eyes, his tattoo angrily glaring at me with the force of a raging hurricane. Five seconds later, a bullet went through my skull. Another three seconds later, another brain case was subjected to the act.
Miraculously, at least I assume, I got to the emergency room in time. Of course, when I woke up, I was handcuffed to my bed and a detective was reading me my rights. About three days later, I was entering the county jail with a busload of maniacs, disillusioned with logic and my mind full of questions.
Prison came like water to me, surprisingly. It gave me time to think, to resign myself to my fate of an inexplicable 30 year sentence, and to educate myself.
About three months later, a man came to visit me. He was dark skinned, wearing a small green fedora, along with a beltless trench coat. He introduced himself as Charles Moore, small business investor. When I asked him what he wanted, he said that his only wish was to speak with me. So began our little chats-every day between 4 and 5 PM, he would come, and we would talk. It was always about my life in the service-how I had been duped into it and finally realized the depth of its insanity. He was fascinated by our conversations, and I, in turn, was fascinated by him. He was a remarkable man-seemingly well read and dignified in every facet, and yet he carried a sense of world-wizened, unpretentious fatherliness.
As our relationship grew deeper, I occasionally cracked a joke about the ridiculous sentence I had received, how there was a conspiracy against me and the one armed man. Each time I did, he nodded, completely serious. Whenever I attempted to explain that it was a simple joke, he would say, "Old sport, there's truth to every rumour," and we would drop the subject.
I remember our last discussion very clearly. It would be my last day in prison, and the opening of my eyes to a world beyond the one I had known.
As light shined through the prison bars that day, I slept late. Later, in fact, than I had in my life. My cell door opened with a buzz that awakened me from my deep slumber. I stood up and rubbed one eye. Warily, I placed a foot outside the cubicle. A number of prisoners were being led out of the cellblock and loaded onto a bus, jeering to their brethren in the levels above them about reduced sentences and the like. To my astonishment, Charles was talking with the warden of the prison, a frail, crumpled old woman. Seeing my figure, he came over to me, striding with an air of professionalism I had not picked up on previously.
"Charles?" I asked, bewildered.
His lips stayed neutral. I was beginning to grow afraid at the sight of his imposing figure.
And like ice, his demeanor evaporated. He put a hand on my shoulder, and said "My friend, there is nothing to fear." He smiled, a sad, painful smile. "The time for deceptions has passed, and i'm afraid we still haven't been formally introduced," he said. From the depths of his coat, he removed a thick red file with my name on it, emblazoned with an odd symbol I am now very familiar with. "We've been observing you for quite a while. Since your incarceration, in fact." I had nothing to say. The whole situation was overwhelming me. Who was this man? Certainly not the same one who came to me all those years ago, seeking to give me solace.
Sensing my discomfort, he continued. "I represent the intelligence division of the Foundation for the Containment and Cataloging of Anomalous Artifacts and Lifeforms. We're interested in acquiring your services. You'll receive a paygrade greater than that of your last place of employment, dental, bereavement and health benefits, and immediate acquittal from your charges."
My head was spinning; I couldn't think of what to say. What came out of my mouth was, "Why?" He laughed, a funny sound that was akin to donkey happily braying. "Because my friend, you have integrity, and you've got guts. We look for those characteristics. In this field, they're rare. Plus, you were thrown in here for trying to prevent the assassination of one of our top researchers. Or so," he took a document from his folder. "our profile says."
He paused for a moment. "I'm not going to lie to you. Many people don't come back from a job like this. But it's either that, or you stay here for the next twenty six years. The people we're fighting have more sway than us in this department. That's how you got here under our radar in the first place."
"Consider it, okay? I'll be outside. Blue Cadillac, on your right." He picked up his file and left.
I stayed silent on my bed for a long time, millions of thoughts racing through my head. If I went, I would die. If I stayed, I would live in shame. There was a conspiracy. I had gone down protecting innocent lives. A bullet had gone through my skull then. Why was I afraid of another one now?
Fifteen minutes later, I was walking out of a New York State Penitentiary a freed man. A blue Cadillac sat on my right in a handicapped parking space. I opened the passenger seat door and closed it behind me.