"Is this our man?"
Isaac squatted in front of the body, his elbows resting on his knees, cellphone wedged firmly between his ear and shoulder. He gazed into the dark, cavernous openings where the girl's eyes used to be. There was something calming, soothing about the emptiness.
The glare of two suns bathed the beach in a brilliant, sparkling light. One beating down from the clear blue sky just above the horizon, and another - languishing on the surface of the waves, a misshapen, distorted, evil twin writhing on the water as if desperately trying to stay afloat.
A beautiful scene really, the kind of brightness that doesn't seem to diminish with tightly shut eyes; and a cool, ocean breeze that made the oppressive, mid-summer Florida heat almost bearable. It would make an appealing photograph.
Of course, some might be put off by the nude body of the dark-haired young girl, lying face-up, half buried in the sand, eyes dug out, the knife protruding from her chest; but at least that would keep it from being cliche.
The man on the phone was becoming impatient.
Isaac snapped back to reality.
"Is this our man?"
"Unless this particular kind of mutilation is becoming a fad...
I'd say so."
"Demented fool," The man on the phone said with contempt.
"Well, wrap the scene up without delay, I need you and Dr La Huerta to make this body go away and de-brief the local cops."
"Yes sir, you got it."
The man on the phone lowered his voice, "And find our man and bring this foolishness to an end!"
Isaac snapped his phone shut, looked over at Dr. La Huerta and smiled. "Hungry?"
Over lunch, Agent Isaac and Dr. La Huerta discussed the situation.
"What do you think made him go off script?" La Huerta asked.
"No telling," Isaac grumbled as he used his fork to pry the meat out of a crab claw.
"The process is very complicated. Hypnotic breaks happen, cerebral implants crash, that's what we're here for. Ours is not to reason why, my dear doctor."
La Huerta cringed as she suffered a brain freeze brought on by her smoky gray Santeria margarita.
"Why do they call him The Pale Man?" she asked.
Isaac scanned the file that lay open before him.
"He suffers from Achromia, fairly common among PC7s. It's a side effect of the cloning process."
"He's an albino," La Huerta said as she snatched a large chunk of crab meat from Agent Isaac's plate.
"What's with the eye fetish?"
"Not sure," Isaac responded as he flipped through a few more pages.
"It says here he removed the eyes from cats during training and tried to keep them as souvenirs, maybe it was the novelty."
Isaac held up a picture of The Pale Man. his middle finger tapping, pointing at The Pale Man's bright purple eyes.
"It seems to me that such an obsession should have been a warning sign," La Huerta pronounced.
Isaac chuckled, "Ah, so you're saying that a child raised in a steel cage, bottle fed LSD and high voltage and trained to kill without deliberation or mercy shouldn't develop a few idiosyncrasies?"
La Huerta flashed Isaac her most contemptuous smile.
"All I'm saying is if the fixation couldn't be eliminated, then maybe the asset should've been scrapped."
Isaac slid the file into his briefcase, downed the rest of his beer and rose from the table.
"And that's where we come in."
He tossed a few bills down on the table for a tip.
"Shall we? We have a couple of errors to correct, and half the day is almost gone."
Dr. La Huerta, a striking, dark haired woman of 42 with luminous green eyes, had always downplayed her looks. A nagging fear that her colleagues would see her as a brainless sex object had only made her strive harder in her chosen career. She earned her PhD in neuroscience at Yale at the age of 28 and was recruited by the NSA shortly thereafter in 2012. There she was partnered with Agent Samuel Isaac, a large, powerfully built man with the most emotionally detached demeanor of any human being she had ever known. La Huerta viewed Isaac as a cold, unfeeling robot. While La Huerta constantly pondered the moral ramifications of their assignments, she was sure Isaac was equally unwavering in the belief that their work, no matter how distasteful, served the greater good.
The car was sweltering, Jacksonville, Florida was experiencing record heat that day. 112 degrees in the shade, about 180 to 200 inside that car. Isaac wiped the sweat off of his clean-shaven head with his handkerchief and then cleaned his sunglasses with it. La Huerta checked the GPS.
"What's his location now?" Isaac asked.
"He's in the basement of an old abandoned Catholic school near the I-10/I-95 interchange," La Huerta replied.
"Good, he's nesting. That gives us plenty of time to get rid of the body in the trunk."
"And what exactly is the plan regarding the body in the trunk?" La Huerta asked.
"We have a man here in Jacksonville." Isaac said as he started the car and adjusted the mirrors.
Isaac drove in silence while La Huerta thumbed through The Pale Man's file. His tortured life slowly passed before her eyes, the grass got taller, four lane concrete gave way to two lane black top which turned into gravel and then finally, dirt.
Isaac turned off the dusty road and onto a private driveway. He parked the car near a small, ranch style house at the end of the long, rocky driveway, turned to La Huerta and said, "Back in a few."
La Huerta watched as Isaac walked to the back of the car, opened the trunk, hoisted the girl over his left shoulder and walked toward the house. A few chickens wandered aimlessly through the yard like unattended mental patients. A man in overalls with white hair and rough, red skin emerged from the house accompanied by a large, slobbering hound dog and met Agent Isaac before he could make it up the front steps. The chickens scattered and the dog chose one to chase off into the trees and terrorize.
The two men disappeared behind the house for several minutes and suddenly all of the farm animals became agitated. The fervor of the pigs became especially intense, morphing into a kind of gurgling screech. Soon the men returned, paused in the middle of the front yard for a few minutes of chit chat, shook hands, and Agent Isaac returned to the car, slammed the trunk and got in.
"Pigs?" La Huerta asked.
"Simple and efficient," Isaac said.
La Huerta returned to studying the file.
The old schoolhouse was a boxy, wooden-frame structure, probably around 120 years old, with a portico supported by colossal Doric columns at the entrance. Time had taken its toll on the old school. There was a fire at some point, the roof was caved in and the building had obviously been vandalized for years. It seemed to serve as a shelter for drug addicts and the homeless.
Isaac and La Huerta entered through the front door, which consisted of a thin metal frame with no glass. The interior of the building was a burned out shell, melted furniture and the remains of a large desk surrounded an old elevator with an iron gate that seemed to be in working order. The door was wide open.
They stepped inside and Isaac pressed the button for the basement, the doors closed, and as the big metal box sank downward he imagined it descending into hell.
Bodies littered the basement, the stench of excrement, sweat and death was so thick Isaac was reminded of a recurring dream in which he trudged through a world encased in sticky, congealed gelatin. Dr La Huerta checked a few pulses as she and Isaac followed the quickening chirping of the GPS but her search for signs of life proved fruitless. Isaac paused over one of the corpses, a man in his mid-twenties, his body ravaged by years of drug use. He was missing his eyes, and a faint, blinking red light illuminated one of the empty sockets.
"Damn it," La Huerta whispered.
"He removed his implant," Isaac said.
"He could be anywhere."
The Pale Man shielded his eyes from the bright, merciless sun, realizing that the world was now a very different place.