Cauldron of Ghosts – Snippet 11 

Great. I’ll be saddled with brainless goons. Which meant his already slim chances of turning up any information by infiltrating the Mesa seccie underworld just went on a starvation diet.

“But what –“

Vickers waved his hand again. The gesture, this time, was firm; decisive; not genial at all.

“It’s been decided, Lajos. Just do it. We haven’t gotten anywhere in weeks following the usual methods, so the power-that-be upstairs” — he pointed at the ceiling, in blithe disregard of the fact that CSA headquarters was two miles to the west and there was nothing on the floors above them except a lot of computers and clerical workers — “have decided to try a flanking approach. It’s obvious that our firm and decisive measures have driven the terrorists to bay. They’re huddling in their shelters, now. If they want to do anything, they have to use criminals as their intermediaries. So –“

His chest swelled a little. “Operation Capone.” He bestowed a sly smile on Irvine. “I came up with the name. Capone was a notorious Roman gangster in ancient times. The orator and philosopher Cicero even talked about him.”

Operation Capone. Lajos had never heard of anyone by that name. What he did know was that all you had to do was lop the “e” off the end of the name and you had a castrated rooster. A near-mindless critter that made a lot of noise and couldn’t accomplish a damn thing.

****

After he left Vickers, Lajos went down to the mess hall in the basement. He did have his own office in the building but he didn’t like to use it. The room they’d given him was more like a cubicle with delusions of grandeur than anything he’d call an “office,” and Lajos didn’t like feeling cramped whenever he had to do any serious thinking.

And serious thinking was called for here. Whatever he thought of them, orders were orders, and the basic law of hierarchies applied just as much to the Alignment as to any other institution in human history.

Shit rolls downhill. If this idiot scheme came apart at the seams, or just came to nothing at all, Lajos would be the one blamed. Not George Vickers. Not whoever on high gave Vickers his orders. Certainly not any of the Detweilers.

Poor put-upon Lajos Irvine, that’s who’d get the fault laid at his feet.

The first thing he had to figure out was his cover identity. None of the ones he had already established would work well in this assignment.

Thankfully, the powers-that-were hadn’t been stingy as well as stupid. The budget Vickers had given him was enough for Lajos to set himself up in whatever identity was most likely to be successful.

Forget being a robber, contract killer, any of that business. Lajos had neither the skills nor the temperament to pull off such identities successfully. Not long enough, anyway. Even Vickers was willing to allow that this maneuver was going to take a fair amount of time before it produced any results.

A fence, then. And he’d have to be selling something fairly exotic, in order to explain why no one in the criminal underworld in the capital’s seccie quarters had run across him before.

So… sell what? Drugs were out. Sure, there was always some sort of new design pharmaceutical coming on line, but that was a very well-established market with well-established suppliers. Well-established suppliers with a long and well-deserved reputation for violent retaliation against newcomers and interlopers, to boot.

No, it’d have to be something less obvious. Stolen art was a possibility. But the problem there was the market was too upscale to be likely to prove very helpful in tracking down Ballroom terrorists in hiding.

Lajos didn’t think there were nearly as many such terrorists as his superiors seemed to be believe, anyway. Not ever — and certainly not now, after the savage reprisals carried out in the seccie areas following Green Pines. Anyone even remotely suspected of having ties to the Ballroom had been targeted, and the authorities had been indiscriminate in their application of violence. The way they looked at it, “collateral damage” was just another term for a job well done.

Lajos estimated that somewhere around two thousand people had been killed, and at least twice that many badly injured. He was quite sure that most of the casualties had had no connection to the Ballroom, but some of them would have. The point being that he didn’t think there were really that many terrorists still at large, and they’d be deep in hiding and…

Casualties. Fatalities. Desperate need for money…

Body parts and tissues. That was the market he’d aim for. There was a small trade in such goods in seccie areas. More modern medical methods were available and not even that expensive, but there were always some people who wanted to stay off the official grid for one reason or another. For such people, going to an established hospital for regeneration treatments posed too much of a risk, even compared to the risks of undergoing primitive organ-replacement surgery in unlicensed clinics.

The market was too erratic and marginal to have a well-established network of fences in place. There’d be some, sure, but they’d be freelancers. What the underworld called gypsies. Savage, often, but they’d be individuals or very small groups, not large gangs. The goons Vickers had promised to provide Lajos should be able to handle any problems of that nature that came up.

And he’d certainly not have any problem coming up with a supply of goods to sell. Not with the resources of the entire Mesan penal system at his disposal. Mesan authorities had no hesitation when it came to using the death penalty as a means of disciplining the population. Lajos wasn’t sure of the exact number, but there’d be at least half a dozen people being executed every month. Their bodies were normally cremated, since the body parts and tissues market was too small to be of interest to the giant corporations that dominated the planet — and the wealthy individuals who ran those corporations had other and better means to provide for their medical needs.

Just a little change in methods, for a while. Cut up the executed corpses to provide Lajos with the supplies he needed, cremate what was left and hand those remains over to the grieving relatives when there were any. Would anyone bother to weigh the ashes and try to calculate if everything was accounted for? Not likely. Not that class of people. And if they did, so what? Nobody cared what they thought anyway.

His spirits were picking up now. This…

Was still a stupid idea. But at least it’d be workable, wouldn’t pose too many risks — and, who could say? Maybe he’d even turn up something.

Hearing a slight noise behind him, he turned in his seat and saw that two men had just entered the mess hall and were headed his way.

Large men. The muscle, obviously.

When they reached the table, one of them said: “Vickers sent us.”

“We’re supposed to give you whatever help you need,” said the other. “I’m Borisav Stanković,” he said. “Call me Bora.” He pointed a thumb at his partner. “This is Freddie Martinez.”

Martinez nodded.

Lajos rose from the table he’d been sitting at and stuck out his hand. “Pleased to meet you.”

“What’s the job?” asked Stanković, once the handshakes were done.

“Sit down and I’ll explain it to you.”

****

After he finished, Stanković and Martinez looked at each other.

“Piece of cake,” said Stanković. Martinez nodded.

A promising start, Lajos decided.