by Hilary Fox
Aaron Striker looked in the mirror and saw the same face he'd seen every day for the past thirty-three years. He picked up the Remington and methodically began to shave away a couple days' worth of stubble - he didn't have anything to do on the weekends, as per usual, and had gotten unusually lax in the arena of personal grooming, which was not per usual. Sunday mornings usually would find him unconscious - not from passing out due to inebriation (perish the thought), but the need to just sleep without an alarm clock and without wondering what the next day would bring. Most highbrow gun runners slept in on weekends, for some reason Striker couldn't determine, instead preferring to conduct business by banker's hours. Striker didn't complain, though; far be it from him to encourage meeting for a deal at six o'clock on a Saturday morning.
Today was Monday, though, and he had business.
He studied his reflection in the mirror, sans stubble after the Remington had finished its work. Same face he'd seen every day for the past thirty-three years. That face had belonged to many people, but the reddish-brown hair, pale green eyes, and firm, determined mouth had stayed the same. Aaron Striker nodded with satisfaction and moved to turn the shower on.
Wait... am I really Aaron Striker?
He'd have to look at his files to remember.
No, he was pretty sure he was Nathaniel Talbot. Or maybe it was Peter O'Day. Couldn't be Peter O'Day - that case had closed six months ago. Hell. Go back to the beginning. August through November 14th... yes, that was the MacNelly case, so O'Day was out. Talbot had received some military ordnance from and delivered a hefty prison sentence to Enrico Salvatore, and that had happened three months ago.
Yes, he was pretty sure he remembered picking up his cell phone one day and saying "Striker here."
It took a frightening, disorienting moment for him to remember Ezra Standish.
God, that was scary. Not "harrowing", not "alarming", just "scary."
Standish leaned back against the shower door, still feeling displaced somehow, as though he'd gone to sleep in one room and had woken up in another, and not recalling being moved during the night. Usually he'd get over it in a few seconds, after repeating "Ezra Standish" to himself over and over, but for some reason, things had gotten difficult and he couldn't divorce himself from Aaron Striker.
Maybe because Aaron Striker had to be a sadistic, racist bastard, a white supremacist without the quaint, rustic compound but with all the misguided hatred of blacks, Jews, Hispanics, Asians, non-white Europeans, Native Americans, and... Standish wondered if he had left out any other ethnic group. He supposed he should toss in Catholics, Bhuddists, Hindus, Muslims, animists, deists, atheists, agnostics, and Voodooists, as well. Not much flexibility in skin color or belief, Ezra reflected; he wondered how a club with such a restrictive policy on membership could flourish so well.
The Athenaeum they're not...
Flourish it did, though, and Aaron Striker had to make his way through the underside of the human soul on a daily basis, setting up a lucrative third-party arms and money swap with Bobby Joe Frost, the "ordnance procurer" for the Colorado Free Fighters; the CFF would sell Striker some high-quality - and very black market - automatic ordnance, which Striker would in turn distribute to various neo-Nazi groups in Austria and Germany.
Like a family tree, from one generation to the next, Standish. God, I hate this.
In the course of their relationship, Striker had set up a few tentative swap meets with Frost, who backed down each time - and the ones which he agreed to would invariably be the ones Standish would have to decline citing "time conflicts." Well, who could argue with him? Striker was a power player in upper-echelon supremist circles; Frost, for all his CFF cronies, couldn't do much against the half million Striker was offering.
The case had dragged on for a month, and the goddamn higher-ups in the ATF kept backing out of what Ezra considered to be perfect opportunities for profitable stings. The memories of Ruby Ridge and Waco knawed at them and they didn't want to make too hasty a move - which was all fine and good except for Ezra having to spend a month wading amidst the ignorant and narrow-minded.
Strike that... the ignorant, narrow-minded, and deadly.
The operation had divorced him from Nathan's company - he could only converse with Jackson by phone and email. Could never see him in person, just in case someone saw them together and whispers got back to Frost that his dealer was associating with a n*gger.
As though his thoughts had conjured the man - picturing his piggy, suspicious blue eyes sent chills of revulsion jolting up Ezra's spine - the phone rang, and it was Frost.
"Hey, Aaron ol'buddy!" The man sounded as if he were greeting a drinking pal.
"Hello, Robert," replied Ezra/Aaron coolly, "How are you?" Ezra let his southern drawl thicken and deepen a bit. It never hurt to play the deep South angle for all its worth - and that, too, bothered Standish. It bothered Vin and Buck, too, who both found themselves having to play stereotypes as Aaron's equally-bigoted bodyguards.
"Oh, I'm fine, fine..." Standish realized Frost practically oozed joviality. Something bothered him suddenly; the man was never particularly jovial, even in his finer moments. Like all black-market criminals, Frosts's bonhomie edged itself with forced hysteria, a goodwill teetering on lunacy.
"Great. Lissen, we got a lil' Jew an' n*gger-baitin' session goin' on next weekend. You wanta come?
Ezra had dreaded this invitation for the past month. The ultra-secretive CFF rarely let any outsider attend their "functions"; General Horton Random, the CFF's "chief executive officer" only permitted non-CFF parties to be present when he wished to signify that said parties had gained his trust. He couldn't possibly refuse - not even the protection of his position as an extremely rich and extremely powerful man would insulate him enough. The loss of face Striker would incur after turning down the invite would almost certainly damage negotiations beyond repair.
"Y'll have a great time, promise," Frost blathered on, oblivious to Ezra's - or Aaron's - distress. "The CFF don't call itself the world leader in Jew-bustin' for nothin'." Frost made the invitation sound like one to a slumber party. Absurdly, Ezra thought of a couple hundred grown and overweight men dressed in white robes having pillow fights and giving each other facials. Or whatever girls did at those things.
"I... I would be honored, Robert," Ezra managed to choke, feeling physically sick at hearing himself say those words.
"Great! Well, we'll see ya at the usual place. You know it, right?"
"Yes, Robert. Goodbye."
Ezra hung up the phone and wondered if he was going to throw up. He tried desperately to remind himself that he shared none of their beliefs, that this was just another undercover operation, that he'd go, be as invisible as possible, and everything would fall out according to plan. Even as he did so, his arguments fell on his own deaf ears. This would most certainly not be all right.
He stumbled through the week, rendezvousing with Vin and Buck at a posh club in downtown Denver on Wednesday. He'd met them there because it was the one place he was fairly certain that no one from the CFF would frequent and the news he had for them would have to be absorbed in silence.
A deadly silence, indeed, received the news.
"I ain't doin' it," hissed Vin. "That fuckin" draws the line." Buck remained silent, but the stony expression on the typically open face spoke for him.
"You both have to go," whispered Ezra. "Hell, I have to go. Do you honestly think I want to?" He bent closer to the two men, who glared at him from across the table like tribunals. "If I could get out of this, I would. I assure you of that, gentlemen. But I can't; your presence has been requested as well, and I couldn't very well tell them I just decided to give my bodyguards the night off, could I?" Ezra leaned back, watched his words sink in.
They didn't sink very far. Tanner would fight this to the death, if he had to; he'd grown up among the very people the CFF vilified, and he'd be damned if he'd ever go to one of those... those things. Standish knew this whole assignment - especially the constant subjection to and forced participation in the stream of racial abuse - had taken its toll on the sharpshooter; the past few meetings, Tanner had come dangerously close to exploding from rage.
Buck would feel the same way, guaranteed. The big agent liked the world as a rule, until he got reason enough to dislike a person. Frost and the CFF had earned his animosity from the outset, and Wilmington's animosity, Ezra knew from experience, was incurred at mortal peril. It had taken a thirteenth labor of Hercules to calm Buck both during and after a particularly painful interview.
Frost glanced up at the two bodyguards, gesturing at Vin. "You Texan, Mr. Tarney?"
Ezra knew Vin was wishing he could lie and say something like, "No, Massachusetts." Instead, the longhaired agent merely nodded confirmation, which Frost received with that manic jubilation.
"Oh, great! Another good ole boy. You hearda the 101st Battalion, operatin' outta Sweetwater under Major-General Evrit Pollander?" He didn't wait for Vin to indicate yes or no. "Damn fine unit a'men they got there. They back up the KKK sometimes - did some fieldwork for 'em back in the '50s, torchin' old sharecroppin' land. Fuckin n*gger bastard scum never knew what fuckin' hit 'em!" he crowed in delight. "You look like you're pretty good with that sidearm a'yours," he continued, gesturing to the Glock which Vin had reluctantly placed on the table at the start of the interview. "You ever threaten a darky civilian with it? You like to see 'em beg?"
That almost sent the Texan straight for Frost's throat, and Ezra, for a brief moment, almost let him. Frost cowered back in his chair, quaking in abject fear, before Ezra stepped in. "Of course he has, Mr. Frost," Aaron Striker said soothingly. "Mr. Tarney is merely taking offense at your suggestion that he has refrained from acting upon his beliefs. I can assure you that Mr. Tarney is at all times conscious of his race's innate supremacy and the need to continually reinforce it upon the less pure members of society."
Ezra sipped delicately at some Perriere and tried again. "If we go to this, we can seal a bust by next week - maybe as soon as the Monday after this little soiree of theirs. We can finish this." He'd just played his trump card, he knew - nothing more to do except sit back and wait for the two agents to respond.
"We'll do it, Ez," Buck said after a moment and a weighted look at Vin, who nodded and directed a killing scowl at the tablecloth. "We don't like it, but we'll do it."
"You think I like it?" demanded Ezra in frustration, slamming the glass back down on the table. "You at least get to go to the office and talk to Nathan. I get to spend my days rebuffing attempts to swill cheap beer at the Local 203 and thinking up new and creative racial slurs."
They nodded, abashed, but Ezra was in no mood for apologies. He tossed a twenty down on the table and stalked out, heading for his apartment and some peace.
Once there, he flopped down on the bed, trying not to think and failing utterly. Words and images from the past month assailed him.
So, Mr. Striker, yer an arms dealer?
We must shut down the black insurgents, Mr. Frost, before the n*gger bastards shut us down.
You got a status report for me, Ez?
Yes, Mr. Frost. I am merely brokering this deal on behalf of some interested parties in Munich and Vienna. They would like to obtain some American military ordnance and would appreciate your assistance in doing
Well, Chris, the best thing I can say about them is that they are ignorant, narrow-minded, Neanderthal-like, and very, very dangerous. If I may be so bold as to inquire, why am I doing this?
Those fuckin' spics! They're what's wrong with our cities, you know.
Of course they are, Mr. Frost.
Team Seven wasn't around for Ruby Ridge or Waco, Ez. We've never done any work with white supremacist and anti-government groups before - they won't know us.
You want to come?
Wouldn't miss it for the world, Mr. Frost.
We'll do it, Ez.
My name is Aaron Striker, and I am in the position to offer you quite a lucrative arms/money swap....
My name is Ezra Standish, and I'm a good, honorable, decent, and open-minded man.
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