"Just as nice leaving as she was coming,
huh?" Gordy teased. "This is about the deaths around the big
lake, I take it?"
"Yeah. Heard anything?"
Gordy wheeled to his computer. "Yeah,
the netís buzzing with stuff."
"Maybe. What do you know about the North
Bay Nuke R & D place?"
"I know this is the second time today
I've heard someone mention it." Gordy nodded. "Just the usual. One of our fine
senators wrangled a boondoggle in the name of national defense several
years ago. Think tank for a bunch of brain guys researching
development of alternative methods of using nuclear power. Our tax
dollars at work, the usual."
Gordy smiled triumphantly and raised a finger
in the air. "Thatís what they WANT you to think!"
"C'mon, Gordy Ė "
"No, listen, Charles. A little while ago
they had more alarms go off in that place than a clock shop. HazMat
and the EPA came out. The CDC came on board within twenty-four
My ears pricked up. "Center for Disease
"Yeah. Thereís some clandestine shit
going on out there. National defense. More like National Offense." Gordy looked around conspiratorially. "Chemical,
biological warfare. Star Wars. Who knows what else?"
I finished the beer. "I hope youíre
wrong, Gordy. I pray to God youíre wrong."
"Charles, supposedly the ĎClean-up
Crewí is here too."
On the way out, I grabbed my hat. "Then,
Iím afraid you are right. Stay well, old friend."
En route home, Sharkey called my cell. A
corpse had been discovered in Lake Obsidian, this time floating in a
drainage canal, just outside town. The body was currently in the care
of Dr. McEvoy.
At the Lake County Hospital, I followed my
well-traveled backdoor entrance to the County Morgue. The acerbic, but
lovely Dr. McEvoy was absolutely a darker shade of pale. She didnít
say a word. She pulled back the black plastic sheet covering the
autopsy table. I gasped as if gut punched.
The corpse, sexually indistinguishable, was
splayed out face down on the stainless. There was a ragged eight-inch
diameter hole in the spine, mid-back. Something had evidently attached
itself to the unfortunate victimís back and drained the spinal
fluid. Worse, the corpse was deteriorating before our eyes, the pale,
translucent skin seeming to melt. McEvoy shook her head and dropped
"Okay Lucretia," I said when I
finally found my voice, "Tell me what that
I had never seen McEvoy that rattled. She was
stunned, shocked, stupefied.
"Iíve seen a mark like this
before," she began quietly. "Just not that large or well
"A leech. A leech makes that kind of
mark when it attaches itself."
"One damn big leech."
She expanded her hands in a rounded shape
about three and a half feet apart.
"Thatís only the beginning, Kovacs.
The skinís liquidization? Thatís being caused by something
man-made." She indicated a row of test tubes with different
shades of red viscous solution. "Iím not sure what, yet."
I peeped beneath the sheet. The bones were
beginning to protrude through the gelatinous flesh at the high points.
The stainless surface was livid with human jelly.
"Thatís like the other case Ė the
Lucretia exhaled tiredly. "Looks
The wheels began to turn in my old head.
"So, something man-made, delivered by a creature, an animal,
She regarded me suspiciously. "What are
you thinking, Kovacs?"
"North Bay Nuclear Research and
Development Facility. Instead of developing nuclear power
alternatives, they are developing chemical and biological warfare
alternatives." I smiled in spite of myself.
"Kovacs, you are one paranoid, crotchety
old bastard! Why does that addled brain of yours think that way,
"Doc, take it easy, youíll live
longer!" I shrugged. "You got some other,
She pursed her lips, and with all the will
she could muster, shook her head no.
I called Sharkey on the cell and asked him to
meet me outside the Sentinel office. If the people I thought were
involved were, there wouldnít be many places safe from prying ears
and eyes. Especially not the Sheriffís Office. At 5:15p.m., July 27th,
Sheriff John Glenn Sharkey pulled into the parking space next to mine
at the Sentinel.
We strolled past the abandoned store fronts
away from the Sentinel offices. Sharkey, normally starched and
pressed, was a mess. His khaki uniform looked like he'd slept in it, his
badge was askew and there were deep, dark circles beneath his green
eyes. His formerly brown wavy hair was now shot gray. He was
slouching, and his hands were tucked into his pockets, like a little
kid. Most un-Sharkey-like.
"What are we gonna do this time?"
he inquired, resignedly seeking the details for his suicide mission at
My opening, finally. "Iím not sure Ė
exactly Ė but I do know that whateverís going on is
originating at the North Bay Nuclear Research and Development
He looked at me dumbly. "What do you
mean? Just a bunch of eggheads out there playing with their test
I looked at Sharkey meaningfully.
"Glenn, itís whatís inside those test tubes . .
"No. Not possible."
"Donít be an ostrich, Shark. You were
in the SEALS, you know what our government is capable of. McEvoy as
much as said that whateverís melting the bodies is man-made. But,
the kicker is that the agent is being delivered by something from
nature . . . something from nature modified genetically by man."
Sharkey rubbed his eyes. I thought for a
moment he might cry. "Wha Ė what should we do? We donít have
the manpower or the technology to deal with this. The government
"The government? Ha! Theyíre the oneís
whoíve caused this shit storm. Theyíre trying to cover it all up
even as we speak." I put my hand on his shoulder, paternally.
"Címon, Shark. Itíll be fun, just like the old days. Sneak
through a few fences, scale a wall or two . . . "
"Charles, you canít Ė "
I held up my hands. "Strictly in an
observational capacity. Link up with radio headsets?"
"Do you think Dr. McEvoy would consider
going with us?"
I smiled a wide grin and slapped him on the
back. "Are you kidding? Iíve got Lucretia eating out of my
After much cajoling, whining and threatening,
Dr. McEvoy joined Sharkey and myself on the trek to the big lake and
the North Bay Nuclear Research and Development Facility. Sharkey was
impressive in his black commando gear and McEvoy absolutely
resplendent in her dark jeans and black tank top. I told them both as much, Sharkey regarding me glumly and McEvoy demonstrating a series
of animatedly obscene gestures in my direction.
Naturally, we couldnít get within five
miles of the entrance to the facility. Sharkey took his Ford Explorer
off road as far as possible, and we slogged through the swamp until we
could see the massive facility in the distance. There were makeshift
spotlights surrounding the place and it was lit up like Time's Square
during New Yearsí. Troops with automatic weapons and HazMat suits
patrolled a five-hundred yard perimeter.
"Charles," Sharkey whispered,
"Thereís no way weíre gonna get inside that place."
"We donít need to," I countered.
"We just need some kind of evidence of what the hellís going on
McEvoy grabbed my jacket. "I mustíve
been a fucking idiot to let you talk me into this," she hissed
between clenched teeth.
"Gosh, Lucretia," I whispered
sarcastically, "you eat with that mouth?"
"Again Charles, how do you think weíll
I raised my hands high in response to the snickt
sound behind me. The unmistakable sound of a round being chambered
into an automatic weapon.
Not quite according to my master plan, within
ten minutes, we were inside the North Bay Nuclear R & D Facility.
A distinguished silver-haired gent with three stars on his black
shoulder boards smiled like a carnivorous game show host. I
"Sheriff Sharkey. Doctor McEvoy.
Mr. Kovacs. I must insist
that you not breech protocol again by violating the clearly marked
perimeter of this facility. This is, as you know, a top secret
research and development endeavor that is vital to national
I waved a hand in the air. One of the
black-clad guards tensed and raised his weapon. The General held up a
restraining hand, preventing me from being riddled with bullets.
"Okay, okay, letís cut to the chase, General."
"Charles Ė " it was Sharkey.
"No, no, thatís ok, Shark. Somebody
needs to set Captain America here straight. See, we know about this
little biochemical warfare experiment youíve got going on here.
Quite brilliant actually, using genetically engineered insects as the
delivery agent for some flesh eating chemical. Only thing is, some of
your bugs got loose, right? Killed a bunch of the tourists, right? How
many got loose into the population, General, huh?"
The Generalís face darkened. "Mr.
Kovacs, I know all about you. And you know very well that if we deem
that you are threatening national security, we are authorized to use
deadly force." He smiled through bared teeth. Fangs, indeed.
"Of course, we donít want it to come to that."
"Of course not," I continued,
nonplused, "National security, need to know basis -- you want to
keep on making these mutant bugs and your flesh-eating chemical to
better humanity Ė what about the publicís right to know what their
government is -- ?"
"Charles Ė " Sharkey sputtered.
I turned to his aghast face. "Shark, Iím
on a roll, what -?" He pointed to the ceiling, some fifty feet
All eyes followed his trembling finger. The
ceiling was black Ė and moving Ė with perhaps a hundred
mosquitoes, giant insects with a wingspan of nearly four feet, and
chemical dripping proboscises almost a foot and a half in length.
Thick ropes of the viscous chemical began drooling down toward the
The black-clad soldiers jerked their weapons
upward reflexively; the General hissed at them. "Nobody make any
quick movements. Now, calmly to that watertight hatch over there. Itís
a weapon's supply locker. Dr. McEvoy, you first."
The General didnít have to tell Lucretia
twice after she saw the huge mosquitoes lining up for the smorgasbord.
We made the nerve-wracking twenty-nine steps to safety, then Sharkey
motioned me silently inside the hatch and followed. The General almost
Outside, it sounded like an entire squadron
of World War II kamikazes buzzing a carrier deck. The troops opened
fire, but there were too many of the marauding insects, even if they
hadnít been made bullet proof. Screams of the dying soldiers
punctuated the incessant droning. Sharkey was trying to help the
General through the door when a pointed shaft ripped through his
throat, sending a geyser of hot blood across the room. Sharkey
narrowly avoided being spattered by the clear chemical that spurted
from the hollow shaft. The General did something then that gave me a
grudging respect for him. By now covered with the swarming killer
insects, he pushed himself back outside the hatch so that Sharkey
could secure it. We could hear the mosquitoes just outside, feeding.
"My God, I donít believe this,"
McEvoy finally allowed. "They Ė they canít get in here, can
Sharkey looked around quickly. "No,
looks tight." He looked at his shoes, coated in the chemical.
McEvoy shook her head. "Donít worry,
Glenn. The chemicalís designed to interact inside the bloodstream.
Rather ingenious, really."
"Yeah, terrific. Your tax dollars at
work. Weíve got a bigger problem. Iíd just about bet theyíve got
a contingency plan in place. In other words Ė "
Sharkey nodded. "Yeah, theyíll
probably blow this place, napalm, whatever."
Dr. McEvoy looked around the small chamber.
"We wonít be safe in here?" Sharkey and I shook our heads
in unison. McEvoy pointed her finger at me menacingly. "You, Iím
"Letís get out of here first, Lucretia,
you can always kill me later." I looked at the ex-SEAL.
"What about it, Shark?"
The old training was kicking in. "Okay.
Looks like this room is well-equipped. Rations, water, ponchos, a Glock
9-mm with a bunch of ammo, and Ė hello Ė a portable back-pack flame thrower!"
Dr. McEvoy grabbed several medical kits from
the shelves and threw one of them open. "Yes! Mosquito repellant.
Lots of it." She shrugged. "Works on the little ones."
We saturated the ponchos with every last drop
of mosquito repellant, and draped ourselves in them. We huddled
together at the hatch. Outside, the sounds of retreating automatic
gunfire. The Condition Red alarm abruptly sounded its shrieking
"Okay," Sharkey breathed, "we
donít have much time. But, we have to go together, as quick as we
can. Iíll lead
with the flame thrower, in a circular motion. Weíll have to be as
careful as possible. Donít wanna ignite the bug spray on the ponchos.
Stick together, and if one of Ďem gets on you, sound off, and Iíll
make it go away."
"Look, guys," I said, "this is
my fault, I got us into this. Iím probably too old and slow to pull
this off, so if something happens or I fall down, you gotta leave me,
Doctor Lucy McEvoy actually hugged me.
"Not a chance you old bastard. I get to kill you later,
"Itís a date, Doctor."
Sharkey smiled, the first time since this
whole thing began. "Letís do it."
Sharkey ignited the flame thrower, adjusted
the burst and slowly opened the hatch. He fired a billowing discharge
of flame through the opening, barbecuing a half dozen bloated
mosquitoes. The rest were hovering, smelling fresh blood, but keeping
their distance from the stench of the repellant and the flame.
I have been in some bad places in my life and
career, but I have to acknowledge that those few hundred yards to the
outside were the most harrowing, nerve-shattering of my life. Sharkey
masterfully maintained the adequate amount of fire to keep the
slavering creatures at bay. One nearly skewered my leg, but McEvoy
intercepted it with a steel-tipped cowboy boot, snapping off the
stinger. Once outside, we sealed the outer hatch and dashed for an
abandoned HumVee. Sharkey fired it up, and we sped away, moments
before the facility went up in a boiling cauldron of man-made
hellfire, billions of dollars in perverse research and gigantic dead
Item: The next morning, July 28th,
North Bay Nuclear Research and Development Facility was no more than a
scorched foundation. The area in a five-mile radius was secured for
nearly a month, while the remains were scraped up with bulldozers
piloted by special unit soldiers in HazMat suits and buried deep in
the swamps. Much of the swamp land was similarly burned away with a
hi-tech artificial incendiary that burned for two weeks solid. The
official government position: a sugar cane field fire got out of hand
and accidentally destroyed the facility. A government consultant (a retired
general), along with his group, had been killed in the
fire. There was no danger of radiation or other contaminants to the
general population, we were earnestly assured.
Item: July 28th, 12:45 p.m.
Sheriff John Glenn Sharkey, Assistant Coroner Doctor Lucille Roberta
McEvoy, and yours truly were placed into involuntary quarantine. With
the lack of remaining evidence, we wisely disavowed any knowledge of
the clandestine operations at the North Bay Facility. We were cleared
Item: For the next several months, numerous
people, mainly tourists went missing in the area. To this writing,
none have been found. And the genetically engineered
insects? The government permanently quarantined the area
in the name of 'national security' and still patrols there with armed
soldiers. Occasionally, automatic weaponís fire can be heard
resounding through the swamp surrounding the big lake. Sometimes, the
night sky is illuminated with flame thrower fire. The locals stay out
of the swamp.
Still, as is too often the case, no tangible
evidence, no willing witnesses, no story.
Sheriff Sharkey and Doctor McEvoy both
continue in their jobs in the strange little town of Lake Obsidian,
Florida. This tired old reporter sold his paper, packed up his bags
and headed west. The IRS had audited me twice subsequent to the events
at the facility and my neighbors informed me that men in dark suits
identifying themselves as National Security Agents were asking a lot
of questions about me. Time for some dryer air.
I call Sharkey and McEvoy from time to time,
but they neither will speak of North Bay. But Iíll wager they stay
clear of the swamps and probably donít go out unless necessary after
dark. Do their ears strain for that first sound of a mosquitoís
Of that, I am absolutely sure.
By Charles M. Kovacs. Used by permission. All rights
Mr. Kovacs is a retired
Pulitzer-prize winning reporter now living in New Mexico, Arizona or
possibly Nevada. He has reported the news in papers from Seattle
to New York. Currently, he is writing his memoirs and freelances
for the National Prattler and the Weekly World News.