Within minutes, it was over.
"Gosh, that stinks," said Bibeaux. "Like oil and burnt hair and week-old shrimp."
They covered Jones and the dead, singed parasite with a sheet and put Marek’s cadaver back in the freezer. In the other freezers, Coffman assumed, there were other parasites in cadavers. Some were not dormant now; Coffman could hear them moving around inside, scraping the walls. But they were securely locked in. Doctor Ahmad Jones, no doubt, had been cultivating them. His chrysalis-garden.
Coffman put in a call for back up, phoning in a code he had not had occasion to use before. He had, per protocol, to repeat the code three times before the agent taking the call acknowledged and it went operational, activating a biohazard team from Fort Sam in Texas. Then all he could do until the cavalry arrived was sit tight and maintain the site. He was also responsible for any non-agency personnel on the scene.
"What is that?" said Bibeaux. "Looks like a cross between a cabbage and a real big cunt."
"That’s a very apt description," Coffman said. "I couldn’t come up with better."
"So it’s a parasite?"
"A highly evolved and intelligent one. The first I am aware of that talks."
"Well, we sure shut it the fuck up. You mind if I smoke?"
"Your lungs," said Coffman.
The butane lighter was dead. Bibeaux found a matchbook from a Gulf casino in the pocket of his jeans. He and Coffman sat on the floor, side by side, by the freezer units. Bibeaux lighted a generic cigarette and took a deep drag.
"Want one?"
"No, thanks," said Coffman.
"Is your job always this interesting?"
"No. This is an unusual day," said Coffman. And not a good one: Coffman ranked it the worst of the worst.
"Your name is Ellis?"
"Yeah, but most people call me Bebe." He flicked ash and took another long drag on the cig. Coffman saw his hand was shaking.
"Damn shame about Doctor Jones," said Bebe. "I never liked him much but, still, that’s a terrible fate, a terrible way to go."
"He was already dead."
"That symbiot, the parasite fucker, like, killed him?"
"Doctor Jones has been dead for a considerable time," said Coffman. "The organisms affect the brain, and change the personality of the host."
"I thought he’d changed in the last couple months, now that you mention it."
"Changed how?"
"Kind of distant. Cranky too, especially about the bankruptcy. Got him a new wife."
"They use you and then they kill you," said Coffman.
"Wives?"
"No, the parasites."
"Oh. Duh." Bebe slapped himself up the side of the head.
"They, the parasites, kill you all the while they fill your brain with delusions of grandeur and power. And paranoia. Insidious fuckers. Tough, adaptable. Preservation and propagation are their priorities."
Bebe said: "They come from outer space?"
"No," said Coffman. The origin of the parasites was strictly need-to-know and Bebe didn’t need to know. It was better the public was not informed, in the agency view; seriously, the reasoning went, what could you expect to accomplish with a population so dumbed down they could only see as far ahead as the bumpers on their car or truck? Panic had to be avoided while the situation was contained. He said to Bebe: "But you can bet they weren’t made in Taiwan."
"I don’t see how these are local. Sure been nothing like this in Leclerc before, to the best of my knowledge. Or anywhere else. I didn’t think shit like this actually happened, you know."
"Learn something new every day," said Coffman. "Funny old world."
"Funny old world? Damn," said Bebe. "And you do this for a living? Must pay good."
"Uh-huh." He said: "Maybe I will have a smoke."
"Share this one," said Bebe. "I don’t have cooties."
"OK," said Coffman.
Bebe passed the cig and Coffman took a drag. He hadn’t smoked since his third divorce.
Bebe said, "Bennies?"
"What?"
"Bennies of your job. What they are. Like insurance and stuff."
"Health insurance, yeah. Generous annual leave policy. Pension and savings plan with matching government funds."
"But you got to put up with shit like this, huh?"
"Always a downside." Coffman shrugged and passed the cig back to Bebe.
"Leclerc County is fucked up to work for, with the bankruptcy and all."
"So I heard," said Coffman. "I got a lecture on that earlier."
"I thought about quitting," said Bebe. "Before this. This kind of cinches it for me, I’ll say. Casinos the only thing hiring and I don’t like the hours or the background check and polygraph." He turned to Coffman. "What we do now?"
"Sit and wait. Disposal team is en route. They will clean up this mess."
"How long? Before they get here, and how long before they get it cleaned up?"
"As long as it takes," said Coffman. "Sorry, Bebe, but neither of us is going anywhere for a while. Not until the facility is clear, and there’s a team en route that will make that determination."
"I’m good with that. But what about me after?"
"Don’t worry. You’ll be fine. A non-disclosure form is required. And it’s binding."
"So I got to keep my mouth good and shut, huh?"
Coffman made a zipper motion across his lips and then waved his hand across his throat for emphasis.
"I see," said Bebe. "Well, I’d like to mention, there’s an old custom in this neck of the woods, a little thing we call, uh, well, bribes."
"Incentives," said Coffman.
"Yeah, bribe might be too strong a word."
"The agency can do incentives. I can make that happen for you."
"I’m not greedy or nothing," said Bebe.
"Six figures," said Coffman. "I can make it happen."
"Six high, or six middle, or six lowball?"
"Trust me," Coffman said, thinking lowball. "I’ll see what I can do. You’ll have to trust me, Bebe. We have discretionary funds that can be tapped. You sign the nondisclosure and you give us your word."
"I hear you," said Bebe. "You don’t got to worry about Ellis Bibeaux. Nossir, you don’t. I give my word and I stick to it. How I was raised, you know."
"Good," said Coffman. He liked this kid. Bebe had saved his butt. Quick thinking with the WD40. It wasn’t often that Coffman got to make new friends. His line of work, its hectic schedule, its weirdness and strict need-to-know provisions excluded meeting new people and sharing experiences. Talking about a rough day at the office was, for Coffman, a felony.
"You bring a lunch, Bebe?"
"Oh hell, Mr. Coffman, I can’t eat after all what’s happened." He had vomited before, copiously, while Coffman used the fire extinguisher on the remains of Doctor Ahmad Jones and the parasite that had killed him.
"Here. You can have it." He stood and reached into a desk drawer and handed a brown paper sack to Coffman.
Coffman hadn’t had anything to eat except coffee and dry roasted peanuts on the plane, hours earlier. "What is it?"
"Boudin balls."
"What are boo-dins?" said Coffman. "And why do you eat their balls?"
"They’re sausage," said Bebe. He was more at ease now. Smiling. His hands had stopped shaking and he dangled his cig between his fingers. "That’s a Cajun thing, bro, made with dirty rice and pork and Panko."
"You made this?"
"Me? I don’t cook. My mama did. She’s a widow lady and I live at home and take care of her and she still cooks, even with her arthritis and the shingles. You can’t find a better cook than her. Not nowhere, and that’s a fact! Try it, man. Try them boudin balls. Put you some Tabasco on them too."
"Thanks," said Coffman, taking a bite. Not bad, he thought. He was stuck here in Leclerc USA until this mess was contained, and what the hell, he might as well sample the local cuisine.
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