Than to Fade Away
rating: +41+x

1990

Midnight hung over the waters of Portland's Willamette River. The sky was clear, and its many stars reflected off the tepid waters that meandered below. Along the bank, beneath a streetlamp, a lone man waited. His long brown hair was tied back, and a heavy coat on his shoulders kept out the cold. Before long, he was joined by another gentleman.

"Does the black moon howl?" The latter asked. He was short, stocky, with red hair shaved in the standard issue for men of his profession.

"Only when the sun dies," the former replied. "You must be Agent Johnson."

"And you're Markham Lewis. I'm glad we could meet."

"Yeah, I hope you are," Lewis sighed. "I'm painting a pretty big bullseye on my back for this."

He then reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a small plain box, handing it to his coconspirator. Inside was a single 9 mm round with a name engraved on its casing.

"Who is Theodore Stowe?" Johnson asked, squinting as he inspected the ammunition under a street light.

"A fed working in Three Ports," Lewis answered. "Currently, he's the one tasked with leading their investigation of Sycamore Gordon's operation. It's thaumatologically linked to him. I'm willing to bet you can guess the intended effect."

"Literally a magic bullet," Johnson chuckled. "Kennedy must be rolling in his grave. How many more of these does he have? Who are his intended buyers? Who are his targets?"

Lewis shrugged. "You got me. Sycamore isn't exactly loose-lipped. I can try and find out though."

"We're dead in the water until you do," Johnson chuckled. "Three Portlands isn't a place known for being tolerant of our kind poking around."

"I'll reach out when I'm ready. Keep your ears open skipper." Lewis began to depart. "Heads up, it's going to take some time."

"May I ask you a question, Mr. Lewis?"

The informant paused and looked back over his shoulder. "You can call me Mark, man."

"Alright, Mark," Johnson continued. "Why?"

"Because Sycamore Gordon needs to be stopped," Lewis replied flatly. "This is the kind of thing that will start an arms race on the other side. God forbid it ends up in less judicious hands. At least with you guys it ends up in a concrete bunker somewhere to rust."

Johnson nodded once more. "Understood. You take care."

"You too, skipper."


1993

It hurts a lot to get punched. It hurts, even more, to get punched in the face. It hurts most when this is done over and over again. Needless to say, the fight within the Portland alleyway that Agent William Johnson found himself in was not going his way.

His sting operation had gone south. A known associate of Sycamore Gordon had fled. Fortunately, it appeared he was the faster runner. Unfortunately, he was not the better hand to hand combatant. An eighth consecutive hook to his skull left the agent floored on the wet concrete.

"Tough luck, friend," the goon said, spitting a wad of blood from his broken nose onto Johnson's frame. He drew a pistol from within his blazer. The barrel was leveled, the hammer pulled back. Johnson closed his eyes.

BANG

Johnson let out a gasp. Then paused. He had definitely been shot before. He knew it hurt a lot more than this. Opening an eye, he saw the goon was dead, a bullet lodged in his skull. A familiar face was already helping him to his feet.

"Mark?" the agent asked. "What the hell are you doing? You're going to blow your cover. The operation-"

"Shut the fuck up and help me get you out of here!" Markham Lewis hissed. "You guys have a mobile HQ or something, right?"

The agent nodded, his arm around the informant's shoulder as the two hobbled along as fast as their feet could carry them.

"How are you holding up?" Markham eventually asked. "No offense, but that was an ass-kicking."

Johnson let out a laugh that quickly turned into a wince. His right eye already began to swell shut. Breathing hurt. But at least he was alive to complain about it.

"Bill," he said.

"What?"

"You can call me Bill," he went on. "Least I can do after that."

"The least you can do is buy me a drink," Markham replied with a laugh of his own. "Seriously though, don't mention it. We're all on the same team, right?"

"Yeah, but generally I'm the one saving the informant."

It was at this point the unmarked van had pulled up, Markham quickly handing off Johnson to his colleagues inside. As the door began to close, before the vehicle sped away to vanish among the Portland traffic, Mark heard Johnson's voice call out:

"Name the bar, Mark."


1994

"Can't sleep?"

Markham turned his head towards the balcony door to find Bill emerging from the dark hotel room. The informant gave a tired smile.

"I have a lot on my mind," he replied.

"Hey, me too," Bill chuckled. He lit up a cigarette and offered the pack, which Markham denied. "Anything in particular, or is this general anxiety?"

"Just what I'll need to do when all of this is over," Markham sighed. "Unlike you, I can't turtle back into a bunker somewhere when the trigger gets pulled. I have to get a little more creative. Figure out which bridges are burned and which are in the process of burning."

Bill nodded and took a long drag.

"I was actually thinking about that," he said. "You know we're always looking for new special agents. I can promise you you'd go far."

"Yeah? You already offering me a promotion, sir?" Markham grinned. Bill rolled his eyes and took another drag.

"Look, all I'm saying is think about it. You're a good man, Mark. We could really use you in the long term."

The agent flicked the remainder of the cigarette away and pulled Markham in close.

"I could use you in the long term too."

Markham fell silent as a head with short red hair rested on his shoulder.

"I'll think about it," he whispered. "Come on. Let's get back inside. It's going to start raining soon."


1995

"So that's that then?" Markham stood along the pedestrian walkway of the Steel Bridge. The city lights cast their reflections into the water below for miles in either direction. That it was three in the morning meant the bridge's traffic had reduced to all but a light trickle, offering a certain level of privacy to the conversation. "You guys and the feds mopped up Gordon's crew?"

"Gordon was not present during the raid," Bill replied. "But that aside, yes. His operation is dead and buried."

Markham nodded and looked into the murky water below.

"Hard to believe it's all over. Five years, Bill… Where did the time go?" He sighed."You do know that so long as he's also not dead and buried, you and I aren't safe, Bill. No one is."

"Oh, I am acutely aware of that." Bill shrugged and gave his colleague a tired smile. "But that's just part of the trade, right?"

He paused.

"Mark, were you able to find any more of Gordon's product before your final extraction? If those fall into the wrong hands-"

Markham nodded, and reached into his coat, pulling out a plain cardboard box. The agent snapped it up and analyzed the contents within. Roughly 60 9mm rounds were inside, each engraved with the name of several UIU, GOC, and Foundation agents.

"Wonderful." Bill's smile was now ear to ear. "I think it goes without saying that we couldn't have done this without you. You're my goddamn hero, Mark."

"Oh trust me, I know," Markham smirked. "But truth be told, it's not often I get to work with such a great team."

Before long, the smiles faded. Both men returned their gaze back to the river below.

"What happens for you now?" Bill eventually asked.

"I lay low," Markham shrugged. "Three Ports. The Library. Backdoor, probably. Somewhere Gordon and most of his goons have been banned."

"You'd make a fantastic special agent. We could really use your talents."

Markham shook his head.

"We talked about this, Bill. I've met enough of your 'special agents' to know that's just picking one type of cell for another," he replied. "Nah. I'm going to need to pass. But, I could always use someone watching my back…"

Bill's eyes closed. A head shake of his own followed.

"You of all people should know that I can't do that."

Markham nodded.

"Heh," he said with a sheepish grin. "Can't blame me for trying. Miss the shots you don't take, right?"

Silence returned and lingered over the pair for minutes that stretched out for what seemed like hours.

"So I guess this is it then," Bill whispered.

"I guess so." Markham closed his eyes and turned away. "But hey, we'll probably work together again, real soon. You guys are my most stable employ-"

Two arms grabbed Markham from behind and pulled him into a tight hug. He tightly squeezed the hands clasped in front of his chest.

"Are you containing me, Bill?" he asked.

"Please," the agent replied. "Just… a few moments longer."

Two silhouettes stood quietly beneath the streetlamp. Seconds passed into minutes. Eventually, Markham stepped away.

"We'll work again, Bill," he said. "I promise."


2018

"I promise…"

The years had not been kind to Markham Lewis. Where once long brown hair had adorned his head, was now the mark of a man who would rather shave off what little hair remained than let his hair loss be known. His eyes now required a set of thick glasses to function. Standing under that streetlamp, he looked at the river below and thought aloud.

"Where did all the time go?"

A cough from a young man standing nearby was his reply.

"Markham Lewis?" he asked. He was a lanky, slender fellow. Short blond hair and a neatly trimmed beard.

"I don't know why I held out hope that Bill might actually be the one to show up." A melancholy smile crept upon the old informant's face. "I don't suppose you could tell me how Agent Johnson is doing these days?"

"Agent Johnson was killed in the line of duty in 2001, sir," the young man replied. "I'm Agent Damian Creed. I guess you could call me a replacement of sorts."

Lewis's eyes closed. "I see," he said. "A hero?"

"I'd call him as much, yes," Creed answered.

"Just like Bill."

Lewis fell silent. Tears began to run down his cheeks. Agent Creed hung back awkwardly, waiting several moments in silence before finally clearing his throat once more.

"Our mutual contact said you had something you wanted to turn in," Creed said.

"Oh, right," Lewis wiped the tears from his eyes. He reached into his ragged coat and pulled out a small, plain box. "Took me many, many years to track these down. I think they might have been the last ones Sycamore Gordon made before he was gunned down. Figured you guys would like the full set. Not that either of them is going to be of much use for long."

Creed cautiously opened the box. He nodded upon scanning the contents. By the time he had looked up, Markham Lewis was already vanishing into the dark.

"What happens to you now, Mr. Lewis?" Creed called out.

The old man shrugged.

"I guess I just vanish again," he called back. "I… I think it will be easier this time."


"The Assistant Director will see you now."

Agent Creed nodded to the secretary and stepped into the office beyond. At a large desk therein sat a short, stocky man with the standard-issue haircut of men of his profession. While some red hairs still fought the good fight, the rest of his hair had long since turned gray.

"Agent Creed," Assistant Director of Task Forces William Johnson said, not bothering to look up from his paperwork. "What can I do for you? Why did you request this appointment?"

"We had a standard pick up from an old field asset. Someone from back in the days of the Sycamore Gordon operation," Creed stepped forward. "They mentioned you by name. Figured you would be interested."

The Assistant Director paused. He turned his gaze onto the young man before him expectantly.

"Markham Lewis?"

"Gave him the usual KIA spiel." Creed nodded then paused. "He seemed quite upset to hear about your passing, sir. I take it you two were close?"

"We worked on that op for five years," Johnson replied. "I would have taken a bullet for that man. Hell, I did, more than once."

There was sadness in the smile that came to Johnson's face.

"Best partner I've ever had. The once in a lifetime kind."

At this comment, Creed silently placed the box he had received down on the desk and slid it toward his superior.

The old man gingerly opened it. Inside were two 9mm rounds. Engraved upon each one was a single name.

Markham Lewis

William Johnson

William Johnson's hands shook as he quickly closed the lid and forcefully slid the box back across the desk. Creed watched as the old man turned his chair away. A moment later a sob could be heard.

The young agent silently crept back towards the door, peering behind him once more as the sobs became more frequent. Without a word he exited the office, leaving his superior alone with thoughts and memories.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License