I walk up to the secretary's desk "I'm here to see Jim at nine," I say.
Mr Elser glances up at me out of habit, although I am sure he recognizes my voice, "He's not here just yet, but you can go in and wait. I'm sure he's expecting you." He returns to his papers, well he never really stopped whatever it is with the papers.
I scuttle past the desk and open the wooden office doors. Mr Montegue's office is one of only three rooms in the ITG office suite. Otherwise there is a large office reception area and a conference room. There must be some filling stuff somewhere too, but I've never seen it. The staff at the main office outside of Chicago is pretty bare bones, but then the office itself is superfluous throw back to the era of store front businesses, every part of the business can be handled online.
As one of the largest temporary nursing agencies in the United States, Mr Montegue's office is appropriately imposing. A wall of windows provides a spectacular view, with a foreground of a neatly maintained office park, followed by neatly maintained million dollar mini-mansions, leading up to the distant downtown Chicago skyline, a hint of the blue of Lake Michigan lies off to the east. On a late autumn day like today the view is a field of fire tamed by the gray concrete of man. The room itself is rather modern, not exactly cold, but not warm either. The carpet is a thin-industrial type in an unnoticeable beige, the furniture, while richer than IKEA is not antique or pricey, in short the room has a function, Mr Montegue works here every day and the room accommodates individual meetings as well as solitary business strategizing without feeling under dressed or overbearing for either occasion.
Several chairs are set out before Mr Montegue's desk and I select the one I know to be the most comfortable, not directly in front of the desk. I take off my backpack and flick through the files I have brought laying the more relevant ones out on the desk. After twenty minutes or so (Jim is running late) he comes in, I do not stand up, we are passed the point of such formalities by now.
Jim does not acknowledge me until he has rummaged about the room doing his normal daily things. He puts things down or away, mutters to himself, and finally sits heavily in the comfortable leather chair behind his desk. At first glance he is a middle age man of middle height and middle appearance, nothing particularly distinguished or distinguishing about him. On further inspection, I have often noticed that he is likely neither as old nor as tall as I assume at first glance, his hair and eyes are a light brownish color and his skin gives me the impression he either tans year round or is not entirely Caucasian. I have heard him described by many people as many different ways, both in appearance and personality; personally I can never think of much description for him.
"What's the deal then?" He asks me finally, leaning back and putting his hands behind his head as he studies me across the desk.
"I don't like this lot very much. I've looked over the files from Butch along with everything else our guys managed to pull." I reply, "It seems like a recipe for disaster to me. Would you turn on the map?"
He nods, shots forward in his chair and begins typing on the pull out keyboard, a projector lowers form the ceiling facing at a vast white expanse on the western wall to my right. It flicks on and a large map of the United States appears, the entire map is color coded based on paranormal energy read outs and updated hourly to reflect the constant data gathering of ITG.
While only about two hundred employees were actively involved in paranormal investigation, every ITG employee was given a company watch after six months as a thank you present. This watch was equipped with a paranormal sensor which sent information back to the company, locations could largely be ascertained based on the individual’s current job and residence, and newer watches held a GPS as well. The GPS was technically speaking illegal, but then everything else had a GPS these days anyway.
I pushed the top folder over to Jim and he picked it up and skimmed the first few papers while, I examined the map for obvious recent changes. The initiation of the driving program meant the coverage of the map was slowly reaching 100 percent, and I noticed several new hot spots across the upper Midwest and Plains which would have to be investigated.
Let me be clear about something here. Jim Montegue was my friend, I had known him for years and he had helped me through a very dark time in my life, but we fundamentally disagreed on the purpose behind tracking the paranormal. Jim believed in obtaining knowledge, he desired simply to know, I do not know now, nor do I suspect I will ever care why this was his motivation, but it was. My motivation for my long and now storied career as a paranormal hunter with ITG was to destroy anything of potential threat to myself or other humans. How could such different ideals exist in one organization?
First, I never voiced my opinion on the matter. I attempted to seem like just another cog in the machine as far as my assignments were concerned. I am certain Jim and his data miners were well aware of my tendency to resort to violence early and often they did not note it aloud to me. Second, over several years my assignments had largely become those which required violent intervention. Of our paranormal investigations, only about half were actually the result of the paranormal, and of those seventy-two percent of the paranormal investigations yielded interactions which were not deemed harmful to humans.
In the twenty-eight percent of cases where violence occurred, the primary investigator handled the situation just fine for twenty-seven of the twenty-eight. That left one percent or half a percent over all of our paranormal investigations which were not satisfactorily resolved by the original investigation. For those cases myself or one of two other long time veterans of ITG were dispatched to resolve or document the situation as needed. This is the real reason my stance was tolerated within ITG, because it was needed.
Jim looks up from the files at me and I return my attention to him. "It's a bad lot." He says, this is exactly the kind of situation he does not want to be in.
"I know," I answer; I also know it will take some tact on my part to get him to commit resources to intervene. "On the last page I suggest hunters that could be contacted that would act on the information."
He flips to the last page and frowns at it. Jim does not like the hunters; they are teams of vigilantes who take out any paranormal entities they come across. These groups have two major problems, one they lack the large information base we have, and in fact lack most basic information on the paranormal at all, but such ghost hunters will always exist and we will never have much luck suppressing them. The second issue flows from the first, the lack of knowledge amongst the hunters means they sometimes incorrectly target humans, the most blood thirsty groups are essentially roving bands intent on mass murder. Our records suggest an equal number of unsolved crimes can be traced back to hunters as to paranormal, but we have no control over them and Jim's abhorrence of violence extends to directly engaging them as well.
"What are our best options," he says throwing the file on the table, placing his elbows on the chair and steepling his hands in front of his mouth.
"There aren't many good options," I say, the best option would have been a preventative strike when we first learned of the enclave, but Jim would never authorize such actions. "Informing any of the hunter gangs, except possibly Le, would likely result in a slaughter of the entire area, even if some of the residents have not been turned. Alex is still on assignment and even with her, me and MJ we would be outnumbered. We could work with Le, but I don't know how they operate." The Le gang is relatively new to hunting and not quite as blood thirsty as the others, at least our limited contact with them would suggest this.
The corners of Jim's mouth tug it into a weary smile, "I notice you do not recommend sending in the regular authorities, the border patrol, for example?" This is meant to be a comment on my violent streak I am sure."
I shake my head, "Not a chance. Look, a fight with a vampire is not that difficult to win it's the numbers in this situation that are problematic for us. Several problems arise with regular authorities, one their movements would likely tip off the cartel in some way, while the group that contacts our little enclave appears small, it must be an off shoot of a much larger group. A potentially very well informed group with lots of guns we could just be setting up a shootout or a situation of bureaucratic inaction. If we go to the authorities and inform them of the smuggling method, well nothing will come of it at best, it's not like they're going to X-ray everyone that crosses the border, at worst they'll just think we're nuts and do nothing anyway. Basically this is a situation where vigilantism is about our only option. Other than doing nothing, which I doubt even you could stomach."
Jim studies me for a long time and I thought he probably could stomach doing nothing. The thought disgusted me and I began playing a video of myself storming out of ITG indignantly and never returning in my head.
After a moment he sighs and mumbles to himself to me it sounds like "I can't afford to lose you." I receive the impression, not for the first time, that he read my reaction out of my mind. Jim contemplates the papers before him for some time before raising his head.
"Here's what we'll do. You and MJ will go down to Santa Fe, it's not to near to were this lot is and shouldn't arose any suspicions." He sketches the plan before him as he speaks, "I don't think I have any nursing positions there right at the moment so it'll just be a vacation. Get the scope of the land, drive up into the mountains were these guys are, get some on the ground reconnaissance. Have MJ contact the Le group and give enough details to see where they're heads are at. We'll reevaluate after a couple of days and decide the best course of action."
I nod, "Fine sounds good to me."
Jim nods in an uncertain, non-committal type way. Whatever, I more or less have what I want, I'll be able to set up an attack on the group with or without his go ahead once I am out there, it's not like MJ would try to stop me.
"The last thing is, of course, Butch's demand." Jim puts in.
"Yeah, I know." In the negotiations for information on the group Butch had been quite insistent on his terms of payment. He wanted a vampire corpse, preferably actually dead as Butch had a rather strange aversion to his own kind. "What's he want it for?"
"Research most likely." Jim answers, returning his hands to the steeple in front of his mouth. "I suppose we'll have to provide it if possible."
"And I'll give him what's left of one if not possible. Is it wise though?" I am concerned by Butch's request, but saw no way around it at the time. Not if we wished to continue doing business with him, which we do.
Jim shrugs, "He knows more about vampirism than anyone else, far more than us anyway. It's not really like we'd be giving him an advantage he's already so far ahead of us, no I'm more concerned about how to move a body across state lines without running in to trouble."
"Oh right," I mumble, I worry more about Butch. Everything I know about him suggests he is a very ancient vampire who also happens to be very insane, perhaps the two go together all the time, but they seem like a bad combination to me.
"I expect getting forged documents that say the body is Butch's brother or sister that wants to be buried on the family farm would be easiest and most realistic. You'll have to let us know details about the body when you get one, and who they actually were, maybe we can get word to the person's family somehow."
I agree, Jim's compassion for the vampire and its human family remind me once again of how dissociated I have become. It used to pain me, my lack of compassion for other human beings, but then I realized I never really liked them anyway, even before I had taken this job.
Jim and I agree on a few more details, contact MJ and book our flight to Santa Fe for later that evening. I leave to work out the details of finding us a hotel room and a rental car.
As I leave Jim shoots one last question at my back, "Why do you do it?"
I turn and look back at him, "What?"
"Why do you do it?" he repeats.
"You have plenty of psychological reports on me. Don't they tell you?" I retort with more hostility then I intend, but it is true, ITG keeps volumes of psychological reports on the paranormal investigators.
"They tell me things, other people's opinions, but I want to know your opinion of yourself." Jim continues.
"I don't know. I could never go back anymore." I say it because I know that's true.
"But why not? You're not paranoid, you don't expect the shadows will be stalking you, and you have enough experience to know most of them aren't. It's not for revenge and not to serve your fellow man, so what for? Why continue? Why not give it up? Move on, have a normal life?" Jim's persistence on this matter is strange, he has never questioned me this way, and truth be told, I have never thought about it.
"I don't know, I suppose I just don't know anything else anymore. Why do you do it? You've been doing this longer then I have."
Jim smiles wearily, "For knowledge," he answers.
Yes, for knowledge, I think. Knowledge of what? Knowledge for what? I study Jim a long time, I realize for the first time how old he must be and how he never seems to age a day. What's he used that knowledge for so far? I wonder briefly, before turning on my heel and walking out.