|Illustration by Ed Catto|
Copperhead's hand, wrapped in snakeskin glove, set down his empty martini glass. At 5' 6", he knew he was shorter than most would expect of a secret agent. We can't all be Bond, or Napoleon Solo, he quipped. He was 39 years old, his red hair as yet untouched by gray. Not an old man. Not a young one either, not in this business. When the ball dropped at midnight, he would accept the fact of his 40th birthday descending upon him as well.
If he lived that long.
Director Morgan--Copperhead's superior at the clandestine agency--settled his large frame into a too-small chair to sit across the table from Copperhead. Morgan was flanked by a half dozen humorless security men, three of whom took their place behind Copperhead. Copperhead smiled politely and without warmth. "Director," Copperhead said in greeting. "I took the liberty of ordering you a martini."
Morgan picked up his martini glass and threw its contents in Copperhead's face. "A drugged drink?," the director sneered. "Surely you don't underestimate me to that degree, Copperhead."
Copperhead's smile did not change as he wiped the spilled liquid from his face. "I don't estimate you at all, Director. You're a traitor, and I'll be simply delighted to end your treasonous criminal career right now."
Morgan wasn't sure whether to laugh or sneer. "Your overconfidence is your undoing, you idiot." Copperhead interrupted: "Perhaps. Though the evidence I've gathered against you should more than compensate."
"Evidence...?" Morgan somehow refrained from sputtering. "Oh yes," Copperhead continued in earnest. "Photographs, documents, banking ledgers, many from secret overseas accounts. Incriminating correspondence. That sort of thing. Evidence of you working with the Chinese and the Russians, both ends against the middle, all of them in betrayal of your own country's interests. Some ex-Nazis, too. I can't imagine your soon-to-be-former comrades in the Kremlin will be happy with the dossiers they've received from...well, let's say from a concerned citizen." Copperhead's smile flashed more widely. "American authorities should be on their way here," Copperhead checked his watch,"ah yes, any minute now."
Morgan's face reddened with fury. "'Concerned citizen,' my ass. That slut Betty...!"
Copperhead's facade of congeniality disappeared. "Your wife, Director. The wife you ignored except when you insulted her, or beat her. I hate bullies. She's safe from you now."
"Safe in your arms, no doubt." Morgan turned to his thugs. "We have time to escape. Kill him quickly."
Before those words had finished leaving Morgan's scowling lips, Copperhead had already dropped to the floor, kicked, and permanently crippled two of his would-be assailants. Copperhead smashed a third foe's head into the wall. The three thugs at Morgan's side drew their weapons as Copperhead leaped across the table, tackling them all at once. One shot himself in the gut, and now writhed on the floor in agony. The other two saw their guns fly from their grasp as blows from Copperhead sent both of them far away from the conscious world.
Morgan was still seated. He aimed his Luger at Copperhead, but found himself frozen stiff in place, even as he tried to pull the trigger. The director's voice could only manage a croaked "What did you do...?!"
Copperhead's smile was now genuine, if no less cold-blooded. "Neurotoxin. Old family recipe, actually. It was on the stem of your martini glass. Nasty stuff to touch." The now-silent director looked with dismay at Copperhead's gloved hands, and understood. "It won't kill you. You'll never move a finger, nor a leg, nor anything. You'll never be able to speak. And you'll never hurt anyone again."
"And I don't give a damn what the Russians do to you."
Morgan's wife Betty was waiting for Copperhead downstairs. They embraced and exited the restaurant as police arrived. The Russians were coming, too. Whatever happened next was no longer Copperhead's affair.
Affair. It had started off as just another affair, and he'd had many of those before. But Copperhead hated bullies. And he had fallen in love with Betty.
Betty glowed in Copperhead's presence. She wasn't showing yet, but they both knew. The secret agent game was no job for a father. As the ball dropped to welcome 1966, Copperhead would spy no more. 40 years old. He wasn't a young man. He wasn't an old one either. His license to kill would not be renewed. He'd never used it anyway.
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