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It was late at the evening, or early in the morning, whichever way you looked at it, and the two United States Marshals were chowing down at a Waffle House in Phoenix. Nancy Taylor had gotten the "All-Star" breakfast special, with eggs, waffle, and sausage, Peter Sevchanko had stuck with just coffee.
"How do you drink that shit, Sev?" Nancy asked.
"Cream and sugar."
"I didnt ask how you take it, I asked how you drink it."
"Isnt that the same think?"
"Because its ninety degrees outside."
It was in point of fact, eighty-seven degrees outside, which was only a slight miscalculation on Nancy's part. Sev studied his partner. Nancy was fat, with a sort of handlebar moustache that drooped down his face. He had about ten years on Sev in seniority, and as Sev had discovered, seniority was everything in the Federal Government.
Sev had joined the Marshals right after leaving the Army. He had spent his entire time in the 75th Ranger Regiment, kicking down doors in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was an exciting life, but one without stability, and when he left with his Honorable Discharge, it was without his wife, and the hearing in his right ear.
The Marshals had proved to be much less exciting. Much had changed since the days of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, and the Service mostly dealt with post conviction law enforcement. Sometimes that could be exciting, like in that movie the Fugitive. Tracking escaped inmates was in fact one of the things the Marshals did. But mostly it consisted of routine, boring work, like escorting inmates from one federal prison to another, or to a federal courthouse, or so forth. Sev had spent more and more of his work time daydreaming about being back Over There. In the desert.
"The coffee keeps me awake." He told Nancy.
"Why not try those energy drinks?"
"Energy drinks are bad for you."
"Coffee's bad for you."
"Studies are saying now that a few cups a day or good for you."
Nancy lifted one leg slightly and farted. "Bullshit." He said. "Its like chocolate bars."
"In the fifties chocolate bars were supposed to be good for you. They were supposed to give you energy. Only what people didnt realize, is that the energy was just a temporary sugar rush. So a whole generation of kids turned into fatasses, because they were told that stuff was good for them."
"Is that what got you?"
Nancy flipped him the bird. "The point is." He said. "You and your whole generation are going to end up all twitchy with stained teeth. And just because you thought something obviously negative wasnt going to be that bad."
"I used to smoke." Sev mused. "I had to do something when I quit smoking. What do you do?"
"Nothing." Nancy said. "I'm a Mormon. No caffiene at all."
The waitress walked over to refill Sev's cup. She was in her mid fifties, or possibly in her forties and rode hard while being left out wet. The nametag said her name was Deborah. When Nancy filled her in on the subject of their conversation she smiled a mouthful of yellow teeth and said "I smoke two packs a day, hon. Nothing bad is good for you."
When they reached the Prison Sev had to be reminded to leave his sidearm in the trunk of their car. The lobby was eerie calm, lit up flourescent white and green. They showed their badges to an Officer and were escorted through. The lieutenant that met them had sweat stains underneath his armpit.
"We cant let you go yet." He said. "Its count time."
They sat their in the lieutenants office waiting. Sev gave him the paperwork and the Lieutenant barely looked at it, simply scribbled where he was supposed to sign, and went back to watching TV. The three of them sat there doing nothing and looking at each other until finally the Lieutenant spoke.
"I was reading this book." He said. "About vampires."
"That the twilight stuff?" Nancy grinned. "My tween daughter reads that."
"Whats a tween?" Sev asked.
"Its like this thing inbetween teenager and kid. Like a twelve year old." the Lieutenant said.
"They have to have a name for that?"
"Its marketing." Nancy said. "They have a name for everything. They even have a name for your generation, specifically, the ones that cant leave home, or find a job."
"Ive heard of this." The lieutenant said. "The 'twixters'."
"I have a job." Sev huffed. "I dont live at home."
"What I'm trying to say," The lieutenant continued, "Is I read a vampire book. Which was not twilight. And in this book, this FBI agent is getting death row convicts to participate in military medical experiments."
"Which turned them into vampires."
"Right, but thats not even the point. The point is, and it seemed like a huge plot hole to me, is why get death row inmates? Those guys, they have to be executed eventually. Their watched and tracked. Just find some nobodies inside our system, and dont even tell them anything. Tell them their being transferred or whatever."
"Why would the military conduct vampire secret experiments?"
"Vampire superpowers." Nancy said.
"You read the book?" Sev asked.
"No, but that's the only thing that makes sense."
"Look." Sev said. "This is just a transfer."
The lieutenant laughed. "I dont give a shit either way." He said. "Another thing the book got wrong. Theres your inmate."
The inmate, whose name was Jarvon Smith, was appropriately skinny and decorated in various tattoes proclaiming his gang affiliation and antisocial tendencies. The first thing out of his mouth was, "I aint leaving without my stuff."
"Your what?" Sev asked.
"His cell property." The lieutenant said helpfully.
"The last time I got transferred." The inmate said. "Y'all fucked up and didnt send my stuff with me. I lost two pairs of shoes and everything. Now I got one of dem new MP3's, and I got to have my stuff."
"Son." Nancy said. "If you come along with us, you have my personal word that all your things will follow you to your new home."
"I'm going home?" The inmate blinked.
"He means institution." The lieutenant said. "Home as a figure of speech. Sign here."
The inmate signed and went obediently along with them in handcuffs.
"Hey." The lieutenant was saying. "At the end of the book, almost everyone dies."
"Huh?" Sev said.
"They unleash this zombie vampire virus. Spreads across America and infects everybody."
"Its just a transfer." Sev told him.
"I know. Dont fuck it up that bad, ok?"
The car was a pleasure to drive, one of those new eight cylindered dodge challengers, that ate up whole tracts of pavement in a throaty roar. It came ecquipped with a new satellite radio, that Nancy insisted on putting to one of those right wing talk shows. When he was asleep, Sev changed it back to Indie Rock. There was a lot of music he had missed over there, in the desert. Whole spans of life and culture gone out from under him. He was thinking about the lieutenant and Nancy talking about generations and marketing. There was plenty of marketing done about soldiers, in advertisements and such, but nothing he could see marketed too him. No one that cared of his opinion. His own generation was being defined by its lack of maturity and commitments. He was outside all of it, and he felt like an outsider still.
They stopped the car at a gas station. The inmate claimed he needed to piss and Nancy went with him. When they came back just a moment later, the inmate was howling profanity and bleeding from his lip.
"Start the car." Nancy said, shoving the inmate in the back seat, and Sev did, driving away in a hurry.
"What happened?" He asked.
"He had a shank." Nancy said cooly.
"Your a fucking liar." the inmate said. "Tell him the truth."
"Shut up." Nancy told him.
"He tried to touch my dick." The inmate was crying. "He called me a faggot and tried to touch my dick, man. And then he fucking punched me in the face. While I'm in cuffs and shit. Cant even do nothing."
Nancy turned around in his seat, his glock handgun pointed back to the inmate. "I'll tell you one more time." He said. "Shut up." Sev was trying his best to concentrate on driving and not think of what would happen if his partner shot the prisoner while he was handcuffed in the back seat. The end of his job, to say the least. But the prisoner shut up, and Nancy put the gun away, and for a while everyone continued like nothing had gone wrong.
When they reached the New Mexico border the soldiers were there to take custody, and Jarvon Smith's eyes grew big and wide for a second, but then the soldiers were laughing and giving him an MRE from the back of their truck. He laughed too, but nervous, still looking at the Marshals. It was daylight and Sev was very tired. Nancy was on the laptop.
"Gotta hit, buddy." He said. "Or next assignment."
"Where is it?" Sev asked.
"An orphanage in Texas." Nancy whistled. "For a ten year old." A picture of Vanna Reed filled the screen, and something flipped deep inside Sev's gut. At the end of the book, he thought. Everyone's dead. But he put the adress into the GPS, and drove on down the road.