Title: Double Agent
Author: Jordanna Morgan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Archive Rights: Please request the author’s consent.
Characters: Leo, Zapp, original character.
Summary: Leo meets one of the rarer inhabitants of Hellsalem’s Lot.
Disclaimer: Leo, Zapp, and Hellsalem’s Lot belong to Yasuhiro Nightow. Only Glufner is my creation.
Notes: Written for the prompt of “Eye” at Fan Flashworks.
“So how about that JumGrub joint on 36th?”
“Are you kidding? I’ve driven by that place on my deliveries. Their sign shows something that looks like a giant grasshopper on a skewer.”
“…Okay. So that’s a no.”
“Maybe Addison’s Café? That sounds pretty normal, right?”
“Steven tried them last week. He said their sandwich bread was like foam packing peanuts, and the coffee tasted like—”
“Uh, yeah. You know what, I really don’t think I need to hear the rest of that sentence.”
Heaving a sigh, Leonardo Watch pushed open the door of Libra Headquarters and stepped outside, with Zapp Renfro in his wake. On their way downstairs, conversation had lapsed—as it did too often, through no real fault of their own—into a pondering of what restaurants in Hellsalem’s Lot were humanly survivable. At this rate, lack of money wasn’t going to be the reason Leo starved to death.
But that was a problem for later. Right now they were working. Zapp was due for a rendezvous with one of Libra’s informants, and Klaus had suggested that Leo tag along, with a remark that it could be “enlightening” for their young rookie agent.
Leo couldn’t say he was thrilled about the prospect. From acquiring all-seeing eyes to finding out what the food in Hellsalem was like, no enlightenment he’d gained here had ever turned out to be positive.
The funny thing was that Zapp hadn’t complained about bringing Leo with him. In fact, he actually looked almost like he’d agreed with Klaus on the idea. …Which unprecedented and terrifying phenomenon kind of made Leo wonder if a second Great Collapse was imminent. However, neither the sky nor the ground had opened up to swallow the city yet, so he was just going to hope for the best until there were further indications to the contrary.
With a shake of his head, he emerged onto the sidewalk of an eternally busy street. “So where are we supposed to meet this informant?”
“Right here,” Zapp answered, and strode toward a taxi cab that sat waiting at the curb.
Oh… A police-informant cabbie. Duh.
As Zapp climbed into the cab, Leo hurried to join him, sliding into the rear passenger side. His first glance at the driver caught a corpulent, multi-chinned figure that looked more or less human… well, if humans had pale-green skin and curling goat horns, anyway.
Then Leo prudently shifted his full attention to buckling his seatbelt. Even if they weren’t going to move an inch from that curb, he didn’t care to take any chances with the possibility of serious bodily injury while inside it—because, you know, Hellsalem’s Lot. It was simply a fact of life that while sitting with its engine turned off, the cab could still end up on its roof at any moment.
“Glufner Wilson,” Zapp said casually by way of introduction, waving a hand toward the driver. “Meet our rookie, Leonardo Watch.”
As the man struggled to turn his bulk sideways, a peculiar thought stood out to Leo: this Glufner Wilson seemed to have a human last name paired with an alterworlder given name. Together with his appearance, this inevitably raised the question of whether he was somehow of mixed parentage, despite the short span of three years since the Great Collapse brought humans and alterworlders together. Leo didn’t doubt there were some alterworld species who could grow to maturity in that period… but then, something about Glufner’s graying hair and weathered hide suggested he had a lot more years on him than that.
Although Leo wasn’t about to express any impolite curiosity to Glufner’s face, he made a mental note to ask Zapp later. For now, as the cabbie finally succeeded in maneuvering himself to look back at the passenger seats, the younger man merely smiled and bobbed his head. “Pleased to meet you, sir.”
Glufner flashed a whole mouthful of broad, flat teeth made for grinding, looking like nothing so much as a horned hippopotamus. “Likewise. Always happy to see a new face join Libra. You workin’ with Zapp here? Well, lemme tell ya, you’re in good hands. This guy saved my life one time, when some extortionist creep found me out for a tipster.”
Hearing praise for Zapp was awkward enough to tie Leo’s tongue. He grinned a little harder and made a noise that could hopefully be construed as an agreement.
For his part, Zapp merely acknowledged the compliment with a smirk before he turned to business. “So, Gluf. What’s the dope on this body-smuggling ring trying to set up in Hellsalem?”
“Yeah.” Glufner twisted back around to fish for something in a glove box jammed full of detritus. Coming up with a battered notebook, he skimmed through the pages. His big fingers were surprisingly dexterous—considering that each one was tipped with a thick black nail that resembled a miniature divided hoof.
“They just about got their plans together now,” he began. “The word I got from my sources is…”
He began to read off items from his smudged scrawl of notes that appeared to be written in an alterworld language. Altogether, the fragments of information comprised a plot to use gill breathers to smuggle alterworlder cadavers out of Hellsalem’s Lot. The goal was to sell them overseas to several interested parties—including certain foreign governments—who had nasty ideas about using non-human organs and DNA to create physically-enhanced supersoldiers. Furthermore, the intel on where the ring planned to obtain those bodies was vague enough to raise concerns about the safety of still very-much-alive alterworlder citizens. On both the human and otherwise sides of the equation, this was definitely the kind of scheme Libra was made to combat.
Even so, Leo couldn’t fully keep his mind on the case being laid out. Curiosity about Glufner continued to nag at him. It wasn’t that he felt there was any reason to distrust the informant; the man was clearly a well-established contact of Libra’s, and he did seem to have a genuine rapport with Zapp. But still…
But still. Leo had been living in Hellsalem’s Lot long enough to know that you improved your life expectancy by double-checking everything—several times over, if possible.
For a guy who could pull the names of Blood Breeds out of thin air just by looking at them, it would be easy to confirm that the alien writing in Glufner’s notebook matched the verbal account he was giving. Leo decided that one little test wouldn’t hurt. If the notes did contain the same information Glufner was telling Zapp… then he would let himself relax.
Leo opened his eyelids a crack, allowing the blue glow of the All-Seeing Eyes of the Gods to glimmer out of them. Their lenses activated as he focused on the notebook in Glufner’s meaty hand. Immediately the mess of bizarre symbols resolved into… well, it probably wasn’t actual letters of the English alphabet, but something Leo’s mind was able to understand just as clearly.
The bullet points on the page lined up perfectly with the details Glufner had been recounting. Good.
Reassured, Leo began to close his eyes again. But as he leaned back, his gaze flickered across the heavy form of Glufner himself—and a breath choked in his throat as he froze.
Glufner had an aura Leo had never seen the likes of before. It was like… like two clashing colors being present in exactly the same spot, simultaneously both blending together and completely different. At least this was how he would have described it if asked, because the intangible overlay of existences wasn’t really colors at all, but that was the one frame of reference he could suggest for any sane human mind to relate to. The only similar thing he could think of was Dog Hummer and his sentient-blood partner Deldro. However, their auras were distinctly separate to Leo, unlike this one—or ones. He honestly wasn’t even sure.
Fool though Zapp was in various ways, he had the battle instincts to be acutely aware of Leo’s gasp and stiffening at his side. In the middle of asking Glufner a question, he halted and turned to the rookie—and his focus shot the rest of the way up to razor-edge when he saw the glow of All-Seeing Eyes. “What’s the problem?”
Through the jarring paradox of the haze that surrounded Glufner, Leo noticed that the cabbie’s jowly face also showed a polite and sincere concern.
“Sorry, I…” Leo swallowed and shut his eyes completely, cutting out the extra layer of vision that was about to start messing with his head if he looked at it any longer. “It’s just… uh, Mr. Wilson… you’re not possessed or something, right?” His voice rose almost to a squeak on that uncomfortable query.
Before Glufner could respond, much to Leo’s surprise, Zapp’s hand delivered a reprimanding slap to the back of his head.
“Don’t be freakin’ rude, man! This guy’s on our side!”
“Ow!—But Zapp, I saw it! It’s like he’s got… I don’t know, two souls in there!”
Glufner raised thick eyebrows and scratched his stubbly chins, looking entirely unruffled. “Huh, that?—Oh, that’s just the guy I ate for breakfast.”
“Whoa, hey, you don’t wanna be making cannibal jokes to the kid. There was this thing with these other body smugglers before…” The tone Zapp aimed at Glufner was apologetic, but it evaporated as he turned to roughly shove his now wide-eyed confederate against the seat. “Don’t be a dumbass, Leo. You think Libra’d be working with Glufner if we didn’t know his deal? He’s not possessed. …He just had a little accident during the Great Collapse.”
That was enough to give Leo pause. He blinked, and only then remembered self-consciously to close his eyes again, hiding the unsettling sight of phantasmagoric blue orbs. “An accident?”
Zapp’s face was uncharacteristically grave as he exchanged a look with Glufner.
For his part, the cabbie’s expression softened. Strangely, he looked almost… sympathetic? It was something not unkind, at any rate, but perhaps just a little sad.
“Ah, gotcha. So you are that ‘All-Seeing Eyes’ guy I been hearing rumors about. …First person ever to glom onto how I’m different just by lookin’ at me, anyway. Kinda interesting to hear you describe it like that. Sounds simple the way you put it, but I never really had the words myself.”
Glufner paused, but there was a distinct sense that he was gathering his thoughts to continue, so Leo didn’t interrupt. In silence he watched the big green man rest his hands on the steering wheel and stare down at them, heavy hoof-nails drumming the wheel’s torn vinyl cover.
“See, the Great Collapse was about different worlds smashin’ into each other, right? Did a lotta damage, but mostly it didn’t have any physical effect on people—least not if they didn’t get hit by all the rubble.” Reflected in the rear-view mirror, Glufner’s thin smile was much more of a wince. “But in a coupla really rare cases, if two people happened to be standing in the exact same spot in different worlds the moment they came together, then the smash was more of a smush… an’ all of a sudden you’d have just one person where there usedta be two.”
Staring at Glufner’s earnest gaze in the mirror, Leo briefly forgot to breathe as he tried to process that explanation.
“Are you saying… you’re two different people?”
“Was,” Glufner corrected phlegmatically, with a small waggle of his hand. “The Wilson half of me was just your average-joe New York cabbie. The Glufner half of me, though? Ya might say he was the other side’s equivalent of a cop.”
Leo swallowed hard, and Glufner chuckled ruefully, looking at least a bit pleased that his divulged secret found a thoroughly engaged audience.
“I remember both those lives before that day. Don’t really remember too much about the Collapse—’cept both of the guys I was were tryin’ to get other people to safety. Always been kinda proud of that. …But then it just happened. One second I was two people, the next I was—me. Both of ’em together, as one single schmuck. It was confusin’ as all hell… but I can honestly say it didn’t hurt.”
…And the sum of those sober, matter-of-fact recollections was just a little bit much to handle.
Despite all the brain-breaking things Leo’s eyes had forced him to grapple with, the idea of two people literally merging into one was more than he could get his head around; probably more than he wanted to, if he was honest. After about three seconds of trying to fathom how it would feel, he mentally recoiled from letting himself think about it too much. All he could conclude was that to end up becoming a guy as calm and amiable as Glufner Wilson, both of the men he once was must have been pretty remarkable.
He could understand now why Klaus had wanted him to meet Glufner, and why even Zapp thought it was a good idea. If there really were other cases of such merging in Hellsalem, he would know what he was looking at when he saw them—and he wouldn’t be freaked out again by that impossible two-for-one aura. He doubted that someone else would take his first reaction as gracefully as Glufner had.
The suspicion was confirmed by a quick glance sideways at Zapp. His face betrayed none of his typical condescension. Instead he was watching Leo’s response with grim interest, and perhaps even a tiny bit of approval.
“O…kay,” Leo said slowly, managing to give Glufner a faint quiver of a smile. “I’m just… not even going to pretend I can imagine what it’s like being you. But I know one thing. You’re a really amazing guy.”
A distinct hint of red bloomed under the green of Glufner’s jowls, but he shook his head. “I was just in the wrong place at the right time.”
That phrasing caught Leo off guard. Closed lids twitched, but he barely managed to stop himself from becoming wide-eyed again.
“The right time? You mean you don’t regret what happened to you?”
“Well, I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure about it at first. Not angry or sad. It was all just damn weird.” A shrug of buffalo shoulders. “But after a little while… it felt right. Like the guy I am is whole in ways the other two never was. ’Sides, now I get to use both my skill sets to do somethin’ worthwhile for this crazy city that made me.”
“He cared about keeping law and order because of that alterworlder-cop side of him,” Zapp interjected. “While the human cabbie side gave him street smarts even cops can’t match.”
Glufner nodded enthusiastically. “So I work the parts of town where some of the shadiest folks hole up. I gab with ’em. Give ’em a free ride sometimes, on the excuse I’m just goin’ their way anyways. Even tip ’em off about little things that could get in the way of their business. They get to trusting me—and then they’re comfortable talkin’ around me. After all, nobody expects a guy with a mug like mine to be a mole for the law.”
“That’s awesome,” Leo breathed. “But… it must be so dangerous. What if somebody else finds you out, like that guy Zapp saved you from?”
The big man smirked. “Well, hey—I said I eat guys for breakfast, didn’t I?”
Zapp facepalmed. “Seriously, Gluf…”
“Ah, you spoil all my fun.” Squirming sideways, Glufner patted the center console between the front seats. “Don’t worry about me. There’s a few tricks stashed in this heap. An’ if that’s not enough, I got a head full of self-defense training from my alterworld half—plus a little genetic bonus.” He flashed his oversized teeth. “I don’t stay in the shape I’m in just ’cause I’m lazy, ya know. The fat on me is bulletproof.”
…Which really couldn’t have been more perfect. Leo found himself returning the smile.
“Okay already,” Zapp butted in. “So you two are solid. Great. Now we’ve gotta report the intel he gave us.” He turned to the green driver. “Gluf, keep up the good work… and don’t make me have to save your giant ass again.”
Leo knew Zapp well enough to recognize the note of fondness and concern hiding deep down underneath the barb.
“C’mon, man. It was one time—an’ bulletproof don’t mean flame-proof,” Glufner retorted with equal friendly crustiness as Zapp stepped out of the cab. Then his gaze returned to Leo, and he shrugged.
“Don’t let him get under your skin. Like I said, he’s a right guy when you need one.”
“Yeah… I know.” Leo grinned. “At least when he wants to be.”
“If he forgets to wanna be for you, he’ll hear it from me. I can already tell you’re one of the good ones.” Shifting awkwardly, the cabbie stuck out his hand. “You can catch a ride with me any time. Good luck out there, Leo.”
Accepting the handshake, Leo nodded. “You too.”
Leo followed Zapp from the cab then, and with a wave of his hand out the window, Glufner drove off; and the two Libra agents started for the hidden entrance to Headquarters.
The silence held for five seconds before Leo spoke.
“So, I mean, for real… he was joking about eating people, right?”
© 2018 Jordanna Morgan