Friday, 20 February 2015

How Ishmael Got His Name (Episode 20)

From: Ferryman
Sent: Tuesday, September 15, 2014 3:48 a.m.
To: Sumac, Sumac’s Other Email Addy, Pine, Pine’s backup addy
Subject: This would be easier by telephone.

Very well. since neither of you trust me as yet, we shall continue our introductions via email. Honestly, I don't know what the trouble is. You've no need to conceal your voices from me, since I know bloody well who both of you are.

Mr. Suso Sourenian, you and I have sat knee to knee during a rather dry and long-winded audit of my personal, international taxes from 2008 until 2011. You already know who I am. You even know how many pairs of underwear I buy in an average year, and you have the receipts to prove it.

And as for you, Ms. Penny Walkingbird, we danced together at Ishmael's birthday party in 2006. It saddens me to see how quickly you've forgotten my charming demeanour and superb footwork. You were wearing a blue velvet gown and a tasteful, but rather economical, faux-diamond, faux-sapphire necklace. I see, however, that you've recently had your hair shaved nearly to the scalp. I'm actually rather taken by the new pixie look. It's really quite becoming on you.

And if that isn't enough to win you over, allow me to toss all protocol to the wind and prove that I trust you two by simply coming out and saying, "Hello, my name is Anders Jewell Anderson, the oldest man alive." Born June 6th, 1837, if you must know. America was only sixty-one years old when I was born, and it took another thirty more before Canada became its own country. I was fifty when Sherlock Holmes first appeared in print. Suffice it to say, this is not my first rodeo. It is, however, my messiest rodeo to date.

Now that I've told you that much - in writing no less - it is now within your power to march over to Abram Haberman's desk and announce that I, Anders Jewell Anderson, am in cahoots with Owen Ishmael Chase wherein it concerns the protection and preservation of those precious few lycanthropic lives in Moldova and its surrounding environs. Furthermore, I shall go so far as to implicate Vice-Chair Chloe Anderson - my wife - in said illegal enclave of involuntary lycanthropes. Said shapeshifters, by the way, are hardy wolf-types with exquisite silver coats, in case you were still looking for a worthy forebear, my dear Ms. Pine.

Now, having performed the obligatory formalities, let us continue.

I feel it necessary to resolve any remaining doubt that Ishmael is in any sort a criminal. It is true that he has withheld funds from Wyrd, but that in no way means that he has been stealing from Wyrd. As you have seen, Mr. Sumac, there are cases of embezzlement afoot in our sprawling organization, and you have already proven that Ishmael is not to blame. (Before you ask, I'm at a loss who might have done it, but I do have several guesses. And no, for once it wasn't me.)

Allow me to regale you with the story of why I gave this feline great-heart the name of Ishmael.

In 1982, I was a part-time field operations agent, as you are now, Ms. Pine. My wife was already serving on the board of directors, though not yet in her role as Vice-President.

I had first been deployed to Mississippi, where a small enclave of were-panthers had taken up residence and quite decimated the local poultry industry. I was dispatched in the hopes that perhaps I might determine the level of threat they presented, understand more about their most intriguing and non-lycanthropic nature, and furthermore, bring them into the fold, as it were. Sadly, this was not to be. They were far more vicious as human beings than in their feline form, and they spent considerably more time in their feline form than as anything else. With great alacrity - and much regret - I put a quick, quiet, and thorough end to them all.

A month later, I was redeployed to New Orleans in response to sightings of a circus animal running about on its hind legs, terrorizing several of the county's most productive chicken and dairy farms. Since he was such a risk to our secrecy and security, Wyrd issued a k/c/q, with explicit instructions to kill the rogue on sight. I volunteered, as I felt it necessary to correct my own errors and complete the task I had begun in Mississippi.

By the time I arrived, there was already a posse with dogs hot in pursuit of said bipedal feline. Unfortunately, I stumbled across a two-man party of said vigilante mob, who had been quite recently drowned in a swamp near Lake Pontchartrain. There, some half-drowned lycanthrope had initiated a change and left his pheromones behind, which triggered a change in yours truly. I was forced to flee from human eyes, but sadly, I hadn't been quite quick enough. Being bipedal and of dark fur myself, you can imagine the rather comedic confusion I had engendered.

I needed to find shelter in which to complete the change and return to human form. The only adequate concealed space I could find was an old country doctor's home, long abandoned. In the basement were the remains - so to speak - of a funeral parlour, complete with empty coffins.

Suddenly there came a tapping at the door. Thinking that it was the posse come to find me, I threw on on heavy rubber gloves, a musty old lab coat, a hair net, and a crumbling paper face mask. At the very least, I thought to disguise my remaining lycanthropic features; at very best, I could frighten the dickens out of them by pretending to be the ghost of an old, mad doctor in his secret lair.

Instead, what should I see but a slightly feline head poking through the crack between door and frame. It was he, my quarry. His face was bloody, but he didn't seem wounded. Clearly, this was not his blood. I knew would have a body waiting for me to bury, once I was done putting down this most unusual rogue.

Oh, if you could have seen him in those days. Nothing more than shallow changes, a lifting his fuzzy ears, lengthening of his teeth, and an absolute mockery of his already unruly hair. And when he was human, he wasn't much better! Crooked teeth, dull green eyes, cockeyed smile, and a chin-length pageboy cut of brownish hair. Oh, the I miss them.

Of course, I was a good agent, despite my advanced years. I had a mission to complete, and there, before me, was a half-made lycanthrope, signalling me closer. I should mention: he was as naked as the day he was born, and not nearly as lushly furred as he is these days.

I told him, "Son, I'm sorry, but I've come to kill you." He tilted his head and signalled me closer again. I said, "Son, you've been killing animals and endangering the rest of us. I have to kill you." He was still in-cycle, becoming more and more feline as I spoke. I confess, my animal heart softened that day, and I wished aloud that he would simply run and learn to hide more effectively. Instead of running, he frowned at me, and he entered, reaching for my shirt. So I put my knife in his chest.

That cat yelped, took the knife out of his chest, growled at me, gave the knife back to me, and then took me by the hand to lead me out of that cellar.

Clearly, this was not a cat of the same ilk as those I had slain in Mississippi.

What I hadn't realized until then was that the house was utterly surrounded by that posse. The boy wouldn't - or couldn't - speak, but he made his meaning clear with gestures, showing me that there was a way up through the abandoned house, through a second storey window, and into an anicent grove of trees.

That silly bugger was trying to rescue me from the posse, even after I put a knife in his lung.

Sadly, I took too long to respond. The posse burst in through front and back door, just as the boy and I reached the top of the cellar stairs. He was downcycling but not nearly fast enough, and panic was making downcycling devilishly tricky for me as well. We were utterly without escape routes. So we returned to the basement to inventory our options.

That's when I told the boy to lie down on the big metal table where they prepare bodies for burial. I apologized profusely, begged him to play dead, and then I performed a Y-incision on his chest, slicing across his now hairless ribs from both sides, toward his sternum, then right down to his pelvic bone. I opened his torso and exposed his organs. Lastly, I covered up his still-feline face with a moldy towel. How he stayed so quiet through the ordeal, I'll never know, but it is his superhuman self-control to which I owe my life.

At the very moment the posse barged into the cellar, I looked up, scalpel in one hand, Ishmael's large intestine in the other. And since I was still in-cycle, my yellow-brown eyes reflected back their flashlights. With a shriek, the leading cowboy flung out his arms, barricading everyone else from coming in.

And then I threw back my head and laughed at them.

All of which goes to prove that the only thing scarier than a werewolf is a human being.

Anyways, it bought us the time we needed. They ran away, leaving a prodigious trail of urine behind. Their flight gained us a precious few minutes before they recovered their wits. Ishmael healed up nicely as he fully downcycled and was once again coherent, though he knew nothing of his identity or history, save that he was in and out of cat form nearly once every two days. He was still in his false starts and wouldn't come into his regular six-day cycle until the end of that same year.

Now that were human and for the moment safe, the question became: how to sneak a naked young man out of an abandoned funeral home, across twenty states, and into Canada without being noticed?

The answer was all around us.

I transported Ishmael out of state in someone else's coffin, while driving a stolen hearse.

To this day, I do not know if Ishmael had fled the enclave in Mississippi long before I arrived, or if he had narrowly escaped my wrath in Mississippi and lost all prior memory of me by the time he had arrived in Louisiana. Nor do I know if he is the orphan of a completely different tribe of cats - if an orphan at all. The Mississippi five were as powerful and as clever as he, but they retained nothing of their humanity; and yet here was this creature with unfathomable self-control, in-cycle and out. Could he have been infected by the same rabid strain of feline virus, if so remarkably unique in his comportment? Perhaps he was one of their kin, but immune to whatever feline-rabies had overwhelmed the rest of his pride. We may never know.

Many have speculated that he is the last of his kind.

For my part, there is a speculation that keeps me awake at night, now more than ever. If I had missed one were-panther - Ishmael - could I have missed two?

That must remain another mystery for another night, for we have much work to do, if we mean to rescue my boy from quarantine.

But as for his name...

In biblical terms, Ishmael is the first born (and some would argue illegitimate) son of the patriarch Abraham - then known as Abram. And though it was the favoured son Isaac who would go on to found the nation of Israel, Ishmael - chased from his home by Abram's wife Sarai - would go on to be the father of kings in his own right. From the start, I had known that Abram Haberman would never accept the boy into his family, and I always knew Ishmael was meant for great and wonderful things.

In historical terms, Owen Chase was the first mate of the Essex, a whaling vessel that had been rammed twice by a sperm whale. The ship later sank, and he, with two other men, escaped to a barely habitable island to await rescue. His story went on to inspire Herman Melville, who wrote the epic Moby Dick.

Speaking of which...

In literary terms, Ishmael was the lone survivor of the Pequoid, the whaling ship of infamous Captain Ahab, that monomaniac who had chased the Great White Whale to the ends of the earth. Ishmael's mighty companion Queequeg, believing himself on the verge of death, had commissioned the carving of a wooden coffin, and it was in this coffin that Ishmael had escaped the wrath of the whale.

In other words, Ishmael had been ferried out of death's maw by hiding inside a coffin meant for another man.

...Perhaps it is better that I wrote this down instead of pouring it into your ears. Spilling this much truth is thirsty work indeed.

The reason why I tell you all this is to ask you: would a cold-blooded madman take a knife to the chest and then give it back? Would a wanton, mindless criminal try his damnedest to lead his would-be killer to safety? Would a ravening beast allow a stranger like me to cut open his belly and hold his living organs, if it meant saving both our lives?

Would a man like Ishmael, who has lost every single known member of his own breed, allow so many others to die abroad, simply because Abram Haberman had decreed it thus?

Ishmael does not deserve to die in that quarantine. He has done nothing wrong. He has saved countless lives - including yours. He will continue to do great things, if we rout the enemies from his path.

My wife and I are here to help you in any way possible, so long as it results with the rescue of my foster son from that hellhole, and putting an end to the madness that is destroying Wyrd.

It was I who advised Dr. Gil Burton to involve you two in our informal investigations. Yes, you may trust him. He is the last, reliable ally Ishmael has, aside from the four of us.

Do not hesitate to contact me at your earliest convenience.

Most cordially yours,
Anders Jewell Anderson.

P.S. Mr. Sumac, I do agree it's no one's business but yours, should you wear plaid shirts with comfortable shoes. But, for the love of mercy, don't wear blue pinstripe pants with said ensemble. As they say, "Clothes make the man."