When Allen Laconte threw dice, the laws of physics became mere suggestions. There was a name for the phenomenon that caused these scientific flukes to manifest. The Agency had dubbed it the Degredation, and some of Constance’s fellow agents said this was how the Agency had sprung to existence.
This was the myth many of the Agency’s younger members believed; that the Agency and the Degredation were interdependent, like Yin and Yang, as though neither could have existed without the other. The origins were obscure by design. The blackest of internal strictures prohibited their Database Historians from sharing the files that told of their beginnings.
A car pulled up in front of Constance’s motel room and he knew it was the help he had requested. It was the senior agent they had dispatched to assist with his case.
Throughout what followed and the aftermath, Constance would always remember the shine of the Senior Agent’s car. The vehicle was a totally nondescript sedan except for its fantastically white paint. It was hyper-nondescript, in fact: of no make or model that Constance recognized. If it had ever borne emblems, they had been removed; there was no Ford, Hyundai, or Chrysler logo on the front, back, or sides. Most memorable was that incredible shine. The whiteness glowed in a way Constance had only witnessed of precious metals under the sun.
Lamb, the arriving agent, wore a black suit as agents usually did, but it seemed to Constance that its black was exceptionally deep. It was the brightness of the day, perhaps, and the pure whiteness of his vehicle, that made it seem so pointedly dark. Lamb stepped out and surveyed his surroundings with a glance. He went to the trunk, opened it, and retrieved a suitcase. It was not shaped like a typical piece of modern luggage, rather more like a suitcase out of the nineteen-fifties, one you might see in a postcard. It had a handle on top and was perfectly rectangular without wheels. It was like an overlarge briefcase made of metal. For a moment Constance was surprised to see an agent travel so heavy; but then he suspected there was something else in the incongruous case.
They were at a motor-in, the kind of motel where all the rooms open on the wide world. Constance stepped out and Lamb approached him.
“Welcome,” said Constance.
“I’ll be over soon so you can debrief me,” said Lamb.
“When would you like to meet?” said Constance. But Lamb was already turning away. He walked the short distance to his room—it was adjacent to Lamb’s—and disappeared within.
The truncated exchange resonated all too perfectly with Constance’s experience of the past two days. Apparently he was in the doghouse with a sonofabitch who had the power of life and death. If the rumors were true, this senior agent, like all other senior agents, possessed that fabled license to kill. Not that Constance feared for his safety from Lamb. What concerned him, rather, was how difficult it could be to work with someone like this: someone with an ego backed by the power to kill, free from judge or jury.
Lamb did not show up at his room. Instead he called.
“Come on over, pal. Let’s talk about the mission. Get into something other than that godawful suit.”
“Godawful?” said Constance.
“You know what I mean. It’s hot in this place. I don’t know about your room but mine is hot as hell. The AC sucks.”
“I’ll be over momentarily. And I’m thrilled, by the way.”
Constance took off his jacket and dress shirt. In his suit pants and undershirt, he popped on over to Lamb’s room. He knocked and was welcomed with a hurrying gesture.
“Here he is. Man of the hour,” said Lamb. He smiled a broad smile that Constance felt had to be sarcastic or drunk. However, Lamb didn’t show any of the hallmark signs of intoxication. There wasn’t the wetness of the eyes, the slowness of speech that indicated inebriation. Learning to recognize these traits, even when they only flashed across the face for an ephemeral fraction of a second, was part of the training the Agency provided to all its field operatives. Constance could not recall ever having turned the skill on a fellow agent.
“I hear you’ve been doing hard work,” Lamb said. “You’ve been doing it as well as you can be expected to do.”
“Generous of you. I expected some ball busting, to be frank. I mean, the way you rolled in here.”
“Sorry about that. I hate to travel.”
“Rough for you, given how much we have to do it.”
Lamb laughed. “Normally I’d bust ’em all right. But we’ve got business. This lucky man, this Laconte, he seems like a hell of a hard case. I’d like to offer you a refreshment, and you can tell me all about it.”
Constance had known this was what the visit was about. Lamb wanted his debriefing. That was standard procedure when a senior agent was called in. Now the older man produced several sodas and a small bottle of vodka. It was against the rules while on a mission, but he wasn’t about to thump the handbook, not when a senior agent was in the house. Constance accepted a cup with ice and a soda. He did not spike his own drink with vodka, however.
“So is that the device?” said Constance. The fat, shiny suitcase was sitting on the luggage stand next to the little table of the motel room.
“That is the device,” said Lamb.
“We’re going to use it on the lucky Laconte?” said Constance.
“Is that what you propose?” said the Senior Agent. He noticed Lamb regarding him carefully. The senior agent crossed his legs and raised an eyebrow. Constance felt like some godforsaken psychotherapy patient.
“Ah hell. Give me some of that vodka,” said Constance. Lamb grinned and handed him the bottle. Constance made himself a humble cocktail out of the soda and scotch. It was against the rules, sure; but Constance was prone to drink now and again.
He told Lamb about his interactions with Allen Laconte, the man who was too lucky. Here was someone who could not lose at the game of craps. When he played other games he broke even at best, even tending to lose more than the average player. But at craps, he never lost. That was the Degradation for sure.