SOMEWHERE, IN A SECRET underground lair, a group of men and women gathered. Twenty-one in all.
These were no ordinary men and women, as one should deduce if only by the fact that they gathered in a secret, hidden, underground lair. Had that not become at once apparent to the casual observer, the style of dress in which these men and women were adorned would have brought it all together like being slapped across the face by an accountant wielding a large halibut.
Most of the men and women in attendance were dressed the same. They each wore a military style uniform the color of blood. Sewn upon their right breast, these not-so-ordinary men and woman wore the emblem of their group, and they wore it with pride. Once more, the casual observer, having not noticed the strangeness of a gathering of red-clad men and women in a secret, hidden, off the map underground lair, might finally sit up at take notice at the insignia.
A red crab upon a field of white.
The aforementioned casual observer, after having taken in the choice of dress of this small band of men and women, and then having factored in the crab emblem emblazoned upon their uniforms, would have no choice but to determine that this mysterious group had the unmistakable look of soldiers. If you have already come to this conclusion, then you must immediately go out and affix a gold start upon your shirt. For soldiers were precisely what this enigmatic ensemble were.
For those whose powers of observation were not as keen as the common grub worm, they need look no further than the one man in the room with the red and white epaulets upon his shoulders to conclude that something strange was indeed, going on. The man alone screamed of oddness, what with the thin and twisty mustache that stuck out on either side of his face, and the crown upon his head that had been adorned with a large, red, crab.
If, at this point, the casual observer was still not able to glean the fact that something quite extraordinarily odd was going on at this very moment in what was most certainly a hidden base of operations, then possibly, what happened next might convince them.
The man in the crown was tall and lanky, a slim reed among a forest of oak. He stood atop a small box, if only for the ability to look down upon the rest of the group. He scowled down from his not-so-high perch as the soldiers loaded equipment into three white, nondescript panel vans.
The man in the crown checked his watch.
“One hour, Prawns,” he shouted. “Make haste!”
His scowl intensified as he twisted his long, pointy mustache.
A soldier approached the man in the crown.
The soldier, it needs to be said, had the type of physique that would make a world class body building champion look small and weak. He had a jagged scar that ran diagonally across his weathered face, from temple to chin. His right eye, in the path of the scar, was white and milky like an ivory marble.
Were we to meet this soldier elsewhere; such as a dark alley, a prison yard, or even the women’s unmentionables department of Macy’s, it would be at once obvious that this was a wholly dangerous man. One who has seen enough horrors to give Stephen King nightmares, but has come out the other side no worse for wear.
It is important that this be noted. For despite the soldier’s unbelievable size, despite the cruelty that shown in his eyes, and despite all outward appearances that the man was always no less that two tenths of a second away from committing his next violent act, he inched toward the man in the crab crown on tentative feet, the cruelty in his eyes having been shoved aside by an overwhelming fear. He shook like a sapling in a hurricane as he clutched a small phone in one massive hand.
“Majesty?” The soldier’s voice cracked. Like the other soldiers, he was clad in the blood red uniform. His breast, however, bore no crab insignia.
The man in the crown did not appear to have heard the soldier, for he ignored the man as if he did not exist.
The soldier cleared his throat.
“Majesty?” This time his voice did not crack, something he would try to be proud of later after he’d had himself a good cry.
The man in the crown turned his gaze upon the soldier who wilted under the glare.
“You dare to disturb me at such an important time, Krill. This had better be worth it lest you find yourself thrown into the pit again.”
The soldier cowered, practically kneeling with his head down. In a trembling hand, he held the phone out before him, one giant finger covering the receiver.
“It’s him, Majesty,” the soldier said. “Our benefactor.”
“Him!?” The face of the man in the crown went from the angry self-importance of a tyrant, to the fearful supplication of a subordinate so quickly that one might have expected a sonic boom to sound within the room.
The man in the crown held out a shaking hand. “The phone! Now!”
He held the phone to his ear, but before he could speak, a voice sounded through the small speaker.
“Guten Morgen, Herr Crab.” The voice was thick with a German accent. “Preparations are underway?”
“Yes sir,” the man in the crown said.
“You understand your objective?”
“I do, sir.”
“Excellent,” said the man on the other end. “We will be watching you, Crab. You have been given a great opportunity. Do not squander it. We do not treat failure gently.”
The line went dead.
The man in the crown, his shoulders slumped in defeat, handed the phone back to the Krill soldier, who retreated at once.
Then, following a quick survey of the room, the man in the crown turned his back on his soldiers. But only so they would not see him cry.