March 27, 2007
(I don’t normally venture into the world of fiction, but I’ve been mulling this one over for a while. Let me know what you think.)
Lieutenant Hernandez— known more readily as Mr. Hernandez these days— squatted behind an azalea bush outside a rather nice home. Something didnâ€™t seem right. The house was oddly quiet, as if nobody was home, but he could see a flicker of a television screen inside. Relaxing before he made an entrance in the fading light of dusk, he sensed heâ€™d reached his destination. He also sensed something elseâ€¦
Luis Hernandez was on the edge in his youth. He was one of those â€˜tweeners, a kid who was bright enough to do whatever he chose in life, but had a heart for adventure that always seemed to get him into trouble. He never seemed to do well in school, a fact that befuddled his teachers, who saw him accomplish great things when he put his mind to it, but never seemed to apply himself. Only one of his teachers really got him motivated, his history teacher, Mr. Thompson.
Everyone hated Thompson. He was a gruff, demanding man, who was quick to tell you when you were wrong, and wasnâ€™t quick to congratulate you when you were right. He was a fair teacher, willing to improve your grade if you could coherently argue your wrong answer, but if he argued back and you faltered, you were out of luck. Thompson was known for kids transferring out of his class early in a semester. He had a knack for making the weak-willed students cry. Only a few people could possibly excel in a class like his; it took an iron will, a relentless work ethic, and an ability to think on your feet that few possessed. Most of Luisâ€™ other teachers thought he would get skewered by Thompson, instead Luis was his favorite student.
It was Thompson who convinced Luis to join the service. In the barrio where Luis grew up, Thompson knew heâ€™d end up turning to gangs, and probably sell drugs. Of course, it wasnâ€™t Luisâ€™ safety that Thompson was worried about, as he knew Luis had a knack for leadership and guile that would keep him safe. But he knew that Luis wanted more, and made sure that he joined the Marines right out of school, in 1979.
It was a culture shock, of course. Luis had been able to scrape by doing what he wanted when he wanted, and those first few days of boot camp saw him doing push-ups until he thought his arms would give out. Luis made the mistake early of talking back to his drill sergeant, and that meant that Luis was made an example of. Quickly he got to know the bad side of his superiors, but his brash behavior made him some quick friends among his unit. It only took two weeks, though. Once he realized he didnâ€™t have a choice, he sunk back under the radar and moved his way through the rest of basic without much incident.
He thought he was under the radar, of course. Ever since the early days, his sergeant had pegged him as a leader. He would take some molding, of course, but he had a way with his fellow soldiers that the sergeant had seen before. He was going to go places.
Luis was always at the head of the line for promotions. After he had learned the discipline of the Marines, and accepted that he wasnâ€™t getting out of it, he started to excel. He quickly saw that if he could get enough time to get himself a college degree, heâ€™d be a shoo-in for OCS. When his superiors saw him in action in Grenada, they decided to support his ambitions. They thought he was likely to stick around the Corps for a while, so he was selected for MECEP, the program which would allow him to complete a degree and become an officer. He— greatly surprising himself— took extra classes to complete his Bachelors Degree in Political Science in only three years, finishing in May 1987.
He had barely gotten the ink dry on his commission when he saw action in Panama, but he proved himself worthy. The ability to speak Spanish from his childhood came in handy, and he was a major asset on the ground. After Grenada, he saw some more action in the First Gulf War, where he was promoted from 2nd Lieutenant to 1st Lieutenant. But then the military changed. He wanted to stay in, but the military started cutting their headcount, and in early 2004, Luis Hernandez found himself out of a job.
He tried the corporate world for a while, and it seemed like he was back in high school. He didnâ€™t have any high aspirations, didnâ€™t really care about what he was doing, and although he did enough to get by, never really excelled. Of course, going from combat to corporate will take the wind out of anyoneâ€™s sails. He spent three years working in an office, before he decided he needed out.
He went into business for himself. Did some security consulting, some personal protection jobs, but eventually started getting into corporate espionage. He soon realized that he was doing something he loved, he was great at it, and he was making more money than heâ€™d ever imagined. If only that old man Thompson could see him now!
He got a reputation as a man who would deliver the goods when asked. Nobody really questioned his methods, only that he could deliver. Itâ€™s not that his methods were unethical, per se, but a man in Luisâ€™ position quickly learns that traditional ethics donâ€™t apply, and had constructed his own moral code. It got him into trouble a few times, and he had to turn down or cancel a few jobs mid-stream that he found objectionable, but he was more than solid enough otherwise to ensure repeat business.
His resume grew. Intel, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, Pfizer. Occasionally some off-the-books government work. He managed to find what he needed to find. When rumors surfaced of production problems at overseas facilities, he was there. When the financial guys wanted to make sure the companies they gave â€œBuyâ€ recommendations to werenâ€™t cooking the books, he was there. When the drug companies wanted evidence to file patent infringement lawsuits, they sent Luis.
This was why he found it very odd when he received a call in 2003 from Hanes. After all, thereâ€™s not a lot of corporate espionage in the underwear world. It was even more bizarre when they scheduled to meet him at corporate HQ. Why would they want someone who so often acted in anonymity to pull into their parking lot and sign in with a receptionist?
He was intrigued, but decided to check things out. When he walked into a boardroom full of bigwigs, complete with a projector set up and â€œWelcome, Luis!â€ as the first slide of a Powerpoint presentation, he started to worry someone had set him up. At the very least, it was clear that these people had no understanding of operational security. IF they wanted him to engage in corporate espionage, it would have been insane to meet him under these circumstances. Nothing, of course, could have been further from the truth. The rest of the meeting set into action a chain of events that he never could have expected.
â€œLuis,â€ they asked him, â€œhave you ever lost a sock?â€ Of course he had, Luis responded.
â€œDid you ever joke that maybe those socks were stolen?â€ Again, Luis responded in the affirmative, as he had often joked with his family that some monster came in late at night to steal the missing socks.
The bigwigs from Hanes continued to tell a tale that Luis thought could only be a joke. Stories abounded of young children seeing an â€œanimalâ€ scurrying off in the night in a blur with their socks. Babies with bite marks all over their feet when the beast would grow bold enough to remove their socks while they were wearing them. Only a few stories came from adults, as the beast was known for avoiding adults, but those few were from sources credible enough to be trusted. Stories existed from every continent of sightings, but nothing conclusive enough to locate the beast.
It wasnâ€™t a joke after all, and they were going to pay him enough money to buy the island of Grenada to capture that beast! Even if he couldnâ€™t manage to lure it out and trap it, theyâ€™d pay dearly for pictures to prove it exists.
Luis left the meeting in a daze, with a check in his pocket and a couple of leads to get him started. Could this beast really exist? What sort of creature would hoard socks? Luis still didnâ€™t quite believe it, but he had negotiated a contract lucrative enough that even if he never found this mythical creature, he would still be well-paid for the search. Given that he was starting to tire of the monotony of corporate espionage, something new might be a welcome change.
His first leads took him down to South America, where his heritage and command of the language already made him feel at home. While most of the legends of the Chupacabra involved the destruction of livestock, a few also included the disappearance of socks. These stories emerged from all over South America, in little towns where there seemed no chance that the legends could have spread between these towns by chance.
Mexico, Nicaragua, all the way down to Argentina and Peru. He kept hearing stories, but they all seemed to be dead ends. It became increasingly apparent that the beast he was after wasnâ€™t the Chupacabra. Sightings of both had occurred, and he pieced together the accounts to determine that the beast who stole socks was not the same who destroyed livestock.
Seeing that his search would be fruitless in South America, he moved on. He next flew to the Himalayas, as the stories of the mythical Yeti were also accompanied, like the Chupacabra, with lost socks. Again he found that sightings of the Yeti and the beast who steals socks were certainly not the same.
He was beginning to see a pattern. While often there were reports of a beast who steals socks in the same location as the stories of other mythical creatures, it was clear that the two were not the same. Further research uncovered a startling fact: while the stories of a Yeti or Chupacabra were found only in certain regions, the stories of the sock-stealing monster were global!
Luis realized that he was on the track of something truly groundbreaking. He knew that the capture of this beast would result not only in him being paid unreal sums of money, but that it would include tremendous fame as well.
Luis tracked the stories of the creature for three more years. It seemed that everywhere he went, he would encounter stories of the beast. Occasionally he would also encounter some who had seen the beast. It was a small, dark creature, four-legged. It moved quickly but with stealth. But the most universal report was the creatureâ€™s eyes. They glowed red like nothing people had ever seen. It was consistent with nearly every sighting. The eyes were always remembered, always brought up, even when the other details didnâ€™t entirely match. Luis started to understand that he wasnâ€™t trailing a mythical beast, but something that must be real.
In late 2006, Luis decided to try a different approach. He knew he was getting close to the nature of the myth, but locating the beast was another matter entirely. He decided to scour the worldwide news articles for mentions of socks. It sounded like a long shot, but he was getting desperate, and Hanes was getting mighty tired of paying down his expense account.
What he found was intriguing. Judging from news stories, it was clear that there were reports worldwide of piles of socks being found all over the world, but with no explanation. Luis surmised that this must mean only one thing: when the beast is frightened, it tends to save itself rather than the socks. Nobody had ever delved into these reports, though. Occasionally it was nothing more than a local quirk that some hiker had found. On some occasions there were searches to see if they were socks from people who might have met an ill fate. But nobody had ever asked why these socks had shown up when the trails ran cold. Furthermore, nobody had ever analyzed these stories to see where they were most common.
It was here that Luis made his breakthrough. The stories of found socks were worldwide, but they werenâ€™t equally distributed. The stories were most prevalent in America, and in the American Southeast. Luis knew where to focus his search!
It was that chain of events that placed Luis behind an azalea bush in the Atlanta suburbs. With the sun going down, he picked the lock and entered the house.
Greeted by a little barking dog, he realized he must be in the wrong place. After all, this beast wouldnâ€™t allow a little yapping creature like this to live here, would it? He must be in the wrong house.
He followed the dog around a corner— and stopped short. The sight before him, of a mound of socks up to the ceiling, left him breathless. He WAS in the right place! But where was the beast? Nothing was here but a small dog, and that dog most certainly didnâ€™t have glowing red eyes.
The dog, as if it were supposed to be there guarding socks, sat down on a few. Luis decided to get a photo. Heâ€™d figure out this beast yet, but it must be gone finding more socks at the moment, so he was sure he had a few minutes to spare.
As he crouched next to the floor to get a photo, he heard the dog start to growl. Such a guttural growl from such a small dog, he had never heard before.
He aimed his camera, and as he was about to press the button, he realized his mistake. The dog’s eyes were glowing red like candles!
When the authorities arrived two days later, they didnâ€™t find a dog, nor did they find any socks. They found Luisâ€™ body in a pool of blood, his jugular severed by a bite from an unknown creature. His shoes were in tatters, and his feet— bare.
But they did find one other thing at the scene: his camera.
The Unrepentant Individual linked with Book Review — Mean Martin Manning, by Scott Stein
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