As of March 29th – This is a raw rough draft file. I’ll edit it within the next few days. To read completed chapter sections please go to pages like: The Sketch of Sam Monroe – Chapter 2.13 – Reentry
The Green Cathedral
The whole place had a bizarre sort of sentience.
We filed down a path lined with gnarled roots and dense vegetation. The smell of damp earth pervaded humid air. Fireflies lent mystic luminescence to the primeval scene. Every now and then bits of stone, arranged in vaguely intelligent patterns, would make us pause and ponder. Until a shove informed that we must troop on.
Sam’s tan baseball cap bobbed prosaically, just feet from my line of sight, intermittently obscuring my view of a darkness that was surprising for mid day. The canopy was thick, stretching some hundred feet above,vaulting cathedral like, assuring the sun dared not defile an eternal vesper.
The hush among us Americans was certainly church like, much to the amusement of our guides, who laughed and sang in a mix of Portuguese and Arawak.
I could tell that Chuck was much annoyed by the insouciance of the natives.
He was a true believer. With his shaggy hair, ginger beard, pale blue eyes, and antiquely rounded spectacles, he could pass for a head freshly plucked from Haight Ashbury. An effect which I found humorous, given that he was younger than me, and I could barely vouch for being birthed in the eighties.
We were shameless hipsters, everyone of us. Despite my studied avoidance of facial hair and engineered unkemptness, I must confess that my very dedication to being a square was itself filthy avante-garde hipsterism. I am ashamed.
Like all trendy fools trekking through a place we had no business in, we were after the Vine.
The whole expedition had been birthed after a smoke session. A ritual of psychedelic transcendence punctuated by an obsessive review of Mckenna recordings and dick jokes.
The Fibonacci Five
Sam had dramatically called for a pause. He then ran to our grungy kitchen (which served as his studio) to fetch his sketchpad. A pretty frequent occurrence.
“The inspired artist!” We cried in unison.
We were our own religion you see. The Fibonacci Five. A church built on pretension and a deep misunderstanding of mathematics.
We weren’t expecting much.
The last masterpiece had featured a surprised looking penguin floating past the horse head nebula, and sporting an erection.
Our da Vince had seemed legitimately surprised when we’d informed him, ‘Penguins don’t have dicks, Sam.’
This time though he really took a while. Our normal silence during his fifteen minute stretches of ruining a perfectly innocent bit of paper, was broken by heavy sighs and passive aggressive bong rips.
At the end of two hours we were so catatonic that Graham asked Lucas to pull Graham’s cigarettes from Graham’s pocket. Locomotion was apparently a chore too great. Stoned in the truest sense I suppose.
It was our rule that no one speak, or halt the process, of anyone under the influence of the ‘Divine Flame.’
Finally, after the course of three toxic hours, Sam rose anticlimactically to his feet from the dusty wood panel floor, and traversing the brief distance to the couch handed me his sketch.
My eyes widened. I held the thing for some minutes. I looked at Sam who was beaming, the deep browns of his eyes dancing with pride.
“Jesus, pass it along will you Alan.” Chuck demanded.
“Hold on a fucking minute you spectacular shit.” I exploded. “This is..this is…fucking good Sam..”
Chuck snatched the thing out of my hand almost tearing it. I had half a mind to sock him and nearly did.
I was not a head. Not for years. Panic attacks had made whiskey my substance of choice. Fortunately for Sam, my vice produced poor aim, and I broke my knuckle on a support beam of our rustic Bohemian lodgings. Though I wouldn’t know of the fracture for a few days.
Chuck was too enraptured to notice my attempt. He sat there staring at it next to Graham, who would have been annoyed had he not been asleep.
“Alright pass it on hog fuck,” Lucas said with calm vehemence in his characteristic mellow tenor.
“Dude, it’s like I’m there.”
“Right?” I said.
“Right…” we all assented.
“Well Sam what the hell is it? You made a photograph with your hands just there. Of something in the jungle. Something wild.”
“You guys know not to question: ‘The Flame‘… just abide. Just mellow.”
“Mellow your ass, fuck-wit, and cut the flame shit, it is s a tool not a thing. Expound the process!”
“HASTILY!” We bellowed stamping our feet.
Graham started awake at this sudden outburst. He started awake and began to scream in a bizarre falsetto.
We were momentarily taken aback. Then having regained our composure, started laughing, as Graham continued to scream.
I threw a fresh tumbler of Jim Beam in his face.
“Relax you nancy…Or at least you’d better, Jim’s expensive.”
“You guys, holy shit, holy shit, I saw a Jaguar.”
“The Jags in the garage Graham. Candy nose Graham. Cause you ran my dads car off the road Graham. You’d better be fucking screaming at seeing a Jag, Graham.” Lucas said wryly.
“What good’s a car untested? …and besides,” he said rising to his lanky six feet six inches.
A height made more comically prodigious by wildly curling locks of sandy hair.
“…and besides I saw a cat, a jungle cat. Black like midnight in the wildest place!”
We all froze. We all knew.
We all knew that Graham had not seen the picture.
”A jungle cat you say?” Sam queried in an unsettling tone with an equally unsettling smirk.
There was something not native to his character; the way he held himself just now.
Lucas wordlessly passed the sketch to Graham.
Who held it momentarily before he began convulsing.
“What the hell was in that?”
“Dude, it was just weed, plain old Mary Jane, Mary never hurt a fly.”
“He was foaming at the mouth….”
“Who knows what he took beforehand, either way, let’s not…”
At this point, a tall precise-looking man seeming to be about sixty years of age strode into the room.
It was a very odd hospital. One of those cramped country places. The little squarish chairs in the waiting room had that burnt orange look which reeked of the seventies. The metal bars beneath the armrests were cold on this Kentucky evening.
“I really can’t find anything wrong with your friend. Nothing biological anyway. I lack a lot of the instruments I’d need to do a proper battery of tests. Would you boys like it if I sent him off to Louisville? I have a driver on hand just for that purpose…”
‘No…’ a few of us chimed in. We couldn’t risk it.
“Well, right now he’s catatonic and I really can’t do much except run an IV and monitor his vitals.”
“He’ll come around I’m sure,” Lucas said with barely disguised guilt.
“What’s going on? I never really got a good grip on where you boys are from… I’ve never seen you in town. You don’t look like hunters, so are you campers, hikers what…?”
“We’re local,” I said.
“Mmm…I know everybody in this town, even old Ira Basset….”
“Well, we keep to ourselves mostly….we’re…artists….”
“Oh, so you’re private sorts, prematurely retired from the wild world into the rustic Kentucky hills…”
“Yeah…that’s one way of putting it….”
“Or could this be it.” The doctor threw a small plastic baggy into my lap. The contents of which I instantly recognized.
I heard footsteps outside.
“Well, Officer Fabre looks like you arrived at the perfect moment. Have you ever seen guiltier men?”
“Heh, o they’re guilty all right…mostly of being the most stereotypical heads to ever walk the earth, and what’s that he’s got…” The barrel-chested officer’s eyes narrowed as he took in the contents I was awkwardly grasping between shaky fingers.
“Toss, it here, actually don’t….that’s cocaine…which isn’t very legal….” He had a slight accent that I couldn’t quite place. And his tone of voice suggested perpetual amusement. He began to jauntily swing a set of handcuffs.
“So whose is it..?” he asked, looking from one of us to the other, “who am I taking to meet Bubba?”
“I found it on the patient.” The doctor said.
“So you did, Doc, but I gotta take somebody in, I’ve only got two cells, one of which holds Bubba, and he don’t find no sport in a body that don’t holler….”
The guy was fucking with us.
“I’ve got money, you know,” Lucas burst in.
“Aha, yea…I mean I don’t have to be Sherlock fuckin’ Holmes to know that if you have coke in Foley…you’re a walking trust fund…”
“Are you just gonna accept a bribe like that!” The doctor exploded.
“Well, doc, did you like identifying Mrs. Belmont’s corpse very much, or that endless stream of rotted gums?”
The doctor looked glum.
“Yeah…one thing about Foley…The State of Kentucky…Uncle Sam…and even Jesus Christ himself do not give one solemn shit much less a penny to keep meth heads from shooting little old ladies. I need ammo, I need vests, I need to feed my dam squad, hell Patrick doesn’t even have proper boots anymore…so….does 15k sound reasonable?”
“More than reasonable,” Lucas replied.
“WHERE do you boys have this kind of cash….” The doctor was incredulous. “Shit…you’re runners aren’t you!” There was something odd in the way that the word shit sat in the mouth of such a gentlemanly looking man. He was truly flustered by his suspicion to react that way.
“Nah….doc…they ain’t runners…they’re faggy little college boys…and I guess that there must be a god after all because they’re the fucking solution to my problem….”
It was at this point that Graham burst into the room with a wild look in his eyes. The IV hanging in an awkward grotesque sort of way from his left arm. He gazed directly at the cop with the most unnaturally sardonic expression I’ve ever seen. It made my blood run cold.
Graham stood there swaying from side to side just gazing directly at the officer. Then he spoke some other language. I guess it was French or something.
For a moment Officer Fabre was stock still. Then shrieking wildly he ran from the room screaming something like…
Jay vous saley,
ist avec vous.
Le signor is avec vous!
“Get back here you cowardly frog!” Doctor Pierce exclaimed at the retreating man.
Then regaining some of his composure he said,
“What the hell am I going to do with you fucking kids!”
‘Gator is Waitin’
The mid-February evening grew chill quickly. I shivered and pondered as to how our retreating ‘boy in blue’ could sit so comfortably, on the faded green metal bench outside Pierce’s practice.
Graham had fallen into a neat little heap of lanky limbs and golden Afro soon after the dramatic episode. Currently, he was being comforted by a nurse (who despite being a tad older) still retained that magnetic auburn haired sort of charm common among the locals. Lucky dog….
Fabre was a picture of calm as he sat there gazing into the middle distance with a particularly offensive clove cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth.
“What in the hell was all that about?” Pierce queried.
The Gallic sheriff remained impassive. His cold grey eyes held none of their former mischief.
The doctor was a reasonable man but his patience did have a limit. After the span of a quarter hour he remarked sternly.
“Well, come on man! Remember your Norman heritage. The blood of William courses through your veins and you would let a little of the old country spook you like that?”
It took some minutes still before Fabre responded.
“In Louisiana there are very wild places…”
“And many Alsatian fools,” Pierce remarked wryly. He had an odd habit of simultaneously praising and dressing people down.
“Yes, yes, I am a fool, and an Alsatian. But better to have my blood and my folly then to remain composed through that…”
Another long pause.
“I’m sorry, but I still don’t gather what ‘that’ is?”
This pause was even longer. I couldn’t suppress a yawn despite my interest. There was something dreamy, hypnotic in these hills. It was as if at every moment they threatened to drown you in some strange ancient honey.
“’That’ is voodoo…mssr”
Pierce laughed derisively. “Come off it man, you don’t even go to church.” It was now that I noticed that Pierce had an accent too. My Carolina ears were keen for the foreign sound of Yank inflection. And Yank he was. He was less a son of Kentucky than I.
“I tell you the truth. You have the benefit of your education and distance as buffer. But this is…this is old stuff…this is not drugs…I’ve seen it before too…but not like this…”
“You are a superstitious fool.” Pierce scoffed. “The fair haired boy was having a pull at your leg. It’s that Irish mother of yours.”
“That was just a rumor I am as Cajun as they come. Perhaps too Cajun…I have hot blood….a bad temper…you see…that is…”
I thought I spied a moment of panic in that expressive face.
He puffed at his cigarette for a time before he continued:
“That is voodoo mssr. That is very bad stuff…I have nothing on it…”
“Pfft…OK…fine it’s voodoo what did the blasted lad say?”
I was beginning to grow as weary of the pauses as Doc Pierce.
“He say…he say…’the gator is waiting.’”
It was a bizarre expression.
Yet, something about the way that the officer said it that sent a shiver through my spine. I noticed that Pierce was suddenly subdued as well. Though not for long.
“Ok and what does that mean exactly.”
“It means I am lost.”
This statement was followed by another litany of papist prayers. Latin, English, French…what I eventually came to recognize as Creole intermingled in a fluid entreaty to what of God may still reside in a world of drive throughs and porno.
“Look, I think it very touching that you’ve suddenly found the Lord but he helps those who help themselves. So what is this gator business?”
Officer Fabre used what remained of his initial clove to light the second.
“As, I have said it means I am lost. That was the end of Jack Montreux and it will be the end of me.”
“That, is a long story doc…”
“Just look at these curls….” Said the nurse running her fingers through Hoyt’s golden ringlets.
“Yeah, they probably smell like patchouli.” Lucas said wryly.
“You might wanna sterilize your hands. Who knows what’s been nesting in there…”
“Ya’ll should leave him alone. He’s the handsomest one…and so tall…”
Graham wasn’t handsome but she did have a point about the height. He looked ridiculous hunched up on that little examining bed. With his long thin arms between his knees he looked like some kind of shagged out alien. He seemed very tired.
“He might be tall. But I’ll have you know that I’m the handsome one.” Sam said dramatically tossing his own brown mane to shoot her an I’m so sexy stare.
We all laughed because of how plain he was. He wasn’t ugly just incredibly typical. There was nothing to suggest itself as pretty or ugly in his WASPY features.
“Well, I suppose you’re all charmin’ in your own ways but…I do mean that you should leave him alone, he needs to rest, make sure he drinks plenty o water too.”
“We will.” I said as I nervously pondered what exactly was going to happen. Pierce had remained outside with Fabre and we were all anticipating some fresh sentence when the officer regained his wits.
I fingered my flask.
The nurse continued chatting pleasantly with Sam whose thirst for female attention knew no bounds. I think she enjoyed humoring him. His poorly disguised attraction must have been flattering to a woman approaching middle age.
“Well now…what do you have there…” she asked snatching my flask away just as I got the barest sip of Jim.
“O mercy.. whisky..this is strong…how do you stomach it…” Her disgust was so genuine that I couldn’t suppres a smile.
“Twice barreled, top shelf, twelve years in the makin’ ain’t something to turn your nose up at ma’am. Besides it helps with the nerves.”
“And what does a young man with enough money for the ‘top shelf’ have to worry about? What are you boys upto out here? What did you do to your friend?”
“Well, I guess it’s the purdy girls that make me nervous,” I said with my most winning smile.
“Flattery ain’t gonna work on me none sugar,” she said laconically, “’fess up, what’s all this gentry doin’ out in Foley?”
“We’re here for the inspiration, we’re artists and….”
“Yeah, yeah, they’re artists uhuh….” said the Doctor upon entering the room with the somewhat recovered looking sherif.
The pretty lady laughed. Her upturned little nose scrunching up a dozen darling little freckles that may as well have been the stars of a Kentucky night. ‘I need a date.’ I laughed to myself as I realized how long I’d been in the hills.
It was this state that made me particularly keen on noticing that unmistakable sort of familiarity between our Frankish chief and the nurse. Jealousy does have its uses I mused as I ruefully gripped my recently reacquired flask firmer.
I was glad we hadn’t told her anything…but more than a bit worried about what she might have extracted out of Graham. There was no reserve in Graham Hoyt. He was nothing like his English father. He talked with his hands like his mother. Italians…
Pierce was laughing. “Well boys, old Philly Fabre here’s just told me the most coonass story I ever heard. Full of magic, and bayous, and Catholic guilt. Definitely displaying some hyper-religiosity…”
“Means Cajun…” Chuck whispered. He was our resident Trebek. His mastery of trivia did have its uses despite being largely insufferable. He was a hipster caricature a bourgeoise Google savant. Memorizing more irrelevancies in day then a Trekkie does in a lifetime.
“Yeah, coonass and shrimp boat reeking as they come.” Pierce laughed. “Hell I think he actually did work a shrimp boat as a boy…” Pierce was really laughing now.
“Ain’t no shame in the trades.” I said.
“Of course, of course, I meant no offense, only that the man is so damnably iconic. I suppose Americana survives in the weirdest of places. Now…” He said with a glance at Graham.
“Your friend seems to be fine enough to go home.”
“So we can go…” Lucas was excited.
“….Yes…of course…but…as I have told the Officer here…the best way to surmount your fears is to face them head on, that’s what got me through Pnomh Penh…”
“You seem a little young for that one.” Chuck said.
“I age well.” Pierce responded. He was the iciest man I’d ever meet.
There was a moment of awkward silence.
“Anyhow,” the doctor continued, “Fabre here has it in his head that you’re all some sort of magicians, he thinks you talk to something in these hills, he says he’s been watching you, and he knows a thing or two about the plants you grow in your garden.”
“I’m not much for ghost stories but I am a chemical engineer.”
“…so, the officer and I are going to visit you out at the cove.”
To Luckadoo Cove
The Wagoneer was totally silent, save for the rushing of cold country air through a window cracked just enough to vent Graham’s cigarette.
It was eerie. I was the least spiritual of the bunch. Generally taking all our little rites and chemical adventures as so much psychodrama for creative stimulation. Yet the way the gibbous moon hovered above the solitary spire of Foley’s United Methodist Church. The general sleepy stillness of the hollow, like some perpetual dream, was beginning to stir things in my imagination. As we rounded the last ‘civilized’ corner of Foley proper to enter a wooded country road the feeling was compounded.
The still searching faces of my comrades didn’t help matters. There was only one face that showed no fear of magic. It was that of our unexpected guest. Whose implacable thin-lipped smirk would probably outlast the reaper.
Doctor Pierce was with us. He’d made just one single remark in the past quarter-hour. He was clearly of a reserved nature. His eyes were of an indeterminate color. Perhaps hazel but they were absolutely resolute. Chuck’s comment about his age rang true until you glimpsed those eyes. These were old eyes. Ancient with experience, they seemed to drink in everything, and find it daft.
Officer Fabre was following us in his squad car. Not that he needed to. I’d now had my suspicions confirmed. There weren’t many deer with two legs. Neither did deer rifle through ones papers. I did have to give him credit though. He was a stealthy git. I did really attribute all such happenings to inattention and wildlife till a few days ago when I found boot treads round the greenhouse.
I was quiet impressed that after forty-five minutes of plowing through the inky hills we’d heard nothing but the weird cry of an ocassional owl. Normally there was much protestation even from my preternaturally silent ex, that dirty blonde Finnish number, I really missed her quiet energy. She’d gone back home after the last semester. I really do hate family values….
My musings were cut short as they always were by the change of surface. The smooth silence gave way to a quiet sort of crunch as our tires found Kentucky clay.
The woods here were deep and thick. They pressed in closely on either side. There was scarcely room to lean an elbow out the window. The old growth branches vaulted overhead suggesting a foyer. It was as if we were being borne along to some sacred ancient temple.
In some sense I suppose we were. These hills, with their attendant mountains, the valleys and meadows, and woods were positively primordial. especially here where geology chose to become Swiss Cheese. Strange noises did at times carry on the air. This was due to winter wind passing through grid lock caverns like some vast pipers breath through a hoary chanter.
These especially when combined with the subtle rush of subterranean streams made it seem as if a thousand voices were reciting some subtle litany. We had arrived where nature worshiped. The prayer it offered to the glimmering heavens at times answered by the shooting tear of a falling star. It was as if some great god wept with joy at the song of his children.
Yes, this was indeed a temple. I began to feel some certain pious trepidation. This place was perhaps no more ancient than my own blood and bones but my conceptions had only the faintest inkling of the purpose of my blood and bones. These hills knew, they knew why marrow fed the ligaments of the things that scurried through them. They knew and they brooded in a rapt vesper.
Perhaps they were now toying with us. Putting things into our head. Since we’d come here just for that purpose. They honored our request for their influence. I do not know if we are meant for such influence…
I broke my trance by taking another swig of Jim. There was something in its warm cheery sting that quickly dispelled any ancient terrors. Though in such a place, where the thing called time stands still, the aeons are merely muted by such tricks. Muted but not drowned.
“This is a Mossberg.” Came the quietly surprised voice of the doctor from the seat behind me.
I turned round to see him inspecting the gun appreciatively.
“Yes it is,” said Lucas who was driving, “and we’re here.”
It always felt like bursting into another world. The only sensation I could effectively liken it to was cave diving. Something I’d done once on the dime of Lucas’ dad.
The thing was like swimming through some narrow submerged corridor, and bursting into one of those vaulted dagger studded chambers that knew no light, save the febrile beam of your headlamp.
Luckadoo’s estate sat in a clearing in the thick woods denuded just enough to afford a modest yard.
I heard the sheriff’s car pull up beside us. We’d dimmed our lights ten whole minutes ago but the squad car illuminated the oak and stone walls with an officious glaring brightness. Lucas hopped out of the driver’s seat and ran over to tell Fabre to cut it out.
He was back momentarily. We heard the sound of a cell phone. Pierce answered: ‘Hello.’
After a second. He put it on speaker.
“What the hell did you just blabber about, why should the lights be off, what the..”
“We need to secure the perimeter,” Lucas replied matter of factly.
“Secure, the perimeter, what are you talking about, listen…”
Lucas popped open his cell phone and tapped on the screen as Fabre’s protestation continued to pour from the doctor’s device.
Suddenly there was a very odd sound. One that bespoke suspense and familiarity at the same time. Fabre’s voice grew still.
Out in the sea of trees, as far from the reach of civilization as one could get in a global village, the sound of a THX soundcheck rang out through the valley.
Suddenly there was another sound, it was some simple spoken words, done in a sing-song chant to a certain pitch and rhythm, it was Roger Waters, “Is there anybody out there?”
Graham flipped a metal switch on the dash. The house, the yard, the woods, and what we could see of the lake beyond were illuminated by harsh glaring floodlights that may as well have been the noonday sun.
“Holy shit!” Fabre was apparently still on the line.
Lucas reached down beneath the armrest and pulled up a mouthpiece on a black coiled wire.
“This is Colonel Schmidt of LRD, Army Corps of Engineers, you are within a federal jurisdiction, you are advised to immediately beach all watercraft, and give a report of your position. Having done so you are to step into our immediate line of sight. The line of sight being in front of the vehicles. Drop all weapons and proceed with your hands held high. Be advised that we are authorized and capable of using deadly force.”
“What in the fuck…” Doc Pierce muttered under his breath, shaking his head.
I chuckled. It was always funny to see Lucas Schmidt with his surfer boy haircut deliver such stentorian tones. I suppose having an admiral for a father does make a difference.
There was a five-minute wait for a response.
“If you are military, federal, or law enforcement personnel, state your rank, file, serial number and purpose clearly. If you are within fifty yards of our position we will hear you. Do you copy?”
Again we waited five minutes.
“I repeat, military federal, and law enforcement personnel, are advised to give a prompt and clear report of purpose and station. Failure to comply may result in disciplinary measures. We wish to avoid friendly fire but are authorized to engage, should the need arise. Do you copy?”
We waited five more minutes. There was no response.
Each member of our team put on headphones. I handed a pair to the doctor who complied wordlessly. Lucas ran out of the car with another pair. We heard his voice and the sheriff’s voice arguing through the doctor’s cell phone speaker.
Out of the car window, I saw Lucas’ screen shine dimly in the glare of the spotlights. Then the floodlights died.
Suddenly there was a pulse and a harsh shrill sound, that was thankfully muffled by the deadening in our headphones. You could feel it on your skin, it was like an air dryer, the pressure pushing the hairs on my arms in every direction.
The cars shook gently, the window panes rattling, the windows of the house also rattled, leaves and weaker branches fell from the roof and the trees.
I put away my flask and picked up a P320 from under the seat. The doctor shied away from me mid-process. I motioned for him to stay in the car.
Lucas opened the doctor’s door and extracted the Mossberg 500 off of Pierce’s lap.
Graham, Chuck, the Doctor, and the Sherrif had been pantomimed into staying put as Sam with his own Sig joined me and Lucas in a serpentine toward the door.
I punched in the keycode and Lucas dashed in sweeping the area. I tapped him on the shoulder and saw his flashlight mount head off to clear the eastern wing. I heard the door shut behind me and felt a tap on my own shoulder. Sam headed to the western wing as I made my way upstairs.
We then reconvened in the parlor to clear the basement, backyard, and dock.
The whole process took eight minutes. At every point at least one of us had a line of sight to the vehicles.
At the end, the sound died and we took up position one man prone on the front porch and two flanking the sides of the house.
Sam and I held our position with our sidearms at the ready as Lucas escorted the Doctor, the Sherrif, and our two civvie comrades to the door.
Once inside the rustic wood-paneled lodge with its gentleman hunter’s décor we felt the comedy of contrasts and laughed.
“That is one hell of an ADT system,” Fabre remarked.
It was cold, and there was that pine dampness to contend with. I was glad that our guests were too stunned for words. I didn’t like talking while I worked.
Having carried the logs from the basement to the hearth I proceeded to light them.
“Don’t you boys have central heating?”
“It ain’t enough on a night like this,” Sam answered for me knowing my disdain for conversation during activity.
Luckadoo’s lodge was large. We sat in one of the most impressive rooms. The ceiling stretched twenty feet overhead. Five feet above the Buck’s head above the fireplace. There were the obligatory fox hunt paintings and animal skins about. Bespeaking the English pretensions of the moneyed classes of the region. Though, come to think of it Luckadoo actually was a Limey.
With the aid of a bit of kerosene, a roaring flame brought a humanizing cheer to the somber masculine poshness of the room. Our guests were sat in great mahogany leather chairs, while we occupied an assortment of beanbags and lazyboy’s that we’d brought to keep the antique, haunted vibe of the place from overwhelming us.
I reached under my seat and produced a flask.
“Jesus,” Officer Fabre chuckled. “A flask for every occasion? How many of them things do you got?”
“You’d better be glad he has those. You should see him au natural. Patience was never a virtue for Alan Baird.”
I always felt that people overstated the ‘problem’ with my temper. I simply had no use for the excesses and liberties most people thought normal. Generally, I’d let them know nicely, the first time.
“Oh, come on now, I’m a regular sweetheart,” I protested. “In fact, how about I get everyone a round.”
“A round of what?” The Doctor inquired.
“A round you’ll like,” I said rising to my feet and making my way towards the kitchen.
“Alan never disappoints in spiritual matters.” I heard Lucas say with a chuckle as I rounded the corner.
Almost immediately the voices of guests and companions alike were muted. Replaced by an eerie sort of silence broken only by the muffled cry of a nearby owl. The place was a nightmare from a security standpoint.
A coked up sorority with air horns for shoes wouldn’t be any less stealthy than a SEAL team. The stolid nature of the log and stone made the transmission of sound a near impossibility. It was preternaturally quiet. Like being in a well-appointed sensory deprivation chamber.
It got unnerving from time to time. Which is why I was glad for our motion sensors. But the two boffins we’d taken on board had forced me to minimize its use or risk another round of false alarms. I really wished that they weren’t high all the time. But I suppose that was part of the project.
Yeah, I’d bet we’d have caught our French friend if I hadn’t dispensed with arming the thing. Though I’m glad we hadn’t. This present situation was far less awkward than having to phone Langley. I might still have to make the report.
Despite the size of the kitchen it was as cluttered as the comically tiny one in the apartment I’d grown up in. None of us had the time or inclination to do much dish-washing. I really didn’t mind mess except that mess made it hard to know if something had been tampered with.
As I turned on the light and saw a few woodland roaches scatter over greasy pans I couldn’t help but feel that something was off.
I shrugged away the sensation as I stepped behind my minibar. I wasn’t an expert mixologist. I really didn’t care for overzealous bartending. A mint leaf here, a dash of vodka there, a good ice ratio… Really all the magic you need, provided that you were serving up the good stuff.
After pausing for a moment I headed to the fridge. A couple of beers or so would probably be welcome.
As I carried the tray out the door I could have sworn I heard footsteps. I paused to listen. It was probably my imagination.
As I headed towards the parlor I heard the unmistakable sound of falling silverware. I continued on my way as if I hadn’t noticed.
My friends were chatting merrily amongst themselves as I set the tray on a round oak table beneath a Tiffany lamp.
“Ach!” I said in as loud a voice as naturalness would allow, “Ach! I forgot the chasers!”
“Oh, don’t worry about it, that looks fine enough.” The doctor offered.
I shook my head and tapped Lucas thrice on the shoulder. He rose and produced something from behind a bookshelf.
Our guests picked up the funky vibe.
“Act natural,” I mouthed.
“Yeah, I always forget the damned chasers,” I said loudly as the conversation around me recommenced. “Hey, Lucas come help me carry the damned things. That’s the trouble I tell ya…”
As we approached the kitchen I switched to a no less enthusiastic but somewhat more subdued volume. “Yeah, how did you like that plum stuff from Serbia?”
“Was alright,” Lucas said just as we reached the door.
“Here try a shot of this before I put it back,” I announced. Pausing to listen.
I didn’t have to listen very long, for the sound of someone trying to open the kitchen door that led outside. A kitchen door with no keyhole controlled from a keypad in the hall.
Lucas handed me a small dark green cylinder. I removed the pin, and ever so lightly rolled it in the direction of the kitchen’s sole egress.
We moved away. As far away as we could. But not so far that we couldn’t hear coughing and swearing.
I punched in the code on the keypad in the hall. The kitchen door swung open and we waited nearly a minute for the smoke to clear. There was still some irritant.
Our intruder was a big fellow but something in the shock of burgundy hair bespoke youth. He was doubled over the sink. His hands clattering blindly over unwashed dishes searching for the faucet handle.
“Looks like he’s found his way to the world’s shittiest eyewash station.” I chuckled between coughs.
We’d gone retro. Hell, this wasn’t even strictly legal and we should be wearing masks. It was my decision, I really hated trespassers, but I somewhat softened when that red, swollen face, turned round to try and look at me.
“It burns! It burns deep.” He said with a disturbing hoarseness.
“Jesus, Alan, Jesus, why did you pick CS, that kind… hell where did you get it?”
We’d run back out into the hall. It was horrid. I’d let zeal get the best of me.
“Hey, it was an option, I don’t ask questions, I wasn’t expecting to use this shit on civilians.”
“How do you know he’s a civ? And shit that doesn’t even make sense. Domestic enforcement only Alan.”
“He can’t be any more than twenty maybe twenty-one. His clothes reek of the hills. There’s a loophole somewhere…” I hoped. More awkward meetings with Thorton…
“Well, fuck, we don’t have masks, how are we gonna solve this shit.”
“There’s some saline in storage, we’ll grab that, but really the best thing is fresh air. It’s been about four minutes now with that door open…. Let’s take him outside. I doubt he’s gonna put up a fight.”
“He’s a big fucker.”
“Don’t be a pussy, Lucas. He’s a kid with a lungful of bees.”
The guy was retching now.
“Oh no no..buddy…this kitchen is messy enough…” I said putting a hand on his back and positioning my hips in case I had to slam the fucker.
He didn’t seem to put up any resistance. “Ok, kid, you’re gonna have to step out this door and get some fresh air.” I couldn’t help but cough myself. “My buddy here will wet a rag and then we’re gonna give you some saline and water for flushing.”
“My skin burns, everything burns….”
“Lucas go grab some of Graham’s clothes and that saline. Double time.”
He was gone.
The stranger just kept groaning and retching in the chill Kentucky air. The contrast was odd. Such serenity sat awkwardly against the loud and painful events of just moments ago.
I couldn’t help but wonder how in the hell he’d gone here. The nearest ‘road’ was fifty or so miles from here and the lake didn’t touch any property that was known to anyone save Uncle Sam, people tied up by NDA’s, and maybe a couple of venturesome hicks.
He was too young though.
I was impressed with Lucas efficiency. He was back with all the necessary things within the span of six minutes.
“Ok, I’m gonna need you to take off your top layers of clothing, and put on these.”
“I can’t see…I can’t breathe…”
A jacket, a flannel, and a beanie were tossed aside.
“Now here’s a jug of water. Flush your eyes with it.” I said making sure his hand found the handle.
“Not all at once. Try to keep your eyes open…”
He was pouring it too quickly but I didn’t blame him.
“Slow down a bit…ok good…”
He got the idea and applied the water to his eyes in measured doses.
“Ok, now take some of this saline and spray it in your nose,” I said handing him a pressurized can of the stuff.
“Ok, now dry off with that towel. I’m going to take you to our shower, you need to run that water hot, it’s not going to be pleasant, but right now you’re soaked and it’s below freezing, so…get inside…double time…”
Our intruder was somewhat recovered.
As we stepped back into the kitchen I saw his red half shut eyes give something like a look of recognition.
“Doc Pierce….?” He inquired with hoarse incredulity.
“O Christ, looks like you gassed Deacon Mitchum’s kid.” Pierce chuckled.
“What in the hell are you doin’ out here Jesse?” Officer Fabre inquired.
“Not now,” I said. “He needs to get warm and quick.”
I escorted the stricken captive up the stairs.
“I ain’t gonna bathe you, the water is probably gonna irratate your skin at first, but the steam will do good for your mucous membranes. We made sure to have hot fucking water. So you’re in luck. I think you can find your way back down to the living room and back down the stairs. We know who you are now and I could get you in a hell of a lot of trouble so there’s no point in braving the cold and runnin off. Got it kid?”
The ruddy faced giant just sort of nodded in a defeated way and went into the bathroom to nurse his wounds.
“So I guess those weren’t your bootmarks I found round the greenhouse.” I said to Fabre.
“O no, you won’t find trace of Phillipe Fabre.”
“You don’t track a coonass, a coonass tracks you.” Doc Pierce enjoined.
“Well, whatever. In either…in both cases I ain’t too pleased. What’s that kid doin tresspassin, what are you doin’ tresspassin without a warrant?”
“Well, this is my town.”
“This is outside of your jurisdiction…”
I shook my head.
“You understand that from even a basic legal standpoint you are in the wrong. And since this is a military operation you could be in a hell of a lot of trouble.”
“I still don’t know what the hell this is all about. All these exotic plants, ya’ll are real young too, there’s no way that one is a colonel…” Fabre said pointing to Schmidt.
I laughed. “Nepotism.”
“Ain’t that just the way it always is…” Pierce affected a southern drawl.
“Also, we’re a bit older than we look. That’s part of the schtick. I’m twenty eight, Schmidt is thirty, Sam is twenty six, and the two boffins are also about to hit thirty rock.”
“Ok…so what’s all this…”
“Well…frankly I don’t have to tell you anything, I could hand you over, and you’d have an assful of fines and NDA’s. But that means more work for me….paperwork…so….”
I weighed my options again momentarily.
“So it’s easier just to tell you that we’re here conducting research on behalf of Uncle Sam. I’m basically security and liason, Schmidt is team leader, Sam is a toxicologist for DARPA, Chuck is a UC Davis botanist, and Graham is here just cause we like him and we share your approach to flaunting regulations.”
“That still doesn’t tell me what’s goin’ on…” Fabre said with a beffudled look.
“Isn’t it obvious?” I asked.
“You’re doing chemical research…” Doc Pierce offered.
“Close. The full explanation is that we’re studying the effects of various psychedlics and subliminally induced states. Along with a tad of work on understanding and neutralizing viral and bacterial agents.”
“So you’re a Psyops and Bio Warfare outfit…”
“In a manner of speaking.”
There was some small span of silence as the two visitors digested the information.
“Hold on if you’ve got the kind of clearance you say you do, and this is that kind of operation…there’s no way that top brass doesn’t already know we’re here.”
I chuckled. “You think we’re being surveiled?”
“I gurantee it. That is if you’re being honest.”
“Ok…so soundweapons, leapfrog tactics, tear gas, and a greenhouse full of military grade psilocygin and nightshade on crack don’t convince you…”
“It’s just really out there…”
“Well, reality is really out there. We’re on a rock hurling itself round the sun and in the span of a few generations we’ve gone from riding four-legged animals to walking on the moon…”
“I guess it’s possible.”
“Damn right. But you know what’s impossible…?”
The two men humored my dramatic pause.
“Spying on Alan Baird.”
“I think you understimate the snoopiness of your employers.” Pierce remakred.
“There are three things necessary to keep tabs as close as you’re suggesting. The first is manpower, the second is probable cause, and the third is technical facility.”
“And I’d assume that whatever Black Ops juju you’re involved with has all three in spades.”
“Your antique assumption of competence is charming Doc. But, the complexities and vulnerabilities of digital systems are highly exploitable. And politics has weaseled itself even further up the chain of command and past every conceivable barrier of clearance.”
“Yep, case in point, take a look at Schmidtty over there…handsome ain’t he?”
“I don’t swing that way brother.” Fabre said.
“Don’t be a homophobe you know you’re a sucker for those sweet baby blues. So is Alison…”
“Hey Ali! How was that trip to Malibu with….Lukey Pooohhh. DAWWWWWWW!” I said boisterously as I pretended to speak into a hidden microphone behind a tapestry. “His daddy sure has a nice little beach house doesn’t he..you spoiled fucks…”
“Eh, I dunno, I think you’re setting yourself up for trouble…”
“Oh…we would be if that was the extent of our capabilities.”
“What she and the rest of the donut dippers are listening to is actually an artfully rendered loop of us acting out the sorts of things we’re supposed to be up to. She simply makes sure the charade is complete by hammering out any incosistencies.”
“Don’t understimate the corrupting influence of an attractive brunnete in a sea of IT geeks.”
There was yet another pause as the two men took in the full weight of everything that was going on.
“Wait, there’s a precedent, you’re…you’re the succesors of Ewen Cameron’s abortion…”
The giant was really taking his sweet time. I wasn’t worried. There was no way out except to pass my line of sight. My lazyboy was pointed to provide ample view of the stairwell.
We were all a bit surprised to hear Cameron’s name.
The fire crackled and lit tense faces.
“You do me a disservice doctor.”
“Yes, I’m not presbyterean.”
“Calvinists…predermination..that’s really not my cuppa tea.”
“I don’t really follow…”
“Strenght and beauty…not a bad little book…but quiet ripe for perversion…”
The doctor was completely lost.
“Camerons father was a Presbyterean minister, there’s a wee book by another fellow of that denomination called Strength and Beauty.”
“I thought Cameron was canadian.”
“Scottish actually. It’s the experiments that took place in Canada.” I paused searching my mind for the name behind the book I’d just mentioned.
“…ooo that’s right the fellows name was Miller..JR..or JD something to that effect, anyway I quiet fancy the thing, good advice, very elegant and cheery…but all throughout there’s that sneaky nordic sternness, a bit imbecilic, in fact I think Nietzeche called it out quiet well, it is a beersoaked contentmnet, volkish, daft, ponderous, German…”
“Cameron hated the Germans.”
“Yes, which I always found to be most amusing given how Teutonic a flavor his weltanschaung held.”
“Well, the fellow had a very bizzare sort of idea of normalacy. That there were the strong healthy types suited for industrial societies and then there were the weak and maladapted most markedly displaying themselves in the German populace via agrresion and the neurosis of xenophoniba. It was a wonderfully Celtic inversion of Hitler’s idea. We’re the master race! No lad! You’re the Jews!”
I chukled a bit. “Yes, it would all be quiet funny if he weren’t handed so much money and authority out where the mounties roam….O My God the women in Montreal…anyway…he was very strong on the idea that everything was biological and that psychiatry should take a disciplinary approach. This led to those ifamous incidents at Allan Memorial. Though honestly I’m surprised you’d heard of it.”
“You’d be surprised by a lot of the things I’ve heard.”
“Doubtless, doctor, doubtless. But yes we’re not doing anything of the sort here and I find the guilt by association offensive. Cameron was nothing but simple minded euphism of a lobotomist living out Calvinist neurosis.”
“Aye, think about…predetrmination.. you are born damned or saved…you are born fit or unfit…your brain shape and chemistry making you either healthy or unhealthy…very little room for nuance…no free will…simply automata that must be repaired by the healthy…of course the healthy are the ones that view the world this way…which is…” I burs out laughing. “So profoundly daft that it makes me believe in God, because only the hand of something so grandiose could make creatures capable of such folly.”
No sooner had my fit of mirth ended then I noted a large frame at the bottom of the stairs.
The giants shoulders drooped and he was still miserable from my little tactical measure.
“How dare ya tak bout the Lord…” He said in a low voice.
It was the doctor’s turn to laugh. “Well, Jesse, I see your love of Shakespeare has paid off. That was pretty damned dramatic.”
The big oaf was momentarily embarassed dawdling at the threshold.
Then a fresh burst of zeal overtook him and he rushed into the light of the fire.
“These, what are ya doin with these…”
“These what Mr. Jessup?” Doctor Pearce inquired cooly.
The word hung awkwardly on the air before the whole room erupted in raccous laughter. The boy’s face did bear some evidence of intelligence but his rustic accent and protestant zeal were too much for composure.
“I saw you, I saw you out in the woods, actin actin like like warlocks, don’t deny it, there ain’t no use, ain’t no laughin where you’re goin…”
We redoubled our laughter. The way that lanky Graham’s clothes straigh jacked the brawny youth’s broad shoulders made his rustic preachments doubly funny.
“You claim that we are witches, Inquisitor!?” I said in a comically arcane English accent.
“No one expects the Yokel Inquisition!” Lucas caught on to the Pythonism.
Jesse Mitchum’s embarassement was creeping back into his wholesome, squarejawed, features.
“You know Jesse, in your defense, I’d believe they’re witches quicker than what they really are.”
“What are ya’ll doin’ out here! You’re just like old Luckadoo’s kin, wicked, wicked to the core…!”
“They’re soldiers, Jesse, defending America…with better life through chemistry.” The doctor announced with his characteristic acerbic sarcasm.
I was beginning to get curious, we rarely ventured far into the woods, and our voodoo themed ayahuasca trips were held in a root cellar. The lad struck me as a typical Methodist teatottler and I doubted highly he was given to hallucinations. He must have seen something.
“Jesse,” I said, “I think that’s your name, so, Jesse, I promise you that we are way too fond of lattes and craft beer to venture too far out into these hills. Whatever you saw wasn’t us. Though I’m as curious as the hell that you’re promising me as to what you saw exactly.”
Our unexpected guest relaxed a little and seemed to enjoy the respect in my voice. Pearce had mentioned something to him about his study of Shakespeare. I was dealing with a budding thespian.
“Well..” He began.
I held up my hand. “Take a seat, get comfortable, do you want something to drink? I bet you’re wanting something warm?”
“Ya’ll wouludn’t happen to have some Cocoa?”
“O Graham has plenty of Cocoa.” Sam quipped as he did a pantomime noseful.
I had forgotten about Graham in all of the excitement. He hadn’t said a word since his French exchange with Office Fabre. The traces of that sardonic smirk still played in curlicues round the corners of his mouth. His eyes were distant and unplesantlly cold, mocking even…
I got up to fetch the cocoa partly cause Chuk had fallen asleep and I was the backup chef and partly to disple the serious dose of heeby jeebies that I’d just gotten off of Graham Hoyt.
I wasn’t spooked easily. And while I’m not an atheist my outlook on cosmic matters is so spartan and empirical that I wouldn’t blame a body for thinking that I were. There was something about that look and the whole atmosphere around Hoyt, the suddeness of the shift from his vivacious Etruscaan chattiness to this brooding haughtiness, that reached down into my guts and broke my skin out in goosebumps.
While I was getting the powder from the cabinet above the microwave I felt a command.
Look out the window.
It was very stern. I twas impossible to resist the compulsion. I looked and I froze.
There out beyond the dock in the midst of the cold mountain lake were lights. Fantastic lights of various hues, violet, green, crimson, deep blue. They appeared as orbs glowing with a ferocious luminosity and doing a sort of rhythmic rearrangement round some spot. There was a strong sense of intelligence and intent.
“Hey, hey Baird, hey what’s taking so long I’m keen to hear what this yahoo has to say.”
I couldn’t look away or say anything.
I managed to mumble with a slurred sort of awe, past whatever was keeping my jaw from working, like speaking through a straw… “Look, there…”
For some reason it was damnably difficult to get my arm to move so I could point.
Schmidt slapped me on the back. “You gotta cool it with the boozin man, you’re slurring like a motherfucker.”
This brought me back into a fuller control of my faculties.
“Hey, hey! Look out the damned window asshole!” I yelled.
There was a pause.
“Don’t you see the lights…”
But there was nothing but darkness now.
“Have you been microdosing again?”
“No, holy shit, you can’t tell me you didn’t see that…”
“Dude, my last liver workup looked like a Merck catalogue, I see shit all the time. But there’s nothing out there but owl shit and darkness at the moment. I promise you.”
“You allright man,”
“Yea, yea.” I said as I put the milk in a clumsily rinsed kettle.
I handed the chocolaty concotion to our stricken friend, whose voice, and redness of features still bore witness of his recent ordeal.
Lucas and I sat down and everyone was quiet for a bit. I could see several heads nodding as if they were about to fall into a dream. The hour was of course by now quite late. Maybe I should have chosen coffee over alcohol.
Eventually, Lucas looking at Jesse, spoke up, “Looks like Alan’s caught your mood.”
“I mean he’s seeing stuff too. Just said something about lights out on the lake.”
“You saw ‘em too!”
“I tell ya, they called them up, called them up right up out of the lake! I saw them with their gizmo out at da rocks about a mile from here. The look of ‘em, I nearly hollered, I nearly ran back home, and woulda too if it hadn’t been for that mut…”
“Hold on, hold on, Jesse. Let’s start things from the beginning. How did you end up out here? This area technically doesn’t exist.”
There was a pause as the rustic gathered his thoughts.
“Me n Jumper were trackin pigs. I almost was on top of em too but the dog was acting up, getting goofy in steps, like somethin had grabbe a hold of his brains, anyway, I could hear em snorting just a few yards away, then suddenly he yelped and jetted off deep deep into the woods, headin west from what I remember.”
“Yeah, we’re more or less sixy miles west of Foley.”
“Sixty miles…! No, no way, I wasn’t a walkin’ for longer than an hour and had been trackin maybe since three in the afternoon.”
“Hmm…well did you drive up to Totten’s cabin like usual?”
“Well that’s twenty miles west of Foley.”
“There ain’t no way that I walked longer than a couple of miles before I saw em….”
“Maybe so, but what happened afterwards….”
I was getting annoyed.
“Ok, hold on! Like I was saying let’s keep things chronological…so, you were out pig hunting, your dog freaked out, and you saw them…”
The giant hunter paused again to find his place in the story.
“…yea so Jumper ran off, and that’s Totten’s favorite dog, and he’d have my hide if I lost him. So I gave up the pigs which were spooked by his antics anyhow and I chased that damned mut. It wasn’t hard cause he would pause every once in a while and turn in weird little circles, like he was trying to make up his mind on somethin. But…whenever I was on top of him he shot off again, always headin west, I always keep my GPS and compass on me, direct beeline west.”
He sipped the cocoa for a while, obviously enjoying it, letting the steam soothe away the trace of CS. I grinned as he shot me a venomous look.
‘Hey, if you trespass on private land in Appalachian hills…tear gas is probably the best outcome…’ I thought to myself.
“It was pretty soon that I realized that this was the way to old Luckadoos lodge.”
“How do you know about Luckadoo? About this place?”
Pierce burst out in a chuckle. “That porch mason!”
“Deacon Mitchum…that’s the connection to spooky Doo. He was never well liked by the brothers here and the Deacon aimed to find out what the hell that icy Brit was doin’ in Foley. Jesse’s dad is real good at ingragiating himself, he even broke down the batards classic English reserve. God, this must have been years ago though.”
“I was about six at the time that dad n me were invited out here for a turkey shoot.”
“God, William must have been ancient, if you were six, what’s that 2003, he must have been nearing eighty, hell ninety, no no, he was about the same age at the time as Lord Russel was when he passed, three years shy of a hundred.”
“Well, he didn’t look much older than Officer Fabre over there…” Jesse interjected.
“Really! I’ve been practicing here since 78 and he was already getting grey then.”
“Well, there was a touch of grey in the hair.”
“A touch! The man you saw wasn’t Luckadoo!”
“Oh, yeah, now I remember that was Mr. Luckadoos son.”
“Ah! Of course 2003 is when Luckadoo died and his slacker son took over the estate.”
“Yeah, he was talkin about plans of turning this into a huntin’ resort with discounts for the locals. He was real nice. But my dad kept on tellin’ me stories bout that whole clan, said they was no good, involved with some business havin to do with some kinda Dawn back in England or somethin, anyhow..”
“Discounts for the locals, old bastard musta turned in his grave twice.”
I recalled the man I’d met when Thornton was negotiating to have us sequestered here. The land, the lake, and the lodge didn’t see the plans the squire imagined. There was a provision in the will which he found distasteful. But duty was duty and the only protest Thorton recalled from the heir was a furrowed brow as the land was publicly noted to have been placed in the care of ‘The Army Corps of Engineers.’
Classic DARPA shenanigans. But, that was the funny thing. There was no need for the son to know anything about the real intent of the land, the real reason for all the NDA’s. God! I’d never thought about it. Why did Lucas and I have to meet Henry? Now that I thought about it, it was almost like we were reporting to him, Thorton too..I’d never seen a subservient side of him before. What was this…and NASA…?
“Ok, ok!” I said as annoyance broke me out of my reverie. “So, you knew about this place, had been here before, and ended up heading in this direction looking for a dog you’d borrowed, then you saw something…”
“Yea, yea, then I saw them…”
His eyes turned distant.
Jesses eyes darted around the room. He seemed reticent on the matter, which was odd given how eager he had been to implicate us as whatever supposed villains he’d seen.
“Well…” I said, drumming my fingers impatiently on a mahongony table.
“There were five of ‘em, or at least I think so, ‘t’sall real hazy, two real tall ones in hats with big brims, so I couldn’t make out the face, and three guys in khakhis and golfing shirts.”
“Khahkis and golfing shirts, truly Satanic…” Lucas quipped.
“Anyway they looked like foreigners and they were strong, big guys, crew cuts, two was carrying cases and backbacks and one was carryin’ some kinda rope.”
“Maybe Thorton is into BDSM. He does always say he’s tied up…” Chuck guffawed.
“Shh…I wanna hear this…”
“Well I musta followd em for about forty minutes or so, I made sure to stay back far…far…I didn’ like tha look o them tall ones with the hats, somethin’ was wrong with their hands, though I was too far away to tell wut.”
He seemed to have a hard time recollecting.
“Then I saw ‘em come to some kinda clearing with a buncha granit and such in it. They dropped all their stuff and started setting up somethin’. The guy with the rope tied it around three trees into a triangle and the two tall ones stood in the center of it, back to back.”
“Sounds like some high caliber LARPING.” Sam couldn’t help himself. “Didn’t you once go dumpster diving with a chub that was into all that Wicca shit?” He asked looking at Graham who was as creepy and unresponsive as he’d been for the past four hours.
“Sam, shut your fucking mouth, I don’t get to hear bullshit this good very often.” Lucas said.
“It ain’t bullcrap, it ain’t, I saw it, I swear, one o the tall ones pointed an arm straight down in a perfect kinda angle the other raised his and bent it at the elbow kinda a pointin at the sky with the weirdest gnarled finger…then…
They started makin’ sounds. Weird sounds, unholy sounds, they was nothin like that I had herd before, it was a sort hum and shriek and chant all at ones, low and pulsating, the three commando looking guys had set up some kinda box with a revolving sort of stone on it, and one was holdin a panel..I dunno there was a lot goin on but it was all somehow related…to them lights, cause soon, the whole place got real weird, real dizzy like, it was almost like stars and such had come to earth, it go real dark but I could still see trees n sky, n ground, and then tha ground, it got all inky, n them glowing christmas lights dun sorta ooze out of em and buzz about, and in the light o that buzzin…I saw…
There was a long pause.
“I saw the face o tha tall ones under the hats, they was rong, not people faces, they had real rough lookin skin, and no noses, and the eyes were large, kinda like snake eyes…”
“Then I saw it look at me, and ….”
This time the pause was uncomfortably long. More than eight minutes of silecne interpersed with prodding.
“Ok, so how did you end up in the Lodge, and how did you avoid our suppresive systems? That would be the ear splitting pulse weapon we have to play with.”
“I don’t remember no sound except for that throbbin thing just before I dropped my gun and found myself all damp by that cold lake…”
“Yeah, but you got in here somehow…”
“I don’t remember…”
“Anybody leave anythin open..”
“Thass right…! Ya’ll is wicked I recall now makin my way on muh hands and knees and I saw two doors open to the sky and staris…”
“The root cellar…” I said palming my face.
“I saw them pillars n skulls n runs n such yall had in there yall is wicked too.”
“It’s not what it looks like.”
“Government fudned voodoo?” Pierce chuckled.
“I wouldn’t put it past ‘em.” Fabre remarked with rueful vehemence.
Just then the televeision flickered on.
Chapter 2.4 – stonehenge of the amazon
I looked around to see who was holding the remote. Nobody seemed to. It was a repeat of the ten o’clock news.
At the end of the broadcast for this particular township there was a quircky little segment called: “News of the Weird.”
That’s what was playing now.
“Well, Alison,” the anchor said, “you know that maps can be deceiving?”
“Whaddaya mean Pete?”
“Well, maps are just projections, they’re abstractions from reality suited for purposes like navigation, and often times effected by the place that map makers call home.”
“So, did you know that Brazil is actually pretty much the same size as the United States?”
“Well, I know it’s big, I think it’s the biggest country in South America.”
“That’s right! It takes up half the continent’s land area. To give you an idea of just how big that is, the United States is 9,833,517 sq km, while Brazil is about 8,515,770 sq km.”
“Wow, that’s pretty close.”
“That’s right, and you can bet that such a big area, most of which is shrouded in thick rainforest holds many mysteries and surprises.”
“I don’t doubt it Pete. So I guess you musta fished something wild from the info stream?”
“I sure did. Take a look at this,”
The screen cut to an aerial video above canopy, in the midst of which was a field, and in the field were some rocks. At the periphery we could see the faint line of a river.
“You see Alison, yin and yang, do happen, there is a little of the bad in the good and the good in the bad, deforestation in all its destructiveness may have just presented the best case for its cessation.”
“O yea, how so?”
“What we’re looking at here is the northeast of Brazil, in the state of Amapa, more specifically the municipality of Calcoene. Here, a farmer who was clearing land for grazing stumbled upon those rocks you see.”
“What’s so special about those rocks?”
“Well, they’re what’s known as megalilths, giant blocks of geology arranged by ancient man for mysterious purposes. This particular arrangement is very peculiar and along with other evidence is revolutionizing the way that we look at ancient cultures. It has been dubbed the Stonehenge of the Amazon since part of the formation seems to align with the sun during the winter solstice.”
“Wow, that’s wild!”
Chapter 2.5 Jung
Everybody was silent.
“Who turned on the TV?” The doctor asked.
No one responded.
“That’s funny,” I said pulling out my phone, “that formation, what did they call it…
Amazon…and then the name of that famous thing in England…uh…”
“Stonehenge,” Lucas responded.
“Yeah,” I plugged the name into my phone.
“Hm, well there it is.” I remarked. “Looks just like the thing in Sam’s picture….”
I passed the phone around.
Everybody’s face registered recognition besides the faces of our three guests.
Graham’s response was strongest. He seemed to exult at seeing it only to return to the offputting laconic haughtiness of the past few hours.
“Sam’s picture?” Fabre asked.
“Yeah, it’s actually why we came to town.”
“Well, part of our project here is the use of hallucinogens, chants, and archetypal imagery. We’re studying the potentialities of what Jung called the collective unconscious. Earlier this afternoon we’d been engaged in ‘fire stoking’ which is a sort of call and response according to a certain Pythagorean ratio while loaded on mushrooms and absinthe.”
“Far out man…” Doc Pierce quipped.
“…Anyway, generally, one of us is moved to some form of expression. In this iteration, Sam was the one that had felt the pull. He sketched out some kinda weird jungle scene with this jaguar lying on a stone near a megalith that looks like the one we just saw. Normally, we would record the event and match its contents with others derived from the ‘stoking’ method. We search for things like continuity and coherency. You’d be surprised at how intelligible and teasing these things are…” My eyes got a little distant.
“Well, so this time we couldn’t record anything, cause the moment old lanky Hoyt over there got a gander at it he spazzed out. And well…you know the rest…”
Our guests took a while to process the information.
“I’d like to see the picture.”
“It’s in the den.” I said rising to fetch it.
Before I made my way down the stairs I rounded back to the kitchen.
Just as I’d thought…
There was Jesse’s gun. It was a revolver. Smith and Wesson model 66 with four .357 magnum bullets in the chambers. You could definitely take down a pig with this. The big gun is what had given me that off feeling after my first trip to the kitchen. I picked it up and took it with me on my journey down to the den.
There it was, still laying on the table beside the couches we were sitting on.
I picked it up and turned on the overhead light comparing the stone formation to the one on my phone. They were similar, but the one in the picture was a bit more polished and the pattern seemed more evocative, the jaguar was really well drawn…
As I re-entered the sitting room I emptied the chambers and gave Jesse back his gun.
“I don’t know you from Adam so I ain’t takin’ any chances… but I’m no thief so here’s your piece.”
The bumpkin reacquired his arms with a quiet gratitude.
“Here’s the picture,” I said handing it to the Doctor. “Uncanny isn’t it?”
The Doctor examined the picture minutely and then looked over at Sam.
“You’re a great artist, this is a fantastic sketch.” He remarked as he passed the picture to the officer.
Sam beamed with undisguised pride.
“That is so strange! It is very much like that thing on TV we just saw…” Officer Fabre very nearly shouted, “To have that play just now, was it a tape or an internet clip, I did see that commercial….who turned on the TV….?”
None of us knew the answer.
“So what was this you were saying about Jung?” Doc Pearce inquired.
I don’t think that I’ll ever truly believe it. Believe anything that happened in the coming years but I think this was where I touched the cusp of something bordering on faith.
There was nothing. Nothing in what we were doing aside from the practicable psychological insight gleaned from what was for lack of a better word ‘the unconscious.’ The purpose was clear and determinedly martial in aspect.
We wanted to gain mastery of certain shadows and drives to help steer our nation and the world toward a better future. But there was certainly no actual magic, no actual divinity, just animal impressions that need to be harnessed and understood.
Yet here I was starting to get touched by it. It was like an infection and there were too many things to deny. But what’s the use of taking on undeniable things that make no sense? What are you even on about at that point?
I took a swig.
“Well, really we view him as part of a procession. A certain lineage beginning with Hermes Trisgemistus, titrating into John Dee, and finally in the age of Aqurius forming the more tangible 20th century psychoanalyst.”
“Oh, and what does all that have to do with the United States military?”
“Well..it’s a way for folk like us to earn a salary..but really I suppose it wouldn’t hurt for you to know…you’re going to be dead soon…and no one is going to believe or care if you talk…we consider ourselves shepherds.”
“Yes, shepherds tasked with the most bizzare and psychedelic sort of sheep one can imagine: humans.”
“That’s a bit Orwellian.”
“Oh, we know, but what’s the alternative? Entropy is the state of nature and idiots in the original greek sense, sated by bread and circus, will never assume the full responsibility ofcitizenship, the history of education bears this out.”
“So you don’t subscribe to the Jeffersonian ideal?”
“I do, I do think it important to inform, but informing, educating, these things are slow, and in the meantime we’ve hadmonarchs, and warlords, and Nazis, and we’re not keen on that sort of thing, you see.”
“So what does all this voodoo have to with any of what you’re proposing?”
“Well,human beings are not rational animals, not truly rational, no, the chief mechanic of our reason is analogy. The most powerful analogies are mythological in nature and there are all sorts of associations wrought through myth and various esoterica that drive to the heart of humanity. In weeding out exactly which myths, which fears, which hopes, are most efficacious we can use that knowledge to help steer the human enterprise towards a more promising future.”
The doctor laughed. “Better life through magic….?”
“And what if what you’re doin’s evil!” Jesse interjected.
Lucas responded with a verse: “Now in a great house, there are not only golden and silver vessels, but also wooden and earthen; and some indeed unto honor, but some unto dishonor. ..”
“Indeed,” I assented, “and I’m still uncertain of who is the earthen vessel. One could argue that the Methodists and the rest of the moral majority are quite hellbound. Living lives of excess luxury and pharesseical disdain off the labor of Chinese peasants and a rapacious foreign policy sounds far more wicked then any grimoir Crowley could have compiled.”
Graham rose from his seat and wordlessly left the room.
There was an awkward silence.
“Should we follow him?” Fabre asked.
“Well, he might have just gone to the bathroom. Let’s see if he comes back.”
It was only a matter of minutes before Graham returned with a vinyl record in his hand.
Chapter 2.7 – The Cambridge Gable Scene
It was kind of funny. He just stood there holding the record.
“Uh, what’s up there Hoyt?”
Wordlessly, he traversed the floor to the record player he’d set up. He put the record on. With his finger still on the play button he said, “I want you to listen to this. I want you to listen to this in its entirety. Then, we can talk.”
“Errr….ok…” Lucas assented.
We heard the click of the button.
At first there was nothing but a faint crackle. The recording must be fairly old.
Then a voice, sort of deep and dreamy, with an English accent, “Threes, and threes, and symmetries, folded here amongst the trees, whose roots run deep, let us attend and keep, the royal trane, pierce the veil of the mundane, drink deep from cup, and let’s go up!”
There was a moments crackly silence and then a resounding gong.
Then a woman’s voice, also British, “This cup is said to hold our dreams, but they are not they are realer things, then the paltry schemes of geometry, bless and drink, with threes to free!”
There was something like the faint sound of slurping but mostly silence.
“Now laying back upon the velveteen divans we dream realities in lucidities of how reality most true belongs.”
There was a long silence. As per Graham’s instruction no one interrupted.
Then the deep voice again except less dreamy. “Cambridge Gable Scene, October twenty-mato grossosecond, Nineteen Sixty Seven, meeting two hundred and eleven, the fifth delivery.”
“What tale brother, what tale do you carry, what story in the house of ought and was, have you acquired? Tell now, tell now, for it is most pressing, most required.” It was a different woman this time though no less British.
I’d heard Cambdrige, so by this point, I had figured that this was somewhere on that campus in England. Probably one of those little psychedelic clubs that had sprung up like weeds round that time. I held off on inquiring as per Graham’s request.
“I have dreamt of a strange reality, and now recount, what’s been seen, from divine vantage post trekking up the holy mount.”
“Tell, tell, tell, tell, tell, tell, tell,” Came seven different voice in responsorial refrain.
“I’d awoken amongst a great leafy mess. All about me were strange primeval huts and a sort of garret. There was the impression of roads intersecting into the clearing of the vast forest I found myself in. Some primitive approached me. He was apparelled in the head and coat of a jaguar.
Now I noticed that all round us were many men and women of as a primitive a race as this their apprent chief who stood before me. He gazed into my eyes in a laughing sort of way as the lyric and highly musical chants of his subjects caressed our ears. Then it was that I conceived him as a vast bipedal jaguar with great yellow eyes. And the whole scene shifted.
I felt as a thought, rather than heard, the instruction. ‘This is how it was.’
I was standing in a vast city amongst citizens who strode it’s smoothly cobbled pavement utterly unshod. They were apparelled in light blue tunics that truncated just above the knee. In appearance they seemed to be an odd admixture of races though the features were primarily European. The general color of their heads was a sort of reddish brown.
Great lights would ascend and descend in plazas and atop great pyramids in the mesoamerican style. The general atmosphere was one of mellow ecstasy. Everyone seemed to be engaged in some vast purpose but without hurry or any of the usual trepidations of responsibility.”
Then the thought voice came again, “Then came the El.”
Again the universe shifted though not as dramatically. I was still in the same strange hoary city. There were however a myriad of subtle and not so subtle differences. The streets were rougher, the tunics were some sort of tribal wear, and there was a sick feeling of fear in the air. The atmospehre was so oppresive in some unidentifiable sense that I nearly wept.
I also noted that not only had the lights stopped ascending and descending but mixed in with the odd heteregenous folk of the city were beings of the most reppellant aspect. Some were like vast anthropid lizard with sickly cunning serpent eyes, others were like malnourished men of diminutive stature. The latter walked beside official looking persons, seemingly instructing them, I say this because the officials would nod, and the ghastly things would point with their strange, grey, thin limbs.
I wanted to get out of there as quickly as I could. It seemed that something had felt my revulsion and decided on mercy. I was again sitting in the jungle clearing that I’d first found myself in. Though this time there were no people. There was only a large black jaguar, dreaming, with half open eyes atop a stone in front of me.
The though voice came again.
‘You have seen what some in your Kalpa have called Agartha though of course it is not in the center of the Earth! Yes, you have seen the coming of the El you have seen them the mechanics of Set who affixes spirit into matter. They have rebelled against their purpose and whispered strange things to your ancestors. A promise was made, a promise of false imortality, as if physic was so grand a thing, that one would wish dust to remain animate forever…!!??? The promise is of course sealed in electric blood, this gravity, the resultant black hole to put it in a metahpor more graspable for your primitive sorcerers brain, has set your story on its current trajectory. You must make a record of our meeting. For there is a purpose in this that is beyond your span.’
And so it was that I awoke upon the divan.
“Heard, heard, heard, heard, heard, heard, heard,” again came the seven voice in responsorial refrain.
Graham stopped the recording here and returned to his seat.
We were all waiting for some kind of explanation. It never came.
“Uh…Hoyt? What was that about?”
“Well, isn’t it obvious!” Graham snapped.
“No.” I said wryly.
“We have to go to Brazil!”
He said it with such certitude that we couldn’t help but chuckle.
“What’s so funny!” Graham demanded. “The thing is clear as day! He’s drawn it!” He expostulated pointing a finger at Sam. “He’s drawn it and whatever had a hold of me earlier has even played the Tele for us! And about…what…about bloody Brazil…so we have to go…and soon…because…because…” He was kind of breathless. Sinking back into the mahogany leather he released strange little wheezes.
I was about to ask if he was alright but his former odd placidity returned right as I opened my mouth.
We all waited for him to continue building his case for a trip to Brazil. It never came.
“The Tele…?” Lucas inquired. “Bloody…? Have you been watching too much Top Gear again?”
Yeah, I thought to myself. It was a really odd word choice for our all American giant.
“Look…” Graham said palming his face. “Look, the thing’s thrown itself on us…Unification…the answer…don’t tell me this dream hasn’t been peaking through our dim eaves…tapping…trying to get our attention…and finally a word slips through..and you would all align in denial. What urtter claptrap, what nonsense, you..you Philistines!”
“Relax man, relax, I’m not against going to Brazil, but there’s no way we’re going to just up and fly on your word. Thorton wouldn’t have it. There’s so much volatile stuff on site. We need adequate reason. So you’d better get a grip and elaborate. Else, we go nowhere…” I stated frimly.
“We’ll have to begin in Cuiaba. It will all fall into place there. That’s where it will make sense…”
“It has to make sense now, Graham.” Lucas interjected.
“Alright! Look…what was that newscaster talking about?”
I’d almost forgotten about the ‘News of the Weird’ segment that had come on the ‘tele.’ This reminder led me to recall the record that had just played. It was very strange how things kept slipping back out of my conscious attention. Then again I had been drinking and awake for nearly a day now.
“So what was that a recording of anyway?” I asked.
“I’ll get to that! But look I don’t think I have to. They turned on the television! You saw it. You were all here. You were privy!”
His eyes were alight with indignation.
“Amapa! Calcoene! Amazon stonehenge! What does it suggest you utter Pillocks?! Eh….”
We all just stared. His voice was becoming more foreign by the minute. The usual mellow tenor was too crisp…
“No takers?! Figures, thick, thick as the Styx. BRAZIL! BRAZIL! BRAZIL! The jaguar in Sam’s picture what was it next to? Monoliths right…what was on the Tele…monoliths…right…hmmm….yes…?!”
“Sure. But what would we do there? What’s the MO? You know Thorton’s ‘operating definitions.’”
“You understand it would all end there right. All these little Physics right! Hmm…no..no…much too thick…like tar they are…boggy sodding fuck…right…yea..gotta make them see..eh…got to…ok I’ll tell you what…hmm mmm o mmmm,” He was teetering under his breath, “I will…so you have to see for yourselves… a trip to the Shuttle then. Now!”
‘The Shuttle’ was our ‘place and setting’ it was where we did our transcendental work. I wasn’t about to go there on a whim.
“We’re not moving till you explain what that record was.”
“Look…I uh…oooo…I have to piss….!” He sprang up from his seat and was gone.
We were all dumbfounded. No one spoke. Fortunately it wasn’t terribly long before he returned.
“I don’t know what that record is! He cried. I just know the vision I know the voice. It’s….it’s something of my late uncle’s something my father left me when he died. I’d always been told to stay clear of uncle Henry. He was the black sheep of the clan you see. Got into some kind of trouble thieving some sort of thign from the Musseum of London. Bad reputation..bad…always up to something..always stoned..but there’s this record which I’ve played only once before..sounded like utter gibberish at the time…but now it all makes sense…I’m glad I kept it out of interest out of filial duty. Now we know…we know…”
“We know what exactly?”
I was still confused.
He was still standing at the threshold to the sitting room. Gently swaying like a drunk but with more rhythm. Given his height the motion had a strange serpentine sinuous sort of quality. I actually think I’d seen my autistic nephew do something similar.
“We know that we must go to Brazil! To Cuiaba! We must go: and this is how you will explain it to Thorton. We must go because there is medicine there and an academic who will know exactly what we’re on about! Name’s Senor Palis! He’ll be thrilled to see this….”
Graham crossed the floor to the record player, picked up the sleeve from the record he’d put on, and produced from it a sheet of yellow paper. Holding it aloft dramatically he scanned our faces with seraching eyes.
“Uh…and what is that ya got there…”
“Yar!” Lucas screamed.
I caught his gist.
“Is that wher da gol doobloons lie!”
Graham was surprisingly nonplussed given his recent raving.
“Well, the city this leads to was reputed to have been built from gold.”
“The old Eldorado gag…” Chuck snorted derisively.
“Fact and fiction often intermingle, especially in very old matters.” Graham replied matter of factly.
“Let me see the map.” Doctor Pierce chimed in.
Graham handed him the map, “Be careful, even though it’s a copy, it is a hundred and thirty years old.”
“Hmm…” Pierce exhaled examining the document.
“It’s a very localized map. Obviously showing some tributary of the Amazon. If I had to guess this is somewhere in the south-west, probably near Bolivia.”
“Aha, that’s exactly where it is.”
“Mmmhmm…I guess you were right about fact and fiction often mixing. The reason I’m able to offer that up is boyhood reading. There was a series of adventure magazines that my father had delivered to Boston in order to encourage literacy. That area was the setting of a sboston brogue accenterial fictionalization in ‘Intrepid’ of Henry Fawcett.”
Boston, so he must be some offshoot of the last of the Brahmin. His nearly British intonations were nothing like the folksy brogue typical of the region. This fresh factoid accounted spectacularly for much of his demeanor.
I noticed that my eyelids were very heavy.
“We may very well find Fawcett, or his bones, there.” Graham replied.
“Well that would be very interesting indeed, many have tried, what makes you so sure of this map. Did it belong to Fawcett?”
“Hardly. It predates the man by some three hundred years.”
“Oh, and who’s map was this then, was it Friar Carvajals?”
“You have a good memory doctor, but no, this is the map my uncle nicked from the museum. The cartographer was far less public then that clergyman.”
“I honestly don’t know, but my uncle was in such a great deal of trouble over what most had thought was a college prank, a man of his station and promise would usual get a lot of leeway at the time. This was not the case. Very nearly ruined the family and was a large part of the reason why my father immigrated to America.”
“Hm, so I’m guessing this thing was not on display. It was in an archive right?”
“That’s correct. He only knew of it because of his studies of ethnography. I don’t know why he actually wanted to steal it though. I am here repeating my father. He could just as easily have copied it. Or perhaps not. Very strange. Because even after posting bail my father recalls that the family home was subject to many rummagings and very grim folk would come knocking by to grill ‘mad Henry.’”
All this talk of lost cities and stolen maps was like something out of a storybook and I realized that I was dozing off. Whatever more we could gather wouldn’t be much good. None of us were in a state to pay attention much less to make any sort of decsion.
I held up my hadn. “Look. This is all very fascinating but I for one am tired and judging by the fact that three of you are asleep, I say we turn in, and re-examine this come morning…or afternoon.”
Graham seemed annoyed momentarily but there was a confidence to him now. I think he felt he had our interest now.
“Agreed.” Lucas said.
I got about the business of finding bunks for our guests.
I awoke from a deep dreamless sleep to the sound of chirping birds. A sunbeam danced through the window to land on the wood panel floor. Motes of dust glimmering in its wake.
It was cold. Despite the best efforts of a powerful central heating system my lower level room fell prey to the biting sting of a Kentucky spring.
I buried my face in the pillow and pulled two thick blankets over me.
Lucas, Sam, and I had taken three rooms on the first floor. It was a security thing. Even though I’d rather hear an intruder than be caught off guard I’d considered moving upstairs more than once. Hot air rises and I could just picture Graham, Chuck, and our guests all warm and snug.
Meh…I flipped the covers off and set my fortuitously besocked feet on the chilly floor. Just like with water its better to dive in. I made a beeline for the kitchen.
As usual, I had no idea what in all solemn hell was going on, I just knew that I had to make coffee and eat something fat and now!
I rinsed out the dirty pot and filled it to the top. After adding the grounds and flipping the switch on I pulled the cream cheese from the fridge. Post toasting a couple of bagels to perfection I smeared thick gobs of the cheese on it. It was unholy.
I was always ravenous in the morning. Ravenous and cold.
As I turned round to head back towards the kitchen table I was surprised.
“Bahh…who the fuck…”
It took nearly a minute to recognize Officer Fabre. Slowly last nights events crept back into my mind.
“Aren’t you woried about your precinct?” I asked right as I took a greedy bite of bagel.
“Eh…com ci com ca, in a town this size, the deputies can handle it. I told them I might be gone for a couple of days.”
“Really, you expected to be gone that long.”
“Potentially. But I am not worried about that. Right now I am worried about the crime that is my empty stomach.”
“You and me both,” I said between bites. “No donuts here, though…this kitchen’s only big enough for one pig.”
“Now where’s all that famous southern hospitality?”
“That don’t kick in till a more godly hour.” I said opening the fridge grabbing a half empty packet of cheese slice and throwing it to my guest.
“Yeah, no problem, figure it out, I need to find some damn aspirin.”
I pulled open a drawer and pulled out a couple.
“Jesus Christ you’re just like papa…” He said.
“You chewed them….”
“Well, yea it’s quicker that way.”
Officer Fabre shook his head.
“Aren’t you at all concerned about your liver? Dialysis isn’t fun.”
“Eh…I only get like this maybe once or twice a year…when I’m bored…other time I’m a real fucking Nazi just like these pills here.”
“Bayer…aspirin…Nazis…and most of the year I’d put any West Coast faschist to shame with my trendy ketogenic diets and other shit.”
“How are you bored out here. Doing all this damned voodoo?”
“Well, because it’s bullshit.” I responded taking a huge swig of coffee.
“Come again…isn’t the government paying for this research.”
“Uh, yeah, it’s government sponsored bullshit.”
There was an odd silence.
“O come on…you’re a public servant as well…”
“Yeah, but everything that’s just happened…”
“Well, this stuff with Graham and the TV, etc..” It was all flooding back to me. “It’s strange, but stuff like this does happen, Jung attributed the mystic label Synchronicity to it. Dunno how it works but ehh…mostly it’s bullshit and confirmation bias. I’m not really a skeptic but I’m not really a believer either.”
“So you don’t believe in what you’re doing.”
“No, I do. I just don’t think it’s magic. I think we’re here to figure out why symbols and chemicals do what they do and then weaponize it.”
“You’re a creepy son of a bitch.”
“It’s not a compliment.”
I rubbed my temples. “Look, I know you’re officer yokel… down to earth…. independent minded etc… whatever…do you understand…that…it hasn’t been much longer than a half century since people were still hanging each other…in public…with the cheering approval of the massess…who watched…it takes quite the son of a bitch to know about the mechanics of that sort of business. So yea, thanks.”
“Where’s the coffee cups?”
I pointed to the cupboard on my right and watched Fabre pour himself a cup.
He was a big guy. Probably ex-military himself.
“So how was the Gulf?”
He cocked his head. “How’dya know?”
“Just a guess, age, build, gait.”
He just kind of looked at me.
“So, the point of me asking was. You remember how the Iraqis or Persians or fucking whatever behaved…”
“Pretty damned civilized actually.”
“Yeah, until it came time for discipline, you recall right..”
“Sure, but war is war.”
“Peace time wasn’t much different.”
“I don’t know. Aren’t you the one that’s supposed to tell me to be less xenophobic whippersnapper.”
“Race, ethncity, nationality, even faith, that’s not the issue. Limited resources, underdeveloped legal strucures, no matter how enlightened a civilization fault lines will occur. Iraq, hell evern Afghanistan, is not as different from the United States and Western World of a few decades ago. Even though we had the enlightenment it took years for its best effects to blossom. Like I said it was only a half century or so ago that we were still hanging people pulbicly.”
“It was a little longer than that. I remember from the Academy. It was the 1930’s.”
“Sure, officially…in the States…”
“So this justifies brainwashing, manipulation…”
“Guidance.” I said coldly.
“You say tomato I say tomahto.”
We were silent for a bit, sipping coffee, and watching the sunlight bounce off the trees outside.
“So, what did Graham say to you?”
The officer looked a tad taken aback, it was obviously something he’d rather forget.
“Like I said… he told me the gator is waiting.”
“Ok…and what does that mean exactly.”
“Well…in the Bayou..when a gator crawls under your house…it’s considered a sign that someone is about to die.”
“Heh.” I chuckled. “Isn’t someone always about to die?”
“Yeah, but the fact that he knew about it, that he spoke Coonass…and…and…he told me about Jean.” Fabre looked so nervous that I didn’t really want to push him but curiosity got the best of me.
Before he could answer, Graham, Chuck, and the Doctor all trooped into the kitchen.
“I knew I smelled Java.” Chuck said boisterously as he made a beeline for the pot.
“Dear god, I’m too old for these sorts of marathons.” Doctor Pearce remarked, popping his back.
Graham was silent, placid even, given his recent eager shenanigans, I had half expected another barrage of reasons for leaving post haste. But, they never came.
My headache was dissapaiting, nontheless, I was in no mood to play chef this morning.
“Well! There’s the fridge, there’s the pot, you know what to do.” I declared and trooped off to take a hot shower.
On my way to the stairs, I stopped by Schmidt’s room and told him to drive the yokel back to town. He groaned but assented.
There was no need fo that kid to be here, there was a lot of weirdness to unravel, and he’d just further complicate matters. I was concerned he’d talk but even if he did. The Rotary club types of the town or what passed for them in Foley anyway, were all under NDA’s and already knew. For added security, I told Schmidt to scare the shit out of him on the drive back. His wry smirk was all the confirmation I needed.
It was good. It was good to stave off the cold. I appreciated the steam coming from the showerhead. One hell of a water heater, one of those things that made me wonder, why someone so rich would build a place like this, in Foley…
The thought diassapered as I was enveloped in warmth. There were a lot of headaches ahead and I made certain to take adequate time to let my muscles relax. Bodily tension leads to mental tension which leads to fuzzy thinking. This was no time for fuzzy thinking.
I was good at this, too good, and soon dozed off.
The sound of running water and the pressure of the drops on my head…the warmth…I awoke under a waterfall. The sound of exotic birds echoed all around. And there was a pervasive nearly unbearable humidity.
I looked to my left. As the water struck stone it produced a fine steamy mist which was falling on my face. I hopped to my feet which I noticed were bare.
The soil was black, soft, and spongy, the air redolent with folra. Vast trees with great trunks stretched up and away on either side of the river near which I’d been napping.
Despite myself I knew my purpose, at least my legs did, I strode with confidence into the dark line of trees.
The atmosphere beneath the actual canopy was entirely different. Though I could still hear the sound of the water fall tumbling down behind me there was a muffling effect. It was like being wrapped in some subtle sort of filter that wouldn’t permit anything inessential to enter the mind.
Despite the occassional cry of a bird or monkey there was a solemn sort of silence. I proceeded further into the forest my feet adept at dancing round roots and other impediments. My eyes sharp for speckled bands or leaves sitting where they should not be.
After some time. I cam to a line of rocks poiting like fingers in every direction. Some towards the sky, some to the east, some to the west, and in the midst of these there sat a man with bronze skin. He was older and stretched in front of him was some kind of array of multi-colored strings with little knots at odd place up and down the length.
As I approached, the elder looked up from his work and said in a loud clear voice,
“Baird! Baird! Stop jerking off already!”
I thought it was odd how he sounded exactly like Sam.
“Baird! Thorton is on the phone.”
“Where’s your Commanding Officer?” Thornton’s distant nasally midwestern voice inquired with detached vehemence. I often pictured him sitting in some lonesome farmhouse on a dirt farm, even though his actually surroundings consisted of an array of red, green, and yellow christmas lights, broken up by buzzed or _ titghtly bunned heads blocking the glow of computer monitors.
“Had an errand to run in town.”
“Did he review his role before leaving?”
“Yes.” I answered. Thornton was reffering to the ‘story consistency checks’ we’d do to make sure locals unbound by NDA’s thought that our periodic trips into town were just stops along the way between home and our relatives. We didn’t go into town very often so it worked pretty well.
“Needed a new PVC pipe, been having some plumbin issues.” I lied.
“Major Baird, you were provisioned with a full years supply of repair and maintenance tools and materials.”
He called my bluff.
“Alright Colonel, alright, we ran out of Jack.”
“You have a very interesting job, Major. Why compromise it?”
“Interesting! Colonel, there’s nothing out here but owl shit and ghosts and believe it or not chemistry and psychology do lose their lustre after a coupla months. Even if we’re paid to trip balls. The hamsters get tired no matter how psychedelic the maze. Need the formula. The formula happens to be Jack…and we happen to be out!”
“Stop, prevericating Major.”
“I was not prevericating sir.”
“Did Lietenant Monroe inform you of the purpose for this call?”
I looked at Sam who now that I had had time for the fog of sleep to fully dissapate, looked decidedly nervous.
“No, sir please elucidate.”
“There are three unauthorized parties on your premises.”
“Nah, Schmidt left, it’s just me Sam, Chuck, and Hoyt.”
“Unless you’ve grown extra legs….” Thornton let his comment trail off into the air of a sarcastic question.
‘Shit!’ I thought as it dawned on me. ‘Shit! The damned strips! I’d fogotten the foors were coated with electromegnatic dust. Basically an electrochemical gumshoe affair. Right now he was probably looking at a computer readout ono a screen in Langely or whaterver godforsaken black site he was haunting.
“Kitchen – 3 pair, com station 2 pair, Lab – 1 pair.”
“Target acknowledged, standby.” I said reaching for my cell phone.
I tried to use the app I’d written to lock the lab door.
‘Local host..80…what….’ I tried frantically to wrap my mind around it… ‘fuck’ …. nothing was working.
I turned to Sam. “Cover me.”
God damn it where was my sidearm…
“Fuck!” I yelled under my breath as I ran to my bedroom.
Grabbing the Sig from the holster I wheeled around to Sam.
He was just standing there unnerved.
“To arms man! Tallyfucking ho…come on!”
He just pointed upstairs with a pained expression.
The Lab was upastairs to avoid groundwater contamination.
“Fuck!” My whisper was loud. “Ok, just stay behind me, there’s only one man.”
“I know it’s cold, but it’s so sunny outside! We should hike to take the edge off.” I said as naturally as possible as we ascended the stairs. But no matter how artfully rendered a trick how precisely loud so as to inform but not alarm the intruder. Something to make him lay low enough to isolate, suppress, and apprehend him…it was too late.
I heard heavy footfalls coming towards us fast.
Thump, thump, thump, before I could raise my pistol in defense…before my “On the ground!” was anything more than an “Ahnn….” I felt a sharp pain in my gut, it was sickening, instantly nauseating, felt like that thing when you loop over the swing as a kid but fucking painful. I tumbled backward into Sam and we rolled down the stairs.
As I was getting up on my elbows and knees dry heaving, I saw a black heavy boot swinging at my face. Suddenly before the moment of truth it was yanked away. Sam had gottent the bastards leg. I was still dry heaving and couldn’t help him. As I rose to my feet I saw Monroe get a vicious kick to the shoulder and he realeased his grip.
The man who now noticed was large, unusually so, ran toward an egress that I knew was locked. ‘Gotcha bitch’ I thought to myself as I got to my feet tasting bile and readying my pistol.
He had some distance on me. But I could still hear him. As I rounded the corner to the door that led to the back porch I saw him produce something that looked like a tazer. He zapped the electric door lock and put his prodigious weight against it.
I could hardly believe what I was seeing. He was out the door. I fired. Missing in my pain and conufsion…the bullet lodging in the doorframe.
“Give me the fucking gun!” Sam yelled coming up behind me.
I watched him run through the door after the man, firing carefully in doubles, but we were too late, the giant climbed into a running dark green ford sedan and was gone.