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Chapter 2

Outside, Gus aimlessly wandered to the front of the Cathedral. There near Heronimo’s statue, he saw a tall man whose short yellow hair contrasted vividly with his dark complexion listening intentlyto a fellow in a worn leather jerkin. He looked like one of the Three Musketeers fallen on hard times, slowly coiling up a whip between florid gestures to accompany his spiel.

“Nigel, looks like you’ve chanced upon a bigger rogue than yourself,” Gus called out.

The man in the costume smiled as he attached the lash to his belt. Brushing aside the ringlets of his red wig, he grabbed his sword, exclaiming, “I, a rogue, you say, sirrah? A peddler of misdirection as you would be a fine judge.”

He spread his arms and embraced him. “Gus MacLantis! How are you doing, Prof?”

“Fine, Taff, fine,” Gus said. “I didn’t expect to see you though. I thought you’d have gotten a nice soft job by now.”

“What an outrageous notion; deprive myself of the Count’s Ball, the best gig of the summer?” Taff said. “Worse: deprive the fairest maidens of me? Not a chance.”

“What are you doing talking to this reprobate?”

“Oh, I’m just regaling this rascal with highlights from my long career as Don Yago.”

“Careful, Nigel. Silver-tongued Taff can spin tales taller than the original Reliquarian.”

“Bollocks. Now who’s the bloody flatterer, Gus?” Taff said. “However, I must confess this talk is making my throat deucedly dry.”

“He’s good, makes coal into gold,” Nigel said. “Though his shining tales are likely as true as they are printable, which is not much. Say, why don’t we continue this with grub and bitters? I’ll buy.”

“A most excellent notion, good sir,” Taff agreed.

“I’ve already had breakfast,” Gus said, looking glum, “and still taste the crow. So though it’s early, something alcoholic would be welcome.”

A short time later they sat beneath the golden arches. Fast food did not appeal to Gus but least they served beer. Soon with they were listening to the Welshman’s wild yarns as he munched on cheese nuggets and hamburgers with fake French names, and sipped their beers while tourists wandered past, comparing it with home.

“What I still didn’t know is that they were sisters,” Taff said, “so when –”

Suddenly he was interrupted. “I’ll be hog-tied!” Sundog exclaimed. Holding a large drink and take-out bag, wearing a T-shirt with an angelic pig sitting in a winged pot, he smiled at them behind his shades. “Nic Buckhorn, you old horse-thief, what are you doing here?”

Nigel looked up, suddenly bug-eyed. “Who?” he asked. “Are you talking to me?”

“Why, sure, I’m a’talkin’ to you, hombre!” Sundog said with an exaggerated Texan drawl. “Ain’t you ol’ Nic Buckhorn from out by Cactus Gulch way? Haven’t seen you in a hound’s age, man. It’s me, Sundog!

“Sorry to interrupt your story, dude. Love your outfit,” Sundog added as an aside. “Hey, Prof. Say, I still have the shirt for you. You really should come by.”

Nigel drew himself back, shaking his head in disbelief, eyes wide, a chip halfway to his mouth. “Sorry, uh, Sundog, if that’s actually your name. I’m a Buckhorn, and proud of it, yes, but I go by Nigel. I live in South Wibblesby, near Bogsmere in dear old England. The only succulents there are in greenhouses; no ravines anywhere near round about, I’m quite sure.”

“Really? You must be related,” Sundog said. “cuz you’re a dead ringer for a black feller I rode with back in Lubbock. Not shaved on top but otherwise looked jest like you. He liked to talk kinda funny, too.”

“Once again, sorry, old man,” Nigel said, curt and low. “You must be confused, chum.”

“Well, in that case, my apologies,” Sundog said with an affable grin. “Sorry to interrupt. I’ll leave you gents to it. Good-day, y’all. Don’t forget, Prof, the offer still stands.” He winked.

Sundog limped out the door, leaving everyone at the table staring after him. “What the hell did that mean?” Gus demanded.

“Beats me,” Nigel shrugged, head bowed, tearing into his sandwich. “Crazy cowboy probably had too much locoweed,” he mumbled

“I’m not sure,” Gus said. “Excuse me, I need a word with this guy.”

“Please don’t, Gus,” Nigel said. “Really. It’s not worth it. Don’t do anything stupid.”

“Aye, be careful, Prof,” Taff agreed. “That dark man has ‘undercover cop’ written all over him. Word on the street says he’s narc, or worse.”

“You should know. If you don’t see me at the feast, Silver-tongue, check into it, will you?” Gus said, wiping his lips with his napkin. “Nigel, I hope to talk to you later.” He slid out of the seat, hurrying after Sundog.

Nigel sat silently for a moment with head bowed, drained his pint and hastily stood up. “Sorry, Don Yago, we’ll have to finish the interview at another time.”

“As you wish,” Taff said. “But guv – the man’s not wrong. I’ve an ear; you’re no toff, old bean. I couldn’t deduce where you came from but I’d flutter he’s right. You may be trying for posh BBC presenter but your accent is all over the bleeding map, including Australia.”

“Thanks, old sod,” Nigel said. “I’ll try and remember that. Cheerio and toodles.” He watched Gus leave and hurried quickly in the opposite direction.



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“If this ‘science’
of Heronimo
is lunacy,
it is a most effective kind.
But whether
these wonders
are truly of
God or the Devil,
I know not.”

– Bishop Pierre of Bellegarde,
Testimony to the Inquisition,

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