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VI. THE MASTER
OF LIGHT AND TIME


Chapter 4

“Once again pointedly ignoring that for the moment, he kept looking for it despite any threat,” Gus said, “and the folder we found his map in was marked ‘INSURANCE.’ The question is, ‘against what?’ People who thought he knew, obviously. Doc was trapped between suspicion and the Unknown Guardians. I guess he never escaped.”

“If the Invisible Ones actually exist,” Sundog nodded. “In any case, it’s still possible he could have found the Maundy Grail on his own. Maybe he was the sole person who knew.”

“Why do you care about the Holy Tub, anyway?” Gus suddenly asked. “Why should the CIA be interested in an ancient holy relic? What does the Maundy Grail serve?”

“Good, you finally ask the right question,” Sundog said, but he didn’t smile. “The Nazis sure weren’t looking for the Holy Washtub to have their sins wiped away. None of the spooks flitting around here like flies circling shit were then, or are now. Everyone’s keen on it, but the actual reason has nothing to do with mysticism – or buried loot.”

He opened another folder. Gus took one glance and quickly looked away, shutting it.

“The Plague,” Sundog said, his tone flat and fatalistic. “We think the folk stories that Heronimo put vessels inside the Maundy Grail, one containing the Black Death in a weaponized form and the other its vaccine or a cure, might well be true. At least, close enough to the realm of possibility to make certain realistic precautions in order.”

“If Dad believed it also, it would almost make sense,” Gus admitted. “Doc was a true patriot but not blind. He thought dropping the atom bomb was the stupidest thing our country ever did. Believe me: since my mother died from it and I came close, I know exactly what Bubonic Plague can do. I can easily imagine Doc not wanting to risk unleashing it.”

“Bubonic is bad enough,” Sundog said. “But if this is the pneumonic form, spreadable though the air as the Black Death, it’s unimaginably worse. Three weeks between infection and first symptoms, two weeks spreading it; death comes as a relief after two days of agony later. The Plague could spread around the entire planet before anyone found out. Half the people out there could be gone in less than two months without hope of vaccination and little of cure.

“You understand the Agency’s – and a whole lot of other groups – lingering fascination with this mystery. Think what terrorists or a rogue state could do with the Pestilence, along with a reliable vaccine, which, by the way, we still don’t have.”

“I know. Why are you telling me this? What do you want me to do?” Gus demanded. “And what the hell does all this have to do with my father’s death?”

“You tell me,” Sundog said. He plucked a photo out of the folder. “Recognize him?”

Gus looked at the picture. It showed a smiling young man with a short, black beard in a lab coat surrounded by SS men, looking at a corpse cut open on a table. He seemed much at home, pointing with his pipe. “Can’t say I do.”

“Here’s a more recent one.” Still in a lab coat and holding a tobacco pipe, the gentleman in this one was old and comfortably plush, with a beard more like Santa’s and the gift-giver’s kindly smile and thoughtful blue eyes twinkling with humor and understanding.

“He looks like what I wish my dentist looked like,” Gus said. “So?”

“You and everyone else,” Sundog agreed, “and that is how he walks seen but utterly unthreatening, hence unnoticed and unhindered. Seriously, think.”

Gus sat bolt upright. “Oh crap, Chuckles here was at Dad’s party!”

“Tabloids call him ‘Doctor Death,’” Sundog nodded as if it was what he expected. “Doctor Marco Faustino, a world-renowned expert on toxins. He was once a consultant for the Holy See in those matters until his past was discovered. Since then, he’s become justly regarded throughout the black world for his knowledge of killing in unusual ways. We rather thought your father’s novel assassination displayed his signature style.”

“There you have it,” Sundog concluded, putting the photos back in the folder. “If he’s involved, the stakes are as high as they get. That’s why we want you, Gus, to keep your eyes and ears open,” Sundog said. “Work with us to keep the world safe and alive.”

“Again, what do you want me to do?”

“Count Roland, whom you’ve doubtless heard of, is the key one to watch. He’s the main player in the major local alliance of pothunters called the ‘Triple Knot.’”

Gus nodded. “Skip says Sir Gordon Smedley-Fawksler’s in that, too. Not sure who the third is, but I’d guess it’d be somebody like the astronomer, Lacnuit.”

Sundog smiled, “Good, I see you’ve done your homework. Yeah, your cousin-in-law once removed, the Chevalier, is somewhat of a rival to the Count, but since his retirement from finance is largely invested in his fraternal brotherhood scam. Which is one reason why I’m talking to you and not your brother, another being how annoyingly obvious he was trying to snap my picture. As for the stargazer, what can I say? He seems mostly harmless. But there’s somebody else of whom you should definitely be wary.”

He presented a picture of Jesus in full savior costume, beatifically smiling. “Probably the most dangerous is this dude, Jes�s Rodriguez, the Count’s chief henchman. Don’t let the outfit or looks fool you – he was once an actor at a Spanish Biblical theme park. Got into unspecified trouble, and a stint in Special Forces in the Mid-East gave him a decidedly unholy appetite for blood, other people’s blood, and the skills which go with it.”

“I believe it,” Gus said, nodding. “We’re acquaintances; the Count sent him sniffing around before Dad was cold in the ground. Scared the living bejesus out of me, pun intended.”

“They’ll doubtless be in touch again. When they do, play along; keep us updated.”

He gave him another business card. “Naturally, we’re working closely with the Europeans on this – it’s their baby, their turf, their rules. Their chief liaison’s number’s on the back. If you can’t get me or Moonbeam for any reason, Anton’s the one to talk to.”

“Sure, on one condition,” Gus said, tucking the card in a breast pocket, and folding his arms. “I’ll help you if you help me. If my father was murdered, let me see the evidence. But I want more: give me something I can use publicly to defend him. And I need it by tonight, too.”

He stood. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to prep for a silly debate.”

 


 

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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,
however,
I know not.”

– Bishop Pierre of Bellegarde,
Testimony to the Inquisition,
1337

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