Tuesday, December 19, 2006

It's Aliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiive!

The Mrs.’ book is out and unleashed on the world. It’s online and available at Amazon.com at this link. Buy a copy, or, better yet, buy a dozen.

If you hate Amazon, you can also get it at Target.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Editing

Doing the final edit of the book. This takes more time than you might think, since you want to avoid stupid, silly mistakes like saying Lisbon is in Spain (it's not, but we said it was for a while). I don't think that Stephen King has to deal with this, what with his fancy book contracts, editors, and underwear with elastic that is still springy. September? Regardless, in time for the Christmas rush!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Update


Book Cover Peek

Above is a sneak peek at the cover of the book. We're anticipating a publishing date in the next eight to twelve weeks - I'll keep you posted. Maybe we'll do a countdown?

Anyhow, a bit of background on the book - the original premise of the book was, well, The DaVinci Code. Really. I convinced The Mrs. that idea sucked because it was full of plot holes. And it does - really, if Jesus had kids, and one of them was alive today, well . . . prove it. You have DNA? Is God going to pay back child support? Dumb plot.

If we had continued on the original plan, we would have completed the book about the time The DaVinci Code came out. That would have been a serious "damn it" moment. It was, anyway. The plot we discarded as lame, well, let's look at the statistics.

The current score is:
Dan Brown-44,000,000
Us-0

Anyhow, if that plot-hole laden vortex of suck that is The DaVinci Code can sell 44,000,000 I figure we can sell 88,000,000. More or less.

I digress.

We'll be coming out soon. I'm hoping that every human alive on the planet today will purchase seven or eight copies. We'd sign every one. Eventually.

Despite the humorous note here, this book is a serious one. We're excited, and hope to change the world. Or at least offer a few hours of entertainment.

Enjoy the first few chapters, and we've got more coming.

Yes we do.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Prologue

Prologue

New Mexico Territory

Summer 1883
“This thing you are looking for, Boss,” began Jorge, in heavily accented English, “you think it might be over there, at that rock?”
The sun was sinking slowly along the horizon and nighttime was coming to the desert, bringing with it a whole host of things that made most of the men worried. Things like coyotes or, worse, wolves. It had been a long, dry summer and the hungry carnivores had been spotted hunting in large packs, some numbering as many as twenty, and the men were worried that they might be hungry enough for a human meal. Their leader, however, was unafraid.
The Boss was a tall, thin man whose haggard looks told of a life spent in the saddle. He was dressed entirely in black, despite the hot desert sun and his ragged shoulder length black hair fanned out behind him in the hot breeze. He stoked his sparse goatee, a mistake, perhaps, but he favored the look nonetheless.
The man stopped and sat still in his saddle, staring at the gigantic rock formation that loomed over the desert and thought That’s where it must be. He’d been looking for a long time, far longer than any of his vagabond men could imagine and he hoped that tonight, he would find it. The other men rode up behind him and he heard the creak of the wooden wheels of the supply wagon slow to a stop.
The Boss looked back at Jorge who was peering at him from under his wide brimmed hat with equally wide eyes. The man had an innocence about his baby face that was deceptive, but the Boss wasn’t fooled. He knew Jorge’s sins, knew that he had killed men, women and children, had raped and pillaged his way through a small village in Mexico. Then he and his bandito brothers had stolen the money, ate the food and burned the buildings to the ground. They had all fled the Mexican authorities that had orders to kill them on site. Only Jorge had survived and lived to join up with the Boss. It was simple: The Boss owned him and would for all eternity though he doubted that Jorge had come to that realization yet. The other five men in the group were the same, each hiding some atrocity or another, each carrying the same black marks on their souls that would damn them forever. But, for now, they would help the Boss.
“I have searched this desert for many years, amigo, under every rock and in every hole and this,” he gazed at the large rock that resembled a ship with wings, “this is where it has to be.”
“You know there’s been injuns around here, Navajo and Apach,” said Will, the Texan, spitting tobacco juice as he spoke and wiping the remainder out of his bushy mustache. “A lot of ‘em.”
“I’m not worried about that,” replied the Boss. “Whatever we run into, we can handle.”
“I just sayin’, this is a lot of shit to go through just on your say so, Boss,” Will continued. “This treasure, are you sure it’s here? I mean, I don’t want to take no arrow based on your best guess.”
“Are you questioning me, William?” The Boss turned to him, his eyes blazing. “Because, if you are, you won’t have to worry about the Indians.”
The threat hung in the air between them. Will had seen what the Boss had done to others who had questioned him. He’d tied them out, naked under the desert sun and covered them with molasses then watched as they writhed in agony as the fire ants devoured their living flesh.
“No, Boss. Just askin’.”
“Uh-huh,” replied the Boss and spurred his horse in the direction of the large rock. The others followed.
The group rode in silence for nearly a quarter of an hour, into the setting sun when Will spoke again.
“We’ve got riders, Boss.” He spat more tobacco juice. “Shit. A war party, looks like about a dozen. They’ve spotted us.”
Without a moment’s hesitation, the other rides turned and rode hard for the rocks, their only hope for cover. As the Boss turned his mount, he pulled his gun and shot the horse pulling the wagon, leaving both it’s contents and it’s driver to slow the pursuing marauders.
“Boss, don’t leave me here,” cried Gus, the wagon’s driver, knowing that it would mean a certain, horrifying death for him. He leapt for the Boss’ horse. The Boss saw him coming and caught him in the throat with the heel of his boot, leaving the man gagging and sputtering to face his fate.
The Boss followed his men, riding for the sanctuary of the rocks. He looked behind him and noticed that even as the riders and their ponies descended on the nearly defenseless wagon that they weren’t riding as hard as they should be, not if they wanted to catch he and his men. As he listened to Gus squeeze off two, then three defensive rounds, followed by the man’s screams, he was worried that they might have stumbled into a trap.
As the Boss and his men came to the top of the next hill, his fears were proven correct. Waiting for them, on the other side was another war party. The arrows flew. One of his men was hit in the throat and died instantly, another took a shot dead center in the chest. The four remaining riders pulled their horses in hard and ran, firing back over their shoulders at their pursuers when they had the chance.
They ran until they were out of ammunition and their horses were lathered and near exhaustion. The day had been hot and their ride long, and the Boss knew their animals would not last long. Finally, they came to a stop in an arroyo, nearly six feet deep and carved by the rains out of the desert floor. In their panic, they’d allowed themselves to make the worst possible mistake. They’d let their attackers drive them into a corner. There was no way out.
The men leapt off of their exhausted horses, using them as shields.
“Any bullets left, Boss?” Will asked.
“Two. You?”
“Just one and I’m not wasting it on one of them,” he said, his voice a growl.
Arrows flew through the darkness and suddenly there were only two of them, Will and the Boss. They could hear, but not see their attackers creeping closer in the twilight.
“See you in Hell, Boss,” said Will, cocking his pistol and placing the barrel under his chin.
“That you will, William,” the Boss replied and Will pulled the trigger, sending a cascade of blood and brains onto the rocks behind him. “That you will.”
The Boss stepped from behind his horse to look at what remained of his men. Jorge lay on his back next to Will. He was still alive, though he was clutching the arrow that protruded from his stomach.
“Boss,” he whispered, blood running from the corner of his mouth, “por favor.” He motioned at the Boss’ gun. The thin man sighed.
“Jorge,” he said, switching to flawless Spanish so the other man would not miss the meaning of his words. Jorge’s eyes widened in surprise as he had not known that the Boss knew his native language, “You are a piece of filth. Perhaps, not as much as others I have known, but a piece of filth all the same.” The Boss tossed his gun into the darkness. “Die like the dog you are, Jorge. I will not help you, but I will see you on the other side for an eternity of pain and suffering that will make this seem like a picnic with your best girl.”
“El Diablo,” Jorge whispered his eyes filled with fear that had nothing to do with the pain in his gut.
The Boss laughed and turned to walk out of the arroyo. As he did so, he was met with a hail of arrows. He stumbled but did not fall and continued walking. The arrows stuck out of his body, making him appear grotesquely like a human pincushion. He walked to the nearest Navajo, who had pulled a small hatchet from his belt and buried in the Boss’ midsection. The Boss didn’t seem to notice but took the man by the throat and lifted him out of his hiding place.
“You,” he said in the man’s native tongue. “You will help me. You will help me or you will die. Choose now.”
“Ch'99dii,” the brave replied in a trembling voice as he gazed into the Boss’ eyes, now completely black. Another language, but still the same word Jorge had spoken. Diablo. Devil.
The man laughed again.
“Really?” he said. “I suppose the Catholic missionaries have managed to work their way into this Godforsaken land. They’ve done a good job, I see. I did not know that you knew me, boy.” The man’s eyes flashed, dangerously. “Nevertheless, it will not save you. I said, choose.”
“Run,” the brave cried to his brothers. “It is the white man’s Devil. He is here. Run, run and do not look back!”
“You little shit,” exclaimed the Boss. “You’ve scared them off, dammit. Now, I can’t force you to do my will, but I can kill you for your little stunt.
The brave’s struggle intensified, his fists impacting, but having no effect on the Boss.
“I’ll take it that you won’t help, then. Well, your choice. Your cousins to the south used to enjoy this little trick. You must tell me how you like it”
With that, he thrust his hand through the boy’s stomach and reached under his ribcage. The brave screamed as the Boss’ fist closed around his still beating hear and tore it first free from artery and vein and finally from his body, with a wet, sucking sound. He held it in front of the boy’s face as his eyes began to glaze.
“Bet you never thought you’d see that, did you , boy?” He laughed again and tossed the heart and the boy aside, wiping his hand absently on his pants. He was out in the middle of the desert with no horse. And now he couldn’t even retrieve his treasure because he was fresh out of humans. If only Jorge had lasted a little longer.
“Shit,” he said and spat into the sand. He would have to try again. He thought for a moment, considering events that had happened and those that were yet to come and he caught a glimpse of something. It was brief, yet it was there and it told him that he would perhaps not have to uncover his treasure himself. Yes, someone else might do it for him. True, he would have to wait perhaps another hundred years, but, then, what was a century to one who would live forever? He had already waited thousands of years, a few more wouldn’t hurt. He could wait.
The Boss angled his hat back from his brow, shoved his hands in his pockets and began to walk into the cool desert night, whistling a tune. No observer was watching. Had one been, he would have seen the Boss fade just a bit with each step, until nothing, not even footprints, was left.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Chapter 1

Chapter 1
July, 1515
The young knight hoped their group would not encounter any natives today. The trip so far had been fairly uneventful, with only a few sightings of the native people. Most of them were average in size with dark hair and skin, but not so dark as the one and only African he had ever seen and without the curly hair. He had seen drawings of people from the East in books and these new natives looked more similar to those exotic people. These natives had weapons, but they were mostly spears or bows and arrows. These had proven useless, so far, against the knights’ heavy armor and it usually only took one shot from Geoffrey’s weapon to convince those they had encountered that the travelers were not worth the trouble. Thomas was not a coward, but he hoped things remained calm. There was too much yet to do and the knights thought they might have others to worry about besides the natives.

Suddenly the horse in front of him stopped. The young man reined in his own mount, wondering why the group had stopped. He looked ahead and saw that the forest had thickened in front of them, leaving a passage wide enough to permit only one man to pass at a time. The knights sat silently and listened. He didn’t like it, though the lead knight motioned for the group to proceed, one at a time through the dense brush. The tenth man had just entered the pass when an arrow shot through the air, striking one of the knights in the throat. As the blood spurted from the wound in an arc the dead knight fell from his mount and his horse ran wildly out from under him. The horse reared, it’s hooves flailing at the air, dropping, and, finally, running straight into the dense forest, ripping its flesh wildly in the thick brambles, thorns, and underbrush, adding further noise and chaos to the sudden attack. In one of those strange moments of compressed time, the young knight could see that some of the stream of hot blood had hit the ground after the other knight’s body.

The remaining knights drew their swords, thick, curving blades that a cavalryman could stick into a standing enemy at a dead run, and count on the curve to pull the sword free as the mounted knight sped on by. The knights quickly spurred their mounts in the opening to put as much distance between one another as possible so as to make themselves more difficult targets. It would also give them room to maneuver and charge as a single mass once their foe was sighted. Two knights, however, converged together in order to prepare their new weapon.

The arrows then rained down upon the knights, all at once, as quickly as a cloud bursting forth, but, fortunately, most of them bounced harmlessly off of the their thick breastplates, the stone arrowheads shattering where they met Scottish iron. Finally, the strange new weapon was ready for use and Geoffrey, who carried the long stick-like instrument, touched the burning wick to a small amount of prepared powder and, an instant later, a huge booming sound filled the air. Instantly, the torrent of arrows stopped as the surrounding natives fled the immense sound. A minute later, Geoffrey repeated the process to frighten off any courageous stragglers.
The entire battle had lasted only a few moments, but it seemed much longer to the youthful knight, especially now that the only sounds that filled his ears were the crashes of the natives retreating through the underbrush and the heavy breathing of the other knights. At least that was all he could hear, anyway. His ears were also still ringing from the discharges of Geoffrey’s weapon. The smell of the burnt sulfur hung in the air.

A few of the other knights had dismounted and were beginning to care for their wounded brothers. Three of their number had sustained injuries and one man was dead. Those who were injured had their wounds temporarily dressed and the dead man was tied in his saddle while a prayer was uttered over his corpse. The group had decided to continue on in case the natives decided to return. The wounded and the dead would be properly attended to when the conditions were not as precarious as they were now.

***

During the tense ride away from the scene of the skirmish, the young knight decided to ease some of his own tension by questioning Geoffrey about his weapon. The other knight was happy to oblige. He told the younger man that the new weapon was called a gun or musket and that he had purchased the weapon from a Portuguese sailor for a considerable sum shortly before their current expedition had departed. Geoffrey pulled out the weapon for a more visual explanation.

“You see,” he said enthusiastically, wrapping his hand around the broad end of the musket and pointing to the metal shaft, “A small lead ball comes out of this end when you pull the trigger,” he pointed again. “The trigger causes the burning wick to come down on top of this bit of black powder, and BANG! out comes the ball, traveling very fast. If one of these should happen to hit you, it would leave quite a hole, probably break a bone, too.” Geoffrey patted the weapon admiringly before putting it away. “Of, course, in order to hit anything you have to be standing closer than you would with your average long bow, but then again, you saw those natives run when I fired and I doubt I hit anything. In a situation like that, it’s certainly better than a sword. Good thing, too, as we will likely run into more of those bastards.”

“What makes that immense noise when you fire, “asked the young apprentice.

“Black powder,” replied Geoffrey, patting one of his saddlebags. “It’s rather nasty stuff. Smells bad, tastes bad and, should you get it too close to a fire, it goes off in a flash. That’s what happened to Henry’s hand.” He gestured at the knight who had helped him during the battle, whose hand was covered with a large white bandage. Thomas noticed the expression of pain on the man’s face and decided he was more than happy with the large curving sabre at his side.

“Looks like we’re stopping,” said the young man as the rest of the group reigned in their horses, now many miles from the scene of their battle. He was ready to set up camp for the evening as he was very hungry and more than a little tired. However, before he could enjoy any of the comforts of hot food and a night of rest, he knew there were more important activities to be taken care of first. The sixteen healthy knights divided themselves into groups of four to handle the necessary tasks. One group tended the sick and fetched water for the party, another group set to gathering firewood and began preparing dinner, a third group moved to the perimeter of the camp to take the first watch and the fourth group, his group, prepared the solemn task of burying their fallen friend.

They carried their friend’s body deep into the woods and laid him out near what they thought was an appropriate location. Two of the knights began digging while the young knight and one other gathered large rocks to place on the man’s grave. When the grave had reached a sufficient depth that no animal would disturb the remains, the four lowered the knight into his final resting place, placing his hands across his chest, his sword in one, his shield in the other, as was the tradition of their order. They covered their brother with dirt and rocks, recommitting his body to the earth from which he came. A prayer was said and thanks were given for his bravery in battle. All that was left was to add the final marker to the knight’s grave. The man who had rendered it from native wood now placed the symbol as the others watched with reverence. It was a cross, but not the Christian cross.

In the silence of the undiscovered and unknown wilderness, the young knight whose Christian name was Thomas Wyclyffe gazed at the grave marker of a man whom only a few short hours ago had been his friend and called him Brother, his ears still ringing from the blast of Geoffrey’s toy. He felt a strange mix of reverence and sadness, of pride and fear. He gazed at the broken cross that, until two hundred years ago, had been worn on the red tunics of those in his order as they led the Crusades against the infidels in the Holy Land. Those who served God and the Pope faithfully until one infamous day in history, until Friday, October 13, 1307, when the King and the Pope conspired to have them all rounded up and arrested. Arrested. Tortured. Murdered as ones who have turned their backs against God, burned as heretics, they were the Order of the Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon. They were the Knights Templar.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Chapter 2

September, 1515

“We need to keep moving,” came a deep voice from above. Thomas opened his eyes, squinting in anticipation of the bright summer sun. Instead he found himself face to face with expedition’s leader, his superior. The young man shook his head and tried to remember where he was. Oh, yes, he was sitting near the edge of a nameless stream in a nameless wilderness. He had nodded off while resting by the stream. He breathed a small laugh and then realized that the older knight was still peering at him with an expression of bemused curiosity.
“Are you alright, Thomas?” asked the older man. Realizing that he must look rather foolish in his reverie, the young man quickly gathered his thoughts and smiled.
“Yes, yes,” he replied. “Please allow me to collect some water and I will be ready to travel.” The older knight gave him one more appraising glance, grunted his acknowledgment and trundled back to the rest of the group, some twenty knights. The young knight sighed and lowered himself to the water, allowing his thoughts to return to the memories of the past few months.
Thomas Wyclyff was the eldest son of an English serf and recent initiate into this ancient and mysterious order of religious knights. Although he dared not tell another human of his membership in this group, his heart swelled with pride as he thought about his sacred oath and the dangerous mission of which he was a part. He felt it set him apart from others and here he was in this new land to prove it. That was what mattered most to the young knight whose boyish face had hardened into the countenance of a man in these last few months trekking into the wilderness. The progressive weathering of his skin also marked the fading questions and doubts of his boyhood. As a child, Thomas had watched his father run the small estate he was attached to with admirable skill, keeping the serfs in line with one hand and his family in line with the other. Thomas, himself, had grown up in relative comfort, learning the things a young noble should know and receiving a modest education as well, benefits of his father’s position. He, like the rest of his brothers, could read and write and was an excellent horseman and proficient with a sword as well. However, Thomas felt he was destined to be a part of something larger, to leave his mark on the world. So, one summer night, in his fifteenth year he decided that rather than waiting for his destiny to come to him in the form of continuing to work the small manor for its Lord as his father grew older, he would strike out on his own to find it.
He remembered lying in his bed of fresh straw and rough linen that night, eyes closed, breathing deeply, his heart pounding in his chest as he listened for the complete cessation of sounds in the house. When all was quiet, he continued to wait just to be certain that he wouldn’t surprise his father and find himself in for a whipping instead of the great adventure he was sure lay ahead of him. Finally, when he could wait no more, he slid out of bed and put on his leather boots. On his way out the door, Thomas heard someone stir and turned to see James, his six-year-old brother standing behind him.
“Where—,” began his brother, but Thomas’ hand was over his mouth before another sound could escape. James looked up at him with large brown eyes and nodded his understanding. The two brothers, though nine years apart in age, had always been close. Of all of his five siblings Thomas loved James most of all. Perhaps it was because James was the youngest and his mother had fallen desperately ill not long after his birth. Thomas, though a boy, was the only child old enough to be of any help at the time. In any case, he had helped care for James and protected him from their other brothers. Certain he would not alert the household Thomas released his younger brother. James met his brother’s gaze and raised his eyebrows to silently finish the question he had begun. Thomas looked toward the door then slowly locked eyes with James. At first he did not seem to understand but then his face fell and his shoulders slumped as he realized Thomas was leaving and would not return. The younger boy stared for a moment at his own bare feet then sighed and suddenly grabbed Thomas around the waist in a fierce embrace. When the two brothers parted, Thomas tousled James’ hair and indicated that he was to return to bed. The younger boy did so without looking back, but Thomas could hear his sniffles in the silent house. He stood for a moment, gazing at his brother’s form under the bedclothes, watching his shoulders shake with silent tears. He briefly wondered if he was doing the right thing and felt a lump form in his throat. Then without another thought, he turned on his heel and headed for the stables.

------
As he packed up his horse and prepared to resume his journey, it was this final memory of his brother that plagued the young knight’s thoughts. Often in times of uncertainty his mind would almost instinctively drift back to that night six years ago and he would wonder, as he did now, if he would ever see his younger brother again. He ducked a tree branch and figured, given the uncertainty and desperation of this mission it was likely he would not, at least in this world, anyway. Perhaps not in the next, either, he thought. He was, after all, a heretic. A member of a forbidden order of knights, disbanded and excommunicated by the Pope himself two hundred years ago. Now he was traveling across unchartered land in an attempt to protect a secret so important and so profound that he had not learned its true nature until setting foot in this new world. Thomas shifted on his horse, the heat of the day making the sweat run down his back in rivulets under his breast plate. It itched terribly beneath the undergarments protecting his skin from the raw steel..
The knights had traveled lightly on their journey and had made good time in the past three months since landing on the island in the cold northern sea. From there they had made their way inland following the river southwest until they came upon what looked to Thomas like another ocean, although he was later informed that the water was not salty and it was really just an enormous inland lake. They continued moving southwest, in hopes of finding a dry, temperate climate far from the shore where they might hide their immense secret.

Thomas Wyclyffe rode through the thick underbrush, swatting at tree limbs and, incredibly, wild roses whose thorns seemed to grab at him like gnarled, angry hands and berated himself once again for his doubts. In the weeks since the ambush had reduced their group to nineteen knights, sickness and injury had taken more lives: now there were only fourteen. The string of unburdened horses behind them was a reminder of their loss. At least the armor protected him where he was covered.
One man had succumbed to wounds sustained during the first ambush, three others fell victim to some sort of mysterious fever and one had ventured away from camp for firewood one evening and had not been seen since. Thomas was well aware of the dangers of this mission, and had begun the expedition with a reasonable expectation that he might make it home alive, but now he was not so sure. In the end, it wasn’t really his own survival that plagued him but, rather, the survival of the secret that the group carried. The thought of it vanishing from the Earth without a trace in this wilderness…that was unthinkable. Thomas’ stomach growled.
Thomas reached into one of his saddlebags for hunk of dried meat. He slipped his dagger from his belt and carved off a piece. As he chewed, he studied the dagger. It had been a gift from Sir Andrew Guillume, his friend and sponsor into the Order. It was a finely crafted weapon, made of the strongest metal with a razor sharp edge. Carved into the dark handle was the Templar Cross and engraved into the blade was one of the ancient names of the Order, “la milice du Christ.’ He ran a finger over the words that came from the time in which the Order was founded by Hughes de Payens, nearly four hundred years ago. Older, some said. From what he knew of the secret they carried, Thomas found that rumor to be wholly believable.
The day had been hot and humid but, now, large storm clouds formed in the western sky and the air had developed a cool undertone. Lightening flashed in the distance and the Templars decided to find some shelter out of the way of the coming storm. They had been caught out in a driving rainstorm for several hours a few weeks ago and, for their lack of preparation, three of them had fallen ill and died. They did not intend for such a thing to happen again.
The group did not ride long until they found what they were looking for. Overlooking the banks of a dry creek bed stood a small outcropping of rock that was perhaps twenty feet high. The group dismounted, at the hand signals of the leader.
Christopher Ahernes, the Master of this group of knights, began to unpack his horse. Using the rock outcropping, they could quickly construct a structure that would keep most of the rain off of them, using flaxen canvas, poles, and rope. The knights went to work, and with the brooding storm clouds moving quickly in overhead, finished the shelter with little time to spare. Thomas was just under the canvas when the dim greenish light that preceded the storm, made dimmer by the canvas was replaced by the flash of a single bolt of lightning, which was blinding throughout the tent. The flash came only an instant before the crack of the thunder, letting Thomas know that the lightning had been close. As if on cue, the clouds cut loose a torrent of rain like Thomas had never seen, not even in the last storm. They had made it to the safety of the tent just in time. The horses, however, were out in the rain, soaking.
As the storm seemed like it would never cease, Thomas and his fellow knights turned toward Brother Christopher for the stories of the order that they had joined. Christopher’s stories had given the group strength, and continued to bind them and bring them together through their adversity. They were thousands of miles from home, beset on all sides by natives who he could never pass for (although he did admit he was certainly more tan than he’d ever been) and they were slowly being killed. Of course they’d cling together more.
Thomas turned his thoughts to the lesson at hand. Christopher was speaking:
“The order, as we have determined, is old indeed. It was old when I learned of it, and old when my father learned of it. We seek to be better servants to Christ, our Lord. That is our purpose.” Christopher always began that way.
Most of the knights were taking off their armor, drying it as best they could so that they’d not have to scrape off the rust caused by the rain. Armor was life to a knight. Even though hands were busy, Thomas could see that every ear was listening to Christopher. Christopher said that this was the way the stories were to be told, and not written down. Each man wanting to be a Master must learn them, word for word, so that the meanings, information, and lessons would be available for the next group of initiates. In this way, the group had transferred information for thousands of years.
Christopher continued, “In the year of our Lord 1019, our order became known to the World. Mundis Vulgaris. This is our first year among those without knowledge.”
The rain continued unabated. Christopher’s blue eyes, in striking contrast to his dark hair, gleamed in the dim firelight, his passion for the subject obvious. You could ignore the sun beaten face, the three day growth of beard, the clothes stiff with the white crust of salt from dried sweat, but never the eyes. Thomas was mesmerized by them.
He continued, “Our Order is older than the Kingdom of Britain. When Rome sacked Carthage, we were already a thousand years old. We date back in time to a point when knowledge was young. It is our sacred duty, put to us by the Lord himself, to protect and preserve this knowledge from those that would destroy it or misuse it.”
When Thomas had met Christopher, he had been just a young boy, head full of stories of adventure in the Spanish Orient. He had met Christopher in London. If Thomas had been found after he had left his home, he would have been literally an out-law, outside of the protections of the law. He and his family were the serfs, and it was their bound duty to work the land for their lord throughout their lives. As an out-law, he could be, quite legally, murdered by anyone who he met. He had reached the decision to leave, and had stolen a horse in the process. Looking back on it he felt that this was foolish, but he would not trade his circumstances with anyone. He had gotten the one thing that he wanted most in life: freedom.
That freedom had led him to London, the largest city in Europe, they said. He naively thought that the bustle of people, their sheer numbers, would provide cover for him. A dirk at his throat and a cudgel applied to the back of his head had shown him otherwise. They had taken everything that he had, down to the roughly spun farmers’ clothes that had marked him as a target.
Naked, without a possession in the world, he had been found. Found by Christopher’s men, some he had already buried, some that were sharing the meager warmth of this fire. They saved him from death, and he knew it. Death comes quickly on the streets of London to those with nothing and no one.
This act of kindness alone had been enough for Thomas to declare fealty to Christopher. Looking back on it, it was amazing how quickly he had become ready to sell his freedom for clothes, a bowl of warm porridge, and a bed of straw to sleep on. His search for freedom had led him to recognize the value of food.
But Christopher would have no fealty from Thomas, or from any of his men. He treated them as brothers, not the cast out, out-law serfs that they were. Where Christopher saw worth, there was instruction. Where there was talent, he brought forth strength. Where there was character, Christopher brought forth men.
It turned out that he was noble in blood as well as spirit. Interesting, from Thomas’ perspective was that Christopher claimed to be a monk. Even more interesting, was that he was a married monk, with six children. This was no sort of monk that the Church would claim. Thomas stopped his reverie as Christopher came to a new point.
“You all know that we came here and found our treasure. Our quest has been a hard one, and it will likely become harder. We’ve lost good men, our brothers on this journey, and it’s likely that we’ll lose more. We are demons or gods to these native men. Perhaps both.
“Our treasure that we carry is one that is worth more than gold, more than riches, more than spice. There are those who have already killed in the attempt to posses it. We carry a treasure that is the most valuable that this world has ever known. It delves into the secrets of how we as men were meant to interrelate to the Almighty God, the creator of the universe. What we have here, as our treasure, is nothing less than the key to bringing judgment upon all of creation. We carry the word of God, Himself, writ in his own hand, and sealed until the time is right.”
Thomas didn’t know if he believed Christopher or not, (sometimes he had his doubts) and, upon examining his feelings, found that he didn’t care. The man was good. The man himself had never been wrong (in Thomas’ knowledge, at least) and had never told any of those about him a lie, never wronged them, never cheated them, and had been a pillar of everything that the fables said a man could be.
Christopher continued, “Now we must work on those things that you must remember, by heart, so that you can pass them on to those that follow us. These things must be committed to your memory, so that you might, in your turn, pass them along as well.”
The work of memorizing the story of the sacred society began, as always with questions and answers, the better to trigger memory, and know another member, should they have not met. The memorization was fun, and the new portions that Christopher was ever revealing were exciting. After forty-five minutes of memorization practice, they were done. It was dark, and time for Thomas to sleep, at least until his watch. He hoped that the rain would have ended by then.



June, 2001


Jim’s trip to Shiprock and his subsequent visit with Frank Tso and Bob Jackson had left him both excited and perplexed. The armor appeared to be dated in the early 16th century, according to the inscription on the breastplate, yet accepted history stated that no European had set foot as far west as New Mexico by that time. In fact, the Spanish had only just begun their expeditions into North America with Ponce de Leon’s discovery of Florida in 1513 and Cortes’ run-in with the Aztecs in 1519. It was possible that the armor had been left there much later and had simply been a relic of some doomed knight’s family. Bob had informed him that the skeletal remains had been sent back to Albuquerque for analysis at NMU and the results of their dating procedures should be back in the next few days. If those results showed that the unfortunate knight met his end at Shiprock in the early 1500s, there would be many a history textbook due for a rewrite.
After spending most of his Tuesday at the site, Jim decided that the best way to spend his evening was to head over to the campus library at St. John’s and see what he could dig up on the Knights Templar. For a small school, St. John’s had an impressive library, mostly due to the benevolence of an alum who had made a fortune in natural gas back in the 1950s. Said benefactor had never actually finished his degree but, apparently, had a big soft spot for his former school and felt that later generations of students should not be short-changed in their education by having an under-funded library on campus. Hence, the library was the largest building on campus.
Jim entered the imposing building and marveled again, as he always did, at the workmanship of the building. Though not designed by any famous, world-renowned architect, the building had a certain charm that Jim loved. It was a three-story design with two book-filled wings stretching north and south. The front of the structure faced west toward the setting sun, which always made dusk Jim’s favorite time of day to visit the library. The early evening sun was always warm and inviting, even in winter, and he always enjoyed the state of mind it elicited in him as he sat among the stacks, browsing through one forgotten tome after another. Today, however, there would be no time to enjoy his surroundings. Jim was on a mission.
Anxious to get on the trail of the historical Knights Templar, Jim quickly found an available computer and began delving into the depths of the library’s digital card catalog. As always, Jim was soon working at a fevered pace. It was the same each time he started a new project. The need to know, to learn, to discover burned in him, made him need to work faster and faster, to absorb as much information as quickly as he could. Sometimes, he would work eighteen or twenty hours straight for days on end, rarely pausing to eat or even to sleep, and finally crashing and sleeping for a full day or more when his body could take no more. It was almost as if he had a biological need to learn about whatever new topic had grabbed his attention. This time it was the Knights Templar. As he searched database after database, his eyes flicking from one entry to the next, deciding in an instant whether to keep or discard it, Jim felt that need welling within him.
Of course, if this turned out to be one of his usual academic wild goose chases, it would be over in a few weeks. Typically, as soon as he had done enough background researc, visited a site and put it all together in a paper for publication, he was onto his next chase. It was like when he was a child and the old farmhouse in which he lived had become infested with cockroaches. He would turn on the light just in time to see the wretched creatures scurry for cover. Repulsed, young Jim would quickly stomp on as many as he possibly could before the last straggler skittered under the refrigerator. His passion for research was much the same as his revulsion to the cockroaches. He was constantly trying to squash one area of interest before it was too late to get to the next. It was possible the Templars would turn into the same thing, but Jim didn’t think so, not this time. Jim had read once that Leonardo Da Vinci had approached his work in a similar manner, rarely completing one project before moving onto the next, yet he still managed to produce some of the world’s most visionary science and some of it’s most famous works of art. Perhaps this was Jim’s Mona Lisa. He certainly hoped so.
Finally, Jim had gathered what he thought to be an adequate list of references and hurried into the stacks to track them down. This was really Jim’s favorite part of research. He thought it might have had something to do with some residual need to track and find prey, passed down from primitive man through generations and generations of humans. He had never hunted much either as a boy or a man since he never really saw the point of killing another creature simply for fun and he didn’t need to do it for the food, that’s what grocery stores were for, but he could certainly understand the attraction. It was something that most definitely could be called biological. Or maybe, thought Jim with a grin, it’s the only anal retentive part of my personality. He pulled another book off of the shelf and thumbed through it, chuckling to himself.
Out of the fifty or so references he began with, Jim found many books that portrayed the Templars in a rather fantastical light. Conspiracy theorists of old who theorized that anything the Templars might have been doing behind closed doors was bad. These books called the order witches, heretics, baby-killers, homosexuals, and worse. Wondering how those books ended up on the shelves of a university, Jim left them right where they were and took only those that he thought dealt with the historic Templars. These he checked out to peruse in the solitude of his own home.
It took him twenty minutes and four trips to move all of the books from the trunk of his car into the house, after which he brewed a large pot pf coffee and sat down on his couch, looking forward to a formal introduction to the Knights Templar.



---

Several hours and two pots of coffee later, Jim laid down his pen and legal pad, took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. When he looked at the clock on his VCR, he was shocked to see that it was 3 am. Although he was tired now and would be even more so when his alarm went off in just four short hours, Jim felt good about the work he had done and things he had learned. During the past few hours he had filled several pages of his legal pad. In order to more carefully organize his notes., he took out a fresh piece of paper and summarized his findings in several bullet points:

The Knights Templar were founded in 1118 as the Order of the Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon by a French noble named Hughes de Payen under the commission of Badouin I, King of Jerusalem. Their charter specified that they were to make the roadways in the Holy Land safe for travelers. The original order consisted of nine knights.
For some strange reason, for nearly a decade after being founded, the Knights did nothing to make the roadways safe, merely tunneled under the old site of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem.
The Knights took a vow of poverty and chastity and took up residence in the royal palace in Jerusalem for about a decade. Then, in 1128 they returned to Europe where they were officially recognized by the Catholic Church as a religious-military order under the guidance of Saint Bernard.
The lives of the Templars were strictly controlled by the mandates of the order. They were compelled to wear white garments as a metaphor for the pure and just life they were supposed to lead. In battle, they were compelled to fight to the death and were not allowed to retreat unless facing at least a three-to-one disadvantage.
Through a variety of measures and despite their vow of poverty, they became the wealthiest and most powerful religious and political order in Europe in a span of two hundred years. Then, in 1307, all of the Templars in France were arrested and the order was disbanded, its members condemned as heretics.

As Jim reread his summary he scratched his head in confusion. There were so many things that didn’t make sense, not only with the site at Shiprock but also with the Templar history itself. For instance, how did an order of what were essentially poor Cistercian monks become the most powerful organization in Europe in only two hundred years? How were nine solitary knights expected to patrol the roadways between Europe and the Holy Land by themselves? What on earth were they doing tunneling under the Temple Mount in Jerusalem? What did they find there? Why did the knights fall so suddenly into disfavor? And what the hell was he doing worrying about this at three…no, it was now three-thirty in the morning? Jim shook his head as trying to clear of the myriad of thoughts that were buzzing through it like a swarm of tired, angry bees. He decided to give Bob Jackson in the morning to get his take on the situation. With that thought, Jim O’Neal put the Templars out of his mind and himself to bed.

---

Robert Jennings was standing outside one of the terminals in the Albuquerque airport, watching the passengers disembark from the plane. As the harried business travelers and happy vacationers hurried past him, he thought offhandedly that they looked like a colony of ants hustling off to do their day’s work, each intent on his own scheduled tasks, oblivious to all the rest. Robert had been watching them for some time and had decided that he could tell which were the business travelers and which were the vacationers by the expression on their faces as they entered the terminal. The vacationers looked eager and somewhat confused as they stepped out of the plane’s narrow gate and into the airport while the business traveler wore and expression of impatience and world-weary fatigue as though he or she could hardly wait to get to the next leg of the journey. Robert guessed that the man he was looking for, based on what he had been told about him, would be one of the latter.
Most of the passengers had already departed the terminal, heading off to claim their baggage, find another plane or simply to leave for their local destination. It was getting late, close to midnight, and Robert soon found himself standing alone by the gate. He frowned and checked his information again. Yes, he was in the right place. The man he was looking for should have been on this plane, but it was beginning to look like he was not. Robert checked his watch and decided to give it a few more minutes. Dammit, he thought impatiently, I can’t believe the Brothers in D.C. would send someone for this mission who was too stupid to get on the right plane. He slumped into one of the sparsely cushioned chairs and sighed.
Finally, there was a bit of commotion by the boarding ramp, and Robert looked up to see a pair of attractive female flight attendants exit the plane followed by a tall, muscular man in his mid-thirties. The man had short brown hair, sunglasses and a goatee. He was wearing blue jeans and a short-sleeved shirt that revealed his heavily muscled arms, one of which sported a tattoo of a crown draped on a cross with a single rose at its base. That told Robert that this was probably his man. Robert watched as the man leaned close to one of the flight attendants and whispered something in her ear. She responded by slapping him hard enough to knock his sunglasses off and send them skittering across the floor of the terminal. Then she and her co-worker hurried away, leaving the man to rub his cheek and look for his sunglasses, which had ended up by Robert’s feet. He picked them up and walked over to the man.
“You must be Jesse,” he said holding out the sunglasses for the man to take, which he did, a suspicious look on his face. Robert continued. “I’m Robert. The Brothers from Washington D.C. sent me.”
The man still did not answer but merely stuck out his hand for Robert to shake. He did so, but in the manner that only a member of the Brothers of the Rose and Cross would know or understand. Only then did the other man speak.
“Nice to meet you Robert.” Under the strict rules of secrecy of their Order, neither man revealed his last name. Jesse retracted his hand and rubbed his face once more, nodding in the direction the two flight attendants had gone. “I thought I might have procured a little entertainment for us this evening, but I guess I must have said the wrong thing. Their loss, though, right?”
Robert smiled and nodded, again wondering what kind of maniac the boys in D.C. had sent him to deal with for the next few weeks. Jesse picked up the large duffel bag that he had set aside while looking for his glasses and the pair began to make their way through the nearly empty airport.
“So what, exactly, do we know about this?” asked Jesse as they walked.
“Not a whole lot,” replied Robert, assuming that Jesse was asking about the reason for their trip to New Mexico. “The only thing we really know is that there has been some sort of big discovery out near Farmington and it looks like it might be one of our boys.”
“Really?”
“Yeah. Sounds like they found some armor and weapons and stuff. Looks like they think it might be of English origin in which case, I certain that its one of ours.”
“What about the map? Did they find that?”
“Maybe. Our sources tell us that there was something big that the college guys are sitting on. Probably hoping to get some money out of it or something. Rumor has it that there’s going to be a big article in the paper about it tomorrow, but nothing for sure yet.”
“So what’s your plan? Rough up the egghead until he spills the beans?” Jesse’s eyes lit up at the prospect but Robert quickly vetoed the suggestion.
“No,” he said. “Nothing like that, at least to begin with. I think we can be a lot more, um, discreet in our actions and still get what we want.”
“If you say so,” Jesse half-heartedly agreed. “Just remember that if we need a little more muscle, that’s what I’m here for. But, hey, you’re in charge, so we’ll go with your plan.” For now, he added silently.
“Fine,” said Robert, who was checking his watch and noticed neither the edge in Jesse’s voice or the steely glint in his eye. “I figure we can start checking around on this in the morning. We’ve got one more guy to pick up tomorrow afternoon, but I can do that if you’d rather get settled in.” Jesse considered this for a moment and came to a decision.
“What did you say this professor guy’s name was again?” he asked.
“Robert Jackson.”
“Great. I’ll go see what I can find out about this guy while you go pick up our third tomorrow. I’ll head on out to Farmington and you can rent another car and meet me there tomorrow evening.” By this time the two of them had reached the parking lot and were standing in front of the tan mini-van Robert had rented earlier. Jesse held out his hand for the keys. Robert wasn’t exactly sure that he wanted to send this man into Farmington without someone to keep an eye on him, but it would be a more efficient use of their time and Jesse was a Brother, after all. He deposited the van keys in Jesse’s waiting hand.
“Just try to stay out of trouble until we can figure out what it is we want to do, okay?” he asked.
“Of course,” Jesse replied. “What could possibly happen?”

---

Jim O’Neal popped out of bed at seven o’clock the next morning, looking forward to another day of digging up information on the mysterious Knights Templar. His first order of business was to call Bob Jackson to discuss what he had learned the previous evening about the order. Both Bob and Frank had given him their cell phone numbers the day before in the event that Jim might be interested in returning to the site at Shiprock. Jim found Bob’s number and dialed it. No dice, his call went into voice mail. Jim shrugged and set about making himself some breakfast.
Breakfast most days for Jim consisted of a thermos of coffee and the morning paper. Today was no different. Despite the inordinate amount of coffee he had consumed the night before, and despite the fact that his stomach was still complaining about it, Jim poured himself a steaming cup and retrieved the Albuquerque Journal from the front stoop. He sat down at the dining room table to read, intending on indulging himself with a bit of relaxation before heading off to the school. He unrolled the paper and took a sip of hot coffee…which he promptly spat out in surprise when he saw the headline:

NMU Researcher Finds Mysterious Stone Tablet at Shiprock

That wiley son of a bitch, thought Jim. Bob had shown him some tantalizing bits at the site yesterday but had mentioned nothing about a stone tablet. I should have guessed. Jim flicked the paper’s photo of a smiling Bob Jackson holding said stone tablet and continued to read.

SHIPROCK—Dr. Robert Jackson, professor of archaeology at the University of New Mexico stunned the small community of Shiprock and the rest of the academic world last week when he uncovered a European burial site near the Shiprock monument. Dr. Jackson’s team has since uncovered a surprising cache of artifacts including armor weaponry, human remains and a stone tablet.
“I believe what we have found here could drastically change the way we view world history. If my preliminary calculations are correct, this means that there were Europeans in the New World much earlier than we had anticipated,” said Jackson.
The armor and weaponry discovered by Jackson’s team may date to the early 1500s and, according to Jackson himself, may be of Scottish or English origin. Previously, the only Europeans thought to have traveled nearly as far West as New Mexico were Cortes in Mexico and Coronado in Kansas. An analysis of the human remains expected this week could confirm the dates.
One big piece of the puzzle that does not seem to fit so far is the mysterious stone tablet.
“The tablet seems to depict some sort of mountain along with what is perhaps its name. At this point, we cannot say for certain,” puzzled Jackson. “Perhaps when we figure out what the tablet says, we will be closer to solving this mystery.”

Jim’s eyebrows arched. “Now that will make the academic archeologists happy,” he muttered under his breath, “Releasing findings like those, without peer review. If he’s screwed this one up, he’ll be teaching high school in Tucumcari.”
Jim put the paper down and considered the new revelations brought forth by the article. He knew he had to talk to Bob about it, not to mention give his friend a well deserved butt-chewing for being so secretive, and then disclosing his find to the local paper. Jim tried his cell phone once again, but still got no answer from Bob. He decided to try Frank’s cell. The young man answered on the first ring.
“Hello?”
“Frank, hi, it’s Jim O’Neal. Saw the story in the paper this morning. I can’t believe you let Bob take all the credit.”
“Hey, you know what graduate student actually means…some professor’s slave, guaranteed not to see the sun for four to six years. I’m used to a life with no recognition,” quipped the young archeologist. “So, what’s up?”
“I’m trying to get a hold of Bob, but he doesn’t seem to be answering his cell. He’s not around by chance, is he?”
“No, he’s not,” replied Frank, sounding surprised. “He said he might be a little late to the site today because he had some important information that he wanted to confab with you about before he came out. We’re supposed to tear down today and head back to Albuquerque. When my phone rang, I thought it was probably him.”
“I haven’t seen him since yesterday. Maybe he just overslept.”
“It’s possible, I guess, but highly unlikely. Dr. Jackson hasn’t been out here any later than seven during the entire expedition. I tried calling his hotel a few minutes ago and got a busy signal. Maybe you should stop by and see what’s going on. He’s staying at some rattrap out on 40, called the Hi-Way 40 Inn or something along those lines.”
“Okay, I’ll swing by there and see if he’s around. I’ll let you know what I turn up.”
---
Jim O’Neal had not been the only person in Farmington that day with more than a passing interest in what had been unearthed at Shiprock. Marjorie Carroll had been leisurely sipping a cup of coffee in her hotel room that morning when she picked up her complementary copy of the Albuquerque Journal. Flipping through the pages she came across the same article Jim had seen, choked on her coffee and spilled a fair amount of it on her bare skin.
“Oh, holy cow!” she exclaimed, leaping to her feet and blotting hot coffee off of her leg. She hurried to the ice bucket, which was now only filled with very cold water and splashed some on the burn. She examined her leg for a moment and, deciding that she it probably wasn’t going to require any major medical attention, turned her attention back to the article.
Marjorie, who preferred the diminutive Marji, had only been in town for a couple of days and was still trying to get her bearings in the small New Mexico city. She was still surprised by the cultural differences between the southwest and her own native New England. Marji had traveled a bit in her life, mostly along the eastern seaboard and a few times to Europe, but she had never anticipated such a vast cultural difference to exist between two places in her own country. The architecture, the scenery, even the weather were all foreign to her, but she was beginning to enjoy this place that still, in some ways, looked like a Hollywood movie set to her. It was different, but she liked it.
Marji had arrived in town the day before yesterday on the rumor that something archeologically important had been found at the majestic and mysterious rock formation near Farmington known as Shiprock. Though not an archeologist by trade, as Jim was, she certainly had more than a passing interest in the subject and, through her current occupation, had a pretty good idea of what it was that Dr. Robert Jackson and his group of students had stumbled across out there. The newspaper article only confirmed it for her. She put down the paper and rummaged through her briefcase to find her notes. Reading through the pages of her own small, careful script she found what she was looking for. Simply to make sure her assumptions were correct she reread the article.
“This is it,” she said aloud. “It has to be.”
Again she double-checked her notes and the description of the find. If she was going to track down this Dr. Jackson, she would first need to be sure that this was what she was looking for. No use in needlessly embarrassing herself or her superiors if it was not. After yet another comparison, however, she was certain that this was the find she thought it might be. Convinced, she quickly got dressed and finished her coffee before dashing out the door in hopes of finding Dr. Jackson.
---

Frank had been right about a couple of things. The motel was on Highway 40 and it was a rattrap. However, it was actually called the Stop-N-Drop Inn, a name that reminded Jim more of fire safety week in grade school than of a restful place to sleep. The place was run by a friendly couple from Abilene, Texas, named Stu and Evie. At least that’s what the chubby, jovial man behind the counter, who Jim took to be Stu, told him.
“Yep, some mighty nice folks around these parts,” wheezed Stu. “What was the name of the fella you were looking for again?”
“Bob Jackson.”
“Here he is. Room 405. It’s around on the backside so it’ll be easier to get there if you just walk down the alley.”
Jim thanked the man and exited the motel office. He wasn’t sure how Stu and Evie planned to stay in business because there were very few cars in the parking lot, two to be exact. There was his own Wrangler parked in front of the office next to a dilapidated pick-up truck that Jim guessed belonged to the proprietor. He paid them little attention as he turned and walked down the alley toward the backside of the hotel.
Room 205 was the third door down on the backside of the building. There were two cars parked in front of the room, a tan minivan and a Jeep Cherokee. The driver’s door on the van was open just a crack. Later, when he thought about the events that were about to transpire, Jim thought it was that that should have been the tip-off. As it was, he thought nothing of it as he approached the door.
Like the door on the Olds, the door to the room was slightly ajar. Jim paused, peering into the darkness og the room. He was beginning to feel a little hinky about the situation, thinking that this was usually the point in the movie when the homicidal maniac charged out with an ax to do great bodily harm to the hero. Gingerly, he pushed the door open. So far, so good. No murderer to be seen. He stepped into the musty room. Relaxing a bit, he looked around and was not surprised to learn that Bob was a lousy housekeeper. Two suitcases lay open on the bed, their contents strewn about the room. Socks, shirts, pants and underwear littered the floor. The bed was unmade and the television was on, the sound muted. The silent images filled the room with bizarre shadows. There was a light on in the bathroom. Jim took a step in that direction preparing to call Bob’s name when the words die in his throat. At that moment the bathroom door opened and a strange man stepped out wiping his hands on a towel. He looked up and saw Jim. Both men froze. Then Jim noticed what the man had been wiping off of his hands.
“Hey—“ began Jim, but the man had already taken two huge steps across the room and swung, catching Jim squarely in the nose. Jim’s vision went gray as the pain receptors in his broken nose sent fiery flashes of agony to his brain. The man then picked him up and threw him against the bed and Jim’s face flared with more pain as his cheek struck the wooden headboard. He lay there for a moment before rolling off the bed onto a pile of clothing. Groggily he got to his feet in time to see the Olds speed out of the parking lot. Wanting to follow the man and perhaps get in a few lumps on him, Jim took a step toward the door. Then he remembered what the man had been wiping on the towel. With one hand on the wall to steady himself, he staggered toward the bathroom, afraid but really already knowing what he would find. He was mostly correct.
Just like the discarded hand towel in the doorway, the white towel of the bathroom was covered with blood. Bright red streaks of the stuff covered the walls, puddles of it stood in the tub. The shower curtain had been torn from its hooks and was, likewise, covered in blood. But there was no Bob.
Jim staggered back out of the room and vomited near the curb where the olds had been parked. He thought he could still smell its noxious exhaust in the air as he stood there with his hands on his knees, gasping for breath. Then he pulled out his cell phone and dialed 9-1-1.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Chapter 3

-3-

September, 1515

Blood. He was covered in it. He could smell its iron tang. The local natives had come at them in another ambush. No time for Geoffery’s toy, his gun. They had come with arrows at first, and then spears. They were a little too far away to use the arrows to much affect, and the copse of trees that they had shot from was sparse enough that the horses could easily follow. The Templars were devastating.
Thomas had ridden, and ridden hard at Christopher’s call to “Charge” and had pursued their enemies into the trees. A massed formation of ten men in light armor rode at them, as fast as their weary horses could go.
Thomas reached the trees. He picked the closest of the enemies, who looked so young, yet he was covered in paint on face and body, wearing leather leggings and leather shoes. Thomas could not erase the picture of him as he thrust the entire length of his sword into the man’s throat, and pulled it out, followed by the torrential rush of blood. The man’s hair was dark, dark as the feathers of a raven, and Thomas noted the slight lines forming at the man’s eyes and at the corners of his mouth, before he withdrew his sword and the mouth started gushing forth the man’s lifeblood, his lungs pierced.
It was all so crystal clear, yet, so silent, so focused, so inward. Each of the men pushed forward, and, with the rush of speed, the natives began to move from their positions, exposing themselves to the swords of Thomas and those that rode with him.
Though their line broke, none of them ran.
As each man Thomas fought died at his sword, Thomas found another. He used the sword in every way he knew: thrusting with the point, slicing with the side, and, finally, hacking overhead. The steel was devastating to the natives. The knights had seen no steel tools since they had arrived, and the sheer strength of the material was a surprise to the natives, cutting and slicing with brutal efficiency. They were no match for the sword, though, and had taken the sharp blades as fast as Thomas could hack.
One of them had moved in front of him and yelled. The horse reared, and it’s front hooves came down heavily, inflicting a great deal of damage on the man. One of then caught him on the crown of his head, slicing open the skin, and cutting down to bone. The other came down on his chest, and pushed him to the ground. There was a breaking sound, but no time to reflect. Another enemy was near.
Within ten minutes, it was over, though Thomas could not have said so with any certainty. Time had passed so slowly during the battle, he had seen individual drops of blood flying, looking suspended in air, immobile. After the rush, the surge He looked around, and saw only the dead and dying enemy, who had attacked them for no known reason.
Although his perceptions of time and vision had seemed so acute, it took him a minute to remember that sound was also a part of his senses. It only seemed to slowly come back to him, as he heard the cries of those not yet dead.
He looked down at himself, and saw their blood. He looked at his sword, and saw it covered in blood and tissue. He could not count how many had come at him, his sense of time had been so dilated by his bloodlust in battle. He shook now, as he attempted, without success, to relax and calm himself.
No Templar was wounded. The enemy had not made good use of his cover. And that was fine with Thomas. There would be no burial of a Templar today.

---

They had been following the course of a great river south for some days. The river was very wide, though not so wide you couldn’t see the other side. It moved lazily south, and, though they followed its course, there seemed to be no ford.
Christopher had seen enough. Tribes of the natives were here on the banks, and they would run into nothing but trouble if they stayed here. They had few options, since it looked like it would take thousands of men years to bridge this river. So, Christopher stopped, and commanded they build boats.

And build they did. It took three weeks, but hunting had been good on the trip, so there was an ample supply of food for the hungry men. They made the simplest of boats, great logs lashed together with a supply of rope at the ends, the crosspieces holding the rafts together.
It was no small task: transporting the men, together down and across the river would be difficult. Heavy horses, armor, men, cargo, and, the most precious cargo would all have to be transported.
It was time to load the rafts after the weeks of playing shipwright. This would be a dangerous part of the trip, since not a one of them knew how to swim.
The horses were a bit skittish, but the men held them. The boats went out into the muddy expanse of river at morning, and, Thomas shielded his eyes from the bright sun as he looked back at the bank that they had just left. Who knew what was on the other side?


June, 2001

As Jim O’Neal stepped onto the steps in front of the Farmington Police Station and shielded his eyes from the bright New Mexico sunshine, he could not help but ponder on the surreal circumstances in which he found himself. Two days ago, he had just been one of the thousands, perhaps millions, of people who went to work everyday with the feeling that they were meant for something more and now he was immersed in a murder investigation and was currently the prime suspect in said investigation for a while. Jim sighed a ragged sigh and ambled toward a wooden bench near the street where he sat down heavily. He was anxious to get home, take a shower and check his messages, but he would have to wait for the taxicab he had called to arrive first. His Jeep had been impounded as part of the investigation and he had been informed that it would likely take a couple of days for him to get it back. At this point his choices were to hoof it home or wait. As he was almost too mentally exhausted to move, Jim opted for the latter.
He had already spent most of the day sitting in the police station answering one barrage of questions after another so, instead of subjecting his butt to yet another hard wooden bench, Jim sprawled out under a shade tree in the grass. It had been nearly eight hours since he had discovered the mess in Bob Jackson’s hotel room and he had spent about three of that trying to convince the Farmington police that he hadn’t made it. Jim had never before in his life been in any kind of serious trouble, let alone the prime suspect in a murder investigation, and after his brief stint in the Farmington jail, he was certain he didn’t want to end up there again.
Upon arrival at the jail, the police had placed the dazed Jim in a holding cell with several other men who had, by their smell, apparently been having a better time than he. It was the proverbial drunk tank. Farmington, like most of New Mexico, had a rather large problem with drinking and driving. Actually, it was less of a problem and more of a pastime. Many of the people Jim had met during his time in the state had either been convicted of or were awaiting trial for some sort of DUI. There was also a huge public service campaign sponsored by the state to raise awareness of the problem through billboards and radio and TV ads. In fact, the problem was at such epidemic proportions that those arrested for DUI were thrown in the holding cell until they sobered up and were then released, after making an appointment to appear before a judge. That alone could take six to nine months. In any case, it was here that Jim got his first experience with jail. Hopefully, it would be his last.
The smell in the holding cell notwithstanding, the actual interrogation was one of the most tiring experiences Jim had ever been through. His account of both the strange man in the alley and his encounter with another mystery man in Bob’s hotel room were met with both skepticism and derision by the two officers who were questioning him. They would listen to his story only to tell him that he was found alone in the room, covered in blood, and the signs of a struggle and that it would be easier for everyone if he would just confess. After what seemed like an eternity of this endless and futile game of verbal tag, someone finally put Jim’s story together with Stu’s the owner of the hotel. Stu confirmed Jim’s arrival time at the hotel. Unfortunately for Jim, he had not noticed either the van or the man Jim had seen. However, it was enough for the police to let him go with the admonition that he was still a suspect and was not to leave town.
His head was still swimming in confusion as he sat outside the police station. Whatever questions the authorities might have regarding Bob’s disappearance were surely rivaled by his own. Jim sometimes questioned himself as to the existence of the two mystery men, but his throbbing temple was usually enough to remind him that at least one of them was real. Jim figured that the two men, though not necessarily working together, definitely had some sort of connection, but what was it? And why did the killer ransack Bob’s room? What was he looking for? These questions only caused Jim’s head to hurt more. He put his elbows on his knees and massaged his aching head. He was still in this position when one of the town’s two taxis pulled up to the curb.

---

Marji Carroll had been sitting in her borrowed Saturn in the alley behind the Stop-N-Drop Inn, eyeing room 405, and trying to come up a plausible story that might get her into Bob Jackson’s room. She’d come up with a couple of ideas, but so far nothing that she thought was workable or that she was willing to do. After nearly two hours of sitting, though, she was getting desperate, or at least tired of sitting. Finally, she decided to use her original cover story about being a representative of the New Mexico Historical Society and gathered her things and her courage to approach Jackson’s door. Just as she opened her car door, she noticed another vehicle pulling into the parking lot. It stopped in front of room 405. She watched as a lean, muscular man in a baseball cap and sunglasses, got out of the minivan and quietly closed the door. The man moved quickly to the door of room 405, opened the door and slipped inside.
“What the heck?” Marji wondered aloud. She’d seen a photo pf Dr. Jackson and knew that the man who just entered the room was not him. Unsure of what was going on but certain that she didn’t want to be involved in it, Marji closed her door and watched the door closely.
Nearly an hour had passed before the door to room 405 opened again. Marji had been passing the time listening to the radio, some local talk show that featured callers who were mainly complaining about their taxes. The gentle warmth of the morning combined with the monotony of the radio had nearly lulled her to sleep and she had been nearly dozing when movement in the parking lot caught her eye. It was the man in the glasses again. He retrieved something from the back seat of the van and returned to the room. Marji rummaged in her bag and pulled out a small pair of binoculars. Training them on the door, she waited for the man to exit again. A few minutes later he did so, this time carrying a large plastic bag. Even with the added magnification of the binoculars, Marji was unable to make out much detail in his face. His makeshift disguise had done its job. She watched as he made repeated trips between the room and his van, each time with a bulging trash bag. She noticed some dark stains on his blue jeans and thought she might have an idea as to who he was and what he had been up to. It made the hair on the back of her neck stand up as she realized that she wasn’t the only one in town with a special interest in what was happening at Shiprock.
The man had returned to the room once more when Marji noticed another man walking around the corner of the building, apparently headed for room 405. This man was dressed in khakis and a button-down shirt, his appearance altogether different from that of the other man, though fairly attractive in his own way. He ran his hands nervously through his sandy hair as he approached the room. Cautiously, the second man entered the room.
A few seconds later, the first man dashed out of the room and climbed into the tan minivan. As the vehicle pulled out of its parking space, Marji realized that it would soon be coming right at her and she really had no place to hide. She slid down in her seat as far as she could as the van pulled into the alley right in front of her car. As he turned into the alley, Marji saw him turn his head and saw the reflection of her car in the lenses of his dark glasses and then he was gone, disappearing down the alley and back on to the street.
Certain she had been seen, Marji quickly started her car and drove away, back to her own hotel. It was nearly noon and, given what had probably just happened to Bob Jackson, she needed a new plan.

---

Though still tired, a hot shower and a hot meal did a great deal to restore Jim O’Neal’s faith in humanity. Mostly refreshed, Jim checked his answering machine. There were four messages from Brenda, one prior to his arrest, the others most obviously after, two messages from reporters and one from his Dean at the university. He decided to let all of these slide for awhile in order to deal with the remaining message from Frank Tso. It had also been a pre-arrest message. Frank would definitely be the most fun to talk to.
“Hey, Jim, it’s Frank. I was hoping to catch you before you left, but I guess I missed you. Just after we last spoke I got a call from this woman who said she was from the New Mexico Historical Preservation Society and wanted to take a look at the artifacts. I would ordinarily run this by Bob first, but since he’s MIA, I thought I should at least let someone else know what I was up to. Anyway, she’s going to stop by my parent’s place around eight tonight. Maybe you should swing by. Damn, this was a long message. Ciao, or whatever it is you white men say.”
Jim chuckled as he picked up his phone and dialed Frank’s cell number. He liked the young graduate student and was happy to hear his voice and his smart-ass remarks, particularly after the day he had had. After the fifth ring, though, it was apparent that Frank wasn’t going to answer so he gave up and decided to head over to his house instead. Even though he wouldn’t be able to take his Wrangler, Jim kept a decrepit Yamaha 175 Enduro motorbike in the garage, mostly for joyriding on the weekends. It would do until he got his car back. Before heading to the garage to crank up his relic, Jim decided to call the Historical Society to see whom they had sent to meet Frank.
Jim was rather familiar with the group of retirees who ran the Farmington branch of the New Mexico Historical Society. He had done several presentations for their meetings and was paid in all the homemade cookies he could eat. It was also his suspicion that some of the blue hairs at the Society were warm for his form. Since they always plied him with delicious baked goods it was okay with Jim, particularly one woman named Gladys, who had even delivered some cookies to Jim’s office at the school a few times. Jim had nicknamed her the Unabaker, and it was her who answered the phone.
“New Mexico Historical Society, this is Gladys. May I help you?”
“Hi, Gladys, this is Jim O’Neal from over at the University. How are you?”
“Dr. O’Neal! How nice to hear from you. We’ve all been looking forward to your next presentation for our group. Your last one was simply marvelous,” Jim could almost hear her blush over the phone.
“Thank you, Gladys. I’ll be right back as soon as you promise me some more of your famous chocolate chip cookies,” Jim teased.
“Give me an hour and I’ll bring some right over,” said Gladys, although Jim had the sneaking suspicion that if he asked she really would. He didn’t know if she wanted to mother him or …well, some things are best not thought about.
“I’ll bet you would at that,” laughed Jim. “But, seriously, I’m sure you’ve heard about the big findings out at the archeological dig near Shiprock…”
“Of course, it’s seems very exciting,” she coughed uncomfortably. “I wonder what happened to that missing doctor…” Jim could tell by her tone that she was fishing for information.
“Yes, well, the police have instructed me not to talk about the investigation or,” he added ominously, “to leave town. But anyway, one of the graduate students on the project said that you sent someone out to take a look at the artifacts and, since I was headed out that way myself, I was just wondering who it was.”
“But isn’t Shiprock out of town? I don’t want you to get in anymore trouble.”
“I was just pulling your leg, Gladys. I don’t know much of anything about the investigation,” he said to put her at ease.
“Oh, well, I just didn’t want you to get in trouble, Dr. O’Neal,” she sounded relieved to know that Jim wasn’t really a killer. “But to answer your question, we didn’t send anyone to see your friend. It’s just not in our budget, you see. But do you think we really could get a look at the artifacts?”
Her question, however, fell on an empty line as Jim had already replaced the receiver in its cradle and was sprinting to his bike. It was 7:36 pm. Frank was in trouble.
_ _ _

The dirt bike was a bit cranky, which meant that the trip from Farmington to Frank’s house on the Reservation took a little longer than Jim would have liked. His palms were sweating and his mouth was dry as he pulled into Frank’s driveway at thirteen minutes past eight. He had spent the entire trip visualizing in his mind what he might find at the young graduate student’s house if he arrived too late. It was not a pleasant thought.
As Jim eased the dirt bike into the driveway and killed the engine, he saw two distinctly different cars in the drive. One was a dirty, dusty, much-abused Accord hatchback, presumably Frank’s, and the other was an immaculately kept silver Saturn. Neither was what could have been considered a luxury car, to be sure, but it was obvious that their care and maintenance reflected the personalities of their respective owners. Jim gave each the once-over as he rolled towards the house. Leaning against the side of the house was another dirt bike, nearly as old as Jim’s, yet in much better shape. While the gas tank and wheels were sand blasted with the gritty New Mexico soil, the engine and seat were both clean and well cared for. Jim snorted and wished for a moment that he had some of Frank’s self-discipline to care for his own bike. Then he remembered why he was there.
At first glance the Tso household seemed a little out of place amongst the golden adobe structures and other southwestern style houses that populated most of Farmington. It was a small frame structure with peeling white paint, faded green trim and red shingles on the roof. The place looked to be at least fifty years old, perhaps older, and Jim was pretty sure the original house plan had not included indoor plumbing. But despite its rather haggard appearance, Jim could see from the brightly colored flowers, the assorted suncatchers in the windows and the immaculate rock garden in front that its occupants kept a tidy home.
Quietly, Jim crept up the wooden steps and onto the covered porch, stepping slowly and deliberately so as not to cause the wood to creak. The front door was a simple wooden frame screen that covered a white metal storm door, which stood slightly ajar. Jim approached cautiously, remembering his most recent encounter with a slightly ajar door. Peeking through the rusty screen, he could see a light burning in the living room. Someone’s shadow played on the wall, but no sound came from the small house.
“What the hell are you doing, O’Neal?” came a voice from behind. Jim nearly leapt through the screen at the sound. He whirled around to find Frank at the foot of the front steps, a dusty wooden box in his arms. Frank grinned and started up the steps. “Peeking in windows is a good way to get shot around here, white boy. I take it you got my message, but why the cloak and dagger routine?”
“Jesus Christ, Frank! You scared the shit out of me!”
“What, were you expecting to find me like poor ol’ Bob? Not likely, “ Frank’s face broke into a wicked grin, “I feel pretty safe in the pleasant company of my visitor from the Historical Society.”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. I called the—“
“What’s going on out here?” said a feminine voice from behind the screen door. Jim turned and saw at once what Frank was talking about. Standing in Frank’s doorway was one of the most stunning women Jim had ever seen; yet if asked to describe her beauty, he wasn’t certain he’d be able to find the words. She was slightly taller than average, about 5’8” or 5’9” by Jim’s guess. She had dark brown hair, which she wore just shorter than shoulder length and had striking blue eyes. However, it was none of these things that took Jim’s breath away. It was something else entirely and the second he had laid eyes on her Jim had seen it. It was as if she had a warm glow emanating from her, like she carried some internal fire that expressed itself in every movement and every word. He could see it in her inquisitive eyes and in the way she leaned casually against the doorway, holding the screen open with one foot. He thought he could smell it in her perfume. Lilac mixed with some kind of soap, he thought dizzily. Jim didn’t believe in the concept of love at first sight, but if he had, he thought it would probably feel something like this. He was hooked.
And he was also staring at her, mouth open, like a catfish in the bottom of a fishing boat. She shifted uncomfortably. Jim came to his senses, snapped his mouth closed and gave her what he hoped was a winning smile. She returned the smile and Jim felt his toes and cheeks flush with warmth. He squirmed to keep anything else from showing his enthusiasm. Fortunately, Frank dropped his dusty box on Jim’s foot and proceeded with introductions.
“Jim O’Neal, this is Marjorie Carroll with the New Mexico Historical Society. Marjorie, meet my colleague Dr. James O’Neal, St. John’s College.”
“Call me Marji,” she said as she shook Jim’s hand. She had a firm grasp and warm, dry hands that were very, very soft.
“It’s Jim to my friends,” he said, trying desperately to think of something besides her skin against his. He smiled and released her hand. Damn, he thought, what’s wrong with me? I haven’t felt like this around a woman since junior high school. “It’s very nice to meet you, though I’ve don’t believe I’ve seen you around at the Society before. I like to get down there and do a presentation for the members about once a month.”
“Oh,” Marji replied, “I’ve only been in town for a few weeks. You can imagine how excited I was when I heard about your discovery at Shiprock. I got in touch with Frank as soon as I could thinking I might talk you gentlemen into a peek before you ship the find back to Albuquerque.” Her features darkened suddenly. “I heard about your colleague, Dr. Jackson. I’m so sorry for your loss. I hope they catch whoever did it.” Her eyes lingered on Jim for a moment, but not in a bad way.
“Well,” said Frank, “I was just about to show Miss Carroll here some Navajo artifacts before I brought out the new stuff so why don’t we all go inside and get comfortable?” As he bent down to pick up the box he had dropped on Jim’s foot, Frank turned toward the highway and straightened. “Now what do you suppose those assholes are up to?”
Jim and Marji turned to look as a tan minivan pulled off of the highway and onto the narrow road that led to Frank’s house. The driver wheeled the van around as if to pull back onto the main road, stopped and got out.
“That’s weird,” murmured Frank. Jim started to take a step toward him when something whizzed by his ear and splintered the wooden frame of the doorway.
“What the—“ The window of the Saturn shattered, and only then did they hear the reports of the closely spaced gunshots. Part of Jim’s brain was wondering how that happened, that the shot broke the window before he heard the gun fire. Then he remembered – bullets travel faster than the speed of sound. Intellectually, he knew this. He still didn’t process that people were, right now, attempting to kill him.
“Holy shit!” yelled Frank. “Get in the house, they’re shooting at us!”
Stunned, the trio piled in to the front room and stayed low to the floor. Every few seconds a bullet sailed through the room and into the wall behind them.
“What the hell is going on here?” whispered Frank. “Those crazy fuckers are trying to kill us!” His eyes were wild.
“We have to get out of here,” Jim replied, trying to remain calm and think straight despite the fear that threatened to overwhelm him. “If we stay here they’re just going to drive down that road and tear the three of us to shreds.”
“How?” asked Marji. “Isn’t that road the only way in? There’s no way we can get away on foot.”
“Jim, your bike is parked next to mine at the side of the house, right?” Frank asked and Jim nodded. “We have to get to them and then run into the desert. The boys and I spend a lot of time plinking out there on the weekends, so I know a few places where we can lose these maniacs. Oh, one more thing…” Frank shimmied on his belly to the closet behind the front door. He pulled out a long, large box, which he opened to reveal several weapons. “Jim, you take the shotgun and you and Marji go first. Head straight into the setting sun and don’t stop for anything. I’ll cover you and catch up later.”
“But what about—“
“Don’t argue with me, Jim,” Frank’s eyes blazed with anger as he loaded and cocked his .357, “These guys can’t come onto our land and pull this shit. I’ll be fine, but a few of them won’t. Now, hurry, before it’s too late!”
Marji grabbed the box of shells, Jim took the shotgun and they both crawled down the hallway towards the back of the house. They could hear the pop of their assailant’s gun and the boom of Frank’s as he fired back. When they emerged from the house, Jim loaded the shotgun putting one shell into each barrel of the weapon and closed the gun’s breach with a snap. He motioned to Marji to wait behind the house. He cautiously peered around the corner and saw that the tan van had stopped about two hundred yards from the house, Frank’s fire having drawn their attention. Frank was obviously a good shot as the front of the van was riddled with holes and the windshield was missing. Two men were crouched behind the van’s open doors firing at the house one with a rifle the other with a pistol. A third man was trying to make his way back into the driver’s seat No way to out gun them. Jim decided it was do or die time.
Partially hidden by the shadow of the house Jim jumped on his bike and tried to kick the old cycle to life. Nothing. He tried again. Still nothing.
“Shit!” Jim spat, slamming his hand against the gas tank. He thought for a moment and motioned for Marji to join him. “Can you drive one of these things?”
“I think so. It’s been awhile,” she said uncertainly.
“Then get on in front. You’re going to drive and I’ll push start it. Pop the clutch when I say go.”
Marji climbed on the front of the seat and Jim began pushing as hard as he could with his legs. A slight downhill slope to the ground helped and Jim soon had the bike rolling along at a good pace. He swung onto the back of the bike and yelled “Go!” Marji let go of the clutch and the bike sputtered and roared to life. She gunned the engine and they sped into the desert. Then just as suddenly they slowed.
“We can’t leave Frank!” she shouted of the whine of the two-stroke engine. Jim nodded in agreement and pointed toward a metal outbuilding.
“Park behind that and we’ll draw their fire,” and off they sped.
Since he had not fired a shot as they left the house, Jim’s gun was still fully loaded. As they swung behind the shed he let go with one barrel and then the other, firing from his hip with one hand while holding on with the other. He felt oddly like the Lone Ranger. The recoil from the shotgun nearly knocked him off of the back of the bike and he grabbed the nearest handhold to stay on. Acting on instinct, he tightened his grip with his left hand and dropped the shotgun as he grabbed Marji’s arm with his right, causing her to over steer the bike. They wobbled for a moment before Marji righted the bike and they were once again streaking across the gravel driveway.
Jim shook his right hand. His wrist felt like it had been hit with a hammer. A large one. Oddly, he thought that never had happened to Marshall Dillon. Regardless, the ploy worked. The shooter in the van turned his attention and his rifle toward Marji and Jim.
Frank didn’t miss a beat. He was out the front door and on his bike by the time Jim had to reload. Meanwhile, the driver of the van had gotten the battered vehicle moving and, with no windshield in place, lumbered forward firing like a tank.
“Let’s get out of here!” Jim shouted. Marji gunned the engine and the bike leapt forward once again into the desert. Frank followed firing over his shoulder like a character in a John Wayne movie. Then Jim remembered that Frank really was an Indian and that struck him as funny. He laughed and took one last look back in time to see the battered van stop and its occupants fire away as their prey eluded them. The unlikely trio continued to speed into the desert towards the setting sun, almost as if chasing the fading daylight.

---

“This is not exactly what I meant by clearing up this situation, Jesse,” Robert said angrily as they watched the pair of dirt bikes race into the sunset.
“Well, if you hadn’t insisted on taking care of this in a more diplomatic manner, I could have just gone up to the house and taken care of all three of them without a problem,” Jesse replied, equally as angry. He stalked around the battered van and surveyed the damage. “Christ, how are we ever going to get this fixed?”
“I think you’re missing the point, here, Jesse,” Robert began, placing additional emphasis on his new partner’s name. “You’ve already killed one person today and then you want to take out not one but three more. Are you completely insane?”
At that Jesse whirled around, prepared to do or say something, when the third Templar stepped between them.
“Guys, come on,” said the young redhead named Cory. “Things are severely fucked up right now, but we need to keep an eye on the big picture here and not start fighting among ourselves. We’re here to get the book, remember? All three of them are probably of more use to us alive than dead, anyway.”
Robert stepped up and spoke in a low, yet stern voice.
“Listen up, Jesse. You were in the military and you know that the most important thing here is our objective. It doesn’t matter what happens to any of us. We don’t have to like each other, because once this is done, we’ll never see each other again. However, for the rest of this mission, you absolutely must follow orders and our chain of command. That means I call the shots and you do what I tell you. No more fuck ups, Jesse. Period. We can’t afford them. We have to find this book and we have to find it first. If you step out of line again, you’ll be gone. And I don’t just mean out of the mission or out of the Order. I mean, no one will ever know you existed. Understand?”
Jesse stared hard at Robert for a moment, but deep down, he knew the other man was right.
“Yeah, I understand,” he said angrily and walked back to the front of the van to see what could be done for the ailing engine.
Jesse wasn’t overly concerned about what the other two were thinking about him at that moment. What he was concerned about, though, was leaving a few loose ends that might just land him in jail for the rest of his life or worse. Today hadn’t been one of his finest, and it had all started when he decided to pay a surprise visit to one Dr. Robert Jackson.
Tracking down the good doctor hadn’t been much of a problem. People who were unaware they were being chased seldom bothered to run and that meant they were easy to catch. Jesse had simply called all of the area hotels to leave a message for the man until he finally found the place where he was registered. Fortunately, it was a small out of the way place and, better yet, Jackson’s room was on the backside of the hotel and out of sight. Jesse had grabbed a baseball cap and a pair of sunglasses to better hide his features from anyone who might be watching and approached the door to room 405. Finding it unlocked, he let himself in and closed the door. The man had been standing at the end of his bed rifling through a suitcase and looked up in surprise when Jesse stepped into the room. He quickly launched himself at the other man, knocking him to the ground before he had a chance to make a sound. Jesse was strong, and had a wiry frame built up from the miles of SEAL training that he’d had. He’d wrapped one forearm around his neck, and squeezed until the professor went limp. He’d taken the cords from the windows, and tied the professor up on the obligatory hotel room chair, hauled into the bathtub to make things easier to clean when he was done. He waited for the professor to wake up.
There wasn’t any air conditioning on in the room when he went in, and Jesse hadn’t bothered to turn it on. By the time the professor did wake up, they were both sweating.
The professor opens his eyes. Jesse has the duct tape ready.
“Listen, Doctor, I don’t want to have to get to rough with you. Tell me what I need to know.”
Bob Jackson blinked and looked at Jesse. He could see the wildness in his eyes, and could see the motel lamp’s feeble light reflected off of the edge of the straight razor. He cleared his throat.
“Yes. What do you want to know?”
“Where is the book?”
“I haven’t seen a book. We found some armor, we found a skeleton, a dagger. No book.”
Without a word, Jesse took the duct tape, and ran it over the professor’s mouth.
He took the straight razor, and made an incision starting at the right eyebrow of the professor, dragging the blade all the way to the left eyebrow, in a wide arch that took the blade up through the professor’s receding hairline. Bob Jackson tried to scream through the duct tape, but it muffled his voice pretty effectively. Jesse thought that the sweat that was spilling from Bob’s scalp would get into the wound and sting a little. Hell, scalp wounds were great, because they bled like hell, and as Jesse watched, the blood rolled in streams down Bob’s face and were now pooling at his neck. Not much damage, though, won’t kill the guy.
Jesse grabbed cupped Bob’s cheeks in his hands, and spoke softly to him. “You ready to tell me about the book?”
Bob nodded, Jesse pulled the duct tape from his mouth.
“I haven’t found one, I swear.” Jesse looked down at Bob’s crotch, and noticed a spreading stain of wetness. He could smell the ammonia. Bob had pissed his pants.
Jesse nodded. He put another piece of duct tape over Bob’s mouth.
He leaned over and whispered in Jackson’s bloody ear, “Listen, you weak fuck, by the time I’m done with you, you’ll talk, you’ll tell me what it’s like to do your wife, you’ll tell me every thing that I want to know. I can’t stand weak pieces of shit like you, and your only chance of walking away from this with a face that won’t give children nightmares and all of your organs intact will be to talk with me. But, now, I’ll have a little fun and carve the Christmas goose.
Jesse used the razor, watching Bob’s struggles with the cords, enjoying all of it. It was him pissing his pants that had sent him over the edge – he couldn’t stand weakness, and it drove him into simple rage. After Bob’s chest had been more or less thoroughly stripped by the razor, Jesse looked up and saw he had passed out, after a particularly violent shaking. Just as well. He’d wait for the bastard to wake up, and do him some more. He wouldn’t even ask questions for a while, just make Dr. Jackson think he was the most dangerous person in the world.
Which, Jesse felt, he was.
He waited five minutes, and went in to splash water in Bob’s face, so he could start again. He did, and there was no reaction. Fuck. He held two fingers up to Bob’s carotid artery, and found that he was dead. Jesse pulled his head back up by the hair, and saw the reason. His nose had filled up with snot, with snot!, and that had sealed his fate. Fuck, he thought again. He was going to need to find a plausible way out of this and that meant he would probably have to enlist the support of his two Brothers, who were currently in transit to Farmington. Because they were Brothers, Jesse knew he could trust them, particularly since he planned to get them involved before they really knew what was going on. Nothing like a little mutual culpability to ensure some silence.
As he was sitting on the dead professor’s rented bed, pondering his next move, Jesse noticed that among some of the archaeologist’s tools lying in the corner of the room, were a roll of large trash bags and a hand saw. Jesse brightened, because then he knew how he would dispose of the body. He would call Robert’s cell when he was ready to leave.
Robert and Cory had just arrived in town just after noon that day when Robert received an urgent call from Jesse on his cell phone. He was intentionally sketchy with the details, but told the other two Brothers to meet him at the rest area west of Farmington. Robert and Cory were both a little perplexed, but they humored their new associate and did as they were asked.
Jesse was waiting for them when they pulled into the rest area. He walked over to their car as they eased into a parking space and got in the back seat. The other two men both turned and looked at him expectantly.
“We’ve got a problem,” Jesse began.
“What kind of problem?” asked Robert.
“We sort of have a dead body we need to dispose of.”
“What!?”
“There’s a dead body in the minivan and we need to find a place to put it.”
“Jesse,” Robert began, trying to remain calm. “Why is there a dead body in the minivan I rented under my real name?”
“Well, it’s like this, Rob. I found out where Bob Jackson was staying so I thought I’d go over there and see if I could scare him a little bit. You know, knock him around a little and he’d hand over the map. Unfortunately, he didn’t scare as easily as I thought he might. He got real smug with me and told me to go to hell, so I thought that if he saw a little of his own blood, he might be a little more cooperative.”
“Shit, Jesse.” Rob said this flatly, lowly, with no variation in tone. The voice of disbelief.
“Yeah, well, I tied him up and cut him a little bit with a straight razor, gagged of course, wouldn’t want to wake the other patrons, and, well, who would have known that he was an asthmatic? I mean, the guy stops breathing on me with he’s still got most of his blood in his body.”
He waited to see if the others would buy it. After a moment they did.

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