Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Chapter 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.”
“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.


Blogger David M. Couch said...


11:39 AM  

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