This is where I'm posting excerpts as I'm going along, so keep in mind that everything on this page is Rough Draft. --G
The Angel in the Rock
l'Histoire Secrete des Anges
"So how's Dillon?"
Nichols grimaced. "He still hasn't woken up yet, but he's no longer in critical condition. I've got two armed guards posted outside his room at all times, in case these bastards try something else."
Michael cocked an eyebrow at him. "Can we trust the guards?"
Nichols glared at him. "As well as we can trust the two standing outside my own door."
Michael pursed his lips and said nothing.
A few hours had passed since we'd arrived back in Helencaste Downs. Nichols, Michael, Vicky, Jack, Callie and I were all squeezed into Nichols' room at the hospital, drinking coffees and munching on muffins Jack had brought from the Time Out. Most of ours had disappeared long ago; Nichols' still sat on a tray in front of him, barely touched. He was sitting up in his bed, his bandaged legs hidden under the sheets. When he'd come around the corner in the basement, Allen and Mason had shot him in the kneecaps. It was about the most painful place you could shoot a person without killing them, and so far, he hadn't told us what the doctors had said concerning his chances of ever walking again. Judging by what I'd seen in the basement, I didn't want to ask.
"So do you have any idea how this whole thing went down?" Vicky asked quietly.
"What, you mean how my team was compromised?" Nichols sighed. "From the looks of things, I'd say that Roberts, Mason, Allen and Jacobs were all in on it from the beginning. I've known these guys for almost twenty years. To turn them this way, the payoff must have been huge."
"Like a billionaire's ransom?" Jack asked.
Nichols shook his head slowly. "It may be hard to believe, but I think there's more to this than money." He looked at Callie. "Tell me again what you found out about the plane?" Callie nodded. "I managed to hack into their shipping system and figure out what was being logged into the system when. Luckily, there weren't that many large packages being logged in at the time of the night that the kidnappers made their drop-off. A crate about the right size and shape of our missing cargo entered the system about fifteen minutes after the truck left. It left the airport on a flight first thing this morning and touched down in Washington, D.C. about five hours ago."
Vicky shook her head. "I don't get it. If they wanted to blackmail my family into coughing up a huge ransom, why didn't they try to grab me instead?"
Nichols scowled. "Like I said, I think there's more to this than money."
I looked at him. "There's something you're not telling us, isn't there?"
He glared at me. "There's a lot I'm not telling you."
"Well, my Dad's life is on the line and that's my family's name on your paychecks," Vicky said sharply, "so I think it's a damn fine time to start."
Nichols glared at Vicky for a moment, then groaned. "Look, kid, it's not that simple," he said. "And you'll have to excuse me if I'm feeling particularly wary right now about whom I can trust."
"We saved your ass back there," I said, "and none of us are safe now because we did. If there's anyone alive right now that you can trust, I'd say it's us."
Nichols thought about that for a second, and then tore off a piece of his muffin and popped it into his mouth, chewing thoughtfully. "Do you still have the bag of equipment that Vincent gave you?"
"Give it to me."
I reached down and hauled the bag up from where I'd set it beside my chair. Michael lifted away the tray as I handed Nichols the bag. He winced as he set it in his lap, and then began rummaging around in it. A moment later he removed a silver women's wristwatch, slender and designed with subtle, art-deco style curves.
"I don't remember seeing that in there," I said.
"Vincent had it stitched into a fold in the lining," he said. "Now shut up and pay attention." Nichols held the watch in his right hand and moved it close to the watch he wore on his left wrist. As the two watches neared each other, their faces began to glow with a bright gold light. "Have you ever heard of lovegeties?"
Michael nodded. "They were a big thing in Japan, like beepers with proximity sensors that are tied into databases over the Internet. When one detects another one is nearby, it checks the database to determine whether or not the other's one's owner is socially compatible."
I stared at him. "Jesus, man, the number of blind dates that would have saved me from..." I glanced over to see Vicky glaring at me, and quickly shut up.
"These watches work more or less on the same theory. Tiny microchips and wireless sensors indicate whenever another similarly-equipped watch is nearby." Nichols handed the ladies' watch to Vicky. "There are less than a hundred of these watches in the world. I have one. Your father wore one. And I believe your father intended this one for you."
Vicky took the watch and held it out in front of her as if it were a snake.
"Hold on," Michael said. "Are you saying you and Mr. Ravenswood were members of some secret society?"
"In a manner of speaking," he replied. "We were members of a group known as la Confrérie des Anges."
"The Brotherhood of Angels," Vicky translated.
Nichols nodded. "It's less like the Masons than a sort of research group, driven underground by the, ah, heretic nature of our interests."
"Which would be...?" I asked.
"Oh, for crying out loud," Vicky spat. "Look, all of us in this room need to know exactly what we're dealing with here. Out with it!"
Nichols scowled. "Centuries ago, when the British were exploring and colonizing the far corners of the world, their ships returned with more than spices and jewels. They also brought back stories tales of gods and monsters that seemed to contain strange echoes of each other. Gods associated with thunder, for instance, or rituals designed to enhance fertility or luck in hunting."
"Well, obviously," Michael said. "Humans have always turned to gods to explain natural forces which they did not understand."
"True," Nichols said. "But these scholars noticed that different cultures were using very similar symbols to reflect those beliefs. Most notably, the image of humans combined with animals, such as Egyptian gods with animal heads..."
"Or Christian angels, men with the wings of birds," Michael said.
Nichols nodded. "The original members of the Brotherhood suspected that these recurring images of man-beasts might not be coincidental."
Michael frowned. "Are you suggesting these historical monsters were real?"
"Not monsters, Michael. They thought these legends may have actually described an ancient, lost race, a species older than man. And, according to the book of Genesis, the only non-animal creatures that God created before he made Adam..."
"Were the angels," Michael finished, his voice quiet.
Nichols nodded. "Obviously, they didn't believe that these creatures were all angels. The big point was the idea that there may have been some biological basis for these common images. Still, the fact that they were treating Biblical angels as an extinct species was more than enough to brand them as heretics by the church and laughingstocks by the scientists. The Brotherhood was driven underground, as was their work. Out of spite, they began referring to their studies as l'histoire secrète des anges."
"The secret history of the angels," I said, earning a nod from Vicky.
"Exactly. And that's where the name of the group came from as well. The Brotherhood has been seeking evidence to prove their theory for generations. There have been discoveries of numerous relics and artifacts over the years, but the discovery of an actual angel skeleton may very well be our first concrete step towards acceptance by both the church and the scientific community."
"So how does all of this tie into Mr. Ravenswood being kidnapped?" Callie asked.
"Vincent called in Dr. Marlowe and Dr. Nautonnier not just because they were the top names in their field," Nichols replied. "He called them for the same reason that he called me for security, and why I picked the men that I did all of us are members of the Brotherhood."
"No offense, but I thought you and your men were more hired strength than religious scholars," Vicky said.
"Like I said, this has been going on for generations," Nichols said. "My dad and grandpa were both high up in the Brotherhood, and they have a way of finding use for followers with skills outside of the ivory tower."
"So, it's time for that same old question," Callie said. "What do we do now?" "That should be obvious," Vicky replied firmly. "I've got the family credit cards, and they say we're going to chase these bastards."
Callie's eyes widened. "Road trip!"
I turned to Nichols. "Did the doctors give you any idea how long it would be before you're okay to travel?"
He scowled. "It'll be at least a week, even in a wheelchair."
Callie patted him on the shoulder. "Don't worry, I can set you up with everything you'll need right here in your room. Computer, high-speed Internet, cell phone..."
"It still won't be the same. You're going to need me to make the introductions to the people you're going to need to know, show you where to go..."
"Right now we have to make the best of what we've got," I said.
Michael cleared his throat. "I don't suppose you could get some more of those watches?"
"Keep dreaming, kid," Nichols said. "You're not even supposed to know about this group, much less be a part of it."
Vicky shot him a look.
Nichols groaned. "All right, all right. I'll see what I can do."
"There's one more thing we're forgetting," Michael said.
"Sleep. We're all heading for a crash right now."
"We can sleep on the plane," Vicky said. "Callie, how much time do you think you're going to need to get Nichols set up?"
"A couple hours, maybe."
"All right," Vicky nodded. "Look, here's what we'll do. Jack, Michael, Pi and I will head to the airport now and hop the first plane to D.C. Callie, you get Nichols squared away and then head up to the airport yourself. I'll have an open ticket waiting for you."
Jack shook his head. "Sorry, Vicky. You know I'll do everything I can for you, but I can't get anyone to cover for me on such short notice. I'm afraid you're going to have to count me out on this next part."
"Of course, Jack, I understand." Vicky hugged him. "Thanks for helping us out this morning. We couldn't have done it without you."
He ruffled her hair. "My pleasure. Call me if you need anything, all right?"
There was a round of goodbyes, and then Jack made his way out the door. I turned to the others. "All right, then. I guess I'll drive us by our places to pick up clothes and stuff."
Vicky shook her head. "I'll have new clothes waiting for us at the hotel."
"Vicky!" I protested again.
She rounded on me. "Shut up, Pi. We need to get down there while the trail's still warm. There's no time to go home and pack."
Michael shrugged. "She has a point, man."
I winced. I knew when I was outvoted, but I didn't have to like it.
Meanwhile, Nichols had grabbed a pen and paper and was scribbling something down. "When you get there, I want you to call Nancy Hewlett at this number. She's someone you can trust while you're in town."
"Is she another member of this Brotherhood?" Vicky said warily.
"Yes and no," Nichols replied. "Yes, she's a member. But I know what you're asking and no, she hasn't been compromised."
"How can you be so sure?"
"Because she's my wife."
Twenty minutes later we were rocketing up I-71 towards the Cleveland airport. Michael was sitting in the passenger seat, fiddling with my iPod and muttering about my taste in music. Vicky was fast asleep in the back seat.
"Christ on a cracker, what a mess," I said. "If you'd told me yesterday that in twenty-four hours I'd be hip-deep in dead angels and kidnapped billionaires..."
Michael nodded. "I couldn't write shit like this."
I glanced at him. "So what do you think the chances are that this whole thing is just a scam to kidnap Ravenswood?"
Michael shrugged. "I've been a conspiracy nut ever since I was ten and I've never heard of these guys."
"So you think the Brotherhood of Angels is bogus?"
"Either that, or they're one of the most successful conspiracies in history."
I frowned. "Well, they certainly had good reason to keep quiet. That theory of theirs flies straight in the face of almost every religion on the planet."
"No kidding. Imagine being a religion professor at Harvard or Oxford and having this theory floating around the back of your head."
"Or worse, imagine being a priest or a rabbi."
"Exactly. If word got out, not only would your career be over, you'd be declared a pariah. You'd have so many fatwas slapped on your head that you'd make Salman Rushdie look like a choirboy."
I nodded. "Imagine it, though. Real, physical angels. Men with wings. Like superheroes!"
Michael frowned. "That's what bugs me. Parts of this idea are more ridiculous than others. I mean, I can understand that someone might believe that the half-man, half-animal gods from all these cultures might be based on something more than just some ancient hallucination or dream. Scholars have suspected for years that the idea of dragons might have originated from the discovery of dinosaur skeletons, so maybe these people found ancient animal bones mixed with Neanderthal bones or something along those lines. That, I could see." He paused. "But the theory that there might be an entire race of half-man, half-critter hybrids?"
"Yeah, that's far out. I mean, scientifically speaking they might be in the same kingdom, but they certainly wouldn't be of the same species, any more than humans are the same species as orangutans."
"You're being too literal. I think they just believe that these creatures physically existed at some point in history, not that they'd be scientifically classified as an actual species." He pursed his lips. "But what if that's not the point?"
"What do you mean?"
"Nichols said that the Brotherhood believes that all these monsters and gods and demons and angels were all part of some great species. But there's more than one thing these creatures had in common."
"Not only did were these creatures half man and half animal, but almost all of them went down in history as beings of great power. Anubis, Set, and Osiris weren't just men walking around with the heads of animals. They were gods."
"So you think that whoever's behind the kidnapping might not be after the skeleton for its scientific or religious importance, but because it might be some kind of artifact of power?"
"It's a possibility. It's supposed to the skeleton of an angel, right? Holy artifacts as small as a finger bone from a saint are supposed to have incredible power. Imagine what something like this could have." He shrugged. "Regardless of whether it has any real, physical power, it definitely has symbolic power."
"Which provides more than enough motivation for this whole ridiculous game of capture-the-flag."
"Right. It's entirely possible that we're seeing some kind of internal power play acting itself out within the organization. I'll bet you anything that the entire Brotherhood knew about the bones less than a week after they were found. I don't know how their organizational chart works, but it seems safe to assume that those bones right now are their crown jewels."
"Whoever controls the bones controls the group," I said.
"Right." He held up two fingers. "The second option I can see is that maybe, maybe the kidnappers aren't real Brotherhood members at all."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, what if they're plants? Spies? Imagine you're the pope and someone claims to have found an entire angel skeleton. Sounds like the girl that claimed to have found an image of the Virgin Mary inside of a freshly-sliced tomato, right? It's easy to write them off as a whack job, or dispatch some particularly annoying Vatican intern to investigate. Now, imagine that you've caught wind of an entire organization of scholars that are dedicated to finding physical evidence of the existence of angels. Sure, their beliefs also hinge upon a great deal of heresy, but would you rather shut them down, or let them work until they've actually found something?"
"And then swoop in and claim the discovery yourself."
"Or to seize the evidence to destroy it, use it yourself when the time is right, or just to maintain the status quo."
I whistled. "Conspiracies inside of conspiracies."
"Right," he said. Then he held up a third finger, but he did so hesitatingly, almost tentatively.
"What?" I asked. "I saw that. What's behind door number three?"
Michael pursed his lips. "I keep coming back to the whole artifact-of-power thing. Like Medusa's head, or a scale from a dragon, or a million other examples."
I shook my head. "This is nonsense. Do you really think that whoever stole the bones really thinks that they'll be granted the ability to shoot fireballs out of their nose?"
"What do you think?"
"I think you were on the right track before. Maybe it has less to do with what they believe than what others believe. By holding the bones up as some kind of symbol..."
"Of what, exactly?"
I shrugged. "Maybe the fallibility of God. Angels are supposed to be timeless, massless things. They're not supposed to be killed, and they're sure as hell not supposed to leave fossils. Maybe the kidnappers are trying to do some kind of giant power grab from the church over to a more secular, scientific interpretation of the Bible."
"But isn't that what the Brotherhood was essentially trying to do in the first place? So why the shell game?"
"I don't know. Maybe we'll find out in Washington." I sighed. "So what do you think about Marlowe and Nautonnier? Do you think they're in on it, or do you think they're hostages like Vicky's dad?"
Michael clenched his jaw. "There's a lot of unknowns there. First, we don't know if Nautonnier's with them or not. Last we heard, he was just gone. Second, we don't know for a fact that Vicky's dad wasn't in on it himself. And third, well..." Michael's face darkened. "No, fuck it," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, Marlowe's our number one suspect."
I paused. Michael's voice had gone very, very, cold. "Hey," I said. "What happened between you two, anyway?"
"I studied under him for two years at Harvard, and then I transferred to Beckett University, remember? That's all."
"Bullshit," I said. "I've known you for half a decade, and I can tell when you're lying. There's more to it than that. Spill it."
Michael's lips drew together into a tight line, then he sighed quietly. "All right. Do you remember how I told you that I transferred to Beckett because I'd decided that Harvard was too high-pressure for me?"
I nodded. "I wondered about that, but I didn't want to say anything."
"Yeah, that wasn't entirely true either. I loved it at Harvard. Loved it. I loved the intellectual competition, I loved the culture, I loved Boston, and most of all..." Michael trailed off.
"Oh, hell," I said. "What was her name?"
Michael chuckled bitterly. "Stacey Wolfe. She was my girlfriend for almost my entire stay at Harvard," Michael said. "We met Freshman year. You know how when you go off to college, and everything is new and you don't know anyone, and you're scared out of your wits? Stacey and I met in the first two weeks of classes and just sort of fell into each other's arms. We were both terrified, both from private schools with very little experience dating, and both, well..."
"Overeducated?" I suggested.
"Horny," Michael said.
It was all I could do not to burst out laughing, trying not to wake Vicky. "So what was she like?"
"I'll never forget the first time we met," Michael said. "We were in the computer lab, where I was researching something or other, and she was sitting at one of the computers and just making the keyboard smoke. She was programming something, I forget exactly what, but the intensity with which she stared at that screen, hammering in line after line of code, and letting her eyes just fly over it... I was entranced. The handful of true übergeeks I knew were all either superthin acne-faced wallflowers or big, fat behemoths, but Stacey was an all-different animal."
"What did she look like?"
"Oh, she was tall, but not too tall about six foot one or so but what really stood out about her was the way she dressed. Stacey dressed to kill. She wore these tight black slacks and knee-high black boots, and she would wear this bright white dress shirt and high-collared black vest that really made her curves, ah, known." Michael grinned. "Her hair was jet black and cut short and spiky, and she liked this purple lipstick that tended to leave faint traces behind..."
"You dog," I laughed.
Michael blushed. "The best thing about her, though, was her eyes. She used to wear these rimless glasses, and peering through them were the iciest blue eyes I'd ever seen. They were brilliant eyes, the eyes of a genius. I remember the way they sized me up when I tried to introduce myself to her. I was so nervous, but she turned right to me, stuck out her hand and said, 'Michael Coldman, I'm Stacey Wolfe. Me, Michael Coldman.' I shook her hand, and then she nodded sharply at me. 'Charmed,' she said curtly, and went back to her code. She was so bizarre. I was totally hooked."
"She sounds, um, incredible," I said. "So what happened?"
Michael's faraway grin faded. "Well, not long after I arrived at Harvard, I heard of this religion professor who seemed to enjoy the same kind of archaic folklore that I do. So I signed up for his class in the spring semester. It wasn't that difficult he apparently had a reputation for being very dry and boring, and a bit out there. Again, though, as soon as I started listening to him lecture, I knew I'd found a kindred spirit."
"Indeed." Michael paused, then went on a little more quietly than before. "I remember how excited I was when I told Stacey about him. I insisted that she sign up for one of his classes the next semester, which was that fall. I don't know what I was thinking. I guess I just assumed that these two things that had suddenly clicked so perfectly into my life would naturally click with each other as well."
"Let me guess it was a disaster."
"Like the Hindenburg crashing onto the Titanic," he replied. "Stacey signed up for the class, all right. We sat next to each other, and studied together, but it just wasn't that interesting to her. Stacey could blow the doors off of anything that kept her interest, but if it didn't, she couldn't be brought to waste her time on it. But she was still too proud to drop the class, especially one that I was so passionate about, so she stuck with it. She never showed me her grades. I didn't think it was that odd, really, and I guess I figured it was rude to ask, so I never did. I didn't find out that she was failing the class until it was too late."
Michael swallowed. "I wasn't the only one that had noticed Stacey. So had Dr. Marlowe. One afternoon after class she went to his office to discuss her failing grade, and he... He proposed a trade."
"Oh, shit. You're kidding."
"I wish. I didn't even find out about it until much later. She came back to my place that night acting all distant, and she wouldn't tell me what was wrong. She'd told me she was just going in to Marlowe's office to clarify a couple of things for an upcoming test. I'd wondered why she hadn't just asked me, but again, I figured it was rude to ask. Anyway, she told me she wasn't feeling well, and was going to bed early. She kissed me on the cheek, and then she left." Michael looked out the window. "Things kind of went downhill from there."
"Damn, man, I didn't think that kind of crap actually happened. How did you find out what happened?"
Michael shrugged. "The usual way, I guess. It came up in a fight. We'd been so close, and then after that she just kept pulling further and further away. I didn't know what to say, so I kept challenging her on things. Stupid stuff, really, you know? We started fighting about the dumbest things, but those fights would escalate and escalate because there was this thing wrong between us, and I didn't know what it was and she wouldn't tell me, until one night it just got to the breaking point, and she threw it in my face. I think we'd been arguing about Dr. Marlowe, actually. She was criticizing his teaching style, and I was sticking up for this man that I considered to be my mentor."
"It was more than that, though. Dr. Marlowe and I went out for drinks and discussion fairly regularly, actually. We'd sit around and discuss things like the paranormal significance of the Holy Ghost in the Bible, or the meaning of fire in Christianity versus its importance in Greek mythology... You know, the kind of high-minded, pompous bullshit you throw around in college." He paused. "Dr. Marlowe wasn't just my mentor. He was my friend. And the whole time he was blackmailing my girlfriend into giving him sex in exchange for grades."
"And Stacey finally told you, to prove what an asshole Marlowe was?"
"So what happened?"
Michael threw up his hands. "What do you think happened? I didn't know who to believe. First I doubted Stacey, then I doubted Marlowe... I withdrew from both of them. He finally came to me and asked me what was wrong, and I told him. I told him the whole thing. He just looked at me for a long minute, and then said, 'Well? Who are you going to believe?'"
"Holy shit. So what did you do?"
Michael looked at his hands, then stared out the windshield. "I transferred."
A long moment went by before I could bring myself to say it. "You dropped out of Harvard because of a girl and a backstabbing professor?"
He looked at me. "What? What was I supposed to do?"
"Turn him in! Start an investigation! Get Stacey to testify against this asshole and get him thrown out!"
Michael shook his head. "No. I didn't want to see Stacey dragged through that kind of nonsense, and neither did she. We talked about it, but she wanted nothing to do with it. And, finally, neither did I."
"But you loved it there!"
"Yeah, and the two things I loved the most about it had totally destroyed my trust. I couldn't stay there after that!" There was a hint of anger beginning to creep into Michael's voice.
"But..." I knew I shouldn't say it, but I couldn't stop myself. "But that wasn't about you! That was about a corrupt teacher abusing his power to get sex from an undergrad!"
"And about a friend and a girlfriend both lying to me," Michael said, his voice icy. "Look. I know it wasn't about me. I know Marlowe didn't do it to hurt me, and I know Stacey didn't do it to hurt me either. I wasn't even the one being really wronged by that whole crime, or the one who was damaged the most by it, but I still felt responsible. I told Stacey to take that class, Pi. It wasn't my fault, it wasn't my doing, but at some level it was made possible by something I did, and everything that I loved there went straight to hell in a heartbeat. That did enough damage for me to want to get as far away as possible."
"And Beckett fit the bill."
"Good Christ." I shook my head. "How come you never told me about this before?"
Michael shrugged. "There are some things you want to relive as few times as possible, I guess. Besides, I thought that was all behind me."
"Jesus." We rode in silence for a moment. "All right, so we've established that Marlowe is an asshole and can't be trusted. Do you really think that he could be behind all of this?" "I don't know," Michael said, "but he's sure as hell not getting any good character references from me."
Just then a soft groan came from the back seat as Vicky sat up. "Where are we?" "We're almost to the airport," I replied, a little surprised. The trip had gone faster than I'd thought.
"Cool. Sorry I passed out on you. What were you talking about?"
Michael and I exchanged glances.
"Nothing," Michael replied, and turned back to his window. "Let's watch the planes land."
(email me and tell me to write some more)