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Authors: Kate Wilhelm

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The Gorgon Field

BOOK: The Gorgon Field
6.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

ISBN-13: 978-1-62205-008-6


Kate Wilhelm

Copyright © 2012 InfinityBox Press

First published in the collection
Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine
, August, 1985

All rights reserved. Except for the use of brief quotations in critical articles and reviews, no part of this book may be used or reproduced in any form by any electronic, mechanical, or other means in any manner without the written permission of the publisher.

All characters, groups, places, and events portrayed in this novel are fictitious.

Cover: Richard Wilhelm

InfinityBox Press

7060 North Borthwick Avenue

Portland, OR 97217

The gorgon field

Kate Wil

Constance took the call
that morning; when she hung up, there was a puzzled expression on her face. “Why us?” she asked rhetorically.

“Why not us?” Charlie asked back.

She grinned at him and sat down at the breakfast table where he was finishing his French toast.

“That,” she said, pouring more coffee, “was Deborah Rice, nee Wyandot, heiress to one of the world’s great fortunes. She wants to come talk to us this afternoon, and she lied to me.”

His interest rose slightly, enough to make him look up from the newspaper. “About what?”

“She claims we know people in common and that we probably met in school. I knew she was there—it would be like trying to hide Prince Charles, I should think—but I never met her, and she knows it”

“So why did you tell her to come on out?”

“I’m not sure. She wanted us to come to her place in Bridgeport and when I said no, she practically pleaded for an appointment here. I guess that did it. I don’t think she pleads for many things, or ever has.”

It was April; the sun was warm already, the roses were budding, the daffodils had come and gone, and the apple trees were in bloom. Too pretty to leave right now, Constance thought almost absently, and pushed a cat away from under the table with her foot. It was the evil cat, Brutus, who didn’t give a damn about the beauty of the country in April. He wanted toast, or bacon, anything that might land on the floor. The other two cats were out hunting, or sunning themselves, or doing something else catlike. He was scrounging for food. And Charlie, not yet showered and shaved, his black hair like a bush, a luxuriant overnight growth of bristly beard like a half mask on his swarthy face, making him look more like a hood than a country gentleman, cared just about as much for the beautiful fresh morning as did the cat. Constance admitted this to herself reluctantly.

He had been glad to leave the city after years on the police force, following as many years as a fire marshal, but she felt certain that he did not see what she saw when he looked out the window at their miniature farm. On the other hand, she continued the thought firmly, he slept well, and he looked and felt wonderful. But he did miss the city. She had been thinking for weeks that they should do something different, get away for a short time, almost anything. There had been several cases they could have taken, but nothing that seemed worth the effort of shattering the state of inertia they had drifted into. Maybe Deborah Rice would offer something different, she thought then, and that was really why she had told her to come on out.

“My father,” Deborah Rice said that afternoon, “is your typical ignorant multimillionaire.”

“Mother,” Lori Rice cried, “stop it! It isn’t fair!” Constance glanced at Charlie, then back to their guests, mother and daughter. Deborah Rice was about fifty, wearing a fawn-colored cashmere suit with a silk blouse exactly the same shade. Lori was in jeans and sneakers; she was thirteen. Both had dusky skin tones, although their eyes were bright blue. The automobile they had arrived in, parked out in the driveway, was a baby blue Continental, so new that probably it never had been washed.

“All right,” Deborah said to her daughter. “It isn’t fair; nevertheless, it’s true. He never went past the sixth grade, if that far. He doesn’t know anything except business, his business.” She turned to Constance. “He’s ignorant, but he isn’t crazy.”

“Mrs. Rice,” Charlie said then in his drawly voice that made him sound half-asleep, or bored, “exactly what is it you wanted to see us about?”

She nodded. “Do you know who my father is, Mr. Meiklejohn?”

“Carl Wyandot. I looked him up while we were waiting for you to arrive.”

“He is worth many millions of dollars,” she said, “and he has kept control of his companies, all of them, except what he got tired of. And now my brother is threatening to cause a scandal and accuse my father of senility.”

Charlie was shaking his head slowly; he looked very unhappy now. “I’m afraid you need attorneys, not us.”

He glanced at Constance. Her mouth had tightened slightly, probably not enough to be noticeable to anyone else, but he saw it. She would not be interested either, he knew. No court appearance as a tame witness, a prostitute, paid to offer testimony proving or disproving sanity, not for her. Besides, she was not qualified; she was a psychologist, retired, not a psychiatrist. For an instant, he had an eerie feeling that the second thought had been hers. He looked at her sharply; she was studying Deborah Rice with bright interest. A suggestion of a smile had eased the tightness of her mouth.

And Deborah seemed to settle deeper in her chair. “Hear me out,” she said. Underlying the imperious tone was another tone that might have been fear. “Just let me tell you about it. Please.”

Constance looked at Lori, who was teasing Brutus, tickling his ears, restoring his equanimity with gentle strokes, then tickling again. Lori was a beautiful child, and if having access to all the money in the world had spoiled her, it did not show. She was just beginning to curve with adolescence, although her eyes were very aware. She knew the danger in teasing a full-grown, strange cat.

“We’ll listen, of course,” Constance said to Deborah Rice, accepting for now the presence of the girl.

“Thank you. My father is eighty,” she said, her voice becoming brisk and businesslike. “And he is in reasonably good health. Years ago, he bought a little valley west of Pueblo, Colorado, in the mountains. Over the last few years, he’s stayed there more and more, and now he’s there almost all the time. He has his secretary, and computers, modems, every convenience, and really there’s no reason why he can’t conduct business from the house. The home office is in Denver and there are offices in New York, California, England. But he’s in control. You have to understand that. There are vice presidents and managers and God knows what to carry out his orders, and it’s been like that for twenty-five years. Nothing has changed in that respect. My brother can’t make a case that he’s neglecting the business.”

Charlie watched Brutus struggle with indecision and finally decide that he was being mistreated. He did not so much jump from Lori’s lap as flow off to the floor; he stretched, hoisted his tail, and stalked out without a backward glance. Lori began to pick at a small scab on her elbow. The fragrance of apple blossoms drifted through the room. Charlie swallowed a yawn.

“I live in Bridgeport,” Deborah was saying. “My husband is the conductor of the symphony orchestra, and we’re busy with our own lives. Admittedly, I haven’t spent a great deal of time with Father in the last years, but neither has Tony, my brother. Anyway, last month Tony called me to say Father was having psychological problems. I flew out to Colorado immediately. Lori went with me.” She turned her gaze toward her daughter. She took a deep breath, then continued. “Father was surrounded by his associates, as usual. People are always in and out. They use the company helicopter to go back and forth. At first, I couldn’t see anything at all different, but then… There’s a new man out there. He calls himself Ramón, claims he’s a Mexican friend of a friend, or something, and he has a terrible influence over my father. This is what bothered Tony so much.”

Constance and Charlie exchanged messages in a glance. Hers was,
They’ll go away pretty soon; be patient
. His was,
Let’s give them the bum’s rush
. Deborah Rice was frowning slightly at nothing in particular. And now, Constance realized, Lori was putting on an act, pretending interest in a magazine she had picked up. She was unnaturally still, as if she was holding her breath.

Finally, Deborah went on. “Tony believes Ramón was responsible for the firing of two of his, Tony’s, subordinates at the house. It’s like a little monarchy,” she said with some bitterness. “Everyone has spies, intrigues. The two people Father fired alerted Tony about Ramón. Tony’s office is in New York, you see.”

“That hardly seems like enough to cause your brother to assume your father’s losing it,” Charlie said bluntly.

“No, of course not. There are other things. Tony’s convinced that Father is completely dominated by Ramón. He’s trying to gather evidence. You see, Ramón is… strange.”

“He’s a shaman,” Lori said, her face flushed. She ducked her head and mumbled, “He can do magic, and Grandpa knows it.” She leafed through the magazine, turning pages rapidly.

“And do you know it, too?” Charlie asked.

“Sure. I saw him do magic.”

Deborah sighed. “That’s why I brought her,” she said. “Go on and tell them.”

It came out in a torrent; obviously this was what she had been waiting for. “I was at the end of the valley, where the stone formations are, and Ram
n came on a horse and got off it and began to sing. Chant, not really sing. And then he was on top of one of the pillars and singing to the setting sun. Only you can’t get up there. I mean, they just go straight up, hundreds of feet up. But he was up there until the sun went down, and I ran home and didn’t even stop.”

She turned another page of the magazine. Very gently, Charlie asked, “Did Ramón see you when he rode up on his horse?”

She continued to look at the pages. “I guess he saw me run. From up there, you could see the whole valley.” Her face looked pinched when she raised her head and said to Charlie, “You think I’m lying? Or that I’m crazy? Like Uncle Tony thinks Grandpa is crazy?”

“No, I don’t think you’re crazy,” he said soberly. “Of course, I’m not the expert in those matters. Are you crazy?”

“No! I saw it! I wasn’t sleeping or dreaming or smoking dope or having an adolescent fantasy!” She shot a scornful look at her mother, then ducked her head again and became absorbed in the glossy advertising.

Deborah looked strained and older than her age. “Will you please go out and bring in the briefcase?” she asked quietly. “I brought pictures of the formations she’s talking about,” she added to Constance and Charlie.

Lori left them after a knowing look, as if very well aware that they wanted to talk about her.

“Is it possible that she was molested?” Constance asked as soon as she was out of the house.

“I thought of that. She ran in that day in a state of hysteria. I took her to her doctor, of course, but nothing like that happened.”

“Mrs. Rice,” Charlie said then, “that was a month ago. Why are you here now, today?”

She bit her lip and took a deep breath. “Lori is an accomplished musician—violin and flute, piano. She can play almost any instrument she handles. It’s a real gift. Recently, last week, I kept hearing this weird—that’s the only word I can think of—music. Over and over, first on one instrument, then another. I finally demanded that she tell me what she was up to, and she admitted she was trying to recreate the chant Ramón had sung. She’s obsessed with it, with him, perhaps. It frightened me. If one encounter with him could affect her that much, what is he doing to my father? Maybe Tony’s right. I don’t know what I think anymore.”

“Have you thought of counseling for her?” Constance asked.

“Yes. She didn’t cooperate, became defensive, accused me of thinking she’s crazy. It’s so ridiculous and at the same time terrifying. We had a good relationship until this happened. She always was close to her father and me until this. Now… You saw the look she gave me.”

And how much of that was due to adolescent string cutting, how much due to Ramón? Constance let it go when Lori returned with the briefcase.

“One last question,” Charlie said a little later, after examining the photographs of the valley. Lori had gone outside to look for the cats; she had asked permission without prompting, apparently bored with the conversation now. “Why us? Your brother has hired detectives, presumably, to check on Ramón.” She nodded. “And you could buy a hospital and staff it with psychiatrists, if you wanted that. What do you want us to do?”

She looked embarrassed suddenly. She twisted her watchband and did not look directly at them now. “Tony had a woman sent out, a detective,” she said hesitantly. “Within a week, she left the valley and refused to go back. I think she was badly frightened.” She glanced at Charlie, then away. “I may be asking you to do something dangerous. I just don’t know. But I don’t think the detectives looking for Ramón’s past will come up with anything. They haven’t yet. Whatever secret he has, whatever he can or can’t do, is out there in the valley. Expose him, discredit him, or… or prove he is what he claims. Father named the valley. The Valley of Gorgons. I said he’s ignorant, and he is. He didn’t know who the Gorgons were. He named the valley after the formations, thinking, I suppose, the people turned to stone were the Gorgons. He hasn’t read any of the literature about shamanism, either, none of the Don Juan books, nothing like that. But Ramón has studied them all, I’d be willing to bet. It will take someone as clever as he is to expose him, and I just don’t think Tony’s detectives will be capable of it”

“Specifically what do you want us to do?” Charlie asked in his sleepy voice. Constance felt a chill when she realized that he had taken on the case already, no matter what exactly Deborah was asking of them.

“Go out there and spend a week, two weeks, however long it takes, and find out what hold he has on my father. Find out how he fools so many people into believing in his magic. Prove he’s a charlatan out for my father’s money. I’ll be there. You can be my guests. I’ve done that before—had guests at the house.”

“Will you take Lori?” Charlie asked.

“No! She’ll never see him again! This fascination will pass. She’ll forget him. I’m concerned for my father.”

Their tickets had arrived by special delivery the day following Deborah’s visit, first-class to Denver, where, she had told them, they would be met. Their greeter at Stapleton had been a charming, dimpled young woman who had escorted them to a private lounge and introduced Captain Smollet, who was to fly them to Pueblo in the company plane as soon as their baggage was available. In Pueblo, they had been met again, by another lovely young woman who gave them keys to a Cadillac Seville and a map to the Valley of Gorgons and wished them luck in finding it.

BOOK: The Gorgon Field
6.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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