Authors: Rail Sharifov
Tags: #treasure, #ancient, #adventure, #discovery
Deep inside, Kreis envied his friend. Still, the rule was etched in stone: Don't spit into the well you drink from. Jeanette was his partner's wife, but even if she were free Kreis would never get her. She was primal perfection, like an uncut diamond.
"Is Andrew in?" he asked.
"Is he 'in'!? Jeanette compressed her lips and then added, "You aren't welcome here, and you can forget Andrew."
She pointed to the exit, but Kreis behaved as if he had heard nothing.
"Thank you," he said, and directed himself to the house. Jeanette put up her arms, helpless to stop him. What could she do? Kreis went upstairs to the study.
Andrew was seated at a small desk in the middle of the curtained room, with the notebook computer in front of him. It was open like an oyster shell, pouring forth pearlescent light. Kreis could see fear, like a kind of torpidity, in his eyes, as when cobra flings opens its hood and hovers over a little gray mouse.
Andrew's attention, caught by some unknown power, didn't waver when Kreis stepped round to the back of his chair. He saw a mysterious graphical image on the monitor. Designed from certain coincidences of lines and circles, it slowly transformed into the bud of a lotus flower. All this should have been familiar to Kreis, but the curtain wasn't so quick to draw back from his memory. When the emerald-malachite stone appeared on the screen, Kreis began to feel giddy, almost drunken. His attention was sinking into the cement solution of that powerful image. He tried to avert his gaze, but it was useless to resist the mystical power, which grew stronger with each second.
Kreis looked at the monitor again, and the giddiness gripped him anew. The next moment, he intuitively slapped Andrew on the face, as if he knew that words would have no effect. Almost convulsively, Andrew withdrew from his trance. Then, understanding the foolishness of the situation, he hurriedly removed the disc from his computer and slid it back into the yellow envelope. Kreis could see the three bold letters "A.N.G." Recollections welled forth in his consciousness, and suddenly he realized.
This is Angkor Wat, damn it! Angkor Wat! How could I have forgotten!
. . . The stream of memories was interrupted by a strong blow, and Kreis fell down. The blows fell upon him, thick and fast. Andrew was crazed. He straddled Kreis on the floor, on his knees, ready to pummel his head. Kreis' face was bloody, and he feared that more would come, but suddenly Andrew stopped. Leaning low over Kreis and staring into his face with a clearer awareness--as if the obsession had abruptly left him--Andrew whispered:
"Excuse, it's not me, you hear? It's not me . . . . It is HE! I'm not able to explain it all to you, but it's not me!" Kreis saw tears in his eyes. Spitting the blood from his lips, he said, "You're a madman!" Kreis spit in Andrew's face. "Get off of me!"
Andrew blotted the sweat and spit from his face and, falling aside, started to sob. He pressed his head between his hands and wept.
"He commands me to kill you. I can't fight him. Go away now, before it's too late, and forget everything you've seen!"
Kreis was going to leave, but the last phrase drew him back, almost magnetically.
"What's the stone?
"The heart of Buddha," Andrew said. He was rolling back and forth on the floor with his elbows against. "I'm totally unable to resist. You'd better go away!"
Kreis didn't wait long, but as he stepped to the door he turned and said, "I don't take offense. You need a cure, and I'll help you."
Kreis didn't sleep that night. He continued to ponder the mysterious stone and its influence on Andrew. The stone must, he thought, have magic whose power could enrapture even an atheist such as himself. He couldn't rest until he knew more. Kreis wanted to help Andrew, so with the arrival of daylight he immersed himself in the collection of information on the stone.
The stone was associated with various names and legends. According to some sources, it is the Holy Grail, made of emerald that was beaten out of Lucifer's crown by Michael the Archangel. According to other versions, the Grail is a silver dish, of the type that would occasionally carry a severed head. As to the most widely proliferated legend, Joseph of Arimathea brought the cup to the place of crucifixion and gathered in the blood of the dying Jesus. The blood thus became the drink of immortality.
Joseph, a member of the Judaic High Council, was secretly a disciple of Jesus. After the crucifixion, he asked Pontius Pilate to give him Jesus' body, which he then placed in the stone tomb he had prepared in Jerusalem in preparation as his own resting place.
The version of pagan origin says the Grail was the Ark, embodying Mother Nature herself, and that all the world's life is concentrated therein.
The secret of the cup was carefully kept. To search for it, crusades were organized. Many perished in wars fought over possession of the Biblical relic.
Kreis could not find a consensus, nor could he find the common denominator. He felt taunted by the elusive origin of the Grail, and he wondered whether the stone in the computer image was really associated with it. If so, why did Andrew say it was the heart of Buddha?
Two weeks later, from Southeast Asia, the coffin bearing Andrew's body arrived. The death was a shock to Kreis. A strange man, accompanying the body, said the death was the result of a tropical disease. However, a local anatomist concluded that it was a brain hemorrhage. Moreover, the person didn't pass along any documentation. He simply saw that the coffin was delivered, and then he left.
The people at customs said they had no record of the shipment. Neither did they act as if anything was suspicious. They shrugged their shoulders, and that was that.
It became a matter of honor for Kreis to learn the secret of Andrew's death. He never intended to be tactless or rude, but he needed to ask Jeanette only one question and look into her eyes at that moment. Maybe it was coarse for him to have approached her during the funeral service, but he couldn't find a better time. All the nerves were exposed; the masks of reality were there to see, absent of any paint to hide the emotions.
He asked if her husband had left behind some important item or correspondence, but the answer was negative. Her eyes, flashing with hatred, were not able to hide the truth. It's easier to cover oneself with a fig leaf than it is to hide the cry of the soul. Later, in Jeanette's absence, he searched the house but found nothing. So, he decided that she had stashed the disc in the office, which would have been the safest place.
It was by a remarkable coincidence--Kreis called it the kiss of fortune--that Giordano worked as the chief of security at the bank. Therefore, everything was clear and simple. The only task that remained was to give the rod a light jerk and hook the fish.
Kreis' plan was realized. Only now, holding the map of the ancient town, keeping the stone, he felt a strange temptation: It was as if his partner's death had transported him back, to the point where it seemed he might ultimately have the stone within his grasp.
The phone rang, just as the cigarette in Kreis' hand smoldered to the halfway point. Forefeeling unpleasant he answered with a cautious, "Hello."
"He is dead!" said the voice from afar, trembling.
"How can that be?" said Kreis, taken aback. "Don't joke with me like this."
"I am in . . . I am afraid. – It seemed that Salvaro would drown soon in his own tears. "He's behind the house, in the outbuilding near the pool. Like a . . . rabbit!"
"What!?" Kreis could feel his own voice begin to tremble.
"He was skinned, like a rabbit!"
"Sk-k-inned?" said Kreis, increasingly perplexed.
"Yes, amigo . . . . Removed like a glove from the hand. Oh, Lord, I'm so afraid."
At last he caught the idea correctly.
Giordano was dead. His body would be found in the morning and, as he had warned, the information collected about Kreis would be in the hands of the police.
Kreis couldn't imagine spending the rest of his life in jail. He had to run away.
"You need to run away, to the devil's mother!" cried the man. "Get away from here, right now. Don't come to my house, Salvaro. Meet me at the airport. We'll catch the first plane out of here. Kreis waited for a reply from Salvaro, but he only heard deep belching sounds, strange noises, and terrible cries of pain; of pain so severe, it must have come from the thirteenth realm of Hell. Kreis began to feel as if he consisted of tiny metal beads, furiously vibrating and ready to scatter.
"Salvaro! Can you hear me, my friend?" There was no need to ask.
"He doesn't," whispered a voice of velvet baritone. "He'll never see another sunrise."
It was too much for Kreis to bear, and he flew into a rage.
"Who are you!? What do you want!?"
"The same thing you do," said the voice. "And now, let's play a game." There was the sound of gritting teeth. "You can control things this time, with a bit of luck. If you can make it to the plane, you'll postpone your death. The time starts now."
Short hootings on the other end of wire indicated that the countdown had begun. For half a minute Kreis sat atop the desk, smoking and thinking over the last conversation. During his long life he'd made thousands of important decisions on the spot. He'd found himself in the vortex of events numerous times, always to reach the surface again, safe and sound. Kreis was strong-willed and seemed to have the answer for every question. This time, though, it was different.
"Something's wrong in this chain of events," he thought, "and I have to escape it. I shouldn't have involved the Italian. He was sure to become a nuisance."
Kreis waited no longer than it took for his cigarette to reach its end. He got up, grabbed some money and documents, and left.
His home was in Pointe La Rue, four minutes from the international airport.
It was twenty-five minutes past midnight when the Casanova drove up to the main terminal building. It was fifteen minutes before he was to either meet the stranger or board a jet and escape this place, which once seemed like Paradise but now felt entirely different.
The electronic display in the great hall of the terminal promoted flights to Bangkok, the capital of Thailand. Luck was again stepping on his heels, but he wasn't surprised and accepted it as fact. The Bangkok flight would take him the closest to his ultimate destination.
Fifteen minutes later, Kreis took his seat in the Boeing 747. He took a deep breath, exhaled with full satisfaction, assured himself that the disc was present, and peacefully closed his eyes. He was eager to get some sleep.
The jet reached altitude and was on course, whereupon a young stewardess approached Kreis, now asleep. She held a radiophone.
"Monsieur, I think you are wanted on the phone," she said, her hand upon his shoulder. "Excuse me, monsieur."
Kreis accepted the phone and politely motioned for the stewardess to carry on.
"Yes," said Kreis, totally without emotion.
"Once again, you're a lucky man."
"Damn it, who are you!?" said Kreis hoarsely, his face going red.
"It's a rhetorical question," said the velvety baritone. "Other things are of greater importance. For example . . . I know who you really are. I know you're fighting temptation now . . . and I know the true name of Lotus Flower."
Kreis felt a sudden surge of pain in his groin, as if someone had ground a fist into it. It was a sensation, familiar for years, that told him danger was near. The philosopher-novelist L. Ron Hubbard would have described this peculiarity in one word--"outline"--the part of human rationality that functions independently and assumes the role of leadership. The Casanova felt the urge to cut the call, but he hadn't taken such authority. The conversation, like the previous one, was over before he had a chance to end it. The pain in his groin ceased, but for the next hour he was unable to sleep. Kreis began to meditate. . . He conjured the image of the beauty who had saved his life twenty-five years ago. He thought of the girl--Uch Tana, Lotus Flower--whose fate had been a puzzle to him all those years. He thought of own past, which was closing the circle of time with subsonic speed.
May 25, 6:30 a.m.
Howard Slaiker was hurrying on a very important matter. When the road was straight, he squeezed every bit of horsepower from the Bronco, but in the turns he'd carefully lower his speed. He paid barely any attention to the road signs. After all, there were only a few of them in all of Victoria. He had left behind the valley with the river running from the Three Brothers, the botanical garden and the main hospital.
The Ford climbed the slope toward the cemetery like a wading bird taking flight.
Howard Slaiker: age, thirty-five; dark-haired; six feet tall, with an athletic physique; an outgoing nature; a master of the explosive metafighting technique; a man of analytical intellect; a widower, with a son ten years old.