George C. Chesbro

The Cold Smell Of Sacred Stone


Garth's Credo, as it came to be called after it was codified by others, grew out of a body of offhand remarks, many delivered half in jest, that Garth made to reporters and other individuals after the 'miracles' in an attempt to explain just what it was he thought he was up to. The Credo was simple, and he stuck to it consistently to the end, despite the fact that all during his long illness he was whacked to the gills on nitrophenylpentadienal. Spy dust.

His deeds and his motivation, Garth patiently explained, had nothing to do with altruism; his behavior was rooted in selfishness, for he had discovered that the only help for his own affliction was to attempt to alleviate the suffering of others, in whatever way he could. He was never quite certain what others meant when they talked about salvation, and he was certainly not seeking it for himself. He simply needed to nurse the fever of the world so that he could be at peace and sleep without the night terrors of his own fever dreams.

Personally, he no longer believed in God, a concept he now viewed as a dark fantasy, an ineradicable cave painting from the prehistoric nether world of racial memory, a kind of ambiguous and menacingly capricious Santa Claus for grownups, a superghost who in one hand carried a bagful of superpresents, like eternal life, for those who somehow managed to obey His remarkably confusing and often contradictory dictates, and a bagful of burning coal, superagony, in the other hand for those who didn't.

Once Garth had believed in God, but thinking back he realized that the God he had believed in had been a kind of ultimate secular humanist, with a gentle and abiding love for all people, patience with their folly, pride in humankind's accomplishments, and sorrow at their suffering. The God my brother had believed in had been a Creator, not an administrator or auditor, and had had no need to be noticed, much less worshiped; He certainly had no need to witness ritual posturing, and to demand it of the creatures of His creation would smack of pettiness and insecurity.

This being the case, the vast multitude of supernatural belief systems that had sprung, and continued to spring, from the fertile soil of the human imagination were at best irrelevant and a waste of time. At worst, they became licensed franchises of stupidity and fear where the product manufactured and delivered was a decidedly intoxicating but poisonous mush of intolerance, bigotry, hatred, stunting of the intellect, dehumanization of others outside the franchise, torture, and murder. Clearly, what these people thought was good for God was not good for people, an irony that must have sorely tested God's considerable sense of humor when He saw the first totem being erected, the first goat or child sacrificed before it. The God Garth had once believed in would not have been pleased.

In what eventually became known as the Dime and a Little Time Parable, Garth had idly wondered out loud what would happen if humankind decided to declare a kind of moratorium on its collective obsession with occult power for a decade or more, say until the year 2000. During this time, each day, every man, woman, and child on the face of the planet would donate ten minutes or the equivalent of ten cents in a personal attempt to better the lot of somebody, anybody, else who might need a hand to hold, or a slice of bread to eat.

Always, Garth prefaced these random thoughts by pointing out that he was no longer a member of any religious franchise and did not presume to speak to or for anyone. He did what he did simply to make himself feel better. Others could interpret his words as they saw fit; he had no preachments to make to anyone, no prescriptions for living for anyone but himself, no tickets to heaven-which he considered a myth anyway.

With that kind of crazy talk, it was probably no wonder that a lot of people would take into their heads the notion that my poisoned brother was the Messiah.


Imprinting and Rebirth


I was on an errand to help an injured friend who scoffed at my insistence that he was in great danger from a pale-eyed, monstrous ninja who could do just about everything but walk on water, and who was working for a dead man. I hoped I wasn't too late.

It was dark by the time I reached the East Village, and the streets were crowded with people of all ages, types, colors, and dress strolling about and enjoying an unusually balmy early spring evening in New York City.

The crowds gradually thinned out, and the streets were deserted by the time I reached the deteriorating, desolate block where Veil Kendry lived. I parked my Volkswagen in front of the otherwise gutted factory building housing his loft, smiled when I looked up and saw the bone-white mercury vapor light spilling out of all the windows; despite the fact that he had his right arm in a sling, Veil was back to work, painting. I wondered what changes, if any, would now show up in his work after months of subtly hunting, and being hunted by, Orville Madison, Veil's ex-C.I.A. controller and United States secretary of state, recently appointed and confirmed, and even more recently deceased when my brother had blown his brains out.

The feud between Veil and Orville Madison had extended over two decades, its poisonous seeds having been planted during the war in Southeast Asia. Madison, who had always hated anyone whose spirit he could not crush, had particularly hated Veil, who-on a good day, in the best of moods-had been unpredictable, supremely contemptuous of authority, and prone to unexpected violence. Destroying Veil became an obsession to Madison, and he had finally struck at the man whose code name was Archangel with a plan marked by stunning deviousness, subtlety, and cruelty. Veil, when he realized just what it was Madison intended to do, had struck back with stunning directness and brutality.

My friend had prevailed, inasmuch as he had thwarted Madison's plans for him and the Hmong people he had fought with for years, but there had been a heavy price to pay. In the course of his duel with Madison, Veil had been forced to betray his countrymen in order to save a Hmong village from destruction. Veil had been stripped of all his honors, and his service records altered to erase most traces of his military career and make it appear that he had been discharged from the army because he was a psychotic. Madison, convinced that Veil would self-destruct in civilian life, had nonetheless added an unusual, and secret, punishment of his own: an indeterminate sentence of death. The day Archangel ever experienced true happiness or peace, Madison told Veil, would be the day Archangel died.

But Veil had not self-destructed. He had found sanctuary from his private, savage demons in art. And Orville Madison had gone on to bigger and better things in government.

Which was the way things would have remained, except that the poisonous boil inside Veil's enemy had come to a head a few months before when a thoroughly mad Orville Madison had decided to celebrate his nomination to the post of secretary of state in President Kevin Shannon's newly elected administration by having a loyal employee put a bullet through Veil's skull. The C.I.A. assassin had missed, setting in motion a bizarre and complex chain of events that had caused the deaths of many innocent people and spawned a manhunt across the breadth, and deep into the soul, of this land called the United States of America. The manhunt had ended three days before, in a vast, dusty hearing room in an unused section of the Old Senate Office Building, when Garth had splattered Orville Madison's brains against a wall that had already been pockmarked by bullets from Veil's submachine gun. In line with a decision that it was in everyone's best interests to keep the people of the country innocent of the fact that their charismatic new president had had the bad judgment to choose as his secretary of state a maniac who was a mass murderer, and thanks to the fact that every elected representative and civil servant who had witnessed the

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