George C. Chesbro

Second Horseman Out of Eden


Santa Claus was long overdue, and if I didn't hear sleigh bells in another hour I was going to start calling the hospitals.

Santa couldn't be drunk, because my brother no longer drank-not since he'd emerged from the drug-induced madness that had transmogrified him into a de facto, reluctant religious guru to millions, and the subsequent events that had caused the deaths of thousands of people and almost killed the two of us. Garth kept a well-stocked bar in his apartment for drinking friends and his imbibing sibling, but at the moment he was out of Scotch-the imbibing sibling's drink of choice. Consequently, I went up a flight to my own spacious apartment on the fourth floor of the renovated brownstone on West Fifty-sixth Street that we'd recently purchased, and which now served as our respective homes as well as the richly appointed offices of the recently founded investigative firm of Frederickson and Frederickson, Incorporated. As founder and senior partner I had, of course, insisted that my name be listed first.

I didn't really want a drink and could think of no reason why Garth would call my apartment when he was supposed to meet me in his own. But I poured myself a drink anyway and checked my answering machine; there were messages from three former colleagues at the university who had called to wish me a Merry Christmas and tell me how much I was missed in the halls of academe. Nice. I put on a heavy cardigan, slid open the glass door at one end of my living room, and went out onto my frozen rooftop patio and garden to look down into the street for some sign of jolly old Garth, whom I desperately wanted to see stay jolly. The possibility that something could happen to conjure up my brother's sleeping demons was a constant haunt.

It was four days before Christmas, not quite two years since my brother had emerged from his long illness and subsequently burned all his professional, and most of his personal, bridges behind him. Not that there had been that many bridges left standing for either of us to raze, but I'd at least had my somewhat problematic career as a private investigator to which I could return.

Almost ten years before we had become involved with one of your mad scientist types, definitely not of any garden variety. Dr. Siegmund Loge had had two abiding obsessions: the music of Richard Wagner, specifically the Ring, and saving humankind from what he was convinced was its impending self-imposed extinction. All he'd needed to indulge his passion for Wagner was a good sound system, but it had turned out that his second obsession required the cooperation, however obtained, of Garth and me, of all people. Lucky us. Siegmund Loge had come within a Frederickson brother or two of loosing upon the world a plague that could have conceivably altered the makeup of every living thing on the planet, and forever changed, perhaps canceled, human history. Finding a way to stop him had nearly cost us first our sanity, and then our lives. And, as far as I was concerned, Garth's sanity was still a tenuous thing, to be jealously guarded and tenderly nurtured.

It was a situation for which, perhaps, I had myself to blame, and I would probably never know if certain key decisions I had made concerning my brother's health had been the correct ones.

When Garth had gone into a coma induced by a mysterious substance called nitrophenylpentadienal, I had intentionally, by using Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle, endeavored to reach into his deep mind to stir nightmare memories of Siegmund Loge and his Valhalla Project that had nearly swallowed up the two of us. The musical ploy had gotten Garth out of bed, all right, but it had also gotten me, not to mention the governments of the United States and Russia, and a few million people around the world, considerably more than I'd bargained for.

As a result of my well-meaning ministrations, Garth had emerged from his coma with what might modestly be described as an altered consciousness. He was a gaping emotional wound, an almost total empath who literally suffered with all the wronged, helpless, and injured of the world, while at the same time appearing as a kind of stony automaton to people-including me-who were more or less able to keep on trucking through the big and little travails of everyday life.

Garth had been. . well, scary.

He'd come out of that more or less on his own, when the effects of the nitrophenylpentadienal poisoning had finally worn off. Or I'd thought-hoped-he'd come out of it. In fact, I now accepted the fact that, in some subtle and other not-so-subtle ways, he had been changed forever. Which didn't mean that he couldn't act like his old self, sometimes for prolonged periods of time, and that was how he had been for nearly two years. It was this sense of well-being that I felt, for no discernible reason aside from the fact that Garth was late, was somehow hanging in the balance this night, and I couldn't shake a suffocating sense of foreboding. As far as I was concerned, there could be no more sojourns into harm's way for the Frederickson brothers. It was not myself that I was worried about, but Garth. I did not want to lose my brother again, for if I did I feared I would lose him forever into some terrible sinkhole of the soul.

Jingle bells, indeed. Where was he?

The poison had worn off, Garth had resigned from the NYPD, from which he'd been on an extended leave of absence. Eventually he had become my partner, and we had formed a corporation.


Much to our collective amazement, virtually overnight we became the 'hot' investigative firm, not only in New York City but in Washington-to which we now commuted by shuttle three or four times a month to oversee a small satellite office and team of staff investigators we maintained there. There is often, it seems, a fine line between notoriety and celebrity, and apparently we-or I, at least-had crossed it, and found riches on the other side. We'd hardly had time to advertise our new corporate headquarters and list our telephone number before a score of Fortune 500 companies were lining up to offer us the most ridiculously easy assignments, for the most outlandish fees. Our more adventurous days now seemed part of a distant past, as we spent virtually all of our time doing things like background checks on prospective CEOs, coordinating industrial espionage investigations, working for congressional committees, or performing mostly cut-and-dried investigations for high- priced law firms. We were on permanent retainer to fifteen major corporations, and were rarely called upon to do anything to earn the fat fees these companies seemed all too happy to pay to Frederickson and Frederickson.

Good-bye, murderous minions of the C.I.A. and K.G.B; good-bye, mad scientists, witch covens, assorted thugs and assassins; and good-bye to all the other garden variety loonies I felt as if I'd spent most of my life dealing with. Hello, fat city.

Whether or not Kevin Shannon, president of the United States, was subtly steering business our way was difficult to tell. Shannon certainly knew that our attitude toward him was decidedly ambiguous, but that didn't seem to matter. The fact that the president had publicly acknowledged the 'nation's debt' to us for our role in unmasking a very dangerous K.G.B. operative and had then awarded us the nation's highest medal for civilians-at a ceremony which Garth and I hadn't bothered to attend, for decidedly personal reasons-had apparently been enough to convince corporate America that Garth and I were 'connected,' and we saw no reason to disabuse our clients of such a notion. It seemed we were in imminent danger of becoming fat, lazy, and wealthy, and we loved it. Both my brother and I had struggled hard, each in our own way and for our own reasons, most of our lives, and we had been very close to death not a few times. We owed each other our lives many times over. Only when we had finally escaped from the bizarre ripples and vicious undertow of the Valhalla Project, which had haunted, threatened, and consumed us for the better part of a decade, had we come to realize that physically, emotionally, and spiritually we had both spent the better parts of our lives clenched like fists. You could say that we were trying to learn to relax; money might not be everything, but we were discovering that it can certainly be a powerful tranquilizer.

A lot of the work for which we were being so well paid could be done by our staff investigators, or with a few telephone calls; a lot of the work for which we were being so well paid was also crushingly boring-but that was fine with us. Garth and I had zestfully agreed that we would be happy to be crushingly bored with our work at least into the next century, at which point we might take the time to reevaluate our attitude.

Good-bye, bullets, knives, mind-altering drugs, broken bones, and squashed souls.

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