had always made arrangements to tape his five-days-a-week show when we knew we were going to miss it.

But then, nobody had ever accused either Garth or me of paddling in the mainstream of American religious or cultural thought. For millions of Americans, Reverend William Kenecky's talk of Armageddon, the Rapture, and the ultimate destruction of everyone in the world who didn't believe exactly as he did, seemed just the ticket in a world filled with wars America was losing, women's rights, curse words in the movies, and satanic music played on the radio. To Garth and me, Kenecky's paranoid fantasies were incredible and highly amusing, his show a kind of window into the open psychiatric ward that was a part of the collective American psyche. But those same millions of Americans shared his beliefs, and they'd sent him money-lots and lots of money. And, Kenecky would explain, since Armageddon was just around the corner, there was no reason for him to stint on spending that money-and he hadn't. He'd owned a luxury car for every day of the week, mansions in the mountains and at the seashore. Palpable evidence of God's grace, he'd called it.

And then Wild Bill had pulled his own plug, even before his secret links with the neo-Nazis and Jesus White Christian were exposed. Charismatic, apocalypse-oriented, Fundamentalist Christians-at least the ones who supported Kenecky's extravagant life-style-take a dim view of sex in general, and an even dimmer view of sex outside marriage or sex in any of what are, in their view, its perverse forms. When an enterprising reporter uncovered the fact that Wild Bill had, for years, been trading promises of salvation for sexual favors from both men and women, it was the end of him-or at least the end of his television empire. The exposure of his many sexual escapades, the variety of his tastes, and the voraciousness of his appetite hadn't gone down well with his Tribulation, Rapture, and Armageddon crowd.

Contributions had dried up, and-despite his feverish pleas and assurances that God had forgiven him-his member stations had dropped off one by one.

Then, as surely as pestilence will follow drought and famine, the well-dressed, truly fearsome minions of that greatest Satan of all, the I.R.S., had come knocking at his already badly battered door, descending on him and his operations like some biblical plague.

Thoroughly disgraced, his financial holdings seized, under indictment for tax evasion, and facing the very real possibility of a long jail term, William Kenecky had somehow engineered his own personal Rapture; he'd promptly disappeared. For six months no one had heard a peep, apocalyptic or otherwise, from him.

Now it seemed possible that we had heard from him-in the form of a cry for help from a new and totally helpless victim; it seemed to me not at all unlikely that Kenecky was holed up somewhere and whiling away his time while waiting for the world to end by sexually abusing a little girl.

'It's a bitch, Garth.' It seemed like such a trivial, inappropriate thing to say that I repeated it. 'It's a real bitch.'

'And we have to do something about it.'

I nodded. 'What we have to do is find the girl, and then I assume the proper authorities will investigate any possible sexual abuse. And if it does turn out that 'Reverend Billy' is none other than William Kenecky, we might even spend a couple of quarters to telephone the F.B.I, and I.R.S.'

'Uh-huh,' Garth said absently as he stared at the chessboard in front of him. 'The authorities here in the city are already on notice; the police and Social Services are waiting to hear from us.' He paused, looked up at me. 'What's our business status right now? Are we finished with the Middle East assignment?'

'Yeah, but we're still busy beavers-or we will be if we try to handle all our other business while we search for the girl. I suggest we farm out everything our staff people can't handle; if any of our clients object, we'll explain the situation and ask to be released from our contract. I think most of them will understand. If they don't-tough. Money certainly isn't a problem for us at the moment.'

'Okay,' Garth said in the same distant tone as he sipped at his bourbon. 'Good idea.'



'So now we're going to look for Vicky Brown, and when we find her we'll turn over any information we've gathered to the police and welfare people. But all we've got to work on is a letter with no return address, a name that's as common as rain, references to some right-wing religious gobbledygook, and a child abuser who may or may not be a fugitive from justice. Even if the child and her abuser weren't in some 'secret place,' they'd still be lost souls in one of the largest cities in the world. Sorry if I sound pessimistic. I may be a hell of a guesser, but I have to tell you that I haven't a clue where to begin.'

Garth turned in his chair and favored me with one of his faint, enigmatic smiles. 'What are you trying to say to me, brother? Are you suggesting that this may be a difficult case?'

'Yeah, I think I was trying to say something like that.'

Garth drained off his bourbon, then sat back in his chair and cupped the empty glass in both hands. His smile had vanished. 'Did you notice the smudges on the letter and the dirt in the creases of the envelope?'

Suddenly my heart began to beat more rapidly. 'Son-of-a-bitch! You had it analyzed!'

Again, the faint, fleeting smile. 'I pulled a few strings, appealed to old ties that bind, called in some lOUs, and got the people in the police labs to do some quick work for us-which turned out not to be so quick. I just came from there, and they'd been working on those soil samples since three thirty this afternoon. By the way, Frederickson and Frederickson is going to be getting some hefty telephone bills for a few very expensive computer linkups.'

'But they were able to analyze it?! The dirt can tell us something?!'

'It can tell us something, all right-but I'm not sure it's going to do us any good. For one thing, that soil is teeming with all sorts of microbes which, according to the technicians, are quite exotic.'

'So what?!' I snapped, making no effort to hide my impatience. 'Could they tell you where it came from?'

'Oh, yes,' Garth replied dryly, rolling the empty tumbler between his palms. 'Finally. According to the experts we talked to over those phone and computer linkups, there's only one place on the face of the earth where you'd find that particular variety of soil, and that place is the floor of the Amazon rain forest.'


The New York Botanical Garden, located next to the Bronx Zoo, occupies two hundred and fifty acres along the banks of the Bronx River. That was where we were headed, hoping that our cabdriver could find a way through and around the traffic tieup on the Harlem River Drive so that we'd be on time for our two o'clock appointment with one Dr. Samuel Zelaskowich, the Botanical Garden's top expert on tropical soils and plants.

It had taken the better part of the morning to take care of our business-which in our case had meant giving it away, assigning some to our staff and farming out the rest to people in other agencies with whom we had worked well in the past, and whom we trusted to do a good job. None of our clients had been too pleased to have anyone but Frederickson and Frederickson handling their account, but all had eventually agreed to the arrangement after we'd explained the situation. Three of the corporations had offered money or services to help us in our search for Vicky Brown; we'd declined the money, told them we'd be in touch if there was any other way they could help. We were leaving in our wake clean desks and a number of very happy competitors.

Driving us on were the haunting images of a little girl being repeatedly brutalized and sodomized in some 'secret place' which we had to find, a secret place where a child played in dirt from the floor of the Amazon rain forest.

It was rough going all through upper Manhattan, but our driver made some fancy detours once we reached the Bronx, and we arrived at the Botanical Garden with minutes to spare. We paid the driver, gave him a fat tip, then made our way through an eerie, improbable, snow-covered jungle of shrubbery and trees to the main administration building.

We found Dr. Zelaskowich in his office-a cramped cubicle not much bigger than a walk-in closet-with his broad back and shoulders hunched forward as he bent over and peered at a computer terminal. The walls of the office were papered with an odd mixture of graphs and charts, family photographs and what appeared to be personal memorabilia. I had a sense that the big man did not feel comfortable here, and that his discomfort did not have anything to do with the confined space.

He was a big, rangy man with a high dome of a forehead which was particularly pronounced when viewed in profile. He had a receding hairline, and a wispy, light brown beard. The thick-lensed eyeglasses he had propped up

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