'If that's the way it turns out, so be it,' Neuberger said, rising and reaching out to pump my hand. 'At least I'll know it's the truth, and I won't be depending on strangers, or on subordinates who may have something to hide. I can't tell you how much I appreciate this, Mongo.' 'Right.'

He walked quickly to the door, then turned back and smiled tentatively. 'Will you be. . leaving right away?'

'No, Emmet, I will not be leaving right away. I have appointments and other business to take care of. But I will be there by the end of the week.'

He flashed a broad grin, nodded eagerly, then turned and walked out of the office. There was a decided bounce to his step.

Chapter Two

Veil Kendry was a friend of mine, and a most unusual man with a midnight-dark past whose secrets Garth and I were privy to, a past which could one day conceivably blow up in our faces and ruin a lot of lives as well as the increasingly strong presidency of Kevin Shannon. Most of the world knew Veil as the painter he was, an artist who in the past few years had received international acclaim for his decidedly eerie 'dream paintings,' very large- scale works comprised of any number of smaller, individual canvases which existed on their own as works of art, and were sold separately. I was probably one of the few people in the world who had actually seen one of the 'master paintings' whole, with all of the component canvases hung together in neat rows and covering all of one wall in Veil's spacious loft in a building he owned on Manhattan's Lower East Side.

Garth considered this man with the long yellow hair and glacial-blue eyes a very dangerous man, which was right on the mark. My brother didn't much care for Veil, his enmity going back to a time when I had been drawn into the mist of Veil's hidden past, and we had all nearly lost our lives. But in the end, the journey we had taken had enriched all our lives. Many, if not all, of the friends and connections Garth and I now had in Washington had come to us as a direct result of my leap into the history of this man who had once been known and feared as the deadly 'Archangel,' combat soldier extraordinaire, martial arts master, and one-time point man in the CIA's secret war in Laos.

Indeed, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me that Veil's background as a soldier had much in common with what I knew of John Sinclair's military record. Both men had been highly decorated combat soldiers in Vietnam, both had been officers, and both had departed from the service under unusual circumstances-Sinclair as a deserter, and Veil after being branded a traitor and subsequently cashiered as part of an insidious plot to destroy him concocted by his CIA controller, the man who, decades later, would have been shaping the nation's foreign policy had it not been for his obsession with killing Veil, and incidentally Garth and me. Both men were capable of extreme violence-Sinclair obviously by design, and Veil as a result of brain damage suffered at birth; Veil had sublimated his penchant for violence into high art, while Sinclair had parlayed his into a career as a master criminal and what might be termed the art of commercial terror. Both men had unusual names, albeit 'Chant' was a mysterious nickname, while Veil's name had been given to him by his parents as a kind of prayer for deliverance from the smothering caul that had enveloped him at his birth. Sinclair was a legendary hand-to-hand fighter, arguably the world's most accomplished martial arts master, and part of the mystique surrounding him was that he possessed special powers acquired as an acolyte of a secret society of Japanese masters. It was the sort of item that Garth, with his long-standing disdain for any kind of fighting that wasn't done with fists, would term a typical 'ninja bullshit story,' and I sort of agreed. I was highly skeptical of all the 'special powers' business, and in fact I suspected that a great deal of what was reported about John Sinclair was pure myth, 'ninja bullshit stories,' but I had no doubt that he was a formidable warrior, even now in middle age.

As was Veil. Veil was the most accomplished street fighter and martial arts master I had ever seen. While Sinclair had reportedly begun formal training as a young child in Japan, where his father had been a State Department official, Veil was completely self-taught, his fighting style eclectic, a mixture of many oriental martial arts disciplines laced with not a few devastating moves he'd developed himself. I had a black belt in karate-the fruit of natural physical skills, quickness, and a few thousand hours spent practicing kata. My karate skills had served me extremely well in any number of difficult situations, but all of my knowledge, talent, and skills were insignificant compared to Veil's, and he had become my teacher. We worked out two or three evenings a week, using the mats and equipment set up in a corner of Veil's loft.

As usual, we started off the evening practicing muzukashi jotai kara deru, a loathsome practice of Veil's invention which could be loosely translated as 'extricating oneself from knotty situations,' and which I found boring and time-consuming. However, since Veil was the teacher and I the student, I did what I was told, keeping my impatience to myself in the face of Veil's insistence that 'muzu,' as he called it, was a handy thing to know.

I was happy when we moved on to the more traditional physical stuff, and we proceeded to practice stick- fighting skills, with long poles of split bamboo taking the place of the heavier kendo sticks we sometimes used. We used the poles to train for quickness and agility, and the exercise primarily consisted of taking turns flailing away at each other; while one attacked, the other sought to escape a painful whack by blocking or moving out of the way. We wore no padding to slow us down, since-unlike working with nunchaku or kendo sticks-there was no real danger of injury; a smack with the bamboo pole could leave a painful welt, but broke no bones.

I was pretty good at this business, rarely taking a full hit-but then, I wasn't exactly a looming target. Veil, at six feet, made a right fine target when he was standing still, but when you swung at him, he was always someplace else by the time the pole sliced through the space where he had been standing only a moment before. On defense, he rarely bothered to use his pole to block or parry. His evasive skills were extraordinary, to say the least, and it seemed he could effortlessly hop over, duck under, or spin away from just about any blow, delivered from any angle. He occasionally had another of his students videotape one of our sessions, and I always found it breathtaking to watch him on tape; he resembled a ballet dancer.

We'd been at it for ten minutes since our last water break, with me assuming the attacking role. It was unarguably more taxing to keep leaping out of the way than it was to slash with the light pole, but I was the one getting sweaty and out of breath as I kept slicing up the air around Veil's constantly dodging and weaving body.

'I've got Mets tickets for Thursday night,' Veil said as he leaped high into the air to avoid my swipe at his knees. I followed up with a chop at his head, and he spun away. 'Want to go?'

'I can't,' I wheezed, hacking at his right shoulder and missing as usual. 'I'll be in Switzerland.'

'Business or pleasure?'

'Going to Switzerland is always a pleasure.' Puff-puff.

'You got that right.'

I feinted a blow at his left thigh, then spun around and swung at the space where his midsection should have been. I missed by a foot; Veil always seemed just out of reach. 'I plan to take care of a little business and a lot of vacation.' Puff-puff. 'Harper's coming over on Saturday.'

'Sounds good to me. What's cooking in Switzerland that requires the attention of the senior partner of Frederickson and Frederickson, if I may ask?'

'The senior partner of Frederickson and Frederickson isn't really sure what he's supposed to do in Switzerland,' I said as I abruptly leaped forward and launched a vicious series of short chops aimed at Veil's head and shoulders. He retreated, and I went after him, moving him smartly around the loft, but never landing a blow. 'As close as I can figure it, my client'-puff-puff-'simply wants me to go to Zurich and ask Interpol to grade themselves on their progress in the hunt for a very kinky crook by the name'-puff-puff-'of John Sinclair, who nipped a foundation my client operates for a cool ten million. Since I can't believe he believes Interpol and the police over there will say much of anything except that they're doing a wonderful job, I consider my mission a bit foggy.' Puff- puff.

I swung hard at Veil's head, and to my utter astonishment the splayed end of the pole landed square on his right cheek with a loud swonk. Because I was so accustomed to having Veil avoid anything I could throw at him, I had swung with all my might. But he had suddenly and unaccountably stopped dead

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