in his tracks a moment before I had launched my strike, and now the end of the pole had sliced his flesh. His deep blue eyes registered neither surprise nor pain, but blood welled up over the edges of the two-inch-long cut, then rolled in a scarlet sheet down his cheek.

'Jesus, Veil!' I cried, throwing the pole to one side and hurrying over to him. 'I'm sorry!'

'Not your fault,' Veil said somewhat absently as he walked over to the matted area. He picked up a towel, pressed it to his slashed cheek, then headed for the partitioned-off living area at the far end of the loft. 'You expected me to get out of the way, and I should have. I slipped, lost my footing.'

Feeling queasy and guilty, I followed him into the living area, through the small, spartanly furnished bedroom into the bathroom, where he turned on the tap, leaned over the sink, and began to flush the cut with cold water. It hadn't looked to me like he'd slipped; he'd simply stopped moving. 'You want help?' I asked anxiously.

He shook his head as he opened the medicine cabinet above the sink and took out a gauze compress, which he pressed against his cheek. Then he turned, fixed me with his ice-blue eyes. 'I'm all right, Mongo. It's just a superficial cut.' He paused, and shadows seemed to move in the depths of the bright eyes that continued to stare at me. Finally, he continued, 'You mind if I ask you a question about your business, Mongo?'

It seemed an odd question, coming from Veil, and there was an uncharacteristically terse tone to his voice. 'When have I ever minded you asking me about anything?'

'What's your-or your client's-interest in whether or not Interpol captures John Sinclair?'

'Are you kidding me? I already told you.'

'Indulge me, Mongo. Tell me again, in detail, if you will.'

'Sinclair used a little financial wizardry, which I don't understand, to rip off ten million dollars of funds earmarked for famine relief in the Sudan. The director of the philanthropic foundation that provided the money is just a bit pissed off about it. He's taking it personally, and he wants his own man on the scene to report to him on what's going down. I don't expect to find out anything he doesn't already know, but it seems he'll be perfectly satisfied just to get an independent report with my name on it. It's such a milk run that I'm embarrassed. I should be finished by the weekend. Harper's meeting me over there, and we'll split for Zermatt.'

Veil grunted softly, then turned back to the medicine cabinet. He removed the compress, washed the cut with hydrogen peroxide, then applied an antiseptic salve. 'How are Garth and Mary?' he asked in a flat tone.

'Just fine,' I replied, staring at his reflection in the mirror. I had the distinct impression his mind was elsewhere. 'Mary has a new album out and climbing the charts, and Garth's in Brussels taking care of some business for a client.' I watched him apply a clean, smaller compress to the wound, tape it in place. 'You might want to go for some stitches in that cut. It could leave a scar. You want me to drive you over to the hospital?'

He turned around, placed his hand gently on my shoulder. 'Let's have some juice.'

We went into the kitchen, and I sat down at the small, painted wood table. Veil set up two glasses, then retrieved a frosted pitcher of fresh grapefruit juice from the refrigerator. He poured for both of us, then sat down across from me. He sipped his drink, studying me over the rim of the glass.

'What's on your mind, Veil?'

Veil drained the glass and set it back down on the table. He sighed, shook his head slightly. I had the feeling he'd made some kind of decision-one he was not particularly comfortable with. 'I'd like to offer you some gratuitous advice.'

'You know I value any advice you have to offer, my friend. What is it?'

He poured himself more grapefruit juice, again fixed me with his steady gaze. 'Steer clear of anything whatsoever that involves John Sinclair.'

Suddenly, I felt a slight chill. I wasn't sure if it was an aftereffect of the exercise, or from the sudden rush of excitement I was experiencing. 'Hey, you know this guy?'

Veil shifted his gaze to the glass in front of him, shook his head.

'Ever met him?'

'No. I just know what I read in the newspapers.' Now he looked up at me, and I again had the impression that he was uncomfortable and that he was struggling with some private dilemma. 'But I hear things too. I wish I could be more specific, but I can't. It's just a feeling. I know you think it's an easy job, Mongo, but maybe you should pass on this one. Don't go to Zurich.'

My friend's uncharacteristic reticence was beginning to make me uncharacteristically annoyed with him. 'Wow,' I said, my tone just a millimeter or two short of sarcasm. 'Now, there's some pretty straightforward gratuitous advice, Veil. I shouldn't go to Zurich because you hear things, and you have a feeling.'


'Just what do you hear that I haven't heard, Veil? What's the word on the street regarding John Sinclair? Is there something even more awful about him I should know, aside from the fact that he'll starve children to line his pockets and that he has a nasty tendency to torture, maim, or kill anybody who gets in his way?'

'Mongo,' Veil said in a slow, measured tone, 'if you go to Zurich to investigate this matter-'

'I'm not investigating anything. I don't have a franchise to investigate anything outside of New York State. I'm going over there to politely ask Interpol and the Zurich police about their investigation.'

'— you're liable to find yourself in a hall of mirrors instead of on any milk run. In that hall nothing may necessarily be what it seems to be. In fact, I'm suggesting to you that nothing you may have read or heard about John Sinclair is necessarily true.'

Veil's words, as well as his sincerity and obvious concern in giving me such a dear warning, intrigued me. I knew I probably should be patient and allow him to explain his somewhat mysterious approach in his own way, but my irritation at the fact that he seemed to be withholding information that would back up his warning won out. 'What the hell are you talking about, Veil?' I asked, somewhat surprised at the sharpness of my tone. 'What can't necessarily be true? The man's got an M.O. and track record going back twenty years. He's a big-time thief and a murderer of sometimes unbelievable cruelty. If you have something else to tell me about him, why not just come out and say it? Why the hell jerk me around like this?'

'You're angry with me,' Veil said evenly, leaning back in his chair and smiling thinly. 'You feel I've stuck my nose in your business. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend you.'

'I'll tell you what offends me, Veil. Certainly not that you care about me, or that you're concerned for my safety. I take that for granted. But you seem to be playing some kind of game here, and that offends me.'

'Mongo, I-'

'For Christ's sake, Veil, you and I share some history. You know the types of situations I've been in, and you know what I can handle. You, Garth, and I have faced up to some pretty dangerous people together. Now I casually mention that I'm off to Europe to do nothing more than ask for a progress report from the authorities, and you issue a ringing warning for me to avoid anything involving John Sinclair. That clearly tells me you do know something, and you won't tell me what it is.' I paused, took a deep breath. Suddenly, I realized that what I felt even more than anger was hurt. Perhaps I was overreacting, but it seemed to me that Veil's obvious reticence in discussing all he knew or suspected about John Sinclair implied that, despite everything I knew about Veil, and other confidences we had shared over the years, he did not completely trust me. That came as a shock, and gave me a decidedly empty feeling. 'You damn well do know something more about Sinclair,' I continued quietly. 'Earlier, when I mentioned his name, it startled you, and you lost your concentration. That's why I was able to whack you. But you won't tell me what it is you know. This isn't like you at all, Veil. You know me well enough to know I don't pry, but you're the one who brought up the subject in the first place.'

'I'm sorry you're angry, Mongo,' Veil said, looking away. 'I'd take it as a personal favor if you'd let me come along with you.'

'Thanks for the warning and the offer, Veil,' I said coldly, abruptly standing, 'but at the moment I can't see how either is of much value. I'm going to Zurich to take care of my business, then I'm going to spend a few days in the mountains with Harper, and then I'm coming home. I'll send you a postcard.'

I waited, still hoping that Veil would say something more, or at least explain why he wouldn't say more. It wasn't so much that I thought I needed the information to accomplish what I still could not conceive of as anything more than a minor errand, but because I felt that in a space of only a few minutes, with

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