George C. Chesbro

Dream of a Falling Eagle

Chapter 1

We were three-quarters of the way up the long gravel driveway leading to the torturer's house, driving slowly to avoid a number of deep potholes, when Garth abruptly slammed on the brakes and turned off the headlights and ignition of his Jeep Cherokee. We never went anywhere these days without our guns, and I immediately reached for the Beretta in my shoulder holster. 'What's the matter?'

My brother put a finger to his lips and whispered, 'It looks like the general has already entertained guests this evening, and they're just leaving.'

I leaned forward in my seat and squinted as I looked out through the windshield, but the bright lights burning on both floors of the shabby house at the end of the driveway only made the surrounding darkness seem more impenetrable. I tried shielding my eyes with my hand, but it didn't help. 'I don't see anything.'

'At least three men. I saw them moving across that patch of moonlight on the lawn at the right side of the house, heading into the woods. They're gone now.'

'Or moving on us.'

Garth drew his Colt and turned the interior light switch to off, and then we both stepped out of the car, guns raised and sweeping the driveway ahead of us and the woods on either side. We moved to the front of the car and stood side by side in the darkness for a few minutes, listening for the snap of a twig or rustle of gravel that might indicate we were being stalked, but there was no sound other than a shrill chorus of crickets wailing their little hearts out in the hot and humid August night. Finally I nudged Garth and we stepped to opposite sides of the driveway, walking slowly toward the house on narrow aprons of grass as we kept our guns steadily trained ahead of us. If the general's evening visitors had seen our headlights and wanted to ambush us, it seemed logical that they would have waited inside the house instead of exiting out the back, but our experiences of the past few months had made us very cautious. Of late, there were an even greater number of people than usual who wanted to facilitate the permanent retirement of the Frederickson brothers, and our current enemies of record were a lot better equipped and more organized than your average gaggle of thugs.

The front door was half open and had a dead thing nailed to it, which we knew meant we would find another dead thing inside. It didn't take us long to find it. What was left of General Vilair Michel was strapped into a straight-backed chair in a corner of his blood-painted second-floor bedroom facing out on the driveway. His severed tongue lay neatly in his lap, and dark gouts of blood were still oozing from his eye sockets, mouth, and the hole in his chest where his heart had been. We didn't bother looking around for the missing organ, because we knew we wouldn't find it. The clear plastic raincoats the killers had used to protect their clothing were crumpled in a heap at the foot of the bed.

'Christ,' I mumbled, turning away. I should have been getting used to this kind of scene by now, but I still had to fight the urge to vomit.

'Actually, he's not in as bad shape as some of the other victims,'

Garth said in a flat tone. 'He still has his pants on. We must have interrupted them.'

I swallowed bile, took a deep breath to try to settle my stomach. The rank smell of blood and the feces that the terrified Vilair Michel had let loose before he died was overwhelming. 'That was real lucky for the general.'

'Let's see if our friends overlooked anything this time.'

We might have interrupted the killers at their pleasure, but apparently not before they had attended to the serious side of their business, first chatting up the general before carving him up, making sure he told them what incriminating documents, if any, he had in his possession-and then they'd ransacked the place anyway, just to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything in what must have been his paralyzing and mind-shrinking fear in the face of the evil that had seeped into his home from the dark, suppurating sores in his culture. Every drawer and file cabinet in what appeared to have been his office and study had been pulled out or turned over, and papers were strewn everywhere. Using our handkerchiefs to avoid leaving fingerprints, we sifted through the debris, but could find nothing that interested us-no forged passports or other official documents, no list of names, no diary.

In the faint hope that Michel might have squirreled away something useful in another part of the house, we worked our way through the rest of the rooms and closets, inspecting drawers and cupboards and shelves, moving things around with pencils, but we found nothing of value to us. Our last stop was the basement, which was virtually bare except for an old, dilapidated washing machine and dryer, and some rough wooden shelves littered with rusting tools and spattered paint cans. There was a small area at the north end that had been partitioned off from the rest of the basement with unpainted Sheetrock with a doorway cut into it. Garth went in there and turned on a light while I halfheartedly rooted around on the shelves I could reach.

'Hey, Mongo,' Garth called from the other room. 'Come on in here and check this out.'

I walked through the entranceway, stopped, and grunted with surprise. This area, too, was bare, except for what appeared to be a makeshift altar of sorts set up along the opposite wall. The altar was constructed from empty plastic milk crates set on their sides and draped with black velvet that had been kept free of lint and dust with careful and regular brushings. On the altar were candles of various lengths and thicknesses, crudely carved wooden fetishes, curved daggers, and hand-painted veves-voodoo symbols similar to the ones scrawled in blood on the walls of the bedroom upstairs-and a large golden cross that looked as if it had gotten lost and wandered into the wrong neighborhood.

'Well, well,' I said, walking over to stand beside my brother in front of the altar. 'It seems the general was a serious practitioner himself of the old mumbo-jumbo.'

'Didn't do him much good, did it?'

The golden cross was in the center of the altar, at the base of a circle of veves, daggers, and red candles carefully arranged around a black-and-white photograph that, judging from the blur around the edges, had been taken from a distance with a telephoto lens. The photo was a head-and-shoulders shot of what appeared to be a light-skinned black man, most likely Haitian, like the general. The man had been caught looking directly toward the camera, as if sensing the presence of the photographer, and there was what could be described as an expression of menace on his face, although his features were not menacing in themselves. He had a longish, triangular face with a thin chin, thin lips and nose, and high, angular cheekbones. He had smooth skin, and he looked to be in his early or mid-fifties- although his thick head of white hair suggested he might be a decade older. His eyes were his most striking feature, almost too large and round for the rest of his face, crow-black and piercing. He wore the black tunic and reversed collar of a Roman Catholic priest.

Garth continued, 'Now, who do you suppose that is?'

'Good question. Whoever he is, he seems to have been pretty important to the general-center stage on his voodoo altar.' I paused, glanced at my brother. 'You don't suppose the Spring Valley police would give us a copy of that photograph if we asked real nice?'

Garth smiled thinly. 'In your dreams. Maybe in a few weeks, sometime down the line after we've come up with some plausible explanation of how it is we happen to know about the photograph in the first place. We really don't want to answer all the questions they'll want to ask.'

'We'll call this in anonymously on nine-one-one after we leave, wait until after the news hits the papers, then go in and ask for a copy after we properly introduce ourselves.'

'They probably won't release information about the photograph- you know it's the kind of potential evidence and telling little detail homicide investigators like to keep to themselves. We'd have to explain how we know about it, which would mean admitting we were here at the crime scene. That could spell very big trouble. I'm operating in my own backyard here. Mary and I don't need the publicity that would be bound to come my way, and you and I don't need the distraction. We've got a tight deadline, and we're running out of time.'

'Hey, when you're right, you're right,' I said, leaning over slightly in the direction of the photograph and rubbing my palms together. 'But that photo could prove a lot more valuable to us than to the Spring Valley PD. I don't suppose the cop in you would permit us to just take the thing?'

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