I grow weary of shuttling about in airplanes (despite the delight of your constant company) and teleportation, while efficient, is not much fun so I decide to refresh myself with a ten hour flight through Hell, soaring and diving through the caverns and past the palaces, tuning in occasionally to the music and poetry of my fellow devils.
At last I alight on the banks of the River Lethe, overlooking the ruins of Ecbatana which, according to Herodotus, Dioce built in the sixth century B.C. It is a handsome structure, encircled by seven rising concentric walls in a dazzling variety of colors.
I miss Hell like hell. Human company (with the notable exception of you, Eggplant) wears like a bad tiara. So gullible are they, so corrupt. It is no feat whatsoever to outsmart them. And so I begin to contemplate a greater challenge. Outsmarting Father.
This is treason, of course, but I have tried it before. Admittedly with no success. Lucifer is far wilier than even I but I cannot help myself. It is my nature, which is His fault anyway.
Keeping my conspiratorial cogitations in the hindermost of my head I move on to the rather transparent conspiracies that are being hatched by humans of my acquaintance.
On the one hand, P.R. Smith is attempting to take down Hank Himmler and the Devil’s Own. In broad outline, he intends to create a pandemic for which the global community will hold H responsible. P.R. (who has supervised the development of a vaccine against this vicious virus and injected himself with it) will emerge as a universal hero once he belatedly oversees the release of the vaccine to the decimated human population. A plot easily foiled once I learn the location of the pandemic distribution point.
Himmler himself is orchestrating the downfall of P.R. Smith by implicating him in a presidential assassination attempt. Although the details of this are fuzzy because H is a Null One, I have no fear that I will frustrate Hank’s plan because I intend to be firstest with the mostest by siccing Boola Boola on Presserwesser. P.R. and his pals will be blamed, of course, so H’s plot and mine have much in common, the chief difference being the identity of the assassin.
As I mull moves and countermoves, I am joined by Dusana.
“I thought you were devoting full time to finding Teawater and Shrugg,” I complain.
“I thought you were, too, Boss. I guess that, like you, I needed to take a respite. Americans are so soporific.”
I am not actually displeased. Of my three devil subordinates I am fondest of Dusana. In her natural state (as she is now) her face is hauntingly beautiful reminding me of you.
“You mind if I make an observation, Loki?” she asks.
“Not at all.”
Dusana stretches her wings and smiles at me. “It has not escaped my attention, or for that matter, that of Canda and Asira, that you are gaga over Agent Dribble.”
“That obvious is it?”
“As plain as the beak on your bonnet. I assume Father knows.”
“He does and is not well-pleased.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Let me give you some advice. Like all devils who have ventured into the realm of the mortals, I have had my share of passionate liaisons with humans. Aside, of course, from the normal sexual gymnastics that we are compelled by our nature to engage in.”
“Me, too. But this seems different. No, it is different. I cannot foresee a future in which Margarita is absent.”
“Zounds! You do have it bad. But think for a moment, Loki. She’s a human. Compared to us she has a lightning bug’s lifespan. She has to be absent from your future. And soon.”
“Not if she’s immortal.”
Dusana looks at me in astonishment.
“But she’s not!”
“I’m beginning to see what you have in mind,” Dusana says shrewdly. “You want Father endow Agent Dribble with the same inviolability from disease and death that he gave Gilgamesh and Enkidu.”
“But those are the only exceptions He has ever made and I assume because it was because of some scheme He came up with eons ago that is only now coming to fruition. I doubt that you can persuade Him to make a similar exception for Dribble.”
“Ah, but I intend to hit Father with an equal opportunity argument. Why has he only conferred immortality on guys? What of the distaff? Huh? Huh? You know how fundamentally fair-minded He is.”
Dusana looks at me doubtfully. “I also know that Father can’t stand to be pushed around by the likes of us. You, of all devils, should know that. Besides, He’s really not all that fair-minded. Remember what He did to the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel. They’re still lost.”
I groan. “I know it’s a long shot but don’t you think it’s worth a try?”
“Not if it gets you suspended for another five hundred years.” Dusana lapses into silence for several minutes before heaving a deep sigh. “I may know someone who can help you.”
“I don’t need help,” I say with perfect accismus, “but who are you talking about?”
“Kothar wa Khasis.”
“Ba`al’s old buddy?”
“As far as I know I don’t need my palace rebuilt in silver, gold, lapis lazuli, and cedar. Isn’t he just a craftsman?”
Dusana shakes her head. “He is much more than that, the foremost creator of sacred words and spells.”
“But what good will spells do me? Father is immune to them.”
“I’m not suggesting you use them on Father.”
“Your Agent Dribble, of course. Kothar could concoct a spell that would reveal her heart to you, bypassing her Null Onedness. Then you would know whether you are justified in taking the risk of offending Father.”
“But that would be cheating!” I exclaim.
“Exactly,” says Dusana.
I know Kothar slightly as one of the oldest and perhaps the most reclusive of devils. But it turns out that Dusana and he are old friends. We fly to his palace, which is a recreation of Choqa Zanbil, surrounded by three concentric walls enclosing a ziggurat dedicated to Ba’al. Kothar greets us near the ziggurat. He sports a goat’s head mounted on the body of a dragon with wings formed of fire.
“So you need a spell to unlock the secrets of a woman’s heart. No problemo.”
“I have some ethical reservations about this.”
Kothar stares at me in disbelief. “You, the notorious Loki? I never expected to hear such travesty issue from your beak.”
“I am exceptionally fond of this human.”
Kothar snorts and guffaws. “Next thing you’ll be telling me you’re in love.”
“Since I don’t really know what that is, I can’t say. But my feelings toward Margarita are altogether new to me.”
“Take it from a wise elder, she’s not worth it. No human is.”
“You may be right but just now I can’t accept that.”
Kothar rolls his expressive goat’s eyes at Dusana who shrugs in return.
“Very well. Here’s a surefire one: A legion of French bosoms cannot match the lucid beauty of your toenails! Never pet your dog when it is on fire or it will pace like a leopard searching for its misplaced frontal lobes.”
“That will work?”
“If you chant it over the supine, unconscious form of your ladylove at three A.M. Pacific Standard Time, yes.”
“I am much obliged. Kothar.”
“Just remember that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have suffered brain cancer.”
* * *
Sidney Reilly regards me, as usual, with suspicion. “You didn’t think I was on to you, did you Thornhill?”
“I’m sorry, Sidney. What exactly do you mean?”
“You’ve got a connection with Boola Boola Shakhur.”
“Of course I do. I’m trying to find him.”
“Not very hard, you’re not. And what’s with the Reverend Bagwell P. Wilcoxon? He’s all over the TV these days sounding more and more like a Super Christian. You’ve been spotted in his company.”
“I had at least two reasons to interview the good reverend. One, I thought he might know something about Boola Boola and two, I wanted to get his opinions on the origin of evil for my new book.” Reilly looks skeptical. Reading his thoughts, I determine that his main problem with me is the growing friendship between you, my delectable dumpling, and moi.
“You also seem remarkably buddy buddy with that charlatan Gil Gamesh.”
“A friend of a friend, as I told Special Agent Dribble who, by the way, seems quite taken with him.”
“Yeah, I’ve noticed. But there’s something awfully fishy about Gamesh. Let me tell you a story about an investigation into some ultra right-wingers I conducted a few years back, get your reaction.”
Reilly begins to tell his story but, reading his thoughts and piecing together the various strands of his investigation, I am able to present it to you, sweet-lips in a much more coherent fashion.
The Ahasureus Tale
On a sandy ridge in northern Idaho, Hans Streicher is demonstrating martial arts techniques to half a dozen skinheads. He is thirty-five years old, bare to the waist, a muscular six foot four, with blond hair and blue eyes. The perfect Aryan poster boy.
A short, muscular teenage skinhead warily approaches Streicher, then makes an attempt at a quick right kick to the head. Streicher effortlessly parries the blow, moves in, throws the skinhead to the ground, bends over him, with his right hand in a striking pose, less than an inch from the bridge of the kid’s nose.
He lets the teenager up and motions for the three other skinheads, mean-looking men of various ages up to thirty, to attack him. Strongly built, they appear to know a good deal about martial arts.
Moving to his flanks, they try to encircle Streicher, who moves backwards, then suddenly feints.
The skinheads attack simultaneously. In less than three seconds, they are lying on the ground, groaning.
Streicher permits himself a tight smile.
“Obviously you need more practice, gentlemen.”
His voice and accent is pure American mid-West.
A skinny, bearded man of about forty seated on the hillside fifty feet up from Streicher looks up from his portable communications console.
“Commander Streicher. Incoming message, sir.”
“Very well.” He glances at the skinheads. “Practice until I get back.”
Streicher walks to the compound headquarters, a large log cabin structure with a wide deck. The Communications Officer salutes him as he enters the main headquarters office. Inside the spacious room are four high-speed computers and a variety of other sophisticated communications equipment. Streicher stands in front of a large monitor and pushes a button. Instantaneously, the figure of a handsome, white-haired man fills the screen. This is Dr. Karl Vogeler.
“Scrambled at this end,” Vogeler says.
“At this as well,” replies Streicher crisply.
Vogeler switches to German. He raises his arm in the Nazi salute.
Streicher responds in kind. His German is fluent and colloquial.
“We are close to a breakthrough.”
“You have located the Jew, Deputy Führer?
“Not yet. But we may have found a means of trapping him. We have reason to believe that the Jew deposited a manuscript for safekeeping with an American intelligence officer whom he met during the war. This manuscript supposedly contains information that the Jew would not wish us to know. Among other things, medical clues to his remarkable longevity.”
“Why has the Jew not recovered the manuscript himself from this American officer?”
“That we do not know. But if we gain possession of it, I am certain that he would try to get it back. When he does, we capture him and have the pleasure of dissecting him cell by cell, if that should prove necessary.”
“It has taken us more than eighty years to locate this manuscript. One possibility occurs to me.”
“And that is?”
“That the Jew is dead.”
“That has occurred to us as well. Even Ahasureus is not immune to a rifle bullet or a bomb. But we believe he is alive.”
“Good. As you know, Herr Doktor Deputy Führer Vogeler, I have a score to settle with him.”
“Yes, your grandfather. Streicher, I want you to know that you have the full support of the High Council. Whatever resources you need, financial and otherwise, you shall have. But you must begin immediately. Our ‘Special Patient’ has no more than two months to live. He is, after all, one hundred and sixty-four years old and there is a limit even to the wonders of our advanced medicines.”
“I will not fail you!”
“No, I don’t believe you will. I am sending you an encrypted file that contains all of the information you will need about your target. Needless to say, you will eliminate anyone who knows about the manuscript.”
“Of course, sir. Heil Hitler!”
Vogeler’s image disappears from the screen.
Boston Daily News Managing Editor, Joshua Daly is speaking to Puzzle Editor, Frank McTeague. Daly is fiftyish and weary looking. McTeague, known as Mac, is in his mid-thirties, tall and well-built with the black hair and blue eyes of the “black Irishman”.
“Look, Mac, I don’t know why he wants you but he does.”
McTeague is angry. “I don’t go around solving people’s private cryptograms for them. I’m the Puzzle Editor of The Boston Daily News, for Christ’s sake.”
“You know what I mean, Josh. It’s degrading.”
“You’ll happily degrade yourself for John Malchus.”
“Why? He doesn’t own this newspaper.”
“No, but he owns a bunch of others as well as a hundred eighteen local TV stations and God knows how many radio stations and half of southern Idaho. And he happens to be a dear old friend of our esteemed publisher.”
“Emphasis on old. Isn’t he some kind of hotshot Second World War retired spook? How the hell old is he? Ninety?”
“I believe a hale and hearty eighty-eight.”
“I can’t leave my column.”
“We’ll run some of your puzzles from five or six years ago. Call it the ‘Best of Frank McTeague.’ No one will care.”
“Thanks a lot.”
“This isn’t a bad assignment. All expenses trip to beautiful Idaho. A couple of weeks at Malchus’s country estate.”
“Josh, I only know one Idaho joke.”
“Idaho for a while but then she turned into a McCall girl.”
“I guess you had to be there,” Daly groans.
“Besides Josh, you know I hate spooks, even ex-spooks. I ran into too many working at NSA. Besides, do you even know what he wants me to do?”
“What you do best. Solve puzzles. Hey, you wrote the book on it.”
Daly holds up a dog-eared copy of “The History of Cryptology” by Frank McTeague.
“Yeah. Read by me and my editor.”
“And evidently by John Malchus. You leave tonight. Fly into Idaho Falls. Somebody’ll pick you up at the airport.” McTeague turns to leave. “And Mac?”
“I know it’s hard. But try not to be an asshole.”
Streicher walks rapidly down Center Street in downtown Idaho Falls and enters the Arco Tavern, seating himself by a window. He orders a beer and stares out at the trash free sidewalk.
A young man, Timmy by name, short, dark-haired, with bad teeth enters the tavern and sits down beside him.
“Werewolf,” Timmy says in greeting.
Streicher glares at him. Timmy shudders. Do not call me that. The name is Friedrich Van Der Kampf.”
“I sell insurance.”
“What’s up, Mr. Van Der Kampf?
“I’ve got a job for you, Timmy. A simple task, but the pay is good. Ten thousand dollars.”
“No. I just want all the information you can gather about a certain man. Where he lives, what he eats, drinks, smokes, what his habits are, his daily routine. Everything that you can find out about him.”
“I need it within forty-eight hours. You’ll have to use your government contacts.”
“This guy CIA?”
“NSA. Once upon a time.”
“Frank McTeague. Use your charm on that lady friend of yours at Langley.”
Timmy laughs. “Will do. Where can I contact you?”
“Here. Same time. Remember. Forty-eight hours or no ten thousand bucks.”
Timmy winks. “I gotcha.”
Timmy leaves the restaurant. Streicher waits briefly, pays the tab, and walks back in the direction of the Falls, remembering the story his father had told him as a child.
The Geyerhausen Hospital waiting room is austere in coloration and design. Josef Streicher a colonel in the Waffen SS waits impatiently for someone to meet him. A few minutes later, a youthful Dr. Karl Vogeler enters the waiting room from the main hospital corridor.
Vogeler nods at Streicher. “Herr Oberst.”
Vogeler looks searchingly at Josef. “You have been given a most responsible post for one so young.”
“My preference, Dr. Vogeler, was to remain with my unit at the front. But I do as I am ordered.”
“Of course. But let me assure you, Herr Oberst, that your work here will be of vastly greater service to the Fatherland than anything you might have achieved in combat.”
Streicher looks skeptically at the doctor. “Oh? And what, may I ask, is so important about this hospital?”
“Greyerhausen is a research facility. As you know, the Führer is very interested in medical research. He believes that the solution to any problem is ultimately, how shall I say it, a ‘biological’ one. We were established to conduct research of the highest priority on a single, specific human problem.”
“The problem of death.”
Josef laughs. “As a soldier, I agree that death is indeed a problem.”
“You are familiar with the Führer’s concept of the Thousand Year Reich?
“What you may not know is that he means that quite literally. Not only the Reich but the Führer himself will live for a thousand years.” Vogeler’s voice becomes hoarse with excitement. “I believe that we have been unable to combat death because we know so little about it. In most cultures death is a private affair. No one questions a dying man about what he is experiencing. That would be bad taste. Yet, as a consequence, we are almost totally ignorant of the death process. I intend to eliminate that ignorance by studying death from every conceivable standpoint: biological, psychological, religious. Whatever.”
A certifiable Nazi madman, thinks Streicher. But he chooses to be polite. “So what does this have to do with me?”
Vogeler ignores Josef’s question. “Initially I requisitioned patients from state hospitals. Patients with terminal diseases. They had neither family nor friends. Too small a basis for data. So we began taking people out of the camps, still only those who were obviously dying. But even this wasn’t enough. We were getting too many patients with the same illnesses: TB, pneumonia, malnutrition. We decided that we must proceed in a more rigorous way.”
“In what way?”
“We took healthy people and caused them to contract whatever disease we needed to study. For certain diseases, this was impossible. Cancer, for instance. But not only did this work out wonderfully for the study of death from disease, we extended the sample to include death from, for example, drowning, fire, automobile crashes. Etcetera. Using a limited cross section of people of different races, ages, and sexes, we have set up a variety of experiments in death and studied them thoroughly.”
“And you learned something of use to the Reich?”
“Much that is useful, my friend. We identified the phenomenon I call the ‘birthday syndrome,’ in which people who should be dead, according to all the standard medical criteria, postpone dying until after a certain date which has some personal significance for them - a birthday or an anniversary.
“Meaning the problem of death is not so much physical as psychological. My research has confirmed that it is theoretically possible to postpone death indefinitely by what could be called a ‘trick of the mind.’”
“A mere trick?”
“Well perhaps not so simple as that, I’m afraid. You understand the difficulty of speaking to a layman about such matters?”
“Of course. Although really, Herr Doktor, I’m not an idiot, you know.”
“To be really effective, such a change in attitude can only be achieved through strict mental discipline, requiring an exercise of will quite beyond the powers of the average man.”
“Your zeal is admirable.”
“But, Herr Oberst, you must see that your work is important as well. You have the responsibility of ensuring that the secret of Greyerhausen hospital is safe.”
“Have no fear. You will have the opportunity to continue your research without interruption as long as it shall prove necessary.”
Streicher spends the next two weeks inspecting the security arrangements at Greyerhausen. Nestled in a shallow valley, the hospital is surrounded by a stone wall eleven feet high and eight inches thick. Beyond the wall is an electrified barbed wire fence. Security guards check the identification of everyone entering and leaving Greyerhausen through the hospital’s sole entrance. This includes the medical staff, even Vogeler himself. The security was good, Streicher concluded, but not good enough. He requests five additional security personnel and six trained Doberman watch dogs from the Waffen SS headquarters in Berlin and he makes frequent surprise inspections to make sure that the SS guards are constantly on the alert,
No unusual incidents occur for nearly six months. Then one cold October morning Streicher is awakened by Sergeant Heinneman.
“What is it?” he mumbles drowsily.
“General Ewigen has arrived to inspect the facility.
Streicher blinked in surprise. “I know of no General Ewigen.”
“Of course you don’t, Oberst Streicher,” comes a harsh, commanding voice. “Do you inform your guards here when you plan to check on them?”
Streicher sees standing in the doorway a slim, middle-aged man with slightly graying hair. He wears the uniform of a Waffen SS general. Streicher snaps to a position of attention.
General Ewigen laughs. “At ease, Oberst. Put on your uniform and show me around. I have already presented my credentials and the written orders from Berlin authorizing this inspection to the good sergeant here. I suggest you review them before joining me in the guardhouse.”
Streicher glances over the orders before quickly shaving and dressing. But when he enters the guardhouse it is empty. Surprised, he whirls around. Standing before him is General Ewigen holding a Luger pointed directly at Streicher’s midsection.
“Herr General, what is going on?”
“Silence Herr Oberst or you are dead,” Ewigen says calmly. “Hand me those keys.”
Streicher looks around wildly.
“On the wall by the stove.”
Obediently, the Oberst fetches the keys and hands them to Ewigen.
“Now turn around.”
Streicher obeys. He hears the faint sound of a creak in the floor before the barrel of the Luger comes crashing down on the back of his head.
In what seem like only a few moments later, he feels someone slapping his face. He reaches out to grab Ewigen, then sees that it is Vogeler striking him.
“You fool, Streicher.” Vogeler’s face is red, his tone furious. Tears stream from his eyes. “Greyerhauser is ruined. You let them destroy everything.”
Streicher pushes the doctor away and lumbers to his feet. “What happened?”
“They came.” Vogeler is barely coherent. “Dressed in SS uniforms. They shot the guards. Then they tied up the nurses and doctors, except for me. They let the inmates loose. The well ones they took with them. The sick ones they shot. And then,” Vogeler buries his face in his hands and sobs like a child, “they destroyed all the records. Do you understand? Every experiment we have performed over the past five years. Gone.” Vogeler looks up, tears streaming down his face. “And he told me to his face that our work was useless.”
“What are you talking about? Who told you this?” says Streicher grabbing Vogeler by the shoulders.
“That impostor, the fake SS General, whatever his name was. He laughed at me and said that he he and he alone knew the secret if immortality, that he’s even written it down in his memors. And then he said that his true name is Ahaseurus.”
Streicher shakes his head. “The man must be mad. Come, I need to call Berlin. This lunatic will not get far once the Gestapo is alerted.
But Ewigen was never found. Nor his men or the escaped inmates.
Streicher barely escaped a court martial but he was assigned to a combat brigade on the Russian front.
Hans smiles to himself, reflecting on the fact that he is now in a position to avenge the wrong done his grandfather, a true war hero and an exemplary Nazi.
McTeague is met at the Idaho Falls airport by Freddy O’Rourke, a short, slovenly man in his early forties with the complexion of a habitual drinker and the conversation of a hermit. From what little he can gather from O’Rourke as they drive the forty odd miles to the Malchus ranch, Freddy is a combination chauffeur and manservant. Only one other person, aside from the owner, lives on the ranch, a Mrs. Simms, the housekeeper and cook.
They pass through an automatic gate and, after a couple of miles of dusty road, reach the crest of a hill where McTeague gets his first clear look at the three-story mansion, resembling nothing so much as a French provincial manor, complete with carriage house, evidently converted into a garage. The entire layout, including the small lake at the rear of the mansion, seems out of place in the rugged Idaho setting.
Once inside, Mac gazes around the rich interior of the foyer. A young, attractive woman emerges from an adjoining room. She is tall, with auburn hair worn short, blue eyes and a fair, almost pale complexion.
“So you’re Mac, the puzzle man. I’m Kate Miles.” Her accent is Oxbridge.
Mac, a grump under the best of circumstances, which he believes doesn’t obtain here, decides to be an asshole. “Yeah. So?”
“I’m an old friend of Jack’s.”
Mac looks at her with marked skepticism. “Not so old. Mr. Malchus obviously likes them young.”
Kate smiles coolly. “Contrary to your implication, I’m not a them.”
“Oh, sure. No offense. It’s just not common for eighty-eight year old men to have beautiful twenty-five year old Platonic friends.”
“My, you are an obnoxious man, aren’t you?”
Freddy O’Rourke, one of Malchus’ servants, quietly enters the anteroom. “Mr. Malchus will see you now.”
Mac ducks his head as he follows O’Rourke down the hallway to the study. It is obvious that his large frame is more suited to the outdoors than to the oddly cramped confines of this country house. Kate follows. Once inside, Mac is greeted by a well-preserved, medium-sized compact man who looks far younger than someone in his late eighties. Despite the presence of a cane propped against the side of his sizeable desk, Malchus appears robust.
“Mr. McTeague,I am John Malchus. How kind of you to agree to help me. Please sit down.”
Malchus waves in the direction of an overstuffed chair. Mac seats himself.
“Kate, my dear.”
Kate and Malchus hug.
“May I offer both of you a drink?”
“Sure,” Mac says too eagerly. “Glenfiddich, if you have it”.
“Nothing for me, Jack,” says Kate with a tired smile.
Malchus summons O’Rourke. “Please serve Mr. McTeague a robust Glenfiddich. Nothing for me, but leave the drinks table for us, Freddy, if you please.” O’Rourke nods and goes noiselessly about his business. “You see, I was careful to stock your favorite drink.”
“I’m impressed,” says Mac, who isn’t.
“Now, do you think that I would have offered you this job without looking into your background?”
“Don’t know what?”
“I’m sorry. Wasn’t it made clear? A manuscript largely in cipher or code, I could never understand the difference myself.”
“Oh, I doubt that.”
“What do you mean?”
“Naturally I checked you out as well. A friend of mine at NSA pulled your file for me. Impressive. Seems you’re a real legend. Youngest OSS operative in the War. Best field coordinator with the French Resistance anyone can remember. . . .”
Malchus laughs “A legend, you say. Dozens of those. A diplomatic way of describing a has-been. No one is more pathetically useless than a former intelligence officer who knows only superannuated secrets.”
“My point is that you obviously know the difference between a code and a cipher.”
“You have me there”
“So why am I here? Why not use someone from NSA?”
“In a word, history.”
“I’m afraid I don’t follow.”
“You know the history of codes and ciphers. Granted your book wasn’t a best seller, but a modern mathematical codebreaker isn’t what I need.”
“What do you need?”
“When can I see this famous manuscript?”
“Shortly. I want you and Kate to work on it together.”
“Oh? And what exactly is your specialization, Miss Miles?”
“It’s Dr. Miles. I’m a historian. Cambridge. Tudor and Stuart history.”
Kate’s grandfather and I served together during the war. When Kate was only ten her parents were killed in a plane crash.”
“And dear Jack has been like an uncle to me, almost a father, all these years.”
McTeague unsuccessfully essays a smile. “So, Kate, are you as much in the dark about this manuscript as I am?”
“I’m afraid I must be. Jack has been terribly secretive about the whole thing.”
“Don’t be impatient you two. After dinner, I shall tell you the whole story.”
O’Rourke enters. “Dinner is served.”
Mac laughs. “How perfect.”
“I know what you mean,” Kate grins. “How many movies have I seen. . . .”
“You like movies?”
“Oh, I’m an absolute buff.”
Malchus waves them into the dining room. Mac resumes the conversation with Kate. “Let me give you a line. . . .”
“And I’ll try to identify it?”
“But turnabout’s fair play?”
“Oh, sure. Here’s the first one.”
“Gossip is quite useless. What can you do with gossip, except repeat it?”
Kate wrinkles her brows momentarily and then, with Audrey Hepburn-like charm, smiles and says, “I haven’t a clue.”
“OK. Your turn.”
“But what’s the answer?”
“Wallace Shawn in ‘The Moderns,’ 1988.”
“Never saw it. Very well, here’s one for you: ‘I hate the dawn. The grass always looks like it has been out all night.’”
Mac looks mildly stricken. “That’s a real quote?”
“Of course. When I tell you the answer, you can look it up.”
“Thanks. Let me think.”
Mac screws up his face, and finally smiles. “You got me.”
“Clifton Webb in ‘The Dark Corner,’ 1946.”
They enter a large formal dining room.
Malchus ushers his two guests to the far end of the long dining table near the stone fireplace, which bears a plaque with the date 1584 on it.O’Rourke serves dinner as the conversation continues.
“What are you working on, now?” Mac asks Kate.
“A history of MI6. Jack’s malevolent influence, I’m afraid. All his tales about the War, OSS, SOE, MI6. I was curious to see how MI6 got started during the first Elizabeth. Sir Francis Walsingham, John Dee and all that.”
“Would you believe, Mac, that some of those records are still classified after more than four hundred years?” says Malchus, shaking his head in amusement.
“Jack has been helping me get access.”
Mac turns to Malchus. “And you, sir. . . .”
“I’m not clear when you became a press baron. According to the NSA guys I talked to, you moved from OSS to CIA after the war.”
“I mustered out in 1948. A small inheritance allowed me to purchase an obscure newspaper in Missoula, Montana.”
“And the rest as they say, is history,” says Kate, smiling.
The dinner concludes with trifles and coffee. Simms departs for the evening.
“Very well, Jack, you’ve put us off long enough,” says Kate with a touch of impatience. “Can we now take a look at this mysterious manuscript of yours?”
Malchus smiles. “If you can wait a bit longer, Kate, I’d like to tell you how it came into my possession.” Mac and Kate nod their agreement. Malchus sips his brandy and settles back into his chair. As you know, during the War I was with OSS. A young lieutenant. I was assigned as liaison with the Maquis in the Auvergne. Of course, I was excited. Night flights to France. Helping out the Resistance. After a few weeks. I came to know the members of the Auvergne cell very well. I became especially close friends with its leader, André Baudieu. André was one of those rare people who are absolutely fearless. Since he could speak flawless German, he often impersonated German officers. Once he actually penetrated the local German headquarters and captured classified documents.
“He was a charming fellow. I don’t believe I’ve ever met anyone who made such a delightful companion. He could talk intelligently on any subject, although he seemed especially knowledgeable about history, my undergraduate emphasis at Harvard.
“We would often stay up late, drinking wine and discussing the court of Henri IV, or the events leading up to the French Revolution. On such occasions, he would paint brilliant word portraits of the personalities involved. These were so detailed and convincing that all my current concerns would vanish and I found myself immersed in the living past.
“As the Allied invasion drew near, I received a set of instructions that filled me with apprehension. The local German headquarters was located at a resort area near Clermont-Ferrand. The Maquis was ordered to wipe it out. It was well guarded, of course, and except for Andre, none of us had managed to even get close to it.” Malchus sips his brandy thoughtfully. “The only way we could succeed, André insisted, was for him to again impersonate a German officer, thus avoiding inspection, and carry a bomb into the headquarters in his briefcase.”
“Like von Stauffenberg’s attempt to assassinate Hitler,” Kate interjects.
“Exactly. André would then stash the briefcase where the Germans wouldn’t spot it and try to escape before it went off. I was ordered to London the evening before the assault on the headquarters, so it was not until sometime later that I learned the details of what happened.
“The German headquarters was a large stone building with a gated driveway. German soldiers stood guard at the gate and at the entrance to the main building. On the designated day, a German staff car pulled up to the gate. In the back, André Baudieu was dressed in a colonel’s uniform. The driver, Paul Martel, dressed as a corporal.
“Andre flashed his credentials to the guards and was permitted entrance. At the headquarters entrance, he emerged from the staff car, signaled Paul to wait for him, and displayed his credentials once again to the guards. They let him enter.
“Paul sat in the staff car nervously smoking cigarette after cigarette, glancing repeatedly at his watch.
Finally, he turned the ignition key and started the staff car up.
“There was a commotion within the building. Paul hesitated.
“A series of shots rang out.
“Paul jammed down on the accelerator. The tires squealed as the staff car sped out of the compound, knocking down one of the gate guards.
“Almost simultaneously, the headquarters building was shaken by a huge explosion.”
“So André was killed in the explosion,” says Mac.
“But what does the death of your friend have to with this manuscript?” asks Kate.
“The night I left for London, just before the Clermont-Ferrand attack, André came to my room.
I was reading my instructions from London when André entered, carrying a medium-sized wooden chest.
‘I’ve brought you something I’d like you to keep for me,’ he said. ‘In case I don’t get back it’s yours and you can do with it what you want.’
‘Don’t talk of not getting back.’
‘It’s a manuscript. A kind of diary really, but out much continuity.’
“Then André launched into the most fantastic story I’ve ever heard. I Listened to him in complete disbelief, convinced that he had gone mad. Of course, I tried not to let him know how I felt. I listened politely. We shared a final glass of wine and then he left. I never saw him again.
“I was so depressed over his death that I never read the manuscript. That is, until a few weeks ago. When I did, I realized that André might not have been mad. I want the two of you to examine it and render your best professional opinions.”
“But I’m no expert on modern manuscripts,” Kate protests.
“And what am I supposed to contribute?” Mac is curious.
Malchus smiles faintly. “In the first place, it is not a modern manuscript, at least not most of it. And, in the second, much of it is in ciphers and codes of various kinds.”
“What do you mean it’s not a modern manuscript?” Kate is incredulous. “I thought you said it was André’s diary.”
“Maybe you better tell us what Andre Baudieu said to you that night,” says Mac firmly.
“He told me that he was the Wandering Jew.” Malchus says matter-of-factly.
Kate and Mac look stunned.
Streicher and Timmy sit at a table across from one another, mugs of half-consumed beer on the side. Streicher is reading through the report that Timmy has compiled for him.
“He leads a quiet enough life. Your Mr. McTeague.” Streicher does not respond. “Can I ask why you’re interested in him?”
“None of your business, Timmy.”
“OK, OK. Didn’t mean to pry. Is the report satisfactory?”
“It’s fine, Timmy. You did a good job.”
“Good. Then if you’ll just pay me up, I’ll be off.”
Streicher glances around the crowded bar. “Not here. Let’s go outside.”
They leave the bar and walk two blocks to a deserted alley.
“Here’s good enough.” Timmy is impatient.
Streicher reaches into his inside jacket pocket and extracts a long metal spike.
He grabs Timmy and spins him around. Before the little man can utter a word, Streicher plunges the spike into his throat. Timmy falls to the pavement. Streicher quickly removes the spike and walks rapidly to the end of the alley and disappears from sight.
“Jack, that’s simply impossible,” Kate exclaims. “The stories of the Wandering Jew are legends. Myths. No wonder you thought André was insane.”
Mac has appropriated the bottle of Glenfiddich and pours himself a water glass full, which he proceeds to drink in two gargantuan gulps, then pours himself another. “Sorry to seem dense,” he says, “but the legend of the Wandering Jew rings a pretty dim bell for me.”
“Supposedly he was a member of the crowd surrounding Jesus on the path to Golgotha,” says Kate. “Out of fear, he refused to help carry the cross and instead, struck Christ in the face. For that, he was condemned to wander the earth for all eternity, at least until the Second Coming.”
“Let me be a bit more precise,” Malchus says. “What André actually told me was that he was the source of most of the legends about the Wandering Jew. According to him, there never was a Wandering Jew in the Christian sense of the myth. The legend actually didn’t take form until the thirteenth century, when the English chronicler Roger of Wendover recounted a tale told to him by the archbishop of Armenia who said he met an immortal man named Ahasureus.
“According to André, that meeting actually took place. He was at that time over two hundred years old.”
Mac takes a long swallow of Glenfiddich. “Look, I’m sorry, but this is nuts. Christian or Jewish, I don’t believe in religious legends. Or didn’t anyone tell you that I’m a devout atheist?”
Malchus holds up a hand. “I don’t believe it either. That’s why I want you two to examine the manuscript. But, please, hear me out.
“André said he was born in 1036 in a Jewish community in Northern Spain. Early in his life he developed a hatred for all Christians. The persecutions were especially horrible at that time because the local prince insisted that all Jews convert to Christianity or be executed. André’s village was constantly being raided. Men, women, and children were slaughtered or dragged off to be tortured.
“André saw his own mother and father murdered before his eyes. Half insane with grief, he cursed God and all His works. He left what remained of the village and made his way to North Africa, where he converted to Islam and joined a Sufi sect.
“After several years had passed, he began to notice that he did not age. When he realized that he was becoming the object of suspicion, he moved on. Soon he found that he could not stay in any given place for more than about fifteen years. He continually sought an explanation for his condition and, in line with the values of his age, he inclined towards a supernatural one.
“His oath denouncing God was the source of his immortality. And so he decided to become the sworn enemy of God, His eternal adversary. It was then that he adopted the name Andre Bottedieu, the hammer of God or, in another possible translation, the God Striker.
“This was the story he told to the Armenian archbishop who then gave the tale a Christian twist. So, what should have been a story illustrating the evils of Christian persecution of the Jews entered Christian folklore as a legend holding all Jews guilty for the one who supposedly struck Christ.”
“I still say he was pulling your leg. Typical Frog.” Mac’s speech is slurred.
Kate fixes him with an exasperated look. “Another of your many petty prejudices, Mr. McTeague? I understand you don’t like the English, either.”
“Hate ’em. You’re a bunch of supercilious butchers.”
Malchus tries to calm the situation. “Then you might be relieved to learn that Kate is not exactly English. Her parents came from Greece.”
“Just like Prince fucking Philip.”
Kate and Malchus exchange glances of resignation.
“There is more to the story that André told me that night.” Kate looks fascinated. Mac looks drunk. “As Bottadios or Bottedieu or Cartaphilus or a hundred other names, Ahasureus wandered from country to country making his living as a ‘cunning man’ and healer. Known by different names in different ages, during much of the eighteenth century he called himself the comte de St. Germain.
“During this time Ahasureus joined a number of occult societies including the Illuminati of Bavaria, the Rosicrucians, and the Mesmerist Society of Harmony. All of these groups were remarkably liberal and politically advanced for their time. It was in the late eighteenth century that Ahasureus became aware of an occult organization that was irredeemably backward looking and reactionary. Founded in Prussia in 1796 to combat the revolutionary ideology that was spreading across Europe as a consequence of the French Revolution, the Thule Society was named after the legendary continent of Thule, a kind of Nordic version of the lost continent of Atlantis. It was authoritarian, anti-democratic, anti-liberal, and virulently anti-Semitic. In embryonic form, it contained all of the elements of twentieth century fascism.
“Throughout the nineteenth century Ahasureus fought against the Thule Society with all of the resources he could command. The Revolutions of 1820 and 1830 generally served the cause of freedom but beginning with the aftermath of the Revolution of 1848 a period of political reaction set in. Partially engineered behind the scenes by the Thule Society this era witnessed the dictatorship of Napoleon III in France, the rise of British imperialism and, most dangerous of all, the creation in 1870 of a unified Germany under the leadership of Bismarck.
“The late nineteenth century saw the rise of powerful right-wing forces and the diffusion of a vicious ideology founded on racial supremacy and militant anti-Semitism. The Dreyfus Affair in France, the Russian pogroms, the unbridled growth of the anti-Semitic press, especially in Central and Eastern Europe.
“Ahasureus was by no means an Orthodox Jew. On the contrary, he had experimented with virtually all forms of religion, including mysticism and the most esoteric branches of the occult. But he was one of the first to see the profound dangers inherent in pathological anti-Semitism and its links to emerging nationalist, imperialist and racist ideologies.
“At the beginning of the twentieth century Ahasureus assumed the name André Baudieu. He assisted Rudolf Steiner in founding the Anthroposophical Society, an occult organization founded on liberal principles. After World War I, however, when Germany was in a state of chaos, the Thule Society resurfaced in Bavaria and began recruiting new members. One of the first was a young ex-corporal in the German Army named Adolf Hitler. The Thule Society eventually came to form the secret, occult core of the nascent National Socialist Party.
“Rival occult organizations such as the Anthroposohical Society were brutally persecuted by the SA, the Brownshirts who composed Hitler’s private army. And after Hitler came to power André joined the German underground and devoted himself to the overthrow of the Nazi regime. When World War II began, he extended his activities to working with other European underground organizations, the last of which was the French Maquis.” Malchus pauses. “Like you, I did not believe André’s tale. I do not believe it now. But the manuscript he left is a curious document. When I recently examined it I was surprised to find that it has the superficial appearance of authenticity. But I am far from expert in such matters and that is why I have asked for your assistance. In short, you are being asked to satisfy an old man’s curiosity.”
“What a boatload of bullshit,” says Mac with a lopsided sneer.
“I think we better put you and your Irish-American bigotry to bed,” Kate says with a sigh.
“Hold that thought until I give a shit.”
Kate and Sims help Mac up the stairs. Mac stumbles to an upstairs bathroom, bends his head over the commode and retches. Kate looks on in disgust. Mac raises his head and grins.
“In vino, vomit.”
Kate shakes her head and retreats to her room.
The next morning Malchus and Kate are seated at the dining room table eating breakfast. Mac enters, looking sheepish.
“Good morning, Mac,” Malchus greets him cheerfully.
“Jack, Ms Miles. Sorry about last night.”
“Think nothing of it,” Malchus says with a smile. “As I always say, there is many a cup ’twixt the lip and the slip.”
“You always say that?”
Malchus laughs. “Breakfast?”
Mac shakes his head mournfully. “Just coffee, thanks.”
“I, for one, ready to take a look at the manuscript,” says Kate.
“Excellent. Mac, Bring your coffee with you to the study.”
In the study, Malchus removes two short rows of books from the second and third shelves of the bookcase against the far wall, revealing a wall safe. He works the combination rapidly and removes two medium sized wooden chests. He sets the chests on the study’s main table, takes a key from his pocket and unlocks one of the chests.
“This is the oldest section of the manuscript.”
“May I look?” Kate asks.
Malchus nods and Kate proceeds gingerly to remove the contents of the first chest. The initial items are several loose sheets of parchment, encased in plastic. Next come a half dozen very worn looking copybooks. Kate begins examining the parchment.
“The parchment is old, how old I can’t say without a Carbon-14 test. Much of the writing appears to be in Hebrew. Not a language I read, unfortunately. Here and there are short phrases in Latin. The script is unfamiliar so I need to take some time later with those.” Kate holds up one of the parchment sheets to the light. “Here, you can see this sheet is a palimpsest.”
“Meaning?” asks Mac.
“Parchment that has been scraped of its original writing and a new text superimposed on it. Parchment was expensive in the Middle Ages and it was common practice to use the same sheet more than once.” She picks up one of the copybooks and begins to examine it. “Same odd Latin script, occasional dates. 1475, 1543. Looks like the latest is 1640. Appears to be in the form of a journal or a chronicle. Often ten or twenty years separate the entries. Kate hands the copybook to Mac. “I can’t make any of this out. Most of the later entries are in French but they don’t make any sense.”
Mac quickly examines the last several pages of the copybook. “Looks like the writing has been encrypted. Offhand, I’d guess in a fairly simple substitution cipher. Give me a couple of days and I should be able to figure out what it says.”
Malchus opens the second chest. Inside are several more copybooks and, at the bottom, two modern-looking looseleaf notebooks. Kate examines one of the older copybooks. “Look. About a third of the way into this one, begin at least some entries that I can read: ‘June 1690. As usual there is war. I will take a barbaric name for a barbaric age - Count Rakozski.’”
“Let me see it,” says Mac.
Kate hands the copybook to Mac and settles back in her chair. “The war referred to is probably the War of the League of Augsburg but what’s interesting is that name. Count Rakoszki.”
“What about it?”
“It was one of the names used by the comte de St. Germain.”
“The immortal guy who was some kind of an alchemist?”
Kate laughs. “The same. Rakoszki is the name of a distinguished Hungarian noble family. During the eighteenth century there was a good deal of speculation that St. Germain was a Rakoszki bastard who was paid to keep his origins a secret. But the date here is 1690, about thirty years too early. If St. Germain was around forty in 1760, which is pretty much the age everyone pegged him at, he would have been born about 1720.”
“Doesn’t make sense.”
“No, it doesn’t. Unless this is a forgery.”
“Or unless André Baudieu was telling the truth,” Malchus observes quietly.
Streicher is stretched out on one full Trailways bus seat, his cap pulled down over his eyes, obviously trying to avoid conversation. Seated across from him is Peter Rugg, a middle aged man dressed in a conventional gray business suit.
“Going far?” Rugg asks.
“You sound as if you might be German.”
“What line of work are you in?”
Streicher sighs. “I sell marine insurance.”
“There isn’t much of that sort of business down this way, I shouldn’t imagine.”
“I’m on vacation.”
“My name is Peter Rugg. That’s with two gs.” He touches the top of his bald head. “People often say that I’m a Rugg who needs a rug.” Rugg laughs. “And what, sir, is your name?”
“Van der Kampf. Friedrich Van Der Kampf”
“I knew a Paul Van der Kampf once. But he was British. Any relation?”
“I shouldn’t think so. It’s a fairly common name in Holland. And what do you do, Mr. Rugg?”
“Oh, I’m pretty much retired now.”
“And before you retired?”
“You might not believe it to look at me now but I used to be with the CIA.”
Streicher clearly exerts self-control not to react to this. “You must have lived a very interesting life.”
“Well there were times when I must admit it was nip and tuck.”
“I can imagine.”
“I transacted quite a bit of business with Dutch intelligence. That’s why I was confused.”
“About your accent.”
“Ah, I see. Naturally, I’ve spent a good deal of time in Germany.”
Streicher stands up, his overnight bag in his hand. “Would you excuse me?”
Rugg nods and Streicher heads for the tiny bathroom in the back of the bus where he removes the shaving kit from his overnight bag and takes out a plastic syringe which he fills with liquid from a medicine vial. He slips the syringe into his jacket pocket and returns to his seat.
There is no one there. Peter Rugg has vanished. But the bus hasn’t stopped.
Mac has a laptop computer set up for a PowerPoint presentation. Kate and Malchus are seated watching the screen on the far side of the study.
“Just to show you how clever André Baudieu was, here’s a sample of a four page cryptogram that, according to the plaintext dates surrounding it, was written sometime between 1645 and 1651.” He displays a meaningless jumble of letters. “And here at the conclusion is plaintext.”
On the screen: “I wish that men were never killed in a useless cause. To the man who thinks this might be the day of his victory, may he praise God and ask Him to forgive of me.”
“A conventional sentiment but the last line really makes no sense so then it occurred to me that André might be employing a Cardano Grille.”
“Which is?” asks Kate.
“Named after the sixteenth century Milanese humanist, Girolamo Cardano, the grille consists of a series of irregularly spaced holes in a piece of parchment. The cryptographer places the parchment over a sheet of writing paper and inserts the words of his message in the holes. After removing the parchment, the cryptographer then fills in the blank spaces with words that create a harmless sounding message. The recipient simply places an identically constructed grille over the paper and reads the concealed message.”
“But how could you find the key to something like this?” Malchus asks.
“I played around with it a bit, using various combinations that add up to seven, a favorite magical number for sixteenth and seventeenth century cryptographers. one plus six, two plus five and so on. Here’s what I finally came up with.”
On the screen: “I killed a man this day. May God forgive me.”
Watching Kate’s and Malchus’ reactions, Mac feels the mild sense of triumph that he always experiences when solving a cryptographic puzzle. Starting from nothing, without a single clue, he had managed to penetrate the mind of a man dead for three hundred years. Or else seventy years, he amends, recalling André Beaudieu’s tall tale. But the age of the text was Kate’s department. His job was to decipher the encrypted messages Whether they had been faked in recent years was no concern of his.
“Now to the nomenclator,” he announces.
“What, may I ask, is a nomenclator?” asks Malchus, a slight smile playing across his lips.
“A cross between a cipher and a code. The first known nomenclator was devised by the Italian Gabrieli di Lavendi in the 1380s. Henri IV of France, Elizbeth I of England and many other Renaissance monarchs as well as ministers of state and ordinary spies employed them. They are not easy to break but like all such puzzles, they are vulnerable to the redundancies of common language. In English, for example, the letter ‘e’ is far and away the most common letter. Try and write a simple sentence without an ‘e.’ It can be done, of course. In fact there’s a literary oddity, the novel Gadsby a fifty thousand word novel by Ernest Vincent Wright published in 1939 that does not contain a single ‘e.’
“But under ordinary conditions, English and all other languages are about seventy-five per cent redundant and that’s what makes cryptanalysis possible.” Mac picks up the manuscript and examines it closely. “I think it’s likely that the solution to the Cardano Grille code will provide the key to deciphering the rest of the passage.”
Mac bends over the copybook and attempts to reconstruct the mathematical possibilities that might occur to a seventeenth century cryptographer, one supposedly seeped in the occult. A magic number, perhaps? And what is the most magical number of all? Seven.
He tries every seventh word and gets gibberish. Then combinations of numbers that add up to 7 like 7+0, 6+1, 5+2, 4+3 and so one. The result sounded like lines from “Jabberwocky.”
How about reversing the process? Instead of beginning at the top of the scale with seven, begin with one: 1+6, 2+5, etc.
He is gratified to see a sequence of words that make sense. “I think this may be it,” he tells Malchus and Kate. He laboriously begins writing out the plaintext. When he is finished, he reads the message aloud:
“I’ve heard the sorry news that good King Charles has met a bloody end by Cromwell’s axe. London Town is in uproar. Many are celebrating but most grieve. I took myself to the Fatted Calf, hoping to drown sorrow in good ale before the damnable Roundheads close down every inn and tavern in all England. Others were there who must have thought as I do. The ale flowed freely ’til we heard soldier’s boots clacking on cobblestones and into the tavern burst a great beast of a Roundhead officer and a dozen or so of his motley followers.
“They swiftly set about with swords, chopping up sound oak kegs of beer and ale.
“I walked up to the porcine Roundhead officer and in a loud voice commanded him and his men to be gone. He stared at me in wonderment. ‘And who might you be, giving orders to God’s soldiers?’
“A better man than you, you prodigious Puritan lout.”
“The inn went silent as Satan’s smile. The Roundhead soldiers gathered around their captain who kept his gaze fixed on me. ‘By your pretty dress and insolent tongue I divine that you are doubtless a minion of the late tyrant,’ he scoffed.
“This I could not abide. To hear King Charles named a tyrant from the mouth of such a fraudulent fool. I removed my left glove and struck him full in the face.
“He flushed with fury and drew his sword. I stepped back and drew my own rapier. ‘Am I to fight one or a baker’s dozen of you?’
“The captain addressed his men. ‘Wait outside the tavern door while I dispatch this flufferied knave.’
“Obediently, the soldiers withdrew. The Roundhead faced me. ‘Now my lace bedecked friend, we shall see who is the better man.’
“Swine that he was, the Roundhead provide an agile swordsman. He had the advantage in reach and strength. But I have been at the game of crossing swords far longer than any man and it took only seconds to draw first blood, a prick in the captain’s right shoulder.
“My honor is satisfied,” I said.
“He touched his shoulder and stared at the blood on his fingers. ‘For that insult,’ he said with exaggerated calm, ‘you will die.’
“He raised his sword once again and we continued our battle in deadly earnest. I drew blood twice more but still he would not cease. He moved in close and as I parried his thrust I saw him reach inside his tunic. I leaped back barely in time to avoid the dagger destined for my belly. I circled him warily and when he came at me again I stepped to the side and using a secret botte I had learned in France, I moved under his guard and sank my rapier into his massive chest. He wavered for an instant then fell to the dirt floor like a great stone. I looked down and saw the life pass from his eyes.
“A sadness came over me. He would never see another day and I would doubtless see too many.
“I then remembered the soldiers outside and fled through the inn’s rear entrance.”
“And that’s it,” says Mac, “except for the Cardano Grille coda: ‘I killed a man this day. May God forgive me.’”
“What do you make of it?” asked Malchus.
Mac stretches and rubs his eyes, tired from hours of intense concentration. “A couple of things. Whoever wrote this was familiar with two fairly common seventeenth century cryptographic techniques” the Cardano Grille and the nomenclator, the solution to both of which was based on the number seven, traditionally a powerful magic number. Also the author makes two references to having lived for a long time yet he cannot be old and feeble or he wouldn’t have been able to defeat the Roundhead officer.”
“So,” Kate says, “he is certainly trying to give the reader the impression that he is the Wandering Jew.”
“Exactly,” agrees Mac, “and going to a lot of trouble to do it.”
When Mac enters the dining room the following morning, Malchus rises saying “I would like you to meet a former colleague of mine.” The neatly dressed man seated on the right stood and shook Mac’s hand. “This is Peter Rugg. He is just passing through on his way to a holiday in the Grand Tetons.”
After a breakfast of kippers and eggs, the three men, soon joined by Kate, take a brisk walk around the estate’s small but exquisite lake. “You look worn out,” Kate remarks, looking at Mac with a critical eye.
“I’ve been up most of the night,” he acknowledges. “The section of the manuscript I’m working on now appears to be a two stage cipher. I think I’ve got the first stage figured out but not the second.” He frowns. “Also our friend André Baudieu may have made a mistake here. As far as I know, superencipherment was not invented until the nineteenth century and the plain text dates indicate this is an eighteenth century entry.”
“If you’re right, that’s the first mistake he’s made. Is it possible that someone could have hit on this method earlier than commonly believed?”
“Sure it’s possible,” Mac concedes. “The basic idea is simple enough. Simply enciphering a previously enciphered text.”
“And what do you think of André Baudieu as a cryptographer?”
“Oh he’s good, very good.” Mac pauses. “I see what you’re getting at. If anyone could have invented superencipherment a hundred years earlier than we know about, he could have.” Mac laughs. “Listen to me. I’m talking like this guy really is the Wandering Jew. It’s far more plausible that Baudieu forged this thing in the twentieth century, fully aware of superenchipherment, and simply made a mistake.”
“I’m sure you’re right.” But Kate does not sound convinced.
Malchus and Peter Rugg join them. “I must be off, now,” Rugg says. “Old war horses like us should stay more in touch, Jack.”
“Agreed. Perhaps you could stop by on your way back from the Tetons.”
“I’d like that.”
Back at the house Rugg says his goodbyes and Malchus asks Freddy O’Rourke to drive him to the bus station in Idaho Falls.
“What a funny little man,” Kate says after Rugg has left.
Malchus lights his pipe and smiles at her. “That funny little man, as you call him, is probably the CIA’s most effective operative.”
“Really? He seems harmless enough.”
“Yes, doesn’t he?”
At the northern edge of the small town of Rigby, Idaho there is a small grove of cottonwood trees where the townspeople sometimes barbecue on summer Sunday afternoons. During the rest of the week, the area is generally deserted, except at night when amorous minded teenagers sometimes seek seclusion from the prying eyes of adults.
Streicher makes certain there are no such teenagers in the vicinity this Thursday evening. He sits at a picnic table well back from the main road. Ten minutes after his arrival he sees the headlights of a car as it slows down and then stops. Streicher watches Freddy O’Rourke as he gets out of the car, waves and walks over to the picnic table.
“Is everything all right?” Freddy appears nervous.
“You tell me, O’Rourke. I hear Malchus has guests.”
Freddy nods. “I would have told you about them if I’d known how to get hold of you.” He sits across from Streicher. “Two people, a woman, Kate Miles, an old friend and a historian and a guy named McTeague who is some kind of codebreaker. They’ve been here since Tuesday, working on the manuscript.” Streicher, of course, knows all about McTeague and Kate from the late, unlamented Timmy.
“Do you know why now after all these years Malchus has suddenly shown interest in the manuscrpt’s contents?”
“No, I don’t know. But you know he’s been talking about the damn thing with different people for more than a year now.”
Streicher is silent. He had first learned of the Ahasureus Manuscript the previous July. O’Rourke, a minor figure in the Idaho meth trade, had casually mentioned to one of his suppliers that his employer was nutty over some diary written by an old Jew. Freddy’s supplier had passed the story along, and it eventually reached Streicher at the compound outside Coeur d’Alene, where he and his skinhead subordinates oversaw underground drug distribution in the Rocky Mountain states, helping finance their activities. Streicher had contacted O’Rourke and paid him to keep tabs on the Malchus household.
“Does he still keep the manuscript in the wall safe in his study?”
“Good. Now listen carefully.
Freddy sits up straight and tries to look attentive as Streicher outlines his plan.
Malchus insists that Kate and Mac take Sunday off and go for a drive through nearby Swan Valley. Freddy O’Rourke puts gas in the Mercedes 510L from the antique bubble top pump next to the garage. Kate drives and they soon find themselves negotiating a narrow winding road through National Forest land. The woods are silent save for a slight breeze that rustles through stands of quaking aspen.
On the way they talk, first about the Ahasureus Manuscript and then about Mac’s background and family. “Six brothers, no sisters. I’m the youngest.”
“The favorite, I suppose.”
“In a way. My mom pretty much dotes on me. Dad isn’t much impressed, though. Unusual for an Irishman, he’s a teetotaler. Besides, all my brothers are high achievers. Two doctors, two lawyers, two pretty high level corporate execs.”
“What, no Indian chiefs?”
Mac laughs, warming to Kate’s charming, low-keyed manner. They reach the top of a ridge, affording a vista of the valley below, the ridge of rugged mountains nearly surrounding the verdant valley, studded with pine and aspen, the Snake River undulating throughout.
At the tiny town of Swan Valley, they stop for lunch, then continue driving past Palisades Dam and the reservoir and just across the Wyoming border.
“Do you know any historian jokes?” Kate asks, somehow intuiting that Mac is a joke collector.
Mac feigns astonishment.
“You mean as in ‘There’s no time like the past?’”
“Oh, that’s a line from one of the old Star Treks”
“Historian jokes are tough. How about this one? A traveling historian whose car has broken down goes to the door of the closest farmhouse. The farmer says, ‘You can spend the night but you’ll have to share a room with my beautiful daughter.’ ‘Oh, I don’t mind that,’ exclaims the historian. ‘Just one thing,’ says the farmer. ‘No funny business.’ ‘Oh no sir,’ says the historian. ‘You can count on me.’ Just to be safe, the farmer builds a wall of eggs between the two beds in the daughter’s room. In the middle of the night, the historian can no longer control himself, busts through the eggs and has his way with the farmer’s daughter. They take the rest of the night piecing the eggs back together one by one and rebuilding the wall. The next morning, the farmer goes to his daughter’s room and takes a couple of eggs to the kitchen to make breakfast. Cracking open the first egg, of course, produces nothing. Cracking open the second egg, likewise. The farmer pokes his head out the window and yells, ‘OK, which one of you roosters is using a rubber?’”
Kate laughs. “Come on, that’s just an adapted traveling salesman joke.”
“You’re right. But as far as I know, there just aren’t any historian jokes.” Mac pauses. “Well, maybe one.”
“Out with it.”
“Two historians, one Chinese, one Jewish, are comparing notes.
Says the Chinese historian: ‘You know, we have the world’s oldest culture. It goes back 4,000 years!’
‘Sorry, we have that beat,’ the Jewish historian says. ‘Our culture is 5,000 years old!’
The Chinese historian’s mouth gapes. ‘Wow! Where did your people eat for 1,000 years?’”
“Now that’s a real historian joke,” Kate says with a chuckle.
Talking very little, just enjoying the scenery, stopping the car now and again to stretch their legs, they drive through much of Star Valley before reluctantly turning around and heading back.
Near sundown they reach the ranch. Kate sees the gate open and immediately senses something wrong. A sheriff’s vehicle and another unfamiliar car in the driveway confirm her fears. Before they can get out of their car, a tall, broad-shouldered man in sheriff’s uniform emerges onto the porch, followed by a medium-sized man incongruously dressed in a handsome blue pinstriped suit.
“Hold it right there,” says the Sheriff, his right hand on the butt of the pistol he wears at his side. “Get out of the car slowly and spread eagle against the trunk.”
Bewildered, Kate and Mac comply. The man in the suit expertly pats them down. “They’re clean,” he tells the Sheriff.
“OK. You can stand up straight, turn around and tell us what you’re doing here.”
“We’re guests of the owner,” Kate says angrily. “What’s going on here? Is Jack all right?”
“Don’t rightly know about that,” the Sheriff says. “Mr. Malchus isn’t here. Your names and ID?”
He glances over their drivers’ licenses and Kate’s passport. “I’m Sheriff Matt Gorman and this here’s Agent Sidney Reilly, FBI.”
“What’s happened, Sheriff?” asks Mac.
“So far, murder and burglary. Maybe a kidnapping.”
Kate turns pale. “Not Jack. . .”
“No ma’am, it’s not Mr. Malchus been murdered. One of the guys who worked for him. Freddy O’Rourke. You mind stepping inside? Maybe you can help us figure out what’s been taken. The wall safe is wide open.”
Kate and Mac exchange looks of dismay. The Ahasureus Manuscript.
Stepping past O’Rourke’s crumpled body, they assemble in the library. Mac has a puzzled look on his face. He confronts Reilly. “I remember your name from when I was with NSA. You’re not FBI, you’re CIA.”
“Actually, I’m both,” Reilly says calmly.
“That’s not possible.”
“Believe me, Mr. McTeague, in the new world of counter-terrorism anything is possible.”
They are interrupted by the arrival of Peter Rugg, looking haggard and pale.
“What are you doing here?” McTeague demands.
“Mr. Rugg is in charge of this operation,” says Reilly.
“Please sit down, both of you,” says Rugg to Kate and McTeague.
Mac puts an arm around Kate and they sit on the divan. Rugg gives them with a sorrowful look.
“John told me about the Ahasureus Manuscript more than thirty years ago. We agreed to keep its existence a secret until there was a real chance we could use it to uncover the current whereabouts of the Thule Society.”
“I don’t understand,” Kate says.
“You are a historian, Dr. Miles. What do you know about the Third Reich and the occult?”
“Just what John explained a few days ago. It’s not my field, as you probably know.”
“At the risk of duplicating what he may have told you, let me mention a few key points about the Thule Society. Its leader was Dietrich Eckart and Hitler was its third official member. The swastika, the eagle, even the Nazi greeting ‘Sig Heil’ all originated with the Thule Society. Here, listen to this.” Rugg walks over to the bookshelf nearest the divan, removes a volume and pages through it. “These are Eckart’s dying words in 1923: ’Follow Hitler! He will dance, but it is I who have called the tune! I have initiated him into the ‘Secret Doctrine,’ opened his centres of vision and given him the means to communicate with the Powers. Do not mourn for me. I shall have influenced history more than any German.’” Rugg closes the book with a thud. “Hitler was a puppet of the Thule Society. They made him into a magician of sorts but they pulled the strings. Among other magical rites, the Thulists practiced necromancy, the raising of the spirits of the dead. Konrad Ritzler, one of the Society’s early members, left a description of one of their necromantic sessions in which an illiterate old peasant woman was put into a trance, whereupon she produced from her vagina an ectoplasmic being who prophesied that Adolf Hitler was the immortal messiah for whom the German people had waited so long.”
“This woman claimed Hitler was immortal?” Mac asks incredulously.
“Yes. Immortality was one of their principal occult themes. According to the Thulist reading of Germanic legend, the Nibelungens, Charlemagne, and the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa, were not dead but merely asleep awaiting their resurrection in Hitler who would not only restore the Aryan Empire but conquer the world. And Hitler himself believed he was immortal as did many others, especially after he miraculously survived unscathed two elaborate and well planned assassination attempts.”
“Well, he didn’t survive his own suicide,” Kate observes caustically.
Rugg looks oddly uncomfortable. “Actually, we’re not sure about that.”
“Wait a minute,” Mac interjects, “Didn’t the Soviets publish a thorough forensic analysis of Hitler’s remains some decades after the war, proving conclusively that he did die in that bunker?”
Rugg nods. “The Soviet report did seem incontrovertible at the time but, as you know, forensic science has made enormous strides since then, especially in DNA technology. Our new friends, the Russians, under President Krylenko recently made available to us a sample of Hitler’s supposed remains and our people determined that the DNA was not his.”
“How could you tell that? What did you have to compare it to?” asks Kate.
Sidney speaks up. “There are literally hundreds of Hitler locks of hair in private hands in Germany. As you may know, the Führer was in the habit of handing out them out to his admirers, especially young children. We obtained a representative sample of these and their DNA matched one another but not the material given to us by the Russians.”
“What difference does any of this make anyway?” Mac says, exasperated. “Even if he had somehow managed to survive the war, Hitler would be long dead by now. Christ, he’d be well over a hundred years old.”
“True, but we have reason to believe that prominent members of the Thule Society escaped after the war,” says Rugg. “Especially Dr. Karl Vogeler, the foremost Nazi expert on aging and a man whose criminal experiments on concentration camp inmates rivaled Joseph Mengele’s in their cruelty.”
Kate nods. “And Mengele survived the war.”
“Again I say, so what?” Mac says. “Or are you theorizing a kind of ‘Boys from Brazil’ scenario in which former Nazi scientists clone Hitler? Even if that were possible, a Hitler clone wouldn’t necessarily be anything like Hitler. None of the same life experiences, including what he went through during World War I.”
“We’re not imagining anything so outlandish but we do think the contemporary Thule Society is extremely well financed and organized and that it is behind most of the neo-Nazi movements in Europe and America, making it a dangerous threat, made even more dangerous by the possible revival of a Hitler cult as extreme as anything witnessed during the ’thirties and ’forties.”
“Just to give you an example,” says Sidney, “we recently obtained a handwritten deposition made twenty-five years ago by a former SS officer, Anton Sonthofen, who escaped to Argentina after the war where he became a successful businessman and a convert to Roman Catholicism. In 1995 he was approached by an old acquaintance, Otto Hauptmann, who claimed to be a fundraiser for the Thule Society in South America. Sonthofen demanded proof so Hauptmann arranged an audience for him with Dr. Karl Vogeler.
“Sonthofen met with Vogeler in a small village in Paraguay called Caçao. Vogeler offered him a place on the High Council of Thule in return for fifty million dollars.”
“How did he respond to Vogeler’s offer?” asks Kate.
“Sonthofen said he needed time to think it over. Then he returned home, wrote out his deposition and gave it to his priest. The following day Sonthofen was killed in a hit and run accident on the streets of Buenos Aires. Twenty-five years later, upon the priest’s death, the deposition was found among his effects and eventually came into our hands.”
“Does the deposition contain any more information about the High Council of Thule?” Kate asks.
Rugg shakes his head. “That was the only reference. But remember this is only one strand of information. All of the evidence the CIA amassed over the years convinced John Malchus and me that the Thule Society is still active so we orchestrated a disinformation campaign based on the legend of the Ahasureus Manuscript.”
“But why?” asks Mac. “What good would the manuscript do them?”
Rugg smiles. “Remember that the Thulists are true believers. Not only in Nazism but in the occult. Our disinformation implied that the Ahasureus Manuscript contains the secret of immortality.”
“What fools to believe in such an insane fantasy,” says Kate angrily.
“They are men who live in a world of cruel imagination,” Peter Rugg observes gravely, “and because they and their predecessors have believed in such fantasies millions of human beings have horribly suffered and died.”
Streicher and his two skinhead accomplices arrive at a concealed landing strip a few miles out of Victor. The skinheads bundle an unconscious John Malchus out of the gray sedan into the rear of the old twin-engine Beechcraft while Streicher warms up the engines in preparation for takeoff. Within minutes they are in the air.
Streicher maintains radio silence as he effortlessly pilots the aircraft in the general direction of Lake Coeur d’Alene, his precise destination some thirty miles north of Sandpoint, Idaho. He is pleased with the way the operation has gone so far.
As instructed, O’Rourke had left the gate open and was there to let Streicher and his companions into the mansion. Streicher had immediately shot him three times in the face with a Dalphon silenced 9mm Ruger before rushing to the study where he found Malchus napping, a quilt wrapped around his frail body. As the old man stirred to consciousness, Streicher injected him with a Vogeler developed nanoparticle knockout drug. Malchus slumped over and the two skinheads placed unbreakable plastic restraints around his arms and legs while Streicher attached a plastic explosive charge to the wall safe. The safe popped open with a slight whoosh and Streicher removed its only contents, the box containing the Ahaseurus Manuscript. The skinheads carried Malchus to the sedan, gently placing him in the backseat with pillows surrounding his head and back and the sedan sped off, the entire operation having taken less than two minutes. With almost no traffic on the way to the landing strip they had made good time. Now, Streicher is eagerly anticipating turning the Ahasureus Manuscript over to the Thule Society cryptanalysts and interrogating John Malchus with all of the manifold resources at his disposal.
“We’re wasting time here,” Kate says anxiously. “We should all be out looking for whoever kidnapped Jack.”
“There’s nothing you can do that isn’t already being done by the professionals who are scouring the surrounding area for any sign of the kidnappers,” Sidney points out. “We figure that they don’t have much of a head start.”
Peter Rugg nods his assent.
“What I don’t understand is why I’m even here,” says Mac, his voice tinged with anger. “If the whole manuscript thing is just one big disinformation campaign why have I been beating my brains out for the past few days deciphering the damn thing? And that goes for Kate, too. Who needs a historian if the whole thing is phony?”
Rugg fixes them with a cold glance. “Part of the disinformation. To convince the Thulists that the manuscript is genuine, we had to being in so-called experts to decipher it and put it into context. You two were ideal choices. Dr. Miles for her expertise and her longtime relationship with John. You, because of your book on the history of cryptology.”
Mac rises to his full height, towering over Sidney and Rugg. “So you put our lives at risk for the sake of your little game? We could have been killed or kidnapped, too, you bastards!”
Rugg relaxes his gaze. “You’re right and I’m sorry. We thought we had you all protected. It wasn’t supposed to go like this. We didn’t expect the Thulists to move so quickly. Obviously they had an informant we didn’t know about. Presumably the deceased Mr. O’Rourke.”
“That’s exactly why I left NSA. All you spooks think you’re so goddamn smart but mostly what you do is fuck everything up.” Mac throws up his hands in disgust.
“So what do we do now?” asks Kate quietly.
“We will take you back to the Idaho Falls airport and see you on a flight out of here,” Sidney says.
“But what about Jack? Will we ever know what happens to him?”
“We will keep you informed,” says Rugg. “Trust me.”
“Yeah, sure.” Mac says and stalks off to his room to begin packing.
Hans Streicher is furious. For the past forty-eight hours he has employed every “soft” interrogation technique in his considerable arsenal in an effort to extract information out of the old man who sits serenely strapped to a chair across the interview room from him.
Dr. Karl Vogeler enters the room. In preparation for the retrieval of the manuscript, the Deputy Führer has flown from his hideout in Paraguay to Streicher’s compound, accompanied by his “Special Patient” and several members of his crack medical team.
In Vogeler’s right hand is a syringe.
“Tough old bird isn’t he?”
Streicher looks up at him, irritated. “He’s not nearly as old as you.”
“Who is? Aside from our ‘Special Patient?’” Just prior to Streicher’s operation against Malchus, Vogeler had installed the patient from in the well-equipped dispensary located on the third floor of the Idaho compound.
“Are you sure a little torture might not yield the results we need?”
Vogeler shakes his head. “One thing we have learned for certain since the days of the Third Reich is that torture is fundamentally counter-productive. Ideal for eliciting confessions. Confessions to anything, no matter how preposterous. But if it’s the truth you want, as we do here, then torture is essentially useless. No, I think it is time we resorted to this.” He holds up the syringe.
“My own exquisite refinement of sodium amytal.”
“We have known about Amytal for nearly a century. It is the trade name of a drug belonging to the
same family as Nembutal, Seconal, and Pentothal. A barbiturate, it causes drowsiness but the subject remains awake in a state of closeness, even affection for the interrogator. The old theory was that anyone under the influence of Amytal could not possibly lie. But this was wrong as studies subsequently proved. Subjects could lie. But Amytal made it more difficult for them to do so.”
“But we cannot rely on it,” Streicher says angrily.
“Not the original version, no. But my refinement has been to introduce a mild hallucinogen into the drug so that it literally transports the patient to an altered reality in which he can be made to believe that he is merely chatting with friends who have every right to know whatever truth he has been concealing.”
“Excellent,” Streicher says. “Please proceed, sir.”
Vogeler injects Malchus with a small amount of the modified Amytal and waits for two minutes.
“You seem relaxed today.”
“And why not? Am I not among friends?” Malchus responds cheerily, evidently oblivious to the fact that he is tied to his chair.
“Indeed you are. And now I want you to tell me everything you know about the Ahasureus Manuscript.”
In a conversational tone of voice, Malchus relates the same story about André Baudieu that he had told to Kate and Mac. Periodically, Vogeler injects him with small amounts of the truth serum. When he concludes, Streicher and Vogeler exchange glances.
“Are you quite certain that Baudieu was killed in the explosion?” Streicher asks.
“I don’t see how anyone could have survived.”
“But you didn’t actually see his remains?”
“We didn’t stick around.”
“No, of course not. And you know nothing further about Baudieu and the manuscript than what you’ve just told us?”
“Nothing at all.”
Further questioning elicits only a recitation of the events leading up to the kidnapping and theft of the manuscript, including the deciphering efforts of McTeague and the brief visit by Peter Rugg.
Streicher motions Vogeler to join him in the hallway. “I’m not satisfied he is telling us the whole truth,” Streicher says once he has closed the door to the interrogation room.
Vogeler looks thoughtful. “Perhaps not, although I have considerable faith in the power of my drug. In any event, we cannot give him any more of the serum at this time. Let’s resume the interrogation in twenty-four hours and see if we can wheedle more out of him.”
Later that afternoon Streicher lies on his bed staring at the ceiling. There is a knock at the door.
“Who is it?” he asks irritably.
“Ludwig Furst, sir.” One of the two cryptanalysts Vogeler had brought with him from Paraguay.
Streicher opens the door. “Well?”
“I regret to say that we are unable to do anything with the final pages, although we have managed to decipher most of the text.”
“We can’t even determine what kind of cipher it is.” Furst sits down on the edge of the bed and buries his face in his hands. “I have never encountered a cipher of this kind before.”
Streicher grabs Furst by the right arm and pulls him upright.
“You have spent all these hours and you do not even know that much? What kind of fools has Vogeler saddled me with?”
“I am sorry, sir,” says Furst, terrified. “I am a good cryptanalyst, as good as any, but this is simply beyond my experience as it is Camerona’s who is also very good.”
“Who is the best cryptanalyst you know of? Anywhere. It doesn’t have to be someone who is a member of our organization.”
Furst sits down again and thinks for a moment. Then he looks up at Streicher. “A few years ago, all the intelligence services in the world were baffled by a diplomatic cipher used by the Chinese. It was finally broken by an American. I believe he worked for the National Security Agency.
“Do you remember his name?” Streicher asks softly.
“An Irish or Scottish sounding name as I recall.”
“McTeague.” Streicher almost whispered.
“Yes. That was it.” Furst looks surprised. “You know him?”
“We’ve never met.”
Mac sits hunched over his desk at The Boston Daily News attempting to concentrate on working out cryptograms for next week’s editions. Kate had flown back with him from Idaho Falls three days ago but she was leaving for London today and he is to drive her to Logan Airport in less than half an hour. For reasons he is not sure of, he is depressed. Part of his depression derived from the fact that he would probably never find out what happened to Malchus or the Ahasureus Manuscript. He did not believe for a moment Reilly and Rugg’s assurances that they would keep him and Kate up to date on their search. And part of it, perhaps the biggest part, he reluctantly admits to himself, is that he will miss Kate Miles. In just a little over a week, he had grown to enjoy her company to the point that he thought of little else.
Throwing down his pencil in disgust at his inability to concentrate, Mac puts on his leather bomber jacket and heads for the downstairs garage.
Kate Miles sits in the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel on Boylston Street overlooking
Beacon Hill and waits for Mac to pick her up. She does not notice the two large men hovering around the entranceway, engaging in desultory conversation. Her thoughts are centered on Frank McTeague. What an odd combination of cad and cavalier. But the main thing about him that she especially liked was his sense of humor. Even on the plane ride to Boston, both of them depressed about the recent turn of events, he had kept her amused. One joke he had to write down for her: When cryptography is outlawed, bayl bhgynjf jvyy unir cevinpl. She laughs, remembering.
She sees Mac pull up in his hunter green Lexus and heads for the entranceway, pulling her wheeled suitcase behind her. Mac opens the trunk and, smiling rather sadly, reaches down to grab her suitcase. At that moment, Kate feels something poking into her back and a soft voice whispers, “Give him the suitcase and get in the backseat with me.” She looks up to see a big blonde man right behind Mac, saying something quietly to him. Kate does as she is told. Mac is in the driver’s seat. The big man brandishing a small gun sits next to him. An equally big bald man is next to her in the back seat. What is going on? The man in the front gestures for Mac to drive off and turns slightly to his left so both Kate and Mac can hear him.
“Allow me to introduce myself. I am Hans Streicher.”
Kate looks up from the large flat-topped desk as McTeague enters the interrogation room, accompanied by Streicher. She is dressed in jeans and a dark blue sweater several sizes too big for her. Despite the ill-fitting clothing, Mac thinks he has never seen her look more beautiful.
She stands up and hugs him.
“Enough tender greetings,” says Streicher. “You have work to do.” He gestures towards the box on the desk. “As you can see, the passages of the manuscript you are to decipher have been marked. If you need anything, knock on the door. It will. Of course, be locked from the outside.”
“I want to see Jack.”
“All in good time, my dear.” Streicher turns abruptly and leaves the room. They hear the lock click into place. Mac pulls up a chair and sits down at the desk next to Kate. The walls of the interrogation room are lined with bookshelves. There are no windows.
“Do you have any idea where we are?”
Kate shakes her head.
“Are you all right?”
She manages a brave smile. “Fine. And you?”
“OK, I guess.”
Mac smiles. “I just remembered a movie line.”
“Do I get to guess?”
“Not this time. It’s from ’His Kind of Girl,” just at the end. Jane Russell says to Robert Mitchum, ‘I hear you killed Scarpetto. How did it feel?’ And Mitchum says, ‘He didn’t say.’”
Mac opens the box and removes the manuscript. “Streicher has given me a twenty-four hour deadline to decipher this,”
“Or he kills Malchus.”
“Just tell me what to do. If I can help speed things up in any way. . .”
“I know,” Mac cuts her short. “First let’s take a look at the pages they want deciphered and hope to hell that it’s all encrypted using the same system.”
As he examines the passages Streicher has marked, Mac experiences a sinking sensation. The sections consist of a series of triadic number groups beginning with 127-6-3, 395-27-11, 46-14-1 and so on to the end. The overall pattern is invariable: goups of three numbers, internally separated by dashes and separated from one another by commas. The first number in each group followed no pattern that Mac can discern. They range from digit, with 5 as the lowest to three digits with 573 as the highest. The second numbers in each group range from 1 to 40 and the third numbers from 1 to 14.
Kate looks up, puzzled. “Any ideas?”
Mac stands and walks to the bookshelf nearest the door. “I’m afraid we are out of luck,” he says dispiritedly.
“Why? What is it?”
He runs a hand through his hair. “The worst thing possible. A book code.” He walks back to the desk. “Here, I’ll show you. The first digit in each group represents a page number, the second digit, a line number and the third, a word in the line.”
Kate nods. “So the first group, 127-6-3, means page 127, line 6, word 3. That seems simple enough.
“It’s simple alright, probably the simplest encoding system ever devised. The problem is that it is absolutely unbreakable unless you know which book is the basis for the code.”
“I see what you mean. It could be any book, even any edition of any book out of millions.”
Mac sat down. “Yeah, and if we don’t figure out which one, Malchus is a dead man.”
The antiseptic room on the third floor of the Idaho compound seems much too small for its contents, muses Dr. Karl Vogeler. The head suspended in mid air with tubes trailing from it, enclosed within an oxygen rich plastic bubble, eyes closed. How frail and old he looks, thinks Vogeler, the hair and trademark moustache completely white. The body had, of course wasted away long ago, the brain kept technically alive but in an induced coma. Vogeler and his team of skilled scientists had learned a great deal over the decades since the war but they did not know enough to risk awakening him. There was a secret to immortality, Vogeler is certain, and that secret must be contained in the Ahasureus Manuscript.
He longs for the day when his ‘Special Patient’ is restored to health and youth. Once again he would be the world’s master. Throughout the war years Vogeler’s loyalty had never wavered. The enormous strain of those last days in the bunker had driven the patient quite mad so the good doctor had taken it as his duty to protect the patient from himself.
The famous scene, now so solemnly inscribed in countless histories of the Third Reich, of a desperate Führer committing suicide by pistol and cyanide, had been carefully orchestrated by Vogeler and Martin Bormann. At almost the very moment that the bunker had burst into flames, incinerating the bodies of Eva Braun, the Goebbels and their six children, and a Jew from Dachau whose dental work had been devised to match that of Hitler’s, Vogeler and Bormann were departing with the comatose Führer on a U-Boat that took them to Lisbon where they transferred to a Portugese freighter bound for Rio de Janeiro.
Upon their arrival in South America, they found the remnants of the Nazi Party in disarray. Vogeler and Bormann transported their charge to Paraguay where they used the Party’s secret bank accounts to purchase a small clinic where they transferred their patient. Only then did Vogeler awaken the Führer from his coma. But he wasn’t the same man. He retreated into a bewildered silence. For more than thirty years he wandered the clinic grounds, speaking to no one, a pathetic, aging mental patient. Despite the meticulous care taken with his health, Hitler eventually grew so feeble he could no longer leave his room. Vogeler had no choice but to put him back in a coma.
Vogeler smiles to himself. He had overseen his expert biomedical team in many discoveries and developments, the most significant of which was the virus they had created, which crossed the Ebola virus with the avian flu, a combination so deadly that he fully expected billions of human beings to die from it once released. He had put off the date for the worldwide aerosol distribution of the virus, which he had named Ebola 666, until after he was enabled to reawaken the Führer through the secret formula he knew must be contained in the Ahasureus Manuscript.
Historians had described Hitler’s suicide and subsequent immolation as a Götterdamerung, a Day of Judgment. But in Nordic myth Götterdamerung signified the Death of the Gods prior to the creation of the New World Order. Like the Nibelungen, Hitler, thanks to the miracles wrought by Dr. Karl Vogeler, was not dead, merely sleeping. And soon he will awake and rule, as predicted, for a thousand years.
McTeague throws up his hands in disgust. “This is getting us nowhere.” He and Kate had spent twelve hours methodically going through the collection of books in the interrogation room but none of the three hundred or so books they had checked so far had yielded even the beginnings of an intelligible plaintext. There were more than a thousand books remaining but the chances that any of them would be the book they needed were impossibly slim.
“Maybe we’re going about this in the wrong way,” Kate says thoughtfully.
“What do you mean?”
She gets up from her chair and walks over to a row of bookshelves. “We need to think of a book that Ahasureus might have chosen. Going through this small collection of books one by one is obviously inefficient, If we narrow it down, use what we know about Ahasureus to guide us in looking at specific books, wouldn’t that make more sense?”
“We can try but come on, Kate, what if we actually come up with something? The chances that the book would be here in this room. . .”
“It doesn’t have to be here. Remember there are millions of facsimiles of books available online, culled from all the great libraries.”
“OK, let’s try it. You write down the categories as we come up with them.” Mac paces the room. “We know that Ahasureus was originally a Jew, even though he ended up faking allegiance to all sorts of other religions and cults.”
“I’m writing down Jew, Judaism, Israel, Hebrew, Torah, Talmud, diaspora, Holocaust. What else?”
“How about Wandering Jew, folklore, legends, myth.
“We also know he is a devotee of the occult.”
“So, occult, magic, witchcraft, sorcery. What else can you think of?”
“Let’s see. Satanism, mysticism, druids.”
“Wait a minute,” Kate says eagerly. “What about a combination of Judaism and the occult as in the Kabbalah?”
“That fits,” says Mac. “And I did some research on the it for my book. The Kabbalists used all sorts of complicated numerical and alphabetical transpositions and substitutions. The Kabbalah is essentially mystical cryptography and that would fit with Ahasureus’ fascination with codes and ciphers.”
“And the main Kabbalist texts date from the Middle Ages. What are they? The Zohar and. . .”
“We need to get online.”
Within half an hour, Streicher has placed a desktop computer at their disposal and watches Mac and Kate closely as they access the Universal Library.
“Let’s try these,” says Kate. “The first English language edition of the Zohar, published in 1887, and the Sefer-Yetsirah, the first German translation, published in 1901. Kate punches up the Zohar first. Mac does a quick check and shakes his head. Then the Sefer-Yetsirah.
“It’s no good, Kate.”
“Damn! And for a minute there I thought we might be onto something.”
For the next several hours they try other translations of the Kabbalah, then every book they can think of on the occult, including the two books by Otto Rahn, The Crusade Against the Grail and Lucifer’s Court. All to no avail.
“We’re on the wrong track,” says Mac finally.
“Yes, we’re leaving something out. But what?”
“Ahasureus is clever,” Mac says slowly. “He delights in doing the unexpected, playing elaborate mind games with his codes and ciphers.”
Kate smiles at him. “Do you realize that we’ve both been talking about Ahasureus as if he were real?”
“Oh, I think he was real.” Seeing the expression of disbelief on Kate’s face, Mac hastily adds, “I don’t mean all that business about the Wandering Jew. But I do think there was definitely a single mind behind the manuscript.”
Streicher, who has been silently watching their exchange, interjects. “Of course he was real. He is real. You don’t really think he died in that explosion, do you?”
“Think what you want about that but we’re not getting anywhere here. I don’t think we can proceed any further unless you let Malchus help us.”
Streicher is unimpressed by Mac’s firm tone of voice. “The old man is practically senile. What help can he possibly be?”
“He is not senile,” Kate says hotly. “Besides that, he knew André Baudieu and so he’s our only hope for figuring out what book might have been used as the basis for the final code.”
Streicher shrugs. “Very well.” He signals to the guards. “Bring him here.”
Surprisingly Malchus appears his usual spry self, seemingly unaffected by days of unrelenting interrogation. He embraces Kate and gives Mac a reassuring look.
“I’m sorry you two got caught up in this.”
But wasn’t that the plan you and Peter Rugg devised? Mac wanted to say but didn’t. Malchus was just as responsible as Rugg for putting Kate and him in jeopardy. Perhaps even more responsible.
“Jack, we need your help. The final part of the manuscript is not a cipher but a code, a book code.”
Malchus nods. “I’m familiar with the term. You need to know what book André used.” He sits in a straight-backed chair and stretches his frail-looking legs. “André was something of a bibliophile. In our spare moments we talked about books a great deal. But remember, we had to travel light so the only book he kept in his possession was a copy of the New Testament.”
“Do you remember which translation, which edition?” Mac asks excitedly.
“Oh, yes. I can scarcely forget. The Douay-Rheims, 1582, very rare.”
Mac grins at Streicher. “Happen to have a copy lying around?”
“Here it is,” says Kate. Onscreen Mac reads: The New Testament of Jesus Christ translated faithfully into English, out of the authentical Latin, according to the best corrected copies of the same, diligently conferred with the Greek and other editions in divers languages. With Arguments of Books and Chapters, annotations, and other necessary helps for the better understanding of the text, and specially for the discovery of the corruptions of divers late translations, and for clearing the controversies in religion of these days ... Printed at Rhemes, by John Fogny. 1582.
Mac sits at the computer and begins scrolling through the text. After a few minutes, he says, “This is it. Listen, ‘Congratulations, friends, on your fiendishness. But now you must go to the words of an enemy.’”
“What is that supposed to mean?” asks Streicher impatiently.
“Let’s see.” Mac continues scrolling and writing words for the next several minutes, then shakes his head in disgust. “That’s it. The rest is gibberish.”
“So what Ahasureus has done is what, used two different books as the basis for the code?” asks Kate.
“Looks like it. The question is, what is the second book? Any ideas, Malchus?”
The old man smiles. “Not a one, I’m afraid.”
“Let’s think this through,” Kate says. “The words of an enemy. Of course we know that Ahasureus had lots of enemies. So what would someone who claims to be the Wandering Jew choose as a text written by an enemy.”
“I don’t know,” says Mac. “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion? Rosenberg’s The Myth of the Twentieth Century?”
“Or possibly,” Kate says slowly, “Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler?”
They stared at each other for a moment. McTeague goes back to the main menu on the website. “Look at this. Did you know that Mein Kampf was originally published in two volumes? The first volume was originally entitled Four Years of Struggle against Lies, Stupidity and Cowardice and there were only about 500 copies originally printed and distributed to the Nazi Party faithful.”
“You read German?” Streicher sounds surprised.
“Sure and a few other languages as well.” Mac punches up the text and begins the decoding process. At first his expression is incredulous and then after about fifteen minutes, he puts down his pad and pencil and laughs.
“What is it?” Streicher is anxious.
Mac turns to him with a big grin. “Translated into English, the message reads:
’I am afraid your ingenuity will do you no good. This book, written by your Führer, has much to say about lies, especially the big lies that deceive an entire nation. My lie is my myth. Although barbaric, you are at least semi-educated so you should know that a myth is a lie that tells the truth. The truth my myth tells is that immortality is a child’s dream and like all such dreams is unattainable. Oh you may be able to prolong your pathetic lives for a time but in the end you will become the food of worms.
‘What does this mean? Simply this. I do not exist. You have dreamed me. But the dream is now at an end. You and your Führer are about to die. The world has too long permitted you to corrupt the human race by your mere existence. And just because you have made a treaty with Hell, do not be deluded into thinking you can make a covenant with death.’”
“So,” says Streicher disgustedly. “This has been some kind of a game.”
“That’s exactly what it has been,” says Kate, smiling. She turns to Mac. “For once Ahasureus has made a mistake.”
“What do you mean?”
“I wasn’t going to tell you because it didn’t seem important at the time but when we were first working on decoding this section of the manuscript, I noticed something anomalous about the paper on which the book code was written.” Kate picks up a page from the manuscript and holds it up to an overhead fluorescent light. Mac looks at it.
“Seems like ordinary paper to me.”
“Notice the quality of the paper.”
Mac takes the page from her and rubs the paper with thumb and forefinger. “So it’s a good quality with high rag content. So what?”
“Paper of that quality was simply not available during World War II. Not even in America, much less in occupied Europe.”
“Maybe whoever wrote this simply used paper that had been manufactured before the war.”
“I thought of that, too. So I decided to look at the watermark. See for yourself.”
Mac holds the page up to the fluorescent light. “It looks like kind of gothic style W.”
“Which is the watermark for Waldenmere, the manufacturer, a British papermaker.”
“Waldenmere didn’t even exist until the mid 1990s,” Kate says triumphantly.
“You’re sure of that?”
“There was some kind of scandal about the company, seized on by the tabloids, something having to do with the sexual peccadilloes of several of the members of the Board of Directors. I remember reading about it.”
Mac looks at her thoughtfully. “I see what you mean. Why would Ahasureus successfully forge a lengthy manuscript, ranging over seven centuries using what appear to be the right kind of parchment, paper, and ink and then slip on something so elementary?”
“It’s obvious, isn’t it?” says Streicher. “The Jew is still alive.”
“It’s a little like the old joke about the atheist who has a divine revelation that God does not exist,” puts in Malchus. “Ahasureus (or André) tells us that he is a liar and then says he does not exist. What are we to believe?”
“But why the reference to Hitler being alive if he wasn’t trying to make it seem as if he were writing this sometime before Hitler’s suicide in 1945?” asks Kate.
“Because the Führer is alive,” says Dr. Karl Vogeler, standing in the doorway.
Vogeler ignores Kate and addresses Streicher. “And so is Ahasureus. The manuscript may have been a red herring but it was always a long shot anyway. More important would be to have the Jew himself. His secret, I am certain, lies in his genetic makeup and I could find it while enjoying the exquisite pleasure of dissecting him cell by cell.”
“But we don’t know who he is,” Streicher objects.
“Oh yes we do. I have figured it out. Ahasureus is Peter Rugg.”
Malchus pales. “That is absurd. I know both men. There is not the slightest resemblance between André Baudieu and Peter Rugg.”
“Then you are either lying or you are deceived,” says Vogeler. “When Rugg’s name came out in your interrogation, I thought it sounded familiar so I did a computer search and discovered that ‘Peter Rugg’ is a name that was used by the Wandering Jew in the 17th Century at the time he was engaged in setting up the English branch of the Rosy Cross.”
“The Rosicrucians?” says Kate.
“Exactly. One of the dozens of occult societies that Ahasureus established over the centuries.”
Streicher looks troubled. “I ran into someone calling himself Peter Rugg on the bus to Idaho Falls. Do you think he was onto us even then?”
“No doubt. I’m sure that the manuscript was just a ruse to get the Thule Society to reveal itself so they could put an end to our activities.”
“And to our ‘Special Patient,’” muses Streicher. “But how do we get hold of Rugg?”
“Oh, I’m sure he is on his way. I don’t know if he planted an undetectable tracking device on the old man here or on one of these two, knowing that we would require their expertise to decode the final pages of the manuscript but now I imagine he is moving in for what he imagines will be the kill. But he won’t succeed.”
“And why is that?” asks Mac.
“Because he has no idea how well-defended this place is,” Streicher smiles. “We can withstand an attack by the most determined force there is.” He strides to the computer and punches in the security surveillance code. “You’re right,” he says to Vogeler. “We are surrounded by a unit of perhaps a hundred men but we know where they are.”
“Good. Can you broadcast our terms to them?”
“Yes, but what are they?”
“That we will kill Malchus, McTeague and Dr. Miles as well as set off mines destroying most of the invaders unless Peter Rugg comes to us unarmed for a ‘friendly chat.’”
“Peter isn’t so foolish as to fall for that,” says Malchus.
“No?” Vogeler looks at him coldly. “What choice does he have?”
Streicher taps into the loudspeaker system. A few long minutes after he has made his announcement, the voice of Peter Rugg is heard speaking from a bullhorn. “I’m coming in. I’m unarmed.”
“Have him brought here,” Streicher says over the intercom.
Malchus, Kate, and Mac exchange worried looks as they wait. Streicher and Vogeler are in a triumphant mood. At last, the small figure of Peter Rugg is led into the room by two of Streicher’s hulking skinheads. He smiles at Malchus. “Well, it was worth a try, anyway, don’t you think, John?”
Malchus does not reply.
“I am delighted that we have you at long last.” Vogeler is smug.
“I didn’t realize you were looking for me,” Rugg replies mildly.
“Oh no? Then perhaps you don’t realize that we have figured out that you are Ahasureus.”
Rugg smiles broadly. “How clever of you. But I’m afraid you are in error.”
“What do you mean?” Vogeler asks.
“I am not Ahasureus,” Rugg says calmly. “He is.” He points at Malchus.
At that moment, Malchus, suddenly neither old nor frail, leaps from his chair and flips off the interrogation room lights, while delivering a well-placed kick to Streicher’s groin.
Mac hears the sounds of scuffling before receiving a blow to the back of his head and losing consciousness.
McTeague opens his eyes. He is lying on a cot in a small room, the concerned face of Peter Rugg peering down at him.
“You’re a lucky one,” Rugg says.
“What happened?” He tries to sit up but the back of his head feels as if it were on fire.
“Relax, it’s best if you don’t move.”
“Streicher. . .” Mac says in a weak voice.
“In custody, along with Vogeler and the rest of their gang.”
Mac props himself up. What about Kate? Is she all right?”
“Couldn’t be better.”
“What about Hitler? Did you find him?”
Rugg smiles. “John found a disembodied head in a room upstairs connected by wires and tubes to all sorts of complicated machines as well as an emergency generator that came on when we took out the power to this place.”
“So what happened?”
“He disabled the generator.”
McTeague lapses back into unconsciousness.
Kate and Mac sit in the waiting room of the Idaho Falls airport, awaiting the next flight to Salt Lake City, where they will connect with different flights, one taking Mac to Boston, the other bound for Kennedy Airport and then on to Heathrow.
Mac removes a small, prettily gift-wrapped package from his backpack and hands it to Kate.
“What is this?” she says with a smile.
“A memento of our little adventure. Your friend Malchus, along with Peter Rugg and that Sidney Reilly guy are now in the process of erasing everything connected with it but you and I know what really happened.”
“Yes, we do,” Kate says somberly. Beneath the wrapping is a box which Kate opens. “Oh, it’s beautiful.” She holds up a small black engraved onyx. “What do the engravings mean?”
“Search me. I bought it from this cranky newpaperman at the Idaho Falls Post Register. He had it sitting on his desk. I noticed it as I was giving him non-answers, liked it and thought maybe you would, too.”
“Thank you. I do like it.”
“Can I leave you with one last joke?”
“I racked my brain for a joke about a stone and this was the best I could come up with. Jesus was walking along one day, when He came upon a group of people surrounding a lady of ill repute. It was obvious that the crowd was preparing to stone her, so Jesus made His now-famous statement, “Let the person who has no sin cast the first stone.”
The crowd was shamed and one by one began to turn away. All of a sudden, a lovely little woman made her way through the crowd. Finally getting to the front, she tossed a pebble towards the woman.
Jesus looks over and says, “I really hate it when you do that, Mom.”
Kate laughs. “Now I have something for you.” She reaches into her carry-on bag and hands Mac a small bronze plaque with an engraved quotation.
Mac looks at it and grins. “My favorite quote. How did you know?”
“I guessed. I found it on the Web. Read it aloud.”
“OK. ‘All nature is but a cipher and a secret writing. The great name and essence of God and His wonders, the very deeds, projects, words, actions, and demeanor of mankind – what are they for the most part but a cipher?’ Vigenère.”
They smile at one another.
“You sure you don’t have time for a stopover in Boston?”
“I might. But only if you can take some time for a visit to England afterwards.”
“I suppose I should check with my editor but on second thought, the hell with my editor.”
“An interesting story,” I say to Sidney Reilly. “But what does any of this have to do with Gil?”
Reilly crosses his legs and fixes me with an intent look. “Just this. I met Malchus briefly for the first and only time as we were carting Streicher, Vogeler and their bunch off to jail. He gave the outward appearance of an old man but you know how I am with disguises. He was someone in his mid-thirties very cleverly made up to look old and beneath the fake wrinkles and age spots, he was a dead ringer for your friend, Gamesh.”
“Now, Sidney, you know that’s impossible.”
“Do I? I’m beginning to wonder.”
I erase all memory of this colloquy from Sidney’s mind.