“Why didn’t you just grab him at the airport when you had the chance?” Jennings asked. They were in Jennings’s office and he was pacing the floor in front of a seated and relaxed looking special agent Spencer, his frustration palpable. “He’d be alive right now if you had.”
It was the Monday following Doug’s memorial service and Spencer had shown up in Portland, explaining that he was in town on assignment with the local FBI.
“Because we didn’t realize then that the object had already been passed to him,” Spencer said. “We were afraid if we’d shown ourselves at the wrong time they’d have been on to us and the object might have disappeared for another five-hundred years. We decided to let him go. See if he would lead us to it.”
For the past half hour Spencer had stunned Jennings with a story about an object purported to have supernatural properties that had been passed in secret through generations of keepers and that it was the government’s belief that the object would eventually be passed to Doug McArthur for reasons that were still not entirely clear to Jennings. Jennings remembered what Doug had told him on the phone before boarding the plane in Tampa; “I have this thing . . . this artifact. It was given to me by the man who shot De Roché. I may be crazy but I think it has some kind of power.”
Jennings thought for a minute about what he should do, and decided he was not going to mention the conversation to Spencer. He’d just play dumb, see what he could find out. Spencer was a slippery bastard and he didn’t trust him. He never had. This little jaunt to Portland was more than casual and Jennings knew it.
“So, he didn’t have the object?” Jennings said.
“He had it, all right. We just didn’t know it.”
Jennings said, “Let me get this straight, airport security took him off that first plane, and they searched him but didn’t find it?”
“I talked to the security guy myself,” Spencer said. “He had McArthur sitting right in front of him and he said the only thing McArthur had in his possession was a wallet.”
“So if he had it where was it?”
Spencer shook his head. “Listen, Jennings. That object somehow has the ability to . . . persuade minds. Why do you think the government wants to get its hands on it?”
“How can an object persuade minds?”
“We don’t know. But we’d certainly like to find out.”
“So what you’re saying is . . .”
“Exactly, Rick. In a later interview with the security team we found out that the guy was looking right at it when I asked him what McArthur had in his possession. He told me just a wallet. I asked him again and he said the same thing. Now he says he doesn’t know what happened. It was like his mind went blank or something.”
“So you assholes let Doug get on that plane knowing that something was screwy,” Jennings said. “Hoping he would lead you to that fucking object?”
“That’s right. We figured he’d lead us to it eventually and we didn’t want to spook him. We were just as shocked about the crash as everyone else, and we thought we’d lost our chance. But then something interesting came to our attention.” Spencer paused. His eyes were gleaming and he had a small conspiratorial smile on his thin lips.
Jennings stopped pacing, staring down at Spencer. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
“Well, listen, Rick, we’re not absolutely sure McArthur was on that plane.”
“What?” Jennings said, a strange and absurd hope blossoming in him. “You just said.”
“Yes, his name was on the manifest, and someone boarded that plane. We’re just not sure it was him.”
Spencer shook his head. “We don’t know. We’re working on it.”
“This is bull shit!” Jennings exploded. “If he wasn’t on that plane then where the hell is he?”
“Good question. The crash site is under heavy security. Our best people are combing the wreckage looking for the artifact.”
“Wouldn’t the crash have destroyed it? It destroyed everything else.”
“We don’t think so. We think it has properties that defy common logic. If it’s there we’ll find it. We don’t think it’s there.”
“Christ,” Jennings muttered. “This is crazy.”
Spencer smiled. “You bet it is.”
“Why are you telling me all this?” Jennings said. “You know goddamn well that when it comes to Doug I’m your worst enemy.”
“Yeah, we know. You were closer to McArthur than anybody, and you want to protect him. And that’s exactly why I’m talking to you.”
“Listen, Rick, McArthur is being hunted by much more dangerous factions than the U.S. Government. Lots of people would like to get their hands on that artifact. If he is still alive we’re his only hope of survival and I think you know it.”
Jennings knew nothing of the kind but he wasn’t about to admit that to Spencer. He nodded. “Tell me about these other factions. I want to know who’s hunting him and why.”
Spencer sighed. “This is what we do know. The priest that made the attempt on De Roché’s life at his wife’s funeral, a Father Paul Redington, talked to McArthur just before he died. There are witnesses who saw them and he’s probably the one that passed the object to him. He belonged to a cult known as the Brotherhood of the Order. They’re an ultra secret Jesuit organization with offices around the world. They’re big, they’re old and they’re extremely slippery. The night before Redington shows up at the funeral, his rural Ohio church burns to the ground. People died in that fire. We don’t know how many yet or who they were. They’re trying to extract DNA but the fire burned hot and completely destroyed the church and everyone in it. There were some limos in the vicinity and some other bodies. It’s only a matter of time before we know something.
“And another variable is De Roché,” Spencer continued. “He hated McArthur, that’s no secret, and it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that he wanted the object for himself. And it’s also possible that he brought that plane down.”
“Jesus wept,” Jennings said. He walked to his desk and fell into his chair.
“There’s something weird and mysterious about that man,” Spencer went on. “Ever since he threw his hat in the presidential ring the press has had a field day trying to find information on him. Records show that he was born in Boston in 1948 to unknown parents and that he was raised in an orphanage. And although the records are there, and they appear to be totally authentic, no one from his childhood seems to remember him. Very strange and mysterious, if you ask me, especially when you consider that he’s perpetuating the story that he came from a line of French royalty. Now how would he know that if he was raised in an orphanage and no one knows who his parents are? His rise in financial and political circles was nothing short of astonishing. He’s made friends in some very high places, and those friends don’t seem to care about his background.”
Jennings thought of what Doug had told him about his fears that De Roché wanted him dead and that De Roché, for some strange reason, wanted Doug’s and Annie’s unborn child. And he thought about the way Annie had acted at Doug’s memorial service and about De Roché and his strange entourage, and how he’d seemed more like a gangster than a presidential candidate.
“Well why don’t you just go to Florida and interview De Roché and Annie?”
“A lot tougher than you might think,” Spencer said. “We’ve tried, believe me, we have, but he refuses to be interviewed. He’s got a lot on his side; money, influence, rich and powerful friends. For one thing he’s protected because he’s a presidential candidate. For another, he just lost his wife to a brutal murder and now it seems he’s lost his son-in-law in that crash. And none of it points directly to him. When he travels he surrounds himself with muscle, he lives in a well-protected compound and there’s not a judge in the world who will issue a warrant for us to go there and talk to him. Unless we can find something substantial that points to him, our hands are tied.”
Jennings sat in stunned silence, his mind trying to absorb everything.
“There’s another variable we haven’t yet talked about, Rick,” Spencer said, breaking the silence.
“Yeah, what’s that?”
“McArthur’s connection to it all. His . . . sight.”
Jennings stared. “I don’t know how that could possibly be connected.”
Spencer held his hand up. “Hear me out, Rick. That supernatural creature McArthur sees in his visions. The creature that calls itself Collector. Whenever he murders he writes Lost, Forsaken, Forgotten somewhere nearby in Aramaic.”
“We’ve been wondering for a long time why he does that. You know why he does that?”
“Truthfully, I don’t give a shit.”
Spencer smiled but there wasn’t an ounce of humor in it. “Come on, Rick, don’t give me that.”
“As long as he leaves Doug alone, he can go to hell for all I care.”
“Problem is,” Spencer said, “he hasn’t left Doug alone. It appears that Doug has been connected to this . . . thing, whatever the hell it is, since he was a child. And we would certainly like to know why.
“And boy, did you hit the nail on the head with that go to hell thing you said a moment ago. That’s where he was supposed to go, you know, but somehow he got stuck right here on good old planet earth.”
Jennings heaved a heavy sigh, as if he was a balloon expelling all its air. He was silent for a long moment glaring at Spencer. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Well, we’ve been doing some digging and it appears that an awful lot of people around the world, religious scholars, fanatics, even some members of the scientific community, know about this Collector and they believe he’s the real deal, that he’s some sort of fallen angel and that his presence here on earth might not be a good thing for the human race.”
“Jesus Christ, Spencer, you guys are FBI. Tell me you don’t believe in all that religious crap.”
“This thing has gone way beyond the FBI, Rick. All the agencies are heavily engaged, and not just U.S. agencies. I’m talking worldwide. This thing is being viewed as a credible threat.”
“A threat to what?” Jennings exploded.
“To everything, Rick and we think it’s somehow connected to that artifact and to De Roché and his daughter, and of course, to Doug McArthur. If he’s alive we need to find him fast, and we need to find that artifact before it falls into the wrong hands. I can’t stress the seriousness of this situation strongly enough. If you know where he is you’d better tell me now.”
Jennings bolted from his chair, his face red with rage. “He died in a fucking plane crash, you asshole! I went to his funeral. I buried him in my heart, and now you’re telling me he might be alive?”
“He just might be, Rick. Actually we’re assuming that he is, and we’re also assuming that he’s in cahoots with forces that wish to wage war on the human race.”
“I never took you for a religious zealot, Spencer.”
Spencer chuckled. “I’m as far from a religious zealot as one can get, Rick. What I am is a good soldier and good soldiers follow orders. My orders are to find that artifact, and to find your buddy Doug, who just happens to be one of the most wanted men on the planet.”