The funeral attracted many onlookers. The service was held in a large church surrounded by a huge cemetery. Scores of people were in attendance, so many that most had to stand outside, for there wasn’t room inside the massive cathedral for everyone.
The event had an unreal air to it, as if contrived to have the entire world know that the wife of one of the great captains of finance was dead. The church and the grounds around it were virtually overrun. External speakers relayed the service to those outside the church.
Among the mourners in attendance were some of the most famous faces in public life; politicians, members of the scientific community, Wall Street notables, even a smattering of Hollywood’s elite. The presence of so many celebrities attracted hordes of peeping toms, and of course the press was everywhere, pointing cameras and talking into microphones. The fact that De Roché had announced his intention of setting up an exploratory committee for a possible presidential run, compounded by the nearly simultaneous drama of his wife being murdered was the number one topic of political pundits on most of the major networks, as well as internet bloggers over the past twenty-four hours. Conspiracy theorists were having a field day. Would he still run? Had the murder been politically motivated? Would the controversy hurt his chances if he did decide to continue his bid? Of course there were no good answers to this endless procession of questions, because the season was young and so far De Roché had not officially thrown his hat into the ring.
For Doug, the morning had been strange and a little unsettling. He had ridden to the funeral in the limo with Annie and her father. Annie sat silently on the seat between Doug and De Roché. She wore a plain but elegant black dress that Greta had provided for her. Annie had accepted the offering without comment.
The suit of clothes Doug had worn the night before was totally trashed. Annie had not asked what had happened to it. She hadn’t spoken much since awakening. It was as if she was running on auto-pilot, going about the things necessary to see her through this day without the luxury of having to deal with her thoughts. Doug understood and had not pressed her.
From a group of men’s garments Doug had chosen a simple dark sports jacket that he’d paired with clean blue jeans and dark-colored sneakers. Never being comfortable with funerals, he didn’t suppose the deceased cared one way or the other what the attendees wore. Ah, but it wasn’t the deceased one needed to impress at funerals, now was it?
Doug’s mind was still reeling from everything he’d seen and heard in the woods behind De Roché Manor the night before. Could things get any crazier? He’d seen evidence of De Roché’s character as a human being. The bastard was a murderer. He had not murdered the woman directly, but he’d let her die just as surly as if he had killed her. Now Doug was torn as to what he should do about it. If he called in the police, would they even come? And if they did come, would they find the woman buried somewhere on the old man’s property? Would they even look? It was a crazy notion and Doug dismissed the idea.
The most astonishing thing about last night was the Collector’s presence at the scene. There was no doubt he’d been there. Doug had seen him, and so had several others. And he’d been doing something to the woman when the dogs had attacked her. The thought struck Doug that perhaps the dogs had not intentionally attacked the woman. What if they’d been after the demon and the woman had simply gotten in the way?
All of this was conjecture, of course. Doug did not have a clue as to what actually happened last night or what the old man’s role in it was. And further, he had no clue about what the demon he’d been seeing since childhood had been doing there at De Roché Manor taking the soul of an innocent woman. The only thing he was certain of was that De Roché and the Collector were connected in some sick and twisted way.
Doug and De Roché had not spoken since the night before, which was just fine by him. He had nothing more to say to this deplorable man. He just wanted to put the past two days behind him and get as far away from this place as was humanly possible. So Doug was surprised and a little annoyed when on the ride to the funeral De Roché began to talk.
“What do you think of the state of the world today?” he asked.
Annie turned to her father, a puzzled frown on her face. “What did you say?”
“I was talking to Douglas.”
Doug frowned. De Roché sat looking straight ahead, a well proportioned man in a charcoal-colored Andre Cyr suit. His shoulders were broad, his abdomen still relatively flat. He was decadently handsome with a perfect head of iron-gray hair. His hands were beautifully manicured; they were the hands of a man who had never done a lick of physical work.
Here was a man who knew what Doug had seen and heard not eight hours before, yet he was brimming with confidence, calm and absolutely certain that Doug would not expose him.
“I don’t really think about it that much,” Doug replied curtly.
“You don’t care about what happens, then? I mean all the terrorism and instability, the world markets in the tank, everything so volatile.”
“Oh, I care,” Doug said. “But I have the power of one vote, and lately I’m not even sure that counts for much. What I believe is that men like you orchestrate everything for your own ends.”
De Roché chuckled. “So that’s what you believe, is it?”
“I see,” De Roché said with a slight tinge of condescension in his voice. “How did you feel back when the twin towers came tumbling down?”
“Sad and angry,” Doug replied. “I lost a good friend in that mess.”
“Yes, I know,” said De Roché. “Her name was Nadia Zeigler. She and you were childhood sweethearts. Following high school she attended Bowdoin College, graduated magna cum laude, then went on to Harvard where she graduated with a master’s degree in economics. From there she went to work as a financial analyst. On the morning of September 11, 2001 she was at work at her desk on the seventy-second floor of the World Trade Center’s south tower when the first jetliner struck. Her body was never recovered from the wreckage. Not even so much as a tiny strand of her DNA was found.”
Doug turned and looked past Annie, glaring savagely at De Roché. “How the hell did you know that?”
“I make it my business to know things, Douglas. It is the secret of my success. There is nothing I do not know about you. Nothing! Do you understand?”
Doug was beginning to understand. The extent of De Roché’s manipulative cunning was astonishing. The old man had just delivered a warning that said: you mention the things you saw last night and I’ll start talking about your past. Doug was suddenly certain that De Roché knew about the Collector and the experiences Doug had been through as a child. These were things he had never confided in Annie and De Roché was betting that he did not want Annie to know about them now. The old man was right, of course. Oh yeah, Annie, I forgot to tell you, I have these little trances where I see a demon that slaughters people and steals their souls. And the demon talks to me like I’m some sort of conspirator. And when I wake up I find it’s not just a dream but totally fucking real. Cool, huh? Sorry I didn’t mention that ten years ago.
“Besides,” De Roché continued with a knowing little smile, “Nadia Zeigler’s and my paths crossed on numerous occasions. She did some work for me. She was a very bright young woman who had a promising future cut short.”
Doug was floored, speechless. He never would have guessed that Nadia and De Roché were connected. The thought struck him that too many things in his life had a connection that went back to De Roché.
“Do you know what I do for a living, Douglas?”
“Not really. It’s always been kind of vague to me. Annie says you make money with other peoples money. Great gig if you can get it.”
De Roché ignored Doug’s sarcasm. “When I was a very young man I had a mentor,” he said. “He was a very wise man who took an interest in me. He saw that I had talent and he helped me to develop it. By the time I was twenty I was predicting financial trends with amazing accuracy. I made friends who liked what I could do for them and so they let me use their money to make more money.”
“So you’re a stock broker.”
De Roché laughed heartily. “No,” he said shaking his head. “I am a visionary. I see trends and I capitalize on them. I’ve never set foot in any of the exchanges. Mostly I just give advice. My friends either take that advice or leave it. The ones who take it have become enormously wealthy. But my vision is not limited strictly to financial matters.”
“So I’ve heard,” replied Doug.
“Why do you suppose we haven’t been to the moon in nearly forty years, Douglas?”
“What?” This new question was a total shift, and Doug suspected what the old man was doing, drawing the conversation as far away from last night’s events as possible. Doug glanced at Annie. She was looking straight ahead, showing no signs of emotion. He wasn’t even sure she was listening. He wasn’t sure she was capable of any sort of emotional response. “I don’t know,” Doug replied. “Money seems the obvious reason?”
“There’s plenty of money, Douglas. More than enough. We should have been to Mars and beyond by now. We should have been tapping the resources of other worlds, spreading man’s influence throughout the solar system. Instead we wallow around in political quagmire. What we lack is vision. It’s the same reason we can never win a war on terrorism, at least under the present way of thinking, we can’t. We should stomp those who would seek to destroy us, without remorse.”
“You mean the terrorists? I thought we were doing that?”
De Roché chuckled. “We’re playing games, trying not to step on toes or hurt feelings. It’s all about political correctness.”
“I thought it was about oil.”
“Oh yes, Douglas, you are right about that. It is most definitely about oil.”
“That settles it, then.”
“It settles nothing,” De Roché said in irritation. “Oil is the leverage they use against us.”
“So, what do you think we should do about it?”
“We should use all the power at our disposal and take what we want, what we need. We should destroy the enemy and those who support them. And we should do it swiftly, before they obtain the power to destroy us. It is only a matter of time, you know. Just as soon as they’re capable, millions will die in a city like New York. And that will be just the beginning. And we just sit around playing political pussyfoot with them. Bunk!”
“And how would you destroy them, Ed?”
“There are ways.”
De Roché emitted a short, dry laugh. “Power, Douglas, the likes of which this world has never imagined. It is a power as old as time and as fundamental as life itself. And it is right here in our midst, yet most are not even aware of it.”
Doug frowned. De Roché was sounding like a mad man. But that was really no surprise to Doug. “I’m not following you,” he said. “Are you talking about nukes, or something similar?”
De Roché smiled. “No, Douglas. Nothing even close. I am talking about a simple but fundamental kind of power.”
“Yes, you said that. But what is it?”
“Of course you understand that I cannot discuss the details of such a power openly with anyone. It is the greatest secret in the history of the world and it must be protected at all costs.”
“Is this a power that you now possess?” asked Doug.
“Not at the moment,” replied De Roché, “but I will.”
“And this power will be wielded by whom?” Doug asked. He was beginning to get agitated.
“Men of vision, of course.”
“Men like you?”
“Of course. Allow me to explain. On this planet there exists a super-power-elite! It is an ultra secret Cabal, an inter-dimensional society more invisible than anything you could ever imagine, yet for centuries they have controlled everything: money, governments, churches, minds, even souls.”
Annie continued to stare straight ahead as if she’d turned into a block of salt. Doug knew that she had checked out. He couldn’t blame her. This was the day of her mother’s funeral. She wanted to grieve, not discuss the hallucinations of sick and greedy men.
“In short you’re saying that nothing we do matters,” Doug said. “That everything was worked out eons ago. That we’re all just puppets at the mercy of some ultra secret puppet master.”
“In theory, yes, Douglas.”
“Okay, sure, why not,” Doug said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. De Roché was definitely a mad man.
“It doesn’t matter that you do not believe, Douglas,” De Roché said. “Most don’t. It’s supposed to be that way. Denial and non-belief insures the Cabal’s continued survival.”
Doug remained silent in thought. Actually he was beginning to enjoy this. He’d heard about secret societies, of course. The internet, as well as the cable television networks, were filled with theorists who predicted government cover-ups as wide-ranging as UFOs to a secret Illuminati society that was plotting to take over the world. He had always taken most of it with a grain of salt. This was the first time, however, that someone he knew was talking like it was real.
“Who are these people that control everything, Edmond?”
De Roché frowned. “You want names?”
Doug nodded. “Yeah, you seem to know everything else, give me some names.”
Again De Roché frowned. “My dear boy, I can’t give you names.”
“I thought so,” Doug said.
“There are no lists,” De Roché said in irritation. “These are the men in the shadows. They run governments and choose presidents, control minds; they manage the planet’s security forces, organizations such as the CIA, the NSA, INTERPOL, to name just a few.”
“So it wouldn’t be difficult to find out who they are.”
“Much more difficult than you could ever imagine.”
“But you just said—”
“I know what I said, Douglas. The truth is, there are groups within groups, many levels of power. The ones you see on TV or at the White House, or in the halls of congress, they’re merely the spokesmen, the talking heads. The real power brokers have insulated themselves quite successfully, and quite necessarily. I’m sure you can understand why. The men at the highest levels answer to no one. It’s always been that way. Their long term goal is to see that we as a people, attain a oneness-of-mind, that we, as world citizens are spiritually and politically harmonized to a common frequency. The Masters have commanded them to eliminate the old world, with all of its old ideas, to construct a new generation, a new world order.”
“Masters?” Doug said with incredulity. “New world order?”
De Roché flapped an impatient hand. He was becoming agitated. “Never mind,” he said. “Talking to you was a mistake. You have no vision.”
“No, go on,” Doug said. “I’m enjoying this.” In reality he could not believe his ears. De Roché sounded more like a mad man every minute. Whether this shadow elite actually existed or not wasn’t what was important. The fact that De Roché believed they existed was the scary part.
De Roché cleared his throat and was silent for a long moment before he continued. “In recent years, the Masters have backed off somewhat and just watched, wondering where humanity would go if left to its own devices. The result of this is what you see every day on the twenty-four hour news channels: lies, uncertainty, chaos, fundamentalists from every known sect and some unknown, espousing their virtues and damning the rest of us for not towing their line.”
“We live in a world filled with damaging contradictions,” De Roché went on. “Take this nation for instance. On one side you have conservative Christian fundamentalists threatening to tear the heart out of scientific progress, on the other are bleeding heart liberals who would prefer to fund mothers who give birth to huge numbers of crack-babies, or to an establishment that creates the illusion of fighting crime. The result: these internal struggles impede progress; our cities are decaying; our major highways and bridges are crumbling. The drug war is a colossal hoax. The population is degenerating. The whole infrastructure of our country, hell, the world, is collapsing before our eyes as religious fanatics fall to their knees for guidance and rise up with weapons, and the men with true vision are left frustrated and powerless. Well, that is all about to change. We are poised on the brink of a renaissance. The war on terror will end swiftly and decisively. There will be no more bleeding heart liberals and their social programs. Fundamentalism will no longer play a role in scientific decision making. Change is about to come to this planet.”
De Roché stopped, his face flushed, his breathing labored. Doug saw that a fine rash of sweat had broken out on the man’s brow.
“How will you correct all of these injustices where others have failed,” Doug asked.
“The evil doers will be brought to their knees,” De Roché said.
“By this . . . power you spoke of a moment ago?”
De Roché gave a pained grin. “Correct, Douglas.”
“But you can’t tell me what this power is.”
“I can tell you this. I had it in my hand once, and like a fool I let it go. Since then it has remained elusive, until now. Now it is again within my grasp. And I can promise you, I will have it.”
“I understand you’re thinking about running for president,” Doug said.
“The office is merely a focal point,” De Roché said. “There has never been any real power in the presidency. I intend to change that.”
“So, if you’re elected, and you do manage to . . . recapture this . . . power you speak of, then I presume you’ll begin a campaign to set all your ideals in motion.”
“They’re already in motion, Douglas. They have been for a very long time. My job and the job of my administration will be to escalate these principles and bring the dream to fruition.”
“I see,” Doug said. “Frankly it doesn’t sound like the kind of world I’d want to raise children in.”
“Oh, I don’t think you’ll have to worry about that,” De Roché said in a voice that chilled Doug to the marrow.
Doug grasped Annie’s hand and squeezed it. She did not squeeze back. Her hand fell limp in his. Doug feared that she was lost, that everything they’d worked for was lost. Her father was a mad man and Annie was under his spell. De Roché did not say another word. Evidently the conversation was over, and it was okay with Doug. He’d heard enough madness to last him a lifetime.