No tale is much of a story without a good villain. What would Othello be without Iago, Peter Pan without Captain Hook, or the Silence of the Lambs without Hannibal Lecter? You might have thought this tale already has its share: Razuni, Barabbas and Judas Iscariot, Darsi and Morgause, Mordred and Father Ignatius—not to mention Fido-Narc-Narc. But no, the worst of the lot is still to come, a seemingly mild-mannered Irish FBI agent named, improbably enough, Sean Dalton (Sean Connery had already made a name for himself playing James Bond, and Timothy Dalton would follow in his footsteps more than a decade in the future). Continue reading
I didn’t bother to tell Ms. Doubletree I was back from the Near East. School was starting back up in only a couple of weeks, and not reporting in saved me from having to make up an excuse about why I wasn’t back in hot pursuit of the Muse. Actually, I was in hot pursuit of the Muse; it just happened to be Clio, the Muse of History, rather than one of her more literary sisters. And although one of my adolescent fantasies was to do a pair of sisters (doomed to remain unfulfilled, it seemed, since Anne didn’t have a sister), Clio demands absolute fidelity. “If you’re going to leave me, then just say goodbye and get the hell out,” she told me back at the start of the summer when I first started two-timing her. “But this namby-pamby ‘I still love you honey but I need my space’ shit has got to stop.” Clio was never one to use flowery language, as her sisters Calliope or Erato were inclined to do, when a good expletive would serve her purpose just as well. I was glad to be back in her loving arms, and told her with such frequency and intensity during my first week home from Skokie that she forgave me my little indiscretion. Continue reading
I’d figured there was no way we could have gotten the vase out of the country. It was too large to hide, too obviously old to disguise. Officials in the Middle East have become pretty possessive of their antiquities after hundreds of years of so-called civilized Europeans, from Nero’s Romans to Victoria’s Britons, plundering their national treasures. Besides, while I could rationalize taking the scroll, I couldn’t justify stealing more than necessary.
On the other hand, I was optimistic we could hide the scroll. I bought a souvenir poster in a cardboard tube, stuck the scroll inside, and carefully resealed it, even to the point of moving the price tag across the seam as if it had been undisturbed since a midnight stocker had carelessly stuck it there. Not that I didn’t experience a drop or two of cold sweat when we passed through Israeli customs. Unlike the officials in the United States, those guys carried serious weapons. The kind that could carpet the inspection areas with dead bodies without having to pull the trigger more than once. But they didn’t even give us a second glance. While their duties theoretically included smuggling of any sort, their real concern was preventing the smuggling of things that went boom or rat-a-tat-tat into the country or onto Israeli aircraft. Not to mention that their constitution didn’t prohibit racial profiling, and even with a week’s worth of desert tan we were clearly not Arabs. Continue reading
If I were a real novelist and not just a misguided historian, I would never have written this chapter. It’s too implausible, even for low fiction. But since it’s what actually happened, I’ll just present the facts and let you believe what you will.
I called the council of war by tinking on The Grail with a table knife, surreptitiously giving myself an excuse of holding her as I spoke.
“Ladies and Gentlemen. You may wonder why I called you here today. It turns out that I stand at a critical fork on the pathway of my life—a track that tolerates no backtracking, I might add—and I need you, my dearest friends, to help me decide which is the most expeditious and beneficial direction for the journey to take.”
How I Spent My Summer Vacation, by Bradley Schuster
My plans for the summer were simple and exciting. After the last exam had been taken and the last paper turned in, I intended to spend a couple of days totally absorbed in Layl’Annie before she headed back to Nacogdoches—which, fortunately, was only three hours away—for the summer. Then I would be free to log some serious time with The Grail, hearing new and fascinating historical insights: the doomed efforts of Alfred the Great to keep the Danes at bay, the religious and matrimonial machinations of Henry VIII, the carefully-concocted virginity of Lizzy I. But suddenly and unexpectedly, the story was over.
Sorry, she told me. If only I hadn’t been so reckless with that liturgical SWAT team. She sounded like she sincerely regretted it.
So the morning Anne drove away I trudged to Ms. Doubletree’s office to start on my new career. Continue reading
THE GRAIL’S STORY, PART XXXI: Escape to East Texas
“Happy New Year, y’all.”
Ding. Somebody thumped me in the head with a wine glass. Then again. More sentiments about new years being happy.
“Lawd, Sarah Beth. I don’t know when I’ve had so much fun at a party.”
Nothing was anything like it had been when I’d gone to sleep. The room was lit up with lights without flames, some stuck to the ceilings, others standing on poles. Music and voices were coming out of a box in the corner with a bunch of little tiny black and white musicians inside. Strangest of all, the men were all clean shaven and the women were clean. Continue reading
The Boomer had chosen well; the place was everything that a Hollywood graveyard should be. Surrounded by a wrought iron fence that was leaning in a spot right of the gate. Thick weeds flourished outside, threatening to take over inside as well if the caretaker ever relaxed his vigilance. Large oaks spread their branches low over the graves. Fresh flowers struggled here and there against the general sense of decay.
Apparently the yellow Samsonite was filled with sheet metal or old bricks or had a woman’s purse inside or something, because for all his size The Boomer struggled a little manhandling it out of the trunk. “Houston doesn’t have any really old cemeteries. Not like the East coast,” he lectured as we walked toward the center of the plot. “Not that old is necessarily better, but it feels like it should be better. This graveyard, one of the earliest ones, hasn’t had a burial in more than twenty years. Plus I was betting on it not being locked at night, like some of the fancier places are.” Continue reading
THE GRAIL’S STORY, PART XXX: In the Arms of the Church
Merlin had awakened me with the gentleness of a mature lover on a lazy Sunday morning. At Rachael’s home I woke to a quiet family gathering, although the wine was more like Kool-Aid. But this time I came to in the middle of an auditorium full of flickering candles, droning voices, and strange people watching me.
Closest to me were three chanting figures, two dressed in dark robes and one wearing a shocking shade of scarlet. A couple of small boys stood inconspicuously a little distance away, swinging smoking braziers. Further out were rows of better dressed people seated on benches backed up by the stolid peasantry, standing of course. The man in scarlet droned in Latin, and occasionally everybody else echoed a brief response. Continue reading
Just about the time the Grail began to fade from lack of nourishment, Layl’Annie showed up at my apartment and headed for the kitchen. I wrapped up the day’s session and was well into the first kiss of the evening when the telephone rang. I ignored it, of course, prepared to let it do its worst—remember, this was long before the days of cells phones, when common courtesy has been universally replaced by the need to stay connected and most people will answer the phone under any and all circumstances. I mean, who could it have possibly been that was worth interrupting what I was doing? If somebody had died, I didn’t really want to know about it until morning anyway—it would have ruined the evening with no positive benefits to compensate. But Anne made me answer it, demonstrating once again that women—even intellectually superior women—often have more curiosity than good sense.
It was The Boomer. Continue reading