Friday, November 18, 2005

Chapter Thirteen: A Tasty Breakfast; or, An Appeal to Conscience

I ate Eggs Benedict. They were surprisingly good. "Chef's Special," the menu proclaimed. I ate ravenously.

Gareth ordered a stack of wheatcakes but only picked at them. He was obviously uncomfortable with the meeting.

"Who are the Children of Rufus?" he asked.

"Unimportant," I said. "What's important is that I have been in contact with Octavian Bench. You do know all about Bench, right? He's the mover and shaker in this town, and he wants the book. Your penny-ante ninjas and whatever else you can throw at me aren't going to cut it. I have the book hidden. Even if I give you the location under duress, you won't get it. So why should I give it to you instead of a man who can hound me for the rest of my life if he so chooses?"

He poured syrup meaninglessly on his stack. "I don't want the book," he said.

"What are you talking about?"

"I want you to destroy it."

That was unexpected but not terribly surprising. I had thought of it myself. The book was known to be dangerous, after all. I just wondered why he wanted it destroyed. I asked him why he wanted that.

"Do you know how the Thracktons got the book?" he asked. I said I didn't. "Her grandfather, Obadiah Thrackton, stole it from my great-great-grandmother in 1869."

"Your great-grandmother."

"Yes. Let's just call her Chloe. Chloe lived in Ears Of Corn, Iowa, which was famous for, well, its corn. She hadn't always lived there - she and her family had come to Iowa from Hungary years before. They brought with them an heirloom that they had acquired at some point in Europe."

"The Liber Draconis Mundi."

"That damned book. My father used to call it Satan's Book. He told me the story of Chloe. He told it to me so I could find the book and burn it. Or rip it up. Destroy it however I could."

"You were talking about Chloe."

"In 1869, Chloe was a young widow - well, she was thirty, which wasn't young back then, but you get my drift. She had two children to raise, and a large amount of money from her husband - we'll call him James - who had invented a special sealant that kept wood from rotting - both sides used it in the Civil War, which is why he became rich. He died from gout in 1867, leaving her his fortune and a beautiful homestead in Ears Of Corn. One day she went into Des Moines and met Obadiah Thrackton, who was a charming young railroad tycoon. She wasn't exactly smitten with him - as far as her diary tells, nothing ever happened between them - but she was intrigued by him. During one of their long chats over absinthe at the local tavern - Lutheran Luke's - she mentioned that she owned the book. Great-great-grandma couldn't hold her liquor, apparently."

"He stole it."

"Damned right he did. At least that's what she wrote in her diary. She could never prove it, though. She called the local constabulatory and they searched anyplace Obadiah might have it hidden, but could never find it. She claimed that she had proof that he stole it, but she never wrote it down and never produced it."

"Do you have any proof that your family owned it prior to 1869?"

"Plenty of documents - diaries, a daguerreotype dated 1858, a few letters - all showing that my family brought the book with them from Europe and had possession of it for decades, if not centuries. The Thracktons, as you know, left Iowa in 1877, the same year my great-great-grandmother died."

"In the Ovine Crisis?"

"No, in a strange, slightly suspicious silo accident. We have always suspected that Obadiah Thrackton got tired of her public demands for the book, so he had her killed."

"He didn't do it himself?"

"He cleverly left the state three weeks before her death. A perfect alibi - he was a thousand miles away when she died."


"Exactly. Since then we have been waiting for our opportunity. The Thracktons became even richer here in New Alexandria, and their security became airtight. Yolanda was the last Thrackton. When we heard she had given the book to you, we decided to appeal to your sense of justice."

"By telling a bunch of yokels that I was a Cuban spy and having them kidnap me?"

He poked at his wheatcakes. "Yes, well, we're not very good at this thing. My father used to take care of this sort of transaction. But he's been spending some time in the Morningwood Rest Facility ever since Congressman Forrester did that strip tease on the floor of the House. My father can't get rid of the nightmares."

I actually pitied his father. That wasn't a good time for any of us.

"So we sent Jeb and his crew after you. Yes, it was stupid, but we weren't sure what you were planning on doing with the book."

"You could have asked."

"We've been watching you, Mr. Shaw. You have been meeting with a lot of people since you obtained the book. We did not think you would have responded to us just asking."

I shook my head. "Yes, well, abducting and beating me wasn't a very good move, either."

Gareth waved that off. "Water under the bridge, Mr. Shaw. The point is: we can prove this story. We want the book. We will pay you quite a bit. Probably not as much as Octavian Bench, but he has no claim on the book and would use it poorly. We know what someone with access to and knowledge of the book can do. Do you, Mr. Shaw?"

"I have an idea."

"We always wanted to simply keep the book for our family. My father still wants to. He would be furious if he knew of my plans for the book. Of course, he has no say in the matter these days. I have heard enough about the book to be frightened by its potential. I wish to destroy it. Won't you allow me to?"

I had finished my second order of eggs. I looked at my watch. It was five o'clock in the morning. I would not get a nap, and I would be grumpy all day. I was already grumpy with all these parties tugging at me.

"Give me a phone number where I can call you," I said, standing up and throwing twenty dollars on the table. "I'll think about it."

He gave me a card. I pocketed it and left. I had a lot to think about.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I just wanted to let you know that I've very much enjoyed your blog, I happened upon it while procrastinating one night (which I do often, since I'm in college and it seems I would rather do pretty much anything than my work) and it has been a pleasant distraction. I was just wondering if you were going to continue the story?
~ Chrissy

9:33 PM  

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