Part XXIII: The Devil's Chessboard
"'Well lookee who's here! I knew we'd meet again Arlie. And gettin' all cozy with the lady I've been looking for. I always said, no such thing as coincidence.'
Chuck was wired, but he wasn't tripping. He wasn't even high on any kind of brain candy. Something else was simmering behind those crazy eyes.
'It's just gotta be fate. There's someone here you oughta meet. This little gal made his aquaintance jest a while ago and she can tell you he's something else.'
Like I said before, Chuck could go on and on. I don't have time to tell everything he told me that night. My problem was finding Porkrind and getting my new lady friend out of there without any trouble. 'Cept for a junkie, there's no one you want to trust less than a pimp and a pander. That's all I wanted to believe Chuck was, but now I know there's worse, all kinds of it. As Chuck was going on about this cat Bryce Lloyd, his new sugar daddy I guessed, I was looking all around for Porkrind. I knew I couldn't split without him.
'See, Bryce is tight with all these dudes in the music business. He has connections through the Church of the True Way. That's kind of a secret see, an artist like Bryce can't be too easy to figure out. But you know how the Beatles have the Maharishi, Bryce has the True Way, and if you knew all the other famous folks who were part of the Church...'
I got Michaela's attention and she followed my gaze to the archway that lead to the next room, where I hoped to find Porkrind. As we squeezed through the crowd, Chuck stuck close, still talking.
'What most people don't know is that the True Way came out of the Church of Psychological Technology. It was this English couple, geniuses both of them, they figured out pretty quick that H Bob Hibbert was on to something, even if he was playing them all for suckers. They realized that the whole con couldn't work unless there was something to it, something real to keep the rubes hooked. I don't know how, but somehow they found out about what Hibbert was into with Jake Parnell before he started PsychTechnology. Jake was a real rocket scientist at the Jet Propulsion Labs, and he was a disciple of the Beast, the famous English dude who discovered the old magick and Parnell and Hibbert tried to finish his work of raising the Moon Child. Some say they did it, but Bryce won't talk about that.'
Past the archway was a wide hallway with a few rooms and another big room beyond. Where the hell was Porkrind?
'They went out to the Yucatan, and while they partied and carried on the biggest storm in one hundred years hit their beach camp. That's when the leader John Wetherbee had his vision of the demon Huracán. He saw that God and the Devil, Jesus and Lucifer were all part of the same thing. He wrote it all down in The Four Waves and that became the scriptures of the True Way and he took his followers that survived the storm back to the States to preach the new revelation. They have Centers all over the country now and soon they'll be bigger than PsychTechnology...'
We squeezed through the crowded hallway. I was tempted to check the rooms off the hallway, but went on to the bigger open area at the end of the hall.
'Bryce is one of the first he ordained in San Francisco. His ministry is his music. It's kind of avant garde but he influences a lot of other musicians and there's lots that get what he's trying to do. He knows how tones and chords trigger instincts and emotions and how to modulate the response with light and color. He can make his audience deliriously happy, then so mad they want to kill him then stun them into submission all in the space of an hour. There's only a few that really understand what's behind his music, the Nordic imagery, the stuff from the Rig Veda. He has contacts with the Teutonic Lodge and ODESSA, he's in touch with Miguel Serrano and that Casteneda guy and a place in Chile called the Eagle's Nest. He says in this age that art is the best disguise for power...'
When we got to the archway, the room was dominated by a tall man with a stocky build. He wore a kind of black robe with a clerical collar and his head was shaved. His thick eyebrows were black like his goatee and his eyes were dark and piercing. I made eye contact for a split second, long enough to know he was tripping too, probably mescaline or peyote. He didn't want me to know what he was thinking and that was fine with me, because I had to come up with a plan fast. Next to him was Porkrind, telling him all about the Rolling Curse. Chuck ran up to him like a puppy when the schoolbus comes around in the afternoon. Chuck interupted Porkrind, and pointed to us. Bryce finally held up a hand to silence Chuck.
'They know I have something they want", said Michaela, "but I mustn't give it to them. Then they'll kill me, or make me one of Charlie's slaves. They are going to do something awful with it. We have to find a way to stop them.'
The choice was I could save Porkrind, but I'd lose my queen. There was something selfish in that, I loved her. But it would have been betraying her.
'Hey Arlie! This gentleman says he can help me. He can send away the the Rolling Curse!'
Damn Porkrind, we had at least taught him to shut up went the Holsteins showed up or we were in front of a judge, but the fool must have thought Bryce was some kind of priest that he could confess everything to. He had gone over to them of his own free will. Later Chuck'd use him to buy the knives they used when they slaughtered that director and his wife and the other couple. But first they killed Porkrind because his conscience got the better of him and he tried to go to the police. It was kind of a comfort to know that. So instead of saving my friend, I took my queen and Bryce sent the Rolling Curse after me."
Arlie went quiet. Melchizedek struggled a bit with the sense that the silence was significant. The gut response was to ask what happened next, and the pause in the narrative seemed a prompt for a question.
"That's an interesting story Arlie. I get the feeling there's a specific reason for telling it."
"There is sir. I had to establish my credentials. Not that talking is much good for that, but I have reason to believe you are a man of character."
"Why is that?"
"That's because of the enemies you've made. If they're against you, you can't be all bad."
Now Melchizedek took a few moments and then said, "What else do you have to tell me?"
"The rest of the story first. I'm sure I had your attention before, but now you need to hear it in the right way. We ran from Bryce and the True Way for years. They had their own problems and had to change names and the way they operated as some of their people got careless and certain connnections became public, but pawns are cheap. But that Curse dogged my days and I had to send Michaela away somewhere safe. To protect her, I don't even know where she is, but only how to get in touch if the coast is ever clear. And there's also a signal that I'm being coerced and she should not respond.
Now they've caught up with me again, but they have a new proposal. They've offered to lift the Curse and call off the hunt for Michaela if I do them a favor. They want me to gain your confidence then betray you to one of their people inside who will kill you and make it look like fight. Chuck always talked about the True Way's connnections in Europe, but they are just part of something bigger. Something I got stuck on the wrong end of a long time ago. Course I ain't going to do what they want, else I wouldn't be telling you this. I don't believe for a minute that they will let Michaela alone but so far they seem to believe they've got a move for me that I can't pass up. But I've got one move left that they'll never understand."
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