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Authors: George C. Chesbro

Tags: #Archaeological thefts, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Fiction

Jungle Of Steel And Stone (20 page)

BOOK: Jungle Of Steel And Stone
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Veil sways as he stares, mesmerized, into the right light-eye of the
car.
Then he falls forward onto the
car's
metal skin.

"What the fuck's the matter with you, you crazy son of a bitch? You want to commit suicide, do it with someone else!"

There is a
Newyorkcity
warrior standing beside him. The man is shouting and waving his arms, obviously threatening him.

"Please help me, Nal-toon. I cannot see well enough to fight. I am too weak to fight."

"What the hell did you say?"

"Please, Nal-toon. Have mercy one more time."

"God damn, you smell like a fucking sewer! You're on drugs, aren't you?"

Yes, Veil thinks—the Nal-toon is causing the warrior to stay his hand. Now it is up to him to summon the necessary will and strength. . . .

Veil pushes off the
car's
metal skin. Holding his bundle against his body with both hands, he staggers the rest of the way across the
street,
stumbles over an embankment, and falls into night on the other side.

Chapter Thirteen

V
eil awoke with a start, momentarily disoriented by the close proximity of his dream-Toby to their present position and by the fact that his dream-Toby's actions had gone far beyond anything Reyna had told him or that he could reasonably assume to have happened.

He looked around for Reyna but could not see her. There was only the sound of the tape recorder playing its loop, and an occasional
whoosh
of night traffic on the expressway. Alarmed, he leapt to his feet, looked around again, then arbitrarily chose to go to his left—in the direction of the expressway.

He found Reyna standing just inside a copse of trees, staring out over an empty expressway.

"Don't be frightened, Reyna," Veil said as he came up behind her. "It's me. What's the matter?"

Reyna pointed out toward the expressway. "Nothing, I guess. Something happened out there a few minutes ago."

"What?"

"It must have been a near accident. There isn't that much traffic, but a dog might have been crossing. All of a sudden there was a lot of honking and a screech of brakes. I was terrified that Toby had gone around us, tried to cross the expressway and been hit by a car. I ran over here, but now I can't see. . . . Veil, what's wrong?"

"Nothing," he replied tightly.

"You look very strange."

"I was just thinking that it could very well have been Toby who spooked that driver."

"Well, we really have no way of knowing," Reyna said after thinking about it for a few moments. "We can't look for spoor until it gets light, but he couldn't have come through this area without leaving tracks. If we find any, we'll know he's gone on to the next cemetery."

"He has a few city blocks to cross before he gets there."

"Yes, but it's dark. It will be dawn in a couple of hours. He knows that, so he'll go to ground at the first opportunity—when he reaches the cemetery. What concerns me is the fact that if Toby has crossed the expressway, it means he's not paying any attention to either me or the totems I left." She paused, shrugged. "There's nothing to be done about it now. You must be hungry."

"A little," Veil replied distantly, still distracted by the overlap between the near accident in his dream and its real-life counterpart.

They walked back to their original position. Veil took a sandwich out of the bag, uncapped a container of cold coffee, then sat on the wall and began to eat. He ate in silence for a few minutes, thinking, then slowly became aware that Reyna was staring at him.

"I talked to my friend again," Reyna said when Veil glanced over at her.

Veil sipped at his coffee. "What friend?"

"The one I told you about; the one who's writing a history of the Vietnam War."

"Oh, that friend. The one who half believes in fairy tales."

"He says he's now convinced that this story about Archangel—the yellow-haired soldier and CIA agent I told you about—is true, and he's really excited about it." "I thought we weren't going to talk about this subject anymore."

"As I recall, you asked me not to stalk
you.
Unless you're Archangel, I can't see what harm it does to talk about him. Does it bother you to have me talk about him?"

She was getting cute, Veil thought as he took another bite of his sandwich, drank more coffee, and said nothing.

"Are you?"

"Am I what, Reyna?"

"Are you Archangel?"

"I"m a painter."

"Were
you Archangel twenty years ago?"

"Now you're stalking me again, Reyna."

"My friend says this Archangel had developed a reputation as a real crazy man, willing to do anything. He also happened to be the U.S. Army's best martial-arts expert. It seems that the Pentagon wanted to—"

"Reyna, are you very attached to this friend of yours?"

"Yes," Reyna answered after a pause. The sly, coquettish tone she had been using was gone, replaced by a note of confusion brought on by the sudden coldness in Veil's voice and eyes. "I like him very much."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

"Why,
Veil?"

"Because he's going to be dead very soon." Orville Madison would kill anyone he suspected of knowing about Archangel. And then the Director of Operations would kill him. And he would let Sharon die.

They stared at each other in silence broken only by the sound of the tape loop on the recorder and the faint drone of the small transistor radio in Reyna's pocket. When Reyna finally spoke, her tone was filled with reproach. "Oh, Veil, that's a terrible joke."

"I'm not joking," Veil responded curtly. From the moment Reyna had again brought up the subject of Archangel, Veil's mind had been working rapidly, sorting through options available to him. He'd decided that the researcher had to be stopped, if possible, and that Reyna was the most likely candidate to stop him. If Reyna were to perform this task, she first had to be convinced of its necessity; she had to be thoroughly shaken, and he could think of nothing more terrifying than the truth.

Reyna had involuntarily taken a step backward. "Veil," she said in a small voice, "after all you've done for Toby, I'm almost ashamed to tell you this—but I have to. Sometimes you frighten me. You can go through these sudden changes; when you do, something projects out from you that another person can almost
feel.
This is the second time you've frightened me."

Veil shifted his position slightly so that the light from a nearby street lamp fell across his face and eyes. He knew very well what was projected there, and he wanted Reyna to feel its full impact; he wanted her frightened. "You don't have to be frightened of me, Reyna," he said in a low, flat voice. "But the story
I
heard about this Archangel
is
pretty scary. If it's true, it explains why your friend doesn't have too much longer to live. Would you like to hear the story?"

"I'm not sure, Veil. I . . . don't think so."

"Oh, but I think you should. If the story is true, it could be that you're the only person who can save your friend's life. I don't have the slightest idea how you'd get him to stop his research on this Archangel story, because he's obviously hyper about it, but that's what you'd have to do if you want to save his life—and others'."

"Veil, please stop. Now you're frightening me very much."

"Once—and only once—this Archangel's company commander gave him what might be considered a compliment; actually it was a half compliment. The man called Archangel the finest warrior he'd ever met, and the worst soldier to ever make it out of boot camp; apparently, Archangel didn't like to take orders. I've heard those stories about him being mad. Who knows? He may have had emotional problems caused by a handicap no one knew about. The rumors were that he was hell on wheels in battle because he was too crazy to fear death, and he loved violence—probably because it freed him from the pain caused by this peculiar handicap. No matter. Because he didn't give a damn about anything but killing the enemy, he managed to amass more honors than any other man fighting in Vietnam. Since he was also CIA—and had been since his days in boot camp—as well as an Army captain, he was chosen by the agency to go into Laos and organize the Hmong tribes that were fighting against the Pathet Lao. Since Archangel's activities were strictly illegal, they were also, of necessity, top-secret; thus the need for a code name.

"Archangel continued his winning ways—if you can call them that—in Laos. He learned the language. He was very effective, not only as a combat fighter but also as a technician and planner. The people of the Hmong became fiercely, even obsessively, loyal to him, and he to them. In fact, he became so effective that the Pathet Lao put what amounted to a five-thousand-dollar bounty on Archangel's head—a small fortune to any Hmong, not to mention just about any native of Southeast Asia. It was never collected by anyone, although hundreds of people had opportunities. Now, that's how legends grow about madmen.

"In the meantime, Archangel was having a grand and glorious time. In fact, freed of virtually all constraints imposed by military discipline, free to do nothing but go around killing the enemy, he was—if you'll pardon the crudeness—happy as a pig in shit. And, of course, during the time all this was taking place, it was clear to everyone except a few generals and politicians that we were losing the war.

"Now, enter the villain of the piece: Archangel's CIA controller. As the story goes, this man could—if one wanted to be excessively charitable—be called a sadistic son of a bitch. He was a controller in every sense of the word; he not only wanted to control his operatives' actions, but he also wanted their souls. He enjoyed gutting people. He and Archangel didn't get on well.

"Back in the United States, a few generals and politicians had decided that all that was needed to boost public morale and rally support for the war was a bona fide hero—someone like Sergeant York in World War I, or Audie Murphy in World War II. This person's war record would be made public, a tremendous media blitz would be unleashed, and our hero would spend the rest of the war running back and forth across the country making public appearances, talking up the war effort, that sort of thing. Archangel was the man chosen to play this public-relations hero. Understand—he wasn't chosen because he was the best candidate. True, he had the best war record— if one reduces that to counting medals, which is what was done. Also, he was deemed photogenic. But he was indeed crazy and, for the most part, uncontrollable. Archangel was chosen because his controller had done a truly heroic job of lobbying. The controller did this because his own career would be enhanced if one of his men did the job, of course, but the most important reason for the lobbying effort was the controller's knowledge that Archangel would truly detest the part. Archangel belonged in the jungle, not on television, and the thought of putting Archangel on television and the lecture circuit pleased the controller immensely.

"Archangel wasn't in a position to refuse, so he had to accept the assignment. The controller brought in a South Vietnamese colonel to replace Archangel with the Hmong—a very strange choice, Archangel thought at the time—and Archangel was sent off to Hawaii for six weeks of rest, recreation, and intensive drilling on how to become a comic-book hero. In the United States everything was being geared up for our hero's entrance onstage. It was insane, by the way, because Archangel would have lasted about a week on this trip before he broke some talk-show host's neck. But that's neither here nor there."

"He was never put in place, was he?" Reyna asked, her voice breaking slightly. In the pale light cast by the street lamp her face looked as ashen as it had when Veil had first seen her.

"Obviously not," he replied dryly. "If he had been put in place, your friend wouldn't have anything to dig for, would he?"

"What happened, Veil?"

"The story goes that Archangel—who never slept well— was walking the streets of Saigon a few hours before his early-morning flight back to the United States was scheduled to take off. He was approached by a pimp who offered him a young boy and girl for his sexual pleasure. Archangel knew the children; they were from the Hmong tribe he'd fought with."

BOOK: Jungle Of Steel And Stone
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