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Authors: Chet Williamson

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Siege of Stone

BOOK: Siege of Stone
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THE SEARCHERS, BOOK THREE:

SIEGE OF STONE

 

Chet Williamson

 

 

Digital Edition published by Crossroad Press

© 2012 /
Chet Williamson

 

Copy-edited by: David Dodd

Cover Design By: David Dodd

LICENSE NOTES
 

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only.
 
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Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

OTHER CROSSROAD PRESS PRODUCTS BY CHET WILLIAMSON
 

Novels:

Ash Wednesday

Defenders of the Faith

Dreamthorp

Hunters

Lowland Rider

McKain's Dilemma

Reign

Second Chance

Soulstorm

The Searchers Book I: City of Iron

The Searchers Book II: Empire of Dust

 

Collections:

Tales From the Crossroad

 

Unabridged Audiobooks (as Author and Narrator):

Ash Wednesday

Lowland Rider

Second Chance

Soulstorm

 

Unabridged Audiobooks (as Narrator):

Blood: A Southern Fantasy

Blood Lust (Preternaturals, Book One)

Fabulous Harbors

Gun in Cheek: A Study of "Alternative" Crime Fiction

Nightjack

On the Third Day

Save My Soul (Preternaturals, Book Two)

Son of Gun in Cheek

The Light at the End

The Seventh Secret

The War Amongst the Angels

Torment

 
 
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To the McDonalds:
T. Liam, Elizabeth,
and Brendan Redmon (newest of the clan)

O, beat away the busy meddling fiend

That lays strong siege unto this wretch's soul . . .

 


SHAKESPEARE,
Henry VI, Part II,
II, iii, 21

 

Blood shall drip from wood,

and the stone shall utter its voice;

The peoples shall be troubled,

And the stars shall fall.

 

—2 ESDRAS 5:5

Chapter 1
 

J
oseph Stein looked into the gaunt, wizened face of the man. He had been dead a long time. The turnscrew that pierced the top of his skull was hung over a metal rod, and the rod was fitted into one of a row of vertical brackets attached to the paneled side of the case.

Metal wires ran from the turnscrew down to the man's arms, holding them aloft in an attitude of mid-air crucifixion. The chest had been split open and the ribs folded back, exposing some of the internal organs. Those had been dried, and painted in various colors. The red heart was still connected to the main artery that snaked down from the neck.

Joseph slowly drew closer, until his face was only an inch from the glass that separated the exhibit from the patrons of the Mutter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Others might have turned away, but Joseph had seen far worse. Besides, he could appreciate the painstaking artistry with which the physician who had prepared this specimen had worked. That same kind of patience and attention to detail had earned Joseph the repute in which he was held in the Central Intelligence Agency.

Unfortunately, it was that same reputation that had brought him to his current situation. He was hiding out in a safe house in Philadelphia, along with Tony Luciano and their team leader, Laika Harris, while Richard Skye was cozily tucked in back at Langley, probably trying to decide what new madness to unleash on them. Skye had interrupted their much needed R&R in San Francisco to send them to Philadelphia, supposedly to keep them closer to Langley, but also, Joseph suspected, to keep them from being in one place for too long, which only increased their odds of getting spotted.

As far as everyone in the Company knew, except for Skye and a few above him, Joseph, Laika, and Tony were on individual missions in the Balkans and elsewhere in Asia. But in actuality they were performing black ops within the United States, in direct violation of the CIA charter, first in New York City, and then in the deserts of the high southwest.

Skye had assured them that the creation of their group was the result of a direct presidential request. The President, however, didn't seem to have shared the news with any other government agency, if the FBI man who had insinuated himself into their party in Arizona had been any indication. He had treated them like dangerous fugitives and had wound up dead as a result. You didn't fire a gun at Tony Luciano if you wanted to stay alive.

Even though it had been many weeks before, the three operatives still wondered when the dead federal agent's masters would send more of their dogs out on the hunt. Though they hadn't seen anyone suspicious in the two weeks they had been in Philadelphia, that didn't mean the feds weren't looking for them. After all, the ops had killed one of their agents, and they weren't too forgiving about things like that.

Joseph tried to push the thought to the back of his mind, and concentrated on the exhibits. He and Laika and Tony had seen most of the tourist attractions in the city, including the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Christ Church, Betsy Ross' house, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Tony had been disappointed that the statue of Sylvester Stallone as Rocky was no longer out front.

Joseph had even talked Laika into going to the Poe house, but she had been disappointed to find it completely bare, since none of Poe's furniture had survived. Joseph applauded the Park Service's decision not to fill the rooms with period pieces. The empty chambers were, for him, far more evocative of Poe's haunting presence.

He felt, as he walked through the low-ceilinged, whitewashed rooms, that he had somehow come home. It was Poe's stories that had enthralled him as a child, and led him into his lifelong interest in weird and supernatural literature and films. As he stood in the dirt-floored basement of Poe's house, he had found himself wondering if this place was what Poe had pictured as he wrote "The Black Cat," if those basement stairs were the ones down which the narrator's wife had tumbled, dead, or if that wall was the one behind which he had entombed both her and the cat. It was as close, Joseph thought, to looking through Poe's eyes as he could ever come.

In a sense, he owed Poe his vocation as well as his avocation. Joseph's love of popular fiction had led him to the spy books and movies that had intrigued him as a teenager and eventually brought him to the CIA, the ideal place for his precise, logical, and encyclopedic mind.

It was also an ideal place for a person fascinated by the macabre, as was the Mutter Museum. In retrospect, however, Joseph thought the museum was a bad choice for a place to forget what he had been through in the past few months. The first few rooms were innocuous enough, with a turn of the century doctor's office, and some circumspect displays of glass X-ray tubes and presidential artifacts, including Grover Cleveland's jaw tumor.

However, the cases on the wide gallery and those in the large room below held the things for which the Mutter was notorious. Hundreds of human skulls were carefully labeled with the names of the subjects, their occupations, and causes of death.

The Soap Woman, whose body, buried in chemical-rich soil, had turned completely to adipose tissue, looked up at Joseph. Her mouth was open in a silent and eternal scream, as if shocked by the glass-cased display her remains had become, a momentary thrill for curiosity seekers.

Jars filled with preservatives held the raddled heads and limbs of syphilis victims. Next to them were molds of other victims' faces, the decay of their flesh preserved perfectly in multihued wax, like 3-D color photographs.

In the room at the bottom of the stairs, a massive dried colon reared up like a sandworm from
Dune
, and the shared livers of Barnum's Siamese Twins, Chang and Eng, sat in shadow in a pan. A number of wide metal cabinets held thousands of items that had been either accidentally swallowed or aspirated by human beings, and a well-worn book detailed the circumstances of every nail, tack, buttonhook, and shard of glass.

Joseph spent twenty minutes studying the various invaders, and when he looked up again, he saw that he was alone in the museum. There had been only a few other people to begin with, and now they were gone. The solitude did not bother Joseph, even in the midst of so much evidence of human frailty. He knew that there were far greater things to fear in this world than the dead.

The Prisoner, for one. Joseph and the other ops thought he had been responsible in one way or another for every bizarre occurrence that had taken place since Skye had assigned them to their current job of debunking supposedly paranormal phenomena.

It had all started with a mass suicide that they had later found out was a mass
assassination
of a group of men, the last Knights Templar, assigned by the Roman Catholic Church to investigate acts possibly caused by a strange prisoner. And things became stranger when they found out that the church had apparently been keeping the Prisoner captive for centuries.

The situation had shaken Joseph to the very roots of his skepticism. He had always gloried in his materialism, but now every bit of evidence, and his own experiences, pointed to an ageless prisoner, somehow bound and weakened by lead, who nevertheless had the power to communicate to others with his mind alone.

BOOK: Siege of Stone
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