George Chesbro: Dark Chant In A Crimson Key

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George Chesbro Dark Chant In A Crimson Key
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    Dark Chant In A Crimson Key
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George C. Chesbro

Dark Chant In A Crimson Key

Chapter One

In a just world the commission of good deeds would bestow upon the charitable in our midst commensurate physical beauty and social grace, and Emmet P. Neuberger would not look like a pumpkin-in-progress with a complexion to match, nor act like the buffoon at the dinner party who desperately wants to make a good impression but who can't stop telling bad jokes in a loud voice and whose tie somehow always manages to end up floating in the soup. He had pale green eyes which always appeared to be out of focus, as if they had been set wrong at the factory, and he looked like a man who would smell bad, although he didn't. The obsequious manner in which he dealt with most people only made matters worse.

I considered my aversion to Neuberger to be a character defect on my part, but I took some comfort in the fact that even my brother Garth, quintessential defender of underdogs and buffoons, studiously avoided the man, not only in our business dealings with him but also at the numerous New York charity balls and other assorted galas to which the oft-incredulous but undeniably renowned Frederickson brothers were asked to lend their good offices and presence.

I certainly respected what Neuberger did, which accounted for the fact that somewhere along the way we had gotten on a first-name basis. His grandfather had been one of the more ruthless of the nineteenth-century robber barons who had amassed fortunes in both coal and the railroads to transport it. Before he died, the patriarch, perhaps to assuage a measure of guilt at the lives he'd crushed and twisted out of shape to acquire his treasure horde, had set aside a goodly portion of his gargantuan estate to establish the Cornucopia Foundation, a philanthropic organization with a primary, if not exclusive, task to finance both scientific and emergency relief efforts to assuage hunger, disease, and malnutrition in the world. Emmet P. Neuberger was the current elder scion of the clan carrying on the family tradition of administering the multibillion-dollar philanthropic entity for a salary of a dollar a year. Frederickson and Frederickson often accepted generous fees to run routine investigations on presumably saintly individuals and famine research or relief organizations upon whom or which the board of directors of Cornucopia was considering bestowing some of its legendary largesse, and I occasionally did some pro bono work for them. Neuberger's heart was certainly in the right place, and under his ten-year stewardship the Cornucopia Foundation had enhanced an already impeccable reputation. I wished both Garth and I liked him better personally than we did.

He was in my office on this sunny summer Monday morning to ask me to go to Zurich, because the man who was universally conceded to be the world's most wanted criminal, an individual who specialized in what might be described as terror-driven confidence scams and extortion, had ripped off the Cornucopia Foundation to the high-pitched tune of ten million dollars, and subsequently burned out the eyes and cut out the heart of a hapless Interpol inspector who had presumably gotten too close to his prey, perhaps even seen his real face.

"But why?" I asked.

Emmet P. Neuberger stared at me with his out-of-focus gaze for a few moments, nervously pulled at his pendulous lower lip, shook his head. "Why?"

"Why do you want me to go to Zurich, Emmet? Just what is it you expect me to do there?"

He smiled tentatively, took his fingers away from his mouth, and proceeded to tug at the end of his too-wide tie. "I'm surprised you should even ask, Mongo. Surely you've read that Interpol and the Swiss authorities report they have this Chant Sinclair trapped inside Switzerland, and that it's only a matter of time before their net closes in on him. I would think that a man of your accomplishments and interests, an ex-professor with a Ph.D. in criminology, connoisseur of the bizarre, and world-famous investigator, would at least want to be on the scene when they catch this legendary criminal. I would think it would be like a football fan receiving free tickets and an all-expenses-paid trip to the Super Bowl."

"Very colorful, Emmet. But just because I've been involved in some strange cases doesn't make me a connoisseur of the bizarre, as you put it. At heart I'm really just a simple farm boy from Nebraska. And I'm not a journalist, which means that whatever is going on over there is none of my business. Besides, if I had a buck for every time Interpol or some other police force somewhere in the world announced they were about to catch Sinclair, I could fly to Europe in my own private jet."

"It's different this time. The Swiss Army is being used to help seal off the borders."

"Hell, nobody can even agree on what he looks like now; the last photograph taken of him is twenty-five years old. I know you're anxious to recover Cornucopia's ten million, Emmet, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for anybody to catch Sinclair."

Emmet P. Neuberger again fixed me with his eerie, out-of-focus gaze. There was a good deal of anxiety and tension in his pale green eyes. "And you say you're not intrigued by the unusual? You obviously know a great deal about Chant Sinclair."

"No more than what anybody who reads newspapers and watches television would know."

What those readers and watchers were likely to know was that "Chant" was a nickname that John Sinclair had picked up in Vietnam, although nobody seemed to know how he had acquired it, or what it might mean. He'd been a U.S. Army captain in Special Forces, and a highly decorated war hero after two and a half tours of duty. One day he'd apparently just got up in the morning and decided to desert. On his way out of the country he'd managed to kill five highly trained Army Rangers, no less, who had been unlucky enough to have received orders to go after him. Nobody knew how he'd managed to get out of the country with the Viet Cong, North Vietnamese, and the U.S. Army all on his case, but he had. Nobody knew where he went, or where he lived now. About the only thing everybody did agree on was that within five years after he walked away from the war he'd established a reputation as a master criminal who'd stolen millions from various individuals and companies around the world, usually by means of often very elaborate con games. But he was no white-collar crook; very messy, sometimes bizarre, violence was a kind of signature trademark of his, as with the missing eyes and heart of the Interpol inspector. He seemed to like people to know when he'd been in their neighborhood.

"He stole ten million dollars from us," Neuberger said tersely. There was a good deal of anger in his voice, but I thought I saw an equal measure of fear reflected in his eyes.


He blinked and smiled at me, as though I'd said something especially pleasing to him. "Actually, it's rather complicated. Are you sure you want me to explain it to you?"

"Well, Emmet, I don't know," I replied, glancing at my watch. "If it's all that involved, maybe it had better wait until-"

"He somehow managed to gain access to one of our fund depositories in Europe."

I suppressed a sigh, leaned back in my leather-covered swivel chair, placed my hands behind my head. "You make it sound like a transaction at an automated teller machine."

He thought about it, nodded. "Actually, the analogy is not inappropriate-but only to a degree. You see, at the level of finance at which we operate, in dealing with our investments as well as the organizations and individuals Cornucopia wishes to back financially, money never actually changes hands."

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