George Chesbro: The Cold Smell Of Sacred Stone

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George Chesbro The Cold Smell Of Sacred Stone
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    The Cold Smell Of Sacred Stone
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Madison had tripped, all right-over his obsessive hatred for a man who'd become a legend as the mysterious and deadly "Archangel" during the war in Southeast Asia.

So Orville Madison had met his match and his end-but it was not the end of the matter, at least not for me. Garth, his own brains apparently fried by doses of a rare and little-understood drug he'd been fed during the course of an investigation he'd been conducting before being abruptly reassigned by the NYPD to help me search for Veil, had fallen into a rigid catatonic state immediately after he'd blown away Madison's head and put a bullet into Veil's right shoulder. Mr. Lippitt, our seemingly ageless friend who was the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was of the opinion that being forced to become involved in my search for Veil had actually saved Garth's life. Even if that was true, it was little comfort to me; fifty minutes before, I had left Garth, slack-jawed and glassy-eyed, staring vacantly at the beige-colored stucco ceiling of his room from his bed in a secret D.I.A. clinic at the Rockland Psychiatric Center, a few miles upstate.

Nor did I think the matter was finished for Veil, despite his contrary opinion. During the course of my search for Archangel, Veil, I had crossed paths with one of the most terrifying men I had ever met-Henry Kitten. Kitten was not terrifying because he was mindless, or because he was big-which he most certainly was-or because he was capable of great savagery; indeed, Veil Kendry, when he chose to be, was probably as merciless as Kitten, if not more so. No; Henry Kitten was terrifying for the same reason I would find Veil terrifying if Veil were my enemy instead of my friend. Like Veil, Henry Kitten was a man who gave the impression-a correct one-that he was a human weapon against which there was virtually no defense, an inexorable killing machine which, if loosed on you, was an occasion for a quick trip to your lawyer's office to update your will, if you had time. Like Veil, Kitten was a master of the martial arts, a man who'd literally dodged my bullets and, with a single blow, left me paralyzed on a snow-covered field in a park in New Jersey while he'd dumped two men who hadn't dodged my bullets into the Hudson River. Veil and Kitten were two awesome warriors.

Although the white ninja with the triangular face and pale, khaki-colored eyes could have killed me on that day, he hadn't. Yet Henry Kitten hadn't spared my life out of.kindness or mercy, but simply because he found me useful in his own hunt for Veil. I had been left alive to play the dual roles of stalking horse and Judas goat. Unlike Veil, who made his living as an artist and used his martial skills only when necessary, Kitten was a free-lance assassin, reputedly the global underworld's best and highest paid. He'd been hired by Orville Madison, who'd used him in the past, to finish the job Madison's assassin had botched. Veil, who claimed never to have heard of Kitten, had dismissed my suggestion that the sudden death of Kitten's employer would make no difference at all to the assassin. But Kitten was a consummate professional who had made it clear to me that he took great pride in his work, played for an international audience of potential future employers, and always finished an assignment. I half suspected that Veil's attitude of casual disregard of my warnings was intended to protect me by keeping me out of harm's way. Under other circumstances I wouldn't have been concerned, since I'd put my money on Veil in a mano-a-mano fight with any man, using any weapons, in any kind of test, from a duel with machine guns to a spitting contest. The problem now was that Veil's right collarbone had been cracked by the bullet my brother, as he plummeted into the mindless void where he was now lost, had fired into him, and it seemed to me that Veil's damaged arm tipped the odds a bit too much in Kitten's favor. Veil Kendry was a friend who'd saved my life and Garth's on more than one occasion in the preceding months. If Henry Kitten was still coming at Veil, and there was no doubt in my mind that he was, I wanted to be at Veil's side when the ninja arrived.

Which was why I was now sitting in my car outside a gutted factory building in the East Village trying to think of new arguments I could use to convince Veil that he should at least let me sit down with him and help him plan offensive and defensive strategies against a deadly shadow who, as matters now stood, seemed to control all the options.

Suddenly the lights in the loft, and all along the block, winked out. The rest of the neighborhood appeared to be unaffected; I could see lights in the adjoining blocks and in the skyscrapers in midtown continuing to glow, but I was left sitting in a car in the middle of a rectangle of unrelieved night. I quickly ducked down behind the dashboard and drew my Beretta from its shoulder holster.

Henry Kitten, I felt almost certain, had come to call.

I crawled over the gear shift and hand brake, then pushed open the door on the passenger's side. I sucked in a deep breath, rolled out of the car and, keeping low, sprinted across the sidewalk to the steel door cut into the side of the building. Although I did not know why, I strongly sensed that the door would be unlocked-just as it had been months before when I had passed through that portal to investigate a loft flooded with light but empty, and found a cryptic oil painting and an envelope containing ten thousand dollars in cash addressed to me.

I was right. The steel door banged open on its well-oiled hinges when I hit it with my shoulder, and I sprawled on my belly on the floor in the small foyer at the foot of the elevator shaft, gun held out in front of me with both hands.

My somewhat melodramatic entrance was greeted with nothing but silence. Wherever the assassin with the triangular face and khaki-colored eyes was, assuming my fears were well founded, he was not in the foyer. And he was not outside on the street, watching and waiting; the open door told me that. This time the door was open not because Veil had left it unlocked for me, but because Henry Kitten had shunted the alarm system, picked the lock, and passed through before me. He was somewhere in the building, perhaps already up in the loft itself, stalking. .

I did not dwell on the question of how Henry Kitten had managed to short out all the lights in a single block, although I suspected it could be done with detailed maps of the city's sewer system and power grid, and a delayed-time charge placed on one of the main power lines beneath the street. Nor did I dwell on how he had managed to get into the building, and perhaps up into the loft, without encountering an extremely warm greeting from Veil, who would have immediately recognized his stalker from my description. The ninja assassin had performed an almost equally remarkable feat a few weeks before when he'd bypassed a state-of-the-art alarm system, gone unnoticed by a cadre of bodyguards, then scaled the wall of a four-story mansion like a 220-pound fly to crush the skull of a Vietnamese, an ex-ARVN colonel, with a single blow of his fist. Henry Kitten was no slouch in the stealth department; however he had done it, I felt deep in my guts that Henry Kitten was here, probably wearing infrared night-vision goggles and armed with-whatever. If I was wrong, if I found Veil upstairs stretched out on his bed and reading by candlelight, I would certainly feel very foolish; I would apologize for disturbing him, and he could remind me that it was precisely this kind of bizarre behavior that led some people to think me eccentric. Then we could have a drink and laugh about it. But I wasn't worried about feeling or looking foolish; I was worried about finding Veil dead, and maybe joining him.

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