Dave parked at the back of the observatory lot, which was usually empty by 5:00 p.m., save for the all-nighters—mostly grad school students working on their doctorates. At 29, Connors was the oldest employee on staff without an advanced degree, and the only part-timer. He earned slightly above minimum wage. Mortifying, yes, but it was his own fault and he knew it. Sometimes, Life in The Big City simply sucked, that’s all.
It sucked even worse when one beat up the son of the local District Attorney.
Which, of course, was the identity of the giant, slobbering drunk who’d manhandled Cyndi Malach that long ago night at Rockitt’s Pub.
Certainly, Dave didn’t know it at the time, had no idea who the man was. All he knew was that a drooling, leering Goliath was groping his Bathsheba. And, like the biblical David, he went to war—all testosterone, honor and righteous indignation. He was convicted of Assault & Battery and sentenced to two years in state prison (de-ferred in favor of two years probation, including “anger management” classes).
No matter that Cyndi had emerged with scratches, bruises and torn clothing from the giant, David was toast. The SEALs booted him, the Navy gave him a dishonorable, and left him to scramble like a busted egg. All he had left to show for his three years service was a mean left hook, cannonball deltoids and a thick set of trapezius muscles that bunched up on either side of his neck like a pair of cobras—the result of hoisting heavy anchor chain. The effect made him look pissed off and vaguely dangerous. Which didn’t exactly help with the ladies. Thanks SEALs! Still, Cyndi knew he was gentler than he appeared, and immediately offered him the part-time gig at her obser-vatory.
But . . . he declined. He had to go it on his own.
Then irony, never far from human affairs, stepped in: he hired on as a bouncer at Rockitt’s—the very club where he’d lost his SEAL career. Seemed the owner had seen him take care of “the Groper” and was impressed. Within six months, David had saved up enough to enroll in UVA’s archeology program. What the hell, he’d always been intrigued by fossils, and burying himself in the deep, dark dirt sounded about right to him, just then.
Things started looking up. He won the Fulbright Scholarship for two years study in Israel under Dr. Oded, who actually took him in to live with him, his wife Sophie and disabled brother, Mawet, a hydroencephalus patient, who was consigned to a bed in a dimly lit back room. The Fulbright money eventually ran out, however, and he re-turned home flat broke. And finally accepted Cyndi’s offer.
That she’d actually hired him, sans experience, was a miracle. He abandoned his studies for a paycheck, and counted himself lucky.
Yeah, lucky, he often told himself, staying positive. High-tech. Cutting-edge.
The laser-geeking was a dead-end, part-time job; hence, the freelancing. And still he usually had too much month left at the end of each paycheck. In truth, he only had two reasons for actually coming in to work anymore, and one of them wasn’t the “pay.”
The first reason, of course, was to look at Cyndi, to be near Cyndi . . . to watch her move, hear her voice. He wasn’t a stalker, he was simply infatuated—and trying not to be. Still, Cyndi made the nightly grind much more tolerable than it would’ve been oth-erwise. (It didn’t help that she’d turned him on to Stevie Wonder, whose velvet, heart-wringing melodies only made him that much more moonstruck).
The second reason was the bug-zapping.
Though hired to beam artificial “guide-stars” into space via lasers, for focusing the huge optical telescopes, Dave soon found other uses for his toys. During down time, he often amused himself by unleashing the smaller laser on local insects—mosquitoes, flies, wasps, moths, etc. Over the years, he’d become a surprisingly good shot.
If there were a doctorate for frying bugs on the fly, he would’ve won it long ago. Naturally, he kept his pastime a secret: using the observatory’s lasers on the local fau-na and flora could get him fired, especially now that the D.O.D. had taken over the facility.
As he walked from the parking lot toward the great, dome-shaped building, Dave noticed the new, metallic-blue, 2013 Mazda RX9 in the corner space. Cyndi Malach, the Assistant Director was still there, putting in the midnight oil on that Mayan Doomsday nonsense for the D.O.D. Though he didn’t envy her that particu-lar chore, Dave did like her Mazda. No, scratch that: he loved it.
The car was a rocket on wheels: an 800cc x 2 engine, goosed by an electric super-charger. Though it only cranked 300 horses, it also harbored a twin-clutched, six-speed, manual tranny with two floor pedals. The little bugger would explode off the line.
He was picturing himself at the wheel of such a beast when he noticed another car parked in front of the observatory. This one looked like a scorcher, too, though he couldn’t determine year, make or model. It was one of those generic, foreign sports-utility-rice-burners built off-shore somewhere.
Whatever it was, the car was midnight black and built for speed. Maybe a Nissan or Mitsubishi, he didn’t know. He knew it would hit 60 mph before he did on foot, that was certain (though why he thought of running from it wasn’t so certain).
At that moment, it wasn’t hitting anything: it was parked—in a no-parking zone, baring signs warning violators they would be towed at the owner’s expense. Weird.
When he saw the plates, Dave realized why it was flouting the law: it was a government car, of course—all animals being equal, only some being more equal than others . . . (Probably D.O.D; bastards couldn’t stay away from Mt. Nebo).
Weird, too, was the odd stillness he noticed on entering the observatory . . .
as if the whole building were holding its breath, waiting for something—but what? The dreaded Dark Rift to gape open? More solar flares? Maybe the Mayan Doomsday was nigh, after all.
Connors scanned his I.D. card in the security turnstile and strolled into the observatory, his senses on alert, though he couldn’t say why. It was then 5:02 p.m., and he couldn’t shake the feeling—the certainty—that something was indeed about to happen.
As it turned out, he was right—though it was happening 12 miles away at Ronald Reagan International Airport.
At 5:05 p.m. that evening, El Al flight #911, an L1011 jumbo jet out of Tel Aviv, taxied to a stop at the end of runway 3A and began disgorging its 276 passengers. Three of them, Israeli nationals traveling together, went through the usual security pro-cedures like all the other passengers, waited for their luggage like everyone else, and blended in as much as possible. No special treatment, no favors, no notice.
They stopped at the Alamo car rental desk and hired a late-model, black foreign sports sedan—modest enough to blend in, yet fast enough for their purposes. They would only need it for a few days—three, at most. Then, their cargo would be in hand, their mission at an end. Child’s play, really, for the two Mossad agents, Moshe and Aaron.
Something more for their IPD escort, Sgt. Heim.
For Mordecai Heim, it was the chance of a lifetime—to make his name in the po-lice force, cement his position at Jerusalem HQ and even move up a grade to Lieuten-ant, with a concomitant rise in pay—and he only 33 years of age. And when Inspector Schriever finally retired, there Lt. Heim would be, perched over the position, poised to fill the void—the successor insessorial. At 35, say—36 at most.
True, he had to make sure he and his Mossad friends played by the rules. The unit, ridiculously code-name “Whale” (as part of Schriever’s “Operation Jonah”), had to stay under the radar at all times—no contact with American security or police agencies whatsoever—especially not the FBI. Jerusalem HQ had made this an imperative, and would not tolerate any deviance from the course.
Certainly, he could kill the American if it came down to it, but he hoped it wouldn’t. Far better, the treats in store for Connors in Israel.
And to make it happen, Heim had to first observe—then capture—the suspect. Play by the rules. Then get him back to Israel, preferably in one piece. For questioning, yes. Ah, the questioning. How he looked forward to that.
Now, he was in the suspect’s hometown. Connors’s capture—and Heim’s career elevation—was only days, perhaps hours, away.
The good sergeant couldn’t have known it yet, but he would have competition.
Col. Whit Stansfield, USAF and ad hoc Majestic-12 agent, was in the black sports sedan on Mt. Nebo Road, going through his pre-sanction routine: checking the slide of his Sig Sauer .40, making sure the pre-ban clip (with 14 rounds) was properly seated in the firing chamber, and double-checking his line-of-sight to the target. There would be no room for error.
No attempt at kidnapping him, no chance for talk, bargaining, or explanation. The Kabbalist’s orders had been clear. And the old Jewish Wizard was one of the Big Boys, one of the Inner Sanctum of failed CIA agents, FBI clods and others who served M-12. Indeed, the Kabbalist served as The Voice of God, as far as M-12 agents were concerned. He Who Must Be Obeyed.
And he wasn’t even remotely American . . . but a babbling, half-whacked, old Jew-ish wizard in Jerusalem—a cultist. A man of fearsome reputation, however, known only to a handful of the M-12 faithful as “The Kabbalist.”
Bizarre. That it had all come this: assassinating a part-time, minimum-wage laser dweeb. Oh, how the agency had fallen—and from what lofty heights. Who would have thought, 60 years ago during the early days of Operation Grudge, that within two gen-erations they would be charging about Northern Virginia killing meaningless little bugs like Connors at the whim of some antiquated Hebrew Mumbo-Jumbo Man. It was beyond bizarre, it was ludicrous . . . humiliating . . . heartbreaking, even.
Col. Stansfield was a proud American. Had fought and bled for his country. Knew nu-clear holocaust was inevitable, as was the return of . . . Them. The original colonists. And to think the Agency had once thought of them as harmless little “Greys,” or EBEs (Extraterres-trial Biologic Entities). Patently absurd, all of it. Now this.
But, orders were orders, and Col. Whit (“Ruff-n-Ready”) Stansfield followed his orders like a good soldier. So, he would follow these, as well, along with his half-witted Army driver and the faceless, nameless being in the backseat who seemed more like a shadow than an M-12 agent . . . or a human, for that matter.
Besides, Stansfield had nothing better to do of a cold, blustery, Monday night in late-November.
And he hadn’t killed anyone in months.
As Sgt. Heim & Co. were piling into their black sports car at the airport, and the M-12 agents parked out front were preparing for his assassination, David Connors was navigating the “beehive.” This was his nickname for the honeycomb of computer sta-tions and telescope monitors that filled the front of Mt. Nebo Observatory. Even as he neared his own “cell,” a few of the drones were already buzzing with the usual ribbing:
“Oooh, here comes Moses, fresh from the Mount.”
“Hey, Moses, you bring back any manna?”
“Yo, Moze, how was that burning bush?”
Even though WNW hadn’t published his Ten Commandments piece yet, his fans knew about his recent travels. Dave acknowledged them with a deep bow, straightened up and said: “I just want to thank all the little people here who made it possible.”
A few catcalls and groans met this. Dave smiled, waved them quiet, and said: “Honestly, folks, if you don’t keep it down you’re gonna get me promoted.”
This sparked a burst of jeering: no one was ever promoted from the student em-ployee pool. Ever since the Department of Defense had commandeered Mt. Nebo last fall, for “government service” (due to the coming “Great Alignment” on Dec. 21st), observatory staff had become little more than hourly hirelings—among the lowest-paid PhDs and MAs on earth. (“But good enough for government work!” as they often re-minded each other).
No more exploration of the stars, no more study of distant galaxies, only what the D.O.D. told them to observe—and that was “The Dark Rift,” the gaping void at the center of their own galaxy. As a result, the initials D.O.D. were anathema at Mt. Nebo, and the word “government” was always uttered with a certain glottal sound.
Connors saluted his fellow hirelings and continued down the hall to his cell, mut-tering “Work, work, work . . .”
“Is for jerk, jerk, jerks,” the Assistant Director, Cyndi Malach, said as he entered the laser cubicle. She’d been waiting for him.
“Oh, Cyndi,” he said, taken aback. “I mean, Doctor Malach.”
“Save it, Rock Em.” It was her favorite nickname for him, from the 1960s toy. She’d bestowed it on him the night he rescued her from The Groper at Rockitt’s. The only other name she had for him was “redneck,” which, at least, was accurate. “We’re long past formalities, don’t you think?” she added.
“Sure,” he said. “I mean, it’s not like we’re strangers or anything. Yuppie.”
“Caveman,” she returned. “I haven’t forgotten,” she added, with just the hint of a grin flirting with one corner of her mouth. “I still say, for a redneck laser-geek, you’re the best kisser I’ve ever met.”
Oh boy . . . Why bring that up now? Yeah, so they’d kissed—once—five years ago. His reward for rescuing her from The Groper. But she’d told him then it could never be, that she was too old for him, from too different a background. So he’d em-braced archeology, gone to Israel for two years to forget about her and that was that. Now this?
“Yes, well, er,” he said, with his usual eloquence. “That’s . . . very nice.”
She gave him a coolly appraising glance—which only made her look more Arabic or In-dian, or Whatever, more sultry than any observatory A.D. had a right to be.
“Your heart seems bowed down,” she said, sounding oddly like a fortune-teller. “As if you’d just lost your best friend.”
“Bingo,” he said. “If your best friend happens to be photos of space debris.”
“I see,” she said, though David couldn’t imagine how.
“Well, it’s probably time for me to get to—”
“Work?” she scoffed. “You? That’s a laugh. You do nothing but zap insects all night. I know: I’ve seen you.”
David’s stomach plummeted. She’d seen him? He had no clue anyone even knew about it—let alone seen him doing it.
“Hey, someone’s gotta keep the mosquitoes at bay,” he tried.
“There are no mosquitoes here in December.”
“OK, wasps then.”
“Moths?” he tried. “Dung beetles? D.O.D. Inspectors? Look, it’s my one eccen-tricity,” he said. “Don’t fire me, Cyn. Not yet.”
“Oh, you have something bigger in mind?” she teased. “Zapping an asteroid, per-haps, or space aliens? What are you, the Buck Rodgers of Northern Virginia?”
“Well. That would be good enough for government work,” he replied.
“You have a point,” she allowed. “But if you wear a hat, maybe no one will notice. Now, how about making some guide stars for me? Or is that asking too much?”
“You know, I resemble this whole line of questioning,” Dave said. “I don’t work here, dammit, I just work here.”
“Please.” She turned away, produced an actual clipboard and began recording in-strument readings from the monitors in David’s cell. “You’re too busy target-practicing to find time for work.”
“Hey, I only zap—er, eliminate pests—during down time,” he replied. “Between lasering your guide stars. Besides,” he continued, “do you really think of this as work? Sitting on your can all night in an air-conditioned office, fiddle-farting around on la-sers? That’s not work, that’s play.”
“Yeah, right. I’ll bet you don’t even know what LASER stands for.”
“You mean, Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation?”
“Oooh, you are Buck Rogers. Company Man.”
“Damn straight I’m Company Man,” Dave said. “I’d volunteer to work here.”
“I’d pay to work here.”
“Bull. You just like my legs.”
“Guilty!” he admitted, with a laugh. OK, so he still liked Cyndi. A lot. And, al-though they had shared one kiss that night at Rockitt’s, there hadn’t been anything but chemistry between them since. Not just because of the age difference, but the cultural divide; her parents were Old School Hindus or Whatever, and would vapor-lock.
Still, for the 40-year-old daughter of same, Cyndi was . . . pretty hot. And sharp. And while many of their co-workers found her aloof and vaguely spooky, to Dave’s mind the world could use more Cyndi Malachs—a lot more. She was an angel.
“So, the prisoner admits his guilt,” she said, her gaze never leaving the monitor. “Your sentence is . . . one drink after work. Avec moi. But only one.”
“I’d love to, Cyn, but—”
“Silence! The prisoner refuses to comply. Punishment: remove what’s left of his manhood.”
“You’ll have to get ‘em back from the D.O.D. first.”
“Ha! He admits the government has his yarbles. Confession!”
“Confession,” he agreed.
“Very well. Enough of this gay banter,” she said. “Make me some guide stars.”
“Zen ze zappingk of inzects,” he said. “Hey, how’s that for alliteration? Zen ze zappingk of inzects?”
“You certainly are alliterate,” she said. “No, after that, the Azziztant Director goes home. To bed.”
David, still in the swing of things, almost blurted out “Alone?” but thought better. Instead, he returned to his work, aware of a squeezing sensation in his chest. Just the jail cell of his heart, keeping him prisoner. Still. He hadn’t been close to anyone else since.
In the years since their brief kiss, Dave and Cyndi had forged a professional, yet friendly, bond. He counted on her to find even the most obscure objects in the night’s sky, and she relied on him for multiple guide stars, at varying elevations, from the dif-ferent lasers on hand.
They worked extremely well together, like a two-person volleyball team, though their “net” was now only The Dark Rift. Uncle Sam seemed to be expecting something to come out of it, so . . . they were doomed to watch it. Ridiculous.
And, yes, dammit, she did have nice legs. Scratch that, she had great legs—and a figure to match: curves that just didn’t quit, busty yet toned, with a trim, hourglass waist; long, silky, black hair; big, brown, bedroom eyes and—
—and who-o-o-oa, David, knock it off. Way off. What the hell was he thinking about? He was a laser-geek; she was a full-fledged PhD and Assistant Director of the observatory. And drop-dead gorgeous. Besides, there were plenty of other women who seemed to enjoy his company of a cold winter’s night. If only he could say the same for them . . .
But none of them were Cyndi. Every time he looked at her, he heard Stevie Won-der’s “That Girl.” The sandy, soulful voice against the backdrop of those deep, rich keyboards nearly knocked his moorings loose whenever he heard it—or saw Cyndi.
She looked like a Middle Eastern belly dancer, or a gypsy fortune-teller, with her coal-black hair and flashing eyes, her dark complexion and lush, seductive figure. She always wore tasteful, yet tight-fitting clothes and big hoop earrings, which only em-phasized the gypsy effect. It didn’t help that her background was so mysterious.
Rumor had it she’d escaped an abusive marriage in some Muslim country, and was being hunted by a jealous sheik. Others claimed she was an operative for the Israeli Mossad, and that her real name wasn’t “Cyndi Malach” at all. And still others insisted she was the daughter of a wealthy Romanian family (gypsies!), who’d run away as a teen.
Whatever the truth might be, she was unquestionably dangerous. Dave knew that spending even one night with her could spell disaster for him, so . . . maybe it was for the best they were just friends. Besides, he wasn’t a walking teenaged hor-mone anymore; he was almost 30 now. Not exactly old, certainly, but . . . time was catching up to him. Testosterone’s tyranny would soon be a memory, as the big head finally took command.
“Oh, speaking of commands . . .” he said.
Cyndi, still jotting down notes, leaned toward him. “Yeh-h-hs?”
“You’ll never guess what I saw in the Sinai last week.”
“Hmm, let’s see,” she replied. “Something vaguely Commandment-ish?”
“I’ll even bet there were . . . oh, I dunno . . . ten of them?”
“Yeah, yeah, so you’ve seen the news.” He turned from his monitor and pushed his chair closer to her. “I meant what I noticed. Personally.”
Cyndi stopped jotting notes and turned to look him in the eye. “What do you mean, what you noticed? Personally?”
“About the Commandments themselves,” he whispered. “The symbols used.”
Cyndi blinked. “Ancient Hebrew, aren’t they?”
David smiled and shook his head. “Guess again.”
“OK . . . Polish? Rastafarian?”
“Nice try. No, what I noticed,” he said, glancing at the cubicle entrance behind them, “is that the Commandments symbols look just like the ones on the Roswell de-bris.”
“The what debris?”
“Roswell, Roswell. You know. UFO crashes in 1947, debris found by local ranch-er, Army confirms they’ve found part of a ‘flying disc,’ then covers it up next day with a ‘weather balloon’ story.”
“Oh,” Cyndi said. “That Roswell.”
“And it made me wonder: if the Ten Commandments and the Roswell symbols are in the same language, wouldn’t that mean God was a . . .” He shrugged.
“A what?” Cyndi asked, as she resumed writing. “A weather balloon?”
“Hey, good enough for government work,” he said. “But, really, wouldn’t you con-sider proof of God’s true identity just a tad mind-blowing?”
“Of course not. He made the place, right? Bound to have left His fingerprints around here somewhere. Besides,” she added, “I don’t need proof.”
“Well, that certainly makes one of us.” This wasn’t going at all the way he’d hoped. He’d wanted to impress Cyndi, for some reason, but was failing miserably. Probably best to just get back to work and—
“So, you don’t believe in God?” she asked, turning to face him again.
“Not since I turned twelve and sprouted a brain. Don’t tell me you do.”
No reply, save a subtle arching of an eyebrow.
“Oh, come on, Cyn . . . The Invisible Man in the Sky? Watching everything we do? I’d sooner believe Von Däniken or Sitchin. At least their theories offer comic re-lief.”
“Theories?” she said. “Oh, you mean like the ones in ‘Chariots of the Gods?’ Or ‘The Twelfth Planet?’ Ancient Aliens? The Anunnaki?”
“Hey, highly advanced aliens bumping into Stone Age man and playing ‘god’ isn’t all that far-fetched. I mean, we can’t be the only sentient life-form in the universe.”
“You mean intelligent life-form.”
“Mmm-no, I wouldn’t go that far,” Dave said. “But think for a sec: the universe is, what, fourteen billion years old? And the earth is maybe four or five billion? It only stands to reason there are other planets much older than ours.”
“So, their civilizations would also be older—perhaps billions of years ahead of ours. To us, their technology would certainly seem godlike. Think about the cargo cults of the South Pacific after World War II. Or any primitive tribe when visited by so-called ‘modern technology.’ What do they invariably do? They worship it . . . or try to eat it.”
“‘Take, eat; this is my body,’” she quoted, “‘this do in remembrance of me.’”
“Exactly. And what about those descriptions of ‘God’ in Genesis or Exodus? Sure sound like UFO encounters to me. At least, they did the last time I read them.”
“At twelve, you mean? When you were sprouting your alleged brain?”
“Yeah, I read everything back then. When I was still looking for answers.”
“Answers? To what?”
Dave shrugged. “You know. Why life for most people is so brutal, brief and mean-ingless. Why man is so stupid, suicidal and full of crap. That sort of thing.”
“Bet you’re fun at parties.”
“And such sanctimonious crap, too,” he continued. “What did Mark Twain say? ‘Man is the only creature with the ability to blush—or the need to.’”
“And you think the notion of God-as-Alien explains all that?”
“Makes more sense than religion. Just look at the world we live in. Is this really the crowning achievement of a Supreme Being? Seems more like the work of a cranky of-fice temp. No, it’s clearly an accident—a biological mishap in some backwater of the cosmos, with Man as evolutionary detour. Nothing more.”
“Perfect,” she replied. “An Existentialist poet with just enough hope left to com-plain. A Nietzsche with hemorrhoids.”
“Hey, I resemble that remark. But at least the ‘Ancient Aliens’ theory makes some sense. And there are plenty of out-of-place artifacts to back it up.”
“Oh, no, not OOPArts,” Cyndi groaned. “OK, then, let’s have it: your favorites. But make it quick; we’ve got work to do.”
“OK, how about Baalbek and its Trilithon stones? Three perfectly cut, 1000-ton blocks—stones so huge even modern cranes can’t move them. Yet we’re supposed to believe ancient Man quarried, carried, and set them perfectly into place 6,000 years ago? Yeah, right. Or what about the Abydos Hieroglyphs—3,000-year-old Egyptian tomb carvings of a helicopter, a submarine, a modern jet and a flying sau-cer? I mean, how do you account for that?”
“Crypto-archeology . . .” She shook her head. “David, you surprise me. It’s just plain bad archeology, you should know that. Shoddy scholarship and shaky conclu-sions all wrapped up in a conspiracy-theory play set. Please . . . tell me you know bet-ter.”
“But I don’t know better,” he said. “The world’s loaded with such artifacts—but because mainstream science can’t explain them, they’re dismissed as ‘bad archeol-ogy?’”
“So, God’s still not good enough for you?” she asked. “You have to go in for this crypto-babble?”
“No, I just don’t believe any all-powerful, all-knowing ‘god’ is watching over us. The idea’s childish, like believing in a Super-Santa on steroids. But at least Mr. Claus wasn’t a hypocrite—a psalm-singing, serial-killing psychopath.”
Cyndi shook her head, her long, raven-black hair swinging over her hoop earrings, yet her laugh was light and silvery as the moon.
“Oh, my. Why not tell us how you really feel,” she said. “David, you of all people should have at least some faith,” Cyndi replied. “You covered the Oded Expedition; you saw them find the Ten Commandments—the original tablets—the ones carved by God. And still you don’t believe?”
“All I believe,” he said, “is that the Commandments symbols are extremely similar to those on the Roswell debris, that’s all. Dr. Oded himself agreed with me.”
“He was probably just humoring you.” Cyndi took a seat in the room’s only other chair, then leaned back and crossed her (very) shapely legs. She was wearing a skirt under her white lab coat, along with heels and black hose, which Dave tried not to notice. “So, let me get this straight: you can believe in little green men from space but not in God, right? Or you believe God’s an alien?”
“Well . . . yeah. That’s what I wanted to reveal in my article—that the similarity between those two sets of symbols indicates that God is, in all probability, a—”
“A weather-balloon, yes, I know,” she said. “And your proof?”
Dave felt the floor of his stomach drop away, and his heart fall right through it.
“I . . . lost my proof,” he said. “My debris photos. Someone stole them.”
“Uh huh. And the ‘debris’ itself?”
Dave was actually blushing now. “The owner is . . . also missing. Vanished.”
“I see,” she said. “So, what you’ve got are a few photographs of the Ten Com-mandments, along with some missing photos of ‘extremely similar’ symbols on this Roswell debris. But you can’t prove any of this because the owner of said debris is also missing. Is that about right?”
Dave didn’t reply; he thought she’d summed it up pretty well. Then drove home the final nail: “So, what you believe in is Chariots of the Gods meets The Twelfth Planet in Nietzsche’s bidet, right?”
“Exactly. No—I mean, yes. I mean . . . ah, hell, I don’t know.”
Just then, some Navy brass strutted past the door of their cubicle: one Lt. Commander and two Captains, followed by a retinue of Mt. Nebo geeks. Which ended any further conversation with Cyndi: she left the laser room and followed them down the hall while Dave turned back to his monitor, thoroughly pissed at himself.
He shouldn’t have slammed Cyndi’s beliefs like that; it was uncalled for. But he couldn’t help it. Intelligent people—people he admired—clinging to such childish nonsense always brought out the skeptic in him, the Voice of Reason. The Man of Logic.
Logic my crypto-babble ass, he thought. He would have to make it up to her. Dave prized Cyndi’s friendship and didn’t want to lose it quibbling over the existence of “God.” He was about to slap himself when her voice, soft as an angel’s wing, floated back through the open door: “Oh, by the way . . .”
“Yeah?” He leaned back in his chair and turned to face her.
“I think I know someone who can help you. With the Roswell end.”
“Say what?” He scooted his chair forward.
“The Roswell debris,” she added. “I have a friend who told me he once saw it, too, many years ago. I think he even sketched it.”
Dave tried to smile. “You know, there are better ways to tease me . . .”
“No tease, Rock Em. He’s an old friend of mine, a physics professor at Washing-ton U. His secret hobby is UFO trace evidence. I’ve got his card here somewhere.” She produced a purse, rummaged in it, then pulled a winner from her wallet. “Here.”
It was this she’d left his office for, not the geeks. She’d gone all the way down the hall to her office for this card. And a weird-looking thing it was, too: a black business card with a silver etching of a telescope and stars, along with the name “Ross Galilei, PhD,” an Alexandria address and phone number.
“Thanks, Cyn.” (UFO trace evidence?) Flaky to be sure, but since when did that ever stop him? Besides, if this Galilei had a sketch of the Roswell symbols, he might still salvage the Ten Commandments/Roswell angle. And the Pulitzer.
“Oh, one last thing,” Cyndi said.
“If this evidence of yours is for real . . .”
“It is,” he stated.
“Then you could become . . . a target.”
“Oh, c’mon, Cyn,” he said. “Please. Be mellow or dramatic, but not both.”
“I’m serious. You’ll be in enough danger here, in the States. But once you return to Israel, you’ll be in their backyard.”
“Whoa. Who says I’m returning to Israel?” he asked.
“You have to. You have no choice.”
Dave smiled and leaned toward her, like a parent explaining something to a child.
“I don’t know if you’re aware of this, Cyn, but my boss is notoriously tight-fisted. Gorgeous, yes; brilliant, absolutely, but she can squeeze a penny till it screams. What makes you think she’ll cut me more time off?”
“Oh, I think she’ll manage,” she said. “Call it an early vacation—with pay. Be-sides,” Cyndi added, “she really has no choice, either.”
Dave grinned. “Quite the fatalist, aren’t you? No choice for anyone, huh?”
“None. And when you do go back, you’ll be in their sandbox. I’m not talking about the Israelis or the Palestinians or even Muslim terrorists. I’m talking about . . . the Neph—I mean, the Fallen Ones.”
The room seemed to fall a shade darker and the atmosphere hushed to a whisper. David felt the skin crawl up his back. “The which?”
“The Fallen Ones,” Cyndi repeated. “Former angels who fell from grace because of their lust for human women.”
Cyndi sighed and glanced at her wristwatch. “What time do you take dinner?”
“Take dinner? You mean, what time do I eat supper?”
“I would say ‘don’t be smart,’ but we don’t have to worry about that, do we?”
“Hilarious,” Dave said. “I ‘take dinner’ or whatever about nine, nine-thirty.”
“Then join me,” she said, stepping even closer to where he sat, her hips only inch-es from his face. “My treat. There’s much you have to learn, and very little time.”
“Really?” Dave replied, and that was all he replied. He swallowed hard, the lump in his throat matching the one in his pants. Any witty ripostes or repartee fell right through the hole in his brain: Cyndi Malach wants to take me to dinner or supper or whatever? My boss? In black stockings!?
Sometimes, Life In The Big City could be good, he reflected. It could be very good.
It could also be very over.