Picking up where we left off last week:
The Baltimore P.D. didn’t believe their story.
David could hardly blame them. Here they were, responding to a 911 call to the college, only to find the sliced and diced remains of the esteemed Dr. Dincke and two total strangers standing over him. Not good.
Worse, Dave’s hip was really singing out now; the thigh and head were throbbing, too, the concussion still rendering him stupid and wobbly as a new-born calf. He was also tired. And outraged.
Not at the cops—they were only doing their job. He was outraged by the savagery done to Dr. Dincke. The old fellow was a harmless, old academic; a nerd; a geek. A bit light in the loafers, but so what? He was no threat to anyone. That he was so genteel made his murder all the more infuriating, to David. It also meant something else:
The killer—the thing that had butchered the three in Israel—was in the U.S. now. And looking for him.
The cops finally cut the two of them loose a few hours later, when their alibis checked. One of them, after all, was the most beautiful, exotic business–woman they’d ever seen, let alone interviewed. And she was Assistant Director of a university observatory, in Alexandria. Which they verified. If David needed a reason to feel grateful for Cyndi’s presence, this was it.
So, shortly before six o’clock that evening, the cops let them go. Cyndi helped Dave gimp-walk his way back up the tunnel to the parking garage and the RX9. Moments later, they were headed back home. With nothing. No confirmation, no additional info, no nothing . . . only the image of poor old Dincke’s mutilated neck and skull.
They began their journey home at the height of Baltimore’s rush-hour—another bonus from their trip northward—which, on the I-395 Expressway, meant a blistering 25-30 miles per hour. In spurts. Without Tylenol, Excedrin, or even aspirin. All the way to D.C., where they managed to hit a pot-hole the size of one of the moon’s smaller craters and completely bottomed out, scraping the Mazda’s undercarriage, leaf springs—even the brake line moldings.
Which dislodged the tiny, jumper-pin-sized transmitter Sgt. Heim & Friends had placed there the previous evening.
Once they lost the signal, it was only a matter of time before they lost the car altogether, in the dark.
Oblivious to it all, Cyndi and Dave flew the rest of the way home, clocking a cool 75-80 mph. Not only did they lose the little black sedan (which David never noticed), they also managed to avoid every state trooper from Annapolis to Arlington. Yet, for the next two hours, all Dave could think of—all he could see in his mind’s merciless semi-photographic memory—was Dr. Dincke’s corpse.
Not merely the butchery done on him; that was sickening enough. What really made Dave urp inside was the look on Dincke’s face. He’d died with an expression of terror—not fear, not horror, but terror—etched into his features. As if the very walls around him had come alive and started stabbing him.
And the back of his head. God, the head . . .
And his neck, with the spinal cord hanging out, and leaking.
. . . and that smell. That gut-churning, vomitous smell . . . like a thousand dead cats left in a closet to rot. And that was a smell Dave never forgot.
He just hoped he’d never smell it again.
They finally got back to Cyndi’s country home just before nine o’clock, a round trip that took nine hours and gave nothing in return. Zilch.
Dave collapsed on the sofa, alone. Cyndi wanted to shower and change, then settle in for a night’s planning.
“Planning?” he asked. “For what, Doomsday?”
“Something like that, yes,” she replied. Amazing: all this running and racing around, dodging homicidal sports cars, hospitals, dead professors and cops, and here she was, looking fresh as a high-school hearth-throb on her first big date. As for David, he had more than enough to occupy his mind for now. (And he certainly didn’t want to think of her showering, naked, just a few feet away . . . dangerous thoughts for dangerous times.) No, he had to keep the big head in the driver’s seat. Such as it was.
For he had new angles to consider, fresh avenues to explore. Because, so far, nothing was panning out for him. Them. He and Cyndi. So easy to think of them as a team, all of a sudden. So natural of him to think of her as his partner in all this . . . whatever “all this” was. One thing was certain:
After all the running around, phone calls and driving, he was back to Square One. No closer to this “God Key” nonsense than when Cyndi first clued him to it, on Monday. Sure, he’d snapped a few photos of Dr. Galilei’s Roswell sketch—but that’s all they were: photos of a sketch. Not proof. For that matter, the magazine didn’t have even have the original Commandments photos to run alongside the Roswell stuff. They’d been lost in the Durant house fire.
His friend and editor, Will Durant was dead; Dave heard about it on Channel 6 news that night. Home burned, papers torched, photos turned to so much ash. Lost and gone for good, this time, and . . .
. . . and, God in Heaven, he was tired. Too tired to sleep.
Yet, he had to find out what this God Key was all about. And how it was supposed to “help” him, as Cyndi suggested. And what it was that Dr. Dincke had wanted so badly to tell him—badly enough to have him drive all the way to Baltimore. Badly enough to die—to be slaughtered—like all the others . . . David Connors felt his forehead slipping askew, and he’d lost balance, as if the earth had shifted slightly on its axis.
Just thinking about Dr. D’s horrific end made David dizzy and pissed all over again. He snapped out his wallet, found Galilei’s card and punched the numbers on his phone. If anyone had a clue as to what Dincke had wanted to tell him, it would be his pal, Galilei. And Dave didn’t give a damn what time it was, he was getting some answers. Now.
Galilei’s office phone rang twice, then forwarded the call to his home phone. A few rings later, the Doc himself came on the line, sounding groggy and put out.
“Hey, Dr. Galilei? This is Dave Connors.”
A pause, then: “Who?”
“Dave Connors. Cyndi’s friend? I met with you yesterday. You showed me your Roswell sketch and your slide show on ancient aliens . . . remember?”
Another pause, this time longer. “Who did you say this was?”
Dave felt the earth shift slightly on its axis.
“Dave Connors,” he said. “Our friend Cyndi sent me to see you yesterday at noon, remember? You referred me to your friend in Baltimore, Dr. Dincke? Well, I went up there to see him today, Doc, but he was in no condition for—”
“You must have me confused with someone else,” Galilei said. “I don’t know any Cindys, or anything about aliens, and I have no friends at all in Baltimore. Please, I’m having dinner and—”
“Listen, you pop-eyed, pencil-necked little geek,” Dave said, “You’re not fobbing me off; I recognize your voice. Now, what do you suppose your dead pal Dr. Dincke wanted to tell me? Huh? More about the Nephilim and the Rephaim—the Gilgal Rephaim? Remember? And the Anak—”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Galilei cried. “You must be a crank—this is a crank call! Don’t ever call here again—whoever you are!”
“C’mon, Doc, the joke’s—”
But Galilei had already hung up on him.
Dave stared at the phone before he, too, finally hung up. Yes, he was sure of it now: the earth had indeed shifted on its axis.
And not just slightly.
Less than half an hour after their phone conversation, at 9:27 p.m., yet another fresh corpse was being poked, prodded and pawed by Alexandria Police detectives, along with a forensics team from the City Medical Examiner’s office. The corpse in question was a lump of meat found floating in a swamp of sticky, coagulating blood and other fluids on its kitchen floor.
The victim, a male in his early forties, balding, and with a prominent brow ridge, was wearing a lab coat that had probably been white at one time. No more. Someone had ripped the back of his neck open, torn out his spinal cord, then severed and . . . drained it. No one there, not even the most hardened homicide detectives, had ever seen anything like it.
The murderer had gained entry by smashing through the man’s kitchen door, literally bursting it off its hinges. Whoever it was, he was big. Very big. And bad. And more than a little demented.
The victim lived alone, and there were no witnesses. A neighbor had heard some dogs barking earlier, but that was all.
The question of the moment was, who? A student? A jilted lover? Both? No one could say. The detectives and forensics people were utterly baffled by the lack of physical evidence: the killer had left nothing behind: no prints, hair, DNA or fiber. Nada—though a small, spiral notebook binder was found on the floor, with all its pages torn out, and parts of some ancient, onion-skin stationary lying nearby. Yet, not a single print. Zilch. Nothing.
Nothing but the sickly sweet stench of death and rotting meat that filled the house.
The forensics people looked dazed; the city detectives, nauseous. All of them looked frightened, as if this were the work of some demon in their midst, and any of them could be next. Like their late friend and colleague, Sgt. Lacy.
Unfortunately, the recent murder of Dr. Richard Dincke, in far away Baltimore, had yet to make the local news or the detectives’ police wire, so they had no inkling of any related crimes.
But that didn’t help the late Dr. Ross Galilei. Like his friend Dr. Dincke, in Baltimore, Dr. G was stone dead. Deader than dead. Eyes wide open and staring.
Frozen in mid-scream.
While city police detectives were bagging the battered, blood-spattered remains of Dr. Galilei, a large, shambling, misshapen man—a deformity, perhaps—appeared among the headstones in the old Alexandria National Cemetery, across from the intersection of South Payne and Wilkes Street. Where Dave Connors lived.
All the dogs along that stretch of Wilkes immediately began barking. Indoors or out, a pampered pet or a wandering stray, they let loose a storm of howling and wailing like nothing the locals had ever heard—especially not at 9:30 on a work night. The dogs did not like this mis-made man, this deformity. He smelled bad. Very bad.
As in dead.
Dead, yes, but moving nonetheless. His size and shape were bewildering to the dogs: a vast, lumpy clump of a man, as if a chunk of the graveyard had suddenly uprooted itself and slouched forward—though it did assume a kind of humanoid shape.
He was like the hated mailman, in that he seemed to wear a sort of uniform. This, along with the rich, ripe reek of death, was what sent the dogs into such an ecstasy of barking. The deformed hobo approached one of the animals, a mean old boxer named Mojo, who was leashed to its back porch railing, about four houses away.
As the deformity drew near, he appeared to study the dog, turning its misshapen “head” this way and that. Then he grabbed the boxer with one huge, ham-like hand, produced a bronze dagger in the other and . . . sliced the back of the dog’s neck open.
Even as poor old Mojo was bleeding out, still kicking slightly, the stinking, hulking brute stuck the tip of his ancient blade into the dog’s cervical vertebrae, dug it in nice and deep and . . .
* plop! *
. . . popped out its spinal cord. And began sucking.
Sucking and slurping.
When it was finished, the deformed man released the dead dog to dangle by its ruined neck from the leash tied to the porch, twitching and twisting in the wind, a slaughtered thing. While the thing that slaughtered it, still reeking, shambled back into the graveyard, where it nestled among a line of trees and tall monuments in the cemetery’s center. There, refreshed and restored, it resumed waiting. For the main course.
It would not have to wait long.
“I’ve got to get back to my apartment,” Dave told her that evening. “My car, the rest of my clothes, and all my old Roswell stuff is back there.”
“No way,” Cyndi said, as if that ended the discussion.
“So, am I to lay around here indefinitely? Talking to professors I’ve interviewed who disavow all knowledge of me? I’ve gotta have a shower at least.”
“I told you when you got here that I’d take care of everything,” she replied. “I’ve retrieved your cat, his food and treats, and brought back some of your things. Are you feeling up to a shower and a change of clothes? At this hour of night?”
“Hell yes. We’ve got places to see, people to do.”
She gazed at him a moment, as if sizing him up. “Well, you seemed to gimp around all right in Baltimore. And you managed to get to and from Dr. Galilei’s office without further damage. Very well, then,” she added. “I’ll run you a shower and lay out some of your clothes. Are you hungry?”
“Actually, yes,” he answered, then frowned. “Though it seems blasphemous after finding Dincke like that. But, yeah, I could eat.”
“Well, then. I’ll phone for delivery.”
“Who delivers at this hour? Out here?”
“Pizza, Nimrod. Don’t you like pizza?”
“Sure. But I’d like solving this insanity first. Namely, who’s killing these professors and why? First Eilat, now Baltimore?” He shook his head. “Over some photographs? Just . . . doesn’t make any sense.”
“No, it doesn’t. But, first, you must eat. Then, in another day or two, when you can put some more weight on that leg, we’re leaving.”
“Where, back to my place? Get my car?”
“No, idiot. To Israel. To solve all this ‘insanity,’ as you put it.”
David’s face flashed red in an instant, though he tried not to betray his anger.
“How many times do I have to tell you, I’m Not. Going. Back. Ever.”
Now she was smiling at him, like an indulgent parent.
“Silly American. Don’t you know when you’re being swept up by history and fate? You are like a man on a raft in a raging river, skimming away. With me,” she added. “Now, I’ll call the pizza place—Rocco’s, I think. Mushroom and pepperoni OK?”
“And extra cheese,” he said. To his embarrassment, his stomach growled like a caged animal. “And some breadsticks, too.”
“You are a caveman, aren’t you?” she said, still smiling at him—at his stomach, to be exact. “I’ll run your shower—if you can stand up in a tub. Maybe I’ll have to prop you up, just in case . . .”
Dave shrugged. “Yeah. Sure. Whatever floats your boat down that raging river.”
She laughed—a magical, silvery sound. “Well said, young Nimrod. Now, you stay put, I’ll be back in a moment.”
First the laugh, now the hips undulating slightly more than necessary, swaying like a bell as she walked away. Why is she doing this to me? he wondered. When I’m helpless to do anything about it?
“By the way,” she called to him from the hallway, “I’ve a bit of a secret to tell you. About my . . . life. Since coming here to America.”
“Really? You’re a secret pizza smuggler?”
“Even tastier. But I should tell you before we leave for Israel. So you’ll know who you’re traveling with, and what to expect.”
“Gee, I can’t wait.” He began running through the most popular rumors at work about her origins. “Don’t tell me: you’re a runaway from some gypsy family in Romania, right?”
“Not even close.”
“OK, then, you’re a former member of a Turkish harem, escaped from some mad Arab?”
“Closer . . .” she allowed.
“Final guess: your name isn’t really Cyndi Malach, you’re actually a deep-cover Mossad agent sent here to . . . smuggle pizza to wounded American rednecks.”
“Bingo,” she said, laughing. That was when the knock came, at her front door.
“Want me to get it?” Dave called. “Probably the secret Israeli pizza police.”
No response: she’d turned on the bath water and couldn’t hear him.
Another knock at the front door. This one more urgent.
“All right, all right,” he called, “I’m coming. Or gimping . . .”
He got to his feet, supporting himself on the cane. Damn things were tricky until you got the hang of them, and he was only now getting it. He cane-walked to the front door, hoping he had enough money in his wallet to cover it.
He opened the door.
Three Middle Eastern men stood staring at him.
“You are David Connors?” The one in front asked. It was more a statement than a question.
“Who wants to know?”
“You are David Connors?” the man repeated, with an odd yet familiar accent.
“Who the hell are—”
The man cracked him across the jaw with a pistol; Dave dropped to the floor like a dead man.
And Operation Jonah was a success.