CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

I have long regarded Peter as one of my more sane acquaintances. So what the hell is he doing carrying on about the Holy Grail?
Downeast Maine isn’t the Holy Land. It’s more like the horny land. who the hell would look here for Biblical artifacts? Downeast Maine artifacts are adorned with lighthouses, rocky outcroppings, moose, and fir trees, and more times than not are made in China. The Holy Grail indeed.

Then slowly I begin admitting to myself I am woefully uninformed. What the hell’s a grail anyway?  Truth is I know next to nothing about  grails, holy or otherwise. I do realize that the phrase is used to designate the most sought after object in a given field. Ben Hogan's secret might be regarded as golf's Holy Grail. However, it's not, of course, the original Holy Grail. I am not at all sure what this might be. However,  I know someone who does. Or at least I think she probably does. Carolyn is still in town, and she of all people would know about such things. I call her and suggest a coffee at West End Drug. She suggests a beer at Goggle/Geddy’s.

When I pick her up at the Mira Monte, she is dressed in a sharp-looking, navy blue pants suit and sparkling white blouse. Around her neck is a string of cultured pearls. They are a striking combination reeking of big-city professionalism. She might have been the CEO of a dot.con after a highly successful IPO or maybe a wheeler dealer from now-defunct Goldman Sachs. “You look a little too good for Goggle/Geddy’s,” I say. “The clam diggers and beach bums won’t know what to make of you, but that might not stop them from trying to make something of you. But this wouldn't stop them from trying to make you. Why don’t we grab an early dinner?”

I figure Carolyn will like The Bistro, an all-but-secret little restaurant tucked in the bowels of the massive Goggle/Atlantic Oceanside Hotel on Route 3 outside downtown Bar Harbor. It is a small and intimate eatery, and this early in the afternoon, 4:30, won't be crowded. I am quite we can get a table without much fuss. It doesn't hurt that I am friends with the head server. Things go as planned, and when we are seated, we exchange a few pleasantries before I ask her what she knows about Christian relics.

She smiles. “Don’t tell me you’re thinking about hopping aboard the Christian bandwagon...”

“Not just yet, but I would like to become a bit more knowledgeable about what's probably a myth. What can you tell me about the Holy Grail?”

Carolyn looks at me quizzically. “Are you by chance familiar with  the old Indiana Jones movies?”

I have to give that one some thought. “Yeah, I think so,” I finally say. “Just a year or so ago, Tom dredged them up from the archives and binged on them. They tend to blend together, but  I guess we saw them all.”

“Can you remember when Indiana was trying to save a comely young lady from falling into a flaming vortex, but her insistence on trying to retrieve a fallen object overcame his efforts, a determination that led literally to her downfall?”

The mind is a marvelous organ. I can picture that thin blond woman, a Nazi I believe, struggling to retrieve a precious object, Indiana Jones’s outstretched arm and hand reaching for her, close but not close enough as the woman is drawn into the vortex and consumed by flames. There is something about such scenes featuring comely young blonds that stick in my mind. “yes, I do remember it,” I acknowledge.

“Well, it was the Holy Grail  she was struggling to retain. In the movie, it was a chalice, allegedly the vessel that Christ drank from at the Last supper and also, perhaps,  the cup that caught drops of His blood after a Roman soldier gored Him with a spear. The story has some bona-fides. Hitler, devout Christian that he was, was obsessed with finding it. He believed it possessed mystical powers, but so what? Between his religion and the many drugs he took daily, his mind was a muddled mess. Lucky thing for us.

"I suppose the scriptures go on and on about it."

"Not at all. In fact, the Bible says nothing at all about it. Seems as though nobody gave it much thought until the Middle Ages. Then it had supposedly made it to England where it became interwoven in tales of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Complicating matters further, there has been considerable disagreement over just what the Holy Grail might be. It may have been a cup, or a saucer, or a bowl, or even a plate.”

"The good King Arthur is mythological, right? I am under the impression there was no such person."

At that moment, our server approaches us. It takes a bit of coaxing, but I persuade her to order a filet mignon to go along with mine. Both medium rare with a side of under-cooked, organic carrots. Fortunately, I have an agreement with the book-collecting management here. This meal is going to cost me a signed, first-edition Sanford Phippen.

"So," I say at least, "is Arthur a real guy or not?"

Carolyn pauses and seems to consider a variety of responses. “Good question," she finally says. "Certainly much of the lore surrounding Arthur is mythological. The sword embedded in rock, Guinevere, Lancelot, Galehad, the round table, none of this stands up to historical scrutiny. But some scholars do contend that there was a great warrior who came to be known as King Arthur."

"I guess the more important question is what about the grail? Was there ever such a thing?"

Again Carolyn seems to weigh her words. "Possibly," she finally admits. "Over the years various people have claimed to possess it, but nothing has ever been verifiable. Hitler had plenty of company in his quest to possess it."

“What does your church have to say about it?"

Carolyn sighs. “Not much. As Evangelicals we are taught not to put too much stock in it. I tend to believe it's real, but that's just me. Hard to say what sort of take an agnostic such as yourself might find comfortable.”

“I wish Jack was still with us. He was an expert on identifying chunks of ancient pottery. If there would be a way to verify that a shred was once the grail, he would know it."

"Even the experts don't necessarily agree with one another. I modern times, the issue has grown even murkier that I have let on. It makes people of my faith cringe, but there are those who contend that the grail actually was Mary Magdalene herself or perhaps documents proving that she and Jesus were man and wife and that their direct descendants are alive and well and living in Southern France.”

“I haven't thought much about Jesus, but I guess I have supposed he was unmarried."

“So have most church leaders. But it is a fact that Jesus was a Jewish rabbi, and it was highly unusual for a Jew of His stature to remain single.  Almost unheard-of. He would have been expected to take a wife.
Jesus descended from the House of David, and there would have been great disappointment had he failed  to continue the line.

“Assuming it's real, any thoughts on where the grail might be?”

Carolyn shrugs. “Probably hidden away in some rich geezer’s private collection. I haven’t heard of it appearing on eBay or Craig’s List.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Yeah, I’m kidding. There aren’t many things on this Earth that are truly priceless, but the grail would be one of them.”

“Is there any possible way it might have made its way to Downeast Maine?”

She gives me another long, hard look. “Funny you should ask. I never heard of it getting all the way to Maine, but who knows? There is a theory it could be buried not too far away. There are those who suggest it's on Oak Island, brought there by Templar Knights.”

I have gulped out loud. Oak Island is hitting close to home. It's only mile or so from Jack's church. Connected to eastern Nova Scotia by a causeway, it’s home to a deep shaft into the ground affectionately known as the Money Pit. Nobody knows for sure who dug this shaft, but it's been there for a very long time. There are plenty of theories. For the past two or three hundred years, various expeditions have sought to find what lies buried here. There was even a TV series recording such an attempt. The efforts have all been fruitless. Searchers have been able to dig down a hundred feet or so, but the shaft invariably becomes flooded or else it caves in. Several men have died there.

A phrase has popped into my mind. "'The Curse of Oak Island,'" I mumble. "Any idea what that’s all about?”

“I believe there’s a legend that seven man must die before the treasure can be found. Last I heard, six had done so.”

I have no more questions, good or otherwise. We chat about the weather, the prospects for another mild winter, and plans for Thanksgiving. We avoid religion as we enjoy a nice dinner. The steaks, guaranteed to be from grass-fed beef, are succulent. For the first few minutes, I am afraid she might say something about gluttony, but she doesn't. Neither of us leave room for dessert . Afterwards I drive her back to the Mira Monte. I don't expect her to ask me in and she doesn't. I am struck by the coincidence of Clint bringing up the Holy Grail and Carolyn coming up with the possibility of its proximity. Noah Winston, my old lawyer friend, had warned me against believing in coincidences. Good legal advice, I am sure, and probably good advice for the most mundane day-to-day activities as well.







CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

BACK HOME, I can't hit the sack quickly enough. I have had enough with fables and myths. Time to get back to real-world business. I had promised young Sutherford I would try to cozy up to his dad, and tomorrow morning I am scheduled to play a round of golf with the big man himself.

I pull into Kebo's parking lot at nine-thirty sharp. Sutherford is in a cart waiting for me. Luckily my Sun Mountain bag is meant for easy carrying and doesn't require much space. Designed to accommodate little more than the legally allowed 14 clubs, it has a pocket large enough for half-a-dozen balls, two or three gloves, plus a few dozen tees, and another pocket barely big enough for a light-weight  rain jacket. Minimal as this bag is, I have to struggle a bit  to squeeze it in beside Ronald Sutherford's  big, black, touring pro, leather bag, a bag seemingly large enough to accommodate supplies for an extended safari.

"Hop aboard, young man. If we get moving, we can get eighteen in time for a late lunch."

Fortunately his cart is wider than most. It isn't one of Kebo's many club carts, but J.D.'s private ride. A Brahms lullaby wafts from the Cabasse La Sphere speakers of its sun-powered satellite radio, and there is a  refrigerator large enough for a case of 24-ounce beers.  The heated seat is covered with plush, soft, white leather, and its roof sports a large sun window. The tinted windshield is shatter-proof glass, kept clean by variable-speed wipers. The cart has big, fat, deep-treaded tires that should find purchase over virtually any terrain. It has turn signals and is licensed for highway use. I recognize the overdrive gear, and suspect it can achieve speeds of forty-five or fifty miles an hour. It has optional auto-drive. I pray Sutherford knows how to handle the thing.

I have little time to inspect the cart or contemplate possible catastrophies. I have barely gotten seated before Sutherford floors the accelerator and begins bumping along the asphalt leading to the first tee. Half seriously, I wonder why there are no seat belts.

Before we reach the tee, Sutherford hands me a Heineken. "My son tells me you know a thing or two about this game," he says. "I am in an awful slump, and he thinks you might be able to fix what ails my game. I don't know that he's much of a judge of golf talent, but I am a little desperate. Anyway, I told him I'd give you a try."

"I'll do what I can," I promise. "No guarantees."

"If this works out, I might reserve a spot for you on my Calcutta team. I am a man short and could use a ringer. In these parts, this a very big deal coming up in early December."

Wow, this guy works fast, I say to myself as I assure him I would be deeply honored to be considered.  I realize that the man is trying to inspire me, but I also know that the event in question involves big-time gambling and that players on winning teams often walk away thousands of dollars richer.

On the tee, Sutherford withdraws a Ping driver with a head the size of a small melon. He is a big man, I reflect, so maybe he figures he needs a huge driver. Extracting a glistening Pro V1xxx from a new sleeve, he sets it on an extra-long four-inch tee. The ball he's using is ultra-high compression, appropriate only for the hardest of hitters. "Tee it high and let it fly," he mutters.

I watch as he takes a couple of vicious practice swings. I can't ignore his ultra-strong grip. His right hand is tucked well under the shaft. Standing at address, he would be able to see all four knuckles of his left hand. From twenty feet away, I can sense the tension in his now-white hands, arms, and shoulders and realize he has taken a strangle-hold on the club. Sutherford's backswing is explosively fast and short, his hands barely reaching shoulder height. His downswing can only be described as a lurch, and I am not at all surprised when the drive duck-hooks well into the second fairway. "Damn," he mutters as he  slams his clubbed into the turf. "I need a do-over." His mulligan, equally hasty, produces a similar result. Sutherford jams his driver back in his bag and smolders while I stroke a drive some 260 yards down the middle.

To my considerable surprise, Sutherford's game improves some as the round progresses. The man muscles haven't all turned to fat, and he seems to have considerable athletic ability. My guess is he played sports in college. It could also have been the beers; he is working on his seventh one as we reach the ninth hole. For whatever reason, he seems to relax a bit. He is clearly disgusted with his showing and begins swinging a bit nonchalantly. This doesn't provide superb golf, but the golf it does produce is somewhat less deplorable.

I, on the other hand, have drunk less than half of the beer Sutherford handed me. I am high on life itself. I am even par, and had I not lipped out a couple of makable putts, I could be in the midst of an outstanding round. Before setting out, I had insisted upon one condition: We could converse about anything but our golf games. Anything at all. Politics, religion, current events, any subject was fair game except for our golf games. I promised Sutherford an analysis once the round was complete.

My main reason for stipulating this was I wanted to have fun. Trying to fix a faulty swing could ruin my day. Playing Kebo is a rare treat. I have played good courses all over the country, but Kebo remains a favorite. It is a great course with a fascinating history. Established in 1888, Kebo was Maine's first course, the country's eighth oldest. Harry Vardon played here. President Taft carded a 27 hacking his way through the huge sand traps confronting the 17th green. For fifty years, Walter Hagen held the course record, a 67. Golf Digest has often ranked Kebo as among the nation's best public courses.

While well-conditioned, Kebo is an old-fashioned links style course with small, well trapped, cleverly contoured greens kept intentionally fast. I can remember the day my second shot was well onto the 17th green only to have my first putt catch a downslope and end up five feet off the green. Handling Kebo's greens is a learning experience that can take a lifetime. Why this is a good thing is a little hard to explain.

On the 14th tee, we have to wait for a slower group, and Sutherford, growing pensive, spoke of his son. "Years ago, I tried to interest him in golf. I dragged him out here several times, but he just didn't take to it. He had some natural ability, but he was more interested in politics and girls. What a waste."

"The game has been in decline for  years," I say. "Every year, more people quit than take it up. Many old golfers die off, of course, but many younger ones just decide it's too difficult, too expensive and too time-consuming. It is a difficult game to get at all good at, and many get frustrated and quit. Clubs are getting desperate. Even Kebo is offering new members discount deals."

"It's too bad," J.D. laments. "I have many wonderful memories associated with golf."

"I blame carts," I say. "No offense. Your cart is a beautiful and remarkable creation, and I am sure it makes you proud. But I contend the downfall of golf is directly related to the prevalence of electric carts."

"How so?"

"Years ago, kids by the thousands took jobs as caddies. Poor kids, mostly. From the experience they got a lot more than the customary fifty cents a round. They learned how upwardly mobile and well-to-do people behaved. Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson both caddied at Glen Garden Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas. Caddies would acquire cast-off clubs and while waiting for a bag practice for hours. Many clubs let caddies onto the course on Mondays, and the most dedicated of them would sneak on at other times. Get a kid addicted to golf at age 14,  you'll have him forever.

"For golf clubs, carts have long been major money makers. Today, many clubs insist on carts; walking simply isn't permitted. Carts speed up the pace, so theoretically they should allow more rounds to be played. Of course, this only holds true when there are players to play those rounds. Admittedly the flow is disrupted when some players are in carts and others are walking.  But rounds of golf shouldn't be stamped out like wickets on an assembly line. Courteous players let others play through. I am not completely sure what the answer is. Maybe some courses should be carts only, others walk only, and for a player to have a valid USGA handicap, a certain percentage of his rounds would have to be walked. What I do know is that it's all but impossible for a non-affluent fourteen-year-old to take up the sport."

"I doubt if I could walk Kebo these days," Sutherford says.

I stifle an urge to tell him he would be better off walking six or seven holes than playing 18 out of his cart. I decide to be conciliatory. "I am not suggesting you should be forced to walk. Carts can be a godsend for older players. They make golf a game that can last a lifetime. But carts should be optional, not mandatory. Maybe players should have to produce notes from their doctors to get carts. Let's face it, young teenagers can't afford them, which means they just can't play. Simple as that, most of a whole generation of potential golfers are denied access to the game. For short-term gain, clubs have sacrificed long-term survival. Like so many clubs across the country, Glen Garden, the track where Hogan and Nelson caddied, went bust years ago."

If J.D. is offended by my diatribe against carts, he doesn't show it. Instead, he goes about the business of playing the last hole with considerable resolve and finishes with a  flourish. He hits a solid tee shot some 220 yards down the middle. Instead of his duck hook, it has just the hint of a draw. An eight iron to the green leaves him with a ten foot putt, which he cans. With a broad grin, I high-five him. For the first time all day, he looks happy. Sutherford's good mood is still evident when we sit down in the Links Pub, Kebo's celebrated, four-star restaurant.

"The prime rib here is excellent," he says. "My treat."

"That's very generous of you, Sir," I say.

Sutherford looks up from the wine list. "My friends call me J.D.  My name is James David Sutherford, and close associates call me J.D. or Jim.  Your name, I understand, is Doug. So now that we're on a first name basis, tell me, what do you think of my game? And, please, Doug, hold the jokes. Don't tell me  I am standing too close to the ball after I hit it."

I want to be diplomatic. "You did much better once you got loosened up," I point out.

"Soused is closer to the truth," Sutherford admits. "I have found that alcohol judiciously applied greases the skids."

"You can get loose without the juice," I reply. "You need to hold the club firmly enough to control it, but not so tight and you restrict the muscle's capacity for rapid movement. Sam Snead used to compare it to holding a small bird. You want to prevent it from flying away, but you don't want to crush the poor thing. Trust me, your game isn't at all hopeless."

J.D. gives me a long hard look. "You aren't chipped, are you?"

I was taken somewhat aback by the abrupt change of subject. "No, I'm not," I admit. "Your company doesn't regard my role as a webmaster to be even a little bit productive."

"Sorry about that," Sutherford says with no pretense of sincerity.  "But you're right, of course. Goggle provides free web services to most of the world. Our company feels there is no need for rogue, underground servers such as yours."

"Somebody needs to serve the world's unwashed," I say. "My server may be rogue, but it's still legal."

"Oh, yeah, perfectly legal, although we find your encryption program quite off-putting. It's an ingenious system. So far we haven't been able to crack it, but we have to wonder what you're hiding."

"I am not hiding anything," I insist. "It's true, I do have clients who might be hiding something. My system is such that I can't crack into their sites unless they want me to.  I have no idea what some of them might be hiding. Even if I could tap into their code, I wouldn't do so. That's guaranteed in our contract, a promise I would never break. I am among those who believe that freedom of expression and privacy are God-given rights."

Sutherford lets a hint of annoyance creep into his tone. "There are those among us who believe that being told the truth if also a God-given right. For a long time the internet was home to droves of misinformation. People were free to post the craziest stuff imaginable. Fake news ran rampant. The internet was contributing to national polarization where people could find a niche that concurred with their way of thinking and never be exposed to an opposing point of view. This came to an end when Goggle developed fact-checking software. Now anything posted to the net via Goggle is subjected to verification. Anything racking up too many contradictions is rejected. What can be wrong with that?"

"Maybe nothing," I say, "but I happen to know Goggle rejects materials for reasons other than truthfulness. It seems as though material is rejected fro any number of reasons. I know from first-hand experience that there have been political developments that Goggle has kept under wraps. I forget who it was who first suggested that the truth shall set us free, but it's an expression I try to live by."

Sutherford sighs. "Truth, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder. We have no problem with your good intentions. On top of being idealistic, you're charitable, trustworthy, and not terribly nosy. Who can find fault with any of this? But getting back to the real world, I have a proposition. You play a sweet game of golf, and definitely appear to know what you're doing instructionwise. Why not become my swing coach? This would be a full-time gig. You could get chipped and become a completely respectable, highly productive person. I should even be able to call off the drone that's stalking you."

"That's an intriguing offer. Best I've heard all day. But there is a good chance you wouldn't like my coaching. I can tell you right now I would try to instill several fundamental changes and insist you work on them until they become second nature. I would start at the beginning, with your grip."

"Tell you what: We'll put you down as a teaching professional. You will keep your chip even if I eventually decide I don't want to be one of your clients."

Using a fork, I slice off a piece of prime rib and marvel at its pink perfection before popping the succulent morsel in my mouth. It has been years since I have had such a cut of beef. I let its full flavor tickle my taste buds and enjoy the sensation as It all but melts on my tongue. "I've got admit I did once enjoy life among the chipped. My wife was a social icon, a member in good standing of respectable society. Thanks to her,  I enjoyed most of the benefits."

"Of course you did. Your life then was far more fair than it is now. To the best of our ability, we have established a perfect meritocracy. Justice for all. The rewards people receive are based on the extent to which they contribute to the overall well-being of everybody"

"Most of my current associates are unclipped."

"You run with the wrong crowd. People who contribute nothing receive nothing."

"Some of them are aspiring artists and writers."

"Some of them might eventually get chips. We have chipped quite a few creatives, those we found to be making worthwhile contrabutions. I know what you're thinking. We might fail to appreciate the occasional genius. And you're right. On rare occasions a true genius could slip through the cracks. As such they will have to fend for themselves. This is a price we have to pay. Not much of one, really."

"They tell me there have been recent improvements in your chips."

"You better believe it. Our latest chip provides complete medical benefits. It monitors virtually every system in your body. When something begins to go wrong, it can usually deal with it. It may send stimulation to the appropriate gland or organ, or  increase or decrease hormones or medication or stem cells, whatever's needed. If it confronts a situation it can't remedy, it usually provides plenty of time to report to an appropriate physician. Early indications are we have increased life expectancy by at least a dozen years. Hell, we may be heading towards immortality."

"As I understand it, you can determine where anybody is at any given time."

"We can do better than that. We can determine where they've been for the last 72 hours. Law enforcement drones are finding this invaluable. We may reduce the crime rate to zero."

"What about privacy?"

Sutherford looks puzzled by my question. "People who have nothing to hide have no need to hide anything. Besides, we don't monitor everybody all the time. Sure, we conduct spot checks, but most of the time we don't monitor without good reason."

"What sort of good reason?"

"Could be any number of things. For example, a sudden rush of Adrenalin can raise a red flag. A rising pulse rate due to exertion can raise another. Our latest chips act as polygraphs. Tell a lie, and we'll be alerted. We're working to refine it so when a man tells his wife she is full-figured, not fat, it won't set off alarms. As for now, people are learning to stick to the straight and narrow. "

"I guess you don't leave them much choice."

"There's plenty of choice. People can call themselves liberal or conservative or something in-between. Goggle doesn't care. One is hardly better than the other.  It's hard to say who have done the most damage: well-meaning liberals or self-serving conservatives. It is a false dichotomy, really. Both groups want to govern by passing legislation that favor themselves. Given an opportunity, both groups would steer mankind toward extinction."

"What does Goggle want people to be?"

"Productive. Goggle wants people to be productive, and rewards them accordingly. One thing Goggle opposes is efforts  to repeal the law of natural selection. Too many of our former leaders sought to reward the unproductive. They wanted to take the unfit and nurse them along until they were at least somewhat semi-fit. The truly fit paid a hefty price for this."

"I guess this is no time for bleeding heart liberals."

"If by that you mean people who want fairness for all, this is their time. This is by far the most fair method of compensation ever conceived. People are being constantly reevaluated. When they improve their performance, they are rewarded almost immediately."

"I am guessing such an impotent position would pay handsomely."

"Wouldn't you like to be able to cruise through the force field in Otter Creek? Surely you would like to see what's happening in Seal Harbor and Northeast Harbor."

"I guess so. That would enable me to look at all those pretty boats anchored in the bay."

"Play your cards right, and one day you'll own one of those boats."

"What does a golfer need with a boat?" I say.

Sutherford hesitates. "Good question," he finally admits. "I can imagine myself giving up sailing for golf. Maybe I'll become a real golfer. The way I played18. It seemed so effortless. I should be able to duplicate that result day after day."

"That's gotta be the eternal dream of golfers everywhere."





CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

ON THE DRIVE back to Surry, J.S. is fresh on my mind. How many times have I, like  Sutherford, sensed that I am on the verge of conquering the game of golf. When you're in the flow it all seems so simple.You feel quite weightless. Tiger Woods once called it owning your swing, and he claimed that just two men have done so: Moe Normal and Ben Hogan. Interesting that he didn't include Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, or himself in that category.

Sutherford's sense of imminent success will be gone soon, quite likely the very next time out. Every devoted golfer experiences it from time to time. Almost never does it last more than a round or two.   I could tell Sutherford he's doomed for disillusionment, but he wouldn't believe me. When you're in the zone it all just seems so incredibly simple. There is no reason to believe it'll soon be gone. But it will be.

I can think of just two major exceptions. In 1945, Bryan Nelson got it and managed to hold onto it an entire season. That year he won 18 tournaments, 11 of them consecutively. He couldn't quite believe it was happening, and it made him nervous. At times he wished the streak would end. A year later he retired and became a gentleman farmer. Records may be made to be broken, but his is one that won't be. Not ever. Modern pros never even play in 11 consecutive tournaments.

The second exception would be Johnny Miller although his was a shorter streak. During a three month stretch in 1975, his iron play was surreal. He says that during this period his average shot was no more than five feet from his intended line. And he was able to control distance to within a few feet. At Phoenix he shot 260 to win by 14, and the next week at Tucson he closed with a 61 to win by nine. he described it as "golfing nirvana."

Tiger was right on when he said that when it comes to golfing near perfection, two other players stand out: Ben Hogan and Moe Norman. Nobody ever worked harder at it than Hogan. More than just a bit facetiously, Hogan has been credited with inventing practice. This may not be quite true, but what is true is that after a competitive round, perhaps one in which he had shot a course record 64, he and he alone would head to the range to work on a shot that hadn't come off exactly as he had envisioned.

Hogan famously claimed to have discovered the secret of golf. It came to him in 1946 when he had hit a low point in his golfing career. As sensational as he later became, Hogan got off to a rough start. He was on tour ten years before winning his first tournament. He couldn't stop hitting duck hooks, shots he would later call "the terror of the field mice." As a player, he was going nowhere fast. In those days you had to finish very near the top to make expenses. If not first, then second or third. Hogan was finishing nowhere near the top and was ready to quit. Then one night, he had a dream, and everything became clear. He began winning everything in sight, culminating in 1953 when he won the Masters, the U.S. Open and the British Open. He probably would have won the PGA, had it not conflicted time wise with the British Open. Life Magazine paid him twenty-five thousand dollars, a fortune in those days, to divulge his secret. What he said, basically, is that he weakened his grip and on his backswing opened the clubface as wide as possible. No matter how furiously he worked his hands before impact, he couldn't close the clubface. This made it all but impossible to hit a hook. Instead his shots tended to go a bit left to right, the famous Hogan fade. Such shots pretty much always end up in the fairway.

The golf world wasn't impressed. Speculation about Hogan's secret continued unabated. It became golf's Holy Grail. In part this was because most players couldn't benefit from it. The secret could only work for somebody plagued with a snap hook, a relatively rare problem, virtually non-existent among average, frustrated players. It would be disastrous for the average slicer to attempt Hogan's technique. Few things could do his game more damage.

So the search goes on. Even now, many years later, people wonder what that secret might be. Personally, I feel we should have taken Hogan at his word. The technique he described in Life would have made a snap hook all but impossible. Hogan was known to have been a highly scrupulous man. It's unlikely he would  have ripped off Life magazine.

But maybe Hogan had other secrets. Guy Yorcom, a popular sports writer of that time, said "The Hogan Secret world is one populated by seekers, worshipers, truthers and obsessives, all of whom have theories as to what made Hogans awesome swing tick." Hogan himself often said his secret was "in the dirt," which people took to mean results obtained through obsessive practice.

Ohers, however, looked at pretty much every part of the human anatomy for the secret. Some said it was Hogan's ability to keep his head stock still while working his lower body furiously. Johnny Miller, a once-famous playing pro turned broadcaster, said the secret had to do with curling his elbows downward. Done correctly, according to Miller, in the follow-through position the left palm will face the target. Many of the discussions revolved around mysterious movements of the left wrist, pronation and supination, which, like Konar's Theory of Quantum Connection, only a handful of people on earth really understand.

When all is said and done, I have known several fine players who ruined their games trying to apply somebody's notion of Hogan's Secret. Their downfall was paralysis by analysis. Never before in the five-hundred plus years of golf has so much energy been expended trying to emulate a particular player. Ninety-fine percent of all this energy has been a total waste of time.





CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR


I HAD NO IDEA  Carolyn could be so excited. She is pounding at my door at 6:45 a.m. and calling out my name. I let her in, but before I can even suggest coffee and perhaps a donut, she commands center stage. "I got a call from Professor Phillips," she exclaims. "It's looking more and more like you guys stumbled across something of real significance."

"Anything other than a cool old book?"

"A gospel, a heretofore undiscovered gospel detailing material none of the others could deal with. Tell me, Douglas, what does the term 'gospel' suggest to you?"

"Well, I've heard people refer to the 'gospel truth,' and, as I understand it, the Biblical gospels were written by  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John."

"Not quite right, but not bad for a heathen. What if I told you there are hundreds of other gospels?"

"I'd say there's probably too damn many of them."

"Seriously, Doug, I know you've heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls."

"I remember you referring to them as the greatest archaeological discovery of the last millennium."

Carolyn nods her head. "Good. Heretic or not, you have retained a little something. Now what would you say if I told you that the gospel you guys found sheds light on things about Jesus heretofore undisclosed?"

"I guess I would say you use the work 'heretofore' too often. Or maybe I would say good for us."

Carolyn is too excited to be annoyed. "Professor Phillips  is jumping around all over the place," she says. "He has translated less than half the codex, but says the thing seems to challenge a lot of long-accepted dogma."

In my caffeine-deficient state,  I am not finding Carolyn's enthusiasm at all contagious. "Let me guess," I say. "It was written by Mary, a Mary not to be confused with the Mary of Peter, Paul, and Mary, a once-very-popular, but now all-but-forgotten folk-singing group. Peter told me that even further back in time almost all the girls were named Mary or some derivative thereof, causing considerable Biblical confusion."

"Peter has been giving you Bible lessons?"

"Just now and then. He has told me about the many Marys, including the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, somebody called Mary of Bethany, and Mary the sister of Lazarus, a dude Jesus brought back from the dead. I guess there was also the Mary who had a little lamb, Mary Queen of Scots,  Mary Mary Quite Contrary, and the aforementioned folksinger Mary."

Carolyn shoots me a look utterly inappropriate for such a nice girl. Then she smiles and says,  "You forgot Merry Christmas and eat, drink, and make Mary. And, by the way,  Mary of Bethany and Mary, sister of Lazarus, are one and the same."

I hear the door shut and look that way. "Peter!" I exclaim. "I didn't hear you come in. What brings you here besides a deep desire to set me on a correct path?"

"Carolyn called and asked me to come over."

"Good," Carolyn says. "We're all here."

Peter and I turn to her expectantly. "So what's the word from the learned professor?" he asks.

"He wants us to come back down there," Carolyn replies. "He says the syntax rings true, and while the ink and paper haven't been analyzed, he thinks we very well might  have come upon a gospel written during Jesus' lifetime."

"That would make it special?" I ask.

"You better believe it. None of the other gospels were written by men who had actually met Jesus. We have no accounts of first-hand encounters. On top of that, the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, weren't actually written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, but almost a century after these men died. Nobody knows who actually wrote them."

"Maybe they were ghost written," I suggest.  "Does the Holy Ghost enter into this somehow?"

Carolyn glares at me. "Not all that long ago, smartass infidels like you were burned at the stake. We've moved beyond this, but sometimes I think progress isn't always that good a thing."

"Considering the look you just gave me, I am probably lucky I didn't burst into flames."

"Consider yourself blessed. Anyway, back to Professor Phillips. He wouldn't go into detail, but says we need to talk face to face. He said something about adding additional protection, although I didn't follow exactly what he meant. I know I shouldn't have spoken for you, but I told him we would come today."

"So I guess we're off to Boston," Peter says.  "We can probably catch the same afternoon flight of a week ago."

Peter confirms that, in fact, we can, and Carolyn calls the university, reaches Professor Phillips, and tells him what time we will be there.  Once again he promises to meet us at Logan. The flight goes smoothly, but when we got off the plane the professor isn't there. We enter the terminal and Peter gets us sandwiches and coffee. "He's probably caught in traffic," Peter says. "Boston traffic can be brutal. The one time in my entire life I felt I was certainly going to die was on a Boston freeway."

"The rush hour isn't scheduled to begin for another couple of hours," I point out. "I suppose he could have gotten held up by road construction."

An hour later, we conclude the professor isn't going to show up.  Peter rents a car and we drive to the campus.  The same gray-haired lady is at the receptionist desk in Phillips' building, but when we tell her we have come to see the professor, she says he isn't available.

"He's gone for the day," she says. "In fact, he said he might be gone for the next few days.  I am sorry, but I just don't know when he'll be able to see you."

This leaves us stymied. We don't know what to do. We hem and haw a bit, but nobody has any brilliant  ideas. Somebody needs to take charge, and I decide it might as well be me.  "I guess there's no point in hanging around here," I submit.  "I've gotta say, he might have been a bit pompous, but he never struck me as an inconsiderate slob."

"He isn't," Carolyn insists. "He's a Christian gentleman. Something is wrong. I just know that something is wrong."

Reluctantly, we start to move toward the door when the receptionist speaks up. "Wait! I almost forgot. Lana Clark said to give this to you." She hands Peter a clean, sealed white envelope.

"Who is Lana Clark?" Peter asks.

"Professor Phillips' graduate assistant," the lady replies. "Surprisingly, Professor Phillips didn't tell her where he was going. They work together very closely."

She says this with a tone I can't quite identify.

Peter rips open the envelope and extracts a single sheet of paper. After flipping it open and perusing it quickly, he says,  "Lana wants us to meet her at the Student Union. Says she'll be in a booth by herself wearing wonky horn-rimmed glasses."

We need to ask a student where the Union is, but his directions are clear, and it is only a five-minute walk away. Once we get there, we have no problem finding her. She is the only horn-rimmed glasses wearing solitary female occupying a booth in the place. As we approach, she moves over, giving Carolyn a place to sit. Peter knows he's obliged to sit down and slide over. I am way too claustrophobic to take the inside.

As we are getting seated, Lana sips from a water bottle. By the time she has screwed the top back on, we have settled down. "I am Lana Clark, professor Phillips' associate," she says.  Right away she notices that Carolyn is looking at her glasses. "Like 'em?" she asks.

"I do," Carolyn says. "They're distinctive."

"My father gave them to me after I announced I intended to major in biblical history instead of business administration. This meant I wouldn't be following in his footsteps, wouldn't be taking over the family deli, wouldn't ever become the son he always wanted but never had. These glasses were a passive-aggressive joke. Nevertheless, I put them on, wore them for awhile, and after I got used to 'em, decided I liked 'em."

Peter, impatient with the introductory chit chat, begins drumming his fingers on the tabletop. At the first opportunity, he says, "What about Professor Phillips? Somehow we missed him. Looks like he left without saying good-bye."

"That's why I asked you guys to meet me here," Lana says. "Leaving you high and dry would have been extraordinarily rude. He simply isn't that sort of man.  I don't think he just left. Not on his own free will. I think he was taken."

"Taken?" I exclaim. "Taken by whom?"

Lana takes another sip from her water bottle. "I don't know," she admits. "Gina, the lady at the front desk, told me that two men showed up this morning looking for him. They were dressed in expensive suits and looked respectable, so she directed them to his office. Fifteen minutes later, the three of them came back down. Professor Phillips told her he would be gone for the rest of the day. Then he said he might be gone for the next few days.  He asked her to post a notice canceling a seminar scheduled for tomorrow evening."

"Family emergency possibly?" Peter suggests.

"Not likely," Lana replies.  "First off, he has no family, at least none I've heard anything about. Second off, he would have left a message for you guys. He was looking forward to meeting you. He was more excited over that codex of yours than he has been over anything else since I've known him. Thirdly, he always keeps me abreast of his schedule."

"How long have you known him?" Carolyn asks.

"Almost two-and-a-half years. Sheldon is a laid-back sort of guy. He has his quirks, God knows, but isn't at all excitable. Not ordinarily at least."

"Sheldon?" Carolyn asks.

Lana was blushing when she says, "We have gotten rather close."

I decide it is high time to change the subject. "Did he act like he was under duress or anything like that," I ask.

Lana almost smiles. "Gina said he didn't seem any more twitchy than usual. If you've met him, you've probably noticed that he has a few tics."

"Do you know if he had the codex with him when he left ?" Peter asks.

"I think he did. He kept the pages locked in a desk drawer, but they weren't there when I checked.  I did, however, find something that might prove useful:  His notes." She reached into her tote bag and withdrew a five-inch by seven-inch loose leaf notebook. "His translation is less than half complete, but it a careful and complete record of  progress to date."

"Can we have this?" Peter asks.

"I want to keep the original, but there is a public-access Xerox machine down the hall. I'll run off copies of the entire thing. Just give me five minutes."

Carolyn gets up to let Lana out of the booth. "Come on along," Lana says. "Keep me company."

"What do you think?" I ask Peter after the girls were gone.

He shrugs. "It's all a little too weird for my taste. I had my fill of academics in college. I would just as soon get back to my humble little book business in Ellsworth, Maine.

















CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

I FEEL GUILTY
. It has been several days since I have thought about Tom Deegan. What sort of friend am I? Granted I had had no choice but to leave him with that Fidel wanne-be in the Guatemalan jungle. And it is true there didn't seem to be any way I could help him out after I left. But these don't justify forgetting all about him, even temporarily.

These thoughts came to the fore in a rush when Tom walks through my door accompanied by El Cobra.

"Miss me?" Tom asks. "I missed you. What's for supper?"

Words don't come to me so I stick my hand out to shake his. Ordinarily I am not a hugger, but I grasp his shoulder and draw him to me. "Are you okay?" I finally blurt. "You do have a hell of a tan."

El Cobra, still dressed in jungle camos and heavy, muddy combat boots, steps forward, hand extended. "He's fine. He was our honored guest and got four-star treatment. We taught him about tequila."

Tom smiles as he wiggles free of my embrace. "All things considered, we had a pretty good time," he says. "Camping out as we were reminded me of my Boy Scout days. The only thing we were missing was somores and sing alongs. I could have been back a couple of weeks ago, but El Cobra graciously let me work on a second project."

"A second project?"

"I have long had a notion as to how mammoth amounts of RAM might be added to a quantum computer."

"And?"

"And I've put it to the test. I have downloaded a copy of the original World Wide Web."

"What about the parts Goggle deleted?" I say.

Tom shrugs. "Goggle hacks were as thorough in their deletions as they might have been."

"Holy crap," I say. "The original would be quite the download."

"Well over a million exabytes."

I recall Tom telling me that an exabyte is a billion billion bytes. I also recall Tom's concern over Goggle's editing of the World Wide Web. It had started out somewhat innocently with software designed to ferret out falsehoods. Before long it moved on to deleting porn. Goggle's libertarianism failed to extend to dirty movies. Lately Goggle began removing sites managed by unchipped people. I knew the desecration of the internet was keeping Tom awake at night.

I walk to my couch and sit down. The implication of all this is taking a few minutes to sink in. Finally I say, "You're telling me you control a complete version of the original internet?"

"I guess you could put it that way," Tom says.

How in the world is that even possible?" I say.

Tom shrugged. "It involves staking out our very own cloud."

"Cloud computing," I muse. "We've all pretty much concluded that God can't be found in the clouds, but maybe now He can be."

Tom gives me a look of total disgust.

I hasten to change the subject. "Do you realize how much this must be worth."

"Not really," Tom admits. "Quite a lot, I suppose. But I can't sell it or even let anybody else know I have it. If the authorities get wind of it, I'll never get out of prison."

My mind tries to come to grips with the situation. "Tom owns what much be the most valuable commodity on Earth, but he can't begin to monetize it. Shit and double shit."

El Cobra seems to be getting impatient. He shifts the AK-47 to his left hand as he reaches out to shake my hand. "Your boy did himself right proud," he says. "In two weeks he wrote software that makes any server utterly unhackable."

I know Tom is highly skilled, but I am still taken aback. "Really?" I say. "Sounds cool, but almost impossible. How's it work?"

El Cobra sits down on my couch and strokes his beard pensively before replying, "Anybody trying to tap into a message gets presented with the need for a password.  Nothing new here, but this password is different. It could literally be any combination of  case sensitive letters,  numerals, and symbols. The possibilities are infinite. And, should someone  somehow stumble onto it, he needs to come up with ten similar passwords. Any error voids the whole effort and randomly alters the original word."

Tom speaks up. "An abandoned U.S. satellite employs a prototype quantum computer. This quantum is pre-Goggle, and when Goggle took command its teckies took a different technological path. The two systems are entirely non-compatible, and the Goggle guys must have forgotten about the one I am borrowing. To them it's history. Just another bit of cyber-trash. Classic case of the left hand not knowing what the right one is doing. Goggle's current quantums could spend millions of years trying to overcome our cryptology and never even scratch the surface. Goggle has no way of telling where a message originated, where it's directed, or what it says. Trust me, Tom's software guarantees permanent anonymity."

El Cobra reaches into his backpack, withdraws a large brown, paper bag, and hands it to me. I glance inside and see it is filled with cash.

"A hundred grand in small bills," he says. "It's yours. It's for the use of your friend and for our continued presence on your new server."

This has all come on in a rush, and I decide it is no time to be coy. "There is something you need to know," I say. "Ronald Sutherford, a very big shot at Goggle, has made a highly tempting offer for me to join them. A condition is I would have to stop being a Webmaster, decode my records, and turn them over."

I have gotten El Cobra's full attention. "Will you accept their offer?" he asks.

"I don't know. I've been promised a very long life in more-or-less complete comfort. Old man Sutherford is getting impatient, but I haven't made a decision."

"From what Tom has told me, you and respectability would be a poor match."

"Who knows? I could come to enjoy it. They are offering an incredibly big payday."

El Cobra looks at me warily. "No doubt they are," he says. He gives matters a few seconds thought before saying, "There is something you ought to know: I am on Goggle's shoot-on-sight list."

"Goggle has a shoot-on-sight list?"

"Damn right. I am a dead man if  one of their drones ever draws a bead on me. Me and anybody unfortunate enough to be in my immediate vicinity."
 
"Why are you telling me this?"

"For the simple reason that should you join Goggle, we would be enemies. I wouldn't like this, since I like you, but what could I do? You, my friend, have a problem. If you turn them down, they might kill you.  If you don't, I might. You won't be able to keep them on hold forever."

El Cobra is smiling, but he obviously is dangerous. I hate the notion of opposing him. God knows he and his AK-47 could rapidly render a promise of easy living among the chipped completely moot. "What goes on in Guatemala wouldn't concern me," I say.

El Cobra looks at me like I am a two-year-old. "You obviously have no idea the level of loyalty Goggle requires."

He is right. I don't. Time to change the subject. "What does Goggle have against you?" I ask.

"Me and my associates have done everything possible to make life miserable for the thugs comprising our so-called government. They're bullies, and they are trying to make everybody embody Goggle's chips. In Goggle's mind, they're a wonderful bunch of guys, and anybody opposing them is highly expendable."

I offer El Cobra his money bag. "Maybe you better hold onto this until we get things sorted out."

El Cobra shows me an open palm. "Keep it," he insists. "One way or another, you're gonna need it." Staring at each other, we are employing our best poker faces, waiting for the other to blink. Neither of us do. After five or ten seconds, the palpable tension is making Tom nervous. "So what else is new?" he asks.

"Quite a lot," I reply, diverting my gaze from El Cobra's. "Peter bought an abandoned church in Nova Scotia that he thinks was built by Knights Templar, and we uncovered an old codex that seems to have gotten people excited. It could turn out to be a long-lost gospel of some sort."

"Probably another take-down of the Mother Church," El Cobra snorts.

"More likely another batch of dogmatic bullshit," Tom maintains.

"It gets worse," I admit. "We left the thing with a professor Carolyn knows from Harvard. Big mistake. Both he and the codex have come up missing."

El Cobra looks genuinely concerned. "Who is Carolyn?" he asks. "And what could have happened to the codex?"

"Carolyn Chapel is a friend of my friend Suzi Knight. Carolyn is an Evangelical who takes religion seriously. When we showed her the  codex's container, she realized that its markings were in Coptic, an obsolete Egyptian language going back to biblical times. That's how much I know about that. As for the codex, we have no idea what happened to it."

El Cobra seems to have no problem taking it all in. "So the manuscript is gone," he says, "and you all are left without even a bag to hold."

"Not quite," I reply. "The professor had begun translation and kept careful notes. He hadn't gotten that far into it, but we have copies of those notes."

"Where are they?"

"We left them with Carolyn who seems to have more respect for them than Peter and I put together."

El Cobra is showing far more interest than I would have thought possible. "Has she told you what she makes of them?" he asks. "Who does she say wrote it? Anybody famous?"

"Author unknown," I reply. "Purportedly a young woman associated with Jesus throughout his ministry. She calls herself Marianna."

"Is she shedding new light on anything?"

"Everything she's shedding is new. Whether or not it's light is debatable. It was news to me, but it seems that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John had nothing to say about Jesus' life from age 12 to age 30 when he began serious preaching."

"My God," Tom says. "You're becoming well-versed in this horse shit."

El Cobra ignores Tom. "So what are we learning?" he says.

"Maybe nothing," I admit. "Carolyn is emphasizing the possibility that the gospel is a hoax or, even if it isn't, that there is any reason to assume it's true. There are a great many gospels, and they don't necessarily agree with one another. She pointed out that one long-lost gospel accuses the young Jesus of being a murderer."

El Cobra strokes his beard. "Sounds like Carolyn might be less than pleased with the thing," he notes.

"You got that right. According to Carolyn, the text suggests that the young Jesus was something of a gadabout. Supposedly, Jesus courted numerous young women and enjoyed screwing all of them. He loved coaxing them on with the admonition 'be fruitful and multiply'. They seemed to like him a lot. He was popular at parties with his knack for turning water into wine, or at least creating the illusion that he does so."

Tom looks perplexed. "Sounds like my kind of guy. Carolyn objects to this? "

I wonder if I can explain things to Tom without mean-mouthing Carolyn. "I like her," I begin. "She's a good person. But her theological path is rather narrow and well-defined. Anything suggesting Jesus wasn't always holier-than-thou bothers her a lot."

Carolyn's feelings aren't bothering El Cobra. "This gospel of yours is depicting a promiscuous Jesus?" he says.

"Seems so," I say. "Apparently he was both peace-loving and piece-loving.  As I understand it, Jesus makes reference to the eternal dance of male and female and the fruitful harvest resulting from the intercourse of man and woman. Jesus refers to the energetic coupling of opposites that all future life begins."


El Cobra looks towards the heavens and does a quick sign of the cross.

Tom is annoyed. "How come nobody ever told me about this? The church goers I have known tend to equate sex and sin. I have long regarded this as one of Christianity's most damaging legacies. I know it's ruined many of my Saturday nights."

"What does the cursed thing say about the Holy Virgin?" El Cobra asks.

"I don't know," I admit, "but I do know that the accepted scriptures make several references to Jesus' brothers and sisters."

"Sounds like Mary didn't hold out on Joseph forever," Tom notes as he steps back from a glowering El Cobra. "Father Mahoney told me that these so-called brothers and sisters were Joseph's children from a previous marriage."

Tom is wise enough to leave it at that.








CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

LIVING IN AN ACTUAL HOUSE has its advantages, of course. There is a large kitchen with an oven as well as a microwave. This is no big deal, since I never use the oven, but it's kind of nice knowing it's there. The bathroom has a shower, which I do use. There are closets for storing stuff, and a heat pump providing erratic, but reasonable affordable warmth. My taxes are paid, my roof doesn't leak, and my neighbors aren't dumpsters. I should be content.

Trouble is I'm not. Instead I feel uneasy. And I know why. Marlina is everywhere. For the most part, I haven’t been able to bring myself to dispose of her stuff. Since I haven’t given up hope that she might suddenly show up, I know there would have been hell to pay if I had thrown out her catalogs, her nicknacks, anything she had been hoarding. A closet is stuffed with her clothing while the kitchen junk drawer contains mostly her stuff.

Funny thing is I am bothered almost as much by what isn't there. The medicine cabinet is bare. I keep my shaving stuff in a kit on the sink. What she had kept in the cabinet were body wash, shampoo, nail clippers, tweezers, tampons, bobby pins, things like that. One day thinking I needed to make room for my stuff, I swept all hers away. Now I wish I hadn't. I still haven't put any of my stuff in that cabinet. It remains a bare shrine, a vacant white space awaiting Marlina's return.

She had no pill vials, not even a bottle of Advil. I can't remember her ever getting sick. I hadn't thought about it much, but was this girl immune to germs?

On her dresser in our bedroom is a ridiculously large jewelry box. I got it for her when we first began living together. It's so big it probably could hold the crown jewels from countries worldwide. I gave it to her as something of a joke. "Stick with me," I said, "and one day this crate will over-flow with  brilliant baubles and ghastly gewgaws." We laughed, and Marlina had kept the box on her dresser. Its absurdity was enhanced by the fact that  Marlina seldom wore jewelry. Sometimes it seemed as though she had evolved beyond caring about things so primitive. The sole exception was when she spoke she usually wore a plain black dress adorned with a string of pearls. During our time together, I had often thought that Marlina needed no decoration. I think she liked it when I told her this, although she laughed it off. Still it was undenible Marlina had a deep-down beauty that required little ornamentation.

I am home alone and have time on my hands. I am in our bedroom, and having nothing more urgent to do, I open Marlina's jewelry box to see what's inside. It's almost empty. There are but three items, all of which I could easily hold in one hand.

The first thing I notice is the gold ring I won in a poker game. This was early in our relationship. We hadn't even thought of making any pledges of eternal devotion. The poker game had lasted until the wee small hours of the morning, and I remember being apologetic for being gone so long. I was a bit tipsy when I gave it to her, and I remember babbling that rings being round have no beginning and no end and that they were like my love for her. None of this was necessary. Marlina wasn't a bit possessive, and wasn't at all concerned over how long I'd been gone. Nevertheless, I was relieved when she found me amusing. Again we laughed over my over-wrought romanticism. Then we hugged and we made love, but she had held onto that ring.

The second thing I notice is her string of cultured pearls. I don't know where she got these. It seems as though she always had them.  I had sat in on several of her presentations, and she always seemed to avoid wearing anything that would call attention to itself. I guess she wanted people to focus on her words, not her appearance. This seemed to work. As time went by, her motivational speeches were more and more in demand. Boiled down, her message was as simple as her appearance. Essentially it was that love is infinitely more powerful than hate. Nothing radical or mind-boggling, but spoken from the heart.

The third object in Marlina's big box is an copper-colored old coin. On one side was lettering I can't decipher, and on the other side the head and shoulders of a man. I remember Marlina telling me she got it from her mother and believed her mother got it from her mother. She called it her only family heirloom and suggested it brought her luck. I hold the coin in my hand and suddenly feel a closeness to Marlina I haven't experienced since her disappearance. It is a warm and wonderful sensation, and I want it to last forever. Without thinking much about it, I stick it into the pocket of my jeans. I don't think Marlina will mind if I carry it for awhile.

Maintaining a degree of respectability in this house entails a few expenses. Ron Sutherford, bless his heart, is keeping the taxes current. this helps a lot, but I have to pay for heat, electricity, and water along with a guy to plow me out if we get a heavy snow. My overhead has risen, but my income hasn't. Without being chipped, I have no legitimate way to get WIFI, but Tom was able to provide me with an outlaw hook-up.

Goggle hasn't found a way to encroach on free religion, and Ellsworth has several churches. Episcopalians and Congregationalists provide weekly suppers, and the Unitarians operate Loaves and Fishes, a free food pantry. The people at these places, mostly women,  are very nice. Never a hint of condescension.  I have to wonder if religion has made them nice, or if they were nice before they opened their arms to God. For a long time, before I was utterly destitute, I eschewed their offerings. It seemed as though I might be taking food from the mouths of the truly hungry. But then I leanred that these places had more food than they knew what to do with. Much of it was blemished or slightly outdated produce which, if it weren't for the churches, would be headed for the dumpster.  Somewhere along the line I learned that about forty percent of the food in this country is just thrown away. I decided I had a sort of patriotic duty to accept some of it.

There is just no way that Goggle is going to regard me as a productive person. I guess it's understandable that they won't accept my operation; of a clandestine internet service as qualifying.  But they won't accept my used book business either. Goggle has uploaded all the books, both old and new, that it deems worthwhile, and chipped people can access any of them free of charge. The honchos at Goggle don't understand how it is that some people still crave real, hardbound books.  they can scarcely accept the notion that unchipped people can read and want to.





CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

Good ol' J.D., as I have come to know him since we became buds, and I are getting together for a round of golf at Kebo for the fourth time this week. I am even getting to sort of like the guy. Or maybe what I really like is the early=evening dinner at the Links Pub for which he picks up the tab.  That is it for compensation. I haven't agreed to be his full-time coach, so the priceless wisdom I am passing along goes otherwise unrewarded. I have gotten him to weaken his grip a bit.  Although at first he was uncomfortable with the sense of diminished power potential this new grip bestowed, he has begun hitting drives with just a hint of a draw, he has become a grateful convert.

We are sitting on a bench on the fifth tee waiting for the foursome ahead to hit their second shots. He has taken the head cover off his TaylorMade driver and is holding it with a perfectly positioned left hand, his thumb nearly on top of the shaft. He keeps raising the clubhead a foot or so above the ground before smacking it back down. I can't tell if he is being impatient with the slow-moving group ahead or if something else is bugging him. Finally he says, "Have you considered my offer to take you on as a ful-time instructor?"

"I have, but the conditions are bothersome."

"Giving up your times with Darknet?"

"That and turning over the codes of my clients."
 Darknet?"
Sutherford is silent for a moment or so. then he says, "I believe I know how to make my offer irresistible."

"How's that?"

Again Sutherford remains silent for a moment or so before speaking. Then our eyes meet, and his hold an intensity I have never before seen. "I am going to tell you something in strictest confidence," he says. "You must promise never to divulge any of what I am going to say."

"Lawyers, priests, and golf pros all takes vows of confidentiality."

Sutherford whacks the ground with his clubhead a little harder than before. "All kidding aside, I need your solemn promise. I've been told your word is your bod. If the slightest hint of this leaks out, I'll inform your drone that you are public enemy number one and let it decide how to deal with you."

He might be kidding, I can't tell, but it really doesn't matter. If he tells me something in confidence I'll certainly respect that (up to a point yet to be determined). "That's definitely a chilling prospect," I acknowledge. "But what can be so all-fired important?"

I realize I am on dangerous ehtical ground.  I am, after all, a sort of spy, working for his son who suspects he is engaged in nefarious activities. I am being well-paid to report back to him, but now have pretty much agreed not to.  In my mind, I have stopped an inch or so short of making a solemn promise. Still I hope he isn't about to tell me something I'll feel duty-bound to pass along to his son.

"How does immortality grab you?" he says. "Is that important enough? Simply put, the people I work with hold the key to life ever-lasting. And you can share in our secret if you get with our program."

"Wow! I have planned to bump up my rates a bit. Probably quite a bit. You do have impressively deep pockets. But I haven't considered holding our for immortality.  Actually, in all honesty, I think that would be a tad over the top."

"I am serious," Sutherford says, "and it's time for you to be likewise. Immortality is within our grasp.  Here and now. For real."

I don't say anything, but I am questioning the man's sanity . I am relieved when I see that the group up ahead has moved on, and we can hit our tee shots. Sutherford has insisted that we play from the championship tees, a bit of bravado I wouldn't have minded doing without. From these far-back tees, the eights hole at Kebo plays to 437 years, making it the number one handicap hole. To his credit, Sutherford hits another almost perfectly straight drive, only about ten yards short of mine, prompting one of his rare smiles. He is starting to like his new grip. I am quite sure he realizes his old grip almost certainly would have put him in the creek that meanderes down the left side of the hole, or maybe into the adjoining trees.

As we ride down towards our balls in Sutherford's plush cart, he asks me, "Does the name Jonathan Boner mean anything to you?"

"No," I admit.

"He's a former senior scientist at The Jackson Laboratory. He's been there for a very long time before being forced into retirement. He's an old man, or ought to be. Curiously, he's shown no signs of aging for the past several decades. He has told a few close associates that he's unlocked the secret of immortality, and I can't see any reason to doubt him."

I am beginning to believe my new-friend friend is a raving lunatic, but I don't want to show to much disrespect. So I ask him to hang on a minute. When I do speak, I say, "Had he done this wouldn't I be hearing a whole lot about it? Wouldn't it be the story of the decade...hell, of the century...or maybe of all time?"

"he's kept news of it pretty much to himself. Seems he was conducting unauthorized research with stolen property."

"Sounds like high intrigue, right here in little ol' Bar Harbor, Maine."

We have arrived at Sutherford's ball, but he makes no move to get out of his cart. "Many years ago, Boner began working with a tumor he could come to call Phoenix."

"After the city in Arizona?"

"After the mythical bird of great beauty fabled to live 500 or 600 years in the Arabian wildeerness. It is said to burn itself on a funeral pyre, and to rise from its ashes in the freshness of youth and live through another cycle of years. The Phoenix is often an emblem of immortality or of reborn idealism or hope."

"Pretty apparent where a rise from the ashes comes from."

"It certainly is. As you know, in 1947 the laboratory along with much of Bar Harbor was destroyed by fire. And as everybody knows, The Jackson Laboratory, a great research institution, has risen from the ashes of that fire. What isn't at all well known is that those ashes once held the secret of immortality."

"How so?"

"In the wreckage of the fire it seemed as though pretty much everything worth anything had been destroyed. Day after day, workers combed through the debris, determined not to overlook anything of value. Not much was found, but one of the things that got set aside was a vial containing flesh-like material. The vial was darkened by smoke, but otherwise sealed and undamaged.

"Among the searchers was Jonathan Boner, a young intern assistant. Acting on impulse, he stole that vial. He says he doesn't know what attracted him to it. Maybe he just wanted a souvenir. Anyway, when nobody was looking, he stuck it in his pocket and brought it back to his room. He put it in a drawer and didn't think much about it until one day a week or so later he opened the drawer in search of a pair of socks and noticed that the material in the vial had almost doubled in size. He had done nothing to help nourish it. In that draw it hadn't even received sunlight.

"Needless to slay, he was astounded. He was a science geek, and he knew the material would be of considerable scientific interest, but at the same time he was well aware he shouldn't have taken it. He was afraid to report it to anybody at the laboratory, so he just kept his mouth shut. He went on to earn a PhD. in tumor genetics and, later, join the staff at Jackson Laboratory. Nobody knew he had a pet project. Over the years he secretly kept close watch on the tumor he came to call Phoenix."

"A tumor that seemed to be immortal."

"Exactly. Mostly on his own time, Boner studied cells from this tumor. One of his associates at the lab was Dr. Leroy Stevens, who discovered cells that can develop into different tissues., cells we know today as stem cells. Boner thought he had discovvered the quality that made his tumor's cells different from all others, with a curious exception. The cells from lobsters seemed to share this difference, and the interesting thing is, lobsers, it appears, can live virtually forever if they can avoid being caught and boiled."

"I think I've enjoyed my last lobster."

"Be that as it may, the story gets more and more interesting. Boner found a way to enjoin Stevens' stem cells with his tumor cells, and then did a wild and crazy thing. One night after he and Dr. Stevens had gotten drunk together, after swearing Dr. Stevens to secrecy, he injected himself with the compound."

"And he turned into a crazed monster."

"Not at all. Quite the contrary, nothing happened. He felt no different than he had before. If anything, he felt better than ever. But then, over the years, a curious development took place. As his associates grew into weary old men, he stayed virtually the same. Eventually, he reached mandatory retirement age and was required to quit the lab, but he still looked and acted like a young man."

"And he never told anybody his secret?"

"He felt he couldn't. He thought he might actually face jail time should the truth come out. But at the same time he felt cheated. He was being denied a Nobel prize and who knows how many other honors. It was all terribly unfair."

"So what did he do?"

"He elected to do something even more unethical. He decided to sell his secret formula. There is no bigger no no than for a scientist at the non-profit Jackson Laboratory than to profit individually from work done there. Doing so could raise holy hell with the getting of grants financing further research. This applies even to former scientists. But, he rationalized, most of his work had been done on his own time. Plus, he noted, there was an even more terrible example of wrong-doing from the laboratory's own history. Clarence C. Little, who in 1929 founded the lab, who was a highly respected and greatly revered man of world renown, had accepted a large sum of money from Big Tobacco in exchange for testimony that there was no link between smoking and lung cancer. To Boner, Little's sin was far more sinister than anything he was contemplating. After all, thousands of smokers were dying from lung cancer. In Boner's mind, the transgression he had in mind could save lives and was totally justified."

"So he offered his secret to the highest bidder?"

"There could be no highest bidder. Goggle was the only bidder. Jonathan Boner, now a very rich man, is Goggle's latest vice president. he is leading the study of his own cells."

I am speechless. Sutherford gets out of his cart, grabs an iron from his massive bag, and addresses the ball with a determined look on his face. I would have suggested a smooth four iron, but Sutherford has elected to pound a five. His swing seems a bit out of control, but he makes good contact and leaves his ball just a few feet short of the green. Shoving his club back into his bag, he says, "There is little doubt that we'll be able to inject similar cells into anybody we choose. Immortality is all but ours and can be yours as well. You would, of course, be included. I wouldn't want my personal coach getting old and decrepit, now would I? So for both of our sakes, get with our program."



CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

WHEN I GET BACK TO SURRY  I notice Jack’s file folder on my desk. On impulse I lift the flap and look inside. On top are two more folders. Below these are a couple of new  legal pads, a college-ruled notebook, and a well-thumbed copy of the Archeology Today featuring Jack on its cover.

I flip open the top folder and began leaving through the dozen or so papers it contains. They are filled top to bottom with single-spaced typewritten notes, no double spaces between graphs. Not at all reader friendly. On the fourth or fifth paper down, a passage regarding the laboratory analysis of an ancient Egyptian mummy catches my eye. Turns out it contained traces of cocaine and nicotine, both psychoactive drugs derived from plants indigenous to South America. The Egyptians of 3,000 years ago shouldn’t have known about these plants. Jack had penciled in the words “additional proof that Mayans and Egyptians interacted.”

I flip open the second file folder. Inside is a similar stack of papers. On the top page is a heading, “Freemasons: Rules and Regulations.” I had never heard Jack express an interest in Freemasonry. Glancing through the pages, I don’t see anything too extraordinary. Aspiring Masons do have to profess a belief in a Supreme Being. I wasn’t sure if Jack could go along with that. I am under the impression Jack and I shared similar skeptical outlooks.

I am about to put the folder back when I turn the sheet over and see a name and phone number emphatically circled five or six times in heavy black marker. Ralph Merton, 256-ABT-762, a Bar Harbor signal. “What the Hell,” I mumble as I begin fingering my communicator.

“Hello,” a rough voice answers.

I hesitate. I am beginning to feel silly. “Hi,” I finally say. “You don’t know me, but I am Jack Mortimer’s webmaster. I am calling you because I have come into possession of some materials belonging to him. Your name and number appear quite prominently. I am afraid he is indisposed, permanently, and I have a feeling he intended to get in touch with you. I apologize if this is all a bit vague.”

Talk about fishing expeditions. My mission isn’t worthy of the name. I have no rod, no line, no bait, no boat, no lake, no reasonable expectation of catching a goddamn thing. The nearest fish is probably off in the next county. There's the briefest of pauses, then the voice says, “I've been hoping you would call. Meet me at the temple at ten tonight. Don’t let anybody follow you. And don’t ever call this number again.” I hear a click and my device has gone dead.

This all seems absurd. I am in no mood for cops and robbers and have no time for spy versus spy. I can’t believe this cloak and dagger stuff is at all necessary. Too many people in my life are going head-over-heels for over-dramatization. I am wondering what it would take to forget all that's gone on. More to the point, I also have to admit I have no idea what the voice meant by “the temple.” Not much is occurring to me. Almost nothing. Did Jewish people call their places of worship temples? Was a synagogue a temple? I really am not sure. I also don’t know where the nearest one is. Bangor, I suppose.

I open Jack’s Freemason file hoping it contains useful information. Stapled together are about a dozen pages titled “The History of Freemasonry.” Glancing through them, I see a section tagged Origins which states that Freemasonry began in the Middle Ages with a guild of stone masons working on the great cathedrals and castles of that age. A few pages further on there are references to the American Revolution and the mention of prominent Masons, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and John Hancock. Moments later I am informed that Paul Revere was a Freemason, as was Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. So what? I wonder.

There is a white, unsealed, number ten envelope. I bring it out, open it, and see it contains several photos. Shuffling through them, I note it's an all-male assemblage, and some of the guys I recognize. Many of them look quite silly, prancing about with a pant leg rolled up. Several seem to be engaged in solemn ceremonies. A fellow I recognize as George Anderson, a local real estate agent, is holding a long sword as he stands guard at the door. A dude I don't recognized is dressed in what looks like a Santa Claus suit. Nobody looks at all bemused; everybody seems  unaware they are ridiculous. They all look intensely serious. One photo shows a building with several men standing in front of it. I flip it over, and printed on the back are the words “Masonic Temple, Acadia Highway, Ellsworth, Maine. “Aha,” I say to myself.

When I pull up in front of the temple that night, my first impression is that this place isn't really a temple. Not my idea of a temple, anyway. It is a nondescript, single story building with fake brick veneer. There is no hint of the opulence I would expect a temple to entail. My second impression is that nobody's home. Mine is the only car in the lot, and the place feels deserted. There is a light on somewhere inside, but I would have bet big bucks that nobody is there. I sit in my car, staring at the door when, surprise-surprise, it opens a bit and a head peers out. I get out of the car, and as I approach the door, an elderly man steps out from the doorway. As I draw near, he extends his hand and says, “Captain D, I presume. I’ve admired your work for a long time. You can call me Ralph.”

He is dressed in jeans, a red and white checked flannel shirt, and a Red Sox cap.  He looks like he hasn’t shaved for four or five days and could use a shower. “I am the maintenance man here,” he explains as we enter the building. "There are those who say I could use some maintenance myself.  And I am also, tentatively, a Mason. Jack speaks highly of you. He says you can be trusted.”

“I am afraid Jack isn’t speaking highly of anybody any more,” I say reluctantly. “I am sorry to be the one to tell you this, but he was killed in Guatemala. They found his body on the pyramid in Pinkal, the city he discovered. He was badly mauled, and his parts are being cremated there.”

The news stops Ralph in his tracks. The smile on his face turns to a look of shock. “Damn,” he mutters, shaking his head. “I was afraid of something like this.”

“Were you two close friends?”

“You might say we became closely association through our shared interests.”

“Odd ideas involving human history. Once upon a time, way back when, I was an archaeologist fresh out of college and a sort of know-it-all. Back then academia was even less tolerant of unconventional ideas than it is now. To make matters worse, I taught  at a Southern university that had come to accept  the notion of evolution only grudgingly. Many of the people there still felt that digging back further than 5,000 years was blasphemy. But I was young and full of vim and vigor, insistent that I knew better than my elders, and before long I was on the outside looking in.”

“They got away with firing you for your beliefs?”

“In all honesty, some of them did border on the absurd, and I definitely was a pain in the ass. I refused to stop contending that thousands of years ago there was a nuclear war fought in North America. On top of that, I insisted that North America was surveyed, mapped, and carefully described about 2000 BC. It was obvious to me that could only have been done from high up in the air. And, of course, I was certain that humankind dated back a billion years. I probably should have kept such notions to myself. Oh, I was an annoying, young whippersnapper.”

"So now you're older and wiser? You've abandoned your early beliefs?"

Ralph smiles. "I never said that."

“Sounds to me like you and Jack were kindred spirits. Jack harbored some pretty far-out notions and was unrepentant. I'm guess you're much the same...”

“Here and there I've had to admit I stand corrected, but by-and-large I haven’t changed at all. Fortunately the Masons, who defend plenty of far-out notions of their own, are willing to let me believe whatever I want. As long as I profess a belief in some sort of god, they wouldn't care if I invented everything else from whole cloth, but I never have. I still have working archaeologist  friends who tell me things they won’t put in reports. I caught Jack’s attention when I told him about an ancient, underground complex in Southern California. Seems that when it was unearthed, they found artifacts of aluminum and plastic along with pictures of flying craft, records of advanced surgery, and sketches of men walking with dinosaurs.”

“This certainly would have interested Jack.”

“It did more than that. He began investigating the matter and learned that within days of its opening, the property was gutted and filled with fresh soil. Later, somebody broke into the archeology office and stole all the photos of the artifacts they had taken.”

“Jack never mentioned these things to me.”

“Most of the time, I pledged him to secrecy, and Jack was a man who could keep a secret. Anyway, when he expressed an interest in the Masons, I sponsored his membership. I liked him a lot and was worried about him.”

“Worried? Why?”

“Our conversation is confidential, right?”

“Absolutely.”

“Well, Jack said you can be trusted. I hope he was right. I would be drummed out of the lodge in short order if word ever got out about this talk. You see, just between you and me, I am a snoop. I can’t help it. I just like knowing things I am not supposed to know. Actually, I think that’s what drew me to the Masons in the fist place. The Masons hold many secrets, and membership made me privy to some of them. With the Masons, the further along you progress, the more secrets you get in on. My job as maintenance man has allowed me sneak previews of much forbidden lore, but I have to be careful not to seem too curious. This is a situation where more than the cat might be killed.”

“And ….”

“And one night several weeks ago I had picked the lock in Mr. Sinclair's locked drawer when, lo and behold, I found a memo announcing that Jack’s membership was being revoked.”

“Mr. Sinclair?”

“That’s Roger Sinclair, our Grand Master. Every lodge has a head honcho affectionately or otherwise known as the Grand Master. Anyway, the memo’s wording struck me as a bit odd. It said Jack's termination was to be ‘expedited in all due haste.’ I wondered why the urgency. I also wondered what the word 'expedited' meant. Or 'due haste" for that matter. Then when I didn’t see Jack for several weeks, I began to worry.”

“Any idea why Jack was being shown the door?”

“I can't be sure, but I suspect he was being unacceptably nosy. Membership is denied to anybody who shows too much interest in Masonic secrets. Especially newcomers. Masonic secrets are divulged gradually, as one ascends the pecking order. Any effort to hurry up the process is looked upon with disdain. One isn't told much at all before he reaches the Third Degree. I tried to tell Jack he was asking too many questions. I guess academics like Jack just can't help themselves.”

“What drew you and Jack together initially?”

“I guess it began when I pointed out to him that not long ago some friends of mine were  exploring Grand Canyon caves when they found ancient Egyptian remains.”

“This would have interested Jack. He was certain that Egyptians and Mayans collaborated on pyramid construction. He wouldn’t have been at all surprised to learn that Egyptians made inroads into this country.”

“Jack had an open mind when it came to pre-Columbian visitation to the Americas. This is a subject that has interested me my entire life. When I was a little kid I hated it when people said Columbus discovered America. What the hell, there were people here to greet him. Where did they come from? At age seven I could see the absurdity of this.”

“Jack’s wanderings from the straight and narrow earned him considerable disfavor at the university.”

“We both gored way too many mind-dead educators. He once told my that I was the only person he knew who could really understand his feelings. I think I helped him out some. He didn’t know all that much about really early American history until he met me. For example, he didn’t know that Marco Polo made it all the way to what now is Alaska until I told him so. Between what I could tell him and research he did on his own, he became quite the expert. It was only recently that I told him about Jesus Christ coming to the New World, and I sense he was beginning to believe me.”

I am beginning to believe Ralph is certifiable. “His notes suggest he was anxious to meet with you? Any idea why?”

“I can't be sure, but I can make an educated guess. One night when I was snooping around Sinclair’s office, I believe I struck pay dirt. There is a closet off his office that he always keeps locked, but this night I picked the lock for a look-see. Inside was a large trunk, and when I popped it open, I saw it was filled to the brim, with papers. There must have been thousands of documents. The ones I saw looked like they might be really old. I had only looked at a handful of them when I thought I heard a car outside. I put everything back as quick as I could, and beat it out of there. I guess it was just a case of nerves, because there wasn’t anybody outside, but I haven’t had the guts to go back in there. Anyway, Jack really perked up when I told him about the papers.”

“Any idea what they might be?”

“Not really. Records of some sort, I suppose. Freemason records go back several centuries. But I can’t imagine how a vast collection of them could have ended up in Ellsworth, Maine. But nothing Sinclair could do would surprise me. He is a highly resourceful man. But just between you and me, I believe he is a bit mad.”

“To me the whole organization seems a bit wacky.”

“Yeah, I hear ya, but check this out. I have it on good authority that Sinclair insists his ancestry traces back to Prince Henry Sinclair."
 
"The guy who many believe led a troop of Templars to America a century before Columbus got around to it."

Ralph tries unsuccessfully to hide his surprise that I would know this. "That's right. Roger not only believes that he and Henry have blood ties, he is also a true believer in Michael Ramsay."

“Who is Michael Ramsay?”

"He was a Scottish Freemason way back when. Seventeen hundred something or other. He wrote a paper, known as Ramsay’s Oration, which held that Freemasons aren’t descended from stonemasons. Roger believes Ramsay thought they descended from Templar Knights. He’s wrong. Ramsay never mentioned Templar Knights. Freemasonry springs from the writings of King Solomon himself. Freemasons built his famous temple.  But don’t try telling this to Roger.”

I was growing weary of this discussion. I didn’t really care how the Masons came into being. In my mind they were a fraternal organization second in goofiness only to the Shriners and their silly little cars.

"Earlier you said you had hoped I would get in touch with you."

"I check out most of Roger's e-mail, and a few days ago your name came up. Something about a long-lost codex and your playing into his hands. It seems that professor Phillips is a Freemason. Sinclair had no problem arranging to o see him. The e-mails also mentioned a Hundredth Maiden.

I explained to Ralph that Peter and I had found the codex in an old church, and had taken it to professor Phillips for a translation. I am barely controlling my anger when I say, "I would love to see that e-mail."

"I can do you one better," Ralph says. "I'll show you the codex itself."

"How in the world...?"

"Never mind how," he says. "I am getting pretty damn fed up with this whole situation. I'll bet dollars to donuts Roger had something to do with Jack's death, and I have no doubt that the codex rightfully belongs to your friend Peter. I think it's time we stage a little crime spree."

Without waiting for me to reply, he walks out of the building and around to the side where he takes out a knife and cuts a couple of wires. "So much for the alarm," he says. Back inside, he asks me to wait just a minute before he disappears down a hallway. He is gone about that long before he comes back wearing a pair of latex gloves and carrying a ball pin hammer and a 42-gallon, Husky Contractor Clean-up bag and a heavy ball peen hammer. I stand by in astonishment as he smashes an opening into the door's window. "Anybody could reach that lock," he says. He signals for me to follow him as he proceeds down another hallway to a door marked Roger Sinclair, Grand Master. Without hesitation he rears back and kicks open the door. On the wall is a framed photo of a man in a goofy outfit accepting some sort of plaque. Ralph slides the wall hanging aside and discloses a wall safe. Punching in a few numbers, he opens it and looks inside. Lo and behold the codex is there, along with a black, five-and-a-half by seven inch notebook, and a short stack of bills. He extracts the codex and the notebook, stuffs them in the trash bag, and hands it to me. Then he grabs the bills, folds them, and puts them in his pocket. "Wouldn't look right if these got left," he says. "I wasn't scheduled to be here tonight and when I pulled in there wasn't a drone in sight. None when you got here either, and Mildred will swear I was with her all night. I believe we've just committed a perfect crime."




CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

THE NEXT MORNING,
I wake up elated. Having been involved in a rather serious crime hasn't bothered my sleep. I decide to celebrate by going to Goggle/Denny's for waffles. My favorite waitress there knows to bring me extra syrup and keeps sharp watch on my coffee cup. As usual, she doesn't miss a beat. When I get back home, I remember that Tom has a key to my front door when I find him and Carolyn waiting for me in the kitchen.  "You're just in time," he says. "We need a dose of your wishy-washy agnosticism. Talking to your very aggravating friend here, I suddenly see why wars were fought over how many angels can dance on heads of pins."                          
                        
"Your hacker pal would have us believe that we are totally without purpose," Carolyn chimes in. "If he were right, we would just be wasting time continuing to exist. He thinks we're simply the result of random atoms bumping into one another, although he has no idea how these atoms came to be. According to heathens like your friend, in the beginning there was nothing and it exploded."

They were sitting across from each other at my kitchen table glaring at each other. I walk over to the counter and turn on the coffee maker.  A box of Goggle/Dunkin' Donuts is open between them. I am not at all hungry, but I grab a Boston creme anyway. I wonder if I might stake out some middle ground pleasing to both of them. "Maybe God killed time bumping our atoms together," I suggest. "Maybe He amused Himself by putting us here to abuse ourselves. Who knows? Maybe the only mortal sin is boredom."

They both look at me like I am pond scum. I roll my eyes. At least I have gotten them to agree on something.

Tom seems a bit perturbed. Whacking the table with a clenched fist, he says,  "Carolyn would have us believe that God put us here for the sole purpose of bowing down before Him. Carolyn's God is terribly insecure. When He isn't murdering entire populations, little kids included, He's issuing stupid, vain commands."

I sense Carolyn's pacifist instincts are being pushed to the outer limits. She closes her eyes and signs deeply. "Maybe God put you on Earth for the sole purpose of testing my faith," she says.

"Do you really think you're that special?"

"All of God's creatures are special."

"I am endeavoring to help Carolyn see the light," Tom goes on. "I've asked her to accompany me to Taunton Bay next March to watch the horseshoe crabs fornicate. These critters go back five-hundred million years. I want her to reconsider the notion that God created the universe 6,000 years ago."

"I am sure Einstein was right when he said time is relative," Carolyn says. "There are far more important things than chronology.  Are you telling me you're able to look upon a starlit nighttime sky without feeling a sense of absolute awe?"

"Reminds me of an old New Yorker cartoon," Tom says. "Two scientists are in a lab, and one is peering through a microscope. The other one says, 'kind of makes you feel large and significant, doesn't it'."

I know how annoying Tom can be, and I have to wonder if he's having any effect on Carolyn. "Has Tom here managed to shake your faith?" I ask.

Carolyn shakes her head. "Not in any important sense.
I grew up immersed in the awe-inspiring beauty religion has inspired. When I was a child my family attended a church with magnificent stained glass windows. I can still visualize the sun shining through those windows. And I still remember how beautiful was the music that rang forth from the choir.   My father collected books celebrating art through the ages. So much of it was inspired by the  glory of God."

Tom looks disgusted. "So much of it was produced because the church had all the money. Nobody else could afford to patronize the arts. Artists through the ages have known where their bread is buttered,"

Carolyn's expression holds firm. "Cynicism can't hold a candle to faith," she says. "I can still feel God emitting from many of those works."

Tom tries a different tact. "Your mindset requires that you ignore an awfully lot of science."

Carolyn looks pensive. "There is a bit of science that I just can't ignore. The something from nothing thing. You insist that the universe had a beginning, Right? The Big Bang. There was nothing and then there was this gigantic something."

"Not nothing," Tom says. "A singularity."

"Where did this come from?"

"I guess it was always there," Tom says. "Only there wasn't an always, because time didn't exist before the big bang. Just because there are things that are hard to explain doesn't mean that God did it."

"It doesn't mean that he didn't. I admit the bible has things that are hard to believe. It has contradictions  and cruel barbarities. Isn't it possible God put them there to test our faiths."

Tom sounds exasperated. Turning towards me, he says, "Apparently God is a sort of old professor, teaching a single course, Faith 101. He is always throwing pop quizzes and doesn't accept failure lightly. According to Carolyn, He wants us to believe He  created a universe billions of light years across just to give us apes a place to hang out. What an absurd waste of real estate. I'd say, what a load of crap. One of the earliest books I recall reading was by a biologist named Richard Dawkins. The book, The God Delusion, impressed me so much I memorized passages from it. The one I like best was when the called God the most unpleasant character in all fiction. To be precise, Dawkins wrote 'The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction; jealous, and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving, control freak; a vindictive, blood-thirsty, ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.' Mr. Dawkins was paramount in helping me establish my ecclesiastical attitudes. "

"I believe God forgave him," Carolyn says.

"He didn't  need forgiving," Tom replies, "but he did  deserve credit for insisting on adhering to scientific methodology and totally abandoning superstition."

Carolyn looks sad as she shakes her head. "Any way you look at it, the chances of our universe emerging from nothing in a huge, uncontrolled explosion are nil. It's simply impossible. Things fall into disorganization, not organization. So many things had to be just so. If the electric charge of the electron had been just slightly different, stars would not burn at all or would not have exploded in supernovas to spew out the elements we need for life. If the force of gravity had been even slightly weaker, matter would not ever have come together to make stars and planets."

Tom shrugs off Carolyn's contention. "It's a rule of existence that, given enough time, anything that can happen will happen. And more than once, is why I know we're not alone. In our universe alone, there is some hundred billion stars in our galaxy, and there are at least that many more similar galaxies. On top of that, I suspect there are countless universes with different parameters popping into existence all the time. We are the beneficiaries of a great stroke of luck. If we weren't,  we wouldn't be here to ponder it."

Carolyn isn't impressed, nor is she completely resigned. Spreading her arms apart, she asserts, "This is an argument so old it's become a cliche. Certainly you've heard it said that it would be like a hurricane blowing through a junkyard and leaving in its wake a fully-assembled Boeing 797."

"Assuming the parts were there, it would eventually happen," Tom says. "It's an inviolate law of probability. Again, everything that can happen will happen."

"And who made the laws of probability?" Carolyn said sweetly.

I have had enough. Going where a reasonable man might fear to tread, I say, "Okay, you guys, If you can't get along, I am not going to let you play together." I take a chocolate-frosted donut from the box. "At least we can agree donuts are good.  So let's cool it for now. I have something exciting to share with you." I reach into my knapsack and bring out the codex and the notebook. "Look what I've got!"

Carolyn's eyes grow wide with astonishment. "Where in the world did you find them?"

"Long story," I say.  "But our friend the professor has done further translations and put them in this notebook."

"This brings us to why I am here," Carolyn says. "I got a call from him. He's back at Harvard. He says he was abducted and the codex was taken. He claims he has no idea who grabbed him or where they took him. Says they drove for hours, and he was blindfolded the whole way. Evidently they held him for a few days then blindfolded him and drove him back. He insists he has no idea why they let him go. He says he's terribly sorry, that if there were some way he could make it up to us, he would."

"He's lying," I say. "I have good reason to believe Freemasons are behind all of this. He's a Third Degree Mason, and he seems to be involved in some sort of Masonic brotherhood thing. He'll be sorrier yet when I make everything public."

Carolyn looks like somebody had just run over her puppy. "I can't believe this of the professor," she says. "Are you sure you're right? Absolutely sure? I would have bet my bottom dollar he was trustworthy."

"Pretty damn sure," I say. "Ninety-five percent at least."

Carolyn keeps shaking her head, but has begun to accept the truth. "This has been all my fault," she says. "I am just so terribly sorry."

My heart goes out to her, and I try to comfort her. "Don't take it out on yourself; you had no way of knowing."

Tom shrugs his shoulders. "Who needs all this intrigue? Does it really matter what some pair of boobs wrote two thousand years ago? It's bullshit anyway, the whole religious thing, Illiterate sheep herders trying to explain the inexplicable. Charles Dickens, Stephen King, and Daryl Finley all wrote much better stuff."

I open the notebook and begin glancing through it. "A lot of this is about Mary Magdalene," I note. "Mostly it seems to bear on her relationship with Jesus."

Carolyn seems to have gotten back into the game. "There are those who have held that they were married. I think it is entirely unlikely that they were. Still, the scriptures are strangely silent on Jesus's marriage status. Had he been married I think they would have said so, but most young Jewish men of his position at that time would have taken a wife."

I try to focus on the words before me. "This is suggesting that Mary Magdalene was sort of like a business manager. According to this, she urged Jesus to proclaim his divinity in hopes of attracting a loyal following."

"Tom does have a point," Carolyn says. "There is no reason to believe any of it."

"Tell me," I say to Carolyn, "What do the scriptures say about her?"

Carolyn thought about it for five or ten seconds. "Not much at all," she finally replies. "Amazingly little. Her name comes up only half a dozen times, which is hard to understand since she has been referred to as the Apostle to the Apostles. It seems likely Jesus confided to her in ways he never did to the other disciples. Jesus is said to have exorcised her of seven demons. She and some other women were present at the crucification, unlike Jesus's other disciples who hightailed it out of town at the first sign of trouble. Finally, she was the first to see Jesus after his resurrection. Many biblical scholars have supposed that she and Jesus were very close. She may well have been Jesus's favorite disciple. The heretical gospel of Thomas has Jesus kissing her on the lips."

Tom, who has been exercising admirable restraint, can't resist butting in. "I heard she was something of a whore."

Carolyn's face takes on a very studious look, and she say,  "There is nothing in the scriptures to support such an accusation. In the sixth century, Pope Gregory accused her of being a prostitute. He may have had her confused with another biblical woman named Mary. In any event, the church more-or-less supported Gregory's slander until the 1960s when she was officially exonerated."

Tom sees an opening. "When it comes to owning up to its blunders, the church certainly does take its time. Sometimes late isn't all that much better thn nothing. I guess when you're claiming infallability you wouldn't want to rush into anything suggesting you're less than perfect."

"Better not let El Cobra hear you talk like that," I say. "I think he takes his Catholicism pretty seriously."

Tom shrugs. "I am not sure El Cobra is as tough as he pretends to be,:

"Speaking of El Cobra, has he gone back to Guatemala?" Carolyn asks. "He didn't say good-bye,."

"He's still here," Tom says. "He has rented a room and plans on sticking around for awhile. The scroll has captured his attention."

I get up, walk to my refrigerator, and bring out three beers. "This is going way beyond some sort of sophomoric bull session," I point out. "People who might be dangerous are taking our scroll all too seriously. I am not sure that it or we are at all safe."

Tom isn't done being a jerk. "Christians once aroused can be extremely bloodthirsty. The crusades went on for a hundred years and killed at least a million people. And then, of course, there was the Inquisition, one of the greatest bloodlettings in the sorry history of mankind."

Carolyn seems intent on changing the subject. "Does anybody know we have the codex?"

"Not yet," I say. "Ralph certainly isn't about to tell anybody. We have every reason to hope for the best, but we should prepare for the worst. Problem is I am not at all sure how."

"Who is Ralph?" Tom says.

""He's the maintenance guy at  a Masonic Temple, He's my inside source."

"Who cares if anybody knows we have the codex?" Tom wonders. "Beats me why anybody would give a shit. It's probably not even real."

"Real or not, there are people out there determined to get their hands on it, and I, for one, want to stop them from doing so."

"Any ideas?" Carolyn asks.

A vague plan has begun to form in my mind. I turn to Carolyn. "Call the professor. Get him on the line."

Carolyn taps a few buttons on her communicator and within seconds has reached professor Phillips. I listen while they exchange pleasantries, then signal for her to hand the device to me. In my hand, it hefts like a six-shooter, and I feel like Gary Cooper in High Noon. I press the Talk button, then proclaim, "You're busted, buddy. We know you cooperated with your so-called abductors."

There was pause so long I am beginning to think he cut the connection. Then he breaks the silence. "There is a lot you don't know. I'll fill you in. Can you come to Cambridge tomorrow?"

"Last time we did you weren't there. We've out of frequent flier miles."

"I know," he says. "And I can't blame you for being angry. I'll cover your costs, but please give me an opportunity to explain a few things. I can't do it on a communicator."

I consider just turning him into the police, washing my hands of the whole mess. But then my curiosity got the better of me. "Okay, man," I say. "We'll see ya tomorrow."







CHAPTER THIRTY

THE NEXT AFTERNOON
when Carolyn, Peter, and I deplane at Logan we are met not by Professor Phillips, but by his assistant Lana Clark. I know by the look on her face that we're about to receive less than good news. "Don't tell me the professor has disappeared again," I say.

Lana shakes her head. "Worse than that. He's dead. He killed himself late last night or early this morning. I walked into his office this morning and discovered him hanging from a light fixture. It was horrible. I still have the shakes."

Travelers are passing by on both sides of us as we have stopped walking to focus on Lana. "I am so sorry to be the bringer of such bad news," she says.

My initial shock passes quickly from tentative denial to reluctant semi-acceptance. "I spoke with him yesterday. He made me promise to come here today. He didn't sound like a man about to end it all."

Lana nods. "Earlier in the day, he seemed fine, but sometime in the afternoon something happened that devastated him. Last night, he asked me to come to his office. When I got there, he told me you guys were coming and made me promise to help you out any way I can. He was horribly depressed. He said he had made a terrible mistake. He was almost in tears when he told me his reputation was ruined, his career over. I had never seen him so miserable."
 
"You left him like that?" I say.

"He ordered me away. I didn't want to go, but he insisted. He was drinking from a half-full bottle of bourbon. I figured he would fall asleep and wake up hung over, but essentially none the worse for wear."

"So what now?" Peter asks.

Lana looks pensive. "We need to talk. I have a lot to tell you. My apartment is fifteen minutes away. Can we go there?"

Lana's Somerville apartment, situated on the second floor of a nondescript stucco building, afford a superb view of a dumpster. Its furnishings,  carefully selected, eclectic GoodWill, are clean and in good repair, but have seen better days. The apartment's layout is simplicity itself: two bedrooms, a bath, a living area, and a kitchenette. Books are piled everywhere. Lana motions for us to sit down on a well-worn couch in the living area while she goes to the kitchenette and slides a filter into the Mr. Coffee. "We won't be disturbed," she says as she scoops out Hills Brothers French roast coffee. "My roommate won't be back until tomorrow night."

We wait until she finishes with the coffee and joins us in the living area. By this time, Peter has gotten a bit impatient. "So bring us up to date," he says abruptly.

Lana sits down on an over-stuffed recliner and takes a moment to collect her thoughts. "There is a lot you need to know," she begins. "Your codex, while very exciting, presented Sheldon with impossible choices."

I realize it might have been my call that devastated him. "What choices? " I ask.

"Sheldon was a Third Degree Mason and a distinguished scholar. You had no way of knowing this, but your  codex required him to choose one or the other."

"He couldn't be both?" I say.

"No way," Lana replies. "As a Third Degree Mason, he had pledged to keep Masonic secrets even unto pain of death. As a scholar, he was obliged to ferret out the truth wherever the facts led."

"Masonic secrets," Peter says. "What Masonic secrets?"

"Secrets contained in your codex," Lana explains. "Or, perhaps more accurately, the codex itself. Your codex could be far more important than you ever imagined. There is reason to believe it could actually be a sacred relic."

I swear Peter snorted. "I very much doubt that," he blurted, "but even if it is, why should it be any sort of secret?"

Lana gets up, walks into her kitchenette, and returns moments later with a steaming coffee pot and a tray of mugs. Peter and I let her fill ours while Carolyn waves her off. Peter and I both refuse cream or sugar. Lana adds cream to hers and says, "To understand why the secrecy, you have to know a few things about Roger Sinclair, Grand Master of the Downeast Masonic Lodge."

"That's right in our backyard," I say. "I've heard a few things about him, but go on, fill me in."

"Sinclair is among those who believe that Freemasons are an offshoot of the Knights Templar and that
in the early fourteen hundreds, a troop of these knights, led by Prince Henry Sinclair, brought Templar treasure, including religious relics, to Nova Scotia. He believes they hid their stash in what we now call the Money Pit on Oak Island, but later secured it elsewhere. Roger, who believes the treasure included the Holy Grail,  is convinced he is a direct descendant of Prince Henry, and as such has inherited the sacred responsibility of protecting the Grail at all costs. Only problem is, he hasn't known where it is."

"Wait," Peter exclaims, "the Grail is a chalice isn't it?"

"Hard to say," Lana replies. "The Grail, if it exists, could be any of several things. In recent years, the notion has been popularized that it could be documents detailing the bloodline of Christ."

"The professor thought our codex is related to that?" I say.

"To Sheldon, considering the circumstances of its discovery, it seemed like a distinct possibility. Then once he started translating it, once he realized it purportedly was written in Jesus's time by an intimate associate, he knew Sinclair would want to know about it. So, as an obedient Mason, he called Sinclair, told him about it, and Sinclair promptly dispatched a couple of trusted lodge members to bring Sheldon and the codex back to Maine."

"So he was abducted?" I ask.

"He went more-or-less willingly, but once there he realized Sinclair meant to keep the codexl. To Sheldon, this was unacceptable. As a scholar, he had believed that if it wasn't the grail itself, it could be helpful in answering questions about The Gospel of the Wife of Jesus."

"The which of what?" Peter asks. "Is there no end of ancient gospels?"

Lana smiles. "There are plenty to go around; that's for sure. What would you think about one depicting Jesus going to Hell? Or one charging the young Jesus with cold-blooded murder?"

Looking shocked, Peter and Carolyn do not respond. I roll my eyes. "I would call these Gospel Bizarros. But let's get back to the wife of Jesus. What's that all about?"

"Hang on just a second," Lana says as she returns the pot to the Mr. Coffee machine. When she gets back, she begins, "Several years ago, Karen L. King, a professor here at Harvard, introduced to the world a small scrap of papyrus with eight lines of Coptic purporting to be Jesus addressing his disciples. It contained a broken line which began, "And Jesus said to them, 'My wife..."

"So maybe he wasn't a confirmed bachelor after all," Peter says.

"Entirely possible," Lana agrees. "But as far as we know this is the only text in existence in which Jesus refers to a wife."

"Does his marital status make a whole hell of a lot of difference?" Peter asks.

Lana nods her head. "To religious scholars, yes, it makes a huge difference. Christianity has always insisted that chastity is to be held in highest regard. The Catholic Church, of course, refuses to allow priests to marry and nuns are expected to remain virgins. The notion has long been that virgins are pure while the rest of us are, well, besmirched. The case for sexual abstinence would be severely weakened if Jesus had a wife and if nuns played around."

Peter still isn't convinced. "Seems to me life goes on one way or the other."

Lana could not possibly have looked more serious. In what strikes me as an interesting transformation, she is coming on more and more like the professor she will one day be. "Perhaps so," she says, "but the scroll, which Karen impetuously named 'The Gospel of Jesus's Wife,' was big news.
The New York Times responded with a front page article above the fold, and this tiny fragment of ancient Egyptian papyrus containing eight partial lines of Coptic script became a cause celebre. The story went global as TV crews, bloggers, and wire services joined the fray."

"Okay, so it was a big whoop," Peter says. "I guess it gave Karen her fifteen minutes of fame."

"Fifteen years of grief would be more like it," Lana counters. "Among religious scholars, it became incredibly controversial. As news of the scroll ricocheted across the Internet, a growing chorus of academics insisted it was a fake. Egyptologist Leo Depuydt of Brown University called it 'papyrological pantomine', a 'Keystone Coptic', an 'academic farce', and a 'philological burlesque'."

As a writer, I an intrigued. "The man has a way with words," I note, "but so what?"

Lana is still in her professorial mode. "Karen King's reputation was called into question when she continued to contend that her scrap of papyrus was authentic,
a fourth-century copy of a Greek composition from the second century. In the academic community, this was no small matter. King wasn't some sort of crackpot or publicity hound. She had built a career on sober and painstaking research, mainly concerning early Christian and heretical texts. She was Harvard's Hollis Professor Divinity, the country's oldest endowed academic chair. And she didn't take on the task of authenticating the scrap of papyrus by herself. She brought in AnneMarie Luijendijk, a papyrologist from Princeton University, and Roger Bagnall, who directs the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University. One can hardly imagine more distinguished judges."

"What about all those scientific tests? I say.

"The papyrus was from the right period, and the ink was ancient with no modern contaminants. But a skilled and determined forger might have acquired these materials. The carbon 14 dating placed the fragment in a somewhat later time, but such dating isn't exact."

"So what's your point?" Peter asks.

"My point is that it is very hard to determine if an ancient text is real or not.
People who think The Gospel of Jesus's Wife is a fake wonder about the forger’s motive. Was it ideological? Financial? Just a bizarre prank gone wrong? Acquiring the materials to produce such a fake would be difficult, but not impossible. The authenticity of King's papyrus may never be settled definitively, and the same indeterminacy  could plague yours. Even if you succeed in recovering it, you might never know for sure if it's real or a hoax."

"It's already recovered," I say. "We know where it is."

If Lana finds this startling, she doesn't show it. To her credit, she doesn't ask how we got it. Or where it was. Without hesitation, she admits, "I know it's gone. Sheldon got a call from Roger last night. According to Sheldon, Roger was distraught, accusing him of being responsible for the codexl's disappearance. Roger's diatribe had what Sheldon called 'a murderous tone'."

The hair on the back of my neck begins to tingle. "You're sure Sheldon killed himself?" I ask.

Lana looks thoughtful. "Historically, there have been cases in which people divulging Masonic secrets were killed. But in this case, the building was locked from the inside, and there were no signs of forced entry. Our campus cops have written it off as suicide."

Those neck hairs of mine haven't stopped tingling. The campus cops I have known have been less than awe-inspiring. But no matter. The professor is dead, and our codex needs translating. I wouldn't go so far as to say the man deserved to die, but he did run off with our property and then lie about it. For some reason, I trust Lana. At least I know she isn't a member of the all-male Masons. "Sheldon told you to do whatever you can to help us out?"

"He did."

"Can you decipher Coptic?"

"Some," she says. "I can't match Sheldon, but I can handle basics. I am a hard worker, and every day I get a little bit better."

I look at Peter; he nods his head. "Why don't you see what you can do with our codex," I say. "We could Fedex a copy down to you."

Lana thinks about this for a moment or so. Then she says, "I have a better idea. As of today, I am unemployed. I need to put some finishing touches on my thesis, but I have no course work. There's nothing really to keep me here. Let's drive up to Maine in my car, and I'll work on the codex under your supervision. It could be a working-vacation; I hear Bar Harbor is lovely this time of year."

Peter's face breaks into a broad grin. "It's lovely if you don't mind hordes of leaf-peeking visitors." He points at me. "Captain D knows Acadia like nobody else. I am sure he would be happy to show you its secrets."

"To be completely honest, I would love to get away from here for awhile," Lana says. "Everything here reminds me of Sheldon. On top of that, I have a scholarly interest in your codex."

"Won't there be services for the professor?" I say.

Lana shakes here head. "His will specifically rules out a funeral. He had no family and few close friends. I guess I was the closest. He is being cremated. I have no reason to stay here and plenty of reasons for wanting to be elsewhere."

"You can stay with me," Carolyn suggests. "My suite at the Mira Monte has two rooms with beds. I would love the company."

"It's settled then," Lana says. "Give me ten minutes to pack a bag and we can be out of here." Any woman who can pack a bag in ten minutes is a woman after my own heart, I think to myself.








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