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Son of the Morning (Chapter 16)

GRACE'S SECOND SLEEPLESS NIGHT IN A ROW MADE HER EYESIGHT blur, but she couldn't stop reading parts of the Hitler file over and over, couldn't get it out of her mind even when she laid it aside. She kept coming back to it, rereading it to assure herself she hadn't imagined any of it.

The Foundation had been founded in 1802 by a strange assortment of men; Napoleon Bonaparte had been one of the original members, perhaps the most important one and the moving force behind the forming of the organization. Certainly he had been the only one at that time who had ambitions to conquer the world. A grandiose scheme, on the surface of things, but not so unexpected when the entire picture was seen.

The Hitler file gave a different and disturbing look at well known history. In 1799, Napoleon invaded Turkish Syria, advancing as far as the fortress ofAcre . He hadn't managed to take the fortress, which the Templars had built in 1240, but perhaps he had heard something there, or found something. It was after he returned fromAcre that his ambition lad become full-blown; he had immediately made himself dictator of France, and then Emperor. He conqueredSpain ,Italy ,Switzerland ,Holland,Poland , attackedRussia andAustria .

Perhaps a lot of men wanted to rule the world, but few, luckily, really tried to do it or even thought they could. Napoleon had thought it possible; his intention was plainly stated in the Hitler file. He had launched an all-out search for the lost Templar Treasure, certain that when he found it e would be unstoppable, for it was promised in the papers: e who controls the Power controls the world. What was the power? Not gold, but certainly something tangible, such as the Ark of the Covenant. Whatever it was, the Foundation believed it controlled unimaginable power, and for almost two centuries the Foundation had devoted all its resources finding the Treasure.

There were three distinct levels within the Foundation. At the lower level were the employees, paper pushers or hired muscle. The center tier was made up of "contributors," people who were members of the Foundation and who contributed large amounts of money to it, whether by choice r coercion. From what she read, coercion was most common. At the top level were relatively few names; she recognized most of them. Napoleon. Stalin. Hitler. Two American residents. AMiddle East dictator. A French general. A British prime minister. A famous labor leader. Tycoons, both male and female. One name particularly surprised her, for he was an extremely wealthy man known for his humanitarian works. And Parrish Sawyer. His name seemed minor compared to the fame of the others, but they hadn't been famous t the beginning of their careers, either. The presence of his name on the list was a testament to his ruthlessness.

The power to rule the world. The concept was far more ridiculous now than it had been no more than fifty years before. How could anyone person, or Foundation, rule the entire world? But when she looked at it in terms of national :power and influence, something most nations lacked, it was indeed possible to control the world by controlling key institutions. A political takeover wouldn't even be necessary, so long as the politicians obeyed the money men. Media, inking, commerce – take control of those three element and one did indeed control the world. World rule wasn't measured in terms of military conquest, but in economic ones.

To rule the world was a strange ambition, reasonable only to the megalomaniac personality. What was unusual was that so many of these men had joined the Foundation, for by their very personalities each would have thought himself smarter or greater than all the others. But each one had been drawn in, and in his way served the Foundation while he thought he was serving himself.

The Foundation of Evil. Hitler and Stalin had been overtly evil, their twisted, conscienceless psyches exposed to world view. Most of the others on the list appeared, or had appeared, normal, but she knew from Parrish's example how misleading appearances could be. All of these people had pursued unlimited power and ambition, their actions guided by the Foundation. Did they use the Foundation, or did the Foundation use them?

What was the nature of evil? What face did it wear? Was the capability to do evil in every person, and like any seed it flourished in some places but not in others? Or did the impetus for evil come from without? Was evil itself a separate entity, or nothing more than a result?

Was the Foundation evil because evil people served it, or was it evil in and of itself? Had the Foundation existed, in some other guise, far longer than a mere two centuries?

When had the Guardian been created? Had the Templars created the post, or served it? Had the Order been destroyed by the servants of the Foundation? Certainly the motives of Philip IV and Clement V

were suspect, greed and jealousy and a thirst for power.

Evil. In the silence of predawn, exhausted beyond sleep, Grace paced and thought, wondering if sleep deprivation was making her crazy or if she was indeed battling nothing less than Satan.

Just when she would decide she was definitely crazy, she would remember the Gaelic papers. "The Evil one shall be called Parrish." And "In the Year of Our Lord 1945, the Guardian slew the German beast." The words had been written more than six hundred years before the event actually happened, and were accompanied by a recipe for time travel. The papers were either masterpieces of prophecy, or the Templars had known the secret of time travel.

Perhaps that was the Power the Foundation sought. Time travel! The possibilities were endless. One could zip around in history and make enormous profits by using prior knowledge. What if someone made a large bet against enormous odds that theTitanic would sink, or invested heavily in munitions manufacturing before the onset of World War II? Why, just knowing who would win the World Series would make someone rich beyond belief. The possibilities were endless: take out life insurance policies on someone who would soon die, lotteries, horse races, political elections.

On the other hand, it seemed the Guardian had used time travel to protect the Power, so she was still in the dark.

Finally dawn lightened the sky, and she watched it through her dingy window. A sane person would call in sick and try to get some sleep, but instead she showered and drank a pot of coffee. She felt strangely restless, and it wasn't caffeine jumpiness. Instead there was a growing sense of urgency, as if she should be doing something but she didn't know what.

Perhaps it was time to pack up and move on, find another job, another room. She had been Paulette Bottoms for a couple of months now, as long as she had kept any identity. Her instincts had kept her alive this long, so she saw no reason to ignore them now.

She hadn't made the mistake of accumulating a lot of possessions. A few clothes, the truck, the revolver. The coffeemaker was a two-dollar yard-sale find. It took her exactly ten minutes to have everything she owned packed and loaded in the truck. The room was paid for through Saturday, so she dropped the key in the super's mailbox and walked away.

The day was Friday. She would work, collect her pay that afternoon, and quit; that would be the end of Paulette Bottoms. She would pick another name, find another room, get another job. Perhaps she would even leaveMinneapolis . She had come back because it seemed the best hiding place, under Parrish's nose, and with a fierce need for vengeance. She had never managed to come up with a reasonable plan, but neither had she devoted herself to it; instead she had concentrated all her energies on translating the papers. That task was finished. With Kris's help, she now knew more than she'd ever imagined about the Foundation. She didn't know yet what she could do with the information, but she felt she should leave and she could barely control the urge to get in the truck and drive until she couldn't stay awake any longer.

LeaveMinneapolis . The realization eased through her, bringing a sense of relief. Yes, that's what she should do. Get away from Parrish, from the memories that always hovered at the edge of her control, threatening to crush her if she ever relaxed her guard. She didn't know yet what she was going to do with the information she had, but she wanted to get away from the snow and cold, from the short winter days. She would drive south, and not stop until she found warmth and sunshine.

All she had to do was this one day of work. Clean a few houses, collect her pay, and then she would get on 1-35 and head due south.

Paglione sipped on the last of the coffee in his thermos. Winter stakeouts were the worst. You had to drink coffee to stay warm, and then you had to piss all the time. Took two people to do a decent stakeout, because one of you was always off somewhere taking a leak.

At least staking out a McDonald's wasn't so bad. He could always get something to eat, more coffee, and there was a toilet handy. He had been there three days, though, and he was getting damn tired of Big Macs. Maybe he'd try those chicken things next time.

A car pulled in beside him, interrupting him, and he glanced over. The shape of Conrad's head was instantly recognizable. Despite his years of working amicably with the man, Paglione always felt a little uneasy when he first saw Conrad each time, as if he had somehow forgotten exactly how cold and ruthless he was. Paglione had known stone killers before; he had killed a few people himself. But Conrad was different. Paglione could never guess what went on behind those emotionless eyes. Conrad didn't panic, and he didn't give up. He was like a machine, never tiring, wired to pick up on details everyone else missed. Of all the people Paglione knew, and that included Mr. Sawyer himself, Conrad was the only one he truly feared.

On a rush of cold air Conrad slid into the passenger seat. He wore an expensive wool overcoat that failed to impart any stylishness to his stocky frame.

"Glad you're here," Paglione said. "I been drinking coffee all day and Igotta piss. You want me to get you something while I'm in there?"

"No. Has anyone used the pay phone?"

"A couple of people. I wrote down their descriptions." Paglione took a small notebook off the dash and laid it beside Conrad, then heaved the door open and hurried across the parking lot to the restaurant.

The car windows were beginning to fog. Without looking away from the pay phone, Conrad leaned over and turned the ignition key to start the engine. He picked up the notebook but didn't begin reading it. That would wait until Paglione returned.Reading was too distracting; before you knew it an entire minute could pass, and a lot can happen in a minute.

He was still annoyed with himself. Grace had probably still been in the computer room when he walked by; he had glanced in and seen nothing out of the ordinary. But when he and Parrish had gone back, Conrad had noticed immediately that a stack of manuals had been moved.

So close. He could have gotten her then, and all this would be over.

She had changed. He discounted what was obviously a wig. He no longer looked for any particular length or color of hair, because that was too easily changed. She had lost a lot of weight; when they watched the film again, trying to get some clues to the identity of her companion, Parrish had remarked disappointedly on how thin she was now.

But the biggest change wasn't even the weight loss; it was how she walked. He had watched a lot of clips on her over the months, and he knew her walk as well as he knew his own. She had strolled instead of strode, and there had been something completely feminine in the subtle sway of her hips. Even he could see the sensuality that had Parrish so obsessed. But she had walked like an innocent, with no street awareness, her balance that of someone completely at ease and off guard.

That innocence was gone. Now she walked purposefully, her slight weight balanced on each foot so she could move immediately in any direction. Her head had been up, her attitude alert. Her shoulders were squared, the muscles prepared to swivel. Sometime during her eight months on the run, Grace St. John

had gotten street smart, and learned how to fight.

He regretted her lost innocence. She hadn't been insipidly sweet; she was too witty, too sharp. But she had been radiant; that was the quality that had come through in the videotapes he had watched. Both husband and brother had adored her, and she had passionately loved them in return. Parrish had compulsively watched over and over one tape made at Christmas, when her husband had pulled her down on his lap and thoroughly kissed her, and been thoroughly kissed in return. There had been a lot of laughter and teasing in those tapes. The little family had been happy.

A lot could happen in eight months on the run. She could have been beaten, robbed, raped. He didn't like to think of her being brutalized, but he was realistic. Parrish wanted to use her before he killed her, drag her soul in the dirt, humiliate her, and Conrad strongly disapproved. She deserved more respect than that.

Paglione trudged back to the car, carrying a paper sack. He slid behind the wheel and the greasy aroma offrench fries and chicken filled the car. He opened the plastic lid on the coffee cup and set it on the dash, then dug out his fries and little cardboard container of poultry pieces.

Now that Paglione had returned, Conrad opened the notebook. Six people had used the pay phone. A black woman at7:16 . A teenage boy, about fourteen, had used it at9:24 , when he should have been in school. An elderly man had approached, fumbled with some change, then left without making a call. An Asian-American male driving an electric utilities truck had placed a call at10:47 . Two young men had arrived at12:02 and camped on the phone for almost an hour. Damn! When Grace called before, it had been during the lunch hour, so if she had needed to make another call those two idiots would have forced her to go elsewhere.

"Melker'swatching the drive-through," Paglione said.

'Bayne's inside.Melker's been bitching because he don't mow what kind of car to look for. Just look for frizzy blond lair, I told him." Conrad sighed softly. If he had been a step faster, he would have seen more than a split-second flash of tail lights, almost more of a reflection than the actual lights. Not that he would necessarily be in the same vehicle; it could belong ;0 her companion. The important thing was that she was no longer dependent on public transportation, making her much harder to track. But he was patient. She had been here before. She would be here again.

Grace finished her last house early, a little after two. She stopped by the cramped little office of the cleaning service and collected her pay, and told the owner she wouldn't be back. Personnel turned over so regularly that her departure didn't elicit more than a grunt.

She needed to call Kris; he would go crazy with worry if she disappeared without a word. She regretted leaving him behind once again. His company, his friendship, had been like a warm cocoon; actual conversation was rare in her life now but for a brief time she had been able to talk to Kris and not feel so isolated.

She pulled into the McDonald's parking lot to use the pay phone, but someone was already using it. She didn't stop, but swung the steering wheel to go around the cars lined up for the drive-through window. One of the cars in line abruptly pulled out in front of her and she slammed on the brakes to keep from rear-ending it. Her computer case was on the seat beside her, and the abrupt stop sent it pitching off the seat. The zippered section was open and several pages of her notes came out, scattering on the floorboard.

"Damn it," she muttered, pulling to the side. Computers weren't delicate, but neither were they meant to be tossed around, either. The case was padded, but still she leaned over and picked up the case, but some of the scattered papers had slid under the seat and, with her possessions stacked in the way, she couldn't reach that far. Swearing again, she left the truck running and got out, walking around to the passenger side.

She opened the door and began gathering the papers. She had just reached for one on which she plainly saw the words "Creag Dhu" when a gust of wind swirled into the truck and sent the sheet flying over her head. She whirled to catch it, and saw the man almost on her.

She didn't stop to think. Instantly she dropped to the ground, lashing out with a booted foot and catching him solidly on the kneecap. His leg went out from under him as if he'd been shot, and he fell on his face.

Grace rolled away from him, coming to her feet and swinging herself into the cab of the truck. Another man was suddenly there, a man with a simian head and cold, expressionless eyes. She tried to slam the door and he knocked it open, his heavyset body crowding into the opening. Grace heaved herself back but one meaty hand closed around her ankle, inexorably drawing her forward. She kicked at his face. He jerked his head back, and seized her other ankle.

The knife hissed as she drew it out of the scabbard, the blade glinting as she jackknifed to a sitting position and slashed at his hands. She held the knife the way Mateo had shown her, palm down, blade jutting outward so that the attack came from her midsection and was much harder to block than a wide, sweeping slash. The knife sliced across the back of one hand and he jerked back, releasing one ankle.

The first man was slowly climbing to his feet, groaning and favoring his knee, but within seconds he would be able to help. She could hear someone running, a third attacker hurrying to the truck. She wouldn't be able to fight off three at once, or even two.

Oh, God, the one holding her ankle was as strong as a bull. He pulled her forward, ignoring the pain in his cut hand, blocking her efforts to kick him. The pistol was stuck under her stack of clothing, easily reached if she were in the driver's seat, but now she was lying on top of it.

She threw the knife. He saw the blade coming at his face and no training in the world was strong enough to override the instinct to duck. He threw himself to the side, but even so he retained his grip on her ankle, pulling her partially out of the truck. Desperately she scrabbled under the pile of clothing, her hand striking the pistol and knocking it away. She grabbed again, and this time found it.

She bolted up, both hands folded around the butt, firing as soon as the barrel was clear of her own feet. She heard the shots but they sounded far away, muffled. In slow motion she saw the gorilla-man flinch, then falter. She heard the strange wet thud of a bullet hitting human flesh. She saw the eyes flicker with both surprise and annoyance, as if he shouldn't have let himself underestimate her.

But he didn't let go of her ankle. He set his teeth and pulled.

"I'll kill you," she said, her voice barely audible. She held the barrel centered between his eyes. Her hands were steady. She began taking out the slack in the trigger, and the hammer moved back, poising for the strike.

Their eyes met, and he saw his death in hers. She saw a cold, dark intelligence in his, an awareness that went beyond the moment, as if he knew her down to her soul. There was a flash of acknowledgment, then his hand loosened and he slumped to the ground.

The man she had kicked in the knee began to back away, his hands held up to indicate he was unarmed. She didn't believe that for a minute.

She jerked her head around to locate the third man, and heard the driver's door opening behind her. She threw herself on her back, held the pistol over her head, and shot through the door. Sitting up again, she shot at the first man as he pulled his pistol from under his jacket. She missed, but he dived for cover.

She had two shots left; she couldn't keep shooting back and forth, she had to make them count. She clambered over her jumbled possessions and settled behind the steering wheel, and jerked the transmission into gear as she jammed her foot onto the gas pedal. The old truck shuddered as it leaped forward, tires slipping on the icy patches in the parking lot. The third man's face appeared in the window beside her as he grabbed for the door handle. She shoved the pistol at the window and he ducked, letting go of the door. The truck shook as the first man jumped up on the rear bumper, trying to climb into the bed.

Grace jerked the steering wheel hard to the right, then to the left. It was like playing crack the whip, except the stakes were a lot higher. His feet slipped off the bumper but he managed to hold on. Watching in the rearview mirror, she barreled out through the parking lot entrance into the path of a car turning in. A horn blared, she jerked the wheel again, and the man lost his grip on the tailgate. He went rolling across the parking lot, and fetched up hard against the rear tire of a parked car.

The passenger door still swung open, but she couldn't take the time to stop and close it. Stepping on the gas, she took a hard left at the first comer, then a right at the next one. The door slammed itself.

She tried to think what she should do. They had a description of the truck, and probably the tag number as well. The truck was registered under LouisaCroley's name, the same name that was on her passport and her driver's license. She should ditch the truck, steal a car somewhere, and get as far fromMinneapolis as she could. The police would be looking for her within minutes; a shoot-out at a McDonald's was bound to attract attention.

But she didn't ditch the truck. She didn't take the time to drive to a mall and look for a car with the keys left in it, though Harmony had assured her there were at least two fools shopping at any mall at any given time. Instead she hit 36 and drove west until she got to 1-35. Then she got on the southbound lane and headed forIowa .

"A mysterious shoot-out at a McDonald's inRoseville has police puzzled," the talking head earnestly announced. "Witnesses say several shots were fired, and at least six people were involved, with two seriously injured. But by the time police arrived, all those involved had vanished, including the wounded. Witnesses said one person, perhaps a woman, was driving a brown pickup truck. By law, all doctors and hospitals are required to report all gunshot wounds to police, but thus far no one has requested treatment."

Parrish paced back and forth, furious. Conrad sat silently on the sofa, his shoulder bound and his arm supported by a sling. A doctor who belonged to the Foundation had removed the bullet, which luckily had struck his collarbone instead of tearing through the complicated system of cartilage and ligaments in his shoulder. His collarbone was cracked, and the insistent throb seemed to pound through his entire body, but he had refused any pain medication. The cut on his hand, though it had required eight stitches, was minimal.

"Four men couldn't catch one woman," Parrish said, seething. "Bayne didn't even know anything was going on until it was too late for him to help. I'm very disappointed in the quality of your men, Conrad, and in you. She caught you with your pants down, and now she's gone to ground again. With all the people we have in this city, no one has seen her. She's one inexperienced woman; how in hell can she keep getting away from me?" He roared the last sentence, his face flushed dark red, his neck corded with rage.

Conrad sat silently. He didn't make excuses, but as soon as he was able, he would personally take care ofMelker . As soon as he spotted her, the fool had run up to the truck without waiting for the others to get in place. If they had all come at her at once, taken her by surprise, she wouldn't have escaped. InsteadMelker had tried to take her by himself, and she'd kicked the hell out of him.

Conrad was deeply annoyed at himself, too; he should have expected her to have armed herself by this time, but instead he had allowed himself to be caught off guard, first by the knife, then by that unwavering pistol. She hadn't hesitated, hadn't panicked. She had said, "I'll kill you," and the warning was sincere. She would have done it. In that moment, looking deep into her pure blue eyes, he saw the strength none of them had suspected.

He could have held on. She would have killed him, but the delay, and the hindrance of his body dragging on her, would likely have resulted in her capture. He had chosen to let go and pretend to lose consciousness, to save himself. He didn't want to die, he had too much left undone. He didn't want anyone except himself to capture Grace St. John, and he wanted to be alone when he did it. Parrish would never know what happened to her. To that end, though he had noted her license plate number, Conrad kept it to himself.

Rather than get involved in a tedious police investigation, they had all gotten into their cars and left. Despite his pain and blood loss, Conrad had managed to drive to a secure place and arrange for medical care. Parrish was in a rage, not yet paying attention to the sheet of paper Paglione had picked up in the parking lot, the paper that had blown out of Grace's truck.

The paper lay on the table. Conrad hadn't yet looked at it, but his gaze kept going to it. After all these months, searching for both Grace and the papers, a sheet had virtually fallen into their hands. How important could one sheet be, out of all those papers? But it drew him, and he couldn't stop glancing at it in a mixture of dread and anticipation.

At last Parrish noticed that his temper tantrum was being mostly ignored. He followed Conrad's look and stalked over to snatch up the sheet of paper. "What's this?"

"Paglione picked it up," Conrad said. "It blew out of her truck."

"It's some notes she's made," Parrish said, his tone growing thoughtful. He walked over to the desk and sat down, turning on the lamp. "I don't know this language.'C-u-n-b-h-a-I-a-c-h' means 'steady,' 'c-u-n-b-h-a-I-a-c-h-d' means 'judgment.' I'm so glad to know that. This is gibberish. It must be a code that's in the papers.'Creag Dhu' this doesn't have any interpretation beside it. Then there's 'fear,' and beside it'gleidhidh.' This looks like Welsh without all they's andw's ."

Conrad didn't comment, but the feeling of dread was growing stronger. He stared at the paper, hearing his heartbeat pounding in his ears, throbbing in his shoulder. Perhaps he had lost more blood than he had thought, and was about to lose consciousness for real.

Parrish lapsed into silence, his head bent over the paper. He was an educated, sophisticated man, well traveled. He had seen this language before.

"It's Gaelic," he said after a moment, his tone soft. "It isn't a code.Dhu means 'black,' and I thinkcreag means 'rock,' or 'rocky.' Black rock." He stood abruptly, his eyes narrow and intent. "Get some rest, Conrad. I'll have this translated. Grace's little slip may be just the break I've been needing."

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