The Forgotten War: A serial thriller Chapters 6 – 17

6

 John Campbell had just listened to one of the best lectures he had ever heard in his life. Grant Simmons portrayed a plot against the whole civilized world; a plot aiming at abolishing all society and government by making more government and aristocracies. He had done it with finesse and ease, articulating everything and dumbing it down for the public ear. Campbell was sure everyone could understand what he was saying.

     At the end of the lecture he opened it up for questions from the audience. They took the invitation openly.

     “You constantly refer to many occult societies,” said one of the attendees, “but you never mentioned what they were specifically called. Can you name some of them?”

     “Certainly,” he said. “But remember I give forth this information with extreme caution. One of them is known as the Illuminati, a group of men possessing aliases such as Cicero and other ancient politicians and philosophers. There is also the Rosicrucians, the Cabalists, and the brotherly Freemasons.”

     There were a number of other questions regarding some of these sects, but Grant was unable to give any sufficient answers.

     “I simply do not know the details and histories of these groups,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

     After a few more questions the lecture was over and people began to go home and get ready for the last lectures of the Festival that would be given tomorrow.

     Campbell, Kate, and his mother went to wait in the lobby for Grant with the various professors and other staff of the campus who were eager to speak with him. When he did come out into the lobby the academicians gathered around him like birds at a pile of worms.

     “Let’s wait outside,” Kate suggested. “This’ll be awhile.”

It was half an hour before Grant finally exited the auditorium, looking baffled and pale as a ghost. But there was a big smile on his face as he neared them.

     “Congratulations,” said Mrs. Campbell. “That was a very good lecture. I was utterly informed.”

     “Thank you, Mrs. Campbell,” he said.

     “We’ve been waiting,” Kate said.

     “I know and I am sorry. Those professors just wouldn’t stop yakking about the implications of my research. ‘Global Warming has its days numbered,’ they said.”

     “Well,” said Campbell, “you’re here now, so let’s go get something to eat.”

     His mother interjected. “Honey, we shouldn’t. We already went out for lunch. It wouldn’t be a good idea to spend any more large sums of money.”

     “Don’t sweat it, Mom. We’ll just go get some fast food, or something.”

7

 They went to a McDonald’s and ordered off of the dollar menu. Each one of them got a double cheeseburger and some fries. They sat in one of the booths together, the girls on one side and the boys on the other.

     “It’s good to see you again, Grant,” said Mrs. Campbell.

     “You too, Grace.” He took a bite out of his burger.

     “I was glad to see you get such good reception.”

     He smiled. “Just as long as they keep the entire lecture on the campus website. I don’t want them to be sending it out to magazines and such. If they do that the government is not going to look kindly towards me.”

     “Well, you’re right about that.”

     They ate in silence for a few more minutes while they finished their meals and then sat back and relaxed for a moment to talk some more.

     “How’s everything on your end, Mrs. Campbell?” he asked.

     “Oh, Brian is being his normal self, as usual. We got a new car, paid for the insurance and got a full warrantee on it.”

     “That’s good.”

     “I know. You would never guess what might happen these days with all this clunker crap that’s going on. Why would the government want to get rid of perfectly good cars?”

     “Because they want to control people and they can do that through the propaganda that is global warming. Perhaps I should have added that in my lecture, but somehow it never crossed my mind as something utterly important.”

     “It doesn’t sound like it to me.”

     There was short pause. Campbell didn’t really have anything to talk about with Grant. They had already had long discussions about it with Kate tagging along too. Not only that, but they had been confiding in each other since childhood; there was nothing left to discuss except one little thing: marrying Kate.

     This was something that had been on his mind for the past three days now after they had finally slept together. After that night thoughts of family and vows filled his head and drove him insane. He was finding it hard to concentrate on anything he was given as an assignment and hoped that it would not affect him in any way tomorrow. He wanted her, wanted to be with her for eternity, and had such strong feelings for her. She had his loyalty and he hoped he had hers. She always had it, ever since we met.

     He knew that it would not be a good idea right now to mention it to anyone. He wanted to speak with Grant alone about it and knew he’d get his chance later tonight once everyone else went back from whence they came.

     For now he sat there listening to Grant give his updates to his mother about life at Penn State, how others were treating him, and how his grades were.

     “I just can’t wait for Spring Break,” Grant said. “I want to get out of this dump and get to Virginia Beach.” He laughed, as did everyone else.

     Campbell looked over at his closest friend. Grant Simmons was a tall young man. He had a square jaw and always had stubble which he never shaved unless it started growing longer into a beard. He always said that it gave him an edge on the professors, showing them that he was devoted to his work. His hair was kempt and the bangs were brushed to the side in an attempt to look intellectual. The night had surely called for it. Usually he wore a plain shirt and baggy kaki pants, but for the lecture he wore a wonderful suit with a bright, red tie that shimmered like silk, which it probably was. He always had that element of surprise when it came to clothes. You’d never think he ever wore anything nice or formal, yet sometimes he would break all habits altogether.

     Though he had had an air of authority at the lectern, now, inside a fast-food restaurant, he looked out-of-place and less than intimidating.

     Campbell looked at his watch and saw it say 8:15 pm.  Outside it was dark with no hint of color in the shadowy, looming clouds of the night.

     “You should be getting home, Mom,” he said. “Dad will be wondering where you are.”

     “You’re right,” she agreed.

     Grant nudged at Campbell with his elbow. “Now, Johnny, don’t go trying to get rid of your mom like that.”

     Campbell knew he was joking.

     “He’s right, Grant. I think I’ve indulged myself far enough for one night.” She got up from the booth. “You all have a good night sleep and don’t stay up past your bedtime.” This was a line she would always say whenever they were kids at a sleepover.

     They all smiled and said their goodbyes to her. When she left they all climbed into Campbell’s car and headed off to the dormitory.

The dorms were quiet mainly because everyone else was out partying somewhere. For college kids it was far too early to go to bed. Campbell, Grant, and Kate entered in silence, passing through the front doors like ghosts. Their footfalls echoed off the floor and they giggled at the sound of it for they had never known that anything could echo in there.

     Kate went off to her room to work on something she needed to accomplish before the week started again while the boys went and sat down on the couches in the lobby, plopping onto them like rag dolls.

     “Something’s on your mind,” said Grant after sighing in exhaustion.

     “Yeah?” Campbell shot back.

     “You’re thinking about something hard, something that’s pressing you.” He was mocking the atmosphere of a psychologist’s office.

     “Really?”

     “Yes, my friend and the subject of your mental troubles have something to do with my sister.”

     “You’re the doctor here.”

     Grant sat up a little and leaned his elbows against his knees, slouching forward slightly. His tone changed to one of seriousness.

     “So what’s up, John?” he asked.

     “I don’t think now is the right time to discuss it.”

     “Come on, John. You always let me know when something is bothering you. This time I’ve been able to guess what it is. I know that you and my sister are involved; that much you did tell me. I don’t want to know the gory details about your relationship together. All I care about is that she has your loyalty.”

     “She does, Grant.”

     “And I believe you. But there is something else that you are brooding and I think I know what it is.”

     “Are you going to tell me?”

     “Why don’t you do the honors?”

     Campbell said nothing, not that he was annoyed. He honestly wanted his best friend to find out for himself so that he could spare the embarrassment.

     “Alright then, I get it.” He paused. “So where’s the ring?”

     “Under my pillow, waiting for the tooth fairy.”

     “I see.”

     There was another moment of silence and neither of them said anything to one another, both enjoying the peace and quiet the dormitory was experiencing that night. Surely it would not grant such tranquility again in a long while. It was the perfect time and place for such a conversation and Campbell knew it all too well, but he didn’t have the courage to continue.

     Grant, on the other hand, pressed on about it, wanting to know what Campbell planned to do.

     “So when are you going to propose to her?” he asked. It sounded like the final inquiry.

     Campbell said, “I don’t know.”

8

Grace Campbell drove in her sedan on the back roads to Tyrone. They winded like a snake between closely packed shrubs. The sky was very black and so far she had seen no stars. The clouds had blocked them out. Rain was hopefully on the way. It was the beginning of spring and her garden needed it badly so that they would start to grow properly.

     She glanced at the clock and knew just by looking at it that she would make home before nine rolled around. She remembered that she had not called Brian to let him know that she would not be there in time to fix him something to eat. He always got gripping about it afterwards, but she was confident that he would have gotten himself something for once. She loved him with all her heart, but there were times when she just wanted to make the man starve.

     She smiled at this, knowing she would never do anything of the sort to her own husband.

     Thinking out her relationship she wondered how John’s was coming along. She could tell by looking at her son that his girlfriend was on his mind and the thought of her was hitting him hard. He’s probably getting ready to make the big move, she thought. He’s going to ask her to marry her. She hoped she was right about that. She loved seeing her little boy grow up to this point and wondered if he would have to courage to do something like that.

     No doubt Grant was going to tease him about it to no end.

     But she couldn’t help it. John would have to learn on his own now that he was out of the house and in college, going for his bachelor’s degree. Who knows, maybe he would succeed.

     She thought she had better call Brian to let him know she was on her way home. She punched in her home number and waited for it to ring a few times. It rang without end until the answering machine picked up.

     “Hello,” the recorded voice of her husband said. “This is the Campbell Family. Please leave a message after the beep.”

     Straight and to the point; that was her husband.

     When she heard the beep she said, “Honey, it’s Grace. I’ll be home soon, maybe twenty more minutes. I love you, bye.”

     She hung up, thinking that he had gone out somewhere in the new car.

     Just as long as nothing happens to it.

9

Brian Campbell sat in a chair, tied to it with rope that chaffed his wrists. A black bag was placed over his head so that he wouldn’t know where he was at the moment. The room was too familiar to him, but he didn’t know it yet. At the moment he was still limp from being electrocuted in the chest with ten thousand volts.

     In the room a man stood across from Mr. Campbell. He wore a black suit and tie. His hair was stark white from years of stress and frustration. Frustration brought on by the man in the bonds before him. Next to this person stood the young man who had brought Campbell to the lodge.

     “You did very well,” the elder man said.

     “Thank you, master.”

     “You were early though.”

     “That is what the Cardinal said.”

     “Fuck the Cardinal. He’s a pawn in this scheme. He’ll only cause trouble if he remains after this is finished.”

     “So we are to eliminate him?”

     The elder man smiled. “The same way this man is to perish. He’s a power-hungry bastard who only wants what he fancies, even if they are for the benefit of the Brotherhood.”

     “But,” said the young man, “he’s one of us. It is against our teachings…”

     “You are not yet a master. Remember that. Let it be sufficient for you to know that there are things you do not know about our teachings. You do not know the true roots of them. Only when you are given that rank will you know them.”

     “That will be a good day.”

     “Yes it will.” The elder man paused. “We have the next target if you are willing to take her now.”

     “I will do as you bid, master.”

     The elder man held the young man a slip of notepaper that had been torn from a larger pad. “Take this,” he said. “It has all the information you need. Be quick.”

     The young man took the paper and stuffed it into his pocket.

     “I will, master,” he said.

10

Bishop Pitt was kneeling in the pews of the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament of Altoona, Pennsylvania. It was a towering, Italian gothic structure that had been built in the thirties over the sight of a previous cathedral called St. John’s. At one point the interior of the cathedral had been traditional, but as the ages passed, and more and more priests celebrated the Novus Ordo Massae, an air of tolerance arose. Most of the statues inside the cathedral were of a modern taste, as were the stain glass windows and even the doors, which were glass with a modernistic depiction of the four Evangelists; Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John.

     Though there were some who thought the modernity of the cathedral was beautiful Pitt always thought it was ugly and a mockery of the holy figures portrayed. There should be a sense of realism, but there isn’t.

     He bowed his head in reverence, praying to God that tomorrow brings a good crowd so that the masses can bask in the splendor of the Latin Mass. Above him white banners hung from the rafters between the twelve pillars that symbolized the twelve apostles. Yes, even Judas Iscariot had his own pillar. Though he had been a traitor to Christ he had played a crucial role in the outcome of Christianity. Without Judas there would never have been a cross on the altar.

     Pitt now thought about Judas and how there was one within his diocese that very instant, his name: Cardinal McConnell. What importance does he think he can give this occasion?

     After eavesdropping on the cardinal’s call he knew that Brian Campbell had been right. The cardinal was indeed a Freemason. It wasn’t all that surprising, really. There were many Masons who were cardinals and bishops and priests within the Catholic Church. They acted as spies to the Masters of their secret brotherhood. Why the Masons needed to know what the church was doing was beyond Pitt’s reasoning. Brian Campbell had suggested something that was not necessarily his own theory, but that of many cardinals in the Papacy still faithful to Christ.

     “They’re there to scout out the weaknesses of the Church,” he had said one evening that he had come to visit the bishop. “The Masons’ sole mission is to eradicate the Church; but not just the Church, Christianity and all other religions on the face of the earth. This is what they are doing. You’ll hear them say that they are a peaceful fraternity, that they are a religion as well, but it’s a cover. They use their religion and philosophies to mask their purpose, to blind the public – who they call ‘profane’ – to their ultimate goal. If they were exposed as not being a religion then they would have no protection against the government searching their lodges, but because their brotherhood is considered a religion their facilities are protected under the Constitution. This is why no one has been able to take them down.”

     “No one has ever tried,” Pitt had stated.

     “You know, you’re right, Bishop.”

     Pitt hadn’t seen Brain Campbell for a while now. He hadn’t been coming into church lately and he was worried about him. After listening in to the cardinal’s call, Pitt had sent at call to Campbell, but got the answering machine. What is he doing lately?

     The bishop crossed himself and stood up in the row, looking out at the high altar he had put in recently for tomorrow’s celebration. As head of the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese he had the power to decree what masses were to be said within the reasoning put forth by the current Pope; and right now Benedict XVI was in favor of the Latin Mass.

     Pitt had waited for so long as a young priest for the Latin Mass to be reinstated. It had been too long that the earth had gone on without it. It needed a glorious rejuvenation and Pitt could supply it.

     It made him beam inside and he could feel the gift of God’s grace pouring onto him in luminous, spiritual torrents.

     He exited the row of pews and went up to the altar and the surrounding area, checking the decorations.

     They had had a large number of volunteers for the decorating of the cathedral this year, and Pitt was very happy. He should have known the hospitality of the Catholic populace and its extent, but he was taken aback and stunned by the vigor of the people. I have never seen such devotion towards the Novus Ordo.

     He traversed into the sacristy, genuflecting to the altar when due, and went through all his drawers and closets, making sure that he had all his vestments, and looking for the one which he was to wear tomorrow. He found it, stark white and clean as new bed sheets. The gold embroidery was made to resemble a pelican and shimmered in the dim light from the windows. The pelican was another symbol used to depict Christ. It showed a pelican giving its own flesh to its hatchlings as food. This was a natural instinct that was observed by scientists from all ages and the Church adopted that image for their own. It was a beautiful representation.

     He placed it back onto the hanger and put it back into the closet. Then he checked to make sure that all the altar boys’ cassocks were accounted for. They were.

     He checked the contents of the whine and water he was to use to fill the chalice. There was enough. The Monstrance had its piece of the Eucharist in it for the Stations of the Cross after mass.

     Everything seemed to be ready for tomorrow. In the morning the altar servers would come and place their cards at their specific station around the altar.

     The cathedral was ready for its celebration.

     Bishop Pitt went back into the rectory and found Cardinal McConnell putting on his coat and grabbing his car keys.

     “Might I ask, your Excellency, where you are going?” he said.

     “Out,” was McConnell’s sharp response. “You don’t need to worry about when I get back. I’ll be here for the celebration. Good night, Bishop Pitt.”

     “Good night, your Grace.”

     McConnell went through the door and closed it loudly, leaving the bishop alone in the rectory.

     Perhaps I should give Brian a call…

11

John Campbell entered his dorm and fell upon his bed, tired from the long day with his mother. He was glad she had come to visit, but wished that his father had done so as well. His father wasn’t one of those guys who went to see their kids willy-nilly at college unless there was good reason too. Brian Campbell had been a good father, but now he was slacking off, thinking it was only important for him to be there when something life-changing was happening.

     What was on his mind was life-changing, didn’t that count? It would have if he had called his father lately, something that he hadn’t done in a while since he started working on his lecture for the Festival. He sorely needed to speak with him about marriage, about Kate, and their relationship together. He had married his mother so he would know about it from experience through his perspective. If he had talked to his mother about it he wouldn’t have gotten much advice from the woman’s side. He needed to have a guy talk. He already talked to Grant about it, but it didn’t seem like enough.

     I need you, Dad.

     His father had always been there for him whenever he needed him most. When he road his first bike, the time when he had broken his collar bone, and many more instances in his life his father had been present. But now John was grown up, he was a big boy now. No more tips or hints; no more shadowing. Those days were over. When college had begun his father had told him that he was in the big league now. There was no going back. John knew it all too well, but what he didn’t know was that with that advice his father was intentionally distancing himself from his own son for his son’s own sake.

     John put his head into his pillow and moaned, not because he was tired from his mother’s visit, but because he was stressed over his impending commitment to proposing to Kate. What would she think of him? Was she open to such a change? Was it what she wanted at this point in time?

     He couldn’t answer any of these questions. Usually he could tell when it was the right time to do something. That was how he landed a spot in the Festival. But for the past two weeks he was at a loss. Nothing was clear; no silver lining could be seen among the clouds. He was impossibly confused for the first time in his life.

     He tried not to cry, but could not hold back one of the tears. At least the rest of them didn’t follow after that one. Thank God he had some extent of control over himself. This came as a surprise to him considering his current mental state.

     At the moment he knew he wasn’t ready for a leap as great as that of marriage. No way in hell. In order to be prepared he needed to speak with his father, needed his advice. He couldn’t think of any other way to ease his tension than to hear his father’s consoling voice.

     He sat up and reached for the phone on his bedside table, picking it up and putting to his ear. He dialed his father’s cell phone number and waited for someone to answer.

12

The head master of the Jaffa lodge sat at his desk within his office. Before him on the desk was his laptop which was displaying his e-mail account. So far there had been no new messages in the inbox and he was waiting impatiently. There were things that needed to be done before they could start their operations.

     Next to the laptop were Brian Campbell’s cellular, wallet, and car keys. He had looked at Campbell’s ID cards, his license, and the amount of money in it. There wasn’t anything spectacular about anything he had seen. The master also looked at the caller history on the cellular and found nothing recent that pertained to Bishop Nathaniel Pitt.

     Good. So the bishop won’t see anything coming.

     It was of vital importance that the bishop of the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese knew nothing of their plans for the approaching midnight. Everything so far was going according to plan. There had been no hiccups and, hopefully there wouldn’t be.

     Suddenly the cell phone on the desk erupted in a ring-tone that was annoying. It was playing “Ave Maria”, a song the master despised greatly.

     One the display-screen he read: John’s Room.

     So, the bastard has a son? Too bad he won’t be one of the victims.

     He let the phone ring until it did no more.

     The screen said that there was one new voice message.

     The master took the phone and pressed “enter”, putting it up to his ear. He listened to the message and heard a voice that he recognized somehow, bringing back old memories.

     “Dad,” said the voice. “Grant’s lecture was great. You should have been there. Mom was impressed by and I’m sure you would have been too. But that’s not why I’m calling. I need to talk to you about something. It’s actually very important… to me, at least, but I can’t come to any conclusion without your input.” The voice paused. “I need advice. I want to ask Kate to marry me. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time and its starting to get to my grades. Please Dad. You were always there for me. Why can’t you be there for me now?”

     The master raised an eyebrow. Perhaps he could use the boy somehow. If this was the offspring of his enemy then why couldn’t he gain some leverage and truly mend the damage Brian Campbell had caused him.

     Yes, that would be satisfying.

     “Call me when you get the chance, okay?” The boy hung up. The message was over.

     The master replaced the phone onto the desk and watched the LED backlight extinguish itself, darkening the screen.

     Everything is going quite nicely.

13

Marge Campbell was in her kitchen, making herself a nighttime snack. She was getting ready to watch one of her favorite classic movies on the television. Anything with Carry Grant was phenomenal.

     She put together some mixed nuts into a bowl with pretzels and mixed them up. She also poured herself a small glass of water and took out two of her pill her doctor asked her to take to ease the pain she had been having in her lower back.

     When she had everything ready, she went into the living room and set everything onto the lamp table beside the recliner that donned one of her hand-made afghans.

     The room was cozy and had been panted green. It was a calming color to her and it was easy to pick things out for that specific shade. Everything in the house, from the furniture to the rugs, was of the same scheme.

     The television blazed in the dimness of the room, the top of it was adorned with memorabilia from her life after her divorce years ago before her son, Brian, had married. She herself had married again shortly after to a wonderful man, named Donny, who passed away from cancer only two years ago.

     On the screen TCM’s Robert Osborne appeared and started to talk about the upcoming film. He noted the director, the producer, who adapted it from a stage play, and humored the public about why he loved this film. Then he announced the title and the film began to roll.

Carry Grant had put on a wonderful performance as usual. There weren’t many movies of his that flopped in her mind. He had always delivered the goods.

     The bowl of mix she had brought in was empty and she had made many trips into the kitchen for more water, the glass now sitting half empty on the table.

     She was sleepy. The movie had started at around 7:30 pm. It was now past nine and she was starting to doze off. She didn’t want to though; her daughter-in-law was soon to call her to let her know how Johnny-boy was doing at college.

     She was always interested in her grandson, and was proud of him too. When she learned he was off to college she hugged and kissed him so many times that she now thought she must have scared him to death.

     She smiled at that thought.

     It was then that someone rapped at the door.

     Who could be knocking so late at night?

     She got up from her chair and went over to the front door. When she opened it she was greeted by the stinging mist from a small, black spray can. It apparently was water, so nothing seemed to happen, however, as soon as she closed her eyes she was tackled to the ground by a strong individual.

     She went down without a scream.

     “Sit still, grandma,” said a young man’s voice. “And don’t scream, or I’ll kill you.”

     Her mouth went instantly silent as she felt the cold surface of the barrel of a gun touch the nape of her neck.

     “Get up,” said the young man.

     She did and he closed the front door.

     “What do you want of me,” she asked.

     “Nothing yet,” was his reply. “Go over to your couch and sit down.”

     She did as she was told.

     One she was on the couch she dared to look up at the man who had just assaulted her in her own home. He was tall and had very good features. His hair was black, he was clean shaven, and appeared to be very muscular. She could not place his ethnicity though. He seemed to be a mix of many different people.

     At the moment he was watching the television, the gun still pointing at her as if he could aim it perfectly with his eyes closed.

     “You like Carry Grant?” he asked.

     She humored him. “I do,” she said.

     “They must be having a marathon of his movies.” He smiled.

     “You enjoy his work?”

     “No, actually. I think he’s grossly overrated.”

     She frowned. “Well, it’s a matter of taste, I suppose.”

     “Not unless you can make everyone think what you want.”

     “And you believe you can do that by shoving a gun in someone’s face?”

     “I do, yes.”

     At that moment the phone rang next to the lamp, bowl, and glass of water.

     “Answer it,” said the man, motioning with his gun for her to obey.

     She did obey and presently answered it. “Hello,” she said into the microphone.

     “Marge,” said the voice on the other line. “It’s Grace. Have you heard from Brian at all?”

     “No I haven’t dear.” Marge looked up at the young man and then at the gun, wondering if he had anything to do with her son being unaccountable at his own home. “Did you try his cellular?”

     “Yes. He’s not answering.”

     Be careful, the young man mouthed silently, inching the gun closer to Marge’s head.

     “Well, maybe he turned it off, or something. Try calling Bishop Pitt. Maybe he went over there to speak with him.”

     “I’ll try it. Thanks, Marge.” Grace then hung up and the line went dead.

     Marge put the phone back on the hook and turned to face the young man with the gun. “Now what do we do?” she said, noticing the man had come closer to her and wondering what he was going to do next. Her heart was pounding and she was on the verge of panicking, but she held her calm. Maybe she could get some information out of the man. “Am I able to ask why you’re here?”

     “I’m afraid I don’t know.”

     “A hired gun?”

     He pulled out something from his pocket. She flinched, thinking it was something terrible, but soon discovered it to be a ring. Upon it was something she had never forgotten, a ghost from the years before her divorce.

     On the ring there was a square and a compass. The symbol of the Freemasons.

     She was startled beyond belief. How dare he come to get me like this? What kind of a man does he think himself? “So that’s what this is all about?” she asked.

     “It is,” the young man said. He put the ring back into his pocket and whipped out a hypodermic needle, jamming it into her neck and injecting its contents into her bloodstream. The old woman fell onto the couch, unconscious. The sedative had worked flawlessly and quickly. Getting good at this, he thought. Now, to take her to the lodge for a family reunion.

14

Tommy Gill worked at a local grocery store and always got the late-night shift. Closing was at 11:00 pm; it was only 9:18. He had two more hours till he could go back to his apartment and sleep in tomorrow, seeing how it was a Sunday. He never worked on Sundays, but to get those days off he had to battle with his boss.

     The fucking bastard, that’s what he is.

     At the moment he was collecting all the carts along the parking lot and getting them back into the store. At this time there were not really any shoppers. Most of them had gone home. Earlier in the day there had been a couple, like that one guy with the sweet looking Toyota Solara.

     Tome wished he could afford such a nice car, but was only granted an old Pontiac Gran Prix that was falling apart at the seams. It was all his income could afford. To get it he had to work three jobs when he could barely juggle two and he was on the verge of getting fired from one of them. He wanted it to be from this place, but his luck was not that great.

     The only other cars in the parking lot where his and some guy’s spanking new Honda Civic that was still loaded in the trunk with groceries.

     He had made many trips out into the parking lot for strewn carts and noticed this car there for the entire evening.

     Where is this guy?

     He took his collected carts into the store and notified his boss who in turn called the tow truck.

     Cold fucker, thought Tommy.

15

John Campbell was walking through the campus, past various buildings, not really minding which ones he was present at. It didn’t really matter. Having been at Penn State for so long the place had grown on him until he knew how to get anywhere he wanted just by looking up and figuring out where he was relative to his intended destination. But he had no such intention. At the moment he was at a loss.

     In his hand he carried the little box where the ring sat cushioned in a silky material. He imagined how the gem would gleam in the light of the day in which he would propose to Kate, but the thought had barely any luster. Whatever glamour that image had in his mind it would not be clear until he knew what it was he was going to do – whether or not he actually wanted to do this.

     Why wouldn’t he? He loved her so much, and she in turn. Why would there be any doubt?

     He had always valued his father’s advice, but was always afraid to ask for it ever since he came to college. He could remember the look on his father’s face when the acceptance letter came in the mail.

     Campbell had just finished high school and was weeks away from receiving his diploma. He passed with flying colors and was top of his class. At one point he considered the military, his father being a seaman in the Navy. Though he would have pursued that option with open arms, Campbell had confidence that he would be accepted. He had gotten summer jobs ever since he turned fourteen.

     He started out at a local ice rink, got to know the guys there really well to the point where they became friends, seeing how most of the employees there were from his school. He tried working for the local YMCA, but it was too boring an environment for him; too professional. After that he got accepted to work at Lakemont Park, established in 1894 and home to the United State’s first wooden rollercoaster. He got a job there in concessions and had fun with it. It was a good thing he loved to cook.

     All the money he earned, he never spent a cent and kept half of it in cash to spare it from the unnecessary taxes the banks collected as long as they possessed his account. With that money he had been able to afford for his first two years at Penn State, sparing his parents financial stress. And they were thankful to him, his father especially.

     Brian Campbell looked at that as a sign to greater accomplishments for his son. But why didn’t his father spend time visiting him?

     Campbell thought it had something to do with his father’s constant visits to Bishop Pitt, who was a good friend to his parents and himself. They were always working on something together, but Campbell had never been able to figure out what it was, or why they did it. His mother told him once that it had something to do with the Church, as in all of Christendom. Though it sounded important for mankind, why was it important to his father? That question he had never answered and wanted to with all the marrow in his bones. It was a family mystery he wanted to reveal someday.

     Campbell knew that whatever it was its implications had to do with his family history. This was an area that he was constantly forbidden to ponder and ask about. The only history he was ever given was that his father’s mother was his grandma and the little history of his mother’s side of the family. He knew more about Grace Gertrude Campbell’s family, but not Brian James Campbell’s side. That tree had too many roots cut out and misplaced.

     Knowing about his own family was one of the things that bothered him about asking Kate to marry him. Did he want to marry her without knowing his own family history, especially his father’s side? Kate was never one to ask such questions when they both lived on the same street and was probably never going to want to know about it, but there was no doubt that she, too, wondered as Campbell did.

     His life seemed to be running smoothly up until this point. He got good grades and did well in school. The professors liked him and pitied him that he wanted to have a Ph. D. in history, specifically 17th Century history, and not in engineering or business. Nothing about his family past ever bothered him during this point in time, but he did entertain the mystery and hidden gleam it had, sometimes humoring Grant with it. There had been good laughs about it.

     But then came the thoughts about marriage.

     He remembered that night. Kate had been gone all week on some kind of field trip out to Pittsburgh. It had something to do with architecture, which was what she wanted a master’s degree in. They hadn’t argued ever since they started getting serious in their relationship and Grant never minded it. Just as long as she has your loyalty, he said earlier.

     When Kate had come back from her trip they went out to eat, something they hadn’t done lately but did on a regular basis. Now that they were together they had so many things to talk about with each other, things they never knew about each other before. It was exciting, motivating, and intimate, far more intimate than any conversations they had as kids back in Altoona.

     They went out to get Chinese the night she came back, but this time it was a rather dull and wordless date. Neither one of them had told each other their feelings and only kept the conversation about how the trip was.

     Later that night, as they were walking back to the dormitory, Kate placed a soft and lingering kiss on Campbell’s lips and in a moment the kiss became more passionate.

     “I missed you,” she said.

     “Me too,” he replied.

     When they made it to the dorms they went to Campbell’s room. His roommate, a guy named Chris, was not there, and so they immediately started to make love to one another, slowly removing articles of clothing and tossing them onto the floor.

     It was one of the most exhilarating experiences Campbell had ever had and it was with that night of intimacy that led him to want it for the rest of his life. He could only think of having this kind of life with her. They knew each other so well that it sometimes scared the other students. They read one another’s minds and sometimes finished each other’s sentences, just like twins.

     It was the day after that that he went and bought the ring, just so that he had it ready for when he finally sucked it up to ask her.

     But he didn’t, not yet. He wasn’t ready and he knew it. Perhaps I should return the ring. I’m not ready for this, am I?

     The little box seemed to add on to its own weight, making it seem heavy in his hand. I fell a little like Frodo Baggins. He was amazed he had stooped to the level where he compared himself with fantasy characters. But, technically, he was right. The burden of his pressing wants was weighing him down. He needed consolation, sought it from Grant but didn’t find it there. It had to come from his father.

     “What to do,” he said to himself.

16

The master of the Jaffa lodge was in his office when the young man entered with news.

     “She’s here,” he had said.

     “Good. Is she in the same room with Mr. Campbell?”

     “Yes, master.”

     Now they were standing in the room as the young man watched his master inspect the condition of the old woman sitting lankly in another chair with similar bonds wrapped around her wrists and ankles. She too, like Brian Campbell, had a black bag over her head. The young man did not know why this was important to the master. Have they somehow been here before?

     They spent a few minutes in there as the master told the young man about who he was to retrieve next. There was no passing of notepaper, just some general information and why the target was important.

     “He is not that far from here, actually,” the master said.

     Presently one of the shriners entered the room and whispered something into the master’s ear which the young man could not make out.

     “What,” the master said with distaste. “He’s here?”

     “Who, master.” The young man could not resist his own curiosity.

     “Come with me.”

     The young man followed the master out of the room and down the curving hallway to one of the lounge areas where they were greeted by the disturbing countenance of Cardinal McConnell.

     “Hello, cardinal,” said the master, his tone gaining cordiality towards the man he most despised.

     “Good evening,” replied the cardinal. He looked the young man up and down, taking in his appearance and measuring him to his own standards. “I take it that is our little retriever?”

     “Yes,” said the master. “He has brought us the possession of Marge Campbell.”

     “Your…” the cardinal stopped, clearly noticing that the master wanted certain information to be kept confidential towards the young man. He could tell that much on the face of the elderly Mason. “Forgive me. I should not spoil the surprise.”

     “That’s quite enough McConnell.” The master voice had turned to stone and left an awkward moment of silence in the room. “Why have you come, might I ask?”

     “To see how things have progressed,” replied the fat cardinal. “I was informed by your friend here that he had taken Mr. Campbell earlier than expected. I thought that something must have happened to have caused him to do something like that. Have there been any leaks?”

     “None. Everything is just as it should be. Stealth has been maintained even though my apprentice has taken some of the situation into his own hands.” Here he looked over at the young man and gave a slightly scolding look at him.

     “However, there has come some good out of this little hot-headedness, I suppose. Perhaps we could get an early start.”

     The master smiled and the young man noticed that it was a smile of a man who had just sensed a moment of opportunity.

     “Could I see the two,” asked the cardinal.

     “Certainly,” said the master. “They’re but three doors down in the other lounge. I would escort you there, but there is something which I need to tell my apprentice.”

     “Thank you.” The cardinal left the room, closing the door behind him. His footfalls echoed through the hall and could be heard through the door.

     “What is it,” inquired the young man.

     “There has been a change in plan,” said the master. “I want you to take the cardinal instead of you current target. Save him for later after the first three are dealt with.”

     “But wasn’t the cardinal supposed to represent one of the three major Lights?”

     “I have just realized how pathetic a brother that man is to this fraternity and think it best if their rolls were to be switched. After all, the Arch Bishop Pitt is more of a threat to us than I first gave him credit for.”

17

In front of John Campbell was his desk. He sat in the chair within his dorm and stared blankly at the items spayed out before him on the desk. There were papers with scribbled notes and figures that would eventually be more detailed and professionally crafted. There were history books and other text books, including those he used for his regular classes. The ratio between books for his lecture and those for his classes was six to two. His lecture had taken up most of his time.

     Its subject was the Holy Grail. This topic had been killed over by so many novels and dissertations to the point where it was all biased material. No one ever considered any other implications as to what it could be. It was said that it was a cup, a bloodline, a shroud, and so many other things that there was no human mental capacity that could process the plethora of labels and theories. It was the purpose of his lecture to give a short history of all of these theories, how they came about, and which ones were more likely to be correct.

     He had spent so much time on it but had been able to keep his grade up while working on it. When he presented it to the judges who chose which lectures would go through to the Festival they suggested that he revise some things and proofread it aloud in case there was any confusing sentences and other common mistakes.

     He had taken to revising his lecture willingly once he learned which block he was going to get. Countless nights he spent, pouring over all the information he had and that which he not included, wondering if it had anything to do with what he was saying. He wrote down more notes, typed it all out on his computer, and looked at his graphs and images. He placed these where he thought would be the best place to show it.

     He remembered all the trouble he had gone through for this lecture. Everything was flawless in his opinion. It all seemed to be good. But how was it going to be received?

     Would I be able to do it in my current mental state?

     The thought of marriage still filled his mind even after his long walk through campus. He wished the fresh air would have done him good, but the opposite was all he got.

     He sighed and cradled his head in his cupped hands. He was beyond crying, had it under control. This was something completely different and it gave him a headache.

     Standing up, he went over to the cupboards over his bed and retrieved a bottle of Aleve. Taking one with water from the bathroom sink he stood there in the bathroom, looking at his reflection.

     He was the face of a young man who was torn in too. One side was trying to pursue a happy future while the other was selfish and wanted to get out of this dump of a college. His face was pale white from whatever stress or fear was pressing him. He certainly wasn’t stressed about tomorrow’s debut. Rather, the thought of Kate plagued him beyond belief. He was surprised that his hair hadn’t turned white, but it did look as if her were starting to get wrinkles… or was that just the play of the light?

     He wanted to call Kate and ask her if he could spend another night with her, but what would he say if she asked for a reason. He couldn’t tell her that he planned on marrying her, it would ruin everything. He wanted it to be a legitimate proposal; no cutting corners.

     The best way isn’t always the easy way, his father told him. It was one of his favorite sayings.

     No, he couldn’t do that. He had already talked with Grant about it, but that conversation didn’t end very well for Campbell. With that discourse he had ended up where he had always been: indecisive.

     Why can’t I just suck it up?

     He was surprised that the thought of this was driving him through this impeccable fatigue. Why would it hit him so hardly? There was no logical reason. He hoped that it had to do with his genes, that he had gotten this overreacting urge from his father’s side of the family. He was embarrassed that he possessed his father’s short temper and knew that it had come from that side of the family.

     Maybe it had to do with that. Perhaps there was something in his family that was subconsciously warning him somehow. He wasn’t sure and knew that that was one of the reasons for his irrational mental state.

     Come on, John. Get a hold of yourself.

     He splashed some cold water on his face and dried off with a small towel. Then the phone rang at his beside. He wondered who it could be at that time of night.

     He went over to his bed, sat on it, and answered the phone.

     Before he could say “hello” a voice interrupted. “John,” it said and he recognized it as his mother’s. “Have you spoken with your father lately?”

     “No, Mom,” he said. “Why are you asking?”

     “Because I can’t get a hold of him and don’t know where he is.”

     “Did you try Grandma’s?”

     “Yes. I talked to her, but she didn’t know where he was either. I also called Arch-Bishop Pitt, but he hasn’t heard anything either, or seen him; and you’d think that that would be the best place to look for him.”

     “Have you called the police? I don’t mean to sound disrespectful to Dad, but could he have gone out to drink?”

     “John, please don’t think of your father like that; and no, I haven’t called the police yet. Do you really think that I should?”

     “Yes, Mom. When in doubt take drastic measures.” This was another favorite saying of his father. He wondered where he could have gone. “Let Grandma know where you’re going to be in case she starts worrying too.”

     “Okay…”

     “Now I have to go, Mom. I need to get ready for tomorrow.”

     “Don’t worry, John. I won’t let this bother you and your lecture…”

     “Do you want me to come out there?”

     “You don’t have to, John.”

     “I know, but I want to, even if I can’t be of much help.”

     “If you think you want to, honey.”

     “Okay, see you out there.” He hung up and got his shoes back on. He needed the extra time away from Kate and the campus, needed to get more fresh air. Who knew, maybe he would finally get the chance to talk with his father about the proposal. It was going to be the only chance he got so far. If he waited for tomorrow his father might no even be found and if he is he won’t want to talk about anything else but the lecture and his future (his future in mind for his son having little to do with marriage).

     He grabbed his coat off the hanger in the closet and donned it on, zipping it up for he noticed it had started to get chilly when he was out walking alone.

     When he reached for the doorknob there was a knock. He recognized that knock anywhere. It wasn’t his roommate’s, not Grant’s, so it had to be…

     He opened the door and saw Kate standing there with her coat on as well.

     “Kate,” said Campbell. “What are you doing here? It’s 9:30 something. Shouldn’t you be working on your…”

     “Save it, John,” she said rather hostilely, but there was a hint of sarcasm in her voice. “I came to ask you something.”

     “I’m sorry, Kate,” Campbell interrupted. “My father is missing. Mom can’t find him anywhere. He’s not even with the Bishop up at the Cathedral and I’m worried.”

     “Did your mother call…”

     “The police? Yeah.”

     “Let me come with you then,” she insisted, coming closer to him and placing her hands on his chest in an intimate gesture. “Let me help you any way I can, please.”

     At that moment Campbell knew that Kate was having problems much like he was. Something was definitely bothering her, but he wouldn’t know what it was. He had never seen her this way before. She was such a strong individual that he had seldom seen her in any distressful mood. Either she was quickly coping with whatever it was, or she was blowing it in someone else’s if someone was giving her trouble or messing with her.

     “Alright,” he said, grabbing her hand and leading her down the hall.

     They passed a specific door and Kate let go, stopping in her tracks.

     “Wait,” she said. “I’ll get my brother.”

     “He’s probably sleeping.”

     “Grant? Honestly.”

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