Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Prophet of the Sun Chapter 4

Welcome back for this next installment. For those of you just joining us who wish to catch up on backstory, here is a link to the Table of Contents.

Chapter Four

The Pharoah examined the row of statues he had commissioned, each one larger than life and elegantly carved of dark black rock. They were identical: a seated woman with a lion’s head topped with a disk. Her eyes looked serene, yet the black rock emanated ferocity -- like charcoal concealing embers underneath. Pharoah reached his hand toward a statue, not touching it. A man in a headdress quietly slipped beside him. “Over three hundred more, just like these, have been ordered.” he said “They are fine works; a glorious offering for Sekhmet.”

“Double it,” came Pharoah’s curt reply, “We must honor her lest she visit us again.” Pharoah’s belly fluttered. The stories told that Sekhmet had almost devoured all the inhabitants of Earth … and she was the expression of the wrath of Ra. The horrors unleashed upon the land could only have been expressions of her displeasure. He had to restore ma’at, the balance of harmony, to the land. It was his destiny.

The man in the headdress held his silence. Pharoah turned to face him “What else have you to show me, Amenhotep?”

Amenhotep led Pharaoh to his work table, scattered with scrolls, writing instruments, measuring tools, and inkpots. He gently moved the inkpots to the side and unrolled one great papyrus scrolls. “The plans for your great temple, my lord. See, this will be greater than the temples of your predecessors. The entrance is flanked by two colossal statues of you enthroned as king of the united kingdoms. We shall call it ‘The House of Millions of Years.’” He paused to let the flattering title sink in. “We’ll work gold all throughout the complex. Here is the sanctuary. We’ll purify the floors with silver – for here you will be worshipped in perpetuity. We will build it on the other side of the river, near the tombs of the kings.” Pharoah examined the plans and nodded “Well done… Well done, Amenhotep. You surpass my greatest expectations. How long will it take to complete.”

“I’m not sure, my lord. The master craftsmen are working on estimates for supplies – We will need timber, and our supplies are low due to the rebuilding work in the lower kingdom. The repairs there are costly, my lord.”

Pharoah’s face was a blank mask – the official face that he used when receiving dignitaries in court or in negotiating the complex agendas of his courtiers and officers. Finally he spoke “Can we ever recover our glory?”

Amenhotep nodded, “Yes, my lord, you will only be remembered for glory – glory and your dedication to the gods.” Pharoah stood unmoving. Amenhotep broke the prolonged silence, “You were tutored in the secrets just as I have been. Your great-grandfather, Thutmosis Menkheperre, erased the memory of the greatest shame the two kingdoms has ever seen – the witch Hatshepsut is remembered only by a few who must know, lest we repeat the errors of history. The past is as fluid as the future – no shame cannot be undone. By your decree, you will erase this shame.”

Pharoah had turned back to look at the statues in the middle of Amenhotep’s speech. “Hatshepsut…” he mused aloud, “Yes, you are right, we can learn from the past.” Pharaoh seemed lost in thought when a linen dressed man with a shaved head came into the room. He stood by the door quietly for a long time. Amenhotep coughed quietly. Pharoah broke from his thoughts. Amenhotep slightly inclined his head in the direction of the waiting messenger. “Come…speak” Said pharaoh in his official voice.

“My lord,” said the messenger, “Ramose is here, and he is prepared to present the reports for the day.”

“Send for him.” The messenger turned to depart, but already, the entourage had arrived. Led first by a man dressed in linen, head shaved and eyes decorated. He strode with purpose, a man accustomed to command. He was escorted by a retinue of clerks carrying scrolls, writing instruments, and papyri.

“Ramose, I read your proposal for a second Heb Sed festival – it has great merit.”

Amenhotep’s eyebrows arched slightly, a sign of great surprise for him. “My lord, it is quite unusual to have a festival of rejuvenation so soon after your last one. It is against custom.”

“’The past is fluid’, you said. Ramose has proposed an entirely different festival – an aquatic festival.” A smile flickered across Ramose’s face. “We live in times that defy custom, so let us have a second Heb Sed, even a third if must be – we must restore the confidence of the people.” Amenhotep bowed his head slightly in acceptance of Pharoah’s wishes. “Ramose, see to it that Amenhotep has a full report on our timber supplies and funds available for construction.”

Ramose gestured to one of the clerks who began to write on a scroll. “Also, search the records of Hatshepsut. I remember in my studies reading of a festival of Sekhmet – there was much drink and dancing and feasting among the people. See if we can include such celebrations as part of this aquatic Heb Sed.”

Ramose gestured to a second scribe, who left the room immediately. “My lord, such measures will be very expensive.”

Pharoah turned to his two advisors “By my decree, I will erase this shame.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Calvin awoke to the sound of the telephone. It was mid morning. “Calvin, I didn’t wake you, did I?” came the voice from the other end – Judge Hamilton, an old family friend and Federal Judge on the Atlanta circuit court.

“No, not at all” Calvin replied, with the raspy just awakened voice that made him sound like Elmer Fudd.

“Son, I just thought you needed to know this. I’m not sure what it means, but whatever it is, it’s not good.”

“OK, what is it?”

“Calvin, I was talking with your mother about your conversation with the Sheriff’s deputies. She was upset; it sounds like this Parrish fellow really was hostile toward you. I thought I’d give a call to the Sheriff just to check in. Ethically, I can’t interfere, mind you, but I thought I could reassure him about your character….” His voice dropped off.

“Thank you, sir. Was there something the matter?”

“There is no deputy Parrish nor is there a deputy Collins. There’s no investigation. This was the first that Sheriff Hollister had heard that John Carter was missing.”

     

Calvin and Judge Hamilton talked for a few minutes. Judge Hamilton reassured Calvin that he was going to talk to John’s parents. Calvin was befuddled. He drove to Biscuit Barn to get a fried chicken biscuit for breakfast. Sitting in the front seat of his car, he chewed mindlessly. His head felt light, as though the insides were filled with sticky helium that clouded his thinking. He turned the ignition and drove without aim, turning thoughts over in his brain, hiking the same paths, unable to leave worn spots that his mind had thoroughly covered. He became aware of his surroundings, realizing that on instinct, he had driven half-way to John’s house. Perhaps I can get some clarity of mind there. He continued on.

Pulling in the driveway, he saw no other cars. He got out, walked the steps, crossed the wide wooden porch, and tried the handle. Not locked. The door creaked as he opened the door. Stale air met him, begging him to throw open the windows. His fingers tingled, a slight whine rang in his ears, and his heart thumped as though he were entering a mausoleum at midnight. Try as he might, he couldn’t control his breathing. He gulped deep breaths, making more noise than he intended.

Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes and exhaled slowly. Nothing to be afraid of – he thought -- it’s the middle of the day. This calmed him somewhat.

A glance about the foyer showed no change. On a hunch, Calvin ascended the stairs, drawn to the upstairs library. The banister felt cool to his palm as he gently ascended up the center carpet runner. At the top of the landing he turned the corner and stood in the doorway to the library.
Books lay scattered across the room. The totem pole that had seemed so solemn before had been knocked over and cracked open to reveal a hollow chamber – fifty-dollar bills scattered all around, and a portfolio file with all the papers dumped out. The cushions of all the couches had been torn open. The desk drawers were emptied out onto the floor. The only thing untouched was the green plaster face of the leaf man, his lips pursed as though ready to bellow forth “There is no deputy Parrish”. Calvin stood still. His mouth dried. He was in way over his head.

Slowly he stooped down and gathered the scattered papers: copies of John’s passport, copies of newspaper articles from the New York World dated in the 1870s, a diagram of what looked to be a tunnel network underneath a building, a printout of an old photograph of a portly serious looking man in a suit. Underneath the papers lay a small green book, small enough to slip into a coat pocket. In gold lettering on the cover was the title “The Circle of the Green Man” and beneath these words, a small image of a man’s face emerging from leaves. Calvin looked to the plaster face on the wall. They were identical. The hair on his arms and back tingled. He’s mixed up with these nut-jobs? He’s in deep. He folded the papers inside the cover of the book and stuffed them in the back pocket of his jeans.

A car door slammed.

Calvin’s heart lurched. For one moment he stood unsure what to do. By instinct, he ducked through to the front hallway and into the guest bedroom. Struggling to control his breath, Calvin peeked through the shade of the window looking out over the front yard, taking care not to cause it to move. A nondescript maroon car had pulled up next to his. A man knelt down behind his car, while another man was coming out of the driver’s side of this new vehicle. Calvin recognized the driver as deputy-who-wasn’t-deputy Collins. The man behind his car stood up – it was Parrish, holding a wicked looking bowie knife. Calvin could see that the visible rear tire on his car was deflated. Parrish pointed two fingers toward the house; Collins reached behind his back, pulling something from what appeared to be his beltloop. He brought it around front quickly and jerked his hand back and forth once over top of it. Parrish walked in front of Calvin’s car, knife still in hand while Collins slowly moved up the steps to the front porch. A quiet Clomp….. Clomp sounded from the front porch.

Calvin pulled back from the window. He gulped air over his dry tongue…Are they looking for me? Or just back to tear up more of the house? Whatever the answer, Collins and Parrish looked to be in no mood for answering questions. Quick as he could, He went back into the upstairs hallway, plastered his back against the wall, and peered around the corner of the landing to see the entrance foyer. The front door creaked open. He saw the nose of Collins’ pistol come through the door, followed by his arm. Calvin pulled back two steps out of view. He took a quick look at the four doors behind him: the guest bedroom, John’s bedroom, the bathroom, and the library. Only one had an exit to the back stairs down to the kitchen – the library.

Calvin reached around and locked the handle of the guest bedroom from within. He quietly pulled that door shut. He did the same on John’s bedroom. All the while his ears were tuned to the slightest sound coming from the foyer. Collins’ cowboy boots made a gentle tap tap tap on the tile. He was moving slowly and deliberately down there. He hadn’t made it to the carpeted staircase. What if he doesn’t come up the stairs? – if Collins went to the kitchen and came up the back stairs, Calvin would be trapped. Calvin went back to the edge of the landing and peered down. Collins was almost immediately below him looking into the dining room. Calvin’s mind raced – out of the corner of his eye, he saw the Windsor chair and lampstand sitting in the middle of the landing. I sure hope this works.

As Collins poked his way into the dining room, Calvin picked up the Windsor chair, lifted it aloft, and hurtled it flying down at Collin’s back. He didn’t know if he hit his mark, for Calvin was back up the hallway when he heard it crash and Collins cry out with a string of expletives. Calvin heard Collins’ boots clap clapping across the tile and the first thump of him hitting the stairs. Calvin pulled the library door shut and locked it. I hope those other closed doors throw him for a second. Calvin was at the far end of the library when he heard a sound like muffled thunder once, and then a second time with a bang. Collins had just burst into one of the upstairs bedrooms. Calvin flew down the stairs to the kitchen. He searched for anything he could use to defend himself. The kitchen mocked him with it’s sterility: steel appliances, unused copper plated kettles hanging from a rack from the ceiling, the all too neat countertop, sporting a few empty flour and sugar jars and a butcher block with kitchen knives. He grabbed the big center chopping knife.

A muffled bang sounded upstairs.

Heart pounding, he took a deep breath, ready to run out the back door and take his chances with Parrish. Suddenly his eyes caught a wooden billholder and keychain rack – truck keys still hanging from the pegs.

A thunderclap came from the library upstairs, as Collins burst through the locked door.
Calvin grabbed the keys and flung open the garage door. Dashing down the steps, he knocked over a shovel. He fumbled with the keys of John Carter’s heavy pickup for a moment, panicking as he heard boots clattering down the stairs to the kitchen. He got the door open and vaulted in, slamming the key in the ignition, turning it and throwing the truck into drive all in one neat seamless motion. As he crushed his right foot down as far as he could, he heard the deafening squeal of tires. Collins appeared in the doorway and leveled his gun.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Parrish waited in the sun, unmoving. The crash from within the house set all his senses on high alert. He heard Collins cussing and smashing about the house. For a moment, he wondered if he should go in. No, that idiot’ll drive whoever’s in there straight to me. He walked to the center of the yard, eyes cutting from right to left to see if a figure came around the corner. He heard more crashes within the house. Parrish rolled his eyes. He startled when he heard a roar from the garage, followed closely by a high squeal. Before he could move, the door blew outward, splintering as an oversize mud splattered pickup truck came barreling toward him. Shots fired from inside the garage. Behind the wheel of the truck he saw the adrenaline crazed face of the driver. Poteat! Parrish dove to the side just as Calvin swerved to avoid him. He hit the ground with a hard thud, knocking the wind out of him, while the truck swerved around the parked cars to head for the main road. Within a few seconds, the truck was gone.

Collins was beside Parrish, and kneeling down to help him up. “C’mon, we can catch him.”

Parrish coughed as he stood. “No. We know that he’s got to go home. We’ll catch him there sooner or later. You drive, I’ll check in.”

“He’s not going to be happy.”

“I know, we didn’t find the diary or anything we didn’t already know. And now Poteat knows more than he ought to.”

Collins looked worried. “This is getting complicated – I wonder why they didn’t hire professionals to do this?”

Parrish burned. “They don’t need professionals!” he snapped, “I can handle this better than any of your so-called professionals.” He glowered for a moment, and then, getting hold of himself, he began to lecture: “The Green Man teaches that when your mind is cleansed, you have more insight than the unenlightened,” Collins looked like a child being chastised by a teacher. “Don’t ever forget that we’re smarter and better because we’re initiated into the mysteries of the natural rhythms of the universe.”

Collins didn’t say it, but he thought that Poteat had an easy time escaping for someone who wasn’t initiated into the mysteries of the natural rhythms of the universe. He also began to suspect that this adventure might take more vacation time than he’d allotted for. He’d have to call his secretary and get her to cancel some appointments, after he had a clearer idea of how long this would take.