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Izzy Kline said to Shiva, "Today, she hopped in her Beamer and drove across the Everglades to Sanibel Island. She's got a couple of friends there, so it could be she's looking for help: a marine biologist named Ford, and someone whose name you might recognize."
Shiva was wearing sandals and a Seminole medicine jacket, rag-patched, rainbow reds, greens, yellows, belted around his waist like a bathrobe. Shiva's hair was cut Shawnee style: a fifty-six-year-old male, born to a Canadian mother in Bombay, India-indifferent to the irony.
He was standing in a bedroom that was larger than some of the West Palm Beach homes he could see across the Intracoastal canal through the western window of his beach compound.
In the bedroom was a Buddha-shaped bed with canopy, a gymnasium with sauna, a meditation corner, an office with computers and security monitors. The place was done in white tile and teak, all decorations in gold except for several wooden figurines on the walls. There was a carving of an impressionistic cat, several masks with horrific faces and two rare Seminole totemic masks.
The carvings had been added within the last two years.
Shiva said to Izzy, "I haven't seen or talked to you in a month. So why do you show up now, bothering me with this garbage?"
"It seemed important. She doesn't believe her husband's dead. I already told you."
"You've been working for me for-what?-ten, twelve years. You know I hate details-as if I have the time. I don't care about this woman."
"Details-Jesus Christ, are you kidding? If she finds out the truth about what happened to Geoff Minster, say good-bye to your casinos and your development. Three tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, explosives grade. Does that ring a bell? It's my nuts in the wringer."
Shiva looked impatiently at the Cartier watch he wore on his left wrist. "You need to leave. I have a massage scheduled in a few minutes. There's a new girl among the disciples-with a nice body for a change. I don't want you interrupting."
Izzy Kline: Lean, gaunt-cheeked, with a scar below his right eye, dimples and a dimpled chin-a ladies' man. Ex-Israeli Army, he'd trained with the Mossad, chosen to leave his adopted country rather than face morals charges, returned to America and been hired as security manager by a controversial religious leader, Bhagwan Shiva, founder of the International Church of Ashram Meditation, Inc.
Shiva had established his first church west of Miami Lakes, the palmetto country between Okeechobee Road and Opa Locka, edge of the Everglades. This was back before he'd changed his name from Jerry Singh. He'd started with forty-some disciples, mostly dropouts and runaways who'd craved the discipline, and liked wearing robes and growing their own food.
When he'd had cash, he'd bought land. He'd bought a lot of it west of Miami. Cheap swampland.
Eighteen years later, Shiva now had a quarter million followers worldwide, and one hundred twenty Church of Ashram Centers, mostly in the U.S., Great Britain and Europe, though the numbers were declining. In the last five years, his organization had been crippled by lawsuits, IRS investigations and aggressive TV, magazine and newspaper exposÈs.
He'd been described as the "wizard of religion" because of elaborate miracles staged before thousands. He'd been called the "rich man's prophet," and an incarnate "sex guru."
Kline didn't believe Shiva was an incarnate anything; he knew him too well to fall for his holy man act. Izzy was the only person in the organization who spoke frankly to Shiva. As a result, he was the only man Shiva could be open with, behave naturally around-and who also scared him a little.
Izzy knew everything.
Shiva sighed and said, "Okay, okay, so why should we be worried about her two friends on some island? Where'd you say she went?"
Izzy said, "She sent her cousin an e-mail, said she's driving to Sanibel today."
"An e-mail. You have access to her computer? Or did you break into her house?"
Izzy had broken into her house. Several times; twice in the last week. He enjoyed going through her drawers. He'd found a couple of fun items hidden away. But he said, "No. I hacked her password. The one friend she's going to see, I think you've probably heard about. Which's why I'm telling you. A guy named Sighurdhr Tomlinson. Or Sea-guard, I'm not sure how you pronounce it."
"Sighurdhr Tomlinson," Shiva said, considering it, but not giving it his full attention. "The name sounds familiar."
"Remember Miami River, the archaeological site where you tried to build the condo complex? That group of protesters who futzed it? Eco-freaks, all the shitty PR they caused. How many millions'd we lose on that one?"
Shiva was nodding now. "Okay, yes, I know who you mean. He was with the protestors, one of the leaders. I remember one of my advisors telling me-not you-that he was a kook. Like most of them. A heavy drug user. That's the information I got."
Izzy said, "Really? That's all? There's more. You know me, I'm a fanatic when it comes to background checks."
Shiva said, "I don't think I'm interested."
Izzy said, "I think you should be."
"Why? I don't see the point."
"Because what I found out about this guy is kind of interesting. For instance: Fifteen, twenty years ago, he was implicated in a terrorist bombing at a U.S. naval base. Killed a couple of people."
That got Shiva's attention. "Really. A bombing. Hum-m-m-m." Thinking about it, how the information could be used.
"Yeah, but he skated. The feds didn't nail 'im. I'm not sure why yet. I'm still working on that. There had to be a reason."
"But there's a record?"
"Not official, but it's there if you dig deep enough."
"Is there anything for him to find out about Geoff?"
"Maybe. I don't know if the guy was being straight with us or not. It's possible he hid away some papers. Or maybe he had a secret friend. Who knows? What I'm saying is, we're both screwed if his wife figures out what really happened."
Izzy was standing at the bedroom's east window, looking over the tops of coconut palms, out onto the Atlantic. Seeing jade sea bottom beyond the beach, and a border of purple water way out where a couple of oceangoing freighters moved like long slabs of concrete, floating: the Gulf Stream.
Beneath Izzy, parked on the blue tile drive, were two Rolls-Royces: a 1923 Silver Ghost, and a '31 Landaulette, painted racing green. Shiva loved them; collected them. Maybe because he was born upper caste, in India, British-made cars seemed to represent something. Izzy wasn't sure what.
Less than five years ago, Shiva had owned twenty-three Rollses. But he'd been selling them off-Izzy was one of the few who knew about it-plus some property, some businesses, to augment the organization's sagging cash flow.
His church was in trouble, and the guy was desperate. Izzy knew that, too.
Something else Izzy had realized after all these years with Shiva: All religion was bullshit. Religion was nothing more than legend manipulated by carefully staged illusions.
It was his personal water-into-wine theory.
Shiva said, "His wife, the attractive blonde-what's her name?"
"Sally. Yeah, she's a looker."
"Has Sally ever met you? Does she know who you are?"
"What about Tomlinson?"
"Okay, they're old friends. That's what you said. Sometimes old friends, a man and a woman, they just run off and disappear."
Kline knew what Shiva meant by "disappear." Shiva had paid him bonuses to do it before, and he'd actually kind of enjoyed himself the one time it was a woman. But something about the way Shiva said it now irked him-like it was no big deal; grunt work any idiot could pull off.
Izzy called Shiva by his real name on those occasions when he wanted to underscore the fact that he didn't much give a damn about the man's religious act, or who paid his salary. He used the name now, saying, "Brilliant, Jerry. But she's going to visit two guys, not just one. So maybe what you can do is perform another one of your miracles. Snap your fingers, make all three of them disappear. How's that sound?"
Shiva ignored the sarcasm. "This hippie, even if she does try to get him involved-someone like him? I don't see the problem. So tell me about the second guy."
"He's a marine biologist named Ford. Marion D. Ford. Lives on Sanibel Island at a place called Dinkin's Bay Marina. Same place as Tomlinson. Ford sells marine specimens."
"Um-huh. Like to colleges and labs. For research, that sort of thing."
Shiva waited through a few beats of silence, before he said, "That's it? Your background check didn't turn up anything else -"
There was a polite knock at the door. Shiva paused, checked his watch again. Time for his massage. He said, "Leave now. The women are here."
Kline said, "Exactly my point. With all the data banks and my resources, that's all there was: where Ford lives, the name of his company, where he graduated from college, some research papers. They play in some baseball league. Nothing else.
"The guy's alive, he exists, but never really lived. He's like an empty body walking."
Shiva smiled, then began to laugh, waving Izzy toward the door, "Baseball. A children's game. You're wasting my time for this? If a biologist and some pothead worry you, maybe you've been in the business too long. Get out of here. We'll talk again when I'm through."
Izzy was remembering a maxim he'd learned at the Mossad training complex in the suburbs of Tel Aviv-Beware the man without a past-as he considered saying to Bhagwan Shiva, You really don't get it, do you?
Not that he was concerned about a man he'd never met, or the woman, or anyone else. It was Shiva's attitude that bothered him, the indifference. Like he was really beginning to believe the lie he'd been telling followers for years: I am the truth, and the truth is invincible.
Izzy walked toward the door, thinking, You're not invincible, asshole. And you're not taking me down with you....
--from Everglades by Randy Wayne White, copyright © 2003 Randy Wayne White, published by G.P. Putnam's Sons, a member of the Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.
Posted August 4, 2009
I enjoy the Doc Ford character. The descriptions of places in Florida and the places he travels takes me on a vicarious vacation. He's an honest character with flaws. I will keep on reading Randy Wayne White.
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If this clan really is on everyday i wanna join also i want the kit and i will only join if i cn hve the kit my name is fireflower im a pretty silver shecat
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Posted June 6, 2012
Hi my name is everpaw i am a gray an white tabby she cat with green eyes. I know about medicine from past clans but if u already have a med cat apprentice i can be a warrior cuz im good at hunting and im here everyday!
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