Read an Excerpt
“I’m sorry, sir,” the dispatcher said in a professionally patient voice, “but we never release the home phone numbers or duty schedules of our officers. If you’d like to leave a message, I’ll be happy to transfer you to his voice mail.”
“But I’ve already done that, many—” Patrick Bergéone started to say in an exasperated voice, then shook his head. “Yes, please.”
Bergéone waited for the automated message system to wind through its routine, then spoke carefully into the mouthpiece.
“Hello? Detective-Sergeant Colin Cellars? This is Patrick Bergéone calling once again, and I am hoping you will be able to call me back very soon. It is most important that I speak with you. It is Saturday now, and the time is” — he glanced down at his wristwatch — “almost ten o’clock in the morning. I am here in Jasper Springs, at the Wind Shelter Lodge. Please call me here, or on my cell phone, as soon as you can.”
He recited the phone numbers, hung up the phone, then turned his attention back to the screen of the small television on his motel-room dresser.
It had been threatening rain all morning, and the predictions were getting worse. Four to five inches now, with plenty of thunder and lightning to make things interesting, according to the weatherman, who stood next to a wall-size satellite map with a glum look on his face. The colorful graphics showed why. Another massive cold front dropping down fast out of British Columbia, bringing with it a typical Canadian mix of sleet, snow, and negative temperatures. Within twenty-four to thirty-six hours, according to the weatherman, the rain- and ground-water would start turning into ice and slush, thereby making life miserable for anyone unfortunate enough to be out on the roadways.
Bergéone got up from the thinly padded motel-room chair, pulled back the drapes to stare out at the darkening thunderheads, sighed deeply, then went back to his chair. He used the remote to scan through the available channels, finally settling on an old black-and-white Western.
By 10:30 a.m., the sidewalks around the small town of Jasper Springs, Oregon, were almost completely deserted as the local residents remained indoors, waiting patiently for the predicted downpour to begin.
At 11:00 a.m., the winds began to pick up ... and by 11:15, the ionic concentrations in the air had become more noticeable.
But still no rain ... and still no response from Detective-Sergeant Cellars.
Finally, around 11:30, when he could no longer tolerate the movie’s stilted dialogue, or his persistently silent telephone, Patrick Bergéone grabbed his raincoat and headed for the door. There was always the chance that the United States weathermen were no better at predicting the weather than their European counterparts.
Thus, when deluge finally did begin, a few minutes before noon, the sudden pressure drop was almost jarring.
Bergéone was several blocks away from his motel, crossing in front of a dark, gloomy, single-story building bearing an old, hand-painted wooden sign that read THE LONG SHOT SALOON when he felt the air go still.
He ducked under an awning just as heavy raindrops began to descend. As the intensity of the rainfall increased, Bergéone realized his light raincoat was completely inadequate. He would never get back to his motel room without being thoroughly drenched. So he looked around at his available options, and decided that a saloon — even a dark and gloomy one — might be an excellent place to wait out the storm.
He saw them as soon as he stepped through the open doorway: three rough-looking, knife-scarred, and moderately sober Native Americans with dark eyes, shoulder-length black hair, and reddish bronze skin. They were huddled together around a crude table fashioned from an overturned fiber-optic cable spool in the darkened corner opposite the six-stool bar.
Finding himself in a potentially dangerous situation was not a new experience. As an aggressive French photojournalist who traveled all over the world on his assignments, such occurrences had long since become a way of life. Which meant he was always prepared to make a quick and discreet exit ... ideally before he became the focus of attention.
But the three men in the corner barely glanced in his direction. And the rain was coming down even harder now, which narrowed his options considerably. An investigative reporter on the TV set over the bar was describing the first in a mysterious series of cathedral desecrations in the Loire Valley of France. So he walked in, sat at the barstool farthest from the open doorway — which turned out to be the one closest to their table — ordered a beer, and made a halfhearted effort to focus his attention on the familiar images.
Which was how he happened to be close enough to hear those first intriguing words.
I won’t take you there.
To Bergéone, who’d had few contacts with Native Americans over the course of his travels in the US, the two younger men looked like they might have been in their mid-twenties. And the older one, who wore a faded headband over his tied-back locks, could have been forty or even sixty. He really couldn’t tell. Nor did he have any idea as to their possible tribal origins, much less of their current problems in life.
It was an unfortunate gap in his knowledge of American history and culture that Patrick Bergéone would later regret. For had he spent a little more time researching the history of Jasper County, Oregon, Bergéone might have immediately recognized the obsidian amulets around the necks of these three men as being characteristic of a small and isolated tribe of Native Americans known as the Ah-Ree-Ban-Coo-Taks.
Or, more simply, the Bancoos.
And that being the case, he might have recalled the recent series of local newspaper articles describing, in some detail, the suspicious circumstances surrounding the disappearance of a young Bancoo woman named Cascadia. A young woman who, according to the reporter, had been the last purebred, fertile, and unmarried female of the tribe ... or, at least, the last one willing to acknowledge her reproductive status and Bancoo ancestry.
Which, in turn, might have caused him to remember the reporter’s vivid description of the seething hatred the few remaining Bancoo men held for their white brethren. That is, the “thieving, bastard white-eyes” who’d been luring their women away for generations with whispered dreams of fancy clothes and pretty jewelry ... and now, with even more tempting promises of VCRs, shopping malls, and maid service. Thus setting the stage for the rapidly impending demise of the Bancoo tribe.
Had he known all that, and had there been no other factors involved, Bergéone would simply have relocated to a more distant stool without a second thought. Or, better still, to an even more distant table on the other side of the bar, thereby allowing the din of the incessant downpour to completely mask all traces of what was intended to be a private conversation.
But there were other factors involved.
First, and foremost, he had come to Oregon in search of stories about the lesser-known haunts of the American West that he would sell to a small, select cadre of well-paying European magazines. Stories about rumored wilderness hideaways where creatures from other worlds supposedly came together for purposes too chilling and gruesome to imagine. Such was the international reputation of southern Oregon. Or, at least, among the devoted fans of such nonsense. Which explained why there existed a small, select cadre of European magazine publishers who were perfectly willing to advance funds to satisfy the cravings of their insatiable readers. And if the rumors he’d heard about Detective-Sergeant Colin Cellars of the Oregon State Patrol were even partially true, he stood to make a small fortune.
Secondly, he was taking advantage of this publisher-paid trip to follow up on an even more intriguing story that might pay off equally well ... if the much-better-funded investigative reporters from France2 and the German Broadcasting Corporation didn’t get there first.
But most importantly, the slurred words of these three men were simply too intriguing to ignore. Accordingly, he remained in place, sipping his beer and staring out the open doorway at the torrential rain as he tried to block out the sounds of the tin roof and the water pouring off the overwhelmed gutters. His ears were tuned to their voices, listening for the words that had first caught his attention.
I’m telling you, it’s a terrible place. An evil place. I won’t take you there.
There were other things being said now, most of it sounding like native slang mixed in with distinctly Anglo curses. But those eight slurred words continued to stand out from all the others. Eight words that the older one insistently muttered over and over.
An evil place. I won’t take you there.
Finally, and in the face of every cautionary instinct he possessed, Bergéone decided to approach these men. The problem was how to do it safely.
The bartender provided the opportunity.
“That’s sacrilegious,” the beefy man muttered in response to a close-up image of freshly sheared stone where an ancient gargoyle had once stared outward with fearsome — and supposedly protective — eyes from the eight-hundred-year-old north wall of the Chartres Cathedral. An inset in the upper right-hand corner showed what the missing gargoyle had looked like. The investigative reporter was speculating how the thief could have scaled the high wall, and then gotten away without detection. Truly a fascinating mystery.
Bergéone suddenly realized that the bartender was speaking to him. “Pardon?”
“Eight cathedrals desecrated,” the bartender muttered, polishing shot glasses with the white towel tucked under his apron as he stared up at the TV. “How can a person do something like that, and live with themselves?”
“Many more than eight, I’m afraid,” Bergéone replied.
“What?” The bartender stopped polishing the glass in his hand and turned away from the TV to stare at the newcomer.
“It has been going on for six months now,” Bergéone said. “In France, in Germany, and now in the US, too, I’m told. Gargoyles broken off of Gothic structures. Icons and statues chipped or wrenched loose from walls and altars. Even a thousand-year-old statue of the Mother herself stolen from the Loire, of all places.”
“Are you saying it’s the same people that’s doing this ... all over the world?” The bartender looked incredulous.
“Perhaps ... or maybe just opportunistic thieves, how do you say it, copycatting each other?” Bergéone suggested.
“Probably for the money such a relic would bring in the underground markets. Or perhaps just for a personal trophy. Who can say?” Bergéone brought his shoulders up in a Gallic shrug.
“A terrible thing,” the bartender muttered.
“And I’m even told such things have happened to the religious sites of your Native Americans,” Bergéone suggested cautiously.
“Really? Where did you hear that?” The bartender looked curious.
“It is something I am researching ... for a story,” Bergéone explained. He made a quick gesture over his shoulder. “Do you think those men would know anything about such happenings?”
“Who, those three?” The bartender gave them a brief, reappraising glance. “I doubt it.”