by Neil W. Flanzraich


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781491849521
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 02/21/2014
Pages: 420
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.93(d)

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By Neil W. Flanzraich


Copyright © 2014 Neil W. Flanzraich
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4918-4952-1


First Day of School—The Fair

On a cold afternoon in early September, with the sky gray, and sullen, Jason Phillips stood on a grassy rise that overlooked the athletic field that served as the site for the Laurel Glen High School fair.

Phillips, a new teacher at the school, was six feet tall and handsome, with piercing brown eyes, a square jaw, and a lean, athletic frame. Anyone guessing his age would have placed him in his early forties, and indeed his dark brown hair was free of gray and his face largely unlined. He wore a brown tweed jacket, a pale blue shirt and tie, dark brown slacks, and matching wingtips. On his left wrist was an antique Rolex watch, with a round pale yellow face and brown leather band.

Phillips's outfit was appropriate for an ordinary day in September, but this day was anything but ordinary. A cold wind ripped loose anything that wasn't tied down and colored the faces of those who were outdoors, including Phillips's. His cheeks and nose, ordinarily on the pale side, were ruddy and raw.

Laurel Glen was a private high school located in Golden Gables, Maryland, an affluent suburb of Washington, DC. One hundred and twenty five years old, it had an excellent reputation as a college preparatory school. The campus was dominated by the ivy-covered Laurel building. Built in the Victorian Gothic style, it was named for the school's benefactor, Rutherford Laurel, who made a fortune in shipping and banking. Most classes were held in the Laurel building and its two modern wings, which had been added to the nineteenth century structure.

Some seventy-five yards in front of the Laurel building was a small, man-made lake. To the right of the lake was a three-story red-brick building where the library, cafeteria, and student center were located. The building, known simply as the student center, was accented on the right-front corner by an octagonal glass turret that served as a large sunroom and café. To the left of the lake was a modern gymnasium, and behind the gym was another old gray Gothic building that served as the dormitory for the residential students.

At the front of the campus stood a large Victorian house. Known throughout the campus community as the Betsy Building, or simply the Betsy, it was named for Laurel's wife. Once the home of Rutherford and his family, the Betsy now housed the school's administration. The Laurel building and the Betsy served as the two poles of the campus, with the Betsy standing at the north end of the campus and the Laurel at the south. The athletic field, which that day was covered with booths and tables for the annual school fair, was located to the south of the Laurel building.

Thanks to the school's irregular topography, the main campus stood above the playing fields. In order to get from the campus to the fields below, one had to walk down a winding cobblestone path. Near the bottom of the path was a grassy rise, which was where Phillips stood.

It was the first day of the school year. The purpose of the fair was to introduce students to the wide variety of extracurricular activities the school offered and to allow the clubs to recruit new members. More than fifty tables and booths stood in a large rectangle. All the school clubs were represented, including those for math, chess, glee, debate, hiking, drama, and languages. Not to be outdone, the basketball, soccer, lacrosse, track, volleyball, and tennis teams had set up booths as well, though their presence served more as a reminder to the students that they were still the most important organizations at the school. The fair also gave students the chance to get to know one another and to meet their teachers in an informal setting.

"Hello, Dr. Phillips," Dorothy Van Doren called out, striding toward Phillips with an energetic, military gait. She was in her midfifties, of average height and well proportioned, if slightly cylindrical. Her hair was brown and, thanks to a recent visit to her stylist, free of gray. Her eyes were small and bright, her mouth turned up slightly at the edges, her face well-lined but firm. Dorothy Van Doren was the school's assistant headmistress, a post she had held for five years, as well as the school's primary teacher of European and American literature. She had taught those courses for twenty years. She was the key figure on the committee that had brought Phillips to Laurel Glen. She and her fellow committee members had interviewed him three times and felt certain of their choice, but Dorothy did acknowledge privately that he had an enigmatic bearing and was still very much a mystery.

Phillips was well qualified, to be sure. He had two PhDs, one in political science and another in the Greek classics. He had been teaching at Montgomery Community College in Rockville, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC, but said he had grown tired of teaching adult education and wanted to reach younger students.

As she approached him on the knoll, with occasional gusts of wind whipping his hair, she saw again his solitary and cautious nature, and felt the intimation of secrets in his deep-set eyes.

Involuntarily, a memory came to mind of her telephone call to one of the people Phillips had offered as a reference—Dr. William Clifford, a legendary professor of comparative religions at George Washington University. Clifford had been at George Washington for thirty years and was widely regarded as one of the preeminent religious scholars in America. He was also a moral force in academia, having been a leader in numerous causes, and was often invited to speak at conferences that featured the likes of the Dalai Lama, Elie Wiesel, and Thich Nhat Hanh. Dorothy was herself a graduate of George Washington University, and as an active alumna had known of Dr. Clifford for many years. She had even attended public lectures by the renowned professor.

The appearance of Dr. Clifford's name on Phillips's resume had caught Dorothy's eye during her cursory perusal of a tall stack of applications, causing her to pause. "Hello," she'd said out loud, though no one was in her office at the time. "Now who is this Mr. Phillips who has the temerity to invoke one of the academic gods as a reference?" She looked more carefully at Phillips's resume and then corrected herself. "Oh, I see, Doctor Phillips. Double Doctor Phillips. Hmmm."

She picked up the phone, called George Washington University, and was put through to Dr. William Clifford, who, much to her surprise, actually picked up the telephone.

She introduced herself and told Clifford of the purpose of her call. Instantly, the great man became enthusiastic.

"He's absolutely one of the most brilliant people I have ever met. Don't be put off by his private nature, Mrs. Van Doren. If you manage to land him, he'll be the best hire you'll ever make in your life."

"How do you know him, Dr. Clifford?" she asked.

"It's a rather curious story. He wrote a lengthy and brilliant critique of one of my books, The Goddess and the Origins of Religion. Now mind you, I get letters from colleagues and critics from all over the world. Most of them are potshots or chest thumping, if you want to know the truth of it. But what Jason Phillips wrote was beyond any doubt the most illuminating and inspiring piece of writing I had ever read on a subject that, to be honest, I know a thing or two about. With little effort, his letter could have been published as a major article in any relevant professional journal, including the Harvard Theological Review. But rather than publish his piece, which I dare say might have challenged me with its insight and erudition, he offered the piece to me 'with the hope that it might make some small contribution to your thinking.' That's a direct quote from his letter to me.

"Well, I had to meet this man," Clifford continued. "So I wrote him back immediately and asked him if he wouldn't like to meet and have a chat. He was at Montgomery Community College, just a thirty-minute drive from me. We met for dinner one night and had the most remarkable conversation. I'm too old to mince words, my dear, so I'll speak frankly. His knowledge of religion is vast—and I'm not exaggerating. He'd cite references to support a point, and he did it with such ease that it was as if he were reading them off his napkin. Also, he was able to relate religious subjects to physics, art, and archeology, as well as contemporary works of literature. You'd think that such a person would be arrogant and rather impossible to bear, but he was immensely humble, even understated, as if he was acknowledging that I already knew everything he was saying.

"We started meeting periodically over the course of about eighteen months. I showed him some of my work, which I was flattered to learn he had already read. I must admit that I picked his brain and he contributed generously to my thoughts on all kinds of subjects within my field."

Dr. Clifford's voice suddenly shifted from enthusiasm to intimacy, as if he were about to let Dorothy in on a secret.

"One thing I came to realize, Mrs. Van Doren. Jason never spoke about his personal life. Not a word. Nothing about a wife, children, parents, or where he might have grown up. Nothing. A couple of times, I tried to make gentle forays into his background, but he very politely put me off. I couldn't even get him to tell me how he had come to such a great knowledge of this field. Don't get me wrong, he went to good schools, but a man of his knowledge should be at the top of academic circles. I should have heard of him! No, no, he told me. The study of religion was just a hobby with him. He liked the subject, found it fascinating. I tried to get him to apply for a position at GW, but he wouldn't have it.

"Anyway, if you get him at your school, you've done a sight better than I did," Clifford said. "Believe me, you've got a real talent there."

Dorothy hung up the phone and released a long exhalation. "Wow," she said aloud. "That's about the highest praise I have ever heard, and from one of the preeminent figures in the world."

And so far, Clifford seemed right about everything, including the matter of privacy. Dorothy had done a thorough background check on Jason Phillips and found nothing but glowing reports everywhere he had worked or lived. He had no criminal record, not even a traffic ticket. His former employers sang his praises. He also had a history of volunteer work at community kitchens, homeless shelters, and as a tutor to adult students at the local community college.

During one of the hiring committee's interviews with Phillips, Dorothy asked him if he had ever been married. His curriculum vitae listed his marital status as single.

"Yes, quite a while ago," he said. His voice took on a lower note. "My wife died after a long struggle with cancer. We had no children and I decided afterwards that I was better off a bachelor."

"I'm sorry to hear that, Dr. Phillips," Dorothy said, and then returned to professional matters.

Now she was standing next to him on the grassy rise, with the wind gusting periodically like a hovering hawk.

"Thinking about making a foray into the mouth of hell?" she asked him, smiling.

Phillips returned the smile. "Oh, I've already charged the Cossacks, Mrs. Van Doren," he said, obviously catching her reference to Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade." "Just taking it all in from another perspective."

"Call me Dorothy," she replied, charmed by his response. "I think you'll find that we're an informal bunch around here ... at least most of us."

"Okay," Phillips said. "Then Jason, if you will."

"It's too bad about the weather," she said. "It's unseasonably cold this year. I've never seen anything like it, to be honest."

Phillips seemed pensive for a moment, as if the comment might mean more to him than Dorothy expected or intended.

"Yes," he said. "It is strange, no doubt about it."

They took a minute to survey the seven hundred or so student smilling about the field below them. Students wandered from booth to booth or gathered in cliques. Despite the heavier jackets and scarves demanded by the weather, each group was instantly recognizable. The cheerleaders and jocks—all of them blessed by nature with obvious beauty—occupied the center of the field, with the wannabes and the hangers-on orbiting the stars. The techno-geeks, spastic in their movements and ridiculous in their sudden outbursts of laughter, gathered around the table for the computer science and technology club. The intellectuals, many of them dressed as if they were ready for dinner at the Princeton club, raised their chins and spoke in rapid, breathy cadences, or stuffed their hands in their coat pockets and spoke through their scarves in faint imitation of Dylan and James Dean. Over near the trees were the Goths and vamps who, having rejected the entire scene, dressed in ripped jeans, layers of black tops, oversized coats, and black boots and found their inspiration in Edward Cullen and Bella of the Twilight series. And then there was the saddest group of all—the boys and girls who had no clique and no real home among the students. They wandered the grounds trying desperately to be invisible, and yet were conspicuous in their loneliness.

"They're a good bunch on the whole," Dorothy said. "Still, when I think about what's really going on down there, inside their hearts, I cannot help but feel terribly sympathetic for all the suffering at this age. High school is pure hell. All those cliques. Who's in this week, who's out the next. And then the suffering of those who are outcasts ... Well, it's Dante's nine circles, Dr. Phillips. Dante's nine circles."

She was curious if he would get that literary reference as well.

"Yes, I suppose it is," he said. "Actually, I was thinking of Hieronymus Bosch's triptych, The Garden of Earthly Delights."

Instantly, Dorothy called to mind the three-part masterpiece in which the fifteenth-century Dutch artist depicted the creation in one panel, an array of nudes engaged in sexual acts in the second and largest panel, and the suffering of hell in the third.

Phillips turned to her, and his smile revealed a shared sympathy for the torments of high school. "There's a lot of raging hormones and carnal fantasizing going on down there, Dorothy."

"So I see you've noticed Ronnie Urlacher too," she replied.

"The red-haired kid with the braces?" Phillips nodded in the direction of Urlacher.

"Yes, the one who is drooling over Mary Jane Wilson," Dorothy said. "She's a beautiful girl, but she hasn't got much self-esteem. I'm afraid a lot of the boys are trying to take advantage of her."

"Maybe I should go down there and save Ronnie from Dante's second circle," Phillips said.

Dorothy, a lover of Dante, knew that in the Inferno, Dante wrote that that circle of hell was reserved for people whose lives were governed by lust. So Phillips was two for two. Maybe he really was as good as Dr. Clifford said.

She laughed as Phillips started toward the fairgrounds and the lascivious Ronnie Urlacher. "You are an angel of mercy, Jason," she called after him. "But be careful down there. This is not junior college or adult education anymore, and I don't see Virgil at your side." In the Inferno, the Roman poet Virgil accompanied Dante during his journey through hell.

"'I am made by God,'" Phillips said back over his shoulder, quoting Dante, "'thanks be to Him, such that your misery toucheth me not, nor doth the flame of this burning assail me.'"


Excerpted from Geniuses by Neil W. Flanzraich. Copyright © 2014 Neil W. Flanzraich. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


The Past Is Prologue, xi,
Chapter 1 First Day of School—The Fair, 1,
Chapter 2 Ten Days Later, 17,
Chapter 3 Roger Reynolds in Westminster Abbey, 32,
Chapter 4 Roxanne and Rebecca Visit Western Council Headquarters, 44,
Chapter 5 Alexander Astrakhan, 57,
Chapter 6 Roxanne's Evening Phone Calls, 71,
Chapter 7 Roger's Team, 79,
Chapter 8 Jason Phillips's Morning and Roxanne's Morning, 98,
Chapter 9 A Day at School, 109,
Chapter 10 The Basketball Game, Roxanne's Date with George, 121,
Chapter 11 Rebecca's Story, Meeting Roger, 134,
Chapter 12 Rebecca and Roxanne Have Dinner with Alexander Astrakhan, 140,
Chapter 13 Roxanne's Date with Andor, 152,
Chapter 14 Karl and Klaus Kleper, Archangel, Other Plans, 165,
Chapter 15 Assault on Laurel Glen High School, 183,
Chapter 16 The Assault's Aftermath, 200,
Chapter 17 Roger's Answer to Archangel, 212,
Chapter 18 The Collaborator, 220,
Chapter 19 Geniuses also Need Money, 227,
Chapter 20 Helmut Volk, 239,
Chapter 21 Andor and Senator Stewart Thompson, 249,
Chapter 22 Shield and Sword, Operation Paper Clip, 257,
Chapter 23 Roxanne Meets with Jason Phillips, Andor Writes to Roxanne, 265,
Chapter 24 Andor and Roxanne Back Together, 274,
Chapter 25 Roxanne and Andor at Western Council Headquarters, the Oracle of Delphi, 288,
Chapter 26 A Mother's Work Is Never Done, 301,
Chapter 27 Ubitzov's Assassins and Andor's Parents, 317,
Chapter 28 Andor Goes off Script, Andor and Roxanne in Love, 337,
Chapter 29 Challenges on the Way to the Crystal Cavern, 352,
Chapter 30 The Crystal Cavern, the Enkefalons, the Double R Prophecy, 379,
Chapter 31 The Final Battle above the London Eye, 389,

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