With a genius IQ, a past career as a circus acrobat, and a black belt in karate, criminology professor Dr. Robert Frederickson—better known as “Mongo the Magnificent”—has a decidedly unusual background for a private investigator. He also just so happens to be a dwarf.
Mongo and his brother, Garth, have left their day jobs as a professor and a cop, respectively, and formed their own PI firm, Frederickson & Frederickson. It’s a great reason to celebrate this holiday season, but when their annual tradition of picking up a few letters to Santa from the post office to fulfill the Christmas wishes of needy children reveals a sinister secret, their cheer is replaced with a yearning for justice. As the brothers race to save a little girl from a religious doomsday cult, they’ll get up close and personal with a murderous zealot bent on the eradication of all mankind—preferably before the New Year . . .
Second Horseman Out of Eden is the 7th book in the Mongo Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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Santa Claus was long overdue, and if I didn't hear sleigh bells in another hour I was going to start calling the hospitals.
Santa couldn't be drunk, because my brother no longer drank — not since he'd emerged from the drug-induced madness that had transmogrified him into a de facto, reluctant religious guru to millions, and the subsequent events that had caused the deaths of thousands of people and almost killed the two of us. Garth kept a well-stocked bar in his apartment for drinking friends and his imbibing sibling, but at the moment he was out of Scotch — the imbibing sibling's drink of choice. Consequently, I went up a flight to my own spacious apartment on the fourth floor of the renovated brownstone on West Fifty-sixth Street that we'd recently purchased, and which now served as our respective homes as well as the richly appointed offices of the recently founded investigative firm of Frederickson and Frederickson, Incorporated. As founder and senior partner I had, of course, insisted that my name be listed first.
I didn't really want a drink and could think of no reason why Garth would call my apartment when he was supposed to meet me in his own. But I poured myself a drink anyway and checked my answering machine; there were messages from three former colleagues at the university who had called to wish me a Merry Christmas and tell me how much I was missed in the halls of academe. Nice. I put on a heavy cardigan, slid open the glass door at one end of my living room, and went out onto my frozen rooftop patio and garden to look down into the street for some sign of jolly old Garth, whom I desperately wanted to see stay jolly. The possibility that something could happen to conjure up my brother's sleeping demons was a constant haunt.
It was four days before Christmas, not quite two years since my brother had emerged from his long illness and subsequently burned all his professional, and most of his personal, bridges behind him. Not that there had been that many bridges left standing for either of us to raze, but I'd at least had my somewhat problematic career as a private investigator to which I could return.
Almost ten years before we had become involved with one of your mad scientist types, definitely not of any garden variety. Dr. Siegmund Loge had had two abiding obsessions: the music of Richard Wagner, specifically the Ring, and saving humankind from what he was convinced was its impending self-imposed extinction. All he'd needed to indulge his passion for Wagner was a good sound system, but it had turned out that his second obsession required the cooperation, however obtained, of Garth and me, of all people. Lucky us. Siegmund Loge had come within a Frederickson brother or two of loosing upon the world a plague that could have conceivably altered the makeup of every living thing on the planet, and forever changed, perhaps canceled, human history. Finding a way to stop him had nearly cost us first our sanity, and then our lives. And, as far as I was concerned, Garth's sanity was still a tenuous thing, to be jealously guarded and tenderly nurtured.
It was a situation for which, perhaps, I had myself to blame, and I would probably never know if certain key decisions I had made concerning my brother's health had been the correct ones.
When Garth had gone into a coma induced by a mysterious substance called nitrophenylpentadienal, I had intentionally, by using Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle, endeavored to reach into his deep mind to stir nightmare memories of Siegmund Loge and his Valhalla Project that had nearly swallowed up the two of us. The musical ploy had gotten Garth out of bed, all right, but it had also gotten me, not to mention the governments of the United States and Russia, and a few million people around the world, considerably more than I'd bargained for.
As a result of my well-meaning ministrations, Garth had emerged from his coma with what might modestly be described as an altered consciousness. He was a gaping emotional wound, an almost total empath who literally suffered with all the wronged, helpless, and injured of the world, while at the same time appearing as a kind of stony automaton to people — including me — who were more or less able to keep on trucking through the big and little travails of everyday life.
Garth had been ... well, scary.
He'd come out of that more or less on his own, when the effects of the nitrophenylpentadienal poisoning had finally worn off. Or I'd thought — hoped — he'd come out of it. In fact, I now accepted the fact that, in some subtle and other not-so-subtle ways, he had been changed forever. Which didn't mean that he couldn't act like his old self, sometimes for prolonged periods of time, and that was how he had been for nearly two years. It was this sense of well-being that I felt, for no discernible reason aside from the fact that Garth was late, was somehow hanging in the balance this night, and I couldn't shake a suffocating sense of foreboding. As far as I was concerned, there could be no more sojourns into harm's way for the Frederickson brothers. It was not myself that I was worried about, but Garth. I did not want to lose my brother again, for if I did I feared I would lose him forever into some terrible sinkhole of the soul.
Jingle bells, indeed. Where was he?
The poison had worn off, Garth had resigned from the NYPD, from which he'd been on an extended leave of absence. Eventually he had become my partner, and we had formed a corporation.
Much to our collective amazement, virtually overnight we became the "hot" investigative firm, not only in New York City but in Washington — to which we now commuted by shuttle three or four times a month to oversee a small satellite office and team of staff investigators we maintained there. There is often, it seems, a fine line between notoriety and celebrity, and apparently we — or I, at least — had crossed it, and found riches on the other side. We'd hardly had time to advertise our new corporate headquarters and list our telephone number before a score of Fortune 500 companies were lining up to offer us the most ridiculously easy assignments, for the most outlandish fees. Our more adventurous days now seemed part of a distant past, as we spent virtually all of our time doing things like background checks on prospective CEOs, coordinating industrial espionage investigations, working for congressional committees, or performing mostly cut-and-dried investigations for high-priced law firms. We were on permanent retainer to fifteen major corporations, and were rarely called upon to do anything to earn the fat fees these companies seemed all too happy to pay to Frederickson and Frederickson.
Good-bye, murderous minions of the C.I.A. and K.G.B; goodbye, mad scientists, witch covens, assorted thugs and assassins; and good-bye to all the other garden variety loonies I felt as if I'd spent most of my life dealing with. Hello, fat city.
Whether or not Kevin Shannon, president of the United States, was subtly steering business our way was difficult to tell. Shannon certainly knew that our attitude toward him was decidedly ambiguous, but that didn't seem to matter. The fact that the president had publicly acknowledged the "nation's debt" to us for our role in unmasking a very dangerous K.G.B. operative and had then awarded us the nation's highest medal for civilians — at a ceremony which Garth and I hadn't bothered to attend, for decidedly personal reasons — had apparently been enough to convince corporate America that Garth and I were "connected," and we saw no reason to disabuse our clients of such a notion. It seemed we were in imminent danger of becoming fat, lazy, and wealthy, and we loved it. Both my brother and I had struggled hard, each in our own way and for our own reasons, most of our lives, and we had been very close to death not a few times. We owed each other our lives many times over. Only when we had finally escaped from the bizarre ripples and vicious undertow of the Valhalla Project, which had haunted, threatened, and consumed us for the better part of a decade, had we come to realize that physically, emotionally, and spiritually we had both spent the better parts of our lives clenched like fists. You could say that we were trying to learn to relax; money might not be everything, but we were discovering that it can certainly be a powerful tranquilizer.
A lot of the work for which we were being so well paid could be done by our staff investigators, or with a few telephone calls; a lot of the work for which we were being so well paid was also crushingly boring — but that was fine with us. Garth and I had zestfully agreed that we would be happy to be crushingly bored with our work at least into the next century, at which point we might take the time to reevaluate our attitude.
Good-bye, bullets, knives, mind-altering drugs, broken bones, and squashed souls.
And, at least on my more optimistic days, it had seemed to me that Garth was healing. There had been lots of sports, including membership on a championship softball team with Garth as the star slugger and me as a second baseman who set a league record for most walks in a season, lots of concerts, lots of time with friends, especially loving women friends, lots of good food, and — perhaps best and most important of all — lots of good talk. Once again Garth had learned to laugh without shedding tears for those in the world who would never know joy or find anything in their lives funny, love without suffering pangs of sorrow for those who were alone, dine without feeling the hunger pangs of the starving, tell a joke without rage at the legions of manipulators who made other people's lives a joke. Sometimes it was all enough to make me believe that my brother was completely recovered.
Silent Night. Oh Come All Ye Faithful. Come home, Garth.
We did a lot of pro bono work, which we enjoyed — mostly investigations for attorneys who were themselves doing pro bono work for poor clients — and we made regular contributions to our favorite charities.
And, as always, we looked forward to Christmas.
From the time we arrived in New York, we had, along with thousands of other New Yorkers, taken great delight in observing one particular tradition. Each year, during the Christmas season, tens of thousands of letters addressed to Santa Claus are mailed in the greater New York metropolitan area, and they all end up at the General Post Office on West 33rd Street in Manhattan. Here, the children's letters are placed in cardboard boxes, which in turn are placed on the block-long marble counter inside the main lobby. Anyone is free to come in, browse through the letters, and select up to five to which he or she may wish to respond with gifts or services, or whatever.
Yes, Virginia ...
Garth and I always spent a good deal of time each year doing our Santa Claus number. On our appointed day or days we would go to the GPO, start at opposite ends of the counter and work our way toward the center, poring over the letters in each box, searching for the ones which it would please us the most to "answer." Each year, as a result of this search, ten children — usually from poor and obviously needy families, but not necessarily — received brightly wrapped packages on Christmas Eve, delivered by special messenger and directly dispatched by Santa Claus at the North Pole.
We normally began our selection process early in December, as soon as the first boxfuls of letters would begin to appear, but this year Christmas had caught up with us. Late November and early December had been uncharacteristically hectic, with a heavy workload that had demanded our personal attention, and we'd just returned from an exhausting two-week stint in the Middle East, where we'd been attending to the needs of one of our corporate clients, an oil company. It had been necessary to prepare a report hurriedly, which then had to be presented orally before the corporation's board of directors. With Santa-time quickly running out on us, Garth and I had flipped a coin; I'd gotten to deliver the report, and he'd gotten to spend the day at the post office doing a letter search for both of us. Delivering the report, and then answering a host of detailed questions, had taken me all of the morning and most of the afternoon, and then I'd eagerly rushed back to the brownstone to see what, if any, treasures Garth had been able to excavate from what had to be, by now, a severely depleted trove of interesting or worthy Christmas wishes. Garth hadn't been in our offices, and I hadn't found him in either his apartment or mine. There had been no note, no phone message. I was still waiting for him, or for some word from him. It was 10 P.M.
Huddled inside my bulky cardigan and sipping at my Scotch, I stood at the three-foot-high brick balustrade at the edge of the roof and peered up at the sky as light snow began to fall, dusting my eyelashes, the brick patio, and the dormant, burlap-swaddled plants in my garden. Within minutes the snow began to fall more heavily, filtering and diffusing the bright city lights, creating a kind of milky glow around the illuminated tops of the Chrysler and Empire State buildings. It was growing colder — or perhaps it was only the chill that had been steadily growing inside me, and which had nothing to do with the weather.
Where the hell was Garth?
Enough, I thought as I drained off the rest of my Scotch, flung the ice into my garden, and headed back inside. I'd already waited too long.
I had a list of the telephone numbers for all the hospital emergency rooms in the five boroughs taped inside the front cover of my Manhattan directory, and that's what I turned to as I picked up the telephone in my oak-paneled, leathery library-study. I was just starting to dial the first number when I heard my front door open and close. I slammed down the receiver, hurried out of the study, across the living room, and around a large Chinese silk screen into the foyer, where I stopped suddenly and sucked in my breath, shocked by what I saw.
Garth was still tough-minded, to be sure, and in some ways even more tough-minded — some would say callous — than he had been during the years when he had been a county sheriff in Nebraska, and then a much-decorated NYPD detective. In fact he wasn't callous at all, but he no longer had any time for cant, hypocrisy, or any of the sundry nonsense that flows through and around most of us during the ordinary course of our everyday lives; Garth just ignored all that. To some, this attitude made him seem emotionally flat, but this was far from the mark. The one characteristic he had retained from his poison-induced change of consciousness was a profound sense of caring, or near-pure empathy, for people truly in need. His experience had rounded off some rough edges, making him even more sensitive to other people's pain, and caused certain other rough edges to become even more pronounced — if you happened to be the cause of other people's pain, it was best seriously to consider avoiding my brother. Even his appearance had changed, inasmuch as he now wore a full beard — much more liberally streaked with gray than his long, thinning, wheat-colored hair — in order to shield himself from the curious who might otherwise recognize him as the disgraced and discredited former leader of "Garth's People." I was told by women friends that the beard made him look very sexy; I thought it made him look most imposing, what with his six-foot-three-inch solidly built body and piercing, light brown eyes.
Right now Garth didn't look very imposing at all; he appeared almost shrunken, with red-rimmed eyes and the kind of pallor that comes not from poor diet or lack of sunshine, but from the kind of intense, unrelieved stress that can suck at a man's guts until he's turned inside out. He looked truly haunted, as if something horrible had followed him home and was lurking, waiting for both of us, just outside the door.
"Garth!" I managed to say when I had recovered from my initial shock at his appearance. "Jesus Christ. I was just outside, and I didn't see you coming down the street."
"I came down Fifty-seventh and up the back way," Garth said in a tight voice that was oddly distant, as though he could not get his mind off whatever it was that was bothering him. "I figured you'd be up here waiting for me."
"I was just about to start calling the hospitals, for Christ's sake! Are you all right?"
"I'm all right," my brother replied in the same distant tone.
"Nothing happened to you?"
"No. Nothing happened to me."
Excerpted from "Second Horseman Out of Eden"
Copyright © 2017 George C. Chesbro.
Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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