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.
After a series of traumas and an accidental poisoning, Mongo’s brother, Garth Fredrickson, is lying unresponsive in an off-limits government psychiatric facility. But that won’t stop New York City’s most resourceful private eye—because if there’s one person in the world Mongo would do anything for, it’s Garth.
With a little unorthodox therapy, Mongo manages to bring his brother back to the real world. But it quickly becomes clear that Garth isn’t himself. Soon the siblings are estranged, and Garth ends up in the center of a cult—an unsuspecting pawn in an international terrorist plot. Up against thousands of believers willing to do anything to protect their “new Messiah,” Mongo will risk his life to save him . . .
The Cold Smell of Sacred Stone is the 6th book in the Mongo Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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I was on an errand to help an injured friend who scoffed at my insistence that he was in great danger from a pale-eyed, monstrous ninja who could do just about everything but walk on water, and who was working for a dead man. I hoped I wasn't too late.
It was dark by the time I reached the East Village, and the streets were crowded with people of all ages, types, colors, and dress strolling about and enjoying an unusually balmy early spring evening in New York City.
The crowds gradually thinned out, and the streets were deserted by the time I reached the deteriorating, desolate block where Veil Kendry lived. I parked my Volkswagen in front of the otherwise gutted factory building housing his loft, smiled when I looked up and saw the bone-white mercury vapor light spilling out of all the windows; despite the fact that he had his right arm in a sling, Veil was back to work, painting. I wondered what changes, if any, would now show up in his work after months of subtly hunting, and being hunted by, Orville Madison, Veil's ex-C.I.A. controller and United States secretary of state, recently appointed and confirmed, and even more recently deceased when my brother had blown his brains out.
The feud between Veil and Orville Madison had extended over two decades, its poisonous seeds having been planted during the war in Southeast Asia. Madison, who had always hated anyone whose spirit he could not crush, had particularly hated Veil, who — on a good day, in the best of moods — had been unpredictable, supremely contemptuous of authority, and prone to unexpected violence. Destroying Veil became an obsession to Madison, and he had finally struck at the man whose code name was Archangel with a plan marked by stunning deviousness, subtlety, and cruelty. Veil, when he realized just what it was Madison intended to do, had struck back with stunning directness and brutality.
My friend had prevailed, inasmuch as he had thwarted Madison's plans for him and the Hmong people he had fought with for years, but there had been a heavy price to pay. In the course of his duel with Madison, Veil had been forced to betray his countrymen in order to save a Hmong village from destruction. Veil had been stripped of all his honors, and his service records altered to erase most traces of his military career and make it appear that he had been discharged from the army because he was a psychotic. Madison, convinced that Veil would self-destruct in civilian life, had nonetheless added an unusual, and secret, punishment of his own: an indeterminate sentence of death. The day Archangel ever experienced true happiness or peace, Madison told Veil, would be the day Archangel died.
But Veil had not self-destructed. He had found sanctuary from his private, savage demons in art. And Orville Madison had gone on to bigger and better things in government.
Which was the way things would have remained, except that the poisonous boil inside Veil's enemy had come to a head a few months before when a thoroughly mad Orville Madison had decided to celebrate his nomination to the post of secretary of state in President Kevin Shannon's newly elected administration by having a loyal employee put a bullet through Veil's skull. The C.I.A. assassin had missed, setting in motion a bizarre and complex chain of events that had caused the deaths of many innocent people and spawned a manhunt across the breadth, and deep into the soul, of this land called the United States of America. The manhunt had ended three days before, in a vast, dusty hearing room in an unused section of the Old Senate Office Building, when Garth had splattered Orville Madison's brains against a wall that had already been pockmarked by bullets from Veil's submachine gun. In line with a decision that it was in everyone's best interests to keep the people of the country innocent of the fact that their charismatic new president had had the bad judgment to choose as his secretary of state a maniac who was a mass murderer, and thanks to the fact that every elected representative and civil servant who had witnessed the killing had his or her own very good reasons for joining a conspiracy of silence, arrangements had been made successfully to make the death look like the result of an unfortunate hunting accident. Sure enough, the morning papers had carried the news that Orville Madison, vacationing in Maine, had died in a tragic hunting accident when he had tripped over a log and his rifle had discharged, firing a bullet into his head.
Madison had tripped, all right — over his obsessive hatred for a man who'd become a legend as the mysterious and deadly "Archangel" during the war in Southeast Asia.
So Orville Madison had met his match and his end — but it was not the end of the matter, at least not for me. Garth, his own brains apparently fried by doses of a rare and little-understood drug he'd been fed during the course of an investigation he'd been conducting before being abruptly reassigned by the NYPD to help me search for Veil, had fallen into a rigid catatonic state immediately after he'd blown away Madison's head and put a bullet into Veil's right shoulder. Mr. Lippitt, our seemingly ageless friend who was the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was of the opinion that being forced to become involved in my search for Veil had actually saved Garth's life. Even if that was true, it was little comfort to me; fifty minutes before, I had left Garth, slack-jawed and glassy-eyed, staring vacantly at the beige-colored stucco ceiling of his room from his bed in a secret D.I.A. clinic at the Rockland Psychiatric Center, a few miles upstate.
Nor did I think the matter was finished for Veil, despite his contrary opinion. During the course of my search for Archangel, Veil, I had crossed paths with one of the most terrifying men I had ever met — Henry Kitten. Kitten was not terrifying because he was mindless, or because he was big — which he most certainly was — or because he was capable of great savagery; indeed, Veil Kendry, when he chose to be, was probably as merciless as Kitten, if not more so. No; Henry Kitten was terrifying for the same reason I would find Veil terrifying if Veil were my enemy instead of my friend. Like Veil, Henry Kitten was a man who gave the impression — a correct one — that he was a human weapon against which there was virtually no defense, an inexorable killing machine which, if loosed on you, was an occasion for a quick trip to your lawyer's office to update your will, if you had time. Like Veil, Kitten was a master of the martial arts, a man who'd literally dodged my bullets and, with a single blow, left me paralyzed on a snow-covered field in a park in New Jersey while he'd dumped two men who hadn't dodged my bullets into the Hudson River. Veil and Kitten were two awesome warriors.
Although the white ninja with the triangular face and pale, khaki-colored eyes could have killed me on that day, he hadn't. Yet Henry Kitten hadn't spared my life out of kindness or mercy, but simply because he found me useful in his own hunt for Veil. I had been left alive to play the dual roles of stalking horse and Judas goat. Unlike Veil, who made his living as an artist and used his martial skills only when necessary, Kitten was a free-lance assassin, reputedly the global underworld's best and highest paid. He'd been hired by Orville Madison, who'd used him in the past, to finish the job Madison's assassin had botched. Veil, who claimed never to have heard of Kitten, had dismissed my suggestion that the sudden death of Kitten's employer would make no difference at all to the assassin. But Kitten was a consummate professional who had made it clear to me that he took great pride in his work, played for an international audience of potential future employers, and always finished an assignment. I half suspected that Veil's attitude of casual disregard of my warnings was intended to protect me by keeping me out of harm's way. Under other circumstances I wouldn't have been concerned, since I'd put my money on Veil in a mano-a-mano fight with any man, using any weapons, in any kind of test, from a duel with machine guns to a spitting contest. The problem now was that Veil's right collarbone had been cracked by the bullet my brother, as he plummeted into the mindless void where he was now lost, had fired into him, and it seemed to me that Veil's damaged arm tipped the odds a bit too much in Kitten's favor. Veil Kendry was a friend who'd saved my life and Garth's on more than one occasion in the preceding months. If Henry Kitten was still coming at Veil, and there was no doubt in my mind that he was, I wanted to be at Veil's side when the ninja arrived.
Which was why I was now sitting in my car outside a gutted factory building in the East Village trying to think of new arguments I could use to convince Veil that he should at least let me sit down with him and help him plan offensive and defensive strategies against a deadly shadow who, as matters now stood, seemed to control all the options.
Suddenly the lights in the loft, and all along the block, winked out. The rest of the neighborhood appeared to be unaffected; I could see lights in the adjoining blocks and in the skyscrapers in midtown continuing to glow, but I was left sitting in a car in the middle of a rectangle of unrelieved night. I quickly ducked down behind the dashboard and drew my Beretta from its shoulder holster.
Henry Kitten, I felt almost certain, had come to call.
I crawled over the gear shift and hand brake, then pushed open the door on the passenger's side. I sucked in a deep breath, rolled out of the car and, keeping low, sprinted across the sidewalk to the steel door cut into the side of the building. Although I did not know why, I strongly sensed that the door would be unlocked — just as it had been months before when I had passed through that portal to investigate a loft flooded with light but empty, and found a cryptic oil painting and an envelope containing ten thousand dollars in cash addressed to me.
I was right. The steel door banged open on its well-oiled hinges when I hit it with my shoulder, and I sprawled on my belly on the floor in the small foyer at the foot of the elevator shaft, gun held out in front of me with both hands.
My somewhat melodramatic entrance was greeted with nothing but silence. Wherever the assassin with the triangular face and khaki-colored eyes was, assuming my fears were well founded, he was not in the foyer. And he was not outside on the street, watching and waiting; the open door told me that. This time the door was open not because Veil had left it unlocked for me, but because Henry Kitten had shunted the alarm system, picked the lock, and passed through before me. He was somewhere in the building, perhaps already up in the loft itself, stalking ...
I did not dwell on the question of how Henry Kitten had managed to short out all the lights in a single block, although I suspected it could be done with detailed maps of the city's sewer system and power grid, and a delayed-time charge placed on one of the main power lines beneath the street. Nor did I dwell on how he had managed to get into the building, and perhaps up into the loft, without encountering an extremely warm greeting from Veil, who would have immediately recognized his stalker from my description. The ninja assassin had performed an almost equally remarkable feat a few weeks before when he'd bypassed a state-of-the-art alarm system, gone unnoticed by a cadre of bodyguards, then scaled the wall of a four-story mansion like a 220-pound fly to crush the skull of a Vietnamese, an ex-ARVN colonel, with a single blow of his fist. Henry Kitten was no slouch in the stealth department; however he had done it, I felt deep in my guts that Henry Kitten was here, probably wearing infrared night-vision goggles and armed with — whatever. If I was wrong, if I found Veil upstairs stretched out on his bed and reading by candlelight, I would certainly feel very foolish; I would apologize for disturbing him, and he could remind me that it was precisely this kind of bizarre behavior that led some people to think me eccentric. Then we could have a drink and laugh about it. But I wasn't worried about feeling or looking foolish; I was worried about finding Veil dead, and maybe joining him.
I got to my feet, looked around. The only illumination in the foyer came from a faint band of moonlight spilling in through the open steel door, but it was sufficient for me to see that the freight elevator Veil used to get to and from his loft was not at ground level. I imagined I could manage to reach the fire escape running up the side of the building, but that would only get me outside a locked, wire mesh-covered window on the fourth floor, where I would be silhouetted against the moonlit sky. Not a good idea. Although I could not see it in the darkness, I knew there was a second steel door to my right, and beyond it fire stairs that could also get me up to the fourth floor. I knew where the key to the door was hidden, but the problem was that anyone on that stairway would make a ridiculously easy target for anyone with night-vision goggles waiting above. That didn't seem like such a good idea either.
Out of curiosity, I groped my way along the wall until I came to the door, then pushed on it. It swung open. Kitten must have picked this lock, too, and was either lurking on the stairs or already in the loft.
I waited a few beats, put my Beretta back in its shoulder holster, then pulled the door shut with what I hoped was just enough force to allow the sound of steel clicking against steel to be heard by two ninjas listening in the silent darkness four floors above me; it would tell Veil that help — if that was an appropriate word to describe me and my rather untenable position — was on the way, and could serve to distract Kitten. At the least, I hoped it would have the ninja assassin looking in the wrong direction if and when I joined the party.
After slipping out of my light jacket and dropping it to the floor, I jumped out into the elevator shaft and grabbed hold of the thick guy cable that ran up the center of the shaft and was attached to the bottom of the elevator. Then I began hauling myself hand over hand up into the pitch blackness.
It had been a long time since my days as a headliner with the circus; I was a lot older than when I'd made a living climbing, swinging, flipping, and soaring, but I made it a point to stay in peak physical condition, and I found the going up the steel cable probably easier than I had any right to expect. By stopping occasionally, wrapping my legs around the cable and allowing my arms to hang free for a few moments, I was only slightly winded, with a mild case of palm burn, when I finally reached up and felt my knuckles graze the rough, splintered surface of the elevator floor. Trying not to think of the chasm that yawned below me, I groped to both my left and right, found a warped slat to my right, wrapped my fingers around the edge and swung away from the cable. I dangled for a few of the most exquisitely exciting seconds of my life, twisting back and forth, then found a second warped slat farther to my right. A second swing got me to the steel and wood frame of the chute, and within seconds I was up and over the side, in the box of the elevator. I again drew my Beretta, got down on my belly, and crawled forward toward the open end of the box. The fingers of my left hand touched the steel lip at the four-foot-wide entrance to the loft; the gate was up. The elevator was eight feet wide, which left me a two-foot "safety zone" on either side of the opening. I slithered to my right, sat up in a corner to ponder just what it was I planned to do next.
I had been up in the loft enough times for me to be able to picture its layout clearly in my mind. The freight elevator entrance to the loft was about three-quarters of the way down its length. Just inside the entrance, to the right, a plywood partition separated Veil's austere living quarters from the vast work area. The entire wall at the opposite end was comprised of a bank of windows; normally, Veil pulled a heavy drape over the windows at night, but when I had approached the entrance I had glimpsed to my left a large, cross-hatched patch of pale moonlight — which only served to make the rest of the loft seem darker. In the far corner, to the left of the windows, there were thick mats, punching and kicking bags suspended from the ceiling, and a large wooden box filled with martial arts weapons. There were three support columns marching down the center of the loft. The entire floor would be covered with stained tarpaulins, paint pots, palettes, mauled tubes of oil paint, brushes soaking in jars of turpentine — all of the paraphernalia for a different kind of battle, one of the mind, that Veil waged constantly in order to produce the kind of eerie, multipaneled mural that covered most of the wall directly opposite me.
Excerpted from "The Cold Smell of Sacred Stone"
Copyright © 2017 George C. Chesbro.
Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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