Twenty four hours later:
“I can’t hear you,” Deckard screamed with a finger stuck in one ear, the other pressed up against the side of a cell phone. “I can’t hear shit!”
The firefight in the mountains had left him hard of hearing for the time being, and the whining jet engines on the airfield weren’t helping.
“I said, I need you in California tomorrow.”
“What the hell for?”
“A recent job opening,” the voice on the other end of the line said. “We were tracking the guy who was to take the job, but he had a nasty run-in with some Chechen separatists in Ardahan yesterday. It was over a woman, from what I understand. I want to dangle your self out there to see if you can’t get hired to do the job in his place.”
“Hired by who?”
“I already created your cover and managed to get you a meeting with Chad Morrison through one of my contacts. You ever hear of him?”
“No,” Deckard said, looking back at the C130 transport aircraft. The pilots were waiting on him.
“He runs a black bag PMC,” he said referring to a Private Military Company. “At the moment he is looking to recruit some fresh meat.”
“Recruiting for what?”
“People to protect certain industrial interests. People like you. Oil fields in Nigeria, alluvial diamond deposits in the Sierra Leone, Coltan Mining in the Congo, that sort of thing.”
“Wet work. He wants trigger pullers who don’t mind getting their hands dirty.”
“You got it. The resume I put together is fail safe. You have backstops for backstops, solid covers, references with people I know personally waiting on the other end of the line if they get called. Besides, I know he won’t be able to resist your charms once he meets you in person.”
“Fuck me,” Deckard yelled into the phone. “You already put my name in the hat, didn’t you?”
“No, I put O’Brien’s name in the hat, which is who I want you to be when you meet Morrison.”
Deckard looked back at the aircraft.
After Johnnie nearly killed them by dropping into the soccer field, they had improvised their way to the nearest CIA safe house in the province. Using the communications set installed in the apartment, they had set up their extraction out of country.
Pat stood on the C-130’s ramp, motioning for him to hurry up.
“Double my normal rate,” Deckard told the man over the phone. “I also want you to personally supervise the recovery operation.”
“Of Sergeant Major Keely and the rest of his team.”
There was a pause, and for a moment Deckard wondered if he lost the connection.
“No problem,” came the reply. “So, can you be in California tomorrow?”
“I’ll be there,” Deckard said, terminating the call.
Slipping the phone into his pocket, Deckard strode towards the open ramp of the aircraft, wondering what was waiting for him in the United States.
* * *
A wrinkled hand slapped a cellular phone shut as Deckard terminated the call on the other end.
Somehow, the son of a bitch had pulled it off again.
Colombia made for a hat trick having followed up assignments in Zimbabwe and Iran.
The older man ran a hand across his chin. He didn’t get as much sun these days as he would have liked. The exterior of the building he worked in looked like a furniture warehouse while the inside looked like a military command center despite its small staff.
He had plucked Deckard out of the ether. After a falling out with the US government he had gone freelance a number of years ago. The older man was a veteran of the same world from his younger years. Some members of the group thought that someone as reckless as Deckard would be a liability.
Then they had gotten word through the grapevine about the freelancer’s job in North Korea. There were whispers about a derailed train outside Pyongyang and the bodies of dead Syrian nuclear scientists. That had been enough to put Deckard over the top as a candidate and given the Vietnam veteran the ammunition he had needed to ensure that he was accepted into the group.
As a member, Deckard still operated independently but now had access to the group’s stockpiles, safe houses, and sophisticated surveillance equipment to make use of.
The old man spun in his seat, looking at the picture frame hanging on his wall. It was the only personal memento that resided in his office, the only reminder of his past life. It was a tattered American flag that had flown over his fire base the day they had been nearly overrun at Command and Control North, or CCN, on the coast of the South China Sea.
His organization had worked for decades to place an infiltrator in the midst of the global elite, the cartographers and king makers of world history.
A grin tugged at the corners of his mouth as he realized that he never really had any doubt that that man would be Deckard.
Tens of millions of dollars had been spent creating the fictional O’Brien cover. Ghost writers had penned documents in his name, lines of credit had been opened and closed in under the alias by informants, retired spooks sat on telephones waiting to pick up and pretend to be former employers. Everything had been set in motion years prior.
For Deckard’s sake, if nothing else, he could only hope that Lady Luck was watching over both of their shoulders.
* * *
“Yeah,” the man replied, stepping forward to reveal sutures running down the side of his face.
“Please follow me,” the attendant said. “They are ready to receive you.”
“They? I’m supposed to talk to a Mr. Chad Morrison.”
“You were meant to think so,” the attendant huffed. “Now please follow me.”
Deckard’s jaw tightened.
He wasn’t in the mood for cryptic nonsense.
Turning, he followed the attendant down the dirt path, allowing him to lead the way, heading somewhere deeper into the estate that sprawled across a good portion of Southern California. The invite-only event was held once a year for America’s powerful, wealthy, and- maybe most importantly- the influential.
Morrison was supposed to be a headhunter for several major defense contractors, but now that someone had pulled a bait and switch on him, Deckard had no idea what to expect. In this crowd, he shuddered to think what it could be. Certainly nothing good. If any minutia of his cover was blown, he may well be a walking dead man in a place like this.
Following the forest trail, they passed by a former U S President along with his son, the CEO of a major international corporate conglomeration, and the owner of three major news networks and a good portion of downtown Manhattan, all within a few seconds of each other. Different people living in a different world, Deckard thought.
Leaving the forest behind, they approached one of the lodges reserved for the event’s biggest power players. Deckard looked up at the mantle over the door. It bore a skull and crossbones with Latin text on each side. Deckard shook his head. What the hell had he gotten himself into?
The call he had received in Colombia, that had initially sent Deckard to the gathering, was from an old hand, someone deeply embedded in the intelligence apparatus that was the Department Of Defense. Deckard trusted him, to a point, but still wondered how the DOD operative managed to secure him, if under the guise of Jake O’Brien, an invitation to what these old men called Bohemian Grove.
Walking up creaky wooden steps, the attendant held open the door for him, closing it as he crossed the threshold. Deckard felt like he was being taken to the woodshed, and maybe he was. Looking around the inside of the lodge house, his chest tightened.
The only good news was that if his cover had been blown, he never would have been ushered to such a high level meeting.
Three men rose to their feet in unison to greet him.
“Thank you for coming on such short notice,” the first of the three said, shaking his hand.
“O’Brien. Not a problem,” Deckard said. The man opposite him didn’t bother introducing himself. It was just assumed that Deckard already knew who he was.
He did. Jarogniew had been a staple of the defense intelligence community since before Deckard had been born. Belonging to szlachta Polish nobility, his family was hit hard during the Second World War. Immigrating to America, he had attended the finest universities before being picked up by various foundations and think tanks.
Jarogniew had gone to the top, acting as a national security adviser to one President and serving as secretary of defense for another. Since that time he had somewhat retired from public life but continued to serve on councils and non-governmental organizations, even appearing as a commentator on television from time to time.
Looking past the deep lines in Jarogniew’s face, Deckard saw a look in his eyes that bewildered and chilled him all at the same time.
“Thank you for coming,” the second man said, shaking a little too hard with one hand while squeezing a half smoked Cuban cigar between the fingers of the other.
His name was Kammler, and at about fifty pounds overweight he was another national security adviser and also owned a international consultancy firm with clients stretching from Saudi Arabia to Argentina. It was also a well-known fact that his phone number had been on the White House’s speed dial for decades going back to the Vietnam War.
“We’ve heard good things,” the third man said. “Very good things.”
Since Deckard’s fake resume under O’Brien consisted mostly of cold blooded murder and ethnic cleansing, he could only imagine what he meant by that. Hieronymus was another heavy hitter, maybe the heaviest. His family was old oil and old money, owning everything from real estate to insurance companies to banks. His foundation fielded self appointed experts to all sectors of government and business. Together with Jarogniew, he had founded the Trilateral Commission.
All three were high level members of The Counsel on Foreign Relations and the Bilderberg Group as well.
“Happy to be here,” Deckard said with a forced smile.
“We have it on good authority that you are of just the pedigree we have been searching for these last few days,” Jarogniew said, motioning for everyone to take a seat.
“What pedigree would that be?” Deckard asked.
The former national security adviser, shifted in his chair.
“The kind of man who can get things done. A professional.”
“Yes,” Kammler said, pointing to the side Deckard’s face where his sutures were. “We can see you are the kind of man who takes a hands on approach.”
“I have my moments,” Deckard replied, ignoring the urge to scratch at the stitches he had just been reminded of.
“Well, you came highly recommended from Chad Morrison, not a man known for handing out compliments,” Kammler said, his jowls shaking with a chuckle as his two friends joined in at the inside joke.
“It pays the bills.”
“True, and we have a job that will pay the bills for the rest of your life.”
Deckard leaned forward in his chair.
“We had, should I say,” -Hieronymus cleared his throat- “a falling out with a former employee. We think that you would be well suited to take his place.”
“We have a private army standing by,” Jarogniew stated bluntly.
Even Deckard was surprised by such an unguarded statement.
“In a central Asian nation,” he continued. “We would like you to begin training and equipping them immediately. When the time comes, you will be charged with leading them into combat.”
“Interesting,” Deckard replied, his curiosity genuinely piqued.
“You would have full access to several accounts; this will be a well budgeted operation.”
“When the time comes,” Hieronymus interjected. “When the time comes, there will be a culling.”
“Yes, the useless eaters,” Kammler muttered.
Jarogniew looked at his partners as if they had said something wrong.
“The bottom line is, we need someone who can get the job done, once that time arrives. You will have full operational authority on the ground; we don’t care how you conduct your business. Only results matter,” Hieronymus finished.
“When do I start?”
The old men smiled crooked smiles.
* * *
It was dark by the time they exited the lodge and the old men began to lead Deckard down towards the pond. Deckard followed them down the winding path from the lodge, where they soon merged with a larger road were the Grove’s patrons shuffled along.
At the pond, Deckard stood among Hieronymus, Kammler, and Jarogniew, waiting for the Grove’s final ceremony to begin. The pond, along with the altar on the other side, was illuminated with torch light. Around the altar stood robed men wearing hoods, some in white, others in red. Behind the altar was a massive statue made to look like a stone sculpture in the shape of an owl.
Deckard’s guts churned at thoughts of what might be coming next.
He had heard rumors about the ridiculousness that the so-called global elites engaged in, but this was surreal. A scan of the crowd revealed many that he didn’t recognize, but some were unmistakable from television and movie appearances. Within his own clique Jarogniew seemed slightly amused if nothing else. Hieronymus and Kammler leered.
The owl represented the ancient Canaanite and Babylonian god Moloch, to whom those civilizations offered human sacrifices thousands of years ago, or so he had read in history class years ago. Personally, he found the scene comical but was disturbed by how seriously it was being taken by the Grove members. They were the elite of politics, Hollywood, banking, business, and here they were like a bunch of mouth breathers at a peep show.
There were hundreds of spectators now, clamoring around the shore of the pond, watching, waiting. As bagpipes began to play somewhere off in the darkness, more robed men began to stroll towards the altar, carrying what looked like a bound body between them. The crowd cheered.
The robed men disappeared behind a black canvas shielding them from view. What was happening behind the black curtains was unknown and no explanation was given. The old men simply continued to breathe hard.
Without warning, one of the black-robed men in front of the visible altar began to speak.
“The owl is in his leafy temple,” his voice boomed. “Let all within the grove be reverent to him. Lift up your heads, oh, ye trees and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting spires…for behold! For here is Bohemia’s shrine, and holy are the pillars of this house.”
A gong being struck rang above the sound of chirping frogs.
“Weaving spiders, come not here!”
The gong sounded a second time before the speaker walked from the altar and a new procession moved forward.
“Hail, Bohemians! With the ripple of waters, the song of birds, such music as such inspires the sinking soul, do we invite you into midsummer’s joy. The sky above is blue and sown with stars,” the new speaker continued. “The forest floor is heaped with fragrant grit. The evening’s cool kiss is yours. The campfire’s glow. The birth of rosy fingered dawn. Shake off your sorrows with the city’s dust and cast to the winds the cares of life. But memories bring back the well loved names of gallant friends who knew and loved the grove.”
As the torch light illuminated the faces of the crowd and the surrounding trees, Deckard wasn’t sure whether to laugh or to cry. The only thing he was sure of was that most of the attendees took the ceremony deadly seriously.
“Dear boon companions long ago. Aye! Let them join us in this ritual and not a place be empty in our midst. All of his battles to hold in this gray autumn of the world or in the springtime of your heart!”
As the speaker carried on, Deckard was struck not so much by the sinister implications of the Bronze Age ritual, but that it was in fact a simulacrum of older rites. A dulled fabrication. The trio of old men, his new employers, seemed nonplussed. Perhaps the Grove was simply another steering committee for the three puppet masters. A place for them to fill the lives of their high level minions with purpose.
The narrator wrapped up his speech about Mother Nature as old horror movie music blasted over a sound system mounted in the redwood trees.
“Bohemians and Priests!” A new speaker called out. “The desperate call of heavy hearts is answered. By the power of your fellowship, dull care is slain!”
The crowd cheered once more. Deckard was left confused. What had happened behind the curtain? Had he been party to a real human sacrifice or a simulation of one? Maybe not knowing was part of the ritual in order to intrigue and stimulate new Grove members. To Deckard it still reeked of parlor tricks better suited for a dime store novel.
“His body had been brought yonder to our funeral pyre, to the joyous pipings of a funeral march. Our funeral pyre awaits the corpse of care!”
More creepy music played while a robed man paddled a dugout canoe across the pond, a reference to the river Styx, to be sure. On the boat was what looked like yet another bound body. Reaching the other side of the pond, the robed men placed the body on the altar.
“Oh thou, thus ferried across the shadowy tide in all the ancient majesty of death. Dull care, ardent enemy of beauty. Not for thee the forgiveness or restful grave. Fire shall have the will of thee and all the wind make merry with thy dust! Bring fire!”
The crowd shouted with glee. Maniacal laughs came over the speakers as pyrotechnics were set off around the pond.
“Fools!” the speakers sounded. “When will thy learn that me ye cannot slay? Year after year you burn me in this grove. Lifting your puny shouts of triumph to the stars when again ye turn your faces to the marketplace…do ye not find me waiting, as of old? Fools! Do you dream you can conquer care?”
“Say, thou mocking spirit,” the narrator fired back from the altar at the imaginary deity. “It is not all a dream. We know thou waiteth for us when this our sylvan holiday has ended. We shall meet thee and fight thee as of old, and some of us will prevail against thee and some thou shalt destroy.”
The mock battle between the Grove’s narrator and the crowd’s apparently burdensome responsibilities back in their real lives continued. Finally the effigy on the altar was set ablaze, flames flickering in the night as the deity of the crowd’s burden walloped over the load speakers.
At last the Grove members applauded.
As music continued to play and fireworks were fired off alongside the pond, Deckard finally placed the sickening feeling in his gut. It wasn’t the childish and immature display, a charade of a pagan ritual. It was the three men who stood beside him who had crafted this elaborate hoax to corrupt, entice, and compromise the leading minds in America.
It was the look Jarogniew had given him the lodge as he shook his hand. The tugging at the corner of his lips, the warm look in his eyes, the well honed mimicking of real emotions he had never felt. The phrase that had been digging at him all night finally came to the forefront of his thoughts, and with the red glow of fireworks on his face, he remembered.
They traffic in the souls of men.