Seventy-five people had been killed over three years in a series of eight brutal robberies in Fairbanks, Alaska. Bank robberies; shopping mall slaughters; restaurants full of customers wiped out; an armoured car plundered, then used as getaway car through rush-hour traffic, annihilating every witness in every other car on the road with a big-calibre machine-gun. The profits of these robberies were hardly ever spectacular, as if the wanton killing of innocent people was the real payoff. The Media called them the Certain Death Gang.
It was assumed to be the work of one band of unidentified local criminals, about 7-10 men. Fairbanks is not a big city, population being just over 30,000. One would think it would be impossible for so many big-time perpetrators to go completely undiscovered for 3 years: criminals are usually pretty stupid, they spend money, they brag. But the police had neither clues nor witnesses, because no one had ever survived even one of the eight robberies. There were several video camera recordings, but always of completely masked men, who often played up for the camera.
I was a journalist for the Fairbanks Evening Gazette while this was happening: Marsha Leasson Ace Reporter, at your service. I had covered all the killings, following the Police in their search for clues, had interviewed FBI agents who came to town to solve these cases, all without result. The Certain Death Gang Killers were still out there.
It was a big story and I'd gotten a few exclusive breaks-- admittedly because I'd had some little flirts with cops-- and well, yes, an FBI agent too-- so I was probably deeper into the story than any other reporter was allowed to be. Of course, a lot of what I knew was confidential, not to be written until the culprits were apprehended so as not to tip off the suspects. However, one thing I knew, for example, was that there were no suspects. No one was onto any sort of trail to follow. All we could do was wait for them to strike again, so that we could maybe catch them next time.
So when it did happen again-- a HIGH SCHOOL was robbed for almost no money, but 13 students were killed, meticulously executed-- the City Council decided to invite one of the mysterious Knights Templar to come to Fairbanks and take on the case. I knew I had to cover that story.
The Knights Templars are a Mystic Order which offers a crime-solving service to any community that requests assistance. It was said that they had some method for looking back in time, that they could visit a crime scene-- watch it happen --and follow the perpetrators from there. They also had techniques for overwhelming violent criminals without weapons or collateral damage. Magicians? Super agents? Evidently, they were quite effective.
Equally interesting for me: the Templars were one of the organizations working for Tazio dellaTerra. If there's anyone who is so out of touch with World Media that he doesn't know who Tazio is (this IS Alaska, there's always some old coots just come in from upriver first time in half a year), he's the Italian kid who announced that he was taking over the world, and then proved it. He owns almost all the high tech industry on the planet as well as most of the money in circulation. He has outlawed War, and seems to be enforcing it rather well. He is also the genius who invented the new "perpetual engine" that is even now replacing polluting fossil-fuel motors everywhere.
But there were so many impossible reports of just how incredible Tazio dellaTerra was that no one could believe half of them, especially not from here in Alaska: eyewitnesses claimed that he was a super hero; TV evangelists accused him of being the Antichrist. But they agree that he has psychic powers and can generate earthquakes. As a journalist, I was looking at a story that could be a ticket into the center of a media roller-coaster ride.
For one of Tazio's Knights to take on a case, there were conditions: they were not simply detectives, but also judge and jury. They had absolute authority over the criminals they captured, some of whom were taken away to an unknown fate. None of them were ever seen again, certainly not in the prison system. Which meant that the case was closed, without revenge having been had by injured parties. Some people couldn't accept that.
Any mention of the Knights Templar was very much off the record, until the town council decided that they actually wanted to do it. It was a very unpopular idea among many in the Fairbanks Police Department, reluctant to just give up and surrender the case to some highly superior sleuths from out of town. Most of the local cops considered the Knights Templar some sort of weird new-age voodoo clairvoyants, tabloid psychics, and not real police at all.
There was also another condition that offended the local authorities. A Knight Agent had to be invited as guest, he accepted no money or payment for his time and effort, but did demand comfortable food and lodgings-- including a local woman to comfort him sexually. Several of the local authorities took a very moral view of that: "we can't condone prostitution here!"
But the school killings had caused a public outcry too loud to ignore, something had to be done, and I just happened to be at City Hall precisely as the Mayor was negotiating with the Templar organization in New York about inviting an agent to take the case. I wanted the story, of course, but I also had a personal reason for wanting the Certain Death Gang destroyed, so I said, "Hey, I'll take care of comforting the guy."
You should have heard those policemen making moral judgments, especially the most raunchy of them. But I was currently unmarried, essentially unattached to any one man at that time, I could get away with it. It might even be... fun.
Agent Rashiid of the Knights Templar arrived by local bush pilot plane late in the evening, no fanfare, no airport terminal. No news coverage, but I was there anyway, of course. Police Inspector Jeb Tate and I were the 2-man no-fuss City Welcoming Committee, having driven out of town in his own personal (thus unmarked) car to a small landing strip to meet the city's guest.
It was summer, in fact it was the 20th of June, day before the summer solstice. Which in Alaska means that it's non-stop daylight, and Fairbanks' season for various Midnight Sun Festivals, absolute peak of the city's tourist season. Jeb and I joked that no Knight Templar would be coming up here to help us in the winter.
Actually I was joking mostly because I was so nervous about going to meet this... MAN. I was supposed to be nice to him, be his temporary wife. As a journalist, this had seemed a really great idea; as a slightly used woman, this was pretty scary. I had seen his photograph on the Templar web page: the most brutal-looking man I'd ever seen. He looked like a convict, not a cop, a Bad Guy pretending to be The Hero. Tall, dark and swarthy, face like a mean rock. Of course, it was after I had foolishly volunteered that I first saw his picture, otherwise I probably never would have.
One is not supposed to judge people by their looks: quite politically incorrect. But I'm a news reporter, I have to judge people by what I see, and the thing is I'm usually right. So how did I feel about this noble Knight from a mystic order, coming to save our city but who looked like an Absolutely Evil Villain to me? This stranger whom I was about to meet... and was supposed to "comfort"? Told you I was nervous, right?
The plane landed, coming in from Anchorage. A really big man got out and looked around. Inspector Tate waved to him and we began to walk towards each other. The closer we got, the bigger he looked. Huge compared to poor little me. Athletic body, muscles bulging everywhere, actually moved like a cat, not talking the cliché here. Extreme Black uniform with red trim, shiny high leather boots, trés Gestapo. Chiseled head, muscular jaws, hair clipped to stubble and more stubble on his face, classic tough guy look. He could have been any age from 30 to 60; I could almost see the raw aura of extreme physical fitness sparkling all around him.
Inspector Tate said, "Welcome to Fairbanks," the usual social amenities, they shook hands. Jeb Tate is generally a jovial man and greeted our visitor with his usual friendly enthusiasm, "Good of you to come all the way up here to help us."
"Hardly my goodness, but my assigned task." The man's response was technically polite, although hardly friendly. His tone was aloof, being a Noble Knight and all. However, my first impression was that he disliked being called good and resented being assigned to this backwater town to do a dirty job for a bunch of hicks like us. My next impression was that I also disliked him. All that just from his voice, I was still afraid to look up at him.
I was still looking down when the Inspector introduced us, "And this is Marsha, who has invited you to be her.. uh, guest... during your stay in our city."
"Is she the only candidate to choose from?"
I had to look up then, surprised at such a rude question. His eyes were evaluating me, judgmental, cold and not especially interested.
The Inspector got flustered, embarrassed. "Uh... look, we were keeping your coming here secret, so we didn't announce a beauty contest or anything. And besides, Marsha... offered."
Agent Rashiid gave me a look, asked "Why?"
"I want to catch those fuckers... and I want the story," I said in my best fuck-you tone, ready to walk away.
"Marsha is a reporter for the..." Inspector Tate began to explain.
"..Fairbanks Gazette," the Agent nodded, "her newspaper articles were among the case files I received." He turned to me again with a slight light of interest in his villain's eyes. "So you volunteered for self-serving motives? Good, I respect that."
Then he looked me thoroughly over, not being shy about it. In fact, he turned me with his hands so that he could see my butt, gave my arm a little squeeze. "At least you seem to be in fair shape," he condescended.
I could have told him that "I jog", but was unwilling to demean myself by wheedling to this arrogant bastard. "But you'd rather have a pretty blonde teenager?" I countered, jerking my arm from his hand.
"No, thank you, youth and beauty are overrated qualities. Rather a mature woman solid enough to take a good fucking." It wasn't so much what he said-- if a girl can't take a little crude sexual banter she has no business working around cops as much as I do-- but how devoid of humor he said it.
Jeb rolled his eyes up and muttered something, even more embarrassed. "Marsha, we can just go..."
Really angry now, I looked hard into Rashiid's eyes, he winked at me-- and I fell in lust.
All right, I'm a grown woman, I've been married once, there have been occasional lovers, and I was 38 years old when I met Rashiid. But nothing had ever prepared me for the impact of that kind of sexual GREED. I was instantly and desperately horny for that man (whoever he was), and had grabbed his hand before I even knew I wanted to. I was absolutely ready to commit any depravity whatsoever, no matter how embarrassing.
Fortunately, Rashiid saw what was happening to me and made some kind of "magical" sign with his hand that simply made the lust go away instantly. I was left rocking on my heels and breathing hard, but sane again.
"Are you all right, Madam?" he asked formally.
"Oh, I don't... what just happen..?"
"It's not you," he said, "it's me." And of course, I thought, my God, that cliché already in this relationship? "My erotic charge is part of certain bio-energy enhancements I have received. It is inappropriate here and now, I apologize."
Blinking stupidly was the best response I could come up with until I got a grip, "Yeah, well then-- what are you like in BED? My God!"
No smile, only polite arrogance, "You've just had a sample, Madam, it will be more of that. As my hostess, your whim is my duty." Teasing? Flirting? Still no smile.
Poor Inspector Tate looked either confused or disgusted; I couldn't be bothered to know which. I was too busy studying this overwhelming man. It was the same brutal face I'd seen on Internet, except that now he was looking back at me. I couldn't decide if he was ugly or handsome, but he was obviously perfect. Rugged features, feral eyes, lovely skin. Wow.
He turned from me, back to business, discussing the next day's schedule with Jeb, getting his one small piece of luggage out of the plane and paying the pilot. Jeb offered to have the city pay for the plane, but the agent said, "Thank you, but No. I may not accept money from, nor incur expenses for my hosts. One of Our Quaint Rules." No smile yet.
It was late when we left the landing strip, so there would be no more business that day. A meeting with the Mayor and Chief of Police was arranged next morning at 10:00, in the now-abandoned school where the last killings had happened a few weeks before.
Jeb drove us back into town in along the South Fairbanks Expressway, which is usually pretty quick and easy, but there was heavy traffic that evening because of all the midnight activities going on in town. Nobody sleeps very much during Midsummer in Fairbanks, they need to pack in all the fun they can get before winter comes, and the evenings are so nice and bright that nobody wants to be indoors anyway.
Jeb was, in fact, supposed to meet his family at the Midnight Baseball Game, so to be polite he asked our visitor if he wanted to go see the game as well.
"No, thank you," Agent Rashiid said with polite disdain, "I am here to capture murderers, not to be a tourist."
So Inspector Tate dropped us off at my house and I was left alone with my very scary guest.
I offered him dinner, but he said he'd already eaten and it was late, so he'd rather go to bed. That was what I had volunteered for, so we did.
I'm a reporter; so I sometimes do get intimately involved with my stories and articles, but try to keep my own private life to one side when I write them. I'd much rather be discrete, but what happened between a certain agent of the Knights Templar and This Very Journalist is an intrinsic detail of the story I really can't just avoid. I had to write around it for the Gazette news articles, but I'm telling my own story now, so here goes.
That "accidental" zap of erotic male energy he hit me with upon meeting had continued to tingle its way all through my female body, so I was about as primed as I could be by the time we actually went to bed. I wanted that man even more than I was afraid of him.
It wasn't that I suddenly now liked this man-- I still didn't. I was only satisfying my own sexual desire and he was a handy penis-wielder. All right, not just handy, he was also very proficient at it, and had the energy, size and endurance to take me higher up than I had ever been before.
Rashiid seemed about to become cruel at any second, he was frighteningly physically powerful-- and yet, his every touch was gentle, his strength controlled, and the sex was overwhelming. A perfect lover, a dangerous animal-- very exciting stuff, girls, it really was.
We hardly spoke at all that night, too busy rutting to talk, until it was abruptly time to stop playing with our bodies and get them dressed for the meeting. At that point, being a professional journalist, I suddenly remembered that I had been intending to interview him.
"Rashiid sounds like an Arabic name, where are you from?"
"Lebanon, long ago."
"Then you're a Muslim?"
"No, that too was long ago. I am a Templar now."
"So you're a Christian?"
"Absolutely not. The Templars worship Satan, as do I."
That stopped me for a moment, for oh so many reasons. I decided to go around that one. "But I thought the Templars were part of Tazio dellaTerra's organization for rescuing the world? "
"Indeed so; Lord Tazio is the present incarnation of Satan Himself."
"Just a minute: you're saying that the guy taking over the world is actually Satan? That would be a disturbing concept."
"It certainly is, also for us who have always served the dark forces. Now are we commanded to serve the forces of..." his lip curled with disdain at the word, "...good."
"I don't understand: is Tazio Evil or Good?"
"Join the club: nobody understands."
This interview was not working out as I had imagined, how much of this nonsense could I use in a news report? I decided to take another angle.
"Not that I'm complaining," I said, "but doesn't it seem to be rather pagan demanding that a community must offer a Woman for the services of a Knight Templar? The original Crusader Templars were a Christian Order, swearing vows of poverty and chastity."
"You're lucky we don't demand a virgin, as in the really pagan days."
"Boy, I'll say. But seriously: why arrange a woman at all? It seems that you could easily get one yourself with that erotic charge trick of yours."
"It is Lord Tazio's doing. He made 66 Templars into super agents with a charge of his own Urr-energy, empowering us to do what we do. It also makes us quite virile-- as you've been experiencing even now."
"Oh yes, and quite an experience it is. Almost too much-- although only almost."
"Yes, it's almost too much for me as well. I could go mad with it, use up a hundred women. Lord Tazio understands this, he's a pretty horny guy himself, so he allows us ONE woman per mission, whom we are required to respect as we would a beloved wife. We are commanded to treat her well, be faithful while we are her guest, and never to harm her in any way, physically or emotionally. He believes affectionate human contact will make us better people."
"Better? But you're a Noble Knight in shining..."
"No, I am not noble! Don't call me that!" He actually sounded indignant.
"But you've dedicated yourself to helping people save their cities, and accept no pay."
"I have not chosen this life, I am only following orders."
To lighten the mood I said, "Okay, now I understand the black uniform: you really ARE a Nazi."
He finally did smile at that, tiny and brief, but I saw it flicker by. "That's better," he said, apparently mollified.
I drove him in to meet the city authorities at the school. It was a small group, Mayor Clandee, Police Chief Wasserman, Inspector Tate, the few uniformed officers in the loop, no civilians. This was a secret meeting, primarily to avoid tipping off any of the Certain Death Gang, but also to keep the angry public away. There was also a certain amount of official shame about calling in this mystical "Knight Templar" from New York City.
I was not present in the active function of newspaper reporter, but as Rashiid's personal guide around town. There was an unspoken acceptance that as his "hostess" I would later get an exclusive on the story, to be published after the case was solved, but for the moment it was Absolutely Off the Record.
As the agent's official hostess I was feeling somewhat responsible for his behavior, nervous that he would be so rude and nasty as to alienate everyone else at the meeting with his lack of charm, but soon realized that everyone else at the meeting was just as bad as him. Inspector Tate was gloomy, Mayor Clandee was absolutely grumpy. Then I recalled why we were there: to deal with one of the most horrible murder scenes in Fairbank's history, there was really no reason for smiles and casual small talk.
There were introductions, mostly polite, but also a few impolite comments from those who had no faith in allowing a "goddamn clairvoyant" to take over the case.
"We have to stop those killers," Mayor Clandee reminded everyone, "whatever it takes."
"What we really would like is to KILL them back!" A uniformed cop added, shaking his fist. There was a chorus of "yeah"s.
Agent Rashiid observed, "This is obviously a rather personal case for many of you."
The Mayor said, "Fairbanks isn't one of your Big Cities. Almost everybody in town has known at least one of the 88 victims; family, friend, casual acquaintance..."
"..my father.." pitched in one of the uniformed cops.
"...three cops..." said another.
"...Marsha's husband..." Inspector Tate blabbed.
Rashiid didn't even glance at me, so I assumed he knew about Mark.
All discussion quickly moved on to the details of the Certain Death Gang robberies and killings. Agent Rashiid knew most of the background, having studied the materials sent to him by e-mail before he came to Fairbanks. He had an impressive grasp of all dates and locations, names and descriptions of victims, forensic research results, possible suspects, and all news coverage dealing with the Fairbanks Certain Death Gang killings, including the articles I had written.
The more I observed him the more intrigued I became. And confused. Should I be proud of him, my guy? Or resent having to prostitute myself to a Satan-worshipping weirdo for a city of ungrateful cops? Actually, I still knew almost nothing about him, having barely talked the night before, and what we did say was nonsense. Not like me to let an interview go so far off track, I'd have to be more disciplined. But he was fascinating, I must admit that.
"Here's how it works," he was explaining to the city officials, "I'll be scanning time, entering a psychic state wherein I experience a sort of place-memory of whatever has ever happened there where I am. Once I locate and witness the incident, I can follow the event-trail to wherever it leads. Navigating through both now and then simultaneously can be confusing, so I'll need a guide to steer me through the present while I am scanning the past. This I must do without a troop of police drawing attention to me, so I shall go alone except for my local guide, who shall be Ms. Marsha Leasson"
"Wait a minute, we can't be risking a civilian, those men are dedicated murders," the Chief of Police Durke objected.
"Officially, I am also a civilian," Rashiid countered, "but there is no risk to me, nor to her. It shall be thus."
"No risk? They have guns, what do you have?" Captain Slovak, one of the critics against this solution.
"A fair question: I have, among other tricks, the word FREEZE."
The room went silent. No one could speak, nor move any part of their bodies. We were all paralyzed except for Rashiid, who strolled around the room collecting pistols from every policeman present and demonstratively laying them on a tabletop. No one could stop him, or even complain about it. Finally he said, "Unfreeze," and everyone jerked back into motion with accompanying grunts and shouts. No one offered any more arguments; they just retrieved their weapons.
The meeting took about half an hour, everyone was up to speed on the case, and now it was time for the mystical Knight Templar to show his stuff. We went to the gymnasium where most of the bodies had been found. Rashiid looked around, touched the walls, the bleachers, but did not appear to be having any sort of vision. Then he said, "I have to find a clock in this building that was functioning on that day, to locate the incident in time, which was 21 days, 3 hours and approximately 20 minutes ago".
There was a digital clock with date in what had been the Principal's office. Rashiid seemed to go into a trance studying it, then after a few minutes said, "I'm ready. Let's go to the gym again." He took my hand, "Marsha, please lead me back," as if he were blind. Theoretically, he was, his vision caught up three weeks in the past.
Rashiid stood in the center of the gym, empty except for several policemen, a Mayor, some City Council members and me. He did not seem to be aware of us, but was looking intently around the big room, this way and that, seeing something else happening. No expression crossed his face, no words crossed his lips. If he was seeing school kids murdered, he seemed to take it in stride. No one else spoke either, not sure if we would disturb his trance.
After half an hour he said, "All right, I've witnessed what they did here. Now we have to go that way," and pointed to the double doors. "Marsha?"
I took his hand, led him outside, and he looked to the north. "They went that way," he pointed, then came out of the scan-trance.
The entire group of Mayor and Police had followed us at every step, and now we stood outside the school staring north-- seeing no sign of the long-gone Certain Death Gang, of course. I could see that several cops could not take this séance seriously, and were feeling stupid for even being there.
"I need to see a few of the earlier crime scenes, to establish any continuity of gang members. As you've seen, there's not much anyone else can contribute in this phase of the procedure, so I think it would be best if Marsha and I go alone."
"Yeah well, you just handle this however you want," Mayor Clandee told him, "and we'll just hope something comes out of it." I could hear he was not especially convinced that anything would. I could also hear other critical mutterings going on: "what balderdash!" "it's all just mass hypnosis" "voodoo much?"
Rashiid and I drove off in my Volvo, away from the crowd without announcing where we were going, not even to me.
"Let's visit the scene of the second attack, the Northrim Bank on Wickersham Street."
"But that was..." I started to say, but said something else, "...three years ago."
"Yes. How long ago doesn't matter to me, I've scanned back to dinosaurs- which can be entertaining, although hardly useful just now."
That was a pretty interesting lead into a good interview, but I drove without talking for a few blocks, then finally said, "I assume you know what the bank means to me?"
"Concerning your husband, yes. A Mark Leasson is listed among the victims. Although you never defined him as such in your news coverage of the incident."
"Private problems don't necessarily make good news reporting." I was going to let it go at that, but added, "We were about to get a divorce, so I wasn't completely destroyed with grief for him. But we were still friends and I really HATE that fucking gang of sick creeps who did that to him, as well as all the other people there!"
"Well, we'll probably catch them later today," Rashiid said with easy confidence.
It was difficult to park in town with the Midnight Sun Street Fair setting up, there were booths everywhere, the streets were filling up with people, but it was still early enough to find the last illegal parking spot. I assumed I could get out of a parking ticket anyway, being a sort of temporary (and unofficial) undercover cop.
I hadn't been to the Northrim Bank building in a couple of years, avoiding it I suppose, but just after the shootings I had been there repeatedly doing research for the articles about the Certain Death Gang Killings. I had studied the video tapes for any sign of Mark, but his death was not on camera. Sixteen people had been killed that day, all deliberately and methodically shot in the head at close range. $150,000 had been stolen, but so what? For 7, let's say 8 robbers, that was about $18,750 each, not really big money these days.
The bank was open so we went in as any customer would. To avoid making the security guard nervous I told them I was working on a story, which was why we were just standing looking around. They knew me, and knew what story I was working on, they probably assumed I was still obsessed with it because of my husband.
Rashiid stood in the bank and watched it all happen 3 years before. At one point he asked me: "Do you want to hear details?"
"No. I know more than enough about it already."
After that he wanted to visit one more crime scene from a year back, the Pinewood Restaurant on the way north. Twelve deaths.
The restaurant was just as busy as everywhere else in Fairbanks during the Summer Solstice, but we managed to get a table and order lunch. Rashiid scanned the incident. He never commented on what he was seeing, no shocked expressions or sympathetic sounds. He even ate a big fat steak as he watched the bloody events.
I was put on hold in real time, so took notes for the article I would be writing once this was over. I also had a great chance to study Rashiid's face, since he wasn't seeing me. Trying to be a professional reporter, I ended up daydreaming instead about what feelings I had for this arrogant man, this rude super-stud. Oh, I knew I liked the stud part all right, wasn't sure about the rest.
Of course, that led to me wondering how he felt about me. It occurred to me that while he'd been with me he had seemed not to notice any other woman at all-- not at the school, nor on the street-- which was remarkable, considering what a horny man he was. He had mentioned that he was required to be faithful to his hostess, but that had sounded quite abstract.
Our waitress in the restaurant, nametag "Carol" perched upon her splendid bosom, was an unusually pretty young woman. Blonde, sexy figure, the Hollywood kind of beauty you don't see so often in Alaska. Much prettier than me, for instance, so I couldn't help peeking at Rashiid to see if he was attracted. Relieved that he was not seeing her at all, being three years back in time, forced to watch horrible things happen, poor guy.
Suddenly he smiled, and then-- wonder of wonders --even laughed. Well, grunted and smirked, sorta laughed. I had to ask, "Scanning something funny?"
He wasn't seeing me, but he heard me and answered absently, "Those guys were really enjoying themselves."
It took a second to register. "Those guys? What-- you mean those murderers? Is that what's funny?"
He paused before replying, realizing that he'd said something improper. "Some of them are playful," he said, more carefully.
I went white hot. "Were they being playful when they shot Mark in the head?"
No answer. I kept digging, "Was that funny too?"
Rashiid came out of the scan-trance and turned his now-attention to me. "No, that wasn't funny. But you can't expect me to have an emotional connection to these events I am scanning in the past. I could be witnessing a battle of the Civil War, tragic for those involved back then, but just a movie to me here and now."
"If there's no emotion why did you laugh?"
"You don't want details, and I don't want to give them."
Our pretty waitress came to our table with a pot of coffee to ask if we wanted more. Rashiid looked up at her, seeing her now for the first time, nodded and pushed his cup near her, then looked back at me as if he'd hardly noticed what a beauty she was. Apparently no emotional connection there either.
Which was fine. I was promising myself to be as cold as he was, and he was making it easy. All I wanted from him was the destruction of the Certain Death Gang. As for my duties as Hostess, I was determined that he'd had all the comfort from me he was going to get.
We took Farmer's Loop Road north. A few miles up the road we came upon the Ballaine Road intersection, Rashiid had me stop the car as he scanned the highway for a few minutes. Then he said, "I've got them going this way several times, most recently being just after the school killings. They were driving an old black Ford Transit van. All right, let's continue."
I drove after his instructions as we followed the trail the Certain Death Gang had taken home 3 weeks back in time, switching directions several times, but mostly driving long stretches without change, taking us out into the wilderness north of Fairbanks.
It was a perfect opportunity to finally get my interview with this Knight of the Templars rolling, I was feeling the necessary professional distance now.
"I'm a little confused about the modern Knights Templar: is there any historical continuity with the original Crusaders at all?"
He seemed reluctant to answer that, but finally did.
"Those Templars branched off into the Dark Templars, who have been a secret organization for hundreds of years, but now-- since Tazio --we may not be secret any more. I am not yet accustomed to revealing things...especially to a reporter, like you."
"I'll assume you've done your journalistic research: Templars accused of Satanism and destroyed by the Catholic Church..."
I filled in the blanks, "Grand Master Jacques de Molay executed 1314, Templars disbanded, yes, yes, go on."
"Well, the charges of Satanism were true. In 1289 a group of Crusaders found an artifact in the tar pits of Babylon-- The Head of Baphomet. It was a crystal sculpture of a goat's head that could speak any language, and it told those Knights how to become rich and powerful. After the execution of de Molay, a group of Templars went underground as enemies of the Popes and their authority. They secretly became the Dark Templars, serving Satan instead of God.
"And then came our Supreme Grand Master, Anton Artemis, the Earthly Incarnation of Satan Himself, who has ruled the DarkTemplars for over 500 years..."
I had to ask, "Is that a myth, or do you actually believe that?"
"I have known Anton personally for many years, so yes."
"And he's five hundred years old? Come on..."
"In various bodies, although his current incarnation was actually born in 1792."
"Oh. So then he's actually only..." math pause "...just over 220. Well, that's MUCH more believable."
"Listen, you don't know how many Gods walk this planet, angelic and satanic Avatars, all with powers MUCH greater than my own. I have been among them. Anton is one of them."
"Okay, whatever, go on, please."
"Very well, while Anton Artemis was Grand Master of the Dark Templars, we ruled the world from the shadows, serving the will of Satan. The Spanish Inquisition, the Nazis, the Khmer Rouge, all projects initiated by the Head of Baphomet. The KGB, the CIA, that was us, we were everywhere, in control of everything. And doing Evil, that was the whole point of it all.
"Then Lord Tazio arrived at the Armageddon Festival at Megiddo in Israel half a year ago, and it all ended. We Dark Templars were simply DELIVERED to him. Because he was the current incarnation of Satan, Anton told us. And because Tazio had the power-- which he admittedly does.
"So now Anton Artemis and the Dark Templars serve High Lord Tazio, who is supposedly the Very Incarnation of Satan, but who is also commanding The Army of Peace for his beloved Immanuel, the most recent incarnation of Christ. Thus have we resumed the Knights Templar name again to be politically acceptable. It's all very messy, but yes, there is a continuity."
I had given up on interrupting him to protest that what he was saying was absolutely absurd, not believable, impossible. So when he was finished telling his fables we drove on in silence for a while.
In fact, I was beginning to wonder if the Certain Death Gang's time-trail we were following-- unseen by me --was real, or simply another phantom of Rashiid's fantasy world. He was a magical hunk of man, just a shame he was also a Satan-worshipping fanatic who believed in fairy tales. Then it occurred to me: then again, perhaps this man IS a fairy tale!
I glanced over at him, recalling my first impression of villainous thug, probably liar. I'd forgotten about that, so hypnotically seduced had I been. As everyone else had been as well. Hadn't someone mentioned mass hypnosis? Was Rashiid really a super agent, or was it all just a clever trick?
His directions eventually lead us almost 40 miles out of town, to a large wooden barn in the woods at the end of a long gravel driveway, branched off another gravel road. Deep forest, no neighbors, quite isolated. Rashiid said there was nobody present just then and had me stop the car right next to the barn. He watched it for a while, ostensibly seeing things I could not. Beside the barn stood an obviously abandoned house, windows and roof broken, several dusty cars and trucks parked around the house, but no movement or sign of life. It was a very creepy place, surrounded by silent murky woods, and made me feel cold and lonely.
Rashiid broke into the barn, picking the big padlock in seconds with a little tool kit he had in his pocket. "This is their supply station," he said, and was right.
I was astounded to see that it was all there: an old black Ford Transit van, weapons, masks, reconnaissance photos and blueprints of the banks that had been robbed, as much hard evidence as one could wish. As if on display for someone to find. But no sign of any living and breathing Certain Death Gang members, and no clues as to who or where they were.
"So is this a dead end?" I had to ask.
"What do you mean? We followed them to here, now we simply follow them home."
Rashiid had me drive back out the driveway and down another series of gravel roads for about 10 miles, turning and switching enough that I was completely lost when we finally arrived at a large log cabin almost hidden in the forest. We stopped and studied it.
I was worried that whoever was in the house would notice us, but again Rashiid said there was no one home. "I'm going in," he finally said, "and it would be safer for you to come with me." So I did.
Correct again, no one was home. The house was casually messy, as if bachelors lived there. A large and expensive flat screen TV with surround-sound audio setup dominated the living room, but that was the only sign that the owners might have had extra money flowing through their fingers. There were no obvious clues to indicate that robbers and murders lived there, no numbered bank bags of actual cash, no bullets lying around. Rashiid came out of his trance and was seeing the present day again. "They go to work every day," he said, "they probably won't be back before 5:30. We have time to search after names, then have some sex."
We'll see about that, I thought to myself, determined to put him off this time. Even though I 'd felt a wave of juiciness gush through me when he said it. Pavlov's bitch syndrom?
We found names in a file cabinet: bills, wages from a lumber mill in town, tax papers. Two unmarried men were evidently sharing the house, Ivan Kinsky and Karl Ruposki, American-Russians in their thirties. There were two standard rifles in a case, but no machine guns or masks. I wanted to call the information in to Inspector Tate and let the police began investigating those men from their end, but Rashiid said, "No. They are mine now."
"Are you sure these are the guilty men?" I had to ask, "there's no evidence here connecting them to that barn."
"Very sure, I've been watching them come and go over the last three years. They've had blood on their clothes several times. And I recognize them from the school massacre anyway, the masks don't hide their souls."
"But you can't offer that as evidence in court," I instructed him.
"I don't need evidence, they won't necessarily be going to court."
I began to feel afraid that they could come back at any moment and trap us down there, but Rashiid assured me that he had it all under control. He was waiting for them to come home. So we had time to kill.
Yes, we had sex for a few hours. I was reluctant, but could simply not resist.
Honestly? Whenever Rashiid touched me I was immediately out of control, a kamikaze, a lemming, opening my body to whatever brutal battering this horny beast wanted to use me for. Fortunately, he was wonderfully nice and tender about it, but that wasn't the point. I wanted to be enraged for being mind-raped by his "erotic charge"-- although I had volunteered for this duty, and he was just making it easier for me to go through with it. Well okay, more than easy, he was actually making me enjoy it with wild enthusiasm. What a rat.
As my lust finally became sated, however, I had to start wondering what the hell I was doing blissfully fornicating in the house of some very dangerous psychopaths. It was spooky, every creepy splatter movie I'd ever seen began running through my head, the villains sneaking in and coming from behind, you know. Rashiid assured me that they could not approach without him being aware of them.
I found myself believing in him again, so I continued the interview.
"What's your story, Rashiid? How did you become an agent of the Knights... the Dark Templars?"
"I was born to it, as are most Agents. Very few outsiders are accepted into our ranks."
"So it's a family organization, like the Mafia?"
"Not at all, there is no family allowed. That is, not one like you know, with parents and siblings-- my father must have been an Agent, and my mother a slave in the breeding camps, but I never knew which ones they were."
I had to interrupt him there, "Breeding slave girls?"
He nodded, shrugged. "Yes, yes, the Satan-worshipping Templars are sexist. A few superior women have become agents, but most women in our society are slaves-- even if they don't know it." he gave me a sly look, "You've experienced a sample of how that works."
"I'll say... go on, breeding superior children, I suppose?"
"Oh yes, the Templars are very adept at eugenics, been doing selective breeding for generations. Hitler's Winterborn Projekt did not come from nowhere, you know, Anton was the architect of that."
"We're talking about Übermensch?, aren't we"
"Jawhol, genow. And it works, look at me."
"Uh... right. But what kind of childhood did you have? No parents, no love anywhere. It sounds horrible!"
"Naw... well, it was hard, but that was the whole point: to make us hard, to make us superior to our enemies, to teach us discipline. As for love, it was forbidden, we were taught dedication to Satan instead. We were trained in the martial arts, strategies of war, how to kill, how to steal..."
"Oh my god..."
"...as for God, how to exploit religions to our purposes. Then at the age of 5 we were thrown out of the camps into some hostile environment to prove that we could survive on our own. Those who made it would be picked up again at the age of 12, when they could become novices, eligible to become full-fledged Agents/Knights after the age of 19."
"You poor baby," I had to say.
"Well, that's how I felt when they dumped me alone into Beirut, where I became a terrorist, of course. It was civil war, everybody was involved. Although just a little boy I was already a trained expert, which impressed all the grizzled old soldiers, so it was easy to find work-- and even make a good living.
"Later, while a novice in the Dark Templars again, I served as a mercenary soldier in Africa. The Grand Master, Anton Artemis, took notice of my skills, promoted me to Agent, and assigned me to espionage for the German Army in North Africa..."
"Wait a minute-- you're saying you really WERE a Nazi?"
"The Nazis were only imitations of US-- Junior Dark Templars --but technically, I was considered one of them, yes."
"You know, this story's got some major holes in it-- World War II was over 60 years ago, you're not old enough to have been there and fuck the way you just did."
"One of the benefits of serving as Dark Templar is proximity to the energy-aura of our Grand Master, which bequeaths longevity. We may die in combat, but hardly of old age. I was born in 1903."
"Oh come on, that would make you..." I stopped, not wanting to admit just how old my new boy friend really was, but also because I realized it was probably true. I had myself experienced rejuvination from HIS energy.
"Oh God, a Nazi-- sigh --so go on. I suppose it gets worse?"
"Or better, depending upon your perspective. Later I was involved in Southeast Asia, especially with the Khmer Rouge Project in Cambodia."
"You were fighting the Khmer Rouge?"
"No, I was strategic advisor for them."
"But.." once again I was taken aback, "...but they committed inhumane atrocities! Pol Pot was even worse than Adolf Hitler!"
"Yes, and they were both Anton's minions, obeying his dictates. All part of the Great Satanic Plan."
That was too much. I had been lying naked beside him on the sofa, suddenly I found myself clutching at my clothes to cover me, moving away from him. But he touched my face and I moved myself under him instead, helpless not to. He took me on another orgasm ride that left me spent, and all the fear and disgust I'd been about to feel was also spent.
I was calm when I spoke again, but critical. "Hmm, you know, when I first saw your picture, I thought you had to be a real bastard. You looked like a convict, or a terrorist."
"Guilty. I have committed crimes, murder and theft. I have been deemed Evil enough to be accepted among the Dark Templars as a sworn servant of Satan Himself. For many years Doing Evil was my profession-- and passion. I was probably just as bad as the men we are hunting now."
I found myself believing him. "And then you had a change of heart?"
"Not really. I'd love to be bad again."
"So why are you hunting criminals?"
"Because I have been commanded to do so by High Lord Tazio Himself, and no one can disobey him. When He took over the Dark Templars we all became his slaves."
"Now you're a slave too? But you have all these powers!"
"They are Lord Tazio's powers, I can only use them as his proxy" he said. "Oh, I can't complain, we were his mortal enemies and tried to kill him for years, but instead he conquered us and now we must do penance for our lives of sin. It's fair enough-- he could have destroyed us all, but instead allows us to work for him."
"What's Tazio like? Up-and-coming Master of the World and all that, Satan Himself, you say. I've heard so many impossible stories, it's hard to filter out the facts."
"The fact is that he's nothing less than a god incarnate. Aside from that, he's actually a pretty nice kid. Although now..." Rashiid reflected, then shrugged, "...now, nobody knows. He's out to change the world and has the power to make everyone obey him-- so he does."
"You think all the power is changing him?"
"Oh, he's always had power. Thing is, Lord Tazio changes all the time: he was born an ugly little monster named Theron, became a normal boy-- except for the tail-- then was a passionless neuter for several years, became a GIRL for Immanuel, and now he's an alpha male even more horny than me."
"The rumor is he can cause earthquakes."
"Lord Tazio is the Human Interface of the Planet Earth, he can move continents."
"That would be en more scary than being Satan,if it were true."
Rashiid had to smile an o ye of little faith smile. "He is proving it true even now, in Jerusalem."
"But Jerusalem doesn't exist any more, it was nuked."
"Yes, the Holy City is now a vast empty site of scorched earth, perfect for a fresh start. Tazio is building the New Jerusalem even now. He has claimed all the ground within the blast circumference and is processing it with his Earth powers."
"No one else can do what he does. He commands the Earth to move, and it does."
Actually, I had heard something about volcanic activity in Israel just recently, but had been too involved with the arrival of a certain Knight Templar to pay it much attention.
"The city of New Jerusalem is growing up out of the earth like an orchard of stone," Rashiid went on, "Tazio can make hot lava flow into the form of walls and buildings. I don't know how, but I've seen him do it, call it magic. In the center of that city he will erect The New Temple Itself-- you know, the one mentioned in the Book of Revelations?"
He sat up abruptly. "They're coming down the driveway now," he said, pulling on his sexy black uniform again, "back to work."
Of course I wanted to hide, but Rashiid said, "They'll see your car anyway, so they'll know someone is here, but not who or why. Actually, I'd like you to talk with them, I'll observe. They won't even notice me."
"Talk with them, are you crazy? I don't want to be anywhere near them! What would I talk about?"
"Pretend you're a journalist. Interview them, see how it goes."
"If these guys have murdered 88 people now, it could go really bad," I mentioned.
"They can't harm you, I'd freeze them first. Hell, I'd kill them first, even though I may not."
I was reluctant, but Rashiid is very persuasive (as I'd learned), so we went outside and waited for them to arrive. It was a short wait, but long enough to remind me why I live in the city instead of out in the woods of Alaska: lots of big mosquitoes.
Two men in a Chevy pickup rolled into the area, paused when they saw my car parked in front of their cabin, then saw me-- looking very innocent and harmless. They quickly pulled in to park in such a way that my car was blocked from leaving. The two men spoke together, then got out of their car and came toward me. They were not smiling, but they weren't armed either. I could see a shotgun mounted in the rear window of the pickup, but they hadn't taken it along.
"Hello, Ma'am," Ivan Kinsky said in a half-friendly tone, "are you lost or something?" He was in his 40's, short, bearded, dressed in plaid shirt and coverall, a real workingman. Karl Ruposki was tall and thin, also dressed in working clothes. He said nothing but his look was wary. They were both dusted with wood chips, as if they had been lumberjacking.
My journalist persona took over, "No, don't think I'm lost: Ivan Kinsky and Karl Ruposki?"
"That's us,?" Kinsky answered cautiously.
More suspiciously Ruposki asked,?"You from the Government?"
Rashiid was standing right behind me, but they hadn't noticed him. He wasn't invisible, but it seems that being "overlooked" was yet another psychic talent in his repertoire.
"Oh no, I'm a reporter from the Fairbanks Evening Gazette," I went on, simply telling the truth. "I'd like to interview you about something..." then I ran out of gas, didn't know what to say next.
I looked at Rashiid, who said, "Just go on, I'll stop them if they get aggressive." He sounded very confident; I knew he could do it, therefore so was I.
So I looked back at them and decided to go for it, "...what can you tell me about the Certain Death Gang Killings? Specifically the incident at the high school three weeks ago..."then I got mad, "why THE HELL did you guys kill all those KIDS?"
They looked at each other with their mouths open, then back at me as if I was crazy. "Lady, what are you talking about? The Certain Death Gang? Us?" Kinsky asked. He looked hurt, and a little scared.
Riposki was indignant. "Why do you say that? What kind of shit IS that? Is it because we're Russians?"
"I have reason to believe..."
"What reason could you POSSIBLY have to believe that we had anything to do with that gang of... maniacs? I mean, what PROOF do you have that we... we...?" Kinsky ran out of words.
So did I: "I..."
They certainly acted innocent and shocked by my accusation. Suddenly I wondered if everything was as Rashiid was telling me: we had found the supply barn, but there had been nothing to prove that these men had any connection to that. Only that Rashiid had said so. No evidence, no clues, no hint of suspicious behavior. Once again I questioned if Rashiid was being honest with me.
Kinsky licked his lips and looked around, still not seeing Rashiid. "You alone, Ma'am? You come out here all by yourself?"
"No, my colleague is around here somewhere," I said casually, "but I thought I'd talk to you first. Hear your story."
"Well, we don't have a story. We don't know anything about whatever it is you're saying," Ruposki insisted.
"You're innocent, then?"
"Hell, yes, ma'am. Innocent as babies. Of anything whatsoever."
"Well, then I guess I was wrong. I'll just go then." They shared another look, deciding what to do. And I had to wonder if they were really going to let me go. If so, maybe they WERE innocent.
"So where IS that other guy?" Ruposki asked, moving closer to me.
"I'm right here," Rashiid finally said.
Now they saw him: impressive Knight Templar in classy black uniform, looking like a real threat. They stopped moving, not sure which way to go.
"I am Agent Rashiid of the Knights Templar, and have witnessed the two of you involving in seven of the eight Certain Death Gang massacres. You are now my captives."
Kinsky frowned, looked worried, "I don't know what kind of cop you are, but.." then noticed: "...well, you don't seem to be armed, Sir Knight."
Ruposki turned to dash for the shotgun in the pickup. Rashiid called out one word, "Pain." Both men screamed, fell to their knees and flailed uncontrollably in the dirt, obviously in terrible agony.
Rashiid spoke with great calm, "There are six other men involved, four of them living nearby. Call them and arrange an emergency meeting here. Oh, yes, Cancel Pain now."
The men stopped screaming, but lay sprawled out in the gravel, still weeping and catching their breath. "What IS this? What ARE you?"
"Just make the call, please," Rashiid ordered them.
"We don't have a fucking telephone out here!" Kinsky complained.
"That's why you always use the Citizen Band radio in your pickup and speak to each other in code. Now call."
"WHO are we supposed to call?"
"Pain: teeth, eyes, testicles..." The men were screaming again, groveling in the gravel.
I had to go into the cabin to get away from it all, it was too much for me. Technically Rashiid wasn't laying a finger on either of them, but he was obviously torturing those men. Of course, if they WERE part of the Certain Death Gang they deserved it, but I still wasn't sure that they had anything to do with it. Part of me just wanted to leave; sensitive woman going home now, let these men work it out one way or another. But I couldn't go away from the story.
They were guilty. That was made clear when they submitted and called the four others to the "emergency meeting" as Rashiid had commanded them to. Only three men could make it, and when they arrived were also caught in a trap of psychic words. By midnight we were in a log cabin with five of the most dangerous serial group-mass-murderers in Alaska. The word "Wither" had left them each so weak that they could not stand, all five of them limp in one sofa, no threat to anyone just then.
I was happy that we hadn't been murdered. My faith in Rashiid had also been restored, as well as my own super-journalist-powers: I was getting my story. Wilson Burns, Freddy Lindsel, Dr. Leonard Glisson; names, confessions, intricate details, motivations. None of these men had ever been suspected by the police, some being respectable family men, one doctor, a butcher. We also had the names and addresses of 3 more members of the Gang, the one man who couldn't make it that evening, Martin Cawlings, and two others who were presently Out of State.
We learned that Cawlings, evidently the leader of the gang, was a teacher at the very school the massacre had taken place. It was his plan and he enthusiastically arranged the details of attack for the Certain Death Gang. Evil teacher. Although he did also arrange a field trip for a few of his favorite students, so that they were not present when the robbery-massacre should happen. Rashiid wanted to go after Martin Cawlings next, but first we had to deal with the five prisoners.
I couldn't help asking Rashiid, "Which one of them killed Mark?"
"I thought you didn't want details."
"I want that detail."
"They're all equally guilty," he said, "Marc wasn't singled out, it was assembly-line work for them. Does it matter which one...?"
"It matters to me."
"Evidently, but it was none of these men here."
"Marsha, perhaps it's for the best you don't..."
"Tell me, or no more sex for you with me. I promise."
"Well, I guess you've got me by the balls now, don't you? Very well, it was Cawlings, their leader."
The missing man. Since he wasn't here I could relax for the moment. But of course, now was my big chance to interview the prisoners we had ask the main question:
"Why did the Certain Death Gang have to KILL everybody?"
No one answered until Rashiid commanded, "Answer her!" when they all began to speak at once, almost obsessively. All saying pretty much the same thing, amounting to: "For the fun of it!"
It soon became clear that the Certain Death Gang was a serial murderer's club, all members psychopathic, for whom murder was a hobby. It was a team sport. The robberies were just an entertaining excuse for killing as many people as they could. They were warming to the subject, babbling excessively, beginning to boast, until Rashiid commanded them to silence.
"You know, you guys think you're some evil sons of bitches. No compassion or respect for innocent lives, kill just for the fun of it." He smiled. "Actually, I like that, makes you my kind of boys. Man, I wish I could be bad again, the freedom of ruthlessness, the rush of cruelty..."
Even weak and withered, the five murderers lifted their heads to look puzzled. Me too, we all stared at Rashiid. What was he saying?
He shrugged. "Hey, this psychic detective work I do is not really ME, you know, it's my curse. I used to enjoy harming innocent people as much as you did. But I may not do that any more because I've been commanded to a life no honest man would ever choose: to be a police-dog, a slave who lives for nothing other than capturing men like myself. I'm a criminal converted into a cop."
"Well, hey then, you could just let us go..." Kinsky offered to say. The others nodded fervently.
"Are you kidding?" Rashiid answered, "At least I get to PUNISH you fuckers. Nothing personal, but that's my favorite part of this job: I get to be cruel again, almost like in the good old days of torture, disfigurement and death."
They looked at each other, worried. They were already afraid of this magical super-Gestapo agent. Ruposki's mouth trembled, "What do you mean? You can't do anything to us; you can only read us our rights! You have to turn us in to the law!"
"No he doesn't," I merrily informed them, although not yet certain what Rashiid had in mind, "an agent of the Knights Templar has free hands to do handle this case however he so chooses. It's in the contract."
"Thank you, Marsha, and yes, it's true. Your asses are mine. Now, I have several options: I can punish you here and now, then deliver what's left to the Fairbanks authorities to dispose of as they will. Or I can take you with me to Templar Headquarters and have you also converted into super-psychic agents like myself."
I had to butt in now, "Rashiid, you can't mean that! These... these sick PERVERTS have killed 88 people over the last 3 years! They should be.. I don't know, EXECUTED, or in PRISON at the very least. Not rewarded!"
"Really? We can be like you, powers and everything? Hey, that would be cool!" Burns, the youngest of them was getting dreamy-eyed.
"Yeah, let's do that!" Lindsel agreed, "Take us with you!"
Rashiid let them-- and me --get excited for a moment, evidently playing us all, because the next thing he said was:
"No. I can't use any of you. You're not evil enough, sorry. So I will be turning you over to the local authorities, I'm sure they'd like to get their hands on you all very much. But first, I have a command for each of you-- Marsha, you had better leave the cabin for a moment."
"Me? But I want this story..."
"You could end up with a nasty psychosis if you are present to hear this command. For your own sake, please go out, far enough so that you cannot hear my voice. I'll tell you everything later."
I went out into the sunshine of the Alaskan evening. And yes, far enough, I remembered when Rashiid had spoken "freeze" to a room full of people.
The mosquitoes were ferocious, as usual-- I suddenly realized that mosquitoes stayed away from Rashiid, wondered if he could teach me that trick. Then I heard the men wailing.
I went back toward the cabin, the wailing becoming louder, more intense, sobbing, sniffing, crying, something traumatic had happened to those 5 men. Rashiid came out to greet me.
"I commanded them to regret all their crimes. They are remembering every person they ever harmed or killed, are realizing what they've done. Now they must each bear their own ruthless Judgments."
"They have to go to prison," I insisted, "feeling sorry for awhile is not enough atonement for what they've done."
"Oh, they're already imprisoned, they can't function in normal life any more, their remorse is too total. And SORRY is not the right word, what they are experiencing now is all-consuming SHAME. I know." He seemed to reflect on that, then went on, "But yes, the authorities are welcome to them, I can't use them. In fact, no one can."
"Good." I felt avenged, but wondered, "Won't it wear off?"
"Not unless they receive the release command."
"And that's happened to you?"
He nodded, "I've endured it for one day-- part of the process of making me obedient --and that day was like an eternity in Hell. Fortunately, one of the percs of being Lord Tazio's empowered agent is release from that remorse, otherwise I could not function."
He was looking off in the distance somewhere. Damn, the mosquitoes really were avoiding him!
"When Tazio took over the Templars he didn't even want us. He may be Satan's self, but he has no respect for evil. He says that even Satan has had to grow up over the last few millions of years, and that our misconception of The Lord of Hell was the result of worshipping that ancient Head of Baphoment, which was in turn a sort of crystal computer programmed before the dawn of time, and never updated. Tazio has destroyed it-- we assume.
"Anyway, when Lord Tazio took over, his first command was that the Dark Templars DO NO HARM.
"Harm is what we DID, it was how we WORKED. Unable to disobey the command of the Satanic Avatar, we were made useless. But Tazio was taking over the world, which made him very busy. Eventually Anton convinced Tazio to deputize some of us Knights to take on projects Tazio had no time to do himself.
"He chose 66 men to be his own special agents, bound by cosmic commands of an Avatar of the Satanic Race to serve the concept of justice, charged them with his own Urr-energy, and here I am."
The cabin was too far out of town for a cell phone to connect, we couldn't call the police to come and get our prisoners, so we took them to the jailhouse in Fairbanks ourselves. They were helpless and docile, so weak that Rashiid had to carry them out and dump them in the back of Kinsky's pickup. I drove my own car, Rashiid followed with the pickup loaded with five withered weeping murderers.
Fairbanks Midnight Sun Street Fair was in full swing when we arrived in town. It's our version of Mardi Gras, although without the bright city lights since it's always daylight: crowds of people swarming the streets, simultaneous live music concerts, dancers dancing, runners running, most of the stores open to midnight. We could not sneak into town unseen, but we were hardly noticed. We had to cross the 10-kilometer Fun Run with both vehicles, but people were in high humor and funny costumes, so they had no time for us.
Good thing too, if they had known that those 5 men in the back of that open pickup were the hated murderers of friends and family, all those happy fun-loving festivalers would probably have become a very large lynch mob.
We made it to the Fairbanks Police Station without incident. The night shift at the jailhouse was extremely surprised to have us show up with most of the notorious Certain Death Gang. The police had not been informed of any progress since we had left town around noon, we had been too far out of town to call.
Emotions were high as the police officers on duty were finally realizing just who the Certain Death Gang murderers really were. For some they were familiar faces or names, every cop there knew someone those men had killed, and here they were, in their power at last. They were rather disgusted by those sobbing and weak helpless men. Rashiid instructed the officers to keep their presence a secret until he located or captured three more men.
Our prisoners in jail, we drove by Martin Cawlings apartment on the edge of town, fortunately away from all the fun and games of the warm summer evening. We parked outside for a few minutes while Rashiid scanned back in time, to ascertain that he was not home. Rashiid scanned Cawlings driving away to the south earlier this evening, just after the "emergency meeting" call, to which he'd said he could not come.
We followed his time-trail several miles out of town in the direction of Anchorage, until Rashiid said, "Never mind, he's too many hours ahead of us, we won't catch him tonight. Might have driven all the way to Anchorage, could already have left Alaska, or even doubled back to Fairbanks by now, no way of knowing."
Rashiid could have just pushed on, all night long, next day, however long it took, but I was finished and told him so. It was 2:30 in the morning. I had to sleep. "I'm not supercharged like you," I admitted; glad to drive home after a very long day.
He WAS supercharged, that Templar agent, simply bristling with energy. We went to bed, but he was not ready to sleep, so we had yet another overwhelming sexual encounter and then I was finally allowed to pass out.
Rashiid had plans for the next day, so we were up early. I felt amazingly refreshed after only a few hour's sleep, as if my lover's abundant energy was supercharging me too. But even more amazing was what I saw in the bathroom mirror. I had to do a double-take to ascertain that I really did look different than just two days before. My few 38 year-old wrinkles were simply gone, my skin smooth and blushed like a baby's. My breasts were firmer, my belly tighter, my everything had simply become-- younger!
"Yes," Rashiid told me, "it was the same when Lord Tazio touched me, my face had been gruesomely scarred with pockmarks before. That healing energy also gets transmitted during sex."
"My god, let's have more sex now!"
But it was not to be just then, the Chief of Police called instead, having finally discovered that most of the notorious Certain Death Gang was locked in his jail. Rashiid instructed him not to make any announcements yet, since there were still three other members to apprehend. He also asked to arrange a security contact at the airport. I also had to report in to Bud Lennox, my editor at the Gazette and give him a vague update on the still-secret news story I was working on. Then we drove out to Fairbanks International.
Rashiid met with Airport Security, and we were allowed to go to the restricted sections of flight check-ins, where he scanned back in time to find the two members of the Gang who were listed as Out of State. He found that Dennis Warrick had flown to LA a week before, with a return ticket for Fairbanks later that very day. He informed the attending security officer of the details so that Warrick could be arrested upon arrival.
The other member, George Cassini, had flown to Rome, no return ticket in his folder. Rashiid had been looking over the man's shoulder a month back in time, studied the man's passport, intended address in Rome. Rashiid came out of his scanning state to the present time, and immediately made a call on his cell phone. He spoke fluent Italian with someone he knew in Rome, including some obvious friendly chit-chat, followed by a businesslike exchange of information, names and numbers which I could more-or-less follow by context, and finished with a "Ciao, Aldo."
"Agent Aldo of the Rome Templars will pick Cassini up," he told me. And that was it, case basically solved. Except for Martin Cawlings, the still-missing evil schoolteacher.
But just as we were congratulating ourselves on a job well done, my cell phone rang. It was Bud Lennox from the Gazette: "Marsha, that top-secret story of yours about the Certain Death Gang? It's on television right now! I need something to print-- FAST! Get down to City Hall and find out what's going on!" One of the city councilors had a daughter killed at the school and had spread the story as soon as he knew about it, out for immediate revenge.
We drove into town as fast as we could, saw the large crowd in front of the police station upon arrival. There were television transmission trucks from KATN and KFXF news, citizens holding up signs like "Justice!", or "Revenge!" Not quite a lynch mob yet, but there was lots of potential for it.
The parking lots on Cushman Street were full; I had to park a block away. We were walking up 8th Street towards the crowd, when Rashiid suddenly grabbed me and turned, yanking me off my feet just as a shot was fired.
I was confused by being spun around, but recognized the "bang" of a hunting rifle, and the shrill shriek of a bullet whizzing past my head, then a sound I didn't recognize, a snappy electric ZAP. Someone far away cried out in shock and pain. The crowd also reacted to the shot and panicked, everyone running for cover.
On my feet again, I turned and saw Rashiid running toward the Chevron gas station across the street. He was very fast (of course, what else?), but I wasn't expecting to see him jump up the wall of the station, and with a sidelong push vault all the way up onto the rooftop. It was only a one-story building, but pretty amazing anyway! Then he was bending over someone lying on the roof.
The crowd had collectively ducked out of danger, but when they heard no more shots, they began to look after the shooter. Police were running to the gas station and the crowd began to follow.
I ran too, surprisingly fast, but knowing I couldn't spring up onto the roof as Rashiid had. Then wondered, "Or could I?" even as the crowd and I were about to converge in a vast tangle. I took the wall as he had done-- hopped up, pushed off the wall-- and almost soared. I came high enough to grab the edge of the roof and pull myself up the rest of the way, even more amazed than when Rashiid had done it.
Rashiid was standing over a man who was down flat and bleeding profusely, a rifle laying on the roof beside him. He was calling someone on his cell phone, talking in a language I couldn't identify.
The wounded man turned out to be Martin Cawlings, of course. He had been waiting for us to show up at the scene, armed with a 30.06 with a high-powered scope. But when he shot at Rashiid some kind of Star Trek-ish protective energy shield had deflected the bullet right back at him. Cawlings had been hit in the chest, his lung was collapsed, he was dying.
The Police arrived below and were calling up to us, none of them able to come up the wall as we had. I called back that the shooter was down, wounded, and that we should probably call an ambulance. The crowd, also arrived, was shouting that if it was one of the Certain Death Gang we should just let him die. They were shouting many things, getting riled up and nasty. Kind of scary.
I knew this was technically the very man who had murdered my husband Mark three years before, but found myself even more indignant about him having slaughtered his own students at school three weeks ago. I couldn't help wishing the mob would lynch him, and I certainly didn't feel like defending his life.
"Maybe we should let the Police handle this," I suggested to Rashiid, anxious to get out of there.
"No, I'll be taking this one with me," he said, the phone still at his ear.
"Hardly," he said, then responded to something said in the phone, waved me away from the wounded man. "Get back, Marsha."
Rashiid bent down to Cawlings, ripped the man's shirt apart to expose the bullet hole in his chest, and held the cell phone just over the wound. A bright golden light emanated from the little screen, an electrical whine could be heard. The blood around the wound started to boil, then the bullet popped up out of the wound, which simply healed and was gone.
"Oh my god." I was conflicted, having just witnessed a miraculous healing wasted on a man who only deserved to die.
"He's lost a lot of blood," Rashiid said, "we'll still need that ambulance, and plasma." He went to the side of the roof to call instructions down.
The Police had finally found a ladder and were arriving on the roof, as was some of the crowd from another side, all rushing in at us, for each their own reason. The rooftop was filling up with angry people.
Sudden stillness. I was just as paralyzed as everyone else, until Rashiid touched me and I was loose again. He had Cawlings over his shoulder and we went down the ladder, having to crawl over policemen frozen on their way up. It was tricky getting through the flock of statues in the street, perhaps a hundred people, but soon we were free of the crowd and ran to my car.
Rashiid tossed the dying man in, and I drove the single mile to Memorial Hospital on Cowles Street as fast as I could, although reluctantly.
I called in my story to the Gazette from the hospital while Rashiid and a medical team was fussing with Cawlings. Hoping he would die, I wasn't very interested in the rescue efforts, so I went out into the hall to ignore them.
In a while, Martin Cawlings lay in a hospital bed, plasma tubes now saving his life. He was probably completely unaware of his situation, being still unconscious, not suffering at all. Rashiid came out to me.
Looking out from the lofty height of a third story window in Fairbanks towards Cushman Street, I could imagine all the people still frozen around the Chevron station. "Aren't you going to unfreeze them?"
"In a while, although many of them will come out of it soon anyway. My commands don't have the staying power of a genuine Avatar's."
"Why save him?" I finally had to ask, ?"he really deserves to die."
"He has what it takes to be a super agent like me, I am duty-bound to bring him to the Templars."
"Even though he tried to kill you?"
"Yes, admirable. He found out who was after him, knew what to do about it, set a trap, and waited patiently up on that roof for his chance. Cawlings is far more dangerous than the others, they were just weak men."
"So instead of being punished, this evil bastard gets to go free, will be given super-powers, and can travel around the world being a hero and having nice women comfort him when he's on a job. Is that right?"
"He will not be free, nor will he ever be able to harm anyone again, but instead be of service to humanity as a slave agent."
"That's not enough, he has done too great a damage to humanity to be allowed to make it right again: this man should suffer. Like those others, feeling remorse, locked in prison for life. He has to PAY for what he did!"
"Is it revenge you want, Marsha?"
"Sure! Not just for me and not just for Mark, but for everyone those men have hurt, dead or alive.
"Rashiid, you tell me that deep down you're a bad guy, and your penance for that is to be a super cop against your will. You hint that you hate your job, but it seems to me you don't. In fact, I say that you're living a pretty good life as a respected Hero Agent who gets to save cities, and you've certainly enjoyed me while you're at it."
"And I hope to enjoy you some more."
"Well fine, but I don't want that man to become like you! I want you to punish him as you did the others!"
"Understand, Marsha, that nothing about his fate has anything to do with any choices I have made, I have not passed judgment upon Cawlings. I work by a set of commands that leave me powerless to deviate."
I had to ask it: "Were you really once as bad as those men?"
He knew what I wanted him to say, but what he said was: "Yes, no, I don't know. I'm incapable of judging either them or myself. I've never done exactly what they did-- wanton murder of innocent strangers just for fun. Yes, I've done some terrible things, but mostly performing what I considered my duty to the Great Satanic Plan."
We arranged a police guard to hold watch over Cawlings so that he couldn't escape or be lynched, then went to the police station to wrap things up. On the way by Rashiid unfroze what was left of the crowd, although many had already come free of the spell. "Depends on their individual susceptibility," he explained.
The jailhouse was a madhouse. Stressed police officers, frantic journalists, hysterical citizens, angry lumberjacks, all wanting to know what was going to happen to the Certain Death Gang now that they were captured. There was definitely a lynching atmosphere, so many had lost loved ones to those monsters.
Mayor Clandee was supposed to make a statement, but did not yet know what was going on himself because of the City's contract with the Knights Templars. So he was very glad to see us arrive.
Especially when Rashiid told him: "The Templars are waiving their right to these prisoners-- except for the one in the hospital, whom they will extradite. The City is awarded custody of the five others. Collecting evidence should be no problem, since they are each contrite and eager to confess everything."
An officer came to Mayor Clandee with the news that Dennis Warrick had just been arrested without incident, at the airport returning from Los Angeles.
Rashiid said, "Oh Mayor, I will be wanting to have a word with Warrick when you bring him in, if you please."
I was feeling rather unsatisfied with my heroic knight's resolution of the case as far as Cawlings was concerned, but was gratified to understand that Warrick would be getting the Regret treatment. Eternal torment seemed pretty fair punishment for their crimes.
I decided to appeal my case when Rashiid and I had a moment alone in the hallway.
"Rashiid, you told me that a Knight of the Templars is supposed to treat his hostess as if she were a beloved wife. Part of your set of commands, I suppose?"
"Indeed. And have we not been a good pair?"
"Oh yeah, we're great in bed, but there's more to being a good wife than sex and comforting- there's also Council; she offering her man encouragement and advice."
"I assume advice is forthcoming."
"I already came forth with it. Cawlings deserves to be put away, not another chance. Your beloved hostess has spoken."
Rashiid looked at me seriously for a moment, deliberating before he spoke, "Then you have passed judgment upon the man, as I could not," bowed his head very politely, "thus so be it."
"Really?" I was surprised, that wasn't so hard.
"A Knight Templar is commanded to respect the judgment of his assigned woman. So I'd better obey."
We went home together. It had been a long day. Maybe the last one together, I didn't know. Of course, we had to have the classic defining-this relationship conversation, coming to:
"...but Marsha, you're not really in love with me, it's only the sex."
"Maybe so, Rashiid, but it's the best sex I've ever had. I want more."
"Yes, and I do too, but I can't stay, I'm a Knight Templar."
"Right, and I suppose there'll be another girl next mission." He ignored that, so I knew it was so.
"Listen, I really have done bad things," he said, "someday you might learn the details and come to hate me. You haven't yet understood my true nature."
"Nor, I think, do you," I informed him. "You pride yourself in being the same old evil shit you used to be, it's a guy thing. But Tazio's psychic enhancements upgraded your mind too-- I know because contact with you has even made ME smarter; concepts are clearer, I think faster. So maybe you were a badass before, but I'm afraid you're an ass-been now."
"Oh, my mind was improved, yes, but don't confuse intelligence with goodness, that's all Tazio's, not mine. If you only understood what I might do to you, were I free...
"All right," I said, "tell me. So I can understand."
"Eventually I'd hurt you, one way or another. Physically, emotionally, whatever was most fun for me at the time. I'm cruel by nature, you can't trust a man like me."
"Oh my god no! You're just as bad as every other man on the planet! Well-- except that you're not free to do any of those things," I reminded him.
"Er, uh... actually no, I'm not." He had to grin.
"We could keep in touch," I suggested.
He stayed another three days, working with the police to establish evidence, waiting for Cawlings to be conscious enough to afflict him with the Regret-Command before being transferred to prison.
It was a vacation for Rashiid, although not for me; I had a lot of writing to catch up on. I even had to show up at the Gazette like any working girl, but when I was free we went out to evening picnics at Happy Lake, movies, and made love a lot. We drove up the Steese Highway to Eagle Summit to see the Midnight Sun rolling around just above the horizon. I even got him to play tourist at Pioneer Park for the Midnight Dance.
Finally he actually did have to fly back to New York, off to another assignment. It was agreed that we would see each other, but unclear as to when. That seemed a good enough way to say farewell to my Lone Knight riding off into the never-quite-final Alaska sunset.