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Authors: Robert A. Wilson

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BOOK: Masks of the Illuminati
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“Arthur,” he repeated, “the monster who brought ruin on my whole family. And now he comes back from the grave itself to taunt me.” And he rushed across the street.

“After him!” Jones said urgently, starting to run.

Sir John reached the opposite sidewalk first, as Verey
dashed through the gate and entered the path between the high beds of exotic plants. The path turned abruptly and Verey was now running, about ten feet away, in a direction parallel to the street. He disappeared behind a large oak, as Sir John entered the garden and ran after him.

Taking the same turn as Verey, Sir John found the clergyman no longer in sight. He rushed to the next turn and confronted a tallish, black-bearded man in a Russian fur hat, busy trimming the hedges.

“Where is he?” Sir John cried.

“Where is who?” the bearded stranger asked in a thick Slavic accent.

“Reverend Verey—he just ran through this garden….”

Jones arrived, panting. “What happened?” he asked. “It looked as if Verey just disappeared.”

“Verey?” the Slav said. “Nobody has come this way at all.”

Jones and Babcock exchanged mystified glances. Jones recovered first. “Who are you, sir?” he asked.

“I am Baron Nicholas Salmonovitch Zaharov,” said the stranger, “and this is my house behind us, and this is my garden, and I suspect both of you must have been drinking at an early hour if you imagine you saw someone come this way. I assure you nobody has passed me.”

Sir John remembered:

these our actors

melted into air, into thin air

“At last,” said Albert Einstein, his pipe venting cloud-grey smoke. “Here is something we can really get our teeth into.”

James Joyce shifted into a different indifferent slouch in his chair. “We may find,” he muttered, “that we have bitten off more than we can chew.”

Einstein was rummaging about for a sheet of paper not covered with mathematical equations. “Baron Zaharov,” he muttered. “The light at the end of the tunnel. Aha!” He had found several sheafs of virgin foolscap. “Here,” he said to Babcock. “I want an exact diagram of the scene of this miracle.”

“I don’t draw very well,” Babcock said uneasily.

“We do not require an artist’s rendering,” Einstein said impatiently. “Sketch the scene as an engineer or an architect would,
verstehen Sie?
As a man would see it from above, if he were floating in the air.”

“A schematic,” Babcock said. “I can do that.”

Einstein hovered over the drawing as it was made, asking questions, demanding details, until at last it emerged in full enough precision to satisfy him.

“So,” said Einstein softly, studying the diagram, “it is much as I suspected. Clever rascals….”

“I hope you know what you’re talking about,” Joyce intoned darkly from the corner where he slouched. “To me, in my unscientific ignorance, this is the most marvelous marvel in Sir John’s whole Arabian Nights adventure.”

Einstein smiled. “This Baron Zaharov,” he said to Babcock. “You certainly didn’t just bid him
at that point and accept his testimony at face value?”

Babcock mutely made a despairing gesture with his hands obscurely. “No,” he said, “but it was most difficult. At first he insisted on treating us both as drunk or demented, and Jones had to exercise great diplomacy to persuade him to take us seriously. Finally, he did grow more cooperative, although he still acted as though he were humoring us. Nobody is quite as imperious as a Russian nobleman, you know. But he allowed us to go over the terrain most carefully. The garden was in full flower on both sides of the path and could only be described as lush. There was no way Reverend Verey could have been pulled over the fence and dragged through the garden without crushing or badly mauling hundreds of plants, and yet none of the plants was disturbed at all.”

“How high was the fence?” Einstein asked intensely.

“Approximately three feet. The upper half of Verey’s body was clearly visible to me until he vanished behind the oak tree.”

“How high were the plants?” Einstein persisted.

“Varying heights—from one foot up to three or four feet. And none of them was trampled or disturbed in any way,” Babcock repeated.

“Of course,” Einstein said. “Now, carefully, Sir John, visualize the Reverend Verey and Baron Zaharov. What would you say were their respective heights?”

Sir John frowned thoughtfully. “Verey was quite short,” he said. “Not much above five feet, I would say. The Baron was at least my own height, I’d estimate—around five-eight, give or take a few inches. He was so overbearing
in his manner that I seem to remember looking up at him as he spoke, but I am not perfectly sure he was actually that tall.”

Einstein nodded. “Rods and clocks,” he muttered under his breath. He turned his attention back to Babcock. “What happened after you and Jones were through inspecting the garden?”

“The Baron showed us back to the street, with some patronizing remark about people who take strong spirits in the morning. I was completely at sea by then, but Jones said, ‘I don’t trust that man. Let us see what we can learn about him next door.’”

Einstein said delightedly.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Babcock said. “As soon as Jones spoke it occurred to me, also. I had been so shocked by the seeming dematerialization, and so intimidated by the Baron’s arrogant manner, that my mind had virtually ceased functioning for a while there. But, of course, if there were trickery involved, the Baron would have to be an accomplice.”

“Go on,” Einstein said, amusement flickering at a corner of his mouth.

“Well, the house next door turned out to belong to Miss Isadora Duncan, the celebrated American dancer. Have either of you ever seen her dance?” Babcock asked, interrupting himself.

“I detest ballet,” Joyce said. “All that jumping about distracts one from the music.”

“I have never seen Miss Duncan, either,” Einstein confessed. “But, of course, everyone in Europe has heard of her. Is she as good as Pavlova, as some say?”

“Better,” Babcock said. “I saw her dance only once, around 1909, but I have never forgotten it. Of course, I disapprove of the libertine principles the lady has so brazenly proclaimed, but I admit she is one of the great
of our time. I was very disappointed that she was
not at home. We did, however, speak at length to her secretary, another American named Miss Sturgis.”

“And what was Miss Sturgis able to tell you about Baron Zaharov?” Einstein asked.

“A great deal,” Babcock said with a weak smile, wearily. “More than we wished to hear, in fact. She detested the man violently.”

“Oh?” Einstein was disconcerted. “This is not what I was expecting.”

“Miss Sturgis described the Baron as a prude, a religious fanatic, and an officious busybody,” Sir John went on. “It seems that he once tried to organize a kind of moral crusade in the neighborhood, to have Miss Duncan ejected as—well, as the equivalent of a public prostitute. Failing in that, he continued to annoy the neighbors by sending them letters quoting the most controversial utterances in Miss Duncan’s writings, claiming she was a dangerous revolutionary. Miss Sturgis said that if it were not for his high position in the Russian Embassy, the neighbors might have organized a committee to have
thrown out.”

“Any more?” Einstein asked, abruptly brighteyed and cheerful again.

“Oh, a great deal,” Babcock said. “Zaharov attended services at an Eastern Orthodox church every morning, even though it was miles away and he had to arise at five A.M. to get there. He once tried to use his position at the embassy to bully a Russian-language bookstore to stop carrying the works of Count Tolstoy because Tolstoy had questioned the doctrine of the Virgin Birth. His uncle was a Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, in Moscow. He was suspicious of Roman Catholics and Jews, and regarded Protestants as little better than atheists. Miss Sturgis said, I remember, ‘After having him as a neighbor, I understand why Russia is such a backward country.’”

Einstein laughed.
he said. “Miss Sturgis’ testimony fits perfectly with my theory.”

Joyce muttered, “Then I am mad.”

Einstein smiled. “How so?”

“If the Baron were a man who got up at five in the morning to
cats in churches,” Joyce said, “or if he admired and praised Miss Duncan’s revolutionary principles, then I might see him as a co-conspirator with our enigmatic Crowley. But as it is, he seems to be above suspicion.”

Einstein nodded. “But that is what I expected. When Babcock said Miss Sturgis regarded the Baron as detestable I feared that my hypothesis was falling apart. But as it is I am more sure than ever that I am on the right track. What happened next?” he asked Babcock.

“After we left the Duncan household, Jones said that Verey’s dematerialization had changed everything again, and that I must not accompany him to Crowley’s home; he would go alone. I protested, and we argued somewhat heatedly. Eventually, I was persuaded to allow him to go alone. I checked in at the Diogenes Club, where I often stay when I am in London, and waited….”

“Yes?” Einstein prompted, a professor examining a student.

“I waited until nightfall,” Babcock said. “And then I could stand the uncertainty no more. I took a hansom cab to Jones’ home in Soho … and …”

“Let me tell you what you found,” Einstein said. “There was an ordinary English family living there, with open and honest faces, who swore solemnly they had never heard of a Mr. George Cecil Jones.”

“My God!” Babcock said, sitting up suddenly. “This is incredible! How did you know?”

“Am I correct?” Einstein asked.

“Yes,” Babcock said. “Before Heaven, I cannot imagine how you guessed.”

“Guessing has nothing to do with scientific thinking,” Einstein said sharply. “Did you perchance also try to
contact the Liverpool Mangler, as your last contact with Jones?”

“Yes,” Babcock said. “His room was totally empty. The landlady swore it hadn’t been rented for months.”

“And then what did you do?” Einstein prodded.

“I returned to the Diogenes Club and sat awake all night, thinking and wondering. In the morning I went to the London Main Post Office, to see if I could get any information about the renters of Post Office Box 718. That was my last remaining link with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. They told me there was no such box; the numbers only ran as high as 600. The Invisible College had become completely invisible again, it seems. As if the last four years were all a dream. An imaginary mongoose fighting imaginary snakes.” Sir John lapsed into silence, staring into space with the expression of one who has been driven to doubt all that he had ever taken for granted. There was a strained silence.

“Beautiful,” Joyce said finally.

“What?” Einstein asked irritably. “Did you say ‘beautiful’?”

“I did,” Joyce replied somberly, “and I apologize, Sir John; that may be the most callous word I have ever spoken. But as an artist myself I was just carried away for a moment with admiration for the thoroughness, the elegance I might almost say, of your antagonists. They certainly did a complete job on you. It’s almost mathematical in its starkness, isn’t it, Professor? One fancies that they should have written ‘Q.E.D.’ on the bottom line.”

you talking about?” Babcock asked tiredly.

of it,” Joyce repeated, adding: “… as the legendary Frenchman said after the earthquake. Imagine: even the post office box was fictitious. That’s a touch I appreciate.”

“They are clever,” Einstein agreed. “Devilishly clever.”

“But also elegant,” Joyce again repeated himself. “Do you know what their model was—even before they seized
on Mr. Chambers’
King in Yellow
for the theme of the book that drives people to self-destruction? It’s an old, old tale—one of the oldest in the world—and I have often reflected on it myself. The charm of this story, I have found, is that if you tell it to somebody they will immediately claim to have heard it, or read it, somewhere before, but they can never recall where …”

“The tale is this,” Joyce went on. “A man is in a strange city—or, in some more subtly unsettling versions, in a city that is very familiar to him, a city he thinks he knows. But he becomes lost and wanders into a neighborhood he has never seen before. It grows dark; he sees nobody to ask for directions. And then suddenly
is there—the most beautiful woman in the world. In some variations, She is carrying a pearl of great price, or some other fabulous jewel. In any event, She invites him into her home—as the Queen of the Faery invites the wandering Knight to cross her threshold in the medieval legends. He goes with Her, and all is bliss, and paradise, and the realization of all the dreams of Romance. Do either of you know the end of this immortal story, my friends?”

“Yes,” Einstein said softly. “You are right about this yarn—I do feel that I’ve heard it before, or read it, and I can’t remember where or when. He agrees to meet Her again the following day, at Her home. He returns at the appointed time; and there is no house there, only a vacant lot. Neighbors tell him there hasn’t been a house there in over a century.”

BOOK: Masks of the Illuminati
8.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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