The Gnostic Delegation
A Short Story by
I remember how the three of us sat in a booth of an old fashioned diner in Warrenton Virginia and divided up the world that day in 1990. It seemed to us that news, like any other commodity, had a shelf life, and if you were going to sell that commodity, it had best be fresh. The handwriting was on the wall as far as the big wire services were concerned, and we didn’t think the sprouting cable networks could afford to keep a news bureau in every major capital for long. Nobody had that many resources.
You remember back to 1990, don’t you? The world was coming apart at the seams. Even to the untrained eye it looked as though we might actually see the end of the USSR; the archenemy of the western, democratic powers. At the same time, the jungle wars of central and South America were beginning to die down, although they would smolder on for a few more years to come.
Besides Europe, the hotspots were in Asia, but as yet they were just a bit warmer than room temperature. If a start-up business, like a news clearing house, was going to make it, they would have to have a reliable roster of customers; customers who wanted the coverage but didn’t have the money to keep their own reporters on site waiting for something to happen.
In the U.S., newspapers were dying off at an alarming rate, and that wasn’t entirely bad, from our prospective. Lingering deaths were preceded by years of belt tightening and budget constraints. But, unlike the U.S., countries all over the world still had a vast selection of news magazines, and they were our bread and butter, then and now, twenty plus years later.
Both my partners, Jack Pendergrass and David Jenks, thought I should be the one to take New York and the Americas. I held out for Asia, and won; mostly because I had the most money invested and I didn’t want to live in New York or Berlin where our other office would be located. They actually ended up flipping a coin and David called heads and took Berlin. Jack Pendergrass, in the ensuing years, has gone through three marriages, several hundred thousand dollars, and knows somebody of authority on any subject in just about every country on the face of the earth. Dave passed on in 1996 and his son moved into his chair without losing a beat. We’ve done okay.
Manila, in the Philippines, was one of the few capital cities in Asia where you can go from downtown to the airport in twenty minutes. It is also fairly inexpensive to rent a nice two bedroom apartment, get domestic help, a decent haircut and has one of the best beers in the world. That might seem like thin consideration, but it works for me. I’m comfortable in Asia and have been ever since I left Texas, a long time ago.
My office is in a section of town called Makati. I mention that only because it was a boom town when I leased the place and has never stopped booming. They moved most of the girly bars from downtown to Makati during one of their regularly scheduled city clean-ups. It makes for a lot of foot traffic on the streets after dark and keeps the restaurants full until all hours of the night, but it doesn’t bother me. Being single, I appreciate the beauty and form of those terribly pretty girls dancing their hearts out over the rim of my San Miguel glass from time to time.
Getting back to the office; forgive me; I strayed from my train of thought. My secretary, Nita, takes great pride in posting 20 point headlines that we have generated, on the walls of my inner-office. We’ve got some doozies up there. There are war stories, natural disasters, financial crashes, sinking ships, government collapses and coups, but one thing we don’t have is a story that takes everything we know about our civilization and says we might have gotten it all wrong.
About three months ago, Nita came in to my office with a very concerned look on her otherwise angelic face. “You better talk to this guy,” she said, “he isn’t going to take no for an answer.”
“Who is it?” I asked.
“He’s some sort of Military type; he say’s he knows you and he has to talk to you before they kill him.”
“That sounds pretty melodramatic,” I frowned, “better put him through.”
“Mister Mitchell,” the voice on the line said, “you may not remember me; I am Lieutenant Colonel Lee Fong from the Chinese Military attaché to the Philippines. We met at a cocktail party given by the Chief of Police in Makati last year. Do you recall?”
I did a quick search of my memory banks and the best I could come up with was a tall, straight, somewhat inscrutable military officer who was accompanied by cleverly disguised beautiful woman in a woolen Mao suit. I remembered thinking how hot it must have been for her. “Why yes, Colonel, I do,” I lied.
“Mister Mitchell, it is a matter of absolute life and death that I meet with you and talk in a private place; I believe I have been targeted for death within the next 24 hours.”
“My office is at your disposal, Colonel,if you seeking refuge,” I offered.
“Unacceptable,” Fong objected. “Can you meet me at a bar on Ermita Street called The Kitten Club as soon as you can?”
“Can you tell me what this pertains to, Colonel?” I asked, not hopeful I’d get a reasonable answer.
“I will tell you what I know when I see you, but I am not sure what it all means yet.”
He didn’t wait for my answer and the phone line went silent. “Boy, that’s a strange one,” I said to Nita, who was still standing there. “I’ve got to meet this guy at a stripper club in Ermita, chop chop. While I’m gone, dig up anything you can on a Lieutenant Colonel Lee Fong of the Chinese Military Attaché will you?”
The Ermita area has seen better days; in fact it had a long running series of glory days. Even Bangkok, with its renowned Phat Pong carnival didn’t hold a candle to Manila’s bawdy boulevard. The clientele has gone through subtle changes, but the main product has remained remarkably constant; young, exotic, erotic women and a spattering of same-sex friendship clubs.
Just about every election cycle brings out the reformers who, on the surface, pledge to clean up Ermita, but it never really happens. Some of the older places get moved to a new neighborhood, like Makati, and some just stay where they are at, under new management. The truth lies in the fact that those activities, indigestible as they may seem, provide the source for a lot of the foreign currency that makes its way into and out of the Philippines.
I was fairly certain, even from my vantage point across the street; the Kitten Club would not survive the next round of moral indignation and renewal. Stuffed between two larger bars that could boast of bubbling neon lights and outside billboards, it looked dark and unwelcoming. Friday afternoons are generally a beehive of activity with San Miguel drivers delivering case upon case of beer and soft drinks to be chilled in refrigerated storage rooms or dumped unceremoniously into metal boxes and covered with ice, the source of which you probably would be better not to know. I could detect no activity whatsoever at the Kitten Club.
I crossed the street, angling between two taxis and an ice truck and pushed open the front door. It is always hard to describe to someone who has never been in a place like that what smells await you. It’s sort of like a horse stable where a lot of people smoke soggy cigarettes and throw up in toilets that don’t flush. There was the obligatory barkeep standing in front of a mirrored wall that had a narrow walkway, (apparently there would be dancing girls on that stage at some unspecified time in the future), and a Formica sit down bar. On the other side of the room there were a few tables; one of them occupied by a rather tall Chinese looking gentleman. My memory banks had been right after all; it was the same guy I had met before.
“Colonel Lee Fong?” I ventured.
“Mister Mitchell,” he nodded. “Please have a seat. I haven’t much time and I have a great deal to tell you.”
While I sat, Fong unfolded a single sheet of paper and slid it across the sticky table towards me. In the dim light of the barroom I could barely make out what seemed to be a list of countries, each with what appeared to be a descriptor behind it. The first entry was, USA, followed by the note, “sitting Supreme Court Justice”. The second entry was also the USA, this time the descriptor was “Cardinal”. All in all, there were twelve entries, each one listed with the notation of Cardinal, Archbishop or Bishop. My cursory reading of the list indicated the countries were from every continent, most of them major powers. There was a one-line note at the bottom of the page, “one or more will be female.”
“Interesting,” I remarked, “but what does it mean?”
“I believe what it is,” the colonel began, “is the make up of what is being called “The Gnostic Delegation.” This group of people will meet with the Pope in Rome and open negotiations on the reformation of the Catholic Church. If their proposals are rejected outright they are supposedly prepared to announce their secession from the church and the establishment of their own branch of Catholicism.”
I read over the list again. “I see; but how and why did you happen to come into possession of this document?” I questioned.
“Because a junior officer and friend of mine has been ordered to head up a commando group prepared to kill as many people on the list as possible. He gave it to me out of sheer desperation.”
“So there are names that go along with these entries?
“Yes, of course,” Fong answered. “I do not know those names, but I will continue my attempt to learn them and pass them on to you, if I am able.”
“Colonel,” I began, solemnly, “doesn’t this strike you as a bit preposterous? I don’t know how well you keep track of the American movie industry or the literary world, but this supposed plot fits right into a very popular trend. It might be a very elaborate publicity stunt. Besides,” I scowled, “why would the Chinese government want to get involved in anything so decidedly western?”
“I am a military man, Mister Mitchell,” Fong smiled, “I try to stay as far from the political world as possible. The only thing I can tell you is that my young friend will be leaving within the next 24 to 48 hours to return to China and take command of a very special unit of people who are trained exclusively to do these kinds of things. As to the reason, I cannot say. My guess would be that it is not in the interest of my country to see the Christian world put into a state of turmoil at this particular time.”
I smiled back at him, but my smile was markedly weaker than his had been. “Colonel, both of us know very well that if you were not political, right up to your eyebrows, you wouldn’t be here in Manila, so let’s not wake that sleeping dog right now.” I signaled to the bartender, held up two fingers and hollered at him, “two San Miguel’s.” He nodded and I returned my attention to Fong. “Why do you think your life is in danger?”
“I can’t say for certain,” Fong replied. “I saw my friend having a heated discussion with a security type and I got the impression he learned that I had seen the list. My friend seemed very distraught. A little later, I was returning to my office and discovered that my desk and files had been rifled and I could see from the window of the building that my car was being watched.”
When the beers arrived we both took a long drink. I wasn’t sure which of my hundreds of questions I wanted answered the most, so I just started from the top of the list. “Do you understand the reference to this group of people as Gnostic?”
“Only in so far as I’ve been able to find on the internet,” Fong admitted. “The Gnostics were a group of early Christians who had some different views on the divinity of Jesus than the majority of believers. Eventually they nearly died out, but apparently there is still a faction of them around. If this list is to be believed, they have powerful allies.”
My next question was the one I really dreaded. “What would you have me do with this information, Colonel Fong? There is nothing here that I can claim is news, nothing that I can put out to my subscribers; it’s just a very intriguing rumor.”
“I understand,” Fong said, “but you can at least start to check it out, you know who to ask. In the mean time I will continue to see what I can learn and I will contact you Monday morning and we will decide at that time if further action is warranted.”
We agreed, drank the rest of our beer and I left the colonel setting in the Kitten Club and caught a taxi back to the office. It was just about 6PM when I finished writing up an email for Jack Pendergrass with all the particulars and a personal request to see if he could locate an expert on Gnostics in my part of the world and to let me know as soon as he found anything. Nita gave me what she found out about Lee Fong, which turned out to be pretty standard bio material put out by the attaché group.
Manila is exactly half way around the world from New York, so I knew that Jack wouldn’t even be into work for a few hours. I decided to have dinner at my favorite Italian restaurant and go home and watch CNN. The phone rang at just after 9PM.
“How do you manage to get yourself involved in such bizarre situations?” Jack was laughing, but not all of him was amused, you could detect that very easily.
“Just lucky, I guess. Any of what I told you ring any bells on your end of the world?”
“Not even a tinkle,” Jack admitted. “But, it sounds like you are in at the onset, so maybe we’ll pay close attention from here on in and see if there is anything we missed. What is your reading of this Colonel Fong?”
“He’s genuinely frightened,” I said. “Definitely not a position he is used to; normally he’s the guy that does the frightening.” I leaned forward from my lounging position on the sofa and slid a steno pad and pencil closer, anticipating having to write a few things down. “Have you found me a Gnostic expert?”
“Of course,” Jack laughed, “that’s why I get 33% of the profits from this dubious enterprise of ours. You might have to take a short ride on an airplane, but you can put it on your expense report. Ready to write?”
“Fire when in range,” I chuckled. “And the main reason you get 33% of the profits is because you couldn’t make your alimony payments on any thing less.”
“That might be true; however, I’m sorry to have to put you in the presence of overwhelming intellect, this woman is going to have you for lunch, but there’s no sense in messing around with second best. McCall, Patricia A., doctor, doctor, doctor; World Religions, Early Christian History and Political Science. There are about 20 schools of higher education in Cebu; she is listed as a chair or in an advisory position for nearly all of them, including the University of the Philippines, Cebu College and the University of the Philippines, Visayas. She got her first PhD at the age of 20. Married to and estranged from Herbert McCall, presently teaching here in New York at Columbia. She is 54 years old, wealthy in her own right, authors books and papers at an alarming rate and gives a lot of money away to women’s and environmental groups. And,” Jack continued, “because I am always looking out for your best interests, I called a friend who called a friend and Doctor McCall just happens to have a few hours free tomorrow afternoon and she would like you to let her know if you can make it to Cebu on such short notice.”
“I’m wondering what you dangled in front of her agree to this interview?” I was not amazed though, Jack could come up with the impossible on a regular basis. “How much does she know, and more importantly, what has she been led to suspect?”
“Well, knowing what I know of her, from various sources, I told my contacts to mention two things to her; Rome and reformation. Apparently that was enough.”
It would probably have been within the limits of acceptability to go ahead and call Doctor McCall, but I decided not to; I’d wait until morning. If her interest was peaked, I’d let her think about it for a few hours. I needed some time to bone-up on the subject enough to be able to ask intelligent questions.
At 3:3o AM, the steno pad contained about 3 pages of two and three word notes, all of them completely nonsensical. There were dates and places, terms I was vaguely familiar with and some so disconnected I had to Google them to learn their meaning. However, contained within those notes was the confirmation number of a reservation I’d made on the 10:40AM flight to Cebu, another reservation for a room at the San Moritz hotel, the good Doctor’s telephone number and her address. I set the alarm clock on my nightstand and, just to make sure, phoned down to the guard at the security desk in the lobby to call me at eight in the morning. I threw some things into an overnight shoulder bag and dragged myself off to bed.
I was awake before the alarm went off or the security guard called. Gloria, my maid, cook, laundress and fashion consultant made sure I was up and had one cup of coffee before I phoned Cebu. I spoke to a secretary who informed me, very politely, that Doctor McCall would be happy to meet with me and was already aware that I might be coming. Gloria told me to wear a good quality Barong and nice slacks and forego my usual penchant for jeans, cowboy boots and a photographer’s vest, and of course I always heeded her advice.
It was just after noon when I walked across the tarmac from the plane ramp to the reception lounge. The sky was threatening and I was grateful that we’d been able to fly around the thunderstorm and not be delayed. The dark sky pushed the heat and humidity right down to ground level and I was probably facing at least a 30 minute ride in a non-air-conditioned taxi and would arrive at my destination just in time to step out into a torrential downpour. I reminded myself how lucky I was to be an independent reporter, working a potential headline busting story in such an exotic setting; the stuff of B movies and paperback novels. I almost laughed.
The felt-marker sign was bouncing up and down wildly, starting from below the shoulders of the waiting throng and topping out about eye level with most of the people in the crowd. Still, I was able to read “Mitchell” on one of its yo-yo up cycles and I made my way towards that end of the line. The sign holder was a middle aged fellow about 4’6” tall, nicely dressed and almost completely swallowed up by his fellow greeters. I tapped him on the shoulder and smiled. He beamed at me, obviously glad that I’d caught his frantic signal.
“Mister Mitchell?” he said, sounding more factual than questioning, “If you will come with me I’ll take you to the car. Is this all of your luggage?”
“I’m all set,” I said, still smiling. “It was very good of the Doctor to send someone for me, I hadn’t expected it.”
“She’s waiting for you in the car,” he beamed. “We thought perhaps you would be delayed by the weather. I am Cruz; welcome to Cebu.”
Cruz picked his way through the crowd and out the covered walkway towards a gated parking lot. When we came abreast of a new, white Toyota Corolla he popped the trunk with his key fob. “Would you like to put your bag in the trunk?”
I shook my head. “I’ll just keep it with me,” I said. “It is not heavy.” The passenger side rear door opened as Cruz reclosed the trunk lid. I was not fully prepared for the woman who stepped out, smiling and extending her hand towards me.
“Mister Mitchell?” Her’s was an honest question, or at least intoned like one. “Pattie McCall,” she stated flatly, but still smiling.
“Donald,” I said, trying to sound insisting and friendly at the same time. “I appreciate you seeing me on such short notice. I’ll try not to disrupt your entire weekend.”
“Don’t trouble yourself,” she assured me, “I’m in sort of an inactive period and the weekend promised nothing anyway. This could be a pleasant diversion.”
“It shouldn’t take too long,” I said, maybe just a couple of hours.”
“Oh?” She said, her lips pouting slightly. “I thought we had some major mystery to solve and I was looking forward to it.”
“Mystery,” I allowed, “whether or not it is major, remains to be seen. I’m not even sure if it can be solved and even then it would be out of our hands. Clarification would be nice though,” I chuckled.
“Well, let’s be on our way towards clarification then,” she laughed. We got into the Toyota and Cruz, propped up on a cute little pillow headed out onto the street.
It was all small talk on the way back to Doctor McCall’s residence, six or seven miles from the airport. I kept thinking, the package and the reality of this person didn’t jibe precisely. She looked, talked and acted like a normal woman, no hint of an intellect that must have been close to phenomenal, yet she was pretty, bordering on beautiful, and she smiled and laughed a lot. She seemed much more interested in learning about my work than telling me about her own.
Pattie’s home was typical upper-class Filipino; marble floors, large open rooms, not well lit but airy and cool. We had been in the house about 30 seconds when the rain hit, ushered in by a crash of thunder and lightning. “In here, Donald,” she said, escorting me towards a room off of the formal living room. “Cruz, bring us a couple of beers in the study, will you?” she called out in the direction of the kitchen.
Inside the study it all came together, precisely. There was a huge mahogany table that appeared to serve as a desk, rack upon rack of leather bound books, a roll-around computer terminal, phones, faxes, files and framed diplomas, degrees, certificates and one three foot oil painting of Gandhi, the Mahatma.
“It has been a while since I’ve been impressed,” I chuckled, “suffice it to say, I am, very.”
“I’m more than just a gorgeous face,” she laughed. “Have a seat and let us proceed, shall we?”
I wasn’t quite sure just how to do that, it seemed that no matter where we started we were jumping in on the middle; never a good place to begin. The best option, I decided, was to present it to Pattie the same cumbersome way it had been given to me. I got out the list from my overnight bad, unfolded it and slid it across the desk to her. She looked at it for a few moments and wrinkled her brow.
“This list,” I began, “they call the Gnostic Delegation.” I proceeded to tell her exactly how I had come to have it, everything I knew about the colonel and everything he had told me. She listened without interruption and I was fairly confident she was absorbing the facts and suppositions the same way I had. What I hadn’t come to grips with, quite yet, was how genuine intelligence works. She was already miles ahead of me.
“There is a key piece missing,” she said, simply.
“Not that I’m aware of,” I insisted.
“Just the same,” Pattie frowned, “there is.” She leaned back in her chair and took a drink of her beer. “Are you Catholic?”
“I was, at one time, I guess,” I admitted, reluctantly. “It stopped making complete sense to me in college, and well, the way I was raised you accepted it all or you rejected it, there wasn’t much middle ground.”
“And still isn’t,” Pattie laughed. “People like me who are supposed to know everything about their field of study get to postulate, that’s what they pay us for. So, allow me to ramble a bit.”
She took another sip of her beer. “Just about everything that you take for granted about Christianity has, at some time, been the subject of heated debate. I don’t care how miniscule the item may be, somebody has fought over it. You can start at the top of the list and talk about the nature of God, or you can get down to the minutia and speak of such things as when to stand and when to kneel in church. We don’t hear much about it because it isn’t a good topic for the Sunday homily; the church is always given to us a model of solidity and constancy. It is neither of those things; never has been and never will be. To challenge that status, you must be willing to face excommunication and expulsion; a heavy, heavy onus.”
“And the Gnostics took that chance?” I guessed.
“The Gnostics were the hippies of early Christendom,” she chuckled. “They were not into organization on a grand scale and it proved to be their downfall. Bear in mind, the Apostles were all illiterate men, with the possible exception of Mark and later, Saul or Paul. They did not speak Greek and if they knew Latin at all it was only enough to order a meal. They were, however, wonderful orators, a gift given them by the Holy Spirit. The growing Christian communities had to hire scribes to record their teachings, unless they were lucky enough to have literate members in their congregations. The scribes could hardly be expected to remember each and every word of those apostolic sermons and the Apostles didn’t have the ability to proof read those manuscripts. Undoubtedly, mistakes were made.”
I found myself wanting to be very still, not even allowing a nod or moving my eyes too much, nothing that would disrupt the smooth, rhythmic flow of her narrative.
“As these preachers moved around in their ministries, the collections of their teachings became a prized possession for the local church. In the months and months when the Apostles were not around, deacons would bring out those sermons and read them to the congregation. Eventually, rites were originated and regimens established as to how and when services were conducted. As one might expect, leaders, most probably from the business community, organized these Christians into group so that resources could be shared and teaching standardized. The Church was starting to have structure. The preachers may have been content to spread the word of God, but the logistics of accomplishing it were left to the laity. “
“I follow you, I think. Don’t go too far too fast though.”
“Feel free to rein me in whenever you think necessary,” she laughed. “Okay, on to the Gnostics. The Gnostics were not all that comfortable with this structure idea; they preferred to let things flow along of their own accord. They also had a problem with dogmatic beliefs that required everyone to think and act alike. Over the years, their favorite preachers were the ones who allowed for the individualist, the free thinkers. Like the rest of Christianity, they treasured those recorded narratives and they shared them with other groups who held similar beliefs. Over the years they came to have many copies of the collections of those people and gave special preference to preachers like Stephen, Thomas, Peter and Mary Magdalene.”
“Oh-oh,” I head myself saying.
Doctor McCall laughed aloud. “You’re keeping up just fine if you recognize Mary Magdalene represents a potential problem. The term Gnostic is from the Greek gnosis; the adjective ‘learned’ or the verb form, ‘to learn’. The trouble was, the Gnostics didn’t learn, or they learned too late. The mainstream Christians had them outflanked by the time some of the issues got to the point that some resolution had to be sought. “
“But I thought the Gnostics were happy with the differences; they just wanted to do things their own way.” My observation sounded weak and shallow, but it was the best I had.
“They were, but the rest of the world wasn’t. The first Ecumenical Council was convened by the Emperor Constantine in the year 325. So, we’ve gone from a few individuals with similar beliefs, to a loose parish type structure, to Bishoprics and right into the ruling class in less than 300 years. The Kings and Emperors have replaced Apostles and preachers. You can see how this put the Gnostics at a definite disadvantage.”
I remember reading about that in my research last night. “That was held in Nicaea, Turkey and published the Nicene Creed?”
“Very good,” Pattie smiled. “I would have bet you spent some time digging before you came,” she laughed. “Anyway, the council met to hammer out the Church’s official position on the divinity of Christ and His relationship with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. It was a grand fight, but lopsided. The Gnostics didn’t offer much to either camp, but they definitely got the message that any views that did not bolster the ideas of a central authority, such as the Church, Royalty, and strict organization, without feminine influence would not get far. The writing was on the wall, so to speak.”
During our discussion the rain had stopped, resumed and stopped again, but I hardly noticed it. What I did notice is that we didn’t seem to be getting any closer to determining if 12 people were actually in mortal danger or not, or even if there really were 12 such people. “So, what is it we are missing?” I said, rather insistently.
“Patience,” Pattie chided me. “We’re closing in on it, whatever it is. Okay, the Gnostics, seeing they were up against some uncompromising hierarchy and possibly even persecution, gradually receded into the underground. One of the first things they did was to stash a lot of their liturgy away in places where it would be safe, perhaps for thousands of years. It turns out it was safe for nearly fifteen hundred years and it wasn’t found until the end of World War II in Egypt.”
“I read about that last night, I was amazed. We’re talking about the Nag Hammadi codices, right?”
“Exactly,” Pattie said, excitedly. “Thirteen codices containing over 50 texts and many of the original gospels of Thomas, Phillip and Mary. All of them were subjected to carbon dating, papyrus and ink testing, language analysis, the whole battery of scientific evaluation, and it turns out many of them are older than the known copies of Matthew, Mark and John.”
“Ah, I think I’m beginning to get the picture,” I said, somewhat triumphantly. “The modern day Gnostics feel they can get another bite at the apple with this new evidence?”
“Almost!” The good doctor was teasing me now. “You remember what happened in 1517?”
“Martin Luther happened,” I laughed.
“Exactly,” Pattie was off and running again. “But, although the Church was split, we ended up with a hundred years of instability in England, Germany, Spain and the known world, the Catholic hierarchy never negotiated with Luther or the Kings on the legitimacy of Luther’s demands, even though they made countless deals and alliances because of them. Why?”
“You’re going to tell me, aren’t you,” I said.
“They were dismissed out of hand because they were only opinions; Luther had no legal precedence. And this is the element we are missing today. Neither do the Gnostics! They have copies of texts that have been at least partially known for centuries and they have always been summarily dismissed before. Why now, all of a sudden does it seem that the Papacy is willing to negotiate?”
If this woman had been a teacher when I went through the University of Texas, I would have learned a whole lot more than I did. Instinctively, I knew what she had been saying, but I was somewhat shocked that it had penetrated my news soaked brain. Even so, I hesitated. “Because they have proof,” I said, very softly.
Doctor McCall settled back in her chair, crossed her hands on her lap and smiled. We both sat in silence for what seemed to be a very long time. This was heavy stuff for a guy like me. “I could drink another beer,” I said. It seemed a good way to break the mood.
“Let me show you around,” Pattie counter suggested. “I have a lovely home and it is seldom that I get to show it off. I think the afternoon rains have moved on; we should be safe.”
I own a cell phone and I even take it with me when I’m going to be out of the office for any significant period of time. There aren’t many people who know the number, and I like to keep it that way. If something is so urgent it can’t wait for me to be at my desk, it’s probably an overestimation. We were walking through a small but manicured garden next to the guest house when the opening notes to the William Tell Overture came tinkling up from the pocket of my Barong. Nita had selected that ring tone, her novel idea of summoning the Lone Ranger. A quick glance revealed that it wasn’t Nita calling; it was an old friend of mine, Captain Manolo Garza of the Manila Metro Police.
“Manny,” I said in my happy smiling voice, “What drags you away from the golf course on an early Saturday evening?”
“Not coincidence, I’m afraid.” Manny’s voice was definitely serious and unsmiling. “Yesterday afternoon I got a call from your secretary wanting to know if I had any pertinent information on a Chinese Military Attaché type named Lee Fong. I didn’t and told her as much. Now I’m standing here in the morgue looking at a rather badly mangled body of that same individual; apparently the victim of a hit and run accident a couple of hours ago on Edsa Boulevard. What’s going on, Mitch?”
His words took a lot of the air out of my lungs and I couldn’t speak for a minute. “I wish I knew, my friend,” was all I could come up with. “I met with the guy yesterday at a bar in Ermita and he indicated he might be in some danger, but I thought he was overreacting to his situation.” I hesitated a few seconds. “Damn, this is very concerning.”
“Yeah, I’d say it was concerning, for sure.” Manny hesitated now. “Maybe you and I had better meet up somewhere and talk this over. I’ll buy you a beer.”
“Not sure a beer would cut it, Manny. At any rate, I’m in Cebu at the moment, but I should be back tomorrow morning. I’ll give you a call the minute I touch down, okay?” We said a couple of other things I don’t remember and then we both hit the little red button.
“Trouble?” Doctor McCall wondered aloud.
“You might say that,” I answered heavily. “Colonel Fong has been killed in a hit and run accident; happened a couple of hours ago.”
“Good heavens,” Pattie gasped. She looked at my face for a long moment, reading something perhaps. “There’s nothing you could have or should have done, Donald, put that idea out of your head immediately.”
“Look, Doctor McCall,” I said rather dejectedly, “I’d better get over to the San Moritz; I’ve got reservations there for tonight and I need to mull this over in my mind a few times. Right now, I have no inkling of an idea where to go with this.”
“You’re going right to my guest house,” she ordered. “I’ll not have you holed up in some dingy hotel, eating rubber chicken at a third-rate restaurant and bouncing any ideas you might come up with off a popcorn ceiling. You are going to do us a couple of rare steaks on the grill, I’ll cut up a nice salad and, if necessary, we’ll knock the snot out of a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. Got it?”
I found myself laughing in spite of the situation. “You’re the doctor,” I chuckled. “Do you have a degree in psychology too?”
She laughed too. “As a matter of fact, I do, but only undergrad.”
Manny Garza and I met up at an outdoor table of the Pistang Filipino café just after 2PM Sunday afternoon. I laid it all on the line for him; the list, the Colonel, the Gnostics and what little else Pattie and I came up with during a very pleasant evening.
“The murder of Colonel Fong is in my bailiwick,” Manny sighed. “Thanks for the nudge in the right direction, just the same. As for the rest of this stuff, I suppose the best thing would be for me to alert a couple of pertinent intelligence agencies and let them pick it apart and see if there’s anything to it.” He studied me for a second. “Are you planning on running any of it?”
“There’s nothing to run with,” I replied. “Maybe if you come up with a wrecked Chinese vehicle and a driver, but I’d bet you never will.”
“That’s a safe bet,” he smiled. “Want another beer?”
You might be interested to know that Doctor McCall and I have expanded our relationship over the ensuing months. If they keep expanding at the present rate one of us is either going to have to move or buy an airplane. As a matter of fact, it was just last night that we were sitting on the patio of the guest house, grilling steaks and tossing salads when my cell phone rang. It was Jack Pendergrass. He wanted to send me a text that had just come in from Rome.
“Sources inside the Vatican and close to the Holy Father announced late today the Pope would host a group of prominent Catholic Clerics and laity, on a yet undetermined date, for discussions concerning the future direction of the Church. The group is listed on the Vatican’s proposed agenda items as the Gnostic Delegation.”
“Trouble?” Pattie said, looking over my shoulder at the small screen of my cell phone.
“Yes, I’m quite sure it will be,” I said. “But for who? Twelve people, the Church or maybe the entire world? The sad thing is that there isn’t much we can do about it.”
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