The Medlevian Protocol by Ilex Arbor and J.T. Lewis by Ilex Arbor and J.T. Lewis - Read Online

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The Medlevian Protocol - Ilex Arbor

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Prologue

19 December, 1943

Henry Road, Chelmsford, England

Had he known what was coming--he probably would not have been surprised…

Lucious Bianchi slowly made his way down the ancient and dimly-lit stone steps, protectively cradling the heavy tome in his arms.

Half way down, the old man suddenly lowered himself to a sitting position, needing a moment to stave off an abrupt wave of nausea.

"Idiot!" he gasped silently, realizing that he had inadvertently forgotten to eat once again.

Leaning heavily against the cool rock wall beside him, his eyes moved up as if to heaven.

"Forgive an old man his over-exuberance," he whispered in prayer before lowering his gaze to the dimly-lit floor beneath him, But thank you for the energy to continue.

Pushing himself up on wobbly legs, Lucious continued to move down the stairs, his progress agonizingly slow.

Reaching the bottom, he made his way the final four feet to a raised pedestal, also made of stone. Lowering his oilskin-wrapped package to a rock that made up the top of the platform, he then lowered himself to the dirt floor. Leaning back against the stacked-stone stand, he noticed that his skin was cold and clammy.

Suffering from the ravages of untreated diabetes for a decade while living in the States, his health had initially improved upon his move back to England the year before. His suddenly-active lifestyle was instrumental in improving his vigor while shedding much of the excess weight that he had put on in his previous, more sedentary life. Noticing his increased energy and focus, he had even tried eating a healthier diet when he could.

Unfortunately for Lucious, there had already been too much damage done to his body to regain the full vigor of his youth.

Eventually, his feet had gradually grown so numb that he could no longer feel the floor beneath them. He had also noticed the telltale discoloration in his legs, pointing to the lack of circulation in them.

If he lived long enough, he knew that he would end his life as an amputee.

But forgetting to eat on a regular schedule, as he had again done this night, left him too weak to function…and that, too was a problem.

For although he knew not how long he had left in this world, he most definitely knew how long it would take to satisfactorily complete his current obligation.

Four years in total…three more to go…

Egged on by his ever-present dedication to the cause, Lucious once again forced himself to a standing position and turned to face the pedestal. Closing his eyes with the effort, he shoved the stone-top aside, revealing the empty cavity below. When the opening was large enough, he once again lifted the package and laid it inside the hidden void before sliding the rock back in place to conceal it.

Shaking his head at a sad memory, his mind once again filled with the inexplicable series of events that had led to this moment in his life…and to the devastating effect it had nearly had on the group.

Thank God he had been able to hit upon a solution before it was too late!

Turning back toward the old stairs, he started his slow progress back to the main floor--and to his comfortable bed as he continued contemplating the horrifying losses of the last few years.

Nearly all inadvertently brought about by the actions of one man--one horrific man.

It had all started on the night of ten, November in 1938.

It was a night now known as Kristallnacht, or ‘Night of Broken Glass’. It was when Hitler made a start on his plan to exterminate the Jews in his country, killing many and sending tens of thousands of them to concentration camps.

A man named Solomon Singer had disappeared that night, a prominent man of Jewish descent, and a respected Master in the group.

Although a sad situation personally, and an even sadder commentary of the current state of world affairs, it was by no means the end of the world for the brotherhood.

Solomon was actually third in line, so obviously there was no cause for immediate alarm for the group in his passing.

Almost a year later however, that all changed when Hitler once again intervened in world affairs. On seventeen September, 1939 the armies of Germany overran Poland, demonstrating their innovative blitzkrieg campaign which brought them a swift victory. The ‘September Campaign’, as it had come to be known, was a ruthless invasion that literally ran over anything or anyone that stood in the way.

Jurek Nowak was one man that hadn’t survived the day’s onslaught. Besides being a respected shopkeeper, he was also a member of the group, and second in line behind the Magister Summa.

Now there was cause for concern within the brotherhood!

Alistair Williams, the Magister Summa, or Supreme Master at the time, understood the ramifications well enough. According to the bylaws:

There should always be a hierarchy of five Masters, trained and able to take over in short order should they be called upon due to death or retirement.

Normally, as Magister Summa, it would be up to Alistair to personally train the new Master Class as it was ofttimes referred to.

Unfortunately, the times at hand were anything but normal.

Because of the threat to his homeland, also brought about by Adolf Hitler, Alistair had rejoined the army, serving the king as he had in the Great War. Quickly awarded his old rank of Colonel, he also inherited the workload associated with that position. To make matters worse, he had been stationed in North Africa, making it impossible for him to do any training.

He did, however, get in touch with the fourth in line, Frank Wilhelm of South Africa, asking him if he would agree to finding and training some new recruits.

Unfortunately, it had been years since Frank Wilhelm had been himself trained. You see, he was, at the time of Alistair’s letter, ninety-two years of age. But he knew that he owed everything to the group, and finally agreed to conduct the training if he could have a year to wrap up everything else in his life.

Too busy to pursue other alternatives, Alistair agreed to the one-year delay and went on with his war.

In December of 1941, Frank Wilhelm passed away of natural causes…barely one month before he was to start the new Master’s training.

Colonel Alistair Williams did not himself find out about Frank Wilhelm’s passing for nearly a year after that, and by then was in the middle of a major battle.

On eleven, November of 1942, the British 8th Army recaptured Tobruk in the 2nd Battle of Alamein. A big factor in the victory was due to a major push initiated by a brave Colonel named Alistair Williams…who lost his life in the charge but so inspired his men that, in the end, they conquered over their enemy.

So, with the loss of Alistair, the group was without a Magister Summa for the first time in millennia.

And no one knew…

In March of 1943, Lucious became concerned when he had not heard from any of his fellow Masters for over a year. As fifth in line for Magister Summa, he did not generally receive a lot of communication from the others anyway, but Alistair had always sent out a yearly update around Christmas on the general health of the group.

Not sure what else to do, Lucious wrote four letters and sent them off to the addresses he had on file for the other Masters. He sent only one per week, so that no letter would be on the same ship as another. Should any of the ships carrying the mail be sunk by the Nazis, there should still be a couple that should get through.

And then he waited…

Unconcerned when he hadn’t heard anything in a month due to their overseas location, he started to panic when the second month rolled around. Making preparations, he nervously waited for the end of the third month.

When it arrived with no word from anyone, Lucious booked passage on the first available ship and headed off to England.

It was not something easily done.

He had lived over twenty-five years in New York City, and dearly loved his life there. In fact, he had been severely tested to stay…to ignore the silent call to help… to ignore his sense of duty to the brotherhood.

After all…the world had already gone to hell!

Maybe this was the true death knell of the group…maybe the world at large no longer needed it…maybe they no longer deserved it!

Many days before he boarded that ship did he fight his conscience…but in the end, duty won out.

The group had been good to him after all…and he wouldn’t have been the man he was without them.

He had arrived in England in July of 1943, and proceeded directly to the home of Alistair Williams on Henry Road in Chelmsford. Upon arrival, and receiving no answer to his knocks, he broke in through the basement door.

Once inside, he made his way up to the main floor to have a look around.

Although relatively clean, it was quite apparent to Lucious that Alistair had not been there in quite some time. For one thing, the scent of Alistair’s ever-present pipe was nowhere to be found.

How long does it actually take for the smell of pipe smoke to disappear?

Lucious let out a nervous breath…worried about what to do next.

Looking around, he noticed that there was no mail stacked up anywhere. That would have to mean that the post office had been holding it for him.

It would seem the logical place to start.

Sighing to himself, he made his way to Alistair’s office and started scanning the books on the bookcase behind the chair.

Although he knew what he was looking for, he had never seen it in person, so he wasn’t sure of the size or color.

There it was!

The binder was a muted blue with four simple letters embossed into the binding in gold…ICOD…

In Case of Death

Alistair had been Lucious’s mentor years ago when he was in training. And because of that, he also knew that there was no-one more meticulous than Alistair…and that everything he needed to deal with today would be in this binder.

Inside the front of the book he found what he was looking for…a document giving Lucious power of attorney over Alistair’s estate.

Of course, there had also been the same document for the other three masters…depending on who got there first.

There were other important papers also in the book, but he would have to deal with that later.

Unfastening the document out of the binder, Lucious found a new envelope and carefully folded the paper so that it fit inside.

Now, he thought to himself, to the Post Office.

Two hours later, Lucious returned to Alistair’s house…riding in a truck confiscated by the local postmistress to haul the multitude of mail bags to the house.

Although she held her chin high when giving Lucious the bad news that ‘The Colonel’ had been killed in the war, she seemed slightly giddy over finally being able to dispose of the many bags of mail that had been taking up most of the spare room in the small office…including three that had been shipped by the War Department from Africa that held Alistair’s personal effects.

Dragging the bags up the steps, Lucious thanked Mrs. Avalon, the postmistress, for her help before closing the door and moving the bags to Alistair’s office.

Overwhelmed by the massive amount of work staring him in the face, Lucious spent an hour coming up with a system to attack the gargantuan task ahead. The rest of the day was spent cataloguing the mail and stacking it in piles according to subject matter. Within the piles, everything was stacked according to date, newest on top. Lucious hoped to browse through the first few letters on top of each stack to (hopefully) ascertain what, if anything was critical.

When he had finished with the individual piles, Lucious then aligned them against the wall in order of (apparent) significance, left being the most important and right being the least. The stacks could then be moved, of course, should he have miscalculated the importance of any pile.

Of course, he put the envelopes with the small lily drawn in the corner on the pile to the far left…the most important!

When he had finally finished the work, it had been nearly midnight. Feeling weak, Lucious sat at the desk and stared out over the room. Stack after stack lined the outer wall of the room…an overwhelming amount of information that threatened to paralyze his aspirations before he even got started.

Realizing that he had yet to eat, Lucious pushed himself slowly up off of the chair, limping to the pile of letters stacked on the left.

While he had categorized this stack as the most important, luckily it was also the smallest. He would take these lily-embossed letters with him to bed and look them over while eating his supper.

If he could stay awake that long…

The next morning, Lucious reentered the office with a modicum of confidence. He had indeed gotten through the stack of letters before falling into a deep, deep sleep that left him feeling refreshed when he finally opened his eyes.

And although the letters had given him a glimpse of how the series of unfortunate events had transpired, he would never know the whole story.

But at this point…it mattered little…

Lucious was probably the last one alive…and as such, it would be up to him to set in motion the measures that needed to transpire to bring the brotherhood back to full strength and prominence…including all of the sacrifices that entailed.

He would never see his beloved New York again…

Sighing quietly, he steeled his resolve and sat down at the desk. Finding paper and pen, Lucious set about creating a list of what he needed to do…for the next four years…

Now, over a year later, Lucious finally reached the top of the steps and turned toward the kitchen while his mind went to the state of the current class.

He had chosen wisely, of that he was sure. The boys now asleep upstairs, young men really, were all top-notch candidates.

Other than the fact that he had been forced to recruit all of them from England, (the brotherhood normally avoided single-county selections), he would have to say that his students were among some of the best that had ever studied here.

He looked forward to completing the class three years hence…and handing off his present position to someone younger and healthier.

And if nothing changed in that time, he already knew which of the initiates he would recommend as Magister Summa.

If the young man was still here at that point…

For while it was true that Lucious had already discerned some of the desperately-needed traits in the lad; he had also discerned a lack of confidence, as well as an overall homesickness.

Lucious was more than a little worried. Tomorrow, they all left for the holidays, and he wasn’t at all convinced that Percy would return after the first of the year.

He determined to have a serious discussion with the lad in the morning…before it was too late!

If he could keep Percy here just a little while longer…

Suddenly the ground shook beneath his feet as the window beside him lit up like daylight.

Glancing outside, Lucious was shocked to see a wall of fire rolling toward where he stood.

There were only seconds before the blast would obliterate the stately old house, and in those intervening moments, Lucious had barely enough time for one tormented thought.

All is lost…

Day 1

Duke Masterson put his feet on the desk and leaned back in his chair, holding his first cup of coffee to his nose and tentatively inhaling the aroma. Satisfied that it wouldn’t kill him, he tipped the cup back to let the warm liquid flow into his system.

Settling the cup onto his chest, he slowly leaned his aching head back into the chair’s cushion.

To a casual stranger who may have entered the office at that moment, Duke Masterson would seem the stereotypical private detective. Rumpled clothing on his lean frame and a five o’clock shadow on his haggard face would quickly reinforce this image to most.

Add to that the bloodshot eyes from an apparent hangover, as well as his feet being plopped haphazardly onto a messy desk covered with stacks of unfiled paperwork (paperwork that probably also included several past-due notices), and the image of a sleazy private eye was complete.

Duke Masterson was none of these things, however.

Widowed two years previous, his beautiful wife had left him a hefty life insurance policy to live on, so bills were never a problem. And his predicted headache actually stemmed from allergies that were spiking due to the changing of the seasons in his southern Indiana home…a condition he endured several times a year.

He also hadn’t actually had a drink of alcohol in over a decade, although he sometimes still thought of it fondly.

His disheveled appearance was due to the fact that he had awoken late and had rushed down to the office without bothering to first find fresh clothes.

He needed coffee!

Coffee was paramount until he could pull his mind and body fully together.

He hadn’t slept well the night before either…or at least he hadn’t slept much. Unlike a typical detective however, his late night had been self imposed. Immersing himself in a Jack Reacher paperback, he had stayed up until 3:00 AM reading before finally forcing himself to turn out the light.

Taking another sip of his coffee, Duke looked out on the expanse of paperwork filling his desk before sighing and shaking his head. Much of what he saw there were actually finished cases that he just needed to close out and bill.

Problem was, since he didn’t have a need for the money the cases would bring in, it had become quite easy to put off that particular exercise until later…sometimes much later.

Elise, the old hag he had hired as his assistant, had offered to do the work for him, but he had dismissed her help, rationalizing that it was his problem to deal with.

He smiled at his thought process. It was a good enough excuse as to why he put off finishing his paperwork, and he used it whenever he needed to.

But he had actually come to a realization a few months before…the real reason he couldn’t sit down and close out the files.

He was bored!

He recognized the absurdity of not finishing something just because the exciting part was over, but there it was.

Not that most of his cases had much real excitement built into them of late, but at least they offered him work in the field…and he loved getting out and investigating!

Sighing again, Duke dropped his feet to the floor and leaned forward in his chair, setting the coffee cup atop a precariously-piled stack of folders before pulling a file out from under a different stack.

Holding it before him, he distractedly caressed the worn edge of the folder with his finger as he stared at the familiar, red file folder.

Case C-3.

At this point, it was his one real failure…the one case he craved to solve yet couldn’t crack. And although he felt disappointment in the fact that he hadn’t found the solution, a part of him buzzed with excitement. It had become his personal search for the Holy Grail…the file revealing only minute hints to the mystery that so tantalized his intellect…and his heart.

Opening the file slowly, he set it on his lap before retrieving his coffee and leaning back in his chair once again. As he had done at least once a month for two years, he started reading through the file, determined as always to find that one dangling clue that would lead to the next step…an alluring hint…a whispered trace of evidence that would send him to his feet and out the door.

He hadn’t spent three minutes on it, however, before his train of thought was interrupted by a knock on the door. Closing his eyes in frustration, he laid his head back against the cushion for a moment before answering.

Yeah?

The door opened and a beautiful young woman stepped into the office before closing the door behind her.

You have a customer, the youthful, brown-haired woman stated, her smile dazzling as she eyed him while leaning back against the door.

Duke snuck a glance at her, pretending to concentrate on the folder while taking in her trim frame. Dressed in her usual khaki cargo pants and a gray tee, his eyes held momentarily on her perky build before catching himself.

Clearing his throat, he leaned forward and closed the folder. Thank you Elise, give me a minute and then send them in.

Nodding, "I’ll bring you some more coffee when I come…and the ‘them’ is a ‘he’ by the way," she replied with a smile before turning to leave.

When she had left the room, he slumped back into his chair defeatedly.

Elise Taylor was another problem altogether…one that he probably should do something about…soon!

Coming to him a year ago in answer to an ad, she seemed like a bright and intelligent woman who was working her way through college. She needed the work, and he needed the help…hiring her had been a simple solution to remedy two needs.

Closing his eyes, Duke rubbed his hand down his face with consternation. Even though his wife Christie had died two years before…he was still madly in love with her.

He thought about her several times a day, and still wore the wedding band she had lovingly slid onto his finger at their wedding ceremony. In fact, he had never taken it off since that memorable day over a decade ago.

In point of fact, he was still so enamored with his wife’s memory that the thought of starting a new relationship with anyone else felt like being unfaithful.

When he was around Elise, however, new thoughts seemed to enter his head…ones that both thrilled and sickened him simultaneously.

In her mid-twenties and a decade younger than him, Elise had nevertheless made it plainly evident that her interest in him went beyond the office.

Plainly evident being a relative term, of course.

Having found the love of his life when Elise was still a child watching cartoons, Duke had a hard time rationalizing that she would be truly interested in him. Add to that the continual feelings of guilt and the uncertainty when he even thought about a new relationship…

He rubbed his face again, this time with agitation, knowing that Christie was gone and that she would want him to get on with his life.

Still…he found that he would periodically resort to thinking of Elise as an ugly old woman-- the old hag. It was a silly and ineffective coping mechanism to deal with the youthful and vibrant woman in the next room, but there it was.

A quick knock sounded on the door before Elise opened it again and stood aside while the prospective client entered the office.

Duke Masterson, meet Mr. Carl Mattox, she said with a smile as she brought a fresh cup of coffee to Duke and retrieved his empty one.

Duke watched as a small man with a pronounced limp slowly entered the room, carrying a well-worn, leather-bound book in the crook of his arm. Periodically, pale blue eyes shyly glanced toward Duke, but spent most of their time concentrated on the floor beneath Mr. Mattox’s deformed left foot.

A port-wine stain poked above the buttoned collar on his neck, alluding to an even larger birthmark below the fold. Although his thinning blonde hair made him appear older, Duke guessed him to be only in his mid thirties…around the same age as himself.

Please have a seat, Mr. Mattox, Duke offered while holding his hand toward one of the plush leather chairs across from his desk.

Nodding his acknowledgement, Carl Mattox worked his way slowly around the chair before settling himself into it, a labored breath escaping as he did…as if the effort expended was of gargantuan proportions.

Can I get you anything, Mr. Mattox? Elise questioned with a bright and friendly smile.

No, Mattox replied somewhat nervously, Thank you.

Nodding and glancing quickly toward Duke, Elise then turned and left the room, closing the door quietly behind her.

What can I do for you today, Mr. Mattox? Duke questioned as he pulled out a fresh legal pad and placed it in front of him.

Carl Mattox didn’t answer immediately, instead opening the leather book and leafing through a few pages until he came to the one he had apparently been searching for.

Reading something written on the page for several seconds, he finally looked up at Duke before speaking…a look of fear crossing his face as he did.

Someone wants me dead.

Six Months Earlier…

Consciousness returned with excruciating pain.

Prying his eyes open, Carl found the world around him spinning with such force that he nearly wretched from the perceived violent motion. Sucking in a quick breath to counter the nausea, he forced his eyelids closed once again.

Carl had to admit to himself that if it weren’t for his suddenly-exploding head, he might have thought himself already deceased.

As it was--he wasn’t sure if he had yet to be granted the more favorable of the two options.

"What the heck?" He gasped quietly to himself, trying to fathom what had just happened.

Shnk!

The noise in the background stilled him.

It was foreign…and yet familiar, something that he felt he should know.

Finding he was still holding his breath, Carl forced himself to exhale slowly and then inhale again, feeling somewhat better with the effort.

Putting his analytical mind into gear, he set about to try and reason out his current happenstance. Eyes still closed to stave off the vertigo, Carl went back in his memory to the first thing he could remember.

He definitely remembered eating breakfast that morning, toast and a poached egg…yolk slightly runny…whites firm, but not rubbery. It was his usual fare, and it triggered nothing curious.

He then remembered getting ready to leave the house, his insides tensing at the mere suggestion.

Now there was a trigger!

There was seldom a good reason for Carl to leave his house. It was the only place he felt totally at ease, as well as being the location he worked from most of the time. Comfortable and familiar, his home was his sanctuary against a world that considered him an oddity.

Since leaving the house was not something he did on a whim, there must have been a compelling reason.

A sudden, whispered voice in the background penetrated the murkiness of his consciousness…lasting only a moment before overpowering silence once again reigned.

Maybe he was hearing things?

Shnk!

There was that peculiar auditory anomaly again…languid in its repetition, yet filling the room with a quiet urgency. He again recognized it as a not-unfamiliar resonance, but still one that he had yet to identify.

Shaking his head slightly to focus his thoughts, Carl dismissed the interruption as he continued to tackle the mental exercise of reconstructing his day.

In his mind he was now dressed to go out, the contemplation of voluntarily leaving his abode once again evoking an uneasy feeling.

Watching himself like he was in an old movie on television, he followed TV Carl as he crossed to his chair and picked up the account book.

It was the first comforting thought of the whole analytical process.

Smiling at the recollection of his heavy, leather notebook, he mentally embraced his anchor to the world around him. It was a comforting appendage to a body that lacked much of what was considered normal.

In it, he would record everything, using it as both a planner as well as a journal, plus utilizing it for notes on his projects. Within the privacy of its pages, he would even give himself credit when he found an elusive trend or a hidden fact, something he was bereft to do out loud or in front of others.

He called it his account book, because it was, in essence, an account of his life.

His friend Harold Spelling found Carl’s obsession enlightening, lightly teasing Carl by saying the title of the tome was more a verb than a noun.

On account of this, and on account of that, Harold would grin mischievously whenever Carl would start to pen a note, On account of you’ve got more mysterious facts stashed in that book than in any library in the known world!

Carl’s thoughts suddenly gelled when his mind latched onto a remembered reality:

He had been going to Harold’s that morning!

That’s why he had been getting ready to leave!

The anxiety that had filled him quickly dissipated. Meeting Harold Spelling once or twice a week was the one thing that he always looked forward to…the one normality in an abnormal existence that successfully fought against his penchant for hiding from the world!

Once again his thoughts were interrupted, his attention once more drawn to a whispered voice in the background…a soft, melodious voice that at the same time seemed inexplicably…demanding?

Finally compelled to try opening his eyes for a second time, Carl determined to get to the bottom of this whole affair once and for all. The nausea-inducing spin somewhat abated, Carl’s first glance revealed that he was lying on the floor…and that it wasn’t his floor.

Pushing himself up onto his elbows, he glanced around the room in front of him, surprised at the realization that he had already arrived at Harold’s place!

Closing his eyes momentarily to help clear the remaining dizziness, he then reopened them and continued to get his bearings. Grasping the fact that he was curiously facing away from Harold’s chair, he slowly turned his head and glanced back over his shoulder.

Ice-cold terror shot down his spine when his eyes came to rest on Harold…lying on the floor in a pool of blood!

A man in a dark coat was on his knees astride his friend, a hand poised high over his head!

Watching helplessly, tremors filled Carl’s soul as the man plunged a knife into poor Harold.

Shnk!

Day 1

(Again)

The man’s response surprised Duke…enough so that he laid his pen down on the pad and leaned back in his chair, intently studying the little man before speaking.

That may be a problem better handled by the police, Mr. Mattox, Duke proffered. A threat on your life is a serious matter.

Adamantly shaking his head, Carl Mattox leaned forward, his eyes now intent.

"They won’t do anything…you see, I don’t have any proof."

Duke squirmed in his chair, sensing that the man may be dealing with something that was more of a creation of his mind than anything based on facts. Nevertheless, he would hear him out before advising him further…he had a drawer full of referral cards for various mental health professionals.

What are you basing this alleged threat on then, Mr. Mattox? Duke questioned.

It’s not alleged! Mattox spat out vehemently. I was there when he killed my friend! I witnessed him plunge a knife into Harold…and then he turned toward me to do the same. If not for being interrupted by a knock on the door, I wouldn’t be here talking to you today!

Surprised by the unexpected story and show of emotion, Duke reevaluated the little man sitting before him, who now had tears brimming in his eyes.

Perhaps it would be better if we started at the beginning, Duke offered. If you wouldn’t mind…I’d like to bring Elise back in here to transcribe for me.

Nodding in reply, Carl Mattox already seemed too emotionally spent to talk.

Reaching for the intercom button to call Elise, Duke wasn’t overly surprised when she unceremoniously entered the office with a notebook in her hand.

She had been listening in over the intercom…again!

Taking one of the other chairs across the desk from Duke, Elise sat down and prepared to take notes.

Duke shook his head, unsure whether to be mad at her or not for her sometimes blatant misuse of the phone system.

Whenever you’re ready, Mt. Mattox, Elise stated professionally.

Nodding his head, Carl Mattox first consulted his notebook again before starting with a sigh.

Six months ago, it was on a Thursday, I went to see my good friend, Harold Spelling. We would always meet once or twice a week for what he liked to call Consequi Responsis.

Latin? Duke interrupted.

Carl nodded, "It means essentially, to achieve answers. His favorite quote was from a fellow named Eugene Lonesco, and it most adequately expressed his outlook on life."

Taking a moment to turn the page of his book, he seemed to study his find before speaking.

"It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question."

He had rightly observed, Carl continued with a sad smile, that a stimulating question would lead to more enlightenment…much more than had we simply discussed a subject outright. I shall eternally miss those times together with him.

What sort of answers? Duke interrupted, glossing over Carl’s last few sentences.

If the disruption of his telling bothered Carl, he didn’t indicate so as he sat back to answer. Anything and everything…nothing that was absolutely ground breaking, mind you…but little bits of knowledge unknown to most of the populous.

Were you both looking for these answers? Elise prodded.

Oh heavens no, Carl smiled, although somewhat sadly. Harold already knew all of the answers to the questions he posed…but he so enjoyed forming the questions to make me dig for the solution. He was helping me, you see…helping me to ‘expand my universe’ as he would always say.

Satisfied, Duke indicated for Carl to continue with his story.

This day was to be different, however, Carl Mattox started slowly. "This day he had promised to give me an answer…an answer to a question that I had never asked."

What’d he mean by that? Duke asked, interrupting Carl again.

I’m afraid we never got that far, Mr. Masterson. In point of fact, while we were sitting across from each other drinking coffee, I remember Harold looking up in sudden shock…the fear crossing his face at that moment was heart-wrenching.

That’s the last thing I remember, Carl continued after sadly dropping his eyes for a few seconds, At least for several minutes. It was determined that whoever had entered the house had come in behind me and had knocked me out before advancing on Harold.

How long were you out? Duke queried, sitting forward in his seat anxiously.

Carl consulted his book again before speaking. I’ve put some facts together over the last few months that lead me to believe that it was approximately four minutes, he stated with confidence.

Nodding, Duke glanced at Elise, finding her writing furiously.

Ok, then what happened? he asked to nudge Carl along.

When I awoke, Carl Mattox continued after a moment, I was obviously disoriented for a bit before I tuned to check on Harold…finding a man in a long, dark coat straddling him with a knife in his hand.

Oh gawd! Elise shouted before catching herself, bringing her hand to her lips as she turned toward Duke. Sorry, Duke, she whispered as her eyes moved back to her notebook.

Nodding at her understandable excitement of the tale, Duke motioned for Carl to continue.

"As I was watching, he plunged the knife into Harold’s belly and then leaned over him. I’ll remember that voice until the day that I die…he hissed at Harold…insisting that Harold tell him the secret!"

Duke of course wanted to know more about the mentioned secret but held his questions until later. They’d never get through the first telling if he kept interrupting the little man.

"What’d you do?" Elise suddenly blurted out.

Carl’s lips trembled slightly as he spoke, I…I reacted like a coward…I turned away and laid back on the floor…hoping the man would ignore me and leave.

But he didn’t? Duke prodded.

Lips trembling harder, Carl shook his head. When he was satisfied that Harold was dead, he came and stood over me…

Carl took a moment. As I looked up at the man, some of Harold’s blood dripped onto my clothes from the knife!

Collecting himself, Carl leaned forward slightly, his breathing suddenly ragged. I was sure my life was over…his eyes told me as much.

How’d you get away? Duke persisted, anxious for the whole story to unfold.

Carl Mattox’s hand was visibly shaking as he turned the page in his notebook. He had just started to lower himself toward me when there was a knock on the door…the front door. He snapped his head toward the door, cursed in Romanian and then leapt up.

Carl lowered his head, "He hissed at me then, saying, I’ll be back for you, little man, and then he left out the back door."

Carl Mattox leaned back into his chair with exhaustion, defeat showing plainly in his eyes.

What’d you do then? Elise questioned in a breathless voice.

I jumped up and immediately moved to the front door, he replied, still slouching in his chair. It was the mailman…I yelled at him to call 911 and then returned back into the house…to Harold. He was still alive, but just barely.

Do you think he knew his attacker? Duke questioned, to which Carl shook his head.

No, I don’t believe so.

Duke remained quiet for a few moments as he watched Carl Mattox. Forgive me for asking Mr. Mattox…but were you and Harold…involved?

Carl seemed confused for several seconds until what Duke was actually asking him became apparent.

Oh…heavens no, Mr. Masterson, he replied, sitting up and leaning into the desk. "He was my mentor…and a good friend."

His eyes found Duke’s. "I have very few friends in my life, Mr. Masterson; and he was the only one that I’ve ever considered a close friend…but neither one of us was inclined toward homosexuality."

Duke nodded, I’m sorry, but I felt I should ask for clarification…please continue with your story, Mr. Mattox.

Carl nodded before continuing. Harold opened his eyes when he heard my voice. He couldn’t talk but immediately moved his hand to his vest pocket and fumbled around as if trying to pull something out of it. Wanting to help, I reached down and slid my fingers into the pocket. Feeling only what appeared to be a card, I extracted it.

A business card, Duke questioned with confusion.

It seemed to be, Carl nodded, although unlike any I had ever seen before. In any case, when I had it out of his pocket, Harold jabbed at it persistently with his finger, his eyes pleading with me to understand. He was fading fast, however, and within just a few seconds he quit jabbing and instead closed my fingers around it with his own.

Tears were in his eyes again as he continued. His eyes were boring into me in those last few seconds…willing me to understand…

Carl stared down quietly at the desk for several seconds before he continued. He died that way…his eyes still on me and his hand folded around mine…his last thoughts lost forever.

Duke leaned back into his chair, unnerved by the story.

Do you still have the card? Duke asked suddenly.

Nodding, Carl turned yet another page in his book and extracted a small, plastic bag from between the pages.

Handing it to Duke across the desk, Carl seemed almost embarrassed. I’m afraid that I hid its existence from the investigators, Mr. Masterson. At the time I deemed it more of a personal memento, unrelated to the attack.

Duke nodded as he took in the dog-eared card, noticing a spattering of blood on one edge. He then noticed logo of sorts in its center…a single design printed in a muted blue.

And now you’ve changed you mind, Duke continued, on the importance of the card?

In hindsight, Carl started, "And considering the importance Harold seemed to place on it, yes I do. I now believe it has something to do with the secret that the killer was trying to get out of Harold."

"You brought up before that Harold was going to give you ‘an answer to a question that you had never asked’, Elise interrupted while consulting her notes. Do you think this card may have also had something to do with this unasked question?"

I can’t be sure, Carl responded, "But I have given this whole affair quite a lot of thought over the intervening months. I can’t prove anything, but neither can I disprove anything with surety, but to answer your question…yes, I do now believe that the answer to the question and the secret the killer sought are one and the same."

You mentioned that the killer cursed in Romanian? Duke inquired after a few moments, still staring at the card. Are you of Romanian decent, Mr. Mattox?

Heavens no, Carl replied, the start of a faint smile appearing on his face for the first time. "But I committed the word to memory and looked it up later. The word he spoke was rahat…it means shit."

He quickly glanced over at Elise in embarrassment. Forgive my vulgarity, Miss Taylor.

Elise grinned back at him. No problem, Mr. Mattox.

Carl Mattox sighed. You should both probably start calling me Carl, he said then, glancing between Elise and Duke. You now know more about me than 95% of the rest of the population.

Thank you, Carl, Elise replied with a smile. And I’m Elise, and that’s Duke, she continued, pointing to her boss as she spoke.

Having ignored the pleasantries of the last few seconds, Duke had been staring at the card and forming a few more questions for the man sitting across from him.

May I ask what it is that you do, Mr. Mattox?

"Carl," Elise whispered across the desk.

Ok…Carl, Duke started over, May I ask what it is that you do?

Carl nodded, I am essentially a researcher, Mister…I mean to say, Duke. Companies or individuals that need hard-to-find information hire me to dredge it up.

Duke was still staring at the card as he spoke. Did you happen to find what the symbol on this card relates to?

Carl shook his head. Sadly, no. And to tell you the truth, it is quite an embarrassment to me on a professional level, as well as a personal failure considering the importance Harold seemed to attach to it.

Can you give us a description of Harold’s attacker? Elise asked next. Anything you can remember could be important.

Nodding, Carl leaned into his book and turned back three pages before speaking. I estimated his height at 5’ 11. He wore a long, billowing coat during the attack, but I had the sense that he was rather thin…maybe 160 pounds at the most, shoulder-length dark hair, greasy at the time."

Carl glanced up, interrupting his description. Although I realize that hair color and length can be easily changed, I would proffer that the way this man wore his hair is part of his persona…and I have no idea why this struck me as fact, it’s just a thought that stuck in my head.

Taking another moment before continuing, he then glanced back down at the book. The skin on his face and hands was a pasty white, and he had a bluish scar on his left cheek that ran from the eye to the chin.

Very observant, Elise enthused, You have an eye for detail, Carl.

There is one more thing, Carl continued while turning his book around and sliding it toward Duke. He wore a tattoo on the back of his right hand.

Duke leaned toward the book and studied the diagram