Eye in the Stone sample

PART ONE

Not all social ills are caused solely by the principle of Evil, but without Evil, things would be a lot better. The very nature of life presents challenge, death, decay, so that in a world devoid of Evil, intelligent beings would still have the chance to compete with each other, make mistakes, do wrong. It would not be a literary utopia. There might still be a Ghengis Khan, but there would probably be no Hitler.

Classically, Evil, the principle of death, devolution, and destruction, has wanted to pervert mankind. Biblically, this is to “punish” God, the principle of life and evolution, for having cast the author of Evil out of heaven. When Evil tried to usurp the power of Good, to supplant God’s place and power, Good removed Evil from the process of Creation.

Evil was left with only the power of Destruction and Entropy, of which it is master, but it seeks the power of Creation, in order to recreate the universe to suit itself. It combats Good, not trying so much to destroy the universe as to destroy the principle of Good. An analogy is the terrorist who tries to destroy a political structure by destroying the society that supports it. The terrorist imagines that he or she is ready to step into the political vacuum thus created, and will be able to then re-create society according to his or her own beliefs. Similarly with Evil.

The forces of Evil do not operate without resistance, of course. They can work most effectively through the intellect of intelligent beings; hence their most constant opponents are the good people of the world who persist in being good, according to their understanding and their culture, in spite of temptations otherwise.

 

Chapter One

+ + +

Morgan Let his Los Angeles-trained driving skills maneuver the Lotus through the heavy Thursday afternoon traffic on 1-94. The highway was four lanes wide each way here, going around Harborbeach in southwestern Michigan, a community of small factories and manufacturing plants, from the sprawling suburbs of lazy Chicago toward decadent Detroit, the movie capital of the world. The flow of vehicles was anything but smooth, however. People here didn’t have the same understanding about driving as they did back in California.

A large red-and-black-striped tabby cat slept in the passenger’s seat. The animal weighed over twenty pounds, without a trace of fat. Morgan glanced down at it as it murmured in its sleep. It had been a long drive, and Morgan would be glad for a chance at some rest himself.

He passed the first two exits for Harborbeach, going east, and got off at the third. But instead of turning left to go into town, he took Essex Avenue east, out through the orchards and farms that surrounded this town, an island of light industry in an otherwise agricultural area.

It was three in the afternoon, and Morgan had been driving hard since leaving Glass Mountain in the suburbs of Los Angeles yesterday morning. He knew tricks to keep himself alert, some of which he’d learned during his six years in the marines, where alertness was a matter of life and death. But that still took energy. He was looking forward to a long talk with his brother, a good meal, several strong drinks, and a solid night’s rest. He ran his hand through the thick black hair that persisted in falling over his forehead. ·

He found the sign to Scott’s Gun Shop and Shooting Range, at a graveled road heading south off Essex Avenue, six miles from the interchange. It was beautiful country out here, Morgan had to admit, though not like the orange groves, blue mountains, and sparkling clean air of the Los Angeles area. This was his first visit to Michigan, and he liked it.

It had been too long since he’d seen Michael.

Somehow they’d both been too busy during the last seven years, after Morgan had gotten out of the marines with the rank of captain. Morgan had gotten tired of fighting, and now had his game shop to run, and his studies, and took no holidays unless he had to. For Michael there had been that bad movie business in Detroit at first, and then the effort of making a go of the gun shop. They had kept in touch, though, writing at least once a week, and phoning about once a month.

They’d always promised they’d get together, and then two months ago Michael had announced that he’d bought a house, and this summer would be a good time for Morgan to come visit. They’d settled on a date for Morgan’s trip, but during the last six weeks Michael hadn’t sent any letters and hadn’t answered the phone. Morgan figured that with the gun shop, his girl friend, and moving into the “new” house, his brother had just not had the time. He would chide Michael about it though, when he saw him.

The gravel road wound through orchards for a little over two miles, passing several farmhouses. At last there was another turnoff, with another sign.

The trees here were hardwoods, maple and oak and Chinese elm. As Morgan drove through them he could hear, growing louder, the sound of gunshots. Even on a weekday there appeared to be plenty of business. But then, it was June. And though Morgan’s visit had been arranged well in advance, Michael had always been a hard worker like his younger brother, and wouldn’t take the day off until Morgan actually arrived.

He pulled into a graveled parking lot, at the other side of which was a long, low building, painted like a hunter’s camouflage jacket, with the usual fiberglass bear on the roof and several sets of antlers under the eaves. Behind the shop, out of sight, would be the shooting range. The noise was quite loud, and reminded Morgan of the time when his squad had been pinned down in Havana for three days. Beside him Phoebus stretched, yawned, and sat up. “Heeorw?” the cat said.

“Yes, we’re here.” Morgan parked the car away from the other eight or ten vehicles clustered near the shop entrance and got out. Phoebus jumped out after him and started for the bushes at the side of the lot. “Come on in when you’re done,” Morgan said. “Try not to get distracted by the wildlife.” The cat said nothing but started investigating some fallen leaves.

Morgan stretched, working the kinks out of his muscles, then pulled a small cigar from his shirt pocket. There was no one to see him out here, so instead of using a match he snapped his fingers, and a small blue flame appeared on the end of his thumb. He lit his cigar; the flame went out. Then he strolled across the gravel toward the shop entrance. Though he had been out of the service for seven years, he still walked with a military erectness.

Inside there were displays of guns old and new, racks of rifles, glass-fronted cases of pistols, stuffed animals and birds everywhere. The main counter ran along the back of the shop, its glass front displaying daggers, knives, antique pistols, loading supplies. Behind it were shelves of boxes: ammunition, patches, cleaning kits. A slightly overweight man in his early forties was attending to two customers who were more interested in talking than in buying. The clerk didn’t seem to mind.

Morgan went up to the counter and, when the customers finished their conversation with the clerk, asked the man where Michael Scott was.

“Who?”

“Michael Scott,” Morgan said, thinking this man must be new on the job.

“I’m sorry,” the clerk said, “I didn’t catch that.” The sound of the gunfire wasn’t that loud in here, but still, Morgan thought, the clerk’s hearing could have been damaged by standing out on the shooting range.

“Michael Scott,” Morgan repeated for the third time. “Or George Faircloth,” naming the man Michael had hired when he’d gotten the shop six years ago.

“I’m Faircloth,” the clerk said.

“Michael’s told me a lot about you,” Morgan said slowly and distinctly, “whenever he’s mentioned the shop.”

“Michael who?” Faircloth asked. He seemed to be genuinely confused, rather than deaf.

“Michael Scott. The guy who owns Scott’s Gun Shop.”

Faircloth did a kind of mild take. “Oh, yes. Ah, what can I do for you?”

“I’ d like to see Michael.”

Faircloth stared blankly at him. “Do you want to buy a gun? Use the range?”

“I want to talk to Michael.”

Faircloth seemed rational enough otherwise, but at the mention of Michael’s name, he just stared, as if Morgan had spoken in another language.

“Doesn’t Michael usually work here in the afternoons?” Morgan went on, concealing his own confusion and impatience. Dissimulation was a long-practiced art for him.

Faircloth started to say something, then there was a kind of glitch and his expression went odd. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I guess I missed that. What can I do for you?”

Morgan felt the hair on the back of his neck rise up. He didn’t know what to answer, but was spared an embarrassing hesitation by Phoebus, who jumped up onto the counter.

“Goddamn, that’s a big cat,” Faircloth said.

“He is that. Say hello to the man,” he told the cat, stroking the animal’s head once.

“Heorrow,” Phoebus said, and sat down.

Faircloth reached out a tentative hand, and Phoebus offered his chin to be scritched.

“Michael Scott owns this shop, doesn’t he?” Morgan asked.

“Uh, why yes, he does.” Faircloth didn’t sound too sure of that. Phoebus moved his head so Faircloth could scratch behind his left ear.

“Is he here this afternoon?” Morgan went on.

“No, no, he’s not.” More than unsure, he was distinctly uncomfortable and confused, though Phoebus’s presence seemed to be loosening his tongue a little.

“When does he usually come in?” Morgan asked, projecting his questions directly at Faircloth, in a technique he had learned that forced the other to pay attention in spite of himself and without being aware of what was being done.

“He, ah, he doesn’t,” Faircloth said. His forehead beaded up with perspiration and he stopped petting the cat. It was not nervousness or fear that was making him sweat, but the effort to think and respond to Morgan’s questions.

“But this is his shop,” Morgan said. “He’s written me about it any number of times. That’s all he ever talks about, except his girl-friend Cindy, and lately the house he just bought.”

Faircloth just stared at him. “Look, ah,” he started to say, and looked down at Phoebus again. “Are you sure you’re in the right place? This is a gun shop. We have a shooting range out back.”

“I know,” Morgan said dryly. He put his cigar butt down in an ashtray to let it go out. He let his senses spread out, but could feel nothing wrong here. Faircloth didn’t seem to be lying. He had heard the words, had understood them, but couldn’t make them fit in with what he knew about things.

His memory had been tampered with. Whatever was going on here, Morgan decided it would be best not to admit that he was Michael’s brother, but to let his natural discretion and caution guide him.

“How long has it been,” he went on, “since Michael has been in?”

Faircloth just shook his head uncomfortably, as if he hadn’t understood, and didn’t like not understanding.

It was almost as if Michael didn’t exist. For a moment Morgan began to wonder if he really had an older brother, or if maybe he was just imagining things. This whole conversation was unreal. He decided to try once again, on a different tack.

“Do you work here alone?” he asked.

“No, sir. I have an assistant, Henry Sherman.” Once again he reached out to stroke Phoebus across the shoulders. “Comes in at ten to open up, stays till four. I come in around three, close up at nine, go home at ten.”

“How long has Henry worked here?” Morgan asked. Faircloth didn’t seem to mind talking about anything else, as long as it wasn’t about Michael.

“About five weeks now, five weeks last Monday.”

“Why did you hire him?”

“Man, you gotta be kidding. This is a small shop, but it takes two to keep it open the hours, you know.”

“But how come Michael doesn’t work here anymore?”

“I, ah … ”

It happened again, as if something in Faircloth’s mind were shutting off. Morgan didn’t detect any conspiracy or guilt there, just confusion and a strange blankness. But Faircloth was getting tired of these — to him — nonsense questions. Morgan decided not to press the issue. Until he knew better what was going on, it might be dangerous to pursue it further.

“I guess I won’t shoot today,” he said, as if that had been the topic of conversation all along.

“Come back any time,” Faircloth told him, smiling as if indeed it had been.

Morgan picked Phoebus up off the counter, left the shop, and went back to his car.

“I think we’ve got trouble,” he said as he opened the door and let the cat in. “As far as I can tell, Faircloth has had his mind wiped.” He thought about not having received any letters from Michael during the last six weeks, the unanswered phone call last weekend. Michael had gotten in trouble before, and he’d always been able to get out of it. But this was different. Morgan didn’t like it one bit. He turned the car around and drove out of the lot.

Chapter Two

+ + +

Morgan drove back toward Harborbeach, stopping at an Americo station on the other side of the 1-94 interchange. While the attendant was filling him up he checked the municipal map Michael had sent him two months ago, to make sure he knew the way to his brother’s house. The layout of the streets of Harborbeach made less sense than in any other town he’d ever been in, and in six years in the marines’ special combat forces, he’d been in quite a few strange towns.

When he was sure he knew the way, he drove south through town to the residential suburb where Michael now lived. There weren’t many houses here, and there were stretches of actual forest, both behind Michael’s place and across the road farther up and down.

He pulled into the driveway beside the two-story house and parked in front of the garage. The grass in the lawn was knee-high. There were several newspapers on the front porch.

He got out of the car, Phoebus following, and went up to the double front door. It was locked. He rang the bell, but there was no answer. The house felt empty.

He picked up the newspapers, yellowing with age. There were five of them, the oldest dated six weeks ago. The last time he’d talked to Michael was before that. And Faircloth had hired an assistant nearly six weeks ago.

Bushes beside the driveway screened him from the next house toward town, the house on the other side was three lots away, and the house across the street was set far back, behind its own screen of bushes. Even if someone were watching, they couldn’t see very well what he was doing.

Morgan could just go in, but he could not be sure that the house was still Michael’s. During the six weeks it appeared to have been empty it could have been sold or repossessed. It didn’t seem likely that Michael would have sold the house when he’d bought it just over two months ago, but if there had been a change of owner, he didn’t want to try to explain how he’d gotten into the house without breaking the lock or using a key.

Phoebus padded back and forth across the porch, investigated the door, jumped up on a windowsill.

“How does it look?” Morgan asked.

“No one home,” Phoebus said. His voice sounded like a bad long-distance phone connection. He would not have spoken if there had been anyone near to hear him.

Morgan went back to the drive and tried to see around the side of the garage. Bushes next to it obscured his view. He returned to the front walk and then crossed the lawn toward the empty lots at the other side. He could see more of the yard from here — two large trees in back, with a hammock, and the forest beyond.

The house looked as though Michael had just packed up and left without making any arrangements whatsoever. That wasn’t like him. If he had just gone on a trip, he would have stopped the paper delivery, instead of letting the carrier find him gone. He would have hired someone to mow the lawn.

On the other hand, if he was sick or hurt, then Faircloth should have known about that, and cared. He went back to his car and called the cat, who came out from the bushes beside the house.

“Find anything?” Morgan asked.

“No,” Phoebus said.

Morgan sat in the Lotus and thought about it a moment longer. He wanted answers, but he didn’t want to take the chance of prying here anymore just now. He scritched the cat for a moment, then pulled out his map again.

It was after five; Michael’s girl friend should be home from work. Morgan had never met Cindy Vann, but Michael had written a lot about her. Morgan had asked his brother whether he was getting serious, but Michael had always evaded the question. Morgan suspected that he was. The purchase of the house indicated as much.

He had her address, found the right street on his map, on the other side of the St. James River, which divided Harborbeach unequally, and started to drive over. He got lost twice when the map failed to correspond with the streets on which he was driving.

Cindy lived in an older residential neighborhood, in a smallish ranch-style house. Morgan knew she had a roommate, but nothing about her. There were two cars parked in the driveway, so he assumed they were both at home. He parked in front of the house, got out of the car, and let Phoebus jump up onto his left shoulder with his hind legs hanging down in back. They went up to the door, and Morgan rang the bell.

The young woman who answered the door had to be the roommate. She was about five feet tall, wearing an open-necked blouse and slacks. Her face was more what Morgan thought of as cute rather than pretty, emphasized by her short, dark hair. She appeared to be in her middle twenties, just a few years younger than Morgan. She looked up at Morgan with that expression one uses on strangers at the door, and then her attention was immediately drawn to the cat.

“Good heavens,” she said. Her voice was a nice alto. “I’ve never seen a cat like that before.”

“A rather rare species,” Morgan said with a smile. “Is Cindy Vann in?”

“Yes, she is,” she said, looking up at Morgan at last, “just a moment, please.” She smiled at the cat again, then disappeared into the house.

While he waited, Morgan decided that until he learned more about his brother’s mysterious absence it would be wise to continue keeping his true identity secret. He was cautious by nature, and indulged in certain other activities besides his game shop that made discretion a good idea.

Cindy Vann came to the door after only a moment. She was almost as tall as Morgan, dressed in blouse and skirt, with honey-brown hair framing a model’s face. She was a little too thin for Morgan’s taste. She, too, was fascinated by the cat, who was now purring loudly.

“Cindy Vann?” he said. “I’m Lester Van Alan.” He gave her a name he’d used in the bad days of his youth, before his violent activities had made him choose between a prison sentence and joining the marines. “I’m trying to locate Michael Scott, and I understand that you’re a friend of his. Do you know where he is?”

She stared at him blankly, as if he hadn’t spoken.

“You do know Michael Scott?” Morgan persisted.

“Uh, yes, I do.” She seemed surprised at her own uncertainty. At least her response was better than Faircloth’s.

“I’ve come from Los Angeles to visit Michael,” Morgan said. “He’s not at home or at the gun shop. He’s written me about you, and I thought you might know where he was.”

“T’m sorry,” she said, as if her mind had just cleared. “Who did you say you were?”

“Lester Van Alan. I’m an old friend of Michael Scott’s.”

Once again her face went blank.

“Are you familiar with Scott’s Gun Shop and Shooting Range?” Morgan asked, taking another tack. He was beginning to get frightened. Phoebus just kept on purring.

“Why, yes, I am. I’ve been there several times.’‘

“Forgive me for imposing, but there seems to be some problem in communicating here. Are you familiar with the owner?”

“George Faircloth?”

“Michael Scott.”

“Ah, yes, I think so.”

Morgan could hear Cindy’s roommate calling to her from somewhere inside the house, but couldn’t make out the words. Cindy called back, “It’s someone asking about Michael Scott. Do you know who he is?” A moment later the smaller woman came back to the door, a puzzled expression on her face.

“Yes,” she said, “I know him. Won’t you come inside?” Cindy watched her roommate as if she didn’t understand what was going on.

“Is the cat all right?” Morgan asked, reaching up to Phoebus as if ready to put him down.

“By all means,” Cindy’s roommate said, flashing a bright smile and reaching up to scratch the cat’s chin as if she knew how. Phoebus stretched his neck out for more, and purred louder than ever.

Morgan followed the two women into a colorfully decorated living room, and was offered a seat on the couch. Phoebus moved to his lap.

“I’m sorry for intruding,” he said, taking another look at Cindy’s roommate. Phoebus seemed to be watching her too. “I seem to be having a hell of ·a time finding Michael.” She was very nicely built, and though her face wasn’t perfect, she radiated a lot of character.

“That’s quite all right,” she said. “By the way, I’m Dana Kirkpatrick.”

“I’m Lester Van Alan. And this is Phoebus. I’m very pleased to meet you. Do you know where Michael Scott is?”

“No, I’m afraid I don’t.” She sat down in one of two huge armchairs at the side of the room.

He turned back to Cindy, who had taken the other armchair. “You do know Michael Scott,” he repeated, trying to keep the impatience and frustration out of his voice.

“Why, yes, certainly I do,” she said, but she sounded as though she didn’t believe it.

“Where is he?”

She stared at him a moment, then said, “I don’t know.”

“Has he gone on vacation? Is he in the hospital? Has he moved away? His house has been empty for six weeks, and Faircloth has hired someone else to help him run the gun shop.”

“I’m sorry,” Cindy said. “I don’t understand. I feel like I’m missing something.” She didn’t seem to be worried, except by her inability to think clearly.

“George Faircloth had the same problem,” Morgan said, “when I spoke to him just an hour or so ago.” He stroked Phoebus idly, and the cat curled up to take a nap. “Like you, he seemed perfectly rational, except when I mentioned Michael. Then, all of a sudden, as you have done, he became confused, as if he couldn’t hear or didn’t understand. It’s almost as if Michael had been spirited away somehow, and anybody who knew him made to forget.”

“But that’s silly,” Cindy said, glancing at Dana. “People don’t just disappear.”

“Then where is Michael?”

Once again, Cindy’s face went blank. Dana watched her with very little expression.

“Think back about two months,” Morgan prompted.

“Okay.”

“You saw Michael then?”

“Oh, yes, of course, every day.” Her face brightened with the memory.

“Then when was the last time you remember seeing him?”

Her face clouded. She seemed to be struggling with the words. “About s-six weeks ago, I

think.”

“And you don’t wonder about that? You’re not worried about where he might have been for the last six weeks?”

“I should be, shouldn’t I?”

“Was Michael behaving strangely the last time you saw him?” .

Again Cindy turned to Dana, who just shrugged. “I don’t think so,” Cindy said.

“Isn’t it odd that you haven’t seen Michael m six weeks, and don’t even care?”

The point finally began to sink home. She tried to think about it, but Morgan could see that she was having difficulty even yet. Dana was beginning to look concerned too. Morgan wondered if she had a boyfriend.

“You’re right,” Dana said, “we haven’t seen him in six weeks …. But how could we not miss him? Now that you mention it, we haven’t missed him at all. How could that be?”

“I don’t know,” Morgan said. “But I don’t like it. Faircloth didn’t miss him either. Something funny is going on.”

“Yes, there certainly is,” Dana said. “It’s … it’s as if, whenever I try to think of him, the thought just slips away, like a dream you can’t remember in the morning. That isn’t right, is it?”

“No, it’s not. You haven’t all three been visited by a strange hypnotist, have you?” He tried to make his voice sound light and half-joking.

“No,” Cindy said, not laughing at all. “At least, I don’t remember any such person.”

“All right, I’ve bothered you enough. Michael’s told me about somebody else, a Gary Weiss. Do you know him?”

“Certainly. He’s — Michael’s best friend.”

“Kind of paranoid,” Dana said, “but otherwise a nice enough guy. The four of us have gone out together quite a bit.”

“All right, I’ll go talk to him and see if maybe he can’t shed some light on this. Do you know of anyone else who might help?”

Both women tried to think. “I’m sorry,” Cindy said. “Help with what?”

“With finding Michael.”

“Oh. Yes. Ah, yes, Logan O’Reilley. He knows … Michael, I think.”

“Of course he does,” Dana said, sounding frustrated. “Why can’t I think clearly? He and Michael shoot down at the range all the time.”

Morgan got O’Reilley’s address and, unable to think of a good excuse to ask Dana out, just told them he’d keep them informed, then thanked them and left. He got back in his car and started away from the curb.

“They were pretty fuddled,” Phoebus said.

“They were indeed. Clear as a bell on anything except Michael. They’ve been touched somehow, Phoebus. I don’t like it. Michael is missing, leaving no trace, and not only that, leaving no awareness of his having disappeared. If George Faircloth were the only one acting oddly, I might think he was just crazy. Even considering Michael’s empty house. But with both Cindy and Dana showing the same effects, that can only mean that somebody or something has actually erased their memories. Not perfectly, but enough so that they don’t even know what they’ve forgotten.”

“Where now?” Phoebus asked.

“Supper,” Morgan said, and started looking for a MacDougal’s emerald arches.

~~~~~