TALE TWO
Day Of The Dead Dudes

    It was 8:30 when I arrived at the campus of U.C.S.D to meet Graves in his class. Now it had been a while since I'd been to college so I was a little awkward. I was worried about walking into this college class and interrupting his teaching but I came early because I didn't want to be late. I can recall most vividly the time as an unknowing freshman when I accidentally walked into Mr. Cryton's Advanced Gynecological Studies class . . . the sight nearly put me into a coma. The only thing that kept me from bailing was the fact that he invited me, a reporter (two things that normally don't go together with Graves).

    When I went into the room, I was greeted by Graves and his class of 30. The Professor told me to have a seat in the back until he finished his lecture. Now I will say that the students that composed Obscure History 101 were, well . . . unique. Gathered here was by far the strangest conglomeration of mutant students ever assembled. He had the full spectrum in attendance here from nerds to jocks with a few punk rockers, wanted felons, and Phys Ed. dropouts thrown in.

    It was obvious that today was current events day because the class was intently staring at a 22 inch TV watching CNN. Graves himself was grading some papers with the second hugest red pen in the world and not paying attention to the set. Now I'm going to give a brief summary of what was on because it plays an important role in the early part of this story.

    "Once again to recap this late breaking story, the dead are walking the streets of Rome. For some unexplained reason the dead are rising from the graveyards around the holy city apparently moving toward the Vatican. With us is Doctor Raydon Ali Baba of the Cairo Institute of Paranormal Phenomenon. Doctor Ali Baba, what exactly is going on here?"

    A man in a robe with a turban on his head and a goatee beard came into camera view. "I must say quite simply that the dead are rising from the graves around Rome and are moving toward the Vatican."

    "Why the Vatican Doctor Ali Baba, why not Baltimore or somewhere in west Texas?"

    "Well sir, it's most likely due to the fact that they are seeking release from their undead torture. A large church-like corporate institution would be the obvious place to go, wouldn't it now?"

    "Doctor, you are a renowned expert in the field of paranormal subjects with over 300 documented ghost sightings to your credit. Is there a way to stop these corpses from wreaking havoc on the populace and further validating the need for sequels to George Romero films?"

    "Well . . . that remains to be seen doesn't it?"

    Apparently Graves had become aware of the broadcast because when they broke for a commercial by Chrysler trying to sell a car that will never be as good as a Jaguar, he jumped up from his desk and shouted some orders. "Mister Benson follow me with the TV . . . Class dismissed!"

    The last statement was understood by the class and they disappeared with amazing speed very similar to insects when the lights are turned on. I only caught the part about bringing the TV which was fine because it was the only part that applied to me.

    Trundling down the hall at a near-dangerous speed we reached a classroom with the plaque "Fundamentals of Archeology" stuck on the door. Now I'm going to do one of the neat things that is only possible in movies or books. This is called foreshadowing. The dictionary defines it below:

Simply stated it's when I tell of actions that happened somewhere but weren't seen, at the same time when actions displayed previously by the writer were seen.

Vince Hozler stood in front of a chalkboard finishing his drawing of a shark eating a diver. "Now to continue our discussion on the benefits of archeology I'll use the wreck of the Titanic as an example. Dozens of people spent years searching for a sunken boat.

"Throwing away their careers and social life they spent months at sea cooped up with each other, men may I add. They spent months on a decaying research vessel in the middle of the stormy Atlantic getting seasick and watching reruns of F-Troop . . . and what did they find? A rusting wreck deep in the ocean, salvaging a crunched trumpet and an old bottle of wine only to say "We are going to leave the wreck alone to honor those who died in the catastrophe." Okay, it's not a great example but it makes my point . . . If you're going to spend a long time searching for something, try to get something beneficial out of it . . . like lots of grant money or a movie deal."

It was then that Hozler's door slammed open allowing Graves and myself to enter the room. Hozler's eye twitch went off (which I have since noticed to be a trait exhibited by him when dealing with Graves). Hozler spoke to his class, "Haven't you ever noticed that it's always the absent-minded history professors who come barging into your class when you're in the middle of an important lecture dragging a TV and a reporter along with them?" Then he stared at a boy in the front row, "But that doesn't excuse you for your tardiness today Mister Robins."

Returning his attention to Graves he continued, "What is it Graves, did they cancel Jeopardy? I mean I know that is how you give your history exams." The class thought it was funny, and so did I.

Graves plugged in the TV and spoke to Hozler, paying no attention to his comments. "You won't believe who and what is on the TV news."

A girl in the back row spoke up, "Hey, like put it on Days of Our Lives, Patch is in the hospital and Bo is going to make a startling revelation!"

This set Hozler's eye twitching again and with lightning quick agility he picked up a chalk soaked eraser and threw it at the girl. Fortunately she ducked in time and it hit a poster of Robert Leakey. "You let it hit Leakey young lady. Stand up and recite the class motto Miss Cox," said Hozler.

The girl looked as if she had just been told that the rabbit had died but she proceeded to stand up and say, "Leakey is cool, I wish I was Leakey so I could wander around Africa digging up all sorts of interesting bones and die with no money only to have my discoveries publicly disclaimed as frauds by that devil worshiper Jerry Falwell."

"Very good Miss Cox, you may sit down." The class erupted into uncontrolled laughter.

"Where do you get these students at Hozehead," asked Graves?

"They are most often people who had too high an IQ for your class Aarron, now tell me what's going on."

Graves turned on the TV and CNN was replaying the interview with the Arab and Hozler's interest was raised.

"Hey, isn't that Raydon? I must say he's looking a lot thinner these days," asked Hozler?

This kind of threw me off guard that Hozler recognized the Arab. I figured that such respected members of the educational community like these two would have nothing to do with a person reputed to be a psychic who talks to ghosts. Boy was I wrong. Another thing that unnerved me was that both Graves and Hozler had a look that I would later discover as their serious thinking look.

Graves said to Hozler, "Revenants walking the streets of Rome, capital of religious hypocrisy and home of those who wantonly and without justification destroyed thousands of works of art and literature in the name of God. This is a really tough choice Vince."

"Yes I know. Let these dead dudes trash the Vatican and release to the public texts, statues, and art that the world hasn't seen in hundreds of years, openly proving the falsehood of Catholicism as well as most fundamental theories of religion, or destroy these undead in the name of humanity," replied Hozler.

Graves twisted his face a little then said, "I guess we'll save humanity, Professor Diggs' 45th unwritten rule of archeology says that "The world is an eternal circle, what you give out will eventually come back to you." Besides I'm already working on another angle for releasing the objects stored in the Secret vaults."

Now I'm going to try and clarify these statements. Graves and Hozler hate religion, especially the Catholic religion. They don't hate the fact that religion is a belief that people follow, they just hate all of the things that they did in the past in the name of religion. I strongly recommend not talking to them about the library at Cordova unless you wish to die earlier than you are scheduled to.

Now is the point where I come to Diggs. As I said in Tale one, Graves studied under Professor Harlan Diggs, who is now dead. Diggs wrote a book of witty sayings titled Diggs' 101 Unwritten Rules of Archeology. This book was never published and it is said that it contained more than a thousand entries. Of course none of these entries were numbered which leads me to believe that Graves makes up the numbers (and often I think, the sayings). This book can be compared to those manuscripts written by Ben Franklin, Confucius, Sun Tzu, or Gary Larson in their panoramic and everyman outlook on life.

Hozler dismissed his class in a manner similar to Graves and we left the campus and headed for the corporate headquarters of Grave-Diggers International.

I remember it as if it was yesterday; I must say that this was the third hugest building I had ever seen in San Diego. I also found it kind of funny that I hadn't noticed it before. When we got into the building we were greeted by a receptionist about 98 years old. Standing next to her was a security guard about 87 years old. Now I've always found it odd that businesses hired people who were really old and obviously incapable of doing the job that they were hired to do. Graves later explained to me that old people were at the pinnacle of the "Pyramid of Life." I will explain this theory with one of those neat graphics that can only be done on a super high-tech computer.

OLD PEOPLE (NEAR CORPSES)
MIDDLE AGE PEOPLE (RETIRED PEOPLE)
NOT YOUNG PEOPLE (THOSE WHO DO WORK FOR A LIVING)
YOUNG PEOPLE (THOSE WHO DON'T REALLY WORK FOR A LIVING)

Briefly stated, young people are people who are still in the process of maturing. They haven't decided on set goals for their lives and are often erroneously called childish. Not young people are those who have finally decided on what to do with their lives, they have steady jobs with health benefits and basically plan on becoming middle aged people. Middle aged people are those who have retired and do nothing. Old people are those people who have decided that retirement is no fun and want to be useful again.

It must be made clear that age is not a factor in where you are placed on the pyramid. A person could be seventy years old and still be considered a young person as long as that person didn't fall into the niche of lifestyle stability. This is also true for those who are in their mid-30's and have already retired. Painters and writers are often young people, military types are often middle aged people.

Graves explains that old people, since they are usually about to die, need to feel like they are wanted and those further on down the pyramid feel obliged to hire them out of guilt. These old people are usually hired for jobs where they will either die or not do any damage. It may seem pretty callous but as you will find out, Graves is a pretty callous guy.

We went up to Graves' office on the 13th floor. Now it has been one of my keen observations in life to notice that most buildings don't have a 13th floor. Of course I had already noticed that Graves wasn't normal so this fact didn't bother me.

When we entered his office Graves opened up a cabinet that was filled with electronic gear. He explained to me that all of his employees had pagers so he could contact them in case something came up that he needed them for. He picked up the microphone, flicked on the power switch, pressed a few buttons and said, "Meet me in Rome, we're going to figure out the cause of this day of the dead dudes."

Now there is another method of foreshadowing that is used in non-fictional works. This is where the author writes a passage based on interviews of subjects after the events happen adding in details that were not known earlier. The author then wraps it up with a small amount of fictional guesswork then places them into the story as they happened. This is a commonly used literary technique and I am going to use it often throughout this book so get used to it.

 

MISS MERCEDES CHANCE

I was in my office in Paris psychoanalyzing a patient. This person, and I will not name names (Philip Roget, wealthy real estate dealer and political front-runner), was suffering from the delusion that he was General DeGaulle. Needless to say he wasn't, no sane man would want to be him. Now I have noticed that in my career as a psychologist/adventurer that everybody is crazy to some extent. This is okay it's just that some are crazier than others. Take me for example, I could be content to make large sums of money treating people for their mental problems but I have the uncontrollable urge to associate with a man named Graves. A man who, every time I've worked with him, has nearly gotten me killed. Fortunately I carry a gun so this isn't a real big problem with me. I analyze this as a subconscious desire to be different and working with Graves is the best way to do so. Also, I really like Graves.

Now it is rare that I actually practice psychology for any long duration of time because Graves is always up to something that usually requires my skills. I am a weapons expert and I know every weapon from a .14 caliber Derringer to a Stern .88 Magnum. There are often times that Graves needs someone to scare off: artifact thieves, press people or government trained assassins. That's where I come into the picture. Also, to be blunt, I'm in love with Graves.

It was then that my pager went off. I figured that it was Graves calling me to San Diego to cut a track for the band that I'm a member of, The Carbon Fourteens. We have been working on our first album called History Isn't For Geeks for two years but it was apparent that that was not the case. The pager said "Meet me in Rome, we're going to figure out the cause of this day of the dead dudes."

I had to go but I didn't want to leave my patient here. After all I had an oath as a doctor to upkeep. I've found in my practice of psychology that a gun (preferably a large one) has a tendency to scare away a lot of psychosis. So I pulled out an Uzi and fired a couple bursts into the ceiling. As the plaster was raining on me I pointed it at my unnamed patient and said, "You are not General DeGaulle. If you don't stop thinking this I'm going to blow your head off!"

As always, it worked and I was on a plane to Rome.

 

SEÑOR BATISTA CHAQUITA

I am a map maker. My father was a map maker and my father's father was a map maker . . . in fact all of the males of my family were map makers (except Juan who became a Jai Alai player in Miami . . . he was always the black sheep of the family). I have the world's largest collection of maps, globes and bottle caps, and am considered an expert in the field of cartography. It is for this expertise that I work for Grave-Digger's International. There have been times when Graves has needed one of my maps to discover an ancient relic, find a lost continent, or get directions to a gas station. All of this is fine with me.

You see, many of the world's so called "respected scholars" disclaim many of my maps as frauds. Because of this, they aren't used by the majority of the real world to discover things like the site of the Motherlode, Cleopatra's burial chamber, or the existence of a city without a convenience store. Unfortunately this makes my work seem meaningless and frustrates me; if it wasn't for Graves I would probably kill somebody.

There is only one drawback to working for Professor Graves. That drawback is that he has a habit of angering people and forcing them to try to kill him and those who work for him. This often includes me.

Anyway, I was in my studio restoring a map of the city of Lapiz Petro. This was charted by Hernando Cortez himself in 1514 while on an expedition for Spain. It was while using acetate on an extremely important part that my pager started beeping. It was Graves telling me to go to Rome and help him figure out why the dead were rising from the grave. Now I had seen the news story and knew that he would need my maps of the vast inner chambers of the Vatican as well as the locations of every burial site in Rome. Fortunately they were handy (Graves has had me working on a plan to recover some art objects that the Vatican has kept hidden from the public). I was excited by the prospect of seeing the Secret Vaults for they were rumored to contain dozens of charts depicting many of the places and things that the Catholic church denies to have existed.

In ten minutes, I was gone.

 

DOCTOR EARNEST ITCHYFINGER

If you weren't aware of it, I am a scientist . . . a chemist to be exact, and at the moment I was in my office writing. Not a thesis paper mind you but a comic book. Ever since I was a child I've had two dreams, [1] To become a brilliant and respected scientist with at least one Nobel Prize on my mantle, and [2] Write a comic book. I am content to say that both of these dreams have come true (a thing that many people can't say). I have earned masters degrees in chemistry, biology, and physiology and I have a published comic called The Kami: Ninja Spirit.

As a side note, I don't have a Nobel Prize. I am working on one though, honest. You see I work for this millionaire, playboy, history teacher named Aarron Graves. He often needs a respected scientist who specializes in my fields to help him solve some of the world's most confounding questions. In fact, we have jointly published various articles in some of the more respected scientific journals of the universe like The Complete Listing of All Things That Confuse Middle Class People and the Weekly Guide to Obscure Scientific Happenings.

Now I like Graves and all, but sometimes he has the annoying ability to get me and the others who work for him into extremely delicate situations that often involve death. This of course hasn't deterred my quest for expanded scientific knowledge and an appearance on an American Express commercial.

I was in the middle of a panel depicting the ninja decapitating a couple of people (ritualistic bloodbaths, badly dubbed dialogue, and unrealistic sound effects are my specialty) when the pager that Graves uses to contact me went off. He said to meet him in Rome to figure out why the dead are rising from the grave.

Going into my laboratory I hastily gathered up the chemicals that I thought I would need to destroy the revenants. I carried the two trunks of equipment to the car and I was off.

 

THE EXTINGUISHER

I'm a fireman in the great city of Chicago. I consider fire to be better than sex. In fact there is only one thing better than fire and that is explosives. Graves needed me to help him with something and I had an agreement with the Professor. Five minutes until I arrived at O'Hare Airport.

Now it is time for me to return to the present. That is, the present of the story which appeared in the past from stuff I gathered in the future . . . Huh? I'll stop before I confuse you or myself any further. Graves had told me to go to Los Angeles via his personal helicopter and pick up a Doctor Nagasaki Chen at the man's company. A short time later I was on the front lawn of Short Fuses Incorporated, the company owned by Doctor Chen.

Okay, have you ever witnessed an incident where you were unaware of the events that caused it? Well I was experiencing one of those times and let me tell you, it is no fun. Running out of the building were dozens of people dressed in laboratory coats, some with gas masks, some not. They were screaming and cursing Chen and one actually recited the Charge of the Light Brigade as he dived into a nearby drainage ditch. Finally I saw the short Asian man I had seen at the dinner party hustling out of the building waving at us and shouting "Get down! The reactor is going to blow!" He tackled me and at the same time the building exploded in a ball of orange flame.

As flaming concrete and melted girders rained upon the lawn, the lab technicians had ceased cursing and began applauding the oriental who had stood up and started bowing. I was confused to say the least. Here a building had just blown up nearly killing many people and everybody seemed happy. The Asian grabbed my hand and lifted me to my feet.

"I am Doctor Nagasaki Chen, Graves called and told me you were coming. I am most pleased to meet you."

I stuttered a question dodging a 5 x 5 block of concrete that fell from the sky as I did, "What just happened here Doctor Chen?"

"Isn't it obvious that the building just blew up?"

"How," I continued?

"It's quite simple, I was experimenting with a new diet soda and testing to see if the sugar substitute was safe for the general public."

"Obviously it isn't," I said.

"Actually it is. What exploded was a heated sample of the cancer causing, press-hyped, sugar substitute Nutrasweet that I was testing in the labs small fusion reactor. I've been doing a study for the FDA to prove that it is worse than pure saccharine. You see there is a lot of red tape involving lobbyists and their evil associates paying off people to pass it through testing. A small sample spilled into the core chamber and caused the reaction you observed. The stuff's really not good for your teeth. Well let's go, my staff will clean up and deal with the EPA."

Returning to GDI headquarters Graves told us that his private plane was in for repairs and that a commercial pilot was at the airport waiting for us to leave. Because of this revelation we did.

Eventually we arrived in Rome to see a complete state of utter chaos. Actually we saw a state of chaos greater than the normal chaos evident in a city that brags at being the former capital of this and the former center of that. Rome is the worst city on the planet for dwelling on the past.

It was apparent that the population of the city was intent on leaving in a real hurry believing that the undead couldn't be destroyed. This led me to the question, "What made Graves think that he could beat them?" This question led me to an even larger one, "What was I doing here?" Graves answered the first one in length but to be brief he summarized the types of undead and the methods of death as follows:

METHOD OF DEATH: Fire.
METHOD OF DEATH: Fire.
METHOD OF DEATH: Fire, Dismemberment.
METHOD OF DEATH: Fire.
METHOD OF DEATH: Disintegration, Complete Pulverization
METHOD OF DEATH: Fire, Decapitation (With Wafers), Exposure To Sunlight, Stake Through Heart.

Now let me add a few points to that summary. [1] Ghosts, specters and their like aren't included here because they are spirits, not undead. This is because they possess no physical features and have had too many bad stories written about them. [2] Vampires and Ghouls are able to control other undead creatures which makes them quite dangerous. [3] There aren't that many Vampires and since they are rare they are even more deadly.

You may have noticed that in all cases fire seems to be very effective in killing revenants. Graves explained this to me saying that it is hot but I figured that it had something to do with the purification of the spirit. Also you may have thought that I had made an oversight by not noting holy water on my list of death methods. Well to be blunt I didn't list it because unfortunately there is no religious institution on the face of the Earth that has the purity of ethics required to fabricate holy water.

It was then that we were met by the people that Graves had contacted. Remember when I described the members of Graves' history class as strange, well this group was worse. Shaking hands with me was the most stunning woman (Chance) who was weighted down by a vast array of totally lethal weapons. I definitely remembered her from the dinner party as the one who was laughing as she blew a foot wide hole in one of the would-be killers. Next to her was an unshaven man in a lab coat (Itchyfinger) with uncombed hair and about 73 pens stuffed in the various pockets of his coat. He was the one who feared some chemical imbalance in his wine at the party. Hanging off in the distance was the Hispanic man (Chaquita) wearing a sombrero and serape accompanied by his two man mariachi band. Finally was a tall man wearing a red scarf over the majority of his face (The Extinguisher). I hadn't seen him before but I really didn't want to talk to him because I was scared of him. He felt like the living dead himself and I figured that Graves had brought him along as an interpreter.

Meeting us at the door was another face I did recognize. She wasn't at the party but rather on ESPN. It was Gina Perot the world-famous Can Am race car driver who had suffered a terrible wreck a year ago in Monaco (Sportsworld still uses that footage in their intro; it's not a pretty sight). She told us that she had our baggage loaded on two vans and that we were going directly to the sight of the undead gathering . . . The Vatican.

I was scared, I could safely say this. As we made our way through Rome, more than once we ran over the various classes of undead. This I could take, seeing that we were pretty safe as long as we stayed in the van, kept moving and didn't go down in the basement. What I couldn't handle was what was going on in the back of the van.

Itchyfinger and Chen were busy working with unstable chemicals and machinery. Having experienced one of Chen's experiments in action I had wild but realistic visions of Chen saying, "Oops! That damn radioactive isotope slipped out of my hands. Hey Benson I think it went down your back . . . No wait! Here it is sitting in this jar of volatile- BOOM! Added to this, Itchyfinger kept saying "I think" as in, "I think I press this button," or "I think it's supposed to do that." At that moment I wished I was in the other van with all of the unstable explosives, flamethrowers and machine-guns.

Finally we reached the walls of the Vatican and boy was it trashed. There were dead bodies (The non-undead type) everywhere. Scrambling over the walls and through the gate were just about every undead dead dude in Rome. Graves hopped out of the van and said, "Let's kick some major revenant butt!"

This didn't settle to well in my stomach but the rest of the team went out as if they were going to a picnic. Now in the years since that I've been around Graves' associates I've heard all of them complain about how Graves is constantly jeopardizing their lives. Yet in all of this they still accept his invitations to doom. I think that it is because without Graves all of these highly educated people who are respected geniuses in their fields would have completely boring and meaningless lives. Either that or they are grossly stupid.

There we were; Chen armed with some huge rifle that had a small radar dish at the end of the barrel. The Extinguisher was wielding a flame-thrower with an exceptionally large fuel tank. Itchyfinger was equipped with an outfit that looked like a water hose connected to a bottled water container. Chance was armed with two machine-guns which were loaded with silver bullets. Of course being true to character Hozler had a weird guitar that Itchyfinger had modified to produce undetermined results. Perot stayed in the van not wanting to set back her recovery or get killed.

Now this was an observation that annoyed me to a new extreme. Everyone had a weapon except Graves, Chaquita and myself. I, of course, concluded that Graves needed no weapon because he could put the revenants to sleep by rattling off a bunch of meaningless facts to them. Chaquita could do the same with his Mariachi band. Unlike them, I wasn't able to feel as confident. I had not been able to find my gun and now had nothing to use but an old rusted putty knife. Unfortunately, by then it was too late.

Suddenly the strange Arab that I had seen on TV back in San Diego ran up to our group. "It is a very good thing to see you Aarron Graves! I had a most distinct feeling that you would be showing up. Hello Doctor Itchyfinger, at last we get to work together again. I do not know what to do and am in a quandary because of it! I've tried mentally controlling these revenants but they don't respond. Someone extremely powerful is in control of them."

Graves' left eyebrow raised (which is one of the few reactions that you can get from Graves) as if something grand had been revealed. Either that or his shorts were too tight and cutting off his circulation. Fortunately for humanity it was choice number one.

He said, "As we all know, Raydon is the world's most powerful psychic so these undead are obviously being controlled by someone wielding the ancient and powerful Scepter of the Damned."

I didn't know that Ali Baba was the most powerful psychic in the world and I sure had no idea what the Scepter of the Damned was. To top it off, I truly had no damn idea where Graves was leading his statements. Graves would later tell me what it was but I'm going to tell you about it now so you won't be confused by the ending.

The Aztec's were once ruled by an evil shaman (similar to Jerry Falwell, but not as evil). He was reputed to be able to make the dead rise from the grave and control them. Using these controlled revenants for his purposes he terrorized the land. Eventually he was destroyed by a group of good shamen who trapped his soul in a scepter. This scepter was then separated into three pieces: a handle, a head, and a huge diamond. The pieces were then scattered about the Yucatan in an attempt to keep others from ever combining them.

The handle was placed in a pyramid and then all entrances collapsed. The head of the artifact was made part of a statue depicting Quetzalquatal administering justice. The diamond was affixed to the sarcophagus of the evil shaman to torture the shaman throughout eternity with the separation of his spirit. Over the centuries the parts were removed, relocated and exchanged dozens of times. The statue containing the head was found in a lake in 1932 and brought to the London Museum of History. The tombs containing the handle and diamond were looted and the items sent back to Spain at different times. The handle remained in a Jesuit monastery until 1893 where it was claimed by the Spanish government and stored in its national archives.

The diamond was stolen when a Greek pirate captured the ship it was being transported on. From there it was traded to gypsies who held it until 1942. It was then stolen by Nazis and kept in Italy until the end of the war, when it vanished. In 1970, the Mexican government said that the Vatican had it and demanded that the church return it at once. The church denied that they had it and basically discounted the existence of any such artifact.

The legend of the scepter states that if the pieces are put together the person wielding the scepter will be able to control the dead and bring darkness upon the world of mortal men.

You'll find out how painfully true some legends are.

It was at that point that we were attacked. From everywhere the undead began closing in on us as if we were holding up a big sign saying "HEY UNDEAD DUDES, COME KILL US!" The Extinguisher opened up with his flame-thrower frying various Zombies and Ghouls. Itchyfinger began pumping a chemical that smelled like burnt rubber on others which corroded their flesh turning them into a puddle of decayed slag.

This wasn't as bad as I had figured, seeing that we were winning. As is always the case when I get smug, two vampires hit the scene. Yes they looked pretty devious and seemed fully intent on hurting us. Suddenly one of the two lost his evil intent when he came to stare Graves square in the face. "Graves, fancy meeting you here but now is not the time to continue our battle, I gotta go!"

The Professor didn't seem to recognize the revenant and I couldn't see why he would. "Excuse me, may I ask you your name before I have you destroyed?"

"Professor Aarron Graves, in time you will remember me but now is not that time. See ya!"

"Chen, grease these slags!"

Chen triggered the radar ray that simulated sunlight and torched one of the vampires but the one who conversed with the Professor ran away at a rapid pace. Chance was trying to hit the disappearing target by blazing away with her guns, looking good as she did. It was no use, however, for it had escaped into the shadows.

Meanwhile there were still other undead types attacking us which caused us to return to matters at hand. Hozler was wailing away on his guitar which sent pulse waves which shattered the skeletons.

Now you're saying, "What a rip! That was cake! What was so hard about that? Why the hell are you writing this stupid story? Who the hell was that vampire guy?" Well I'll tell you. It was obvious (even to me) that the undead weren't the root of the problem. The problem lay in whoever was controlling them. You'll see what I mean. As for the vampire guy your guess is as good as mine.

Graves told the Extinguisher to blow open a hole in the wall surrounding the Vatican. Now doesn't it seem kind of funny that a fireman would be an explosives expert? I thought so. You see, The Extinguisher is one of the most mysterious of Graves' associates. Over the years, I have only learned four things about him.

[1] He's a fourth generation firefighter from Chicago decorated for bravery over a dozen times. Being a former Navy firefighter I respect that, but also realize that most people who fight fires are psychos.

[2] He was a SEAL in Vietnam and did some spooky things with Graves in the bush during that war.

[3] His face was disfigured by some kind of war related explosion and that's why he keeps it covered.

[4] He doesn't say much.

I have asked Graves many times to tell me more about him and he said that they have been friends for years but that I wouldn't want to know any more about him. I've also learned that when Graves is worried about your safety you should take heed because it doesn't happen often and the consequences are most likely unimaginable.

The wall was blown up and we entered the courtyard of the Vatican. Now I'm not going to bore you with the details of our going through there, suffice it to say that it was uneventful. If you really want to know what the place looks like it's going to cost you more than the price of this book to find out.

Weaving our way through the vast complex we finally reached the Secret Vaults. When we got there we discovered that it was in a serious state of disarray. It was also then that we discovered the cause of the chaos.

"I thought it would be you behind all of this! Diggs would roll over in his grave if he saw how you have turned out!"

That was Graves' statement upon seeing the man behind the whole problem. I was rather disappointed, seeing that I expected to see a really evil guy or a huge demon but this wasn't the case. The man was an average Frenchman (I could tell by his snotty attitude, and flagrant disregard for manners, traits all Frenchmen exhibit).

Devlin spoke, "Graves you arrogant fool. Are you still trying to fulfill the dying wish of your mentor? Can't you see the benefits of what Archeology has to offer. I am all powerful now, thanks to the scepter."

Obviously the two knew each other because it usually takes talking to Graves for about seven minutes to reach the conclusion that he is arrogant. Based on what I had uncovered when I first investigated Graves I figured that this was Bender Devlin, former student of Harlan Diggs (who is now dead). I also expected this encounter to be a casual verbal fight among scholars of the same field . . . I was wrong.

Graves is renowned for saying, doing or thinking things which irritate people beyond comprehension. His annoying bluntness in conversation would make him a poor politician and generally a dangerous person to be around. Dangerous because he says things like, "Devlin, surrender the scepter to me now or I'm going to hurt you!" Dangerous because this forced Devlin to use some form of mental force to pick up Graves and throw him across the room.

"He's gotten stronger since I last fought him," said Graves as he climbed out of the crater/impression that he had made in the wall. Brushing the tiny chunks of brick from his suit he told us not to do what we were about to do because it wouldn't harm him. Of course it didn't matter what he said . . . it was too late.

Graves' associates, being friends of his as well as on his payroll, attacked Devlin. This is where I get to the point of the story. The weapons that they had used earlier worked on the undead but didn't do anything to Devlin. The sun ray merely shed light on the subject, the flame-thrower only made the place warmer, the chemical only got Devlin's shoes wet, and the bullets made nice paper weights.

Now I'm not saying that the weapons didn't hit him, I'm just saying that they didn't bother him. This did bother me though because if the weapons didn't harm him then me and my putty knife were in really bad shape. What bothered me more was that Graves went back for more. I could picture the headlines now:

 

ECCENTRIC, MILLIONAIRE, PLAYBOY, HISTORY TEACHER KILLED BY PSYCHOTIC FRENCHMAN IN VATICAN. . . ASSOCIATES TO FOLLOW!

So much for the real story.

But as I would come to learn later in my travels with Graves time and time again . . . I was wrong.

"Quetzanta! No longer will you possess the body of this simpering mortal! Get out now before I use the power of the Seven Shamen of Quetzalquatal to majorly beat your butt," shouted Graves!

In his hand was a gold disc with some kind of hieroglyphics written on it. It had been brought to him by Chaquita while I was picturing headlines. It was obvious to all of us that Devlin was slightly surprised at what Graves had said. Now I thought it was a little late to be going through puberty but Devlin's voice changed from a typical whining, sniveling Frenchman to a booming roar equivalent to peak flight time at LaGuardia Airport.

"So, puny mortal, you may know my name but apparently you do not know how to use that disc! You have to have the soul of a true Aztec in contact with it and there are no longer any true Aztecs in the galaxy!" And with that Devlin waved his arms.

It seemed like a harmless gesture but about one point five seconds later Chance, Chen, Hozler, Itchyfinger, The Extinguisher, and myself were thrown against the wall by a mental force.

Now one of the things that I have come to hate are brainy people, especially brainy people who use their minds to throw people across rooms, move furniture or fix horse races. Of course, seeing that I had a fractured scapula due to my impact on the wall there was nothing I could do about it, so I kept my opinions to myself.

The only people who were left standing were Graves, Chaquita and Ali Baba. I was shocked but not as shocked as the possessed Devlin was.

The three of them held the disc and Graves said, "Of course I know who you are and . . . I know everything." With those words a ray of blinding white light erupted from the disc striking Devlin and sending him crashing through three walls and a randomly placed brick structure.

Now here's the weird part. Devlin's body is lying on the ground, seemingly lifeless, when suddenly an astral form of an Indian rose out. He looked angry. Well actually, he looked pissed off which is one level up from angry. Of course the whole thing was inconsequential because Graves held the scepter in the air and said something in the ancient tongue of the Aztecs which translated to "I ain't afraid of no ghosts!"

The spirit was sucked back into the scepter and Graves separated it into its three pieces. Three rooms away and amid a pile of rubble Devlin was stirring. Graves walked over to the dispossessed Devlin, who was starting to become reacquainted with reality. Of course when he saw the Professor he might have wished that he'd stayed unconscious.

"Devlin, you poor diluted fool. Do you now see the mistake of not paying attention to Harlan's lectures. I'll bet you were probably drunk on that heinously tasteless wine your fellow countrymen are so proud of."

"Do not lecture me Graves, I nearly had total power in my hands. I would have been able to rule the planet or at least Italy. Of course you had to ruin it . . . you and that meddling dog."

It was obvious that Devlin was still a bit out of touch with his surroundings. Besides it wasn't the dog it was Shaggy, the Professor's Aztec Cartographer associate.

"Benson!"

"Sorry."

"Never mind. Think about it Bender, you had a chance to be a highly respected man. Instead you threw it away for a life of crime and failure. What would your mother say?"

"Que sera sera."

He was out of it because now he was quoting Doris Day songs. Man being possessed is spooky business. Of course he could have said something in French meaning "such is life" or "what will be will be."

"You're wasting your time trying to turn me away from the path I've chosen."

Graves seemed to concede to Devlin's point. "Okay." He then promptly returned the Frenchman to unconsciousness with his fist. It was at that point that the Vatican cops came and asked us to leave with their guns punctuating their demand. What gratitude.

A few days later back in San Diego many of us were nursing our wounds. I wasn't the only one who had been injured by the mental blast. Hozler had a broken wrist and was drawing pictures on his cast. Chen had his ankle broken and had the cast propped up on Graves' coffee table scuffing the finish. Chance was not taking her two broken ribs too well because the body cast didn't go with any of her outfits. Itchyfinger, who had suffered the least amount of injury, was lightly touching his broken nose testing his pain threshold. I am not exactly what a pain threshold is supposed to be. I feel that once you start to feel pain you have reached your threshold. I don't know what happened to the Extinguisher, the wheelchair bound fireman had already returned to Chicago.

Now to me, and I'm sure to you, a few things remained unexplained. Things like how did Graves know who this guy really was or how did he make the disc work. Majorly important things like what did he do with the scepter and how did Devlin get involved with the whole affair. As well as an explanation as to why he didn't take any art with him or why a vampire seemed to know Graves (take a breath). Fortunately Graves heard me thinking and answered me.

"As soon as Devlin slammed me with that mental blast I knew that he was possessed. Even though Bender is one of my most powerful foes he never had any paranormal abilities. Now since I was a student of Professor Harlan Diggs, I remembered the things that he taught me. One of the things was the legend of the Scepter of the Damned and the shaman whose soul was trapped in it. His name was Quetzanta and the legend also said that when the pieces were joined the soul of Quetzanta would possess the wielder. Bender never paid attention to Harlan's lectures and apparently missed that crucial fact. As for the disc, well I knew a few things that Quetzanta didn't. [1] That the Disc of the Seven Shamen was stored in the Secret Vaults along with the diamond of the Scepter of the Damned and while you were picturing headlines Chaquita brought it to me. [2] That Chaquita is a pure-breed Aztec, though I didn't know until the disc actually worked. I was merely bluffing, but now Batista is quite an astounding legacy of genetics. [3] That Ali Baba was a psychic and could not only withstand his mental blast but read his mind. [4] That I know everything.

"As for Devlin . . . he wanted power. He's always been that way ever since we studied under Diggs. He's a living example of the student/mentor theory. If you'll remember sooner or later there will be a separation between the student and the mentor. Either the mentor violates something that the student believes as wrong based on what the mentor has taught him, or the student rebels against what he is taught. Devlin is an example of the latter. He stole the first two pieces then joined them with the third in the Vatican, whereby he was possessed, whereby I freed him, whereby he is now in jail on major counts of robbery and disturbing the peace. Unfortunately we'll meet again, he has a way of getting out of things like this and since we are opposites we are destined to conflict. That by the way is another rule of the student/mentor theory.

"As for the scepter, the handle and head have been returned to their respective museums and the diamond is safely stored in my vault."

I was shocked. After causing so much trouble I would have thought that Graves would destroy the artifact so that it could never cause any more problems. Then Graves made it clear to me that art should never be destroyed no matter whether it's good or evil.

Vince inserted a query to Graves as he downed another shot of tequila. "What about that vampire man, he sure seemed like he knew you."

"It seemed familiar but I still can't seem to place the face. In time it will reveal itself to me and the answer will come."

To answer my last question, the doors to Graves' office swung open revealing a beautiful red haired woman. She entered the office carrying four huge books (two were covered in snake skin).

"Mister Benson, meet Miss Marie Lestford. Occupation: Art thief," said Graves.

Now it struck me as odd that a man dedicated to the protection of art would associate with a person dedicated to the theft of art. But of course my impression was wrong.

"Mister Benson, as I said earlier I had another angle on how to retrieve the art stored in the vaults. Marie, unlike what you would think, portrays herself as a Robin Hood of the art world. She steals from those who keep art to themselves and give to those who bring art to the public. I am, in a way, her fence. I find people to give her merchandise to. In the case of the Vatican it's even sweeter. Since the Vatican denies the existence let alone possession of most of the artifacts in the Secret Vaults they could never use any legal course to recover the art. You see, Chen has been working on a Focused Teleportation Device that would allow us to enter the vaults unnoticed and leave the same way. We haven't tested it on humans yet but based on the dead condition of the lab animals it still needs some work."

"Then how did she get those books," I asked?

"Well since there was a hole punched in the wall Marie took the opportunity to appropriate a few items. Before you rests four of the greatest lost texts in the civilized world. Bound in snake skin and stamped in gold are the original manuscripts of the Iliad and the Odyssey by Homer, thought to have been lost in the burning of the Imperial Library of Constantinople. Next to them is the original Hebrew Bible, hidden by the Catholic church because it disproves nearly everything that the modern church is based on . . . a great work of fiction however. Finally lies the Egyptian Codex of the Immortals which tells of the actual historical existence of the Egyptian gods."

Graves paused to magnify the meaning of his next statement (though I don't know what using convex lenses to enlarge the view of an object had to do with it). "And it is with this book, we are going to find out . . . ."



Red BallReturn To The GDI Archives