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The Underground

Premiered 1 May 2004 (Beltane)

 

Chapter 11

Heir Apparent

by

Dan Sewell Ward

 

The driver's name was Charlie. He was driving like crazy simply because he seldom was allowed to drive the souped-up limousine, and therefore was determined to take advantage of the current opportunity to do so. Charlie was also Italian, which meant that he drove like crazy in part because Italians are taught to drive like crazy. It was something to do with survival instinct in Rome .

On the way to the airport just outside of Naples Charlie had driven even crazier. But with Herman now in residence, Charlie knew he had valuable cargo and would of necessity want to ferry said cargo with the intent of actually arriving at their destination in one piece. Charlie didn't normally worry about death via a sudden termination of his conveyance's ability to convey, but Herman, having made the trip before, had made a point of indicating his desire to see the countryside at a pace something less than the speed of sound.

Charlie went along with Herman's request, and kept the automobile's warp speed at just under Mach One. The tension in the limo was only moderately reduced, however, as Charlie was forced to dodge all of the other crazy, Italian drivers. Apparently, this July was Crazy Italian Driver's Month in southern Italy . Or else it was just the traditional monthly holiday.

From Herman's viewpoint, Charlie's driving was simply phase four of the gauntlet the bastard son of Zak seemed required to run. But following the descent and trek into New York City , Lodude's rapid transit of the Himalayas , and Captain's Griff's manhood rites on obscure Greek islands, this latter transformational phase had the potential for even greater trauma. Not only must he contend with Charlie's mad dash through the Italian countryside, but Herman must also deal with Bernie Junior, the limousine's official, armed guard.

The man was absolutely huge! Herman had felt a momentary chill when Charlie had met him at the airport accompanied by this brooding behemoth. But then Herman had realized Bernie Junior was there to protect him! And because of this, he could easily avoid the Southern Italians' tradition of preying on tourists and foreign travelers. The fact that an allegedly-united European Common Market was in a massive, devastating economic depression (due in the part to the incorporation of Eastern Europe into capitalism), such traditional activities were on the rise. Thus, Bernie Junior was a welcome sight for Herman.

But then, sitting in the back seat of the limousine as it ran down chickens, goats, and other unidentified foul or foal, Herman began to study the back of Bernie Junior's head. Or more accurately, the right side of his face, the back of his head, and the left side of his face. Herman watched the rapid sequence as Bernie kept looking first one way, then abruptly looking the other, and then the other. The guard seemed to have only three positions of his neck, allowing for a left view, a right view, and a frontal view. Herman had no idea if peripheral vision was included in Bernie's arsenal of guardian features or not, but Herman suspected it was unlikely. The possibility of brains being part of the arsenal had already been eliminated following a mere two attempts at communication with Charlie's right hand man.

Despite any lack of brains, however, Bernie was effective. At six foot eight, 290 pounds of monster brawn, numerous carvings on his face from knives and other attempts to cut him down to size, and with sufficient firepower to awe a three star general, Bernie Junior was not someone with whom you might want to trifle. Or even relate to in a casual fashion. Bernie Junior simply was. It would obviously be a very good idea to simply let this state of the universe continue uninhibited. Which after a moment's reflection, Herman did.

As the limousine slowed and reentered the normal space-time continuum, Herman saw a flash in the evening sky. Turning to his left (along with Bernie Jr. in his third neck position), Herman caught the aftermath of a burst of red hot lava, as it belched slightly. He knew that the peak was Vesuvius and that of late, it had been moderately active. Nothing really traumatic, like lava paving the streets of nearby villages, but every now and then, it let the world know why the Pompeii City Site Planners had failed to find work after 79 A.D.

Herman shuddered as he wondered why anyone in their right mind would want to live under the shadow of an active volcano. Then he thought about his Uncle Hal, and without a great deal more thought, dismissed the line of thinking. Surely it was obvious -- it was just another of Hal's characteristics. If anything it was one of his more obvious manifestations.

The same could be said of the welcome format at Hal's estates, i.e. a decided lack of hospitality. As the limo approached a solid concrete wall, Herman's conveyance slowed to a crawl. A hidden, solid gate with the same texture as the wall slowly opened to allow the limousine's entrance. Herman remained in his seat, already knowing the drill. Eventually the auto pulled into a narrow, darkened passageway. Charlie turned on the lights, illuminating an utterly black passageway. The car moved forward, the lights serving only to inform its driver if anything other than blackness might impede the limo's forward motion. At one point the limo stopped -- Charlie was apparently driving by the seat of his pants. A door set into one side of the passageway opened, and a dull light spilled out, lighting Herman's car door, but virtually nothing else.

Herman opened his own door and stepped out into the light -- Charlie and Bernie hardly bothering to notice his. No one stood in the passageway to greet him and Herman wondered how the passageway door had been opened. Then he shut the car door, the limo moved forward, and the former VIP passenger stepped into a small lighted passageway. The door gently closed behind him.

Herman walked down the passageway, making a variety of sixty-degree turns in either direction (and for what seemed an interminable time) until he came to another small door which obediently opened at his approach. He entered as if he owned the place -- bravado being one of his stock-in-trade attributes -- and turned to the right where our hero would be prepared to bluff his way in whatever fashioned might be required. Before him sat a fair haired man behind a stone slab table. The man's light blonde hair seemed to stand out in the dim atmosphere, particularly in a land of dark-haired Italians. Herman decided to dismiss the hair color as nothing more than the man trying to put others ill at ease. This fact was emphasized by the man looking like death-warmed-over, and wearing a pull-over robe, sufficiently austere to match the room decor.

Herman took the initiative. "Hello, Raymond! Where's your two buddies, Dino and... What's-his-name?"

Raymond was not a gifted conversationalist. He had, in fact, seldom if ever engaged in conversation -- thus continuing the tradition of not being gifted. Nevertheless, he was able to reply to Herman's question. "Off for the week." Raymond made no further comment or even a judgement on the propriety of his being left to hold down the fort alone. Instead, he proceeded directly to his reason for existence, to pass on people. "Why are you here?"

"To see my favorite Uncle Hal." When the ultimate Italian bureaucrat gave no hint either of his still being among the living, or finding Herman's answer sufficient, Herman added, with somewhat greater authority, "He's expecting me." This response had a similar effect on Raymond who had over the years developed an incredible amount of patience. This guy could easily wait for Hell to freeze over and still be there fishing when it did.

Herman smiled. "He'll be disappointed if he doesn't see me right away."

Raymond had been well aware of the nephew's impending visit and knew that it was a foregone conclusion that Herman ultimately would be passed through his checkpoint. But the fair haired man was still the bureaucrat and consequently was obsessed with ensuring that all who passed through his very small world would know and respect his power.

Unfortunately, Raymond suspected Herman was already well aware that said power was mostly illusory and effective only with the fainthearted. Plus which, if Raymond were to attempt to impede the brash youngster, it might come to light that Hal's fair-haired boy really didn't have any power at all! This was not a fact Raymond was eager to have demonstrated. Sometimes it's not a good idea to ask a question if the answer might be one you really don't want to hear.

While Herman waited -- continuing the recently initiated, staring contest and showing no signs of giving his competitor a break -- Raymond signaled with a subtle wave of his hand that Herman could pass. Herman started toward the closed door which Raymond opened by remote control. As expected, Raymond hesitated just long enough to ensure that Herman would be brought up short and forced to wait a brief moment for the door to fully open. Raymond had won his only victory of the day. Such is the plight of the bureaucrat.

Herman then moved down another hall, through another series of sixty-degree turns to the left, to the right, and so forth, before he came upon another door. When it opened at his approach, Herman breathed a sigh of relief. It's not that the room was particularly inviting, but compared to Raymond's Stone Age reliefs; it was Fantasyland for a six year old.

The lighting was adequate -- albeit dimmed and diffuse, a common factor in Hal's domain. A pleasant collection of wall hangings of different styles and textures of woven materials hung on the walls providing something akin to warmth for the room. The walls matched the floor laid with a smooth hardwood and covered with an occasional hand-woven rug thrown out to break up the strange inlaid pattern of the wood. In the center of the room was an oaken desk, with three oaken doors situated just behind it, each door at a sixty degree angle to the one adjacent to it. Overall it was a pleasant and only slightly strange room.

It was pleasant except for the old hag sitting behind the desk.

"Old hag" might be an exaggeration, for the woman had several nice characteristics, physical and otherwise. On the other hand, she was not one to think in terms of fashion, and consequently, dressed drably, wore no makeup of any kind, and obviously ignored her hair completely. Beauty consultants might have done wonders for her had they the motive or even had they been given the opportunity. But obviously, no attempt had ever been made.

Helen, aka the "old hag", looked up and smiled darkly. Herman returned the smile -- although he failed to convey the same sense of discomfort that she had managed without a conscious effort. Then she spoke, gently enough, but with complete authority. "Welcome, Herm. It will be a few minutes."

Herman kept up his smile. "Hello, Helen. You're looking lovely, as usual."

"I'm feeling lovely," she replied. "But you're perhaps the only one who notices such things."

"It's just that I can relate to you," Herman lied -- or thought that he did.

"I know. But it will still be some minutes before he can see you."

Herman could not avoid the temptation to be witty. "What's happening? Is he courting some lady?"

Helen's answer was straight forward. "He has a lady with him, yes. But not one he's courting, as you so cleverly phrased it."

"Great," Herman replied. "Maybe he'll introduce me!"

Helen smiled, "Not if you already know her." Then adding a slight clarification, Helen said, "She already knows you."

Herman was immediately intrigued, surprised, and mystified, all in rapid succession. He could not imagine anyone he knew being with his Uncle Hal. It defied conceptualizing. Then as he watched Helen, who had apparently decided to provide nothing else in the way of hints, Herman began to think that it might be necessary for him to resort to his infamous charm if he were going to elicit more information from her. Before the world could discover, however, if Helen might have eventually fallen prey to said alleged charm and enlightened him a bit further, the entire scenario was interrupted by the center door behind the desk opening and Iris joining Herman and Helen in the small room.

Herman recognized her instantly, if only because no other woman wore the same proliferation of colors. Still, her sudden appearance within Hal's domain came under the category of inexplicable. Not to mention, strange.

Iris, on the other hand, showed no hint of surprise at the sight of Her man. Instead, she greeted him with a sprightly voice. "Hello, Herm!" Coming around Helen's desk, Iris smiled her best smile, gave Herman an affectionate kiss on the cheek, and walked briskly out the door from which he had originally entered the room. Herman had never even managed to utter an exclamation of surprise or form a complete thought; everything had happened so fast. Instead, he watched the door close behind Iris, unaware of Helen's subsequent comment.

"Apparently you know her." When Herman turned back to her, still dumbfounded, Helen gestured to the doors behind her and said, "You can go in now." As the befuddled Herman began to slowly move in one direction -- rather like sleep walking but with some semblance of where he was going -- Helen added, "The left door."

The incongruity stopped him for just a moment as he realized that Iris had come out of the center door. He looked at Helen, wondering what was happening. Helen simply replied, "He's behind the left door now."

Herman couldn't really understand anything at this point. Consequently, instead of asking any questions and appearing any more lost than he was, he turned and went through the left door. His total faith and confidence in Helen was either laudable or foolhardy, but in either case, he could hardly be held accountable -- he had been under a lot of stress lately.

It was another of those interminably long halls, dimly lit, and full of sixty degree angle turns in a variety of directions. Then it turned into another room; only this time there was no door. Just a final sixty degree corner and a room suddenly looming on the horizon (albeit a horizon only about ten feet away). The room was clearly a living space, with dark leather furniture, recessed and dimmed lighting, and a single lamp on a table, giving a beacon of light for the weary and downtrodden. Herman had never before been in the room; or at least he didn't think so. Still, it looked familiar. Perhaps it was just one more room of his Uncle Hal's, all having the same characteristics as any other.

Or perhaps it was something else. Herman decided not to ask just on the off hand chance he might receive an undesirable answer.

Instead, Herman did a quick survey of the windowless room. There was apparently no one else in the room, and thus he assumed that he was to wait -- there being no other obvious trail to follow, no piles of stone denoting a path. After just a moment's thought, he quickly gravitated to the solitary, lighted lamp, where he sat down in a heavy chair upholstered in a lush, dark leather. Very comfortable, he thought -- almost luxurious. Then he noticed at the side of his chair on a low, small table, a small round tray of mints, much like what one might encounter in leaving a nice restaurant. Herman recalled that his uncle had a particular fondness for mints, although he couldn't imagine why.

Then he noticed some small fruits next to the mints. 'Very inviting,' he thought, 'but this was unlike my uncle to offer such social grace or hospitality.' For a moment, Herman thought about eating some of the fruits or a handful of mints the act of eating being something to pass the time. Fortunately, some inner, intuitive sense told him to refrain. He thought the feeling strange, but he heeded his intuition and passed up the offered nourishment. Instead he glanced around, noting the richness of the room's decor or that which he could see in the dim light -- and patiently waited for his uncle.

After a few moments, there was the slightest sound of a movement behind him, as if someone had slipped into the room. Herman started to turn and see who (or what) had entered, but then decided that perhaps he didn't want to know. There are times when one should simply wait and let things happen -- whatever they may be and however dark they may at first appear. This was one of those times for Herman.

Within a moment, toward his right, he heard the sound of a man taking a seat. Herman turned ever so slightly, now aware of the shaded figure. The darkness almost made the other man invisible, but Herman decided to forego the visionary clues and rely on his other senses. The man had an aura about him which could be sensed, as well as a subtle, musky smell and the sound of... what might be thought of as age. For a moment, Herman merely smiled at the shade, who seemed to be aware of him, but who found the awareness uninteresting.

But then it spoke. "How's Dan?"

It was the kind of question to which one might have offhandedly resorted during a lull in an already well-established conversation. But it was not a greeting. It was as if greetings were no longer in fashion and no one would deign to waste words on such trivia as "Hello" and "How are you?". Herman, not being current with such fashion, resorted to confusion. "Who?"

"Dan Davidson, your brother," the man replied.

Herman abruptly remembered that his uncle Hal and his half-brother, Dan, had always maintained some strange personal connection. What constituted the connection was a mystery to Herman, a rather old mystery when he came to think about it. But accustomed to flying by the seat of his pants, he answered in typical, trivial fashion. "Last time I saw him, he was doing fine." Herman decided to forego mentioning that he could not even imagine the last time he had seen his half-brother, assuming that Hal would not care one way or the other.

"I got a e-mail from him a couple of days ago." When Herman did not answer due to severe overload on his confusion level, Hal added, "Your sister, Tina, had just made a rare visit to see him." Briefly, there was a simple silence, until Hal threw in one more morsel. "There was an earlier e-mail from Aaron."

"Aaron?" Herman squeaked.

"Threw his into the fire," Hal noted, conversationally. Then he said, "Interesting message from Dan, though. Confusing as hell, but interesting."

Herman wasn't too confident in the direction the conversation was taking and was about to try a diversion when nature helped out. There was a momentary shuddering as if the ground was about to quake once again. For a moment, Herman realized that the world might need to find an alternative drink for Uncle Paul, or else replace his rambunctious blender. Then he recalled where he was and asked, "I've often wondered, Uncle Hal: Why do you live so near an active volcano? Don't you find it somewhat risky?"

"I'll know when it's about to go off," was the answer.

"Really? How?"

" India goes first, then Japan , both from massive earth quakes. Then Sicily erupts before Vesuvius. When Japan gets shaken to its foundations, I'm out of here! Until then, I've no plans to move."

Herman was well aware of his uncle's irrevocable decrees, and his last statement seemed to qualify as one of the stronger ones. Still Herman was curious. "How do you know that India and Japan go first?"

"Chirles told me."

"How does he know?"

"Some Frenchman told him."

Herman was having his world view severely tested today. He could not imagine Hal even listening to a Frenchman, much less relying on a French view in what he did next. Must have been some other kind of Frenchman, Herman thought. Like someone several centuries ago before being French meant what it did today. After all, who in their right mind would listen to a Frenchman? Other than another Frenchman, perhaps?

Hal did not seem ready to enlighten his nephew. And Herman was less than excited about continuing the conversation in the direction it was now headed (which, from his viewpoint, was to parts totally unknown). Instead, he dropped back to an old reliable: "How's business?" It only took a few nano-seconds for him to realize that his question had been a singularly poor idea.

Hal grunted, making it clear that business was lousy. There was a momentary silence while Herman rather hoped the question was being interred and left to rest in peace. Then Hal resurrected it. "How the hell are you supposed to market a product," he asked, "when the essential idea is illegal? You can't exactly advertise it in the newspapers!"

"Oh?" Herman was again on uncertain ground.

"The demand is there. On the upswing, in fact! Every reason for it to be profitable as hell!"

"What?"

"Euthanasia! There are a lot of people wanting to check out right now, like they're trying to die now and avoid the rush later. So why won't the damn governments let them go in peace? It's not like death is something to be feared! And suicides are so damn messy! They have to be painful! Why not do it right?"

"Right?" Herman sheepishly asked.

"With drugs. Euthanasia with hallucinatory drugs is the only way to go! You get a beautiful experience with colors and everything! But then you don't have to come back for the aftermath, the withdrawal. It's the only way!" Hal grunted, generally frustrated with the world, "The problem is that it's still illegal. Stupid governments!"

Herman had often wondered what in the world Hal did -- besides live off his share of the original Gilan family fortune. Somehow, Herman was not surprised. It would be just like Hal to find a business into which no one in their right mind would venture.

But Hal was continuing to air his frustration. "Especially now, when it's in such demand." For a moment, Hal thought about the demand side of the equation. Then, "I wonder why that is."

"What is?" Herman ventured, more intrigued than good sense warranted.

"Why everyone is looking to check out right now." Hal mediated on the idea for another moment. "Chirles might know."

Herman couldn't let the opportunity slip by again. Sprightly, he asked, with an overdose of the casual. "Chirles?"

Hal grunted again, not pleased with the prospect of remembering unpleasant memories. Then he mumbled something about having no idea in hell where Chirles was currently plying whatever trade Chirles was accustomed to plying. When Herman hesitated to reply to his uncle's mumble, Hal continued, reminiscing in his own very peculiar way. "The guy was brilliant! Always knew what would make money; always knew what was coming up next. He could play the stock market like nobody else. The guy was fantastic!"

Herman listened, amazed at his uncle's enthusiastic endorsement of Chirles. Hal was typically not that enthusiastic about anyone! In fact, Grim Hal had never displayed the get-in-an-uproar personality that other family members had. Hal preferred instead to be the loner, the recluse. The fact that he could now find another member of the family, a half-brother, as worthy of praise, absolutely astounded Herman.

Hal smiled slightly, a unique event in his life. "He was good! And the only thing he needed, the only thing you had to provide to keep him happy, was horses. Fix up a nice stable, fill it with some good horses, and the guy would work forever." Suddenly the smile disappeared, as Hal remembered that it was the evening rides in the country that had led to Chirles' kidnapping -- and his eventual loss to Hal.

"Where is Chirles now?" Herman thought the question was simple enough. He was not ready for the angry answer.

"Kidnapped!! Out riding one day, and wham! Gone! I haven't heard from him, or of him, since!" Hal simmered for a moment, the atmosphere in the room having become slightly darkened by an old anger. Then he added with a subtle mashing of his teeth. "I always figured Zak had a hand in it! That bastard you could never trust!" When Herman looked askance at the insult to the ruling patriarch, Hal seemed to back off and begrudgingly admit, "I've never been able to find a connection between the two since then, but I'm not ready to believe that Zak doesn't know where Chirles is! It would be just like Zak to break our deal!"

Herman's ears sat up even more. "What 'deal'?"

Hal glanced at Herman, thinking about his question. Hal was not the sort of person blessed with an outgoing personality. He seldom found it expedient to say anything, much less talk about something which might expose his deeper feelings. He watched Herman for several moments, before he made his decision. In a low voice, he asked, "Why are you here?"

There were many things Herman understood: When to hold 'em, and when to fold 'em! And when to walk away! He also knew when to answer a question directly, without fanfare, without diplomacy, without shading the truth in any way. "Tina and I think Zak is up to something. Something major. Maybe a corporate restructuring. He's been acting a little strange of late."

Hal considered the information. "Aaron in on this?"

"We don't know. Aaron may be in the dark as much as we are, but neither of us is ready to trust Aaron yet."

"I don't know that Tina trusts anybody," Hal muttered, off-handedly.

When Hal made no effort to add anything, Herman leaned forward in his chair, and asked, "Have you heard anything?"

Hal looked at his nephew for several moments before he spoke. "I know Zak has been cashing in some of his IOUs, paying off a few old debts. He's even tried to pay a few bills of mine. Not that I've received any compensation for Chirles, but Zak claims he knows nothing about my man's kidnapping!" Hal simmered a few more seconds, doing a slow burn. Then he stuffed his feelings. Again. Abruptly, his feelings accounted for, he gave his thoughts free rein and quickly voiced them, "Zak might be worried about Tiapes Muurman."

Herman had never heard the name. "Who's Tia... whatever."

"Tiapes Muurman. He's the son and sole heir of A. P. Summa and Tia Matson. They're a very strong family, very influential." Then, more thoughtfully, Hal added, "Tiapes might constitute a major threat to Zak." For a moment, he toyed with the idea. "Tiapes has a daughter, named Anna, I think. She would make for quite a catch; the ultimate political marriage. Of course, the daughter may be ugly as sin, but Zak could probably overlook that if she's potentially as powerful as I suspect she will be." Then a distressing thought occurred to Hal. "Zak may already have his sights set on her. That would be like him!"

Hal shut down again. There was still a frustration lurking in his psyche that wanted someday to be voiced. He was still embittered over his brother, and in some ways, the world. After a few moments, he voiced a small portion of his pain. "Lousy way to split an inheritance: depending upon the luck of the draw!" Hal took his thoughts one step further, and added, "If there's any justice, Zak will someday bet the farm and lose it all!"

Herman felt like a man tip-toeing through the tulips, flowers which just happened to be sharing the surrounding ground with land mines. Hal's mood was sufficiently ugly that his nephew was hesitant to do anything but listen. This was not the place, he began to consider, to pick up a lot of information. As the evening proceeded, Herman turned out to be right. And also wrong. Hal, as expected, provided little if any additional information. At one point, bored with the conversation and its tendency to rekindle unpleasant memories, he abruptly ended the dialogue and left Herman to his own devices. Which was when, Herman turned out to be wrong.

Helen and one or two other members of Hal's "staff" were not as loath to talk as their boss. And Herman, being the kind of listener with whom others feel comfortable telling their deepest secrets, found several alleged persons ready to talk about most anything, including a brief history of Chirles. The benefit of knowing what and who his half-uncle was did not readily make itself apparent to Herman. However, all information eventually finds its place, and Herman knew that at some point in time, knowing about Chirles would fill in some piece of a puzzle, even if it was a puzzle on which he had yet begun work.

The history began with a woman named Phyllis Ronson, born and raised in Texas (of all places!). While in college, she had lost her parents, inheriting their considerable wealth at an early age. For several years, she maintained her status, thoroughly enjoying the life of a woman of independent means. Then on a Mediterranean cruise in 1926, which included a lengthy stay in Athens , she met and fell in love with Kranius Gilanos. At the time, Herman's grandfather was establishing himself with his father's business associates in Greece .

Kranius, of course, was already married. Consequently, Phyllis and he began an illicit love affair. Phyllis, who had fallen in love with Greece as well as Kranius, eventually chose to remain in Greece and moved to a small town along the Aegean Coast where her lover periodically came to visit her. Not too surprisingly, Phyllis soon became pregnant. Equally unsurprising, Kranius soon ceased to make periodic visits to see Phyllis -- a pregnant woman not being as appealing to the Americanized-Greek pseudo-tycoon as much as a former virgin.

Their offspring, Charles, was born in her home in Zagora , Greece , where he spent a rambunctious youth and became a young, expert horseman, particularly fond of spending time in the wilds of nearby Mount Pelion . Charles was well aware of his heritage and his father, but for the most part never saw or interacted with his mother's former lover.

Charles' youth was cut short by the German conquest of Greece in April 1941. His mother died in July of the same year as a result of her obstinate refusal to kowtow to the Nazi invaders -- she had always had a stubborn streak in her. Her son was subsequently picked up for questioning, photographed, and held briefly, by the same authorities. From the Nazi's point of view this might have been a serious error. The effect was to instill in Charles a strong incentive to fight back with everything he possessed. Upon his release, Charles changed his name to Chirles and joined the Greek Resistance.

Chirles, despite his youth, soon became quite proficient at modern day warfare and was generally accorded hero status by the Greek Resistance. By the time the war ended, Chirles had become the accomplished warrior. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your viewpoint), he also soon became aware of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan and their totally devastating, destructive effects. The unbridled horror was sufficient to turn Chirles' attention away from warfare and in the opposite direction of healing. Chirles did not give up the concept of self-defense, but he recognized healing to often be the more appropriate response. In December 1946, after a year of soul searching, Chirles turned to medicine after finishing a Greek preparatory school.

An American by virtue of his mother's citizenship, Chirles came to the United States in November 1947 to begin his medical education. After seven years of struggle, Chirles gave up medicine as a matter of principle. He had discovered homeopathy , and far ahead of his time, holistic medicine. These discoveries convinced him that traditional medical techniques and drugs were not only inadequate, but ultimately created more harm than good. Instead, Chirles fully accepted the Hippocratic doctrine of first of all, not doing harm. He disowned his traditional medical education and struck out on his own.

Chirles' interest in holistic medicine eventually led him to Carl Jung. This occasioned an interest in astrology, in which in his customary manner Chirles became particularly proficient. Essentially, Chirles became the ultimate maverick, delving into those philosophies and practices of which his fellow beings were only dimly aware. At the same time, at his core, Chirles was a healer in the best sense of the word. He was also a warrior, and he began to gravitate between the two extremes as life provided its various experiences. For the next ten years, Chirles worked inside and outside the law, healing without a license, stressing physical fitness and gymnastics, acting as a mentor for young men, and in some cases, training them in hunting and warfare. Chirles even became interested in music, and began to include it in his training as a means of rounding out one's education.

The early sixties challenged Chirles even further. He volunteered for a MASH unit in Vietnam and spent two years there. On his return, he was able to ignore the anti-war protests and started working with Vietnam Veterans, who had quickly begun to display symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). His contributions were cut short, however, by an incredible incident on New Year's Eve, 1965.

The incident occurred at a party of Vietnam Veterans and their girl friends. The party had been arranged by Paul Meany, a well connected Americanized-Greek whom Chirles had known for several years. Paul, with the money to manage it, had furnished a truckload of alcohol and drugs for the party. Paul, himself, was an alcoholic, his liver slowly disintegrating from the onslaught. Thus his bringing the booze was no major surprise.

Unfortunately, the party quickly got out of hand. Many of the veterans returned to the days of Vietnam and got seriously stoned. Several started molesting any female within reach and without concerning themselves with which woman was with which man. The critical problem occurred when one vet went after Paul's girlfriend. Already drunk, he took immediate offense and promptly knifed the vet in the back. Chirles attempted to help the wounded vet, only to quickly realize the man was dead. With his hands bloody from trying to help the dead man, another vet, himself quite stoned, tried to help as well and managed only to drop a hypodermic on Chirles' foot. The party was now in such bedlam, it was not clear to most of the bystanders what had actually happened. No one else had actually seen Paul kill the vet, but had seen Chirles' bloodied hand and because of the hypodermic, his slightly drugged condition.

The end result was that Paul's family was not about to see their beloved son carted off for murder. In addition, Paul had done some very special favors for members of the Brotherhood and the Gilanos clan in particular. It was obvious to those with influence that things would be much better if Chirles took the rap. Chirles ultimately agreed, in part because the plan was to spirit him out of the country to Italy where he could avoid the law. This latter detail was arranged by the simple expedient of having Chirles come under the protection of his half-brother, Hal. Chirles had also become a little weary of the sixties in America , part of his reason to take the rap even though he might have fought it and won. Finally, Chirles had a great deal of respect for Paul Meany and did not want him to go to prison when, for Chirles, the ultimate cause was Paul's PTSD.

Chirles soon proved his worth in Italy , combining his mentor abilities with medical care for his half-brother, Hal. At the same time, his astrology came into full bloom, and Chirles became a valued advisor to his protector, predicting and anticipating all manner of profitable ventures. Chirles continued to enjoy hunting, although the game in southern Italy in the sixties and seventies was sparse. Herman also learned Chirles had a fetish about wearing gloves, which Herman concluded was probably a psychological reaction to his half-uncle's bloodied hand on that fateful New Year's Eve.

Instinctively, Herman realized that somewhere in Chirles' history were the clues that would lead to unraveling the mystery of Zak's recent actions. Herman even suspected Chirles of being an essential player. The key was to sort through all of the separate items and identify those which were pointing the finger in the right direction. And then follow that direction!

For the present, however, it was time to escape the environs of Vesuvius. There was always the outside chance that Hal's inside information was wrong and Vesuvius would be one of the first to go! Herman didn't want to be in the area when it did.

Apparently Charlie was of the same opinion. The return trip to the airport set several land speed records for Italian back roads and village alleys, and caused both Herman and Bernie Junior's faces to take on an ashen shade of white. While Charlie may very well have been in training for quick and expeditious escapes, Herman could only wonder if euthanasia might have been preferable to either witnessing a volcanic eruption at close hand or to being ferried across the river by Charlie. Then again, there might have been precious little difference.

 

Chapter Ten Forging Ahead

Forward to:

Chapter Twelve Mother and Daughter

 

 

 

               

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