The Grail Conspiracies
All rights reserved
Southern England. June 6, 1944. Afternoon
“BUT WE’RE DECEIVING THE POOR BASTARD, lying to him about his mission,” Webster said. “If he can’t trust his own people, who can he trust?”
“Hell, he’s just a soldier,” Barrington replied. “It’s not his goddam job to know the score.” The three of them sat at a table, Barrington in the center—it was his operation—Webster on one side, the Major on the other.
Barrington looked, some people said, like a shorter version of Gary Cooper. But his eyes were strangely hooded. “Lizard-eyes,” they’d called him in school, until he showed that it was dangerous to laugh at him.
His state’s Senator pulled some strings in the first months of the war, and he got in at the start-up of the OSS, Office of Strategic Services, referred to by some as Our Spooks and Spies.
Barrington didn’t really fit the OSS mold—he wasn’t a New England WASP with an Ivy League degree and a background on Wall Street. But he was smart and ruthless, and spoke French.
His parents had been born in France. When they came to the United States in 1911, an immigration officer wrote their name, Bourton, as Barrington, and it stuck. His mother thought Hadley sounded more American than Henri, his father’s name.
“I still don’t think—” Webster began, then cut himself off. He was 36, round and balding, an associate professor of psychology at Yale on loan to the OSS.
“If you don’t like what we’re doing, blame goddam Hitler, not me,” Barrington growled. “But right now, do your job. Tapscott is going to be here in a minute. When he leaves this room, it’s essential that he believes this mission is exactly what we say it is.”
He leaned forward and peered down the table at Webster. “You are with us on that, aren’t you, Professor?”
Webster nodded. In Barrington’s mouth, “professor” was an insult. There was no point in antagonizing him. Barrington had connections; Webster was having a good war where he was, and had no desire to get shipped out to some godforsaken atoll in the Pacific. Cross Barrington, and that could happen.
Besides, what was one more life in a war like this?
Barrington looked at the Major. He’d lost an arm on a B-17 raid over Hannover, and seemed to feel it was a miracle that he was still alive. He would coordinate the air-drop, and was sitting in on the briefing as a technical advisor. He nodded; he was used to following orders.
Barrington pushed the button on the table. They heard the buzzer sound, two rooms away.
Wind rattled the windows, and the rain started up again. It was early afternoon, and the troops had hit the beaches in Normandy at dawn. D-Day was finally under way.
PAUL TAPSCOTT entered the room. He was a shade under six feet, lean, with curly dark hair and a boyishly handsome, open face dominated by dark, intelligent eyes beneath thick brows. He looked younger than his 25 years, unusual in a time when so many faces had been prematurely aged by war and stress. He had spent nearly two years in a Catholic seminary, preparing to be a Jesuit priest, before leaving to join the war effort.
It was OSS custom to wear the uniform of a U.S. Army officer with no rank or other insignia. Tapscott had added the set of pilot’s wings he’d earned before being grounded.
“At ease, take a seat,” Barrington said, pointing to the wooden chair in front of the table. His voice was husky from the daily three packs of Camels. He nodded to Webster.
Professor Webster cleared his throat, and began as Barrington had scripted. “I open with a question: Are you familiar with the so-called ‘Spear of Longinus,’ the alleged ‘Holy Lance?’”
Tapscott wondered if he’d heard correctly. Was this some kind of a trick question, another weird psychological assessment?
But the invasion had begun; this had to be for real. Unless Barrington and the others were insane. “In the New Testament accounts, it’s the lance the Roman centurion Longinus used to pierce the side of Jesus before they took the body down from the cross.”
Webster steepled his fingers and said, “There was supposedly a—shall we say mystical?—aspect to this lance, one that made it of interest to certain military leaders. Perhaps you are aware of that?”
THE THREE MEN behind the table waited until they heard Paul Tapscott leave the building.
Barrington chuckled. “The dumb shit fell for it, hook, line and sinker. Some goddam spy he’d make!”
Webster shook his head. “Such a fine young man. Innocent, naive—so rare these days. He won’t last long over there.”
“Starting this morning, professor, fine young men are dying all over Europe by the thousands. But if this operation succeeds, then we can save a hell of a lot of those lives. We sacrifice one and win the war. It’s a trade that makes sense.”
“But tell me,” the Major said, running a finger along his moustache. “The mystical power of the Spear, and all that. Do you actually think there’s anything to it?”
Barrington snickered and lit another Camel. “You asked Tapscott the same question. Hell, it’s about as goddam real as Mickey Mouse.”
“Ha! Define real. Mickey may be only an image on the screen, but the dough he pulls in sure as hell is real.”
“Perhaps you are thinking that a few words carved on an old church wall can have no real impact?”
“Something like that,” I responded, trying to be polite to the old monk. He’d saved my life, after all, and it was his chapel, his little monastery, his whole world.
“Einstein wrote even less—E=MC2—and changed the way the universe was perceived.”
“But E=MC2 was”— I groped for a way to express it—“was only a symbolic way of expressing a much larger concept.”
“Then why do you assume these messages convey less?”
Navigating the Seas of Latent Possibility
Washington, D.C. 7:15 A.M.
I GOT BACK to the apartment drenched from one of Washington’s October monsoons, oblivious to the pair of invisible storms that even then were merging into the big one about to blow across the world.
The TV was on, and I stood there dripping, morbidly fascinated by the scenes of the riots— oops! correct that, the “celebrations”— small flash-mobs of Twisted Messiah fans burning and looting and beating as a way of pre-celebrating the concert that was being billed as “Jesse Cripes’ 33rd Birthday Gift to the World.”
Fans from all over the world had been gathering at the concert site, an abandoned air base in the former East Germany, not far from Berlin. Most had been camping out there despite the October chill, and more were on the way. A half-million were expected to be present for the live concert, which would be beamed by satellite to stadiums and sports arenas around the world.
Now, in the past week, “celebrations” had sprung up in London, Paris, Tokyo, and a couple of dozen other cities world-wide. The kids were destructive “for the hell of it, just to show what we can do,” as one of them put it.
The mobs were relatively small-scale, and politicians and police had generally opted to hold back for now, not wanting to risk provoking bigger riots.
Others weren’t so sure that was prudent. As one pundit put it: “There’s a potential undercover army of dead-end losers spread out across the world. They’re looking for a leader, and I fear that Twisted Messiah, and Jesse Cripes may attempt to fill precisely the role that their name suggests. And if that happens, what’s the core: Neo-Nazi, or destructive nihilism?”
ON THAT HAPPY THOUGHT, I moved on to check the fax before hitting the shower. This had just come in:
You are the butterfly!
You’re about to set off a storm that spreads around the world!
Have crucial new info regarding our recent conversation.
We need to talk, ASAP!
Meanwhile, watch your back!
You’re involved, like it or not.
Don’t call me, I’ll call you when/if it’s safe
THIS IS NOT A DRILL!
It sounded like just another bubble in the vast ocean of jokes floating around cyberspace. But this was hand-printed in the distinctive scrawl of Cal Katz, as thick and stubby and intense as the man himself, and Cal was definitely not into jokes.
He was a strange little guy, one day hush-mouthed and conspiratorial, the next day ready to tell you more than you ever wanted to know about what was really going on behind the scenes in Washington.
A conspiracy nut, but an intelligent one who did his homework . . . obsessively.
Have important info regarding our recent conversation: Typical Cal, at the same time both paranoid and forgetful: Which part of which recent conversation? Why am I the butterfly? Why watch my back?
To Cal, everything was of life-and-death importance. That conversation, a week or so ago, hadn’t been so much a conversation as Cal talking at me about his latest project, an upcoming expose of Twisted Messiah.
Then, in one of his characteristic mind-jumps, he’d asked whether, by any chance, any relative of mine had served in the OSS during World War II.
To which the answer was yes: my uncle, Paul Tapscott, who had died at the time of D-Day invasion of France, in 1944. But before I could follow up, Cal had moved on, saying we needed to talk, “mucho and pronto.”
In Cal’s eyes, Twisted Messiah wasn’t just a rock group. It was, as he’d put it in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, “media superstardom consciously morphing into a world-wide political force.”
Strong words, typical Cal Katzian exaggeration, I’d figured. At that time, the possibility seemed bizarre. But that was before the “celebrations” had begun. The feedback to the Post reflected that: Rock stars as a world-wide political force? Get real!
Alsa, as events turned out, Cal wouldn’t live quite long enough to see his prophecy coming to life.
MY MIND was on his message as I showered. You are the butterfly about to set off a storm that spreads around the world!
“Butterfly”—I understood that much of it. The term came from Chaos Theory, suggesting that small, unanticipated events, like the tiny puff of wind set off by the wings of a butterfly, can trigger a chain of events that bring about major, unpredictable change.
But me as a butterfly? Not likely. I was just another faceless soldier in that army of Beltway Bandits living off government contracts. I had no politically embarrassing documents to leak, no secrets the media or anyone else would find the least titillating.
So I thought then.
But a storm was brewing, and I—the 180-pound butterfly— was indeed about to set it off.
That storm would spread, and merge with another storm, and before it all ended, less than a week later—on Election Day, no coincidence— things would be changed forever, not just in my life, but in Washington, in the Establishment running it, in politics, in the whole country.
Changed even in how we human beings view the world and what is possible within the reality we experience.
TWISTED MESSIAH had burst onto the scene a couple of years back, with the infamous “Toilet Video.”
It ran in shadowy black-and-white. A couple in long hair and black leather, sexes unclear at the start, writhed against each other. The camera moved like a voyeur, catching the dirty tile and open stalls of a grungy public toilet. Their bodies pounded to climax as the singer screamed,
The best sex
Isn’t what turns you on!
The best sex
Is what turns your stomach!
When they were done, the girl bent over one of the sinks and vomited. The boy laughed.
The camera pulled zoomed in, revealing his face with a grinning human skull tattooed on his skin.
That tattooed skull covering the face was a trade-mark of Twisted Messiah’s hard-core fans here and around the world. For a while, those skull-faces were plastered all over the media. In interviews, asked how they were going to live out their lives with those tattoos, the response was usually something like, “Who cares? We aren’t going to live long.”
Another secret came out: the inner circle of Twisted Messiah fans, a special cadre in nations around the world, wore identifying tattoos in the pubic area, and the tattoos varied with rank. Not many photos of those tattoos made it into the media.
But it was talked about, and added to the buzz, and the buzz was the point.
The piece wrapped with a shot of Twisted Messiah in concert, zooming in on the lead singer, Jesse Cripes, in his trademark shoulder-length hair, beard, and flowing robe—a replica of the Jesus of countless holy pictures. Back-lighting gave the effect of a scarlet halo around his head.
Twisted Messiah’s first album, “Masses” had captured the wave of outrage. For the jacket cover, Jesse Cripes and the rest of the group had dressed in robes, positioning themselves to simulate Leonardo’s Last Supper, though with one difference: instead of a table, they sat around the body of a naked pre-teen girl, echoing the symbolism of a Black Mass.
The controversy made their reputation. Shock was their marketing ploy, and they worked, week after week, to provoke. The more the outrage, the better the sales, and the more the cult-following built.
“Sacrilege is in the eye of the beholder,” Jesse had said on the Today show, defending that first cover. “If you choose to see sacrilege, that’s your problem, not ours.”
“A playful spoof,” one columnist wrote. A piece in the arts section of the New York Times described Twisted Messiah’s product as “a creative extrapolation of multiple genres, breaking through to a musical orgasm of body and mind.”
Sales of the “Masses” album surpassed those of the peak albums of Michael Jackson, Madonna, and the Beatles. From that point, the group dominated the entertainment industry.
And coming up in a few days was their self-styled “Birthday Gift to the World.”
Issue of national security
A MESSAGE WAS BLINKING when I stepped out of the shower. Vermont, from the area code, not a number I recognized, but my father’s voice: “Greg, it’s me. Don’t—do not—call me back. It’s urgent. I’ll call you again in a little while. Oh, and I’m sending you a fax right now.”
Don’t call me, I’ll call you—the same phrase that Cal Katz had used. Mere coincidence, I thought.
However, as I was about to learn from the events of the next few days, there is no such thing as a “mere coincidence,” certainly not on anything important, and what seem to be random events are usually anything but random.
THE FAX carried a letter sent to Dad, which he’d forwarded to me, with no explanation:
Carston Mansions, #12
London, SW 7
For information on your brother, Paul, who was alleged to have been killed in action in France in June, 1944, perhaps your son, Greg, would be kind enough to meet with me at the Hotel de la Monnaie in La Rochelle, France, on 26 October, at ten in the morning.
Greg will find a room reserved there for him, with our compliments.
It’s time the reality emerged, and time is of the essence now.
I TOOK THE PORTABLE PHONE and a glass of juice out to the balcony, dreading the conversation with my father. Kiss a toad first thing in the morning, and nothing worse can happen to you all day.
Looking back now, I regret I felt that way. But lately every conversation with Dad had been a downer.
He’d been pressuring me since summer to come for a visit, and I’d been putting him off, partly because things had been too hectic here. But also because he’d been in a funk for over a year now, since Mom died, and it was draining to be around him.
He’d been a lifer with IBM, and couldn’t seem to accept that there were other ways of living. In his view, I was long overdue to quit consulting and get a “real job”—by which he meant one where I filled a box on an organization chart, putting in the years toward a pension. As he saw things, I was unemployed, not self-employed. The world had changed, but he hadn’t.
THE COOL, AUTUMN AIR cleared my head. My apartment overlooks a park and a little brook that meanders through a natural growth of trees and underbrush. It’s like living in a tree-house—a nice fantasy for those days when life in Washington gets to me. As apartments go, it’s great, but I’ve been there too long—going on two years, since Laurel and I split.
The rain had let up. Mist hung in the trees, almost blocking the view of the park and Massachusetts Avenue, one of those broad, tree-lined boulevards L’Enfant laid out a century and a half ago when he redesigned the city, back before the days of commuters and grid-lock, back before Washington had evolved from a swampy village into the self-proclaimed center of the universe.
The phone chirped again. “Morning, Greg. Hope I didn’t wake you up.”
Great way to start a conversation. “Actually, Dad, I’ve been up and working since four this morning. I got—”
“Tell me, has anybody come around asking you about Paul?”
“No, but I got—”
“A couple of men showed up at the house last night, asking some very peculiar questions like, ‘When was the last time we saw Paul?’ and ‘When did we last have contact with him?’ Crazy stuff, and I told them so. They were from the CIA.”
That stopped me. “CIA? You’re joking!”
“You know I wouldn’t joke about Paul. Never forget it was the CIA, successor to the OSS, that kept insisting all these years that Paul was dead. Now they show up asking questions, won’t tell me diddly-squat, just said it related to some issue of national security. I said that sounds like something to do with terrorism, and he said he couldn’t say more, but his non-verbals told me yes.”
“Uncle Paul linked to a terrorist group? That’s—”
“That’s why I want you to catch that plane tonight. Go there, meet Willoughby, but also let’s come up with some answers on our own.”
“You’re taking that Willoughby letter seriously? It sounds—”
“He wants to meet, he’s even paying for your air tickets. They’re being delivered directly to you.”
“But who is Willoughby? What could he possibly have to say that we haven’t heard over the years?” I cut off before reminding him of how many false leads had come into the family, each one leading to another dead end.
Has he been drinking this early? I wondered.
“That’s the point, I don’t know who he is, don’t have a clue. I’m aware you were sent a copy of that same letter. He signed it P. Willoughby, but the name means nothing to me. Anyway, I scanned some other photos and papers and things you might need, and e-mailed it all to you. It should already be in your in-basket. Print it out, look it all over, then we’ll talk before you leave. You catch a plane to Paris, late afternoon today, connecting to La Rochelle. Everything is in that e-mail I’ve sent you.”
“Sounds great, but I can’t go anywhere today. Not today.”
“Your passport—it is up to date, isn’t it?”
“I’m overdue on a report, and I can’t leave town until I turn it in.” It pained me to say that. A trip to France sounded like a lot more fun than pounding a keyboard. “Why don’t you go, Dad? A trip would do you good.”
“I can’t do that, Greg. The fact is I’m not—not feeling so well these days. I really need you to do this for me.”
“Not feeling well? You’re sick?”
I heard him sigh deeply, the way he used to in those grim months before Mom died. “There’s something we haven’t talked about. I was hoping all summer you’d come up to visit so I could tell you face-to-face.”
“Tell me what, Dad?”
“Take a look at the materials I’ve sent, then we’ll talk before you leave. Set up the camera on your computer, and we’ll have a video call, face to face.”
“You’ve been telling me your camera doesn’t work.”
“It works now. We’ll talk later, after you’ve reviewed the material I’m sending.”