Copyright 1995, 1996, 1997 Pearl Publishing
Gomez sat quietly in the dark, struggling to bring his mind to a razor-sharp focus. The game was now afoot and every move was crucial. There was no room for mistakes. The outcome of the Final Battle would be determined, in the long run, by the decisions he made today.
It was a ruse. It had to be a ruse. It was illogical-impossible-that the Cowboy could be the nephew of D'Shauneaux. Or that he could truly be C.J. Parker, for that matter.
Furthermore, it made no sense that he would
make the claim, whether it was true or not.
If the claim were true, then it meant that the Cowboy had deliberately given Gomez confirmation of the one, essential thing he needed to know absolutely-beyond shadow of a doubt-before he could stand in front of the Council of Darkness and announce, in his crowning act of glory, that plans for the Final Battle could proceed.
If true, it meant that the Circle of Eunuchs truly existed, and thus they could finally be destroyed.
If the Cowboy's claim were false, then it was the
desperate ploy of a beaten man
a vanquished foe who was attempting,
with his last dying gasp of breath, to prolong the myth of the
Circle of Eunuchs.
If false, it was a confirmation that plans for the Final Battle had been delayed for the better part of a Century as the result of a fictitious manuscript written by drunken lunatic with the brazen insolence to use the nom-de-plume 'Son of Gomez'.
Gomez burst from his chair, screaming, knocking over the antique oak desk and scattering its contents across the floor. He stormed around the room in a blind fury, smashing everything in his path, howling inhumanly, and shrieking with such intensity that it sent shivers down the spines of even the Dark Allies who were waiting beyond the door.
This vile, filthy little human creature would die
a slow and painful death. The Cowboy would feel the wrath of Gomez,
dying gradually, piece by piece, with greater agony than any man
had felt since the beginning of time.
Gomez paused to remember the look that had come over the Cowboy's face when he thought Bubba Rom Dos had been slain, and the Shadow knew that Bubba would die first slowly, with the Cowboy watching.
Gomez sank to the floor behind the overturned desk, breathing in heavy spasms, the last tremors of rage subsiding from his quivering frame.
Yes, he was feeling much better now. The thoughts of watching those fools suffering the torment of a death that would refuse them, no matter how strongly they beckoned for it to come and give them relief these were the thoughts that calmed him and gave him great pleasure.
Gomez reached into the liquor cabinet and took out
the bottle from Bubba's Private Reserve, sipping it slowly as
he gathered his thoughts.
He felt the warm glow of certainty wash over him as he basked in the knowledge that he now held the key to the puzzling maze that had confounded him for years. The intricate labyrinth that had been woven around the legend of the 'Magic Circle' would now be unraveled and exposed for the fabrication it had really always been.
Yes, the reference to 'Uncle Bubba' was a ruse. It was an extraordinarily ingenious artifice of deception, but a ruse, nonetheless.
The Cowboy had set it up shrewdly-brilliantly, as
a matter of fact-but he had been forced to give up all the cards
he held in a drastic attempt to slip one wildcard into the deck.
Yes, everything that the Cowboy had told him-everything except for the one item he had let slip with such seeming casual indifference-was true. The Cowboy had played upon Gomez's vanity and proclivity for absolute, unfailing control of everything in his dominion. He had counted on Gomez's shock and rage to divert his attention from the 'one big lie'.
Gomez went over the conversation countless times, blow by blow, in his mind, until he had found the weak point in the Cowboy's carefully laid trail of deceit.
The Cowboy had put him off-balance from the start by his audacity in confronting him with the presupposition that he was the Shadow. It was a bold opening, indicating the devil-may-care impudence of a man already certain of his own impending death.
Gomez had sensed that this brazen upstart was about
to commit a blunder common to even the best of men by using his
'deathbed confession' to taunt his enemy, and Gomez had made the
mistake of letting down his guard in order to enjoy watching this
vain little creature 'strut' to his doom.
A point for the Cowboy.
Then the Cowboy had tickled Gomez's interest with
the story of Vice-Admiral D'Shauneaux's long and winding trail
of perplexity before he realized the true reason he had been allowed
Gomez had always been amazed that a man of the Vice-Admiral's experience took so long to recognized the obvious. This was the main reason he held the opinion that there was little danger in using D'Shauneaux as a decoy to attempt drawing members of the Circle out of the shadows and into his sights.
The Cowboy had waited until Gomez was engrossed in
the aspect of human anomaly that he cherished most-the sheer abject
terror of the moment when silly, blind fools like D'Shauneaux
finally realized the true existence of an indescribable evil that
lies in wait at the very heart of everyday existence-and then
he 'let slip' the 'bomb' about "Uncle Bubba". Gomez
Point two for the Cowboy. He was playing a game of 'Pitch' and he was on a roll.
The Cowboy knew he had the momentum and he used it
well, hitting Gomez with his knowledge of the "Inaugural
Enigma" before he could recover from the bombshell of the
Point three for the Cowboy, but a point that would cost him dearly. This was a disclosure which would not only make the Cowboy's death an absolute certainty, but would also guarantee him barbaric torture of a horrendous magnitude.
Hurling himself headlong into the abyss, the Cowboy had 'declared his bid' by going past the point of no return he was 'Shooting the Moon'.
The Cowboy realized that he had arrived at the
pivotal point-the crux upon which everything hangs in the balance.
His next move was crucial. It would determine whether his self-predestined death would be poignant or ignominious. (Gomez had not suspected that he was here by choice, not by chance. He had been warned of the Shadow's plan and had let himself be taken.) The Cowboy knew that his ensuing move would establish whether he was man of great wisdom, making the supreme sacrifice, or an unbelievably half-witted moron who had just fucked away a perfectly good life for no apparent reason.
And he loved every minute of it.
The Cowboy had only one axiom that he had stuck with through thick and thin-a maxim that had served him well over the years. It was a maxim he had gleaned from Rod Laver, the premier tennis champion of his era: "Never change a winning game, and always change a losing game."
The Cowboy was face to face with evil incarnate
and the tension in the room was at the breaking point. He had
Gomez on the ropes, and was moving at a blistering pace. Every
atom of the Cowboy's heart, mind and body screamed at him to seize
the moment and move in for the kill.
Only the prehistoric, primordial ember-the quiescent spark that lies hidden deep in the soul of every temporal living creature-only that divine ember felt the soft, gentle breeze. It was the whisper of the Tao that has reverberated throughout the universe since the beginning of time. The whisper that every creature, in his own place and time, hears in his own unique way.
"The bottom is rising to the top, the top is sinking to the bottom. Everything is changing and becoming its opposite. Pursue the paradox and you will reach the enigma."
That's what the Cowboy heard.
So the Cowboy did what defied all logic. He paused and changed the game.
They were eye to eye, in their own private universe, playing for all the marbles. Gomez, who was being hurled about in a maze of bewilderment, was shaken harder by the pause than he was by the motion. He was no longer 'toying' with a fool, he was locked in battle with a deadly enemy.
A universe of two, where only one will survive.
Gomez had used the pause to still his rage and let the flames of his anger turn to ice in his veins. He reminded himself that he was looking at a 'dead man'. This egotistical, brazen mortal would learn what all who had 'tried and died' before him had learned-Gomez eats the weak.
The new game was 'Winners Bluff', and the Cowboy had just raised the stakes.
He had been playing with reckless abandon, with the
air of a man who knew he had victory in hand, and the Cowboy had
reached the 'vanity point' in the game, where the arrogant lay
their cards down face-up for their opponent to see, and say "Read
'em, and weep."
But the Cowboy had paused to double the stakes.
'Winners Bluff' is the most heartless gambit that exists in the gambler's universe. It's an in-your-face maneuver that's the height of cruelty. It is when the person who undoubtedly holds the winning hand offers to fold, or to double the stakes-leaving the decision up to his opponent.
You may be absolutely certain that he or she holds
the winning cards, but they're forcing you to 'pay' to see them.
They're offering you the pot-offering to fold a winning hand-but
they're also suggesting that you don't have the courage
double the stakes.
Your opponent is laying his balls on the table and challenging you to do the same.
You can decline to call his bluff-and take the pot-but you lose your balls in the process. Because there's always a chance-a cubic centimeter of chance-that he's one card short. There's just the slimmest of chances that he's folding a losing hand and spitting in your face in the process.
But you've got to 'pay to play'. If you don't call his bluff, you don't see his cards and you'll never know. You'll always wonder but you'll never know.
Gomez, boiling inside with stone-cold fury, had accepted
the challenge, watching impatiently as the Cowboy lingered to
take a drink and roll a cigarette, and he waited, with fiery,
ice-cold veins, for the Cowboy to continue.
More points for the Cowboy, and Gomez had none.
But the Cowboy's haughtiness had cost him. He had given Gomez time to compose himself, time to regain his self-control. And Gomez steeled himself-he would not lose his composure again!
The next three tricks came back-to-back, shattering Gomez to the core.
The Cowboy had picked up right where he left off, with an earth-shaking bombshell he had played a 'long shot' and guessed that the Shadow was Gomez. No mortal had ever discovered that on his own. It was Gomez who revealed himself, shaking them with a terror that burned to the bottom of their mortal soul.
"D'Shauneaux never did figure out who you really are, you know. He never knew that he had come face to face with Gomez and walked away alive.
This insolent worm knew full well who Gomez was,
and he didn't care, in the least, that he was hurling insults
in the face of the Evil One's chosen.
He would 'burn in hell' for it!
"You made a mistake letting D'Shauneaux live, you know. He stood by and watched while you let C.J. Parker slip right through your fingers."
The Author, C.J. Parker was alive!
"You never should have sent that Mountie
away for 'debriefing'.
That's why your men never came back I killed them."
"I'm C.J. Parker, and I'm sitting here spitting in your face."
Game, set and match. A Grand Slam for the Cowboy.
Gomez had gone 'nuclear' when he found himself ostensibly
sitting face to face with the one human whose inconceivably outrageous
act of insolence had forced postponement of the Grand Design for
so many years.
Everything had been put in place everything! And all had been for naught because of an insignificant flea on the butt of the universe, who had the unmitigated gall to use 'son of gomez' as his nome de plume.
For nearly a century Gomez's plans had been stalled by his inability to substantiate his conviction that the Circle of Eunuchs was a complete fabrication, an inconsequential crumb of fiction spawned by a degenerate piece of pond-scum whose psychotic delusions were making a mockery of the omnipotent power of the 'Evil One' and the dark forces that were His to command.
But the Council of Darkness had remained unequivocal on this point. The Final Battle would not be set in motion until victory was guaranteed. No potential impediment, regardless of how small or insignificant it seemed, would be allowed to stand in the way of the absolute consummation of the Evil One's grand design.
The Dark Council's dictum was loud and clear. The Circle of Eunuchs must be proven, beyond shadow of a doubt, to be a myth of a madman, or they must be sought out and destroyed before the trumpet would blare and the opening salvo of Armageddon would begin.
But, finally, Gomez had what he needed to prove or disprove the Magic Circle's existence after all these years he had the Author.
Chapter 20 - Gomez