Friday, October 21, 2011

I Am the Egyptian

“We profoundly regret to tell you one more thing,” Cannon continued, “but we feel that we must.”  His voice echoed loud and brassy from the ceiling cones.  “The man who shot President Young has been identified.  His name is Samuel Clemens.”
As if this news had freed him, the Dane backed away.  He glared one last time at Poe, uncocked his pistol and returned to his station.  Further around the base of the stage, other guards, whose attention had been briefly caught, now looked away.  The crowd above appeared not to have noticed.
Poe sighed with relief and adjusted his glasses.
Cannon wasn’t finished.  “Mr. Clemens is an agent in the pay of the United States government.”
He paused.
If a silence could be thunderingly loud, Poe thought, this was it.
“Come on,” Pratt whispered, and grabbed Poe by the sleeve.  He dragged the younger man down a plascrete hallway that cut underneath the lower tiers of seating, the entrance by which the Apostles had all come into the building.  “Say it again,” he said.  There was an excited light in his eyes, like he was thrilled.
Poe didn’t feel thrilled.  He felt off-balance.  Could Sam Clemens really have shot Brigham Young?  What would have been the point of that?  If the American government assassinated the President of the Kingdom on the eve of the outbreak of hostilities, what could that do but precipitate Deseret into the war, and on the side of the seceding southern states?  “What?” he asked.  It made no sense.
“Start over,” the Madman insisted.  “Who are you?”
Are we playing a game? Poe thought, but he complied.  “I am the Egyptian,” he repeated.  “I come seeking the knowledge of the air.”
The old man beamed.  “I am the Seer, keeper of the knowledge of the air.  By what token shall I know thee, Boatman?”
“Boatman?” Poe asked.  What?
“I mean, Egyptian.  By what token shall I know thee, Egyptian?”  Pratt blushed.
Who was the Boatman?  What kind of double game was going on here?  “You shall know me by the four sons of Horus, which I bear,” he answered, according to the script.
“Very good.”  The Madman quivered with excitement.  “Do you have them here?”
Poe nodded.  “Do you want them now?”  What had the Boatman brought, or what was he supposed to bring—were there more mysterious canopic jars out there?
“Yes!” Pratt hissed.  “Give them to me.”  He held out his hands, which trembled like the hands of a drunkard with a bad case of the shakes. 
“And now,” George Cannon finished, “I will cede the pulpit to better speakers than I am.  Most of you, I suppose, know Brother John Lee, especially those of you from the southern valleys.  I know that all of you know who he is.”
Poe shrugged out of his heavy coat and handed it over to Orson Pratt.  The Apostle grinned to feel the weight in his hands and positively danced into the garment, smiling from ear to ear.  “Thank you,” he said, patting down the bulky pockets and visibly counting them one-two-three-four.  “Thanks to your Mr. Jefferson Davis, and to your Mr. Robert Lee, Colonel Lee, that is, and especially to your Mr. Horace Hunley!”
Oh, Robert, Poe thought.  What insanity have you gotten me involved in?  Who is this Madman Pratt, and what is he up to?
And what infernal devices did Hunley’s boys build for him?
“You will not have forgotten that you owe me some papers as well,” he reminded Pratt.
“Schematics!” snapped the Apostle.  “Of course I haven’t forgotten.”  He looked around him as if suspecting eavesdroppers, then leaned in close to whisper into Poe’s ear.  “Tomorrow morning at eight,” he said.  “Come to the north entrance to this building.  You’ll get what’s coming to you then.”
He turned to go and Poe grabbed his lapel.  “You’ll understand, sir, that this makes me nervous.  I expected you to give me the books today.”
“And I expected you,” Pratt grunted fiercely, “at the water station!  Do you imagine that I carry around airship plans in my pockets at all times, waiting for tardy secret agents, dressed all to catch the eye like Harlequin in some Italian comedy?  Ha!”  He snorted like a horse, shook himself free of Poe’s grasp, and shuffled away, back down the hallway and out of the Tabernacle.
Poe leaned against the cool plascrete wall, wondering what was next.

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