Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Last European. Chapter Six.

Previous: Chapter Five, Chapter Four, Chapter Three, Chapter Two, Chapter One

The celebrated Master of the Templars was a tall, thin, war-worn man, with a slow yet penetrating eye, and a brow on which a thousand dark intrigues had stamped a portion of their obscurity. At the head of that singular body, to whom their order was everything, and their individuality nothing--seeking the advancement of its power, even at the hazard of that very religion which the fraternity were originally associated to protect--accused of heresy and witchcraft, although by their character Christian priests--suspected of secret league with the Soldan, though by oath devoted to the protection of the Holy Temple, or its recovery--the whole order, and the whole personal character of its commander, or Grand Master, was a riddle, at the exposition of which most men shuddered. The Grand Master was dressed in his white robes of solemnity, and he bare the abacus, a mystic staff of office, the peculiar form of which has given rise to such singular conjectures and commentaries, leading to suspicions that this celebrated fraternity of Christian knights were embodied under the foulest symbols of paganism.
--The Talisman by Walter

That night was a great night, but things didn't stay peaceful for long. Two days later, it happened. I was on duty, Sean was out in the boat with Bulkington, Mrs. Fitzgerald was shopping at the local grocery store, and Mary was back at the house. Someone broke into the house and abducted Mary. I really shouldn't say 'someone'; it was Rankin. He left a note addressed to Bulkington: "No harm will befall your little darling if you do as we say. After all, it's not her who we really want. I hope you can swim because you'll have to swim a great deal if you want us to release the young lady. From the rocks below Fisherman's Point, the jagged ones pointing due north, start swimming. After four or five miles you'll swim into a mist, a very thick mist. Keep swimming through the mist. You'll come to an island with an old castle in the center of it. Come on in. We'll be waiting for you and so will Mary. Follow these instructions to the letter. Come alone and do not use a boat. You swim. Ta-ta for now. – Rankin"

Sean and I wanted to accompany Bulkington, but we knew it was no use.

"It's no good, fellows, I've got to follow their instructions. But you can stay with Mrs. Fitzgerald and see that she doesn't despair. I really think that Mary will be all right if I keep the appointment. Tell her that. And look for Mary to be coming back."

"What about you? Will you come back?"

"I don't know James. But you’re a man now and so is Sean. Stay European, as a favor to me, will you?"

We both nodded our assent.

"God bless you," he said just before he entered the water.

"God bless you," was all I could stammer out. We watched him swim until he was out of sight. And the terrible void in my soul was there again.

Mary had been gone for five days and Bulkington for four days when a boat pulled up to the shore near Fisherman's Point. Two men got out of the boat carrying what seemed to be a trussed up human being. They dropped their bundle on the shore and shoved off for open waters again. Sean and I saw them from the window, and we both went running down to the beach, but the men were gone before we could get to them.

The trussed up human being was Mary. She was disheveled and looked quite shaken, as one would expect, but she didn't appear to be seriously injured. We got her up to the house where an overjoyed Mrs. Fitzgerald started hugging and feeding her all at once.

We gave Mary a half-hour to get cleaned up and nourished before we demanded to know her story.

"Not yet," Mrs. Fitzgerald implored, "She is not rested enough."

"It's all right mother. I feel fine. And I don't blame them a bit for wanting to know everything. I'd feel the same way in their place."

Mary then proceeded with her story.

"Rankin and two other men – I never saw them before – broke into the house, bound and gagged me, and took me into a boat they had moored on the south side of Fisherman's Point. They must have waited till Sean and Bulkington were on the north side of the point because I saw no sign of them.

"They took me to an island with a rather large, medieval-styled castle. It had all the modern conveniences inside, but the outside was exactly like the old castles. It even had a moat. I wasn't physically abused or anything, but I was kept in confinement. The room in which I was confined was a nice bedroom, but the door was locked from the outside, and I was told there would be severe consequences if I tried to escape.

"For three days, despite my demands to be told something, anything, about my captivity, no one spoke to me. I was fed, most of which I didn't eat, but the contact with the person bringing me the food was all the contact I had with anyone during those days.

"On the fourth day, I was taken from the bedroom to what seemed to be the grandest and largest room of the castle, where I was tied to a chair. There were three large tables, placed together in a large U-shape.

"I was seated and tied to a chair on the right-hand side next to Rankin. There were seven men, besides Rankin, sitting at the same table. There were four men and two women at the table opposite ours, to the left of the center table. And there were five men and one woman seated at the center table. The five men and one woman seated at the center table all wore long robes resembling the gowns that professors wear on solemn, academic occasions such as graduations. The people at the two side tables were dressed in normal 21st century clothing, except for Rankin, who had on a very ill-fitting tuxedo.

"I was no longer gagged, so I asked Rankin a few questions, namely, why had I been abducted and when would I be released. Rankin just told me to shut up. He was quite cranky. I have no doubt it was because he was once again, after his failure in the Mogombi affair, being relegated to a subordinate role in Satan's scheme of things.

"I wasn't surprised when Bulkington was brought into the center of the room, facing the center table. I had thought all along that I was merely a pawn in the 'We must get Bulkington' game.

"He was shirtless and barefoot, with loose-fitting khaki trousers on. He was dripping wet. I don't know why they had made him swim to the island. I suppose they wanted him to feel humiliated in addition to feeling physically exhausted.

"He was not tied up, but there were six men, all armed with rifles, forming a semi-circle behind him. He immediately demanded that I be released as was agreed.

"'All in good time, Mr. Bulkington,' said the man in the center of the main table. 'First you must be questioned.'

"'No, first you must untie her.'

The man at the center of the head table simply made a gesture, and I was untied.

"'Now, Mr. Bulkington, we will proceed. My name is Peter Caravaggio. I am a priest of the Roman Catholic Church and a member of a society that is duly authorized by Rome to perform the Tridentine Rite. To my immediate left is Father Jeffery Dunn, a Roman Catholic Priest, also of my order. Next on my left is Dr. Bartholomew Salvador. He received a doctorate of philosophy from the University of Barcelona, and he now teaches at Holy Cathedral University. And lastly, on my left, is Dr. Susan Kent, a professor of theology at Ignatius University.

"'To my right we have another priest. He teaches at the Sorbonne; his name is Father Lafollette. He also belongs to my order. And lastly, on the right is Dr. Benjamin Hewitt, a brilliant mathematician, scientist, and philosopher, who works at the Institute for the Advancement of Science in upstate Connecticut. The rest of the people in attendance,' he gestured toward the other tables, 'are all in some way connected with our organization.'

"'And what is your organization?'

"'Forgive me; I should have realized that you would have no way of knowing about our organization. We are a religious body of clerics and laymen dedicated to bringing about the kingdom of God on earth. We intend, through the proper use of our intellects, to bring all the various divergent elements of humanity together into one harmonious whole.'

"Bulkington pointed at Rankin. 'Is he part of that harmonious whole?'

"'Why, yes, he is.'

"'Do you know who he serves?'

"'Please, Mr. Bulkington, give me some credit. Of course, I know that. He works for Satan. But Satan is an angel, an angel with great intelligence. He is part of the future harmonious whole. That old dichotomy, God or the Devil, is false. Satan believes, as we believe, that the only real divinity resides in intelligence. Without it, we descend to the lowest level on the evolutionary scale.'

"I could tell, knowing Bulkington as I do, that Caravaggio's harmonious whole disgusted him. But he didn't bother debating with Caravaggio.

"'I came here as I was told. Now I want her released.'

"'And I told you before to be patient. We will release her. But first you must do some listening and some explaining.

"'Now, our organization has branches throughout the world. We have over two million official members and over a hundred million people who are under our direction. You might not believe this, but it is true. In a few years, maybe less, we will be in a position to govern the world. Our people are in very high places in every government throughout the world. Once we take control we will be able to thoroughly cleanse the unharmonious elements in every country and thus bring about the kingdom of God on earth.'

"'That all sounds great. Now, let Mary go, and I'll go along with her.'

"'No, Mr. Bulkington, it is not that easy. You see, you are a major obstacle to us. Yes, don't play innocent with me.

"'Your average walking idiot doesn't know about the spiritual life. They would simply advise us to put a bullet in you or have you killed as Rankin tried to do. But the problem is that even if you are physically dead, you will still constitute a problem. The spirit, being a thing immortal, does not cease to exist after death. It still is the animating force behind the man or woman who has died. So the problem isn't one of simply killing you. It goes deeper. You must be converted.

"'Rankin, though hopelessly dense in many ways, has grasped the fact that through a strange string of circumstances, you have maintained a Faith in a version of Christianity that is most unpleasant and downright repulsive to those of us in the Tridentine Church of Christ. Your continual adherence to a childish and excessively sentimentalized version of Christianity endangers our cause by sending out negative spiritual rays. This is not science fiction; it is fact. There is no physical resurrection as you envision it. There is only a resurrection of intelligence. The mind will have a body but it will be an intellectualized body, free from the constraints of time and space. Those who are not intellectualized will not go to hell; they will simply cease to be. But you, Mr. Bulkington, possess a strong spirit. It will not be easy to eliminate you. And while your spirit exists, it hinders our work; it destroys harmony. We have established harmony in every corner of the world but yours. This must not be. You will be converted. The young lady's presence is needed during the conversion process in order to ensure that you do not attempt something foolish. I know more about you than you might think it possible to know. And I know that were it not for the young lady's presence, you would attempt to kill one or all of the men guarding you and then you would proceed against me. So the girl stays until you have gone through the conversion process. Now, are you ready to begin?'

"I tried to get a good look at Bulkington's face at this point, but I couldn't see that well from where I was sitting. I just heard him say, 'Yes, go ahead.'

"'First, are you a Roman Catholic?'

"'No, I can't in good conscience say that I am. I was baptized in that church because the woman who took care of me as a child was a member of that church. And I tried to follow its dictates for many years. But in the last few years I've felt very estranged from the Roman Catholic Church.'

"'I must ask you to be more specific…'

"'Is this really necessary?'

"'Yes, it is, and if you want that girl to be released, you'll answer my questions.'

"'All right. I felt estranged for many reasons: homosexual priests, atheist priests, and so on. But the main reason for my estrangement was a growing sense that the Roman Catholic system, whether it was the Tridentine system or a Novus Ordo system, was designed to encourage men and women to put their faith in a scientific, naturalistic system instead of in Christ. There are many more nuances I could go into, but that, in a nutshell, is the essence of my problem with the Catholic Church, although I should add that I certainly have know some good Christians who were Catholic. But I came to believe that they were good Christians despite the system, not because of it.'

"'Are you a member of some Protestant church?'

"'No, I'm simply unchurched at present.'

"'Yet you think you are a Christian and claim to have had visitations from Christ himself?'

"'Yes, on two separate occasions I have seen the living God. But I have never said that makes me a religious authority or that one should base his own faith on my private revelations.'

"'Do you think God normally speaks to mortals by way of private revelations?'

"'No, I don't.'

"'Then why should he speak to you that way?'

"'I don't know.'

"'You don't know?'

"'That is correct. I don't know.'

"'Do you even know that it was Christ speaking to you?'

"'Yes, it was Christ.'

"'How can you know for sure?'

"'I just know.'

"'Are you against our organization?'



"'Because your organization is in league with Satan and opposed to Christ.'

"'That's a ridiculous statement, Mr. Bulkington. It shows you have childish notions about God. Christianity is an evolutionary religion, not a static one. We find out what it means as we evolve. The God of the Hebrews and the early Christians is an anthropomorphic God; the true God doesn't exist in those old fairy stories.'

"'My God doesn't evolve.'

"'All right, answer this question: Did Christ found a church?'

"'I don't know. Or, to put it more carefully, I don't know what kind of church He founded.'

"'Is the Roman Catholic Church the Whore of Babylon or is it the Church of Christ?'

"'It seems to be little of both.'

"'Come, come, Mr. Bulkington, that won't do at all. It must be one or the other.'

"'No, that is a false "either-or" you are creating, and I think you're quite aware of it.'

"'Well, Mr. Bulkington, it seems clear to me that you don't know much about anything. But let me tell you something. Our organization is doing God's work. We are in complete unity with the Roman Catholic Church. And the Roman Catholic Church is the only church that can bring about the unity of mankind. All the other churches are hopeless, unorganized hindrances. And the very glory of the Roman Catholic Church, its organization, is something, you feel, that makes it anti-Christian. This cannot be permitted. It shall not be permitted. Answer me this – How do you know you exist?'

"'That's one of those questions you can't--at least I can't--answer. All I know is that I exist.'

"'That is where you are wrong. You can't know you exist unless you free your mind. And your mind is tied to sentimental images and to illicit emotions and passions. When you untie your mind and make it free you will be able to rule your sentiments, emotions, and passions.'

"'What do you expect me to say? I don't agree.'

"For the first time in the exchange, I noticed that Caravaggio was showing signs of anger. He beat his hand on the table and raised his voice just short of a scream.

"'You must agree, you must see. I have all the weight of the Church behind me. There is no one who is going to practice a religion as set forth by the great Bulkington, fisherman, barroom brawler, and self-styled champion of lost causes. But everyone, every man, woman , and child, will cling to the Roman Catholic Church once they have heard its true message preached by the Holy Society of the Tridentine.'

"'Then leave me be and let Mary go free. Why are you worried about what I believe if you are so certain of the triumph of the Tridentine Faith that you espouse?'

"'I told you, because there must be complete harmony and you are not in harmony.'

"'I don't see what you see nor do I have any desire to see it.'

"'You shall see it, that I promise you.'

"Caravaggio then made a gesture to the men guarding Bulkington. 'I don’t want him mutilated or killed, but I do want you to make sure that he feels pain like no man on this earth has ever felt it before!'

"Then, he addressed the entire assembly, 'We will adjourn for now. I will meet privately with my colleagues. Oh, and I'll also require,' he addressed me, 'your presence and Mr. Rankin's presence.'

"So the panel met. Rankin seemed delighted to be included. As soon as we were seated in the conference room, which was much smaller than the other room, Caravaggio spoke. 'I don't expect the torture alone to convert Bulkington. But it will help to make him more receptive to what will be his ultimate conversion.'

"'Your Excellency,' spoke up Dr. Salvador, 'Aren't we spending too much time on one man?'

"'I'm surprised that you would ask that question, Dr. Salvador. You know, or at least you should know, that it is a spiritual force that we are battling against. Millions upon millions of individuals without any spirituality do not pose the threat that Bulkington does.'

"'I understand that, but I suppose I just forgot it for a moment. It's just that he seems so obdurate; it seems at times like such a waste of effort. But I do agree with you, we must make the effort.'

"'We all forget at times, Dr. Salvador. But I hope that we are all in agreement about the problem?'

"As Caravaggio's eyes swept the room, every member of the panel made some sign of agreement.

"I tried to pay attention to the rest of their discussion, because I thought it might be useful to Bulkington, or to us, at a later date. But it was difficult to listen when all I could think of was, 'Bulkington is being tortured.'

"The discussion was a long one, so I can't give you all the details. But it finally came down to this: Bulkington was a threat because he represented the old Christianity, which was a religion which looked on Jesus Christ as a personal God who had come to save individual men and women from sin and death. That faith, according to Caravaggio, was a false perversion of true Christianity. Jesus Christ, according to Caravaggio and his Tridentiners, came not to redeem but to enlighten. The damned were not the sinful, but the unenlightened. The mind needed some kind of body, so the Tridentiners still espoused some kind of resurrection, but it seemed that the heavenly kingdom was only for the enlightened ones. And that kingdom was a kingdom of equals; all were Gods.

"I'm doing my best to describe what seemed like a very complicated system, which, Caravaggio maintained, was nothing more than traditional Roman Catholicism."

"That's rot."

"Yes, it is rot, Sean, but I must admit while I was listening to them, all of whom were educated and articulate, I felt myself drawn to their explanations."

"But surely, Mary," I interjected, "an organization that accepts Rankin and tortures prisoners cannot represent the true Faith?"

"No, James, it can't. I'm just trying to explain how I felt while listening to them. I felt they might be right, and that made me despair because then nothing made sense anymore. I think I understand Bulkington better now than I ever did before. I understand why he is so violently opposed to the efforts of professed Christians to make Christianity into a philosophy."

"And what about Bulkington," I asked. "Where is he, and did they ever stop torturing him?"

Mary had been bearing up pretty well, but the flood gate of tears opened up when I asked her about Bulkington. It took some time before she could answer.

"They had a plan. Caravaggio maintained that the only way to convert Bulkington was to enter into his madness as Samson Carrasco did with Don Quixote. Bulkington had to be defeated and in defeat stripped of his faith. At that point, Rankin piped up and started making suggestions. Caravaggio shut him up quickly.

"'We shall need you to attend to the physical details of what we propose, but we do not desire your help in the actual planning of the event. You have already demonstrated your inability to handle such a man as Bulkington.'

"Rankin looked mad enough to kill after that rebuke, but what could he do? He was under orders.

"They ushered me out of the room after that, so I don't know what they planned for him. They did let me see him, but not talk with him, before I was sent home.

"Everybody met again in the large meeting room. He was brought before the panel by the same six men who had taken him away. He looked ghastly. Not because he was covered with blood – he wasn't – but because his face, particularly his eyes, spoke of one thing, pain. He had been tortured to the extreme limit of human endurance. But even so he raised his arm and pointed to me. 'Now let her go.'

"'Quite right, Mr. Bulkington,' Caravaggio allowed. 'We will let her go.'

"So I was set free, but I have no idea what is to become of him."

It was Sean who spoke up. "I'll tell you what will become of him. He'll beat them. No matter what game they cook up, he'll beat them."

I loved Sean so much at that moment. He was, and is, all faith and fire. And I loved Bulkington as much if not more (I had more reason to love him) than Sean did. But I didn't have Sean's faith. Does that mean I didn't have his love? I don't know. But I was afraid of what Caravaggio would do. I thought he might break Bulkington's faith, and by doing so, he would break mine as well.

As for Mary and her mother, they said nothing more. They went to weep and pray.

Since I wasn't due back to work for two days, I stayed in my old room at the Fitzgerald's house that night. It felt good. I thought I wouldn't sleep, but two previous sleepless nights had made me due for a collapse. I fell right to sleep.

I awoke, about four hours later, conscious of a presence in the room. I reached for the .38 special beneath my pillow, but a voice stopped me.

"Don't do that, James; there is no need for it. It's only me, Rankin."

"What do you want?"

I wasn't afraid of treachery on Rankin's part. And that wasn't because I thought he was incapable of treachery. I wasn't afraid, because I knew before he told me that he was there in my bedroom not to harm me but to show me the final page in the Bulkington drama.

"Come here."

I followed and he led me down the stairs, out into the night, and up the hill to Fisherman's Point. Once there he stepped on the rock that he had first stepped on in my presence some ten years ago. When the rocks opened up, I balked.

"I'm not going down there with you."

"You don't have to, James. Just sit down and watch."

A nice cozy chair had materialized just outside of the opening in the rocks. The entrance way was now blocked by a motion picture screen.

"Sit back, James, and I'll show you the end of Mr. Bulkington. I didn't write the script, but I'll be directing the play. I think you'll enjoy it."

Continue to Chapter Seven