By evening, Millicent had not returned to the pool hall. Jimmy was trying to keep his face from betraying his overwhelming sentiment of “I told you so.”
“James,” said Ruby. “Do you know where he is?”
“Well,” said Jimmy. “She went to tea.”
“Tea takes a couple of hours! She’s still not back!”
“I have no idea where she is! But if she went to meet this person for answers, then she probably got knocked out and taken prisoner.”
“Is wherever she’s going bad? Yes or no?”
“Is there anything we can do about it?” asked Ruby, at the exact moment that a Molotov cocktail came sailing in the room through a window.
“Fernando,” said Geronimo. “We need vehicles.”
“You’re not kidding,” said Fernando, peering out the window. “There’s a lot of them. Some look like they’ve been shot. You guys shoot them?”
“Some of them,” said Ruby.
Fernando bit his lip. “Go with Umberto. We’ll draw off the rest. We have Thompsons.”
“You need to get Betty and Janet out of here,” said Geronimo. “They can’t come with us.”
“We can take them out to our boat,” said Nando. “We have one in the harbor. You paid for it, after all. We can drive them out in our car—they’re not looking for us, after all, and we’ve got the firepower to shoot our way out if we have to.”
“I trust your skills,” said Geronimo.
“Great. I’ll just put this on the invoice.”
“If anything happens to them…” began Jimmy.
“This thing that happened in the paper,” said Fernando. “Did it happen, and did you do it?”
Jimmy nodded curtly.
“I’ll personally make sure they’re unharmed,” said Fernando, eyes bugging slightly.
They were able to head out the back of the burning building and up the alleyway. They could hear the heavy tramp of mafiosi boots approaching to cut them off. Jimmy, Ruby, and Geronimo sprinted up the alleyway, followed by Umberto. They dashed out before they could be intercepted and ran as fast as they could into the maze of buildings along the waterfront, pursued by six very angry Corsicans.
Jimmy pulled up and emptied his clip rapidly at their pursuers, causing them to scatter for cover, then turned to follow Geronimo.
[JP used the Ammo cherry to do suppressive fire to open up some daylight between them.]
“Where do we go?” said Geronimo to Umberto.
“There’s a little square up ahead where we might be able to shake them. But we need to go quietly from now on.”
True to his word, Umberto slipped into an unnatural, panther-like grace, ghosting up along the sides of the road. Geronimo followed as best he could. Jimmy simply swept up Ruby in a fireman’s carry. He was tired of her high heels betraying their position.
They stalked into the tiny square. It was a dismal affair, a few weathered posters long out of date covering the peeling stucco walls. A small kiosk, probably a food stand of some kind, stood in the middle of the square. The lock was child’s play for Jimmy and they all managed to slip inside, where they held their breaths as the sound of footsteps drew near.
The inside of the little kiosk was stifling. A heavy wooden shutter, probably an awning when the place was open for business, blocked off the opening above the countertop. Ruby peered through the crack between it and the counter, hoping to get a breath of air. Behind her Geronimo, Jimmy, and Umberto were having a whispered conversation about the best way to rush their attackers.
The Corsicans were murmuring to each other, clearly unsure as to where their quarry had gone. As Ruby stared at them, she saw something completely unexpected.
A man, wearing a long white surcoat with a red cross embroidered on it was walking quietly down the street behind the Corsicans. He carried an enormous Norman kite shield with a Maltese cross painted on it, seemed to be wearing actual chain mail if the coif on his head was any indication, and had a ridiculously long sword hanging from his belt. As Ruby watched, he drew his sword and charged the Corsicans. One swift blow decapitated one of the mobsters.
The Corsicans yelped. The…knight? ignored them and made a fancy inside-out move with his sword, slashing another one of them and dropping him.
“Geronimo,” said Ruby, “Reality isn’t fair. It keeps throwing strange at you, and when you really need to just be normal, knights come down the street murdering people.”
“What?” said Geronimo, trying to peer out with Ruby.
“Quiet, maybe he’s on our side!” hissed Jimmy.
Ruby and Geronimo watched as one of the Corsicans tried to rush the knight. He got the shield in his face for his troubles, and skidded to the cobblestones with blood pouring out of his broken nose. The knight flipped his sword around and stabbed his prostrate attacker. Another of the mobsters took the opportunity that afforded to jump on the warrior’s back. The knight rolled his shoulders and flipped his grappler to the ground. He got the sword as well.
“He’s kind of old,” said Ruby. “Look how grey his beard is.”
The remaining two Corsicans turned and ran away in panic. The old knight sheathed his sword, reached with his right hand into the straps binding his shield to his left arm, and retrieved a huge .45 revolver. He fired six quick shots into the backs of the fleeing men, dropping them dead to the ground.
With a heavy tread, the knight began walking to the kiosk, sword drawn once again. He pounded on the door with the pommel of his sword. Jimmy opened the door a crack.
“Hi,” he said. “That was really impressive—”
The knight held up one hand. “Come with me if you want a place to hide,” he said, and then turned away.
“Let’s go,” said Jimmy. Umberto and Geronimo looked at each other and shrugged, then followed after Jimmy.
The old man took them through narrow alleys they might not have even suspected existed had he not shown them the way. He seemed to have an intimate, encyclopedic knowledge of the hidden ways of Valletta. After a long, slow trudge, they came in site of the desolate ruin of an ancient church on a bluff overlooking the harbor. The old man lead them around behind this edifice and into a cave that yawned below its foundations.
They followed him through ancient dusty chambers of stone, catacombs perhaps; they saw tombs and flagstones engraved with illegible names and dates. One room off of the main corridor was well-lit (in contrast to the dim or no light they had encountered so far) but it provided little comfort because it was so unusual. Inside the room they could see, as they filed past, an effigy tomb—but the statue carved on the lid was no Crusader knight, but an American cowboy in full regalia, his Stetson carved with supreme delicacy from marble.
Finally the entered a large room with thick ceiling beams. A few lanterns hung from them, casting a feeble illumination that was enough to reveal a couple of large trestle tables, and some faint frescos in a medieval style painted on the walls—knights, mostly, or coats of arms.
“This looks like the Temple of the White Buddha,” muttered Jimmy.
The old man unfastened his shield and hung it on a rack bolted to the wall. He regarded the Maltese cross with a frown. “Forgive the deception,” he said. “This was once a chapel of the Knights Hospitaller, vulgarly called the Knights of Malta. I have adopted it for my own ends. It suited my order’s purposes at one time.”
“Who are you?” everyone said more or less in unison.
“My name is Sir Godfrey Welles. I am the Grand Master of the Order of the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, in exile.”
“The Templars?” said Ruby.
“Jimmy Wright,” said Jimmy, holding out his hand.
Sir Godfrey did not take it. “I know who you are, Mr. Wright.”
“We thought your order was extinct,” said Jimmy.
“Yes. It was intended that the world should think that. What is not commonly known is that the Pope rescinded all the charges of heresy against the Order and its leaders, although many of them ended up being martyred by the cruel flames of that great hypocrite and apostate, Phillip IV, King of France. We survived, though, hidden inside the other orders, inside the Hospitallers. Here, in our secret base, in Malta.” He looked at their stunned faces.
[That bit about the Pope was true, although it only has been proven by recent scholarship; look up the Chinon parchment for details.]
“You have many questions,” he said.
“Yeah… we…uh…” said Ruby.
“We’re still processing,” said Jimmy.
“You are here because you fight the great evil,” said Sir Godfrey. “The one who Lies. There are many evils in this world and the Knights Templar have struggled against them. There is the one who comes from Egypt, the black man, Nyarlathotep. We have fought against him.”
Jimmy tried not to spit at the mention of the name.
“This one, the Liar,” continued Sir Godfrey, “this is a very serious matter. My order has struggled for centuries against it.”
“We know,” said Jimmy. “We saw the signs in Bangkok.”
“The Temple of the White Buddha? Then you are following in the footsteps of Ramon Echevarría.”
“Yes,” said Ruby.
“I thought someone might. And yet you seem to fight against this being—or have I made a mistake?” he said, grasping for his sword.
“Why are you so surprised we are fighting against it?” said Jimmy.
“Ramon sought to gain power from this being, and yet you follow his path.”
[Me to my cat at this point: You are not allowed on the table when Mommy is monologuing.]
“You can’t find out how to stop him without knowing where he has been,” said Jimmy.
“Fair point. But as Mr. Cuevas knows, one must be careful when you tread in the footsteps of Satan. However…knowing you are led by him, a man I have heard much about, a true warrior of God…”
Geronimo stared at the old knight, his soul tortured by his recent loss of faith. “Yes,” he said as humbly as he could.
“My Order has studied this foe for centuries. What may I tell you about it?”
“Will destroying the Final Mouth destroy all the other Mouths?” said Jimmy.
“No. The Final Mouth has some mystic significance that is somewhat unclear to me. I do believe that if the Liar is destroyed, then all the Mouths will die, since It is their body.”
“Is the Final Mouth the Liar?”
“No. The Liar’s body lies beneath a specific location on Earth.”
“Underneath Mount Kailash, in Thibet. My Order visited it long ago.” He unrolled a long illuminated scroll with miniatures of knights climbing a mountain and then descending inside it.
“Is there snow there?” said Jimmy.
“Yes, it is a high mountain in the Himalayas.”
“We may have accidentally been there,” mused Jimmy, remembering the second place the Pyramid of the Xoxul had carried them to.
“There is a ritual you can use to make the way into the mountain clear. You must be on the summit, of course…but it will lead you into the underworld the Liar inhabits, which is not quite a place of this world and yet not apart from it. The parchment containing the ritual has been lost—or should I say, stolen. By Montgomery Donovan.”
“I recently put some bullets in his back.”
“I would normally not condone such an unchivalrous act, but against these men, no quarter must be given, no stratagem is beyond the pale.”
“If it makes you feel better, I allowed him to make the first move.”
“How…gallant of you.”
[MP: I know this! It means “stupid”.]
“Do you know where the ritual is?”
“It is held inside the warehouse where they keep the Source of this vile Nectar. There is a network of tunnels beneath this cavern, dug by my Order and the Hospitallers—when they had the time—that can lead you to this warehouse. It is a difficult way. There are many traps. You must take some time to recover. Please make yourself at home. There are refreshments in the larder.”