If Elissa was going to kill Cornel, this would be it. Isolated in a wood cabin in southeast Limousin, the cult leader went underground with only a handful of followers. The governments of Europe and the world ripped their countries apart in their search for Cornelius Smith, Grand Spiritual Leader of the cult, LER, or, Last Epiphanic Religion. Not only for orchestrating assassinations of public figures, torture or money laundering. Above all, they wanted answers.
Two days before, hundreds of LER followers gathered in major cities across the globe. At precisely seven o’clock at night, they doused themselves in gasoline and committed mass, self-immolation. The gruesome acts were broadcast live on television and social media. It was an act of existential defiance the world had never seen before.
Caught wholly unprepared, police attempted to intervene. They couldn't save a single one. For the moment the flames caught, the followers, to the last woman, disappeared. They left behind only the smell of gasoline.
Supernatural events are best left to imagination or nightmares. Now, the whole world had borne witness to something beyond its understanding.
Elissa got the word from her CIA handler.
Neutralize the target.
Could she? Even if she got past the others, there were questions. Questions that never should be spoken out loud, gnawing at her insides like a tumor with teeth.
They sat around the table, each of them armed with a forty-five at the hip per LER security-protocol. Cornelius relaxed, almost asleep, his long Jesus hair curling around his shoulders. O.M.’s arms folded like a meditating gorilla. Denis Labbat, a man Elissa’d never met, stared at the old wooden clock on the wall. He hadn’t moved, not even blinked since she’d entered the room. If his chest hadn’t heaved as evidence of his breathing, she’d assume the skeletal dark-haired Frenchman was dead. Margeux Blanc, LER’s Paris head, sat restless. Unable to stop her leg from shaking, the woman’s fingers rattled on the wooden table. She glanced at the clock, at Denis and Cornelius, then the windows and back to the clock. Elissa followed her gaze. Outside, the noon sun burned down the gorgeous French woodlands of Limousin.
Cornelius leaned forward. “Our five minutes of silence has reached its climax.” He said.
Denis gazed at the clock.
“What thoughts have you conceived in that time?” Cornelius asked. Elissa met his gaze. Cornel’s eyes were a radiant blue. “Margeux?” he said, not breaking his stare at Elissa. “What do you fear?”
“N-nothing,” Margeux replied. “I’m ready, Grand Spiritual Leader.”
“And you, O.M.?”
The bodyguard grunted.
“Denis?” he asked.
“And, you, Elissa? Are you prepared for the meeting?”
The clock struck noon.
The room went dark.
Elissa turned to the windows. Black. Sunless. A void.
Dennis, his bones rattling from his first movement, lit a candle.
Someone knocked at the door like a funeral drum.
“Elissa,” Cornelius said. “Why don’t you greet our visitor?”
I must be drugged, she thought. His eyes are red.
“Yes, Grand Spiritual Leader.” Focus. She got up and moved toward the drumming sound of the knock. The door started to get further away as she walked closer toward it. It’s only in your mind. Her steps betrayed her outward calmness. Her knees shook. Did the eyes around her see it? She grabbed the knob, turned it, and pushed the door open. Don’t freeze. She froze. It was Dowser.
Everyone in the room, but Cornel, gasped. “Come now,” Cornel says, “are you going to let our guest in or … stand there admiring his beauty?” The four at the table laughed, only Cornel’s was a real laugh; the other three follow suit. It was always pleasing the leader or be the butt of the joke. Being the butt gets you burnt in a literal way when Cornel plays “practical” jokes.
Elissa, noticing a slight delay between brain and body signals to move, is nudged by Dowser back toward her chair. Cornel’s red eyes connected with hers as she staggers, almost falling, back to her chair. Dowser enters with three masked men wearing black cloaks. They walk over, gathering behind Margeux, who shrinks her neck like a turtle avoiding danger. Dowser reaches into his pocket, pulls out a quartz pendent, holds the string with an out stretched arm, and lets the pendent dangle behind her. Margeux doesn’t turn around.
“Dowser,” Cornel says, “show us truth.” The pendent started circling in a counter-clockwise direction. “And, false?” The pendent swung north and south. “You all have seen. Let’s start with Mar.” Cornel opens the book resting on a table and reads, “The bed is split at the edge. Those who persevere are destroyed. Misfortune. … Mar, gun on the table. Dowser, true or false?” Margeux timidly puts her gun on the table.
The pendent circles counter-clockwise. “Those who persevere ARE destroyed!” he exclaims with excitement. “A split bed at the edge, Mar. Misfortune.”
“But, Grand Spiritual Leader, what bed is split at the edge?”
O.M. Clears his throat. Denis’s face is gleaming; he likes to watch others squirm.
“Not that you split an actual bed, but you have been up to something. You fucked up by getting caught.”
Sheepishly, she says, “Caught doing?”
“You’re questioning weather or not the pendent would lie. This makes me feel … untrusted.”
“I mean only to say that I don’t know in what way I’ve done you any wrong.”
“We have … a leak in our system, Mar,” Cornel’s eyes lock into Elissa’s. “What do we do about … leaks?” stressing the s.
“We plug them.” As she spoke the last word, one of the men dressed in robes moves up behind her and sticks a knife into her back between the ribs. “But, I’ve done nothing.”
“That is the bed splitting." He took his eyes off Elissa and turned back to Margeux. "You were caught persevering in doing nothing. Misfortune.” He laughs with the nervous laughter following in step. “You should have moved. I love word games. Go. Get that plugged-up. Hurry! And let’s get down to business, shall we? Turn on the light.”