he acknowledged that he might soon have to write a letter explaining why due to financial circumstances, wholly of his own making, he would be unable to meet the terms of his commitment to the hospital.
He drove faster.
He wanted to be back in the office.
Byrnes might have called.
Standing on a granite pedestal opposite Gavallan’s desk was an imposing four-foot statue of a shaman carved from the wood of a Canadian maple by the Haida tribe of the Queen Charlotte Islands, south of Alaska. It was a strange-looking creature, with an abbreviated torso, narrow neck, and large, grotesque head that was all bulging eyes, flattened lips, and flared nostrils.
“The shaman is a mystical and omnipotent medicine man,” the dealer in Indian curios had explained to him when he’d first seen the statue three years before. “He knows all, does all, and judges all.” Gavallan had locked eyes with the carving and decided at once that he had to have it.
Since then, whenever something unforeseen came up in his life—good or bad, important or trivial—he consulted the shaman. When the markets caught fire or fell in the dumps, when his putts rimmed out or his drives sailed a mile, when his emotional entanglements threatened to suffocate him if his commitment to his business didn’t, he consulted the shaman.
The statue didn’t offer any answers. He didn’t speak in tongues or send telepathic messages. He just looked back, bored, impassive, and generally disdainful of all things human, counseling faith in the grand scheme of things while reminding Gavallan that he wasn’t as important a shit as he sometimes got to thinking.
Sinking into his chair, Gavallan gazed imploringly at the shaman. He didn’t need any reminders about his human frailties this morning, no rejoinders about hubris, arrogance, or cocksureness. He simply needed its help.
Returning to the office, he’d found no messages waiting from Grafton Byrnes. Nothing on his E-mail or voice mail. No chits left with Emerald, Gavallan’s secretary of seven years, to call him back at the Metropol or the National or any of Moscow’s better hotels. Nothing. The harried executive in him told him to wait until noon before reacting and to concentrate on other matters. The concerned friend urged him to get on the horn with Konstantin Kirov, tell him of their plans to disprove the Private Eye-PO’s accusations, and demand his help in tracking Byrnes down. Respect for his friend’s judgment and Gavallan’s innate discipline won out. He would wait.
“You take care of my buddy, okay?” he said, holding the shaman’s eye.
Opening his satchel, Gavallan withdrew the copies of the documents he’d signed at Norgren’s and filed them in his drawer along with the other markers routing his path to perdition. He folded the receipt for the two-million-dollar check in two and slipped it into his pocket. Then he leaned back his chair, kicked his feet up onto the desk, and laughed.
It was not a joyful laugh, nor one with any hint of amusement hidden inside its rolling baritone folds. It was a sad laugh, a mocking laugh, one tinged with doubt, disdain, and wonderment at his own folly. Oh yes, he was cutting it close this time. He was hanging it out there in the wind real far. He’d always been one to enjoy the roll of the dice, to crave the giddiness of a measured risk, but this time he had overextended himself. This time he’d bet on events that he could not control, only witness. This time he’d been plain old stupid, and it was about time he admitted it.
Gavallan felt a wave of reckless anger build inside him, a steady roar expanding in his chest, filling his lungs, and scratching at his throat. If his rage was directed at himself, it was no less explosive for it.
In response, he made himself absolutely still. He slowed his breathing and laid his palms facedown on his desk as if he were about to stand. But he didn’t move, not a muscle. Instead, he closed his eyes and began
The Heritage of the Desert