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The man looked at the warehouse worker dead in the eyes, his features cold and reptilian beneath the brim of his gray fedora.

"Make sure you bury this one nice and deep," he said, a faint note of condescension clearly discernable in the instruction. The warehouseman, a man in his late sixties, was careful not to allow the contempt he felt for this much-younger military intelligence man to show in his eyes. He merely gave the smug whelp a short nod and moved to grasp the handle of the handcart.

Yeah, I'll bury it he thought scornfully. I'll bury it so deep that not even you'll find it. The man smirked to himself. Not that that idiot agent would be able to find his ass with both hands and a flashlight in the first place...

The old man slowly pushed the heavily-loaded handcart down a long, wide aisle of the warehouse, occasionally grunting with the effort. On either side of the aisle, wooden crates of all sizes were stacked high and deep, each one tattooed with a black stenciled label bearing a number and the words "Top Secret Army Intel" and "Do Not Open!" The number on the crate he was pushing now was 9906753. The old man smiled. It would be child's play for him to change the 3 to an 8 on the master inventory list, maybe even change the 9's to 8's while he was at it—that would really muddy the waters!

He shuffled along behind the cart until he reached an "intersection" between two aisles and slowly, carefully turned the cart to the left. Only a few more yards and he would be at the loading docks. He hoped that his clients were waiting for him, and he took a quick, nervous look over his shoulder. If he was caught selling government property, he would be up to his eyeballs in trouble, probably even get sent to Leavenworth for his perfidy. Sometimes he felt a twinge of guilt for his blatantly illegal activities, but then he remembered the Depression raging outside the doors of the warehouse, and how little it cared for the financial security of one old man. The Crash of '29 had been the government's fault, after all, and that made it the government's fault that his entire life's saving s had vanished overnight like water dropped on a hot griddle. The least the government could was allow him to recoup some of his losses. And if he managed to make a little extra in the process, well, he just considered that a fair rate of interest on the amount they owed him.

The man finally reached the loading dock area and pushed the cart onto Bay 2. He then hurried to the large overhead door, pulling on the chain to raise it as fast as he could manage. To his relief, he saw the large transport truck already parked outside of the bay, its rear end backed in and neatly level with the edge of loading dock. As soon as the bay door was open, the driver's side door of the cab opened and a man climbed out. He adjusted the leather jacket he wore over his coveralls, took one last drag on the cigarette he was smoking and then tossed it away. He nimbly hopped onto the lip of the loading dock and spun around, clambered to his feet.

"This it?" he asked curtly, nodding at the crate. The old man nodded back.

"Yeah," he said, his eyes darting around their surroundings nervously. He caught sight of the man's partner who had climbed out of the passenger seat to join them. He raised his chin at the new arrival in greeting, but his words were addressed to the first man.

"You got the money?"

The man, who appeared to be in his thirties, reached into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out a wrinkled white envelope., held it out to the old man. The old man took it and tested its weight discretely as he slipped it into the packet of his trousers; the envelope had a nice heft to it. The young man snorted in amusement.

"Dontcha wanna count it, pops? Make sure it's all there?" he asked him mockingly in a thick Brooklyn accent. The old man shook his head.

"If it's short, your boss will be the first to know about it," he answered fearlessly. The younger men glowered at him, but the old man felt secure. As long as he was in the warehouse, he was safe. They wouldn't dare do anything that might draw unwanted attention here. And once they had their cargo loaded onto the truck, they wouldn't hang around for something as petty as payback on an old man. They were only the paid lackeys of a man in New York City, a collector of rare antiquities who paid handsomely for the priceless items the old warehouseman funneled his way. This crate alone garnered him two thousand dollars—a small fortune in these lean times. The man in New York—Du Laque by name—would not want to risk losing such a valuable pipeline because of the stupid actions of a pair of hired thugs. The first one turned to his partner.

"Let's get this thing in the truck," he snapped, jerking his head toward the waiting crate. "The boss wants it delivered to him before midnight."

With the old man's help they quickly loaded the heavy crate onto the back of the truck and closed it up. Without another word to the old man they climbed into the cab, fired up the engine and pulled away, disappearing into the oncoming nightfall.

The old man pulled the overhead door closed and locked it, then turned to go back into the warehouse to clock out for his dinner.

 


The truck barreled along the narrow two-lane backroad as fast as it was possible to do so at night. Du Laque was impatiently awaiting his newest prize, but the two drivers were wary of taking the main roads between Washington and New York. There were too many variables out of their control on the busier highways, and far too many police on the lookout for speeders or anything else that looked out of the ordinary. It was imperative that they deliver the crate to the port where Du Laque was waiting for them aboard the Germany-bound luxury liner Hanover.

Suddenly, in the dim beams of the truck's headlights, the unexpected sight of a tan 1934 Ford Tudor sedan appeared. The car was parked sideways, blacking the entire roadway. Even more surprising was the tall, well-dressed elderly-looking man standing outside of the driver's side door, his feet spread slightly apart and his hands behind his back. The truck driver mashed his feet onto the clutch and brake pedals with a shocked oath yelled in flawless German. The wheels locked and the tires screamed as the weight of the truck and its cargo carried the vehicle forward. Both men instinctively braced for an impact, but the old man merely stood his ground, a bored expression on his face as his watched the truck finally skid to a shuddering halt just a few feet away from him.

The driver and his partner exchanged looks of disbelief before exhaling heavily. As the fear faded, anger quickly replaced it. The driver cranked down his window and leaned outside.

"Hey! What the hell do you think you're doin'?!" he shouted, his voice sounding overly loud in the still night air. "Get that damn heap outta our way or we'll ram it!" The old man lazily pulled his large frame upright and took a few steps toward them, a vaguely annoyed look on his face now.

"Guten Abend, meine Herren," he greeted them laconically, "Bedaurflicherweise muss ich Sie beide nun bitten aus dem Wagen auszusteigen." He paused for a moment, his dark eyes like burning coals.

"Sofort."

The driver's mouth fell open, shocked. His chest tight with an equal mixture of dread and alarm, he quickly ducked back into the truck's cab and faced his companion.

"What did he say?" asked the passenger anxiously, speaking German to his friend. "What's he want?"

"He told us to get out of the truck," the driver answered hurriedly in the same laguage. "He was speaking German!" The other man's eyes widened, alarmed.

"German?! Are you sure?" he asked. The driver nodded, a uneasy feeling in his gut.

"Yes," he replied as he turned his head to stare at the stranger still standing in front of their truck, waiting for their answer. "Perfect German, but…I can't place the accent."

"American?" the other man asked quickly. The driver shook his head.

"No, not American. Not an English or French accent, either. I'm familiar with all the various accents, but I've never heard this one before." His friend peered through the windshield at the old man.

"Do you think Du Laque sent him?" he asked. The driver shook his head.

"No," he answered tersely, his eyes still locked on the stranger. "And no one else knew about this job except Du Laque."

"A spy, then?" the passenger posited, "Perhaps there's a spy in Du Laque's organization?" The driver looked over at his partner, his face set.

"We don't have time to waste on him right now; whoever he is, we need to get rid of him and be done with it! This crate must make it onto the Hanover before midnight! It must get to Berlin!"

As he spoke, the driver slipped a pistol out of his jacket pocket and gave it a quick check, then chambered a round before he put it back into his pocket. The other man followed his lead and did likewise with his pistol. He gave the driver a curt nod when he was ready.

"Let's go," he said, opening the door. "Follow me!"

The pair pushed open their doors and jumped down from the truck cab. They hurried around to stand in front of their truck, their hands in their jacket pockets. The driver planted his feet and glared defiantly at the old man.

"Whaddya doing out here in the middle of nowhere, mister?" he demanded in English, "And why you speakin' German? You one of them Nazis or somethin'?" The tall man gave them a bland smile.

"No," he answered coldly in German, his hard eyes glancing between the two men. "But I know that you are Nazis—both of you." The driver and his friend exchanged glances. Each tightened his grip on the guns in their pockets, but neither drew them.

"Who you callin' a Nazi, pal?" the driver snarled angrily in his false American accent. 'You're the one out here in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night keepin' hardworkin' guys like us from makin' a livin'!" The old man raised his head imperiously.

"I also know what's in the back of your truck," he went on in German, ignoring their bluster, "I know that you're taking it to New York, and that from there your employer is taking it to Germany in order to deliver it to that odious little Reichs Chancellor of yours." He lowered his silver head again and glowered at them.

"And I'm afraid that simply can't be allowed," he finished ominously.

The driver jerked his hands from his pockets, his friend doing the same a heartbeat after. In the blink of an eye, the old man found himself staring down the barrels of two pistols.

"Put your hands up!" the driver barked in German, dropping all pretenses. He raised his gun slightly in mute threat. The old man calmly raised his head again.

"As you wish," he said, his voice almost wistful.

He slowly brought his left hand up and placed a pair of glasses on his nose, the round lenses darkened and out of place in the middle of the night. No sooner were the glasses in place than he whipped his right hand from around his back. It took a moment for the sight to register with the two men; by that time their fate was sealed.

Wrapped around the tall man's right forearm was what appeared to be a fat snake, a shimmering blackish-green in color and around twelve inches in length. It had a large white spot on the top of its head that was vaguely crown-shaped. But what drew most of the two younger men's attention was the pair of shining emerald eyes that glowed angrily from the reared head and the sound of its rasping hiss.

The guns fell from their hands and clattered against the pavement. Their arms dropped, neither man able to raise them again. A sense of weakness enveloped them like a noxious cloud, their vision dimming as death rushed toward them. They dropped heavily to their knees first, then the passenger fell over at once onto his side. After a couple of jerked spasms he lay still, his eyes open but now seeing nothing. The driver had enough energy left to look up at the motionless old man, his dying eyes full of defiance.

"What...?" he whispered. The old man lifted his chin, a humorless smile pulling up one corner of his mouth.

"A Cyrenian basilisk; its gaze kills almost instantly," he answered shortly. He leaned over the dying Nazi. "Something else your master in Berlin would've loved to have gotten his filthy hands on, no doubt, but never will. Just as he won't be getting his hands on the Ark of the Covenant."

The Nazi tried to open his mouth to speak, but couldn't. With the last of his rapidly ebbing strength, he managed to drag his right arm up just enough for the old man to tell that he was trying to give one final salute to his Fΰrher. Disgusted, the tall man stepped hard on the man's arm to stop him. A second later, the Nazi was dead.

The old man turned and quickly walked back to his car. He gingerly deposited the basilisk into a small carrier and quickly closed the door. He removed the glasses as he got into the driver's seat and started the car, then drove it entirely off of the roadway. He switched off the ignition and got out, taking only the carrier containing the basilisk with him. The car keys he tossed onto the driver's seat.

He went to the bodies of the two men and dragged each one off the road, rolled them carelessly into the shallow ditch. He then climbed into the truck, set the carrier on the passenger side floor. He was pleased to see that truck's key had been left in the ignition. He slammed the truck's door shut, set the choke, stepped on the clutch and started the engine. He put the truck into gear, then eased the large vehicle into motion. He pressed his foot on the gas pedal and got the lumbering truck up to speed as fast as he could, steering it in the direction of New York City. Only now the truck and its priceless cargo would miss the midnight sailing of the Hanover, would never make it to the meetup with Du Laque, the reclusive Nazi-sympathizing "industrialist". Now the Ark was going to the safety of the Metropolitan Public Library.

A slightly sadistic sneer of satisfaction twisted the old man's lips. Mr. Du Laque's patrons in Germany were bound to be more than a little displeased at the loss of such a treasure. He snorted softly as he imagined Du Laque trying to explain his failure to the little man in Berlin, who was bound to take the news very badly. He shrugged and shook his silver head in reproof.

One only reaps what one sows, after all.