Chaim Rosenweig entered the yacht club's dining room, feeling the throb of his master's dark power beneath his skin. This was to be a test, Nicolae said, of his loyalty, his wit, his usefulness. As he crossed the crowded room, candles dimmed slightly, and diners paused uncomfortably, forks midway to their mouths. They felt the presence of evil, like a field mouse senses the eyes of a distant hawk. Cameron Williams was coming, and Chaim's duty was to find out what he knew, and what he suspected. The dark gift of power seemed unnecessary; Chaim had stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Cameron when the sky over Israel burned with nuclear fire. And in a world where so many had gone missing, and so many more had gone mad with grief, Chaim knew he would be a familiar, comforting face. Especially in light of "Buck's" recent demotion.
Chaim watched Mr. Williams & his escort walk across the crowded room, saw the effort Cameron made to look relaxed and at home. Oddly, it wasn't the hulking gorilla of a bodyguard Nicolae sent that seemed to make him uneasy, but his travel-rumpled clothes and slightly unkempt appearance that seemed to make him feel awkward. Chaim rose from his seat as Mr. Williams approached.
"Mr. Williams! A pleasure, as always! Millions of people vanish worldwide, and we are fortunate that you were not among them!"
Most reporters cared about the story, but celebrity reporters like "Buck" Williams cared about 'access to important people'. Vanity & pride, Chaim reflected, make such excellent tools. Chaim waited until they were both seated again, waited for "Buck" to pick up the menu before speaking again.
"My friend, I've been meaning to ask you something. The meeting at the U.N., where were you?" A simple question, with one simple answer. Or with a host of complicated but dishonest answers. This was why he was here, Chaim reflected, instead of Nicolae. If Cameron was on the other side, he might tell his trusted friend Chaim Rosenweig, but he certainly would never be so honest with The Beast.
"That's the question of the ages," Cameron said. "Where are any of us?"
Rosenzweig's eyes twinkled, and Mr. Williams lowered his head while raising his menu. No doubt his cheeks were coloring out of shame.
'Well,' thought Rosenweig, 'so much for the camaraderie of shared trials.'
There remained one other matter to resolve. Buck had clearly found God before that meeting, had the Armor of the Lord shielding his mind to the illusions the Beast had woven. But as faith can be found, so too can it be lost, and Chaim has seen in Buck both pride and envy in just the few minutes of this meeting. It seemed that like the atheist in the foxhole, once Mr. Williams no longer felt the threat, he no longer followed the faith.
"It's too early to tell, of course, but if the formula works as well as it has in Israel, Botswana will immediately become one of the most fertile countries in all of Africa, if not the world." Chaim decided to play this out a bit further, to see just how pious Mr. Williams was, how strong his new-found faith might be.
"Oh, Chaim! For what? Billions of dollars that Israel no longer needs? It makes no sense! It's one thing for Isreal to feed herself for pennies on the dollar, but if you turn the African continent into a horn-of-plenty, it'll devastate economies world-wide! The farm belt of the U.S., the fertile crescent of Asia..."
Chaim suppressed a smile. Feeding billions, an end to hunger worldwide, and Cameron's first thought was of the wealthy first-worlders who would be cast down from on high.
"Cameron, please! The formula only works for grains & pulses, the most basic of food stocks. Fruits, flowers, herbs, the world will still need those. It doesn't matter how cheap the grain is when you make beer if you don't have any hops to preserve it with! Those lands you describe are rich and fertile, I'm sure they can find all sorts of budding flowers and herbs to grow." Yes. Flowers and herbs. The cocoa, the cannabis, the poppy, those crops are always in demand, and always fetch high prices.
"But why are you here? I thought I was meeting with Nicolae?" Cameron asked, seemingly oblivious.
"Ah!" Now would be a good time to see how 'Buck' responded to temptation. "We want adequate press coverage of the work we're setting up in Botswana. The impact on both a local and regional level, progress and production, all that. Mr. Carpathia remembered you worked for a global publication, and as an award-winning journalist, you might uncover elements of this story that would get missed by our PR folks. We want people to feel like they're getting the whole story, not just what we want them to hear."
Of course, Chaim knew about Cameron's humiliating demotion from international reporter to regional desk jockey, but a proud man would never admit to such a shame after being given such an offer. Would Cameron take the pious route and decline the story because of his demotion, or would he-
"Well, I understand you coming to me for the credibility my name lends," Cameron said, "but I'd need complete independence. Both you and Nicolae to know that I won't be a pawn for your organization." Cameron smiled at the end, no doubt thinking himself clever for his weak double-entendre'.
"Of course," Chaim said. It was time for the final test. If Mr. Williams was indeed a changed man, a pious servant of the Lord, then the dark powers Nicolae had gifted Chaim with would be unable to touch his mind. But pride... pride goeth before the fall...
"All right. I'll have someone contact you this week to work out travel arrangements. You should try the salmon. You'll love it." There was a near-inaudible difference in the last two sentences. Only those favored by the Beast or his Adversary would have heard the subtle, inhuman inflections.
Mr. Williams had once boasted to Chaim that he made it a habit to ignore recommendations in restaurants. It probably was one of the reasons for his nickname, because most servers would love to rhyme with it. "Buck" ordered what Rosenzweig suggested. And he loved it. Of course he did. Relished every bite. It was clear that some people never truly change. Chaim smiled over his wineglass, looking forward to telling his master that they had nothing to fear from "Buck" Williams.
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