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The Seal of Solomon

Rick Yancey



  Title Page



  PART ONE: Extraction











  PART TWO: The Infernal Hordes















  PART THREE: The Hunt for the Hyena

























  PART FOUR: The Fall of Alfred Kropp








  PART FIVE: Homecoming





  To my sons, for their inspiration

  And to Sandy, for her love

  From morn

  To noon he fell, from noon to dewy eve,

  A summer’s day; and with the setting sun

  Dropt from the zenith, like a falling star.

  —Paradise Lost

  And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion, for we are many.

  —Mark 5:9

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  To: ChiCubsFan

  From: Aquarius

  Subject: New Operational Protocol re. Sub-Sub-Sec. OpUtopia

  The Operative Nine has issued an Extraction Order for Special Subject Alfred Kropp.

  Circumstances now demand suspension of Utopia until S.S. Kropp is neutralized.

  Therefore, you are authorized to use all means necessary to neutralize S.S. A.K. before extraction can be executed.

  For the purposes of this Order, “all means necessary” includes extreme extraction of referenced subject.





  I really thought my life would be different after my death. After all, I had saved the planet from total annihilation, and not a lot of people can say that—well, I can’t think of a single living person who can. I’m not saying I thought I deserved a ticker tape parade or a medal from the president or anything like that. I’m just saying I honestly thought my life might be a little different.

  I was wrong.

  Of course, nobody knew I had saved the world. I wasn’t allowed to tell, and who would believe me if I did? There were rumors about what happened when I disappeared from school, mostly based on the news reports that I was involved in a plot to blow up Stonehenge.

  One rumor had me as a special operative recruited by the CIA to bust up a terrorist cell. Another said that I was a terrorist the CIA had captured, deprogrammed, and returned to normal life, kind of like mainstreaming someone with a mental condition.

  But the most popular rumor was just that I was crazy. “Crazy Kropp,” some people called me. Okay, not just some. A lot. Not a terrorist or a mercenary or a spy. Just crazy, off my nut, wacked, loco.

  And it wasn’t just kids who thought that. Dr. Peddicott, the school psychologist, must have thought it, too, because she referred me to a real shrink, a psychiatrist named Dr. Maury Benderhall, who interviewed me for three hours.

  “So, Alfred,” he said. “Tell me about school.”

  “Well, I’m flunking most of my classes. Nobody likes me, and about a month ago somebody invented a new sport called Kropping.”

  “ ‘Kropping’?”

  I nodded. “Kropping. Basically, it’s about humiliating me. Or tormenting. Tormention and humiliation. Only I’m not sure if ‘tormention’ is a word.”

  “It isn’t.”

  “Well, it should be. Anyway, Kropping could be anything from tripping me in the hallway to giving me a wedgie. You get more points with something like a wedgie, because it takes a lot of determination and strength to give somebody my size a wedgie.”

  “I’m sure the school would put a stop to this Kropping if you told someone.”

  “No, I think it would just get worse.”

  He flipped a page of his little notebook.

  “Let’s talk about your fears, Alfred,” he said.

  “How come?”

  “Do you have a problem talking about your fears?”

  “It’s not something I normally talk about.”

  “And why is that?” Dr. Benderhall asked.

  I thought about it. “It’s not something I normally think about.”

  He sat there, waiting. I took a deep breath and let it out very slowly.

  “Well, clowns for one,” I began. “But almost everybody is afraid of clowns. Heights. Horses. Thunderstorms. Drowning. Being burned alive. Decapitation. Yard gnomes. Cavities. Gingivitis. Insects. Well, not all insects. Ladybugs are okay, and I’d be pretty weird if I was scared of butterflies. Mostly just biting and stinging insects, though I’m not crazy about cockroaches. Not too many people are, I guess, which is why we have so many sprays and exterminators and things like that. Bats. Well, not the fruit eaters. Vampire bats—or any creature with very sharp teeth. That covers everything, sharks and lapdogs and thos
e kinds of things. Those are the big ones, the top fears. Blemishes. Girls. Well, girls might be one of the top ones. Maybe after thunderstorms, but definitely before the yard gnomes. Boredom. See, ever since I came home from England I’ve been bored out of my mind. Except for that time at the mall last week, when I saw the little man.”

  He was staring at me. “Little man?”

  “Yeah, this little bald baby-faced guy in a dark suit. I first saw him two tables away at the food court. He was staring at me and when I looked right at him, he looked away real quick. Then I was in Blockbuster and saw him two rows over in the comedy aisle.”

  “Do you think he was following you?”

  “He didn’t look like the kind of guy who would rent comedies, but you can’t always judge by appearances.”

  He leaned forward in his chair and said, “Okay, let’s talk about what’s really on your mind.”

  I thought about it. “There’s nothing really on my mind.”

  “Alfred,” he said. “Anything you say in this room stays in this room. I’m not allowed to tell anyone.”

  “What if I told you something about a crime?”

  “You’ve committed a crime?”

  “Well, I guess technically I did.”

  “All right.”

  “So say I tell you about that—wouldn’t you have to turn me in?”

  “Our doctor-patient relationship is sacrosanct, Alfred.”

  “What’s that—like holy?”

  “Something like that.” He was smiling. Dr. Benderhall had large yellow teeth, like somebody who smoked or drank too much coffee. “So—what was this technical crime?”

  “I beheaded somebody.”


  “And shot somebody.”

  “Shot and beheaded them?”

  “Not the same person. Oh, and I guess I stole a car. Maybe two cars. A cop car and a Jaguar. And the Lamborghini. So I guess that would be three. No, there was the Bentley too. So four cars. You sure you can’t repeat any of this?”

  He nodded.

  “I haven’t told anybody since I came home,” I said.

  He promised me anything I told him would be held in strictest confidence, so strictly confidentially I told him everything.

  Then he promptly sent me into the waiting room and I listened as he picked up the phone and called the social worker assigned to my case. He had left his door open, so I could hear almost every word.

  “Clinically depressed,” I heard him say. “Borderline psychotic with delusions of grandeur and paranoid fantasies . . . the death of his mother when he was twelve . . . the murder of his only surviving relative six months ago . . . issues with his father abandoning his mother before he was born . . . Alfred believes he is descended from the knight Sir Lancelot. . . . Yes, that Lancelot, and that he was involved with an international spy organization in an operation to rescue Excalibur from what he calls ‘Agents of Darkness.’ He also reports encounters with angels, particularly Michael the archangel, whom he believes took the Sword to heaven following Alfred’s own death and resurrection as ‘the Master of the Sword.’ He also believes the Sword wounded him, endowing his blood with magical healing powers . . .”

  Then he said, “Intensive therapy to work out his issues of abandonment, guilt, and betrayal. . . . I’m recommending a CAT scan and an MRI to rule out any physiological abnormality. . . .Yes, such as lesions or tumors. I’d also like to start him on Thorazine, which has been proven effective with paranoid schizophrenia.”

  I couldn’t believe it. He was telling the social worker everything, not five minutes after he promised he wouldn’t, and he was a doctor. If I couldn’t trust somebody like him, who could I trust? I felt lonelier than ever.

  When Betty Tuttle, my foster mom, showed up to drive me home, Dr. Benderhall took her into his office, closed the door, and when she came out thirty minutes later, it looked like he had hit her upside the head with a baseball bat.

  “I’m not crazy,” I told her in the car on the drive to the pharmacy to fill the prescription for the crazy drug.

  “Oh, no, no,” she said, bobbing her head up and down. “Just a bump in the road, Alfred. Just a bump in the road.”

  I overheard the Tuttles arguing late that night. Horace wanted to get rid of me.

  “He’ll lose it completely one day, Betty,” he said. “Murder us in our beds!”

  “The doctor said—”

  “I don’t care what the doctor said!”

  “Maybe it’s something simple,” Betty said. “Like a brain tumor.”

  “Listen to you: ‘Something simple like a brain tumor’! I say we send him back to Human Services. I didn’t sign up to be a foster parent to a lunatic!”

  Every day I palmed the pill and slipped it into my pocket. Then, after dinner, I flushed it down the toilet. I thought about that a lot—if I was crazy. If everyone around you thinks you’re crazy, does that make you crazy, even though you might not be?

  I thought about proving to Dr. Benderhall I wasn’t making it up by putting him on the phone with Abigail Smith, the field operative with OIPEP, who had given me her number and told me to call anytime.

  And I did call her about six months ago, after I got home from England. She asked how school was going and I told her not very good, and she said working for OIPEP was more like a calling than a job. I wasn’t sure exactly what she meant by that.

  “Normally we won’t consider anyone under twenty,” she told me, which made me wonder why she gave me her card in the first place. “And, of course, the training is quite rigorous.”

  I guessed she meant I was too young and too out of shape.

  “So what should I do?” I asked.

  “Alfred, I know it’s difficult for you now, trying to return to a normal life after what you’ve experienced. I told you we were interested in your development and we are. Very much so.” Then she told me to stay in school, work on my grades, and maybe they’d be in touch after I graduated.

  I never called back after that and she didn’t contact me. I guessed my jet-setting, world-saving days were over, and in a way I was glad and not glad at the same time.

  I was wrong about that too.


  On the way home from school, I saw the bald baby-faced man from the video store again, this time through the back window of the school bus. I always sat in the last row, because if I sat anywhere else I inevitably got popped in the back of the head with a paper wad or spitball. One time somebody even threw their dirty gym shorts at me. I bet that Kropping earned them at least four points.

  Mr. Baby-Face was driving a silver Lexus ES, so clean and polished, you could see the sky and clouds and trees reflected in the hood.

  After I got off the bus, I waited to see what Mr. Baby-Face would do. He just kept driving; he didn’t even glance in my direction.

  You’re losing it, Kropp, I told myself. Maybe Dr. Benderhall was right. Maybe I was delusional.

  I walked two blocks up Broadway to the Tuttles’ house. Neither of them had a job: they were professional foster parents. At any given time there were six or seven kids stuffed into their little old house.

  My current roomie was a skinny kid named Kenny, with a face that looked like it had been shoved into a vise and squeezed. His eyes were very close together and sort of crossed, so he always looked angry or confused or both. I didn’t know his background but, like most of the Tuttles’ foster kids, it couldn’t have been very pleasant.

  Kenny was a mutterer. He made little noises under his breath and repeated the same words over and over. When I was around, the word was “Kropp,” and he muttered it as he followed me from room to room: “Kropp, Kropp, Kropp, Alfred Kropp, Kropp, Kropp, Kropp.”

  It got worse at night. “Kropp, Kropp, Alfred Kropp, it’s dark, it’s very dark, oh, and I’m thirsty, I’m so thirsty, Kropp, Alfred Kropp, Kropp, Kropp, Kropp.” Most nights he was positive someone evil lurked right outside the window, and he badgered me until I got out of bed to c
heck the latch.

  But his jabbering never bothered me much. It was soft and steady, like raindrops against a windowpane, and sometimes it helped me go to sleep.

  It bothered some of the other kids in the house, though, and they were pretty rough on Kenny until I took them aside and told them if they didn’t stop teasing him, I was going to chop off their heads and stuff their headless corpses into the crawlspace. I wasn’t exactly a knight, but I was descended from one, and defending the weak is pretty high on the list of knightly virtues.

  I hesitated before going inside. I could hear the TV blaring at full volume through the thin walls, probably one of the soap operas Betty Tuttle was hooked on. Horace was usually sprawled in his La-Z-Boy, shouting over the TV at his wife, “Why do you waste your time with these silly soap operas! Bunch of kooks and nuts getting kidnapped or killed or falling in love with their own brother!” While he watched the whole episode, Betty scrambled around making after-school snacks and folding laundry and picking up toys.

  But Horace wasn’t in the La-Z-Boy when I came in. He was prancing around the living room wearing an apron and wielding a feather duster, his round face shining with sweat, while Betty worked the corners with a broom. She saw me at the door, gave a little cry, and turned off the TV.

  “Dear,” she whispered to Horace, who had stopped prancing and was standing very still, staring at me. “Alfred is home.”

  “I know he’s home,” he hissed back. “These two things over my nose, they’re called ‘eyes,’ Betty.”

  Then Horace Tuttle came toward me, his short arms flung wide, and I stood there in the entryway, stunned, as he threw those little arms around me. Dust flew from the feathers and I sneezed.

  “How ya doin’, Al?” he said into my chest. “Good Lord of mercy, you’re getting bigger and stronger every day!”

  He pulled back, grinning. The smile on his face would give new meaning to the word “creepy.”