Montag Beeblebrox awoke slowly.
The entire enormous hotel bed was vibrating, but this wasn't one of those honeymoon suites from the movies with a massage bed. He rolled over off the mobile phone wedged under his hip, still clipped to the pants he still wore from the night before. His head felt like a frozen pineapple. The thin line of light seeping through the window shade troubled his eyes and pained his whole face. The excess of the plush Renaissance bedroom with Louis XVI furniture, hand-frescoed walls, and a colossal mahogany four-poster bed were lost on him this morning.
Where the hell am I?
The mini waste can he had been spooning with in his sleep was emblazoned in gold leaf with the monogram: HOTEL RITZ MONTREAL.
Slowly, the fog began to lift.
Beeblebrox flipped the tiny phone open. "Hello?"
"Monsieur Beeblebrox," a polite voice said. "Wake up, jackhole!" The voice continued, though not as polite as before.
Still bleary-eyed, Beeblebrox squinted at, and had to numbly fumble for the button to light the face of his Casio G-Shock, too tight around his wrist, thick from the night's excesses. It was 5:32 A.M. He had collapsed less than an hour before, and now he felt undead. Does room service here serve brains? the zombie mused silently, smirking to himself.
"It's Jean." Beeblebrox's Montreal connection, an old drinking companion from their college days and now boniface of a local inn and tavern. "A man was just here looking for you. Said it was urgent. I think he was a police detective."
Beeblebrox cleared his head and focused. A police detective. He reached for the glass of water he'd had the forethought to leave on the bedside table. When he picked up the glass to drink, his eyes lingered on the makeshift coaster, a creased card-stock flyer.
An Evening With Montag Beeblebrox
Chaplain of the First Knights of the 19 Quart Lobster Pot
A Discussion of Symbology from Beyond Space and Time
Beeblebrox chuckled. It was snake oil. It served its purpose well as the 'official' purpose of his travels; but he was beginning to see how lucrative this founding a religion thing could be.
This trip, it was also bringing unwanted attention.
Beeblebrox's visibility had increased a hundred-fold after his involvement in a widely publicized incident at the Vatican. Since then, trouble seemed to follow him everywhere like a subterranean current. Even to Montreal.
Beeblebrox wasn't about to embark on a self-indulgent replay of the previous evening's events, but he was being recognized more and more often. For his 'official' work, as well as for 'other' things.
It seemed at every moment his separate lives were in danger of colliding; that he would one day meet someone able to make the connection between them; that with only the slightest misstep he might reveal the link himself. His tenuous home of cards might fall with no more impetus than the breath required to extinguish a candle and he would be exposed. Or worse.
"Do they know where I am?" Beeblebrox asked.
"I didn't tell them," Jean answered.
Beeblebrox didn't pause long enough to appreciate the humor of the message printed on a hotel pamphlet left on the chest in his room: SLEEP LIKE A BABY IN THE CITY OF MARY. SLUMBER AT THE MONTREAL RITZ. He would have time for a good laugh about that later. But now, he needed to get gone.
When the door closed behind him, he didn't hear the ringing of his hotel phone.
In the narrow, soft-lit hotel corridor, a heavy fist pounded on Beeblebrox's face.
"Going someplace, Monsieur Beeblebrox?" Asked the rumpled man with thick fingers. "I need to speak with you." The man continued in fluent, but proudly accented English. "My name is Inspector Clouseau of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police."
Beeblebrox was thrown off his game by that name. But this was no bumbling simpleton of a policeman who believes himself to be a brilliant detective, made most famous by Peter Sellers. This Clouseau was a hard hitting, (which Beeblebrox's face could attest to,) humorless, brilliant detective; the pride of Canadian law enforcement six years running.
Beeblebrox regained himself when he realized who he was dealing with. The Mounted Police. 'Royal Canadian Mounted Police' is French for 'FBI.'
Not quite sure which aspect of his tortured existence this visit pertained to, Beeblebrox asked, "What is this all about?"
"The Royal Canadian Mounted Police require your expertise... for confidential reasons."
"What-- now?" Beeblebrox warily probed.
"We understand you were planning to meet with one Vartouhi Budge last evening."
Beeblebrox panicked inwardly, but concealed it outwardly. This Budge character had been very eager to meet him. Weird eager. Beeblebrox hadn't been sure what to think of the man's emails, but this seemed like exactly the type of person he worried about uncovering the connections. He had reluctantly agreed to a meeting-- in private --to find out what this Vartouhi Budge was all about. Of course, as events often unfold in the hospitality of Jean, by the arranged meeting time, 10:00 P.M., 'meeting' was out of the question.
"Yes. How did you know that?" Beeblebrox asked the detective.
"We found your name on one of his DnD character sheets."
Beeblebrox practically heaved a sigh of relief, he was so relieved. The third leg of his life's tripod was Online Dungeons and Dragons. He had played a significant part in adapting the game for online play, and had risen to near super stardom as the foremost Online Dungeon Master. Budge wanted to meet the great
Relieved that his secrets were still safe-- at least from Vartouhi Budge --and that the Mounted Police weren't investigating underground bare knuckled boxing clubs, after all, Beeblebrox spoke; cucumber cool. "I trust nothing is wrong."
The detective's grim visage told him that, indeed, something was wrong. The man held up an open cell phone, blocking Beeblebrox's view of the detective's face, with the gruesome image on it's tiny color screen.
When Beeblebrox saw the image, he puked a little.
"This photo was taken less than an hour ago. In a pharmaceutical warehouse nearby. It's Vartouhi Budge."
"Who would---?!" Beeblebrox stammered, appalled and angered.
"We thought you might help us figure that out, what, with your knowledge of religious symbology and your acquaintence with him."
So it begins. The interlacing of identities. Religious Charlatan, meet legendary Dungeon Master. If we could get chiseled-out-of-wood bare-knuckled-boxing god in here we could have a regular party.
"Acquaintance is too strong of a word," Beeblebrox remarked, still concentrating on the digitized symbology in front of him, but with a growing, defensive detachment from the subject. This was exactly the kind of thing, he knew from experience, that would get you in big trouble down at the Vatican. At that's the kind of trouble that flows like current; follows you around; clings to you like stink. "You know, I might not be of much help here. My, uh, expertise, is of a ... different nature."
"Oh, but the Capitaine insists, Monsieur."
Beeblebrox hardly heard him. He was still transfixed by the picture. "That is just messed up!" He exclaimed. "Who would do something so..."
"Elaborate?" the detective ventured.
"Elaborate," Beeblebrox agreed, "I can't imagine who would do this to a person."
The detective looked tired, his shoulders hunched, worn down like the nub of a pencil. "You don't understand. What you see in this photograph..." He paused. "Monsieur Budge did to himself."