Chapter 2




          “I see, sir.”

          “Andrew, you were singled out for a special mention,” Derek persisted.  “Paul Emery was highly appreciative of your efforts, at such short notice anyway but especially in the circumstances leading up to it.  He said you are a credit to us, and I agree with him one hundred ten percent.  The Forum would not have run half so smoothly without your assistance and supervision.”

          Andrew smiled.  “Thank you, Dr Rayne.”

          “You’re most welcome,” Derek responded gravely.  “However.”

          Andrew’s smile faded.  “Yes, sir?”

          “I just want to add something.  The Forum was a big event which won’t return here for many years.  You did exceptional work.  However, it is my belief, and I know it is shared by everyone who lives and works here, that you do exceptional work every day.  This is not just a ‘big house’, and you are not just ‘a butler’.  We don’t tell you often enough, Andrew, how much we value you being here with us.  Your presence in this house, the work you do, leaves us free to concentrate on other things and we can do that with a clear conscience because you have everything in hand.  We trust you, Andrew .. and trust has to be earned.  You earned ours a long time ago.”

          Andrew blushed with gratification.  “Thank you, sir.”

          “It’s my pleasure.  And I also believe a pay raise is overdue.”

          “Dr Rayne, that really isn’t – ”

          “It’s my right as your employer.  You’re far more than our butler.  It’s time you were rewarded accordingly.”

          “If you insist.”

          “I do.”

          Andrew inclined his head then lifted it quickly.  “Oh, while you were gone, sir, a lady called.  I’ve left the message on your desk in the study.”

          “A lady ..?”  Derek’s eyebrows rose.

          “Yes, sir.  It was a rather strange message too.”

          Intrigued, Derek went to retrieve it.  For a moment, he had no idea who Anna was until he read the part about the tour and then had it confirmed by the reference to big snakes.

          Anna Cowley.  My God …  Guatemala.  The dig in the jungle.  She hasn’t forgotten.  I did promise her a tour.  Now, if anyone deserves a place on the team, it would be Anna.  An archeologist, familiar with ancient history, doesn’t lose her wits under pressure, is a staunch friend in a crisis, can laugh – albeit slightly hysterically – at danger, and thinks on the move.  But, even if I offered it to her, she’d refuse.  Anna was never meant to put down roots.  She’s a rolling stone.  She’d find San Francisco fun at first but the novelty would wear off and then she’d get bored.  Living on an island when a storm prevents us leaving would have her tearing her hair out. 

          He sighed, then smiled.  It would be very good to see her again.

          Derek looked at the time.  It was nearly four.  The message said she’d call again at four o’clock.  He was looking forward to it.

          “I heard you were back,” Alex said as she came in.  “How was Boston?”

          “It never changes.  I had to speak with Andrew first, you understand.  Put his mind at rest.  He worries altogether too much.”

          “He’s conscientious,” Alex replied.

          “Yes, he is.  And thank God for it.  So .. what happened here while I was gone?”

          “Not much,” she shrugged.  “Paris has been on the phone, again, requesting me to go there to follow up the work we did on the memorial tablet.  They’re perfectly capable of doing it themselves but .. they’d like someone experienced to be with them and hold their hands.”

          “Do you want to go?”

          He watched her expression.  There was a wistful eagerness in her eyes.  “I wouldn’t say no,” she replied.

          “Then go.  Try not to be gone more than .. two weeks.”

          “Are you serious?” Alex asked.

          “Absolutely.  Why shouldn’t you answer a call for assistance?  The fact that it’s Paris and nearly spring .. has nothing to do with it.  Book your flight, Alex.  That’s an order.”

          “Okay, I will.  Thanks,” she smiled.

          “Where’s Nick?”

          “Oh, he called in to say he won’t make it today.  Something to do at home.  He’ll be here tomorrow.”  She lingered.  “Rachel’s around.  You want to speak with her?”

          “Not for any particular reason but I’ll say hello.”


          As Alex turned to leave, the phone rang.  Derek scooped it up.  “Luna Foundation, Derek Rayne.”

          “At last!”


          Alex’s step slowed so she could listen in to one half of the conversation.

          “It’s good to hear your voice,” Derek went on.  “How long have you been in the city?”

          “I got in yesterday.  It’s been a while since I was in San Francisco.  It’s changed.”

          “Rejuvenated,” Derek agreed.  “An ongoing process I’ve found, if the way they dig up the roads is any indication.  Where are you staying?”

          “The Saint Francis.”

          “Can I meet you for dinner tonight?  I would welcome the chance to show you Chinatown.”

          “That would be wonderful, thank you.”

          “And we can discuss the tour I promised you .. as well as your latest projects.”

          She laughed.  “Guatemala wasn’t the same after you left, y’know.”

          “No doubt it was more peaceful and much less disruptive.”

          Alex smiled to herself.  Derek’s voice was warm and cheerful.  Clearly, Anna was an old friend.  She felt good knowing Derek would have outside company during her trip to Paris.  It suddenly dawned on her that she was going to Paris.  It wasn’t just words, it was going to happen.  Her pace picked up and then broke into a high spirited run.




          “Nick, you don’t have to be here,” Merlin said.

          “Yeah, I do.  I said last night we’re in this together, beginning to end.  I’m gonna be here at the start.”

          Slowly, she smiled.  “Are you scared?”

          Nick met her eyes.  “Terrified,” he confessed but sounded cheerful about it.  “I have a ton of self doubt, a hollow, sinking feeling in my gut, but I am so excited about this.  I just wanna share, Merli.”

          “Okay,” she agreed.

          “Did he say when he was gonna – ?”

          “Hi there, Nick.  Glad to see you’re in this.”

          “They never knock,” Merlin sighed.

          Gabriel sat on the sofa and looked over at them.  “Well ..?”

          “We talked it over,” Nick replied, “and we wanna go for it.”

          “No questions?”

          “It is only temporary that Peri will lose ..?”

          “Yes,” Gabriel said firmly.  “We can’t take away something that’s .. a part of the soul, Nick.  It’s more than blood an’ bone, muscle an’ nerve.  It’s .. kinda tough to explain.  But we can’t remove it.  All we can do is turn it off for a while.”

          “An’ how long is a while?” Nick went on.

          “What’re you really asking?” Gabriel smirked.

          “How long will it take for us to conceive a child?”

          “When the ability goes bye bye, we won’t be .. turning our backs completely,” Gabriel confessed.  “Sure, it’s selfish.  We have invested a whole lot in Aquila.  We don’t want her out of action for too long.  But we won’t help you conceive.  That’ll be down to you.  I would say .. seeing as how you’re a fit, virile male an’ Peri is a fit, healthy, in great shape female, she shouldn’t be outta commission for more than a year.”

          “So .. my pregnancy would be supervised?” Merlin ventured, thinking of her mother and how Shauna had not suffered a day of morning sickness or any pain during the birth.

          “Not by us,” Gabriel replied.  “Look, Peri, I am really not trying to be difficult here.  You set down the game rules – you won’t raise a child to be a Flamefall.  Fine.  We’ll go along with that, allow you to .. be in a physical condition to conceive an’ bear that child.  That’s as far as it goes.  You conceive on your own.  You carry it on your own.  You give birth to it on your own.  You raise it on your own.  If your life is in danger at any point, we’ll step in.  Like I said, we have a lot invested in you.  But the child .. will have no more special consideration than anyone else on this planet.  That’s what you want.  Unless you want to change your mind.”

          Nick took her hand.  “It’s okay.  You might find that scary but I was raised that way.  Between us, we got it covered.”

          “You have access to a doctor,” Gabriel pointed out.  “Rachel Corrigan can supervise your pregnancy.  It’ll be thorough but discreet.  You need more time to think about it?”

          “No,” Merlin said, shaking her head.  “I don’t.  Nick?”

          “I’m cool.”

          “You want to proceed on the terms I’ve given?”

          They looked at each other, then back at Gabriel.  “Yeah,” they said together.

          “Thought you would,” he grinned.  “We hoped you would.  An’ before you start getting all suspicious about why, it’s because we know how much you want this.  We’re glad we can help you do this, Peri.  It’s the best of both worlds.  You get a regular child an’ we get to keep our best Flamefall happy.  An’ a happy Flamefall is a productive Flamefall.  You ready?”

          Merlin took a deep breath.  “Uh huh.”

          “Good luck,” he said and flared into brilliant light for a second.  When Nick and Merlin could see again, Gabriel had gone.

          “You okay?” Nick asked.

          “I’m not sure.  I don’t feel any different physically but then I didn’t know the last time either.”

          “How about Aquila?” he suggested.

          Merlin paused then frowned.  “She’s gone.  I can’t hear her anymore or sense her.”  She looked around the room, squinting, her nose wrinkling.  “I can’t shift my vision.  Nick, go outside an’ whisper something.”  She waited, straining her ears until he came back.

          “Well?” he asked.

          “Nothing.  It’s all gone.  I’ve been switched off.”

          She sounded miserable.  Nick took her hand again.

          “Wanna go make a baby?” he murmured.




          “Hey, Derek!  Alex said you were back.  What’s this I hear about you going out to dinner tonight with an old friend?” Rachel asked.

          “There used to be secrets in this house,” he commented dryly.  “And then Paul took over and now nothing is hidden.  You heard right.  You recall that vacation I took in the Guatemalan jungle?”

          “Yes, I do.  You got burned.”

          “I did.  One of the field archeologists in Don Pinkney’s team was a woman called Anna.  Anna Cowley.  I promised her a tour if she ever found herself in San Francisco.  It’s her I’m meeting tonight.  We’ll catch up on the news and, possibly tomorrow or the next day, I’ll bring her here.  I hope to persuade her to move from the Saint Francis to the house .. for the duration of her stay in the city.”

          Rachel nodded slowly.  “I never thought otherwise.”

          Derek smiled.  “The dig was .. a highly charged incident, Rachel.  We were all on edge but Anna helped me get thru it.  We became friends in adversity.  I’d like to see if we can still be friends in a normal situation.”  He shrugged as he continued his unpacking.  “We may find we have absolutely nothing in common beyond Don Pinkney and a close encounter with a giant snake.”

          “Right,” she laughed, not believing a word of that sentence.  “I also hear Alex is going to Paris.”

          “They have asked for her.”

          “I wish more people would ask for me,” Rachel commented.  “What’s that?”

          Derek had begun to unpack his attaché case.  “Something Paul has asked me to look at.”

          “What are they?  Files?” she frowned.

          “Personal files, yes.”

          She edged closer.  “For the vacancy here?”

          He sighed and nodded.  “I tried to explain that we don’t need another member here, that the team as it is now is more than sufficient.  You know as well as I do, Rachel, that we have a broad base of expertise.  Plus we have Peri.  Paul still insisted that I give serious consideration to the top five on the waiting list.”

          “There’s a waiting list?” Rachel laughed.  “Wow, Derek, you must be doing something right if people are waiting in line to come work with us.”

          He looked up, his expression solemn.  “Can I ask, Rachel, what your honest opinion is?  If it is insisted upon that I bring a fifth member into this team .. how would you feel about it?”

          Rachel sat on the edge of his bed, one hand idly smoothing the cover.  “Change is constant or there’d be stagnation but no one particularly welcomes change.  As you say, we have a good setup here.  We all get along even if there is the occasional flare up – that’s natural.  We trust each other implicitly and totally.  A new member would upset the balance.  No one’s fault.  We’d – I’d – feel uncomfortable at first.  On my best behavior.  There would have to be a settling in period which may give rise to a little resentment.  People would hold back.  We’d have to learn how to trust a new person, get to know their strengths an’ their limits, how far they could be pushed, what they’re good at an’ bad at.  An’ they’d have to learn all the same things about us.  It could take a significant amount of time.  But, once that time’s passed, I don’t see a problem.”

          She angled her head.  “What are they like?”

          “All single, young men.”

          “When can he start?” Rachel asked, smiling.

          Derek laughed softly.  “I thought you and Alex might react that way.  The only problem on the horizon, and it’s a very distant horizon, is how Nick will react to another male on the team.”

          “Are you planning to promote the newcomer to the second in command position?”

          “Of course not,” he dismissed instantly.

          “Then Nick won’t have a problem.”

          “You sound very sure.”

          “Derek, Nick is happily married an’ living on the mainland,” she replied.  “The Legacy is still very important to him but he realizes now that he has other responsibilities.  A life.  If he were still living here, maybe, yeah, there could be friction.  But he may view another young man in residence as a good thing if something happens an’ Nick can’t get here instantly.  Don’t try to prejudge.  You won’t be objective.  My advice is to do what Paul asks – seriously consider them.  Then, before you take that final step of choosing, run it by us.  Get our opinions at that stage.  We’re the ones who’ll have to ease them into our routine an’ we may have questions which put a different slant on your potential choice.”

          “Thank you.  I’ll do exactly as you suggest.”

          Rachel rose to her feet.  “I know why you’re so reluctant but Philip won’t come back, not permanently.  Look, if you’re really still in two minds after you’ve looked an’ talked it over with us, why don’t you call Philip an’ ask him?  Explain why you’re asking.  He’ll be honest with you, an’ I think he’ll be flattered rather than irritated.”

          “Again, wise advice.  Thank you, Rachel.”

          “Well, I’d best leave you to prepare for your dinner date,” she grinned.

          “It’s dinner, not a date,” he corrected archly.

          “Whatever you say,” Rachel agreed, laughing as she went to the door.  There she paused and glanced back.  “Y’know, there’s nothing quite like self delusion, is there?”




          Murray Snowden fought sleep but it was a war he was slowly losing.  Everything around him was conspiring to batter down his defenses.  The quiet drone of the jet engines.  The soft hiss of air conditioning.  The gentle vibration of his seat.  The dimmed lights.  Even the man next to him breathing in and out so regularly.  Murray was grateful for the occasional snuffling snore of his neighbor because it jerked his own eyes open again.  He’d lost count of the times he’d gone to the lavatory during the flight.  It wasn’t to pee, it was to splash water on his face.

          I can’t sleep.  I mustn’t sleep.  I have to see it when it comes for me.

          He’d never felt so alone, so desperate or so scared, and he’d been in some frightening places and seen horrifying things in his life.  What scared him now was what he couldn’t see.  All the people who’d died hadn’t seen anything either – they’d just died.  Dropped on the spot.  The people around them hadn’t seen anything – they would’ve said if they had.  They’d been shocked, stunned, but had said nothing apart from the usual – so unexpected, right in the middle of a sentence, he/she had been fine a moment before, I can’t explain it, they never even showed a sign of being unwell.

          It’s something which kills without warning.  It’s invisible, silent, has no odor.  How can I protect myself against something like that?

          Murray closed his eyes.  Just for a moment, he promised himself.  I have to close them.  They feel like someone’s rubbed grit into them.

          When Professor Daly died .. he’d been wide awake.  In the middle of a presentation he was giving.  Gayle Daly had been awake – preparing dinner.  Maybe Phil and Rebekka had been awake too.  Maybe, if he slept, he could buy himself a few more precious hours of life.  Death would miss him, be rendered blind by the simple trick of him appearing to be already dead.

          Murray had sat in the airport concourse in Middlesex for as long as he could.  Then he’d bought a ticket to Rio de Janeiro.  He could’ve chosen Central America but he’d spent time in Guatemala already.  South America was a teeming place.  It was hot, sunny.  But he knew he couldn’t lose himself there.  It was just buying time for him to think what to do, where to go, who to reach out to for help.

          Fear was making him crazy.  He knew that.  He knew he wasn’t thinking straight.  If he was, Murray would’ve headed for North America.




          “So .. this is Chinatown,” Anna remarked.

          “It is hard to tell, isn’t it?” Derek commented dryly.

          She laughed.  “That’s what I missed the most, Derek.  Your sense of humor.  Not that you got that big a chance to exercise it while hunting a giant snake but you had your moments.  After they shipped you out .. the dig got kinda dull.”

          “How did it go?” he asked.

          “It’s still going,” she replied.  “An’ it’ll be going for a few years yet.  Don’s still down there.  He has a fresh team working for him.  Miguel’s back, fully recovered, not a scar on him.  But I yearned for a fresh challenge so I quit just on five months back.”

          “And you didn’t come straight here?  I’m wounded,” Derek said, dramatically clutching a hand to his chest.

          “I went to Nazca for some aerial survey work.  Very interesting place.  You ever been?”

          “Flown over it once or twice.  It’s the only way to truly appreciate the scale of the designs.”

          “For sure!” she agreed.  “Once that was done, I headed back toward Central America.  Belize.  Got involved with a small project there an’, then, finally, decided I had earned a vacation.”  She chuckled.  “But you know, Derek, every new dig is like taking a vacation.  You get to travel to some wild places, spend time doing something you adore, and you get paid for it.”

          “Absolutely,” he nodded.  “The weather can be temperamental but, when you’re absorbed in the task at hand, you don’t notice what the sky’s doing.”  He paused, slowing.  “How long are you in town, Anna?”

          “I thought a couple of weeks.  Totally unwind.  Then I’ll start looking around again.”

          “The Saint Francis is an expensive place to stay for two weeks,” he remarked.

          “Yeah, it is,” she agreed.

          “You could .. stay on the island with us.”

          “Us ..?” Anna queried innocently.

          “Right now, ‘us’ is me, Alex and our butler Andrew.  Alex and I live there.  Andrew is there Monday thru Friday.  Rachel – ”

          “The doctor,” she recalled.

          “Yes; Rachel visits most days and stays the occasional weekend.  And Nick and his wife are usually around too.  Nick more so.”  He glanced at her.  “Plenty of chaperones.  You’d be most welcome.”

          She looped her arm thru his.  “Thought you’d never ask.”




          Alex sat back, her mouth forming an ‘O’.  Oh,” she said.  That Anna.”

          Rachel smiled.  “Yes, that Anna.  Anna Cowley.  A survivor of Derek’s vacation in Guatemala.  That was when you went with Mark to Cypress Grove, Nick went to San Diego an’ I first ran into Pete Miller in Tulsa.  She’s in the city in response to his invitation.”

          “She was in no hurry then,” Alex commented dryly.

          “Apparently not.  But that’s no bad thing.  It obviously meant a lot to her for her to remember it yet not so much that it dominated her life.  I think this is a genuine friendship, Alex, rather than a budding romance.”

          Alex said nothing for a moment, merely gazed into the middle distance with a thoughtful expression.  Then she stirred.  “I wouldn’t mind if it was.”

          “A budding romance?” Rachel queried and Alex nodded.

          “When I first met Derek .. I was overwhelmed by his personality and charisma,” she went on.  “I’m not sure if it was a crush or hero worship or something else.  I just know I would’ve walked over burning hot coals for him.  I admit, there was a time, once .. or twice, when I wished something would grow between us.  It never did.  Derek is too much the gentleman and too much the Precept.  I know he has feelings for me but they’re professional affection and genuine concern rather than love and grand passion.  I feel the same for him.  We’re close, yes, but it’s more like brother and sister.  And the love I have for Derek .. it makes me sad that he can’t seem to find that other kind of love.  There was Megan, of course, but no one since her.  I think he’s scared of losing someone again so he won’t allow himself to get too close.  And that’s a shame.  He deserves to be happy so I hope Anna can do that for him.  If she’s an archeologist, they’ll have plenty in common and lots to talk about.  Is he bringing her here?”

          “He said he wanted to,” Rachel confirmed.

          “I’ll leave a message for Nick.  He’ll want to check her out.  It has to be done, Rachel.  Pete Miller and Mark were both checked.  Derek will understand.”

          “If he argues about it, it’ll be more ammunition to my cause.  But I do understand why it’s necessary.  Invasion of their privacy is our defense net.  I still don’t like it though.”

          “I hope he does bring her here.  I’d love to meet her.  She sounds fascinating.  Unfortunately .. I’ll have to wait till next time because I will be on a jet plane to Europe.”

          Rachel tossed her a sour look.  “Don’t rub it in.  Indeed, Anna does sound fascinating and is, if the twinkle in Derek’s eye was any indication,” she continued, laughing softly.  “One other thing I learned,” Rachel added more soberly.  “Paul Emery is gently pressing for the vacancy here to be filled.”

          At that, Alex grew serious.  “Does he believe we can’t cope with only four?”

          “I didn’t ask that, Alex.  Derek thinks the same as you but is dressing it up in other concerns such as how we would feel about having a new addition to the team.  He still believes that, one day, Philip will come back.  He’s holding that place open.  Even Kristin, who was here a long time, was never a permanent member of this house; she was only ever on secondment from Boston.  Philip is the prodigal son.  Derek knows him.  Nick can work with him.  We’re both comfortable with him.  Philip is ‘no surprises’.  A member of this .. strangely disparate yet cohesive family.  Appointing a replacement slams the door shut on a familiar setup.  It draws a line stating Philip’s time has gone.  It’s the past .. and none of us like to admit we’re getting older.  Hence Derek’s reluctance to do what Paul wants.”

          “I can see why,” Alex nodded, “but I doubt Philip will ever return permanently.  Help out from time to time, sure, but he won’t come back.  I guess .. we should think about replacing him.  What are the possible candidates like?”

          “All single, young men,” Rachel replied.

          “Really?  And not priests?” she queried.

          “Damn!  I didn’t ask!”

          Alex laughed.  “Well, maybe it won’t be so bad to have a new face around here.”




          Nick stirred and Merlin rolled her head on the pillow to look at him.  Their love making had been different this time – less passionate yet much more intense.  And now, as she lay sleepless in the dark, she was overwhelmed with doubt and fear.

          She did have one regret and it was a massive one.  Guilt lay on her like a lead blanket, crushing the air from her lungs and drying her mouth.  She hadn’t talked with Aquila, hadn’t said goodbye, hadn’t even explained what was going to happen or why it must happen.  She’d just .. cut her off without a word.

          Merlin tried to imagine what her other self was feeling right now.  Did she feel caged, imprisoned, shut away in the dark and the silence?  Would she be angry?  Hurt?  Merlin wouldn’t know for a very long time.

          And the doubt was hard to deal with.  Had she chosen the right path?  How would she cope being .. like this?  She already felt weak and helpless.  Is this how other people felt all the time?  How did they survive?  The fear was that she wouldn’t cope with it, that she’d curl into a tight ball and huddle in some corner until it was all over and she could be herself again.  She was scared that, having accepted this challenge, she’d fail.  And parenthood wasn’t a one off.  It was a lifelong commitment which offered any number of chances to fail.  Merlin had experienced close calls before but she’d never failed.  This was all strangely uncomfortable, unknown territory for her.  By all accounts, childbirth hurt.  She would feel that pain.  She was no longer immune to it.

          She tried to balance all this deadweight with the knowledge that the child she bore wouldn’t have to endure the childhood she’d lived thru.  Right now, it was small compensation.

          “What is it?” Nick murmured.  “Can’t you sleep?”

          “A lot to think about.  I’m fine.”

          “No, you’re not.  Don’t lie to me, Merli.  What’s up?”

          I don’t know where to start, she thought.

          “Whatever it is,” Nick said, “believe me, it’s natural.  It’s human.  The future’s an unwritten book an’ no one knows how it’ll turn out.  We’re in this together.  Always remember that.”

          She swallowed.  “Okay.”

          “Now try to get some sleep.  It’ll seem different in the morning.”

          She clung to those words like they were a life raft and prayed they’d be true.




          “Sir?  Sir ..?”

          Murray’s eyes jerked open and he gasped.

          “I’m sorry, sir,” the attendant apologized.  “I didn’t mean to startle you.  We’re beginning our approach into Rio.  Can you put your seat upright and make sure your belt is fastened for landing.”

          “Yes, of course,” he said in a rush.  His voice sounded reedy with fear and, inwardly, he swore.  For God’s sake, man, get a backbone!  You’ve survived, haven’t you?  Not dead yet.  While there’s life, there’s hope and all that.

          He pulled his seat upright and checked his safety belt.  His eyes still felt gritty and tired but his mind had gotten a grip.  He felt a little more refreshed, aware and in some kind of control.

          Why on earth did I choose Rio?  What’s here that can help me?  If anything, I should’ve gone the other way.  Returned to Egypt.  Confronted this fear, not run away from it and let it chase me around the world.  Let’s be logical for a second, shall we?  Professor Daly could have died from natural causes.  They all could.  It’s .. a little unusual but not necessarily unnatural.  Gayle Daly could have had some previously undiagnosed, unexpected medical condition which predetermined this would happen.  You’re not a medical doctor, Murray, so you don’t know.  And unusual is not a reason to panic.  Unusual is worthy of further, deeper investigation.  You won’t find that in Rio de Janeiro.  But .. maybe .. you could chill out for a few days and get your act together.  It wouldn’t hurt and it might just help.  And then .. well, you can start to find out what’s really going on.




          As Murray’s 747 landed in Rio at five in the morning, Derek walked Anna back to her hotel at midnight.  The evening had rushed by and he couldn’t quite believe it was so late.

          “And Murray?” he asked.

          “Ah, Murray.  Dr Snowden,” Anna laughed.  “He left Don’s team the week before me.  He was due to join some expedition into the untamed wilds of Borneo but I don’t know if he ever got there.  He certainly hasn’t published anything about it.  I do know he was consulting on a couple of projects in the Far East and was scheduled to do something similar with George Daly’s excavation in Egypt.”

          “How is George?” Derek inquired.

          “I have no idea.  The last I heard was that he was due back in London  to give a presentation to the National Institute.  More funding, I think.  I’ve been lax in keeping up with my network of associates.  I’m starting to make amends with you.”

          “And I am grateful for it,” he smiled.  “Well .. here we are.”

          Anna nodded.  “It’s been really great seeing you, Derek, an’ catching up.  You seem to be a guy I can be comfortable with.  I don’t have to pretend, y’know?”  She chuckled, her eyes crinkling.  “Here I am, all dressed up an’ feeling like a million bucks .. yet you know the real me.  Shorts an’ mud, broken nails, ratty hair, an’ not one lick of cosmetics.  I guess you’re okay with that.”

          “Very at home.  Your plans for tomorrow?” he inquired.

          “I’m completely at your disposal.  I do want to see your father’s collection.”

          “Then I will be in the foyer at .. ten o’clock and I will gladly escort you around the Winston Rayne Hall of Antiquities.  Then, later, if you’re agreeable, we can see some of the sights and head back to the island for supper.”

          “It sounds perfect,” Anna decided.  “Ten tomorrow then.”  She stretched and kissed his cheek.  “Goodnight, Derek.  Thanks for dinner.  Safe journey home.”

          Derek paused for a moment then laughed and waved before wandering away into the night.  It had been a fabulous, special evening.  When Anna had spoken of not having to pretend, he knew exactly what she meant because he hadn’t needed to pretend either.  Of course, he had secrets which must be kept from her but even the Legacy was a gray area after Guatemala.  She knew of the Luna Foundation, after all, and that his archeological experience extended beyond what might be viewed as normal.  Surviving a basilisk was not an everyday event on any dig site.  Anna hadn’t taken it in her stride – very few would; she had stumbled but she hadn’t fallen and, for a first timer, that was impressive.

          And she’d remembered him, his offer, his father’s collection .. everything.  Obviously Derek had made a favorable impression.  Yes, the evening had gone very well indeed.  He was looking forward to tomorrow.  The omens seemed particularly auspicious.

          As he approached the lot where he’d left the Range Rover, Derek rather uncomfortably turned his thoughts to something else Anna had said and he reflected rather guiltily that she wasn’t the only one who’d been lax in keeping up with the network.  Derek hadn’t spoken to Don Pinkney or Murray Snowden since Guatemala.  Come to than, he hadn’t spoken with Anna either.  Derek had the excuse that he’d been busy but .. he hadn’t been that busy.  He could’ve picked up the phone.  Five minutes in the day was nothing but kept friendships alive.  It didn’t have to be every day or even every month but at least every six months would have been better than the silence they’d gotten.

          No wonder people only call me when they need my help, he mused as he started the engine.  It’s the only time they ever think of me!  I am the exact opposite of a fair-weather friend.  I don’t run away when things turn bad.  I’m a bad-weather friend because I run to answer cries for aid and assistance.  Once the crisis is over, I’m forgotten again.  Put back on the shelf until the next time I’m needed.  And I have no one to blame but myself.  I have to turn that reputation around.  Is it any wonder my social calendar is as barren as a desert?

          We’re very much wanderers at heart.  When the urge hits, we go into the most godforsaken places on the planet and grub about in the dirt.  In the old days, before the invention of cell phones with global networks, in the field meant exactly that.  Cut off.  We had to take everything with us.  But, now, there really is no excuse.  I will call Don tomorrow and say hello.  I’ll go thru my address book and call round some of the others too.  I may have to update my address book, he realized.  Who knows?  They might need an extra pair of hands to grub in the dirt and not have something supernatural lurking in the shadows.  And I would always go on a vacation like that.

          He headed north toward the Golden Gate and his mind faced the fact that, if Anna was going to visit the island and even stay for a couple of weeks, she would have to be checked out for security.  Derek was prepared to vouch for her but then Rachel had vouched for people before, so had Nick and Alex.  Derek had been adamant.  No one comes in without the background check.  While he entertained Anna the following morning, Nick could do the check .. but Derek would request that he not be told the results unless something bad broke the surface.  Nick would know whether to speak up or stay silent.

          I wonder what he had to do at home, Derek thought rather belatedly.  It must have been something important for him to call like that.  Painting walls or supervising where the furniture goes he would have left to Peri and made the trip.  He frowned slightly.  Peri has not been the same since she woke up in the hospital almost three months ago.  I don’t know what it is but .. some light inside her has been extinguished.  Perhaps that is why Nick stayed home today.  The one thing I would’ve sworn would never happen to them – a domestic crisis. 

          He sighed.  Maybe I should ask Rachel to visit and talk things over with Peri.  I made the point to Paul that I have a strong team.  Peri is an associated part of that.  She cares for us .. and we have to reciprocate.  If she is in trouble, we must do all we can .. or Paul will act without waiting for me to choose.  Far better the devil you know.




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