“I hate to leave you,” Nick admitted. “Why don’t you come with me? You don’t have to tell anyone. Merli, c’mon. When you first went there, they didn’t know what you were. I didn’t know. You don’t look any different. An’ .. okay, the power’s been turned off but you still have a lifetime of experience of blending in. You haven’t lost that. You still have everything which makes you special to me. I lost it for Merli, not Aquila.”
She smiled slowly. “Nick, are you feeling okay?”
“You look down.”
“I’m fine. An’, sure, I’ll come with you. I could use a day not painting.” She finished dressing and faced him. “You’re not gonna be one of those guys, are you? Tell me you’re not.”
“What guys?” he frowned.
“The ones who, when they find out they’re gonna be Daddies, start saying ‘take it easy’, ‘sit down an’ rest’, an’ all that crap.” She watched him carefully, almost suspiciously.
“I don’t know,” Nick replied. “I’ve not been in that situation before.” He thought about it. “I don’t think it’s wrong to feel concern if I see you pushing yourself too hard, doing too much. An’ you know me – if it’s that big a deal, I speak up if it’s on my mind.”
“So long as it stays at that level, okay. Pregnancy is not an illness or a disease. It’s a condition. And I should be fine to go running every morning, for a while at least. I won’t change my lifestyle, Nick. I’ll just adapt it a little. I know my limits.”
He hesitated, knowing this was tricky territory. “You did. Now you have to find out what they are, an’ it may be that you overdo it .. for a while until you get comfortable with how you are. Merli, if I say something, know that I’m saying from a caring angle, not to criticize, okay?”
“Okay. Remind me of that from time to time,” she requested. “You wanna eat here or wait?”
Nick checked the time. “I’ll wait. Ready to go?”
As they left the house and went to the garage, Nick said, “I see Profelis is making himself comfortable next door.”
“He was, yeah. But I think he’ll be going soon. My timeout, officially, ends in a couple of weeks. It’s been extended but he doesn’t know that. I’m gonna have to arrange for someone to cover for me. Evan’s okay here. He prefers living on the mainland but he’s okay with the island which is a big step up for him. I’m thinking Alopex would be a good replacement. Evan likes to be on the move. Jon is a more social animal, an’ doesn’t object to setting down some temporary roots.”
“He told me how he feels for you.”
“Did he? That’s good. He trusts you. Our parents had such hopes for me an’ Evan,” she related. “Had it all planned out – married at eighteen, parents by twenty … ” Merlin shook her head. “I love him, sure, as a brother. I love them all, Nicky. You don’t get to live like this an’ not feel they’re all family. But I couldn’t have married one of ’em. It’d be like incest, y’know? All wrong. But that’s just me. Bending the rules. I got the best deal of all. I got you.”
Nick grinned. Life didn’t get much better than this.
When they arrived, they met Derek on his way out.
“Hi, good trip?” Nick asked.
“Yes, very good, thank you. I’ll tell you about it later. Bye.”
Nick watched his Precept hurry away. “What’s bitten him?” he wondered.
“Nick!” Alex came down the stairs. “I’m glad you’re here. There’s a little task for you in the control room.”
“Suitcases?” he queried.
“Paris. I have to go.”
“I was out one day. What’s going down? Derek took off like someone’s chasing him an’ you’re going to Paris?”
Alex smiled. “Rachel’s due soon. She’ll fill in all the gaps. Hi, Peri! You look so much better. It’s really good to see you. How’s the house coming along?”
“How about I tell you when you get back?” Merlin suggested, watching Alex fidget and angle for an escape route. “Better still, I’ll give you a tour.”
“I would love that.” Alex backed out the door. “Have to fly .. literally.”
Nick scratched a thumb along his jaw. “One day … All I was gone was one day.”
“C’mon, tough guy. Let me fix you breakfast. You’ll feel less rejected.”
Saturday being a day that Andrew didn’t work, they headed for the kitchen. Nick had been looking forward to catching up on the news – Derek’s Boston trip, what Alex had in the pipe – and they ate alone. Rachel came in just as they were finishing.
“Good morning! Hi, Peri,” she smiled. “How’s it going?”
“I’m cool. Having a day off.”
“An’ spending it here?” Rachel queried with a grin.
“Alex was out the door just as we arrived,” Nick remarked. “She said you’d fill in all the gaps.”
“Derek racing out. Alex flying to France. Some task for me in the control room?”
“Ah,” Rachel said and nodded wisely. “Let me get some coffee an’ I’ll tell you.”
It was a comfortable, familiar scene around the scrubbed kitchen table; faint spears of sunshine lancing thru the windows, steam curling lazily upward from the coffee, a warm, almost sleepy atmosphere.
“Where shall I start?” Rachel wondered. “Alex, I think.”
“Any particular reason?” Nick ventured, leaning forward.
“Her trip is just starting so there isn’t much to say,” Rachel replied. “Remember that memorial tablet an’ the vault under Sacre Coeur?”
“Right …” he recalled. “The Paris house want some expert supervision.”
“Exactly,” she confirmed. “An’ Derek got back from Boston in a so-so mood,” she went on, waggling her hand, “but a message was waiting for him an’ it changed his so-so mood into a good one. Alex asked about Paris at just the right moment – ”
“An’ hit the jackpot,” Nick deduced.
Rachel beamed. “Two weeks max helping our French colleagues.”
Nick nodded. “An’ the reason Derek went tearing outta here ..?”
“An ongoing effect of his message.”
“Who is she?” Merlin asked, grinning.
“How’d you know it’s a woman?”
“Elementary, my dear Rachel. There are only two things which make a Legacy man break into a run – one is a problem situation an’ the other is a woman not necessarily in distress. This is a woman because Derek sent Alex to Paris an’ he wouldn’t have done that if a problem had arisen. You said his mood changed from so-so to good, an’ a local devil would’ve had the opposite effect. So .. who is she?”
“Her name’s Anna Cowley. Derek met her on the dig in Guatemala. He promised her a tour when she eventually got to San Francisco an’ now she’s here to collect.” Rachel sat back. “They had dinner together last night. I think Derek intends to stay in town today but I know he wants to bring Anna out to the island, maybe even persuade her to stay here free of charge instead of at the Saint Francis.”
“So I have a background check to do,” Nick said. “The task waiting for me in the control room.”
“Right again,” Rachel agreed.
Nick stretched. “I shouldn’t turn up too much dirt. These archeologists are all the same. Live to work, never any downtime because the job’s always moving. Feet in the present, head in the past. Worst I’ll find is a handful of unpaid parking violations an’ an ongoing dispute with the IRS.”
“In which case, Anna can come here with no restrictions,” Rachel commented.
“Now .. why did Derek come back in a so-so mood?” Merlin asked.
“Ah. Maybe I’m jumping the gun telling you this but Paul’s reminded him that we have a vacancy.”
Nick met her gaze. “Seriously?”
“Very. He’s given Derek five files to consider.”
“But we have five – ” he began.
“No, you don’t. I don’t count,” Merlin cut in. “Never have. I’m not a member of the Legacy, an’ the rules state clearly five members per house. You’re one light of the required number. What are they like?” she asked Rachel.
“I haven’t seen the files,” Rachel replied. “Well, I’ve seen the files but not the contents. Derek told me they’re all single, young men. He spoke with me about it because he’s concerned how we’ll react to a newcomer on the team.”
“You think Paul will force him to take someone?” Nick frowned.
“No, I don’t. I think Paul’s a pretty smart guy,” Rachel remarked. “He knows how to deal with each personality. I think he’ll wear Derek down until, to shut him up, Derek will appoint someone to the vacancy. It’ll be something light – a weekly phone call just to ask if he’s looked or come to a decision. Paul isn’t into making demands. He was a Precept under William Sloan so he knows how not to do it.”
“Single, young men … ” Merlin echoed. “Could be interesting.”
“You’re spoken for,” Nick commented.
“Alex isn’t. Rachel, you’d find it interesting, wouldn’t you?”
“Absolutely! No offense, Nick, but you can be damn hard to flirt with. And,” Rachel added primly, “flirting doesn’t necessarily mean anything. It’s harmless. Makes the world go around an’ the day a little brighter. An’ we can use as much of that as we can get.”
“Damn straight,” Merlin agreed. “Especially in this line of work.”
“I was never hard to flirt with!” Nick protested. “Peri never said I was difficult.”
“Our flirting lasted all of .. thirty minutes max,” she laughed. “An’ you were a pushover.”
Nick pushed back from the table. “I’m gonna do some work.”
“There, y’see? We tease an’ you run away,” Rachel pointed out.
“When you two gang up on me, my safest place is somewhere else.”
“Alex has left you a note on your workstation,” Rachel said with a sweet smile. She waited for Nick to leave then faced Merlin. “I have to feel sorry for him at times.”
“Don’t! He loves every minute.”
“Do you think he’ll have a problem with a new guy on the team?” Rachel asked more soberly. “There was friction with Philip, friction which never happened with Kristin.”
“Are you sure about that?”
Rachel thought back. “Well .. I guess when Kristin first arrived, there was a little .. resistance but that was Kristin’s attitude.”
“An’ not Nick’s?”
“A combination, I suppose,” she admitted. “Kristin had a certain way of working which clashed with us all. She irritated me an’ Nick, an’ Alex. Not so much Derek. But, after a while, she got used to us an’ we got used to her .. an’ it’ll be the same with whoever joins. A settling in period.”
Merlin nodded. “Was it like that with you?”
“No, never, but I came to the Legacy from outside. I didn’t know how it worked so I was willing to fit with everyone else. Learn as I went along. Plus I’d been .. a victim helped by the Legacy. It gave me a unique insight. Yes, actually, there was friction but only after a while. Once I’d found my feet an’ had begun to feel comfortable, then I felt more that I could speak my mind on certain issues.”
“Same with everyone, Rachel.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“An’ you are really the best person to act as moderator. You’ve seen it from both sides, an’ you’re the .. relative newcomer to an established team.”
Rachel nodded. “Which is why Derek mentioned it to me first. I can start preparing the others.”
Merlin looked up at her. “Rachel .. you know you came to see me the other day?”
“Do you have some time? I’d like to talk.”
Anna was waiting in the reception area, idly leafing thru a tourist guide to San Francisco.
“I hope I haven’t kept you waiting too long,” Derek said as he approached.
“Hours, but I’ve learned to live with it,” she grinned then lightly punched his arm. “Would you believe I had trouble sleeping?”
Derek wasn’t vain enough to imagine he was the cause. “Why?”
“The bed’s too comfortable,” she replied, sounding disgusted. “I have been way too long in the field if I prefer a camp bed to the real thing. Maybe staying on your island is exactly what I need. Just put up a tent for me somewhere an’ I’ll rough it. Sleep like a baby.”
He laughed. “I don’t know about a tent in the grounds. Andrew will have my hide if I inflict that on a guest.”
“He’s more the steward although he does act as the butler. He’s a godsend, Anna, he really is.”
She studied him. “If your everyday life is similar to what happened in the jungle, I can imagine he is a godsend. Is it?”
“Your everyday life being like what happened at the dig.”
“Not every day .. but a good proportion, yes,” he admitted.
She shook her head. “An’ you just .. take it in your stride. Wow. You’re something else, Derek.”
He frowned. “Are you trying to flatter me? Into giving you that tent, maybe? Because it won’t work.”
“Damn,” Anna muttered then laughed brightly. “The Winston Rayne Hall of Antiquities. Shall we go?”
Murray Snowden hesitated then picked up the phone. He had to know. Putting it off was just adding to the torment. If there was one thing he’d learned from working with Derek Rayne, it was to face his fear. Face it head on. Stare into its eyes. Nine times out of ten, it backed off. Running from it only gave it strength to pursue you. And it could run faster. It could pass you and then meet you with opened arms as you ran straight into it.
The hotel had international dialing so he called England direct without having to use the switchboard. He waited, listening to the clicks as the connections were made, then heard the sound of ringing. He took a deep breath, trying to slow his heart.
“Hello. I’m a friend of Gayle Daly. I was .. just wondering about her condition.”
There was a very slight pause. “We only give out that kind of information to family members.”
“I realize that but .. she has no family. Her husband died recently.”
“One moment, sir.”
Murray closed his eyes. Please, God …
“Yes,” he said in a rush.
“I regret to tell you, sir, that Dr Daly passed away this morning.”
A strangled sound escaped his throat.
“Sir? Are you still there?”
“Yes. What arrangements are being made?”
He heard the sound of paper being turned. “There has to be a post mortem to determine cause of death. Provision has been made for the funeral. Full instructions.”
“Good. If anything was needed, I would have … You know. Well, thank you.”
“I’m sorry it was bad news. Goodnight, sir.”
He nodded and hung up. Nine times out of ten, it backed off. Of course, that meant one time out of ten, it smiled and showed its teeth.
“Anna Cowley … ” Nick read aloud. “Yep, just as I thought. Not quite clean as a whistle but the dirt’s harmless enough.”
He hadn’t been sure what to expect but she’d been a surprise. Anna Cowley was in her early forties and apparently as tough as old boots. Her tan didn’t come from a bottle or a sun bed, or even from lounging on exotic beaches. It was the result of years of toil under a baking sun. She had published articles, had quite a name for herself, and could pick her projects. She wasn’t rich, not by any measure, but she was comfortably off and could never be described as a gold digger. She had enough to finance her rather rough and ready lifestyle so Derek’s money was safe enough. There were several unproven allegations of artifact smuggling but that was almost customary when you were as good as she was. Governments got pissed off and taking petty sniping action like this was their sole way of feeling better. And, yes, there was an ongoing dispute with the IRS about the amount of tax she had to pay. Apart from that, very little to say about her. She had a mail box address in the United States and no permanent residential address anywhere. She lived in a suitcase. She had no driver’s license and didn’t own a car, so he’d gotten it wrong about the parking violations, but she could handle a jeep. One article he read had a photo of her at the wheel in some desert or other.
Anna was not into elegant and refined. She was the opposite. The pictures showed her with a ready smile, no matter how grim the terrain and conditions around her.
“Just what Derek needs,” Nick decided. “A taste of real life.”
The phone ran and he rose to get it. “Luna Foundation. Nick Boyle.”
“Hi, boss. She’s clean. Look forward to meeting her.”
“Can you tell Andrew there’ll be a guest for supper tonight.”
“Andrew’s day off. It’s Saturday.”
“Oh .. yes, of course.”
“But I can make a room ready,” Nick said with a wicked smile.
“Thank you. A room, not a tent.”
“No matter how much she tries to bribe you, all right?”
“Right. What time does the expedition arrive?”
“We should be home around six thirty, seven.”
“I’ll fix supper for seven thirty, eight then.”
“I don’t pay you enough.”
“You don’t pay me at all,” Nick pointed out in a flat voice. “Enjoy your day.”
The line went dead and, grinning, Nick went back to work.
“That’s wonderful news! Of course, I’d be delighted to monitor your progress,” Rachel said. “Nick must be so thrilled.”
“Yeah, he is,” Merlin smiled. “Y’know what’s so strange – you didn’t once question how. You must be getting comfortable with me. It’s taken a while, Rachel.”
Rachel considered. “As a scientist, an’ a medical doctor, I have to admit there are questions .. but I also have faith. I’ve seen you work miracles, Peri, so it follows your boss can do at least the same. Plus, I’m a woman an’ a mother. I know the maternal instinct is a real thing if you have the right partner. Obviously, you have if you changed your mind about having a child.”
“It wasn’t that,” Merlin responded. “The boss tried to second guess me. Healed me an’ I conceived. I didn’t know. The plane crash … He was told to put it right, what he’d done. That’s when he did it. I lost the baby I was carrying an’ had surgery, for the second time. Nick an’ I decided not to tell anyone. We couldn’t handle the sympathy. An’ that’s why I’ve been a little down.”
“Oh, Peri.” Rachel squeezed her hand. “I understand why you kept quiet .. but I still wish you’d said something. Even if it was just to me. I could’ve counseled you.”
“It was a difficult call,” Merlin commented.
“But you’re over it now, right? Healed properly from the surgery? You’ll never forget the baby you lost but you have everything to look forward to.”
Merlin nodded quickly. “Not down anymore, just scared shitless. I’m really not used to feeling that.”
Rachel laughed quietly. “That’s natural with a first child. It isn’t unknown with a second either. You just don’t know what to expect. Your body will change, you’ll feel things you’ve never felt before, an’ at the end of it, there’s going to be pain .. but you don’t know how bad or even what kinda pain it’ll be. And, after that, there’s the recovery right at the time you’ll be in big demand. I won’t lie to you, it is tough. But you have Nick, an’ me, an’ I know you can do tough. We’ll get you thru. One thing we won’t be able to help with though is the training.”
Merlin hadn’t told Rachel about that part of the deal. She’d made it sound as if having a friendly doctor monitoring pregnancy was what happened with Enforcers. Telling anyone that she was a regular person … She couldn’t do it. It would come out, in time, but she didn’t have to force it. Merlin still couldn’t accept it herself, despite all the evidence.
“I guess you’ll be able to cope with that alone. Or you could do what a lotta other new mothers do – call on your parents for help. They’ll be grandparents, after all. An’ Kat is going to want to babysit. I’ll be fighting Alex for the privilege. This isn’t just your baby, it belongs to us all. That’s how close we are as a family.”
“Nick said the same thing,” Merlin agreed. “I’m glad. We went thru all the pros an’ cons. A big negative was what if we both get killed.”
“Don’t worry,” Rachel urged. “Yes, I know it could happen. It’s more likely to happen than not. But, should the worst occur, your child will be looked after an’ cared for. I give you my word.” She sat back. “I am so pleased about this. You an’ Nick will make great parents.”
“I hope so,” Merlin smiled.
“I know so,” Rachel amended firmly.
“Actually … ” Derek began.
Anna’s eyebrow arched in suspicion at the coaxing sound of his voice. “Yes ..?” she hesitantly invited.
“This all has to move,” he went on with a sweeping gesture. “It’s a fine site, I know, but it just isn’t big enough.”
She blinked. “This isn’t the whole collection?”
“Not by any means,” Derek responded. “I would say .. at least a third is in storage.”
“My God, Derek! Your father must have had an incredible sense of .. discovery. Was it intuition?”
“Possibly,” Derek conceded. “He died when I was still too young to appreciate how he worked in the field. I would have loved to have accompanied him. It was not to be.”
“That is a great shame,” she decided. “So. Actually ..?”
“If you have time and now that you know the extent of the collection, I was wondering if you’d help me decide on another site. The City Museum has offered me space. Carl Chang over at Berkeley has also offered to house the collection. But .. I have my eye on a piece of land. I was thinking of having something built especially. I’d welcome your .. unique insight.”
“I would be delighted to assist. I’m entirely at your disposal and, for such a worthwhile cause … ” She shrugged. “I’d be a fool to say no .. an’ you know it.”
“If you ever feel like settling down to a more mundane existence, I could use a resident curator … ” It was dangling a carrot, he knew.
It was a carrot too much. “Maybe I’ll consider that when I’m ready to retire which isn’t yet. I have a good few years left in me an’ I am going to make every one of ’em count.” She glanced round. “But, like the tour, I won’t forget, Derek. It’d be a fine way to spend my old age. It’s something positive on the distant horizon. Thank you.”
“If you accept, whenever you feel the time is right, thank you,” he smiled. “Shall we go?”
They headed into the gray murk of another late winter day. The cloud breaks of earlier had closed up into a uniform dullness.
“When we get to my home, there are more artifacts to see,” Derek went on. “My father’s personal collection. Much smaller, of course.”
“He must have had a damn good eye,” Anna remarked enviously. “He wasn’t old when he died, was he? And to have amassed such a fantastic collection in such a short time. Wow .. I’m jealous!”
Derek admitted to himself that he was having a wonderful time. To hear Anna speak of his father in such glowing tones made his day. She had no idea of Winston’s other life, the life which led to his downfall. She knew him only as an archeologist and she admired him in a purely professional sense. The only depressing thing about her visit was that it would be over much too soon.
Nick glanced both ways to check the corridor was empty, then bent and popped the lock on Derek’s bedroom door. He eased inside and quietly inched the door shut behind him. He paused for a moment to rationalize and justify, and bless those three words. They covered a lot of gray territory.
A new member on the team. Okay, if they were on a waiting list, it meant they were existing Legacy members so they were probably good to go. Probably. Nick wanted to check them out for himself. Derek hadn’t said anything but he would. Nick was taking the initiative as second in command. He was saving time. The files were most likely in here. Therefore, to get the information, he’d had to pop the lock.
He nodded briskly. Rationalized and justified. His conscience was clear.
Nick looked around and spotted the bland looking folders at once. They were on Derek’s nightstand. Some light bedtime reading …
Guaranteed to grant eight solid hours, he mused cynically as he went around the bed to pick them up.
“Okay .. let’s see what we’ve got here,” he breathed.
It was not checking out the competition. Nick didn’t feel any of these potential members were a threat to him or to his position. He’d earned his place here and in the Legacy. He had nothing to prove. This was merely a cursory, surface examination of profile, background and experience. If he was going to trust his life to one of these guys, Nick wanted to be sure.
Or, as Merlin might remark, he was being impatient and nosy. Nick grinned to himself. He rationalized and justified, and she cut to the chase.
He opened the first folder. Nick had no special psychic gifts but he considered he was a pretty fair judge of character. He could invariably tell by looking at someone if they were trustworthy or not, if they would let him down big time, or if they’d come thru no matter the personal cost. At least, that worked with men. Women, he’d learned in the past, he wasn’t so good at judging. They’d lied to him and he hadn’t realized until too late. Then, he thought now, there are lies and lies. Some lies are okay, he could live with them. Merlin’s lies when they’d first met, for instance. They covered a far greater truth. And some lies were not okay and those were the ones which hid even worse lies. Those were the ones which stuck in his head and in his heart. The lies which used and which betrayed. The lies which lifted him up only to let him crash and burn.
The photograph which gazed back at him said this candidate was okay. Reasonable. Once he’d found his feet in the team, he’d pull his weight. Until then .. maybe he’d skirt around the issues, try to take it easy. But, on the whole, he was okay. A decent guy.
Nick looked at the second folder and felt his lip curl. A pretty boy. Always bad news. Pretty boys didn’t like to get dirty. They checked out the reflection before they hit the streets. They were always making out with the girls rather than getting the job done. Don’t go for this one, Derek. It’s a big mistake.
He glanced next at the time, aware that he’d promised to make a guest room ready.
Third folder said trouble. Hard man. This one would be bucking for promotion every chance he got. His agenda said Precept by forty. Nick was happy being Derek’s second but he didn’t want the top job. When Derek retired – Nick refused to consider him leaving the Legacy in any other way – Nick would most likely retire too. He didn’t need to work, not now he’d married a fortune. He could enjoy a life of leisure. But this folder said that, when Derek retired and maybe even before, this guy wanted the job and there was no way Nick would take orders from this candidate.
The fourth folder .. he couldn’t tell. The photograph was typical but gave no hint at all. A rather bland, faceless personality. The type to blend into the wallpaper. That might be good because it might indicate the type of guy who’d fit with them. On the other hand, he might blend so well that people forgot he was there. Nick left that one with an open verdict.
The last file made him blink. This was like almost gazing into a mirror or at a twin brother. Nick saw the same quiet resolve, the steel in the backbone, the sense of getting the job done without making a big thing of it. An asset to any Legacy house .. but not here, Derek. I couldn’t handle that.
Nick put the folders back exactly as he’d found them, eased back into the hall and carefully relocked the door. Then he went to get Anna’s room ready.
“If you were anyone else,” Rachel began, “I wouldn’t be doing this.”
“Honestly?” Merlin wondered. “If it were Alex sitting here .. you wouldn’t help her?”
Rachel looked round. “Alex is my friend as well as my colleague. We’ve survived a lot, weathered a lot more together, but, no, I wouldn’t do it.”
“Because my specialty is the mind, not the science of pregnancy an’ childbirth. If you were anyone else, I’d refer you to an obstetrician for care an’ management. However, you’re not anyone else an’ so, to a degree, I’m covered against disasters. I know enough to be able to assist. Let’s get some baseline readings to use farther down the line, huh? And, if you’re planning to get pregnant soon, I’d recommend folic acid supplements. Apart from that, you should be okay with your usual diet. I don’t suppose you’d even need to quit the cigarettes an’ alcohol like us other mortals, seeing as someone up there’s watching out for you.”
Merlin smiled but said nothing.
“Do I need to do a blood workup?” Rachel wondered to herself.
“Let’s pretend that I am a normal person. Do all the stuff you’d usually do. No point in taking chances, is there?”
“Okay,” Rachel accepted. “A blood workup to check for anemia. Iron deficiency is very common. Blood pressure. I don’t think I need to do an internal exam. Your hips are wide enough – just – to allow for a normal birth.”
“If you need to, do it,” Merlin said.
“Here you are. I thought I heard voices,” Nick remarked as he looked around the door. “There a problem?”
“I’m giving Peri a physical,” Rachel replied. “I hear you’re planning a big event.”
For a second, Nick didn’t know what she was talking about, then he flushed and grinned. “Oh .. right. Yeah, we’re working on it.”
Rachel held up a hand. “No details, please,” she requested. “There is such a thing as too much information.” She concentrated for a moment. “Heart rate is good. Strong, a little on the slow side but I’d expect that in someone as fit as you. Okay, blood pressure next.”
While Rachel turned her back to get the equipment, Nick looked at Merlin, his eyes quizzical. His gaze flicked to Rachel and back. The question was clear – have you told her everything?
Merlin quickly shook her head. When Rachel turned again, Nick’s expression was one of interest.
“Are you going to share everything?” Rachel asked. “As much as you can, anyway?”
“What d’you mean?” Nick frowned.
“Attend the physicals, be at the birth, help out afterward, that kinda thing.”
“Oh .. sure! You bet. Hit the stores, buy a ton of baby stuff. Everything. I’m in for this, hundred ten percent. Baby needs two parents, Rachel, an’ I’m gonna be there from the start. I’m here now.”
She smiled. “Patrick was exactly the same, with both of mine. It brought us closer. Pregnancy wrecks a woman’s hormone balance. There are mood swings you wouldn’t believe. I know I was cranky an’, at times, downright nasty to him. But he refused to bite back, an’ I loved him for that.”
“I’ll stand warned,” Nick replied.
“Yep, BP’s fine. On the nail. For you, that is. A little low for anyone else but fine for you. Let’s take some blood. Nick, where’d you go?”
“You weren’t in the control room.”
“Fixing up a guest room. Derek called. They’ll be back around six thirty, seven tonight.”
“Did you find anything on Anna?”
“Yeah, but nothing to worry us. She wasn’t what I expected.”
“An’ what did you expect?” Merlin asked.
“Derek’s usual type of woman is smart, elegant, refined. Arm candy with a bit of brain,” he grinned. “Anna Cowley is clever an’ everything but arm candy. She must appeal to his mind rather than his eye. She’ll engage him on the intellectual level.”
Rachel removed the hypodermic. “An’ the emotional one. She has formed some kind of attachment to him.”
“An’ he was practically running this morning,” Merlin pointed out. “The intellectual level .. that would have had him strolling an’ coming up with reasons why he was late, not running.”
“All I can say is she looks capable in shorts an’ desert boots,” Nick countered. “I’m anticipating a very firm handshake and a challenging glint in the eye.”
Murray lacked the energy to pace. His mind was retreating into a dark corner. It wanted to cower at the very least. Hiding would be even better. In the meantime, his body sank into a numb lethargy. Hope was a dwindling resource. Disbelief, the emotion he’d first felt when told of Phil’s death and had continued to feel with every new phone call, was stunned and transformed into an almost belief. Murray didn’t think he’d ever get to total belief because there was still a stubborn grain of resistance at the core – like the single piece of grit at the heart of a pearl.
He couldn’t fight this. There was only running and even that would eventually be fruitless. One day, maybe soon, it would find him and it would take him. Awake, asleep, active or inert, it seemed to make no difference at all. Silent, invisible, odorless, a deadly stalker on fast black wings. He may as well just wait right here. Let it take him. He wouldn’t resist.
Murray breathed in and let it out as a sigh. Of all the ways he thought he could die, this hadn’t even made the list. There was rock fall, quicksand, drowning, fire, heatstroke, dysentery, malaria, yellow fever, typhus, any number of obscure tropical diseases and snake bites. Even tetanus was on the list. Ambush or hijack by guerillas. Attack by animals. Typhoon, hurricane, tropical storm. The world was full of totally natural ways to kill and the manmade ways were even more. They were all on his list. Some might have said that making such a list made him a chronic pessimist and they’d be wrong. The list was Murray’s way of facing the fear of dying which everyone felt at some point in their lives. He told people who asked that, if it was on the list, it wouldn’t kill him. So far, he’d been absolutely right. After Guatemala, he’d added giant snake.
It was too late to add this newest threat, however. May as well face it, Murray, old chap. You didn’t put it on the list because you’ve never believed in it. You always scoffed at the idea. Well, guess what …
The Pharaoh’s curse is alive and it’s hunting you.