The scene swirled, uncertain and unsteady. Derek began to feel slightly nauseous and he was already feeling ill. “What’s happening?” he asked.
“Are you ready to continue?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“No. Once started, it is always wisest to see something thru to the end so you’ll know it’s over. If you leave it, you will always be unsure.”
“Is this still the present?” Derek asked, closing his eyes. He felt a little better.
“It’s the future, but only just. Christmas Day, two thousand, one.”
He nodded. “And you, then, are my last companion.”
“I am. The Specter of Things to Come.”
Derek gave a quick smile. “Appropriate.” He drew in a deep breath. “Very well.”
He opened his eyes and promptly gasped. “My God ..!”
The hair was iron gray but mostly it was white. The face was tanned and leathery. The frame was slightly bowed and shrunken, and the hands a little knotted with arthritis, but the eyes … The eyes betrayed him every time. Dark, shrewd and cunning. Burning with a brilliant intelligence and bright with undiminished purpose. Winston Rayne was still a vibrant and forceful personality.
“He’s seventy five, Derek,” the Specter murmured.
“He looks amazingly well.” Derek eased closer to study the man. “To see him like this, as an old man, having lived his life as he alone determined .. this is a rare and precious gift. Maybe you don’t realize how much just this means to me. I lost him when I was so young and .. he froze in time. No matter how old I grow, he remains the same to me, a constant reminder to me of his death. And yet, here at least, he still lives … ” His hand stretched out to touch but stayed short, acknowledging that this was only a vision but a welcome one nonetheless.
Winston sat alone, glaring into the fire. Derek heard footsteps and he turned. Winston only moved his eyes.
“I got your message,” Nick said as he came in and halted.
“I appreciate you acting upon it immediately, Mr Boyle. It is Christmas Day, after all.”
“You’re the boss.”
Winston began to rise. His body was stiff but Nick stayed where he was. Winston was a proud man and he refused to ask for help.
“It is about the matter of the last sepulcher.”
“Figured it might be.” Nick took a step closer. “You want me to go get it?”
Winston paused. “Do you know exactly where it is?”
“No. Only that it’s with your – ”
“Derek made his choice a long time ago,” the old man cut in, his voice rasping with suppressed anger. “He is not stupid, Mr Boyle. He was groomed for the Legacy from childhood. Of course, there are no rules which state he had to join, but he knows our secrets. What’s more, he knows how important the sepulchers are.”
“And how dangerous?” Nick queried.
“Oh yes. He lectured me when I collected the one in Peru. And now .. he has the last in his possession. And he lied to you and Ms Moreau. Again, he makes his choice. He takes my life’s work and throws it back in my face.”
Winston poured himself a brandy and warmed it in his hands.
“That isn’t exactly true,” Derek softly protested. “He has shut out all those memories. He isn’t .. deliberately … ”
“Isn’t he?” the Specter asked.
“But not to take revenge on the Legacy,” Derek argued. “It is revenge but at a personal level. A son striking out at a father, in pain at being ignored and seen as unworthy all these years. I doubt if he even thought how this might affect the Legacy. He is a businessman and an artist, he has a family. The Legacy is something from .. forty years ago. He doesn’t live it and breathe it every day like Nick and my father.”
“Yes, and me,” Derek confirmed. “He .. has experienced life free of that burden, and it is unfair that he should be judged for having a different set of priorities.”
“So .. what do you want me to do?” Nick asked.
“Set up surveillance on my .. on Derek. We know he has the sepulcher. We also know he didn’t find it. Therefore, someone else did and has passed it on to him.”
“Why?” Nick frowned.
“Bait in a trap is the first reason which occurs to me,” Winston replied, savoring the brandy. “Derek is being used to get at me.”
“Sounds reasonable,” Nick agreed, and Derek nodded as well. “After all, an’ no disrespect meant, you have made more than a few enemies in your time.”
Winston chuckled richly, appreciating the remark. “That is very true, Mr Boyle. Another reason could be so that Derek could have his petty revenge. His little tantrum because I am a bad father. Hah! Do you honestly believe that, at my age, I give a damn? No, I do not.” Winston turned. “Set up surveillance. Watch him. Watch who comes to see him. I’m not talking about the customers who visit his store. But, one day, or night, some face we recognize will turn up out of the blue and demand to have his, or her, possessions returned to them.”
“Tap his phones?”
“All part of the surveillance,” Winston nodded briskly. “There might be a voice we recognize.”
“Sir .. I understand why we have to do this but – ”
“But .. Mr Boyle?” Winston’s brows bristled as they came together in a ferocious frown.
Nick wasn’t put off. “But it could take years.”
“More years than I have left to me? Is that what you’re trying so diplomatically to say?”
Winston paused, giving it due consideration. “Possibly, you’re right. Some enemy somewhere would take enormous pleasure from me dying with my life’s work unfinished. On the other hand, if the motive is for me to act, to attempt to get the sepulcher away from my .. from Derek, waiting years would rather defeat the purpose. I’m a patient man, Mr Boyle. I’ve learned not to act in haste. Watch him, listen to him, wait till we have more information, and, only then, will we move against him. Is that clear?”
“As crystal,” Nick nodded.
“Thank you for coming all this way.” Winston smiled. “I wish Derek had half your guts. You’re the son I should have had.”
Nick retreated silently, going to carry out his orders. The Specter glanced at Derek to see how this last comment had affected him. Derek was smiling wryly.
”I always knew Nick and I were alike, deep down inside. That has just proved it,” he remarked.
“You don’t find it upsetting?”
“I don’t but then .. I am not his son, even though he is my father. If my father had lived, I would probably have joined the – ”
“But you wouldn’t, Derek. You know that,” the Specter gently interrupted. “You’re seeing it happen. Your father did live – he’s here, now – and you didn’t join the Legacy. You can wish it to be any other way but it won’t be true. The catalyst, the incentive you needed, the event which ignited your passion and which has driven you thru countless struggles and sacrifices, was Winston’s death.”
Derek’s shoulders sagged. “I would have liked very much to have shared his life, watched him grow old, and fought the battle at his side .. but you’re right. The reason I joined the Legacy was because, deep inside, deep in the darkest corner of my heart, I wanted vengeance on the evil which killed my father. The reason I have .. remained in the Legacy is because I know that, while each battle I win is a victory, the war goes on and the debt I am owed will never be repaid.”
He watched the old man return to his chair by the fire. “Will I see him again before the end of my journey?”
“Why do you ask?” the Specter breathed.
“If I won’t, I would like to take a moment to wish him a Merry Christmas and to say goodbye.”
“You will see him again,” the Specter said.
“At the end of his journey?”
“That I cannot answer, Derek.”
Derek nodded. “Then .. let’s move on.”
The room fragmented and spun, reforming as the sitting room of Derek’s house. Sunshine speared in thru the window. Derek sat reading the newspaper and looked up as Sabine hurried in.
“Are you sure you’ll be okay?” she asked.
“Yes, I will be fine.”
“The larder’s stocked. Everything is up to date. Bella’s got a good grip on the art store so, if there are any problems, she’ll know what to do.”
Derek nodded patiently. “I’m not an invalid, Sabine.”
“I know, but that angina attack scared me, Derek. You do way too much an’ I hate leaving you right now but – ”
“But a new exhibition opening in New York is a big deal. I understand. I have my medication and the doctor’s strict instructions. I’ll be fine.”
“Angina attack?” Derek queried, looking to the Specter. “When is this? What year?”
“September, two thousand, four.”
“But .. I’m only fifty one!” Derek protested.
“Angina isn’t the end of the world. And it’s minor in his case. His life has developed differently from yours. Don’t imagine that you will suffer the same complaint,” the Specter soothed. “You know the value of health, of taking time out from the stress of the job .. even if you don’t take it. And you have Rachel to ease any fears and keep a strict eye on you. He has none of those things. Good health is a side-effect. Time out doesn’t exist because he doesn’t see his job as stressful. Sabine is an artist, not a doctor.”
Sabine bent and kissed him. “I’ll be home in a week. Promise me – ”
“I’ll take care of myself,” Derek said. “I promise.”
“Make sure you do,” she pleaded. There was a blare of a horn outside. “That’s my cab. I have to go.”
“Good luck. Make us a fortune,” he called.
“I’ll try!” Sabine called back.
He heard the door close behind her and he sighed. His shoulders sagged and, for a moment, he looked old.
“It’s knowing he has that sepulcher,” Derek declared. “That’s what’s making him sick. He was fine till then. Now he has the sepulcher and he knows he lied to Nick and Alex, and it’s eating him alive.”
“Daddy, do you need anything?” Bella asked from the doorway.
Both men looked at her. Her father smiled and shook his head. The other Derek stared. At eighteen, Bella had blossomed into a lovely young woman. Derek could see himself in her, and Sabine, and a trace of his mother and his sister.
“Are you sure? Mom would never forgive me if I didn’t take care of you.”
“I’m fine. I’m just .. reading the paper.”
“What about a book? The paper won’t last all day.”
“All right. Find me something mentally challenging.”
She turned and walked away, returning five minutes later with a novel written in Middle English. She brought a notepad, pen, and a reference book as well, winked at him, and left to go to college.
The house was still and quiet, and Derek tried to immerse himself in the paper again but his concentration was gone. He picked up the book and opened it but even that couldn’t interest him. He sighed again as he placed it back on the table.
“My father was right,” he said aloud.
Derek blinked at this quiet statement. “What does he mean?”
“I believe he is feeling emotionally fragile after his visit to and stay in the hospital,” the Specter replied. “Around others, he can accept the surface truth that he is not an invalid. Alone, he sees the deeper truth – that we are all mortal. He believed he was having a heart attack and that he would die. It scared him.”
“And, now, he is reassessing his life, his choices.”
“I should have gone to college. Should have studied, made something of myself. Instead .. I wasted my potential. I am a failure.”
“No!” Derek exclaimed. “No, you’re not a failure. My God, man, look at what you’ve achieved! A successful wife who only began painting because you were an artist. Three beautiful children who have received the most precious of gifts from you – a happy, stable home and a father who loves them without putting a price tag on that love. A father who has seen them grow from babies into young adults. So you don’t have a college degree. So what? Formal education isn’t everything. You’ve studied at the university of life. Don’t start judging yourself now.”
Derek sighed again. “But .. it isn’t too late. I can study at home. I can learn. I will prove to my father that I am worthy of being his son .. even if that is what I say to him as he lays dying.”
The Specter watched Derek shake his head rather sadly. “Do not feel sorry for him, Derek,” she murmured. “He doesn’t know what you know. He lacks .. your insight, your understanding.”
“You know .. I envy him in so many ways but the thing I envy the most is that .. for one time in his life, Winston Rayne listened to him. He didn’t open the sepulcher. And yet that one moment is the hinge. The pivot. He died, I stepped onto the path I know because I’ve lived it. If he’d lived, I would be the man sitting there, hating my father and stewing in the bitter juices of resentment.”
“Which life is better?”
“Ah .. don’t ask me that question because, in truth, I cannot answer it. On the one hand, I have a family of sorts who mean a lot to me and my life is rich with purpose. On the other .. I have a business and an ongoing war to fight with my father but, to balance that, I have a wife and three children.” Derek shrugged. “I cannot say which life is the better one. Both have disadvantages and both have advantages.” He looked at himself again. “Will he learn? What happens to him?”
“Let’s find out,” the Specter invited and the room dissolved around them.
Derek found himself in a cemetery and his heart went cold. “Who has died?” he whispered.
The Specter pointed and Derek looked toward a large group gathered at a graveside. Together, they approached and he saw himself with Sabine and the children. She was weeping and Derek had his arm around her shoulders.
“Sabine’s father,” Derek murmured.
“She was an only child and she now inherits a vast sum of money,” the Specter went on.
The casket was lowered into the grave and final respects were made. Derek took a step back so that Sabine could talk to the other mourners, both family and friends. Bella stayed by her mother’s side.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” murmured a voice just behind Derek and he turned to look into Reed Horton’s eyes.
“What are you doing here?” Derek asked.
“Please, God, to ask for the damned sepulcher to be returned,” the other Derek replied.
“Beyond paying my respects?”
“You didn’t know my father-in-law,” Derek pointed out.
“That’s true,” Horton agreed. “However, I know you and this was a good opportunity for us to meet.”
“If I recall,” Derek responded, “you said you would call first and not turn up out of the blue.”
“Ah, well, walls have ears, Derek. Your phones are tapped.”
“I beg your pardon?” Derek exclaimed.
“Ssh. I said your phones are tapped. Somehow .. Winston suspects you have the last sepulcher in your possession. He’s ordered you be watched. He’s playing a waiting game. Waiting for you to make a mistake, to screw up, to .. be the son he knows you to be. Incompetent. A slacker.” Horton watched Derek’s dark eyes grow darker. “You do still have the sepulcher ..?”
“Of course,” came the muttered response.
“Excellent. Every day which passes and you do nothing is a day which pierces Winston’s heart like a poisoned thorn. He wonders what your plans are, you see. Will you try to acquire the other four? Will you use them against him? Or will you just open the one you have?”
“I can’t, you know that.”
“I know that, yes. He doesn’t,” Horton smiled.
Derek prowled around this conversation like a panther, listening, dissecting, trying to discern motive and determine Horton’s intentions.
“Do you hear that?” he asked the Specter. “Each time, he attacks the same vulnerable area. He tells him that he isn’t good enough .. and he believes, now more than ever before. Poisoned thorns is the truth of it. And then, when he has him down and struggling to find any self-esteem, he raises him up by telling him how to hit back. Horton’s playing father against son and vice versa. But why?”
“I don’t know, Derek.”
“My father thinks it is to .. strike at him. It does seem reasonable. Winston Rayne, even as an old man, is a formidable prize. He is the Legacy.” Derek swung round. “Is that what Horton wants? To bring down the Legacy?”
“I don’t know,” the Specter repeated.
“Derek,” Horton breathed, “your father grows more paranoid every day, thanks to you doing nothing but store my box. Every resource he has is turned to watching you.”
Derek glanced around. “Even here?”
“A family funeral ..? Probably not, but nothing can be ruled out.”
“If everyone in the house is watching me,” Derek said to the Specter, “there’s a weakness in the Legacy. One house is not doing its full workload. And weakness means vulnerability and that leaves it open to infiltration.” Derek laughed quickly and without humor. “That Derek doesn’t give a damn about the Legacy. If he did, he would be a member. It’s a very clever plan. Using him to do absolutely nothing.”
“Well,” Derek said, “if that’s true, we shouldn’t be seen together.”
Horton nodded. “For now, continue to do what you’ve always done. Nothing at all. I will contact you but I’ll keep it short so the call can’t be traced, nor my voice analyzed. I’ll just say the code word ‘valiant’. When you hear it, wait two days and then take the box to the Planetarium in Golden Gate Park at eleven o’clock in the morning. That’s where I’ll meet you.”
“Daddy ..?” Bella called.
“I understand,” Derek said quickly. “Coming, Bella!”
“My condolences to your wife. Again, I’m so sorry for your loss,” Reed Horton murmured and melted into the crowd.
Derek, feeling uneasy at the idea of being watched and outraged that his phones were being tapped and by his father of all people, scanned the faces all around and then looked farther afield. Derek, standing with the Specter, was also studying faces.
“There,” he said, pointing.
At the edge of the mourners, Rachel Corrigan was on point.
The scene settled again back at Angel Island. “I didn’t recognize him but he spoke with Derek for some time,” Rachel reported. “He could have been a mourner.”
Winston limped into the control room and cast a dour eye at the computer. Like many elderly people, he could see how they were useful but he didn’t trust them in the same way as he trusted good, old-fashioned books.
“Ms Moreau, access the database and pull up the Legacy members’ ID photographs.”
“Going thru the mug shots, Rachel?” Nick queried.
“So it seems,” Rachel agreed.
“Mr Boyle, isn’t it time you took over from Father Callahan?”
“Yes, sir,” Nick murmured and quickly stood. As he passed Rachel, he winked and mouthed ‘good luck’.
“Sit down, Dr Corrigan. Can you give us anything to help narrow the search?”
“He looked in his mid to late forties, maybe even a youthful early fifties. Blond. Slender.”
Alex typed as she listened. “What about voice?”
“I wasn’t close enough.”
“Start with the American Legacy houses,” Winston instructed. “Then, if necessary, work your way around the world.”
Alex finished typing and hit enter. Rachel studied the screen and shook her head. A quick mouse click took her to the next image. Alex turned to Winston.
“Sir .. do you have a moment?”
His eyes narrowing, Winston indicated the library. Alex followed him. “What’s bothering you, Ms Moreau?”
“This witch hunt,” Alex said baldly.
“Is that how you see it? That I’m .. persecuting Derek in some way?”
She paused. “We’ve been monitoring him for nearly three years. What makes you think he’ll do something now? Can’t you accept the fact that .. he’s being used and he could be entirely innocent of any ill-will?”
“No, I can’t accept that, Ms Moreau, because it isn’t true. How do I know it isn’t true? Because he lied to you. Derek knows what these sepulchers are. No, that’s being overgenerous. He has an understanding of what their nature is. Evil. He had no reason to lie –”
“With respect, sir, how do you know that?” Alex challenged. “Perhaps his family was threatened.”
Winston looked blankly at her. “So what if they were? The Legacy demands-”
“Your son isn’t a member of the Legacy,” she pointed out. “His priorities are different.”
“I know that only too well,” Winston muttered. “Even so, he knew his duty was to tell the truth. He didn’t do that. I agree, he is being used but he is aware of it, even if that is in some remote way.”
Alex accepted that. “Sir, I’m concerned that the efforts we’re making leave the organization with a weakness.”
“Well done, Alex,” Derek breathed.
“The other houses can cover for us,” Winston dismissed.
“Yes, sir, I know but only short term. How much longer is this going to continue? Another three years? Longer still?”
At last, Winston appeared uneasy. “Ms Moreau, I don’t know the answer to that. If we decrease our surveillance, we run a terrible risk. And yet .. I had believed something would have occurred before now. I thought the motive was to strike at me. I’m not growing younger. Perhaps .. I was wrong.”
“Sir, if that’s true, it could be the motive is to destabilize the Legacy, in which case .. we’re doing exactly what they want. In being so focused on one man, we’re ignoring a lot going on elsewhere.”
“I’ve found him!” Rachel called.
Winston’s eyes gleamed with triumph and he hurried back into the control room, Alex right behind.
“Reed Horton. A member of the Boston house,” Rachel said.
“A witch hunt, indeed,” Winston murmured. “Is it just him, or is it the entire Legacy? And who is the victim of the hunt? Derek .. or myself?”
The scene moved on. Nick’s Mustang pulled up behind Philip’s sedan. He got out and sauntered forward. “Excuse me, I’m looking for directions.”
“Nothing’s happened. They got back four hours ago, went inside, and no one’s been out since.” Philip stretched wearily. “Nick, is it me or is the old man paranoid?”
“You noticed, huh?”
“It’s making me very uneasy. I joined the Legacy to fight evil, not keep watch on the old man’s son.”
“You know why we have to do this. He has the last sepulcher.”
Philip nodded. “And we have the other four. You need all five to open a portal to Hell, Nick. We’re not likely to give them to him, are we? Plus, he’s had the thing for over two years. Now, just supposing Derek has paid someone to find it and deliver it to him and there’s some nasty little reason for that, don’t you think he would’ve used it by now?”
“The old man believes Derek’s being used. That he’s just .. storing the thing for someone else. It isn’t Derek we’re after, it’s the other guy.”
Philip’s cell phone beeped and he picked it up. “Yes?” He listened while Nick watched him, then he nodded. “All right.”
“What’s going down?” Nick asked in a tense voice.
“The surveillance is off,” Philip reported. “They know who the other man is.”
“Another Legacy member.” Philip bent forward to turn the key in the ignition. “Derek Rayne is just a pawn in this game of power, Nick. He’s harmless. But Alex says the old man’s having some kind of mental fit.”
“Part of the plan?”
“If it is,” Philip shrugged, “we have to be ready. Come on.”
Derek and the Specter, having listened to this exchange, found themselves across the street and down the block, inside the lounge of Derek’s house. He eased back from the window as the two vehicles drove away. His gaze slid to the phone. He was being watched; that meant his phone was probably tapped as well. His face darkened with fury.
“So .. I’m the enemy now, am I?” he muttered. “It isn’t enough that I want nothing to do with the Legacy and that I have made no secret of it. It isn’t enough that I have kept well out of my father’s life in the Legacy. It seems that, if I won’t join, I must be the enemy. Who does he think he is? God?”
“Dad .. you talking to yourself?” Dominic asked.
“A sign of old age creeping up on me,” Derek replied.
“You’re not old,” Dominic grinned.
“Thank you. I needed to hear that.” He straightened. “I think I’ll go into the bookstore tomorrow. There’re some things I need to check over.”
“Whatever,” Dom yawned.
“It’s been a long day. Go to bed,” Derek advised.
“What about you?”
“I need to think a little first.”
The scene shifted and Derek was in the cramped attic space at the bookstore. He moved the boxes and lifted the piece of carpet. There it was, the last sepulcher. Derek and the Specter watched as he sat down to stare at it.
“What does he think I can do? I have a key, yes, but not to this casket. My father has the other four but only three keys. Horton has the remaining key. None of us can do anything. They are as safe as they can be. My father could do the most damage but he is not that stupid. Why do I care what he thinks? I don’t. I have long accepted the fact that the great Winston Rayne considers me to be beneath his attention. What angers me is that he is having me watched and he has tapped my phones. Does he imagine I will betray him? I don’t think about him enough to let that be an option.”
“Poisoned thorns,” Derek breathed to the Specter. “What will he do? Is Horton after the Legacy – which wouldn’t surprise me – or is he truly targeting my father?”
“I don’t know, Derek. This isn’t Horton’s life or your father’s. We’ll have to see what happens when Horton makes contact .. if he ever does.”
“He will,” Derek declared in a low voice.
Derek replaced the carpet and the boxes and switched off the light. “Well, if he wants to play his spiteful little games, he can. He wants to stay in the shadows, let him stay there. I have a life and I will live it. Let him think what he wants. Let him waste his few remaining years. I don’t care anymore.”
The scene churned violently and Derek and the Specter were in one of the bedrooms at Angel Island. Barbara paced, her expression anxious. Rachel checked pulse and blood pressure and endured Winston’s unwavering stare.
“You’re fine .. for a man your age,” Rachel eventually announced, “but you have to take it easy. You’re seventy eight years old. Your attitude could mean you don’t get to see seventy nine.”
“Hah! My attitude, Dr Corrigan, has allowed me to get to this age. When can I get out of bed?”
She glared back at him. “Winston, listen to me. I advise you to cut back on your responsibilities here. Nick is capable of doing your job. You’ve been preparing him for the last .. ten years! I’m not telling you to retire, I’m saying job share. Let him be the active one. You be the brains behind the planning.”
“What have you learned about Reed Horton?” Winston demanded, ignoring her.
“Winston, you have always been driven and pigheaded,” Barbara accused, coldly furious, “but I won’t stand by and watch you self-destruct. Don’t force me to make a call to London, all right?”
“You are not a member of this house,” Winston reminded her.
“That’s true but I have been married to one for more years than I care to remember. It allows me certain privileges, Winston,” she retorted, “including calling London if I think you’re losing your grip.”
“This is why, Dr Corrigan, the Legacy has never been geared toward families. Generations, yes, that I will grant you. But not wives or husbands. They’re simply too much of a nuisance.”
Barbara’s hands curled into fists and she walked out.
“Now, tell me what you’ve learned of Reed Horton,” Winston mildly continued.
“We contacted the Precept at Boston. Horton’s disappeared. Gone underground. They don’t know where he is or what he’s doing .. and they haven’t known for several months.”
Winston sat up. “Are they searching for him?”
“Of course! And they have promised to inform us when they have news.” She pushed him back against his pillows. “So, in the meantime, you will take it easy.”
“Have Mr Boyle guard my door.”
Rachel frowned slightly. “Horton can’t get to you in here.”
“I realize that but my wife is another matter,” he said with a fond smile. “She might think to help me take it easy with a pillow over my face.”
Rachel smiled too as she rose to leave him. As she closed the door, she muttered, “And I, for one, would not blame her if she did.”
The scene moved on and time leapt forward. Derek was starting to feel a building pressure in his chest. How much more of his life was there to see?
“What year is it now?” he asked.
“Two thousand, ten,” the Specter replied.
“And what is this?”
“You’re accepting your degree. Business administration. You were third in your class. Congratulations.”
Sabine kissed him. Bella looked on proudly, as did her brothers.
“My family is all grown up,” Derek breathed. “The children .. are adults.”
“They will always be your children, Derek,” the Specter commented.
“But they don’t really exist,” he said wistfully.
“Will you forget them when this journey is over?”
“Then they exist. They live in your memory. They all do. Their love and their lives, you’ll have that always.”
He nodded. “Another gift. I have been given so many. Thank you.” He turned away from the little celebration. “My father?”
“He is still Precept. Eighty four years old and as fierce as ever. More so, in fact, since your mother died. It was peaceful, in her sleep, three years ago.”
Derek swallowed. “And Horton?” he asked after a moment to master his emotions.
“Never been found. He hasn’t yet made contact. Your father is starting to believe he never will, not after so long.”
“But he’s wrong about that. Reed Horton thinks and plans over decades. The Legacy?”
“Holding together but under threat. Horton is a big problem for them. One by one, each Legacy house is devoting itself to the search. Evil is growing in the world. London is becoming very concerned. They say it all hinges on one man. Derek Rayne. He holds the fate of the Legacy in his hands.”
“And he doesn’t care what happens to it. He never has.” Derek shook his head. “Is he aware of any of this?”
“Will he become aware?”
“I think you know the answer to that.”
Derek paused. “Does he still have the sepulcher?”
The hood dipped in agreement.
“What will London do?”
“Let’s find out, shall we?”
The scene shifted to the foyer of the house on Angel Island. Winston leaned on a cane and glared furiously at the two visitors.
“William … ” Derek breathed, shocked.
“He still lives, here anyway,” the Specter remarked.
“I told you! I do not require your assistance!” Winston spluttered.
“We can deal with it,” Nick added, his arms folded.
“No, Mr Boyle, you can’t,” William Sloan countered. “If you could, we wouldn’t be in this mess.” William moved his gaze. “Winston, you’ve kept secrets long enough. You have the four sepulchers here, against our express instructions.”
“I don’t trust anyone else to guard them,” Winston retorted. “They’re my life’s work.”
“Do you have four keys?” William inquired.
“How many keys do you have?” William asked patiently.
“Who has the key to the fourth?”
“Your son Derek, who also has the fifth sepulcher. Does he have the key to that one?”
“I haven’t spoken to him in years,” Winston muttered.
“Then it’s high time you did,” William insisted. “Mr Boyle, you’ll drive us.”
“Now?” Nick wondered.
“Yes, right now. And, when we come back, we’ll have those sepulchers.”
“They are safe here!” Winston argued.
“Winston, you’re walking a very fine line,” William warned him. “Don’t make me throw you out of the Legacy. It wouldn’t be a fitting end to such a distinguished career.”
Derek and the Specter didn’t make the journey with them. They were in the bookstore where Derek was putting away a new consignment of books. He was at the top of the ladder, gently sliding each volume onto the shelf, when a voice came up to him.
Derek looked down and almost fell.
Derek glanced at the Specter. “This is it, isn’t it? The end of my journey. Horton’s here. William Sloan is on his way with my father, Nick, and a Legacy Enforcer whom I happen to know is extremely proficient.”
“What are you doing here?” Derek gasped.
“I’m here to collect my box,” Horton smiled.
“But you said you’d call!”
“I lied. I lie a lot,” Horton responded. “I find it makes for an easier life, and a more interesting one.”
“Why now?” Derek asked.
“Because the time’s right. All these years and slowly the gears have been turning. Your father is an old man. I’ve ruined the last .. oh, over ten years of his life. The Legacy is virtually on its knees, thanks to us. And we’ve done nothing. It was too easy.”
Derek paused. “My father is ruined?”
“A bitter, twisted, paranoid individual with nothing left. Not even the chance to gloat.”
The bell tinkled merrily as the door opened behind them. A woman entered, smiled briefly, and began to browse. Derek didn’t recognize her, neither did Horton, but the other Derek did and his blood ran cold.
“My box,” Horton insisted.
Derek caught his sleeve and dragged him farther into the store. “But there is a customer.”
“Ignore her. She’s just looking around.”
Derek headed for the stairs and climbed them. When he returned ten minutes later, the sepulcher under one arm, there was another man in the store, also browsing.
Horton held out his arms. The door opened again and, this time, it was Winston Rayne who came in.
“You!” he accused, glaring wildly at Horton. “Derek, don’t give him that sepulcher! You know how dangerous they are.”
“It isn’t mine. I’ve been looking after it for him.”
Winston’s face curled into a sneer. “Excuses, just like you’ve always turned out. It wasn’t my fault. I don’t want to. It isn’t mine.”
Derek hesitated. “Father, I went to college. I got my degree. Business administration. I came third in my class.”
“Third. Two people beat you. How typical. You never could make the effort.”
Derek watched his face go blank. If Winston had taken a knife and plunged it into his heart, it wouldn’t have hurt any more than hearing those words.
“As for you, renegade,” Winston said, turning to Horton, “here to finish what you started, I suppose.”
“Yes, Winston, that’s so true.”
“Thought I’d bend under the pressure, did you? Thought I’d snap with your mind games. Well, you’ve failed.”
“No. I’ve succeeded,” Horton replied. “All these years, you never guessed. Yes, a towering ego like yours would think you were the target. It might deflate a little and imagine, possibly, it might be the Legacy. Wrong. I wanted your son .. and you’ve just given him to me.”
Winston blinked and looked to Derek. “Derek ..?”
Derek’s hands were white as he clutched the sepulcher to his chest. “Get out! Get out before I throw you out. Or kill you with my bare hands! I have never been good enough. I never will be.” The breath shuddered in his chest as he looked back over decades of being ignored. Decades of hurtful, bitter truth. Something had withered inside him and died. “No matter what I do or don’t do, it is never enough for you so I may as well make the lie the truth and truly be your enemy.”
He looked to Horton. “Whatever it is I must do, tell me.”
“Join the Darkside,” Horton invited.
“Derek, no!” Winston pleaded.
“I join the Darkside,” Derek declared. “I give my soul to the darkness, to the evil you have fought all your life. Are you happy now, Father? Now that you have a real reason to hate me?”
Winston staggered away and Derek laughed harshly.
“That’s quite enough, I think,” the unknown man murmured. “Aquila. Go to work.”
Horton was the first target and he tried to run because cowards always do.
“Winston, don’t get in her way,” William warned in a level voice.
Seeing that escape was denied, Horton took refuge behind Derek who raised the sepulcher as a shield.
“Don’t destroy it!” Winston shouted. “You’ll release the devil inside!”
“That won’t be a problem,” William informed him.
“William, don’t let her hurt my son,” Winston pleaded.
“It isn’t up to me,” William responded. “Or you. It’s between them now.”
“Derek, listen to me! Repent now, while you have the chance!” Winston begged.
Derek couldn’t look at the Specter. “Listen to him. It isn’t too late to save yourself! Think of your family, your wife and children. They need you and you need them,” he urged, but, inside, he knew it was hopeless. He was too much like his father. At the end, the temptation had been too much and now he had to pay.
“Never. You raised me well, Father, because a Rayne never goes back on his word of promise,” Derek shouted.
“Aquila,” William muttered.
The bolt of energy speared thru the sepulcher, struck Derek in the chest and kept on going, impaling Reed Horton as well. Horton choked and crumpled, exploding in black light tinged with flame. Derek, however, simply toppled forward, his face a frozen mask of surprise and regret. As he hit the floor, his body dissolved into ash and vanished in silence.
Winston forced himself to watch but he was broken. Tears poured down his cheeks.
“I never wanted this,” he said, over and over. “Those children, left without a father. Sabine .. who loved him so much. I never wanted this.”
Aquila resealed the sepulcher and took a firm grip on it, then she nodded at William.
“I’ll deal with this,” she said, “and the others.”
Winston clutched at his head, his face growing white. He tried to say something but, his legs buckling, he keeled over. William bent and felt for a pulse.
“Can you do anything?” he asked her.
“No. It’s his time.”
William sighed. “Such a waste. Father and son. Shame,” he said as he straightened. “He seemed like a nice guy. Under any other circumstance, we might have been friends.”
The Specter turned to Derek as William and Aquila walked out. “Now your journey is over, Derek. Your questions answered. If your father had not died in Peru, you would have died, if not together, then on the same day in the same place. This was your life without the Legacy,” she said quietly. “Merry Christmas.”
Derek woke in shock. Tears were wet on his cheeks and his body seemed to ache in sympathy with the abrupt yet not totally unexpected death his alternate self had suffered. But what he felt most was the agony on his father’s face, the happiness and contentment he’d felt in his life with Sabine and three beautiful children, and the knowledge that, in a moment of despair and weakness, just like his father, he had given himself to the Darkside, something he had never believed possible. Pain and love in equal measure, just a vision yet still so very real to him. From fifteen to fifty seven, a lifetime …
He heard the clock chime the last stroke of midnight.