“It’s me … ”
“Who else would you be?” the figure in the long black robe inquired.
“No, I mean .. it’s me as I look now,” Derek explained. “Although .. it isn’t. That face is .. less lined, less careworn. It is my face but without the Legacy stamped upon it.” He glanced round. “And if this is me now, in the present – ”
“I am your second companion this night – the Shade of Present Times. The year is two thousand, one. The date is January 4.”
“Daddy! Mom says she isn’t feeling so great. Can you do the school run?”
Derek put down the morning paper and looked at his watch. “If you hurry, yes!”
Bella came into the kitchen. “Lunches?”
He pulled out his billfold and started to take out money. “Cafeteria.”
“I never realized your mother did so much,” Derek commented.
Bella smiled at him. “I’ll fix breakfast, if you can get Dom and Derek down here.”
“She’s grown into a wonderful young woman,” Derek said to the Shade. “How old is she now? Fourteen?”
“Fifteen. Derek Junior is twelve and Dominic is nine,” the Shade answered.
“And we have a house instead of an apartment,” he said, looking round. It was not as big as the house on Angel Island but it wasn’t small. More importantly, it was a comfortable family home, and it felt like it. “Does Sabine still paint?”
The Shade nodded. “She went to New York last month to open an exhibition of her work. She caught a bad cold while she was there.”
Derek had hurried to the stairs. “Derek, Dominic, if you want breakfast before we leave, you’ll have to move now!”
“And the business?” Derek inquired.
“The Taylor-Rayne stores remain at three and are doing very well. You’re quite an authority on old books. People contact you from all over the world.”
Two boys raced downstairs. Derek smiled at them, his expression one of fond exasperation. The other Derek, the invisible, voiceless Derek, felt his heart squeeze with regret at the family he might have had.
“Would you change places?” the Shade asked, drifting closer.
“Yes. This is now the present. He is me, I am him. Formed from the same beginnings yet shaped by a different set of winds and tides. He has everything I have always wanted and been denied by circumstance and my own choosing. Yes, I would trade places with him.”
“You make this decision based on this one small snapshot,” the Shade commented.
“It tells me enough. You have supplied the missing details. I assume I am still in love with my wife and she with me.”
“Yes, she is, and so are you. It is a perfect family, Derek, with strong foundations.”
“Then I am happy for him.” Derek glanced over his shoulder at the Shade. “My father ..?”
“Still alive, still a driving force in the Legacy despite his years. Other men in their mid seventies might consider retirement but Winston has his reasons.”
“What more could he possibly have to do?” Derek frowned.
“Find the last sepulcher,” the Shade replied.
“It’s in Ireland,” Derek said. “Or it was.”
“You only know that because it became your life’s work to find and retrieve them. He never joined the Legacy and he has no interest in sepulchers, no matter where they are. He never really learned their purpose, he doesn’t fully understand the danger they represent, and he has forgotten the slight panic he felt in Peru. Winston never died there so the impact was less upon this Derek’s life.” The Shade watched the children eat their breakfast. “The sepulcher in Ireland is not the last one. That was found six years ago. There is, however, one still missing.”
“Six years ago … ” Derek echoed. “When Rachel joined the Legacy.”
“That’s right. She is a member of Winston’s team.”
“And they get along?”
The Shade considered. “You know your father, Derek. Would you say Rachel, Alex, Philip and Nick find working for him the same as working for you?”
“Philip is still there?” Derek exclaimed.
“He wanted to leave – Winston refused.”
“The atmosphere there must be poisonous at times,” Derek remarked. “But my father would not notice. When did he last see him?”
“Seven years ago. The distance between him and Winston widens every day. Rachel has given up trying to persuade Winston to visit and make peace. And, no, she hasn’t any idea that your father killed her mother. Nick finds working for him slightly easier than working for you. Winston barks orders .. and Nick is used to that. Winston is constant, for all his other faults.”
“And I’m not,” Derek commented, frowning.
“You’re more human, Derek. You see them as your family. Winston sees them as subordinates there to work, and that is how he treats them. In your life, they live there with you. With Winston as Precept, they live off the island. He’s a stickler for the rules. The only way out is thru death, which is why Philip is still there.”
“Hmm. In that case, I’m pleased he is so settled in his life,” Derek said, looking at himself. “He’s better off out of it, the whole thing.”
“We’re going to be late,” Derek told his children in a stern voice. “You have five minutes to be at the door ready to go.”
“Okay, Dad,” Dominic muttered, his mouth full.
“And don’t forget your assignments,” Derek added. “School is important.”
“You sound like Grandpa Winston,” Bella accused.
“Well .. my father was right about that. School is important,” Derek defended. “What you each choose to do with your life after school, however, is up to you. I will not force you to do what you don’t want to do.”
He left them to finish breakfast and get ready. Derek ran upstairs; Derek and the Shade followed him into a bedroom where Sabine lay propped against her pillows, her nose streaming, her eyes red and puffy.
“Is there anything you need?” Derek asked, sitting on the edge of the bed and taking her hand.
“More vitamin C pills,” she rasped, and coughed. “And a big box of Kleenex.”
“I’ll drop them in after I’ve done the school run.”
Sabine smiled at him. “I’ve made you a list, Derek. I’m sorry. I would do it myself but … ” Her eyes glazed and she sneezed violently. “But I think I should stay put right here today.”
“You’re absolutely right,” he agreed. “Don’t worry about anything.”
“I won’t. You know I trust you.”
Derek looked at his watch again. “I’d best get going.” He leaned forward and kissed her on her flushed cheek. “If you’re no better within a week, I’m getting the doctor to take a look at you.”
“If I’m no better inside a week, I’ll let you. Go on, get outta here,” she said, sniffing.
He took the list and pushed it in his pocket then hurried downstairs again. “C’mon! Five minutes are up!”
“Does he know how lucky he is?” Derek asked the Shade.
“Not really,” she answered. “But then he doesn’t have anything to use as a comparison, does he? He just knows he loves his wife and his children, and that they love him. What more does he need to know? Luck .. doesn’t have a part to play.”
The scene shifted to the art store. It had changed. The apartment upstairs had been remodeled into a small gallery which showed mostly Sabine’s work but some of Derek’s too. Apparently, he painted simply as a hobby now that the business took up so much of his time. The studio downstairs had been converted into an arts store where other artists could buy canvases, sketch pads, brushes, pigments, crayons and charcoal. The front of the store displayed local artists’ work.
Derek called in with Sabine’s list. Gwen, the assistant on duty, took it and nodded as she read down the list of chores, reminders and goods to be ordered.
“Don’t worry, Derek, I’ll see to it,” she smiled.
“Thank you, Gwen. If you need me, I’m going home for thirty minutes, then on to see Mark at the antiques store before starting the day job.”
“I have your cell phone number,” she nodded. “Give Sabine my best. I hope she feels better real soon.”
“I will,” he smiled.
Derek and the Shade rode with him as he called in at the drugstore, dropped the requested items back home, saw his wife tucked up and settled for the day, then went on to Taylor-Rayne Antiques.
“Good morning, Mike.”
“Derek. How’s Sabine?”
“Full of cold. Luckily, I and the children seem to have escaped, for now. Anything I should know about?”
Mike frowned. “Someone called in earlier and asked for you. I told him you weren’t due yet and your main base was at the bookstore. He said he’d try there, and he left.”
“Did he leave a name?”
“No. English guy. Had an accent.”
Derek shrugged. “If it’s important, he’ll come back, try again. I’m going to the bookstore now, okay?”
Taylor-Rayne Antiquated Books was the bookstore Derek had envisioned when he’d been in Paris. A long, narrow store with tall shelves along both sides, a sliding ladder to reach the upper shelves, and a smell unique to old books – that of leather, wood, paper and age. Upstairs, Derek had his office at the front of the building, a big space with a desk and a computer, shelves with box files, a single plant in a pot on the window ledge. The rest of the floor was full of boxes and crates, incoming material waiting to be unpacked and orders ready to be shipped.
“Good morning, Margaret,” he greeted.
“Derek,” she grinned. “How’s Sabine?”
“Suffering greatly,” he replied. “I may have to leave early.”
“We can cope.”
“I know, and I’m very grateful.” He went into his office then backtracked. “Oh .. did someone call here for me earlier? An Englishman?”
“Yeah .. Joanie spoke with him.”
Joanie worked the sales desk downstairs so Derek, berating his lack of memory, went back down to talk to her.
“He said he was only in town today,” Joanie related,” but that he’d catch you next time. He wasn’t mad or anything, not even disappointed. I guess he must travel a lot.”
“Oh, all right. Next time then,” Derek agreed and went to start work.
“Is that important?” Derek asked the Shade.
“Let’s find out,” she replied.
The scene moved on several months. Spring had come to San Francisco. Trees were green again, a frothy display of new leaves and the air was kissed with a touch of warmth. The mist still plagued the coast, rolling in under the Golden Gate, but the sun punctured holes in the cloud and made everyone feel a lot better.
“Bella’s been asking, Derek, more than once,” Sabine remarked as she critically examined an almost finished canvas.
He sighed. “She’s growing so fast.”
“Children do. As much as we might want to keep them children forever, we can’t halt or even slow time down to a crawl. And she’s coming up on sixteen.”
“And sixteen means a driving license.”
“And wheels to go with it,” Sabine added.
Derek slowly shook his head. “It hardly seems necessary in this city. In fact, an automobile is a disadvantage.” Sabine turned to regard him. She didn’t have to say a word. “I’ll look into it,” Derek promised.
“You do realize this will set some kind of precedent, don’t you?”
“The boys will want their own .. wheels as well.”
“In time,” she agreed.
“That means five vehicles we have to keep roadworthy.”
She glanced over her shoulder at him. “Would you rather they keep on asking you for the keys to your car?”
“God forbid,” Derek replied in a hollow voice.
“We can afford it, Derek. We’ve always tried our best to keep their feet on the ground. We’ve never spoiled them. They know how hard we’ve had to work to give them what they have, to provide the vacations we’ve given them. Bella said she wants to work weekends in one of the stores to help pay for her car, if she gets one. That doesn’t say to me frivolous teenager. It says responsible young woman.”
Derek blinked. “She said that?”
“She did,” Sabine nodded. “And she’s perfectly happy to work in all three, as and where she’s needed. She said it’d give her experience in art appreciation, in literature, history and business.”
Derek frowned. “Are you sure she’s my daughter?”
Sabine laughed out loud. “Oh yes, I’m very sure. She knows her own mind .. and that she most definitely gets from her Dad.”
“Very well. I’ll make inquiries, see who can give her some basic training, and she can become a roving sales assistant.” He paused. “Do you think, one day, she’ll want to inherit the business?”
Sabine thought. “Maybe.”
“I never thought of .. passing it on to Bella or the boys. It hits too close to home.”
“Derek, you’re not your father,” she said softly. “You’ve never made the mistakes with our kids that he made with you. You’ve given them rules and boundaries – and they need those – but they’ve always been fair. You’ve never imposed your standards on them. You’ve encouraged and helped, given advice, been there when they’ve needed you and .. stepped away when they’ve had to learn for themselves. They know that and they love you for it. No kids have ever had a better father.”
Sabine took his hand and squeezed it. “If Bella decides she wants to take on the stores when she’s older, you can pass them to her and know she’ll do a great job because it’s what she wants to do. And if she decides she wants to open her own chain of stores in competition .. you’ll be pleased for her and give her a good race because you’re a good, kind, decent guy. You won’t force any of them to do what they don’t want to do.”
Derek kissed her. “Thank you. Sometimes .. you need to hear said what is written in your heart.”
“You’re welcome. Now .. you’d better get going. You know how Ingrid frets when you’re a little late.”
“You’re right. I’ll be home in time for supper.”
Derek and the Shade hitched a ride to the convent. With every mile that passed, Derek sank further into this alternate life and wished it could be his. He couldn’t believe that it all hinged on a death. Winston Rayne had died and Derek’s life had changed. If he hadn’t died … The estrangement hurt but, when Derek put it alongside all the benefits, it became insignificant – after all, Winston hadn’t been around in Derek’s life. Him not being around in this alternate life was not that much of a difference. And look at what he’d gained.
“Ingrid,” he smiled and embraced her. “You’re looking very well.”
“So are you,” she responded warmly, holding his hands. “The years are being very kind to you.”
“Inside, I don’t feel as old as I am,” Derek laughed. “A life lived well is its own reward.”
Ingrid sat down. Derek sat opposite her. Derek and the Shade stood in the corner.
“Your wife ..?”
“As wonderful as ever. More successful than either of us could ever have dreamed. She sends her very best regards.”
“And my blessings to her and your children,” Ingrid responded with a smile. “How are they?”
“Growing too fast,” Derek complained. “Bella wants her own car on her next birthday. Of course, we will get her a car. She wants to work to pay for it. A fair exchange, I think. Derek Junior has taken up fencing and is a natural. Dominic has joined the school chess club. They make me proud, Ingrid. I know pride’s a sin but surely a father can take pride in his children’s accomplishments.”
“Of course he can!” she laughed. “And what of our father? Does he take pride in your accomplishments?” She saw a shadow of regret pass over his face. “It still has the power to hurt you, doesn’t it? I am sorry, Derek. I never meant to cause you pain, my brother.”
He shrugged slightly. “I have tried, Ingrid, God knows I have tried to forget the past and forgive him. I look at my family and .. I know I should have no regrets. And I don’t, not with any of the choices I have made. My one regret is that our father is so distant. He has missed so much. I have called the house and he either isn’t there or he refuses to speak with me. He has never forgiven me for not doing as he wanted. And, so, reluctantly, I have concluded that I spoke the truth all those years ago. No matter what I do, I will be a disappointment to him and I will never be good enough to be Winston Rayne’s son. He has, in effect, erased me from his life .. and I am tempted to give up on him as well.”
“Never turn your back on your own blood, Derek,” Ingrid urged. “He can be difficult but he is our father. And he is old. A fire burns in his blood, a good fire. You must continue to try for a reconciliation or you will have a bitter remorse when his time comes to pass on.”
Derek nodded slowly. “I know you’re right but, at the same time, I have to ask myself if it is worth more rejection.”
“Even if he decides never to speak with you or see you again, in your heart you will know that you tried. A man cannot do more.” She squeezed his hand. “God tests us all in His own way, my brother. Some people struggle to survive each and every day. Others have an easier but more anguished time. Remember, if you fight each day’s battles with honor and with dignity, and can retire with a clear conscience, you have won.” She released him and sat back. “Now .. tell me of your business. Does it thrive?”
“If you could ask God in your prayers to possibly arrange for the occasional thirty six hour day, I would appreciate it,” he smiled.
Ingrid laughed. “I will try for you, Derek, but I cannot make any promises.”
The Shade glanced at her companion. “Ingrid is a good woman. She is so strong in her faith.”
“Yes. Whenever I found myself in darkness,” Derek replied, “not sure of the way to go, she has always shown me to the light. She has been a blessing, she really has. My mother chose to move to Europe. Ingrid is all the family I have.”
“All?” the Shade queried, her voice a little sharp.
“Genetic family,” Derek amended. “Even though I am not related in any way to Nick or Alex or Rachel, I feel they are as close as blood kin.”
“Why is that?” the Shade inquired. “Why have such a strong feeling?”
“Because we have stood shoulder to shoulder in the face of evil and we have prevailed.” He raised his head. “Because the Legacy ties us together in ways no ordinary family could understand.”
“Yet, if you could have your wish this Christmas, you would dissolve those ties.”
“And replace them with another family,” Derek agreed. “Yes.”
“Is it because one family loves and appreciates you more than the other?”
“Then why?” the Shade persisted.
Derek shook his head, unable to put a feeling so profound into mere words.
“Is it because one family came about by your own choosing and the other was assembled for a purpose?” the Shade went on relentlessly. “One family lives in harmony and the other is glued together by risk and danger?”
“Yes, I suppose it is.”
“Then I put it to you that the family you know well was assembled at your request. You chose them and you invited them to join you. They could have refused. They didn’t. The glue which keeps them there isn’t risk or danger, Derek, it is exactly the same as the ties which bind this other family you have but newly discovered – love, respect, appreciation. You and he are the same man. Your passions are the same. They simply have a different focus.”
The scene moved on. The air was warmer, the days longer. Bella worked four days a week and would have done more but Sabine said no. The time would come when she’d have to put in the hours and, during summer recess, four days a week was quite sufficient. Dominic had discovered an artistic flair and had taken up sketching. Derek put some of these on sale and they sold, much to the boy’s astonishment.
“Don’t waste it,” Derek told him. “It’s the start of your car fund.”
In the middle of August, a cool, misty day so typical for the city, Joanie picked up the phone and called Derek’s office.
“Yes ..?” he replied distantly, his mind elsewhere.
“Mr Rayne, that Englishman is back. He’s down here. He’d like a word.”
“Englishman ..? Oh! Yes, I recall. I’ll be straight down.”
Derek and the Shade went downstairs with him. Derek strode forward, his hand extended, his face wearing a smile. The other Derek halted to stare.
“Good morning, I’m Derek Rayne. I understand you want to speak with me?” he greeted in a genial voice.
“Yes, I do.” The hand was taken, gripped firmly and shaken. “My name is Reed Horton. I have a proposition for you.”
“My God!” Derek exclaimed, his chest tightening. “What is he doing here? He’s dead!”
“Reed Horton died when you killed him, Derek,” the Shade pointed out. “You joined the Legacy. This Derek never did. He’s never killed anyone or anything.”
Derek paled, thinking of the implications of that statement. “Why is he here?”
“He has a proposition for you.”
“Does my sight no longer warn me of danger?”
“Your sight does, yes. When is he ever in need of such a warning?” the Shade asked in reply.
“A proposition … ” the other Derek was saying. “That sounds intriguing. Would you like to come up to my office? A cup of coffee? We’ll discuss it.”
“That would be most hospitable of you,” Reed Horton smiled. “I accept.”
“What is he going to do?” Derek gasped. “The man’s a predator! A killer! My family is in danger. I can’t believe I don’t see that!”
“This Derek has only ever tried his best to see the goodness and honesty in people,” the Shade responded, following the two men to the stairs. “The Legacy teaches more than dedication to a cause, Derek. It teaches healthy suspicion of strangers who come bearing gifts as well.” She paused as he hadn’t moved. “Come.”
Still, Derek remained where he was.
“This is your perfect life, Derek. Just now, you would have given everything to have this for your own.”
“I’ve seen enough,” he said in a strangled voice.
“You cannot stop now. This journey is only half done. Come. You must see it all.”
Derek shook his head. “I know this is only a dream, a fantasy. Please, Shade, let me remember it with kindness. Don’t force me to watch it all disintegrate,” he begged.
The scene moved around him and he found himself up in the office.
“Derek, faith has need of the whole truth,” the Shade told him quietly. “You cannot pick and choose which truths you’d like to believe. The world doesn’t work like that. Life isn’t easy, no matter which life is real and which is a dream.”
“So .. a proposition,” Derek began as he sat behind his desk.
“Hmm, yes,” Reed Horton nodded slowly. “A certain item has come into my possession, an item which is, in truth, too .. valuable for me to have nearby. I’d like you to .. look after it for me.”
“Can you not store it in a safety deposit box? A bank vault has better security than any of my stores.”
“I could, yes, but then there’s the matter of retrieval. Banks have hours of opening. Procedures. This is too important. I chose you for a reason, Derek.”
“What item?” Derek asked the Shade softly.
“I think you already know the answer to that,” she replied.
“The last sepulcher,” he whispered.
“Really. Why me?” Derek inquired.
“Because you are Winston Rayne’s son,” Horton replied.
“My father and I – ” Derek began, sitting back.
“Have not spoken nor seen each other for some years, I know. Another reason I chose you.”
Derek frowned slightly and shook his head. “I don’t understand.”
“It’s vital this item does not come into Winston’s possession.”
“What is it?” Derek wondered.
“A box. Just a box, with a key. I’ll keep the key; I want you to look after the box for me. Keep it in one of your attic spaces. Don’t tell anyone it’s there. If your father should, by some miracle, call round or telephone you, you say nothing of it. In fact, you forget you have it.” Horton leaned back. “I’ll pay you well. You are a businessman, Derek, after all. It’s absolutely no risk to you or to your family. And, in a way, it’s your chance to get back at him for all those years of silence and disdain.”
“Just .. store a box in an attic?”
“Yes,” Horton said with a wide smile. “It’s almost too easy, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is,” Derek agreed. “What’s in the box?”
“I don’t know. I’ve not risked opening it to find out.”
“And .. just storing this box will be vengeance on my father? I don’t see how.”
“Because he’s looking for it,” Horton replied. “He’s desperate to find it. Here, with you, would be the last place in the world he’d ever think to look.”
Derek smiled slightly. “It would be ironic, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes. A grand irony.”
“Don’t do it,” Derek pleaded with himself.
“Would you rather Reed Horton kept it?” the Shade wondered severely.
“Very well. When can you deliver it?”
“I don’t have it with me. It’s much too valuable to be transported here on the off chance. After all,” Horton shrugged, “you might have refused. Shall we say .. the next time I’m in California? November.”
“All right,” Derek nodded. “Call me and we’ll arrange a day and time to meet again.”
Reed Horton smiled. “A pleasure doing business with you, Mr Rayne.”
Derek closed his eyes. “I thank you for this gift, Shade. I have enjoyed it .. till now. But now I really have seen enough. I refuse to witness any more.”
The Shade of Present Times said nothing.
“My father died when I was a boy. That cannot be changed. My life cannot be made other than what it is. I cannot believe that .. with every good thing he has in his life, he could have such a burning need for vengeance.”
“Can’t you?” the Shade demanded. “Do you tell me then that Dr Derek Rayne, Precept, has never felt the fire in his blood when there is cause?”
“When there is cause, yes!” Derek flared angrily.
“When Megan was murdered.”
“Yes! By that man! By Reed Horton.”
“Just one more pointless death.”
“Yes,” Derek muttered, his hands clenching into fists.
“That is your life. There has never been a pointless death in his life,” she said, gesturing at the other Derek. “What he has .. are years of knowing he will never be anything more than a bitter disappointment to his father. A failure, no matter what he achieves, what good he does, how much he succeeds. To him, it is cause enough. To be given this chance, to do something so .. trite, so mundane, it has come like a blessing from Heaven.”
The Shade shook her head at his expression. “You are the same man, Derek, but you lead different lives. What is unbelievable to one is acceptable to the other. What drives them is the same but the focus is different to each. Would you still want his life?”
He stared at the hidden face, unable to answer for the tightness in his chest.
“There is nothing you can change in it, good or bad, just as he is powerless to change what your life is to you. You could take none of your knowledge to benefit him. Equally, he can no more take away your pain at the pointless deaths or the sacrifices you’ve been forced to make. What appears perfect on the surface often hides turmoil buried beneath.”
Derek closed his eyes again, trying to shut out the scenes he no longer wanted to see. “Could I change places with him?”
“It is beyond my ability, Derek,” the Shade answered. “It always has been. This is simply a special gift on a magical night, to answer a question you have asked .. if not aloud, then in your heart.”
“And I must .. watch it to the end?”
“Don’t you owe it to him?”
He drew in a breath. “It hurts.”
“Yes, it does,” the Shade softly agreed. “And that is because you care.”
The scene moved on. Fall came and winter approached. The nights grew longer, colder. Derek shivered despite knowing he couldn’t really feel it. He shivered because he was more than uneasy. Even though the events did not directly affect him, he saw them with the benefit of knowledge of his own existence and he was almost afraid at what was to come.
The call was eventually received and a rendezvous was made. Derek met Reed Horton on a brightly lit downtown street at the appointed time on the chosen day.
“Here it is,” Horton said, holding out his arms. “Guard it well.”
Derek frowned slightly. “This .. reminds me of something.”
Horton watched him with keen eyes. “Really?”
“It was a long time ago.” Derek thought back over the years. “I was a boy .. in Peru, with my father. He found one of these boxes. He said there were more .. and that, if it was opened, something probably very bad would happen.”
Horton nodded. “I’m sure that’s true.”
“Give it back to him. Better still, give it to our father!” Derek urged.
“There is no risk to me or my family .. is there?” Derek asked in a suddenly cautious voice.
“Just keeping it in an attic? None whatsoever. Besides,” Horton replied, “I have the key to that box. There’s no way you can open it. No way anyone can.” He held out an envelope. “Ten thousand dollars.”
“Payment for storage,” Derek wondered, accepting it.
“For loss of memory and silence,” Horton responded.
“How long do you need me to keep this for you?” Derek asked.
“Till I call for it.” He stepped back, his breath steaming in the cold air and curling around his head. “Don’t worry so much, Derek. I won’t turn up in the middle of the night to make unreasonable demands on you. I’ll call you first to make arrangements to pick it up. Remember the grand irony. All those years of never being good enough, of never having the right qualities. Now, you have the one thing your father desires most of all.” He smiled, slowly. “Enjoy the sensation.”
He was gone in moments, blended into the crowd on the sidewalk. Derek tucked the heavy, oddly shaped box under one arm and returned to his automobile. He drove to the bookstore and let himself in. Derek and the Shade watched as he climbed the stairs and unlocked the narrow door leading to the attic. They watched in silence as he cleared a space and put the sepulcher down, covered it with a piece of moth-eaten, mildewed carpet, and put other boxes on top. Then he locked the attic door, went downstairs again, locked the bookstore and drove home to be with his family.
“You know what this means?” Derek remarked to the Shade. She turned her hooded head toward him. His face was tragic. “It is the beginning of the end, for him.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because my father will find out. And, when he does, it will not matter that I am his son. Nothing will matter .. except recovering that sepulcher. The Legacy demands that we be prepared at all times to make painful sacrifices and, if the victims are friends, lovers, or family .. so be it. It is the price we must pay.”
The scene moved on several weeks. Christmas had almost arrived in the City by the Bay. Two of the Taylor-Rayne stores did brisk business as people shopped for gifts but the bookstore was quiet. It was too specialized to be mainstream. Margaret and Joanie had decorated the window and turned it into a Dickensian splendor, and they’d put a tree in the small kitchenette out back. They were decorating it while Derek cheerfully took a turn at the sales desk. He was reading because no one had come in all morning. The text was Old French, and it was a novel.
The bell jangled as the door opened. Derek, standing with the Shade and feeling increasingly miserable, stiffened slightly when he saw who had entered.
Derek looked up from his book. “Good morning. Can I help you at all?”
The voice sounded familiar. “Do I know you?” Derek frowned.
“I’m Nick Boyle. My father worked with your father. We’ve spoken on the phone a few times.”
“Oh .. yes. Well,” Derek smiled, “it’s nice to meet you at last.”
Nick glanced round. “This is my colleague, Alex Moreau. Your father sent us, Derek. This isn’t a social call.”
Derek straightened. “I don’t see what business I could have with .. my father or you.”
Nick looked at Alex again then faced front. “We’ve heard you may have seen one of the sepulchers or that it’s even in your possession. Do you know anything about it? Anything at all?”
The Shade watched Derek hold his breath. His life hung in the balance. If he confessed, they would take the thing away and his existence could return to peace and harmony. If he lied .. well, Winston hated liars almost as much as he detested traitors.
“Tell him the truth,” Derek whispered urgently, going forward. “Free yourself of this burden! The Legacy is the best place for that thing. Don’t give in to petty spite and revenge. For God’s sake,” he pleaded, “do it for your children and your wife if you cannot do it for yourself!”
Nick and Alex waited, watching him. At last, Derek shook his head.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. The only sepulcher I’ve ever seen is the one my father found in Peru.”
“You’re sure ..?” Alex queried softly.
“Yes. Very sure,” Derek replied, his voice firm.
“Okay. Well, thanks for your time,” Nick said.
“It’s no problem,” Derek smiled.
“Nick, he’s lying!” Derek said wildly. “Force him to tell you the truth!” Frustration bit deep as he saw Nick and Alex leave. “What will happen now?” he asked the Shade.
The scene shifted to outside. Nick slowed to a halt and looked at Alex.
She shrugged. “He’s lying.”
“Great …” Nick groaned. “The old man’s gonna go ballistic.”
“And then it’s all going to hit the fan,” Alex remarked sadly. “Shame. He seemed such a nice guy.”