“Wow … ” Jack shook his head, his eyes wide with shock. “How long will it go on?”
Alex shrugged. “No one can say. It’s good to know he isn’t physically hurt but it’s so demoralizing to see him like that. He looks like he’s asleep, Jack. I keep expecting him to .. just wake up an’ he doesn’t. Derek is such an active man, y’know?”
He nodded, his face full of sympathy. To him, Derek seemed indestructible.
“He’s so still, it hurts,” she concluded, sighed deeply, and then roused herself, forcing a smile. If anyone could divert her thoughts, it was Jack. “So .. how’s everything going with you?”
“It’s good, Alex. Really. I feel like I’ve had a fresh start. I’ve really settled in an’ Gretna is a fabulous place to live. The winter outside the valley is brutal but we’re doing okay. It isn’t summer, not by any stretch, but it’s bearable. Christmas shopping though … We can’t buy our own stuff to give each other so I decided to come here an’ see how you’re doing, maybe get to stay a few days to catch up. It’s cheaper than a hotel room,” he explained, grinning. “But, if it’s a problem, just say an’ I’ll leave.”
“A few days is fine,” Alex smiled.
“You’re sure? Cos your butler seemed to think it was a big deal, me staying.”
“Ah, well, Andrew has a lot to organize right now. We have a big conference here beginning part of January. You’re in a room he needs. But a few days is okay. Don’t take this the wrong way, Jack, but you’ll be out an’ gone in plenty of time.”
“Absolutely,” Jack promised.
“How’s the movie theater?” she asked.
“We’re not quite there yet. Actually, we’re not there at all. We’ve picked the location an’ gotten the footings in. It’s going up. Won’t be finished till spring. In the meantime, we’re using the community hall to show videos. I have to organize it. They run Thursday thru Sunday.” He sat back, smiling. “We tried a playhouse. Boy, big mistake. The idea of a playhouse though is good. We have lots of people keen to tread the boards. But they approached it the wrong way, the ‘Gretna’ way. It caused uproar.”
“What happened?” she inquired, leaning forward.
“You know how some of us channel for artists an’ some channel for writers an’ composers? They thought we could do the same for actors, give ’em the chance to .. act again. It was chaos, it really was. All these flamboyant characters arguing over what play to do. They each have a favorite, y’know? Completely, totally OTT. Then, when they finally decide, they argue about who’s gonna play what role, who gets star billing. We had to abandon that idea. The temperaments led to tempers being lost. We had to break up quite a few professional fights. That is, fights over professional, artistic differences. If we try again, we’ll keep it amateur. I think that could work well. Gretna has a vast wealth of creative energy an’ a play pulls people together in so many ways. Not just the cast an’ the director, there’s the stage crew, sound effects, makeup, wardrobe, advertising, ticket sales. It’s something the whole town can become involved in – if not acting, they’ll be the audience. An’ the audience one time can act next time.”
Alex smiled. “It does sound wonderful. And it’s a chance to do something .. regular.”
“Jason agrees. If it proves popular, they’re talking about
putting up a building specially for it.”
Jack drained his coffee and replaced the cup. “What’s the conference about?”
“All the various heads of the Luna Foundation are coming here to hold a forum.”
“Here?” Jack queried. “All of them, here?”
“Sure,” Alex replied.
“They gonna be playing sardines?”
“We have the space, Jack. Kinda,” she qualified.
“Sure you do.”
Alex knew that voice, that fake sincerity. It was his con man’s voice and it filled her with sadness.
“We have another wing we’ve opened up,” she began, dropping her gaze. “We just need to get in there, get the rooms aired … ” The enormity of it all hit her again and she swallowed. “We’ll be fine.”
“Another wing? Wow. I’d really like to see that. Can I look?” Jack asked. “I’d be outta your way for a while.”
She recognized that too – he was wheedling, coaxing, and .. succeeding. Alex really could use the time.
“Sure. Just .. don’t go upstairs, okay? None of us have been up there yet. We’ve been keeping it for Derek.”
“No problem,” he grinned. “Which way is it?”
Profelis found Nick hurrying as quickly as he dared thru lists of suppliers. Andrew had given them to him in the order in which he required their services. Nick looked round then turned back to the keyboard.
“How’s it going?” he asked.
“I think I have your answer. I’ve spoken to everyone except Tigris. He’s unavailable.”
Nick remembered him from Desert Dunes. Like all Enforcers, Tigris was capable, unflagging, relentless and formidable. “Has he shown up in the area?”
“Not that I know. That doesn’t mean he isn’t here.”
Nick nodded. “Jack caused you any problems?”
“None. He’s very talkative. I find it abrasive but I can cope for the short time he’s staying.”
“Good. Helps if you filter out half of what he says an’ take a quarter of what’s left with a large pinch of salt. He’s okay. Pretty harmless really. Has his moments but he’s very loyal to Alex. Now she’s here, Jack’ll be a lot easier to manage.”
“Will you go to the hospital?” Profelis inquired after a moment’s delicate pause.
Nick shook his head. “There’s no point. Peri isn’t there. If I thought she was on the point of waking up, sure, I’d go, be there to meet her. But she won’t wake up just yet. It’s too soon. I’m better used here.”
“Do you mind if I go?”
Nick glanced round again. “You like her a lot, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do. Our parents hoped that, one day, we would … It wasn’t fated to happen. But it doesn’t change the fact that I have loved her nearly all my life.”
Nick’s gaze was steady.
“Nor does it alter the fact that I know she loves you,” Profelis concluded.
“Does Peri know you feel this way?”
“Then I’m cool. You guys have too much integrity to cheat on me with each other.”
Profelis looked as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. “Then I can go to the hospital?”
“Sure. Could you drop this list into Andrew on your way out?”
“No problem,” Profelis smiled.
Rachel arrived later that afternoon and gave a progress report on the flight and on Derek’s and Peri’s conditions. It was over quickly – the flight was without incident and the transfers had gone well, and there was no change. Then, because she was very tired, she left to go home and reassure Kat.
Alex felt all right and that was only because Jack was there to distract her thoughts. Even if he said nothing, which would have been some kind of miracle, his presence was a distraction. She knew she had a mountain of work to clear but the accident had left her feeling overwhelmed and leaderless. She could cope with that now Jack was around. Nick was a rock but he kept his mouth shut. He rarely shared his feelings with others. Alex needed that contact and Jack was supplying it. As for learning any more about her urge to get home .. Alex was still living in ignorance. However, she knew that she couldn’t force the answers to come. She could try concentrating on them to signal her readiness but the answers would arrive in the form of hints and impulses only when the time was right. She ate supper with half an appetite then had an early night.
Nick worked on for as long as he could keep his eyes open then threw in the towel and called it a day. Jack had already retired and Profelis had said he’d stay in town so Nick closed up the house and trudged wearily upstairs. His last conscious thought was ‘come back soon, babe. I miss you.’
The morning dawned gray and cold. Mist curled across the lawns and thru the woods. Nick took his usual early hours run to set him up for the day but it didn’t shift the loneliness and anxiety, and the black emptiness in his heart over the loss of his child. There was only one person who might be able to help him cope with that – and she wasn’t around.
Rachel arrived early. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas wasn’t a professionally busy one for her. She’d found that the holiday season caused its own stresses and her workload picked up noticeably in January. But, for now, she had time to spare and she used it to help out where she was most needed.
“How’s it going, Andrew? Is there anything I can help you with?”
His eyes half closed as he mentally reviewed his lists. “I have the security contractors arriving this afternoon to fit the monitors in the public areas and the cleaning contractors arriving tomorrow to make a start on that ballroom. I think that will take them several days. Most of the upper rooms have been opened, aired and stripped out. I understand the few remaining must stay shut until Dr Rayne returns.”
“We feel it’s best,” Rachel nodded. “They were closed many years ago an’ no one’s been in them since. They’re family rooms.”
“I understand. No, Dr Corrigan,” he announced, “I have everything under control at the moment. Believe me, you’ll know if I start to panic.”
“Andrew, you know I’m here if you need me for anything at all. I don’t care how down an’ dirty it has to be.”
“I do, Dr Corrigan. Thank you.”
She smiled at him and went on to the control room. “Morning, Nick! How are you doing?”
“Hanging in there,” he replied with a quick but tired grin. “Keeping it all on track. Derek’ll nail me to the wall if I don’t.” He glanced round. “You seen Alex?”
“Not yet. I spoke with Andrew then came straight here. She missing?” Rachel frowned.
“Not been in here yet today an’ I could use a hand with these lists.”
“I’ll help,” she offered, promptly sitting at Alex’s workstation. “Pass one over.”
He shuffled thru them and rose to hand her the list of caterers. “The ones who are clean an’ clear, check ’em off. Anyone you’re not sure about, mark it for me to look into.”
“Aye, sir,” she saluted. “Where’re you going?”
“See if I can find Alex. It isn’t like her to not show at all.”
“She could be with Jack,” Rachel suggested. “Derek being in the hospital hit her hard, Nick. Don’t be so fast to force her back into chains.”
“I won’t. I just wanna know she’s okay. An’, sure, it’s possible she’s with Jack but I’ve seen him already. He was asking about her too.”
Rachel frowned. It wasn’t like Alex to just disappear, not without a very good reason. But, if anyone could track her down, it was Nick. She started work.
Nick slowed when he saw Alex standing so still outside the closed door. She looked uncertain, hesitant, and Nick wasn’t used to seeing her like that, no matter how bad a situation became. Abruptly, and a little belatedly, he realized that all the important women in his life – from his mother on – were strong. Not necessarily physically strong but they each had guts. Nick was attracted to vulnerability, sure, because that made him feel masculine but, if a woman was to gain a special place in his life, it came down to them having guts.
“Alex ..?” he prompted and she jumped, looking around with a guilty flush staining her cheeks.
“I didn’t do anything,” she said quickly, stepping away from the door. “I was .. I was just thinking about it.”
“About what?” he frowned.
Alex gestured almost helplessly at the door. “Opening it.”
Nick glanced at it and his expression cleared slightly. “That’s Winston’s study, isn’t it?”
“I think so.” She shrugged. “I know we agreed to leave these rooms for Derek. All I was going to do was .. open the door. Let the air in. I wasn’t going in there. But I don’t know if I should.”
“What made you think of it?” Nick asked.
Alex shook her head. “I don’t know. Maybe it was Jack. Maybe it was simply anxiety. I have so much to do, Nick, yet I find myself standing here staring at a closed door.”
“Wow .. this is something else … ”
They turned, both slightly irritated by Jack’s arrival into what was a private moment. He trailed erratically along the corridor toward them, his eyes wide in the gloom.
“I never realized this house is as big as it is.” Jack came to a halt. “An’ then I find there’s even more of it. What’s in here?”
Before they could reply or even move, Jack had stretched out a hand and twisted the ornate brass knob. The door creaked a little but he shoved it open.
“Jack!” Alex exclaimed in dismay. She’d told him to keep his explorations downstairs and now he’d intruded on Derek’s private space.
“Did I do something wrong?” he asked, letting go of the door handle as if it had grown hot. “You didn’t say not to.”
“You didn’t give us the chance,” Nick pointed out but his words weren’t heard. Jack was staring into the shadowy interior of Winston’s study, his Adam’s apple bobbing quickly as he swallowed.
Alex frowned and stared in as well. “Can you see something?” she whispered.
Nick carefully eased his gun in its holster. Winston Rayne had caused a lot of trouble every time he’d come back and this was his study. Nick wasn’t going to take any chances.
“Yeah,” Jack muttered. “There are two guys in there. I don’t know one of ’em but I do know the other.” He swallowed again and took a step back. “They’re looking at me.”
“Who is it?” Alex urged, still willing herself desperately to see what he did.
Jack shrugged. “It’s Derek.”
Derek was cursing silently. The others would have been surprised and shocked to hear the invective in his mind. Being a spirit essence was a great way of getting into locked buildings and closed rooms, and even sneaking rides on the BART, but he was learning exactly what it meant to be a ghost. There was no physical interaction. Derek needed to look at his father’s journals. But he couldn’t touch them. Couldn’t open them. He couldn’t even open the drawer in the desk where he thought they might have been. All he could do was stand and curse his impotence.
“There’s a man there,” William remarked. “In the corridor just outside the door. I think he can see us.”
Derek glanced round and felt a mix of very strong emotions. Inwardly, he groaned. He could see Nick and Alex but, in front of them, right in the doorway, was the last person he wanted to see.
“Who is he?” William asked.
“Jack. That’s all you need to know. It’s a long story, William, and we don’t have the time.”
William accepted this but said, “Maybe he can help.”
Derek shuddered. He liked Jack. He trusted Jack’s ability and, to a lesser degree, Jack himself. When he’d had no memory of his past, Derek had been happy to use him. But that was different now. Jack knew who he was and what he’d been. He might be living in Gretna but Derek held the opinion that a dyed in the wool con man like Jack couldn’t really change, not deep down inside. He might try but there would always be a streak of yellow which would force him to revert to what he knew best when trouble grew too big to handle.
The idea of Jack reading Winston’s journals was abhorrent.
“If he can see us,” William went on, “maybe we can get a message to the others thru him.”
That was more realistic. Derek could cope with that.
“Jack, can you hear me?” he asked, taking a step closer. Jack took a step away. “This is important, Jack! Can you hear me?”
Jack’s eyes narrowed.
“If one of ’em’s Derek, who’s the other?” Nick demanded. “An’ where’s Peri?”
“What are they doing?” Alex inquired as Jack took a step back.
“Looking at me,” he said in a slightly choked voice. “Derek’s saying something. I think he’s talking to me. I can’t hear him.” His eyes narrowed. “I could read lips once. Found it useful .. in the past. Let me concentrate.” He watched the apparition. “He’s saying .. can you hear me? Oh. No, Derek, I can’t hear you,” he said clearly. “Can you hear me?”
“What are they doing now?” Alex whispered.
“Talking to each other. He’s turning back. All right, he’s saying .. he’s okay, he has a .. a mystery to solve. He wants you to find … ” Jack eased forward again, his mouth working. “It’s a name. I can’t get it. Derek, slowly, okay?”
“Where’s Peri?” Nick repeated. “Ask him that.”
“Yeah, okay, in a while. Sal .. low .. me .. mack .. in .. tosh. Salome Macintosh. Nick wants to know where Peri is.”
He frowned and nodded as he concentrated.
“She’s fine. Body .. guard .. duties for .. Will .. e .. am. William.”
Nick turned away, his hands curling into fists. William. William Sloan. She had lost their baby so she could protect a dead guy. How unfair was that? Even after he was dead, William Sloan still managed to screw over Nick’s life.
“Who’s William?” Jack frowned. “Oh .. the guy with Derek. He’s very insistent, Alex. He wants you to find Salome Macintosh.”
“Tell him we’ll start straight away,” she responded. “How much longer will he be gone?”
“You mean he isn’t dead?” Jack exclaimed. “That isn’t his ghost I’m seeing?”
“Just ask him,” Alex urged.
Jack looked into the room again. “How ..? Oh. They’ve gone.”
Rachel looked round as Nick stalked into the control room. “Did you find her ..? Nick?”
“Not now,” Nick muttered.
“Okay, wait up!” she declared, sounding more than a little irritated. But Nick froze in his tracks so she got the response she wanted. “I won’t ask what happened, all right?” Rachel continued, coming into his field of view. “I just want you to remember this – Derek isn’t here, you are. We look to you for leadership, to hold us together. It may be short term, it may be a little longer, but it isn’t permanent. Don’t go all isolated on us, Nick. Don’t pull away. Alex an’ I have walked that path before an’ it is very lonely. We need you here, with us.”
She looked into the cold, clear depths of his eyes. Rachel almost flinched under that relentless stare but she didn’t. She held firm.
“Okay,” Nick said at last, and Rachel broke eye contact by looking down. “I’m sorry. It isn’t you or Alex. Or Jack. It’s .. this situation.”
Rachel nodded. “You know more than you can tell us or share with us right now an’ it’s giving you a little stress. So go knock ten hells outta the punch bag. We’ll feel better.”
A grin twitched the corner of his
mouth. “Will I feel better?”
“That’ll be a bonus,” Rachel commented, a small grin tugging at her mouth as well. “Whatever it is, Alex an’ I can cope with it for an hour. Remember me saying about how Alex has taken it hard? Hate to tell you this, tough guy, but you’re only human too. Give yourself a break. Go work it off.”
“Thanks, skipper,” Nick murmured.
She followed him back into the library. “Did you find Alex?”
“Yeah. Jack’s with her,” he responded, heading out into the corridor and picking up speed. “Old wing.”
Or should that be the new wing, Rachel wondered as she set off determinedly in the opposite direction. It is old in that it’s the only part of the original house but it’s new because, until very recently, none of us had been inside. It’s like a treasure chest or a child’s box of dressing up clothes. Each time we dip into it, we find something different or learn some new fact.
She met Alex and Jack coming toward her, deep in conversation. “Did either of you say something to Nick which he could have taken as .. provocative?” she asked.
“No,” Alex replied warily, her eyes startled. “Has he lost it?”
“He’s in the gym,” Rachel responded. “I’d leave him alone for a while.”
“I think I know what’s done that. Jack opened the study,” Alex related and now Rachel looked startled. “We didn’t go in.”
“There was no need. Someone was already in there,” Jack explained and only confused matters even more.
“He saw Derek and another man.”
“Not – ?” Rachel began, her heart sinking and, perversely, starting to hammer. If Winston had his claws into Derek, it turned everything around.
“William,” Alex cut in. “Let’s get to the library. We’ll bring you up to speed.”
It’s about time, Rachel thought as she turned to retrace her steps.
“Why here?” William demanded helplessly. “We were just starting to make progress!”
“Hardly,” Derek murmured. He looked in pain.
“This isn’t limbo. This is the real world. I didn’t bring us here,” William said.
Derek stared at his body, so still in the hospital bed. So vulnerable and powerless. His body looked like he felt – subject to the whims of others. Except this hadn’t been another’s work. This was down to him.
“I did,” he replied and closed his eyes. “I felt .. drawn back.”
“You can’t leave me, Derek!” William protested. “You haven’t finished the work. If you go back now, how will we communicate? You won’t see me or hear me.”
Derek didn’t snap although the words rose in his mind. William’s surface attitude appeared very selfish, but, in his present circumstances, maybe it was justified. Derek realized now that William was frightened. And harsh, selfish words often came from fear rather than pure self-interest.
“William, listen to me. I have done as much as I can in this form. My work, my contribution to solving this puzzle, isn’t over. I just have to continue in another form. I have to .. be me. Peri can control when she returns to her body. I’m not that experienced. And, if you are scared, go back to the house. It has Enforcer protection. You’ll be safe there. And don’t forget Jack can see you, even if he can’t hear you. He can act as a go between.”
The pulling sensation was becoming very painful to resist. Derek staggered sideways toward the bed as he reached out a hand to clutch at William’s forearm.
“I promised to help you and I won’t forget that promise. I won’t stop working on this until I have found the answers and a solution.”
William put his hand over Derek’s and nodded. “I’ll find Aquila. Go.”
He didn’t have any choice. Derek slid into a horizontal position and felt a sharp thrill of panic as he floated over his body and began to slowly descend. William watched and, in turn, felt a small thrill of envy because he didn’t have a body to return to. At least, he didn’t yet. If Derek and Merlin failed, he might find himself walking and talking again, and his envy turned to dread.
Derek vanished and the monitors’ beeps changed. Heart rate increased, respiration quickened. An alarm sounded. A few seconds later, the door burst open and two nurses hurried in. Derek’s eyes were opening.
“He’s left us then,” Merlin remarked from the doorway.
“Yes,” William nodded. “He couldn’t stay. I think he would have, if he could. He said he was being pulled back.”
“It happens. His time was up. He’d done as much as he could an’ it was time to go back.”
“He said much the same thing,” William sighed, then glanced back over his shoulder as the nurses went to work. “You won’t leave me, will you?”
Merlin shook her head. “Not till you’re safely back over the river.”
“Do you promise?”
“No, William, I don’t promise because I may have to temporarily be elsewhere. However, you will be safe – that I promise.”
“On my own.”
“I want you to meet Tigris. Tigris is working with me on this one.”
The man in the corridor nodded once.
“If I have to go away, Tigris will be with you. You will be safe. I promise.” She turned to her companion. “We’d better get going. We’ll see you on the island.”
He nodded again. “I’ll wait here and bring Dr Rayne home. You can break the good news to them.”
“Yeah,” Merlin said, forcing a smile. “Later then. C’mon William, time to hustle.”
“William?” Rachel echoed. “William Sloan?”
“That’s the only William I know who’d be with Derek,” Alex replied. “And Jack described him to me. It sounds like the William I remember.”
“How typical is this?” Rachel muttered, raking a hand thru her hair.
“Can I just clear up a few things?” Jack interrupted hesitantly. “One, Derek isn’t dead. Right?”
“He’s in a coma. I told you,” Alex replied.
“Right. And William is dead. Right?” he queried.
“Yes. We went to his funeral,” Rachel said.
“But they’re both ghosts.”
They hesitated, noses wrinkling. “Derek is .. more having a prolonged out of body experience,” Alex eventually explained. “And William .. well, I guess he is a ghost but … ”
“But he shouldn’t be,” Rachel concluded. “As far as we all knew, he was .. really gone. But, there again, William Sloan has .. had .. has a tendency to take the most innocent, innocuous, inoffensive situation an’ turn it completely around, on its head an’ upside down. A day which began with nothing can end up fraught with all kinds of … ” She closed her eyes and shook her head, almost like she was trying to shake off a bad mood. “Y’know, I was sad when he died but, an’ this sounds terrible, in a small way I was pleased he was gone. It wasn’t that I disliked him but I really found his .. attitude an’ his political warmongering difficult to deal with. When he died, I thought .. it’s over. We can let peace truly break out.”
William was standing behind Jack’s chair. “Did she really feel that? Pleased?”
“Rachel doesn’t lie about her feelings, William,” Merlin replied. “Why would she lie? She can’t see you. She doesn’t know you’re eavesdropping.”
He sighed softly. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. I always thought Rachel was a fine addition to the Legacy. Not just to this team but to the organization as a whole. I thought I’d told her that.”
“Maybe you did but it could’ve come out the wrong way.” Merlin shrugged. “I’ve read that communication is only seven per cent words. Rest of it is tone of voice an’ the majority of it is body language. Think for a second. ‘You’re a fine addition to the Legacy, Rachel’ – sounds good. Good words. Inspiring words when coupled with firm eye contact and a handshake or a pat on the upper arm or shoulder. But, if you said them briskly, nonchalantly, while you were reading a report … Totally different message. Comes across as patronizing. Especially so if, in the next breath, you start stirring the shit.”
Alex was nodding. “I felt numb. I couldn’t believe he was gone. It was .. so sudden. Unexpected. He’d done a truly noble thing, and not for the first time either.”
William straightened slightly. “That’s true. I have put myself on the line for Derek Rayne more than once. And I paid the price in full.”
“But he was .. I can’t say two faced but I could never really trust him,” Alex continued. “His eyes were like mirrors, reflecting my own emotions back at me rather than revealing his own. And, if you can’t read a person’s eyes .. you don’t connect.”
William sagged again. “Another one who never understood me.”
“In her own way, she did. If she was wrong, you never put her right. People really are the center of their own universe, William. All we have are our eyes an’ ears to perceive the world an’ those around us. There are other senses too, yeah, but I don’t go around licking someone’s face or sniffing their body odor to learn about them. I rely mostly on sight an’ sound, just like everyone else.”
“And you use that to mask yourself.”
“Sure. Self defense. Alex isn’t like me so don’t compare us. Did you ever tell her, honestly, what you thought of her?”
“I admired her dedication, her passion.”
“But did you tell her?”
He didn’t reply. He couldn’t.
Nick grimaced as he punched the bag and let it swing away.
He turned smartly, his mouth drying. The bag swung back and he steadied it. “Peri ..?”
“Aquila. Peri is still in the hospital. Merlin is in the library with William.”
Nick blinked. “There’s three of you now?”
Aquila smiled tautly. “Only one. Three aspects – but this is an unusual situation. I can’t stay long. Derek has woken. He’ll be home soon. He’ll be frail for a while and he’ll need your help.”
“Sure. Whatever. Does Peri – ?”
“Personal is on hold until this is over, Nick,” she cut in, her voice stern. “Don’t judge, not till you know the facts. William is the victim, not the protagonist. He is in danger.”
Nick took one last punch but it was half hearted. “Danger of what?”
He stared at her but she offered nothing more.
“What progress has been made on tracing Salome Macintosh?”
“I don’t know.”
“Then find out,” Aquila ordered and vanished.
“Yes, ma’am,” Nick breathed and left the gym.
“So this William was some kinda bastard, huh?” Jack ventured.
“No!” Alex exclaimed and caught Rachel’s expression. “Well .. in one way, yeah, kinda. He was just .. very driven to his own agenda.”
“Oh ..! A man of ambition, with clear goals an’ he went for ’em,” Jack translated. “I can understand that. I’m from the same mold.”
“No, Jack, you’re not,” Alex declared. “When push comes to shove, you do the right thing with little thought for yourself. William did what was best for him .. apart from on two occasions. I have to be fair.”
“Who is Jack?” William asked. “He does seem to understand me the best.”
“A reformed con man,” Merlin answered, her face innocent.
Aquila appeared beside her. “Nick’s on his way.”
“How is he?” Merlin asked.
“We don’t have time for personal,” William interjected, his voice brisk and distant.
“Not my personal, you mean. Your personal is fine.”
His nostrils flared very slightly. “You have time. You have the rest of your life to discuss whatever trivial matters concern you and your husband. I don’t. I’m not interested in your personal life. I was told to choose an Enforcer and I chose the very best. You’re working for me, both of you, and I expect you to be focused on me.”
“I’ve already told Nick personal is on hold,” Aquila stated, then turned to face him. “However, I would ask you to consider the fact that Nick’s wife is in the hospital, in a coma, following an air crash. A crash caused deliberately so that I can be here to guard you. Allow Nick some leeway with his personal concerns. You will need his help, William.”
Alex looked round at the sound of footsteps then Nick came in.
“What have you done about Salome Macintosh?” he asked.
“Nothing yet. I was – ”
“Get on it. Derek’s awake. He’ll be home soon.”
“I never heard the phone,” Rachel frowned. “How do you know?”
“Personal message.” His gaze swiveled to the other person in the room. “Jack, we’re busy right now so I’m gonna ask you to go help Andrew. He has a ton of stuff to deal with an’ you’ll be useful to him.”
Nick watched Jack cheerfully hurry out and he waited till the footsteps had receded. “Aquila told me. And she said that William’s the victim this time an’ that he’s in danger.”
“Mr Boyle always had a direct approach. No nonsense. You had to get up very early to catch him out. I found it refreshing,” William remarked. “Kept me on my toes. He liked to guard Derek’s little secrets and he was always very loyal to his Precept.”
Alex rose from her chair at the table. “Danger?”
“Of resurrection,” Nick added.
That seemed to spur them on and Rachel rose too. “Who’s Salome Macintosh? Alex never got that far.”
“We don’t know but Derek wants us to trace her,” Alex replied, going into the control room.
“Right. Piece of cake. Any idea where we start?” Rachel inquired cynically, following her.
Nick slowed, his eyes narrowing. “If William’s involved, we could try Patricia.”
“And, if they were both in Winston’s study, we could try Winston,” Alex suggested.
Rachel smiled brightly. “Why don’t we just start with William?”
“Because his file is closed and secured,” Alex replied.
“It’s never stopped us before,” Nick breathed.
William drifted thru the wall after them. “You see? Some might call that devious but I’ve always seen it as loyalty to his Precept. I wish more people in the Legacy were like the people in this house.”
Behind him, Merlin slowly shook her head and thought ‘and that’s why you were forced to resign, William.’
“Dr Rayne ..?”
Derek opened his eyes and peered up into a face he didn’t know but somehow recognized as being a face he could trust. It was the white strands of hair which did it.
“I’m Tigris. I’m here to take you home.”
“Good.” There was fat satisfaction in Derek’s voice which was raspy thru non-use. “Get me the forms to sign so I can discharge myself. I have too much to do to waste any more time in here.”
Tigris went out and Derek struggled upright. His vision swam and he swayed but he fought it and swung his legs to the ground. That brought him to a standstill and he was still sitting on the edge of the bed when Tigris returned with a clipboard.
“They’re resisting, Dr Rayne. They say you need several more days to recuperate and begin physical therapy.”
“I can do that later,” Derek dismissed, taking the pen and signing his name. “Right now, my main effort is mental, not physical. I have a mystery to solve. I must get into my father’s study and I cannot do that here. Find my clothes.”
Tigris began opening doors. “Ah. It appears they’ve all been removed. However … ” He glanced back to take a sweeping look at the frustrated figure on the bed. “I believe these will fit.”
“Thank God for giving Enforcers the tools to do the job,” Derek muttered. “Help me.” As Tigris bent to help Derek on with socks, Derek asked, “Do they know I’m awake?”
“Aquila will tell Nick.”
“By now, Alex will be attempting to trace Salome Macintosh.”
“Is she important?” Tigris inquired.
“I believe she is the key to this. And, if she isn’t, she knows who the key is.”
“The answers are in your father’s study?” Tigris ventured.
Derek shook his head. “No. What’s in there is either vindication or damnation.”