Aquila considered what she had learned and she frowned. She wasn’t the type to be interested in puzzles and, while in limbo, she’d listened to the discussions with only a quarter of an ear. Aquila knew her duty and, on this mission, it was to act as bodyguard, nothing more. Yet she had to admit the various strands of this investigation all played a part in the overall mission. Merlin had asked her to go interrogate William Sloan’s father. Actually, she’d asked her to go visit him and ask some questions which Aquila had translated as interrogation. And, initially, it had appeared that he had some kind of confession to make. He had made it but it hadn’t been what she had expected to hear. Now, she had to pass that on to the others.
While Nick, Rachel and Alex began work on tracing Salome Macintosh, and while they waited for Derek to arrive, Merlin, Aquila and William isolated themselves in the study to review what new information had been gathered.
“Who’ll go first?” William asked. He seemed relaxed, almost cheerful now he had two bodyguards to protect him. He sat well back in the sofa, his hands resting on his stomach, one leg crossed elegantly over the other, and an almost mischievous twinkle in his eye.
“I will,” Aquila replied. Merlin leaned forward to concentrate. “As requested, I went over the river, located William Sloan Senior, and interrogated him.”
“I never asked you to do that,” Merlin promptly commented. “You must’ve scared him half to de .. quite a lot.”
“Sometimes, fear produces better results than a request for cooperation,” Aquila responded calmly. “He was not at all reticent in answering my questions. He admitted the visitor had indeed given him the coin. The recommendation was that he pass it on to William as soon as possible but he didn’t. As recorded in his journal, he kept it – for a couple of years. He didn’t toss it in the drawer and forget it was there. He investigated it.”
“Was he suspicious?” William frowned.
“He said he was – not of the visitor but of the coin itself. In his experience, there were no such things as lucky coins. However, there were amulets, talismans, charms, all of which could be imbued with power. So he investigated it,” Aquila related. “He told me he felt its influence. It began to wear him down, beat on his mind, suppress his reasoning ability while creating a general mental attitude of despair. The more he tried to learn what it was, the worse the influence became. Eventually, it broke him. He knew it was a malevolent force, but, if you were to survive in the Legacy, you needed .. a mind like a steel trap. Those were his words, and so were ‘back then, William’s mind was more like a fuzzy cloud’. So, despite knowing it was not benign, he gave the coin to you anyway. Once he had done that, once he had .. relinquished it to you, he recovered his equilibrium. Your father said that he suspected the effect on himself had been made a lot worse because his mind was not fuzzy at all and, from this, he extrapolated that the effect on you would be at least different. Probably milder or reduced. He admitted it was wrong to give the thing to you but he believed he was helping you. And he wasn’t lying. It had been on his conscience for many years and he thought I was there to punish him.”
Aquila paused, quite unmoved by the stern glare Merlin sent her way.
“He also believes,” she continued, “quite firmly, that Winston Rayne sent the visitor to him, and that Winston is the one ultimately at fault. The visitor turned up within a week of Winston speaking with your father. The visitor – a man – did not appear menacing or threatening in any way. The opposite. He seemed honest and eager to help. William Sloan Senior trusted him to be there at Winston’s behest. Therefore, although he gave the coin to Sloan, he was only acting as a courier and the coin came from Winston Rayne. Winston never returned from Peru and the events there only focused Sloan’s thoughts more that the coin wasn’t what he’d been told. That was subsequently borne out by his research.”
“Do you think it’s true?” Merlin asked.
“What I think is irrelevant,” Aquila replied. “He believes it. And he wasn’t lying.”
Merlin sighed. “I’m glad Derek isn’t here to listen to this.”
“My father is vindicated,” William said.
“Yes, in a way. The truth is subjective, William. Just because he believes – ”
“Why do you persist in defending a man who betrayed the Legacy?”
“I’m not defending him. I feel sympathy for him. He was strong all his life, and fell right at the end. There were no signs before Winston left for Peru that his mind was starting to crack under the strain of temptation. That only happened on the night he actually died. Your father believes Winston sent that man. He could be wrong. That’s the objective view.”
William’s lips twitched. “All right. Let’s keep the personalities out of it.”
She regarded him then sighed again as she twisted to face him. “I’m really not blaming your father. He did a wrong thing for, to him, the right reasons. He has spent the last however many years believing he was going to be found out and punished. He has spent the same number of years believing something to be true .. but it may not. For all that he’s a perceptive guy, he could have been misled. Deceived. That isn’t his fault so I’m not blaming him.”
William said nothing.
“And I can see that my stance on Winston could be viewed as defending him but let me tell you this – if it’s proved that Winston sent the visitor to your father, used him as a courier to pass on an artifact imbued with malevolent influence .. I’ll be the first to admit I got it wrong about him. Until then, I won’t judge. People are human, William. And you shouldn’t jump to obvious conclusions.”
“Ockham’s Razor,” William commented mildly.
Merlin laughed softly. “Trust you to come up with a principle from the fourteenth century. Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate. Yeah, I know it too. Translated into the modern - the simplest explanation is often the correct explanation. And, sure, I’ll go with that but I’ll just point out that there is the word ‘often’ in that statement. Often does not mean always.”
Aquila watched both of them and, to break what could still be a confrontation, asked, “What did you find out?”
“I had a .. a very interesting time of it,” Merlin answered.
“Did you see Patricia?” William inquired.
“Not at first. I tried to approach it logically. I figured that whoever’s doing this could be attempting to resurrect your body. We all know that’s possible. William Sloan, zombie.”
“If they were doing that, my body would be moving around by now. They wouldn’t need my soul,” William responded.
“I agree. And then I considered how long it’s been since you died. Your reanimated body wouldn’t be in prime condition and, walking around the streets, would invite comment and probably the attention of law enforcement. So that’s when I thought what if this is a true resurrection? Body an’ soul. Like Christ on the third day. He wasn’t a soulless zombie. He came back from the dead. It was as if death had never happened. It takes powerful magic to pull a soul back from the other side of the river. So I went to check out the state of play in the mausoleum.”
William closed his eyes briefly. “They put me in there?”
“It’s your family vault. Where were they supposed to put you? Top shelf in the library?”
He waved a hand as he shook his head.
“I won’t go into details,” Merlin related out loud but glanced at Aquila.
Aquila received a full mental update. She saw Merlin arrive at the mausoleum and go inside. She watched her look at the brass plates on the sides of the caskets, reading the names. When she located the casket she wanted, she had paused.
“I’m sorry about this, William, but it’s kinda necessary.”
She had leaned forward and put her head and both arms thru the lid. Ghosts could do that. Ordinary, flesh and blood beings would have had to open the casket. William lay inside, his skin shriveled onto his skull, the lips like two strips of liver pulled back to reveal his teeth in a macabre smile of welcome. His suit was enormous and hung on the frame as the body within lapsed slowly into corruption. Grimacing with distaste, Merlin had searched his pockets and then felt around the padded satin lining, and, finally, probed under the body itself.
Then she had straightened, her expression one of exasperation and relief.
“Let me just say,” she continued now to William and Aquila, “that the coin was not in your casket.”
“Why would it be?” William frowned. “Its influence changed the way I thought. It’s obvious to me now. But, as I’ve said all along, I didn’t keep it with me. I didn’t have it drilled so I could wear it on a chain around my neck. I didn’t put any faith in it. I don’t know where it is. Why would it have been buried with me?”
“I am sure I don’t know but I had to check because it is important. We know now that it isn’t a coin. It was an artifact. Its influence stayed with you all your life, whether or not you had it in your pocket, around your neck, or in a desk drawer, forgotten and dismissed. I think it’s still playing a part in what’s going on. Why else would we have seen those slices of your past? If it wasn’t important, if it wasn’t a pivotal event, we wouldn’t have been shown it.”
“All right. So .. where was it? Where did you find it?” he asked, sounding a little bored by now.
“The short answer?” Merlin shrugged. “I didn’t.”
“You did look?” William frowned.
“Everywhere. All your stuff in England was crated up and shipped back to the States when you died. Patricia sold the house in Surrey and bought a place in the Hamptons where she is living a quiet life as befitting a fairly recent widow. She has developed a close circle of a few friends who visit her an’ she visits them. They go on trips, mainly in the local area, the theater, movies. She’s sad, William. She misses you. You might have been an awkward, manipulative, devious .. but she misses you.”
Merlin paused for a moment while William swallowed down the sheen of moisture on his eyes.
“She has cleared out a lot of .. obviously Legacy stuff. I checked an’ she had called the New York house, gotten them to come an’ take it away. That was good of her because she could simply have burned it. Some less obvious stuff is still in the house. I expect Patricia doesn’t realize what it is. She sees it as .. antiques or archeological relics. Certainly, they’re conversation pieces. I checked the rooms – I couldn’t find the coin. I searched the attic, every box, chest and crate in it. The coin wasn’t there. I looked everywhere, William. No coin.”
William’s frown persisted as he thought this over. “It could be possible,” he said slowly, “that, when I died, it disintegrated. Its job was done. There was no more need for it.”
“Well, yeah, I guess so,” Merlin warily agreed. “It is possible it was created just for you. I find that tough to accept because, as far as I’m aware, Winston didn’t have that capability. And there’s no way to check.”
“You’ll have to go on faith,” William smiled. “You’re good at that.” He looked over his shoulder toward the door. “I do believe Derek’s home.”
The second journey home to the island took much longer and was exhausting. As Derek finally pushed open the door of his home, his knees buckled and, if Tigris hadn’t been there to support him, he would have fallen. He sagged for a moment, leaning heavily on the other man, then drew in a deep, steadying breath and straightened resolutely.
“Are you able to continue?” Tigris asked.
Derek nodded. “I’ll be able to sit and rest very soon. I have to get to my father’s study.”
They hadn’t taken five steps forward when Andrew materialized. “Dr Rayne, sir, welcome home.” He took in a sweeping examination of his employer and wisely refrained from asking how Derek was feeling. “Do you require anything, sir? Coffee? Tea, perhaps. A light meal.”
“Derek!” Jack had only been a handful of steps behind the butler. “Are you real this time?”
Derek felt his fatigue factor soar. “Very real. Tea would be wonderful, Andrew, and .. a plain omelet. Will you bring it to my father’s study in the old wing.”
“I – ” Andrew began.
“S’okay,” Jack cut in. “I know where that is. You need a hand, Derek? Andrew says I’m not helping much in the kitchen.” He switched his attention to the other, as yet, unintroduced man. “I’m Jack. Just visiting for a few days. I’ll be gone soon.” Jack angled his head. “Are you related in some way to Professor Ellis who’s also staying here?” One hand flickered up toward his hair.
“Yes,” Tigris replied without missing a beat. “A distant cousin.”
“Jack, thank you for the offer and I may take you up on it but not just yet. Why are you here?” Derek frowned.
“Then .. why don’t you head into town and visit the stores?” Derek suggested. “I’m sure we’ll cope in your absence but, if we don’t, you’ll be around later to lend a hand.”
“Okay,” Jack agreed cheerfully. “I’ll just wait to show Andrew where to go, then I’ll bale for a while. Give you a chance to find your feet again. I’m glad you’re back home an’ in one piece.”
“It’s much appreciated,” Derek said gravely. “This way,” he murmured to Tigris and, refusing to display any signs of physical weakness, set off across the foyer under his own steam. Tigris walked nearby, ready and watchful but not assisting.
“Aquila is here,” he said softly. “So are Profelis .. and William Sloan. Three Enforcers should be able to cope with an attack.”
“It isn’t an attack which concerns me,” Derek responded.
“With respect, your father is dead. His actions are long past. Whatever you learn now will not change anything. William Sloan should be our priority.”
Derek’s step, already slow and unsteady, slowed even more.
“You misunderstand,” he replied in a quiet voice. “I doubt very much that we will be attacked here in this house. An attempt to take William does concern me, but not an attack. And, yes, I am aware that my father’s actions are now history and not a priority. However, I have to know the truth. Something happened a long time ago and my father appears to be the one at fault. I am not that naïve that I will jump instantly to his defense. I will not state categorically that he is innocent. Nor will I state that he is guilty. I am trying hard to be as impartial as I can. But, beneath all that, the fact remains that something happened and someone is responsible for it. If it wasn’t my father, it has to be someone else and that person could be responsible for what is happening to William now.”
Tigris regarded him. “And if it was your father?”
“Then,” Derek said wearily, “I’ll have to accept it as I’ve had to accept a great many unpleasant things about my father. Plus,” he added, “it’ll mean that all those scenes we viewed have no bearing on the current situation.”
“Probably,” Derek swiftly corrected. “If my father is responsible for William’s situation, what advantage would he gain? Why is he doing it? He is already in Hell and, while he might have known about William, he never met him.”
“Not in life. He was William’s guard in Hell. William escaped – ”
“He was rescued.”
“He got out. Winston is still there. I shouldn’t have to spell it out, Dr Rayne. Envy, jealousy, hatred .. all potent motivators. And Hell is not an environment which fosters sanity. The torment is endless and made worse knowing it could have been avoided. Your father could, by now, have lost his grip on sanity and the insane are unpredictable in their behavior.”
Derek’s nostrils flared. “That’s possible though I dispute it – not because he’s my father but because he was in the Legacy. That does not confer any guarantees but he is a prize catch and the insane can bear any amount of torture because their minds are elsewhere. They will want my father to know what he is suffering and why.”
They climbed the stairs to the second floor and Derek made a relentless if slow progress along the passage.
“You do not want to believe Winston is doing this,” Tigris remarked.
“Of course not,” Derek muttered. “A traitor to a cause instantly erases a lifetime of not being a traitor. Benedict Arnold ..? Who remembers what he did in his life before he betrayed his associates? Is it of any matter? Maybe not but it doesn’t alter the fact that, until that point, he had lived his whole life without doing anything to malign his honor. It also carries a stigma. My father was .. a great man. Dedicated, passionate, and not only to the Legacy. He was a fine archeologist. That is all forgotten by his former colleagues – those still alive – and the Legacy has a long memory. All my life I have tried to be good enough to be Winston Rayne’s son. It wasn’t exactly living in his shadow but more living up to his reputation. Now that shadow is very black and his reputation is in tatters. Even now, after so many years of decent, thorough, meticulous and loyal service to the Legacy, I am still regarded as something of a loose cannon. Not totally trustworthy. My father betrayed them .. and I could do the same. That’s what they think in their secret hearts when they look at me. So I have not only to live up to his reputation but also try to escape it and every day prove myself to others, prove that, while I am my father’s son, I am not my father.”
He neared the door to the study and slowed again, reluctant at the last to go in and confront the truth.
“You’re wrong, you know,” Tigris commented and Derek looked around quickly. “The Legacy values you, Dr Rayne. There may be some who remember Winston and what he did but they have also seen you rise above the same temptation time and again. Because they are Legacy members, they know what courage that took and continues to take. When William resigned, they wanted you to be their leader. A suspect man .. it wouldn’t have happened.” He paused. “Are you ready?”
Derek nodded. “Yes.”
“There’s nothing,” Alex said. “Salome Macintosh never existed.”
Nick looked round. “Start again.”
Alex’s eyes narrowed but she didn’t say what she wanted to say, what was seething just behind her teeth. Instead, she asked, “Where?”
“Where have you looked?”
“Everywhere,” she replied with a bright and rather false smile. “All the usual suspects have been questioned but they don’t know anything. As this woman, whoever she is or was, had some connection somewhere to William Sloan, I’ve looked in the New York public records and she has no driver’s license, no tax records, no bank accounts, no address, no social security number, no .. nothing. The FBI isn’t interested in her, she doesn’t have a criminal record of any kind. As William was resident in London for some years, I’ve checked the British equivalents. No nothing there either. Sure, Nick, I’ll start again,” Alex offered, “but where?”
He stared into space for a moment or two. “Peri didn’t exist either but you tracked her down. How did you do that?”
“Airline passenger manifests but I wasn’t looking for Peri. I wasn’t looking for anyone but one name cropped up and I took it from there. Nick,” she pleaded, “please don’t tell me to look at passenger manifests. Do you know how many flights there are around the world every day? We don’t know if this woman even flies. We have no timeframe to work to or look at.”
The phone rang and Rachel, a sympathetic witness to Alex’s frustration, picked it up.
“Yes, Andrew.” She listened for a second then nodded, smiling quickly. “Thanks for telling us.” She replaced the phone and looked at the others. “Derek’s back. He’s gone to Winston’s study.”
“Where Jack saw him with William.” Alex pushed away from her workstation. “If Derek wants us to trace Salome Macintosh, maybe he can give us some pointers. Who she is. How he learned the name. That would give us a starting point.”
“Good idea,” Nick agreed.
Alex and Rachel paused halfway to the library. “You’re not coming?”
“I’m hoping Aquila will show up. She hates an audience.”
He spoke lightly but he didn’t meet their eyes. Alex shrugged and said, “Okay,” but Rachel hesitated a second longer. It wasn’t Aquila he was hoping to see, it was Merlin, and it wasn’t Aquila who hated having an audience around, it was Nick. Something was hanging in his mind like a lead weight. Holding him down, dragging him back. Something he couldn’t talk about to anyone except Merlin. Something in her medical notes …
“If she does, try an’ get some useful information for us,” Rachel suggested. “Can’t hurt, in the circumstances.”
“Sure,” Nick nodded, smiling quickly.
He was glad to be alone. Aquila had told him personal was on hold until this was over. Merlin wasn’t really back – her body was still comatose in the city. He couldn’t have a long conversation with someone who could vanish faster than he could snap his fingers. And, on top of all that, Nick felt he shouldn’t burden her with this when her concentration was devoted to someone else. But it was tough. He was dealing with it alone and holding it together yet, in a way, it had been a lot easier to do when Aquila and Merlin had been .. elsewhere. Now they were back … A whole different ballgame.
Salome Macintosh. Nick dragged his thoughts away from personal to focus on the task in hand.
Derek eased open the door and took one step over the threshold. He had been in here and recently too but that, he felt, didn’t count. He saw it now with his own eyes.
“My God .. it hasn’t changed at all,” he whispered. “I remember how he used to sit at that desk, surrounded by books, feverishly researching one project or another, writing notes … My mother would allow me to sit over there, if I promised to be quiet and not disturb him. I think she was afraid that, if I started asking questions, I would learn too much and be snared. She was right.”
He took a step closer to the desk. Memories stirred around him.
“I don’t think my mother hated the Legacy. She .. understood why it was necessary but it was a necessary evil to her. It scared her, knowing that my father could die every time he left the house. I believe my mother tolerated it. She refused to fight it. She had never really lost my father to the Legacy because he was a member before he married her so she never really had him to herself. But she fought for Ingrid and myself. She was determined we would have a normal childhood and the Legacy would be kept as far from us as she could keep it. But how could she have insisted on something like that ..? The Legacy was a family tradition. It called to the blood. I joined, and Ingrid battles evil in her own way.”
Tigris said nothing.
Derek stirred and completed his journey to the desk. Warily, he sat down in the worn leather swivel chair. Before he could do anything more, Andrew arrived with his escort and carried in a tray.
“As requested, sir.”
“Thank you, Andrew.”
“I’ll be off then,” Jack said from the doorway. “If I don’t make it back in time .. I’ll stay over in town. Don’t wait up.”
“I won’t,” Derek assured him.
He waved and disappeared from sight. Andrew sighed briefly. “Should you require anything else, sir … ”
“I’ll let you know,” Derek nodded.
“It is very good to see you again, Dr Rayne. It was a miraculous escape.”
“Indeed it was.”
Andrew bowed his head and retreated.
“You should eat first,” Tigris remarked. “You’ll feel better and be braced for whatever you discover in the journal.”
“I – ”
“Dr Rayne, the situation is not that critical that it can’t wait another ten minutes.”
Derek yielded. He could be stubborn, fiercely so, but not in the face of calm, straightforward common sense. As he forked the first piece of omelet into his mouth, Alex arrived.
“Derek … ” She shook her head, overwhelmed for a moment. “It is so good to see you. You can’t know what it was like to get that call … ”
“I imagined it. I put myself in your place. I felt .. well, you know.”
“Where did you go?” she asked, sitting on the edge of the desk. “What happened?”
“We weren’t aware that we’d gone anywhere,” Derek replied. “As far as we knew, we were still on the plane. It was at least two hours, or to us it was two hours, before we realized the crew had gone and that’s when we began to realize something strange was happening. Peri and I figured it out, that we were in limbo. And then William joined us. What have you found on Salome Macintosh?”
“Nothing. How did you find out her name? Who is she?”
“William told me. She was the person who approached him to work for the government. Patricia spoke with her first and set up the initial meeting. It was in New York, before William moved to London.”
Alex was nodding. She had something to work with now. “I’ll see if I can find something although I have already searched. Do you know what she looks like? If she’s changed her name or even gave a fake name to Patricia and William originally, a visual search might be more productive.”
“She was tall, above average,” Derek recalled. “Very pale skin. Flame red hair. Slender, like a model. Her eyes were yellow green, quite startling.”
“She’d be a lot older now,” Alex mused, “but .. if I pull together a construct, could you drop by the control room to check it out for me?”
“I’d be glad to,” Derek replied.
Alex paused as she rose. “Is she important?”
“Dr Rayne believes she is the key,” Tigris replied and Alex jumped. She hadn’t noticed him standing silently in the corner.
“The key to what?” Rachel inquired as she came in.
“Someone is attempting to bring William back from the dead,” Derek answered. “William requested my help in, first, trying to discover who and then in stopping them.”
“Is that why William’s here now?”
“You should be resting,” Rachel accused, seeing the weariness in his eyes.
“And you are to be commended. William passes on his gratitude for bringing Peri and me back to the city.”
“Oh.” Rachel flushed slightly. “Well .. thank you. But you should be resting. You’ve been in a coma.”
“I am resting. I have something of my own to learn. I will join you in the control room as soon as I can. Once this is resolved, I promise I will take it easy. I do feel extraordinarily tired .. but reading and thinking are not as exhausting as moving around.”
She nodded slowly. “Even reading and thinking can take it out of you. Promise me you won’t do too much. I’m not trying to be difficult. If you push yourself, you’ll end up confined to bed and won’t be much use to William or anyone. Is he here now?”
“I last saw him in the hospital but Tigris tells me he is here with Peri.”
“Derek’s given me some more on the enigmatic Salome,” Alex remarked, “so I’m heading back to the control room to make a start.”
“Tigris,” Derek said suddenly, “will you find William and go to the control room? William has met Salome. He will describe her to you and you can tell Alex. I’m in no danger. I’m not the priority.”
Derek waited until they’d all left. Like Nick, although for different reasons, he was glad to be alone. Later, he might want company to share what he’d learned but, right now, he didn’t want an audience. When it came to Winston Rayne, Derek wore his heart on his sleeve and he wouldn’t have been able to put on a brave face if it turned out that William Sloan Senior had been right.
He hesitated a moment then opened the drawer. Nothing had been touched in this room from the time of his father’s death. The last personal journal was there, on top of everything else. Derek’s hand was trembling as he withdrew the book and set it on the blotter. He drank his tea, putting off the moment for as long as he could, and replaced the cup on the saucer, put that back on the tray, then moved the tray aside. He dragged in a deep breath, moistened his lips, and opened the book.
Aquila glanced round as the door opened. Her eyes lit briefly. “Tigris,” she acknowledged.
He nodded at her and then blinked and frowned when he saw another Aquila sitting on the sofa next to William Sloan.
“Call me Peri,” Merlin said. “It’s too complicated to explain.”
“Dr Rayne has asked me to take you to the control room,” Tigris said to William. “Ms Moreau is attempting to construct a likeness of Salome Macintosh on the computer. We require your assistance.”
“At last,” William declared as he rose purposefully, “we are making progress.”
“Where’s Derek?” Merlin asked.
“In his father’s study. I got the impression he wanted to be left alone.”
“As would I, in his position,” William remarked. “He has it tough. Winston had been dead several years when I first met Derek at Oxford but it was very evident that he held his father in high regard .. despite what Winston did. Every .. unpleasant discovery since .. Derek takes it so personally and there have been many. His courage, his strength … He’s extraordinary.”
“I bet you’ve never told him that either,” Merlin quietly commented.
William chuckled. “And ruin a wonderfully satisfying friendship? Derek is a lot more fun when you’re crossing mental swords with him. Shall we go?”
“I’ll follow you,” Merlin responded. “Aquila will be at your side. So will Tigris. An’ Profelis is around somewhere. I think you can consider yourself well guarded.”
They went to the door together then parted company. William and his entourage went one way, Merlin headed for the stairs. She hadn’t been in the old wing before but was pleased to see Profelis hadn’t been idle in her absence. The windows had all been protected against evil entering, or escaping, and there was only one internal door in. She found the staircase which led up to the second floor and stole along the passage until she reached the opened door of Winston’s study.
Derek was bent over a book which was open on the desk and Merlin hesitated at the threshold.
“Can I come in?” she asked.
He looked up, frowning. “Yes, of course.”
“I’m not intruding?”
“No. Of them all, you honestly understand how difficult it is for me to .. investigate my father, how the need to know the truth burns in equal measure to the fear of knowing what the truth is. You have seen him .. where he is now. You spoke with him. Him, not the warped character I’ve been visited with on occasion. I never told you, Peri, how much I value your support in that regard. I would appreciate the company.”
She nodded and stepped into the room to peer around. “It’s exactly how I imagined it would be. Slightly disordered, very bookish, typical professor. A room not so much with a view as with an intense focus.” She smiled. “I don’t know what you’ll find in that journal, Derek, but I can tell you now there’s no trace of evil in this room. I’m picking up a whole different set of sensations.”
“Really?” Derek didn’t dare to hope.
Merlin nodded again. “Around the desk, there’s excitement. Frustration too but anticipation with it. He’d spent years searching for the sepulchers and, now, he was in high hopes that another had come to light. That’s tempered with the knowledge that it could be yet another false lead. When he last sat at that desk, he just wanted to find it and get it into a secure location. He had no intention of opening it. I sense too .. pride. Not in himself. It’s directed to over there, by the fire.”
Derek looked down. “I used to sit there, watching while he worked.”
She put a hand on his shoulder. “What does the book say?”
“It doesn’t. We know he visited the New York house on his way back to San Francisco and that was just before we left for South America. He didn’t take this journal with him and the last entry was written the night before my father and I set out. So, reading back over the days .. there’s no mention of William Sloan, senior or junior.” He frowned. “I don’t understand. The calligraphy is his. No one has altered the words. He goes into such detail on other matters that I cannot believe he forgot to record a meeting with a Legacy colleague.”
“Could it be in his official journal?”
“It could .. but it says here, quite specifically, that he visited New York and called in on ‘some old friends’. He stayed overnight, using one of the guest rooms in the house. He says he spoke with the head of the house, by which he means the Precept, and spent some time with John Mason. The next day .. he left.”
“Who’s John Mason?” Merlin inquired.
“I don’t know the name.”
“Maybe it isn’t important,” she ventured. “Could be his stockbroker.”
“And maybe John Mason is the name of the man who visited William’s father and gave him the coin.”
“Well, yeah. But it doesn’t state that in the journal, not even in code. What does it say, exactly?”
Derek looked down again. “Here it is,” he replied after a moment. “It reads ‘I also spent some time this afternoon with John Mason which was a pleasant distraction for me. I have so much to think about at the moment with the trip to South America and I am still in two minds over whether to allow Derek to accompany me or not. He could use the experience to his advantage but his studies are a little slapdash to warrant this as a treat. But I did promise and it would be good to spend time with my son. I’ve missed so much of his growing up that I feel I would regret it if I made him remain at home. Seeing JM gently put all that aside for an hour or two. I told him to be patient, it’s all he can do. I know this from my own experience. It’s something I grew out of and Derek will too. It’s best not to force the issue.’ ” He fell silent.
He nodded. “Yes. The next day … ” He turned the page. “He leaves and comes home.”
Merlin read it for herself. “The good thing is that he doesn’t mention seeing anyone and asking them to go anywhere with any kind of coin, talisman, amulet, charm, or relic. I don’t believe Winston sent that man to your father. If he had, he would have noted it, even in obscure language.”
She shook her head. “Maybe sending Aquila over there was a wrong move. She doesn’t have people skills. I’ll go. You should get to the control room. Oh, an’ by the way, William thinks you’re extraordinary.”
Derek smiled quickly. “He would never tell me that to my face.”
“Of course not. It’d ruin a satisfying friendship.” Merlin winked at him. “Be strong. I’ll be back soon as I can.”