Rachel went to Derek’s office as soon as Nick came out. She regarded him with a calm, professional gaze.
“I won’t be so dumb as to ask you if you’ve ever heard the saying ‘burning the candle at both ends’,” she began. Her voice was light, not in the least threatening. “I know you have an’ I know you do. I can understand why you do, so I’m not going to lecture you. However – ”
Derek smiled. “I believe I know what you’re going to say.”
“Then you’ll also understand why I’m going to say it. Derek, we’ve all been there. Feeling the pressure, knowing lives depend on the result. In those circumstances, burning the candle at both ends .. sure. It’s necessary. We all do it because we know we’ll be able to catch up on sleep, food, a healthy lifestyle. But, right now, ask yourself these questions – is this one of those situations? Is it out of control, beyond our immediate ability to rescue it? Are we letting things slide, taking our time, not bothering to resolve it? Is there anything more we could do, anyone we can confront? Right now? If the answer is yes to that last one then you have my full permission to carry on as you are. But, if it’s no .. take a few hours an’ get some sleep. Your body has been thru an ordeal. It needs time to recover. Your mind could use a break as well. William has two protectors. Alex, Nick an’ I are on the case. To be honest, you’re not doing any good here, not for us, not for yourself. Use the time wisely, Derek, or, when we do track down that woman, you won’t be in a fit state to do anything about it.”
“You’re absolutely right,” Derek agreed, rising slowing and stiffly. “A few hours’ sleep is a wonderful idea, one I’m more than happy to accommodate.”
“Thank you,” she accepted.
“William is not to leave the house. Tigris and Profelis can see him. Make sure they stay alert. Rachel, I cannot stress how important that is. He asked for my help. I promised it to him. He can rant and stamp his feet as much as he wants but he is not to go outside the seals. Too much is at stake.”
She nodded, her eyes somber.
“After all,” Derek murmured as he drew near, “the last thing any of us want is for William Sloan to return from the dead. We’d never hear the end of it.”
Rachel smiled quickly. “I’ll keep him inside.”
“And tell Andrew no visitors are to be admitted without Tigris or Profelis vetting them. Our security must be seamless.”
“Wake me in three hours,” he requested.
“Three and one half. That’s extra time for you to get to your bedroom.”
“Very well.” He left his office and proceeded like an elderly man into the control room. “Has any progress been made?”
Alex looked round. “I came up with no Salome Macintosh in the Bay area, New York City, the five boroughs, New York State, or New England. It’s a big country, Derek, and no guarantee that she’s in any of the states. She could be dead. Right now, I’m running a check for Selene Macintosh.”
“I’m checking the rest of the US for Salome,” Nick added. “One thing in our favor, it’s an unusual name. So is Selene. Narrows it down some.”
“Rachel has reminded me that I was recently in an airplane crash and that I need to rest,” Derek said.
“Sweet dreams,” Alex urged.
“We’re on it. Take your time,” Nick grinned quickly.
“I will. Thank you.”
Derek trusted his team. He’d worked with them for many years now and, while they may keep things from him from time to time, while they occasionally went behind his back or over his head, they always did it thru concern and the right motives. And, since Paul Emery had taken over the leadership, those times of subterfuge, white lies and studied ignorance were a fading memory. He knew they’d wake him if they had to. He had faith in them and knew it was returned. Derek began the journey to his bed in a comforted frame of mind.
“Oh, crap,” Merlin muttered. “An inch farther, she would’ve split her head wide open on the edge of the coffee table.”
She pulled Patricia upright and leaned her back against the sofa’s thickly padded cushions. She went to get a glass of water. Then she sat rubbing one of Patricia’s stone cold hands.
Patricia moaned softly.
“I think she’s coming round … ”
Patricia’s eyes moved under the closed lids.
“Hey .. c’mon. You’re okay. No damage done,” Merlin soothed. “C’mon, Mrs Sloan … ”
With a faint whimper, Patricia opened her eyes. “What happened?” she whispered.
“You passed out. I don’t blame you.”
Patricia blinked, frowning, then her eyes widened. “Did you say .. someone was trying to ..?”
“Yeah, I did. Don’t faint again, please!”
“Why would anyone want to bring William back?” Patricia gasped.
“We’re wondering the same thing,” Merlin replied, her voice level with not one hint of irony.
“Don’t misunderstand … I would love it if he were here, if he were alive .. if he hadn’t died. But he did. I miss him so much. I know he could be a total bastard when he wanted but he was my husband. I love him and I miss him. But I would not want him back from the dead. It’s .. a travesty.”
“So you’ll be prepared to help us stop it happening, right?”
“Yes. Of course. Anything I can do,” she said faintly.
“Here. I got you some water.”
Her hands shaking, Patricia accepted the glass and sipped at the contents. Slowly, color crept back into her cheeks again and the tremors passed. Merlin waited patiently until the other woman was ready. Pushing too far or too fast wouldn’t get them any closer to the answers. It would just antagonize her. Learning that William was on his way back had been a shock. Merlin had to tread delicately along this path.
“Feel better now?”
“Much,” Patricia nodded. “I was about to fix supper. Will you stay?”
“Sure but I don’t need to eat. I’m not hungry, I mean. I’ll help you though.” She assisted Patricia to her feet.
“How did you know?” Patricia asked.
“That someone is – ”
“Oh. Oh .. a dream. One of those precognizant dreams. Warning. William appeared to Derek Rayne and told him. Asked for his help to stop it.”
Patricia sighed wistfully.
“He told Derek a lot of things,” Merlin went on. “How much he misses you an’ loves you. He said he’s earned his rest an’ that he has a nice house, roses in the garden. He’s learned to slow down, take it easy. An’ that’s why he doesn’t want to come back. He says he did the right thing saving Derek. It was a noble gesture. A sacrifice. He wishes he could have spoken with you before the end because you parted in anger. He regrets that. He didn’t know, at the time, that he would die. But now he’s over the other side, he really likes it there.”
She nodded, smiling thru her tears.
“In the dream, Derek promised to help William,” Merlin went on. “William gave him some clues to work on an’, when he woke up, he got the team on it. I was in this area so he asked me to call by an’ ask some questions.”
Patricia nodded again as she opened the icebox and began to sort thru supper choices. “Well, as I said, anything I can do. He really prefers being dead?”
“Yeah. He said that .. it isn’t at all as he thought it might be, but a lot of people say that. His house is like the one in Surrey. Very similar, an’ the weather is a lot more reliable.”
Merlin sat at the counter. “He said he was tired, Patricia. Without the Legacy, he felt that .. he’d lost a part of himself. He was sad at leaving you but he was also relieved that the fight was over. He was at peace, working in his garden, reading books, doing all the things he’d always wanted to do but never had the time .. an’ then he felt he was being pulled back. We have to find out who’s doing it an’ stop them before they succeed.”
“I won’t ask if it’s possible, obviously it is. I never knew much about the Legacy, I didn’t want to know. I knew just enough, an’ even that scared me.” She paused. “When he died .. I was so angry. Angry with him, that he’d let it happen, that .. that he could be so stupid. All those years an’ nothing, then this.”
“You never knew where he’d been when he went missing?”
“He never told me. I assumed he’d been in prison somewhere. He was so thin when he came back.”
“He’d been in Hell.”
“I know some prisons can treat you badly – ”
“No. He’d been in Hell.”
Patricia turned, her face growing white again.
“He was rescued,” Merlin related. “He was lucky.”
Merlin nodded. “Another noble gesture. You’re right, he could be a total bastard but, when backed into a corner, he always did the right thing. He should’ve resigned when he got back. He didn’t. It was a mistake. Eventually, he was .. asked to resign.”
Patricia shook her head. “Why didn’t he tell me?”
“Because it’s the Legacy. A big secret. And the little you knew scared you. Why add to it?”
“Who rescued him?”
“A friend. A person who doesn’t know any better.”
“A dumb idiot!” Patricia flared. “Who would willingly go into a place like that? Even for a friend?”
“I guess someone who doesn’t fear the dark places,” Merlin replied.
Patricia broke down, her shoulders heaving as huge, raw sobs erupted from her throat. Merlin went to her, holding her until the sobs faded into soft weeping and even that dwindled away into a drear silence.
“He can’t come back,” Merlin said. “We can’t allow it.”
“No. It isn’t right. He’s earned his rest.”
“Let me fix your supper. You sit down. Get your breath.”
Patricia Sloan sank onto a chair, her shoulders drooping. For several minutes, she said nothing but then drew in a ragged breath.
“I thought .. I’d accepted it. Come to terms, isn’t that what they say? I can tell people I’m a widow and it doesn’t really get to me. It’s because .. in my heart I don’t believe it. I keep on expecting him to walk in the door and smile at me and tell me he’s .. just going to his study to make some calls and he’ll be out again in a while so could I hold supper for a half hour. But he never does. And he never will. All this .. it’s a façade. I haven’t accepted anything. I watched his casket put into the mausoleum .. but I never believed he was inside it.” She laughed quickly, on the edge of tears again. “Now I know he is .. and I know I really am a widow and that he won’t be coming home for supper.”
Don’t count your chickens just yet, Merlin thought as she sliced and diced.
Patricia gave a shuddering sigh. “Denial can be wonderful but it doesn’t last forever. Someone like you always happens along to rip away the veils and tear off the masks. I don’t mean to sound bitter.”
“It’s okay,” Merlin said. “I understand. If you have a message for William – ”
“Right. And how will you pass it on?”
“I’ll give it to Derek an’, if he has another one of those dreams … ”
“I’ll think about it.” Patricia wiped her cheeks. “Why did William appear to Derek and not me?”
“Do you know how to track down someone who could do this? Do you know where to start looking or how? You can’t just call a private detective. What would you tell him? My late husband appeared to me in a dream an’ told me someone’s trying to bring him back from the dead. I want you to find them an’ stop them. You’d be locked up, Patricia. Derek has not only the knowledge and the resources to do this but also the experience in the kinds of rituals involved. I realize you don’t have much love for the Legacy but, in this, it’s your best option.”
Merlin grilled a tuna steak and let Patricia recover her balance. This visit wasn’t going too badly. Patricia had fainted and then released a lot of grief. Now she looked exhausted, empty. But she hadn’t asked Merlin to leave, at least not yet. Merlin put the steak on a plate and placed it on the counter with a side salad. Patricia picked up a fork and, clearly lacking appetite, began to pick at it and push it around the white porcelain.
“Don’t waste it,” Merlin urged. “William doesn’t want you to punish yourself. None of this is your fault.”
Patricia stabbed at a small piece of fish and forced herself to eat it. “What questions do you have to ask me?”
Merlin sat opposite her. “I need you to think back. Did you ever see what looked like a foreign coin? William’s father gave it to him years ago, while William was at Oxford. Maybe he told you it was a lucky coin. It was .. so big, tarnished, the markings just about all rubbed off.”
“I know it,” Patricia said. “William never spoke of it at all. I didn’t know his father had given it to him or that it was lucky. It didn’t bring him much luck, did it? I found it when I was going thru his things. It was in the back of a desk drawer under a heap of other stuff. Forgotten. I don’t suppose William even remembered it was there.”
“Where is it now? Can I see it?”
Patricia shook her head. “I don’t have it any more.”
“Okay. Did you give it to the New York house with the rest of William’s things?”
“How did you know I did that?”
“We called them to ask.”
“Oh. No, it was just an old coin as far as I was concerned. It was not obviously Legacy. It was .. something which my husband had owned.”
“But you don’t have it anymore.”
“No. I gave it away.”
Damn, Merlin thought. Why is life never easy? Why doesn’t it, just once, give me a fucking break?
“To whom did you give it, Patricia?”
Patricia swallowed another mouthful of fish. “An old friend.”
“Well, that’s one line of inquiry down the toilet,” Nick remarked, leaning back and stretching. “No Salome Macintosh anywhere in the US. What’re the odds, huh? You’d think there’d be at least one. But no.”
“Have you tried variations on the spelling of Macintosh?” Rachel asked. “MacIntosh with a capital I or Mcintosh with a big M, little C, or even – ”
“Big M, little C, big I?” Nick suggested. “Yep. Tried ’em all. Zip.”
“How about you, Alex?” Rachel asked.
“Selene Macintosh. Yeah. I’ve found several,” Alex answered. “Checking ’em against their driver’s licenses though .. no match. Not even close.”
“Has anyone considered that these could be fake names?” Nick remarked. “Has been known.”
Rachel bit at her lip. She felt she was in charge. Derek hadn’t specifically said it but she felt it. He was sleeping right now and that had to be good but all the good it was doing would be lost if he was woken in another ninety minutes or so with a report of failure.
She turned. “Tigris.”
“Dr Corrigan,” he acknowledged.
“Over there, in that armchair.”
“Please ask him what he knows of this woman.”
Tigris turned to the apparently empty armchair. He said nothing but nodded and turned back. “Dr Sloan says .. he knows very little. He knew her as Salome Macintosh and he only ever met with her the one time.”
“Okay. Is there anything he’s learned since then about her?”
“Her name could be Selene. Apparently – if it is the same woman – she used to be in the neighborhood of William’s childhood home.”
“All right. Does William remember her or his father referring to her, or about a Selene in the neighborhood?” Rachel inquired. “Were there any families in the area with a name similar to Macintosh?”
“Why do you ask that, Dr Corrigan?” Profelis frowned. “If someone is going to use a false name, why would it be similar to a real name?”
“Because, in my experience – ” she began.
“Dr Sloan asks what experience is that?” Tigris cut in.
“I’m a therapist,” Rachel explained, after taking a deep, calming breath. “A shrink. Clients who come to me often use fake names when they first start treatment. They don’t want people to know they could have a mental illness,” she patiently answered. “I know the treatment’s working when they fess up. That’s my experience, an’ it tells me that people who use fake names very often choose one similar to their real names because it’s a lie an’ they don’t want to be caught out. Let me give you an example,” she said, pacing away, her index fingers held to her lips. “If I didn’t want you to know my name is Corrigan, an’ I told you it was Smith, you would call me Mrs Smith, right? That’s my name, an’ I’m wearing a ring. But it sounds so different to my real name that I wouldn’t react when I heard it. You might have to say it two or three times before I remembered that was the lie I’d used. But if I told you my name was Covington ..? It starts the same way so I’d react to it. I’d stay close to home so the lie is easier to remember.”
Tigris smiled faintly. “Dr Sloan is impressed.”
“Well, thank you, but it doesn’t help us, does it?”
“He appreciates that but .. he says this is yet more proof of why you’re an excellent recruit to the team.”
Rachel blinked. She’d been in the Legacy for so long now that she didn’t think of herself as a recruit. But then maybe William felt that fifteen or twenty years was the appropriate milestone for recruit to become member.
“He says .. no. He doesn’t recall her or his father speaking about her or a Selene. However, there was a McAdam family in the area.” Tigris paused. “That’s big M, little C, big A.”
“We’re on it,” Alex said, flashing a grin at Nick. “You take West Coast, I’ll take East.”
“An’ we’ll meet somewhere in the middle,” he commented, swinging back to his keyboard.”
Merlin leaned forward. “An old friend?”
Patricia shrugged listlessly. “I hadn’t seen her in years. She turned up, out of the blue, a few weeks back. Maybe a couple of months. September or early October. Said she’d only just heard about William’s passing. She wanted to pay her respects, give her condolences. We talked for hours.” She smiled faintly. “It was good to reminisce. She said the years had been good to me. I said the same to her but only because it was polite. She hasn’t aged well, not at all.”
Merlin stayed silent and let Patricia talk.
“I first met her in college. She had such ambitions. She wanted to go into the government.” Patricia shook her head. “Justice Department, CIA, FBI, something like that. To be honest, I didn’t think she’d ever make it .. but she did. She next contacted me when I was married and living in New York. We had lunch. She wanted to meet William. Said something about a .. a special offer she had to make him. We laughed about it, I remember. William was a handsome guy, all his life. I wondered what kind of offer she was making, and she told me a professional one, one worth a lot of money. I feel bad about it now but, back then, I was feeling a little resentful of the amount of time he gave to his work. I figured I was owed a little payback. So I arranged it.”
“Right. You found out about her as well.”
“You gave her the coin.”
“She asked for something small as a keepsake. Something which had belonged to William. I tried to give her a few other things but she said no, they were obviously personal. Eventually, I remembered the coin and she said that was perfect.”
She would, Merlin thought flatly. “Did you always know her as Salome Macintosh?”
“That was her name in college.”
“An’ what college was that?”
“Okay, we may be able to trace her from that. You don’t know where she is now, do you?”
Patricia shook her head. “She left soon after. She said she’d call but .. I haven’t heard.” She paused, her expression becoming thoughtful. “Is she the one doing this to William?”
“It’s possible. The coin wasn’t a coin but a powerful talisman. Patricia, I have to ask an’ I’m sorry but .. were you William’s controller?”
She blinked. “His what?”
“Salome acted as a go between. She got William working as a spy inside the Legacy. He passed on information to someone in the government. Were you his controller?”
“No, I wasn’t.”
“You’re lying, Patricia,” Merlin remarked sadly and the other woman flushed.
“Maybe you misunderstand,” she said.
“What is there to .. misunderstand in ‘no, I wasn’t’?”
Patricia’s mouth pinched in. “All right, maybe I misunderstood deep inside. William was intensely focused on his work. It kept him away from home a lot of the time. His family life had to be organized, controlled. He delegated that to me. So, in a way, yes, I was his controller but I never ordered him to be a spy or to .. do whatever it is spies do. Is that clearer for you?”
Merlin didn’t answer for a
moment. “You met Salome in New York,”
she then continued, “thought payback was a pretty good idea, arranged for her
to meet with William. When did you see
her next, or hear from her?”
“It was .. I don’t know, I’m not sure .. maybe a year. It was a long time ago! She called me, asked how we were doing. We talked for a while. She said that William was doing a great job and, if he ever said or hinted that he wanted to leave, I should try to talk him out of it. I was growing used to his absences so .. I said I would. After that, it was a long time. Just before we moved to London. Once we were in England, I never heard from her again. The first time I saw her again was when she turned up here in September or whenever it was.”
“Okay. I believe you.” Merlin felt tired. “One last question an’ I have to be going.”
“Did Salome ever mention her boss? She was a go between. We know William was on one side. Who was on the other?”
“Clearly someone in the government.”
“The government is full of people, Patricia. Did she mention a name? A personality? Anything to give us a lead? You gave her the coin but she could have passed it on. We have to get it back. Think for a second. You don’t like the Legacy because it scares you .. an’ you only know a very small fraction of what it does. William knows a lot more. If whoever succeeds in bringing him back, that person will have a pet slave, completely dominated, held in thrall with no hope of release, and he, or she, will have access to everything William knows. What kind of terror campaign could be waged with that knowledge? What kind of hold over everyday people, people like your friends, could be had knowing what goes on in the darkness an’ the shadows? The Legacy’s strength is in its secrecy – the names of its members, the location of its houses, the nature of its work. That will be lost and, with it, the defense shield it represents. William is important, yes, but we have to look at a bigger picture here. If there’s anything you know, anything Salome mentioned in passing, or her reaction to one of your stray remarks, you have to tell me.” Merlin shrugged. “Too much is riding on this for you to hold back.”
Patricia looked away. “When I met her for lunch that time, she said her boss was a guy who demanded absolute attention to detail. No one was permitted to slip up. When she said it, her mouth turned down. Her voice changed. Okay, she could just have been complaining that he cut her no slack but ... I couldn’t swear to it, it was just the impression I got, but I think she was scared of him. Then, when she came here, she said she hoped to retire soon, get free of all the politics, the constantly watching over your shoulder. She seemed tense. I thought it was because she felt awkward visiting with me. People often do when they’re visiting a widow or widower. They never know what to say. Maybe I read it wrong and she was tense for another reason.”
Merlin nodded. “Could be. Thank you. You’ve been very helpful.”
Patricia rose with her. “About that message to William … ”
Merlin halted, her eyebrows rising in invitation.
“Tell him .. tell him I love him, I always have, I always will, I miss him, the children miss him. Tell him .. I’m proud of the way he died. I think he would’ve wanted to go that way – making a difference, saving a life. And tell him .. I wouldn’t wish him back. I learned to be patient while he was alive; I can wait until my time comes so I can be with him again.”
Merlin nodded. “Word for word. I promise.”
Derek had found it very easy to fall into a deep sleep. As soon as his eyelids closed, he knew nothing. There was no gentle descent into sleep, it was like some benevolent entity had switched off his lights. His body, despite being in a coma for several days, needed to rest because any exertion after a spell of total inactivity was extremely tiring. His mind, as Rachel had said, needed a break because, in a way, that hadn’t stopped working the entire time. His dreams were weird, nonsensical images, random pictures and sounds, smells, even tastes. He drifted thru them, safe and cocooned, completely separated from William Sloan, coins, go betweens and long coats in oppressive summers.
A frown twitched his face and his nose wrinkled. Without being aware of doing it, he jerked onto his back
Think you’re safe ..?
Sweat beaded along his brow.
Think I don’t know where you are?
His breathing quickened.
Think your door seals can keep me out?
Derek muttered beneath his breath and swallowed.
The house on the island in the bay. You see? I do know.
He frowned again, shaking his head.
I can come for you any time I want. Will you be ready for me ..?
Derek started awake, his mouth dry and his eyelids flying open. He listened to the sound of his heart racing in his chest and it sounded like the drums of doom. Slowly – too slowly – it faded into the patter of rain on his window and his breathing calmed. The sweat dried. He knew he should sleep again but he didn’t feel safe in his room or in this house .. yet where else was there to go?
“It’s okay,” a voice said from the end of his bed.
He breathed out on a sigh. Aquila was back.
“I’ll watch over you.”
“Bingo,” Nick said quietly. In the almost silence of the control room, it was virtually a shout of triumph.
Heads turned toward him, bodies clustered at his back.
He hit a button on his keyboard and the results appeared on the big screen. Alex’s computer generated picture of Salome Macintosh was side by side with the driver’s license photo of Selene McAdam.
“Alex .. that’s a pretty fair match,” Rachel remarked, impressed. “Obviously, she’s decided to go a little more blonde to hide the gray but the face … It’s extraordinary what you an’ the computer have accomplished.”
“Dr Sloan wants to know where she is,” Tigris said.
“I bet he does,” Nick replied with a flaring grin hastily smothered. “The records state she’s .. just north of here. Sonoma Valley. Forest Ridge Road.”
Tigris swung back. “I would not advise that, Dr Sloan.”
William was on his feet. “I know, Tigris, but I am not going to sit here and wait while my eternal rest is tampered with. I’m going there.”
Profelis was moving to block his way. “We can’t allow that. Our orders are very precise – ”
“I don’t give a damn about your orders! I used to order you. I’m certainly not your prisoner. You are only here to protect me wherever I happen to be. Are you saying that you two can’t do that? Against one woman?”
“What’s going on?” Rachel demanded, looking at the two Enforcers and hearing only their half of the argument.
“I think William’s tired of our company,” Nick replied.
“We’ve given him what he wants and now he wants out,” Alex agreed.
“I am tired, Mr Boyle, of being the victim here,” William corrected coldly even though Nick couldn’t hear a word. “Aquila said it before – we take it to them, we’ll have them on the ropes. We’ll have control. Tell him to warm up the helicopter.”
“I won’t do that,” Tigris stated. “Yes, we are here to protect you. And we can best do that in this house. If you leave, you will become vulnerable to any necromantic spells being worked.”
William’s hands closed into impotent fists. “Get Aquila here right now!”
“She will only agree with me,” Tigris replied. “You were told to choose a bodyguard. You chose Aquila. I was told to assist as backup. I will do my job.”
“You’re third string,” William snapped.
“You cannot order me, Dr Sloan. I do not answer to you, not anymore.”
“What the hell is going on?” Merlin asked as she came in. Derek followed her.
“We’ve found Selene McAdam, aka Salome Macintosh,” Alex replied. “William wants to go after her.”
Merlin glanced at the screen. “Hey, nice job, Alex. William, sit down.”
“Will you stop telling me what to do!”
“Jeez, William .. how many years did I have to put up with exactly that? Now the boot’s on the other foot, as they say. Sit down .. please.”
“William,” Derek pleaded. “Do as she says. You asked for my help. Let us help you. Rushing into an unknown situation … ” He shook his head.
“You know Derek’s right,” Merlin commented. “If the situation were reversed, you’d be the one telling him not to be impatient, even reckless. I know this personally affects you but you’re really safer here. For a while longer, at least. Now we know who she is an’ where she is, let them dig up some more information. She may not be there now, William. We’ll leave, take you to her, once we know the latest.”
The fight seeped out of him and he looked a tired, anxious old man. “Do you promise?”
“Yes. I promise,” Merlin said.
“Is that wise?” Derek asked softly.
“No, it’s dumb but a promise is a promise. Yeah, it makes a lot more sense to send Nick an’ Tigris or even me after this woman but let’s face it, huh? You want to go an’ no one or nothing is gonna stop you going, despite the fact that you can just about run the ten hour mile. You promised an’ your honor is at stake. An’ let’s not forget that, no matter all the fine words, you do feel you owe it to William. He died saving you. You knew from the moment you found out that, one day, it’d come bite you on the ass. This is your last chance to even the score, pay off your debts, sleep easier at night, an’ maybe even smile about it.”
Derek grinned broadly. “More common sense?”
“Just knowing the personalities involved, Derek. Isn’t rocket science.”
He turned his attention to more practical things. “Assuming she is there, and alone, she could attempt to use the talisman against us. What can I expect? Will I feel any effect?”
Merlin wrinkled her nose as she thought. “I’ve no experience of this artifact,” she replied, shrugging tightly. “We’ve learned that it has to be in your possession for it to affect your mental state. Sloan Senior owned it for a year or so and it had a depressing effect. I think that was because he never really owned it. He was, essentially, just a caretaker. His mental processes didn’t need altering. He resisted, a conflict occurred an’ he became unwell. Now, William did own it. He paid it no attention, forgot it was there, threw it in a desk drawer an’ left it alone. It was free to work on him an’ it did. Not only did it change the way he thought, it forged deep links to him. Over time, that became a chain strong enough to pull him back from death. You don’t own it so my guess is that you’ll suffer no effects at all. Selene is the current owner. She may be feeling its effects, but, there again, she’s using it to do something so the effect may be different on her.”
Derek nodded. “And what about William? How will it affect him?”
She hesitated then grimaced. “My guess is that close proximity to the coin will only make it stronger and the magic will work faster. The attempt is likely to turn into a successful outcome. But that is only a guess.”
“Then, on balance, he should remain here.”
“I agree but it isn’t going to happen, Derek. Just like you have to be there, William has to see this ended. It’s his right. I won’t deny that to him.” She straightened. “My advice to you, if you want it, is to go be Precept to your team. Leave William to me. I have some things to tell him.”
“Personal. Completely unrelated to the case.”
Derek nodded slowly. “I wish there was a way he could see Patricia, just once. He regrets very little about his life but not saying goodbye to her comes at the top of that very short list.”
He left the office and, from the door, Merlin beckoned to William to come in.
“Selene has the coin?” he demanded.
“Yeah. Patricia gave it her. Selene said she wanted a keepsake an’ refused several items until Patricia offered the coin. Don’t blame her. She didn’t know it was wrong any more than you did. You’ll also be pleased to learn that Patricia was never your controller .. except in a purely domestic sense.”
His eyes closed in relief.
“Sit down, William. I have a message to you from your wife.”
Nick frowned. “Anyone here know the combination to the vault at Fort Knox?” he asked, his voice softly thoughtful.
There was a second or two of puzzled silence.
“Because breaking in there would be easier than trying to find out about this woman,” he concluded sourly. “Shadowy government agencies don’t just hide behind firewalls. They bury their files so deep, it’s as if no one ever exists to work for ’em.”
Alex went to say something but didn’t. She looked as though she was close to an idea but was still figuring it thru.
“Whatever it is, Alex,” Rachel encouraged, “I think you should share. There’s only so much brick wall pounding my head can take.”
“I don’t know,” Alex said quickly. “I was thinking that, if we knew the exact location of this agency, we’d stand a better chance. The quickest way to discover the location is to call them and trace the call .. only they’d have to call us which they wouldn’t do because they have no reason to .. so it doesn’t work as an idea.”
“But it could,” Profelis said softly. “If Dr Sloan can remember the number he used – ”
“From what I’ve heard and seen,” Derek cut in, “there was little, if any, two way communication involved. He called and spoke, then hung up. If we tried to do the same, as Alex says, we couldn’t trace the call and, anyway, they’d hang up long before the time we’d need to trace it.”
Profelis glanced at Tigris and smiled then looked at Derek.
“Have you never heard of a ghost in the machine, Dr Rayne?”