It was a different William Sloan who emerged from Derek’s office a few minutes later. He seemed much more positive and much less anxious. It was as if peace had finally descended on his soul. The lines of strain on his face had smoothed and his eyes were serene and resolute.
“Ah, Dr Sloan,” Tigris greeted. “We require your assistance.”
Profelis was in the armchair, his eyes closed as if taking a nap.
“Certainly,” William agreed. “What can I do?”
“Tell us the number you used to make contact.”
“Nice … ” Merlin grinned. “Ghost in the machine.”
William carefully spoke the sequence and Tigris relayed it to Derek who pressed out the number. He thought it was a long shot, at the best. When William resigned, the agency had tried to infiltrate the Legacy by direct means and been thwarted. Derek considered the action the houses had taken as soon as they’d learned of William’s perfidy – move location, change phone and fax numbers, increase security – and reflected that the least the agency might have done was the same. This number could have been reallocated by now and listed. He could probably call Information and get an address. On the other hand .. maybe, if he was lucky, they might only have moved and taken the number with them.
It began to ring, and Profelis raced along the trail in pursuit. A ghost in the machine.
Derek counted the seconds silently and reached five before the call was answered. No one spoke at the other end. Derek held his breath and restarted his count. He got to four before the line clicked dead.
“Don’t hang up just yet,” Merlin breathed. “Just put it on the counter.”
The seconds stretched to minutes. “What’s the delay?” Rachel whispered.
“He’s taking a look around. Getting an address. Accessing computer files. Seeing faces and putting names to them.”
“If he actually got there,” Alex said.
“Derek,” Merlin asked, “what was the count before they hung up?”
“Alex, the speed of light is one hundred, eighty six thousand miles per second. In nine seconds, light has traveled over a million an’ a half miles,” Merlin told her.
“Profelis was traveling at the speed of thought. It’s faster. He got there.”
Profelis sighed and shifted then opened his eyes. “I have everything we need.”
They moved into the library because it was bigger. Merlin and Tigris remained standing but everyone sat around the table, even William.
“Selene McAdam is her real name. Salome Macintosh is her working name within the government,” Profelis began. “She is on garden leave at present, pending retirement. Her home address is, according to her confidential staff file, 4976 Forest Ridge Road. However, she is not living there at the present time. They have a temporary contact address for her in Carmel.”
“By road, two hours max,” Nick decided.
“Selene is a ground level operative, and became that only ten years ago. She has not progressed since. Prior to that, she was not officially part of the agency but worked in a fairly low grade position in the Justice Department. It seems she has been unofficially part of the agency for many years, acting in a go between, associate capacity. Her file states she was first approached while in High School, hence the change of name before going to Vassar. In essence, Selene McAdam ceased to exist then .. or was put on long term hold,” Profelis went on. “Her immediate superior is Michael James – a team supervisor. His superior is the department head, Andrew Vance. Above him is George Webb, the Assistant Director, and his boss, the Director of the agency, is David Cameron. Who he reports to elsewhere in the federal hierarchy is not recorded. Incidentally, I looked but found no name for this agency. It was simply referred to as ‘the agency’.”
Alex had been making notes. “Okay. Let’s see if we can put faces to these names. Profelis, will you help?”
“Give me the address in Carmel,” Nick requested, following them. “I’ll see what I can turn up.”
They returned to the control room. Derek, Rachel, Tigris and Merlin remained in the library. The empty chair which was pulled back a little from the table didn’t move either.
“I don’t recognize any of those names,” William said. “Why would they want me back? Surely, they must know that the Legacy’s moved on and, even if I did come back, I’d have no part in it.”
“It might have nothing to do with the Legacy, William, not now,” Merlin replied. “It might have everything to do with you.”
“Yeah. I won’t guess. There are too many theories an’ assumptions going around already. Almost from the get go, people have been jumping to conclusions an’ they’ve been the wrong ones which has let the real reasons, hidden, masked, fall thru the gaping cracks in all the theories an’ incorrect conclusions. Ockham’s Razor doesn’t get it right every time. Sometimes, believing the simplest answer has to be the right one opens the door to the worst kind of evil simply because people believe they already know so why look further.”
William nodded slowly. “I did make a lot of enemies in my time.”
“Forget them. This all started before you even joined the Legacy. That’s why I think it’s about you, an’ not us.”
He smiled. “Hardy certainly got it right, didn’t he, Derek? There is a good deal more strange to be believed.”
Tigris dutifully relayed this and Derek nodded. “He was a wise man .. or possibly he had a lot of common sense.”
He turned. “Yes, Alex?”
“You want to come ID these photos?”
“I’ll be right there.”
They all went with him. Derek looked long and hard at each face but shook his head. He’d never seen any of them before.
Rachel insisted they put off going to Carmel until the following morning. She appreciated how urgent it all was – to William – but Derek needed rest before taking this on. William was safe in the house. The three Enforcers could take it in turns to guard him but they could use a break too.
“One night. Twelve hours,” she remarked. “It could mean the difference between success an’ failure.”
Derek expected William to argue but he didn’t. He wasn’t exactly resigned but he was understanding. William had no body to grow fatigued and he had only to look at the strain in Derek’s eyes to know his friend needed timeout.
“Of course,” Tigris said, and sounded just a little surprised. “The morning will be fine.”
“Really?” Derek queried.
Tigris angled his head as he listened. “Dr Sloan says that, maybe, fine is the wrong word. Acceptable is the correct one.”
“Thank you, William,” Derek responded. “Everyone, we’ll meet up at … ” He glanced at Rachel. “Seven thirty?”
She didn’t look happy but didn’t protest or suggest a later hour.
“Seven thirty sharp. Nick, will you make sure we’re ready to leave on time?”
“Alex, we need some research on how to stop this spell or break it.”
“It’s a little early for me to call it a day,” she replied cheerfully. “I’ll dig something up for you.”
They left her alone to make a start. Nick headed out to the garage to check over the Range Rover and the 4x4 in case it was needed as well. Everyone else either retired for the evening or went to supper.
“Hi there, sailor.”
Nick swallowed. “Hi,” he responded without turning.
Merlin came to his side. “It’s been a little hectic. I’m sorry. I should have found the time to say hello, at least.”
“Nicky ..? Have I done something wrong?” she frowned.
“No!” He faced her. “No, you haven’t. It’s just .. I really need to talk with you an’ I can’t, not till this is over. Not till you wake up an’ come home to me.”
She studied his face. “It’s serious.”
Nick looked away. “It’s unrelated to what you’re doing. If I say something now, it could distract you. I don’t wanna do that. I can wait.”
“William’s safe. Salome’s traced. We know what’s going on. It’s just .. tying up the loose ends in the morning. Nick, c’mon.”
He shook his head.
“Is there someone else?” she asked on a tight breath.
“No. Nothing like that.”
Merlin took a step back, her eyes going cold with shock. “You’re lying to me … ”
Nick closed his eyes and shook his head again. “It isn’t what you’re thinking, Merli. You gotta trust me on that. When you’re home, we’ll talk. I’ll explain everything. I promise.”
“Will you be going in the morning?” he asked, retreating to safer ground.
“I guess so. Will you?” We sound like strangers, she thought.
“Depends on what Derek decides.”
“I think you should, just as backup. Derek’s pretty much wiped an’ he’s fighting to hold it together. He’ll need your support.”
“I’d better get back,” Nick muttered, thrusting his hands in his pockets and shrugging quickly. “Stuff to do.”
Merlin watched him go. She’d argued with him before and survived one of his silent periods but she’d never been on the receiving end of one of his quiet moods where there was no reason for him not to talk beyond his own reluctance. This was so unlike him. There was someone else, she knew it, yet he’d told her the truth when he’d said it wasn’t what she was thinking. Well, if nothing else, he had succeeded in distracting her.
You must stay focused on William, Aquila said sternly.
“Yeah,” she said .. but it was a lie.
Jack Chivikian managed to get on the last ferry to the island before it returned to the mainland and tied up for the night. He arrived at the jetty armed with packages and parcels, and faced the long walk up to the house.
“I could’ve stayed in town,” he told himself. “I could’ve. But, no. I didn’t do that because I am really some kinda jerk.”
He braced himself and doggedly set off. He’d taken all of twenty steps when a shape emerged from the shadows and nearly gave him heart failure.
“I have no money,” Jack said promptly. “Well, yeah, I do, but not on me.”
“Be quiet,” William ordered. Jack shut up. “I need your help.”
“Oh, sure.” This was about par for the course. Jack was plagued by dead people needing his help.
“Put your parcels down. We have to hurry.”
“Quickly, man! Or we’ll miss the ferry!”
Derek tried to sleep but his mind refused point blank to surrender. It focused on four faces and four names. All strange to him. Selene was established now and they knew she had taken the coin. She may not still have it but she’d had it. Tomorrow, they would confront her and learn if she was the one working the spell to bring William back or to whom she’d given the coin. Selene’s reporting hierarchy was established too. But Derek didn’t know them. He couldn’t see where they fit in all this beyond the fact that the information she had acquired was handed upward to them. Maybe one of them had the coin. Of course, that invited the question of why, and he couldn’t see how to answer it. It made no sense.
Somehow, Derek felt the four faces didn’t figure in this. If they had, somehow, he would have seen them in the limbo visions. Them in college, maybe, or listening to one of William’s reports. That hadn’t happened. They had made no appearance in limbo. Therefore, he felt they were just additional information. Useful to know and he would pass it on to Paul Emery, but, ultimately, irrelevant to what was happening to William.
The one face he had expected to see and, finally, learn the name which went with it hadn’t been one of the four. That remained the one loose end flapping in limbo’s breeze.
Sighing, feeling a sense of rising unease, Derek sat up and slid his legs from under the covers. Perhaps he needed to eat or have a glass of warm milk. Something to settle the endless questions or assure the persistent little voice that, as far as he could, he had things under control so it was okay to shut up for a while and let him sleep.
Downstairs, in the music room, a hasty conference had convened and Merlin was paying the price for being distracted. Tigris was unhappy. Profelis looked anxious and she was exasperated.
“How could this happen?” she asked. “We are not amateurs, guys. The excuse ‘I thought he was watching him’ does not work with us. Which of you saw him last?”
“I think it was me,” Tigris replied.
“It’s been less than an hour,” Profelis said. “I was getting something to eat. William was in the study.”
“He was reading the front page of the Chronicle,” Tigris added. “I may have phenomenal powers but even I have to use the bathroom. I was gone not more than four minutes. That was .. forty minutes or so ago. Profelis and I have searched the house, top to bottom. He isn’t here.”
“He can’t have gotten far,” Profelis went on, “not if he’s averse to acting like a ghost. He won’t think to fly, he’ll use public transport and that means he’s limited to the ferry. That stops at night. He’s probably still on the island.”
“And, even if he isn’t, we know where he’s gone,” Tigris concluded. “Carmel.”
Merlin regarded them and shook her head. “So why are you still here?”
In the control room, Alex leaned forward to peer at her screen. She, reasonably, had figured that, to know the best way to break a spell, she should know what artifact was being used to work it. She had looked at any number of coins and coin like artifacts, some of which had mystical powers. None had matched the effect Derek had related to her. Until now.
“The talisman of Tamondil … ” she read aloud.
“The what of who?” Rachel asked, coming in with a sandwich and coffee.
Alex eased back to point. “The talisman of Tamondil,” she repeated. “I think this is William’s alleged lucky coin.”
“Actual size ..?” Rachel squinted.
“Yep.” Alex took the plate and mug with a quick smile of thanks. “According to this entry in Baxter’s Universal Catalog of Obscure Arcana, the talisman has been around forever and is used to effect long term, permanent change. It hunts down someone’s submerged, recessive character traits and brings them to the surface. Then it strengthens them. That’s the immediate effect. The side effect is that, the longer it’s kept by an ‘owner’, the longer the chain attaching the two. In life, the coin isn’t obviously at work. In death, however, in the appropriate hands, it takes control. I guess Selene is the appropriate hands. It also says here that Tamondil is an upper echelon demon and he, or it, forged the coin in the fires of Hell. There’s a reference to the serpent using it to buy Eve so her hidden curiosity rose and she ate the apple .. but I’m not sure whether to put any credence in that.”
“It certainly fits the picture,” Rachel agreed thoughtfully. “So how do we break its hold?”
“Seconds out, round two,” Alex grinned.
Jack glanced at his companion. “You’re William.”
“And you’re Jack.”
“That’s the introductions done,” Jack remarked. “Why am I here?”
William smiled. “Are you asking literally or trying to start a philosophical discussion on the meaning of life?”
“Oh, funny guy,” Jack observed with an acid smile. “I was asking literally. I mean, you need my help, or so you say, yet I’m the one feeling like a prisoner. Why me? You apparently had a house full of people willing to help you out – ”
“You can see me and hear me. They can’t. And the ones in that house who could want to keep me caged in there.”
“So now I’m an accomplice to a jail break?” Jack’s shoulders sagged. “Where are you taking me?”
“You are taking me to Carmel. You do have a car?”
“No, but I guess I can always get a rental,” Jack grumbled. “Once we get anywhere near civilization, that is.”
“Thank you,” William accepted “I’d reimburse you but I’ve learned that money is the one thing you cannot take with you when you die.”
Jack turned and peered up the road for a sign of an approaching cab, or rescue. Then he halted.
“Hey, wait up a second.” William stopped walking. “What’s in Carmel?” Jack inquired suspiciously. “What do I have to do there?”
William studied him. He saw a man, shivering, hunched in an inadequate jacket, watching him in turn with darkly anxious eyes. William didn’t know much at all about Jack and wondered how much he should tell him. The whole truth might root him to the spot in terror or send him bolting in the opposite direction in fear. Not enough truth could drive him away thru feelings of rejection .. and William needed an ally.
“I’m dead,” William stated and Jack rolled his eyes. “Do you want me to answer your question or not?”
“Sorry,” Jack muttered.
“I’ve been dead for over a year and, I must say, happily dead. I was not an ‘earthbound spirit’. I had .. gone into the light. But someone is pulling me back. We are going to Carmel to find that someone and you are going to make them stop.”
Jack blinked, his mouth opening. “Me ..? How?” he asked wildly.
“I’m sure we’ll think of something,” William replied in a brisk voice. “Time’s a-wasting, young man.”
Jack stumbled into motion again. Walking kept him warmer than standing still. “Why did they want you to stay on the island?”
“Because, there, I’m immune to whatever magic is being used.”
“Then .. forgive me if I’m kinda stating the obvious here but isn’t leaving a little stupid?” Jack inquired. “I mean, okay, I’ll get you to Carmel, somehow, but .. now you’re not immune, you could be whisked away at any moment an’ there’s damn all I can do to stop it.”
“I’ve thought about that and, yes, while it is a risk, I believe it’s an acceptable one. This woman – Selene – has been attempting this ritual for several weeks and has not seen any apparent result. Obviously, she must think it takes time to extract a soul from .. beyond. She may have decreased the frequency of her attempts – ”
“Yeah, she may,” Jack conceded. “Or she may not.”
“I know but she has to sleep sometime. I figure I have, at most, a few hours – just overnight – before she tries again and, this time, succeeds. That’s why time is of the essence. I have to be in Carmel as soon as possible.”
Jack nodded. It seemed a reasonable theory. “Was Peri one of the people guarding you?”
William looked around sharply. “Why?”
“Just answer me.”
“She is going to be really mad with you. She’ll come looking, y’know, and she’ll bring Nick with her and they are both gonna be pissed with the both of us. I hope all that is worth it,” he grumbled.
“There’s an automobile,” William pointed. “Flag it down. And, yes, it’ll be worth it.”
“How’d you get away?” Jack asked as he waved his arms to alert the driver.
William shrugged. “I’m a devious bastard. I waited till they were looking the other way and I walked out.”
Nick came into the control room and sat at his workstation. Alex glanced round at him and frowned slightly.
“Hey .. you okay?”
She knew that voice. It used words of one syllable in one word sentences yet it conveyed so much more. Back off. Butt out. Leave me alone. I’m fine. I don’t want intrusive questions. I’ll get over it without your help.
“I’ve found the talisman,” she said, knowing that, if she kept it about business, he really would be fine. “There’s no way to stop it working but, apparently, to break the spell you have to break the coin.”
Nick paused and looked at her, his eyes puzzled. “You ever tried to break a coin?”
“No, actually I haven’t because I prefer to spend them. But it must be .. very difficult,” Alex conceded.
“Almost impossible. You can melt it down, if a fire’s hot enough. You can slice it up with a metal cutter. Dissolve it in acid. But .. hit it? It just flips away. Like in tiddlywinks.”
“It doesn’t specify the way of breaking,” Alex related. “And I don’t think Derek will want to carry a jar of acid or a metal cutter, or a portable furnace with him.” She thought some more. “You could shoot it,” she suggested.
Nick shook his head.
“Are you saying you’d miss ..?” she inquired with mischievous innocence.
“No .. I’m saying all that’d do is drill a hole in it. Wouldn’t break it.”
“Unless it’s very brittle. Then a bullet might shatter it.”
“You think it’s brittle?”
“I can hope but .. no. I don't think we’re that lucky.” She rose to approach him. “What are you working on?”
“The address in Carmel. Seeing if there’s any special security we should know about before we go in.”
Nick studied his screen. “Looks totally normal to me. I’ll check the local intruder alarm installers before I turn in. Cover the bases.”
“I wouldn’t expect anything less from you,” she smiled. “I’ll see you in the morning. G’night.”
“ ’Night,” he called, already engrossed in the task.
Derek looked up as Merlin came in, then he sat up. “What’s gone wrong?”
She folded her arms. “It seems acceptable wasn’t the right word either.”
He sighed. “When did you notice he had gone?”
“Around .. fifty minutes ago. Profelis an’ Tigris are in pursuit. If they find him in time, they’ll bring him back. If they don’t .. it’ll complicate things.”
Derek’s eyes narrowed in thought. “We may have a little more time than we expected. Selene is only human. She has to sleep. There is no rule which says magic of this type must be worked during darkness so she has most likely kept to her normal routine. That gives us until dawn tomorrow. He’s gone to Carmel?”
“I would, if I were him.”
“Then we have to follow in short order. Advance our plans. Will you ask Nick to get the launch ready? We’ll go straight to the city and rent a car there for the remainder of the trip. We’ll leave in thirty minutes.”
He rose stiffly. “A night’s sleep would’ve been nice but I doubt I could’ve managed it. Better to rest tomorrow, once this is all over. Yes?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Thirty minutes, Peri. Not a second longer.”
She nodded again but didn’t move.
“Is there something more?” Derek inquired.
“I screwed up. I let him get away. I wasn’t paying attention. You should be angry with me.”
“Maybe I should,” he agreed, “but I’m not. Even you are only human and we’ve both been thru a lot just recently. Thirty minutes .. or I will somehow find it within me to shout.”
She smiled quickly and vanished – it was faster than walking and time now was critical. Derek, in that moment, wished he was still a living ghost because his body was feeling particularly frail and his bedroom was a long way from the kitchen.
Merlin appeared in the control room. “Nick, we leave in thirty minutes. Derek wants the launch prepped.”
He turned to frown. “Why the rush?”
“William did a runner. We know where he’s going, that’s our only advantage right now. Derek wants to head him off at the pass, get there an’ be waiting when he shows.”
“What is wrong with that guy that he can’t wait a few more hours?” Nick muttered as he rose. “Alex says the coin can’t be stopped but, to break the spell, you have to break the coin. The house in Carmel has no special security. I doubt Selene is expecting company, especially in the middle of the night.” He glanced round. “You’re coming along, right?”
“Yeah. Anything I can do to help?”
“Go fetch me a warm sweater and a thick jacket. It’s gonna be cold on that water.”
“Aye, skipper,” she smiled.
Rachel and Alex remained at the house. Derek had woken both to tell them of the hasty change in plans. Rachel had argued at that decision. She wanted to come along. Derek wasn’t a hundred percent and Selene might need medical treatment if a fight ensued. But he was adamant. Not this time. She needed to be here in case Tigris and Profelis returned. Merlin would be with him and Nick and she would see no one was badly hurt. He didn’t say it but Derek felt Selene deserved, if not to be actually hurt, to be physically inconvenienced for the trouble she’d caused.
Exactly thirty minutes later, Derek was walking along the jetty to the boathouse. Nick had the twin outboards ticking over and he climbed out to help Derek negotiate the step down to the deck. Merlin cast off the mooring ropes and, in the darkness and the chill, they were on their way. Derek huddled close to the canopy, one gloved hand clinging on the rail. It seemed forever but was over quite fast. Soon, they were tying up at one of the piers by the Embarcadero and Nick was running to find a rental car agency. Merlin and Derek followed on behind, Derek sighing and shaking his head. He felt like he was ninety.
“We’ve come a long way since Des Moines,” Merlin remarked. “Covered a lot of ground and a lot of time. This goes back a very long distance, Derek.”
“You said it was nothing to do with the Legacy,” he recalled.
“Not now. It was, yes, but not now. This was a strategy meant to work over decades, and it did, no doubt there. But, when William was found out an’ he resigned, the plan ended short of the ultimate goal of him tearing the Legacy apart. What’s happening to him now, that hasn’t anything to do with the Legacy,” she went on. “I mean, he knows a lot but it’s all dated information. The Legacy has moved on. No, this is .. different. Could be revenge. Could be sour grapes. Could be the end zone, something which was also planned right at the start but never expected to be put into effect for .. another couple of decades. But William died so they could bring the plan forward.”
“We’ll soon know,” Derek shivered. “Everything.”
“Stop here,” William ordered and Jack pulled up. “Do you know Carmel?”
“I .. used to work here, once or twice,” Jack admitted airily. “The area, anyway. Carmel is a rich neighborhood, an’ a rather elderly one. More women than men. Lots of widows.”
William turned slowly as the relevance of what Jack was saying sank in. “You were a con artist, is that right?”
Jack shrugged. “I was. I’m not anymore. I learned my lesson. The important thing is I know my way around. Where is this woman supposed to live?”
“End of the block.”
“We’re here?” Jack unclenched his hands from the steering wheel. “Okay,” he said in a rush. “I can do this. What is it I have to do?”
They’d gotten a lift to the city, found a late night rental agency and then driven like maniacs south and west. Jack would’ve been more conservative but William had nagged the entire way and Jack had been given a glimpse of what traveling with Jack as a passenger was like.
Someone tapped on the window and he jumped.
“Would you step outside, please?”
He ran thru the story in his head in a split second and inwardly groaned. Officer, I know I was driving way too fast but there’s this dead guy sitting alongside me an’ he never shut up from the time we left San Francisco… Oh yeah. Lock me up, why don’t you? Right now, it’s an even choice between the local jail and the local insane hospital. Then he looked round and saw it wasn’t a cop at all.
“Jack,” Profelis nodded. “Step out, please.”
William, resigned and frustrated, had already gotten out to stand by Tigris.
“Am I glad to see you. He kidnapped me,” Jack admitted in a rush. “Made me bring him here.”
“You could’ve refused,” Tigris pointed out.
“Well, yeah, I guess.”
“What could he have done to you?”
Jack regarded him. “I know. I’m a jerk. A sucker for a bad luck story. Takes one to know one.”
“Well, we’re here now,” William announced. “I refuse to go back, not when I’m so close to getting my answers.”
“Aquila is on her way,” Profelis said and Jack groaned. “We’ll wait.”
“Do we have to?” Jack asked. “Look, you guys wait. I’ll just .. go take cover somewhere.”
“We’ll wait. All of us,” Tigris replied. He turned. “It was a stupid move, Dr Sloan.”
“Maybe it was,” William agreed. “But desperate times make for desperate measures.”
It was another thirty seven minutes before Nick arrived with Merlin and Derek. Nick was another who’d driven like a maniac and so made up a lot of lost time.
“It was not my fault,” Jack stated. “Yes, I could’ve refused but I didn’t know exactly what he wanted until later an’ .. well, you guys have taught me that, if someone asks for my help, I should do whatever I can.”
“And, invariably, you get into trouble doing it,” Derek pointed out. “No harm done this time but, Jack, next time, I suggest you think for a while before committing yourself to anything.”
“To be fair,” William remarked, “I didn’t give him much choice or much time to decide.”
“Nothing much changed there then,” Merlin commented. “Okay. We’re here. Derek?”
Derek looked around at them. “Jack, you wait here and .. watch the cars.”
“Absolutely. No problem there.”
“As for the rest of us …” He looked along the deserted street. He shrugged. “Go visit Selene McAdam. It is why we’ve come all this way.”
Nick positioned himself beside the door, his pistol in his hand. He nodded. Derek knocked on the door and waited, then pressed the bell. Tigris was fidgeting and Profelis scratched at his forearm.
“We can feel the coin’s influence,” Merlin explained softly.
They heard footsteps approaching and Derek stepped back. Nick sucked in a deep breath. The door began to open and he swung around, knocking it from the hands controlling it, pushed it open all the way, and then shoved his way into the house, his pistol raised into the glimmering oval of a face.
Derek and the others followed at a more sedate pace and closed the door quietly behind them. Profelis found the light switch and flipped it down, and the lounge flooded with brilliance. Selene McAdam, instantly recognizable, blinked and squinted. She looked terrified – anyone would, having five people, one armed, bursting into the house in the small hours of the morning.
“What the hell’s going on?” she choked. “Who are you people?”
Merlin watched her with careful interest. For a split second, she had felt absolute terror but, when the lights had come on, that had changed to outraged shock.
“Selene McAdam .. or should I say Salome Macintosh?” Derek began.
Her reaction was intriguing and, this time, everyone saw it. The outraged indignation vanished and was replaced by narrow eyed, determined suspicion. “I’m not going back. I don’t care how much muscle they send after me. They don’t scare me. I’m not going.”
“Nick, lower the weapon,” Derek murmured. Nick slowly obeyed and stepped back, but he didn’t holster it nor did he take his gaze away. “We’re not from the agency,” Derek went on and the suspicion both increased and developed an element of superiority. “We know you have the coin. Patricia Sloan gave it to you. We know it’s here – ”
“You’re guessing,” Selene cut in.
“It’s in there,” Merlin pointed. She gestured with her head and Tigris moved toward the door.
“No!” Selene crabbed back and sideways to block the doorway. “No, you can’t have it.” She stood there, her arms held out to grab the frame on both sides. Tigris halted.
“For God’s sake,” William muttered and set off to retrieve it for himself but Merlin caught hold of his arm.
Selene watched all this and her expressive face revealed a flaring curiosity. “You’re in the Legacy … ” she realized.
“I think we should sit down,” Derek responded. He wasn’t sure if anyone else needed to sit but he certainly did.
“I think you should get the hell outta my house,” she countered, her voice hard. “You people have nothing on me. I’ve broken no laws. You, on the other hand – ”
“Sit down!” Derek thundered, his courtesy and patience running out. He stalked to an armchair and lowered himself into it. Tigris moved aside to let Selene pass and then took up position in front of the bedroom door. Nick also remained standing by the front door.
She eased down onto the sofa. “Well ..?”
“Why can’t we have the coin?”
“I need it.”
“Why do you need it?”
Selene looked around the room. There was no sympathy present in the other woman there, and the men all looked like they meant business. “I want out,” she said with a tight shrug. “But I need security. Insurance.”
“And the coin gives you that?” Derek asked.
She laughed scornfully. “No. William Sloan gives me that.”
Derek regarded her. She didn’t appear to be the type who would know necromancy or even where to find someone who did. “Are you working alone?”
Again, the reaction was interesting. She went pale and moistened her lips, her eyes dropping. Then she looked up again. “Yes.”
“Really,” Merlin commented, a signal to Derek that Selene had lied.
“Okay!” Selene erupted. “Someone asked me to do this. Someone very high up in the agency, way over the heads of the bosses I know. He said he’d engineered this right from the start, before I was ever recruited or became involved in it. He told me that I’d gotten my job because of him an’ he said he’d kept me down deliberately, said my anger an’ frustration just worked me in deeper. He told me what I needed to know – where to find the coin, what to do once I’d gotten it. He lied to me. It doesn’t work.” Her face crumpled. “Dammit, I am in so deep that I’m terrified. William Sloan is my protection. I meant to do this and then keep him for myself. I’m not handing him over .. only it doesn’t work. I have tried an’ tried – ”
“And you had almost succeeded,” Derek interrupted. “William Sloan is in this room, one step away from completing his journey back from death.”
Selene began to laugh. It was soft at first then became raw and hysterical and tears sprang to her eyes.
“We cannot allow you to do this,” Derek said. “You do understand. You are interfering with a man’s eternal soul.”
“Piss poor timing,” she giggled. “If you don’t let me finish .. I’m as good as dead. He told me that. He’ll find out. He’ll come after me.”
“What could William have done to protect you?” Merlin asked.
“He was in the Legacy. He ran it, for fuck’s sake! He knows things. He has invaluable information and, if it’s invaluable to my boss’s boss, it has to be even more invaluable to me. I could have used that to keep them off my back. I could have used it to disappear forever.”
“Selene .. who is this man who makes you so afraid?” Derek inquired.
“His name is Leaf. That’s all I know.”
“Go get the coin,” Derek instructed and Tigris vanished backward into the bedroom. “Describe him to me,” he requested.
“I’ve seen him around a few times over the years but not what anyone could call regular. He never seems to change, to get any older. He’s .. beautiful. The last time was in September. He seduced me. I was flattered that he’d find me attractive but .. afterward, he said I’d given myself to him, that I was his, I’d been his for a very long time, and that, if I didn’t do what he wanted, he’d know where I was. I was so careful. I got the coin from Patricia an’ I came out west. Laid a false trail.”
“We got this address from the agency’s file on you. They already know where you are.”
“An’ that means he knows. He knows everything they do. I’m screwed,” Selene realized.
Tigris emerged, his cupped hand held out before him. “I have it.”
“Selene, we have to break this spell over William so he can rest in peace,” Derek said. “Even if you had succeeded, he couldn’t have helped you.”
“I wouldn’t have helped you,” William declared. “What I know .. is obsolete.”
“We may be able to protect you,” Derek said, feeling guilty as he recalled how he’d been ambivalent about her suffering inconvenience. It had turned out that Selene was just as much a victim as William. “Not to give you sanctuary but, possibly, to start anew.”
Merlin caught his eye and, very slightly, shook her head.
“I don’t trust anyone,” Selene answered. “I sure as hell don’t trust you. I’ll do okay on my own. World’s a big place. He can’t look everywhere all at once. I can keep ahead of him.”
“Then you’d best start now,” Merlin advised.
Selene rose and escaped into her bedroom, slamming the door.
“Alex says to break the spell you have to break the coin,” Nick related.
“Tigris ..?” William invited. “Would you be so kind?”
Derek rose and approached. “I’ll do it.”
Tigris passed the coin to Derek who examined it for a moment. It was strange to feel its slight weight in his hand after seeing so much of it in limbo. Nick eased forward, craning his neck, curious to see how Derek would destroy this with his bare hand. Derek turned it over, feeling it between his fingers, then closed his hand tight. When he opened it again, the coin lay in two pieces.
“How the hell did you do that ..?” Nick wondered.
“Acting for a good cause lends a certain strength .. and so does righteous anger,” Derek replied. “Plus it was old and slightly brittle. Knowing the right place to apply the pressure … ” He shrugged and handed the two pieces back to Tigris. “Now you can destroy it for good measure.”
Tigris tossed the two halves into the air. A gesture sent a crackling blast of superheated energy up toward the ceiling and the remains of the coin vaporized with a pop.
“Why can’t we help her?” Derek asked Merlin.
“Because she belongs to that guy. I can’t interfere. There’s a strange mark on her, Derek. I can do a lot but .. I feel that’s stepping over a line somehow. It’d cause trouble.” She straightened. “William, you’re free. Let’s get you home, huh?”
He rose to his feet and straightened his jacket. Merlin sighed suddenly. “I know I’m about ready to wake up an’ find myself in the hospital. Nick ..?”
“I’ll swing by in the morning to pick you up,” he nodded.
She took William’s hand and faded from sight.
“I think we’re done here now,” Derek murmured wearily. “William is safe and on his way back to where he belongs. Thank you for your assistance.”
Tigris and Profelis bowed their heads and also faded from sight.
Nick came closer. “Is it over?” he asked.
“I wish it was .. but I don’t believe it is,” Derek replied in a heavy voice.