They both looked to Merlin. She stood a little distance away, her eyes narrowed, one hand held to her mouth. It was obvious she was thinking very fast and hard. They had time and, here, they were safe. They waited. Eventually, she straightened.
“I don’t know, not for sure, but .. is it possible that whoever is trying to pull William back has made some kinda connection to him ..?”
“I was told that the attempt was succeeding,” William replied.
She met Derek’s dark eyes. “You thinking what I am?”
“This is something from .. his or her memory,” he hesitantly reasoned. “A connection from them to you, William, is also a connection from you to them.”
“Seeing .. almost thru the killer’s eyes,” William remarked.
“Except they may not be a killer,” Merlin commented. “But the principle’s sound.”
“So .. we study what is going on around us,” Derek ordered with sudden urgency. “Listen to conversations. See if there is a face we recognize. Quickly! We’re wasting this opportunity and it may not come again.”
They separated, drifting as fast as they could toward the groups who stood around. There were few individuals and they weren’t talking, but Merlin marked each face, just in case it reappeared again in some future vision.
The plaza in which the Tower stood was immense and, while the day appeared early, there were quite a few clusters and knots of people. Most were tourists. Derek concentrated on the groups of two and three. Some duos were clearly besotted lovers who had eyes only for each other and who said nothing. He ignored them, trying to locate those who looked like they were discussing business. William, too, was moving rapidly, pausing to listen in on conversations before hurrying on. They covered a large percentage of the crowd yet learned nothing. Frustrated, they came together again.
“Should we try the Tower itself?” Derek asked.
“The first level is a great vantage point .. if you’ve got good eyesight. We won’t be able to hear much,” Merlin pointed out.
“Anything’s worth a try,” he decided and started for one of the elevators.
“Hey, we’re ghosts, remember? Spirits don’t need stairs. We can fly,” Merlin grinned. They looked perturbed, never having lived like this before. “Take my hand,” she invited patiently.
A moment later, they were on the first level and peering down at the plaza. William looked around at the few early birds who were strolling on this level and admiring the view. It was spectacular. The Basilica of Sacre Coeur gleamed in the rising sun. Derek’s gaze, however, was directed down and he scanned the plaza. He tensed suddenly, grabbing wildly at Merlin’s arm.
“There! Do you see? That man, in the long overcoat. I know him.”
“Who is he?” she asked.
“I don’t know his name but I know that face.”
“Are you sure?” she frowned.
“Oh yes. He is trouble,” Derek said firmly. “I had a run in with him once before, a long time ago.”
Before they could do anything, the mist swirled in again.
Derek went to hit the barrier with his fist but it had gone.
“Damn! Who is he?”
“You found him?” William asked.
“I found someone I’d rather not meet again. Who he is, I cannot say. I never learned his name.”
“Describe him,” William invited, sitting on the sofa. They were in the Lear once more. Merlin lit a cigarette and began making coffee.
“He looked .. mid thirties when I first encountered him. Dark hair, long, below his collar. Immaculate dress sense, never anything out of place or clashing. Suits, silk shirts and ties. I recall his fingernails were .. just slightly too long. His hands were smooth. No veins or bulges. No roughness. He was a man of leisure. His eyes … I saw them clearly just once. I will never forget. They were the most evil eyes I have ever seen.” Derek shuddered. “His face .. looked young. Ageless, really. Smooth, tanned. He was .. I would say unusually beautiful for a man.”
“And you had a run in with him?” Merlin frowned, handing round cups.
“Briefly. I don't think I would’ve survived anything longer. He .. smiled at me, gave me a salute and said just four words – till we meet again. That must be .. twenty years ago. I’ve not seen him since that time.”
Derek gave a wary shrug. “Who can say when that scene was? He could be at the Eiffel Tower now, or he could have been there ten years ago. It could be anytime.”
“Okay, well, if you see him again, point him out. We’ll add him to the list,” Merlin said.
“He does appear to be the most promising candidate,” William remarked. “We just need a name, and a base of operations .. neither of which you can supply.”
“Guys, no squabbling. Drink your coffee. Have a little timeout. We don’t know yet if this is the guy who’s responsible. He could be only a link to whoever’s responsible. For all we do know, so far, all these scenes could be connected.”
“Patricia has no part in this,” William declared.
“That you know. For a guy who sees shadows where there are none, sometimes you can be particularly blind,” she commented. “Maybe that’s another reason why the boss said one of us should accompany you. We see clearly, all the time. An’, William, sometimes the truth hurts.”
Maybe, she reflected silently, that’s why he hates speaking it so much.
Derek felt rather shaken by what he had seen and he tried to divert himself by attempting to find a common thread linking the scenes together. The Legacy, William’s father, Derek’s father, Hell, Patricia, Salome Macintosh, and the stranger in the overcoat. The first three were obvious. Hell. Well, that was the home of the enemies they were sworn to fight. And William had been a prisoner there. Patricia was William’s wife and had introduced him to Salome Macintosh who, apparently, had introduced William to whatever covert government agency had sponsored him to pass on Legacy secrets. The Legacy wouldn’t want William brought back. William Sloan Senior was long dead. So was Winston. Hell might well want William back but not alive in the world. Patricia … Derek had known her a long time and really couldn’t believe she’d do this. Salome Macintosh was only a go between …
It looked like it was the stranger in the overcoat and he had no link with William Sloan that Derek could see .. apart from the fact that they’d all seen this particular vision which hadn’t come from William but from the person responsible for trying to resurrect him.
They needed to know more. About everything. As much as Derek disliked the idea of seeing the stranger again, it could be that he was merely acting for someone else. If he turned up again, in another scene, he may not be alone. He could be only the start of the trail, not the end. Derek hoped he was. The stranger had been evil, of that there was absolutely no doubt, but he may be working for someone or something even worse. He reminded himself he was safe here, that he’d only witnessed an image, not the real thing. Merlin had told him there was no evil here – maybe that was why she hadn’t sensed it emanating from the man in huge, oppressive waves.
He glanced across at her. Merlin’s eyes were closed and he wondered what was going thru her head. Derek hadn’t thought much about the nature of limbo but he was reminded now of a quote by Thomas Hardy – ‘There is a good deal too strange to be believed, nothing is too strange to have happened.’
If they ever grew tired of ‘faith has need of the whole truth’, it would be an eloquent alternative.
Merlin was engaged in much the same exercise as Derek – trying to link the scenes she’d witnessed to William and running into the same problem with the man in the overcoat. She also wondered about Derek’s involvement in this. Maybe William had chosen him because he had a sharp mind, a good memory, and could be trusted. But maybe there was more to it. She didn’t believe for a second that Derek was behind the attempt to drag William back from his comfortable afterlife. However, it was obvious now that Derek knew more than William could have guessed. After all, he’d recognized the stranger.
There was something in Derek’s description of him which stirred a reaction in Merlin. She felt she should know him as well. He sounded very familiar. Not the eyes though. She would have remembered a guy with eyes like that. Eyes, they said, were a window on the soul. Flamefalls learned young to mask what their eyes revealed to people. Most people couldn’t do that and, if Derek said the guy’s eyes were evil, there was a strong chance his soul was evil too.
Like Derek, Merlin was wondering why she’d had to have the guy pointed out to her. That had been disconcerting. Evil was like a glowing beacon, although it glowed with a bilious light. She could see it if it was within visual distance. She could smell it. She could track it. Here, it seemed she had been rendered blind and deaf and with no sense of smell. But then she, too, reasoned her way to the fact that it had been a snapshot of some other place and time, and recalled there was no evil in this place.
She wondered about that. Did they mean not ever, or just not now? Some evil had to be here if evil souls were held here. Prior to death, maybe. To give them a chance to repent before they breathed their last. And, if that was the case, they were guarded by powers stronger than hers, spirit essences far more good than she’d ever be. Essences like the first Flamefall and his commander.
Y’know, when I get to see the boss again, I am going to sit him down and tell him that, next time, I want to know a lot more before I agree. It’s fair. He’ll tell me fair doesn’t come into it. It isn’t fair when a good person suddenly goes evil. It isn’t fair when a child becomes terminally ill. It isn’t fair when love dies for no reason. It just happens and we have to accept it. Suck it up. Live with it. Flamefalls have never been about fair or right. We’re only interested in good. Okay, so .. I’ll tell him that, next time, it’d be really good to know a lot more before I agree. That doesn’t suggest I’ll refuse, only that I want to know everything to assist in my preparation. The fact that I’ll make it a demand isn’t fair either. Hey, boss, swings both ways, y’know?
He had some nerve telling he’d give me three months off if I agreed. As if I could say no. I guess I just have to get thru it and I’m home clear till almost spring. Cool.
We need to know more about overcoat guy. And that is going to be tough seeing as William has never met him.
I knew asking for Derek was the right thing to do, William reflected, his eyes closed. I feel we’ve made a breakthrough. It is obviously the guy in the overcoat. It cannot be my father – he’s dead. It can’t be Patricia. It certainly isn’t Winston – he isn’t powerful enough. And Salome Macintosh was only ever a go between, an intermediary between me and people she’d never met. None of them would want to pull me back from death.
William forced himself to relax. He’d been faced with all kinds of danger when he was alive and yet he’d always managed to relax and figure his way thru. That hadn’t meant he’d been dead inside, only that he’d shoved his emotions into the background so they wouldn’t be a distraction. Right now, as he sat in the Lear as it flew steadily thru the nothing of limbo, William admitted to himself that he was terrified. He was scared that they’d fail to learn enough in time to stop it. He was scared that whoever was doing this would succeed, that they had a plan so massive that all the various filaments and threads would never be detected and severed. If that happened and he was pulled back … Would he be a mindless zombie? Unable to do anything except obey the orders he was given? Someone’s pet victim, to be made to suffer endless torment? Or maybe he would be turned into some kind of weapon, primed and used against people like Derek and Merlin. His eyes would see, and his heart would rebel, but he wouldn’t be able to stop himself.
No, he couldn’t let that happen .. yet what could he do? In a similar situation, he might have said ‘I’d kill myself first’. William was already dead so that option was denied to him. All Aquila could do was prevent his soul being taken back to Hell. William had earned his place on the other side of the river. It was a small comfort. Very small. Hell wasn’t everything. People could have their own private hell and not even be dead to suffer it. He was resisting the idea that this would be his fate.
We need more on the guy in the overcoat. His link is thru me yet it’s Derek who can supply the information.
“Y’know .. I’m hungry,” Merlin remarked in a flat voice. “I’m sure there’s something to eat on this plane.”
“You should pray,” William responded.
“Excuse me?” Her eyebrows rose.
“Prayer is sustenance for the soul. And that’s what you are,” he explained.
She paused, grinning to herself as she thought of all the family parties she’d had to attend over the years.
“Do you mean to tell me that, since you died, you’ve lived in that fabulous house of yours, an’ all you do at mealtimes is say grace? You invite people over for dinner and hold a prayer meeting?” She rose. “Get real, William. Derek, you hungry?”
“Yes, I am,” Derek nodded.
“I’ll see what I can rustle up.”
She found prepackaged microwave food and put it in the small oven over the drinks station. William told himself he didn’t have a stomach so it couldn’t be that starting to rumble. Merlin handed Derek a flight tray and glanced at William.
“It does smell good,” he grudgingly agreed.
“I’ll take that as a yes.” She turned away. “Real is what we make it, William.”
He frowned. “Is that true? I didn’t make this link to me. I didn’t put us in Paris.”
“It was real to whoever did. We can use that. Make the link to you work for us and show us the inside of the enemy’s head.”
“We may see nothing new.”
“Well .. next time we’re in Paris, we’ll know who to look for. We can be there waiting. Get closer.”
She handed him a flight tray then prepared her own meal. It tasted exactly how food should taste.
“Derek, when you had your run in before,” she asked about ten minutes later, “were you in the Legacy?”
He nodded, swallowing a mouthful of macaroni and cheese. “Many years ago. I was only a member, not a Precept.”
“We could try using you as a lens,” Merlin suggested.
He hesitated. “This is William’s dilemma. He is the focus. I do not dismiss the man in the overcoat, he clearly has some part in this, but he may not be the source of William’s current situation. If it transpires that he is responsible, I will agree to being the lens. Until that time, we should continue to use William.”
“I agree,” William said heavily. “As much as the man in the overcoat appears to be the most promising candidate, I can’t see any .. proper link to me. It’s always possible, I suppose, that he’s chosen me by my reputation alone but I’m not that arrogant. We need a lot more coincidences to stack up before I’m convinced.”
“Okay,” Merlin accepted. “Are we done eating?”
They were. The trays were dumped in the trashcan and they joined hands again. William blanked his thoughts completely. The interior of the cabin shimmered and faded away. In its place was a small room with a heavily cluttered desk and a well used, leather swivel chair. The room was presently empty.
“Does anyone recognize where we are?” Derek whispered.
“I don’t,” Merlin replied. William slowly shook his head, less certain.
“Let’s see what’s on the desk,” Derek suggested. “Peri, keep watch at the door.”
As she went toward it, it opened and William Sloan Senior entered. He looked tired. Beaten. William Sloan Junior was shocked to see him like that. The elder Sloan went to the desk and sat down. He hesitated, then took a key from his pocket and unlocked a drawer. Merlin, Derek and William stood behind him to watch what was removed. It was an old journal. Sloan Senior opened it and turned some pages then halted to read the entry. Derek, holding his breath, leaned forward to read it too. He managed to catch the date and the first sentence before the scene faded away.
“What was it?” Merlin asked.
Derek swallowed. “I don’t know what it means.”
“What did it say?” William demanded.
“Today, I met with Winston Rayne.” He shook his head. “That’s all I caught.”
“William .. you weren’t in that scene. Do you remember it?” Merlin inquired.
“No, although I did recognize it as my father’s study.”
“Then it must have come from our unknown source,” Derek pointed out slowly. “He, or she, is someone your father knew.”
“They weren’t there either,” William commented.
“Limbo isn’t capable of generating images. It doesn’t make things up,” Merlin said, impatient with his continued stubborn defensiveness. “It can only project what’s in your mind, whether that’s directly from you or indirectly from someone else via you.”
They found themselves in another office. Merlin didn’t recognize it but William nodded, so did Derek. “My study in my New York apartment,” William said.
As they watched, the door opened and William came in. “You were right,” he said. “Salome was a very interesting woman.”
Patricia followed him in but didn’t go near the desk. She remained by the door. “And?”
“I’m considering her offer. It could put another string to my bow. Should I decide on a change of career in the future .. it might be a worthwhile avenue to pursue.”
Patricia raised an eyebrow. “William .. we both know that’s a lie. I don’t appreciate it. You’ve set your heart on a certain course and neither hell nor high water is going to make you deviate from it. But you should accept.”
He looked up. “Why? I know why I’m considering it. What are your reasons?”
“Because things like this go two ways. From you to them. From them to you. And money is always useful.”
The mist swirled in again. They saw fleeting images but nothing solidified. “William, c’mon, concentrate,” Merlin urged. “We know you accepted the deal. You sold us down the river for a nice house in Surrey and an annual allowance. Water under the bridge, man. Let’s move on.”
Still nothing firmed up. Merlin was about to turn and give him a strongly worded reminder about why they were here and they wouldn’t be here forever when, abruptly, her senses flared with warning. She pushed William back into Derek and, to her surprise as much as theirs, found Aquila standing beside her. They were both armed.
“Evil, close by,” Aquila said. “Damn mist.”
Slowly, with aggravating patience, a shape began to take form or move toward them. It was hard to tell. She could see he was wearing a long coat. She could smell it now, see it glowing with that sick light. Her skin was crawling. Evil.
“No closer,” she called. “Who are you? What are you doing here?”
“I’m surprised,” a voice said. It sounded muted, muffled by the mist but it was a beautiful voice. Quiet, calm, cultured. A person could die happily listening to that voice. “I was always led to believe your kind attacked on sight. Yet you ask questions.”
“You gonna answer them?” she inquired.
“Perhaps. To answer one of them .. I want him.”
William shrank closer to Derek.
“And now you’re going to tell me I can’t have him.”
“You’re so right,” Merlin replied.
“I should have expected this. A bodyguard .. or a soul guard. Disappointing. Derek .. how nice to see you again. You and I have a lot of old scores to settle.”
“Who are you?” Derek demanded, his voice commendably strong.
“That’s for me to know and you to find out.” He chuckled low in his throat; it was almost a purr of amusement. “You’ll get your chance. I’ll make sure of it. This has become interesting. A battle .. to the end and all to win or lose. So be it.” He began to fade away. “Till we meet again.”
The Lear popped into existence around them. Merlin’s weapon vanished. A moment later, so did Aquila’s.
“How are you here?” Merlin asked herself.
“Think about it,” Aquila invited. “Your body is in a genuine coma. Before the enhancement, we were the body and the spirit. Now, we’re the personality and the spirit, and I think we’re going to need the both of us,” she concluded in a soft voice.
“So do I. I’m glad you’re around,” Merlin breathed.
“So much for no evil being present!” Derek accused.
“Hey, don’t blame me!” she flared. “I was told this would be easy, something I could handle in my sleep … Well, I guess I am asleep. Evil doesn’t usually get in here, Derek. I think what this should tell us is that we’re up against an extremely powerful enemy.”
She took his sleeve and turned him away from William. “Look, my boss is a very strong, very experienced commander but he isn’t the big boss. Sometimes, he doesn’t know everything so he can’t warn me in advance. He could’ve underestimated what’s going on and the strength of what we’ve got to resolve. Okay?”
Derek nodded and moved back to let William into the group.
“Can you cope?” William asked.
Merlin hesitated. Both men looked soberly at each other.
“Probably,” she said in a firm voice. “Nothing’s guaranteed, an’ the stakes just got a lot higher.” Her shoulders pulled back. “From now on, we take nothing for granted, especially that this place is safe.”
Aquila stood guard over the group as they huddled in a fresh debate.
“What did we learn from those scenes?” William began.
“Do we have to figure it out?” Derek asked in reply. He wanted to pace but the Lear was too cramped. “We know – ”
“We don’t know who he is or how he’s connected to me. We know he’s connected to you.”
“So the fact he wants you is my fault? I somehow led him to you, is that what you’re saying?”
“It’s possible,” William replied in a rock steady voice. “I’m not accusing you, Derek, merely stating the facts.”
Merlin held up a hand. “Please. Let’s keep it orderly, huh? We don’t know everything yet. William’s right, Derek. We gotta follow the paper trail. Okay. Your father’s study. A journal entry which said he’d met with Winston. It must have been an old entry because, by the time William was thinking of joining, Winston had been gone a few years. That links Winston to Sloan Senior to William. Next scene – your study in New York. Patricia again, referring to Salome. We’d already established that chain. How does it fit with the other chain beyond the fact that William sold out?”
William shook his head. Derek, however, was frowning deeply. “William, did Patricia ever know the details of what Salome was offering? She said, originally, that it might be mutually profitable but did she ever say to you what was involved?”
“No,” William replied.
“But she must have known,” Derek persisted after a moment’s stunned consideration. “She said to you, in the study, these things go both ways. You to them, and them to you.”
“Did Salome approach her?” Merlin asked quietly. “Or was it the other way around? Did you ever try to back out?”
William had gone pale and he sat down heavily. “Yes, once.”
“And?” they chorused.
“Patricia talked me out of it,” he admitted, his voice stricken.
Derek nodded slowly. “She knew, William. Right from the start, Patricia knew. She was in on it.”
Aquila glanced back over her shoulder but said nothing before facing the cabin wall again. Merlin wasn’t sure if she saw it or the mist beyond and, right now, she didn’t have the time to ask.
William was leaning forward, his head in his hands. Derek had lost the urge to pace and had sat down next to William. He looked like he wanted to put a hand on his shoulder in a gesture of support but he didn’t. He didn’t think William would appreciate it.
“William … ” Merlin began
“You were right,” he cut in, his head rearing. “I am very quick to see shadows where there are none but, when it came to my family, my wife, I was blind. I see it now. So clearly. Spies need a controller. Someone close to them. I never once suspected it was Patricia.”
“It doesn’t mean that she didn’t love you,” Merlin pointed out quietly.
“It was her way of getting revenge,” he corrected. “My devotion to the Legacy was a curse to her.”
“I don’t think it was about revenge,” Derek offered. “There could have been an element of payback, yes, but I believe it was the only way she could share your professional life. You know, as well as I do, that the Legacy tends to keep partners at a distance. It takes a strong woman, or man, to be able to accept it.”
William nodded but it was a mechanical reaction. He was too steeped in painful realization to really listen.
“All right,” Merlin sighed. “So Patricia is linked to the sell out. How is that linked to the attempt to bring you back? How does she ..?” She shook her head. “Even I can’t believe she has anything to do with the guy in the coat. I know Patricia. She isn’t evil.”
“If there is a connection,” Aquila stated over her shoulder, “it’s an innocent one.”
William had a pathetic hope in his eyes. “You think so?”
“I know so,” Aquila replied.
“She’s working in ignorance, if she has anything to do with the attempt. It could simply be that she was involved in the past,” Derek elaborated, “and not in the present. I’m not defending her, William, only trying to show that the agency could be working indirectly for the man in the overcoat. He could be sponsoring them to make the attempt. Providing them with materials, instructions, resources, and the agreement is that, if they succeed, they hand you over to him. Patricia’s only link with them ended when you died.”
“Did she try to influence you after you resigned?” Merlin asked.
“No. Honestly, no, she didn’t. I think she was relieved it was finally over,” William said. “Except, of course, it wasn’t. I couldn’t give up all those years of knowledge, experience gained at such cost. I worked on the fringes,” he confessed. “Unofficially. A one man investigative team. Whatever I learned, I passed anonymously to one or other Legacy house.” He smiled briefly. “You may have changed the locations and the phone and fax numbers, Derek, but you didn’t change the email addresses.”
“Okay, so .. we need to focus more on the agency,” Merlin suggested with a wary shrug.
“I told you, it was only ever a voice on the end of a phone line,” William repeated.
“And you believe Salome Macintosh was only ever a go between,” Derek pointed out. “What if she wasn’t?”
“I only met with her the once.”
“Overcoat guy might have,” Merlin remarked. “Let’s try concentrating on Salome an’ see what happens.”
“All right,” William sighed, taking her hand and closing his eyes.
Salome Macintosh was easily recalled. She was tall, nearly six feet in height before adding the extra advantage of stick heels. Her hair was a brilliant flame red, her skin creamy with a smattering of pale freckles over her nose, and her eyes were a startling yellow green, like a cat’s eyes. Her figure was like a model’s and was only marred by a pair of thick ankles. She favored black suits for her wardrobe because black brought out the color of her hair and eyes.
The Lear wavered and dissolved. Aquila moved off to one side and stood poised, her feet slightly apart, her stance relaxed yet coiled with readiness. Her gaze never stopped moving.
Salome stood by a payphone on some New York street. She was holding the phone to her ear and nodding.
“Yes, that’s right. I think he is interested. If we get the package exactly right, he’ll take it. I can sell anything. What?” She frowned suddenly. “Yeah, I guess so. A little wary but that’s to be expected. He was cagey, testing the water. No. He never asked me that. Strange, huh?”
She laughed suddenly, her teeth flashing white.
“I’ll wait to hear from you. Make it generous, okay? If you want to reel him in, it’ll have to be.”
She hung up and strolled away. Derek watched her go and decided he didn’t like her very much.
“Never asked .. what?” he mused out loud. “I think we can work out the rest of the conversation. But never asked what?” He looked round. “What didn’t you ask, William?”
William frowned as he tried to think back over two decades to a lunchtime meeting which had lasted ninety minutes.
“It could be anything … No, I know what it is. I never asked her how she knew about the Legacy.”
“In that case, I think it reasonable to assume she was told about it by our main suspect. I’m beginning to see shadows myself,” Derek admitted. “I don’t think the government had all that much to do with the so-called government agency. That was merely to give it a quasi-respectable cover.”
William was staring at him in horror.
“If the Darkside had approached you, I would like to believe you had the scruples to turn it down,” Derek went on. “But, if the ‘government’ made an approach and talked earnestly about the need for national security, assistance in developing research programs into psi ability, remote viewing, telekinesis, perhaps you weren’t totally misguided in listening. After all, we’re patriots. I have no doubt at all that many of the .. agents were genuine in their work. But the ultimate head of the agency could have been very different. Who knows where the information went after it reached him or her? The man in the coat could have been the head. And he is definitely not working for the good of the country.”
“I was feeding information to the Darkside ..?” William choked.
“It looks that way,” Merlin agreed quietly.
“My God .. what have I done?”
“What you did is in the past, William. Can’t be changed,” she pointed out. “But maybe we can end it in the present.”
“And make good all the harm I’ve caused?”
“Hey, we’ve a long way to go yet. One conversation, an’ only one side of it at that, doesn’t make a case.”
“Peri’s right. I’m assuming a great deal,” Derek remarked. “Somehow, our fathers have a part to play in this. Why else would we have witnessed those scenes?”
“I don’t know. It could be entirely random.”
“He’s right,” Merlin agreed on a sigh. “Remember, Derek? Limbo is a place where the past can be examined an’ choices reviewed. Maybe William had issues with his father an’ that’s the only reason why we’re seeing them now.”
Derek was reluctant to accept that but he didn’t respond. William Sloan may well have had issues with his father but those issues appeared to implicate his own father, and Winston Rayne led to Derek Rayne. Was it possible that the ongoing ill feeling between William and Derek was just an echo or an extension of ill feeling between William Sloan Senior and Winston? And who’d had the contact with the man in the overcoat? Winston? Or Sloan Senior?
Instead of voicing these concerns which nagged at his heart, Derek asked, “Did you have issues?”
William didn’t answer for a long moment. He seemed to be lost in thought. He’d learned, or rediscovered, a great deal and Derek wondered if he’d even heard the question.
Eventually, though, William drew in a breath. “You know how some fathers are remote? They only seem to be able to relate to their children, their sons, when they’re old enough to hold a reasonably intelligent conversation, or take part in proper father, son activities like fishing. The early years of a child’s life .. the father is only a dark blur, someone who puts in an appearance every so often. A stranger who just happens to live in the same house.”
Derek considered if this was William’s way of pointing a metaphorical finger at Winston because Winston fit that description almost perfectly. It wasn’t his fault – the Legacy and his archeology had kept him traveling, not personal choice.
Merlin, however, waited patiently in silence. Her father had never been like that. He’d been a big part of her life from day one.
“My father wasn’t like that,” William announced suddenly. “Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on his knee and listening to him reading me stories. I don’t know if he ever changed a diaper or fed me formula but he was there when I was young. He wasn’t afraid to show me affection or tell me he loved me. Every night, he would be sure to wish me happy dreams and tuck me into my bed. My childhood was magical. I cannot believe he has anything to do with .. my later choices in life.”
Still, Derek said nothing. Merlin leaned forward. “I think that’s wonderful, William, really, I do. But it seems out of phase with the guy we saw later. Did he change? You said some fathers can’t relate to small kids an’ can only deal with them when they’re in their early teens. But some fathers are the other way round. They have no problem when the kids are small an’ can idolize them, but, when those kids grow up an’ realize their idols are only human, the fathers draw away. Was yours like that?”
William stared at the carpet on the cabin floor. “I guess he must have been. By the time I was old enough to share things like fishing trips, he had risen higher in the Legacy. He had a lot less time .. for me, for anything.”
“Did you blame yourself?” she frowned.
“Of course not. I had other interests, new friends. I didn’t feel I was being excluded or that I was less loved. I was mature enough to understand.”
“So why did he have doubts about your suitability? What happened to change your relationship?”
William shrugged. “I grew up .. and he grew old.”