The Myth Hunters
Book One of The Veil
For my sister, Erin Golden, another journey.
First and foremost, thanks to Anne Groell, for setting off on this adventure with me and always being open to finding out where the road would take us. Thanks also to the entire team at Bantam, especially Josh Pasternak and Loren Noveck. As always, thanks and love to Connie and our children, Nicholas, Daniel, and Lily Grace. Thanks also to Mom and Peter, to Jamie, and to the usual suspects, Tom & LeeAnne, Jose & Lisa, Bob T., Ashleigh, Allie, Amber, and Rick. For the camaraderie and support, thanks to the cabal and the Vicious Circle. You know who you are.
he promise of winter’s first snowfall whispered across the low-slung evening sky. Oliver Bascombe shivered, not from the December wind but with the same anticipation he had felt at his seventh birthday party, just before the magician performed his act. Oliver did not believe in magicians anymore, but he did still believe in magic. He was stubborn that way.
The green cable-knit sweater was insufficient to protect him from the cold, but Oliver did not mind. At the edge of a rocky cliff a hundred and twenty feet above the crashing surf, he hugged himself and closed his eyes; felt the north wind prodding him and smiled. His cheeks were numb but he cared not at all. There was a delicious taste to the air and the scent of it was wonderful, exhilarating.
Oliver loved being by the ocean, relished the air, but this scent was different. This was the storm coming on. Not the metallic tang of the imminent thunderstorm, but the pure, moist air of winter, when the sky was thick and each misting breath almost crystalline.
It was bliss.
Oliver inhaled again and, eyes still closed, took a step closer to the edge of the bluff. All the magic in the world existed right here, right now. In the air, the portentous gray sky, the mischievous auguring of winter. A solemn oath from nature that soon it would bring beauty and stillness to the land, at least for a while.
A few more inches, a single step, and he would fly from the bluff down into the breakers and serenity would be his. One final enormous disappointment for his father to bear, and then he would not burden the old man any further.
A flutter against his cheek. A rustling in his hair. A gust swept off the water and struck him with enough force that he stumbled back a step. One step. Back instead of forward. The wind blew damp, icy stings against his cheeks.
Oliver opened his eyes.
Snow fell in a silent white cascade that stretched from the stone bluff and out across the ocean. For the longest of moments he stood and simply stared, his heart beating faster, his throat dry, holding his breath. Oliver Bascombe believed in magic. Whatever else life brought him, as long as he could hold on to such moments, he could endure.
He would endure.
Oliver chuckled softly to himself and shook his head in resignation. For another long moment he stared out at the ocean, his view obscured by this new veil of snow, then turned and strode across the frozen grounds of his father’s estate. The rigid grass crunched beneath his shoes.
The enormous Victorian mansion was an antique red with trim the pink of birthday-cake frosting, though Oliver’s mother had always insisted upon referring to it as rose so as not to impugn the masculinity of the household. Her husband wanted his home to be finely appointed, but drew the line at decoration that would be inarguably feminine.
The house was warmly lit from within. The broad bay windows of the formal living room on the south wing revealed the twinkling multicolored lights on the Bascombes’ Christmas tree. Oliver strode up to the French doors, melting snow slipping down the back of his neck and into his shirt, and rattled the handles, sighing when he realized the doors were locked. He rapped softly on a glass pane, peering into the rear entryway of the house at dark wood and antique furniture, tapestries and sconces on the walls. When his mother was alive, his parents had done everything in their power to give the interior of their home a European flair, such that it looked more like an English manor than a place in which people actually lived.
Oliver rapped again. The wind whipped up anew and rattled the French doors in their frame. After another moment he raised his fist again, but then a figure appeared in the corridor. The house was lit so brightly within that at first it was only a silhouette of a person, but from the hurried, precise gait of the figure he knew immediately that it must be Friedle. He was more than simply a caretaker, but that was how the man himself referred to his job, so the Bascombes did not argue the point.
The slim, bespectacled man smiled broadly and waved as he hurried to unlock the doors.
“Oh, goodness, come in, come in!” Friedle urged in his curt Swiss accent, then clucked his tongue. “I am sorry, Oliver. I locked the door without even considering that you might be outside on such a chilly night.”
A genuine smile blossomed on Oliver’s face. “It’s all right. All the preparations were becoming a bit overwhelming, so I thought I’d take a walk. And now it’s snowing.”
Friedle’s eyebrows went up and he glanced out the door. “So it is,” he noted appreciatively. But then his eyes narrowed and a mischievous sort of grin played at the edges of his lips. “We’re not getting cold feet, are we?”
“I was out for a stroll in the first snow of winter. Of course my feet are cold.”
“You know that isn’t what I meant.”
Oliver nodded amiably. “Yep.”
Friedle handled all the day-to-day business of running the household, from the largest details to the smallest, leaving Max Bascombe to focus on his work. Friedle paid the bills, answered the mail, and attended to small repairs and general upkeep, while at the same time overseeing the employment of the twice-weekly cleaning service, the landscaping crew, and the hiring of a snowplow man in winter.
When Oliver’s mother had died, it was Friedle who realized that someone was going to have to be hired to cook for father and son— the two men living in that silent old house. Mrs. Gray arrived promptly at seven o’clock every morning and remained until seven o’clock every night. Oliver hoped that she was paid well to spend so much time in someone else’s home. Friedle was another story entirely. He lived in the carriage house on the south end of the property. This was his home.
Oliver smiled warmly at the man, wished him good night, then strode down the corridor. The paintings on the walls reflected his father’s interest in the ocean— lighthouses and schooners and weathered lobstermen— and his mother’s passion for odd antiques, in this case crude portraits most visitors mistook for Bascombe family ancestors.
His damp shoes had squeaked from the moment he entered the house and Oliver wiped them on the Oriental rug before striding through the formal living room and the vast dining room. Though it was still early in December, the entire house was decorated for the holidays, red ribbon bows and gold candles and wreaths throughout the house. And from the other end of the vast place came the scent of a fire blazing in the hearth.
His path took him past the grand staircase and to a room his mother had always insisted upon referring to as the parlor. Despite or perhaps because of the fact that it drove his father crazy, Oliver had for years preferred to cozy up with a book or a movie in his mother’s parlor rather than the so-called family room. Katherine Bascombe had always kept her parlor filled with sweet-smelling flowers and warm blankets. The furniture was delicate, like his mother; the one room in the house where Max Bascombe hadn’t trammeled his wife’s decorative instincts.
Now Oliver paused a moment just at the door to the darkened room. The parlor was small by the standards of the Bascombe home, but it ran all the way to the rear of the house. The far end of the parlor was an array of tall windows that looked out upon the back of the property, at the gardens and the ocean beyond.
But tonight the view was obscured. Oliver could see nothing outside those windows but the snow that whipped icily against the glass. He looked at the small rolltop desk where his mother had liked to sit and write letters. Bookshelves revealed a combination of paperback Agatha Christie mysteries and antique leather-bound hardcovers. From time to time Oliver would take one of those older books down and read it, not minding the way the binding cracked and the yellowed paper crumbled. Books, he had always thought, were for reading. Writers put their heart and soul in between those covers, and it seemed to Oliver that if the books were never opened, the ghosts of their passion might be trapped there forever.
He inhaled the lemon scent of wood polish in the room, noticeable even over the powerful smell of flowers, and felt his mother’s absence keenly. In the wake of her death, Oliver had done as his father asked. He had gone on to law school and become an attorney, passed the bar not only in Maine but in Massachusetts, New York, and California as well. You had to be versatile if you wanted to be a partner in the firm of Bascombe & Cox. The problem was, this particular junior partner had no interest in being a lawyer. He had spent all four years at Yale in the Drama Club, doing Chekhov and Eugene O’Neill.
Oliver Bascombe was an actor. He wanted to live on the stage, to travel the world not in a private jet but by car and train. As an attorney it was his job to erase the trials and tribulations of others, yet he barely understood what his clients were experiencing.
He was a fly trapped in amber.
“What are you doing?”
Oliver started. He turned abruptly away from the parlor to find his sister, Collette, standing in the hall gazing at him. She had an odd smile on her face and he wondered how long she had been there, waiting for him to notice her arrival.
“Way to go,” he said, a hand over his chest. “Give the groom a heart attack the night before his wedding.”
“My, my, little brother. You’re notnervous,
Collette laughed and a ripple of warmth went through Oliver. So often he felt that the only warmth in this house came out of the heating ducts, but having Collette back in town, even if only for a few days, had been wonderful. Oliver, to his regret, was the image of his father, though somehow at once both thinner and more robust. But Collette was petite and her features fine and angular, so that she revealed in every glance the Irish heritage that had come down to them from their mother. A light of mischief gleamed in her eyes and, though she was his elder by six years, Collette was often mistaken for a girl half her age.
“Why would I be nervous?” Oliver replied. “It’s just my whole life changing forever tomorrow.”
Collette smiled again, the skin around her eyes crinkling. “You make it sound like a death sentence.”
A shudder went through Oliver and he caught his breath. His good humor faltered a moment and though he tried to summon it again, he saw in his sister’s gaze that she had noticed this lapse.
“Oliver?” she ventured. “Oh, Oliver, don’t.”
Collette shook her head as though she could deny what she had seen in his face. He had no idea whatdon’t
meant, exactly. Don’t say it? Don’t feel this way? Don’t get married? Don’t fuck it up? But he could imagine some of what Collette was feeling just then. Her own marriage— to Bradley Kenton, a television news producer out of New York City— had failed spectacularly. They had no children, but Collette had friends in the city, a job she loved as an editor atBillboard
magazine, and no desire to live with or even near her family again.
“I’m fine,” he assured her. “Really,” he lied.
His sister responded with a long sigh, then glanced around the hall before taking him by the elbow and ushering him into their mother’s parlor. She turned on a tall floor lamp whose glass enclosure had been designed by Gaudí. It threw strange, almost grotesque arrays of colored light across the room and upon Collette’s face. Oliver never used that lamp when he came here to hide away.