Inside the narrow room, two uniformed security pinheads sat in front of a bank of monitors. Each monitor scanned a corridor or a room; each was carefully labeled.
Marcus made another grab for Aaron; this time Aaron caught the guard’s hand and broke his finger. Because it wouldn’t be wise to do that fade trick too often. Someone might notice. And to pay him back for that jibe about Rosamund.
To Aaron’s intense enjoyment, Marcus did indeed scream like a little girl. Lifting his hand, he looked at the broken joint incredulously. “You American pig. I’m going to throw you so far out of here, you’ll bounce like a rubber ball.”
Without looking away from the wall of monitors before him, Pinhead Number One said, “Let him stay. If he’s planning on robbing Mr. Fournier, he might as well see what he’s up against.”
“I’m not on the list of guests who are thieves, am I?” Aaron asked mildly.
“You look like a guy who has aspirations.”
That was not an answer.
Pinhead Number One glanced at Marcus. “Get out. Man the rope.”
With a resentful glance at Aaron, the guard took his crooked finger out and shut the door behind him.
“Not much of a fighter,” Aaron observed.
“That’s why he’s in charge of the rope. We don’t need much there except for the ability to string words together and if necessary, mix it up with a few drunk guests,” Pinhead Number One said.
The château’s floor plan was on one big monitor on the wall. Aaron moved closer and stared. The ballroom was full of red dots that moved—the guests.
“Infrared?” Aaron asked.
“That’s right.” Pinhead Number One was apparently the chatty one.
Pinhead Number Two didn’t move, didn’t speak; yet somehow he seemed aware, like a crocodile waiting for his victim to move close.
As Aaron walked to the wall of room monitors, he gave Number Two a wide berth.
One guest had wandered into the upstairs, tripping a silent alarm. Pinhead Number One spoke into a microphone. “Remove Mr. Wilson.” As Aaron watched, a uniformed security pinhead walked out of a bedroom, apprehended Mr. Wilson, and after a brief scuffle, escorted him out the back door and to his car.
“Reporter. He thought we didn’t know. But we know everything.” Pinhead Number Two turned his reptilian head and looked at Aaron, his cold eyes satisfied with his demonstration. “He could have stayed if he had behaved.” Still staring at Aaron, he spoke into the microphone. “Escort the lady with Mr. Wilson to their car.”
On the floor of the ballroom, two men converged on a well-dressed woman holding an animated conversation with the French president. A few words from the guards and she was gone.
“Very efficient,” Aaron approved blandly. “Every room is monitored?”
“Every room,” the pinheads confirmed in unison.
“Not Mr. Fournier’s private library.” Because Aaron had examined each monitor, looking for a glimpse of Fournier and Rosamund, but he saw nothing.
“It is, most carefully, but not when Mr. Fournier is inside. He prefers not to be observed with his . . . books.” The reptilian head turned toward Aaron again, and its tongue flickered out.
. The guy was gay. Not like Philippe his fashion designer was gay, but I’m-the-head-prisoner-and-I’m going-to-make-you-my-bitch gay.
Dangerous. This room and these men were very dangerous.
But it was too damned late to worry about that. For now, he could only pretend to be oblivious. “The bathrooms are monitored?”
room,” Pinhead Number One reiterated.
Mentally Aaron counted up the doors down the corridor. Maybe every room, but not every space. One door was unaccounted for. Fournier’s private can? A closet? A passage out? A stairway down? Or up? Aaron intended to find out.
“Thanks, guys, I appreciate the tour. It’s boring out there in the hall waiting for Dr. Hall to finish translating for Mr. Fournier.” Aaron eased toward the door, careful not to make eye contact with the crocodile, not to make any sudden moves. “I’ll see you around.”
“Every time you piss,” said Pinhead Number Two.
Aaron flinched. “Yeah.” He cast one more glance at the screen that monitored the corridor outside Fournier’s private library—still empty—opened the door and headed out.
He was safer with an angry, broken Marcus than with the crocodile.
osamund splashed water on her face, dried it, and stepped briskly out of the restroom. “All right. May I see the prophetess journal”
“Direct and to the point.” Louis’s sharp gaze may have recognized the signs of tears but, wise man, he didn’t address the issue.
“I need to translate the text. Time is not on our side.” Aaron was probably pacing the corridor, and if he decided to try to break in here, he would certainly be arrested, possibly electrocuted. “May I see it now?”
“Of course.” Louis offered gloves, then removed the journal from an unlocked display case—a sign of its lesser value. He brought it to the table and offered it without any obvious worry as to its frailty. “It was found recently in a box in the attic of a private home in Paris. It’s in very good condition.”
The book was a slim volume of no more than two dozen pages, bound in leather richly decorated with African tribal symbols etched in gold, and until the moment she recognized them, she hadn’t truly dared believe they had finally found Sacmis’s journal.
But she knew these symbols, had come in contact with them on an African safari she’d taken with her parents, and now she traced them with her gloved fingertip. “No wonder the family hid it in their attic. These are not praises or good wishes.”
“You know what they say?”
“The prophetess put a hex on those who sold her, on those who kept her in slavery, and on all those who hold the spirit of her words.” Rosamund looked at the older man. “If you believe in curses, you might want to unload this.”
“I don’t.” Then he laughed. “Shall I give it to
She drew back, instinctively repulsed. “No!”
“Why, Dr. Hall, it would appear
believe in curses.” He leaned forward, his gaze fixed to hers.
“Coincidence, my father said, but lately . . .” Lately, so many odd things had happened, she no longer believed the world was safe, easily explained, and logical. “Lately, I have doubts.”
“Are you speaking of your mother’s death?”
Jolted by how much Louis knew, she shrugged and nodded. “And my father’s.”
“Another mysterious death.”
“Yes, and I fear—” She stopped. “Do you believe that someone could be bad luck?”
“No. I’ve seen people who constantly fall down stairs or off curbs, but they’re merely clumsy. I’ve seen people who fail at their endeavors time after time, but they’re either careless or gamblers who play regardless of the odds. Believe me, you make your own luck, good or bad.”
“I suppose you’re right. To believe otherwise is superstition.”
“And your father taught you to despise superstition.”
She froze, and tried to remember if she’d told him that. But no. She hadn’t. So how had he known such a trivial detail?
Louis leaned back and sighed. “I should not have pried into your life. I see that now. But I assure you, I meant nothing by it. I had to know that you were genuine before I let you into my library, and more important, I am old. I haven’t the time to get to know someone at a leisurely pace.”
She tested the thick paper and examined the binding. “But to gobble up all the knowledge about another person—that removes the pleasure of a growing friendship.”
“You seem so young and fresh, almost childlike in your enthusiasm, yet in your way, you’re wiser than many an old man.” He grimaced. “You’re right. In addition, I have an unfair advantage over you, and it makes you uneasy. I wouldn’t wish that to come between us. I believe we
Louis knew more about her than any person alive . . . except Aaron, and she’d been telling him stuff because he’d acted interested. And why? Why would he suddenly be interested when no other man had ever bothered?
For her linguistic skills, of course. But what was so important about this prophecy that he needed to be nice to her?
She glanced at her purse, wondering if Lance had texted her back yet, then looked up into Louis’s eyes. “I’d like to be friends. In fact, I think we already are.”
“Good.” He sounded brisk as he opened the book for her. “Now—can you comprehend any of the script?”
“It’s very odd—part tribal, part hieroglyphics.” Placing the book on the table beneath the light, she turned the pages slowly, picking out a phrase here, a word there, but finding the text, for the most part, disap pointingly indecipherable. “I think this is derived from an ancient language that has completely died off.”
“Yes, so my people say.”
Excitement began to bubble in her. “But perhaps there is a way to read this.” She reached for her purse. “If you would allow me?”
She pulled out the reading glass Irving had given her, and stroked it for the pure sensual pleasure of its touch. “This supposedly translates any text into a readable script. I know it sounds too good to be true, but it can be effective.”
The rounded dome glowed with all the colors of the rainbow; the surface felt slick and surprisingly warm, as if it had been sitting in the sun, and the flat bottom was perfectly smooth.
Louis started as if he’d been stuck with a needle. “Where did you get that?”
His tone contained such suppressed excitement, she looked at the old man. His eyes sparkled; his expression was rapt. “From Irving Shea of New York City. Do you know him?”
“He has a reputation among collectors.” Louis reached out a hand as if in longing, then yanked it back. “I see that it’s true.”
“Yes, his collection is fascinating. He called this Bala’s Glass—”
She placed the flat side over the lettering on the page. “It’s reputed to translate the most indecipherable text. . . .” She looked up sheepishly. “I suppose that’s absurd, that there’s some trick to it. This glass would have to be magical to do that, wouldn’t it?”
“If you believe in curses, then you can believe in magic,” Louis said.
She stirred uncomfortably. She didn’t want to believe in curses or magic, for if she did, the world became a much more perilous place, where not even the library was safe. “I’ve carried the glass with me, but until now, I haven’t come upon anything I couldn’t translate. I’m fascinated to see if this works.” She leaned over and stared through the glass. Nothing happened, and she sighed with disappointment. “Of course, it is a hoax. It doesn’t work.”
“Don’t give up yet,” Louis urged.
As he spoke, the colors of the glass picked up the symbols and rearranged them. Bit by bit, she began to comprehend, and in a soft, slow voice, she read, “ ‘I, Sacmis, descendant of Isis, prophetess to the great/Do wish to write of the visions I have seen/And the tragedy I foretell. . . .’ ”
Louis rolled a chair close to Rosamund and urged her to sit down, then seated himself beside her. “May I see through the reading glass?”
She turned the book toward him, and he stared at the page, glancing between the bare, unreadable script and the cogent writing beneath the dome. “I’ve never seen anything like this. This manuscript has baffled the best translators in the world, and with the help of Bala’s Glass, even I can read it.”
“Can you? I am so glad that it’s not just me.”
“Bala’s Glass chooses its friends.”
“If you believe an inanimate object can make choices.” She laughed. “I suspect the answer is somewhat easier than that. Reading is clarified through the glass, but only for someone who is trained in linguistics like you or me.”
“My dear.” He placed his fingers over hers. “I am barely literate even in French.”