Inside the church the atmosphere was heavy with the scent of flowers. A fat woman in a rose-spattered dress sat at a gigantic pipe organ playing softly. The trio was led by ushers to reserved seats in front, but first they passed by the coffin which stood open.
Rachael’s eyes were closed, lips slightly parted, touched with color, her face heavily made up. She could have been sleeping.
Endless rows of people passed by the coffin to pay their final respects, every manner of long lost relative, friend and acquaintance. Annie leaned over and kissed her mother’s cheek and Doug saw that she was weeping. Weeping for a mother she missed, Doug wondered, or for a mother she’d never really had?
The eulogy was delivered by a tall stick-figured pastor. The man was too thin, all bones. He could not fill his clothes; his black trousers hung shapelessly on his knobby hips and his shoulders poked at the fabric of his white shirt as if only bare sharp bones lay beneath it. He vaguely resembled John Carradine, the actor from the 1940’s. He read the twenty-third psalm, which had been Rachael De Roché’s favorite.
Others got up, friends and relatives—people Doug did not know but some he recognized from television or magazines—and spoke words of affection, hope and salvation for the mortal soul of Rachael Kincaid De Roché.
As the reading was drawing to a close Doug could not curb the impulse to look over his shoulder. He had a strong sense that someone was watching him. He scanned up one pew and down the other but saw nothing out of the ordinary; just well-dressed mourners with solemn expressions on their faces. His attention was caught suddenly by a white-haired old man standing near the exit door at the back of the church. He did not wear a suit; just a wrinkled tweed sports jacket over a beige colored shirt and kaki trousers. His head of thick white hair was mussed, uncombed, as if it had been slept in. He looked oddly out of place amongst all of this social elegance. His expression was harried and his large brilliantly-blue eyes were haunted with some terrible knowledge. They stared out at Doug from eye sockets sunken and rimmed with bruise-colored indentations. Doug shivered, feeling suddenly uncomfortable. The man’s eyes seemed to say, I know something Doug, something you need to know. Doug stared for a long moment, wondering what had drawn his attention to the old man in the first place. The man’s piercing stare never once wavered from his. Doug turned back around with a strong sense of unease.
It seemed like the service would never end. Impatient and ill-at-ease, Doug escaped through a side entrance. He went outside into the heat of the day and leaned against the cemetery fence.
People, ill-dressed for a funeral, lolled on gravestones and littered the lawn. Looking around at this heat-flushed congregation Doug felt contempt well up in him. He wanted to turn his back on all of it and slip away.
Instead, his thoughts wandered back to the old man inside the church. For some reason he could not get him out of his mind. His haunting eyes seemed to have burned holes in the back of Doug’s head. Who was he? What did he want? Probably nothing, his mind told him, even as he knew it wasn’t true. He kept his attention focused on the front doors of the building, expecting to see him, a feeling of anticipation building.
There were half a dozen motley-looking black birds perched in the nearby heat-wilted trees. Unmoving, they seemed to be gathered only near him. Three others were perched on the fence less than ten feet down from him, plumage askew. They all stared at Doug with red points of eyes. Fear suddenly crawled into Doug’s belly. A particularly large specimen hopped down from a tree branch and lopped toward him, its head cocked eerily. It was staring at Doug with one ruby-red eye. The other eye seemed to be covered with a milky film. Doug was suddenly sure what was going on here. He’d seen the same bird at his house in Maine yesterday morning just before the explosion that sent him and Annie running for their lives. But that was impossible, wasn’t it? How could a bird fly nearly a thousand miles in just over twenty-four hours? Simple, it couldn’t. But as he sat watching the bird watch him, his sense of unease began to deepen until his brain began to squeal. He reached his hand up and massaged that maddening itch just above the bridge of his nose. There was something wrong here, an atmosphere of deepening dread. He clapped his hands together suddenly, causing a loud crack. The loathsome, bird-like creature took wing in panic, the others following, cawing loudly. They did not go far, however. Perched in trees throughout the cemetery they seemed to be watching, waiting for something, as was he.
Doug went back to watching the church’s front entrance, his dread deepening. Finally, from inside the church, there came the clatter of people rising from pews, shuffling to gain exit. Doug craned to get a better view of the porch. The procession of mourners followed on the heels of the pallbearers.
Doug did not see the strange old man emerge and assumed that he had either stayed inside or had slipped out through another exit.
Finally De Roché and Annie emerged from the building arm in arm into the brilliance of the young afternoon. A buzz spread through the crowd as people moved forward like a human wave. Those who seemed disinterested a moment ago now stood up and paid attention. “That’s their daughter Annie,” he heard a woman say in a nearly breathless whisper; completely unaware that she was standing not ten feet from Annie’s husband. “Her real name’s Antoinette. Isn’t that a beautiful name, Antoinette De Roché? Supposedly there’s royal blood in their veins. It’s all so romantic. She’s been away for a long time. I hear she married somebody from up north.”
“Wow!” another voice exclaimed—this one a teenaged boy dressed in baggy blue jeans and a Nickelback T-shirt. “She’s a super-babe!” Doug peered between the heads of the crowd to catch a glimpse and he couldn’t help but smile. There seemed to be an aura surrounding Annie that was nearly supernatural. Although he could recognize the grief on her face it was eclipsed by the sheer power of her astonishing presence. The lady was indeed a babe. He saw Annie scanning. She was looking for him.
He kept his distance, however, following the procession to a sight in the cemetery where sandy soil had been freshly dug out of the earth and lay in a mound near the hole. The pallbearers eased the casket down onto the grass and a small crane hooked onto it lowering it into the hole. John Carradine read another passage from the bible, and then Edmund De Roché tearfully said several words of his own for his dead wife. Doug was surprised that the old man had the capacity to shed tears, or show any emotion for that matter. Could he be human after all? The sentiment was short-lived.
Annie kneeled and scooped up a double handful of sandy earth. She leaned out over the grave and allowed the soil to sift slowly through her fingers. The crowd became eerily silent, so silent in fact that Doug could hear the soil softly striking the top of the casket. Tears ran down Annie’s cheeks in glistening rivulets. De Roché took a shovel and threw a scoop of earth into the grave. His actions seemed to be posed, however, over-exaggerated; as though every move was staged for the cameras.
And then it was over. The crowd began to fragment. Out on the cemetery road parked limousines were taking on well-dressed dignitaries. Annie left her father’s side and caught up with Doug.
“Where did you go?” she asked.
“I needed some fresh air.” He looked at her appraisingly, took out his handkerchief and wiped at her cheeks. She smiled and kissed him softly on the mouth. “How are you holding up?” he asked.
“Okay,” she said. “It’s over now . . . that part of my life, I mean . . .” She sighed. “Now I have to deal with the rest of it.”
Doug knew what she meant but had vowed to avoid the subject of her father. His nerves were jumpy and his instincts told him to put distance between himself and this place. “I can’t stay here, Annie,” he said suddenly, surprising even himself with this confession. “I’m leaving tomorrow morning.”
“Oh, Doug,” Annie said, trying to sound sad, but there was something in her voice that betrayed her relief. Sharp stabs of pain shot into Doug’s heart. “I do love you,” she said, and Doug honestly believed she did. He didn’t believe, however, that she understood the danger either of them was in, and she wouldn’t until he could find some concrete proof of her father’s betrayal.
“I hope you can understand,” she went on. “It’ll only be for a little while, I promise.” Again she kissed him softly on the mouth, her moist, full lips lingering there for a long moment in torment. The taste of her made Doug ache inside.
He took hold of Annie’s shoulders and pushed her away to arms length, staring appraisingly at her. “The thought of leaving you here scares me,” he said. “I can’t help it.”
“It’ll be okay, Doug.”
“I know you think that—”
Before he could finish, Annie hugged him fiercely, her arms around him in a strong grip. They stood that way for a long moment in silence. Finally she said, “There are demons here that I need to face.”
“I know. I wish I could help you, but I realize it’s not about me. I just hope it’s the right thing for you. I just hope it’s the right thing for our child. I can’t help it, I just have this . . . bad feeling.”
“I know how to handle him.”
“You’ve been away from him for more than a decade. There’s something—” He stopped short of telling her what he ached to tell her. That he now knew her father was a monster.
“What?” she said.
“You heard the things he was saying in the limo. He doesn’t even sound sane.”
Annie released her grip on Doug, stepped back staring intently at him. “Why, because he has vision?”
Doug rolled his eyes. “Vision? Listen to yourself, Annie. Did you actually hear the things he was saying? A new world order, shadow governments, black science. A new kind of power. What the hell was he talking about? Would you vote for him?”
Annie frowned. “He’s my father, Doug, and it’s time I accepted that.”
Doug looked away shaking his head. “Yeah, you’re right. He needs you more than I do.”
“There, I’ve made you angry.”
“No,” he said, “not angry, just sad. I’m not even sure I know you any more.” He laid his hand gently on her abdomen. “Please, take care of our child, Annie.”
“Oh, Doug,” she said scowling. “You act like we’re never going to see each other again—”
A hail of gunshots suddenly rang out. People screamed and the crowd began to stampede like cattle. Doug pushed Annie to the ground covering her with his body while he quickly scanned the area. More shots sounded, two or three in quick succession. Over toward the grave mound he saw something that made his blood run cold. A bullet struck De Roché in the chest, ripped through his body and splattered blood onto the grass behind him. The whole scene played out before Doug as if in slow motion. De Roché’s hands went to his chest and Doug could see bright red arterial blood pumping out between his splayed fingers. The man dropped slowly to his knees and bowed his head. There was a look of complete and utter peace on his face.
More shots followed, accompanied by shouts and screams. Annie was cursing and thrashing, trying to struggle to a sitting position, but Doug held her down. In the next instant he saw the old man from the church determinedly making his way through the parting throngs toward De Roché, and there was a pistol in his hand. Theo was sprinting across the lawn toward the gunman, weapon drawn. He fell to one knee, aimed the gun carefully and squeezed off two shots in quick succession. One of the bullets caught the old man in the chest and there was an explosion of blood. Another caught him in the right shoulder. The gunman dropped like a November deer. The crowd was in a panic now, people running aimlessly, screaming and shouting, tripping over one another.
“Daddy,” Annie screamed, finally struggling to her feet. Scowling at her husband, she turned and sprinted toward her father.
“Annie, no!” Doug tried to go after her but the crowd quickly closed in around De Roché, blocking Annie from his view and preventing him from getting through.
Theo walked up and nudged the gunman with his foot. Satisfied that he was not going to get up, the security chief retrieved the man’s weapon and started pushing his way through the throngs toward his boss. Doug saw Don Savage move toward De Roché from the opposite direction.
“Someone call 911!” Annie screamed. She was standing on the mound next to her kneeling father. A man with a camera had broken through the line and was filming the action.
Theo had finally made it through, weapon still drawn and ready. Other security types were now circling father and daughter, guns at ready, scanning the crowd for other possible gunmen. None were immediately evident. As the moments ticked by it became clear, at least to Doug, that the old man had acted alone.
The crowd seemed only to be concerned with De Roché, and for this Doug felt a strange sense of gratitude. He stood over the gunman, staring down at him. The man’s hand moved ever so slightly. The movement looked like something more than reflex, however, a conscious gesture perhaps. Could he still be alive? Doug kneeled down beside him. The man’s lips were moving. “Come closer,” he said.
Doug was amazed that the man was still breathing. His head lay in blood. Blood pumped from the hole in his chest in time with the beating of his failing heart. He should have been dead, but somehow, he was alive.
“Who are you,” Doug asked.
“My name is Redington,” the old man rasped. “I am a priest, a member of an organization known as The Brotherhood of the Order. You must listen carefully to what I say. There’s not much time.”
“Why did you do it?”
“I had to. You do not understand who he is. You do not understand who he serves.”
“I think you killed him,” Doug said, and shamelessly felt no compassion.
“No . . .” the fallen man said with regret. “He is not dead. You will see. He has power. I needed to make you understand.”
Doug saw that the old man was thrusting his hand toward him.
“Take this,” the priest said, “and do not let anyone see it.” Doug held out his hand and without looking to see what it was, closed his fist around an object, which was a pendent of some kind, small but heavy, with an attached chain. And in that moment, without the benefit of explanation, Doug sensed that his life had come to some sort of crossroad. He could not adequately articulate his feelings but he knew, nevertheless.
“The burden is now yours,” the old man said.
Doug frowned. “Please, you’re not making sense.”
“You are the chosen one. My time has passed.”
“I don’t understand.” Doug said, even though in some deep, hidden place inside him he did. He opened his fist, gazing down at the object in his palm. He could see that it was some sort of artifact—ancient in appearance and triangular in shape. It looked to be made of iron, or perhaps it was bronze, worn smooth from handling and tinged with verdigris. It sort of resembled an arrowhead, about an inch and a half long by an inch wide at the back. But now he could see that it was irregularly formed on the back as if it was the broken-off tip of a larger object. Some sort of wire, golden in color, had been wrapped around an attached suspension loop that held the chain for wearing. Suddenly the object began to glow and heat up in his hand. Doug was so startled he almost dropped it. Then two remarkable things happened nearly simultaneously. First, the object began to glow a brilliant golden color as if some sort of magic alchemy was at work in it. And second, it began to elongate into a full blown object, about six inches long which resembled the head of a spear. Doug stared at it in awe. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. But even before he could comprehend what he was seeing, the object changed back into a fragment. The illusion was disorienting and Doug closed his fist around it again, staring back at the old man. The object no longer felt warm, but cold and inert.
“It has been searching for you,” the old man said. “It will help to protect you from the darkness that is about to come.”
Doug stared at the old man. “I don’t understand.”
The man coughed and spewed blood from his mouth and nose. “In time you will.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Doug said gnashing his teeth together in anger.
“You were chosen,” the old man said. “Why do you think you have the ability to see the things you see? Forces beyond your control guided you into the midst of the De Roché dynasty, and those same forces guided me here to you. It was not coincidence that you should marry his daughter.”
In that instant, a wall Doug had never known existed between himself and his destiny began to crumble. He stared at the old man in bitter astonishment.
“Your purpose has been living dormant inside you since birth,” the old man said. “Now it is coming to fruition.”
“I was tricked,” Doug said.
“No. It was not Annie’s fault.”
“Time is short. You must listen.”
“What about my child?” Doug asked. “Why is it so important?”
“There are many factions who wish it.”
“Yes, but why?”
“Once the object is passed to the child, it will have power that both mortals and immortals wish to use for their own evil ends. You must not allow it.”
“Are you talking about De Roché?”
“He is only a puppet in a much larger scheme.”
“Who else is involved?”
“There are many. Magicians, demons, governments. It is not important that you understand everything now. De Roché will try to kill you. Believe me when I tell you this. His master has given him many lives, and the promise of great power, but only if he delivers the promise. He fears you and so does his master.”
“They sense your power, your purpose.”
“But I’m just a simple carpenter! I don’t have any power!”
“You see things. You know things. That is what frightens them. You are a witness to their crimes and they do not have the power to stop you. You are the only one who can expose them. They want your child more than anything on Earth.”
“But it’s Annie’s child they want.”
“That is what you have been made to believe. Do you think De Roché would have let you live if he hadn’t needed you? If you do what I say the artifact will help to save your life, that of your wife and your child, and in the end it might save everything. But you must be careful; he has sought the artifact for years, as have others. For two thousand years it has been hunted by greedy power mongers.” The old man coughed again and spewed blood. His voice was weakening.
Doug stared in disbelief. “What is this thing?”
“A fragment from an ancient weapon. There are those who believe it is the path to God.”
“No,” Doug said, suddenly remembering his bible study classes. “This can’t be real.”
“Please, you must trust me.”
“Who is De Roché’s master?”
“A tormentor. A creature who calls himself by many names; Lost, Forsaken, Forgotten.” Doug knew the names, of course. He’d seen them written on walls in a language he should not have been able to understand. And he’d heard them whispered inside his head while he slept, as if through those words alone he could somehow understand and sympathize with the tormentor’s pain.
“You must listen carefully before I die,” the old man said. “This demon, this tormentor is growing in power. I have seen two visions of the future and one of them is a future we can not endure. After an attempt on your life, if you survive, you will lose your way for a time, but fear not. It is for the best. It will be a chance for the warrior to awaken.”
Doug’s frustration boiled over. “But I’m not a warrior!”
“You are more than you think you are.”
“How will De Roché try to kill me?”
“I do not know.”
“But you just said you saw the visions.”
“Your enemy’s are many and they will use every means.”
“You said if I survive?”
“There are no guarantees.”
“But how will I know what to do.”
The old man grimaced in pain. “Follow your heart. It will guide you.” Again he coughed blood and his body convulsed. “Leave this place soon. Go . . . alone. Do not take Annie. She is stronger than you know. She will take care of her own. She will know what to do . . . when the time is . . . right. I promise you.”
“But what about the other factions that want my child?”
“I do not have answers for you.”
Doug’s eyes implored the man.
“You are good,” the man hissed. “But there is great danger, and you must be very . . . careful. If you survive you will know everything you need to know. The Order will help to guide you.” The man closed his eyes.
“Please,” Doug said. He felt his pulse throbbing madly at his temples. His mind was suddenly populated with visions of black beating wings and a single crimson eye, glowing with rage. The fleshy wings seemed to be flapping toward the center of his soul, trying to block out all light, wanting to choke the essence of his life out of him. Tormentor. Yes that was his name. A grand illusionist, a lost, forsaken and most likely forgotten being bereft of heart and soul. Doug knew him well, of course but wished they’d never met. Go away, you son of a bitch. You’ll never have my kid’s soul. Not if I have anything to say about it.
Suddenly that disembodied and pleading voice again found his ear, as if from some far away and fragmented dream, floating out of the darkness on a static-filled radio beacon: Please help me, mister. My name is Trinity and I’m trapped in a dark place.
Where are you, Trinity?
In the House of Bones. It’s so dark in here and I’m so lost and lonely. Please help me?
“You know the darkness, don’t you?” the old man said, startling Doug back to reality. Doug was surprised that he was still alive, that he still had the capacity to speak. “Voices from the dark speak to you even now.”
Doug stared at the man in awe. “But how do you know?”
“Because I too hear the voices. It is both a blessing and a curse. Go now and find the lost child. You can help save her, and in turn she will help you through the darkness and back into the light.”
“But I don’t know who she is. I don’t know where to look.”
“Your heart will . . . guide you.”
The old man’s hand sought Doug’s, and as flesh touched flesh, a shock of electric energy pulsed through him, wiping the terrible fluttering blackness from his soul. It was then that he saw the child’s face, clear and shining in his mind’s eye. She was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. “Trinity?” he gasped, as a startling realization struck him. “I know you. I think I’ve always known you.”
The priest’s hand lightly squeezed Doug’s. “You must follow your heart,” he said again, and died.
In the distance sirens wailed. Doug stood and scanned the area, wiping tears from his eyes. He opened his trembling hand and stared at the object it contained. It was glowing madly and seemed to be pulsing along with the beating of his heart. He closed his fist around it and dropped it into his jacket pocket.
Over on the mound De Roché was standing, straightening his collar and tie. The man wasn’t dead after all. Doug wasn’t really surprised. The only thing he knew for sure was, he must not reveal to De Roché, or even Annie what had really happened here. Be careful, he has hunted it for years, the old man had said.
Doug slowly backed away. De Roché was staring at him, his eyes burning with some terrible knowledge. He knows. Jesus Christ, he can smell the fucking thing. He didn’t think De Roché would try anything here in front of all these people, but he wasn’t about to chance it. He turned and made his way out of the man’s influence. The press suddenly seemed to be everywhere, snapping pictures and thrusting microphones in people’s faces, distracting the arrogant paragon. Doug was grateful for the reprieve. He leaned against a tree at a safe distance and watched the proceedings.
A strange cold excitement suddenly filled his entire being. Somehow the old man had known he had the power to see certain things. But how had he known? He had known lots of things he had no right to know. And what about the child, Trinity? When he’d seen her face, his heart had gone out to her. But it was more than that. It was as if he’d always known her, like the two were connected in some elemental way. He felt a strong, nearly all-consuming love for this lost child. Who was she? How would he ever find her?
There were too many unanswered questions. If the old man had meant to kill De Roché and the artifact had power, why then hadn’t he succeeded? Had this been the first time he’d tried?
So many questions, so few answers.
There were a few remaining onlookers close to the action, but most had scattered, standing well out of harm’s way. Some were making a fuss over De Roché, others wandering pointlessly. Some were crying. Others were talking in heated exchanges. News people were looking into cameras and talking into microphones. A small group of citizens had finally gathered around the remains of the dead man. People were asking about his identity. Theo was back and he was going through the old man’s pockets looking for identification. When none was apparent he rose in frustration setting his sights on Doug.
An ambulance had pulled up onto the grass and two paramedics were trundling a stretcher toward where De Roché and Annie stood. Doug could hear De Roché’s raised voice in what sounded like a protest. The police had arrived and two men in plain clothes were now talking to father and daughter. They were gesturing toward the dead man, explaining what had happened.
Several policemen were now examining the body of the gunman and one was taking a statement from Theo. John Carradine stood over the dead priest reading from an open bible.
Annie came to Doug. “He’s all right,” she said, hugging him for comfort. “Thank God.”
Doug could have told her that he’d seen a bullet strike her father in the center of his chest and go straight through him. But he kept silent. What would be the point of such an admission? Annie would not have believed him. Besides, Doug’s life was already in danger. Why invite unwanted attention? “Was he hit?” Doug asked instead.
“One of the bullets grazed his right upper body. There’s some blood. It’s possible that one of his ribs is broken. He’s going to the hospital for treatment. Under great duress, I might add. I’m going with him. I’ll meet you back at the house later, okay? Unless . . . you want to come?” Annie raised an eyebrow.
“No thanks, I’ve had quite enough of your father for one day.”
“You can ride back with Theo in the limo.”
“I’ll take a cab,” Doug said. “I need to buy an airline ticket. Besides, I don’t like Theo.”
Annie searched Doug’s face.
“Stay away from him, Annie. I don’t trust him, and if you know what’s good for you, you won’t either.”
Theo finally got away from the cops and came over. “I saw you kneeling beside the gunman,” he said to Doug. “What were you doing?”
“Afraid I can’t do that,” Theo said, his voice hard but steady. “Mr. De Roché pays me to protect him. I’m just doing my job.”
“Did my father pay you to protect my mother?” Annie asked, her voice filled with controlled rage.
Theo eyed Annie without emotion for a long moment before turning and walking away.