Nightshine, p.35
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       Nightshine, p.35

         Part #4 of Kyndred series by Lynn Viehl
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Page 35

 

  Drew stopped by one of the devices, and the camera stopped moving. “Gracie, we are being watched. Why?”

  “The Englishman is obsessed with his birds, so he puts cameras everywhere. They are programmed to track movement. ” She glanced back at him. “Come, Andrew. If your friends are out here, he’ll know. ”

  The lack of expression on her pretty face and the flatness of her voice made him wonder just what was going on in her head.

  As she started off again, he called after her, “Are you mad at me because we made love?”

  She spun on her heel and strode back to him. “That was private. You will not speak of it to anyone. Ever. ”

  “What do you want me to do?” he demanded. “Act like it never happened?”

  “Yes. Please. ” Her voice broke on the words, and she hurried away.

  “Not in a million years, lady. ” He took off after her, catching up just as Gracie reached the house. His anger faded as he looked up at four stories of what appeared to be a tiered pyramid. “Is this a temple?”

  “Yes. ” She skirted a statue of a reclining primitive figure with a bug-eyed face and an empty bowl in his hands. “Before he came to the islands, the Englishman was an archaeologist. He is an expert on Aztec culture. ”

  “So you gave him his own pyramid?” He glanced at the intricate carvings in the stone. “How did you get it here?”

  “It’s only a replica, Andrew. ” She moved toward an opening in the center of the lowest level.

  He caught her arm before she went inside. “How can he live in something like this? It doesn’t even have windows. ”

  “Saves me the annoyance of having to wash them, my boy. ” A tall, slim man stepped out of the shadowy interior and smiled at Drew. “You’ll be Agent Frasier. ” He extended his arm. “Foster Stanton, at your service. ”

  “Dr. Stanton. ” He accepted the handshake, which was as guileless as the other man’s expression. “This is some place you have here. ”

  “I found myself inspired by the Barceló Karmina Palace hotel. Since that was modeled after a Mayan temple, I felt the Aztecs merited a similar homage. ” He swept an arm in a theatrical gesture. “Please, I’ve a lovely tea waiting for us. Do come inside. ”

  Drew couldn’t think of anything he wanted to do less than have tea inside the pseudo temple, but Gracie had already disappeared inside, leaving him with the smiling Englishman. Instinctively he scanned the immediate area, his mind reaching out for any copper he could use, but the house and the surrounding grounds seemed completely devoid of it and all other metals.

  “If you’re a touch claustrophobic, old boy,” Stanton said, “we can talk out here. ”

  His polite offer made Drew feel like a paranoid moron. “No, I’m fine. ”

  Stanton showed off his long white teeth. “Then follow me to the best homemade crumpets you’ll find this side of Devonshire. ”

  The interior of the structure was a series of high stone corridors illuminated by freestanding halogen lamps fashioned to look like burning torches. Aztec artifacts occupied most of the curved, lighted niches in the walls, but as Drew passed and got a closer look at them, he realized they were too new to be anything but replicas. From the dust patterns in the empty niches it was clear that several had been recently removed.

  “Why did you switch from archaeology to bird-watching?” he asked the Englishman.

  “I discovered I had an affinity for our feathered friends,” Stanton told him. “I wasted much of my youth scrabbling after bits and baubles left behind in forgotten tombs. The only history of any real value is that which we make ourselves. ”

  Drew eyed a tall stone vase from which golden peacock feathers sprouted, and frowned. “How do birds factor into your philosophy?”

  “When nearly every other living thing on the Earth became extinct, birds survived by evolving and occupying the skies. ” The Englishman’s voice took on a dreamy softness. “They’ve become the watchers of time. ”

  “I guess they have. ” Stanton, Drew decided, had spent too many months behind his binoculars. His attention was diverted as they entered a wide, circular room furnished like the lobby of an exclusive hotel. Gracie stood by a wheeled cart while she filled three delicate porcelain cups with tea from a matching pot. On a low table an assortment of platters held cakes, pastries, and finger sandwiches.

  Drew saw another woman walking out of the room: a younger girl dressed in a white blouse and black shirt. Another woman came in a few moments later carrying another plate of fruit. She was older than the first but wore the same garments, as if they were some type of uniform.

  “Gracias, Conchita,” Stanton said to her. “That will be all. ”

  The woman nodded and left just as silently as the girl had, her movements as slow as if she were walking through water.

  “Is that your wife and daughter?” Drew asked.

  “God, no. They’re part of my staff. ” Stanton accepted a cup from Gracie and sat down in one of the tapestry-covered chairs. “You really must try the crumpets. They’re obscenely appetizing. ”

  When Gracie tried to give him a cup of tea, Drew shook his head. “I thought you were a recluse. ”

  “My studies require a great deal of my time. ” He sipped from his cup before setting it down. “Surely you don’t deny an old man some creature comforts?”

  For the first time Drew realized just how young Stanton looked; he couldn’t be a day over thirty. “Agent Flores said you’ve been living in Mexico since the seventies. Did you come here with your parents when you were a kid?”

  “Something like that. ” Stanton sat back. “Do you have any children, Agent Frasier?”

  “No, I’m single. ” Drew glanced at Gracie, who remained waiting by the cart as if she were just another servant. “Dr. Stanton, we came here looking for some Americans who were kidnapped. Have you seen any strange boats in the area?”

  “Since my island borders the reserve area around Las Islas Revillagigedo, I don’t see many boats at all,” Stanton said. “However, my employer recently took a tour of the islands and mentioned seeing a boat docked at one of the islands. ”

  “Which one?” Drew asked.

  “He didn’t say, now that I think about it. But never fear. ” The Englishman smiled. “He’ll be joining us tonight, and you can ask him yourself. ”

  “I’m sorry, but I can’t wait that long. ” Drew turned to Gracie. “If we leave now, we should be able to check all of the islands. ”

  “You can’t leave before dinner. Conchita,” Stanton called out, and when the older woman appeared, he asked, “What are you preparing for the evening meal?”

  “Camarones rancheros, señor,” the woman said, staring at the floor.

  “Ah, shrimp sautéed with vegetables and spices—one of her finest dishes,” Stanton said, sounding pleased, and shooed away the servant. “Quite worth the wait, Agent Frasier, I assure you. ”

  As Conchita passed Drew, he saw a mark on the side of her neck: a light brownish yellow bruise surrounding two small round scabs. “Maybe another time, thanks. Agent Flores?”

  Gracie gave Stanton a strange look. “We could return in a few hours to have dinner with you. ”

  “Given the amount of agitation Agent Frasier is trying so valiantly to conceal, I think that highly unlikely, my dear. We will have to resort to plan B. ” The Englishman rose and nodded past Drew, who turned to see two men armed with steel machetes.

  Drew finally understood the missing artifacts, and why he couldn’t sense any copper around him. Before they arrived, Stanton must have removed everything Drew might use with his ability.

  “Why the elaborate charade?” he asked the Englishman. “You could have had her kill me on the boat. ”

  Gracie started to say something, and then shook her head before she spoke to Stanton in rapid Spanish.

  “Our dear Agraciana is many things, Mr. Rio
rdan, but she’s not an assassin,” Stanton told him. “As it happens, she has gone to great lengths to see to it that you live a very long and extremely pleasant life. ”

  “Is that what your boss told you?” Drew demanded. “Genaro lied. He only wants revenge, and my DNA. He’ll cut my throat the minute you turn me over to him, and then kill the rest of you to cover his tracks. ”

  “Fortunately for all of us we don’t work for Jonah Genaro. But we’ll discuss that later, over dinner. ” Stanton nodded to the men who flanked Drew. “Take him downstairs and lock him up. ”

  The gleam of the sharp machete blades and the confident grip of the hands holding them convinced Drew that making a break for it was not an option. That left Gracie, who accompanied them to a stairwell in the outer corridor.

  “Whatever fairy tale Stanton told you is bullshit,” he said as she climbed down the steps in front of him. “I know too much about your operation now. He can’t afford to let me live. ”

  Gracie didn’t reply, and once they reached the bottom of the stairs she switched on a light, illuminating a damp stone cellar and a row of human-size cages.

  “Nice,” Drew said, eyeing some irregular dark stains on the stone floors inside the steel cages. From them he sensed minute traces of copper mixed with another metal, and guessed they were blood. “What’s next on the agenda? Interrogation? A beating? Both?”

  Gracie unlocked the center cage and held the barred door open. “Inside. Now. ”

  He moved into the cell, watching as she locked him in and spoke to the guards, who retreated back upstairs. “Does Papi know you use his boat to do Stanton’s dirty work, or do you lie to him, too?”

  “My father knows. ” She turned her back on him. “If you cooperate, you will not be hurt. ”

  “Too late for that. ” He paced around the small space, trailing his fingers across the bars. “I appreciate the meaningless sex, though. Every guy should have one last decent bang before he’s executed and cut up for spare parts. Is there a bonus involved, or was fucking me expected as part of services rendered?”

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