Note: I've been playing plot Tetris, and I've finally decided this is the chapter that needs to be here now. It's an odd one. Lots of introspection and dialogue. I'll have to see what you think.
Portland, Oregon, USA
The black night was unrelieved by the glow from the dash or the glitter of rain in the high beams as Jenkins' car bounced along the rutted road. Her senses muffled in darkness, Eve Baird was swept along the swirl and eddy of time on a river without banks. Old griefs clashed against new fears until she was unsure from moment to moment where or when she was. Her reality splintered, fragments of her past flung against the present. The pain and terror of the Port of Algeciras Bay bled out into the Tualatin Wilderness, bright red on asphalt seeping into dark stains on wet grass.
The urge to move, to fight, to rip her friends out of the clutches of whatever had taken them raged along her nerves and muscles with nowhere to go. She must not fail Teresinha, Torbjørn, Joscin, Derya, Poptart, The Terrible Twosome, Brader.
She had already failed them. She had made her pilgrimages to lay flowers and tears on their graves.
She needed not to fail Jacob Stone.
The image of a broken popsicle stick forced its way past her clenched eyelids. The sound of flies crawling on drying blood buzzed in her ears. She had failed him too.
Eve hugged her arms to her stomach, feeling sick.
No. She couldn't lose hope. The dog had indicated he wasn't dead. There might be a chance for Jacob.
Let there still be a chance, she begged the universe.
Although warm air was blowing from the vents, Eve couldn't stop shivering. The fingers of her right hand sought the edges of stiff paper, folded in her coat pocket.
That sense of safety within you? She could hear Jacob's voice as if he were in his familiar place in the seat behind her. You'll always be able to find it inside you.
But she couldn't find it. Each time she sought her way to her safe space in her mind, the empty prairie sky would cut to her father calling for her to hurry, to hop in the car. They were in Western Canada, and it would be a crime not to see the Rocky Mountains right next door in Alberta. Then the harvest-ripe wheat fields would blur out the windows of the car, and they would be driving the interminable Trans-Canada, her father laughing the way he never did on base while her mother listened to a talk-show about houseplants on the radio and Eve slouched in the backseat, bored as only a teenager on a family vacation could be. Even if this wasn't her blue and gold memory, she should have felt safe.
But instead, her anxiety twisted her memories into something strange. She needed to stop them. To make her father turn the car around. To make them never get in the car at all. Something was wrong.
Something bad was waiting in Black Diamond.
Eve opened her eyes and stared into the night, her heart drumming in aimless panic.
For an instant, she saw a dark, helmeted figure, cracked face shield sprayed with blood, illuminated by the headlights. She gasped as Jenkins drove through it as if it weren't even there.
Eve clamped her teeth on a scream until her jaw ached.
Just breathe, said the Jacob in her head. Tell, me what do you see?
Eve leaned into the memory of his voice and inhaled slowly, feeling her lungs expand, her ribs lift. They were on the freeway now. Ahead she could see the lights outlining the Saint Johns Bridge, haloed with rain and reflecting in the Willamette River. Almost home.
The Gothic towers loomed over them. Eve counted each steel suspension cable as the headlights caught it. At last, Jenkins pulled into his parking space outside the Annex. They'd made it home. Eve felt shaky with relief. She needed out of the dark.
Jenkins had an umbrella in his car. An enormous black one. Of course he did. He escorted her to the Annex entrance at a sedate pace in perfect dryness except for her feet.
As soon as Jenkins stepped through the ornate doors into the main room, he had one word to say: "Tea."
He bustled off in the direction of his kettle, leaving Eve to join her team dripping on the parquet floor in the central space of the Annex.
Ezekiel and Cassandra were staring at each other.
Eve quelled the powerful urge to lock them safely in a vault and bar the door.
"Did we just steal coveralls from Portland CSI?" Cassandra asked, holding out her drenched, white-clad arms.
"Congratulations." Ezekiel grinned. "Not bad for a beginner. We should hang on to these. You never know when it might be convenient to impersonate an official investigation." He began peeling himself out of soggy fabric.
Eve should probably be objecting to her criminal element's extra-legal plans, but she could only bless him for the air of situation normal he exuded.
Cassandra's expression went from expectant to baffled.
"Where are the samples?" she asked.
Unzipping his jacket, Ezekiel pulled out a handful of tiny slender cardboard boxes and dropped them on the planning table.
"Here you are."
He emptied more from his sleeves and then bent over for the ones he'd worked down to his socks.
"You're . . ." Cassandra shook her head
"Amazing? Phenomenal? Extraordinary? I know." Ezekiel straightened up and added the boxes to the others.
"Obviously, you don't need my compliments," Cassandra said. Turning towards the kitchen door, she called. "Jenkins, do we have something I can use to transport these to the lab?"
The caretaker appeared, dainty floral teacup in one hand, matching saucer in the other. "I believe we have some aluminum-sided cases that should serve. You'll find them under the astrolabe in the back cupboard."
Cassandra whisked off to the lab and returned toting two silver briefcases.
Feeling useless, Eve watched as Cassandra and Ezekiel sorted their samples and tucked them into the foam liners.
When they were done, Cassandra paused with the lid still open. She frowned, biting at the corner of her lower lip. "There's one more sample we need. From Jacob. We need something we know has his DNA on it."
"His apartment is probably crawling with detectives as we speak," Eve said.
Ezekiel raised his hand. "I'm sure I don't need to remind you . . ."
Cassandra shook her head. "Not his apartment. Mine. He bled all over my skirt at the Brew Pub, Monday night. I sprayed some spot remover on the stains, but I haven't had a chance to wash them out yet." She drew in a quivery breath. "Jenkins?"
"I'll set up the Back Door." Jenkins nodded, moving over to the elaborate globe that calibrated their entrances and exits around the world.
"Just let me grab a few things." Cassandra disappeared back into the lab. When she reappeared, she was carrying a tub filled with paper and plastic bags, an open box of nitrile gloves, and a package of sterile forceps.
"I'll be right back," she said and dashed through the glow of the doorway Jenkins was holding open.
Ezekiel slumped into a chair and pulled out his phone.
Staring down at their muddy footprints, Eve told Jenkins, "I'll get the mop."
By the time the Door lit up again with Cassandra's return, Eve had obsessively cleaned the floor and everyone's shoes and had gone back to the futile task of straightening her desk. One of these days she was just going to take a blow torch to it. See how the Library liked that.
Eve noted approvingly that Cassandra had changed her shoes.
In spite of traces of tears on her cheeks, Cassandra was looking every inch a scientist—hair pulled back severely into a bun, thin-framed glasses perched on her nose, white lab coat buttoned up. She was cradling in her arms a plastic bag shielding the paper bundle that wrapped her bloodstained skirt.
"That's it," she said. "We can go now."
Ezekiel hopped out of his seat. "Before we head for the lab, we should check into our hotel in Black Diamond."
Cassandra's expression skipped right by argument and went straight to resignation. Ezekiel was right. Their electronic trail of breadcrumbs needed to become a physical trail if it was to hold up under scrutiny.
Given a task and a plan to execute, Eve martialed her wits to dispense orders. "Everyone collect your bags. We can't walk into a hotel for an extended stay without luggage. Jenkins, you too."
Jenkins heaved an unhappy sigh, but he and his tea departed to do her bidding. Ezekiel and Cassandra vanished in the direction of their lockers. Eve followed them more slowly.
Once again, she gathered her bugout bag that she'd taken to Stone's place two nights ago. Already that time seemed ancient history and her past self another person. Beside her locker, Jacob's locker stayed silent and closed. Eve laid one hand on the door.
"I hope you know we're coming for you," she whispered to him, wherever he was.
Black Diamond, Alberta, Canada
The Back Door regurgitated the Librarian team into Black Diamond with its usual disorienting abruptness. Eve found herself shepherding Jenkins and her remaining LITs out of yet another public restroom in back of a gas station. The transition from the warmth of the Annex to the biting cold of a Canadian winter night might have accounted for the chill raising the hair on her arms. But Eve was scarcely aware of the temperature.
It was like stepping back in time. Twenty-seven years, and nothing had changed.
She could almost see her father standing by the pump trying to read the map while he gassed up the car.
Twenty-seven years, and everything had changed.
From day to night. From summer to winter. From family to loss. The ache in her chest made her blink back tears.
Across the street at the hotel on the corner, parked near the bar entrance, two squad cars with lights flashing snagged Eve's attention from her memories. An ambulance was just pulling away from the curb.
"Ezekiel." Eve grabbed his jacket sleeve. "What sort of dive are you taking us to?"
"Hey," Ezekiel protested. "According to Yelp and TripAdvisor, this is the best place in town."
"And we're not really staying," Cassandra said, so intent on getting in and out of the hotel that she ended up leading the team.
They gave the law a wide berth on their way to the reception entrance.
Several minutes later, their reservations confirmed, the Librarian team hauled their bags up to the second floor of the hotel, about as high as one could get in Black Diamond. While Eve waited for Jenkins to re-establish the connection to the Back Door, she stood at the edge of the window where she would not be silhouetted, and looked out over the quiet streets, empty now of police cars. She shivered, searching for movement in the shadows between buildings. Somewhere in this town lurked Eliot Spencer, bent on some unknown objective. He had already crossed paths with innocent people who could have no way of recognizing the danger he represented. And here she was bringing what remained of her Librarian trainees into range of the man who had single-handedly taken out a NATO team, experienced soldiers armed with weapons and the skill to use them. What chance would Ezekiel and Cassandra have?
Her eyes turned back to where her two youngest charges were bouncing on the beds to make them look slept in.
They would be like field mice before a hawk such as Spencer.
Eve wished she could throttle a straight answer out of the Library. Why was it sending them up against Eliot Spencer? What malignant cosmic alignment had brought such a man into contact with a supernatural killer animal? And how were they supposed to stop him from doing whatever it was he meant to do?
Most of all, how was she to keep her team alive?
Eve circled the room and returned to the window. What was taking Jenkins so long?
Blue light flared.
The Back Door. Finally.
Only when Ezekiel and Cassandra were safely through did Eve allow herself to shake Black Diamond off her feet and step back into the Annex.
Portland, Oregon, USA
The return to the Annex brought with it no additional insight. The Library, as always, said nothing. The Clippings Book sat in its cradle, smug and silent and maddeningly vague.
Cassandra and Ezekiel soberly gathered up the cases of evidence while Jenkins adjusted the settings for the Door to connect with the lab Ezekiel had chosen.
Then they were gone.
As the glow of their departure faded, Eve was already rounding on Jenkins. If the Library had no answers, she knew someone who did.
"Jenkins," she ordered, "tell me about Black Diamond."
Jenkins had been about to return to his interrupted research when Eve Baird halted him with her baffling demand.
"Colonel?" He pivoted to face her, unsure how to respond.
Since they had returned from the site of Mr. Stone's disappearance, the Guardian had been uncharacteristically restless, but now she was the picture of military control and resolve.
"Tell me what happened when you and Cassandra met Eliot Spencer. I need to know why he was there."
There was something universal about a commanding officer requiring intelligence. Damming up a cascade of memories her voice and manner called to mind, Jenkins considered those few moments he had spent observing the man Eliot Spencer.
"I am afraid Mr. Spencer failed to make his purpose evident," he told Baird. "Under the alias of James McCoy, he indicated that he was stranded in Black Diamond due to automotive troubles. However, since Hera's agent notified us that Black Diamond was among Mr. Spencer's intended destinations, I believe we may justifiably conclude that he was prevaricating if not outright lying. Whether that deception was for our benefit or was addressed to his other auditors was unclear. While I am certain he recognized Miss Cillian from their previous encounter, he made no mention of their acquaintance nor did she."
"That means she's tacitly agreed to be complicit in whatever he's up to." The Colonel's calm slipped a little, and she drummed her index fingers on her folded arms. "He's got to be wondering why."
"Nevertheless, I believe she made the correct decision," Jenkins said.
"Yes. She did," Baird agreed. "Who knows what he might've done if he'd felt she threatened his cover story. I'm surprised he risked allowing her the choice. And relieved. There was a reason I told you not to make contact with that man."
"I assure you our encounter was purely by chance."
Colonel Baird's eyes narrowed. "That you're aware of."
"Indeed," Jenkins acknowledged. "However, you are attributing to Mr. Spencer an unlikely grasp of the function of the Library if you suggest he could have had any way of knowing we would be in Black Diamond on that particular day."
"But how long had you spent in town asking questions?" Baird countered.
Jenkins tilted his head, conceding her point. Depending on the extent of Spencer's network in Black Diamond, he could have been briefed in detail about the people who were inquiring about the magical horse he had purchased from the representative of a Greek god.
"You'd better start at the beginning," Baird sighed, losing some of her army starch. "What were you and Cassandra doing when you encountered Spencer?"
This was going to take more tea. Jenkins retired to his desk and set about brewing another pot.
He thought Baird was going to refuse his offer of tea, but she surprised him, shrugging out of military mode and perching on a stool next to his workbench, the cup cradled between her palms. Of course, he should have realized that she was an expert in intelligence gathering. His role was cooperating witness, and she wished to put him at his ease.
Very well. He had every intention of cooperating.
In precise detail, he outlined the structure of his and Cassandra's search of the town of Black Diamond, their failure to find anyone cognizant of the whereabouts of the horse, and their decision to enter the soda shop.
"That was the place you met Spencer?" Baird's tone was exceeded in sharpness only by the look in her eyes.
In the short time she had been a part of his life, Jenkins had never known Colonel Baird to be irrational or prone to poor judgment. He had also developed considerable respect for her skill as a fighter and a tactician. In addition, she was one of the most valiant beings of his acquaintance. So her reaction to Eliot Spencer was providing negative space from which his image of the man emerged. Combined with his own observations, that image was troubling and inconsistent. Perhaps Baird would be able to shed further light on what the actions of Mr. Spencer might portend.
Jenkins continued relating the encounter with their informants at the shop, assuring Baird that the safety of her charge had been uppermost in his mind and had driven all his actions. "Since Cassandra and I had decided that she would be best suited to interrogate the young women at the shop counter, I was seated a short distance from them but well within earshot," he told her.
"Eavesdropping, Jenkins?" Eve teased gently.
Jenkins inclined his head. "Like any good spy would," he said. "As it turned out, both of them had been in contact with Spark of Midnight and by extension Mr. Spencer."
He wondered idly if Baird's grip on the edge of his desk would actually dent the wood.
"Did they appear well?" she asked. "Physically? Mentally? I know they wouldn't confide in strangers, but you would recognize if they had been harmed, wouldn't you?"
"It is conceivable that I might not," Jenkins admitted. "However, the young women were in good spirits aside from some trauma related to a 'math test' if I recall correctly. And they gave every evidence of being fond of Mr. Spencer when he arrived."
Baird's eyes narrowed. "He can be charming when he chooses. Did he appear to be taking advantage of them?"
"Not that I could tell. Their responses to him were familiar but not fawning. I would judge they perceived him as an interesting adult, but in no way as a possible inamorato. He was, of course, paired with Ms. O'Brien."
"O'Brien? Martha? Parker? Whatever her name is? They were together? As a couple?"
Jenkins cast his mind back over the tense gathering. "With Ms. O'Brien, it was difficult to say, but Mr. Spencer's body language was that of a lover."
"That's . . . unexpected." Baird shook her head. "At the Brew Pub, I would have said she was with Colin, I mean Alec Hardison. Damn, I hate aliases. Anyway, Spencer showed no signs of being other than good friends with Parker. And he flirted conspicuously with Cassandra."
"Interesting. He evidenced no predilection for seeking Cassandra's attention during our encounter. He was polite and obliging, but he never crossed that line."
"And yet there is the riding lesson." Baird couldn't stay seated any longer. She slipped off the stool and resumed her unquiet prowling. "Jenkins, I can't send Cassandra into that. Not only will she be going back to the same town where Spencer is up to no good, but she'll be meeting him and a magical, murdering horse in the middle of nowhere. And you've told me we don't have any way of knowing why he's there. Which means we have no intelligence and no plan. If he sees her as a threat, he will eliminate her!"
These moments were always the hardest ones. Jenkins had seen this scenario play out more times than he wanted to remember. A Guardian's job was to protect the Librarian, or in this case, Librarian in Training. . . up until the point when it was her job to send her into danger. There was no reconciliation between such diametrically opposing responsibilities.
"She is the one who has made the contact," he pointed out sympathetically. "The fact that Mr. Spencer extended the invitation indicates he too wants this connection established."
"That is the least comforting thing you've said yet!" Baird's tone was exasperated, but Jenkins could hear an edge of panic in her voice. "You're telling me he wants to get her alone. Picking us off in smaller increments would be consistent with his modus operandi."
He did not have Colonel Baird's experience with Eliot Spencer, so he would have to give more credence to her judgment than to his own first impressions, but he would not have said that the man in the soda shop had looked upon Miss Cillian as a killer assessing a victim. Nor had Spencer been the one to initiate the proposed meeting.
"To be fair," Jenkins said, hoping to ease a little of Baird's fear, "the offer of the school horse was made by one of the young women."
That information had the virtue of altering Baird's trajectory slightly. Her frown deepened. "We need to find out the nature of his relationship with them," she said. "Is he using them in some way? Does he pose a threat to them? Are they the ones the Library is sending us to protect?"
"Those are all good questions," Jenkins agreed. "Perhaps you can clarify one anomaly for me. When Mr. Spencer entered the shop, mindful of your instructions, I joined Miss Cillian in your stead as guardian. While I made no overtly antagonistic moves, Mr. Spencer responded to my presence as to an implied threat."
"You don't live as long as he's lived, doing the things he's suspected of doing and making the sorts of enemies he's made, by being slow to figure out the parameters of an engagement," Baird said wryly.
Jenkins shook his head. "That action did not surprise me. Nor did the fact that he positioned himself to interpose should I make a move against Ms. O'Brien. However, I am curious as to why he also included the young women with whom Miss Cillian was conversing in the range of his protection. It was not a move I would have expected from a man of his reputation."
"Perhaps, if they were assets to him, he was merely warning you away."
"I have difficulty believing that was the case," Jenkins said slowly. "In my experience, there is a difference between the look of a man who will kill you if you interfere with his property and that of a man who will die before you lay hands on those under his protection. I would have put Mr. Spencer's reaction in the latter category were I not in possession of your further intelligence."
"You mentioned they had interacted with the horse. Did they say in what way?"
"Miss Benarden confirmed that Mr. Spencer is boarding the mare Spark of Midnight on her family's property, the Flying B Ghost Ridge Ranch. However, since she had no contact information for him, it is unclear who is responsible for that arrangement or what role that location has in any of his plans."
Colonel Baird had begun jotting down notes with his feather pen on spare parchment as he talked.
"Miss Densmore's contact seems more accidental." Jenkins went on. "Mr. Spencer apparently had assisted her with a calving cow. Ms. O'Brien was, as yet, unknown to her . . . Colonel Baird? Is something wrong?"
The pen clattered on the floor.
"What did you say her name was?" Baird snapped, her grip once again threatening his woodwork.
"Miss Daphne Benarden?"
"No, the other one."
"Hilde. Miss Hilde Densmore."
All color drained from Baird's face.
"No, no, no, no, no, no, no." Her lips moved over the scarcely audible words. "This is not happening."
"What is not happening?" Jenkins asked, worried.
Baird crumpled up her parchment notes and swept them off the table. "Didn't you wonder how I knew, without doing any research, that Black Diamond was a small enough town to canvas in two days?" Her voice shook uncharacteristically.
He hadn't wondered, but now that she mentioned it . . .
"The summer I was fourteen," Baird went on, "I spent four days at a farm south of there. We had been visiting my mom's brother in Saskatchewan during my father's leave. It was a slow time on their farm, and my parents wanted to see the Rockies. Since my aunt had a brother who farmed near Black Diamond—Arvid Densmore—we stayed with him and his wife Inge and their family before heading on to Banff. I haven't thought of them in years, but they were really lovely to us. I think my mom keeps in touch—Christmas cards or something."
"That . . ." Jenkins shook his head. "I would say that is the most bizarre of coincidences, except that there is no such thing as a coincidence."
"If this Hilde is related to them . . . What is going on?" Baird began to pace in agitation. "Why is Eliot Spencer anywhere near the Densmores? I swear if he does anything to harm them, I will rip out his throat before that stupid horse has a chance."
The look in her eyes left Jenkins no doubt she could do it.