Echoes Through the Mist: A Paranormal Mystery (The Echoes Quartet Book 1) (3 page)

BOOK: Echoes Through the Mist: A Paranormal Mystery (The Echoes Quartet Book 1)
9.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

***

He dropped the phone back into its cradle then picked up a battered leather bound journal, the second of the things he had laid on his desk. It seemed to be the only thing of interest left in his life, and even there, he found only questions without answers.

A cheerless smile tinged his lips as he touched the embossed volume. He closed his eyes and felt the Celtic knot-work pattern driven into the grain of the kid leather cover. He let his fingers follow the graceful curve of the intertwining knots.

The powerful interlocking of pattern and plane were distinctive even though they had been worn and weathered and locked away for a very long time. Over the next hours, he read and reread his old journal.

After college, he had taken a walking tour of Ireland. The journal was the log of his journey. Next to the journal and his ex-wife’s letter sat an old Ordinance Survey map. It completed the triumvirate – the three magistrates that sat in judgment of his life.

As he read his journal, Julian traced the progress of his tour on the map, but an unaccountable mark seemed to mock his memory.

In the north of County Meath, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, a circle had been drawn on Julian’s map. He couldn't remember drawing it and knew he had never visited the spot. His tour had ended in Dublin and he had never preceded any farther north along the Irish coast.

The circle seemed to lie in a hilly area and appeared to hold a small valley that led to the Irish Sea.

His journal made no mention of the spot or how it came to be marked on the map, but it did serve to remind him of the lovely verdant island. It caused him to remember some of the people he had met on this travels: a fellow student in Galway, a doctor in James Joyce’s county of Maam, a landlord in Limerick who had let him sleep in the pub after closing time.

He recalled a lovely red haired girl in County Cork named Cara who had loved him with a startling candor, so open and loving in fact that he had run away to Killarney at the first opportunity. He had loved her in his own way, but knew his way would not be nearly enough for either of them.

The journal brought to mind a country priest who had walked with him from Tralee to Kerry Head. Shop owners, farmers, barristers, beggars, tinkers, policemen and weavers flooded back to his memory. The feelings they left were warm and good and he clung to the journal as a shipwrecked sailor might to any piece of floating wreckage.

“Warm and good – the last time you felt either of those was nearly twenty years ago. Blessing, you idiot, what have you done to yourself?” he asked.

***

Julian looked up as his office door swung open. Two powerfully built men stood facing him. They wore expensive business suits that did nothing to hide the fact that these men were in the violence business.

They entered his office, securing the door behind them.

At the moment of the first Burton Chemical stock trade Julian knew his life was in danger. He knew revenge would be demanded. Julian now wondered if he subconsciously didn’t desire this outcome.

He had protected his assistant; he had made sure of that. Julian knew he would be alone and that this moment would arrive. He had a mechanism in place that would avenge but not protect him. “Sorry, Bridget, time’s up,” he murmured to himself.

The larger of the two men faced Julian and said with painful slowness, “We have been told by Heward you lose us money. You have made mistake. We will kill you.” The voice was deep and matter of fact and the accent issued from the former Soviet Union. “You must suffer first, but we make quick.”

Julian didn’t know much about suffering and dying, but he knew these men understood all parts of those subjects and not in an academic way. Their eyes were cold, eyes that had seen too much, far too much. Eyes that had witnessed the administration of agony and death. Dead eyes that regarded Julian with little interest. He was an item on a to-do list and nothing more.

“I suppose bribery and begging are off the table, eh? Tell my former boss I tried. It’ll make him feel better when he’s in prison playing drop-the-soap,” Julian said. Both men looked at him and derision tinged their lips.

Julian looked past his executioners and was horrified to see another player in the game. The Russians followed his gaze.

The men considered the slight woman at Julian’s office door. He could nearly hear the cogs move in their heads as they recalculated the commission on two dead bodies instead of one.

The door had been locked. This the Russians knew. It was impossible, but they had not heard the door being opened. This they could not grasp. A mistake had been made. In the world of these two men, mistakes like this weren’t career ending they were death-dealing. And this they understood all too well.

“Julian darling, we have an appointment.” Bridget Bragonier stood with her back to the door. She was dressed conservatively with a simplicity that belied the richness of the fabrics she wore. She angled to see beyond the dangerous men in Julian’s office as though they were potted palms.

“My dear, if you look at your appointment book you will clearly see my name, although how you could forget me is more than I could ever possibly know.” The woman’s voice was relaxed. Her lightly accented Irish English was silvery in its smoothness and seemed to lack any concern for what was happening around her.

“Really, this is intolerable.” Her voice sounded pouty but light and carried its cultured Irish melody easily. “You are becoming as ill mannered as Reginald. Forgetting appointments will doubtless be followed by your not listening when I speak to you.”

“I’m sorry, I had nearly forgotten,” Julian began as his thoughts started to unwind from the concept of his own sudden, painful death and consider his inability to protect Bridget from what was about to happen.

Bridget Bragonier swept into the room and stood before the large men blocking her path. Her eyes narrowed and hardened. In the next moment, they softened and the lines around her gray eyes became alive.

“I am willing to wager both of you have lovely smiles.” Her voice was airy and her own smile radiant. “You will, of course excuse me,” she said and pushed her way easily between the men to stand next to Julian behind his desk.

“Julian, my dear, you look tired. Do you feel well?” She reached up slowly and touched his cheek then stared into his eyes. He felt an electrical tingle at her touch and felt rather than heard her words clearly.

“Do nothing. Say nothing.”

She turned to the Russians. “You will understand gentlemen,” the woman began. “Julian and I have a prior appointment. We would happily include you, but our business is of a private nature – finances and investing you know.

“It is all very tedious, but he assures me it is necessary.” She looked saddened by the thought but resigned.

“We will not delay you further,” she said. The men shifted uneasily. Bridget was composed and her voice had become saccharine. “Do let yourselves out and be kind enough to close the door behind you. We do not wish to be disturbed.” She said these words and looked at length into the face of each of the men. They recognized the distinctively cultured Muscovite accented “Goodbye.” It was not a wish, but a dismissal.

Again, they shifted. They were prepared, ready and more than capable of dispensing violence to any and all. But everything about this woman set off alarm bells. She was wrong at every conceivable level.

Bridget’s eyes narrowed even as her smile broadened and took on a sinister edge. These men, these hard, dangerous men, looked into the face of a slender, old woman, well bred, cultured and gently raised. They looked into her eyes and began to lean away from her slightly.

They recognized something in those eyes, something kindred, something dangerous. They saw eyes alive with unadulterated malice and a terrible iron-willed intent. At a fundamental level, they knew she was every bit as ready, willing and lethally able as they. On a visceral level, they recognized this woman was what she should not have been – eager.

She had gotten into the office behind them and that was one very serious mistake. Compounding it with another could not be allowed to happen. The men turned slowly. The smaller man said to Julian, “We see you again and then you die, not quickly.” Neither man looked at the woman, yet she smiled pleasantly.

The Russians reached the office door and found it locked. They exchanged glances and left, closing the door behind them.

“Julian, you have the most peculiar taste in friends.” Bridget touched his cheek again, smiled and moved easily to his office seating area to find a comfortable place to sit.

***

Julian walked to his office window, crossed his arms and openly regarded the Irish apparition seated in front of him.

“Don’t you understand, they would have killed you too? What are you doing here! We agreed on tomorrow, but here you are. Right, I might add, where you should not be. Forget I said that. I don’t even want to get into all of that lunacy.” Julian’s voice was tight and nervous and he continued to look toward his office door every few moments.

Bridget Bragonier’s eyes were warm, and inviting. They inspired trust even in those, like Julian, who had given up trusting long ago. “Julian, there is no reason to keep looking at the door. Your friends will not be back until tomorrow evening, although I believe they will be more than a little cross with you. Even so, we have little time for preamble, so let us begin, shall we?”

Julian looked down at the old journal in his hands. He traced again the Celtic knot cut into the cover and shook his head slowly. Worry and frustration etched his face. He looked drawn, pale and worn out. “How can you help me, Bridget?” Julian asked and looked into his companion’s face.

He turned to the window and Bridget Bragonier materialized at his elbow. “I said when first we met, there was a life waiting for you and that you would not be able to ignore it much longer. Now, the time has come. You know this of course. Your life here is over.”

Everything Bridget had said was true. Each of the things that buttressed his life had been knocked away one after another. Now he stood in his darkened office with his career in tatters, his emotional life a shambles, a lot of people who wanted him dead and the pervasive feeling this couldn’t be all there was to life.

Looking out the window, Julian whispered after a long silence, “Bridget, I am afraid. The trouble is I don’t know if I am more afraid of the past or the future. I know my life here is over, but I don’t know what’s next.”

“I know you are afraid, you dear man. Your fear is legitimate, but please, do not deceive yourself as to its source. The past and the future are not your enemies. Your past holds no terrors for you except that you may repeat its errors. The future is entirely unknown to you. This may cause you concern but does not rise to the level of fear.

“You are afraid to trust yourself. That is the root of your trouble and offers the germ of your salvation. You have heard the words. You hold a signpost in your hands. Trust yourself. Trust everything that is right and true and real about you. Trust yourself to say the words, the words you hear. Step off the edge, Julian. The life that awaits you will not so easily let you fall.”

Julian drew a breath. He was locked in a battle between what he knew and what he wanted. He exhaled, breaking the stalemate. “Go now,” he whispered.

Bridget smiled warmly, closed her eyes and exhaled deeply. “Julian, you know where you must go even if you do not know why or what you are to do.

“Before I came here tonight, I wrote down our information. The professor and I look forward to seeing you in Dublin. Go and be well, but my dear, go now.” She handed Julian an off-white sheet of notepaper and with that, the woman with ancient eyes turned and walked away.

As she reached the door her eyes darkened and the slight smile left her lips. Without turning, she thought and Julian heard her thoughts clearly,
“You have a letter. Destroy it for your own good and that of others. It is poisonous and it will keep you from what you want most. Do not fall into the trap the letter sets for you. You must believe what is best about you. That will lead you, in turn, to what is best for you.

“I tell you this for your own good. That letter is the past and as long as you keep it and believe it, you will be anchored to your past with all its mistakes and heartaches.”

Bridget opened the door and was gone leaving Julian at the window alone with his thoughts.

Chapter Three
 

The flights from New York to London and London to Dublin had been uneventful. To Julian that meant the airplanes shot off the runway on one end and underwent a successful controlled crash onto the runway at the other and everyone survived more or less intact.

It was early morning of his first day in Ireland.

***

In a cold manor house near the Irish coast, the Pale Man sat in his study with his eyes closed. His face was a mask of malicious satisfaction. The steady tick of a clock was the only sound, his only companion. The sun rose, but was held at bay by thick heavy draperies. His work required neither light nor warmth.

Miles away a sharp featured old woman fell to her knees and cried out in agony and terror. Clutching her abdomen as the spasms that racked her body subsided, she gasped for breath.

The Pale Man opened his eyes and smiled.

***

Julian didn’t plan on sightseeing. He had prepared for this trip as he had for his college adventure. Galaxy Army Navy Surplus on West 30th Street in New York satisfied all of his travel needs. He had everything he needed from a vintage leather bomber jacket to hiking boots. He had been extravagant and spent an extra three dollars for an upgraded duffle bag,

With a wistful smile and a sad shake of her head Julian’s assistant, Olivia, had given him a stunningly complex Swiss Army knife. He was delighted beyond words even though he had no idea what he was going to do with it, but any instrument that came with a fish scaler (hook disgorger included) and ruler had value that was at once practical, intrinsic and aesthetic. Besides that, it was unreasonably cool.

Julian smiled as he waited at the baggage carousel. Olivia was one of the few who had known he was leaving the country and even she did not know why or where he was going. Julian found it was easy to keep the why of his reasons a secret from her. He had only a fuzzy notion of the motives behind any of his recent actions.

As he stood at the baggage carousel, Julian reached into his shirt pocket and removed a note. It was worn and creased from the number of times he had studied it. In a very neat hand it read,

Dear Julian,

Below you will find our address and telephone number. Please send us your flight information and the professor and I will collect you from the airport in Dublin.

You are not alone now. Please, remember that. You will find there are those of us who are anxious to support and nurture you. Just now, you are a man sorely in need of the comfort of a safe harbor. We can provide that if you will only allow it.

The professor and I look forward to seeing you soon. It will be necessary to give Reginald a few of the particulars of your trip. Please trust I will give him as few as possible in order to protect your privacy. I know it does not seem so at first, but the professor is discretion itself. Still, I will tell him what I must and you are then free to tell him what you like.

Affectionately,

Bridget

Julian folded the note and put it back in his pocket as he stood facing the baggage carousel. He collected his duffle bag, cleared customs and proceeded through the low compact structure that was Dublin International Airport.

***

“Friend Blessing!” the professor shouted as he scuttled through the airport terminal. His arms were spread wide and his face beamed its owner’s pleasure.

At seeing the professor, Julian’s smile became a wide grin and he quickened his pace. The rumpled little man wasn’t just happy, he was a carrier of happiness, a regular pandemic of delight.

“Ireland welcomes you. Now come with me. My lady wife awaits in the car and she does not wait well so we must make haste,” the professor announced.

Julian laughed in a way that he immediately saw was new to him. His laughter was unrestrained, unselfconscious. It was the natural response to a joke enjoyed rather than the obligatory noise heard so often in New York. There, it was laughter devoid of humor because the humor was vicious and always at the expense of those who were absent.

The professor began to lead the way to an exit, but Julian stopped and redirected their path. “I don’t know why I think so, but a short time ago Bridget moved the car. She should be right through this door. It’s odd how things come to you like that, eh? Why are you staring at me like that?”

The professor had stopped and was rooted to a spot in the center of the concourse. “What? No! Good God. Not you too. Please, please, Blessing, tell me you aren’t one of them. You were my last hope, but now I find you are a mountebank! I tell you this is entirely too much.” Julian laughed and pulled the professor along. They exited the terminal together and at the curb sat Bridget behind the wheel of the Bragoniers’ automobile.

The car rattled through the countryside, deep into Dublin’s central neighborhoods. They parked in front of a handsome Georgian townhouse across from St. Stephen’s Green. Moss and ivy encased the brick façade, softened the hard edges and framed the large white painted sash windows.

White marble columns flanked a large entryway with a stained glass transom above the heavy black front door where an elaborate brass doorknocker occupied center stage.

Once inside, Julian found a light, open front room with an upholstered couch and comfortable club chairs bordering a large painted brick fireplace. As he was led through the house on a tour conducted by the professor, Julian found each room to be inviting and bright without being contrived or fussy.

Busy Kildare Street hummed on the other side of the front door, but the street noise was imperceptible inside. The feel of the home was one of a tranquil sanctuary removed from time and space. It was a world of its own.

“Breakfast, gentlemen, is this way,” Bridget said and led Julian and her husband into the dining room. Breakfast was simple, filling and Julian savored it with the easy conversation and the frequent laughter of his friends. He felt if he never left this house, he would count himself lucky beyond measure. This was the first time he could remember feeling deeply, truly happy.

***

Dinner was as relaxed as breakfast had been. The conversation centered on the professor and his duties at Trinity College. Bridget looked on and her face glowed with pleasure.

Julian sat captivated by the professor’s descriptions of his studies, his students, the investigation of ancient history and the stories of college life.

Bridget was enormously proud of her husband but not nearly as proud of him as she was in love with him. After more than thirty years together, there were no stories she had not heard.

She knew every pause, every gesture, every inflection. She heard the music in his voice when he was excited about a discovery or found a willing audience for his stories. His eyes would light up when he knew he had his listeners on the edge of their seats. He was good at what he did and she was good at loving him for it.

***

With the table cleared and the dishes washed and put away, Bridget and Julian walked into the garden while the professor went to his study to concoct another grueling test for his students.

Bridget put her arm through Julian’s and they walked around the garden at a leisurely pace.

“Julian, you are a gifted man and there are others like me who will understand you and help you understand your talents. You see, when someone like you comes along, it is our responsibility to help. In time, you will want to do the same.”

“Bridget, I don’t get any of this. Gifts, talents, tasks – are you seriously saying this is magic or the supernatural or paranormal or… or… or whatever. I don’t believe it. I can’t believe it. And that ‘being one of us,’ business, although sweet in another context, it’s kind of creepy if you don’t mind my saying so.

“Listen, I like you a great deal, but you must know this.” Julian became vehement. “I have not heard any clarion calls. I am not going on any sort of silly-assed quest. I do not have a destiny to fulfill.

“There are not going to be any witches, wizards or dragons in my future. There is no ultimate good or absolute evil waiting for me around the corner. Forget the God damned magical animals and talking trees too. Not interested.”

His mouth was hard and tight. Unconsciously he flexed the fingers of his hand trying to dissipate his frustration.

Bridget Bragonier covered her mouth with her hand. She hoped that looking serious and thoughtful might mask her laughter.

“I am in possession of lots of very unpleasant documents, some from my ex-wife and more from her attorneys.” Julian had left Bridget’s side and began to pace as he spoke. “So you’ll understand if I tell you, damsels in distress would be best advised to look elsewhere for a quick rescue. I’m out of that business. I’m retired and plan on staying away from all maidens, distressed or otherwise, for a very long time.

“I don’t believe in magic, either good or bad. I don’t need any miracles or spells. Do you guys deal in vampires or zombies? Well, until recently, I worked with a whole crew of bloodsuckers and a couple of Russian undead guys paid me a visit as you recall. Trust me, I’ve reached my lifetime allotment.

“Oh, by the way, you can keep the damn unicorns to yourself or give ’em to the leprechauns – your call.” He had become more exercised than he intended, but felt he had said what needed saying.

Julian felt tired. He hung his head, “You said there was a life waiting for me. All I want, Bridget, is a quiet spot where I can rebuild myself without people bothering me and without all the rest of this fantasyland of yours!”

Bridget began to chuckle and it rolled easily into a hearty laugh. “Ah my dear boy, it does my old heart good to listen to you. Are you sure you are not even a bit Irish? Such lush and evocative, not to forget colorful and occasionally salty speech is rare anymore. Such mastery. I am, well, frankly stunned that someone like you would have such a, what shall we call it, singular command of the English language?” Her voice dripped condescension and it only made Julian more tired.

“In order to save you from further embarrassing yourself, I will put it to you like this. You have only a meager notion of what you want, however, you have no idea at all of what you need. You have cataloged an exhaustive list of what you do not believe, but Julian, you have not the slightest idea what you do believe.” She took his arm and they continued their walk.

“Please understand this,” she continued. “You will notice I said there was a life waiting for you. You will note I did not promise you a vacation. You, Julian, have work to do and it will be the hardest work you have ever done.

“Now, to the business at hand. I cannot answer many of your questions or address all of your concerns and discussing what you do not believe is, well, silly and rather pointless. So instead, let us talk of something important, shall we?” Julian bridled, but Bridget continued unfazed.

“The world you are familiar with long ago accepted a lie. Because this deception was at the heart of so many things, much of what you know to be true is false. There are those who are able to recognize the deceit in its various forms and act accordingly.

“I can see by your face you are trying to make this fit with what you know. That, Julian, is a grave mistake. Almost none of what you know about reality is true. Yet, you propose to use the untruth to find the truth. Tell me, what is your truth worth when you find it is irredeemably flawed?”

Julian was frustrated, confused and it showed clearly on his face. “Bridget,” he rubbed his forehead. “You make my head hurt, but let’s back up. You said you have a responsibility to act accordingly. Accordingly to what exactly?”

“Now, that is one of your very best questions to date. Simply put, we shine a light into the darkness. We dispel shadows. If we do it correctly, we are able to make the impossible happen.” She smiled.

“Do you understand that only makes my head hurt worse? These answers that aren’t answers at all are not helping.”

“Oh Julian,” Bridget began, “petulance so becomes you. When you become cranky, you are absolutely adorable.” Her laughter was light and unrestrained.

“I hate it when you do that,” Julian said.

“Oh yes I know. I would not do it otherwise.”

Bridget continued. “Julian, you are an exceptional man with a truly original mind. The power of your presence, your spirit, your thought if you will, is integral to who and what you will become. To deny this would be like denying the color of your eyes – do it all you like but when you are done, they will still be that lovely sterling gray.

“You are capable of being focused and methodical, but you know how and when to take risks. Julian, you are a man who will come to possess unbelievable talents and you will bring an unimaginable intensity to their application. I have lived a long time and I have seen and learned much. Believe me when I say I know what I am talking about in this regard.

“You are also alarmingly short-tempered, madly impetuous and painfully shortsighted. To be sure, those attributes will change as you gain experience. You may trust me, when you gain that experience, you and I will look back in the years to come and laugh and laugh and laugh.”

“One laugh would have been sufficient,” Julian said.

Bridget smiled, walked beside Julian a few more steps, then became serious. “Not everyone will suffer you as I do. Some will treat you far more harshly. Trust me, they will treasure you as I do, but they will not allow you to take the easy road. In fact, if given the choice, they will probably send you up the harder one to teach you not to be so cheeky or peevish.

“Keep this in mind also.” Bridget’s voice turned more serious still and Julian took notice. “This is not a game. There are those who will try to stop you from being what you are meant to be. I must leave that for others to explain. But know it is real and true and deadly. There are those with a vested interest in maintaining the illusion of darkness.”

Julian began to realize he had become quite fond of this not-so-crazy, not-so-old woman. “Where am I going?” Julian asked. “I don’t mean tomorrow. I know that one, but, you know…”

Bridget stood and looked for a long time searching Julian’s face. “As long as where you are going is better than where you have been, does it matter?” She answered, turned and walked toward the house.

BOOK: Echoes Through the Mist: A Paranormal Mystery (The Echoes Quartet Book 1)
9.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Serenity Valley by Rocky Bills
Secreto de hermanas by Belinda Alexandra
This Machine Kills by Liszka, Steve
The Young Clementina by D. E. Stevenson
Blindsided by Fern Michaels
Zombies and Shit by Carlton Mellick III
Christmas Lovers by Jan Springer
The Exiles by Gilbert Morris