For a moment, he didn’t think that Richter would answer truthfully. Then the man shrugged and folded his hands on the desk. “We had a good working relationship. I can’t say we were really good friends. I found him fascinating. I tried to get him to be more specific about his will—he wouldn’t have it. And, in all honesty, I wanted the property.”
“The property?” Liam said.
“Yes. That little spit of land is a gold mine. Get some zoning, build it up as an exclusive resort, or even a bed-and-breakfast. It’s perfect land. There’s a dock, a little beachfront and a pack of mangroves bordering it all that could be filled in to add acres to the place. I went out a few times, just to walk around the property. I was trying to figure out if I could swing buying it, if I could convince Kelsey Donovan to sell. I mean, the kid spent the last decade in California. She may want to hightail it back there fast as she can when the dust settles.”
Liam nodded. “You didn’t want that property badly enough to try to scare her out of it, did you?” he asked.
Richter stared at him angrily. “I’m a respectable businessman. And I’m an attorney. You better have evidence if you want to cast any accusations against me,” he said.
Liam stood. “Trust me, Mr. Richter, if I had evidence against you, attorney or no, you’d be down at the station.” He set his card on the desk. “If you think of anything, call me.”
He watched as Joe Richter stared at him and picked up his card. “Sure.”
He knew that the minute he left, Joe Richter threw the card in his trash basket.
The possibilities ran through his mind. Jonas had been at the library, he lived across the water from the Merlin property and he seemed to be around when he shouldn’t be at times. Jaden and Ted knew the truth about the reliquary—and were always at the library. Joe Richter had been the one to have access to the house, and he’d just admitted that he’d wanted to buy it. Chris Vargas, petty criminal, had been in the house. None of it meant anything; as evidence, it would all be laughed out of a court of law. The reliquary had to be the key; the real one was far more than a talisman against evil.
It had been the receptacle in which a million-dollar diamond had been smuggled.
Who did he really trust?
His cousin, David, and Katie. Sean and Vanessa. They’d been through enough together. But Ted and Jaden and Clarinda and Jonas had been around for a hell of a lot of bad stuff, too. They’d proven their mettle. They couldn’t be guilty of any—evil.
Getting into his car, he swore softly into the air.
He had nothing. There could be someone out there he hadn’t begun to suspect.
As he got in the car, he got a call from the station. It was Ricky Long, who was working computers and research for the week.
“Hey, boss,” Ricky said.
“What did you get?” Liam asked him.
“George Penner is a tourist from Virginia City, Nevada. He went home three days ago. I spoke to him, and he told me that yes, he’d been in the library, in the rare-book room. He’d been researching shipwrecks, and he said he didn’t know anything about the book that was missing. I checked with local police, as well. He was born and bred in Virginia City—it was his first trip to Key West,” Ricky told him.
“All right. Well, that takes care of George Penner,” Liam said. “What about the other name? Bel Arcowley?”
“Well, boss, I can keep going, but I haven’t found a reference to him—or her. I swear, I called most places in town, I still have a few to go—you know how many inns, bed-and-breakfast places, private homes, hotels, condos and time-shares there are in Key West?” Ricky asked him.
“Yes, I do, but keep checking, all right?” Liam asked.
“Sure. You’re the boss. This is about the Merlin place, isn’t it?” Ricky asked. “Yep.”
“That’s one screwy place. But I don’t understand what the book has to do with anything.”
“I don’t know, either. That’s what I need to find out.”
“You know, it’s probably a fake name,” Ricky said.
“That’s possible. You just have to sign in—they don’t ask for ID. A librarian has to open the door to let folks in, and they try to keep an eye on letting folks out,” Liam said. “I think I should get over to the library. See if I can find out which librarian let the man—or woman—in.”
“Should I give up on the calling?” Ricky asked.
“No, keep trying.”
“Will do,” Ricky said. “Anything—just so long as I don’t have to go back in that house!”
Liam twisted his key in the ignition and headed back north toward Old Town.
If someone had come into the library with the express purpose of stealing a book, that person would have used a fake name.
He pulled off on the side of the road and took a notepad from his glove compartment. He wrote the name. Bel Arcowley.
He started to move letters around. It didn’t take long. The words were an anagram.
Abel Crowley. Someone out there was really playing games.
Sitting in Cutter’s study, Kelsey read from In Defense from Dark Magick.
She had started first delving into more boxes and crates, looking for more magic tricks, but she didn’t come across any. She found some ancient Chinese funerary forms and a collection of communion chalices, but at that point decided that reading would be better than delving.
“Too bad it’s not an audiobook!” Avery told her. “We could listen together and get all kinds of things done!”
“I don’t think they were doing audio when this came out,” Kelsey told him.
“I’m going to take care of shelving these chalices in the glass cases out there—two shelves have room, if I move some of the Chinese lucky cats,” he said.
“That’s great. Thanks, Avery,” Kelsey told him.
It was comfortable; he shelved and she read.
The first part of the book was a series of prayers against different forms of evil. “Lord, protect me from the miasma in the air, in the disease of the Devil’s making, that travels in the air we breathe. We lift the cross to thee, we beseech thee in the forms of Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Cast out thy evil that we take into our lips and lungs, and guard us from that form of his torment,” Kelsey read aloud.
“And if it had been the right time in history, they could have taken vitamins!” Avery said.
“The whole first part of the book is just incantations like this, nothing that strange,” Kelsey said. “The concept was that the devil was in everything, in people, in the air, in illness…in the weather! Listen to this one. ‘Dear Father, in the name of the Holy Mother and all the Saints, cast the demon Devil from the seas, from the wind that blows, and rocks our ships, devouring them to a watery grave.’” She looked over at Avery. “I can’t believe that Cutter believed any of this!”
“I’m sure he didn’t. He might just have been holding the book…for something to set the little gold casket on,” Avery suggested.
“No…I don’t think so. I think that maybe… Okay, he knew or suspected that someone out there knew he had two of the reliquaries—the real one, which he had discovered held the diamond, and the fake one, the one he was holding. Or, he hoped that the thief didn’t know that he had two of them, and he planned on handing over the one. The fake one, the one that he was holding. He had the shotgun, but…oh, I don’t know, I give up! If he was being threatened, why didn’t he call the police?”
“Because,” Avery said thoughtfully, “whoever it was came and slipped in through a window and was using…trickery to scare him. And he couldn’t call the police and tell them that he had shadows in the house. He was getting older. Maybe he was afraid he was getting dementia. Maybe he didn’t trust the police.”
“I wish I’d been here,” Kelsey said softly.
She carefully turned a page and was startled to see that there was a note folded into the book. She pulled out the note, opened it and saw Cutter’s large, perfect cursive handwriting.
She read aloud.
“Note: Read from description of Pete Edwards that he practiced black magic at night on the beach. A black candle carried, and an incantation to Satan to show him the Southern ships in the darkness so he could sound the blockade alarm. Many of his neighbors despised him, but they feared him, as well. Most probably, he found the ships by seeing the dimmed lights in the darkness of the beach. Those around him might well have believed that he was in league with the devil and that his hatred of the Southern cause was so great, he was willing to make any sacrifice. Some say that on the night the ship Southern Comfort was captured by Union ships, Pete reported the ship, having discovered it on the horizon by Satanic rite and then sacrificed a goat. The ship’s captain, Ethan Rutger, suffered a heart attack during the capture, and it was said that Pete’s rite brought about the heart attack, the man’s death and, consequently, the capture of the ship.”
“Ugh. Cree—eepy!” Avery announced.
“Cutter was just making a note on what he had read,” Kelsey said. “He must have been at the library. He must have read from that book Liam was talking about.”
“Certainly sounds like it,” Avery agreed.
She began searching through the book for more notes. Two chapters in, she found another one.
Avery was gently wiping dust from a little porcelain cat, and she frowned and found herself reading in silence.
Morning, June 10. I asked Marabella if she had moved anything in my office. She had not. I believe her, and trust her; she is the kindest woman, and the only housekeeper for me. She understands that I must have a clean kitchen, clean sheets…bathroom, and the rest does not matter. I know she did not move the book. I do not believe in demonic forces, though I believe there is a devil, Satan, if you will, and he lives in the hearts of many a man. There is not a ritual that awakens evil; there is a man’s belief that he can harness it, and in his own belief is his power. I can’t ask Marabella to stay any longer. Someone comes here, and I have not fathomed the method. There is only one thing he might be thinking. The reliquary. I should have gotten rid of it the moment it came into my possession; the money might have gone to so many causes. I waited just seconds too long, and the fact of what I had was known. Too quickly, my precious daughter was gone, and I will live the rest of my life seeking her killer.