“I went to the church, and they were allowing tourists into the ruins. I flirted with that ridiculous Professor Dubois, and learned that he was certain he was near to discovering the coffin of a noblewoman who had lived during the reign of the Sun King. She had been his mistress, but she had been ordered buried in unhallowed ground because of her evil practices. I kept at it as long as I could, and yet I was being urged out. They were closing down for the day. Still, I lingered, wondering if I could sneak back and eavesdrop on the workers. One of them came after me. When he did, there was suddenly the most god-awful scream I have ever heard. The fellow who had followed me went back. I went blindly racing for a way out. While I was banging away at the church door, the worker who had come after me suddenly reappeared and broke the door down.”
“You heard a scream—but how do you know that someone had been murdered?” Jacques asked.
“Because his coworker said he had been murdered and that he was going to the police.”
“But... he didn’t urge you to go to the police?”
“No, he urged me to go home.”
“Could the one fellow have killed the other?”
“No, I just told you, he had come after me. We were staring at one another when we both heard the scream.”
“And he insisted that you not go to the police?”
Tara let out a long sigh. “He swore to me that he was going to the police, and seemed to think that he was doing me a favor by insisting that I not go with him. Now, I think that I was an idiot. I should have gone with him, and told them what I know.”
Jacques was shaking his head. “What could you have said? What do you know? You know that you heard a scream, and that was it. There’s brandy on the dresser there, get yourself some. Take a few deep breaths. Settle down.”
“Where is Ann?”
“Delayed at her office. Thank God.”
“Why do you say that?”
“She thinks I am losing my mind. She would be furious that you took my words to heart and put yourself in danger.”
“Did you put me in danger?”
“I didn’t intend to,” he said softly. He was frowning. “But... at least you were out of the crypt, and you did not go to the police.”
“Wait, a minute. As a decent citizen—”
“You’re American, not French.”
“As a human citizen of the world—”
“There’s nothing you could have done.”
“I still think I should turn around right now and go back and talk to them.”
“No!” he said with an alarm so great it worried her. His face had gone ashen; he looked weak and frail.
“The fellow who urged you to leave was doing you a great service. You must keep your name out of any investigation. Someone went into the dig and murdered a worker. Perhaps that someone is very dangerous. If your name were associated with the case, you could be in great danger.”
“Grandpapa,” Tara said, “you must explain to me what is going on here. The professor thought a noblewoman was buried there. Was she buried with a tremendous fortune? What would cause someone to commit murder over a corpse?”
“Get your brandy,” he commanded her.
Because she was still shaking, she did as he said. She swallowed the contents of a small snifter without pausing for breath. Warmth flooded her. She hadn’t realized that she had felt so cold. She poured more, then took a seat by his bed.
“What about this fellow who insisted you leave?”
“What about him? He was one of the diggers.”
“Old, young? French, English, Italian—”
“American. Somewhere between ... I don’t know... twenty-eight and thirty-five, I believe.” Jacques was frowning again. “And what did he look like?”
“Tall, wiry build. Strong—he broke down a very heavy door for us to escape from the main church.
Brown hair, I think. Hazel eyes.”
She shook her head. “Probably below collar length. It was tied back.” Jacques shook his head, frowning, not looking at her, but seeming to search somewhere in his mind.
“Ah, well, hair, it changes.”
“What are you talking about? Jacques, I mean it. You have to tell me what is going on!” He stared straight at her. “There is evil in the ruins of the old church.” She sighed and clenched her teeth. “Jacques—that won’t cut it!”
“You’re safe,” he said, as if he were speaking to himself. “Thank God. I had not imagined they had come so far. I’d not have sent you if I hadn’t believed that I still had time to ... to stop it. To know. Now, I know. I was an old fool. Yet it’s so difficult to become involved. And there are so few of us left.
Because the world has changed, you know. That’s immaterial. Go to the top drawer of my dresser.” She sat stubbornly. “Not until you tell me what is going on.” He closed his eyes and grasped his chest suddenly.
He opened one old rheumy eye.
“Go to the dresser.”
“I am not! I’m calling the emergency line.”
“No! Dammit, I’m just exhausted, I’m not having any kind of an attack! But I beg of you, do as I say.”
“I’m not letting you get away with this!” she told him firmly.
“Open the drawer.”
She opened the top drawer. Her grandfather’s things were neat and organized.
“Open the little brown box.”
She did so. There was a cross in it. A beautiful cross. Eighteen-carat gold, she thought, large, and elegantly fashioned.
“Put it on.”
“I’m wearing a birthstone pendant.”
He shook his head, appearing deeply upset. “Please, I beg of you, wear it. Wear it for me.” She unhooked the necklace she had been wearing and replaced it with the cross. When she walked back to the bed, she was startled by the strength of his grip as he took her hand.
“This must be between you and me for now, please. You must swear not to talk to others about me behind my back, no matter how senile you think I am.”
“I never thought you were senile—”
“Well, then, you’re the only one who hasn’t. But swear to me, swear on the cross that you’ll say nothing about this, whether you believe me or not. I cannot afford to be locked up in a mental institution at the moment.”
He sounded perfectly rational. His gaze, fixed upon her, seemed as sane as any she had ever seen.
“I swear, I won’t repeat any of this.”
“I believe that they have dug up a vampire.”
“What?” she cried, incredulity heavy in her voice.
He sighed deeply. “There are such creatures in the world, you know.”
“No, I don’t know. There are sick people in the world, I do know that. There are people who think they are vampires, and there are people who think that dogs and even gods speak to them, and command them to go out and do terrible things. But Grandpapa, there aren’t real vampires.”
“I knew you would not believe me. And I’m very afraid that in time, you will.”
“I’m lost, here, Grandpapa. Help me. I want to believe you, or to at least find a logical explanation for what you’re thinking, believing. Because I know you’re not crazy, and you’ve always been the brightest man I have ever known, sane, intelligent, ready to think and reason.” Once again, he was shaking his head. “Would that age were not such a brutal hindrance!” he said.
“Listen to me, there is evil in the world.”
“I’m afraid there are few so innocent and naive any more that they don’t recognize that fact Man himself can be more evil than—”
“Indeed, sadly that is true. But this goes beyond your concept of what evil may be.” She looked at him steadily. “Grandpapa, I don’t believe in ghosts, spirits, or vampires.”
“All right; I know that I am asking a lot of you. But you must promise that you will pay attention to what I ask you to do.”
She sighed. “You know, we’ve just agreed that you’re not a senile old man. Therefore, I shouldn’t have to humor you.”
“You must do what I ask.”
“And what is that?”
“Wear the cross. Never take it off. And let no one into the house that you don’t know. Be wary. Be rude. Don’t make new friends while you are here. Think of the things you have heard in legends, in books, in movies, but don’t count on them all. Oh, no. They can walk by day. They may be weak, and there are those among them who love garlic, though many do not Holy water is strong against those who are evil, not against all of them mind you, but those who are evil. And a cross ... a cross is a symbol. It is the same, it means nothing against those who aren’t evil, and everything against those who are. Are you listening, paying attention? It’s important. You must keep the windows closed. And ask no one in. That’s very important. Ask no one in.”
“Jacques, please, I’m going to try to do as you say, but you must admit yourself that you’re sounding like a madman.”
“But you must listen to me. I think, I still think, there are things that must be done, she must be stopped.
There are others in the Alliance, it has just been so many years, I thought myself crazy sometimes in the States, as if I had imagined it all from the Old World as well. And then there was the war ... and more wars. Always, wars. And that’s when you see the evil of man, and sometimes learn the goodness of the Alliance. In the modern world ... but they are out there, and now she is out there, and you must listen to me.”
Tara was listening, and she loved him, but the more he spoke, the crazier he sounded. Except that maybe he was right about one thing. If a brutal murderer had killed a poor worker to get into a coffin, there had to have been something in it of incredible value. And to keep from being caught, the murderer might well make her a target, if he knew that she had been all but a witness in the crypt.