Daniel stood at the window watching the traffic hum across the Golden Gate in the waning light. From the second floor of his restored Victorian house, the view encompassed the bridge, the Presidio, Alcatraz and the Marin Headlands across the Bay. It was the reason he’d brought the rundown old money pit in the first place, and he’d never regretted it. Tonight, however, the view was just background to his thoughts.
Last week his plans to steal the book had failed miserably. Deacon had returned from his impromptu tour, settling himself and the woman on a bench near the Library entrance, giving every appearance of staying for eternity. Frustrated, Daniel had accepted defeat. No matter he had a safe haven at home, he still couldn’t leave his body for hours on end.
Now, after a heated and threatening phone call this morning from Cantrell, Daniel was angry enough to turn himself in, rather than put up with the bastard for another minute. His hesitation to follow through, however, was twofold: In his heart--justified or not--he knew what he chose to do with his life made a difference; but more importantly, his new raison d'etre was to take down the Cantrells, no matter what he had to do to accomplish that.
Turning from the window, he walked toward his bedroom, something a friend had once said crossing his mind: If you sit by the river long enough, you will see the body of your enemy float by. Smiling, he stepped into his walk-in closet, pressed lightly on a small section of molding, and when a door slid open, he moved inside the concealed room. With any luck, he'd see both Cantrells drift past.
Opening the small refrigerator, Daniel pulled out a bottle of water, popped the cap and took a long drink before settling in the custom-made recliner that sat in the farthest corner of the room. He took a few minutes to admire the space around him, from the soundproofed, pale green walls, to the soft ambient light that rose from floor level. Taking another swallow of water, his gaze wandered over the two floor-to-ceiling bookcases, full to overflowing on either side of his chair, then focused briefly on the far wall where his desk, laptop, and surveillance equipment gave him every angle possible of his house, inside and out. Along the final wall beside the door, he kept the small fridge and cupboard fully stocked, with protein bars, trail mix, and when he needed a quick sugar rush, an impressive selection of candy bars.
Daniel had built the room, done the work himself, installed the latest in security technology, and no one on the planet knew it existed. Exactly how he wanted to keep things. Setting the water down on the table next to his chair, he closed his eyes, certain of the protection he’d given himself. Until this room, whenever he’d travelled, he had never felt completely safe, never trusted that someone wouldn’t accidentally kill him as Sister Mary Margaret had almost done all those years ago.
Banishing the past, he sighed and let his mind go quiet, picturing the mountain path he always climbed, each step taking him deeper into a place of peace and calm. When he reached the top and could look out over the world, the landscape was far below, though all around him jagged peaks thrust through the clouds, black against the pure, iridescent white. He imagined one of those clouds drifting toward him, folding him in a blanket of warm protection. When his body began to glow with a gentle light, he opened his arms and leaped off the mountain.
Like an adrenalin junkie, he loved that immediate rush, the sense of throwing all caution to the winds of fate. It had taken years, and many, many moments of deep fear and terror before Daniel learned the freedom in utter surrender.
Soaring through the jeweled mists between the fifth and sixth levels, Daniel’s destination was once again the Library, glowing like a beacon above him, though he wasn’t going there just yet. Pausing for a moment, he scanned the threads twisting and twining in the atmosphere; there had never been a time that he didn’t marvel at the colors, the vision of so many souls--most unaware they were in the Ethereal, their dreams forgotten when they awoke. Now and then he could see a dream, like a movie, take shape in front of him, but unless there was something sinister or criminal about it, he didn’t watch, it just seemed too voyeuristic.
Daniel had been traveling in the Ethereal since he was small boy, so there weren’t many places he hadn’t been, other than the levels off-limits above the Library. He’d even been on a few of the lower levels, though not until he’d been confident of getting back out again.
Another thing he'd learned, this from Taurin, was that anyone in the Ethereal had the ability to create whatever scenario they could imagine. With a thought he could go for a swim in a coral pink sea with green dolphins who could recite Shakespeare; fly to the moon; sit on the porch in an Adirondack chair, feet on the railing, while deer wandered in the front yard of his phantom cabin.
Now though, Daniel needed time to think, to plan, so he thought of his favorite place, a beautiful tropical beach on the Fifth level. In an instant, he was standing on white sand, turquoise water gently lapping at the shoreline. He strolled, the sun warm on his back, palm fronds waving with a melodious rustle. Sometimes he just came here to reflect, unwind. Not today. Today he needed to be soothed, calmed. It was now or never to steal the book.
Taking a seat on a large outcropping, waves washing over his bare feet, he toyed with the idea of calling Cantrell’s bluff, refusing to do this stupid, idiotic thing that would get him sent to the lowest, darkest, bottomless pit in the Ethereal, or outright killed. No one had stolen a book from the Library. Ever. It couldn’t be done, or at least no one had been crazy enough to try, which amounted to the same thing. Daniel couldn’t help looking at it from another angle--the thief angle--no matter he thought it was a suicide mission.
Just because no one had done it, didn’t mean it was impossible. Earlier in the week, stuck in the shadows waiting for Deacon to stop being the ultimate tour guide, he’d spent the time running with various scenarios. By the time he’d left the Ethereal, Daniel was convinced there was no way any idea, plan or trick would work.
The most basic tenet was the most elaborate safeguard: Only the soul who owned the book could call it. Simple as that. The only exception to the rule was in the rarest of circumstances: the book’s owner gave permission. Daniel had done extensive research, and every bit of it concurred. Unless it was your book, or you’d been given leave, there was no way in this world or the next to get your hands on another’s book.
Vacillating between giving up, losing everything, and being challenged by the problem, Daniel had seldom wondered why Cantrell wanted the book in the first place, or who it belonged to. Now, however, the thought took root and wouldn’t let go. What did Cantrell want with it, a book containing each recorded moment of that soul’s journey? Where was the advantage? Since no one had ever stolen a book before, there was no clue what might happen. What if having someone’s book meant the bastard owned their soul, or could control them somehow? The ramifications were mind-boggling, and very disturbing.
Daniel shook his head. At the moment he had more to worry about than the identity of the book’s owner. His immediate concern was how to steal the book and get out of the Ethereal alive and undetected. In one piece would be a bonus.
He’d told Cantrell this afternoon on the phone that there was no way it could be done. None. Cantrell reminded him sharply that he’d already given Daniel the means to get the book, then told him an envelope would shortly be arriving at his door, the contents making it quite clear there was nothing further to discuss. Cantrell then snarled he’d waited long enough and expected results by tomorrow morning at the latest. Or else.
They’d exchanged a few more words, threats made on both sides, but when Daniel ripped open the couriered envelope a few minutes later and found a series of black and white photographs showing several images of himself breaking into Cantrell’s house, his relic room, he knew his only option, for now, was to yield.
Daniel stood, stretched, then turned to retrace his steps down the beach. As he walked, his mind turning over every likelihood, he absently removed a small piece of paper from his shirt pocket. Cantrell had given it to him the night he’d been blackmailed into this whole bizarre scheme.
Two brief lines of instruction, written in an elegant hand, on expensive stock:
Using a crystal card, call this name instead of your own: Lilith.
Bring me the book immediately.