V. How the Saint Went Calling, and Alex Cordona Told Stories
Late in the afternoon, Simon received the return call he had expected.
For a little while afterward he lurked grimly in his hotel room, smoking several cigarettes and pacing like a caged cat, his normal instinct for quick resolve overshadowed by a sense of foreboding uncertainty. Such a hesitation was rare for the Saint, but the ideas coalescing in his mind were so incredible that he could not help questioning himself.
Finally he made his choice, and turned his steps toward Cordova Street and the home of Ron Josselin.
He was not carrying any tools that would have allowed him to circumvent the padlock on the gate, but it required little effort for him to top the rough coquina wall, even with its protective battlement of spears. Secure in the knowledge that Josselin’s dogs were still in the custody of the Law, he sauntered leisurely up the porch steps to the front door, and knocked.
An intruder within his hallowed grounds was clearly an inconceivable phenomenon to Josselin, and he responded to it instantly. Not more than three seconds passed before the door was thrown violently open, and the trust-fund bohemian stood rooted at the threshold like a grizzly, his red face contorted with indignation.
Simon’s gaze was drawn upward from the steel-trap hand wrapped around the edge of the door, across the length of Josselin’s exposed forearm; and then he had no more doubts.
“Good evening,” he said pleasantly, before the other man could speak. “I’m collecting for the National Fund for the Protection of Blue-Bellied Pangodillos—and considering your boundless love for all of God’s creatures, I thought you might like to make a donation.”
“How did you get through the gate?” Josselin boomed.
“Oh, I simply flew over it. I’ve been purported to do that sort of thing, you know.” Simon moved forward, with such assurance that the still-astonished Josselin automatically stepped back, and the Saint was in the house before its owner could even think of resisting.
The living room was better described as a workshop. Cluttered and uninviting, it was taken up largely by a workbench, its table piled with tools and coils of wire and half-finished examples of Josselin’s art—one of which, Simon noted, was a silver figurine of a running wolf. The heavily curtained windows left the room rather gloomy, with a strong lamp over the workbench providing the main source of light. The few other furnishings were dark, solid, ugly affairs that must have either come with the house or been collected from secondhand stores.
“Well, what do you want?” Josselin snarled contemptuously behind Simon, slamming the door shut—and efficiently planting his burly bulk between the Saint and that means of exit.
Simon turned, still perfectly placid and congenial, but there was the faintest undercurrent of ice beneath his solicitous tone.
“I just thought I’d drop in and make sure I didn’t hurt you too badly last night.”
Josselin’s sinewy body almost physically braced itself with an instinctive defiance. “What are you talking about?”
“You’ve played a clumsy game, Ronnie, really. I’m surprised even the police, as addled as they are, haven’t managed to catch up with you by now. Of course, they’re rather sticky about state lines and all that.” Simon’s poise was relaxed, and his voice drifted languidly from the depths of an apparent reverie. “You see, I had a terribly unpleasant dream about Newport last night. It bothered me so much that I had to ring up my old chum Inspector Fernack from New York for comfort. Well, just to make me feel better, the old parsnip went pestering a few professional colleagues to assure me my dream wasn’t true… and what do you suppose, Ronnie? It was!—Three supposed maulings by animals in Newport in as many months, all unexplained—and the last one happened almost exactly a month before Johnny Hinshaw died.”
The silversmith gaped in outraged astonishment. “Are you out of your mind?”
Simon ignored him, continuing his dreamy discourse.
“Hinshaw was just a random target, I suppose; but I knew there had to be a reason for Giddens’ death, looking back on all his oblique hints. It fits together nicely now. When you knew each other up north, he somehow caught on about those other three killings. He was rather desperate to at least live the life of an artist, even if it was utterly beyond him to be one—and he decided you’d make a convenient patron. However, like most parasites, he made the mistake of trying to blackmail someone who had no compunctions about doing things even less pleasant. And naturally, the final straw was hearing him give myself and Tania that veiled warning of danger last night.” The Saint raised an eyebrow wryly at Josselin. “I’m only surprised you let him live as long as you did. Of course, you might have intended to take care of him last month… except that our friend Hinshaw had the misfortune to get in the way of your peculiarly cyclical homicidal urges.”
Josselin took a step forward. Simon’s fluid muscles tightened almost imperceptibly in readiness, but the other man simply stared at him in stupefaction.
“You’re completely insane,” the silversmith diagnosed him at last—and there was almost more awe than anger in his voice.
“Well, I’m quite sure one of us is.” The Saint calmly took out a cigarette, gazing at it meditatively. “The particular scientific term I had in mind was lycanthropy.”
The dog lover’s pale blue eyes were as round as the moon had been the night before. “You think I’m some kinda werewolf?”
“Let’s say that I think you believe you are.”
There was a moment of stunned silence. Then Josselin laughed, harshly and incredulously and quite without humor.
“That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard. Sure I like dogs, and wolves too, and lots of other animals—but that doesn’t mean I think I am one. And I never killed nobody, Saint.”
Truth be told, Simon had been more or less expecting a physical attack by this point. The fact that it had not come made him almost uneasy; certainly it added a new level to his skepticism, although his unchanged attitude did not betray it. There were still too many questions to be asked, too many threads in the rope he had mentally tightened around Josselin’s neck.
“If Gilbert wasn’t blackmailing you,” he said inquisitively, “would you care to explain why you tolerated him in this house, when you so clearly despised him?”
Josselin scowled and slumped down angrily onto his workbench, knotting his fists on his denim-clad knees.
“My father cut me off, that’s why,” he grumbled. “He told me if I wouldn’t go back up north and join him in leveling forests, I wouldn’t get another cent. I said no—but my art didn’t make enough money to get by on. I already owned this house, anyway, so I rented out the upstairs. Gilbert was just a tenant. He was an idiot and he bothered me with his trying to be pals, but he had plenty of money—though where he got it from, I don’t know. I just put up with him because it helped pay the bills.” Josselin folded his brawny arms and glared at Simon. “Satisfied?”
“Well, it’s not entirely implausible.” The Saint put away his unlit cigarette, his nonchalance fading slightly. “But there is one more thing. I was there at the Castillo last night, just after Giddens was killed.”
“I know.” At Simon’s interested look, Josselin added quickly, “Alex told me earlier.”
“I saw Giddens’ killer in the dark. I threw my knife, and drew blood.” Simon nodded toward Josselin’s left arm, and the first thing he had noticed when he was met at the door: a fresh white bandage, located slightly above the wrist, which he knew had not been there on the previous evening.
“I think Deputy Haskill might like to compare my blade against the wound you have under that gauze,” the Saint remarked.
The silversmith glowered at him, almost defensively clasping his meaty hand over the bandage. “That’s no cut. It’s a burn from my soldering iron.”
“Would you care to show me?” Simon asked lightly.
Josselin sat up straighter, his shoulders stiffening. “No—I don’t think I would. You’re no cop, and you don’t have a warrant. You’re just a crackpot who’s barged into my house with a lot of crazy ideas.” He abruptly stood up. “I want you to get out.”
Simon sighed elaborately. “You’re making things difficult for me, Ronnie. It’s true that what I have isn’t quite enough to act on, but I’m afraid I’ll have to let Brother Haskill in on it. If you want him for a playmate instead, that’s your business—but I don’t think I care to let you out of my sight until we’ve both spoken to him. So if you wouldn’t mind venturing off with me on a little social call to his office…”
“Why single me out?” Josselin snapped. “I didn’t know Hinshaw, and even if Gilbert did live upstairs, I barely knew him either. Why don’t you ask Alex who else might have hated him? They knew each other longer than I did.”
A sudden shaft of ice speared down the length of the Saint’s spine, stiffening him like an electric shock.
“What did you say?”
The startled consternation on Simon’s face was evidently enough to blunt even Josselin’s hostility. A bit of the harshness ebbed out of his expression, and he nodded.
“Sure—Alex and Gilbert met each other over in Spain, about six months ago, I guess. They came back to the States together. I was already living in Newport when they got there.”
Simon suddenly felt as breathless as if Josselin had laid a fist into his gut.
“Listen to me,” he rapped out quickly. “I want you to call Deputy Haskill and send him to Alex Cordona’s house. Tell him it may very well be a matter of life and death.”
Josselin gaped; and then the floridness of his face darkened in a new flush of incredulous contempt.
“Don’t tell me you’re going to pin that crazy story on Alex now!”
The Saint’s voice turned to ice. “I haven’t got time to argue with you, Josselin. Tania could be in danger.”
“She’s in more danger from a maniac like you than she’ll ever be from Alex.” Watching Simon carefully for any move toward the door, Josselin took the two sideways steps necessary to reach the telephone on a side table. “I’ll call the cops, alright—to cart you off to a padded cell.”
Simon heaved a sigh, watching the artisan insert his thick finger into the dial of the phone.
“Terribly sorry, but I’m afraid I can’t sit around now to wait for the lads with the butterfly nets. When you wake up from your impending hibernation, old grizzly, will you please give Haskill my love—and tell him to meet me at Cordona’s house.”
Josselin looked up in surprise—but before he could raise a hand in his own defense, the Saint’s fist undertook a mathematically precise concurrence with the underside of the bigger man’s jaw.
It was a necessarily explosive blow, given the recipient’s size, but at the same time not too hard. Simon had an active desire to see the man come to his senses and complete that telephonic distress call posthaste. For all he cared at the moment, Josselin could have Haskill bring along an entire squadron of men in white coats for the Saint’s dubious benefit—as long as it got the Law to the right place at the right time.
He knew how he would be judged if there was even a chance that he was wrong; and if he was, with the impossible ideas that had sunk their claws into his brain, he would be more than tempted to own himself deserving of that judgment.
But he was far more afraid of the chance that he was right.
Before Josselin’s temporarily unpiloted hulk had even thudded to the hardwood floor, Simon was turning to make his exit. As he did so, his gaze swept across the craftsman’s unkempt workbench. He paused infinitesimally, then stepped over to pick up the most promising object that lay before him.
“Maybe you are getting daft, Templar old boy,” he murmured to himself, and sprinted out the door.
Located only a few blocks farther down the same street, the residence of Alex Cordona was likewise a quaint artifact of Victoriana—this one somewhat smaller and far more inviting, its immaculate yard unfettered by a fence, its cream-colored walls reflecting a pink warmth in the light of the setting sun. Simon leaped up the porch steps with the uncanny silence of a stalking panther, and gently tested the knob of the front door.
It opened freely, and the apprehension vibrating in his nerves became a few degrees more intense.
With the exception of its electric light, the interior of the house might well have still been existing in the nineteenth century. There was not one furnishing that was not an elegant antique. Simon moved through a foyer and living room forested with end tables and wingback chairs, ornately carved wood and heavy floral-upholstered fabrics. The place reflected Cordona’s austere and fastidious manner, with not a single object out of place, and the books on the shelf—many of them also antiques—arranged in perfect alphabetical order.
There was no sign of either Cordona or Tania Riker, his intended dinner partner for the evening.
At the very instant when a new shadow of doubt flickered across Simon’s consciousness, he heard a faint sound from the upstairs landing, which may have been either a footstep or a soft protest of ancient hinges. A man with senses less finely attuned than the Saint’s would not have heard it, but it was enough to draw his attention sharply upward.
A bedroom door slowly creaked halfway open. Feeling weirdly transfixed, Simon watched as a familiar exquisite figure in a red dress stepped out, her golden hair framing the strained but steady expression on her face. Behind her shoulder, partly shielded by the door, there lurked the slender tan features and keen eyes of the Spaniard—and beneath Tania’s arm, against her ribs, the cylinder of a thirty-eight caliber barrel glinted with silent eloquence in the grip of a brown hand.
“Please come up, Mr. Templar. We’ve been expecting you.”
There was nothing for Simon to do but go up.
As he climbed the stairs, moving slowly with his hands in plain sight, he met Tania’s gaze. Reading his unasked question, she answered with a tense and crooked half-smile, a reassurance that she was for the moment unharmed. He recognized fear in her eyes, but her outward poise was as cool and statuesque as ever. Once more he marveled at the unflinching nerve of the girl—and at the same time, he felt the peculiar, daunting consciousness that her courage was due in part to an unquestioning faith in him. He would get her out of there; to her, it became fait accompli the moment he stepped into the house.
“My hero?” she asked, almost ironically, and without the slightest quiver in her voice.
The Saint responded with a somewhat pained smile. “I’ll admit there seem to have been certain complications.”
“I thought you would come here, if you were clever enough to ask Josselin the right questions,” Cordona said candidly. “That is what brought you, is it not?”
“Actually, the old boy just sent me round to borrow a cup of flour,” the Saint prattled easily. “He wants to bake those hounds of his a dog biscuit with a file in it—and after I heard about Spain, I thought you might be sympathetic to the cause.”
He had reached the top of the stairs. Cordona gripped Tania’s arm and drew her back into the room, gesturing slightly with his automatic for Simon to follow. The Saint complied, sauntering casually into a bedroom that matched the rest of the house for handsomely ornate anachronism. Cordona directed Tania to sit on the edge of the four-poster bed, and then circled round the edge of the spacious room to shut the door—never once taking his eyes from Simon or coming near him.
“I do regret the blame Josselin’s dogs have received,” Cordona admitted. “But it was rather fortunate for me.”
Simon shook his head, with an admiring expression.
“I certainly have to give you credit, Alex. You found a nearly perfect fall guy in Ron Josselin—and when you saw my personal dislike for him, you took advantage of it beautifully. I had the right story… just the wrong man.”
His expression hardened. “You were responsible for three deaths in Newport, and probably others in Spain. Giddens knew it, and he was blackmailing you. A month ago you set out to stalk him, but John Hinshaw had the bad luck to be in your path… The site of his murder does just happen to be almost precisely halfway between Josselin’s house and this one. Now, you finally finished off Giddens last night.” His eyes ranged over Cordona’s slender figure. “Just where did I nick you, incidentally?”
A dark smile flitted briefly across the other man’s mouth. “That does not matter now. It was merely a scratch—but I thank you for your concern.”
“How could he have killed… the way they were killed?” Tania’s voice broke in from the bed, over Simon’s shoulder. Only now was there a faint and quickly-suppressed tremor of shock in her voice, and Simon knew his account of Cordona’s crimes had been the first revelation of the full truth to her.
“I’m still working on that one,” Simon murmured without turning to her, unwillingly remembering the sight of Giddens’ savaged corpse. “I’m not sure we’ll ever really know.”
“There is no reason why you should not. After all… you will never have the chance to tell the tale.” Cordona moved over to the bureau, reaching out without looking away from Simon, and picked up a coil of rope. This, surprisingly, he tossed into Tania’s lap.
“You will do me the service of tying Mr. Templar to that chair,” he said evenly, nodding to the piece of furniture in question. “I am not so foolish as to place myself within his reach. But I shall watch you, and if you do not tie him securely, I am afraid I will be forced to remove his temptation—along with his fingers.” He touched the handle of a knife sheathed on his belt.
“Do as he says, Tania,” Simon said calmly.
Slowly, the artist moved to obey. With a scornful look at the gun in Cordona’s hand, Simon seated himself in the wooden chair to which he had been directed, crossing his wrists behind its straight solid back in cheerful anticipation of the rope—and the arduous task ahead of him. He had good reason not to want his wrists tied to the chair arms in plain sight.
Tania stepped behind the chair, and a moment later, he felt her slim fingers set to work. Cordona had likewise moved beyond Simon’s field of view, and it was clear that he was now looking over Tania’s shoulder, watching intently as she proceeded to bind her would-be rescuer with her own hands. Simon could not help but admire the way Cordona controlled the scene from a careful distance, covering every possible move, avoiding the simple mistakes made by so many specimens of the ungodly.
Except for one.
Simon shifted his arm slightly, pressing it against Tania’s fingers, letting her feel the hard object concealed beneath his sleeve. He was acutely aware of the instant of hesitation it caused her. Under Cordona’s scrutiny, it was impossible for her to reach for it herself; but then he felt a feather-light yet plainly deliberate pressure against his hand, and knew she had received the message to take heart.
“Well, Alex?” he asked lightly. “You promised to tell us a bedtime story. Something along the lines of Little Red Riding Hood, I expect. ‘My, what a big gun you have, Grandmother,’ and all that.”
Behind him, he heard Cordona chuckle faintly.
“You do not believe, Mr. Templar, but I shall tell you anyway. My name is Alejandro de Mazarrón y Cordona—and I first set foot upon this shore in the Year of Our Lord 1513, in the company of Juan Ponce de Leon.”
The Saint heard Tania’s faint, startled intake of breath, but he himself gave no visible reaction. A part of his mind was taken up now with the task of discreetly twisting his hands and tensing the muscles of his forearms, ensuring as much slack as he could in the ropes she was reluctantly coiling around his wrists. With Cordona watching, it was exceedingly delicate work.
“For a man at the ripe old age of four-and-a-quarter centuries, you seem to have aged very gracefully indeed, Alejandro,” he remarked offhandedly.
Cordona did not acknowledge him. Behind Simon’s shoulder, the fantastic yet eerily reminiscent narrative continued: “I was not a soldier, but a scholar and an artist, brought on the voyage to make maps and drawings of the lands we discovered. But I was not strong. After only a few days in the marshes, I became mortally sick with a fever… and my comrades left me to die.”
There was a moment of silence. Finished binding Simon’s hands, Tania was evidently motioned back to the other side of the room by Cordona, and resumed her nervous seat on the bedside. With one hand, the Spaniard cautiously tested the strength of the knots for himself, then stepped back into Simon’s view as well. The light of zealous passion that came into his eyes when he spoke of history was again visible, but there was now a fever-brightness about it, the reflected spark of a maniacal conviction burning within.
“As I lay waiting for death, I was found by a tribe of natives, who gave me new life. Their ancestors had long ago found their way to this place from Central America, for once they were an offshoot of the Aztec race—but their customs were so strange, so violent, that even that savage nation had driven them out across the sea. It was these who healed me, by mingling their own blood with mine.”
A look of rapturous fervor came over Cordona’s face, his gaze flickering back and forth between his captives. “Do you see? Ponce de Leon came here to seek the Fountain of Youth, but it was I who found it. The secret was not in the water—it was in the blood.”
Slowly, and very quietly, Tania answered him.
“You’re insane, Alex.”
And the Saint, behind his back, resolutely twisted his wrists and stretched his long fingers toward the cuff of his sleeve.
He found that Tania, for fear of Cordona’s threats of disfigurement against him, had done an all-too-efficient job with the ropes. As he silently fought to draw out the meager slack he had created, the rough hemp bit burningly into his skin. He set his jaw and closed his mind against the pain, at the same time flexing the muscles in his arm to ease his trump card down toward his hands.
Cordona himself, apparently satisfied that he had neutralized the Saint, seemed almost prepared to dismiss his presence. Simon was not at all sure he liked that development, because Tania was now the primary subject of the Spaniard’s attention—and the gun was still in his hand.
In response to her judgment upon his mental state, he turned to her with an air of strangely earnest appeal.
“You yourself have often said that my art makes one feel as if I had seen my subjects with my own eyes. Now you know the truth: I have. Through the centuries I have watched this land change and grow—seen it fly the flags of Spain and England and America—and I have recorded it all in my paintings and written histories.”
He paused then, growing somber, and turned away slightly.
“But there is a price for immortality. Mr. Templar has realized already what I am.”
“I know what you’ve made of yourself in your own mind,” Simon replied steadily. “In your own terms: hombre lupo.”
Even as he spoke, the Saint continued his secret battle, and at last he felt the butt end of his precious tool drop into the palm of his hand. With slow and excruciating care, he maneuvered it between his fingers, gently sliding it out of his sleeve and into his grasp. Then, without a pause to rest his strained and aching hands, he once more contorted his tortured wrists and set to work on the ropes that bound him. All the while, he listened for any sound of Haskill’s cavalry plodding to the rescue; but there was only silence downstairs. His heart sank a little as he reflected that he may have hit Josselin harder than he calculated.
Cordona was unquestionably alert for any sudden moves, but he still declined to acknowledge Simon. However dangerous it was, his intent focus on Tania was an advantage to the Saint, allowing him to struggle with his bonds a bit more strenuously than he could have if their captor had been expending more awareness in his direction.
Instead, the artist-historian met Tania’s wide, incredulous eyes with that impossibly sincere sense of entreaty, a strange plea for understanding and belief.
“He speaks the truth. Those natives who saved my life, Tania, were such beings as you would call… werewolves. They healed me by making me one of them, and their blood in my veins has allowed me to live for these four hundred years without sickness or death. But the terrible price I must pay is that on a single night of each month, when the full moon rises, I am myself changed into a wolf—and I cannot reclaim my own form until I have tasted human blood.”
And there, at last, was the fulfillment of every fantastic suspicion that had entered the Saint’s mind in the last two days.
Even when twisted in an expression of disgust, Tania’s face could be nothing but beautiful. She gazed at Cordona with a coldly horrified loathing that nevertheless gave not an inch of ground, refusing even to physically shrink back from him.
“You’re sick, Alex,” she said, quietly but steadily. “Let us help you.”
The self-professed lycanthrope gazed at her with the regretful pity of an adult punishing a child for its own good.
“You will feel differently, my love… when you are as I am.”
The Saint’s heart skipped a beat. Some supernal instinct within him had almost begun to anticipate such a threat—but to hear it spoken was a chilling confirmation of his worst half-realized fears.
“What?” Tania gasped, jerking to her feet in unsuppressed startlement.
Their captor extended his free hand slightly toward her. “Through these long years, I have searched for a worthy mate… and at last I have found that in you. Once our blood has been mingled, you and I will share the centuries to come. Think of it, Tania—together we will witness history not yet imagined, and teach its truths to still-distant generations, just as I have done with my art and my writings. When multitudes die in wars which man could learn from the past not to repeat, is our wisdom not more than worth the cost of twelve lives each year?”
For a moment, an electrically frantic tension hung in the air—and then a half-desperate yet shrewdly calculating light glimmered through Tania’s eyes. Simon recognized it with a sinking heart, and could almost read her thoughts as he watched the delicate shift of her demeanor.
“Maybe it would be, Alex,” she conceded, in a soft, breathy voice. With a svelte brazenness that made Simon catch his breath, she took two steps closer to Cordona, gazing meltingly into his predator eyes. “Besides, you should have known all along that I’d follow you anywhere.”
Had Tania pursued her father’s theatrical realms of art, Simon would reflect later on, a performance such as that could have made her the toast of Broadway.
Cordona reached out with his empty left hand, his fingertips tracing a silken lock of her hair. His face was a map of his internal pitched battle between temptation and mistrust. With pulse racing, Simon redoubled his effort and strain against the ropes; there was no more time to be discreet.
“Let’s leave right now, this minute,” Tania went on with seductive eagerness. “We can go anywhere. You don’t need to bother about the Saint. You don’t really want to hurt him, and I’d rather not either—it wouldn’t be a nice way to repay him for helping my father, after all.”
The Spaniard’s expression turned regretful.
“I wish it were so simple, Tania. But even if I did not think Mr. Templar would follow us to the ends of the earth, we have need of him.” His hand dropped gently, caressingly, onto her shoulder. “Even if the moon is not full, you must suffer the change when you are first initiated. Mr. Templar will be your first kill, and his blood will restore you to your own true beauty.”
Such madness was more than even Tania’s iron-willed performance could withstand. With a gasp of shocked revulsion, she attempted to recoil—but Cordona’s loving grip had suddenly become a vise around her upper arm. As he twisted her slender, struggling body against him, he threw the gun down on the bed, and reached for the knife at his belt.
Simon fought the ropes with manic strength, feeling the fibers give way against the desperate strain of his muscles and the sharp edge of the tool in his hand. Another second would be a second too late…
And then Tania kicked Cordona—hard—in a very well-chosen place.
At that instant the Saint’s bonds surrendered with a snap, and he flung himself out of the chair, bringing his weapon to bear. Tania had almost simultaneously wrenched herself from the grip of the crumpled and gasping Cordona, and for a moment the three of them stood frozen in a hair-triggered tableau. The unwieldy but potentially lethal object in Simon’s hand was poised to be thrown with the flick of a wrist; yet he waited. His sapphire eyes had turned to steel, but they were not the coldly merciless eyes that had been the last sight of so many other men.
After a few seconds that felt like an eternity, Cordona straightened slightly, breathing hard. He looked up from beneath lowered brows, his obsidian gaze glittering with hot malice as he realized that the Saint now possessed the upper hand. For a moment, he looked chillingly like the animal he had professed to become by moonlight.
Then, with a faint, maniacal grimace of a smile, he edged forward. His hand crept toward the knife that still remained sheathed at his hip.
“Don’t do it, Alejandro,” Simon warned him, and wished with every fiber of his being for the other man to heed him.
Cordona’s mad-dog smile merely widened just a little. He lurched forward almost bestially, his fingers closing over the handle of the knife.
“You cannot harm me…”
The knife flashed from its sheath, and the Saint’s choice was made for him.
Suddenly Cordona was arrested in mid-stride, the knife raised, his eyes bulging in an instant of shocked disbelief before infinity veiled them over forever. In eerie silence, the body parted from its soul slumped bonelessly to the floor. Projecting now from its breast, just over its heart, rose the unfinished handle of a silver dagger—sculpted in the rough shape of a wolf’s head.
For a moment there was stillness. Then, before Simon could turn to face Tania, she was in his arms, her face buried against his chest and her warm tears soaking into his shirt. He gathered her in his sheltering embrace, and laid his cheek against her soft hair; and in silence, brick by brick, he rebuilt the walls within him that she would never know had cracked.
She barely gave a start when the crash of an imploding door sounded from downstairs, followed by the commanding voice of Deputy Haskill.