The London Constabulary Auction House, North of Trafalgar Square, off Charing Cross Road, was a hundred year old former police station now turned business. It was also considered a secret storage haven for collectors, enthusiasts and truly unique hunters of treasures from around the world who would gather annually and acquire things of note, rarity and of course, without the publicity.
During this season, numerous boot sales, inventory clearances and auctions took place all over London, but the LCAH, as it was called, prided itself on only offering one of a kind items. Truly rare acquisitions passed onto them through either greedy family members selling prized heirlooms for cash, collectors in need of rarer items for which capital was sought, through the sale of their less favoured items in exchange, or like tonight, when collectors wanted to see institutions of higher learning get their chance to have that which they had found, acquired or collected over the years so others could benefit. The latter usually only a result of the owner either having no family members or none worthy of the prize. Thus the collector, for whatever reason now felt, and believed, their wares were meant for the world.
For a price of course.
The LCAH was a beautifully decorated British building with lots of art defining the monarchy in all its history and glory, combined with its current and modern day presentation in the form of painted plates, rare photos and differing stamps and coins.
Each room, and there were many of them, was immaculately cleaned, with small tables, some with snacks, drinks and British treats, delicacies only a true ’mum’ could make, the LCAH’s ’mum’ being a master chef hired out of Bristol.
The auction had yet to begin, so most of the visitors were still milling about the bidding halls, examining items up for grabs and looking over displays. Some were guesstimating as to the remaining artifact’s highest bid potential while others simply seeing things they either wanted or needed to have.
Hayden and Danica had walked around the room three times, twice passing the journal pages on display.
When Danica tried to examine more closely, Hayden carefully, but forcefully dragged her around to other items so they did not seem overly interested.
Hayden whispered to her. “We’re under the watch of trained psychiatrists as we speak.” He took a breath, pointing with his eyes as not to reveal what he knew, noting the globe shaped camera units hidden in the corners. “They’re trying to ascertain levels of interest. In doing so, they will determine values and even provide fake bidders in the audience to drive the price up.”
Danica found herself genuinely surprised, unaware of the secret workings of a private auction and its nefarious affairs. However when she put more thought to it, she had to admit, it was a brilliant idea.
Hayden found himself pausing before several items of note. Though not South American in origin, he was still an aficionado of history. Though, he found seeing such items up for bid so easily and haphazardly surprising. Some treasures would give any archeologist pause.
Danica looked offhandedly at most of the items, as to her, it was all old junk old people wanted to buy and let it get older.
Hayden silently hoped they read Danica as the buyer as her lack of interest would help keep the bidding war to a minimum.
Danica gestured to an old comic book for Hayden.
Hayden’s eyes widened when he looked, but only for a second until he saw the price. “Maybe another day.” He whispered, downtrodden he did not have a hundred thousand pounds on him.
Danica resumed her tour of the remaining items.
Twice Hayden had seriously considered if his twenty-five grand paycheck could buy him anything. So far, he was sure, from what he saw, if he was lucky, he could buy the velvet blanket which lay under the precious items up for grabs. And maybe the label.
Danica finally gave in and returned to the pages.
Hayden followed reluctantly.
The pages were housed in a red walnut case with brass fittings bolted tightly. Inset was a sealed glass cover, ten by eleven inches, composed of a polycarbonate shield to prevent penetration and coated with an elastomeric carbon-based polymer to avoid scratches. The item beneath being only the top page of the missing eight pages from the journal, the same single page as shown in the auction catalog, with the remaining seven pages stacked beneath, hidden from view.
Danica carefully, and discretely, snapped a shot with her Smartphone. When she looked at the photo, she noticed it was a glittery haze.
Hayden looked at the screen with some confusion as well.
“Besides being bulletproof, it’s carefully designed by the manufacturer to include a prismatic element to prevent photography.” Resonated a voice from behind them.
Hayden and Danica turned in the direction of the voice.
The voice continued. “I figured the first page would entice the appetites. But showing the remaining seven pages in an easy to copy format would devalue the prize.”
Danica smiled warmly.
Standing before her was a handsome older man, about sixty in her estimate. He was six foot one with short black hair slivered by grey and executively styled. His skin was a reddish brown, recently tanned or having spent some time in the sun, with Mediterranean features, either Spanish or Greek. His most pointed feature, his hazel eyes, flecked by blue and some yellow, giving it a most unique and distinguished quality.
The man gently took Danica’s hand into his own. “You normally should not be taking pictures at all, but for one as beautiful as yourself, I will keep my lips sealed.”
The man introduced himself. “My name is Carlos. Carlos Santiago.” He then kissed Danica on the back side of her hand softly, caressing her skin, gentleman-like.
Hayden looked at the act and tried to hide his displeasure.
Carlos didn’t notice with his eyes locked on Danica.
Hayden reached forward, gently disconnecting Carlos’ grip to give him a firm handshake. “Good afternoon Mr. Santiago. I’m Doctor Hayden Lattimer.” Making sure ’Doctor’ was emphasized.
Carlos shifted smoothly into a military stance and returned the firm handshake. “Good afternoon Doctor Lattimer.”
Hayden gestured to Danica. “And this is my assistant…” He turned to her with a confused look. “What was your name again? Michee? Erin or something?”
Danica glared at Hayden.
Hayden added as he spoke to her, but looking at Carlos. “And while you’re here. Would you mind getting us something to drink? Maybe a beer? Or Mr. Santiago may like a coffee?” He nodded to Carlos. “What do you take in yours?”
Danica never moved, her eyes filling with ice.
Carlos on the other hand returned to grip Danica’s hand with a huge smile. “Be assured.” Holding her palm firmly. “With a woman as enchanting as yourself, your name would not be one I’d have easily forgotten. In fact, I would have it etched into my skin with a burning ember if for no other reason than to say it again long after you were gone.” He smiled and kissed her hand again. “And if you wish, I’d be pleased to get you a beverage of your choice.”
Danica smiled in Hayden’s direction.
Danica took Carlos’ hand with her free one. “It’s my pleasure. I’m Doctor Danica Swift by the way. Excuse Hayden.” She made special note to not use the word ’Doctor.’ “The university is doing an exchange program with the mentally handicapped autistic archeological society. As you can see, we got the raw end of the deal.”
Carlos had to put his fist to his mouth to maintain decorum and not burst out in laughter.
Hayden on the other hand pursed his lips and mouthed the words. “Hayden... Four, Danica…Two.”
Danica smiled in a way that clearly communicated. ‘The game is still far from over.’
Once their little unseen battle was complete, Danica and Hayden resumed their positions before Carlos.
No drinks would be retrieved by anyone at this point.
After a moment of awkward silence, Carlos looked at them and elected to break the ice. “And what brings you both here?” He asked with genuine interest.
Hayden as the specialist in this area spoke first. “We’re here seeking treasure.”
Carlos grinned and replied quite quickly. “Then you’ve come to the wrong place.”
Both Danica and Hayden shared a quick quizzical look without turning in one another’s direction.
Carlos offered to explain himself. “We sell unique items, even rare items; collector pieces some despise and want to get rid of, yet others want so desperately, they’ll stop at nothing to acquire them.” He motioned to the room. “But as for treasures, they’re few and far between. Most things here are academic in nature and if sold on the open market, you would get money more for its rarity than its value.”
Hayden responded, deciding to go for honesty. “We’ve come for those eight pages.” He pointed to the locked case. “My employer is a nutcase who thinks something written by a madman a hundred years ago will lead him to something insane.”
Danica was a bit shocked at Hayden’s bold declaration, but she trusted him, so she decided to let Hayden direct the game.
Carlos turned to examine them with a genuine look of surprise. “I admire honesty in people.” He waited for several seconds. “But I thought you were here with the University of Toronto?”
“I am.” Hayden replied, a bit suspicious that Carlos had this information without having asked. “I was sent here as a consultant. With one job. To get those specific eight pages.” Hayden pointed “My employer is under the assumption the original writer knew secrets known by no other.”
Carlos paused to consider this. “Treasures in one’s eyes could be fairytales to others.” He mused, remaining stoic. “But I believe your intents are pure.”
Hayden smiled at the confidence.
Carlos asked though. “But what possible treasure would an old diary such as this lead you to?”
Hayden wanted to explain, but he knew the rules of the game. ‘Don’t show all your cards on the flop.’
In Texas Hold’em, short of folding, you bluff.
Hayden asked with a statement of his own. “I wouldn’t refer to eight pages as a diary, unless the author only lived nine days.”
“Fair enough.” Carlos smiled at having his argument snuffed out. “How did you even learn of these pages?”
“And that would be?”
Hayden smiled. “The one who hired me.”
Carlos grinned realizing this information was not forthcoming. “At least, tell me where you’re from?”
Danica chimed in. “Canada.” Happy to be a part of the discussion finally.
Carlos looked to the pages. “And you both flew here all the way from Canada to buy some old pages from a half complete diary?”
Hayden offered, “I was told what might be written could prove important.”
Carlos finally admitted. “I’ve had these pages for some time and the only thing I have derived from it is that I should get newer reading material.”
Hayden suddenly realized, he was talking to the eccentric collector Maximus referred to. The one who would not sell to anyone but academics.
‘Did I just screw our chances for the bid?’ Hayden asked himself.
Danica thought the same thing.
Hayden decided to go Full Monty for honesty sake. ‘What possible harm could it do?’ “I guess you have me on that. My employer thinks it leads to the Fountain of Youth?”
Carlos stared at both of them, twice looking back and forth, hoping for a hidden camera to be revealed and a pretty young hostess to jump out and yell, “You’re on ‘Got-You’ Camera.” He finally burst into laughter, slapping his knees as he doubled over.
Danica turned to Hayden and offered a confused look.
Once Carlos regained control, he resumed his military stance. “Please accept my apologies. I’ve never heard such nonsense. But to be honest in return, you’re not the first to think such things. Back in the late 1800’s, a sea Captain thought the same about this diary. One Captain Estefan Rios. He purchased a boat, I believe it was called the Watercress, to cross the ocean and seek out this very same legend.”
“And what became of him?” Danica asked with interest
Carlos responded sadly. “Captain Rios and his entire crew vanished in 1889. Never to be seen again.”
Hayden took a moment. “Do you think they ever found this Island of Eternal Night?”
Carlos smile froze on his face. He frowned for a second and then smiled again. “Who can say? The sea has taken many a man long before they found their destination. Rios and his ship could have sunk shortly after leaving England for all we know.”
“You sound like a man who worked on the waters.” Danica noted.
Carlos mused. “I dreamed of being Captain once. Worked my way up the ranks. Never made it. Some things were never meant to be.” He stared outward, silent for a second. “I have no regrets. I returned to land and became an investor. It has served me well.”
“So how did you come to possess these pages?” Hayden asked, genuinely interested.
Carlos smiled. “I acquired the estate of Captain Rios, long after he vanished.”
Hayden appeared confused. “Based on what I read, the Captain disappeared before the institute fire. How did the estate come into possession of the journal after Rios vanished?”
Carlos shrugged, dismissing the question. “How am I to know? From what I read about the good Captain, he had a long standing relationship with the administrator. It is very possible it was sent to him by the doctor without knowing Rios had not returned.”
Danica reviewed the top page again and turned back to Hayden and Carlos’ discussion.
“As I recall, you would only offer the eight pages to accredited academics and their institutions.” Hayden turned to Carlos. “I’m a man who respects such things. Do you want us to leave?”
Danica found her jaw nearly dropping, but she held it firm.
For a long minute, Carlos stared into Hayden’s and then Danica’s eyes. He answered with genuine pride. “No. I stated only those I trust in academia should have acquisition of this purchase. And something about you two…” He smiled. “I trust.”
Danica beamed with pleasure at having given him that vibe. This was followed by a friendly nod to Hayden.
“But you still have to win.” Carlos added. “My liking you won’t help you at the auction. Here, money talks and bullshit walks.”
Hayden grinned. “Bullshit doesn’t have a credit card.”
Carlos offered a genuine laugh. He looked to them both. “Don’t thank me yet.” He smiled. “There are a lot of nutcases out there that think the Leviathan found an ancient and mystical treasure which this patient described as invaluable.”
Danica asked. “What do you think?”
Carlos was silent for several seconds. “Whatever they found, it must have been terrible, as no one who has ever sought it since has returned.”
All three looked at one another in quiet contemplation of the steps to be taken.
A bell rang in the hallway, indicating the auction was about to begin.
Carlos excused himself with a small bow and vanished behind a thick black velvet curtain.
Hayden threw in as he departed. “May the best man win.”
Danica corrected. “Or woman.”
Hayden rolled his eyes. “Fine. Person.”
Danica grinned, thinking to herself. ‘No. I meant woman.’