The street was empty when I stepped out of St. Mercy Hospital. The cab drivers had all gone home, and the employee parking lot was in the back. I shoved the doctor’s note I got from Claire on my way out into one of the pockets of my jacket and started walking towards Professor Rafkin’s house. The note would give me a pass if any officer decided to bust me for breaking curfew.
It was a half an hour walk across downtown and up to the house, but except for a car quickly driving down one of the streets, I saw no sign of anyone. The driveway up to Professor Rafkin’s was dark, the lights having been turned off since he expected no visitors after curfew, but that made little difference to me. I knew the driveway so well that even if there had been potholes, I wouldn’t have stumbled in them.
I once again raised the Pan’s head knocker and let it fall, the booming sound it made was all the more ominous for the darkness around me. Just like before, it only took about half a minute before the large doors opened to reveal a surprised looking Aiela. “Jake!” She exclaimed in confusion. “What are you doing out after curfew?”
“I need to speak to the Professor.” I told her. “It’s fairly urgent.”
“Yes,” She replied, “I can see that it must be. Come in, come in.” As she always did, she linked her arm in mine and led me towards the study.
“Is Dr. Johann here tonight?” I asked casually.
“I believe so.” She replied. “Though he likely won’t remain for long. He does tend to lose track of time, but he hates not spending his nights in his own bed. Did you need me to get him for you?”
“Probably.” I replied. “But not until after I’ve had a chance to speak with Professor Rafkin.”
“Okay.” She told me as we arrived at the study. All was the same as the night before, except that my brother wasn’t here.
I sat at one of the couches and waited for the Professor to arrive. I didn’t have long to wait before his voice came from the door, asking, “My boy, what is so important that it brought you across the city after the damnable curfew? You know Rider would jump at the opportunity to have you locked up.”
He made his way over to me and took my hand in a welcoming gesture before sitting across from me. He was once again wearing a grey suit. “There are a couple of reasons for my late night visit.” I informed him. “But first things first.” I took off my jacket and turned around to show him my neck. “Any chance you know how to get rid of this?”
“Great Scott!” He exclaimed, jumping to his feet and rushing over to my side faster than a man his size should be capable of. “Is that what I think it is?” He demanded.
“I suppose that depends on what you think it is.” I replied with a shrug.
“I think it’s one of the marks those bloody assassins put on people before killing them.”
“Oh.” I said with a faked bored tone. “In that case yes, yes it is.”
“Well what the bloody devil is it doing on your neck?!?” He demanded, his usually calm demeanor wiped away in horror, and his voice pitching up and down like a boy entering puberty.
“I think they were upset about me being on their territory.” I replied sarcastically.
Professor Rafkin sputtered, at a loss for words for the first time I could ever think of. He stood up and went to the bar and poured himself a large, clear drink. He downed the alcohol in a single shot, and slammed the glass down with enough force that I was mildly amazed it didn’t shatter. The drink did its trick though, and the Professor finally found his voice. “We have to get you out of the city at once!” He declared.
My head was shaking before he finished his first few words. “Can’t.” I told him simply.
“What do you mean you can’t?” He demanded.
“Case.” I shrugged.
“Well damn your case!” He shouted. “If you stay here they’ll kill you!”
“I’m guessing that’s a no on you being able to remove it.” I replied simply, grabbing my jacket.
“I didn’t say that.” He answered, coming back to the couches. “Let me take a better look at it.”
I sat forward and bowed my head as he poked at the three dots. He talked to himself as he studied them. I didn’t catch much of anything he said though. Finally he stood up and told me, “Stay here. I’m going to get some things.”
I sat back as he left the room and rubbed the back of my neck. Professor Rafkin may be a pudgy old man, but the strength of his youth was obviously still there, as evidenced by the way I was sure my neck was going to bruise after his pokes.
A few things, I found out a quarter of an hour later when he returned, turned out to be a giant chest, three or so feet across and almost half that in height and depth, carried easily in both hands by Aiela. The Professor pulled the coffee table out of the way, and Aiela set the chest down in the empty space with a heavy thud. “Take off your shirt boy.” He told me. “I’d hate to ruin it.”
I eyed the crate carefully as I pulled my shirt over my head. Aiela gasped softly as my scar covered torso was revealed. “What exactly are you going to do?” I asked carefully.
“Just going to try a few things out.” He replied evasively, waving his hand across his face as if brushing away the question as unimportant. “Nothing to concern yourself with. Now, lay down on your stomach so I can work.”
I moved slowly in compliance, stretching out on the couch while eyeing the Professor with slight uncertainty. I looked forward to find Aiela squatting comfortably at the end of the couch, eyeing me carefully. “Where did you get all those scars?” She asked, holding my gaze.
“Here and there.” I replied. “A couple of knives, a nail studded bat, and a gunshot wound or two.”
“You’ve been shot?” She asked in horror.
There were two distinct clicks, and a slight creak, as Professor Rafkin unlocked and opened the chest. “We’ll start with this first.” I heard him mutter as he rummaged through the chest.
“It happens sometimes.” I told Aiela. “Most people who get caught doing something wrong are willing to take the consequences. But every once in a while you get people who...”
“Don’t go quietly?” She joked.
My chuckle turned into a gasp of pain as Professor Rafkin pushed something into my neck. “What was that?” I demanded as the pain dispersed.
“Sorry, Jake, but I’m a scientist, not a doctor. I don’t have anything to make this process pain free.”
I growled darkly to myself for a moment before asking, “Did it at least work?”
“Not in the slightest.” He replied cheerfully, as if happy to have a puzzle to work on.
“Great.” I muttered.
“So how is the case going?” Aiela asked, her voice slightly shaky.
“Not well.” I told her. “My client is dead, and I only have two leads. One of them involves tracking down a vicious new gang that no one is willing to talk about. Which will mean getting my hands on a case file currently at the police station.”
“Maybe if I washed it out with this…” The Professor muttered behind me.
“What about the other lead?” Aiela asked.
“Depends on what happens tonight.” I replied.
A warm tingling flowed down my neck, followed by a sudden extreme itching sensation. “Hmm…” Professor Rafkin mused. “Well that seemed to anger it…”
I half twisted and demanded, “What are you doing back there?”
“Apparently nothing.” The Professor responded. “But I’ve got one last thing left to try. I was hoping to avoid it, but…”
“But?” I asked. I couldn’t see what he was grabbing out of the chest, but Aiela suddenly gasped and grabbed my hand, forcing me to stare into her clockwork eyes. “I’m not going to like this,” I asked, “Am I?”
Mutely, she shook her head. I took a deep breath as the Professor used one hand to push my head down slightly. A moment later I heard a sizzling sound, much like grease in a frying pan, and pain of an indescribable level pulsated through my entire body, emanating from the back of my neck. I squeezed Aiela’s hand hard enough to break bones, if she’d been human, and my screams echoed off the study walls.
“Ah ha!” Professor Rafkin exclaimed in triumph behind me, once my screams died down. “I knew that if I burned the buggers off that would do the… Confound it!” He suddenly yelled. “That’s not fair!”
“Okay!” I said, sitting up and grabbing my shirt. “That’s enough of that!”
“But it makes no sense!” The Professor complained. “The aci… er, last treatment I used got rid of the bloody marks completely. For a few seconds anyway. Then they suddenly showed back up!”
“It was worth a shot.” I said, wincing as I brushed the tender area on my neck with my shirt as I pulled it over my head.
“Don’t touch it.” Aiela chastised me. She went to the bar and returned a moment later with a towel filled with ice. She gently pressed it against my neck and held it there. Almost immediately the pain began to recede.
Professor Rafkin slumped down onto the couch grumbling. He slammed the chest closed with his foot, and pouted like a child who was put into time out. “Now what do we do?” He asked me grumpily.
I grabbed my jacket, being careful to make sure that the ice pack remained on my neck, and pulled the envelope from the train station out of the jacket’s pocket. I tossed it onto the closed chest in front of the Professor. “Now you go through that.” I told him.
He picked it up thoughtfully and asked, “What is it?”
“It’s the last lead I can follow tonight, short of prowling the streets in search of a deadly gang, or breaking into the police station to read their files.” I replied. “I’ll wait till you’ve looked through it before I say anything else, though you should know that my client was Susan Hammond.”
With a quizzical look in my direction, he emptied the contents of the envelope onto the chest. I watched his face go from mild interest at the passport, to sadness at the hospital report, and followed quickly by outright shock at the photo of my father and his team. “That’s Jack!” He said in surprise, without looking up. “And is that… Dr. Johann?” He asked, this time looking at me.
I nodded and replied, “It gets better.” I waved at the diary, which he picked up after setting down the photo. It took him less than half the time it took me to read a few pages, to finish the entire diary. His hands shook slightly as he set the diary down and replaced everything into the envelope.
I remained silent as he slowly stood up and headed over to the minibar, his eyes lost in thought. He poured two drinks and returned to the couches, setting one of the drinks down in front of me before sitting down. “I think I need a new area of study.” He said finally as we sipped our drinks.
Not quite the reaction I had expected. “What do you mean?” I asked.
He waved to the envelope. “I assumed that the Moonstone was nothing more than a myth. But if the girl, Susan, was correct in her diary, then I need to rethink what is, or isn’t, real.”
“Were you aware that Dr. Johann was on the expedition?” I asked.
“No.” He replied simply. “But I never asked. He’s only been working with me a week or so, and, as you know, our areas of study differ greatly.”
“I think we need to speak with him.” I told the Professor, breaking him out of his daydreams.
“What? Oh, yes, yes we do. Aiela, would you be a dear and bring Dr. Johann up here? And it would probably be best if you could take the chest back to my lab at the same time.”
“Of course, Professor.” She replied, taking my hand and placing it on the improvised ice pack. She picked up the chest, as if it weighed nothing, and headed out the door. After pulling the coffee table back into place, Professor Rafkin and I sat in a comfortable silence until Aiela returned with Dr. Johann.
“You vanted to see me?” He asked as he came in.
“Oh yes, of course.” Professor Rafkin exclaimed as if he had forgotten, scooting over on the couch. “Please, have a seat.”
Dr. Johann sat slowly next to the Professor, his movements tired and sore looking. “Zank you.” He replied. “It has been a very long day. Vhat can I help you viz?” He asked.
“Well Jake here has just a couple more questions for you, if you don’t mind.” Professor Rafkin said evasively.
“Vhatever I can do to help.” Dr. Johann replied, looking at me expectantly.
“I was hoping you could tell me more about the Moonstone.” I told him, watching carefully.
This time I saw the slight hesitation in his eyes before he replied, “Of course. Vhat can I tell you?”
“I was hoping you could tell me about the first expedition.” I told him, pulling the photo out of the envelope and tossing it across the table to him. “The one you were on with my father.”
“Oh my!” He exclaimed with a large smile on his face as he looked down at the picture. “I look so young in zis photo. Ahh, if only ve could turn back ze hands of time.”
“You don’t deny being there?” Professor Rafkin asked in surprise.
“Of course not.” Dr. Johann replied, still studying the photo. “Zere is Jack wiz little Susan, Villiam and Kate, and myself, of course. If only Susan’s parents had lived to see zis photo.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about this yesterday?” I demanded, confused.
He set the photo down and slid it back to me wistfully. “Vere I come from, ve do not like to dredge up ze dead vizout reason.” He told me sadly. “Vizout zat photo, zere vas no vay to prove zat ve found anyzing.” He paused for a second as if trying to think of something. “How do you say it? Ze proof is in ze pudding? No. Seeing is believing? Yes, zat is closer.”
“So because you couldn’t prove that my dad had found the Moonstone, you never told anyone?” I asked incredulously.
“Zat is correct.” He replied nodding. “It vould have made me ze laughingstock of ze scientific community, to claim I had been on ze team zat found it, zen not having anyzing to show for it.”
Professor Rafkin nodded slowly in understanding and said, “I’m afraid he is right about that. Without proof, many of us readily show that a scientist didn’t do what he claimed. That way we can do it ourselves and take the credit.”
“Alright.” I replied, not fully agreeing with the stupidity of that fact, but not feeling it was a point worth arguing. “Then why didn’t you have the proof?” I asked, waving towards the photo. “You guys obviously documented the find.”
“Yes,” He answered, “Ve did.” He sighed and sat back into the couch. “After your fazer found ze stone, ve had zat picture taken. Little Susan vas so happy in zat moment. She vas very unhappy on ze expedition, and ze deaz of her parents only amplified zat sadness. Jack vas alvays very kind to her, hovever, and he alvays said he vould adopt her as soon as ve got back to ze city.”
He paused for a second and rubbed his throat as if he wasn’t used to talking this much. Without a word, Aiela got him a drink from the bar and handed it to him. “Zank you.” He told her with a smile after taking the drink. “Vere vas I? Oh yes. After zat photo vas taken,” He continued from his story, “I packed up ze supplies viz Villiam and Kate. Your fazer and little Susan remained behind vhen ve left, keeping ze camera and stone viz him. He said zey vould be along vizin a day or so, saying zat he vanted to make sure of somezing first. I don’t know vhat.”
“But he never came back?” I finished for him, not really phrasing it as a question.
“No.” He replied sadly. “Neizer of zem vere seen from after zat. A big zunder storm fell upon us zat night, pouring rain and lightning doun upon us viz equal amounts.” He took a shuddering breath and had another drink before continuing. “Villiam, Kate, and I continued out of ze rainforest over ze next few days under a dark sky. More storms were predicted to come, and ve vanted to be novhere near zem. Ve vaited for Susan and your fazer for veeks, finally convincing ze locals to make a search effort.” He shrugged apologetically. “You know vhat zey found.”
“Nothing.” I responded, leaning back in my seat, the ice pack, now nothing more than a wet towel, forgotten in my lap.
“I am very sorry, Jake.” He told me sincerely.
I took a sip of my drink before asking, “What about the new expedition? How did they get in contact with you?”
He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, though I knew the couch was very comfortable, and replied, “Zey didn’t.”
“What?” Professor Rafkin asked in surprise. “You said that they called you in to study the Moonstone.”
“I vas called in to study it. But it vas not ze second expedition vho called me.” He answered.
“So who did?” I asked, though I thought I knew the answer.
“It vas little Susan.” He replied with wonder in his voice. “Lost for fifteen years, and she suddenly calls out of ze blue.”
“What did she say?” Professor Rafkin asked, obviously enthralled with the story.
“She said zat she had been on anozer vorld.” He answered. “Somezing about how ze Moonstone had transported her in ze lightning storm.” He shook his head. “She said ze team zat found ze Moonstone vould not let her have it, but zat it vas being sent to zis city, to ze Natural History Museum, and zat she vanted me to be part of ze team zat studied it. She said she vould be in ze city soon, but zat she had to sell some relics first, in order to raise some money she claimed she needed desperately.”
I thought of Susan’s well off apartment, as well as her daughter in the intensive care ward of the hospital. Obviously whatever she had sold had been worth quite a bit. Professor Rafkin asked the obvious question, the one I had been avoiding thinking about. “Did she say anything about Jack?”
Dr. Johann hesitated so slightly, his eyes meeting mine for the barest moment, that if I hadn’t been watching for it, I would have missed it. “I asked her about him, but all she said vas zat her fazer vas not viz her.”
I knew he was lying about something, but I didn’t know which part. At that moment, however, my mind skipped a beat and all I could say was, “Her father?”
“Yes.” He replied. “It vould seem zat he did adopt her at some point. But zere is no vay to know for sure.”
“Why not?” The Professor asked.
“Because neizer she, or ze Moonstone, ever made it to ze museum.” He replied, spreading his hands in a shrug. “Ze delivery truck vas hijacked, just as I said, and I never heard from Susan again.”
My mind was racing through all the implications of Dr. Johann’s confessions. I hated that he hadn’t told me any of this before, but I could see where he was coming from. Without the photo, all he would have been doing if he had told me any of this before would have been getting my hopes up. With no proof, there would have been nothing for me to grasp hold of, except the statements of a man I barely knew, claiming to have known my father. “Yesterday,” I said quietly into the silence, “I was hired by a woman named Grace Redding to locate the Moonstone. She told me it would help to heal someone who was very dear to her.”
Dr. Johann gave me a puzzled look and asked, “Vas she vone of ze people on ze second expedition?”
“I found through my investigation,” I continued, ignoring his question, “That the person it was meant to heal was her daughter, June, who is in critical condition at St. Mercy Hospital, where she suffers from a sickness the doctors have never heard of.”
“Dr. Johann frowned at me in thought. “Have you asked Miss Redding vhere ze disease originated?”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that.” I replied sadly. “Miss Redding was murdered this evening in her own home.”
“My God!” Dr. Johann exclaimed in shock. “Zat is horrible! How did she die?”
“Someone entered her apartment building, killed every person in the building, then broke into her apartment. They stripped her naked, and then they stabbed her in the heart with a stone knife.”
Both of the men across from me flinched back at the words, as if they were a physical blow. “Zat is…” Dr. Johann said, shaken. “Zat is awful.”
“Yes.” I replied. “It is. But it gets worse. I found just an hour so later that her name wasn’t really Grace Redding. It was Susan Hammond.”
Dr. Johann’s jaw dropped in complete, and honest, surprise. “No.” He told me. “No, zat is not possible. Susan never came to ze city. She vould have contacted me.”
“Apparently, she did come to the city.” I continued, though my heart wasn’t in it. “The money she was raising was for her sick daughter, and apparently a wealthy apartment. I suppose if I’d spent fifteen years in the jungle, I’d want to be surrounded by as much modern civilization as possible too.”
Dr. Johann simply sat there and stared at me. I had the feeling that I could have set off a bomb and he’d never even notice it. “I cannot believe it.” He mumbled. “Vhy vould anyone vant to kill her? It doesn’t make any…” His sentence was interrupted by the clock on the wall striking the ten o’clock hour. Dr. Johann’s head whipped up and stared at the clock in surprise. “Is it really so late?” He demanded, horrified. “I must get back home at vonce! I have missed ze curfew!”
He stood up suddenly and began to head for the door. I watched him leave in silence. No one bothered to stop him. There was no reason to. He obviously didn’t know anything more that could help.
‘That’s one more lead down.’ I thought bitterly, as the door to the study slowly clicked shut.