The collapsed man was sipping water from a glass Frank had retrieved from the bar. Ray studied him sitting in one of the wrought-iron chairs in the courtyard. "You okay?"
The man swallowed hard, his eyes closed, nodded quick and short. "Mm hm," he said in the night air. "Think so."
Ray looked at Frank. "He called you Seeker."
Ray glared at Frank. "Don't give me that," he said.
Frank relented. "All right, all right."
The man finished the glass of water and set it on the table in the center of the array of chairs. "Brad Martin," he said then coughed. "I'm Brad Martin and I need your help Seeker." He looked stronger in the dim light.
"Call me Frank, if you don't mind."
Brad, the formerly collapsed man, was taken aback. "I was told to be very formal when I approached you."
"That was my - eh, predecessor," Frank said. "I run things a little differently."
Ray saw the look on Brad's face that said Okay, whatever you say. Brad saw he was being watched and turned to the older man. "You look familiar. Have we met? I'm Brad Martin."
"Ray Briscoe." They shook hands. "I don't think we've ever met."
"You're a writer. I've read your stuff. You’re the writer."
Frank interjected. "What can we do for you, Brad? Why did you come here?"
Brad snapped back to himself, reached into the side pocket of his sport coat. "This," he said and handed a small object to Frank. Ray saw it was white and about four inches long.
"A rook," Frank said without looking at Ray, who had leant forward. "A white rook." He held it out between thumb and forefinger. It was smooth, rounded and looked very much like a castle tower with a crenelated top.
"Why is this important?"
"It came from a dream I had of my wife," Brad said. "She put it in my hand and told me to find the Seeker, showed me how to recognize you in the world."
"Marion Martin. Used to be Marion Sanders before I married her. She's the magush for our sphere," Brad said. Deadly serious, focused, he watched Frank for a reaction.
Ray sat back to watch both men. Frank turned the rook over in his hand, tossed it and caught it. "Where's your wife?"
Brad dropped his head. "She died thirty-five years ago. I don't know exactly where she is, she can't tell me."
"Can't tell you?" Ray leant forward again.
"The dreams," Brad said. "I can talk to her in my dreams sometimes." He looked up at Frank, who was unflinching in giving his attention. "She sent me to you, told me to say you owed her; the Seeker that is, your predecessor. She said we could get to her through the castle and handed me the rook. I woke up with it in hand.
"That was two years ago." Brad sounded very tired. "I've been all over the world since then, looking for you. Canada, Mexico, Japan, India, chasing rumors."
Frank sat, then, his elbows on his knees, his hands turning the rook over and over. "Brad," he said, "I've never met your wife and I don't know what debt I'd have to her. Her name isn't one I remember at all, but ---" Frank looked at Ray, looked at the rook, then put it on the table. "I'll help you, though."
"Thank you," Brad said. He seemed to collapse again into his chair.
"You've got a piece removed from the board," Ray said. "You've got a job to do, it seems."
"Rook #68," Frank said, resigned. He turned to Ray and Frank's eyes suddenly looked like storm clouds. "I haven't been to the castle yet, but you have. I need a guide."
Ray sighed. "I was afraid of that," he said. "When I heard her name and the castle. Yeah, I guess I'm coming along. I only know one way to get there though, and it's a good six or seven hours. Then a bit longer down the river."
"I live about three blocks from here," Brad said. "Marion said we can get to the castle from there."
Ray stood, Frank stood and they helped Brad to his feet. "That's convenient, isn't it?"
"Nice house," Ray said. "You remodeled all this yourself?"
Frank was looking at the pictures on the far wall in the living room as Ray watched Brad close the front door. The room was gloomy, the curtains closed, but some light peeked through a few worn spots. Dust motes swirled and whorled through the laserlike sunbeams. Brad flicked a switch on the front wall and a couple of lights came on around the room.
"Yeah," Brad said. "I had some help with the electrical and plumbing, but I designed all the changes."
"You need a housekeeper, Brad," Frank said.
Brad frowned. "I've been away, looking for you."
"He's right, though," Ray said. "You're aiming to bring your wife home, a clean house wins you some points."
"I haven't really been focused on daily life," Brad said. "There hasn't been much daily life the last thirty years or so." He walked across the room, past Frank and opened the door to the basement. "If you're done criticizing my home, we need to go downstairs."
"Right," Frank said.
They trooped down the thirteen steps to the finished basement. The lights came on as Brad reached the bottom and Ray noticed a huge reddish stain on the carpet. "Is that ---?"
"Yeah," Brad said. "It's Marion's blood. That's where she died. This way, though."
They followed him through to a little room that held a tiny desk, a computer and a phone. A two-drawer file cabinet was under the desk, leaving almost no legroom for anyone who sat in the rickety-looking chair. There was a picture on the wall of a beautiful dark-haired woman who smiled as though she had never been happier than in that moment the shutter had snapped her likeness. Ray pointed to it.
"That's Marion right before Emily killed her," Brad said. "We were out at the Lake." He stopped, choked up, tears welling at the corners of his eyes. Brad held out a hand and turned away from the two men. Frank noticed the other man's shoulders shaking a little and looked at Ray, who dropped his eyes to the floor.
"Sorry," Brad said, collecting himself somewhat. "Sometimes..."
Ray reached out and put a hand on Brad's shoulder. Frank nodded.
Brad managed to get composed, then stepped past them to the file cabinet. He produced a little key and opened the lock at the top of the cabinet, pulled out the bottom drawer, where Frank could see a piece of paper and a small box. Brad brought both items to the desktop.
"What's in the box?"
Brad opened the lid of the box and pulled out a three-inch length of what looked like graphite to Ray, about a quarter of an inch around. "The splinter," Brad said. "It's the other thing that Marion sent back with me. You’re supposed to write this," he handed the paper to Ray, "over a drawing of a door on the south wall there." He pointed past them and Ray and Frank turned to see. Frank took the paper from Ray, studied it then looked back at the wall.
"This could work," Frank said. "I'm not a hundred percent sure, but it could work."
"Marion told me how to do this, spelled everything for me," Brad said. "She was very sure."
"Why did you call it 'the splinter'?"
"It's what she called it," Brad said. "She smiled when she said it, like it was some kind of joke."
"And all this happened in a dream?" Ray was incredulous. "I'm a writer and that's hard for me to believe."
Frank held out a hand as if to stop a car at an intersection. "You've disguised real things as fiction, why couldn't a dream be real enough to travel through?
"It's not so far-fetched, Ray. You've bought in so far, go a little further."
"Everything's connected," Ray said, then sighed. He seemed to be searching for thoughts deeply buried in his mind. "All right," he said looking at Brad, then Frank, "I'm in. Let's draw the door."
Frank and Ray helped Brad move the boxes and furniture against the south wall into the center of the room. The white wall there showed where each of the items had been and that they'd been there a good long time. "Do we need to wash the wall?"
"No," Brad said. "She didn't say anything about that. I'm just supposed to draw and write on the blank wall."
"You do the drawing and what do we do while you're doing that?" Ray walked in front of the wall, inspecting the wall where it joined the ceiling. He stopped and ran a hand over the wall. "Brad," he said, "did you paint this wall?"
"You ever noticed this before?" Ray stretched his arms about four feet apart. "You see it?"
"Yes," Frank said. "There's the shadow of a door there."
Brad's face darkened. "That's how she got in," he said under his breath. "That's how she got in!" His body shook.
"Whoa," Ray said turning back to Brad. "Calm down. This is how we're going to go get your wife, man. Calm down, okay?" He put his hands on Brad's shoulders and peered into the other man's eyes. Eventually, Brad relaxed.
"I'll start drawing," he said.
Thanks for reading Reader.
©2010 By Jason Arnett.
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