“Take a seat. We may be here for a while.”
As Arika approached her car, she heard footsteps.
“Excuse me,” a voice said behind her.
Spinning around, she came face-to-face with a man who looked vaguely familiar. Dark hair going grey; five-o’clock shadow; wearing a navy-blue suit, black shirt and charcoal-grey tie.
“Ms Livingston,” the man said, placing a hand in his pocket, “have you got a moment?”
Arika tensed. Her first thought was that he was here to bring news about her father, but he could just as easily have come for nefarious reasons. Seeing there was no one else around, she pulled her bag closer and prepared to reach inside for her gun.
“Don’t be afraid,” the man said, reading her mind. “My name is Sam Morgan. I’m with the National Security Office.”
Pulling out an identification badge, he held it in front of her face. It did little to ease her fears.
“O-kay,” she said, assuming this had something to do with Simon’s visit. Perhaps it was a good-cop, bad-cop kind of thing. “I don’t –”
“Can we go back inside?”
She pulled her cardigan tighter around herself. “Inside?”
“My –” She closed her mouth. Simon’s unannounced visit; now the NSO: were they really that desperate for her help? “What’s this about?”
“I’d like to have a word about Professor Orwell.”
“Of course. He was just here.”
“Yes, we know.”
“We?” She looked around. He seemed to be alone. “Simon said you were leaving it to him to fix. The book.”
“He said that, did he?”
“National security and everything.”
He smiled. “That’s exactly why I’m here.”
Arika was confused. Morgan was speaking in riddles, something that frustrated the hell out of her. She suddenly remembered where she’d seen him: at George University, the day the story about the Messenger appeared in the paper. That day he was waiting in Simon’s office with a heavy-set, serious-looking woman.
“Shall we go inside?”
She followed Morgan as he led the way up the steps to her apartment. It worried her he knew which apartment was hers, but there’d been so much cloak-and-dagger happening lately it wasn’t entirely a surprise. She tried to anticipate his motive. Was he here to put additional pressure on her to get the Necromonicon from Kane? If so, it was hardly necessary. And why had Simon said the NSO were leaving it to him to retrieve the book, and yet the next minute they were here?
It didn’t take long to find out.
“Do you know anything about the farmhouse on the old beach road out of Quorn?” asked Morgan as he took stock of the apartment.
She was still standing at the open door.
“Would you close that please?” he added in a pleasant voice.
She did as she was told, slowly, using the time to think about how much she should reveal of what she knew. As little as possible, was her conclusion.
“Simon – that’s Professor Orwell – said he’s been out there,” she said, starting off with something they already knew.
“We’re aware of that.”
A strange choice of words. “Aware? Isn’t he working with you?”
Morgan’s smile was like ice. “I take it that’s what he’s been telling you?”
She stepped closer. “He isn’t working with you?”
He squinted at her as if deciding how much he should reveal.
“Is he working with you? You need to tell me.”
Morgan turned away. “Not by any stretch of the imagination.” He picked up a wooden carving of an African tribal warrior, a souvenir Arika had picked up in Nigeria, and weighed it in his hands. “He’s been frequenting the old farmhouse and we believe he might be involved in something nefarious with one Wilfred Waite and Dylan Gates.”
Arika’s breathing grew rapid. Her heart raced. This didn’t make any sense. Why would Simon lie about the farmhouse? And make up stories about conversations he’d had with the NSO? And what would possess him to go out there alone after everything they’d told him? Did he intend on keeping its terrible secrets for himself? All she could think was perhaps he was preparing a research paper and would reveal his findings about the Dark farm to a shocked academic world at some upcoming conference. Keeping secrets about world-beating research – it’s what professors do.
But that’s not what Morgan was thinking.
“What do you mean by nefarious?”
“We’re yet to find that out.”
“You’re not suggesting he has anything to do with those – things that happened out there?”
“We don’t know at this stage. We do know the farmhouse belongs to a company owned by Wilfred Waite, who no one has seen for over a week. He runs an antiques store in Quorn and has missed several appointments. Do you know Mr Waite?”
She stared at him. “I wouldn’t have any reason to know him.”
By the look on his face, he recognised her reply as an evasion. Perhaps he already knew the answer to his question.
“The other thing we don’t understand just now,” he went on, “is the connection between Dylan Gates and Simon Orwell.”
“There is no connection,” she rushed to assure him. “Not really. Simon sent me down to interview Dylan about that thing in the paper.”
Morgan squinted at her. “The Messenger.”
“They appear to be working together,” he announced in an official-sounding voice.
“Who? Simon and Dylan? That’s impossible. They don’t get on at all.”
“So they do know each other.”
“They only met the other night … Thursday. I heard it didn’t go well.”
“At the Gates boys’ house.”
“How did you know –?”
“I knew Simon had visited. Care to tell me what that was about?”
Arika had already decided not to say anything about the Necromonicon. She still didn’t know who to trust in this affair – except, of course, Kane. “It was personal,” she answered.
“In what way?”
“Well, not really personal. He had more questions about the Messenger.”
“What’s wrong with the phone?”
“You’re asking the wrong person.”
He stared at her.
“Quorn has a history of supernatural happenings. It was the scene of mass panic in the eighteenth century, when witches were hanged left, right and centre; and then there was that thing about fairies in the late eighteen-nineties. There’s been records of sorcery and devil worship since records began. Professor Orwell has all sorts of reasons to visit Quorn. In his official duty. Any more, you’ll have to ask him yourself.”
Morgan seemed to accept her explanation. “Tell me about your father,” he said, his eye on a framed photo on the bookshelf.
“Why do I get the feeling you already know all about him?”
“I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t. He disappeared recently, didn’t he? You put in a missing persons.”
“That’s right. He was doing some investigative work for Simon. He said he had a lead and that was the last we heard from him.”
“Do you feel the fact he’s a wanted man has anything to do with his disappearance?”
Annoyed by the flippant nature of his question, she replied, “He’s not a wanted man. He’s a person of interest. I know my father. He’s not capable of murder. If he was around, he would have come forward to clear all that up. Something’s happened to him.”
He was silent again.
“Do you know something about those murders I don’t?”
“I’ve looked into the investigation and your father’s disappearance. They’re both cold.”
Her heart sank. “Do you think my father’s dead?”
“I have no way of knowing that. I only know there was no evidence at all at the murder scene, apart from the vision of him leaving the hotel; so if he was alive, I would have thought he’d have come forward to clear things up. It looks more guilty to run away than give a simple explanation as to why you were at a hotel. There’s no other connection to the two murdered men; no DNA or evidence left at the scene. He’d know that.”
“Which is why I said he’s only a person of interest. I think Wilfred Waite had something to do with his disappearance.”
“Why do you think that?”
“He was looking for the farm that Waite now owns.”
“Is that so?”
“It’s too much of a coincidence.”
“How much do you know about Waite?”
“He’s creepy, and probably a psychopath.”
“Sounds like you know him well.”
“I’ve only had the displeasure a couple of times. Doesn’t take long to take the measure of him.”
“Anything more you can tell me about Waite?”
She shook her head.
“Okay, let’s go back to your father’s disappearance. That was about the time you started working for Professor Orwell, wasn’t it?”
“Simon was sympathetic and offered me a job. He was amazingly supportive. I think he was feeling guilty for what happened to Dad.”
“Why would you think that?”
“Simon may have been one of the last people my Dad spoke to.”
Morgan squinted at her again. “You realise the professor might have had some part in your father’s disappearance?”
The thought had never entered her mind. Instinctively she leapt to Simon’s defence. “That makes no sense. Dad was working for Simon, and I can tell you without a doubt, Simon wants to know what happened to him almost as much as I do.”
Morgan started walking around the apartment, checking for anything that might be out of place or useful to his investigation. “The professor has been acting highly suspiciously lately. And his past shows all signs of a cover-up. He’s impossible to trace. He’s hiding something and we need to know what it is.”
Arika pondered again how much she should tell Morgan. She needed to speak with Kane first: it was his brother’s future that was at stake if everything was brought out into the open. This man, though professing to be in control of the situation, seemed to know very little. It was time to turn the tables and find out exactly how much he knew or suspected.
“Do you know what’s been happening out at the farmhouse?”
“It’s obviously connected to the recent troubles at Quorn.”
“What recent troubles might they be?”
“The Messenger; a rather … strange death.”
He half-smiled, probably thinking: Aren’t I the one who’s supposed to be asking the questions?
“Have you actually been into the farmhouse yet?”
He turned to her. “Miss Livingston, what I am about to say to you is subject to the utmost confidentiality. If you mention it to anyone – even hint at it – you could be subject to a term of imprisonment for a period of up to fifteen years. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
Arika nodded. “Yes,” she added impatiently when he continued staring at her.
“Repeat it to me.”
She sighed. “If I spill the beans to anyone, I could go to the slammer for fifteen big ones.”
Morgan seemed to relax after that. “We have the farmhouse under surveillance,” he said, “as well as Professor Orwell. And, as of yesterday, Dylan Gates.”
“Why as of yesterday?”
“He was out at the farmhouse.”
“With Simon? Why? What were they doing there?” She glanced about the room as if the answer lay within its four walls.
“We don’t know that yet. But it’s classified information as well. You can’t tell Orwell or Kane Gates about Dylan – nothing. You understand?”
“Repeat it to me please.”
With a heavy sigh, she said, “I can’t tell Simon or Kane that I know Dylan might be in cahoots with Simon.”
“Or else …”
“Or else I could be sent to prison for up to fifteen years.”
“Precisely. We can’t afford to have any leaks or tip-offs at this stage in the investigation. Now Arika, I need you to tell me everything you know about what’s been happening out there, and then I need your help in notifying me of anything the professor does or says.”
“You want me to spy on him?”
“If he’s doing nothing wrong, there can be no harm.”
“What if he is doing something wrong?”
“Then whatever it is could be extremely dangerous.”
She sat on the arm of a chair. “Mr Morgan, it sounds to me you have no idea what’s happening beneath the farmhouse.”
She slid down into the chair. “Take a seat. We may be here for a while.”