Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 38

   

There was a narrow crack of sullen light just at the tops of the mountains, where the cloud had not quite settled, but the yard about him was deep in shadow, and the wind touched his face with the scent of cold rain. He was shaking, but not from chill, and sat down abruptly on the big stone by the path where they pulled the children’s wellies off when it was muddy.

He put his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands, overcome for a moment. Not only for his own situation—but for those in the house. Jamie Fraser was coming home soon. And soon after there would come the afternoon when red-coated soldiers marched into the yard at Lallybroch, finding Janet and the servants alone. And the events would be set in train that would end with the death of Brian Fraser, struck down by an apoplexy while watching his only son flogged—he thought—to death.

Jamie . . . Roger shivered, seeing in mind not his indomitable father-in-law but the lighthearted young man who, among the distractions of Paris, still thought to send books to his sister. Who—

It had begun to rain, with a quiet thoroughness that slicked his face in seconds. At least no one would know if he wept in despair. I can’t stop it, he thought. I can’t tell them what’s coming.

A huge shape loomed out of the darkness, startling him, and the dog leaned heavily against him, nearly pushing him off the stone he sat on. A large, hairy nose was thrust sympathetically into his ear, whoofling and wetter than the rain.

“Jesus, dog,” he said, half-laughing in spite of everything. “God.” He put his arms round the big, smelly creature and rested his forehead against its massive neck, feeling inchoate comfort.

He thought of nothing for a little and was inexpressibly relieved. Little by little, though, coherent thought came back. It maybe wasn’t true that things—the past—couldn’t be changed. Not the big things, maybe, not kings and battles. But maybe—just maybe—the small ones could. If he couldn’t come right out and tell the Frasers of Lallybroch what doom was to come upon them, perhaps there was something he could say, some warning that might forestall—

And if he did? If they listened? Would that good man in the house die of his apoplexy anyway, some weakness in his brain giving way as he came in from the barn one day? But that would leave his son and his daughter safe—and then what?

Would Jamie stay in Paris and marry the flirtatious Frenchwoman? Would he come home peaceably to live at Lallybroch and mind his estate and his sister?

Either way, he wouldn’t be riding near Craigh na Dun in five or six years, pursued by English soldiers, wounded and needing the assistance of a random time traveler who had just stepped out of the stones. And if he didn’t meet Claire Randall. . . . Bree, he thought. Oh, Christ. Bree.

There was a sound behind him—the door of the house opening—and the beam of a lantern fell onto the path nearby.

“Mr. MacKenzie?” Brian Fraser called into the night. “Are ye all right, man?”

“God,” he whispered, clutching the dog. “Show me what to do.”

LIGHTS, ACTION, SIRENS

THE DOOR AT THE top of the staircase was locked. Jem pounded on it with his fists, kicked it with his feet, and shouted. He could feel it back down there behind him, in the dark, and the feel of it crawled up his back, as if it were coming to get him, and the thought of that scared him so bad that he shrieked like a ban-sìdhe and threw himself hard against the door, over and over, and—

The door flew open and he fell flat on a dirty lino floor, all footmarks and cigarette butts.

“What the devil—who are you, laddie, and what in God’s name were ye doing in there?”

A big hand grabbed him by the arm and pulled him up. He was out of breath from yelling and almost blubbering from relief, and it took a minute to remember who he was.

“Jem.” He swallowed, blinking in the light, and wiped his face on his sleeve. “Jem MacKenzie. My mam’s . . .” He went blank, suddenly unable to remember what Mam’s first name was. “She works here sometimes.”

“I know your mam. No mistaking that hair, laddie.” The man who’d pulled him up was a security guard; the patch on his shirtsleeve said so. He tilted his head to one side and the other, looking Jem over, light flashing off his bald head, off his glasses. The light was coming from those long tube lights in the ceiling Da said were fluorescent; they buzzed and reminded him of the thing in the tunnel, and he turned round fast and shoved the door shut with a bang.

“Is someone chasin’ ye, lad?” The guard reached a hand toward the doorknob, and Jem put his back hard against the door.

“No!” He could feel it back there, behind the door. Waiting. The guard was frowning at him. “I—I just—it’s really dark down there.”

“Ye were down in the dark? However did ye come to be there? And where’s your mother?”

“I don’t know.” Jem started being scared again. Really scared. Because Mr. Cameron had shut him up in the tunnel so he could go somewhere. And he might have gone to Lallybroch.

“Mr. Cameron put me in there,” he blurted. “He was supposed to take me to spend the night with Bobby, but instead he took me to Craigh na Dun, and then he took me to his house and locked me in a room overnight, and then the next morning he brought me here and shut me up in the tunnel.”

“Cameron—what, Rob Cameron?” The guard crouched down so he could frown right into Jem’s face. “Why?”

“I—I don’t know.” Don’t ever tell anyone, Da had said. Jem swallowed hard. Even if he wanted to tell, he didn’t know how to start. He could say Mr. Cameron took him up the hill at Craigh na Dun, to the stones, and pushed him into one. But he couldn’t tell what had happened then, not any more than he could tell Mr. MacLeod—that’s what it said on his badge, JOCK MACLEOD—what the shiny thing in the tunnel was.

Mr. MacLeod made a thinking noise in his throat, shook his head, and stood up.

“Well, I’d best be calling your parents to come and fetch ye home, aye? They can say if they maybe want to speak to the polis.”

“Please,” Jem whispered, feeling his knees turn to water at the thought of Mam and Da coming to get him. “Yes, please.”

Mr. MacLeod took him along to a little office where the phone was, gave him a warm can of Coke, and told him to sit down just there and say his parents’ telephone number. He sipped the drink and felt lots better right away, watching Mr. MacLeod’s thick finger whirl the telephone dial. A pause, and then he could hear ringing on the other end. Breep-breep . . . breep-breep . . . breep-breep . . .

It was warm in the office, but he was starting to feel cold around his face and hands. Nobody was answering the phone.

“Maybe they’re asleep,” he said, stifling a Coke burp. Mr. MacLeod gave him a sideways look and shook his head, pushed down the receiver, and dialed the number again, making Jem say the numbers one at a time.

Breep-breep. . . . breep-breep . . .

He was concentrating so hard on willing somebody to pick up the phone that he didn’t notice anything until Mr. MacLeod suddenly turned his head toward the door, looking surprised.

“What—” the guard said, and then there was a blur and a thunking noise like when cousin Ian shot a deer with an arrow, and Mr. MacLeod made an awful noise and fell right out of his chair onto the floor, and the chair shot away and fell over with a crash.

Jem didn’t remember standing up, but he was pressed against the filing cabinet, squeezing the can so hard that the bubbly Coke blurped out and foamed over his fingers.

“You come with me, boy,” said the man who’d hit Mr. MacLeod. He was holding what Jem thought must be a cosh, though he’d never seen one. He couldn’t move, even if he’d wanted to.

The man made an impatient noise, stepped over Mr. MacLeod like he was a bag of rubbish, and grabbed Jem by the hand. Out of sheer terror, Jem bit him, hard. The man yelped and let go, and Jem threw the can of Coke right at his face, and when the man ducked, he tore past him and out of the office and down the long hallway, running for his life.

IT WAS GETTING late; they passed fewer and fewer cars on the road, and Mandy’s head began to nod. The mouse-princess mask had ridden up on top of her head, its pipe-cleaner whiskers poking up like antennae. Seeing this in the rearview mirror, Brianna had a sudden vision of Mandy as a tiny radar station, scanning the bleak countryside for Jem’s small, pulsing signal.

Could she? She shook her head, not to dispel the notion but to keep her mind from slipping all the way out of reality. The adrenaline of her earlier rage and terror had all drained away; her hands shook a little on the steering wheel, and the darkness around them seemed vast, a yawning void that would swallow them in an instant if she stopped driving, if the feeble beam of the headlights ceased . . .

“Warm,” Mandy murmured sleepily.

“What, baby?” She’d heard but was too hypnotized by the effort of keeping her eyes on the road to take it in consciously.

“Warm . . . er.” Mandy struggled upright, cross. The yarn ties of her mask were stuck in her hair, and she made a high-pitched cranky noise as she yanked at them.

Brianna pulled carefully onto the verge, set the hand brake, and, reaching back, began to disentangle the mask.

“You mean we’re going toward Jem?” she asked, careful to keep her voice from trembling.

“Uh-huh.” Free of the nuisance, Mandy yawned hugely and flung out a hand toward the window. “Mmp.” She put her head down on her arms and whined sleepily.

Bree swallowed, closed her eyes, then opened them, looking carefully in the direction Mandy had pointed. There was no road . . . but there was, and with a trickle of ice water down her spine, she saw the small brown sign that said: SERVICE ROAD. NO PUBLIC ACCESS. NORTH OF SCOTLAND HYDRO ELECTRIC BOARD. Loch Errochty dam. The tunnel.

“Damn!” said Brianna, and stomped the gas, forgetting the hand brake. The car jumped and stalled, and Mandy sat bolt upright, eyes glazed and wide as a sun-stunned owl’s.

“Iss we home yet?”

JEM PELTED DOWN the hallway and threw himself at the swinging door at the end, so hard that he skidded all the way across the landing on the other side and fell down the stairs beyond, bumping and banging and ending up in a dazed heap at the bottom.

He heard the footsteps coming fast toward the door above and, with a small, terrified squeak, scrambled on all fours round the second landing and launched himself headfirst down the next flight, tobogganing on his stomach for a few stairs, then tipping arse over teakettle and somersaulting down the rest.

He was crying with terror, gulping air and trying not to make a noise, stumbling to his feet, and everything hurt, everything—but the door: he had to get outside. He staggered through the half-dark lobby, the only lights shining through the glass window where the receptionist usually sat. The man was coming; he could hear him cursing at the bottom of the stairs.

The main door had a chain looped through the bars. Swiping tears on his sleeve, he ran back in to the reception, looking wildly round. EMERGENCY EXIT—there it was, the red sign over the door at the far end of another small corridor. The man burst into the lobby and saw him.

“Come back here, you little bugger!”

He looked round wildly, grabbed the first thing he saw, which was a rolling chair, and pushed it as hard as he could into the lobby. The man cursed and jumped aside, and Jem ran for the door and flung himself against it, bursting into the night with a scream of sirens and the flash of blinding lights.

“WHASSAT, MUMMY? Mummy, I scared, I SCARED!”

“And you think I’m not?” Bree said under her breath, heart in her mouth. “It’s okay, baby,” she said aloud, and pressed her foot to the floor. “We’re just going to get Jem.”

The car slewed to a stop on the gravel, and she leapt out but dithered for a moment, needing urgently to rush toward the building, where sirens and lights were going off over an open door at the side, but unable to leave Mandy alone in the car. She could hear the rush of water down the spillway.

“Come with me, sweetheart,” she said, hastily undoing the seat belt. “That’s right, here, let me carry you . . .” Even as she spoke, she was looking here, there, from the lights into the darkness, every nerve she had screaming that her son was here, he was here, he had to be . . . rushing water . . . her mind filled with horror, thinking of Jem falling into the spillway, or Jem in the service tunnel—God, why hadn’t she gone there first? Of course Rob Cameron would have put him there, he had the keys, he . . . but the lights, the sirens . . .

She’d almost made it—at a dead run, impeded only slightly by thirty pounds of toddler—when she saw a big man at the edge of the drive, thrashing through the bushes with a stick or something, cursing a blue streak.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she bellowed. Mandy, alarmed anew, let out a screech like a scalded baboon, and the man jumped, whirling to face them, stick raised.

“What the bleedin’ hell are you doing here?” he said, so taken aback that he spoke almost normally. “You’re supposed to be—”

Bree had peeled Mandy off. Setting her daughter down behind her, she prepared to take the man apart with her bare hands, if necessary. Evidently this intent showed, because the man dropped the stick and abruptly vanished into the darkness.

Then flashing lights washed over the drive and she realized that it wasn’t her own aspect that had frightened him. Mandy was clinging to her leg, too frightened even to wail anymore. Bree picked her up, patting her gently, and turned to face the two police officers who were advancing cautiously toward her, hands on their batons. She felt wobbly-legged and dreamlike, things fading in and out of focus with the strobing lights. The rush of tons of falling water filled her ears.

“Mandy,” she said into her daughter’s warm curly hair, her own voice almost drowned out by the sirens. “Can you feel Jem? Please tell me you can feel him.”

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