“Yes.” The hairs rippled on Roger’s arms. “Four that I know of; likely there are others. How many stone circles are there in the British Isles?”
“I’ve no idea.” McEwan was clearly shaken. He got up and went to the doorway, the jamb of it scorched and the lintel burned almost away. Roger hoped none of the stones above it would fall on the man’s head—at least not until he found out more.
Dr. McEwan stayed for a long time, staring out into the rain, which had gone the silvery gray of cat’s fur. Finally he shook himself and came back, mouth set in firm decision.
“Aye, nothing to be gained from secrecy. And I hope nothing to be lost by honesty.” This last was not quite a question, but Roger nodded and tried to look earnest.
“Well, then. Grouse, as I say. We were on the moor, just below that hill where the standing stones are. All of a sudden a fox shot out of the bracken, right by my foot, and one of the dogs lost his head and chased it. Brewer—that was my friend, Joseph Brewer—started after it, but he has—he had,” McEwan corrected, with an expression of mild irritation that made Roger want to smile, because he was so familiar with the feeling that dealing with the phenomenon caused, “a clubfoot. He managed all right with a special boot, but climbing and chasing . . .” He shrugged.
“So you went after the dog, and . . .” Roger shuddered involuntarily at the memory, and so did McEwan.
“Did the dog . . . go?” Roger asked suddenly. McEwan looked surprised and vaguely affronted.
“How should I know? It didn’t turn up where I did, I can tell ye that much.”
Roger made a brief gesture of apology.
“Just curious. We—my wife and I—we’ve been trying to puzzle out as much as we can, for the sake of the children.” “Children” caught in his throat, coming out in no more than a whisper, and McEwan’s expression softened.
“Aye, of course. Your son, you said?”
Roger nodded and managed to explain what he could, about Cameron, the letters . . . and, after a moment’s hesitation, about the Spaniard’s gold, for, after all, he’d have to give a reason for Cameron’s taking Jem in the first place, and his sense of Dr. McEwan was one of solid kindness.
“Dearie me,” the doctor murmured, shaking his head in dismay. “I’ll ask among my patients. Perhaps someone . . .” He trailed off, his face still troubled. Roger had the distinct impression that the sense of trouble wasn’t all down to Jem, or even to the staggering discovery that there were other—
He stopped, seeing plainly in his mind’s eye the soft blue glow surrounding McEwan’s fingers—and the look of surprised delight on his face. Cognosco te. I know you. Delight, not just shock. He and Buck weren’t the first time travelers this man had known. But the doctor hadn’t said as much. Why not?
“How long have you been here?” Roger asked, curious.
McEwan sighed and rubbed a hand over his face.
“Maybe too long,” he said, but then pushed that away, straightening up. “Two years, about. Speaking of too long, though . . .” He straightened, pulling the cloak over his shoulders. “It’ll be dark in less than an hour. I’ll need to go, if I’m to reach Cranesmuir by nightfall. I’ll come again tomorrow to tend your friend. We can talk a bit more then.”
He turned abruptly, but just as suddenly turned back and, reaching out, took Roger’s throat in his hand.
“Maybe,” he said, as though to himself. “Just maybe.” Then he nodded once, let go, and was gone, his cloak fluttering like bat wings behind him.
THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST
AFTER FRAGGLE ROCK, the telly went to the evening news, and Ginger reached to turn it off but stopped abruptly as Jem’s last year’s school picture flashed on the screen. She stared at the television, mouth half open, then looked incredulously at Jem.
“That’s you!” she said.
“Ken that fine,” he said crossly. “Turn it off, aye?”
“No, I want to see.” She blocked him as he lunged for the screen; Ginger was eleven and bigger than him.
“Turn it off!” he said, then, with cunning inspiration, “It’ll scare Mandy and she’ll howl.”
Ginger shot Mandy a quick glance—she had good lungs, did Mandy—then reluctantly turned the TV off.
“Mmphm,” she said, and lowered her voice. “Mam told us what happened, but she said we weren’t to trouble ye about it.”
“Good,” Jem said. “Don’t.” His heart was hammering and he felt sweaty, but his hands were going cold and hot and cold again.
He’d got away by the skin of his teeth, diving under the bushes planted at the top of the spillway and crawling down the concrete edging ’til he found a ladderway that went down into the water. He’d shoggled down it as far as he could and clung on so hard his hands went numb, with the black water rumbling inches under his feet and surging down the spillway past him, drenching him with cold spray. He could still feel his bones shake with it.
He believed he might throw up if he thought about it anymore, so he turned away and went to look into the wee girls’ toy chest. It was full of girlie toys, of course, but maybe if they had a ball . . . They did. It was pink but one of the good high-bouncy kind.
“We could go out to the garden, maybe, and have a bit o’ catch?” he suggested, bouncing the ball on the floor and catching it.
“It’s dark and rainin’ like the clappers,” Tisha said. “Dinna want to get wet.”
“Ach, it’s no but a saft drizzle! What are ye, made of sugar?”
“Yes,” said Sheena, with a simper. “Sugar and spice ’n everything nice, that’s what little girls are made of. Snips and snails and puppy-dog tails—”
“Come play dollies,” suggested Tisha, waggling a naked doll invitingly at him. “Ye can have GI Joe if ye want. Or would ye rather Ken?”
“Nay, I’m no playin’ dollies,” Jem said firmly. “Canna be doing wi’ the clothes and all.”
“I play dollies!” Mandy muscled her way between Tisha and Sheena, eager hands stretched out for a Barbie in a pink frilly ball gown. Sheena grabbed it away just in time.
“Aye, aye,” she soothed Mandy’s impending screech, “you can play, sure. Ye have to play nice, though; ye dinna want to spoil her dress. Here, sit down, pet, I’ll give ye this one. See her wee comb and brush? Ye can fix her hair.”
Jem took the ball and left. The upstairs hall had carpet, but the landing was bare wood. He popped the ball off it and it shot up and hit the ceiling with a smack, just missing the hanging light fixture. It bounced off the floor and he caught it before it could get away, clutching it to his chest.
He listened for a second, to be sure Mrs. Buchan hadn’t heard. She was back in the kitchen, though; he could hear the sound of her singing along to the radio.
He was halfway down the stairs when the bell over the front door went, and he looked over the banister to see who it was coming in. Who it was was Rob Cameron, and Jem nearly swallowed his tongue.
JEM PRESSED himself back against the wall of the landing, his heart pounding so loud he could barely hear Mrs. Buchan come out of the kitchen.
Should he go get Mandy? There wasn’t any way out of the house but by the stairs; he couldn’t drop Mandy out the lounge window, there wasn’t a tree or anything . . .
Mrs. Buchan was saying hello and she was sorry if the gentleman was wanting a room, because she was booked full every day this week. Mr. Cameron was being polite, saying, no, thank ye kindly, he was only wondering might he have a wee word . . .
“If ye’re selling anything—” she started, and he interrupted her.
“No, missus, nothing like that. It’s a few questions I have about the stones at Craigh na Dun.”
Jem was gasping for air. His lungs were heaving, but he’d pressed a hand over his mouth so Mr. Cameron wouldn’t hear. Mrs. Buchan didn’t gasp, but he could hear her take breath, then stop, deciding what to say.
“Stones?” she said, and even he could tell she was faking puzzlement. “I dinna ken anything about stones.”
Rob made a polite laugh.
“I apologize, missus. I should have introduced myself, first. My name’s Rob Cameron—and—is something wrong, missus?” She’d not only gasped really loud, Jem thought she must have stepped back without looking and hit the wee table in the hall, because there was a thump and an “Ach!” and the splat of picture frames falling over.
“No,” Mrs. Buchan said, getting ahold of herself. “No. Had a wee turn, that’s all—I’ve the high blood pressure, ken. Get that wee bit dizzy. Your name’s Cameron, is it?”
“Aye. Rob Cameron. I’m cousin by marriage to Becky Wemyss. She told me a bit about the dancing up at the stones.”
“Oh.” That “oh” meant trouble for Becky Wemyss, thought Jem, who knew a lot about mothers’ voices.
“I’m a bit of a scholar of the auld ways, see. I’m writing a wee book . . . Anyway, I wondered if I could maybe talk to you for a few minutes. Becky said ye’d know more about the stones and the dancing than anybody else.”
Jem’s breathing slowed down, once he realized that Mr. Cameron hadn’t come because Mr. Cameron knew Mandy and he were here. Or maybe he did and was trying it on with Mrs. Buchan ’til he could make an excuse to use the loo and come poke round in search of them? He looked apprehensively up the half flight of stairs that led from the landing, but the lounge door above was closed, and while he could hear Mandy’s giggling fine through it, probably Mr. Cameron couldn’t.
Mrs. Buchan was taking Mr. Cameron back to the kitchen. Her voice when she’d said, “Come ben. I’ll tell ye what I can,” hadn’t sounded at all friendly. Jem wondered whether she might be going to put rat poison in Mr. Cameron’s tea.
Maybe Mrs. Buchan didn’t have any rat poison, though. He took a step one way, then the other, then back. He really, really wanted to run down the stairs and out the door and keep going. But he couldn’t leave Mandy.
His havering stopped at once when the kitchen door opened, but he could hear it was Mrs. Buchan’s step, and just hers, coming fast and light.
She turned up the stairs but started back when she saw him on the landing, a hand to her chest. Then she ran up to him and hugged him tight, whispering in his ear.
“Bloody heck, lad. What’re you—well, never mind, I was coming to find you. Ye saw him?”
Jem nodded, wordless, and Mrs. Buchan’s mouth pressed flat.
“Aye. I’m going to take ye out the door. Go left out the gate. Two houses down is Mrs. Kelleher. Knock and tell her I sent ye to use the phone. Ye call the polis and tell them the man that kidnapped you is here—ye ken the address here?”
He nodded. He’d seen the number when he visited before with Mam and Dad and remembered it because it was 669; Dad had said it should by rights be 666, but that was the number of the beast. Jem had asked whether it was Mr. or Mrs. Buchan that was the beast, and Mam and Dad both laughed like loons.
“Good,” said Mrs. Buchan, letting go of him. “Come on, then.”
“Mandy—” he started, but she shushed him.
“I’ll mind her. Come!”
He ran down the stairs after her, trying not to make any noise, and, at the door, she stood on her toes and held the little bell so it wouldn’t ring.
“Run!” she whispered.
MRS. KELLEHER WAS an old lady and kind of deaf. Jem was out of breath and so scared that he couldn’t put his words together right, so it was a long time before she took him to the telephone, and then the lady at the police station put the phone down on him twice, because she thought he was some bampot wean who’d got hold of the phone and was playing tricks.
“I’m Jeremiah MacKenzie!” he bellowed, next time she answered. “I was kidnapped!”
“Ye were?” said Mrs. Kelleher, very startled. She grabbed the phone away from him. “Who’s this?” she demanded of it. Faint squawking—at least the police lady hadn’t hung up again. Mrs. Kelleher turned and squinted through her spectacles at him.
“Who was it ye were wanting to call, lad? Ye’ve got the polis by mistake.”
He really wanted to hit something, but he couldn’t hit Mrs. Kelleher. He said something very bad in Gaelic, and her mouth fell open. She’d let the phone fall away from her ear, though, and he grabbed it.
“The man that kidnapped me is here,” he said, as slow as he could. “I need somebody to come! Before—” Inspiration struck. “Before he hurts my little sister! It’s 669 Glenurquhart Road. Come right away!” Then he put the phone down, before the lady could ask him questions.
Mrs. Kelleher had plenty of those, and he didn’t want to be rude, so he asked could he use the loo and locked the door against her, then hung out the upstairs window, watching for the police.
Nothing happened for what seemed forever. The raindrops started to drip off his hair and eyelashes, but he was afraid of missing anything. He was rubbing the water out of his eyes when all of a sudden the door of 669 flew open and Rob Cameron came running out, jumped in a car, and drove off with the tires squealing.
Jem almost fell out the window but then rushed back and barreled out of the bathroom, nearly knocking Mrs. Kelleher over.
“Thank you, Mrs. Kelleher!” he yelled over his shoulder, taking the stairs three at a time, and shot out the front door.
There was a lot of screaming and crying going on inside the Buchans’ house, and he felt his chest go so tight he couldn’t breathe.
“Mandy!” He tried to call, but her name came out in a whisper. The front door was hanging open. Inside, there were girls everywhere, but he picked Mandy out of the muddle in the lounge instantly and ran to grab her. She wasn’t crying, but she latched on to him like a leech, burying her black curly head in his stomach.