Jonas smiled. "A few of them sure as hell did learn that, Maggie. Family can be treacherous."
Maggie paused, one hand on the stone banister. She cocked a brow as she glanced back over her plump shoulder. "Is it true what Little Miss Sunshine down there says? You some kinda weirdo psychic?"
"No, ma'am," Jonas said blandly. "I am definitely not some kinda weirdo psychic."
"Good. We got enough nuts in this place right now as it is, don't need another one running around.
Taking orders from Little Miss Sunshine is bad enough. Don't know what Digby woulda thought of all this, just don't know."
"Little Miss Sunshine?" Verity repeated curiously.
"The Warwick girl. I call her Little Miss Sunshine 'cause she's always smiling and saying how the whole universe is workin' together just to make her life perfect. That kind of cheerfulness just ain't natural, if you ask me. Course, I don't hold much with this hocus-pocus malarkey or the kind of folks who get involved with it. Ain't nothing new about it anyway. We had the same type of kook around when I was a kid, but at least most of 'em had the decency to work in a circus or at the county fair."
"I'm with you, Maggie," Jonas said. "What did Digby Hazelhurst think about all this psychic stuff?"
Maggie resumed climbing the staircase. "Old Digby was just fine up until about two years before he died. Then he started turnin' a mite weird, I'll grant you that much. But the man was in his eighties. Had a right to be a bit touched, I say. Besides, it didn't affect us one way or the other."
"Us?" Verity asked quickly.
"Him and me," Maggie explained with a wistful chuckle. "Digby and me used to have some good times together. We spent more years than I want to count stuck here on this island with only each other for company, and we weren't neither one of us bored. I'll tell you, when it came to certain types of activity, that old man had the energy of a high school senior in the backseat of a car. Had us some rare old times down in the torture chamber. My, my, yes, we did." Maggie reached the top of the staircase and trudged down a dim corridor.
Verity shot a highly amused glance at Jonas, who leered back comically.
Maggie opened the heavy wooden door of a room halfway down the corridor, revealing a large suite with huge, arched windows. A wide, canopied bed occupied the center of the room. The cold stone walls were hung with a faded tapestry and a couple of grime-encrusted paintings. The stone floor was bare.
"This do for ya?" Maggie asked expectantly. " 'Fraid it's the best I've got to offer. Used to have a lot of nice furniture in most of the rooms in this wing, but Digby had to sell the stuff off to keep going.
Bathroom's off to the right there. At least old Digby had the sense to put in plumbing when he inherited the villa. I wouldn't have stayed with him all those years if I'd had to use a chamber pot, I can tell you."
"This is fine," Verity said. The end of her cane rang loudly on the stone floor as she walked to one of the windows. She leaned out, expecting a view of lush gardens.
What she saw was a large courtyard overgrown with weeds. There was a fountain in the center, but no water poured from the jug held by the naked nymph carved on top of the circular monstrosity. Dead pine needles and dirt littered the empty pool.
"See you folks later. Holler if you need anything," Maggie said, closing the door behind her.
Verity turned from the window to watch Jonas prowl the room. "Everything okay?" she asked softly, although she was almost certain it was. She would know if any strong force in the room was affecting him.
"Yeah." Jonas paused beside the threadbare tapestry and studied it without touching it. It was just barely possible to make out a scene of Renaissance maidens cavorting in a leafy bower. "Everything's fine. The bed's new, incidentally."
Verity glanced at the big bed. "Just as well. I wasn't looking forward to sleeping in a four-hundred-year-old bed."
"The tapestry's sixteenth-century, though. Can you believe it? It's just been hanging here, decaying all these years." Jonas shook his head and wandered over to one of the ornately framed pictures. "Same with the paintings."
Verity caught her breath. "They're originals?"
He nodded. "This one is. It would be interesting to see what's under all that grime. I have a hunch that the artist was just as second-rate as the architect who designed the villa."
Verity leaned back against the wide window ledge, folded her arms, and eyed Jonas closely. "You're not going to have any trouble sleeping here?"
"No. I'm fine, Verity. Everything's under control. I can sense a few faint vibrations, but unless I deliberately open up to them, they won't bother me. What a relief."
"That's one of the reasons you took this job, isn't it?" Verity asked suddenly. "You wanted to see how much control you've really gained over the past few months."
Jonas glanced at her as he walked across the room to open his duffel bag. "I'm a lot stronger now, Verity. I'm in control. You don't know how good it feels. And I owe it all to you. Just being around you seems to have strengthened my power to keep from being swept into that time tunnel. I couldn't have slept inside a genuine Renaissance villa before I met you. The vibrations locked in the walls alone would have overwhelmed me. Christ, it feels good to be able to manage this damn talent of mine."
"You're determined not to admit to Little Miss Sunshine and her pals that you're a genuine grade-A psychic?"
"I am not a psychic," Jonas stated forcefully. "I have a talent for psychometry, but I'm not clairvoyant. I don't have visions. I don't see the future or predict disasters. The only thing I can do is pick up certain scenes from the past."
"Scenes of violence."
"A very limited talent," Jonas pointed out dryly. "I'm sure as hell no psychic. And I would appreciate it if you would refrain from implying otherwise to Elyssa and her friends."
Verity grinned. "I don't know, Jonas. There might be more money in this consulting business if we let people know that you have a genuine talent."
"Not a chance. Normal, rational people wouldn't believe in my abilities and they damn well wouldn't want to pay for my services. Only eccentric weirdos would be willing to pay the consulting fees of someone claiming to have a psychic talent. Doug Warwick hired me as a Renaissance scholar, not a New Age nut."
"And instead he's getting both," Verity murmured happily.
Jonas scowled. "There's nothing New Age about me or my talent."