"I don't think our pal died of natural causes. And it doesn't look as if he starved to death in this corridor."

He probed the pocket of the pleated trousers.

"What are you doing?" Verity demanded.

"I was just wondering who he is—or was. Ah, here we go." Jonas tugged a stiff, scratched leather wallet out of the trouser pocket. He flipped it open and studied the driver's license photo of the bald, smiling man wearing gold-rimmed glasses.

"Well?" Verity prompted. "I don't think I can stand any more suspense. Anyone we know?"

"It's Digby Hazelhurst."

"Good heavens! He's supposed to have disappeared while swimming or something."

"Sailing."

"That poor man. What an awful way to die! I think I've got a new definition of Hazelhurst's Horror.

Imagine being trapped in this passageway… " Verity broke off as reality hit her. "Uh, Jonas, you do think you can find the mechanism that opens the door from the inside, don't you?"

"I'm good at manual labor, remember? Relax, boss. We'll get out. But I don't want to make the same mistake Hazelhurst made."

"What mistake? Oh, you mean that blade sticking out of him? You think it might have been another booby trap?"

"It's possible. The metal is old and heavy. Probably early sixteenth century. Let's see if we can get a clue as to which direction it came from." He reached down and picked up the blade.

"Jonas, I'm not sure I'm ready for another one of these trips," Verity began hurriedly, but it was too late.

The flat stone walls around her were already curving into the familiar vision of the endless time corridor.

"Verity?"

"Right here, Jonas." She turned at the sound of his voice. In the dimension existing inside the psychic corridor he was standing a short distance away. With an effort Verity could control both realities simultaneously. She could keep her awareness of the real, solid passageway, and at the same time concentrate on the psychic tunnel. It was a somewhat disorienting sensation, but she was getting better at maintaining the two realities.

"There. Straight ahead." Jonas took a step closer to her, indicating a misty vision materializing ahead of them in the psychic corridor. His expression was grim. "It's pretty vague, isn't it? Probably because it's relatively recent in time."

Verity followed his gaze, aware that the visions were sharper when he dealt with older events, especially those of the Renaissance. This was definitely a recent act of violence. "Oh, no," she whispered helplessly as the short, violent drama unfolded in front of her.

There was nothing to be done and she knew it. It was like watching a film—a never-ending instant replay of the sudden demise of Digby Hazelhurst, gentleman scholar and lifelong treasure hunter.

The scene wavered indistinctly, as if it lacked sufficient power to project itself. In the weak vision, the man whose picture they'd seen in the wallet was clawing at the wall of the stone corridor. He had a look of breathless terror on his features. His fingernails raked along a line of mortar between two stones just as a dark, tarnished blade was plunged into his back. A hand was clutched around the hilt of the stiletto, and on one finger of the hand was a magnificent ruby ring.

Verity barely had time to notice the ring before curling tendrils of terrifying color and hideous light began to flow from the image. The ribbons writhed blindly for a moment, as if seeking a target. Then they headed straight for Jonas.

Then, as always, they seemed to sense Verity's presence.

She held her breath, as usual a little unnerved when the ribbons of mindless emotional energy began to swarm restlessly about her ankles. They didn't touch her skin, but they swirled violently around her. Jonas was left free to study the vision.

"You okay?" he asked softly.

"Yes."

"I think we've seen enough." Jonas released the old stiletto. It clattered to the floor.

The vision and the psychic corridor vanished instantly, leaving Verity and Jonas alone in the all-too-real tunnel.

Verity looked at Jonas. She could barely see his features. He had the flashlight trained on the part of the wall where Digby Hazelhurst had been scratching when the blade was plunged into him.

"Jonas, Digby didn't die because he accidentally triggered a hidden mechanism somewhere around here.

There was a hand wrapped around the handle of that stiletto."

"I know, Verity. Now keep quiet for a few minutes," he added gently. "I have to concentrate."

Verity bit her lip and watched as Jonas trailed his sensitive fingers along the section of wall Hazelhurst had tried to reach as he died. A moment or two later something shifted deep within the stones.

"Here we go," Jonas said with soft satisfaction. "I've got it. Leave that sword hilt in here. It'll be safe. No one will see it and ask awkward questions. Leave the stiletto behind, too. I don't want to have to explain it to anybody yet."

Verity dropped the tarnished metal hilt on the stone floor as the heavy door swung open. "I don't mind admitting I'm somewhat relieved. Not that I doubted for a moment that you'd get us out of here, of course," she added with instinctive loyalty.

"Of course." Jonas patted the stone door affectionately. "I tell you, there is nothing as refreshing and interesting as the Renaissance mind."

"You ought to know," Verity said as she stepped out of the corridor into the safety of the bedroom.

"You've got one yourself."

Chapter Seven

Jonas followed Verity out of the stone passageway feeling more relieved than he wanted to admit.

Hazelhurst's dying clue revealing the location of the door mechanism had been very welcome, to say the least. Jonas knew he could have spent a long time trying to find it on his own.

As he stepped into the relative warmth of the bedroom he thought he could hear echoes again, echoes of ancient laughter. He started to close the stone door.

"What are you doing?" Verity asked.

"What does it look like I'm doing? You want to spend the night staring at old bones?"

"No, of course not, but what about poor Hazelhurst? We have to tell someone we found him."

"He's been in there for a couple of years," Jonas observed as the door groaned shut. "He'll keep awhile longer."

J

Verity's eyes widened in disbelief. "You're not going to tell anyone we found him?"

"Not just yet. If we report it now there'll be an investigation. Things will be disrupted around here for days, maybe weeks. Rumors of the treasure will leak out, and the place will be overrun with reporters, fake psychics, and God knows who else. We've only got a week, Verity. I want to spend it getting some answers. Something very important is hidden in that corridor."


Tags: Jayne Ann Krentz Gift Suspense
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