"First, let's talk about the case," Verity said briskly. She pulled her hand out from under his and picked up her salad fork.
Jonas studied her through narrowed eyes for a few seconds. Then he shrugged and picked up his own fork. He began poking through the salad to find the mushrooms. "Okay. First we'll talk about the case.
Then what are we going to talk about?"
His head came up abruptly, his eyes very golden in the shadows. "Us?" he repeated softly.
"Later," Verity said. She felt more nervous than she had anticipated.
"Please," she begged softly.
Jonas started to argue, but something about her expression stopped him. "All right," he finally agreed.
Verity smiled gratefully. "Tell me, in your professional opinion, what exactly do you think is going on out there on that island?"
"My professional opinion is that the whole situation sucks."
"You academic types have such a way with words."
"It's a professional requirement. It's been a few years, but when called upon I can, as I've explained, still bullshit with the best of them. Have you noticed?"
"I've noticed," she said dryly. "You know something? You can sound awfully impressive when you try.
When you gave that little dissertation at breakfast on the differences between Milanese and Florentine construction techniques, everyone was fascinated. Architecture wasn't even your specialty when you taught Renaissance history. How come you know so much about it?"
"Goes with the territory," he explained. "When you're studying the various Renaissance war machines designed to knock down walls and buildings, you find yourself learning a little something about how the walls and buildings were constructed in the first place. And don't get any ideas about nagging me to write an article about Hazelhurst's Horror for some obscure little history journal. The report I'm doing for Doug is all I'm interested in turning out."
"Now, Jonas, if you're going to establish a career as a historical consultant you'll need to have your name appear in print occasionally. It's good advertising. Speaking of Hazelhurst's Horror, let's get back to the case."
"I love the way you call it 'the case.' Makes us sound like a couple of amateur detectives."
"Well, maybe that's what we are. We've already found one body, haven't we? Poor Hazelhurst. What do you think happened to him?"
"My professional opinion is that he got a stiletto in the back," Jonas said, munching his salad.
"Not an uncommon fate during the Renaissance," Verity pointed out. "Jonas, that ruby ring on the hand that stabbed Hazelhurst appeared in the first vision. I know I saw it, either in the chest or on the man's hand."
"There's no maybe about it. I saw it."
"There is no way the guy in the vision came alive and killed Hazelhurst," Jonas said forcefully. "Forget it."
"All right, if that's an impossibility, what does it leave us with?"
Jonas ate the last of his mushrooms. "It leaves us," he stated slowly, "with the possibility that Hazelhurst and somebody else found the treasure, or at least the ruby ring, and the guy with the stiletto didn't want to go halvesies."
Verity put down her fork and stared at Jonas. "Good grief, you're right. That's a perfectly plausible explanation. That ring alone is probably worth killing for, which means that two years ago Hazelhurst involved someone else in the treasure hunt. But Maggie said that he never had any luck getting his academic buddies to help."
"She also mentioned a guy who claimed he was a grad student in Renaissance history showing up a few months before Hazelhurst disappeared."
Verity nodded. "But she said Hazelhurst didn't work with him long. Claimed the man wasn't a real student, just a treasure hunter."
"It's possible the guy sneaked back into the villa after he was kicked out. If he was reasonably discreet, he could wander around a long time in that pile of rocks before anyone caught him."
"But maybe Hazelhurst did catch him. Maybe he ran into him in that hidden passage. And maybe one of them had found that ring along with a few others items, like the old stiletto."
"And maybe there was an argument. A fight." Jonas nodded thoughtfully. "It's possible."
"Which means that whoever was hanging around two and a half years ago has long since taken the treasure and vanished."
"Also possible. Probable, in fact."
"Which means we're wasting our time," Verity concluded with a sigh. "The treasure's gone."
She looked at him in surprise. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Jonas shook his head. "I don't think the real treasure was found. Or if it was, I don't think the thief got away with it."
Jonas looked at her, his eyes shadowed. "Because the treasure, whatever it is, will be very well guarded, Verity. No casual treasure hunter could have stolen it, not easily. Precautions were taken. I felt the echoes of them."
"Booby traps, you mean? But they might all have rusted by now, like the one that guarded the crystal."
"I'm not sure that all the traps are mechanical." Jonas became very busy buttering a chunk of sourdough bread.
"Jonas, for crying out loud, what are you trying to tell me?"
He hesitated, then said quietly, "I don't know. But I got a strong sense of warning, a feeling of real threat from the room where the crystal was found. I got an even heavier dose of it from that vision of the man seated at the desk. I've felt a lot of things in that psychic corridor, but what I felt this last time was different."
"If I understood that part, I'd have this case solved." Jonas bit off a large piece of the chewy bread.
"There's just this faint sense of impending action or violence. Like something's waiting to happen."
"I don't like the sound of this." Verity had been hungry, but she was rapidly losing her appetite. "Do you think we should drop the whole thing and go home?"
"Are you kidding? I wouldn't leave now if you paid me."
"Dammit, Jonas, you just said it was dangerous."
"I'll be careful." He grew thoughtful. "I could try exploring the passageway alone. You can stay behind in the bedroom. Apparently the link between us is strong enough now to permit some distance. I can get hold of you mentally if I need you."