"Jonas, what if we're about to uncover a pile of Florentine gold coins or a basket of jewels?" Verity asked breathlessly. "We'll be able to send the kid to Harvard."
"No kid of mine is going to Harvard," Jonas vowed. "We'll worry about how to spend the goodies after we find them. You ready?" He moved toward the entrance and shone the flashlight into a small, square room.
Verity came up behind him and followed the light. She was immediately assailed by an overpowering sense of déjà vu. This was the room she had seen last night when she had worn her new earrings, during the second psychic-awareness session.
"Jonas, I know this room. I've seen it. There should be a black chest in here somewhere."
"Christ. You're right. There it is."
A massively carved stone chest squatted in the corner of the cell-like room. Jonas went toward it cautiously.
"It must be safe enough to approach it, Jonas. The footsteps go up to it and come back." Verity didn't like the look of the black chest, though. It resembled a coffin. Her earrings felt very warm against her cheeks. "It's the chest we see in the vision, isn't it? The one with the heaps of gold coins and gems in it."
Jonas reached the chest and examined it from all angles. "The lock is open. Let's see what's inside."
"Jonas, be careful." Verity lost her nerve. A rush of anxiety came over her. "Don't touch it. I don't think we should open it. Forget Harvard, there are plenty of good state universities. Let's get out of here."
She spoke too late. Jonas raised the lid of the black chest. In spite of her fear, Verity couldn't resist going closer to see what was inside.
"Empty," she said in mingled disappointment and relief. "Damn. I wonder if whoever killed Digby cleaned it out."
"Probably. Still, this chest alone will be worth a fortune to some museum. Take a look at the carving. It's magnificent. Too bad it belongs to Doug and Elyssa. AH we're going to get out of this is a consulting fee."
Jonas looked up, his features stark in the glow of the flashlight. "Let me have that sword hilt."
Verity's hand tightened around the broken sword handle. "Why?" she demanded suspiciously.
"I want another look at that vision of the man at the desk. I want to see if this is the room he was sitting in."
"I'm sure it is. But I'm not sure we should mess around with that particular vision. There's something very weird about it."
Impatiently he reached out and took the chunk of metal from her. So much for trying to give good advice, Verity thought as the walls of the dark cell began to curve around them. People like Jonas rarely listened to good advice.
Verity held her breath as the image shimmered and took form. Her earrings were turning hot against her skin. She started to remove them, staring at the vision of the man as she did so. Whoever he was, he had been capable of violence, she thought suddenly. She could see that much in the forbidding lines of his aristocratic features and the malevolent glare of his frozen eyes.
The small, green, egg-shaped crystal on the desk seemed to pulse gently in the reflected glow of the flashlight. But that was impossible, Verity reminded herself. The images produced in the psychic corridor never reacted to outside illumination. They existed independently in time and space.
Verity cried out softly as her earrings became so hot they seemed to burn her fingers.
And then she knew.
"Jonas," she whispered. "The crystal. The one on his desk. It's still here in the villa. It's somewhere nearby. I'm sure of it."
"What makes you think the crystal is still around here?" Jonas studied the frozen image in front of them.
The sharp planes of his face were illuminated by the poisonous green glow of the vision.
"I'm not sure. I get the feeling the crystal on that desk is trying to connect with itself in real time. It's as if it tried my earrings and they didn't quite work. It sounds crazy, I know." Verity shook her head. She was experiencing a disturbing sense of unreality. It was different from the feeling she usually had while in the psychic corridor.
"Nothing about this image makes much sense," Jonas said. "That's what bothers me. It's just not a normal time-corridor film clip. I've got to find out what the hell is going on here, Verity. I can't leave this place until I know what this is all about."
"It isn't even a scene of violence. You only pick up scenes of violence."
"But I tune it in by using an object associated with violence. That part is normal enough."
Verity edged backward a step. "It's almost as if the violence is about to happen, but hasn't yet taken place."
"Damn. Verity, I think you're right. That's it. That's the answer. We're looking at the scene an instant or two before the action took place. This guy was probably sitting at his desk when someone walked in and killed him."
"But why aren't we catching the actual death scene? Why would we pick up on it a few seconds before it occurs?"
"I don't know, but I've got to find out. I can feel the sense of warning emanating from this thing. It's as if that guy is just sitting there daring me to try to get at him."
"Or daring you to uncover his treasure," Verity offered, glancing around at the barren cell. "Obviously he doesn't realize someone else has already gotten to it."
Jonas walked to the chest and ran his palm along the heavily carved lid. "I'm not so sure the treasure is gone."
"Jonas, don't do that," Verity said, watching the image uneasily.
"Don't touch the chest? Why?"
"I swear his eyes are following you again."
"Just an optical illusion," he said absently.
Verity bit her lip, studying the image. The chest was still there behind the man, filled with treasure. "Why wasn't this room discovered when the villa was taken apart and shipped over here?"
"Who knows? Digby says in his diary that his relative had huge chunks of the villa left intact and transported that way. This room is small enough that it might have been shipped as a single unit. Maybe no one was even aware there was an opening behind these walls. It could look like a solid block of stone from the outside. Or it's possible Digby's crazy relative did find the room and the chest, and ordered it reconstructed exactly as it was. In which case, he's probably the one who got the treasure, although he never admitted it to anyone. Eccentric was a mild term for Digby's side of the family, apparently."
"But the rest of the furnishings were all sold off. I can't believe someone would have overlooked that valuable chest."