Geoffrey Long

Bones of the Angel is a story about what happens when a fossilized angel skeleton is found in a small university town. Old relationships are brought back into the light, beliefs are re-examined, and soon the bullets start to fly. An action-arthouse piece about different types of faith, their loss and their reclaimation.

Work in Progress

This is where I'm posting excerpts as I'm going along, so keep in mind that everything on this page is Rough Draft. --G


Part One:
The Angel in the Rock
Part Two:
l'Histoire Secrete des Anges
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight


Chapter Four

"It's impossible," Michael growled as he ground his foot into the gas pedal. "It's some kind of hoax."

My fingers dug into the back seat of Michael's car as we took a tire-screeching turn around a narrow curve. We'd run out of the restaurant without even ordering, breezing past a bewildered waiter with a wave of Vicky's hand and an over-the-shoulder assurance from Vicky to put it on her tab. I had to hand it to her. Only Vicky would have a tab at the toniest restaurant in town, and only Vicky would be laughing like a schoolgirl in the passenger seat as Michael rocketed through the streets toward the dig. "Well, if it is a hoax, it's a very good one," she was saying. "All the carbon dating Dad's had done so far has come out positive."

"Maybe there was some kind of giant bird or something that had crashed into him when he got, you know, fossilized," I suggested hopefully. "That would explain the wings."

"No way," Vicky said. "If it had been something that simple, you would have seen the rest of the bird behind him."

"Has anyone done any close examination of where the wing joints meet the skeleton?" Michael asked. "The joint structure alone should give away any chicanery. And the variation in musculature required to drive wings large enough to hold a man aloft should be detectable somehow in the texture of the bones..."

"They have, and it is," Vicky nodded. "Even more to the point, closer x-ray analysis of the skeleton seems to suggest that the bones themselves are hollow."

"Like a bird's," I said.

"Right," she said. "The lessened bone density would help lighten the load of the body mass, and facilitate flight."

"But if the bones were anywhere near as fragile as that," Michael protested, "why didn't they get crushed? How did they survive fossilization so flawlessly?"

"Maybe the soil around the skeleton was originally tar, or peat," she said. "Or maybe back then Lake Beckett covered all of this, and this creature, this angel, fell into the water and got stuck in what was at the bottom –"

"I think it's going a little far too call it an angel," Michael snapped. "What we have here is an unidentified fossil finding, which may very well turn out to be something just like Pi described – two creatures that some how got fused together during the fossilization process."

"That wouldn't explain the hollow bones, though," I said.

"But there may be another explanation! For all we know, he suffered from some kind of disease that ate his bones away from the inside."

"Isn't that a bit of a stretch?"

"No more so than suggesting that one of the heavenly host is right now, at this very moment, doing its best doorstop impression in a construction site in the middle of town!"

"Why are you so adamant about this?" Vicky stared at him wonderingly. "This is the kind of discovery that changes everything we know about anything! Empirical proof of the existence of some higher power, an actual physical manifestation of the existence of God and his angels!"

"Hogwash," Michael growled. "Look, even if we do prove that we have a skeleton of a winged man down there, it doesn't prove the existence of God. Everyone from the Native Americans to the ancient Persians have depicted winged men in their stories and artwork. Men with wings have been named djinns and monsters just as often as they've been called angels. Even if this does pan out, it doesn't prove anything about any almighty creator."

"Still, you'd think you'd be thrilled just to be a part of this!"

I frowned. "Um, Vicky? Why are we a part of this?"

There was a brief moment of silence. I knew that silence, too – that was the sound of Vicky realizing she'd suddenly let slip something she hadn't meant to. Boy, did I know that silence.

"Well, I thought you'd be interested," she huffed. "I knew you were into this kind of thing, and I'd been meaning to look you up, Pi..."

"I'm flattered, but I'm not buying," I said, a little more defensively than I'd meant to be. I hurried on before she could jump on it. "I mean, your father has this under control – he's probably got the best people in the world working on this. What makes you think they're even going to let us past the gate?"

Vicky scowled, and I knew I had her. "Fine," she said. "You want to know why I'm bringing you two in? It's the people Dad's got down there. Best people in the world, my ass. I don't trust them as far as I could drop-kick them."

Michael smiled grimly. "Good instincts."

I glanced at him, but quickly decided now wasn't the time to ask. "So, what are we supposed to do?"

"Help me keep my dad out of trouble," she said. "Dad's been a big fan of all this X-Files crap for years. Usually it's harmless... I mean, he's been taken in by a phony alien autopsy tape or two, lost a couple grand here and there bidding on worthless fakes on the Internet, but this time is different." She glanced out the window. "There's a big difference between dealing with UFOs and angels. This is religion we're talking about here. And people get weird when it comes to religion."

"So you called us? A guy who wrote a book about a New England folk tale and the hack artist who illustrated it?"

She turned around to stare me in the eyes, and a chill ran down my back. "No," she said quietly. "I called the only person I trust who might know anything about this kind of thing."

I couldn't think of anything to say to that. I just stared right back into the eyes of the only woman I'd ever wanted – still wanted? – to be my wife.

"We're here," Michael barked, and brought the car to a screeching halt. I shook my head and looked out the window. Michael had parked the car in a public parking lot two blocks down the street from the dig. I could see the spotlights from here, trained downward into a huge wall of plywood fencing. Out of the middle of the fencing rose a tall skeleton of girders wrapped in white plastic.

"Is there going to be someone here to let us in this time of night?" I asked as we got out of the car.

"It's not that late, Pi," Vicky laughed. "It's what, 9?"

"On a Friday night," I shot back. "Who works at 9 on a Friday night?"

"When you get paid the kind of money that Dad shells out, you'd be surprised," she replied. "Besides, Dad said that there's a crew here just about 24-7 now, and they all know me. I'll make the introductions and then I'll get them to show you the bones."

"The bones," I repeated under my breath. "The bones of an angel... That's so fucking weird."

"No," Michael said, "it's absurd. Come on. We've got some debunking to do."

I shrugged my coat tighter around my shoulders as we headed for the fence. I looked up at the buildings around us. Beckett was an old city; there wasn't a single skyscraper in town, and most of the buildings were almost two hundred years old. Our sidewalks were made of bricks or cobblestones, depending on the neighborhood, and the streetlamps were antique lanterns perched atop black cast-iron poles. Each lamp cast a soft pale halo that made the flurries flitting and fluttering past seem like a slow cloud of tiny moths.

Ravenswood's site, by contrast, sulked between two beautiful old brownstones. Like many of us in town, I'd been shocked when the council had approved Ravenswood's building plans; the new bookstore was going to be a tall, cavernous warehouse of jagged glass and steel that looked like the results of a drunken orgy of architecture undergrads. It was going to be an affront, a misguided and unnecessary thrust into modernity for modernity's sake. It would have been bad enough if it had only been a vacant lot that he was building on, but he had ripped out three really nice old buildings just to start construction. Now we were about to descend into that hole. It felt like reaching into a wound.

Vicky had stepped up to the gate in the fence. There was a thick steel locking bar that stretched across the gate, and there was a key card scanner bolted to the fence beside it. I watched her fumbling in her purse for her ID card, and I wondered how much her father had changed since the last time I'd spoken to him. Six years ago, Vincent Ravenswood III had been yet another very successful businessman in a long string of successful businessman, but it wasn't until the dot-com boom that he'd seen an exponential increase in his funding. He'd cashed out before the whole thing went kerplooey, and had been spending the last couple years chasing whims. That included building things for the city that I remember he'd wished we'd had – a new opera house, a theater, a foundation for alcoholic parents and other benevolent donations. The problem was, he seemed to be suffering from a distinct disconnect from what the city was and what he perceived it should be. Hence, the horrible architecture. Just because every other upcoming city had a new, shiny building that looked like a crumpled piece of paper that had missed God's wastebasket, we needed one too. Ridiculous.

Vicky produced the key card and swiped it through the lock. The little light on the bar flashed red. She frowned.

"That's funny. Did we go by any magnets on the way here?"

"I don't think so. Why?"

"My card's not working. It must have gotten demagnetized."

"Unless..." Michael's voice trailed off as a loud clattering sound came from other side of the gate. There was a series of clicks, and then the light on the bar turned green and the bar slammed open. The door swung inward, and a tall, muscular man in a security guard's uniform filled the doorway.

"This is a restricted area. All unauthorized personnel – oh, it's you. Good evening, Miss Ravenswood."

"Good evening, Grant. These are my personal consultants on this project, Mr. Coldman and Mr. St. John. They are to be granted access to the grounds whenever they need it."

"Yes, Miss Ravenswood. Shall we have access cards made for them?"

"Absolutely. And while you're at it, I'm going to need another one for myself as well. I think mine may have been demagnetized."

"Very good, Miss Ravenswood."

She turned to us. "Gentlemen, this is Grant Nichols, the head of the security team my father hired to guard the site. If you need to get in and I'm not with you, he's the man to talk to."

Nichols reached inside the breast pocket and handed us two business cards. "Until we get your access cards ready, call this number and I'll tell the guard on duty to let you in."

"Thanks," I said, and looked at the card. GRANT NICHOLS, SECURITY SPECIALIST, MJJ SECURITIES. There was no mailing address, only a URL and a phone number. I'd never heard of them. "Not from around here, are you?"

Nichols smiled grimly. "Our employer felt it prudent to hire someone a little more vigorous than the local rent-a-cops."

"Dad's had some rough experiences in the past," Vicky said. "Nichols' company came highly recommended."

Nichols nodded at her. "Ma'am."

"Come on, guys. I still want to meet up with Jack tonight for that walk." Nichols stepped out of the way and let us past.

Inside of the wooden fence was a second one, slightly shorter and made of chain link. That fence wrapped tightly against the girders, with the white plastic wrap going all the way to the ground. A chain link archway connected the gate in the wooden fence to the interior fence, and Nichols held open the gate to the second fence for us. We stepped through, and as soon as we were inside, Michael let out a low whistle. I couldn't blame him.

The dig itself was huge, with a broad ramp of compressed dirt and steel wrapping in a long spiral around the outside edge. The ramp was wide enough for two vehicles, which was fortunate because there was a chain of black humvees crouching along the perimeter like a train of black beetles. At the bottom of the ramp there was a large black semi truck with its rear gate sitting open, with half a dozen security guards standing watch nearby. Each one had a very large gun strapped to his belt. I snuck a quick glance at Nichols' belt, as he closed the gate behind us. The little black strap that usually stretched across the handle to keep the weapon in its holster had been neatly sliced off.

At the bottom of the pit, there was a large white canvas tent. The tent was lit as bright as daylight, presumably from some more of those high-beam spotlights we'd seen outside, but the tent still pulsed with an erratic series of bright flashes. Someone inside was working very hard on a Friday night.

"What are they working on down there, Grant?" Vicky asked as we started down the ramp.

"Your father gave orders to cut the specimen out of the rock," he replied.

Michael glanced at him. "You mean they're cutting it from the stone?"

"No, that didn't come out quite right. They're cutting a eight-foot by eight-foot block out of the wall with the specimen inside."

"Oh," I said. "So they can get a better scan of it?"

"Partially," Nichols replied. "The real problem is that the kinds of tests they want to do can't be done here."

"Hence the semi."

"Hence the semi," he nodded. "We're going to transport it to Dr. Blacknail's facilities tonight."

Vicky's eyebrows shot up. "In Boston?"

"Only temporarily," he said. "It should be back by Monday morning."

"I'm surprised Dad's willing to let it out of his sight," she muttered.

"It took a little persuading," Nichols said, "but Dr. Blacknail can be very convincing."

Michael snorted. I glanced at him, but he shook his head. "What kind of tests are they looking to run?"

Nichols shook his head. "I couldn't say. I think Nautonnier said something about doing DNA tests on a deep core sample, but that's all sci-fi stuff to me."

"Nautonnier?" I asked.

"Blacknail's assistant, Dr. Jonathan Nautonnier," Vicky said. "Is Nautonnier here tonight, Grant?"

"All three of them are, Ma'am. Your father insisted on being here to oversee the removal himself."

"Excellent," she smiled. "Then you two will be able to meet them all in one fell swoop. Come on."

We'd reached the bottom of the ramp, and Nichols stepped to the side to speak with one of the guards. They exchanged a couple of quick, gruff words in tones too quiet for me to overhear, then the second guard nodded and headed up the ramp towards the gate. Nichols joined us as we stepped through the flap door of the tent.

Inside the tent, three tall men in lab coats and full-head welding masks were gathered around a huge block of stone on a huge wheeled trolley. The tallest of the three stood with his back to us, his arms crossed in front of his chest. The second one stood beside him with a clipboard in his hands. The third was squatting by the block with what looked like a very sleek blowtorch, which he was using to carefully cut bits of stone off the block.

"Just a little more, Jon," the man with the clipboard said loudly. "Just a little more."

"Are you sure your man knows what he's doing, Simon?" The tall man with his arms crossed shook his head. "If he hurts it..."

"I heavily doubt something that's been dead for millennia can be ‘hurt,' Mr. Ravenswood, but you have nothing to be afraid of. Jon's a master with the plasma stone cutter."

As if on cue, the third man flicked off the torch and straightened up. "That's it," he said, and turned to the others. He gave a start when he saw us standing in the door, but quickly recovered. "Well, well. Gentlemen, I believe we have guests."

The first two men turned to face us. The tall one straightened and flipped up his visor. The high cheekbones and lean cheeks had become leaner, almost gaunt, and had been accentuated by a closely-cropped silver goatee, but it was indeed the same Vincent Ravenswood III that I remembered under that mask.

"Good evening, dear," he said to Vicky with a smile, and then he saw me. His expression faltered for a second, but then his smile broadened. "Well, well! Mr. St. John! What a pleasure it is to see you again, my boy! How are you?"

"Doing fine, sir," I said as I shook his hand. "It's good to see you, too."

"Vicky tells me you've been making quite a name for yourself in the art field," he said. "Illustrating books, wasn't it?"

"Yes, sir," I said. "Well, one book so far – Michael's book." I stepped aside and let Michael shake hands with him. "Mr. Ravenswood, this is Michael Coldman."

"Mister Coldman!" Ravenswood exclaimed, and his steely blue eyes positively gleamed. "Well, now, this is a pleasure, quite a pleasure. I very much enjoyed your articles in the North American Folklore Review."

Michael was floored. I grinned – Ravenswood had always had a gift for surprising people with the breadth, and eccentricity, of his knowledge. "The pleasure is all mine," Michael said. "Until tonight, sir, I'd had no idea you were interested in my field."

"Quite interested, quite," Ravenswood said. "Why, after this is all over, you'll have to come up to the house for tea. I have a couple of specimens that I'd love to hear your opinion on."

"Yes, Mr. Coldman's knowledge and insights have never been anything less than stellar," the man with the clipboard said. He'd removed his mask, revealing a round-faced man in his mid-50s with salt-and-pepper hair and startlingly green eyes. He nodded at Michael. "It's good to see you again, Michael."

"Professor," Michael said coldly, then regained control and gestured me over. "Doctor Simon Blacknail, this is my collaborator, Pi St. John."

"Nice to meet you, son," Blacknail said as he shook my hand.

"Our families go way back," Ravenswood said with a smile. "His parents are both professors at the University."

"Indeed?" Blacknail said. "Maybe we could get together for coffee some weekend when I'm in town."

"Am I invited to that soiree?" The third man had removed his mask, revealing a sandy blonde-haired man in his mid-30s with a broad smile. He stepped forward and shook my hand, then Michael's. "I'm Dr. Blacknail's assistant, Jonathan Nautonnier. Call me Jon."

"Um, call me Pi," I said. "Well, now that everyone knows everyone else...?"

"Dad, I've brought Michael and Pi down here to see if they can lend any additional insight to the problem," Vicky said.

Ravenswood smiled kindly at her, but both Nautonnier and Blacknail hesitated before glancing to gauge Ravenswood's reaction. "Of course, dear," Ravenswood was saying. "I'll be glad to have some additional expert opinions..." He looked at Michael and I and shook a long, bony finger. "...Just as long as they know that all of this is strictly confidential until I say otherwise."

"Of course, sir," I said, and Michael nodded.

"Very well, then," Ravenswood smiled. "Actually, Pi, I'd love it if you could do me a favor."


"I'd like you to help visually chronicle what's going on here. Do you have all the tools you'd need to do a visual record of what we're up to?"

I blinked. "Well, I have my sketchbooks..."

"Well, that's fine, but I was thinking of something a little more documentary-esque. Do you have a good camera?"


"Here, then." He stepped to the side of the clearing and picked up a large black canvas bag. "I bought this stuff so I could do it myself, but I hate reading instructions and you've got the eye for it."

He handed me the bag. Inside was a top-of-the-line digital still camera, digital video camera and a sleek silver laptop. I stared. "Mr. Ravenswood, there must be fifteen thousand dollars' worth of equipment in here. I couldn't possibly..."

"I'm sure you'll take good care of it. And If you do a good job, maybe I'll give you a good deal on the lot when we're done." He clapped me on the shoulder and grinned.

"I'll do my best, sir." I took out the still camera and slung the bag over my shoulder. I quickly snapped a couple shots of the stone block, of the tools and the others. The camera was sweet.

"Now, then, where were we? Oh, right. The excavation." Ravenswood turned to Michael. "Did Vicky bring you up to speed on what we're doing here?"

"She said that you found what appear to be the bones of a winged human being, sir."

"Exactly! Think of the import, think of what earth-shattering significance actual physical proof of the existence of angels would bring to the world! That's why I've brought in the good doctors here to help determine whether our boy in the rock is the real deal."

"Ah, I'm afraid Mr. Ravenswood is getting a little ahead of himself," Blacknail cut in. "What we have here is a curious specimen with great potential significance to the archaeological and theological spheres, but there's still a great deal to do to determine its validity..."

"That's what I said, Simon," Ravenswood frowned.

"We're just getting ready to transport the specimen to the lab in Boston for further testing," Nautonnier said quickly.

"What kind of tests?" Michael asked.

"The X-ray equipment we have here is very limited," Nautonnier replied. "As long as it was trapped in the rock wall, we could only use a one-directional scanning technique. By cutting it free, we can place it in our 360-degree scanning equipment and get a true 3-D map of what we're dealing with." I could see him warming to the subject. His eyes were gleaming almost as keenly as Ravenswood's. "We should then be able to construct a life-size model of the subject using a polymer-based 3-D printer, and really get in there to work around with it."

"All of the access with none of the bone-chipping," Blacknail said. "Or so Jon tells me. This is really his area of expertise, not mine."

"And what is your field, Dr. Blacknail?" I asked.

"Oh, Michael didn't tell you? I'm the professor emeritus of religious and folklore studies at Harvard. It's my job to figure out what records there are in our culture to suggest how something like this might have ended up here."

"Past the common Sunday school understanding of The Fall, I assume," Vicky said dryly.

"Precisely," he said. "It'll be pleasure to compare notes with Michael."

Bullshit, I thought to myself, and snapped another picture. The looks on both their faces suggested that neither was comfortable with the thought. "So you're rolling this thing out tonight?"

"Right now, as a matter of fact," Ravenswood said, and nodded to Nichols. The security guard turned and whistled. Instantly, four of the security team ducked through the hatch. Nichols pointed at the block, and they took up positions at each corner of the trolley. Slowly, they began rolling it out of the tent and towards the semi.

"When will the tests be finished?" Michael asked.

"We imagine it shouldn't take more than a couple of days," Nautonnier replied. "Then we'll have a model to work with, and the original can be returned to Mr. Ravenswood for safekeeping."

"Wouldn't the academic world be better off with the original to work with?"

"They'll know where to come looking for it," Ravenswood nodded. "Well, they'll know who to ask for permission, anyway. I prefer to remain safely anonymous." He winked at us. "No telling what kind of lunatics out there might want to get their hands on a real-life angel skeleton, you know."

"Of course," I said, and snapped another picture. "Would you like us to come to Boston to help record the procedures?"

"Absolutely," Ravenswood smiled. "I'll make arrangements for you two to fly up with Vicky tomorrow. Sound good?"

"I'll have to make sure my uncle can get someone to cover for me at the store," I said, and instantly regretted it. I'd promised myself I wouldn't bring up the bookstore around Ravenswood.

"That's right," Ravenswood said. "Your uncle owns that little used bookstore in town, doesn't he?"

"Yes, sir."

He smiled impishly. "He can't be very happy with me for bringing in the competition, can he?"

"No, sir."

"Well, competition is healthy for members of any species," he said, then looked at the block of stone. "Well, most species, anyway."

"Will you be joining us on the flight, Dad?" Vicky asked.

"I was going to fly up with you, darling, but since Michael and Pi are here, I think I'll go with the truck tonight. You boys don't mind keeping an eye on her for me, do you?"

"There may not be room in the truck for you, sir," Nautonnier said uneasily. "It's already a little cramped, what with the hired driver, and Dr. Blacknail and me..."

"Nonsense. Simon, you don't mind staying here tonight, do you?"

"Not if you can recommend a good hotel, sir," Blacknail replied easily. "I'll stay here tonight and explore the town. Maybe I'll even catch up with Michael here."

Michael made a soft choking sound.

"Then it's all settled," Ravenswood said, grinning like a little boy. "I can't wait to see what this lab of yours is like, Jon."

"You won't be disappointed, sir," Jon said.

I looked over at the security men loading the truck. They had winched the block up into the back, secured it with a score of ropes and cables, and were just now closing up the back of the truck. "Looks like they're about ready to roll," I said.

"Looks like it," Ravenswood said. "Well, kids, I'll see you in Boston tomorrow."

"Don't you want to get your shaving kit, Dad?"

"Nothing in it that I can't get at a good hotel up there," he said. "Jon? Are you ready to go?"

"My stuff's already in the truck," he said, "although Dr. Blacknail may need to get his gear out of the back."

"Right, right," Blacknail said, and hurried to the passenger door. Nautonnier and Ravenswood followed him, and while their backs were turned I glanced at Michael. His face was a stone wall. I resisted the urge to snap his picture.

"Well, guys," Vicky said, "I'm sorry to bring you in just as the main act is leaving."

"Nonsense," Michael said. "I haven't been to Boston in a while. It'll be... Fun."

"Don't you have family up there?" I asked.

"Not anymore," he said, and quickly turned to Vicky. "Aren't you meant to be meeting with Jack?"

"Oh, right, right," she said. "I want to stop by the house first, though."

"Need a lift?"

"Nah, I'll get Nichols to drive me home. I've never ridden in a hummer before. Shall I meet you guys at the Time Out?"

"Sounds good. Jack gets off in an hour." I turned and looked at the truck. "What time's the flight?"



"AM, silly. We'll have to meet at the house at 5."

"Oh." I scratched my chin. "Um, maybe I'll take a rain check on that walk tonight. I'm sure you and Jack have plenty to catch up on yourselves. We can talk on the plane."

"Lazy spoilsport," she said, her face falling. "Michael? What about you?"

"I'm with Pi," he said sourly. "I get cranky when I haven't had my beauty sleep."

"Man, I always knew this place was a sleepy little town, but I'd forgotten how literal that saying was..." Vicky pouted for a second, then smiled at us. "Fine, you slugabeds, get your forty winks. I'll see you at the house before the sun does."

I was about to make some smart-ass comment, but I was cut off by the sound of the semi's engine roaring to life. I looked over and snapped a picture. Ravenswood was leaning out the passenger-side window. "See you in Boston!"

I waved goodbye to him as the truck started to move. "It's good to see your dad again, Vicky," I said. "It's almost as if he doesn't hate me anymore."

"He's mellowed a bit, Pi," she said gently. "I wouldn't test it, though."

"Yeah," I said. I decided to take a chance. "Like father, like daughter, I guess...?"

She looked at her shoes. "Um, I'll see you guys in the morning."

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Michael put his hand on my shoulder. "Come on, man. I'll drive you home. We've got an early morning ahead of us."

I looked at Vicky for another second, and then turned to follow the semi up the ramp. "Right," I said to him, and looked at my shoes myself. "An early morning."

A few minutes later, Michael and I were driving back to my place in silence. Finally, Michael cleared his throat. "So... Quite a rig Ravenswood handed you in there. You know how to use that stuff?"

"I will by the time we get to Boston," I replied.

"He seems to like you."

"Sometimes I wonder how much of that fortune came from playing poker."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Oh, nothing," I sighed. "It's just that he never thought I was good enough for Vicky, you know?"

"I get the feeling you two have quite a history," he said quietly.

"We grew up together," I said. "You know, the girl in the mansion next door. We even dated in high school, after I finally got up the nerve to ask her out. But, you know, we wanted different things."

"Such as?"

"I wanted to stay here and raise a family, she wanted to conquer the world... So she went off to study in Paris and I went to Beckett."

"I thought you went to Beckett because your parents' working there got you free tuition."

I swallowed. "Well, yeah. That, too." A couple moments passed in silence. "So, what's the story on you and that Blacknail guy?"

Now it was Michael's turn to balk. "Nothing."

"I'm not buying that."

"I don't like to talk about it."

"C'mon, I told you about me and Vicky. Spill."

He sighed. "He was my advisor for a while back at Harvard. You might have even said he was my mentor. Then we had a parting of the ways, and I transferred to Beckett. End of story."

"That's it? A parting of the ways?"

He cocked an eyebrow at me. "You didn't tell me that much about you and Vicky."

I chuckled. "Point taken." I looked out the window to see that we were pulling up outside of my uncle's store and my basement apartment. "Shall we continue this male bonding over some alcohol therapy?"

"Not tonight," Michael said. "I wasn't kidding about the beauty sleep."

"I know you weren't," I said as I opened the door. "Fine, I'll drag the details out of you later."

"I'll see you in the morning."

"Sleep tight."

Sleep came reluctantly that night, and when it did, it was fleeting. I was awakened not by my alarm clock, but by the phone. "Hello?"


"Vicky? I know we're supposed to be there at 5, but isn't 3 AM a little early for a wakeup call?"

"Pi, I just got a phone call from Nichols. Dad..."

I sat up, instantly awake. Her voice was a breath away from hysteria. "What is it, Vicky?"

"Dad's gone, Pi. Dad, Nautonnier, the semi – they've all disappeared!"