She wasn’t showing any signs of being affected by the two drinks she’d had, so I didn’t have a great excuse to argue for driving.
I just wanted to…
“Why are you driving?”
She slipped her hand into my pocket to take my key; a cheeky little display of conviction.
“To build suspense. If you’re driving, you’ll be distracted by directions and shifting gears…”
“You want me to rattle apart?”
She wiggled her eyebrows and slid into the driver’s seat, giving a giggle as she moved the seat forward.
Apparently, our debate was over…
And I was left to anxiously watch the scenery pass… I could smell the lake by the time I realized I was fidgeting, running my finger over the controls for the windows and lock.
And Sookie couldn’t have been more amused.
Cross Lake wasn’t complicated… There were only two streets that fed into the neighborhoods surrounding it: North Lakeshore Drive and South Lakeshore Drive. There were dozens of little cul-de-sacs and lanes, but when I’d done my search, I started over the lake and followed the shoreline.
I’d known I was looking for a house on the lake, not just in the Western Hills neighborhood… It was white-washed with blue trim that needed to be painted… It was ‘big enough to be a bed and breakfast’…
That only gave me fifty options, give or take.
It wasn’t as though I’d ignored any houses that fit the limited description I had, but I was bitter when Sookie passed the turn for North Lakeshore because I’d combed the southern shore…
I thought I had anyway.
Then again, I’d sampled the porches, patios and decks of every white house on the lake for traces of Ryan’s Speed Stick.
I pointed out the driveway to my house, but she already knew where it was because she’d taken clues from Adele’s mind… and she knew that I’d gone to rest there twice before she left for her cruise because she’d felt my mind as she traveled to and from ‘work’. She’d stopped by, but when I didn’t answer the door, she assumed I was in the tub.
She was having too much fun… and suggesting she was evil only made her laugh.
When she finally pulled into a driveway, only a few properties away from my own, but with blue siding, I blurted, “You already had it painted?”
She laughed until she ran out of breath and her eyes watered. “You looked for it, didn’t you!?”
“I was bored.”
“It’s warded and owned by a Human. What would you have done if you found it?”
I hadn’t thought that far ahead. It was probably better that I hadn’t found it… it had been about the distraction all along.
“Was it ever white?”
She licked her lips and shook her head as she shifted to reverse and backed out of the driveway. “It still is.”
“Stop toying with me.”
“I didn’t set out to toy with you. You’re making it easy. I love that you’re as excited to see that vault as I am.”
“Tell me again why you haven’t already opened the safes.”
“Self-control and realization… I knew damn good and well that if I had someone crack the safes, I would have wanted to cancel my contracts and become a hermit… or I was going to find a whole-lotta-nothin’ and nobody would understand why I was pouting.”
That made sense.
“You could have had the safe cracked a couple of weeks ago so you-”
She interrupted by snorting, “After you offered to open the safes and suffer with me? Are you kidding?”
“Suffer… or celebrate.”
“Yeah… the suffering concept helped hold me off. The Biblia Aurum though… my God… If my head explodes, my lawyer is Ptolemy Korba in Houston.”
“I love his name…” She turned onto a driveway not much more than a mile away from my house. “Did you know I was suspended for asking for a teacher’s credentials when I was in eighth grade?”
I chuckled, “No. What made you think of that?”
“The name… We were assigned a report on segregation, any topic… One kid decided to do a report slamming the American south for being so bigoted when mixing races was completely ‘old school’. The tard did a report on Julius Caesar and Cleopatra because they were a happy little mixed-race family. The Roman and the ‘African’… Okay, nevermind that the only thing that made them more than a couple of heavily armed adulterers was fertility… the fucking teacher thought he was making a brilliant point. She was completely appalled when I called the kid an idiot because Cleopatra was Greek.”
“Tell me you’re joking.”
“Serious as a heart attack… Gran was out running errands for you, so I sat in the office until the bus took me home. When she got home that night… she was fit to be tied…”
“I can imagine.”
“We drove to the library and checked out every book on Cleopatra and Julius Caesar we could find… big surprise, all of them explained that the Ptolemaic Dynasty originated when Alexander the Great appointed one of his bodyguards as- fuck, you know this. You’re literate… Anyway. Not only was the kid making assumptions because he was just a normal eighth-grader, but the teacher was an idiot… and the principal remembered overhearing a discussion about the litany of inaccuracies in the Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton movie. He assumed that one of the inaccuracies was that Elizabeth Taylor’s ethnicity was wrong and she was just cast because she was awesome. It’s not like it would have been the first time Hollywood took a liberty or two.”
“Adele made the teacher apologize, didn’t she?”
She removed the key from the ignition as soon as the car was in neutral and pushed open her door. “In front of the class, in great detail, while I was clearing out my desk so I could switch classes.”
She paused to slip her shoes off and reach into her purse for her keys, but she was practically running across the lawn before and after that.
“I didn’t see this house… I combed the shoreline, Sookie. Why didn’t I see this one?”
She shoved the key into the lock. “Natural cloaking. The property is covered in trees and flowers that are basic to any protection spell. I think it’s partly responsible for why there weren’t any bites on the house or the contents. I ordered pizza to try it out. Four delivery drivers went back to the shop and told their manager the address didn’t exist. I wasn’t even getting junk mail until I installed a new mailbox and sunk it in salt and rosemary.”
“I didn’t feel anything extraordinary when we entered the property.”
She pushed the door open and turned around to back through the door. “It’s natural. It isn’t an actual ward, but how many times did you drive past it and not notice the driveway?”
Good point. I’d been searching, and I was definitely more motivated than a pizza delivery guy, but I overlooked it.
“Eric, please come in… and don’t make fun of me.”
As I stepped inside, I asked, “Why would I make fun of you?”
She backed away, leading me into her playground enough to close the door. “Because I’d make fun of me… I mean, I bought a book museum and started finding little treasures in every nook and cranny. I’ve been… kinda anal about keeping things sorted.”
“OCD. Like… I’ve kind of been going at the house like it’s an archaeological dig.”
“You’re more patient than I would have been.”
She snorted, “My ass,” and tossed her coat, purse and shoes onto the floor next to the stairs. “I was bogging myself down with minutiae and procedures I devised as a distraction… Do you want a quick tour so we can start with the little safes?”
No. I wanted to lock us both in the vault.
“If we don’t start with the small ones, it could be a while before we get to them.”
She nodded as she turned to lead the way…
Our first stop was the kitchen.
We didn’t stay long. It seemed as though the room was only meant as a starting point so Sookie could take a bottle of water from the refrigerator… and before we used the service stairs, Sookie showed me the ballroom that she used as a staging area for all of her thank yous… racks full of clothing, shelves full of accessories, carefully stacked boxes of electronics, cases of wine and liquor, and tables full of items of a more random nature such as fountain pens and weapons.
The large area of the ballroom used for fashion that looked like a boutique in and of itself would have put an end to Pam’s tour if she was in company… As it was, Sookie was easily storing more gifts than Pam’s storage units could hold.
And there was more still that Sookie had yet to sort. Most of the thank yous she’d received after her clinics at Fangtasia were still unopened.
I was shocked to see the magnitude of it all, the culmination of gratitude paid by Vampires to a Human, as Sookie led me to the third floor, explaining that she planned to donate some of the electronics as raffle items for the church…
There wasn’t much to the third floor. She’d already photographed, catalogued and relocated the few pieces of furniture that had been stored on the attic level, but she wanted me to inspect the structure because I had ‘a little’ more experience with architectural surprises than she did.
As it turned out, I found two small recesses under loose boards that seemed to be where a previous owner’s children hid their own treasures… petrified Silly Putty, a tangled Slinky, a pair of what we were sure were the original Barbie dolls, a wooden artist’s case, and a collection of watercolors.
It wasn’t a Da Vinci codex, but it was still an interesting find.
On to the second level…
Sookie explained that she assumed a stasis spell on the house itself was responsible for the incredible condition of the paintings that originally hung in the gallery. Not only was there a large stained glass skylight and the house was fitted with gas-lighting that would have caused damage to the paintings, but the basement was also home to an assortment of preserves and honey. Even the best sealing methods allowed honey to darken, or for fruit to ferment over time. The jars labeled 1984 tasted just as fresh as the jars Oliver Fairchild sealed in 2000, so Sookie had cast her own stasis once she assumed ownership… if for no better reason than the thousands of books she didn’t have time to dust.
There was only one painting missing from the gallery… Leda and the Swan’s absence was highlighted by an exposed safe, while the other eleven paintings made me feel as though I’d discovered one of the Nazis’ salt mines.
The most incredible piece was the painting that filled a large portion of the wall from floor to ceiling… oil on canvas…
Sookie took a photo of me and offered, “Apparently, Da Vinci sketched it, then painted it, then started the fresco in Palazzo Vecchio. I’m a little torn about whether to loan it to a museum…”
“Don’t. Unless you can charm it so it can’t be stolen, The Battle of Anghiari is safest here.” So was Medusa, and the finished Angel Of The Annunciation… and if the handful of bucklers were authentic…
She snickered, “And I’m sure your personal appreciation for Da Vinci doesn’t have anything to do with your enthusiasm to share.”
“It has everything to do with it… Has this one been authenticated? You said you had three Da Vincis.”
“It’s too big to travel well, and it’s possible that it was done by one of his students. I don’t think I could get it out of the house without messing it up anyway. I think Fairchild framed it here. I was thinking about inviting the guys who authenticated the others, but then I’d need to have the location of the house glamoured from their memory…”
“Which I’d be willing to do. You should at least have it authenticated and insured. I’m sure the rest of the pieces need to be legitimized too. You might as well have a team-”
She finished, “Come to Shreveport to drool over my treasures.”
She snickered, “Okay… Do you want to open the safe, or do you need a minute alone?”
I wanted to lightproof the gallery so I could go to rest there.
I stepped towards the safe and asked, “How many more are on this level?”
“Three. Medusa and the Angel have safes behind them too, and one of the bedrooms has a safe in a closet.”
The first safe hadn’t taken any effort to crack. The four-tumbler combination was 48-52-2-21… and Sookie photographed each stop of the dial.
There wasn’t the first thing in the safe, but it did smell as though antique books of some sort had been kept in it. In addition to the scent of steel from the safe itself, I detected traces of sumac and saffian.
I carefully removed Medusa from the wall and we repeated the process… the combination was 43-47-10-55. Photos were taken of the dial and the hollow safe. Even the scent was the same.
Sookie chewed her lip and whimpered as I moved on to Angel of the Annunciation. While I found the combination (40-50-14-15) she whispered, “So there’s nothing in the safes. Fuck it. Who complains about empty safes behind Da Vinci paintings? Not me.”
She probably meant her wedding vows to Alcide more.
As I pulled open the safe she offered, “So- ohhhhhhh myyyyy Gooodddd…”
There was definitely something in that safe…
It was packed tightly with little rolls of paper wrapped with leather to protect them… the full safe, easily more cubic feet than the mini-fridge I used for bagged blood, full of anything… they could be Oliver Fairchild’s memoirs… or his daughters old letters to Santa… or it could have been the Arzhang.
“Sookie, if you want a photo of the undisturbed contents, you need to take it now.”
“Huh… Oh!” She bit her lip behind the camera while she took several photos of our discovery and when she was satisfied, she demanded, “You do it. God only knows how brittle that paper is and I’m shaking like a damn leaf- Fuck!”
She set the camera on the floor and darted to the other end of the hallway, ran down the stairs, raced through the first floor… Her feet didn’t seem to stop moving but for a moment before she began running back to me… All along her excitement and curiosity were testing what little patience I had.
She returned with a box of vellum, a box of pens labeled ‘acid and lignin free’, a pair of felt gloves and a video camera on a tripod.
She hadn’t been exaggerating about approaching the house as though it was an excavation.
“Sorrysorrysorry…” As she set up the camera, she panted, “I laughed at myself for buying this because I was sooooo sure I’d need it.”
“Do you want to venture a guess as to what this is?”
“I don’t care if it’s Fairchild’s tax returns… How long has it been since you’ve seen anything bound like that? Wrapped in leather?”
“It used to be the preferred method of keeping journals protected… I’d say the sixteenth century.”
She snorted, “You mean… Da Vinci’s lifetime.”
“What happened to not getting our hopes up?”
She stepped out from behind the tripod and snatched the still camera from the floor. “Shut up and unfurl a scroll.”
I couldn’t even bring myself to jokingly argue about the order.
She was actively trembling as I reached into the safe to remove the first roll from the top left corner… untrimmed natural-colored saffian, secured with a simple cord of catgut…
And my hopes were up as soon as I unrolled the leather enough to see a portion of one page.
A study of what seemed to be a goose… or a swan…
“The Sookie Codex.”
I nodded as I leafed through seventeen pages of what looked like anatomical studies Da Vinci had done for Leda and the Swan.
“I could probably fabricate exact replicas of my codices if I found a supply of authentic paper and ink… but… I’m almost sure this is real. The penmanship is identical and it’s difficult to forge his script because he wrote backwards.”
She sniffled as I turned the pages so she could take photographs… and then she giggled when I held one of the drawings next to my face and showed my middle finger for a snapshot because I had every intention of sending a copy to the Vatican…
While we continued to unearth scroll after scroll of various studies, sketches, notes, and ideas, I explained my longstanding standoff with the Holy See over my codices…
Ninety-eight rolls of priceless pages… more than two thousand sheets of history…
Studies of a range of animals, Human anatomy and foliage… The most incredible bundle of pages held hundreds of notes on the Supernatural. Dental studies of Vampires with and without exposed fangs, comparative studies between Shifters in various forms, and a full folio of ear sketches to demonstrate that uniqueness was established in Faeries as well as Humans. It may very well have been the first recorded suggestion that ears could be used for identification and paternity purposes.
While Sookie photographed that array of drawings, she offered, “I bet this is why the Vatican wants your codices.”
“They wouldn’t have done damage control for us.”
“Maybe not damage control. Maybe they wanted inside info… I think I’m going to bill this as the ‘Northman Codex’ and we’ll be able to hear papal assholes pucker in Vatican City from here.”
I chuckled, “You’ll name your codex after me just to be evil.”
She wiggled her eyebrows. “Being evil is enough, but you did volunteer to help me on this expedition. And you’re why I bought this house in the first place.”
“I spent many a Saturday perusing stacks of antique books at estate sales with Gran. She bought me an antique Three Musketeers that was pretty beat up…”
“Is that the one you have at your house? You still have it?”
“Yep. It was beat all to hell. Well loved. Gran let me bid on it, but I was the only bidder because of the condition. We got it for seventeen bucks.”
“Hence your D’Artagnan costume.”
She nodded as she continued to take photos of the grid of unfurled rolls we’d arranged on the floor as we pulled each one from the safe. “I must’ve read it a million times before Halloween… my next antique was an equally abused-”
I finished, “Vanity Fair,” because I remembered how ragged the binding was when I cataloged her library at home.
“Yeah. They weren’t first editions, just antiques… Jason teased me for liking them just because no one else wanted them, and joked that if I went to an animal shelter, I’d pick the ugliest puppy, but…”
“It was the wear and tear… Good books are handled more.”
She’d always been so clever.
“What’s next in the cataloging process, Dr. Stackhouse?”
“Ummmmm… Can’t we take this downstairs and… just read?”
“Is that why it’s taking you so long to organize?”
She narrowed her eyes at me and blew a raspberry… I took that as a ‘yes’.
“I’ve been busting my hump to get the organizing out of the way so I can play in the library. Don’t be a party pooper.”
“How big is the safe in the bedroom?”
She shrugged and turned, carefully stepping around the ‘new’ codex. “Bigger than the ones out here, but not so big it protrudes into other spaces… I’m prepared to find nothing but sex toys.”
She snickered, “Nah. I doubt it’s big enough for multiple bodies… How ripe would it be? If it was sealed in a safe for a few months of decomp between stasis spells?”
She opened the double doors of the closet and stepped out of the way to reveal a vault the size of a door.
“Good question… What do you consider a large vault?”
She answered dryly, “Five-thousand cubic feet. Two levels. Hidden entrance…” Fair enough. “There’s only three feet of missing space.”
“You say that as though we didn’t just discover a codex.”
She nodded. “You want to go downstairs and read it, don’t you?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“That’s what it sounds like.”
“I’m excited to enjoy the codex, but considering what Oliver Fairchild kept in the smaller safes, I want to see what’s in the larger vault too.”
“You’re pretty impatient for a Vampire. It’s not like the house is going anywhere.”
As I started turning the dial, I growled, “You started teasing this house weeks ago. I think I’ve been very patient.”
She snickered, “So patient you went looking for it.”
I bit my tongue instead of blowing a raspberry at her.
The combination to this safe was 41-52-13-51…
I was just beginning to wonder how Fairchild remembered the combinations when they were all so similar when Sookie lowered the camera and breathed, “There’s something to those combinations…”
“I was just getting that feeling myself… What do you know about latitude and longitude?”
Her eyes lit up. “The Vatican is a no-fly zone! 41° 54 minutes North, 12° 27 minutes East…”
“How do you know that?”
“Flying lessons… Maximo takes his little plane everywhere. If I wasn’t in the cockpit, Maximo would have been… Maximo.”
Of course he would have been.
I chuckled, “Given how close the numbers are, do you think it could be a variation of the Vatican’s coordinates or a point in Rome?”
She shook her head. “No the coordinates are pretty specific. They base the coordinates on the center of an area, so the center of Rome would only really differ from the Vatican in the seconds for the most part… This combination was… a little further…”
She set the camera down again to walk into the hall and she returned with the box of vellum and pens…
I watched her scribble the combinations… and then she drew the boot… and marked Bari and Venice because she’d remembered the coordinates…
Based on the latitudes and longitudes, she played… a little north or south… a little east or west…
Medusa’s safe combination corresponded with Florence…
Angel of the Annunciation’s combination corresponded with Naples…
But the safe that was hidden by Leda, and the one in the bedroom weren’t points in Italy…
Sookie wagered that the combination for Leda’s safe would correspond with Paris because the painting had disappeared from the Palace Fontainebleau…
My best guess was that the bedroom safe’s combination was a point in Croatia, but Croatia was part of the Ottoman Empire at the time of Da Vinci… then again, there wasn’t a painting hiding the door to that particular safe.
We hadn’t played with latitudes and longitudes for long before Sookie giggled, “You win. Let’s see if anything’s in Croatia… I want to know what the combination is to the vault now.”
“If Fairchild was over 400 years old, it’s odd that he seemed so preoccupied with latitude and longitude.”
“You mean like a thousand-year old Vampire with a passion for something as new as books?”
I snorted, “Smart ass,” as I pulled open the safe door.
She giggled, “I think he had a thing for maps in general. There are thousands in the library…” but as I stepped out of the way so she could see into the safe, she trailed off…
It wasn’t really fair… Not only had Sookie found the treasure trove… but she’d basically been paid to take it.
Cash. Nothing but cash except for what looked like a journal of some kind. Out of curiosity, I began moving the straps because the safe was too packed to see how deep it was…
Six feet tall, three feet wide, and two feet deep…
American dollars, British pounds, Greek drachma, Italian lira, and German marks.
She giggled, “Oh, come on! Most of it might as well be Confederate… there’s this thing called the Euro now.”
“Inflation might have devalued it slightly, but you can still exchange it…”
“There’s that, but I can’t be sure I can deposit it. For all I know, Oliver Fairchild was DB Cooper. I’d have to launder the cash first and I’d lose another twenty percent on top of what the Euro did to it… Oooooh… I’ll laminate some for the kids as bookmarks. ”
She shrugged and reached past me to remove the journal. “It’s not like I bought the house for what might be in safes I didn’t see… The Tiffany chandelier in the foyer made me hope I had more to look forward to, but you know it was the books.”
“And you got a Da Vinci codex out of it.”
She sat on the edge of the bed and opened the ledger to begin leafing through it.
“The Northman Codex… I really like the way that sounds… You know, we might be able to time it so we’re in Rome for the announcement. If I can get a bead on the Pope’s valets, I might be able to ‘see’ the look… on…”
Given the way she trailed off again, I asked, “Is there more to the notebook than just financial notes?”
She nodded and scanned a few pages before answering, “Yeah… I told you that Fairchild won his wife in a poker game, right?”
“Yes. She was a slave. He was playing cards with a Vampire and the Vampire tried to win his money back…”
“She wasn’t just… Jesus, Eric… She was half Dae. The Vampire had taken her from her home because he had a child who drained all of the other servants he tried to keep…”
“The child should have been ended or isolated.”
“No argument there… Dee thought her mother was a child bride, a slave… Oliver tells a different story…”
“Most pedophiles do…”
“No. He wasn’t… She was older than he was… Eric, this is a thing.”
“A thing? You need to be more specific. Why is this ‘a thing’?”
“Because Oliver Fairchild played cards just to win her. He recognized her because her family had been looking for her and he’d been networking with other Dae to try to find his own family, but after the liberties her captors had taken she didn’t want to go back and face her family. She stayed with Oliver on her own volition… She was with him for almost a century before Dee came along… They were partners. They worked together. Vesta Cataliades’s family never found out what happened to her, but Oliver kept track of them for her, for Dee…”
“Cataliades. She’s related to Felix Cataliades?”
“Dee is Felix’s niece… Apparently, Vesta had a couple of sisters…”
Diantha and Gladiola.
“I don’t care about whatever moral dilemma you’re struggling with, but you’re not forfeiting the contents of this house.”
She blurted, “FUCK THAT! I just meant that I want to have a sit-down with her and try to get it through her head that she really is Dae!”
“Good. Can we go downstairs now?”
She scoffed, “I’m going to forfeit the contents of the safe though.”
“Oliver left his savings to his grandson. I think it’s only fair. I’d be willing to bet that the journal’s in the safe with the cash in the hopes he’d read it, even if Dee refused.”
“Are you going to think of a reason to give anything else to the daft cunt who for all intents and purposes might as well have been your mother’s twin?”
She gasped and stared back at me with her mouth open for a moment before arguing, “That was low!”
“It was entirely true. She rejected Supernatural concepts, while hypocritically clinging to Christianity, in spite of all evidence available to prove her wrong. She rejected her father’s nature due to her inclination to oblivion. Enjoy your trip to New Haven. I think you should go for Cunt Day.”
She left the bed, slapping my stomach on her way past me.
“You’re calling me a turd because I’m right.”
At least she wasn’t willing to defend either of the oblivious bitches.
As she collected the codex from the floor in the hall, she sighed, “I don’t think she was that bad. There wasn’t anything obvious that made her feel like anything other than Human. I mean, I’m sure she just thinks she has a flair for languages, but that’s the only latent symptom she has.”
“Your only latent symptom was being able to read minds.”
“Do you want to know how long I was in denial about being Fae? I had a firm grip on my ability and I was surrounded by Supes, but I still rejected the-”
“You had reason to believe the man you called ‘daddy’ wasn’t your father.”
“Dee had reason to believe her father raped her underage mother and kept the baby as a souvenir.”
She gave me a skeptical look as she stood up with her arms full. “Really?”
“If you’re just empathizing with her, yes. It’s not as though you’re a bleeding heart… If anything, I’m surprised you took an interest. You don’t usually have much patience for ignorance.”
She shrugged as she led the way downstairs. “But I understand chinked armor.”
The library was spectacular… The space alone was noteworthy given that it was nearly big enough for a proper tennis match, but the twelve foot ceiling allowed for so much shelving that I couldn’t decide if I was having a religious experience or an orgasmic one.
There was a computer on the large desk in front of the window, a collection of map chests that would make any geography enthusiast drool, a large conference table with a petrified wood top and a copier, and a trio of large card catalogs… But my favorite part of the room was the bed. There was a king sized mattress scattered with pillows sitting in the middle of the floor, ready for a book-themed slumber party.
“Do you have a process or do you start cataloging and then find yourself reading hours later?”
Sookie snickered as she set her armful on the conference table carefully, “For the books, I went by shelf. I brought an armful to the copier, copied the copyright page, and then returned them to the shelf with dogged determination to keep going instead of stopping to read. I took the copies home with me at night and used them to enter the info in my inventory while I watched TV with Snookums.”
“What part does the mattress play in your process?”
“You could sleep here?”
“Well, I reward myself… After copying two full stacks worth of copyright pages, I take the more interesting items to the mattress.”
I squatted down next to the mattress to take a look at what she considered ‘interesting’…
Most of the books stacked neatly along the edge of the mattress were memoirs that were considered lost or destroyed… Lord Byron, Lewis Carroll, Marquis de Sade…
Not only were they bound as proper books as though they’d ever been available to the public for purchase, but each book was sitting atop a paper box with the original handwritten documents.
“How the fuck did Fairchild get his hands on these?”
“The most popular vocations among Dae are barristers, solicitors, professors, scribes, translators… I’d guess his networking was successful…”
“I’d agree with that. I think I went into the wrong line of work.”
She giggled, “You’re almost as stoned right now as you are during massages. You want to read now too.”
“I’m dying in a safe for the day. Explore tonight. Read tomorrow night.”
“I’m going to need to go grocery shopping, aren’t I?”
I shook my head as I leafed through De Sade’s memoirs. “I don’t need a babysitter, I have plenty of extra clothing in my trunk too. I could stay here indefinitely.”
De Sade’s son had allegedly burned the memoirs in my hand.
De Sade had been a source of endless amusement while he’d been in the limelight… It hadn’t been about what he wrote because the subject matter was relatively blasé to any Vampire who was a few centuries old… it was about the Human public’s reaction to his writings.
I’d suddenly lost my determination to delve into the vault.
Between the memoirs in front of me and the new Da Vinci codex (the largest of all of them, if memory served) I was definitely feeling more patience.
I asked, “What do the ribbons on the books signify?” They were barely visible, but some of the shelved books had slim satin ribbons peeking out of the bindings. The black, white, gold, blue, purple and red made it seem as though they were color coded somehow, but it was only in seven of the thirty-eight bookcases.
Sookie didn’t answer me.
I almost laughed at myself when I found her standing at the trunk of my car… She’d replaced her leather dress with a long robe, and she was filling her arms with the items we’d bought at Target.
When I reached into the trunk for the fans, she snickered, “Welcome back. How was your trip?”
“Weren’t you the one who wanted to stop with the codex?”
“Weren’t you the one who teased me for stopping to read?”
I followed her into the house and complained, “I’m not sure I like books as much as I used to. I missed your wardrobe change.”
She added, “And my dinner order, and I already brought in the bags of snacks and drinks and put them away. You also missed confirmation that you were right about the coordinates of Croatia being the combination in the bedroom; Pula to be specific. And I was right about Paris.”
How fucking long had I been reading?
Sookie was amused enough by how distracted I’d been that she snickered at me while she unboxed the fans and found the lamps and bulbs…
She teased me about missing Hemingway and Plath novels…
It wasn’t as though I was focused on her teasing enough to be bothered. I was too busy perusing the stacks.
After I answered the door for her dinner delivery, and returned to the stacks, I repeated my question from earlier, “What do the ribbons on the books signify?”
“The Dewey system doesn’t work for me. They’re all organized by author…. Black ribbons are non-fiction, grey are fiction, and white are memoirs. Then blue if they’re first editions, purple if it’s in a language I can’t read, red if there’s a categorizing conflict, and gold if the book is lost, undiscovered, or otherwise priceless.”
“Like there are several illustrated versions of Kama Sutra with the Burton translation even though it was written by Vatsyayana.”
“And ‘otherwise priceless’?”
“Fairchild printed some of the books himself, directly from the manuscripts… There’s a Melville in there that was rejected by the publisher. The copyright page reads that it’s a ‘private edition’… Like the bound versions of the manuscripts you were eye-fucking.”
Instead of taking the bait to open one of them again, I took a completely random book with a gold ribbon from the shelf while Sookie settled at the desk with her food.
My pick, the book I’d chosen just because it was the closest one with a gold ribbon, was Valperga… It had been shelved next to another copy that had a blue ribbon.
The blue ribbon version was identical to the copy I had in my own library, but the gold ribbon copy had slightly different wording.
Sookie gave me a few minutes to compare the copies while she nibbled her gyro… then she offered, “Did you know Mary Shelley had to rewrite most of it because it was lost in the mail?”
“The story is intact, but there are subtle differences.”
“I can see that… This is incredible.”
“I have a theory.”
“I heard about a Faerie who could find things. If you left him a note and a tribute, he’d tell you where to find what you were looking for. I think maybe Fairchild found himself a Faerie helper or partner. That’s the only explanation I can think of for how Fairchild could have all this ‘missing’ stuff.”
“It’s a very sound theory… Where did you hear about that Faerie?”
“Nicholas. He said he was looking for a Faerie, so he wasn’t really surprised when his offering was still where he left it… That makes sense too, not telling a Vampire where to find a Faerie… But why would a Faerie begrudge a Daemon for books and art? It’s harmless, right?”
“Then it would be safe to assume he was able to find his family.”
“I would hope so… You need to get to work.”
As I returned the books to their places I chuckled, “Do I?”
She nodded and hurried to finish her mouthful. “You can start by rolling the library ladder to the bumper over here to release the latch on the panel…”
“The one behind the card catalogs?”
She nodded again. “Dee’s husband saw into the vault once. He very clearly remembered that it was lined with cubbies full of tubes. Scrolls, Eric. And I know you can read most of them to me… Get. Your. Ass. Into. That. Vault.”
I couldn’t think of anyone else who would have gotten away with that.
Even my closest friends would have been given a dirty look or a weak argument…
When I rolled the ladder to release the latch, the ‘secret’ panel popped open to bump the back of the catalogs, and Sookie offered, “We can spend the next couple of weeks celebrating gluttony, greed, pride and sloth… spree-reading in bed whenever possible… teasing the occasional expert with a scan or two… I think it’s called a ‘stay-cation’.”
It sounded absolutely perfect.
Once I moved the catalogs out of my way, and I was staring at the vault door, I offered, “I’m going to hold you to that.”
“You won’t need to. I’ll even offer a diversion if Pam tracks you down. I’ll leave a trail of rose pearls from the driveway to the greenhouse.”
“Good idea… but I’m more concerned that Atum could come looking for you.”
“We might need him. He can read hieroglyphics, cuneiform, runes… and how’s your Sanskrit?”
“Rusty at best.”
By the time I pulled open the door, Sookie was standing behind me with her hands on my back.
She was holding her breath and her heart was racing…
Fairchild’s keep was lined from floor to ceiling fourteen feet wide and seven feet high… thousands of heavy storage tubes protruding from cubbyholes… and if that wasn’t promising enough, there was a ladder-well leading to the mysterious basement level.
She couldn’t have been more excited… and, in spite of the concentrated scent of Dae wafting from the space, I was just as eager to step inside as she was.
I had to remind her to go back for her camera while I returned to the second floor for the video camera, and she was trembling again as she followed me into the vault…
While she snapped dozens of photos of the undisturbed shelves, she hummed, “Ummmmmmm, from back to front? If we start downstairs we can prioritize…”
I nodded, but set the camera down and removed a scroll from one of the cubbies.
A random sampling was completely called for.
Sookie and I stared at the impossibly accurate map of the western hemisphere for several minutes, with nothing more than a couple of stunned chuckles to offer…
The ‘oldest’ map of North America was supposedly made in the early 1500s… but the hand-drawn parchment in my grasp was dated 329 and bore Atum’s mark… and was sealed by none other than Raphael Santiago.
So many geographic details Humans would have killed to have known… including, but not limited to, the much easier routes to the New World. It seemed Santiago had cherry picked his retirement property centuries before Humans had ‘discovered’ the Caribbean… He’d most likely financed the exploration after Tyson and Dmitri’s little race.
“This brings to mind the time Atum told me about ‘New Indians’ and their animals. I didn’t believe his drawings of raccoons or bison.”
Sookie finally snapped the first photo and breathed, “Tyson, Clovis, Zhang and Dmitri… they explored the north…”
I finished, “But it seems like Santiago reserved rights for the southern portion of the Americas.”
“And Martín didn’t venture down the west coast until Santiago was gone.”
I chuckled at her, “Are you planning your own History Channel documentary?”
“I’m tempted… This explains a lot. Lord Sastise is from the Hokan Nation… She’s your age even though official records say that area was untainted by Europeans until the eighteenth century.”
A Native American Vampire five centuries older than the ‘first’ visit to the New World?
How the fuck didn’t anyone catch on to that?
“There isn’t room on that bed for Atum.”
She giggled, “We can bring another one down for him and Gawain. You know that buttinski won’t miss the chance to be the first to know something… And as much as it pains me to admit it, he’ll serve a purpose too.”
“Fuck. Your. Point…”
“But we’re the first ones to see it. It’s just us tonight… And the Northman Codex is all ours… By the way, the map seals the deal. I’m coming out to Gran. I’m not selfish enough to keep this from her. I’ll take the hit for keeping a secret.”
“That’s very brave of you…” I rerolled the map and slid it back into its tube. “Are we ready to go downstairs?”
For once in Sookie’s life, she didn’t have anything to say…
But she was allowed.
I wasn’t any less excited…