Key of Light Page 54

“And if it is?” Brad put in. “It doesn’t tell us much.”

“It gives us a theme. And if we make the leap that the paintings are clues to the location of the keys, then we have to follow the theme. Maybe the first is in a place where a decision was made, one that changed the course of lives.”

“Flynn.” Jordan hesitated, swirled his drink. “You seriously believe these keys exist?”

“That’s right. And if you guys had been around since the beginning of this, you’d have come around to that by now. There’s no way to explain it, Jordan, no more than you can explain why that boy was the only person in the world who could pull Excalibur from the stone.”

“How about you?” Jordan asked Brad.

“I’m trying to keep an open mind. You’ve got to add up the coincidences, or what appear to be coincidences. You and I own those paintings. We’re all back in the Valley, and so are they. Flynn’s involved, personally involved with two of the women who were invited to Warrior’s Peak. Jordan and Dana used to be an item. And I bought the painting because I was caught by that face—Zoe’s face. It just about knocked me on my ass. And let’s keep that little tidbit among the three of us.”

“You’re interested in Zoe?” Flynn asked.

“Yeah, which is dandy, since she appears to have taken an instant dislike to me. Which I don’t get,” he added with some heat. “Women don’t dislike me right off the bat.”

“No, it usually takes a little time,” Jordan agreed. “Then they dislike you.”

“On the contrary. I’m a very smooth operator. Usually.”

“Yeah, I remember how smooth you were with Marsha Kent.”

“I was seventeen,” Brad argued. “Fuck you.”

“Do you still have her footprint on your ass?” Jordan wanted to know.

“You still got Dana’s on your balls?”

Jordan winced. “Tit for tat there. Question. Does that painting look as much like the other two as it does like Dana?”

“Oh, yeah,” Flynn told him. “Different dos, but the faces are dead on.”

“No question as to the age on it, Brad?”


Jordan sat silent a moment, nursing his drink, studying Dana’s face. So still, so pale, so empty. “Okay, I’ll take a side step out of logic and into the zone. There are six of us and three keys. And what, just over two weeks left to find the first one?” He reached for the bottle again. “It’ll be a snap.”

BEYOND the puzzle to be solved, Flynn thought, it was good to have his friends back. Good to know even as he crawled into bed in the early hours of the morning that Jordan was crawling onto the mattress in the spare room. And Brad was already zonked out on the sofa downstairs, guarded by Moe.

It had always seemed to him that there’d been nothing they couldn’t do together. Whether it had been fighting off imaginary alien invaders, learning how to unhook a girl’s bra one-handed, or driving cross-country in a secondhand Buick. They’d always come through for each other.

When Jordan’s mother had died, both he and Brad had been there, holding vigil during those endless nights at the hospital.

When Lily had dumped him, the one constant Flynn had been sure of was his friends.

Through good times and not so good times, he thought sentimentally, they’d been there for each other. Physical distance never meant a damn.

But it was better, a hell of a lot better, to have them here. Since they were, the first key was practically in the lock.

He closed his eyes and instantly fell asleep.

THE house was dark, and bitterly cold. He could see his breath puff out in thin white vapors as he wandered aimlessly down dark corridors that turned, that twisted. There was a storm blasting, a crash and boom that shook the air and shot out fast, angry light, zigzagging in the dark.

In the dream he knew he walked the halls of Warrior’s Peak. Though he could barely see, he recognized it and knew the turn of the corridor, the feel of the wall under his trailing fingers. Though he had never walked there before.

He could see the rain whipping outside the second-story window, could see the way it glowed blue in the lightning strikes. And he saw the ghost of his own face blurry in the glass.

He called out, and his voice echoed. On and on, like a rolling wave. There was no one to answer. And yet he knew he wasn’t alone.

Something walked those halls with him. Lurking just behind. Out of sight, out of reach. Something dark that pushed him on, up the stairs.

Fear tripped into his heart.

Doors lined the corridor, but all of them were locked. He tried each one, turning, tugging the knob with fingers gone stiff with cold.

Whatever stalked him crept closer. He could hear it breathe now, horrible, somehow liquid pulls on the air that merged with his own rapid panting.

He had to get out, get away. So he began to run, loping through the storm-slashed dark while what pursued him followed, with rapid clicks on the wood like eager claws.

He burst out onto a parapet, into the storm where lightning speared down and set the stone to smoking. The air burned and froze, and the rain pelted him like shards of glass.

With nowhere left to run, with fear a cold snake crawling in his belly, he turned to fight.

But the shadow was so huge, so close. It covered him before he could raise his fists. The cold tore through him, drove him to his knees.

He felt something ripped from him—wild, unspeakable pain, dull, shocking horror. And knew it was his soul.

FLYNN woke, shuddering with cold, clammy with the dregs of terror, and with the sun pouring in onto his face.

Struggling for breath, he sat up. He’d had his share of nightmares, but never one this intense. Never one where he’d actually felt pain.

Could still feel it, he thought as he gritted his teeth against the sharp stabs in his chest and belly.

He tried to tell himself it was the combination of pizza and whiskey and late night. But he didn’t believe it.

As the pain dulled, he slid gingerly out of bed, walked as cautiously as an old man to the bathroom, and turned the shower on hot. He was freezing.

He reached up to swing open the mirrored medicine cabinet for aspirin and caught a glimpse of his face.

The pallor of his skin, the glassy edge of shock in his eyes, were bad enough. But they were nothing compared to the rest.

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