Read The Alchemist's Secret Online

Authors: Scott Mariani

Tags: #Adventure, #Mystery, #Crime, #Suspense, #Thriller, #Contemporary

The Alchemist's Secret (27 page)

‘Thought you had it for a moment there.’

He pulled away. It was too much for him. It was as though his space had been invaded, his comfort zone breached after years of being alone. He threw a sidelong glance at the mini-bar.

She saw his eye. ‘Don’t, Ben, please.’ She laid a warm hand on his.

He looked at his watch. ‘Hey,’ he laughed nervously. ‘It’s getting late. We’ve got an early start in the morning.’

‘Don’t stop. It’s nice,’ she murmured. ‘Come on, we’ve had such a rotten day of it. We both need this.’

They danced a little longer. He felt her body close to his. He ran his hand up her arm to her shoulder and caressed it. His heart was beating faster. Their heads began to move closer to one another.

The song came to an end, and the voice of the radio presenter spoilt their moment. They stepped apart, feeling suddenly self-conscious.

There was silence between them for a few minutes. They both knew what had come close to happening and they both, in their different ways, felt a sadness descending on them.

Ben went over to his makeshift bed on the couch and, too tired to undress, he got into it. Roberta climbed into the vast nuptial bed and lay looking up at the canopy above. ‘I’ve never slept in one of these before,’ she said after a while.

Silence again as they lay there on opposite sides of the dark room.

‘How’s the couch?’ she said.

‘Fine.’

‘Comfortable?’

‘I’ve slept in worse places.’

‘There’s room in this bed for about six people.’

‘So?’

‘I just thought.’

He raised his head off the pillow and gazed at where she lay in the dark. ‘You’re asking me to get in the bed with you?’

‘O…
On
the bed, then,’ she stammered, embarrassed. ‘It wasn’t a come-on, if that’s what you think. I’m just a bit nervous. I could use a little company.’

He hesitated for a few moments. Then he got up and pulled the blankets off the couch. He felt his way over to the bed, groping blindly about in the un familiar room. He moved to the far side of the bed and lay down beside her. He pulled the spare blankets over him.

They lay there in the darkness, a wide space between them. She turned towards him, wanting to reach out to him, feeling awkward. She could hear his breathing next to her.

‘Ben?’ she whispered.

‘Yeah?’

She hesitated before saying it. ‘Who’s the little girl in the picture?’

He raised himself up on one elbow and looked at her. Her face was a pale blur in the moonlight.

She yearned to put her hand out and touch him, hold him tight.

‘Let’s get some sleep,’ he said quietly, lying back down.

Around two, he woke up to find her slender arm draped over his chest. She was asleep. He lay there for a time, staring upwards at the dim play of the moonlight on the canopy of the bed, feeling the gentle rise and fall of her warm body as she slept.

The touch of her arm was a curious feeling. It was strangely electrifying, unnerving and yet deeply comforting. He let himself relax into the feel of it, closed his eyes and dozed off with a smile curling at the corners of his mouth.

43

Ben slept less than an hour before his dreaming thoughts jerked him guiltily awake and he kicked his legs from the bed. He carefully lifted Roberta’s sleeping arm off his chest and rolled out from under it. He got up, lifted the Browning from the table and grabbed his bag.

Finding his way by moonlight he padded quietly into the ante-room. He clicked the door softly shut behind him and flicked on a side-lamp.

The rules of the game had changed. Suddenly it was clearer that these people, whoever they were, were after the manuscript too. He had work to do.

The plain black jacket he’d taken from Anna’s house was still in his bag. He pulled it out and went through the pockets again. Apart from Rheinfeld’s notebook and the fake scroll that her attacker had torn out of its frame, they were empty. There wasn’t a scrap of a clue as to its owner’s identity. Who was he? A contract killer, maybe. He’d come across those people before, but never one like this, never a sick maniac who tortured women.

He wondered about the fake scroll. Why had the man taken it down from Anna’s wall? Just like its previous owner who had passed it on to Anna, he must have been fooled by its carefully forged antiquated style and appearance. That could only mean that whoever else was looking for the manuscript had no better idea than he did exactly what it was or looked like. But certainly it was important to them. Important enough to kill for.

He took out Rheinfeld’s notebook, pulled it from its plastic wrapping and sat down with it on a couch near the lamp. Until now, he hadn’t had a good chance to study it up close. Was Roberta right about it? Was it possible that Rheinfeld had transcribed from memory the secrets that he’d stolen from Gaston Clément? He hoped so. There was nothing else to go on.

He turned the filthy pages slowly, scrutinizing the text and drawings. So much of it seemed like nonsense. Scattered apparently at random throughout, appearing on the corners and margins of some of the pages, were scribbled alternating combinations of letters and numbers. Some of the combinations were long, some short. He flipped back and forth and counted nine of these scribbles. They reminded him a little of Klaus Rheinfeld’s ravings on Anna’s dictaphone recording.

N 18 N 26 O 12 I 17 R 15 22 R      20 R 15

U 11 R 9 E 11 E 22 V 18 A 22 V 18 A

13 A 18 E 23 A      22 R 15 O

What to make of them? To his eye they looked like a code of some kind. Perhaps a set of alchemical formulae. None of them seemed to relate to anything else on whatever page they appeared. Whatever significance they had, it was impenetrable.

He ignored them and moved on. He came across an ink sketch of what looked like a fountain. Its base was marked with strange symbols similar to ones on the gold crucifix. Below the drawing was an inscription in Latin.

Dum fluit e Christ benedicto Vulnere Sanguis,

Et dum Virgineum lac pai Virgo permit,

Lac fuit et Sanguis, Sanguis conjungitur et lac

Et sit Fons Vitae, Fons et Origo boni

Back in his student days he’d had to wade through a lot of old religious texts written in Latin. But that had been a long time ago. It took him a while to scratch about with the words and come up with a translation. It read
While the blood flows from the blessed wound of Christ and the holy Virgin presses her virginal breast, the milk and the blood spurt out and are mixed and become the fountain of life and the spring of Wellbeing.

The fountain of life…the spring of wellbeing. These sounded like references to some elixir of life. But they were so vague. He read doggedly on. He came to a page with just one line of text, and beneath it a circular symbol. The writing was French, the curly script barely visible through splotches of old blood and Rheinfeld’s fingermarks. Again he translated.

Let us consider the symbol of the raven, because it conceals an important point of our science

The symbol beneath it, he recognized right away. He flipped back a few pages. Yes, it was that same raven emblem again. It seemed to appear again and again. So the text was telling him that it concealed an important point. But what?

A bloodstain was covering something written under the raven image. Ben carefully scratched away the dried blood with his fingernail until he could make it out. The hidden word was
DOMUS
. Latin for house. What to make of that-
House of the Raven
?

The only other reference he could find to the raven was an equally puzzling rhyming stanza. This time, it was written in English.

These temple walls cannot be broken

Satan’s armies pass through unaware

The raven guards there a secret unspoken

Known only to the seeker faithful and fair

He wasn’t even going to try to figure that one out. Moving on, he came to the last three pages in the notebook. They were identical except for three different arrangements of apparently meaningless jumbled letters, one on each page. He read them over and over again. At the top of each of the three pages were the cryptic words ‘The Seeker Shall Find’. They read to Ben almost like a taunt. ‘The seeker shall get totally lost, more like,’ he muttered.

Below these three inscriptions, a line of Latin read
Cum Luce Salutem. With the light comes salvation.

Below that, each page had an even more perplexing arrangement of baffling text. The first of the three pages read:

The second page read:

And on the third page the text was arranged:

The last three letters in each arrangement, M.L.R, looked like initials. Did the R stand for Rheinfeld? But his first name was Klaus. What about the ML? It didn’t seem to make any sense.

What about the broken words above the MLR? Ben sat back on the couch. He’d always hated puzzles. He gazed into space. A moth flew past his nose and he watched it flit towards the lamp on the table next to him. It darted here and there and then flew inside the thin cloth lampshade. He could see it walking up the other side of the material, transparent with the light from the bulb.

Then it hit him.
With the light comes salvation.

He gripped the three pages together on their own, folding the rest of the notebook away from them, and held them up to the lamp. The light shone through the flimsy paper, and suddenly the jumbled letters formed themselves into recognizable words. Taken together, the three blocks of text now read:

         
FIN

        
L’EAU
ROTIE

        LE
LAC
D’SANG

         M.L.R

         
THE
END

          
THE
ROASTED
WATER

          
THE
LAKE
OF
BLOOD

           M.L.R

Maybe we’re getting somewhere now
, he thought.

Then again, maybe not.

OK, break it down into bite-size pieces. ‘The End’-what was that, just saying it was the end of the book? That was all he could make of it. But at least that was more than he could understand of roasted water and lakes of blood. He rubbed his eyes, bit his lip. For a moment, his frustration gave way to fury and he had to control a powerful urge to tear the notebook to shreds. He gulped, tried to calm down, stared sullenly at the phrases for a long minute. Willed them to reveal some kind of meaning to him.

         
FIN

         
L’EAU
ROTIE

        
LE
LAC
D’SANG

          
M.L.R

But if it really didn’t mean anything, why go to the trouble of setting up the phrases over three consecutive pages like that?

Like most self-taught linguists, Ben’s spoken French was far more fluent than his grasp of the written language. As far as he could make out, though, the line ‘the lake of blood’ should have read in French
‘LE
LAC
DE SANG’.
Instead it had been written as
‘LE
LAC
D’SANG’
, with an important letter missed out. Was it just a mistake? It didn’t seem to be. The spelling looked deliberately done that way. But why?

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