Enter the Darkness
Chapter 12: Alice, Alice Spencer-Killdare
I am not sure whether the angel used special powers to keep people away from the bow while I got my shit together or what, but the only person to intrude upon my misery was a frantic William. He come running up the starboard side of the ship to find me huddled on the foredeck with the bags, eyes red and a lost look on my normally overconfident face. That last is an almost direct quote. William took one look at me and simply sat down and wrapped me in his arms for ... well, I am not sure for how long.
It was my body beginning to overheat that finally made me draw away with a muttered thanks. Smart young man that he was becoming, he asked no questions. We merely went inside and found some empty seats off by themselves. He must have been under orders from his dad not to ask too many questions because all we talked about was his fencing career and the country estate.
The coast of Scotland was a little more forbidding than was Ireland, but still picturesque. Stranraer was not an overly big town and I saw Eoin's elegantly low-key, dapper self standing next to a Rolls Royce, his driver standing at his left shoulder and one step behind. He was dressed in a casual suit, minus the tie, that probably cost more than Dad made in a couple of months. His dark hair looked like it had started graying at the temples under a dark fedora with a white band.
I had almost broken into a relieved smile and then I noticed the gentleman who came to stand next to him on his right. He was a hard, fierce-looking man with military-cut hair that was either a very pale blonde or white. His face was tanned and smooth with laugh lines but he looked like he could be anywhere from thirty to fifty-five in age. Unlike Eoin, he wore a casual suit that was well-made but sturdier. It probably cost more than it appeared, since it hung so well on his muscularly trim body, but it looked less elegant than Eoin's. He also wore sturdy but dressy boots and there were barely noticeable bulges under his clothes.
I grabbed William's arm to hold him back from running over to his father even as my right hand slide beneath my shirt. "Do you know the other man? The dangerous one?" I asked in a quiet voice as we slowly, very slowly made our way down the gangplank. I tugged William over to stand to one side of the gangway, allowing other passengers to debark while I had a staring contest with the rugged gentleman who was armed.
William looked at me and then noticed where my other hand was and his face lost its happy smile and his eyes got very worried. "It's all right, Al-Alice. That is my Uncle Ambrose."
I glanced up at him with a suspicious look. "Uncle?" They looked nothing alike, Eoin and Ambrose.
"Not a real uncle, but Uncle Ambrose knew my dad back when he was in the Navy. Dad was only in four years, but he and Uncle Ambrose kept in touch and when Ambrose got out, he came to work for Dad," he explained, reaching over to tug my hand out from beneath my shirt. I either had to let him or keep my hand on my knife and have him pull it out for all to see, so I relaxed ... slightly. "Uncle Ambrose is Dad's chief of security and grew up in Australia. He will either be the one teaching you how to be an Australian or he will know someone trustworthy who will. Either way, you will have to know Uncle sooner or later and it is awfully hard to lie to Ambrose. He is telepathic or something. I have never been able to get anything by him."
I looked up with a kind smile and said, "You need to work on your lying a bit, then ... if you plan on being a spy yourself some day."
William stood looking at me with a gaping mouth even as I went back to my staring contest with Ambrose. Eoin, finally recognizing the problem, patted the fierce man on the shoulder and nodded towards the waiting kids. Both men sauntered over and Eoin smiled kindly down at me.
"I know you have had a bit of a time, Alice, but welcome to Scotland," he said before enveloping me in a hug. He then whispered, "This is Ambrose, an old Navy friend of mine who will be helping us hide you. I see you don't have much and that will track with the story we have so far laid down. You already know your new name, I am told, and so we will have to construct a person around that name that will stand up to any serious look. It will take time, but luckily we have that for now. Also thankfully, you are starting to grow and look a bit different since I last saw you. No doubt the hair color change is some of it, but not all.
"This is Ambrose Devlin, a friend of the family, Alice," he said in a more normal tone, releasing me from the fond embrace. "Ambrose, this is my niece Alice, Alice Spencer-Killdare. My brother went off many years ago and married an Aussie he had met at university. She and my brother were killed in flooding in New South Wales and they left me as guardian of their daughter in their will. I won't get into details here, but suffice it to say that as far as anyone in Australia is concerned, you are my niece, Alice Spencer-Killdare, and I have people in Australia who have the paperwork to prove it."
Ambrose held out his hand and I shook it firmly, causing the man's brow to rise. "Welcome to Britain, young Alice, and my condolences. Shall we get off this pier and on our way? It is a long drive," he suggested before smiling at William and patting his shoulder. "Good to see you, Willy."
"Good to see you too, Uncle Ambrose," William said with a shadow of his usual grin. He then looked at me and sighed. "And getting off the pier would be a good thing. We have something of a story to tell you about our sojourn in Belfast."
The looks being darted between Eoin and Ambrose were worried by the time we were done telling the story about a half hour's drive from Stranraer. There had been a few tense questions from the two men and then silent, darting looks. William's jaw was now blossoming nicely into red and purple and his left eye looked like it was going to join the party. Ambrose was watching me with a guarded look and his eyes clearly said there would be a more candid discussion of what the hell was going on when they reached their destination.
"So, other than the sore ribs, which will be seen to by Dr. Mixon before you are allowed to practice, and the facial bruises that time will see to," Eoin asked, his voice deep with fatherly concern, "the two of you are all right?"
William's eyes darted nervously towards me before he nodded shakily. "A-as all right as could be expected after..." his voice trailed off with a jerky shrug that made him wince and press his left hand to his right side.
Eoin turned his handsome face to me and his brow rose. "And you, Alice? How are you?"
My eyes must have given more away than I intended because Ambrose stiffened and Eoin nodded sadly, eyes brimming over with compassion. Those eyes, so close to tears and yet seeming to harken back to his own lost innocence, told me without words that he did indeed understand. Everything. William was shying away from accepting the knowledge that one of the muggers had never gotten up and that, in all likelihood, he may actually have been the lucky one in their encounter with me. That there were fates and existences worse than death.
"Eoin, what are you bringing-"
Eoin cut Ambrose off with a raised hand, his eyes locked on me, still dark with the wisdom of experience. "Wait until we are at the estate, old friend. I want to get William home and put that call into Dr. Mixon."
"Before I tell you the rest of the story," got left out of that sentence but both Ambrose and I heard it. It was also plain as day that William was as informed about "the rest of the story" as he was going to get, if Eoin had anything to say about it. William's knowledge, or lack thereof, about what was really going on would make things awkward, I was sure. But I was also with Eoin in his desire to keep William in the dark (no pun intended) about me and my relationship with the things that go bump in the night. After all, the things that go bump in the night seemed to leave the ignorant alone more than those who are awakened to their existence.
The manor house was a sprawling Tudor-aged stone edifice four stories tall with two wings visible from the front. English ivy covered much of the main building and you could sense the history of the place even as more modern conveniences protruded from the stone and foliage. The grounds were covered in well-tended flower beds, blossoming fruit trees, and full-blown gardens, with a small lake visible in the distance. By the time we turned off the main road we had been traveling on and started down a long, narrow drive lined with cherry and apple trees in full flower, William was in enough pain to cooperate in pulling the wool back over his eyes. He went straight to his room and gingerly laid down to wait for the doctor. Ambrose was asked to wait for us in Eoin's office and my new uncle ushered me to a room two doors down from William's after looking in on his son. The room was enormous (to my experience with space-limited military housing). I could see some mildly feminine touches to the room and scowled, picking at the frilly bolster and pillow cases. Eoin chuckled from the doorway and assured me I could make over the room to be more me after he took me shopping for clothes and other necessities. He left me to unpack my meager belongings to ring the doctor.
After throwing my bloody shirt overboard into the Irish Sea, I possessed exactly two t-shirts (one of which I was wearing), three pairs of jeans, three pairs of socks, three pairs of panties, one jacket, two light button-down shirts (one black and one white), and a pair of sneakers that William had already informed me would have to be thrown out because they were a brand only Americans wore. The unpacking was finished and I had begun wondering whether I should go looking for Eoin when a polite knock on the door sounded. It was a young maid with a thick Scottish brogue that made understanding that she was there to escort me to Eoin's office more than a little difficult.
Eoin was not in the spacious, book-lined room when I arrived on the maid's heels. She knocked on the heavy wood door but I think that was more in the nature of a habit or formality because I was pretty sure the door was sound-proofed. There was a discreet camera above the door and a click sounded. The maid smiled reassuringly at me and nodded towards the door. I gazed up at her steadily for a long moment before nodding my thanks in reply and opened the door.
Inside, Ambrose sat in a comfortable-looking arm chair next to a large wood desk with a deep cherry finish facing the door. Around the room were floor-to-ceiling bookcases with well-used tomes on subjects as varied as law, politics, zoology, literature, and history. There were no windows, a walk-in sized fireplace in the left-hand wall, and a large liquor cabinet against the right-hand wall. The floor was covered in a gorgeous Persian carpet that felt thickly springy under my feet as I walked into the room and closed the door firmly. I had a feeling Ambrose and I would need the privacy. A comfortably, teddy bear feeling suffused me as I looked at the dangerous man rising from his chair and my instinctively flexing shoulders tugged on my knife harness.
"Alice," Ambrose said in greeting, his tone neutral. His accent was British, but there was an underlying flavor that hinted at somewhere else. I stopped in the center of the room and nodded to him. I was not sure how I felt about him. Part of me, a bigger part than was probably healthy, saw him as a dangerous man I should probably kill now and get it over with. It was beginning to worry me that it was getting easy for me to get to that point. Killing that Irish thug came easy (even taking into account what the angel had said about the demon's influence) and I felt nothing as I looked at Ambrose and realized I had to argue pretty hard with my instincts not to kill him. Or at least try. As I said, it was obvious that this was a dangerous man.
"Ambrose," I finally replied in a flat tone of my own.
He grimaced and shook his head. "Can you explain to me why an undersized, lanky young lady such as yourself makes my flesh creep with the need to defend Eoin and William from you?" he inquired diffidently, as if not expecting satisfaction in the answer I would give. "I see the steel cables you have for muscles, but even for someone your age you are small and cute and harmless in appearance ... until I look into those ageless eyes. Eyes that I have seen peer at me from a hundred veterans from a dozen different conflicts. Eyes that tell me you have been to the brink of humanity ... and stepped over it into that bestial state to which war reduces all men, no matter how brave or heroic or virtuous in their character. I see those eyes that tell me that you, like me, have watched the light drain from another's eyes. And unlike the weak, who abhor such grotesquery, or the wicked, who delight in it, we merely take satisfaction from our skill in being faster, better, luckier than our prey.
"You are an enigma, Alice, and something tells me Eoin intends to tell me your story, and his and my place in it. Even given that, I have a feeling you will still remain sphinx-like ... any true answers to my important questions staying just beyond truly satisfying." His thought process verbalized came to an end and he gave me a rueful smile and shrugged, "Sorry, lass. I can run on sometimes. Does not mean I would not delight in true answers to any and/or all of my questions and concerns."
I took a moment to internalize what he had said, looking into his deep-set, gray eyes drawn with not-quite-worry-but-close. Unless things went from bad to hell, I was probably going to be Eoin's niece for a while. That being the case, Ambrose and I would be seeing a lot of one another. He would also probably eventually see me practice or workout. It occurred to me, standing there staring into his own cold eyes, that here was a dangerous man. I had already accepted that. What had not occurred to me was that I was also dangerous and that, maybe, two dangerous people could actually coexist in a mutually beneficial relationship. Since my circumstances now barred me from openly seeking another martial arts master, perhaps he could be my next teacher. And not just in martial arts.
I sighed and smiled back at him just as ruefully. "I suppose the answer to the riddle that is me depends most on one thing: trust. If I decide I can trust you that far behind the veil that is me, you may eventually find answers that satisfy you," was my reply, my tone suitably subdued. A twinge from the withered, atrophied faculty that was my conscience made me add the warning, "In all honesty, that is a two-edged sword, sir. If you wind up seeing that far, there are thinks that lurk in the Darkness therein and they are often displeased when they realize some unlucky soul has noticed their existence. Hence part of my current predicament."
It was at that point in the discussion that the door opened and Eoin walked through, pocketing the key with which he had opened the door. Seeing the tableau he had intruded upon, he nervously cleared his throat and walked over to his desk and sat down in the comfortable-looking chair, folding his hands above his stomach. Swinging idly side to side as he watched Ambrose resume his own seat, he waved me to one of the seats facing his desk.
"Doctor Mixon says the ribs are cracked, not badly broken, and that his jaw and eye will be fine given rest and ice," Eoin informed us casually, his eyes sharply watching us as he continued to swivel his chair. Ambrose sat back in his chair and relaxed at merely a flick of Eoin's eyes toward the seat. Smiling lightly, he inquired, "So, have you had a nice chat whilst you waited?"