Three hours later, Sydney and Nigel sat hunched in the corner of a small coffee shop. Sydneyís discovery prompted a quick finale to the magic show, and once the kids were out, the police swarmed in.
Sydney glanced over at her assistant, who was trying vainly to disappear against the putty-colored vinyl of the booth. Nigel had taken the brunt of the police questioning. After all, when the law arrived, the little Englishman was decked out in full magicianís regalia. It took the better part of an hour for Sydney to convince the officers that she and her companion were merely standing in for this one show, for the sake of the children. It had been frightening and frustrating enough for her, and she was a U.S. citizen. She could only imagine how difficult it had been for her companion.
"Nigel, Iím sorry."
He looked up at her, surprise registering in his hazel eyes. "Why? You didnít do anything wrong. Neither did I, but Iím not sure they believed me." He still wore the tuxedo from the magic show, but the jacket hung open and the top few shirt buttons were undone. A lock of brown hair curved over his eyebrow and he pushed it back, only to have it fall again. Sunset gilded them both as it poured through the window.
"Yeah, but I got you into this. I volunteered us for the job."
"Yes, and I agreed with you. Iím over 21, Sydney. Iím not a child."
She blinked. "No, of course not," she agreed. It was true, of course. He wasnít a kid. The truth of the offhand remark struck her, reminding her forcefully that he was indeed a man. She knew it intellectually, yet some part of her reacted to him automatically as a little brother.
But hearing it point-blank forced her to face him in that mindset, and suddenly she was uncomfortable. Her eyes automatically jumped to his jaw, where a faint five oíclock shadow grew. His slender lines were the physique of an adult. He wasnít much larger than she was, but he was strong enough to physically pick her up, if he chose. And he was an attractive man, too, dammit.
She shook her head to clear it. That kind of thinking would get her into trouble. Sheíd entered into relationships with former assistants, relatively harmless liaisons in which both knew the rules. There was no real emotional investment, and when class was over, so was the affair. It wouldn't be that simple with Nigel.
"I know," she finally sighed. "I still feel responsible." Changing the subject, she reached into her pocket and withdrew a small stone disc. "I found this." She held out the object to let him see. He reached for it automatically. The instant he touched it, the stone vibrated, emitting a crystalline tone.
"Oh my." His expression suggested he was as surprised as she. "May I?"
She nodded and dropped it into his outstretched hand. Even after the artifact left her hold, Sydney swore she could feel a tingle in her palm.
It was a relatively small object, a medallion or coin carved in what looked like rose quartz. At roughly two and a half inches across, it was the size of a large piece of jewelry, yet there were no clasps or loops. It didnít appear to be either pin or necklace. Etchings covered one side, and the entire object was polished to a glossy finish.
"Can you tell what it says?" Sydney asked. Only now did she sip at the tepid cup of coffee. Its bitter taste barely registered.
"Oh my God!"
Nigel held the stone up to the window to admire its workmanship. When he did, they both realized that the objectís musical talent wasnít its only hidden quality. Held up to the fading sun, its pale center became clear.
And embedded in its center was an entirely different set of characters.
"Sydney, this is remarkable!
Her practiced eyes skimmed through the new message. "Etruscan, isnít it? I think I recognize some of it. It says the heart, doesnít it?"
"I believe so. And this is eternity. Iím not sure, but I think this says..." Squinting, he made a face. "I canít read it. Thereís not enough light." Thinking to better his view, he held it up to the fluorescent fixtures in the ceiling. When he did, the interior became opaque again. "Where did you find it?" he asked absently, turning the stone back to the window. When he did, it turned clear once more, even though he held it away from the fading sunlight. "OhÖ SydneyÖ" This time, the internal display began to glow of its own accord.
"When you hold it toward the moon, an third message appears."
Go to Part Three.