A Hidden Fire Page 2

Backing out, he flicked the radio knob to the local campus station and rolled the window down as he enjoyed the lick of warm, humid air along his skin.

He sped toward the lights of downtown, bypassing the tall buildings and speeding along Buffalo Bayou as he drove toward the gates of his secluded home.  He turned into the short drive before the gate and tapped in the entry code with the end of a stainless steel pen he drew from the chain around his neck.

The Mustang drove forward, winding its way through the dimly lit property.  He pulled his car into the brick garage behind his home and walked through the small courtyard between the outbuilding and the main house.  He stopped, listening to the burbling fountain and admiring the honeysuckle vine that trailed up the garage wall and suffused the small courtyard with fragrance.

All the lights were on in the kitchen when he entered the house, and he immediately grabbed a pencil on the counter to dim them.  He walked up the back stairs to his dark bedroom, disrobing and hanging his clothes in the large closet before he walked down the main stairwell, wrapped only in a large, finely spun towel.  As he passed the second floor landing, he was stopped by an accented voice coming from the library.

“Back so soon?”

He turned to look at the older gentleman who was reading in front of the lit fireplace.

“A fire, Caspar?”

The older man shrugged.  “I turned the air-conditioning down so it at least felt like fall.”

He chuckled.  “Whatever you prefer.  And the library was a bit disappointing.”

“Trouble finding an assistant?”

“No, I found a rather good one, in fact.  I might meet her again.  No, the Lincoln documents were not what I’d hoped.”

“Unfortunate.”

The man shrugged his shoulders.  “The client isn’t going anywhere.”

“Off for your swim then?”

He nodded and started to move down the stairs again.

“Will you be needing anything tonight?”

He walked up the stairs and back toward the library.  “Nothing, thank you.”

“Enjoy the pool.  It’s a beautiful night.”

“Enjoy your air-conditioning… and your fire,” he said with a minute smile ghosting his lips.

He heard Caspar chuckle as he continued down the stairs.  The man walked through the sitting room and past the breakfast area where Caspar ate in the morning to the French doors leading onto the brick patio.

He folded his towel on the back of a pool chaise and quickly dove into the water, cutting through the green-lit pool with effortless efficiency.

He swam up and down the mirrored rectangle for hours, enjoying the stretch of his lean muscles and the calming buoyancy of the salt water that filled the pool.

When the lights of the secluded yard switched off automatically at two in the morning, he floated on the surface.  He hung there for a few minutes, enjoying the feeling of the warm, humid air on his face as his body was supported by the water at his back.  Then he dove down, sitting on the bottom of the pool for another hour, looking up as he watched the moon track across the night sky.

Chapter One

Houston, Texas

September 2003

Giovanni Vecchio woke, the infrequent dream seeming to echo off the narrow walls of the small room where he rested.  He sat up and stared at the photograph of Florence which hung on the opposite wall, and the sun-seared shops of the old bridge mocked him.

“Where is your home?”

“Ubi bene ibi patria.  Where I prosper is my home.”

“Do not forget: nothing endures, save us and the elements.”

Rising, he unlocked his reinforced door and stepped into the large walk-in closet where he dressed in a white oxford shirt and a pair of slim, black slacks.  He spied the grey cat from the corner of his eye.

“Good evening, Doyle.”

The cat turned his copper-eyed stare toward the tall man who spoke to him.

“What did Caspar bribe you with tonight, hmm?  Salmon?  Fresh anchovies?  Caviar?”

The cat gave a small chirp and walked out to the luxurious bedroom beyond the closet to settle on the king-sized bed there.  Giovanni’s thoughts still brushed at the dark dream and a faint memory teased the back of his mind.

“Tell me about death.”

“The philosopher said death, which men fear as the greatest evil, may instead be the greatest good.”

“But we do not fear death, do we?”

Despite the hours he had rested, he felt weary.  He reached for his favorite grey jacket and walked out of the room.

“Caspar,” he called as he entered the kitchen, still straightening his collar.  “I want you to drive me to the library tonight.”

The older man raised a curious eyebrow but put down the newspaper he had been reading.

“Of course, I’ll get the car.”

Giovanni gathered his messenger bag and followed Caspar out the kitchen door.  They walked through the small courtyard where the dim light of the early evening still illuminated the burbling fountain, and the air was rich with the fragrance of the honeysuckle vine.

“Balance!  Temperance!  Find it, my son, or you will die.”

He paused for a moment and watched the flow of water as it trickled over and around the rocks in the base of the fountain.  Just then, a sharp breeze lifted the spray and it arched toward him, dusting his face with the cold drops.  He let the heat rise to his skin and the vapor met the humid night air.

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