Authors: Melissa Thomas
by Melissa Thomas
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events or locales, is entirely coincidental.
PHOENIX CONTRACT Part Five
Series: Fallen Angel Watchers
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Contact Information: [email protected]
Publishing History :
COPYRIGHT ©2015 by Melissa Thomas
Published in the United States of America.
The author respects trademarks and copyrighted material mentioned in this book by introducing such registered items in italics or with proper capitalization.
Genesis 6: 1-4
When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.
Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”
The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.
Aiden left the city, heading first north on the interstate and then east. Once she’d left civilization behind, traffic lightened, and her sportscar accelerated until the scenery on either side zipped past. She drove on autopilot, unable to overcome the emotional numbness that had settled over her. It provided a numbing detachment that kept her from falling to pieces.
The past was behind her, the future in front, and her mind blank other than for the open road before her. She pushed the car faster and faster, trying to outrun the nightmare of death and destruction that she’d left behind in the city.
Near dawn, she finally reached the outskirts of the isolated mountainside town of Hunter. She was missing hours, a time of emotional chaos that even her picture perfect memory couldn’t fill with details. She vaguely recalled aimlessly cruising the streets of the city, and then she found herself parked in a lot behind a fast food restaurant. Engine idling, she stared blankly at a blinking bar sign until the white light imprinted on her retina. Blinking against dry-eyed pain, she finally looked away.
Reluctant and curious, she eyed the journal on the passenger seat. Her conscience told her reading it was an invasion of privacy, while common sense said that it didn’t matter anymore. Matthew had raised her, had been her adopted father, and she’d loved him more than anything, but in these last few weeks, the man had become both a mystery and a contradiction to her.
Hesitantly, Aiden reached over and picked up the brown leather journal. She ran her fingers over the smooth, cool cover as loss and grief pummeled her. Tears trickled down her cheeks, and she cried for both Father Matthew and herself. Their relationship had ended with unresolved conflict, and it would forever mar her memory of him.
She gently loosened the leather straps which bound the journal and opened the book with great care. The first entry bore a date from the previous summer, so it was just over a year old. His entire life, Matthew had kept journals which he filled up fast. At home, he had an entire bookcase full of handwritten diaries—the
“history of my life”
as he’d called them.
Aiden skimmed page after page and moved through months of Matthew’s life. The journal chronicled his academic research and also related anecdotes of mundane everyday events that made her laugh and cry all at once. She could hear Matthew’s voice in her head speaking the narrative as his discerning intelligence and biting wit animated the prose. He wrote about all the people he knew, including Katsue, Troy, Thrash, Desdemona, and Aiden. Everyone but Magnus.
The priest made no mention of Magnus even in the privacy of his diary. The Celt was an Invisible Man, even to his best and only friend.
Aiden felt a twinge of pity.
What a bleak, lonely existence...
She flipped past Matthew’s London trip in order to read the entries made since his return, but did not find anything new, nothing that she didn’t already know. Aiden wasn’t sure what she was looking for, but too quickly she reached the end of the journal without finding the answers she sought. Frustrated, she turned the last page. Only then did she notice a sheath of photographs tucked into the binding.
Carefully, she removed them and held them up for viewing. There were several pictures of her at various ages ranging from infancy to one she’d had taken last year. She flipped the college photo to the back of the stack, and inhaled sharply as a lancing pain stabbed her heart.
The next one was of Matthew and a little girl with big eyes and pigtails. She wore a polka dot dress and sat beside him on a park bench. She looked to be about five, and the both of them were smiling. Happy.
She remembered that particular outing, a warm day in May, with excruciating recollection. It had been perfect: the day, the people, the park, the swing ride Matthew had pushed her on, and the ice cream cones they’d bought from a pushcart vendor. She could still feel the melting ice cream running cool and sticky over her fingers, delicious as she’d licked them clean.
The final photograph was black and white and worn around the edges from frequent handling. In it, Matthew stood at the center with two other young men. All three were in their early twenties, and they had their arms slung fraternally over one another’s shoulders. She recognized a young Daniel Adams, grinning and mischievous, but the third young man, studious and serious, was a stranger.
Who is he?
Aiden shuffled the pictures to their original order and tucked them into the back of the journal. She locked it in the glove compartment alongside the gun that Magnus had given her. She’d contemplated tossing the weapon into the river but had decided instead to return it to Magnus.
After a brief moment, Aiden reached for Matthew’s address book. Daniel Adams had named Niall Talcott as the third party in the tight-knit group of friends that Matthew had reputedly betrayed. Aiden had so many questions about who the “real” Matthew Bunson had been, and it seemed likely that an old, ex-friend could tell her more than any journal.
Daniel Adam’s entry was written neatly in black ink in the priest’s hand and crossed through with red. “DECEASED” was written to the right.
The entry for Niall Talcott was sparse with an address but no phone number. He resided in Hunter, New York. It was a convenient coincidence that had led Aiden to turn her car north.
Hunter. The small community was famous for its waterfalls, views, vistas, and a rich artistic history that included both literary figures and painters. The scenery was spectacular if only she’d been in an appreciative mood, however, the picturesque landscape flew past her oblivious gaze.
Aiden procured directions from a gas station attendant in town, along with a tank full of fuel. Following the man’s instructions, she navigated a series of narrow winding roads until she reached her destination. She pulled off the road onto a circular front driveway paved in gravel.
The log cabin house was set back on a small rise, nestled amongst a thick grove of trees so that only the front porch was visible from the road. The house was painted hunter green with a dark brown trim, and the slate roof wore a thick blanket of pine needles.
It was 8:32 a.m. Too early for a stranger to be dropping in uninvited and unannounced. Aiden called information but was informed that the Niall Talcott’s number was unlisted. Her call list also registered one missed call from Magnus. He hadn’t left a voice message.
She had no other option but to show up on the man’s doorstep and knock. Briefly, she considered heading into town and getting a cup of coffee and something to eat, but she was afraid that she might miss Mr. Talcott if he left early. So instead, Aiden sat in the car for a half-hour, listening to easy rock on the radio, because it was the only station she could get without static.
Just after 9 a.m., Aiden climbed out of the car, locked the doors, and walked up the gravel driveway. Her legs were stiff, and it felt good to stretch them out.
Aiden rapped the old-fashioned brass knocker in the shape of a deer head three times. She waited on the front stoop, the chill of the morning air nipping at her fingers and face.
The door burst open and revealed a whipcord thin man in his eighties. Stormy and accusing, his sea green eyes glared at her.
“Yeah?” The aggressive snarl ended in a wheezing sickly cough that made Aiden cringe.
His thick, furry eyebrows formed a fuzzy arched brow beneath his completely bald scalp. His five foot four frame was as gnarled and gristly as a well-gnawed bone, and his limbs were too long for his torso. Sharp, knobby joints extruded as angular juts beneath a thin argyle sweater and brown slacks.
“Mr. Talcott?” Aiden asked, taken aback at his hostile glare. She did her best to scrutinize him without being obvious. The man didn’t look anything like the youth in the picture. Except maybe his eyes...
“Yes! What do you want, young woman?” he demanded, practically bursting with impatience to determine what she wanted so he could send her on her way and close the door.
“Mr. Talcott?” From his reply, Aiden still wasn’t certain she had the right man.
“That would be me,” he said, speaking down to her as if her intelligence had just been called into question. “Well get to it, girl. I don’t have all day. What do you want?”
Aiden bit her tongue to refrain from reprimanding the rude old man. She needed information from him, so she’d tolerate the way he spoke to her for the time being.
“Mr. Talcott, my name is Aiden McLachlan of House Armaros, and I’m Matthew Bunson’s daughter, adopted,” she said, talking fast and to the point.
Niall’s expression underwent a transformation from unfriendly to downright hostile. A throbbing vein stood out on his forehead, and his entire face tightened. His cheeks and nose turned bright red.
“You have a lot of nerve coming here, young lady,” Niall said, his voice quiet and steely. “I want nothing to do with Armaros, Matthew Bunson, or you for that matter. So kindly remove your person from my doorstep and be gone.”
With that, he started to close the door in her face.
“Mr. Talcott, Matthew is dead,” she said quickly. “And Daniel Adams also.”
The old man froze, shock holding him stock still. “Matthew’s dead?” he repeated. Surprise and disbelief shone in his eyes and maybe a glimmer of regret.
She nodded and began to explain what had happened, but Niall waved her to silence.
“I’d heard about Daniel. No surprises there, but I’d always figured that Matthew would outlive us all,” he explained speaking in a distant, almost dreamy voice.
Aiden cleared her throat. “Mr. Talcott, I know that you’re angry and don’t want to talk to me, but I don’t have anywhere else to go for answers. No one else can help me understand what happened to the three of you.”
He stared at her hard, an unblinking, unwavering gaze that made her squeamish. It was hard not to squirm.
Finally, he nodded in acknowledgment of some inner insight. “You’re Sarah’s daughter, aren’t you?” Niall demanded, causing Aiden’s jaw to drop. “I see it now. You look just like her.”
“Y-you knew my mother?” A million questions crowded her mind.
“I knew your mother,” Niall confirmed. “She was a lovely woman. Well worth remembering.”
Up until then, the old man's posture had been unwelcoming. Abruptly, he performed an about face and pulled open the door wider, allowing entry into his home.
“Come in quick before I change my mind!” Niall snarled.
Obeying, Aiden stepped into the bright and cheerful foyer, a setting crafted in direct contrast to the man’s fearsome personality. The hardwood floors were covered in colorful rugs, and lace doilies decorated the oak entryway table. A delicate blue vase held an arrangement of white and lavender silk flowers. The overall effect alluded to a woman’s touch.
The old man observed her through narrowed eyes as he closed the door. “My wife, Emily, this was her house,” Niall said, taking the role of occupant and not homeowner. “She’s been deceased three years now.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Aiden replied automatically, and the reality of this man came crashing down on her. She blinked, and he was suddenly a person with concerns and feelings. He had loved and been loved. She could no longer regard him as simply a source of information.
“This way.” Niall led the way down a hallway and into a living room with the curtains drawn. The once bright colors of the decor were dingy, and the low beaten leather couch and matching armchair had seen better days. The two pieces of furniture were arranged around a scratched oak coffee table, upon which sat a pile of magazines and a massive glass ashtray full of ash and cigar butts. A coffee mug and a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels sat on the edge near the armchair. The room smelled of smoke, aged leather, and whiskey.
Niall took a seat in the leather armchair. After a short hesitation, Aiden sat on the couch. She pursued her lips and organized her thoughts into coherency, trying to decide on a tactful course of action. Should she ask about Matthew directly or lead in with questions about her mother?
Niall beat her to the punch. “What happened?”
“What happened?” She stared at him blankly, feeling like a fool.
“Matthew?” he reminded her, his slender form inflating with impatience.
“Oh, I’m sorry!” Aiden drew a deep breath. She was operating on zero sleep and remained in a state of shock. “M-Matthew had a weak heart. He’s been sick for months. It finally gave out.” It was the truth so far as she knew. Not the whole truth, but there was no need to go into the ugliness of the rest of it.