Grail Mysterium: An Adventure on The Heights

A mystery-adventure story set on the Boston College campus. Magic and superstition combine with history and hard-nosed research as a young undergraduate couple, Fran and Jack, undergo adventures in search of the Grail. Ghosts of historical characters, dragons, good and bad Jesuits, and fellow undergraduates constitute the cast of characters in this cross between Harry Potter and The Da Vinci Code.

Chapter One

On a warm September evening, Class of ‘11 senior Jack Knecht, a light-haired psych major standing a bit above medium height, paused on the walk back to Lower Campus. He had just come out of his Wednesday senior seminar in the psychology of religion. Rocking softly back and forth in his blue Chucks while craning his neck in the fading light, he regarded a particularly dynamic statue of Saint Ignatius, the spiritual father of the Jesuits, which overshadows Boston College. As a warm breeze stirred, students flowed past. Jack stuck his hand inside his jeans’ pocket, feeling the hole at the bottom just opening up and wondering idly what might fall through.

The bronzed Saint Ignatius ten-feet high towered before Jack with head unadorned, his entire body turned to the left as if in motion while his abundant cloak swirled about him to the right, wind-swept. Jack peered at the face and considered: Its elongated nose reminded him of Cyrano de Bergerac’s. Hadn’t Cyrano crouched behind a hedge secretly composing the poetry by which his Christian rival in love proceeded to woo Roxanne? The soul, it seemed, was always weaving stories from fantastical figures in the shadows. Hence the lore—and the lure for Jack—of Boston College, imposing on The Heights.

Over Saint Ignatius’ cold shoulder the moon hung yellow-white as a tall, dark-robed man, wearing a slouchy Renaissance cap and carrying a short rod close at hand, walked hurriedly uphill toward the central Quad, turning once to observe Jack. The latter, drawn out of his reverie, caught the man’s eye and recoiled from its sharp, yellowish glance, dimly thinking it rare for Jesuit professors to wear such priestly garb.

As the cloaked figure hastened around the corner of Fulton Hall, Jack absently began to follow him. Well, he was heading that way anyway, through the Quad and down around O’Neill Library to his girlfriend’s room in Ignacio, from there to accompany Fran at dinner in the dining hall. With a backward glance at Saint Ignatius, Jack struck off after the man, spying his dark back as they entered the Quad, whereupon Jack again paused uncertainly. By now the yellow amplitude of the moon was rising over the flat roof of O’Neill as Jack found himself in the center of the Quad, a brick plaza bounded by four Gothic structures known according to the mnemonic Doug Flutie Likes Girls: Devlin, Fulton, Lyons, and finally Gasson. This last was the crown jewel of Main Campus, a soaring Gothic bell tower surmounting a cruciform-shaped lower building, a commanding presence for all.

Surrounded by an eight-foot chain-link fence, Gasson was undergoing extensive renovations. The entire building had been locked up for a year now; it would be another year before all the grime and ivy were scraped clean and it was ready to reopen. The cloaked figure came to a halt when he reached the locked fence, repeating his glance at the tailing student who had also stopped. But turning back, in no time the dark man slipped through the gate. Jack drew up. Had the man permeated the gate—or simply opened it? Jack watched intently as the dark-robed one approached the back of Gasson, walking up a few steps to its double, heavy oak doors. Again he paused, looking in Jack’s direction, and then simply melted through the door and was gone.

Jack stood rooted: In the gloaming it was hard to be sure of just what he had seen. Nor had any of the students brushing past him seemed to notice anything awry. Surrounded by crabapple trees dangling tiny reddening fruit in the grassy area bounding the four buildings, the enclosed Quad with its inviting benches on warm brick formed the crossroads of the Boston College campus. Though not an overly large area, it was here that students regularly hung banners from trees and organized small rallies, encouraging their peers to join the school’s plentiful political, service, and artistic groups. For the university comprised a socially active community, and although its students, many of them children of the well-to-do, leaned toward the conservative end of the political spectrum, they nevertheless practiced core Jesuit values of altruism in worldly works.

Students in clusters continued to angle around a motionless Jack as some headed in the direction of the moon—past Devlin, then O’Neill Library, and down the hill toward Lower Campus’ dining hall. Others streamed toward Carney, Fulton, and McElroy for evening classes. Jack’s blue eyes squinted, his lowered lids giving him a sleepy expression, and when he smiled his eyes narrowed even further, a bit of baby fat gathering at his cheekbones. He had a touch of a pear shape, as boys raised by their mothers often have. Never much of a terse poet, he had written entire reams to Fran when they were freshmen, wooing her with daily notes on her Facebook wall. A guitar player, he lingered as a few notes sounded in his imagination, a new song maybe. He fancied playing it for Fran, anticipating her smile of pleasure.

Raised an only child by his mother in Swampscott, Jack had grown up highly attuned to Hilda’s endless need for reassurance by him. When he was four his father drifted away with another woman, leaving Jack and Hilda against the world. In return for his loyalty, his mother gave her son her protection and singular devotion. She had once been a fashion model, the raised planes of her face almost haughty in repose. Hilda’s mother—the Baroness, as Jack referred to his grandmother—lived with them and was slowly dissolving into the unmoored oblivion of Alzheimer’s.

The Baroness lived in a back bedroom at the extreme end of the hall from her daughter, around the corner from Jack’s room. She was petulant and demanding, remembering only scraps of her sumptuous Berlin apartment, mostly given to mumbling in German, her imperiousness only grown worse as the disease lodged in her brain. Once Jack overheard the Baroness remark to her daughter, “You’re such a nice person—I would have liked to have known you.” As he had stood stiffly in the hallway, his mother emerged hurriedly from her mother’s bedroom, face fixed and staring, barely taking notice of her son as she passed, looking god knows where.

The two women had given him ample time to wonder what, if anything, endures. And what the point of memory would be if all were at last pulled out to sea by an undertow no one was able to resist. Alzheimer’s seemed to Jack a too-obvious metaphor for an age in which forgetfulness was raised to a strained, defensive art form. Everything saved on our motherboard as a binary palimpsest, nuanced memory lost—as, for example, what exact shade Fran’s hair was when lit by the setting sun.

Such conundrums too difficult for a younger Jack to resolve, he had thus grown up dreamy and imaginative, mature in the way of children without siblings and yet vaguely aware that the loyalty his mother demanded was not free. She was slightly disappointed in him, he knew. Drowned in the materiality of his mother, a real estate lawyer who at bottom disdained men, reducing them in her mind to little boys, Jack felt a passing need of spirit and hearkened to his male teachers. When it came to choosing a college he wanted to go to California but agreed on Boston College, close to his home on Boston’s North Shore, after his mother had become teary-eyed at the thought of him going far away. Throughout his boyhood she had never had to become hysterical; he was well-trained to perceive his mother’s growing fear of being left even before it became visible in her moist eyes.

As unconscious cure—or was it the disease itself?—Jack from a young age had taken refuge in magical books, especially Harry Potter, transported by its mythical world. (Later it was a point in its favor that Boston College was an expensive school, money being magical.) But Hilda was left victimized by the country’s prolonged economic collapse as the new century got underway. Her business plummeted with the housing market, and though she tried to hide it from her son, paying the bills became increasingly a struggle. It was then not just his mother but the entire world that disappointed Jack by not offering as much magical escape as his books.

Over and over he was warned by his mother he’d have trouble, like all his peers, in finding a job. He retreated by becoming like Harry, playing Quidditch at Hogwarts and thriving on imaginary friendship with Hermione and Ron. He grew dreamier and more poetic, playing his guitar alone on his bed through his high school years, his few male friends calling him spacey while girls were attracted by his sensitivity. He always had girlfriends but never fell in love and never, ever brought anyone home.

But nothing was as good as the Harry Potter world; each time Jack reread his much-thumbed copies of the series it was as if returning home, all the better without his mother calling out to him to come make her feel less alone. The outer world, as he called it, that world beyond the confines of high school, was being wrecked by politics, his natural idealism and hope badly wounded as he watched friends and his Uncle Herbert and Aunt Anne lose their jobs and then their houses while Wall Street ballooned.

He loved the woods near his house and felt like they were his personally to protect, offering him in turn solace and refuge. However, the more he walked in the woods, the more aware he became of a dying environment, and he took its symptoms personally. Already in seventh grade he had joined Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund, despairing as he read about melting glaciers in the Arctic and about the third great die off of species, happening in his time. A third of all honeybees had died the previous winter. The problems were endless, from ocean oil spills to disappearing songbirds, so Jack continued the inward turn to Harry Potter for relief and escape all through his teenage years, lingering with Harry long after the things of a child are put away.

Even his friends at college called Jack distracted, and he could often be quiet, plugged into his iPod listening to Fleet Foxes or the Kings of Convenience. In freshman year, however, Fran curiously had helped him hide in the interstices of her words, for she was forever talking up a storm. Her chatter was what he liked about her; she was an English major, after all, which meant she never shut up. He in turn was a psych major who focused on the small and inward, for the world forever left him wounded.

And now standing under the mountainous moon thinking of Fran, Jack remembered that she was waiting for him in her dorm room beyond O’Neill in Ignacio, a brick building nestled halfway down the hill to Lower Campus. He drew his eyes downward, shadows growing under the trees and along the edges of the stone buildings. Walking slowly toward the chain-link fence, he stopped two paces from the gate. He peered closely at it; it was locked with a chain and heavy padlock. A clutch of students passed him, laughing and talking. Suddenly there were two worlds, he thought, looking after the retreating students. He stood in the pivot point. Something strange was certainly happening. Jack hurried after the students, rushing to catch up to a world he already felt slipping away, glancing back once at the fence and at Gasson.

He turned and ran all the way down the granite stairs past O’Neill Library to arrive breathless at Fran’s door in Ignacio B34, where he paused to knock softly. Fran knew his knock and could hear it because her bedroom was right across from the dorm suite’s front door. Always the quiet, hesitant knock—just like Jack. Knock, Knecht, she would tease him sometimes. He would smile his shapely thin-lipped smile, raising his eyebrows at the silly joke, his puckish face and sleepy eyes squinting in delight. And with his short bush of light-brown hair, he looked every bit the part of an elf or half-otherworldly creature, his habitual half-step walk and mild air giving the impression he had one foot in an invisible world. Fran wondered sometimes whether he would ever grow up and gain some firmness, even as she was charmed by his magic.

Francesca Romero, a fellow senior, had gotten lucky in the housing lottery. She and her friends had scored a corner room with the divider wall between kitchen and living room taken down, opening up the two rooms and making the place great for parties. She and Jack had been dating since the end of freshman year, a rarity at Boston College. Fran’s direct roommate Jane sometimes complained that she couldn’t find a boyfriend and proclaimed how lucky Fran was. “You guys have been fbo for what—two years now?” Jane taunted, referring to the fact that in college no relationship was official until it was admitted to on one’s Facebook page.

“It’s a lot of work,” Fran would repeat each time. Jane never heard that part; all she could hear was the familiar tone Fran and Jack used with each other, and she wanted desperately to have that. But college being college these days, dating was not exactly cool or common, although Jane could have all the hookups she wanted. That wasn’t what she wanted, however, nor did anyone at BC, really. Beneath the students’ indifferent exteriors crouched a shyness that bordered on panic. At bottom the heart of a romantic beat underneath the apparently cool psychic ground on campus.

Jack knocked because he was like that, polite and quiet, in some ways the total opposite of her, Fran thought as she lay on her bed idly reading an old Harry Potter, trying not to write a paper for her lit class. From a second-generation Cuban family living in Westchester County outside New York, she was the oldest of six and so, of course, the smartest, a top student and accomplished dancer, dark-haired and expressive. Jack’s German sang-froid cooled her abundant Spanish blood, his smile so shy she had fallen for him the first time they met at the campus Mod party they had both, though freshmen, managed to crash. He was one of the few people who could make her self-conscious of her abruptness. She often thought of the two of them as fellow artists from opposite ends of the spectrum—she passionate, he restrained. Or—was it the other way around?

Which meant at times, like all lovers, they fought. Their fights were sometimes over politics: Fran’s family was baldly more conservative than Jack’s, and Fran had inherited her father’s conviction that George Bush had been good for business even while Frank Romero disliked Republican social policies. As an investment banker, the elder Romero had thrived even through the 2008 economic collapse, transferring his grudging approval to Obama only after the Bush bank-bailout policies continued with the new administration. Fran outwardly adopted her father’s caution and trust of the system, but the ancestral fire in her temperament, forced by convention to smolder, would nevertheless burst through her persona and into her dancing. To dreamy Jack she appeared frankly unstable, and he loved that in her.

They argued about religion as well, Jack having been raised by his hard-headed mother with no religious education to speak of while Fran considered herself a devout Catholic, inheriting her parent’s religion like an unopened box. She went to Mass at Saint Ignatius and didn’t see a contradiction between that and her offhanded use of birth control or her firm belief that women should be ordained. She imagined that Jesus would want her to take care of herself, be practical, and support her sisters. Hadn’t he preached love? Jack’s borderline atheism she felt played only on the surface; down deep he had a kind heart, which for now was enough to admit him into her heavenly affections.

“Come in!” Fran sang out, glancing up as the door swung open and Jack hesitantly stepped into the foyer. He looked around uncertainly, taking a long draught of the wonderful smell of Fran’s room, evocative of faint roses and baby powder like a distant perfume. By contrast his room was acrid with the smell of stale beer and the goaty aroma of boys, no matter how many times they cleaned.

“What’s up?” she called out from her room, letting Harry Potter fall closed. She was bored with it anyway. Her laptop open to her Facebook, she had been alternating between book and electronic page, glancing from time to time at her iPhone beside her on the bed. The only reason she read the book was because Jack was so into it—he even played on the BC Quidditch team, about which he had written an essay for his nonfiction writing class. His deep longing for that world just the other side of our lives, of magic and dragons and spells, was what she loved about him.

Love was itself magic, as was her dancing, Fran now considered. She knew what it was to long for something, for she struggled to produce something of beauty each time she choreographed and danced. Of course, that always remained just out of her reach, no matter how well she and her dancers in the school’s Dance Ensemble performed. But plain reality never broke her heart nor left her with that wound of longing that Jack seemed to carry about with him. Maybe that was because she worked at art while he dreamed it.

She stopped smiling when she caught sight of Jack’s ashen face. Sitting up, she motioned him over. He ducked into her room after stealing another glance down the hallway.

“Er—Jane here?” he asked, looking around their room.

“Yeah, she’s sleeping,” Fran replied, motioning to the empty bed next to hers.

“I mean—,” Jack started.

“What is it?” she asked worriedly, grabbing his hand and pulling him down beside her.

“I don’t know—I just saw something. It can’t be.” He rubbed his short hair, smiling in slight embarrassment.

“Saw what?”

“Nah—it’s nothing.”

“What?” she demanded more loudly. “Tell me!”

“Not so loud,” he grimaced. He sat a moment, taking a breath. “ok—I was walking across the Dust Bowl—”

“The former Dust Bowl,” Fran cut in. The school had recently begun construction on Stokes Hall, to be finished in two years, in order to house several academic departments now in a broken-down adjacent building. This was Carney Hall, known for exploding plumbing pipes that flooded offices to such a point that mushrooms were photographed growing in dark corners. Carney’s structural cracks convinced those with an ounce of sense to exit the building as soon as possible. But, it turns out, academia is just like any other bureaucracy. Nothing happened quickly, except that a committee was studying the problem.

“Right,” Jack nodded, chin in hand. He sat up again. “So there I was walking and I went into the Quad—”

“And—?” It was necessary to hurry Jack along most of the time.

“I stopped to look at the moon. It’s almost full, like a pumpkin; it was coming up slowly over O’Neill. It seemed kind of magical. I was the only one in the Quad for a minute. It was so quiet. And then I saw this guy—I think it was a guy—go into Gasson—”

“Gasson’s closed,” Fran pointed out. “And it has an eight-foot fence around it that’s locked.” She should know: One night she and some of her roommates had tried to get in on a drunken dare. “He went in without unlocking the gate.”

“You saw a construction guy.”

“No—he was dressed peculiarly.”

“How peculiar?”

Jack looked down at the bed and smiled. “Reading Harry Potter,” he brightened. “How do you like it?” he asked quietly.

“It’s—OK,” she replied noncommittally. She didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but it left her cold, pretty much. Derivative. What they said in the English department was true: It was mostly ripped off from other places—Tolkien mainly and, of course, Arthurian legend. As an English major Fran felt a certain superiority when it came to literature. Jack as a psych major wasn’t expected to know anything. Still, coming to academia as an artist, she wondered whether her professors’ condescension and teaching from a distance cloaked their enthrallment by literature. Could they be just as governed by fiction’s spell as Jack was, even just as heartbroken by the real world’s lack of magic as he? An odd thought.

“Meanwhile, what?” she pressed.

“It’s funny you’re reading that now,” he observed.

“Very funny—come on, Jack, what shook you up? You looked scared.”

Jack paused. “OK, so the man I saw going into Gasson—had robes on.” He smiled self-consciously. “Like something they’d wear at Hogwarts. Black, long, with a funny kind of soft hat. He carried a short stick or wand—it looked ceremonial.”

“You saw a Jesuit, Sweetie.” Fran sighed. Jack was always seeing things, or imagining them. Vivid dreams he’d wake up from that took twenty minutes in the telling. He was certain at one point his phone was talking to him and tried to convince her by pointing out an app in which a Chihuahua repeated whatever Jack said. It was as if he didn’t get the joke.

“Do Jesuits wear those oddly-shaped loose beanies?” he asked.

“Someone in costume.”

“In September? Little early for Halloween. The costume looked medieval—”

“So you imagined it—not the first time.”

“Then I must have imagined the whole thing,” he replied.

“What else?”

“The guy didn’t unlock the gate to Gasson—he just went through it.”

“It was open?”

“No—it was closed. I saw that. I saw the man go—through the fence.”

Fran stopped. “What are you talking about?” She had never seen him like this, even when telling the wild story about his phone. The look of astonished fear on his face was beginning to unsettle her. “The man in wizard’s robes just went through the gate—and then went through the side door into the building. Without opening it. He just—went through it, Fran. I swear—I witnessed it. I was thinking: There are dozens of people crossing the Quad, and I’m the only one who’s seeing this. And I saw him go through the door like he was a ghost!” he insisted, staring at her.

“That’s crazy, Jack. It’s dark.” She glanced out the window. “You must have imagined it, or lost sight of him. Maybe it was a shadow or a light reflecting off a window or something—maybe the sun got in your eyes.” She was lining up explanations to avoid believing him.

“No sun. The moon was up. I saw him, Fran. What do you think it means?”

“It means you need your meds adjusted—and don’t start taking mine. Besides, don’t you have that paper for Turner’s econ class due tomorrow?”

“We’ve got to go look inside Gasson.” Jack was emphatic.

“What—? I’ve got work to do, and so do you. Tonight I’ve got Dance Ensemble practice, in case you forgot. I’m an officer this year; it’s not like I can just skip rehearsals or meetings.”

“No, I guess not,” Jack admitted. “Well, I’m going back,” he asserted, breathing deeply. But he didn’t want to, really. He wanted her to go with him; he was terrified. He looked at the copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone that he had loaned her, thinking the homesickness he felt for that magical world was as real as his love for Fran. How he still wished and longed for that world! But now that it looked as if that very world were poking through, all he felt was fear and sick to his stomach.

She looked at her phone. “I don’t have rehearsal until nine o’clock—I’ll go with you just to take a look. You’ll see you imagined it. There’s no one there—it’s a construction site. And if someone is there, it would have to be a guard or worker.” She rose, putting on a light jacket of mauve and stuffing her phone in its pocket, then twisted a colorful silk scarf around her neck, pulling her long dark hair out and smoothing it. Over her shoulder she slung her bag and was ready to go, a waft of perfume filling Jack’s nose and making him smile. He watched, entranced as he always was by Fran’s style.


It was quite dark by the time they climbed the steps and crossed the wide-stepped O’Neill Library plaza, Gasson looming up on their right, its four Gothic spires pointing at the clouds scooting by. Fran walked quickly with decision while Jack lagged a half pace behind. She had to stop and wait, sticking out a hand at last to half pull him along. A few students passed them hurrying to Lower Campus for dinner or heading up to McElroy’s dining hall. Some were even going to O’Neill to study and research, even this early in the semester.

Jack directed Fran to where he had seen the man go in. They rounded the corner of the chain-link fence and stood on the south side of Gasson that faced the Quad. Over their right shoulders the moon brooded, watchful. She went right up to the gate, lifting the chain that held a heavy padlock. She tugged. It was quite locked. Looking around, Jack shrugged.

“That’s where he slipped through,” he insisted quietly.

“Then he went in there?” Fran pointed to the heavy oak doors beyond.

“Right,” he nodded worriedly, glancing around.

“So let’s jump the fence and see whether the door is unlocked,” she declared. She flipped her bag over her head and under one arm. “What—? People will see us!”

“Who will? Nobody cares, and no one is paying attention anyway.” She motioned at small groups of students passing, talking and joking.

“What about the cops? You know I’ve been written up already.” Jack was referring to the time he had gotten caught with a keg in his room in Walsh Dorm. Underage drinking.

“Scared?” Fran teased. Testing the fence on a solid section where the chain link was tied to a vertical pole, she easily hoisted herself up, climbing like a monkey and swinging herself over the top, clattering down the other side to stand on the ground, brushing off her hands.

“Hey!” Jack called, shakily climbing after. By the time he got to the top Fran was heading for the dust-covered oak doors. It wasn’t fair: Not only was she a dancer, but she was studying karate.

“Hurry up—someone will see you!” she called back softly. A breeze was blowing up, and although it was warm, Jack shivered. He clumsily flung himself over the top of the fence and half fell down the other side, the chain link ringing metallically. Fran ran back to catch him though she was a head shorter, slapping his arm and smiling at him. They turned and hurried toward the entrance. She pulled on the handle, but the door stayed firmly shut.

“Wait a minute,” she said, reaching into her bag and pulling out her wallet. She extracted a credit card, proceeding to slip it into the crack inside the door.

“What are you doing?” Jack cried softly, looking around. “We can’t break into a building!”

“We’re not—it’s a construction site. Besides, what would they be alarmed about—us swiping something?” She talked while she worked. “Pull on the door steadily while I do this.”

Jack pulled half-heartedly. He wasn’t sure he wanted to get into the building after all. Not like this. He hadn’t told Fran the whole story. He hadn’t told her that the man had turned just before going through the chain-link gate and shot Jack a glance that, beneath the floppy hat, appeared malevolent. Hard eyes had gleamed back at him, catching his stare, matching a grim expression that told Jack the man was up to no good. But how could Jack relay that? Fran would think he was having a Harry Potter hallucination. Seeing Volde— He stopped himself. He couldn’t say the name even to himself.

“Pull on the door!” Fran hissed, as Jack resumed pulling. After several grunts from her, the door suddenly swung open, throwing him off balance. Fran jumped into the gap, pushing the door open, leaning backwards and pulling Jack in after her. They stood in the gloom of a back stairway, a smell of dust and plaster, cut wood and construction permeating the air. Standing very still, they clasped hands, waiting silently for their eyes to adjust to the dark, each knowing what the other was thinking: Why didn’t we bring a flashlight? No, a flashlight would give us away. Fran pulled Jack slowly along behind her, up the stairs.

“Seems kind of empty, doesn’t it?” she whispered. Their sneakered feet made little noise on the stairs, and after a half story, they pushed through double doors and shuffled down a hall. Doors were off hinges; plaster had been ripped from walls and lay in piles. Large rolling bins of hard grey plastic were overstuffed with construction debris. Their footfalls echoed more loudly here. They rounded a corner and came to the rotunda where the statue of Saint Michael slaying the dragon Satan loomed in the dark, until up close it towered over them in the gloom. They stopped, turning to glance at each other.

Voices emanated from above, coming closer as the two ducked quickly behind Saint Michael and crouched like the dragon at his feet, holding very still. One story up behind the statue, where carved-stone window frames overlooked the rotunda, two figures appeared dimly, backlit by the moon without. The tall, thin one speaking wore a floppy hat and a long robe.

“—insists it’s here, just a matter of finding it, and damn all the charms and prayers to protect it. We’ll find it—or you’ll find it, Saldanha,” he chuckled darkly. “Did you search the tunnels and caves?”

“Yes, of course,” Saldanha replied. “I’m no fool.”

“No, dear brother, but you’re weak. You need direction just as you did at the Vatican. We know the box is here somewhere. The map, the signs point to it—last chance to cross back over. The time has come ’round; the stars are aligned. If we are to have our revenge, now is the time! Find it!” the voice demanded darkly.

“Yes, Pombal, of course! But we need time!” Saldanha implored.

“We have but one week, and then our spell is broken,” Pombal answered. “The stars will shift and we’ll no longer be able to remain here in the half light. We will find it—I lust for the blood of life. I want to drink its dregs as I once did, like a deep blood wine. Hundreds of years we have wandered in the half light as wraiths, longing, always longing to return. I yearn to gorge myself again on life’s pleasures. I will have this, Saldanha, with or without you!”

His heart swooning, Jack recognized the tall man in the long black cassock and soft black hat. He carried the same short scepter as before. Jack wavered on his feet, but Fran shook him, her hand on his elbow.

“I’ve looked,” Saldanha now whined. “Every night. You said this was the best time, while the work is going on and walls have been removed.”

“It’s hidden somewhere in here, though I haven’t time to search. But you have, and since you’ve conveniently gotten yourself hired as night watchman, it’s your job to be here, so no one will be the wiser.”

“How long are we able to impersonate humans?” the smaller man asked.

Pombal raised his solid arm in wonder. “We do not look to them like the specters we are, thanks to my incantations. But my powers are limited while we are prisoners in the half world. In a few days our forms will wither, growing more transparent until we disappear altogether. The time is short! While we still have power we must find the box!”

“What if someone finds it before we do?” asked Saldanha.

“No one will, for no one knows it’s here. The charm of the spirit, the old records say, was placed hereabouts. Once I have broken it, I’ll be able to make the final link between our world and theirs. Find it; you have one week.” The tall man sneeringly regarded his shorter brother. “You’ve always been pathetically weak, Saldanha, and I won’t stop at putting you out of the way if you won’t help me to cross back over. I do not intend to be locked out of life for all eternity!”

Sounds of choking and gasping echoed through the rotunda as Fran and Jack spotted the hands of the taller man on the throat of the smaller, who shrank out of sight.

“Find it!” Pombal yelled, releasing Saldanha finally.

Saldanha gasped and croaked, “Yes, yes!”

Suddenly Pombal leaped onto the stone windowsill overlooking the rotunda, launching himself into space. Fran and Jack expected him to plummet to the stone floor where they hid, but he glided past them, gathering speed and flying around the room before projecting himself right into the stone wall—and disappearing.

His heart in his throat, Jack gaped at Fran, their startled eyes glinting in the dark. They could never tell anyone what they had just witnessed. Above them in the dark Saldanha choked and cursed, pulling himself upright. He spat onto Saint Michael from above as he turned away. With one mind the young couple rose and raced for the door, dodged around the corner, hurtled through the double doors and down the half flight of stairs. The night air filled their stifled lungs as they ran for the chain-link fence. Somehow they were over it in a flash and running for their lives back to Ignacio.