Welcome to chapter 5 of Arena of Souls, my new, Doc Savage-style, pulp adventure. A new chapter every week! If you missed the previous chapters, check them out here:
Arena of Souls
Chapter 5: The Book
The whisper of the wind in the pines bathed the house in a soft blanket of peace, but sleep eluded Stone. Uncomfortable taking up residence in his grandfather’s bedroom, he’d given it over to Alex and instead stretched out on a plush rug in the sitting room in front of the cold fireplace. Now he lay staring up at the ceiling, turning the doubloon over in his hand and rubbing his thumb across its smooth surface.
After the police had taken his and the others’ statements, and the morgue taken away the intruder’s body, he and Trinity had talked for more than an hour. Rather, she talked, he listened. She’d applied all her skills as a reporter to try and find out where he’d gone and what he’d done since he left the service, but he’d managed to gently rebuff her attempts without further raising her ire. She’d finally headed home, promising to pay a visit to the taxi cab company the following morning and see if she could root out any information about the deceased man, and perhaps even locate the missing recording device. Relief dueled with loneliness as he watched her drive away, but it was not thoughts of the beautiful young woman that kept him awake now.
Minutes turned to hours until finally, at three o’clock, Stone rose. He didn’t need a watch. He’d always had what others considered to be an uncanny sense of time, but to him, it was natural. He began pacing, unable to put a finger on what bothered him. It lingered in the back of his mind like an itch he could not scratch. Giving up on any hope of sleep, he headed to his grandfather’s study and searched the shelves in vain for a book that might give him a clue about the doubloon: books on Spanish history, books about South and Central America and the Caribbean. Nothing.
When the first hint of dawn painted a stripe of dull gray across the eastern horizon, he headed outside, removed his shoes and socks, and walked out into the cool, damp grass. He closed his eyes, breathed deeply of the moist, clean air, and flowed into the forms that had become a part of him since he became the first Westerner to penetrate the secrets of the Shang Lau. His conscious mind focused on the movements, smooth, powerful, and always perfectly balanced, his subconscious mind was free to drift. It was a technique that had served him well many times, and it did not fail this time. He had it!
Satisfaction coursing through him, he completed the form before putting his socks and shoes back on and returning to the house. The aroma of coffee greeted him when he opened the door, and he found Alex in the kitchen, spooning sugar into a cup of light brown liquid.
“I don’t know how you can stand to drink it like that,” Stone said, pouring a cup for himself. “All that sugar and milk is bad for you.”
Alex, lean as a greyhound, looked down at his flat stomach and made a face. “I think I’m all right.”
“For now.” Stone took a swallow of the hot, dark liquid. Alex had made it just right— heavy on the coffee grounds, light on the water.
“You were up early,” Alex said.
“Correction. I’m up late.”
“And you’re concerned about the way I take care of myself?” Alex shook his head. “Everyone needs sleep. Even the great Brock Stone.” He gestured toward Stone with his coffee cup.
“I don’t need much sleep. Never have.”
“Something bothering you?” Alex blushed. “Foolish question. I meant, aside from the obvious.”
“Yes, but it took me a while to figure it out.” Stone took another swallow of coffee. “My grandfather left me all his belongings, including his books, but he made a point to have his attorney give me a copy of The Lost World. There has to be a reason.”
Alex nodded thoughtfully. “That book was published nearly twenty years ago, and I don’t remember much of the plot, but I think there’s an obvious connection you’re overlooking.”
“On the day you are given a book, from your grandfather, about the search for a lost world, a man tries to kill you. And what do we find in his pocket?”
“You think the doubloon comes from a lost civilization?” Stone took the coin out of his pocket and laid it on the kitchen table. He should have thought of it himself, but Trinity was the one person who had always been able to tie his thoughts in knots.
“Comes from… Depicts a legend… Who knows? But it’s quite a coincidence, isn’t it?”
“Perhaps.” Stone drained his coffee cup and waved away Alex’s offer of a refill. Had his grandfather been trying to send him a message with the gift of the book? It was certainly possible. “We should search his papers. Perhaps there’s something there.”
They headed to the study, where Stone rifled through the contents of his grandfather’s desk, while Alex flipped through the books on the shelves. Next, they checked the writing desk in the sitting room, and even the drawers in the kitchen, but found nothing. Finally, they searched the master bedroom, also without success.
“This is wrong.” Stone voiced the thought that had plagued him since he’d left the study.
“What do you mean?” Alex dropped heavily onto the side of the bed.
“Think back. What do you remember about my grandfather?”
“Not much. It seemed like he always had his nose in a book, or was writing in his journal.”
“Exactly. He wrote in that journal every day, sometimes several times a day. He must have filled, I don’t know, two or three journal books a year.”
“Where are they?” Stone raised his arms, palms facing upward. “For that matter, where are all his books? The shelves in the study can’t hold a tenth of his library.”
“You think the study is a facade?” Alex scratched his chin.
“Precisely. I think his true study is hidden somewhere.”
Just then, someone knocked, and then a voice called out. “Mister Brock… I mean, Stone, are you here?”
“We’re in the master bedroom, Moses. Come on back.”
Moments later, Moses’ muscular form appeared in the doorway. “I seen the light was on and thought I’d check with you to see if there’s anything in particular you want me to attend to today.”
“Actually, we could use your help. What were my grandfather’s daily activities like?”
Moses considered the question. “Mostly reading and writing. He’d take a little sunshine of the morning, maybe stroll down the lane.” He paused. “Can’t really say what he did all day long. He disappeared for hours at a time most every day.”
“Where did he go?” Stone asked.
Moses shrugged. “I always figured he was napping, but sometimes I’d be working outside and I’d notice his bedroom was empty.”
Stone and Alex exchanged glances. It fit.
“Did he ever go into any of the outbuildings?” Alex asked. “The carriage house, perhaps?”
Moses shook his head.
“Moses, have you ever seen anything that looked like a secret doorway anywhere in the house or on the property?” Stone’s heart raced. He knew he was on the right track.
Moses slowly shook his head. “Can’t say that I have.”
Stone sighed. His copy of The Lost World lay on the bedside table. He picked it up and thumbed through it. “What’s your secret, Grandfather?” he muttered. Discouraged, he tossed the book back onto the table.
“What is it?” A look of concern painted Alex’s face.
“I just remembered something the attorney told me. Grandfather wanted me to sit in the window seat and read this book one last time.”
Stone moved to the window seat and settled in at an angle with his legs hanging over the edge, just like he’d always sat as a child when his grandfather read to him. He no longer fit well, but its purpose was served when he saw what lay directly in his line of sight.
“Look at that painting.”
Alex turned around and his jaw dropped.
“It’s the same as what’s on the cover of that book,” Moses marveled.
“You don’t think…” Alex began.
“Yes I do.” The painting, a good five six feet tall and three feet wide, depicted a plateau rising above a dense jungle, and
nearly reached the ceiling. “It’s more than big enough to hide a doorway.”
The three of them moved in lockstep. When they reached the painting, Stone took hold of the frame and pulled. It resisted, then with an audible click, swung forward, revealing a stout wooden door.
Stone smiled. “This is it.”