“I know you told this guy you wanted my opinion about these old chairs”, said Silvia, “ but I know squat about antiques, so don’t put me on the spot, huh? Just let me get a feel for Samuels himself, while I’m pretending to look at the chairs. If I have something to tell you, I’ll ask to discuss the chairs while we wander around the shop.”
Ceil and Silvia arrived at The Time Traveler just at 7:30, as Ceil had indicated they would. They found Devon Samuels just inside the door, waiting for them. He was carrying a clean lab coat over his arm, and instead of his usual shirt and sweater, he was wearing a polo shirt.
“Come in, ladies. You are right on time. Please excuse my appearance. I just came back from my storerooms, a few blocks from here. If you will just give me a minute, I will go back and freshen up a bit. I don’t usually meet customers looking like this.” He started to walk away, then came back.
“Ceil, you look smashing in that outfit. Like a different person. I’m not a big fan of the blue jeans look, but you do it justice.”
The two had moved through the doorway as he held it for them, then watched as he closed and locked the door behind them.
“You know where the chairs are, Ceil. I’ll be back in a moment to meet your friend.”
With that, the normally well turned out man turned on his heel and walked away from the women.
“Come on, Silvia. The chairs are over here.”
Silvia was reluctant to move further into the store. “This place gives me the willies. Did you see his arms? Hulk Hogan doesn’t have arms like that. He has muscles on his muscles, for God’s sake. And the tattoo. Had you seen that before?”
“Behave yourself, Silvia. We can discuss him after we leave. Come on, the chairs are right over there.”
“Ceil, did you see that tattoo on his arm? I never saw a design like that before.”
Ceil was whispering now. “Don’t go weird on me, OK? Of course I didn’t see his tattoo before. I never saw his bare arms before this moment. So what’s so strange about a tattoo? If you don’t move your feet, I’ll drag you over there.”
Silvia shook Ceil’s hand off her arm. “We shouldn’t be here. I can hardly breathe.” She put her hand to her chest and felt her own heartbeat. “My heart is racing, Ceil. Show me the chairs, and let me get out of here before I die.”
Ceil took her elbow and guided her toward the chairs, all the while shaking her head and mumbling to herself. As much as she loved Silvia, this kind of over-reaction drove her crazy. When she was rattled by something, Silvia let her emotions run away with her.
“We’ll be out of here in ten minutes. Just calm down and get a reading on this guy for me. We’re safe here, I’m sure of it. Here are the chairs.”
Silvia again pulled her arm away from her friend. Now she used a whisper also. “We’re not safe, Miss Know-it-all! There’s evil here, in this place. You brought me here to see if Samuels is a threat to us. He is, so get me the hell out of here!”
The two of them could hear Samuels rustling around in the back, and then he appeared and walked directly to them.
“You found them. Is there enough light to examine them? Ceil, again I have to say how different you look.” He turned to Silvia and extended his hand. “I’m Devon Samuels. I take it you are Ceil’s friend and an expert on antiques.”
Silvia took the offered hand reluctantly. When they touched, Ceil could see her friend react immediately. Silvia blanched white, and though she opened her mouth to speak, no sound came out.
“I’m sorry, Devon. This is my friend Silvia Latrobe. If she seems a bit strange today, she’s had a rather severe shock and isn’t feeling like herself right now. She only came here because I couldn’t ask you to hold the chairs any longer, and I wanted her opinion.”
Samuels was dressed in a sweater and wool jacket now, and he looked his usual elegant self. Silvia struggled for words for what seemed like an eternity, and finally managed to croak out a weak ‘How do you do’.
Samuels continued to hold her hand, now in both of his, standing close to her all the while and mouthing words that expressed sympathy for her recent trauma. Finally he released her hand and took a step back.
“So what’s your opinion, Ms. Latrobe. Are these chairs suitable, or should Ceil look for something else?”
It was clear that Silvia was trying to form an answer, but no words came out of her mouth.
Ceil stepped forward. “I shouldn’t have brought her out so soon. It’s her father. He’s in intensive care, and we won’t know until tomorrow if he’s going to be OK. Please forgive me, Devon. I’m afraid I’ve wasted your time and given Silvia more to distress her. If it’s OK, I’ll call you tomorrow with my decision. Now I think I should get Silvia out of here and back to her father’s side. Thank you again for your consideration.”
She again took Silvia’s arm and guided her toward the front door. Samuels followed closely behind them, offering words of comfort, but they did little to comfort the ailing Silvia.
“Call me tomorrow. If you need more time, I will understand. I hope that Ms. Latrobe’s father recovers, and I will pray that Ms. Latrobe feels better. Can I call a cab for you?”
Ceil was at the door now, waiting for him to unlock it. “I think the air will do us both good. I apologize again for wasting your time, Devon. I was insensitive to Silvia’s feelings. Thank you for your patience.”
Devon Samuels smiled at his two guests and then unlocked the door for them. As Silvia passed him, he touched her shoulder lightly, and Ceil could see her swoon, then catch herself.
As they walked away, Ceil glanced back at her host. He was smiling broadly, but when he saw her looking, he immediately wiped away the smile, and with a look of concern, waved.
Ceil swore under her breath, and then guided Silvia away as quickly as she could push her along.
Silvia began to improve almost immediately. By the time they were half a block away, she was breathing normally, and her color had returned.
“The son of a bitch knew he was doing something to you. He was enjoying it!”
Silvia nodded. “He was on to me as soon as I walked in. He’s an empath. A powerful empath! He knew who I was even before I spoke a word. It was him interrupting my breathing, too. This man isn’t what he appears to be, Ceil. He could have killed me if he’d wanted to. I knew that, and he knew I knew it. When he touched me as we were leaving, it felt like a powerful electric shock. He was sending me a message.”
“If you come here again, you will die. He meant it.”
Ceil shook her head. “How come I didn’t feel any of this? To me he seemed completely normal.”
Silvia was able to walk on her own now, and she gently pulled her arm away from Ceil’s hand.
“The message was for me. Because of my powers, I think. I felt him probing my mind. He was laughing at us. At both of us. Like he was playing with us, but in a superior way. He doesn’t feel threatened by us at all. Just intrigued. Temporarily amused, I think.”
“Silvia, I’m so sorry I put you in this position. The bastard had no call to threaten you like that. Now he’s pissing me off.”
Silvia was, for all practical purposes, back to normal now. “Something else. He wanted us to see that tattoo on his arm. That was no accident. And one more thing. The chairs?”
“Yeah. Great, aren’t they? Too bad I can’t do business with that shithead now. It would have been great to have them.”
“They’re not old.”
Ceil stopped. “What do you mean, they’re not old? They were made two hundred years ago. All the signs are correct—wear, finish, design, everything. I’ll bet you’re wrong on that point.”
Silvia shook her head, very sure of herself. “Nope. They were made in the last year or so. Using old tools and techniques, I think, but they’re definitely not old.”
Ceil shook her head. “That really surprises me. Do you think Samuels knows they’re not old?”
Silvia cocked her head sideways. “He’s the one who told me.”
The woman was clearly confused. Samuels saw the look of mild bewilderment on her face, and smiled a secret smile. This one should have been here earlier, and he had begun to think he would have to seek her out, rather than wait for her to find him.
He put on his sincere smile then, and strolled toward the front of the shop, where she was waiting.
“May I help you? I’m Devon Samuels.” He held his hand out, and she took it tentatively.
“You look a little lost. Perhaps I can help.” He released her hand and let her step back a pace. There was no hurry now. Getting her to come to the shop had been more challenging than usual, but she was here now, and she wouldn’t be going anywhere without his permission.
She was relaxing a little now. The tension around her eyes was easing, and a tiny smile appeared.
“Not lost, exactly. Just a little concerned about why I’m in here.” When he purposely allowed his eyes to show puzzlement, she immediately backed down.
“Oh, please, don’t take that the wrong way, Mr. Samuels. I’m not belittling your store. Your things are very nice. But I’m not an antiques person, you know? I have a very nice normal house, new furniture and all. All Ethan Allen and Thomasville. I always believed I couldn’t afford real antiques.”
The rejected look left his eyes, and in its place was confidence. He knew something was wrong with this one. The lack of knowledge about antiques was decidedly outside the norm. Yet she had found her way here. That was the most important thing. He made a mental note to himself to find out why her original instructions had failed.
“I’m sure your decorating is very tasteful. But you probably owe it to yourself to look into a few good antique pieces. Just to complement your new furniture. And cost will surprise you. You can find accent pieces that are one hundred years old, in perfect order, and less expensive than your Thomasville.”
Now she smiled easily. She was very pretty, late twenties or early thirties, fit, and wearing an outfit that was quietly expensive. He liked her, in spite of her poor knowledge of his wares.
“Now that’s really hard to believe. I’m Jenna Millett, by the way.” She held her hand out again, this time without reluctance.
“Let me convince you. Humor me, OK? Just find a piece here that you really like, and let me show you what I mean.”
The girl seemed to like that. Even though she had stumbled into the shop almost by accident, she was clearly beginning to have fun with it. She let her eyes wander around the shop now.
“There! That lovely old sideboard over on the wall. That’s the kind of look I’d like, but I am very certain I can’t afford it. And you’re right, it would fit into my dining room like it was made for it.”
“And how much would you pay for a reproduction from Thomasville?”
“Umm. Two thousand, I think. Maybe a little more.”
“Well, you’re in luck. That piece is marked at thirty-five hundred. But today, for you, it’s sixteen hundred. You drive a hard bargain.”
The girl’s mouth fell open, literally. “You’re kidding, right? That looks like it’s worth a lot more.”
“And the good part is that it will grow in value every day you own it. Your Thomasville, on the other hand, was used furniture the day it was delivered to you. You’d be hard pressed to get twenty-five cents on the dollar for it.”
She cocked her head sideways. “You’re not just having fun at my expense, are you? I know that’s worth more than sixteen hundred.”
Samuels made a cross sign over his heart. “Cross my heart. It isn’t every day I get a neophyte collector in here. Would you like to see some other pieces similar to the sideboard?”
“I would. You’ve convinced me, Mr. Samuels. Lead on.”
He led her into his small backroom. It would be the last free will decision she would ever make.
When the two women arrived back at Jennifer’s apartment, Bob Logan gave a quick report to Ceil, and then she dismissed him for the day. Ceil then joined Silvia and Jennifer on the sofas.
Jennifer, fully recovered now from her earlier ordeal, said, “You look like you’ve seen a ghost, Silvia. You have no color in your face.”
Silvia slapped her own face lightly, several times. “I could say the same about you. Ceil says you had another go at the mirror.”
Jennifer nodded. “Crazy stuff. I was ten feet away from it, down in the basement, yet I could see the images plain as day.”
Ceil snorted. “I’m starting to feel like Little Orphan Annie here. Both of you are getting visions and messages, and I don’t get any of it. Logan said the cop called back while I was out. Is he coming back here?”
“Yeah, with some technicians. I think I won’t go down to the basement with him this time.”
“Right, you won’t. I’ll do it. I want a chance to talk to this guy anyway.”
Jennifer frowned. “Oh God, I should have warned him. Don’t blame him for what happened, Aunt Ceil. It wasn’t his fault.”
For the first time in several hours, Ceil smiled. “I’ll try not to embarrass you. Logan pointed out the folly of my rage this afternoon. Sorry I was such a jerk. I’ll make it up to Bob tomorrow.”
Jennifer nodded in agreement. “You were pretty hard on him. It’s a good thing he knows you so well. He barely reacted when you attacked him.”
Ceil showed some embarrassment at her niece’s comment. “Yeah. I wouldn’t have done that in the old days.”
Silvia cleared her throat. “I think Samuels is our guy, Ceil. I think he’s the one who’s showing the images to Jennifer.”
“You concluded that by deduction or by psychic powers? He’s probably implicated in this thing, but I haven’t seen one solid piece of evidence that he’s the murderer or the one threatening Jenn.”
Silvia raised her eyebrows. “What about what we just saw at his shop? Wait until Carl gets here. He’ll agree with me on this one.”
“Carl’s not coming here tonight. He said he was going to do some more research.”
Silvia looked very superior. “He’s on his way now. I sent him an astral message about Samuels,” she smiled.
The doorbell rang then, signaling a visitor in the lobby. Jennifer bounced off the sofa before either of the two older women could react.
“It’s Carl Demorist, Jennifer.”
She buzzed him in, then came back to Silvia. “How’d you do that?”
Ceil said, “She’s showing off. Probably knew Carl was planning to come over before I met her to go to see Samuels.”
Silvia sniffed again, mildly incensed that her friend would doubt her intuitive powers. “How quickly some people forget. Carl and I don’t require a telephone to communicate. He knows when I need him.”
Ceil sighed loudly. “Whatever. Maybe he’s coming because he knows I want to talk to him. Which I do.”
Jennifer said, “Oh, you two stop sniping at each other. He’s here, and we all want him here. Maybe the three of us made the message stronger together.”
At that point, Carl came through the doorway that Jennifer had cracked open earlier.
“Hello ladies. Hope I’m not late.” He leaned over to kiss each of the women in turn, ending up with Silvia.
“Thanks for the heads-up. It was getting boring at my place anyway.”
Silvia looked over at Ceil and stuck her tongue out.
“Did she telephone you, Carl?”
“Jungle telephone. So what’s so important.”
Silvia basked in her victory. “I think its Samuels. But Ms. I-know-everything says we don’t have any evidence. I have evidence, but not the court kind.”
Carl nodded his head, pleased to see his two old friends behaving like they did in the old days.
“If she says she knows, Ceil, then she knows.”
Ceil threw up her hands in mock disgust. “You two haven’t changed in the least. No respect for the law then, none now. Spare me the psycho-babble and tell me how you know.”
“In a minute. Carl, where is this type of tattoo from?” Silvia drew the tattoo she’d seen on Samuels’ upper arm. In the center of it, she put the capital letters RCLR.
Carl showed his surprise. “That looks like the mark worn by the Roman legions during the Roman Empire’s heyday. Where did you see that?”
Silvia looked triumphant. “That’s it! I knew I’d seen it before. But why would Samuels have it on his upper arm?”
Ceil was impatient now. “So make your case, Silvia. Prove to us that Samuels is the one sending the pictures to Jennifer. So he wears a funny tattoo. Half the men in New York have tattoos now.”
Silvia was flying now. “OK. First, he’s telling you the chairs are old, but he’s telling me they aren’t old. Second, he nearly blacked me out when he touched me tonight. And third, the feeling I got when he held my hand was the same feeling I had when Jennifer and I watched him in the mirror. You satisfied now?”
Jennifer, who had been watching the three old friends as they jousted for advantage, could contain herself no longer. “That’s it? That’s your proof? The cops are going to love this story even more than they did mine. They’ll lock us all up.”
Carl took the floor now. “Hold on, Jennifer. Silvia is usually right about this stuff. I checked out the name, Ceil, like we discussed. You were right. Devon Samuels was born in 1951, in Newkirk, New York. He died the same day. There’s no other record of a Devon Samuels born between 1945 and 1960. It looks like this guy appropriated the name and birth certificate for his own use. I also checked on the ownership of the Time Traveler. It’s pretty fuzzy”
Ceil nodded. “Silvia, I trust your feelings, but this one may be a stretch. We can’t accuse this guy of murder just because he has a tattoo and he tried to sell us counterfeit Windsor chairs. If they are counterfeit. They look pretty real to me.”
Silvia was losing her patience. “He told me they were not old, Ceil. Why would he lie?”
Ceil shook her head. “He told you that through mental telepathy! He didn’t say a word out loud. You think the cops are going to believe he lied when he put the thoughts in your head?”
Silvia frowned. “This is our problem, Ceil. The cops can’t help us. We can’t even tell them this stuff. We have to solve this one. We are the ones Samuels is threatening. We have to stop him.”
Carl shook his head violently. “We aren’t kids anymore, Silvia. From what you’ve said, this is a very powerful man who may or may not be a serial killer. Either way, we’re no match physically for him.”
Ceil stood up, stretching to her full height. “If he’s the one, I have equalizers that will make me his equal. If we’re sure, I’ll kick his ass right now.”
If she meant it to be funny, it worked out well, because the other three in the room all laughed until their sides hurt. Ceil took it well.
“OK, enough of this. Carl, Silvia won’t rest until she knows about that damned tattoo. It seemed to both of us that Samuels wanted us to see it. Please research it. Silvia, please stay here while I go down and let these guys in to see the mirror, for whatever that’s worth. Jennifer, you stay here with Silvia. If your ex-boyfriend shows up, let Silvia deal with him, OK?”
With that, she grabbed her handbag and headed for the basement.
Jennifer and Silvia settled back into the sofas. Both felt uncomfortable about what had just happened. Silvia pulled deeper into herself, not sure how to ease the tension between them, preferring silence to a continuation of their conversation.
Jennifer summoned her courage and turned to face her new friend. “I didn’t mean to doubt what you’re saying. We’re all a little on edge, I guess. I apologize for what I said. This isn’t a joke and I shouldn’t make it one.”
Silvia sniffed a couple of times and sipped her tea. Finally she spoke. “No harm done, Jennifer. You haven’t seen us work together before, or you’d know this is how we used to interact all the time. Ceil is just nervous about you, honey. She thinks you’re in grave danger, and she’s right. So she’s put on her game face, only it’s been so long, she’s a little rusty at it. She’ll settle into it. I know her, and even though she’s a little cranky, she’ll get it right. She always does.”
With the ice broken, Jennifer decided to plunge ahead. “You have a lot more confidence than I do. I know she’s worried about me, but I worry about her too. And if you’re right about Mr. Samuels, all of us together wouldn’t be able to stand up to him.”
Silvia put down her cup. She was on firm ground now, and she saw her duty clearly. It was time Jennifer had a clear picture of the woman who was shielding her from harm. She took Jennifer’s hand in both of hers.
“I think it’s time you knew a little more about your aunt, honey. You’ve known her as an eccentric clotheshorse who wanted to be your fairy godmother. And for years, that’s just what she was. She made a choice a few years ago, to put her government service behind her. When she got out of the Agency, she was just 36. Young to retire, but in the life she’d led, it was old age and then some. Since then, she and Carl made a literal fortune in the stock market, and Ceil became a Village fixture. She didn’t set out to be the lady in the funny clothes, but once that persona developed, she liked it. And when you came to town, she had a new purpose. Protecting you.”
“I had always thought that she’d been this flamboyant person who wanted to be the topic of conversation. I don’t remember if she was like that when I was a little girl. I just remember how wonderful it was when she came to visit. And how she and my mother always seemed to be crossways of each other. About everything.”
Silvia nodded. “The way she looked today is how she looked for fifteen years. Stunning, but in a very laid back kind of way. When she quit being James Bond, she came to the conclusion that she was going to hide in plain sight. If any of her old enemies wanted to find her, she’d make it easy for them.”
Jennifer shook her head. “I always thought she didn’t have a care in the world…or an enemy. Now I think she’s taking on too much. Steven is a violent man, and Ceil shamed him like he’s never been shamed. He’ll come after her, and this time he’ll be prepared.”
Silvia smiled. “I’m going to tell you some things I probably shouldn’t, honey. The deal we all have with the Government is that we can’t talk about our old lives. Not ever. But you need to know some of this, and most of what I’m going to tell you is twenty or thirty years old anyway. You know that Ceil worked as an operative for the CIA, right?”
Jennifer nodded. “I’m over that surprise, but it still amazes me. Mr. Logan told me some things, about how Ceil saved Carl’s life, even though it was against orders.”
“That’s a good story, but it’s pretty mild compared to the kinds of things she did in Europe. Ceil was assigned to an existing network of agents located primarily in Italy and Germany when she finished her training. She was number two to an old guy who had been with the Agency when it was still called the OSS. The guy was recruited by Wild Bill Donovan himself, early in World War Two. When Truman set up the CIA in 1946, this guy was one of the original employees.
“Like most of those guys, he was a cowboy. Hated being in an office, loved field work, and for twenty-plus years, he was the best at recruiting and training new agents in Western Europe. He put people into every subversive group in Europe, including Bader-Meinhof in Germany, the Communist Party in France, and the Red Brigades in Italy. He had the best record in the Agency. His reports read like cheap detective stories, but they were always reliable. For all those years, he’d never lost an agent.
“Ceil became one of his assistants. He bitched like hell at getting a woman assistant. Said she was too young, too good looking, not tough enough. It took him almost a year to acknowledge that he had a real treasure working for him, but he finally got it, and once he did, he decided to teach her everything he knew. Sort of like leaving his legacy, I guess. By that time, he’d come to realize she was absolutely fearless, and smart on top of it.
“Together, they made his networks even better than they were before. As he aged, he began turning more and more of the clandestine stuff over to Ceil, which was more than OK with her. They were like father and daughter, and he was preparing to leave it all to her and go fishing. He had nearly forty years in, and he was tired.”
Jennifer had not moved during this monologue. She sat quietly, with her mouth open slightly, occasionally shaking her head in awe as the story unfolded.
“The massacre of the eight Israeli Olympic athletes in Germany was the biggest thing on their plate, and they were pressuring their networks to find out where these animals had gone to ground. For months, nobody could find out a thing, and Langley was beside itself trying to help the Mossad find the killers. Ceil and her boss were both pushing their agents for any indicators they could find.
“Finally one of the Bader-Meinhof moles claimed he had a source within their cell that knew where the killers were holed up. But the source insisted that he had to talk directly to Ceil’s boss. Not her, not the mole who was on the Agency payroll. It had to be directly to the legend himself. A meet was set, in a safe house in West Berlin. Ceil asked to be his backup. On site but hidden. Her boss refused. He thought she was being overly protective. He sent her off on a wild goose chase just so she wouldn’t gummy up the works by showing up uninvited.”
By now, Jennifer’s mouth was so dry that she couldn’t even wet her lips, but she refused to interrupt the story.
“When Ceil found him, the next afternoon, he’d been dead for several hours, but his killers had kept him alive for about twelve hours. With the drugs available to them, they could have emptied his brain without resorting to any torture. They had used the drugs, of course, but they had also inflicted pain. Needless pain, done in such a way that even though he was drugged, he felt it all.
“They removed more than half the skin off his body. In the end, he told them everything, but somebody wanted to send a message to the Agency. The killing of Ceil’s agent network began immediately. In Germany, in Italy, in France, in Austria, key agents, some of whom had been in place for ten years or more, were brutally killed. Some of their families, down to children and infants, were slaughtered also. It was a bloodbath involving more than a dozen local nationals. In all, 37 people tied to the secret moles were put to death.
“On the Wall of Fame at Langley, Virginia, star number 29 is William Tetrick, Ceil’s boss, mentor and friend. That’s the last time I saw Ceil like she is now. She’s never going to let someone take away one of her own again. She would rather die than go through that again.”
Jennifer tried to speak, but her mouth and throat were so dry, she could only croak. She quickly emptied Ceil’s cold cup of tea, and finally she could speak.
“That’s an awful story. No wonder she’s so protective of me. Did they ever catch the people who did this to her boss?”
Silvia looked away for some seconds, clearly struggling with how much more to say to Jennifer. Finally she turned back.
“It turned out that there were four people involved with Bill Tetrick’s betrayal. Plus there was a cell of East Germans that totaled thirteen more. Ceil was given a sanction by the Agency to locate the double agent who had set Bill up, and, if possible, bring him in to be interrogated by the Agency. That was the extent of her brief. Find the man who had double-crossed Bill Tetrick and try to apprehend him for cross-examination by others.
“She found him. In a thirty-six hour frenzy she was able to locate and isolate him. She did the interrogation herself. That gave her the three other names of the people who had tortured Bill, plus some general information about the cell they belonged to.”
“Did she return him to the Agency?”
“She returned his body. Over the next ten days, she also called the meat wagon for the other three torturers. Then she went back to work to rebuild the network that had been destroyed by the terrorists. She used her weekends and her vacation time to find and eliminate the other thirteen cell members. It took her fourteen months. By then, her networks were rebuilt and were producing quality intelligence for the Agency. I could tell you more, but I can see in your face that this is enough. If she and Steven come face to face, and she feels he is a threat to you, Steven will die. It’s that simple, Jennifer.”