Cross and crown, p.12

Cross & Crown, page 12

 part  #2 of  Sidewinder Series


Cross & Crown

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Page 12


  “Oh shit,” Kelly whispered.

  Julian took a deep breath and raised his head. “We weren’t careful enough with our location. Cameron made . . . he made a phone call that . . . Anyway. If I don’t find this fucking treasure before someone else does, they’ll kill him. ”

  Nick offered to cook for them, but they insisted he order out so he wouldn’t have to bother with it. Kelly wanted to tell Julian and JD that cooking sometimes eased Nick’s nerves, but he kept his mouth shut.

  Hagan joined them just as the food was getting there, and Nick spent five minutes bitching about how Hagan had a citywide radar set out for free food but couldn’t remember to get him a damn Gatorade instead of coffee in the morning.

  They sat up on the flybridge, eating Thai food and watching the sun set, filling JD and Hagan in as they ate. Kelly kept close enough to Nick to maintain contact surreptitiously. He could feel Nick winding up, and Nick’s peace of mind often fed off contact. Now and then Nick would seek out Kelly’s hand and merely squeeze it, then go back to eating.

  “Masons, Revolutionary treasure, Irish royalty,” Hagan said through a mouthful of food. “I think you’re all insane. ”

  “I bet we get a shrink in here, he’d say you’re right,” Nick said. He stretched out, throwing his arm over the back of the bench seat behind Kelly. Kelly put his plate down and leaned into him, resting his feet on a stool off to the side.

  “So, let me see if I have the timelines correct,” JD said. He was looking down at his food, pushing it around his plate. He hadn’t eaten much. “The Rosicrucians pop up in Germany in 1600. They’re . . . esoteric, to say the least. They concentrate on learning, secrets of nature, and healing. But they gain enough steam to inspire the Masons two hundred years later, who become a far more prevailing organization. Based more in wealth and power. ”

  “So far I’m following,” Hagan commented.

  “The Masons stretch across the sea to the Americas, they build themselves a country, and they amass a treasure,” JD continued, wincing a little. “And then some dumb shit loses it to a British lieutenant and shrugs and says whoops?”

  “We’ve all heard the theories about how the Masons inspired the American forefathers,” Nick said, taking up the timeline. “Whether they’re true or not . . . eh. ” He shrugged, wobbling his hand in the air. “But there are enough proven connections to make me believe in a Colonial treasure trove of Masonic origin. I buy that. But why in God’s name would they pile all that treasure into a wagon, and then cart it into the middle of a war?”

  “They had to have some purpose for it,” Julian mused. “A hiding place. Hell, perhaps they really were using it to pay soldiers. ”

  Nick shrugged.

  “Maybe it was a payment for something else,” Kelly suggested. “Something besides the soldiers. ”

  Nick pursed his lips, humming thoughtfully. “They were looking for help from the French. They could have been taking it north as oil to grease the wheels of a treaty. ”

  Kelly put a hand on Nick’s thigh and let it rest there.

  “Okay, so the treasure is taken, the British soldiers hide it, intending to come back for it. But if the legends are true, they never do. A few years later, King Whoever the Something creates this Order of St. Patrick in Ireland. ” Kelly stopped, raising his hand. “See, that’s where it loses me. Where’s the connection between Colonial treasure, the British getting their asses handed to them, and Ireland?”

  “Ireland is part of Britain?” Hagan tried.

  “The lieutenant who took the treasure was Irish,” JD reminded them. “He was a member of the Order of St. Patrick.

  And he fought in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Oh God, that’s so obscure. ”

  Nick wrinkled his nose. “Let’s . . . make some assumptions for the sake of argument, here. Dude goes home to Ireland, becomes a knight, and realizes he doesn’t need to deal with the sea crossing again to get to that shit he left back there.

  He’d want to leave a mark, though. He’d want people to know he took it away from the Americans, right? He’d want to somehow let someone know where to find it. Leave clues. ”

  “Perhaps that’s where the theft comes in,” Julian offered.

  He’d barely eaten any of his dinner.

  Kelly couldn’t imagine what the man was suffering through, knowing the love of his life was in the hands of ruthless men and still trying to figure out a centuries-old mystery.

  Nick shrugged. “Makes as much sense as anything else. ”

  Julian gave a distracted wave.

  “You know what don’t make sense to me?” Nick continued, his voice still casual but his body tensing against Kelly’s. “Why they’d tap you for this shit. ”

  Julian put his utensils down with care and met Nick’s eyes.

  Nick cocked his head. “Hey bud, you don’t have to prep for a fight every time I ask a question. I get it, okay? But I told you I’d help you. I’m not attacking you, you feel me? Just trying to understand. ”

  Julian glanced around at them al , then met Nick’s eyes once more and nodded.

  “You’re not alone in this,” Nick assured him.

  Kelly found himself leaning closer to Nick the more gentle his voice went. Nick squeezed him close, probably not even aware that he was doing it.

  “I don’t trust anyone,” Julian finally said. “Do understand it’s not personal. ”

  “Fair enough. Your cover was as an antiques dealer, right?”

  “That’s correct. ”

  “Nazi Germany was notorious for archaeological digs in search of religious relics. Do you have anything in your background that would ping you for a job like this? Hunting . . . myths? CIA? IRA?”

  “I’ve been assured by a close contact within the Company that the CIA has nothing to do with this, nor do any of the other alphabets I’ve ever crossed. It’s . . . a private matter. That was as much as he was able to glean without putting himself in an awkward position. ”

  Nick smiled, laughing silently. “That wasn’t what I asked. ”

  Julian snorted. “Fine. I was schooled in the art of relieving artworks of their cages. ”

  “You were an art thief,” Kelly summed up.

  “Very briefly. And very badly, might I add. It was one of the few things I was caught doing. It would be on a record . . .

  somewhere. ”

  “What concerns me is that it wasn’t your shitty art theft abilities that caught someone’s attention,” Kelly said. “I think your purpose is to . . . kill things, pretty much. ”

  “Deftly put,” Julian said with a hint of a smile.

  “Well, someone had the contacts and the information to sniff you out, and to hand you these leads you’ve been following,” Hagan said. His mouth was half-full and he was hurrying through his food. “What the hell kind of private citizen has those resources?”

  Nick and Kelly shared a glanced, and Kelly raised an eyebrow. “What about Johns? He’s back with that security company, he might have some feelers to put out. ”

  “He’s worth a cal ,” Nick said with a curt nod. “I’ll do it after dinner. ”

  “You know,” Hagan said. “If they’re following clues, or hunting for them like they were at the bookstore, they’d have left a trail. ”

  “What do you mean?” Nick asked.

  “If they’re looking for contemporaneous papers that tell where this treasure is, this isn’t their first robbery. You don’t get from Dublin Castle in Ireland to a bookstore in Boston without a little hint about where to go, know what I mean?”

  “That’s where we’ll start tomorrow,” Nick declared, nodding at his partner.

  “Start that search in Dublin,” Julian suggested.

  “Oh, and I got the printout of the sketch from the artist JD talked to,” Hagan said, and he stood and patted his pockets down to extract a folded-up piece of paper. He handed
it to Nick.

  Nick unfolded it and smoothed it out. Kelly felt Nick’s body tense as soon as he saw the drawing.

  “What?” Kelly whispered.

  “This might complicate things a bit. ” Nick turned to JD.

  “You sure this man shot at you?”

  “No, no. It’s just . . . I remembered him when the gunfire started. I have no idea who he is. ”

  Nick nodded, eyes on the drawing again. “I do. ”

  There was a general outburst of questions from the others, but Nick’s mouth was set in a grim line. He met Julian’s eyes as he turned the drawing around. “It’s Cam. ”

  Julian blanched and snatched the paper from Nick’s hand.

  He stood, staring at it for several beats before turning to JD, his black eyes ablaze.

  “Whoa, whoa!” Kelly shouted, and he and Nick both hopped up to intercept before a fight could break out.

  Nick wrapped Julian up and dragged him toward the edge of the flybridge, his arms around Julian’s massive shoulders, his bare feet digging in to fight the weight of Julian’s struggles.

  Julian might have been one of the few men Kelly’d seen who made Nick look smal . Kelly positioned himself in front of JD, who was watching with wide eyes, confusion written in every line of his face.

  “He’s seen Cam!” Julian shouted as he struggled against Nick’s hold. “He’s been with him, he knows more than he’s saying!”

  Nick finally got him turned around facing the sea, and he was speaking to Julian in a low, urgent voice. His arms went from restraining to comforting, and his voice got loud enough that they could make out his words. “I swear to God, Cross, we’ll find him. I’ll help you find him. But you got to stay calm for me, you got to keep your head. ”

  “I . . . I don’t understand. What did I do?” JD asked desperately.

  “You described the face of his boyfriend,” Kelly explained.

  “Who’s been kidnapped by the people who are looking for this treasure. Which means you . . . are involved a little more heavily than we were hoping. ”

  “Oh Jesus,” JD gasped. He put a hand on Kelly’s shoulder, trying to get past him to get closer to Julian and Nick. Kelly didn’t let him. “I don’t . . . I don’t know what to say. I don’t remember. I’m truly sorry, but I don’t remember!”

  Julian was hanging his head, his knuckles turning white as he grasped the railing. Nick was still murmuring to him, an arm draped over his shoulder.

  Julian finally raised his head and took a deep breath. “Of course,” he managed. He turned around, and Nick carefully stepped away from him, giving him space. “I apologize for my outburst. If you’ll all excuse me, I’m going to bed. ”

  “Cross,” Nick said before Julian could retreat down the stairwell. Julian stopped. “I’ll hunt them down like he was mine. I promise. ”

  Julian locked eyes with Nick, his expression unreadable.

  He descended the steps without another word, leaving the rest of them in an awkward silence.

  The sun had set on them, the flickering of several citronella lanterns and the soft glow of the quaint café bulbs Nick always strung along the flybridge in the summer the only remaining light. It was incredibly romantic, bobbing out in the harbor, the city of Boston twinkling in the distance. Kelly just wished they were alone instead of sharing the yacht with three other men and breaking up fights and hunting treasure and this was bullshit. Hell, they might as well have called Sidewinder in and slept in puppy piles on pool floats like they used to.

  JD seemed to be trying to catch his breath as Julian disappeared down the steps and closed the hatch behind him.

  “Oh God,” he whispered. “Is it possible I’m the one who . . . ”

  Nick trudged back over to his seat and flopped down. “It’s best not to linger on that just yet. ”

  JD had a hand over his mouth, and he looked positively ill. He finally cleared his throat and asked, “How do you not linger on that? How?”

  “I have some Valium,” Nick offered.

  Kelly winced. “Bad idea, very bad with the amnesia thing.

  Nope. ”

  “I think I need to . . . try to sleep,” JD practically croaked.

  “Good night. ”

  Kelly let him pass by as they all murmured good-nights to him. Then he joined Nick on the seat and leaned back into Nick’s arm, sighing heavily.

  “What a fucking mess,” he said quietly. Nick nodded beside him.

  They turned their attention to Hagan, who was stretched out on the chaise across from them, finishing his beer. He grinned mischievously. “Well aren’t we cozy,” he drawled.

  Kelly snorted. Nick rubbed his fingers across his eyes.

  “You two go on. I can’t take the sexual tension anymore,” Hagan teased. He tapped the cooler next to him. “I’ll keep first watch. ”

  Nick stood and pulled Kelly to his feet. “You asked for it,” Nick growled to Hagan.

  “Be a good neighbor, O’Flaherty,” Hagan called as Kelly and Nick made their way down the steps. “Muffle the screams!”

  Nick sat and stared at the file before him. He’d tried going to bed, but after only a few minutes Kelly had told him to get out because he kept tossing and turning. So he’d headed back up to the salon and gotten into his notes. He’d promised JD he would find out who he was, he’d promised Julian he would find Cameron, and both pledges haunted him. His fingers trembled as he leafed through his papers, and he gritted his teeth. He’d mostly gotten the hand tremor under control, but when it returned, it meant he was wearing himself too thin.
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