The world is on the brink, now that the relics flow together again. The new China Hands should have left the Jade Owl in the tomb, to fester silently for another age, but they didn't. Now there is a tapping in the basement and a flowering of new relics, all seeking to move Curator-General Rowden Gray and his crew into the field again to solve the mystery of The Seven Sisters. However, the world has changed since Rowden managed his first task. The new China Hands are sucked into the maelstrom of time, flowing together with the relics, now that the world is at the brink.
Rowden Gray and Nicholas Battle, joined by three new stalwarts in pursuit of the next level in the triad, find a fortress in a mystery deeper than the first warrant, something that compels them to return to China and unravel a more difficult truth - one that challenges them beyond time's membrane. This second book in the Jade Owl Legacy Series pushes the new China Hands to the world’s brink - now that the relics flow together again."Come, continue reading the journey or dip into the first book: The Jade Owl http://www.amazon.com/dp/1440447977 (paper) - http://www.amazon.com/dp/B001J54AWO (Kindle)Rainbow Reviews said of The Jade Owl: "The Jade Owl is a nonstop, don't miss page turner and only the first in a quintology, The Jade Owl Legacy series. Readers, run, do not walk to your nearest book outlet and grab this intriguing gay mystery with its fully realized characters, gay and straight and bi, roller-coaster plotting, and paranormal fantasy elements. The Jade Owl is a true winner." - Frost's Fancy.What Readers say about The Third Peregrination http://www.authorsden.com/visit/viewarticle.asp?id=46023
Secrets Among Friends
In his soul’s hollow, Rowden Gray harbored a secret — a private terror kept from friends and family. A dreadful secret. Ponderous, and yet somehow in need of a reckoning. A hidden, burning coal that could liberate him from his current impasse . . . if he would let it. At such times, when this secret bubbled uppermost in his mind, Rowden Gray would bask in the Museum’s inner sanctum; in John Battle Memorial Hall — a hall of quiet relics now, promises not withstanding. This kept him near the brink of stability.
Rowden loitered about the display case that housed his greatest acquisition, known to some as the U-gu-ku, to others just as damned, but to the world as the Jade Owl. Six inches tall. Light green. Avian in all respects. A stubby, perky-eared hoot-bird. Rowden cracked his knuckles.
It served us well, he thought. Or who has served whom? Open question that. Since the Jade Owl returned to its display case, it had not flickered once. It had not charred so much as a piece of toast. No images cast. No time portals broached. Dead now — one hoped. A quiet relic displayed naked in this inner sanctum, the Museum world ruled by Curator-General Rowden Gray. His greatest acquisition, but innocuous now, sitting on its red velvet drape, set beside its pearl cage. Mysteries, it still kept. Still Rowden harbored . . . his secret.
A year had past since the tomb. A funny thing, time, tinkering with Rowden’s noggin. He tried to close a thirteen hundred-year-old circle, but in that more questions were raised than settled — ¬more rosebuds like hordes of killer bees from hell’s bowels — the Museum’s basement. From . . . the secret. A burning cannonball dropped heavy into Rowden’s gut.
“Curator Gray,” came a cracked voice from the shadows.
A man in a white shop coat stood clearing his throat. He clasped a clipboard to his chest, his latex gloves giving him the appearance of an intern on his rounds. Stat. His ebony hair was matted and in want of a combing. His earflap held a No. 2 pencil and heavy tortoise-shell spectacles. Lips pursed, perhaps a sign of impatience, or perhaps concentration on some matter at hand. Despite the late hour (the Museum having closed its massive doors to the public hours ago), this man seemed to harbor a full agenda. He continued his attempt to get the Curator-General’s attention with another croak.
“Yes, Sydney?” Rowden said, not diverting his attentions from the display case.
“I don’t mean to disturb you, sir.” Ah, but he did. Sydney blinked. He tapped the clipboard, not that it refocused Rowden’s attention. “The loaners are ready for conservancy.”
Rowden smiled at Sydney’s warble. Despite his assistant’s appearance, Sydney was a competent conservator. Beyond competent. Rowden had known few like him — quality delivered in spades. Now that the Shang-hai loaners had arrived, he had entrusted Sydney Firestone with the validation and conservation of these relics so that they might become a dazzling new exhibition for the good citizenry of San Francisco. Sydney cleared his throat again.
“Any special instructions sir?”
Rowden cracked his knuckles. Yes, competent indeed. Although Sydney cut a nerd’s figure, he was a worthy Sinologist. In fact, Rowden detected something of himself in Sydney.
“You’re a lucky fellow, Sydney. I had to wait years before being exposed to a collection like these Shang-hai loaners.” Rowden’s hand swept the air, a favorite gesture, although a trifle melodramatic. “China is at our fingertips.” He came within a pin-throw of Sydney’s pencil, and then whispered. “Do you hear her call?”
Sydney’s eyebrows arched over the thick, black rims.
“Do you know what she says?” Rowden didn’t say it. He hoped Sydney was keen to know the answer.
Report my secrets to the world, so the world will never forget me.
Sydney just shrugged, gathering the clipboard higher in his arm’s crook.
He’s missed the point, Rowden thought. “Is it really just science to you, Sydney?”
“Just science?” Sydney played with the latex cuffs.
“It’s okay, if that’s all it is. Not everyone has passion.”
“I have passion. Believe me, Curator Gray, I have passion.”
Rowden placed his finger to his lip, and then observed Sydney — inspecting the professional package, expecting a blend of passion and competence.
“Are you sure it’s passion and not just the process that’s gotcha? The process can be as riveting as the big picture.”
Sydney let the clipboard slip to his side. He twiddled with the No. 2 pencil. He puckered his lips, perhaps frustrated at not getting an answer to his question. He smacked his lips, revealing a small gap between his front teeth.
“I love to touch old things.” He blinked. An odd statement, but a valid one. “I like to clean them up — attack a crack and make it disappear.” He shrugged. “Or give it prominence, if that’s the case. I like to watch the tarnish vanish, to see fine lines revealed.” He grinned as if the sun still shone. “It’s like . . . like excavating an old ruin, watching bricks emerge to tell their tale. Now, you might call it process, but it feels like passion to me.”
Rowden laughed a hearty stage laugh. Ha Ha. It might have offended Sydney, had Sydney been the offended kind, but Rowden knew where the lines were drawn.
“Keep to that passion, my boy and you’ll soon put me to shame.” Sydney beamed, the gap spreading, his tongue revealed. Rowden swept his hands aloft. “This place is my passion. Whatever my mood, I can always drift into my hall of relics.”
Quiet or otherwise. His eye caught the elevator in the periphery. And my secret. He sighed.
“I’m restored here. Take a deep breath Sydney; take it in. Fill your lungs. From Golden Gate Park to the Golden Gate Bridge, there’s no other place like John Battle Memorial Hall.”
Rowden’s mood broke. He gazed at the Jade Owl again recalling thoughts of another place — a place deep in the heart of a secret tomb, where the waters healed and a selfish Empress defied death. In that place, the Jade Owl did its worst, shattering the porcelain dame. Death and destruction. Rowden shivered. These images still crammed his dreams . . . when dreams came. The cannonball stirred.
“Are you okay, sir?”
“Yes. The one fly in the ointment is the reminder of my last field trip and . . .”
“. . . the Jade Owl expedition.” Sydney was animated. “I wish I could have been on that one. That would have been pay-off, indeed.”
Rowden gazed at his assistant. Yes. Much like me in my younger days.
“Sydney, you would have been an asset.”
“Thank you, sir. I guess it’s a matter of timing. If I had graduated six months earlier, I could have applied for employment here and . . .” Rowden raised his hand cutting Sydney off mid-résumé. “Sorry,” Sydney said. He adjusted his shop coat, and then resecured the No. 2 pencil in its natural holder. “The relics are in the Conservancy.”
“As you’ve said.” Rowden smiled. “Took a fucking year.”
“The old slow boat from you-know-where. In any case, I want to start. I need your authority to . . .”
“. . . you have it.” Rowden’s mind drifted again. “The usual protocols. This’ll be on the grand scale, you know. If you need help, I’ll get you some.” Sydney blanched at that suggestion. Good. “I’ll join you . . . soon. Start with an inventory.”
Sydney drove his hand into his pocket.
“Inventory’s done. Your copy.”
“Very good.” Rowden glanced at it. Was there ever such an assistant? “Pick some samples for authentication. These relics are a unique acquisition. Some day I’ll tell you . . .” Rowden’s attention waned. His glance drifted back toward the elevator — back to haunted places. Ponderous. Disquieting. He would go to it tonight. However, there was the party. Had he forgotten the party? Audrey would brain him if he missed the party. Still, he was compelled to visit it . . . tonight.
Sydney strode off at a march, his footsteps echoing to the skylight. Rowden stared at the inventory sheet. Was there ever such an assistant? It slipped his grasp, floating to the ebony floor, like a leaf on an ice pond.
The inventory sheet spun twice over the black marble tiles before resting beneath the rubber soul of a black and white Nike. A quick hand snapped the paper into spidery fingers, and then popped the surface.
“Rowdy, you litterbug.”
“Nick.” He smiled at Nick Battle, son of the Old China Hand. Of course, it would be Nick. Time was fleeting.
“Are you ready to go?” Nick asked. He grasped Rowden’s hand with both his.
“I guess so. I’m a bit edgy.”
“Forget it. You think too much. Besides, what’s there to brood about here among my father’s things — in his hall of quiet relics that don’t sing or play or glow or hoot?”
“Always the smart-ass. Good to see you too. And good timing. I was just pondering some ideas for the Shang-hai loaners. Perhaps a theme. Perhaps . . .”
“Perhaps you’ve found something new among the relics?”
Rowden glanced at the elevator doors. Had Nick guessed? Something new among the relics? “Perhaps . . . but, where’s Simon?”
Nick leaned on the Jade Owl display. “A fashion crisis. His blush didn’t match his evening bag. He’ll be along.” Rowden chuckled. With Simone, the world balanced on color congruency. There was nothing else to say on the subject. “You’re not plunging into one of your moods, are you? Not tonight. If you do, I’ll drag your ass out to the Painted Lips.”
“No dancing tonight. Not that I don’t enjoy going deaf and choking on smoke. Besides, I don’t think Audrey would approve of my dancing with the gay boyz now.”
Nick twirled, his sneakers squeaking on the marble.
“Bring Cousin Audrey along. What’s different now?”
Rowden returned his attention to the vacuity. Nick pursed his lips, and then cocked his head.
“Keep your secrets then.” He snapped his fingers under Rowden’s nose. “And I’ll keep mine.”
Rowden’s face broadened, a full sunray smile from behind the thunderhead — a give me a fucking break smile.
“Nick Battle with secrets? How novel.”
Nick snapped his fingers again. Rowden turned to tell the gadfly to buzz off, but Nick performed a trick. He balanced a mossy wooden box on his fingertips. That got Rowden’s attention — Svengali snagging his Trilby.
“I have what every Sinologist needs. Another relic to fart around with.”
Mesmerized, Rowden’s attentions bolted to the box.
“Do tell. You know I have a whole Conservancy filled with loaners.”
Nick pushed his secret toward the Curator-General.
“Leave the loaners to your assistant. This relic comes from Gui-lin.” Rowden touched it with his naked fingers. “Where’s your latex?”
“Will I need it?”
Nick popped open the box. Secret revealed. A ring — an enormous opal ring. Pale. Near jade in translucence. An inch long, at least. Fat. Marbled like fine beef. The silver setting, a dragon’s claw shimmering in the display lights.
Forget the Conservancy and its heap of loaners. This piece was worthy of a Trilby. “Where?” But as Rowden reached for it, Nick pulled it back, cheeky monkey, teasing his elder. Rowden interlaced his fingers like a Franciscan viewing a splinter from the cross.
“May I?” Hold still, he thought. Rowden hadn’t seen such ring craft in his entire voyage on history’s Ark. No two-by-two experience this.
Nick relented. He tossed Rowden the box.
“It’s yours to study, dear friend. Let’s call it an anniversary present from one adventurer to another — from a New China Hand to an Old China fart.”
Rowden touched the ring. Cool, almost icy. Something from the freezer perhaps, a mini-Klondike bar set in a serpent’s clutch. He sniffed it, and would have licked it, if it hadn’t been unscientific to do so. From his shirt pocket, Rowden seized his magnifier, the great loupe of the snoop. He combed every scintilla with his expert’s eye, perusing the network of spidery green filigree. How do opals to look? This one appeared like none other in his experience. He wasn’t a gemologist, but this one might be from a new vein. Ancient. Definitely a Sung Dynasty setting. Bai-ch’i huan Silver from K’ai-feng. He knew the trademark silver overlay on the claw, but that was the setting. He couldn’t estimate the age of the stone. It would be like kissing the seashore and proclaiming it Mesozoic.
“It’s from the Sung Dynasty,” Nick said.
Rowden gave Nick the fish-eye. How would he know that? He wouldn’t know Bai-ch’i huan from Gogol Bordello.
Nick smiled. “Yep, lucky guess.” He whistled.
Rowden continued his scan, but sensed that Nick still toyed with him — a Nick pastime. “Keep your secrets then, but it doesn’t help me study this fine relic if you don’t reveal the source.”
Nick’s lemur eyes assaulted him. “You’re right. There should never be secrets between us. Never.”
Never. No secrets. The cannonball reset in the pit of Rowden’s tummy.
“So in the spirit of No secrets, I’ll tell you. This ring was a thank you gift from Huang Li-fa.”
“The CTS guide?”
“The one I call little Cricket. You do remember him?”
Who could forget him? Huang Li-fa was key to their success in regaining the Jade Owl when it went missing in Gui-lin. “But how could Huang Li-fa come by such a thing? I mean . . .”
Nick templed his hands to his lips as if preparing to sing a psalm.
“The ring is his family’s heirloom. It once belonged to an ancestor — a Sung Dynasty bureaucrat.”
“Some thank you gift.”
Nick pouted. “I helped him, Rowdy. I freed him from the closet.”
“As I said, some thank you gift.”
Nick turned away. “No joke, Rowdy. It’s a bitch being gay in a repressive society. Still, he came out. Brave little Cricket. He was grateful, and that ring is a worthy thank you gift, don’t you think?”
No comment. Rowden recalled that a special bond had formed between Nick and little Cricket.
“So you’ve had this for a year and you kept it to yourself?”
“I was waiting for the right occasion.” Nick clapped twice. “In fact, I was gonna give it to you at the party tonight, but I figured that would end the party. So I’ll let you fuck around with it now. Go ahead. Put it on.”
“It’s a woman’s ring.”
“I’m no expert, but no woman wore that ring. Simon wanted to wear it in his act, but I told him it was too butch. Put it on.”
The stone lay heavy in Rowden’s palm. Still, he slipped it over his rugged middle finger. Queer feeling. Like poking a digit into a monkey puzzle. He raised his hand admiring its look in the florescent lighting.
Nick bowed in Chinese fashion, hands clasped to the forehead. “My lord, you must rule something mighty with that ring. And since it’s too heavy for you to wear and also crack your knuckles, perhaps you should wear it all the time.”
Suddenly, Rowden had guilt pangs. Nick had revealed a guarded, year-old secret. Yet Rowden grit his teeth about his own secret. The cannonball rolled.
“Your mind’s drifting again,” Nick said. “I don’t have another relic up my ass to keep you floating.”
“No, Nick.” Rowden slipped the ring off, and then boxed it. He gazed into Nick’s intense blue eyes. “No. Your secret’s delectable. Mine’s . . . a horror.”
Nick braced Rowden’s arm. He shook, excitement brimming to his gaping maw. Alarm.
“Don’t tell me you’re sick. I couldn’t bear that. I just couldn’t.” He sucked the air. “Too many friends . . . gone. Too many. I couldn’t . . .”
“No, Nick. I’m not . . . It’s nothing like that.” He braced Nick, calming him. “It’s just that . . . I’ve been less than honest with you.”
Nick’s eased, scrunching his shoulders. If anger welled, Rowden couldn’t tell. Nick had little reserve for a dark side. Yet at times, Rowden sensed something deep, a drop off into a shadowy ravine. Nick was the Jade Owl’s chosen One — Po-huai. He merited the first warrant — sown, sealed and delivered.
Rowden captured whatever bubbled to the surface now, and then redirected it to a spot across the hall, to the elevator doors.
It was time for revelations. That cannonball, how it rolled.
Nick approached the elevator, looking to Rowden for confirmation. Press the button? The murmur of the metallic beast scraped the air. The door slid open like some obsidian door lost on a tomb’s verge — a secret tomb’s verge. With a sweep of his hand, Rowden invited his friend into the ancient car.
“You should get the Board of Trustees to refurbish this thing,” Nick said.
He scanned the inspection certificate that hung loose in a rusted panel. The decrepit moving box scrapped deep into the Museum’s bowels. Nick’s blue peepers shone at Rowden.
“You know I hate going down here because of this rattle-trap.” Face distorted. Fists clenched. “This ride gives me the willies.” His alarm increased as the car buckled and pitch, a rasping scrape. “There better be something good down here, Rowdy.”
“Walk down. Ride up.” This elevator’s renovation was on Rowden’s punch list of future activities. The warehouse pre-dated the great quake, the storerooms like coal bins, light dim to none. Suddenly, the elevator door jarred open.
“We could use those miner’s hats right about now,” Rowden said.
Nick hopped into the darkness. He felt the wall for a switch. A fluorescent light flickered revealing a quirky triangular space, a vestibule tapped by three corridors. A dim line of red light bulbs illuminated each passage. Catacombs; more so, as the store rooms along each path held things older than some bona fide catacombs — dead things awaiting their turn in the halls above. Some relics would never receive public approbation; others had received it for too long, thus boxed in permanent retirement.
Rowden grabbed a flashlight from a utility box.
“This way, Nick.” He led him down the East Asian corridor, where the sleeping relics of a thousand digs hid heaped in crates behind closed doors. The doors appeared funereal, each with a family name affixed to it like slabs in a Mausoleum — Korea, Early Han, Fujiwara, Liang and Liu Sung. While above ground, shining points of light in environmentally controlled display cases stole the paying public’s hearts, these rank vaults kept history’s council like novices at vespers or old crones about their cauldron.
Rowden shone the flashlight from door to door, label to label. He stopped. This place frightened Nick. The closeness. The reminders of that day in Wu Tze-t’ien’s tomb, when they trod through the deep dark to complete the first warrant.
“Cheer up, Nick. Some day, I’ll commission someone to sort through these relics and switch them out with some of the older chestnuts upstairs. But . . .” Nick lowered his eyes. “Well, there’s one relic that will never see the light of day again.”
No response. Rowden just continued his progress, the light sweeping the doors — Hou Wei, Yuan, Ashoka, Meningkabao. Nick reached for Rowden’s arm, staying progress.
“I have a wicked thought.”
“Wicked or smart-ass?”
“I suppose both. It’s just that this warehouse reminds me of Wu Tze-t’ien’s treasure trove.”
“Can you imagine the space we’d require?” Rowden trained the light on a distant door. Would it be labeled her shit, pending Conservancy? Rowden had considered another spree into the secret tomb just to do as P’ing Hu proclaimed. I know when too much is too much, unlike you sinological thieves, who would cart the entire trove to display cases.
“I think that most of Wu Tze-t’ien’s treasure would be buried down here . . . for another thirteen centuries.” He chuckled.
“Are you saying her tomb would be an extension of our warehouse?”
Rowden moved on. He muttered.
“It feels more like our warehouse is an extension of her tomb.”
He stopped. Breath hitched. Second thoughts? Still time to turn around and liberate Nick from the deep dark. Finally, Rowden illuminated the next door. The label was clear. No dynastic period. No cultural era proclaimed.
Nick touched the sign. “Keep Out!” Broaching the light, his face posed a dozen unspoken questions.
“This is where Gillenhaal kept the relics stolen from your father. It’s his sign, not mine. It’s designed to keep prying eyes away from his not-so petty felonies.”
“But I though you moved my father’s finds to the main hall.”
“Yes. Either there or to the Conservancy.”
Nick’s eyes bloomed wide.
“But there’s still something, Rowdy.” He faced the sign. “I can feel it. Something you’ve deep sixed.”
“Yes. Something that shall never see the light of day again. But . . .” He fished for the key. Instead, he found the wooden ring box. He shuddered, exasperation crossing his face. The flashlight waggled until Nick steadied it, taking both box and the flashlight. Rowden searched in his other pocket, until he found it — an old-fashioned skeleton key, the kind that could be found by the heap at Merced Market.
“Shine the light, Nick.”
Rowden wiggled the ugly black key into the lock. It took a few tentative jiggles to catch, and then — click. Rowden hesitated again. The cannonball in his stomach shifted to yet a lower level. Cold air rushed out as he pushed the door open. A stench gripped his nostrils.
“I know that smell,” Nick said. “It’s the stink of the Xiao Homestead.”
Cinnamon and onions. In short, the aroma of battlegrounds and killing fields.
Rowden flipped a switch, and a tentative red bulb flared from an invisible ceiling. He swept the room with the light, but the secret was prominent, even in this crypt-size space. Atop an aging crate sat an ebony relic — a jewelry box; one that had been beautiful and rare, bejeweled and aglow with pearls and rubies, but now sat black and ugly on its splintered pedestal like Persephone’s bridal veil.
“The Joy of Finches,” Nick stammered.
Tap, tap, tap.
“And no other. It’s not so joyful now. I daresay you’d be pretty precocious if you could find a finch among the snakes and vermin. It slithers.”
Nick gave Rowden a love tap.
“You told me it was out for cleaning. You told everyone it was out for cleaning.” This sounded j’accuse, but Nick was a skilled prevaricator. He didn’t pursue the barb beyond a glare, but instead approached the box. It stood like death, its aviary of cranes, sparrows and doves transformed into ravenous crows and vultures, its dragons into vipers.
“What’s happened to it? Was it burned?”
“I don’t know. The day I assumed my curatorship, Connie Wilson drew my attention to its changed condition.”
Tap, tap, tap.
“And what’s that tapping?” It came from inside like a claw scratching to get out. Nick drew close, but Rowden pulled him back. So Nick just circled the box like a child ogling gifts on Christmas morning.
Tap, tap, tap.
The dull, leaden tapping echoed through the room as if it was an Abudah chest with a patent hag inside, ready to spring out with a curse. Nick’s face shone in the red light. For a moment, Rowden saw Nick as an imp, some purpose sparkling in his noggin. Just a passing impression, from that shadowy ravine.
“What’s on your mind, Nick?”
“It’s a mess.”
“Your mind? Or the Joy of Finches?” Nick flipped Rowden the finger. Rowden laughed. “Don’t touch it. Apparently, there was some electrical failure in Battle Hall one evening. It’s in the security reports. Not much help. Quivers hid behind his desk and saw nothing except what he described as blue lightning.”
“It was struck by lightning? But that noise — that tapping?”
Tap, tap, tap.
“I have my theory, but it’s a queer one.”
Nick poised the flashlight under his chin, his face a Halloween glow.
“I’m queer. Try me.”
Rowden snatched the flashlight, running the spotlight across the box from the base to the comet shaped top notch, where the Jade Owl had once set. The notch, charred now, matched the grotesque relic like a crater on the moon.
“Only you might believe this theory. Only you have seen what I’ve seen.” Rowden held the flashlight in his arm’s crook, and then cracked his knuckles. “I think there’s a connection between the first warrant and the box’s current condition. I’ve been meaning to check the date of that electrical storm with the date of our encounter with Wu Tze-t’ien. I believe the tapping may be some mechanism that . . . well, it’s hard to prove.” More a stretch to believe. “I think it started . . .”
Tap, tap, tap.
“. . . you think we started it when we fulfilled the first warrant?”
“Just a theory. Nuts, I know, but enough to keep this relic locked away.”
Rowden felt science slipping. Speculation, at least, was based on a logical premise, but logic shot the rapids when it came to this relic. In his mind rattled Ch’en Hui-ni’s reaction to the Joy of Finches, when they first encountered the old gentleman in Shang-hai.
Young sir, Hui-ni asked Nick Battle, the box and bird have been joined? Nick confirmed this. And disengaged? Another confirmation. And the Joy of Finches is . . . Is where? In San Francisco, Nick said. Why does all this matter? Hui-ni smiled. It is well then.
It was well . . . then.
Tap, tap, tap.
“Your theory’s a stretch. Do you think there’s something else afoot?”
Have box and bird been joined? And disengaged? The Joy of Finches is in San Francisco. Far away from the Jade Owl. It is well then. Rowden’s eyes glanced toward the ceiling. Not so far away now.
Nick seemed to have caught this message. He grinned.
“Who would be fool enough to join Box and Bird again?”
Rowden’s cannonball pitched forward. His flesh prickled. Suddenly, the tapping increased, changing from taps to thuds.
“Back away, Nick. I think it’s somehow reacting . . . to you.”
TAP, TAP, TAP.
The Joy of Finches hopped on its pedestal.
“It is you, Nick?”
“No,” Nick said. He looked to the ring box. His hands shook. “It’s this. It’s the opal ring.”
Nick flipped open the lid. The Joy of Finches went wild, spinning. A tantrum, if such things were possible with ugly hoodoo chests.
“Put it away!” Rowden shouted. “Don’t aggravate it.”
Nick stuck the ring in his pocket. The Joy of Finches’ tantrum eased to a rumble, and then returned to . . .
Tap, tap, tap.
Another sound. A creak at the door. Rowden turned toward the dull red corridor light. A silhouette. Massive. A man draped in a ghastly shawl. Enough to drive seven shades of shit from petulant bowels.
Rowden flashed his light into the creature’s face. A man after all, neither massive nor shawled. In fact, the shop coat made him appear like a dentist on a house call.
“Sydney!” Rowden shouted. He held his chest as if the final stroke was here. “What the fuck are you doing down here?”
Sydney shaded his eyes. He shivered.
“I work here.”
Rowden flashed the light on the door.
“What does that say?” He banged on it. “Read it! It’s not in bone characters, sir. It’s in plain ass, fucking American English!”
Sydney trembled. If he had never seen Rowden Gray pissed-off before, he was seeing it now.
“It says . . . Keep Out.”
“And what does Keep Out mean?” Nick pushed between them. He shook Rowden’s shoulders. Rowden looked beyond him. “It means Keep Out.”
“But sir . . .” Sydney clenched his clipboard. “I needed to see you. I thought it was . . . important. I figured you . . . Quivers said you went . . . well went . . . So I came down and I heard . . .”
His eyes widened beneath the tortoise shells.
“I heard something. Weird sounds. I heard them and came to investigate.” He stared at the KEEP OUT sign. “I didn’t even see the sign. The door’s open and besides, I’m not in the room. I’m not coming in either.” He returned to the corridor.
Nick glared at Rowden.
“He said he was looking for you . . . doing his job.”
Nick grabbed Sydney and pulled him back.
“There’s no help for it. The cat’s out of the bag. No fault on Sydney’s part.”
Sydney’s eyes met Rowden’s, who was already feeling shameful for his hasty reaction. Nick pulled Sydney close, borrowing his ear for an important announcement.
“Sid, listen to me. You know there are professional secrets. Right?”
Sydney shook his head, dislodging the No. 2 pencil from his ear.
“You’re an employee of the Museum. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Right?”
“I agree, Mr. Battle.” Sydney’s all business demeanor had been shattered. His head twitched. His hands fluttered like the old joke about too much coffee. “I’m sorry to have . . . caused a problem, Curator Gray. I’ll go back to the Conservancy and . . . wait for you there.”
He turned to hurry away toward the ancient elevator.
“Wait, Sydney,” Rowden called. Guilt, one of Rowden’s more practiced emotions, rushed on him. “Come back.”
Sydney crept back toward the Curator-General, his head lowered like a puppy beat with a newspaper for pissing on the rug.
“Sydney, I overreacted. Please accept my apology. You startled me at a bad moment.” He noted the Joy of Finches with his eyes. “The contents of this room are problematic.”
“Let’s say it’s a residual from my last field trip. Until I can make some sense of it, I’m touchy as to the public eye. I’ve kept it secret.”
“He didn’t even tell me,” Nick said.
“I’m relying on you to forget what you’ve seen . . . or heard.”
Sydney agreed. Deep sighs replaced fluttery hands.
Sydney continued along his course.
“But hold up. You wanted to see me. I can at least give you an ear.”
Sydney covered his chest as if he was about to recite the pledge of allegiance, complete with clipboard and gloves. He smacked his lips.
“I think it’s best that you see for yourself, sir.” Mystery now charged the air, that cinnamon and onion stink. Sydney’s face feathered.
When would this evening’s events run their course? Did the basement’s revelation unleash a Genie, one without benefit of three wishes per rub?
Rowden pulled the door closed, and then applied the ugly key. The elevator beckoned.
It feels more like our basement is an extension of her tomb.
Tap, tap, tap.
The elevator released its three captives after a rattling ascent, the great quake distilling a memory from its nuts and bolts. Nick spilled out into the ambient light of John Battle Hall. His swagger returned. He walked backwards.
“Remind me not to go down there again.”
“Turn around or you’ll plow into something,” Rowden said.
He glanced at his watch. Running late, now. Just time enough to see Sydney’s concern, and then it’s off to the party. Rowden wasn’t in a party mood, although the commemoration of their return from Xi-an was something to note. Aunt Millie would do it fine.
The trio sauntered past the Jade Owl display, their destination being the double security doors that guarded the Conservancy. The recessed lighting crawled amber along the walls to the balcony, a gossamer effect that Rowden enjoyed. It reminded him of the antique museums of his childhood. Somehow, these walls sang historic lullabies, tossing aside the world of ipods and blackberries in favor of cathedral radios and rotary telephones.
Nick seemed to observe Rowden’s contemplative and temporal drift. Rowden jutted his chin toward the Jade Owl display. The dead grinned. Sydney appeared confused.
Hoot. Hoot, hoot.
The Jade Owl’s hoot was as real as the amber walls. Nick stared at the display case. Rowden tried to distract him, but then thought, Why not test a theory? As Nick circled the display, the hooting sharpened. A slight glitter flickered, and then churned into a glow.
Hoot. Hoot, hoot.
“What is it with you today, Nick?” Rowden asked.
Nick clicked his tongue. “It’s my animal magnetism.”
“What did I hear?” Sydney asked.
“Shhh.” Nick and Rowden snapped their index fingers in unison to pursed lips.
Nick circled the display case again, this time with his hand in pocket. He withdrew the ring box, and then raised it to his impish smile as if to kiss it. Lid opened. Opal ring revealed. A ripple, like a wave on a sun baked road. The Jade Owl hooted its loudest, echoing to the ambient walls.
Hoot. Hoot, hoot.
“Impossible,” Sydney said, nearly dropping the clipboard.
Rowden sensed Sydney’s confusion, his mental flywheels spinning across acres of theories on the impossibility of a talking stone. There was the burning bush, but that was biblical after all. We believe that, because it has tradition’s force. But talking stones? There must be a ventriloquist behind some curtain.
Hoot, Hoot, hoot.
Rowden shut his eyes, his mind returning to the basement. He imagined a new musical comedy. Tap, tap, tap. Hoot, Hoot, Hoot. Tap-hoot, hoot-tap, tap-tap-hoot. Or was it a tragedy?
A hall of quiet relics, my ass.
The consequence of displaying this chunk of glowing greenery in a municipal place could very well be tragic. Rowden pictured the paying public’s charred flesh. He saw a display case label — Come see this wonder of the East and be transformed into crispy crap. Suddenly, logic kicked in.
“Nick, it can’t be that ring.” Nick shrugged. “I examined it standing smack in front of the Jade Owl. No hoots then. No glittering.” But then he recalled a slight fluctuation in the lighting. Imagination? Nothing like imagination to fuck up logic.
Sydney now circled the display. He had just noticed the ring. He held the clipboard as if to take down a note or two, an automatic response, true to a passion for process.
“Easy, Sydney,” Rowden commanded. “Don’t record this . . . yet.” Sydney appeared harpooned. “It’s a long tale, and you shall know it.” Rowden shook his head. “More stuff to keep under your bonnet.”
Nick had been twisting the ring at different angles, watching for change.
“Rowdy, you examined the ring before we exposed it to the Joy of Finches.”
What did that matter? Well, any theory in a storm can hold the tide as well as any other. There were some differences here. The Jade Owl was awake, no doubt, but its terror-beam, the one that crisped the skin, was absent. Its faint emerald aura also had an afterglow. No. An underglow. Ruby. Pulsating. A heartbeat.
“Let’s not let logic rule,” Rowden said. “There’s never been much logic involved here.”
That statement was false, and he knew it. Although Rowden could never explain the mechanics of the Jade Owl’s powers, he always knew that logic ruled the bird. Science, not magic. However, until he could gather the rosebuds to the garland, he preferred to file the evidence under M for Magic.
“Give me the ring.”
The transfer to a new bearer made no difference. The bird still hooted, until Rowden returned the ring to the box, the box to his pocket. Then, cold silence. He observed Sydney’s eyes lost over the Jade Owl’s now sleeping hollow. Rowden thought to snap his fingers under Sydney’s nose; bring him back to this universe. Instead, he drew near the handy earflap.
“Sydney,” he whispered. “To the Conservancy. Show me what you wanted to show me.”
Sydney emerged from his rumination. He folded his hands as if to pray, raising them to his lips. The clipboard almost slipped its bounds. Then, he shuffled toward the Conservancy.
Rowden pondered the display. A night swift batted above the dark skylight.
“Let’s keep the ring out of the Hall.”
“Not even to get to this well’s bottom?”
“Maybe. But these are murky waters.”
“And the well is deep.”
Rowden stared at his most precious acquisition. He gazed beyond it to the elevator door.
The cannonball rumbled. What seemed to be settled was not. His cankerous secret told him as much.
“It’s awake, Nick.”
And it only wakes when there is purpose.
The Conservancy, as wide as a lecture hall, as messy as a theater’s backstage, lay beyond heavy security doors. Unlike the inviting rococo walls of John Battle Hall, these doors shouted Employees Only. To witness the doings behind these doors would despoil sinology’s prestidigitation.
Sydney swiped his card through the detection device, and then waited for the red entry signal. Slight hum as the card engaged. Flash. Rosal blink — the go signal. He was in, Rowden and Nick darting — security double dipping.
Rowden expected to see some catastrophe. Why else would Sydney defer divulgence? You should see this for yourself. Rowden imagined that mold had eaten through some valuable painting or perhaps there would be a shattered pile of rare porcelain shards, victims of an over zealous staple gun. The Conservancy, however, appeared much the same as Rowden had left it. The acrid aroma of silicates and sharp solvents were hallmark here. They still reigned. Perhaps, sharper now, proof of Sydney’s industry.
“What do you have, Sydney?” Rowden looked around again. Perhaps, the spoilage was already swept into the corners. “If there’s shipping damage, we’re not responsible. Still, it would be unacceptable if any of these loaners were . . . fucked up.”
“No damage, sir,” Sydney said.
He waved his hand shoulder-high coaxing his boss to a prep table. A six-foot painting was stretched between two mahogany end-blocks. It was a white silk scroll with an olive border frame. It appeared intact — a fine specimen. Rowden seized it by its top roll, transporting it to a vertical light rack that was used for examining fine artwork during the conservancy process. He snapped the top block in place, while scanning the work for Sydney’s dilemma.
“Very pretty,” Nick said. He came so close to the work that his nose touched it. Rowden pulled him back. Nick chuckled. “Looks like a palace? What’s so special about it, Sid?”
“It’s the Palace at Lin-an,” Sydney said.
Rowden examined the silk with the great loupe of the snoop, poised as close as Nick’s nose had been.
“Sung,” he said. There was an annotating quality in his voice as if he expected any listener to take notes for a future exam. “Southern Sung by the locale and . . . the coif.”
The painting depicted two men. One was the Emperor, because he wore the ebony Sung dynastic robes, Imperial yellow sash and jade festooned hair knot. The other man was a state minister, perhaps the chief privy counselor, because he sported a verdant box-cap pierced by two iridescent kingfisher feathers. The men cavorted over a dazzling landscape atop a hill. In the distance sprawled a wondrous city, a sea of sloping roofs winking in the sunlight. Lin-an, a place as etched on Rowden’s mind as San Francisco — and as alive.
“Lin-an,” Rowden whispered. His voice quivered. This was not his annotation voice, but the feathery tones when observing precious things. “The great Southern Sung capital.” Rowden gave Nick a tourscape. “This is the retired-Emperor Kao-tsung sitting with some high official. In 1164, Kao-tsung retired in favor of his nephew to a palace overlooking the city.” He touched the surface with his naked hand. “This palace. Exquisite.”
“Sir,” Sydney said. He pressed his index finger in the air several times. “Look to the detail.”
Rowden returned to his loupe. His eyes scanned the borders, the tree line, the hairpins and the serene faces of His Imperial Majesty and his official minion. All pretty. All exquisite. Nothing amiss. “What am I looking for Sydney?”
“On the left side. Inside the pavilion . . . on the table.”
Rowden drifted along the surface until he encountered a modest pavilion stroked into the background garden. He felt so close to the place, the grass pinch up between his toes. He spied the table, its victuals and wine crocks, its tea pot and its . . .
“What is it, Rowdy?” Nick was nose-near again.
“Here, look for yourself.”
Nick grabbed the loupe, fumbling to get it in position. He focused.
“The Jade Owl?”
Rowden pushed in like a boy sharing a peephole at a girlie show. Can it be? Is that our Jade Owl? He squinted. It sure the fuck looks like it. Too small to authenticate, but the artist captured its aura. He handed the loupe back to Nick.
“I don’t see the cage,” Nick said.
No cage. Why?
“The cage was Mao Sheng’s contribution. Ming Dynasty. This painting is pre-Ming.” Suddenly, Rowden scratched his head. A tempest brewed across his brow. “What the hell is the Jade Owl doing in Lin-an in 1164? It was supposed to be in the Cave of the Winds. In Gui-lin . . . two thousand miles west of Lin-an.”
Rowden noticed that Sydney swayed, probably trying to ignore the insider conversation. How could he? He must be a whirligig of misfiring synapses by now. Rowden grabbed Sydney’s shoulder. Steady now.
“I know none of this makes sense. Patience.”
“Whatever you say, sir. I only thought you’d be interested that the Jade Owl appeared in a recorded work.”
Was there ever such an assistant?
“Yes. That’s important. You were correct to bring it to my attention. But understand this . . .” Pause. Consideration. Telling his assistant any more committed him to all. All? Who really knew all? However, Sydney was a clean slate. If Rowden wanted this most diligent assistant to apply his craft to this painting and to any other parenthesis that should allay from this shipment, Sydney Firestone had to be trusted. Without reservation. Rowden cracked his knuckles. Clearing his throat, he took Sydney aside to the sofa that sprawled in the Conservancy’s corner.
“Take mental notes, Sydney,” he said. “Remember what you see. Gather ye rosebuds as ye may. I’ll help you string the garland as we go. In fact, the more you know, the more you can help me with the errant petals.” Sydney followed this discourse, since he understood that Rowden referred to fact collecting as gathering rosebuds. It was a John Battle thing. Who can dispute the masters?
“The Jade Owl was kept in the Cave of the Winds at Gui-lin, Sydney — under the stewardship of the Xiao family. My wife’s family.”
“My cousin,” Nick added.
“The Jade Owl journeyed from the Cave of the Winds twice; once taken by a Ming Prince, Mao Sheng, where it passed from owner to owner for nearly six hundred years.” Rowden held up his index finger to assure that Sydney could follow the tale’s accounting. He popped up another finger. “And it was once taken by John Battle . . .”
“My father,” Nick echoed.
“. . . when it disappeared, until I . . . we returned it to China.” He pounded his chest with his open palm, and then pointed to Nick. “We replaced it in the cave. Well, Xiao Win-t’o did.”
“But it didn’t stay in the cave.” He nodded toward John Battle Hall. “We have it now.”
Sydney raised three fingers, correcting the accounting.
“Three times,” he said. “If it wasn’t in the Cave of the Winds in 1164, it must have had a journey before its Ming peregrination.”
He stood, and then glanced toward the Palace at Lin-an. He recalled a vague mention of a third journey. Three times. At the Homestead. He drifted to the painting, staring as if his eyes could burn through its secrets. The vinegary aroma of the Conservancy bit his throat now, although it was the most familiar odor to his calling.
“A third peregrination,” he muttered. “Actually, it’s first. But how?” Suddenly his stomach clenched with a flaming arsenal of grapeshot and shrapnel. If the Jade Owl was at Lin-an in 1164, there must be another tale to know. No wonder the rosebuds weren’t fitting. Some were still remote.
“The Third Peregrination,” Nick whispered. “Looks like our jade friend traveled far afield of Xue Huai-ya.”
Rowden returned to his loupe. He scrutinized the owner’s chop marks and the artist’s hallmark.
“Nan Ya? A famous artist indeed.” He droned his annotative aria again. “The scholar-official Nan Ya was also a famous poet and statesman — the definition of the Confucian gentleman. This is the first time I’ve been close to his work. It’s exquisite.” He handed Nick the loupe. “Observe the line work. There’s nothing finer than a painting by Li K’ai-men.”
Nick snapped his head up.
“Li K’ai-men? What does Li K’ai-men have to do with this painting?”
“You’re familiar with the name? Bravo. Your studies are paying off.” Nick beamed, but also appeared tentative with this praise. “Truth be told, Nan Ya and Li K’ai-men are the same person. Nan Ya is Li K’ai-men’s literary name — nome de plume.”
Nick’s eyes watered as if Rowden’s news was a sliced onion. He retreated to the sofa and lapsed into silence.
Rowden sat on the sofa’s arm gazing at Nick’s sudden dummy-up. He knew that whatever choked Nick would regurgitate without prompting.
“The Source,” Nick said.
What was he talking about? “What Source?” Nick paled. “Did you sample the Firepot at lunch?”
“No, Rowdy.” His breath hitched. His eyes swam. His hand dove into his pocket. He retrieved a paper scrap. “This goes with the ring.”
Rowden tugged the paper from Nick’s hand, smoothing the epistle on his leg. He read.
“This ring has belonged to my family for centuries. It comes from my famous ancestor, Li K’ai-men. I am compelled to give it to you. I cannot tell what compels me to give it to you, but the compulsion is strong. I cannot argue with it. There is a glimmering in my mind that instructs me to deliver it to you in thanks for the new life you have afforded me by your example.
With Love and Affection,
Huang Li-fa (Little Cricket)”
Li K’ai-men’s ring? Rowden folded the note in thirds, and then handed it to Sydney, perhaps to enter it into a record of these proceedings. Sydney reached for a board that hung near the prep table, snapping the note under the clip.
Exhibit One — One of several hundred, perhaps.
Rowden examined the opal ring again, his eyes darting from setting to crest. There is something at work here, he thought. It was as if his dark secret was having baby spiders that crawled from the inky bottoms along a web that defiled the garland. Something started fate in motion — that Dao de dau-tze medley that echoed, yet never spoke. Glimmered. Little Cricket’s words exactly. There is a glimmering in my mind that instructs me. Rowden had heard it too, but not with his ears. He knew Nick had been embraced by it also. I cannot tell what compels me to give it to you, but the compulsion is strong. I cannot argue with it.
Suddenly, Rowden shivered. Something forced him to return to the Palace at Lin-an. There was more. There must be more.
Rowden perused the painting with his naked eye this time, the great loupe of the snoop remaining secure in his pocket protector. Yes, he thought.
“There it is.”
He pointed, and then lifted the opal ring parallel to the work. Nick and Sydney rejoined him. Rowden smiled, and then pointed, his finger caressing the edge of Li K’ai-men’s hand, a semi-shrouded hand beneath a long robe sleeve. Still, it was there. As sure as the Jade Owl sat in the background, the opal ring was squarely on Nan Ya’s finger.
“This ring and the Jade Owl were together, even then.” He sighed. John Battle would have somersaulted. “Behold the man,” Rowden proclaimed with austerity and avidity. “Behold Li K’ai-men, the great Nan Ya himself.”
Sydney raised his loupe. “May I?”
Rowden stopped him. This was the first time Rowden imbibed the painting in its entirety. His usual procedure would have been to zoom from top level down to the minuscule. In this case, he commenced with the elemental, neglecting the broader work — the big picture. He gasped.
“Step back, Sydney. Both of you step back.”
Rowden stepped three paces away from the Palace at Lin-an. Nick and Sydney followed suit, although they looked at the man as if he had grown a third eye or perhaps a bristling horn. Still, Rowden continued in pantomime, squinting and framing the painting between his outstretched fingers.
“Don’t you see it?”
Silence. Sydney careened to the right, while Nick shrugged to the left.
“I can’t believe either of you can’t see it.” Rowden flicked his fingers to one sector of the work, and then to the other. He traced the elements of the painting starting from the left edge to the pavilion to the scholar-official, to the ring.
“That’s one side of it,” he said. Then, he traced the other half from the cityscape to the Emperor’s robes to the Jade Owl. “Here’s the other.”
Nick’s eyes lit.
“Not exactly. Something like it. But you do see it. I’m not imagining things.”
“It’s the symbol for the heart of the Buddha,” Sydney said.
“Bingo.” Rowden hopped around like a prizewinner. “That man’s got a Bingo. Hold your cards folks until we can check it out.” Nick and Sydney exchanged glances. Perhaps, Rowden had gotten into the Firepot. Perhaps a little Dewar’s on the side too. “The symbol for the heart of the Buddha,” Rowden said. “A reversed swastika.” He rested his hand (with ring) on Nick’s shoulder. “The real swastika. The Nazis adopted it, but der Fuehrer, in his ignorance, reversed it. It’s much older than the misguided notions of Aryan supremacy. It’s the symbol for the ultimate Buddhist goal.”
“Fucking-A,” Nick said.
Rowden folded his arms before the painting. His glance went beyond the silk works to some chain of events that began in the basement behind a KEEP OUT sign.
“An enigma,” he said.
He now had an enigma. He started out with a dark secret, which progressed to an unexplained illogical mystery and blossomed into a full-blown Dickensian coincidence. However, now the mental trail was crowned. An enigma. He lifted the ring eye level and imbibed the painting again, swastika, palace and all.
“More questions than answers. Why would a painting by a great Confucian statesman contain both a diminutive Taoist devil like the Jade Owl and an allegorical representation of the Buddha’s heart? What a riddle this has set for me.” He glanced to his assistant. “Sydney, I need the pinwork for this piece.”
As Sydney went in search for the paperwork, the security door shook. A familiar face peered through the glass portal. Simone DeFleurry.
“Sydney,” came the muffled voice. “Could you, dear?”
Sydney was shuffling through folders. Simone rattled the door.
“Sid,” Nick said, “could you let him in?”
Sydney never looked up from his search as he flipped the manual door switch. Simone entered with flare.
“Thank you, dear.”
His ecru evening gown skirted the rubber floor mats. He wore his best raven wig and elbow length pearl embroidered gloves. A silken sea foam, fur-lined cape capped the ensemble. (The weather turned cool, as summers will in San Francisco). A fresh strawberry breeze shot through the chemistry redolent Conservancy.
“Nicky, we’re going to be late.”
“I thought you liked fashionably late entrances,” Rowden said.
“You’re right, Professor,” Simone snipped. “But if you check the drag queen book of lore you’ll see those late entrances are totally and visibly alone.” He snapped out his compact, and then checked his mascara. “Now it doesn’t look like that will be the case, will it? So lateness becomes just plain rude — quick and true.”
“Sorry, dear,” Nick said. He kissed Simone’s cheek, raising a girlish smile to le grand chanteuse’s lips. “We’ve been detained. Rowdy’s been solving a mystery.” He gave Rowden a sharp glance. “Excuse me. Not a mystery. An enigma.”
“Not that damn Owl again?” Simone turned toward John Battle Hall. “I thought that was a closed book.”
“Is there any other mystery worthy of attention?” Nick replied. Simone raised an eyebrow as if to say I’ve had enough from that quarter and I can’t stands no more. Nick caught him about the waist. “We’re about ready now. Right, Rowdy?”
“Yes.” Rowden perused the pages of pinwork ascribed to the Palace at Lin-an. He bit the crook of his finger and foot tapped. “Maybe I’ll tag along later.”
“I don’t think so,” Nick said. He pulled Rowden’s hand away from its digital nibble. “Aunt Millicent’s been planning this blow-out for weeks.”
It was always thus with those who would rather work than play. If left to his devices, Rowden would spend the night in the Conservancy. To hell with previous social commitments, even though he was central to the proceedings. Besides, Audrey would crown him. He folded the pinwork. “You’re right, of course. Let me just get a few catalogs. I’m sure they’ll be a few minutes somewhere for me to start nailing this down.” Nick gave him the fish-eye. “Sydney, help me.”
Rowden attacked the Conservancy’s considerable library.
“Did the Professor like his gift?” Simone asked.
“The Professor did,” Rowden harkened back.
“That’s part of the myst . . . enigma,” Nick said. “In fact, dear, our little Cricket’s ancestor — the one who owned the ring, is in that painting.”
Simone observed the Palace at Lin-an. He smiled, an okay, big deal smile — just another painting grin — seen one, seen them all smirk. Suddenly, he squinted.
“Is that a swastika, dear?”
Nick twitched. “How on earth did you pick up on that?”
“It’s pretty clear to me.” Simone hooked his hand on his hip, the other hand flipped to the ceiling — the perfect salad cruet pose. “This girl’s a Brooklyn Yiddish mama, remember, bubbola. It’s a queer swastika. I think it’s backwards. Why is it backwards?”
“It’s a Buddhist sacred symbol,” Nick said. He would have explained it further, but he was interrupted by two points. Rowden returned with his library quarry and Nick didn’t know too much more about the symbol. Except he did. He didn’t know how he did, but he did.
“Whatever,” Simone said. “Are we ready?” Rowden lugged two ungainly catalogs under his arm. “Coffee table books, Professor? You’ll get a hernia between here and Balboa Street. Or do you mean throw them at the muggers?”
“How’s your blush crisis?” Rowden snapped.
“It’s not my crisis, dear.” He clicked his heels, and then glanced down. “When will Prada learn to make things in half-shades? I had to forego — tragedy that it is. I’m at the mercy of Aunt Millicent’s rouge pot for any freshening required.”
Nick shook his head. “Rowdy, how can you enjoy yourself when you’re toting the party pooping book ends?”
Sydney rubbed his hands together. “I told him I’d search on Sino.net. I have time tonight.”
“Time, Sydney?” Simone asked. He waltzed around Sydney grasping both shoulders. Sydney shuddered. “Why do you have time tonight, Sydney? It’s Saturday night. You should be somewhere.”
Sydney hung his head, bobbing. Rowden intervened, shuffling Simone aside. He transferred one of the catalogs into Sydney’s keeping.
“Come to our little party,” he said. “After all, it’s a celebration of an important sinological anniversary.”
Sydney fluttered. “Oh, I couldn’t crash your party, sir.”
“And why not? You can hit the database tomorrow. Besides, I need someone to help me tote these books. You don’t think Nick will carry them.”
“Not on your life,” Nick muttered. He ushered Simone through the security doors.
Sydney drew a narrow breath through his nostrils. He bit his upper lip. Rowden felt sorry for the man — a social sorry, knowing the price devotion pays in the corridors of life.
Sydney peeked about the Conservancy. There was longing in that glimpse, a preference stated. But sometimes wants and wishes need to be set in the corner with the umbrellas and old galoshes, needful things always returning in the end.
“That settles it,” Rowden said. “I’d like to stay too, but since when does the boss do his duty and the assistant gets to stay behind and play.” He chuckled. Sydney hefted the larger of the two tomes, and then marched through the doors, Rowden following in drogue.
“Do you want me to carry both?” Sydney asked.
“No. I can manage.”
Rowden glimpsed the painting through the glass window. An enigma to accompany his mystery and his cankerous secret. The book was heavy, but no heavier than what had preceded this grand exit, and, in fact, a fraction lighter than the evening’s road ahead.
"Rowden Gray harbored a secret in the hollow of his soul - a private terror kept from friend and family"
And so starts part II of the Jade Owl series... Once again with The Third Peregrination Mr. Patterson proovss what a brilliant storyteller he is. The plot thickens as the main characters of part I are joined by Sydney and Rose, characters so beautifully drawn you can't help but growing very fond of them. I greatly enjoyed learning more about triangulation, fascinated how each member of the ch'i-t'ang discovers what special powers they have. Sure, special powers not always easy to deal with, but highly needed when faced with dangers of both earthly and the supernatural kind.
This is a thrilling read, I highly recommend it !
Review from Rainbow Reviews
Sinologist Rowden Grey is back at the San Francisco Museum of East Asian Arts and Culture, formerly his dream career. The museum has benefited over many decades from artifacts and treasures provided by Rowden's late mentor, John Battle, including the mysterious treasures of China's only Empress, which impelled the events in the initial story. In this second volume, beginning after the "China Hands" return from China, the paranormal element introduced by the Jade Owl artifact becomes increasingly prevalent. Once again, Rowden, John Battle's son Nick, Nick's life partner Simon/Simone, and Rowden's new love Audrey, are put on the spot in a struggle for life, limb, and sanity as stakes escalate.
The Third Peregrination, second volume in Edward C. Patterson's The Jade Owl Legacy, is subtitled The Search of the New China Hands. Like its predecessor, The Jade Owl, the novel is riveting as escalating suspense has readers turning pages as fast as they can read. The continuing main protagonists are joined by a revolving cast of well-developed secondary characters who provide human interest as the plot lines begun in The Jade Owl further develop. Author Patterson never drops a stitch nor leaves a subplot dangling. Rife with suspense, character development, and a newly intensified focus on the paranormal, The Third Peregrination is a valid stand-alone novel, but will also inspire readers new to The Jade Owl Legacy to seek out the first volume and to eagerly anticipate the next book in the set. Once again, Mr. Patterson delivers don't miss excitement. Run, do not walk, to your nearest bookselling outlet and enjoy The Third Peregrination.
Review by Frost's Fancy
Patterson hits another one out of the park
By L. Cone "reconexegete" (Philadelphia, PA USA)
Just when you thought everything was OK, the artifacts tell you otherwise! The Third Peregrination manages to be just as exciting and original as the first in this series, The Jade Owl. Now Rowden Gray's echt-academic ex-wife Rose, and overeager assistant Sydney, are added to the mix. Again, even though this story involves triangulations of objets d'art and magic banners, the prose sustains the most rational of readers. This volume can stand on its own, so one needn't have read The Jade Owl beforehand.
Just when you think a series can't get better, sometimes you receive a wonderful surprise that the sequel in its own way outshines the original work.
The Third Peregrination is the sequel to The Jade Owl. Seems that little Jade Owl just keeps them drawing into mysteries that now only affect the meaning of Chinese relics that were part of Rowden Gray and Nicholas Battle's adventure, but they tear the veil of time itself to fulfill their destinies.
Our favorite 'China Hands' masters in the legends and histories of the Chinese culture return back to China to learn about the pull each of the participants and their roles in an ancient mystery that affects life itself as we know it.
The cast of characters, most whom we met in The Jade Owl, Rowden (Rowdy) Gray, Nicholas Battle, son of noted Sinologist John Battle, Simone/Simon, Nick's life partner who are now married, Rowdy's wife Audrey, then Rowdy's ex-wife, Rose, as well as unforgetable secondary characters, create an amazing adventure that literally has the fate of the world in their hands.
The New China Hands must return to China with their relics to follow the story/banners of the Seven Sisters and uncover what they truly mean and why that Jade Owl seems to be in each one.
So a group of four who eventually becoming a group of five tear through time itself back to the time where this all began.
But something is happening - Each of the friends seems to be 'gifted' with powers never thought of - from telepathy to telekinesis, to I cannot even begin to tell you - but it will blow your mind. They are satellites around the Jade Owl wanting to pull them to do what has been deemed.
The Third Peregrination is a big book - 661 pages, but don't let that length shy you away from reading. Every page draws you in and puts you in the adventure there with our friends, whom you will care deeply for.
Edward Patterson is an amazing writer. He is a Sinologist and knows China backwards and forwards, and paints a picture of what is happening, the legendary characters our friends meet, and the almost hallicugenic realtime events the characters go through.
If I could order the 3rd in the series right now, I would, but alas I have to wait.
While this book can be said to be a stand alone book, I think the back-story would be a plus and to read The Jade Owl would certainly add to the amazement and fun.
You care for these characters, root for them to succeed AND to fail at their destinies.
A worthy read from an amazingly prolific author, whose books I have read maintain the same quality and care of being true to the plot and character development.
I have a very limited knowledge of Mandarin Chinese, so have to rely on the phrases spoken by the locals or characters when it happens in the book to be understood. I don't think having translations would add to the book, as you can figure what is said by actions and reactions.