Monday, February 16, 2009
The Third Peregrination excerpt by Edward C Patterson
In The Jade Owl Legacy Series: Book 2 - The Third Peregrination by Edward C Patterson, 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.
The Third Peregrination
Publisher: CreateSpace (January 21, 2009)
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.