The alarm clock sounded, this time with the classical music she was accustomed to. When she joined Ash in the kitchen, half asleep and still in her pyjamas, he was leaning over the morning’s paper, spread on the table in front of him.
“Did you effectively knock me out last night or did I dream that?”
“Maybe,” he said, without looking up.
“Well which one is it?”
“Which one do you prefer?”
She put her hands on her hips and huffed, but he ignored her. OK, so he wasn’t going to tell her why. With a slice of buttered toast in one hand she stood over him, peering at the articles over his shoulder, curious to see what he was so preoccupied with. It was mostly local news, a Scout group in Copmanthorpe was fundraising for a new minibus, a letter posted in the second World War had finally reached its destination, nothing sensational, but a small side column caught her eye.
Cat Napper Stalks York Streets
Several residents of Acomb have formed a Neighbourhood Watch group after a spate of cat-nappings. Five felines mysteriously disappeared from the area in the space of one night. The owners say that none of their pets have ever gone missing before and have asked for help from the police to catch what they believe is a gang of youths, who may be taking the animals in order to torture them. The police have said they are unable to act without proof of any wrongdoing and urge the owners to report anyone they see acting in a suspicious manner. They are hopeful the pets will return on their own in the next few days.
“What’s this?” she said, then catching his mischievous smirk added. “Don’t be flippant. I know it’s a newspaper. What are you looking for?”
“Anything out of the ordinary.”
“And cats fit that criteria?”
“If it was one cat, no, but five in one night? Even the newspaper thinks it’s unusual enough to report it.”
“OK, why cats?”
“Ugh, You don’t want to know,” he said, then changed the subject.
“You had a phone call, about ten minutes ago. I let the machine pick it up.”
She was grateful for that. Her mother sometimes rang at odd times of the day and she had no desire to explain why a young man was answering the phone so early in the morning. She pressed the button and listened to the message. It was Nathan.
“Hey, Kate. There’s still no sign of Brian. Hope you’ve heard from him cos I’m starting to worry now. Should we come into work or not?”
She did a quick calculation, trying to figure out what day it was. They were all starting to blur together.
His ability to read her mind came in useful sometimes then. She glanced down the hall to where she could see him sitting at the table and he flashed her a grin. She picked up the phone and pressed redial.
“Nathan, it’s Kate. I haven’t heard from Brian either.”
“Well, I drove past his place last night and the Compass wasn’t there.”
“He’s not on the motorbike then?”
“Shouldn’t think so.”
That put her mind to rest about him lying in a ditch at least.
“OK”, she said. “It’s only a few days until we close up for the Christmas Holidays, so you and James needn’t bother coming in until the New Year.”
She heard Nathan whoop on the other end.
“You don’t say anything to Peter about this, right?”
“Sure,” he said. “Merry Christmas, Kate.”
The line went dead.
Ash had listened to both sides of the conversation. That Brian was still missing bothered him. In most of the lives she’d had, Thomas had reincarnated as someone close to her, someone she’d known well, a father, a brother, a husband even. He could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times he’d been a stranger, coming into her life after the dagger had taken him under its spell. The Witch Finder had been one, another was a man she’d robbed whilst masquerading as a highwayman, one had called himself a doctor and the other was a German Officer. Brian was her friend and workmate, he fitted the profile to a T – jealous, obsessive, dabbler in the occult. And the question remained – where was Brian now?
In the early hours of the morning he had been hit by a sudden, sharp pain that had doubled him up. It was sensing the presence of something seeking them out that had caused him to put Kate to sleep. That, coupled with this morning’s newspaper article, confirmed his worst fears. Only the knife could have that effect on him. His brother had been right, the other angels had done their best, but in the end it was inevitable they’d be found and time was already running out for them.
Kate put down the receiver and walked slowly back to the kitchen table. When Ash looked up at her he could see she had already made the connection too.
“Does Brian have the dagger?”
There was no use pretending it wasn’t a possibility.
“I’ve been thinking about that. When I saw him in the club I ought to have recognised him, but I didn’t.”
“So it’s not him?”
Kate’s eyes were desperate with hope.
“I don’t know. Even if he didn’t have the dagger then, I would have recognised the soul inside, but he was drunk, very drunk. It’s not a pleasant experience looking into the souls of drunken people. It’s something I try to avoid, but he was with you and I should have tried.”
He rubbed his face with both hands, angry at himself again. He’d been so overwhelmed by how beautiful she looked in the club that night that he’d failed to perform a simple task. How was he supposed to protect her when he kept letting his feelings get in the way? He was absolutely no use to her whatsoever!
* * *
Kate had taken the news with quiet resignation. She had spent the morning doing her best to concentrate on work and put the nagging thought that Brian was the one hunting them down out of her mind, but it wasn’t working. She put her hands to her face, rubbing her temples with her fingertips, trying to ease the tension in her head. She pushed back her chair.
“This is a waste of time. I feel like we’re just waiting for something to happen.”
Ash took a peek over her shoulder, curious at the work she was doing.
“Can I help with anything?”
“No, I can’t concentrate with you doing that.”
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled and stepped away.
She immediately felt guilty.
“I didn’t mean to snap,” she said. “But I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”
“If it’s meant to be, it will all fall into place,” Ash said.
Kate wished she had his faith, but he was depending on her and she wasn’t sure that this was going to work out any better than any of her previous lives.
He decided to stay out of her way and turned to the shelves of books that filled one wall of Kate’s study. Tucked in at the end of one row was a set of family photo albums. He looked back at Kate; she had switched on the laptop and had her back to him. He wouldn’t disturb her by asking if he could take a look, surely she wouldn’t mind anyway. He pulled out the first one and began to leaf through it. Instead of photos he found a series of genealogical records for Kate’s ancestors. Birth, marriage and death certificates and census forms going back to the early 1800s. He returned it and slid the next one out. The records continued, but in the mid nineteenth century they were accompanied by photographs of the people they were connected with.
The poses were formal, taken by professional photographers and showing scenes dressed to look as though the subject was sitting in his own front room. In one, a young woman and her daughter sat together on a swing all wrapped around with roses. In another, a small boy in a sailor suit sat with his parents, mother seated and father standing tall and proud behind. All of them fully documented with names and dates in Kate’s hand-writing.
A little further into the album he came across a photo of a First World War soldier and froze.
“Who’s this?” he said.
“What? Who’s who?”
Kate was too engrossed in her work to look up and only half listening.
“The man in this photo, who is he? Kate, it’s important.”
He had crossed the room and was standing by her side now, thrusting the album under her nose.
“That’s my great grandfather, Arthur Parkes, at the end of World War One.”
She put down her pencil. There was something about the way he looked at her, as though he was seeing her for the very first time, that piqued her curiosity. He had her full attention now.
“I knew him. I spoke to him, Kate. I saved his life.”