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D Is For Damien: Chapter 18

A Lead

THEY DROVE THERE in Father Damien's station wagon, since he said it might be better if she saw a familiar car pulling into her drive rather than a strange one like Damien's Countach. It took them only a short while to get there, as the woman lived out in the country in a secluded part of the county. The house was easy to find since it was the only one for about a square mile, though it was set rather far back among a stand of trees. She certainly doesn't seem to trust anybody, Damien thought as they pulled in and parked. They got out; Damien cast a quick look at the mailbox, which looked like it hadn't been used in quite a while--and it probably hadn't, according to what Father Damien had told him about her deliveries. The box was tilting to the side and marked with the words A. CLARE. He and his uncle walked up the driveway and stopped, looking up at the house. All the shutters were closed and there was a peephole in the door. Damien looked at his uncle, then they went up the steps to the porch and Father Damien rang the doorbell.

They waited a moment before hearing movement inside. There was a pause, then Damien heard a lock being undone. The door opened a crack, just wide enough so he could make out a chain lock and a wary blue eye looking out at him.

"What do you want?" a voice behind the door asked.

Father Damien stepped in front of his dumbstruck nephew to greet her. "Hello, Miss Clare," he said. "You remember me, don't you?"

The eye looked him over. "Yes," the timid voice answered cautiously.

"I'm here to ask you if you could help us with something," he explained.

The eye stared at him for a minute, then flicked at Damien, the way people might cock their heads to indicate somebody. "Who's he?" the voice asked.

"This is my nephew, Damien," Father Damien replied. "Don't worry. He wants you to help us also. May we come in and talk about it?"

The eye stared at them several moments more, from one to the other, then the door slammed shut. The two jumped back with surprise at the loud noise as it echoed through the woods. Damien turned back to his uncle.

"She just slammed the door in our face," he said. "She doesn't want to--"

He was cut off by a rattling, clanking sound and the creak of the door opening. He turned back to look. Before them stood a woman about Father Damien's age but still rather good looking for her years, her dark hair up in a sort of haphazard bun, her frightened eyes darting quickly from one side to the other like some small animal's. "Come in," she said in a soft voice. They did. As soon as they were inside she stuck her head out and looked all around, then pulled it back in quickly and again shut the door, bolting and chaining it. Damien could now see that there were indeed five locks--two deadbolts and a chain, and a sort of doorstopper protruding from the floor, not to mention the regular lock in the knob. He glanced over at a nearby window. He could just make out a strong lock holding it tightly shut beneath the shutters. It was then that he realized just how fearful this woman was. And he well understood why.

The woman--Miss Clare--turned back to face them. She was wearing a light blue print dress which made her look like a frail ghost. "What do you want?" she asked again, her eyes still flitting from one to the other.

"There's something we're looking for that we thought you might be able to help us find," Father Damien explained. He looked at Damien, but Damien could do nothing except stare at Miss Clare as if at any moment she might disappear. She didn't take very well to this herself, and kept darting suspicious glances at him.

"What kind of thing?" she asked, trying to ignore him.

"A D," Damien was able to say. "A diamond D."

Miss Clare looked at him in a horrified sort of way for having spoken, then back at the priest. "I don't know anything about a D," she hastened to say. "I never did."

"Let's go sit down," Father Damien suggested with a warm smile, trying to appear friendly. Damien, understanding, removed his hands from his pockets and tried to look nonthreatening. Miss Clare also knew what he was up to but said nothing, instead nervously tugging on the apron she was wearing and nodding. The three of them went into her living room. As they entered Damien took in the surroundings--everything seemed gray and dusty. The shutters were closed but slight beams of light were trickling in, and the dust motes floated upon the air in streams. The place seemed lonely and removed somehow. Almost like Miss Clare.

Miss Clare and Father Damien sat down on the sofa, while Damien chose a spot further away so he didn't have to be near her. She was looking so much like a little frightened bird that he felt she'd fly away the instant he tried to get any closer. As soon as they'd made themselves comfortable she again looked at Father Damien.

"Miss Clare, you have to help us," Father Damien said. "I know that you know about the D. You told me about it a long time ago. Don't you remember?"

Miss Clare twisted the edge of her dress--it, too, was faded, like the colors in her house--in her hands, looking strained. Finally, she nodded slightly and spoke, not making eye contact. "Yes," she whispered. "I remember."

Damien sat forward.

"But--but I don't really remember very well," she went on. "So I'm not exactly sure where it is--"

"Please, even a general idea would be good," Damien pleaded. "We need to find that D."

Miss Clare looked at him for a moment, now seeming almost puzzled, then said, "I know you."

Damien sat back again. "Huh?"

"I've heard of you. I know who you are," she said, pointing at him timidly. "You were one of the--but you were taken away so we--I mean that--" Obviously uncomfortable, she quit, shaking her head and returning to her previous train of thought. "My memory's not what it used to be--so I really don't know--"

"Please, Miss Clare, try to remember," Father Damien coaxed. "This is important. What's happening is that Scorpio's got two of the D's, and now they're looking for the last one."

Miss Clare placed her hands flat on her knees and sat back, letting her breath out quickly. She now looked dismayed. "But I thought you had two of the D's."

"We did," Father Damien explained, "but Scorpio took them."

Miss Clare got up and started pacing the room. "I should have known this would happen eventually," she said, seemingly to herself, making gestures in the air with her hands. "Of course they would be looking for them all--they're a great prize to have--" She abruptly quit pacing and turned back to them. "They know where the diamond D is?" she asked pointedly.

"We don't know," Father Damien replied. "But there's a good chance that they do, since there should still be one with them who knows its whereabouts."

She sat down in one of the chairs in the musty room, wringing her hands and sighing. "All right," she said. "I'll tell you what I know. But it's not much. And I don't want anyone to know you were here."

"Anything will help," Father Damien said. "And no one will know."

Miss Clare sighed, again twisting her dress around her fingers with great anxiety. "I wasn't actually there when they hid the D's," she admitted, "but I was told later on of where they were because I--I was--" She looked uncomfortable. "What would you call it--" She searched for the right words. "I was--favored by the high priest," she managed to put it delicately. Damien felt like snorting but didn't wish to be rude or startle her in any way, so remained quiet. Father Damien nodded for her to go on.

"Anyway," she continued, "he told me later on; it's kind of hard to explain it without ever having seen it for oneself--"

"Please, just try to," Father Damien said. "We'll try to understand."

Miss Clare took a deep breath and let it out, thinking hard. She finally spoke again.

"There's rumor," she started, "of there being this vast network of old copper mines under the city of Cheboygan. I don't know why they're there or where they lead. Scorpio was supposed to have taken over several sections and outfitted them for their own purposes--whatever those may be. I've heard that that's where the D's were hidden, each of them in a different location. Lucifer the Fifth--I believe he's your father," she said, meaning Damien, "retrieved two of them and managed to smuggle them out of the tunnels. But he never got to the third one. I don't really know where it's hidden, but I've heard it's down there somewhere. There were only four of us who knew, and one is dead now--Alec Bodine, the former high priest--and Lucifer shouldn't remember, not after what they did to him; the other one, Gregory, he's a higher-up in the cult, probably third in command; he should be helping them track it. That's all I know. That's all I can tell you."

"Do you remember where the entrance to these tunnels is?" Father Damien asked softly.

Miss Clare frowned with thought, biting her lip. After several moments she herself snorted, irritated that she couldn't recall something. "I know that I remembered something else--some way to get down there--" She thumped her foot upon the floor, then threw up her hands in exasperation. "There was something else, but I just can't think of it right now. I would tell you if I remembered it, believe me, I would."

"That's all right," Father Damien assured her. "We'll do the best we can. Thank you for your help."

They stood up to take their leave. Miss Clare did the same and went quickly toward the door, obviously trying to be rid of them before anybody noticed she had visitors. As she held the door open Damien turned back to her, taking her arm. She very nearly jumped back.

"Please," he begged, "when you do remember, you'll call us, right? I've really got to know. This means a lot to me."

Miss Clare just stared at him as if he were crazy. Then she removed his hand from her arm and quickly closed the door for the last time. He stood there staring back at the white-painted wood, hearing only dimly the sound of the locks being done back up. Father Damien gently tugged on his arm from behind.

"Come on," he said softly. "We've done all we can. Let's go home."

Damien, saying nothing, numbly turned around and followed his uncle down the steps to the car. They got in and shut the doors, another slam now echoing. As the car pulled out of the drive, he could swear that he saw a face peering out at them from behind the shutters, then quickly vanish.

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