Читать онлайн "Pandora's Closet" автора Zahn Timothy - RuLit - Страница 4


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 « »

Выбрать главу

The other shook his head. “I had nothing to do with any of that, Mr. Powell,” he said. “It’s the curse working.”

“No, but look, I got you the-” Nick broke off. “The what?”

“The curse,” the old man said softly. “You didn’t think all that money was just going to fall into your lap without any consequences, did you?”

Nick’s skin began tingling. The whole idea of a curse was absurd… but then, so was a ring that could make you rich. “What kind of curse are we talking about?” he asked carefully.

“Death and destruction, of course,” the old man said, his eyes taking on a faraway look. “The Rhinemaidens laid it on the gold when Alberich stole it from them.” His eyes came back and he smiled tightly. “That’s the one part Wagner got wrong. He said it was Alberich who cursed it.”

“Never mind who cursed it,” Nick snapped. “Are you saying it’s coming after me?”

“Of course,” the old man said, sounding surprised that Nick would even have to ask. “You have the Ring.”

“So that’s why you let me have the damn thing instead of using it yourself,” Nick bit out, twisting at the Ring.

The old man shook his head. “It won’t come off, Mr. Powell,” he said. “It likes you. More than that, it likes the money you’re making.” He cocked his head to the side. “I don’t suppose you’d consider turning your assets into gold? It especially likes gold.”

“In a minute I’m going to get on the phone and convert it to Rwanda francs,” Nick growled. “Now tell me how I get it off.”

“You don’t,” the old man said softly. “Not while you’re alive.”

Nick stared at him. “How do you know so much about this?”

“Because I was there from the beginning.” The old man lifted his hand to the side of his head and tugged at something.

And abruptly shrank into a short, wide, bearded man holding a sort of metal cap in his hand. “I am Alberich,” he said.

Nick looked at the metal cap. “The Tarnhelm,” Alberich answered his unspoken question, wiggling the cap between his fingers. “It gives its owner the power to change shape at will.” He smiled. “Wagner did get that one right.”

And with that, the reality of magic Rings and their curses suddenly came sharply into focus. “This curse,” Nick said between dry lips. “If it’s coming after me, why did Caprizano and those people just walking down the street get hurt?”

“The Ring’s trying to protect you,” Alberich said. “It will succeed, too, for awhile. And I can also help.”

“For a price, I suppose?”

“Of course,” Alberich said.

“Why am I not surprised?” Nick growled. “And if I refuse, or you miss one? The curse nails me, I die, and the Ring moves on to someone else?”

“Basically,” Alberich said casually. “But at least your heirs will still have your money.” He shrugged. “If any of them are still alive.”

And right on cue, Nick’s cell phone vibrated.

He snatched it from his pocket, his heart suddenly pounding. “Powell.”

“Nick, its Amy,” the choked voice of Sonnerfeld’s assistant said. “There’s been a terrible accident. Mr. Sonnerfeld’s fallen down an elevator shaft.”

Nick looked at Alberich. How many times, he wondered, had the dwarf watched this same scenario play itself out, losing victim after victim to the Ring’s curse while he grew rich on his ten percent?

Amy was still talking. “I’m sorry-what was that?” Nick asked.

“I said you need to get back here right away,” she said. “The whole board’s coming in for emergency session-oh, God-”

“I understand,” Nick cut in. “I’ll be right there.”

“Your boss?” Alberich asked as he closed the phone. “Yes, that’s the usual pattern. From the edges of your life inward-strangers, co-workers, boss. Fortunately, you don’t have a wife or children, or they’d be next.”

Nick’s stomach twisted into a hard knot. Lydia … “I’ve got to go,” he said, his voice sounding hollow in his ears as he headed for the door.

“Remember what I said,” Alberich called after him. “For an extra forty percent I can help protect you from the curse.”

“I’ll think about it,” Nick called over his shoulder.

To his relief, Lydia was sitting safe and sound at her desk when he barged into her office. “Come on,” he said, without preamble, grabbing her wrist and all but hauling her out of her chair. “We’re going on a trip.”

“Nick, what in the world do you think you’re doing?” she demanded as she tried to pull from his grip.

“I’ve got a cab waiting,” he said, ignoring her struggles as he pulled her across the room under the astonished stares of her colleagues. “You’ve got ten minutes to pack, and you’ll need your passport. We’ve got just three hours until the next flight to Frankfurt.”

“To Frankfurt?” she echoed as he got her out the door. “You mean… Germany ?

“I don’t mean Kentucky,” Nick said. “Come on.”

A moment later they were in the cab, weaving their way through the city’s streets. Nick could feel Lydia ’s puzzled and hostile glare on him, but he ignored it. As long as he kept her close, maybe the Ring’s protection would extend to her, too.

Meanwhile, he had to find a permanent solution to the problem. It was these damn Rhinemaidens who had put the damn curse on the damn Ring. Maybe they could take it off.

The sky had been clouding over as they landed at Frankfurt International Airport. The commuter flight to Stuttgart had run into some more serious weather, and as Nick got them on the road in their rental car, the rain was starting in earnest.

By the time he pulled off the road beside the slope leading down to the Rhine River the full fury of the storm had broken.

“This is the place?” Lydia shouted over the wind as they picked their way carefully through the trees and rocks toward the surging water below.

“Assuming Wagner knew what he was talking about,” Nick called back. “This is definitely the place he described for the scenery in the first Bayreuth production of Gotterdammerung. We’ll just have to see if he got it right.”

They fell silent, concentrating on the climb, and Nick found himself marveling once again at the remarkable woman beside him. He’d told her the whole story on the way to the airport from her apartment, fully expecting her to order the cabby to forget Kennedy and take them straight to Bellevue. But to his surprise, she’d not only taken it calmly but had actually believed the story.

Or at least she’d pretended to believe it. Still, that was more than he would have gotten from anyone else he knew.

The rain had moderated a little by the time they reached the bottom of the slope, but the winds had become more turbulent. Carefully, Nick moved to the edge of the river, wiping at the sheet of water streaming down his face as he peered across the roiling whitecaps spilling over the treacherous rocks. “Rhinemaidens!” he shouted. “I’ve brought you your Ring. Come and get it.”

There was no answer but the whistling of the wind. “What if they’re not here?” Lydia asked.

Nick shook his head wordlessly, looking back and forth down the shoreline.

And frowned.

There, about fifty yards downriver, he could see a squat figure standing with the stillness of a rock, facing their direction.

It was Alberich.

“I knew you’d come,” the dwarf said as Nick and Lydia slogged through the wet grass to him. “They all do, sooner or later. Hoping to bribe or beg or threaten their way out of the curse.”

“News flash-I’m not here to beg,” Nick told him. “I’m here to give them back their Ring.”

Alberich snorted in disgust. “Fool. You really think you’re the first one to think of that?”

“They won’t take it back?” Lydia asked.



2011 - 2018