Hound pressed his forehead against the double-paned window of his redbrick home. He stared with heavy lids at the shaggy branches of three majestic sugar maples lining the back fence. Scarlet, burnt orange, and copper-brown leaves blanketed a lawn that a week ago was green and inviting. Then an early November freeze ended the mild autumn weather. Snow would come soon, and the forecast was bleak — as his life now felt.
Stepping away from the window and looking straight ahead, he had a clear view over an expanse of yellow stubble that ended at mixed woods beyond. The birch, white pine, and hemlock trees of eastern Georgian Bay called to him, as did the jack pine, balsam fir, and black spruce of the boreal forest of northern Canada. The wilderness was where he belonged. Not in crowded cities or small towns.
His thoughts turned to Matthew Simon, helping ease his glum mood. He missed their joyful times together, tracking moose and deer through shadowy woods and sunlit meadows. And he cherished his Huron friend’s quiet companionship, huddled around a log fire, sipping bitter coffee, then crawling into a thermal sleeping bag for a peaceful night beneath the glowing moon and dusty stars of the Milky Way
He sighed, wondering where Matthew was right now. Somewhere deep in the forest, no doubt, doing whatever took his fancy.
The reverie ended when the front door of his house creaked open.
“Hi, Rebecca.” He knew it was her, and didn’t turn round. “Thanks for coming.” His heart rate sped up, as it so often did when they were together. But his love for her hadn’t been returned, at least in the way he wanted, although her affection for him was genuine. Which was something, wasn’t it?
Drawing near, Rebecca asked, “What’s wrong, Hound? You sounded upset on the phone.”
He swivelled and pointed to a side table. An envelope was there, opened, a letter protruding from it.
Rebecca went over and took up the letter. She read the text out loud.
I apologize for avoiding you the past six years. I had cause, but I must tell you why in person. I’m writing now with some disturbing news I have recently discovered.
I’ll get straight to the point: Richard Hounsley is not your father. You’re his ward, and he’s your guardian. I don’t know the reason for it, but I suspect foul play, which involves a secret organization that I told you about many years ago. What you need to understand is you are the sole child of a wealthy French family, surnamed Brébeuf. Your father and mother were killed in a vehicle crash when you were a baby. You were put under the care of Richard, who has managed your inheritance for twenty-three years, though he should have transferred it to you when you turned eighteen. You have a legal right to the entire Brébeuf estate, as their only beneficiary. The total value, comprising money, lands, and other assets, was about £100 million when they died. It includes your childhood home, Hounsley Manor.
I will say no more for now, but I urge you to go to England as soon as possible. I will be in London on Wednesday morning. If you can make it there, leave details with your friend Rebecca. I can arrange a meeting through her. And I will share everything I know about Richard, as well as the organization that has designs on your estate.
I apologize for not letting you contact me, and for withholding some vital information until we meet. In the meantime, take great care for your safety.
Your enduring friend, I trust.
“Do you believe this?” Rebecca waved the letter. “You told me you haven’t heard from Father Lapierre for years.” Her expression changed from puzzlement to concern. “I’m surprised he knows my name. We’ve never met.”
Hound shrugged. “I don’t understand why he stayed distant for so long. He was my supporter and mentor when I first came to Canada, but he left Peterborough soon after I moved to Conroy six years ago. He didn’t send me a forwarding address. When I tried to find him through the Jesuit office in Toronto, they wouldn’t give me his phone number, or his email address, if he has one. They said he was in seclusion, doing fine, so I left it at that.” He took the letter from Rebecca and set it aside.
“What should I do?”
She took a while to respond as Hound watched the play of emotions on her face. Consternation. Fear for him? Yet there was something else he could sense. A deeper feeling, perhaps?
“Go to London,” Rebecca said. “Meet with Father Lapierre. You need to hear what he has to say, though I don’t like his warning.” A troubled look darkened her face. “I’ll see if I can take a few days off to go with you.”
“There’s no need. I can take care of myself.”
“In a brawl, yes, you’re safe enough. But not from the kind of threat Father Lapierre may be warning you about. I’m a police officer. I know how violent people who are after money can get.”
He pushed back. “I won’t put you at risk. Not again. I’ll go there alone.”
She started to object, but Hound cut her off.
“Sykes should know about this.” She paused and pursed her lips. “But he’s gone off someplace, I don’t know where. It may take a while to find him. Wait until he returns.” Her eyes pleaded.
Maybe she feels more than only affection for me, Hound mused. Although he couldn’t refuse her outright. It might offend her, and he mustn’t do that.
“Okay, Rebecca, just for one day. I’ll be on an overnight flight to Heathrow tomorrow. Then I’ll spend Tuesday checking into some things in London, before I meet with Father Lapierre on Wednesday.”
“What about the organization he alluded to?”
“I’m certain it’s the one he belonged to but quit before I came to Canada,” Hound said. “He told me almost nothing about it. I can’t even recall the name.”
“I hope it’s not the Society — the group my father got mixed up with. Especially its leader, Father Jacob. I showed you his photograph, if you recall.” Her breath quickened. “But why would they be interested in you? Their business is buying and selling religious artifacts.”
“All the more reason to talk to Father Lapierre.”
Rebecca edged closer. She touched his arm and jerked her hand back.
“Call me if you need help in London. I’ll take the first available flight. Let me know where you’ll be staying. And keep your cell phone charged.”
His arm tingled where her fingers brushed him. She really did care for him, but how much? Enough for brief contact. But she hadn’t been this intimate before today. And she was still recovering from her mother’s unsolved murder when Rebecca was eight, as well as the burden of being the only child of a wealthy but distant father — Mr. Big in a northern Ontario gold mining town.
“I can tell you now where you’ll find me,” Hound said.
She gave him a questioning look.
“Hounsley Manor. After all, I own the place.”
“You can’t do that.” She seized his wrists and held them tightly. This time she didn’t let go.
“I can, and I will,” Hound declared, savouring her grip, not wanting it to end. “I’ll wire my newfound guardian and inform him I’ll be bunking at the manor for a few days. It will be interesting to see how he responds.”