D'Agosta sat in the back seat of the vintage '59 Rolls Royce Silver Wraith, looking out the window but not really seeing anything. Proctor had taken him west through the park, and the big car was now rocketing up Broadway. D'Agosta shifted in the white leather interior, barely able to contain his curiosity and impatience. He was tempted to pepper Proctor with questions, but he felt sure the chauffeur would not respond.
891 Riverside Drive. The home—one of the homes—of Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast, D'Agosta's friend and partner in several unusual cases. The mysterious FBI agent who D'Agosta knew, and yet did not know, who seemed to have as many lives as a cat...
Until that day not two months ago, when he'd seen Pendergast for the last time.
It had been on the steep flank of a hill south of Florence. The Special Agent had been below him, surrounded by a ravening pack of boar-hunting dogs, backed up by a dozen armed men. Pendergast had sacrificed himself so D'Agosta could get away.
And D'Agosta had let him do it.
D'Agosta stirred restlessly at the memory. Someone who has requested your presence, Proctor had said. Was it possible that, despite everything, Pendergast had somehow managed to escape? It wouldn't be the first time. He suppressed a surge of hope...
But no, it was not possible. He knew in his heart that Pendergast was dead.
Now the Rolls was cruising up Riverside Drive. D'Agosta shifted again, glancing out at the passing street signs. 125th Street. 130th. Very quickly, the well-tended neighborhood surrounding Columbia University gave way to dilapidated brownstones and decaying hulks. The usual loiterers had been chased indoors by the January chill, and in the dim light of evening the street looked deserted.
Up ahead now, just past 137th Street, D'Agosta could make out the boarded-up facade and widow's walk of Pendergast's mansion. The dark lines of the vast structure sent a chill through him.
The Rolls pulled past the gates of the spiked iron fence and stopped beneath the porte-cochère. Without waiting for Proctor, D'Agosta let himself out and stared up at the familiar lines of the rambling mansion, windows covered with tin, looking for all the world like the other abandoned mansions along the drive. Inside, it was home to wonders and secrets almost beyond belief. He felt his heart begin to race. Maybe Pendergast was inside after all, in his usual black suit, sitting in the library before a blazing fire, the dancing flames casting strange shadows over his pale face. "My dear Vincent," he would say. "Thank you for coming. May I interest you in a glass of Armagnac?"
D'Agosta waited as Proctor unlocked, then opened, the heavy door. Pale yellow light streamed out onto the worn brickwork. He stepped forward while Proctor carefully re-locked the door behind him. He felt his heart beat still faster. Just being back inside the mansion sent a strange mix of emotions coursing through him: excitement, anxiety, regret.
Proctor turned toward him. "This way, sir, if you please."
The chauffeur led the way down the length of the gallery and into the blue-domed reception hall. Here, dozens of rippled-glass cabinets displayed an array of fabulous specimens: meteorites, gems, fossils, butterflies. D'Agosta's eyes stole across the parquet floor to the far side, where the double-doors of the library lay open. If Pendergast was waiting for him, that's where he'd be: sitting in a wing chair, a half-smile playing across his lips, enjoying the effect of this little drama on his friend.
Proctor ushered D'Agosta toward the library. Heart pounding, he stepped through the doors and into the sumptuous room.
The smell of the place was as he remembered it: leather, buckram, a faint hint of woodsmoke. But today, there was no fire crackling merrily on the hearth. The room was cold. The inlaid bookshelves, full of leatherbound volumes tooled in gold, were dim and indistinct. Only a single lamp glowed—a Tiffany piece standing on a side table—casting a small pool of light in a vast lake of darkness.
After a moment, D'Agosta made out a form standing beside the table, just outside the circle of light. As he watched, the form advanced toward him across the carpeting. He recognized immediately the young girl as Constance Greene, Pendergast's ward and assistant. She was perhaps twenty, wearing a long, old-fashioned velvet dress that snugged her slender waist and fell in lines almost to the floor. Despite her obvious youth, her bearing had the poise of a much older woman. And her eyes, too—D'Agosta remembered her strange eyes, full of experience and learning, her speech old-fashioned, even quaint. And then there was that something else, something just the other side of normal, that seemed to cling to her like the antique air that exhaled from her dresses.
Those eyes seemed different today. They looked haunted, dark, heavy with loss and... fear?
Constance held out her right hand. "Lieutenant D'Agosta," she said in a measured tone.
D'Agosta took the hand, as always uncertain whether to shake it or kiss it. He did neither, and after a moment the hand was withdrawn.
Normally, Constance was polite to a fault. But today she simply stood before D'Agosta, without offering him a chair or inquiring after his health. She seemed uncertain. And D'Agosta could guess why. The hope that had been stirring within him began to fade.
"Have you heard anything?" she asked, her voice almost too low to make out. "Anything at all?"
D'Agosta shook his head, the flame of hope dashed out. Constance held his glance a moment longer. Then she nodded her understanding, her gaze dropping to the floor, her hands fluttering at her sides like confused white moths.
They stood there together in silence for a minute, perhaps two. Constance raised her eyes again. "It's foolish for me to continue to hope. More than six weeks have passed without a word."
"He is dead," she said, voice even lower.
D'Agosta said nothing.
She roused herself. "That means it is time for me to give you this." She went to the mantlepiece, took down a small sandalwood box inlaid with mother of pearl. A tiny key already in her hand, she unlocked it and, without opening it, held it out toward D'Agosta.
"I have delayed this moment too long already. I felt that there was still a chance he might appear."
D'Agosta stared at the box. It looked familiar, but for a moment he could not place where he'd seen it before. Then it came to him: it had been in this house, this very room, the previous October. He'd entered the library and disturbed Pendergast in the act of writing a note. The Agent had slipped it into this same box. That had been the night before they left on their fateful trip to Italy—the night Pendergast had told him about his brother, Diogenes.
"Take it, Lieutenant," Constance said, her voice breaking. "Please don't draw this out."
"Sorry." D'Agosta gently took the box, opened it. Inside lay a single sheet of heavy cream-colored paper, folded once.
Suddenly, the very last thing D'Agosta wanted to do was to take out that piece of paper. With deep misgivings he reached for it, opened it, and began to read.
My dear Vincent,
If you are reading this letter, it means that I am dead. It also means I died before I could accomplish a task that, rightfully, belongs to me and no other. That task is preventing my brother, Diogenes, from committing what he once boasted would be the ‘perfect' crime.
I wish I could tell you more about this crime, but all I know of it is that he has been planning it for many years, and that he intends it to be the apotheosis of his life. Whatever this ‘perfect' crime is, it will be infamous. It will make the world a darker place. Diogenes is a man with exceptional standards. He would not settle for less.
I'm afraid, Vincent, that the task of stopping Diogenes must now fall to you. I cannot tell you how much I regret this. It is something I would not wish on my worst enemy, and especially not on somebody I've come to regard as a trusted friend. But it is something I believe you are best equipped to handle. Diogenes's threat is too amorphous for me to take to the FBI or other law enforcement agency, since he contrived his own false death some years ago. A single, dedicated individual has the best chance of preventing my brother from carrying out this crime. That individual is you.
Diogenes has sent me a letter consisting of only one thing: a date, January 28. In all likelihood, the crime will be committed on that date. I would not, however, make any assumptions— the date could mean nothing at all. Diogenes is, if anything, unpredictable.
You will need to take a leave of absence from the Southampton PD or wherever you are currently employed. This cannot be avoided. Get all the information you can from Detective Captain Laura Hayward, but for her own sake minimize her involvement. Diogenes is an expert on forensics and police procedure, and any information left at the scene of the crime— assuming, God forbid, you are not in time to stop said crime— will no doubt be cleverly contrived to mislead the police. Hayward, as fine an officer as she is, is no match for my brother.
I've left a separate note for Constance, who knows all the particulars of this matter. She will make my house, my finances, and all my resources available to you. She will immediately put at your disposal a bank account containing $500,000 in your name, to use as you see fit. I recommend that you use her invaluable research skills, though I ask that you keep her out of your direct investigation— for obvious reasons. She must never leave the mansion—ever. And you must watch her very, very carefully. She is still fragile, both mentally and physically.
As a first step, you should pay a visit to my Great Aunt Cornelia, who is confined to a hospital on Little Governor's Island. She knew Diogenes as a boy, and she will provide you with the personal and family information you will undoubtedly need. Treat this information— and her— with great care.
One final word. Diogenes is consummately dangerous. He is my intellectual equal, but he was somehow formed without the slightest shred of moral conscience. In addition, a severe childhood illness left him damaged. He is motivated by an undying hatred of myself and an utter contempt for humanity. Do not gain his attention any earlier than you have to. Be vigilant at all times.
Goodbye, my friend— and good luck.
D'Agosta looked up. "January 28th? My God, that's just one week away."
Constance only bowed her head.
DANCE OF DEATH is copyright © 2005 by Lincoln Child and Splendide Mendax, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this text, or any portion thereof, in any form.
Warning! This novel contains profanity and graphic violence.