It was the first time he actually had to visit him in the office. Strangely enough, he found that it was precisely the same as in the academy where-from he had just graduated, the much famed Axis Academy. Precisely the same interior, the massive mahogany desk, the bookcases along the right hand wall, the marble fireplace with the silver grey wolf skin and the two leather armchairs with the table between them in front. Everything straight out of the Victorian era. The thick, red carpet muffled even high-heeled shoes.
Aenriques had the feeling that the office in the academy and the mansion were practically the same. The only difference was the corridor outside and the view through the panoramic windows behind the tall chair on the other side of the desk. In the corner there was a cabinet with fine crystal goblets and pitchers, and a door was almost invisible to the left, beyond the fireplace. Above the mantelpiece hung a family portrait. The lord of the house, and of the entire Darklighter family, seated with his elder brother and sister, and his son, the heir to the empire, surrounding him.
There could be no doubt that the genes of this family were matched with precision. The portrait was dated ten years back, and as far as Aenriques was concerned, the faces on the canvas looked just like the faces he met in real life.
The eldest of the three, had silvery white hair, drawn behind his stout neck in a short tail. His eyes were keen and grey. The clothing reminded Aenriques of those of a rich aristocrat of the 18th century, from the silver medallion with the green emerald around his neck to the brocade of his dark green vest and the black cane with the silver knob. He was placed furthest to the left.
Next to him stood the only woman in the portrait. She looked more like a pin-up model from the 20’s or 30’s. She had curly, long auburn hair, her red dress matched the lipstick, nail polish and high-heels. A fox fur was draped around her shoulders and from her neck hung a curtain of diamonds draped softly against her bosom. All of her jewelry consisted of diamonds and silver. Her eyes were dark green, her skin olive and her curvy body well-shaped. Her face showed kindness but determination, unlike her elder brother whose face seemed cut in cold stone.
Seated in the middle of the picture sat their youngest brother, the head of the family, and curiously enough, he exuded far more authority. His face was lean and noble, marble-like, framed by waist-long black hair. He smiled a Mona Lisa smile, subtle and oddly foreboding. The only indication of age were lines of grief and experience by the icy blue eyes, his body was well kept in shape and build. He was clad in a black, simple tuxedo, a glass of red wine clenched between the long, slender fingers. Aenriques had seen him countless times and had been personally tutored by him. He would never have the courage to look the man straight in the eye.
Last but not least, stood the heir of the family. A blond, young man with emerald eyes, a face like an angel, his chin adorned by golden downs and clad in a creamy white suit. He was tall, taller than the rest, and his shape suggested a certain amount of vanity and a high level of self-preservation. His face was not unknown to Aenriques. He saw him often on magazine covers and advertisements for whatever the heart desired, not only the face but the rest of the body as well. Either he posed for a photo-shoot or he was caught red-handed in a drug bust, in a night-club. He was a careless brat, and his reputation affected the rest of the family, although Aenriques had heard from reliable sources that times were changing. On the other hand, it was not only the young-spirited heir of the family, who sullied the reputation of the Darklighters. But that was, of course, only rumours as well.
As for now he was waiting. Waiting for the lord of the house, the head of the family, Matthew James Darklighter. There were many reasons for his visit, some more obscure and secret than he could admit to his master. He threw one last glance at the portrait and was brought back to reality as the office double-door opened behind him and Matthew entered. Tall and slender as a tree, he strode in past Aenriques.
“I apologize for the delay, Aenriques, I had some arrangements to see to,” he said as he settled down by the desk and buttoned up the jacket before he looked at Aenriques, who naturally darted eye-contact.
“I heard you’re leaving the next few days, my lord, whereto?” Aenriques asked. He knew better than to ignore his master’s duties abroad. Taking an interest in them meant that his master would reciprocate the gesture.
“New Orleans, then Osaka,” Matthew replied as he piled a few documents and shoved them aside on the table before finding a small notepad and one of the golden-tipped ink pens. He gestured for Aenriques to sit in one of the chairs in front of the desk. “Family business is always tiresome when you have to go half-way around the world to solve it,” he added as Aenriques sat down.
“I see,” he said and flattened the tie. “You called for me?”
“I did. I want you to come with us,” Matthew looked sharply at Aenriques, who had a hard time deciding whether to look puzzled, surprised or flattered. He could not lie to his master, but the problem was that he did not actually know what to feel about the decision.
“I’m honoured, my lord, but am I not still too newly-educated to be given such a task?” he asked politely, folding his hands in front of him.
“If you were, you’d still be in the academy,” Matthew said, a black eyebrow curled upwards, and he rose. “I trust you know that you received the diploma for a reason and not just to please you and your ego?”
Aenriques bowed his head. “Yes, my lord,” he replied quietly before looking up at Matthew, who had walked around the desk and leant against the table-top, his hands folded as he surveyed Aenriques’ reactions carefully.
“That was always your weakness, my boy,” he said smiling thinly. Aenriques had never liked it. It was the grin of a wolf staring at its prey.
“I trust your decision to be the right one, my lord,” he said firmly. “When do we leave?”
“This afternoon,” Matthew replied. “Zacharias and Gabriel are coming as well.”
“I’ll be ready when you call for me again,” Aenriques assured Matthew. “It’s truly an honour, my lord. I don’t deserve your kindness.”
“I hope you’ll take the chance to show me that it was not a wrong decision to let you graduate.”
“I won’t disappoint you.”
“Good. Get packed. We leave at 3 o’clock from Heathrow.”
Aenriques rose and parted with the compulsory farewell-kiss on Matthew’s cheek before he left. Outside, in the darkened corridor of the mansion, he grabbed his phone, hit speed dial as he strode down the carpeted floor and finally got hold on his assailant as he reached the grand stair leading down to the entrance hall. His footsteps echoed loudly, breaking the silence mercilessly.
“We have to talk today.”
“I’ve been put on close watch.”
“Meet me at National in forty.”
“Affirmative. See you.”
And the line died. Aenriques swore and cursed under his breath as he strode out of the mansion and got into the black Audi parked in front of the main building. He looked up the façade and sighed heavily before he drove away. Back in the office Matthew had reached for his own phone and dialled a number to one of the offices in the west wing.
“Adam? I need you to check up on Lynne. Send Thomas at her heels while I’m abroad, and make sure the lake is secure ground if they want to investigate it.”
He put down the phone in its stand, slipped a hand through his hair and took down a few notes for Isobel and Vladimir to stick to. Just in case. The pen clattered onto the table-top beside the note pad and he walked to the windows and looked out. The waving grassy plains of the garden stretched all the way to the lake, and beyond that, to the ring of trees, the massive, natural fence against the world, caging in what needed to be shielded from the public. The leaden clouds hung heavily overhead, reflecting his emotions very conveniently. It was the beginning of the descend down the ladder, and as high as he had climbed, he would fall just as far. But it would not be without a struggle.