Harold had needed to turn off of the paved road and onto a dirt road in order to get around the lake to where Dr. Porter appeared to be working. The minivan clunked and moaned as they drove over bumps and potholes, but apart from the noise seemed to handle driving on dirt far better than driving on pavement. After a particularly nasty pothole, Alex was glad they were in the minivan and not his Mustang.
The dirt road wound around the lake, moving in and out of the woods that surrounded the lake. Every time they came out of woods into a clearing and could see across, it seemed as if the light they were trying to reach was getting not just closer, but more intense. Shadows of the vegetation at the edge of the water were thrown into sharp relief, and cast long shadows across the water.
“It looks as though she’s already made up for lost time,” Harold said.
The minivan hit another hard bump, and seemed to lose power then. The engine was still running, and Harold stepped on the gas to try and break the minivan free of whatever was slowing it down. All he succeeded in doing, however, was revving the engine as the minivan coasted to a gradual stop.
Trying to shift into other gears resulted in more engine revving with no movement. Even reverse was useless. Harold shut off the engine.
“I guess we’re going to have to go the rest of the way on foot,” Harold said.
He and Alex got out of the minivan, and started walking quickly in the direction they’d been driving. The ticking sounds, clanging, and groans of the stopped minivan quickly gave way to the sound of crickets and frogs as they walked. And then, curiously, to silence.
“Do you hear that?” Harold said quietly.
Alex strained, and listened as hard as he could manage.
“Hear what?” Alex finally said.
“Everything has fallen silent,” Harold said. “The creatures around this lake are keeping a low profile, all of a sudden.”
“I can’t say I blame them,” Alex said. “This stuff going on right now can be officially classified as spooky shit.”
A wave of the strange sensation Alex was now becoming way too familiar with rushed over them.
“So what is it that causes that feeling, anyway, Harold?” Alex said as they hurried along the dirt road. They were nearly jogging, and Alex hoped that a bit of conversation would keep his mind off of the fact that the muscles in his legs were starting to burn from the activity.
“It’s the reaction to opening the door between our worlds. It’s kind of like feeling the heat generated from friction,” Harold said. “We could measure it, actually, if we had a feather and ruler at our disposal.”
“Maybe another time,” Alex said. He was starting to get winded, but he kept hurrying along with Harold.
Alex and Harold were able to see Dr. Porter clearly now, as well as several of the ‘angels’. The weird sensation had become a constant again, as it had in Dr. Porter’s cabin, and was getting stronger the closer they got.
The two of them reached the clearing where Dr. Porter was working. The ‘angels’ seemed more distinct now than they had in Dr. Porter’s cabin. Alex noticed they had almost human faces now.
Dr. Porter appeared to be conversing with them excitedly. She had not yet noticed Alex and Harold. Alex noticed the disks that Dr. Porter had run off with were now floating on an inflatable pool toy she was using as a table. Dr. Porter stood in waist deep water, holding on to the disks on the pool toy.
Alex noticed one of the ‘angels’ seemed to be looking at him and Harold. Then another, and another, until all five of the ‘angels’ were looking at the two of them.
“That can’t be good,” Alex said.
“No, it’s really not,” Harold said.
Dr. Porter whirled around in the water and faced them.
“You two again? You’re very persistent, I’ll give you that. You’re too late, though, I have all of the information I need to open the doorway between our worlds, and carry on Thomas Smith’s great work!” Dr. Porter said.
“So much for stealth,” Alex said.
Harold walked forward to the edge of the water, and said, “Please believe me when I tell you that opening the door isn’t what you think it is. You might think that you’re in control now, but you’ll lose any control over what happens once the door is open.”
Dr. Porter laughed, and said, “What would you know, butler? They’ve told me all about you and your manipulations. You’re simply a small minded fool who would keep great minds from flourishing. Soon I shall have understanding of the great mysteries of the universe, while intellectual cowards like you will be trembling at my feet.”
“I know because I’ve seen it before, Dr. Porter,” Harold said. “I fear the one left trembling will be you, however.”
“You lie!” Dr. Porter said. “And you’re too late, the door is already opening.”
“Oh bugger,” Harold said.
The glow coming from the ‘angels’ increased in intensity, and they became even more well-defined. They were certainly similar in shape to humans, and had similar facial features, but there was still something alien about them. They were a little too thin, and their eyes were a little too big. They appeared to be smiling, as well. It was not a gentle smile.
The water underneath Dr. Porter and the floating pool toy was beginning to glow as well. At the moment, it was only bright enough to look as if there was a light bulb held underwater, but the light was getting brighter and brighter every minute.
“Have you got any bright ideas on how to stop this, Harold?” Alex said.
“No, I’m fresh out of ideas at the moment,” Harold said. “I think our best bet is get the artifacts away from Dr. Porter and hopefully break the connection that is opening the door.”
“How? Like run up there and grab them from her?” Alex said.
“That’s what I have in mind, yes,” Harold said.
The light under and around Dr. Porter was getting brighter still.
“OK, why not?” Alex said. “Let’s do this.”
He and Harold ran forward into the lake. The water was shockingly cold, and Alex nearly fell in when lost his footing on a slippery rock.
What stopped him was one of the ‘angels’ catching him and holding him tightly by the wrists, keeping his arms above his head. It grinned at Alex.
“Hey! You guys aren’t supposed to be able to do that,” Alex said.
Harold made it past the other ‘angels’, and reached the spot where Dr. Porter was standing. She looked shocked that he had dared to get so close to her. The water underneath them was glowing ever brighter, and was beginning to move with strange currents and eddies.
He used Dr. Porter’s surprise to his advantage, and easily grabbed the artifacts out from under Dr. Porter’s hands. He waded quickly back to shore.
“Those do not belong to you!” Dr. Porter said as Harold moved away from her. “But it doesn’t matter, the door is still opening.”
The light coming from under water began to shine upwards, creating a beacon of white light pointing straight up into the sky.
“I have been invited to learn from the greatest minds in the universe, and I have accepted their invitation!” Dr. Porter said.
“You really shouldn’t,” Harold said. “It will be much better for you if you don’t, in fact.”
Dr. Porter laughed again. “Farewell, butler,” she said, and vanished down into the water.
“Damn,” Harold said.
“A little help over here?” Alex said. Struggling against the ‘angel’ had proven useless, and he hoped Harold had some kind of trick for getting him free.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Minor. You’re going to have to wait a moment,” Harold said.
“What?” Alex said, as Harold set down the disks on the shore, ran back out into the lake, and dove into the light Dr. Porter had just vanished into.
“I just don’t believe this,” Alex said. So far the ‘angel’ had only been holding him in place, but Alex really didn’t like the way he, or she, or it, was leering at him. And now Harold had vanished to where ever it was that Dr. Porter had gone. He watched the spot where Harold had dived underwater, and hoped that whatever came up out of there next turned out to be nothing worse than a soggy butler.
The light seemed to be dimming, in fact, and Alex had another scary thought: what would happen if Harold didn’t come back out of there in time?
The water continued to swirl and move, and Alex thought he could see faces appearing and disappearing under the surface.
The light dimmed further, and Alex really began to worry that Harold might not come back up out of the water. As near as he could figure, Harold had been underwater for several minutes. Alex had no idea how long Harold could hold his breath for, be he knew that he himself could barely hold his breath for over a minute.
Just then, as he watched, a shadow appeared underwater. Seconds later, Harold’s head broke the surface of the water, followed by his shoulders, and eventually the rest of him. What’s more, he was dragging Dr. Porter up behind him.
She began shouting at him the moment they broke the surface. “Damn it, let me go at once, you great, British ape!”
“I’m sorry Dr. Porter, I can’t do that,” Harold said.
He pulled her along with him up to the shore, where he finally let her go. She tried to run back in to the water, but Harold blocked her from doing so. He produced a small length of cord from one of his pockets, and quickly tied Dr. Porter up. It happened so quickly that Dr. Porter barely had time to say, “Hey!” in protest before Harold had finished binding her arms and carefully set her down on the ground.
Harold then picked up the artifacts from where he had left them and walked back into the lake. He stood over the spot the two of them had just emerged from, and began muttering something that Alex couldn’t hear. The light coming from beneath the water quickly began to dim, and a couple of moments later Alex was able to get his hands free from the ‘angel’ who had been holding him.
Alex noticed the ‘angels’ were becoming less and less defined, and getting dimmer and more transparent as Harold did whatever it was he was doing.
The light coming from underwater was completely gone after a couple of minutes, and soon, Harold was simply standing in a dark lake, holding on to the artifacts by himself.
“What the hell just happened?” Alex said to Harold, as Harold came walking back out of the lake.
“Dr. Porter made the same mistake Thomas Smith made,” Harold said. “Luckily for her, this time I was there to pull her back out of their world before the door closed again. “
Dr. Porter was raging at Harold from where she sat. He ignored her for the time being.
“I don’t think she realizes how lucky she is, yet,” Harold said.
“Was that dangerous for you?” Alex said.
“Extremely,” Harold said.
“Why did you do it? She clearly wanted to go,” Alex said.
“Because I couldn’t bear to see someone else meet the same fate that met Thomas Smith,” Harold said. “If he was lucky, perhaps he met with a quick death. On the other hand, perhaps he’s been alive all this time as well. Perhaps he’ll even outlive me, there in that other world. I couldn’t let someone else go through that, knowing what I know.”
Alex thought about that quietly for a moment. Finally, he said, “So what are we going to do with her now?”
“Good question,” Harold said. “First things first, let’s get moving back towards civilization. Dr. Porter and I are soaked through, and it looks like you’ve gotten a bit damp as well.”
Alex and Harold helped Dr. Porter to her feet. She had stopped her angry tirade, and fallen into a sullen silence.
“Is your car parked nearby? It’s a hike to ours, and ours broke down to boot,” Alex said.
Dr. Porter glared at him, and stayed silent.
“OK, we’ll walk then,” Alex said.
He and Harold each took one of Dr. Porter’s arms, and led her back towards where they had left the minivan. Harold took his phone out of one of his pockets, and discovered it wouldn’t turn on after the adventure in the lake. He asked Alex if he could borrow his phone, and called Mr. Darcy to see if transportation could be arranged for the three of them, and to have something done about the minivan.
“Our ride should be here in a couple of hours,” Harold said. “I’ve told them how to find the van.”
A little while later, the three of them reached the minivan. Harold opened the sliding door, pulled out his luggage, and put the remaining artifacts inside. Keeping a firm hold on his luggage, he gestured into the van, and said to Dr. Porter, “Please get in and stay out of the weather, at least.”
Dr. Porter glared at him and Alex, and appeared to be weighing her options. She finally shrugged and got into the back seat of the minivan.
She sniffed, made a face, and said, “What a piece of shit.”
Alex took a deep breath to keep his sudden annoyance in check, and said, “We’d have picked you up in a nicer car if you hadn’t arranged to have mine smashed as part of your grand scheme.”
He walked around to the back of the minivan.
“Please stay here,” Harold said to Dr. Porter, and closed the sliding door.
He went and joined Alex at the back of the minivan. They stood in silence for a couple of minutes.
“Are you going to bring the artifacts back to the museum in London?” Alex said.
“Of course, Mr. Minor. They’re not of any use to me any longer, and at least if they’re in a museum I’ll have a good idea of where they are at any given time,” Harold said.
“I would have thought you’d plan on putting them in a safe deposit box. Or maybe invest in some new luggage to hide them in,” Alex said.
“No, no, back to the museum they’ll go. I expect they’ll be largely forgotten about again, and if anyone happens to take an extreme interest in them sometime in the future, well, I’ll be there to bring them back again,” Harold said.
“Back to an earlier question, then. What are we going to do with Dr. Porter?” Alex said.
“Well, we could bring her home, give her a stern talking to, and then be on our way. I’ve also heard one of our co-workers has a penchant for leaving troublesome people on the side of the road in a bordering state with a coupon for The Sizzler,” Harold said.
“I’m not sure either of those are the right option,” Alex said.
“In that case, perhaps we should let Mr. Darcy turn her over to the police. I’m sure they’d like to get their hands on someone involved in the conspiracy to steal these artifacts. Particularly someone that seems to have orchestrated the destruction of your car,” Harold said.
“I think that sounds about right,” Alex said.
Eventually, a long black sedan, and a tow truck arrived. Alex, Harold, and Dr. Porter rode back to Mr. Darcy’s office in the car. They left the tow truck to deal with the minivan.
Mr. Darcy was waiting for them when they arrived. It was very late at night, or very early in the morning, and no one was in the office except for him. Alex wondered once more if Mr. Darcy ever left that office.
“Mr. Minor, Mr. Derby, I understand you have recovered all of the missing artifacts?” Mr. Darcy said.
“They’re here in my luggage, Mr. Darcy,” Harold said.
“Excellent,” Mr. Darcy said. “And I see you’ve brought Dr. Porter along as well. I have a contact in the Minneapolis police department who is eager to speak with her. Dr. Porter, in the meantime, please make yourself comfortable.”
Mr. Darcy removed a pair of envelopes from a drawer in his desk, and handed one each to Alex and Harold. They both contained a thick stack of one hundred dollar bills. “Well done, gentlemen,” he said.
He then removed a manila folder from another drawer, and said, “Now then, are you ready for your next assignment?”