“What are we going to do?” whispered Claire. They lay together in bed, Jamie wrapped around her from behind.
“I’ll have to talk wi’ Randall.”
“Are you going to call him?”
“Aye. I’ll set up a meeting in the morning.” He nuzzled her hair, searching for her natural scent beneath the perfume of her shampoo. He squeezed her possessively. She’d become irrationally important to him in a matter of days, and he was terrified of losing her. She hadn’t said it, but he was certain she was in danger as well.
He found it hard to believe his brother was responsible for bringing this gift of a woman into his life. He tried not to feel ashamed of how he treated Willie before his death, but the feeling crept in anyhow.
And not only did Willie bring him Claire, but a nephew as well. The warmth that filled him at the idea of being an uncle was a welcome surprise. He relished the thought of meeting the boy, of seeing his lost brother in the child’s eyes.
Jamie only had to find him first.
“I need to talk to yer uncle again.”
Claire rolled over in his arms and looked up in defeat. “He’s unwell, Jamie. Completely unreliable.”
“Ye said he was better in the mornings.”
“Sometimes he is, but his memory is faulty on a good day. And the bloody bastard is so clever that he'll spin you a fascinating tale in the moment, then you'll walk away with your brain feeling like mush, and you're more confused than ever.”
“Ye never know. He might give us something useful.” He smiled, trying to give her hope.
But her eyes were vacant of anything resembling hope. They were heavy with fear, and she was tired and scared. She’d been going at it alone far too long.
“Dinna be afraid,” he whispered, tracing the line of her lips. “Ye’re no’ alone anymore; there’s the two of us now.”
“Good morning, Mr. Beauchamp,” said Jamie, smiling broadly to keep the old man at ease. Neither he nor Claire slept well that night, so as soon as they noticed Lamb stirring, they crossed the street to see what information they could find.
“Willie! I’m so glad you’re here. You can help me look for that damnable treasure. And call me Q, for Christ’s sake, or Lamb.” He headed for the stairs, but the way was blocked by his caregiver. “Get out of my way, you meddling fool!”
“It’s Dr. Beauchamp to you!”
“Breakfast before treasure hunting, Dr. Beauchamp,” ordered Claire, stopping her uncle from plowing through his caregiver. “Why don’t I make you some eggs?”
“Of course he remembers I’ve no skill in the kitchen,” she mumbled. “I can fry a bloody egg, for Christ's sake.”
Claire led her uncle back to the sitting room and brought him to his chair. “Sit. Have a chat with Mr. Fraser. He has questions about your treasure.”
“Alright,” said Lamb. “But let’s have a game of Pope Joan while we talk. Conversation is always best when we’ve something to do with our hands.”
Claire left to the kitchen, gesturing for the caregiver to follow. When they were alone, Lamb reached for a deck of playing cards next to his chair and had Jamie bring a card table up close.
“I dinna ken how to play Pope Joan,” said Jamie, pulling up a seat.
“But I expect you’re a fast learner, my boy.”
Lamb fumbled around, looking for his glasses in his breast pocket. He finally found them on his head and perched them on the tip of his nose. Now that he could actually see the cards, he began sorting through them one by one.
“We must find the eight of diamonds and rid it of the pack in order to play.”
Jamie waited for Lamb to get immersed in his cards before starting his questions. “So...the treasure that ye lost. Claire says it’s a box of yellow diamonds?”
“Indeed, it is. Great big, beautiful stones.”
“D’ye have any idea who would want to take them from ye?”
“Oh, I’d suspect a great number of people would love to get their hands on them. Their monetary value alone is quite substantial.”
“And their historical value?”
Lamb’s eyes glittered as he looked up from his task. “Priceless.”
“Who kent ye had them?”
“No one,” he chuckled. “I would’ve spent most of my life in jail had the wrong person found out I stole them.”
“I found them at a site in the north of Scotland. They were on his land, you know.” He waggled his eyebrows mischievously, not specifying who in particular before turning his attention back to sorting cards. “Did you know, this game was called Pope Joan for Pope Ioannes Anglicus, who reigned from 855–857. Many believed the pope to be a woman, though scholars speculate that Protestants created the rumor to undermine their rivals.”
“Verra interesting. Now, whose land was it where ye found the diamonds?”
“Don’t make me say, Willie. It was a dark time for me. I was very depressed, and my heart was broken into a million little pieces."
"I'm sorry to hear."
"Yes, well, we really should have staking board for this game," he grumbled at his cards.
"The diamonds, Lamb?"
"Oh yes. Well, I suspected at the time that they might be somewhere on his land—don't ask me who—after I found allusions to their existence in some old correspondence I happened across at Edinburgh Castle. I think an ancestor of his was involved in obtaining them somehow. Anyway, I convinced him to not only allow me to search for the diamonds, but to finance the whole operation. We agreed to share the bounty when they were all found, but alas, it was not meant to be. He betrayed me in more ways than one...so I did the same to him.”
Motive! Jamie thought to himself. “Who was he?”
Lamb didn’t seem to hear him. Perhaps he was engaging in selective attention. “A fun little fact: the game of Pope Joan was called Nain Jaune in France where it originated…”
“Who was the man, Lamb?”
“...named of course for the role the seven of diamonds plays in the game.”
Jamie tried another tactic to get him back on track. “What was the significance of the treasure?”
Lamb magically seemed to hear him again. “Well, it’s the Curse of Scotland of course!” He laughed, shaking his head at Jamie’s ignorance.
“Curse of Scotland?” Jamie reached for Lamb’s hands to stop him sorting through the playing cards. It was well known in Scotland that the nine of diamonds in any card deck was known as the Curse of Scotland. Jamie was growing frustrated with Lamb’s obsession with the stupid game. “I’m talking about the treasure that was stolen from ye.”
Lamb grinned as he pulled out the nine of diamonds from the deck and passed it over to Jamie. “This is, of course, the most powerful card in the game.”
Jamie took the card and tried not to crumple it up in agitation. Perhaps Claire was right and this conversation was all for naught.
“Do you want to know why it’s called the Curse of Scotland?” asked Lamb. His eyes were lit with maniacal enthusiasm.
“Sure,” said Jamie, utterly defeated.
“No one knows for certain, though many have guessed,” Lamb went on, oblivious to Jamie’s vexation. “Some say the nine of diamonds resembles the coat of arms of Sir John Dalrymple, the Earl of Stair. It’s blue, you see, and shaped like St. Andrew’s cross, with nine yellow diamonds lining the center of the saltire. It’s said that he used this card to cryptically authorize the Glencoe Massacre of 1692. Curse of Scotland indeed.”
“Did ye say yellow diamonds?” Jamie’s interest was piqued once again.
Lamb nodded. “Nine yellow diamonds were to be a gift from the monarchs, William and Mary, for his service to the crown and in honor of his family's crest. Though that’s only one possible explanation for the diamonds' existence.”
“There are others?”
“Some say the Bonnie Prince left behind a treasure at Castle Edinburgh that was meant to fund his war and feed his army, but it was seized by the Duke of Cumberland after the Scots' retreat. As a cruel joke, the Duke was said to have scribbled the order for ‘no quarter’ after the Battle of Culloden on a very specific playing card.”
“The nine of diamonds?”
“Are there any more explanations for where they came from?”
“Several. I've heard tell they were scattered across the land by a great hag, and others believe it was a part of the lost Frenchman’s treasure. There is even some evidence that they were once stolen from the Protestant crown of Scotland, and a tax was levied on the Scots to pay the price.”
“What do ye believe?”
Lamb sat back in his seat, seemingly quite satisfied with himself. “I am a scientist. I believe nothing is the truth until it’s proven to be so, but until then, everything is possible.”
“My line of work is none so different. But ye did prove they existed?”
He nodded. “I found a large yellow diamond hidden in a box. It was buried deep in the earth in a cavern along the coastline.”
“Just one? I thought there were nine of them?”
Lamb grinned. “As far as anyone else knows, the other eight never existed. And that’s exactly how I would like things to remain. If he found out I stole the rest, I’d be imprisoned for the rest of my life.”
Jamie tried to imagine the frail old man incarcerated with modern day murderers and thieves. “Who is it ye stole them from?”
He smiled brightly, seemingly very proud of himself, and perhaps a little petty. “The Duke, of course.”
“The Duke? The Duke of Cumberland?”
Lamb chuckled heartily and went back to his cards. Jamie sat in confusion, wondering how much of Lamb’s story was utter nonsense and how much was based in fact.
Claire came back into the room, drying her hands. “I’ve decided to let Geordie finish breakfast. Apparently frying an egg is more difficult than I remember.”
“Lamb. Who did ye take the treasure from?” Jamie asked again.
Confusion crossed Lamb’s face, and he shook his head. “Treasure? What treasure?”
“Yer treasure. The diamonds.”
“Oh, dear. Oh yes. Please don’t make me say, Willie. It was a dark time for me. I loved him—I swear I did—and he betrayed me.” Lamb’s eyes filled with tears, and he sucked in a breath.
“Who betrayed ye, Lamb? Was it the Duke?”
Lamb sucked in a breath and let out a sob. His emotional lability was disconcerting, and Jamie started to panic that he wouldn't get the information he needed when the old man began rocking back and forth in his seat. "I ken it's difficult, man, but need to know for the sake yer grandson."
"Fergus?" he looked around. "Where is he? Where is my boy?"
"He's missing, d'ye no' recall? I need to ken who ye stole the diamonds from so can find the boy."
"No," Lamb shook his head, distraught. "No, no. He wouldn't."
"Then tell me who..."
Lamb's sobs filled the room, and he resumed his rocking back and forth.
“Oh Lamb,” said Claire, rushing to his side and wrapping her arms around him. “I think you’ve had a little too much company this morning.” She turned to Jamie and said sharply, “That’s enough questions for today.”
Jamie was about to protest, but stopped at a fiercely protective look in Claire’s eyes. He nodded and stood up restlessly. As he stepped away, his mind raced over everything Lamb had shared about the Curse of Scotland, not knowing what information might be useful and what were just nonsensical ramblings of a demented old man.
It took Claire a while to get Lamb settled down. He was nearly incoherent after after his emotional outburst. She set him up by the window and put on an old Edith Piaf record to calm his nerves.
Claire was only mildly irritated with Jamie when they left the house to pick up their own breakfast. She understood his desperation for answers better than anyone.
Jamie grabbed an extra order of sausage, eggs, and tatties for Claudel and left Claire only briefly to drop it off for the wee man who grumbled at Jamie for waking him before noon.
When they sat down to eat, Jamie shared with her everything Lamb told him, and she dismissed most of it as his typical jumble of nonsense.
“Nonsense it may be, but we need to find out who he stole the diamonds from,” said Jamie. “They could have discovered the truth, and now they’re after him.”
Claire shook her head. “I highly doubt it, Jamie. Even if the diamonds really do exist, this mess feels a lot more like Louise’s crowd than Lamb’s.”
“Be that as it may, we need to rule out the possibility. A lead is a lead.”
“Speaking of leads, when are you going to call Randall?”
Jamie checked his watch, knowing Randall was out late the night before. He wanted to give the man a chance to deal with a potential hangover before harassing him, especially because they didn’t know if he was the enemy or someone who could potentially help them find the enemy.
It was coming up on ten o’clock, and he figured that was enough time. He took one last drink of coffee before fishing Randall’s card out of his wallet.
The call was answered by an assistant who placed Jamie on hold to see if Randall was available. While they waited, Claire insisted Jamie allow her to listen in.
“Mr. Fraser?” Randall’s voice came on the line. “I’m surprised to hear from you so soon. To what do I owe this pleasure?”
“Good morning, Mr. Randall. I’m calling to cash in on that favor ye offered last night.”
“Is that so? Well, good. I don’t care to have debts looming over my head for too long. What is it that I can do for you, sir?”
“To start, I need information, if ye have it. And if ye don’t, then perhaps ye can point me in the right direction.”
“Of course. Is this information sensitive? Will it require a meeting in person?”
“Alright then. Perhaps you can come by my office Monday morning, say eight a.m.?”
“I’m afraid this matter requires some degree of urgency. Can I no’ come by today?”
“I’m afraid I’m in meetings all morning, and I’m hosting something of a personal gathering this evening.”
“I just need ten minutes of yer time.” That may or may not have been accurate, but Jamie didn’t care.
“I see. Then I suppose you’ll have to stop by my place later tonight. However, I'm wary of issuing such an invitation to a stranger."
"I'd be grateful to ye, Mr. Randall. The issue is a matter of the utmost importance."
"Alright, but I will have to expect your complete discretion, being that I'm inviting you to a private event in my home. In fact, I insist upon it. I understand you're a private investigator, but I’d hate for myself or any of my guests to feel uncomfortable in your presence. There may be consequences should you forget my warning.”
“Understood. I can assure ye I ken how to be discreet.”
“Very well. I’ll have my assistant contact you with my address at this same number.”
“I thank ye, Mr. Randall.”
“It's my pleasure.” It didn’t actually sound like he found much pleasure in the invitation. At least, not in his invitation to Jamie. “You may feel free to bring along your lady friend, Ms. Beauchamp, if you wish. It would be no hardship to see her again, if you think she can respect the expectation of discretion.”
“Mmphm.” Jamie didn’t like the tone in Randall’s voice. It wasn’t exactly predatory, but it was layered with an ominous personal amusement that made his stomach clench.
When they hung up the phone, there was a spark of hope in Claire’s eyes. It softened her face so sweetly that Jamie almost felt guilt at bursting her bubble.
“Ye’re not going,” he said. And the softness was gone in an instant.
“It’s not safe, Claire, and if I have to get the handcuffs out again to keep ye here, ye ken I will.”
“I’m going, James Fraser, whether you like it or not. And I could prove very useful.”
“Ye’re no use to me dead.”
“Then keep me alive.” She crossed her arms. “I’m going, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me.”
“We both know that’s not true.”
“He’s my nephew too," she said fiercely. "I’m going with you, and I won’t be entertaining any further objections. Now,” she stood up and puffed out her chest, “give me the keys to your damn car so I can go hunt down something decent to wear to this stupid party.”
Jamie clenched his jaw at her stubbornness. It was enough to rival his own. He could tell by the look in her eyes, he wasn't going to win this argument.
"Fine." He pushed his food away and stood up along with her. “Since it seems we’re doing this together, I suppose I’ll be going shopping with ye.”