She wakened and looked at the clock on the hotel night stand. Ten a.m. Three in the morning her time, yet she felt rested. Had she overslept? Were the others already on their way? She saw the blinking light on her room phone and took up the receiver and listened to the message. It was from Jacob. “Hey, we’re not gonna push things this morning. I’ve ordered breakfast for you. Call the desk and they’ll deliver it. Take your time. Let’s try to meet downstairs at noon or so and we’ll take it from there.”
At noon she met them in the now bustling lobby where the fire continued to burn. They took a cab four blocks to the Brussels office of Simpson and Slater. The office was the top floor of a fifteen-story building. The windows in the reception room overlooked the city’s skyline and men in white shirts and ties and women in white blouses and black skirts came and went, quietly and orderly ushering waiting clients into the offices beyond.
“Jacob Eaton.” The tall man smiled and stretched out his hand to Jacob. “Long time, my friend. And this must be Rachel. I’m John Cavendish. So pleased to meet you. I hope you’ve dressed for the weather. We’ve got some miles ahead of us and we’ll be in the field in a couple of hours.”
They were not dressed for the weather, but that was soon remedied. At a nearby outfitter they bought wool sweaters, scarves, underwear and insulated pants and jackets, gloves, high boots, and walking sticks and a rucksack. At a coffeehouse Jacob bought quarts of coffee and cocoa, four ripe pears, two baguettes, a red-wax cylinder of Edam cheese, and a bagful of the best Belgian chocolates and stuffed them all into the rucksack. They left their street clothes with the firm’s receptionist and went upstairs to the roof of the building and boarded a helicopter.
In moments they were outside of the city and cruising over hills of winter-bare forests and pastures white with snow. Rachel looked down onto the back of a hawk that soared below them and watched its tiny shadow skim across the white surface beneath.
In less than an hour they landed in a field behind a large farmhouse, the helicopter’s rotor slinging powdered snow in rising and expanding circles. They sat until the blade rested and then John Cavendish deplaned and helped the others to the ground. A woman was standing at the back gate of the farmhouse and motioned for John to come to her.
The four of them sat in the spacious kitchen where a big pot of potato soup simmered on the stove, the widows were sweated and a fire blazed and crackled in the hearth. John and Janet spoke with the woman in Dutch. The old woman was animated and full of hand gestures. She spoke loud and fast and repeated herself again and again. John and Janet translated for Jacob and Rachel that a big storm was coming and that it would not be safe for them to make the trek to the cave that day. Even as they spoke the sky began to darken. The woman went outside and began closing the shutters. When John and Jacob saw what she was about, they went out and assisted her.
By then the wind was whipping along the hills, lifting and scattering sheets of powder like the seeds of some giant sower. Inside she led them to their upstairs rooms, one for each of the four guests, and told them that their dinner would be on the table in an hour.