As she stepped down the stairway and onto the tarmac she was surprised by the cold and the wind. While she had thought of little else other than the purpose of the journey and the man she would be taking it with, she had given no thought at all to the actual location of her destination. She had never thought of Belgium – to the extent she had ever thought of it at all – as a northern country, but the little walk from the plane to the airport taught her that she was indeed farther north than she had ever been. This wind tasted of the Arctic. Even the midnight stars looked different.
The strange sky, the flat horizon, the north wind, the languages being spoken by the workmen attending the plane. The ten-foot-high walls of bladed snow along the edges of the runways and the gigantic, orange snowplows and trucks at rest just beyond. All of it shocking; all of it bringing home to Rachel now the immensity and improbability of it all, this last 48 hours of her till-then quiet life.
She allowed herself to believe it. That she was here, three thousand miles from home, surrounded by luxury and walking beside a man from whom she had been three thousand emotional miles distant until only a few hours ago. In this buoyant rush she let herself think that it was all making sense, all of it fitting together. They would find the cavern and in it they would find the grand stash of art and artifacts of the high Habsburg Empire, half a millennium old. She would have her share of the spoils and all of her money troubles would disappear. She would finish the house in the grandest of style, even above that which she had before allowed herself to imagine and, more importantly as of only a few hours ago, as a rich woman she could respond freely to anything that Jacob might propose. If she had remained on the edge of destitution she could not have sought or even encouraged his attentions. She would not allow herself to be seen as taking advantage of Jacob’s wealth when she had so cavalierly dismissed him before. But now they would be equals – or close enough to make any alliance proper and not appear as mercenary on her part. That was surely where this story was going. That was the way of Jacob Eaton’s life – to take the current as it served and on to the goal. Now she was a part of that onrushing stream.
At midnight the vast terminal was nearly empty. They walked past uniformed security guards but almost all of the airline windows were closed as were the restaurants that lined the endless hallways. Rachel smiled when she saw the McDonald’s sign. Halfway to the baggage claim Janet looked up from her phone and informed them that their ride was waiting. Inside the baggage claim a uniformed man held a sign bearing the name of Jacob’s law firm. Janet spoke to him in Dutch and he loaded their bags onto a cart and led them to the doors where his limousine idled.
The roads were quiet and in minutes they drove under the marquee at of the hotel Rocco Forte. Janet took care of check in, speaking again in Dutch to the night clerk. Jacob and Rachel sat in leather chairs before a fire still burning in the lobby’s tall fireplace. It was then that Rachel realized how completely she was exhausted. Neither of them spoke until Janet came and gave each of them a key and told them that their bags were already being delivered.