In 1712 Johann Bessler unveiled a Perpetual Motion Device – a wheel that spun after being set into motion until it was stopped with no mechanical input. Bessler never revealed his secret. He was hounded, mocked, and chased through a very rough and adventurous life. His secret died with him. Except that it didn't.
Elly Kassel is called into the offices of eminent London Solicitors Ratliff & Brownridge, where she discovers that her grandmother was a rich woman. She also receives a trunk, and an envelope, which she is not to open until she reaches New York City, where all her questions about her grandmother, and her inheritance will be answered.
What follows is a series of amazing discovering and harrowing near-misses as Elly studies and learns the secrets of The Orffyreus Project, where her grandmother's dream of bringing the perpetual motion wheel into production and wide-spread use for the good of mankind seems very possible. A man named Maxwell Black and his associates do whatever they can to stop her, steal the technology, and to see that the interests of the Petroleum industry are protected from the imminent disaster of obsolescence. The novel follows parallel paths, showing the odd life of Johann Bessler as he tries to sell his invention to the highest bidder, and Elly Kassel as she tries to prevent her grandmother's re-discovery of that invention doing exactly that. The two story lines bear down on one another, traveling along at a breakneck pace. Will Black repeat history and bury the wheel forever? The answer lies in "The Orffyreus Wheel."
I love novels that mix past and present so that each piece informs and comments on the other, and Wilson does not disappoint. Strong action, solid characters, and mysteries past and present make this a story that's almost impossible to put down. – Melissa Scott
"In The Orffyreus Wheel, David combines the same effortless pace of a good tale as he does with Ancient Eyes, but also manages to interweave two distinct stories - both of which share the same breathless excitement and wonder of their central characters."– Darren Pulsford, Freelance Editor
Rain whipped against the heavy glass panes of the windows, counter-pointing the rhythm of the crackling wood in the fire. Edgar leaned back into the deep leather of his chair. He was not a young man, and he had come to what he termed a "proper appreciation" of finer things. The desk before him was dark, polished mahogany, and in its center sat a half empty bottle of whiskey. There were two tumblers, but only his own was full. In an ashtray to one side his pipe rested, still smoldering, but nearly forgotten.
Lightning flashed and he glanced out the window. A car turned in at the end of a winding drive, slicing the darkness with the brilliant beams of its headlights. Reflexively, Edgar reached out and grabbed his whiskey, taking a long sip. He continued to watch the window, but the lightning left him blind. As it faded, he caught a glimpse of himself, reflected in the glass. Graying at the temples, deep brown eyes – aging well. The whiskey was also well aged. It was Scotch, single malt, but he barely tasted it. As he replaced the glass on the desk, his hand shook.
He glanced at the tray on his desk and the large folder it held. He knew the visitor was the man known to him only as Black. Edgar had been waiting for this visit for nearly an hour, watching the rain beat against the windows and thinking.
He'd almost taken the folder lying on his desk and its carefully assembled contents and left.
It was tempting to know, to understand what it was that was so valuable about that single sheet of onionskin paper. Edgar shook his head, as though to clear away such thoughts. Understanding was not his business. He was a seeker.
Somewhere below, a car door slammed. Edgar waited, considered another sip of his whiskey, and then decided against it. He turned his chair slowly, rose, and left the office. The hall beyond was dark, but dim bulbs glowed behind smoked shades on the stairs, and he was used to the lack of illumination. Edgar descended slowly through the deep chimes of the doorbell; the sound masked his footsteps.
He opened the door and stood back. Black was a tall man, and as usual he was draped in a full-length overcoat and a dark, wide-brimmed hat. Rain ran in small rivulets down the expensive cloth of the coat, and for just a moment, Edgar watched those glittering trails. It postponed the moment when he'd have to meet his visitor's eyes. He had never liked a man less.
Edgar was not a coward, his work precluded it, but this man standing and dripping water onto the rug in his foyer disturbed him. There was something about the coat, and the hat, the way the man's features always seemed obscured, even when you stared directly into his eyes that wound like cold sweat through Edgar's pores.
"Come in, Black," he said, reaching to take the man's coat. The hat followed, and, once Edgar had hung them and turned back, he chanced a direct glance into the other's eyes. They were slate gray and devoid of emotion. It was dark in the foyer, and Black's hair curled down over his forehead. It would have been rakish on most men, but in this instance sinister was a better word.
He carried a small leather satchel that he did not relinquish with his hat and coat.
"Follow me," Edgar said, turning and starting slowly back up the stairs.
His visitor remained silent, but fell in behind without hesitation, making no sound as he walked. Edgar barely contained his desire to turn and make sure there was anyone there at all.
The two entered the office and Edgar went straight to his desk. Once he was beyond the heavy polished wood surface, the whiskey bottle in his hand, his unease lifted slightly. This was his place. He had met a lot men and women this way, he in his large, leather chair, and they seated across from him in slightly less comfort – slightly lower to the ground; the familiarity of it gave him strength.
He poured two fingers of the amber liquor into each tumbler, stoppered the bottle and offered the second tumbler to his guest.
It was accepted in silence. Finally, after tasting the whiskey and nodding appreciatively, the man spoke.
"You have it, then?" It was a statement.
Edgar, his whiskey gripped tightly in one hand, seated himself once more in the leather chair behind his desk. It was his turn to nod in silence. Then, after a moment's pause, he was the first to break it.
"It was not easy. I have been to three countries in this search. I have bribed, threatened, and called in favors. I have been to every fiber-optically connected data source available."
He fell silent and glanced at the computer console in the corner. The monitor was dark, but several lights blinked in a random sequence.
"I am not interested in your methods, Mr. Kline," the man replied. Then he took another sip of the whiskey. "If we did not believe you had the capability to supply what we needed, I would be seated in another office, in another city."
Edgar knew it was true. The man owed him no explanation, nor did he truly want one. It was the situation that grated on his nerves. The melodrama. Late-night solitary meetings, names that were so obviously false that he'd not even bothered running routine background checks. And then there was the object of the search. He caught himself before he could glance at the folder on the far corner of his desk. He glanced, instead, at the satchel his visitor carried.
"You have the money?"
Without answering, Black stepped forward. He placed the case on the desktop and undid the clasp with a sparsity of motion that was eerie in its precision. He moved like a machine.
Edgar watched as Black spread the satchel open and lifted free stacks of tightly bound bills. Hundreds. Edgar's mind calculated as Black's hands deftly stacked the bills. It was all there; $100,000 for the search, and another $50,000 for his silence. For the questions he would never ask that would itch at the back of his mind for the rest of his life. Bought, and paid for, his father would have said. Edgar stared at the money a moment longer, then smiled thinly and finished his drink.
He reached to a small wooden tray on the corner of his desk and pulled out a wide manila folder. In that instant, he thought he saw the first flicker of animation dance across Black's face, but it was gone in the space of a single breath. Edgar slid the folder across the desk.
Black opened it and stared at the contents in rapt concentration. His brow was furrowed, and Edgar watched in silence, wanting to pour himself another drink, but unwilling to break the tension of the moment.
Edgar knew what the other man saw, but was left with all the burning questions. What was it? Why did it matter? Why would anyone pay such an exorbitant amount of money to possess it, and to insure no one was aware that they did?
"Is all in order?" Edgar asked at last. He stood slowly, chancing a glance over the folder to where Black's finger traced down the document inside. He was able to make out the single word at the top – ORFFYREUS. The rest was a meaningless jumble of symbols and phrases. Black closed the folder with a snap and tucked it under his arm.
"I believe so," he said curtly. "Where is the original located? This is a very good likeness, perfect to our needs, but . . . "
"I do not know," Edgar answered with a shrug. "I purchased the secret, just as you are purchasing it, and I'll tell you this; the man who sold it feared for his life. I do not think he would have told me the location of the grave if his life were forfeit in the bargain."
"You have done well," Black said after a short hesitation, "amazingly well, and more quickly than we had dared hope. You may be certain that if we require such a service again, you will be the one we call."
"I appreciate that," Edgar replied, making a conscious effort not to grab the money and start stuffing it in a drawer, or to go for the loaded Beretta in his desk. "I don't suppose," He added, "that I will ever know whom you refer to by 'we'".
"The Americans have a saying," Black smiled coldly. "Such things are on a 'need-to-know' basis. I'm afraid you have no such need."
Edgar chuckled nervously, and this time he did reach for the whiskey.
"One for the road?" he asked, proffering the bottle to his guest.
"I don't think so," Black replied. "It is not a good night for driving under the best of circumstances. I would hate to be involved in an – incident."
Edgar nodded, and refilled his own glass. "I won't be venturing out, myself," he said, raising his glass to toast the storm beyond the windows. "I know when I'm overmatched."
"That is a very commendable trait," Black said softly. "Very commendable. I would guess it could be well-applied to most of life."
Edgar glanced at the man, but saw no hint of imminent danger in the ice-chips Black called eyes.
"Safe trip, then," Edgar said. He took a sip of the whiskey, placed the tumbler back on the desk, and stepped around toward the door. He waved his hand, gesturing that Black should precede him down the stairs. He doubted the man was likely to push him, but you never knew. A man with no more life in his eyes than Mr. Black, whoever he really was, might be capable of just about any treason.
They descended the stairs in silence, and Black grabbed his hat and coat before Edgar could offer. In a dark whirl, Black returned himself to shadows. Not even the glint of those eyes penetrated the gloom.
Edgar opened the door, just as another flash of lightning split the sky. It was much closer, and the crash of thunder made him wince. In that second he saw Black's face very clearly. The man watched him in the manner of a snake, waiting to strike, and Edgar took a half step back before he caught himself.
Black turned in that instant and started down the stairs to his car. The rain obscured Edgar's vision, reducing the other to a dim shadow, then to nothing. The car door slammed, and Edgar turned away, closing and locking the door carefully.
Though he was alone, the short climb back to his office drew another shiver up Edgar's spine. He couldn't shake the sensation that though departed; Black was watching him and waiting for something.
He returned to his seat and his whiskey. He glanced briefly at the money, stacked so neatly and precisely on the mahogany surface, but he gave it little thought. There would be time to deal with it in the morning, shuffling the cash through various accounts and business acquaintances until it dissolved into his other assets without a trace.
He wished he had something new to investigate. He's spent a long time on this one, too many hours and too little sleep, and he found that he couldn't shake the image of that single sheet of paper and the boldly scripted word - ORFFYREUS. Symbols danced before his eyes. He growled and reached for his pipe. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered but the stacks of lovely green bills on his desk, and the continued departure of the twin red taillights winding out toward the end of his drive.
Black drove slowly. He had hesitated only long enough to secure the folder in a black leather briefcase on the seat beside him, then to lock it. He took special care not to let any of the water dripping from the brim of his hat contact the paper. It had taken too long to acquire it.
Now, as he turned from the driveway and onto the quiet road beyond, he chanced a glance in his rear-view mirror, a last sight of Kline's home. He saw that the light was still on in the office, overlooking the drive, and he imagined the man sitting there, watching out the window and drinking.
Black reached under the front seat of his car and pulled out a slim, plastic control. In the center was a single button, gray in the dim interior of the old Cadillac. Black depressed the button, slipped the control back under his seat, and drove on.
Moments later, as he turned off a side street three blocks away and hit the entrance ramp to the freeway, the sky lit with another flash. Not lightning. This time there was flame, and the thunder that followed was a deafening crash. Black floored it and merged with traffic as Edgar Kline's home exploded, raining dust, debris, and hundred dollar bills on an unsuspecting city.
Not looking back, Black pressed play on the CD player in his dash. Mozart filled his thoughts, and at last, he smiled.
"Good evening, Mr. Kline," he whispered. "It was a pleasure."