I’d expected a homey ‘small town’ coffee shop for Jacob’s Bell, but Laird guided me to a franchise instead. A small crowd had gathered within, teenagers done with the day of classes and adults done with work. Taking shelter from the cold.
I didn’t miss the sheer number of eyes that fell on me when I entered with the local chief of police.
“Hi Laird,” one of the twenty-somethings behind the over-lacquered wood counter said. A narrow guy with an apron and a flannel shirt rolled up to the elbows.
A middle aged woman, lines in her face worn deep, otherwise fairly well dressed, asked, “Who’s this? Bringing someone in for the wedding?”
One of two blonde teenagers at a table by the line said, “He’s not one of ours, and there aren’t any Behaim sorts with that hair.”
I touched my hair. Wavy and dirty blond, in contrast to the straight blond hair these girls sported.
I could connect the dots. Blonde girls… they might have been among the ones I saw while tossing and turning in bed, before waking up to all this.
“Wedding is a few months away,” Laird said. “As for who he is…”
He turned to me. Letting me make my own introductions.
“I’m Blake Thorburn. One of Rose’s grandkids.”
There wasn’t any shock or surprise, no outcry nor any particular reaction. I could see people shifting their weight. The middle aged woman folded her arms, legs set apart. A few people who’d been idly looking my way were staring now.
“Something’s happened to his cousin, Molly Walker,” Laird said. “The RCMP are looking into it.”
“The Walker girl is dead?” James asked.
“Murder?” one of the blondes asked.
“She was savaged by something in the glade behind the box store. There were bites, claw marks, as well as evidence of tools being used. We’ll know more when the coroner gets back to us tonight.”
“Oh my gosh,” a heavyset man at the far end of the counter said, going white.
“It was murder then?” the older of the blonde girls asked.
I wasn’t sure what color I was going, but I could feel a sick feeling in my chest. The smells of the coffee were getting more intense. Too intense.
I’d known she’d been mauled. I’d known she’d been attacked, and that she’d been scared, but this was the worst bit of all. Tools? How did one use tools?
“Do you need to step into the washroom?” Laird asked.
“No,” I said. “But give me a second.”
“Someone was murdered? In Jacob’s Bell?” the heavy man asked.
“We don’t know if it was intended as a murder” Laird said. “At the very least, she was attacked, and she did die that same night, possibly from the cold or blood loss. For the time being, it’s a good idea to stay safe, don’t stay out too late, and tune into tonight’s news. I’ll be giving an announcement to fill everyone in.”
“And him?” the blonde girl asked.
“I don’t think there’s a lot of doubt about why someone might have gone after Ms. Walker,” Laird said. “Others might come after him. We were having a discussion regarding his safety, and we might talk about the house as well.”
“Are you selling it?” the employee behind the counter asked.
“Good Christ, James,” the middle aged woman said. “His cousin just died, and you’re asking about that?”
“Everyone’s going to ask,” James said. “People are in debt, and once that house sells, property values-”
“I’m not saying you’re wrong,” she said. “I’m saying it isn’t the time.”
James frowned. “Can I get you something, Laird?”
James had it ready in seconds. “Blake, was it? You want anything?”
“No, thank you,” I said. I still felt a little ill. Tools had been used? What did that even mean? Knives, scalpels? Or hammers and saws?
Laird reached for his wallet, to pay, and James refused him. The ease with which Laird accepted that suggested it was a regular thing.
“Corner booth?” Laird asked me. I nodded.
The booth in the corner situated us away from any people. Laird was in the lead, and he took the seat that placed his back to the corner, which meant I had my back to the rest of the room. I sat down, hands clasped together in front of me for warmth, breaking the grip only long enough to turn around the napkin dispenser, so the reflective surface wasn’t facing the wall.
Rose wasn’t there.
Laird opened and closed his pocket watch. I could see the interior, a backing that had enough openings to reveal the complicated inner workings. The entire thing looked like it was made of gold and ivory.
He’d grabbed three little paper packets of sugar, and tore two open. I watched as he tore them open, then emptied them. They missed his drink entirely, forming a little dune onto the table, with grains dancing across the slick, not-quite washed surface.
He moved his cup, placing it onto the pile, and sliding it across the table. When he lifted it, the sugar was left in a crescent shape where it had been dragged by the underside of the cup. He emptied the remaining packet, a smaller pile in the center of the crescent, and then three lines, fanning outward, on the other side. The edge of the paper packet helped give the three lines form.
Almost half of a typical ‘sun’, as a child might draw it, with the rays fanning outward, and a dot in the middle.
I could see the blonde girls turning in unison, glancing at Laird.
“A signal?” I asked. My heart was pounding. I had no idea what this meant.
“Just the opposite. Keep an eye on the people.”
I did. Twenty or thirty seconds passed, enough time that I almost spoke up. Then people stood up. The occupied booth nearest us emptied. A group of people entered the shop, and situated themselves at the far end.
“That should provide a bit of privacy,” Laird said. He sipped his coffee. “We tend to learn a few tricks, because it’s expedient. This one is a bit of shamanism. Many of the circles here and there will look down on someone for dabbling. It’s dangerous, and it leads to more mistakes. It’s better, many say, to specialize, do one thing well. The Duchamp family there seems to hold to this idea. The Behaim family doesn’t.””
“And my grandmother? I know she had an area of expertise, but the library is pretty comprehensive.”
“I think your observations are apt. She may well have been a rare talent, helped by a generous heaping of time. I chose to work, to have this be a definitive part of my life. There were periods I was more serious about it, points where it faded into the background, and I raised a family. I suspect your grandmother made it her life. I find it impressive, if I leave the particulars aside.”
“Hard to imagine her like that.”
“I imagine you have questions. About her, about all of this.”
“Lots. Very few I’m comfortable asking.”
“You don’t want to show how little you know, perhaps. I wouldn’t worry. Most of us were novices in the beginning.”
“Most?” I asked.
“Most. We have a local exception, even. Others almost assuredly exist. It is generally a bad habit to use absolutes, even outside of certain circles. None, all, every, always, and so on.”
“Right,” I said.
“You’re in a dangerous situation, Blake. The natural inclination is to be the cornered rat, to lash out, biting, in a frenzy. One would understand if you wanted to throw caution to the wind and fight us.”
“Hypothetically speaking,” I said, “Is there a reason I shouldn’t?”
He raised his heavy eyebrows. “Besides the obvious?”
“Besides the obvious.”
“Do you know the reason we discourage people from owning guns?”
“Guns are dangerous,” I said. A glance to the side indicated that some more people had come in. A group of kids started to drift towards the empty tables near us, then changed their minds and headed for the door. Taking their coffee and snacks to go instead of sitting in.
“Well, we’re talking about dangerous things. Guns are more dangerous when in the hands of someone who doesn’t know how to use them. Not to whoever poses a threat to them, but to themselves and to their loved ones. It’s much the same here.”
“If I’m going to die anyways,” I said, “What’s the harm in self defense?”
“An attacker can take your gun from you. The idea is the same here. When we work, we’re dealing with outside parties. If they don’t succeed in their tasks, your opposition can make a better offer, or simply frustrate them to the point that whatever you sent comes back at you, angry and blaming you for the failure.”
I nodded slowly.
He gestured down at the diagram in sugar. “This idea recurs in any dealing with Others. Always, there is a risk. Here, I make a meager food offering, create a sign to indicate what I want, and draw from the reputation I maintain with local community spirits. A bonus of my position. The spirits play along, because they know it keeps people safer and helps to keep the community safe, and because they know I’ll make a better offering later, a habit I’ve established. The end result? They turn people away before they sit nearby, and we can talk without fear of eavesdroppers.”
“And these benign spirits can turn on you.”
“Always a concern, with any Other. If something goes wrong, if I allow too many people to go out into the cold instead of sitting here and someone gets hurt, or if the business starts to suffer here due to a lack of customers, my credit with these same spirits might become strained, and they might take issue. At the very least, I’d get less free coffees. At worst, I might find events conspiring to take my position from me, or I might even get drawn and quartered in the streets.”
More grotesque imagery. It made me think of Molly’s fate.
I leaned back. “Wouldn’t practitioners be making those sorts of mistakes more often?”
“It happens from time to time. A handful of occurrences a year, for a given area. But these things are rarely sudden, and they can take a variety of forms. As it’s rarely a single monumental mistake, errors like this tend to cause a long series of events that can be tied together, telling very plausible stories. Building racism or intolerance in a sub-community, peaking in a mob assault. A high-risk investor’s accounts bottom out all at once, causing financial ruin. You’d be surprised at what’s believable, when looked at from outside, or how easy it is to let this happen. One can unknowingly offend one subset of Others while trying to please another, or spend too much credit and overdraw their accounts.”
I nodded. “And the… bigger events? We were just talking about the equivalent of nukes.”
“Most areas are stable. A lord or lords sit in power, well situated, unlikely to change more than once every fifty to a hundred years, if that. In smaller areas, things are typically enforced within the community, and it’s too much effort for too little gain, to cross too many lines and take such risks. The only places where you’re liable to see anything dramatic are places that are on the brink of great change, or places undergoing that change… places where people see an opportunity to seize greater status or better positions. That change helps to hide things.”
“Like a girl being beaten and tortured in the woods might be explained away as a side effect of the Hillsglade House dispute,” I said. My tone was a bit harder than I’d intended. Though we were out of earshot, I could see the blonde girls glance my way.
“Yes,” Laird said, just as calm as he’d been before. “Getting around to your question, things that are hard to explain away tend to end in people disappearing, rather than bodies being found. The locals will then clean up, and they will be upset with the culprit for the inconvenience and the risk.”
“Why are you telling me all this?” I asked.
“I want you to trust me, Blake. We may be enemies, but that doesn’t preclude trust and respect, much less an open dialogue.”
I glanced again at the metal side of the napkin dispenser. Rose was still absent.
Laird finished off his coffee, then set it down on the table. He opened his pocket watch, then closed it.
“I take it that’s your implement,” I said.
“And my familiar,” he said. “After a fashion.”
He opened the pocketwatch to show me. As before, I saw the openings that revealed the inner workings.
After two seconds, however, other hands slipped out from beneath the hour, minute and second hands. One went backwards, while the other went slow. He rested the end of the pocketwatch on the table, and I could feel the steady tick of it being transmitted across the surface, akin to the beating of a heart.
“Implements can be familiars?” I asked.
“Unconventional, but a police dog was off the table, and I wouldn’t want to spend the rest of my life dealing with any Other that would need to take such a large and inconvenient mortal form. Not that this one is so weak.”
“So… it’s talking to you?”
“It can, but just now it was doing me the service of telling me the time. I can’t take too long, I’m expecting a call from the coroner and a meeting with Macguin,” he said. “We might have some room for conversation before I go, but first I’m going to need to top up my coffee. Can I get you anything?”
I shook my head.
“I was thinking we could talk about a deal. Something to keep things safe and calm for everyone involved. If we went that route, I could protect you and buy you time to find a way out, if one exists. Maybe ruminate on that, so we can jump straight into the conversation at the first opportunity.”
“Sure,” I said.
He stood from his chair, empty cup in hand.
I turned in my seat to watch Laird join the line. With the crude little diagram in sugar, there was a bit of a crowd at the other end of the coffee shop, with people gathering and waiting for their coffees at the one end of the counter, the general line, people finding seats and people coming and going. Twenty or so people in all, but still a good number.
“I don’t trust him,” Rose said, the words distorted.
I glanced at the dispenser. Sure enough, I could see her blurry reflection. I murmured my reply, “I don’t either.”
Word had apparently gotten around. People were glancing my way, gathering around Laird. I withdrew my cell phone from my pocket and raised it to my ear. I’d get enough stares without talking to myself.
Rose said, “I went to go get the little black book. Dramatis Personae. I’ve got others in a grocery bag. I didn’t like how incomplete our knowledge was, so I did more digging. Behaim’s Circle, a gender-neutral term for covens, specializes in chronomancy, with a secondary focus in augury.”
I could recall reading that, but I’d been skimming, to see where the real threats were, and my focus had been on Essentials. “Chrono… time?”
“Explains the pocketwatch,” I replied.
“The little black book says that grandmother thought the watch was a zeitgeist. Not in the pop culture term, either. A literal zeitgeist, a spirit of time. Those are his tools, the means he uses, so if he’s going to try something, it’s going to work in a way related to them. Both concretely and abstractly.”
“Keep going,” I said.
“With implements, the shape it takes is an indicator in how the practitioner works. A wand is very direct, pointing to things, aimed at specifics. A staff is more dramatic, cumbersome. A fan might be more personal, an accessory, directing things inward. Pens are focused on labels and premeditation.”
“It’s symbolic,” I said. I watched Laird order his coffee. “Abstract. I can work with that. I’ve spent enough time around artists, I think I can do ass-pull interpretations.”
“A watch. It’s less direct than the objects Essentials gave as examples. It doesn’t suggest anything particular.”
“It’s a… way of seeing how the world works on a fundamental level. For someone who does the omen thing, I can sort of understand that.”
“Right. But what’s he pulling here, if he’s pulling anything?”
“He might be getting more information out of us than we’re getting. Which I wouldn’t mind.”
“I’ve got an ugly feeling,” Rose said. “Like he’s playing us. You know?”
“Yeah,” I said. I didn’t take my eyes off Laird. “It doesn’t feel like it’s just a little bit of information gathering.”
“No,” Rose said, very much on the same page with me. “No, it doesn’t.”
“Something else, then,” I said. “Time… I’m thinking about what he could pull on that front, but I’m not coming up with anything time related. We don’t have any major appointments… no.”
I saw the blonde girls get up, and I tensed. I couldn’t say what I was tensing up to do, but I wanted to be ready for anything.
They glanced my way, unsmiling, before stopping to talk to Laird for a second and then leaving. Not long enough to plot something.
“He has other tricks up his sleeve,” Rose said. “Having a focus doesn’t mean you can’t do something else.”
“He said he dabbled in a variety of things,” I said. “But there’s too much we don’t know on that front, I’d go crazy trying to figure it out.”
“There aren’t many options,” Rose said. “We don’t know much.”
Pocketwatch, familiar, implement. Who was he, how did he operate?
A keeper of the peace, a police officer, a family man invested in community. He was a figure, a pillar in the community.
I looked down at the pattern in sugar.
“What are you thinking?” Rose asked.
“I was thinking he could use those spirits from before to make these people lynch me.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “But… it doesn’t fit. I mean, yes, he sort of lured me here. But… he seems too orderly.”
“It could be a mask,” she said. “A deception.”
“It could be,” I said. “Except the watch is orderly. Overcomplicated, maybe, but it’s orderly. For a personal icon of who he is, for a badge, it doesn’t fit that the guy holding that item in particular would turn around and incite a riot.”
“True,” Rose said.
I could see Laird at the station at the far end of the counter, getting sugar packets, no doubt. People had mobbed him, with questions about the murder, the house, and me, no doubt.
I spoke my thoughts aloud. “A badge. It’s a really nice watch. Maybe there’s more to it? Nuances? It’s old fashioned, which ties into the whole ‘mucking with time’ idea. It’s beautiful, attention getting, a status symbol.”
“Okay,” Rose said. “How does that affect how he applies his magic?”
I glanced down at the diagram in sugar.
“Influencing crowds, people, and perceptions,” I said. I stood from my seat. “With time at the heart of it, as his primary focus?”
“If I read something like that in one of the books,” Rose said, “I’d buy it.”
I crossed the room to reunite with Laird. I had to make my way through the local flavor. Girls in ugg boots with vests and backpacks, no doubt commuters from Toronto colleges; too many flannel shirts; a couple of truckers in baseball caps who were blithely ignorant to the fact that the headwear was ill suited to the season; and some middle-aged women who looked like they’d smoked far too much.
“Hey!” Barista James called out.
“Do me a favor?” he asked. He jerked a thumb towards the door. “Maybe clear out?”
Ah, the hostility that Molly had alluded to. “Clear out?”
“Get going. I’m going to kick everyone else out soonish, but those guys are actually buying stuff.”
I still felt lost, and it didn’t help that I was splitting my attention between James and my search for Laird in the crowd. “Kick everyone out?”
“Closing,” he said.
I was no longer searching for Laird. With that one word, he had my attention. Very carefully, I said, “Early to close.”
“Small town,” he answered. “Eight’s late enough.”
My eyes searched the crowd. The college girls, the truckers. An entirely different group from before.
I’d just lost four or five hours.
Laird was nowhere to be seen.
He’d stranded me.
I pulled my hat and scarf from my pockets and had them on before I was out the door, taking long strides.
The light outside the window was a streetlight, not daylight. As I glanced up at it, it seemed to decrease in intensity. Almost as if it were apologizing for the deception, or as if the light was one of the last things to catch up with the new status quo. It was night.
It wasn’t a jump. It was a blurring. Me, the other people, environment and all other things sort of sliding along to a new time at their own paces. No comment was made that I’d been at the coffee shop for four or five hours.
The snow crunched under my feet.
I had questions. He’d promised this wasn’t a trap, but… what had his wording been?
Could I even worry about that right now? If he’d lied, it was on his head. Either way, this was my situation to deal with.
People here and there were on the street. A man, smoking, staring at me the entire time I walked down the length of one block. A woman sitting on the porch, doing the same.
Were any of them Others? Practitioners?
I felt the hollowness of an empty stomach, despite the anxiety. My mouth was dry. Was my body belatedly catching up with me, in terms of the lost hours?
A man, bundled up in winter clothes with hat, scarf, jacket, slacks and boots all in black stood in the middle of the sidewalk, at the end of the block. His eyes were fixed on the snowbank in front of him, his breath fogging with the slow, steady breathing.
He didn’t move at my approach. Unnerved, I crossed the street, triple checking for cars.
“It smells like a rose,” a man announced, “It’s as beautiful as a rose. I dare say it’s as fragile as a rose, once you get past the thorns. But is it really our Rose?”
Three twenty-somethings, if I went by appearances, were approaching me from behind. I might have been off. Each had alcohol in brown bags.
I recognized one of them from the vision. He was the one speaking, his arms thrown out to either side, for the drama of it.
“Padraic,” I said. The one who had been with the girl in the checkered scarf.
“I prefer Patrick in polite company,” Padraic said. “Good grief, little rose, where are your thorns? You’re defenseless.”
They kept walking, not slowing as they drew closer to me. I backed away a step, then another.
Behind Padraic was a beautiful, willowy young woman in a long black coat and a man with a very fine bone structure on his face, his fine brown hair expertly styled, shining with the snowflakes that had gently alighted on it.
I might not have given them a second glance, except their faces weren’t flushed with the cold.
“This rose has no eyes, which is only natural, but it’s usually sharper,” Padraic said. I had to back away a step. “It has been cast away. Denuded.”
My instincts were screaming at me to act. The problem was that they were telling me to do things that would make this go very, very badly.
When the woman spoke, her voice was almost more musical for her drunkenness, rapt in her fascination, “There’s a vulnerability, isn’t there? Like seeing a king without his clothes. A movie actress howls in fear, nothing held back. A chieftain begs like a craven coward.”
“The beauty of a thing with all the protections stripped away,” Patrick said. He pulled off his hat, holding it to his chest, as if in mourning. His bright red hair was cut to a length just above a buzz-cut, carefully cultivated ringlets framing his face.
“Except the skin,” the other man whispered.
“Beautiful, beautiful,” the woman said. “So fragile. Won’t you dance with us?”
She reached out, and her smile was a timid one. All the scarier because of how obviously calculated it was.
“Don’t fucking touch me,” I said. I slapped her hand away.
The realization of just how bad that one kneejerk reaction was settled in so quickly I suspected I’d seen it coming.
But I didn’t like being touched.
“I’ve been rebuked,” she said. The back of her hand found her forehead, face turning skyward. Her playfulness belied the glitter of anger in her eyes, when she glanced down at me to gauge my reaction.
“The rose is usually better at the verbal jousting,” Patrick said. He swayed a little, then caught himself with a hand on the woman’s shoulder. She reached up to lay her hand across his, as if it were all choreographed, an act. “It’s brutish to fall back on physical violence.”
“It’s almost insulting, to see a creature that so resembles us, acting so basely,” the woman said.
“It is, isn’t it, Ev? An affront.”
His male companion stepped around me, alighting briefly on a snowbank that my foot would have plunged into, before coming to a stop just behind my left shoulder.
When I looked, Patrick was to my right, back to the wall.
“But moods do shift so dramatically from generation to generation,” Patrick finished. “It adds a liveliness to the proceedings, breaks the patterns we so easily fall into. It’s why we love you, my rose.”
I wanted to cut in, to speak, but I wasn’t sure what to say. The confusion of being cast five hours into the future wasn’t helping, nor was being surrounded. It was all I could do to avoid a repeat performance that would get them really offended.
“I’m sorry for that,” I said, looking the woman in the eyes. “It was crude. I regret it.”
“Then will you let me touch you?” she asked.
“No,” I said.
She pouted a little. “You’re afraid. That’s okay. You’re so small, so fragile. A petal adrift in the wind, that will soon dry up and do nothing more than feed the bugs and return to the earth. I can fix that. Give you life, like you’ve never imagined it. All of the best things you could ever experience, in tastes, touches, music and song.”
“It’s like cheating,” Patrick said. “We both know there’s nothing good waiting for you at the end, my rose, not while your bloodline has this weight pulling it down. You and your children and your children’s children, all down the line, there’s only one place you can go. But we can give you the paradise you and yours are denied. Two, three centuries. Sublime things, everything you thought you might enjoy, and everything you never even considered. There’ll be so little left of you when it’s all done that it won’t even matter where you’re going.”
“I can flense your skin,” the other man said. “But without pain. The movement of air as someone enters the room will have you arching your back, whimpering in anticipation.”
“I’m afraid I’ll have to decline,” I said. I couldn’t hide the tremor in my voice. I felt more than a little backed against a wall, here. It wasn’t just being surrounded.
Patrick wasted no time in seizing on that weakness. “Are you sure? No more fear, no concerns. If you’re worried about the bloodline, I’m sure we could round up someone to make it happen, allowing you to do your duty. You can be as specific as you like, whatever your preferences in body, hair, personality. Keller here might even enjoy hunting them down.”
Keller. The male companion, almost avian in features, with the bone structure, the gaze.
Somehow, it was easy to imagine him as a hunter.
“We can even make the birth painless. An exercise in joy, rather than pain, without blood or sweat or tears,” Ev said. “Something beautiful that could be the centerpiece for a party. Architecture and dances and music, all around one singular event, with a moment of crescendo-”
“This rose is male,” Keller said. “Men don’t give birth.”
“Male?” Ev asked. She gave me a closer look.
I was pretty sure no humans had made that mistake since I was five or so.
Patrick, for his part, mused, “I forgot that detail. I’m sure we could make it happen. Do you want to try, my rose?”
I took advantage of the momentary confusion to cut in, “I have other obligations.”
“Well,” Patrick said. He shifted position, coming damn close to brushing up against me. “That leaves us with a problem. You’ve offended Ev, and decorum demands that things be made right. If you won’t accept our invitation, then how will this be resolved?”
“It’s all right,” Ev said. She wobbled a bit, and then stepped to one side to lean against the wall. She took another drink from the bottle. “I’ll settle for him giving me his apologies. Perhaps a kiss on the cheek?”
My heart thudded in my chest.
A kiss? Was there a trap here?
It wasn’t my voice.
All three of the strangers backed away from the wall, until they could see the window where Rose was reflected. With the curtains drawn, the streetlights reflected her well in the glass of the window.
“Ah,” Patrick said. He glanced between us. “I like this.”
“We can’t take your deal, Essylt. I hope we can arrange something else,” Rose said.
“We can, we can. But first, I must insist…” Patrick hopped up onto the four-inch window sill, taking a knee, somehow without falling or touching the glass. He reached through the glass and put a hand on the back of Rose’s neck, then drew her forward, his head passing into the window to plant the lightest of kisses on her forehead.
He hopped down, giving me a plain view of a very startled Rose.
Ev, or Essylt as Rose had called her, looked between Rose and I with a somewhat drunken amusement, her movements languid.
“Whatever happened?” Patrick asked. “Now we have two roses, but they’re so vulnerable. Thornless.”
“It makes you just want to break them,” Ev said. “So you can have those last beautiful moments all to yourself.”
“And a mess,” Rose said.
“Messes can be cleaned up,” Ev said. “Memories are forever, and forever is a very long time.”
“Hear hear,” Patrick said. He, Ev and Keller each tipped their bottles back to drink. Patrick licked the corner of his mouth.
“The breaking will have to wait,” Rose said. “Until we’ve resolved this issue of Blake’s manners. I’m afraid he can’t give you his apologies. It’s too high a price. If he needed to make amends to someone else in the future, what would he do?”
“But that’s half the fun,” Ev said. “Watching the dance that follows the exchange.”
“We’re in an awkward spot,” Rose said. “We didn’t intend to be out after dark, but Laird Behaim pulled a trick on us. He promised us his protection while we were in his presence, and then he disappeared on us, and turned the hands on the clock forward.”
“A rose is safe in the company of other mortals, and a rose is safe in daylight, but a rose with both is safest, and a rose without bereft,” Patrick said. He drank a bit more.
“I don’t think we’re safe even in crowds and daylight combined,” Rose said. “It’s a bad time.”
“An eventful time,” Patrick said. “A shame. We’ll have to leave.”
“Will you?” Rose asked. “There’s still a topic of us needing to make amends. What if we promised something? Not a deal, but to consider a deal, at some point in the future? It leaves the door open to your staying.”
Patrick seemed to be oblivious to the question, as if he hadn’t heard, but I couldn’t help but notice how still the other two were.
“The problem with that,” Patrick said, “Is my merry little band here is forbidden to make deals.”
“You were dealing with Maggie Holt,” I said. “Weren’t you?”
“That,” he said, raising a finger. He let his arm drop, “Wasn’t one of the things you saw. I’m positive.”
“But?” I asked.
“But yes, Little Maggie and I, we were breaking rules, my lovely rose.”
“You could break rules with us, too,” my counterpart said. “If you took our offer, and if we considered your offer and found it sensible. We’ll even throw in a promise to keep your secret.”
“That is a deal I’ll take, then,” he said. “You aren’t awake, so I’ll take you at your word. Disappoint, and I’m sure we’ll find a suitable punishment.”
“We’ll endeavor not to give you a reason,” Rose said.
“Then I’ll take the debt this Blake owes my Ev, and make it my own.”
“I can think of ways to make you pay that,” Ev said. “Fox hunting?”
Patrick made a face, but he didn’t respond. Ev smiled again, a shy smile that rang false.
“Carry on, then, little roses,” Patrick said, as Ev brushed her hand over his short red hair “We’ll be in touch.”
I turned to go, feet crunching in the snow. Rose was to my left, reflected in the windows where the lights weren’t on.
It took me five or ten minutes to get my heartbeat under control.
“Thank you,” I said.
“I’m glad to do something,” Rose replied.
“Damn it, just how much reading have you done?”
“None, for them. I had a minute to read their entries in the little black book, but I was winging it.”
“I hope so,” Rose said.
We rounded the corner, and the house was in sight.
Another person’s footsteps fell alongside my own, as I approached the crosswalk. He stopped when I stopped.
I looked and I saw Laird.
“You bastard,” I said.
“Oh, I’m a little bit of a bastard,” Laird admitted.
I clenched my fist.
“I’m also a cop. I did agree to escort you home, though I didn’t say from where. It’s your choice, whether you want me to escort you back and leave you alone, or escort you back and then haul you to the police station. It’s not, for your information, a safe haven.”
I stuck my hands in my pockets.
“Then why didn’t you arrest me?” I asked, my voice still hard with anger. “If you wanted to leave me hanging out to dry, for Others to pick off?”
“Because I was telling the truth. I was interested in learning more about who you were. Whether you were someone who could become dangerous or if you were someone I could trust to be passive for as long as we needed you to. It may come down to picking you off until we get one of the young ones. Roxanne, I believe? Twelve? Or even your little sister Ivy, if Roxanne is uncooperative.”
“And the talk of a peace treaty?”
“I never promised anything concrete, I only expressed an interest.”
“Saying you’d trust your daughters to someone like you, if positions were reversed?”
“To someone as strong as me. If positions were reversed, I wouldn’t know any better than you did, by definition. I double checked beforehand.”
“And the promise about there being no tricks?”
“I said it wasn’t a trick. Which it wasn’t, at the time. I came up with the one while we were talking.”
Why wasn’t Paige in this position? She’d love this quibbling over semantics, if nothing else.
What if I attacked him right here? What if I denied him the chance to escort me back & fulfill his oath? Would he be forsworn? Would he lose his power?
He opened his watch, then closed it. His breath fogged heavy around him as he sighed.
“You have protectors,” he cut in. “The exiled prince, Padraic.”
“I didn’t ask for protection.”
“It would be fleeting, whatever the case,” Laird said. “They’re distractible.”
I didn’t want to engage him in conversation, but curiosity niggled at me.
“Faerie?” I guessed, eyes straight forward.
“Once upon a time, they would have fallen under that label. I think they’ve dallied in the very courts that have exiled them now, as a matter of fact. They even have some of the same tricks. But classifying Others is a dangerous thing. Better to call them what they are.”
“Men and women who are desperate to entertain themselves over the course of a very long, long time,” he said. “They get bored as easily as you or me.”
We reached the gates, and started treading up the driveway to the house. We were silent up until I reached the door.
“If it helps,” Laird said, “The reason I decided to have you walk most of the way back alone was because I suspect you could be dangerous.”
“Yet you make yourself my enemy by tricking me.”
“I would say that I am, along with my circle, the least of your worries. I’m sworn to do no direct harm to others, and I won’t. My family is interested in securing our position, and we’re thus interested in having you, or one of you, secure in this house, until the North End Sorcerer is unseated. You can’t afford to have your back turned to the others while you deal with me. I’m also best equipped to deal with the sorts of things you might send after me, if you deign to go that route. I’ve been preparing against Rose for my entire life.”
“And now you walk away, after this? We’re supposed to be civil?”
“In your position, knowing what I know, I would,” he said. “I would also make haste and awaken sooner than later.”
I managed to hide my shock.
He tapped his eye. “We can see things at work, once we awaken. Tell your companion I said hi. There’s no need to hide. Council meeting is in two days. For three hours prior and three hours after, there is a ceasefire. I hope to see you then.”
I stepped into the house, then slammed the door.
Rose was waiting in the living room. “Hey. We came out of it okay.”
“Not okay enough,” I said. “That could have gone far worse.”
I kicked the footstool over. It crashed against the grill that protected the fireplace, making a very dramatic sound.
“You can’t get so angry,” she said. “Be calm, we approach this with strategy and a level head.”
“No,” I said. I grabbed one of the books from the coffee table. “Anger is good.”
“It keeps us moving. You read the book on implements, I’ll read up on familiars when I’m done Essentials.”
“Okay,” she said.
The quiet outrage kept me reading through the night.