Tuesday, February 28, 2017


   JACK strode toward the Mercedes as Finn and Phouka got out. He said to Phouka, voice low with fury, "Why did you bring her?"
   "Because Christie's my friend." Finn wasn't going to let him do that thing he did. When his gaze fell upon her, she continued, "She said he needed help."
   "Did she?" Jack's eyes glinted as he turned back to Phouka. "You didn't tell me Christie Hart was involved in this. How did that happen?"
   Phouka, who was polishing her nails on one coat sleeve, shrugged. "It's too late to turn back. We'll meet our new family members and get Christopher home."
   Jack didn't move. "Did she send Christie Hart into this?"
   "Not Reiko." Phouka glanced carelessly over one shoulder at Finn, who was trying to control her temper. "We'd best be on our way."
   Finn could scent something in the crisp air, an incendiary fragrance that always made her think of magic. It made her less scared. "What is this place?" she asked as they began walking.
   "This is what's left of the town of Greenfield." Jack spoke gently. He indicated the street of rundown row houses and bars. "Glove factories and textiles didn't so so well, so now Greenfield isn't. Phouka, the meeting place is through there." He pointed to a wooded lot and a barely discernible path lit by a single street lamp.
   "Let's go then." Phouka strode toward the path.
   Despite fresh misgivings, Finn followed.
   "I thought I'd dissuaded you from wanting to know more about me," Jack said idly.
   "I'm here for Christie. Your family has gotten him into something. Would you please tell me what?"
   "The ones we're going to see are visiting. They were supposed to let our family know they were here. They didn't. I have no idea how your friend ended up in this tangle."
   "Are these 'family members' involved in criminal activities?"
   Finn took out her phone and tried to call Christie again. Her hand shook. She hoped Jack didn't notice.
   Then they were on the path and the trees closed over them, a gloom broken only by spatters of moonlight. Her phone went dead. Her blood iced. She pocketed the useless phone. "Where exactly do they live? These people holding Christie hostage?"
   "In a house. In this lot. And they're not holding him hostage."
   Finn swatted aside a branch fluttering with ragged leaves. "This is like a forest."
   She jumped when she glimpsed a figure moving between the trees. She squinted and realized it was a full-length mirror, antique and clouded, leaning against a tree. She looked away from it.
   They passed a motorcycle tangled in creepers. A woman's red, high-heeled shoe dangled from a tree branch, over the path.
   Phouka looked back at Jack--meaningfully, Finn decided. Not wanting to seem like a scaredy-cat, Finn said, "We couldn't have driven to this house?"
   "No. There's no road."
   A few minutes later, Finn asked Jack if he watched horror movies. He glanced at her with a crooked smile. "Don't worry. If Phouka and I were going to kill you, don't you think we'd have done it by now?"
   "I don't think you're going to kill me. I don't like mysteries, Jack. That's all."
   "You liar." His smile was the equivalent of a swagger.
   She turned and deliberately and defiantly pressed one hand against his chest, over his heart. "I can feel your heart beating."
   He looked at her and something like pain flickered in his eyes. "I know."
   They began walking again, Finn with a little more confidence as she thought, There's nothing supernatural about you, Jack Fata.
   When she heard a rustling in the trees to her right, she turned her head and glimpsed a large shadow that promptly shoved that last confident thought out of her head. It looked very much, that shadow, like a goat walking upright.
   No, she told herself as horror gnawed at the edges of reality. It's not.
   Then Jack's hand closed warm and strong around hers and his voice was in her ear. "Don't stare at the shadows. You'll start to see things." He let go of her, leaned toward Phouka to whisper in her ear. Finn thought she heard him say "Skriker."
   Phouka glanced at Finn and said, "She's stronger than you think."
   They passed a clutch of creeper-draped oaks cradling a grandfather clock, its face stained and cracked. She almost refused to go any further.
   Then she saw the lights of house silhouetted against the sky behind the trees--a brick apartment building in a wooded lot. With its swooping roofs and scarlet trim, the structure looked slightly Asian and antique. Beyond, the headlights from traffic on the highway streaked the night.
   Finn glanced at Jack and Phouka,. She felt as if this were a test of some sort and she was determined to pass it because she wasn't about to let Phouka Fata think her a coward.
   Jack, on the other hand--and this was somewhat daunting--seemed genuinely concerned. He scrutinized the building like a knight about to break into an enemy's castle. He moved forward.
   Finn trudged after him, with Phouka, up the stairway. That's just an ordinary door, Finn told herself despite its fairy-green paint and the brass doorknocker shaped into a scowling gargoyle.
   "Don't think this is ordinary," Jack said as he bypassed the gargoyle and pressed the doorbell.
   No one answered. Jack and Phouka exchanged a glance.
  Jack turned the knob and shoved the door open.

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