“Need a ride home, Ms. Teller?”
“Thanks, but no thanks, Mr. Kovac. I’ll walk.” At his skeptical look, I add, “I need the exercise.”
“Uh-huh. You look tired. You’ve had a shock.”
No kidding. My leg muscles ache; my whole body screams pain. Both thumbs throb with a septic beat, the scrapes and the scratches burn, and I’m covered in blood. My blood. The day is growing hellishly hotter the higher the sun climbs.
“I’m good, Mr. Kovac. Catch you later.”
“Call me Jack, and I insist. I want to talk to you. And I need to schedule that appointment for your statement.”
The prospect of hiking down the mountain is kind of daunting. But I’m not thrilled about riding with an FBI agent who’s eying me as if I’m a suspect. What if he tries to trick me? Talk to him? I don’t think so. I’ll take the ride, but resolve to keep my lip zipped. “Okay, you win.”
We hike back to the fire road. I take the lead, leaving Kovac to thrash through the underbrush by himself. The man spurns help? He won’t get any from me.
As I step free of the forest and walk down the road to his BMW, my unease deepens. No, not because I’m wondering who and what Jack Kovac is. Now I’m uneasy because I don’t know how well the man drives. I am one of those people in life who does her own driving. I mean always, ever since I got my license at sixteen. I dislike and distrust other people’s driving. Whenever Daniel and I went out, I insisted on taking the wheel. Which never failed to infuriate my ex-fiance.
I stand beside the car, balking at climbing in. Kovac courteously opens the passenger door for me, smiling a little, no doubt thinking I expected no less. Doesn’t he know chivalry is dead? I’ve got no choice. I climb in.
An on-board computer mounted on the dashboard between the seats has blanked itself to a sky-blue screen, the cursor blinking on the sign-on line of the browser.
Kovac strides around the car and slides in the driver’s seat. What can I do? It’s his car, of course, but I offer, “Would you like me to drive, Jack?”
He lifts the sunglasses and aims an amused look at me. Ah-ha. Not such an iceman, after all. “Why would I want that, Abby?”
He turns the ignition, skillfully negotiates the narrow road, and cruises toward Centennial.
“Abby Teller. What a surprise when Valdez told me your name and sent me the info on your driver’s license. You’re famous in the World of Magic.” He glances at me. “But you know that, don’t you.”
Since he’s phrased another nonquestion, I see no reason to provide an answer. I cross my arms over my chest again, feeling vulnerable and exposed. I don’t like feeling vulnerable and exposed.
He brakes where the fire road lets out onto Centennial.
“I didn’t want to discuss your true nature in front of Malaky and Valdez. They’re good people and good cops, but they’ve got no power. Sometimes they recognize power when they see it, and it intimidates them. They distrust power, don’t understand it. Legally they’re not supposed to, but sometimes they discriminate against people with power. But you know that, too, don’t you.”
Again, not a question.
He hangs a hard right, and the car plunges down Centennial like a rollercoaster ride. I brace both my hands on the dashboard. Am I worried about the lack of seat belts? No, I’m used to that. Hi-Ho Silver doesn’t have seat belts, either. And no, I’m not frightened by Kovac’s driving. I’m terrified.
“What I don’t know,” I say, “is how I’m supposedly world famous. Or why those in the World of Magic believe I’m dead.”
He starts to glance at me again, and I shout, “Eyes on the road, please!”
“Did you know you could cut your gas bill by fifty bucks a month just by driving five miles an hour slower?”
Kovac laughs, a short, dry bark of a laugh. The laugh suits him. At least he can laugh. He brakes the BMW and slows down, but not nearly slow enough to suit me.
“How does everyone in the world know–”
“Everyone in the World of Magic. That excludes ninety-nine percent of everyone else. Not counting the monsters.”
There he goes again, interrupting me. Correcting me. “How everyone etcetera has heard this fake story?” I say, annoyed.
Making a show of keeping his eyes on the road, Kovac swivels the computer monitor toward me and taps the edge of the screen with his forefinger. “Take a look for yourself. Yonder, On.”
A thick slice of lambent light, pulsing with blues and purples, lifts up off the screen and floats above the dashboard in front my astonished eyes.
“Whoa! What kind of computer is this?”
“The computer has nothing to do with the Yonder. The screen merely acts as an energy source. Much easier to use than a crystal ball.” To the floating slice of light, Kovac says, “Yonder, summon Abby Teller.”
A world pops up in that pulsing light. I see my name, the date of my birth, the date of my death at the age of eight. I see our backyard in Buckeye Heights, the brick patio, the broad lawns. The sentinel oak by the bedroom window, the great elm with its smooth, ivory-colored bark. The bed of tulips and daffodils Mama planted every spring along the edge of the lawn where the old-growth woods rose up. A little girl skips across the top bar of the silver swing set Papa put up.
The little girl is laughing, her skinny arms outstretched, balancing like a tightrope walker. Starbursts of magic sparkle all around her.
That world jump-cuts to another world. Night rain pelts a woods, and a man, woman, and child running, running, running. A fork of lightning flashes. Thunder rumbles.
“Yonder, Go to yesterday,” Kovac commands.
“Wait a minute.” Dread clenches my throat. “What was that?”
“Yonder, Go on,” Kovac says.
The dark woods blur and disappear.
“Let me see!”
“No, now!” Running, running, running. The nightmare I banished from my memory. Is it really real? But what actually happened? Now that I try to recollect that night, I can’t at all. The pain I still feel over Papa’s death blocks my view somehow, an impenetrable wall of grief.
“I said later, Abby.”
“It’s the day my father died, isn’t it?” I swallow hard. “The day I was supposed to have died?”
“Yes.” Kovac brakes at the Rimway. He conscientiously turns on his signal light and bears to the left, pulling over to the curb. He sets the parking brake, pulls off his sunglasses, and swivels in his seat, facing me with the full fierce force of his ocean-blues.
I meet the directness of his gaze with my frustration and my fury, aware of how close he sits beside me. Of his clean masculine scent, astringent and slightly herbal, like witch hazel. Swell. He smells nice, and I desperately need a shower.
“I don’t know what you’re doing, Jack, but you started this. Finish it.”
“This isn’t the time or place for you to witness the record of that day. And I’m not the one to show you. I’ve got a call in to Professor Bonwitch. He’ll know what to do.”
“Professor Bonwitch? Isaac Bonwitch?” Now I’m astonished. I certainly didn’t expect a connection between supernatural law enforcement and my new school. “The founder of Magical Arts and Crafts? You know him?”
“Of course. Isaac is one of my best consultants at Supernatural Crimes. Huge resources at his command and a fountain of wisdom. And commonsense.” Kovac releases the brake, slides on the sunglasses, and pulls out onto the road. “I want to show you something else. Something you need to see right now for your own protection.” He says to the slice of light, “Yonder, Go on.”
Now another world appears–grainy, jumpy, like a bad indie film shot with a handheld camera. A close-up of two hands–a woman’s hand clenched in a man’s.
The point-of-view pulls back, and I see the gearshift of my Mustang, the freeway stretching out behind the windshield. Brand’s grinning profile and the back of my head, my russet thatch pulled through the scrunchie, the silver chain glinting at my neck.
When I turn to glance at Brand, my face becomes blurred, like when you scramble the pixels of a digital image. Yet I can plainly see the black sparks of Brand’s power surging up my arm, surging into my throat, and the starbursts of my magic clustering, repelling his magic, driving the black sparks out of me.
“Look, look! I pushed his power out of me and back to him.”
“So you did.”
I stare at the slice of lambent light, marveling. “I’ve never seen such a thing. I’ve never even heard of the Yonder.”
Kovac turns onto Dwight Way. “Abby, I’m very glad you’re starting at Magical Arts and Crafts today.”
“Thanks for not calling me an ignoramus.”
“I would never. I’m just puzzled.”
“Puzzled why I’m such an ignoramus?”
“For someone with your power,” he answers tactfully.
“Me, too.” I’m in no mood to spill my life story to Jack Kovac. How Mama begged me not to use my power till she lay on her deathbed. How she raised me believing my power was a shameful secret to be suppressed. I don’t know Kovac that well. I don’t know him at all.
The show’s not over. Now the slice of light dissolves in another close-up, another clasp of our hands, Brand’s and mine. Brand’s power glimmers all around me. My power glimmers, too, blending with his, a shooting-star show of dark and bright. Beyond the windshield, black thunderheads boil up in the west. When I turn to look at Brand, my profile blurs again.
I shake my head, not sure what to make of that. The Yonder’s cosmic camera has a glitch?
Kovac aims a keen look at me.
“Who is he?”
“We don’t know yet.”
“But there he is. Can’t you identify him from. . . .the Yonder?” The word tastes strange on my tongue.
“No, these records only show your power. We need good old-fashioned fingerprints or some other ID to give him a name. Only after we identify him can we summon the records of his power in the Yonder.”
My power. Brand’s power. Records of me. Records of him. My head is starting to swim, but I nod and say as if I get it, “Okay.”
Now the slice of light dissolves a third time and there I stand beside my Mustang in the bus zone. Brand seizes me in a great big bear hug, lifting me clear off my feet. The mingling of our powers crackles all around us and for the blink of an eye–superimposed over the mundane street scene—glows a gauzy image of our nude bodies embracing.
Was I really envisioning that at the time? Shame, shame on me.
Heat floods my face. “The Yonder shows the most intimate moments of someone’s magic?”
“You got it.”
“No consent, no privacy?”
“The Yonder is a lot like gravity, Abby. You can’t escape Its power except by extraordinary means.”
“Terrific.” I slump in the seat, hugging my ribs tighter. “Well. Brand had himself some crazy, wild power. A lot of it. I can’t believe he got himself and the girls killed. He would have put up one hell of a fight.”
“Agreed. We’re dealing with something very dangerous.”
“Vampires? The vampires at the Garden of Abracadabra?”
“I’ll have to review all the evidence before I can formulate a preliminary theory.”
“Right.” And I have to go to Magic 101.
Kovac turns onto Hillegass and slams on the brakes as two shaggy students dart across the street. He flings his arm in front of me protectively the way Mama used to do when I was a kid and she chauffeured me in the Mustang.
“They didn’t even look for oncoming traffic! And they’re not in a crosswalk!”
“Welcome to Berkeley.”
“Do they have a death-wish?”
“They think the whole world is going to stop on a dime just for them.” He steps on the accelerator and eases us down the leafy residential street. “Abby, everyone in the World of Magic has seen your death at the age of eight in the Yonder. Anyone who knows how to search for your power has had nothing more to look for or try to trace for years. Till now.”
“What did you see?” He sounds irritated the way Daniel got irritated when he thought I was being obtuse about something perfectly obvious. Like red dye 40.
I mull over what I’ve just seen. “I’ve started using my power again so I’m starting to appear in the Yonder again. As a full-grown woman, not a child.”
“That’s right. And what else?”
“I appear, but not too clearly.”
“Bingo. But clearly enough to establish that you’re alive.”
“Anyone in the World of Magic can see me now?”
“Anyone who searches for you, yes.”
“And the Horde? Can they see me?”
“If they search for you, they’ll see you. Maybe not your face, but they’ll see you.”
He turns left on Derby, then a sharp right, taking us onto Mirage Way.
“Jack, what is the Horde?”
He cruises slowly. “Gangster-sorcerers. But human. You can kill them with a gun if you know how to shoot. They’re not undead, in fact, they despise the undead, use the undead as slaves when they can get away with it. They traffic in murder-for-hire, extortion, abduction, slavery of every despicable stripe, smuggling and distribution of powerful exotic narcotics and magics. They’ve been operating out of the Midwest for a long time. Now they’re expanding in every direction.”
“To the west coast?”
“You’re here now.”
My mother’s deathbed words send a chill through me. In time they’ll come searching for you. “What do they want with me?”
He pulls over to the curb and brakes at the cobblestone driveway leading up to the Garden of Abracadabra. He pulls off the sunglasses and swivels in his seat again, gazing at me, his intense eyes lingering on the Eye and the Cross at my throat.
“It was Jorge Teller’s great destiny to fight the Horde. Now it’s your destiny, too.”
“Why is it my destiny? I’m just an ordinary woman.”
“You are not ordinary,” he growls, and I press back in the seat, stunned by his voice. His modulated tenor slides into my ears and coils there, a vibration of resonant sound bites. “You are the heir to the Eye of Horus. You wear the Utchat. The Providential Eye that’s warred against the Evil Eye for seven thousand years.”
I touch my amulet warily. It’s just a piece of inherited jewelry I’ve always worn because it’s kind of interesting, though not very fashionable. Now I’ve got to fight the Horde? And I’m the heir to an amulet that’s warred against the Evil Eye for seven thousand years? Okay, I’m in denial. Between my late mother and this foxy FBI agent, I need to process everything over a good, stiff drink. Maybe three. “Which my father left me when he died.”
“A great magician and a good father, by all accounts.”
“Taken from me too soon.” The fresh heartache takes me by surprise. I was supposed to have buried those feelings a long time ago.
We sit in a long, awkward silence. He gazes at me so searchingly, I have to look away. I study the cobblestone driveway, furrowing my brow, troubled. Just where do I stand?
“Malaky doesn’t really believe I killed those people, does he?”
“I don’t know what Malaky really believes, but probably not. You’re not the usual suspect.”
“Couldn’t any hiker have stumbled on the bodies?”
“The odds are way against it, like I explained, but yes. That you met the victims yesterday is a very strange coincidence.”
“But coincidences happen.”
Kovac is being far too cagey for my comfort.
“I mean, Doc Eve said and Malaky agreed, the bodies look as if they were dropped out of the sky. What does Malaky think? I levitated them?”
“You did tell the police you got accepted at Magical Arts and Crafts. That means you’ve got power, and now Malaky knows it.”
“I swear I’ve never levitated a thing in my life!”
“I believe you.”
I take a chance and look at him. He’s still gazing at me in his intense way, his expression inscrutable. “Why doesn’t Malaky like me?”
“Malaky doesn’t like anyone. The feeling is usually mutual.”
“But he especially has it in for me.”
Now Kovac smiles, a marvelous warm smile that reaches his ocean-blues, lighting up their depths. Power shimmers off him, a palpable heat. “You look a lot like Joanie ten years ago.”
And there I am, nitpicking Kovac and Malaky and, for that matter, Brand as I size up each man against the grievances I harbor toward my ex-fiance.
Who knew I had a lot in common with Phil Malaky?
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