Authors: Phoebe Matthews
Tonight he needed to find the cat. It had probably come in yesterday when the door was open. Wherever it was now, if he didn't find it and evict it, it would continue to cause mischief, possibly flexing its claws on a valuable book. Zack turned on the overhead lights and did a search.
He went up and down the aisles, peered in any spaces between the books and the shelves, got down on all fours to look under furniture, pulled boxes away from walls, ran his hands along the tops of cases, until he was sure he had examined every inch of the shop. He even checked the washroom.
He spun around in the small back hallway that opened to the washroom door on one side and the storeroom on the other and noticed, for the first time, that the storeroom door was open a few inches and how had he not noticed it earlier? He must not have closed the door tightly enough to click the latch yesterday. Not that the storeroom held anything of value. Mainly he used it to hold his shipping supplies. Could a determined cat nudge the door open?
"All right, you've had your fun, now it's back outside with you," he muttered as he walked in and flipped on the light.
Her eyes glowed in the reflected light as she looked up at him. She didn't try to run away, stayed put in the corner and made a small hiss. He knew she was a she the minute he took a step toward her. The cat was small and scruffy, but she stood bravely glaring at him, putting herself between Zack and two tiny new kittens.
"Oh my God," he said softly and then he apologized. Her ribs stuck out under her thin fur. "I didn't mean to scare you. All right, you stay there."
He hurried out to the shop, found his half sandwich, broke it into bits in the cardboard deli tray and carried it back and set it down next to her. He doubted she would move more than a step away from the kittens as long as he was in the room and he was right about that. Next he went back and tore away the sides of his cardboard coffee cup until he had a little dish with a rim about two inches high. He rinsed it out and filled it with clean water and took it in to her.
She stopped eating for a minute, gave him a careful look. Food won. She returned to eating. When he peered past her without actually moving any closer, he saw his mother's silk scarf under the kittens. He didn't have to touch the scarf to know it was giving off a low heat. It was soiled, probably irredeemable. He filled a shallow box with shredded paper from his supply of packing materials and left it near her.
Zack slid down with his back pressed to the wall. He didn't want his height to intimidate her. And then he spent the next hour talking very softly, explaining that the fish were his but the storeroom was hers as long as she wanted it, and saying whatever else came to mind because in many ways the cat was easier to talk to than a person.
His last act, before he locked up and went home, was to hold out his hand and wait. She approached cautiously. After standing and staring at him for several minutes, she stretched out her head and licked his hand. He didn't try to pet her. Tomorrow would be soon enough. Maybe that had been his mistake with Marcia. Had he rushed the relationship, phoning her the same day he first met her?
In the morning when he opened the door he heard a small sound, looked up, and saw the cat sitting on top of the books on the upper shelf of the case behind the counter. The cardboard was still in place on the fish tank. He had forgotten about it. Had the cat understood when he explained the fish were his?
"Good for you," he said to her. Today he would set a ward.
He propped the door open, went to the washroom to hang up his coat, took a quick peek in the storeroom and saw the two little fluff balls sleeping on the silk scarf, went out and set up his cash register and turned on his computer.
"I'm sorry to bother you again, but I needed to bring you this." From that first phone call, he'd loved the tone of Marcia's voice. Now she walked toward him, his green cardigan sweater in her hand. "You left it at my place."
"You could have phoned. I would have picked it up."
She didn't meet his eyes. "No bother. I was downtown anyway."
He knew, from the way she looked around the shop at everything but him that she had brought the sweater because she didn't want him coming to her home again. There was nothing to say and so he didn't try.
She looked above his head at the bookcase behind the counter and gave a small gasp. "I didn't know you had a cat."
"Neither did I until yesterday."
"But whose is it?"
"I guess it's mine now," he said, and when she looked straight at him he told her about the cat and the kittens.
"Are you going to keep them?"
"I can't very well toss them in the street. They'd get run over."
"But I mean, you could take them to an animal shelter or something."
He restacked the bookmarks to have something to do with his hands. "No. She's just a skinny black cat. Nobody'd want her. She'd get euthanized. She might as well stay here."
"What about the kittens?"
"What about them?" he snapped. He hadn't slept well and last night had been so strange, and if she didn't like him, he couldn't help it. He had no idea what he could do. He understood wards but he had no knowledge of love spells and even if he did, he would never use one. "I'm not tossing them out, either."
Her voice went very soft. "No. Of course not. I had no idea you liked cats. I adore them, but the last two men I dated, well, they turned out to be cat haters and I could never, I mean, oh." She stopped and stared at him.
"At least I know what happened to my fish. She ate them."
"But you're keeping her, anyway. You'll need cat food and dishes and a litter box and you'll have to take them to a vet for shots. Can I see the kittens?"
He led her silently into the storeroom. As soon as he pushed the door wide open so Marcia could see them, the mother cat dashed past his ankles and planted herself in front of the kittens.
"It's all right. We aren't coming in," he told the cat. Putting his hand on Marcia's shoulder, he turned her back toward the shop. "I have several books on cat care. I know what they need. Thanks for bringing my sweater."
Marcia stopped in the little hallway outside the storeroom and looked up at him. He looked down into the soft roundness of her face and remembered the touch of her fingertips. He could smell her flowery cologne, or maybe it was Marcia herself who smelled like flowers.
"Zack, if you can forget what I said yesterday, I would like to invite you over. I owe you supper. And an apology. If you aren't busy, that is."
He didn't know what he should say and so he just grinned.
Mudflat is that Seattle neighborhood where old magic lives. Most of the time. Occasionally Claire Carmody is caught by a stray bit of magic outside the neighborhood.
Sometimes I turn into a total geek reader. If a book is full of information that is totally new to me and right in the middle of my major interest, I drown in it. My surroundings disappear. Time stops. My only reality is each new bit of info. So there I was in the back room of Zack’s bookstore, where he lets me read the way beyond my price range books, a lot of them leather covered and all of them bought from the estates of major magics. We’re talking old and rare here.
So when I finally realized I had better stand up and stretch because my neck was full of cricks, I did that, stretched and heard a lot of
popping. Next thing I noticed was the dead silence. Zack has a radio somewhere near the front counter and he’s usually got it tuned to a ballgame or music.
I slipped a bookmark in the leather bound volume before carefully closing it. The bookmark might or might not stay there. Books once owned by a mage sometimes reject bookmarks.
“Zack?” I peered around the door.
The only light in the shop was daylight coming through the dusty front window. I called his name a couple more times, figuring he was somewhere around, closing up. And then I checked the other two possible spaces in the shop, a storeroom and a washroom. They were both empty.
Huh. He’d locked up and forgotten me. Annoying because after I opened the door from the inside to let myself out, would it lock up after me or was there a bolt lock that required a key? If there was, I would have to phone him to let him know I’d opened the bolt and the trouble with that idea was that I didn’t know his home phone number.
What a bother. I glanced at my watch. Way late. I should have caught a bus an hour ago. By now my boyfriend would be home starting supper and wondering where I was. Well, no. He wouldn’t wonder. He would worry. He’s like that. The best thing for me to do was run to catch a bus, and once on a bus I could phone him.
I grabbed my purse, turned off the light in the back room, and hurried to the front door. Grabbed the door handle.
And right after that I was sitting on the hard concrete floor.
Shafts of blinding light shot past me. My eyes felt like they were spinning in my head. Stunned, at first I figured somebody’d whacked me a hard one. No, couldn’t have. I’d gone all through the shop. There was no one else around.
So what the hey? Oh, right. Dumb Claire. I grew up in Mudflat, a neighborhood in Seattle where old magic lives. I am not old magic but I also live there. And my grandmother might have been a borderline witch although she never said so. Thing is, I do know enough about magic to know a ward when I stupidly grab hold of one.
Zack’s mother is a powerful witch. I have never seen her, but my grandmother once told me the woman was a wailing witch.
“What’s a wailing witch?” I had asked.
“A witch who can’t keep a husband, that’s for sure.” An odd comment from Gran who had had several husbands. None of them died of old age, at least, not while she was married to them. Instead they tended to walk out of the house without a word and never look back. Actually, my mother and her sisters had the same problem and they weren’t even witches.
Zack doesn’t admit his powers, probably because they are weak and weak power attracts problems. But okay, clearly he could ward his shop door, which solved the question about dead bolts. He didn’t need them. What knowing about the ward didn’t solve was how to get me out of
there. Disarming a ward is way past my skills.
I stumbled to the counter to see if I could find Zack’s phone number. Yeah, he had bookmarks on the counter with the store address and phone number. No, he didn’t have his own number anywhere visible. I mean, what if a water line broke or a fire started or something like that? What if the cops saw a burglar at his door? How would they contact him? With a head full of irritation, none of it sensible, I pulled out my cellphone and called home.
Didn’t even get past the hello bit.
“Claire, where are you? Are you all right?” Tarvik demanded. Told you, my boyfriend is a worrier.
“I’m fine,” I said and then went into a long description of the problem.
“Okay, I’ll be right there,” he said and hung up.
I tried to call back and of course got no answer. He’d probably dropped his phone on the kitchen table on his way out the back door because he is a jump first, think later guy.
A steep flight of cement stairs edged by a black iron rail leads down from the sidewalk to the underground level landing containing only a display window and the shop door. The sign in the window is barely readable beneath the layer of city dust. The words were backwards from my inside view. Zacklin’s Books.
Would the window be warded? Wasn’t going to slap my palm up against it to find out, but I did touch it lightly with a fingertip. Nothing there except dirty glass. I leaned against it and tried to remember the home phone numbers of the two witches I knew. Aargh. They wouldn’t have their numbers in a phone directory. On the off chance they might still be at work, I tried Madeline. We work at the same place, so I knew that number. The phone rang and rang. And then her answering machine came on. So next I searched behind the counter for a phone book. Couldn’t find one. The other witch worked at the mortuary, a long shot. I could maybe turn on the computer and find the number, but normally she wouldn’t be there unless there was an evening visitation slotted for a local resident and the neighborhood is small enough that I knew no one had died in the past few days. Phooey.