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Home > Hell Fire (Corine Solomon #2)(12)

Hell Fire (Corine Solomon #2)(12)
Author: Ann Aguirre

I refused to let it.

“Maybe,” he said, still staring at the writing on the wall—literally. “You think someone lives out there? It would take a precise, sympathetic translocation spell to achieve this.” He pointed at the dripping letters.

I wasn’t interested in the practical aspects. If this was an intimidation tactic, it was doomed to fail. Instead of dwelling on how the unsettling effect had been achieved, I found a bucket and some rags, and started scrubbing it off the wall. That morning I’d been accosted in a bathroom and nearly run over by a car. They’d have to do better to get me riled up. The fact that I’d cried earlier probably had something to do with my steady emotional state too.

Enough was enough. We wouldn’t solve anything today, and I was no longer worried about Mrs. Everett’s lingering spirit, so I located some old sheets not taken in the haphazard packing and gave them a good shake. They were faded and ragged at the edges, but soft from many washings. I went into the master bedroom and tucked the flat end between the mattress and box springs.

A quick rummage through the dresser unearthed an ancient quilt in the bottom drawer. I retrieved my bag from the parlor and changed into loose shorts and a T-shirt. Once I brushed my teeth, I was set to get some sleep.

“Let Butch out before you go to bed,” I called. “Night, Chance!”

I didn’t know where he would crash, but I felt safer here than I had at the bed-and-breakfast, so I wouldn’t ask him to bunk with me. His dangerous luck aside, he had to get better at talking about his feelings. It couldn’t be all about me any more than it should’ve been all about him the first time. I’d driven myself half mad trying to please him, and now he was doing the exact same thing. We needed to strike a balance, somehow.

Maybe the pendulum would eventually come to rest between us. Maybe—

There was no gentle rollover from waking to sleep, no dreamy, hazy lassitude. I didn’t even remember closing my eyes. Then . . . I was somewhere else.

Given the day I’d had, if I hadn’t been to this room before, I might have panicked. From the mahogany shelves to the cream and ivory wingback chairs, this gentleman’s library suited my impression of Ian Booke, who sat at a heavy antique desk, brow furrowed in concentration.

Our man in the UK had perfected lucid dreaming, and we’d talked this way once before. Relief washed over me when I realized he’d been trying to get in touch when I went quiet. He must have been at it for hours.

In my dreams, Booke had a shock of nut-brown hair and charcoal eyes. His face was narrow and clever rather than attractive. I didn’t know anything about him in real life; nobody did.

I came toward him clad in the Wonder Woman body Booke envisioned for our dream encounters. He glanced up at my movement, his expression revealing visible relief. He left his desk and took two steps in my direction before apparently remembering we couldn’t touch or I’d wake up.

“You’re all right? I’ve left five messages now.”

“Depends on what you mean by that,” I said ruefully. “I’m glad to see you—er, talk. You know what I mean.”

He inclined his head with a half smile and led the way over to the chairs. I sank down gratefully, unused to the height of the form I wore in the dreamworld. After taking a deep breath, I summed up everything we’d noticed about Kilmer: the unusual behavior of the citizens, a maimed dog, the lack of modern conveniences, dying business, broken cell phones, strange, stinky powder, murderous automobiles, and bleeding walls.

Damn. The recitation alone made me tired.

“So,” I concluded, “the only place we’ve gotten the cell phone to work is the library. I have no idea why.”

“I might be able to help. If you can, use your cell phone to snap some pictures, interior and exterior views, and send them to me via e-mail. Do you have a Smartphone?”

I rather doubted it; unlikely the device would be any cleverer than its owner. “Chance does, I think.”

“Get those to me as soon as you can, and I’ll see if I can sort why the library prevents the technological failure that plagues you elsewhere.”

I smiled with genuine warmth. “Thanks. That could really help us devise some defense. I’m glad you found me like this.”

“I wasn’t sure I could,” he admitted. “Not with the bizarre shroud encircling the coordinates you gave me. But this technique focuses on the person more than the place, so I think I could find you anywhere.”

That statement carried an oddly reassuring resonance. “Can you help? Kilmer feels so cut off from the real world.”

Booke frowned. “That would take some doing, serious power, there. I wonder if the dark spot in the astral has anything to do with your isolation.”

I could only shrug. “That’s your stomping ground, not mine. But maybe you could research what rituals might achieve that effect.”

“I’ll get on that as soon as we’ve finished here,” he said with a nod. “I can’t scout as I did in Laredo, so that’s right out. But I can relay messages. Today”—he hesitated, ducking his head—“I just wanted to make sure you were all right.”

A flicker of pleasure washed over me. “I am. Just a bit bruised. By the way, could you call Chuch and let him know we’re fine? He’ll pass the word to Saldana, who’s riding to the rescue like a white knight.”

“Must be nice,” Booke muttered.

I raised a brow. “What?”

“Getting to play the hero.”

“Well, he hasn’t done anything yet,” I said. “He might just make things worse.”

But he wasn’t looking for sympathy. By his expression, his agile mind had already moved on to something else. “You mentioned a strange residue.”

“From the bed-and-breakfast. We figure it’s a component, but we don’t know what it is or whether it’s used in a baneful or beneficial spell.”

“I wish I had a sample. I’d know,” he added without false modesty.

“There’s no FedEx here,” I grumbled, “and it would take forever in the mail, assuming they’d even send it out.”

Booke sighed. “Rotten you can’t just wish it here.”

His casual comment gave me an idea, possibly a stupid one, but nothing ventured and whatnot. “This . . . pocket world, how real is it?”

“Real enough to communicate ideas, not facilitate touch.” He shrugged.

Well, I wasn’t asking so we could make out. “Can I change it?”

Booke sat forward, arms resting on his knees. He’d caught on, and his expression reflected keen fascination. “As I said last time, Corine, what you see depends upon your expectations. What I see is quite different. Only our thoughts intersect as an absolute. What exactly do you have in mind?”

I struggled to articulate it. “I want to bring you here, where I am. And then I want to try to make this . . . shared space . . . real enough to give you that plastic bag. We wouldn’t have to touch.”

“Dream translocation?” he asked, thoughtful. “I’ve heard of it. Legends say devoted lovers gave each other tokens over long distances . . . not that I think you and I—”

I waved away his embarrassment. “Thing is, you need to share the setting with me, so we need to build the image together, right?” He nodded. “So how do we go about that?”

Booke considered for a long moment. “I’d say describe your current location in great detail until it becomes real to me.”

What the hell? I didn’t have a better idea.

I couldn’t have said how long I spoke, but the room reshaped around us as I built the house in my mind’s eye as well. Eventually we had a complete replica of Mrs. Everett’s farmhouse, except for the view of the woods. We sat in the parlor, and Booke gazed around with apparent absorption. He got up to explore and came back to report in a few minutes.

“This is brilliant,” he exclaimed. “I can even smell the dust.”

“So let’s test the rest of my theory,” I said. “At worst, we fail.”

He shook his head. “At best, we make history.”

With a nod, I stood and went to fetch Chance’s backpack, which had been near the front door the last time I saw it. I unzipped it and brought out the zipper bag. I shook it a little and the powder danced inside it.

Before handing it to Booke, I said, “I’ll call you from the library tomorrow. Don’t worry if you can’t get a hold of me, because—”

“You’re in a black hole,” he finished.

“Near enough.”

We fixed the combined force of our wills on the bag, making it real in a joint effort. This wasn’t some mental representation of the bag; it was the bag. I knew every crinkle in the plastic, every ounce of its weight. When I let go, it would no longer be here, but there, across an ocean.

At last, I extended my hand toward him. He took the powder from me, but our fingers brushed in the transfer, a little flicker of warmth, and—

I woke to late-morning sun streaming onto my face. In another room, I could hear Chance ranting. A thunk told me he’d kicked something. Rare—and enjoyable—as it was for him to lose his cool, I should go see what had him so agitated. I slid off the mattress and padded down the hall into the parlor, where he was pacing.

“What’s wrong?”

I thought I knew. I prayed I knew.

“The powder’s gone! I’d love to know how they managed that trick. Well, that and the bleeding wall too. We’re warding this place first thing, assuming we can even find what we need in this godforsaken backwater.”

“I took it.”

Chance drew up short, mouth half open. “Why? What’d you do with it?”

Pride put a huge smile on my face. “I think I gave it to Booke to study. He should be able to tell us what it’s used for.”

For a moment, he struggled for words, trying to articulate how crazy I sounded. He listed a few reasons why that was impossible, and I smiled. I felt like the Cheshire cat, irritatingly pleased with myself.

Eventually, I gave him the explanation I knew he wanted, but that didn’t seem to make him feel any better. It took me a moment to figure out why. He’d thought he knew everything about me, and here I managed something like this. He wouldn’t like feeling out of the loop; never had.

Chance studied me for a long moment. “I thought you couldn’t do magick. You told me you practiced with your mother’s books and never got any spells to take.”

“I’m sure it was Booke’s doing.” If it worked; if we hadn’t banished the evidence to some weird pocket dimension where demons would eat it—and hopefully suffer indigestion—and where the powder would do us no good at all. “We can call him later to confirm our success.”

“I thought the cell phones weren’t working.” Why was he acting so suspicious? The way Chance eyed me, you’d think I made a habit of keeping secrets from him instead of the other way around.

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