Kitty Goes to War Page 55

“No,” I agreed. Even with help, we might not cover all the locations. But this seemed like the best chance. “Our other option is to call all of the Speedy Marts and see if we can talk the clerks into posting the symbol themselves.” What were the odds?

“It wouldn’t hurt to have someone on that as backup,” Ben said. “We just need someone with a phone book and a phone.”

“Okay, let’s get Rachel on that, since she’s probably snowed in anyway.”

Maybe we’d covered all the bases.

We raced on. Tyler sat straight, both hands on the wheel, focused ahead and concentrating. There wasn’t any traffic, not anymore, though we passed abandoned cars that had slid off the shoulder and gotten stuck. Every now and then I saw flashing lights through the driving snow—the yellow warning lights of snowplows, the red and blue of a police car once. I expected us to get pulled over by a cop wanting to know what the heck we were doing out here. But maybe you saw a military Humvee driving with purpose up the highway in a snowstorm, you figured it was on a mission.

I called Cormac. “Did you get ahold of Shaun?”

“I did. He’s got the picture. I’ll send it to you next.”

“You think this is really going to work?” I asked.

“I guess we’ll find out,” he said, his wry fatalism from the old days showing through. “I—I think it will. I have faith.”

I’d never known Cormac to have much faith in anything except the gun in his hand and his ability to shoot. Now that he’d lost the guns, what did he have faith in? And why did that make me worry? “Cormac. Seriously. Are you okay?” Frowning, Ben glanced at me.

“I’m fine. I’ll explain everything when this is all over.” He clicked off.

“That just means there really is something to explain,” I said, staring at my phone.

“He is okay, right?” Ben said. And I really didn’t know.

My phone beeped—photo coming through.

The gromoviti znaci, the thunder mark, looked like a wheel, or a very stylized flower. Six spokes radiated from a space, with a circle in the middle. On the wheel’s outer ring, between each spoke, was another circle. I knew enough about magic to know circles were powerful, often used as symbols of protection. This was one of the more intricate, beautiful versions of the pattern I’d seen.

Ben leaned over to look at the screen on my phone. “That’s it, huh?”

“Yup.”

“I’m trying to figure out if ‘saving the city’ would fly as a defense for vandalism charges,” he said.

“You’re always the practical one.” I kissed his cheek.

The storm around us was morphing from a pale gray to a dark gray—the sun was setting. I wondered if twilight or nightfall was part of Franklin’s spell, and if that was how much time we had to stop this.

“How’s it going, Tyler?” I said.

“It’s nice having a job to do,” he said, smiling a little. “A mission.”

I was glad someone was enjoying this. I’d have been happier at home, safe in our den.

We approached the lights of Parker.

Chapter 22

I NAVIGATED TYLER to the Speedy Mart, which was on the corner of a wide intersection between subdivisions. The snowplows had given up awhile ago, and the wind had blown drifts across the streets. We only made it through because Tyler gunned the Humvee, and the chains bit into the snow. The streetlights were on; sheets of huge snowflakes—golf-ball-size chunks of icy, clinging snow, really—fell through the orange beams. It would have been beautiful—if I’d been watching it from inside a heated room.

A single car, half covered by a drift of snow, was parked in the lot. A light was on inside the convenience store, but I didn’t see anyone behind the counter. The place might not have been open, but that was okay—we could put the symbol on the outside. I hoped.

Tyler swerved to a stop by the curb in front of the door.

“I don’t suppose anyone has a pen and paper? A can of spray paint?” I said.

“Why don’t we ask him?” Ben said, nodded through the window.

A scruffy-looking guy in his early twenties was pulling himself to his feet. He looked like he’d been lying down behind the counter.

Ben and I piled out. Tyler waited, keeping the motor running.

The door was unlocked, and a tinny bell rang as we pushed in. The guy behind the counter, fully upright now, stared at us. Ben and I must have been a sight: still in jeans and T-shirts, we’d been soaked wet and dried off a couple of times over. My hair felt like a nest and my eyes had shadows under them. I might have had a fading bruise or two left over from the fight with Vanderman.

“Hi,” I said. “I wondered if you had a marker that we could borrow, or for sale, or something.” I smiled in a way that I hoped was cheerful rather than crazed.

He pointed down one of the aisles. “We have a few office supplies there.”

“Thanks.” I ran. Sure enough, I found a package of Sharpies. The nice, thick, stinky kind. I picked up three and brought them to the counter. Ben got out his wallet to pay.

“That’s it?” he said. He sounded numb.

“No, wait.” I made a quick tour of the store, grabbing sodas, a package of beef jerky, a box of cookies. This ought to get us through. “Anything else?” I asked Ben.

“Permission?” he said.

“Ah. Not just yet.”

The clerk dutifully scanned our items. “Would you like a bag?”

This was getting kind of surreal. A gust of wind rattled the door and snow pelted the glass. “Yes, please.”

The transaction completed, the clerk, still blinking dazedly, said, “Thank you for choosing Speedy Mart.”

I grinned, teeth showing. “I didn’t choose Speedy Mart. Speedy Mart chose me. Oh, and I’m really sorry about this.”

I ripped one of the markers out of the packaging before handing the bag back to Ben. We both looked at the door, and the clear space of wall—a clean white canvas—above it. There didn’t seem to be any convenient footstools or chairs around.

“Can you lift me up?” I said.

“I think so,” Ben answered.

First, though, I flipped open the phone so I could look at the picture. I’d never taken an art class in my life. I hoped the thunder gods were forgiving of my lack of talent.

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