Kitty Saves the World Page 44

“We’re okay?” Ben whispered at me over his shoulder.

“Don’t know. I just don’t want a fight.”

“May not be an option.”

“Yeah, but I’m not going to be the one who starts it.”

The prim vampire came back up the stairs, dangling a set of keys from her hand.

“Well, that’ll make things easier,” I said, bemused. I wasn’t sure what I’d been expecting, but this was a nice turn.

While Braun and the woman led us to Obsidian’s back door, the other vampires drifted away—slowly enough that we could watch them go. Some went to the basement, some moved off as if they’d just been out for a stroll. I sighed, relieved. This wasn’t going to turn into a battle—good.

“You can put that down,” Braun said, eyeing Ben’s crossbow.

“Yeah, I’ll just hang on to it,” he said, grinning to show teeth.

Braun unlocked the door, then punched in a code in a keypad on the inside wall.

“Huh,” I said. “Good thing we didn’t just pick the lock, I guess.”

“What good’s a front if it doesn’t function like the real thing? We run this as a business.”

“But I never see the place open,” I said. “Does anyone even shop here?”

“You ever hear the saying ‘If you have to ask, you can’t afford it’?” he said.

“You can’t afford it,” the woman added. She had a faint accent, some brand of European I couldn’t identify.

Right. Okay.

For the first time, I looked inside Obsidian. We were in a back room, which looked like a typical back room, with a concrete floor and exposed ductwork, lots of metal shelves with various boxes stacked on them. A doorway in the corner led to the showroom, and I couldn’t resist. I knew we were on a mission and didn’t really have time for this. But it would only take a couple of minutes. I went snooping.

The front space looked like some old-world nobleman’s parlor, which I supposed wasn’t far from the truth. On the back wall hung half a dozen paintings in ornate gilt frames: complicated Renaissance art, filled with mythological figures, the paint cracked with age. The only other place I’d ever seen work like this was in a museum. And at the homes of Ned Alleyn, Master of London. Against another wall was a weapons rack displaying swords and spears, angry-looking spiked ironwork bolted to age-stained wooden staves, long grooved blades set in impractically ornate hilts. There were vases, candelabras, tables decorated with scrollwork, straight-back chairs with embroidered seats, faded and worn. It all smelled clean, but old. Dust in the cracks would never entirely go away.

On a pedestal in the back, near a desk with a computer and a stack of ledger books, sat an old Spanish helmet, with arched crown and sloping brims. A conquistador’s helm.

“Is this his? I mean, was it his, back in the day?” I asked the woman, who followed me in. No one had to ask who I was talking about. Rick, Ricardo, former Master of Denver who said he’d once followed Coronado. A real conquistador. Retired, now.

“No, I don’t think so. Not that exact one, anyway. But I think he has it because it reminds him. It’s one of the items marked Not for Sale. There are several.”

I wished I’d thought to ask Rick to show me around, to tell me the stories. And even Arturo before him, though I was pretty sure Arturo thought I was a nuisance. He might have told me stories if I’d thought to ask. If I’d had the courage to ask. Burying the pangs of regret, I returned to the back room.

Ben said, “You know what you’re looking for?”

“Something old. You know—Roman. Some kind of artifact from Pompeii or Herculaneum.”

“So, relatively old,” the woman said archly.

“Yeah? So how old are you?” I said to her. She just rolled her eyes at me. “Do artifacts from Pompeii ever hit the collector market?”

“Occasionally, but most of them have been acquired by museums.”

“I’m not sure this would ever have been catalogued. Really, I don’t have a clue what this could be.”

“Isobelle,” Braun said to the prim vampire with the key. “You’re the appraiser, you see everything that comes through—what is there?”

“A crate came in a few days ago that Angelo wouldn’t let me look at. Wouldn’t even let me open it. He said he was holding it for someone.”

“That’s it,” I said. Looking at her, almost but not quite meeting her gaze, I said, “Thank you.”

She gave a quick nod and pointed me to the crate in question, maybe a couple feet on a side, stashed in a corner out of the way so a casual observer wouldn’t notice it. A dozen labels were taped over one another on the outside. This thing had been all over the world. If I peeled back the layers, I bet I’d find it originated in Split, Croatia—where Roman had retrieved it, where the thing’s existence had first come to light.

So, this was it. Time to dig in. I pried at the edges with my fingers but couldn’t budge it. The lid was nailed down.

“Can you help me with this?” I asked the vampires. Isobelle found a crowbar and popped the lid off with little effort.

With an air of discovery, and more than a little anticipation, we dug through piles of shredded paper used as packing.

“I feel like I’ve landed in an Indiana Jones movie,” Ben observed. His crossbow and the stark overhead lights in the warehouse-ish back room made the whole thing feel like a film set. Braun huffed in agreement, which made me like him a little better. Slightly better.

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