Kitty's Big Trouble Page 17

“How do you know that?” Anastasia asked. Her gaze was narrowed, suspicious.

“I’ve been around,” he said. “Picked up a few things.” There. That was Cormac talking.

“Yes,” she said, skeptical. “Clearly.”

“Was it made by dragons or magicians? Is that important?” I said.

“It was created by a magician,” Anastasia said. “There’s no such thing as dragons.”

I raised an eyebrow at her. I never knew anymore what was going to turn out to be real and what wasn’t. Being a werewolf tended to give one an open mind. Or made one totally confused. “So dragons aren’t real but this thing that could possibly grant someone untold riches is?”

“Roman doesn’t need the money, though I’m sure he’ll take it,” she said. “He’s going to use it to try and replicate a spell—a magical copy machine, if you like.”

I looked at Cormac. “Would that even work?”

“Don’t know,” he said, studying Anastasia with interest.

Anastasia’s tone was serious, her expression grave. Even more grave, rather. “Roman’s followers wear a talisman. A coin that marks them—to Roman, and to each other. There’s a binding spell attached to the coins.”

The walls suddenly felt very close, and the room suddenly got very hot. “A coin from ancient Rome?” I asked. “On a leather cord?”

“Yes,” she said, surprised, suspicious. Cormac and Ben were looking at me with startled expressions.

To think I’d wanted to write it off as coincidence.

I’d put the coin I took from the vampire in Kansas into my pocket because I’d wanted to show it to her, which turned out to be a pretty good call. I drew it out and offered it to her.

Her jaw tightened as she stared at it. “Where did you get this?” she said, with as much shock and emotion as she’d yet displayed.

“From a starving vampire in Dodge City.”

“Dodge City? Don’t tell me you found the vampire den that Wyatt Earp burned?”

“Oh my God, you know about that? Should I have called you first?”

“I wasn’t there, I only heard rumors.” Wearing a faint, twisted smile, she shook her head. “He uses those to mark his followers. He can make more himself, but the spell is time consuming and Roman coins in good condition aren’t as plentiful as they used to be. He’s going to try to use the Dragon’s Pearl to replicate not just the coin, but the spell attached to them.”

“He’s expanding his army,” I said. “Exponentially.”

Cormac said, “Kitty, if that thing is bound to him, that means Roman knew you were here before that wolf pack found us. He tracked you with that.”

I said, “We have to get rid of this.”

“Will defacing the coin work?” Cormac asked.

“The vampire who wore it is destroyed?” Anastasia asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Then it should.”

“I’ll need a hammer,” Cormac said.

Anastasia went up the stairs and called in Chinese to the woman at the counter. After a moment, she returned, carrying a hefty sledgehammer, which she gave to Cormac. He lay the coin on the concrete floor, raised the hammer over his head, and brought it down with a heavy crack, then a second, and a third. The thing sparked under the blows, bouncing. When Cormac moved aside, I picked up the coin—flattened, now. All the markings had been mashed, erased. It almost seemed a shame. I held it up for Anastasia to see, and she nodded.

“That should do it,” Cormac said.

I held it away from me, looking at it askance. It probably belonged in the nearest trash can, but I shoved it into my pocket. I’d deal with it later.

Anastasia started for the exit in the back of the room. “We have to meet the one who will take us to the pearl.”

Ben, Cormac, and I regarded each other in a silent conference. Was it too crazy? Too dangerous? Or fascinating enough to make it all worthwhile? Cormac gave a curt nod—he was game. I imagined that Amelia’s curiosity played a part in his willingness to continue. Ben’s lips were pursed. He wasn’t happy, but he wasn’t going to argue. His back was straight, his stance confident—he’d follow whatever decision I made.

I wanted to see this Dragon’s Pearl. With the two men following, I joined Anastasia, who waited by the open door. We went through it to another set of stairs.

Chapter 7

WE FOLLOWED THE stairs up to a doorway, wood with rusted hinges, that opened into a narrow alley between tall brick buildings. Lights shone through shaded windows, the sound of a TV carried. This should have been a mundane scene, evening in a city neighborhood, but the voices were in Chinese and I felt a sense of incongruity, as if I had entered another country, another world. Pagoda rooftops across the street gave the skyline a foreign air.

Leaving the alley, we walked for a time, rounding a couple of corners. The streets were arranged on a grid; even so, I didn’t know whether I’d be able to find my way back. The place seemed narrow and mazelike. I stayed close to Anastasia. Ben and Cormac trailed, keeping watch behind us. My nose worked overtime, taking in scents. At one point, we must have passed a restaurant—the air became warm, heavy with the odors of spices, vegetables, and cooking meat. It tickled my nose, then my stomach. We continued on and the smell faded.

Finally, we turned down a small, quiet street and stopped before a door—the back of a shop, maybe. A handwritten sign, laminated and taped to the door, announced the name of a shop and its hours in both English and Chinese: Great Wall Video. This wasn’t what I was expecting of Anastasia’s secret contact. We should have been meeting someplace truly clandestine and mysterious. Gambling parlor, opium den …

Anastasia knocked, and a moment later a young woman opened the door. She was in her midtwenties, Asian features, dark eyes, pink plastic-rimmed glasses. Her short dark hair was dyed in magenta streaks. She wore a black baby-doll T-shirt, faded jeans, and big black shit-kicking boots. Techno music played in the shop behind her. The back room walls were covered with movie posters.

Her arms were braced across the doorway, and she wore a serious frown. “Yeah?”

“May we come in?” Anastasia said in her most suave, amenable voice.

“Why? Who are you?” She glanced over Anastasia’s shoulder to the rest of us, who were watchful and bristling.

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