Kitty's Big Trouble Page 20

“At least we probably won’t get attacked by mercenary werewolves here,” Ben said.

Grace looked at us. “She wasn’t kidding. There really is someone after the pearl.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Night’s not getting any younger,” Cormac said, and walked through the doorway.

The rest of us finally followed, and Grace closed the door behind us. On the back side of the door hung a length of paper showing several Chinese characters painted in broad ink strokes.

“What’s it say?” I asked.

“It’s a blessing,” Grace said. “To protect whoever passes through the doorway.”

“‘Abandon every hope, ye that enter…’” Ben murmured. I elbowed him.

I couldn’t see much, even with a werewolf’s eyes, so I tried to scent danger. But I didn’t know what I was smelling for. The air here didn’t smell exactly wrong. But it didn’t smell quite right. Decades of incense saturated the brick walls. The place was still, but it didn’t seem empty.

A set of wooden stairs, worn shiny by years of traffic, led down. Anastasia waited about ten steps along.

“You decided to join me?” she said. Her face emerged, illuminated by Grace’s candle, pale and shadowed.

“We have to keep moving,” Grace said. “Come on.”

“How far is it?” Anastasia said, letting the young woman into the lead.

“It’s still a ways.” Grace went on, holding up her lantern, a sphere of light.

Ben, Cormac, and I, the pack of three, stuck together behind the others. About twenty steps further, the stairs finally reached a packed dirt floor.

Ben said to Cormac in a low voice, “When she said ‘a door to someplace else,’ what exactly did she mean?”

“Like Odysseus Grant’s box,” I said. Odysseus Grant was a Las Vegas stage magician. Except that he was also really a magician, and he had a box of vanishing that was actually a doorway. I’d caught a glimpse of where it led to—a dank, musty swamp full of strange smells and things that slithered. I had no interest in exploring that place further.

“That’s what I was afraid of,” Ben muttered.

This wasn’t that place, but the principle seemed the same, which was enough to make me nervous. I felt eyes staring at me, but couldn’t guess from where.

I had to fill the silence. “Grace, these tunnels— I thought they were just an urban legend.”

Ahead, her voice muffled by the brick walls surrounding us, she said, “It’s just that not many people know how to find them.”

We came to an intersection. Grace turned left, and we followed. Then came another set of stairs down, only four steps this time, and another intersection. We turned right. I wondered if I ought to be leaving bread crumbs.

Grace stopped at another wooden doorway, gray and weathered even though by all appearances it had always been indoors. This door had another scroll nailed to it, a yellowed length of paper with more Chinese characters painted in a column. Another blessing for protection? Or a warning? Grace set the lantern on the floor, took another key out of her courier bag, and unlocked the lock.

Pushing the door open, she held the lantern up and looked inside. This room was mostly a closet, too small for us all to crowd in after her. Looking over her shoulder, I saw an old-fashioned iron safe, two feet on each side, with a combination lock and a big steel handle, sitting against the far wall. It seemed awfully mundane after all the talk of magic.

Anastasia was looking over her other shoulder, tapping her hand against her thigh.

Grace put the lantern on the safe and worked the combination. The air was still—nobody even breathed for several heartbeats.

I spun to face a noise—I’d heard something pattering in the darkness, I’d have sworn it. “What was that?”

“Nothing,” Grace said, not looking away from the safe.

“Nothing? Nothing what?”

“Stray spirits. Nothing.”

The safe’s door creaked open.

“Crap,” Grace said, peering into the safe over her glasses.

“What?” Anastasia said. “What is it?”

“It’s not here.”

“What do you mean it’s not here?”

“I mean it’s supposed to be here, and it’s not here.” Grace turned on Anastasia and glared.

“Then where is it?” The vampire’s voice was quiet, cold, and her arms hung loose at her sides, her hands open and ready.

“I don’t know,” Grace said, shrugging wide.

Anastasia closed her eyes and looked up, as if beseeching a higher power. “Then it’s too late,” she whispered.

“Now wait a minute,” I said. “It doesn’t look like the safe was broken into. Can we figure out what happened? Track it somehow? Did anyone else know this was here and know the combination?”

“I didn’t think so,” Grace said. “But I don’t know that for sure. If someone knew what to look for they might have been able to find it.”

“But you know what this is—you ought to be able to track it, right?”

She winced. “I don’t know.”

“Cormac?” I asked.

“I have some tracking spells, but I’m not the one who knows what to look for,” he said, looking down the hallway. He and Ben were keeping watch in both directions.

Ben had been pacing, a few steps in each direction. Then he stopped, his head cocked to listen, his nose flaring to take in scent. He smelled wolfish. I focused on what had caught his attention. A sound echoed ahead, at the end of the corridor and around the next corner. Trying to make the noise out, I crept forward. The sound was uneven, high pitched, alive and upset—

It was a crying baby, sounding neglected at the very least, but more likely it was hurt.

I ran.

“Kitty, wait!” Anastasia and Grace both called. They took off after me.

I charged around the corner. A faint light came through an open doorway. Another small room, lit by an old-fashioned oil lamp sitting on a box in the corner. This might have been a storage closet for yet another shop, this one cluttered with more boxes and shelves, buckets and brooms. I paused at the doorway, letting my nose take in a picture of what lay before me. A spicy, musty scent filled the space; I’d never smelled anything like it. It didn’t smell at all like a baby.

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