Authors: Unknown Author
Tags: #Don Bassingthwaite
Sinister revved the motorcycle, cutting across the intersection almost before the last pedestrians had cleared the crosswalk. An angry couple yelled after him.
As it turned out, Riley’s apartment was only a couple of blocks away from Hopeful. Sinister pulled up in front of an old, yellow-brick apartment building on a wide street. The building looked as if it might have been built in the twenties. It was only five stories tall, with wrought-iron balconies facing out onto the street from the front apartments. Gray stone made a decorative pattern on the corners of the building and on the sills of windows that were small by contemporary standards. White-painted pillars stood beside the doors — a touch of ostentation. The building was one of a pair, identical except for thick ivy that climbed the bricks beside Riley’s door. An alley led between them. There was an arch over the mouth of the alley, joining the two buildings with a thin bridge of white stone as ostentatious as the pillars. The carved face of a cherub grinned out of a wreath of laurels at the center of the arch. Once it might have been a landlord’s pride, but decades of harsh weather and encrusted dirt had blurred its features. Instead of being comforting, the angel’s smile looked vaguely disreputable.
“Tango.” Sinister pulled off his helmet. “I want you to know I don’t have any hard feelings about you trying to fight me tonight. I know you’d rather be looking for Riley than stuck here. But the duke is the duke, and I’m a knight of his court. I have a duty to him.” He grinned, the smile stretching across his handsome sidhe face. “We should duel sometime. I bet it would have been a good fight.”
Good until you got hurt,
Tango thought. The sidhe would probably treat any fight as if it were a game. A fight for the fun of fighting. Tango didn’t fight for fun, and she didn’t enjoy the fighting that she was forced into. She had left that behind a long time ago. “Thanks, Sinister.”
“Call me Sin.” Tango raised her eyebrows and he shook his head. “That’s not a come-on. It’s just my name, like Dexter is Dex. Duke Michael is the only one who uses our full names.”
“Hung up on the full formalities, is he?” asked Tango a little bitterly. The anger and violation she had felt in the court were mostly gone, vanished into old pain.
Sin sighed and shifted forward so that Tango could get off the motorcycle. “You’ve heard that a Kithain lord’s domain comes to reflect his personality? It works the other way around, too. A lord reflects his domain. Any Kithain who took over the rulership of Toronto would eventually start to act like Duke Michael does. That’s one of the reasons he’s been duke as long as he has — who would want that kind of personality?”
“So what was Michael like before he became duke? Did he take on Toronto’s personality, or did Toronto take on his?”
“Both. Like attracts like.” Sin put on his helmet again. “Riley’s apartment is 3D. Good luck, Tango.”
He revved the motorcycle and drove off, merging with the traffic that streamed down the street.
“Thanks a lot,” Tango muttered to herself. She turned to the door of the building and fumbled with the keys that Epp had given her. The boggan had slid them off a ring so full of keys that she probably could have unlocked half the doors in the city. One key was for the front door, she had told Tango, two others were for locks on Riley’s apartment. A fourth was for the cabinet where he was supposed to be keeping the papers and files related to Highsummer Night. From the way Epp had rolled her eyes, Tango guessed that there must have been more than a little antagonism between the pooka and the boggan.
The cabinet key was clearly smaller than the lock on the front door, but she had to try all three of the other keys before getting the right one. Inside, the apartment building looked just as old as it had from outside. Cooking odors — curry, garlic, cabbage, beans
— drifted out of apartments. As she climbed the stairs up to the third floor, she also caught the sounds of a saxophone and a violin, each playing radically different melodies. The scent of oil paints from apartment 3C teased her nostrils. Tango remembered what Riley had said about the artists and musicians in his building; if she had worked a kenning, she probably could have felt the faint Glamour that their dreams and acts of creation generated. She unlocked Riley’s door and opened it.
Light spilled from the hallway into an apartment that had been ransacked.
“Oh, shit,” breathed Tango. Without taking her eyes from the narrow path of illumination that spread out from the door, she felt along the wall for a light switch. She found one and flicked it on. The disaster in the apartment made her wish she hadn’t. Books and papers were everywhere. Everything was out of order. Through a door, she could see Riley’s bedroom. The sheets had been pulled off the bed and clothing was exploding out of half-opened drawers. Odds and ends of clothing were strewn throughout the living room as well. “Oh shit, Riley. What have you gotten yourself...”
“Don’t worry.” Epp swept into the apartment and closed the door behind her. “It always looks like this.” Almost compulsively, she began to tidy up, sorting through papers and stacking books.
Tango took another look at the apartment. Epp was right. This wasn’t the mess of a ransacking. The bed was simply unmade. Books had been dropped in piles, papers in disheveled heaps. There were dirty dishes scattered around, one with a dried-up piece of pizza on it. Souvenirs and knickknacks were placed in the oddest places, but they were upright. The clothing strewn around the living room lay not so much as if it had been thrown about, but simply as if someone had walked around the room, undressing as they went, leaving clothing where it fell. Epp uncovered a glossy magazine with its centerfold flopping out, and flushed. A newspaper settled back over the offending photograph. Epp moved on.
“I told him a hundred times that if I had the chance, I was going to clean this place from top to bottom.” The boggan looked around and wiped the back of her hand across her forehead. “I may need a backhoe.” Tango glared at her.
“Why did you suggest to the duke that I could organize the Highsummer party?” she demanded. “I have to get back to San Francisco and look for Riley!” Epp paused. “That’s what I came here to talk to you about. You don’t have to worry about the party — I’ll take care of it. In fact, I insist.”
Tango stared at the fat Kithain in disbelief. “You
to organize the party? Why did you have to bring my name up in front of the duke, then?”
“You heard him yourself.” Epp picked up a desk calendar and returned it to a clear space on top of a table, flipping it open to the correct date. “He wouldn’t accept me organizing the party directly. So I have to do it through a Jester. Except even the duke’s Jesters have ideas about what should happen at the party, so I have to obey them.” She drew a deep, satisfied breath. “But after twenty years, I finally get the chance to do Highsummer my way!” She glanced around the room. “At least I won’t have to try and sort out Riley’s halfbaked plans.”
A horrible thought struck Tango and her hand clenched around her ring. “Did you have something to do with Riley disappearing?”
Epp looked shocked. “Oh, no. But when opportunity presents itself, you have to seize it.”
“Am I glad to hear you say that.” Tango shoved aside some paperback novels and sat down wearily on the couch. “You go ahead and run the party. I couldn’t care less about it. First thing tomorrow, I’m catching a flight back to San Francisco.”
“No! You can’t!” Tango looked up at her sharply. The boggan was still standing where she had been a moment ago. Her fingers were worrying at a bit of frayed, knotted ribbon as if it were a security blanket. There was desperation on her face. “You have to stay here. If you leave...” Epp swallowed hard. Tango hoped that she wasn’t going to start crying. Boggans did that too easily sometimes. “The Jester has to be the one to organize the party, at least in name. If the Jester is in San Francisco, how can she be organizing the party?” Tango was shocked at the other woman’s cruel ambition. “Epp, I have to find Riley! Screw the duke and what he wants. He gets his party, isn’t that
“He’d find out,” Epp replied agitatedly. “You have to stay, Tango.”
“Like hell I do.”
The boggan’s dour mouth crooked savagely. “I was hoping I wouldn’t have to do this, but if you won’t stay on your own accord....” She loosened the knot in her worry ribbon. “I put a
on you, Tango. You shall not leave the bounds of Toronto until the sun rises after Highsummer Night!”
Glamour crackled through the air like lightning just about to strike. Tango started upright, then lunged for the boggan. “No!” This was no idle threat! A
was the strongest of Kithain curses. Tango snatched at the ribbon, but it was too late. The magic had been released. Tango was left holding an old silk ribbon that fell to shreds in her hands. She stared at Epp. “You...” The gray-haired Kithain faced her calmly. “That ribbon was in my family for a hundred years. Once there were four
tied up in it. Riley stole the second-to-last for some ridiculous reason.” She straightened up fiercely. “I was willing to sacrifice the ribbon to keep my chance at Highsummer. I think even you should be able to recognize how serious that means I am.”
Tango snarled and wrenched at the remains of the ribbon. The ancient fabric parted with barely a whisper. “Damn you.” She flung the broken ribbon to the floor and stalked after Epp. Epp backed up a step, but maintained her calm voice. As if she were talking to a child. “What are you going to do, Tango? Harm me, and the duke will be very angry with you. The
will still keep you in Toronto, and the duke will hunt you down.”
“Then I’ll take you to the duke right now!” Tango growled. “You can’t do this to me.”
“If you go to the duke, you’ll have to tell him that you were planning to leave Toronto and look for Riley. That won’t make him happy. You’ll be confessing to disobeying him.” Epp smiled. “I might even be rewarded for reminding you of your duty to the court.”
Tango’s anger hissed between her teeth. “That duty was forced on me.”
“That wouldn’t matter to the duke, Don’t think anyone else will help you either. They won’t risk offending him. Duke Michael takes the punishments he hands down very seriously.”
“Get out.” Tango grabbed Epp, spinning her around and twisting her arms up behind her back until the other woman squealed. “I don’t want to see you again. You’ve got your damned party. Now get the hell out and leave me alone!” Epp’s notebook was sitting on the table. Tango snatched it up as she marched Epp to the door, pulled the door open and literally threw Epp out of the apartment. The old Kithain stumbled into the wall of the corridor outside with an audible thud. Tango hurled the boggan’s notebook after her. Loose papers settled around Epp like falling snow. Red with outrage, she turned on Tango. ■
The nocker slammed the door in Epp’s face and locked it. The action gave her some satisfaction, but not enough. Part of her screamed for revenge. For a moment Tango was tempted to open the door again, just long enough to give Epp the beating she deserved. She stopped herself, though, and took a deep breath. Slapping Epp around wasn’t going to help. It wouldn’t make her feel any better, and it wasn’t going to change anything. Wearily, Tango put her back to the door and slid slowly down to the floor. She could hear the soft rustle and mutter from the corridor as Epp picked up her notebook and papers and left. Tango crossed her arms on her knees, put her head down, and sighed.
Trapped in Toronto. Riley was missing, and there was nothing —
— she could do to look for him! She wished that this were just one of Riley’s pranks, that he would pop from somewhere, laughing like a fox. She wished that she hadn’t listened to a word he had said in Pan’s. Now she remembered why she had avoided Kithain society for the last fifteen years!
For just a moment, her anger surged as it hadn’t in a decade and a half. Murderously mad with fury, Tango grabbed the nearest solid object, a book of erotic short stories, and hurled it angrily across the room.
The book struck a cushion sitting on an endtable beside the couch, sending it toppling to the floor. With it went a glass, a T-shirt, a pair of underwear and, almost, a streamlined black box with a flashing red light. The box skittered to the edge of the table, dragged along by the underwear tangled in its cord, then stopped just before it would have gone over.
Riley’s answering machine, buried in the clutter.
Tango stared at the flashing light as she reined in her temper. Two blinks. Two messages. Then, idly, she got up, righted the machine, and hit the playback button. Obediently, the machine rewound its miniature tape, clicked, clicked again, and began to play.
“Mr. Stanton, this is the Lost and Found at Pearson International Airport, Terminal Two. We’re holding your bags from Air Canada flight 2800 from San Francisco. Thank you for tagging your luggage. You can pick your bags up during our normal daily office hours, six o’clock A.M, to midnight. If you require any help, our phone number is...”
Tango missed the number, but she could always replay the message. The airline had Riley’s bags? But that meant that he had checked them. And he couid only have done that if he’d had a ticket — which Epp had confirmed, but the airline itself had denied on the night of the flight. Had Riley disappeared in the middle of the airport itself?
went the answering machine.
The voice caught her attention because of its softness. Whoever had left the message had been whispering into the telephone. The voice was vaguely familiar. It was a feminine voice, juvenile, and very, very frightened. “Epp, I know you’re going to get this eventually. I just hope it’s not too late. This is the only number I can think of right now.” The voice paused again. Tango could hear other voices in the background, muffled and indistinct. “There’s a secret compartment under the bottom shelf of the party cabinet. Inside is a yellow file. Take it to the duke. Make sure he reads the papers inside it.”