16 August 2010

Glass and Mirrors, Part 2

Link to Part 1 at left.

Kadey Wilson showed up at my house wearing a Superman t-shirt, baggy jeans, and Birkenstocks. She didn't even bother ringing the bell or knocking; one minute I was alone on my couch, the next she was sitting across from me, on the ottoman, grinning like crazy.

"Shut up," I said. "It's not funny." Her smile widened.

"Oh, I think it's funny. It's very funny," Kadey said. She stood up to pull a tiny notebook out of her pocket, and then she plopped back down, handing me the notebook.

It was held closed with a rubber band, and as I pulled it off it snapped against my finger. Kadey sniggered. The notebook fell open and proved itself to be more of a folder than a notebook. It was completely packed with polaroids folded over to fit in the narrow space, and sketches of weird random things, and slips of napkins written on in marker.

"What is this...?" I asked, but then I knew, because I saw Kadey's short, wide writing flowing over the pages of the notebook, and Avel's cramped hand had obviously scrawled on the random scraps thrust in between the pages. And the pictures were of him. I looked at Kadey, bracing myself. "You've been running surveillance? Already?"

"Oulara gave me my envelope two weeks ago."

"Two weeks?"

"Yeah." She shrugged and went to the kitchen. I could hear cabinets open and shut, along with the fridge, and she reappeared with a glass of iced tea, baby carrots, and a handful of dark chocolate chips. "You need more junk food," she said. I laughed.

"You don't," I said. "So...where is he?"

"Downtown, I'm pretty sure. There's been an influx of antique furniture and collectibles," she said. Crack! went a carrot. "But then again, that could be anyone. You're the one who'd know if it was his stuff or not," she added as she looked at me from under her brows. It looked like she was waiting to see if a volcano she was leaning on was active or not.

"Yeah," I said. Avel, like the paper had said, was an illusionist. But he wasn't the hat-n-bunny type; his style dealt in, well, real magic. I guess it sounds kind of weird to say that. When Kadey first heard about him she laughed when I'd described his talents, but after she'd met him the first time she'd given me this wide-eyed "Oh I get it" look. Avel didn't just make things appear that weren't there, he changed things that already were; he pulled ideas and images out of your head and used them for or against you, depending on his mood.

I realized that I'd been zoned out for a couple of minutes, and I looked back up at Kadey. She was finished with the carrots and was popping the chocolate into her mouth, piece by piece. I sighed and looked at my bedroom, where all of my gear was organized in a single row on the bed. If Avel was downtown, he wouldn't be hiding in plain sight. And if he was already forging antiques, his business was booming. We weren't catching him at the beginning of things.

I tossed the notebook in Kadey's lap and went into my room. Kadey stood in my doorway as I geared up. My knives got strapped to my ankles and one wrist, and the other tools of my trade went into my pockets.
I had changed earlier into stretchy jeans and a loose black top, and light leather boots. You never knew when you'd have to jump a fence in pursuit of someone trying to be faster than you. I turned around and reached for a yellow summer scarf.

"You look like Lara Croft on her lunch break," Kadey said. I rolled my eyes.

"You're wearing that?" I asked. She looked down at her shirt, pulling at the hem as though she didn't remember what she was wearing.

"Superman is antique-y," she said. I snorted in a very unlady-like fashion and pushed past her.

"Go time," I said, and tossed her a thin black jacket to put over her shirt. "You better've brought along a change of shoes."


The antique store smelled like home to me. Kadey wrinkled her nose when the door closed behind us, jingling the brass bell suspended from the ceiling. I breathed in and smiled. It smelled like dirt and sunshine and a little bit of dust, and it was all encased in the reverent hush of the library of Alexandria.

I ran my hand along the top of a dresser that was probably two hundred years old, judging by the workmanship on the legs, and smiled as I imagined its life before ending up in the shop. Kadey cleared her throat.

"Should I leave you two alone?" I jumped a little and smiled at her.

"Sorry, no. I'm just remembering," I said. She shrugged. I took a few more steps, looking for signs of Avel's handiwork. Since we'd been so...close, I could almost see the things he'd changed. I stood with my feet shoulder's width apart and half closed my eyes; it wasn't squinting, so my face was completely relaxed. Kadey knew that I wasn't just enjoying the antique store, and she stayed silent, quietly reading the titles of frayed hardbacks on a sticky plastic shelf.

There was something hazy in the back of the room, and I ended up in front of a large glass case about the size of a couple of refrigerators. Once I was in front of the item I pulled my hands out of my pockets and held them at my sides. The air around me was full of electricity and the hair on the back of my neck rose. I grinned triumphantly at the source of the energy, an antique jewelry box inlaid with mother of pearl. Gemstones crusted the filigreed corners, and the whole thing was set up on a little stand so that it was easy to see the top of the lid. Kadey came up behind me and let out a low whistle.

"Shiny," she said. "Is that it?"

"I think so," I said, as I looked around once more. I couldn't see anything else that Avel may have touched. I inspected the box from tiptoe and pursed my lips. "I need to touch it." Kadey nodded and went to get the manager. He opened the glass door with shaking gloved hands and pulled the box reverently out of the case. It clinked against the glass counter he set it on and the old man stood, waiting, as I looked at the box.

I knew that Kadey just had to trust me when I said Avel had made the jewelry box. I'd had the history and the training to recognize the changes. From behind my eyelashes there was a haze around the box. It wasn't colored or anything...it was more like someone had erased the edges of the antique before putting it back into real space.

Avel's signature, a double "A" encircled with a black obsidian ring, was set into the center of the lid. I nodded at Kadey, who suddenly reached out, touched the old manager's arm, and asked him a question about a painting hanging behind us. My hand was already halfway to the box; I brushed my fingertip over Avel's mark.

It flared a hazy gray before the box itself flickered, like it wasn't really there. Under the illusion I saw a little girl's jewelry box covered with pink crowns. And then the gorgeous antique version was back, and I dropped my hand. Well, at least I knew that Avel was still a very talented forger. The poor manager, who was also the owner and an antique dealer of several decades, couldn't have known what he was buying.

The brass bell up front jangled and the manager jumped to put away the box. Before I could say anything it was behind glass and Kadey and I were alone in the back of the room. I heard a man's voice call for the manager, and I looked at Kadey. Her eyes were wide, staring at something past me. I turned. It was a mirror, leaned up on top of a dresser, and it reflected the front of the store. Someone tall with dark hair was speaking to the manager in excited tones. I recognized those tones. My heart was pounding in my ears, in my fingers, everywhere. I almost couldn't concentrate.

I walked as calmly as I could around the corner, leaving Kadey a few paces behind me. I tossed my hair and took a breath, and smiled.

"Hello, Avel," I said. Ambreel Avel Tucker's head shot up in a dictionary-perfect picture of shock. His eyes found me quickly and I could almost hear him mentally cursing himself for showing up for a sale without a disguise. He was leaning on the front counter, in his everyday outfit of jeans and a snazzy navy blue shirt. He was wearing loafers.

"Meli," he said, nodding. "How are you?"

"I'm great," I said, still walking towards him. He watched me carefully, probably trying to figure out if I was there for him, or to browse. "How are you?" Avel looked me up and down,
especially taking in the shoes I was wearing. He stopped leaning on the counter.

"Fine," he said. I smiled again, bigger this time.

And then he was gone. Poof.

"Sh*$!" yelled Kadey. "Where'd he go?"

"He's still here," I said calmly. "Stop shouting." I threw my arms out in front of me. He was an illusionist, not a magician. He would still have to use the door. I just had to grab him before he got there. "Door!" Kadey jumped in front of it and held her arms akimbo. The poor manager was staring at us with eyes so huge I just knew he was going to have a heart attack if we didn't get out of there soon.

Five minutes passed, and then Kadey dropped her arms while I was looking the other way. I would have yelled at her, but I didn't see it. Avel took his opportunity immediately, pulling himself out of his illusion and practically diving into the door. Jinga-jingle! went the brass bell. Kadey looked sheepish for about a second, and then I sprinted past her into the warm evening air.

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