I handed the Awaken the Celt to Julie. Of the four, it was by far the easiest to read and it had pretty pictures. I grabbed Myths and Legends myself, hoping Esmeralda underlined the important passages. I turned to the index and came to a page with three bloody fingerprints in the middle of the M's. Esmeralda had dipped her hands into the chicken blood and didn't wash them before reading the books. Did she feel anointed? I studied the lines by the prints: Mongan, Mongfind, Morc, Morrigan...Oh shit. I flipped the volume to articles starting with M. Please don't be Morrigan, please don't be Morrigan...A big fat bloody fingerprint on the two-page spread on Morrigan.
I felt like throwing the book against the wall. Found a good goddess to worship. "Bestoloch."
"What does that mean?" Julie asked.
"It means 'imbecile' in Russian. Looks like your mom's coven worshipped Morrigan. She isn't a nice goddess."
She thrust her book in front of me. "What's wrong with him?"
On the page, a giant of a man swung a huge sword. Gross bulges broke all over his body, the monstrous muscles swelling above one shoulder, threatening to envelop his head. His knees and feet twisted backward, his colossal arms could've brushed the ground, his mouth gaped open, and his left eye thrust out of its orbit. A glow, indicated with short strokes of the ink pen, radiated from his head.
"That's Cu Chulainn. He was the greatest hero of ancient Ireland. When he got really mad during battle, he went into frenzy and turned into that thing. It's called warp spasm."
"Why is his head shining?"
"Apparently he got very hot during the spasm and after the battle people had to dump water on him to cool him down. In one story he jumped into the cauldron filled with water and the cauldron broke..."
I stared at the cauldron in the middle of the room.
Julie tugged on my sleeve. "What?"
"Hold on a minute." I approached the cauldron and took the iron handles.
"Too heavy," Julie said.
I grunted, picked it up, and moved it aside. The lid shifted a little, spilling the rancid broth, thankfully not on me.
Under the cauldron lay a small pit. Narrow, barely large enough to permit passage to a small animal, maybe a dog the size of a beagle. The edges were smooth, the circumference perfectly round, as if sculpted with a knife. I looked into it and saw darkness. The odor of earth and the cloying stench of decay rose from the gloom.
Julie pried a clod of dirt from the ground and headed for the pit. I caught her.
"But I want to know how deep it is."
"No, you don't."
She dropped the clod with a sneer. I obviously plummeted a few notches on her cool people meter.
Three small impressions marked the sides of the pit forming an equilateral triangle - the tracks from the cauldron's three legs. Just like the tracks at the coven's meeting place. The big pit in the Gap was missing a cauldron. And a huge one at that.
BRYCE AND CO. HAD DECIDED AGAINST THE REMATCH, and we left the Honeycomb unmolested, carrying Esmeralda's books. Custer had wisely chosen to make himself scarce. From Trailer twenty-three to the chain link gates, we didn't see another living thing.
It took a good hour to cut around the Honeycomb through the Warren to where Ninny still patiently waited for me by a pile of mule poop. I loaded Julie onto the molly. White Street was only fifteen minutes away, but she looked tuckered out.
"Where are we going?" she asked.
"Home. What's your address?"
Julie clamped her lips shut and stared at the front of Ninny's saddle.
"There is nobody there," she said. "Mom's gone. She's all I have."
Oh boy. Could I turn a momless, hungry, tired, filthy kid loose on a street with night approaching? Let me think..."We'll swing by your house and see if your mom made it home. If not, you can bed with me tonight."
Mom wasn't there. They had a tiny house, tucked in a corner of a shallow subdivision branching from White Street. The home was old, but very clean, all except the kitchen sink full of dirty plates. Originally it must've been a two bedroom, but somebody, probably Julie's mom, had built a wooden partition, sectioning off a part of the living room to make a tiny third room. In that room sat an old sewing machine, a couple of filing cabinets, and a small table. On the table rested a half-finished dress, light blue, in Julie's size. I touched the dress gently. Whatever faults Julie's mother may have had, she loved her daughter very much.
Julie brought her picture from their bedroom: a tired woman with loose blond hair looked back at me from the photo with brown eyes, just like her daughter's. Her face was pale. She looked sickly, exhausted, and a decade older than thirty-five.
I made Julie help me with the dishes. Under the plates I found a bottle of Wild Irish Rose. White label. It stank like rubbing alcohol. It was also famous for sending the drinker into wild rages.
"Does your mom ever scream at you or hit you when she drinks?"
Julie stared at me in outrage. "My mom is nice!"
I threw the bottle away.
Two hours later we dropped Ninny off at the Order's stable. The magic, after holding off for a good few hours, resumed hammering Atlanta in short bursts. The afternoon bled into the evening. I was tired and hungry. We headed north through the tangle of streets, to the small apartment that used to belong to Greg and was now my home when I stayed in the city.
I CLIMBED THE NARROW STAIRWELL TO THE THIRD floor, Julie in tow. The magic happened to be up, and the ward clutched my hand as I touched the door and opened it in a flash of blue. I let Julie into the apartment, bolted the door shut behind us, and pulled off my shoes.
Julie wandered past me. "This is nice. And there are bars on the windows."
"Keeps the bad guys out." The lack of sleep finally caught up to me. I was so freaking tired. Worn out. "Take your shoes off."
She did. I rummaged through the closet and came up with an old box of my clothes Greg had kept since the time I had stayed with him after my father died. Fifteen-year-old me was a lot bigger than thirteen-year-old Julie, but the clothes would have to do.
I tossed the sweatpants and a T-shirt at her. "Shower."
"I don't do showers."
"Do you do food? No shower, no food."
She stuck out her lower lip. "You suck, you know that?"
I crossed my arms on my chest. "My house, my rules. You don't like it, the door's over there."
"Fine!" She headed for the door.
Good riddance. I clamped my teeth, hoping I didn't say it out loud, and went into the kitchen. I washed my hands with soap at the sink and searched the fridge for vittles. The only thing I had was a big bowl of cold low country boil. Me, I'd eat it cold: corn on the cob and shrimp were good cold anyway, and I was hungry enough to stomach the cold potatoes and sausage. Julie, on the other hand, might want it warm, preferably with butter.