I glanced at the clock. Eleven. Felt like 6:00 p.m. "What's Julie's schedule for the rest of the day?"
There was a pause. "Remedial algebra until one, second shift lunch until one thirty, instruction in the remedial arcane until three, social studies until four, and archery until five . .
"Does she take archery with the other children?"
"Yes. It's an outside activity."
If I hurried, I could get there before five. "Could you do me a favor? Please tell Julie at lunch, so the other children will hear, that her aunt is coming to pick her up during archery practice?"
I hung up and saw Jim leaning against the doorframe. "Kid okay?"
"Yeah. I'm leaving to pick her up."
"I'll send someone with you."
"I don't need an escort."
Jim leaned his hands on the table and stared at me. "I assume the worst. If it was me, I'd have a way to track my dead. I'd track them here and watch the house. I'd follow you when you left and hit you when you're at your weakest - when you had the kid with you. You die. Julie dies. Derek dies. I don't tell you how to swing your sword. That's your thing. Security's my thing. Take someone with you."
My side had finally stopped bleeding. The magic of Doolittle's med-spell must've caught up and repaired the damage.
"Kerosene?" I asked.
He reached into the cabinet and handed me a bottle of lighter fluid and a box of matches. I went to the sink, dropped the gauze, sloshed fluid on it, and set it on fire. "Fair enough. Let me take Raphael."
"The bouda?" Jim's face wrinkled in distaste. "You want to bring a bouda into this?"
"None of you can go. In case you missed it, there is a Pack-wide APB out on you and your crew. But Curran would never give an order to apprehend me."
"You seem very sure of that."
I knew the way Curran's mind worked. Having me brought to him would not be as satisfying as catching me himself. He wouldn't give up that chance. Of course, saying that to Jim would lead to explaining the "not only will you sleep with me, but you'll say please before and thank you after" conversation Curran and I had had. And the insane morning antics. And the naked dinner promise. What the hell was I thinking kissing him anyway?
"I'm not under Curran's jurisdiction." I chose my words carefully. Hopefully he'd buy it. "He has no authority. Ordering the Pack to detain me would be sanctioning the kidnapping of a law enforcement official." Which wouldn't stop Curran for a second. "Let me take the bouda."
"What makes you think he won't turn us over to Curran?"
"He's in love with my best friend. I'll ask him to help me pick up Julie and that's all.
Technically, he won't be aware he's helping you and your lot in any way."
Jim shook his head, dialed the number, and handed me the receiver. "You talk to him."
I listened to the ringtone. "Can you have horses waiting for us at the ley point in Macon?
Something flashy that I wouldn't normally ride in a million years?"
Jim gave a fatalistic shrug. "Sure."
"Hello?" Raphael's smooth voice murmured into the phone.
"Raphael? I need a favor."
RAPHAEL WAITED FOR ME BY THE LEY LINE, LEANING against a Jeep. The Jeep had been modified to run on enchanted water and it looked like it had tried to vomit its engine through its hood.
Raphael looked . . . There were no words. I had explained my plan on the phone and he had arrived wearing leather: black, shiny boots up to his knees, black leather pants that showed off his legs, and a black leather cuirass that molded to him like a second skin. A shotgun hung over his shoulder. An oversized sword, three feet long and nearly six inches wide, rested at his waist in a short sheath, completing his ensemble. The sword was too heavy for any normal human and covered with black runes etched into the upper portion of the blade. Coupled with the rich waterfall of Raphael's black hair and his smoky blue eyes, the effect was devastating.
I wasn't sure what I needed more: a cardiac surgeon to restart my heart or a plastic one to reattach my jaw.
Two teamster ladies waited for their shipment on the ley line platform. They watched Raphael and did their best not to drool. As I neared, one of them, a redhead, nudged the other with an elbow, and said, "We're expecting a load of plug nickels from Macon."
Ammo. Bullets were an expensive commodity. Some merchants took slugs in lieu of money; that was how the term "plug nickels" had come about.
Raphael dazzled them with a smile. "Not a highway-man."
"Too bad," the redhead said. "Because you can hold up my shipment anytime."
Raphael bowed. The ladies looked close to fainting.
I marched over and stood next to him before the teamsters threw caution to the wind and jumped him right there on the platform. The redhead eyed me. "Killjoy."
I turned and gave her my hard stare. The teamsters moved to the other end of the platform. I didn't blame them. I was decked out. Unlike Raphael, who was shiny, I had gone for the solid, light-gulping black of treated leather, from the tips of my soft boots to the shoulders hidden by the dramatic cloak I had to borrow from Jim. I looked like a piece of darkness in the shape of a woman. Jim wasn't happy about letting me have the cloak either, but I had no clothes that would adequately serve my plan and no time or place to get them. All of us were living on a timer we'd borrowed from Derek, and his time was running out.
The cloak coupled with a black leather vest made me suitably menacing. All that was missing was a giant neon sign with rotating sparklers proclaiming HARD CASE. LINE TO GET
YOUR ASS KICKED FORMS TO THE RIGHT.
A wide smile stretched Raphael's lips.
"If you laugh, I'll kill you," I told him.
"Why the rifle? Everybody knows you can't shoot."
Who were these everybodies and would they like to stand in front of me, preferably within ten feet, so I could discuss this issue in greater detail? "I can shoot just fine." I just missed eighty percent of the time. With the gun anyway. I did better with a crossbow and even better with the knife. "Do you know the runes on your sword are nonsense?"
"Yes, but they look mysterious."
Before us the ley line shimmered. Some poetic descriptions likened it to the rise of warm air above the heated asphalt. In reality the effect was more pronounced: a short, controlled spasm, as if an invisible vent slid open, belching a distorting blast, and abruptly closed. The ley current was no joke. The magic itself flowed about a foot and a half off the ground. It grabbed you and pulled you with it at speeds ranging from sixty to roughly a hundred miles per hour.