Read an ExcerptREASON TO BELIEVE
By JESSICA INCLÁN
ZEBRA BOOKS Copyright © 2006 Jessica Inclán Barksdale
All right reserved.
Chapter One By nightfall, the man was still slumped on the corner stoop, bent over, his head sunk in his hands, his elbows dug hard into his knees. Every so often, he would look up, gaze around him blankly, and then put his head back in his hands, his dark hair in long, loose strands. Even from her flat window, Fabia Fair could feel the dark blue of the sad air around him.
She had first seen him in the morning when she walked to the corner of Thistle and Hanover, desperate for her first cup of hot, black coffee, barely taking the time to brush her long blond hair into a thick ponytail before running out of her flat. She'd assumed he was a drunk on a bender, sitting it off on Mrs. Macatee's immaculate front step. He didn't know how lucky it was that the carnaptious Mrs. Macatee was in Bents in West Lothian visiting her sister Drusilla for a week. He'd have had a broom to his back end by now, Mrs. Macatee screeching, "Blootered, are ye? A fine thing. A drunk on the steps in the morning? I hae it in me mind to call the authorities."
As Fabia had passed him-having to whisk by his knees because of the tiny sidewalk-she'd quickly noted his long hair, matted and wet from the heavy morning condensation, and his strong, slender hands, the fingernails rimmed with dark moons of dirt. Fabia had put out a tiny feeler from her mind to see if he was awake, but his thoughts were shut down, closed, dark as pitch.
She'd almost stopped, unused to Moyenne protecting their thoughts. Most ordinary people's minds were completely open, thinking in one long, constant stream from morning till bedtime. They hadn't learned to find the silence inside them. "Sixty thousand thoughts a day," Adalbert Baird, the Croyant armiger, told her when she was a girl. "A full sixty thousand thoughts a day. If you listened to one person for even an hour, you'd go daft! You have to pick and choose what to listen to."
So it was odd to find a Moyenne so still in mind, but-needing her coffee and already late for the clinic she worked at-Fabia made the decision to leave him alone. If he had enough presence of mind to block someone reading his thoughts, he'd know when someone was trying to look in. And Fabia didn't want to call attention to herself. Not now, when she was so close to finding Caderyn Macara, who was only one thought away from her grasp.
Five years ago, Macara was the leader of Le Société Pour Intégration des Tous, the same group that Fabia's twin brother, Niall, worked for now. Macara had been the major proponent of developing ties between the magical Croyant world and the ordinary world of the Moyenne. He believed that if the magic and the real were brought together, the world would be that much richer, better for everyone. Together they could heal the environment, end violent conflict, unite humanity in one peacefully coexisting tribe. He was eloquent, impassioned, his red hair waving behind him as he spoke, his face bright, his eyes full of fire.
"Integrate. Share. Bring the cultures together," he'd said and written, publishing article after article in the Informations du Croyant Matin. He was a featured speaker at council meetings and festivals that celebrated Moyenne life. Conservative Croyant hated him, leveling him in editorials in the Sommaire, castigating him as a hater of Croyant culture in Croyant Tous Les Jours. When Macara brought groups together to rally for Moyenne safety, he was bombarded with illegal spells that took him weeks to recover from. How Fabia had cried when she read about the spells, his twisted limbs, his memory emptied time and time again, the many times he'd lost his vision, his voice, his ability to talk.
But no matter the spell or the length of his recuperation, he had always come back to fight once again for what he believed in.
Cadeyrn Macara had once been Fabia's hero.
But suddenly, he disappeared. No articles. No rallies. No pleas to the Croyant Council. There were rumors of burnout, of some conservative Croyant mischief or another.
"What else but a woman?" Niall had said, while Fabia pined.
But then Moyenne began losing their property, their money, their lives in ways that would suggest that whoever was committing the crimes knew the Moyenne better than most Croyant ever would. All evidence led to Macara. Who else understood Moyenne life so well? And as the problems escalated, the Croyant Council knew that there was another force involved, another sorcier. Quain Dalzeil, the man who wanted to change the Croyant world, the whole world, everything.
Finally at one crime scene, Croyant officials momentarily caught Macara, had him for seconds, before he whiffed away in a flare of blue smoke, taken to safety by Quain,
From that point on, feeling betrayed and confused, Fabia knew what she wanted to do with her life, becoming a chasseur, a searcher, as soon as she'd graduated from Bampton Academy.
Now she needed to stay open, mindful, alert, ready for the thought that would lead her to him and then to Quain, the man who'd challenged the magical world Les Croyants de Trois and wanted to destroy all Moyenne.
So rather than irritate or alert the drunken man on the corner stoop with her thoughts this morning, she'd walked by him, and within minutes, her steaming cup of coffee in her hands, had forgotten him.
But now it was night and cold, desperately so, the short Edinburgh summer turning into winter without bothering with autumn at all. From the window, Fabia saw that the man hadn't moved an inch, though he no longer held his head in his hands. Instead, he seemed to be looking forward, his head unmoving, his body still. He hadn't been wearing a coat-she'd noticed that this morning-and now it must be less than eight degrees outside, the sky full of wet chill.
Fabia turned away from the window, her hand absently on her cheek, her teeth biting softly on her bottom lip. Maybe she should call the authorities, just as Mrs. Macatee would have. At least, then the man would be warm and someone would feed him, even if it was powdered eggs and white bread toast. If he was a drunk, he could go through the DTs in a cell rather than on the street below as the night turned slick with frigid ocean air.
Then Fabia shook her head. Why was she worrying about one stray man? There were homeless everywhere, it seemed, men, women, and children huddled in dirty blankets, dressed only in dirty clothes, sleeping roughly, pressed tightly against walls to encourage some warmth. At the Care Now clinic Fabia volunteered at three times a week, she met all the homeless, gave them vouchers for meals and baths, rang the Housing Services Programme to see if rooms were available for the night. Only after they were tended to did she read their thoughts for stray, useful comments about Quain or Macara they might have picked up on the street unintentionally.
She pushed back the curtain again. The man sat still, unmoving, a dark stone in the fading light, a statue of sadness and despair. His bones must be frozen solid, she thought, almost feeling the ache from his long chilled legs. Cautiously, she put out another feeler, and his mind was still shut to her, like an iron wall against invaders.
"Shit." Fabia turned from the window and grabbed her gloves, putting on her coat, pulling on her hat, and picking up her keys. It's not like I'm good at saving anyone anyway, she thought to herself.
Aye, you are, came the answer from Niall, who lived in Paris and had a habit of casting his mind out at night to see what she was doing.
Maybe I could save you, Niall, she thought back. But you're my baby brother. Not a strange man on the sidewalk.
Baby brother! By two minutes!
Fabia laughed. That counts. And you know it, so let's not get in a row about it again. I need to help this man.
Don't get crabbit with me, lassie.
I'm not crabbit. You're just driving me crazy, as usual. I'm going to help him whether you like it or not.
Niall sighed so loudly she could hear it from Paris. Well, you know you won't sleep a minute now that you've got him in your sights. You can't hear his thoughts?
No, Fabia thought, sighing. He's closed down.
Well, go talk to him, at least.
Fine, she thought back. And then I'll call you here to help me.
I never need an excuse to visit. But I'm watching that daft Survivor show on the telly. If you need me, wait an hour.
Fabia cut off the communication and opened her door, quickly running down the hall and stairs and then pushing out onto the street. The temperature had dropped even more than the report had predicted; Fabia's cheeks flushed from the slick slap of cold air. Rubbing her gloved hands together, she walked toward the man, slowing as she neared him.
"Hello," she said softly, blinking against the streetlight.
He stared at her-no, past her-his face expressionless. His face was smudged with dirt, a deep, dark red scratch running from temple to jaw, one eye blackened. Blood swelled the skin under his eye and hung in a painful purple moon over his cheek. As Fabia moved closer, she realized that his hair wasn't so much matted from the wet, dank air as from dried blood. There was a clear, perfect circle of reddish, broken skin around his neck, and she noticed now that the dirt she'd seen under his nails this morning was actually blood.
Whatever had happened, he'd fought back. Whoever he'd fought with probably looked as bad as he.
"Are you all right?"
The man turned to her, tried to look up, and then took a deep breath, his mouth trying to move. He was trembling, his arms tight against his body now, his black eyes filled with fog and sadness. Again, she tried to reach for his mind, but the iron wall was still there, planted solidly.
What do you think? Fabia asked Niall without even meaning to.
All that blood, Niall thought. Maybe it's not his. Moyenne are messy murderers.
He hardly looks capable of a right killing, Fabia thought.
True. He didn't do his level best, there. So he might be on the lam. Injured from the barbed wire he crawled under, Niall thought. Just call the police.
Fabia stared at the man, ignoring Niall for a moment. Maybe she couldn't read the man's mind, but there was something about him. Something kind even in his quiet, painful desperation.
Bloody bleeding heart, Niall thought. But just be ready to escape. Be prepared to step into the gray, okay? Hop back to your flat.
Yes, sir, Fabia thought, shaking her head. But Niall was right. It was easier to extend this kindness knowing that if the man grew strange or crazy or even dangerous, she could disappear in an instant, traveling through matter to the police station where she could report the crime she'd just escaped. The Moyenne she worked with at the clinic were always amazed that Fabia would go to flophouses and tenements and dark alleys looking for clients. What she couldn't tell them was that she was protecting them by doing so, keeping them away from danger from which they might not be able to escape.
Fabia bent down, trying to attract his gaze. But he wouldn't look at her, and she could feel the tension radiating from inside him.
"Hi, there," she said. "My name's Fabia Fair. I live at the flat just down a bit."
He didn't move his eyes, but he blinked, once, twice.
"Would you like to come with me?" Fabia said, crouching down farther and looking into the man's desperate, searching eyes. "How about a wee bit to eat?"
He licked his lips, breathing in, scanning the ground as if he'd dropped some change. Not drunk, Fabia thought. Schizophrenic.
Perfect, Niall thought. Go from Cadeyrn to just another crazy. Get yourself into another fankle.
Haver on, man! Would you mind affording me some space here? she thought back. Go watch your bleeding telly.
Fabia closed her mind to her brother and moved closer to the man. He was shaking, his knees hitting together. Again, he moved his mouth, but then shook his head, tears streaming from the corners of his eyes.
Fabia watched him, trying everything she knew to get inside his mind, but there was no opening, as if the block was put there on purpose. And not by the man, who clearly was in no shape to create or even maintain a block, even if he were Croyant, magic, like her. And there was something about him, even with his quaking gaze and his long, thin, dirty body. Fabia couldn't read his mind, but she could feel ... kindness.
"All right," Fabia said. "That's it. Please, come with me."
She stood up straight and held out her hand. The man breathed in, looking at her hand and then her face, her hand, her face, and then slowly, he lifted his dirty palm from his knee, studying his movements with surprise as if he'd never moved before. His fingers quivered, shook, and Fabia took them in her small gloved hand, feeling how cold he was even through the leather and wool.
Shit, she thought to herself, hating how Moyenne treated their castaways, knowing that in her world, the world of Les Croyants des Trois, this man would have food and a bath and a bed, no matter what was wrong with him. Adalbert Baird made sure of that, finding places for the damaged and weak-the only people who escaped his care were the ones who disdained it. Like Caderyn Macara. Like Quain Dalzeil. And what will happen if Quain wins? she thought.
We'll end up like this poor sod, Niall thought.
Shut it, Fabia thought and clutched the man's hand more tightly.
"Come on," she said. "Don't be scared."
But the man was scared. More than scared. She felt his fear in the energy coming off his body, in the sizzling whites of his distracted eyes, in his stiff, hesitant walk. Who had done this to him? What had happened?
"It's all right," Fabia said, her hand holding his as they walked slowly to the door of her building. "You'll be fine."
He turned to look at her, his black eyes so dark she couldn't see the irises. His forehead was creased with worry, his face gray with cold and hunger and fear. Despite the filth on his clothing, the blood on his head and body, and his clearly distressed mind, Fabia wanted to stop, pull him to her, and comfort him.
For the love of God, Niall thought. Soup is the better answer. Some hot water, soap maybe. But keep your flipping arms away from him.
Fabia shook her head, keeping her face free of the annoyance she felt. Because they were twins, Niall had always known how to break through her blocks. His interruptions hadn't seemed bad when they were children, but as they grew older and there were things-and situations-Fabia would have liked to keep secret, Niall managed to find his way in and vice versa, if she were being honest. But neither of them seemed to know the way to cut it off, to separate from each other as they hadn't at birth.
Finally, they'd made a pact to tell each other when to turn off and back on the telepathy, though Niall was the only one with hours shut off and away from her lately. Nothing much had happened to her that was worth hiding.
Like that night with that nutter Timo, Niall thought. Or that full-of-himself, so-called boyfriend Fletcher?
Niall! Let's please not go there. Do you want me to bring up that date last week with what's-her-name? Stop gowking and go back to the show.
Fine, I'm leaving. But I'm checking in later.
When Fabia and the man reached her door, she let go of his hand to dig for her keys in her pocket.
"Here they are." She held up the keys-the metal clacking and jingling-turned to look at him, and gasped. Inching away slightly, he breathed fast, his chest moving up and down, his face even paler than it had been moments before, his entire body jolting with fear.
As she looked at him, Fabia knew without finding a way into his mind that he wasn't mad. He wasn't schizophrenic. But someone had hurt him-tortured him-to the point of madness. Someone had done something to this strong, solid, six-foot-three man and broken worse than bones.
"Come on," she said. "Let's go inside."
The man breathed in, his breath a rough, aching sound Fabia could hear, hard, and heavy, and full of anxiety. She reached down and took his hand again, squeezing the long, frozen fingers.
"You'll be all right," she said. "No one will hurt you now. I promise."
The man blinked, his mouth working again with words impossible for him to say. Then he gave her a quick nod and followed her into the building and up the stairs to her flat.
Excerpted from REASON TO BELIEVE by JESSICA INCLÁN Copyright © 2006 by Jessica Inclán Barksdale. Excerpted by permission.
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