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I woke in a coffin and knew the rat had died. I’m not normally claustrophobic, but for a moment I hyperventilated and lay there, sweating and quietly freaking out, while wishing I were just in a low-budget horror film rather than in the cargo hold of a transatlantic jet, resting in a cleverly ventilated box with a label on the outside in six languages that read CAUTION: HUMAN REMAINS.HANDLE WITH CARE.
I had no way to know how long I’d been in the box, but I thought it couldn’t have been more than a day since I’d received a code-phrase message from my boyfriend, Quinton, summoning me to Europe. There’d been very little information except that he needed me in Lisbon as soon as possible and I was to come without leaving any sign that I was gone or alerting anyone keeping tabs on me that I was exiting the country. I knew from discussions starting a year earlier that it had to appear that I was still in my usual place for as long as possible. Whatever it was Quinton wanted, it involved his father, James McHenry Purlis—spy, manipulator, and all-around villain.
Since I was in a bind, I’d turned to the local vampires for help. They seemed to get around without much harassment from TSA or border patrols, and they owed me a few favors. And there was the matter of Carlos, both vampire and necromancer, who had a personal interest in breaking down Purlis and his mysterious project. If anyone was capable of making me disappear without a trace and reappear elsewhere, it would be him. I’d left messages for him explaining the situation, made discreet arrangements on my own end, and had agreed to meet him. . . .
The location in question was a funeral home. As I walked in through the doors labeled with a tasteful sign—BARRON VIEWING, 7–9 P.M.—it occurred to me that I’d come to trust Seattle’s vampires. It had been a slow change and an uncomfortable one, but when I was in a corner, it was most often Cameron and Carlos to whom I turned for help now—a far cry from the relationship I’d had with them when I’d first fallen into the Grey. The situation had changed a lot since I’d met my first vampire, but more than that, I had changed. I wasn’t the frightened and defensive loner I had been.
I passed the immaculately dressed funeral director, who stood near an interior door and gave me an inquiring look. I shook my head and murmured, “I have an appointment with Silverstein.” He nodded and pointed toward a curtained doorway at the end of the hall. As I passed the open doorway he guarded, I saw that the viewing room was empty. A sad state of affairs for a funeral director: all dressed in black and no one to console.
I gave him a small smile. “I’m sure someone will come soon.”
“I doubt it,” he replied in a professional, funereal hush. “The man was a child molester. Someone shot him . . . in an appropriate location. I won’t mind if no one comes.”
I blinked and nodded. “Oh. No. That’s fair, I suppose.”
He offered me a thin smile. “Thank you.” He folded his hands in front of his belt and returned to waiting for no one.
I went to the curtained door and opened it to discover a stair landing and a flight of steps leading down. The walls were a sterile, glossy white that reflected the light from the fixtures on the walls as well as from the room below. I’d been in mortuaries before and the chill and odor told me I was walking down to the prep room—where the dead were made presentable for their grieving families and friends. I was more sure than ever that I wasn’t going to like Carlos’s transportation methods.
Carlos stood between the embalming tables. A plump, older woman in a black suit stood several feet away, near a cabinet. The woman somehow seemed to fade into the background even in the glare of the lights, but Carlos was indelible. I’d never seen him in a room so well lit. The work lights shining off the high-gloss white walls and poured-cement floor cast illumination into every corner and crevice of the room and every crag of his face. His hair and beard looked blacker than ever as the light bleached color from his skin and chased away the perpetual shadow under his brow. I was shocked to realize that he hadn’t been in his forties when he’d died—as I’d long assumed—but in his late twenties or early thirties at the most. I blinked at him, momentarily stunned as I reevaluated what I’d always believed about this particular vampire.
“You act as if you’ve never seen me before,” he said, his voice still as dark and powerful as ever, almost incongruous in a face so suddenly young.
“Maybe I haven’t,” I said, walking closer. Now I could see the scars, thin as razor cuts, around the edges of his face. They vanished under the thick bristle of his beard and the sweep of his hair, leaving trails like strands of spider silk on his neck and the surface of his forearms, which were revealed by his rolled-up sleeves. I’d seen the marks only once before, fleetingly, and had forgotten them until now. He knew I was staring, but he only raised an eyebrow and let me.
“What caused all this?” I asked.
“Never shy, are you, Blaine?”
“With you? What would be the point?”
He laughed and the sound rolled like thunder, shaking the Grey version of the room. “Perhaps I’ll show you the window I was thrown from, if the building still exists.”
“My death? No. I’ve always been very hard to kill, though several have tried.” He raised his chin and touched a patch of skin on his neck where his whiskers grew thin. “That was my mortal wound. Remember this: If you mean to kill a mage, first you silence him and bind his hands behind his back. Better yet, cut them off. Very few can cast by thought alone without killing themselves.”
I shuddered and turned my gaze away. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. If things go badly in Portugal, you’ll need every trick you can conjure at your disposal. Luckily, you are also very hard to kill.”
“Oh, no. I seem to die all too easily. I just don’t stay down. Usually.”
I felt his silence as much as heard it.
“There’s a limit to everything,” I said. “Someday I won’t get up again. Maybe soon. Maybe not.” I was prevaricating, since I was convinced the next death would be my last. Another Greywalker had told me I would know, but it was like knowing that the earth spun as it orbited the sun, even when you couldn’t see or feel it—I just had the feeling that it was true.
Carlos made a low growling sound and closed the distance between us. “Perhaps we shouldn’t do this. There is a risk. . . .”
“Living is risky. Driving a car is risky. I’d guess from the setup that we’re going to be playing dead—or at least I will—which is only crazy. And you and I, we’re pretty good with crazy, by now. So let’s just get this over with. I assume whatever transportation you’ve arranged will be arriving soon.”
“Within an hour. Tovah will manage the paperwork and so on.” Carlos gestured toward the woman in the corner.
She stepped forward and offered me a handshake, and I could see a tiny dazzle of Grey on her wrist, not much larger than a grain of rice. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’ve already filed all the necessary papers with the consulate and completed those that will be traveling with you. All should continue smoothly.” She noticed my frown and glanced at her wrist when I didn’t reply or shake her hand.
I’m often suspicious of unexplained Grey marks—they’re rarely a good sign—and as I knew Purlis’s project was aimed at gaining some kind of control of paranormal creatures to use them as spies and engines of terror, it gave me pause. I hated to question it—especially in front of Carlos—but I did. “What is that?”
Tovah shifted her glance to Carlos without turning her head, not at all affronted by my rude behavior.
“Nothing sinister,” he said. “All of those who assist us bear a mark, inconspicuous but visible.”
I peered at it, giving it a look through the Grey to better see the actual shape. “It looks like a dagger.”
“It is mine,” he said, as if I should have guessed. Maybe I should have—Carlos has a particular attachment to a knife that once nearly killed him and, being a necromancer, he has an affinity for instruments of death, anyway.
I nodded. “All right. Why haven’t I noticed these marks before?”
“You’ve seen them, but you had no reason to question them. Now you have every reason.”
I made a noise of dissatisfaction and turned my attention back to Tovah rather than to the tiny mark on her skin.
“Do you do this often?” I asked.
“Yes,” she answered, as if the conversation had never been interrupted. “But not with someone who’s still alive. You may find it a bit unsettling—the Portuguese officials require a rather old-fashioned container, which is not as comfortable as a proper casket.” She indicated two long wooden boxes that had been arranged on the farthest table.
I had to admit, I’d never considered whether a casket could be called “comfortable.” I walked toward them and looked the boxes over. They were built of something like wood chipboard and lined with a dusty-looking metal. Nylon mesh straps formed three loop handles on each long side of the slightly protruding bottom plank and a rubber gasket ran all the way around the open top. Both boxes were the same size and I thought I’d probably be less cramped than Carlos would be, since the box was long enough to accommodate either of us—with a few inches to spare over my five feet ten inches—but rather narrow for the width of his shoulders. Matching lids leaned against the wall nearby, and an electric screw gun and a box of impressively long wood screws stood on the end of the counter.
“They look . . . cozy,” I said.
“They’re lined with zinc and hermetically sealed,” Tovah said. “I hope you have no metal allergies.”
“No.” I frowned. “So, they’re airtight?”
“Usually. Yours is . . . not quite to spec. The consulate does not require an inspection at the arrival destination and the anomaly will be undetectable on X-rays because of the metal lining. All the paperwork is in order, so there should be no reason for anyone to open the boxes anywhere en route. You’ll be picked up as soon as customs releases the cases and the Lisbon mortuary will deliver you to your destination. It’s all arranged.”
“It sounds . . . um . . . fine. Thank you.”
She gave me a small smile and stepped back, finished with her recitation and reassurance. She looked at Carlos and he nodded. She left the room through another door that I suspected led to a loading dock or storage area.
“Now what?” I asked him once her door was closed.
“Now . . . I put you to sleep.”
“That sounds like the euphemism veterinarians use.”
“I assure you, it’s not the same. But there is, as I said, a risk.”
“And I already said it’s acceptable.”
“No, you did not. But now you have. Come sit on the table here and remove your boots.”
“Why?” I asked even as I moved to do as he directed.
“Because you will be more comfortable without them. And I don’t wish to stoop.”
“Is your age getting to you?” I teased him.
He closed the distance between us faster than I could see and wrapped his near arm around my waist, pulling me tight to his side. I gagged on the bleakness of his aura and the boiling nausea he brought with him. He put his mouth near my ear and whispered, “There is another way, Blaine.”
I had to swallow hard before I could reply. “No. You know the answer will always be the same.”
“I cling to hope,” he said. Then he laughed, let me go, and took half a step back. “On the table, if you please.”
“I feel like a surgical patient, but without the backless gown,” I said as I hitched myself up onto the steel embalming table and began taking off my boots.
“No surgery, though there will be some blood.”
I rolled my eyes, dropping one boot to the floor. “I should have known.”
I looked up, trepid and not a little upset. Carlos had his back to me and was reaching into a cupboard near the coffins. He took something down and turned to face me.
It was a rat—a huge rat. “I didn’t know they came that size,” I said.
“It is very large. It was destined to be dinner for an anaconda at the university, but I borrowed it first.”
“And what’s it for?”
“This is a spell of similarity. To make you appear dead, we’ll need another creature that is dead. The strands of your life forces will be entangled, and so long as one lies as dead, the other will continue as alive. Currently you’re both alive. Someone’s state must change, and it’s far safer and to our needs that it be the rat and not you.”
I felt sick. “No, I can’t do that. It’s terrible,” I said. I don’t have any particular soft spot for rats, but it was a healthy, innocent, living creature. It didn’t deserve this.
He shrugged. “My power lies in death and within that realm there’s only the one other way, which you’ve already rejected.” His voice, though soft, still sent a quivering sensation through my chest.
I stared at the rat. It looked calm, even a bit sleepy, in Carlos’s hands. He put it on his shoulder like a pet and picked up two small bottles from the counter nearby. He walked to me, stroking the rat with his knuckles, and held out the bottle in his free hand. “Drink this.”
I wanted to cry. I could feel the prickling of tears under my eyelids and the corners of my mouth had turned down so emphatically that it was hard to speak. “Why?”
“It’s part of the casting that will bind you together.”
I bit my lip and studied the rat. It looked back at me with filmed eyes, the fur along its back grizzled with white. It was an old rat and its lethargy was a natural result, not a magical effect. I supposed that had made it a more attractive lunch than a younger rat that might have injured the snake while fighting for its life. This one looked ready to heave a sigh and give up. “I don’t like it,” I said.
“I didn’t imagine you would. Make up your mind—time is passing and we have very little left.”
Unhappy and not at all convinced I was doing the right thing, I took the bottle from Carlos and did my best to swallow the contents around the lump in my throat. He muttered to the rat and fed it from the other bottle as I forced the bitter, burning liquid down my own throat. As I swallowed the last of it, I began to see a narrow strand of green energy that lifted off the rat as if it were a thread in a breeze. Carlos touched one finger to my chest, making me shudder with the cold that came from him, and drew up a similar filament from me, muttering all the while in words that sparked the silvery mist of the Grey in actinic flashes.
He twisted the strands together in his left hand and picked up the rat in his right, still speaking glittering, barbed words that twisted and dug into me and the now-wriggling creature.
He dropped it into my lap. I jerked and the rat bit my leg, its long yellow teeth cutting right through my blue jeans and into my skin. I shouted at the sudden pain and snatched the rat off my lap. A small spot of blood swelled into the fabric of my jeans and a drop of the same hung on the rat’s protruding teeth. It licked the blood off with a busy swipe of its tongue and I knew what one of the harsh flavors was in Carlos’s brew.
“Oh, you sneaky bastard,” I said.
Ignoring my words, Carlos plucked the rat from my grip, rolling and knotting it in the twined coil of our combined lives. Then he put the rat on the table beside me, where it lay without moving, though I could see its sides heaving as it breathed. He held both his hands over it, as if smothering it, and though he didn’t touch it, the rat’s breathing slowed and the gleam of its life dimmed until it was nearly extinguished.
He wrapped the entangled threads around me now, his lips moving, but the sound so low, I couldn’t hear him. I felt dizzy and swayed. Carlos caught me by the shoulders and I could barely feel the piercing cold of his touch as he laid me down on the table beside the dying rat, which he picked up and placed on my chest.
“Poor rat,” I murmured, folding my hands over it. I could feel a distant warmth in its still body. “I’m sorry. . . .”
“Breathe,” Carlos whispered. “Breathe out. Let your breath go.”
Perversely, I sucked in a breath that felt as cold as Arctic snow and had to cough the sharp knife of air out again at once.
The rat squirmed in my hands. My vision dimmed and the last of my breath slid away. I felt the rat push out of my loose grip and trot a step or two down my body before it was lifted off me, squeaking as loudly as a hungry baby.
Darkness and cold that had no real temperature settled on me. My ears rang until the blood slowed down too much to whisper. Something touched my face, brushing my forehead, eyelids, lips, and slid away just as I teetered into the black.
“I’ll see you in Lisbon, Blaine.”
Ithought I wasn’t supposed to wake up yet—surely we hadn’t reached Lisbon? My broken sense of time and my helplessness were frustrating and there seemed to be nothing I could do about being awake. I was supposed to be playing dead until after we arrived in Portugal, and I doubted that I was going to pass muster at customs if I was breathing. I slid my hands up, unable to push the box open, feeling an unfamiliar cloth and strapping holding me down as I brushed against my clothes. Or rather, not my clothes. I couldn’t see in the dark, but I could tell by the feel that I wasn’t wearing the jeans and sweater I’d had on when I lay down on the embalming table.
I shuddered, thinking that someone had changed my clothes and strapped me to the base of the coffin. If that someone was Carlos, I was going to slap him numb, necromancer or not. I chided myself not to get hysterical over such a small point. It was probably Tovah who’d managed it, making me look more corpse-like and appropriately dressed for my funeral, as well as safely tied down. She’d cleaned up the rat bite on my leg as well, for which I was grateful, but not put any more at ease. I plucked at the straps that kept me from rolling and sliding in my casket. No matter how much my clothes made me look like a stiff, I was now breathing and sweating as the silent panic started. I wasn’t sure I could be a convincing corpse without Carlos’s help and I had no way to get it. It didn’t matter if he, too, was wide awake, since neither of us could slither out of our portable graves and have a cozy chat about the problem. Given the state of the world—with terrorism, epidemics, floods, and fires everywhere, and civil war in Syria and Turkey, as well as dozens of other problems leading to unrest and paranoia at home and internationally—if I made one ill-timed sound or rolled in the box as it was being moved, no one was going to simply pass the coffin on without taking a look inside first. That would be a disaster. I schooled myself to be still, still, still, and quiet as my own corpse. I tried sinking down toward the Grey. . . .
My box lurched and I heard the engine downshift and groan. I couldn’t concentrate in the jostling box and had to give up my dive for the Grey. But at least it seemed I wasn’t in a plane after all. A truck? I hoped it was a truck in Portugal and not a truck crossing the tarmac at whatever transshipment point we’d passed through. I hated the idea of being lost luggage somewhere in Europe.
Wherever I was, something was keeping me from gaining access to—or even a view of—the Grey or its writhing energy grid. It could have been a side effect of the zinc lining in the box, but I wasn’t certain. I knew steel and silver both had unusual properties in the Grey, but I wasn’t sure if magical interactions were universal to all metals. I would have bet that the problem had something to do with my being inside a metal box inside a metal truck, but there was no way to test the hypothesis at that moment. I wasn’t all that interested in trying, anyway. It was always possible I’d sink too far, displace myself, and fall out of the truck at whatever speed we were going in traffic.
After what felt like a couple of hours in my stuffy little coffin as the truck wound up and down some steep hills and swayed around hairpin turns, the vehicle stopped and I was unloaded. I was pretty sure the people moving my box were being careful, but I still got jarred around and collected a couple of bruises from thumping into the side when someone lost their grip. Even through the zinc and wood, I could hear swearing. It wasn’t English swearing, but the tone was the same even if I didn’t understand the words. I held my breath and didn’t swear back, just in case. . . .
Then came the trundling sound of a cart underneath me before another spate of lifting, tilting, jostling, swearing, and finally a ringing thump as the coffin was set down on some hard surface. Eventually, sounds of the box-handlers faded away and the lid was opened.
The dimly lit room I’d been brought to was almost soundless, and the air, while cooler, was only a small relief from the close and overused atmosphere in my box.
A dark-haired woman peered into my container, her expression wary. “Senhora Blaine?” The energy around her head was streaked with black and orange like Halloween bunting. She appeared anxious and a little bit dead, but not undead.
I struggled to sit up—which isn’t easy after lying still for hours in an unheated cargo hold. I thought every joint in my body had turned to brittle wood that creaked and cracked as I moved. I glanced around, not sure I hadn’t somehow ended up in some long-ago place where time had stopped: The stone room was lit with candles in iron sconces near the door and an enchanted silence muffled its natural echo. Deep, dim coils of black and red energy surged along the floor from under the stout wooden door like floodwater slowly rising.
The woman watching me seemed relieved when I was upright. “Bom. Come with me,” she said. Her accent was one I’d never heard before, something that wasn’t quite Spanish and wasn’t quite Russian. She straightened up without offering me a hand, but I wasn’t entirely surprised. With the exception of Tovah, people who work for vampires aren’t the touchy-feely type. Though I tried to look for it, I saw no sign of the sort of mark Tovah had. Apparently some people don’t have to be in thrall to be useful.
I clambered out of the coffin, which was resting on the ground, as stiff and awkward as a stick insect as I crawled over the edge and onto the chilly floor, tearing the hem of my black skirt on the steel edge. The entire room seemed to have been carved out of solid stone, but it was definitely a room, not a cavern—it had a flat floor, straight walls, and a symmetrical, vaulted ceiling. Shadows fell into deep folds in the corners away from the door and its nearby candles, and the low gleams of magical energy flowed along the floor toward the darkness, as if seeking a hidden exit bored through the rock. Aside from me, my box, my hostess, and the candles, there seemed to be nothing else in the room. Inside my coffin, I’d been too warm and panicky. In this stone room, dressed like a dead doll in my funeral suit and soft shoes, I was suddenly too cold and my panic had mutated into overactive wariness.
My knees creaked and popped anew, protesting long inaction. The trip, I’d estimated, would be about fourteen hours, but there’d been extra hours in transit to and from airports and through customs and so on, so I was completely out of sync.
“What time is it?” I asked, scraping one bare knee a little on the stone floor as I got to my feet. I felt woozy and wound up at the same time—probably a side effect of what Carlos had done to make me appear dead.
“Desculpe. It is”—she paused to pull an old-fashioned watch from a pocket in her skirt, popping the lid open and glancing at it—“twelve minutes past two in the afternoon. Dom Carlos is still asleep.”
It was late summertime, so I knew he wouldn’t be up and about for another six hours or so, and that was fine. I had things to do that wouldn’t require his help, so long as I could get back in time. I assumed I was in Lisbon, though there was always the off chance that something had changed.
“Where is this? I mean, which city?” I asked, just in case. . . .
“Lisboa. This is the family’s town house in Alfama,” she replied. Alfama meant nothing to me, but at least I knew I was in the right city.
Now I had to find Quinton and discover why he’d needed me here now. If the rendezvous didn’t work out, I’d have to find an Internet café and see whether I could make contact again, since he didn’t know where I was any more than I knew where he was. The codes he’d sent implied a situation that couldn’t wait, so I hoped I’d find him the first time.
“Am I free to come and go?” I asked, not sure what the situation was in which I found myself. Was this some kind of vampire chapter house or something else? It certainly wasn’t the usual B and B, and I wasn’t sure whose “family” she meant when she talked about the house, since vampires over a certain age generally have no close mortal kin. I’m not sure they think of one another as “family,” either, unless it’s in the context of dangerous siblings that they may need to kill later.
“You are a guest. The doors will open for you—you may come and go as you please, though Dom Carlos will expect you when he wakes.”
“How do you know that?”
She gave a shrug that was as much a change of expression as an actual movement of head and shoulders. “Avó said so. I will await Dom Carlos’s instructions. If you must go out, return by sundown.”
I had no intention of running away, but this business couldn’t wait on Carlos. My lingering panic had transferred to finding Quinton.
The woman nodded, as if she understood my train of thought, and she turned, leading me out of the room. “There is a suite for you upstairs. I will show you the way.”
We went along a windowless, stone-walled corridor in the company of ghosts, past several heavy wooden doors with ancient-looking iron hinges and handles, all lit by candles. A draft of cooler air, smelling of stone and earth, passed along the hallway with us and rose up the stairs at the end as we ascended. My guide put her candle down on a table at the head of the stairs and opened a door, leaning down to blow out the flame as a mixture of sun and electric light flooded the landing. We emerged into a wider hallway with a floor of colorful, fitted stone tiles and walls of pale yellow plaster, and passed through a narrow but impressive Moorish entry hall. Decorative ironwork grilles hung over the windows on one side and matching iron railings edged the staircase and the gallery that looked down from above. Grey energy hung down the walls like gleaming draperies of ragged gold and red with twisting threads of black and white tangling through them and creeping down the walls like cracks in the plaster. The room wept quietly in the Grey with a sound like a distant viola accompanying a melancholy guitar. A grand staircase curved around the sides and back of the room. A pair of ghosts dressed in some kind of medieval clothes glided up the stairs and vanished around the gallery on the updraft of air from the cellars. I got the impression the house hadn’t been occupied in a while and was trying to shed the collected heat and stale air of many summers. It made the elegant little entry oppressive. It was a very old house and it had seen hundreds of summers.
The entry may have been stuffy and hot, but a breeze was fighting its way up the staircase from the cooler cellars below and the house seemed to breathe more easily as we ascended yet another staircase. The woman finally unlocked a door and led me into a tiny room with a few items of furniture, a bed not among them. Beyond a small sofa and a desk lay another door, which she opened and stood beside, holding the large old-fashioned key.
“This bedroom is at the front of the house. It is not as grand as some, but it has a better breeze from the river. The back of the house is quieter, but it faces the castle and the air is not so cool.”
“Castle?” I asked, startled at the idea of being close enough to one that it blocked the breeze. It was either a very large castle or very close. . . . Either way, being an American, I tended to find the very idea of castles intriguing, let alone the idea of one in the backyard.
“Sim. Castelo de São Jorge.” She pointed toward the back of the house. “It is just up the hill. You can see it from the roof and rear windows on this floor. The tourists enjoy it in the mornings and at sunset. Otherwise, it is much too hot to wander the grounds at midday until late October.” She offered me the room key. “If you would like to bathe and change before you go out, the bath is through the next door. There are clothes in the wardrobe and you are to treat the house as your own. It is still very warm this season and you may wish to do your business in lighter clothes. Even here on the hill, the afternoons are hot. I will be downstairs if you have any other requirements.”
I took the heavy old key and she glided out of the room before I had a chance to ask her name. She made no sound as she crossed the polished wooden floor and for a fleeting instant I wondered whether she was an apparition. I felt like I’d landed in a Gothic novel and expected to hear that there was an insane relative locked in the attic.
I wanted to rush out but knew I needed to change out of my torn skirt and wash my face at the very least. Tovah must have applied a layer of thick makeup to make me look more corpse-like, and I could feel it cracking with every movement of my face. I looked around as I started for the bathroom.
The rooms were small by American standards, but at least the ceilings were high. All of the doorways and windows were arched—not a square frame to be seen—and all of the floors were old, dark wood, rippled with age. The first room we’d passed through appeared to be a sort of sitting room or personal office and the inner room was the bedroom. Nothing was built in—no closet, no shelves. The furniture just sat up against the dusty cream plaster walls. The various pieces all looked as old as the house—which I was guessing at six hundred years or more from the ghosts and the general style.
I wasn’t holding out a lot of hope about the bath being much more modern, but I was wrong. The toilet was distinctly old-fashioned and the taps might have been a hundred years old, but they worked. The hot water was nearly scalding, whereas the cold water seemed to have been drawn through the rocky foundations of the house, so it was icy and tasted mineral and sharp. The tub was a large built-in basin, covered in tiny, painted tiles, long and deep enough that even I could probably submerge myself in it without significant body parts sticking out. Tiled pillars rose from the corners of the bath to support the ceiling above, which was also covered in tiles that made a mosaic of the night sky. A modern handheld shower thing had been attached to the plumbing, somewhat ruining the palatial effect. The room smelled of bleach and orange peels.
A door on the other side of the bathroom led to another bedroom and sitting room, the mirror image of the suite I’d been assigned. Curious, I walked through it, past furniture shrouded by covers, to the tall windows at the back, and I pushed them open. The hinges of the windows squealed and the air stirred up a draft of old dust. The scent of oranges and lemons came from a small walled garden at the back of the house. A steep slope beyond put the first floor of the next house up the hill almost on a level with the bedroom I was standing in. Tilting my head back, I looked farther up the slope.
Stone walls with square crenellated tops rose beyond the next house and a fringe of palm trees. I couldn’t make out more of the castle looking up, but from this position there was no other building as far as I could see from side to side, just castle walls checkered with quarried stones of white, gray, and butter yellow as they caught the sunlight over the housetops. Even in the shade at the back of the house, it was warm.
I returned to my bedroom and hunted for the change of clothes my hostess had mentioned. I hadn’t been able to pack my own clothes and I was surprised to find the wardrobe half full with blouses and skirts that all appeared to be my size, though I’d never seen any of them before. My own sweater and jeans from the night I’d gone to sleep looked scruffy hanging next to them. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble, and I supposed I should be grateful, though at that moment, I felt a little creeped out.
The whole reason I’d slipped illegally into the country in the guise of a corpse was to remain below certain people’s radar by letting them think I was still in Seattle, doing what I usually do. Staying off anyone’s scope meant blending into the background, which was going to be difficult enough as an American who spoke no Portuguese. But it would be easier if I didn’t look like an American tourist. So I was grateful to Carlos—or to whomever he’d had pick up the clothes in my size—because they were lightly used and appeared to be of local or at least southern European manufacture. If I kept my mouth shut and my head down, I would at least be slightly less conspicuous and seem slightly less American. My height would be a problem, though, and there was nothing I could do about that but try to stay out of places where I’d stand out.
I didn’t have time to take a full bath, but I did wash the makeup off and put on what I hoped was a boring outfit of blouse, skirt, and flat shoes. I didn’t have my usual shoulder bag full of useful stuff—including my gun, which was locked in a safe-deposit box at my bank in Seattle. I did need some kind of purse or shopping bag to put a few items in, since the skirt—which would have been midcalf on many women but barely covered my knees—had only two shallow pockets and the blouse had none. It was much too hot to wear a jacket. I started downstairs feeling a bit naked, since I rarely wear skirts or any shoes of a lighter construction than sneakers since I gave up professional dance. I’m much more at home in jeans and boots.
On the second floor just before the head of the stairs, a ghost stood in my way and stared intently at me. She looked like the medieval woman I’d seen ascending the staircase earlier, but it was hard to be sure since I hadn’t had a good look at her before. I stopped and gazed back at her. A mist swirled and ran around her feet like a whirlpool, expanding outward and rising slowly, as if she were being swallowed up in the maelstrom. She was very young, a teenager, really, in an age before that concept existed. Her face was long and serious. Long dark hair that fell to her hips was swept back from her high forehead with a band of cloth. She studied me, saying nothing and pursing her mouth as if she couldn’t make up her mind.
I took a step toward her and put out my hand, palm up. “My name is Harper. I won’t be staying very long.”
She cocked her head as if straining to hear me. Then she turned her head aside sharply, disrupting her rising tide of mist so it blew outward and swirled away, dissolving into empty air. I walked to the stair rail and looked down, but she wasn’t on the stairs. My mysterious hostess stepped out from one of the arches along the side of the entry and glanced up at me.
“Are you all right, senhora?”
“I’m fine. Did you see her?”
“The ghost? I see them sometimes. They don’t care to show themselves to me often. Where are you going?”
“I’m not sure . . . someplace where sick toys go to get well?” The only open part of the message had used the phrase “where sick toys get well.”
She frowned for a moment as if she had to translate the phrase. “Ah. O Hospital de Bonecas. The doll hospital. It is in the Baixa—the lower town—on Praça da Figueira. It will be faster to walk than take the tram. I will draw you a map.”
I followed her back into the tiled hallway to a kitchen, which was probably of the same vintage as the bathroom upstairs but not as luxuriously appointed. The sink and counters looked to have been carved from granite and there was still a cooking hearth on one side of the room, though it had clearly not been used in a century or so. She took a pad of paper and a jasmine-scented pencil from the worktable and drew quickly. I watched her. Her hands were bony and thin, but not like an old woman’s, and they moved swift as birds, drawing little sketches of the landmarks she thought I’d need to navigate by. It was a remarkable piece of work for something done so casually. When she was finished, she tore the page off and handed it to me. I took it, blinking at her in surprise.
“Thank you. What is your name, by the way?”
She puzzled that question for a moment, then gave a small smile that vanished as quickly as it arrived. “Meu nome é Rafa.”
“Thank you, Rafa.” I looked at her map again. “This is very kind of you.”
She blushed, which seemed to take her by surprise, and she put her hands to her cheeks. “De nada. And you look very nice.” She reached up and touched my hair. “But you should wear a scarf or a hat. You are very pale.”
Even at the end of an unusually dry summer, I hadn’t gotten much of a tan in Seattle, though I wouldn’t have said I was pale. Compared to Rafa, though, I looked as white as the ghost on the staircase. “I don’t have a hat. Or a purse for that matter.”
“I will find a purse and a hat for you.” She scurried out and, although I followed her as quickly as I could through the cluttered kitchen, she’d vanished by the time I came to the hall. I stopped where I was, rather than wander off and get lost. In a moment, Rafa returned with a wide-brimmed straw hat, a blue silk scarf, and a sort of purse made of the same soft, woven straw as the hat. Giving me no time to object, she gathered my hair back and tied it with the scarf, then put the hat on my head and looped the purse over my arm. “You look perfect now.”
Apparently I was doomed to be dressed by strangers whether I liked it or not.
She walked me to the front door and handed me another key. “This is for the front gates. Be back before sundown and don’t lose the key.”
She stood behind the door when she opened it, keeping to the shadow, and shooed me out.
Iwas in a tiny courtyard facing iron gates across an expanse of cobbles. A car no bigger than a shoe was parked on the cobbles to my left next to a small fountain in the shape of a leonine face mounted to the tiled wall of the courtyard. The fountain looked slightly surprised to see me as water dribbled out of its oval mouth into the small basin of carved stone beneath it. I waved at it and walked over to unlatch the gates and let myself into the street. I used the key to lock the gates behind me—the ironwork looked like the vines of Sleeping Beauty’s castle, closing out the world from a secret realm within. I took note of the number carved into the stone above the gateway and started down the steep, stone-paved street. I tried to tuck my things into my skirt pockets, but the keys were too large to stay securely in the shallow spaces. I put them into the purse and folded Rafa’s map into my pocket instead.
At a bend in the street, I paused to read the street’s name off a tiled plaque on a wall. I checked the map, turned to continue on my way, and found myself looking out at a sea of red-tiled roofs and hidden courtyards, tumbling in a maze of streets down the slope toward a wide band of glittering water that must have been the Tagus River. For a moment I just stood there and stared at it. The hill was so steep that the houses were almost like terraces in a photo of Asian rice paddies, each little bastion bounded by its own short sweep of walls that fell sharp and straight down to the next. The angles were all higgledy-piggledy and random, like the honeycomb of disturbed bees. And they were old . . . so old that the narrow, twisted streets thronged with more of the dead than the living—the dead of centuries stretching back so far, I couldn’t even guess the eras. They climbed, ran, strolled, and urged their beasts of burden through the stone-paved passages, between tall houses real and ghostly, their collective voices twining into the noise of the Grid as a song both beautiful and sad that coiled through the twisted streets like fog. The houses they passed, current and not, were mostly plastered in cream, red, blue, and yellow, the colors faded and peeling from the unremitting sun. The rest were covered in tiles glazed with repeating geometric patterns that crazed the eye, broken by symmetrical ranks of windows with small iron balconies strung with drying laundry, or piled with flower boxes drooping red and purple blossoms over their filigreed metal sides. Here and there, the ghost of an older house or a terraced Moorish garden of tiled fountains and orange trees hung over another, but the overlay of phantom buildings was rare—at least from the outside.
I couldn’t afford to stand and stare, but it was a hard sight to turn from, so unlike anything American. I had to keep an eye on my feet as I continued down the road, the twisting slope so long and precipitous that it made the Counterbalance up Queen Anne Avenue North in Seattle look like a speed bump. I was glad it wasn’t raining, as it would have been at home. The dust in the road was dry and tamped down too much to make the sidewalks of laid flat stones slippery with grit. All stone and plaster, wood and iron, Alfama was old the way things in the Americas never are.
I wended my way down until I passed through an arch in a wall and out into a sort of arrow-shaped intersection of two narrow streets shaded with trees. A sign on the wall to my left gave information about the Castelo de São Jorge, which now lay behind me. I could no longer see the river and I wasn’t sure which direction I was facing. I looked at Rafa’s map and recognized the switchback hard on my right where the pedestrian path doubled back on itself, past a row of shops, and downward to a flatter bit of road. My shins and knees ached from the activity after so many hours of lying still.
I rounded the corner and the river reappeared as an aqua ribbon that seemed to float above the end of the street as if the paving rolled down into it. It didn’t. The street turned abruptly after a block—though “block” was a complete misnomer here—and I turned to my right with it and continued.
The route was necessarily twisted and longer than the distance point to point, but with a few more turns and a walk past a small triangular plaza created by the high, pink-painted embankments that held up the streets, I was into much flatter streets that first went down and then rose gently upward again, turning away from the river. The architecture changed from the close-packed old houses of Alfama and its yellow stone walls to broader, younger buildings with flat fronts and stone pediments—a sort of plain-Jane version of Baroque.
The road was covered in tarmac now instead of cobbles, but the sidewalks were still paved in small squares of pale stone. The farther I walked, the wider the doors and windows of the buildings became, evolving slowly toward the eighteenth century and away from the medieval maze of the castle’s hill. This road was mostly shops at street level. Ground-floor frontages were more frequently of dressed stone than painted plaster, though the tiling continued in fits. One front I passed had a vibrantly glazed tile mural of fish and seaweed. Signs from the simple to the slick hung over doorways, businesses as divergent as a sleek contemporary furniture retailer side by side with hole-in-the-wall taverns and shops selling medicines and herbs.
I tired to puzzle out some of the words as I passed, some like the Spanish I had grown up with in Southern California, but many more utterly meaningless. English words stood out in odd places, “snack bar” and “seaside” jostling with words like “malhas.” I wondered what a “mundo das malhas” was. “World of Sweaters,” judging by the window display—an item I wasn’t feeling much use for at that moment, even on the shady side street that was busy with the cold spirits of merchants and farmers driving goods to some long-gone marketplace.
An old-fashioned-looking yellow tram clanged its bell and rattled along the tracks in the street past me as I stepped out into a large public square shrouded in the memory of several past buildings that had disappeared long ago to leave the acre or so in the middle nearly empty. One of these buildings was a Victorian monstrosity that reminded me a little, in kind more than style, of London’s Smithfield Market. Another was a much older building I couldn’t peg. A bronze statue of someone I took to be a soldier or a statesman was riding his bronze horse on a huge white stone plinth beside a tree off to the side of the square’s central expanse of white and gray stone tiles. There was no tarmac or road paint here. Every street and sidewalk surface was paved in the black or white stone squares, right down to the lane markers and pedestrian crossing lines. I turned right and paused, looking in the window of the World of . . . whatever, sweating a little from the change of exertion and the heat rising in the nearly shadeless square. The buildings facing the square were much more formal than the areas I’d already walked through, the shops giving off a higher-class sheen. This was saying quite a bit, since the last few blocks had been increasingly swanky in the modern era, in spite of being more working-class in the lingering past.
A sign placed high on the wall at the corner told me I was at Praça da Figueira. I looked at Rafa’s map again, having almost missed my destination because she’d drawn a tiny picture of the statue, but not the square it was standing in. The drawing was very good and even caught the way the plume on the rider’s head seemed to be flowing in the wind of his movement. The address I wanted was number seven. According to the map, it was somewhere on the long expanse of Baroque buildings facing the horse’s backside, but there wasn’t anything that instantly stood out to my sight as likely to be a doll hospital.
The openness of the square made me a little nervous about meeting Quinton here. There was no way to approach any of the shops, restaurants, or hotels without being in the open, and while the businesses on the square were moderately busy and traffic was heavy enough to qualify as the run-up to what passed for rush hour in Lisbon, it wasn’t exactly New York or Los Angeles busy. The cars, buses, and trams were more of a problem than the people, since the sidewalks had little raised curb to speak of and pedestrians were separated from the vehicular traffic by upright metal posts about hip high, placed every five feet or so along the white sidewalk edge.
As I stood at the corner, I saw a small car swoop around a bus by hiking its two closest wheels up on the edge of the curb where there weren’t any uprights and drive half up on the sidewalk, honking its horn like a frustrated goose before bolting back into traffic to a cacophony of other horns and outraged curses from some of the pedestrians. Not all the pedestrians seemed upset or even surprised, however, even as they scattered away from the pushy little car. Two older women wearing black dresses simply stepped aside, watched the disturbance, and shook their heads. Then they shrugged, and walked on, their shopping bags hanging limply off their arms as they chattered to each other, heads turned inward.
I went into the sweater shop, buying time and hoping to get a better look at the area without being too conspicuous. The air-conditioning was on and I shivered in the sudden cool. An attractive middle-aged woman wished me bom dia and seemed to be offering assistance, but I wasn’t sure. She might have been asking if I liked cashmere socks for all I knew. I apologized for my lack of Portuguese, and she replied in unhalting English in the same not-quite-Spanish accent Rafa had.
“Oh, are you American?”
“I’m from Connecticut,” I replied, picking a state at random.
She seemed puzzled. “That is in the United States?”
“It’s on the East Coast, near New York.”
“Oh! Yes, I know New York. You will have beautiful autumn leaves soon. Perhaps you’ll want a warm shawl to take home,” she said, turning her hand gracefully toward a rack hung with folded lengths of knitted silk and wool, some so intricate and fine that they looked like lace.
“They’re lovely, but, in fact, I’m lost.”
She seemed disappointed but rallied a smile anyhow. “Perhaps I can help you with that. What place were you looking for?”
“The doll hospital.”
Her smile broadened, showing teeth that were clean and white, but more crooked than most Americans’—I’d noticed that our dental fetish doesn’t extend much past Canada. “Ah! O Hospital de Bonecas! It is on the north side, near the Nestlé kiosk—the blue ice-cream bar.” She walked me outside and pointed up the square to the small blue lump of a prefab vendor’s booth with a yellow post sticking out of its roof at an angle. I’d thought it was a newsstand, but I could just make out the word NESTLÉ on the post—which I supposed to be the stick of a blue-wrapped frozen dessert. The bright little building sat just inside the pedestrian bollards, almost daring cars or buses to swipe it. “The hospital’s door is just behind the kiosk,” the clerk said, “past A Coutada—the hunting shop—and next to the jeweler in the building with the tiles.”
“Thank you,” I said, giving her a smile since I had nothing else.
She returned a smile and a slight shrug. “De nada. I hope you enjoy it.”
I thanked her and walked up the arcade in the general direction she’d pointed, since it would have been suicidal to try to cross the street diagonally with the current traffic. In the empty center I could see the black shade of the now-gone market building hanging over the large shape of the older building, which seemed to heave and fall apart like a time-lapse film, over and over, accompanied by the rumbling and shrieking of destruction and the sobbing of mourners. Having grown up in Southern California, I knew the sound of an earthquake when I heard it, even at accelerated speed. I remembered Carlos saying that Lisbon had experienced a devastating quake in the mid-eighteenth century and it had been partially his doing. If this shadowy disaster film was part of that, it was far worse than what my imagination had originally conjured. The ancient building collapsed into rubble in minutes, crushing people inside and tumbling stones into the street to kill still more. Then great waves of seawater rolled over the wreckage and away again, leaving everything that remained to be engulfed in sudden flames that turned the water to steam. The conflagration spread from other buildings up the road, sprouting from broken gas lamps. The dead and their shattered homes burned while more people screamed and ran and died, until the horror faded into smoke and the loop of disaster began again, spinning forward the history of devastation in minutes before my appalled gaze. I shook myself and kept walking—it wouldn’t do to call attention by gawking at nothing. I hoped we wouldn’t be staying long in Lisbon.
I turned at the corner and crossed the road to the north arcade, keeping my sight on the shop fronts to my right, away from the continuous loop of phantom disaster. I glanced in the window of a restaurant, which only reminded me how long it had been since I’d eaten. The hunting and fishing store was just past the restaurant and several signs for the Pensão Praça da Figueira—which advertisedROOMS! in English, so I assumed it was some kind of hotel.
I overshot the door with the green sign hand-painted on the inside of the glass above that read HOSPITAL DE BONECAS 1830 ERVANÁRIAPORTUGUESA. An old woman dressed in black sat in a chair outside, stitching the neck of a cloth doll together where it had torn at the shoulder and was spitting forth buds of wooly stuffing. She was little more than a shadow under the canvas awning, but to me she was as obvious as if she were still alive. “Você certamente levou muito tempo para chegar aqui,” she muttered, her voice coming slow and creaking. In my head I heard the sentiment, roughly translated as “You took your time getting here.”
I didn’t dare drop toward the Grey to talk to her more easily, but strolled a step backward to look into the window of the jewelry shop next door. “And why do you care?” I muttered in reply. I saw something black and glimmering, far away above the buildings, that soared into the sky and fell back toward earth, leaving trails of Grey like cirrus clouds.
“Much to mend, much to fix. Little time,” the old ghost replied, still watching the fabric between her fingers as she set tiny stitches into the doll’s neck. “Os Magos do Osso.”
I turned my head to give her a more-direct stare, letting my curiosity about the black thing in the sky go. Her words had a ring of memory in them that chimed on words Carlos had used, even though the two phrases sounded nothing alike. “Kostní Mágové,” I said. Bone Mages.
She nodded, not looking up, and faded away.
I took that as my cue to go inside.
The space was narrow and made more so by a large floor-to-ceiling glass case filled with old dolls, miniatures, and toys that seemed to watch me as I entered. Not far back from the door lay a staircase. Signs reading MUSEU and OFICINA PARA RESTAUROS pointed up the stairs. There wasn’t enough room on the ground floor to hide a potted plant in, much less Quinton, so I went up the stairs.
The first room was mostly a shop, with displays of dollhouse miniatures, doll clothes, and a plethora of accessories. It was all high quality—no cheap plastic, mass-produced junk—and a lot of it looked handmade. Layer on layer of ghostly children wandered through the displays. Behind a counter at the back were ceiling-high niches in which sat dozens of dolls and stuffed toys of every description and age, from near-new Barbies to ancient teddy bears and porcelain-headed ladies in fancy dresses. Most of them watched me with phantom eyes.
I walked up another flight of stairs to the hospital itself, where dolls and toys were taken in with loving care by the white-coated staff, who marked a number on the bottoms of their feet or tied a paper tag to the leg to identify them later and then carried them off to be “operated” on at white tables. Glass-fronted drawers held disembodied doll parts: heads, legs, arms, eyes. . . . It gave me the willies.
I was unnerved enough by the dismembered dolls that I jumped when Quinton spoke into my ear. “It’s a little disturbing, isn’t it?”
I whirled to glare at him. He caught me by the shoulders, saying, “God, I missed you,” and kissed me. It was a long, hard kiss that made my already wobbly knees go weak. Quinton had to haul me tight against his body so I wouldn’t slither to the floor and that was not at all disagreeable. Nearby a small child made a sound of disgust, which is the same in any language: “Eww . . .” We both gave the child—a little girl with a mop of short, dark curls—a stern look. She turned away to chase after her mother, saying something in Portuguese that was probably, “Those people are kissing!” because her mother laughed and shot us a curious glance.
Quinton stiffened in my arms, staring for a second at the little girl as she grabbed onto her mother’s hand.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, taking a small step back from him.
Quinton shook himself. “She looks so much like Soraia. . . .”
“My niece. My sister’s daughter. My father kidnapped her.”
“What?” I asked, appalled.
“That was my reaction. I’ll tell you as we go.”
Even angry and a bit shaken, he looked good to me. I hadn’t seen him in months. He’d cut his hair again, so it didn’t quite hit his shoulders, and had trimmed his beard much smaller and narrower, so he managed to look both shaggy and fashionable at the same time. His clothes were a little more fashion-conscious also, but not enough to stand out in a crowd of Europeans. He was carrying a small-brimmed black hat and a smaller version of his usual backpack that looked more like a portfolio or messenger bag.
We went downstairs together and Quinton paused to put on his hat as I slipped outside in the Grey to take a look around. I didn’t see a sign of anything immediately threatening, although the constant replay of Lisbon’s earthquake left me feeling disquieted.
We walked out of the doll hospital and along the sidewalk toward a wide opening between the buildings on the west side of the square, making an effort to be casual when we both felt bleak and worried.
“Why did you pick that place to meet?” I asked. He was tense even while he did a pretty good imitation of a man in no hurry.
He paused to adjust his hat, cocking the brim down a little farther so his face was less exposed to the cameras dotted here and there throughout the public square. “About ninety percent of the agents working for my dad are male. They’d have been pretty easy to spot in there and I had been watching out the windows for anyone I recognized working the square. “Why did you go into the knitwear shop?”
“Is that what it was?” I replied. “I thought it was World of Sweaters.”
He gave a strained laugh, the darkness around us lightening for only a moment. “‘Malhas’ means ‘knits.’ So you were close.”
“I didn’t know you spoke Portuguese.”
“Only a little tourist pidgin. I looked it up. Why did you go into the shop?”
“I wanted to get a better look and more information without wandering aimlessly around a haunted plaza.”
“Yes. There was an earthquake here, remember? It killed thousands of people and knocked down most of downtown Lisbon at the time. The building that was here then is stuck in a loop, and I could see it falling, burning, and being swamped with water over and over. It’s very unpleasant.”
Quinton looked more unhappy than ever. “We’d better wrap up our business in Lisbon quickly, then.”
“I’d appreciate that.”
“How did you get here, if you don’t mind my asking? I mean, I didn’t give you any helpful hints on that, I know, and I’m sorry.”
“It wasn’t a problem. I went to Carlos.”
“I can’t say I’m surprised. I assume he came along.”
“He did. Now, tell me what’s going on.”
He ignored my request, giving a tiny shake of the head. “I’m not sure how happy I am about Carlos’s involvement. . . .”
I sighed. “He has a vested interest in the mages behind this business. I think he’ll be invaluable, even if he’s a bit obsessive and scarier than usual. Kind of like you’re being right now. Not that I blame you.”
“What did you tell him?”
“Only that I’d heard from you and needed to get here. He didn’t give me an option about his accompanying me and I wasn’t going to argue. He does have an interest in your father’s project and his focus on the Kostní Mágové is absolute.”
The previous year, Quinton had nearly died trying to stop his father’s mysterious project. James Purlis had persuaded someone in the black depths of the espionage community to fund what he called “the Ghost Division”—some kind of dreadful research that involved, among other things, capturing paranormals and vivisecting them to see how they ticked and if any of their abilities were useful to Papa Purlis’s plans. He wanted to see whether they could be made to work for him, or even if the source of their abilities could somehow be applied to someone already under his control. In the mess he’d left behind when Quinton shut down the Seattle end, Carlos was able to discover that Purlis wasn’t working this angle alone: He’d enlisted the help of an ancient cabal of bone mages who probably had their own agenda. Carlos had also said these Kostní Mágové were extremely dangerous and that he’d known them since he’d lived in Lisbon before the earthquake. It was apparent, now, that Purlis had either learned a few tricks from his captured paranormals since last July or worked out a much more advantageous arrangement with the Kostní Mágové. I’d already picked up a bit from Carlos about them, but I wanted more. I hadn’t pressed for it, knowing it was likely to come out once Quinton and I were able to talk to him in person.
Quinton made a noise in his throat. “I haven’t been able to keep as close track of my dad as I’d have liked,” he admitted, his expression growing tortured. “He gave me the slip a while ago and I haven’t seen him in the flesh since—I’ve just been following his spoor, so to speak. He’s been busy—he’s got small units all over Europe and the Near East and he’s traveled through all of them. He’s spread his resources thin, but it’s effective. I don’t think there’s any coincidence that when he arrives, shit happens—political unrest, riots, outbreaks of weird diseases. He was in Turkey right before the suicide bombings, in Greece just ahead of a series of financial riots, in Paris before a rash of anti-Semitic violence, just ahead of an outbreak of Avian flu in northern Germany, and on and on, more of the same with me always one step too far behind, trying to stop him or at least minimize his effect. I can’t believe I missed this business with Soraia. I should have been here sooner.”
I’d been holding his hand and now I put my arm around him, pulling him closer. “You can’t be on watch every minute—you’re just one man. Your father is a slippery scumbag who’s been in the business a lot longer than you and has a lot more resources.”
“He’s always been willing to put others in danger.”
“I doubt it was quite as extreme as this in the past—kidnapping his own granddaughter is a bit out there. He must be deteriorating, mentally, over time. He bailed you out a few years ago. He let your mother and your sister get away.”
“My mother didn’t exactly escape him.”
I turned a curious look on him, but he shook his head. “Not now. I can barely manage my rage over what he’s done to my sister and her kids. If I start talking about Mom, I’ll lose it.”
I would have asked him to try, but as we stepped out from between the buildings and into the plaza beyond, I was struck dumb: The square ahead of us was huge, open, and flat, about three times the size of the square the doll hospital faced. It was anchored at each end by a large, tiered bronze fountain. Right in the middle, straight ahead, stood a soaring marble column with a bronze statue on top. Poking up above the buildings beyond the column was what looked like the ruins of a medieval cathedral, dripping blackness and fiery red streamers of Grey, and all the way around the square were Baroque and later buildings much more ornate than those in the Praça da Figueira. One end of the square was dominated full width by a three-story stone building with a neoclassical front, complete with columns and a pediment. At the other end was a bright yellow facade, pierced by a large stone archway leading to another smaller road, smack in the middle of a row of ornate buildings. At the end of the avenue on our side, far down the road, another impressive arch, standing at least three stories tall, spanned the whole boulevard. The entire open court had been tiled in the ubiquitous black and white stones to create a geometric wave pattern that played on my eyes so the surface seemed to be under a thin sheet of clear water, rippled by the wind. Trees lined the long boulevards that ran north to south the length of the square. Near the great white stone building on the north end, another phantom horror movie played out, but this one predated the earthquake.
Quinton noticed my horrified stare. “What is it?”
“I’m not sure. . . . Did Portugal have an Inquisition, like Spain?”
“It’s a Catholic country. I’m pretty sure it did.”
I closed my eyes and turned my head away. “At the north end of the square where the big white building is now, there used to be another building. In front of that is where they had the public trials, the penance, and the executions. They’re piled up there—the images—like overlapping film.” My knees wobbled and I swayed a little.
Quinton steadied me, putting one arm around my waist, mirroring my hold on him. “That bad?”
“It’s pretty bad.”
“Let me get you out of here. We need to catch a train anyway.”
He steered me away from the scene of burnings and beatings, to a wide staircase leading down to a subway station. “Keep hold of your purse at all times,” he warned. “This area’s famous for its pickpockets.”
“I don’t have anything but a map and two keys,” I replied. “No money, no ID . . . nothing.”
“I’ll take care of that later. For now, stick close to me. Oh—keep your head down near cameras. Portugal doesn’t use an on-the-fly facial recognition system, but if any of Dad’s creeps have access to the feed, they may start looking for us in the tapes later.”
“All right,” I replied, adjusting my hat. “I was planning on sticking close to you anyhow.” I was disturbed by his lack of response. Even in the Grey, he was not quite himself, distracted from me, but focused on other things, and the energy surrounding him was dark, bleak, streaked with orange anxiety and red anger.
He paused and looked around. “I’d better tell you the rest once we’re on the train—we have too much moving around to do here. I’m barely keeping my thoughts together and this gets complicated.”
“The metro or the story?”
“Can you tell me where we’re going, at least?”
“First we have to get to the train station, and then I’ll tell you.”
I frowned at him and he saw it. “Lisbon was full of spies during the Second World War. I don’t know why, but the place makes me feel like I’m being watched, like those old, dead spies are still around, doing their work. And with what my dad does, I’m not sure they aren’t. Humor me.”
It wasn’t hard to do so—Lisbon fairly crawled with ghosts. I nodded and followed him past a sign that identified the station as Rossio.
As best I could tell, the metro station took up a large part of the space under the central square with a complex of stairs and concourses leading downward. As with the streets above, the tile work was distractingly beautiful: One bit of floor had an old-style compass rose of tiny mosaic squares. A wall had a long panel of painted tiles running at shoulder height of a woman in a voluminous coat walking along with us, rendered in delicate blue brushwork on white. A staircase descended past a mural of abstracted leaves and flowers in squares of green and gold. It was like walking through a museum collection. I was surprised that most of the people in the station paid it no attention, flowing along in their colorful streams of busy energy to destinations I couldn’t guess, accompanied by the ghosts of commuters past.
“What’s with the tile?” I asked as we continued toward our platform. Determined not to force him to discuss the case, I was still hungry to talk after the long silence of eight months apart.
“I’m not really sure,” he said, still distracted though making an effort, “but much of Portugal was controlled by the Moors for quite a while and I would guess it’s some kind of artistic holdover of their influence. You saw the tiles on the doll hospital building and others, I’m sure. Even the street signs in most places are plaques of painted tiles mounted on the walls. It’s not as common to see the sort of signboards you and I grew up with. On the highways, yes, and in a few very modern ‘designed’ communities, but otherwise, it’s mostly the tiles.”
It was still early for rush hour, but the station was busy and we got a little turned around finding our train and buying tickets. Once we were on the metro, the ride was only a few minutes long. It almost seemed ridiculous not to have walked it, but we did have the advantage of being in a crowd and therefore harder to spot.
We exited the metro outside the Cais do Sodré rail station, which had another breathtaking view of the river—when you could see it past the trains and the people. I was momentarily disoriented by finding myself walking through the ghostly hull of an ancient wooden ship instead of the halls of a modern train station.
“I’d guess this used to be a shipyard,” I said.
Quinton shrugged. “I’m not sure, but it would make sense. Right here where the river widens before joining the sea would be ideal and Portugal was, once, the greatest maritime nation in the Western Hemisphere. That required a lot of ships. You know—Vasco da Gama, Henry the Navigator, and guys like that sailing off and discovering India and Japan and a quarter of Africa, and so on. I’ve never really been able to figure out how they went from being the masters of the seas—the greatest navigators in the world—to this.”
“What do you mean . . . ‘this’?” I asked.
“Saudade—which roughly translates as ‘yearning.’ Maybe you haven’t been here long enough to notice, but there’s a sort of sadness to the Portuguese—especially the Lisboans. Sometime after the earthquake and the loss of Brazil and before the Great Depression, they began to look backward instead of forward. Terrible things happened and although they rebuilt, they didn’t spring back. There are still ruins of the earthquake here in Lisbon—like that church you saw from Rossio. Two hundred and fifty years later, the shells of buildings, the arch of a church doorway . . . They’re still as they were, not cleared away but not really memorialized, either. If you didn’t know what you were looking at, you might think they were just urban blight—people paint graffiti on the walls as if they were the remains of burned-out tenements in South Central L.A.”
“No wonder all the history I see replaying here is of the gruesome variety.”
“But the Portuguese are mostly friendly folks. They’re the sort of people who fix broken dolls for kids and make pencils that smell like orange blossoms and sing sad songs about loss and yearning in tiny bars on the beach where the liquor will kick your legs out from under you. At the same time, some believe there’s a ‘Sleeping King’ who’ll come back to make things right some day, and old women crawl a tenth of a mile on their knees to reach the shrine of Our Lady of Fátima. They’re an odd mix, modern and medieval and generous and sad.”
“I wonder what your father has in mind for them.”
“He may not have much in mind at all aside from snatching Soraia. I haven’t been able to figure out his larger plan beyond ‘sow chaos and reap destruction.’ I haven’t seen much sign of the paranormal, even though I know it’s a big part of whatever he’s up to. I think we may have destroyed a lot of his progress in that respect back in Seattle, but he’s been successful with the ghost boxes at least enough to plant one in most of his units. The way he manages to get information and set people up is uncanny, and I can’t think of any other way he could be doing it.”
“You mean like the box that Sergeyev was stored in—imprisoned ghosts who act as spies and agitators?”