I looked at my inbox again. I could see six emails from my agent, four from Flowerhair’s editor and two from Aldetruda’s among the ninety million emails from people wanting to sell me life insurance, cashmere pashminas, solar panels, pyramid healing, scuba diving holidays in Mauritius (that one sounded pretty good, especially right now), museum memberships and climbing frames for my roses. What? Gossip apparently doesn’t travel nearly as fast as an on-line purveyor can smell a potential new client and hit the ‘send’ button. I needed a bed worse than my roses needed climbing frames. I needed a bed, sixteen blankets, a flannel nightgown and bed socks. And possibly a warm dog. Besides, you didn’t buy climbing frames for roses, did you? That was what the pillars holding up your porch roof were for, right? I had a bad feeling that gardening might turn out to be complicated. And expensive. Maybe I could start with a nice basic gardening book to read in bed, with the sixteen blankets and the warm dog. It would tell me that you too could have a fabulous garden with an acre of roses like the Brooklyn Botanic with only a $3.49 trowel and a lot of green twine. And Gus to mow the lawn.
I also needed a car. The jelly doughnut had distracted me. Or possibly the thought of Norah storming up here, with her red hair, her scarlet lipstick, her skintight red leather trousers, and her attitude.
I pulled out my phone and punched in the number at the bottom of Gus’ mom’s note.
“Yo,” said her voice.
“Hi,” I said. “Car.”
“Kes?” she said. “I’m pretty sure I was careful not to specify car. I’m pretty sure I said vehicle.”
“You’re scaring me.”
“It’s a very nice vehicle,” she said. “It runs. And there are no skulls on it anywhere. Relax.”
“I’ve forgotten how to relax,” I said. “I think I left relaxing back in the city.”
“Manhattan, home of the easy-going and chilled out.”
“Ha ha. Where is this vehicle?”
“Jan took the liberty of bringing it along,” said Serena. “It’s parked outside number seven, trying not to be intimidated by your van. Where are you?”
“I’m at Eats,” I began, and she laughed. “I’ll be there in a very few minutes,” I added, wiping sugar off my fingers.
“I’m in the office,” she said. “I’ll look out for you.”
I stuffed my laptop, not without a guilty sense of relief, back in my knapsack, dropped a few dollars on the table—and gave the tea cosy a surreptitious pat. “So soon?” said Bridget, reappearing to collect everything back on the tray again. “Don’t you need a pastrami on rye to hold that jelly doughnut down? Or a bowl of chili?”
“No,” I said. “I need a job that burns 4000 calories a day. Anyone digging a road through wilderness with pickaxes around here?”
“I don’t think so,” said Bridget, “but they’re doing some kind of major conservation deal on the shorefront at the far end of the lake. I think it involves cement blocks and heavy lifting. They might be hiring.”
“Thanks,” I said. Getting into my knapsack was never pretty, but it would improve as soon as I had a house and could leave stuff there.
As I walked back down Bradbury I looked around for trotting shadows, but there weren’t any—of course. She was crashed out under the kitchen table in her own home, having borne the being yelled at for jumping the fence again, because the food was good. Well, I hoped the food was good. My mother had a patented rant on proprietary dog food. The Silent Wonder Dog—who was still entirely unknown having nothing to do with low-ish trotting shadows—would be given real food. I’d have to learn to cook. (I had specialities—like Death by Brownie—but I wouldn’t say I knew how to cook.) Surely boiling chicken carcasses wasn’t a difficult skill.
Serena was coming out of the office door as I crossed the street. “Anyone would think you were worried about my reaction,” I said.
“Worried?” she said. “I wouldn’t miss the look on your face for anything.”
I looked uneasily toward cabin number seven. Whatever was there was behind the van and disguised by afternoon tree shadows. I thought the skull’s jaw looked even more dislocated than it had when I left this morning, and its burning eyes more frantic. Get me out of here, it was screaming (silently), where there are crickets and cows and they park me next to a . . .
“So, did you find a house?”
I could see my rose-bush on the cabin porch. I was sure it had unfurled several new leaves since this morning. Rose-bushes were perhaps not unduly distressed by rogue vehicles. “What? Oh. Yeah. In Cold Valley. It’s too big and it’s pretty ramshackle but it’s kind of—charming.”
Serena nodded. “Yeah. I got Mrs Jenning’s house cheap because she hadn’t remodelled since her husband died thirty years before. And the old zinc sink is still in the kitchen because I like it.”
“There’s a gigantic solid-fuel stove in the kitchen at this place that must have been there when Washington crossed the Potomac—”
But at that moment we were close enough to see past the van to my new vehicle.
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