ONE HUNDRED TEN
“My preparations have been hasty and incomplete,” Watermelon Shoulders began again, as if discussing plans for a cocktail party. The caterers are late, the marquee has a hole in it, and one of the guests is so allergic to nuts the toasted cashews with tamari have been banned. Given my attitude toward cocktail parties the fact that I’d rather he were discussing plans for one meant I was really out of my comfort zone. One dead guy or a cocktail party . . . okay, I might go for the dead guy. But ‘he is only the first’? No. The cocktail party wins. Even someone going off in anaphylactic shock if someone says ‘cashew’ in their hearing, you call an ambulance while (you hope) they’re reaching for their EpiPen. But the bottom line is that there are no swords involved.
I wiggled my fingers on the sword hilt.
“In greatest part because I believed I had no other choice. We did not see thee”—
Why did I hear a capital S on ‘see’?
“—till thy hound found thee, and shewed us what we had been too short-sighted to descry.”-
Shooed? Oh. Shewed. Archaic English is alive and well and living in Cold Valley. The priest at my mother’s Episcopal church, who had always been a trifle volatile, had once nearly come to blows with a visiting academic on the question of the pronunciation of shew. I couldn’t remember now which of them had been willing to punch someone out over shoe or show although at the time seventh-grade me had thought it was about the most exciting thing that had ever happened in church.
“Thou’rt not what the omen had led us to envisage.”
Also this we he kept referring to. Who was we? Another question I wasn’t going to ask. I wasn’t asking questions. Also because I was sure the answer would involve more swords.
I had turned my head to look at him. He was smiling at me. It was a surprisingly nice smile. He was actually kind of gorgeous. Circumstances had conspired to prevent me from noticing this before. I felt myself smiling back. Forget it, MacFarquhar. He’s at least ten years younger than you are. Maybe fifteen. As well as imaginary. Or something. Like five of the six rose bushes on the window seat were imaginary. Like the dead guy and the blood were imaginary. I hoped if any of the blood was oozing dreadfully near any of the books scattered over the floor that it was particularly imaginary.
Also this young gorgeous smiling guy was carrying a sword. In the last few minutes I had taken strongly against the presence of swords. If the dead guy hadn’t had a sword he probably wouldn’t be dead. I wondered what had happened to his sword. No I didn’t. And I wasn’t really holding the hilt of a—one of those things—myself.
I could almost wish something would happen so I didn’t have to hear any more of what Watermelon Shoulders was saying. I was sure he wasn’t done ruining my day/night/life. The spiky shadow in the corner of the window seat (the spiky shadow which was definitely also on my list of imaginary) seemed to unbend a limb and refold it around the nearest rose bush. I rolled the pebble with my left forefinger a little more. I might have liked to hum an insouciant little tune but that was beyond me.
There was a breathless hush. I didn’t at all like the waiting quality of it. Even the snaky air seemed to be coiling and recoiling more slowly. Nasty waits I have known: Waiting for your father to tell you that yes he has left you and your mother and no he’s not coming back. Waiting to hear if you flunked Algebra II and will have to go to summer school. Waiting to find out if the scuttlebutt is true that your editor (who isn’t answering either her phone calls or her emails) has been fired and your publishing house is planning to renege on all her outstanding contracts, including the one for the first three books of your new series. Waiting to hear that your own divorce has gone through because you still can’t quite believe it. . . . This particular braced-for-the-worst waiting had one thing going for it though: Watermelon Shoulders had stopped speaking.
Then he had to go and wreck it. “Silverheart knows her business,” said Watermelon Shoulders softly, as if he thought he was being reassuring. “I have not known the wristlet as long, but she comes with a fine pedigree.”
Pedigree? I thought wildly. You don’t mean CV? My eyes were stretched so wide the lids hurt, staring at the spiky shadow which, curled round the rose-bush the way it now was, could merely be more rose-bush. A lot more rose-bush. Like another one of the climbers on the back porch which ate Chihuahuas and small children.
There was something about the way the spiky shadow had paused—as if it were listening. Sid had raised her head off the table and was standing stiffly at attention. Watermelon Shoulders looming at my shoulder went suddenly still in a way I had no trouble at all deciding was bad news. . . .
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