Page 27

 Charlaine Harris

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"I take it you know who this is," I said, trying not to look at the inert figure of Donald Callaway.
"I do. And I've been looking for a chance to shut his mouth forever."
The bowl of sweet potatoes was still letting off steam.
"I can't pretend to regret he's dead," I said. "But this whole incident is kind of shocking, and it's taking me a minute to collect myself. In fact, I've been through a lot of shocking stuff lately. But what else is new? Sorry, I'm babbling."
"I can quite understand that. Shall I tell you what I've been doing?"
"Yes, please. Have a seat and talk to me." It would give me a chance to recover.
The demon sat opposite me and smiled in a cordial way. "When last you saw me, you were giving a baby shower, I believe? And the hellhounds were pursuing me. Do you mind if I impose on you for a glass of ice water?"
"Not at all," I said, and rose to fetch it. I had to step over the body.
"Thank you, my dear." The lawyer finished the glass in one long swallow. I refilled it. I was glad to return to my seat.
"You look kind of beat up," I observed, for I'd watched him as he drank. Mr. Cataliades was usually very well turned out in expensive suits that could not hide his round figure but at least made him look prosperous. The suit he had on had certainly looked much better when he'd bought it. Now it was marred with snags and holes and frayed spots, and spotted with stains. His once-polished brogans could not be salvaged. Even his socks were in tatters. The tonsure of dark hair was full of debris, leaves and twigs. Could it be he hadn't had a chance to change clothes since I'd last seen him sitting here in this kitchen, taking a time-out from his pursuit by four-legged streaks of darkness?
"Yes," he said, looking down at his condition. "'Kind of beat up' is a gentle way to put it. Those streaks of darkness were hellhounds." It was no shock to me that he could read my mind; my own telepathy had been a birth present from Mr. Cataliades. He'd always been very good at concealing his own gift, never betraying by so much as a glance that he could read human minds. But I'd figured he must have it, if he could give it away. "The hellhounds pursued me for a very long time, and I had no idea why. I could not fathom what I had done to offend their master." He shook his head. "Now, of course, I know."
I waited for him to tell me what he'd done, but he wasn't ready for that.
"Finally, I became far enough ahead of the hounds to take time to arrange an ambush. By then, Diantha had been able to find me to join in the surprise I'd planned for them. We had ... quite a struggle with the hounds." He was silent for a moment. I looked at the stains on his clothing and took a deep breath.
"Please tell me Diantha isn't dead," I said. His niece Diantha was one of the most unusual creatures I'd ever met, and that was saying something, considering whom I could enter in my address book.
"We prevailed," he said simply. "But it cost us, of course. I had to lie hidden in the woods for many days until I was able to travel again. Diantha recovered more quickly since her wounds were slighter, and she brought me food and began gathering information. We needed to understand before we could begin to dig ourselves out of trouble."
"Uh-huh," I said, wondering where this was going to lead. "You want to share that information with me? I'm pretty sure that this guy didn't understand my gran's letter." I nodded my head at the body.
"He may not have understood the context, and he didn't believe in fairies, but he did see the phrase 'cluviel dor,'" Mr. Cataliades said.
"But how come he knew it was valuable? He definitely didn't know what it can do, because he didn't understand the reality of fairies."
"I learned from my sponsor, Bertine, that Callaway Googled the term 'cluviel dor.' He found one reference in a fragment of text from an old Irish folk tale," Mr. Cataliades said.
This Bertine must be Mr. Cataliades's godmother, in effect, the same way Mr. Cataliades (my grandfather's best friend) was mine. I wondered briefly what Bertine looked like, where she lived. But Mr. Cataliades was still talking.
"Computers are another reason to deplore this age, when no one has to really travel to learn important things from other cultures." He shook his head, and a fragment of leaf floated to the floor and landed on the corpse. "And I'll tell you more about my sponsor when we have some leisure. You might like her."
I suspected Mr. Cataliades also had flashes of foreseeing.
"Fortunately for us, Callaway came to Bertine's attention when he persisted in his research. Of course, it was unfortunate for him." Mr. Cataliades spared a downward glance at the inert Donald. "Callaway tracked down a supposed expert in fairy lore, someone who could tell him what little is known about this legendary fairy artifact; namely, the fact that none exist on this earth anymore. Unfortunately, this expert-who was Bertine, as you have no doubt surmised-did not understand the importance of keeping silent. Since dear Bertine didn't believe that there were any cluviel dors left in either world, she felt free to talk about them. Therefore, she was ignorant of the wrong she committed when she told Callaway that a cluviel dor could be made in almost any form or shape. Callaway had never suspected the item he'd held was an actual fae artifact until he talked to Bertine. He imagined scholars and folklorists would give a pretty penny to possess such a thing."
"When he showed me the drawer, I didn't get that he'd already opened it," I said quietly. "How could that be?"
"Were you shielding?"
"I'm sure I was." I did it without thinking, to protect myself. Of course, I couldn't maintain such a level of blocking all day, every day. And of course, it protected your brain only like wearing earmuffs affected your hearing; a lot of stuff still filtered in, especially from a strong broadcaster. But apparently Donald had been preoccupied that day, and I had been so excited at the contents of the drawer I hadn't realized he was seeing the Butterick pattern envelope and the velvet bag for the second time. He hadn't believed he'd found anything valuable or notable: a confusing letter from an old woman about having children and getting a present, and a bag containing an old toiletry item, maybe a powder compact. It was when he'd thought the find over later and Googled the odd phrase that he'd begun to wonder if those items might be valuable.
"I need to give you lessons, child, as I should have done before. Isn't it nice that we're finally getting to know one another? I regret that it takes a huge crisis to impel me to make this offer."
I nodded faintly. I was glad to learn something about my telepathy from my sponsor, but it was kind of daunting to think of Desmond Cataliades becoming part of my everyday life. Of course, he knew what I was thinking, so I said hurriedly, "Please tell me what happened next."
"When Diantha thought of questioning Bertine, Bertine realized what she had done. Far from giving a human a useless bit of information about old fairy lore, she had revealed a secret. She came to me while I was recuperating, and I finally understood why I'd been pursued."
"Because ..." I tried to arrange my thoughts. "Because you'd kept secret the existence of a cluviel dor?"
"Yes. My friendship with Fintan, whose name your grandmother mentioned in the letter, was no secret. Stupid Callaway Googled Fintan, too, and though he didn't find out anything about the real Fintan, the conjunction of the two searches sent out an alarm that eventually reached ... the wrong ears. The fact that Fintan was your grandfather is no secret, either, since Niall found you and chose to honor you with his love and protection. It would not take much to put these snippets together."
"This is the only cluviel dor left in the world?" Awesome.
"Unless one lies lost and forgotten in the land of the fae. And believe me, there are plenty who search every day for such a thing."
"Can I give it away?"
"You'll need it if you're attacked. And you will be attacked," Mr. Cataliades said, matter-of-factly. "You can use it for yourself, you know; loving yourself is a legitimate trigger of its magic. Giving it to someone else would seal their death warrant. I don't think you'd want that, though my knowledge of you is inadequate."
Gee. A lot of swell news.
"I wish Adele had used it herself, to save her own life or the life of one of her children, to take the burden from you. I can only suppose that she didn't believe in its power."
"Probably not," I agreed. And if she had, she almost certainly felt that using it would not be a Christian act. "So, who's after the cluviel dor? I guess you know, by now?"
"I'm not sure that knowledge would be good for you," he said.
"How come you can read my mind, but I can't read yours?" I asked, tired of being transparent. Now I knew how other people must feel when I plucked a thought or two from their brains. Mr. Cataliades was a master at this, while I was very much a novice. He seemed to hear everything, and it didn't seem to bother him. Before I'd learned to shield, the world had been a babble of talk inside my head. Now that I could block those thoughts for the most part, life was easier, but it was frustrating when I actually wanted to hear: I seldom got a full thought or understood its context. It was surprisingly deflating to realize that it wasn't how much I heard that was amazing, it was how much I missed.
"Well, I am mostly a demon," he said apologetically. "And you're mostly only human."
"Do you know Barry?" I asked, and even Mr. Cataliades looked a little surprised.
"Yes," he said, after a perceptible hesitation. "The young man who can also read minds. I saw him in Rhodes, before and after the explosion."
"If I came to be telepathic because of your-well, essentially, your baby shower present-how come Barry is telepathic?"
Mr. Cataliades pulled himself straight and looked anywhere but at me. "Barry is my great-great-grandson."
"So, you're much older than you look."
This was taken as a compliment. "Yes, my young friend, I am. I don't neglect the boy, you know. He doesn't really know me, and of course he doesn't know his heritage, but I've kept him out of a lot of trouble. Not the same thing as having a fairy godmother as you had, but I've done my best."
"Of course," I said, because it hadn't been my intent to accuse Mr. Cataliades of ignoring his own kin. I'd just been curious. Time to change the subject, before I told him that my own fairy godmother had gotten killed defending me. "Are you gonna tell me who's after the cluviel dor?"
He looked profoundly sorry for me. There was a lot of that going around. "Let's get rid of this body first, shall we?" he said. "Do you have any disposal suggestions?"
I so seldom had to dispose of a human body myself, I was at a loss. Fairies turned into dust, and vampires flaked away. Demons had to be burned. Humans were very troublesome.
Mr. Cataliades, picking up on that thought, turned away with a small smile. "I hear Diantha coming," he remarked. "Maybe she'll have a plan."
Sure enough, the skinny girl glided into the room from the back door. I hadn't even heard her enter or detected her brain. She was wearing an eye-shattering combination: a very short yellow-and-black striped skirt over royal blue leggings, and a black leotard. Her black ankle boots were laced up with broad white laces. Today, her hair was bright pink. "Sookieyoudoingokay?" she asked.
It took me a second to translate, and then I nodded. "We got to get rid of this," I said, pointing to the body, which was absolutely obvious in a kitchen the size of mine.
"Thatshutsonedoor," she said to her uncle.
He nodded gravely. "I suppose the best way to proceed is to load him into the trunk of his car," Mr. Cataliades said. "Diantha, do you think you could assume his appearance?"
Diantha made a disgusted face but quickly bent to Donald Callaway's face and stared into it. She plucked a hair from his head, closed her eyes. Her lips moved, and the air had that magic feel I'd noticed when my friend Amelia had performed one of her spells.
In a moment, to my shock, Donald Callaway was standing in front of us staring down at his own body.
It was Diantha, completely transformed. She was even wearing Callaway's clothes, or at least that was the way she appeared to my eyes.
"Fuckthisshit," Callaway said, and I knew Diantha was in charge. But it was beyond strange to see Mr. Cataliades and Donald Callaway carrying out Callaway's body to his car, unlocked with the keys extracted from the corpse's pocket.
I followed them out, watching carefully to make sure nothing fell or leaked from the body.
"Diantha, drive to the airport in Shreveport and park the car there. Call a cab to pick you up, and have it drop you off at ... at the police station. From there, find a good place to change back, so they'll lose the trail."
She nodded with a jerk and climbed into the car.
"Diantha can keep his appearance all the way to Shreveport?" I said, as she turned the car around with a grind of the wheel. She (he) waved gaily as she took off like a rocket. I hoped she made it back to Shreveport without getting a ticket.
"She won't get a ticket," Mr. Cataliades answered my thought.
But here came Jason in his pickup.
"Oh, hell," I said. "His sweet potatoes aren't ready."
"I need say good-bye, anyway," Mr. Cataliades said. "I know there are some things I haven't told you, but I must go now. I may have taken care of the hellhounds, but yours aren't my only secrets."