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chapter six

Doing something, as Billy had put it, amounted to regrouping at Billy's house and trying to find Jaq. Billy's house seemed to be the right place for it, because Iris' apartment was too small, and the coffee shop wouldn't give them much privacy. When Iris arrived, Billy told her he'd spent hours calling every law firm in town. Apparently, he had the name of the lawyers wrong. So far, he'd gotten nothing. Iris was disappointed, but she still thought that if they put their heads together, they could figure something out. Billy had one more firm on his list to try, and he dialed the number with Iris looking on. As she heard him say Jaq's full name�Jaqueline Schmerfeld�she buried her face in her hands. Schmerfeld? Jaq's last name was Schmerfeld? Why hadn't Billy mentioned that?

Billy shot a questioning glance in her direction, but finished the phone call. "Nothing," he said. "Even if we did find the law firm, there's probably like attorney-client privilege or something and they wouldn't tell us anything."

It didn't matter. They could get in touch with Jaq. Or at least her parents. As long as . . ." Are Jaq's parents still married?" Iris asked.

"Yeah. Why?"

"Do they live around here?"

"In the city. Are you . . . going somewhere with this?"

"How many Schmerfelds do you think there are in the phone book?"

Billy sighed. "I'm an idiot." He handed her the phone book.

She paged through it. There were four Schmerfelds. "Hopefully, one of these is Jaq's parents," she said. "I can call them if you're too tired of being on the phone. I'll pretend to be a friend from high school trying to get in touch with her. Was Jaq good at any subjects in school?"

"I didn't know her when she was in school."

"You were going to marry this woman, and you never got to talking about your high school experiences?"

Billy shrugged. "She was in the band. She played trumpet."

That was something, anyway. Iris picked up the phone and dialed the first Schmerfeld number. It was disconnected. A little girl answered the second number.

"Hi," said Iris, "is your mommy there?"

"She's sleeping," said the little girl. "I'm supposed to take messages."

"Do you have a sister?" asked Iris. She should have asked Billy this kind of stuff before picking up the phone. How was she to know if Jaq had younger siblings or not?

"No," said the little girl. "It's just me and Mommy."

"Okay," said Iris. "Thanks."

The third number was busy.

The fourth number rang and rang. Finally, a gruff-voiced man picked up. "Hello?"

"Hi," said Iris. "I'm looking for Jaqueline Schmerfeld. Does she�"

"No Jaqueline here," said the man and hung up.

Iris tried the third number again. It was still busy. It was busy ten minutes later and still busy twenty minutes later and still busy thirty minutes later.

After an hour, the phone finally rang when she tried it. A woman answered after a few rings. "Hello?"

"Hello," said Iris. "I'm looking for an old classmate of mine named Jaqueline Schmerfeld."

"Jaqueline's our daughter," said the woman.

Iris threw Billy a thumbs up sign. "I'm in the area," she said to the receiver, "and I just thought I'd try to look Jaq up. We were in band together in high school. Do you happen to have a number where I could reach her?"

"Oh, honey," said Jaq's mother, "you don't know, do you?"

"Know what?"

"Jaq's in jail. She was brought up on murder charges a year ago."

"What?!" Okay. How was it that Billy didn't know anything about this?

"Yes. We've been appealing, but so far we haven't had any luck. Of course, Jaq didn't do it. If you knew her, you know that."

"Yeah," said Iris. "She was a really sweet girl."


"Where is she? Do they allow visitors?" At least she and Billy had found out where Jaq was. Even if it was . . . jail.

"You'd like to go see her?"

"That's why I called."

"Oh she'd like that. Poor dear. She's very alone."

Iris scribbled the name of the jail and some directions there. Jaq's mother also gave her a phone number. Iris hung up. Wordlessly, she handed the paper she'd scribbled on to Billy. Somehow, she didn't think he was going to take the news well.

He shook his head. "But she got off. I read it in the paper�" He stopped. "Kei showed me that article." He shook his head. "That bitch. All this time, I thought Jaq just wasn't answering my calls. All this time . . . Jaq must think I'm the most horrible person on earth. She's been in jail, and I haven't visited or even written, and I love her. And . . . my God." He looked back down at the paper. "This is upstate. We could be there in two hours."

We? He'd said we. "Maybe you'd rather I didn't come?" said Iris.

"No, you should come," said Billy.

Discussion ensued. Iris didn't want to get in the way of a reunion between the former lovers. She just felt that she'd be out of place, and that it was something that Billy should do on his own. Billy didn't know if Jaq would even speak to him. He wanted Iris to come along, but he didn't really know why. He just seemed so lost in guilt and so angry with himself. He went on and on about wanting Iris to keep him grounded or for moral support or because he might be too overwhelmed with emotion to drive. Finally, Iris agreed to come along. Whatever was going on with Billy, he seemed like he might be able to use her help.

Iris called the prison to find out about visiting hours. By the time they arrived, they would have barely an hour to spare before visiting time was over. She quietly suggested waiting until the next day, but Billy was adamant about going right then, and Iris could tell it wouldn't matter what she said.

So she nodded, she told him to get his keys, and they got into his car and drove. One long car ride later, they were in the parking lot and headed for the entrance.

The jail was surrounded by a fence topped with spiraling razor wire. It was a red-brick, squarish, several-storied building with tiny windows. The lettering proclaiming the jail's name consisted of dull metal letters nailed into the brick. Approaching the jail made a knot start to tangle in Iris' stomach. Was it too late to ask Billy to wait until tomorrow to go in? She guessed it was.

Once inside, signs directed them to the visitor's waiting lounge. Before they could go in, they had to check in at a counter just outside. The man behind the counter was chewing gum and reading a paperback novel. He didn't look up when they approached.

Billy cleared his throat.

The man made a show of marking his place in the book, then smiled amiably at them. "What can I do for you folks?"

Billy didn't say anything. He looked at Iris. She guessed she was supposed to speak. Whatever.

"We're here to visit an inmate," said Iris.

"Inmate's name?"

"Jaqueline Schmerfeld."

The man typed on his keyboard and studied his computer screen. "Mmmm . . . she's not scheduled for visitors."

"Is that a problem?"

"It speeds things along. We can go get her, but it'll take twenty minutes or so. What are your names?"

"Iris Tanner and Billy Jordan."

"You're not on her approved visitor list."

"List?" said Billy.

Iris hushed him. "Oh, sure we are," she said. "Look again." She floated a tendril of magic over the counter, making the man see their names on the list.

"Oh," he said. "So you are. I could have sworn . . . well, if you'll have a seat, we'll let you know when we're ready for you."

To get into the lounge and sit down, they had to walk through a metal detector. It didn't go off, and they settled into seats to wait. Billy seemed nervous. He kept standing up and pacing, then sitting back down again. Iris felt nervous too, and she wasn't entirely sure why. It wasn't as if she were reuniting with her lost love. But she didn't like being in here. Inside the prison. She felt closed in. It wasn't as easy to breathe inside. With her faint struggle for breath and Billy's fidgeting, it was a very long twenty minutes.

At last, they were summoned to the visiting area, a room with round tables surrounded by folding chairs. It reminded Iris of a high school cafeteria. Would the similarities never end? A guard stood at the door to let them in. After they entered, Iris heard the door lock behind them. Involuntarily, she shivered. Prisoners and their visitors filled two of the tables. Jaq sat at a table alone. She had short-cropped red hair, and the orange prison uniform clashed badly with her freckled complexion. When she saw Billy, her eyes lit up.

Iris and Billy sat down with her.

"Billy," said Jaq. "You got away from her. I didn't think you�or is that her?" She looked at Iris.

"I'm not Kei," said Iris. After all, that must be what Jaq meant. Right?

"This is Iris," said Billy. "She's a friend."

A very different look crossed Jaq's face. "You have a new girlfriend?"

Iris shook her head vigorously.

"No," said Billy. "She's just a friend. She's here for . . ." he trailed off. "I am so sorry, Jaq. I would have been here. I would have done something�"

"It's okay," said Jaq. "I know how powerful Kei is."

"I should have come sooner. You don't understand. I've been�"

"You don't have to explain," said Jaq. "I do understand. It's miraculous you're here at all."

Billy started to speak, then stopped. "It's good to see you," he said. "Your hair . . ."

Jaq put her hand on the nape of her neck and fingered it. "It's easier to keep it short," she said. "Is it awful?"

"You're beautiful," said Billy.

Okay. The two of them were going to get cozy, weren't they? "Maybe I should wait outside," said Iris.

Billy turned to her as if he'd forgotten she was there. "Would you mind?"

"Nope," said Iris. "Just don't forget to ask her."

Billy looked at her questioningly.

"About the daion queen," Iris said.

Billy nodded. "I won't forget."

Iris got up and went to the door. The guard at the door signaled through the glass to the operator outside. There was a buzzing sound, and then the door unlocked. Iris stepped out. Just being out of that room made her feel a little better. Still, as she sat in the waiting room for another half an hour, she couldn't help but wish Billy would hurry up. Finally, Billy emerged from the visitor's room.

"Let's go," he said. He looked around anxiously.

"Did you find anything out?" Iris asked.

"I'll tell you later," he said. "Let's go."

Billy rushed her all the way out to the car. When they got there, he opened the back door, shut it, and then got in the passenger's side.

"What are�" started Iris.

Billy leaned over and opened the driver's side door. "You drive," he said, holding up the keys.

Iris stared at him in confusion.

"Come on," Billy said. "Let's get out of here."

Iris got in the car and took the keys from Billy. "I don�t have my driver's license on me," she said. "I didn't think�"

"Just drive," said Billy.

Iris pulled the driver's side door shut and started the car. Billy was in a bad mood. Seeing Jaq had probably upset him, she thought as she drove out of the parking lot. Once they were out of sight of the prison, Jaq appeared in the back seat of Billy's car with an audible pop.

Iris swerved in surprise.

"Watch it!" said Billy.

She pulled the car back into her lane. "What the hell is wrong with you?" she said.

"I couldn't leave her there," said Billy. "It's my fault she's there in the first place."

"You broke her out of jail," said Iris.

"No one saw anything," said Billy. "I set up an illusory Jaq in her place."

"How long is that going to hold up?" Iris said. "I bet they knew she was missing before we left. And they know our names, Billy. Our real names."

"Our names weren't really on the list."

"Exactly! The guy will remember how they 'appeared,' and then Jaq will have disappeared, obviously through magical means, and they'll be after us."

"No way. He won't remember our names."

"Even if he doesn't, you're the most likely person to break Jaq out of jail. You're her fianc�!"

"Oh," said Billy. "We probably shouldn't go back to my place."

"You didn't plan this?" asked Jaq from the back seat.

"Well . . ." said Billy.

"God, Billy, that is so like you," said Jaq.

"Don't both of you start ganging up on me," said Billy. "I just expended a shitload of magic, and I'm exhausted."

"You put all of us in danger," said Iris.

"People who use magic don't go to jail, you know," said Jaq. "If they find us, they'll kill us."

"And how are we supposed to save the world if we're dead?" said Iris.

"What?" said Jaq.

"Oh, I guess you didn't get around to telling her about that," said Iris.

"I figured there'd be time," said Billy.

"We've got a two hour car ride," said Iris. "There's time now."

"I'm tired," said Billy.

"You're not too tired to talk."

Iris used an illusion to change the color of the car and the license plate number, in case anyone was following them. Billy sighed and began explaining. The first thing he had to do was explain to Jaq that he thought she was free and ignoring him, and that he'd actually been able to do something about her situation earlier than now. Jaq took the news fairly well. She didn't say anything to Billy about it, at any rate, possibly because he kept peppering his narrative with, "I'm so stupid." Of course, she didn't disagree with him either.

Then he explained to her about Mischief, about the myths, about the reality of Zain, and about their hope to try to find the court of the daion queen to attempt to convince her that Zain was indeed real and that something needed to be done. Jaq informed them that the court of the queen moved. The queen set it up wherever she wanted, and Jaq didn't think it was in the same place that it had been when she got into prison. She might be able to find out where it was, but she wasn't even sure that the threat of Zain was real. Kei wasn't always honest, and Jaq thought that maybe she'd just said it to upset Billy.

Iris pointed out the fact that Mischief was a sober band, which was obviously kind of weird. Jaq didn't deny the fact that Mischief was made up of pixies. She'd seen the creation of Snake. But that didn't mean that they'd conjured up some monster to destroy the human race.

The matter was left unsettled once Billy pointed out they had more immediate issues, such as where to stay. Iris reluctantly consented to letting them sleep at her place. It wasn't that she didn't want to be hospitable, it was just that her apartment was so small. And she only had her one mattress�no couches or futons. She didn't even think she had extra blankets. No one was going to be comfortable. Was she going to have to surrender her bed to Jaq and Billy? It wasn't really big enough for two, but she didn't suppose they'd mind being so close to each other. For some reason, the idea of Billy and Jaq snuggling made her sick.

When they finally pulled up to Iris' apartment building, it was dark. The light was on in her kitchen. Iris didn't remember turning it off, but she usually did turn it off. She had to remember to be more careful about that. Electric bills could get expensive if she didn't. Billy and Jaq followed her up the steps to the door of her apartment. The door was unlocked. Now, she knew she'd locked the door.

Heaving a huge sigh, she swung it open. "Scott?"

"Right here," he answered cheerfully from the kitchen table.

"I have company," said Iris. "It's not a good time." She, Billy, and Jaq all trooped into the kitchen.

"Oh," said Scott. "Are you having a m�nage a trios with these very attractive people? Because if you are, might I suggest the addition of a fourth person? It helps to keep anyone from feeling left out."

"Jesus, Scott," said Iris, "that is way inappropriate." To Jaq and Billy: "Have a seat."

The two sat down at the table, and Iris followed suit. She continued talking to Scott: "You really shouldn't keep breaking into my house like this. You totally freaked me out�"

"Well, that's why last time I left the light off, but you said I should turn it on, so�"

"If you need to talk to me," said Iris, "there's a nifty new invention called the telephone. You can just call from the convenience of your own home."

"You're never here," said Scott.

"What do you want?" Iris said. "I don't have anything to spare. If you're hungry�"

"No, no," he said. "I come bearing gifts. Go look in your pantry."

Iris did as she was told. A few seconds later, inside the pantry, she exploded. "Holy shit, Scott. Where did you get all this?"

"Gang war in the city," Scott said. "I figured I owed you."

Iris came back into the kitchen and gave Scott a huge hug. "Thank you. It's amazing. Thank you so much."

"It's still pretty fresh," said Scott, "but it should ripen up soon. We'll have a feast."

Jaq was confused. Her eyes darted from Iris to Billy.

"Iris is a ghoul," said Billy.

"Really?" said Jaq. A note of distaste crept into her voice.

"Who are these people?" Scott asked.

"Billy's the guy who was stalking me," said Iris, "and this is his fianc�, Jaq."

"You were stalking her?" said Jaq.

"Not really," said Billy.

"Your ex-stalker is company?" said Scott.

"Sort of," said Iris.

Scott shrugged. "Hell. I guess it's none of my business. I'm gonna get going. I'll see you around."

"Thanks so much, Scott. Really," said Iris.

"Hey, no sweat," he said, getting up and heading for the door. His hand on the knob, he stopped. "Oh, by the way, your phone rang nonstop while I was here. I was going to answer it, but I figured you might not like that."

"Good guess," said Iris.

"Right," said Scott. "See ya." He left.

Iris sat back down at the table. "No one calls me."

"You're a ghoul?" said Jaq. "How did you and Billy even meet?"

"He was following me," said Iris.

"She used to be the lead singer of Satin Blades," said Billy. "You remember Satin Blades?"

Jaq shook her head.

"They were a kick ass local band. They played in the city a lot, and now they're on tour with Mischief."

The phone rang.

Iris got up and answered it. "Hello?"

"It's Rhett," said the voice on the other end.

"Rhett? Are you okay?"

"I'm fine. I was worried about you. You haven't answered your phone. I've been trying to call you for two days. Is something wrong with your phone?"

"I've been gone a lot is all. What did you need?"

"It's about Mischief. I overheard a conversation they were having, and it was really weird. Since you wanted to know if seemed normal when you called, I thought you might want to know about this."

"Yeah. Yeah, you did the right thing. What were they saying?"

"They've got something that's hungry, and they're afraid it might eat crew members. Oh, and they said something about a sacrifice. Do you know what they were talking about?"

"I think so. Look, be careful around Mischief, okay? They might be dangerous."

"What's going on?"

"Maybe nothing, if we can stop it. But if you find out anything else, let me know, all right?"

"All right," he said. "Oh, and I lied."


"I'm seeing Ros."

"Oh," said Iris. She felt her stomach turn over. Turn inside out.

"I don't know why I've been lying about it, but I feel really guilty about not being straight with you. I wanted to�"

"It's okay. It doesn't matter." Anything to get off the phone with him. To stop his talking about this.

"Are you seeing anyone?"

"No," she said.

"Then why have you been gone a lot?"

"We don't have to talk about this." Ever. She didn't even have to think about it. Did she?

"Okay. I'm sorry."

"Take care." She hung up before he could answer, and sat down heavily at the table. Rhett was seeing Ros. She hadn't thought he was. God damn it. She really hadn't thought he was. She'd hoped�

"Who was that?" asked Billy.

Oh. Right. Billy and Jaq were still there. Iris relayed to them what Rhett had told her, leaving out the stuff about Ros. That was none of their business. Billy immediately began gloating to Jaq, who rolled her eyes, but admitted it did sound like the threat of Zain was real. Still, she didn't think they should count on the daion queen. "It's a long shot," Jaq said. "We need to prepare for the circumstance in which she doesn't help us."

"If she doesn't help us, we die," said Billy.

* * *

At 9:00 PM that evening, a court order for the execution of Jaqueline Schmerfeld was released to Magic Management officers. Schmerfeld had been witnessed using magic to aid in her escape from jail. She disappeared from sight in front of three witnesses. The evidence against her was rock solid. An investigation into the alleged involvement of the two visitors that had come to see Schmerfeld before the incident was underway. The visitors had been on the approved visitor's list, and, though the guard on duty could not verify this 100 percent, were believed to be Schmerfeld's cousin, Ruth Gaunt, and her husband, Jake. The pair had been seen leaving the prison alone. Magic use on their part had not been ruled out. No directives had been issued for them at this time.

Normally, Buckingham would have tossed the bulletin without a second thought. After all, he worked in research at Magic Management, a cushy desk job. He didn't carry out court orders for execution. He usually skimmed the bulletins to keep up with what was going on in the office, but beyond that, he wasn't much interested. It was the description of the cousin and her husband that caught his eye. He was working late, and he clutched the bulletin, staring at it under the lights of his desk in the darkened office. Most everyone else had gone home. He reread the description again. She was short with blonde hair; he was tall and dark. Just like the couple at the coffee shop.

Admittedly, many people fit the description given in the bulletin, but still . . . It wasn't Buckingham's job to do legwork, but as near as he could tell, the report he'd filed on the coffee shop couple wasn't going anywhere. It couldn't hurt to check things out a little. The clerk had said the girl played guitar at Martino's. Martino's was on his way home from work.

chapter seven >>

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