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Buckingham was packing. He was going on what Price had referred to as a vacation. Price had insisted he take one after Jenna had broken the story on Jordan, Tanner, and Schmerfeld. Thanks to Buckingham's tip, all three of their faces were plastered on television screens nationwide. Price had been livid. How dare Buckingham go to the press with his ridiculous theories, passing them off as fact? Of course Price didn't want to hear about Buckingham's discussion with Scott Martin. Price didn't want to hear about any of Buckingham's evidence. Nor was he going to put anyone in the organization on the case. After all, Buckingham had seen to it that the general public was on it. Certainly, they didn't need the assistance of trained individuals.
Price had simply asked for Buckingham's badge and told him to take two weeks off to "get his head straight." He made it clear that Buckingham didn't have any choice in the matter.
Buckingham had connections in Magic Management, however, and just because he wasn't technically at work didn't mean he couldn't find out what was going on. So, he heard about the sighting of the three fugitives almost immediately after the call came in on the hotline. Someone had picked them up hitchhiking and recognized Schmerfeld.
The lucky thing about Buckingham's unplanned vacation was that it freed him up to head south to the place where the three had been spotted. That's why he was packing. If Price wasn't going to do anything about the situation, Buckingham would bring them in himself. He had to admit that the organization frustrated him. He felt as if Price were letting his personal issues with Buckingham get in the way of justice. Perhaps Buckingham hadn't gone through the proper channels with this case. Perhaps tipping off the press was a bit extreme. But he knew he was right. There was more to this case than anyone thought.
Buckingham felt excited about this case. He hadn't felt excited about his work in a long time. It was a good feeling. A feeling of purpose. He wouldn't rest until he found the three of them and brought them to justice.
Everyone in the room was on her feet. (Except Billy, who was on his feet.) Mother Constance snatched the bag from Bunni. "What is this?" she demanded studying its contents. Realizing, she dropped the bag in horror.
"It's mine," said Iris.
"She's a ghoul," said Bunni.
Constance was shaking her head vigorously. "Jaqueline, how could you? How could you pledge yourself to the coven after you've allied yourself with this monster?"
"Jaq didn't know," said Iris. "She didn't know what I was."
Jaq whirled to look at Iris. Iris looked back fiercely. Jaq barely nodded.
"Oh God," said Jaq. "You're a ghoul, Iris? How could you—"
"Grab the ghoul!" Mother Constance cried, and chaos ensued.
Iris made a break for the door, with Billy on her heels. The witches went after them. Iris ran as fast as she could, but she had several things working against her. First of all, she was running through narrow halls and she had to slow down to make turns or avoid running into walls. Secondly, she was unfamiliar with the house and had no idea where she was going. Thirdly, she was a pack-a-day smoker and was out of breath in minutes. The witches lived in the house, knew it inside and out, and were in the peak of health from laboring in the fields. She didn't stand much of a chance.
A group of them cut her off at the end of a hallway. She pivoted and was faced by her pursuers. Trapped, she tried magic. Tried to make them want to let her go. To her surprise, the witches began to back up.
"Weaklings!" said Mother Constance. "Can't you tell the thing is using her magic? Have I taught you nothing? Desire is the enemy. Do not listen to your desires."
The witches moved back in.
"Tie her up," said Mother Constance. "Tie up the man also."
Iris and Billy were locked in one of the bedrooms, both tied to chairs. They sat back to back. It was just like the rooms they'd slept in last night, so there were no windows in the room, and the witches had not left them with a candle or lantern. The only light came from under the door, but it was enough that after their eyes adjusted, they could see shady outlines of the objects in the room.
Billy tested the ropes. "I feel like I'm on an episode of MacGyver," he said. "You think if we could wriggle free, we could use some ordinary object to escape?"
"Like my walkman?" Iris said dryly. She couldn't understand why Billy was so chipper.
"You've got a walkman?" he asked excitedly.
"In my pocket. We'll music 'em to death."
"Seriously. We could use the wire in your bra. We can slide it through the crack in the door and ease the latch open."
"Can you stop making jokes? Jaq said if they found out I was a ghoul, they'd kill me."
"Besides, I'm not wearing a bra."
"I didn't think you were. You looked awfully jiggly."
Iris didn't say anything. If they didn't kill her, she would kill Billy.
"And due to that stuff she smeared all over me, the jiggliness did nothing for me," Billy said.
She'd strangle him.
"Look," said Billy. "The way I figure it, we're going to die anyway. We didn't get the location of the court, so Zain's going to eat up the human race at the stadium show, which is now five days away."
"Thanks. That was comforting."
"I think that bra wire thing was on Indiana Jones and not MacGyver."
Iris strained at the ropes. They were tight. "How do you think they'll do it?"
"Kill me. I bet it won't be a quick, painless way. I bet they'll bleed me to death or draw and quarter me or something." She was trying to come to terms with the end of her life. She really didn't want to die. Sure, she knew there was this whole thing with Zain, but the witches' killing her seemed so much more immediate.
"I'm not going to let them kill you," said Billy.
Very chivalrous of him.
"We're going to figure something out," he continued. "Hey, maybe we can create an illusion that we're still tied up, but actually we'll be hiding behind the door. When it opens, we'll crack whoever comes in over the head."
"Great. First we have to actually be untied."
Billy struggled. "I'm working on that."
"I think Mother Constance is too powerful for my magic to work on her," said Iris.
"Not mine," said Billy. "I've still got stored up Kei magic. It's really strong."
"Mother Constance seems pretty strong," said Iris.
"Well, we won't know until we try, I guess," he said. "Hey! Maybe we could just switch it up. We'll make the illusion that we're hiding behind the door. And then—"
"But we'd actually still be tied up," said Iris. What was up with him? Maybe there was more in that stuff they'd smeared on him than Jaq had said.
"Yeah . . . I guess that wouldn't be much help, would it?"
"Just be quiet. Let me think."
"Fine." Billy went back to struggling with the ropes. Iris tried to think of ways to escape. Instead, all the questions she'd been wanting to ask Billy started to float to the top of her thoughts.
"Do pixies have sex?" she asked. "They have to reproduce somehow, right? Do they have sex?"
"Um . . . they don't pair bond. Why are you asking me this? I thought we were trying to escape."
"Right," said Iris. She tried to concentrate. "So, if Oric was going to have sex with another pixie, would he have sex with a girl pixie or a boy pixie?"
"I don't even know if pixies have sex."
"Is Oric gay?"
"He's just flamboyant."
Iris tried to ease a little of her wrist through the rope. No dice. Her hands were falling asleep. She clenched and unclenched them, trying to get blood to flow to her fingertips. Maybe they could find something sharp in the room, and they could scoot their chairs over to it and use it to cut their ropes. What was sharp? She peered at the shadows. A desk. A bed. A bureau.
"Since when are you and Jaq not together?" she asked.
Billy snorted. "Apparently, since she decided we weren't, which was sometime when she was in jail."
"Oh. Wow. Does it upset you?"
"No. I mean, when we were together, we were different people than we are now."
"Yeah, but you guys were engaged. You were gonna spend the rest of your lives together."
"But we're not going to now."
Iris sighed. "It's probably for the best. You can't trust people when you're in love anyway. They always leave."
"That's not true," said Billy. "Jaq didn't leave. Things just didn't work out. It doesn't bother me."
"The way I figure it," said Iris, "you get used to depending on someone else. You forget how to take care of yourself. Then when the relationship's over, you're a mess."
"I'm not a mess," said Billy. "I think this is way more about you and the Brett guy."
"Rhett!" Iris corrected. "And it's not about him. I'm totally over that. It taught me a valuable lesson anyway. It taught me how to be on my own. I'm alone, and I like it."
Billy didn't say anything for a few moments. "So, that's it? You're done with relationships forever?"
"No," said Iris. She paused. "It doesn't matter anyway. I'm a ghoul. It's not like I'm going to get married, pop out some fat babies, and live happily ever after. That's not in the cards for me anymore. And it's fine, because I'm really happy on my own. And I take care of myself."
"What if you did find someone to be with? Someone who was okay with you being a ghoul?"
"That would never happen." Iris stared out into the semi-darkness of the room. What did Billy care? She'd only been trying to be sympathetic since Jaq had dumped him. Her eyes stopped on the outline of the water basin on the bureau.
"The water basin!" she exclaimed. "We could break it and use the shards—"
"—to cut the ropes!" finished Billy. "Brilliant. Okay, how do we get over there?"
Traveling proved difficult. At first, the two of them were fighting each other, both trying to go in opposite directions. Finally, they got coordinated and were able to use their weight and their feet to inch the chairs across the room. To the two of them, the sound of the chairs scraping the floor was deafening. After each move, they held their breath, waiting for one of their captors to burst in. But no one did, and eventually, they made it over to the bureau, both sweating.
Then another problem presented itself. How were they going to break the water basin? Their hands were tied. They tried knocking their chairs against the bureau. The basin rattled, but didn't move. Iris tried using her head. She couldn't make contact with the basin. They jarred the bureau again and again, but to no avail.
"Okay," said Billy. "Now what?"
The witches were all gathered in the council room, except for two, who were guarding the door to Iris' and Billy's makeshift prison. So far, there hadn't been much ordered discussion, just shouted argument. Some witches were in favor of killing Iris right away, by the traditional method of dismemberment. Others were in favor of the more recently condoned method of starvation. There was also disagreement over what to do with Billy. A few suggested killing him too. Some wanted to keep him as a slave. The most popular idea was that they castrate him. One witch said that should be done to all men anyway. That comment got the only laugh in the discussion.
Mother Constance had been ineffectually calling for silence for some time. Fed up, she used a spell that made the witches unable to hear each other's voices, or even their own. Then it was quiet, even though everyone's mouth was still moving.
"Good," said Constance.
Everyone closed her mouth and looked at Mother Constance.
"Our options," Mother Constance continued, "as I see them are these: we kill the ghoul and the man or we kill the ghoul and not the man. Before we decide on a mode of execution, I think we need to sort that out."
Jaq, standing among the crowd of witches, began to move her lips—no one could hear her voice. Mother Constance's spell had left a magical residue, and Jaq was gathering the power to herself.
"Those of you who are in favor of the former option, raise your hands," said Mother Constance. The witches did as they were told. "Good. Sister Rita, you and you only, may now speak to give reasons why you are in favor of this option. When she had finished, each of you will have a chance to add to her argument. Then the other side can counter. The council will then consider the arguments and come to a decision."
Well, thought Jaq, this could take hours.
Iris and Billy had not managed to knock over the water basin. They were exhausted, and they sagged against their ropes. Iris' hands were now totally numb and her wrists were chafed from rubbing against the ropes.
"You think beheading hurts a lot?" asked Iris.
"How long do you think we've been in here? Hours? What time do you think it is?"
The light from the slit under the door had diminished considerably.
"I think it's getting dark," Iris continued. "That would make it like six hours? Seven? I think seven. Do you have a watch?"
"Don't you ever shut up? Even when you're tired?"
"This is my last day on Earth. I figure I've got to get in as many words as I can." Iris paused. She had an idea. "Hey! Maybe I could use my feet. Why didn't I think of that?"
"Your feet? I don't think they'll cut off your feet instead of your head."
Iris raised her leg above her head and reached for the basin with her foot. She grazed it with her big toe. Stretching, she was able to get closer, close enough to knock the basin off the bureau. It fell and shattered.
Billy and Iris froze.
"That was loud," said Billy.
"Yeah," said Iris.
The door opened.
"Shh!" said a voice. "Don't say anything."
Outside the door, the two guards turned to each other.
"Did you hear something?" one tried to ask, but no noise came from her mouth.
Her eyes widened and her hand went to her throat.
"What?" the other tried to ask.
"It's Jaq," said the person who'd just come through the door. "I can't hear myself. Can you hear me? Just nod."
Billy and Iris nodded.
"Good. Mother Constance cast a spell, and I gathered magic from it," she said, crossing the room and starting on the knots that held Billy and Iris to the chairs. "Since it's her magic, it works on her. I set up an illusion of myself in the council room and made myself invisible. I also had to trick those guards into not seeing the door open. But what was that noise? Oh, you guys knocked over the water bowl. Good thinking. It'll make it look like you escaped on your own." She reached down, got a shard from the basin, and cut through their ropes. Billy and Iris stood up, rubbing their hands and wrists.
"Good news, incidentally. Billy, you're not to be killed, just castrated. They're still discussing how to kill you, Iris," Jaq continued. "Um. Billy, you'll have to cloak the two of you. I don't have enough magic left, and Iris isn't strong enough to fool Constance. Head straight for the road and get there as quick as you can . . . . Well, don't just stand there. Get out of here. If you hadn't noticed, I'm rescuing you."
"Are—" Billy dropped his voice to a whisper "—aren't you coming with us?"
Jaq shook her head. "I can't. I promised them I'd stay here."
"I don't know how much longer I can hold this illusion," Jaq said. "You have to go."
They went. Billy made them invisible, and the witches guarding the door didn't see them, so they were confident it worked. But once outside the room, Jaq went one way (back to the council room) and pointed them in another. They got lost. After wandering around the house for quite some time, they couldn't find the door, so they climbed out a window.
Once back at the road, Billy had Iris take over. Instead of making them invisible, she made them look like two teenage girls. Billy wasn't keen on it, but Iris said it would make it easier for them to get a ride. "Just don't say anything," she told him. She couldn't disguise Billy's voice.
Sure enough, the first car that came by—a beat-up pickup truck—stopped for them. But the driver was a woman in her mid-forties, not exactly who Iris had thought they'd attract. She leaned across the cab and opened the passenger side door. "You girls get in."
They scrambled into the truck, Iris first. Billy followed and pulled the door closed behind him. The truck took off.
"Don't you girls know it's not safe to be walking along the road after dark?" asked the truck driver.
Iris checked the clock on the dashboard. It was 9:00. "We were at a party," she said, "and one of the guys got fresh with my friend, so we just left."
"Oh, you poor things. Oxygen is just wasted on some men. But hitchhiking! That isn't a whole lot safer."
"I guess we're just lucky you picked us up," said Iris.
"You most certainly are. Now where are you girls headed?"
"Um . . ." said Iris.
"Our car broke down a few miles up," said Billy in his deep voice. Iris elbowed him.
The woman knitted her brow. "No. There's no car anywhere on this road. The one recently belonged to those magic murderers and they hauled it away." She looked sidelong at the two of them. "Wait. The TV said that the murderers might not look like their pictures. 'Course, there's only two of you, but that one might have been a hostage. Didja kill her too—"
"Okay," said Iris. "You want to let us out now." She hurled magic at the woman.
The truck skidded to a stop, and Iris and Billy got out. They watched the truck speed off.
"Damn it," said Iris.
"Yeah," said Billy. "They've got my car."
They ambled up the road for hours and miles, making themselves invisible to passing cars. Iris didn't know what the heck they were doing. After the thrill of being free from the witches wore off, she was just exhausted. Bone tired. She could hardly think about what had happened, and what it meant, but deep inside, she knew they'd failed. And any triumph they might feel over their escape was ultimately meaningless. Hours after midnight, they came to a gas station. It was closed, but there was a payphone outside. Iris called Scott. Sometimes, Scott had a car. Maybe he could come get them.
Scott picked up sleepily after many rings.
"Scott, it's Iris."
He woke up instantly. "Iris. Hello there. It is so good to hear from you. I was worried about you."
Iris took the receiver away from her ear and stared at it. Scott didn't talk like that.
"Is this Scott?" she asked.
"Yes. Yes, it is me, your friend Scott. How are you?"
"Not great. Have you been watching the news?"
"You know that I never watch the news, Iris."
"Right. Well, there's this thing I should probably tell you—"
"Where are you, Iris? Please tell me where you are."
Warning bells went off in Iris' head. "Um. Nowhere. I should get off the phone."
"If you must, you must."
Iris slammed down the receiver. "Shit."
Billy was smoking the last cigarette in his pack. "I thought you were gonna try to get him to pick us up."
"I think they got to him. He was talking all weird and he wanted to know where we were." Iris shook her head. "Can I have a drag?" Iris didn't have any cigarettes left.
"No," said Billy. "This is my last one."
"Fucker," said Iris. She sat down on the ground. "What are we going to do now?"
"I think we should break into the gas station and steal cigarettes," said Billy.
Iris picked some gravel up from the ground and threw it at him. "About the fact we're stranded, numb nuts."
Billy sidestepped the rain of gravel. "I'm serious. I think better with cigarettes."
"That's just what we need to add to our rap sheets. Breaking and entering and burglary," Iris said.
Billy shrugged. He disappeared behind the pay phone and came back with a large rock. Hoisting it over his head, he approached the gas station and hurled it at the window. Pieces of glass flew. Billy looked over his shoulder at Iris. "You smoke Camels?"
After lighting a cigarette, Iris did feel like she could think better. "Can you call Oric?" she asked.
Billy did. Oric wasn't interested. "He's too freaked out to leave that house of his," said Billy. "He thinks the pixie police are after him."
"Well, fucking A," said Iris. "We're screwed."
"No, we're okay," soothed Billy. "We'll hitchhike home. And we'll be fine. You'll make us look like people we aren’t, and we'll keep our mouths shut, and we'll be fine. You'll see."
Iris started to cry.
"Don't do that," said Billy. "Please, Iris, don't."
"I'm just hungry," said Iris. "Don't worry. I'll stop crying soon. Let's walk."
They walked until the sun came up and kept walking after it did. Within a few hours, cars started to pass them on the road, but none of them stopped. Iris had disguised them as teenagers again, but this time they kept their genders. Their story was that they were running away from their parents, who didn't approve of their relationship. They were trying to get to a bus station, so they could go to Vegas to elope.
Finally, a car stopped for them. The driver was a heavyset man in his forties. He wore a suit and tie. He seemed very happy to see them. "Hi," he greeted. "I'm Ed. I'm on somewhat of a vacation."