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Marty scurried around the corner so the Man wouldn’t see him, holding his breath so the Man couldn’t hear him breathe. Mama had said the Man in the blue uniform was a pig, but the man didn’t look like a pig to Marty – his nose was all wrong, and he wasn’t pink. Still, though, the Man was bad news. Mama had said the Man would bring the City Lady who took children away and made them sleepy all the time.
Marty knew that was true, because the City Lady had come for his friend Mary. Mary’s mama had told her Mary was bad because she had too much energy, so the City Lady had said Mary had to take pills to take the energy away. Mary didn’t want to play anymore once her mama started making her take the pills, she was just too tired. She would sit on a chair in her room, or lay on her bed, and that was all.
The last time Marty had been over to the other apartment and been sent to Mary’s room to stay out of the way, Mary had cried. She didn’t like the pills, she wanted to play and not be sleepy all the time. But her mama had said that if she didn’t take them, the City Lady would come and put her in jail with people who would hurt her, or put her in a home where she would have to be a whore.
Marty knew all about whores. His mama was one, it was her job.
Or it had been, he didn’t know if it was anymore. His mama had been doing her job one night, and then the next day she’d stayed in bed and wouldn’t talk to Marty. And the next day the same, and the next. And then the Man had come, and then a lot more Men, and then a doctor-man in a white coat had come and they’d taken his mama away in a trash bag that had a zip on it. Marty had seen them put her in it from where he’d been hiding in the wall.
The wall had been Marty’s own room for as long as he could remember, because his mama had said nobody who wasn’t a creeper wanted to see someone’s kid around while they got some, or while they waited in the living room while she was with another client. At first Marty had just been put in the closet, but then he’d gotten bigger and found the little door that led into the wall, and after that he’d had his own room where he could hide toys and didn’t have to be in the dark all the time – Mama’s clients didn’t like it if they could see light in her closet, they thought that meant there was a camera or a pig.
Marty still wasn’t sure why a man-client would be afraid of pigs, or why the Man in the blue uniform was called that, but apparently pigs were bad and got into things that weren’t their business and that was why people ate them as bacon.
The Man was in the room again; he’d been in the apartment a few times now just to look at things. He’d been to talk to Mary and her mama too, Marty knew because he’d come back to the apartment talking to another man about it and he’d been mad. Something about a clueless bitch getting another one, and a kid drugged up to her eyeballs, and that was how Marty had known he was talking about Mary. And then the other Man had said something about them having to call her if they found Marty and he’d probably end up in a home. Marty had thought about that all night after the Men had left. He hadn’t known that a boy could be a whore, he’d thought only girls could. Did they make boys into girls in a home, so they could be whores? He remembered his mama making a joke about something called a tranny one time, and when he’d asked what that was she’d said a tranny was a boy who wanted to be a girl so bad he had himself turned into one. Maybe trannies came from the homes the City Lady put kids in.
Marty heard the Man open the closet door, and then he heard him swear when the light switch didn’t work – it didn’t even have a light bulb in it, but Marty guessed the Man hadn’t looked to see. And then there was a really soft click, and he could hear the Man moving things around in the closet…and then the Man swore again in a low voice and Marty heard the little door into the wall open and light came into the space behind the wall like it was looking for him.
It didn’t find him, of course; he was around the corner, in the place that was behind the potty where the pipes were. A few of his toys were there, though, and Marty knew the Man had seen them because he said so into his phone. Then he said he needed backup, because he couldn’t fit in the wall and he wasn’t sure if there were more people in there with Marty. “Yeah, it would be tight, but there’s room,” he said. “To a homeless guy this would look like the Ritz. And the kid could be anywhere in the building; neighbor said he was maybe four or five, he’d be like a little mouse in these walls and nobody would ever know he wasn’t.”
He had gone out of the closet again, but he’d left the little door open because Marty could feel the air. He started to move again, as quietly as he could, away from the little door and his toys and the apartment he’d lived in with his mama. He had his blanket with him, and his stuffie that he used as a pillow and squeezed when he was scared. He was squeezing it now, but he knew what he had to do.
‘Anywhere in the building’, the Man had said. The Men were going to come into the walls to find him, so the clueless bitch City Lady could make him take pills and put him in a home to be a tranny whore. And if she did that, Mary would be all alone and no one would care that she cried and she was sleepy all the time and couldn’t play. So Marty was going to go get Mary first, and then he was going to get out of the walls and find another place to have his room – and he was going to make Mary a room too where the City Lady couldn’t find her.
He crept along, and finally he was at the little door. He listened, and he heard Mary’s mama snoring, so he snuck around to Mary’s wall and tapped on it next to her bed. She heard him. “Marty, that you?”
“Uh-huh.” Marty listened again, didn’t hear anything. “Mary, come to your mama’s closet, use the little door in the side to come in the wall with me.”
She sniffed. “Are we…runnin’ away?”
Marty wasn’t sure what that meant. “We have to get away and hide, the Man is here and he called more Men to come help him.”
Another sniff, but he heard her get up. “Okay, I’m comin’.”
Marty went back to the little door and waited, squeezing his stuffie really hard. And then the little door opened, and Mary stuck her head in; she came the rest of the way in once she saw him, and Marty helped her close the little door and then took her hand and led her back to a place where her mama wouldn’t wake up and hear them. “We have to find a place to hide,” he whispered. “The Man called more men, because he wouldn’t fit in the wall. And he said the City Lady would put me in a home.”
Mary gave him a squeeze like the one he was giving his stuffie, only not quite so hard. “We have to get outside,” she whispered back. “If we could get into an apartment where no one was home, we could go out the window to the fire escape.”
“Okay.” Marty was willing to take her word for it; Mary was six already, so she knew about a lot of things he didn’t. He led her around inside the walls, checking the parts where the potty pipes were; one flushed, so they knew someone was home in that apartment. The one after that didn’t flush, though, and Marty listened really hard at the wall before leaving his blanket and stuffie with Mary and sneaking into the closet through the little door. He peeked out; nobody was there, so he went to the bedroom door and peeked out there too. Finding the apartment empty, he brought Mary out and they crept to the window. They were at the back of the building, and the fire escape was there. It took both of them to get the window up, and they closed it behind them as much as they could before sneaking down the rusty metal stairs that zigzagged down the side of the old bricks. It was starting to be night behind the building, because the sun was on the other side, so the two of them were able to get away from the building without being seen.
Marty wasn’t really sure what to do after that, but he knew they needed to get back inside a building to be safe; his mama had always said the street wasn’t safe, that was why she’d made the Men come to her at the apartment. Mary found a box to carry his blanket and stuffie in so the blanket wouldn’t drag on the ground, and then the two of them just walked down the alley that seemed like it went on forever.
They walked until Marty was tired and his feet hurt a lot, but they still hadn’t seen a building they could go into and it was getting dark all over. The buildings here were all really big and only had windows way up high, but finally Mary saw one that had a fire escape with a ladder that came all the way down to the ground and they climbed up it to the door that was at the top. That door wouldn’t open, but window beside it did, just enough, and the two of them slipped inside.
It was really dark inside, so Marty and Mary felt around the wall until they found a light switch. The switch turned on a dirty little light right by the door, and then they could see. The room they were in was huge and empty, with big posts that came down from the ceiling and into the floor every so often. The floor was dirty but thick, because walking on it didn’t make a noise like it had in the apartment building, and the posts were made of wood. And at the other end of the room they found some doors. Two were in a cage, one went to more stairs, and one went to a potty. That was a good thing to find and they both used it, even though Mary was unhappy about not being able to flush the potty because it would make a noise. Then they went out and explored the big room some more, and finally they decided they were going to have to go down the stairs. The big room was too big and scary and dirty to sleep in, and there wasn’t any food anywhere.
The stairs were dark because the switch in the big room hadn’t worked, but there was a rail so Marty and Mary were able to feel their way down until they got to the bottom…where there was a door that wouldn’t open. So they kept going down, and the door at the very bottom had light coming in around the edges of it and opened when Mary turned the knob and Marty pushed on it. There were a lot of boxes stacked on the other side of the door, making tall walls with little streets between them, and somewhere in the middle there was a light on.
Marty took Mary down the box-street until they were closer to the light, and then he left his blanket and stuffie with her and snuck closer so he could see. In the center of the box walls there was a little box room with a bright yellow light hanging down from the ceiling, a few tables with things piled on them, and some chairs. Marty crept out a little more, looking all around; nobody was there. He saw something he thought he recognized on one of the tables and went to see, and finding that the box was what he’d thought he took two of the snacks he found inside it and carried them back to Mary. Mary was afraid to go into the box room, though, so Marty found a place where the boxes made a little secret corner for them to hide in, and they spread out his blanket, ate the snacks, and went to sleep.
It was three days before the regular inhabitants of the warehouse realized that they weren’t alone, and they’d been considering what the slow disappearance of their junk food might mean when one of them spotted Marty peeking around the corner of a box at them. The man who saw him laughed. “Well, now we know it ain’t rats,” he told the others, pointing. “What you doin’ in here, little guy?”
Marty crept out a little further. “We’s hidin’ from the Man.”
“Ain’t we all,” one of the other men chuckled. “Why’d the Man be after you, kid?”
“ ‘Cause he’s a pig, that’s what mama said.”
The man nodded. “Some of them are, yeah. So where’s Mama now?”
Marty shook his head. “Don’t know. The Man came with a doctor-man in a white coat, and he tooked her away in a garbage bag with a zip on it. I don’t know if she’s a whore no more now, though.”
This revelation seemed to make the men unhappy. “Well crap,” the first man said. “So who’s with you, little guy?”
“Mary. The City Lady made her take pills that made her sleepy and cry all the time or she’d have to go to a home and be a whore. The Man told his phone she’d get me too and I’d have to go to a home. I don’t wanna be a tranny whore, so I got Mary and we runned away.”
For some reason that made four of the men make a choking noise, and the one who’d called him kid looked like he wanted to laugh, but he didn’t; instead he smiled and nodded. “Yeah, I don’t blame you. You been sleepin’ in here for a few days, you and Mary?” Marty nodded. “Okay, I understand – you were hidin’ from the Man and that City Lady, and you were scared. You’re safe now, though. Ain’t no one here gonna hurt you, I promise. So go get Mary, we were about to figure out what to eat for supper and you guys can have some too.”
Marty smiled at that and trotted back off into the shadows of the boxes, and the man stopped anyone from going after him. “No, let him bring her out, she’s probably scared to death.”
“We’ve got to call someone…”
“No, Reg. Not yet, anyway.”
“But Jasp, those must be the kids the cops were lookin’ for!” Reg made a face when his boss raised an eyebrow at him. “It ain’t been in the news, but I heard about it – just didn’t seem like anything to do with us, that’s why I didn’t say anything. Word is they’ve been missin’ for days…”
“And now we know why,” Jasp told him. “You ain’t heard about that stupid social work bitch they’ve got over the projects now? That’s got to be the City Lady he’s talkin’ about, she’s pretty much the boogeyman down there.” He smiled. “Not sure where the ‘tranny whore’ part came from, though; we’ll have to ask him later.”
Reg nodded, but one of the other men was shaking his head. “So what’re we gonna do? This ain’t our problem, and we can’t just keep two little lost kids here in the warehouse…”
“Normally I’d agree with you, but somethin’ doesn’t feel right to me. I want to know what that is before I make any decisions.” Marty was peeking around the box again, and Jasp smiled at him. “It’s okay, kids, come on out. I promised nobody would hurt you, right?”
Marty frowned. “Mary says we don’t know you.”
“Well, that means Mary’s smart,” Jasp approved. “We ain’t had a chance to get acquainted. My name is Jasper, this is my warehouse. And these boys are my friends who help me with my business: Reg, Jackie, Josie and El – his momma named him Elrond, after a wizard,” he confided. “But he don’t want people to ask if he’s a wizard, so we just call him El.” Marty moved and gave something a little tug; Mary came out, teary-eyed and squeezing Marty’s stuffie, and Jasp made a face. “Oh crap, little girl, just look at you.” He motioned for her to move closer. “Come here, sweetheart, it’s okay. Come here and let Josie look at you, he knows about those drugs. Bet you’re just feelin’ like crap right now, aren’t you? Come on, it’s okay. Nobody here is gonna hurt you, you got my word.”
Mary very cautiously came forward, holding tight to Marty’s hand, and once she got close the young man introduced as Josie very slowly went down on one knee so he could look into her eyes. He shook his head, looking unhappy. “The pink pills?” he asked, and she nodded. He very gently patted her head, and winced when she flinched. “Yeah, Jasp, she’s in withdrawal – the pink ones are some nasty shit. How often did they give you one, chica? Every day?”
Mary swallowed. “Mama gave me one when I got up and when I went to bed and when she wanted me to take a nap.”
“So three times?” She shook her head. “Four?”
That got him an unsure nod, and he frowned. “Max dose is two,” he tossed over his shoulder. “And no way a doc would have put her on even that much at her age, she’s way too little.” He very carefully pulled her into his arms and held on gently until she relaxed, sniffling into his shoulder. “It’s okay, little one, cry it out. Even big people cry when they’ve been takin’ the pink ones. In a few more days you’ll be feelin’ better, though, promise.”
Jasp raised an eyebrow at him. “Anything that can help?”
“I wish. There’s a reason nobody decent sells that shit on the streets, Jasp.”
The other man sighed and turned his attention back to Marty. “Well, you know who we are, and we know who Mary is. Now who are you, kid?”
“Come here, Marty.” Marty came right to him, and Jasp realized with a pang that the kid was too little to know he should be afraid of strangers – the only reason he’d been cautious at first was because he’d been afraid they were cops. Or pigs, rather. The Man. He almost wanted to laugh; Mama must have been a piece of work and a half. He looked the little boy up and down. Cheap clothes, no shoes. Pretty obviously mixed-race, probably came from one of Mama’s clients. He’d check the police blotter later, see if he could find out who she’d been. Nobody the world would miss, no doubt, so the story most likely hadn’t made much news. Jasp looked the little boy in the eye. “How’d you and Mary get in here?”
“We climbed all the way up the fire escape and came in the window.”
Jasp jerked his head at El, who immediately disappeared into the maze of boxes, and stood up, holding out his hand. “Wanna show me where you and Mary’ve been sleepin’?”
Marty took his hand and led him into the boxes, and back in the very furthest corner a handful of snack wrappers decorated the floor and a ratty blanket was spread out on top of a crate. “That’s my blanket,” he announced. “Mary has my stuffie, she needed it more than me ‘cause she’s sad all the time.”
“Mary won’t be sad all the time in a few days,” Jasp assured him. How the hell had nobody noticed the two of them back here? He’d thought maybe they’d been hiding inside a crate, but this just didn’t make sense. “She’s sad right now because she’s sick – the pink pills made her sick, her mama was givin’ her too many.” He gathered up the blanket, folding it neatly, and then led Marty back to the little room in the boxes; he handed the man called Jackie the blanket. “This one’s Marty’s, they been sharin’ it,” he said. “Find somethin’ better, we’ll put them in the office for right now until I can figure somethin’ else out.”
“You got a better idea?”
Jackie opened his mouth…and then Mary whimpered and he closed it again, shaking his head. “Wish I did, Jasp. This is fucked up and a half.”
“You’re tellin’ me.” Jasp sighed. “I wanna find out what’s goin’ on before I make any decisions,” he repeated. “We need to find out who Marty’s mama was, and Mary’s too.”
“Mary’s mama lived across the hall from where my mama and I lived,” Marty piped up. “She wasn’t no whore like my mama, though; she got a check every month. She could make special soup, though.”
Marty nodded gravely. “It was real special, so special she could only make one spoon at a time. Mama would go over there so she could cook it and then they’d share it out of the spoon with tiny little needles.”
Jasp nodded back just as gravely. “That is some very special soup,” he agreed. “She didn’t ever give you none of it, did she?”
Marty shook his head. “It was only for big peoples, that’s what Mary’s mama said.”
“That’s right, it is.” Jasp wondered if the cops had already found out about Mary’s mamma’s ‘special soup’ when she reported her daughter missing. If she’d reported her daughter missing. If she had, and they had, Mary’s mamma was probably sitting in jail while the cops and the social work tried to figure out if she’d sold her drugged-up kid to some creeper to get more H. He was gonna have to be real careful checking up on that bitch, real careful.
And he was gonna have to be even more careful figuring out what to do about the kids afterwards. Appearances aside, he wasn’t a criminal – the cops wanted him to be, but he wasn’t. Yeah, he sometimes imported things for people that maybe the law didn’t think they should have, but none of those things were illegal to sell or own and it was Jasp’s considered opinion that sometimes the law needed to keep its nose out of other people’s business. Like with that social-work bitch over the projects, the one who’d decided none of the kids over there would become thugs if she stuck ‘em all on a lifetime prescription of downers to ‘keep them out of trouble’.
In spite of himself, he shuddered, and was surprised when Marty tugged on his hand. “Are you cold?” the little boy asked. “You can use my blanket.”
“It’s real nice of you to offer,” Jasp told him. “If I get cold, though, I can go get my coat.”
Marty nodded solemnly. “Mama had coats,” he said. “One of them was little and furry and blue, and one was soft and puffy and pink and sparkly.”
Yep, Mama had been a whore, all right – those were both wardrobe staples for the lower south-side prostitutes. Jasp picked Marty up, getting little bare feet off the cold concrete floor – it didn’t appear to be bothering the kid, but it was bugging him. “We’ll get you a coat of your own,” he said. “And some socks and shoes, too.”
Marty cocked his head. “Do me an’ Mary live with you now?”
Jasp sighed and ruffled his hair. Tried to, anyway. Baths, too, they both needed baths. “I don’t know yet, kid. I just don’t know.”
Detective Meyer was waiting in the usual spot when El got there. “Got somethin’?”
“Not what you want, no – I keep tellin’ you Jasp is clean, Dick, and you keep not listenin’ to me. Heard somethin’ else, though.”
The detective raised an annoyed eyebrow. “The suspense is killing me.”
“Missin’ kids.” That got him to stop being annoyed in a hurry, and El smirked. “Yeah, thought you’d be interested. Word was goin’ around that a couple of little kids turned up down on Grand, a boy and a girl. The girl was goin’ through withdrawal real bad, and some dumbass thought he’d fix her up with some happy juice.”
In spite of himself, Meyer winced. The drugs half the kids in the projects were being kept on by DCS were some nasty shit that didn’t play well with other drugs. They’d already had three deaths this year thanks to well-meaning parents giving their Pink Pilled children cold medicine. “They were at the Toybox?” His informant nodded. “Shit. Anyone say how they got down there?”
El shrugged. “An H lease, what else?”
Meyer winced again. He knew what two kids those had probably been, then – they’d had a missing kid case come out of the projects the week before, a weird one where a dead prostitute’s kid they’d originally thought might have been taken in by someone else in the building turned out to have been hiding in the utility access space behind the wall in her apartment. The kid had been gone by the time they’d figured that out, though, and then a neighbor had reported her daughter missing and everyone had just assumed the kids had run away from home – the neighbor’s badly-concealed needle habit hadn’t been thought to figure into it. God-damned heroin-addicted bitch had probably traded off the dead woman’s kid first and then someone down at the Toybox had offered her a sweet lease deal for her own. “So the girl is dead, what about the other one?”
El shrugged again. “Ain’t heard nothin’ – not the circles I run in. Thought you’d want the lead I had, though.”
“Yeah, thanks for that.” The detective handed over a few bills, which his informant pocketed without comment. “If you hear anything else about that, let me know – day or night if it’s about kids, I don’t care if you interrupt my dinner or not. I want to burn the Toybox down more than I want to shut down your boss.”
“Man, we all want the Toybox burned down,” El told him. “That shit ain’t right.”
He faded back off, quickly disappearing into the flow of foot traffic on the sidewalk, and Meyer walked off in the other direction. He was thinking hard. It might be enough, that rumor, it might be just enough to get a warrant for the Toybox, whether it was true or not. It certainly sounded plausible, and a judge would probably think so too. He stuck his hand in his pocket, fingering the little recorder he had stashed there. It ought to be enough.
El wandered around for a little while, just enjoying the weather while he made sure he wasn’t being followed, and then headed back to the warehouse. “Dinner’s on me tonight!” he announced as he made his way in. He leaned in the office door, pulling the pencil that was actually a recorder out from behind his ear and handing it to Jasp. “He didn’t say much, but I could see the wheels turnin’ in his head. The pedos down on Grand are in for a bad week.”
“Nobody I know’s gonna cry for ‘em.” Jasp plugged in the recorder and downloaded the file, then played it back. “Yeah, I can hear his gears grinding. Mary’s mama’s gonna be in for it too.”
“I ain’t cryin’ for her either,” El told him. “You find anything else I need to check for the auction?”
“Yeah, that one vase with the pink crystals on it,” Jasp told him. “Mary said they looked like ‘sparkly eyes looking out from the dark’.” El sucked in a shocked breath. “Yeah, that was pretty much my reaction. Little Bit couldn’t see it, he just said they were pink shinies.”
“Oh crap.” El dropped into the folding chair by the door, running his hands over his face. “Crap. She didn’t touch it, did she?” Jasp shook his head, and El sighed. “I’ll check, but it’s probably possessed or somethin’. Was she scared?”
“A little, not too much. But the damn drugs are still holding her back, too.”
“Point. We’ll wait until it’s all out of her system, then I’ll check to see what she’s got so far.” El ran his hands over his face again. “Dammit. You think that’s why the bitch wanted her drugged up?”
“Which one?” was Jasp’s response. He shook his head at the shocked look. “Mama just wanted her to stop gettin’ into things and makin’ noise, probably didn’t care how it was happening…but that social work bitch, her I don’t know about. I know they don’t like magic over there, just like the cops don’t. Might be a reason nobody’s thought of behind them pushin’ the pink pills on all those kids, you know?”
El shuddered. “Would explain why they’re still pushin’ them, even after all the O.D.s they’ve had. I know for a fact the emergency room on Tenth is under orders to misreport as many as they can.” He shook his head. “Jasp, if they’re targeting people that have magic…”
“You know I’ve got your back,” Jasp told him. “Don’t go meetin’ up with Dick the Dick unless it’s in a real public place, though, not anymore. Maybe even not at all for a while, until we’re sure what he’s up to. Pass it off as you needin’ to lay low because of the tip you just gave him. Which probably ain’t a bad idea anyway, because he’ll be sure to spill it down at the Toybox that he got a tip – hell, he’ll probably tell ‘em it came from me.”
That made El roll his eyes. “Dog’s got the hots for you so bad I’m startin’ to wonder if I should tell his wife. We may still have to hide the warehouse, Jasp.”
“I know. Not until we absolutely have to, though.” Which might be sooner, not later, now that the kids were here. Especially Mary, now that they knew what they knew. A thought came to him. “Wait a minute, do you think that’s how the window upstairs got open, El? Could Mary have done that?”
“No.” El was sure, and it showed. “There’s no way – not as drugged-up as she was. I ain’t seen Harry in a while, though…”
He leaned over to put his hand on the worn wood of the doorframe, muttering something under his breath, and a few seconds later a wavering man-shape stuck its head out of the wall. It yawned. “What is it? I’m tired.”
“Yeah, I just bet you are,” El commiserated. “You opened up that window for the kids, Harry?”
“Yeah. Poor scared little things. What’s this city comin’ to, anyway?” The ghost came out a little further, yawning again. He’d been a hefty older man with deep jowls and white hair, and his uniform shirt was rumpled. “That little boy, he knew not to flush the pot to give away that they were here.”
“His mama was a prostitute, she probably taught him to keep it quiet when she had clients in,” Jasp explained. “Thanks for that, though, Harry. I know it does you in to move stuff around.”
Harry waved that off. “They were kids, someone had to help ‘em.” He raised a bushy white eyebrow at El. “The little girl’s one of your kind, I think. What the hell did they do to her? No kid that little gets a habit on their own.”
“Social work down at the projects has ‘em all on doc drugs,” El told him. “Dangerous, nasty shit – Jasp and I were just talkin’ about it. And her mama was givin’ her four times as much as she was supposed to so she could chase her dragon without bein’ interrupted.”
The ghost scowled. “Damn needle addicts.” He yawned again. “If you don’t need anything else,” that was sarcasm, “I’m goin’ back to sleep.”
“Look like you need it,” Jasp said. “Thanks again, Harry.”
Harry waved it off again. “I knew they’d be safe with you boys. City’s goin’ to shit, I tell ya. I even saw some deviant walkin’ around in a dress last week, right out in the open, wearin’ makeup and everything.”
He disappeared back into the wall, and the two young men rolled their eyes. Harry had been a security guard in the old building years and years before Jasp had moved in with his operation, and although he was more on-the-ball than some ghosts when it came to current events – he liked to read the newspaper – some of his opinions about things were still stuck in the much more black-and-white era he’d lived and died in. He hadn’t been a bad man, though, and his presence in the building was an extra layer of security that couldn’t be affected by rolling blackouts. It normally wasn’t considered a good idea to rely on a ghost that way unless you were family somehow, but Jasp was actually paying Harry to do the work. In fresh newspapers, which he stopped to buy at a newsstand on his way to the warehouse every morning. And once Harry was done with them they came in handy for wrapping and packing, so it all worked out.
El was giving his boss a thoughtful look. “You knew those kids needed to stay here, didn’t you?”
Jasp just shrugged. It was his usual response to questions like that, especially when the office door was open. “I was gonna tell you to make a hidey-hole for the kids to stay in during the auction,” he said instead. “But now I think you’d better say in there with ‘em, just in case someone comes lookin’ for you while they think the rest of us will be distracted with business. In fact, I think you should all duck in the night before, spend the night there—and make sure Little Bit has his stuffie with him.”
Reality shifted a little in response to that last part, and El stopped himself from imagining all the ways that ratty-ass stuffed dog being left behind somewhere could have come back to bite them. “I’ll get on it after lunch, Jasp,” was his response. “Right after I check out that vase. Don’t want to forget and get someone cursed.”
“Anyone who’d want that thing must already be cursed—with bad taste.” Jasp snorted. “I almost feel sorry for whatever’s trapped in there, you know?”