Chapter Thirty-Five

Tomas Delgado-Black Tom, as Lia called him, and others had called him before her-stood alone in the middle of Casa de Rojo’s guest bedroom, testing an invisible boundary like a mime without an audience. He hadn’t been able to move or project himself at all for some minutes now.

At his feet, three lines of fire spontaneously ignited and grew together to form a triangle around him. Tom watched this occurrence curiously until he realized that the well-appointed guest room outside the firelines was fading away and changing, becoming the familiar, engulfing greenery of Potter’s Yard.

The stunning redhead who’d introduced herself to Lia as Ingrid Redstone (first by e-mail and then in person at Paty’s coffee shop not two weeks before), looked on as she forced him into visibility within a space she’d defined by drawing lines in the dirt between three lit candles encased in tall glass jars. Black Tom looked down and saw his catself lying at his ghostfeet. He couldn’t send himself out any further from the cat, nor could he fully re-enter and wake it up. His captor had set her candles around an inverted fishtank, under which she’d trapped his catbody, intuiting that the stuporous animal had to be more than it seemed. She’d been right enough about that, and he’d been too distracted with concern over Lia to feel her sneaking up on it.

He looked up and considered Ingrid.

He may not have known how this was happening, but he thought he finally knew who this was, at least: the King’s Girlfriend. The Red Witch, or la Bruja Roja, as an acquaintance of his had once called her, long, long ago. The mystery woman whose name old Tomas Delgado had never learned, back at the start of the twentieth century.

How the hell could he have known she’d still be alive? How the hell could she still be alive, alive and unchanged, untouched by age? He’d long ago deduced Mictlan to be a realm devoid of time, because he and other clever necromancers had discovered they were able to communicate with the future dead, with the possible ghosts of generations-yet-to-be as well as with their ancestors, at the pleasure of el Rey. It was where the mantic or prognostic part of the art came into play, really. Could the time-free property he’d observed possibly allow a witch equipped to cross from one world to the next also to hop around the ages with no regard for linear chronology at all?

Time-travel went well beyond any grace of Mictlantecuhtli’s Tom had ever experienced, or heard tell of either. This woman was obviously no ordinary initiate, however.

He’d been taken in utterly by the lies she’d told to Lia. He’d wanted to help her, even more than Lia had. He’d also wanted to keep her safe from the influence of the King, as soon as he realized exactly where it was she thought her ‘brother’ had gone.

Well, he always had been an idiot for a pretty face. This was one of the few times he’d ever regretted it. He acknowledged that Lia’s instincts on this had been better than his own, right from the start.

“Here, kitty kitty,” Ingrid cooed. When Tom was visible enough to recognize, she said: “Ohh, I remember you, you’re the one who thought I didn’t see you at the restaurant yesterday. Or the other time, either.”

Black Tom folded his arms.

Ingrid’s cellphone rang almost as soon as he’d materialized all the way, into full visibility, despite his continued efforts to send out or otherwise break free of her reinforced trap. Smiling, she answered the call.

“What did you do with him?” Lia shouted down the line. The volume on the little device was turned up high enough for Tom to hear, though Lia’s side of the conversation sounded tinny and distant.

“Lia,” Ingrid said brightly. “So nice to hear from you again.”

“Who are you, anyway?” Lia demanded. “What are you, Ingrid?”

“Why Lia, I would have thought you’d have that figured out by now. I’m just like you.”

“That whole sob story you told me about the missing brother with the occulty friends was bullshit too, wasn’t it?”

“Well, yes, I suppose it was,” Ingrid said. “But that doesn’t matter now.”

“It matters to me!” Lia yelled, loud enough to make the phone’s speaker crackle and Ingrid wince. “I don’t like being played with, and I don’t like being lied to. And if you’ve hurt Black Tom I’ll, I’ll-”

“Lia, you don’t understand. I can help you, but you have to trust me. If you’ll just for gods’ sake come back out here with Dexter, then we can-”

Tom saw Ingrid spot a liberally-tattooed henchman in sunglasses watching her from a distance that probably left him within earshot. She abruptly changed her tone.

“-we can, ah, talk over all the things that Mr. Caradura wants me to, you know, tell you. It’s important. Trust me, and I won’t have to do what I don’t want to do. To your, you know, your cat.”

Ingrid turned away from the inked-up creep, grimacing. She looked to Tom like she knew this conversation was going poorly, but she couldn’t say more with that baldheaded lurker so plainly listening in. Tom guessed that all of this would get back to el Rey, then. Everything the man heard. So Ingrid had to choose her words with care, and hope they’d play the way she needed them to, for both of the audiences who’d receive them.

Tom could tell when somebody was working both sides of an angle. He didn’t yet know why she was doing it, however. Couldn’t fathom it. Nor could he reach out to communicate with her from inside her hex. Not without the benefit of a voice he could raise.

“Trust doesn’t apply when you take away somebody’s options,” Lia said darkly, from the speaker on Ingrid’s little phone. “But you win, Ingrid. I’m coming. I can’t do anything else.”

“Just do it soon,” Ingrid said. “Please.” She dropped her voice to a whisper. “It’s already late, and there won’t be a damn thing we can do after dark.”

Black Tom looked on calmly as Ingrid broke the connection, appearing frustrated and pensive. She turned on the henchman with the dark glasses, away from Tom, and snapped: “It’s hard to work with a fucking audience, you know.”

The tattooed man said nothing, but he stepped creepily back into the foliage and out of sight.

Ingrid looked back to Black Tom, who raised an eyebrow at her.

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