Read Firespell Online

Authors: Chloe Neill

Tags: #Usenet, #Speculative Fiction, #Exratorrents, #C429, #Kat

Firespell (6 page)

BOOK: Firespell
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Scout took a winding route from the cafeteria to the main building, finally pushing open the double doors and heading down the sidewalk. I followed her, the city street full of scurrying people—women in office wear and tennis shoes, men nibbling sandwiches on their way back to the office, tourists with Starbucks cups and glossy shopping bags.

Scout pulled an apple from her bag, then nodded down the street and toward the right. “We can’t go far without an escort, but I’ll give you the five-dollar block tour while we eat.”

“I’m not giving you five dollars.”

“You can owe me,” she said. “It’ll be worth it. Like I said, I’ve been here since I was twelve. So if you want to know the real deal, the real scoop, you talk to me.”

I didn’t doubt she knew the real scoop; she’d clearly been here long enough to understand the St. Sophia’s procedures. But given her midnight disappearance, I wasn’t sure she’d pass on “the real scoop” to me.

Of course, the most obvious fact about St. Sophia’s didn’t need explaining. The nuns who built the convent had done a bang-up job of picking real estate—the convent was right in the middle of downtown Chicago. Scout said they’d moved to the spot just after the Chicago Fire of 1871, so the city grew up around them, creating a strip of green amidst skyscrapers, a gothic oasis surrounded by glass, steel, and concrete.

One of those glass, steel, and concrete structures stood directly next door.

“This boxy thing is Burnham National Bank,” Scout said, pointing at the building, which looked like a stack of glass boxes placed unevenly atop one another.

“Very modern,” I said, unwrapping my own lunch. I took a bite of my wrap, munching sprouts and hummus. It wasn’t bad, actually, as wraps went.

“The architecture is modern,” she said, taking a bite of her apple, “but the bank is very old-school Chicago. Old-
money
Chicago.”

I definitely wasn’t old school or old money (unless my parents really did have way more cash than I thought), so I guessed I wasn’t going to be visiting the BNB Building any time soon. Still, “Good to know,” I said.

We walked to the next building, which was a complete contrast to the bank. This one was a small, squat, squarish thing, the kind of old-fashioned brick building that looked like it had been built by hand in the 1940s. PORTMAN ELECTRIC CO. was chiseled in stone just above the door. The building was pretty in an antique kind of way, but it looked completely out of place in between high-rises and coffee shops and boutique stores.

“The Portman Electric Company Building,” Scout said, her gaze on the facade. “It was built during the New Deal when they were trying to keep people employed. It’s kind of an antique by Loop standards, but I like it.” She was quiet for a moment. “There’s something kind of . . . honest about it. Something real.”

A small bronze marker in front of the building read SRF. I nodded toward the sign. “What’s ‘SRF’?”

“Sterling Research Foundation,” she said. “They do some kind of medical research or something.”

With no regard for the employees or security guards of the Sterling Research Foundation, Scout made a bee-line for the narrow alley that separated the SRF from the bank. I stuffed the remainder of my lunch back into my paper bag and when Scout signaled the coast was clear, glanced left and right, then speed-walked into the alley.

“Where are we going?” I asked when I reached her.

“A secret spot,” she said, bobbing her head toward the end of the passageway. I glanced up, but saw only dirty brick and a set of Dumpsters.

“We aren’t going Dumpster diving, are we?” I glanced down at my fuzzy boots and tidy knee- length skirt. “ ’Cause I’m really not dressed for it.”

“Did you ever read
Nancy Drew
?” Scout suddenly asked.

I blinked as I tried to catch up with the segue. “Of course?”

“Pretend you’re Nancy,” she said. “We’re investigating, kind of.” She started into the alley, stepping over a wad of newspaper and avoiding a puddle of liquid of unidentifiable origin.

I pointed at it. “Are we investigating that?”

“Just keep moving,” she said, but with a snicker.

We walked through the narrow space until it dead-ended at the stone wall that bounded St. Sophia’s.

I frowned at the wall and the grass and gothic buildings that lay beyond it. “We walked around two buildings just to come back to St. Sophia’s?”

“Check your left, Einstein.”

I did as ordered, and had to blink back surprise. I’d expected to see more alley or bricks, or Dumpsters. But that’s not what was there. Instead, the alley gave way to a square of lush, green lawn filled with pillars—narrow pyramids of gray concrete that punctured the grass like a garden of thorns. They varied in height from three feet to five, like a strange gauntlet of stone.

We walked closer. “What is this?”

“It’s a memorial garden,” she said. “It used to be part of the convent grounds, but the city discovered the nuns didn’t actually own this part of the block. Those guys did,” she said, pointing at the building that sat behind the bank. “St. Sophia’s agreed to put in the stone wall, and the building agreed to keep this place as- is, provided that the St. Sophia’s folks promised not to raise a stink about losing it.”

“Huh,” I said, skimming my fingers across the top of one nubby pillar.

“It’s a great place to get lost,” she said, and as if on cue, disappeared between the columns.

It took a minute to find her in the forest of them. And when I reached her in the middle, she wasn’t alone.

Scout stood stiffly, lips apart, eyes wide, staring at the two boys who stood across from her. They were both in slacks and sweaters, a button-down shirt and tie beneath, an ensemble I assumed was the guy version of the private school uniform. The one on the right had big brown eyes, honey skin, and wavy dark hair curling over his forehead.

The one on the left had dark blond hair and blue eyes. No—not blue exactly, but a shade somewhere between blue and indigo and turquoise, like the color of a ridiculously bright spring sky. They glowed beneath his short hair, dark slashes of eyebrows, and the long lashes that fanned across those crazy eyes.

His eyebrows lifted with interest, but Scout’s voice pulled his gaze to her. I, on the other hand, had a little more trouble, and had to drag my gaze away from this boy in the garden.

“What are you doing here?” she asked them, suspicion in her gaze.

The boy with brown eyes shrugged innocently. “Just seeing a little of Chicago.”

“I guess that means I didn’t miss a meeting,” Scout said, her voice dry. “Don’t you have class?”

“There wasn’t a meeting,” he confirmed. “We’re on our lunch break, just like you are. We’re out for a casual stroll, enjoying this beautiful fall day.” He glanced at me and offered a grin. “I’m guessing you’re St. Sophia’s latest fashion victim? I’m Michael Garcia.”

“Lily Parker,” I said with a grin. So
this
was the boy Veronica talked about. Or more important, the boy Scout had avoided talking about. Given the warmth in his eyes as he stole glances at Scout, I made a prediction that Veronica wasn’t going to win that battle.

“Hello, Lily Parker,” Michael said, then bobbed his head toward blue eyes. “This is Jason Shepherd.”

“Live and in person,” Jason said with a smile, dimples arcing at each corner of his mouth. My heart beat a little bit faster; those dimples were killers. “It’s nice to meet you, Lily.”

“Ditto,” I said, offering back a smile. But not too much of a smile. No sense in playing my entire hand at once.

Jason hitched a thumb behind him. “We go to Montclare. It’s down the road. Kind of.”

“So I’ve heard,” I said, then looked at Scout, who’d crossed her arms over her chest, the universal sign of skepticism.

“Out for a casual stroll,” she repeated, apparently unwilling to let the point go. “A casual stroll that takes you to the garden next door to St. Sophia’s? Somehow, I’m just not buying that’s a coincidence.”

Michael arched an eyebrow and grinned back at her. “That’s because you’re much too suspicious.”

Scout snorted. “I have good reason to be suspicious, Garcia.”

Michael’s chocolate gaze intensified, and all that intensity was directed at the girl standing next to me.

This was getting pretty entertaining.

“You
imagine
you had a good reason,” he told her. “That’s not the same thing.”

I glanced at Jason, who seemed to be enjoying the mock debate as much as I was. “Should we leave them alone, do you think?”

“It’s not a bad idea,” he said, brows furrowed in mock concentration. “We could give them a little privacy, let them see where things can go.”

“That’s a very respectful idea,” I said, nodding gravely. “We should give them their space.”

Jason winked at me, as Scout—oblivious to our jokes at her expense—pushed forward. “I don’t understand why you’re arguing with me. You know you have no chance.”

Michael clutched at his chest dramatically. “You’re killing me, Scout. Really. There’s chest pain—a tightness.” He faked a groan.

Scout rolled her eyes, but you could see the twitch in her smile. “Call a doctor.”

“Come on, Green. Can’t a guy just get out and enjoy the weather? It’s a beautiful fall day in Chicago. My amigo Jason and I were thinking we should get out and enjoy it before the snow gets here.”

“Again, I seriously doubt, Garcia, if you’re all that concerned about the weather.”

“Okay,” Michael said, holding up his hands, “let’s pretend you’re right. Let’s say, hypothetically, that it’s no coincidence that our walk brought us next door to St. Sophia’s. Let’s say we had a personal interest in skipping lunch and showing up on your side of the river.”

Scout rolled her eyes and held up a finger. “Oh, bottle it up. I don’t have the time.”

“You should make time.”

“Guys, eleven o’clock,” Jason whispered.

Scout snorted at Michael. “I’m amused you think you’re important enough to—”


Eleven o’clock
,” Jason whispered again, this time fiercely. Scout and Michael suddenly quieted, and both glanced to where Jason had indicated. I resisted the urge to look, which would have made us all completely obvious, but couldn’t help it.

I gave it a couple of seconds, then stole a glance over my shoulder. There was a gap in the pillars through which we could see the street behind us, the one that ran parallel to Erie, but behind St. Sophia’s. A slim girl in jeans and a snug hoodie, the hood pulled over her head, stood on the sidewalk, her hands tucked into her pockets.

“Who is that?” I whispered.

“No—why is she here?” Jason asked, dimples fading, his gaze on the girl. While her face wasn’t visible, her hair was blond—the curly length of it spilling from her hood and across her shoulders. Veronica was the only Chicago blonde I knew, but that couldn’t be her. I didn’t think she’d be caught dead in jeans and a hoodie, especially not on a uniform day.

Besides, there was something different about this girl. Something unsettling. Something
off
. She was too still, as if frozen while the city moved around her.

“Is she looking for trouble?” Michael asked. His voice was quiet, just above a whisper, and it carried a hint of concern. Like whether she was looking for trouble or not, he expected it.

“In the middle of the day?” Scout whispered. “And here? She’s blocks away from the nearest enclave. From
her
enclave.”

“What’s an enclave?” I quietly asked. Not so quietly that they couldn’t hear me, but they ignored me, anyway.

Jason nodded. “Blocks from hers, and much too close to ours.”

In the time it took me to glance at Jason and back at the girl again, she was gone. The sidewalk was as empty as if she’d never been there at all.

I looked back and forth from Scout to Michael to Jason. “Someone want to fill me in?” I was beginning to guess it was pointless for me to ask questions—as pointless as my trying to goad Scout into telling me where she’d gone last night—but I couldn’t stop asking them.

Scout sighed. “This was supposed to be a tour. Not a briefing. I’m exhausted.”

“We’re all tired,” Michael said. “It was a long summer.”

“Long summer for what?”

“You could say we’re part of a community improvement group,” Michael said.

It took me a minute to realize that I’d been added back into the conversation. But the answer wasn’t very satisfying—or informative. I crossed my arms over my chest. “Community improvement? Like, you clean up litter?”

“That’s actually not a bad analogy,” Jason said, his gaze still on the spot where the girl had been.

“I take it she was a litterbug?” I asked, hitching my thumb in that direction.

“In a manner of speaking, yes, she was,” Scout said, then put a hand on my arm and tugged. “All right, that’s enough fond reminiscing and conspiracy theories for the day. We need to get to class. Have fun at school.”

“MA is always fun,” Jason said. “Good luck at St. Sophia’s.”

I nodded as Scout pulled me out of the garden, but I risked a glance back at Michael and Jason. They stood side by side, Michael an inch or two taller, their gazes on us as we headed back to school.

“I have so many questions, I’m not sure where to start,” I said when we were out of their sight and hauling down the alley, “but let’s go for the good, gossipy stuff, first. You say you aren’t dating, but Michael obviously has a thing for you.”

Scout made a snort that sounded a little too dramatic to be honest. “I didn’t just
say
we aren’t dating. We are,
in fact
, not dating. It’s an objective, empirical, testable fact. I don’t date MA guys.”

“Uh-huh,” I said. While I didn’t doubt that she subscribed to that rule, there was more to her statement, more to her and Michael, than she was letting on. But I could pry that out of her later. “And your community service involvement?”

“You heard—we clean up litter.”

“Yeah, and I’m totally believing that, too.”

That was the last word out of either of us as we slipped through the gap between the buildings, then back onto the sidewalk, and finally back to St. Sophia’s. In the nick of time, too, as the bells atop the left tower began to ring just as we hit the front stairs. Thinking we needed to hurry, I nearly ran into Scout when she stopped short in front of the door.

BOOK: Firespell
4.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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