It was settled, then. I smoked my cigarette down to its filter, coaxing my brain to slow its rapid patter. If I burned too hot for too long, I would go limp and useless—I would sleep—and so I had developed methods to cool myself down. Running through Latin declensions worked best. Amo, amas, amat was standard, if sentimental, and I did like running through the declensions for the body (corpus has a lovely sound), but tonight I only wanted the word for king.
Rex, regis, regi, regem, rege. I inhaled one final time. Waited a beat, then exhaled the smoke. The plurals, now, and slower. Reges. Regum. Regibus. Reges. Regibus. I appreciated that flip and repetition: the dative, the accusative, the ablative. It had a certain musicality. I’ve always loved a counterturn.
I stabbed out the cigarette. Forty-eight minutes had passed. I asked the pilot to please start up the helicopter again and kept my eyes trained on the door to the building.
“You win,” Lena said.
“You know, you look cute in a flight suit,” Tom was telling Lena.
Her eyes were guileless. “We need to get you one, too.”
“Did yours come with Milo’s chopper?”
“No,” she said. “I just had it lying around.”
He grinned at her. Soon, they were kissing. Noisily. I hadn’t put on my protective headphones earlier, but I did now.
When the door finally opened, August and Watson came slowly through it, followed by a small number of Milo’s men. Watson had an ice pack against his face. He was sporting several bandages and a limp, but I was pleased to see he still moved with his usual stubborn determination.
“Are you fit to travel?”
“Yeah,” he said. I had to read his lips, with all the noise. “Nothing happened to you in that warehouse?”
“I happened to that warehouse.”
He smiled, and then he winced in pain.
“Try not to move your face,” I advised. “Do you remember what I said, about Prague?”
“About us going there?” Watson said it with some difficulty.
I nodded. The pilot was motioning for us to hurry up. He’d take us to the airport, and we’d hop on Lena’s father’s company jet. Commercial travel wouldn’t do, not this time. We were a strange group of people, and I didn’t want us to be conspicuous.
That would come later.
“What’s the plan, Holmes?”
The stirring in my blood when he asked me that question. Nothing in the world could replace it.
“Well,” I told him, “I have a mask for you to wear.”
I’D HEARD IT SAID BEFORE THAT PRAGUE WAS A FAIRY-TALE city. Watson repeated it now as we made our slow progression in from the airport. Steepled roofs, pastel buildings, cobbled roads and switchbacks. An astronomical clock that stood stories high in a public square. I’d been there once before with Milo when we were children. Our Aunt Araminta had decided we needed “culturing.” I think she may have mistaken us for bacteria.
“It is a fairy-tale city,” Watson insisted. “Look at those doors.” Our cab was descending a bumpy brick road, and every few feet we passed one of them. Medieval-looking metal doors, reinforced with spiny rows of hammered-in nails. “I wonder what’s behind them.”
“On this street? Souvenir shops.” I disliked it when the term “fairy-tale” was bandied about. Most often it was used to mean “whimsical.” This is inaccurate. In fairy tales, the forest swallows you up like a dinner. Your parents wrap you in a cloak and set you loose in the dark. Everything happens in threes, and only the oldest child survives. As a younger sister, I particularly resented that last implication.
“We can buy you a commemorative shot glass, if you’d like,” I told him.
He rolled his eyes, but I could tell he was pleased. “Where are we staying?”
“Somewhere far away from all this madness. Someplace sensible.”
“Define sensible.” The nurses had stuffed him with enough painkillers that he was able to talk without pain. He was, it seemed, taking advantage of that fact.
“My brother found us a bedsit flat near the auction house.”
“It was quite expensive.”
“Holmes, we’ll be on top of each other.”
“It doesn’t have any windows, either, so it’s entirely safe.”
“No windows?” He flung an arm toward the window for emphasis. “The city’s all lit up like a storybook. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. We’re in Prague. And you rented us a studio apartment without windows?”
I frowned. “I think it was originally a maintenance closet.”
It was only the two of us in this car; Lena and Tom had gone on ahead to their hotel. Though we’d flown in together, we’d arrive at the auction separately. For his part, August said he’d find his own place to sleep. He was aware that Watson and I had fought, and I imagine he was giving us the chance to kiss and make up.
“I hate you,” Watson said to me, emphatically. “What is it with you and closets?”
“They’re often quite clean. And if they aren’t, one can usually find cleaning supplies in them.”
“Actually, I booked us a room in an Art Deco hotel,” I said, and moments later our car pulled into its circle drive. I’d always prided myself on my timing.
“Hats on,” I said, handing him his, “and sunglasses. Let them think we’re film stars.” I wanted no chance of our being seen.