“Not good enough,” I said, toying with my coffee cup. “So you’re a giant armadillo monster.”
“I kinda wish you would stop putting it that way.”
“Not going to stop me from saying it,” I shot back. “I don’t understand why your status as a supernatural creature should change my plans to keep you as far away from the Elements as possible.”
“Because I can help you find what you’re looking for.”
He dragged an old-fashioned trunk into the kitchen and opened it. It was filled with small leather-bound notebooks, covered in dust. I gaped at the sheer number of volumes. “What?”
“They’re travel journals,” he said. “Mr. Wainwright seemed to travel a lot. I found this trunk while we were fixing some pipes in the basement.”
“So in addition to lying to me, you stole family heirlooms. You are just a charmer, aren’t you?”
“No!” he exclaimed. “OK, yeah, but I would have returned them to you eventually.”
“That’s a comfort,” I muttered. “Jane said Mr. Wainwright spent a lot of time looking for were-creatures and vampires, after he came back from World War II. She said he actually knows Sasquatch, who is Canadian, by the way.”
“That makes sense.”
I opened the first one I touched. The paper was dry and brittle, and tiny grains of sand actually shook out of the pages as I moved them. Here and there, pictures of a young Gilbert Wainwright in a pith helmet were tacked onto the pages. And the entries were carefully, meticulously written in—
“Are these hieroglyphics?” I asked, lifting an eyebrow.
“Your grandpa seemed to take learnin’ the local languages pretty damn seriously when he traveled.” He handed me journals, pointing out the language used in each. “Sanskrit, Chinese, Greek, and what I think is Old Norse. Other than looking at the photos and making a guess, I can’t tell where he was or what he wrote. He switches languages a few times in each journal. I’ve been through a dozen of them with different language guides, and I can’t make heads or tails of them.”
“Are you showing me these for a particular reason or just to give me fresh reasons not to trust you? Why didn’t you just turn these over to the Kerrigans?” I asked.
“If I just gave them the information, I couldn’t trust them to keep their word. I figured if I found the items first, I had a better shot.”
“Really nice people you’re dealing with,” I told him.
“What part of ‘desperate cursed man’ are you not getting? But I think you’re more likely to meet the terms of our agreement. And I want to help you, to show you how sorry I am about how things have worked out. I’m sorry, Nola,” he said. “I’m sorry I betrayed your trust. And I’m so sorry that I hurt you.”
“So what do you want from me now?”
“I don’t know, really. I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am. I don’t know if you can help me. I don’t even know if it’s right to ask, considering what I’ve done.”
“You really hurt me,” I whispered. “I don’t trust people very easily. And I thought you liked me.”
“I did. I do!” he exclaimed. “I didn’t expect you to be so sweet or so funny. I thought you’d be a crazy, wild-haired old chick with a million cats and a black muumuu. And you show up, and you’re no-nonsense and terrified of small mammals.”
“I don’t know if I can ever trust you again.”
“I have no reason to lie now. You know everything,” he said. “And I have something to make you feel better.”
He opened the fridge and took out a large green mixing bowl, displaying it with a flourish. “Banana puddin’.”
“You think a little pudding is going to make me feel better?”
“You haven’t lived until you’ve had real homemade banana puddin’.”
“Church-lady harem again?”
He pursed his full lips and gave me the puppy-dog eyes again. “There’s something I need to tell you about that.”
I gave him an exasperated look. “Oh, come on.”
“I made all of the food,” he said, cringing.
“Palace of lies!” I exclaimed. “Why—why would you lie about that?”
“I didn’t know what you liked in a man, and I didn’t want to come across all domestic and feminine. I happen to be a very good cook. My mama insisted that all of the boys learn to take care of the house, so when we found nice girls to marry, we would stay married.”
“I never saw you bring home groceries or smelled cooking from your side of the house.”
“You have a pretty regimented schedule,” he said, shrugging. “It was easy to work around you.”
“Is your name really Jed, or is that a lie, too? Are you really Gary Horowitz from Hoboken, New Jersey?”
“You still don’t trust me, huh?”
“I’ve said so, several times. I feel I’ve been very honest about it.”
“What’s it going to take to change your mind?”
Vampires are slow to trust and quick to attack. Do your best not to piss them off. And if you’ve already done so, run.
—A Smart Girl’s Guide to Living with the Undead
It turned out it took a lot for me to trust him again. But it took even more for my friends to be willing to give him license to breathe in their presence.
“Ow!” he yelped as Jane attached her hands to either side of his head, yanking out a bit of hair.
“Hey, if your brain wasn’t so patchy, I wouldn’t have to get so close,” Jane admonished. “You’re lucky we’re not calling Sophie the lie detector.”
“Who?” he asked, wincing as she dug her fingers against his scalp.
Even with his—frankly, delicious, but I would never tell him so now—banana pudding, I held Jed at arm’s length until we could hold what Zeb called a “family meeting” at Specialty Books as soon as he was released from the hospital. Zeb was bruised and battered, his arm in a sling. I offered to take care of it for him, but he declined. He said it was good for him, to feel human, to remind him to pay better attention when he was in the shop alone. Jolene, who was now left to care for their twins while Zeb was on the injured list, objected to this strongly. But when Jane offered to take care of the hospital bills since the injury had occurred on her property, she seemed mollified.
It was strange spending time with Jed again with this new perspective. I’d missed him. It seemed strange to admit that. I missed the version of Jed I thought I knew. I didn’t know if that Jed really existed. He did his best to make it up to me. He helped me restore order to my ransacked living room and replaced my windows. The problem was that if it wasn’t Jed, who had broken into the shop? Who had gone through my things at the house? Had the Kerrigans sent another operative into our area?
Gabriel and Dick asked those questions and many more after I insisted that Jed confess his part in the Kerrigans’ plot. The vampires made it clear that they did not like or trust Jed. Zeb was confused about exactly who Jed was. But once he realized that he was once considered a suspect in his ass-whupping, he chilled considerably. Jolene was careful to stand between them at all times and appeared to be baring her teeth. Jane picked Jed’s brain over with a mental fine-tooth comb. She couldn’t detect any dishonesty, but she added that didn’t mean anything if Jed was good at covering up.
Dick also “offered” to let Jed stay in one of the other properties in town. Well, actually, Dick waited until Jane had Jed by the hair and leaned in close, growling like a jungle cat. “Just so you understand, that little girl over there is very important to me. If you hurt her again—I mean, if she’s the least bit unhappy, if she returns from any outing with you with so much as a hangnail—I will fix it so if people ever find your body, they won’t be able to tell if you’re human or a raccoon that got caught in a mulcher.”
“Dick!” I shouted. “I’m not a little girl!”
“Well, compared to Dick,” Andrea began.
I pointed a finger in her face. “Quiet, you!”
“Hey, I didn’t get to do this when you were younger, so I’m making up for it now,” Dick said.
“I had lots of uncles who did this when I was younger, and I hated it then, too.”
“He is being a little overprotective, but that’s sort of a thing with him and Gabriel,” Jane told me.
Jane turned to Jed and gave him a grim smile. “You do realize, of course, that none of us trusts you, and we reserve the right to whack you over the head with various blunt objects if the mood strikes us?”
Jed nodded after a moment’s consideration. “Understood.”
“How is that better?” I demanded. Jane shrugged.
“Before the head bashing begins, could I make a peace offering?” Jed asked before disappearing out the front door. He returned, hefting the heavy trunk full of journals under one arm. Suddenly, his ability to haul around paving stones made more sense. Did shapeshifters have above-average strength? Seeing Mr. Wainwright’s name stamped on the trunk, Jane was immediately intrigued. She knelt before the collection of old books and stroked the covers reverently.
“You’re still on probation,” she reminded Jed, who smirked at her.
She opened one and sighed. “It’s . . . in gibberish.”
“Jane,” Andrea admonished her. “I’m surprised at you. This isn’t gibberish. OK, who here speaks Mandarin?” Gabriel grinned broadly and raised his hand. Andrea handed him a journal. “And . . . Latin?” Dick raised his hand and accepted another. “I happen to read some Old Norse, thanks to a horrible ex-boyfriend whom we will not mention because it makes Dick pull his angry face. Which leaves us with old Gaelic, Sanskrit, and hieroglyphics.”
“I can take the Gaelic portions, or at least muddle through them,” I said. “And if you have some books on Sanskrit and hieroglyphics or, even better, Mr. Wainwright’s guides to those languages, we can get to work on them. Maybe we can find something in the journals that will give us some clue about the bell.”
“Oh, good.” Zeb sighed, shifting his arm uncomfortably while he and Jolene settled into the comfy purple chairs with their assignments. “Homework.”
It was a relief to have something to do, something we could all focus on for the week before the deadline. Although I found nothing to do with Mr. Wainwright’s trip to Ireland, the journals were pleasant and interesting reading. I did learn that I should consider the possibility that every animal I saw was actually a middle-aged man named Wally. Nana had told me that Mr. Wainwright was looking for were-deer, but it was still a bit shocking to find out that there were people out there who turned into skunks and weasels. Think of the dry-cleaning involved.
Using the journal dates, we constructed a timeline of where he had traveled when. To give our eyes a rest from Mr. Wainwright’s small script, we took turns contacting his favorite buyers, asking about bells, just in case. We visited every pawn shop in the surrounding two counties, but bells didn’t seem to be frequently pawned items. I continued working at the clinic, but each afternoon, I left earlier than my previously established routine, something that Dr. Hackett frowned on. He knew, though, that I’d be leaving soon and he would have to adjust to running the clinic without me.
I sent scans of the Gaelic portions to Penny, a swipe to my pride, considering how often she’d told me to study the language more faithfully, as I would need it someday. Her translations were interesting but ultimately unhelpful. Eventually, we were able to determine which journals were the volumes written just before and about two years after the Ireland trip, but we couldn’t seem to find the Ireland volume. The only bright spot, Gabriel observed, was that Mr. Wainwright never referred to selling or giving away the Elements in subsequent journals. We were sitting around the shop again, going over the journals, when Dick suddenly dropped to his knees in front of the trunk and knocked on the interior of the lid. Jane watched him warily, but as he tested the lid, she seemed to pick up on his line of thinking.