Kara and Henry whittled away much of the evening on that disused bay in the Anderson warehouse, watching the dandelion yellow of the sky gradually fade into purples and pinks. The other three artists filed out one after another, yawning and bading them both a good night before vanishing back into Tortus Bay proper. None of them seemed interested in hanging around the place any longer. Henry supposed it was different, when you were there every day. For him the past few hours had been an interesting lark, but for them it would have been just another day.
“Do you sell these?” he asked, fidgeting with the chain around his neck. He’d done what he was told with the protection charm, placing the leather against the bare skin of his chest.
“I do,” Kara said.
“Do you wear any yourself?”
She side-eyed him. “You trying to figure out how crazy I am?”
“Just a question.”
She pulled her left leg up from where it had been dangling out of the bay, laid her foot flat on the concrete, and pointed at a spot in the middle of her thigh. There, what Henry had previously mistaken for a paint splatter was a tattoo not dissimilar in style to the marking on his new necklace. Three rough lines, in a non-intersecting triangle. She lifted the lobe of her right ear to show him another, and pulled down the back of her shirt to reveal a third between her shoulder blades. From there, he could also see a fourth: this one the exact same rhomboid as on the necklace, centered on the nape of her neck beneath the hairline. “Vitality. Fortune. Empathy. And protection,” she said. “So ask your question.”
“Do you believe in at all?”
“I believe in miracles. Four years ago, I was homeless. Three years ago, I moved here. Two years ago, this warehouse lost its purpose, and this year I’ve found my own inside of it.”
“I had no idea. It’s amazing what you’ve managed to do with the place in a year. And I guess that means you’re also a recent transplant.”
“The most recent,” Kara said, “before you. Suppose I should say thanks for that; now there’s a new baby in the family, and everyone can stop treating me like a charity. That must be why you were sent to me. Nobody else remembers what it’s like to try to get established.” She jumped off the bay, landing with a crunch on the broken concrete, and offered a hand. “Speaking of, I have a place you might want to see. I’ve been doing some remodeling work for a man named Benny for a few months, and I think I can convince him to open up a little space for an apartment.”
Henry took her hand and followed her leap out of the bay, landing with a slightly more muted crunch. “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me until you’ve seen it,” she said, and they were walking back toward the heart of the village. He idly wondered if anyone in Tortus Bay owned a car, or if the perk of living within five minutes of anything a person might need made it irrelevant. The Gauthes and the Brihtes must have vehicles, he reasoned. That status symbol would be too much to give up.
“What did you think of Mathas Bernard?” he asked. It wasn’t an investigation, it was a simple curiosity.
“Getting involved in politics already?” she said. “I don’t know, I only met him a handful of times. Some of the Brihtes can be reclusive like that, not that he ever took the name. His wife never took his either. He was always awfully supportive, though. Considered himself a patron of the arts. Susan Petry was trying to swoop up the Anderson to convert the lot into a house, but Mathas outbid her and gifted the place over to us. He’s the only reason we have it.”
“I heard he was afraid of the dark.”
Kara chuckled. “You shouldn’t read too much into that. A lot of people around here get awfully suspicious about anything that moves around at night. That’s one of the weirdest things to get used to, when you’re new.”
“Speaking of weirdness: why is it that you chose to move here?”
He tried to focus on her face for the answer. The failing light and the motion of their walking made it difficult, but he thought he caught a frown. “I couldn’t stay where I was,” she said, “or keep living the way I had been. Hitching was my only way out, and I didn’t stop until I found somewhere that felt right. What do you say, when they ask?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“You should figure that out.” They emerged onto Second Avenue just as the streetlights lit the length of the street. Warmer lights, fighting through drawn curtains, joined them from all but a few of the surrounding houses. Kara led him to one of the darkened ones, a resplendent cherry-red manor with ochre window frames and a dramatically peaked roof, and fumbled around with a large keychain before swinging the front door open for him.
Inside, Henry found the skeleton of a house. It struck him as similar to the Anderson warehouse, minus the chaos and with the addition of the overwhelming scent of sawdust and cleaning detergent. The walls and floors were barren, but gleamed with fresh polish and paint. There were no doors in the frames, no appliances on the counters, and no furniture whatsoever—unless the odd step-ladder or bucket could be counted. “Benny’s harboring some sort of grand design of having the place ready for his daughter when she decides to move back home,” Kara said. “I’m not exactly a qualified contractor, but I am very cheap. There’s always a flurry of activity whenever she calls home, but we’re in-between those right now. Come on, let me show you upstairs.”
She brought Henry up, past the similarly stripped-down second floor, into a small attic space with was clearly the cause of the pointed roof. There, the situation was entirely different. Boxes lay strewn about the floor. The ceiling was only half finished, exposing insulation and wood beams. And over all of it, there was caked a layer of dust an inch thick. “Obviously it needs more work before you could move in,” she said, “but I think Benny would let it go cheap to make something off this place before his daughter comes back. Which, if you’re interested, she won’t be. Last I heard, she was having a grand time off at college.”
Henry surveyed the space, unsure of what to say. It was larger than some of the places he’d lived before, but that was something he was trying to get away from. Then there was the matter of the mess.
“Don’t say anything yet,” she said, saving him from his thoughts. “There’s an additional bonus.” She tip-toed through a narrow passage in the junk, grazing her fingertips on boxes to keep her balance along the way, and pulled a small milk crate off of what turned out to be a mini fridge. A cord led from the back into a hole in the ground, and when she opened the door there came a light and a reassuring hum from within. “Put a secret stash up here for long nights. Go ahead, help yourself.”