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The Dust of a Hundred Cities

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The third time the Feds come by to toss the house, Shandra already has a pot of coffee on waiting for them.

"No, please," she says sweetly, not getting up from the table when they let themselves in through the front door and toss a warrant down in front of her. She inspects the knuckles of her gloves, brushing imaginary dirt off the fine white linen. "Help yourself. Milk and sugar are in the fridge, unless they're not, in which case I simply have no idea where they are."

Five minutes later, Barron comes stumbling down the stairs, nearly tripping over a box of his old textbooks, pants haphazardly yanked up around his hips and his hair sticking straight up in the back, like he'd stuck his finger in a light socket.

"Really?" he groans, slumping down into the chair across from her. "They couldn't have waited until a decent hour of the morning to come raid our house?"

"It's noon, dear," Shandra tells him.

"Like I said," he grumps back. Then, "ooo, coffee."

He heaves himself up with the manner of one whose limbs feel as if they're made of weighted stones, dragging himself over to pull a suspect-looking cup out of the dishwasher and filling it to the brim with Italian roast. He gulps it down like that, standing at the counter. Together, they listen to the sounds of the Feds dismantling something heavy upstairs.

"Sweetheart," she says, disapproving. "You work with them, can't you tell them to be more gentle with the antiques?"

"I don't work with them," Barron's tone is dark. "We're in completely different offices." Something thuds heavily upstairs, and they both cast disparaging looks up at the ceiling. "It's like they think they're going to find him transformed into a nailhead in one of our drawers or something," he mutters.

Shandra would be more flattered having young, attractive, fit men in suits routinely coming by to toss the house if she thought they were actually here for her.

Still, a part of her is always relieved to see the vans swarm up the driveway, to hear that authoritative knock on the door. If she's still the best lead they have, it means they haven't gotten one step closer to finding out where Cassel is hiding, and she's okay with that.

"They're never going to find him," she takes another bite of her toast, putting it down on her plate and checking the corners of her mouth for crumbs. "He's a good boy. I raised him to be smart, and to never get caught. I raised all you boys to never get caught."

Barron tips her a very droll look, as if to say, yeah, good job with that one. Philip's dead, I'm a federal agent, and Cassel's off skipping through meadows of daisies for all we know.

Which, fine, yes. So maybe things aren't ideal, but that doesn't mean Shandra isn't proud of every single one of her sons.

That part is never going to change. Never.

When the Feds finally tromp back downstairs, the two guys in front each carry a bin in their arms, full of things they're going to add to their "evidence log," that Shandra is likely never to see again. She heaves a very pointed sigh, because their house is cluttered but everything in it has a history they don't know about and certainly aren't going to respect, but they don't look at her.

"Any luck, gentlemen?" Barron asks, cocking them his most rakish grin. He's still leaning against the counter, one leg crossed over the other, already on his third cup of coffee.

Their no-nonesense shoes don't even slow as they stomp their way out the door, but one of the agents splits away from the others, weaving around a stack of empty Amazon boxes that teeters nearly to the ceiling to approach them. There hadn't been a lot to do while under house arrest in Ivan's apartment, besides sit around and be beautiful, but Shandra does that no matter where she is, so. She found a hobby in scamming credit cards off of online dating sites and going shopping, because let's face it, she has much better taste than half the people on OK Cupid. It does mean more clutter, but she'll find some use for those boxes, it seems such a shame to throw them away.

"Have you had any contact with your youngest son, ma'am?" the suit wants to know, his voice flat.

"I thought that's what you're supposed to be finding out," she returns, saccharine and sunny, simultaneous with Barron's, "how do you propose she do that? Carrier pigeon?"

The agent sighs, like somehow they're the ones inconveniencing him. He has a little bit of a belly stretching the front of his handsome dress shirt, and he has good shoulders and a frothy head of hair. She bets he goes to church every Sunday and doesn't say mean things about his grandmother after she takes her hearing aid out.

He crosses over to the fridge and taps on the postcard she has pinned up underneath a magnet with the locksmith's number on it.

"This is new," he comments. "Who's it from?"

This makes Shandra flutter at him, lifting her hands to her cheeks as if checking for a blush and then smoothing her hair away from her face. "Oh, you noticed that?" she goes, tinkling out a laugh, leaning her elbow on the table and propping her chin up on her hand. "Isn't it so lovely? It's from the most wonderful gentleman, oh, he was marvelous," she presses a hand to her heart. "I met him in Boracay -- it's in the Phillipines, have you ever been? Oh, you really should, sweetie, it's so gorgeous there. And anyway, he's been in America recently and he must have seen me all over the news, because he sent me the sweetest postcard!"

The Fed tugs the postcard loose from its magnet and flips it over. "There's nothing written on it," he remarks.

"Never doubt a lady, young man, I know who its from. My instincts simply know its him," she laughs again, twirling a lock of her hair around her finger and giving it a tug.

He barely manages to suppress rolling his eyes at her, but he sticks the postcard back. It's a vintage shot of Times Square, circa 1905, hued in sepia and nearly unrecognizable for how few buildings there are. The card itself is yellowed, warped a little in one corner like it was stored somewhere damp before it was found and sent to her. The postmark says it came from somewhere over the Pennsylvania border, dated just a scant half-week after Governor Patton's confession speech.

"You'll let us know if you hear from him," he tells her, not a request.

"Oh, of course. You'll be the first to know," she choruses back. It's a blatant lie and they both know it, because the Singers don't trust the Feds as far as they can spit, but she picks up her plate and transfers it to the sink, clearly dismissing him.

As soon as the door clicks shut behind him, Barron rounds on her, looking quizzical.

"I didn't know you went to the Philippines," he says.

"Of course I didn't go to the Philippines," she bites out impatiently, remembering belatedly that Barron probably has no recollection where she has or hasn't been in her life. "Although in the brochures, it all looks so absolutely stunning. I should never say never, I guess."

"But --"

"There's no gentleman," she waves that away. "Cassel sent the postcard."

Barron does a double-take, eyes darting from her to the postcard on the fridge and then back again. His eyebrows scrunch together. "I didn't know Cassel was into vintage photography," is what he decides to focus on.

This does make her laugh, her head thrown back, the sound bursting out of her from somewhere very deep down.

"He isn't," she gets out eventually, her eyes feeling watery from mirth. She regains her composure and smiles at him, saying very pointedly, "But Lila is. That girl was educated among the elite in Paris, remember? If that won't train a girl to appreciate good vintage, I don't know what would."

Barron's eyebrows shoot up so high they almost meet his hairline.

"Huh," he says, absorbing that. Then his mouth pulls to one side, and he glances at the postcard magneted to the fridge; Cassel telling them that he's okay and they don't have to worry in the most acceptable way and untraceable way he can manage. "You little shithead," he says, in tones of great affection.




She doesn't see it until after the graduation ceremony.

The weather behaves all day, which is strange for Jersey in late May, and a hundred graduating seniors process up along the tree-lined Wallingford drive in their white gowns and gloves, hands clamped to their heads to keep their caps from blowing away. Everybody knows there are a couple of seniors who are going to get blank diplomas, like Jace, who still needs to finish a remedial pre-calc course, but it would reflect badly on the school to have them sit out of the ceremony altogether, so they're all there.

Some seniors aren't, of course, and their names are completely omitted. Lila Zacharov is one. Cassel Sharpe and Minalin Lang are the others. Worker kids, who vanished in the middle of the night, struck from the record as if they'd never attended the school at all.

It's not that uncommon, really. It just looks bad.

Sam receives recognition and honors for his glowing 4.0 GPA, which almost makes his parents burst with pride in their seats, and Dean Wharton look like he swallowed something unpleasant.

Afterwards, at a luncheon held at the Wasserman estate, for which the Wassermans and the Yus are both in attendance, Daneca finds something unexpected in amongst the congratulations and felicitation cards that her mother set out on the dining room table for Sam and her. Daneca spots it while she's in the middle of checking a bland-looking card for money, sent from a great-aunt who spells her name Danika and hasn't ever met her in person.

Bemused, she sets the envelope down on the table with her plate of skewered fruits, wiping her gloves off on her corduroy skirt before she picks up the postcard.

On the front of it, a fainting woman in period dress and fake blood drenching her bodice is dramatically captured in the arms of a man in a waistcoat and top hat, clearly on stage somewhere. Superimposed over it is text that looks like it was applied in ClipArt, announcing grandly, Come see us at the Chicago Museum of Performing Arts! Be worked like you've never been worked before!

"What?" she says out loud, flipping the postcard over, not knowing what to expect; some internship invitation, or advertisement, or something, but there's nothing like that.

The back is completely blank except for her name and, bizarrely, Sam's, filled in with her address.

"What?" she says again.

From behind her, her mother's voice says, "That arrived a few days ago." Daneca turns around to give her a frown. "I thought it might be something you and Sam would want to see together, on a good day."

"But --" Daneca starts.

Leaning against the doorframe, wearing her nicest pair of gloves and an heirloom brooch on the front of her sunflower-colored dress, her mother gives her a patient look. "Who do you think would send you an anonymous postcard from a worker-friendly, liberal museum in Chicago?"

"Me!" pipes up Chris, who materializes at their mother's elbow to give Daneca a pinched, taunting look. "Because your face gets all red and offended whenever somebody brings up emotion work around you. It's really funny."

"Go jump in a lake!" Daneca snaps at him, automatic, although her brain ticks over. Her mother has a point: nobody Daneca knows would go to the trouble of sending her an anonymous postcard -- she's not the kind of person that attracts the kind of people who need to send anonymous postcards -- except for one.

Relief floods through her, pulsating out from one tight, white, bright point inside her chest.

"He's all right," she goes on an exhale. Then, glancing again at the handwriting, which is all oblong letters with curling ends, feminine and not Cassel's, and amends, "They're all right."

"Well, duh," goes Chris, sounding deeply put upon, like she's just too much to handle sometimes. "You can be really slow sometimes, you know that."

She and Sam knew Cassel would probably have to lie low after pulling that stunt with Governor Patton right under the government's nose, but they didn't anticipate him to vanish entirely and then not drop a single line of communication for months. Chris is right, of course: if he'd been caught, either by the Feds or by one of the crime families, they would have heard about it, one way or another. Possession of the world's only known living transformation worker isn't something you'd want to keep to yourself. No news is good news, and an anonymous postcard is the best news of all.

Cassel and Lila are together, and they're safe.

And at some point, they were in Chicago.

Sam, when she races upstairs to show him, just gapes for a long moment at the front of the postcard, and then demands, "Are you serious? They set foot in the Chicago Museum of Performing Arts before I did?" he leans his weight heavily on his cane for a moment, face flickering with several different emotions. "But they're plebians!" he protests. "I bet they didn't understand half of what they were looking at -- intricate set props and the make-up stations and I think they had an exhibit once with all the props from Titanic. Oh, man, that isn't fair ..."

Daneca sits down on the top stair, leaning against the banister and watching him pace back and forth, muttering to himself and cane thudding emphatically with each step.

She feels like laughing, so she does.




When he was thirteen, he met this small, moorchild girl with cotton candy hair, sitting on top of a very ornate boudoir in her mother's bedroom, drumming her bare heels against the wood and switching the lids on bottles of perfume that were shaped like moons and diamonds and all smelled vaguely like cat piss. She asked him if deathworking hurt.

Why do you want to know? he snapped back, badly unsettled, but she'd been so unreal, so strange and otherwordly -- fae, almost, or like something he might have conjured up in a dream that he forgets to remember is a dream when he wakes up -- that it hadn't even been that hard to shrug his shoulders and then amend, Not much. Not as much as it should, I think.

As much as he rakes his memory, back and forth and shaking it upside down so that all its loose change falls out, she's the only person he remembers ever telling about Quebec.

He flicks on the tableside lamp, tilting the card slowly to try and catch any indentations on the surface. There has to be a reason she sent him this. Is she summoning him for another job? Is she giving him a warning?

There's nothing on the glossy surface except for the faint remnants left over from Gage's address written on the other side. The corners are a little beat and bent from traveling internationally, but there's nothing that indicates there's any kind of coded message hidden anywhere on the card.

It's frustrating, and baffling, because it's exactly what it looks like -- Lila sent him a cityscape of Montreal at nighttime, the skyscraper lights blurred and ghostly in the reflection on the water, like two mirror cities existing within the same space. She's the mob princess, and she did it for no other reason than she remembered talking about it with him once.

He's still standing there, scratching his thumbnail against the Canadian postage stamp and puzzling it over, when the bathroom door opens and Mina comes out into the hall, pale champagne-colored towel wrapped around her and knotted under one armpit.

She takes one look at his expression and pauses, her cheeks still flushed a soft hazelnut color from the steam.

"Is everything okay?" she asks, shifting her weight onto the balls of her feet.

He makes a gesture with his free hand, vague and a little helpless, because he's trying to figure out why, exactly, Lila Zacharov sending him a postcard (like they're the kind of friends that send each other postcards when they're on vacation) is so unsettling.

She pads over to him, lifting his braids out of the way so she could wrap her arms around his waist and prop her chin up on his shoulder. He catches her wrists, pressing her warm, bare hands close to his heart, and lifts the postcard so she could see it.

"Montreal?" she goes, slipping one hand out of his so she can take the postcard from him. She flips it over, sees that it's blank except for the address, and hms questioningly in her throat, a vibration he can feel in his skin. "Why Montreal?"

"I wanted to retire there," he tells her, and when Mina glances at him, he shrugs the shoulder she's not leaning on to show that this was way back when he thought retiring was something he could do. He knows better now. "I dunno, I just fixated on it. I thought it would be cool to, like, run away to Canada when I got enough money, live in the city and speak French and never have any problems ever again."

"Canadians have problems," she sounds amused now. "It's not like there aren't seedy people in Canada who would try to hire you, curse work is illegal there, too."

"Well, yeah, I know that now," he returns, dry. "But I was thirteen when I was thinking about it."

She steps around him, their hands still joined in the space between them. The lamplight catches the soft, flyaway hairs that cling to her skull, as thin and downy fine as baby hair, turning them amber and ebony and every shade in between. Gage has never had a problem telling handsome men and women just how sleek and smoking fine they are, because Gage is a smooth player and can pay a compliment, but something about Mina's baldness strikes him speechless every time. He doesn't think he'll ever find the words to tell her just how beautiful he thinks she is; they simply don't exist. Language can't cover that kind of sentiment.

Mina's lips quirk. "I didn't realize you knew Cassel Sharpe when you were thirteen."

"What?" He blinks at her, thrown, and takes several beats to place the name. "No, this is -- the only person I ever told -- well, besides you now, I suppose -- was someone else. Uh. Lila Zacharov, I don't know if you've --"

They look at the postcard again, and her brows pinch together with a frown. "This is Cassel's handwriting," she tells him, sounding very sure. "I used to ... sort truancy files in our dean's office, sometimes, and for years, Cassel and his mother had the same handwriting, of course I know it --"

The thought must occur to her the same time it does to Gage, because she stops mid-sentence, jaw shutting with an audible click. She covers her mouth with the back of her hand, like she's going to start giggling, her eyes going very bright.

Cassel and Lila are in Montreal together.

"Well, then," says Gage, in a tone of finality.

Tell me about Quebec, Lila had said that summer they were thirteen, cutting the top off a nuclear green freeze pop and handing it over. He gratefully shoved it into his mouth, numbing the new rotted black hole where his tooth used to be.

When I retire from working, that's where I want to go, he answered. Like, Quebec, man. They're so busy not giving a fuck there, it'd be the perfect place to just .... be. Haven't you ever wanted to just be? Like, free to make your own choices? I think I could make free choices in Quebec. Don't you?

"We could go, you know," Mina says, watching him with earnest eyes. "I wasn't joking, we could freelance as comfortably there as we do here."

He addresses the unspoken part of her sentence. "They'll probably be long gone by the time we get there."

"We could still go," she gives him the postcard back, turning away and loosening the knot of her towel. "Just because."

"Do you even speak French?"

"Mais oui."

Gage tucks the postcard into the inside pocket of his jacket, close to where he keeps his gun, smiling.

"No collars," he says, and follows Mina.




She comes around the corner of the house, loosely coiling the watering hose up and getting her toes splattered with stray drops of water as she does, just as the postal worker clicks the door to her mailbox shut.

He lifts a hand in greeting when he catches sight of her, spare earbud dangling around his neck and bag tucked snugly into the small of his back, and Maura lifts her own in return, covered by a thick gardening glove. He heads back down the driveway, fingers sectioning off the next stack of mail, and she tosses the curled-up hose into the cobwebby back corner of her garage. She changes back into her regular gloves, frowning as they pinch a little up around her elbows, around the muscle she's been gaining. She makes a mental note to add "new gloves" to her grocery list.

Standing up on tiptoes, she uses her whole body weight to yank the garage door shut, and then climbs up the porch to flip open her mailbox and fetch the mail.

Most of it's addressed to Annabel -- the utilities bill that they'll split payment for, a church newsletter, the new Victoria's Secret, and a heavy envelope from Open Door Mission, but Maura's been living with her sister long enough that there's some stuff for her mixed in here, too: the coupon for Bed, Bath, and Beyond that she was hoping would arrive today, because Aaron has mostly outgrown all his sippy cups and needs to start drinking out of kids glasses, and --

She pauses, finger poised over the corner.

And a postcard. Nothing's written in the body: it's just her name and address on the right, a (and nephew!) tacked on to the end.

Maura knows what she's going to see even before she flips the postcard over, because there's only one person in the world who refuses to call Aaron by his name.

She throws her head back and laughs. On the front is the exact same diner she told Cassel to meet her at when he called her up last month and said he and his girlfriend were roadtripping it, would she mind if they dropped in to say hi, and if she didn't want anything to do with them, that's fine too, he just thought he would check, and it'd been a good day for Maura, her mind quiet inside of her skull and the music seemingly nostalgic and far away, so she'd said yes.

Historic Susie's Diner the caption proclaims, and Maura has no idea what's so historic about Susie's, but it's always crowded there at mealtimes and that's why it was the first place that popped into her mind when she suggested to Cassel that they catch lunch. The more crowded, well lit, and well-observed the place, the harder it is to quietly kill someone and dispose of the body, and it's just bad manners to cart a dead body around a dining establishment. She used to be married to a laborer -- you pick up on these things.

While she didn't really believe that Cassel was going to kill her and dispose of the body, it was something she wanted to be sure of, just in case.

As far as encounters with estranged family members go, it hadn't been bad. Cassel's girlfriend ordered pancakes even though it was closer to three in the afternoon, and magnanimously allowed Maura to cut some up for Aaron after he spotted them and got supremely disinterested in his mac n' cheese. She wore a candy-cane scarf knotted carefully around her neck and studs pierced all the way up the cartilage of her ears, and she asked for a kids' placemat, so she and Aaron spent the meal coloring Susie in weird colors, giving her purple skin and blue hair and polka-dotted gloves in grotesque clashing colors. Maura and Cassel watched, fond.

There were a lot of things they didn't talk about -- what Maura did to Cassel's brother, for example, or why it looked like Cassel and Lila were living out of their car, how long exactly have they been on their "road trip"?

Instead, they talked about the pros and cons of living in Arkansas versus New Jersey, and the weather.

In Arkansas, the skies are less smoggy and the storms come rolling in off the plains, all gorgeous and thunderous, and Maura appreciates living within driving distance of a beach she'd actually willingly let Aaron play in. Here, curse work, much like sexuality or politics, was a sort of nebulous thing that people talked about like it was just something that happened somewhere else.

They both agreed that the size of the bugs in both states was just nightmarish.

You should come by again, Maura had said, after Cassel had smooth-talked a slice of chocolate cake out of the waitress for Aaron. She startled both of them with the offer.

Lila hugged her out by the car, and Maura pretended not to know exactly what was underneath that scarf, because the crime families didn't really matter down here. She thinks she got the hug less because Lila actually liked her, and more because she liked what Maura represents: she got away from that life, after all.

Well. With Cassel's help, but she's pretty sure that's something they have in common.

She goes around the back of the house, still smiling at the exaggerated font -- they must have purchased it on the way out the door, without Maura noticing, and then sent it back to her once they remembered to stick it in a postbox somewhere.

She thinks she knows exactly where she's going to put it: on the fridge, underneath the professional Christmas portraits her cousins insist on sending them every year, just in case they forgot the members of their own family over the last year.

Aaron is still where she left him, sitting in the sandbox in the backyard and oblivious to everything else.

As she walks up, he lets out a massive roar and plunges the head of his Barbie into a pail-shaped turret of sand, using her like a scoop as he triumphantly flings sand everywhere. She laughs at him, tucking the mail under her arm and crouching down to wipe the snot and grit off his face. She doesn't even pretend to know what's going on in that boy's head.

She thinks about teaching him to say "Uncle Cassel," because the look on Cassel's face next time would be priceless.



It's a little after one in the morning, and he's just now getting home, stripping his gloves off and leaving them tossed over the back of his armchair, sinking down with a weariness he feels in every joint, tendon, ligament, down to the very marrow of his bones. He exhales heavily, letting his body melt into the cushion, shaping himself to it as best he can, and thinks about the merits of calling Stanley in to go fetch him something aged, delicious, and deeply alcoholic from the family wine cellar.

But that's miles away, at the Zacharov estate in Carney, and Ivan has no desire to wait for Stanley to make that drive. He doesn't want to be anything right now except a truly horrific blood alcohol level. The older he gets, the less gumption he has for sobriety.

It takes him a moment to realize there's a little silver tray balanced on wine-red upholstery of his armchair, and when he does, it's after he almost knocks it to the floor with his elbow.

He blinks at it for a moment, realizing what's lying on top is a letter. No, a single slip of paper, stamped and postmarked.

It's bizarre, because this is what he has laborers for. Ivan Zacharov doesn't remember the last time he had to deal with his own mail, because Ivan Zacharov is above the kind of things that other people use mail for. He's never paid taxes, or paid his own bills, or kept up with curse work newsletters, and his is the kind of family that ... drop by for personal visits when they need to say something to each other.

He picks up the card and flips it over.

"Oh," he goes, all his breath neatly and cleanly struck out of him.

It's a generic aerial view of LAX as seen through a porthole window. He hasn't worked that side of the country in ... many years, but there's no mystery behind sending him a postcard from the Los Angeles airport.

He'd been younger, much younger, practically a new recruit himself and long before the episode with the Resurrection Stone. His job was to chase down a shipment of real deathwork amulets from Thailand, which were supposed to be waiting for him in the cargo unit of the Newark airport, after having been "accidentally" misplaced from the flight they were on. Instead, he got a whole box full of the Taco Bell chihuahua bobble heads, and, sun-struck and furious, wound up tracking the real amulets across the country to Los Angeles. He met the people who stole his shipment and replaced it with a practical joke -- a glitteringly bright, beautiful young couple, a pair of grifters with Carney accents and gloves with the fingertips worn out of them, who smiled sly smiles at him and offered him free drinks if he cared to join them in the airport lounge.

The next morning, they decided to split the shipment right down the middle in the name of fairness, and Ivan returned home with half the legitimate deathwork amulets his boss wanted, and a card with a phone number on it tucked into his breast pocket, the handwriting smudged under a woman's heavy lip print, and again under a man's. He carried with him a handprint, bruised into the flesh above his hip.

He touches the spot now, absently, although thirty years has left him with nothing but varicose veins and thinning hair and wholly regenerated skin that doesn't remember what it was like to have Shandra and Philip's hands on it, the way they laughed and set their gazes on him, like they were as enthralled with him as he was with them, beautiful and so heartstoppingly in love.

He hasn't told a single soul that story, but he wouldn't need to, not when the Sharpes remembered it, too.

Not when they might have raised their youngest son on trickster's lies and fairytales and starlight, a boy who would have carved his own chest open before someone could do it for him, taking his heart from his ribs and giving it to Ivan's only daughter.

"Oh, little girl of mine," he sighs, setting the postcard back down on the plate and covering his eyes with his hand, overwhelmed by the echoes of his own story in theirs. "You're going to break my heart."

It's been six months since he's seen Lila's little lithe face, hugged her, told her good-bye. It should be safe for her to come home now.

He doesn't think she will.



and one.

The front is a collage of images: jellyfish pale and cotton-colored in a cerulean sea; sunlit beaches dotted with tourists in wide-brim hats; a koala in repose, its eyes lidded lazily; the Sydney Opera House at night, glowing and lit up from the inside like a conch shell. Good Day to Say G'day says the caption.

On the back, it simply says, You should come visit sometime.

He sits down heavily, not even bothering to find a chair; he just slides to the floor in his own entryway, crumpled among his muddy work boots and a raincoat that's slipped from its hook. The cicadas are shrieking out in the grasses, summer heat still shimmering across the distant rooftops of Carney even though the sun has all but sunk beneath the horizon.

Of course. Of course. Australia is the only country in the world where curse work isn't illegal. The best place to hide the world's most sought after transformation worker is in plain sight.

Desi tips his head back against the wall, throat working. He isn't sure if he's going to laugh or cry. Probably both.


It takes him another two months before he can find an excuse to arrange a vacation, for the sake of any eyes that might still be watching him. Cassel and that knife-eyed, cat-clever girl of his have evaded capture after capture after increasingly desperate government lure -- he doesn't think they're going to get caught now, but it doesn't hurt to cover his tracks, just in case.

It's October when he lands, the seasons turning on their head with the change in hemisphere, the start of spring making his nose itch almost before he steps out onto the tarmac.

His grandson's house is a low-to-the-ground bungalow, dark weathered wood and wind chimes strung up along the gutters and pealing. The whole thing is set back from the road and so close to the shore that he can hear the faint, desolate cries of the seagulls and smell the sharp, acrid scent of fish on the air as he pays the cabbie, shelling out unfamiliar currency and listening to the man go on good-naturedly about the nature reserve island that's just a mile off the coast that-a-way, and how it might be the only place you can still find some certain kind of crane or another, Desi doesn't know, he's distracted, straightening up and taking in the place Cassel and Lila have appropriated for their own.

The ferns and the trees wave in the wind, a rustling that surrounds him like breathing. A calico cat watches him from its perch on top of the fence, golden eyes tracking him as he makes his way up to the gate, gravel crunching heavily under his feet. It's wearing a collar, a name tag in the shape of a fish resting against its breast.

The house number is printed underneath the buzzer, and underneath that, a name.


Desi laughs.

He breathes deep, feeling it stretch his ribs and toes and the stubs where his fingers used to be, and then he rings the doorbell.