Poor thing, Verlaine thought, but in an instant it had taken off and flown away.
“Hope I didn’t interrupt anything important,” she said to Nadia on the phone twenty minutes later, as she finished coding the breaking news update for the Lightning Rod. “But I was wondering whether this was witchy stuff or just, you know, bad roads.”
“I wouldn’t be able to tell—I mean, it looked normal to me that first time, when your car fell in. Mateo could, maybe, if he—” Nadia sighed. “Nobody got hurt, right?”
“I don’t think so.”
“And what did you mean, interrupt anything important?”
“You know. You and Mateo. You guys were together tonight, right?”
“I didn’t mean to leave you out.” Nadia sounded apologetic, so Verlaine decided not to get irritated about it. Well, not more irritated, anyway.
“Don’t be stupid. Of course you did. I get it. You and Mateo want some alone time.”
“It’s not like that,” Nadia said, surprising Verlaine. “We’re just friends—maybe we could’ve been more than friends, and I thought we might—until he found out—well. You should know what he found out.”
And that whole set of revelations was so astonishing that Verlaine had to stop typing and just hang on to her phone and listen for a long time. At last she said, “Holy crap.”
“Mateo’s really crushed, obviously. So be careful how you talk about it with him.”
“Elizabeth—she’s dangerous. Seriously, seriously dangerous. That’s what you’re saying.”
“Yeah. She is.”
“Then would you go to the Lightning Rod site? Because if she’s behind this, and my yard is already caving in? I want to know.”
Verlaine had already charted tonight’s craziness on a map of all the various road and bridge collapses around Captive’s Sound in the past year. Most people thought that the roads commission must have hired bad contractors or pocketed the money for themselves; everyone in town knew there had to be a problem.
But what she saw now was a pattern.
“Are you clicking on it?” Verlaine enlarged the image on her screen. “Do you see what I see?”
“Mouse over each spot—that gives you the date.”
“It looks like the circles are tightening as time goes on.” Nadia’s voice sounded like she was trying very hard to remain calm, but the taut edge of her words gave Verlaine chills. “That space in the middle—you know Captive’s Sound better than I do. What is that?”
“It’s Swindoll Park.” Why would the park be so important? “Nothing’s there. Just, you know, trees and a duck pond and the carousel. They have a cookout on the Fourth of July. The Halloween carnival. That kind of thing.”
“Did you say Halloween carnival?”
“Yeah. How does that matter?” It was mostly a costume contest rigged in favor of the mayor’s kids and games like bobbing for apples, which was just about the stupidest so-called “fun activity” Verlaine could think of.
“Halloween is an important night for witches. That’s one thing the movies don’t lie about.” Nadia was thinking it out as she said it, but she sounded terrifyingly sure. “If these circles are drawing close to this location—this place where all these people are going to be on Halloween night—”
Verlaine bit her lip. “What’s going to happen?”
After a long silence, Nadia said, “I can’t say for sure. But some spells—the darkest spells, those that serve the One Beneath—they require more than magic. They require blood.”
“Halloween,” Verlaine said. “That was—two months from when you did the fortune-telling spell.”
It’s like a target, Verlaine thought as she looked at the map. And we’re in the bull’s-eye.
AT FIRST NADIA THOUGHT THEY’D WORK IT OUT AT school.
Mateo had to show up for classes, and they shared chemistry together, so meeting up was inevitable. He’d be furious for a few days, but sooner or later he’d want to talk this out—right?
But he cut class the next day.
And the next.
And the next.
When the Piranha marked down that third absence, she quipped, “Looks like Mr. Perez is dying to repeat his senior year.”
Unable to resist any longer, Nadia raised her hand. “What about Elizabeth Pike?”
The Piranha frowned, genuinely confused. “What about her?”
“She’s out, too.” Just like she had been ever since that last confrontation they’d had in the hallway—a week now? More? Nadia found it difficult to remember, for some reason.
For a moment the Piranha thought about that, dismay creeping over her face … but then her eyes went kind of misty as she smiled. “Elizabeth’s absence is excused. Her parents sent a note. And maybe you should mind your own business, Miss Caldani.”
People giggled. Kendall glanced over her shoulder and muttered, “How come you’re telling on people?”
“I was just mentioning it.” Nadia tucked her hair behind her ear. She could feel her cheeks flushing hot.
Jeremy leaned across their shared lab table. He was a tall guy—lean and lithe—with sharp cheekbones that looked like they could cut glass, tawny skin, and dark curly hair that was as long as it could be and still look great instead of messy. All at once she totally got how this guy could get to Verlaine … if you only ever saw him at a distance, wow…