Something has to give. I’m just not sure what yet.
I’m in New York City for the next two months, teaching a marketing course at School of Visual Arts. While I’m here, I’m writing the next Shirley Link. The final draft will be done by the end of the day! I’m excited by that in ways I’ve never felt before. This Shirley adventure has been the toughest one to craft yet. By far. Part of it is that I’ve had the idea for the mystery for a long time. That meant wrestling with age-old preconceptions about how the clues would be set up, how the players would respond to them and how they’d be revealed. But once I sat down to write the book, well, none of those ideas lasted a single draft. Still, with the help of my beta readers, I’ve worked through it and I think this may be my new favorite Shirley Link book! Stay tuned for launch dates and peeks at artwork soon ;-)
Then there’s The Camelot Kids: Book Two. I found myself at 40k words before I knew it, so I know the book is primed and ready to emerge. I’ve been getting up at 5:30am every morning to work on it and that’s worked well on a number of fronts. There’s something about writing Fantasy (that’s heavy in magic) at the start of the day when the world is quiet. Magic is more present when our lives are still. But to tap it means pushing aside all concerns. It means assuring The Stress that it can come out in a little bit and do its thing. It means gently nudging strong insecurities back into whatever caves they spring from. While the story is all over the place right now, I’m excited to release the ending to a story that’s been dancing around my head for ten years.
And then there’s Atticus. The book died last night. I mean it was dead. Flatlined. It had frustrated me one too many times. I went to sleep in despair. My good idea had no legs. It had nowhere to go. It gasped for oxygen and I tried to give it some but it wasn’t enough. Then, this morning, its eyes popped open and it breathed in a lungful of air of its own making. So, on its own, it’s showed me a way forward. Now I’m more excited than ever about the story, though I also see that it’s bigger than I initially assumed.
Excited. Terrified. Tired. Pounding on three books will do that to a guy. So wish me luck. I’m headed into the final pass on Shirley Link & The Party Poopers and then I’ll be outlining the next Shirley! Yeah, you know that title I gave this post? The one that advises against writing three books at once? Well, I may be addicted to the feeling so, uh, do as I say, not as I do…
Here’s a free story, starring Maille Rose! Maille (pronounced Molly) has become a favorite of The Camelot Kids’ fans. Read on to find out why. You can also download this story to your device for later. (PDF) (epub) (mobi)
Maille Rose’s wand hand was asleep. Sitting in a closet will do that. As a rule, something is going to lose blood flow when you’re scrunched up in a pile of dirty laundry for seven hours.
Her target had been due to return to his bedroom at 7 pm. At least that was the routine according to the Survairys who had scouted ahead the previous week. But 2 am rolled around and faded into 3 and she still found herself browsing the clothing tags. She even invented a new game called “Percentage Polyester?” but she just couldn’t go on when it actually became enjoyable.
Maille wished she could doze off, if only to escape the smell for a while. But she had a job to do. Maybe she could leave the closet for a few minutes to stretch her legs? No way. She wasn’t allowed to leave her entry point until the target showed up.
“When I’m in charge,” she thought, “I’ll update every ridiculous rule in Rules of Magic.”
“Then maybe I shouldn’t put you in charge,” a man’s voice said in her head. “Your target is walking up the stairs.”
“About time,” Maille thought back.
“Your right hand is asleep,” the voice grumbled. “How are you going to do your job when your hand is blopping around like a rotten pumpkin?”
“I have no idea what that means,” she thought. “But don’t worry about it. I got it covered.” She hoped her cockiness was obvious. Nothing got under his skin more than cockiness.
“Oh, you do, do you?” he grunted.
“I came up with a spell!”
“You came up with a spell.”
“A spell. That’s what I thought. Did my brain stutter? Yeah, the spell gets the blood flowing. It’s pretty cool. Did I remember to feed Mrs. Howl’s chickens?”
Maille didn’t mean to think about the chickens just then. The stray thought was what wizards call a Randumber. Randumber’s are when you think about something without meaning to, which interrupts the conversation you’re having with whatever cranky wizard is using your head as a motel. Randumber’s are considered quite rude and a sign of poor form in the wizarding world.
But Maille didn’t care.
She cared more about the fact that no, she had indeed not remembered to feed the damn chickens now that she thought about it.
She plopped her limp hand on her lap and held the wand over it. It was a bit awkward in that small space because Maille Rose’s wand was once a normal Louisville Slugger bat — before she chose it as her primary wizarding tool.
“Influit,” she whispered.
Within seconds Maille could move her hand normally. Just in time, too. The door to the room creaked open.
She held her breath. She didn’t want the target to hear her breathing. In Maille’s experience, a gentle, quiet entrance (even from freaky entry points like closets) was the best way to avoid the target’s death by abject fear.
She Eyenapped the eye of a nearby fly to get a good look around. The door had indeed been nudged open slightly, but the room appeared empty. A single bed-spring with no mattress sat in a corner, covered with a couple of blankets. The paint on the wall flaked off like dead skin and left an army of flesh-colored chips on the rotting floorboards.
Back in her own head, Maille’s non-magic ears concluded that her target must have gone back downstairs.
“That’s it. I can’t stay here any longer,” she thought. She wasn’t going to wait one second more for this ninny to show up while chin-deep in his boxer shorts. He could discover the truth about his life some other day.
“Now see here, you whipperscrapper…” the voice in her head started, getting his words wrong as usual.
It was too late. She’d already nudged the closet door open with her foot, wand raised high. Just in case she needed it.
But her wand wasn’t enough.
Maille’s target, now more aptly named her attacker, had been cloaked in the shadows on the other side of the closet door. He kicked the door closed, trapping Maille’s leg in the doorframe with a sickening CLUNK!
“Sounds like that hurt,” the voice in her head said, so loud that her head throbbed.
“If you won’t help me, then zip it!” she screamed back, this time out loud.
Maille rolled forward, dodging a baseball bat to the head. She punched her opponent in the nose and blocked the second blow with her own bat.
But, unlike the attacker’s weapon, Maille’s bat had magic.
And it had been dented. So it was now mad bat magic.
It lashed out with a burst of purple flame, chest-high, that cut across the floor and lay down an eerie glow. Maille immediately feared that her wand had overreacted because… well, there’s no other way to put it… her target was the cutest boy she’d ever clobbered.
Handsome Face (as Maille would call him until she learned his real name) leapt over the wall of flame and took another swing.
But this time she was ready. The spells rolled out of her mouth in the following order:
ContraPlaga (accompanied by waving her arm dismissively) disarmed him.
Stipatio (a spell usually reserved for putting babies to sleep) made his eyes get heavy.
ModusObligatus gave real weight to the darkness of the room, keeping her attacker contained, just in case he managed to beat down the Stipatio.
Handsome Face kind of lolled to the floor and lay flat on his back, frowning at the ceiling. Maille stood over her target. She was short of breath because ModusObligatus added about seventy pounds to everyone in the room.
And because this guy rattled her in a profoundly irritating way.
Maille Rose reminded herself who was in charge here — square jawline, piercing eyes and wide shoulders aside. She got ready to launch into her standard pitch.
Instead, she said, “Hi! I’m Maille!” She closed her eyes and shook her head. That was as far off-script as she could have possibly managed.
“What are you doing, silly girl?” the noggin voice echoed in her skull.
Handsome Face glared at her, like he’d take a bite out of her leg if he could move.
“I’m not sure how you got to be such a fighter,” Maille said, trying to keep her tone light. “But that’s a good thing.”
“Stick to the script, Maille Rose,” the gruff voice spoke behind her right ear.
“I’m trying!” she yelled.
Handsome Face lost a little of his frown. It was replaced with concern. Most likely concern that he was stuck in a room with a nutball.
“Okay, listen up,” Maille started. “Have your parents told you about The Prophecy?”
Handsome Face’s concerned look got more intense. She was freaking him out now. Fine. As long as she kept the upper hand no one would get hurt.
“Here’s the deal, and I’m sure you’ll listen to me because you can probably tell I’m a wizard.”
“You’re not a wizard yet, you little liar,” the head voice said with a condescending cackle.
Handsome Face’s expression was now one of terror. She followed his stare to her hand, the one that had been asleep a minute earlier.
It was the size of a basketball.
Her new spell was malfunctioning.
“Oh, look at that,” the voice said. “Who could have guessed that an untested spell could backfire?”
Maille decided to do the only thing that would buy her time. Pretend nothing was wrong…
“So,” she continued, “you’re the great, great, great, great…” She paused.
“Great, great grandson of Sir Hoel, one of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table. You may think, ‘okay weirdo with the mutant hand, so what?’ Well here’s what needs to happen. We’ll need you to give this note to your parents or guardians.” The hand was so heavy that she lay it on the ground, bending over as casually as she could, and dragged it across the room. She placed a slip of paper on his chest. “Don’t read it! It has a pretty potent spell that will make anyone who’s not meant to read it sweat soy sauce for eight hours. Okay. Next, you’ll need to wrap up any personal matters because you won’t be seeing this world for a few years if all goes well.”
“You missed a whole paragraph, Ms. Handy” the voice scolded.
Maille collected her thoughts. She hadn’t forgotten her lines since job #4. “Oh! Yeah. As a descendant of Sir Hoel you have been chosen by Merlin to join the descendants of the Knights of the Round Table in New Camelot where you’ll be trained in preparation for the return of King Arthur.”
“Time of return is inconclusive.”
“I know, Merlin,” she said to the voice. “The time of his return is inconclusive, so don’t ask. We’ve been waiting for generations so it may never happen.”
“Maille Rose!” Merlin hollered.
“Any questions?” She smiled her most comforting smile just as the bedroom door slammed open.
A small man, almost as wide as he was tall, looked at her with eyes the size of surprise itself.
“What the hell is goin’ on in here, Tongueless?” he said as he stepped on the boy’s shoulder.
Maille lifted her wand but the deformed hand slowed her down. The back of the man’s hand smacked her face hard sending her onto the bed-spring.
She tried to remember where she was.
“You brought a girl into my home, you freak? You know what happens when you break the rules around here. Now get up!”
But Maille’s spell kept him flat on his back. So the man kicked him across the face. It wasn’t a hard kick. It was more like he was checking to see if a wounded animal was still alive.
The runt of a man unbuckled his belt, looped it into a circle and snapped the leather together. His drunken frown morphed into a drunken smirk.
He came at Maille first. She got a quick glimpse of his mess of a face. His three day beard pulled back to reveal a mouth filled with broken, blackened teeth. His small eyes almost squeezed shut under the pressure of his smile.
He snapped the leather again and raised the belt over his head. It came down on her leg.
That woke her up.
“AngerIbidem!” she yelled.
“I’ve got to hand it to you. That’s some good thinking,” Merlin said in her head. Maille made a mental note to have her revenge on the old wizard sometime soon.
The thug grabbed his own throat and strangled himself. His tongue rolled out of his mouth, shoving chunks of chewing tobacco to the floor. Maille planted her feet hard, determined to convince her body to wake up. She picked up a flashlight that sat next to the bed and clocked the creep upside the head. He fell to the floor.
Disgusted with the whole predicament, Maille lifted the spells on Handsome Face.
What had the monster called him?
It occurred to her that the young man hadn’t spoken a word, or even made a sound since they came to blows.
He propped himself up on his elbows, then sat up and rubbed his shoulder. Maille could see a blood red scrape running from his neck to his t-shirt’s collar line.
“That looks bad. I can’t heal it but I can clean it and dull the pain if you’d like,” she said.
He locked eyes with her. He was thinking about it. Then his face relaxed, he got to his feet. She hoisted her hand up and rested it on her shoulder, then approached slowly. She gently placed her bat on the wound. The blood evaporated and the scrape was clean by the time she pulled it away.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
He didn’t answer.
She signed the question with her good hand, in case he was deaf or mute.
But he just stood there.
She summoned a dot of green light. It was the size of a penny and it floated between them. She lifted a finger and moved the dot across the stale air.
“Maille Rose” …
… she wrote in light.
“That’s pronounced Molly,” she said. Then she slid the bright dot toward him. It slid across the room and came to a stop right between his eyes.
She was worried that whatever this revolting man on the floor had done to the boy over the years had damaged him beyond repair. Her concern grew as she watched him go cross-eyed looking at the light, as if he didn’t know what to do next.
But then he took a purposeful step back. There was something reassuring in the motion. It showed her that whoever this guy was, and however he’d been damaged by his life, he did things on his own time and in his own way.
He took the light with his palm and the glow grew to match the size of his hand.
… he wiped into the air in big, thick letters. The handwriting was uneven. Yes, there would be work to do with this guy. But she’d seen the patience of Merlin’s team at work many times. It always worked. Every time.
Maille glanced down at the man under their feet.
“He your dad?”
Tom nodded, unable to look at him.
“Do you want to skip the whole ‘letter to your parents or guardians’ part of my speech?”
“Grab what you want.”
He didn’t move.
“Okay, let’s go then,” Maille Rose said, turning toward the closet faster than she should have. She almost lost her balance but Tom caught her humongous hand and cradled it under one arm.
She smiled, he smiled back and Maille Rose led Tom into the closet to take him home.
Chivalry is the act of defending those who cannot defend themselves.
That’s a simplification, but I’m going with it (for now), and you can’t stop me.
The same way magic is the code that holds Harry Potter’s world together, chivalry is the code, the foundation and the social dynamic of Camelot.
Now that I’ve completed Book One, I understand that something in the core of the mythology was drawing my own sense of chivalry out of me. It was injecting these complex, flawed characters with a sense of doing the right thing, no matter the cost. Sure, the complex moments of bravery, stubbornness and kindness were emerging in a mystery/action/adventure yarn. But within the mask of story was a seed of humanity that I’d never considered deeply for my protagonists before.
An orphan helps an orphan.
A bullied student helps the new kid escape a gang.
Even those who live a life rife with heartache and hard knocks emerge chivalrous. No, especially those who live a life rife with heartache and hard knocks emerge chivalrous.
But why? How? Where does this instinct to protect those around us come from? What happens inside us when we drop our own interests and risk everything for other people?
The answer became clear as I wrote the book.
The dynamic of wanting to connect with people is the same dynamic that makes us risk everything to help them. In other words, our connection to each other, simply because we’re human, has costs as well as payoffs. For our humanity, we get friendship, love and support as a “payoff”. But does that mean that heartbreak, pain and rejection are the “cost”?
No. That was my revelation as I wrote The Camelot Kids.
The cost of this human experience isn’t heartache, pain and rejection. It’s chivalry.
Being loved, supported, hated, ignored creates an astonishing power to do the right thing for anyone — friend, foe, or stranger. That human connection is so complex that something in us is willing to give our lives for it in a split second.
For me, this revelation does something profound to my sense of modern life. Don’t we live in an insulated bubble? I’ve assumed that most of us reach a certain age of reason where we construct a world with as much love as possible, and avoid the most pain. It takes a while, but it seems to me to be a standard human thing to do. To the degree that we have control over our surroundings, don’t the vast majority of us expend a tremendous amount of energy on building comfort and avoiding discomfort?
While I still think the answer to these questions is yes, it’s clear that we have a Trojan horse of bravery, duty, kindness and chivalry in us. It’s rolled into our gut at around the same time we look at another human and realize we want to keep them close forever. And it’s solidified when we meet our first enemy.
I think it’s the most exquisite insight we could have today. I think mythology that reinforces this inherent power in each of us is what we all need right now.
Taking this idea further; our disillusionment with Arthurian lore is indicative of our disconnect with our own chivalry.
Okay. When was the last time we felt connected to the second most famous myth of our time? We get chance after chance in the Merlin or Camelot TV shows, the recent King Arthur movie — but they don’t resonate outside a small group of fans. It’s not because the efforts suck, necessarily (though some do). It’s that they’re stale. They treat chivalry like it’s a noble thing only, and not the complex force it is.
Chivalry is Gandhi.
Chivalry is Martin Luther King, Jr.
Chivalry is Malala Yousafzai.
The heroes of Camelot don’t need to tell the same thousand year story again.
The heroes need to be among us. More importantly, they need to be chivalrous among us.
So for all my humility and fear in tackling the lauded lore, my goal with my new book, The Camelot Kids, is to give the world a peek into Camelot in our time. I want to make Camelot fun again. And I want to do it in a way that’s respectful of the tales’ whimsy, boldness and deep conviction that to do right for others is to do right for everyone, including yourself.
After all, the more in touch we are with our inner Camelot, our sense of chivalry, the better off the world will be.
Red is… complex.
From the moment he and Simon meet in The Camelot Kids, they hit it off, notwithstanding some awkward moments.
Indeed, Red is the only person who even tries to get to know Simon when he first arrives in Graham Academy, a private school near his Uncle Victor’s home.
But Red also appears to be a fearful kid.
He scampers away at odd times. He talks to himself a lot. Simon, always one to stick with a friend, doesn’t think much of it.
But he should trust his gut more…
Here’s the set up for the following scene from The Camelot Kids: Simon’s first day in his new school, Graham Academy, is not going well. He’s late for everything. He’s already a gossip magnet, and no one will look at him much less talk to him. Except for one girl, Gwen. She helps him find his next class just in time.
Simon does his best to get her attention throughout the class, but she just joins the rest of her classmates in ignoring him. Little does he know, Simon is on the verge of a friendship that will change his life forever…
Excerpt from The Camelot Kids
As he gathered his books, he noticed a small boy with pitch-black hair, and the reddest ears he’d ever seen, sitting at a desk near the back of the class room. It was the kind of red you see in candy stores and comic books. The boy gave him a look as if he were sizing him up for a fight. But that was ridiculous. The kid was so small that a fight with a kitten could go either way.
“Hi,” Simon said.
“Her name is Gwen and you might as well give up now.” The kid spoke in a high, squeaky voice with a heavy Scottish accent.
“The girl you were dancing in yer chair to see all class long. You should be careful. That’s the kind of thing kids look for in this class so’s they can use it against you later.”
“Kind of like you’re doing now.
“Kinda, yeah. I’m James. But people call me Red.”
“Do you like being called Red?”
Red squinted. Simon worried that he’d gone too far, too fast. He tended to do that with people sometimes. What business was it of his what this guy called himself?
“Never really thought about it,” Red finally said. “I guess not. But I’m used to it, so call me Red.” Simon didn’t have much left, but he gave his best smile.
“Good to meet you. I’m…”
“Simon, yeah. The guy who took the heat off me. Now that yer here they can start dumping you head-down in the garbage pails and leave me alone.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Simon wondered how much a ticket back to New York would cost.
“If you want to get out of here with some sense of dignity you better not go through the front door of the school.”
“But that’s where my ride home is.”
“I’m just sayin’. Do what you wanna. It’s not like I’d know anything about it, being that I’ve found a way to survive here for two years.”
“Sorry. It’s a long walk home, though.”
“Where you live?”
“Falcon Castle.” Red’s ears glowed purple. His eyes got wide and even teared up a little. “What’s wrong?”
“I didn’t realize you were that Sharp family. His castle is bad news, friend. Everything I heard is that it’s haunted at best and filled with maniacs and monsters at worst. I’d rather sleep in the forest, if you ask me.”
“Nah, it’s just my uncle’s place. He has a bunch of dogs, is all.”
“That’s what you think they are? You ever seen one of these supposed dogs?” Now that Simon thought about it, he hadn’t. He’d thought he’d seen a dog in the room with the weapons, but it was too dark to see. It had sure sounded like a dog. What else could it be? “My allowance is on them being not-dogs.”
“Then what are they?”
“You tell me,” Red shrugged. “Yer the one living there.” He started to unwrap a candy bar and munch on it as he passed by Simon. “I’ll show you the safe way out of here if you wanna know.”
Simon sighed and followed. Red walked close to the wall as they wove through the halls. He peered around corners before he turned them. Finally, after a lot of sideways glances from other students, they passed through a small door to the outside. Simon stuck close as Red worked his way down a steep hill. They didn’t stop until they’d entered a thick forest behind the academy. The sun made barely a dent here, with large dark shadows giving way to weak rays of white light. Simon had the sense the ground beneath their feet wasn’t all that solid, as if jumping up and down would send them falling into an abyss.
Red started to work his way through the trees. “No one comes back here except people who are running from something.”
“Yeah, I can see why. How can you even tell where you’re going?”
“Oh. Great,” Simon said.
“Relax, Wendy Worrywart! We’ll use the trees when we need ’em. I climb like a spider!” Red struck a pose like a tiny, dippy Spider-Man.
They worked their way through the shin-grabbing brambles and found a trail. In the distance, Simon could make out the school’s front entrance where Hector’s car was parked, waiting for him. The red-haired jerk was hiding behind a shed, probably waiting for Simon to emerge from the school.
“His name’s Chester,” Red muttered. “Second meanest person in town behind his mother. His goons are the dumbest ones in class, which also means they’re the strongest around here.”
“Best of the worst.”
“Exactly. You know the type, I guess.”
Simon thought of Billy, back in New York. He wondered how he was holding up. Hopefully he wasn’t on Brad’s radar. “Yeah. We have them in New York too. But I mostly found ways to avoid them.”
“Now you have to start all over again, huh?”
Red sure was a bundle of fun.
Simon’s new friend climbed tree after tree to keep an eye on the overgrown path. They barely spoke for the entire trek, which left Simon some time to think about how ridiculous it was that he’d somehow escaped St. Mary’s for good, and yet there he was, tearing up his knees on Scottish thorns just to avoid another bully. Was he any better off here? The fact that he didn’t know the answer worried him. Should he start thinking about how to break out on his own?
After an hour, they started a descent into a small valley. Simon spotted Falcon Castle peeking over a nearby hill.
That’s when he got that feeling again. The one he’d had in New York so many times before.
Like the Gates of Weird had been thrown open.
Red seemed jumpy all of a sudden. He licked his lips like a lizard and didn’t blink. They pushed their way out of the trees, and stopped at the edge of a road.
Abruptly, Red backed up.
He tripped on a rock and fell on his butt. “I’m not getting any closer!” He shook his head, frantically.
Simon wasn’t sure what the outburst was all about. It wasn’t as if he were going to force Red to come along.
“Okay, sure, no problem. You okay?”
But Red just stared at him.
“Uh, so see you tomorrow…”
Red watched from the ground as Simon walked off. When Simon looked back he was gone.
So there he was, alone on the road, with the light fading. It was too quiet for his comfort. A bird sang on occasion, but that was it. As he got closer to the castle he realized that he might have a hard time getting past the estate gate since he wasn’t with Hector. But he’d figure something out. He always did.
Simon took a moment to admire the nearby grounds. The area was beautiful, but still. Nothing moved in the green of the ground or the vast gray sky. It was as if the entire world was doing its best to not disturb his uncle.
As he climbed the steep road to the gated entrance, he could feel eyes on him. He had company. He was sure of it. He took a deep, fortifying breath and turned fast. A dark figure stood on the road, around twenty yards away.
Simon backed up a couple of steps.
The person ran toward him.
It was Maille, the girl from the airport. She held a baseball bat in one hand. It glowed bright orange as she raised it over her head.
Maille Rose’s wand is a baseball bat. That probably gives you a pretty good idea of what kind of person she is. She’s quick to jump into a scrap, especially if someone she likes is in danger. But she’s also known for being the only reasonable person in the room — at least that’s what Maille Rose would tell you ;-)
Maille’s past is a mystery for now, but I can tell you that a lot of what makes her so powerful has to do with that crack in her bat. You’ll get a close look at it soon. It’s a violent gash, from a violent time.
Maille Rose and Simon have an awkward introduction to each other. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 6 of The Camelot Kids!
The flight to Glasgow was dull, until someone showed up on the wing.
They’d been in the air for several hours. Simon couldn’t sleep, so he stared out into the night sky. The moon’s glow blanketed the huge jet engine outside row seventeen’s window. In the distance, dim lights flickered into view in the black sheet of night. He guessed it was Glasgow.
The cabin lights popped on when Simon saw movement near the wing’s tip. He squinted and pressed his nose against the window to get a better view.
Was that a person out there?
He glanced around. The passengers were either asleep or getting ready for landing.
A bolt of lightning killed the moonlight. In that moment Simon saw, clear as day, a figure perched on the wing in a long, wind-whipped robe, arms stretched in the air.
The plane shook violently. Shrieks filled the cabin. They fell a few hundred feet in an instant. The pilot pulled out of the dive but the climb was about as scary, especially when another lightning bolt shot past them.
After a moment, the pilot’s voice reassured them, “Sorry for that one, folks. Looks like we dodged a bullet or two there. I’ll have you on the ground before you know it.”
By the time they landed, there was nervous laughter, but everyone was ready to run for the exit.
Simon waited for the plane to empty out before he grabbed his bag. He followed the flight staff and searched for someone who might be his ride. Most people were hugging their families or trying to find the baggage claim.
There was only one person standing in the middle of the crowd as if she were waiting for someone. She was a pretty girl, early teens, with red hair and a black cape fastened at the neck with a shiny silver clasp.
She stared right at him.
As people crossed his view, Simon realized she was coming closer. Before he could blink she was standing right in front of him, with a very serious look on her face. The expression conflicted with her hair, which looked as if… as if she’d stuck her finger in a light socket. And were those bugs squashed to her forehead?
“Simon?” He nodded his head. “I’m Maille Rose. I’m here to take you to your uncle’s.”
“Hello,” he said as politely as he could.
Maille’s eyes darted about nervously. Her hair whipped around like branches on a tree, swaying with every movement of her head.
“Is something wrong?” he asked, as he noticed a bug crawling toward her ear. “Oh, um, hey, I think you have some bugs on…”
“No. Of course not. Nothing’s wrong.” She grabbed his hand and led him away. “Do you have much luggage?”
“None. I don’t own much.”
“Oh, too bad. That you don’t own much, that is.” Her grip on his wrist was strong. Too strong. She broke into a jog.
“Uh, why are we running?” he asked. But Maille didn’t answer. She peeked over her shoulder.
“Okay. What’s going on here? Who are you?” Simon stopped short. Maille moved close to him and leaned into his ear to whisper.
“Listen to me, Simon. You’re in danger. We need to get you out of here.”
“Who’s we? What do you mean danger?”
But Maille, if that was her name, saw something that made her eyes go wide.
“Oh, look at that,” she said with a smile, then ducked below the elbows of a gaggle of chattering businessmen and disappeared. Simon couldn’t spot her anywhere. He was going to call out her name when he felt a large hand settle on his shoulder.
“Mr. Sharp?” Simon turned and saw the biggest man he’d ever laid his eyes on. The guy looked like a boxer, with shoulders as wide as a door. He was dressed in old-fashioned chauffeur garb, hat and all. It fit so badly that it was more like a costume than a uniform. Simon made a gesture with his hand that was a cross between a wave hello and erasing a chalk-board. The man smiled and took his carry-on.
“I’m Hector,” he said with a distinct Scottish accent. “I’ll be taking you to yer uncle’s.”
“Then who was…” He stopped himself.
“Nothing. Thanks.” Simon stayed a few paces back as Hector carved a path through the crowd. The driver’s stride was long enough to take four steps at a time up a flight of stairs. Simon stole a few glances around on the off chance he’d spot Maille, but no luck. Maybe he’d dreamed her up. Like he’d dreamed that someone was standing on the wing of a plane going 400 miles per hour.
Jet lag. Yeah. Jet lag.