Isobel snatched up one of the papers. She was about to unfold it when she noticed the glimmering object that had lain beneath, concealed.

A lady’s elaborate hair comb, encrusted with amethyst gemstones, winked at her in the candlelight. Isobel dipped her hand back into the box and lifted the comb free. She held it up for inspection and it sparkled in her grasp, as if each jewel held its own glowing ember within.

She had seen this comb before, but where?

Isobel’s phone began to buzz in long pulses from within her pocket. She pulled it free and answered.

“Yeah?” she said, keeping her voice at a whisper.

“He’s gone,” Gwen said. “Just left. But he did something weird before he drove off.”


“He put something in Varen’s car.”

Isobel paused. Varen’s dad had put something in his car?

“What was it?” she asked. “Did you see?”

Isobel returned the comb to the box. She laid the stack of photos on top and then closed the lid. Carefully she slid the box back into its original place against the wall.


“No,” Gwen answered. “I was trying to make it look like I was busy reading. Which is hard to do when all you’ve got laying around are road maps and gas receipts. But I thought I saw him open the glove compartment.”

Dusting herself off, Isobel stood.

“I’m coming out.” With that, she closed her phone, blew out the candle, and went to the narrow hole in the stairs.

She pulled herself out, replacing the plank before hurrying to the door.

It was still open. She poked her head out first, though she didn’t see Bruce behind the counter. Maybe, she thought, she could slip out while he was occupied somewhere amid the stacks. She listened another moment for coughing or heavy breathing. When she didn’t hear either, she took a cautious step out.

“I don’t know how you did that,” a voice behind her said.

Isobel stopped midstride. She glanced over her shoulder to find Bruce sitting on a stool and facing one of the wall shelves. A cardboard box half-filled with books sat near his feet.

He turned his head to look at her with mismatched eyes, one brown, one ghostly gray.

“Nor do I want to know,” he added. “I’d prefer you keep it to yourself. I get in trouble when I know too much. And just for future reference, it’s this one that’s glass,” he hissed, and aimed a finger at the gray eye.

Isobel gulped. She shrank to press her back against the wall behind her and waited awkwardly for whatever would come next. She wanted to make a break for the front door, but she couldn’t decide whether it would be better to stay and try to conjure up some excuse for herself.

She started to speak, but he cut her off.

“No,” he grunted, holding up a hand to silence her. “Don’t say anything. I’m glad you’re here. Even if I feel like he could do better.”

Isobel’s mouth snapped shut, her teeth clicking together. For real? Did he just say that to her?

“But if he was dead, I doubt you’d be sniffing around here. And that’s something I’m grateful to know. Besides that, you’re probably the one who’s got the best chance of reaching him. So when you do, if you haven’t already, I need you to pass on a message for me, do you hear?” He shook a finger at her. “You tell him I’m going to sell that car. I’ve already got an interested buyer. So you tell him I’m not a holding garage, do you hear me? He’s got till March. March, you got that? Don’t forget.”

Miffed by his words, Isobel didn’t respond. She couldn’t trust herself not to say something scathing or to tell him that, as far as best friends went, he didn’t quite get her Varenworthy stamp of approval either.

He grunted when she didn’t speak and went back to pulling books from the shelf, letting them fall into the open box one at a time.

Isobel turned and stalked toward the front door.

“Wait!” she heard Bruce call as soon as she placed a hand on the knob.

She halted. Back rigid, she complied, even though she wanted to walk out on him.

He started coughing again, and though he tried to talk through the fit, he only succeeded in getting out one or two unintelligible words.

She looked back to see that he held one knotted hand over his mouth and the other extended toward her.

“Don’t . . .” He shook his head. “I’m sorry,” he said, at last regaining his composure. “Don’t tell him that. Don’t tell him I’m going to sell it. Just tell him March. He needs to come get it by March if he still wants it. Tell him that’s . . . tell him that’s what the doctors said.”

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