Soon the highway grew wider, and the outline of tall buildings loomed into view. The coupe shot like a pinball down the final ramp, coming to a stop at the end of a four-lane row of easy-flowing traffic.

Isobel leaned forward in her seat in order to peer up at the skyscrapers, while every so often, her dad would point out a landmark or statue.

Tiny doughnut shops and fast-food restaurants sat squished in narrow strips at the bottom of taller buildings, while pigeons bobbed along on the sidewalks outside their neon-lit windows, attacking bits of bread and wadded-up wrappers.

Her dad made a right turn onto another wide street embedded with metal tram tracks.

A homeless man in a long coat lay huddled within the recesses of a darkened doorway. He clutched a tattered blanket close to him, the soles of his worn shoes poking out from underneath.

Sirens erupted somewhere behind them. Their whine seemed to blare on forever, growing to ear-piercing volume as an ambulance crept past on their right, screaming with urgency even though it didn’t rush like the ones back home.

It didn’t take Isobel long to realize that was because it couldn’t rush. Instead the ambulance conducted an odd “excuse me, pardon me” scoot and slide through the rows of cars doing their best to angle this way and that in order to make room.

Leaning closer to the window, Isobel looked skyward, noticing how every tall streetlamp bore its own purple banner, each depicting a cartoon bird’s head in profile, a big yellow B stamped on its neck.

When they passed a covered bus stop, its plastic siding lined with posters and advertisements, Isobel noticed the bird again, along with a slogan for the Baltimore Ravens football team.

“Oh yeah,” her dad said, following the path of Isobel’s gaze. “Home of the Ravens. Named for Poe’s poem.”

Isobel stiffened at the mention of Poe.


“You know,” he said, an odd look crossing his features, “now that I think about it, isn’t Poe supposed to be buried somewhere in the city? Maybe we should go out after breakfast tomorrow and try to track him down. Ask him if I got it right. What do you say?”

Isobel turned to face her window, afraid of what he’d be able to read in her expression. To her relief, the harbor drew into focus, patches of silver dancing amid gray waters.

“Hey, Dad,” she said, pointing. “Look.”

A wide and open redbrick pedestrian walkway stretched from the road down to the water. Flanking the walkway, two long identical glass-paneled malls faced the harbor shore.

“Oh yeah,” he said with a sigh. “Right. Shopping. Or we could do that.”

As they turned into a jammed intersection, her dad went quiet, his expression turning stern while he concentrated on navigating out of the mess. Isobel was relieved that he made no further mention of Poe, and by the time they arrived in the lobby of their hotel, she was sure he’d forgotten about his suggestion of visiting the writer’s grave.

At least until they entered the check-in line.

“Huh,” he said, squinting. “That’s an odd coincidence, isn’t it?”

“What?” Isobel said, glancing around.

Her dad stepped out of line, going to the nearby wooden stand filled with paper pamphlets advertising local attractions. He returned with a glossy postcard paper that bore Poe’s picture front and center. It was the same image Isobel had found in the Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe book that Varen had once lent her, the one that depicted him with hollow and haunted-looking eyes, their centers like two black marbles.

“Join us for the annual Edgar Allan Poe birthday celebration,” her dad said, reading the header on the brochure. “Six o’clock January nineteenth. That’s tomorrow.”

His brows came together while he flipped the postcard from front to back.

“Humph,” he said. “That’s kind of funny, don’t you think, Izzy?”

“Yeah,” Isobel replied, nodding, though she didn’t dare meet his gaze. “Weird.”


Sweet Sorrow

That evening Isobel’s dad took her to the Inner Harbor for dinner, deciding on a seafood restaurant one of the hotel clerks had suggested.

As soon as the hostess seated them in a booth, Isobel took out her phone.

It had been at least two hours since Gwen’s last text update, in which she’d said something about being in Chinatown, New York. Isobel knew that since Gwen was using the Brooklyn trip for her own cover, the text was most likely a coded message indicating her arrival in Baltimore. That would clock Gwen’s entire drive at right around the projected eleven hours.

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