[Word count: 5586]
The bookshop was squat and broad.
To either side a cafe and the offices of the city’s Permaculture Society looked as though they’d been pressed aside to make space, their tall thin buildings rising precariously into the skyline. Wheeled carts of books lined the footpath between them.
A blue and gold painted sign over the door read BARRA ROAD BOOKSTORE in simple cursive. Inside the shop opened out into an expanse of floor to ceiling shelves, each one over stacked with books.
Floorboards creaked underfoot.
The sweet smell of old leather, paper, and ink hung in the air with the dust, glittering in the light that fell through the high-set stained-glass windows.
Vey sat in the arm-chair behind the old wooden counter, feet on a pouf as she lost herself in a novel. The book was an old one that she’d read before, and she was less absorbed by the story than the last time, pausing before turning the next page as she mentally critiqued the writing.
As she did she felt more than heard the sound of the books change subtly. The constant susurration that lingered on the very edges of hearing, the sound only audible when the shop was quiet, had sharpened somehow.
Vey set down her book.
The steady thunk of her brass-plated prosthetic leg accompanied her as she made her way through the shelves. Someone had come in while she’d been reading, but she hadn’t heard a peep from them since.
Stopping before the horror section she propped her hands on her hips as she found her way blocked by shelves. The pathway that should lay between them came to a dead end.
“Enough, I know my way around my own shop,” she said aloud.
A pause hung between them, before the bookcase in front of her wobbled slightly and jumped to the side, re-opening the aisle.
Just ahead a wide eyed teenager stared at her.
“Sorry about that,” Vey said.
“There was a maze, I couldn’t find my way back,” they said, looking past her at the open path.
“The bookshelves like to play games, just give a shout if they do it again.”
Still wearing a dazed look in their eye they nodded and returned to browsing.
The whisper of the books had returned to normal by the time she was back in her chair. She was just finishing the conclusion and admitting to herself that the book was good but not the masterpiece that she remembered, when someone knocked on the wooden counter-top.
Looking up in surprise, she hadn’t heard anyone approach, she found her assistant.
“You’re quiet as the deep river, how long have you been standing there?” Vey asked.
“Not long,” Rin said, raising one shoulder in a half shrug to not disturb Ellie, the lizard, perched on the other side. His familiar, the green lizard always accompanied him. “Where do you want me to start today?”
“Take over here,” she said, getting to her feet. “I’ll be out back.”
At the back of the shop a door marked PRIVATE led to what she used as a storage room. In reality it was a broad, window-lined hallway that connected the bookshop to her living room so that she didn’t have to walk through the courtyard when it was raining.
Boxes and stacks of books had been piled against the wall along its length.
The sweet dusty smell was stronger amongst the neat stacks of literature, as were the whispers. Even at the quietest moments when their voices were loudest Vey couldn’t understand what they said, and had given up trying years ago. Now they faded into a pleasant background hum, the pulse of the shop.
Midway along the hall a set of double doors opened out into the courtyard, where a wide path led between raised garden beds to a bench shaded by citrus trees. Early winter sunlight failed to warm the shadows, and Vey pulled her shawl tighter about her shoulders.
Many of the books in the shop had been acquired through various distributors and by her own efforts attending book fairs and sales. Some few people brought books to her, ones they were done with and the collections of deceased relatives. Then there were the ones that appeared.
Every now and then she would find a box left in the courtyard, sealed tightly and unlabelled. The books within were so varied, from first edition classics to the latest pulp releases, that she couldn’t draw any generalisations about who’d left them there, nor could she figure out how they were getting into the yard to begin with. There was no street access.
That morning as she had braved the early chill to drink her tea outside in the sun, Vey had come across another unlabelled box left on the shaded bench. Now with Rin watching the shop she had time to deal with it.
Taking a seat slowly she pulled a face as her back twinged despite her care, the tightness around her pelvis and spine pulling uncomfortably and reminding her of her massage appointment later that evening. Sitting straight with her legs poking out into the path, the brass of her prosthetic gleaming in the sun next to her warm brown skin, she waited for the twinge to pass.
Rubbing her eyes to clear her mind Vey faced the box.
Innocuous enough it looked as plain as a cardboard box could, and were it not for her over-exposure to books she might have treated it as such. But she’d learnt through error that books, particularly old books, could hold more than words.
A bespelled pair of red velvet gloves hung from her belt, and she slid her hands into the protective fabric coating.
Pulling a woven grass charm from her pocket she passed it over the box, watching to see if the leaf browned or shrivelled from bad magics. When it remained whole she returned it and pulled out her pocket knife.
From beneath her shirt she fetched an eye-glass on a long chain and wedged it between her eyebrow and her cheek.
With a sharp pop she stuck the tip of her blade into the plastic tape holding the box closed, opening it with an upward motion to protect the contents. Squinting through the eye-glass she watched for any sign of magic. A faint wobble lingered in the air over the opened box.
The first layer of books within were simple paperbacks, none of which emanated the magical radiation so she gently removed them and set them on the bench behind her. Below that more paperbacks surrounded something wrapped securely in a dark green scarf. The air around it distorted.
Reaching for it the tips of her gloves warmed in response to the strong magics, but otherwise nothing happened even as she unwrapped the scarf to reveal a beat-up old book. The faded fabric on its seams and edges was frayed, the title worn from the cover over the years.
Opening it she found the inner pages roughly carved out to make a cavity, within which sat a letter opener. The blade was tarnished, rusted as though it had been exposed to a corrosive liquid, and the air around it wavered and wobbled like a heat haze.
Brown stains left on the pages of the book could be old blood.
“Right,” Vey said to herself, closing and rewrapping the book.
She’d pass it on to someone better equipped to manage that kind of problem. It wasn’t the first time she’d found something suspicious in an old book.
Potential murder weapon set aside she returned to the box of books. Nothing else gave off magical radiation, so she dropped the monocle from her eye and rummaged through the small collection. Made up mostly of short sci-fi novels, she also found a small stack of handwritten journals at the bottom of the box. Those she would pass on as well.
Repacking the box she left the scarf wrapped book on the bench as she carried the rest inside.
Taking a sip of spiced tea Vey watched as the warmth of the beverage fogged her sunglasses, only to patchily recede to smudges at the edge of the frame. Across from her, also seated at the small mosaic table, her friend and physiotherapist sipped at strong black coffee.
Cora had been Vey’s physio since she was sixteen, and over the nearly two decades since they’d started working together her monthly check ups had become more and more about catching up with each other’s personal lives.
“It’s great to be back at work, a week at my sister’s is far too long,” Cora said, setting down her cup. “Although the beach up there at Tenibaru was almost worth it, the water was crystal clear.”
Vey shrugged and smiled crookedly. “Eh, the beach,” she said. The water and sand required a different prosthetic than the one she wore day to day, and she seldom found it worth the hassle of cleaning the fine grains from everything once she got home.
“Not everyone hates sand; did you hear Essi won her tournament?”
A windsurfer, Essi was another client of Cora’s and had been in the same amputee support group as Vey when they’d both been in their early twenties.
“I sent her flowers from the old guy over the way,” Vey said.
They watched the pedestrian shoppers and the occasional cyclist pass by. A street musician started playing the fiddle at the mouth of the arcade across the street, the music rising over the clatter and chatter.
From the corner of her eye Vey saw Rin come out of the book store and jog toward them. He was supposed to be minding the counter while she caught up with Cora, but the set of his face said that something unexpected had happened.
“There’s someone asking for you,” he said once he was close enough to speak at a reasonable volume.
“Just someone?” Vey asked.
He shrugged, making the lizard that rested on his shoulder cling to the fabric of his shirt to stay put. With a short hiss she scrambled down his chest and into his breast pocket.
“Sorry Ellie,” Rin said, peering down at the lump in his shirt. “Anyway, they said their name was Theo. No uniform but they seemed pretty official.”
Excusing herself to Cora, Vey rose and headed into the shop. Rin followed her in and kept walking past the shelves, headed for the storage room.
“Hello,” she said, and introduced herself to the person standing before the counter.
Theo wore their dark wavy hair tied at the back of their head and held a broad brimmed felt hat.
“How can I be of assistance?” Vey asked.
“Something has recently come into my possession, and I was told it came from here,” they said, opening a satchel at their side and producing a familiar green scarf.
From the shape she guessed the book was still inside it.
“I don’t know where it came from I’m afraid, is it connected to something important?”
“Not really,” Theo said, putting it away again with a sigh. “It wouldn’t have ended up with me if it were.”
“Why do you have it?” Vey asked, rounding the counter to take a seat. “If you don’t mind my asking.”
“Curiosity mainly,” Theo said. “It got passed around the various investigation departments and nothing came of it. But a friend noticed how old the letter opener is, and sent it to me. I work with old things, and the scroll work on the guard hasn’t been common for over five hundred years.”
“And you were hoping to trace its providence.”
“Not just the blade. The book is even older, two thousand years older.”
A cool rush swept down Vey’s spine.
“How is that even possible?” she asked.
“That’s what I was hoping to find out,” Theo said, their shoulders sagging with disappointment.
“I wish I could help, but the boxes just appear overnight.”
“Boxes?” Theo asked, frowning sharply.
“Boxes filled with books are sometimes left in the courtyard behind the shop, but I don’t know where they come from.”
“You’ve never waited up to see who leaves them?”
“They don’t appear every night,” Vey said.
Theo tapped their fingertips lightly on the counter as their eyes drifted in thought.
“What if I were to stay in the courtyard to meet them?” they asked.
“They might not come.”
“So I camp out for a night, no damage, but if they do come I might be able to find out who they are and where they got the book.”
Vey shrugged. “Okay, fine by me,” she said.
“I should probably let my partner know beforehand, besides a box was left pretty recently. There wont be one tonight.”
“Alright, well if you want to give me a call,” they passed her a card from their hip pocket, “we can arrange a night.”
Shaking her head after they’d left, Vey examined the card.
Theo Tor Ca Ashe
The morning sun streamed golden over the rooftops and into the small courtyard as Vey stepped into its light. The sound of coffee being ground followed her out the door. Her partner, Sek, preferred it over tea.
He’d been a little confused when she’d told him that someone wanted to stay in their courtyard overnight. As far as he could tell the boxes appeared by themselves. But as long as it wasn’t a crowd wanting to stay, it didn’t bother him.
The warmth of Vey’s tea made her breath steam in the cool morning air, the small clouds dissipating in a moment before her eyes. She wandered among the garden beds, checking for signs of pests or dehydration and enjoying the peculiar energy that hovered in the air on brisk mornings. Pinching the new growth off of a basil plant to encourage bushiness she held the fragrant leaves to her nose as she continued between the beds.
Turning a corner she stopped. On the bench before her sat a box.
Setting the basil sprigs on the nearby garden edging Vey approached the object, keeping her distance until she could fetch her tools. It looked just like the others she had found.
Remembering her own certainty that a box wouldn’t be left that night, Vey felt her spine tingle.
Ellie moved slowly across the counter, her feet rising and falling with a smoothness that made her seem as if she were gliding across the polished wood. She was stalking a moth. Her eyes were fixed on the erratic insect as she steadily moved toward the lamp it was hovering around.
As she lunged, tongue extending beyond her jaws toward the doomed moth, the phone rang.
Vey jumped, brought violently out of her reverie over the brevity and pointlessness of life, and stared at the offensively loud machine.
“Hello?” she asked, forgetting to be professional. She’d only lifted the receiver to silence the cursed thing. “Barra Road Books,” she added.
“Hi, it’s Theo. I’m returning your call.”
“Oh, I rang before it started raining,” she said, glancing out the window. She’d had to put covers over the outdoor displays around mid-morning yesterday. “I was going to say you could stay in the courtyard, but it’s wet.”
“This should clear up this afternoon, let’s say we give it a day to dry out and I come round tomorrow evening?”
“If you’re still sure you want to, the nights are getting colder?”
Theo laughed, “I don’t mind the cold, see you tomorrow.”
“See you then.”
Putting the phone back in its cradle Vey looked at Ellie. Moth dust sprinkled her snout.
“Let me know if anyone comes in,” Vey told her, before rising to wander through the shelves.
Rin was somewhere within their depths, returning books to the shelves. Or at least he was supposed to be. She couldn’t hear the squeak of the book-cart’s wheels, or the creak of floorboards.
An old green velvet couch was almost hidden between two bookcases in the gardening section, its cushions more comfortable than their slimness should allow. Things got lost between those deceptively deep cushions. And assistants took naps there on rainy days.
Gently shaking Rin’s shoulder Vey woke him.
He blinked and swallowed a few times before answering. “Not really. Sorry, I slept fine last night but the rain makes me drowsy.”
Vey shrugged. “As long as your work’s done when you leave. Speaking of.” She tilted her chin toward the book-cart, still stacked with books.
Rin’s face fell. “Did you put more on there?” he asked. “I was two thirds done.”
“If you don’t empty it the books left on there will collect others.”
He looked at her from the corner of his eye as if trying to figure out if she were lying to him or not. He gave her that look a lot.
“Go get yourself a coffee before you start again if you like,” she suggested.
Returning to the counter so that he could take Ellie with him, Vey had just settled herself when someone else walked in.
So tall that they had to stoop under the high lintel of the door frame, they wore an oiled cowl to keep the rain off. It dripped onto their shoulders, the droplets quickly absorbed by their thick woolen coat.
The figure nodded to Vey without removing their hood and stepped between the shelves, their footsteps soon lost amongst the books.
Standing and stretching her arms over her head Vey slowly tested her lower back, propping her hands on her hips as she twisted them either way. Cautiously she turned to survey the courtyard around her.
“Much better, thanks,” she said, relaxing and turning to face her masseuse.
Lien was packing down the portable massage table from its position between the garden beds, and looked over their shoulder to speak to her. “You should call me sooner, don’t let it get that tight.”
“I know, this month has been busy.”
They slung the table over their shoulder and straightened to face her. “Your health comes first.”
“You sound like my dad.”
Leading the way through the shop Vey accompanied them to the front counter.
“I’ll be round in two weeks, whether you book an appointment or not,” Lien said as they waved and left.
“Are you in trouble with your masseuse?” Rin asked from behind the counter, grinning over his comic book.
Shooting him a withering look she was saved the trouble of thinking of a response when Theo walked through the door. They had a large pack on their back, a swag Vey realised when they set it down.
“Do you mind if I have a look around the courtyard?” Theo asked once the greetings were over.
“Sure, you should also meet my partner. You might not see much of him, but you should meet him anyway,” Vey said, leading the way and gesturing for Theo to follow.
Opening the double doors to the yard she shivered briefly as a breeze blew past. That side of the yard was already in shadow, the sun taking its warmth ever further behind the rooftops. Crossing to the sunny side to enjoy the last of the light she took a seat at the rough wooden table outside the kitchen window.
Theo dropped their swag nearby, reaching within the roll to retrieve a drawstring bag before joining her on the bench.
“I thought I’d use these to go over the place before night-fall,” they said, holding the mouth of the bag open so that she could see its contents. A variety of magical tools similar to her own lay within.
“I did examine the courtyard after the first box was left,” Vey said, but Theo only shrugged.
“Maybe some residue has built up over time, it doesn’t take long to check again,” they said, selecting a charm woven in silk thread rather than grass.
“Have fun, I’ll go let Sek know you’re here.”
Vey rose and walked inside the house. The spacious kitchen flowed around a corner and into the living room, where Sek sat on a wide window ledge, sewing in the sunlight that streamed over him. A tailor, he had decided to work from home that day to meet their guest.
Bidda, his companion dog, lay curled on the floor at his feet. She wagged her tail as Vey approached.
“Theo’s here, the antiquities dealer who was curious about the mystery boxes.”
“Uh-huh, half way through a seam,” he murmured without looking up.
Grabbing a pen and paper from the nearby desk she wrote her message down and left it on the windowsill next to him. “Come out when you’re ready,” she said after kissing his cheek.
Petting Bidda briefly she returned to the yard. Theo had donned a pair of spectacles and was examining the courtyard walls, their nose occasionally brushing the stone. Spotting her, Theo lopped over.
“Are the boxes left in the same place or different spots?” they asked.
“Same spot, over here.” She led them to the bench under the fruit trees.
Theo crouched and squinted at the wooden seat of the bench through their spectacles for a moment before rising again with a sigh. “No signs of anything anywhere,” they said. “At least nothing I can detect.”
“Do you still think staying through the night is going to work?” Vey asked, cocking an eyebrow at them.
Theo shrugged, grinning, “Honest? I think your mysterious benefactor will meet with me if they want to, and only if they want to.”
“Do you think they’ll want to?” she couldn’t keep the scepticism from her voice.
A soft barking from the kitchen door interrupted them.
“Here comes my partner, and Bidda,” Vey said, turning to greet the happily wiggling dog.
Theo crouched to pet her as Sek approached at a more even pace.
Once Vey had introduced them and Sek and Theo had touched palms the three of them wandered back toward the house, Bidda trotting happily at their heels.
As the sunlight turned red in the west they ate a brief meal of clams in cream and white wine, seated at the outdoor table while the dog slept nearby. Theo managed to draw Sek into conversation about ancient textile techniques.
“It’s almost a shame that they lost the dye, it left such a vivid purple even on century old fabrics,” Sek said. “Although I suppose it was toxic.”
Vey smiled into her wine glass.
Decidedly not a morning person, Sek usually took a while longer than Vey to emerge into the garden to squint in the sun while he drank his second cup of coffee. Curiosity proved more wakeful than caffeine.
By the time Vey had properly secured her prosthetic and emerged into the kitchen, Sek was already brewing tea for her and coffee for himself. The dog dashed ahead of them as Sek opened the door, and Vey had to restrain herself from running after.
They found Theo sitting cross-legged atop their rolled out swag, an open cardboard box sitting on the path before them.
“It worked?” Vey asked, voice cracking with surprise.
“Not really,” Theo said, turning to smile ruefully at them.
“You slept through them coming?” Sek guessed.
Theo pulled a face. “I tried to stay awake, I was sitting up reading. Then I dozed off,” they said. “I don’t know if it was magic or if I simply fell asleep.”
“Did you feel magic being cast?”
The movement they made was somewhere between a shrug and a hand-wave. “I’m not sure, if it was magic it was subtle.”
“What did they leave?” Vey asked, stepping closer to look into the box. It sat empty.
Surprised, Vey looked around to see a small stack of books sitting next to Theo.
“You unpacked it?” she squeaked.
“Was I not supposed to?” Theo asked, frowning. “Sorry, if you wanted to do it-”
“It’s dangerous,” she said, waving away their concerns about offending her. “Did you use gloves at least?”
“Oh, no, I don’t need gloves,” they said, reaching toward the stack with a bare hand.
About to tell them to stop Vey bit her tongue as Theo held their hand close to the book without touching it, and pulled it away from the pile. The book hovered in mid-air beside Theo’s hand, attached by some unseen magnetism.
“You’re telekinetic,” Sek said.
“Mildly, but it helps with my work. So many old things fall apart when you touch them.”
Vey grinned, impressed.
When she was young, people with those sorts of talents had donned costumes and taken to the streets as super heroes. It hadn’t lasted, less than a decade of caped and masked people doing battle on top of the city’s buildings, before people with extra-ordinary abilities had found other fields to contribute to.
“Was there anything left for you?” she asked.
“Well there wasn’t a note so I don’t know.”
“Was there anything, really old?”
“Not as old as the book that brought me here,” Theo said, returning the book that still hovered over their hand to the stack beside them. Selecting another from a smaller pile they stood to show it to Vey and Sek.
“Without doing any testing on it I’d say it’s roughly eight-hundred years old. See the binding? How the glue has a blue tinge?” With a gesture they opened the cover.
“Don’t tell me it’s not in use because it’s toxic too?” Vey asked as Theo held the book up for inspection. She wasn’t sure how close she wanted to get.
“No, it’s because the type of shellfish that it’s made from went extinct about seven-hundred-and-fifty years ago.”
Theo grinned, returning the book, “Besides that there’s a first edition from last century that you might find interesting, but that’s a bit young for me.”
Vey sipped her tea, pondering the latest leaving.
“Are you going to try again?” she asked.
“I’d hoped,” Theo said, glancing up at her as they returned all of the books to their box. “But it’s your courtyard.”
Vey glanced at Sek to see him nod.
“Doesn’t bother me,” he said.
Theo left after breakfast, but returned again later that evening in fresh clothes.
Despite professing to a nap that afternoon, and having drank several cups of coffee after their arrival at the bookshop, when Vey and Sek came out in the morning Theo had to admit to falling asleep.
“It must have been a magical sleep, I was wide awake and then I got drowsy so fast I dropped,” Theo said, frowning at the unpacked books before them. “It wasn’t very restful either, I slept terribly.”
That morning’s offering included three scrolls bundled together in a strip of cloth. Theo was dithering over their age; the script hadn’t been used for nine-hundred years, but the type of ink that it seemed to be written in should have faded to a dull brown if it were that old.
As Theo thought aloud Vey’s eyes wandered to the scrap of cloth, discarded on the ground by her feet. It had a pattern painted on it, but it didn’t seem to repeat itself. She nudged a fold with her slipper, trying to see.
“Hey Theo,” Vey said, tapping them on the shoulder and gesturing toward the cloth with her chin. “Is there something written on that?”
Crouching, Theo waved at the cloth to pick it up, using both hands to spread it out. The boldest lines seemed to outline a series of islands, with fainter lines of text written alongside.
“A map?” Sek asked, frowning at the unfamiliar shapes.
“Yeah,” Theo murmured. “I have to get this looked at.”
Swiftly rolling up their swag they dashed out, not stopping for breakfast.
“Did you recognise the islands?” Sek asked as he cut up a pancake.
“No, but geography was never my strength; I can only really identify the major continents.”
“Do you think Theo’s coming back tonight?”
“I didn’t get time to ask, but I’m going to dinner with Cora and some friends,” Vey said once she’d swallowed a mouthful.
“I’ll be here,” he said, waving aside her half-formed concerns with his fork. “Go have fun, and say hello to everyone for me.”
Once Sek had kissed her goodbye and crossed the road to the little arcade where his tailor shop lay, Vey selected the largest book of maps from her shelves and settled herself behind the counter.
Despite numerous interruptions from customers, as well as Rin’s boisterous arrival, she had looked through the entire book by mid-day without recognising the islands from that morning. With a sigh she stood up to reshelve the book, stretching out her stiff muscles after sitting still for so long.
Perhaps she simply forgot the correct outline. Doubtless Theo knew an archaeological cartographer or two who would know where the map depicted. Vey tried to put it from her mind.
She drank enough wine at dinner for the world to hover golden around her as she made her way home. The meal had taken longer than she had expected, and deep night had long since fallen.
Vey wondered if Sek would still be awake as she crept through the darkened shop, the books whispering a faint greeting from their shelves.
The courtyard was still well lit, and Sek and Theo lingered at the table. Sek had dragged a small brazier close and filled it with coals, the heat it gave off keeping the night’s chill at bay.
Vey joined them, chatting about her evening in response to Sek’s questions.
“What did you learn about the map?” she asked as soon as it was polite.
Theo shrugged. “Not much,” they said. “I took it to a friend who specialises in nautical navigation charts, I was hoping she’d at least recognise the islands but they were entirely unfamiliar to her.”
“So what now?”
“I left it with her to send on to some other people she-” Theo interrupted themself with a yawn. “My working theory is that the map is of an island chain that has experienced further volcanic activity, it may have only looked like the map for a brief period.”
Vey felt her shoulders slump as her foggy mind processed the information. Her lower back twinged at the poor posture.
“I’m going to bed,” she announced, straightening as she realised that there was nothing she could do about the growing mysteries. Worriting them wouldn’t work them loose.
Theo yawned broadly as Sek said goodnight and followed her inside.
Vey hadn’t drunk enough to have a complete hangover, but she didn’t feel entirely right when she woke up. She opted for a quick shower before checking on Theo, the warm water helping to clear her head as Sek, less excited than he’d been the first morning, stumbled around the kitchen.
The morning sun seemed needlessly bright as she walked through it, expecting to find Theo sitting up and waiting for them. Curled within the folds of their swag Theo slept quietly, an untouched cardboard box still sitting on the wooden bench beyond.
“Should we wake them?” Vey murmured.
“I’m not sure, they were pretty tired last night,” Sek said, keeping his voice low.
Despite their care, the sound of their voices roused Theo, who woke quickly. Sitting up they blinked at their hosts.
“I slept,” they mumbled. Looking around they spotted the box, and rose to fetch it.
“Don’t you want to wake up first?” Sek asked.
“’M awake,” Theo said, ripping the tape from the seal. With a series of slow gestures they removed the books, what looked to be a reference set of some sort; matching leather bound volumes piled up on the path beside their swag.
“Anything else?” Vey asked when Theo stopped.
“That’s it,” they said, squinting at the title of the last book they’d removed. “A zoological encyclopaedia.”
For a moment a silence stretched between the three of them as they looked at the stack of books.
“Who wants breakfast?” Sek asked.
“Thanks, I’ll pack these up first,” Theo said, smiling as Sek headed back to the house.
Vey followed him slowly, biting back her questions as she sipped at her warm tea.
By the time breakfast was ready, fresh palm sized flat breads with butter, honey, and preserved cherries, Theo had settled at the outdoor table.
Vey held her tongue as Sek and Theo made morning small talk, her mind taking a while to focus on such things.
“By the way,” they said after they’d complimented the meal. “I’m leaving town for work tomorrow, so I give up.”
Vey looked up sharply, mouth full of fruit and bread.
“Give up what?” Sek asked slowly, weighing his words.
“Finding whoever is leaving the boxes. They obviously don’t want to meet me.”
“You’re not curious any more?” Vey asked.
“Well, yeah, but you get used to it in this job. Sometimes you have to give things up as mysteries,” they said, spearing a cherry and holding it up in the light. “And there’s always something else to get curious about.”
Vey focused on her food, mopping the smears of melted butter and honey on her plate with a fresh flat bread.
“If you hear back about that map,” Sek started, making Theo nod.
“I’ll let you know, of course,” they said.
“And if anything really old pops up, I’ll give you a call,” Vey said, smiling as she reached for her tea. She supposed Theo was right, and some mysteries had to stay that way.
Clams in Cream and White Wine