I dropped Cassie off at school, but
instead of heading to the office, I went to Nikki’s. The Grind with its grungy,
hastily constructed post-Depression facades looked quite at odds with the
scattered Christmas decorations. The city only bothered to decorate in Midtown
while the Chamber of Commerce sprang for decorations in Fairhaven and Badon
Heights. Individual businesses in the Grind did as they pleased. Interestingly,
Nikki’s Blackthorn Club sported
wreathes and garland on the outside.
That in itself was something, but
even going in through her parking garage I found the elevator had similar
touches, including white fur trim on the red velvet elevator seat. The
festiveness didn’t hold as I wound through the back halls to her apartment, but
then a voice from one of the side rooms stopped me before I got there.
“In here, Matthew,” came Nikki’s
I turned into Nikki’s studio. It
was suitably messy, disordered with blank canvases and painted ones littering
tables and floors. Drop cloths were piled both in neat stacks and ragged lumps
all over the place. Nikki wore a painter’s smock and jeans as she pondered the
canvas in front of her.
“That trick with the hearing really
weirds me out,” I said.
“Perhaps you misattribute it to my
senses when it is actually my security cameras.”
“Uh huh. I wish it was that. So
what’s got you stumped?”
“And why would you—”
“Furrowed brow, you don’t have your
palette, and your hips are cocked. You’re a fist away from doing a standing
“That is a trick that I find even
more impressive than my own. I’m afraid that inspiration is a fickle mistress,
one that even I cannot easily seduce.”
The canvas wasn’t blank, but it
wasn’t easy to tell since most of the canvas was painted white, but I could
make out snow covered trees in the background. The foreground, though, held
“Yeah, I don’t know how to help
with that. I just wanted to know if I could coax you into helping me out.”
My voice dropped. “Shopping.”
She looked at me for the first
time. “Indeed? I should be happy to . . . is that it?” she pointed to my hat.
“Yup. And you’ll be amazed to see what
it can do.”
“Nick imbued it with some of his
potent magic? I no longer feel any power emanating from it, nor from you, but
such is never anything authoritative. What does it do?”
“Check this out.” I cocked my head
to the left, then rapidly flipped it to the right. The puffball on the tip of
the hat flipped up and over my head to rest onto my other shoulder.
Her lips twitched uncontrollably,
and then she burst out laughing. “A truly momentous feat, Matthew. Help me
change and we’ll begin our epic crusade.”
“It’s just shopping.”
“Not when it’s done with me.”
maybe this wasn’t such a great idea.