“I played a house show last month,” said Jules, his head cast downward, as if he were letting his whiskey glass hear his confession. “It all started after that.”
Rory hadn’t expected to end the night at Acevo’s. Then again, he also hadn’t expected to be sitting at a table with both Jules and Mary after the show, watching Jules spike his drink with his own tears while Mary kept still and listened. Rory listened, too. He kneaded his palm with the opposite hand’s knuckles—not a ward, not a spell, he tried to assure Mary whenever their glances met. It was simply a gesture he made whenever he got nervous.
“The show’s host. The homeowner,” he said. “Someone you knew before?”
“Um, I knew of him. Knew him casually, friend of a friend, you know?” The unspoken apology dragging on Jules’s smile made Rory press harder on his palm. “Guy named Rick Paul. I remember reading about his house shows when I was a kid.”
Rory and Mary looked at each other. “Not Rick,” Mary said, and Rory nodded. He, too, knew about Rick’s house shows. Had even attended a few himself over the decades after installing a few demon seals over the doorstep. Rick’s was safe.
“How many people were there?” Rory asked. “Was it a good-sized crowd, or…”
“I thought so, but…” Jules shrugged. “About twenty-five, I’d say.”
“Twenty-five people,” Mary muttered, slouching against the back of her chair. “And if any of them were from out of town… this will take freakin’ forever.”
“It might not be that bad. Whoever did this was sloppy.”
“Wait, what? Sloppy? What do you mean, ‘sloppy’?” Jules sat up straight and lifted his bangs from his eyes, as if that could help him see the situation more clearly. “Is sloppy good? What does it mean that someone did something sloppy to me?”
“It means that you can still talk about it,” Rory said. He watched Jules blink and try to comprehend for a few seconds before he continued.
“The spell that’s been laid on you isn’t keeping you from telling us what’s going on or when it started or anything. And because we know how to counteract something like that—” his finger wagged between him and Mary, who nodded “—we hear what you say and believe it. You probably tried to tell everyone around you what was going on, didn’t you?”
“My manager just blinked and asked me if ‘What I Lose Now’ was going to be the next single.”
Rory sighed. “But see, if this had been someone who really knew what they were doing, you wouldn’t have even gotten that far. You’d barely be able to speak at all.” Rory had been hexed once himself for a week in 1980. He shuddered, recalling the feeling of his tongue weighed down with iron chains. “You’re actually pretty lucky.”
“Lucky,” Jules said. He started laughing, and the laughter fell like chips of ice into his glass. “You know, the other day, I went to listen to some demos for songs I wanted to use on the full record. You know, other songs. Do you know what I heard?”
Rory said nothing.
“I tried writing new lyrics, like, actually writing words down with a pen and paper. And when I turned the page and went back to them later, guess what was there?”
Mary leaned closer over the table. Rory watched her slide her fingers across the tabletop, stopping them just shy of Jules’s hand. “Sloppy magicians often leave trails,” she said simply and looked at Rory.
Rory raised his eyebrows but nodded in return. If Mary was willing to help—Mary, who hours before had stood in her armor of a black trenchcoat and fabulous platinum grey hair extensions, ready to tear Jules apart in battle—then she wouldn’t be alone. “I don’t remember Rick’s exact address, but I remember the neighborhood,” he said. “Can you point us there?”
Jules smiled. “What, can’t you just snap your fingers and whisk us there or something?”
Mary stood, lifting her hips ever so slightly from the chair, and brought her face so close to Jules that Rory would’ve been amazed if there were any air left between them. “Learn now, sweetie,” she said, smiling. “That’s not what magic is for.” From the look in Jules’s eyes, Rory believed that Mary could’ve either slapped Jules or kissed him, and he would’ve been just as shocked. Rory drew his breath along the sharp edges of Mary’s words and briefly, just briefly, felt sorry for whoever it was they were going to meet.