I want to hit the road ASAP. Roar out of here in hot pursuit of my sisters. Which would require a) a car, b) some sucker willing to look after my cat, and c) a vague notion of where to actually find Ani and Hope. Having none of these, I must yield to Jonathan’s suggestion that we discuss it over breakfast. Not that I want breakfast. Really, absolutely, definitely do not want breakfast. But Jonathan insists, and when the server brings out the breakfast sandwich he ordered for me, on fresh-baked focaccia, I must admit my stomach rumbles.
We’re eating in the courtyard behind a coffee shop. Inside, it’s wall-to-wall pre-caffeinated zombies. Out here, we have the only occupied table. That doesn’t keep Connolly from grumbling about discussing this in a public place.
“It has heat,” I say, pointing to the sun. “Which is more than I can say for your office.”
Connolly turns his cool stare on me. I’m not even sure it’s the location he disapproves of as much as the company. He hasn’t said a direct word to Jonathan beyond hello.
Some men are like that around more physically intimidating guys. Connolly hasn’t struck me as that type, though, and despite his penchant for business wear, he obviously spends some time at the gym. I decide he just really doesn’t like bringing someone else into this. That would explain why he keeps looking from Jonathan to me and back again, as if assessing.
“So you’re a luck worker,” Jonathan says with an easy smile “I should have figured you weren’t just a guy who knows about curses. If I’d done my research”—he lifts his phone—“I’d have put two-and-two together. Boston. Connolly. Magic. Luck workers.”
Connolly leans to look at the screen. “Where did you find that?”
Jonathan shrugs. “In my files.” He peers down at screen. “Connollys, originally from Cork, Ireland. Arrived in Boston in 1825. There are several branches in the area, but you’d be the son of Liam, married to Marion O’Sullivan, also from a family of luck workers. They have two sons, Aiden and Rian.”
“You have our file on your phone?” Connolly says. “A file identifying my family as luck workers?”
“It’s secure,” I say. “Without a passcode, even the owner can’t unlock an iPhone. I learned that the hard way last year. Got so accustomed to using facial recognition that I blanked on my code. Lost a year of photos.”
“Backups,” Jonathan says.
“Yeah, yeah. I came up with a better solution. Now I carefully catalogue all my passwords in a notebook.”
Connolly stares at me.
“She’s kidding,” Jonathan says. “Or, if she’s not, it’s a cursed notebook, and the ink will turn invisible if the wrong fingers touch it. As for my phone, I have an extra password on my custom-made file app, and the data is encrypted.” He turns a deceptively bland look on Connolly. “I do know what I’m doing.”
“I still think—”
“Don’t,” I say. “Or if you must, then stick with thinking and not saying. Jonathan’s data is secure, and even if it wasn’t?” I throw up my hands. “The Bennetts run a business uncursing objects. We’re listed in the Better Business Bureau with an A+ rating. No one’s banging down our door, ready to burn us as witches. No one cares.”
“Except the people who kidnapped your sisters.”
I pause. “Touché. Can we talk about that now? Please? This sandwich is delicious, but I really want to get moving.”
I told Connolly that I know the story behind the Necklace of Harmonia. True, though later I’ll run my recollection through the Jonathan-wiki to be certain I’m remembering everything correctly.
I also told Connolly the Bennetts are the living embodiment of Greek myth. That’s a bit of a boast, though not far off. You won’t find the arae in your elementary school primer on Greek and Roman mythology. It takes some digging to get to them, and even then, details are sketchy. They’re curse spirits, always female, best known for cursing the living on behalf of the dead.
Our family version is a little different. Mom and Yiayia—her mother—always debated the exact nature of the arae. Were they gods? Minor deities? Or just women who had a special talent and were elevated to the status of godlike beings for it? I don’t know. The point is that we have the gift of curse weaving and, according to legend, our family is directly descended from the leader of the arae.
Back to the Necklace of Harmonia. It has the sort of history you expect from Greek myth, with innocents suffering for the gods’ inability to keep their togas wrapped. In this case, it was Aphrodite, goddess of love, shacking up with Ares, god of war. That’d be fine, if she didn’t have a husband at home and, apparently, no open-marriage contract. Understandably annoyed that his wife was off gallivanting with a hot young god while he slaved over a hot furnace fire, Hephaestus cursed any future children of the union.
Along comes a child, naturally. Harmonia. The girl grows up to marry a prince, and they do not live happily ever after. Because Hephaestus gave her the wedding gift of a gorgeous necklace he made himself. The Necklace of Harmonia.
Now, in the myth, the curse didn’t seem to begin life with the full eternal-youth-and-eternal-misfortune hex, maybe because the earliest owners were god-lings. Instead, it turned Harmonia and her husband, Cadmus, into serpents . . . following a long life. Harmonia’s daughter, Semele, inherited the necklace and died after insisting on viewing Zeus’s true form.
Fast forward a few generations, though, and the curse ignites in its current shape. Queen Jocasta enjoys youth and beauty . . . until she accidentally marries her son, which is, really, the epitome of misfortune. From there, the necklace passes in and out of human hands, bringing beauty and destruction wherever it goes.
In myth, the necklace’s last-known location was around the neck of a tyrant’s mistress as she perished in a fire set by her own son. In the magical world, though, stories about the necklace continued. So many stories, each as impossible to prove as those ancient myths. The last I heard, the necklace had been bought by a rich American at the turn of the twentieth century. Curse weavers love to speculate on who that was. Jack Astor, buying it just before he set foot on the Titanic? Benjamin Guggenheim, who also died on that ill-fated ship? Joe Kennedy Sr, whose descendants continue to be plagued by misfortune?
So it’s no surprise that it ended up around the neck of Eloise Hill-Cabot, who in her youth had been the debutante of the decade, the gorgeous and accomplished heiress to the Hill fortune. Jonathan confirms that both the Hill and Cabot families were on the list of those suspected to own the necklace.
When Eloise’s death sparked tabloid stories, and then her necklace appeared on the black market, the magical community took one look at the design and knew what it was. Connolly might have dismissed my comparison to those old-school Hollywood capers, everyone jockeying to steal or swindle a rare object, but I wasn’t far off. Interested parties are assembling their crews for the caper. Instead of safe crackers and demolitions experts and computer hackers, though, they’re hiring curse weavers, charm casters and luck workers.
“So why hasn’t anyone tried to hire us before you did?” I ask.
“Timing,” Connolly says. “When multiple buyers expressed interest, the Hill-Cabots switched to an auction. That gives everyone time to plan. I was able to move quickly, having already determined that a strong candidate lived in my city.”
“You came to me with a fake job, hoping to test me for a real one,” I say.
“Treating me like a poseur instead of a responsible member of the community, which my reputation would tell you I am.”
When Connolly’s mouth opens, Jonathan cuts in with, “But it seems you weren’t the only one moving fast.”
“No,” Connolly says. “Whoever took your sisters obviously didn’t want to waste time negotiating with them.”
“And you know who that might be?” I say.
“I know possibilities.”
“If you give me names, I’ll compile dossiers,” Jonathan says.
Connolly nods, and they start talking. I know all this is important, but I want to shout “Just give me a name, damn it!” Toss one of those possibilities my way and let me run with it. Which is entirely the wrong way to go about this.
As they discuss names I don’t recognize, I check my messages, trying to focus on something other than the fact that my sisters are missing. Instead, I end up in our text thread, staring at yesterday’s exchange as tears prickle.
Such a normal conversation. That’s the way it goes, though, isn’t it? I still have my last texts from Dad. I’d been running to class, and he’d sent me plans for Mom’s birthday. I’d popped back “Can’t talk! Later?”
Sometimes, later never comes.
This will be different. Whoever took my sisters just wants them to uncurse the necklace. Hope might balk, but Ani will be reasonable. She’ll keep them safe, and by next week, I’ll be sending them another text just like this one, giving them shit for directing another potential client my way and . . .
“Joker’s jinx,” I whisper.
“Hmm?” Jonathan says, fingers poised over his cell phone as if he’d been typing.
I turn to Connolly. “That guy yesterday. The one with the tea caddy.”
“Tea . . .?”
“The box with the cat on it. He said it was cursed with a joker’s jinx, and that my sisters sent him. They insisted they didn’t.”
Jonathan nods. “Ani mentioned that. She said she didn’t send him. She figured Hope did, but Hope swore otherwise. Ani decided to drop it unless you brought it up again.”
“Which I wouldn’t have. I figured Hope did it, and I moved on. If they didn’t send him, though . . .”
“Then some random guy just happened to show up with a joker’s jinx?” Jonathan says.
“Not random,” I say. “I didn’t presume my sisters sent him. He said they did. He knew exactly who I am and was bringing me that box on purpose.”
“Testing you,” Connolly murmurs. “As I did. I would have preferred a jinx, obviously, but finding a cursed object is difficult enough.”
“So two people tested . . .” I trail off. “No, that doesn’t make sense.”
Connolly frowns. “It had to be. He knew it was a joker’s jinx. He brought the box to test you, and I frightened him off.”
“Frightened him off?” I say. “Uh no, sorry. You pissed him off. You play entitled asshole very well.”
I shake my head. “Anyway, it seemed at the time that you’d pissed him off, and he stormed out and left the box. But does that make sense if it was a test? He left too easily. Almost as if that was what he planned to do all along.”
There’s a moment of thoughtful silence. Then I shove to my feet and whisper, “The box.”
I’m striding out as Jonathan catches up. Connolly takes an extra moment to realize we’re leaving the cafe entirely. I wait until he’s with us before I continue.
“He planned to leave the box,” I say. “He probably expected I’d agree to uncurse it, and he could leave it with me. When Connolly told him off, he used that excuse to abandon it.”
“But you’ve uncursed it by now, haven’t you?” Connolly asks.
“I didn’t have time.”
“You left a cursed box—”
“It’s a minor curse,” I say. “I did intend to fix it last night, but your mirror seemed more important. I was going to unweave the curse today.” I glance at Jonathan. “Can you give me a ride to the showroom?”
Connolly lifts a key fob. “My car is closer.”
I shake my head. “Jonathan and I can handle this. Thank you.”
“That wasn’t an offer. We have a deal. I’ve shared information, and I’m not letting you two ride off while I stand on the sidelines.”
I open my mouth and then stop. Bickering isn’t going to get my sisters back any faster. I need to just grit my teeth and get through this. “Fine. Jonathan? Would you mind getting Ellie? We’ll need to hit the road after this.”
“Ellie?” Connolly says.
Connolly opens his mouth to argue, but Jonathan cuts him off with. “Got it. Anything else?”
“Just the cat. Thank you.” I hand him my keys. “I owe you one.”
He smiles. “Never. Friends don’t keep score, remember?”
My breath catches at that. They’re Ani’s words. Friends don’t keep score. Family doesn’t keep score. That’s how our parents raised us.
Where are you, Ani?
Are you safe? Are you okay?
“Ms. Bennett?” Connolly says, glancing at me.
“It’s Kennedy,” I say. “Now let’s go see what’s up with that tea caddy.”