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Time Crossed: A Time Thief Novella (A Penguin Special from Signet)

Katie MacAlister


  A Time Thief Short Story

  Katie MacAlister


  Published by the Penguin Group

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  New York, New York 10014, USA

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  Copyright © Katie MacAlister, 2013

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

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  ISBN: 978-1-101-60202-7


  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.


  Title Page

  Copyright Page

  Time Crossed


  Excerpt from TIME THIEF

  Akashi Record #2573

  1 August 12.14 pm

  Malwod-Upon-Ooze, Wales (Whale’s Elbow Pub)

  Subject: Gwenhwyfar Byron Owens

  Seawright Pendleton, junior scribe (third class)

  Begin Transcription

  Subject Owens, heretofore referred to as “Gwen” per the rules governing those shadowing paroled offenders (not to mention the subject herself, who got a bit snippy when she was referred to in public as Offending Parolee Owens, to the point where she made pointed comments about S. Pendleton, the junior scribe tasked with doing the aforementioned shadowing, specifically with reference to improbable, if not downright impossible physical acts involving junior scribe Pendleton and a large anchor seen at a nearby dock), was located at the establishment listed above at the date and time also listed above.

  Gwen appeared to be chatting up a local mortal barman, which is potentially a violation of her terms of parole. For that reason, I felt it prudent to overhear her conversation.

  “—curious if there’s a back way out, not because I’m some sort of a desperate criminal on the run from the law, but there’s this woman who follows me everywhere, kind of a stalker, really, and she’s driving me insane. I swear to you, insane! You know, let’s make that half pint of lager and lime a whole pint. My mother—one of my mothers, I have two, but this is my actual biological mother—she says it’s not ladylike to drink a whole pint by oneself, but this stalker woman is enough to drive me to drink. Everywhere I go, whammo! She’s there. I managed to ditch her this morning when I was out shopping, but I just know she’s going to track me down sooner or later, and really, I think that a whole pint of lager is going to be required in order to cope with having a perpetual shadow who takes down everything you say and do.”

  The barman, engaged in wiping down the bar in the time-honored manner of barmen throughout Wales, and indeed, the whole of the British Isles, murmured something inaudible and poured the beverage described by Gwen into a larger glass, added more of the requested liquids, and returned it to her.

  “Thanks.” Gwen slid a few coins to the barman and took a large swig. The bar was empty of all but an old, crusty individual in a corner, and his equally old, crusty dog. “Ah, that’s so much better. That should help mellow me out should Seawright show up again. That’s my scribe . . . er . . . stalker’s name. It’s just so unfair that she’s been sent to spy on me. It’s not like I’ve done anything wrong. Certainly nothing to deserve a stalker. Okay, I’ll admit that the circumstantial evidence might make it look like I’ve been less than discreet with some things, but I haven’t. Not really. My moms have, but that’s in the past, and they have learned their lessons. Oh, lord, I hope they’ve learned their lessons. No, they have, they promised me. And when a Wiccan makes a promise, she keeps it. There’s that whole do unto others as they do unto you thing going on that keeps them in line. Most of the time. Wow, lager really makes you babble, huh? You must be tired of hearing me yammer on about the stalker who will not leave me alone. Day and night, night and day, everywhere I go, there she is, taking notes on what I do and what I say, and who I talk to. And she’s so fussy! She’s always referring to me by the most obnoxious titles, and she’s got this ‘You’re a criminal and I’m sent to monitor your behavior’ attitude that just makes me want to punch something. I hate people like that, don’t you?”

  The barman looked over her shoulder to me. I made careful note of Gwen’s words, should the evidence be needed in an assault situation.

  Gwen stiffened, and said slowly, “She’s behind me right now, isn’t she?”

  The barman nodded, and moved off to wipe the other end of the bar.

  Gwen swore under her breath, the words not quite audible, and since accurate reporting is one of my tasks, I shall not speculate as to the actual words she muttered, and instead say simply that she swore under her breath in a manner that would not have been out of place on a rough sailing vessel filled with swarthy, unkempt men who spat and scratched themselves in public.

  “Dammit, Seawright!” Gwen said, turning around to face me, her pint of lager clutched in both hands. “Can’t you leave me alone for even a day?”

  I glanced down the bar, judged the barman and crusty old man to be out of earshot, and shook my head. “That would be in violation of the terms of my employment. I am a scribe. It is my job to transcribe any and all actions conducted by you, excepting those of a personal and intimate nature, for the review of the L’au-dela Committee, for verification that you are not violating the terms of your recent parole.”

  “Gah!” Gwen brushed past me and sat down at a settle, taking another long drink before she set the glass down in front of her. Due to lack of other customers in the bar, I deemed it prudent to sit with her, rather than nearby in an observation position. “This is intolerable, Seawright! I shouldn’t even have been paroled!”

  “If you weren’t paroled, then you would still be jailed,” I pointed out.

  “Wrongly! I was wrongly jailed! I don’t sell magic to mortals; everyone knows this. I can’t even really do a lot of magic, despite my moms trying their damnedest to teach me. I’m an alchemist, just a simple little alchemist. I make potions and elixirs and sometimes, when I can get the materials, rarer items. That’s it. And I don’t sell any of that to mortals.”

  “It seems odd, then, that the L’au-dela should believe you did sell magic to inappropriate persons, and thus jail you for such acts.”

  Gwen’s shoulders slumped. “It’s a long story. The bottom line is that I didn’t do anything wrong. And I thought the fact that they paroled me meant that they realized they didn’t have any proof, but then they insisted on having a whole herd of scribes come down on me. You’re the fifth one in as many weeks, you know. The others all had to leave. I d
on’t know why. Maybe they just got tired of it all.” Moodily, she took another sip of her beverage. “It’s only been a couple of days for you, but five long weeks of surveillance for me. If you could just give me a little space, I’d be super appreciative. I feel like an animal at the zoo, I really do. No matter where I go, there you are, watching me with your beady little eyes.”

  I squared my shoulders, my eyes on my transcription tablet as I wrote down her statement. I had to remain impartial, and not allow her to see that she could hurt me with words.

  She swore under her breath again, then reached across the table and patted my hand. “I’m sorry. That was mean of me, and untrue. You don’t have beady little eyes. You have lovely blue eyes, and I’m just being cranky because of this whole scribe situation.”

  “If you find me personally offensive,” I said carefully, willing to forgive the slight, but hesitant to do so if it was just an attempt to sweet-talk me, “you may lodge a request with the Committee to replace me with another scribe.”

  She gave me a watery smile. “I don’t have a problem with you per se. I do take issue with having a permanent tail watching every move I make.”

  I allowed myself a small, professional smile. “I forgive your insult, then. We shall continue on as harmoniously as before.”

  Two men entered the pub and moved immediately to the bar. Gwen glanced idly at them, her fingers tracing what looked to be alchemical equations on the scarred wooden table top. “Mmhmm. Let me make it up to you by getting you a beer or something. Glass of wine?”

  “I’m not allowed to drink while on duty,” I informed her.

  “Yeah, but you’re not supposed to stand out. I distinctly remember someone at the parole hearing saying that you were to be as unobtrusive as possible, and in no way alert any mortals to your position, or otherwise cramp my style. Since we’re in a pub, it will look odd if you don’t have some sort of a drink.”

  “Very well. Since you insist on treating me, I will have a lemonade.”

  I watched carefully as she smiled and rose, going to the end of the bar nearest our table, but the two men at the far end paid her no heed. She gave her order to the barman, and returned a minute later with my beverage.

  “So, you might want to know what I’m doing in Malwod-Upon-Ooze. At least, I assume you’re supposed to keep track of what I’m doing. I’m here to make a purchase of some materials I need to craft a quintessence. You’ve heard of that, haven’t you?”

  “I’m afraid I’m not conversant with items of an alchemical nature.”

  “Ah. Well, quintessences are priceless. I mean, literally priceless. If you can make one—and very few alchemists can—you basically can name your price for it. It takes years to make, and has one thousand, two hundred and twelve steps, so it’s not something you just whip up on the spur of the moment. The quintessence I have underway is the one I started when I was eighteen, and it’s nearing maturity. I just need a few rare materials, and I should be able to finish it off. I heard through the alchemy grapevine that one of the three things I need is near my family’s home in Wales, so I’m here to try to buy it from the owner.”

  “Interesting,” I said.

  “Alchemy is fascinating, really,” she agreed, then stood up and made a wry face. “Tiny bladders run in my family. I’m going to visit the ladies’ room. I’ll be right back.”

  I eyed her hesitantly, scanning the pub for potential mortals with whom she might interact. Of the two men who had come in, one was at the bar, hunched over his beverage. The second had left. Another man entered, but he approached the man at the bar and clearly had no interest in Gwen. The barman was on his cell phone, speaking to someone named Cyril about an order of crisps that hadn’t come in as promised. The crusty old man–and-dog ensemble were slumped next to a small gas fireplace, the old man’s gnarled hand occasionally lifting his glass to his lips.

  “Very well, but I will trust that you will not attempt to escape through the bathroom window as you did this morning at the supermarket.”

  “I didn’t go out the bathroom window,” she said with a light laugh. “The door to the loading dock was open, so I just left that way. I won’t be but a minute.”

  I sat composedly, checking over my transcription of the day’s work, secure in the knowledge that my examination of the pub building prior to entering it had ensured that the bathroom window was too small for an adult to climb through.

  End Transcription

  Your Text Messages

  Me: Mom! Help! Scribe is here and I can’t shake her. What’s spell for opening portal?

  Magdalena Owens: Merciful goddess, you don’t want to mess with a portal. They can be dangerous.

  Me: You are not helping. Need spell in the next ten seconds. Am trapped in bathroom.

  Magdalena Owens: Is the door stuck? Can you yell for assistance?

  Me: Not that kind of stuck. Need spell to get out of here!

  Alice Hill: Mags says you are trapped in bathroom. Is building on fire? Should I call 999? Where exactly are you?

  Me: Malwod-Upon-Ooze, and no fire. Need spell to get out. Lawyer is here.

  Magdalena Owens: Alice is calling the rescue people. Stay low on the floor. Don’t breathe smoke.

  Me: For the love of all that’s shiny! THERE IS NO FIRE!

  Magdalena Owens: Caps, dear.

  Me: ARGH!

  Alice Hill: So you’re not in a fire?

  Me: NO!

  Alice Hill: What are you doing in Malwod? Do you know that word means snails in Welsh?

  Magdalena Owens: Alice says you’re being attacked by oozing snails?

  Me: headdesk

  Me: Mom Two, give me escape spell. Please. Lawyer you promised incantation is here.

  Alice Hill: Oh. Is that what you wanted? Why did you frighten your mother by telling her that there was a fire and rabid snails?

  Magdalena Owens: Use salt, Gwenny. Snails hate salt.

  Me: I’m taking away your mobile phone, Mom.

  Alice Hill: PDF of escape spell attached. Love from us. Will see you tonight?

  Me: Yes, assuming I can escape my tail. Thanks for spell. Hugs.

  Personal Logbook of Gregory Faa

  Probationary member of the L’au-dela Watch. Not for Official Review.

  On Thursday, August first, the mortal subject Edwin Kleibschiemer was seen entering a pub in Malwod-Upon-Slime, a minuscule coastal town in Wales.

  “Think it will go down inside?” I asked Peter, who, as an experienced member of the Watch (not to mention my cousin and professional mentor), had a better feel for this sort of thing.

  “I doubt it.” We got out of the car we’d rented in order to tail Kleibschiemer. “But just in case it is, you go inside and scope out the place. See if our suspect is inside.”

  “We could go in together.”

  He shook his head. “I’ve been with the Watch too long. She might know who I am. It’s better if you do it. Besides,” he said, flashing me a grin, “you could charm the spots off a leopard. If she suspects you’re trouble, you can simply show her your dimples and she’ll swoon into your arms.”

  “I don’t have dimples,” I pointed out, punching him in the arm just to let him know I appreciated the quasi-compliment. “And how will I know if it’s the right woman? You said there’s no picture of Owens.”

  “That’s because the last time she was caught the L’au-dela was just starting to experiment with cameras. For the last century and a half, the best we have is a description, and that varies from a middle-aged woman to a young one, from blonde to brunette. She clearly can manipulate her appearance.”

  “Great. I just hope I don’t end up in mortal jail for following the wrong woman.”

  “If you can’t tell a mortal from a Wiccan after five minutes’ acquaintance, then you shouldn’t be in the Watch.” Peter gave
me a friendly shove, and moved off to stand in front of a news agent’s shop.

  I sauntered into the pub, greeting the barkeep with a friendly word, and ordered a beer. I stood at the bar while I waited for it, casually glancing around the room. Immediately to my left was Kleibschiemer. Another man was with him, a man I didn’t recognize from the Watch files, but he left just as soon as I stopped at the bar. I pulled out my phone as if I’d wanted to text someone, and covertly took a picture of the second man as he walked out the door.

  As I did so, a movement beyond him caught my eye. Seated in one of the high-backed wooden settles that ringed the pub were two women. One had a halo of fluffy, pinkish red hair, while the other . . . my fingers tightened on my phone for a few seconds as I drank in the sight of the second woman. Raven-haired, she was what popular magazines would call statuesque, with ample curves, shoulder-length hair that seemed to flow around her like inky water, and a bright pair of grey eyes framed with thick black lashes. I could see the lashes even across the room, so dense were they. She was speaking to the fluffy-haired woman, who appeared to be taking down everything the raven beauty was saying, the latter’s hands gesturing with little birdlike jabs in the air to emphasize her points. And judging by the gestures, she appeared to have a lot to say.

  “Yer beer, mate.”

  “Thanks.” I gave the barman a few coins without taking my eyes off the woman. She got to her feet and turned my way. I picked up my beer and pretended to drink it, spinning around to watch her over the rim of the glass as she headed for the ladies’ room.

  She wasn’t mortal. That I knew the second she passed me, leaving being a trail of scent that seemed to go straight into my blood. She smelled like the sea air, tangy and wild, and slightly salty. I had a sudden, overwhelming desire to lick that warm, tanned skin to see if she tasted salty, too, but reminded myself that members of the Watch, especially probationary members, were not encouraged to lick suspects, no matter how delectable they appeared.