Damsel Under Stress (Enchanted, Inc. #3)


“He’s got someone bankrolling him,” Owen said grimly, finishing my thought. “He might have been able to raise some cash through magically underhanded means, but not at this level. So he’s got someone rich—and presumably powerful—in league with him. Maybe that’s where your friend’s enemy comes in.” He gave a quick recap about Philip and Mr. Bones to Merlin.

“That company certainly would have the capital to fund these activities,” Merlin said. “They’ve been one of our larger corporate customers—mostly security and contract-enforcement spells. I haven’t much liked Jackson Meredith in my few dealings with him, but I had no sense that he was unethical enough to be involved in this sort of thing.”

“He’s currently ‘indisposed,’” I said, making air quotes. “His niece Sylvia is in charge now.”

“Ah, yes, that would explain things. She quite clearly is evil.”

“There’s got to be something else going on,” I said, staring at a larger-than-life image of Idris breaking a cement box with a karate chop. It looked like the hand breaking the box had been badly Photoshopped onto a picture of Idris striking a karate pose.

“What do you mean? Isn’t this enough?” Owen asked.

“Has Idris ever done anything splashy when he wasn’t there to see it? That’s his big downfall—he gets so sidetracked watching us react that he forgets to follow through on whatever advantage he’s gained.”

“And that is the reason I called you in,” Merlin said. “I thought it would be a good time for a stakeout. He’s sure to be nearby.”

All of us then turned and looked around Times Square. The area wasn’t quite as crowded as it was on most early evenings, but there were still enough people milling around that it would be hard to spot one unprepossessing wizard. “I don’t think I see him,” I said, well aware that I was probably the only one who would see him.

We settled in to wait. Owen conjured up cups of hot coffee for us, and Rocky, Rollo, and Sam took aerial patrol. I wasn’t sure if there were any laws against loitering, but this didn’t seem like the kind of place where it would be easy to enforce them. Still, I couldn’t help but feel jumpy whenever a police officer went by. One finally did stop and ask us, “Are you folks waiting for something?”

“I’m fascinated by these billboards,” Merlin said cheerfully. “Don’t you think they’re more entertaining than television?”

The cop gave us a funny look, and I took Merlin’s arm. “Grandpa doesn’t get away from the nursing home often,” I said. “When he gets out for a holiday, we let him do some of his favorite things.”

The cop nodded. “Ah, I see. Well, have a merry Christmas.” Then he moved on, and Owen and I immediately broke down in laughter.

Merlin looked mildly amused. “I never thought I’d have to play the dotard in order to do my job,” he said.

As I turned to reply to him, I thought I saw something out of the corner of my eye. “Is that—? No, rats, it’s not,” I said.

“Not what?” another voice asked. We all turned to see Rod. His hair still looked good, his skin was smoother, and if I wasn’t mistaken, he’d had his teeth whitened. “I just got the message and thought I’d join you. Any action?”

“You mean other than convincing a cop that Grandpa’s senile and likes to look at the pretty lights when we let him out of the nursing home?” I asked.

“So, no fight scenes yet, then.” He looked up and around at all the billboards. “These are truly, spectacularly awful.”

I opened my mouth to respond, but then I saw something, and this time I was sure it was Idris. He was lurking just inside the doorway to a nearby restaurant, and he had a few of his usual gang surrounding him. “There!” I said.

“Where?” Owen asked, then he said, “Oh, hell,” and waved his hand. Nothing much changed for me. I still saw the same menagerie of magical creatures—both the good guys and the bad guys. But judging from the screams, I got the feeling that now everyone else could see Mr. Bones and the circling gargoyles. “That’s not what I meant to do,” Owen groaned. “Katie, you and Rod see if you can catch up with Idris.” He and Merlin were already muttering magic spells, presumably to reveil all the magical folk who’d been revealed to the world.

Rod waved to the gargoyles, who zoomed in on Idris like they were on a bombing run. “I got ’em!” Rocky shouted, latching onto Idris’s shoulder with his feet. A second later, he lost his grip. “Hey! Ow! That hurt! No fair!”