Special Agent Maggie Knight looked up at the occult shop. Even if she hadn’t memorized the address, she would have known she was in the right place the minute she got there. The name was painted across huge plate-glass windows: One-Eyed Harry’s: Books, Furniture, and Curiosities, New, Used, and Rare. Below that, the windows were crowded with faded, leather-bound tomes, divination implements, and likely-worthless junk. And to top it off, there were two dogs lounging on the sidewalk, motionless as statues in the July heat—one pure white, one spotless black.
She went inside and walked straight to the counter, where a tall, lean man was rocked back in a chair, reading. “I’m looking for a book,” she said. “And I’ve been told that you’re the best.”
“Oh?” he said in a rough voice, not looking up. “And who told you that?”
“You, mostly,” she said with a smirk. “Too many times to recall.”
He finally sat up and set down his book, grinning. “I’m interested in the mostly. Is there someone else who agrees with me?” One-Eyed Harry came by his nickname honestly; the left side of his face was crushed, the cheekbone sunken in and the eye entirely missing. Maggie barely thought about it anymore. It had happened in Vietnam, before she was even born. He continued without waiting for her answer. “How’s the FBI job, Maggie? Sick of it yet?”
“It’s really fantastic, actually,” she responded. “I love taking down bad guys. How’s the new location? It looks pretty swanky.”
“Oh, it’s not so bad,” he said with a characteristic glass-half-empty shrug of resignation. “I get a lot more people in asking about the furniture, but some of them get interested in the other stuff. And there’s more kids around, which the mutts love.” The “furniture” part of the store’s name was a lie; Harry said it was to separate out the real customers, but he did have price tags with outrageous numbers on every item of furniture in the place. Every once in a while someone bought one, and he went to a flea market to re-fill that function.
“At least it’s not haunted,” Maggie said.
“Oh, she wasn’t so bad. She lent the place an air of authenticity.”
“You don’t need an air of authenticity, you are authentic. And she tried to kill you.”
He shrugged again. “I didn’t die.” His tone was almost disappointed. He hadn’t left the old place because of the ghost; she’d been properly exorcised and sent on her way. He’d left because it wasn’t worth it to try replacing the two sets of stairs the ghost had rotted through. If Maggie were inclined to nostalgia, she might miss it—she’d found her first coven there—but the new place was bigger, and if it got Harry more business, then as far as she was concerned it was better.
“So I really am looking for a book,” she told him. “I don’t know if you have it, but you might be able to locate it.”
“Can’t do your own damn internet search? Does the FBI really pay you for this stuff?”
She grinned at him. “Actually, I don’t know the title. And not only do they pay me, they’ll pay you, if you have the book and we can buy it.” When he didn’t argue anymore, she pulled a folded paper out of her pocket and unfolded it for him, flattening it on the table. “This is the photo from the auction. It was involved in an old case, that we thought was entirely closed, but now it turns out there might be a few problems. Namely, the guy is claiming that if he has it back he can prove his innocence.”
“Huh.” Harry picked up the paper and held it close to his face, inspecting it with his right eye. She knew what he was seeing, of course; a grainy old photo of a thick, heavy book, bound in dark blue leather and with a sun symbol and a few words in Greek inscribed on the front cover. They’d gotten a Greek translator, but the photo was so bad that she hadn’t been able to give them a confident translation, and the variations they’d tried searching hadn’t helped any. “And the FBI takes him seriously?”
“We do. Or actually, one of my coworkers, Lynn, does. She thinks she might be able to place someone else at the scene if she can use that, and after what happened with the vampires, the powers that be are afraid of not giving us enough funding.”
“Right, I heard about that.” He set the paper down. “Well, you may be in luck. I believe I have this one in the back. I’ll take a look. I trust you can amuse yourself while I go back and look.”
She grinned. “Of course.” And as he walked to the back of the store, she turned around and walked straight for the new-book shelf; it was placed just where she’d thought it would be, across the room from the counter but in full view of anyone who might look for it. Though the majority of the books Harry carried were ancient, the “furniture” part of the sign was the only lie; he always had the best (in his opinion) of Llewellyn’s new releases, including a Tarot deck or two, and a few fantasy bestsellers. (He had a fondness for the Dresden Files series, possibly because of the similarity of the protagonist's first name.) By the time Maggie heard his shuffling step return, she’d picked out two nonfiction books, a novel, and a Tarot deck.
When she turned around, to look at him, he was carrying a heavy, blue book. She couldn’t hide a triumphant grin. “You do have it!”
“Possibly,” he cautioned. “It could be a different book.” But when he’d placed it on the counter next to the photo, the similarity was unmistakable. The sun symbol was the same and Maggie could match several of the Greek letters.
“This is it,” she said. “I knew you could do it.”
“It’s the same book, but it might not be the same copy that belonged to your guy,” he said. “I’m fairly certain there are at least two copies of this—the title is Energy of the Metaphysics, by the way, which doesn’t make sense—floating around. But if you want, I have a record of who sold it to me, and he gave me the name of the guy he bought it from.”
“That would be fantastic. Thanks, Harry.” As he moved back to his computer—the move had finally urged him to replace his old one with one that took up less space—and peered, frowning, at the screen, Maggie stared down at the book, resisting her itchy-fingered urge to open it and look inside. Not only was it all probably in Greek, but the fewer hands that touched it, the easier a time Lynn would have tracing it to their suspect. Harry had already touched it, but Maggie would just be corrupting the evidence.
Disdaining modern printer technology, he scribbled down two names on a scrap of paper and handed them to Maggie. “This book is worth over a hundred dollars,” he warned her.
“That’s okay. The Bureau is footing the bill.” She dug out her wallet and passed him the expense account card. “These, too,” she added, pointing to the books she’d picked out, the small pile only barely higher than the huge book they sat next to.
He raised his eyebrow. “Bureau footing the bill for those too?”
She shrugged. “What they don’t know won’t hurt them. And I can make an argument that they’re research. Heck, I can call the Tarot deck a tool.”
“Yes, I remember how you used to tell your parents the books you bought from me were to help you understand the demons and protect against them better. Well, it’s your behind in the fire.” He swiped the card, gave her the receipt to sign, and swept the books briskly into the two bags. “I hope you won’t wait until the next time the FBI needs a book to come back here.”
She hefted the bags, shook her head, and grinned. “Don’t worry. I’ll need something else to read soon.”