“The problem is exposure,” Rachel said, clipped and clear over the thrum of the engine. “If Glendower really could be found just walking along the ley line, I don’t see how he wouldn’t have already been found in the past few hundred years.”
They were headed back to Henrietta in Rachel’s furiously-shiny Bugatti. Rachel drove, because when it was the Bugatti, she always drove. The conversation was about Glendower, because when it was Rachel, it was almost always about Glendower.
In the backseat, Sarah’s head was tipped back in a way that gave equal attention to the phone conversation and her fatigue. In the middle, Cosima leaned forward to better eavesdrop as she picked grass seed off her crochet leggings. Beth was on her other side, although you could never be sure she’d stay corporeal the farther they got from the ley line. It was a tight fit, but it was eased by the constant smooth hum of the air-conditioning, keeping them in a separate world from the heat outside.
To the phone, Rachel said, “That’s the only thing.”
Sarah leaned on the passenger side door and let the cool flow over her. For her, it was only sometimes about Glendower. Rachel needed to find Glendower because she wanted proof of the impossible. Sarah already knew the impossible existed. Her birth mother had been impossible. Sarah was impossible. Mostly, Sarah wanted to find Glendower because the others wanted to find Glendower.
“No, I understand that.” Rachel was using her Ms. Duncan professorial voice, the one that exuded certainty and commanded rats and small children to get up, get up, follow me! It had worked on Alison and Cosima, anyway. “But if we assume Glendower was brought over between 1412 and 1420, and if we assume his tomb was left untended, natural soil accumulation would have hidden him. Starkman suggests that medieval layers of occupation might be under a sediment accumulation of five to seventeen feet…Yes, I know I’m not on a floodplain. But Starkman was working under the assumption that…right, yes. What do you think about GPR?”
Sarah looked at Cosima. Cosima translated in a low voice, “Ground-penetrating radar.”
Sarah said, “It’s Leekie again?”
Cosima nodded. Aldous Leekie was a stunningly old British professor Rachel had worked with back in Wales. Unlike Rachel, he was not using the ley lines as a means to find an ancient king. Rather, he seemed to study them for a weekend diversion when he had no lectures to give.
“Fluxgrade gradiometry?” Rachel suggested. “We’ve already taken up a plane a few times. I just don’t know if we’ll see much more until winter when the leaves are gone.”
Sarah shifted restlessly in her seat.
“What about a proton magnetometer?” Rachel asked Leekie. Then she added coldly, “I know that’s for underwater detection. I would want it for underwater detection.”
It was water that had ended their work today. Rachel had decided that the next step in their search was to establish Cabeswater’s boundaries. They’d only ever entered the forest from its eastern side and had never made it to any of the other edges. This time, they’d approached from well north of their previous entry points, devices trained on the ground to alert them to when they found the northern electromagnetic boundary of the forest. After a several-hour walk, the group had instead come to a lake.
Rachel had stopped dead in her tracks. It wasn’t that the lake had been uncrossable: It only covered a few acres and the path around lacked treachery. And it wasn’t that the lake had stunned her with its beauty. In fact, it was quite unlovely as far as lakes went: an unnaturally square pool sunk into a drowned field. Cattle or sheep had worn a mud path along one edge.
The thing that had stopped Rachel cold was the obvious fact that the lake was man-made. The possibility that parts of the ley line were flooded should have occurred to her before. But apparently it hadn’t. And for some reason, although it was not impossible to believe that Glendower was still somehow alive after hundreds of years, it was impossible to believe he was able to pull off this feat beneath all those tons of water.
Rachel had declared, “We have to find a way to look under it.”
Cosima had replied, “Oh, Rachel, come on. The odds –”
“We’re looking under it.”
Sarah’s plane had crashed into the water and floated, unreachable. They’d walked the long way back to the car. Rachel had called Dr Leekie.
As if, Sarah thought, a crusty old man three thousand miles away will have any bright ideas.
Rachel hung up the phone.
“Well?” Alison asked.
Rachel glanced across to the passenger seat. Alison sighed.
Sarah thought they could probably just go around the lake. But that would mean plunging into Cabeswater headlong. And although the ancient forest seemed like the most likely location for Glendower, the sizzling volatility of the newly woken ley line had rendered it a little unpredictable. Even Sarah, who wasn’t exactly the cautious type, had to admit that the prospect of being trampled by beasts or accidentally getting stuck in a forty-year time loop was daunting.
The entire thing was Rachel’s fault – she’d been the one to wake the ley line, though she preferred to pretend it had been a group decision. Whatever bargain Rachel had struck seemed to have rendered her a little unpredictable as well. Sarah, a sinner herself, wasn’t as struck by the transgression as she was by Rachel’s insistence that they continue to pretend she was a saint.
Rachel’s phone chirruped. She read the message before letting it drop next to the gearshift with a sound of extreme annoyance. She followed it with a heavy sigh. Sarah gestured for Cosima to pick up the phone. Cosima hesitated, and then leaned forward enough to snatch it. She read the message out loud: “ ‘Could really use you this weekend if not too much trouble. Ira can pick you up. Disregard if you have activities’.”
“Is this about Congress?” Alison asked.
The sound of the word congress made Rachel sigh again and urged Sarah to roll her eyes in derision. It hadn’t been long since Rachel’s mother had announced she was running for office. In these early days, the campaign had yet to directly influence Rachel, but it was inevitable she’d be called upon. They all knew that clean, attractive Rachel, intrepid teen explorer and straight-A student, was a card that no hopeful politician could avoid playing.
“She can’t force me,” Rachel said.
“She doesn’t have to,” Alison sniffed.
Rachel met Sarah’s eyes in the rear view mirror. “Dream me a solution.”
“Don’t have to. Nature already gave you a spine.”
Rachel’s expression turned frosty. Sarah shrugged.
In the far lane, a black Lamborghini caught Sarah’s eye, ugly and blunt as a battering ram. Sandwiched between them and the Lamborghini, another car pulled up beside the Bugatti. Sarah, ears attuned to its predatory rattle, noticed it first. A flash of red paint. Then a hand stretched out the driver’s side window, a middle finger extended over the roof. The other car shot forward, then fell back, then shot forward again. Bloody Vic.
“Is that hoodlum trying to race us?” Alison asked scornfully. Sarah slid down in her seat.
“He seems to be,” Rachel said, in a bemused tone.
Of course it was Vic Schmidt, fellow Mountainview High student and one of Henrietta’s most notorious troublemakers. Vic’s Chevy Cruze was a battered, ugly thing, blood red with a voracious black mouth of a grille. It looked absurdly clumsy next to Rudy Castor’s expensively ugly car. The Lamborghini had just been released from a month-long stint in the police impound. The judge had told Rudy that if he was caught racing again, they’d crush the Lamborghini and make him watch, like they did to the rich punks’ street racers out in California. Rumor had it Rudy had laughed and told the judge he’d never get pulled over again. There was nothing about Rudy that wasn’t despicable.
The window rolled down to reveal Vic in the driver’s seat, sporting a wide, lazy grin.
“Sarah…” he called. “Sarah!”
Alison wrenched her head around to look at Sarah. “You know him?”
Sarah shoved her boot against the seat divider. “Used to,” she said moodily. “He’s bad news.”
There was something darkly tempting in the way Vic revved the engine. It was right there, adrenaline waiting to happen. Every inch of Sarah’s skin tingled with useless anticipation.
Sarah didn’t make eye contact with Rudy or Rudy’s passenger, the ever-present Seth. The latter had always been friendly with his brother, in the sort of way that an electron was friendly with a nucleus, but lately, he seemed to have acquired official crony status. Presumably Rudy had led Vic into this wild-goose-chase search for a street race.
Sarah caught a glimpse of Rudy’s face, looking back at them through his sunglasses. Judging them all. Sarah’s hands felt itchy.
“Answer your phone, Sarah!” Vic yelled, and then the lights changed, and Rudy’s black Lamborghini shot off the mark. The Chevy charged after it in a faint cloud of smoke.
By the time the Bugatti reached the Henrietta exit, there was no sign of them. Heat rippled off the interstate, making a mirage of the memory of them. Like they’d never been.