Jane unlimited, p.17
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       Jane, Unlimited, p.17

           Kristin Cashore
 

  Still scowling in his armchair, Ravi says to Kiran abruptly, “What’s going on with you and Patrick?”

  Kiran takes one of Jane’s pawns with her knight and shrugs.

  “Oh, come on, sis,” says Ravi.

  Kiran sits back in her chair, looking untroubled, acting like she didn’t hear. Jane wonders how far to push.

  “Did Patrick ever confess to you?” Jane asks, not glancing at Ravi, but feeling his hearty approval of her interference. “I saw him the other day, the day we got back from New York. He seemed . . . determined.”

  “Yes,” Kiran says. “He actually said things, for once,” she says, catching Jane’s eye, but not elaborating. Finally, as the silence stretches out, she shrugs again and says, to Ravi as much as to Jane, “I’m thinking about the things he said.”

  “What did he say?” Ravi demands.

  “Stuff I’m thinking about,” Kiran repeats, stubbornly.

  “What stuff?”

  “Twin, if you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m not going to tell you.”

  “Hmph!” says Ravi. “You’re lucky I need to keep you around, in case I ever need a kidney.”

  “Like I’d ever give you my kidney.”

  “You would totally give me your kidney.”

  “There’s totally a universe somewhere where I’ve refused to give you my kidney,” says Kiran.

  Ravi is smiling. “Let’s go get that Kiran’s kidney, just to spite her. We could keep it on ice until one of us needs it.”

  “That’s a disturbing idea,” Kiran says. “But practical.” She presses a palm to her forehead. “I guess all three of us are kind of looking at a fresh start.”

  “What?” says Ravi. “Is this about kidneys?”

  “No,” says Kiran. “I’m thinking about you, me, and Janie. We’re all starting fresh. Janie because she’s so young and she’s alone. She’s got her umbrellas. She could really do anything. Sorry,” she adds, glancing at Jane doubtfully.

  “For what?” says Jane.

  “For reminding you that you’re alone.”

  “It’s okay,” Jane says. I might not be, she thinks. Under the table, Jasper nuzzles his nose against Jane’s pants legs. He rests his chin on her boots.

  “And you and me,” Kiran says to Ravi. “We don’t have significant others anymore, or jobs. I guess we could also do anything.”

  “I do like being single,” says Ravi. “We could start a bordello. You could be my madame and find me clients.”

  “Or something less gross,” says Kiran. “Blech.”

  Grinning, Ravi stands. “I want coffee,” he says. “Either of you want anything?”

  “A bowl of chocolate ice cream,” says Kiran.

  “I’d take ice cream too,” Jane says.

  “Coming right up,” Ravi says, then strides away.

  In the room’s new quiet, Kiran watches Jane take a pawn. Jane has questions for Kiran too, less specific than Ravi’s, but, she suspects, just as nosy.

  “Kiran,” Jane says, after a long silence, not sure how to get to the answer she’s seeking. “Are you . . . glad you came home?”

  Kiran takes a moment to consider Jane’s question. “I’m finding,” she says, “that despite everything, I’m glad to live in this universe.”

  “Huh?”

  Kiran moves her knight again, endangering Jane’s queen. “If we live in a multiverse,” she says, “in which multiple versions of us live alternate lives in an infinite series of universes, I’m glad I live in this one. I think that maybe I’m better off than some other Kirans. In this universe, I found out that Colin was stealing from me before I did something stupid, like marry him. Some other version of me somewhere is probably married to a version of him and has no idea. And some other version of me lives with some other, less loving version of Ravi. I like my version of Ravi. I guess I even like my version of Patrick,” she admits, “given that he’s mine. I guess I even like my version of me.”

  “Well,” Jane says. “That’s convenient, I guess. If weird.”

  Kiran laughs. “By the way, you’re in check.”

  “Dammit!”

  “What if you’d been born in a universe where there was no rain?” Kiran says.

  “Huh?”

  “I wonder what you would do,” Kiran says. “Would you still find yourself drawn to make umbrellas?”

  “Oh,” says Jane. “I see. Well, I don’t know. Could I make parasols?”

  “There’s no sun, either,” Kiran says. “I wonder if you’d have this irrepressible urge to invent sort of a cloth shield on a stick? Would people think you were nuts?”

  “Um,” says Jane. “It’s true I can’t imagine not making umbrellas. But don’t you think that’s partly because our universe does have rain?”

  “I wonder if you’d even make them waterproof?” says Kiran. “Despite it being completely unnecessary?”

  Her question stirs a memory of the conversation Jane had with Ivy while they were waiting to talk to the police. About the digital camera that makes a shutter sound even though it doesn’t have or need a shutter anymore.

  “If I did make waterproof umbrellas in a rainless world,” Jane says, “would that be one of those things? Those things where a design incorporates a feature a thing used to have but doesn’t need anymore?”

  “Huh?” says Kiran.

  Ravi has stepped back into the room, carrying two bowls of ice cream. He’s grinning at Jane. “A skeuomorph?” he says.

  “Is that the word?” Jane asks, delighted. “Ivy couldn’t remember. I can’t wait to tell her.”

  “I’m pretty sure that’s the word,” Ravi says, walking to their table and handing each of them a bowl.

  “I guess it’s a little long for Scrabble,” Jane says.

  “You could build it onto the word morph,” Ravi says. “Who’s winning, anyway?”

  “Me,” says Kiran. “Where’s your coffee?”

  “I’ve only got two hands. I’ll get it on my next trip.”

  “You’re a sweetie,” says Kiran. “Checkmate.”

  “Play chess with me next,” Ravi says.

  “Which one of us?” Kiran says.

  “Either,” he says. “Both.”

  “What, like, as a team?” says Kiran, teasing. “What’s wrong with you?”

  “Whatever,” says Ravi, “I’m bored,” then reaches down to put his arms around his sister and pull her into an awkward hug. Ravi has been giving Kiran a lot of hugs these days. Jane has a feeling it’s as much for his own benefit as for hers; Ravi seems to need hugs. But it’s good for Kiran, Jane thinks, that he needs her.

  A noise behind Ravi catches Jane’s attention. She leans past him to look. Ivy is in the doorway, in a long, wet coat, with her backpack on her shoulders. Rain plasters strands of hair to her cheeks. She looks at Jane shyly, a question in her face.

  “Ivy,” Jane says. “Ivy, I have things to tell you.”

  Ivy’s smile starts small, then grows big. She holds out a hand to Jane. “Yeah,” she says. “Me too.”

  A bell rings somewhere in the depths of the house,

  sweet and clear, like a wind chime.

  Mrs. Vanders, the little girl, Kiran, Ravi, or Jasper?

  Aunt Magnolia? Jane thinks. Where should I go?

  Lies Without Borders

  Jane decides.

  “I’d like to walk with you, Kiran, but can I join you later? I need to check on something.”

  “Okay,” says Kiran, disappointed. “I’ll be in the winter garden when you’re free.”

  “I’ll find you there,” says Jane. “Definitely.”

  Kiran wanders away.

  Jane has to find out the truth about that little girl who looks like Grace Panzavecchia. What if she’s in some kind of danger?

  Her jo
urney is intercepted on the landing by Jasper, who hops in a circle around her with sharp little barks, as if he’s trying to herd her from behind.

  “Jasper! I’m not a sheep!” she says, racing down the stairs.

  He stays where he is, whining disconsolately.

  “You can come with me,” says Jane. “I’m on a mission. Aren’t dogs supposed to be good at tracking people?”

  She turns, descending a few more steps. When she looks back, he’s gone. She can’t help feeling that it doesn’t say much for the likelihood of her finding a little girl if she can’t keep track of a dog who was there mere seconds ago. “Jasper, you’d make a terrible sidekick,” she says to the air.

  Back to the task, Jane weaves through the lilac ladies in the receiving hall and goes to the side table where she saw the girl leave something. Next to a family photo of Kiran, Ravi, Octavian, and a blond, youngish-looking lady who’s probably Charlotte is a strange object, itself shaped like a small table. It’s a pedestal, with an oak base and a circular mirror top. There’s a tiny hole in the center of the mirror. Altogether, it doesn’t look particularly significant.

  One of the lilac ladies appears beside her. “That’s just the sort of stand I need,” she says with satisfaction, setting a squat vase of lilacs atop the pedestal.

  All right, then. Whatever its purpose was before, it’s now a platform for lilacs.

  Did the girl leave the pedestal on the table, or the Thrash family photo?

  And where did she go after that?

  Jane crosses into the Venetian courtyard but has no idea which direction to choose next. She’s seen some of the rooms to the left—the ballroom, the banquet hall, the kitchen. Curiosity pulls Jane to the right, through the east arcade, then into a room she’s never seen before, with old-fashioned, floral green wallpaper, brocaded settees, a fussy green carpet, and no little girl.

  Crossing that room, Jane opens a door in the opposite wall and enters another world—for she’s found the bowling alley. Not that it’s like any bowling alley she’s ever seen or imagined; the walls are made of rough stone reinforced with broad wooden beams and the light is low and moody, like something one might find in a cave under a mountain. Two bowling lanes stretch before her, burnished expanses of maple and pine. Pins gleam palely at the end of each lane. This is where the Pied Piper goes bowling, she thinks, by himself, after he’s entombed all the children.

  Obscurely concerned now for the missing child, Jane walks straight down the left-hand bowling lane, the only route to a door set in the wall at its end. It feels wrong to her, immoral somehow—surely bowling lanes are not for walking on.

  When she opens the door, her world changes again. Heat, light, lapping noises, and the smell of chlorine: the indoor swimming pool. The wall across from her is taken up by an enormous, long fish tank. A fluorescent green eel nestles against the glass, leering at her, and a bull shark—a species of shark known to attack humans—swims lazily from one side to the other.

  Uneasily, Jane eyes the water of the pool. No drowned little girl. There’s a door in the fish tank though, a normal, wooden door with a brass knob. Jane finds this so peculiar that she opens it, imagining the water, the eel, the bull shark, pouring through the doorway. Instead she discovers a short, dark passage stretching before her, leading through the tank to another door. Opening that door, she finds herself stepping into a patch of crocuses.

  Wind whips against stone. Jane can hear the sound of crashing waves somewhere below. It takes her a moment to orient herself: She’s at the back of the house.

  To the left, some distance along the vast wall, the little girl sits on the ground, nestled against the side of a terrace. She’s tucked herself against the house with her arms wrapped around her legs, making herself small.

  Jane approaches her stealthily. The girl is crying and shivering. Her hair is short and crooked, a dark shade of blond, her eyes swollen. Her sparkly purple sneakers and her blue jeans are splotchy from the wet grass.

  The little girl jumps up as Jane gets closer, glares at Jane, and crouches like a runner about to take off. Jane freezes in her tracks and raises her hands. “It’s okay,” she says, not certain what she’s mollifying the girl about, but doing so instinctively.

  “Who are you?” the girl demands.

  “I’m Janie.”

  “Are you with,” the girl begins, then spits out a few words in French that sound awfully well-pronounced.

  “With who?” says Jane.

  “Never mind,” says the girl. “Why are you here?”

  “Did you say ‘espions sans frontières’?”

  “No,” says the girl. “Why are you here?”

  “Doesn’t that mean ‘spies without borders’?”

  “I don’t speak French,” says the girl. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Why are you here?”

  She’s not the world’s best liar, this little girl. “Because I saw you in the receiving hall and wanted to see where you went,” says Jane.

  “No.” Her tone is shrill. “Why are you in the house? What’s your affiliation?”

  Jane finds herself speaking in soothing tones. “My friend Kiran invited me to visit. Kiran’s dad owns the house.”

  “Seriously?” says the girl. “You’re just a person?”

  “Of course. What else would I be?”

  “Why should I believe you?”

  “Grace?” says Jane. “What’s going on?”

  “I’m not Grace,” says the girl quickly. “My name is Dorothy.”

  “Okay,” says Jane, trying to sound like she believes this. “Nice to meet you, Dorothy. Do you live in the house?”

  “I’m related to Mrs. Vanders,” says Dorothy. “I’m her great-niece. I’m visiting.”

  “It’s funny, because you look an awful lot like Grace Panzavecchia.”

  “I don’t know who that is.”

  “She’s in the news,” says Jane.

  “A lot of things are in the news,” says Dorothy, wiping her bangs out of her eyes with a damp hand. “A lady got bitten by a bear at a zoo in France. It’s raining frogs in Seattle for a record fourteen days in a row. A guy in New York died of smallpox.”

  “Grace Panzavecchia is a little girl whose parents tried to rob a bank in Manhattan,” says Jane. “Then the entire Panzavecchia family disappeared.”

  “That’s preposterous,” says Dorothy. “What about their dog?”

  “Their dog?” Jane responds in confusion. “What dog?”

  “I mean, did they have a dog?”

  “Actually,” says Jane, remembering something about a dog, spoken by a news anchor who’d looked a little like a St. Bernard (which is why it had stuck in Jane’s mind), “it’s funny you ask that. I do remember a dog. A German shepherd? The police found it in the Panzavecchias’ house after they all disappeared.”

  “What else?” the girl says.

  “About the dog?”

  “Yes!” she says. “Who’s taking care of the dog?”

  “I don’t know,” says Jane. “The news people aren’t talking about the dog. They’re talking about the Mafia being involved and the kids disappearing, and the baby being sick with smallpox.”

  “Smallpox!” the girl says. “The baby doesn’t have smallpox!”

  “What? No,” Jane says, realizing she’s misspoken. “Sorry. You’re right. You mentioned the guy in New York who died of smallpox and I got mixed up. They’re saying the baby has spots, like maybe it’s chicken pox or something.”

  “Smallpox could be used as a biological weapon again,” the girl says, “like what the British did to Native Americans at Fort Pitt during the French and Indian War. Did you know that?”

  “I—never really thought about it,” Jane says. “You seem to know a lot about it.”

  “Smallpox is supposed to be one of those disease
s no one gets anymore,” the girl says. “There’s supposed to be a stock of it in a lab in Atlanta and one in Russia, just for posterity. But that’s only what they say. Microbiologists could alter smallpox so it could be used for modern warfare.”

  “Okay,” says Jane. “They announced on the news a few days ago that the guy who got smallpox had some sort of freak accident. They said he broke into the labs of the CDC in Atlanta and got into something he shouldn’t.”

  “Yeah,” says the girl, jutting her jaw with obvious scorn. “That’s a likely story.”

  Jane tries to remember what she’s heard from the news. The parents of the Panzavecchia family, Giuseppe and Victoria, are microbiologists. They reportedly walked out of their lab and attempted to rob a Manhattan bank. In the middle of the heist, they panicked, ran from the bank, rounded a corner, and basically disappeared. The bank teller was so startled that she turned to the colleague beside her and asked, “Did that just happen?”

  It had just happened, and as it was the Panzavecchias’ own bank and one they visited frequently on lunch breaks, they were recognized. The police immediately searched their lab (no sign of them); their brownstone (empty except for their German shepherd); and the private academy of their “brilliant eight-year-old daughter, Grace” (who’d asked to use the restroom, then never returned to class).

  The search moved on to the section of Central Park where the two younger children, Christopher and Baby Leo, liked to spend their mornings, and where the “distraught au pair” was having hysterics. She’d been walking with the children under one of the arches when “a person of iron strength” had grabbed her from behind and put something to her face. She’d tried to wrap her arms protectively around the children, she’d tried to scream, but darkness had come. The last thing she remembered was her attacker lowering her gently to the ground while a nearby saxophone played the Godfather music.

  And then at dinner last night, Phoebe brought up the rumors that the Mafia had threatened to harm Giuseppe Panzavecchia’s family if he didn’t pay his gambling debts. But Lucy St. George, private art investigator, thinks something else must be going on. Giuseppe is too devoted to his kids to risk getting involved with the Mafia; all he ever does is brag about Grace and her amazing mnemonic memory devices.

 
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KRISTIN CASHORE SERIES:

Graceling Realm

 


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