V

″Mr. Halen is in Washington.″

Logan Powell Turner frowned; the landscape around the Woodside Academy remained unconcerned.

The receptionist at Rankin, Gage, Halen, Mandrickson and Smoot went on: ″Is this urgent, Logan? Do you want to speak to someone else, one of the other attorneys?″

Translated: Do you need to be bailed out? Is there some legal, potentially damaging or embarrassing, emergency your parents won't like that we need to know about?

″No,″ Pol said. ″Thanks, just a question I had. It'll wait.″ He closed the phone.

He probably could trust anyone from Rankin, Gage, Halen, Mandrickson and Smoot, but he had met only Halen. If Alejandra's situation was unofficial, if she were hiding from the immigration authorities, he didn't want to tell a stranger about it. On the other hand, he couldn't stay here much longer. The staff was already trickling out. Some of them had noticed him, but so far, they had all continued their departures. He didn't want to explain his situation, any of his situations, to one of the teachers, and certainly not to the Head, but it was getting to the point when he would have to tell somebody something. He could walk home, but it was seventeen and three-tenths miles, his book bag was heavy and everyone could see him. He really didn't want to do that.

There was one person he knew who could do something about this mess, who didn't blab to the police, who might not have told his parents everything about last spring, who had her own secrets she wanted kept. Who hadn't, he thought, yelled or preached to him about last spring and to whom he would not have to explain why he needed someone else to drive him home from school at his age and why he didn't have cab fare. He finally accepted that she was the best of his limited choices. If she didn't help, he'd call Rankin, Gage, Halen, Mandrickson and Smoot again, and ...he wasn't quite sure what, but he was sure it would end up involving fuss, phone calls, emails, possibly the sudden return of one or both extremely irate parents, and that somehow or other everything would be his fault. As a plan of action, that was really something to avoid. He called information: ″San Francisco. Ann Grove, on Compass Place.″

In a very short time, he heard her voice: ″What is it, Logan?″

″I'm stuck at school. Quinn didn't show up, there's no answer at the house, and the cook left a message in Spanish on my voice mail, but I can't understand it.″

There was a pause before she said, ″OK, I'm just leaving the Arts building. Where are you?″

″Front drop off.″ She rang off, and Pol closed his phone. So she could move herself the way she moved him. Interesting. There she was, coming around the main building. Again, his mother would have had something to say about her clothes and her hair. He thought she looked OK.

She smiled at him as she stood beside him. ″Let's hear the message from Alejandra.″

She knew the cook's name. He accepted that and asked, ″You speak Spanish?″

″You don't?″

Ann listened to Alejandra's message in silence. ″So why didn't you call someone else? Why did you call me?″

″My credit cards are still stopped, the Lawyer is in Washington, and I may not understand Spanish, but everybody knows what la migra means. I thought she was legal, but I could be wrong. I didn't think you'd blab.″

″And you didn't trust anyone else? I'm flattered, also I'm astonished by your very good sense. Alejandra's legal, but apparently her sister wasn't. The sister was arrested and probably will be deported. The sister left behind three small children who are American citizens. Alejandra has gone up to Windsor to take charge of them.″

″She can't do that! What about me? How am I going to get home?″ Pol asked. ″And what am I supposed to do for dinner? I can't even order pizza!″

″She's claiming her vacation time,″ Ann said coolly. ″To some people, ties of blood are more important than a job. I think we should go to the house. Alejandra may have left a note with a more lengthy explanation or a useful phone number.″ She put one hand on his shoulder.

This time he was paying attention, but nothing happened to notice. The transition was smooth, just a flicker from his school to his front door. He didn't even stumble.

Do we have to? I mean it's her house.″

″The kitchen was bare, there was no message on your door or on the front hall table. That leaves here,″ Ann said. She opened the door to the apartment over the separate garage.

Pol noticed she used no key. ″It was unlocked?″

″It is now,″ she answered, and walked in.

There was evidence of a hurried departure. Ann glanced around the living area, then went into the bedroom. Logan followed her.

Some drawers were left open, but were not emptied. Other drawers were closed and neatly full. Logan glanced away from the underwear. Ann looked in the closet, at the hanging clothes and at the shoe rack. She nodded to herself, then left the bedroom and went to look around the kitchen. She looked at the bare refrigerator door, then saw the phone on the wall. On the counter beneath the phone were calenders, sticky pads in various sizes, and a jar of pens and pencils. The only pad with a used page on top had a phone number.

Ann hit redial and listened to the beeps. ″707 area code, Windsor, and of course, other places. We may be lucky and reach Alejandra at her sister's house.″ She fell silent a moment.

″Sorry, wrong number,″ she said into the phone. She hung up. ″Not the sister's house. Children's Protective Services.″

″What about that one?″ Pol said, pointing.

″That's the one on redial. I don't think you're getting dinner here tonight. Or being driven to school tomorrow.″ Ann Grove frowned. The frown was in his direction, but it didn't seem as if she was frowning at him. ″It's almost tea time. Go pack a bag — everything you'll need for school for the rest of the week. It looks as if you're staying with me for a while.″

″What? Why?″

″Suggest an alternative,″ Ann said coolly.

His choices hadn't improved. ″OK.″

″Join me out front when you're done. I'll put the wards up.″

″What does that mean?″

″Wards keep strangers out. I'll do this, and the garage, then the house. Do you have any help other than Quinn and Alejandra?″

″Just them, except for the other maid and the tree and lawn people.″

″Their names?″

″I don't know, they come when I'm at school.″

″I'll set eyes on the gates. Pack a suit.″

″What? Why?″

Abruptly, they were in another place. This was a foyer, with a door behind them and dark flagstones underfoot. To the immediate left there was an open alcove, also flagged, with a bench and two chairs, a door, two full length mirrors, and a coat rack with a drip tray for boots and umbrellas. To the other side, there was an archway through which Pol could see kitchen cabinets and a cork floor. Straight ahead there was a polished wood hallway, with stairs off to the left, that ended in windows giving a view of a deck and what looked like San Francisco Bay.

A short man with long brown braids appeared in the archway and bowed. He wore Nikes, jeans, a green T-shirt, and a darker green tabard vest with a row of pockets along the lower hem.

″Ah, Zomas. How was driving school?″

″The instructor overrode my controls only twice and we were not hit by a cable car.″

″Very good.″ Ann turned to Pol: ″This is Zomas, who looks after the house. Zomas, Logan Turner will be staying with us a while. Logan knows he's the only Earthborn human here.″

″I do now,″ Pol said. He inspected Zomas a little more carefully. He was startled to realize Zomas was regarding him with interest, too.

″Zomas, take Logan up to the north guest room and show him the basics; then we'll want tea. Young human males have large appetites, so add a couple of toasted ham and cheese sandwiches and one of the small savory cheese cakes.″

As soon as she mentioned food, Pol realized he was hungry.

″Yes, Miss Grove,″ Zomas said.

We need a place you frequent,″ Ann said. ″Preferably one with lots of doors or corners, or even just thick bushes or big trees.″

″Why?″

″So when you suddenly pop in, you're where you often are, and might have just walked in, through a door or around a corner.″

″Uh,″ Pol said.

″You don't notice a door you don't use or bushes that aren't in your way, do you?″ Ann said.

″Basically yeah,″ Pol agreed. He was silent a moment. ″The library.″

″And a place I've seen,″ Ann said. ″I didn't get to the library. How about where we met on the way to watch the ring toss?″

″I think so. That's usually empty now.″

″That may not be so good, but we'll try it. I want to see the library this afternoon. Take this,″ she handed him one of her crystal spheres. ″Get where you were talking about, wait until there's no one around and say my name into the ball, just as if it were a phone.″

″OK. This is after class?″

″This is your after school pick-up,″ Ann agreed. ″If it's a good place, we'll use it tomorrow.″

″How can we get away with this? Someone's bound to notice.″

″You'd be surprised. Ready?″

″Set, go,″ Pol muttered, and found himself at the back door.

At Sunday tea, Ann had a laptop beside her on the small sofa. After a cup of tea and a radish sandwich for her and milk, toasted cheese and ham sandwiches, petits fours, stuffed eggs and spiced pears for him, she said:

″I have an email from your father.″

″How'd you manage that? He's never written me a letter in my life.″

"I cheated,″ Ann admitted.

″Oh?″

″Once it landed in his in-box, he had to open my email. Once he looked at it, he had to answer it before he could do anything but shut down his computer. I sent one to your mother, too, but apparently she hasn't opened her computer yet.″

″That's neat,″ Pol said slowly. ″Handy, too.″

″Read the exchange.″

Pol did so.

Alejandra Gutierrez and Quinn Rojas have taken vacation time to deal with a family emergency. They will be absent at least two weeks. I have moved Logan to my home in San Francisco. If that is not acceptable, please send us instructions.″

"Fine with me. If he's too much trouble send him to school in Marin. Won't be back for Thanksgiving, may make Christmas.″

″Yeah,″ Pol said. He reread his father's message again. ″What school in Marin? Not the one I spent last summer at?″

″Yes,″ Ann said. ″That one.″

″That was hell! They didn't allow anything: No TV, no computers, not even a phone. I had to use some antique word processor. I had to learn how to milk a goat! I dug dirt! I pulled weeds. All I did when I wasn't milking goats or digging dirt was go to class or read or write essays. In the summer!″

″You also played chess.″

Pol froze. ″You had something to do with it, didn't you?″

″I suggested it to your parents, yes.″ She waited a moment, then, as Logan was silent, continued: ″I was selective in my conversation with your parents. They do not know that you tried to kill Gillian, or how.″

″Yeah, I noticed that. I wasn't about to tell them everything. Why didn't you?″

″They're rather conventional.″

″They're very conventional,″ Pol interrupted.

″And they wanted to believe you had conventional problems. They thought you were an alcoholic, a problem that could be handled with conventional assistance.″

″They wanted to send me to a detox ward?″

″A supportive, neutral and clean environment.″

″Full of drunks and addicts. Oh, hell,″ Pol said. After a moment, he added, ″I wouldn't have liked that. I didn't actually drink that much of the vodka I bought.″

″I know,″ Ann said. ″Although I think that wasn't a good way to make friends.″

″They weren't, really. As soon as I couldn't buy the stuff any more, they all dropped me.″

Ann poured another cup of tea. ″Learning to milk a goat, which, after all, may be of use someday, seemed a reasonable price for as much freedom as you have now.″

″What freedom? I don't have my car, I don't... ″

″You spent four hours at the Metreon yesterday.″

″You made me do my homework before I left, and I had to be back by tea time.″

″Yes, and those are conditions of living here. Your homework gets done first and I always know where you're going and when you'll be back. If you don't want to live here, there's Marin. If you don't like either of those choices, suggest somewhere else.″

Pol didn't like any of the choices. He was not in a good place to make a fuss about it, though, and he knew it. He had no suggestions to offer: His father was no help, Halen the Lawyer was still in Washington and wouldn't alter his father's orders anyway. His mother didn't know anything was happening and he was unsure where she was. Joining either parent was not a course of action he even considered.

Feeling ignored, misunderstood and seriously discontented with everything and everybody, he muttered, ″Excuse me,″ and went upstairs.

On Monday, Pol, as their routine had become, ate breakfast with Ann. The subject of their last conversation was not reopened. Pol finished a large breakfast, waffles, bacon, sausage, eggs, and two kinds of juice, then gathered his books and backpack and was teleported to the small, out of the way, niche in the library. After class, the process was reversed. He arrived home in time for after-school tea with Ann and the neighbors' children. He thought the young Reids were even more downtrodden than he was, but he wasn't really too concerned about their problems.

After class Tuesday there was a change: Ann picked him up in her green convertible and drove him to the Woodside house, where Alejandra and Quinn were packing the rest of their belongings. Pol was not surprised when the couple gave formal notice they were leaving.

He did worry that his parents would blame him.

Ann asked that the couple put the notice in writing, undertaking to have it delivered. She asked about the dailies, both the house help and the gardeners, inquired if Pol needed anything from the house, then drove north on Skyline Boulevard.

After about 20 minutes, Ann turned onto a narrow, unmarked and surprisingly well paved road. She continued on, scarcely slowing, as if she knew the road well. The road seemingly ran through a derelict barn. They passed where the other side of the barn would have been, if it had existed, and entered a large indoor parking facility, with lights, lanes and arrows painted on the floor, and a group of attendants. She finally stopped there, and turned the Jag over to the valet.

Pol swallowed. His eyes darted left and right and he realized he was gripping the door handle very firmly. He relaxed his hand and shook it gently.

″Come with me, Logan,″ she said, and walked over to an elevator. Pol followed. The ride up was short, and the elevator opened onto a huge room. It was both long and wide, with a central area at least two stories tall. The ceiling of the center was an elaborate stained glass dome. The theme seemed to be sports: Surfers rode the waves, golfers putted, fishermen cast, tennis players volleyed and riders in red coats cantered. Pol removed his gaze from the dome and noticed Ann was walking across the room. He hurried after her.

Some of the people present did not appear to be fully human, or human at all. Pol shut his mouth, and stayed close to Ann's side as she entered a small office labeled 'Wayfinder's Messenger Service'.

Ann went to a tall desk and, taking a blank sheet of paper from the rack, wrote briefly. "Have you anything to add to your parents, Logan?"

"I, uh. No, just say I'm OK."

Ann nodded, added a few written words, then went to the counter. ″I need these copied and delivered to these people,″ Ann told the man there. She handed him her letter, Alejandra's letter and a list.

He read from the list: ″Donald Turner, care of SyrCon, Java. Lisa Wilson Turner, of Fashion and Style, on assignment in Milan. Sure. No problem. Tomorrow OK, or ASAP?″

Milan? Pol wondered.

″Tomorrow is fine; however, I want proof of delivery and the messenger is to ask if there is a reply. If the answer is yes, the messenger is to wait for it.″

″POD, and any replies, will be delivered to your Russian Hill address some time after 0900 local time tomorrow, Wednesday, 20 November, 2002. We can't say more precisely than that, because who knows how long a reply will take?″

″Thank you,″ Ann said. She seemed done.

Pol said, "Uh..."

Ann glanced at him. "Something to add?"

"A person. Andrew Halen, of Rankin, Gage, Halen, Mandrickson and Smoot. He's in Washington right now, but they have a big office here."

"Is that enough?" Ann asked the man behind the counter.

"Oh, sure. Same service?"

"Yes," Ann said, and, leaving the office, retraced her steps to the garage.

Pol stuck to her like a burr, relaxing only when they entered the waiting car. He thought they continued through the garage to a different exit. Outside was a city street, with streetlights, traffic lights and traffic, including buses and electric trolleys, which was definitely not the same road they had used before. Ann turned right and blended with the traffic. He saw a street sign reading Van Ness Avenue. OK, he thought. That's strange. ″Where were we?″ he asked, starting at the point things had begun to be strange.

″The Inn at San Francisco. Earthborn humans rarely hear about it, let alone see it.″

″And the green guy in the lobby?″

″A guest.″

"And where are we now?"

"Not far from home." She gave him a quick smile, then turned back to the street. "It works that way."

"Oh."

At tea on Wednesday, Pol asked, "Were there any replies?"

"No," Ann said. "Just the PODs. All three received their letters." She said nothing more. After a pause, she opened a new topic: ″My foster son and a friend of his are staying with me over Thanksgiving. They'll be here later tonight.″

″Is he like you?″ Pol asked.

″Yes, but the friend is not. He is not as well informed on some matters as you are, and we would like to keep it that way. Some discretion would be appreciated.″

″OK with me, but what about the closet?″

″I have turned off the spells in that closet. Tomorrow you'll be free from lunch to tea, which will be half an hour later than usual. Plan on wearing your suit in the evening.″

″What! Why?″

″This is not exactly formal, but the men will wear suits, and I and the other women will wear dinner dresses or a contemporary equivalent.″

"More grown ups?" Pol asked.

"Not exactly," Ann said with a faint smile. "Two of them are older than you are, and one is a little younger. They're friends of mine, and are in the knowledgeable category. Since we're dressing, you wear a suit."

″I hate my suit. I have always hated my suits, all my suits. Hey! I can't wear it! I didn't bring a tie.″

″Ask Taz — ″

″Who?″

″— Long Dianchi, my foster son. His friends call him Taz. His room is across the hall from yours. If the closet doesn't supply one, ask to borrow one of his. There will be hors d'oeuvres in the living room at 1930. We will sit down at 2000. We are not having turkey. Dinner will probably last until 2130, or maybe a little longer. When we leave the table, I will serve coffee and tea in the living room. At that point, you will be free to disappear up to your room or the library.″

″That's more than two hours!″ Pol said.

″Console yourself with the thought that every two hour period in the history of the world has eventually passed,″ Ann said tartly. ″You may, if you wish, have a tray in your room.″

Pol considered her. ″Would the food be as good as what's down here?″

″Certainly not,″ she returned. ″You will be served gruel; or you may choose to have bread and water.″

Pol nodded. ″I thought it would be something like that.″

Taz proved to be a tall oriental young man, with short black hair and black and silver eyes. When Pol came down with Ann, he said: "Jingwu, this is Zachary Mitchell, call him Mitch. Mitch, this is my responsible adult, Ann Grove."

Jingwu? Pol thought. But then Taz had two names. He himself had three, and only liked one of them.

Mitch was about the same age as Taz, but a little shorter, blond, and even better looking than he was.

Ann introduced Pol and they sat for dinner. Instead of dessert, Taz excused himself and Mitch. Together the young men departed, saying something about the Fillmore and the Queens of the Stone Age and an afterparty.

Pol didn't see Taz again until 1900 the next day when he knocked on the door across the hall. ″Hi.″

″Hi, what's up?″ Taz asked. He eyed the three black ties in Pol's hand. ″The closet being helpful?″

″Maybe. Which one of these should I wear and how do I tie it? I always had a ready made.″

″Come on in. Don't tell that to Edward, or even Jan, when you meet them or you'll never live it down. This one.″ He picked the longest tie, the one Pol thought of as a regular tie. ″Unless you want to learn to tie a bow tie?″

″Not right now.″

″The hardest part about bow ties is not getting spit on the end you're holding in your teeth during the second move. Then it's just like tying your shoes and only takes practice keeping everything flat and even. The easiest knot for this one is a four in hand.″

Eventually, Pol tied his tie. Neither end drooped below his waist, and the knot was supposed to be small and asymmetrical, according to Taz. But then, Taz also said the Chinese invented the first necktie.

″Did Jingwu brief you on tonight?″

″With schedules and a run through.″

Taz nodded. ″Do you know where you're sitting?″

″At the corner near the door to the deck, with Ann on my right. Uh, my mom always has schedules and diagrams and stuff, and nothing ever goes quite right. If everything blows up, how upset will Ann be?″

″Depends on what goes wrong. If the servers get drunk and fall through the table, she'll probably be annoyed. An attack by Ninjas will get her really angry, but not at us. It's a meal. You eat it. You've had over twenty meals in the last week. This is just one more. If everything blows up, Zomas will make us all omelets.″

″So why do I have to wear a tie?″ Pol asked.

"Because Jingwu said so."

Pol hung out in his room, with his door slightly ajar, watching highlights from the Macy's Parade. He thought the Caterpillar was nothing compared to the Kai Lung. He heard Taz go down, and quietly followed the young man down the two flights to the main hall. There were two young women with Mitch and Taz.

Taz said, ″And this is our other house guest, Logan Powell Turner.″

″Hi,″ Pol said.

″This is Wenya and Margaret Hawkins.″ Wenya was another oriental, with dark hair and eyes and creamy pearly skin, while Margaret was a blue-eyed blonde, with a deep tan.

″Call me Daisy,″ Margaret Hawkins said.

″Pol.″

The two girls were both tall, slender, and sleek. Wenya wore a red silk, full length, slip-dress, with a silver brooch in the shape of a circle. Red satin high heeled sandals were on her feet. Her black hair was in a complicated knot, leaving her neck and shoulders bare. Daisy wore a long dress in blue, but this one had a waist and tight sleeves. Its wide neckline met the pleated sash and immediately caught Pol's eyes. Her tan skin, lacking a suit line that he could see, glowed against the rich color. Her hair was short and shaggy, sun-streaked and wild, as if she spent a lot of time really surfing, not just sitting on the beach. She wore disk-shaped silver earrings and flat heeled, silver leather thong sandals.

There was simply no way to improve either of them. Pol felt unable to say anything that wouldn't sound foolish, so he concentrated on making sure he wasn't staring like a goop and that his jaw hadn't dropped. He turned eagerly at the entrance of a waiter with a tray.

The tray proved to hold oysters. Pol drew back, and nearly bumped into a second waiter with another tray. As gracefully as he could he got out of the way.

Quickly the oysters and a variety of hors d'oeuvres were set out on a table already stocked with glasses, plates and tableware. The waiters vanished into the kitchen and Taz opened some wine.

Ann came down the stairs, accompanied by a vaguely familiar man and a teenage girl with red and blue streaks in her hair. ″Julia, Martin, this Wenya and Margaret Hawkins, Zachary Mitchell and Logan Powell Turner. Julia Taylor and Martin Stevenson.″

Something in the way Martin Stevenson eyed him at the mention of his name increased the feeling of familiarity Pol felt. He still didn't recognize him, though. He was a little surprised when Julia Taylor uttered a smooth string of tones and Wenya smiled at her — lucky girl — and responded in a beautiful voice, so soft and gentle Pol almost didn't mind that he couldn't understand it. Taz said something that sounded disapproving and both girls laughed.

"English, if you please," Ann said. She was wearing a dark green dress of something clingy, with a wide neckline, long sleeves and a belt. Pol thought she looked all right.

After a sleepless night, Pol ate breakfast almost silently. He didn't want to have to explain to Taz that he had eavesdropped on him after dinner last night, so he tried to act as if everything was normal. He spoke when Ann or Taz directed their conversations to him, but was otherwise silent. Mitch came to breakfast late, and with apologies. A fourth person made the meal easier for Pol.

Zomas came out of the kitchen as Mitch finished. He carried a large picnic basket. "Also take the small cooler by the door," he told Taz. "It has the meat for grilling and the beer for drinking. Or shall I carry it out for you?"

"We can handle it," Taz said.

"I have put the charcoal and the grill in the car's trunk."

"Thanks, Zomas."

"So why are you so quiet?" Ann asked when the two boys had left. "You usually have more to say at breakfast."

″I overheard Wenya last night.″

″Saying what?″ Ann asked. She didn't bother asking how or where; nor did she waste time on the etiquette of eavesdropping. He was never totally sure what was important to her and what wasn't.

″That she didn't understand why you didn't just kill me last spring,″ Pol said.

Ann put down her coffee cup. ″She is very young, just in her mid-seventies. Her understanding is limited.″

Pol made an angry gesture.

Unhurriedly, Ann regarded him. ″And that, I know, is not your real question. Wenya would have killed you if you had pointed that wand at her. So would have Daisy and probably even Taz. I told you at the time, people have been killed for less stupid acts. That wand was the equivalent of a gun. Pointing it at a wizard or someone else of talent was a challenge. The fact that you didn't know how to use it was immaterial. An unloaded gun can get you killed just as fast as one with a full clip and one in the chamber. None of my acquaintances would have found it surprising if I had killed you the night we met.″

″So why all this?″

″All what?″ Ann asked.

″I'm not stupid,″ Pol said. ″You didn't kill me because I'm a kid and you don't fight with kids. I got that. You made sure I would get that. But why am I here, for a start?″

″You're here because your parents didn't plan for all contingencies, and because I've seen that some of your privileges have been revoked. To some degree, I'm responsible for you.″

″That's not enough,″ Pol said. ″What else?″

″You tell me,″ Ann said. ″You should be able to figure it out, Logan..."

"And don't call me Logan!"

"What do I call you, then?"

"Pol," Pol said. "People call me Pol."

"Think about it, Pol, but don't forget to get a start on your homework."