Authors: Constance Barker
Interesting didn’t quite cover it. Bailey licked her lips once—her mouth was suddenly dry—and shook her head slowly. “So, you’ve explored a lot of other caves like this one?” She asked.
“Indeed I have,” Owen said, possibly a little pleased with himself about it. “They are all remarkably similar. Always a series of seven caves, always near water, and perhaps even more interesting than the drawings themselves—which are very similar but have some significant differences between them that make each cave entirely unique—if you were to look at these caves on a map you would find that they are all located along what have been called ‘ley lines’.” He drew the words out as though Bailey might not know what he was saying.
She wondered if Owen actually knew what ley lines were. Bailey did; they’d been part of her education as a witch. They were the currents of power that built up over time as certain sites took on a natural energy from repeated gatherings. The more sites that were established on a particular ‘line’, the more powerful the current became. The Caves were at an intersection of several such lines, including one that stretched right across the Pacific.
“That is interesting,” she said. “Have you published anything about that? I’d love to read it.”
Owen’s smile faltered a little and he cleared his throat self-consciously. “I have, unfortunately, not published very much at all,” he said. “My colleagues find my particular field to be… superfluous, at times. You see, my particular interest is in the origins and even veracity of ancient myth and legend.” He seemed to be waiting for Bailey to make a joke or laugh at him.
It seemed sad to her that he should expect it at this point. He was old, though Bailey couldn’t have said exactly what she thought his precise age was. He must have taken his work very seriously to be doing it after all these years.
“It seems to me,” she said, not wanting to hurt his feelings while also keenly aware of how close to the truth he really was and what a bad thing that might be, “that some stories stick around as long as they do because there must be a grain of truth to them. Finding that grain seems like a perfectly respectable pursuit to me.”
She might have told him he was the handsomest man she’d seen, for all that he preened under the compliment. “Yes, well; I’m delighted to meet a fellow curator of curiosities and curiousness.” He winked at her, and pushed the rim of his hat up a bit.
“You were invited by Mr. Rivers?” Bailey asked eager to change the subject a little.
“In fact,” Owen said, “I was contacted by a Miss Gloria Olson. She was rather enthusiastic that I should see the Seven Caves for myself. And of course, I’ve heard about some of the recent… ugliness that occurred here. Terrible tragedy, that. Terrible.”
“It was,” Bailey said. “We’re really just… trying to get back to normal here.” The last thing she wanted was to have another talk with a visitor to Coven Grove about Martha’s murder. It seemed like the only thing many of them cared to know about the Caves, or the town.
Fortunately, Owen didn’t seem particularly interested in that. “You would be surprised, I believe, to know how often such things come to pass in places like these,” he said. “Mysterious locales such as these, I believe, tend to… how should I say it… ignite the many passions of a person’s spirit; and not all of them benign in nature.”
“I suppose that’s close to the truth,” Bailey said. Certainly, people seemed to become captivated by mysteries, and she knew first hand that people would and did kill for them—either to expose them, hide them, or exploit them. She desperately wished the Caves could ignite more academic and imaginative passions, though. “Well, what’s your thesis for the caves so far?” She asked.
Now Owen took off his heavy glasses and cleaned them on his shirt. He peered at her from sharp gray eyes, though Bailey imagined he probably couldn’t really see her if he needed glasses like those. He put them back on, and touched the side of his nose. “That, I’m afraid, is something of a secret,” he said. “Though I will say that I believe they do, or perhaps did at one time, serve a purpose; and I believe I know what that purpose is. However, as my research is ongoing, you see…”
“Of course,” Bailey said quickly. “I understand the need to keep it a secret until you’re ready.” Lately, she’d gained a new respect for secrets and people who needed to keep them.
She supposed she could have plumbed it from his thoughts. But that temptation was one that she’d been struggling to control. It was a slippery slope before she had no regard for anyone’s privacy, and she didn’t want to become that person. At the moment, it was hard to imagine that Owen posed a real threat to the Coven.
“I will say,” Owen went on, “that of all the cave systems I’ve explored, this one appears to be the most vital. It’s difficult to explain. Perhaps it’s just me, but others I’ve visited have seemed somehow… stale. As if there was something there before, but no longer is.” He sighed, and begged Bailey’s indulgence with a dismissive wave of one hand. “I suppose I do romanticize it all a bit.”
“I understand entirely,” Bailey said, wistful for the days when the Caves were still a mystery, that sense of life she got from them still private. No matter how fantastic the truth had turned out to be, not knowing had been somehow infinitely more attractive. That was the way of things like that, she supposed. “Anything else I can answer for you?”
“There is,” Owen said, “one particular thing.” He walked purposefully toward the passage to the second cave, and bent over to peer into it. “In most of the cave systems I’ve seen elsewhere, there are typically a series of Seven Caves more or less above ground—as above ground as Caves are wont to be, mind you—and almost always an additional cave somewhere behind or below. Are you aware of any such cave in this complex?”
First Gloria, then Aiden, and now Owen. Bailey hadn’t yet been shown an eighth cave. She had to make a concerted effort not to snap when she answered him. “I believe that if there was an eighth cave,” she said, “I would know about it.” That was, if her trusted coven, the women who were shaping her into a witch and initiating her into the many mysteries of their tradition and the caves they called home, planned to actually tell her about it. Clearly, there was something to tell.
“I see,” Owen muttered. “Well, no matter. I have plenty of notes to compare with these caves alone.”
“Will you be joined by anyone else?” Bailey asked. “An assistant or a grad student of some kind?”
The Professor straightened, and turned, leaving the passage to the next cave behind. “You might be surprised to learn that I do not inspire a great deal of… shall we say… confidence in the academic resources which would fund even a single student to accompany me. In short… no, I do not.” He looked her over once; not in a leering sort of way, but with a kind of hopeful curiosity. “You must have a keen interest in these caves, to have become such a local expert on them. Where did you matriculate?”
Bailey folded her arms over her chest. What made him think she had to go to college to learn a thing? “The Library,” she said. “I don’t wait for any stuffy old teacher to spoon feed me an education; when I want to know something, I go and find it out myself.”
Rather than dismiss her like Bailey half-expected, Owen grinned at her conspiratorially. “The old boys do tend to blow a lot of wind, don’t they?” He chuckled. “I admire the pluck of a young person willing to work for knowledge. It’s the only real way to learn anything, you know—do for oneself, I always say. Well it has been a true delight to speak with you, Miss Robinson. I do believe we’ll see one another again, and quite soon I hope.”
He offered his hand again. It felt, somehow, as if his way of informing her the interaction was over now; she could move along with her day and leave him to his work. Bailey took it, and shook again. “Best of luck with all of your research,” she said. “I’d be very interested to hear more about it later on, when you’ve had some time to look around. I can suggest a few books we have in the library, if you like. I work there, too. It isn’t much”—and most of it was inaccurate—“but it might be useful.”
“Splendid, my girl,” Owen said. “Just splendid. Do set them aside for me if you please.”
When he let her hand go, he turned away from her, and pulled a small black notebook, worn from years of use, as well as a pencil from his hat. He immersed himself near-instantly in his study of the cave wall, flipping back and forth through his little book as he did. Bailey may as well have already left. She wondered if he would even notice if she stuck around and watched him. Probably not.
Somehow, that made her like him just a little more.
Still, she couldn’t imagine what Aiden was thinking, letting someone else come and poke around the caves after everything that had happened. So she left Professor Turner to his work, and scurried up the path to the office as quickly as she could without running. It was well after the end of the day, and if she moved quickly, she might have a chance to ask her boss that very question, even if she lamented of ever getting a straight answer from him.
Wizards, like witches, simply seemed incapable of answering a question directly.
When Bailey got to the office, she had to let herself in. The back door was locked, and she wondered if Aiden had already gone home for the day. She did find him there, however, and he wasn’t alone.
“Avery?” She asked when she saw her best friend sitting opposite Aiden at his desk in the office. Both men straightened when they saw her.
“Bailey,” Avery said, “we thought you’d left for the day.”
“I spent some time in the caves after the tours,” Bailey said. She frowned at them. “Is something the matter?”
“Not at all,” Aiden assured her. “Avery and I were just chatting. Keeping an eye on things, still trying to ascertain who it was that attempted to abscond with one of the stones.”
“Nothing so far,” Avery said. He shrugged. “Well, I was just heading out anyway. You headed to the Library?”
Bailey shook her head. “I’m making dinner for Dad tonight,” she said. “I promised.” A small lie. She’d be going by the Bakery first for a practice session with the Coven. But, Avery still didn’t know about them. Neither did Aiden, for that matter. The opportunity to tell the two of them hadn’t quite presented itself. As far as they knew, she was the only witch in town although she suspected that Aiden didn’t entirely believe that.
“Alright,” Avery said as he stood. “Well, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow then.” He smiled when he hugged her, and then gave Aiden a wave before he left them.
Bailey watched him go, and when the front door closed again she turned toward Aiden, one eyebrow up. “Anything I should know about?”
“Nothing you don’t already know,” Aiden said casually.
How to ask delicately… “Do you and Avery spend… a lot of time together?”
“We’re social,” Aiden admitted. “I consider him a friend, certainly. And Piper, to some extent, though I see her less often.”
Bailey sat down in the chair where Avery had sat. “And… you and Avery…?”
It took Aiden a moment to follow her. “Ah. I see,” he said when he caught on. “Our association is entirely platonic, I assure you.”
Somehow, that relaxed a bit of tension in Bailey. She’d gone on a date with Aiden, once, before either of them realized the other was part of a magical world—well, Bailey had known before then, but Aiden hadn’t known she’d known; it had gotten complicated quickly after that. For that matter, she supposed it had started out complicated, too.
Still, that didn’t mean that Aiden couldn’t be interested in both of them. But she had to admit, privately, that she was glad he wasn’t.
“It’s your business anyway,” she said. “I didn’t mean to pry. But listen, I just met Professor Turner, the archaeologist. He says you gave him permission to study the caves. Why didn’t I know about that?”
Aiden sighed, and leaned back in his chair. He threaded his fingers together and rested his hands over his stomach. He was in another suit that had been tailored to within an inch of its life and fit him perfectly, as always—one that Bailey hadn’t seen before. She’d never seen him wear the same one twice, in fact, and wondered just how many he had. Or, maybe it was just one suit, and some trick of wizard’s magic that made it look different? There was no way to know; Aiden was tight lipped about the particulars of what he could and couldn’t do with magic.
“I didn’t feel it warranted a consultation,” he said finally. “Though I do realize that you must be cautious about the presence of any scrutiny around the Caves. But, as you have said before, they do have a tendency to keep their secrets to themselves. I doubt we have anything to worry about.”
“But you know they’re sensitive,” Bailey said. “Why didn’t you just send him away? We don’t need that kind of risk.”
Aiden took that in stride, unoffended that Bailey was, essentially, telling him how to handle his affairs and his business. But he wasn’t swayed, either. “If I had turned him away,” he said patiently, “it would have aroused even more interest. People want what they cannot have; that’s a basic truth we too often can take for granted. This way, he can do his research, and move along convinced that he is still looking for the answers he seeks.”
She supposed he wasn’t wrong on that count. Still, she didn’t like it. “What if he does find something, though? And it goes public? The stones weren’t supposed to be able to be stolen, but they were. What if the magic of the Caves is… I don’t know, on the fritz or something? You said it yourself; they’ve been different since Martha was killed.”
“I’ll concede that point,” Aiden said. “We’ll just have to keep an eye on him. How did you get along with him?”
“Well enough,” Bailey said. “I think he likes me alright. Nerd to nerd.”
Aiden smiled. “Indeed. And he has to apprise me of anything he digs up down there. Metaphorically,” he added quickly when Bailey’s eyes widened. “He won’t actually be digging, I promise.”
“He’s going to be doing this every evening after tours?” Bailey wondered.
“Actually,” Aiden said, “I wanted to get this over with as quickly as possible. There won’t be any tours until he’s finished.”
Bailey stared. “The books, though,” she said, “they were full for the next week.”
“I rescheduled them,” Aiden said.
She winced. “A lot of those people will have been on vacation, Aiden; you can’t just inconvenience them like that.”
“And yet, I did. Most of them took it well enough; they’re probably hoping the investigation by Professor Turner will… ahem, ‘turn’ up some interesting new tidbits.” He smiled at his own joke.
Bailey did as well, though not right away. She tried not to, but Aiden looked so goofy enjoying himself that she couldn’t help it.
She groaned, and then shook off the last of her worry, or anyway made the attempt. “Fine. We’ll let him work. I don’t like it, though, for the record. Both inconveniencing our customers and letting someone get so familiar with the caves. It didn’t turn out well for Martha, you know.” Bailey winced. “Uh… sorry.” Aiden didn’t have proof, yet, but suspected that Martha had been his birth mother.
Whatever pain he’d once felt about the discovery, though, either wasn’t very acute anymore or he’d trained himself to cover it well. He just waved off the comment. “I doubt we’ll have anything to worry about,” Aiden said. “I’m not inclined to murder the man, I promise. And I can’t think of anyone else who would. Honestly, his work is rather obscure, and he hasn’t gotten a paper published since he was at Cambridge. I had him checked out—no one takes him seriously.”
“Cambridge?” Bailey asked. “Where you went to school?”
“The very same,” Aiden said. “Apparently, Professor Turner used to teach history and folklore at various times, until he was largely discredited and became something of a pariah in the academic community.” He shrugged. “I suppose if he could prove his thesis, whatever it is, then he might be redeemed. But I don’t think he really needs to be to keep going. He’s a true academic, you see—interested in the adventure of knowledge. Which is why, again, I don’t think we have anything to worry about.”
Bailey wasn’t so sure, but she could tell that Aiden was resolute in his position. Plus it was his business, and even technically his land. She supposed he could do whatever he wanted with it, short of destroying a historical landmark.
So Bailey left it like that. Aiden walked her to the door when she left, and they had a momentary hiccup of jerky movements and half-steps as they worked out whether to shake hands, hug, or just wave. They settled on a strange combination of the three and Bailey nearly pecked his cheek but stopped herself.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, then,” Bailey said. “Even without tours, I plan to come and check on the Professor and see how he’s coming along.”
“I would be shocked if you didn’t,” Aiden said. “Have a good night, Bailey.”
“You too,” she told him.
The door closed behind her, and Bailey made her way to the street.
When she did, she noticed a car. There were several parked there, but one in particular she had seen constantly over the past three weeks. Ever since the theft. It was Trevor’s car. He'd taken over the newspaper in town right after Poppy's murder and had worked with Ryan before. She knew it was his car—she’d seen him get out of it a few times—but at the moment he wasn’t in it. From the outside, it didn’t look like anyone was.
But when Bailey had walked about a halfway to the end of the street that led into downtown, she heard a car start, and looked back to see that the ‘empty’ car had its lights on and was pulling away from the street and driving away. Bailey only sighed, and wondered when that woman would finally give it up. Bailey deduced it was Gloria using Trevor's car. Gloria was the reporter who had followed Martha Tells to the Caves to hear her confession about the writings. When Martha was murdered it ruined Gloria's chances of a national scoop. Since then she remained in Coven Grove hoping to find out the secret of the caves, while also dating Trevor and following Bailey around town like a lost pup. She felt Bailey knew secrets and was determined to find out what they were.
That, however, was a fight for another day. Two was enough, and Bailey was already steeling herself for the third.