I frowned at my apprentice.
Molly shrugged. "Her emotions are really loud. I'm not even trying to pick anything up."
"Okay," I said.
"Is she on the level?"
I thought about it for a second before I answered. "She's Mab's BFF."
"So that would be a no, then," Molly said.
"Probably so," I said. "There's bound to be an angle here, even if she doesn't know that there is one. She's a pawn in Winter. Somebody has got to be moving her."
"She's also a lifelong survivor in Winter, so don't let your guard down. The last creature who did wound up as frozen kibble." I jerked my head toward the exit. "Heard anything from the scouts yet?"
She shook her head.
"Okay. We'll talk to her. Stay close. I might need to pick your brain about something later."
"Right," Molly said, blinking a little. Then she followed me back over to Sarissa.
She gave me a nervous smile, and her fingers resettled on the mug a couple of times. "Harry."
"I didn't realize you made house calls all the way to Chicago," I said.
"I wish it were that," she said.
I nodded. "How did you know where to find me?"
"I was given directions," she said.
She swallowed and looked down at the tabletop. "The Redcap."
I sat back slowly in my seat. "Maybe you'd better tell me what happened."
"He came for me," she said quietly, without meeting my eyes. "He came this morning. I was hooded, bound, and taken somewhere. I don't know where. I was there for several hours. Then he came back, took my hood off, and sent me here. With this."
She reached down to her lap and put a plain white envelope on the table. She pushed it toward me.
I took it. It wasn't sealed. I opened it, frowned, and then turned it upside down over the table.
Several tufts of hair bound with small bits of string fell out, along with a small metal object.
Molly drew in a sharp breath.
"He said to tell you that he's taken your friends," Sarissa said quietly.
I picked up the tufts of hair one at a time. Wiry black, slightly crinkled hairs, sprinkled with silver ones. Butters. Red hairs, luscious and curly. Andi. And a long, soft, slightly wavy lock of pure white hair. I lifted it to my nose and sniffed. Strawberries. I let out a soft curse.
"Who?" Molly asked, her voice worried.
"Justine," I said.
I picked up the metal object. It was a plain bottle cap, slightly dented where it had been removed.
"And Mac," I said quietly. "He had someone following me everywhere I went. He took someone from each place."
"He told me to tell you," Sarissa said, "that he'll trade them all for you, if you surrender to him before sundown."
"And if I don't?" I asked.
"He'll give their bones to the rawhead," she whispered.
"Okay," I said into it. "I've just about had enough of that clown."
Molly looked up at me, her eyes worried. "You sure?"
"Guy gets his jollies dipping his hat in people's blood," I said.
"You can bargain with the Sidhe sometimes," Molly said.
"But not this time," I said, my voice hard. "If we do, he'll keep the letter of his word and he'll make sure they don't make it out anyway. The only way we're getting our friends back is to take them away from him."
Molly grimaced, but after a moment, she nodded.
I picked up the clumps of hair and put them in a neat row on the table. "Molly."
"On it," she said, collecting them.
"What are you doing?" Sarissa asked, her eyes wide.
"The jerk was kind enough to give me some fresh cuttings from my friends," I said. "I'm going to use them to track him down and thwart him."
"Thwart?" Sarissa asked.
"Thwart," I said. "To prevent someone from accomplishing something by means of visiting gratuitous violence upon his smarmy person."
"I'm pretty sure that isn't the definition," Sarissa said.
"It is today." I raised my voice. "Cat Sith. I need your assistance, please."
Sarissa went completely still when I spoke, like a rabbit who has sensed a nearby predator. Her eyes widened, then flicked around the room, seeking escape.
"It's okay," I told her. "I'm getting along with him."
"You're a wizard and the Winter Knight," Sarissa hissed. "You have no idea how vicious that creature is, and I don't have the Queen's aegis protecting me."
"You have mine," I said. I raised my voice, annoyed. "Cat Sith! Kittykittykittykitty!"
"Are you insane?" Sarissa hissed.
"He might not be able to get through, Harry," Molly said. "It's not just a threshold here. The svartalves have wards over the building as well."
"Makes sense," I said. "Be right back."
I went out and looked around, but Sith didn't appear. I called his name a third time, which as we all know is the charm. With beings of the Nevernever it's a literal truth. I mean, it's not an irresistible force, like gravity-it's more like a kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder that happens to be present, to varying degrees, in most of them. They respond, strongly, to things that happen in threes, be they requests, insults, or commands. So in a way, three really is a magic number.
Hell. Just ask menage-a-Thomas. Jerk.
I waited for a while, even going so far as to turn about and take a few steps backward before turning forward again, just to give Sith some really rich opportunities to appear abruptly and startle me.
Except he didn't.
I got a slow, squirmy feeling in the pit of my stomach. The rain was still falling in spits and showers, but the clouds had begun to gain the tint of a slow autumn sundown. Sith had always appeared almost instantly before.
Had Mab been setting me up? Had she given me the eldest malk's assistance so that she could pull the rug out from under me when I needed Sith the most? Had she gotten the Nemesis brainmold?
I hadn't seen Sith since the confrontation at the gardens. Had the enemy Sidhe brought him down?
Or worse, the adversary?
I felt actively sick to my stomach. If Cat Sith had been turned, there was no telling how much damage he might cause. Especially to me.
I felt a little stupid about the kittykittykitty thing. Hopefully, he hadn't been listening.
I went back into the apartment, pensive.