Don't Hex with Texas

Page 15


I got out of Mom’s car to walk around, hoping the fresh air would clear my head. It was hard to tell what on the courthouse really belonged there and what might be new or unusual, considering what a mishmash of architectural styles it was. Different parts had been built in different eras, with the older parts remodeled in odd ways over the years, so that there were Gothic gargoyles perched on Art Deco arches. I remembered all the lectures from junior high art class when we’d taken field trips to sketch the courthouse. Too bad I didn’t still have those drawings, I thought. They’d have helped me be more sure of what I was seeing.
At the far side of the courthouse, near the gazebo that was part of the Civil War memorial, I saw a figure that didn’t seem to belong. He wore a rough, hooded robe that made him look more like a Jedi Knight than like a wizard. Then again, I hadn’t ever seen any wizards wearing robes, except at a costume party. Even Merlin wore business suits these days. I hid behind a crepe myrtle bush to watch him.
He danced around, waving his arms, and I thought I heard something that might have been chanting, though I was too far away to hear it clearly. He was certainly putting out more effort than I ever saw from the wizards I knew. They usually just waved a hand and muttered a few words to get what they wanted. My necklace hummed slightly against my chest, but it was perhaps the weakest response I’d ever noticed from it. After a while, the arms on the statue in front of the robed figure shivered, and the statue seemed to wake up. The robed figure then jumped up and down for joy. While he was jumping, the statue went back to its usual position and froze. I could hear his groan of frustration quite clearly when he noticed that.
The clock in the courthouse tower chimed five, and soon all the county workers came spilling down the front steps of the courthouse. The robed figure turned to face the sidewalk and waved his arms vigorously. My necklace shivered ever so slightly. Nobody seemed to notice that there was anything unusual happening. Every so often, one of the workers would go glassy-eyed for a second, and then he’d put some money on the ground in front of the robed figure before heading down the sidewalk. A few steps later, the worker would stumble, look disoriented for a second, and then go on his way.
I bit my tongue to keep myself from gasping out loud. I’d seen something like that once before, when Owen had tested one of Phelan Idris’s control spells.
I wouldn’t have believed if I hadn’t seen it for myself, but it looked like the least magical place on earth now had a town wizard.
M y first impulse was to run at the wizard and tackle him to pull off his robes and uncover his identity, but I held back. His spells might not have been able to hurt me, but physical sticks and stones could break my bones. Not to mention the fact that assault and battery were considered crimes, and I was in the town square where both the county sheriff’s department and the city police department were housed. I didn’t think “but he was doing magic” would count as a valid excuse for an attack.
And then I realized that spying on the guy the way I was might not be the best idea, either. The wizard was definitely veiling himself and his activities from nonmagical people, judging from the lack of reaction to him. I had no such protection. Anyone who walked past would see me lurking around the courthouse grounds for no apparent reason. I guessed I could have approached him to talk to him and find out what his intentions were, but in case he wasn’t one of the good guys, I didn’t want to expose myself as a magical immune. That was my secret weapon, my ace up the sleeve. I’d need to know more before I could take any action.
A woman leaving the courthouse gave me a funny look, and I made a show of bending to examine a flowering bush. Then I smiled at her and said, “That new plant food we sold the county sure made the azaleas do well this year.” When she’d walked past, I turned back to see what the wizard was doing, but he was gone. I didn’t see a sign of him anywhere around the square. I somehow doubted he’d magically teleported away, given how weak his magic seemed to be, but he could have taken off his robes while my back was turned and blended into the flow of courthouse workers leaving for the day.
I made a circuit of the square, pausing to look at various plants I passed along the way so I’d have a good cover story for my strange behavior. Teddy did that kind of thing on a regular basis, so no one should have found it particularly odd for me to do it. Sometimes there are benefits to coming from a family known for its share of oddities. Finally convinced that I’d let my quarry get away, I headed to Mom’s car so I could drive to the feed store.
It proved to be empty of customers at closing time, but full of family. Even Dean was hanging around, leaning against the front counter. He had almost enough sweat beading on his forehead for me to imagine he might have done real work that afternoon. Mom and Sherri were the only ones not there. “Wow, did someone decide to throw a family reunion without letting me know?” I asked.