The Girl from Everywhere (The Girl from Everywhere #1)(6) by Heidi Heilig

“You’re coming with me?”

“I thought I could help,” I said, but he just stared at me. “Give you a second pair of eyes? In case it’s a forgery or a copy or something.”

His face darkened. “It’s not a forgery.”

I tried to laugh, but it came out like a cough. “I’ve seen your other 1868s, Slate. Some of them were practically drawn in crayon.”

“Christie’s doesn’t sell fakes.”

“They did a couple years ago, actually. A painting called Odalisque. Big scandal.”

He opened his mouth, shut it again, then ran his hand over his scalp, tousling his carefully combed hair. “I’m going to be late.”

“Then let’s go.”

I shook Kashmir awake, and the three of us took the subway from Brooklyn to Rockefeller Center, emerging into a sea of sundry New Yorkers, both permanent and temporary: texters looking down and tourists looking up, and crowds of girls my age waiting to scream for some celebrity outside NBC Studios. Christie’s auction house was a large limestone building located at the south side of the plaza, where flags in all colors from all nations snapped in the summer air.

Kash and I accompanied the captain as far as the lobby, where the security guard put down his newspaper and asked for government-issued ID as he eyeballed Kashmir, who wore his white linen shirt in his typical fashion, unbuttoned nearly to his waist, and me, with my black nails and my tattered hoodie. Slate was the only one with a valid card.

The guard made a call from the phone behind his desk, staring at Kashmir the whole time. When he hung up, he shook his head and apologized in a way that made it clear that he had no regrets; Slate spread his hands and started toward the elevators. “Sorry, kiddo. I’ll be back in a bit.”

“But Dad—”

He turned back to take my hands in his. “Everything’s going to be fine, Nixie. Trust me.” Then he threw me a hopeful grin over his shoulder, leaving so quickly the elevator doors closed before I could respond.

But what good would a response have done? There was no argument that would change his mind. I’d tried them all before, the last time he’d found a map from 1868. I watched the elevator lights tick up through the floors, glowing and fading like fish in the deep sea; there was a pressure in my chest as though I were a hundred feet underwater. In a gallery several floors above me, the map dangled like the sword of Damocles.

I started when the security guard picked up his paper with a rustle and a flourish, flashing the front-page story: WHOA THERE, TIGER! The big cats in the photo were familiar; they lay tranquilized in the rear of a police van. Kashmir caught my eye and winked. With a confidence that I could never emulate, he strolled right up to the commissioned mural on the long wall, inspecting it so closely as to be breathing on the paint.

I nibbled my thumbnail until I tasted varnish. What was happening up there? Had the auction begun? Were others bidding, and if so, how high? I pulled out my cell phone and blinked at the screen—only eight minutes had passed. For something to do, I began to clear my inbox of all the emails I’d received since we’d last been here and now, but it depressed me to scan and delete all the events gone by, all the talks I’d never hear. I put the phone back in my pocket and watched the security guard, who had laid down the paper on his desk and was glaring at Kash with his jaw clenched. No matter the era, cops never liked Kashmir.

Kashmir strolled the length of the painting at a distance of three inches not once, but twice, pausing at the end to read the title aloud (“Wall Drawing Number Eight Ninety-Six,” he said with a sniff. “I much preferred number five thirty-two, didn’t you, amira?”) and commenting on the color (“So intense, almost . . . vulgar?”) as well as the texture (“The glossy finish, it appears . . . moist . . .”), his voice echoing all the way to the top of the triple-height lobby. The security guard sighed audibly.

After nearly an hour of this, during which I checked the time, on average, every seven minutes, I finally took Kashmir’s arm and steered him toward the glass-and-bronze doors. “I need some air.”

“Just a moment, amira.” He slipped out of my grasp to trot back to the guard, leaning in over the desk. “Alas, ya sidi, it seems she’s not an art lover!” Then he jogged toward me and whisked me through the doors.

“I didn’t know you were such a connoisseur yourself,” I said out on the sidewalk.

He tugged my hood over my eyes, laughing at my expression. “I’ve never stolen art. But it’s always good to be prepared, in case the opportunity should arise. Did I embarrass you?”

“Yes. And you know it. ‘Ya sidi’?”

“I was just having fun. Let me make it up to you. I saw a cupcake place a block away.”

“I haven’t got any American dollars.”

“So?”

“No, Kashmir. We’ve had enough people chasing us this week. Did you see the picture on the front page?”

“I most certainly did.” He pulled a folded copy of the Daily News out of the waistband of his pants and opened it to page two. “It’s a good photo but their headlines are such drivel.”

“Is that—”

“It was.”

“Kashmir!”

“Newspapers are like umbrellas. If you put one down, someone else will pick it up. Besides, his lips were moving while he read. And I knew you’d want it.”

I grabbed the paper—if only to stop him from waving it around, in case the guard came out after us—and shoved it under my hoodie. After a moment, I took it back out and scanned the story: the tigers had been handed over safely to the zoo’s veterinarian.

“Thanks.” I folded the paper and put it in my bag.

“Of course, amira.” Something in the tone of his voice caught me. It dawned on me then: he hadn’t been putting on the act to irritate the security guard, but to entertain me.

“Thanks,” I said again, softly.

He shrugged. “It passes the time. Speaking of which, the other day you were about to tell me something complicated.” He was quiet; so was I. Then he pushed my hood back gently, his fingers grazing my ear. “Come on, amira. What’s in Honolulu that the captain needs so badly?”

I bit my lip, glancing back toward Christie’s, then down at the pavement under my shoes. The mica in the concrete glimmered in the sunlight. “My mother. She died there in 1868, the day I was born.”

I couldn’t look at Kashmir; I feared seeing pity in his eyes. Instead, I leaned against the wall, my arms crossed, watching the people passing by. “Slate got to Hawaii on an old map by Augustus Mitchell—1866, ‘The Sandwich Isles.’ He still has it in the box he keeps under his bed.”

“I didn’t know you were part Hawaiian.”

I shook my head. “Half Chinese. Lot of immigrants worked on the sugar plantations. Slate met my mother in an opium den.”

“Ah.”

“Not like that! Well, not her. Lin worked there. She never touched it except to make up pipes. Made sure he stopped too. I wish I knew how she’d done it.” I tried to smile, but it came out twisted. “I suppose if he has his way, I’ll be able to ask her.”

“So that’s why he wanted the bird.”

“The bird is strong medicine, but she died from an infection. Penicillin would likely have worked just as well.”

Kashmir’s brow was furrowed, and behind his eyes, questions were forming. “Then why didn’t he bring her some?”

“Slate was at sea. He didn’t even know she was expecting.” I sighed. I’d had to ask Rotgut to tell me the whole story; Slate refused to talk about it. “He needed money so they could get married and live happily ever after in paradise. And he had a map of Hong Kong in 1850, and the next edition of the Honolulu map from 1869. So he went to China to smuggle back some opium to sell. He sailed out in early 1868, and by the time he came back in 1869, I was there and . . . my mother was not.”

“And so he’s looking for a map of 1868 to save her.” Kashmir had his hand on his chin, and his eyes were far away. “But can he actually change the past?”

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