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Authors: Lisa Graff

Tags: #Action & Adventure, #Family, #Juvenile Fiction, #Fantasy & Magic, #General, #Orphans & Foster Homes

A Tangle of Knots (7 page)

BOOK: A Tangle of Knots
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12

The Owner

T
HE ENORMOUS TOOTHPICK THE OWNER HAD FOUND THAT
morning turned out to be perfect for dislodging that stubborn bit of sausage in his back molar, even if it did look a peculiar thing—beige and cracked and knobby, as wide as a rib of celery and as long as a pencil. He continued to chivy the sausage, his face deep in his book, as the front door let out a loud
wha-pop!
It wasn’t long before it
wha-pop!
ed again, and then—
wha-pop!
—a third time. The Owner tapped his foot more quickly against the air. He’d
told
Toby all these new tenants would be nothing but a nuisance.

“Hello?” called a man’s voice from the door. “Anyone here?”

The Owner flicked his eyes from his novel only long enough to notice that the voice did not belong to a tenant, but (perhaps even more dreadfully) a customer. “Store’s open,” the Owner replied, still picking at his teeth. “Skis and prescription eyewear half off today.”

The store had been sold out of skis and prescription eyewear for three years.

“Oh, I’m not looking to purchase anything,” the man replied. His steps drew closer to the counter. “Actually, I was hoping I might sell
you
something.”

The Owner hitched up his head. There, standing ten feet from the register, was a large man—towering, really—in a gray suit. He might have been forty, he might have been older.

He was carrying a powder blue suitcase.

The toothpick froze in the Owner’s mouth. “Where did you find that?”

The man in the gray suit followed the Owner’s gaze to the suitcase in his hand. It was sturdy but well-loved, boxy and large as a small child. “The St. Anthony’s?” he asked. “It found me, actually, about eight years ago. Been around the world a couple times before we met, I believe.” He chortled, while the Owner tapped a silent
rat-a-tat-tat
against the air.

Thirty-six. This was number thirty-six.

When Toby had returned from his luggage run last week, with the thirty-fifth St. Anthony’s suitcase sitting on that malnourished orphan girl’s lap, the Owner had thought
that
was a miracle (even if what he’d been searching for hadn’t been inside). But now the thirty-sixth suitcase had just walked right up and found him, after all this time. It had taken the Owner over half a century, but at last every St. Anthony’s suitcase ever made was inside the walls of his store.

“How much are you asking for it?” the Owner demanded.

“Oh, the suitcase isn’t for sale. I’m in the business of utensils.”

“Utensils?”

“And knickknacks, yes.” The man in the gray suit grinned a sideways sort of grin. It was a grin that suggested he knew more about the world than he was letting on. “Small kitchen objects of all sorts, really.”

The Owner noticed something peeking out from the bottom hem of the man’s gray jacket. Several, were they . . . knots? Yes, knots of rope.

A gear clicked to life in the Owner’s old rusty brain. He slipped the large toothpick into the pocket of his slacks (it let out a soft
clunk!
as it hit the jar beside it, but the man in the gray suit did not seem to notice). Then he lifted up the hinged section of the countertop and floated closer to the curious man. Slowly. Purposefully. He inspected him bottom to tip-tip-top.

“Have we met before?” the Owner asked.

The man in the gray suit laughed a guffaw of a laugh. “I think I’d remember a fellow like you,” he said, pointing down at the Owner’s feet, two inches off the ground. “It’s not every day you come across someone with such a Talent.”

The Owner scratched his cheek. The click in his brain dulled to a low buzzing.

“So,” the salesman continued, “might I interest you in any knickknacks, then? I’ve got mashers, peelers, dicers, whatever you like. You’re my last stop before I head to the shop to pick up my hot air balloon.” He drummed his large fingers on the suitcase, just beside the three small dimples. “I had quite an accident last week, lucky to be alive, really. But the thing’s almost fixed. Which utensil did you say you were interested in?”

The Owner’s old rusty brain shook itself back into action. He leaned across the countertop to clang open the register. “I’ll take the whole lot,” he told the salesman, “provided you sell me that suitcase as well.” And, with an agility he hadn’t been able to muster in years, the Owner swept his hands through the register drawers, plucking out every last bill. “That ought to be enough, don’t you think?” He handed the salesman the money—all of it—without even bothering to count.

The man in the gray suit kept the sideways grin on his face as he handed over the suitcase. “Pleasure doing business with you,” he said.

The Owner allowed himself a tiny breath of contentment as he took hold of the suitcase. Number thirty-six. “The pleasure was all mine,” he said. And then he reached his right hand into his pants pocket for the jar, squeezing the icy chill out of his palm.

Plunk!

His feet firmly on the ground, the Owner stretched out his hand to shake.

13

Marigold

P
LAYING THE OBOE ALWAYS MADE MARIGOLD’S MOUTH DRY AS
cotton. She licked her lips and darted her eyes to the clock on the dresser.

Nine more minutes before her hour of practice was over. She sighed and began the song again. But no matter how hard she tried to position her tongue and her lips and her fingers the way Maestro Messina instructed, the notes still came out sour. She shot an anxious look at the freckled patch of skin on her wrist, where her red Talent bracelet with the shiny silver beads usually sat. Last night she’d slipped the bracelet over her bedpost before she went to sleep, the way she did every evening, but when she’d woken up this morning it had vanished. She couldn’t find it anywhere. Marigold felt almost naked without it.

A soft creak in the floorboards compelled Marigold to look up from her music book.

Standing there, seeming lost and a little bewildered, was a woman of about sixty. She was thin, wiry, with short gray hair. Marigold could just make out the locket around her neck, the silver oval with the single letter engraved on it.

“You must be V,” Marigold said, even though she knew the woman wouldn’t reply. It was only polite, in any case. She set the oboe in her lap. “I’m Marigold.”

The woman continued to stare at her.

No, she wasn’t staring at
Marigold.
She was staring at the oboe.

“You want to see it?” Marigold asked, inviting the woman into the room with a wave of her arm.

Seeming to understand the offer, V picked her way over to the bed and sat down gingerly. Marigold handed her the oboe, wondering if perhaps this mysterious woman was a Talented oboist. Wouldn’t that be something? If Marigold discovered her Talent in less than a minute?

The woman held the oboe like it was a popsicle about to melt through her fingers.

“Like this,” Marigold said, motioning with her hands. “And your lips go . . .” She rolled her top lip, just the way Maestro Messina had showed her so many times. “Yes! Just like that. Then your fingers go on the keys like”—she helped V place them—“and you blow.”

V had never played an oboe before, that was clear from her first weak note. And she certainly wasn’t Talented, that was clear from the second one. But she had . . . something. Something that Marigold couldn’t put her finger on.

“You’re starting out better than I did,” Marigold told her with a smile. “Here, breathe from down here.” She placed a hand on her own stomach, right in the gut. “That’s where your power comes from.” And although Marigold knew that V couldn’t understand the words she was saying, somehow she deciphered the meaning. V began to sit up a little straighter, breathe a little deeper. “Wonderful!” Marigold cried when the next note came out clearer.

“I see you’ve met our newest housemate.” Marigold looked up to see her mother in the door frame. “Is she bothering you while you practice?”

Marigold shook her head. “Nah,” she said, turning her attention back to V, who was experimenting with her fingers on different keys. “She’s not bad, actually.”

Mrs. Asher glanced at her watch. “Goodness, it’s later than I thought. I have to get to the yarn shop. Can you do me a favor, Mari?”

“Yeah?”

“I meant to put together a care package for your father this morning, but I’ve run clear out of time. Will you pack it up for me? Everything’s in a pile on my bed, but it needs a box. Or maybe the Owner will let you use one of those old suitcases downstairs, if you ask nicely.”

Marigold’s lips turned into a pout. “Aw, Mom, can’t Zane do it? Cady said she’d help me Talent-hunt before the bakeoff.”

Her mother’s cheeks went taut. “Zane is watching Will at the moment, so, no, young lady, he can’t do it.”

Marigold had no idea what her brother was up to at that moment, but it certainly wasn’t watching Will. Up to no good, more likely. Just like always. Marigold knew, from the letter she’d shamefully steamed open before secretly resealing and returning it to her mother’s car, that Zane was in it up to his neck this time. Talking back, ditching class, spitting (of course). Apparently he had even been accused of stealing valuables from his classmates and teachers to sell at Louie’s Pawn Shop in town.

“You’re my responsible one, Marigold,” her mother went on, “and I would like you to do this simple favor for your father. You’ll have plenty of time for Talent-fishing later.”

“Talent-
hunting,
” Marigold grumbled, but she knew her arguing was over.

Maybe it wouldn’t hurt if she were a
little
more like Zane, a pain in the neck who didn’t care what anybody thought of him. She’d spit at the world—
ptew!
—and see how they liked it.

“Thank you, sweetie.” Mrs. Asher’s voice softened when she realized she’d won. “I already filled out a label for the package with your father’s New Jersey address. Make sure to get it together before the mail pickup today, will you? Toby said the postwoman usually comes about noon.”

“Okay,” Marigold replied.
Someone
had to be the good one, after all.

14

Will

O
N HIS HANDS AND KNEES, WILL CRAWLED AROUND ANOTHER
corner. “Sally?” he called again. The name echoed through the twists and turns of the air vent.
“Sally-Sally-Sally?”
Will perked his ears up as the sound faded, but he did not hear his ferret’s telltale
click-click-clack.

Sally had been lost all morning. She’d probably found something shiny and gone off to hide it. Will climbed as the vent sloped up, up, up to the second floor of the Emporium. He clung tight to the walls with his fingertips.

“Sally-Sally-Sally?”

Nothing but dust.

Will continued to search until he found a trickle of light, shining up into the vent. “Sally?” he whispered. There was a noise, like a door being tucked closed. Belly flat, Will scooched his way to the zigzag of light and pressed his face against the cold metal grate, peering down onto the bedroom below.

It wasn’t Sally.

Will couldn’t make out the face of the man banging objects about on the bookshelf, but he knew right away that it was the Owner because of his salt-and-pepper hair. It was the Owner, no question.

So why were the man’s feet planted firmly on the ground?

BOOK: A Tangle of Knots
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