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The New Houdini 19

"If you're as good as you say you wouldn't be afraid of dying," she shot back. "Where's Peter?"

He waggled his eyebrows at her, his nondescript face breaking into a smile. "Your friend Ben's contribution has made him a bit more stable, but it's still exhausting for him to move around in the world," he explained. He swept a fancy bow, a strange contradiction with his ratty clothes. "So, me. And him," he added as an afterthought, glancing toward Ben, who stalked through the shelves toppling art pieces at random. "But he doesn't count. He fights a bit too much up here." He tapped the side of his head.

Bile rose in Max's throat. So Ben was still somewhere inside his own head, fighting a losing battle for control. "You're horrible. I can't believe I learned Shakespeare from you."

She turned and looked through the shelves as quickly as she could, abandoning one aisle to search in the next, turning things over to look beneath them and making as much noise as Ben. The two of them checked each basket and shelf, Ben ignoring every brush of Max against him and every whispered plea between bins. Max's teacher looking on in idle amusement.

"It's really not here if you can't find it." Mr. Curry's voice was calm, the statement a fact. He rested now against a shelf, twisting a bauble between his fingers. "Especially with the boy in the same room. He is trained to look for nothing else."

"He's trained as a violinist," Max spat. "First chair."

Mr. Curry's smile widened. "That kind of violin?"

He poked at a mess of wood and strings with his loafered feet. Ben had broken it, smashed it down without a thought when he determined it wasn't an Artifact. He hadn't seemed to recognize it. Max looked away.

She was taking a seriously long bathroom break. Chuck stretched out his long legs in front of him, his knees tapping the back of the chair in front of him, and ignored the dark looks of the woman sitting in it. The movers had brought out four separate items over half an hour ago, each covered in cloth for dramatic effect. Belmouth could never get enough of dramatic effects. The first three items had been uninteresting. Chuck wondered if Max was maybe feeling sick. She had certainly looked sick when they first entered the reception hall.

The woman on stage trimmed the wick for a new candle.

"Next item," Barrett announced. "An exciting one. Number sixteen-oh-two."

Chuck sat up. That sounded like –

"A sphere of blue amber from the Dominican Republic, six inches in diameter, polished and cut with a design of an open eye in the center, no visible streaks."

Where, where the hell was Max?

The woman lifted the edge of the black cloth with relish, lingering until the crowd's curiosity hit its peak. With a flourish, she pulled off the cloth to reveal the stone that sat on a velvet dais like a king. It was small globe, smaller than a baseball, but when the lights of the stage shone on it the rock seemed to grab at the light and hold it for itself. It glowed blue and orange and angry red like a fire banked in a hearth. The design of the staring eye was barely visible amid the flashes of color.

A murmur rushed through the crowd. Chuck had studied the photos, had memorized the dimensions of the stone. He had grown up surrounded by beautiful things all his life. There was no reason for him to be impressed. Yet he was.

The candle was lit and the bidding began. Chuck had not been the only person impressed by the stone; more people opened the bidding than he had expected, and the auction that had been losing ground with boring items suddenly picked up speed. In response Barrett spoke less and gestured more, saying only prices and paddle numbers, no longer cajoling people into placing bids. The flame of the candle wavered with all of the movement. In minutes the price entered the four-digit range.

Chuck raised his paddle.

Number eighteen did the same.

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