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“For the last time, Lily,” I said, not bothering to hide my impatience, “we are not using code names. There’s no need.”
“Copy that, Griffin. We are all set up on this end. Flower Child over and out.”
I rolled my eyes and pressed the “Talk” button again. “Simon? What about you?”
“I kind of like the code names,” came my friend’s amused voice.
“That’s not what—” I cut myself off and took a breath, pulling my knit hat down a little farther. It was late on a Wednesday night in December, and I was sitting cross-legged in the middle of Baseline Road in my hometown of Boulder, Colorado. My best friend, Lily, and her brother, Simon, were stationed at either end of the block, supposedly to direct traffic. Well, not “direct” so much as “ward off.” Simon and Lily were witches, and they could do a pretty nifty spell to keep humans away while I did my thing.
Of course, that was assuming I could get the two of them to stay on task. It was after midnight, they’d both had long days at their nonmagical jobs, and they were clearly getting a little punch-drunk.
Or maybe they were just creeped out. As trades witches who worked with regular magic, the Pellars couldn’t actually see the two children who ran skipping into this street every night after dark: the kids were remnants, minor ghosts who acted out the moment of their deaths over and over again in a loop, sometimes for centuries. They weren’t sentient, and they couldn’t hurt anyone, but even if you were used to seeing them, they were still kind of spooky. Then again, sometimes I wondered if it was more unsettling to see the remnants or to not see them but know they were there.
I pushed the button and tried again. “What I meant was, are you ready on your side, Simon?”
“Simon?” Then I got it, and fought the urge to spike the walkie-talkie into the street. My boss, Maven, had gotten special encrypted handsets for me, just for this project, and they were probably expensive as hell. I sighed and said, “Are you ready on your side . . . Phoenix?”
“Ready over here, Griffin,” Simon chirped. I heard Lily cackling over the line.
I clenched my teeth. Unlike my friends, I had been in the army, where we had actual missions and, yes, call signs. Using Lily’s pop-culture version of military speak felt to me like playing with emotional matches, but I kept reminding myself that the Pellars were just having fun. And that they were out here in the cold in the middle of the night, using their sad excuse for spare time to help me. “All right,” I said, “I’m going radio silent now, guys.”
I turned the knob on the handset before Lily could respond. Tossing the handset on top of my backpack, I made myself glance over my shoulder. I’d been trying to avoid getting distracted by the remnants, but considering what I was about to do, it seemed more respectful to face them.