Eddie crouched next to Tim in a gap in the hedges. The back porch of the mayor's mansion was only a short sprint away.
"What if the mayor's in there?" Eddie asked, studying the windows along the back wall. "What if he wasn't abducted, and he's in there with the flu or muskrat pox or something?"
Tim shook his head. "His butler couldn't find him. Neither could his nephew."
"We can't expect to simply walk in, can we?"
"I don't know. There's no one inside."
"What about the butler?"
"The butler got knocked out last night by the dragon. He's at the healing house."
"And what are we looking for again?"
"A blue hooded cloak. It shouldn't be too hard to find."
Eddie sized up the mansion before him, two stories high and as wide as a castle. It would take hours to search. "And the cloak will protect us from the dragon rider?"
Tim shrugged. "That's the theory. I've seen the mayor wear it when rogue wizards or marauders are known to be about. It won't be tucked in a box in the attic."
"But if it's so valuable..." Eddie began, but Tim had already set out across the back lawn, running crouched over along the hedges. Eddie groaned and followed.
They ran along the perimeter of the back lawn, then cut in and ducked behind a fountain. After a quick scan, and before Eddie could urge caution, Tim raced to the back door. Eddie hesitated a moment longer before following.
"Have you ever been inside?" Eddie asked, crouching beside the door.
"No." Tim peered into a back window.
"There's no way we can break in. A place this fancy will have heavy duty locks."
Tim fished in his pocket and pulled out a small strip of metal and a heavy wire. "I know a thing or two about locks. Leave it to me." He crouched beside the door knob.
"I don't want to go back to jail."
"But you want to save the girl."
Eddie sighed. "Yes."
Tim fiddled with the keyhole for a moment. He stopped. "Wait a minute." He turned the doorknob. It moved freely. The door swung open.
Eddie shook his head. "There's no way it's this easy."
Tim smiled. "Have faith. Think of this as the universe's way of telling us we're on the right track." He pushed the door open and slipped inside.
"The universe has a way of slapping me in the face when I think things are going my way," Eddie grumbled. He took one last look around and followed Tim.
They stood inside a dim kitchen, every surface white marble or polished chrome. The odors of bleach and onions and hardwood saturated the air. The silence of the house stilled them.
"What now?" Eddie whispered.
"You don't have to whisper," Tim said. "There's no one here."
"Okay," Eddie whispered.
"I say we get a general feel for the house, then split up and cover as much ground as possible."
Eddie nodded. They walked to the kitchen door, Eddie tiptoeing all the way.
"There's no reason to be so nervous," Tim said as he opened the door. "There's nothing here that can—"
A feral snarl froze them both, followed by a barrage of vicious barking that sent them both backpedaling. The dog was massive, as big and muscular as a mountain lion. It leapt into the kitchen after them. Eddie only caught a glimpse of the wild beast before he turned, slammed into a table and fell backwards, his head smashing into the floor as a stack of pots and pans clattered and clanged down around him.
He lay delirious, the vicious growls and snarls of the domestic predator echoing in his head along with a muted buzz. He stared at the ceiling, shadows shifting above him. He couldn't tell if a second or a minute had passed. Then reality hit him. He was under attack. He bolted upright.
The snarls continued, from beyond the table, out of his sight. Eddie stood, eyes peering warily over the top of the table.
the dog was there, feet propped up on a counter by the window, snarling at Tim, who now peered through the glass from outside. Eddie stared. The dog was there, but... wasn't. Eddie rubbed his eyes and looked again.
The dog was transparent, his colors washed out as if he were part of a black and white movie projection.
There was no way Eddie could slip out the door without the dog noticing. Would it tear him apart, or would it pass through him? Eddie wasn't sure he wanted to find out. He took one sidestep, moving to keep the table between himself and the dog. His foot came down on the handle of one of the fallen pans. He stumbled, and the pan clattered away. The dog turned.
Eddie climbed onto the table. The dog careened around it, stopped at the pan Eddie had bumped and sniffed at it. It didn't seem to notice him at all.
Eddie watched, scratching his head. He turned to Tim who watched through the window. Tim shrugged, as confused as Eddie was. The ghost dog scanned the kitchen. It had to have seen Eddie, but it acted as if he were not there.
Tim waved his hands to get Eddie's attention. He mouthed a few words. Eddie couldn't make sense of him. He squinted. Tim repeated his pantomimed speech, waving his hands this time. When Eddie shrugged, Tim shouted, "I don't think he can see you!"
The dog spun and ran back to the window. It leapt and snarled and barked at Tim's face.
Eddie crept off the table. How had this ghost dog missed him? He made a soft shushing sound. The dog didn't acknowledge him. "Hey," Eddie whispered. The dog kept its eyes on Tim.
Tim pointed at Eddie. "Go look for the cloak," he shouted.
Eddie moved towards the inner door. It creaked a bit as it moved, and the dog's head darted around. Tim waved his arms. He sang, " Hello my honey, hello my baby, hello my ragtime gal ..." The dog snarled and growled, ignoring Eddie entirely.
Eddie half expected more supernatural creatures waiting for him in the hallway. Nothing happened. Oak wood panels, rococo paintings, and ornate vases on tables lined the corridor. Eddie scanned for anything unusual, something that would indicate this was the home of a powerful wizard. Instead, he only found signs of wealth and taste. He tiptoed out into the main hall. Suits of armor, stood like sentinels, one beside each staircase that rounded a broad chandelier, curving upwards to the second floor. Eddie waited for the hollow suits to turn and strike him. If he were a wizard, he'd enchant them to do just that.
Nothing moved. He trudged into the center of the hall, daring the figures to come to life. Nothing.
"Where would I hide a magic cloak," he asked himself, knowing this too might trigger something into action. He waited a beat, then said, "If I had a cloak that protected me, I'd want it close to where I sleep, in case I'm surprised in the night." This thought led to another. What if the mayor had been wearing his cloak when he was abducted?
On the second floor, Eddie checked each door. Guest rooms, an old time water closet, a closet full of linens and towels. He continued down the hallway when a muffled voice caught his attention. He stopped and listened. The voice continued, speaking alone as if it were a one-sided conversation.
At the next door, he found the source of the noise. Within a study, Eddie found an old-fashioned radio. The announcer spoke non-stop in the same language Eddie had heard at Jane and Loretta's ranch house.
"... and authorities have increased the reward for the capture of a dragon rider. $25,000 to the individual that can provide a living rider to the Graden City Guard. Keep in mind that the rider must be alive to earn the reward.
" In other news, the mountains that have appeared on the northern horizon remain a mystery. These three peaks, seemingly in defiance of gravity given their narrow aspect, have been estimated to reach a height of between eighteen and twenty-thousand feet above sea level. All drone's launched to investigate have gone missing, and the scouting party dispatched by the city guard can not be reached by radio. They were expected to return to Graden yesterday morning."
Eddie listened until the urgency of his present task overtook his curiosity. He was here for one purpose, to find something to defend himself against the attacks of the dragon rider. He withdrew from the study and continued his search.
In the next hallway, he thought he'd found what he was looking for, a heavy door of dark hardwood. In this hallway of maple trim and rich colors, the door was definitely out of place. A gold amulet the size of a dinner plate hung high on the door, a detailed diagram etched in its surface, including an all-seeing eye that glared down at Eddie with fixed accusation.
A thought rose unbidden in Eddie's mind. Warding. This amulet either prevented intruders from entering or did something horrible to them if they did. He stared up at the amulet, hypnotized. The eye stared back.
If he was to save the girl, he had to at least try. He put his hand on the doorknob. Took a breath. Turned the knob. Took a breath. Pushed it open. Took a breath. The smell of fresh linen and old wood welcomed him. Nothing happened.
But something should have happened. Something should have stopped him, like the ghost dog should have attacked him. For some reason, Eddie was able to walk past all of the defenses without at attack.
The sheets and blankets on the mayor's four poster bed lay tangled in disarray. Had the dragon rider surprised him here? How had the intruder gotten past the wardings? At the far end of the bed, beside a broad chest of drawers, Eddie found a navy blue cloak lying on the floor next to an ornate wooden staff. Eddie stared down at them. Given the relative neatness of the room, these fallen items were clear signs of a struggle.
Eddie stooped to pick up the staff. A floorboard creaked outside the bedroom door. He froze.
The door inched open. Before Eddie could dive behind the bed, Deputy Earlie's head appeared in the doorway. "There you are, drifter boy," he said. "Looks like you're going to jail after all."