The front and right side of Dad’s car was dented and badly scraped. One of the headlights had been shattered in some sort of collision. The open feeling in her chest was replaced with a squeezing sensation.
This was getting worse and worse.
Stokes came up behind her as Ryan Caller stepped from the car, with eyes like a hunted fox.
“Get back in the house!” he barked at his daughter, and he bolted towards them. He bundled them back through the door and slammed it behind him.
He pressed his eyes shut and held back a sob. Jamie had never seen her father like this before. Her heart squeezed tighter in her chest.
“Dad, you’re scaring me…”
He took a deep, harsh breath, like he was almost choking. “Someone tried to run me into the path of a bus, Jamie. This white jeep pulls up alongside me on the main road, and the guy behind the wheel is wearing a suit. Had the strangest eyes I’ve ever seen, just casually broadsides me…sent me into the opposite lane of traffic. I must’ve missed the bus by half a second. It clips me and spins me up onto the pavement and into a phone box. I nearly crushed a poor mother with her little boy…”
Jamie lunged forward and hugged him, the only thing she could think to do.
When her father opened his eyes again he peered at Stokes, who said, “I think I saw that guy. He was watching me in the psychology department at USL. He must’ve followed you.”
Jamie peered up at her dad’s face, still embracing him. He stroked her hair almost unconsciously. “Oh, honey, you were right…what the hell was Isobel involved in…?”
“They trashed the house,” Jamie said, with no other way to say it.
Had someone just tried to kill her father? She peered at Stokes who could only stare back in quiet panic.
They marched into the lounge and Ryan Caller saw the devastation. “Oh, guys, this is really deep…”
Jamie didn’t feel like her ‘senses’ were of any use right now but she said, “I think he wanted to scare you, Dad. I think he could’ve easily killed you if he wanted.”
Her father grasped that this was true, but he was badly shaken and he muttered, “Either way, we’re not staying here. We need some help figuring this out.”
He looked and saw the vomit in a sticky puddle on the floor, and Jamie realised her dad suddenly understood something.
He turned and fixed her with one of his don’t-argue-with-me expressions, a look that had chilled even Megan Caller in the old days. He tried to hold back the anger he was feeling.
“Jamie, you need to tell me everything. You’re hiding things from me. I can’t keep us safe if I don’t know the truth.”
He glanced at Stokes who had to look away. “I’ll get some stuff from my study, if it’s still there, and then the three of us are leaving.”
Jamie watched her father hurry into the hallway and heard the sound of him pounding up the stairs towards his study.
Stokes pressed his face into his hands. “This is not happening,” she heard him mumble.
In her jeans pocket, the mysterious key was throbbing and buzzing against her thigh.
The rain swished and hissed as it hit the moving car, as it spiked the road ahead. To Jamie they were dangerous sounds.
Her father sat behind the wheel of the battered green Mercedes, occasionally glancing at her in the passenger seat. Stokes sat quietly in the back. Jamie didn’t know where they were heading. Her dad was driving close to the speed limit, but not over. She guessed he didn’t want to get stopped by a police car, which might happen anyway with their busted headlight. She’d already assumed that going to the police was out of the question.
She told him everything she knew. She felt so guilty, and silently she cursed herself. She should have told him from the start.
With one hand on the wheel Ryan Caller held the mysterious key in his fist, shaking his head in frightened disbelief.
“It has power. I’ve never held anything like this in my hands before. Dear God in Heaven…” He glanced at Stokes in the rear-view mirror. “You pulled this from Isobel’s throat?”
Stokes nodded. “But she was talking. She asked Jamie to help her. She was talking and then she was dying in my arms…”
In the passenger seat, Jamie was holding a stack of her father’s files and his laptop case on her knees. She didn’t know what to say to him. He’d nearly died because she kept the key to herself. She wanted to melt away. The Mercedes continued weaving through the Wells Gate traffic.
“Maddeline Finch mentioned black magic? She said this key was some kind of magical fire? A portal? Are you sure she said these things?”
Jamie could see her father was more afraid than he’d ever been, yet his brilliant mind was working quickly behind his clear blue eyes.
“If any of this is true, then we are in the middle of something very serious. I mean, we would have to be talking about…an occult conspiracy. Powerful men with a lot of money and influence.”
It was Stokes who suddenly made the two of them silent. “Ryan, you’ve been looking for proof of spiritual things all your life. I think you’re holding that proof in your hand right now. Don’t you think?”
Ryan Caller glanced in the rear-view mirror again.
Mum had never been interested in the strange bond, but Jamie and Stokes had been inseparable for the past ten years. Mum had always treated Stokes like he didn’t really exist, but at her funeral it was Stokes who delivered the most beautiful eulogy. Jamie hoped that her dad knew that Stokes would sacrifice his life to protect her. If something terrible happened, Dad wouldn’t be losing just one of his children.
Right now she wanted him to be the capable father, the genius who would keep them both safe and make everything better.
“Where are we going?” she asked him finally.
He grit his teeth and said, “To see someone I worked with once. She believes in all this magic stuff, good and bad. She was always a little too eccentric for me, but now…I think maybe she was a lot smarter than I realised back then. If she can’t help us figure this out then I don’t know what to do…”
Jamie guiltily clasped the files and laptop, as they hopefully headed towards a place of understanding. She knew that the bad thing was still unfolding.