Los angeles, 2012
Shadow Market nights were Kit’s favorite.
They were the nights he was allowed to leave the house and help his father at the booth. He’d been coming to the Shadow Market since he was seven years old. Eight years later he still felt the same sense of shock and wonder when he walked down Kendall Alley through Old Town Pasadena toward a blank brick wall—and stepped through it into an explosive world of color and light.
Only a few blocks away were Apple Stores selling gadgets and laptops, Cheesecake Factories and organic food markets, American Apparel shops and trendy boutiques. But here the alley opened out into a massive square, warded on each side to prevent the careless from wandering into the Shadow Market.
The Los Angeles Shadow Market came out when the night was warm, and it both existed and didn’t exist. Kit knew that when he stepped in among the lines of brightly decorated stalls, he was walking in a space that would vanish when the sun rose in the morning.
But for the time he was there, he enjoyed it. It was one thing to have the Gift when no one else around you had it. The Gift was what his father called it, although Kit didn’t think it was much of one. Hyacinth, the lavender-haired fortune-teller in the booth at the market’s edge, called it the Sight.
That name made more sense to Kit. After all, the only thing that separated him from ordinary kids was that he could see things they couldn’t. Harmless things sometimes, pixies rising from dry grass along the cracked sidewalks, the pale faces of vampires in gas stations late at night, a man clicking his fingers against a diner counter; when Kit looked again, he saw the fingers were werewolf claws. It had been happening to him since he was a little kid, and his dad had it too. The Sight ran in families.
Resisting the urge to react was the hardest. Walking home from school one afternoon he’d seen a pack of werewolves tearing each other apart in a deserted playground. He’d stood on the pavement and screamed until the police came, but there was nothing for them to see. After that his father kept him at home, mostly, letting him teach himself out of old books. He played video games in the basement and went out rarely, during the day, or when the Shadow Market was on.
At the Market he didn’t have to worry about reacting to anything. The Market was colorful and bizarre even to its inhabitants. There were ifrits holding performing djinn on leashes, and beautiful peri girls dancing in front of booths that sold glittering, dangerous powders. A banshee manned a stall that promised to tell you when you’d die, though Kit couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to know that. A cluricaun offered to find lost things, and a young witch with short, bright-green hair sold enchanted bracelets and pendants to catch romantic attention. When Kit looked over at her, she smiled.
“Hey, Romeo.” Kit’s father elbowed him in the ribs. “I didn’t bring you here to flirt. Help put the sign up.”
He kicked their bent metal footstool over to Kit and handed him a slab of wood onto which he had burned his stall’s name: JOHNNY ROOK’S.
Not the most creative title, but Kit’s father had never been over-burdened with imagination. Which was strange, Kit thought as he clambered up to hang the sign, for someone whose clientele list included warlocks, werewolves, vampires, sprites, wights, ghouls, and once, a mermaid. (They’d met in secret at SeaWorld.)
Still, maybe a simple sign was the best. Kit’s dad sold some potions and powders—even, under the table, some questionably legal weaponry—but none of that was what brought people to his booth. The fact was that Johnny Rook was a guy who knew things. There was nothing that happened in L.A.’s Downworld that he wasn’t aware of, no one so powerful that he didn’t know a secret about them or a way to get in touch with them. He was a guy who had information, and if you had the money, he’d tell it to you.
Kit jumped down off the footstool and his dad handed him two fifty-dollar bills. “Get change off someone,” he said, not looking at Kit. He’d pulled his red ledger out from under the counter and was looking through it, probably trying to figure out who owed him money. “That’s the smallest I’ve got.”