The next morning, after a rowdy night at Magical Pizza in Baton Rouge, they were whisked magically back to the Windy City to practice and get ready for the Texas Rose, who had beaten the La La Lyceum by a solid 34–8 to advance. On Tuesday afternoon, after he hit ten field goals in a row from forty yards out, Tom went in to talk to Professor Temple in his office.
“Ah, my boy,” said Temple. “Come in. Some tea?” Tom didn’t feel he could ask for root beer instead. So he and his scariest teacher sat and sipped Constant Comment while Temple told him where he would look, but not so much what he would look for. “You already know,” said Temple, “the way to Giordano’s. Right?”
“Right,” said Tom.
“But you may not know that there are hidden ways that meet about eight meters this side of the opening into the Giordano basement. Well, now you do know, eh?” Temple leaned forward, his hands clenched in front of him, his glasses perched on the very end of his nose. “Xu won’t do the trick, I’m afraid. It’s not a simple case of invisibility. The ways are hidden. So, what do you use to see what is hidden?”
“Light,” said Tom brightly.
Temple just smiled. He leaned back in his chair and sipped and watched Tom over his steaming cup. Then he said, through the tea mist, “And I suppose you must still be wondering what else yulugensis albus does. Put this in your pants pocket.” He pushed a little packet that looked like potpourri.
“It’s got that bark in it,” said Tom.
“You will see things that otherwise are unseen, and you will be unseen by some who might otherwise see you. Isn’t that sort of cool, Mr Hexane?” Tom grinned, took the packet and put it in his back pocket. “One more thing. You don’t need to be in the basement, the pumping station itself. You want to go into the sub-basement. You do not, I think, want to go into the below-sub-basement. You might look, if you feel strong, but you will not want to go there.”
It was Wednesday night. Tom spent some time with Angelica studying in the library, which was empty but for them and the librarian’s assistant rearranging the history shelf. Then they went back to his room where Daphne and Angelica and Jen Chang tried out a ritual of calming that Chang had found in a book. Finally, at midnight, the three girls walked him back to the school, Angelica got him in the back door and they wished him well before walking together back to Ash House, followed by a watchful and protective Indian ghost. Tom had his own watchful and protective ghost.
“I think it’s going to be fun, anyway,” he said to Eva as they quietly slipped through the door to the cellar. She just took one long gaze at him as they walked down the ramp in the dim blue light of his wand.
The packet seemed to be working. Timms unexpectedly came out of his work room, rummaged around not ten feet from where Tom stood absolutely still, his heart pounding, and then picked up a couple of things, grunted, scratched his butt and went back inside.
Meanwhile, here and there in the rubbish pile, and here and there among the shelves, individual objects—several books, for instance—had the slightest glow, as if they were lit by their own spotlights.
The boy and the ghost cat made the passage of the Medieval Remedies—that book too had a slight pink glow. He found the panel on the left on the hall that led to the underground docks—the panel also had a certain look to it, as if oddly lit. They made it far enough down toward Giordano’s that he could smell the tomato sauce.
He came to the partition that led into the basement of the pizza place. Turning around, he counted off eight paces and looked around. The hall seemed like everywhere else: not exactly squared off, more hollowed out, but clearly two-way and not more.
Tom let his wand light shift from blue through green and yellow to orange and red and beyond, and then back again all the way to ultraviolet. He let it slide a little further. Eva growled.
The passage had become completely black to his physical eyes, but now they were adjusting to whatever wave length this was. He was standing in a six-way intersection.
One hall led eight meters and ended in a partition. He could now see that the Giordano’s menu was posted there, visible only in black light. Opposite it, the spell-hollowed hall he was familiar with led away. Of the other four, two led to the south—back in the direction of the Lyceum. Of the other two, one smelled wet. Peering down it, he could see that it was wet, some distance on. He wasn’t sure he couldn’t see other things down there that might prefer a deep water environment: things with tentacles, perhaps, tentacles that might, perhaps, hold spears.
The other way seemed better. It had an Indian ghost standing a ways down, beckoning.
Tom and Eva headed that way, and the ghost, an old woman, kept ahead of them, turning her terribly pale face to look every so often. Presently the hall they were in opened into a long straight passage, perhaps five feet wide and high with a square cross section. A few pipes and wire conduits ran along the far wall. The old Indian woman turned to the left along the passage, and for a long time they walked in the darkness far below Michigan Avenue.
There was a certain smell. It wasn’t sewage, exactly. Tom thought about it as he walked, the ghost cat in front of him, the ghost Indian ten paces in front of her, and he finally decided that it was a memory of sewage from a century ago.
Eventually they came to a dead end, sort of: the passage entered the side of a vertical shaft, and did not go out the other side. The shaft was totally dark, like the passage. Up, Tom’s blue light showed the underside of a manhole perhaps twenty feet above; down it showed nothing at all. The ghost Indian floated in front of Tom and Eva, casting downward glances.
Tom lay on the floor and held his wand downward as far as he could reach. Just beyond its tip, he could just make out ladder rungs carved in the wall, partly eroded.
“Well,” he said to Eva, “I guess this is where I earn my passing grade.” Then, putting any concerns about what might be at the bottom of such a shaft behind concerns about maintaining his hold on the concrete, he let his feet dangle over the edge. Lowering them a centimeter at a time, he was at chin level with the floor of the passage and his legs were fully extended when his feet found a rung. From there, he let himself down slowly until only his fingertips held onto the floor above, and he found he could just get a foot down onto the next rung. Groping further, he managed to find another rung, and then he was good to go for a while. Looking up after a few more rungs, he could see the Indian watching, but there was no sign of Eva.
Tom was not entirely surprised when he heard a soft mraow and found the ghost cat watching from a black opening about two feet high, directly behind him. He managed to lean back against the wall of the shaft, and from there somehow he finagled his way into the narrow side hole. This seemed to be a drain of some sort, perhaps to let backed-up water drain from the sub-basement. For that was where he found himself, as he crawled through, stood up and raised his wand over his head. Letting its glow increase tenfold, he could get a sense of the size of this chamber: it was at least a hundred feet on a side, roughly square, with ceilings perhaps twenty feet up. The ceilings and floors were not even, but included conical vaults upward here and there and basins and cement tables at random.
Boy and cat wandered the place, looking at everything. The darkness receded as they approached a table and climbed onto it, and closed in behind them.
On the stone table, the biggest of the tables he could see, Tom saw a little wooden box. Eva and Tom approached it with caution. He knelt to examine it, and she gave it a thorough if ghostly sniff. “Is it okay?” he asked her. She stared at him, her mouth moving silently. “I take that as a yes,” he replied. He put his hand on the box, cautious again. Then with an inward cry, he flipped it open.
Noise of wings filled the air. Leathery flapping and a mentally heard cawing made him cower down. He didn’t look: he could see that Eva was looking, and crouching. But in the box, on the red velvet lining of the bottom, was a key.
He grabbed it and jumped up. The things in the air were diving down on him, their horrible half-seen claws out. He dove, his wand skittering from his hand; the light went out and the room was plunged into darkness. He rolled out of the way just as something hit the table where he had been; he could hear the box tumbling away from the impact.
Tom rolled over and tried to look around. Desperately he felt out in all directions with both hands and feet; the hand that held the key met familiar wood. He grabbed his wand in his other hand, sat up and shouted “Gao!” Light flared to a terrible brightness as his energy flowed unchecked into the wand.
The things were there, but they hated that white light and fled to the far ends of the room. Tom jumped up and started off, then fell off the edge of the table, blinded as he was by his own light. The things came hurtling back toward him, but again, shielding his eyes this time, he let the brilliance do its work. The things fled on their leathery wings, and Tom, half running backwards, let Eva guide him to the hole.
He had his back against the wall and was about to duck down and into the opening when he noticed a golden gleam. He looked down, and in the bright glow of his wand he could see gold and pale ivory. He squatted, still holding the light out as a weapon, and put the hand with the key down. Up it came with three things now: the key, another key made of bone, and a gold mask. Slipping these in his jacket pocket, he sat down and worked his way back into the hole. In a moment, he was in the shaft again.
It took Tom a few seconds to work out where the rungs were and how to get onto them. The leathery-winged things did not seem able to follow. Now, perched in that impossible place, Tom did not resist the urge to look down toward what Temple had called the “below-sub-basement.” No, best not go there, but look? He looked.
It seemed utterly black. Then he began to think that there was a shine down there, as if the black was not just darkness and distance, but a black object a finite length away, gleaming slightly, like a viscous surface, a bulging meniscus, or possibly the pupil of a Cyclopean eye. Whatever it was, it was motionless—for now—but he was sure it was there, not just his fertile imagination.
Eva mraowed very softly. He looked for her. She was up there, now, looking down at him, the Indian woman ghost beside her.
Tom swallowed. He began the climb. Many minutes later, the next thing he knew, he was very thoroughly washing his hands in the bathroom at Giordano’s.
Tom was not surprised especially to find Temple at a small table in the lower level, the level only mages could find. Tom was perhaps more surprised when Temple saw him, smiled and beckoned him. “Ah, Mister Hexane,” the old man said, “come join me. You like black olives?”
“Of course I do!” Tommy said, then, “Professor.”
“Root beer?” asked Temple, waving to the waitress.