“Ah. I see you got it!” said the broadly grinning figure on the threshold. “That’s good.”
George Ariello, resident caretaker and head custodian of St. Halistan’s Church, was leaning into the room from the bottom step, one hand on the door-jamb and the other mopping his brown forehead with a red bandana. “I brought it over as soon as the mail came. Figured you’d come straight here as soon as school let out. What’s the matter? You look like you’ve seen a ghost!”
Morgan felt the hot blood rush up his neck and into his cheeks. “Nothing’s the matter. You startled me, that’s all. And yes, I got the letter. Thanks, George.”
He was sitting at a scarred and battered workbench in the corner of his new retreat: the big janitorial closet adjoining the electrical room in the church basement. George had offered him this space soon after the fall of the tower, and Morgan had spent most of the summer lugging boxes down the stairs and getting things organized. Three rows of unfinished pine shelves along the west wall held everything that remained of his father’s books and alchemical equipment: pestles and mortars, alembics and cucurbits, hermetic jars and several coils of copper tubing. The workbench and office chair were gifts from Rev. Alcuin—overflow from the clutter in the minister’s museum-like office.
The “dungeon”, as Morgan called it, had taken some getting used to. Compared with his old lab in the tower it was dark, damp, and mildewy. Mops and buckets stood clustered around an antique washing machine in one corner, filling the air with a wet, musty smell. Like everything else at St. Halistan’s, the walls were made of the speckled granite quarried in the coastal hills around Santa Piedra more than a century before. So old and permeated with ground moisture was the mortar between the stones that it had long since begun to crumble away into moldy paste and dry dust. There were no windows, and the door at the bottom of the basement stairs was the only way in or out.
All things considered, the “dungeon” was far from ideal. But it was his, and Morgan had to have a place of his own. There were, after all, certain things that couldn’t be done—and some things that couldn’t be kept—at home. Especially with his grandmother in the house.
George, who was still hanging in the doorway, cleared his throat. “I was just wondering,” he said.
Morgan looked up at him and raised an eyebrow.
“Wondering why she sent it to my address.”
“I don’t know. Why?”
“It’s just that I don’t hear much from either one of them. Most of the letters that come to my house are for you. I’m not surprised about Moira, of course. But I hadn’t counted on losing contact with Eny. I let them go south because it seemed the right thing to do. The Reverend said so, too. But they haven’t called or anything in over a month.”
Morgan shrugged. “Maybe she thinks you’re busy. Maybe she’s busy. Maybe she sends my letters to your address because she thinks I don’t spend much time at home. Maybe she doesn’t want my mom to be bothered. There could be a lot of reasons.”
George shrugged. “Maybe so. You don’t spend much time at home.” He turned to go, then ducked back through the doorway. “Everything okay over on your side of the wall? Between you and your mother, I mean?”
Morgan nodded. “Just a little crowded right now.”
George gave a short, hoarse laugh. “And me right next door, with more room than I know what do with. Funny, isn’t it? I used to say I said I’d give anything to be rid of that woman. But it’s no fun living alone.”
Morgan shifted in his chair.
“So just remember what I told you, Morgan. Mi casa es tu casa. If you need some space, you’re always welcome over on my side.”
“That’s nice, George, but I’ve got all the space I need. Thanks to you and Rev. Alcuin.”
Even as he spoke, Morgan saw George’s gaze drop. Suddenly he had an uncomfortable feeling that the custodian’s eyes were probing the shadows beneath the old workbench. With a swift involuntary movement, he moved his chair to block up the exposed space.
George frowned. “What you got there?”
“There.” He inclined his head towards the workbench. “Under the table. The long blue thing.”
“Oh, that. Nothing.”
“Well, not exactly nothing. Something for school. My … gym class.”
George grinned. “First time I’ve known you to show any interest in gym class. What is it? Looks too thin for a baseball bat. Besides, this is football season.”
Morgan hesitated. “It’s a fishing pole.”
George looked doubtful.
“Seriously. I signed up for a fishing class. Third period. Down on the Point.”
George’s thick black eyebrows arched upward. “Fishing? For P.E.? Never heard of that before.”
“Sure. They offer all kinds of Phys. Ed. electives now. Bicycling, weight training, bowling, fencing. Fishing.”
George shook his head. “I guess schools nowadays are more progressive than I thought.”
With that, he turned and climbed back up the stairs . ..
(To be continued)