The rest of the garage was empty except for a maintenance van and a motorcycle. A wide smear of blood trailed to the far end of the garage, where Smoky was nosing around the underground entrance to the Riffe Center. I didn't see any blood on his muzzle. The glass doors to the center were smashed; huge pieces of thick plate glass lay shattered on the concrete.
"I didn't hear him do that," I said. "Is there something else out here? Is he tracking something? Did something come through the portal?"
The ferret sniffed the air. "I can't say."
How could he not know? I tried to force down my panic. "Are you saying you don't know, or know but won't tell me?" My words came out angrier than I intended, but I didn't feel like apologizing for my tone. I began to walk toward Smoky, hoping he wouldn't slither into the Riffe Center before I got close enough to either shoot or try some kind of a binding spell.
"I don't know if anything else is here," the ferret replied. "Why would you think I'd withhold information from you?"
"Let's see," I replied. "Cooper's been sucked away to God-knows-where by some evil force and his little dog's turned into a monster. Tom, Dick, and Harry on the night cleaning crew just got turned into stew meat. And my familiar suddenly wakes up and starts telling me what to do ... yet won't tell me what it really is. And it can't tell me the most important thing I need to know, which is whether or not I've got some other freakshow to deal with besides Hopalong Smaug here."
"Are you saying you don't trust me?" The ferret sounded supremely offended.
"Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying," I said, stopping. "Fear? Check. Worry? Check. About to pee my pants? Check. Trust in my new mystery familiar? Nope, sorry, just ran out. How do I know you're not some ... some evil spirit who came through the portal to possess the body of my ferret?"
"You're paranoid," he said.
"Convince me," I replied.
"I'm not sure how I can do that," the ferret said, agitated. "There are spells to prove I'm telling the truth, but I imagine you don't know them. And we can't spare the time to perform them."
"Okay. Go back to the car and wait for me. I'll come back for you when I'm done."
"You can't do this by yourself, you're not experienced --"
"I know how to shoot. And I know Smoky. Go."
The ferret reluctantly climbed down my back and humped back up the garage ramp into the rainy night.
Did I just do a phenomenally stupid thing? I wondered. He's right, I can't do this alone ... but I guess I'm going to have to try.
I paused. Maybe I didn't have to do this Palimpsest's way. Maybe Smoky was still sane enough to listen to me and stay put. Maybe I could find a land line in the building that actually connected to the real world. I could phone Mother Karen to find someone who knew about this kind of stuff and could put things back the way they were supposed to be.
And then we could figure out how to get Cooper back.