The first thing I noticed when I entered the old man’s room was that there was a cat curled around the foot of his bed.
When I approached the bed, the cat jerked itself upright and snarled at me. The old man sat up in bed and grinned.
“Oh, take no notice of her,” he said. “That’s my first wife. These days, it’s just us, and she’s become a bit possessive of me.”
He waved towards the windowsill. There were five stuffed animals there – a rabbit, two singing birds, a mouse, and a lizard.
“Those are my other wives,” he said. “They kept wanting to leave me. I only did this so we could be happy.”
I nodded and waited. Then I coughed.
“Oh, right,” he said. He brought out a dark glass ball wrapped in paper from under the pillow and handed it to me. “The incantation is written on the paper.”
“Thank you,” I said.
The cat jumped onto the bedcovers and settled protectively on the old man’s chest, her gaze fixed on me.
“Now, now. Don’t be jealous, darling.” He looked at me, a gentle smile still playing on his face. “Between you and me, I think she might have killed a couple of them.” He nodded towards the windowsill.
As if on cue, the cat bared her teeth at me.
“Won’t you stay for a little chat?” the old man asked me.
“I’m afraid I need to get going.”
“Oh,” he said. “Of course.”
As I left the room, I heard the old man say to the cat, “Nice young man, wasn’t he?”
I looked at the little bundle in my hand, and wondered if I could decide by flipping a coin.