Chapter Ten: Unexpected encounters
Copyright © 2016 by Brian Bixby
Marcus Satterthwaite made a noise of disgust and tucked his blasting rod back into the hidden pocket in his coat. He was tempted to raise his voice to the woman who had her back to him, but decided he might gain some advantage by appearing to stay calm. So he said to her, “And what brings you to Edinburgh, my dear?”
Without turning from the window to face him, the woman replied, “I’ve been here taking classes. You might know the professor in question. His name is MacAlpine, Geoffrey MacAlpine.”
Marcus shook his head, futile gesture though that was. “Never heard of him.”
Abruptly Marcus heard a sound in the room. It didn’t seem to come from anyplace in particular, more as if it were all around him, a soft, whishing or whispering sound. Marcus looked about, but could see nothing else in the room. And yet still he could hear the sound.
“I’ve brought my troubles with me. Would you like to meet them, Father?” The woman made as if to turn to face Marcus.
“No, no, that won’t be necessary,” Marcus quickly replied. “What do you want, Gwen?”
The woman returned to facing out the window. With a little laugh in her voice, she asked, “What do you think I want, Father?”
Desperately trying to think of some way to get out of this confrontation, Marcus told a half-truth. “I haven’t done anything to hurt your mother.”
The sound became louder. Marcus could catch glimpses of something sort of appearing in the room, and then disappearing in the next moment. He could feel fear rising in him.
And then he got angry. Guinevere was toying with him, and no child of his could get away with something like that! Adding just a bit of an edge to his voice, he said, “Bring on your troubles, then. What can they do when they see you struck dead where you stand?”
This time Guinevere laughed openly. “You already tried to kill me once, Father. Remember how well that turned out?” And she turned to face Marcus.
Marcus averted his eyes just in time. Trying to not even see her out of the corner of his eyes, he spoke with all the care he could summon and all the desperation he felt. “Tell me what you want, Gwen. I’ll do it.”
He heard her move toward him, and braced himself for whatever she did. What she did was to stand beside him, so close he could feel her breath on his neck as she leaned down to whisper in his ear. “I want Geoff back in Scotland. I want him to tell me good things about what he was doing. I want him to tell me good things about Mother.” She pulled back a bit, and Marcus thought she was finished, but she leaned forward again. “And then I want Geoff in my bed, as he already has been, Father. And I want you to imagine just what that’s like for me, and for him, the two of us together. Because if all this doesn’t happen, for any reason whatsoever, and I know you’re clever enough to keep your hand from showing in these things, Father, then my troubles will find you. And they will bring you to me. And you’ll have to look me full in the face before you die.”
Marcus was straining so hard to keep from looking at his daughter that it took a few moments for him to realize that he couldn’t feel her breath on his neck anymore, that the whispering sounds in the room had stopped, and he no longer could see the almost-things fleetingly appear. He dared to turn his head, and when he saw no trace of Guinevere, he spun on his heels. Although he had not heard her leave, there was no trace of her in his hotel room.
Marcus sat down. He realized he was trembling from shock and fear. He’d thought Gwen was safely neutralized. Someone, somehow, must have got to her and given her both the motivation and the information needed to track him down. He’d have to look into that later.
And then there was that popinjay MacAlpine having sex with his little girl. Marcus tried to keep from imagining what that was like. Gwen had to be lying. She must have said that to goad him. She must have stuck those images of the two of them in his head. It was all lies.
It didn’t matter. Whether she was lying or not, she had set her conditions. Not what he was supposed to do, but what the final results had to be. She was giving him no wiggle room, was indeed holding him responsible for things he could not fully control. And that, too, made Marcus suspicious. Gwen wasn’t that clever. She’d gotten that idea from someone else, presumably whoever had told her where he was and what he was up to.
It didn’t matter. And that was the bottom line. Marcus realized that he’d have to scrap his previous plans and get to Great Yarmouth as soon as possible if he were to avoid a repeat visit from a vengeful Gwen.
Samantha sighed as she stood over the pit. Two grimy faces looked up at her, one happy to see her, the other in pain. She was reminded of something Geoff had once told her. “Sometimes you pick up a pattern, Sam, in the way people work. Trust that pattern.” Samantha smiled thinking about this. Geoff hadn’t been talking about himself. But here he was, in need of her help again. And she’d been ready for his call.
“Right,” she said, clambering down into the depression. “Which one of you couldn’t get out of the way of the wyrm this time?”
Jacintha winced as she spoke. “Me. It’s my arm.” The way she was grasping her left arm with her right made it clear to which one she was referring. “But it wasn’t the wyrm.” She shot Geoff an ill look.
Samantha turned her attention to Geoff. He definitely looked the less muddy. He was wearing an abashed look. Seeing her look at him, he explained, “I fell on her.”
Geoff immediately regretted saying that. The look Jacintha gave him could have killed a water buffalo at forty paces. And Samantha deliberately threw fuel on the fire by joking, “You used to be so much more gentle, Geoff.”
“She was about to get trod down by a wyrm, Sam,” Geoff frantically explained. “I had to get her out of the way.”
Meanwhile, Samantha had started examining Jacintha’s arm. It was a bad break, with bone poking through the skin and contaminated with dirt. Trying to keep her patient distracted, she said, “Geoff’s not been very nice to you, has he?”
Jacintha gave Geoff another ill glance, then thought better about it. To Samantha, she said, “Well, maybe he was trying to help. I just . . . OOOOWWW!” Excruciating pain almost knocked her over as Samantha abruptly slammed her arm into place. She yelled, “What the hell are you doing to me?”
Samantha smiled and explained, “Not much. The pain tells you I’m almost finished.” A roll of tape flew out of her bag and wrapped itself repeatedly around Jacintha’s arm until it formed a nice bandage, cut off an end, and flew back into her bag. “There you go. Cleaned, set, and all the tissues are reknitting themselves in place. Don’t overstrain it to the point it starts hurting again, and you can remove the bandage in three days.” She almost burst out laughing at the look on Jacintha’s face.
Instead, she stood up, and looked over to Geoff. “You hurt?”
He shrugged. “Nothing. Maybe a bruise or two.”
“Good. I’ll tell ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’ you’ll still be able to fall on her when you get back.” She gave Geoff a quick kiss, scampered out of the depression, and was gone.
Geoff looked hopefully over at Jacintha, only to be disappointed. She was still glaring at him. So he tried again. “Look, Jackie, I’m sorry you broke your arm. But the wyrm was almost on top of us and it looked as if it was going to squash you flat. And look around,” he said, waving his arm at the broken pieces of equipment behind them. “It almost got us.”
Geoff had Jacintha’s anger all figured out wrong. She was already past the events that led to her broken arm. No, it was Samantha’s parting comment (which she had not heard properly, being a trifle hard of hearing) that had her annoyed. So in truculent tones, she asked Geoff, “Who’s this dame Mercy your nurse friend was talking about?”
Geoff was tempted to retort that Jacintha herself was now ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci,” with the way she’d been going on about how he’d broken her arm, but he checked himself. Like many a man, there were times he considered all women to be without mercy. And that thought caused him to smile inwardly. They’d survived another attack by the wyrm, and Jackie had a right to dress him down if she wanted. So he put on his best smile and replied, “She’s my current girlfriend, a woman who’s nothing but troubles. Unlike you, Jackie. Because those photos you took are going to tell us a world of information.”
Jacintha knew when she was being smooth-talked; she wasn’t some young mooncalf. Still, she appreciated that Geoff was trying to be nice to her. And the idea of what her photos might show instantly revived her good humor. She had photographs of a wyrm. Two of them, even! That made even a broken arm seem trivial by comparison.
Magicians, apart from Frank McCarthy’s people, didn’t use teleportation spells much anymore, as modern transportation was usually timely enough. But Marcus was determined to forestall any further encounters with his daughter Guinevere by any means he could. So he’d resorted to a teleportation spell to take him to Calpurnia’s kitchen.
Although it was after midnight, the lights were still on in the kitchen. Marcus could see Calpurnia sitting at the kitchen table, asleep, slumped over her books. It reminded himself so much of their married life together that he almost smiled, an expression which he normally adopted unnaturally, if at all. And then he did something so phenomenally stupid that he never could explain it afterwards. (Because he could not admit he still cared for Calpurnia.) He stepped up behind her chair and touched her gently on her shoulder.
Calpurnia woke with a start, and did what any magician would normally do in that circumstance: concerned for her safety, she lashed out at whatever entity had managed to sneak up on her with a magical attack. Her magical spell caught Marcus Satterthwaite square on, lifted him off his feet, and hurled him at the refrigerator. There was a dull thud as flesh and metal disputed the three-dimensional space in question, and then the metal won. Marcus slid to the floor, knocked unconscious when his head had struck the appliance’s freezer door.
Calpurnia had been so deeply asleep that she stood up and faced the recumbent Marcus for near half a minute without actually comprehending what she was seeing. How Marcus had got in, why he was on her floor, slumped up against her refrigerator, she had no idea, but there he was. Bastard though he was, he had still once been her husband, and she got down beside him and examined him as quickly as she could for any sign of injuries. Convinced he wasn’t seriously injured, she went into her bedroom and got a pillow, came out and rearranged Marcus so his head rested on the pillow on the floor, and went to her cupboard to put together a tea that would help revive and heal her husband. For a moment, she thought she’d be unable to do so, being short willow bark extract, and then remembered that Bathsheba had brought some over earlier.
And so when Geoff and Jacintha came through her front door, they found Calpurnia on her kitchen floor, a half-emptied mug of odd-smelling tea in one hand, with Marcus Satterthwaite sitting up beside her. It would be an interesting contest to determine who was the most surprised. Geoff knew who Marcus was, and would have strongly preferred not to have him within a hundred miles. Calpurnia had trouble actually making out who her visitors were, so mud-covered were they. Marcus naturally treated any other magician as a possible threat. And Jacintha just wondered if Calpurnia’s morals were as loose as Geoff’s.
The first one to speak was Calpurnia. She recognized the two standing at the other end of the kitchen and asked, “What happened to your arm, Jackie?” It was partly genuine interest on her part, partly an attempt to make Jacintha feel a part of the team.
Jacintha had recovered her good humor thinking about the photographs she would have of the wyrms. So she decided to repeat the joke. “Oh, Geoff fell on me.”
Geoff’s and Calpurnia’s jaws dropped simultaneously. And with a roar, Marcus rose from the floor and went for Geoff.
If Geoff’s jaw could drop twice, it would. But then Marcus might step on it as he attacks Geoff. And just what is that about? Calpurnia must feel like she lives in a madhouse. Anyhow, some of this will be explained in the next chapter. So stick around.