Chapter 12: The world turned upside down
Copyright © 2015 by Brian Bixby
The woman who meets me at the airport the next morning isn’t Marge. I suppose I should be relieved, but I don’t like this one at all. A woman should at least try to look nice. This one isn’t trying. Her forehead looms over clunky glasses, her hair sharply pulled back and hidden under a plain black kerchief. She wears a shapeless coat that almost hangs down to her ankles and her feet are housed in dirty sneakers. She greets me with a terse, “Eberhardt, I’m Dr. Knox. I’ve joined the team in Farnham. Come with me.” Other than that, she says not a word while we collect my luggage and head out to the car. Nor does this change when we hit the road.
I decide to break the ice after about a quarter hour of this. “Where’s Marge?”
Knox doesn’t even glance over. “Back in Farnham, running the staff treating the demon’s victims.”
I expect Knox to say something more about the victims, but she falls silent again. After a bit of that, I prod her. “And what about the victims?”
“The demon possessing Young has subjected them all to psychological stresses designed to unsettle their inhibitions. They are initially passive and confused, but as they recover, they express personality changes. Some are socially acceptable, and those we’re documenting and releasing. Others are not and will require therapy. Questions?” Knox actually condescends to look over at me for a moment.
I am getting quite irritated and it shows in my voice. “Could you be a little more specific? Like some examples?”
Knox takes no notice of my tone. “One of the male victims rejects wearing clothes. A woman believes she has a right to steal whatever she wants. They are representative. You may see the complete list when we arrive in Farnham.”
“Anything I can help with?” I ask.
Knox gives me a flat. “No.” She then looks over at me for a moment. “I understand you spent some time in a hell. I’ve already worked out a psychological treatment plan to restore your mental health.”
I let my outrage show. “I think you are presuming way too much, Dr. Knox. Work on the victims. Stay away from me.”
Knox shakes her head. “We’ll see.”
Marge and I are having an early dinner in McNaughton’s. I’m trying to figure out why she’s acting friendly towards me. Somehow, I don’t think the story of my escape from a hell explains this new warmth, even if it did impress her.
The waitress serving us is a bubbly blond named Trixie. I wouldn’t pay her much attention, but it’s hard to ignore her ample bosom. I wouldn’t mind resting my head there.
Marge sees me looking, and cracks, “I’ll tell your new girlfriend, Dr. Knox.”
I shudder. “Is she as personable towards you as she is to me?”
Marge takes a sip of her drink and replies, “She’s a cool customer, that I’ll grant. Not that anyone apart from Dr. Rowe likes her. Guess it must be birds of a feather, both of them being doctors. And every time Knox looks at me, I get the feeling she’s deciding what kind of therapy I need.”
That that cold bitch Rowe likes Knox is no credit to either of them, I decide. But I’m happy Marge told me this, because it provides a reason why Marge is being so friendly to me: Marge doesn’t like Knox any better than I do. So I encourage Marge’s sympathy. “She actually told me she’d planned treatments for me on account of my trip through a hell.”
Marge laughs. “Figures. Meanwhile, I bet she never told you the one thing about herself that threw me: she’s not one of ours. She’s one of Frank McCarthy’s magicians.”
“WHAT?” I don’t bother to hide my astonishment.
“Val cut a deal with McCarthy for her. God only knows what she promised McCarthy. Olivia must be having fits.” The arrival of our drinks shuts down our conversation for a minute, but once Trixie leaves, Marge resumes talking. “Knox knows what she’s doing, at least. In fact, I’d still be trying to figure out what’s going on without her help.”
I don’t answer Marge immediately. That Val was directly involved has me wondering. After a bit, I ask Marge, “Any reason why Val would call in Knox instead of one of our own?”
Marge shakes her head. After sipping her drink, she replies, “She’s good, but I haven’t seen her do anything one of ours couldn’t do. What’s up with Val, anyhow, Harry? You were talking to her.”
And there’s another reason Marge is being friendly to me. With Amelia away with the rest of the team, Marge is officially in change here. But I am the one Val’s spoken to directly. So I toss Marge one of Val’s points. “She thinks Sanderson is the target of this whole business.”
Marge thinks about that for a bit before replying. “It sort of makes sense and sort of doesn’t at the same time. No matter what Polly said, Ben’s objection still holds: the demon didn’t kill Sanderson when it had the chance. Val explain why she thinks so?”
I didn’t dare ask Val, but rather than admit that, I assume a lofty tone. “I am not in a position to question Valerie Thompson.”
Marge arches an eyebrow. “I’ll bet. She must have at least explained why she sent you back here, instead of having you join the rest of the team hunting the demon.”
Well, here’s a way I can earn some more points with you, Marge. “She told me confidentially that she doesn’t expect the team to catch the demon.”
This time it’s Marge’s turn to be astonished. “What? Why, why . . . then what’s the point of all this, Harry? If we aren’t going to catch the demon, it’s just going to victimize more people. Hell, we might as well set up an asylum . . . or a morgue. And write off one of our magicians, to boot.”
I decide to sound Marge out on a notion that’s been floating in the back of my mind. “Although she didn’t quite say so, I get the impression Val thinks there’s a traitor in the Office, someone setting us up.”
Marge raises her eyebrows and sits back in her seat. She drums her fingers on the table. And then she says, “I suppose it’s conceivably possible, but . . . how? Who could keep a secret like that in our organization? And how does that square with Sanderson being the target?” Marge shakes her head. “Val’s got to be mistaken.”
“You tell her so,” I reply.
Marge gives me a mocking smile. “You first, Harry.”
Louie’s is crowded tonight. There are strippers running on all three stages at once. The crowd is liquored up. I’ve seen a few couples drift off through a side door with sex and money on their minds. It appears Sanderson was right: there is prostitution here, and some of it takes place in private rooms elsewhere in this building.
That makes me feel a bit better about what I’m going to do. I’m going to use magic on one of the whores in this place, make her my sex slave, and just do with her what I please. It’s against Office rules, but who’s going to find out? Marge, who rejected me again, after all the confidences I shared with her at dinner? Knox, who’s probably another lesbian? Rowe, who eyed me with disdain when we met again earlier today? Amelia, who’s hundreds of miles away to the east? And even if they do find out, so what? The Office wants to get rid of me anyhow. Even neuter me. Well, fuck them.
And that makes me realize why I haven’t actually picked a girl yet. I want one that looks like Val. Face it, Harry. You don’t just desperately want to have sex. You want to take Valerie Thompson, humiliate her, and make her love you anyhow. You want to hurt her in the worst possible way for all she’s done to your career, and make her beg for more. Because no matter what she said, she’s responsible for you being stuck out here in the middle of nowhere, your reputation in tatters, your love life a joke. And she’s still using you, like some toy she can discard at will. Using us all, more like.
I hear a voice saying, “May I join you? I’m Candy.” A woman pulls out the chair beside me at the table and sits down, smiling at me.
I give her a glance. She looks nothing like Val. She’s got a round face and brown hair. And Candy? Really? I look back at the nearest stage. “It’s a free country,” I tell her, and hope she’ll take the hint and go away.
She reaches out, puts her hand on mine. “Hey,” she says, “you know you’re cute? I was thinking we should leave here together and go back to your place.”
I look over at her. That’s really quite an impressive mane of brown hair she’s got. I love the way it cascades down the side of her head and onto her shoulders. And I didn’t notice her outfit before. It looks like the sort of girl’s school uniform worn in porn movies. It really makes her look both sexy and vulnerable. I look into her eyes, and decide that we are indeed going back to my room at the motel.
I wake up and find myself alone in bed. I can hear running water in the shower, so I know where Candy is. I lie there in bed and think I’ve never quite been in love this way before. I’ve never quite had a night like this one before, either. I’ve never even done some of these things before. Okay, so the handcuffs chafe a bit, but that’s just part of Candy’s appeal.
The shower stops running, and a few minutes later Candy appears with a towel wrapped around her. She gives me a smile and opens the towel to show me her body, before dropping it altogether and coming over and giving me a kiss. And then she starts to put her clothes back on. “Got to run, Harry,” she tells me. “Got work to do, and I can’t do it dressed this way. Helen Rowe would probably be amused, she seems like a good egg, but your Marge Winter wouldn’t like it.”
I’m surprised. “You know Marge? Wait, uh . . .” For the first time since she sat down at my table last night, I do something I should have done at first, and look to see if Candy has a magical field. She does. She’s a magician. And I didn’t notice last night because I’d already had too many drinks. So who is she? Not that it matters, not after this last night, but who the hell is she?
She gives me a pitying smile. “I see you really don’t recognize me, do you, Harry? Gad, men. How’s this?” She reaches down to the floor for her pocketbook, sits on the bed, and pulls out a pair of glasses, which she puts on. She pulls back her hair away from her face. And then she turns and looks at me. “Do you recognize me now?”
It’s Dr. Knox.
“It’s Susan Candace Knox, M.D., Ph.D., Harry.” Candy’s dressed and sitting on the bed, looking at me. She’s not wearing the glasses, and her hair again tumbles around her face and shoulders. Even now, it’s hard for me to imagine her as the dismal Dr. Knox.
“No doubt you’re wondering why I look like a fashion disaster sometimes and a ‘fuck me’ sex toy some other times.” She smiles at the thought, which makes me happy. “I’m a sex magician, Harry, what they call a primary sex magician. You know what that means?”
Yes, I do. Primaries need sex, so they naturally sexually stimulate anyone near them. Which explains why Knox wears such unattractive clothes; it keeps her from turning on everyone in her vicinity. But I’m genuinely surprised Candy is a doctor, M.D. or Ph.D., let alone both. Most primaries are so wrapped up in their sex lives that they can’t do anything that involves complicated thinking. That’s also why they generally can’t be good agents, and why the Office rarely employs them. Makes me love Candy all the more.
Candy strokes my face. “That’s sweet of you, Harry. Yes, it is tough at times. But it also gives me great insight into other people’s lives. And that’s why I’m here. Val Thompson and I are old acquaintances. She needed someone to use psychology and magic to diagnose the demon’s victims. And, she was worried that you were falling apart, from a combination of wounded pride, sexual rejection, and idleness. So I’m a ‘twofer,’ so to speak.
“It took me only minutes upon meeting you to figure out you were going to do something desperate and stupid before the end of the day. So I dressed up in a way I knew would appeal to you and followed you to Louie’s. When you genuinely decided to make some innocent woman your sex slave, I moved in on you.”
That Candy would call me stupid makes me so ashamed. I need to do something for her to make it up to her.
Before I can come up with anything, she says to me, “There is something you can do for me, Harry. Tell me, what happens to people primary sex magicians take as lovers?”
I know this! “They lose all objectivity about the primary and fall hopelessly in love. They’ll do whatever the primary asks them to do. The primary can read all their thoughts and do whatever they want to their lovers.”
“Exactly.” Candy gives me a kiss on the forehead. “You’re not going to understand this just now, Harry, but I’m sorry I’ve had to do this to you.”
I can hear the sadness in her voice. And while she’s right, I can’t understand why she should be sorry about anything she’s done to me, I’d do whatever it takes to make her happy again.
At that, she smiles. “If you want to make me happy, Harry, let our relationship be our little secret. Don’t tell anyone. When I’m dressed as the unfeminine and reserved Dr. Knox, treat me like you did yesterday. Wait for me to come to you; don’t come to me. Got that?”
“One last thing, Harry. If you want to make me really proud of you, try to figure out something you can do on this case that doesn’t involve leaving Farnham. Val wants you here, and I do, too.”
“I’ll do my best for you, love.”
“Good.” She leans over my body, and the appeal of her body’s warmth and that outfit she’s wearing are enough to get me excited again. “Time to take those cuffs off.” She gives me an appraising glance. “And maybe I do have a few more minutes before I need to go.”
The waitresses in McNaughton’s still wear their revealing costumes, but they don’t really interest me anymore. They aren’t Candy.
I sit over my coffee and omelet, and wonder when Candy will call me next. I hope it’s soon.
In the meantime, she did tell me to think about how I can contribute to this case while staying in Farnham. Well, there’s nothing I can do with the victims. They’re coming in at the rate of 1-3 per day, and Candy can easily handle them. Marge and the other two Office magicians, too. And I can’t go hunting the demon, because Candy told me not to leave Farnham. Although, if Val is right, I couldn’t do any good there anyhow.
What can I do that will help? What are my skills? Killing demons, but there are no demons here right now. There’s nothing I can do, nothing that I am, that will help.
But, but, maybe there’s something I know. There’s the advantage of personal experience. But I can’t see how any of my experiences on this case give me any advantage. For most of them, there were other magicians present.
Although . . . there is one experience no other magician shared with me: the meeting between Sanderson, her mother, and Abigail Lane. Sanderson doesn’t count; she’s gone off on her own without filing a report. Oh, I wrote all about it in my report to Val. But that’s not the same as being there. There must be something useful about that meeting I haven’t thought of.
Thinking it over, I realize there was one thing that was not in the report. I couldn’t explain what Sanderson’s mother said to Sanderson, because I didn’t hear it. But Abigail Lane knows.
Knows what? I’m sure there’s something there. I go over and over the conversation between the two of them in my mind. And none of it seems meaningful to the case. If Val’s right, and this whole case is about someone trying to kill Sanderson using a demon, then nothing said between Sanderson and Abigail Lane matters.
Val has to be wrong. Even Marge said so. And if Val is wrong, that changes everything.
I smile to myself. That’s kind of how I feel. Candy’s changed everything for me. She’s transformed me.
It changes everything. Transformation. Somehow, that’s the key: transformation. It’s something to do with transformation, I’m sure. What did Abigail say?
It need not be yours.
You are not fated to die that way.
That may be a dangerous course, Persephone. It may be that commanding dark powers is what will turn you into one.
Transformation. It changes everything. Of course! Val wasn’t wrong, damn her; I just didn’t understand what she was saying in her cryptic way. Or what Abigail Lane was saying. Or what Sanderson was saying. But now everything’s changed.
I stand up, toss some money on the table, and rush out of McNaughton’s. I need to talk to Marge immediately. She’s got to call up Abigail Lane’s ghost, now, before this case really does go to hell. Again.
End of chapter twelve