Chapter 18: Hunting for a solution to a problem I wouldn’t have if it weren’t for other people
Copyright © 2016 by Brian Bixby
I’m sitting on a large rock outside of Becky’s place, looking up at the moon, and wondering just how my life got so screwed up. I can’t remove the seven-pointed star in my hand. I’ve just tried half a dozen different ways. None of them work. And Becky’s right: if I can’t remove it, it will consume me. I can’t take it to my colleagues in the Office, because they now think I’m tied to Sanderson, whom they are hunting for some reason. And I am tied to Sanderson, though not by my choice. She is the one who did this to me. It’s her fault.
Unfortunately, I’m in no position to find her and hold her accountable. Maybe I could use this star to trace back to her, but that would involve calling on its power, and that would hasten its takeover of me, probably.
But Becky? I don’t know. If she’s telling the truth, then Abigail’s working with her, and dead though she may be, no one’s sharper than Abigail Lane. But what if she’s lying?
I make up my mind and go back into the chalet. Becky’s still sitting at the kitchen table. She looks at me, but doesn’t say a word. So I say to her, “Why should I trust you when you can manipulate the power of the star in my hand? Who’s to say you’re not working with dark powers yourself?”
She scrunches up her face for a moment before replying. “I’ve dealt with that type of magic for a very long time, and I know how to protect myself from it even when I use it. Whether I can protect you from it, I won’t know until you let me examine your hand. And if you’re asking if I’m actually an agent of a dark power trying to destroy you, well, why haven’t I done so already? Unless you think that I’ve engineered an elaborate plot to gain your confidence so that I can catch you unguarded at the precise moment when the planets align for the once-in-a-million-year moment when it’s possible to have the star’s energies consume you.”
I sit down, defeated, finish my beer. “Okay, what do you want?”
“Show me your hand.”
I put it on the table, palm up. Becky looks at it closely and whistles. She looks up at me. “Miss Sanderson did this to you?”
“Wow, she did a number on you. And in silver, too. That is strange.” Becky straightens up and sits back in her chair.
“Why is it strange?”
Becky replies, “Because this type of magic and silver are usually incompatible. It shouldn’t work.” She shakes her head.
I think back. “Amelia, one of my colleagues, said something similar about Deecee’s brooch.”
Becky smiles. “Now we’re talking. Grab yourself another beer, Harry, and tell me about Miss Sanderson and seven-pointed stars and brooches.”
It’s taken me two hours to cover all the ground Becky wants, but I’m finally done. And apart from asking questions, she hasn’t said a word. “So what do you think?” I ask her.
We’re sitting in the living room in front of a small fire. Becky is mostly under a blanket, which eliminates my view of her breasts. She stares into the fire a while before responding. “Well, first off, Harry, you’re screwed. We have to get that star off your hand, sooner than later. How we’re going to do that, I don’t know. Nor do I know how to fix your problems with your employers. But I think keeping you from being absorbed by a dark power comes first.”
She turns to look at me. “The bigger problem is that to do that, I think we’ll have to pry that star off Miss Sanderson’s hand, too. And that is likely to be a much harder task. Anyone who can destroy a hell isn’t going to have much trouble dealing with you and me.”
“Ah, wait a minute. Sanderson destroyed a hell? That’s nonsense. What did she do, kill every demon in it?”
Becky turns back to look at the fire. “Nothing so simple. Oh, she may have done just that as a warm-up, and I think she did. But she literally destroyed the hell. Completely. There is nothing there anymore. There isn’t even a ‘there’ anymore. That plane of existence doesn’t exist anymore, period.”
I’m staggered. “That would require powers on the order of a vessel. Not that one has ever attempted to do anything like that. And there isn’t a vessel alive today that we know of.”
Becky nods. “Which means no one alive has the power to stand up to Miss Sanderson in her current state. That is why your Office is hunting her down. If she can destroy a hell, then she can destroy any other plane of existence, including this one.” She turns to look at me again. “And that’s another reason you’re in trouble. The hell she destroyed was the one you two visited.”
I feel sick. No wonder the Office magicians were so excited about catching me.
Becky interrupts my thinking. “Oh, it gets better. Since there’s no one out there who can go one-on-one with a vessel, the Office has had to call in special help in hopes of taking Sanderson down. Ever hear of Þóra Magnúsdóttir?” My blank look must convey my feelings exactly, because Becky explains, “Thora the Assassin?”
Holy shit. We’re doomed. Thora’s reputation is for doing whatever it takes to succeed, and she’s never missed yet. I take refuge in one slim hope. “I thought Thora worked for McCarthy. What’s she doing in this case?”
“You think Frank McCarthy is going to stand by and watch a magician destroy entire planes of existence?”
The smell of bacon wakes me up. I sit up and remember I’m on the sofa in the living room of Becky’s chalet. Becky slept upstairs. She was pointedly not looking for company. I stand up in my underwear and look over to the kitchen, to see Becky in a sleeveless bathrobe that cuts off high above the knees. She looks over at me, sees me in my boxer shorts. “Is that what dressed for success means these days?” She laughs. “Come on over, Harry, and feast on bacon and yogurt. It’s all I keep here between visits.”
Oh, there’s coffee and cleavage, too. Becky catches me staring at the latter when she drops some bacon on the plate in front of me at the kitchen table. She smiles as she sits down, and says to me, “While a gal likes to be admired, Harry, I think a little more subtlety may be called for. You leave me feeling like all you want to do is get me in bed for . . . oh, let’s be generous, three minutes. You like this around all women?”
“Only sexy ones,” I reply.
“Oh, good,” she replies. “Then I should be safe once I get dressed.”
“What happened to the halter top and leather boots?” I ask.
Becky has stepped out of the bathroom in a business suit, complete with gray skirt that almost reaches her ankles and black shoes with almost no heels. Her hair’s up in a bun at the back. She laughs. “That was my attire for blending in at Louie’s. It was a good place to scout out the magicians who were in town hunting for Sanderson. Once they were drunk, I could get anything out of them I wanted.” She pauses to look at herself in a floor-length mirror. “But today, we are trying to impress people with our seriousness.” She goes over to a closet, comes back a moment later wearing glasses. “Nothing says nerd girl like glasses in clunky black frames.”
Sometimes a girl looks sexy dressed just the way she is. Sometimes it’s the appeal of taking off the clothes she wears to find the animal within. Becky’s gone from the former to the latter. “You still look hot,” I tell her.
“I have a foolproof spell for male impotence, Harry. Be warned.”
“That is definitely alchemical silver.” A woman Becky introduced as Alexis is looking over my hand. We’re sitting in her alchemical laboratory in some other plane of existence in Spain, which we reached by Becky’s car going all hyperdimensional again. I don’t understand it, but according to Becky, alchemy works here.
Alexis lets go of my hand and goes to sit down on a wicker chair. She’s kind of cute in a creepy way, with those big brown eyes and coffee-and-cream skin. She addresses Becky. “The good news is that it’s confining the magic within the heptagram so long as you don’t play with it. The bad news is that it will corrode until the alchemical silver is gone, and then it’s only a matter of time before he is absorbed by the magic.”
Becky asks, “How much time?”
Alexis sticks out her lower lip. “Hard to say. Assuming he doesn’t draw on it, maybe two weeks, maybe just under a week.” She looks at me. “You say the original source was a brooch of the same design in the normal world?”
“It had jewels in it,” I point out.
“Hmmm. Might have stabilized it. Don’t think it would help you to embed any jewels in your flesh, though.” Alexis gets up and goes rummaging through several racks of containers on the wall of her lab. She comes back with a test tube filled with silvery liquid and holds it in front of me. “Here, drink this.”
I eye it suspiciously. “What is it?” I ask.
“Mercury. I am trying to poison you.” She laughs as I glare at her. “What? You think I’m going to poison a friend of Becky’s? No, it is all the alchemical sliver I have in liquid form. Drink it, it will be absorbed by the heptagram in your hand and help protect you.”
I take it, and take a small sip. It has no flavor whatsoever. In fact, I can’t feel it on my tongue. I down the rest of it and give Alexis back the tube. And then I fall out of my chair in agony.
I wake up with a start, and practically jump off the couch on which I’ve been resting. Becky looks up from a book she’s reading. “It’s about time,” she announces.
I have a headache. “What did that she-demon do to me?”
Becky laughs. “You’re closer than you know, Harry. But she didn’t do anything to you. Turns out you had a spell on you that was destroyed by the silver Alexis gave you. You should be thanking her.”
“What spell? I can’t have a spell on me. It would have been detected during the physical I got a few days ago.”
“Happened after, Harry.” Becky stands up. “Some tall blonde you were dancing with in San Francisco left a spell behind to make you obey her the next time you see her.”
Oh, that bitch. I can actually remember what she looked like now: really tall, buff, short hair, great smile, green eyes. I can remember dancing with her. I still can’t remember what she did to me afterwards.
Becky interrupts my thoughts. “C’mon, we’re through here. Got more to do. Though Alexis said she’d be happy for you to come back to spend a night with her.” She giggles.
Maybe I’ve wronged Alexis. “What’s so funny about that? She’s a girl, I’m a guy . . . no, wait, you’re going to tell me she’s actually a guy?”
Becky is having trouble keeping her laughter under control. “No . . . Harry . . . it’s not that, it’s just . . . well, Alexis had an accident in an alchemical experiment about a century ago . . . and ever since, she’s had vagina dentata.”
New Orleans still isn’t the city it was before Hurricane Katrina. But this mansion on the outskirts looks like it was too big and too old to suffer from anything as trivial as a hurricane. It’s the Laveau family’s place, where Amelia has gone to take her leave. We are met by a servant at the door, who escorts us into a parlor while he goes to see if Miss Amelia will see us.
After a few minutes, the door opens, and Amelia comes into the parlor. Becky immediately gets up and walks over toward her. She stops a few feet away and says, “You know Harry. I’m Becky.” And then she curtsies!
Amelia is actually flustered. She tries to curtsey and makes an awkward job of it, and tries to excuse herself with a half-hearted smile. “I’m out of practice.”
Becky smiles at Amelia. “You’ve had better things to do with your time than waste it in a vain and outmoded practice. So I’ll get to the point. See what’s wrong with Harry?”
I’m standing up in front of the chair I was sitting in. Amelia comes forward, looks me over, and locks onto my left hand. I lift it up to show her the palm.
Amelia gasps. “How did you get that, Harry?”
I tell her, “Sanderson gave it to me yesterday. She has one on her own right hand. She imprinted it on mine. It’s made of alchemical silver.”
“Well, probably an avatar of Miss Sanderson did it, not her actual physical presence,” Becky chimes in.
Amelia rises an eyebrow, glances back and forth between the two of us, and settles on Becky. “And your interest in this is?”
“I dislike seeing this type of magic running wild and claiming victims. That’s my interest. And Abigail Lane and I are old friends. She has an interest in Miss Sanderson, so I’m acting on her behalf, too.” Becky steps forward until she’s standing face-to-face with Amelia. Amelia is tall, even taller than me, while Becky looks to be not much over 5’, so Becky has to crane her neck to look Amelia in the face. And yet it’s clearly two equals facing each other. “Harry’s here because he’s as good as dead or worse unless we get that star off of him. He can’t go to your colleagues, because they’re under orders to kill Miss Sanderson for destroying a hell and wiping it out of existence, and they think Harry’s in league with her. So apart from me, you’re his last hope.”
Amelia turns to me, “This is true?”
I tell her, “I don’t know about the hell or Abigail Lane’s relationship to Becky for sure, but the rest of it is true.”
Amelia ponders the matter, and then shakes her head. “You two need to leave.”
I’m thunderstruck! Amelia’s abandoning me. I’m so hurt I say, “But Amelia, we need your help. I need your help. I . . .”
Amelia cuts me off. “No, Harry. That’s not it. If what you’re telling me is true, then someone may be watching this place, just in case you or Sanderson show up. You have to leave now, for your own safety.”
“Too late.” Becky’s frowning. “Some magician just tried to tamper with my car.” And out of nowhere, she pulls a rapier.
End of chapter eighteen