Chapter 21: SNAFU
Copyright © 2016 by Brian Bixby
I wake up with a start and sit up. Deecee Young is kneeling on the floor beside the couch, looking at me with a worried expression. “Are you all right, Harry?” she asks.
“God, no.” I feel sick to my stomach and I have a headache. I swing my legs off the couch so I’m sitting up, and stick my head in my hands. “What the hell happened to me?”
“What do you remember?”
What do I remember? I remember Candy Knox in a revealing outfit. I remember having sex with Candy. No, wait, I was having sex with Deecee . . . or were Deecee and Candy having sex? My head spins. I saw all these things, but it’s all confused, nonsense.
“I know it’s going to feel miserable, but stand up, Harry. You need to get your circulation going.” Deecee grabs me and helps me up. I can smell her body, and that produces more confused images that almost throw me off my feet.
“Walk, Harry. Here, I’ll help you.” Deecee pulls at me, and I stagger into the kitchen, and then out the door. Just outside the door, Amelia is lying on the porch, asleep.
I stop and stare. Amelia looks like she just decided to curl up on the porch and go to sleep. It’s not like her.
“She’s fine, Harry, just sleeping. C’mon, keep walking.” Deecee is insistent, and we head off into a field.
I’m walking and trying to figure out what happened. Was Candy here? I try to examine my mind to see if magic’s been used on it, but vertigo kicks in when I try.
Deecee stops pulling at me. Apologetically, she says, “Don’t do that to yourself, yet, Harry. I’ll explain.”
I shake myself free, stand straight, and look around. We’re a few hundred paces from the chalet. Deecee looks quite concerned. It’s sort of how she looked when I was . . . well, was I? “What the hell happened to me, Deecee?”
“You had a magical convulsion, Harry,” Deecee replies. “Susan, ah, Candy Knox dropped in and something she did screwed you up badly. Well, maybe something I did, too.”
This is not making any sense. “Like?”
Deecee looks down at the ground for a moment, then looks me straight in the face. “I seduced her.”
I break out laughing. This scared little bunny seduce a tiger like Candy? “No, you did not seduce her. She seduced you.”
Deecee doesn’t answer immediately. She just stares into my face. And then in a quiet voice she says, “She tried. But I’m an empath, Harry. I’m an empath . . .” Her voice cracks and she turns away. She starts trembling. Her voice quavers as she says, “You’re supposed to be Seffie’s moral guardian, Harry. Can’t you for once stop being a bastard and be mine, too?”
I’m amazed Deecee actually just called me a bastard, and maybe a bit touched, too. So I reply, “Go ahead. I’m listening.”
Without turning back to face me, Deecee says, “All the years I couldn’t be me, and then this last year or two trying to find out what I was. And then she comes along and tells me I should want her and I wanted her to please me and she was shocked when I took control but she wanted it, too . . . oh, hell, is what I’m saying making any sense, Harry?”
Unwillingly, I’m reminded of my last night with Jen Williams, back in college. Jen was a slut by reputation. I thought we’d done well that evening, but not long after we finished, she got up, got dressed, and walked out the door. But not before leaving a parting shot. “You just don’t care, Harry. You don’t know the difference between wanting someone and caring for someone. You really don’t care if I’m happy. You just go through the motions as if you want to please me, but you don’t, really. Don’t call me ever again.”
In those terms, maybe that’s why I eventually hated what Candy did to me. She gave me great pleasure, but it was really just for herself, her needs. I don’t think she really wanted me at all, except that she wanted somebody.
I look up from the ground, and see Deecee peering at me. Guess I’ve been lost in thought. “Yeah, maybe it makes some sort of sense, Deecee. I don’t know. I’ve never figured out whether I love Candy or hate her. Probably both.” I try to smile, but the bitterness in my voice undercuts it.
To that, Deecee nods. “It’s the intensity that’s so frightening, Harry. Susan, eh, Candy wanted so much. I wanted so much. You were so torn up about wanting her and hating her that you went into a magical convulsion. I had to put Amelia to sleep so she wasn’t dragged in.”
I’m tempted to ask what she would have been dragged into, but I can guess. And in any case, a verbal account could hardly match actually seeing Deecee and Candy getting it on. Not that I want to even imagine it.
Deecee interrupts my thoughts. “And I have to thank you, Harry.”
“Oh, not at all, anytime,” I reply. And then I have second thoughts. “For what?”
“Seeing how you had to suppress any memory of what was happening there in the living room was really helpful in helping me understand how I’ve been dealing with parts of my life. It’s one thing to know you’ve been suppressing feelings. It’s a lot easier to understand when you see someone else do it.”
Deecee looks so happy. But I don’t know quite what to say to that. Thank you for studying me like a lab rat to understand yourself better? I try to smile, mumble a bit, and look off in the distance, hoping it makes me look wise.
“Do you think I did the wrong thing, taking control of the sex with Susan?”
I can feel my face redden. Deecee, would you shut up? But I’m supposed to be a moral guardian. I am so going to task Abigail Lane with setting me up this way, the next time I see her. So I reply, “No, it probably did Candy, eh, Susan some good to experience what it is like on the other side of a relationship.” Only when I finish speaking do I look at Deecee.
My words cause her to smile some more. “Thank you, Harry. That makes me feel better. I mean, if relationships don’t have to be equal on both sides, then it’s okay for me to be in love with Seffie, even though she’ll never feel that way about me.”
You and me both, kid. And I catch myself at that. Why do I feel any affection whatsoever for that cantankerous freak, Persephone blah-de-blah Sanderson, is beyond me.
In a very chirpy voice, Deecee suggests, “I suppose we’d better go back and collect Amelia and Becky. Susan told me a few things they should know, too.”
There’s a myth that having sex for the first time is an immensely liberating experience that changes everything and makes you stand taller, be more assertive and self-assured, and of course, sexier. Hollywood says so, so it has to be true. Well, it’s not. But there’s a grain of truth in it. If it went well, people do feel that way for as much as a few days later.
That’s Deecee now. She’s all about getting us all sitting into the living room listening to her, so she can explain the latest developments. It’s actually kind of cute. It also makes me wonder how long it will take before she becomes a timid little bunny again. Or will she? The Office had big plans for her, based on what Amelia said. Whether the Office has any plans for any of us, now, beyond firing us, is a good question.
“Dr. Knox was here while you were all sleeping,” Deecee explains, sidestepping any mention of my experience. “She wanted to warn us about two things. First of all, Seffie’s way of getting rid of Thora the Assassin didn’t really work. Seffie sent her to the Seychelles, but she was able to phone back to the U.S. and arrange to be teleported back. She’s back in Farnham. Apparently she’s got a plan to get at Seffie so she can execute her.”
Thanks a lot, Sanderson. We still have the most lethal magician in the world on our tail. So much for my advice.
“Second, the brooch didn’t just contain some power; it actually contained the entire plane of existence. At least that’s what one of Frank McCarthy’s people thinks. And that the hell wasn’t destroyed, but confined within something similar to the brooch using the jewels that were in the brooch. Which means we can reconstruct the brooch, but it will reopen the hell somehow.”
Charming. There are enough hells that another one, more or less, won’t make much of a difference, but to reopen one just to save Sanderson?
Amelia clears her throat, looking perplexed. “Well, I suppose the good thing is that this means Sanderson couldn’t actually destroy another plane of existence, so she’s not the threat everyone thought she was. But I don’t understand this, Deecee. Thora works for Frank McCarthy, but so does Dr. Knox. Why is Frank warning us about Thora, as if he wants her to fail?”
Good points, Amelia. I think it’s things like this that make it good working with you. You’re on top of things, most of the time.
Deecee is a bit flustered. “I . . . well, Susan and I had other things on our minds. But she told me she was acting on behalf of one of McCarthy’s people. I think she called her a . . . what did you call that person you know who works for McCarthy this morning?”
“A Norn,” Amelia corrects Deecee. “You don’t happen to know which one, do you?”
Deecee shakes her head. “Susan didn’t want to tell me. But,” and she looks over at Becky, “she did say something about how the Norn had tracked Becky’s magic, and was wondering why Becky didn’t have her walking stick with her.”
Becky scowls at this and looks over at Amelia. Amelia is nodding to herself, but sees Becky looking at her, and says, “You asked us to trust you; now it’s your turn to trust me. That message was a warning from an ally that we are running out of time and may face stiff opposition. I suggest you put your plan into place and that we all be prepared to fight for our lives. Anyone who doesn’t feel so inclined has best say so now.”
Amelia is looking at Deecee, for which I’m thankful, because I expect my face shows how I feel. Going up against Thora and whatever else the Office and Frank McCarthy have deployed? For Sanderson? I don’t really want to do this.
Do you really have a choice, Harry? The telepathic voice is Amelia’s. We’re probably already wanted as “lost” agents. But if you want out, I can come up with a convincing role for you that will keep you out of harm’s way without making it obvious.
Damn, Amelia, sometimes you’re a little too sharp. So I reply, You’re right, Amelia. I don’t have a choice. And if there’s any way to get my job back it’s to make this work. So I’m in.
Amelia is good. The whole time, she’s not even looking at me. As far as the other two go, none of this just happened. But I have a sinking feeling in my stomach.
We arrive in what Becky assures us will be the plane of existence Sanderson is on. I look around and realize that Becky has made a mistake. So I announce, “This isn’t some other plane of existence. This is Sanderson’s fortune telling parlor in Farnham.” And so it is.
Becky looks around, baffled. “It can’t be. This is where the seven-pointed star on your hand leads us. This has to be the source of Sanderson’s power.”
Deecee looks equally confused. But Amelia does not. She says to me, “No, whether or not Becky got it right, there’s power here. And this isn’t our normal plane of existence.”
Whatever else Amelia might have wanted to add gets cut off by a high-pitched noise that causes us all to cover our ears. The room is lighting up, and when I turn, I see the crystal ball is glowing with a whirling light from within. Abruptly the ball vanishes as the light spills out of the ball and covers the entire table, spinning rapidly. Then the noise steadily drops in volume and tone, and the light spins more slowly, until the sound dies away and the light freezes in the form of a seven-pointed star covering the entire table.
I take my hands off my ears. The noise has stopped. Apart from the four of us looking at each other, bewildered, nothing’s moving. It’s as if the entire room is holding its breath in anticipation. In anticipation of what?
End of chapter twenty-one