Chapter 23: Resolutions?
Copyright © 2016 by Brian Bixby
I’m standing in Sanderson’s fortune telling parlor again. Sanderson sits on her throne, black cat in her lap. I’m having a sense of déjà vu about this. And I feel as if some time has gone missing.
Something else doesn’t feel right. I look at my left arm. I’m pretty sure I remember Thora the Assassin cutting it off. Still, it’s there, and it looks perfectly normal. Even the star is gone from my palm. Lucky me! I’ve survived. My right arm feels fine, too, not broken at all.
“Hello, Harry,” Sanderson is eying me curiously. “How do you feel?”
Weird. But why? I try to pat myself down. And that’s when I realize the truth. I look up at Sanderson. She nods. She knows.
We stare at each other for several seconds. She’s not going to say it. So I have to, even though I don’t want to. “I’m dead, aren’t I?”
Sanderson stops stroking her cat. “I’m afraid so, Harry. At least you figured it out yourself. Most people won’t accept it at first.”
I’m dead. I should feel something. But I don’t. I reach out to grab a chair, and my hand goes right through it. So much for sitting down.
But I can’t be dead. I say to Sanderson, “This is going to sound stupid, but I don’t remember dying.”
Sanderson dumps the cat out of her lap, gets up, and walks around the table to me. She looks me over. “You don’t look very dead, Harry, but I’m not surprised you don’t remember how you died. It happened too fast. Thora the Assassin cut your left arm off with one stroke, and then took your head off on the return swing. At least that’s what Amelia says happened, and it fits with the condition of your corpse.”
Sanderson shrugs again. “She did. So did Deecee and Becky. So did Thora and all but one of the Office magicians she was leading against us. I’d slaughtered most of the demons in that hell before I bound it up and stuck it in my pocket. So it was mostly empty when Deecee unbound it. Otherwise more of us would have died.”
I think I’m supposed to applaud her forethought. Well, nuts to her! “That’s just great. Just great. You all make it out, except for me and some other schmuck. That’s just so fucking great. And you called me up here just to let me know. Gee, thanks a lot, Seffie.” I make it sound like an insult.
Sanderson looks as if she’s been struck. I’ve got to her. And then she shrugs, turns her back on me, and walks back to her throne and sits down. The cat jumps up back into her lap. She contemplates me a bit before replying, “It’s not great, Harry. It was stupid. Everyone was stupid, me included. And it got you killed. So what do you want to do now?”
What an idiotic question! “Like I have choices?”
“You do. You don’t remember anything between when you died and now, do you?”
Sanderson puts on a grim smile. “Then on your own you don’t feel strongly enough to stick around as a ghost. So I can dismiss you and you can go back to oblivion. Soon you’ll pass out of the realm of the dead into whatever comes after. Or, I can help you stick around in the realm of the dead as a ghost for as long as you want. Your choice.”
Nothing, or being a ghost. Swell choices. On the other hand, being nothing doesn’t sound too interesting. If all I can be is a ghost, then I guess I’ll have to be a ghost.
Hey, wait. I died in a hell. “Why aren’t I a demon?”
Sanderson chuckles. “I was wondering when you’d ask. Amelia wouldn’t leave your corpse behind for that very reason. Turns out Deecee and I had to pull off some magic that we weren’t sure would work to get your corpse and your soul out of the hell together. Congratulations, Harry. In becoming a normal ghost instead of a demon, you made magic history.”
Oh. It seems I owe Sanderson something. On the other hand, she owes me for rescuing her. I don’t think there’s much I can ask of her, though. “So you can help me stick around as a ghost?”
“Only if you want.” Sanderson smiles at that, probably one of the few genuine smiles I’ve seen on her. “You know how it works: ghosts stick around only if they have a purpose. Well, I have a purpose for you: revenge.”
I dryly observe, “I tried to kill Thora twice already. In case you haven’t noticed, I did not succeed.”
Sanderson waves her hand in disgust. “I’m not talking about Thora, Harry. Someone tried to kill me, or turn me into a dark power. We don’t know which because their plan got derailed, first by Deecee being possessed by the demon, and then by Deecee’s brooch. But that person is ultimately responsible for what happened, including your death. I want to find that person. I hope you want to find that person, too.”
“And then what will you do with him? Send him to the fucking Seychelles like you did Thora? You know that’s a tropical resort, don’t you?” And almost to myself I add, “Dumb ass.”
Sanderson makes an exasperated sound. “Look, Harry, no one told me McCarthy’s people could magically teleport wherever they want just by calling their headquarters. If I’d known, I’d have sent Thora someplace more challenging.” She pauses, and then adds, “What I do with the malefactor depends on who it turns out to be and why they’ve got it in for me.”
In a falsetto, I reply, “One must be so nice to the people who try to kill us.”
Sanderson doesn’t answer immediately. She shakes her head at me several times, instead. And then, in a lower tone of voice, she says, “It may be my sister, Harry, my teenage sister that I didn’t know about until this business began.”
Oh. In a normal voice I ask her, “Why would your sister want to kill you?”
Sanderson looks uncomfortable. “Because my mother used magic to conceive her as my good counterpart. She’s supposed to grow up to try to persuade me to kill myself before I become a dark power, or, failing that, kill me. And for all I know she just might be a bit quick off the mark, even though she can’t be more than 15.” She gets up, sending the cat to the floor, walks over to the window, and stares out of it.
I expect to hear crying noises, but I don’t. Nor any sign that she’s convulsed with emotions. But I know I’ve screwed up. “Look, Sanderson, I didn’t know. Your mother tell you this?”
Without turning around, she nods.
“Well, look at the bright side. It’s probably someone pissed off at you for the fortune you gave them.”
Sanderson doesn’t answer. Instead, she turns around and asks, “Well, are you interested?”
I think about it. If I’m going to go on as a ghost, I suppose having some purpose is essential, and I don’t have another one to hand. Still, I do have a question. “Why me?”
Against the light, it’s hard to make out Sanderson’s facial expression, but it looks to me as if she’s suppressing a smile. “Four reasons. First of all, I owe you for helping rescue me. Second, I think this investigation’s going to involve asking a lot of recently dead people questions about the demon that possessed them, and having a ghost do that will be helpful. And you’re supposed to be my moral guide, Harry. Can’t engage in a quest for vengeance without one, you know.”
I scoff. “I did such a great job at that.”
“You don’t get it, Harry, do you?” Sanderson walks over until we’re facing each other only about a foot apart. “If you hadn’t kept me from killing Thora, and then sacrificed your life to protect Amelia, I might have succumbed to using the dark magic of the seven-pointed star, and it would have claimed me as its new avatar. So, yeah, you were my moral guardian,” and she laughs, “I guess without really trying!”
Well, okay, then: I’m a moral guardian. That’s good, because besides being a ghost, I don’t know what talents I have. And then there’s this other thing. “You mentioned four reasons.”
“Yeah, I did.” She looks down at her feet and then back up at me. “You see, I’ve already recruited another ghost before you, one with more experience than you. She’ll be your partner, your senior partner. And she made several stipulations about what kind of junior partner she’d accept. You meet her requirements.”
Junior partner? I don’t know about this. On the other hand, if she’s young and attractive, maybe she wants me for my sex appeal. I could live with that. “Who is she?”
“Right here, Harry Eberhardt, behind you.”
I know that voice. I turn around.
It’s Abigail Lane.
I gulp. (Well, whatever ghosts do that’s equivalent to gulping.) So much for sex appeal. At least I hope Abigail didn’t want me for that reason. Abigail gives me a knowing glance, and I realize she knows what I’m thinking. I guess ghosts can blush, too, because I feel my face turning red.
Abigail gives me a few moments to recover before speaking. “The stipulations I gave Sanderson were that the ghost should be of a magician who had training as some sort of policing agent in his past life. A newer ghost would be preferable to an older one.” And you have two other qualifications I did not mention to Persephone. You were not satisfied with what you achieved in your life. And you actually have the ability to do better.
For a woman with a legendary reputation as a stern disciplinarian, Abigail seems amazingly concerned with my welfare. I think back at her, I don’t know what you expect of me.
Abigail nods and then replies out loud. “Persephone expects you to do some work for her under my direction. She underestimates you. I expect you to do that work while learning how to be a more effective agent so you won’t need my direction, only my cooperation.”
That actually sounds good. But Sanderson interrupts. “You never told me that, Abigail.”
Abigail flashes her gray eyes at Sanderson, and in a severe tone replies, “It didn’t need to be said to you until Harry could hear it, too.” And then she turns to me and in a kinder voice asks, “So what say you, Harry Eberhardt?”
I don’t think I’ve ever seen Sanderson put in her place so effectively. Hell, if Abigail can do that, then maybe this will be a fun job after all. So I answer, “I would be pleased to work under your guidance, Abigail, for as long as it takes.”
Abigail smiles. I’m tempted to turn around and see if Sanderson is smiling or frowning, or whatever, but resist. Whatever Sanderson thinks, I’m working for Abigail Lane. She’s been a ghost for half a century or more, and knows how to train agents. This could actually be fun.
Though I do have one question that I can’t ask Abigail, or Sanderson for that matter. Sanderson wouldn’t know the answer, and I don’t think I want to risk asking Abigail. But I would really like to know. Do ghosts have sex?
THE END OF Magician’s Misfortune