Chapter 6: Needed: better magicians
Copyright © 2015 by Brian Bixby
The hit Amelia takes is so solid, and sounds so bad, that all I can think is that the murderer has killed her. I’m mad enough that I just charge at him. Stupid me. Before I can reach him, he swings the lamp again. I catch the lamp on my shoulder. The force of the impact knocks me off my feet and I go down, tumbling into Deecee Young as I do so.
I roll off Young and almost immediately regret doing so. My right arm and shoulder are numb where they don’t hurt like blazes. I can’t make them work properly. My head aches from slamming into the wall or the floor, I’m not sure which, and I’m feeling dizzy, too. Amelia’s lying on the floor beside me, a big bloody spot on the side of her head. She’s not moving. There’s a murderer in this hall with us, and all the magicians who can handle him are down.
I hear a crashing noise and look up. Sanderson has slipped around us and is standing between us and the murderer. She’s armed with some sort of metal rod, and has managed to knock the lamp out of the killer’s hands. He’s looking blankly at her, as if he can’t figure out what happened. That makes two of us.
Sanderson advances on him, swinging the rod in a deliberate way, as if she’s looking for exactly where to strike him. Abruptly, he turns and runs down the hallway.
It’s over. I glance over to my left at Young. She’s lying on the floor, looking pale and with her eyelids fluttering. Maybe she got knocked out when I fell on her. Only seconds, and the demon managed to take out all three of us. Amelia may even be dead. And yet Sanderson scared it off by knocking the lamp out of its hands. Doesn’t seem fair.
I start to crawl over to where Amelia lies when I hear the sound of glass shattering. That doesn’t sound good, so I struggle to stand up. With an effort, I barely manage to stand, bracing myself against the corridor wall. I look past Sanderson, and see the killer running back towards us. I was right, it’s not good. This time, the killer’s got a fire ax.
I can hear Sanderson saying, “Oh, shit,” quite distinctly. And then the murderer is on her.
He swings, she blocks the ax with her rod, he swings again, and she blocks him again. It’s a near thing, because the rod she’s using is shorter than the ax by a fair piece. The next time she tries to catch and pull the ax away from him. But he figures out what she’s trying to do and pulls back, almost yanking Sanderson off her feet. He swings again. Sanderson is off balance, and barely blocks him, only to have her rod twisted out of her hands as he catches it with the ax head and yanks it back.
I can hear Deecee Young moaning as I try feverishly to remember a spell to stop this guy. A simple magical command won’t work on a demonically-possessed person. But between the dizziness and the pain, I can’t concentrate. Before I can think of an appropriate spell, Sanderson steps back, trips on Amelia’s body, and falls to the floor.
The murderer yells and brings the ax down to kill Sanderson. I figure she’s toast. But she’s fast and rolls out of the way at the last second, springing up on her feet. Unfortunately, she’s facing the wrong way, and the murderer has raised the ax and is and about to swing it horizontally to split Sanderson’s body in two.
In desperation, I just try to focus the dizziness I’m feeling on the murderer. It’s a stupid thing to do. Demons don’t get dizzy. But it’s all I can do.
And he staggers! His swing clears Sanderson and the ax embeds itself in the wall. Before he can yank it out, Sanderson has turned about and grasped the ax, and the two of them start fighting over it. I try to make the murderer dizzy again, but somehow he’s figured out what I did, and just reflects back the dizziness to me.
For a few seconds, all I can do is try to keep from falling. And then my head clears, and I see Sanderson let go of the ax. The possessed man gives a yell of triumph and pulls the ax free of the wall.
My heart stops.
And then Sanderson brings her feather-endowed hand up and smashes her fingers into the guy’s eyes. He screams as he drops the ax, staggers back several steps, and falls to the floor. After a few moments, Sanderson picks up the ax from the floor and positions herself just beside him, poised to strike him down if he rises. She’s breathing heavily.
Deecee Young has regained consciousness, and she walks forward to assist Sanderson. I start to do the same. But just as Young reaches Sanderson, Sanderson lets out a gasp of pain and crumples to the floor herself.
What the hell happened? Did the demon manage to hurt Sanderson somehow? I take another painful step. Deecee comes to meet me and she gives me a smile. I guess she’s happy to still be alive. I say to her, “We’d better check that the demon is really out of commission, Deecee.”
Deecee’s smile becomes intimate, knowing. “Leave it be, Harry. We’ve got time to ourselves now. Let’s put it to good use.”
What the hell is she talking about? And then she’s standing before me, naked and willing. “You know I’ve wanted you, Harry,” she croons. “Every woman does.”
It’s true. And so I slip my arms around Deecee and press my lips to hers while running my hands down her back. And she is so warm.
I feel this nauseating pain, yell, and open my eyes. There’s a female face looking down into mine. It’s Deecee. What’s happened?
Wait, that’s not Deecee. The woman is older, more like my age, with short, curly red hair and eyeglasses. Her breath reeks of bourbon. She gives me the slightest of smiles and says, “Good, you’re awake.”
I try to sit up, and the nausea returns. I can see I’m naked. I’m not in the motel corridor, or anyplace else familiar. And then I’m too sick to even try to sit up, and lie back down.
The woman leans over until she’s only inches from my face. “Bad move that, sitting up. You took a severe blow to your testicles. I would recommend being very gentle in trying to move the lower part of your body for a while. Fortunately for the sake of any children you wish to engender, you’ve suffered no permanent damage.” She stands straight up. “And I’m Doctor Rowe. You may thank me for your continued good health, but I think your colleague Amelia Laveau deserves most of the credit.”
So Amelia’s still alive. I heave a sigh of relief. And then I remember, or at least think I remember, what I was doing with Deecee Young. It’s so vivid that I start to get aroused . . . and then I suddenly feel sick again.
The doctor, who’s come back with some blankets, sees what’s happening to me, and stifles a chuckle. “I think you’ll find that’s a bit beyond you, too, Mr. Henry Eberhardt, at least for now.” She carefully drapes two blankets over me while saying, “You’ve got someone who wants to see you, and I think you’d both prefer it if she doesn’t see you naked, let alone with an erection.” And with that she walks away.
I have to wonder if it’s Deecee or Amelia to see me. I try to sit up carefully, propping myself up on my elbows, and find my right arm and shoulder are bruised and still hurt. But at least they work again. I look up and see Amelia come through the door as the doctor leaves the same way. Now that I know, I recognize I’m on an examining table in a doctor’s office. Amelia is wearing bandages on one side of her head. It makes her look like a decomposing mummy. As she approaches, I say to her, “You look about as healthy as I feel.”
Amelia gives me the ghost of a smile and sits down on a nearby chair. “You’re right about that, Harry. I’ve got a headache that isn’t going away anytime soon. But at least I’m not seeing double anymore.” She sighs. “Although I wish I were. This is a fine mess we’ve gotten into. One demon takes out four magicians. We are not going to live this down for years to come.”
Even more carefully, I manage to sit up. It only hurts in an excruciating way about every other move I make. I say to Amelia, “I don’t really remember how the demon took me out. I got hit hard in the shoulder and I think it screwed up my memory of what happened afterwards.”
Amelia shakes her head repeatedly. “Harry, Harry, Harry. I helped pull you out of a magical coma just now. We both know there’s nothing wrong with your memory.”
Damn. So much for not confessing to how I slipped up. And in recalling what did happen, I realize what it was about the situation that confused me. So I don’t answer for several seconds while trying to formulate my account in its proper terms. “The demon must have left its original host after Sanderson hurt it, and then took over Agent Young. She struck down Sanderson, and then confused me with sexual advances before rendering me unconscious.”
Amelia barks out a laugh and then gives me a stern look. “I won’t even begin to tell you how disappointed I am that you could be seduced by a demon, Harry. But there’s no point in belaboring the point. The demon’s already punished you. It must have given you a kick in the balls and then tried to kill you with magic.”
“But it didn’t,” I point out.
Amelia stands up and paces a bit before facing me. “You have any idea why?”
I shake my head.
“Pity. It could have killed all of us, and yet it didn’t. And I don’t know the reason, either.” Amelia sighs again. “Now we have a remarkably intelligent and powerful demon controlling the body of one of our own magicians. Bad enough when it inhabited a normal human. We’ll be lucky if the only thing it does is use Agent Young’s power to start a bloodbath on the Interstate.”
I try to put a bright side on things. “Young doesn’t strike me as that powerful. And those are minor league talents of hers.”
Amelia barks out another laugh. “If only.” She paces a bit more before facing me again. “While you spent the afternoon in a coma caused by that not particularly powerful magician, I was having a nice homey chat with Val Thompson. This situation is screwed up much worse than you can imagine, Harry. Val’s sending us four more magicians, and it was all I could do to keep her from coming out here herself.”
Weird. Val must be pissed, but she’s sending us more magicians? “Who’s she sending? Anyone I’d know?”
Amelia thinks a moment. “You might know Keller and Yee from D.C. Winter’s coming in from the Chicago office, and someone I’ve never met, Joshi from L.A.”
I tell Amelia, “Joshi will be fine; I’ve worked with her before.” Yee will be fine, too. I don’t know Keller personally, but he’s got a good rep. So does Winter, of course, but I can’t think of any magician I’d less like to see.
Amelia looks at me as if she’s pondering something before she says, “Get dressed, Harry. I need you with me for the one last thing that has to be done tonight before we all get a good night’s sleep if we’re going to make better progress tomorrow.”
Ten minutes later, after I’ve hurt myself only three times getting dressed and learning how to walk without hunching over in pain, Amelia takes me away from the examining room through the doctor’s residence. Over her shoulder, she tells me, “Sanderson and Doctor Rowe share a house.”
Cozy. That explains the doctor’s sense of humor: she’s another bitch like Sanderson. We go through another door, and find ourselves in a large living room. Sanderson and Dr. Rowe are sitting on a sofa. There’s a bottle of good Scotch on the table in front of them, and both have glasses partly filled parked in front of them.
Amelia addresses Dr. Rowe. “I need to have a confidential discussion with these two, so if you could leave, Doctor, I’d appreciate it.” Dr. Rowe half-heartedly smiles, stands up, and picks up her glass. But before she can go, Amelia adds, “Take the bottle and Sanderson’s glass with you, too.”
Rowe reaches for Sanderson’s glass, but Sanderson places her hand on top of it, blocking the doctor. (I see her gloves are back on again. They don’t have fingers.) She glares at Amelia and says, “I’m supposed to take your orders, but that doesn’t give you the right to tell me when I can drink.”
Amelia looks stern. “My agents don’t drink on duty.”
Sanderson shoots back, “I’m not one of your agents.”
Amelia shakes her head. She’s doing it for theatrical effect, I can tell. I know Amelia. She’s got this set up, and Sanderson’s about to walk right into it. “No, you’re not. Tomorrow or the day after, this investigation will leave Farnham in pursuit of the demon that possessed Agent Young. And because you are not an agent, you will be left behind, period. If you try to follow us, I’ll have you arrested. Unless,” Amelia pauses, “you agree to accept a temporary commission as an agent and place yourself under my authority. Your choice, Sanderson. Have your drink and get left behind, or take your hand off that glass and help us save your friend. You have ten seconds to decide.”
Sanderson’s expression has gone from one form of outrage to another while Amelia’s been talking. Now she narrows her eyes and stares at Amelia for several seconds. “You said temporary?” she finally asks.
“Uh, huh. Temporary. Three seconds.”
At the last moment, Sanderson withdraws her hand. “Take away my glass, Helen,” she says to the doctor.
The doctor is having trouble restraining herself from smiling as she takes the other glass and walks out of the room. She drops a wink at Amelia as she goes by.
Once the doctor is gone, Amelia addresses Sanderson. “Just to be clear, I’ve spoken to Valerie Thompson at length about you, Sanderson. She’s given me her reasons why you’ve not been recruited. I happen to agree with them.” She lets that sink in before adding, “On the other hand, I’ve never lost an agent yet, and I think your help will increase the odds we get Agent Young back alive. That’s why I’m doing this.
“You’re going to get treated like a professional magician trained and employed by the Office, Sanderson. That includes getting paid, by the way. So you will live up to our standards, and you won’t complain if I instruct you accordingly. Got it?”
Sanderson nods, and then says, “I don’t know your code of conduct.”
“As I said, I’ll instruct you when and as appropriate. But you’re not stupid, Sanderson. I’ll be disappointed if you can’t figure out the basics yourself.” Amelia turns to me. “And Harry, you’ll treat Sanderson as if she’s a fellow professional.”
Fellow professional, my foot. Sanderson gives me a self-satisfied grin. I’d like to punch her in the face.
End of chapter six