Copyright © 2013 by Brian Bixby.
Chapter 20: Everyone is a star in their own life
William Maverick had walked back to his hotel room in a bad mood earlier that evening. The magical trap he had set in the Devil’s Acre had been sprung, and he had looked forward to finally collecting the dragon-headed walking stick and leaving this godforsaken mill town. He had ventured out in high hopes that he had finally killed the Farnsworth woman (for that is how he thought of Rebecca in his mind). He had to get off the road at one point to avoid detection by Abigail Lane as she was heading back into town. That she had looked demoralized and was not carrying the walking stick had seemed promising signs of success. But when he got there, there was no sign of the Farnsworth woman, nor of the walking stick, nor of the thirteen demons he had set in the trap. It seemed that she had escaped from his attack again.
Once he arrived back in his room, he tried to summon the demons he had used in the trap. But none would come. He knew his summoning was done correctly, as he had done it many times before. If they were not responding, it had to be because the Farnsworth woman had captured them or destroyed them.
She seemed invincible. He had carefully constructed a score of traps in the town to kill her. She had survived every one she had encountered. Maverick knew the walking stick conferred great power. After all, that was why he wanted it. But it seemed to be lending the Farnsworth woman so much power he would never be able to get it from her.
It had seemed so simple at first. He had drifted out to the Pacific after being dismissed from the Office of Occult Affairs. There he had spoken to a Japanese merchant who had told him of the legend of the bentenkiyo, the fire-breathing flying dragon of Japan, and the magician’s wand that commanded the creature. It had sounded so much like the walking stick in the stories Maverick remembered from his training under Abigail Lane. When he had come back to the States, and seen how the head of the walking stick was very similar to the drawing the merchant had made of the wand, he knew he was on the right track. And it was clear when he observed her in Stockbridge that the Farnsworth woman was barely using it. She would be easy prey.
Only she hadn’t turned out to be. Worse, Abigail Lane, that stubborn interfering bitch, had showed up investigating the postmaster’s death. He had obliterated all the evidence in hope that she would tire of the case and go away, and she finally had.
Then, to his surprise, she had turned up a few days later at the Burning Dog, where he himself had been staying! He had quickly moved his lodgings to Brown’s. His frustration when he realized that she had to be in cahoots with the Farnsworth woman had led him to use magic to try to kill Abigail. And that hadn’t worked, either. Maverick wondered whether Abigail was the one really responsible for the Farnsworth woman’s survival so far.
His informants in town had told him today that the two women and their servant girl were all asking about a man who looked like him. So they probably knew who he was. He would not survive a direct confrontation with the Farnsworth woman and that walking stick. And while he did not fear Abigail herself, he knew that behind her were the other magicians in the Office.
All in all, William Maverick was ready to give up the idea of obtaining the bentenkiyo wand. He had reached too high, he told himself. Best to rely on his own powers for now, and hunt for an artifact to increase them some other day. He wondered when the first train out of this bedamned community ran in the morning.
He stood up and headed toward the door, then came to a stop. There was someone or something out in the hallway with a fairly powerful magical field. William knew a moment of fear before he recognized who it was. It was the Farnsworth woman’s girl servant, Patty something, the one with the protective field around her. She was no danger. But what was she doing here? William used his magic to listen to the conversation outside. The servant was talking to a member of the hotel staff, another woman named Ellen, who was telling the servant that a man who looked much like him was in this room.
William’s heart sank. Forget tomorrow morning, he thought to himself, I will have to leave tonight. The servant will tell the Farnsworth woman, and she’ll show up here with Abigail in tow within the hour. He turned to look at his room, trying to figure out how much he could pack and carry out by himself immediately.
He could sense the servant’s protective field going away, down the stairs to the first floor. Time’s a-wasting, William, he thought to himself. You’ve lost. Get out while you can.
William Maverick did not like to lose any more than any other man. So he stood there, irresolute, unwilling to gather up his belongings, yet knowing he had little time to do so. And then he grabbed his coat and left his room, not to flee, but to pursue.
He admitted it was a long shot, but there was one possible way he could still win. He could take the servant girl as a hostage. He quickly ran down the stairs, then out into the street. Guessing that the girl was heading back to the Double Eagle, he followed. He quickly caught up with her, but stayed far enough back that she would not notice him. She still had that protective field around her. Maverick did not want to try to tamper with that thing himself, as it looked too powerful. But he knew someone he was already manipulating whom he could use to remove the protective magic.
Patty returned to Rebecca’s rooms at the Double Eagle feeling a great deal of self-satisfaction. She had disobeyed Abigail, but obeyed Becca, and as a result could tell them where William Maverick was staying. She was taking off her hat and congratulating herself for the umpteenth time when there was a knock on the door.
Thinking it was probably Becca, or maybe Abigail, Patty flew to the door to open it and tell them the news. Instead, she fell back, blushing. The person at the door was the servant Dan Smith, he of the stolen kiss. He was wearing only trousers and a loosely-buttoned shirt. He gave Patty his friendliest, most innocent smile and asked, “Your mistress at home?”
Surprised, Patty blurted out, “No.”
“Good,” replied Dan. “I was hoping we might have time for another kiss.” And with that he stepped in, gathered Patty in his arms, and gave her a passionate kiss.
Between being surprised, Dan’s overwhelming strength, and the admittedly very exciting kiss he was giving her, Patty was unable to resist him at first. Only when she felt his hand at her neck did she try to fight back. It was too late. Dan grasped her necklace chain and ripped it from her neck. And then he gasped for breath and fell down.
Patty didn’t realize what had happened. She stared at Dan, lying on the floor, wondering what had happened to him. Then she heard a voice coming from the open door.
“I had thought the spell might kill him.”
Patty turned toward the door, and saw a man standing there, looking at Dan. It took her a few seconds to realize who he had to be, and what Dan had done. She turned to run, to go to her room through the connecting door and escape to warn Becca. But then she heard the man’s voice. “Don’t run away, Miss Patty Leigh. I want you to come with me. You will make a pretty hostage when I confront your mistress.” The magic in his voice convinced Patty. She turned around and waited for her master William Maverick to tell her where they were going, so she could be a willing hostage.
William Maverick had hatched the kidnapping of Patty on the spur of the moment as a desperate chance, and had to improvise the rest of his plan. An hour later, he was sitting on a chair in one of the warehouses attached to the mill. He had taken control of the building, used magic to make the workers leave, and then constructed a magical field around the building to prevent anyone from wanting to enter it. That gave him the privacy he wanted for when he summoned the Farnsworth woman.
He was in no hurry. He figured the longer he waited before summoning the Farnsworth woman, the more desperate she would be to make a deal.
Meanwhile, he wanted to try out an idea. He had been impressed with how the Taryan demons he had used had terrified their victims so much that they had been willing to do anything not to be confronted by the demons again. He wondered if he could recreate the effect. If so, it would be possible to control people without telltale magical spells on them. That could prove useful. He decided to experiment on Patty.
It was only then he noticed that Patty still had an information spell on her. William did not recognize exactly what it was, because it had been invented at the Office after he left, but he knew it was trouble. He removed it, but he was too late. A magician was coming into the building. William hoped it was the Farnsworth woman, so he could get this business over with. Instead, greatly to his annoyance, he recognized Abigail’s magical field. He hastily made his preparations to receive her.
Abigail had felt the failure of Rebecca’s spell protecting Patty. She had limped across town following the tracing spell she had placed on the girl. The spell warding people away from the warehouse convinced her she was in the right place. It would work on normal people, but not on a magician such as herself. She walked through it and into the building by the nearest door. The warehouse was partially filled with crates, but there was a passage from the door to the middle of the building. And there, standing in an open space, illuminated by several oil lamps, was William Maverick.
To Abigail’s eyes, he looked little different from his days in the Office. He was a short man; Abigail remembered how he resented her superior height. Save for one feature, his appearance was wholly unremarkable: dull brown hair, a beard that came to a trimmed point, spectacles atop a broad nose in the middle of a squarish face. Only his mouth was distinctive: there was a scar on its left side, causing that end to twist down.
Standing to William’s side was Patty. Abigail gave a sigh of relief. Patty had the blank look that indicated she was under William’s spell, but that was a minor matter.
Abigail thought about all the tricks she had available that might beat Maverick. She did not know if they would be enough. So she began by simply trying to intimidate him. “Let the girl go, William,” she said in her most authoritative voice. “You’ve caused enough trouble here. It’s over. I’ve summoned help from Washington, and they should be here soon.”
William was not impressed. “A likely story, Abigail. And until then, what? You are going to hold me here by yourself?” William let her hear the contempt in his voice. He gestured to Patty. “Before you try anything, consider the girl. See the rope around her waist? I’m holding the end of it. If anything hurts me, or kills me, or even if I just let go of the rope, the girl dies. There’s nothing you can do that can act fast enough to break that spell and save her, Abigail.”
Abigail looked. The rope was carrying a spell. For all she could tell, Maverick was telling the truth. She tried to maintain a stern tone in her voice, but failed. “What do you want, William?”
William smiled. “That’s better, Abigail. I want you to go to the Farnsworth woman. Tell her she has until dawn to come here and surrender that walking stick to me. If she does, then I’ll release the girl. If she doesn’t, the girl dies. It’s that simple.”
Abigail didn’t think much of the terms. “How do we know you’ll keep your part of the bargain, William?”
He had a simple answer to that one. “You don’t. You just have no other choice. Now go get the Farnsworth woman.”
Abigail tried to dissuade him. “You don’t know what that walking stick is, William. It’s too dangerous.”
William shook his head. “What I know or don’t know is of no concern to you. Now go!”
Abigail tried one last maneuver, which she would rather not have used. “I don’t know where she is, William. She vanished in the Devil’s Acre at dusk.”
William knew that might be true. But he had committed to his course. “Then you’d better find her, Abigail. Time is running out. You have until dawn. Now I will say this one last time: go!”
Abigail knew she could do no more. She turned and left.
End of chapter twenty