My God, last week was awful, not only with the Boston Marathon bombings, but also the fertilizer plant explosion in Texas and the earthquake in China. A heartbreaking week….
My right eye has cleared enough that I can work at the computer for short time periods, so it’s time for me to get Chapter 3 up from Cubicles, Blood, and Magic. This Tuesday we start with Dorelai suffering from poisoning. What follows is the entire third chapter from this contemporary fantasy novel. (This is a PG-13 book.)
Take care of yourselves this week. Stay safe.
Cubicles, Blood, and Magic: Dorelai Chronicles, Book One
Second edition copyright © 2014 by Lynn Kilmore
Published by Osuna Publishing
This story is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Magic and Medicine
As I stood there in the emporium aisle, trying to keep from throwing up as the ground seemed to bounce under me, my nose filled with the stink of my own clammy sweat, I heard Louie say, “Rabbi Eli, I know you want to help her, but this is beyond your skills to deal with. Alert Dr. Xu that we’ll be coming up, and get Mrs. Gomez in here. Tell them it’s an emergency.”
I saw Eli whirl around to run into the back room of the emporium, and I heard a door open—letting in the sound of machinery—and slam shut.
Louie began to approach me very slowly, the way one might approach a hurt squirrel on the plaza. “It is going to be all right, Dorelai.” He twitched the fingers of his left hand, and the glass of the emporium door became opaque. “You are safe here,” he said in a soothing tone. “No one will hurt you. I need you to focus as hard as you can on the emporium and on me. Don’t let a vision from the nightmare dust pull you under.” He was getting closer, almost close enough to touch me. “Stay still and let me look at your eyes.”
He placed his left fingers very gingerly around my right eye to hold it open so he could study it up close.
“Impossible.” He breathed out a rich scent of coffee as he spoke. “You ought to be—no, let me not plant unnecessary scenarios in your head.”
I held still, trying not to panic or pass out, as he continued to peer down at my eyes. He was so close that I was within his aura and could see that his irises were a weird sea grey in color. The ground steadied under my feet and the nausea subsided. It was as if Louie were able to weaken those symptoms from nightmare dust by touch.
I wondered what “nightmare dust” was slang for. I felt like I had fallen down the rabbit hole into Wonderland … and I was tired of fighting my way out. No matter what was about to happen, I wouldn’t have to face it alone. Louie would see it through with me.
I heard the door in the back room open, and Eli ran back in to join us, out of breath. He said between gasps, “Tom is prepping right now, and Ines is on her way.”
A light brush of calloused fingers on the right side of my face made me realize that Louie was moving his left hand around from my eye so that his palm covered the back of my neck where it met my skull. “Can you walk without falling over?” he asked me.
Eli didn’t seem to think it was strange that Louie had his warm palm smooshed up against my neck.
I took a tentative step. The ground didn’t rock under my toes, nor did I feel like throwing up on an empty stomach. But I was tired. So, so tired.
“Dorelai,” Louie said, “we need to get you upstairs to Dr. Xu. There’s a shortcut through the service corridors we are going to take. I’m going to keep my hand on your neck to help you keep your balance.”
I heard the door in the back room bang open. “Louie?” Ines’ voice, urgent.
“Right here,” Louie called out.
Ines burst out of the back room. Today she had braided her black hair and wore silver jewelry around her neck and wrists that jangled as she moved. She was gorgeous in a gypsy blouse and skirt.
She made to run over to help me, but Louie gestured with his free hand for her stay back.
Louie spoke to her as he kept his hand pressed to my neck while he walked beside me down the emporium aisle. “Call Ed Noonan at Granite Hills. Tell him that Dorelai is going to be delayed in returning to her desk, because I want to discuss with her whether the software she’s working on could be of use to us.” He made a sour face; he knew he’d be getting desperate sales calls from my company for months by using that cover story. “And if anyone comes looking for her, tell them she’s stuck in a meeting with me.”
Why bother with a cover story? What the hell is exactly going on here? I ought to care, but I’m so damn tired.
“Are you okay, honey?” Ines asked me. “Did someone hurt you?”
My throat was dry and it was going to take more energy to speak than I wanted to expend.
“Mrs. Gomez, the answers are obviously ‘No,’ and ‘Yes,'” Louie said. “Cover for Dorelai and make it stick. And tell O’Keefe I have an urgent job for him. He can get the details from Rabbi Eli if I’m still in with Dr. Xu.”
Ines scrambled for the emporium phone as Rabbi Eli led the way for us around the main display case and into the back room.
Here silver auras glowed upon three locked steel doors along the back wall. The small back room itself was crammed with worktables, collectibles, and wall shelves, but none of the merchandise had an aural glow to it.
The door to the service corridor was so thick with silver stuff that it was up to Eli’s wrist when he twisted the doorknob open.
The machinery rumble was too loud. I plugged my ears with my fingers (which was rather awkward since Louie’s left palm was still stuck to my neck like a remora) as we exited into the fluorescent-lit service corridor. We were close to a double-set of grey doors with yellow warning signs about the dire hazards of death by electrocution or burns.
As we walked past those doors, I could feel the vibrations of the building’s air conditioning and heating machinery through the floor.
We made a right turn at an intersection of empty corridors, then a left, the machinery racket fading into the distance. I unplugged my ears, and thought I could hear the echo of hooves walking on the grey-painted concrete floors.
I began to glance behind in the direction the echoes were coming from, but Louie’s suddenly firm grip on my neck stopped me. He said, “We have to keep moving.”
We reached the private elevator.
Eli placed his palm against a rectangular plate in the wall next to the elevator’s closed doors, and the plate oozed a glowing silver goo that engulfed his hand.
I could not be certain, but I thought Eli couldn’t see or feel the goo-like stuff on him.
“Ah, yes, that reminds me,” Louie said sotto voce, and I had a sudden weird conviction he was checking between my shoulder blades to see if I had one of those silver blob-things. “Bloody hell,” he muttered.
I noticed that Rabbi Eli did have a silver blob-thing on his back.
Unfortunately, Louie caught the intensity of my stare at Eli, and raised his eyebrows at me. “See something?” he said to me in challenge.
Flustered, I pretended that I hadn’t heard him. The elevator doors slid open, to show an interior painted in burgundy with brass trim.
After Louie and I joined him, Eli jabbed button 18. Top floor of Knossos. I noticed that the elevator had not only buttons for 2 through 18, but also B, SB, and an unmarked button. No L or 1 button, though.
Eli seemed oblivious to the silver patterns that then filled the entire elevator space before it rose. The patterns crawled all over Louie’s and Eli’s clothes and skin (I could not see them on myself), as if they were checking out our identities. And the tight space smelled of wool and sandalwood, thanks to my companions.
As the elevator rose, Louie said to me, “I apologize for asking questions now, but I fear circumstances beyond our control make it necessary to do so.”
“Surely it can wait until after the antidote is given?” Eli said.
“No, Rabbi Eli, it cannot,” he said.
That made Eli go pale.
In the soothing tone of earlier, Louie said, “Dorelai, have you received any death threats?”
“Death threats?” I said. “Of course not!”
As the elevator dinged, signaling our arrival at the eighteenth floor, Louie lightly kept his fingers on my neck as we exited, with Rabbi Eli following right behind. We stepped out into a corridor that reminded me of a hospital—a strong stink of antiseptic, and tile floors scrubbed clean.
“Is there anyone you can think of who would wish to do you harm?” Louie asked me.
“No,” I said, then hesitated as I thought about the inky specks in the coffee Jake had handed to me this morning. And then there was Dereck, but the manila envelope had shown up before I dumped him, not after.
The corridor had bare walls and closed steel doors. Louie escorted me to the right, down to the end, where a large silver panel lay above the lock to the steel door.
The doorplate read, Xu Laboratories.
“You’re thinking of someone,” Louie said to me. “Let me reassure you that we are not police and so you need not worry about making a false accusation.” He placed his free hand on the panel. As with Eli, the panel oozed around his hand to engulf it, then let go. A snick, and the door swung open on its own. “This is a private treatment area we have with Dr. Xu. Extraordinarily useful in an emergency.”
We entered a short corridor, which had a medical consultation room on the right, and a closed swinging door on the left. From behind the swinging door I heard someone turn on a faucet. The corridor ended on another steel door (closed) with a silver panel like that for the laboratory door.
An unknown voice barked out from behind the swinging door, “In here!”
I heard running water hit the bottom of a sink.
Eli pushed open the swinging door to stick his head in. “Tom, it’ll just be a moment before we bring the patient in.”
“Yo, brah, you look totally righteous,” the guy said. “Those gnarly old nightmare stains are gone from under your eyes. Let me buy you a brew to celebrate.”
“I’m here with the patient,” Eli said.
“Oh,” Tom said. The surfer accent was gone, replaced with his staccato doctor accent. “I’m almost scrubbed up. Bring her in when she’s ready.”
There was a hint of teasing in his voice as Eli said, “Okay, dude.” He slipped out from the swinging door to stand next to Louie, and a worried crease formed across his forehead as he watched me.
“Dorelai,” Louie said, “if you can give us a name, or names, please do so. You may be … out of it for a while once treatment starts.”
“Jake,” I said, and stared at the ground. “My coworker, Jake Drummond. I think he’s been putting something in the coffee he makes us these past few weeks. Both Tim and Monica have been very sick with bouts of debilitating nightmares.”
“I know that git,” Louie said to Eli. “He’s the careless sort who would give someone an accidental overdose. Tell O’Keefe to find out what the bloody hell Jake’s been up to. This would also explain why the Chesterton is under such close observation today. Bloody prat, he’s gotten not only himself in a mess, he’s—” and with an effort that made his mouth twist into a bitter line, Louie stopped himself from saying whatever else was on his mind.
The way Louie regarded me with concern made me think that Jake had somehow gotten me in trouble. And that talk about the Chesterton—Louie had to have been talking about glowing blonde guy and his glowing pals.
Glowing blonde guy might have gotten on my bus today because he was observing me.
Eli pushed open the swinging door for us. With a gentle pressure on my neck, Louie guided me into the medical room.
Instead of the laid-back surfer dude I had expected to find, there was a Chinese-American guy—who couldn’t be much older than thirty—fiercely scrubbing his hands and arms with soap at the sink. He wore a medical coat with ‘Dr. Tom Xu’ stitched upon it.
Upon our entrance, Dr. Xu looked up at us as he washed the soap off with hot water. His gaze locked onto the sight of Louie with his hand on my neck, and I thought Xu mouthed the word “Shit” as he turned the water off with his elbow.
“Hello, Ms. Trelton,” Xu said in the cheery tone doctors liked to use when something seriously bad was going on, “I’m Dr. Xu. Rabbi Eli, get her purse off her shoulder and toss it on that chair. Make sure her cell phone is off.” He shook his hands to dry them, then slipped on medical gloves. “Ms. Trelton, if you and, er, Louie could go over to that counter there and quickly fill out the forms attached to that clipboard, we can get started.”
Louie turned his head away so that he wasn’t looking over my shoulder while I filled out the medical history form as quickly as I could. “Rabbi Eli,” he said, “go and wait in the consultation office for O’Keefe.”
“Understood.” Eli came over and gently put a hand on my nearest shoulder. Deep lines of sorrow formed around his mouth and eyes. “I want you to know that Dr. Xu is the best there is. He completely cured my case of nightmare dust poisoning last year. You’re in good hands and will be feeling better soon. Shalom, Dorelai.”
I put my hand over his where it lay on my shoulder and gave it a quick squeeze. “Shalom, Rebbe Eli.”
Eli gave me a warm smile at those words, patted my shoulder, then left the room.
From the corner of my eye I saw Xu pick up what looked to be high-tech goggles off the medical cart and put them on over his head. Then he picked up a needle and a blood sample tube to prep them.
“Too much time is passing,” Louie said next to my ear, making me jump. “Finish your bloody paperwork.”
I’d gotten so used to his hand on my neck I’d completely forgotten about his presence.
I went back to work on the second page of the medical history while Louie said, “Xu, I’m putting up a sound shield.” Out of his suit pocket he removed a smooth granite stone and squeezed it in his right hand.
A weak white light (mixed with flickers of Louie’s own aural color) flared between his fingers, then expanded out in a spherical wave until the examination room was contained within it. When he dropped the stone down onto the ceramic tiles, I saw that faint squiggly lines of white light went out from the stone to create the shield around us.
I was getting so used to seeing things that the light show was interesting instead of alarming.
Louie said to Xu, “She’s had an extremely anomalous response to the nightmare dust. The dosage amount is off the charts, but so far she’s only shown signs of nausea, exhaustion, and dizziness.”
“What’s your expert opinion on what is going on with Ms. Trelton? Is this a specific immunity to nightmare dust, or a generalized immunity response?”
“Generalized,” Louie said. “No question in my mind about it.”
It sounded like they were talking in code to keep me in the dark about something.
“The high intensity of her body’s reaction to exposure is unprecedented,” Xu said.
“When I discovered she’d been given the overdose,” Louie said, “I began emergency treatment immediately.”
I was done with everything but the last piece of paperwork on the clipboard—the medical consent form. My grip on the pen got so tight that I could feel every bump and ridge on its plastic surface.
Louie picked up on my hesitation. “Stop dawdling and sign the damn thing.”
“Now wait just a minute,” I said. “I have some questions that I want answered first.”
“You can ask them after you sign the bloody form.”
“Dorelai, you’re so crammed full of nightmare dust right now it’s a bloody miracle you aren’t a vegetable. Sign the bloody damn form or we’ll just wait until you pass out, then save your life.”
Louie meant it. I skimmed the form, signed it, and flung the pen down. “There,” I said. “You satisfied now?”
“Xu’s the stickler for consent forms,” Louie said, “not I.”
“Ms. Trelton,” Xu said, “if you could get on the examination table, please?” He added, trying to sound casual about it, “Louie can keep his hand on the base of your skull since it is helping to minimize your symptoms.”
There was a beige examination table covered with white paper sheets; right next to it was an IV stand. I saw that the wall closest to the table had an oxygen supply line. There was also a large cart with medical-looking equipment on its shelves, as well as a small surgical tray on wheels with various medical instruments like syringes and scalpels.
The paper crackled under my palms as I struggled onto the chilly examination table, and Louie kept his sweaty left hand against my neck as if I were in danger of passing out if he took it away.
I lay back upon the table. It was in a semi-recline position, so that my head and torso were higher than my feet. Like all doctor’s offices, this one was too cold for my taste.
Xu paused for a half-second in thought, then came over to me with the prepped needle and a cotton ball that stank of rubbing alcohol. “Roll up your sleeves,” he said. “Let’s get a blood sample.”
I rolled up my sleeves so that they were tight above my elbows, and Xu prodded the soft skin of my inner elbows until he found a vein he liked. He pricked through my skin with the needle and drew out my blood.
Once done, Xu tossed the used needle on the tray and held the blood sample tube between his fingers. He yanked the goggles down over his face to cover his eyes, and the lenses began to glow with a weak turquoise light as he tipped the tube back and forth, staring intently at the blood sample.
Through the glass I saw black specks float to my blood’s surface.
Louie’s hand clenched involuntarily on my neck at the sight of the specks.
Xu kept tilting the sample tube back and forth, back and forth. It was hypnotic to watch. Then he shoved the goggles off his eyes so that they pushed the black hair of his bangs straight up. He labeled the blood sample and slipped it into a test tube rack on the medical cart.
Next he grabbed a glass slide with white paper glued to it, and pricked my thumb so that he could smear a drop of blood in the center of the paper, then put the slide on the tray.
Xu kept making hmm noises to himself as he checked my blood pressure, temperature, heart rate, and lungs. Then he pulled the goggles back down to cover his eyes as he said, “Ms. Trelton, please look up at me and open your eyes as wide as you can. Try not to blink. And recollect for me, if you can, any times you’ve had vivid nightmares these last few months.”
The doctor leaned forward to study my eyes through his goggles—which not only glowed a weak turquoise but also magnified his eyes—making more hmms to himself, as I told them about having no nightmares, and then about the black specks I’d seen in my coffee and the blue specks in Monica’s.
Then I mentioned the flood of black specks from the manila envelope last night, and Louie’s palm twitched as it lay against my skin; whether in surprise or anger, I couldn’t tell. He was too good at keeping control of his expression.
My eyes were feeling dry and itchy by the time Xu was done staring into them.
“Thank you, Ms. Trelton,” he said, and pulled back, pushing the goggles up on his forehead. He grabbed the glass side off the tray to study it and then held it up for me to see.
Strange black streaks, like those an ink spill might make, radiated out from my bloodstain upon the paper.
“I’m sorry,” Xu said, “but you’ve been given a major overdose of nightmare dust. You’re very, very fortunate to not have had the typical response to it. We need to get started with treatment right away. Louie,” he said, way too casually, “I’d like to call Knecht in from downstairs to assist.”
“Good God, no, absolutely not,” Louie said. “This case and its treatment must be kept completely confidential. If we’re seeing this sort of immune reaction now by her, once she’s pumped full of antidote I can’t guarantee what she might let slip.”
“I see.” Xu frowned as he put the slide back on the tray. “Well, Ms. Trelton, I’m going to have Louie here give you some of the answers you’ve been asking for while I prepare the antidote treatment.”
I watched Xu roll over a digital blood pressure monitor as Louie said to me in a rather dry voice, “This wasn’t how I originally intended to bring you into the fold. I’ll come straight to the point. Nightmare dust is a magical poison.”
“Bullshit!” I said as Xu wrapped the monitor cuff tight around my right arm and got the readout going.
“That’s your father the professor talking,” Louie said, “not you. Spare me a dull regurgitated speech of his. I’m sure you couldn’t help but notice the magical shielding around Knossos—silver-blue with gold specks that flicker in and out?”
My body flinched at the description of Knossos.
Louie gave me a grim smile. “God only knows what else you’ve been seeing around Mather. Later, you and I are going to have quite a number of cozy chats about the implications. But let us return to the pressing matter at hand … your poisoning. Nightmare dust is a magical poison. Mather Hospital cannot treat you for it, but Dr. Xu can.”
I lay there, all too aware of Louie’s palm pressed up against my neck, and tried to take it all in. All the auras I’d seen, all the strange people and things.
“Fine,” I said to Louie. “Assuming I accept the premise that I’ve been magically poisoned with nightmare dust, what does that poison do to people?”
Xu muttered something under his breath that I couldn’t make out as he rubbed the top of my left hand with chilly alcohol to clean my skin.
“In small quantities,” Louie said, “the poison causes nightmares, loss of appetite, and insomnia. A larger dose triggers violent hallucinations in the victim.”
Xu jabbed into the skin of my left hand to insert the catheter into a vein, and I winced.
Instead of continuing with his explanation, Louie watched Xu prep the catheter. Only once Xu was done did he continue. “A severe overdose usually results in insanity … even death.”
The earlier question about death threats took on a whole new meaning. “Am I going to die?” I said.
Louie leaned down very close to me, so close that I could feel his warm breath as he spoke next to my ear. “No,” he said. “I’ve survived an overdose, as well as Rabbi Eli.” There was a flicker in his eyes—a bad memory. “And you have not had the typical reaction to the poison, but you need the antidote to clear your bloodstream of it.” He tapped my neck with his fingers. “I’m doing magic right now to keep the dust out of the blood flow to your brain.”
Xu flipped on the switches for a pump-like device on the medical equipment cart.
“Dorelai,” Louie said, “you know how a vaccine can trigger an antibody response so that a person can fight off the disease itself later on?”
“Of course.” My voice was wobbly from nervousness and I was sure Louie could feel my skin getting clammy.
“You were given a massive overdose of a magical poison,” Louie continued, “and it has woken up a latent resistance to magic within you. A sort of antibody response.”
I heard Xu mutter to himself in what sounded like surfer lingo as he connected the tubing from the IV bag into the pump device, then ran out another line of tubing from the pump toward my catheter.
Louie said, “This is a permanent transformation that is occurring, and normally it would take a few months for all the changes to become complete, but … the antidote for nightmare dust is another magical substance, one that you will have to be given in a significant quantity. Your ‘antibody response’ is very likely to get kicked into overdrive, so that your transformation speeds up. But even if you refuse treatment, you won’t be able to stop what is happening to you.”
Shit, that meant that the weirdness I’d seen today was only the beginning.
“And there’s something else,” Louie said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if wandering in and out of Knossos’ shielding a few times today gave you a hard shove forward in the changes. Not to mention the minor, but very real, reaction I may be triggering by doing magic on you. Dr. Xu, how are we doing?”
“Everything is prepped,” Xu said. “Ms. Trelton, what Louie described is the most likely side effect of the antidote treatment. But the risk of injury from a blood clot is much greater than those risks associated with the antidote. Do I have your permission to begin treatment?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Then let’s get started.” Xu stepped on a foot pedal for the examination table so that my head lowered to a parallel position with the floor. “There’s a saline solution in the IV bag. The infusion pump will mix in the dust antidote with the saline,” he said as he traced the tubing coming out of the pump to my catheter, “and inject it into your bloodstream.”
Something about lying prone didn’t agree with me. I felt dizzy and sweaty, as if I’d been spinning around in circles until I fell over.
Xu began to let saline fluid run into my hand, checking the flow rate and functioning of the pump. Then he checked the digital readout of my blood pressure, and studied my face and left hand. “How do you feel?”
“Lousy.” My skin ached around the catheter. “Dizzy.”
“Let me know if there’s any pain,” Xu said as he adjusted the pump dials, and I saw blue specks appear in the fluid running in the tubing from the pump to my hand.
I tried to relax and breathe deeply as the specks approached me.
Louie stared at my left hand as the blue specks entered into the catheter to go into my bloodstream. Both men were tense, silent, waiting.
My left hand felt cold, as if it’d been dipped into ice water. The coldness was spreading up my wrist toward my elbow.
“I’ll tell you when to take your hand away,” Xu said to Louie.
The coldness was up to my shoulder.
Xu pulled down his goggles to check out my eyes and face. My chest felt like it’d been packed with ice. It was as if I were being slowly frozen to death by a curse that started in my left hand and then spread all across my body.
After a time that seemed to drag on and on, even my feet felt ice cold.
“Now,” Xu said.
Louie took his hand away.
The room blurred before my eyes.
“Here it comes,” Xu said.
I closed my eyes to try and fight the intense nausea I felt. My chest, neck, and face felt so icy cold. Involuntarily my body began to shake.
Someone—Louie—grabbed my right hand to squeeze it tight. “Open your eyes,” he said. “Don’t let yourself pass out.”
Despite the whirling sensation in my head, I opened my eyes. The almost unbearable brightness of the aural colors made me cry out.
The sound shield was like an amorphous glowing white jellyfish with us in its belly; the delicate threads that wove the shielding to the stone were lace-like. But the shield was dwarfed in brightness, for Louie now burned as bright a silver-blue as Knossos itself. And around Xu’s hands I could see turquoise auras rise like candle flames.
The antidote specks themselves glowed like tiny blue stars in the tubing.
“She’s holding steady,” Xu said. “Saturation point should happen within the next few minutes.”
The infusion pump itself had a weak turquoise glow that I hadn’t been able to see before that was the same aural color as Xu’s hands.
“Did Xu build it?” I blurted out.
“Build what?” Louie said. He caught the direction of my stare at the pump and let go of my hand. “Yes, he designed it to his own specifications for treating certain kinds of poison. He also came up with a dust antidote variation that works four times faster than what you saw Jake dose Monica with. Xu’s research is going save countless lives once we obtain permission to share that knowledge.” From the way Louie’s jaw muscles bulged, something about the permission process made him seethe to think about it.
Xu bent close with his goggles on to examine my eyes. The brightness of the goggles’ turquoise lenses made me squint.
“Keep your eyes open,” Xu said.
“I can’t,” I said. “Your lenses are too bright. Turn them down.”
Xu did a double take. “What did you say?”
“Your lenses glow turquoise,” I said, “like your hands. They’re so bright they hurt my eyes.”
“So that’s what you meant,” Xu said to Louie. There was fear in his voice. “If Zaliel finds out—”
“It is not going to find out,” Louie said. He gave slight shake of his head, then jerked his chin at me to remind Xu that I was listening to everything they said. “Not until it’s much too late to do anything. Nothing we hear from her or see her do is going to leave this room.”
My whole body felt cold from the antidote, making me shiver, but the dizziness had faded. “W-who’s Zaliel?”
Louie put a hand over my mouth. “Shush.” His skin had a comforting scent of sandalwood. “That’s a name you’d be wise to pretend you hadn’t heard.” He lifted his hand away.
I sputtered. “But—”
“Not. One. More. Word.” Louie scowled. “When you come to work for me, you’ll learn more than you ever wanted to know. But until then, mind your own bloody business and concentrate on getting well.”
That riled me, and I began to sit up to make it easier to chew out Louie for his high-handedness, but Xu pressed a hand on my left shoulder to stop me. “Lie down, Ms. Trelton, you’re not done with the treatment. You need to hoard your strength. As for my goggles, I’m sorry, but there is no way for me to make them less bright. Please open your eyes and endure the brightness as best you can.”
“This conversation isn’t over,” I said to Louie as Xu examined my eyes. “I won’t have you holding back information from me. I’ve been poisoned, my coworkers have been poisoned, and I want to know how Jake got hold of this crap in the first place.”
“All in good time,” Louie said.
Xu pulled back from my eyes, which were blinded with afterimages of turquoise lights floating before them, and I forgot what I was going to say to Louie in the aftermath of blinking and eye watering. Xu pressed his gloved fingers against my neck to feel my pulse. “You’re doing fine, Ms. Trelton. It won’t be long until you are well again.”
A burst of warmth flushed my scalp and face, to spread down my neck and body.
“Shut off the antidote flow,” Louie said. “I think she’s passed a threshold.”
Xu flicked a switch on the pump, and the blue specks stopped their flow from it. Xu said to Louie, “Her eyes—”
“Yes, I see it.”
“See what?” I said.
“I’m slowing down the saline drip,” Xu said, twisting a knob. He stared intently at my eyes. “I’ve never seen antidote dust break down so swiftly, dude.” He got excited.
“Take the next blood sample,” Louie said to him, “and I’ll get them both in the analyzer right now.”
“What is going on?” I said. “Dr. Xu, are you always this coy?”
“No!” Xu said, stung. “I most certainly am not, it’s—”
“Clever approach, Dorelai,” Louie said, “but Dr. Xu doesn’t have the information you want.” He gave me a mocking smile. “I do. And I want to run a few more tests before I give you answers … so you’ll just have to be patient and wait.”
We’ll see about that, I thought. Sooner or later, I’ll either find someone who will tell me what I want, or I’ll figure out a means to make you talk, Louie.
My body felt warm again. The tug of the catheter needle under my skin was unpleasant.
Xu got another glass tube off the tray, and drew the blood sample. He held it up before us to rock the capped tube gently back and forth while staring at it with his goggles.
“Can’t see any dust or antidote traces,” Xu said. He handed the tube to Louie.
Louie grabbed the other blood sample, and easily passed through his created sound shield without making a mark in it.
I was feeling much better, if tired. No more dizziness or nausea. “What just happened to me?” I said. “And who’s Zaliel? And why did Louie say ‘it’ instead of he or she?”
“Your body is breaking down the antidote much quicker than is usually seen. Beyond that I don’t want to say anything until the test results come back.” Xu grimaced as he took off his goggles. “As for the Z dude, you’re going to have to work out with Louie what you need to know. Let’s check your vitals.” He stuck a digital thermometer in my mouth before I could ask another question.
I found the wait for the blood test results interminable. Xu wouldn’t take me off the IV until it was confirmed that the dust was gone from my bloodstream, even though my vital signs were all back to normal.
Finally, it occurred to me to ask for Rabbi Eli, and to my relief Dr. Xu complied in fetching him to join us in the examination room. I suspected Xu was relieved to have someone else to distract me while he concentrated on the medical notes he was making.
As soon as he passed through Louie’s sound shielding and caught sight of me, Eli smiled. “You’re looking much better, Dorelai.”
“Thank you,” I said while trying not to stare at him. His hands, like Xu’s, had a magical aura rising from them. Only Eli’s color reminded me of oak tree bark.
Eli pulled up a stool on squeaky wheels to sit next to me. Up close I could see a faint sprinkling of dirt on his sleeves, and there was a whiff of wet clay almost hidden by the scent of wool.
“You mentioned that you were once poisoned with nightmare dust,” I said. “Would you be willing to tell me about it?”
Eli’s hands clenched on his lap, and I became aware of a pale spot on his left finger where a wedding ring might have once been. There was also clay stuck under his nails.
I said, “If it’s too painful—”
“Parts of it are, yes,” Eli said. “But I’ll tell what I can. And … it would be wise for you to know how dangerous things could be. There is one who—”
“Brah,” Xu said, “Louie wants no tales of the sharks in the kai.”
To my annoyance, the two of them shared a glance very similar to the one Xu and Louie had shared after Xu let slip about Zaliel.
I fantasized for a few seconds about wringing Louie’s neck when he returned for sabotaging my chances to find out what the hell was going on.
“Ah, yes,” Eli said in an undertone to himself. To me he said, “I moved to Mather from New York with my wife to be rebbe of a small shul here. That was about a year-and-a-half ago. Not long after Sukkot last year, on a night when I was working late in my office at the shul, I found a small gift-wrapped box on my desk. When I opened it, I was covered in nightmare dust.” He closed his eyes and his mouth twisted. It seemed to take an effort for him to open his eyes again to look at me. “The dust trapped me in hallucinations of death and pain within the shul all night long. Two of the elders, along with my wife, found me collapsed upon the shul’s carpet the next morning. They called an ambulance to take me to the hospital, and I was diagnosed as having a reaction from cocaine usage.”
“Wait a moment,” I said. “So nightmare dust can be mistaken for cocaine?”
“No,” Eli said. “I was given the dust, and while out of my mind from the induced madness, I was dosed with cocaine. Vials, both full and empty, were hidden about my office to be found by the police.”
A nasty chill ran through me at the look in Eli’s eyes. “Why would anyone do that to you?”
“I asked too many questions, talked too much about things that others wanted hidden, and made enemies.” Eli interlaced his shaking fingers. “Louie tried to warn me of the danger I was in, but I thought he was no better than a dybbuk.”
“But surely the police—”
Eli gave a hollow laugh. “Unless you want to be brought up on cocaine charges, I strongly advise you not to mention anything about magic and nightmare dust to them.”
“If they knew…” my voice trailed away at Eli’s expression. “They know.”
“No, only a few,” Eli said. “The ones you can’t trust. I know you will want to see justice served against your coworker for the dust he gave you and the others, but if you go from Knossos to the nearest police station you won’t be taken seriously—except by those who’ll shut you up as quickly as they can. Mather has its own shadowy world of magic, and for those who rule that world concepts like ‘due process’ and ‘trial by jury’ don’t exist. Secrecy is the dictator of all.”
“Brah, stop it!”
“Why?” Eli snapped at Xu. “How is she supposed to keep safe if she doesn’t know the dangers that Zaliel and its ilk pose?”
“Too much knowledge at the wrong time is as dangerous as too little, brah. Louie will know the right mix for her.” To me he said, “Please drop the subject of Zaliel for now, Ms. Trelton.”
I glared at Xu, and then realized that he was genuinely worried.
“Fine,” I said. “I’ll see what Louie has to say about Zaliel. But I want to hear the last of Rabbi Eli’s story.” I tried to relax, shifting around and making the paper crackle as I rolled onto my right side. I gingerly laid my catheter-punctured left hand on my hip, then said to Eli, “What happened to you at the hospital?”
“I’m told I was raving and screaming,” Eli said. “So they had me put under restraints.” He pushed his glasses back up his nose while glancing at Xu. “Once Tom and Louie heard the news about my hospitalization, Tom got himself smuggled into my room. I came out of the hallucinations to find him over my hospital bed holding a syringe; he’d given me an antidote injection to bring me back to consciousness. Then he and the others smuggled me out of the hospital to do a full antidote treatment.”
I frowned. “And the cocaine charges?”
“Louie … got the charges dropped,” Eli said. He stroked his beard with his hands. “But my reputation within my shul was damaged beyond repair, unless I was willing to risk their safety and mine by telling them things that had to remain hidden. So I allowed myself to be removed as rebbe and left the shul.”
“But your wife,” I burst out with, and stopped.
Eli’s gaze slid away from mine to look at the tiles. “She refused to believe the few things I could tell her, and demanded I give her a get.” He rubbed at the bare spot on his ring finger, then looked back at me. “I loved her, so I did.”
The devastation in his voice made me hesitate in pushing further with my line of questioning. So I thought about the clay I’d seen, and asked, “Do you happen to do gardening or pottery?”
A ghost of a smile came to Eli’s lips. “Pottery. I like to shape clay to relax. Louie even sells pieces of mine in the emporium when they’re good enough. After I recovered from my poisoning, I took a job at the Hope Shelter for the homeless.” The smile faded away. “I keep an eye out for poisoning cases and other signs of magical abuse.”
Louie—the cause of Xu and Eli refusing to tell me things—came back into the examination room.
Time to drag some answers out of him whether he liked it or not. “Louie, what the hell am I supposed to do about being poisoned if I can’t go to the police, and why are they shielding Rabbi Eli’s poisoner?”
************** End of Chapter 3 *****************
Stay tuned for Chapter 4 next Tuesday.
All the best, L. M.