Monthly Archives: June 2013

June Update

Well, I’ve gone and changed the Writer’s Flight post, so now it’s an excerpt instead of the entire short story. Hope you all enjoyed it!

I’m happy to report that print editions of Soul Cages and Cubicles, Blood, and Magic will be coming out this fall for certain.

Also, there’s more new short stories to come, as well as the short story collection. My serious illness back during mid-April through May set back the editing schedule on the stories, which is why they and the short story collection have not been released yet. But unless I get sick again (knock on wood), everything should be finally on the path to being published.

Until next week, L.M.

Writer’s Flight

Rylan dreams of becoming a published author. He thinks his first mystery writer’s workshop is going to help him achieve that dream. But what he finds is an out-of-control group spiraling down into a bottomless pit of envy, spite, and cruelty–a workshop from hell. Writer’s Flight is a short story about destructive workshops and an artist’s coming of age.

For a week, the entire short story will be available here to read. Next week I go in and delete half the story. (I’d put the rating of this story at around PG.)

Writer’s Flight

 Lynn Kilmore

Second edition copyright © 2014 by Lynn Kilmore

Copyright © 2013 by L. M. May

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.

Noldren held up Rylan’s synopsis pages like an altar sacrifice and tore them in half, flinging the halves at Rylan so that he felt them bounce off his stomach onto the frayed carpet.

“Your novel is terrible,” Noldren said. “You call this characterization? Your detective is a moron and your sentence structure is pathetic.”

Rylan sank deeper into the mushy sofa he sat upon in the living room. Each word felt like a mental slap. Diane, sitting on the sofa cushion next to him, wrapped her arm around him to give him a quick hug.

I will be calm, I will be calm, I will not give Noldren the pleasure of a reaction. He imagined he had escaped the writer’s workshop to sit upon the beach sand of the Outer Banks, the salt-flecked sea breeze ruffling his hair, seagulls screaming above.

Then Noldren dumped Rylan’s first three chapters on his lap, saying, “Go back to engineering, Gramps, ’cause you’ll never make it as a writer.”

The eruption of rage within him took Rylan off guard—half-aware flashes came to him of his hands flinging his manuscript pages at the walls, other student-writers scrambling around to dodge the crap he kicked in random directions.

Break!” Dr. Williams yelled. “Meet back here in fifteen minutes…. Rylan. Hey, Rylan.” She put a firm hand on his shoulder. “C’mon, take a deep breath.”

He blinked, pausing in mid-stomp of the pages on the floor, to find that his fellow classmates, as well as Noldren, had left the room. “Unh, what am I doing?” The storm in his mind was subsiding, to be replaced by an oncoming headache. She still had a hand on his shoulder, to stop him if he went on another rampage. The room was now decorated with the crumpled and torn pages of his manuscript. “I did this.”

She patted his shoulder. “That’s because you discovered you cared about your writing: an excellent sign.”

Having me behave like I’m six is bad. He looked down at Williams’s head. Her hair was glossy black like a cat’s. His hair had gone completely gray a few years ago. And surveying the mess he’d made in this room made him feel worn out and ashamed of himself.

He was older than all of them, Noldren included. There were times he had to fight the urge to pat Diane and the other two twentysomethings on the head for being as cute as puppies and kittens.

He yanked his attention back to reality, to find that Williams was talking to him, saying, “— for a walk. Get out of the workshop house for a bit. You’ve been pushing yourself hard.”

“All right.” He rubbed his itchy face; he’d forgotten to bring a razor, and now he had a patchy gray beard coming in. “But first I need to clean up this mess.” Just six days to endure, and then you never have to see Noldren again.

Back to the fluorescent lights and cubicles.

Williams chewed at her cracked bottom lip as he picked up the crumpled pages within reach.

She’d started gnawing on her lip the first morning of the fourteen-day workshop, after she’d attempted to halt Noldren’s insults of the students. Noldren had pointed out that she was only an assistant professor on unpaid leave with no published novels to her name, while he had five. Since that confrontation, she’d let Noldren have free rein over her first mystery writer’s workshop.

Noldren truly seemed to revel in the rage and tears he provoked in the critique sessions.

While he’d never been to a writer’s workshop before, Rylan suspected that the situation was spiraling out of control—and this was only day eight. There were still six days to go. His fellow students and Dr. Williams looked like rabbits in the floodlights of a semi as it rolled down on top of them.

Smoosh, and they’d all be flattened road kill.

As he picked up the last pages littering the room, he wadded the entire mass into a huge paper ball.

Williams brought over the living room’s recycling bin, and he dumped the papers in. The devil of it was, Noldren’s spite made it impossible to tell if the beginning chapters of Cracked Glass really needed work, or not. He’d just have to go ahead and assume they were okay for a first draft, and move on to writing chapter four when he got home.

“You don’t have to join us again until after lunch,” Williams said.

He went into the hall, took his windbreaker out of the closet, and slipped past the whispering students standing on the porch. Diane was with them. She gave him a worried frown, but he gently waved her back before descending the porch steps. He wanted to be alone with the October afternoon.

Being able to smell the seawater as he walked was a continual torment to him.

The writer’s workshop was holed up in a rented house in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, instead of on the Outer Banks as he’d hoped. To have come all this way from Atlanta, only to go back without having seen the Wright Brothers’ site at Kitty Hawk, as well as the lighthouses, was driving him nuts. The daily writing assignments tied up his mornings and evenings, making it impossible to do the drive to Nag’s Head and back.

He’d had to argue and wheedle to get his boss to let him take two weeks of vacation. As soon as he’d gotten off work on Friday afternoon, he’d driven up to North Carolina for the start of the workshop on Saturday morning, and as soon as the fourteen days were up, he’d be driving home on Sunday night to be back to work —probably ringed like a raccoon under his eyes—bright and early on Monday morning.

And this workshop felt more and more like a horrible waste of his time and money. If he’d thought all published novelists became this pathetically vicious, he would have deleted all his manuscripts and given up fiction writing altogether to escape becoming a world-class jerk.

*

Rylan could hear Diane’s voice rising from the living room as he opened the screen door to go back inside the workshop house.

You arrogant S.O.B!” she yelled. “What do you know about alcoholism? My character has to act this way!”

He hung up his windbreaker in the closet.

A red-faced Diane rushed out of the living room into the hall, and passed by him to go up the stairs two at a time. He listened to her pounding footsteps on the floorboards of the second story hallway, followed by the slam of her bedroom door.

Oh, great, now Noldren’s gotten to Diane. We’re doomed. Diane had been their fulcrum, and the rock that kept the group from complete disintegration. Now she was crumbling.

Instead of joining the others in the all-too-silent living room, he went upstairs to knock on her door.

“Go away!”

“Diane—it’s Rylan. Can I come in?”

Diane opened the door a crack. Her face was a mottled pink, seething. She regarded him for a moment, then threw the door wide. “Enter.”

He closed the door behind him. “So he finally got to you.”

“Yes, the stupid idiot. I swore I wouldn’t let him, but so much for the good it did me.” She kicked a sandal in frustration. “He may have five published mystery novels, but he’s a sadistic S.O.B. What a waste of time.”

“Then leave,” Rylan said. “It’s not worth the pain. It’s the slow season on the Outer Banks—should be possible for you to find an available motel room for the time that’s left. Go and work on your novel out there.”

“No.” Diane sat on the bed, wrapped her arms around herself, and rocked back and forth. “It’d be quitting. I’ll see it through.”

His hands tightened into sweaty fists at his sides. “This is getting too destructive, and you’re young. And vulnerable.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well.” He cleared his throat. “You’ll find as you get older that your skin gets thicker. Easier to slough off the attacks and keep going. Easier to know when to walk away from a fight.”

“Hah, you should talk.” Diane grimaced. “You’re a lot less thick-skinned than I am.”

Damn it, he’d put his foot in his mouth. “That’s not what I meant.”

“I’m strong enough to see this through,” she said. “Stronger than the rest of you. Just you wait and see.” She unwrapped her right arm from about herself and pointed at the door. “Don’t lecture me. Shoo.”

As he left the bedroom, she went back to hugging herself while rocking on the bed.

*

When Rylan went into the dining room for lunch—the last student to enter, before Noldren and Williams came in—he saw a piece of paper lying on Noldren’s empty plate. Upon closer inspection he found it was a copy of a Bookseller’s Weekly review from three years ago. The review was of Noldren’s last published mystery novel: the scathing comments about “bloated prose,” “ridiculous coincidences,” and “a boring heroine as the love interest” had all been carefully triple-underlined in red ink.

The other eight students were already seated, helping themselves to sliced turkey and roast beef sandwiches.

Rylan picked up the review to get rid of it.

“Put it back,” Diane whispered. She shared conspiratorial glances with the others. “It’s a surprise I got for him.”

************** End of Excerpt *****************

Writer’s Flight is bundled with the short story Parallels in e-book format, and also available in the story collection Tales from the ThresholdClick Here to go to the main info page for this e-book.

Thanks for taking the time to read this story. See you next week!  L. M.

Cubicles, Blood, and Magic – Chapter 10: A Dangerous Task

I am going to be busy tomorrow, so I am posting this chapter early. We’ve reached Chapter 10 of Cubicles, Blood, and Magic. If you missed the earlier chapters, click here.  (This story is PG-13.)

Cubicles, Blood, and Magic: Dorelai Chronicles, Book One

 Lynn Kilmore

Second edition copyright © 2014 by Lynn Kilmore

Copyright © 2012 by L. M. May

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.

Chapter 10:

A Dangerous Task

At Louie’s words about a dangerous task, Eli sat up ramrod straight in his chair and said, “What must I do?”

I longed to grab a fourth cup of hot coffee from the serving cart and swig it down. I had a hunch what Louie’s proposed task for Eli was going to be, and I no longer liked the idea of taking Eli as my date to spy on Jake and Veronica at all.

It would be my fault if Eli got entangled with the Magi again.

Louie said, “Go as Trelton’s escort on Tuesday night to the party Ms. Veronica Wilcox is having for her brother.”

Damn it, I’d made it too easy for them to pull this off.

Eli sighed as he fingered his fake beard. “So it’s back to Samuel Parisi, is it?”

“From all you and Trelton described of what happened at The Silver Diner,” Louie said, “I’m certain Veronica—intentionally or unintentionally—gave Jake the idea to use nightmare dust. I wouldn’t be surprised if she had downplayed to him the harm it does. Jake may have not even discovered the real name for what he was using until he ran out.” He picked up his pen to roll it between his fingers. “I want to know how Jake got his dust and the antidote: Did he steal them from Veronica? Did she give them to him? Did she get them from Charles or find a dealer? Or did Jake hear about it from her and then find an independent source for his first batch? … The last one is doubtful, since he was running around town on Tuesday night in that awful conspicuous manner.”

Rabbi Eli’s eyes were getting rounder and rounder behind his glasses as Louie spoke. A thought was occurring to him, one he clearly didn’t like, because he began to shake his head back and forth slowly. “No. It’s too dangerous for her.”

Louie said to me, “Going to the party will be your decision to make, Trelton. The likelihood is great that something will be attempted on you. This party is merely an excuse to get close to the victims that Jake poisoned. For what purpose, we do not know, yet. We are digging into Dr. Charles Wilcox’s background, and finding gaps that are troubling. While Dr. Wilcox’s birth date is in August, I suspect Dr. Wilcox is coming to town to get his sister out of the mess she’s in.”

My ability to see hidden magic would make it almost certain that a chance to see a clue would present itself at the party.

“I’ll go,” I said.

Eli sputtered a protest.

Louie said, “I am too easily recognized, and too well-known for my abilities, or I would accompany her myself. I’d be turned away at the door. So would Adams or O’Keefe.”

“That means the situation is even worse than I thought,” Eli said. “There’s more ways to magically hurt a person than nightmare dust.”

“Trelton is not as helpless as you seem to think, Rabbi. Don’t underestimate her.” He shifted his gaze to me. “Anything you bring back that they attempt to give you could be invaluable.”

“Got it,” I said.

“And you, Rabbi Eli, need to worry about your own safety as much as hers. They’re going to figure out who you really are, if they haven’t already. You’ll be playing Samuel Parisi for the benefit of Dorelai’s coworkers only.”

Eli rubbed at his temples.

“If the Wilcoxes have tapped my cell phone line,” I said, “his cover as Samuel Parisi is already blown, because my mother called me, and unfortunately our conversation made it clear that she had no clue who Samuel Parisi was.” The more I thought about it, the more I didn’t like it. “The Parisi cover story was paper thin to begin with, made to work only for that one dinner meet-up. It could break down at any moment. Me, I’m just a schmuck who got in Jake’s way for team leader. I should go alone.”

Eli said, “No!”

“I must agree with Rabbi Eli,” Louie said. “Three against two is better than three against one.”

Eli got up to pace across the library carpet, arms folded behind him, bent over.

Louie said to me, “Keeping our involvement in this case a secret was impossible from the beginning. Your severe dust poisoning forced us to act openly on Friday to help you, or you might have died. Jake knows you were gone for hours inside Knossos. I doubt the Wilcoxes will believe that sales cover story once they hear it.”

“So what are we to do?” Eli said. He kept pacing like a black cat in a window, back and forth, back and forth.

“You will play Samuel Parisi on Tuesday night,” Louie said. “The Wilcoxes will let you in since you are considered hapless, harmless, and helpless by many who ought to know better. Also, it would look bloody odd to Trelton’s coworkers if Veronica turned you away at her door.”

A thought niggled at me, but it refused to come to consciousness.

“O’Keefe will continue to run interference for Trelton,” Louie continued, “and see to it that her risks during a run in with Dereck are minimized.”

The thought burst through, and I said, “Jake knew how much I liked to talk to you at the emporium. There’s no way he realized what he was getting himself into by using nightmare dust, or he would have known that the risk of you getting involved was too great.”

“Right,” Louie said.

I was disappointed, though not surprised, that he’d already thought of it.

“Which brings up another point,” Louie said. “The Wilcoxes will be expecting me to magically tamper with the gift purchased for Dr. Wilcox from the emporium. I ought not to disappoint them.”

Eli said to Louie while he continued to pace, “That’ll backfire if Dorelai is the one that buys the gift from you. The Magi will soon be looking for any excuse, no matter how weak, to detain her. An apparent case of magical abuse by her would give them the excuse they need.”

I frowned. “But it’s you they were all over Friday night.”

“That’ll change by Tuesday,” Eli said. He reached the door to Louie’s office, and whirled around to continue his pacing. “They saw you with O’Keefe and me. They know you helped me get close to Jake. And they know Jake dosed you—they simply don’t know yet how much you were given. And Peter bears me such a grudge he’ll feel driven to harass you for being a friend of mine.”

“She’s seen Sariel,” Louie said, low. “Zaliel cannot ignore the traces it left.”

Eli paused in mid-step, looking distressed. “Has she?”

What traces?” I said.

Louie tapped his temple as he said to me, “Sariel leaves a distinctive mark in the minds of those that serve it. One that Zaliel cannot ignore, nor break, if it tries to take you over.” Then to Eli, “She’s been through the labyrinth and back; the traces are unmistakable in her mind. But you’re right, we need to make certain there is no direct link between her and the gift from the emporium.” To me, “How much money do you think will be spent?”

Jake would probably chip in fifty or sixty since it was for Veronica’s brother, and the rest of us would put in tens. “Hundred and ten or so.”

“I’ll have several ‘special’ pieces of art ready for your coworkers to peruse on Monday evening,” Louie said. “Don’t coax them into choosing anything in particular, don’t be the one to pay for it, and don’t touch it. Complete deniability must be your motto.”

“I find your logic weak,” I said. “Since I’m here talking with you and I know all the pieces will be messed with, technically speaking I’m liable if I allow them to shop in the emporium.”

Eli laughed.

“Remind me, Trelton, to never let you near a witness stand or a sales meeting for AOX.” Louie’s mouth twitched. He stood up from his chair, and gathered together his notes, folder, printouts, and recorder. “Rabbi Eli, I think Samuel Parisi should pay a brief call on Trelton this afternoon. During it, she’ll ring Veronica to say she’s bringing you on Tuesday. … Both of you, be careful. They won’t kill you outright at the party, but if they feel cornered they’ll lash out magically somehow.”

I stood up from my own chair, and the sensation of silk against my arms made me aware again of how I was dressed.

There was no way in hell I could leave Knossos dressed like this. It’d be like putting a Hi, I’m a new employee of AOX! sign around my neck. “Ines will need to store this AOX outfit for me.”

“Right,” Louie said. “I’ll let O’Keefe know you’ll be ready to leave in fifteen minutes.”

I headed to the bathroom as Louie said to Eli, “Wait at least two hours before leaving Knossos, then drive home and change into Parisi. Make sure to use ‘his’ compact car when you go over to Trelton’s. Put on a show this afternoon of being as sneaky as you can—shaking tails and the like. You might be able to trick them into thinking you’re callow enough to believe you can deceive them.”

I shut the bathroom door, but from the muffled voices, Louie was continuing his orders.

*

I decided I could get away with keeping the underwear and hose since they were plain. But the pumps, blouse, slip, and suit were going to have to stay. I hung them, reluctantly, back on the hanger for Ines to take away.

I dragged back on my rumpled, cigarette-stinking slacks and blouse. At least the sand was mostly gone.

The silence told me before I opened the bathroom door that Eli had left. No one was in the library.

I dug out my cell phone, flipped it open, and snuck around the edges of the library to see if a signal made it through at any point.

No signal at all. And yet, as far as I could tell, Louie was able to use his phone anywhere in this building. And I knew from past experience that I could pick up a signal for my own phone in the Knossos basement area where the deli and emporium were, as well as the lobby. So Louie had some sort of special private channel in Knossos.

I clipped my phone onto my belt, where it’d be easy to sneak out for a quick check, and went on in to Louie’s office.

My luck was holding. He wasn’t in here, though the door to the service corridor was open. Likely he’d gone out that way and would soon be back.

Getting my phone out, I walked the edges of his office, my ears straining for footsteps. Again, no signals my cell phone could pick up. No surprise there.

How much of Louie’s cell phone tech was magic, and how much of it was normal tech? I’d love to find out.

A steel door screeched open, then slammed shut. I raced for the leather chair I’d been sitting in before, shoving my phone back on my belt, and pretended to organize my purse as Louie came back into his office.

As soon as he saw me in the chair, he paused in the doorway and his gaze searched the room, checking to see if anything was out of place. His lack of alarm told me that nothing top secret was kept in here—this office was not much more than a stage for him to play a role in. Even the magical map grid I’d seen on the ceiling was only for the public areas in Knossos.

I zipped up my purse. Trying to act as nonchalant as I could, I smiled as I sat there. “Any last instructions?”

He gave me a look that clearly said, I’m certain you were snooping around, but I can’t bust you for it. This time.

That’s when I realized he’d booby-trapped the office so that he’d know if someone searched his desk or cabinets. My teeth began to grind together behind my smile. He’d arranged for me to be left here by myself to see if I’d go through them.

I was annoyed by this test. Louie wasn’t an imbecile who would do stupid things like write his passwords on a sticky note to hide in his desk. Savvy bosses would keep their sensitive data either in encrypted computer files or hidden locked filing cabinets.

In this case, I’d bet on filing cabinets.

“What are you plotting?” Louie said.

I discovered that I’d let my false smile fade away, and decided the best course was to lie. “I’m thinking about Tuesday night.”

“You and Rabbi Eli will be able to handle the situation,” Louie said. “Your coworkers will be there as witnesses, and the Magi will be watching the house.”

“I don’t find that last part about the Magi reassuring.”

Good. You need to be on your guard.”

“Oh, before I leave, I have a few more questions about magic I need answered. Also, is it possible you could teach me how to make a sound shield with one of those stones? That would be an incredibly useful skill at my apartment.”

“Damnation!” However, Louie sat at his desk. “There are urgent matters I must attend to, Trelton, so we are going to keep this quite short.”

“W—”

Silence! I already answered questions earlier, as promised. We’re going to keep this short by me telling you a few ugly truths. Take it or leave it.”

I stopped myself from chewing Louie out about his rudeness, but I glared at him.

“I see that we understand each other,” he said. “Right. Now for the ugly part. You are able to see magic and traces of magic left behind, and you have developed a heightened state of invulnerability to magic. But let me make something clear to you, Ms. Trelton. You will never be able to do the sort of magic that you have seen me do. You will never be able to impart magic to objects such as how Dr. Xu has been able to do in order to make his medical devices. Your abilities don’t work that way. Furthermore, magic is not done by spells, so that won’t be a way for you to get around your limitations.”

Louie’s words hit me like a shock wave. I sat there, stunned.

“I am now convinced that what has happened to you is going to be a burden, not a gift. It’s going to feel like you are standing outside a bakery shop window, where you can watch people inside order desserts to devour, but you can never go in yourself.” Louie went silent, and a shadow seemed to hang over him. “There will be many who will want you dead. I shall find it highly unpleasant to watch you suffer, Dorelai, and I will do what I can to help you stay alive.” Distracted with his thoughts, he didn’t seem to notice that his silver-blue aura spread outward like a cloud to engulf the entire office.

The golden sparks within his aura got as bright as tiny suns.

The air of the office felt damp and smelled like the sea, as if somehow Louie had conjured a sea fog around us. The leather of my chair got moist.

I thought I could hear from a far-off distance the calls of wild geese, gulls, and herons.

Then his nose twitched, as if he’d caught a whiff of what his aura had somehow created. “Bloody hell!” Abruptly he got up out of his chair, and he waved his hands around as if to blow the invisible fog away. His aura shrank to its normal outline around him. “I’m getting maudlin in my old age. There is much to hope for that all shall turn out well in the end.” He regarded me. “And I am underestimating you.”

The chair made a squelching noise as I stood up.

I said, “Smells like Boston when the fog comes in from the Massachusetts Bay.”

“Not Massachusetts, it’s from—” then stopped himself from saying more.

I wondered what location he was thinking of.

“My apologies for the dampness,” he said. “I did not realize what was happening for a few moments there.”

I couldn’t resist asking in an amused tone, “Do you conjure sea fogs often?”

No,” Louie said. “That was Sariel at work.” He sounded angry about what had happened. “Why Sariel woke up enough to bother us with such a trick, I do not know.”

I wasn’t sure if Louie was lying about that last part.

Let it go, for now. There is too much that needs to be done.

“O’Keefe is waiting for you,” Louie said. “We cannot linger any longer.” He led the way out into the service corridor.

Once we turned a corner, I got out my cell phone and checked. No signal. I kept an eye on the signal strength indicator as we walked through the service corridors, but it never went above zero.

The smell of cigarette smoke told me that O’Keefe was ahead of us before he came into view around another corner; he was leaning against the corridor wall next to a familiar-looking private elevator. At the sight of me putting away my cell phone, he grinned around his lit cigarette as if he knew exactly what I’d been up to.

Louie said to him, “I can already surmise what is going to happen, but let’s confirm it. Trelton, please put your palm on the elevator panel.”

I did so. The slick metal panel felt oddly warm under my palm.

Louie was tall enough to be able to reach over my shoulder easily with his left hand to briefly touch his fingertips to the panel. It flared to life, glowing metallic, but no magical ooze came out of the panel to surround my hand.

Aw, crap,” O’Keefe said. “They ain’t gonna work for her.”

“Before last Friday, they would have, if barely. No longer. This is a problem,” Louie said, “but Sariel and I will figure something out, eventually.” To me, “You’ll need to get around Knossos without always being dependent on an escort. For now, please step back.”

I did so, and he put his own palm onto the panel, which responded to surround his hand with the goo-like magic.

The elevator slid open. I was sure it was the same elevator I had ridden up in yesterday.

O’Keefe put out his cigarette and ate it.

Louie didn’t get on the elevator with us, instead putting his hand on the panel so it wouldn’t close. He said to me, “I will see you here tomorrow at noon with Mr. Patel.”

Gah, that horrible sales meeting.” I made a face.

Louie laughed. “Good day, Ms. Trelton.” He lifted his hand away from the panel with a mock flourish.

I jabbed the P button (at least that worked for me) and O’Keefe made a hem noise after the doors closed.

He said, “Tomorrow Louie is going to ask Adams to assign ya to me for some of yer training. Let them.”

My heart skipped a beat. “What do you mean?”

He pressed and held the HOLD button so that we stopped going downward. “Adams and Louie are magic wielders, so they fight and think like that. Ya ain’t a magic wielder. Yer like me. We’re resistant to magic—though I gotta say, yer resistance levels make mine look frigging low. Louie was able to get the security panels to work for me. That ain’t gonna happen in yer case.”

I swallowed.

“Lemme teach ya what I know about breaking and entering, and fighting dirty, and how to survive against magic wielders and Magi and sorcerers.”

It made sense. “All right.”

He gave me a light mock punch in the shoulder while letting go of the HOLD button.

“There’s just a few questions I have,” I said. Time to see if Sariel had been right about O’Keefe being willing to tell me things. “What’s the difference between a sorcerer and a magic wielder? Aren’t they the same?”

“Nope. Most sorcerers ain’t able to do magic on their own. They channel magic provided by the fiend that he or she is bound to. The magical powers of the Magi work the same way. Each Magus has a particular daimon he or she serves.”

I thought about that as the elevator doors opened. “Why bother? Why not just go direct to Azazel or Gadreel for magical powers?”

Who told ya about Gadreel and Azazel?” O’Keefe stuck his upper hands between the elevator doors before they closed.

“Sariel.”

Sariel?” He uttered a string of curses under his breath.

“What is Sariel?”

They claimed they were archangels,” O’Keefe said. “But that’s crap. They’re nicknamed the Watchers. There were seven, but they slaughtered each other down to three.”

“Gadreel, Azazel, and Sariel.”

“Yup. Nastiest trio on the goddamn planet. I chose to serve Sariel, ’cause Gadreel and Azazel make it look sane by comparison.”

And because it was willing to punish you as you wanted, I thought.

“Let’s get comfortable in my car, Trelton. That way I can smoke while ya ask nosy questions.”

On the way to his green monster of a vehicle, I snuck a look at my cell phone. Still no signal. I would’ve been shocked if there had been one.

Once we were settled on the car seats, and O’Keefe had rolled down his window and lit up a fresh cigarette, he was willing to talk again. “There were five Watchers left when their last war erupted over three thousand years ago: Armaros, Azazel, Gadreel, Penemue, and Sariel. Penemue and Armaros destroyed each other, and Azazel was captured and bound by Gadreel into what was supposed to be a permanent sleep. Ya might say a lot of the stuffing went out of Sariel after Penemue’s death. They were buddies. As far as Louie can figure out, Sariel wandered off about a thousand years ago to go wallow in its memories and doze about infinity. That left Gadreel alone to do whatever the hell it wanted with the human race. It decided magical and non-magical humans needed to be separated, and magic made a secret.”

I thought about the golden glowing collars I’d seen on people with magical auras on the streets of Mather. “So Gadreel has been meddling with humans nonstop for a thousand years?”

“Yup. Fun times, ain’t it? Gadreel had its daimons run around and gather up promising humans to turn them into Magi. Then the daimons and Magi proceeded to seize hold of every human being with either innate magical abilities or magical knowledge. The Magi bag ’em and tag ’em with magical golden collars on their necks, and dump them in containment cities. The daimon Zaliel is in charge of overseeing the Mather ‘zoo’ as well as all the Magi who hunt down potential magic wielders in New England.”

“Ugh,” I said.

“Yup, and it ain’t getting any better. Some of Azazel’s fiends never got caught, and while Sariel was asleep and Gadreel busy chasing humans, those fiends went looking for Azazel. Took a millennium, but they found him and freed him a couple of decades ago. Azazel was weak and had to hide to gain strength, but boy is he still pissed off at Gadreel about the last war.”

“If Azazel died, would that take away the magical powers that the fiends have?”

We don’t know. And we ain’t sure that wiping out a fiend cuts off the magical powers of its sorcerers. Not that killing a fiend would be easy—more like a suicide mission. It’d be a major magical battle that Gadreel wouldn’t be able to hide from humankind.”

“What about Sariel?”

“As far as I can tell, the only thing Sariel gives a rat’s ass about is Gadreel.”

“Is Louie like a fiend or daimon?”

O’Keefe guffawed. “He’s human. Louie had a hell of a time waking Sariel up, and still has a hell of time keeping Sariel awake enough to be of any help. Ya’ve seen it. It’s as sluggish as a sailor after a week in a whorehouse. I ain’t so sure we can rely on it for anything more than backup to stay out of Zaliel’s clutches; Gadreel and Sariel have a long-standing deal to keep their paws off each other’s minions. But Sariel ain’t going to exert itself beyond Knossos if it can help it.”

I was certain I was going to hate the answer to my next question, and so tapped my fingers on the ash-coated dashboard to distract myself, but in the end I gave in and asked it. “What’s Azazel going to do?”

“He’s been busy gaining strength so he and his fiends can take on Gadreel’s daimons. For relaxation he’ll wreak havoc and war and torment on humans, but it’s Gadreel he’s seriously after.” O’Keefe took a long drag on his cigarette and blew out a stream of smoke into the garage. “Zaliel’s weak, and likely to be one of the first targets. Probably Bebon will be the one to come pay a call on Zaliel. I’d rather have almost any other goddamn fiend trying to break into Mather than Bebon. He binds his followers and sorcerers to him by blood. He’s brutal, vicious, merciless. But that’s why it would be him and not another—he’s strong enough to challenge Zaliel on its own turf.”

“Then why doesn’t Gadreel just send other daimons in to help Zaliel?”

O’Keefe snorted. “Gadreel’s stretched so thin it ain’t able to keep up with it all. There are billions of humans on this planet. Daimons require energy and time and mental focus from Gadreel, and each year the human population keeps growing.” He slapped the interior roof of the car with his antennae. “If Gadreel were willing to give up messing with humans, it’d have the juice to go after Bebon and the other fiends. But it’s a control freak.”

Suddenly I got it. “Zaliel’s afraid it can’t drive off a fiend on its own. That’s why it puts up with Louie.”

“Hole in one,” he said, accidentally blowing smoke in my face. I was so engrossed I didn’t cough. “Old fiends like Bebon scare Zaliel shitless, for good reason. That’s why it agreed to have Sariel build a labyrinth underneath Mather, and didn’t stop Sariel and Louie from building Knossos Tower over it. Zaliel hates Louie, hates him for leaving its Magi, sees him as a rival, but it knows that Louie would never ally with a fiend. But lemme tell ya something. It’s an uneasy peace between Zaliel and Knossos.”

O’Keefe fell silent for a moment. Something was troubling him, for he used all four hands to squeeze the driver’s wheel. Then he whispered, “If I thought it would keep ya safe and was what ya wanted, I’d help ya make a run for it to go underground. But things are gonna get rough, Trelton. Sariel is a cold-hearted bastard, but it’ll not let Azazel have his way, and Knossos will be a place to shelter in.”

“I can see that now.” I briefly put my hand on his nearest suit-covered arm, squeezed, and let go. “Thanks for the offer, though. Louie would’ve been royally pissed if I’d taken you up on it.” And maybe someday I will take you up on that offer.

O’Keefe laughed. “I would’ve had to go to ground myself.” He jabbed his cigarette out in the ashtray.

I recollected the silver blobs on people’s backs, and seized O’Keefe’s sleeve in a tight grip. “Has everything we’ve said been overheard by those silver dots that show up on people’s backs when they pass through the Knossos shielding?”

“Those silver trackers are designed for location, not sound. And even if they were for sound, they ain’t able to stick to ya. When ya stared at me too much in The Dive like ya could see through my glamour, I made sure to check yer back, and sure enough, no silver tracker, and I tipped Louie off.”

I couldn’t help clutching tighter to his sleeve like a nervous kid.

He patted my clutching hand with his, which felt scaly. “But ya oughta know Sariel watches everything that goes on in Knossos. This is its home turf. But it watches in the same way Xu would watch critters in a drop of lake water. As for Louie…” O’Keefe stopped patting my hand. “He used to have Zaliel ripping through his mind whenever it wanted to. So he’s a stickler for privacy, won’t spy on people unless he has to.”

I let go of his sleeve and sighed.

“But ya gotta understand,” O’Keefe said, “Louie pays attention to how people act and think. I don’t have to worry about giving anything away by saying aloud I’d help ya go underground, ’cause he’s probably already noticed I treat ya like my niece.”

“Your niece?”

“I don’t wanna talk about her, so don’t ask.” O’Keefe lit up another cigarette. His antennae drooped above his head in a brooding sort of way.

To distract him, I said, “Did Azazel create nightmare dust?”

“Nope.” O’Keefe slipped his key in the ignition and started the engine. “Ya can thank the Magi for that discovery. Bastards.”

We pulled out of the garage into the tunnel, and I sat back in my seat to consider all that O’Keefe had told me.

*

My cell phone went berserk with missed calls and texts as O’Keefe drove us out of the parking garage across the street from Knossos.

It was hard to look at my phone screen, because my eyes kept watering from the midday sunlight after being underground so long in artificial lighting and darkness. So I had to adjust the brightness of the screen and squint.

I thumbed through the missed call list, and felt a slight chill when I saw Dereck had called me four times. My mother had called, once, as well. Matched up with a total of five voice mails waiting for me.

Then I saw there were fifty-four new texts in my queue from Dereck. “Shit,” I said.

“Give me one guess. Dereck.” He held out a free hand. “I’ll read them for ya at the next stoplight.”

I handed my phone over.

At the next red light, O’Keefe perused my texts, and the driver behind him had to honk to get him moving again, for otherwise O’Keefe would have sat there until he finished them all.

Instead he drove half a block until he saw an open parking spot, then pulled over to read the rest while keeping the engine running.

His silence was more disturbing than having him curse.

When he was done, he said, “Get yerself in to yer voice mail. I’m gonna screen those calls too.” He handed the phone back to me, but made sure he’d gotten out of the text screen first so I wouldn’t see what was there.

I dialed my voice mail, entered the pin, then handed the phone over.

More silence from O’Keefe. Except he lit another cigarette to puff on fast while listening.

I could tell when he reached my mother’s message, for he slowed into smoking the cigarette, and I could hear her voice. Mother had a habit of bellowing her messages for fear of not being recorded.

At the end of her message, he said, amused, “Ya need to call yer mother back today. She wants to hear all about Samuel Parisi.” He guffawed, then abruptly stopped. “Don’t bother to listen to the voice mail messages or read the texts from Dereck. I’ll summarize them for ya. He’s obsessed with getting close to ya, and while his favorite word is still ‘bitch,’ he’s now added ‘slut’ and a few others to his vocabulary.” O’Keefe jerked the car back out into the street and hit the gas. “Are ya willing to go in to talk to my pal Garcia about it?”

“Sure.” Just what I didn’t need right now: getting harassed by Dereck.

“We’re gonna leave at seven-thirty sharp tomorrow morning to take ya to the police station. Be prepared to ask for a restraining order.”

I sank down in my seat.

“Stalking shit like this can happen to anyone … though women get it much more. It ain’t yer fault he’s an asshole.”

My cell phone went off. Another text from Dereck.

“Ya might as well turn the ringer off,” O’Keefe said. “He’ll keep texting and calling until ya get his numbers blocked.”

*

O’Keefe insisted on hauling his toolkit up to my apartment to make sure everything was okay. There’d been no sign of Dereck or Magi on my street, nor any sign of strangers lurking about who were connected to Jake somehow, but O’Keefe remained on high alert.

He insisted that I had to stay back on the stairs to the third floor landing until he was sure of the apartment. He put down his toolkit, took my keys, unlocked the front door, handed the keys back to me, and unholstered his semiautomatic before turning the doorknob to swiftly slip into the apartment.

But before he even said anything, I knew something was wrong. My apartment smelled “off” somehow. I couldn’t name the scent wafting out, except it didn’t belong in my place.

I wanted to rush in and find out what had happened, but O’Keefe had insisted I wait until he gave me the all clear.

So I listened with a pounding heart as O’Keefe searched my apartment, banging various doors open.

At last, he said, “C’mon in.”

I lugged O’Keefe’s toolkit through the front door, then pushed the door closed with my foot.

O’Keefe stood in front of me, writing on a notepad, and held a finger to his mouth. “No one’s here.” He held up a note: You’re bugged.

************** End of Chapter 10 *****************

This e-book is available at iTunes, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, Diesel, Sony, and other e-bookstores. Since the internet changes over time (so these links could change), and a print edition is scheduled for Fall 2013, click here to go to Cubicle’s main page where the latest information and links are kept current.

Wow, we finally made it to Chapter 10. Next week, I start posting something new. Most of the time it’ll be excerpts. However, next week I’m going to post an entire short story, Writer’s Flight, which will be available to read in full for a week–then I’m going into the post and deleting half of it.

Until then, L. M.

Cubicles, Blood, and Magic – Chapter 9: Sign on the Dotted Line

We now continue with Chapter 9 of Cubicles, Blood, and Magic. If you missed the earlier chapters, click here.  (PG-13)

Cubicles, Blood, and Magic: Dorelai Chronicles, Book One

 Lynn Kilmore

Second edition copyright © 2014 by Lynn Kilmore

Copyright © 2012 by L. M. May

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.

Chapter 9:

Sign on the Dotted Line

My ability to even make small talk had left me as I sat before my half-eaten plate of supper at the table with Louie and O’Keefe in the Knossos library/conference room. My eyelids and shoulders drooped despite my struggles to stay awake. The cascading piano notes of Chopin’s Nocturnes made me think of raindrops in a forest.

Trelton,” Louie said.

Startled, I tried to sit up straight. I could barely get my eyes back open. And I had a feeling that this hadn’t been the first time Louie had called my last name.

He was frowning at me again.

I found I didn’t care. All I wanted to do was sleep. My eyes ached, so I closed them.

From a distance, I heard Louie say, “There’s no bloody way you’ll get her limp body up all those stairs to her flat without someone seeing you and calling the police.” Hands gripped my shoulders and shook me.

I pulled away. I was slumped in my chair at the table and Louie was standing over me. He’d shaken me awake.

“Go sleep on the sofa,” Louie said.

I grumbled to myself at having to make the effort, but as a programmer, getting to collapse face down on a couch appealed to me. It was worth the effort of dragging myself to my feet and walking over to it. I picked up the plaid flannel blanket and wrapped it tight around my head and body for comfort, and flopped down on my stomach.

Heaven. The flannel on me was warm and soft, and the couch cushions were firm instead of mushy. This was an aristocrat of couches compared to my own and the former programmers’ couch at Granite Hills.

As I began to drift off, I heard O’Keefe’s laugh and the rattle of dishes being picked up.

“What the devil has gotten into you?” Louie said.

“Trelton’s gonna be pissed when she finds out she slept in her clothes again.”

“What do you mean, ‘again?’ … Good God, don’t tell me you all went on a bender at her flat while Peter and Beth were lurking about. O’Keefe—”

“Rabbi Eli misjudged how much wine Trelton could handle for Shabbat. He was mortified once he realized what he’d done.”

There was the noise of a dish-piled cart being pushed out of the room, and all the library lights went off except for one wall sconce. The Chopin music stopped.

Louie said, slowly, “So they celebrated Shabbat together. Interesting.”

The library door shut and I heard the lock go snick, but I was too tired to care that I was locked in, and went to sleep.

*

O’Keefe was right. I was pissed when I woke up to find I’d again slept in my clothes.

When I lifted the flannel blanket from my head, I found that the lack of windows from being underground made it impossible for me to tell what time it was. I had no idea if it was in the middle of the night, dawn, or even Sunday afternoon.

A huge basket on the coffee table caught my attention. There was a note beside it. I reached over (not bothering to sit up, the couch was too enjoyable to get up yet) and plucked it off to squint at:

Hi Dorelai,

Louie asked me to obtain outfits you could wear either as an AOX Investigations employee or for undercover work. Good thing I started on your wardrobe right away, since I didn’t know you’d need clothes so soon. I’ve hung a suit in the bathroom that you can wear today. Let me know if anything doesn’t fit or is missing.

Regards,

Ines

Pushing myself up so that I could peer into the basket, I saw it was stocked with shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, hairdryer, and towels. I’d be able to get cleaned up properly this morning.

I looked around the library. The table had been cleared of last night’s meal.

A faint noise of A/C blowing out a vent could be heard, but otherwise it was silent. No muffled voices could be heard through the closed door to Louie’s office.

I’d gone from being called “Dorelai” by Louie to being called “Trelton.” I wondered if I’d get a rise out of him if I started calling him “McDonough” just to even things up.

My purse still hung from my chair at the table, so I stood up (sighing at the sight of the loafers on my feet—I’d slept in my shoes again, dammit) and walked over to dig around in it for my cell phone.

The time was 7:18 a.m. according to my phone clock, but I couldn’t get a wireless signal in the room, so that might be wrong.

For a moment I stood there and wondered if Sariel had done anything to me that had changed me. But as far as I could tell, I was the same person I’d been yesterday.

Not that I’d be able to tell if it did change my personality or memories. However, I don’t think that is Sariel’s way of doing things.

I carried the basket into the bathroom, and found hanging on a hook behind the door a navy wool business suit on a hanger, as well as a blue silk blouse. Navy business pumps, stockings, full slip, and underwear were in a shopping bag hung around the hanger as well. I was grateful for Ines’ thoughtfulness in being so thorough, but uncomfortable about the clothing style. I was a programmer, not a partner in Thanos’ law firm.

Well, beggars couldn’t be choosers. And there was no way I was going to stay in dirty clothes if I was given the chance of wearing something clean.

So I took a long hot shower, scrubbing down, and then enjoyed the feel of putting on silk and wool. It took effort, but I was able to get my hair to fall neatly around my neck instead of frizzing.

Everything fit, even the pumps. Once the bathroom mirror unfogged, I saw within it an alternate universe Dorelai who had done an MBA.

“Hah,” I said to my reflection. “I’d even blend in at a sales convention until I opened my mouth.” I turned to check the fit of the jacket from behind. Not a wrong crease anywhere. I was in danger of wanting to buy this expensive suit from AOX so that I’d own it.

I shoved yesterday’s clothes and shoes into the shopping bag, and hung it on the hook.

Opening the bathroom door, I stepped back out into the library and rubbed my hands together. “I should go to the next family gathering dressed like this, and tell them I’ve applied to law school.” I snickered to myself at the uproar that would cause.

“Wouldn’t that be rather too easy sport?” Louie said.

The library door to the office was now slightly ajar. His voice had come from the other room.

His words made me pause. There were things I’d said to him during our talks in the emporium that I would never have said to a boss.

Louie knew way too much about my family and their quirks.

I yanked my mind away from those thoughts and passed through the doorway into his office. He looked up from the stack of papers on his desk, gave a nod of approval at my attire, then went back to organizing the forms. Today he’d decided to dress “casual” by wearing tweed.

“Have a seat, Trelton. There’s much to cover this morning. Paperwork and investigation matters first, then I’ll answer some of your questions.”

The offer of answers was a damn carrot dangled before me to keep me in line. I resented it, but starting a fight with Louie would get me nowhere fast.

The leather chair was still where I’d sat in it the day before, so I settled into it. Despite my determination to appear cool and collected, I felt compelled to keep an eye on his hands in case he decided to do a repeat of yesterday’s lightning demonstration.

“Coffee and breakfast will be here soon,” Louie said. He picked the top letter off the stack and pushed it across to me. “Here’s the offer letter from AOX Investigations, to start work as a computer security analyst for our firm.”

I stared at the letter, making no move to pick it up yet. “But what about the interview with the other partner, Ms. Adams?”

“I want you in AOX now. You’re to read and sign the offer letter today before you leave Knossos. Ms. Adams will switch the focus of her interview to planning out your training schedule and work assignments for the next few months. She’s going to start your self-defense training tomorrow night at six.”

“Self-defense?” Actually, when I thought about it, I could go along with doing that.

“As well as firearms,” Louie said. “Training in those two areas is mandatory.” He watched me to see if I was going to protest.

The thought of learning to shoot didn’t appeal to me, but O’Keefe’s comments about bullets and one’s magical enemies would be stupid for me to ignore.

I picked up the offer letter to read, and nearly choked when I got to my salary—almost double what I made at Granite Hills. And after five years, I would have the chance to make partner.

“Dress code at AOX Investigations is business formal,” Louie said. “Always a suit, unless a particular job requires otherwise. The cost of a proper wardrobe is added into your salary.”

The two suits I owned were cheap off-the-rack things for interviews, and surely Louie had surmised that. Suits were for upper management and salespeople, not engineers.

“Mrs. Gomez will assist you in making sure your wardrobe is up to our standards.” He twitched a finger at me to indicate what I was wearing right now. “Keep what she’s already picked out—you need at least one proper suit on hand.”

I pinched the wool between my finger and thumb, enjoying the feel. I’d buy it. But this job offer—the pay, the partnership terms—was too good to be true. There was a catch lurking underneath, and I was determined to find it.

I said, “Just what, exactly, am I going to be doing day-to-day?”

Louie sat back in his chair and steepled his fingers together under his chin. “So, you’re not going to blindly rush forth to sign the offer?” His mouth quirked. “Very good. Quite a number of fools would have just signed for the money alone.”

There was a knock on the door to the receptionist’s area.

Louie stood up. “Stay here. I’d rather you weren’t recognized.” He strode over to the door and opened it enough to slip through, then closed it behind him.

I heard muffled voices. It sounded like Amanda from the Pomegranate. Then I heard the door from the receptionist’s area into the basement hall open and shut.

A moment later, the receptionist door was pushed open, and Louie shoved a serving cart with hot coffee and covered trays before him into the office.

“Grab the paperwork,” Louie said, “and we’ll reconvene at the conference table.”

I scooped up the papers into a neat stack as Louie kicked shut the receptionist’s door, then shoved the squeaking cart into the library.

Before I could help, Louie had already gotten the covered trays on the table. Same setup as last night, with him at the head of the table and me sitting on his left.

I set the papers down next to my tray, and went over to the cart to pour myself a cup of coffee. I skipped the sugar—from the coffee’s aroma I could tell it would taste great on its own. “What do you want in your cup?” I said.

“One sugar,” Louie said as he lifted the tray covers off to show omelets, sliced strawberries, and crumpets to view.

Bringing over the coffee, I set them down before our trays as Louie scooped up the stacked papers to flip through them as he sat back down.

He scowled down at a thick triplicate form, then spun it across the polished wood to me. “As an employee of AOX, your medical costs with Dr. Xu are completely covered. This form is for our outside health insurance needs. We use medical outsiders as little as possible, for obvious reasons. Fill it out.”

Ah, so Louie wasn’t even going to play the “I paid for your treatment” card.

It came to me that Louie’s attitude of urgency was missing. I thought back over the last two days, and realized he’d already achieved what he probably considered the most crucial goal: I had seen Sariel.

What had happened to me in the sphere might have bound me to Sariel in some way I didn’t realize yet. Only time would tell.

I nudged my tray aside—eating could wait—and sipped my coffee as I looked the form over. Typical insurance form.

Then I realized Louie had successfully changed the subject from what I’d actually be doing at AOX. I set the form aside. “Back to our earlier discussion. What are my duties at AOX?”

Louie moved his own tray aside to concentrate on his coffee and the stack of papers. He took a deep breath, then said, “You’re not going to be able to hide behind a desk anymore. Half of your job will be coding and computers, but half will be learning how to do investigative work in the field.”

I took a swallow of coffee to give myself time to think. I’d always seen myself as a programmer, and had planned to go back for my Ph.D. in computer science in my early thirties, when I’d likely be tired of private industry work.

Instead of trying to fill the silence, Louie pulled his tray over to eat.

Twenty-seven. I’d be twenty-seven in December. And I had yet to take a job since MIT that pushed me to the limits of what I could do. Without a doubt, AOX would shove me to the brink of what I was capable of.

Perhaps even beyond.

“I’ll sign the offer,” I said.

Louie slid the letter and a copy over, and dug a gold pen from his pocket to hand over to me. “Sign both. Then I’ll sign.”

The pen was still warm from being in his pocket as I signed my name to both letters. I felt both excited and terrified, as if I’d just bungee-jumped off a river bridge. Only time would tell if the cord held, or if I’d hit the river rocks far below.

*

Between bites of omelet, I filled out all the paperwork.

Once he had the papers stacked neatly next to him, Louie offered me his hand across the table, tone and expression solemn. “Welcome to AOX Investigations, Ms. Trelton.”

I gave his warm calloused palm a firm shake, but we went on too long, lingering, as if we were both saying farewell to the casual friendship we’d briefly shared.

He was the one to pull his hand away first.

I pushed away from the table, and picked up my tray. “Where do I put this?”

“There’s a lower shelf on the cart.” He cleared the table of his tray, and helped me shove both trays onto the cart’s lower shelf. Checking his watch, he said, “Make yourself another cup, because it’s going to be a long morning. There will be a meeting where you and I and Dr. Xu and Rabbi Eli are going to discuss that git Jake.”

The muscles in my shoulders and neck spasmed at the mention of Jake’s name, and I had to put the coffee pot back down before I poured. Tomorrow I was going to have to see that weasel and continue my act of not knowing what was going on.

Shit. Starting tomorrow, I was the team leader of a dying project. A job I’d be abandoning a lot sooner than expected. Ed would probably put Jake in charge.

“What is it?” Louie said. He picked up the pot and poured my cup for me, then his own.

“Thanks.” I carried my cup back and dropped back down in my chair. “What sort of notice am I to give Granite Hills?”

“Give two weeks’ notice this Friday,” Louie said as he stirred a sugar cube into his coffee. “More than enough time for what needs to be done about Jake. And a lot more notice than what they would give you.”

I sighed. “Layoffs. Tim wanted me to try to keep the project going for few more months.”

As he sat back down, Louie said, “They’re bleeding too much cash for that.”

I remembered how frantic Patel and Ed had been about selling to Louie. “Tomorrow’s sales meeting—”

“Won’t make a bloody difference in saving Granite Hills,” Louie said. “Even if I buy everything they offer, it won’t be enough to stop the layoffs and the death spiral. Your company was dead the moment that blithering idiot Dysart walked in the door as CEO.”

I stopped drinking my coffee to stare unseeing at the bookshelves. I felt rather blue about Granite Hills going under. Everyone had worked so hard on the software code for CorporateSystems and EmbezzleWatch, and it was all in danger of being swept away in a tidal wave of budgetary red ink.

Depressing.

Louie said, “Are you having qualms about my trick to get into Granite Hills?”

“A little. But right now I’m thinking about EmbezzleWatch. We put so much work into building that product, and now it’ll never reach actual customers. They’ll just put our prototype to sleep.” I tried to distract myself from that miserable thought by focusing on taking another sip of coffee.

Instead of blathering a stupid platitude, Louie said, “I’ve got to get some records for the meeting. I’ll return in ten minutes.” He gave me a nod, and stepped back into his office, closing the library door behind him.

I covered my eyes with my hands. My depression about all that wasted work on EmbezzleWatch was soon joined by my embarrassment about how I’d poured out my troubles about my work and relatives to Louie in past talks in the emporium.

By the time Louie came back with a thick folder of notes and a yellow legal notepad, I had my feelings under control and was making my third cup of coffee.

Louie tossed the folder and pad down onto the table before his chair. He said, “I’ve already gone through the reports about the events of Friday night and Saturday morning, and have talked at length with Mr. O’Keefe and Rabbi Eli about what has been going on.” He settled into his chair with pens and the legal pad ready before him.

From a pocket he took out a voice recorder, to set by me.

He said, “I want you to tell me about everything you have seen, heard, or done since you found that manila envelope in your flat. Leave nothing out. Especially anything involving magical patterns you’ve seen.”

I looked at his folder, paper, and pens with disapproval. Way too low tech and inefficient for retrieving data. The recorder was a step up, but not by much.

Dryly, Louie said, “It’s low tech for good reason. Begin.” He pressed the RECORD button.

I began my recital of everything that had happened since Thursday evening, and took tiny sips of coffee to keep my mouth from getting dry. Once I got to Peter on the way to The Silver Diner, I recalled how he’d looked with so much loathing at Eli. “Why does Peter hate Rabbi Eli so much?”

Louie kept writing. “Because Rabbi Eli is a ceaseless reminder to Peter of what a despicable lowlife he’s become as a Magus.” His pen never stopped while he spoke.

“Why?”

“Being nosy is a valuable trait in an investigator,” Louie said, still writing, “but restrain yourself. Rabbi Eli’s sorrows are deep and wide and barely healed over. If he wishes, he’ll tell you himself—someday—about Peter. Until then, keep your mouth shut and leave him alone.”

There was no hostility in Louie’s voice, but his tone was clear. I was not to pursue the matter unless Eli chose to let me in on it.

I continued on with the tale of Friday night. I wasn’t sure, for Louie was too good at keeping his expression neutral, but as I described the burgundy glow of Veronica’s phone I noted that his fingers tightened on the pen. And when I got to the part about asking Veronica if I could bring a date, Louie actually looked up from his notes. “That was useful on your part.”

I sat up straighter in my chair and plowed on forward in my tale. When I got to the golden tendrils emerging from Peter’s fingers, I couldn’t resist stopping to ask, “What would have happened if Rabbi Eli hadn’t stopped him? And why can he see Peter’s magic, but not yours?”

Louie put his pen down beside the legal pad. “Is there any possibility that you gave away to Peter what you could see?”

I thought over the encounter. “I don’t think so. Also, by slamming the cup and saucer down like he did, Rabbi Eli gave me an excuse to be staring at Peter’s hands.”

Louie scowled as he hit the STOP button on the recorder. “Peter was using a magical ability given to him by Zaliel for compulsion. On you it wouldn’t have worked, neither on Rabbi Eli, but Peter would have been able to compel your coworkers to be more forthcoming in their comments. The ability can be used to worm out deep emotions and secrets.”

“Like a truth serum?”

“Much worse than that.”

“I was told you were once one of Zaliel’s Magi. Were you forced to become a Magus?”

Bloody hell!” Louie tossed his pen aside. “Can’t Rabbi Eli keep his mouth shut around you for once?”

“He only spoke of it inside Knossos.”

“That is not the point, Trelton.”

I picked up a gold pen within reach and studied the reflections on its surface as I thought about all the snippets of information I’d been told or had learned about Louie. The pen felt cool and smooth on my fingertips as I rolled it between them.

In the meantime, Louie went back to writing notes.

Louie, I decided, was much like an encrypted software program that did fascinating things. I very much wanted to crack the encryption and discover how the mysterious code worked.

Louie McDonough and Knossos Tower were going to be the ultimate hack.

His pen slowed as he became aware that I was watching him. Finally, it stopped altogether and he looked back up at me, raising his eyebrows in mock alarm. “I thought I told you not to stare at anyone’s magical aura.” Suddenly his eyes narrowed. “I know that look. You get it whenever you’re watching me take apart something that intrigues you.”

Swiftly I gazed down at the pen in my fingers to twiddle with it. “I’m waiting for you to explain about Rabbi Eli being able to see what Peter was doing.” When I thought I’d gotten a bored expression on my face, I looked back up at him.

“Bollocks!” He pointed his pen at me. “You’re bright, you’re nosy, you adore disassembling things, and I can see I’m going to have a devil of a time keeping you out of my business and out of areas within Knossos that are forbidden. You will stay out of forbidden places, or I’ll fire your arse so fast you’ll find yourself hitting the curb before the words are even out of my mouth.”

I said as meekly as I could fake, “Yes, sir.”

He continued to point his pen at me. “It won’t work, Trelton, I’m on to you.” He lowered the pen and placed it on the legal pad. “As for your question, Rabbi Eli has been messed with so many times by the Magi and Zaliel that he’s become sensitive to their magic. He can see it and Zaliel itself. He can’t see most of my magic because I haven’t hurt or overwhelmed him with it … and speaking of magical attacks, due to his past poisoning the Rabbi can easily see nightmare dust and the antidote.” Louie checked his watch. “Time is getting short. Back to what went on yesterday.” He hit the RECORD button.

Misdirection. He hadn’t answered my question about being a Magus. Maybe I could get some answers from Eli and O’Keefe.

I sighed, then went on about Friday’s events (I skipped the part about getting tipsy), then Saturday morning’s encounter with Dereck.

At the end of my tale, Louie said, “I don’t like it. I find it hard to believe that it is coincidence that this Dereck fellow decided now to attack you.” He tapped his fingers on the table, thinking.

A knock on the service corridor door to Louie’s office put an end to his musings. He got up to go into his office to open the door, and I debated getting a fourth cup of coffee, and decided against it.

Rabbi Eli entered the library, and he was dressed again as Rabbi Rzondzinski, his hair color back to being black. And his beard and hair were, amazingly, back to their original length. By some miracle they had gotten his skin back to its scholarly paleness.

At the sight of me in a suit, Eli smiled and said, “Mazel tov, Dorelai. Either you signed on with AOX, or got a big promotion.”

“The first,” I said. “Thanks.”

Dr. Xu came into the library with a fat folder of printouts tucked under his arm. “Brah, I heard you looked totally sweet in that Hawaiian shirt of mine. You gotta let me see next time before you head out. O’Keefe said he wants to put you in more of them if he can.”

I choked back a laugh.

Do not wish that on me, Tom,” Eli said.

Both Eli and Xu poured themselves coffee before settling down at the table. Eli sat on my left, Xu where O’Keefe had sat last night.

Today Eli smelled like clay and wool. His hands glowed brighter than ever with their aura, and there was red clay under his fingernails.

Up close, looking at his profile, I realized that the beard was fake and the hair was a wig.

Louie strode back into the library and took his seat, interlacing his fingers as he stared at each of us in turn. “We are here to discuss the usage of nightmare dust by Mr. Jake Drummond on Ms. Dorelai Trelton and her coworkers, Mr. Tim Lowrey and Ms. Monica Fagan, at Granite Hills. Dr. Xu?”

Xu cleared his throat as he tugged a thick printout from the folder and flipped it open, making the pages rustle. “From the dust analyses I’ve done, as best as I can discern, Ms. Trelton was successfully dosed with nightmare dust four separate times—”

Four!” Eli shouted.

“—four separate times in the past two months,” Xu said. “That does not, of course, include the attempted dosage of Ms. Trelton on Friday morning.

I was shocked. Jake had been one hell of a busy weasel.

Louie said, seemingly casual, “Trelton is very fortunate in having had an anomalous reaction to nightmare dust.”

“Was the spilled dust from Dorelai’s coffee recovered from the Granite Hills garbage?” Eli said.

No,” Louie said. “Jake must have seen to it that the trash bag with the specks was smuggled out to be destroyed, for it was nowhere to be found Friday when the hair samples were collected from Granite Hills.”

“What hair samples?” I said.

“Tim and Monica’s,” Louie said. “Their symptoms pointed to them being poisoned, but we wanted confirmation of it. Nightmare dust must be primed with hair from the victims before it can be used on them. Dr. Xu needed hair samples to run the tests.”

Xu jabbed at something on his printout with his finger. “The earliest two dust doses from Trelton’s bloodstream have traces of her DNA and Tim Lowrey’s bound to it. It is very likely Jake preferred to dose them at the same time once he decided to target her as well as Tim. The third dose was bound with Trelton’s and Monica Fagan’s DNA. But the fourth dose was bound to Trelton’s DNA alone for priming.” He tapped a finger against the printout. “The first three doses of dust Trelton ingested all came from the same batch. Medium-grade quality. The fourth was a different batch. Much higher grade. I would love to know what kind of nightmare dust had been in Trelton’s coffee Friday morning.”

“Wouldn’t we all,” Louie said sarcastically. “Though I doubt Trelton would have appreciated carrying it in her bloodstream to us. Go ahead and tell them the amount of the doses, Dr. Xu.”

“He gave Trelton a typical dose the first time—enough to give nightmares and loss of appetite. The second time, he gave her twice the typical amount—more than enough to result in hospitalization from the hallucinations. For the third dose, he went with triple the typical amount—enough to risk permanently crippling the mind from the side effects.

“But for the fourth dose from that manila envelope,” Xu said and leaned toward me, jabbing at the printout for emphasis to his words, “you had ten times the typical amount in your bloodstream. Ten times! No one, who has any consideration for human life, should have done that. It’s unspeakable.” He stood up, and placed the printouts before Louie. “It’s all here, dude. I’ve got a patient I have to get back to.” He nodded to Eli and me, tucked the folder back under his arm, and left.

Louie waited until he heard the door from his office to the service corridor shut. “Jake Drummond didn’t come up with the idea to slip an envelope under Trelton’s door.” He pulled out a penny, and began to move it across his fingers and palms, making it seem to appear and disappear by magic, as he frowned in thought.

“Friday morning,” Louie said, “from what Trelton described seeing in her coffee, Jake put in a dose quadruple the typical dose—fits in with his idiotic pattern for the earlier doses. One, two, three, four. And it makes absolutely no sense for the git to dose her again so soon after giving her the manila envelope Thursday night. Absolutely none. Nor is he the sort to bother with forging a rental management office letter to put Trelton off her guard. Too much work. Much easier to just dump extra doses in all her coffees on the same day.”

The penny seemed to disappear into the air, to reappear in Louie’s other hand.

Louie said, “So, who shoved that bloody envelope—filled with enough high quality nightmare dust to kill—under the door of Trelton’s flat? Whoever did so then ignored ample opportunities to break into Trelton’s flat to take away the envelope and letter after her poisoning.” He snatched the penny from the air and put it back in his pocket. “And who provided Jake with his nightmare dust and the antidote? Rabbi Eli, tell Trelton what you learned.”

“I was able to find out, Dorelai, that a man that matched Jake Drummond’s description was on the streets of Mather on Tuesday night trying to buy nightmare dust. No one in their right mind goes about openly searching for dust. Too dangerous with all the Magi that lurk in Mather. His search reached the ears of the Magi, and now they are observing Jake and those closest to him. They watch, but take no action. Yet.”

I thought of Peter following me onto the bus Friday morning. The Magi worked fast.

“I was unable to find out,” Eli said, “if Jake succeeded in finding a new supplier. I doubt it. His lack of caution would have alerted dealers to have nothing to do with him. The first supplier must have given him more.”

“It would come as no surprise to me,” Louie said, “if it were to be discovered that Jake was given a nightmare dust batch that was supposed to be used with discretion, and instead the prat used it all up trying to make Trelton sick enough to quit. I would also wager Jake was searching for a second supplier on Tuesday night, so that he would not have to confess to the first that he had run out.”

There was a sour taste in my mouth. I didn’t appreciate how hard Jake had tried to get rid of me. “That scenario sounds just like Jake,” I said.

“Quite,” Louie said. “Rabbi Eli, I have a dangerous task for you.”

************** End of Chapter 9 *****************

Chapter 10 will go up next Tuesday. (Note: If you are reading this post after June 11, 2013, click here to go to Cubicle‘s main page on this website so you can find Chapter 10.)

This e-book is available at iTunes, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, Diesel, Sony, and other e-bookstores. Since the internet changes over time, these links may change, so click here to go to Cubicle’s main page where the links will be kept current.

Looking forward to posting something new after Chapter 10. Cheers, L.M.