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.

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