We’ve now reached Chapter 7 of Cubicles, Blood, and Magic. When we last left off, Dorelai was about to talk to O’Keefe in the middle of the night. (PG-13 rating, folks.)
Cubicles, Blood, and Magic: Dorelai Chronicles, Book One
Second edition copyright © 2014 by Lynn Kilmore
Published by Osuna Publishing
This story is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
A Job Interview with Louie
On my TV, I saw the chef on the cooking show flip a pancake using just his pan instead of a spatula.
I wandered out of my bedroom into the living room so I could get a better view. “That’s got to be messy to learn how to do.”
O’Keefe picked up a mug from the side table and took a drink. After he put the mug back down with a thunk, he said, “How’s yer hip?”
I put my hand on the bruise. “Sore, but it no longer throbs.”
“Xu could take a look at it for ya when I take ya in.”
“That shouldn’t be necessary.” I sat down on the recliner.
“How long ya date that Dereck asshole?”
“Two months or so.”
“He ever hurt ya before?”
O’Keefe chewed the cigarette up and swallowed it. “If he comes back acting like he did last night, gonna have to go down to the station and file a report on him.”
“It was an accident.” Dereck’s cry of those words echoed in my mind as I said them aloud.
Digging a cigarette from the pack in his suit pocket, O’Keefe said, “Didn’t look like no accident to me.” He put the unlit cigarette in his mouth. “Didn’t look that way to Rabbi Eli, neither.”
“Objection noted,” I said. I didn’t want to talk about this anymore.
We sat watching the chef make an enormous omelet with Italian sausage, Portobello mushrooms, red pepper, and onions.
O’Keefe took another swallow of his beer by shifting the cigarette over to the far corner of his mouth. When he was done swallowing, he picked up the TV controller to set the volume much higher—the chef’s chatter would drown out our voices from a distance. “Yer apartment ain’t bugged. Yet.”
I didn’t like that “yet” in there. “So you think I’m going to get bugged?”
I waited for him to say something more, but he didn’t. “Is there anything I can do to stop it?”
“Nope.” He twitched an arm to encompass the view of my apartment. “No way ya can secure this place. The locks are a goddamn joke. There’s a fire escape on the back of yer building even a child could climb, not that anyone who knows their stuff would need it. Ya gotta goddamn roof highway running from brownstone to brownstone.”
“Are you saying I’m going to have to move?” I liked this place. I’d found it after living in Mather for a year in a crappy condo rental.
I let out an exasperated breath. “I don’t want to move.”
“Ya ain’t gonna have a choice.” O’Keefe absentmindedly touched his semiautomatic. “Being on guard 24/7 grinds ya down. Everyone but Rabbi Eli has already settled within Knossos—they have places on the outside to visit, but Knossos is where they go to sleep. And even the Rabbi will have to give up living on the outside before too long.”
Before I could ask, O’Keefe said, “That’s all I’m gonna to say about it here.”
So instead I asked, “What good is a semiautomatic against Mag—, um, the dangers around here?”
I couldn’t be sure, but I thought O’Keefe smiled while he patted his gun. “It can take down a lotta people with unusual abilities. Remember that, Trelton, cold stats are yer best buddy in dealing with yer enemies. How many bullets per minute ya do could be the difference between life and death. All but the most unusual struggle to block gunfire. The more bullets, the harder it is to block them all.”
“Then why isn’t there a submachine gun in your lap?”
“If I’d thought I’d need it, I would’ve brought it up.” Now I was sure O’Keefe was grinning at me. “It’s in its case.” He jerked a sharp thumb toward the street.
“No,” I said. “You don’t mean in your car there’s…”
O’Keefe waggled his antennae at me.
I said, “Don’t you dare bring it up here.”
O’Keefe laughed, and his cigarette fell onto the carpet. He snatched it up before it could make a mark, and ate it.
“How can you eat that?” I said. “My stomach hurts just watching you.”
Pulling two cigarettes out of his pack, he swallowed both of them without even chewing.
“That’s disgusting,” I said, feeling both nausea and amusement.
“I’m a roach,” he said. “Whaddaya expect? That I’d eat flowers and poop sunshine?”
He took another swig from his mug of beer, then grabbed the controller to turn the volume back down. The chef’s show had been replaced by a cheery woman who was going to show us how to deep fry snack cakes. “Try to get some more shut-eye, Trelton. Ya gotta exhausting day ahead of ya.”
Part of me wanted to stay up and ask more questions, but I had to admit O’Keefe was right. I needed more sleep. Seemed almost pointless to get into pajamas, but teeth brushing was definitely called for.
The pounding on my front door woke me. I blearily opened an eye to check the time. Six. For a panicked moment I wondered if I’d forgotten that Stuart was driving me in to work today, until I realized it was Saturday.
“Dorelai!” Dereck’s voice.
I stumbled out of my bedroom to the door to peek through the peephole. Dereck’s own eye was pressed up against it.
Looking over my shoulder, I saw that O’Keefe had stood up from my couch. On the TV some guy was trying to roast potatoes on a BBQ grill instead of doing it the easy way by baking them in an oven.
O’Keefe finished checking his semi, and slipped it into his shoulder holster under his jacket.
“Are you okay?” Dereck called through the door. “I know you’re in there. I’m not leaving until I’m sure you’re safe.”
“I’m fine,” I called through the door. “Go home, Dereck.”
Dereck pounded so hard on the door it rattled in its frame. It made echoes up and down the stairwell. I could hear other apartment doors opening.
“Shut up!” A man’s voice from downstairs.
O’Keefe said to me, “Let me handle him.” He positioned himself by the door so that he could ambush Dereck. Softly he said, “When I give the signal, yer gonna yank the door open. Stay out of sight behind it.” He reached over to quietly flip the bolt and slide out the chain.
Then he gestured for me to unlock the doorknob and yank it open.
I did so, ducking down behind the open door.
Dereck said, “Wh—”
One second O’Keefe was beside the door, the next he’d pounced upon Dereck. “Who buzzed ya into this building?” I heard O’Keefe bellow. “Answer me. Now.”
“What are you doing in my girlfriend’s apartment?”
“She ain’t yer girlfriend, asshole.”
I heard someone get slammed up against the wall.
“Who let ya in?” O’Keefe said.
“I’m having you charged with assault.”
“Do that, counselor. I’m sure they’d love to hear about what I and my friend saw ya do to Ms. Trelton last evening.”
I heard Dereck make a soft squeak.
“Was it 101? 102? 103? Ahh, 103.”
“No,” Dereck said.
“Trelton,” O’Keefe said, “who lives in 103?”
I stood up behind the door. “Mr. Henderson.”
Dereck said, “Dore—”
“Shuddup,” O’Keefe said. “Yer not seeing her. Tell me about the Henderson guy, Trelton.”
“Retiree,” I said. It felt strange to be hidden behind a door so that I couldn’t see what was going on. “I’m not surprised he let Dereck in. He knew I was seeing him.”
“This ain’t happening again. Shut and lock the door, Trelton, I’m taking the garbage out and then I’m having a talk with Mr. Henderson.”
“No!” Dereck yelled. “I have to see Dorelai first.”
“No, ya don’t,” O’Keefe said. “Shut the goddamn door.”
I slammed it shut, flipping the bolt, and pressed myself up against it to look out the peephole.
O’Keefe was hauling a squirming Dereck by the scruff of his shirt down the third floor stairwell. And I could hear doors shutting below. As O’Keefe made his descent with Dereck in tow, my ex-boyfriend’s tone changed from pleading to outrage.
“You can’t do this to me,” Dereck said. “She’s MINE! I won’t let you keep her from me!”
As they approached the first floor, their words got too garbled for me to make out. So I ran over to the kitchen window that overlooked the street, to peer through a crack in the closed blinds, and saw O’Keefe drag Dereck down the steps and onto the sidewalk, then shove him at his sports car.
O’Keefe refused to leave the spot he stood on until Dereck got into his car and drove off.
Then he raced up the outside steps three at a time and buzzed me to be let back in.
I pressed my intercom. “So, Dereck’s gone.”
“For now,” O’Keefe said. “I’ll be up after I talk sense into Henderson.”
I buzzed him in.
When I let O’Keefe back into my apartment (I’d had time to get my coffee maker started, take a shower, and get dressed), he said, “Henderson ain’t buzzing Dereck in no more. And FYI—yer ex was using Henderson to figure out if ya’d come home.”
I thought back to Dereck’s phone call about La Belle. “So that’s how Dereck knew I’d gotten home early from work.”
“Explain it to me while I cook,” O’Keefe said as he headed toward my kitchen.
I trailed after him, and told the story of Dereck knowing I was home on Thursday night, while wondering if I wanted to hurt O’Keefe’s feelings by telling him I didn’t want him touching any of my kitchen stuff because I didn’t want roach germs on them.
He scrubbed down all four hands with soap and water, then tugged open the fridge door with one hand, while using another to get out a pan, and a third to rummage through my utensil drawer. With the fourth he got out the egg carton.
“Think back on all the times ya saw Dereck,” O’Keefe said as he cracked eggs into a bowl with two arms and got the pan ready with the other two. “Try to remember anything hinky—times he would show up unannounced, or would know things he shouldn’t have.”
The more I recollected Dereck’s surprise visits in the evenings, the more I was forced to acknowledge he’d used Henderson more than once to figure out when I was home.
Shaking paprika and pepper into the bowl, O’Keefe whisked the eggs as butter melted in the pan. “He’s been watching ya and having others spy on ya for him. And he talks about ya like yer a goddamn doll he owns.” He poured the eggs into the sizzling pan. “Ya gotta file a report on him in case ya need a restraining order. I can take ya to meet a guy I know in the Mather PD on Monday.”
I squeezed past him to pour myself a mug of coffee. I didn’t want to deal with the people and conflict involved in filing a report with the police, but I knew O’Keefe was right. Dereck had gone too far by having me spied on. I wrapped my hands around the soothing heat of the mug as I drank.
My cell phone went off, and I put my mug down to check. Incoming text.
Dereck: I love you. Talk 2 me.
Me: Leave me alone.
Dereck: You belong to me.
“Who’s that?” O’Keefe said. He grabbed my phone out of my hands to hold it up to his face while continuing to cook with the other three. “Don’t ever respond to a phone call, text, or email from that asshole again. It’s like pouring gasoline on a raging fire. But save the messages to show to the police.”
My cell phone continued to squawk as Dereck sent more messages. From the angle O’Keefe held it at, I could see all caps and exclamation points were getting used.
“Yer better off not reading this crap,” O’Keefe said as he handed my phone back. “Turn it off for now, and get his number blocked.”
I glanced down at my phone screen as I pressed the OFF button. In all caps was one last text from Dereck: BITCH.
Dereck’s texts had taken away my appetite, but O’Keefe coaxed some scrambled eggs and a slice of toast into me, then scarfed up the rest of what he’d cooked, washing it down with another can of beer. Then he cleaned up the pan and dishes, and rinsed out his empty beer and chicken soup cans to stack next to the sink for recycling.
It was about seven-thirty.
“Time to head out,” O’Keefe said as he hefted up his toolkit.
I took one last pass through the apartment, making sure all the windows were closed and locked. But I couldn’t help but notice how the fire escape went up past my bedroom windows to the roof. O’Keefe was right—the security aspects of my apartment sucked. Unless by some miracle it turned out I’d dreamed everything that had happened since Thursday, I was going to have to move.
When we got downstairs and out the foyer, we scanned the street and brownstones from the top of the steps, but there were no Magi around. O’Keefe walked up the street to a 1970s green Plymouth that reminded me a giant toad on wheels.
As I came up to it, I said, “Man, that’s an ugly car.”
He rapped on the metal. “Built like a tank.” Unlocking the trunk, he dumped his equipment inside.
I walked on over to the ugly thing. The trunk held cases of various sizes and shapes. One could easily hide three bodies, maybe four, in there.
O’Keefe slammed the trunk down and got into the driver’s seat. He had to lean over to pop the front passenger door lock. No automatic locks on this old monster. As I pulled open the passenger door, I discovered the interior smelled like The Dive—cigarette smoke and spilled beer.
He pulled out a glowing cell phone (it had what I was beginning to consider as Knossos’ trademark silver-blue aura) from his pocket to check, and grunted to himself at whatever message he read.
I checked the car for magical auras, but saw none. “Did you pick out this car, or did Louie force it on you?”
“My choice,” O’Keefe said as he pocked his phone, then turned the ignition as I got my seatbelt on. “I prefer a car big enough to survive getting rammed.”
“You stick out like a sore thumb in this thing. And there’s no airbag.”
O’Keefe shrugged as he pulled out from the curb.
There’s nothing like riding in a huge car with a human cockroach driving to make you feel like you’ve been taking too many shots of vodka.
I found if I squinted hard, I could almost make out the glamour that made O’Keefe look human to most people.
We’d driven about two blocks when I began to suspect there was something odd about the car’s engine. It had too much pick-up-and-go for an old car; it sounded like it had been modified; and there was an odd control panel where the radio should have been, as well as other extra dials and switches along the driver’s dashboard.
O’Keefe used his middle arms to light a cigarette, then put it in his mouth.
I coughed, heavily, to give him a hint, and hand-rolled my window all the way down. Good thing I’d decided against wearing a suit, and had gone for khaki dress slacks and a blouse instead.
O’Keefe rolled down his own window, then blew smoke out it.
“Do you even get a nicotine rush?” I said.
“Barely.” He shook ash off his cigarette as we waited at a stoplight. “More of a habit kinda thing, ya know?”
I put my elbow up on the passenger door, and took a moment to enjoy the illusion of a summer breeze as the car drove through the sticky air toward downtown. However, the sunlight quickly made my arm feel too hot and I pulled it back in. It was going to be a scorcher today.
Once he’d smoked the cigarette down, he stubbed it out in the car’s ashtray. Then he lit another.
“I’m going to be in a meeting with Louie,” I said. “I’d prefer not to reek of cigarette smoke.” My stomach was getting that fluttery thing that always happened before an interview.
“Dontcha worry,” O’Keefe said. “Louie’s already noticed everyone who rides in my car ends up smelling like cigs. Even when I don’t smoke, clothes suck up the aroma from the seats.” He stubbed the lit cigarette out in the tray.
We swerved down a side street near the downtown plaza and approached Knossos from a direction I rarely used. There was a multistory parking garage on a lot across the street from Knossos, and O’Keefe pulled into it, taking a ticket from the machine.
After the barricade rose, he followed the arrows that led to the garage ramp that curved downward to the underground level.
The damp coolness of underground was a welcome break from the heat. Being a Saturday morning, the level was virtually empty of vehicles. Orange fluorescents lit up the concrete walls and empty parking spots. O’Keefe’s engine sounded loud to me from all the echoes.
At a far corner of the parking lot was another down ramp, this one leading to a sealed metal gate that blocked the way. The ramp was so narrow that only one vehicle could pass through at a time.
O’Keefe touched another ticket machine, but instead of a ticket emerging, magical metallic goo surrounded his hand instead, then let go.
A metal gate lowered behind us, making it impossible for us to back up or for anyone to rush up from behind. Once closed, the metal gate before us rose to expose a dark tunnel. O’Keefe flipped on his lights and drove forward.
We were engulfed in the same silver shimmer that had searched the interior of Louie’s private elevator. The silver magic crawled all over the car and O’Keefe.
At the end of the tunnel a thick steel gate blocked the exit, and only rose after the magical search was finished. Another underground parking lot came into view, much smaller than the other, but in order to reach it we would have to drive through Knossos’ protective aura—I was intrigued to see that Knossos Tower’s magical shielding extended through rock and dirt as well as air.
Once through, O’Keefe jerked a thumb toward the parked array of cars, trucks, and vans. “All owned by AOX. Depending on the job, ya may find yerself assigned a particular vehicle.”
When we turned a tight corner, a row of five sports cars came into view. I wasn’t much into sports cars, but these looked to be chosen for speed, not show. “Don’t go near those,” O’Keefe said. “Those are for company jobs only, not joy rides. Adams and Gomez will throttle anyone who touches them.” From the way he sounded, he’d gotten busted.
“Do you mean Ines Gomez?”
“Nope. Mr. Gomez, mechanic. Ines’ husband.” O’Keefe pulled into a double space to park. “Shy of strangers. Never gonna meet him unless ya join AOX.” He turned off the engine, and the silence was startling after the racket of driving. “Well, Trelton, let’s get ya to Louie’s office before he gets restless and comes down here looking for us.”
O’Keefe took me up an elevator (there were several scattered around the parking garage to choose from) whose interior was just like the private elevator I’d taken with Louie and Eli, but it only had two buttons: B and P. O’Keefe pressed the B button.
As we rose, the silver security scan thing happened again, and then the doors opened on the service corridors of the basement.
We moved through the corridors at a fast clip, and I got disoriented. Again, in the distance I could hear the echo of hooves, but this time they were running away from us.
O’Keefe brought me to a silver-glowing steel door, but instead of putting one of his hands on the metal panel, he knocked.
It opened inward to expose to view an executive office done in what I would call “NYC shark attorney” decor—wood paneling, leather cushions, oriental carpet, gilt books on a bookshelf. There were even framed prints of wild ducks and English cottages on the walls. And everything was spotless, with an underlying scent of lemon wood polish. This was how Thanos would do his office once he made partner in his law firm.
The personality of the room was not that of Louie’s at all. Made me feel like I was walking onto the stage set for a play—Mr. Louie McDonough, Executive and Esquire.
And yet it was Louie sitting behind the giant wooden desk, with a metal tray in front of him and an open toolkit by his left elbow, scowling down at the ballerina musical box I’d seen him dissecting just a few weeks back. From within the cracks of the closed box came a white aural glow that made me think of snow glare. The bits he’d laid out on the tray—ballerina, gears, screws, et cetera—had no glow.
I was drawn toward the box, wanting to know what I’d see inside it, and walked up to stand before the desk.
Today Louie was dressed in what looked to be a hand-tailored suit, which meant I was grossly underdressed for this meeting. Not to mention I smelled like I’d been shooting pool in The Dive before coming over.
I wanted to throttle O’Keefe for that last bit.
“Here she is,” O’Keefe said to Louie.
Louie looked up from the box and smiled, standing up to come around from his desk to shake my hand. “Ms. Trelton, good to see you in one piece.”
He’d deliberately used my last name. I had a sudden conviction that this interview was just a formality. As far as he was concerned, I was his employee as soon as I’d walked into his office.
He grabbed a leather chair and pulled it up to his desk. “Please, have a seat.”
Sitting, I became aware that a strong scent of sandalwood lingered on my hand.
As he sat back down, Louie said to O’Keefe, “Go get some rest. I’ve got a job for you this afternoon.”
O’Keefe hesitated. “Ms. Trelton’s had a tough night and morning.”
“I’m aware of everything you’ve reported, but circumstances make waiting dangerous for her.” Louie pushed the tray toward me. “Don’t open the box, yet. O’Keefe, I am doing only the minimum that must be done. But done it must be. Go.”
O’Keefe muttered something, then went out by a different door, a polished wooden one that led into a ritzy receptionist’s area.
There were three doors that led off from this room—two wooden, and the steel one into the service corridor. All had the silver aura I’d come to recognize as a security screen. And on the ceiling, I could see display patterns of tiny silver dots that moved around, some clustering, some by themselves.
It took intense focus, but then I made out faintly glowing maps of the lobby and public basement of Knossos Tower those dots were superimposed on. I suspected I was looking at a readout for the tiny blobs the security field stuck on anyone who entered Knossos.
“You’re not supposed to be able to see that,” Louie said, exasperated.
I twitched, feeling like I’d been caught peeping into someone’s window.
“Haven’t you ever heard about curiosity killing the cat?” Louie said. “I must suppose that your unguarded behavior is because you trust me not to kill you, instead of stupidity or carelessness. There would have been a bit of a scuffle with the Magi last night if you’d behaved so recklessly in front of them as you do with me.”
My mouth went dry. “I’m sorry I looked. You aren’t going to—”
“Kill you? Of course not. That would be a gross mistake on my part, especially since you are of much more use to me alive.” Steepling his fingers, Louie sat back in his chair. “I prefer not to rely on magic to keep secrets.” He held up his palms before me. “My hands are empty.” Then he twisted his left hand around, so that a deck of cards appeared seemingly out of nowhere on his palm. “I didn’t use magic to do it. Magic trick.” The fingers of his left hand expertly fanned out the cards, then flicked them at me.
I instinctively blinked, but instead of cards flying out at me, they had vanished again.
Louie held up his bare left hand before me, turning it so that I could inspect it.
“Not magic,” Louie said. “And I refuse to spoil the trick by telling you how I pulled it off, so don’t bother asking. You may be able to see hidden magic, but your eyes are still only human.” He pulled open a desk drawer, and brought out a blank piece of paper and a gold pen, both of which he shoved across the desk to me.
“What am I to do?” I hoped it wouldn’t be a series of dumb questions like “Why are manhole covers round?” and such.
“I want you to open this musical box, and sketch for me the pattern you find inside.”
For a few seconds my sweaty hands hovered over the lid of the box. There was something deadly about the glow of the aura, and I wondered if Louie had lied about not wanting to kill me.
Taking a deep breath, I flipped open the lid to look inside.
The interior sides were still covered with white satin, but the bottom had been stripped bare to expose the wood underneath. Painted onto the wood was a snowflake pattern that emitted the snow glare.
From the box there came a puff of air smelling of cedar and ice.
I sketched the pattern as best I could. While I did so, I asked, “What exactly does this music box do, anyway? You said it did a nasty trick.”
“It slowly ensnares the mind of the recipient. When the box was opened, the target found herself in a vision where she was wearing the ball gown while skating on the lake with a prince to the music of the box. In the end she became utterly addicted to it and sat on her couch for days to experience the music box’s dream. Not eating, not drinking, fouling herself. She only survived because a friend noticed the stench and had the landlord open her flat.”
I spun my sketch across the desk to Louie.
He picked it up and looked at it, then nodded. “Correctly done. Only a magic wielder of great power and dedicated training ought be able to see those hidden marks.”
The snobbery was unintended, but there nonetheless. I wasn’t a magic wielder of great power and dedicated training. My breathing sped up, but I quelled the hurt and anger I felt so it wouldn’t show.
I said, “Did you figure out who gave the box to her?”
“Yes,” Louie said. “The culprit was apprehended.”
“And the maker?”
“That is confidential.” Louie reached over to flip the lid shut, and pushed the tray away. He dug a stone out of his pocket and wove with his hands a silver aura around it. He then put the stone on the desk between us. “Describe to me what you see.”
I did so.
When I was done, Louie said, “What you are seeing is hidden magic of mine. Magic that very few can see.” He touched the stone, and the aura went away. Then he held out his left hand, palm upright, fingers curved as if he held an invisible ball. Abruptly streaks of light crackled between his fingers and thumb. “This is the sort of magic everyone in the world can see, even those with no magical ability at all, like that prat, Jake. Looks like lightning. I can severely injure an attacker with it.”
He brought his hands together and made motions as if he were making a snowball, but instead it was a ball of magical lightning that crackled as it grew between his palms. He stood up from his desk to show me the baseball-sized lightning thing he had created.
“Catch,” he said as he flung it at me.
************** End of Chapter 7 *****************
Chapter 8 will go up next Tuesday.
Have a great week, L.M.