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Soul Cages – Part One. Dreams in the Desert. 3.

Here’s Part One. 3. of Soul Cages. When we last left off, Marian had been introduced to the Andervender family, John was getting ready to clean the swamp coolers, and Henry had just found a dead roach in the kitchen. ( PG-13 rating .)

Soul Cages

 Lynn Kilmore

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.

Part One. Dreams in the Desert

3

Henry pointed out the roach, which lay on its back in the deepest recess of the cabinet. It was as long as my thumb; no wonder Henry wanted it.

I said, “Did you touch it?”

“No.”

Don’t. Just leave it there.” There was no garbage can yet, and no paper towels I could clean it up with.

The rattle of tools could be heard from down the hall. Dad rushed into the kitchen and struggled to unlock the back door’s double-cylinder deadbolt, then the barred door, and held each open so John could lug his toolbox through.

Henry followed after John and Dad.

I took the opportunity to pull out a tissue, wrap it around the roach, and carry it outside to shake the roach onto a patch of scraggly grass next to the concrete wall.

Dad went back into the house.

There was no back porch, just a cracked rectangular slab surrounded by dirt.

The house had a swamp cooler in each side yard. I was able to figure out which one John had started with, even though both coolers were out of sight, because I could hear Henry bellowing questions about tools. I hurried around to the side of the house where Henry’s windows were.

The swamp cooler rumbled and gurgled. When he caught sight of me, John called out, “Can you do me a favor and turn both coolers off?”

I ran back inside and searched around in the halls, until I’d flipped off of both sets of switches.

“Thanks,” John said when I made it back. Henry stood next to him, watching him poke at fibers through the side slits of the cooler. “These are too old,” John said, “see how brittle the filter fibers are? Someone needs to drive over to a hardware store and get new filters.”

He grabbed hold of a cooler side cover and yanked upward and out, taking it off, then doing the same to the other three sides.

The reek made Henry back up, holding his nose—the swamp cooler stank. Henry pointed in fascination at the gunk on the filter fibers and the bottom interior of the cooler.

John said, “Let me get the hose and bucket from the truck. I’ll let your parents know about the filters.” He disappeared back into the house.

We spent the time looking for spider webs in the cracks of the walls.

Then John returned, hose slung over his shoulder, with Dad carrying a bucket filled with gloves and scrubbers. He and Dad were in the middle of a conversation about the size and type of filters to get. John showed Dad the gunky swamp cooler parts, and then Dad left for the hardware store.

As John drained the stagnant water from the swamp cooler, he said to Henry, “So, what was it you helped the school janitor to find?”

I checked to make sure he wasn’t mocking Henry, but he seemed genuinely curious.

Henry puffed out his chest a bit. “A dead mouse was hidden underneath a bookshelf in the library. Helped him find out where.” He tapped his nose. “I can smell things that others can’t.”

“Huh.” John’s mouth twitched.

We watched John hook up the hose to the outside wall faucet near the cooler, fill up a bucket, and proceed to wash out and scrub down the swamp cooler interior.

I said, “How about I do that?” but he waved me back while saying “I’m already dirty from cutting up a dead pine this morning.”

I wanted to argue. I didn’t mind dirt, but he seemed determined to do the entire job. A helping-the-neighbor-as-a-welcome kind of thing.

Henry said, “Won’t be staying here tonight, but tomorrow I will search for the roaches.”

John leaned out of the swamp cooler interior. He raised his eyebrows at me while he said, “I’m sure your sister will enjoy that.”

“I’ll catch a few for you as a thank you,” I snapped back, and then wanted to bite my tongue, for Henry hummed in excitement and John began to smile. “Er, Henry, I was joking. We’re not actually going to catch roaches.”

“Jinkies!” Henry said, and stomped off.

John’s smile threw into sharp contrast just how melancholy he’d been when he entered the kitchen.

My brother was soon distracted from his disappointment by the anthills scattered all over. I watched as he squatted down, scuffing up a puff of dust, and pulled out his notepad; he’d be making a map of all the anthill locations.

John said to me while he scrubbed, “Used to do work for Habitat for Humanity. Miss it. I help some of our parishioners with their yard work a couple times a week.” He reached out a gloved hand. “Can you hand me the hose?”

I did so. “What happened with Habitat?”

“Stand back.” He frowned as he hosed down the interior of the swamp cooler. “A year back, Dad came to believe Habitat was too focused on material things, and not enough on saving souls.”

“And what you do think?”

John tensed, wary. He said in a neutral tone, “I support my Dad.”

“Of course.”

Pastor Andervender struck me as the kind of man who would be hostile to differences in belief by his family. Or by his flock. I’m NOT going to like it there. I’ve got to convince Mom and Dad to let me go elsewhere by finding a church like Grannie’s.

John finished up with the swamp cooler. I helped him haul the stuff around to the other side yard. His wariness made me feel awkward, so I kept my mouth shut.

I got two of the swamp cooler sides off before he could stop me. It was easy, once you knew how to do it. Then I wandered off to look at the apple tree in this side yard; the tree was wedged between the yard walls (front and side) and the garage wall. A long thin drainage tube ran from the swamp cooler to the roots of the tree.

The apples growing were small and green, but the tree was twice my height. The cool shade of the leaves felt wonderful.

In the shade and quiet I longed to call Nicole and find out how her mom was dealing with that morning’s chemo, but chemo days were “don’t call me” days for Nicole.

And Dad had sworn if another texting charge showed up on our bill, he’d cancel my phone outright. Hmm, but pictures aren’t forbidden—yet. I could take a few pictures with my phone and send them to Nicole. Faster in describing this house than text anyway.

Instead of reaching for my cell phone, I fingered the tree bark. How I wished this move were just a bad dream, and that I’d wake up back in Alexandria any moment now.

I moved around the trunk and found a small carving underneath a low branch. I traced the letters with my fingers:

Sydney + Donovan

I called over to John, “Did somebody named Sydney or Donovan live here?”

John spun around from the swamp cooler. “How did…” He flung down the scrubber and ran over, dripping suds from his gloves.

He squeezed around the other side of the tree. When he saw the carving, I thought he’d be sick. He leaned against the tree for support. “I wish I’d been here, I might have been ab—” and clammed up.

“What happened?” I whispered. I glanced around and listened. Henry was mapping anthills too far away to hear if we spoke low. There was no sound of the car coming back—we were right next to the garage, so I’d know when Dad arrived back with the filters. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

“We’re not supposed to talk about it.”

“Why keep a secret from my parents?”

“Your parents.” John grimaced. “They already know the full story. They and my folks decided it was too ‘morbid’ for you and Henry to know about.”

A red haze settled over my mind. “Do they think I’m stupid or clueless or something? No wonder Mom and Dad were so jittery this morning. And I could tell from the moment Matthew and you walked in that something was seriously wrong.” I looked him straight in the eyes (blue behind the glasses). “Will you tell me the truth, or do I go up and down this street pounding on neighbors’ doors until I find out what’s going on?”

He bowed his head in contemplation. Then checked to make sure Henry was out of earshot. “Better you hear the story from me.”

I nodded.

John tapped a gloved finger on first Sydney’s name, then Donovan’s. “Sydney and her dad started going to First Beginnings when she was in 7th grade. Your parents bought the house from her dad, Mr. Bauer—he’s living in Utah now.”

He scowled to himself as he stripped his gloves off and flung them to the ground. “Sydney would have been a junior this fall.”

I swallowed. Would have.

He ran a finger along the carving. “She must have carved this last fall. She started dating Donovan in October … he was a Unitarian who went to Juan Tabo High School. Our church, and Sydney’s dad, didn’t approve.”

Anguished, he added, “She said I was someone she could talk to. Perhaps if I’d been here, she wouldn’t have…” He drew a deep breath and looked down at the ground. “In December Sydney’s dad cracked down on her to get her to break up with Donovan. While I was in Texas at Uncle Fritz’s, I’m told she ran away from home for a couple of hours, then came back on her own.

“Mr. Bauer said—and Donovan confirmed it when the police talked to him—that she called Donovan before New Year’s to break up with him.”

Both of us jumped at the sound of a car pulling into the driveway. Dad was back.

John yanked his gloves on and went back to the swamp cooler.

“Wait,” I said, “is Sydney all right?”

John paused in messing with the bucket. “No.” He stared down, unseeing. “On January 4th she killed herself. Her dad found her body in her closet. Suffocated.”

I reached out to touch his arm, but he flinched away. He wants to be alone, you idiot. Give him some privacy to pull himself together. So I went to stand near Henry.

The memory of Henry’s rose-scented closet made my skin crawl. I struggled to compose myself. I don’t want John to get in trouble for telling me the truth.

The back door squeaked open, and Dad and Matthew appeared, carrying filters.

John must have gotten his feelings under control, for neither Dad nor Matthew seemed to realize anything was wrong.

While the last of the swamp cooler work was done (Matthew and Dad helping John as best they could), I wandered around the backyard searching for more marks made by Sydney.

************** End of Part One. 3. *****************

See you next week!

Cheers, LM

Soul Cages – Part One. Dreams in the Desert. 2.

Here we are at another week gone by. Hope it’s been a good one for you all. I’m rather excited that Soul Cages and Cubicles, Blood, and Magic will have print editions out before the winter holidays.

But on to Marian and her difficulties after the move to Albuquerque in Soul Cages. It’s a hard road ahead for her, but it’s worth it to take the journey with her. (The rating is around PG-13 .)

Soul Cages

Lynn Kilmore

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.

Part One. Dreams in the Desert

2

Don’t worry if you look grungy and smell like a motel room, I told myself. That way you’ll be unappealing to the oh-so-great Matthew.

I saw Dad rub at his bald spot as he approached the front door—Dad was nervous.

Mom whispered to me and Henry, “I can’t wait for you all to meet Gena’s husband. Pastor Andervender’s such a spiritual man … he’ll help us make a new beginning out here.” She smoothed Henry’s hair with her fingers, and he flapped his hands at her to make her stop. She winked at me. “Gena says he has the gift of healing.”

I tensed at those last words. Please God, no, not another cure attempt. Don’t tell me we moved all this way for that.

Mom watched me closely.

It was no coincidence Mom had chosen this moment to tell me. She knew I wouldn’t cause a scene in front of strangers.

And Dad had gone along with this surprise.

“Just give me a second,” Dad called out to whoever was waiting. His key kept jamming in the double-cylinder deadbolt. Mom walked down the hall to hover next to the door.

I breathed deep to keep from hyperventilating.

If I’d known … if I’d just known, I could have—

What? Stopped them from selling a house you didn’t own? Stopped them from hauling Henry anywhere they wanted to? Riiiight.

Henry’s fingers flicked at his legs. Stress sign. It would have been better to have him only deal with a new house today.

How I wished Grannie were alive—Grannie’d known how to talk sense into Dad, and could coax Mom around despite her complaints about Grannie being a nosy mother-in-law. Tears formed in my eyes. I was scared. The last cure attempt had been so horrible. I tried to ignore the joyful cries outside of Gena! Kelly!

“So glad you all made it here safe and sound by God’s will,” said a deep male voice that raised my hackles. Pastor Andervender stepped through the doorway, blocking the light, as Dad held the door open. I couldn’t make out the pastor’s features. He shook Dad’s hand and said, “So glad to finally meet you, Mr. Hawthorn.”

“Call me Victor,” Dad said.

Andervender’s laugh boomed down the hall. “Call me Pastor Andervender.”

Dad called out, “Marian, Henry, come and meet the pastor of our church.”

I pasted on a smile and came forward, Henry behind me. The hall breeze carried a scent of aftershave and lilac perfume—Henry covered his mouth to keep from blurting that out. He’d finally learned not to comment on people’s scents.

Andervender took another step in, and my skin prickled. The man was a bulky blend of fat and muscle in a suit.

“So,” Andervender said, “this is Marian and Henry.” I didn’t like how he looked around the place, as if he were the one who had built this house and then given it to us.

I held out my left hand, so he had to switch his hands. His palm was dry and gripped too tightly. He said, “I look forward to seeing you at the Youth Group meetings. Your parents have told me all about you—how you have been such a great help with Henry’s affliction.”

Youth group? Henry’s “affliction?” I raised my eyebrows at Dad to try to get him to correct Andervender, but Dad ignored me.

Andervender held out his hand to Henry, but Henry just stared at it.

Dad ahemed.

Andervender lowered his hand. “It’s a pity when spirits damage a child.”

Dad squirmed slightly, but said nothing about these weird words by Andervender. Before I could think of a polite way to correct the pastor, Mom and Gena came in.

“So, you must be Marian,” Gena said, and kissed me on the cheek. Her lips left a sticky spot. Gena not only smelled of lilacs, but was decked out in a lilac-patterned dress.

Watching Gena try to kiss Henry on the cheek was like watching a robin pecking at a worm. Every time Gena got close, Henry leaned away before her lips could touch him. Finally she gave up.

I hated the looks passing between the four adults over Henry’s avoidance of being touched.

Mom gave a nervous laugh. “I’d invite you to sit down,” she said as she gestured at the living room, “but as you can see, we don’t have any furniture.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Andervender said. “And I can guarantee there’ll be a large turnout of men tomorrow to get the moving vans unloaded since it’ll be Saturday. I told them to start arriving at nine, and we’ll come with the boys around eight.”

“Oh,” Gena said, “so silly of me, I forgot. I’ve brought a few frozen meals for your freezer, Kelly. The last thing you need to be worrying about right now is cooking.”

Andervender said, “I’ll get them, dear.”

As Andervender went outside, my parents and Gena talked about the drive cross-country. I watched Henry sneak over to the living room window and shove back the curtains—a trio of doves were on the dead lawn, scratching at the dirt.

Andervender huffed back inside with a large cooler.

“Oh, no, really,” Mom said, “you didn’t have to—”

“But I wanted to,” Gena said. “I love to cook.”

“Gena’s roast beef is excellent,” Andervender said.

We followed Andervender into the kitchen—he knew exactly where to go, and insisted on lugging the cooler without help. After he lowered it next to the refrigerator, he stepped back.

Mom lifted the lid, and gaped down at the frozen packages. “This is, is, wonderful,” she said. Mom sounded to me like she was going to cry. I felt like saying, Well, he wants you in this church of his, so they’re going to talk us up sweet.

Dad also looked blown away by the thought of someone cooking up food for us.

Andervender said, “I believe in taking care of my flock.”

When Grannie had found out Henry and I were unchurched (though baptized as babies), she’d hauled us off to Patience United Methodist Church whenever we stayed with her in Raleigh. I had helped Grannie cook meals and take them to sick parishioners. I did not like the way Gena and her husband were watching Mom and Dad.

Mom said, “We’re so grateful for the help in finding this place. It’s going to be just right.”

The Andervenders set us up with this house. I had the sinking sensation that the Andervenders would be meddling in our lives a lot.

I helped Mom load up the freezer, and wondered when the other shoe would drop. “Nothin’ is free,” as Grannie would have said. Grannie and Mom had not gotten along at all. Grannie liked to smoke, and would do so, no matter how many pamphlets Mom left behind at the nursing home about the hazards of smoking.

The aluminum foil of a package stuck to my skin, tugging at my fingers as I put it into the freezer.

“Clouds,” Henry said. He poked at the wisps of cold moisture the freezer spilled out.

The doorbell rang. I noticed that neither Gena nor Andervender looked around for a phone.

Andervender said, “That must be Matthew and John.”

Mom and I finished up with the freezer as Dad went to answer the door.

Andervender wandered over to the double sink and fiddled with the faucets, turning them on and off.

Dad came back in, followed by a hulking teen in khakis and a shirt and tie, who froze in the archway and nervously licked his lips. Then he began to back out.

Come in, Matthew,” Andervender said, “and meet the Hawthorns.” He moved away from the sink. “This is Mrs. Hawthorn.”

Matthew came forward to shake Mom’s hand, and that allowed in another teen, this one wearing gold-rimmed glasses. Must be John.

John stared at his sneakers. He had his dad’s blond hair, but he wore a T-shirt and jeans smeared with pine sap. Henry will be thrilled. His baseball cap was in danger of falling out of his jeans pocket.

He looks like “geek meets gardener.” Nicole will think that’s funny. But something is putting him in a funk.

Andervender was saying, hand on Matthew’s shoulder, “—then Matthew’ll be going to Ft. Worth Bible College in August to major in business. Gena’s brother Fritz has offered to house him his freshman year s—”

“Hey!” Henry pointed at John and ignored the frantic gestures of Mom to shut up. “You’ve got pine sap on you. Get that when I climb trees to observe.”

“John! Just look at you,” Gena said.

I watched John shift uncomfortably when he realized everyone was staring at him. He said, “Dad said there’s swamp coolers that need fixing.”

Now it was Gena’s turn to look confused. “Oh, I didn’t know that. So that’s why…” Gena brightened up, and said to Mom, “John’ll be able to take care of your swamp cooler troubles.”

Andervender beamed as he looked at each of his sons, and reached out his free hand to John.

John hesitated for an instant, then went over. Andervender placed his hand on John’s shoulder. “Here is our second-oldest son, John. He’ll be going to Ft. Worth Bible College next year to study theology, just like I did at his age.”

Then Gena and Andervender proceeded to take turns boasting about John’s future plans to be an assistant pastor at First Beginnings, his good works amongst the congregation, his extensive knowledge of Scripture—while John winced at the recitation. I felt a twinge of sympathy.

Then the introductions resumed. All too soon I had to shake Matthew’s hand while the grown-ups watched expectantly. Matthew shook my hand too fast.

Ugh, Gena’s been talking about me to Matthew. Well, they’d all have to get used to disappointment, because every time I looked at Matthew, all I could think was, No way.

I shook John’s hand next; to no surprise, his was sticky with pine sap. I noticed both Matthew and John wore a plain silver ring.

Then I wandered away to pretend to look out the kitchen window.

Henry took advantage of the silence to run up to John. “My sister says I have a super nose.” Henry tapped his nose.

Dad softly cleared his throat. A hint to Henry to desist.

John said, “Really?”

“Yup,” Henry said. “Can smell things that other people can’t.” Mom moved up behind Henry, and placed a warning hand on his shoulder, but he continued. “Like once I helped the school janitor figure out where the d—”

Mom covered his mouth with her palm, and gave an embarrassed laugh. “That’s enough. They don’t want to hear that disgusting story.” She uncovered his mouth.

Henry said to John, “Can you fix the swamp stink? My nose—”

“Go explore the cabinets,” Mom told Henry. She shooed him off.

Henry began to open and close each cabinet in the kitchen.

Mom said to Gena, “Henry is going to be a handful in your class, but I think Marian can help us keep him focused.”

What! “I’m confused,” I said. “What class are you talking about?”

Gena blinked at me as if she were surprised I didn’t know. “I teach the middle school students at First Beginnings. Your mother has volunteered to be an aide in the preschool, and since you’ll be in the high school group, between the three of us I think we can help Henry over the rough spots.”

My brother stuck in a classroom with her? And what’s this about me being in their high school group?

“I’m going to the public high school for my senior year, right?” I asked. I tried to ignore the sweat gathering on my palms as I watched Mom and Dad exchange guilty looks. “There’s track, and I need to take physics and trig to get into a good OT program.”

“OT?” Gena said.

“Occupational therapy,” Mom said. “Marian wants to be an occupational therapist.”

I’d wanted to be an OT ever since I’d met Mrs. Brent, who had helped Henry after his Asperger’s diagnosis two years ago. How could they do this to me?

“Interesting.” Gena gave me an encouraging smile. “But you’ll be able to apply to college from our school.”

I gritted my teeth. If I started arguing with Gena, I’d never hear the end of it from Mom and Dad. But questions needed to be asked to find out if First Beginnings could handle Henry’s needs. I said, “What about Henry’s therapies and social skills class? Does First Beginnings do that kind of stuff?”

Clearly Gena and Andervender had no clue what I was getting at, for they didn’t say anything, instead looking to my parents for guidance.

Dad fiddled with his cell phone clip, and Mom gnawed at her lip. Henry continued opening and slamming cabinets in the kitchen; totally oblivious to the conversation going on—I almost envied him that.

Then Dad said, “The public schools out here aren’t safe.”

Mom nodded, as if he’d said something brilliant. “Yes, you’ll both be so much safer with me and the other mothers. They’ve got a whole curriculum—”

“If it’s not safe, why did we move here?” My voice rose. “I saw all the barred windows in this neighborhood.”

“Oh that.” Gena began to titter. “That’s just a cultural thing out here. Decorative iron has a long tradition.”

“No, no, no, it’s not like that at all,” Mom said.

Dad put a hand on my shoulder and gave it a tiny shake. “This neighborhood is safe. People just like to use bars and security doors a lot.”

“Then the high school should be okay,” I said. I refuse to be shut up in a tiny school run by some parents. And I want to run track this year, I know I can make the team.

Dad’s fingers tightened on my shoulder, then let go.

Andervender said, “That’s different. There are gangs, and the schools are so large and impersonal, completely Godless, the teachers are only there to make a buck.” He nodded at Matthew.

Matthew said, “You wouldn’t believe how nasty they are at the public schools.”

Andervender gave John a tiny nod.

John shrugged, not even bothering to take his hands out of his pockets.

Andervender’s eyes narrowed at John. His mouth opened—

Giant dead cockroach!” Henry said as he pulled at my sleeve.

Mom shuddered. “Ick. Henry, they don’t need to know about this.”

John said to Henry, “You’ll see lots of giant cockroaches in Albuquerque. They live in the sewers that connect the city together, and crawl out during the summer nights.” John made his fingers act like a roach scurrying around.

I watched Henry’s eyes widen in excitement.

“John, please,” Gena said.

Oh, yuck, Henry will be searching for these roaches.

Henry tugged at me to come and look. He said, “I’m going to add it to my collection.” Henry had a shoebox in which he kept dead insects and spiders.

“No,” Dad said. “Roaches have too many germs.”

Henry sulked.

“Okay, show me this roach,” I said.

The four grown-ups and Matthew began to retreat from the kitchen as Henry led me to the opened bottom cabinet near the stove.

Henry said to John, “Come see it.”

But Dad leaned over from the dining room—the kitchen had a large serving window that linked it with the dining area—and said to John, “If you’ll get your toolbox, I’ll show you the two swamp coolers.”

So John left, and Henry and I had the kitchen to ourselves.

************** End of Part One. 2. *****************

See you in August!

Cheers, LM

Soul Cages – Part One. Dreams in the Desert. 1.

Welcome to another Tuesday! This week, I’m starting the posts for the novel Soul Cages. This story is PG-13.

Here’s a quick description from the back cover of the book: Seventeen-year-old Marian Hawthorn knows more about Asperger’s than she ever wanted to. But she loves her brother Henry, and wants to keep him safe. However, her parents obsess about finding a cure for him–no matter the cost in money or convictions–and that obsession draws them all under the control of Pastor Andervender and his fringe church in Albuquerque. There she finds an unexpected friend and ally in her struggle to protect her brother: John, the pastor’s most beloved son, over whom a dangerous shadow looms that draws ever closer.

Soul Cages

 Lynn Kilmore

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.

Part One. Dreams in the Desert

1

To me the bars on our house’s windows were creepy. Way too creepy. Someone had tried to make them look decorative by painting them tan to match our mud-colored ranch house.

“Well, isn’t this nice,” Mom said.

I looked up and down the street. This suburb of Albuquerque looked quiet, and only about one out of three houses had bars, but still. Bars. Over every window of this house we were moving into tomorrow, plus a barred gate over the front door to do a jail warden proud.

I stood with Mom and Dad on the hot driveway staring at the house—my entire family except for Henry.

My brother was in the car, curled up tight in his seat, engrossed in a Scooby-Doo episode.

The long drive cross-country from Alexandria had taken its toll on him (and me), but being stuck in an airport and airplane would have been so much worse for Henry. His Asperger’s made packed crowds a torment for him.

But if I had to listen to him bellow out “Jinkies!” one more time, I’d claw my own ears out.

Dad said, “I’ll get everything unlocked. The garage controllers should be in the kitchen.” He strode up the sidewalk to the barred front door with a jangling of keys.

The June sunlight felt alive here, as if it pressed invisible hands on my neck and shoulders and head. My lips were cracking from the dryness of the air.

Dad dropped the keys as he fumbled with the lock for the bars. Mom hurried over to help him.

Every way I looked there was brown, brown, brown. Trees dotted the yards of several neighbors, but only the edges and tops of the nearby mountains looked green.

Mom called back to me, “Marian, can you get Henry?”

Henry had alternated between watching Scooby-Doo episodes or rocking back and forth in his seat while watching the countryside go from green and rolling, to green and flat, to brown and flat, and finally to brown and mountainous.

I’d spent my time arguing with Mom or Dad about letting me drive—

“I have a license. And it’s flat out here. Please.”

“No. You’re not insured.”

“I could get a job and help pay. What is the cost of—”

Dad twitched the steering wheel. “NO. It’s too expensive, and we need you to help watch Henry.”

I spared a quick glare at Henry, but really Dad was to blame. He didn’t want me driving his precious BMW.

I stared at the interwoven dead grass, weeds, and stream stones of our front lawn. It was clear to me that the hot sunlight had killed the grass.

Then I saw a flicker of a striped gray tail.

It was a lizard; its sides curved in and out as it breathed, and it lay under a tall weed. I squatted down and said, “Hey there.”

It flicked its tail and skittered across the dead grass to a flat red rock, climbing onto it.

A car door opened, and I heard the scuff of sneakers on pavement as Henry walked over.

Without shutting his car door. Typical.

He came and stood next to me, smelling that stress-smell he’d had since we started packing up the house to move—a mixture of rusted metal and stinky socks.

“Lizard,” Henry whispered. He squatted down next to me, and pointed. “Gray. Brown and orange stripes on its body.” He pulled out his notepad from his back pocket, and drew a sketch. As he wrote notes, he took a sniff of the air. “Smells like hot concrete.”

I thought it was an amazing gift Henry had—he couldn’t do small talk, couldn’t stop his body from twitching and stumbling—but he could watch for hours the ants, crickets, spiders, birds, squirrels, and whatever other living things were in our neighborhood.

Mom called out, “Come here, and see your new home.”

The two of us stayed still. The lizard’s sides rippled in and out like a flag, and Henry seemed to breathe in unison with it.

I threw my voice as best I could so the lizard wouldn’t run off. “Can we wait? Henry’s found a lizard.”

A tap of heels on pavement. Crud, Mom is going to fetch us, I thought. I wished we could just sit there in the sun a bit longer, and soak up the sunlight like the lizard.

The lizard, alarmed, scurried away into the neighbor’s evergreen bushes. Henry thumped his notepad against the dirt. “Jinkies, it’s gone.”

Mom said in a low voice, “Okay you two, I know it’s been a long trip, and you’re tired, but we’d really like you to come in and see the house we’ve worked so hard to find. Gena and Pastor Andervender are going to be here soon.”

Mom’s voice wobbled at the word Gena, and I wanted to groan in complaint. Gena was to blame for the move out to Albuquerque as far as I was concerned; it’d been yak yak yak between Mom and her best friend from high school ever since Gena tracked Mom down last year.

And then all those endless emails and phone calls from Gena and her husband, Pastor Andervender, about how great Albuquerque was, how less expensive than Alexandria, and how Pastor Andervender had doubled his congregation at the church he’d independently created six years ago, called “First Beginnings of the Godly Christian Church.”

I thought this was an awful name for a church, especially since using both First and Beginnings was redundant.

Mom herded us up the sidewalk, ignoring Henry’s mutters about the lizard. She said, “Pastor Andervender called. They’ll be here soon. Barbara is watching Luke and Mark for them, so you’ll only meet Matthew and John today.”

Meeting the two oldest Andervender sons (always spoken of as teenage paragons of Christianity) made me want to gag. It didn’t help that Mom had dropped hints to me about Matthew not having a girlfriend.

The propped-open front door exhaled a stale damp breath in my face.

Henry pinched his nose. “Phew, smells like a puddle.”

“Yeah,” I said. I let Henry go first. I didn’t like how the doorway swallowed me into a narrow dark hall.

Mom sighed and shut the door, locking it behind us. “The swamp coolers seem to be a bit off due to disuse. We’re going to ask Pastor Andervender what we should do.”

My eyes adjusted to the dimness. Carpet, walls, even the ceiling—all painted shades of brown. “What’s with all the brown?”

“The people who built the house loved brown,” Mom said. “We’ll fix it up.”

We passed an archway on the left that led to the living room. Brown fake-wood paneling covered the lower half of the living room walls, and brown curtains covered the huge window. All the wall and ceiling lights had smoky brown covers.

After passing a closed door on the right—”home office,” Mom commented—we came to a T-shaped intersection of halls, and in front of us was the archway to the kitchen.

The left hall led to the dining room and garage entrance, and the right to the bedrooms.

I entered the kitchen and gaped at the puke-green walls.

Mom cleared her throat. “This used to be a popular color.”

The vinyl flooring (which had a twisted vine pattern) was peeling off the cement next to the double sink. The cabinets underneath the sink had dark water stains.

“The cabinets are the color of poop,” Henry said.

I faked a cough to keep from laughing. “Shh.”

“They are,” Henry added.

The kitchen had a half-glass back door and a barred security door.

Henry and I glanced through the door glass into the backyard, and saw pounded dirt surrounded by cement block walls.

Henry said, “There’s no grass.”

Mom looked over our shoulders into the yard. “The previous owner let the grass die. There is an irrigation system—once it’s fixed, we’ll put some new grass in.” Mom’s voice rose at the end, as if to say, Don’t complain about this place, be glad we have a roof over our heads.

Mom sure was twitchy about our reaction to the house.

Henry just stared. I knew he was disappointed; few creatures could survive in that backyard dust bowl.

Then he said, “Can we get a dog?”

“No!” Mom said. “Let’s go see your rooms.” She tugged at Henry’s sleeve so that he left the door, and I followed.

Dad’s nervous whistling echoed from down the hall that led to the bedrooms.

As we walked down the hall, I saw that there were two doors on the right—the first was another entrance to the home office, the second led to the main bedroom (Dad was in there, pulling open the windows). On the left side of the hall’s end was another hall, shorter, that had three closed doors—one on each side, and one at the end.

Mom pointed at each door in turn. “The door at the end of this hall is your bathroom. Marian, your room is on the left, Henry’s on the right. I’m going to get the car into the garage.”

I went into my bedroom, which had one window. Barred. How I hated the sight of the bars. A crust of gray crud covered the window’s aluminum frame. It was a struggle to yank the window open, and once open, it let in a mixture of car fumes and dust. The winds were blowing from the direction of the mountains, which the backyard faced.

I studied the bars. They were too close to the window for me to consider trying to wriggle down the inside to get outside.

The bedroom walls were painted a faded yellow. But at least the closet was large and had sliding doors … painted mustard. I thought, Ugh, what’s with the ugly colors?

My bedroom smelled like swamp and cleaner chemicals. Trying to get the carpet clean must have been a lost cause—it looked to be as old as the house.

A thud startled me, and I ran over to Henry’s bedroom.

My brother kicked his closet door again.

“No pounding!” Dad yelled from down the hall.

“Can’t get it open!” Henry yelled back.

His closet was different; it had a cheap wooden door, warped in its frame.

Henry said to me, “Door won’t open.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I’m going to grab hold of the bottom edge and lift to line it up, and you yank it open when I say ‘Go.'” I grabbed hold of the smooth wood, and lifted. “Okay, go!”

The door stuck to the frame, but we kept pulling and the stickiness gave out.

Henry sniffed. “Roses.”

The interior smelled like rose sachets. There were lots and lots of clothing shelves built into a wall. It must have been a girl’s room before. So why didn’t I get this room?

Henry had two barred windows, but both had a close-up view of the cement wall. The right window also looked onto a large square thing that had to be the swamp cooler. His room was a bit larger than mine, but painted in the same faded yellow.

I wandered back into the hall. Henry trailed after me.

The stupid stained carpeting was everywhere. With dread I pushed open our bathroom door.

Yup. Carpet.

Henry held his nose. “Why does it smell so much like pee in here?”

I eyed the carpeting, which led right up to and around the toilet. “That’s because the carpets in this house have been soaking up gunk for over thirty years.”

“Older than you.”

“Right. I’m going to ask Mom if we can get the bathroom tiled.” My toes curled at the thought of having to step out of the shower into that germ-pool. Well, we’d get cheap bathroom rugs and soak the carpet underneath in disinfectant.

Henry said, “Rather have my old room. Could watch the squirrels in the oak trees because it was on the second floor.”

I kept myself from snapping at him, Yes, I know it was on the second floor. I lived there too. At times I got tired of him telling me things he’d told me so many times before, and had to remind myself that at least he was trying to make conversation.

Dad came out of the main bedroom and headed toward us. He paused to peek into Henry’s bedroom, shook his head as if to clear it, and joined us. He said, “Bathroom tile is first on the home improvement to-do list. There’s carpeting in the main bathroom, too.”

Henry said to Dad, “Miss my old room. Could watch the squirrels in the oak trees from my second floor bedroom. They would crack open and eat the nuts like this.” He made the motions a squirrel would use; my brother had become that squirrel in his mimicry.

Dad looked at the carpet. “Uh, yes, that’s right, son. But you’ll be able to see the doves that like to sit on the top of the yard walls.”

Henry perked up a little. “Doves?”

The muffled noise of a telephone made us all pause.

Dad looked around. “That’s funny, we don’t have a phone. Is your cell phone—”

“It’s the front doorbell. They’re here!” Mom called out from down the hall.

Oh no, it’s the Andervenders.

************** End of Part One. 1. *****************

Thanks for reading, and see you next week.

Cheers, LM

Cubicles, Blood, and Magic – Chapter 7: A Job Interview with Louie

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

 Lynn Kilmore

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.

Chapter 7:

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?”

“No.”

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?”

“Yup.”

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.

“Yup.”

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?”

I laughed.

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.

Cubicles, Blood, and Magic – Chapter 6: Zaliel’s Magi

As some of you probably noticed, instead of stopping at Chapter 4 of Cubicles, Blood, and Magic, we went onward to Chapter 5. I’ve decided to post to Chapter 10, and then switch to posting excerpts of new stories coming out.

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

Lynn Kilmore

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.

Chapter 6:

Zaliel’s Magi

The threat in Peter’s voice as he spoke to Eli in the busy diner—that he would expose Eli’s true identity if he refused to cooperate—was clear. Nervousness made my coffee taste too bitter to keep drinking, so I pushed it away.

Eli jerked a thumb at the two Magi that stood next to our table. “This is Peter and Beth. Peter, Beth, this is an old acquaintance of mine, Dorelai, and these are her coworkers. Dorelai, if you would do the honors?”

“With pleasure,” I said, though I felt nothing of the sort. I made the introductions to my coworkers as abruptly as I could without risking Peter getting pissed off.

At the end of the intros, Peter said, “I hear you all have been having trouble with severe nightmares.”

“What’s it to you?” Tim said. He folded his arms over his chest.

“I noticed the dreamcatcher you were given,” Peter said, lifting a finger off the table to point at the gift box. “I think you will find that your bad dreams will not come back.”

“You know,” Tim said, “it’s rude to listen in on other people’s conversations.”

Peter smiled, making Monica give a faint gasp of admiration at his stunning looks.

Tim and Vadin weren’t moved, but Stuart did blink once, then looked away. For whatever reason, Stuart’s open resistance to Peter’s charisma moved me. I knew he loved Theo, but here I was seeing it firsthand.

Peter said to us, “Sometimes a dream can feel more real than reality while you’re trapped in it.”

“Yes.” Monica swallowed twice. “There were times I felt I was trapped inside those awful dreams.”

I saw within the golden halos above both Magi’s heads that eyes (like those on the buildings) were appearing.

Eli gripped his water glass too tight as he took a sip.

I wanted Peter and Beth to get lost. I didn’t want the Magi knowing anything about me or what was happening to me. And with each passing second, the magical eyes were getting bigger above their heads, as if Zaliel were approaching from a great distance to listen in on our conversation.

“Dorelai had some terrible dreams too,” Monica said.

Alarmed, I said, “I think it was subliminal suggestions from everything I saw with you and Tim.” The whirling pupils of the Zaliel eyes above Peter made me want to get up from the table and flee, but I made myself sip my coffee instead.

I watched as Peter froze up a moment, as if listening to a voice spoken within his own mind. Then he said to me, “You’re a bit thin, Dorelai, like Tim and Monica. All of you look like you’ve been through a bad time lately.”

“Yes, they have,” Eli said, urgent. “Tim and Monica have resigned from their jobs at Granite Hills. So far, the nightmare problems have been confined to their particular team.”

This had Peter again freezing for a moment, listening to that inner voice.

Eli was tense, watching both Peter and Beth, never taking his gaze off them. It hit me that he was feeding them information that would be easy to gather from our group—so as to seem cooperative—but misdirecting Peter and Beth into thinking I’d had a typical reaction to nightmare dust.

“It’s been a stressful spring and summer for all of us at work,” I said. “I admit I’ve had awful dreams with all that has been going on.”

Peter said to Beth, “Go on outside. I’ll catch up.”

Beth hesitated, but then Zaliel’s eyes flared in her golden halo as if it were speaking to her, and she left, but kept looking back on her way out.

Peter grabbed a chair and pulled it up to the booth even though we hadn’t invited him to do so. He laid his glowing fingers on the table, spread out. Tendrils of golden light crept out of his fingertips to wriggle toward all of us, except for Eli.

Eli picked up his empty coffee cup and saucer, and slammed both down on the tendrils crawling across the table. He’d struck with an accuracy that could only come from being able to see Peter’s magic. “I’m sorry Peter, but it is rude for you to impose on them like this. There are protocols that ought to be followed.”

Peter scowled, and the golden light burned even brighter around him; it seemed whatever part of Zaliel he carried longed to reach through Peter to emerge into the diner. He made no move to get up, but did pull the golden tendrils back into his fingers. “You are correct,” Peter said, sneering, “there are protocols.” Abruptly Zaliel’s presence faded away from around him.

Stuart gestured for our waitress to bring him the check.

Eli’s and Peter’s behavior had to have looked weird to my coworkers, for as far as they could see, Eli’d slammed his saucer and cup down for no reason near Peter’s fingers. So I was not surprised when they all rummaged around for their wallets. What did surprise me was that Peter made no effort to charm them into staying. All he did was keep sneering at Eli.

Tim, not needing to pay, was the first to make his excuse to escape. “I need to get home. Betsy and the kids will be waiting.”

Monica and Vadin slipped out of the booth to let Tim out, and didn’t bother to sit back down, instead giving cash to Stuart. After quick goodbyes, the three of them left.

So it was down to Eli, Peter, Stuart, and me.

I gave Stuart the money for my meal, and Eli did likewise. Stuart then paid the check with indecent haste. He didn’t even bother to finish up the last of the pot of coffee as he normally would. Then he said to me, while taking turns to stare at Eli and Peter, “Well, Dorelai, we should head to the car.”

“I can give you a ride, if you’d like,” Eli said. “My car is close by.”

“Sure,” I said. “Stuart, I’ll be fine heading home with Samuel.”

Stuart pinched the bridge of his nose like he was coming down with a bad headache—making me realize he was worried I was on the rebound from Dereck.

I said to Stuart, “Samuel and I need to catch up on what he’s been doing these last few years in New York City. He’s an old acquaintance of my mother’s.”

That helped Stuart to relax. A little. He knew my mother would make “Samuel’s” life hell in NYC if he did anything to distress me. “Then let’s go,” Stuart said to us.

You go,” Peter said to Stuart. “I need to talk business with Samuel for a few minutes.”

Stuart said, “You—”

Eli put a light hand on Stuart’s shoulder. “Peter’s obviously had a bad day at work. I’ll take care of it.”

Stuart looked at me. “Go on home,” I said. “I’ll be fine.” I sipped at my cold coffee.

With that, Stuart gave up on trying to protect us and left the diner.

“Outside, ‘Samuel,'” Peter said. “Your friend can finish her coffee.”

*

While I sat at the empty booth, Eli stood with Peter and Beth outside the diner in the muggy heat, and despite Peter’s gesturing for them to go someplace else, Eli stayed put. The only concession he would make to the two Magi was to move further away from the diner entrance. But Eli made sure I could still see him through the diner’s storefront windows.

I’d already entered both the AOX and O’Keefe numbers into my cell phone. My phone was on my lap with my thumb hovering above the speed dial number for AOX; if Eli disappeared from my sight I’d make the call while rushing to get outside.

Finally Peter gave up trying to browbeat Eli into going off with him and Beth, and the glow around Peter brightened as Zaliel again surged to the fore. And Peter got a stiff frozen look that made me wonder if he was speaking with his own voice any longer.

Whatever Peter/Zaliel was saying, it made Eli angry, for Eli drew himself up, and that’s when I noticed Eli was taller than Peter by two inches. The rabbi stared straight at the glow above Peter’s head, saying something forcefully to Zaliel’s whirling eyes.

Peter/Zaliel got mad, and it looked like they were shouting at Eli.

I rushed for the diner entrance and shoved the door open.

That got Peter/Zaliel to shut up.

I kept the door propped open with my hand (so that the diners inside could hear) as I called out in a whining tone to Eli, “What’s taking so long? I’ve got grocery shopping to do before the sun sets.”

Zaliel retreated from within Peter, as Eli said to them, “Our conversation is at an end. Dorelai is waiting.” He spun around to join me.

Peter gave me a huge predatory smile that made my skin crawl instead of charming me as it was supposed to. “You’ve got such a unique name—Dorelai. It suits you. What’s your last name?”

No point in keeping it hidden. They’d dig it up easily enough. “Trelton.”

Caressing his lips with a finger, Peter nodded. “You’ve got beautiful eyes.”

“I hate to cut this chat short,” I said, “but my fridge is empty, and I have a lot of work to do tonight.”

“I look forward to seeing you again, Dorelai Trelton,” Peter said. “I happen to work near the Chesterton.”

I looked hard and long at Beth. She’d turned her face away slightly, and there was a furrow in her brow as if watching Peter try to pick me up pained her.

And it was all too clear to me that Peter’s supposed interest in me was just an act to pump me for information about Eli and Jake, and an attempt to get under Eli’s skin. Aloud, I said, “Don’t bet on it.” I waggled my fingers at Peter and Beth. “Nice meeting you.” Not. I took hold of Eli’s elbow. “Let’s go.”

Eli and Peter shared one last look of mutual loathing, then Eli led me off to his car. While Peter and Beth did follow us, they made no move to stop us from getting into Eli’s battered compact car to drive off.

*

“Why do I get the feeling,” I said to Eli as he drove, “that Peter is going to keep showing up like a bad rash.”

“That’s his way.”

“He’s such a goddamn scum-bucket. Fuc—sorry,” I barely stopped myself in time from saying rebbe, “I forgot whom I was speaking to.”

“No apology needed.”

“I’m sorry about dragging you to a grocery store. I do need groceries, though.”

Eli flicked on his right turn signal. “We’re being followed. A silver Mercedes.”

I took a quick peek back as Eli made the turn. Beth was driving the car with Peter in the passenger seat. “Fu—frick. Don’t they have anything better to do than stalking you?”

Eli grunted, and I recalled I’d better watch what I said outside Knossos.

“Well, they’re going to find watching us really, really boring,” I said.

Then my cell phone went off. My mother.

I didn’t want to answer it, but if I didn’t, she’d keep calling me back until she reached me. She knew how involved I could get with coding, forgetting about my phone.

“Hey, Deborah,” I said as I smooshed the cell phone against my ear. My parents had raised us to call them “Nicholas” and “Deborah” instead of “Dad” and “Mom.” My brothers and I got in the habit of calling them “Father” and “Mother” behind their backs as an act of rebellion.

“Darling, how are you?” Mother sounded blue.

A car alarm went off on the street we were driving down, and I covered the mouthpiece to block it out until we were past. “Sorry about that. I’m riding to the grocery store. I can’t stay on long, the sun will set in less than an hour.”

My first tactical mistake. I should have never mentioned I was paying attention to sunset on a Friday evening.

“Oh?” Mother was intrigued. “What are you doing?”

I cringed, and was glad Mother couldn’t see it. She would have known something was up then and there.

To distract her, I said, “I broke up with Dereck.”

“You did what?” Then she added, “Darling, that’s the best news I’ve heard all month.” She was so excited she began to bellow into her phone. “I’m so glad you did. He’s a schlump, not nearly as smart as you are. You’re better off without him. Never marry. It’s just a burden and a heartache for women. I have enough grandkids through your brothers.”

I took my phone away from my ear to stare at it in shock.

Unlike Mother, Father didn’t care if I ever married or not. Nor did he consider me to be as gifted as my brothers, and so hadn’t objected as Mother had when I’d “thrown myself away” after MIT by moving to Mather instead of going to Silicon Valley or New York.

For Father, “brilliant” and “woman” never belonged in the same sentence.

“Dorelai?” Mother called out. “Are you still there?”

I put the phone back to my ear. “Sorry, just in shock about you saying I should never marry.”

“There’s too much compromise involved for the woman.”

Clearly Mother and Father were having one of their fights again. Every August, as the season of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur approached, Mother got restless and Father got defensive. Deep down inside, Mother wanted to go to shul, but Father would fiercely object to it.

My mother’s parents sat shiva for her when she married my father, and both had died without ever relenting to see us. Father never let her forget that; it was one of his favorite rants on the evils of the religious mindset.

I drew my attention back to my mother. “Maybe I’ll find a guy who can compromise.”

“Hah, not likely.” Mother ripped something open, and then there was a chewing sound. A chocolate bar, unless I missed my guess.

Eli made a left turn, and I realized we were approaching the grocery store I’d asked him to take me to. I covered my mouthpiece to say to Eli, “Just one more block. Storefront with green trim.”

“Who are you talking to?” Mother asked.

“Someone I ran into.”

“Who?”

“Samuel Parisi.”

“Is he Jewish?”

“Yes.” I smacked my forehead. Stupid of me not to lie about that.

“Is he married?”

“That’s none of our business, Deborah.”

“Ahhhhh, so he’s single.” Mother sounded intrigued. Not good, not good at all. “Well, I’m glad you’re getting to meet some new people. I’ll let you get back to your companion and grocery shopping, darling, and call you Sunday.”

She hung up before I could get my thoughts together. Then it hit me.

Shit. She’d be digging up what she could on Samuel Parisi. There weren’t that many Jews in Mather. Sooner or later, she’d discover no such person existed.

“What’s wrong?” Eli asked.

I stared, unseeing, through the windshield. “That was my mother on the phone.”

The steering wheel jerked under Eli’s hands.

I groaned. “Oh, she’s going to have a fit once she realizes what I’m up to.”

He wanted to talk about this, but having to keep up the persona of Samuel made it impossible. Though if anyone had been listening in on my conversation with my mother, it wouldn’t take much to figure out that Mother had no clue who Samuel Parisi was.

No matter how I looked at it, Eli and I were seriously screwed.

*

Eli insisted on pushing the grocery cart for me, saying that I needed to rest after such an exhausting day. Peter and Beth hadn’t bothered to follow us in, instead just sitting in their sedan in the store parking lot.

“Do you mind if I purchase a few things to pay for?” Eli said as he grabbed four six-packs of the cheapest, nastiest beer in the store to put in our cart next to the carrots and turkey bacon.

At the look on my face, he laughed. “They’re not for me. They’re for a friend. We also need cans of chicken soup.”

On impulse, I grabbed a bottle of red wine before heading down the next aisle. And on the way to checkout, two loaves of French bread from the bakery.

As soon as he saw the bread, Eli figured out what I had planned. “Are you sure?” he said.

“I’m an atheist, but I wouldn’t mind if you say Kiddush.”

Eli’s face scrunched up for a second, but he got the pain under control before tears could form.

That’s when I knew I’d been right in guessing that he’d had to light the Shabbat candles and say Kiddush alone on Fridays since being shunned.

“I’ve already got plenty of candles to choose from,” I said. I knew that for the mitzvah of Shabbat, Mother would forgive Eli—a little—when the whole Samuel Parisi thing collapsed.

*

As we parked on the street near my brownstone, I saw Dereck sitting on the steps with a bouquet of red roses. Strangely, he wasn’t talking into his ear clip. Just brooding.

I actually felt embarrassed that Eli would see this guy.

As we got the groceries out of the trunk to carry, I whispered to Eli, “That’s Dereck on the steps.”

“Ah,” he whispered back, “the guy you broke up with.” He looked behind us, and I followed his gaze to see that Beth and Peter had parked a few spots down from us.

Great, just what I didn’t need, an audience.

“Give me a few minutes to reason with Dereck, then come on up the steps,” I said. There were few enough bags of groceries that I could leave the carrying to Eli while I dealt with Dereck. I dug around in my purse as I walked toward the brownstone, shoving aside my wallet and gum and pens and a packet of tissues, so that I could pull out my keys before I reached the steps.

Dereck stood up, and blocked my way as I climbed. “Dorelai, I want to talk to you. Alone.”

“I told you we were through. There’s nothing to say.”

Dereck made no move to step aside.

I sighed in frustration. “I’m busy. I’ve got work to attend to tonight. Now go away.”

He jerked a thumb at Eli lugging the groceries. “That doesn’t look like ‘work’ to me.”

“He’s just a friend. I’m sorry,” I said, “but I don’t want to go out with you anymore.”

He shoved the roses in my face and I tripped down the steps, falling on my hip and hands.

The brownstone foyer door whipped open, and the roach-guy jumped out, twisting Dereck’s closest arm behind his back.

Ow!” Dereck yelled.

I became aware that the roses were scattered around me, my palms were stinging where they’d hit the sidewalk concrete, and an empty-handed Eli was kneeling beside me. “Are you all right?” he said. “Can you move?”

I was able to stagger back to my feet without Eli’s offered help. But from the soreness I knew I’d have a bruise on my hip.

Dereck was staring at me open-mouthed. He came back to himself to call out, “It was an accident!”

The roach said in a male human voice, “Likely story, asshole. Ms. Trelton asked ya to leave.”

Dereck protested. “I was just—”

“The lady said she don’t wanna date ya no more.”

The roach-guy hauled Dereck down the steps to his sports car while Dereck yelled at him, “You have no right to—”

Roach-guy shoved Dereck onto the hood of his sports car. “Get lost before I mess up yer face.”

Dereck’s face worked as he looked back at me, then he said, “We aren’t done talking yet, Dorelai. I’ll come back another day.” He got into his sports car.

Good riddance!” the roach-guy yelled at Dereck as he drove off.

As one, my gaze and Eli’s went to that of the parked Mercedes. The two Magi were standing on the sidewalk next to the car; they’d obviously seen and heard everything.

Roach-guy noticed at whom we were staring, and swore long and hard as he threw out the roses and gathered up the dropped grocery bags with his four arms.

Eli ran over to help, and soon they’d herded me up the steps and into the foyer before them. As soon as the foyer door swung shut, he said to Eli, “When I saw him push her—”

“Dorelai,” Eli said, “this is Mr. O’Keefe.”

“Hi,” I said as I used my key on the inner door of the foyer, shouldering it open for them.

Eli pointed at a metal toolkit sitting under the apartment mailboxes in the foyer. He said to O’Keefe, “Let’s swap. I’ll take the groceries, you grab your toolkit.”

O’Keefe handed all the groceries back over to Eli, then hefted the toolkit. “Can ya climb?” he said to me. “Ya hit the ground hard.”

My palms and hip were throbbing. “I’m fine.”

“Lemme go up first,” O’Keefe said. “Apartment 302, right?”

“Right,” I said.

“Gimme me yer keys, and I’ll make sure it’s safe.” The arm he held out had the outer shell and hairs of a roach, but at the end was a human palm with a knifelike thumb. I dropped my keys into his palm, and as his hand wrapped around them I saw there was a thick shell on the outside of his hand.

O’Keefe rushed up the stairs with a speed I’d be hard-pressed to match.

I lived on the top floor, which I liked because the skylight above the stairway made my stairwell bright during the day. As I slowly climbed the stairs with Eli, I heard the echo of my front door being opened and the rattle of O’Keefe’s toolkit hitting the ground. Then there was the racket of bangs and squeaks as O’Keefe searched my apartment.

When we reached my door, I found it propped open with O’Keefe’s toolkit. Eli stopped me before I could enter. “We need to wait for O’Keefe,” he said.

O’Keefe appeared at the doorway to my bedroom. “All clear. C’mon in, and lock the door behind ya.”

I locked the door as Eli hauled the groceries into the kitchen.

I said to O’Keefe, “I haven’t thrown out the garbage yet. The manila envelope and letter from Thursday night should still in the kitchen trash.” I surveyed my dining room and living room—nothing lying around had any sort of suspicious aura. Everything was the same as it had been this morning.

It was only me that was different.

O’Keefe grabbed a silver-glowing box out of his toolbox and followed me into the kitchen.

I grabbed my tongs from where they lay amongst the dirty dishes in the sink, and handed them to O’Keefe, saying, “I used these to move the letter and envelope around.”

Eli and I put groceries away as O’Keefe rooted through my garbage with the tongs.

When I grabbed the first six-pack of beer to put it in the fridge, Eli said, “You don’t need to do that. O’Keefe prefers it warm.” Eli made a face. “He pours it into a mug and microwaves it.”

“Bleck,” I said. “So the cans of chicken soup are for him, too?”

“Yup,” O’Keefe said. He fished the envelope from Thursday night out, to flourish with a triumphant “Ha!” Pulling it closer to his eyes to study (but making sure not to touch it), he then shoved it into the silver-glowing box. Then he fished out the letter, again taking his time to study it closely, before putting it and the tongs in the box as well.

“That was too damn easy,” O’Keefe said. “That evidence should’ve been stolen. If ya don’t mind, Ms. Trelton, I’m gonna take the entire bag of trash.” He pulled the garbage bag top together and tied it shut. “Gonna put it near the door.”

The sky through the kitchen window was fading to dusk.

I yanked open the cabinet under the sink to pull out two candles while Eli took the bread and wine to the table.

“Good thinking,” O’Keefe said. “We could all do with a drink after that shitfest downstairs.”

Eli came back into the kitchen to fill two cups with water, and took them and a hand towel to the dining room. Then he came back in to ask, “Napkins?”

“Upper cabinet to the left of the sink,” I said as I dug a box of matches out of a drawer.

Eli took the matches, candles, and cloth napkins out while I grabbed three tall water glasses to use (I had no wine glasses).

When I came to the dining room table, I saw that Eli had covered the two loaves with a cloth napkin. He took a glass from me, uncorked the wine, and filled it to the brim. He then paused, and reached up with both hands to touch the top of his bare head. “Do you have a hat?”

“Let me see if anything would fit.” I went over to the hall closet and opened it. There was a summer straw hat that would match his tourist get-up. I snagged it.

At the sight of it, Eli sighed, but took it to put on his head. He said, “Do you know Hebrew?”

“No.”

“Then I’ll pray in both.” He called out to O’Keefe in the kitchen, “Do you want to join us?”

“Nope. I’m gonna open up a can of soup to eat. But I’ll help ya make a dent in that wine when yer done.”

Eli lit the two candles, waved his hands over them as if he would pull the candlelight from them to his eyes, covered his eyes with his palms, and recited the blessing over the candles.

Once done, Eli uncovered his eyes, then picked up the glass of wine and began to pray Kiddush, first in Hebrew, then repeating in English so I’d understand what was said. I felt no presence of anything godlike, but the beauty of the words as Eli said them moved me.

“… Blessed are You, Adonai, Who sanctifies Shabbat,” Eli finished.

“Amen,” I said.

Eli gestured for us to sit. He took two gulps of the wine, then poured half of what was left from his tall water glass into another glass for me.

O’Keefe came out of the kitchen with an opened can of chicken soup and large spoon to sit at the table with us.

Picking up the wine bottle, Eli filled the last glass for O’Keefe.

I lifted my glass in salute to the two of them, and downed the Kiddush wine in a few minutes. Eli did the same.

O’Keefe swigged back his own half-empty glass in seconds.

Eli filled up our three glasses to the brim. “No more for you and me after this round,” he said to me, “we have to stay relatively levelheaded. O’Keefe has a natural talent for consuming large amounts of alcohol without getting drunk.”

“Ya betcha,” O’Keefe said, and swigged down his second glass.

“A good wine is supposed to be savored,” I said, “not chugged.” My insides were starting to get a warm tingly feeling. I tipped my glass to drink deeply.

Eli indicated that we should wash our hands with the cups of water and hand towel, and then he uncovered the two bread loaves and recited a blessing over them. He passed around chunks of the French bread for us to eat. I still felt stuffed from dinner, so I just nibbled on mine between wine swallows.

O’Keefe dunked his bread chunk in the can of soup before eating it. Like the rest of him, his mouth was a bizarre mixture of human and roach. Some drops of soup fell from his tongue onto the table. “I’ll clean up,” he said.

It had been a rough day, but I was starting to feel really, really relaxed and mellow. “No problem.” I rapped the wood of the table. “The wood’s stained and polished.” Then I began to giggle, and covered my mouth with my hands until it stopped. “I can’t believe that just came out of my mouth. That’s why I don’t drink. It makes me act stoopid.”

“You’re not stupid,” Eli said. He sipped at his wine. “Not even when inebriated. What you are is exhausted and overwhelmed.”

I looked into my glass to find it empty. I looked over at the bottle, but Eli pushed it out of reach. Sighing, I nudged my glass away so that I could fold my arms on the table and put my chin on my hands. My eyelids drooped.

“That was a mistake on my part,” Eli said to O’Keefe. “I should have realized it’d make her sleepy.” He got up from his seat, leaving his barely drunk glass behind, and came around to my side. “Sorry to do this, Dorelai, but we need to talk a few things over before you go to sleep.”

Grumbling, I followed Eli out into the living room as O’Keefe got up to follow.

I sank into my recliner chair, and pulled the lever so that my feet were propped up. Having my feet up felt soooooo good, and my hip had stopped throbbing. Or maybe it still hurt, and I just couldn’t feel it.

O’Keefe picked up my TV controller from the coffee table. He turned my TV on and set the volume to an absurdly high level. Then he and Eli leaned in close.

Eli said, “Dorelai, for your safety, O’Keefe is going to sleep on your couch tonight.”

I grinned, which felt weird. “I feel like I’m in a Kafka story.”

“So you … don’t object?” Eli asked.

A round of giggling escaped me and I saw no reason to stop it.

Eli palmed his face.

“Nice going, Rabbi, she’s sloshed,” O’Keefe said. “Didn’t know ya had it in ya. Chances are she’ll remember this conversation in the morning, but this ain’t the time to discuss matters of state.” He leaned forward so that I could see his strange face up close. Human eyes in a roach’s head. Wow. “Ms. Trelton, can I bunk on yer couch tonight—yes or no?”

“Yes,” I said. I clapped my hands. This was hilarious. “Ask me another question. This is fun!”

Eli groaned.

“Rabbi Eli, quit it,” O’Keefe said. “Louie said to get her home safe, and ya did. Considering what she’s been through today, this is exactly what she needs right now. Ya smuggle the evidence on over to Knossos, then get some shut-eye. I’m gonna nuke myself a beer and watch some TV. Trelton, is it okay if I watch TV?”

“Yes!” I said. O’Keefe’s accent made me feel like a kid again.

“Help me get her to bed,” O’Keefe said to him.

More giggles poured out of my mouth as they pulled me out of the recliner. Standing upright felt like too much work, so I let them put my arms over their shoulders to haul me into my bedroom.

At the sight of my bedcover, I said, “Bed! Yes!”

“Drop her on three,” O’Keefe said over my head. “One … two … three.”

I dropped back onto the bliss of a soft bedcover, and then my feet were being lifted and dropped to bounce on the bed as well.

Wonderful. I wanted to say it, but my mouth was too tired to move.

*

I awoke in the dark to find I was on top of my bedcover, and I heard the soft sound of my TV going. Took me a couple of seconds to figure out how I’d gotten there.

I was in my work clothes and shoes, and a fuzzy lingering taste of wine was in my mouth.

The recollection of my behavior made me wince. I’d been as giggly and silly as anyone I’d seen at a college party.

Rolling onto my side, I got off the bed to go to the closed bedroom door. I slowly turned the doorknob to pull it open and peeked out.

O’Keefe was sitting on my couch with his feet (wearing dress shoes) propped up on my coffee table. He wore a pinstripe suit modified to fit his body with its four arms. There was an unlit cigarette in his mouth that he was moving around like a toothpick.

And a semiautomatic pistol on his lap.

He was watching a bucktoothed chef flipping pancakes on a cooking channel.

I looked over toward the dining room; the light of the TV made it easy to see everything. The table was all clear and clean of anything from the Shabbat shenanigans. And my apartment smelled a bit like a brewery. O’Keefe had obviously been microwaving beer while I slept.

The bag of trash was gone from near my front door. Eli must have taken all the evidence over to Knossos. But O’Keefe’s opened toolkit remained.

“Dawn ain’t gonna be here for another two hours, Trelton,” O’Keefe said around his cigarette. “Go back to bed.”

I decided I would rather find out what O’Keefe might say if I stuck around.

************** End of Chapter 6 *****************

Chapter 7 will go up next Tuesday.

See you next time, L. M.