Tuesday Tidbit: Concert Collision

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“I wish I had an angel,” Tay chanted along with Nightwish that night, his not-dulcet tones carrying far too well from the living room into the kitchen.

André pointed that direction with the meat fork. “There’s something really, really off about him mangling that song, if some of the theories about Familiars are to be believed.”

Lelia looked up—briefly—from trying to slice a very ripe mango without dropping it or making more of a mess. “The one about them being angels, or the one about them being fallen angels working off their sins?”

“Yes to both, although the first one cannot have been proposed by anyone who actually, you know, had to live with a Familiar.” He used the pot’s lid as a shield as he rotated the slab-o-meat in the marinade. “Wow, you were right, the cookbook is way off on how many onions.”

Lelia giggled, then returned to cutting up the fruit without taking off her thumb in the process. I like these, but they are so slippery to cut. I wonder if anyone on late-night TV sells a mango slicer or holder?

Rodney wandered into the kitchen. “Boooosss, make him staaaaahp,” the kit fox wailed, then drank from his fountain. Lelia carefully did not see her fiancé slip his Familiar a bit of raw meat.

André pointed the meat fork at her. “Ask Tay’s mage. I just cook here, remember?”

[Snip]

She leaned back from the mirror and contemplated the look. The deep green-black of the corset brought out the green around her eyes. She hadn’t fully tightened the laces, since that was what André was for, but the look rocked, seriously rocked. “I miss this,” she whispered. She’d hidden the corset for six years, and it still fit. The metal clasps were not in the center, but on both sides, so she didn’t snag other people if they danced very close. The little jacket fastened under her throat and then cut away to reveal her décolleté even as it covered her shoulders and upper arms.

Lelia sensed the shields open. She turned off the light, collected her bag and gloves, and hurried down the steps as the front door opened. André let Rodney in, then followed. As usual, her fiancé far outshone her. She smiled. “Perfect timing, gentle sir. I need a slight bit of assistance.”

“Why do you need . . . my . . .”

She turned her back to him. “Because I do not want Tay trying to help me lace this, dark sir.”

“Ah, ahem, that is, yes, I see your problem. What do I do?” He sounded a bit plaintive.

“Pull the top laces in and then tighten them toward the middle.” He did as asked. “Yes, perfect. Now the bottom and snug toward the top.” She wiggled, adjusting some things. “Good, now, tie the laces into a bow in the middle, keeping the tension, please.” The middle tightened, tightened more, then loosened an eighth of an inch or so. She inhaled, then exhaled. “Perfect!”

His expression as she turned around . . . Do not laugh! He looks like he got hit with a stick. “Is there a problem?”

André blinked several times, swallowed, and managed to say, “Ah, dark my lady, you have a superstructure. It is impressive.” He backed away. “Wow.”

“Corsets do that to a lady, if fitted and adjusted correctly.” I’ll never be a 38 DD, but the boost is nice. She walked over to her sewing chair and pulled on the little jacket, fastening it just under the choker. She turned back to him as she pulled on her gloves. “Bare shoulders would be immodest.” She winked. He turned red and looked at the floor. Love, you go clubbing, you’ve seen cleavage before!

Rodney shook his head. “My lady, that is a stunning outfit and quite suitable for such an occasion.” He pawed at André’s boot. “And I do not wish to be late.”

“Nope!” Tay caroled, waving his top hat. He already sported his silver vest.

André got the hint and opened the door again, letting the Familiars out. Then he partly closed the door. “My lady, I feel I must be completely honest with you.” He kept his eyes on hers. “That outfit is beautiful, it brings out the color in your eyes, and it inspires feelings in me that are rather hard to properly master. Forgive me if I seem a bit stunned. It is not you, I assure you, it is me.”

Oops. I didn’t think about that possibility. Well, turn about was fair play, because the style of dress he currently wore made her dream of things one did not mention in polite company or public venues. Especially the way the lapis blue and black vest matched his eyes, and his silver-blue eye-shadow and mascara. She dragged her thoughts back to the present moment. “All is forgiven, although if we detain our Familiars any longer, neither of us will be forgiven.”

He inclined his head. “Just so, dark lady, just so.” He followed her out the door and locked it.

[snip]

At nine, Bart Cooper appeared in the DJ booth. “Ladies, gentlemen, and all of the above, welcome to the official re-opening of Two Bats’ Bar. We are very pleased to be able to host Curling With Cats on their first US tour!” He waited for the very loud cheers to fade. “Concert swag will be available on the smokers’ patio. They accept cash, credit, debit, antiques and old jewelry only if they come with an appraisal certificate, but not first-born children. The resale market is poor, or so I have been assured.” Laughter followed his declaration. “Without further ado, Curling With Cats!”

Two women and three men took the stage. The lead singer wore a black and silver sari, while the keyboard player sported a Scottish-inspired skirt and tartan bodice outfit, with tall leather moccasin boots. The men looked more Euro-folk, although Lelia boggled a little at the cellist’s cowboy hat with a silver cat head painted on it. The lead singer nodded to the drummer, and a low growl of bass rhythm flowed from the muted kettledrums, followed by tin whistle and electric guitar. The digeridoo joined in after two measures.

In the lull following the first set, André asked, “What do you think?”

“I think they’re the only ones who could make that,” she waved at the combination of instruments on stage, “work. Now part of me wants to try wearing a sari like that, and the rest of me thinks it is a really bad, bad idea.” Not just because of the jokes Rodney and Tay would insist on making, either.

André studied her figure, appeared to be considering a comment, and then stopped. He coughed. “You mean you didn’t want a tee-shirt like that, my lady?” The pure innocence in his voice did not match the gleam in his eyes. Lelia turned to see Shoshana and Bolts coming toward them. Sho wore the classic CWC tee-shirt, along with a full black skirt tied back to show her red and electric blue underskirt. As Lelia had feared, the cat and curling target were right there. André continued, “I think you could carry off the look quite well.”

Rodney snickered. “I don’ know, boss. It might lead to target fixation.” He snickered some more as Lelia felt herself turning a bit pink. André did his best to appear as if he had no idea what his Familiar might be implying. Tay, deep in some kind of discussion with a goth-punk woman at the next table, missed it.

“Hey!” Sho and Lelia embraced. “Thanks for solving the box problem.”

“You’re welcome,” Lelia said.

“Uncle Leopard fixed the shield again, and nothing’s tried to get in.” Sho bounced to the music, the poison yellow streak in her hair glowing in the dark club. “He couldn’t come tonight.”

“Yeah, this isn’t his kind of music,” Bolts observed. “Not heavy enough.”

Sho giggled. “And he said he didn’t want to get stepped on.” All four of them chuckled.

“Right. As if anyone could miss Uncle Leopard being on the dancefloor.” Lelia rolled her eyes. The sorcerer cleared traffic with his intense presence alone.

André opened his mouth to say something, but a commotion on the edge of the dancefloor distracted them. “Oh, good sir, I am dreadfully sorry,” a woman in layers of black and pale purple chiffon and gauze said.

The leather and metal clad man standing far too close to her assured her, “Oh no, Madame, please, the fault is mine for not paying attention. Here, let’s get clear. I believe this is part of the problem.” He unsnagged a section of violet lace from the leather plates and straps on his vest.

“Truly, sir the fault is mine. Ah, let’s see, this, OK,” the pair eased away from the floor.

Bolts smiled. “A dollar says she buys the apology drink.”

André grinned back. “And then he gets the next round.” They’d all seen it before. Studs, straps, and floating sleeves and scarves led to a lot of unanticipated introductions. “At least it wasn’t a cigarette this time.”

Sho made a face. “Those aren’t fun.” Curling With Cats returned to the stage and Sho lit up again. “They’re fun!” She all but dragged her husband with her as she raced to get closer to the stage.

The concert ended just after midnight. The crowd thinned a little, with some die-hards still going strong on the dancefloor. Those included André and Lelia, although she opted to sit out one of the hard numbers. She returned to the table, where Rodney now sat, panting a little. “There’s fast and there’s fast,” he declared, tongue lolling.

Tay sniffed. “That’s why no one dances to ambient techno unless they’re already ambient. Really, really ambient.” He finished his bottle of water.

“Do you need a refill?” She gotten him one refill already, and André had taken the Familiars out onto the patio, returning with a bag as well as the animals.

“When are we going home?”

A stranger distracted her for a moment. The man seemed to be paying close attention to them. Who’s he? So many new faces. She returned to Tay’s question. “Not too long, since André and I both have to work tomorrow. Today. Whatever.”

Rodney recovered enough by the end of the song to ease down from the chair and saunter over to talk to Lady Mandrake, her husband, and a tall woman in a PVC dress with glowing laces up the front. Hmm, that looks like the kind of quick-release fastener that some boots have. Lelia giggled. Someone wanted to be ready for any occasion.

André started to leave the floor, but one of the other glamor goth men pulled him aside. Lelia shrugged and hid a yawn. She should not be tired!

The man she’d noticed earlier approached, smiling. She smiled back. He wore a dark short-sleeved shirt under a brocade and leather vest. The deep red color made the crimson on his tattoo sleeves on his arms stand out. He’d shaved his head, and she shifted him to metal-head or more goth-punk. “Good evening. I’m Sebastian.”

“I’m Lelia Chan.” He’s rather direct.

Sebastian moved a little closer. “Lelia. A lovely name.” His eyes left hers and drifted down to her chest. He spoke slowly and carefully, setting off Lelia’s alerts.

He’s intoxicated at least a little, and is about to put the moves on me. Well, it wouldn’t be the first or last time. She could sort him out if she had to. “Thank you, sir.”

“You’re welcome. I noticed you dancing. You move very well. And I like your dress.” He stayed where he was.

“Thank you. It’s an old favorite.”

He took a deep breath. “Old is good, but new can be better. Especially new friends.”

“Quite true.” I’m not liking Sebastian. That tattoo on his left hand’s wrong. She shifted her weight, moving one foot back so she could pivot or grab the chair to put between them.

“Do you need a ride home? It’s late, after all.” He leaned closer. Tay’s ears tipped back.

Lelia shook her head. “No thank you, I have transportation.”

“Let me put it a different way, Lelia. I want you to go home. With me, so I can show you some other smooth moves.”

Hell no, not if you were the only guy in the club. I’d rather walk. “No, thank you, sir. I have a vehicle.” She’d spoken a little more loudly, and Lady Mandrake and some others turned to look. “I appreciate the offer, but no.”

His smile disappeared and his eyes went hard. He hooked his hands in front of his chest, making his biceps bulge. “Your mouth says that, girl, but your body and that corset say that you’re lookin’ for some action. I wanna give it to you.”

“Sir, you misunderstand.” André was two tables away, walking quickly. “No means no.”

Sebastian spread his hands, scowling. “Look, girl, all I’m saying is—”

Street-reflexes saved her.

He swung, hard. Lelia jerked back. Smack! His hand connected, but not full-force. Cheek stinging, she backed farther away, pulling power to herself. He lunged, grabbing for her arm. She twisted to the left and dodged sideways, throwing a physical shadow-shield between them along with a chair. She reached for Tay, drawing more power for a shadow ball.

A larger Shadow struck first, silent and fast as a snake. Thud “Oof!” Sebastian’s body twisted to the right, then slammed into the back wall. Thunk. His head bounced a little. He was bigger than André, but— She’d never, ever seen André look like that. Ice had replaced his eyes. Sebastian opened his mouth, then choked. André’s right forearm crossed his throat, and the red in the stranger’s face shifted to blue. No sound came from his lips.

“Do not touch my lady,” a soft, cold voice said, colder than anything on earth, so cold the words burned as they cut through every sound around them. “Do not strike any lady, but most especially do not strike my lady.” Thumpf. André moved left hand moved. As he did, Sebastian’s eyes bulged. The right arm lowered and Sebastian staggered, collapsing to his knees, moaning and gasping at the same time. When he looked up, pure fear replaced anger.

André demanded, “Am I clear?”

The jerk nodded, one hand on his throat, one arm clutching his ribs. André turned, making eye contact with the crowd of observers. “I trust no one cares to repeat this—individual’s—error?” Lelia shivered at the imprecations and insults her love put into that word. A murmur swelled then faded as everyone found other things to do. Lelia released her shield, feeding the power back to Tay. André turned the predator eyes onto her.

No fear, show no fear, she told herself over and over as she walked to stand beside him. “Thank you, gentle sir.” He looked away, shook as if shaking off water, and met her eyes again. Concern replaced ice. “I’m fine, just lightly bruised,” she assured him. “Permission?”

He jerked his head down in assent, and she took his hand.

Darkmaster appeared as if summoned. “What happened?” He demanded, looking from them to the kneeling shape against the wall and back.

“Yon idiot decided that Miss Chan’s outfit meant she was lookin’ for a good time with him.” Lady Mandrake almost spat the words. “She said no, he pushed it, she said no, and he slapped her, then tried to grab her when she dodged. Master Lestrang informed the little piece of shit that he shouldn’t hit ladies.” Lady Mandrake sniffed. “That’s after he overbalanced and then tripped on the carpet.”

Lelia glanced up in time to see the corner of André’s mouth twitch with humor. No carpet covered any of the club’s floors. She squeezed his hand and then let go.

Sebastian wheezed, “You’ll be sorry, you skinny bastard. I’m special forces, and I know how to get even.”

Darkmaster and André exchanged a look, and they both turned on the stranger. “Show me your DD-214,” André ordered.

“Or your military ID,” the bouncer added, folding his arms so the biceps bulged.

The target of their ire swallowed. “I’m so highly classified, I don’t have a military ID.”

“Bullshit,” André and Darkmaster snapped, as Rodney called, “He’s lying, even I have an ID.”

Darkmaster made a hand gesture, and two equally large gentlemen appeared beside him. “This individual assaulted Miss Chan. He’s no longer welcome.”

“She led me on!”

Lelia opened her mouth to deny the accusation. “I di—” The bouncers pinned the man’s arms behind him and dragged him away before she finished the syllable.

“Shall I call the police so that you can press charges, Miss Chan?”

She shook her head. “No, thank you, sir. I believe he has learned from his error and will not repeat it.” And if not, he’s in for a very, very big surprise.

Darkmaster frowned. “Alright, but I don’t. Be careful, Miss Chan.”

“She will be,” Tay announced. “Very careful.” His ears remained back and the tips of his teeth showed more than usual.

“Oh yes.” Rodney chimed in. “Should the lesson need repeating.”

André stayed quiet until the head of security departed. “Silver, are you alright?” he demanded, but quietly.

She nodded, swallowing hard. “Yes, love, I am. I was moving away when he hit me, and had shadow balls ready if he tried again.”

“Hmm.” He did not sound convinced. He didn’t push things, either, not until just after one, when the pickup pulled to a stop in front of the duplex. For once he got out and escorted her to the door. He watched the yard and street as she unlocked the door and let Tay in. He handed her the bag, then said, “Love, you need something besides magic to protect yourself.”

No. Two Bats’ isn’t the street. She did her best to be calm and patient. “I have one. I didn’t want to cut him, since he didn’t have a weapon in hand.” That would be felony assault.

“He was reaching for something with his left hand.” André’s eyes had gone hard again. “I don’t like it.”

I’m not really happy right now, either, Shadow. She took a deep mental breath. “Let’s discuss it after we are both rested, please?”

He looked away, then back. “Right. You’re tired, I’m tired, it was a great concert and a fun evening, and the rest can wait.” He put his hands around her waist. “And that looks very, very good on you. Very good.” They kissed. He let go and stepped back a pace. “I go, before the inflate-a-lemur in the window comes through the window.”

Tay, fur fluffed, had his forefeet and nose on the glass, glaring at them. Lelia shook her head. “He’s worse than chaperones at a high school dance.”

“Much worse.” André waved to Tay and departed.

(C) 2020 Alma T. C. boykin All Rights Reserved

Saturday Snippet: When Silver Sings

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Morning. Early. Cinnamon candy.

On Friday morning, far too early for either of them, Lelia and André walked up to the Lee’s front door. “There’d better be coffee,” she grumbled. Tay kept quiet, probably out of self preservation. She’d learned the cost of the electrician’s visit the evening before, and her temper remained less than mellow.

The door opened, and Dolores Lee waved them in, hiding a yawn. She ran a hand through her dark hair, currently pulled back in a loose pony-tail. “I love my husband but he remains an incurable morning person, despite my best efforts at conversion. You’ve been warned. He’s in the library. I need coffee.”

André followed Lelia down the hall to the book-filled room. Patrick Lee waited for them. “Good morning!” He wore a long-sleeved tweed tee-shirt, dark brown trousers, and a far too alert expression. “Cinders says that you wish to consult Archimandrite Waldemar’s pattern book?”

New Zealand. That’s got to be a New Zealand accent. Maybe. Somewhere not in the United States, that much she would bet on.

“Yes, sir.” André replied. “We don’t intend to copy anything, just identify.”

Lelia let her fiancé take the lead as she half-knelt so Tay could climb down from her shoulder without sinking claws into her blouse. He then clambered down to floor level and sauntered over to talk with Cinders. He and the coatimundi slapped paws before departing the library, both of their tails vertical. “How rude,” Lelia sighed.

“Quite.” Mr. Lee pulled reading glasses out of his the breast pocket on the tee-shirt and unfolded them. “Quite rude indeed. I shall have a word with him.”

Lelia did not inquire which him. Instead, as André started looking at the books on the open shelves, she opened her handbag and removed the belt buckle. She unwrapped the silk handkerchief around it, and set it on top of the pale gold wooden desk. “This is the pattern we want to hunt for, sir.”

“May I?” She nodded her permission, and Mr. Lee picked up the buckle, using the silk to protect his fingers from the silver, or vice versa. “Fascinating. I see why you are curious, Miss Chan. That is not the standard floral pattern found on such accessories, nor is silver the customary metal used to carry that sort of pattern.” He turned it over and peered at the hallmarks. “Most intriguing.” He looked over the reading glasses at her. “Have you been able to identify the creator?”

“Not yet, sir. The stamp does not match any of the American or English makers with marks readily available.”

André joined her at the desk. “It’s not German or French, either, sir, or at least not a well-known German or French hallmark,” he added quickly.

“Fascinating! The fact that a previous owner went to such lengths to conceal the pattern suggests either a malicious intent to prevent knowledge, or a sincere desire to protect the pattern.” Mr. Lee set the buckle and silk on the desk, almost rubbing hands with excitement.

Lelia held up one finger. “Or they did not know the pattern or magic, sir, and simply wanted to keep from having to polish the silver. The material was linen, not silk, sewn with cotton or a cotton-linen blend.”

Green eyes stared at her over the dark-framed reading glasses. “Miss Chan, do not automatically attribute to common origins what can be explained with magical intent.”

Oh boy. It’s going to be a long morning. She still needed coffee.

André cleared his throat a little. “The pattern book, sir? This design might not be related to anything magical. The metal content could be the key rather than the decoration.”

“The book.” Mr. Lee turned to the leaded glass and rowan-wood barrister’s book case behind the desk and murmured under his breath, then ran his index fingers around the edges of one level of books. Something hummed, and he opened the wood and glass door, sliding it into the top of the row. He counted four from the left end of the shelf and removed a tome. “Do not lick your fingers, do not turn down page corners,” he gave her a very pointed glare. “And do not recite any spells aloud, please. The page markers are on the table beside the— What are you doing, young fox?”

Lelia half-turned in time to see Rodney stop pawing a book out of the bottom of the bookcase beside the door. “Sir?” the kit fox asked.

“Your pardon, Mr. Lee.” André crossed the room, removed the volume in question, and set it on the low table between two other bookcases. “Ask, please. I will turn pages for you.”

“Yes, boss.”

“Ahem, as I was saying, the page markers are in the usual location, Miss Chan. I need to make a phone call, then I shall return. Begin with chapter eight, I believe, would be the most efficient.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you sir.” She did not curtsey as he departed. He’s worse than Sr. Lioba, the library guard. The German nun had scared everyone, even the two Jesuit priests.

André rejoined her at the desk. So did Tay, who climbed back onto the leather chair, then vaulted onto the desk. He stuck the landing. Lelia turned to chapter eight, and made room for the two males. “Ah, not that one,” she said, giggling. Lust practically radiated from the black-and-white drawing.

“No, and I am very glad that is a flawed copy, thank you!” André turned the page, then three more before they escaped from the fertility-and-attraction patterns. “Closer.”

“Yes, but not floral in the same way as the buckle.” She compared the drawing to the real thing, then reached for the wooden pointer in the little cup on the corner of the desk. She tapped the buckle. “These are more geometric, not true flowers.”

“Hmm.” He turned more pages. “That’s . . . I’ve never seen that done. And it’s close.” He picked up the buckle and compared it to the reproduction of an enamel-work gold cloak clasp from a grave in southern Germany. “That’s really close. But the one in the book is too old.”

Tay shook his head. “Patterns get used over and over. How many spiral things do you see, even today?”

“A lot,” Lelia answered. “And this” she tapped the book with the pointer, “says the original was probably owned by a female shaman-healer, or at least was buried with a female shaman-healer.”

Rodney’s voice came from the other side of the room. “Boss, can you turn a page, please?” André kept the buckle as he left.

Lelia turned the page in the book and stared. Hooooleee cats. Bingo. She bent closer to the page, looking at the flowers, knot-work, and what might have been little animals racing around the rectangle. “Belt buckle or shawl-buckle, Rhine Valley, upper Austria,” she read aloud. “Date unknown, believed to be late Bronze Age.”

“Love, why are you working a spell?”

“I’m not. Why?”

André held the buckle out on his open palm. It glowed with power! “Because this.” He hurried back to the desk. She draped the buckle with the silk, and he slid it onto the wood surface. “It’s never done that.”

She shook her head. “Look.” She moved well clear. Rodney bounced over, and André picked him up so he could see as well. “I think we have a match, if you remove the two chunks out of the middle where the gaps currently are.”

“That’s a match.” Tay thrashed his tail, ears back a little. “I don’t like the resonance.”

André set Rodney back onto the floor, then turned the page to the other pattern. “You know,” he began very slowly. “Let’s assume that this did, indeed, belong to a healer, and the pattern and its later variant were used by someone, or several someones, who had at least a little healing magic. I’ve never heard of a dark healer. They’re all light-side.”

A mild, sorrowful voice from the doorway said, “No. But a dark-inclined healer is once in a generation, and they are removed.” Lelia glanced up to see Cinders sitting in the doorway to the hall. “Some things are not permitted, once they are known.” Tay nodded his agreement, his eyes sad.

We’re in deep water here. Lelia swallowed hard, and looked back at the pattern. André flipped to the exact match once more. Lelia shifted to magic sight and lifted the corner of the silk just enough to peek under it. “Ow.”

André copied her and squinted. “Ditto.” He lowered the fabric. “I don’t recall anything like this out of Bednarz.” He sounded lost.

“Meister Gruenewald never mentioned it, either, just what to do if we found really old things where they didn’t belong, and he didn’t mean museums,” Rodney said. He shook all over. “I’m at sea.”

“No, you are in my library. Isabeau!” Mr. Lee ducked as the huge bird flapped into the room. She landed on a thick wooden rod that projected over the locked bookcase. “Ahem. Something of interest has transpired, I presume?”

“Yes, sir. We found a match that causes the buckle to resonate with so much magic that it glows to normal sight.” André got clear as Mr. Lee all but leaped across the room. “You might just peek, sir.”

Mr. Lee sniffed and whisked away the silk. Lelia covered her ears as Isabeau shrieked. Or sang. Whatever she said was loud in the small space. Mr. Lee covered the buckle with great haste. “That is a touch intense, yes.”

“Dear, whatever you did, undid it, please,” Dolores’ voice called from the hall. “It’s making our anniversary silver sing.”

Only after the buckle had been safely wrapped once more and stowed inside Lelia’s purse did the company adjourn to the dining room. Lelia did not venture to speak until she’d finished one cup of hair-curlingly strong coffee and started a second one. The men seemed as flustered as she felt, which made her feel a little better. At last she said, “So we have a match, the pattern is very old, and it makes other silver things react when the buckle sees the full pattern. And I do not want to play with either one.”

“No.” André, Cinders, Rodney, and Tay chorused. “Jinx,” Rodney added.

“No,” his mage continued. “Because given what we’ve found thus far in the buckle, I’m very leery of poking what’s still there without a very, very good reason. Curiosity is not a good reason.”

Lelia shook her head in agreement and had more coffee.

Mr. Lee removed a red and silver tin from the pocket of his trousers and opened it, popping one of the contents into his mouth. He offered it to Lelia, who abstained. He then offered it to André. The shadow mage took one and popped it into his mouth.

Three, two, one . . . Lelia smothered her giggles as crimson suffused André’s features, his eyes seemed to bulge and began watering copiously, and he struggled to breathe.

“Dear loving and holy Lord, what is that, sir?” came a wheezy squeak. “That’s stronger than the curry made by south Indian contractor cooks!”

Mr. Lee blinked mildly. “Doyle’s Double Cinnamon candies. I find the flavor rather tame compared to some.”

“Tame?”

I didn’t know his voice could get that high. Lelia leaned to the side to make room as a platter of chilled fruit slices and dip appeared beside her, then continued on to the table.

“Love, you think that there is nothing wrong with making mustard from powder by stirring it until the bowl feels warm,” Dolores said with a sigh. “Not everyone has had their palate burned into oblivion by pepper sauces.”

The mildly offended look on Mr. Lee’s face almost triggered a spate of giggles. Instead, Lelia concentrated on helping herself to two slices of apple and some of the creamy-sweet dip. The flavor contrast between tart apple and smooth dip eased a little of her frustration. That and the surge of caffeine. She did not look back at the Lees until the kissing sounds stopped.

“Thinking of things that cause trouble,” Dolores began.

Oh no, not another damn charm disk. Lelia glanced to her left and saw an echoing unhappiness on André’s face.

“Do you know anything about a woman, plain looking, a little heavier built than you, Lelia,” Dolores gestured with her coffee cup, “who casts illusions.”

Oh fuck. “Yes, if it is the same person. Matt reported that he’d caught her trying to shoplift using an illusion, and Shadow and I collided with her in the club. She hid a ten as a twenty, and tried to drug one of the guys, dump something in his drink. She’s a sorceress.”

André had gone hard. He leaned forward a little. “She made a knife-illusion and threatened to cut Silver. Silver broke the illusion before someone really reacted, and the bouncers threw her out. She’d given the name Angel. She’s banned from the clubs.”

“I’m surprised she’s not dead, the way she’s heading for trouble. This was back in March,” Lelia added.

Patrick Lee too had shifted to predator. “Interesssting. Dolores and I encountered this individual. She was not committing malice at the time, but we noticed the illusions. She’d bespelled herself to look rather like an anime character, with slightly large eyes and flat, silver-pink hair, quite harmless. Too harmless, which was what drew our attention. This was at the Farmers’ Market in Riverside Park, on Wednesday morning.”

Dolores rolled her eyes. “That, and the guy with her. Patrick was quite taken with his tactical shirt and pants.”

“I was not taken, dear, I was taken aback that anyone would pay for trousers with so many useless pockets.” He sniffed. “Dolores would not permit me to ask which school of mall-ninjitsu he had attended. He also sported more tattoos than a tattoo artist’s pattern book.”

André covered his eyes with the hand not holding food. “An operator, in other words. I overheard one of his spiritual brothers at Baker’s last week, declaiming on the relative merits of small-arms ammunition calibers. While wearing Warsaw Pact surplus.”

Why is Mr. Lee smiling like that, and should I be nervous?

“Have you ever assured that sort that a real marksman needs no more than a 12 caliber, because no silencer is required?” Mr. Lee’s smile had grown wider and scarier.

“Not yet, but I might.” André’s smile matched that of the older mage.

Dolores sighed loudly. “Lelia, twelve caliber is an air rifle pellet, the kind you use to kill squirrels and other pests. Anyone who brags about being active duty special forces, ours or someone else’s, in order to impress people or to get stuff is probably lying or at least shading the truth. It’s like a metal-head claiming to have been at a Clash concert when they are barely twenty-one.”

Lelia rolled her eyes. “Oh yeah. I heard a gal bragging about going to a Nightwish concert in Germany in 1992. The band didn’t form until 1996, and they’re Finnish.”

“Bingo. Which does not sort out what to do about our illusion caster.” Dolores finished her snack, stood, and pecked her husband on the cheek. “Dear, don’t forget to remember to deal with the problem outside your workroom door.”

“I have not forgotten, love, I am sorting out the best way to deal with it.” He sounded a bit testy. Lelia glanced over at Cinders. The grey and black coatimundi seemed intensely interested in the ceiling, and not because Isabeau was in the room, either. Lelia took that to mean that his mage had indeed been remiss in remembering.

“Yes, dear.” Dolores winked at Lelia, took the empty platter and departed to the kitchen.

As they drove back to the duplex, Lelia said, “Should we do anything about Angel, unless she starts it?”

André didn’t speak until they’d turned onto the quiet, brick street leading to the duplex. “No. There’s not really anything we can do, because right now she’s not causing trouble that we know of. Just hiding herself and trying to look harmless isn’t a crime or grounds for blocking her power.” After he parked and turned off the engine, he added, “Not yet.”

Lelia shivered a little, then busied herself getting out of the truck and turning Tay loose from his hard-sided carrier. How does he put so much menace in two little words?

(C) 2020 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved

Tuesday Tidbit: Generator

- Posted in Uncategorized by

In which the past comes up . . .

“Sing to myself, ‘what a wonderful world!'” Tay warbled as he did lemur-nastics on the former cat tree.

“Dude, you can see the damn air, it is so humid,” Rodney whined from the tiny sliver of shade remaining behind the duplex, outside of Tay’s roofed enclosure. “I will never moan about early afternoons in August in Phoenix ever again.”

For her part, Tay’s mage gave thanks that they were outdoors, and he wasn’t serenading the dawn. André looked over at her from the other side of the generator’s shed. “I now fully understand what you meant about Tay having a voice for silent movies, my lady.” He frowned at the wires and the panel on the wall. “Can you move the flashlight closer?”

Lelia did as asked. They’d waited until Wednesday evening to look at the generator, and the heat and humidity had returned.

“Ah. There’s the problem.” André frowned, then backed out of the confined space. Lelia did the same. “The circuit breaker is too small. It’s supposed to be either the pellet stove, or the ‘fridge. Not the pellet stove and the fridge.”

I think I’m relieved. “So the solution is reset the breaker and make a note not to open the fridge so often when the generator is running?”

He removed a handkerchief out of one trouser pocked and wiped his forehead. “No. It is to call an electrician to replace the circuit breaker, and pick which appliance is more important. That breaker shouldn’t be allowing the fridge and pellet stove to run at the same time. The circuit is overheating. That was the discoloration on the breaker. It should have tripped a lot sooner.”

Lelia tried to remember what overheating circuit breakers meant. “Um, so it might eventually burn the wall a little before it failed?”

White eyebrows rose. “No, my lady, it would burn the wall, the generator, and the house they are attached to.” He sounded patient.

Lelia started to bristle at his tone, then caught herself. He has a lot more experience with these things. She hunted for an example, one that she’d seen. “Ah, so, it would be like plugging a bunch of things into a power strip and surge protector, and the surge protector ignored a lightning bolt?”

He smiled and nodded. “You got it. It needs to be changed. I don’t care to wake up to find the entire wall on fire.” He kept his tone light, but she could see the memories rising. She took his hand for a moment, just holding it. The sweat on his palm didn’t all come from the heat. His fingers closed on hers, acknowledging the contact, then relaxed. She let go. She was there, he knew it, that was all he needed. She was learning.

They retreated indoors, Rodney dragging in behind them. Tay opted to sprawl over one of the logs on the bottom of the lemur tree and bask in the heat. Rodney drained the bowl on his water fountain, and André refilled it, adding two cubes of ice. “You are a wonderful,” slurp, “kind,” slurp, “person, boss.” Sluurrrp. Lelia handed Rodney’s mage a glass of herbal iced tea. He kissed her cheek, then sagged into one of the kitchen chairs.

“Thank you for looking at that. I’m sorry I didn’t think to ask while the weather was still cool-ish.” Lelia told him. She leaned on the counter and fanned. She’d scored four black or navy cotton gauze poet’s shirts at the community thrift, but even the loose weave didn’t make up for the humidity filling the valley and marinating Riverton.

“I’m just glad I got everything moved before this started,” André told her. “Looking at the generator’s nothing compared to moving boxes.”

“Or planters,” Rodney sighed. “Rich is grousing. Mrs. Wilmington decided that she liked things better the way they were two re-locations ago, so Mike is having to move the planters again. And she still hasn’t forgiven Rich for digging up the colanchos and almost uprooting her new azalea.”

“How’s Mike doing?” Lelia inquired.

Rodney wagged his silver-white brush. “Better. He’s absorbing lessons like a dry sponge, enough so that Uncle Leopard wonders if he almost picked up magic on his own despite his uncle. Rich thinks Uncle Leopard’s right, but neither one is saying anything to Mike.” The kit fox hesitated, and Lelia nodded once. “They still have not heard anything from his sire and dam.”

“It’s not worth tracking them down,” André said, voice cold and hard. “Uncle Leopard and Mrs. Leopard have legal custody until Mike’s birthday, and then he’ll be eighteen. If they don’t want to be found that hard, why find them?”

Lelia scowled. So we can punish them, bring them to justice for what they allowed to happen, for what they almost did to Mike. She took a deep breath, counting to eight as she inhaled and eight as she exhaled, releasing her anger and tension. Emotion becomes intention, intention becomes action. Justice will come, it always does. Not fast enough for her taste, sometimes, but it would come.

“On a much, much lighter topic,” André said, finishing his tea and setting the glass down on the table. “I want to get married before February.”

Huh? “How much sooner, gentle sir?” Eddie won’t have the dress done until early September at the soonest, and André’s not a resident of the state yet.

He shook his head, smiling a little. “Not tomorrow, dark my lady. Early October at the soonest, because things will be much, much easier once I have state residency. Not the church wedding, either, because . . .” He let his words fade. “Because that really needs to be in Utah for family peace, heart of my heart. But the civil, legal wedding should be earlier, if you agree. The longer we’re married, the easier it is for me to have you listed as the next of kin and beneficiary with the military, so you’ll be notified if something happens, and so you have the legal right to make certain decisions.”

Lelia hid her reaction by pouring herself a glass of tea and adding another cup of water to Rodney’s fountain, then letting Tay in. Tasks done, she’d recovered enough control to say, “I take it your desire to get married earlier means that the Army remains intransigent?” Her voice didn’t shake—much.

André got up and moved to stand beside her. “May I?” She nodded and he took her in his arms. “Yes. The dreaded phrase ‘needs of the Army’ was invoked. I do not foresee being called to active duty before next spring, dark rose, love. But I do not want to tempt fate.” The unhappiness in his voice made her feel a little better.

“And you being married will make having André named as co-owner of the trust easier,” Tay added from atop the kitchen table. She looked at the door, checking that she’d remembered to lock it this time. “He can’t block you also having access, but he could have the power of temporary veto.”

André leaned back so he could look into her eyes. “Veto? On the trust?”

Her mouth went dry and she nodded, not breaking gaze. “Shadow, I don’t— I’m an alcoholic and a junkie. If the need gets too strong, I could do a lot of damage with that money. A very lot. I don’t trust myself.” Admitting it hurt. “Dear Lord, Shadow, you have no idea how horrible—” She shook too hard to finish the thought, and she looked down.

He pulled her closer and stroked her back, just being there. He was stronger, he didn’t feel the need monster’s claws, didn’t remember the chemical paradise of heroin, didn’t long for the happy numbness of booze when life got complicated or hard.

After several minutes, he said, “I’m starting to understand all those references in the Bible to the problems brought about by the love of money. That’s the money you are using to pay off the duplex?”

“Yes. I’d forgotten about it until the lawyer called me in March. It’s fifty thousand a year.” She took a deep breath. “I’m trying to pretend that it’s not there, so I don’t do something stupid.”

In grave tones, he asked, “Stupid like fly first class to Amsterdam to hear Within Temptation live next week? Or to go on an around-the-world trip visiting all the great cemeteries and haunted castles?”

Lelia managed to smile, almost. “That’s not stupid, that’s living every goth’s dream! And not funding research into finding the secret to making all black dyes fade at the same rate.”

“Oh, you should to that,” Tay exclaimed. “Totally do that, because you’d get sooooo much good karma from all the goths, metal-heads, professional musicians, emo-kids, and clergy that you’d be curse proof for at least a month.”

Both mages managed to smile at that, and André released her. “Barring surprises, or I should say more surprises than usual,” he added quickly, to forestall any listening minion of fate, “early October? I seem to recall that Master Saldovado was rather insistent that you not be distracted between October 15 and Christmas.” His smile turned both wary and defensive.

Lelia smiled back. “That matches my memory, so yes, that sounds like a very good plan.”

“So, we sort it out, not this month, but after July? Because my Reserve weeks are in mid-July.” His smile collapsed. “When the bugs are at their peak, and the heat, and humidity, and it is the hardest for people like me to appear cool and unruffled as we chase other people around and around.”

He looks like one of those droopy-faced dogs at the dog shows. One of her former mother’s friends had owned one, and child-Lelia had always wondered what had happened to make the dog so unhappy. “Can you sic’ Rodney on whoever needs to be chased, or throw shadow balls at them?”

“Alas no, dark my lady. When magic users in the military are not using magic, our superior officers find,” he made air quotes with his fingers, ” ‘useful’ things for us to do.”

Rodney made a rude sound from beside his fountain, then rolled onto his back and did a commendable impression of roadkill.

“That sounds rather like being in jail or a half-way house, gentle sir. Idle hands being the devil’s playthings and all that.”

He drooped a little more, then straightened up and drank more tea. “For junior enlisted, very much so. Think of them as a lot of teenaged boys with too much energy, far too much creativity, and access to lots of potentially exciting toys.” André sniffed, tipping his head back a little. “Not that I ever got into mischief when I was a junior enlisted.”

Right, and I’m the Queen of Sheba. She contented herself with a slightly skeptical look, then finished her own tea before getting Tay some fruit.

“And thinking of idle time, I want to measure the living room for the book cases, since I do need to start going through books and reviewing things.” André set the glass down and bounced into the living room, far too energetic, Rodney trotting along behind.

Lelia went upstairs to use the restroom. As she washed her hands, she saw both her reflection in the mirror, and the memory of herself when she was still shooting up heroin. Did André really understand how hard it was for her to stay clean? “He needs to see, to know, to understand.” She undid the pins and braid holding her hair up, shaking out the length. It lacked only two or three inches of brushing her waistband. Then she ducked into the bedroom and changed out of her long-sleeved blouse and into a black tank-top.

Her hands trembled as she came down the steps. Breathe, you idiot. She took a deep breath and set her foot on the floor. After a pause to breathe again, she walked around the corner and into the living room. André was measuring the space between her sewing corner and the fireplace surround and whispering numbers under his breath. When he finished making notes on his phone, she coughed. He turned around and stared, then caught himself. “Your hair really is long!” he blurted.

She almost exploded with giddy, relieved laughter. Instead she smiled. “Yes. That’s why there’s a plumbing snake in the upstairs bathroom, so I can clean out the drain. No one told me that really long, thick hair means really unhappy pipes if you’re not careful.”

He put the phone in its belt case, set the measuring tape on the mantle, and approached her. His smile faded. He raised one eyebrow as he reached for her left hand. She extended it, making it easier for him to see the inside of her arm. She held out the other arm as well, showing the pattern of dots and raised veins, all scar tissue. “They are called needle tracks. Each one was at least one dose of heroin.” She licked her lips. “There are also a few on my legs, because I ran out of good injection sites on my arms.”

He met her eyes. “Love, I have no idea what to say.”

“You don’t have to, gentle sir. But I didn’t want—” She tried again. “It wouldn’t be right for you to marry me without seeing what you’re getting. I’m a high mileage model.”

André shook his head, one corner of his mouth curving up. He gently released her wrist. “We’re a match, then.” He unbuttoned his left cuff and pushed the sleeve up as far as it went, revealing burn scars and some of the marks left by the abyssal creature’s bite. “The other arm’s not quite as bad. There’s more on my back, plus the metal chunks in my shoulder. Somehow the flames missed my legs. That, or the material of my trousers did as it was supposed to.” Bitterness filled his voice. “I’ll never have full range of motion back.”

She moved closer and reached for his left wrist. “Permission to touch?” she asked.

“Granted.”

Lelia took his hand, then rested her fingers on the shiny pink splashes marring his fair skin. He twitched, but didn’t pull away. “Does it hurt?”

“Only when I’m stupid and don’t keep moving and stretching. Your touch doesn’t hurt. In fact, I’ve lost some of the nerves, so I don’t feel anything if it just brushes the skin.” She looked at his eyes. Pain, guilt, a hint of what might be raw hatred, and fear. “Now you know why I never, ever wear short sleeves.”

Rodney snorted from the beside the couch. “Not that you did much before, boss. Your dad managed to hammer that much sense into you.”

Lelia eased her fiancé’s arm up a little and snugged herself against his side, carefully avoiding the lump of firearm hiding in his belt. “So, gentle sir, you’re saying that the mosquitoes have gained an unfair advantage?”

The twist on his lips turned into a tired smile, and he pivoted so he could put both arms around her. “Just so, dark my lady.” She tipped her face up so he could kiss her, then rested her head against his right shoulder. He stroked her back, sighing, “We seem to be a pair.”

“Yeah,” Tay chimed in. “She can hide your Christmas and birthday presents on the top shelves and you’ll never find them.”

“Feel free to throw something at him,” Lelia told André. “He’s got fast reflexes, and I won’t see or hear a thing.”

He let go of her, bowed, and kissed her right hand. “Thank you, love. I shall wait to collect on my debt until a more opportune time.” He straightened and re-fastened his cuff. “And until we sort out which books can come down here, and which ought to stay upstairs.”

She wrinkled her nose. “If they act like the one in that movie, then they stay upstairs. I do not care to come down here before coffee and be attacked by roaming tomes.”

“If you see any of my books moving under their own power, please call clergy.”

“Ahem.” Tay cleared his throat, then climbed onto the back of the fainting couch. “Roaming tomes and related. The belt buckle. The Lees are back in town, and now would be a good time to look at Mr. Lee’s copy of Archimandrite Waldemar’s pattern book, to see if anything matches.”

(C) 2020 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved