Thursday, June 2, 2011

16307--A Knowledge of Heather (Ch. 6)

Happy Thursday. To help keep my own feet to the fire, I'm using Thursday as my public accountability day. That means, posting a bit of coherently creative output for you to read and feedback on every week. If I perform according to my own intent, what I put here will be available as a whole elsewhere at the same time or shortly after appearing here.

A Knowledge of Heather is currently available as a part of The Official Private Eye Handbook, first book in the CITY OF MAGICK series.  Please, feel free to take a look here, though, and at subsequent chapters. Let me know how you feel about it.  For those of you finding your way here relatively late, no problem. The start of the story is just a click away.

Chapter 6

     And there it was. One second I was getting closed up in an elevator with a loudmouth fool, wearing an eye-blistering amount of what I assumed was cologne, and the next I was opening my eyes to at least twenty-five hundred square feet of office space decorated in early Hell. A couple of…girls in leather, blood-red bikinis and thigh-high boots smiled at me and silently gestured me toward an eight-foot wide black marble desk sitting in front of floor-to-ceiling windows that loomed beyond. One of my guides ran her tongue along one of her fangs and blew me a kiss. The other made a low growl as she pushed some hair back behind a pointy ear.
     “Thanks,” I said. “Love what you’ve done with the place, ladies. It screams ‘Welcome to the Dark Side.’ Where‘s the soul check room?”
     They both pointed toward the far end of the office. I started walking along the polished stone floor, torches hung on the walls but didn’t keep the place from being oppressively gloomy. I started to feel the heat of the fire pit that blazed a few feet in front of the desk. The taste and smell of brimstone still seemed better than breathing Boyle’s cologne. Behind the desk was a huge black leather chair and in it was parked a pale, slender man who had made a reputation for himself throughout The City built on fear and power. He stood up from his chair in his red shirt and black suit that must’ve cost more than everything I owned. I looked into his soulless eyes and was sure he was trying to get a reading on me. He had snow white hair and deep lines in his face from who knew how many years of doing whatever he did that put him behind that desk and kept him there. From his cushioned leather chair, he could look down on the millions of bugs scurrying below just waiting to be crushed under his foot.
     “Get you a drink, Stone?” he asked. “Or perhaps a smoke?”
     He began to lift his hand and a lit cigar suddenly appeared between his fingers.
     “No, thanks,” I declined.
     “You’re sure? They’re Cubans.”
     “Yeah,” I assured him, “I’m good.”
     “Yes, you are, aren’t you? The good man,” he said with contempt, but being an evil wizard crime lord I don‘t think he could‘ve said it any other way. “That makes you a rare resource in this city and quite a handful to deal with I’ve heard.”
     “And yet, here I am, being granted a rare audience.”
     “Yes,” my host said, “but as this is our first meeting, I’ll keep this brief and let you get back to work.”
     “Oh, there’s no rush,” I assured him. “Kick back. Throw another peasant on the fire. I was expecting to hear from you.”
     “Indeed, detective. How alert of you,” the wizard said, blowing smoke from his nostrils. “The task I have for you shouldn’t give you any trouble at all then.”
     “Do tell.”
     “Of course, enough of pleasantries and on to business,” he said, exhaling a cloud of smoke that seemed to cling to him. “Suffice it to say that we are aware of each other.”
     “Right,” I said. “Dark wizard engaged in ruthless business in a chaotic realm needs to engage the services of roguishly handsome guy who finds stuff in exchange for stacks of money.”
     “Now, do I give the bill for my TV to you or to one of the girls?” I asked. “All the smoke came out, so it’s dead.”
     “Some of my minions recently lost a unique item,” he went on. “None of my regular employees have had the acumen to recover the item.”
     “Competent help can be so hard to find, though I suppose it‘s not their fault that you sent them to search my apartment to steal this thing on the off-chance that I was hiding it for the thieves.”
     “Yes,” he sighed, slowly exhaling another great white cloud of smoke. “The item is resistant to direct divination. Instead, I’ve found it more productive to determine those with whom its connection is strong. Though you’ve not come into contact with it yet, it appears that you will soon.”
     “I see. This…item have a name?”
     “It does,” he told me, “but all you need to know is that you’re looking for a box resembling a small steamer trunk. It has brass latches and fittings and a skin of padded brown leather.”
     “And inside is…?”
     “Don’t play games with me, detective! Just find the box and get it back to me,” he said grimly. “Don’t open it. It‘s warded by powerful magic.”
     “Strong enough that even you can’t find it,” I said, “but nothing that protects it from being moved or stolen or opened. Someone must’ve redefined the function of a ward since I last heard.”
     “Just fnd the box--!”
     “--and get it back to you, I know,” I said. “Now am I going to address that to --‘Morgan Locke’ or--”
     “Neither of us has time for games, detective. When you have it ready for me, call me. Given your reputation, I expect quick and definitive results.”
     “Right. About my fee--”
     I was back in the elevator. My nose hairs were starting to burn. Part of me was already starting to long for the brimstone and succubi.
     “Hey, you coming or what?” Boyle asked, looking at me from the lobby impatiently.
     “Yeah, yeah,” I said, starting to walk. I felt a weighty jingle in my coat pocket as I dug for my car keys. Very subtly, I drew out a black velvet pouch and peeked inside. It took a lot of willpower, but I maintained my poker face. Boyle had no idea I’d just had what looked to be about fifty gold sovereigns magicked into my pocket and I wanted to continue keeping him in the dark about it. It only seemed fair. People were keeping me in the dark about everything else.

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