Similarities to Persons Living or Dead 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.
SIMILARITIES TO PERSONS LIVING OR DEAD
After some fast-talking, attentive forensic support and more than a few aspirins, the police finally seemed satisfied that Alex Gold hadn’t died when they originally thought he had, but instead when I put a stop to him. They almost seemed to pretend to care about that and the murders he had committed. They knew how dangerous an insane idealist could be and I was sure they were really glad that I’d done their dirty work for them. Just to be thorough, I intended to attend the cremation and make sure he stayed gone. I had the feeling Gold would’ve appreciated that himself.
“Well,” Jonni said, closing the wine bottle and the bone chalice into their fitted oak case, “at least you ended up with another trophy I can decorate your place with.”
“Yeah, and a rare antique, too,” Harmony added. “You ended up with something cool out of this after all, Brick.”
“No, cash is fine, really,” I said.
“I’m sorry, Brick,” Harmony said. “I know this whole mess was all headache and no payday, but you saved my life and I do appreciate it.”
“Stone,” Pete Moss said, barging into my office with Helen Blazes at his heels.
“You look familiar,” I said. “Captain of the Titanic, right? You driving that beast till it hits bottom?”
“With your help,” Moss said, “we expect to keep that from happening. We heard about what happened with Gold yesterday. What were you able to learn from him?”
“Before we get into that,” I said, “let’s get something else straight: I don’t talk to the dummy.”
“What?” Moss asked.
“Ladies, have you ever seen one of those ventriloquist acts where the audience gets all worked into it and people start arguing with the dummy?” I asked. “Well, I‘m not one of those people. If you want to know something, ask me yourself Helen.”
“Well, as long as we’re being direct, I need that money, Brick,” Helen responded, pushing Moss aside and stepping forward. “The reports of Alex Gold’s actual death have been all over the news, which means Corvus is, too. There are a lot of questions to answer and Corvus needs that money.
“Not to mention the Conditum Paradoxum,” I said.
“You found the--! *ahem* I mean, the what?”
“Fine, pretend you don’t need that, too,” I said. “Gold told us enough to make it clear that you’d be better off with it than without it, though, Jamal Qadish would rather be paid off with cash than with a magic bottle of wine, I‘m sure.”
“The wine would make life easier, to be sure,” she admitted. “For now, just tell me about the money.”
“Gold didn’t know where it was,” I said. “I haven’t seen it and I don’t know that I’d tell you if I had.”
“What?” she asked, seeming to be genuinely surprised. “I mean, I thought you and I had hit it off so well. We had such chemistry--”
“That you thought I’d be putty in your hands? You didn’t level with me,” I said. “Since then, I’ve heard more than enough about what you do with chemistry.”
“Gold had plenty to say about Project: Snugglebunny or whatever you’re calling it, you monster! He told us about that and a whole lot of other depraved things Corvus is up to,” Harmony said harshly. “There should be laws against what you’re doing!”
“Fortunately, the mad scientist lobby is far too vocal for that to happen anytime soon. As long as people want death rays, killer robots, high-grade wacky putty, an obscenely comfortable couch or a hundred new recipes for llama or trilobite and they don‘t care where it comes from, research that pushes the envelope of good taste and reason will continue.”
“Well, the public certainly won’t like what you’re up to,” Harmony said. “We are talking about cuteness, after all.”
“You are so getting coal in your stocking,” Jonni said, pointing accusingly with the Wayfarer‘s Arcanum. How long had she been holding that thing?
“I would like to know,” I said, “just out of curiosity, how Moss slipped up.”
“How do you mean?” Helen asked.
“Well, I’m assuming that he was actually in charge at some point,” I explained. “Gold certainly thought so. He hated him and, unless it was you making him express it, Moss was harboring some mutual ire for him, too.”
“Fair enough,” Helen said.
“So how did he end up as your bitch-boy?” I asked her.
“It was the money problems,” Helen said. “The company took to paying more and more of my salary and benefits with stock options. As the average IQ of the accounting department continued to plunge, they lost track somewhere and I ended up owning the lion’s share of the company.”
“So?” Jonni asked.
“I became Corvus, dear,” Helen said. “The magic behind the restored dead recognized me as the head of the company.”
“And who are you to argue with a giant brass crow that screams inside your head?” I asked.
“You heard it scream?” Helen asked with some surprise. “You shouldn’t touch the crow, Brick.”
“You’re telling me.”
“And you were getting after us about touching stuff,” Jonni said. “How about that?”
“I got onto you two about insanely touching a specific, very dangerous item. Completely not relevant.”
“Did you two need a minute?” Helen asked.
“Sorry. No, I think we’re good,” I said. “Do continue.”
“Anyway, I let him keep on directing things for awhile, but he didn’t seem to get any smarter,” Helen said, “so--”
“You had your zombie minions do him in,” Harmony accused, “and seized the reins of power!”
“How sinister,” Helen said calmly. “Your mind does dwell in dark places, doesn’t it? There was a lab…incident which appeared to trigger a fatal heart attack in poor Director Moss. Thanks to Corvus, through the Society of Crows, it’s as if it never occurred.”
“That’s a health insurance plan?” Jonni asked. “I’ll be good with major medical, Brick.”
“You’ll get an hour for lunch and like it, doll,“ I said. “So, Helen, you keep Moss walking and talking and when the house of cards crashes down they’ll still be looking for him and not his charming executive secretary.”
“And he even does all the paperwork,” Helen said with a self-assured smile. “Whatever happens, I’ve made arrangements. One should always plan for the future.”
“And that about sums it up,” I said. “Now get your assets out of here.”
“You’ll never see a day’s worth of work from anyone I know, Brick.”
Or Helen naked. I sighed. Why did dames have to be so much trouble? Why did water have to be wet? “Keep making threats and I’ll go back over there and blow a hole in your big brass bird. I’ll bet your puppets won’t stay too mobile with their strings cut. Of course, my bank account’s gonna be in the black long after people are still saying ‘Corvus who?’”
“Even if he were broke and starving,” Jonni added, “he wouldn’t take business from you! He’s got too much class!”
“Out, Moss,” Helen commanded sharply, as she moved toward the door. “It’s so sad, Brick. We could’ve been magic together.”
“I’ve seen your magic. I have special bullets for that, thanks,” I said. “I’m so glad they stopped by. Good laughs.”
“Was there smoke coming out of her ears?” Harmony asked with a giggle.
“Brick, you’ve had a look in your eye,” Jonni said with a knowing smirk. “You’ve had an extra day to reflect, so where do you think the money went?”
“Oh, do enlighten us, Brick. I want to be able to sleep tonight.”
“OK, but this is merely speculative,“ I said with a smile. “Sheila told Gold that he’d taken the coins with him, even though he denied knowing anything about where they were.”
“One of the puzzlers that led to her death,” Harmony said.
“She was playing with ‘You can’t take it with you.’”
“Just like she thought it was funny to meet with Gold in the cemetery.”
“Sure,” Jonni said, “so we’re getting some shovels and heading for the cemetery? Where do we keep the shovels, boss?”
“Not today,” I said. “According to the records, while Gold had a nice memorial service, whoever’s body was used in place of his was cremated. Among the personal items Sheila kept in her hotel suite at the Ambassador was the urn that was supposed to be Gold’s. That’s where she kept the gold coins until she decided to start hiding them in plain sight.”
“You think she had the coins turned into jewelry or some kind of art maybe, Brick?” Harmony asked.
“Actually, I think she laundered it through her husband’s nightclub, The Looking Glass, when she started doing the books there. The cash infusion could’ve easily helped them turn the place into one of the hottest spots in town.”
“On top of that, she’d stolen the Conditum Paradoxum from Corvus,” Jonni said.
“Yeah, I was wondering about that,” Harmony said. “Her husband said she drank from it almost every day. I thought it was for keeping the Corvus puppets from falling over. What would it do for her?”
“I looked up the name in one of my books,” Jonni said. “It means ‘wine of spice and surprise.’”
“You’ve got research books, too?” I asked. “You are so overqualified.”
“Thanks, Brick,” Jonni smiled.
“Don’t let it go to your head,” I told her. “What kind of surprises do we get from magic wine? No hangovers?”
“At the least,“ she replied. “This stuff hasn‘t been made since before the fall of the Roman Empire.”
“So it should be well-aged by now,“ I said.
“The enchantment refills the bottle everyday so it never runs out,” Jonni said. “That’s how Corvus was able to keep giving the wine to their recycled labor force to keep them from breaking down and falling over dead again. Being alive, though, Sheila was being juiced full of vitality, luck and all the best of life, but it only works when drinking the wine from the bone chalice. The magical rewards for her probably spilled over to the nightclub and the people closest to her.”
“Then, she realized she was being followed,” I said, “so she separated them, keeping the chalice at home and the wine at the Ambassador. As the pressure mounted, she had to stop going to visit the hotel. Without continuing to drink from the wine, the benefits faded.”
“Like sobering up backwards?” Harmony asked.
“Which meant bad luck and diminishing capacities for her,” Jonni said, “until she was killed.”
“Gold was a mental case and not too bright,” I said. “She should‘ve known better than to aggravate him the way he said she did, but she probably got overconfident in thinking she could keep him under control.”
“So what’re you going to do next, Brick?” Harmony asked.
“The money, the magic wine, Corvus…”
“Well, Helen‘s right, Corvus isn’t breaking any laws we know about,” I said, “so the company gets left to the mercy of public opinion and creative finance…and Jamal Qadish.”
“Right, Fenrir‘s son,” Jonni said with a shudder. “I don’t think I’d wish that on anyone. Well, wait a minute, there was this guy--”
“Hey, they brought that on themselves. No one forced them to make a deal with him,” I pointed out. “She seems to think she’s got her ass covered, anyway, so I wouldn’t lose any sleep over that either. The magic wine seems better off out of circulation and it didn’t come with anybody’s name on it. So, I guess that stays with us, especially since it looks like the only payment I‘m gonna see out of this and that‘s one thing the handbook is very clear about: always get paid.”
“And the money?” Harmony asked.
“What money? I’m no accountant. I didn’t find any money. I was just speculating.”
“I don’t work for bunny killers,” I said.
“And I work for a cool boss,” Jonni said with a delighted smile. “Let those Corvus bozos find their own money.”
“I’m glad you’re not just out for money, Brick,” Harmony said. “You’re a good man. I’d make you dinner, but I’m leaving this crazy town and heading back to San Francisco.”
“You sure you want to trade this crazy town for that crazy town? It’ll be a tough time finding dates.”
“No, remember, Brick,” Jonni whispered at me, “she’s a thespian.”
“And you’re leaving me to this.”
“If it’s any consolation, I’m going to visit my family, Brick, so I’m not supposed to enjoy myself either,” Harmony said, giving us hugs and heading for the door. “You two take care of each other and let me know if you ever find out anything about Ausparlous.”
“Looks like it’s just you and me, kid.”
“Yup,” Jonni said with a beaming smile.
“You hungry? I’m buying.”
“Your place. I’m cooking.”
“I don’t think there’s food there. That doesn’t sound like the kind of thing I usually keep around.”
“I thought I saw…something there.”
“You may have cleaned the wrong apartment.”
“I want to show you how your apartment looks now,” Jonni said, pulling me to my feet. “We’ll get take-out if we have to, maybe from The Looking Glass.”
“I’ve seen my apartment before,” I told her. “A couple of times it was even in focus.”
“You’ve never seen it while having dinner with me before,” she told me, smiling coyly as she twirled the Wayfarer‘s Arcanum like a cheerleading baton. “Besides, we have lots to talk about.”
“All true,” I agreed. “Your choice of walking stick, for example.”
“I guess it would make a good one, wouldn’t it?” she pondered as she touched a rune and made it grow a foot longer. “Oh, yeah, I could plan an outfit around an accessory like this.”
“Well, someone’s been busy with research time.”
“Yeah, I think I even figured out how to mix some of those weird drinks you like.”
Drinks and a blonde? “Wait, this sounds familiar. Isn’t this how I lost three days before?”
“I checked your calendar,” Jonni said. “Your secretary says you’re free.”
“I’m going to have to have a talk with her,” I said, “about my scheduling in accordance with the guidelines of the standard issue Official Private Eye Handbook.”
“As luck would have it,” she said, “she’s already scheduled to attend that same dinner meeting.”
My karma from burning the handbook was obviously catching up to me. “Lucky me,” I sighed.
She smiled, saying, “You don’t know the half of it, boss.”