by Tamara Sheehan
Table of Contents|
appear in this issue.
A gentle tap tap tap on the front door startled Saul out of an uneasy sleep. He kicked off the covers and pulled on a shirt and jeans. Tap tap tap. The hall was flooded with pale morning light, the familiar lay on the empty couch.
“Damn,” Saul grunted, and threw open the door.
Howie was standing in the hallway. He was still wearing the hoodie and jeans from the night before. His hair was flattened on one side, as if he’d slept with his head cradled by his arm. He smiled when he saw Saul. “Made it back in once piece, hey?”
Saul nodded, stepped aside to let him in. Howie stepped into the hall and closed the door behind him. “Everything all sorted?” He turned and saw a sign of the visitor: A corner of the green comforter poked out from under the bathroom door. Howie pointed.
“Saul, what’s that?”
“Christ,” Saul said it like a thank-you. “That’s where he’s gone.”
Howie was watching him closely. “Having problems with the new familiar?”
“Not exactly.” Saul pressed his ear to the wood and heard heavy, slow breathing. He put a finger to his lips. “Still sleeping.”
“Saul, you didn’t bring the guy back here?” Howie’s expression showed he knew the answer to his question. “Oh God. What’s the matter with you? Why do you do this sort of thing?”
“I’ve got a good reason.”
“You always do.”
Saul retreated to the kitchen. “I’m going to make a coffee, want one?”
Howie followed. “Nice change of subject. Yes, I do want coffee. And breakfast.” He yawned theatrically, kicked his shoes across the linoleum and into the disordered heap at the door. “Consider it payment for the crap night I had.”
“You had a crap night?”
“Certainly did. Audel’s been putting the heat on Bridge.”
Saul put a finger to his lips, shushed him. Howie shrank. Bugs? He mouthed. Saul shook his head. He gestured Howie through the kitchen, to the living room where the familiar dozed. He threw open the drapes and pulled open the balcony door.
“What? What?” Howie hissed. “Judas Priest, have they bugged your place?”
“No, it’s... well, he won’t come out here. Howie, it’s so weird. This guy, with Audel’s ring.” He shook his head. “He’s Audel’s son.”
Howie laughed at the sky. “Man, you are so gullible.”
“He knew about the bombs, Howie.” Saul could hear himself reasoning through it. He’d spent so much of the night reasoning through it that the words came automatically to his lips.
“He said he placed nine bombs. Tau told me there were nine, but only eight went off. How would he know if he hadn’t done it? He is who he says he is, I’m sure of it.” He paused. “He’s pretty screwed up about his dad.”
Howie nodded, reaching up in a stretch. “Yeah well, his dad’s pretty screwed up.”
They stood silently for a moment, watching the traffic winding below. Howie scratched at an armpit. “You should probably look for bugs.” He suggested. “Just in case.”
“Maybe.” Saul grunted. “Is Bridge all right?”
Howie sighed. He took a cigarette package from his shirt pocket and tapped out a smoke. “’S okay. He was there last night.” Howie mumbled as he tried to light it. “Shz touh, y’know.” He drew in a puff and let it out with a sigh. “Said he’d have her charged with harboring criminals or some crap like that. Said he could get her on collaborating with terrorists.”
“What did Bridge say?”
Howie grinned. “She told him to screw himself, but in that diplomatic way she has. You know, the one where you think it’s a compliment.”
He sucked in more smoke. “I slept on her floor last night. She threw him and his joker bodyguard Mbeki out just fine on her own, but she was pretty rattled. She could get tossed out of law school if he hassles her bad.”
He ashed on Saul’s deck. “So why the hell didn’t you take the ring to Audel last night? Why are you pissing around here waiting for him to come get it?” “I don’t have it. Toven won’t give it to me.”
Howie gave him a flat look. “That’s ’cause he’s nuts, isn’t it?”
“No. Well, not really. He’s spent four years underground so he’s a bit weird, but he’s not nuts.”
Saul groped for something to say. The logic that had lead him last night seemed ridiculous and vague. “I’m not ready to do things that way. There’s something I want to know. I touched his mind and he knew I was there and he knew what I wanted. No one’s ever done that before. I want to know how he knows if he’s not a magician himself. Then I want to find out some way to get Audel off our backs.”
“What’s your plan?”
“Can I have a drag of that?” He took the cigarette, breathed in and let the hot smoke burn his chest. He coughed like a man drowning.
“You are not a smoker.”
“Yes, Howie, I’ve figured that out.” Saul wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. “I’m going to see if I can get Toven to call his dad. Tell him to leave us alone, forget about the ring.”
“That’s your plan?”
Howie hissed, smoke came out between his teeth. “So what... you’re sleeping with him?”
“Dammit to hell. Do you have to say things like that?”
“Well, listen to yourself.” Howie held up his hand and began to tick points off on his fingers. “One: You’ve got a guy who claims to be Edward Audel’s son. This guy, I might add, who you met in a sewer, that’s two. Three: He’s sleeping on your bathroom floor but you thought he’d scarpered in the night.”
Saul closed his mouth and avoided Howie's eyes.
“What am I at now, four? Four: You’re trying to tell me that your plan to get Audel off your back is to make the crazy man from the sewers call the man he’s scared to death of? Saul, you’d better be screwing him.”
Saul glowered and Howie met his gaze without flinching. “All right. You’re the master of escape. I’m in a bind.” He folded his arms. “What’s your suggestion?”
“Hey,” Howie held up his hands. “I’ve done my part with the maps and the gear. I go places I’m not supposed to go, that’s my job. Job done.”
Saul grunted, stepped back into the apartment. “Having coffee?”
“And breakfast. Couldn’t you just take the ring and give it to Audel?”
“Well then you’re screwed.”
“Free of charge.” Mister Familiar stood up on the pillows and mewed experimentally. Howie’s face lit up. “When’d you get a cat?”
“Oh, he’s new.”
Howie leaned down and made a kissing noise. “What’s his name?”
Saul grinned over the coffee maker. “Mister Familiar.”
“Ah.” Howie pulled his hand back. “Is he, you know, OK?”
Saul grinned at Howie and had the satisfaction of seeing him draw back from the purring creature.
“What’s it saying?”
No eat. Saul told it. “It likes you.” He said and turned. He could see a sliver of darkness appear between the door and the wall. “Morning.” He called, glancing at Howie.
“He’s up?” Howie stubbed out his cigarette and came into the living room. He peered around the corner at the apparition emerging from the bathroom and nodded. “Yep, looks just like dear old dad.”
Toven slouched out from the darkness of the bathroom. He looked better than the day before, clean, dressed in Saul’s ill-fitting clothes, rested, fed. There was something about his face that had eased, the tension of his jaw, the hunch of his shoulders. He glared from under his hair at Howie.
“Toven, this is Howie. The friend I told you about.” He heard his voice, straining to be cheerful. “Having coffee?”
Toven nodded. He looked resolutely away from Howie and the world beyond the balcony. “Thanks for the blanket.” He folded it and placed it neatly on the couch.
“Like the bathroom floor better than the couch?” Howie asked, dropping into a chair.
“Yes, I did.” The tone of Toven’s voice surprised Saul.
Grinning, Howie took a coffee from Saul. “So what about this ringy dingy your daddy’s looking for?”
“It was my mother’s.” Toven answered. Splotches of red had come to his colorless cheeks. He took the coffee Saul offered him and topped it with milk, the liquid amplified the shaking in his arms. He sat down on the floor, cradling the coffee in his lap. “It belongs to me.”
“If it had been me, I’d have knocked you down and taken it and let you worry about getting it back.” Howie told him, his smile had turned unfriendly. “You’re lucky Saul’s soft in the head. Let’s see it.”
Toven made a curious half-wave, Saul saw a glimmer of gold in the sunlight, saw the ring like a pale scar that circled Toven’s finger.
Howie looked around Toven at Saul and shook his head. “Nuts. I told you.”
Toven suddenly grinned. He leaned back, bracing himself on thin white arms. “You can’t see it because you’re not a magician. Saul can see it.” He moved his hand again. “Can’t you?”
It was like slight of hand, like a magic trick with coins. Saul caught a glimpse of the gold, noticed the scar. He felt certain he’d seen something catch the light.
Howie gave Saul a questioning look. “Can you see it?”
Saul nodded, a little smile spreading over his lips. He brought the coffee to his mouth and swallowed to have time to mask the expression.
“How come Howie can’t see it?”
“It might be because he’s got his head stuffed up his ass.”
Howie laughed, a sharp, unfriendly bark. “Saul your new kitten’s got claws. Make him play nice.”
“What am I, your mother? Stop provoking him.” Saul nodded at Toven. “And if his head isn’t stuck up his ass?”
“Then it’s probably because that’s the function of the ring.” He set down his coffee and began to talk with his hands. “It’s invisible to people without magic. It’s how I know when you’re in my mind.”
The logic was so simple that Saul let out a sharp breath. “That’s your explanation there, Howie.” He said. “Audel’s a businessman. He wants it to warn him when people are picking his brain.”
Howie shook his head, brandishing an unlit cigarette. “You’re the only magician in this city, Saul, the man said so himself.”
“Maybe I’m not. Maybe he was lying.”
“Wouldn’t be surprised, the man’s a toad.”
“He also trades with Shier. He has since I lived at home.” Toven’s voice had shrunk in proportion to their loudness. The bravado he had displayed was suddenly absent.
“There are wizards in Shier.” He drew in a breath, plunged on. “Ever since I was a kid he complained about the wizards on the War Chest Council. He wants the ring to keep his thoughts private, that’s why he used to wear it.” Toven looked from one face to another. “You could have just asked me.”
Howie shifted, threw one leg over the arm of the chair, set down the empty cup. “So what good does it do you? Lots of big business deals in the sewer?”
Toven glared out from under his hair. “It’s mine.” He snarled.
“Yeah, until I take it.”
“Relax, Howie.” Was Saul’s automatic response. Toven’s body had stiffened where he sat. His white lips stretched, sneering, across his teeth, hands balled up into fists, gripping the carpet like grass. The ring glimmered gold on his finger.
He’s being ridiculous. He can’t possibly use that ring, except if I go looking for him again. He frowned, knew he was staring at Toven while the pale man bickered with Howie. Neither seemed to notice his silence or his staring. I wouldn’t want to give up anything of my dad’s. Not even that broken watch.
The possibilities of the watch tugged at him. He’d half forgotten the conversation that had made him escape to his bedroom the night before. If he closed his eyes he could see the watch perfectly, the mangled band and broken face lying in the bottom of his underwear drawer.
It’s not going to bring him back. The rational part of his brain told him. He got to his feet anyway.
It seemed to tug him, pull him like nothing had ever done before. He felt an addicts longing to hold the watch and touch the last memory the hung hooked there. He realized Toven and Howie had stopped arguing, were watching him.
“’Scuse.” He said and padded down the hall into his bedroom.
Trotting silently behind him, the familiar followed him. Going to help? He asked it, gently closing the door, closing out the sounds in the living room. The cat grinned up at him.
Magic, it said.
Magic, he agreed.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2006 by Tamara Sheehan