Table of Contents
appear in this issue.
The service elevator was taped shut with a large ‘Out of Order’ sign hanging on the door and the entryway bulb had burned out. I thought unpleasant things at the maintenance man and eyed the stairwell.
“Is that the only elevator?” Jason asked.
I didn’t see any other elevator doors on the wall so I cranked my head around and looked at Jason over my shoulder. “Yes.”
“There’s not one in the main lobby?”
I started to roll my eyes then remembered Jason had never been through main entrance of the tower. “No. Well yes, there is, but it only goes to the second floor. We’d still have to climb a couple flights of stairs.”
I could feel him hesitate behind me and wondered what was going through his mind. I moved out of his way and watched him. He tensed and glanced at me. I could almost see a light bulb click on over his head as he realized I was waiting for him to make a decision.
I crossed my arms and stood silently, watching him fidget. The way I saw it, if he wanted to consider us married before anything was on file at the courthouse, then he could start being the man. Well some of the time at least. I wasn’t ready to become a submissive little wife.
He hesitated, tried to read the expression on my face, and opened the stairwell door. “We’re already here; we might as well start climbing.”
I smiled, joined him in the dark stairwell and cast the light spell. The phosphorescence flashed up the stairs, ran back down the rails and covered the walls. Jason turned around slowly, staring at the glowing concrete and tried to pretend nothing was out of the ordinary. I chuckled. “It’s not radioactive, Jason. It’s just an illusion of light.”
“Sure.” His voice didn’t sound sure, and his expression wasn’t either, but he did a pretty good job of pretending not to be bothered. I grinned, squeezed his hand and started up the stairs. He took a deep breath and followed me.
Gino took longer to answer my knocking than it took us to climb four flights of stairs and walk down the hall to his apartment. He responded after almost fifteen minutes and cracked open the door. His eyes were bloodshot, his hair disheveled and his face wrinkled with lines I’d never seen before.
“Yer early.” His words were slurred and I must have stared a little too hard because he shut the door in my face without waiting for a response. He opened it again before I could do more than drop my jaw on the floor and stepped aside. “Come on in.” I shut my mouth and did as requested.
The sudden tension flowing off Jason as he stepped across the threshold behind me was enough to make my skin crawl. Gino felt it too because he left the door open, which he never did. “I ain’t gonna hurt ya, Jason.” He walked over to the easy chair and lowered his body into it with a grunt. “Yer safe.”
I reached behind me, found Jason’s hand and clasped it firmly in my own, then led the way to the only other chair in Gino’s living room and sat down. Jason followed me, reluctantly and stood behind the chair with his hands on my shoulders, his fingers clutching a little too tightly for comfort. I tried to ignore his panic and focused on Gino. “I’m sorry; we didn’t mean to wake you.”
“Ya didn’t.” Gino popped his neck and settled back in the chair. “I ain’t been ta sleep yet.”
Gino rubbed his eyes with his fingers and levered himself out of the chair. “’Scuse me.” He trudged out of the living room into what I hoped was the kitchen and spent several minutes making strange noises.
“We can come back...”
“No.” Gino’s voice sounded hollow, like he was talking through a tube. “Yer here now. Stay put. Gimme a minute.”
I reached up and curled my fingers around Jason’s hands. He quit clutching quite so hard. “Sorry.” His voice was barely audible and I almost couldn’t hear it over the sounds coming from the kitchen. “I didn’t...”
“It’s okay.” I kicked myself for not realizing what effect Gino’s apartment might have on him and tipped my head back so I could look up at him. “We won’t be here long. Okay?”
He looked down at me, took a deep breath and nodded. “Yes.” His voice was a little stronger and I felt him relax.
I smiled and sat back up. Gino walked out of the kitchen a second later, carrying a glass of fizzing blue liquid and returned to the easy chair. I waited until he’d gotten comfortable again before speaking. “Were you able to catch Darnell?”
“No.” Gino drank half the liquid without stopping then set the glass on the table by his chair. His hair stood out straight, blue sparks flew off the ends, his face shown brightly and he exploded in a cloud of greasy, orange smoke.
Jason jumped and clenched his fingers.
I winced from the sudden pain in my shoulders and waved the smoke away from my face. It dissipated rapidly to reveal a revitalized Gino sitting in the easy chair. He stretched, took a smaller drink and let out a belch. “Sorry about that.” He turned a piercing gaze on Jason and chuckled. “Yer pants still dry, kid?”
“Uh...” Jason’s vocabulary really didn’t do well under stress. I could feel him struggling for a few seconds before he finally got the words out. “Y-yes. Sir. Yes.”
Gino grinned. “Good.” He took another drink then turned his attention back to me. “Darnell... I hunted all night. I can’t find him. His apartment’s right next ta yours but he ain’t never lived in it. The only traces of’m in the tower is in here, yer bedroom and the elevator. I found a trail though, from the alley clear to the street. Guess he had a car parked out there last night.”
“But he was naked when he ran out of my room!”
“Yeah.” Gino snickered. “Guess he was naked when he ran out and got in his car too.” He swallowed some more of the fizzy liquid and burped. “I’ll keep huntin’, but he could be anywhere. City’s a big place. He don’t have ta be livin’ in the city neither. I’ll keep lookin’, but it’ll take me a while.”
I winced. A while, to Gino, might be anywhere from a couple months to a few years. I wanted Darnell caught long before that.
Gino’s face softened. “I’ll find ‘em fast as I can. I’ve got a couple of the senior wizard’s lookin’ too. I just can’t promise how quick it’ll be.”
“I also can’t do anythin’ about’m unless he comes back here.”
“What?” I shouted. I didn’t mean to, but the shock erupted out of me. “Why?”
“I don’t have any authority outside a’ this property. You might wanna call the cops.”
I did not want to call the cops. I wanted Darnell caught, but I didn’t want the civil authorities involved. That can of worms was too big and too messy and too dangerous. I didn’t want to attract their attention to the tower and what all went on here. I stared at Gino and shook my head. “No.”
Gino nodded. “Figured you’d say that.” He finished off his drink and set the empty glass on the table. “I’ll keep huntin’ and we’ll find’m fast as we can. I’ve stepped up the wards an’ set some traps. That boy sets so much as a hair on the property, we’ll have’m.”
“Thanks.” Great. As long as I didn’t leave the tower, or the little bit of ground it was sitting on, I’d be safe. Which meant I was going to be in danger most of the time. My job was on the other side of town, and so were necessary things like the grocery store and the laundromat. I forced a smile and stood. “I really appreciate it.”
“Yer welcome.” Gino’s voice carried an under-current of fury and his eyes sparkled. I was suddenly very glad I wasn’t in Darnell’s shoes and decided that the first chance I got, I was baking a four-layer, chocolate cake for my mentor. He grinned at me, stood and walked us to the door. “Jest be careful when yer not on the property till we catch’m.”
“I will.” I would too. Paranoia is great for improving caution. “Thanks again.”
We stepped into the hall and Gino shut the door behind us. Jason slumped against the wall and dropped his head in his hands. I put my arms around him and tried to think of something to distract him. He wrapped his arms around me and buried his face in my shoulder. “Jason... did you register yet?”
“For school. Your dad gave you the money. Did you register yet?”
“No.” He picked his head up and took a deep breath. “I was going to do that tomorrow.”
“Did you figure out what to take yet?”
I pulled him away from the wall, took his hand and started down the hall toward the stairs. “Just register for the basics then. There’s a bunch of things they’ll want you to take. Most freshmen don’t decide on a major until they get the basics...” I stopped talking and stood motionless in the hall, listening to myself saying the same thing to Darnell. “The college. He’s majoring in poly-sci. Someone in the poly-sci department should know how to find him!”
“What?” Jason was distracted all right. Now he was confused. I didn’t have time to explain.
“Come on, we have to take a walk.”
I ignored him, dragged him down the hall and headed rapidly down the stairs. The college held classes every day during the summer, but most people went home in the early afternoon, especially on Sundays. It was either catch someone now or wait till after we got done at the courthouse Monday, and I didn’t want to wait that long. I stood impatiently in the alley until Jason caught up, grabbed his hand and ran toward the college.
The answers I wanted were some where on the campus and I was going to get them... or die trying.
Copyright © 2006 by Crystalwizard