Copyright © 2002 Chris Gonnerman. All Rights Reserved.
The next morning I awoke fairly late. I looked out the window and saw Mark's
car; obviously the late night had not been as hard on him as it had on me. I
quickly visited the upstairs bath, then dressed, deciding to go without a shave
I found Mark in the office, randomly surfing the Web with little interest. "Hi,
Solo. D'ja sleep okay?"
"Passably. Are you sure you want to be here today?"
"Well, Art made it real clear I'm not wanted at the hospital, and Laura is
taking care of Emily at their house; if I wasn't here, I'd be stewing over at my
apartment. Might as well have someone to talk to."
I looked around then. "Where's Mara?"
"In the kitchen I think. She hung out here for a while, but when she heard you
'crashing around' upstairs she went to do something in there."
"Did she really say 'crashing around?'" I asked.
Mark grinned, the first real smile I'd seen on him since Saturday. "Yup."
Just then I smelled xocholotl. Mara entered, bearing a steaming mug and a big
smile. I carefully took it from her and kissed her on the cheek. "You aren't
getting off that easy," she said, and kissed me rather deeply.
Mark cleared his throat, loudly. "Hey, it's your house, guys, but please don't
spill any hot beverages on the help!"
Mara took a step away, and stuck her tongue out at Mark. I suppose I smiled,
absently, as I took a careful sip of the hot drink. "Mara!" I exclaimed, "where
did you get this? It tastes as good as the best I ever had in Ta Charka!"
"Wait," she said. She went into the kitchen and returned with a small, fancy
looking box. I read the label: "Authentic Criollo Chocolate from Venezuela."
"It's the original, native cacao, according to what I read on several websites,"
she said. "Evidently it's good?"
I was too busy sipping to answer, so I nodded carefully. "Mmm." It was hard
not to just "knock it back" as Mark would say.
Mara kissed me on the cheek and took the empty cup. "Oh, no," I said, "you're
not getting off that easy." I grabbed her and kissed her enthusiastically.
Mark started to say something, but I took a break to say "Hey, no hot
beverages here." Then Mara pulled away, smiling, and went back toward
I sat down in one of the office chairs and looked at my friend. I was
happy to see him smiling. "I have a project for us, Mark."
"What is it?" he asked, trying to look serious.
"I was attacked and nearly killed Saturday afternoon." His jaw
dropped. I know it sounds cliche', but that's what it did. I
proceeded to tell him about the battle with the swordsman who called
himself Joseph Green, and showed him the strange note from that man's
master, who also called himself Joseph Green.
This led to a trip to the basement, where for the first time I lifted
the sword by its grip. Mark took it from me carefully and examined
"I'm no expert, but I'd say this is an unusual sword. I've never seen
a finger-loop like this before."
"Have you seen many swords?" I asked.
He grinned. "No, but I did play Dungeons and Dragons for several
years in college." Well, I had to ask, and he explained it to me.
"I would very much like to look at those rulebooks sometime," I said.
"I'll try to dig them up." Mark handed the sword back to me, and I
placed it across the remaining shelf brackets left from Dreamwalker's
"array" of zombie heads.
We went back up to the office. "So what do you want to do, Solo?"
"Well, I know nothing of the sword. I suppose I could learn to use
it, but I'd much rather have a staff. Mara pointed out to me that a
staff would be rather hard to conceal, but I couldn't put it out of my
mind. Look here," I said, grabbing the mouse and double-clicking a
shortcut. The web browser came up and showed a page where a
collapsible baton was listed for sale.
"Okay, I see the point, it's concealable, but it's only twenty-one
inches long. Won't make a very good quarterstaff."
I grabbed a piece of paper from the printer, found a mechanical pencil
and began to sketch. I consulted a ruler for correct modern
measurements (well, not metric, but it's all modern to me). When I
got done I saw that Mark was nodding.
"I see now. Fourteen inches long collapsed, thirty-two extended, and
you are putting the fat ends of two of these together. Metal, I
"That's one of the places I need your help, Mark. My father was a
woodworker; he made all my staves. I'm not familiar with metalworking,
"I see two other problems, Solo. First is getting a spring with
enough extension to push this out straight. Second is the mechanism
to connect two of them together."
"Magic, my friend." I saw Mark smile then, an in-joke kind of smile.
Then I saw him look over my shoulder, and I turned to find Mara there,
with a tray of three cups.
"I brought you another, and one for Mark to try, and one for me."
This made me happy; Mara hadn't cared a bit for the xocholotl I had
been preparing. Frankly it wasn't very good.
"So you haven't given up on the staff idea, my love?" asked Mara.
I took a long sip. "No. I need more than this," I said, holding up
the ring on my left hand, "to protect myself. I've depended on it for
too many second chances already."
After a while our conversation wandered to the terracing of the back
yard; Mark wasn't paying attention, as he was busy surfing the web for
I was glad he had something else to think about.
"Mara," I said after a while, "I need to do some work of my own.
There are several enchantments to be placed in this staff, and I'd
like to be ready when Mark gets the materials together."
She kissed me quickly, and said, "I'll just nip off to the kitchen and
make like a good little woman." I was about to protest being
characterized as a male chauvanist when I realized there was no rancor
in her voice. So I slapped her (gently) on the behind as she passed,
and she stuck her tongue out at me.
I spent the rest of the morning in the living room surrounded by
papers. I hadn't mentioned to my friends that, first of all, I had
never enchanted an item before, and second, I didn't know all the
spells I planned to use anyway. So I worked as quickly as I was able,
roughing out the procedures based on half-remembered theory I learned
from Ket, and attempting to replicate some of the spells I had "seen"
in the sword.
At noon Mara announced, "Lunch is ready! Come and get it!" Mark
looked uncertain as I passed him in the office; he had acted
uncomfortable eating with "the boss" ever since I had hired him.
"Come on, Mark! Didn't you hear her?" He smiled and jumped to join
Lunch, it turned out, was pork chops, fried potatos, corn, and some
other vegetable which I have forgotten. It was all good. Between
bites, Mark told of his successes on our project.
"I think I've found a supplier right here in the Bay Area," he said.
"They specialize in steel and aluminum tubing, in a variety of sizes,
and they seem real proud that they can fill orders for odd sizes."
"Sounds good. Are we going there?" I asked.
"I was about to call their sales department when Mara called." He
took a drink, then said "The only problem I can see is that they want
to fill bulk orders only. I think I can work around that though."
After lunch I helped Mara clear away the dishes. I planned to help
her wash them (an act I had found could make up for many sins) but she
shooed me into the office. "You're only interested in your project!"
she said in mock scorn. "You wouldn't get anything clean!"
Mark was on the phone already, and made a disgusted face at Mara for
being so noisy. She responded with another display of her tongue and
"So, yeah, Bob, we're planning to one-up our competition on this if it
works like the engineering department says. If it does work, we'll
need regular supplies of tubing." He was silent for a moment, then
began to write down numbers. "Sounds perfect! Can I get any samples
of that stuff for our chief engineer to look at? If we can build a
prototype to show the big guy, well, that'd make the deal."
A bit more listening, then Mark said "Great! I'll be over with our
chief engineer, Jake Smith, in about an hour!" He hung up, then began
pumping his arm in the air and laughing.
"So tell me already," I said.
"Okay, these guys made extensible antennas for a broadcast hardware
company that went bust recently. They have a lot of excess inventory
of tubing made just for them... let's see," he said, looking at his
notes, "twenty-eight millimeter O.D. tubing, with two millimeter
walls, that'd leave twenty-four millimeters I.D., then twenty-four
millimeter O.D. tubing with one-half millimeter walls, then
twenty-three millimeter tubing with two millimeter walls, that's down
to nineteen millimeter I.D., then back to the one-half millimeter
wall stuff, then eighteen millimeter O.D. for the last section."
Well, I kept up, anyway. The thinwall tubing was for the "stops"
inside the thicker structural tubing. This meant that the thickest
section would be twenty-eight millimeters in diameter (about one and a
tenth inches) with the thinnest part at the tips about seven-tenths of
an inch diameter. Each section of thick tubing would be twelve inches
long, but an overlap of one and a half inches per extension would
result in only ten and a half inches of each extension protruding; a
total of thirty-three inches per half, or sixty-six for the whole
staff. A bit shorter than the staves I had learned with, but entirely
acceptable. At full retraction, each half would only be thirteen and
a half inches long.
I hope you followed that. The results were pretty much as we planned,
at least to this point. Of course this all meant that I needed to get
back to working on the enchantments.
"I assume this Jake Smith is me," I said, and Mark nodded.
"Don't worry, I'll do all the talking."
I didn't have much time to work on the enchantments before Mark told
me it was time to go. We took his car, of course, and this led me to
a question I'd been wanting to ask him.
"Do you think you could teach me to drive a car?" I asked.
"Sure. It's no big deal." As we drove he explained to me at length
about the operation of the car and the rules of the road. In theory
it all seemed easy enough, but still I was a bit worried. I'd already
seen what a mess a car accident could be (just turn on the television
and watch the news). I didn't want that to be me; even if the ring
put me back together the car would still be wrecked, after all.
We arrived just a bit early, which didn't seem to bother Bob, the
sales manager. "Mark Wells, I presume? Glad to meet you! You must
be Jake Smith! I think you'll be very pleased with what we have to
He really did speak like that, continuously and with almost-audible
exclamation marks at the end of each sentence. We hardly had time to
get a "hello" in edgewise, and his handshake grip was impressive. We
followed him inside.
The factory was small by modern standards but it seemed quite huge to
me. I reminded myself that I was supposed to be an engineer, and
probably wouldn't be craning my neck in amazement here.
"Here are the items I was telling you about!" said Bob presently.
Several racks of tubing in a variety of sizes were arrayed before us.
I made a show of inspecting the tubing sizes Mark had asked about as
he negotiated for the samples we wanted.
I won't bore you with sales-speak; I'll just say that Mark got me a
very good deal on about five times as much tubing as we needed. He
signed his name to an invoice, which surprised me... didn't they want
to be paid right away? The tubing was too long for the car, but
fortunately it was a convertible. I rode in the cramped back seat
holding on to the tubing as we went back to the house.
Back at the house, I noticed an expensive-looking black car parked out
in front. Mark said, "You better go see who it is. I'll unload this
stuff; you want it in the basement?"
"Yes, thanks." I walked quickly to the front door.
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