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Chapter 20 -- The Wedding
Copyright © 2002 Chris Gonnerman. All Rights Reserved.

There's not much more of this story to tell. Daniel and Joel were arrested that afternoon at the Burke residence. I know that, in stories at least, the detective is supposed to confront the villain in the last chapter, but in fact I didn't even go. It wasn't my business anymore. I didn't see Joel in person until the trial, which was much later.

He was convicted, of course; but the surprise was that Daniel was convicted of rape also. The jury evidently felt that his direct involvement in restraining his sister was just as bad as if he'd done it himself.

But that was the trial, and it happened months later. The secret... Green's secret... never came out, at least not then. One thing that did make it into evidence is the fact that Daniel and Joel were related genetically so closely they might as well be brothers.

Maybe they were.

That evening, Doctor Harper decided that no more observation was needed, and discharged Valerie. The five of us went out to eat, to a family restaurant of course, and afterward Valerie invited us all back to her house. After Emily was in bed I told my story.

"That is the most outrageous story I ever heard," she announced at the end. "I guess I have to believe it, considering what Dad told me, but... it's just too much."

"Too many have learned at least part of my secrets. Besides my enemies, Joseph Green and his 'children,' and all of you, there is Natomi Osaka, and Raziya and Ghedi. Lots of other people have at least seen me work magic. I'm surprised my face hasn't already been in the papers."

"It has," said Mark, and I was reminded of the picture of me as a statue that ran right after I "awakened."

"I wasn't exactly the picture of health then, though. Recall I was missing most of my nose." Mark seemed to think that was funny, and then I was laughing too, and Mara was left to explain it to Valerie.

"I think you can trust Natomi to be discreet," said Mara. "I don't think Raziya and Ghedi will be any problem either."

"I'm glad you feel that way," I said. "I really am. Your hunches are worth more than most people's facts."

She just smiled in response to that. Then the conversation turned to more mundane topics for a time. I must admit I was surprised when Valerie announced, "Mark and I are getting remarried."

It does seem obvious in retrospect, but at the time it surprised me.

Mara spoke up then. "Solomoriah and I are also planning to be married!" The two women took over the conversation then, and before I knew it Mark and I had agreed to a double wedding in a month's time.

As Mara and Valerie made plans, Mark filled my wineglass and motioned me toward the back porch, and we adjorned there to relax.

I slept in the next day, which was of course Saturday. I spent the rest of the weekend enchanting my staff, with the enchantments of Binding and Invisibility, and then the Control enchantment to coordinate the others. By Sunday evening I was mentally wiped out, but the staff was done.

I came up from the basement with the invisible staff sections in my hands, and found Mara reading a magazine in the living room. She looked up and said, "I thought you would spend the entire weekend down there. Get much done?"

"Tell me what you think," I answered, and brought the staff sections together in front of me. Clack-hiss-click-hiss-click it extended to full length, becoming visible at the same time. Mara literally jumped out of her seat.

"Wow, that's what I think. Why doesn't it stay invisible?"

"It would flash into visibility each time it hit something. I couldn't see the point."

"How do you put it away?" she asked.

I said "Shirak" and the staff broke in two, hiss-click-hiss-click, and disappeared.

"Oh, a magic word," Mara said.

"Not exactly. A real 'magic' word would require the speaker to know the mental disciplines. I could write down the words to one of my spells, and teach you the gestures, and it would do nothing for you without the mental disciplines."

"So this doesn't?" she said. I held out my hands to her, giving her the staff. She fumbled a little with the invisible objects.

"Strike the butt ends together, and be sure there's room for it to extend." She did as I said and the staff extended and appeared again.

"What was that word again?"

"Shirak. It means 'stand down.'"

"Shirak," she said, and the staff folded and vanished. "Cool!"

I was too worn out to practice with it that evening. The next morning I showed it to Mark, teaching him how to work it; he also called it "cool." I went out to the back yard and began to practice. It didn't feel like my old staff, but it seemed quite serviceable. I, on the other hand, needed practice rather badly; I resolved to practice each morning for an hour.

The month passed quickly; we had two 'cases,' if you can call them that... both times were merely overactive imaginations. I didn't get paid for the first one, as the client asserted, "If it wasn't supernatural, I don't have to pay. Supernatural Investigator is what your card says, right?" The second time we hashed out the details of the contract a little better beforehand, and I did get paid.

Mark calls such jobs "Wolf Calls" after the old story about the boy who cried "wolf." He was surprised to learn just how old the story really was...

A few days before the wedding, Mark's parents arrived. It was my first visit to an airport, and I must admit to being impressed that ordinary men and women built such massive machines, without even a touch of magic.

Mark's mother, Mary, and his stepfather Robert Barton, met us at the baggage claim area. Robert was thin, and balding, and made me think of any number of scholars I had known in my previous life; Mary was short and round and possessed the most joyous smile. I immediately liked them, as did Mara, to Mark's obvious relief, and Valerie apologized to them for her treatment of Mark as soon as she saw them.

It seemed that the day of the wedding arrived very quickly. Valerie, it turned out, had joined the Palm Branch Church, one of many small Protestant groups that dot the landscape of California. Their church building was much too small for the ever-growing list of guests, and so Valerie imposed upon her parents for the use of their spacious back yard.

Of the early part of that day, I remember very little clearly. One thing does come back quite well, though. I had added the Burkes (well, Miyuki, Walter, and Kimberly) to the guest list, along with Natomi Osaka, and they all attended. Of course Mara and Valerie were in the house getting dressed; so when I saw Kimberly sitting by herself, I sat down beside her.

I noticed as I did so that she was showing, just a little bit; her dress fit her a bit tightly around her middle. One might not see it if one didn't already know.

"How are you doing?" I asked her.

"Fine, I guess. It's been very hard for all of us." She paused a bit, but I knew she had more to say. "Daniel got out on bail, did you know that? He wasn't supposed to come back to the house, but he did. I was scared when I saw him on the stairs, but he convinced me to listen to him." Again she paused.

"He told me everything," she said, "all about the Changelings. That's what they call themselves, you know."

"I didn't know that," I said. "but I think I know a lot about them otherwise. There's one thing I don't understand... why aren't they discovered as babies?"

"He told me about that," she said. "His... female parts didn't develop until he was eleven. Before that, he didn't even know he wasn't just like all the other boys. They know each other, by smell I think; he started hanging with a pack of other young Changelings. I told you about that time, didn't I? We just thought they were, you know, misfits."

"I see," I said. There were other questions I would have liked to ask her, but just then Miyuki came over, and we changed topics pretty fast.

Emily was our flower girl, and Art agreed to give away both brides. Mark and I stood there waiting before Brother Whitacre as they came down the aisle. Both were beautiful, of course, but they couldn't have looked more different otherwise... Mara tall and dark, Valerie petite, pale skinned and redheaded.

It was a beautiful ceremony... but I must admit that much of it is now a blur. It's a good thing that Mark's stepdad was recording it all on videotape.

Unfortunately, Mara and I didn't get a chance for a honeymoon, at least not right away... but that's another story.

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The Adventures of Solo Jones Last Updated 07/18/2005