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Chapter 12 -- The Compassionate Heist
Copyright © 2002 Chris Gonnerman. All Rights Reserved.

Mara was sitting on the back porch swing, drinking a large glass of lemonade. I dismissed the Invisibility just before I touched down, but she didn't seem surprised. "Tell me, love," she said, "what happened?"

I sat down beside her on the swing. "Phillip Silva has been murdered, beheaded like John Harkin. He was to visit Moses Rook tonight at his home, and when he didn't appear Moses went looking for him. It looks like he was attacked by a Changeling swordsman, and they killed each other simultaneously. I'm not sure it's how it looks though."

"Show me," she said.

"Are you sure? It's not a pretty scene."

"Yes," she said firmly, so I laid a hand on her shoulder and gifted her with Mind Reading. She closed her eyes and focused on my thoughts, and I showed her the scene. I saw the revulsion on her face at the grisly images, but she quickly recovered.

Her next words mirrored my first thoughts when I saw the crime scene. "He doesn't look like a swordsman."

"My thoughts also. Besides his casual dress and grooming, he isn't particularly muscular. I had to handle the body a couple of times, and I noticed that."

"He is a Changeling, isn't he?" I was a little irritated that Mara didn't think I was sharp enough to verify that, so I showed her. "Okay, okay," she said, "I get it!"

"It was a set-up," I said, "but what I can't figure out is why, or who did it. Who is killing the Conclave? Where did they get that Changeling sword? Why try to implicate the Changelings? How many people know about both groups?"

"I can answer that last question," she said. "Us, of course, plus the Conclave members, and Natomi Osaka."

"Well, I assume it's not you, me, or Mark. I hope it isn't Natomi, but I suppose she is a suspect. Otherwise the only suspects are the remaining Conclave members: Ron Harris, Moses Rook, and Schuyler Norton. I hope it isn't Moses."

"You like him, don't you?" she asked.

"Yes. And I've learned a lot from his book, so I feel gratitude for him. I can't let that blind me to any evidence, though."

"I'll help you," she said, kissing me. "Now, my love, just two days ago we were married, and since then you haven't paid me as much attention as I would like."

"I'm sorry," I began, but I saw the impish smile I knew so well, so I stopped talking and kissed her some more.

It was three A.M. Wednesday when the alarm went off. I cancelled it quickly, and Mara rolled over and mumbled a little but didn't awaken.

I got up and dressed quickly by the light of the alarm clock. In the kitchen I fixed myself a quick breakfast of cereal and orange juice, wishing I had reset the timer on the coffeemaker as well as the alarm clock; a cup of xocholotl would have been nice.

I prepared spells in the living room, in the semidarkness. For a moment I was reminded of my years in Ket's gloomy fortress, and I shivered.

As I was completing the casting of a powerful Flight spell, of threefold power and threefold duration, Mara came in. "Were you going to say goodbye?"

"I didn't want to wake you," I said. "I'm glad you did wake up, though." She knelt down on the couch beside me and we embraced.

After a moment I said, "I'd love to stay, but it's almost four o'clock. I must go."

"I know," she said, and kissed me again, briefly. "I love you, Solomoriah."

"I love you, Mara. I'll be back as soon as I can."

"Just don't let me find you in jail," she said, grinning.

I went to the back porch, cast Invisibility on myself, and took off into the darkness. The sky was overcast again, but once I had a little altitude it wasn't hard to navigate above the well-lit streets.

Getting in would be the hardest part. I flew around the building, 'casing the joint' as they say. The doors were out; locks I could handle, but alarms were beyond me. Getting out, I didn't intend to worry about the alarms.

I was circling the building for the third time, and beginning to think there was no way in; then I saw a door open in the back. As I approached I saw a portly security guard step out. He pushed the door back until it caught, then drew out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter.

Ah, human weakness! As he lit his cigarette I landed nearby. He was illuminated by the open door, and I was in darkness; even were I not invisible he might not see me. I waited, letting him smoke his cigarette partway, while I looked around the alley for something I needed. Shortly I was ready.

I threw the empty soda can I had found behind the open door, so that it clattered loudly against the outside wall. I got the response I was hoping for... he turned around suddenly, and actually took a few steps down the alley toward the sound.

In other words, I could now pass through the open door without bumping into him. I did so, quickly, and shortly he came in also. He pulled the door shut, checking the latch, then pulled a walkie-talkie from his belt. "Yeah, Alex, this is Chuck." I couldn't understand the response from where I stood; then Chuck continued, "You can secure the back door, I'm done with my break."

Ah, again. Wherever this Alex was, would be the control room for the cameras and alarms. That was where I needed to be.

I discovered that I was in the "employees only" area of the building. On the ground floor, that seemed to consist of storage and machine rooms. I wandered around, searching at random for the control room. It turned out to be easy to find, for it had a large glass window with a grill to speak through, and a door labelled "Security." Within were two men, a bald black man with glasses and a skinny white man with greasy-looking blonde hair.

Just then Chuck came around a corner toward the window. "Not much going on tonight, boys," he said.

The black man laughed. "Except for that business with the one-armed statue, when is there ever much going on here at night?"

"How's the lady?" asked Chuck.

"She's right where she was last time you asked," came the answer, as the black guard pointed toward one of the several display monitors. I leaned rather closer to Chuck than I should have, looking at the perfectly framed image of Silla. I was right about them watching her closely.

At that point, the skinny white guard got up and stretched. "I gotta hit the head," he said, and opened the door. I stepped back so that I had a clear line of sight to all three of them, and carefully formed a word in my mind.

They dropped, asleep, in unison. Unfortunately, I was not able to remain invisible this time. The white guard fell in the middle of the doorway, and I had to step over him. I looked around the small room crowded with equipment, and found what I was looking for... the electrical cords. I promptly pulled them from the wall.

I jumped at the resulting noise. Mark would not have been surprised at the sound of the uninterruptible power supplies sounding their alarms, but I had no idea what they were. I quickly plugged everything back in, then went around laboriously turning off all the equipment one item at a time.

For safe measure I unplugged the cords again, one at a time, and this time no noises went off. I wiped the sweat from my brow and stepped over the sleeping guards again.

As I walked down the hallway toward the Pleistocene display I suddenly remembered my still-active Flight spell. Why had I wasted time stepping over the guards when I could hover?

At last I saw Silla again. She was unchanged, mercifully. As I studied the rod embedded in her back I had the constant feeling that she would awaken at any moment.

The hole was irregular and rough. I had expected a clean hole, bored by modern equipment; perhaps this hole was not made recently? The hole had been filled with some sort of clear glue and the rod inserted. Having no other alternative, I decided to try force.

I stood on the floor in front of Silla, and grasping her under her arms I pulled hard. After a moment of groaning and straining I decided to try something else. I got out my staff and assembled it, then slipped it into the space between Silla's back and the wall behind her. Using it as a prybar I pulled with my right hand, keeping my left arm around her middle to catch her.

With a loud crack she came free of the rod. I caught her, of course, and was surprised how light she was. I had expected her to weigh perhaps three or four hundred pounds as a statue, but evidently she weighed no more than she had in life; about a hundred twenty pounds perhaps.

"Hold it right there! Lay that statue down real carefully and step away from it!"

I turned my head to look over my shoulder. Another guard, this one a muscular asian man, and he had a handgun pointed at me. The other guards hadn't had guns. "Okay, okay, just hang on," I said, hoping he hadn't seen much of my face.

As soon as I had Silla safely grounded I spoke a word and disappeared. I braced myself for the gunshot, but it didn't come. Instead, the guard said a few curse words and began rapidly panning his gun around. It seemed he expected me to leap out at him at any moment.

I had two more Sleep spells at the ready, so it was a simple matter to wait for him to turn away and then release one. He fell also, asleep.

Unfortunately my Invisibility spell was broken again. Well, it wouldn't have covered my cargo anyway. I picked up and stowed my staff, then summoned a Spirit Servant. I used a twofold spell I had prepared earlier, since I expected her to be quite heavy. It lasted just long enough to get her to the door, so I would have to carry her home myself.

The Flight spell was still in effect, of course; I wasn't even sure when it would run out. Just as I hefted her rigid form onto my right shoulder I heard the sirens approaching.

My takeoff was anything but graceful. I heard yelling voices behind me as I lifted off into the early-morning gloom, but I felt secure in the darkness.

I was a fool, again. The searchlight from above caught me by surprise; I had not heard the helicopter over the noise of the sirens.

I've tried to imagine what the helicopter pilot must have thought, seeing a flying man lifting a statue into the air. Someday I'd really like to know. Just then, though, that didn't seem very important. I wanted to get away. Without Silla I felt sure I could outmaneuver the helicopter, but with the extra weight it didn't seem likely.

I could blast the fragile rotor with a Force Wave, or Paralyze the pilot, but either one would result in a deadly crash. That wasn't my goal, of course. I flew several blocks with the helicopter tailing me before I decided what to do.

I fell. I had been steadily climbing, and had reached twenty stories of altitude. The helicopter pilot, to his credit, wasn't fool enough to do what I did, so I suddenly was clear of him for a moment.

Pulling out of the fall at half-again my normal weight was tricky, but I did it. I looked around and saw that I was in Chinatown, not far from a Ley line.

Few people were on the street, and apparently most weren't looking my way. The few who yelled or pointed didn't follow me as I carried my load down a narrow alley. There, out of sight at last, I released my Tap and used it to cast a spell of Illusion.

The Tap dismissed, I walked out the far end of the alley as a tall Oriental man carrying a large rolled-up carpet. I didn't bother to cover my clothes; they were plain enough. Several times police cars passed me, and I repeatedly saw the helicopter, but they didn't pay any attention to me. Maybe I wasn't so bad at illusion-magic after all.

As the sun rose I climbed the steps to my front door, still carrying the 'carpet' over my shoulder.

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