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Chapter 14 -- Determination
Copyright © 2002 Chris Gonnerman. All Rights Reserved.

Cheng said, "You're a sorceror!"

I stood up, and turning to him I said, "Yes, I am." I saw the blood on his shirt, and realized that his chest wound wasn't serious.

He made a sign with his right hand which I didn't recognize. "Cheng, you needn't fear me. I am honored that you fought beside me, for without you I might well be dead now." I bowed to him then, and he hesitantly bowed also.

"I am honored to have helped," he said. At that moment I heard Mark moving behind me, and as I looked that way I saw him standing up. He looked weak but his wound had closed. He smiled weakly, and Mara led him inside.

"Cheng, please join us inside," I said, turning back again. "When my friend has completed his healing I will heal you also."

I could see he was uneasy about entering my house, but he did so, carefully avoiding the corpse on the porch steps. "Thank you," he said as he entered.

"I'll join you in a moment," I said. I lifted the swordsman's body over my shoulder, and cast an Invisibility spell. I didn't want Cheng to know all my secrets.

I quickly dealt with the body, then returned to the house, still invisible, bearing with me the swordsman's scabbards. Mara was hosing the blood from the back porch; I was glad we had gotten it watersealed. She smiled at me, and I forced myself to smile back. I didn't feel very happy though.

Inside I saw that Cheng was wearing my ring. Mark had downed two sports drinks (the best thing I could find for blood regeneration) and Cheng was chugging one down as I entered. Both men had removed their bloody shirts and I could see that their wounds were healed.

"Thank you again, mister Jones," said Cheng, handing me my ring and bowing. I bowed also, and he said "I really must be going. I'll have to get another shirt before I return to work."

"Here," I said, fishing for my wallet, "let me give you a tip, and pay for your shirt."

"No, thank you, mister Jones, I can't take your money."

"Well, then, accept my gratitude. It has been an honor. Call on me if ever you need help." We bowed again, as it seemed required, then Cheng quickly left.

"How do you feel, Mark?"

"Better. Death sucks."

I laughed, but a hint of bitterness was in it. "I knew you would say that."

I looked at the kitchen clock. It was not yet ten o'clock in the morning, and I was tired already. As Mara walked in, I said, "I'm going downstairs. I have some things to do."

I meditated, sitting on the rug which was the only furnishing in that room under the basement stairs. There in the company of the statue-woman I had failed to protect, and the unwanted spoils of battle, I... moped.

It's the only way to say it, and after perhaps an hour of that I became disgusted with myself. I went back upstairs, and found Mark and Mara in the office. I saw the swords, in scabbards this time, and the pieces of the broken staff lying on top of the filing cabinets; I would have to put the swords in the basement later.

"Hey, Solo, how're you doin'?" said Mark, his cheeriness forced.

"Better. Killing sucks." Mara stood up then, and hugged me, and I held her for a long moment. Finally she backed away slightly, her hands still on my shoulders, and I said, "It's time to finish this. I'm going to solve this case, and after I deal with the murderer I'm going to confront Joseph Green. This business with the Changelings has gone on long enough."

"So what do we do?" asked Mara.

"There are two suspects I haven't interviewed: Ron Harris and Schuyler Norton. I think I'd like to talk to Schuyler first... he barely spoke at the meeting. I've a feeling he might know a lot. Mara, I'll want you to join me."

"Sure," she said, smiling.

"So how do we find him?" I asked. Mark was already paging through the fat San Francisco white pages, but shortly he shook his head.

"Not in here. He might live in an outlying area..." Mark turned to the computer and began a web search.

"Ron Harris I can find," I said. "I expect he'll be at his nightclub most any night of the week."

"Except maybe Sunday," said Mara, and I nodded.

"Mark, I'd also like to know more about Franklin Evans. If you find Schuyler Norton, Mara and I will fly there, and you can do some research."

"Bad idea, Solo," he said, pointing to the window. The morning had been cloudy, but now it was turning to rain.

"Ah. Hmm. Well, we'll just figure it out as we go."

"Well," said Mark, "while you're figuring that out, would you mind taking those cannibal's steak knives downstairs? They're making me nervous."

I picked up the two swords and headed for the room under the basement stairs. There were two sets of cast-iron shelf brackets there, left over from Dreamwalker's "zombie array," and I was storing my collection of swords there.

I looked over the swords already there; the two curved swords on the top brackets took up more room than the two straight swords on the bottom, so I squatted down and pushed them back, making room for the new ones.

As I arose from that position I bumped into the upper brackets, making the swords there shift. I froze in amazement at what I saw next.

The tip of one of the curved swords passed through the shelf bracket as it it weren't there. Then the sword hung in place, impossibly balanced at the lower end of the blade, with the curved sword-tip entirely below the bracket!

It was a moment before I realized what I was seeing, and I used a few curse words as I contemplated the meaning. I took that sword down by the hilt and went upstairs with it.

"Hey, what..." began Mark, as I walked into the office. Mara entered from the living room, stopping at the door as she saw me brandishing the sword. Without a word I held the sword out in front of me and turned it edge-upward. Slowly I lowered it until the intangible blade-tip passed through the top of the desk. When three inches of the blade had disappeared into the table I felt it hit at last.

"What the heck is going on?" said Mark, pushing his chair back and standing up to study it. A small nick was visible in the wooden desktop about five inches just beyond the point where the blade "entered" the table.

I pulled Harkin's illusion-glass from my pocket and handed it to Mark. He looked, as I lifted the sword up from the desk, then with a puzzled look on his face he handed the glass to Mara. Her eyes grew wide as she looked through the glass.

"That was in the basement?" asked Mara.

"Yes. On the top rack with the other sword, which really is curved. The lower rack still had two straight swords."

"What does it mean?" asked Mark. I could see comprehension dawning on Mara's face.

"Monday I was summoned to the meeting of the Conclave. I took a straight sword as an example, and I left it there. Then there remained two curved and two straight swords in my collection. Now, there are three straight swords and one curved. This one has been disguised so I wouldn't notice the substitution; I wouldn't have, either, for some time if I hadn't bumped the brackets by accident."

"Why?" asked Mark. "Why break in here and exchange swords?"

"Phillip Silva," said Mara. "His 'killer' was armed with a curved sword."

"I thought it must be a set-up, but I couldn't account for the sword. It was definitely one of theirs, and that threw me off. Now I know how it happened."

"One of the Conclave did it, then," said Mark.

"I had assumed as much before; one of the Conclave, or Natomi Osaka. I don't want to think it was her, but I can't rule her out yet."

I was about to say more, but the phone rang. Mark answered it, saying "Solo Jones Investigations, Mark here, what can I do for ya?"

He listened for a moment, then said "Yeah, great, send it... The fax is on this line... I know, I know, my boss is cheap... Thanks again, I owe you a steak for this!"

Mark hung up. I opened my mouth to ask the obvious question, but he held up his hands a moment, and the phone rang again. This time he rolled his chair over to the fax and pressed "Start."

"What is it?" asked Mara.

Mark said, "I have a buddy who's a real police nut. He's not in good enough shape, couldn't get in, you know? But he has connections downtown, so I called him, and he got us something interesting."

He handed me the first page, and I read it with some difficulty. English I had mastered pretty well, but reading government forms was still difficult. Mara read over my shoulder, as I finally figured out what it was.

The top said "Coroner's Report" and below that, in the Name field, it said, "Harkin, John Xavier." I struggled a bit with the unfamiliar medical terms, learning little; then Mark handed me the second page, and I jumped to the "Summary" section.

"'...conclude that the decapitation of subject was caused by a wire garotte or similar weapon, employed by an individual of unusual strength,'" I read aloud. "'There are no other types of weapon known to cause this type of wound.'"

"If Silva was killed the same way, then it wasn't the sword that did it," said Mark, grinning slightly. "It was completely a set-up."

"Wait," I said, and read further. "'Suspect is likely a bodybuilder or other extremely strong person. Crushing of vertebrae observed requires extremely high pressures.'" I thought a moment. "None of the Conclave members are that muscular. Really, they are a pretty soft group. Natomi is strong for her size, but she's no bodybuilder. A Changeling swordsman might be that strong, but I doubt it."

"Magic?" asked Mara.

"Probably, but I can't imagine what form it must take," I answered.

We stood there, each of us lost in thought for a moment; then Mark said, "What now?"

"Now, I need to talk to some mages," I said. "Any luck finding Schuyler Norton?"

"Oh, yeah, I found his agent," he answered. "He was happy to tell me that Schuyler's band, the Unity Principle, is playing at a club over at Pier 96. It's noon now, so he's probably not there yet."

"Noon. Ron Harris probably isn't at work yet, and Natomi will be at lunch," I mused.

"We should be also," said Mara. "Let me go throw the wet clothes in the dryer, and we'll all go out for lunch, since I haven't had time to fix anything." It was only then that I realized Mark was wearing one of my shirts. It was a bit big on him, but Mark seems to look natural in about anything.

That seemed the thing to do, so we got in the car and left. "Where do you guys want to eat?" asked Mark.

"I don't know," said Mara, grinning.

"I do care," I said. "Isn't there an Italian place near Pier 96 you've been promising to take me to, Mark? Drive us there and lunch is on the company. Maybe afterward I can catch Schuyler practicing or something."

"You got it, Solo."

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