Copyright © 2002 Chris Gonnerman. All Rights Reserved.
The restaurant was dimly lit inside, and it was a bit before I could see. The
crowd wasn't too bad on a Wednesday, so we were quickly seated and our orders
As soon as the waiter left, Mark said, "I just have one question, Solo. How did
anyone get into the room under the stairs? Don't you have that secured with
"I was afraid to ask that," said Mara, shivering slightly.
"I don't know," I said. "I know my own spells, and the spell of Closing on the
door has been mine each time I have visited that room. Whoever got in there
knows how to circumvent the spell without dispelling it."
Mark frowned, and said "What did they do? Turn into a liquid and run under the
"I don't know," I said again. "I wish I did. I suppose it's possible a very
skilled mage might have been able to suspend my spell without breaking it. I
can imagine in general some ways it might be done, but I don't think I could do
"That means probably not Franklin Evans, since he's an apprentice?" said Mara.
"I'm afraid he's still a suspect," I said. "He told me that John was about to
nominate him for Magus; if that's true he's as skilled as they are. I guess I
need to talk to him also."
"Do you think he's more skilled than you are?" said Mark.
"It's not just a question of skill," I said. "Suspending another caster's spell
would be a form of Metamagic, or Metamancy; I'm not sure which is the correct
term. I don't have much formal training in that field. Of course you know what
I was trained in primarily." My friends both nodded, and I said, "Pretty much
everything else I have taught myself or picked up from others in bits and
"Y'know," Mark said, "I think there's something you missed searching Harkin's
and Silva's offices."
"What's that?" I asked.
"Did either of them have a computer?"
"Yes," I answered, not getting the point right away. "They both did."
"You may have missed a lot of evidence, by not searching the computers. You
need me for that."
I learned to 'Surf the Web' the same week I learned English, but I still wasn't
used to considering computers as a storehouse of personal or business data.
Silently I cursed myself for such a simple mistake.
Mark must have seen it in my face. "Hey, Solo, it's what I do and I didn't
think of it 'til now. Don't bust your chops too hard."
Just then I looked up and saw Schuyler Norton entering the restaurant. He was
accompanied by four men, three in very casual (torn, tattered) clothing like
Schuyler, and the last in a business suit. I nodded toward them. Mark turned
to look, and said "Huh. His band, and the nightclub owner?"
"Or maybe their agent," said Mara.
I watched as a waitress led them to a table. They were still sunblind, narrowly
dodging chairs and customers, so I was pretty sure we hadn't been noticed yet.
Suddenly I saw something unexpectedly familiar... one of the band members had
the "family resemblance" to Joseph Green! Though I could not be completely
certain, I felt it likely he was a Changeling.
Mara looked at me then, recognition in her eyes also. "A Changeling in the
band?" she asked, and I nodded.
"Yeah, he does look like one," said Mark, turning back to our table. "We better
not stare, though; they'll be able to see clearly pretty quick." As I was the
only one of us seated with a clear view of their table, I could watch them over
Mara's shoulder without looking too suspicious.
Well, our food came, so we ate, making small talk between bites, and I saw the
same happen across the room at the band's table. Schuyler seemed to be a
prodigious eater, which surprised me as he was rather slim. Eventually he
noticed me and waved, so I waved back.
As our waiter was taking our dessert order, Schuyler came over. "Have the ice
cream," he said cheerfully, "They have real vanilla that's amazing and a fine
chocolate that is even better." I ordered the chocolate; I don't remember what
my friends had. "May I join you?" he asked, after the waiter had gone.
"Sure," I said. "I was going to look you up anyway. You heard about Phillip
Silva's death, didn't you?"
"Yeah, Ron called me the next morning and told me to turn on the news. Killed
with a sword, and he shot the killer, they said."
"Not exactly," I answered. "Phillip evidently used a fire-spell on him. I
imagine the police had a hard time figuring out how to write that up."
"Fire spell, eh?" he said, sounding unconvinced. "Doesn't sound like Doc."
"Moses said the same thing," I said.
"Is he the one that found Doc? The news didn't say, and Ron didn't seem to
"Yes. Before he called the police, he called me. I got to look at the scene
"So, was the killer one of the Changelings Ron is so suspicious of?"
"He was a Changeling," I said, "but he didn't look like a swordsman. I'll tell
you what really happened... someone else killed Phillip Silva, and then planted
the dead Changeling there with a sword. You remember the sword I brought to the
"Yeah. Ron said he was going to do as you suggested and drop it in the bay.
Was it the murder weapon?"
"It wasn't the one at the murder scene. Someone very skilled bypassed my spell
of Closing and exchanged that sword for a curved one, to throw me off. He, or
she, put an impressive static illusion on the straight sword to make it look
curved. What I don't know is who in the Conclave could do that."
"Any of us, I suppose," he answered. "John was the undisputed master of
illusion, but I don't guess he's much of a suspect."
"We are sure he's dead, aren't we?" I asked.
"Yeah, he is," he said. "I saw him myself; slipped into the morgue and gave him
the full scan."
"Well, I'm glad that's settled," said Mark. "With mages it's not safe to make
Indeed, I thought, but I didn't say it. The conversation stalled there for a
moment; Schuyler sipped at the beer he had brought with him, and we all picked
at our desserts, uncomfortably.
"So who do you think did it, Solomoriah?" asked Schuyler presently.
"I still don't know. I have a lot of suspects, and a lot of questions, and not
as many answers."
"I imagine I'm one of those suspects."
"I'm afraid you are," I said. "Where were you yesterday at about six o'clock?"
"Warming up with the band, just over there at the club. Several employees saw
"What about Thursday night?"
"Playing at the club until just after midnight, then I guess I have no alibi,"
he said. "I'm too wasted after a gig to do any killing. Heck, I'm a pacifist.
I don't kill spiders and snakes."
"I'm curious," said Mara. "Do you ever play at Ron Harris' club?"
"A.J.'s? We did, once, and it was a good gig, but Ron creeps me out. Y'know,
in this town just about any kinda sex is considered cool, but Ron, well... I
didn't tell you this, okay? Ron doesn't care if you're male or female, young or
old, as long as you are, like, his. All his."
"I've been told he's a master of influence and control magic," I said. "Does he
use magic to get his way?"
"Hey, you didn't hear that from me," he answered. "But that doesn't mean he's a
killer. I think he's too much of a coward... his magic isn't overpowering
enough for him to feel safe taking on a Magus." He looked at his watch. "Dude,
I have to get back to the club."
"I see. Thanks for your help with this case."
"No prob," he said, getting up. "See ya later." As he returned to his table,
the band members got up to leave with him. The man in the suit signed for the
bill and put a cash tip on the table, then left also.
"Must be the club owner," said Mark. "I can't believe their agent would buy
"If they're popular enough, he might," said Mara. "After all, he'd be spending
"True," said Mark as I signed the credit-card slip. I also left a cash tip; it
always seems to make the waiters and waitresses more helpful.
Outside, I noted that the weather had cleared up again; blue sky filled with
little puffy white clouds. The air was cool and rain-clean, and it felt good.
Then I remembered the morning, and I didn't feel so well. It's easy for me to
forget when I'm busy; it's the quiet times when I feel the darkness within me.
In the car, I said, "Well, what have we learned here?"
"He was very truthful," said Mara. "Except he seemed nervous talking about the
Changelings. Didn't you say he didn't know about them?"
"At the meeting, he only spoke once," I answered. "I assumed he was among the
surprised, but as Mark pointed out moments ago, it's not safe to make
assumptions about mages."
"He does have one in his band," said Mark. "Maybe he has firsthand knowledge."
"Maybe. I don't know. He's hiding something interesting, but is it important?"
Mara shook her head. "I don't know."
I thought a swear word, for I had been hoping for one of her reliable hunches.
"Well," I said, "Natomi, Franklin, or Ron Harris?"
"Why Natomi?" asked Mark. "I've been wondering why she's a suspect since you
first mentioned her name. Isn't she on our side?"
"She has acted a bit... suspicious. She called me to the meeting; without me,
none of them would have brought up the Changelings."
"I think they're a red herring," said Mark.
I wasn't familiar with the phrase, but I could guess his meaning. "Me, too," I
said. "Anyway, after the meeting she came on to me. At the time I thought she
was really interested, but it was so out of character that I now wonder if it
was an act."
"Man, you just got married! Did she really think you'd cheat on Mara?"
"I don't know," I said. "I turned her away gently; then I told her my story,
the real story, and I told her how important she was to me as a friend. She
seemed to accept that."
"Strange, but is it suspicious?" he asked.
"Just before she came on to me, Franklin Evans hired me to investigate the
murder. She knows my success firsthand on the Burke rape case, after all; if
she's the murderer, she might want to influence me in her favor."
"In fact, I think I should talk to her next," I said.
"Alone?" asked Mara.
"I'm afraid so," I answered.
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