Copyright © 2002 Chris Gonnerman. All Rights Reserved.
The weather was still clear as I stepped out onto the roof of 50 Fremont Center.
I was already Invisible, and had activated my Flight spell, so I could take off
any time I wanted. I didn't take off right away, though.
I stood at the edge of the roof for a long moment. I knew I was safe, but it
was still unsettling, looking out over the city from such a height. Facing my
fear helped keep my mind clear and focused.
I stepped off and took to the air. Diving, I rapidly gained speed; then I
pulled up and headed for home.
Mark was waiting for me at the office. "I've got something interesting for
"Tell me," I said, as Mara came in from the hallway.
"On a hunch," said Mark, "I did some surfing on a couple of local news sites,
looking for stories about people killed by decapitation. I found an interesting
one only a couple of months back... a headless body pulled from the bay. The
story didn't tell me much, so I called my police-freak buddy, and he got me
this." He handed me a fax copy of a forensics report, on a "John Doe," and I
automatically turned to the summary section.
"'Subject was decapitated by means of small-gauge wire rope a.k.a. aircraft
cable,'" I read aloud, so that Mara would hear it. "'In the absence of other
evidence, this must be considered most likely an industrial accident. Crushing
of the vertebrae of the neck by the cable is so severe that we feel it could not
have been caused by a garotte or similar weapon.'"
"Wow," said Mara.
"Wait, you're not done," said Mark. "Go back up to the examination section and
read it." I skimmed the section he pointed out until I found what he was
"'Subject has apparent full male sexual organs, with an incompletely formed
vagina, a variation of the condition formerly referred to as a male
pseudo-hermaphrodite.' He was a Changeling!"
"Exactly," said Mark, "and he was killed just like John Harkin and Doc Silva."
"It must be the same killer," I mused. "That killer must be a member of the
Conclave, based on what we've learned already."
"Natomi's not a suspect anymore?" asked Mark.
"Whoa, that sounded final," he said. "I won't ask."
"That'd be best." I considered my options for a moment. "I think I need to
speak to Ron Harris next. There is still too much I don't know here."
Without another word Mark dialed a number and handed me the handset. "AJ
Enterprises, Mister Harris' office, can I help you?"
"Yes, this is Solo Jones. Can you tell me, would it be possible for me to see
"Well, sir, Mister Harris is in a meeting with the zoning board this afternoon.
He may be in later today but I can't say for sure."
"Thank you, miss. I'll try again later." I turned off the phone and handed it
back to Mark. "He has a meeting with the zoning board," I said.
"There's nothing that San Franciscans like to argue about more than zoning,"
said Mark. "Hey, wait... Harkin was a realtor. Could there be a connection?"
"I suppose, but how exactly?" I said. Mark shrugged.
"Wasn't there an article in the paper about zoning issues in SOMA last week?"
said Mara. I shook my head; I hadn't read many newspapers in the week before
our wedding. Then she turned and left the room, and I pulled up a chair and sat
"Well, I guess I need to see Franklin Evans next then," I said to Mark. "Do we
know how to contact him?"
"Mara wrote down his address and phone number yesterday... forgot already?"
I smiled a rueful smile. "I suppose so. Yesterday morning seems like an age
ago. Dial it for me?"
He already was. "Here," he said, handing it to me.
It was ringing. Click... "Hello?"
"Franklin? This is Solomoriah."
"Yeah, Solo, it's me. What's up? Are you close to solving John's murder?"
"Maybe," I answered. "I need to talk to you again. Are you busy?"
"No, not doing anything. D'you want me to come to your house?"
"No," I said. "I'll meet you at your place, if you don't mind. Right away if
that's okay with you?"
"Yeah, fine. I'll be here." Click.
I turned off the phone and handed it back to Mark. "Here it is!" called Mara.
She came in waving a newspaper. "I didn't think I had thrown these out yet."
She handed the paper to me and pointed out the article. I quickly skimmed it.
"'Ron Harris, CEO of AJ Enterprises Inc. and proprietor of the popular AJ's
nightclub, was again denied the zoning variance for expansion of his
nightclub,'" I read aloud. "'Mr. Harris refused to comment after the meeting.'
Hmm. How does this fit in?"
"This was just last week," said Mark. "Isn't it a bit soon for him to be
bugging the zoning commission again?"
"That's what I was thinking," said Mara.
"He's supposed to be an expert at spells of influence and domination," I mused.
"He would never be turned down if he didn't want to be."
"Does the Conclave have rules of ethics?" asked Mara.
"I don't know; it didn't come up," I said. "Well, I'll try to remember to ask
Franklin. I better be going."
"Need any help?" asked Mark.
"I figured I'd fly. Hmm, I'm a bit short on prepared spells..." I wandered
into the parlor, so as not to disturb Mark should any phone calls come in, and
swiftly prepared replacements for my Invisibility, Flight, and Opening spells,
which I had used leaving 50 Fremont Center.
I still had a sevenfold spell of Kinetic Shield prepared; but I wondered if
perhaps I needed something special, to protect against beheading by means of
wire garotte. I found myself wishing I knew the secret of the Changeling's very
durable protection. But, I reminded myself, I didn't, so I did the best I
For a moment I thought, and then I began casting an amended Kinetic Shield
spell. It took eleven more words to constrain the area of effect to my neck,
but by concentrating it that way I made the threefold casting as powerful as an
eight or ninefold normal casting.
With that powerful mystic field surrounding my neck, I decided to go ahead and
prepare for anything. I cast Mind Reading and analytical Mystic Vision at
threefold duration each; both would therefore last the rest of the day and
probably all night.
I was tired, after all that; but I had a job to do, and too much time wasted
already. I found Mara with Mark in the office, discussing the case. "Want to
go along, Mara?"
"Yes," she said, rising from her chair.
"I guess I'll hold down the fort here," said Mark.
Mara said, "Let me go change shoes, and get my purse." After a few aerial trips
with me, Mara had selected a small purse into which she could put "the bare
minimum" she might need. Larger purses turned out to be very inconvenient while
airborne. As to the shoes, well, the backless women's shoes then in fashion
were hard to hang on to while flying.
It didn't take her as long to prepare as it did for me to cast Flight to affect
two and a blanket Invisibility spell. "See you later, Mark," I said.
"Probably tomorrow," he said, not bothering to look for us. "It's half past three
now; by the time you get back, I'll probably be home."
"See you tomorrow, then," I said, taking Mara by the hand.
"Goodbye, Mark," she said as I held open the door for her.
As we flew through the afternoon sky toward Franklin's apartment building, I
realized it was where I had seen my first Tap. That night, less than a week
after my "awakening" in this age, I stood on a rooftop and saw the thin conduit
snake upward and connect to the Ley line. Though I flew as fast as I could I
did not make it in time to meet the mage who created it. Now I could at least
guess who it was.
I rang the doorbell, wishing Mara could see the look on my face. After a moment
the door opened, and Franklin looked out. Not seeing us, he said, "I hope it's
you, Solo... come on in."
"Thanks," I said quietly. As he stepped back from the open door I gently guided
Mara ahead of me. "I'm in," I said, and he closed the door. As soon that was
done, I dropped my Invisibility, and after a moment Mara appeared also.
"Mara," he said, "I didn't expect you also." He looked around at the disorder
in his bachelor's apartment. "I hope it's not too bad in here."
"Looks fine to me," she said brightly, moving a pile of books from a chair and
I smiled at that, then remembered why we were there. "Franklin, some things
have come up that I need to ask you about."
He cleared a chair for me and I sat down. "Ask away," he said, sitting down
"Did John have any connection with the zoning board?" I asked.
"Yeah, he did... it was an old arrangement. He monitored a lot of public and
some non-public meetings for magical influences. Some friends of his at City
Hall arranged payment for the services." He paused. "Does this have something
to do with his murder?"
"Maybe," I said. "Is there a connection to Phillip Silva?"
"Sure, he's the alternate... he did the job when John was busy." I could see
the suspicion growing in Franklin's eyes. "It's Ron, isn't it?"
"I think so," I said. "I still don't know how, but now I have a very solid
reason why. The Changelings were a smokescreen."
"Yeah... I thought it seemed far-fetched." I glanced at Mara and she nodded,
almost imperceptibly. Interesting.
"Well, I thought I had other questions, but I guess not," I said, standing up.
"Now it seems I must seek the dragon in his lair."
"I'm going too," said Franklin. "He was my mentor. I have a stake in this too."
"Very well," I said. "Mara, this will probably be ugly, and I'm afraid you
aren't really ready for this sort of fight." She looked unhappy about my words,
but didn't say anything. "I'd like you to go back to the house."
"We'll take my car," Franklin said before she could answer. "I'll drop you by
your house," he said to Mara, "and then we'll go on to AJ's." He turned to me.
"I guess that's where we should look for him?"
"I think so," I said. "He's supposed to have businesses all over, but I don't
know about any of the others."
"Can we prep spells at your place?" he asked, as we walked out the door.
"Sure," I said. "Let's go."
Franklin's car was tiny. I had a hard time folding my six-foot frame into the
back seat; but Mara would have had nearly as much trouble as I, and I always let
her have the better seat.
So I was greatly relieved to arrive at the house. I practically had to crawl
out, over the folded driver's seat, but as soon as I walked in the front door my
sore spots faded away.
Mark was just closing up the office. "Hey, didn't figure you'd be back this
quick," he said.
"Solomoriah has solved the case," said Mara. "Ron Harris is the killer."
"Probably," I added. "I'm only nine-tenths sure."
"Well, I'm sure it was him," said Franklin.
"I don't need to prepare any spells," I said to Franklin. "Feel free to use the
parlor." He remembered the way, and I followed him.
"This place feels pretty good," he said. "Better than my Mystic Conduit spell."
"Not as much of a rush as John's crystal platform, though."
He looked at me, surprised. "You got into John's basement?"
"Yes. When I search a house, I do a thorough job." I felt a bit guilty not
mentioning the computers. "I borrowed a couple of books... wait in the parlor
and I'll get them for you."
I handed him the two books. "I don't know why I took that journal; I don't read
Latin. The book by Moses Rook was very illuminating."
"I haven't read it yet," he said. Holding up the journal, he said, "This is
"How is that possible? There aren't any diagrams."
"John created a pure-text notation for gestures and spellform structures. I
think I'm the only person besides him who ever learned read it."
"Ah," I said. Then I remembered the illusion-glass. "Here," I said, handing it
to him, "this was John's also. Very handy... it helped me solve this case."
"Well, I'm glad," he said. "You have anything else I might need?"
"No, that's all I borrowed. I'd be happy to return the favor; I have all of
Dreamwalker's books. So far as I care, you can have all of them which aren't in
He began to say something more, and stopped. "There'll be time enough to chat
later. Do you have a spell to protect you from spells of influence or
"No," I admitted.
"I'll cast a protective spell on you before we go."
"Do you have any spells to protect against physical attacks?" I asked.
"Yeah, I have a couple of options. Can you tell me what we're up against?"
"The medical examiners' reports I have seen indicate some sort of very powerful
garotte. Sturdy neck protection is called for, I suppose."
"Gotcha," he said.
Mara walked in at that moment, bearing a tray with a steaming carafe of
xocholotl and three cups. Mark followed her in, Jolt in hand. "Either of you
need a drink?" she asked as she put the tray on the coffee table.
Franklin looked suspiciously at the dark liquid in the carafe. "Ever have
xocholotl?" I asked.
"Nope. What is it?"
"It's a lot like liquid dark chocolate," said Mara, handing him a full cup.
He took a sip, then drank deeply of the strong hot drink. Mara handed me a cup
also, and took one for herself.
"Not bad. I could get to like this," said Franklin.
"Gah," said Mark, "can't stand the stuff."
Franklin put his drained cup on the tray. Mara gave him a questioning look, and
he shook his head. "It's good, but I need to prep a couple spells now."
"Come on, guys, he doesn't sound to me like he needs an audience," said Mara,
picking up the tray and leading us out. Mark and I went to the office and sat
down; after a little while Mara joined us. I could hear Franklin pretty
plainly, and I marvelled at how he wove English words together like fractured
poetry to form his spells. I wished I could watch his gestures...
Shortly he came into the office. "Ready. I've already got my protection on...
how does it look?"
I brought my Mystic Vision "forward" and focused on him. He had an interesting
armoring spell, with a double-layer around his neck; and I could make out a
spellform oriented around his head which was entirely unfamiliar to me. "Looks
good to me," I said.
He began a new spellcasting, and I paid close attention, though I was sure I
couldn't remember all the words. As he completed the final gesture he laid his
left hand on my shoulder, and I felt a strange sensation as his spell wrapped
itself around my skull.
"Third tier of power," he said. "Best I can do."
"Feels good," I said, feeling it out with my mind. I discovered that the Mind
Reading spell I had cast earlier, which was still in effect, could not reach out
beyond the protection; so casting it had become a waste of time. Still, I felt
the protection well worth such a small cost.
"Let's go," I said. "Mark, Mara, this may be pretty, ah, 'hairy,' so I'd like
you to stay here. A mage's battle is no place for you two."
"I understand," Mara said, smiling. I could see the worry behind the smile.
"Good luck, my love."
"Hey, it's about quitting time anyway," said Mark. I could see he was
disappointed to be left out of the action, but he couldn't argue with my logic.
I kissed Mara, a bit self-consciously this time, and said "I'll be back."
"You better," she answered, still trying to smile.
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