Saturday, September 12, 2009

Magic Man by Wendy Stone

Brady said goodbye to Joseph and left the restaurant in a strange mood. He usually enjoyed their weekly lunches, an event he looked forward to since he’d come back home. After college, he’d become involved with a bad crowd while searching for people like himself, people who could do magic with their hands and mind.

He’d gotten into the occult, finding himself surrounded by wannabes whose skills with magic were contrived, done with smoke and mirrors. None of them had what he did, the power of telekinesis, the power to conjure, the power to teleport. Even the power to change the shape of his body, though he had never told anyone he could do that. That power freaked him out a little too much to use. He also had the power to control others.

He sighed, wondering if he was going to hell for the things that he had done in those days after college. He had been wild; sex, drugs, alcohol and more sex until his brain had seemed to float, permanently pickled. The day Joseph had come looking for him, in that strange house that he and three other guys had rented out, the walls covered with pentagrams and other magical symbols, the air perfumed with the smell of marijuana and sex, spilled beer and burnt macaroni and cheese, had changed his life. Hell, Joseph had probably saved his life.

He’d found Brady in bed with two women. He couldn’t remember meeting them or coming home, let alone know their names. The last thing he’d remembered was finishing off his second pint of Jack Daniels while his friends tried talking him into going into the new strip joint that had just opened across town. He could vividly recall the embarrassment he’d felt when Joseph had walked in and he’d been lying in that bed, the room smelling strongly of sex that he didn’t remember having.

“Get up, Brady, and get dressed. We’re going for a walk.”

A walk had been the last thing Brady had wanted and he’d almost used his mind control on Joseph, the one thing he’d always promised he wouldn’t do. Instead, he stood up and threw on clothes that smelled of alcohol, tobacco and cheap perfume.

Joseph had walked until Brady, tired, hung over and out of shape, had collapsed at the foot of a fountain in a park he couldn’t remember ever being in before. He’d dropped his head into his hands and wept.

And Joseph had picked him up, gotten him out of that life and back in contact with his parents. He helped him get straight and get rid of the miscreant friends that had littered his life for the past two years. He’d helped him and Brady owed him for it.

But he was wrong about Renee. He did love Renee. She was perfect for him. Polished and sleek, a petite blonde who never left the house with a hair out of place. She was ordered and structured. She kept him grounded and in command when these “gifts” of his tried to push him out of control.

Had he used his powers on her? Yeah, though he wasn’t proud of it. Ordered and structured got boring. Sometimes he wanted her to strip for him, or to become aggressive and knock him to the bed, tear at his clothes and take him. He always rearranged her memories afterward, letting her think that the lovemaking had been sweet and gentle, the way she liked it.

So what if he hadn’t told her about his secret. She didn’t need to know everything about him. And besides, they had their whole lives to get to know each other. He’d wait until...”Hey, watch it!”

Brady reached out and grabbed the small figure that had just barreled into him. His hands grasped slender arms; his body shook in shock from the small but perfectly curved body that had slammed into him. He stared down at the petite figure, catching a glimpse of bright green eyes.

She was wearing a bright red dress, the long skirt flowing around her slender ankles. Her hair was a shade darker than her dress, curled and long, silky against his hands as it covered both them and her arms. Impressive cleavage was artfully displayed by the scooped neck of the dress, baring a tiny gold pendant in the shape of a pentagram.

“I... I’m sorry,” Brady stammered, lost in the startling green of her eyes. “You’re not hurt, are you?”

“No,” she said softly, her voice smoky and a little deeper than he’d expected from someone of her diminutive stature. “I’m fine, Brady.”

He did a double take as he heard his name come from those soft, sensuously lush lips. “Do I know you?”

She smiled. “You probably don’t remember me. It was a while ago and I’ve changed a bit since then.” She stepped back, making him realize he was still holding her.

“Oh, sorry about that,” he said, his cheeks flushing. “Who are you?”

“I have to go,” she said, looking around suddenly, her eyes darkening. Without another word, she turned, her skirt flying up around her as she hurried away.

“Wait!” he called, his hand coming up to stop her.

She didn’t stop.

Brady squinted, intrigued by her, wanting more time with her. He sent out the thought, a tingle that would be irresistible to her, to turn back to him.

She didn’t even slow down. Instead, she waved a hand in front of her, four fingers spread out, her thumb crossed across her palm and kept running.

“Whoa,” he breathed, realizing she had deflected his power with an ease he’d never seen before. “That’s not possible.”

His phone rang again and he picked it up, not bothering to check the caller ID. “Yeah?”

“Is that how you answer your phone when it’s your fiancée calling?” Renee’s voice said.

“Oh, hi, honey.” He ran his hand over his face, his nerves tightening. “I didn’t look to see who it was. I’m sorry.”

“Apology accept, Brady bear,” she crooned.

Brady could feel his head begin to pound. “What did you need, sweetie?”

“I just wanted to know what Father Joseph had to say. Will he do it for us?”

“Honey,” he said, trying to stay patient with her. “Neither of us are Catholic. Why would you want a Catholic priest to perform the ceremony?”

“I just thought... him being your friend and all,” she said quietly. “I thought you’d like him to perform it.”

“He said he would, Renee, but we would both have to go for counseling sessions with him. And we’d have to push back the date of the wedding to make those sessions. I told him I’d get back to him.” He pulled the phone away from his ear, waiting for the explosion.

It wasn’t long in coming. “Father Joseph can’t help out his best friend? After all we’ve done for him and his church,” Renee said, her voice growing strident.

Brady’s head pounded. He could feel anger beginning to rise inside of him. Looking across the street, he saw the glass window in the clothing store start to vibrate. Deep breaths couldn’t control the power he felt pulsing inside of him and he did the only other thing that came to mind. “Renee, Father Joseph doesn’t need to marry us,” he said, his fingers going to his temple as he pushed the tingle out of him and into a car down the street, shattering the side windows and setting off the car alarm.

“Well, baby, it was just a thought,” she said, her voice growing softer, less angry. “Are you coming home soon?”

“Not for a couple of hours,” he said, relief singing through him. “I still have some work to do at the office. You might as well go home, sweetheart. I’ll give you a call later.”

“Okay,” she sighed. “I love you, Brady bear.”

“Yeah, me too,” he said, hitting the button to turn the phone off with a sigh of relief. He didn’t know how much more he could take. Was Joseph right? Could he only be with Renee because of the status she brought?

“No, I love her,” he said out loud.

“Me, too,” a homeless man agreed, holding out his hand to ask for change.

Brady dug out a ten dollar bill, leaving the man the thought that he should use it for a hot meal and not for the booze that he planned to buy with it. Then he waved his hand at a cab and headed back to his office.

The idea for his detective agency had originally come from Joseph, strangely enough. Joe had figured that using his powers for good was a way to make up for the bad he’d done. Brady didn’t know if he agreed or not, but it was interesting work. And he actually had been able to make a difference, although he still wasn’t certain it absolved him of earlier misdeeds.

His office was on the second floor of a building housing mostly lawyers. A stroke of genius on his part; half of them were divorce lawyers who needed to get the goods on their clients’ spouses. At first, he’d barely paid the rent and made enough to afford a secretary. Now he had a waiting list, took only the clients he wanted to take and could afford the newest in surveillance equipment. The cops even came to him when they had cases they couldn’t get a lead on.

He’d gained fame by finding a ten year old girl who’d been kidnapped. Her parents had paid the ransom and the kidnappers had managed to get away, without giving up the girl. Brady had found her and the kidnappers. He’d gotten good at hiding the psychic part of his investigation, always covering up any vibes or pictures he’d gotten by using regular footwork and making connections.

No one was the wiser. He liked it that way.

“Hey, Hailey,” he said, pushing in through the double doors into the reception area of his office. “Any calls this afternoon?”

Hailey Carlisle was in her late forties, plump and matronly with a shock of bright red hair that never managed to be in place and an eye for brightly colored Hawaiian shirts. She’d been with him since the beginning and he didn’t see any reason not to keep her after he’d started to make money.

She held up a sheaf of pink telephone messages. “The usual,” she said, cheerily enough. “Don Barlow has been down here four times looking for you. He has a client he needs to talk about. You aren’t going to take that crook’s work, are you Brady?”

“It pays the bills, Hailey,” Brady teased, knowing that Hailey and Don were like oil and milk, cats and dogs, sugar in a gas tank. Explosive.

“If you’re that short on money, I’ll loan it to you,” she grouched, rising to pour him a cup of freshly brewed coffee. Picking up the pile of pink notes, she took them in to his office and set them on the middle of his ritzy leather blotter, a Christmas present from Renee. A picture of her in a sterling silver frame shared desk space with it. “I don’t know how you can work for someone like him. The man’s a shyster. He’s every lawyer joke ever told.”

“Okay, okay,” he said, holding his hands out in defeat. “I won’t take his case. I’ll give you the pleasure of telling him,” he called out to her as she smiled, looking like the cat who ate the canary.

“Oh yes, my pleasure,” she breathed, closing Brady’s door quietly and heading towards her phone, rubbing her hands in glee at this unexpected fun.

“Be nice,” he shouted to her, hearing her chuckle even through the heavy door. “Women,” he sighed. He sat behind his desk, running through the phone messages and placing them in two neat piles. One pile he would phone today; the other, well they might never hear from him.

He got through two meetings with prospective clients and fielded a complaint from an irate Don Barlow, who was even angrier after hearing Hailey cackle at him. His phones calls were made. He’d just finished the last of them when Hailey knocked on his door.

“Your last appointment is here,” she said quietly. “Do you mind if I get out of here, boss?”

“No,” Brady said, standing and coming around his desk. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, it’s just... there’s something about this one that’s kind of giving me the creeps. I’d just rather be gone before she leaves.” Hailey ducked her head, embarrassed.

“Damn, does she have a third eye or something? I’ve never seen you like this.”

“I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” she muttered before turning and waving in the client. She didn’t even stay to close the door behind her, snatching her purse off her desk and hurrying to the coat rack to grab her jacket.

The outer door was closing behind her as the girl sauntered into his office. She closed the door herself and then turned to face Brady.

“You!”

Dragonfly by L.E. Bryce

Inandré took another sip of wine to steady his nerves. For all he knew, this might be the last time he ever saw Shapur ked Khaturin, the last time he ever entertained an admirer, or tasted such a fine vintage. “You do not need me, Shapur, and I am not what you think I am. Yes, I am an akharu who was once owned by a kinsman of the High Prince. I was made for love and pleasure, and I gave that, but all that is gone now. You are not the only one who grieves. Everything that I was or believed is gone, turned to ashes, and each day I wake thinking my sorrow is going to choke me.” Crumpling his linen napkin in his fist, he rose. “I am a terrible host for saying so. Believe me when I say I am sorry I cannot give you what you want, or deserve.”

Where he would have withdrawn, Shapur reached for him, closing a firm hand around his wrist to prevent his escape. “Inandré, do not go.”

“I cannot bring Ashara back for you.”

“I do not expect you to.”

Shapur gently took the napkin from him and tossed it amid the ruins of their picnic. Then, still clasping his wrist, the merchant rose and led him to a bench under the shade of an orange tree. “Sit with me for a while. I will not talk about Ashara, or my children. I should have known how rude it was to impose like this upon you.”

Inandré felt the pressure of his fingers, gently squeezing, yet could not look at him. “No, I should not have—”

“Hush, now. You were right to say something. Had you not, I think I would have gone on for weeks as I have been, all to avoid the things I want to say.” Shapur’s voice was low and soothing; he must have spoken to his wife in exactly this way. “I have been told a great many things about you—no, I will not repeat those slanders. I merely want to know how much is true.”

Inandré pulled his hand free; he buried it in his lap, twisting his fingers together. Never before had Shapur turned the topic of conversation to him. Is this not what I wanted? No, not quite like this, not where he, ashamed and tongue-tied, could barely find the words to answer.

When he did, his response spilled out in an unseemly jumble. “You mean, did a prince whose name I will not mention hound me for months before bribing my servants to gain entry to my house? Did he rape me in my salon, then lie about it in court? Yes, that is all true. Was I stupid enough to try to sue him? Yes, I was. Was I naïve enough to believe I had any hope of being believed or receiving justice? Yes, I was.”

Shapur remained silent so long it seemed he would never answer. It disgusts him. He thinks I am a whore, just like all the others. “I had no idea.”

He sounded so sad, so strained, that Inandré let some of the bitterness drain from his voice. “What did you think I would say?”

“I do not know,” admitted Shapur, “only that I do not like to pass judgment based on rumor and speculation. I would be a very poor businessman if I did that.”

Inandré glanced meaningfully toward the foyer. “I suppose you wish to leave now?”

No akharu worth his or her breeding would suggest such a thing so bluntly. Inandré marked the slip, yet did not apologize. Too many would-be admirers had extricated themselves from his company in the last eight months, leaving behind them a trail of lame excuses and canceled engagements; he no longer had the will to be gracious.

If Shapur noticed, he made no comment. “I would like to stay,” he answered. “That is, unless you wish to kick me to the curb. I should have asked you sooner what took place, but from what little I have heard it seemed rude to pry into such an intimate matter.” Turning his palms up, he spread his hands. “So you see, all these many months I have wasted your time with my babbling.”

“I do not think you considered it so,” Inandré said quietly.

Shapur nodded. “There are few these days in whom I can confide. As my relatives and associates see it, the forty days of mourning have passed. Most of them would prefer I find a new, young wife to help me forget about Ashara, or a fresh business venture. They certainly have no interest in hearing about a dead woman. So when your friend Hanithi introduced us and dropped the hint that you were a good listener, well-bred, and not at all in a hurry, of course I came to you. Until today, I thought it an ideal arrangement.”

Those last words set Inandré’s teeth on edge. For all his soft talk, he means to walk out of here and forget me, and I have no one else. Had he been shrewd, he would have clung to Shapur’s arm and murmured honeyed assurances, but those familiar phrases tasted too sour to utter. “Because you had no thought at all for anything but your loss,” Inandré replied. “No, do not look at me like that—let me speak my mind. It is a rare privilege for me.”

“Do you think you are the only one who is consumed with agony over something forever lost? Do you think just because I smile so prettily and make such vapid conversation that I feel nothing? I lie awake at night choked by uncertainty and loneliness, bleeding inside because my heart has been torn in two, just as surely as my body was violated.

“I want to love. I would like nothing better than to bestow my affection on you or some other worthy man, but I am afraid. I used to be utterly wanton, afraid of nothing, but that was before, when I still believed in a thing called love. Now I do not think it even exists.”

Once again, Shapur reached across and took his hand. “You are too young to be so disillusioned.”

“I am old by the standards of my profession.”

Shapur’s fingers squeezed his. “Old or young, love does exist for those who can find it.”

“For you, perhaps.”

“Why should I be any different?”

Only an ignorant man would ask. “Because you were not taken as a child from whatever home you knew, from parents you no longer remember, and sold to a school where your sole purpose was to learn how to please others,” explained Inandré. “Your head was not stuffed with poetry, and you were not taught to hide your true longings behind a veil of desire. Love for an akesh or an akharu is very different than for a man who loved his first wife so much that he took no others. For you, it is about sentiment and passion. For me, it is about opportunity. There is only one reason an akharu receives admirers in his salon, and it is not for love.”

Shapur’s grip tightened, but he did not pull away. “And yet, you have never pressed me on the subject. Either you do not care for me or…”

“I preferred not to frighten you away.”