Monday, September 12, 2005

Intangible Assets, Chapter 7

     As I did with the walk to the car, I drove so that I approached the office from the far side. The goons who were looking to clear out Allison’s apartment were probably as anxious as I was to avoid the sheriff’s men. That didn’t mean that I wasn’t going to be careful.

     Strictly speaking, I wasn’t certain that they were working with the other ghost.  My principled aversion to coincidence made up for the uncertainty. Paulie had figured pretty quick that I was talking to a ghost. He had also figured that I might just be useful for an introduction to the lady of the house. They were there to pick up a few things that might get a certain lady’s attention. My experiment went quicker because I was already on speaking terms with her.

Then there was the matter of the wraithly heavy on the fire escape. How long had he been observing the action in that room? Probably long enough to figure that the comb was something important in the spectral scheme of things. My little experiment must have saved them some work.

By the time I parked my car, all of the pain I’d put off clamored for attention with more enthusiasm than my dwarven landlord calling for back rent. I decided to cancel the rest of my appointments for the day by the time I had climbed the stairs and into my office. I was vaguely surprised to see Calliope there. At least she would have been able to contact my clients about the cancellations, had there been any to cancel.

She didn’t even bat an eye when she saw the state I was in.

“This is not what I meant when I said that you should go out and try to have a good time.” She picked up a small pocketbook and headed for the door. “I’ll be right back.”

I slipped out of my coat, wincing at the aches settling into my shoulders and back. Once out of the coat, I opened one of the middle drawers of the filing cabinet and removed the silk, candle, and chalk. I cleared my desk and spread the cloth so that the incomplete circle painted on the silk was smooth. The candle went in the center. I lit the candle and held the end of the chalk in the flame. I drew the runes of warding at the ordinal points of the broken circle, and copied the same runes upon the walls of the office, this time speaking the names of the permitted. This ward was going to be more than just the alert I had up the previous night, nothing magical would cross it without a fight. I named to Allison among the permitted in addition to Calliope and myself.

With that step done, I returned to the desk. Intoning the final invocation of Warding, I drew the last part of the arc to complete the circle about the candle. The sigils flared both on the silk and on the walls. When the lights faded, the runes were no longer visible on either, but the circle on the silk was still complete.

The silk, extinguished candle, and chalk went back into the drawer. The ward complete, I went to the bathroom to take stock of the damage. That’s the way it got done: first the ward, then the wizard.

Thankfully, I still had all of my teeth, though I’d keep my chewing to the left for the next week or so. The only other real damage was to my hand. Knuckles just aren’t designed to channel that much Force. Supposedly there were Chinamen who could throw punches like that all day long. One of these days I’d have to get around to asking one of them how they do that. Just as soon as I met one who could and wasn’t of a mind to demonstrate the technique on my person.

I had just managed to pry open a bottle of aspirin when Calliope returned.

“You in here, boss?”

I responded with a relieved groan as I slipped into my chair.

“I noticed the welcome mat,” she said with a nod that encompassed the office. “Expecting the party to follow you home?”

She set a paper bag down on the desk. A pair of greasy, newspaper wrapped bundles and a rattling ice bag emerged from its confines. Calliope handed me the ice bag and set to unwrapping the packages of fish and chips from the café next door.

I twisted the cap off the ice bag and shook a couple of cubes into a reasonably clean tumbler. The ice was followed with a double’s worth of bourbon before I closed the bag and applied said bag to my face.

“I doubt anyone managed to follow me, but no point in taking the chance.”

The slug I took off the bourbon nearly ended up on the desk. I screwed my eyes shut and swallowed through the pain. At least the newly discovered lacerations on the inside of my cheek were disinfected. The rest of the bourbon would have to wait for later.

“So what’s the case?” Calliope asked as she brought a morsel of fried fish to her full, inviting lips. “Sam?”

It took me a moment to register that she had asked me a question. She didn’t let on if my distraction irritated her. I figured that it was the type of thing a girl got used to as a succubus.

“Oh, sorry,” I popped a chip in my mouth to cover the delay in my reaction. “Her name is Allison Tierney. She came in last night with a story about how someone was trying to, um, kill her.”

“And, of course, Sir Samuel leaped forward into the fray to absorb the blows meant for the fair damsel in distress.” She punctuated her analysis by sucking a bit of vinegar off of her thumb.

“It’s a touch more complicated than that,” I said, concentrating on relieving my injured teeth from chewing duty.

“Really? Complicated how?”

“She’s already dead.”

Calliope paused with a chip halfway up.

“ ‘Already dead’ as in ‘not a customer to list as a reference’ or ‘already dead’ as in ‘who should I be haunting’?”

“More like the second. She said that another ghost tried to off her. I was at her place this afternoon when I ran into some of her attacker’s more physical associates.”

I winced as I absentmindedly tongued a chip to the wrong side.

“Would this Allison be tall, brunette, and wearing a red dress?” Calliope asked. My gaze, which had drifted away from her in order to keep my mind on the case, turned back to her. Calliope was looking over my right shoulder.

“That’s right.”

“Then there is a Ms. Tierney here to see you.”

While the distraction inherent of working with a Lilliam was hardly onerous, there were other advantages. The big one was that Calliope always saw magically while I had to do so consciously. That edge had saved my bacon more than once.

At that moment, however, I intended to have a too long delayed conversation with my client.    

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