7. Helicopters & Bindings
I start the car and we’re packed and gone from the town before the local press can even think of interviewing us about the ghost in the restaurant. I give Jay my tablet and the description of it and he finds out about a local girl named Anna who normally haunts a bar at the north end of town, mostly a folk tale everyone knows about. Died in a storm, comes in with the cold, but mostly harmless.
The ghost that wrapped itself up in winter didn’t fit that at all.
The magician looks back at Jay, who goes from worried to happy at the smile offered. “You did well.”
“And?” I ask.
“And we didn’t want out pictures taken; Jay hides himself after all.”
I blink and look back in the rearview mirror at Jay, seeing him just fine. “You did take a picture of yourself for the net, right?”
“I tried; it didn’t work,” he grumbles.
“Oh. People noticing that would have been a problem.” I flick a finger to the glove compartment and the magician pulls out the map, unfolds it to where we are and begins working out a route to avoid major highways. “I thought we were dealing with creatures from Outside, not ghosts?”
“So did I; it seems they decided to outsource dealing with me to someone who owes them favours. And that person is both magically inclined and has no desire for direct confrontation.”
“So they’re smart.”
“And clever. The worst traits an enemy can have. On the other hand, we haven’t been slowed down enough for it to actually matter yet. Assuming that is the intent rather than actual murder.”
“Those are pretty different assumptions,” I say as dryly as I know how.
“Think of the fun we can have figuring out which is right.”
I don’t hit him. Well, not more than once.
Jay waits until we’ve driven over half an hour before asking about breakfast, which is a new record. We find another restaurant in a small town: quick service, greasy food and light conversation. The magician heads to the counter to settle up with the waiter after, gesturing for Jay to follow me outside.
He does, not noticing the fork I palm, but does pause when I open the back door of the car for him, getting in warily. I drive the fork at his chest as he’s putting the seatbelt on. His arm snaps up, the fork digging through his shirt to press into flesh and slide off a moment later. Jay blinks at his arm, then stares back up at me.
“I see it worked.”
“Yeth,” he says, so surprised he doesn’t avoid the ess, then: “You thtabbed me!”
“It was only a fork.” I grin, letting a hint of the god enter my eyes.
Jay’s gaze flicks down to his unhurt arm and he looks back up and grins in turn. “That wathn’t weak,” he says proudly.
“Nope.” I get in the front and watch the door. The magician comes out and pauses briefly. He doesn’t look around, but then he doesn’t need to, just walks a little faster than casual across the parking lot, gaze lingering over Jay and me with a small smile.
I start the car as he gets in. “Directions?”
“North. Major roads.” He sits back in the seat and rubs a hand across his face. “If I’m right, the person after us is going to use some nastier proxies next.”
He says nothing; I drive, pushing the speed limit and passing slower cars. We pass a few state troopers who never give us a second look and pass noon as the traffic begins to thin out, the interstate empty ahead of us.
“Honcho,” Jay says, his name for the magician in public, his voice small.
“Yeah.” He lets out a breath. “Drive fast and hard; we might break through this.”
I don’t ask question, just gun the engine hard. One minute, two, five, all down an empty interstate before I hear another sound: helicopter rotors, behind us and closing in.
The magician lets out a sigh. “Stop.”
I slow, the car shuddering a little as I shift gears down and bring it to a halt with almost no skid. In the rearview mirror the helicopter lands behind us. Matte-black, no insignia at all, and the uniforms of the men who get out are the same.
The magician just smiles grimly. “Stay inside,” to Jay as much as me, and gets out, walking toward the men.
I roll down the window as the man walk closer. They have submachine guns like in movies, face masks and sunglasses, gloves and boots. All bland, and forgettable, like spies in a b-movie.
One of the soldiers steps forward, quick and brisk, voice low and flat. “You will come with us.”
“I think not.” The magician doesn’t move, hands shoved casually in his pockets. “The Black Chamber is many things, but not stupid. Pissing off a magician is stupid, and letting you get into the heads of their agents merely a blunder, Kyle.”
“Hah!” The soldier barks, his voice no longer bland but smug, and younger than his face. “You know what will happen if you try and free them, magician,” he snaps, as if spitting out the last word.
“I am unlikely to forget.” The magician’s voice is soft and bland but Jay whimpers behind me and his right hand slips up into mine. I squeeze and he whispers a thank you, fingers trembling in my grip. “It is something you should have remembered.”
The six men collapse as one like puppets devoid of strings as the magician spits out six Words that aren’t human at all, sounds that make my ears throb and cause the air to ripple. He begins walking, then, raising his right hand, a sickly grey light gathering between his fingers and darkening like a bruise.
“Kyle Andrews Carmichael,” he says, and the power that thrums in his voice is as harsh as the sea. Between one moment and the next the air in front of him is no longer empty, a young man standing on the pavement. Late teens, painfully thin and stark naked, looking as scared as the magician’s voice is cold.
Kyle totters a couple of steps, opening and closing hands in a silent horror, and then simply has no mouth a moment later, just blank skin with barely time to process it. The wounded light wraps into him, around him, and – I miss something, or my brain simply refuses to process what comes after. There is darkness pressing into flesh and then nothing at all. No Kyle Carmichael, no light, just six men shaking their heads, hands dropping from weapons. The leader is staring at the magician in awe, the kind at once impressed and horrified.
You can come out, the magician’s voice whispers in our heads. He nods to the man, says something quietly and begins to walk off the road and into the field. Jay is already behind the magician even as I hear the back door open, then stumbles back a step as the magician just looks at him and keeps walking. The soldiers reach for weapons, let go, and Jay never notices, a blur of moment as I open the driver’s door.
He flings himself into me as I stand, making sounds for all the world like a wounded animal.
“He clothed me off,” he manages between sobs and whines. “The binding. He – it hurtth,” Jay says, and just repeats that as he clings to me, devolving into whimpers of pain as the one soldier walks over. It’s the one that ‘Kyle’ was inside, evidently the leader, boasting no weapons and looking wary and tense in equal measure.
I want to say, ‘Welcome to my life.’ I wait instead.
“Agent Six,” he says by way of introduction, offering no hand for me to shake.
“Charlie. This is Jay.”
Jay ignores him utterly, pressing his face into my stomach as he tries not to cry. I just wrap my arms around him and meet Agent Six’s gaze.
To my surprise, he looks away first and lets out a sigh. “We were used. Kyle Carmichael is – was – a talent.”
“And that is?”
“A magician with one ability. He could get into minds, make people do things. He got even better at it when someone killed him and he was free of his body. Our friend seems to have got around that; I’m not going to ask how. We’ll figure out how Kyle got us here later; he even arranged the interstate to close for two hours. Time will be up soon.” His gaze flicks over to the magician and then back to me. “I don’t know what your business is with him, but take care of him, okay?”
“Some magicians kill easily. Some don’t.” Agent Six offers up a smile that will never touch his eyes. “He’s one of the good guys, much as he doesn’t think so.” He nods to me, gives Jay a curter nod and turns back, waving his people into the black helicopter and heading to it without a backward glance.
I just hold Jay gently and wait as it takes off, leaving us standing by the interstate watching a magician in a field as if nothing had happened at all.