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I adjusted my collar and put my hand on my hat before walking out from the alcove that was the entrance to my building. The magical fires from the torches lit the street, paying no mind to the wind and the rain. I didn’t pay the weather much heed, either. It was a dark and stormy night that had lasted more than five hundred years. I didn’t have to think about adjusting my collar or securing my hat. It is just something we all learn to do as we grow up. We protect ourselves from the wind and the rain. Most folks cast a simple spell to deal with the weather, of course, but I can’t do that. They call me “Jack the Magicless,” and I’m a detective.
Those little things we do naturally and without thought are very important in our lives. There have been times when I was thinking about a case when I fixed supper, ate it, cleaned the dishes, and then realized I had no real memory of what I had eaten. These actions become all part of a routine, and we don’t pay them any more attention than we pay to the weather. What’s it like outside? It’s a dark and stormy night. What will it be like outside tomorrow? It will be a dark and stormy night. What will it be like outside next week? It will be a dark and stormy night. What will it be like outside next year? It will be a dark and stormy night. We don’t have to think about these things once we get used to them. They become part of the background of life. But every once in a while, something brings them to the foreground.
Looking out at the sheets of rain going nearly horizontal across under my building’s awning, I decided there was nothing for it. It wasn’t slackening. I would have to get out into it. It was lucky I was headed in the same direction as the wind. I skittered down the rain-soaked sidewalk, pushed by the winds for four blocks, barely catching the edge of the alcove into Larry’s Bar. The bouncer saw me, grabbed my arm, and reeled me into the shelter of the alcove before opening the door.
“Good evening, Mr. Gordon,” he rumbled out.
“Good evening, Mike, and thanks for the assistance.”
“Sure thing. Would you like me to, ah…” he gestured at my besodden state.
“Please. That would be very kind of you.”
He made a wringing motion with his hand, and all the water cascaded out of my clothing and hair and down to the pavement, then going out of the alcove and joining the flow of the storm without.
“Much obliged, Mike.”
He winked, “Anytime, Mr. Gordon. Gotta keep the floors here clean and dry, or the boss will kill me.”
I laughed, nodded, and went on in. Mike was at least half-troll, and trolls are notoriously hard to kill. Mike was a smart one who was adept with magic. Of course, it was hard for anyone who looked to have too much troll blood to get a job. On the other hand, for a bar in what was not the best part of town, a troll was just what was needed for a bouncer.
Larry was hovering above the bar watching everything, as usual. As soon as I came in, a tumbler and a whisky bottle along with a few ice cubes rose from their resting places and came together on the bar to create a whisky on the rocks. I sat down where Larry had put the drink and watched as the whisky bottle returned to its home along the back wall.
“How’s business tonight, Larry?”
“Pretty good.” He gave a jerk of his chin, “That group in the back has been contributing worth more than their number would tell.”
I looked in the mirror on the wall behind the bar. I had noted them when I came in, as I had naturally noted everyone else in the bar. Just another of those things we do without conscious thought. It looked like they were splitting a gallon pitcher with a single drop of Electric Firebrew, plus they had various other drinks they were cutting down the effects of the Firebrew with. One had what I could recognize as Isobel’s Teardrops. Both are brewed by my mother’s company, so indirectly, they were contributing to the family fortune. The group was a little odd. They were dressed and conducting themselves in a gentlemanly manner, speaking quietly, but the drinks belied that.
“Ya meetin’ someone here? Or just in to wet your whistle?” Larry asked.
“Bryce McKenȝie…” I started to say.
Larry rolled his eyes, shook his head, and floated towards the door of his backroom, which opened before he got there and closed after he had gone through.
I shrugged and took a sip of my whisky while watching the room in the mirror.
After a few minutes, the door to the back room opened again and Larry floated out with a dusty potion bottle floating in front of him. The bottle settled itself on the service part of the bar in front of the seat next to mine, while Larry resumed his position floating above the center of the bar watching his clientele.
In the mirror, I noticed something coalesce in an empty spot between tables. Five seconds later, there stood Bryce in solid form wearing ridiculous purple robes with spangles, stars, and moons in gold and silver.
“Limbless Larry! Jack the Magicless! Two of my favorite people! How are you, boys?”
Larry nodded and gave Bryce a look like something that had gotten stuck on his non-existent shoe in a cow pasture.
Bryce came over, sitting down beside me, and punching me in the shoulder, “How’s love treating you, Jack?”
“About like she always does, Bryce.”
“That bad, eh? I’d try to give you one of my cast-offs, but you know what they say, ‘It’s not the size of the stick, it’s the magic in the wand!’”
“Sure, Bryce, now, why was it you asked me to meet you here?”
“Explaining that’s going to be thirsty work, dear fellow.” He turned to Larry, “Hey, Limbless, what’s your most expensive brew?”
“The bottle is in front of you. It’s twenty merks per drop. Recommended five drops in a pint of beer. The beer will cost you five pence.”
“What does it do?”
“Try it and find out,” Larry said as if he didn’t care.
“I shall,” Bryce said and started digging merks out of his robe. Obviously, he was reaching through some sort of space-warp into his treasure room at home. Nobody is likely to carry around a hundred silver merks in money, not even an idiot like Bryce. The weight alone would make it prohibitive for anyone who wasn’t the size of Mike the bouncer. A merk is eight ounces of silver, so a hundred of them weigh over sixty-five pounds. Finally, Bryce dug into what was obviously a real pocket and pulled out five pence.
Larry nodded. A beer poured itself, floated over in front of Bryce, and then the bottle rose, the stopper came off, and tipped in five drops and a bit of dust from the bottle.
Bryce looked over at Larry, “Larry! You’re getting dust in the mix.”
“Yeah, don’t worry about it, Bryce. As old as that dust is, I should charge another few merks for it, but for you and for old times, I’m throwing it in for free.”
Bryce looked like he wasn’t sure whether he was being had, but he nodded and picked up the drink. The cash floated off the bar and then under it. I’m sure it disappeared through a space-warp into Larry’s treasure room the second it went out of sight. One doesn’t leave more than a hundred merks lying around anywhere in a dive bar.
I smiled, based on what I knew of Larry’s operation, I figured that there had to be a high mark-up on that potion. Larry had probably just tripled his weekly income. It was all the juicier that it was off Bryce.
Bryce took a sip, swished it around his mouth, and then swallowed. He hiccoughed. Suddenly, there was a large purple, silver, and gold rabbit sitting beside me. It put out it’s forepaws and inspected them, followed by reaching up to feel its ears.
“Oh, this potion is fantastic!” Bryce the rabbit said. “How long does it last?”
Larry just shrugged.
Bryce hiccoughed again and turned into a lean-looking purple bear.
I chuckled, “This is going to make our conversation interesting.”
Bryce hiccoughed again and the purple ibis next to me said, “Jack, I have a client with a bit of a mystery. My own magic has not shown anything. You know how good I am, Jack. If my magic shows nothing, there is nothing magical to be shown. I was hoping you might take a look at the situation.”
I nodded at what had just become a large purple lizard beside me.
As you have probably surmised, Bryce is not a close friend, more of an acquaintance. He, Larry, and I are all of an age, and we went to school together. Bryce was not from a good family. There were a lot of branches of Clan McKenȝie out there. Bryce now tried to claim he was from a branch close to the chiefly line, and he got away with his claims, so long as he wasn’t too specific. The truth was, he was from the Purple Sage Sept. They were all duffers when it came to magic and potionheads, spending what little money they accumulated on some of the strongest potions out there, rather than on things like feeding and clothing their children. Bryce had a hard childhood, and going to school, he was near the bottom of the pecking order to start out. The only folks in worse shape were a guy with no legs or arms and a guy without magic. But Bryce did have magic, and he was pretty good at it. Even so, his successes had never wiped away the insecurities of his youth. Even without magic, people sensed that about Bryce. His girlfriends did tend to be very desirable physically, but they were messes in every other way, and all of them were golddiggers. Bryce was great at magic. He was even better at marketing his services. He was wealthy and continued to bring in lots of money. He also threw his money around too much to buy friends and girlfriends and show off with fanciful, out-of-date clothing and expensive potions. He was a fool but made enough money that it couldn’t part from him fast enough to put him into the poverty he had come from.
For all that Larry and I had had to put up with from him, I actually felt sorry for him. That didn’t mean I was going to make it easy for him or his client.
“50%?” I asked.
The large purple beaver on the next barstool looked taken aback for a moment. “I…I suppose so, Jack. It’s not like I’m getting anywhere now. If you can solve it, 50%.” He hiccoughed again.
The huge parakeet next to me extended his wing, and I took it, “Larry?”
Larry hovered between us and sealed the deal, muttering a spell under his breath. We saw that it was working as a white light enveloped first where Bryce and I touched, and then flowing out to cover both of us.
Now, those of you who have read my previous tales from my work may be thinking, “How could Larry seal a deal between you when magic doesn’t affect you, Jack?” And that’s a very good question. The sealing didn’t affect me at all. Bryce really only had my word that I would tackle his client’s problem in good faith. But Bryce was sealed into giving me half his fee. Of course, I am an honest man. The sealing was more because we didn’t trust Bryce.
“Alright,” Bryce said. “Meet me at High Gordon tomorrow at 8:00 AM.”
I nodded. Typical of him to leave out a detail like that until the end. Of course, it didn’t matter. This way, I would get paid. Had Uncle Tom been smart enough to engage my services directly in the first place, I would have been stuck doing it gratis.
Bryce downed the rest of his drink, hiccoughed, turning into a large purple toad, and then dissolving from sight.
I pulled out enough to cover the drink and the sealing spell plus a tip and put it on the bar.
“You haven’t even finished your drink, Jack.”
“I’m not leaving yet, Larry. Just thought to settle up.”
Larry chuckled, “Put it back. Bringing Bryce here just made my profit for the year. Your money is no good here.”
“Thanks, Larry,” I swept the money back off the bar and into my pocket. Unlike Bryce, I wasn’t swimming in merks and had to work hard for every shilling and penny. “So, how are Ezzie and the kids?”
It was at that moment that the table in back exploded into an argument.
So ends part one of The Mystery of the Missing Mermaid. Stay tuned for further episodes later this month as the group writing theme is, “It was a dark and stormy night. . . .”Published in