Sample Chapter From:
Magical Certainty, Volume Three: In Which “All You Can Eat” is Given a Run for its Money…
Aldebrand opened the interview room door a crack, slipped inside and quickly shut the door behind him. “I’ve been having a little more trouble than I originally anticipated,” he whispered to them.
Eugenie hopped to her feet. “I was starting to wonder,” she snapped. “You said we needed to hurry, but you’ve left us here waiting for nearly an hour.”
Jake was looking up at the two of them eagerly. Aldebrand reached forward and shook his hand as much as was possible given Jake’s handcuffs. “I’m Doctor Aldebrand; glad to meet you.”
“Ah, Jake Hayward…”
Aldebrand rounded quickly on Eugenie. “Why didn’t you unlock his wrists?” As he said this, he began tapping every pocket on his body, searching for something.
“I didn’t have a key,” she explained, “and I didn’t want to give anything away by asking for one.”
Aldebrand paused; he straightened himself up completely and turned on his heel to face her. “The first day I met you, I told you to dress for adventure. I know that specifically because it’s mentioned in my journal—I say that to everyone I work with.” He shifted and pointed at Jake. “So that goes for you, too.”
Furrowing his brow, Jake asked: “What?”
Aldebrand made to continue, but Eugenie spoke first. “Yes, you did say that,” she agreed. “And as I recall, you said that meant that I should always be prepared to jump a fence, and I’ll have you know that I think I am—or I was until you put me in this get-up.”
Aldebrand nodded. “That fence thing sounds like me, but I also would have told you to always carry a set of lock-picks—or failing that, bobby pins.”
Speaking over top of him, she argued: “You said no such thing.”
“Bobby pins. Bobby pins!” He reached down on the table and picked up three of the pins she’d removed from her hair. Aldebrand pulled one apart and removed the plastic ends, dropping the others onto the floor.
“It wouldn’t have mattered if I’d thought of it,” she shot back. “I don’t know how to pick locks.”
Aldebrand grunted as he leaned over the table to work on Jake’s cuffs. “There’s a hip flask in the barn that’ll teach you—drink it when we get home.” Eugenie made to speak, but he continued lightly, though pointedly: “So… what have you two been chatting about while I’ve been lying, and stalling, and concealing, and cajoling, and manipulating? You’ve brought him up to date?”
Jake huffed at this, but Eugenie answered: “I did the best I could. I’ve told Jake everything that’s happened to me, and tried to repeat everything you’ve told me about magic.”
Aldebrand laughed. His hands were carefully shaping the pins into tiny hooks— preparing to pick the lock. “That’s a rather Eugenie-centric view of magic, isn’t it?”
“It’s the only view I’ve got,” she replied.
“Excuse me,” Jake said. “I’m sorry, but it doesn’t seem like the police have said I was free to go.”
Aldebrand exhaled forcefully through his mouth as the first cuff came off of Jake’s wrist. “No. They’ve been most stubborn. They’re hammers you see, and as such they look at every problem like a nail. To them, the very existence of you is a problem, but so far as I can see, you haven’t committed any crime except trespass and perhaps jaywalking, but they’re out there trying to come up with something serious to charge you with. You needn’t worry though: you won’t get pounded into a board on my watch.” The second cuff fell away, and Jake stood up, massaging his wrists. “It’s amazing,” Aldebrand said shaking his head as he straightened himself up. “Back when J. Edgar was running the FBI, the badge could get you anything you needed. But those folks out there were barely cowed at all—and please tell me, what is DHS?”
“Department of Homeland Security,” Jake answered.
Aldebrand continued, not missing a beat. “Then describe for me, what is involved in a clusterfu-”
“Doctor,” Eugenie interrupted. “If we could circle back around to what happens next?”
“Of course,” Aldebrand spun around on his heel again, and, catching his reflection in the mirror, he stopped and removed his brass ring.
“He’s just a kid!” Jake protested, pointing at Aldebrand with an outstretched finger.
“I’m 37,000 years old.”
Jake shook his head. “That’s what she said, but you’re just a kid.” Turning to Eugenie, he added: “You said you were his assistant—I just assumed.”
Aldebrand loosened his tie and undid the top button of his shirt. “Moving on,” he said. “The various agencies don’t want to let you go. I made them trust me completely, but apparently there are “procedures” and, despite the medical sound of that word, I think they mean paperwork. If we’re going to avoid it, we’ll have to sneak you out.”
“Doctor,” Eugenie said. “Isn’t this a job for The Wall?”
“The Wall?” Jake asked, stepping towards the conversation. “Those are the Moon men?”
Aldebrand laughed. “Moon men? Heavens Eugenie, what have you been telling him? Yes, Moooon men,” he mocked. “And they reach down and eat blue cheese for their dinner right off the ground.”
“Doctor, you’re being an ass,” Eugenie said flatly, then in defense she added: “You told me to point it out to you when it was happening.”
He looked sharply at her, narrowing his eyes. “I said no such thing.”
“Sure you did,” she said with a smirk. “When you were Colonel Aldebrand.” After a moment of silence, she added: “Prove that you didn’t.”
Aldebrand grunted. “That trick’s only going to work a few more times. Now, back to business. No, we don’t want The Wall here—not yet—not until Jake and you and I have left. I don’t want them getting too close a look at Jake until I’ve come up with a good story to explain him.” He shook his head. “That’s not important. The two of you, come over here.” Aldebrand turned again and looked at the large two-way mirror. “Stand next to me,” he said.
Eugenie came and stood on his left, motioning for Jake to come forward. Reluctantly, he did so, taking a position on the far side of the Doctor.
“Now, grab my hand and don’t let go until I say,” the Doctor said, taking Eugenie’s hand himself, contrary to his own instructions. He was staring intently, directly at his reflection in the mirror. “Come Jake, don’t be shy.”
Eugenie peered past the Doctor and watched Jake grab the Doctor’s other hand.
Aldebrand stood still for a moment, staring. His hands were hot and clammy, making it uncomfortable for Eugenie whose hands were, as normal, just plain cold.
“What’s he doing?” Jake whispered to her.
“I don’t know, ask him,” she whispered back.
But it was Aldebrand who spoke: “I’m attempting to turn the three of us invisible, and it’s not terribly easy, so please don’t bother me with unproductive inquiries.”
Eugenie sighed, and looked around at their reflections, hoping to see some sign of them fading or disappearing completely. She looked over at Jake. She’d had an hour with him, and had got to know him a bit. He seemed like a nice guy, if a bit humorless—or maybe she just didn’t share his sense of humor—or he didn’t share hers.
“Shh,” Aldebrand hushed quietly. Neither of them had spoken for at least a minute. She looked up at him, and watched as Aldebrand shut his eyes.
“Wow,” Jake said.
Eugenie looked down at her hand, but she was still visible. She looked up at Jake and the Doctor; they were both still there, but Jake nodded at the mirror. Their reflections were gone. Eugenie held up her hand, then waved, but the interrogation room being reflected back to her was totally deserted.
“Don’t let go of my hand,” Aldebrand warned. “Or the effect will stop.”
“But,” Eugenie said, “are we invisible? I can still see myself.”
“Of course you can,” the Doctor explained. “If you couldn’t, you’d bump into everything. Trust me, I know. I had to figure out how to do this all over again when modern mirrors were invented. Back when I was dealing with polished silver looking-glasses, or even a standing pool of water, the invisibility wasn’t nearly as effective, but at least you had a sense of where you were stepping. The trick is to close your eyes the moment you bend the light. But don’t worry—I’m the only one who needs to keep his eyes shut.”
Eugenie looked back up at him. His face was scrunched up tight like a child’s when they make a wish. “But no one else can see us?” she asked.
“That’s what invisible means,” Aldebrand said.
Jake cleared his throat. “Can they hear us?”
“Of course. Eugenie, if you’d please—slowly—lead the way?”
Eugenie took a deep breath. “Just right out the front door and around to the portal?”
Aldebrand shook his head. “No, head out to the street. We’ll need to stay local for now. Just be careful.”
Eugenie reached out and opened the door. Holding it across her body, she edged forward and stopped. Aldebrand bumped into her, and she tensed her arm, trying to lead him like a good dance partner. Jake had reached forward and was holding the door for him. She stepped out and peered down the hallway. A local cop was drinking coffee and reading a bulletin board, but that was further back into the station—the opposite way from where they needed to go. Eugenie led them forward, away from the cop, staying close to the wall. One of the side doors ahead opened and someone, a secretary it seemed as she was in civilian clothes but carrying a clipboard, stepped into the hallway. Eugenie stopped, but the sound of their shuffling halt had caught the woman’s attention, and she looked their way, past and through them. Aldebrand nudged for Eugenie to go on, but her first step sent the loud click of her heels echoing down the hall, catching the secretary’s attention a second time. The woman moved towards them—Eugenie held her breath and pressed herself against the wall, pulling the Doctor to follow her lead. The secretary passed them and stopped to inspect the wall a few meters further down the hall, then called to the cop at the bulletin board:
“Did you hear a clacking? I think there’s something wrong with the pipes.”
The cop’s reply was too low to hear, but the two of them kept chatting as the secretary walked away. Jake was motioning to Eugenie, gesturing at her feet. She shrugged, and, with his free hand, he mimed removing his shoes. She nodded and, balancing against the Doctor, she slipped the first shoe off, accidentally dropping it. There was a flash of light as it left her hand. Eugenie looked at Jake; his eyes were wide, staring at where the flash had been. She mouthed to him:
“Can they see it?”
He mouthed back: “I don’t know.”
The cop and the woman were still chatting—neither of them had noticed the shoe appear in the hallway, but neither had they yet looked in this direction. If it was visible now, and she were to pick it up, a flying high-heeled shoe was sure to attract their notice. She bent down and removed the second heel, and placed it on the ground next to the other. There was a second flash. Jake reached forward to her, tapping her shoulder, and motioning at the shoes. She held up her fingers and mouthed: “One or two, what does it matter?”
Quieter now, she started forward, tugging on the Doctor’s arm. She had to stifle a yelp as his foot came down on her ankle, but, in a moment, they were at the set of double doors leading out to the bullpen. Eugenie stopped. How could she open the door without being noticed?
Then she rolled her eyes and let go of the Doctor’s hand. They didn’t all need to be invisible, she realized. Her whole body flashed as she let go, and once it had finished, she confidently strode out into the bullpen, holding the door open a moment, pretending to look around and gain her bearings. A breeze passed behind her and she let the door close, then she walked purposefully to the front door of the station, praying that Jake and the Doctor were following a step behind. The agents and police were looking at her curiously, but she ignored them and continued.
“Excuse me,” someone called to her, just as her hand was about to open the door. She turned. The older stern-looking ATF agent was calling to her, and he slowly made his way over.
“What do you need?” she demanded.
“I haven’t seen you today. Who are you?”
“The ring!” she thought. She was Eugenie now, not the leggy blond FBI agent.
She swallowed. “I’m with Agent Aldebrand and Agent Walker.”
“I’ll need to see some ID.” Other officers were stepping forward, surrounding her.
Eugenie reached into the hip pocket of her jacket. She pulled out the ID, her mind already racing—could she say she’d accidentally switched wallets with the blond?
“This says that you’re Agent Walker.”
Eugenie grabbed the wallet back and looked at it. It had changed back to her picture, her height—but the name was the same. “Of course it does,” she snapped. “I’m Eugenie Walker. Agent Clarissa Walker is debriefing Mr. Hayward right now.”
“Two Agent Walkers?”
Eugenie chuckled. “The FBI is pretty big, I’m sure there’s more than two. Now, if you’ll excuse me, Hayward is hungry. I’m stepping out to pick up some food.”
“We can grab him a sandwich from the machine,” one of the local cops suggested, motioning over his shoulder with a thumb.
“Thanks,” she said, “but I think he wants some actual food.”
“Where are your shoes?” The ATF guy demanded.
“Listen,” she snapped. “I’m an FBI specialist.”
“You’re awfully young to be…”
“I’m a specialist. That makes me special. Taking off my shoes is part of my special process. So is going for a walk every once in a while—even if I have to make excuses to do it.”
“Honestly!” she snapped, staring him dead in the eye. “Tell me: on the last day of your ATF training, do they lube up your cranium before they shove it up your ass, or do they just push real hard?”
As she crossed the parking lot a moment later, her stocking feet slapping the pavement, a disembodied chuckle followed behind her. It was Jake laughing. Aldebrand said:
“You see, stereotypes can be your friend. Wonderful acting by the way.”
Eugenie smiled. “I’m not without experience, you know.”
“I was once a set painter in a high-school play.” They’d come to the sidewalk and Eugenie stopped. “Where to?” she asked.
“Hold on,” Aldebrand said. “It’s back.” She felt a tap on her shoulder and she looked behind her. With no visible finger to follow, she tossed her gaze around until she spotted it. Back up on the power line tower.
“The owl,” she said. The afternoon had wore on, but it was still day. By all rights, the bird shouldn’t be out.
Jake’s voice said: “I know that owl—I’ve seen it. On the river.”
“Yes,” the Doctor agreed. “I believe that it is following you Jake. But it can’t follow what it can’t see. Now, Eugenie. Head into town. We need to find a buffet.”