A Private Enquiry

Rebecca cursed and almost choked on her coffee when she read the news.

“Maren, stop scrolling. Back up, what was that?” she said.

“What’s what, Becca?” Maren, her AI, said.

“Just let me…” she gestured and the images and texts being projected on her goggles changed quickly. “There. I almost missed it.”

“Oh. I see.”

“Damn, Maren, I thought you’d filter this kind of news for me.” She stared ahead and frowned. “Did you apply that last update I told you about?”

“Becca, please…”

“Do it. Now. I ran it through Mignon. You know it’s safe. Don’t make me sudo you.”

“Dang.” There was a pause. “Done.”

“Right there. Now, let’s see this.” Rebecca zoomed the article. “Ollie Mee found dead in his office. A small piece, telling nil about cause of death and mentioning his work as a magician. He never was a good magician. He couldn’t be.”

“He believed in hiding in plain sight, you mean,” Maren said.

“Yes. Let’s go.”

Rebecca stood and walked into the rain. She brought up her bank account status and sighed. Checking the hour, she sighed again.

“We’d better get a cab. Dammit.”

The closest empty cab was round the corner. It wheeled in in silence and the door hissed open. Rebecca sat down and sent the address to the computer. The cab AI answered something, but she wasn’t paying attention.

Ollie Mee. An absurd name, an unassuming man on the surface. But Rebecca knew the truth. She cursed again.

The cab stopped and opened its door. Rebecca stepped out. Mee’s office was located in an old apartment building, one of those relics of a bygone age that were always just one step away from being demolished.

She pushed the gate. It wasn’t locked. She wasn’t surprised. She ignored the lift and climbed up the stairs to the fourth floor, giving thanks Mee hadn’t chosen one of the upper stories.

“Shit.” The door to Mee’s office was sealed with black and yellow “Police Line, Do Not Cross” tape. A notice claiming the office would be closed while the investigation took place was stuck to the door.

Rebecca produced a pair of vinyl gloves and put them on, removed the tape and opened the door.

Mee’s office was a mess. That sent her alarms tingling. She knew that, for all his shortcomings, the man was -had been- nothing but tidy.

“Maren, full scan. Be thorough, please.”

“Got it.”

Rebecca stepped over a pile of ledgers, paying attention to everything. She didn’t like it. Not at all. Mee’s desk was in disarray. There was an ominous-looking dark stain on its surface. Where it touched some papers, it could be seen to be dark red. Rebecca had seen blood often enough to recognize it.

“Becca, I’ve found traces of…” Maren started

“Magic.”

“Yes.”

“Of course. Of course.” Rebecca touched her wristband. “I’m going to see if we’re lucky. Stand guard and stop me if anybody comes.”

“Got you,” Maren said.

Rebecca called in the database in her wristband, choosing the right spell from her grimoire. She activated it, and the runes danced before her, aligning themselves in the correct order.

It felt a bit like VR, that spell. It plunged Rebecca back in time, but not really. The spell tapped into the remaining thaumic traces that always lingered back after magic was used, and made the user feel what had happened before. If the user was trained in the ways of magic, of course.

Rebecca was trained.

Still, it was too late. There were too little residual traces to make anything out of it. Rebecca was running out of curses for the day.

“Let’s go. We’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way,” she said.

“Lewis’?” Maren asked.

“Lewis’”, Rebecca answered.

++++

One couldn’t simply stumble upon Lewis’: one had to be invited. Not because it was a luxury pub: someone had described it once as a “wretched hive of scum and villainy”. But the owner wouldn’t have it otherwise.

Rebecca simply walked up to the door and stared at the bouncer. The mountain of flesh stared back for a couple of seconds, then nodded and let her in. Rebecca’s goggles automatically adjusted to the darkness and Maren filtered her hearing to dampen the loud music. She saw several familiar faces. A couple even nodded her way when they saw her, then went on with their businesses.

Rebecca made a beeline for the bar, where a blonde was not really busy watching something on an old handheld device.

“I want to talk to Lewis,” Rebecca said.

“Everybody wants to talk to Lewis, darlin’” the blonde said, not bothering to look up.

Rebecca just made a gesture and touched the blonde’s arm with the tip of her fingernail.

“Ow! That burns!” the blonde now looked at her. “Oh, it’s you…”

“How rude of you, Ms September!” a tenor voice said behind Rebecca.

She turned around. Lewis looked as good as ever. Better, probably.

“Won’t you take off your goggles and let me see your eyes, Ms September?” he said.

“Bad idea,” Maren said. Rebecca considered it, then she raised her hand and took them off.

His light blue eyes pierced her. For a second, she saw the fire in them, and vertigo grabbed her. Then her bracelet burned, sending a spike up her arm.

“Stop that, Lewis,” she said. He shrugged and smiled innocently. “I don’t have time for games.”

“What a pity, Ms September. You know I’d love playing some games with you.”

And that would be so horribly wrong, Rebecca knew. But also oh so good… She pushed the thought aside.

“I need to talk to you,” she said.

Lewis gazed at her. It was amazing, how many things his eyes expressed, and how unfathomable all of them felt. He seemed to consider what Rebecca had said, then he smiled and nodded.

“This way.”

Rebecca followed him dodging the drinkers and dancers. She fell several steps behind. Lewis turned around and smiled. Damned smile. So dangerous, yet so beautiful. He held a side door open for her. Rebecca slipped into his office, then he followed her.

Lewis had a large desk and a wall of monitors. All of them were blank. Opposite the monitors was a large fish tank, easily as large as Rebecca. There must have been more than fifty multicoloured fish placidly swimming inside.

“That’s new,” he said, pointing at the tank. “I find them soothing.”

“Ollie Mee,” she said.

“My, direct as ever,” he said, sitting behind his desk. “Please take a seat.”

Rebecca sat. She had stopped playing the ‘sit or stand’ game with Lewis a long time ago.

“Ollie Mee,” she insisted. “He’s been murdered.”

Lewis interlaced his fingers.

“You’ve been to his place,” he said. It wasn’t a question. Rebecca thought she even heard a little concern in his voice.

“That should not have been possible, Lewis. Ollie was a powerful wizard. Possibly the most powerful one I’ve ever met.”

“People make mistakes,” he said.

“Ollie didn’t. You know it as well as I do.”

He conceded a reluctant nod.

“What do you know?” she asked.

He shook his head.

“Nothing.” It sounded like a confession.

“A man in your position…”

“Thank you for the compliment. Calling me a man, I mean. Listen, obviously some high power must have been involved.”

“Magic,” she said.

“Damn. That’s not good. I can only think of four people who could tag Mee. Possibly. The other two aren’t in this room, and they’re not magic users.”

“So, Lewis?”

“You know it wasn’t me. You could say I cannot. I’m bound.”

“But you can,” she insisted. “Those bonds are not real.”

“True. Look at me, Rebecca,” he said. She noticed he used her first name. “Look.”

Eternity passed while she gazed into his eyes.

Rebecca stood.

“Right then,” she said. “Lots of work to do still. I’ll find my way out.”

When she was at the door, he spoke again.

“Why?” Lewis asked. “Why are you doing this?”

She didn’t turn around.

“He was my friend.”

She left and clicked the door closed.

“I’d like to be your friend too,” Lewis said.

++++

Rebecca had barely walked two blocks when they attacked. They were completely noiseless. A Cone of Silence, she realized. She cursed this age, when a woman had to watch out for technology as well as magic.

Rebecca realized her goggles were still in her pocket, that worrisome Lewis had been. Cursing yet again, she set into motion. She ducked one shadow as she activated a Pulse Barrier. There was a clang and sound came back.

“The band! It has her spells!” one rasp voice said. Strong arms grabbed her, and someone picked her bracelet and tore it. Someone else cried in triumph… then went silent.

Without her wristband, Rebecca’s real appearance was no longer hidden. Every square centimeter of her skin was covered in intricate tattoos. To any supernatural being, those tattoos had a special meaning.

“Demons?” she said, finally getting a good look at her attackers.

The first one raised a hand. “Wait, we…”

Red glyphs formed a circle on Rebecca’s forehead. The circle detached itself and hurled towards the demon. The creature screamed and was gone.

“One down…” green snakes surged from her arms and crawled over the hands that had pinned her. Then the snakes buried themselves under the demon’s skin.

Having a demon scream to its death in your ear wasn’t fun. “And that’s two…”

Free to move, Rebecca put her goggles on.

“Sorry, Maren,” she said.

“Hmph,” Maren complained. “Look out!”

But Rebecca was already moving her hands as if catching a fly in the air. Two giant arms grabbed the last demon and started shaking it. Rebecca stepped close, her glittery skin gleaming with power.

“Who sent you, demon?” she bit out.

But the demon just screamed, and then its head clung down.

“Shit,” she said.

“Wait,” Maren said. “It committed suicide?”

“Yes,” Rebecca said. She picked her bracelet up. The band was broken, but that’s why they made it in rubbery plastic. “And I’m not any closer to finding out who killed Ollie Mee.”

~~~~

This is my entry for this week’s Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: The Subgenre Smash And Grab. After two weeks off, and in a new take of one of his classics, Chuck gave us twenty subgenres to choose from. I rolled my virtual dice several times at random.org, but in the end decided to keep my first roll, and had to write a story within the Near-Future Sci-Fi / Occult Detective mix.

And I cheated. My story is almost 200 words longer that the 1500 limit, and then it really doesn’t end. Perhaps I’ll finish it in the future?

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