Banish all the World Ch. 03byStultus©
It wasn't easy to find a place where I could watch all three dealers at more or less the same time, but I managed it, after informing my client that none of my three prime suspects seemed to be ripe for pinning the crime on to just yet. This was going to take some long term surveillance I suspected before one of my suspects made a telling mistake.
I had nearly given up for this show when something slightly irregular finally occurred.
Over at Adrian's booth, one of his assistants who appeared to be of more than part Indian blood entered his booth and went into a brief consultation with him. Adrian then nodded and sat down in a chair for the first time and closed his eyes, deep in concentration. His knuckles appearing to turn white with tension as I scooted on over to take a discrete but much closer look.
I hadn't really considered the option before of a duo of thieves working in tandem and suddenly now everything all fit into place. I ran to find Walton and give him the good news; his problem was all but solved. The trick was going to be dealing with a skilled team of both a Wizard and an Adept level partner.
Walton pulled his other two Adepts from door security and the four of us, along with the boss of the off-duty APD officers, sat down for a quick pow-pow so that I could explain how the magic disappearing act was done, and discuss plans for capturing the thieves, without anyone getting hurt in the process.
I called BMA first thing with an urgent request for back-up help apprehending a skilled Renegade Wizard with an Adept partner, and gave the on-duty clerk all of the details that we had. Sunday evening is the worst possible time to get anyone at BMA, especially anyone with any actual authority, let alone quickly. The gal answering the phone thought that the team 'on call' might be along in an hour or two. Upon further questioning she admitted in fact that they hadn't responded yet to an earlier call that she had routed them to several hours ago.
Wonderful. My ass was once again hanging out in the wind, but at least this time I had followed procedure. Besides, I was more than curious about how my new Artifact would hold up against serious trouble. Now it looked like I was about to find out.
"The scam was absurdly simple!" I told my client and our security posse while we were waiting for the last customers to leave and the dealers to start packing up at the end of the show.
"They worked as a well trained team. The Adept assistant pretended to be a customer and selected the items to be stolen. He would place a light magical mark on each item, maybe four or five items at a time from the same dealer table and then return to inform his master the Wizard, who could sense these familiar marks easily and who would then perform the Translocation to send the weapons safely elsewhere."
But where we wondered. Ok, it was a given that the Wizard was a very powerful one, but this is a very tricky skill that gets progressively harder at distance. The hidden weapons stash must be nearby. My guess was that the stolen items would be found inside of his small box truck, parked near the loading dock. The Austin PD guys concurred and phoned in to get an emergency search warrant.
Unfortunately the warrant wasn't expected to arrive for at least an hour, but fortune was on our side – the two front tires of Adrian's truck suddenly sprung large air leaks courtesy of a stout combat knife in the hands of one of Walton's many unknown friends and admirers.
Now we settled down to wait for either BMA backup or the police warrant. Both were extremely late in arriving long after the dust had finally settled.
The gun show closed its main doors and one by one all of the other dealers packed up and left, leaving Adrian, his Adept, and two surly looking gunsels, along with our security team left all eyeing each other maliciously.
Adrian knew immediately that the gig was up, but played it cool. He suspected that we were held up waiting for something and he did his best to get at least one of the spare tires replaced so that he could attempt to limp away on just one flat tire. He tried rolling on two front flats first but the truck was virtually immoveable that way. Unfortunately for him, the air was also let out of his only spare tire. As for the chances of finding an open garage on a Sunday night in downtown Austin…. forget about it!
His options now extremely limited and his escape route closed, Adrian put the final frosting on my suspicion that he was a Deseret Wizard when he went scorched earth. He sent his two gunsels out armed to the teeth with automatic weapons to keep our security forces busy. Then he and his Adept decided to hightail it out of there, but not before he pointed a finger at his doomed truck and bellowed a command of power, causing it to explode up into the air to about the height of the roof of the convention centre. It was pretty impressive actually.
The APD boys didn't need any warrants by this point and the firefight started in earnest.
We all charged up to bottle up the Deseret thieves and started a major conflagration of our own. My two weakly magical partners tried to deal with the Adept while I faced down the Wizard. It was unfortunately a very even fight. The Deseret magicians were battle tested and trained for combat since they could walk, and were very experienced and confident using the arts of magic in war. Us more civilized Adepts, on the other hand, hadn't received much training in that sort of thing and we found ourselves on the defensive fast.
The conventional gun battle was less drawn out. Walton's crew, his own security staff and the APD boys were all expert gunmen, especially the guy in the back with the deer hunting rifle. The pair of gunsels went down in bloody heaps fast, despite the fact that their coats were ballistically resistant, like my own duster coat. The deer hunter was dead accurate at making head shots at a distance of one hundred yards.
This freed up the reserves to put the Renegade Wizards onto the defensive, but before the Wizard put up his protective energy shield to stop the rain of incoming lead, he unloaded a monstrous bolt of raw energy drawn from the Ley lines just across the river, that would have absolutely vaporized me if I hadn't thrown up a sudden protective shield of my own, augmented by my bracer. My Artifact had already saved my life on its first use. A week ago I could never have been able to summon up a shield even half powerful enough to have protected me.
Still, this force was enough to blast me backwards fifty yards up in the air and two hundreds away until I landed with a splash in the middle of the Colorado River in Town Lake. Damn that water is cold, even in the late spring!
This complete pissed me off now! I shook my head clear of floating stars and singing tweetie birds and started to swim for shore, but stopped to try a little experiment. I'd never had any previous skill at Levitation, but then again I'd never been able to channel that much magical energy before. With the El Marvelo at its pair of Ley lines just about in spitting distance, I decided to give it a try. With a little effort I floated right out of the water and soared right back into the battle far faster than I could have swum to the river bank and then run.
The battle was still pretty much a draw. My Adept partners had kept the Deseret Adept occupied until his energy shield eventually weakened. Our friendly deer hunter with the sniper scope then took care of the problem permanently. Everyone else was keeping the rogue Wizard pinned down with bullet fire so that he couldn't open up his shield long enough to either clean their clocks or else make an escape. Now it was too late.
I was back into the fight and just in the mood to open up a can of some serious whoop-ass!
Since what's good for the goose must also be good for the gander, I decided to test out exactly how much unnecessary and excessive power I could now channel into a force bolt at one time. The short answer was 'a lot'. The more precise answer was 'too much'.
I blasted the fucker straight through one of the concrete side walls of the convention centre, marched right into the wreckage after him and blasted him though another concrete wall. His shield failed sometime right after my third blast and shortly before he crashed into a steel roof support beam, which pretty much crushed his spine into splinters.
He didn't die right away, but he was in no shape to hold a conversation.
The battle was over and after counting noses we were relieved that everyone was more or less ok and still in one piece. I was very much the hero of the day despite the fact that deer hunter 'Bob' had the bigger head count. I got my fee, a large cash bonus and a bit later on a gift of a really sweet handgun from Walton. I'd had worse days.
A few days later, after some horse trading with Prutte, Walton came up with a beauty of a semi-automatic, a 10mm Glock 23 that was small enough to be easily concealed, but had several very nice magically artificed 'improvements'. Specifically a permanent translocation spell that automatically feed new ammo into the magazine from a small pouch built onto the shoulder holster, and relocated spent shell casings into another similar pouch. This prevented my greatest concern of loose spilled shell casings, which could be collected by an enemy and used to track me. The finely tooled and silver filigree holster concealed perfectly and apparently also had a charm that would prevent it from being discovered by most metal and gun detection equipment. This little benefit was probably illegal, but I decided not to advertise that fact.
Prutte's original buyer for this weapon had suffered an accidental death at the hands of some unsavory business partners. Appropriately, this weapon would be perfect for a life of uncertain danger.
The wreckage of Adrian's truck revealed a large stash of weapons, most of which could be identified as stolen. They were nearly all a complete loss, except for parts, but everyone was happy that the thefts were now at an end. Insurance would cover everything else… including the two large holes in the concrete walls of the convention centre.
If I thought that the paperwork for the Christmas Stalking fiasco was a nightmare, it paled in comparison next to the ordeal of the next forty-eight hours. At least this time I didn't have to spend a week in the hospital.
Nor did I have to explain the use of my Artifact. I'd quietly stashed the bracer under the front driver's seat of my beloved Ford Pinto which was also discretely parked in a remote corner of the parking lot next to the river. I wasn't too worried about leaving the car unprotected for a couple of days; I've got anti-theft charms galore all over the Pinto. I doubted the fire department's 'Jaws of Life' could even get the doors opened.
The facts ought to have been pretty simple, plus my earlier phone call requesting backup had been timely and entirely accurate. No houses had been burned down and no good guys were in the hospital. The four bad guys were all in the morgue.
What then was the freaking problem?!
Once again I had faced off against a powerful foe who had far classed me. It didn't matter that a dozen people had seen me get my ass kicked and knocked for a ride into the river. The jewel of the crown, so to speak, was that I'd come back fast and kicked his ass through two thick concrete walls and into a steel beam. I naturally pleaded that I'd had the help of the two very strong Ley lines at the El Marvelo and that the Wizard had been weak and drained by the efforts of upholding his shield against our security gunmen. All very true, still a bit too convenient for some of the more suspicious minds that once yet again, 'lucky' Zak Zyphyr had defied the odds and cheated certain death. Now if I could only get my own Broadway magic show on the Strand!
It was the Deseret connection that had gathered the most lingering concern and worry. The thought that two of their magicians were on a weapon gathering safari in the GWA was enough to scare a lot of people high up in the corridors of power. In a few days after the facts had been correlated, it appeared that other Deseret magical teams were working the same theft smuggling operation in the other Republics as well. Later we heard that similar groups had been operating (with bolder success) in the USA.
Everyone saddled up their regional BMA strike teams and charged out to winnow out the other theft teams, but the warning got out fast and only two other similar teams were caught. Both fought hopeless odds until the end, dying in combat rather than facing capture.
It all pointed to Deseret. A few safe houses were discovered and several large stashes of weapons were recovered before they could secretly cross the border. Like me, the big shots were worried why Deseret needed the guns so desperately right now.
This was not enough for a cause belli, but enough folks were unhappy enough by this that Army and BMA funding was certain be increased in the years to come. Taxes would go up and the more libertarian Texans would squeak.
My appointment to assist Harriet was repeatedly postponed until mid-day Thursday, until when the last out of town BMA big shot had heard my story, repeated now for about the five hundredth time. I received a slightly nicer and more sincere Letter of Appreciation this time with a concurrence signature from the top Republic of Texas BMA Wizard, the noted and honorable 'Wesley'.
As I think I mentioned once some time ago, most Wizards all think that they are either rock stars or famous supermodels, and thus only have one name. This only makes them sound silly and egotistical.
Harriet was glad to see me when we met at Sandy's for a late frozen lunch. We hugged and she kissed my cheek chastely. Harriet did everything chastely… really this was the single biggest reason why we broke up. We were also just seventeen and in High School so I'll admit that maturity didn't enter into the relationship very much either.
As always, Harriet was pushing the wheelchair of her crippled twin sister Henrietta. They were never separated – ever. This was actually the real final straw of our teenaged love affair. Young men like to take willing young women off to private places for some very private fun. Harriet never would or could leave Henrietta, even in a nearby room next door or behind a mostly closed door. Even as her boyfriend I was a very distant second place in her heart.
We never actually managed to have sex. The furthest I could ever get was a very short lead off of second base.
In the end, it came down to an angry ultimatum of 'her or me!' Henrietta won in a landslide vote. We split and exchanged annoyed looks at each other for the rest of school but we both got over it fairly fast. Other young lads tried to rush in to full my void with Harriet but they ran into the same problems that I had, and most didn't have to the patience to keep trying even to get past first base with her.
We were both sent to Lovett College, the Republic's largest and best school of magic and saw each other occasionally, and we even had a few social dates just for fun but neither of us let the old relationship resume. Like me, she left school for her mandatory government service very single and complete unattached. She stayed local working for the local BMA office here and I'd seen her around a few times in the last year or so, never with a man.
She's only nominally ranked as a Wizard, having a low 5.1 BMA score to just barely qualify. This was only .4 points better than my own score, but she had the ability (barely) to alter objects using magic, rather than merely augment like I could. This was a huge difference, and why most Wizards think that their shit doesn't stink.
Henrietta was a completely different matter. Her twin had identical physical features, i.e. fair skinned, blond hair, nice breasts, and was very pretty, but she seemed withered somehow, just a little bit warped out of proper proportions. She's crippled and cannot stand up on her own and requires a wheelchair. Her arms and hands are equally helpless and she can feed herself only with great difficulty. She was diagnosed first as 'retarded', then 'challenged', then 'special needs', and finally autistic… which is the current medical cubbyhole for 'we don't know exactly what is wrong'.
She's mentally about the maturity of an eight year old with an IQ somewhere around 80, but this still didn't prevent her from becoming a licensed Adept, like me, with a BMA score of 4.9, .2 better than mine. Somehow she got through magical training against all odds, even when it was obvious that she'd never be the slightest bit functional on her own. She did everything 'wrong', but the end result always came out exactly right.
There was a lot of whispering in school that Henrietta could do 'impossible things', such as altering reality and scientific probabilities, even the laws of physics, but I never saw anything like this.
In the end the BMA instructors just threw up their hands and left the two sisters alone to work together and they found perfection. They made the perfect partnership – a sister/sister magical team that somehow worked together better than most established partnerships.
Up until now their success record had been perfect. This new case was driving them nuts, however.