We were called into an early morning meeting with Mr. Phillips, Sian and Analise and asked to bring Triana with us. Apparently they wanted us to work on an important new account, which she would be involved with in some way.
The last time we had been all together at once like this was when we first began working at Charon and Triana started training with Analise. No-one in the room had aged a day in physical appearance, but in terms of experience and understanding we had come so far.
Mr. Phillips showed us the file for a recently opened business account, headed ‘Professor Norax’s Wonder Emporium and Theatre.’
“This account is owned by a man named Ted Braxton,” said Mr. Phillips. “He is… or rather, has been… what we call a wanderer: someone who moves around the post-mortal plane refusing to settle anywhere or move on.”
“Actually he’s the arch-wanderer,” added Analise. “He’s been around for as long as any of us can remember, it’s rumoured that he died as long ago as the 1930s and has been here ever since. Most wanderers get tired after a while, figure out whatever personal issue brought them here and move on – they’re the spirits Triana has been delivering over in the park. Ted Braxton, though, is a fierce skeptic. At some point he figured out the whole setup with trinities and custodians and basically made it his mission to steer clear. He thinks we’re all death spectres out to get him.”
“But we don’t chase down anyone,” said Triana. “That’s the whole point.”
“We know that, but no-one can get close enough to him to explain,” said Mr. Phillips. “He’s not bad or dangerous, he just wants to be left alone – but he is very defensive.”
“Sounds like he needs a good woman,” said Steph.
Sian smiled. “Funny you should say that.”
“In the last couple of years he met a lady named Lillian Lahey, who became his business partner,” said Analise. “She was also a wanderer and shared his distrust of custodians. I spoke to her when she came in to set up the account, her first words to me were ‘I know what you are’.”
“Why didn’t you just explain everything to her then?” I asked.
“First of all, she wouldn’t have believed me,” said Analise. “Secondly, something was happening that I didn’t want to interfere with. Remember what our main job is here at Charon.”
“What they’ve set up is a magic shop with an attached theatre,” said Mr. Phillips. “We knew Ted had been a professional conjurer, he performed occasionally around this plane but was careful not to draw more attention than necessary. Lillian was a circus and burlesque performer and convinced him to work with her, then the universe gave him one of its mysterious capital windfalls to lease the premises.”
“So are we talking about a creator-overseer here?” I asked.
“Almost certainly,” said Mr. Phillips. “But it’s a dog of a job getting him to accept it. He’s been running from custodians his entire afterlife, it never occurred to him that he might be one.”
“Lately they hired a new guy who has Maintainer written all over him,” said Sian. “His name’s Darryl, I met him when I went by on my lunch break and he did some card tricks for me. He’s a fantastic magician and comes across as a really together guy, a proper doer – but I don’t think he’s hit recall yet. I can’t wait to see what happens when he does.”
“So the team’s coming together, then?” I asked.
“I didn’t get the aura of a deliverer from Lillian,” said Analise. “Either she’s blocking subconsciously or they’ll be getting another deliverer at some point. Either way, it’s happening whether they like it or not. We’re hoping we can get them to like it.”
“What do you want us to do?” asked Steph.
“I’d like to know how they react to you going into the shop as a family,” said Mr.Phillips. “Ted and Lillian clam up at the first sign of custodians taking an interest, but we think Triana might be innocent and unthreatening enough to get close, especially if she’s with you, her parents. Don’t hang around too long and get out of there if they get suspicious. But see what you can see and report back, we can plan our next move then.”
The Wonder Emporium was a cute little curio shop on a tucked away back street with a small window display of vintage magic props. A bill poster next to a door set into the wall next door was all that advertised the attached theatre, but the location actually felt magical, with promises of what lay within.
Inside was a mess of racks filled with theatrical props, books, bits of costumes and wigs with posters on the walls from old magic shows and circuses. There were a few other customers milling about as we entered, which gave us the opportunity to look around discreetly. Triana loved it, she went around the shop spellbound by the props and memorabilia on display. Her interest was noticed by the man at the counter, who called her over. As she turned to look at him he smiled, flourished a silver dollar coin and asked if she’d like to see a trick.
Just as she went over to speak to the man, a couple appeared through the bead curtains across the room. They looked like they had stepped out of a timewarp; the man had a thin moustache and wore a three-piece pinstripe suit with a pearl white collared shirt, silk tie and red handkerchief in his breast pocket, the woman had tattooed arms and wore a vintage red dress with black fishnet tights and pearl earrings. I knew instantly I was looking at Ted Braxton and Lillian Lahey, the establishment’s proprietors. They were watching Triana as she approached the counter, saying something to each other as she went.
Suddenly Ted turned and looked directly at me. He nudged Lillian, who turned to face us also. They didn’t look threatening, but I could tell they knew we’d been watching them and were putting clues together. The man at the counter was just about to begin his trick, but it would have to wait. We called Triana away, she made her apologies and we left the shop together.
“Were they on to us?” asked Steph as we made our way back to the High Street.
“I didn’t get a good look at Ted and Lillian,” said Triana, “but the guy at the counter was pre-recall right up until you called for me to go. The second you called my name, something lit up in him. I think he’ll have quite the story to tell when we meet again. Hey, maybe he’ll get to show me that coin trick.”
“Sorry about that,” I said. “But it was getting awkward with Ted and Lillian.”
“I know, it was the right call,” said Triana. “I love what they’ve got in there, by the way. I’d have spent all day there if I could.”
“So was that the guy Sian was talking about?”
“Yes, it was. And yes, he’s a maintainer, it was all over his aura. I’m not certain, but he might be trans too.”
“More like Kim – only he went from female to male instead of the other way round.”
We met him again a few days later in an unexpected location. We were walking in the park with Triana as we came upon the bench by the lake where she did most of her delivering. The man from the magic shop was sat there looking out across the lake.
“Oh dear,” said Triana. “I hope total recall went OK for him. We can’t have him leaving us already, it’d ruin everything.”
“Maybe this is just how you get to talk together,” suggested Steph.
“Well, let’s hope so,” said Triana. “You go for a walk around the lake, I’ll see you in a bit.”
When we returned they were still sat talking, with no signs of him passing on. Triana looked up with a smile and introduced us.
His name was Darryl De’vante. He had indeed been born a girl, but never felt comfortable in that body so used his magic career to drive and fund his transition to male. He’d been successful and hard working in his chosen field and barely noticed when he died of a sudden heart attack and awoke on the post-mortal plane as the exact man he’d always set out to become. As such, he eluded total recall for a good couple of years as he got on with rebuilding his career, eventually landing at Ted and Lillian’s fledgling theatre and shop. He only remembered the details of his past life when Triana unwittingly recreated the childhood moment that had changed his life.
“Long ago, when I was a girl her age, I went into a magic shop with a friend,” he explained. “The guy that ran it showed me some stuff and could see I was interested. He also saw that I was presenting as a boy and treated me as such at a time when no-one else did – that was when I became Darryl. From that day on, magic became my life, my career and my path to becoming my true self. I started remembering all this when you called her away – it sounds like Dianne, my deadname – and realised that I’d just seen in Triana the exact sense of wonder I had on that day. It was a bit of a Cinderella moment, to be honest.”
Darryl was not perturbed in the slightest at learning the truth and wanted to help.
“Ted and Lillian are amazing people and performers, but things happened to both of them that made them paranoid and suspicious. I’ll do whatever you want to help bring them around, but it will take a little time. Smart people like them are the easiest to fool but the hardest to convince.”
“Do they know Triana’s a deliverer?” asked Steph.
“Actually they think it’s one of you,” said Darryl. “Partly because of the way you sprinted out the door when you realised they were watching you, you shouldn’t run if you’re not being chased. But if we can keep them thinking that it might draw their suspicion away from Triana.”
“I’m glad I can keep coming,” said Triana, “because your shop is really cool.”
Darryl laughed. “I’m glad you think so. What I think we should do is what my magic mentor did for me years ago; I’ll give you a couple of pointers, you go away and practice and keep coming back as my student. Then when it’s time for you to do your big reveal or whatever you’ll already be there in plain sight.”
Triana made her second visit to the Wonder Emporium a few days later, this time accompanied by Kim, whose flamboyant clothing choices matched and distracted from Triana’s appearance as the Only Child. Together they looked like a pair of punky schoolgirls, an image that suited unusual and performative surroundings like this.
“We met Ted and Lillian and they didn’t suspect a thing,” said Triana when we saw them afterwards. “Or if they did, they didn’t kick us out. Maybe Darryl convinced them we weren’t a threat, maybe they only associate custodians with older, more conservatively dressed people.”
“Well, I’m glad it worked out, anyway. Did Darryl get to show you his coin trick this time?”
“He did, and a load of other stuff,” said Triana. “He’s really good, he taught me some basic techniques and gave me some cards to practice with. I’m looking forward to it.”
“Well, I always knew you were magic,” said Kim with a grin. “When are you going back?”
“I’ll give it about a week so as not to overdo it,” said Triana. “So are you my assistant now?”
“I know how you make people disappear, so hard pass,” said Kim. “But you can try out your card tricks on me if you like.”
“How about if I saw you in half?”
“That’s cool. You can do that.”
Over the next few months, Triana began going to the Wonder Emporium more and more regularly to learn the art of magic from Darryl. Coincidentally she found her services as a deliverer were barely called upon during this time, it was as if the universe was giving her a break to transition into her new assignment. Ted and Lillian still thought Steph and I were lurking custodians but didn’t suspect Triana, maybe they thought they were rescuing her from us. Meanwhile Kim carried on working at Culture Collects, who valued what she brought to their store as a cosplaying sales assistant and gave her time off to pursue her acting career at Morior.
Both Triana and Kim were getting more acting work, but Kim was starting to get speaking roles. Triana was really happy for her and was actually relieved she herself wasn’t being featured like that – she enjoyed acting and liked having a job where she could conceal her identity as a deliverer in plain sight, but she didn’t want to be too visible and was happy to remain in non-speaking bit parts. That way she could accompany Kim on set as her friend and sidekick, just like Kim was hers when she went to the Wonder Emporium.
As Spring came around, Triana told us that she and Kim were thinking of moving in together. They found a reasonably priced flat in a converted mill by the canal, split the deposit between them and set about moving their things across with our assistance. It is a strange moment for every parent when their offspring leave home, but particularly poignant for us. We’d been Triana’s constant companions not only through homeschooling but over and into the actual afterlife. We were so used to being together as a family it was hard to imagine this day coming, especially as Triana still looked exactly like the twelve year old child she’d died as and none of us were aging.
On the night they officially moved in together, Steph and I sat in our living room, just the two of us.
“Now what do we do?” I asked.