Parked outside the dorm was a black sedan with heavily tinted windows and the engine running. A man in a new suit -- certainly new compared to the one I was wearing -- leaned against the driver's side door sipping from an insulated cup of coffee and scrolling through his phone. A driver. I didn't go to college, but I don't think students could afford chauffeurs. This had to be Tiffany's ride.
His attention didn't waiver from the phone, and I walked past unnoticed. Stepping in front of the car gave me a chance for a quick glimpse into the untinted windshield. I was careful to keep my pace so as not to draw attention to myself. My appearance was already pushing my luck. Or who knows, maybe I looked like a professor.
Inside, I saw someone sitting in the back seat reading an unfolded newspaper. The cuffs of the passenger's suit jacket were red.
For the two blocks to the rental car, I
did everything to move as fast as possible without breaking into a
run. A middle-aged man running in a faded business suit would likely
draw attention. Whose? I don't know. Most of the time, I find any
stranger's attention unwanted.
If I timed it right, I could drive back to the dorm and tail the sedan for a while. Maybe get some more information on these con artists.
I pulled my rental onto the street of
the residence hall and drove as slowly as possible.
The driver was holding the rear driver-side door open, and Tiffany was entering on the front passenger side.
She had returned too quick for a blood draw. Something had happened. What had Merle said? Was Mortilus going into his dorm, or did Tiffany bring Merle to the car?
The driver closed the passenger door, entered the car, and signaled to enter traffic.
I had two choices. Follow the car or get out and go back to Merle's room. On instinct, I pulled out into traffic. They stuck to the main streets. For the entire drive, I considered what would happen if I had made a mistake. I told myself that if I hadn't followed the car, and he was in it, there was no way I could find him. I knew where his dorm was; I didn't know where this car was going.
But what would happen when they got to where they were going? It's not like I could just knock on the door of a dark sorcerer and ask to see any of the guests he was holding against their will. If Merle was in that car, the best chance I had to rescue him was before it got to its destination.
I know only one way to stop a moving car and guarantee the occupants get out. I was about to wreck my rental. It wasn't going to be cheap, but Merle would be good for it.
At the next red light, I merged into the left turn lane and pulled alongside the sedan. There were no cars in front of us.
I kept my blinker on to go left and my face forward. All it would take for them to notice me would be a quick side glance into the clear windows of the rental where my wild hair and odd second-hand clothes would mark me.
And then I got a left arrow, while the black sedan still had a red. So much for trying not to get noticed. I stayed put and started pretending to look for something in the back seat, so my plan wouldn't seem obvious. The cars behind me started honking.
Tiffany's car eased forward, and I
turned around to confirm the light had changed to green.
I pulled out as fast as the rental would let me, then swerved in front of the black sedan missing it by a hair. More horns blared, and then I threw on the parking brake. There was no space for the dark sedan to maneuver. Tiffany's car collided with the rear end of the rental, forcing it up and then to my right. Both cars came to a rest, blocking the intersection. Plastic and glass were scattered in the street. The sedan's horn blared, and for a moment, I wondered what would happen if I had stopped the wrong car.
I unclipped my safety belt and stepped out. My neck was free from pain, but it would punish me in the morning.
The airbags had not gone off in either
car. The driver held his hand to his head, and blood poured down; the
steering wheel was bent where his head had connected with it. A web
of cracks had spread across the windshield's safety glass. What could
possibly have hit it?
The front passenger side door opened, and out stumbled Tiffany. Angry and unbalanced. In more than one sense of the word. She leaned on the open door.
"You!" she said.
The hair on my arms rose, and pressure grew in my chest. There was a crackling behind her eyes, like sparks of electricity. She could do magic. This wasn't dark magic, but some other kind. I fell to the street, unable to breathe.
The rear passenger door opened, and Merle screamed, "No," as he hit her in the back. She fell away from the car. With the spell disrupted, I could breathe again. How much did Tiffany know? Tiffany's attack wasn't the kind that required anyone else's blood.
"It's not what you think, Tiffany," I yelled.
Horns honked. A woman approached me and asked if I needed medical attention. I waved her away, and she went on to ask Tiffany.
"Don't touch her!" screamed Merle.
He hadn't hurt her, only distracted her long enough to break the spell. He hadn't had a plan. Neither did I.
There was a moan from inside their car. The good Samaritan said, "Sir, just stay right there. Help is on the way."
More people emerged from their cars. There sound of honking horns echoed off the buildings as traffic backed up.
A figure in a red suit crawled out of
the front passenger door on his hands and knees.
Mortilus must not have been wearing a seatbelt.
Tiffany was alarmed at how helpless he was; his head cracked. But I'm sure what caught her attention was the fact that the daylight caused him no pain or grief. He suffered only from the injuries caused by the collision.
"He's not who or what you think he is," I shouted to Tiffany above the commotion.
The good Samaritan rushed to meet him.
Merle shouted, "Don't touch him either."
His warning came too late. Mortilus put his hand on her, and her concern for him was replaced by fear for her own soul. Mortilus healed his injuries as she screamed in pain. Her skin turned gray, and her bones snapped at awkward angles. She fell to the street and lay there twitching. Whatever she had to offer, he had taken.
Mortilus had performed this spell on command. Had I gotten this all wrong?
My clients often confuse me for someone who knows every detail of every unexplainable event. But I don't. And I don't like to be around when the unexplainable is happening. In the moment, I couldn't understand how Mortilus performed his spell. With the benefit of hindsight, I now know that sorcerers like Mortilus carry a few spells with them that have been started but remain perpetually incomplete, suspended until they are needed. Like a healing spell.
Mortilus's performance did not clear Tiffany of her skepticism. There had been no neck biting or blood consumption.
I stood back up.
Mortilus noticed me for the first time. Behind him, a second black sedan made its way through the idle traffic and pulled into the intersection. The rear doors opened up, but no one came out.
"Who are you?" he asked.
"I'm part of the brotherhood." I bluffed.
My lie earned a light chuckle. "Which one?"
Damn, I couldn't keep them all straight. I stood there waiting for words to fall out of my mouth.
He chuckled again. "Tiffany, take Merle into the car."
"No," she said.
"Tiffany," he said in a soft tone that dripped with violence.
"I don't know what you are, but you aren't what you told me."
"If you leave us, you can't come back."
She backed up, Mortilus did not follow. Sirens could be heard over the car horns, and she faded into the crowd.
Mortilus tried again, "Merle, get into the car."
I countered. "Come with me, Merle."
He didn't move.
I started again, "Merle, this man is dangerous." As if that wasn't already clear. Still, it was the best I could come up with in the moment.
Mortilus smiled, "I'm dangerous because I'm powerful. You could be powerful, Merle."
"He's lying. Don't do this, Merle."
A squad car pulled into the
intersection. I was probably saved, but Merle might not be.
I added, "Don't fall for his lines."
"I can teach you, Merle. You could be like me."
Merle looked in the direction Tiffany disappeared. Mortilus added, "Not, like her. I'm sure she seemed powerful to you, but it's not the same thing. She will always be weaker."
Merle looked back at him.
"She was a fool for walking away."
"He's tricking you, Merle."
Merle asked, "Will you see that
Viktor gets home? And there's no trouble for him?"
Mortilus waited before he responded. I'm sure he wanted to cause me all sorts of harm, but he also wanted Merle to be compliant. And, he probably wanted all this public attention on him to go away.
"I'll see no harm comes to him. But only if you get into the car."
Another door slammed shut; this one belonged to a squad car.
A police officer with a mustache asked, "What's going on here, people?"
I looked to Mortilus and Merle for an explanation, but Merle was gone. The black sedan's door closed, and it drove away.
"Mr. Shade. My apologies, I did not recognize you." said the officer.
Mortilus Shade. If ever there was a name
that screamed fake vampire, he had picked it.
The woman who had offered to help him groaned in pain.
Mortilus answered the officer, "Sir, my driver, and this woman needs medical assistance."
"The woman cut us off, and this gentleman here assisted us." He pointed to me as the gentleman.
The police officer looked confused, but
there was no mistaking that he was also afraid.
Mortilus walked to me, leaving the police officer to treat the woman. In a conversational tone intended only for my ears, he said, "Same deal goes for you. If you leave now and don't cause trouble, no harm comes to Merle."
I had no negotiating power. No leverage. Nothing.
"What's going to happen to him then?" I asked. Merle knows the con now, and I wagered that would make him a threat to Mortilus.
"He'll be offered the chance to become an apprentice."
"What if he says no?"
Mortilus chuckled, "If he turns down the offer, I'll let him go."
"No harm will come to him?"
He smiled, "None."
"No one's ever turned down the offer, have they?"
"Not a soul."
I couldn't respond. I shook my head.
"Here are the woman's keys. Take her car to the airport. I will have a ticket waiting for you to take you where ever it is you came from."
"How did you know I'm not from around here?"
"If you were, you would have never pulled such a dangerous stunt."
As tough as he sounded, I knew there was a little fear inside of him. Magic, even powerful kinds like his, is not invincible. Spellcasters of all abilities are susceptible to mobs. The longer I stayed around, the harder it would be for him to control the situation. And the more likely he'd kill me.
Sometimes walking away from a situation leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Merle was gone, and he did it to save me. The safest option was to get in the car and leave. Inside, I found the seat had already been adjusted for me.