I heard the mailman approach my office door, half an hour earlier than usual. He didn sound right. His footsteps fell more heavily, jauntily, and he whistled.

A new guy. He whistled his way to my office door, then fell silent for a moment. Then he laughed.

Then he knocked.

I winced. My mail comes through the mail slot unless its registered. I get a really limited selection of registered mail, and its never good news. I got up from my office chair and opened the door.

The new mailman, who looked like a basketball with arms and legs and a sunburned, balding head, was chuckling at the sign on the door glass. He glanced at me and hooked a thumb toward the sign.

e kidding, right? ”

I read the sign (people change it occasionally) and shook my head.

”No, Im serious. Can I have my mail, please? ”

”So, uh. Like parties, shows, stuff like that? ”

He looked past me, as though he expected to see a white tiger, or possibly some skimpily clad assistants prancing around my one-room office.

I sighed, not in the mood to get mocked again, and reached for the mail he held in his hand.

”No, not like that. I don do parties. ”

He held on to it, his head tilted curiously.

”So what? Some kinda fortune-teller? Cards and crystal balls and things? ”

”No, ” I told him.

”Im not a psychic. ” I tugged at the mail.

He held on to it.

”What are you, then? ”

”Whats the sign on the door say? ”

”It says Ryan Banks. Wizard. ”

”Thats me, ” I confirmed.

”An actual wizard? ” he asked, grinning, as though I should let him in on the joke.

”Spells and potions? Demons and incantations? Subtle and quick to anger? ”

”Not so subtle. ” I jerked the mail out of his hand and looked pointedly at his clipboard.

”Can I sign for my mail please? ”

The new mailmans grin vanished, replaced with a scowl.

He passed over the clipboard to let me sign for the mail (another late notice from my landlord), and said, ”You
e a nut. Thats what you are. ”

He took his clipboard back, and said, ”You have a nice day, sir. ”

I watched him go.

”Typical, ” I muttered and shut the door.

My name is Ryan Blackstone Copperfield Banks. Conjure it at your own risk. Im a wizard.

I work out of an office in midtown Ohio. As far as I know, Im the only openly practising professional wizard in the country. You can find me in the yellow pages, under ”Wizards. ”

Believe it or not, Im the only one there. Youd be surprised how many people call just to ask me if Im serious.

But then, if youd seen the things Id seen, if you knew half of what I knew, youd wonder how anyone could not think I was serious.

The end of the twentieth century and the dawn of the new millennium had seen something of a renaissance in the public awareness of the paranormal.

Psychics, haunts, vampires—you name it. People still didn take them seriously, but all the things Science had promised us hadn come to pass.

The disease was still a problem. Starvation was still a problem. Violence and crime and war were still problems. Despite the advance in technology, things just hadn changed the way everyone had hoped and thought they would.

Science, the largest religion of the twentieth century, had become somewhat tarnished by images of exploding space shuttles, crack babies, and a generation of complacent Americans who had allowed the television to raise their children.

People were looking for something—I think they just didn know what. And even though they were once again starting to open their eyes to the world of magic and the arcane that had been with them all the while, they still thought I must be some kind of joke.

Anyway, it had been a slow month. A slow pair of months. My rent from February didn get paid until the tenth of March, and it was looking like it might be even longer until I got caught up for this month.

My only job had been the previous week, when Id gone down to Branson, Missouri, to investigate a country singers possibly haunted house. It hadn been.

My client hadn been happy with that answer and had been even less happy when I suggested he lay off of any intoxicating substances and try to get some exercise and sleep and see if that didn help things more than an exorcism.

Id gotten travel expenses plus an hours pay, and gone away feeling I had done the honest, righteous, and impractical thing. I heard later that hed hired a shyster psychic to come in and perform a ceremony with a lot of incense and black lights.

Some people. I finished up my paperback and tossed it into the DONE box. There was a pile of reading and discarded paperbacks in a cardboard box on one side of my desk, the spines bent and the pages mangled.

Im terribly hard on books. I was eyeing the pile of unread books, considering which to start next, given that I had no real work to do, when my phone rang.

I stared at it in a somewhat surly fashion. We wizards are terrific at brooding. After the third ring, when I thought I wouldn sound a little too eager, I picked up the receiver and said, ”Banks. ”

”Oh. Is this, um, Ryan Banks? The, ah, wizard? ” Her tone was apologetic, as though she were terribly afraid she would be insulting me.

No, I thought. Its Ryan Banks the, ah, lizard. Ryan the wizard is one door down.

It is the prerogative of wizards to be grumpy.

It is not, however, the prerogative of freelance consultants who are late on their rent, so instead of saying something smart, I told the woman on the phone, ”Yes, maam. How can I help you today? ”

”I, um, ” she said.

”Im not sure. Ive lost something, and I think maybe you could help me. ”

”Finding lost articles is a speciality, ” I said.

”What would I be looking for? ”

There was a nervous pause.

”My husband, ” she said.

She had a voice that was a little hoarse, like a cheerleader whod been working a long tournament but had enough weight of years in it to place her as an adult.

My eyebrows went up. ”Maam, Im not a missing-person specialist. Have you contacted the police or a private investigator? ”

”No, ” she said, quickly.

”No, they can . That is, I haven . Oh dear, this is all so complicated. Not something someone can talk about on the phone. Im sorry to have taken up your time, Mr Banks. ”

”Hold on now, ” I said quickly.

”Im sorry, you didn tell me your name. ”

There was that nervous pause again, as though she were checking a sheet of written notes before answering.

”Call me Monica. ”

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