The Wizard’s Way

What are we dealing with here?

Logan Ericson was waiting for me outside Madison. Logan and I are a study in contrasts.

Where I am tall and lean, shes short and stocky. Where I have dark hair and dark eyes, shes got Shirley Temple blond locks and baby blues.

Where my features are all lean and angular, with a hawkish nose and a sharp chin, hers are round and smooth, with the kind of cute nose youd expect on a cheerleader.

It was cool and windy like it usually is in March, and she wore a long coat that covered her pantsuit. Ericson never wore dresses, though I suspected shed have muscular, well-shaped legs, like a gymnast.

She was built for function and had a pair of trophies in her office from aikido tournaments to prove it. Her hair was cut at shoulder length and whipped out wildly in the spring wind.

She wasn wearing earrings, and her makeup was of sufficient quality and quantity that it was tough to tell she had on any at all.

She looked more like a favourite aunt or a cheerful mother than a hard-bitten homicide detective.

”Don you have any other jackets, Banks? ” she asked, as I came within hailing distance. There were several police cars parked illegally in front of the building.

She glanced at my eyes for a half second and then away, quickly. I had to give her credit.

It was more than most people did. It wasn really dangerous unless you did it for several seconds, but I was used to anyone who knew I was a wizard making it a point not to glance at my face.

I looked down at my black canvas duster, with its heavy mantling and waterproof lining and sleeves long enough for my arms.

”Whats wrong with this one? ”

”It belongs on the set of El Dorado. ”

”And? ”

She snorted an indelicate sound from so small a woman and spun on her heel to walk toward the hotels front doors.

I caught up and walked a little ahead of her.

She sped her pace. So did I. We raced one another toward the front door, with increasing speed, through the puddles left over from last nights rain.

My legs were longer; I got there first. I opened the door for her and gallantly gestured for her to go in. It was an old contest of ours.

Maybe my values are outdated, but I come from an old school of thought. I think that men ought to treat women like something other than just shorter, weaker men with breasts.

Try and convict me if Im a bad person for thinking so. I enjoy treating a woman like a lady, opening doors for her, paying for shared meals, giving flowers—all that sort of thing.

It irritates the hell out of Ericson, who had to fight and claw and play dirty with the hairiest men in Ohio to get as far as she has.

She glared up at me while I stood there holding open the door, but there was reassurance about the glare, a relaxation.

She took an odd sort of comfort in our ritual, annoying as she usually found it.

How bad was it up on the seventh floor, anyway?

We rode the elevator in a sudden silence. We knew one another well enough, by this time, that the silences were not uncomfortable.

I had a good sense of Ericson, an instinctual grasp for her moods and patterns of thought—something I develop whenever Im around someone for any length of time. Whether its a natural talent or a supernatural one I don know.

My instincts told me that Ericson was tense, stretched as tight as piano wire. She kept it off her face, but there was something about the set of her shoulders and neck, the stiffness of her back, that made me aware of it. Or maybe I was just projecting it onto her.

The confines of the elevator made me a bit nervous. I licked my lips and looked around the interior of the car.

My shadow and Ericsons fell on the floor and almost looked as though they were sprawled there. There was something about it that bothered me, a nagging little instinct that I blew off as a case of nerves. Steady, Ryan.

She let out a harsh breath just as the elevator slowed, then sucked in another one before the doors could open, as though she were planning on holding it for as long as we were on the floor and breathing only when she got back in the elevator again.

Blood smells a certain way, a kind of sticky, almost metallic odour, and the air was full of it when the elevator doors opened.

My stomach quailed a little bit, but I swallowed manfully and followed Ericson out of the elevator and down the hall past a couple of uniform cops, who recognized me and waved me past without asking to see the little laminated card the city had given me.

Granted, even in a big-city department like Ohio P.D., they didn exactly call in a horde of consultants (I went down in the paperwork as a psychic consultant, I think), but still.

Unprofessional of the boys in blue.

Ericson preceded me into the room. The smell of blood grew thicker, but there wasn anything gruesome behind door number one.

The outer room of the suite looked like some kind of a sitting room done in rich tones of red and gold, like a set from an old movie in the thirties—expensive- looking, but somehow faux, nonetheless.

Dark, rich leather covered the chairs, and my feet sank into the thick, rust-coloured shag of the carpet.

The velvet velour curtains had been drawn, and though the lights were all on, the place still seemed a little too dark, a little too sensual in its textures and colours.

It wasn the kind of room where you sit and read a book. Voices came from a doorway to my right.

”Wait here a minute, ” Ericson told me.

Then she went through the door to the right of the entryway and into what I supposed was the bedroom of the suite.

I wandered around the sitting room with my eyes mostly closed, noting things. Leather couch. Two leather chairs.

Stereo and television in a black glossy entertainment centre.

Champagne bottle warming in a stand holding a brimming tub of what had been ice the night before, with two empty glasses set beside it.

There was a red rose petal on the floor, clashing with the carpeting (but then, in that room, what didn ?).

A bit to one side, under the skirt of one of the leather recliners, was a little piece of satiny cloth. I bent at the waist and lifted the skirt with one hand, careful not to touch anything.

A pair of black satin panties, a tiny triangle with lace coming off the points, lay there, one strap snapped as though the thong had simply been torn off. Kinky.

The stereo system was state-of-the-art, though not an expensive brand. I took a pencil from my pocket and pushed the PLAY button with the eraser.

Gentle, sensual music filled the room, with a low bass, a driving drumbeat, wordless vocals, and the heavy breathing of a woman as background.

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