The Wizard’s Way
I need your help
Gentleman Walter Payton didn look like the sort of man who would have my legs broken or my jaw wired shut.
His salt-and-pepper hair was cut short, and there were lines from sun and smiling etched into the corners of his eyes. His eyes were the green of well-worn dollar bills. He seemed more like a college football coach: good-looking, tanned, athletic, and enthusiastic.
The impression was reinforced by the men he kept with him. Cujo Hendricks hulked like an all-pro player who had been ousted for extreme unnecessary roughness.
Cujo got in the car again, glowered at me in the rearview mirror, and then pulled out into the street, driving slowly toward my office. The steering wheel looked tiny and delicate in his huge hands.
I made a mental note: Do not let Cujo put his hands around your throat. Or hand. It looked almost like one of them could manage it.
The radio was playing, but as I got in the car it fouled up, squealing feedback out over the speakers. Hendricks scowled and thought about it for a second. Maybe he had to relay the message through his second brain or something.
Then he reached out and fiddled with the knobs before finally turning the radio off. At this rate, I hoped the car would make it to my office.
”Mister Banks, ” Payton said, smiling.
”I understand that you work for the police department, from time to time. ”
”They throw the occasional tidbit my way, ” I agreed.
”Hey, Hendricks. You should wear your seat belt. Statistics say you
e fifty or sixty percent safer. ”
Cujo growled at me in the rearview mirror again, and I beamed at him. Smiling always seems to annoy people more than actually insulting them. Or maybe I just have an annoying smile.
Payton seemed somewhat put off by my attitude. Maybe I was supposed to be holding my hat in my hand, but I had never really liked Francis Ford Coppola, and I didn have a Godfather. (I do have a Godmother, and she is, inevitably perhaps, a faery. But thats another story.)
”Mister Banks, ” he said.
”How much would it cost to retain your services? ”
That made me wary. What would someone like Payton want me for?
”My standard fee is fifty dollars an hour plus travel expenses, ” I told him.
”But it can vary, depending on what you need to be done. ”
Payton nodded along with my sentences as if encouraging me to speak. He wrinkled up his face as if carefully considering what he would say, and taking my well-being into account with grandfatherly concern.
”How much would it set me back to have you not investigate something? ”
”You want to pay me to not do something? ”
”Lets say I pay you your standard fee. That comes out to fourteen hundred a day, right? ”
”Twelve hundred, actually, ” I corrected him.
He beamed at me.
”An honest man is a rare treasure. Twelve hundred a day. Lets say I pay you for two weeks worth of work, Mister Banks, and you take some time off. Go catch a few movies, get some extra sleep, that sort of thing. ”
I eyed him.
”And for more than a thousand dollars a day, you want me to … ? ”
”Do nothing, Mister Banks, ” Payton smiled.
”Nothing at all. Just relax, and put your feet up. And stay out of Detective Ericsons way. ”
Ah-hah. Payton didn want me looking into Tommy Tomms murder. Interesting. I looked out the window and acquainted my eyes, as though thinking about it.
”Ive got the money with me, ” Payton said.
”Cash on the spot. Ill trust you to fulfil your end of the deal, Mister Banks. You come highly recommended for your honesty. ”
”Mmmm. I don know, John. Im kind of busy to be accepting any more accounts right now. ”
The car was almost to my office building. The car door was still unlocked.
I hadn worn my seat belt, either just in case I needed to throw the door open and jump out. See how I think ahead?
Its that wizardly intellect and paranoia.
Paytons smile faltered. His expression became earnest.
”Mister Banks, I am quite eager to establish a positive working relationship, here. If its the money, I can offer you more. Lets say double your usual fee. ”
He steepled his hands in front of him as he talked, half-turning toward me.
My God, I kept expecting him to tell me to go out there and win one for the Gipper. He smiled.
”How does that sound? ”
”It isn the money, John, ” I told him.
I lazily locked my eyes on his. ”I just don think its going to work out. ”
To my surprise, he didn look away.
Those who deal in magic learn to see the world in a slightly different light than everyone else.
You gain a perspective you had never considered before, a way of thinking that would just never have occurred to you without exposure to the things a wizard sees and hears.
When you look into someones eyes, you see them in that other light. And, for just a second, they see you in the same way. Payton and I looked at one another.
He was a soldier, a warrior, behind that relaxed smile and fatherly manner. He was going to get what he wanted and he was going to get it in the most efficient way possible.
He was a dedicated man dedicated to his goals, dedicated to his people. He never let fear affect him. He made a living on human misery and suffering, peddling drugs and flesh
and stolen goods, but he took steps to minimize that suffering because it was simply the most efficient means of running his business.
He was furious over Tommy Tomms death was a cold and practical kind of fury that his rightful dominion had been invaded and challenged. He intended to find those responsible and deal with them in his way— and he didn want the police interfering.
He had killed before, and would again, and it would all mean nothing more to him than a business transaction, than paying for groceries in the checkout line. It was a dry and cool place, inside Gentleman Walter Payton.
Except for one dim corner. There, hidden away from his everyday thoughts, there lurked a secret shame. I couldn quite see what it was.
But I knew that somewhere in the past there was something that he would give anything to undo, would spill blood to erase. It was from that dark place that he drew his resolve, his strength.
That was the way I saw him when I looked inside, past all his pretences and defences. And I was, on some instinctual level, certain that he had been aware of what I would see if I looked—that he had deliberately met my gaze, knowing what he would give away.
That was his purpose in getting me alone. He wanted to take a peek at my soul. He wanted to see what sort of man I was.
When I look into someones eyes, into their soul, their innermost being, they can see mine in return—the things I had done, the things I was willing to do, the things I was capable of doing.
Most people who did that got really pale, at least. One woman had passed out entirely. I didn know what they saw when they looked in there—it wasn a place I poked around much, myself.
John Payton wasn like the other people who had seen my soul. He didn even blink an eye. He just looked and assessed, and after the moment had passed, he nodded at me as though he understood something. I got the uncomfortable impression that he had duped me. That he had found out more about me than I had about him.
The first thing I felt was anger, anger at being manipulated, anger that he should presume to soul gaze upon me.
Just a second later, I felt scared to death of this man. I had looked on his soul and it had been as solid and barren as a stainless-steel refrigerator.
It was more than unsettling. He was strong, inside, savage and merciless without being cruel. He had a tigers soul.
”All right, then, ” he said, smoothly, and as though nothing had happened.
”I won try to force my offer on you, Mister Banks. ”
The car was slowing down as it approached my building, and Hendricks pulled over in front of it.
”But let me offer you some advice? ” He had dropped the father-talking-to-son act and spoke in a calm and patient voice.
”If you don charge for it. ”
Thank God for wisecracks. I was too rattled to have said anything intelligent.
Payton almost smiled. ”I think youll be happier if you come down with the flu for a few days. This business that Detective Ericson has asked you to look into doesn need to be dragged out into the light. You won like what you see. Its on my side of the fence. Just let me deal with it, and it won ever trouble you. ”
”Are you threatening me? ” I asked him.
I didn think he was, but I didn want him to know that. It would have helped if my voice hadn been shaking.
”No, ” he said, frankly.
”I have too much respect for you to resort to something like that. They say that you
e the real thing, Mister Banks. A real magus. ”
”They also say Im nutty as a fruitcake. ”
”I choose which hey I listen to very carefully, ” Payton said.
”Think about what Ive said, Mister Banks? I do not think our respective lines of work need to overlap often. I would as soon not make an enemy of you over this matter. ”
I clenched my jaw over my fear and spat words out at him quick and hard.
”You don want to make an enemy of me, Payton. That wouldn be smart. That wouldn be smart at all. ”
He narrowed his eyes at me, lazy and relaxed. He could meet my eyes by then without fear. We had taken a measure of one another. It would not happen in such a way again.
”You really should try to be more polite, Mister Banks, ” he said.
”Its good for business. ”
I didn give him an answer to that: I didn have one that wouldn sound frightened or stupidly macho.
Instead, I told him, ”If you ever lose your car keys, give me a call. Don try offering me money or threats again. Thanks for the ride. ”
He watched me, his expression never changing, as I got out of the car and shut the door. Hendricks pulled out and drove away, after giving me one last dirty look.
I had soul gazed at several people before. It wasn the sort of thing you forgot. I had never run into someone like that, someone so cool and controlled that even the other practitioners I had met gazes with had not been that way.
None of them had simply assessed me like a column of numbers and filed it away for reference in future equations.
I stuck my hands in the pockets of my duster and shivered as the wind hit me. I was a wizard, throwing around real magic, I reminded myself. I was not afraid of big men in big cars. I do not get rattled by corpses blasted from life by a magic more intense than anything I could manage. Really.
But those dollar-bill-coloured eyes, backed by that cool and nearly passionless soul, had me shaking as I took the stairs back up to my office. I had been stupid. He had surprised me, and the sudden intimacy of the soul gaze had startled and frightened me.
All added together, it had caused me to fall apart, throwing threats at him like a frightened school kid. Payton was a predator. He practically smelled my fear.
If he got to thinking I was weak, I had a feeling that polite smile and fatherly facade would vanish as thoroughly and as quickly as it had appeared.
What a rotten first impression.
Oh, well. At least I was going to be on time for my appointment.
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