Monica No-Last-Name was standing outside of my office when I got there, writing on the back of the note I had left taped to my office door.

I walked toward her, and she was too intent on her writing to look up. She was a good-looking woman, in her mid-thirty-somethings. Ash blond hair that I thought must be natural, after a morbid and involuntary memory of the dead womans dye job.

Her makeup was tasteful and well applied, and her face was fair, and friendly, with enough roundness of cheek to look fresh-faced and young, and enough fullness of mouth to look very feminine.

She was wearing a long, full skirt of palest yellow with brown riding boots, a crisp white blouse, and an expensive-looking green cardigan over it, to ward off the chill of early spring.

She had to be in good shape to pull off a colour combination like that, and she did it. Overall, it was a naggingly familiar look, something like Annette Funicello or Barbara Billingsley, maybe, wholesome and all-American.

”Monica? ” I asked.

I put on my most innocent and friendly smile.

She blinked at me as I approached. ”Oh. Are you, um, Ryan … ”

I smiled and offered her my hand. ”Ryan Banks, maam. Thats me. ”

She took my hand after a tiny pause and kept her eyes firmly focused on my chest. At this point, I was just as glad to be dealing with someone who was too nervous to risk looking at my eyes.

I gave her a firm, but a gentle handshake, and let go of her, brushing past her to unlock the office door and open it up.

”I apologize for being late, I got a call from the police that I had to look in on. ”

”You did? ” she asked.

”You mean, the police, um … ” She waved her fingers instead of finishing the sentence and entered when I held the door open for her.

”Sometimes, ” I nodded.

”They run into something and want my take on it. ”

”What sorts of things? ”

I shrugged and swallowed. I thought of the corpses at the Madison and felt green. When I looked up at Monica, she was studying my face, chewing on her lip nervously. She hurriedly averted her gaze.

”Can I get you some coffee? ” I asked her.

I shut the door behind us and flicked on the lights.

”Oh. No, thank you. Im fine. ” She stood there, looking at my box of discarded paperbacks and holding her purse over her tummy with both hands.

I thought she might scream if I said boo so I made sure to move carefully and slowly, making myself a cup of instant coffee.

I breathed in and out, going through the familiar motions until I had calmed down from my encounter with Payton.

By the time I was done, so was my coffee. I went to my desk and invited her to have a seat in one of the two chairs across from me.

”Okay, Monica, ” I said.

”What can I do for you today? ”

”Well, um. I told you that my husband was … was … ” She nodded at me, gesturing.

”Missing? ” I supplied.

”Yes, ” she said with an exhalation of almost relief.

”But hes not mysteriously missing or anything. Just gone. ” She flushed and stammered.

”Like he just packed up a few things and left. But he didn say anything to anyone. And he hasn shown up again. Im concerned about him. ”

”Uh-huh, ” I said.

”How long has he been gone? ”

”This is the third day, ” she said.

I nodded.

”There must be some reason why you
e coming to me, rather than a private investigator or the police. ” She blushed again.

She had a good face for blushing, fair skin that was coloured girlishly. It was quite fetching.

”Yes, um. He had been interested in … in … ”

”Magic? ”

”Yes. He had been buying books on it in the religion section at the bookstore. Not like those Dungeons and Dragons games. The real thing. He bought some of those tarot cards. ”

She pronounced it like a carrot.


”And you think his disappearance might have had something to do with this interest? ”

”Im not sure, ” she confessed.

”But maybe. He was very upset. He had just lost his job and was under a lot of pressure. Im worried about him. I thought whoever found him might need to be able to talk to him about all of this stuff. ”

She took a deep breath as if the effort of completing so many sentences without a single um had tired her.

”Im still not clear on this. Why me? Why not the police? ” Her knuckles whitened on her purse.

”He packed a bag, Mr Banks. I think the police will just assume he left his wife and his children. They won look. But he didn . Hes not like that. He only wants to make a good life for us thats all he wants. ”

I frowned at her. Nervous that maybe hubby has run out on you after all, dear?

”Even so, ” I said.

”why come to me? Why not a private investigator? I know a reliable man if you need one. ”

”Because you know about … ” She gestured, fitfully.

”About magic, ” I said.

Monica nodded. ”I think it might be important. I mean, I don know. But I think it might. ”

”Where did he work? ” I asked her.

While I spoke, I got a pad of paper out of my pocket and jotted down a few notes.

”SilverCo, ” she told me.

e a trading company. They locate good markets for products and then advise companies where they can best spend their money. ”

”Uh-huh, ” I said.

”What is his name, Monica? ”

She swallowed, and I saw her twitching, trying to think of something to tell me other than his real name.

”George, ” she supplied at last.

I looked up at her. She was staring furiously down at her hands.

”Monica, ” I said.

”I know this must be hard for you. Believe me, maam, there are plenty of people who are nervous when they come into my office. But please, hear me out. I am not out to hurt you or anyone else. What I do, I do help people. Its true that someone with the right skills could use your names against you, but Im not like that. ” I borrowed a line from Walter Payton.

”It isn good business. ” She gave a nervous little laugh.

”I feel so silly, ” she confessed.

”But there are so many things that Ive heard about… ”

”Wizards. I see. ” I put my pencil down and steepled my fingers in a wizardly fashion.

The woman was nervous and had certain expectations. I might ease her fears a little if I fulfilled some of them.

I tried not to look over her shoulder at the calendar I had hanging on the wall and the red circle around the fifteenth of last month. Late rent. Need money.

Even with the fee from today and what I would make in the future, it would take the city forever to pay up.

Besides. I could never resist going to the aid of a lady in distress. Even if she wasn completely, one hundred percent sure that she wanted to be rescued by me.

”Monica, ” I told her.

”There are powers in the universe that most people don even know about. Powers that we still don fully understand. The men and women who work with these powers see things in a different light than regular people.

They come to understand things in a slightly different way. This sets them apart. Sometimes it breeds unwarranted suspicion and fear. I know youve read books and seen movies about how horrible people like me are, and that whole suffer not a witch to live part of the Old Testament hasn made things all roses. But we really aren any different from anyone else. ” I gave her my best smile.

”I want to help you. But if Im going to do that, you
e going to have to give me a little trust. I promise. I give you my word that I won disappoint you. ”

I saw her take this in and chew on it for a while staring down at her hands,

”Victor, ” she said at last.

”Victor Sells. ”

”All right, ” I said, picking up my pencil and duly noting it.

”Is there anyplace he might have gone that you can think of, offhand? ”

She nodded.

”The lake house. We have a house down by… ” She waved her hand.

”The lake? ” She beamed at me, and I reminded myself to be patient.

”In Lake Providence, over the state line, around Lake Michigan. Its beautiful up there in the autumn. ”

”Okay, then. Are you aware of any friends he might have run off to see, a family he might have visited, anything like that? ”

”Oh, Victor wasn on speaking terms with his family. I never knew why. He didn talk about them. Weve been married for ten years, and he never once spoke to them. ”

”Okay, ” I said, noting that down, too.

”Friends, then? ”

She fretted her lip, a gesture that seemed familiar to her.

”Not really. He was friends with his boss and some people at work, but after he was fired … ”

”Uh-huh, ” I said.

”I understand. ” I continued writing things down, drawing bold lines between thoughts to separate them.

I spilt over onto the next page before I was finished writing down the facts and my observations about Monica.

I like to be thorough about this kind of thing.

”Well, Mr Banks? ” she asked.

”Can you help me? ”

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