Day of the Djinn Warriors (4 page)

“How’d you do that?” asked Apollonius.

“Practice.”

Dybbuk sat down and started to play and slowly the rope began to rise. Apollonius watched, apparently amazed as the rope straightened and rose up into the lights above the stage. “Is there some kind of wire in the rope, is that it?”

Dybbuk put down the flute and went up the rope like a monkey, and when he was near the top, he began to transubstantiate, which looked like smoke covering his disappearance.

“Where are you?” called Apollonius. “Where did you go?”

Dybbuk let the rope drop back down to the stage and while Apollonius was busy examining that, he transported the smoke carrying all of his atoms to the back of the auditorium, where he reassembled himself and then called out to the famous magician.

“Here I am.”

Dybbuk walked back to the stage, where Apollonius was still shaking his head.

“I’ve never seen anything like that. In all my years of magic. I mean, you make the Indian Rope Trick look like the real thing.”

Dybbuk grinned. He was enjoying himself.

“You’ve got it all, kid,” said Apollonius. “You’re young, good-looking, you’ve got more talent than I’ve ever seen. How would you like your own TV show?”

“I don’t think so,” said Dybbuk, conscious now that, perhaps, he had gone a little too far.

Apollonius laughed. “What do you mean, you don’t think so? You’re a natural. A star. And I can make it happen. Believe me, in a few weeks you could be the most famous face in America. I can make you more famous than fame itself.”

Dybbuk was still shaking his head. His mother was going to kill him.

Apollonius thought Dybbuk was still being modest. “No kidding. I’m serious. You’re what magic has been crying out for. A magician who’s as big as any pop star. Maybe bigger. We’re going to make a fortune. And the girls are going to love you, Buck. The girls are going to worship you, my boy.”

That got Dybbuk’s attention. “Girls?”

“Sure, girls. Lots of girls. You like girls?”

“Oh sure, but …” The “but” was on account of the fact that Dybbuk was a little shy of girls. With girls it was so easy to get things wrong. There had been a girl named Lisa of whom he’d been very fond. She’d made a wish and because Dybbuk had dearly wanted her wish to come true for her, he’d made it happen. He wished he hadn’t. But he had. Lisa had wished that Teddy Grosvenor, who was a boy at their
school in Palm Springs, “would just disappear.” And Dybbuk had learned the hard truth of what Mr. Rakshasas was always saying: “A wish is a dish that’s a lot like a fish — once it’s been eaten it’s harder to throw back.”

“Girls,” said Apollonius. “You’d better get used to the idea of hundreds of them screaming outside your hotel and camped in front of the gates of your Hollywood home. Sending you their pictures and locks of their hair. Greeting your arrival at airports all over the country. Fainting with excitement when you autograph their hands. Crying because you said hello to them.”

“Hundreds?”

“Thousands.”

Dybbuk nodded. All thoughts of meeting his father were now gone from his mind. He knew who he wanted to meet. He wanted to meet girls.
Thousands of them
.

Halfway across America, Nimrod called Jenny Sachertorte on a cell phone from inside his whirlwind.

“Nimrod,” she said. “I was just going to bed. What’s happening? Has Marion Morrison shown up yet?”

“Yes, yes, dear lady, everything’s fine on that score,” said Nimrod. “How’s Dybbuk?”

“Oh, he’s fine, I think.”

“John and I are on our way to Palm Springs to see him on a mission of mercy,” said Nimrod.

“Well, we’re not there. We’re in Las Vegas. At the Winter Palace. For a weekend break. Dybbuk wanted to see a show. I
think it’s really cheered him up.” Her tone hardened a little. “Is he in trouble again? What kind of mission of mercy?”

“Light my lamp, no. Nothing like that. Perhaps I’d better tell you when I see you both.” He looked at his watch. “Shall we say at breakfast? Tomorrow morning? In your hotel?”

A few hours’ flying time brought them within sight of Las Vegas. In the Nevada night it looked like some huge and exotic species of electric jellyfish floating in a jet-black sea. Nimrod landed them in the huge parking lot of the Marriott Winter Palace — a luxury hotel that was the image of the famous royal palace in St. Petersburg, Russia. They checked in and went straight to bed, tired and a little windswept after their long flight.

In the morning, they went down to breakfast in the Pompeii Room and found Dybbuk and Jenny Sachertorte sitting quietly and staring down at their cereal. It was plain from their faces that they had argued about something.

“Hey, Buck,” John said brightly, and tapped him on the shoulder with his fist playfully. “How are you doing, buddy?”

Dybbuk ignored him.

“Look, I’ll come straight to the point,” said Nimrod, and explained in detail his plan to reunite Faustina with her body and, in the process, enable her to fulfill her destiny, which was to become the Blue Djinn of Babylon.

Jenny Sachertorte, who was, of course, Faustina’s mother,
started to cry. “Do you really think it’s possible, Nimrod? To bring Faustina back? After all these years?”

“Yes,” he said. “But there’s no time to lose. Dybbuk here will have to go to Egypt with us and —”

“I’m afraid that won’t be possible,” Dybbuk said coldly. “I have other plans.”

“Well, look,” said John. “We don’t have to leave right away. I mean if you want to stay here in Vegas another day, I’m sure that’s possible.”

“You don’t understand,” said Dybbuk. “When I say I have other plans, I have other plans —
for the rest of my life
. I’ve been offered my own television show. And I’m not about to drop a chance like that just to go off with you on another pointless journey. Faustina’s gone. Get used to it.” He looked unpleasantly at his mother. “All of you.”

He got up from the table and walked away. Nimrod looked at John and nodded that he should go after him.

John threw down his napkin and followed his old friend into the Hall of Hercules, which was full of slot machines and hundreds of people filling them urgently with coins.

“She’s your sister, Buck,” he said, catching up with him. “You
have
to do it.”

“My sister’s dead,” he said.

“No, she’s not,” said John. “She’s lost, that’s all. You can find her. You can’t just abandon her.”

“Don’t think I haven’t guessed why you’re doing this, pal,” said Dybbuk. “You think you can bring your mother
back from Babylon by having Faustina take her place as Blue Djinn. Well, I’m not doing it.”

“But it’s what Faustina wanted, apparently,” John insisted. “Look, ask your mother if you don’t believe me.”

“To ask her, I’d have to speak to her, and I don’t want to do that in case she tries to put a binding on me. Or Nimrod.”

“Nimrod wouldn’t do that,” said John.

“Wouldn’t he?” Dybbuk hardly looked convinced of this. “Look, nothing personal, but I really think it’d be better if we don’t see each other anymore. I’m going to be famous. And I don’t want anyone from my old life interfering, get it?”

John was disappointed in his old friend. “What kind of TV show is it going to be, anyway?” he asked.

“Street magic,” said Dybbuk.

“You mean tricking gullible mundanes with stupid bits of sleight of hand.”

“Good-bye, John,” said Dybbuk. “If you ever see me again, just pretend you don’t know me.”

“I don’t know you now,” said John. He shook his head and walked away. But he hadn’t gone very far when he saw someone he recognized.

It was Finlay McCreeby. Finlay was the son of Virgil McCreeby, a magus and sorcerer to whom John had once been obliged to grant three wishes. One of these wishes had resulted in John turning poor Finlay into a peregrine falcon. Fortunately, John had been able to return Finlay back
to his original human shape eventually, and Finlay had gone off with Edwiges the Wandering Djinn to exploit one of her gambling systems and make enough money to put himself through school. John found Finlay wandering through the hotel lobby. At least John thought it was him; Finlay looked a lot taller than he remembered.

“Finlay, what are you doing here?”

“Trying to avoid security,” said Finlay. “I’m too young to be playing the machines. They’ll throw me out if they find me.”

“What happened to the roulette system?”

“Oh, the system was fine,” said Finlay. “But Edwiges kept on trying to be a mother to me. She meant well, but after a while I had to get away.”

“What about school?”

“I’ve got a place at a boarding school in England,” said Finlay. “It’s all paid for, in advance. By Edwiges. I’ll say that for her, she was very kind. But until school starts I’m just killing time. It’s not so easy gambling when you’re a kid. To be honest, I’m kind of looking for a job. Just to tide me over. Until school starts.”

John had a brain wave. “I’ll give you a job.” He glanced around and saw Dybbuk on the other side of the Hall of Hercules. “You see that boy over there? The one with the rock T-shirt and the motorcycle boots?”

“Gloomy face, longish dark hair?”

John nodded. “That’s the one.”

“What about him?”

“I want you to follow him,” said John. “Find out who he sees, who he meets, where he goes.”

“I get it,” said Finlay. “Like a private detective.”

“Exactly.” John took out his wallet and handed over all his money. “There,” he said. “That should cover your expenses for a few days. To keep in touch, just call the house in New York. We’re in the phone book.”

“Thanks, John,” said Finlay. “I appreciate it. By the way, what’s the kid’s name? The one I’m following.”

“Dybbuk Sachertorte,” said John. “And he’s not a kid exactly. He’s a djinn.”

Finlay grinned. “With a name like that? It’s probably just as well.”

CHAPTER 4
MIRACLE ON MADISON AVENUE

W
here one accident occurs another two usually follow. To think otherwise is to misunderstand the three-sided nature of Luck, which is a force in the universe, just like mass and time. The great scientist Albert Einstein never quite grasped the importance of Luck, as he himself admitted when he said that he could not believe “that God plays dice with the universe.” And he might just as well have written the equation L = mc
2
as the one for which he is more famous.

As some will know, djinn are the only beings on earth that can influence Luck, for good or bad. But even djinn can have accidents. Especially when they are tired and distracted, like Philippa, who was worried about her parents, and Mrs. Trump. And this is how Philippa, walking around the corner to the hospital to visit Mrs. Trump, came to step in front of a bus.

The bus, a number 4, heading north up Madison Avenue, was moving fast and there was no obvious reason why Philippa didn’t hear it coming. Ordinarily she probably would have been killed. Manhattan buses are notoriously unforgiving of the people who step in front of them. Especially the number 4. (In Chinese, four is a very unlucky number, being the same word for death, which is why you will seldom see Chinese people on a number 4 heading north up Madison Avenue.) Luckily for her, Philippa was not run down and killed. A policeman on a horse who was passing by galloped forward, grabbed her by the collar, hauled her clear of the oncoming bus, and saved her life.

“What the heck d’you think you’re doing?” he yelled when she was standing safely on the sidewalk again. “You could have been killed.” The policeman had a face that was the shape and color of a brick, being square and red and hard.

“I’m sorry,” said Philippa, her legs turning to Jell-O as she began to understand the narrow margin of her escape. She sat down in the doorway of an expensive French restaurant.

“You would have been,” yelled the policeman. He got off his horse, secured it to a streetlight, and then yelled at her some more. “You would have been, little Miss Death Wish.” He pulled out his pen and ticket book. “I’m going to give you a ticket, because that way you’ll remember to look where you’re going.”

It’s not always the nicest person who saves your life. Or the one who is the most deserving of great good fortune.

Nevertheless, Philippa knew that it was now her solemn obligation as a good djinn to reward this policeman in the traditional, time-honored way.

“And I’m going to give you something,” said Philippa.

“You are, huh?” said the cop. “Like what?”

“Three wishes,” she said.

“Three wishes?” He smiled. “I wish I had three wishes. I really do. You’ve no idea. I suppose you’re a genie, is that it?”

“Something like that. By the way, you still have three wishes. That first wish you made gives us a logical fallacy of causation. You can’t wish for something you already have because I can’t give you what I’ve already given you. But if you’re prepared to waste one wish I can prove that you really do have three wishes, officer. Although of course by then you’ll only have two wishes.”

“I wish I knew what you’re talking about, kid,” said the policeman …

“FABULONGOSHOOMARVELISHLYWONDERPIPICAL!”

… And suddenly the policeman did know what Philippa was talking about. “Holy mackerel,” he said. “You really are a djinn.”

“You saved my life,” said Philippa. “I’m obliged to you. And even though you’re a bit of a jerk, if you don’t mind me saying so, I have to grant you three wishes. Or to be more precise, two, since you’ve made one wish already. Only be careful now. With a mouth like yours, it would be all too easy to put your foot in it and squander the other two,
‘wishing’ that you knew what to do. Believe me, I’ve seen it happen.”

The policeman took off his helmet and scratched his head. “You’re right,” he said. “I’m a jerk. I wish I wasn’t but what can you do? It comes from having to deal with a lot of other jerks. Sometimes this job brings out the worst in me.”

“Not anymore,” said Philippa, and, muttering her focus word, granted the policeman’s wish.

Immediately, the cop’s face took on a less bricklike aspect, becoming a little less square, a little less red, and little less hard. He even managed a smile, which was something his facial muscles hadn’t achieved in several bad-tempered years of law enforcement.

“Two down, one to go,” said Philippa.

“Hey,” said the cop. “You know what? I do feel kind of different. Like maybe I’m not such a bad guy after all.”

“That’s because you’re not,” said Philippa. “You’re a nice guy. A very nice guy. Probably you always were that nice guy underneath. I can tell because it didn’t require much power to bring that out.”

The cop patted Daisy, his horse, affectionately. He hadn’t always been nice to Daisy. There had been times when he’d ridden her a little too hard. And it was now he remembered why he’d become a mounted policeman in the first place. Because he loved horses. And not just horses. He loved all animals. Just thinking about how much love he had for animals brought a tear to his piggy eyes.

“You know something, little girl?” he said, and uttered a loud sigh. “I hate the way people mistreat living creatures.” He nodded at the menu in the window of the restaurant where they were still standing. “I mean, just look at the stuff people eat in this city. Some of it is just so cruel to animals.” As he spoke, tears started to roll down his fat face. “You want to know my third wish? I wish no one in New York could eat pâté de foie gras. That’s what I wish. That no one could eat pâté de foie gras.”

Philippa glanced at the menu, saw pâté de foie gras listed among the hors d’oeuvres — which is French for starter courses — and considered for a moment how she might make the cop’s unselfish, animal-loving wish come true. She had no idea how many people in Manhattan liked eating pâté de foie gras. What was more, even feeling as powerful as she did now, she hadn’t a clue as to how she might affect the tastes of hundreds, possibly thousands of New Yorkers. But a wish granted was a wish granted. And she decided to grant the policeman’s third and last wish in the easiest, most straightforward way possible: by causing the city’s entire supply of pâté de foie gras simply to disappear. Within seconds of her uttering her focus word, there was not a bit of pâté de foie gras nor a mention of it to be found anywhere in New York.

“There,” she said, tapping the menu in the window triumphantly. “Just as you asked. It’s gone. No one in New York can eat pâté de foie gras. Satisfied?”

The cop nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “Thanks a lot, little girl.”

“No, thank you,” she said, “for saving my life.”

“You take care, now.” And then, with a big smile on his face, the cop mounted his horse and rode away in the direction of the park.

Philippa felt as if she had done a good deed. But instead of congratulating herself for helping to make someone a better person, she might have done better to have remembered that all use of djinn power in the mundane world has a random and unpredictable effect, even when that power has been used for something as apparently benign as saving the enlarged livers of a few French geese — for that is what pâté de foie gras is made of. And if djinn are sometimes reluctant to give ordinary people three wishes it’s not because they’re mean and stingy, it’s because they have learned to appreciate that granting wishes to human beings has unseen, unpredictable consequences. Even a wish that’s made with a kind intent. It’s the one aspect to being a djinn that young djinn take the longest time to learn. Sometimes it’s a hard lesson, too. As Mr. Rakshasas was fond of saying, “Having a wish is like lighting a fire. It’s reasonable to assume that the smoke might make someone cough.”

There’s an old nursery rhyme that explains how small things can have large consequences. It goes:

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost
.

For want of a shoe, the horse was lost
.

For want of a horse, the rider was lost
.

For want of a rider, the battle was lost.

For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost.

And all for the want of a nail
.

Now, because of this wish Philippa had granted the police officer, a chain of events was set off, and one thing led to another; it’s probably just as well that Philippa never ever connected the dreadful thing with the third wish she gave that New York policeman.

The djinn have a word for this kind of misfortune:
Kismet
, from the Persian
qismat
. According to the
Shorter Baghdad Rules
, it means “that which is destined.”

Safely back home again, Philippa switched on the TV and tried to relax. But she couldn’t help noticing that a lot of her favorite TV shows had been taken off the air. According to the TV news, this was because a Las Vegas—based TV company called LZ kid TV had been aggressively buying up all the best TV shows and simply putting the tapes in a vault where no one could see them.

“Best place for ’em if you ask me,” said Mr. Groanin. “Some of them shows you kids watch on TV are tripe. I say, some of them TV shows you seem to like so much are just tripe.”

Philippa switched off the TV. “Well then, let’s go out,” she said.

“What about your dad?” asked Groanin, who wasn’t keen on going anywhere in Manhattan.

“Doc will look after him. He’s already getting better.”

“It’s a miracle what that woman can do,” said Groanin, who liked Marion Morrison more than he ever would have admitted to Philippa.

“I know,” she said. “Let’s go to the Metropolitan Museum. They have one of those famous terra-cotta warriors on loan from China. I’ve been meaning to go and look at it for a while. Besides, the Met is full of really cool things. You’ll like it.”

“I doubt it,” said Groanin, reaching for his coat. “If you recall, miss, I had a bad experience in a museum once. A tiger tore off me arm. Still, I’m game, if you are.”

The Metropolitan Museum on Fifth Avenue was a few blocks from the Gaunt house on East 77
th
Street. From the front, it looks like a sort of giant-size temple, with tall columns and a flight of steps as wide as a football field. But the museum was closed because of a twenty-four-hour strike by museum attendants, and the steps were crowded with people carrying placards and shouting loudly about something. Philippa and Mr. Groanin stayed for a moment to read the placards with slogans such as M
ETROPOLITAN
M
USEUM OF
F
EAR
, N
O
G
O IN
G
HOSTLY
G
ALLERIES, POLTER
MET, and N
IGHT
V
ISITORS
M
EANS
N
O
V
ISITORS.

A few minutes’ conversation with one of the attendants revealed that they were on strike because, he said, the Met was haunted. Several of them had reported seeing and hearing ghosts in the Sackler Wing and in the Chinese art galleries on the second floor.

“I’d say they were just after more money,” said Groanin as he and Philippa went back home again. “My guess is that one of those blokes what works at the Met read this.” He showed Philippa a copy of the previous day’s
Daily Telegraph
, and drew her attention to a front-page headline that read, S
POOKS
S
PELL
S
TRIKES AT
B
RITISH
M
USEUM.
“Very likely someone read that and thought it sounded like a good way of getting more money out of them as pay their wages.”

Philippa read the story in Groanin’s newspaper as they walked. “I’m not so sure,” she said. “This means something. But I’m not sure what.”

When Philippa and Groanin got home, they found John and Nimrod had returned from Las Vegas. They were huddled in the library with Mr. Rakshasas, discussing everything that had happened at the Winter Palace Hotel.

“So what happens now?” asked Philippa when her brother and her uncle had finished explaining their lack of success. “We’ve wasted two days trying to get Dybbuk on board.”

“All is not lost,” said Nimrod. “Accompanied by Mr. Rakshasas, for whom the ethereal world is more comfortable at his age, one of you children will have to go after Faustina instead of Dybbuk.”

John looked at Philippa. “Remind me a little,” he said. “What exactly is the ethereal world?”

“’Tis the spirit world, John,” said Mr. Rakshasas. “The world of ghosts and phantoms and assorted apparitions.”

“Oh,
that
world.” John shivered uncomfortably. He didn’t like ghosts, and meeting the ghost of the Pharaoh Akhenaten had done nothing to change his opinion of them. Ghosts were creepy. Especially the ones that went around haunting places and scaring people.

Philippa, who liked the idea of ghosts even less than her brother, was just about to volunteer, nevertheless, when Groanin spoke. “The spirit world can be frightening, even when you’re a djinn,” said Groanin. “Especially when you can’t actually rely on using djinn power in there yourself.”

There was a longish silence.

“Did I mention that?” said Nimrod. “No, perhaps I didn’t. Djinn power is severely limited in the ethereal world. Oh, you can move stuff about a bit. Take possession of someone. Rattle a chain, open a door — not that you’d need to, of course. But your focus word will be useless, I’m afraid.”

“We may enter the spirit world only as spirit,” added Mr. Rakshasas. “But djinn power is not something of that world.”

“Quite simply you can’t practice mind over matter where there is no matter,” said Nimrod. “But in some ways more can be achieved. You’ll find time moves much more slowly in the spirit world.”

For a moment, neither one of the children said anything. But eventually, sensing his twin sister’s greater fear of ghosts,
John spoke up. “I guess it had better be me that goes,” he said finally.

“Good lad,” said Mr. Rakshasas. “Sure, it’s true what they say: What you’re afraid to hear you’d better say first yourself. But we’ll look after each other, I’m thinking.”

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