Authors: T.A. Pratt
Marla Mason, sorcerer in exile, looked over the railing of the balcony, down at the lavish resort hotel’s pool with its swim-up bar and tanned, happy people lounging on chairs, and thought,
I can’t take another day of this
‘‘I can’t take another day of this,’’ she said aloud to her companion, Rondeau, who leaned on the rail popping macadamia nuts into his mouth from a tin. He wore the most outrageous aloha shirt Marla had ever seen – its eye-wrenching pattern included not only parrots and palm trees but also sailboats and sunsets and what appeared to be carnivorous plants – and had the self-satisfied look of someone with more money in the bank than he could spend in even a fairly dissolute lifetime.
‘‘Come on,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s a beautiful day. Enjoy it.’’
‘‘We’re on Maui. In a resort, no less. Of course it’s a beautiful day. So was yesterday. I’ll lay even money tomorrow will be, too. I’m bored. I hate being bored.’’
He shrugged. ‘‘So go look for a fight. Break a taboo and see if you can piss off a local god. The exercise would do you good.’’
She snorted. ‘‘I think I’d rather do something useful. I know you embrace your uselessness –’’
‘‘Hey, I support the local economy. The massage industry alone is having a great year because of me.’’
‘‘– but I like
things,’’ she finished, ignoring him.
‘‘I’m telling you: occult private eye. That’s your new gig. I’ll rent you some office space. It’ll be great. I’ll be your silent partner, spoken of in hushed tones, but never seen. When you have to refer to me, you can call me, ‘The Mysterious Mr. Cash Machine.’ You can, I dunno, disperse ghosts and lift curses and scare away the monsters lurking under little kids’ beds. Maybe they’ll make a reality show about you.’’
‘‘Let’s call that ‘Plan B,’’’ she said. ‘‘I’m going to cast a divination.’’
‘‘And look for what?’’
She shrugged. ‘‘Trouble, I guess.’’
He popped another macadamia nut into his mouth. ‘‘Good luck with that. I’m going to hit the pool.’’
After Rondeau left the suite – which had two bedrooms, and was, essentially, a very nice apartment which happened to be on the top floor of a very nice hotel – Marla went to her leather bag and took out her divination tools. She hadn’t needed them for a long time, because in her own city (scratch that, her
city), she’d had a small army of informants and people who did divinations
her. But that didn’t mean she didn’t have the knack herself.
Marla unrolled a dark blue velvet cloth on the flowered bedspread and opened a small leather drawstring bag, shaking the contents into her palm. A tarnished three-cent silver piece from 1865; a very small diamond with a flaw in the center; an inch-long tooth from a great white shark; a sliver of petrified wood; a scattering of morning glory seeds; and a stone from the head of a toad. She shook the assemblage in her hand for a moment, letting her senses open up wide, and then tossed the items onto the cloth.
Usually the arrangement of such objects formed patterns that, to a sufficiently receptive mind, could provide the answer to a question, or hints of likely futures.
This time, the shark’s tooth levitated about nine inches above the rest of the objects, which began to twist around and chase one another counter-clockwise like a whirlpool on the cloth, as the tooth whirled in the opposite direction a few times before stopping and pointing firmly in the general direction of the sea.
interesting,’’ Marla said.
Marla found what she was looking for on a typically lovely stretch of beach after a couple of hours of walking. She had the shark’s tooth on a string, the string wrapped around her wrist, and the tooth exerted a constant gentle tug, pulling her toward... something.
It was her own fault, probably, for not having a really specific question in mind. Divination worked better when the diviner didn’t generalize, but her clearest thought had been, ‘‘Find me something interesting,’’ and it would be just her luck if ‘‘interesting’’ in this case turned out to be ‘‘unspeakably horrible’’ or even just boring old ‘‘deadly.’’
The shark’s tooth pulled hard enough to tighten the string painfully around her wrist, then sagged, its purpose accomplished.
‘‘Hey,’’ Marla said to the person sitting on the sand.
He was a large Hawai’ian man, aged somewhere between thirty and sixty, naked except for a sort of skirt made of seaweed piled messily around him. He sat in the sand with his feet stretched in front of him, soles just out of reach of the lapping waves. He stared at the water with an expression of infinite loss and, maybe, just a hint of impotent rage.
Since he ignored her, Marla sat down beside him. ‘‘Aloha,’’ she said. She didn’t think she’d ever said the word ‘‘aloha’’ before in her life, but when in Maui...
Now he glanced at her. ‘‘Aloha, haole.’’
‘‘How-lee?’’ she said. ‘‘Huh. Spell that for me?’’
He looked at her more directly, and a bit quizzically, but he complied.
‘‘Ha,’’ she said. ‘‘I thought so. Spelled pretty much like ‘a-hole,’ isn’t it? Let me guess. That’s the local equivalent of gaijin, gringo, gweilo, muzungu, right? Outsider, foreigner, maybe a little dash of white devil?’’
‘‘That’s right, wahine.’’
‘‘I’ll assume that’s a nicer word. But you can call me Marla.’’
A moment’s hesitation, and a slight nod. ‘‘I am... call me Ka’ohu.’’
She looked out at the water. ‘‘Pleased to meet you. As for the
thing you called me... Well, you’ve got me there. I am an outsider. This isn’t my place. I don’t even especially want to be here, but my friend has the money, so he picked the destination. I’m a... I don’t know what you call them around here. A sorcerer. A witch.’’
He took this assertion with equanimity, as she’d suspected he would. ‘‘We say kahuna,’’ he said. ‘‘Keeper of the secrets.’’
‘‘Good, that’s nice. Keeper and maker and taker and trader and occasional abuser of secrets.’’ She looked up at the sky. ‘‘I had a whole city of secrets in my keeping. I looked after it, did my best to take care of it, to protect the people there, to make life better for everyone. I risked my life, and more than my life, more times than I can count, in service to that place. And when I made one little mistake... Okay, a few
mistakes... the people there forgot everything I’d done for them, and they cast me out. Exile. So that’s what I’m doing here. I’m happy to be an outsider. I’m not even exactly a tourist. I don’t want to go native. I’m just here because the place where I’m
an outsider has been lost to me.’’
He nodded, but didn’t take his eyes from the sea.
‘‘So what have
‘‘Only myself,’’ he said. ‘‘An outsider, with magic. Someone like you. He has taken power from me.’’
‘‘If you lost something important, then you and I have more in common than I have with the person who
it from you, even if he is an a-hole like me.’’
Now the man smiled, and Marla saw he was missing most of his teeth. Not all of them, but several, and the remaining teeth were smeared with the blood oozing from his gums.
‘‘You’ve got to tell me the name of your dentist, so I can make sure I never, ever go to him.’’
‘‘Do you have sharks where you come from, Marla?’’ He might have been addressing the waves.
‘‘Sure, my city’s on a bay on the east coast of the mainland. Sometimes we get sharks, though not often.’’
He nodded. ‘‘We have many sharks here.’’ He paused. ‘‘I am a shark.’’
Marla mulled this over. She’d known many people who could appear to turn into animals, and at least two people who could
turn into animals, but never a... ‘‘Were-shark?’’ she said.
‘‘Shark god,’’ he said, with some dignity.
Marla squinted at him, concentrating hard. She had the ability to see well beyond the normal limits of human sight, but using that vision gave her headaches. Still, now that she really looked, she could see: the shape of the world bent around this man, like he was a bowling ball resting on top of a bed, the surface sagging and deforming under his weight. Metaphysically speaking. ‘‘I was a goddess myself, once, for a while. I guess I still am, a little. But only by marriage.’’
He just nodded.
, Marla thought, but it was just as well. The goddess thing was a long story, and one she didn’t feel like telling.
Ka’ohu said, ‘‘I am not one of the great gods. There are many shark gods, and many aumakua – ancestral spirits – who manifest as sharks. We are a multitude. But I have some power, including the power to transform myself into a man, and then into a shark again... power which has been stolen from me, trapping me in this form.’’
‘‘Something to do with those missing teeth, I’d guess?’’
‘‘The teeth will grow back, but I fear the magic is stolen forever. Some days ago a man – an a-hole, as you would say – appeared in a small boat. He threw a net over me, and dragged me into the air. I transformed into a man, expecting to terrify him, but he stunned me, somehow, and I lost consciousness, and when I woke, he was ripping out my teeth with a pair of pliers. I tried to transform, and could not, but I managed to leap over the edge of the boat and swim to safety. Since then, however, I have been unable to change.’’
Marla sighed. ‘‘Sounds like you could use an occult detective.’’
‘‘Never mind. Just me succumbing to the inevitable. Can you describe the guy?’’
He shook his head. ‘‘You all look alike to me.’’
‘‘Look closer, then,’’ Marla prodded. ‘‘Really look at the memory. Me, if a guy ripped my teeth out, I bet I could draw a picture of him freehand.’’ Someone
ripped her jaw off, once, and she did indeed remember his acne-scarred face very well.
Ka’ohu frowned. ‘‘His hair was long and greasy, dark. He was thin, and didn’t seem strong enough to haul a shark my size into a boat, but he did it. He wore smoked glasses with round lenses.’’ He shook his head. ‘‘That’s all.’’
‘‘Okay,’’ Marla said. ‘‘Tell you what. I’ll find the guy who stole your teeth, and see what he’s doing with them, and, if possible, get them back for you. Deal?’’
‘‘Why would you do this for me?’’
, she thought. But she said, ‘‘Because I like it when gods owe me a favor.’’
‘‘If you can do this, then I will owe you a debt.’’ His voice was solemn.
‘‘Then it’s a deal.’’ She stood up, then paused. ‘‘Wait. Are you one of those shark gods who, I don’t know, pretends to be a guy, and lures a pretty girl into the ocean, and then turns into a shark and eats her?’’
‘‘No. At least, not since I was a very young god. And we all make mistakes when we are young.’’
‘‘Some of us just keep on making them. But you’ve gotta go on living. I’ll be in touch, Ka’ohu.’’
Rondeau followed her out of the elevator, saying, ‘‘I’ll drive.’’ He trailed her through the lobby, past the tropical plants, and Asian-influenced sculptures, and the koi pond, and – no shit – the little penguin habitat.
‘‘You don’t even have to go. I know you’ve got a lot of drinks with coconut juice or whatever in them ahead of you.’’ They stepped out into warm late-afternoon air. Marla was well-fortified by a late lunch of Kona coffee and macadamia nut pancakes and slices of fresh pineapple, though she’d never admit how much she’d grown to like the food here.
‘‘It’s called milk when it comes from coconuts, Marla. And you know I like a little diversion now and then. Besides, I’m all psychic and stuff. I could be useful’’
Rondeau did have an array of psychic abilities, which he mostly used to better understand the minds of men he wanted to sleep with. But he could also summon oracles, agitate ghosts, and do other occasionally useful things, and she
hate driving, so she said, ‘‘Okay.’’
They got into their rental car, a black Ford sedan that Rondeau called ‘‘Huff-Juh’’ because the first three letters on the license plate were HFJ, and drove away from the high-rise resorts and condos and time-shares of Kaanapali on the western shore of the island. They drove south to Lahaina, the nearest town of any size, and found parking downtown easily, since it was still the off-season. (Rondeau, who in his usual way had become friendly with the hotel staff, assured her that in a few weeks, around mid-December, the retired snowbirds would start arriving in droves, something that Marla was willing to get annoyed about in advance.)
They strolled down Front Street, not far from the water, past the profusion of shops and restaurants meant to lure tourists. The weather was mild, as it always seemed to be here, and it made Marla miss home, which would be getting its first good snow right about now. The bastards who’d kicked her out of her job had even taken
away from her.