Authors: Piers Anthony
It was the first hour of my first official day as a Private Investigator, and I was nervous. What did I really have to recommend myself for such a job? I was abysmally untrained, with no experience and little idea what to do despite having passed the night school PI courses. I had rented a modest office with borrowed money and hired the secretary/treasurer who made the loan; she at least had some faint notion what it was all about. I had put out my PI shingle just as if I were a pro. Would I actually get any paying clients, and would I be able to satisfy them? There was an almost tangible cloud of doubt surrounding me. Normally I was a reasonably confident ignorant young person, but now I had the shakes.
“Relax; it's not you, it's me,” Syd said from her desk. More specifically, Sydelle, the name meaning “enchantress,” though she wasn't. She was five years my senior, a dishwater blonde of modest proportions whose face was not her fortune, and my best friend's girlfriend. That last surely accounted for the majority of her support for me.
“You?” I asked somewhat blankly.
“You know my secondary is intuition. I have a feeling of disaster, and it's happening within twenty-four hours. I'm drum-tight, and you're picking up on it.”
Her secondary: all Supernaturals, Supes for short, were reputed to have three powers: primary, secondary, tertiary. Secondary was almost universally the semi-telepathic ability to recognize another Supe. But with some it was more. Syd could also foresee the future, or at least a bit of it. “Disaster? You mean I'm going to bomb out on my first day.”
She smiled, briefly. “No. You're fine, Phil. You've got what it takes, once you get it muscled into shape. But something dreadful is going to happen. We just have to be ready for it.”
“Like closing the office until tomorrow?” I asked almost hopefully.
“No! The office is our main defense against it. I've known this all along. Known that we had to get it moving today, so as not to be too late.”
So she had had more than just friendship motivating her. “Too late for what?”
“You aren't reassuring me much, Syd,” I said.
She opened her mouth, but paused, looking at the cheap glass door. I followed her glance. There was the blurred outline of a person approaching the office. A clientâor a horror?
The door opened and a lovely young woman entered. Perfect face, flowing long dark hair, hourglass figure under a slightly translucent dress, legs like a statue of Venus in motion: the kind I dreamed of dating, knowing it would never happen. Oh, I was handsome and smart enough, but I had no money and less self-assurance. Women picked up on that rapidly.
“Hello,” she said. “I'm Nonce.”
She was a Witch! I knew it the moment she spoke.
“Hello, Nonce,” I responded with more confidence than I felt. “I'm Phil, PI. What can I do for you?”
“My cousin Standish was murdered three days ago. You must find his killer.”
“Now wait two seconds,” I said. “Murder is way beyond my competence. That's for the police to handle.”
She reached out and took my hand in hers. I felt a tingle; she was just so pretty. “Phil, you know better than that. He's a Warlock.”
A male Witch. It figured. Supernaturalism did not run in families, but neither did it avoid them. No Supe wanted the mundane police getting involved in their business; mundanes simply did not understand about Supes. It had been that way since soon after time began; we were off the radar, written off as folklore. That was the way we wanted it. “Warlocks are notoriously hard to kill.”
“Precisely. We believe that only another Supe could have done it. So this is a matter for a Supe to handle.”
“A Witch or Warlock,” I said. “I am neither.”
“You're a Were and a PI. You will do.”
“You need a thoroughly experienced investigator,” I argued. “Not a beginner.” No need to mention that I was only eighteen with no more than a high school education and a trade school certificate; I was already doing a competent job of denigrating my qualifications.
, Phil,” she insisted, kneading my fingers with hers. The result was electric. “I know your secondary.”
I glanced at Syd, who was sitting at her desk without expression. That was a bad sign. Was this the disaster she anticipated? It seemed likely. “Nonce, I'm not eager to make a fool of myself on my first day. I don't think I can help you.”
“Are you trying to make me use my power?” she asked.
“I am trying to be candid. I think I would make a mess of this case.”
“Because if I use my power on you, you will fathom my Name. As I said, I know your secondary.”
Which was to fathom the essential magic of other Supes, including their most secret Names and thoughts. When they exercised that magic. Nonce had evidently done her homework, as that was not a talent I bruited about. “I wasn't trying to trick you,” I said. “Murder is not for a beginner.”
“If I employ my magic, I can make you commit to this case,” she continued inexorably. “But then you'll know my secret nature. I'm not ready for that.”
“So go find a PI who can do what you need,” I said. “I'm not the one.”
“So I'll have to persuade you by hand,” she said.
By hand? “I don't think I understand.”
She dug into her purse and brought out a shining gold coin. I knew at a glance that it was worth about two thousand dollars. “That would cover my retainer,” I said. “But I'd be cheating you.”
She brought out another coin, and a third, watching me. “There's more where this comes from. Universal currency. You can surely use it.”
I surely could! “Nonceâ”
“But it seems you are not for sale for money alone.” She set the three coins on Syd's desk. “I like that. But more is required.”
“I'm trying to avoid wasting your money,” I said. “I'd love to take your case if I thought I could manage it, butâ”
“In addition, this.” She stepped into me and kissed me on the mouth. The impact was like a velvet-lined sledgehammer. I had heard that Witches could kiss. That was an understatement.
It took me a timeless moment to disengage my mouth, grab desperately for a thought, and speak. “I can'tâ”
“And this.” She caught hold of my hands and set them on her pert posterior. Oh, what evocative flesh! It conjured surging desire. I had to resist it while I still could.
“Please, Nonce, don'tâ”
“And this.” The front of her dress fell open to expose splendidly bare breasts. She caught my hands again and placed them on each globe.
“What are you doing?” I demanded, unable to keep from squeezing those phenomenal orbs.
“I'm seducing you by hand,” she said. “No magic. Commit, and I'll be your girlfriend for the duration of the case, with all that implies. You will have the friendship of my thighs.”
She was serious! That frightened me. She was using no Witchly magic, yet she would soon have me into sex with her right here in front of Syd. The potential friendship of her thighs was maddeningly conducive.
“I'll consider it!” I said desperately. “Give me twenty-four hours.”
“That will do,” she agreed. “I knew you would be reasonable once you appreciated the gravity of the case.” She stepped back, her dress closing up. “He was shot through the head with a silver bullet from his own gun, still in his hand. A sightly woman was seen with him shortly before.”
“It could have been depression over a failed romance,” I said.
“No. It was posed as a suicide, to fool the mundanes, but it wasn't. I think the woman was a Supe, maybe a Succuba, and she had a grudge of some sort and killed him.”
“How can you be sure? Men do get ensorcelled by women, even without magic, as you just demonstrated with me. A Succuba would certainly be capable.”
She smiled. “The friendly thighs, of course. Nature does have the best magic. But this was not the case with my cousin.”
“Because he was gay. He didn't advertise it; I was one of the very few who knew. But even if he had been depressive, which he was not, he never would have suicided over a woman.”
“You may have a case,” I agreed reluctantly. “Give me his personal data, and I will ponder overnight. I still think this is too much for me.”
“I hope you change your mind.” She gave me the Warlock's home and office addresses, but didn't know what projects he was working on. She kissed me again, lightly. In a moment she was gone, leaving only the coins behind, and my whirling emotions.
“She wants you to take the case,” Syd said with classic understatement.
I wanted it too, against my better judgment. If only to satisfy the passion the Witch had so artfully instilled in me. Those thighs! “But is this the disaster you intuit?”
She considered. “I think not. That still looms. Nonce seems to be innocent, at least in this respect.”
“So I can take the case without triggering the horror?”
“And get a temporary girlfriend in the bargain. I understand that Witches make the very best lovers, when they try, and she seems inclined to try.”
“But I'm not competent for this level!” I protested. “Murder of a Warlock? That's heavy-duty mischief.”
“She certainly is a looker. No magic, no illusion, just garden-variety makeup and clothing. I appreciate why she eschewed magic, considering your ability, but why is she so eager for you to take the case? Something doesn't add up.”
“It doesn't,” I agreed morosely. “What should I do?”
“Send Mena to check out the Warlock.”
“But he's dead!”
“Phil, I don't think we have yet ascertained the limit of your power. That Warlock must have been into something deep, and had a powerful presence. You may be able to relate to that. We need to know why the Witches want a Were to do their dirty work.” She glanced at the coins still sitting on the desk. “And we can certainly use the money.”
I nodded. “Mena it is.”
At one a.m. I parked a discreet distance from the office building where the Warlock Standish had worked, according to Nonce's information and Syd's spot research. It was closed for the night, with only standby lights on. I walked to the front entrance and used my skeleton card to finesse the lock, gaining admittance without setting off the alarm. Par for the course; the building thought I was a legitimate late visitor. And I was, in a way.
The office was on the fourth floor. I took the elevator to the sixth floor, then walked down two flights, routinely concealing my target floor. I was a new PI, but I had I hoped mastered the basics. There wasn't even an electronic alert on the office, let alone a magical ward; that was foolishly careless of the Witches. But the alerts had surely been active when the Warlock was killed, here and at his home. Who had done it, and why? Syd's research showed he had no serious enemies, and not many friends either; Nonce had been the main one, working closely with him on more than one Witchly project.
Nonce. Just how close had their relationship been? They were cousins and coworkers and friends; had they been more than friends? The Witch hadn't hesitated to use her considerable sex appeal on me; what about on him? She said he was gay, but that wasn't necessarily the case. To Witches, sex was a tool like any other, to be used when required. Or could he have spurned her, and she killed him, then sought out a marginally competent outside Were investigator to bungle the investigation so that any suspicion would be diverted from her? I didn't like to think of her that way, or myself, but as a PI I had to consider all likely suspects.