PART 9: Antagonists
Chapter 54: Exodus Riposte
Chanel’s job working her way back through her old client list got steadily easier as those that’d gone away for the summer trickled back into the area.
Each one she reconnected with, she gave one last cleansing freebie bang, then asked them if they were seeing other girls on a professional basis. I suppose many of these guys wanted to brag, and not all of those saw Chanel as a threat to their ongoing activity, because she ended up gathering a substantial list of names. A few of them she knew or guessed before, but most were entirely new to her. There was a seeming endless supply of young women willing to try this mode of self-support, even in rural southern Utah.
Cautiously, Chanel began approaching these other young women, telling them she’d gotten out of the game, encouraging them to do the same. Only a minority were ready listeners. Most refused outright or at least brushed her off. When she told the recalcitrant ones how many STIs she’d had at the end, she got a few of them to listen as well.
Chanel brought these receptive women over to the house for a quiet chat, one at a time. Through our various contact networks, we found safer jobs for all of them.
A few weeks into the semester, Chanel got a call from one of those former campus hookers, now working in the hospital laundry. The call came in late one evening while we were binge-watching old episodes of Star Trek Enterprise, so since Kaitlyn and I had been involved in getting the young woman out of the game, Chanel put it on speaker for us.
“What’s up, Amanda?” asked Chanel after I’d gotten the home theater system muted.
“I’ve been getting threatening calls from one of my former clients, ever since I told him I won’t be seeing him again. I can’t go to the police, because… Well, you know. I always worked alone, and I have no boyfriend, so I don’t have a thug on hand to send after this asshole. Can you help? Maybe that landlord guy of yours? He looked pretty scary, the little I saw of him before you sent him away the night you had me over for the big talk.”
I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to be thought of as a thug, given the word’s etymology, but I stayed quiet.
Chanel said, “What’s this guy’s name?”
“He always wanted me to call him Big Eddie.”
“I don’t think he ever said.”
Kaitlyn interjected with a surmising squint to her eyes, “Hey, Amanda, it’s Kate. This Ed guy… Did he ever say anything about being a park ranger?”
“Yeah, how’d you know? One night cuddling in bed afterward with me, we got to talking about past jobs, and he started ranting about how some bitch got him fired from his ‘sweet ranger gig.’ Well, not so much cuddling as mauling my tits, actually, but that’s about as close to cuddling as I got with this guy.”
As Amanda spoke, Kaitlyn’s jaw clenched, and she got a frozen steel look in her eye.
I’d followed her guess by this point, so I whispered across the couch to her, “Be easy.”
Once my wife mastered her emotion, she asked a few confirming questions. “About five-one? Balding? Overweight? Graying medium-brown hair? Often wears those all-leather sort of hiking boots, even when mountains have once again failed to suddenly spring up in the middle of the grocery store?”
Amanda confirmed every point, laughing at this last one while saying, “Yeah, that’s the dude!”
Kaitlyn replied, “Yeah, Ms. Welles, we know the guy. We’ll handle it.”
Amanda replied, “Um, so you know, I told him my name was Mandy. No one other than, ah, former clients call me that. I’d prefer you didn’t tell Ed my real name.”
“Certainly, Amanda,” my wife reassured her. “We’re not telling anyone your secrets, certainly not Ed the Goat Fucker.”
Amanda laughed, then said, “You really do know the guy, don’t you?”
“What do I owe you? Assuming you can scrape the guy off, I mean?”
“Just be well, Amanda,” Chanel said.
“And be safe,” my wife added.
“All right. Thanks, you two!” And then Amanda Welles — former campus working girl — clicked off.
I held my peace until Chanel slid her phone to the far edge of the end table, pushing it there with a fingertip before straightening, touching her thigh to Kaitlyn’s, reestablishing the link. I sent, «Kind of a shame we can’t take this to the police. It’s two-zero our favor in legal scraps between us and Ed,» then filled Chanel in on our prior encounters.
Kaitlyn sighed, but kept her reply within the link. «I thought we’d heard the last of him after that disaster of a massage appointment.»
«We had; he never even tried calling back from another number to get around my block,» I pointed out. «The problem isn’t us this time, it’s that Ed remains a lowlife, so he’s moved on to other targets. The thing is, Kaitlyn, if we re-engage with him over this, we’ll be his target again.»
«I don’t see an alternative.»
Our eyes dropped, and Chanel sent, «Isn’t this one of those ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ kind of things?»
I lifted my eyes to meet hers and said, «Of course, but how do we wield that power? In the comic books, the superhero swoops in and beats the bad guys up, then ties them up and drops the bundle off at the police station. Try that out here in the real world and the do-gooder gets thrown in jail for assault.»
Kaitlyn nodded. «I don’t see any particular reason for superhero tactics here anyway. It’s just Ed. He’s repulsive, but I’m pretty sure I can take him on alone, entirely without magic.»
«I’m thinking we do this somewhere public in case it gets rough and we need witnesses that we didn’t start the fight.»
I got nods from the other two, so I stood and walked over to the computer niche off the living room. I pulled open the desk’s attached file drawer, fingered my way through the contents, and pulled out a sizeable file with all of the stuff related to the trespassing charge, the one we’d had him jailed over last year.
“Bingo!” I cried aloud after a few seconds leafing through the papers, sharply flicking the address I’d found on one of them. “Let’s go.”
Twenty minutes later, I was sitting in the dark in the cab of mi burro next to a small neighborhood park near Ed’s house, a few lights on inside. Kaitlyn and Chanel had slipped out the passenger side door and were somewhere out in the park, their clothing stashed, doing magic lessons on the grass.
And so I waited.
An hour later, Kaitlyn’s apparently disembodied voice spoke through the rolled-down passenger side window. “Your turn to guru. Go bring me my clothes.”
It was a bit difficult to maintain a mage-comm conversation with me inside the cab, so I replied in the same manner, “I thought you were going to try carrying them.”
“I did,” she told me, “but even with my new reserve size, I couldn’t make it work. I kept losing the bubble.”
See, it’s doable for an invisible mage to carry something, but it’ll apparently be bobbing along in mid-air, totally wrecking whatever advantage the mage hoped to gain by making themselves invisible in the first place. Our incentive was to find a way to pull the invisibility bubble over the thing we’re carrying. If it’s sufficiently natural, it’s just a question of greater effort, no big problem things small enough to be hand-carried in the first place, but a pile of clothes? Too techie. I had no luck with it, and I was better at light manipulation than Kaitlyn. I kept my mouth shut when she told me she was going to try it, expecting this result, but mama’s bright boy Davie wasn’t going to open it now and tell her so.
My wife continued, “I gave up after three recharges. Anyway, quit jabbering, Davie. The sidewalk’s draining my reserve, and it’ll go even faster once I’m inside the truck. I need to leave enough reserve for you to have time for that fetch quest.”
“What do I get in return? Gold? A cool sword?”
In an exasperated whisper, she replied, “The fair maiden’s everlasting love unless you make me lose this bubble in the middle of a city neighborhood. Now scoot!”
I didn’t need to be told again. As I unlatched the driver’s side door, the passenger door opened, Kaitlyn clearly having timed it by watching my hands. As I slipped out onto the dark neighborhood street, the truck rocked a bit more than it should from my movement alone, and the bench seat on the passenger side compressed a bit. Taking my cue from that, I quietly counted down, “Three, two, one!” and closed my door, Kaitlyn closing hers at the same time.
Human psychology being what it is, any onlooker would be thoroughly confused by this, the sound obviously a result of me closing my door, so there’s no way they saw the passenger side door open and close by itself, right? Right.
I walked out into the park, found Kaitlyn’s clothing bundle behind a bush casting a faint shadow from the streetlight half a block away, and returned it to her.
“I’m in the driver’s seat,” she half-whispered as I approached the passenger side.
I flipped the pile, telling her, “Your cami’s on top,” before dropping it onto the bench seat. It’d been on bottom, the pile’s layers telling the tale of the order she’d stripped her things off out in the park.
As expected, Kaitlyn managed to keep her bubble up while touching the clothing pile. I’d tried this trick, too, and I knew the core problem wasn’t touching the clothing with an outstretched hand, it was trying to extend the invisibility bubble over a bundle of techie fabrics. The spell just kept getting grounded out, for a better term.
I saw her cami float up into the air and sort of squiggle around above the pile for a second before she reappeared, leaning over to conceal her reappearance and any topless flash she might give to a hidden onlooker.
I watched the rest of the reverse strip tease with some amusement, Kaitlyn getting her things back on in the FJ’s cramped cab.
On returning to the quiet shadowy spot Kaitlyn’d used herself, I slipped out of my homespuns, having kicked my Tevas off in the truck’s footwell back at the start of the surveillance. I slipped an invisibility bubble over myself and went off to join Chanel, resuming her lessons.
Chanel sucks at invisibility. Flat-out sucks, and that’s the pure and simple of it.
That’s the consequence of having affinities: a mage can’t be good at everything. Chanel’s a natural at sex magic, so something had to give, and for Chanel, that’s light manipulation.
The only reason this was working for us at all is that the park didn’t have much in the way of streetlights shining on it, so her iffy invisibility bubble still acted as a sort of camouflage. When cars drove by, she could flatten herself on the grass and be really hard to spot as long as she didn’t move, but her illusion wouldn’t stand up to close scrutiny or daylight.
Chanel’s attempts to maintain the bubble were good practice, but it chewed into her attention span so badly that I eventually gave up on what I’d intended to teach her tonight — air control — and worked with her on invisibility instead.
We were about half an hour into that when the FJ’s engine fired up. I looked over and saw Ed’s house lights were off, and there were brake lights in his driveway. That was two more clues than I needed, so I sent through our bond, «Come, Chanel, time to go!»
I dashed off to where I’d stripped, let the invisibility bubble go, slipped into my things, and began a quiet sprint to the truck. My outfit was natural enough to let me retain contact with Gaia, so I felt out and found Chanel not far behind me. I therefore didn’t bother looking back, just slid rapidly through the passenger side door as the backup lights on Ed’s car went out. Chanel was beside me on the bench seat by the time Ed’s car was halfway down his block, closing the door as Kaitlyn shifted mi burro into gear, mages in covert pursuit.
Ed drove to one of the local hangouts favored by the college crowd, a place Chanel said she’d had good luck picking up clients.
Executing on the plan we’d made on the drive over, we got a table between his and the door: we wanted him to come to us, to mix him up over who was pursuing who.
That plan went out the window when Kaitlyn saw him groping his waitress. Without a word, my wife’s bar chair was skittering backwards across the tile, tottering back and forth on its feet, just barely avoiding falling over. In a flash, my wife had Ed’s two forefingers in her right fist, his arm up behind his back in a painful submission hold.
“You worm, Ed!”
“I didn’t do nothin!” the little man shrieked.
Kaitlyn turned to the startled waitress and said, “Go get your boss.”
She did, returning with a mid–40s woman in tow, wearing off-the-rack business wear rather than the flair-encrusted apron over black casual clothes that her employee was sporting.
“What is this?” she demanded. “Let him go!”
My wife did then addressed the waitress, “Did this man grope you?”
The waitress glanced nervously among the parties, but said, “Y-yeah.”
“Do you know him?”
“Yeah, he’s in here from time to time.”
“This the first time he’s copped a feel?”
“N-n-no…” she said, eyes falling to her feet.
Kaitlyn looked to the manager and just stared at her, waiting for her reaction.
“I see,” she finally said. Looking at Ed, she stated, “Sir, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” Then, gaining a bit of spine, she added, “And never come back!”
This earned a small round of applause from the nearby patrons, bringing a blush to the woman’s cheeks.
I’d stood up along his path to the door, and as he was fleeing, I held a hand out to the side at his chest height, stopping him without touching him. “Ed?”
He looked into my eyes and got a little paler.
“You leave Mandy alone, too, or you’ll find out what happens when Kaitlyn gets really upset,” I told him, then dropped my hand. “Now g’wan, git.”
When we’d returned to our seats, Chanel asked, “Think that’ll be enough?”
“I hope so,” breathed Kaitlyn underneath the resuming restaurant crowd noise. “I really don’t want to go all Gandalf on his worthless hide.”