I thought it was Romero

The compromise reached with Kebab daughter is that we’re going drive but we’ll do it in her car.  A 2020 Alfa Romeo Stelvio.   

I didn’t like the way she tossed the keys at me like I’m her servant.  I did want to drive though so I didn’t say shit about it.  It’s a hell of a machine as long as you don’t care about fuel economy, cargo space, or reliability.   

KBD gave me the hairy eyeball when I was moving my stuff over to her car.  She asked me in the most judgey way she could if I lived in my car.   

“Sometimes, yeah.” 

She eye-rolled so hard I thought she was going to knock herself over.  I’m probably going to have to punch her in the liver at some point if I don’t want to keep taking her shit. This is probably anti-feminist but women should really hit each other more so they know it’s possible.  Too many shit talkers like KBD do it because they don’t think another woman is going to bust their chops.   

KBD is not such a bad travel buddy.  She doesn’t mind discussing magic which is a nice change of pace for me.  Like Stella KDB said that necromancy has been in her family for as long as she knows.  In her case it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the civil war though.  She said that when her family went to Cuba in the 1800s they were already necromancers.   

Also like Stella KDB said that the family tradition was to pass the magic knowledge from mother to daughter, but her great-great grandmother only had boys and she didn’t like any of her daughters in law to get them in on the act.  The tradition was dead until KBD’s dad managed to teach himself from some old family books. 

I asked her if her dad could afford to buy her a car like this one because of the garment business or the necromancy business.  She didn’t know.  Didn’t care either. 

23 & Magic

Once I had the money Kebab-man dispatched one of his daughters to help me investigate.  He said he couldn’t do it because he’s too old to be doing magic anymore.   Once he realized that his skills were declining he taught his daughters magic so they could carry out his bidding. 

I said he didn’t look that old.  He said that channeling magic tears you up physically.  “But you know that” she said as he looked me up and down.  When I asked him what he meant by that I found out that he thought I was a blood mage because of all my scars.  He thought I was cutting myself all up to power magic.  I wonder if anyone actually does that.   I’ve only ever run into blood mages that cut other people.

Royale and others have told me how rare magic is in modern times. I think that’s right, but in the past few days I’ve met half a dozen new magic people.  Which doesn’t seem rare.  I’ve been thinking about it a lot and I realized almost most of magic people I’ve met have either been very old or they learned it as a family thing.  Maybe that means magic is biological and genetic?   

Maybe magic is becoming more rare because as people get less uh, inbred, there’s less magic people out there.  Like people with blue eyes or red hair.  The number of people that can do magic declining that’s actually what causes the ebb and flow in the magic energy. 

I’ve been trying to think if I’ve meet anyone like me, new to magic and not from a magic family.   Maybe my parents were magic.  Maybe that’s how I ended up alone.  Maybe the people that got Royale got them.   Maybe I am like Harry Potter.

I asked Kebab daughter if her family was worried about sending her off with a stranger.  She said “Are you going to try to rape me?”  When I told her no she said “well there you go, besides he has other daughters so he can afford to lose a couple”.  I don’t think she was entirely kidding.   

She took one look at my car and flat out refused to get in.  When I told her that there wasn’t really another option she said “You just gave my dad 3 grand and you can’t afford a two-hundred-dollar flight?”   

We’re off to a great start.  This is going to be a fun trip.

Ask about our high pressure sales techniques

When he was doing his bitter old wizard routine Huddie told me that magic is pointless because spending 20 years to learn a spell to make light is stupid when you can buy a flashlight.  He’s wrong about that, but he’s also kind of right.   

I found the contact information for some of the professor’s clients and cold called them about buying the magic coat.  Several of them said the same thing, why would I pay for an old magic raincoat that protects me from bullets when bulletproof vests exist?  The coat from the Bessie Love collection is actually way better than a bulletproof vest but I get their point.   

One guy was interested when I told him about its history, that it was created by blood mage serial killer who as defeated by a famous actresses, but then he got too interested about the serial killer angle.  I didn’t want to meet that guy.   

Once again wrestling must pick up the slack where magic fails.  I’ve heard old timers talking about how in the old days there were all kinds of money schemes going on, most of them designed so “the boys” could spend their pay on hookers and blow without their wives finding out.   

For the most part that’s all gone, but one thing that still exists here and there is a “skinner”.  A skinner is a special loan shark for wrestlers only.  They loan you the cash and then you agree to work X many shows for their buddies, who are promoters, so they can take half your check guaranteed.  On top of sort of guaranteed payback if you ditch the shows they can have their promoter buddies blackball you so you have extra motivation not to default.   

These guys work on reputation, they aren’t going to lend to people that no one wants to book, and apparently I don’t have the rep to get them interested myself.  I called Austin Starr and he was able to hook me up with a Skinner based on his cred.  He also sent me a bunch of pictures of his kid and his new baby.  I hate having to pretend babies are cute but it’s a small price to pay for his help.

I feel like I’m fifteen people down the line from where this started at Triple 8’s.  But at least I know fifteen people now.  Three years ago I didn’t know anyone.   

The poor magician’s almanac

Kebab man said that because I was friends with Stella he’ll to cut me deal and only charge me $1500 to investigateT8.  That’s half his normal rate he pointed out.  I got paid that much once for a bare knuckle fight. 

I asked him if I couldn’t afford $800 how did he think I was going to sing $1500?  He said that was the best he could do, which is a lie.  He could do it for free.   That’s the best he could do. 

I asked if he could just teach me a couple spells so I could do it myself and he laughed right in my face.  Literally laughed I my face.   I also pitched helping me in return for my help with something he had going on which he did not even warrant a response. 

I thought about the magic alligator wallet that the professor took off me when I showed him the Bessie Love memorabilia.  I gave some consideration to stealing it back.  But I already lied to the professor’s sad wife a bunch, robbing her on top of that would be too much.  I don’t even know for sure that it gets you money, it just seems like what a magic wallet would do.   

Instead I went the other way and offered Kebab Man the bullet, and other stuff, proof coat in lieu of cash.  He sneered.  He asked why he would need a bulletproof coat, why would anyone ever shoot at him?  I can think of a couple reasons.  I suggested that he could sell it.  He laughed at said that was the professor’s thing.  That’s how they knew each other.   

In the end I did break into the professor’s house and snoop around his office.   Just to steal information not stuff.

So it’s okay.   

Garment industry > necromancy

After I left it occurred to me that I never considered if Jackie was actually capable of reading minds.  Does that mean I’m getting jaded?  Doesn’t seem good whatever it means.

I called Jackie’s contact who he said that his necromancy consulting fee is $800/hour.  When I said I couldn’t afford that and he hung up.  I called back to say that maybe I could help him with something instead of paying him with money, bartering, and  he said that he could tell but the sound of my voice that I wasn’t capable of doing anything worth $800.  OUCH.

I would have let it go at that point if I hadn’t seen a picture of him and Stella together while I was stalking him online.  Picture looked like they were somewhere warm.  It’s weird to see Stella wearing beach clothes instead of her lazy hipster goth witch outfit.  And with a tan.  Wherever it was it looked like they were having a great time.  They had colorful drinks with “fun” straws in them.

After that he wouldn’t pick up when I called him so I popped over to Buffalo to stalk him in person.  I know I’ve said this before but social media makes it so easy to find people.  How did serial killers get anything done in the old days?   So much legwork.

I hung around outside at the clothing place he owns.  A place that makes clothes not a place that sells them.  Well, they sell them to stores after they make them.  I could see him through the window up in his office looking pissed all morning. 

I followed him when he left to hit the kabab place up the road.  He’s gained a ton of weight since he and Stella were living it up.  And he’s a lot paler.  But I recognized him.   

I sat down across from him and said that I didn’t have 800 bucks but I would cover lunch.  He looked up from his phone long enough to say that I had five minutes.  I told him about the maybe zombie heroin smuggler.  His response? 

“There’s no way to know what’s going on without taking a look at her.  And if you can’t afford 800 bucks you sure as my big dick can’t afford to fly me out to bumfuck Indiana to consult.” 

When I responded that Buffalo wasn’t exactly Paris he told me my five minutes were up.  I asked him how he knew Stella.  His face got angry for a moment then it softened.  He said they worked together a few times but he doesn’t do that kind of work anymore.  When I asked him what stuff he meant he ignored me and asked me if I knew who killed her. 

“Yeah” I said “I beat his head in with a hammer.” 

He looked at me for a minute and then grunted “Good”.   

The Librarians in the Quest for the Lying Liar’s Lies

I called a couple of the professor’s ghost clients pretending to be his assistant.  I’ve been lying a lot lately.  I don’t love it.   

I was following up to make sure their ghost eradication needs were still met.  And since I had them on the line I asked where they had heard about the service for our records.  Most people said they had heard about the profession and his ghost busting from a friend of a friend at a ball.  Or a gala.  Or other kind of rich person party.  Rich people have a lot of parties.  Now that I think about it so do poor people.  Common ground! 

I found one that didn’t say a friend of a friend at a party.  He pointed me to Jackie Nunziato.  Nunziato sounds like a wrestling name for an Italian stereotype gimmick to me.  This non-wrestling Nunziato is a psychic.  You have a ghost in your house you consult a psychic, makes sense.  I wonder how she got hooked up with the professor.   

I called Jackie Nunziato and left her a message asking if she only does ghost stuff or if she knows anything about necromancy.  She called back a few hours later and told me to meet her the next day at a coffee shop in Canandaigua.   

Canandaigua, where all the psychics hang out. 

Jackie Nunziato looks like a boring white lady to me but she said she’s Cuban by way of Miami and has an Italian last name.  I know it’s rude to ask about someone’s background but is it rude to wonder about it?  Probably. 

When she sat down at her little psychic reading table a look came over her face like someone had just dumped a bucket of ice down the front of her pink pants.  “I can’t read your mind” she blurted out.  Not knowing what else to say I said that I was sorry.   

I started to explain what I was after but she was staring at me.  She reached out like she was going to touch my face.  I asked her not to do that and went over my story again.   She was very confused.

“You’re not here for the professor?” 

“In what way?” 

“To get him out of prison.  I thought that’s why you came.  He was framed.” 

Truth be told there was a lot of confusion on both sides.  She kept shaking her head like a drunk trying to sober themselves up.  It was really freaking her out that we shouldn’t read my mind.  I started off with “we’re all magic right” and then went over again that I was dealing with a girl in prison who may be some kind of zombie and I was looking for someone who knew about that kind of death magic stuff.  This just made her more confused. 

“Who are you?” 

“You ever see that Librarians movie?” 

“You work in a library?” 

“No, uh, I just . . . try to help out . . . with magic stuff.” 

“But who pays you?” 

Valid question.  Eventually she stopped being confused enough to tell me that she might have someone who could tell me about necromancy.  Then she sat there not saying anything.  When I asked her if she was going to tell me who it was she said “Yeah.  He’s kind of a dick.” 

The ghost embezzler’s wife

My next idea was to call the professor.  I’ve been trying to keep the lines of communication open with him even though I suspect him.  Of what I don’t know.  Something.  He hasn’t responded to me in a while.  Now I know why.  He’s in prison. 

I called what used to be his office number, a woman transferred me to another woman who talked about Cornell’s great history and a bunch of other shit and how they’d sue me if I said anything bad about them.  They thought I was a podcaster. 

I couldn’t find anything online about what had happened so I called his wife.  I don’t feel great about it.  I also don’t feel great about lying and saying I was a former student of his.  She rambled.  I think she was on valium.  She told me that the professor was in jail for stealing money from the university.  A scam to do with admissions and endowments and donors.  I couldn’t follow it. 

She said a bunch of times “if he stole all that money where is it?”  Her logic is a little off.

I hit shows in Fort Wayne, Dayton, Akron, Youngstown, and Erie on my way to Ithaca.  Everything lined up so perfectly it makes me wonder.  I should learn more about unintentional magic. 

Once I was in the area I got a paper map and charted out the Ithaca Mystery Vortex as best I could.  Not very good because magic zones don’t follow roads.  I can feel what the professor was talking about the first time we met.  These places of power would drive me insane if I stayed in them for too long.   

It’s like a buzzing across your skin and the back of your head.  I wonder if this if what it feels like when you’re a heroin addict.  I should ask someone at my next show.   

The professor’s wife is pretty upset about him being in jail.  Not so upset that she didn’t take one look at me and ask “You were a student?”  I should have stopped and bought a skirt.  Or a shirt without a big hole in it.   

I wonder what a typical medieval studies student at Cornell looks like.  I’m imagining one of those LARP kids.   

She wasn’t bothered enough by my squalid appearance to dissuade her from talk for a long time about how sad she is and how her husband was framed.  I’m not good enough at talking to find an opening to say “So anyway, about your husband’s ghost business”.  The best I could do is to ask if I could look around his office.  I didn’t even have a lie ready for why I wanted to.  

In movies people always write down critical things and leave them in drawers.  The professor did have a day planner book with all his ghost appointments.  That has to be because he’s old though.  No one does that anymore.

Ghosted

I was tempted to call Stella’s mom for a necromancy consult.  But not very much.  Ultimately I decided it was a bad idea.  Terrible idea.  I tried to remember everything Stella told me about what she was doing the night we met.  I couldn’t recall much.  Either she never told me the exact details or I don’t remember them. 

What I do remember is that someone hired her to make not-zombies for them.  She said that it wasn’t the first time either.  This means there exists a criminal element that knows about zombies and knows how to contract having them made. 

Sounds like the kind of lead that would be helpful in tracking down what happened with T8 doesn’t it?  If this was a movie Henry Fong would have a buddy on the force in Gary who he went to the academy with.   That friend would work in the gang unit and he’d tell us all about which gangs we’d need to look at for zombie stuff.  Henry and I could track it from there. 

It would be terribly exciting.  There would be gunplay.  Henry Fong would have to rescue me because I’m a girl but maybe I would do something small to save him in the end also because it’s the 2020s. 

If this was a movie Henry would also give a fuck about this situation.  He may have a friend in the gang unit in Gary but I don’t know because he stopped caring about this.  I was telling him about Stella and he interrupted me to say it didn’t matter because T8 is going to prison for 20 years.

When I told him that we could at least try to free her from whatever’s spell the Stone Faced Man was using on her he declared that he didn’t believe any of it anyway.  Magic isn’t real.  T8 is just a drug mule and a liar and he doesn’t give a shit. 

Why the fuck did he bring me into this in the first place if he was going to fucking bail?  Asshole.

After Henry ditched me I called Milham.   He claims to know people so I thought be might be able to point me to another expert.  He said that all the necromancers he knew were dead.  Is that irony?  I called Huddie for the same reason and he told me to fuck off and die.  But he did answer.

I need a deeper roster of bitter old magic dudes. 

RIP Stella

T8 says she remembers being in a car accident in Hong Kong just like the police said.  She didn’t see the other car coming she just remembers being thrown violently.  The seatbelt breaking.  The searing pain.  She remembers being twisted in a way that her body doesn’t go.  She said it felt like it took a long time, like time had slowed down.  She said that she could feel herself dying.  She tried to hold on but she it was like trying to grab water.  No matter what she did she couldn’t hold on.  She died, just like the police said.

She remembers “wakes up” with a man standing over her.  All she could see is that his eyes were black like ink and his face was hard and glossy like he was wearing a mask made of painted glass.  Since that moment she’s been awake but she says she experiences things like like a daydream.  Or less poetically, like she’s horribly dopesick or extremely drunk. 

She remembers being on the streets in Hong Kong after the accident but she couldn’t see very well what she was doing or where she was going.  She said it was like there was a plastic bag over her head.  She said she stumbled around because she was being pushed from behind by an irresistible force.  She said the man with the black eyes spoke to her in her head.  He told her to do things she didn’t understand. 

She couldn’t resist his commands.  If she tried the pain from the accident came back, like she was dying again.  She was confused.  Couldn’t concentrate.  She hurt herself by accident because she couldn’t fully control her limbs or see what was happening. 

She met some men in a big room, maybe a hotel.  She remembers them laughing at her.  One of them punched her a few times like he was testing it out.  They spoke in a language that she didn’t know.  She remembers being on the plane and then being home.  She remembers how worried her family was but she couldn’t speak to them to tell them what was happening.  She felt like she was trapped in her own body. 

The police came and arrested her.  They said she brought drugs into the country.  She didn’t understand, if that was true they would have stopped her at the airport right?  I looked at Henry and he just shrugged. 

She said that she thinks the man with the black eyes is Japanese.  When I asked her why she said some of racist stuff about Japanese people.  Henry kind of apologized for her but then also said some weird shit about Japanese people. 

After our visiting time was over and we were outside I asked Henry what exactly he wanted me to do.  He said that I had already done it.  I broke the spell enough that she could tell us what was going on.  When I asked what he was going to do about it he said “Nothing.  I can’t go to a judge and say that she was only importing drugs because a Japanese wizard zombified her and made her do it.”

It made me think of Stella.  She hated when people misused the word zombie. 

People who died

Henry told me we had to go to Gatesville to speak with the girlfriend’s cousin’s hairdresser’s boyfriend’s niece’s friend.  I will give her the codename T8.  What Henry didn’t tell me is that she’s in the prison in Gatesville. 

What the fuck is wrong with everyone?  Why don’t they tell me things?  This isn’t a movie.  You don’t have to build drama for a reveal.  Just tell me we’re going to a woman’s prison.  He told me on the drive over and I asked him if it was going to be a problem getting me in because I have a criminal record.  He acted like that was a stupid question. 

Henry and I are not getting off on a good foot.

What Henry, or anyone else, also didn’t tell me is that T8 is in prison because she’s been arrested for smuggling heroin from Hong Kong.  Being involved in heroin trafficking seems like plenty of reason to act strange to me.  At that point I figured that this was a shaggy dog story and there was no magic going on.  I wondered if the Hong Kong police saying she had been killed was part of a scam they were trying to run to catch the traffickers.  Not sure what they would be by the police are tricky.

Once we got into the prison visiting room and I got a look at her I changed my mind.  I could tell something wasn’t right with her.  This won’t make any sense because it doesn’t make any sense but she looked hollow.  I felt like if I reached out and touched her skin it would crinkle inwards like wrapping paper around nothing. 

She acted like someone who was heavily drugged.  The guards pretty much carried her in and set her down and then she was just there like a lump.  She didn’t say anything when Henry and I tried to talk to her.  After a minute Henry made an impatient “get on with it” gesture. 

I wish I could assense like Milham or Royale.  In his notes Royale talks about that being the cornerstone of magical learning.  So why didn’t he teach me that first?  Being able to see what’s going on with people’s magic auras would make things a lot easier.

Instead I had to have Henry convince the guards to let us go to the chapel and “pray” together so I could touch her hand and cast a cleansing spell.  I don’t feel good about it.  I think I’m already on shaky ground with Jesus if he exists.  If you exist Jesus I hope you take into account that I’m trying to help.

I didn’t actually think it would do anything, I just didn’t know what else to do.  Surprisingly it seemed to make her lucid so maybe she was drugged.  She asked where she was.  We asked her what was going on.

“I died” she said.