Chapter IV: The Calm Before
Chapter V: The Wanton Wand
Chapter VI: The Hanged Man


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Two-Six-Four-Victor-Echo,” squawked the radio. “Victor-Echo, are you there?

“I thought I turned that thing off,” Vex grumbled. “You are one hell of a distraction, Patrick.”

Work shift had ended over an hour ago, at one a.m. Normally she switched her radio off at that time, to prevent events just like this, but she had forgotten this time. Even if strange magics were being used by stupid college students and dire things awaited them, the taxi service still had to be run. Of course, if she took time off every time she caught youngsters dabbling in magic they didn’t understand, she would have been out of a job long ago. So she put in her six hours of driving.

Non-paying passengers were a generally prohibited, but nobody was going to tell on her. Patrick was quiet when she had a fare, and he sat up front with her looking strangely businesslike in his button down shirt—she had him stow his biker jacket beneath the seat. If anybody asked she was going to tell them that he was a supervisor doing a ride-along (not something that ever happened, but hey, what did anyone know?) But nobody asked, in fact, today nobody seemed to want to talk.

Fortune had it that Vex only taxied three fares that day. This meant less money for her in tips and general wages, but she didn’t mind. It gave her a lot more time to chat with Patrick about the goings on.

Right now they were shooting up Camelback towards Phoenix. The nighttime air whistled around the outside of the cab with a mournful whine and the hazy lights of Phoenix ahead gave the sky an eerie false-twilight appearance. The city seemed to be covered by a dome of luminescent air.

“So, this crystal you found in the candles, it’s something special?” Patrick asked.

“It’s a soulstone.” Vex patted her pocket where she has secreted it. “They are used to trap spirits and store energy. I think in this case they were being prepared to steal the souls of those kids. There were three candles with soulstones. I have one of them so I can currently save one of those kids from losing his or her soul.”

Patrick leaned back in his seat. “So, you’re telling me that there are actually things out there than can steal your soul.”

“That’s exactly what I’m telling you.”

“Not saying that I believe in any of this—you always were the weird one at school—but with this soulstone you could say, take my soul right here and now?”

“No.” Vex changed lanes and slowed for a red light. “It doesn’t work that easily. You have to be involved magically with the soulstone or a talisman that contains it first. You have to be doing magic with it before it can do anything to you.”

“Okay, that’s good to know.”

“What would I want with a ratty soul like yours anyway?” she said, flashing Patrick a wicked grin. “Well, I suppose if I had trapped your soul I could make you a loyal zombie, happy to follow my every whim… I can see where that would be useful.”

“Already got—”

Two-Six-Four-Victor-Echo please respond,” the radio barked again.

“Your friends really seem to want to get hold of you,” Patrick said, eying the radio.

Irritated, Vex snatched up the receiver and punched the send button. “Squawk this is Victor-Echo, come back.”

Squawk this is dispatch, Victor-Echo. Your cab has been pinged for its regular inspection, return to base, over.

Gary is that you? I’m currently off duty and heading into Phoenix.”

Yes it is, lady, why don’t you flip-a-bitch and cm’on back. The boss is hopping around like he’s got hot grease on his balls over that report of your near-accident yesterday.”

“I always wondered where you learned to talk like that,” Patrick said.

She rolled her eyes at him and clicked in again. “Tell Mr. Boss Man that I own this cabby, Gary, and that I’ll be in tomorrow to have her inspected. Oh and, let him know that he shouldn’t wax his junk with hot grease.”

I’ll tell him that, but he won’t be happy.

“Then I’ll tell him tomorrow—”

Oh yeah, by the way, your Da was here today asking about you. I think you should maybe give him a call. He’s not looking so good these days.

“I’ll think about it; he isn’t there right now is he?”

No, he left a few hours ago. The old man said he needed a nap, maybe you should get in touch with him tomorrow.

“I said I’ll think about it …” she mimed an exasperated sigh; made as if to release the send-button, but pulled it back to her lips instead. “Look: I have to get some shuteye. Over and out.”

See you tomorrow, lady. Over and out.

The radio chirped for a moment when Vex reached out and flicked the receive switch off. The green light on the dash slowly faded out to black.

“That was interesting, I didn’t know you were so foul mouthed at work,” Patrick said. “Family problems?”

“Welcome to the big city, country-boy,” she said, checking again to make sure that the receiver was actually switched off and she wouldn’t be interrupted again. “What do you mean: family problems?”

“Your dad. I didn’t know you had one—er, I mean, you’ve never talked about your parents. Not like you couldn’t have one, but you get my drift.”

“Oh, him,” she said. “My dad and I have… Issues, I suppose is the term. Left my mother and I when I was eight. Reappeared right after mom died, five years or so ago, said he wanted to be part of my life again. I wouldn’t talk to him at all if it weren’t for this job. He got it for me.

“Turns out good ol’ Da owns Fairlight Taxi Co. He keeps me from getting fired when I scare the fares or nearly wreck my car. I suppose he feels guilty; I just don’t give a damn.”

Vex realized that Patrick had gone silent; she glanced over and shook her head apologetically. His eyes shimmered in near darkness of the car interior.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to spout off like that,” she said.

“Ah,” he said and took a deep breath. “The intrusion was mine, I prodded. Your family is your private business, forgive me.”

She chuckled. “Don’t be sorry. I guess you were going to hear that spiel some time or another.” The hazy green of a traffic light swung past overhead, casting playful shadows throughout the cab. Vex looked up to check the street name and smiled. “Oh, and by the way. We are here.”

The lights of the cab swung around from the dusty asphalt of Camelback and illuminated a small building set back behind a strip mall. At first glance it looked like an ordinary residence, a house with a black roof, pointed windows, and an everyday looking doorway. But after a moment it the sign above the door reading, “The Wanton Wand Crystal Shoppe,” became visible. The inset from the mall was a parking lot, and the windows displayed books, wands, crystals, and other New Age paraphernalia.

“Cozy,” Patrick said.

“Yes, it is.” Vex turned the ignition off. As the noise of the engine died down and the lights from the cab switched off the door to the shop swung open to reveal a thin woman with a grey scarf tied around her head. She nodded when she saw Vex as if she were expecting the visit. “And Patrick.”


“I want you to keep it zipped about your, ‘not that I believe in that crap,’ commentary when you’re here. I don’t want you insulting these people. They are good friends of mine and if you act narrow-minded like that around them it will reflect poorly on me.”

Patrick opened his mouth to retort but he took one look at Vex and reconsidered.

“Got ya.”

Cozy was as good a description as any for the warm but cramped quarters that Vex and Patrick entered into.

The house may have been built like a residence but the entire front of the house had been turned into one large room, with two exits in the back. One covered by a curtain, and the other marked: PRIVATE. Shelves of odds and ends marched from one end of the room to the other displaying crystals, phials, wands, boxes of polished and unpolished semiprecious stones, vials of sweet smelling perfumes, stacks of incense, boxes and containers of various shapes and sizes, and books. One wall was dedicated entirely to bookshelves, not orderly like one would have expected a library, but laid out in a haphazard array of shelving levels and lay of books.

The soothing smell of burnt incense lingered in the air along with the electrical sensation reminiscent of the passage of a thunderstorm in the desert. The thin woman with the headscarf led Vex and Patrick around the counter, through the door marked PRIVATE, down a musty stairwell, and into a bare room. It was unfurnished except for a single, low table in the center, some cushions, and closed chests along the walls.

All the while, Patrick kept silent and waited.

“Madame Summer,” Vex said, “it is good to see you again.”

The woman and Vex embraced briefly. Aside from her grey headscarf, she wore a gypsy’s outfit of varying hues of blue, green, with yellow edging. Golden medallions hung from every surface of her clothing and glittered in the light of the single lap in the room. “It always be a good day when you come to visit me, Vexandra. Though I feel that trouble brings you into my bosom. Please, you and your friend may sit. Place the fetish on the table.”

Vex gestured for Patrick to kneel down next to her as she knelt down in front of the table on one of the cushions. She removed the soulstone from her pocket and set it on the table.

“Ah, you have found a bun grauni. Clever, clever, little foxes. They prance in the moonlight and when eyes are watching they are still, their eyes closed they think that we cannot see them, but their tails we see. You cannot hide from Madame Summer.”

She hovered close and snatched the stone from the table.

Kaski san?” asked the woman of the stone. She held it cupped in her hands and gazed at it as if she were examining a bug. The stone began to emit a formless, blue light. “Kaski san?” she asked again.

“I see children,” Madame Summer said. “They walk too close to the shore, they be watched by monsters. I see torches, no, candles. Much like those my people use to light our wagons and keep at bay the darkness.”

“Can you tell me how to recognize them?” Vex asked.

Ssh,” quieted the woman, her eyes reflected the blue glow, and she put her finger to her lips. “I see these children. I cannot tell you their names, but perhaps I can tell you where to find them. There be one: he be tall and fair like a man of the north, but you will not find him. There be another, he be small and dark haired and his eyes mirrors be, you will find him where the water meets the road. Then there be another, she be of red and curly hair and you will find her in bed.

“Finally, there is another, dark of hair and eyes, who wears her hair like she is poshrat and she will kel the bosh tomorrow, an audience will listen to her story where the Gaujo gather.”

Patrick glanced at Vex. “But that’s four, didn’t you say—”

“There were only three stones,” Vex finished for him. “I surely did not miscount them.”

“Yet there be four children tied to this stone,” Madame Summers said. “And yet there is more. The powers here invoked be beyond my ken, but I can see their tails, the clever foxes. I should take this grauni to my husband and we will summon the trito ursitori to tell us more.”

Vex rose to her feet. “The three? Madame Summer, please may I join in the ritual?”

The woman shook her head; she covered her hand and the soulstone. “You may not, my Vexandra, however dear to me you be. It not be for Gaujo.”

Vex knew better than to feel insulted, she was an outsider; her request was too forward and she was refused. She swallowed her pride and bowed her head. “I understand, please accept my apology for being so forward.”

“Go now. Find these children. They need your help, if they are not already dead.”

Outside the night was wearing on, and while there was a slight breeze bringing the stink of the city with it, there was no chill in it. Even with three a.m. rolling around the air was tepid, hot, and dusty. A lone car drove past down Camelback Road towards Phoenix, but aside from the sound of their footsteps, Vex and Patrick heard no other noises.

“That was spooky,” Patrick said as Vex pushed the door open for him and reached under the seat to pull out a newspaper. “And—Vexandra?”

“Don’t ask.”

He continued on without missing a beat. “What is this thing about this girl who is going to kill the Bosch? Is she supposed to murder a painting or something? He was a painter wasn’t he?

“How cryptic can you get anyway? Where the road meets the water. This is why I don’t like fortune tellers, you know, they never tell you anything straight. It’s all about taking your money.”

“She didn’t take any money from us.”

He crossed his arms and sighed. “Well, you’ve got me there.” He turned to look at her. “So, what are we going to do next? I can’t believe you’ve got me coming with you on this wild goose chase.”

Vex folded up the newspaper and gave him a level look. He was handsome but that only went so far sometimes. At least he wasn’t totally stupid, and he did do a good job of not insulting Madame Summer, so she figured he deserved a moment to vent about that.

“I found one of them. Her name is Darlene Ann Barlowe, and we can find her at Coffee Plantation on Mill at seven p.m. tomorrow.”

“What?” He looked genuinely shocked. “Don’t tell me, you’ve got gypsy magic in your veins too and you just pulled her name out of the air?”

“Nope,” she said. “Madame Summer didn’t say ‘kill the Bosch’ she said ‘kel the bosh’ which means: to play the violin. My gypsy magic is my talent for literacy.” She folded her copy of the State Press and tossed it into the back seat. “Mrs. Barlowe will be playing the violin for an audience at Coffee Plantation tomorrow, and is the only person listed in the newspaper playing any violin tomorrow.”

“I see, well shan’t miss that performance, now can we?”

“Nope,” she said, looking over her shoulder and backing out of the parking lot. “Say, would you be willing to give me a ride home from the garage? I’ve got to turn this heap in for its regular inspection.”

“I thought you’d never ask. I always did like it when you were a damsel in distress,” he said. “Except that you’re not a damsel and I guess I could hardly call needing a ride distress. Sure, not a problem.”

Vex shook her head and sped off, away from the shapeless light that marked downtown Phoenix.

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