Jordan Winters 2
One Blackmail Ring To Rule Them All
By Bek D Corbin
Edited by Steve Zink
"Mooommm! Dan's playing with fire!"
Trey was exercising his God-given right as my little brother to rat me out - again. His yowl startled me enough that the little ball of Ignis Fatae floating between my hands flickered and began to fail. I refocused, and nurtured the blade of witchfire back into full blaze. This particular exercise in Wizardry was supposed to be easy as pie, once you had the knack of it. But, until you did get the knack, it was a tiring pain in the ass. I was trying to keep the little will-o'the-wisp alive as long as I could. My best time so far was about three minutes. I desperately wanted to check my timer, but the little burglar alarm had rattled me enough that I wanted it more stable before I shifted my attention.
So, I refocused all my attention on the ball of fool's fire, and just had it settled when Mom stuck her head in the door. "Jordan! Are you- oh!" She saw the ball of fire between my hands.
A bit peevish with the repeated interruptions, I asked her, "Will you look at the timer on the night stand? How many minutes has it been?"
She walked over and looked. "Six minutes, seventeen seconds."
"Kewl! I beat the five minute mark!"
"Oh, then you're finished with this?" She poked a finger into the center of the ball of witchfire and pulled it out from between my hands. The lambent blue flame flickered from her fingertip as if the finger were a candle.
"Mooommm! I was working with that!"
"Nonsense. If you've beaten the five minute mark, then that's all you can really do with this today." She turned on her heels and started to leave the room, the flame burning from her fingertip. "But it will be perfect for something that I am working on." Nobody takes me seriously.
I trotted along after her. In the hall, little brother Trey was waiting, his face aglow with vicious anticipation. "So, what are you gonna do to Dan, hunh, hunh?" The little rodent.
Mom smiled down benignly at him. "I'm not going to do anything to him, dear. He didn't do anything wrong. He wasn't playing with fire. This is Ignis Fatae, or witchfire or fool's fire, depending on who you ask. It's the very distilled essence of Glamour. Creating a ball of Ignis Fatae is a standard exercise in Wizardry. It's very bright, but it isn't hot - it can't burn you, or catch anything on fire, so it's perfectly safe to work with in the house. But, it can hurt you very badly, just because your mind expects it to." She shot me a sharp glance. "So, I don't want you throwing balls of fool's fire at your little brother, do you understand?"
I nodded. Seeing the expression of disappointment on Trey's face as I skipped without so much as a scolding was payback enough for me. As we walked down the stairs, I asked her, "So, what are you going to use the Ignis Fatae for, Mom?"
"Well, I'm going to another funding meeting tonight, and I thought that it would be best to be completely prepared." We went down to Mom's workshop in the cellar. Dad's workshop is in the gardening shed, next to the still. She picked up a phial of a clear blue liquid and crammed the ball of witchfire into the liquid. The liquid roiled for a second, and turned amber. "Ah, good! I thought that I'd go wearing a 'perfume' that influences people who smell it to be reasonable."
"Ah, Mom, isn't that the perfume that you wore to the last three funding meetings?"
"Aren't those the meetings that ended in three-way deadlocks? Didn't you say that the last one almost ended with Mr. Enderby and Miz Sorensen going for each other's throats?"
"Yes, yes, I know. But I'm sure that this variant will..." she went off into a technical explanation that would have put Mister Spock into a coma.
I interrupted her. "Mom? Just a thought. The purpose of that scent is supposed to urge people to be reasonable, right? But, Mom, are you absolutely sure that your positions are reasonable? I mean, you always say that politics is less about who's right than it is about who wins. So, if you go in wearing a perfume that makes people be reasonable, but you act unreasonably, doesn't that create a kind of conflict of interests? Wouldn't the paradox kind of reflect into everyone around you, creating a really irritating situation in which everyone is absolutely certain that they are being absolutely reasonable, while everyone else is completely unreasonable? Wouldn't that really piss them off? And remember, Mom, according to the Parameters of Grace, the Rule of Intent states that your real motivation will always influence the working, altering it to fit your true intention."
Mom looked at me poleaxed. "But...I have to get this funding..."
"So, be reasonable about it. Or leave the perfume at home."
Mom looked at me exasperatedly as I left the cellar. I was well out of the cellar before I did my little victory dance. YES! Scoring on your parents is the best!
The real problem with out-smarting yourself is that at the time, it looks like you're outsmarting someone else. During my legally mandated incarceration at Horace Mann Elementary and Middle Schools, I've been using the Fool's Cap as a kind of 'danger sense' to avoid incoming assholes, and after school, I switch over to female mode. And, since the wearer of the Fool's Cap is known to one and all as 'Dan', not Jordan, they can look for me all they want and not find me. To and from, I use my bike, thus avoiding that perambulating chamber of horrors we call a school bus. So far, so brilliant. BUT, in my haste to avoid the slings and arrows of the other kids, I forgot what the Fool's Cap does, besides give me grief. It provides the other kids with someone to vent on. Since I've been avoiding them, they haven't been blowing off any of that steam - or at least, not as much as they'd like.
I was walking to the bike rack at the end of the school day. I had a new outfit hidden in my backpack, and I was looking forward to spending the afternoon with Griff and his friends. As per usual, I'd waited in the library for the schoolbus to pull out. Hey, if it worked for Hannah Romney, back in the 1920's, who am I to quibble? Then I got to the bike rack. Some asswipe bastard had put one of those Kryptonite motorcycle locks on my bike! I gave it a few experimental tugs, gave a disgusted sigh and turned to go to the office. So much for an afternoon with Griff.
But the front door to the school was locked. So, I walked around the side. Then I realized that this was more than just an expensive prank - it was strategy. Cole Pesloe and his goon-squad, Reed Wallace and Arnie Gannon, were waiting there, well out of sight of official eyes.
"Hey, Wuss-Boy, wassa matta, you lose the rock you been hidin' under?" After that, it was pretty much Standard Harassment Technique #5, so I'll spare you the play-by-play. You've been there, just fill in the details, if you have to. At least, it started out as Standard Harassment Technique #5, but it went toxic real fast. Like I said before, they were in withdrawal from lack of aggression venting. It wound up with me on the ground being kicked in the ribs and spat upon. I don't know which was worse, getting beat up, having a whole bunch of the other kids watch, or listening to them cheer.
It was eventually broken up when someone yelled out that a teacher was coming. The Math teacher, Mr. Hawes, helped me to the Nurse's office. The nurse made sure that I didn't have any broken bones or internal injuries, and sent me to the Vice-Principal's office. Then it got worse.
Ms. Sorensen, the Vice-Principal, told me in rather frigid terms that she had 'information' that I had started the fight.
"FIGHT? You call that a fight? I got jumped! Three guys beat the crap outta me, and you're calling it a fu- freaking fight?"
"MISTER Winters, just because you mother is on the School Board, that does not mean that you are immune to the rules that apply to the rest of us! I have been told by someone who was there, that you waited for the other boys, and repeatedly insulted them."
"I waited for them? I've been riding my bike to and from school, just to avoid them on the bus! The only reason that I'm still here, is that they slapped a motorcycle lock on my bike!"
"Oh?" She got up and looked out the window at the bike rack. "There isn't one there now."
"They took it off once they jumped me! Those things are expensive, y'know!"
"So you say. But I have no reason to believe you."
"Are you calling me a liar?"
"I'm saying that you have two weeks detention for fighting. Beginning Now."
She led me off to the detention room, where Cole, his buddies and everybody else that I'd been avoiding were waiting for me. Y'know, the times I'd done detention before, the fact that the teacher on duty, Mr. Selbie, would leave the room for ten minutes at a stretch didn't bother me that much.
Hell, the only good thing that happened was that as I was avoiding looking at Cole smirking at me, I looked out the window. And saw Reece Aubrey riding his bike home - with a Kryptonite motorcycle lock poking out of his backpack.
Looking back, it made a lot of sense that it would be Reese. God knows that Cole and his buddies weren't sharp enough to come up with that motorcycle lock scam. And, Reece was an Aubrey, naturally, and the Aubreys and the Walthers (my mother's family) have never gotten along. No shootings or even curses, thank Bog, but a general case of bad blood that goes back to who-knows-when. Also, Reese has what Paris Ashbroom would call 'a rather .... unfortunate sense of humor'. Screw that, he's just a wiseass.
When I got home, the hits just kept on coming. Mom let out a yell like a treed wildcat when she saw the condition of my face. Trey gleefully told Mom that I had a 'month of detention' for fighting. Upon hearing that I'd been beaten, humiliated, tried and sentenced without due process, and accused of being a liar, Mom sent me to my room without dinner.
I was in my room, meditating on the relative advantages of running away to become a hermit in the back hills, when I heard a knock at my door. Mom poked her head in the door. "Are you accepting visitors, or aren't you through sulking?"
"Come back in five minutes - I'm halfway through a really good sulk, and I don't wanna spoil it."
"Time flies. First of all, I want to apologize-" This really got my attention; Mom apologizing is one of those things that only happen once in the proverbial blue moon, and not always then. "Ms. Sorensen called and told me her version of why you got so much detention. From the way that she was trying to make it sound like I was raising John Wayne Gacy, I can't imagine that she gave you anything like a fair hearing. Then she tried to use the threat of expelling you from school as leverage in our negotiations."
I really perked up at that - if Mom pulled me out of Horace Mann in order to avoid an expulsion on my record, she might decide to send me to an out-of-town boarding school, which would mean that I could get out from under the Fool's Cap. Which, if there were any justice in the world, would land squarely on Reese Aubrey's head.
But Mom wasn't having any of that. "But when she threatened to throw you out of school, I pointed out that I could dispute this before the School Board. And, what with five guys-"
"It was only three guys, and at least a dozen witnesses."
"Okay, three guys whaling the tar out of you, and going scot free; it wouldn't take Perry Mason to turn it into an example of political harassment. I can't get you out of detention - that would look too much like preferential treatment. But the detention will only last until Friday - after all, it was only a fight, and one where you got the worst of it."
I still wasn't happy. "That bi- Bat called me a liar."
"I can't do anything about that. And kids spinning tales is part and parcel of her job." She kissed me on the forehead, and told me that this too shall pass.
After she left, I locked the door and got out my hairbrush. I weaved the Glamour into my cute female self. But, looking at my female self wasn't as soothing as it might have been. It only reminded me that I wouldn't be able to hang out with Griff and his buddies. And that's practically the only thing keeping me sane with all the hazing I'm getting these days.
I slogged through the week in detention. If I had built up a karmic debt with all that jiggery-pokery at Paris Ashbroom's party, I was back in the black by Friday. Saturday morning, I was out of the house the second my 'toons were over and on my bike into town. I just hoped that I'd be able to explain my absence to Griff without playing too fast and loose with the facts.
I changed in the second story restroom of the public library, 'cause it was the best way to lose anyone who might be following me. Then I checked out the comic book store, 'cause it was the day that they brought out the new comics. Griff, Stew, Lex and JayDee were there. I eased into the store, while they were intensely discussing the latest issue of AEGIS. I went around and picked up the new issues of Lady Lightning, Tigress, and Power Woman. They finally noticed me as I went to the counter to pay for the comics.
"Hey, Jordan! Whereya been?"
"Ah, I got detention all week last week. An' after that, I hadda get home straight away - you know how it is."
"What did you do?"
"Nuthin'! I got set up!"
After that, they phased me into the discussion of the latest developments in AEGIS, and I managed to steer the discussion out of the store. I even managed to further steer them into the Soda Fountainbleu, and got Griff to treat me to one of those frilly parfait thingies as we talked. What can I say, the damn things taste better when someone else pays for them!
After the trip to the Soda Fountainbleu, we walked around Old Town for a while, and ran into Paris and Della. Paris paired off with Lex, and Della hooked up with Stew, and there was poor JayDee, odd man out again. Once again, I wondered if there was something I could do for him, without blowing things all out of proportion. Still, he seemed cool with it.
Della insisted that we go into the local record store and see what was new. Paris, Della and I were off by ourselves, comparing the Backstreet Boys to N'Sync, deciding which had the cuter members. Or at least, they did - in male or female mode, I think those guys are totally lame. Then someone grabbed the back of my top and I felt something wriggly and prickly fall down my back. Naturally, I freaked, and jumped up and down to get it out. After doing a shimmy for a few minutes, a plastic spider fell out. I heard laughing, and spun around to see who'd done this to me. There was Reece Aubrey, guffawing away. "You!" I hissed, "You- Creep!" I stopped his laughing with a sharp slap on his face.
Griff all but teleported to my side. "Jordan, are you all right?"
"This asshole put a spider down my back!"
Griff glared at Reece, who waved him off. "Hey, it was only a plastic spider! It was a joke! I didn't know she had a boyfriend."
Trust Reece to turn the situation around so that I was on the spot. I just blushed a little, and said nothing; Griff took me by the arm and led me out of the store with a last harsh glare at Reece.
Reece was giving me this weird look. This did not bode well at all.
Monday, I biked to school again, and this time, I took a tube of metal epoxy with me. If Reece was going to try the motorcycle lock trick again, I'd just squirt some epoxy in the lock and it would cost him the price of that lock. I also took the seat and front wheel off, just in case he was smart enough to play variations on a theme.
Jeez, all that preparation, and Reece didn't pull anything. Not unless he was the guy who put the padlock on my locker. Nope, couldn'ta been - it was still there when the janitor came with the bolt cutters. Reece woulda taken it off, just to annoy me.
At the end of the school day, my bike was still there, more or less untouched. I guessed that Reece decided that focusing on my bike was too predictable.
But Cole and his goon squad weren't giving up on me. They tried to follow me on their bikes, but I lost them with a little hocus-pocus. I did my switch in the public library again, and went looking for my new gang. Instead, I ran into Paris and Della. We indulged in a little female bonding, by drooling at dresses in shop windows that we were too young for, and couldn't afford, even if we were. After a bit, we ran into Griff and Stew, and we hung out with them for a bit. We did a whole lot of nuthin' for a while, and finally time for me to split, Griff walked me to the trolley. We waited for it for a few minutes; as the trolley turned the corner, Griff took my face in his hands and kissed me. It wasn't quite as high voltage as that first kiss, but nothing ever quite measures up to a first kiss, now does it? Even so, the trolley still had to ring us out of our clinch. I got on, and rode to the library with a silly grin on my face.
When I got to the library, I saw to my horror, that that asshole Reece Aubrey had motorcycle locked my bike to the rack! Why won't that scumbag leave me alone? I shook at the lock experimentally, and was surprised by a flash.
I whipped around. Behind me was Reece, holding a pocket camera and wearing a shit-eating grin on his face (I've always considered that a disgusting expression, but on Reece, it fit!). "Well, well - Look at you! Don't you look pretty?" Somehow, he managed to make 'pretty' sound vile. He swaggered up to me. He walked around me. "That's a nice outfit, Winters - not as nice as the one you were wearing at the record store, but nice."
I gave him a disgusted look. "Oh. It's you. Spider-boy."
He waggled his eyebrows at me. "Oh, gonna play it cool, hunh? Gonna make out like you don't know what I'm talkin' about, and yer gonna scream for the cops any second now, right? Okay. I can respect that. That takes brass, Winters; more brass that I thought you had in you." He looked me up and down. "But then, there's so much more to you than anyone thought."
My heart was thumping away at a thousand miles a second in my chest. My worst nightmare was coming true - I'd been found out, and by the absolute worst person possible. But I tried to put a bold face on it. "Oh, lovely. More jokes. What, run out of fake blood and plastic vomit?"
He leaned into my face. "You can try and bluff all you want, Dan - oh that's right, your name isn't Daniel, it's Jordan, isn't it. Well, Jordan, my family has been in The Craft for as long as yours has; I know a Glamour when I see one. Though, I'll give you credit - this is a first rate job, Winters. I didn't catch the Glamour when I first saw you in the record store. But you blew it, girlie-boy; you recognized me, and I knew that I'd never met the cute chick you look like. So I checked you out. Mind you, I didn't realize that the nerd I was following and the mystery lady I was keeping an eye out for were one and the same. Not until Dan the Dork went into the public library and Little Miss X comes out five minutes later."
I gave him a pitying look. "You do realize how insane you sound, don't you?"
He wasn't fazed in the least. "So, Play it that way, Winters. I know that you went into the library, 'cause I was following the Fool's Cap; and y'know somethin', Winters? While it may be weaker when you're like this, it's still there! Your fag buddies may not know it, but you're still fair game. For anything. And once these pictures of you walking around in girl's clothing - and kissing a guy - hit the streets, you'll be lucky to survive long enough to explain this whole ugly mess to yer mom! And we both know that Glamours don't show up on film!"
Obviously, he didn't know about what happened at Paris Ashbroom's party, and I wasn't about to fill him in on it. His evidence would never stick, but he still had me made. If I told him, he'd just move heaven and earth to find some that would. Well, he had the rope in his hands, and he was twisting it into a knot. But I still had to get him up on a chair. But I wasn't worried - he wanted something, or he wouldn't have let me know. Not when it would have been so much more fun to catch me flat-footed.
I folded my arms across my chest and cocked my head. "Okay, Reece, y'got me. So, what are your terms?"
He ran a hand through his spiked-up red hair, and smirked while he checked me up and down. Now I know what girls mean when they say that guys can make them feel like a piece of meat. "I haven't quite decided. I have an idea, but I'll need a little time to fine-tune it." In other words, he needed time to think of something appropriately vile.
He turned, and I caught his arm. "Before you go, Aubrey, there are three things that you need to understand. First - there's no way that I can do whatever it is that you have in mind (and what a tiny vicious little mind it is!), if this ever comes out. My Mom will probably have me move in with my Aunt Dell in Philadelphia, if anyone ever sees photos of me as a boy in a dress. So, no joy for you. I suggest that you don't have those prints developed."
"Why not? Nobody's ever gonna see 'em, girlie-boy!"
"Knowing how cheap you are, Aubrey, you'll probably use Photo-Mat or some other cheapass developer. The people in the lab will see them, and the people at the counter always open the envelopes, hoping to spot some amateur porno. Copies of me would be all over the place by Sunday if you send them there." Reece scowled, but couldn't argue with my logic. Hah! He didn't realize it, but I'd just taken control of the situation. I pressed my advantage.
"Second - if I'm gonna do whatever it is that you have in mind, I'm gonna need a little freedom of movement. I can't have Cole Pesloe and his Hole-In-The-Head Gang hanging over my shoulder every minute. So, back off with the gags! I can't expect you to try to stop the Pesloe swarm, but you can stop giving them tips and warn me of anything that they're gonna try."
He sneered at me and said, "If I hear that they're gonna try to decapitate you, I'll let you know. Third?"
"Third - get this stupid lock off my bike! I gotta get home for dinner!"
As Reece fumbled with the key, I reached into my backpack and got the tube of metal epoxy. When the Kryptonite lock was off my bike, I grabbed it, squirted a glob of the epoxy in the lock and shut the hasp.
I got on my bike and sang out, "G'bye, Reese!" as I pedaled off. Reece was too busy cursing and trying to get the lock unstuck. Well, at least I don't have to worry about that trick again!
Reese caught up with me by my locker between classes the next day. "You owe me for the cost of that motorcycle lock."
"Yeah? Try and collect."
"Y'know, you're not very cooperative, for someone who's a photo developing job away from complete ruin."
"Reese? It occurs to me that if you let those things get around, you'll be slitting your own throat as well as mine. After all, there will be all those questions about how I could pass so completely in person, while being so obvious on film. The Coven will probably find a way of putting a lid on it, but they will NOT be happy with the wiseass who broke one of the cardinal rules: Thou Shalt Not Give Away The Show. I will be in trouble, but you? Your family will come down on you like Stone Cold Steve Austin, just to show everyone else that they weren't party to it. And if I get hurt? Your own mother will tie you to the stake, while my family heaps the kindling high. You might as well burn those negatives now, while no one else has seen them."
"Y'know, you're right. I can't let them hit the streets - but I can pass them along to, oh, say, Miz Sorensen, and let her use them to rip yer Ma apart."
Give the weasel his due - he knew how to hit where it hurt. Too bad for him, the gun he was pointing at Mom's head was empty. But I couldn't let him know that. First I had to find out what he wanted, and then ram it down his throat. "Well, enough sparkling banter - what do you want in return for that roll of undeveloped negatives?"
He gave a quick look around. "Not here. I don't want to be seen spending too much time with you. Something might rub off. What say after school, you put on one of your pretty-pretty outfits, and meet me at the Burger King, at oh, say, 4:00?"
"And what makes you think that I want to be seen with you, Aubrey? My other identity does have a reputation to think of!"
He sneered. "Yeah, And a Boooyyyfrieeennnd!"
"Just Be There!"
Like it or not, I was at the Burger King at the appointed hour. I was wearing my striped jersey and jumper outfit, and not happy about wasting it on a piece of backwoods hoodoo-trash like Reece Aubrey. Fortunately, the BK wasn't part of my regular circuit with Griff and the gang, so I didn't have to worry too much about who saw us there.
Reece ambled in about 4:30 - typical, he would find a way to stick it to me, even if it was just ripping off as much of my afternoon as possible. He smirked at me, and slid down into one of the seats. He gave me a leering glance and drawled, "Awww, Babe! Did you put on that cute little number just for me?"
I took my lips off the milkshake straw and drawled right back at him, "Oh, look. It's Spider-boy."
He just gave me a 'very funny' grimace, and went on. "So, Miss Phelps, your assignment, whether you like it or not, is to infiltrate your mother's office and deliver into my hands the minutes of this Tuesday's School Board meeting before it's sent to the Notary."
My eyes went wide, and I stopped sucking on my milkshake. "What the fuck do you want with the School Board minutes? I've been to those meetings, and when they aren't trying to rip out each other's throats, they could bore a freakin' CPA into a coma!"
He gave me a Cheshire cat grin and said, "I've got an uncle who's interested in investing in sports equipment. There are four separate outfits competing for the contract to provide the school district's uniforms and sports supplies. If he knows which one is gonna get the contract before it clears the bookkeepers, he can invest his money with a sure-fire winner while the prices are low. If I can give him this information, he might sign over the pink slip to his '84 Jaguar, as soon as I hit 16."
So, a little insider trading. It was just sleazy enough for Reece to be interested in, but I had a sneaking suspicion that there was more to it than that. "Okay, Reece, I'll get you a copy-"
"No, not the copy. The original. Before it goes to the Notary."
Now I knew the little sleazebag was up to something. But best to play the wide-eyed innocent. "Okay, the original. And that's it. You burn the negatives, and you leave me the hell alone. You can play all the pranks you want in school, but once school is out, and I'm like this, you stay the fuck away from me and my friends. No cute little tricks, no 'anonymous' notes, no sly insinuations, No Nuthin'. Period."
He got cagey. "We'll exchange formal declarations when you hand over the minutes." A bit of explanation is called for here. If lying is Bad Karma, then breaking a formal oath is the karmic equivalent of laying your head on the tracks while a freight train is coming. Major league bad news.
Once I got home, I was beat. And I still had homework to do, and dinner to help with. I slumped down exhausted on the couch. Clyde came over and laid his head on my lap, looking up at me in that soulful way that dogs have. I scratched his head. "Sorry, Clyde, but there's no way that I'm tellin' you my troubles. You'd only tell Dad, and I just don't need that right now."
Clyde sighed, and shut his eyes. It was good to just be there, with no one busting my chops about anything.
I was on the family computer 'doing research' - which was true enough, I just wasn't doing it for school - when the next little bomb landed. Little brother Trey walked up to me and started grinning at me. He stood there grinning, until I couldn't ignore him anymore.
I gave him a frosty glare and said, "No, I don't wanna play 'Batman' - every time you play the Joker, you use it as an excuse to break things and blame me."
He kept grinning. "Oh, would you prefer to play 'Bat-Girl, maybe?"
In the next heartbeat, Trey was hanging from his shirt-collar, feet dangling. I snarled into his face, "And EXACTLY What is That SUPPOSED to mean?"
I gotta admit, the little rodent could keep his cool. "You hit me, an' I'll tell Mom that you been going around spelled up to look like a gurl."
"You can't prove anything, y'little spore."
"I know where you keep yer sissy-girl clothes, and if Mom asks you straight out, you can't lie to her. If I tell, _You_ Are _Screwed_. _Period_."
"And exactly what do you want for your silence, oh Altitudinally Challenged Evil Mastermind?"
"Welll... Let's start with you doing my homework."
"And that's IT."
Oh, Gog, even my little brother is jumping on the 'Dump on Dan' bandwagon. I wonder if Dan Maxham ever has days like this.
It took a little doing, but I managed to use Dad's codebreaker software to get access to the local phone company logs. Sure enough, the Aubrey's had three phone lines, one of which got the special Internet connection special rate. With that, I broke into the Aubrey's PC and checked out the User History. Lessee now... CyberPorn, Hollywood gossip, CNN, Stock reports, Online Gaming, Lotto numbers, Public School Scandals... say what?
I got the address and looked it up. The site was called State Education Roundup: Focus on Public School Corruption. This did not look good. The first report was a story from Alabama, where the title was: School Board Minutes Changed To OK Theft.
So, Reece was gonna fiddle with the minutes, and either add or subtract something from them. But why? There's no way that he could get his hands on any of that money. Maybe that uncle he mentioned actually owned the sporting goods firm, and he was gonna arrange it so that his uncle would get an obscene profit. No, it didn't fit. He only said that his uncle might sign over the pink slip. Anything might happen. But what would Reece stand to gain from stealing-
Whoa. Wait a minute. He doesn't actually have to steal anything. He can make it look like someone else is stealing. Like Mom, or Miz Sorensen, or Coach Backus. Even if they catch the change after it goes to the Notary, and change it back, he can make it sound like a cover-up. He could hold it over ALL our heads for as long as he wanted, and there'd be absolutely no backlash, like there would for spreading around his theoretical pictures of me. Yes. This is was exactly what Reece would pull.
Okay, Reece, you've tied your noose, put the loop around your shoulders, and thrown the rope over the rafters. Now all I have to do is wait for you to climb up on the chair.
Wednesday rolled around, as it tends to, whether you want it to or not. I sidled up next to Reece at the urinal and muttered, "BK. 4 o'clock. Be there On Time, this time."
At 4, I was at the BK, wearing the striped jersey and jumper outfit. Why waste anything new on Reece? He came in and plopped himself down. "Okay, Babe, where's the goods?"
I gave him an 'Oh, Puh-leeze!' look. "Hey, I am not handing anything over to you until after formal declarations are exchanged. And personally, I don't think that a fast food joint is the proper place for that sort of thing. People listen and talk, y'know."
"Right. How about Kissing Rock in Cooper's Wood, at around 5?"
I barely nodded assent. And then, just in case he was trying to score points off my reputation, I bolted upright, and yelled, "You Creep!" Then I threw what was left of my milkshake in his face, and stormed out the doors.
It was a little after Five when I got to Kissing Rock. Reece's choice of venue had me worried, so I'd changed back to my guy-mode. Reece seemed a little put out by the change. "Hey, why'd you switch?"
I gave him a 'go fuck yourself' grin, and said, "I wouldn't put it past you to say to yer buddies that you were going to Kissing Rock to meet a cute blonde to - *wink, wink! Nudge, nudge!* - 'conduct a little business', or something like that. Now, if anyone asks you if you met a girl here - for anything - there's no way that you can say you did without lying. And we both know what kind of trouble that starts. B'sides, if you got yer buddies in the woods, peepin', your reputation will take a much worse beating that mine."
Reece chewed on that for a bit. Then he got over it and held out his hand. "Okay, gimme the minutes, hand 'em over."
I shook a finger at him. "Ah, Ah, Ah! First things first, Aubrey! First, the Formal Declarations, with the appropriate binding oaths, Then we exchange goods."
"You didn't bring the roll of film?"
"Now WHY would I do a stupid thing like that?"
"I'm gone." I turned.
"Hey, Hey, Hey! Where y'goin'?!"
"Hey, if you aren't going to turn over the film to me, then I'd be pretty stupid to give you anything, now wouldn't I?"
"And I'd be pretty stupid to bring the film here, where you could fog it with witchfire or something, now wouldn't I?"
Actually, I hadn't thought of that. "So, what now? I ain't handin' these over on just your say-so, and you ain't risking your Ace-In-the-Hole. So what do we do?"
"What if I swear by my own name, my family name, my mother, my heart and my breath that I will destroy the film the first thing I do when I get home?"
"Only if right now, you will swear by those oaths that you have not developed the film, and made no copies of it."
He sighed, folded his hands over his heart and recited, "I do swear, by my own name, Reece Ashe Aubrey, and by family's name of Aubrey, and by my Mother, Mirriam Lilly Cosgrove Aubrey, and by my heart and by my breath, that I have not developed the film of which we were speaking, nor in any way made any copies thereof."
Thereof? Reece was getting a big head, here! "Good, now swear by the Ones that you'll destroy the film first thing, if I give you this envelope."
"Only if you swear by The Rivers that what's in that envelope is the exact original minutes of the Millbridge District School Board meeting of last Tuesday, and that you've added nothing to, or taken nothing out of those minutes."
Whew! The Rivers is a major league oath! I nodded, tucked the envelope under my arm, folded my hands and recited, "I, Jordan Jesse Winters, do swear by the Rivers that flow from the Stars, from the Skies, from the Winds, from the Earth, from under the Earth, from the Blood, from my Heart, from my Mind, from my Dreams, and from my very Soul; that flow into the world, through the world and into the next world; I do swear by these sacred Rivers that the envelope that I have for Reece Ashe Aubrey contains nothing but the exact original minutes of the Millbridge District School Board meeting of last Tuesday, and that I've added nothing to, or taken nothing out of those minutes."
Reece nodded, satisfied, and resumed the oath-taking posture: "I, Reece Ashe Aubrey, do swear, By the One Sun, By the One Sky, By the One Sea, By the One Land, By the One Tree, and By the One Blood, that I will destroy the film that I took of Jordan Jesse Winters as soon as I reach my home, and make no copies of any kind before I destroy it." He looked at me, and I could see all the plans he was making to screw me over, which that most binding of oaths would do absolutely nothing to stop him from pulling, brewing behind his eyes.
I handed him the envelope. "Open it."
"Why? I trust you."
I grinned evilly. "Open it." Behind my back, I strained to form a ball of Ignis Fatae in one hand.
Curious, Reece opened the manila envelope. Inside was a slightly smaller white envelope. He pulled it out, and a small slip of paper fell out. He looked at the white envelope. It had 'Reece Ashe Aubrey' written on it. Then he reached down to pick up the slip of paper. It had strange runes written on it in an odd brown ink.
Before he could get a sense of what the runes were, I threw the ball of witchfire at the slip. Now, Ignis Fatae doesn't burn things - normally. But there are certain Alchemical solutions that will ignite if hit by fool's fire. Solutions like those that I'd soaked the paper in. It went up like a torch, scorching Reece's fingers.
Reece yelped, shook his fingers and stuck them in his mouth, then he looked at me, and said, "What did you do to me?"
"Oh, I just laid an enchantment on you. It kicked in the second that you accepted the slip of paper from my hand."
He glared red hatred at me. "You broke your Word, Winters! You swore by The Rivers one minute, and broke it the next! No matter What you did to me, _You _ are _Toast _, Asshole!"
I smiled serenely. "No, I'm not. Y'see, that white envelope, the one with your name on it, is the one that I referred to in my oath. Remember, I said, 'the envelope that I have for Reece Ashe Aubrey'? That envelope contained nothing but the School Board minutes, just like I said. The slip of paper with the Enchantment Runes on it was in the larger envelope with the envelope for you, and I didn't say Shit about that. And when I burned the slip, that stopped any chance you had of turning the enchantment back at me." [Author's Note: See the classic Columbia movie The Curse of the Demon (1952) with Dana Andrews, based on the Montague James story Casting the Runes, for a demonstration of this principle - not to mention a great old movie!]
I sat down on the rock and grinned up at Reece. "Reece, how stupid d'you think I AM? Do you really think I couldn't see all the ways that you could get around your oath, just the way I did? So, I decided to keep you honest - in this, anyway - and buy a little insurance."
He gaped down at me fearfully. "What does the enchantment do?"
"Not much. Y'see, it's basically a sorcery cord linking us. And, since it was forged in a matter sealed by such powerfully binding oaths, it's gonna be a real Grizzly to cut. It's a triggered effect, which uses the cord that we just formed. IF you EVER do anything that you know or believe will harm me in any way or be considered an attack, directly or indirectly, in person or by proxy, that sorcery cord will move the Fool's Cap from my head to yours. If you screw me over in ANY WAY, You are the new Designated Victim - for the rest of your life. There won't be any escaping it by leaving the area or graduating from school. You'll be everyone's whipping post, until you die. And on your death, the Cap will move on to your eldest child and so forth, until the Final Sifting of Things."
Reece looked like he was gonna hurl.
"Hey, Reece, buck up! The Cap isn't on your head - YET. All you have to do is stop screwing with me. That shouldn't be that hard, now should it?"
I got up and started to leave. Then I stopped and said over my shoulder, "Leave the minutes in my locker before the end of school tomorrow. I have to get them back to my mother's office before they're missed. It won't do you any good if they turn up missing, now, will it?"
Later that evening, I finished putting the last touches on Trey's history essay. It was a pretty good piece of work, for a third grader. I stacked the essay in a neat pile. The scrap of enchanted paper that I slipped between two of the sheets was an even better piece of work than the essay. Working on the Rune-Slip that I'd passed onto Reece had given me the idea. I went upstairs, and knocked on Trey's door. He opened the door and peered out at me. "Here's your homework, oh, Lord and Master. And this is the last piece of work that I'll be doing for you."
"Yeah. Suuuurrrreee," he said, in a tone that suggested that I'd be doing his homework in college, if he had his way. He took the sheaf of papers that I pushed on him. The slip of paper fell out as he looked through the essay, but not before I felt the enchantment click into place.
Trey closed the door in my face, shoving the slip into the hallway. I picked up the slip, and torched it with witchfire. The hex that I'd laid on Reece worked better because he knew exactly what it was, and how it worked. My luck must be on an upturn, for Reece to suggest such powerful oaths to bind our deal. But the enchantment that I'd put on Trey would work better if he didn't know about it. It would work, because it was basically an addition to an enchantment that all the members of the local coven put on their children as soon as they can talk. It basically diverts the child's direction from mentioning that their parents are witches or can do magic. Any time that they would - intentionally or unintentionally - let it slip, the hex would distract them with something, or nudge them into procrastinating, or make them forget what they were going to say. It is a very old, very elegant, and very effective enchantment. It doesn't harm the children, mostly because they aren't told about it until it's lifted when they are brought into The Craft. If they don't know about it, it won't bother them. I just added the matter of my 'feminine self' to the list of things that the hex deflects. Now, every time Trey wants to rat me out - at least in regards my second identity - he'll simply find something else to do. It will make things much simpler for me.
At lunch, I found a dead rat in my locker - on top of an envelope. I dumped the rat in a trashcan, and opened the envelope. While I had no doubt that the rat was from Reece - after all, it wouldn't harm me - I had no worries that he might try to counter-hex me. That would fall very neatly under the trigger conditions. No, Reece's real satisfaction would be turning the screws on Coach Backus, Miz Sorensen, and on my Mom.
I pulled out the minutes and checked the back page. Yes, there was a second set of staple holes. He'd unstapled the report and restapled it. I counted the pages - there were five extra. This was much better than it would've been if he took something out. I took my xeroxed copy of the report and compared them. Give the weasel his due, he was good. He didn't put them all in a single clump - he inserted each new page in a separate part of the report. I unstapled it again, removed Reece's little pranks, and re-stapled it.
Later that day, as I was leaving to go to Mom's office to put the report back, I spotted Reece with his buddies. Reece saw me, and I saw a smile flicker across his face. He thought that he was having the last laugh. But the real last laugh was gonna happen when Reece tried putting the screws to Sorensen. I was sure that it was Reece that had 'informed' on me to Sorensen. He'd lied to her when he said that I started that fight. He should have known better. Anything that a witch does, that starts with lying, is sure to turn out poorly. And when he tries to get Sorensen under his thumb, she's sure to realize how badly she's been had.
Reece, look under your feet - where's the chair?