22.3.17

Guard Dog?




Mudflat magic is inherited, and with each generation the magic weakens. Or sometimes the magic remains powerful but the brain that controls it is weaker.
 GUARD DOG?
Phoebe Matthews

 Seattle is a city of back alleys in the old neighborhoods. As I am usually traveling on foot, running to a bus stop, they are my freeways, shortcuts uncluttered with car traffic. This alley was in a small commercial district, behind office buildings, the short type that have realtors and hair dressers on the first floor and accountants and dentists on the second.
 As this was Sunday, the alley was empty of people. Just the usual dumpsters. A couple of old cars pulled up tight against the concrete block walls. Flowering weeds pushing out of the cracks in the blacktop.
 At the far exit, a BMW stood at the curb. It was parked, all right, and not actually moving, but somehow a BMW never quite looks stopped or parked. It always looks like a criminal about to make a dash for it. Or is my opinion of a BMW distorted because I know who owns one?
 Between tinted windows and normal light glare, I couldn't see who was in it, although I could see the shadow shape of a head. I knew Darryl Decko’s car way too well. If he was sitting at the curb, I didn’t want to go running past. For me, the Decko brothers are bad news.
 Darryl is the one with money, always in some hotshot job somewhere. Rock is the one with the magic, not a lot, but enough to get himself in trouble. The deal is this. Like me, the Deckos grew up in Mudflat, a neighborhood in Seattle where old magic lives, trailing its way through the Mudflat families like a hopscotch game, making one kid a witch, another a ghost-talker, and then it would skip a generation and a grandchild would suddenly turn out to be a spellcaster. The magic keeps trailing, getting a little weaker as it drifts down through the families’ gene pools.
 I inherited a bit, not much, just enough to make me a painfully accurate fortuneteller, which also makes me a target for Darryl Decko who would like me to forecast stuff he can make bets on. That’s forbidden for a whole lot of  reasons, none of which matter here, except that you’ll understand now why I avoid him. Larceny is his hobby.
 What keeps either of the Decko boys out of jail is a puzzle.
 I slowed, then came to a standstill, waiting for that BMW to pull away. That’s when I noticed the open back door in a two-story cement block building.  Okay, I noticed it because it wasn’t simply open, it was shredded, hanging sideways on broken hinges,
 The younger Decko, Rock, is a smash wizard, the only one in the city because smash wizards are territorial and competitors disappear. His skill is limited. Rock isn't the brightest bulb, but he has that smash thing down pat, all except the self-control part. He can hit a board with the side of his hand and the board doesn’t just break in two, the way some athletes do it, it actually disintegrates into a million pieces.
 If he hits a door too hard, it ends up looking like the door in front of me.
 Decko car in the alley, Decko damage to a building, gee, I didn’t need to be a fortuneteller to figure out that the two were connected. As Rock wasn’t the brother who scared me, I went to the broken door and took a step inside to a short, dark hallway that faced two more doors, one intact, the other not.
 Something exploded, not fire cracker size. Major. It sounded like somebody’d been lugging a refrigerator up a staircase and it got away from them and went crashing. If the building were twenty stories taller, the crash could even be a broken elevator cable.
  “Rock?” I called softly. When I didn’t get an answer, I shouted. “Rock? Hey, Rock, you in here?”
 Have I mentioned that seven years ago, when I was sixteen, I dated Rock Decko?
 No, I did not know that he had an older brother who was involved in a lot of illegal stuff, and I wouldn't have cared. Rock in black leather and chains was, uh, hot. And I was sixteen. Which I hope explains why I thought he was hot.
 He was a couple years older than me. That made him a big man, plus he was into motorcycles, and really, really, really wanted to be a bad boy but had no special skills. Magic has its late bloomers, and at that time, neither Rock nor anyone else knew that in a year or two he would be a smash wizard.
 He can smash, all right, but even now, years later, he hasn’t learned  to control his strength. Be just like him to break a door by accident and then stamp in frustration and blow a hole right through the floor. That would explain the explosion noise.
 It also might explain why he wasn’t answering. Was he lying under a pile of rubble in the basement? Not wanting to join him in a crash to the center of the earth, I didn’t go dashing in, but I did walk in slowly, looking all around for weakened floor boards before putting a foot down.
 “Rock? You in here?”
 Dead silence. I glanced around  the room I’d entered. At one end was a large desk. The rest of the space was filled up with file cabinets. Nothing on the walls. Some sort of office but there weren’t diplomas on the walls or anything like that, so I couldn’t figure it out. And that’s when I noticed several little red lights flashing on a metal panel about the size of a circuit breaker box by the door.
 “Uh, Rock?” I’d seen those things in enough TV shows to suspect I recognized them. “Hey, Rock?”
 “Doll?” He poked his head around a doorway on the other side of  the room.  “You shouldn’t be here.”
 “Neither should you,” I said, because I had this sinking feeling that things were not going well. “You’ve set off a burglar alarm.”
 When he came into the room, he had a canvas bag in his hand, the kind used for bank deposits. Rock has dark hair and olive skin, an arched nose and eyes the color of copper pennies. Those eyes were tracking from side to side. Something had him in a sweat. I guess I don't have to say that he was wearing black jeans and shirt, because that's all Rock ever wears.
 “I don’t hear anything.”
 “That’s because it’s not going off here. It’s going off in some security company’s office or maybe at the police station.”
 About that time the phone on the desk rang and Rock nearly went straight up through the ceiling.
 “Are you expecting a call?” I asked.
 Okay, I was playing him. Sometimes I can’t resist. From the look on his face, I knew that deposit bag in his hand wasn’t his. What I didn’t know was the how or why. Oh right, the why was simple. The guy’s a thief.
 “You think I should answer?”
 “Only if you know the password,” I told him.
 “What password?”
 “Rock, there’s an alarm going off. And a phone ringing. That means the alarm is hooked to a security company and somebody in an office across town is calling to ask for a password. If you don’t know the password, they send out the cops.”
 “What happens if we don’t answer?”
 “Same thing that happens if you don’t know the password. I think I’ll be gone when they get here.”
 And that’s what I did, turned around and left with Rock right on my heels.
 “Hey, doll, I’ve got my brother’s car. Come on, I’ll give you a ride.”
 “You mean you’ve got your brother,” I said as we hurried out the back door to the alley.
 It was hard to imagine sleek and slippery Darryl Decko playing getaway driver. Didn’t care. He wasn’t someone I wanted to run into. I started to turn back toward the other end of the alley figuring I’d circle the block and wait for the bus.
 “No, I don’t. Darryl isn’t with me.”
 “Well, there’s somebody in the car,” I said.
 He gave me a funny grin and caught my elbow. “Yeah, there is. Come on. You’ll like her.”
 Her? Okay, I didn’t hear any sirens. It would take a few minutes from the time of that security company phone call to the arrival of the police. If Rock had a new girlfriend, I wanted to see her because, gotta admit I am incurably curious.
 When we reached the car, instead of opening the door, he pointed through the side window.
 “That’s Skippy,” he said.
 Weird name for a girlfriend. And then I leaned toward the window and she pressed her nose on the other side and I must say, and did say, “Oh, she’s so cute!”
 A large scruffy dog with floppy ears started bouncing up and down and slobbering all over the window, and then she did a regular doggie dance, circling, jumping over the console to the driver’s seat, jumping back, jumping over.
 “When did you get a dog?”
 “Yesterday. I decided I need a watch dog and she’s a big one.”
 A watch dog to protect a thief’s house? Maybe he had better stuff in his house than I did. Living on my miniscule salary, gotta tell ya, I don’t own anything anyone would want to steal.
 While I watched and laughed at Skippy’s antics, the car let out a BEEP! and a HONK, HONK! followed by a whole lot of those other horrible car alarm noises.
 “What’s going on?”
 “Oh, damn, she jumped on my key tag.”
 Key tag? Right, the automatic remote control that hangs on the key chain for locking and unlocking the car from a distance and for turning the alarm on and off.
 “How could she do that?”
 “I left the keys on the seat.”
 It took me a second but I got there. If he’d left the keys in the ignition and then tried to exit or enter the car, it would make all sorts of noise. And if a noisy burglar alarm had gone off when he’d smashed the back door, he didn’t want to have to dig in his pocket for his keys. Instead, he planned on being able to cancel the break-in and make a fast getaway, with the keys on the seat where he could scoop them up and be off.
 While I tapped the window and grinned back at the grinning dog, Rock went dashing out in the street and yanked on the door handle.
 Well, you know how that went, don’t you?
 Skippy not only managed to hit the car alarm, she’d also stepped on the button that locked the car up tight.
 Rock howled.
 “You can smash the window,” I suggested helpfully.
 He glared at me over the car roof. “Are you insane! This is Darryl’s car! He’d kill me!”
 As I couldn’t think of any reason to stand around being insulted, especially as I could hear sirens approaching, I turned and headed back toward the alley. As I turned, my toe hit something and I looked down. It was the bank deposit bag. If I left it on the sidewalk next to the car, it could be a few decades before Mudflat got its smash wizard back. I wouldn’t miss him but probably someone would.
 Besides, if he got tossed in jail, what would happen to Skippy?
 In one swoop, I picked up the bag and walked quickly away. About the time I was adjacent to the broken door, the siren drowned out the noise of the car alarm, and as carrying stolen stuff seemed a good way to get in trouble, I ducked through the door and into the office and across to the far door and holy gee! It opened to a closet that was mostly filled with a humongous metal safe with its humongous metal door shattered into a mountain of metal bits.
 I tossed the deposit bag into the yawning cavern of the doorless safe. And then I walked calmly to the broken outer door, stuck out my head, saw the back end of the police car angled on the other side of Darryl’s car, and heard a whole lot of voices, one of them shouting something about, “Stupid dog!”
 Seconds later I was out of the alley and walking calmly down the next cross street. Rock wasn’t my responsibility, but if he got tossed in jail, I might offer to adopt Skippy.
END
Copyright © Phoebe Matthews

Claire Carmody is the protagonist in the Mudflat Magic series. That's Claire on the cover of books 1, 4, and 6.

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