[I've posted the rest of the completed novel as a pdf via blogspot because of the story's size and use of specialized fonts. You can get to it via http: nickchiseler. blogspot. com. Sorry, I can't give you an actual hyperlink because FanFiction doesn't allow them.]
I only impersonate a cop if it's for a good cause.
A really good cause. Such as if the tools of my trade purely by mistake end up stewing inside the Miami-Dade County Police's evidence locker. Which is where they were, and where it seemed they were likely to stay for a good long time.
It wasn't my fault. I had kept my things in some other guy's warehouse near Grand Avenue, a guy who was always on the police's short list. The cops had never found illegal goods in his possession in the past, but that didn't stop them from raiding his place now and then on their latest hot tip. It had been a while since their last search and seizure, and I had gotten slack.
Now they had my stuff, and they weren't giving me any information about how I could get it back. And I needed my stuff.
You see, I use my equipment for magic.
That's because I'm a wizard.
Okay, I'm not really a wizard. Technically, I'm a wizard's apprentice. It's just that I don't have a master any more, and I plan on keeping it that way, too. So if I call myself a wizard, who's really going to call me out, anyway?
No, don't answer that. It was a rhetorical question.
I sat on the gum-strewn sidewalk outside the back of the Miami-Dade County Police headquarters, my legs crossed and my back leaning on the knobbly outer wall of the five-story building.
I wasn't alone. A hodgepodge of other people, mostly poor and glum, stood or sat in the shade from the morning sun, each for reasons of his own. None of us spoke to anyone else.
Even though it was only morning, the black asphalt of the huge open parking lot drank up the heat of the summer sun and vomited it back out at twice the strength it received it. Overhead, the chattering of a passing flock of parrots was drowned out by the screeching thunder of a 747 taking off from the nearby international airport.
I was sweating profusely, and I looked just like everyone else.
There were at least a hundred squad cars and another hundred private vehicles parked in the back lot, with a slow, steady stream coming and going with the change of shift.
I sat, watching them.
A cop walked by me, looking down at me, observing me in the offhand way that cops observe everyone by force of habit. I looked up at him blankly, letting him think whatever he wanted to think about me. He went by without a word.
I kept up my vigil for a couple of hours before I began to get worried that it wasn't going to work. The change of shift had come and gone, and what I was looking for hadn't happened. Most of the other stragglers behind the building had gone, replaced by others. It wouldn't be long before I'd be noticed by someone watching the building surveillance system.
Backup plans began to run through my brain when my quarry appeared at the back door of the station. It was a cop who had finished his shift for the night and who had changed into civilian clothes inside the building, his uniform draped over his right shoulder from a clothes hanger.
He headed into the lot towards his car while I sat against the wall, watching him carefully. He was physically taller than me, I estimated, but his build was not much heavier than mine. After waiting two hours, this would have to be close enough. I stood up, grabbed my black backpack, and followed him out into the lot, walking in a parallel parking lane, not really looking at him, not really not looking at him, either. The art of following someone casually was a trick my father had taught me when I was little.
When he stopped at his car, I quickened my pace a little and walked a bit past him. Twenty yards beyond his car, I slowed down and turned between a pair of squad cars, stopping at a position where I could see him clearly, but where I could be as concealed as I could get in a parking lot. I gently lowered my backpack to the ground, still watching him.
He had opened the trunk of his car and carefully lay his uniform flat inside. He slammed the trunk shut, opened the driver's door, and got in.
I had to work fast, now.
I sat on the ground and pulled a Hot Wheels out of my pocket. The little model car was different from his car in a lot of ways—mine was red and the cop's was blue, and his basic Japanese sedan really didn't have the same shape at all as my model of an American stock car. It would have been much easier for me if my model had looked exactly like his, but it would have to do. I could still establish an affinity between the two, even if it would be a tenuous one.
"Nyima," I whispered at my model car, picturing his radiator in my mind. I repeated the word over and over as he started his car. In Tibetan, nyima is the word for the sun. For me, as for my parents, it is the magical symbol for fire. My parents were born in Tibet. I was born here in the states, but I learned magic their way.
The little Hot Wheels suddenly became too hot to hold. I dropped it to the ground, and the asphalt began to smoke beneath it. I kept chanting as the cop engaged the transmission and let off the brake. Suddenly, there was a loud pop from under his hood. Greasy steam poured out from the front and sides of his hood. I was pretty sure I could hear him curse in Spanish from inside his car.
Sorry, dude, I thought. There's no permanent damage. Er, not intentionally.
The engine coughed to a halt and the cop got out, this time with a lot more energy than when he got in. He angrily slammed the door shut, locked it, and went around to the front of the car. For a moment it looked like he was going to open the hood, but a thick cloud of steam was still billowing out the front, hissing ominously. He evidently thought better of it and stomped off back to the headquarters instead.
I waited until he was halfway back to the building, and then I picked up my backpack and headed over to the car. I looked inside the driver's window. The door locks were electronic, controlled by a rocker button on each door. There was no blinking light warning of an alarm.
I held my hand out, concentrating. "Anil," I muttered, Tibetan for "air". I pushed the air around the lock button, and pressed it down. A click emanated from the doors. I opened the driver's door and popped the trunk.
Moments later, I had the cop uniform in my arms. I locked the car and slowly walked away, careful not to draw attention to myself from anyone who might see me from the entrance to the building. About ten cars down, I opened a police car, got in the back, and lay the uniform along the back seat. I pulled my backpack across my lap and opened up the big compartment, and Jeeves crawled out.
Jeeves is my helper. He's a homunculus. Or something like that. The thing is, I'm not a hundred percent sure what he is. He belonged to my mother before she died, and she never had the chance to tell me all about it—er, him. Uh, thing. He obeys my orders, up to a point, but also has a way of marching to his own drum. If you touch him, he feels like he's made of fired clay, sans enamel. He has the physical attributes of a human being, except that his face is unfinished—you can see a vague set of indentations where he should have eyes, a nose, and a mouth, but nothing detailed. When he stands up straight, he's about ten inches tall.
He may have been someone's mini-butler at one time or other—hence the name I gave him. He's a neat freak. He spends a lot of time cleaning up the inside of my boat. Since he's so small, he's extremely slow at putting away big things like my shirts, but he's also tireless. He'd probably clean faster if I weren't such a slob.
Jeeves makes his own clothes. It's another one of his quirks, since I never personally cared what he wore. All the same, he has his own wardrobe of different outfits for different occasions, and has an uncanny instinct for knowing what best to wear to suit my plans. I've never actually seen him dress, and I'm a little grateful. There are some things about him that I just haven't been all that curious about. Today he was dressed in a black commando outfit, which I think he made out of a vinyl seat cover. I didn't try too hard to find out who's car he got the material out of. Like I said, sometimes it pays to have a lack of curiosity. It couldn't have been my car—there's not enough intact material left on the seats for him to use.
But it's his clothes-making that gave me the idea behind this dubious scheme of mine—that, and a couple of other useful features he has.
Jeeves pulled a sewing kit out of the backpack and opened it up. He walked up and down the length of the cop uniform, and finally looked up at me critically. He put his hand to his chin for a few moments. And then he got to work taking in the uniform. He knew it didn't have to fit me exactly, and definitely not for very long.
But you can't rush things, when it's Jeeves. I got out of the car, which was broiling in the midmorning sun, closed the door, and found a tree to sit under.
The trouble with my disguise was that I was missing so much that a real cop would have had.
Like cop shoes.
Like a gun.
And that big utility belt it goes in.
Like a name I could pronounce. What possessed me to steal a uniform from a guy named "Namuncurá Ezechiele Quiñónez"? But then, who am I to talk? My name is Dorje Gyaltso Saga. I just tell people my name is George. Introductions go so much faster that way.
When you don't have a complete disguise, though, my father taught me that the key to pulling it off is attitude. I am here in a police station because I have a right to be here…of course I am here…where else would I be? Attitude.
My father had been an undercover Warden for the White Council—which is the recognized governing body for wizards worldwide, and has been for centuries. He was a Warden right up until the day he disappeared. He taught me a lot of things about infiltrating a group of bad guys. So, okay, Miami cops aren't really the bad guys. But I'm not the bad guy, either. I just want my stuff.
There was one silver lining about the uniform. The lapel pins—in very tiny letters—said, "Public Corruption Investigations Bureau." And that was like solid gold to me. Because "public officials" includes cops. Which means that one look at me, and most cops would look the other way, if I were lucky.
Holding my breath, I pushed my way through the back door and strode into the police station, my head held high. I was in. The curtain was up, the lights were on me, and nothing else mattered.
I walked through a wide hallway that branched in each direction and ended with a pair of elevators. To the right of the elevators was a directory. I pulled my own notebook and pen out of my pocket, wrote down a few select names, and got the floor and room numbers of certain offices. I snapped my book shut, stuffed it back into my shirt pocket, and was just in time for the next elevator.
On the fourth floor, I followed the hallway around in a long arc until I found the office that I was looking for: "Narcotics Bureau, Chief, Lt. Tino Huerta." The door was closed. I tried it, and it was locked. Today was Sunday. He probably wouldn't be in. It was the narcotics bureau who had ordered the raid on my warehouse-mate, he was sure of that. They were in control of the evidence in the locker for our case. Which meant they could also approve the evidence's release, if the investigation had not gone to a prosecutor yet.
To the side of the door was a second keyhole, made for an alarm key. Well, I figured this wouldn't be easy.
Another cop walked by, saw me try the door.
"Need someone?" he asked in Spanish.
"No, it can wait until tomorrow," I said, also in Spanish.
"Okay," he answered, he passed me and kept going.
I took a step back and looked down the hallway each direction. I looked at the ceiling, which was made of the usual removable tiles found in offices. The office to the right also looked closed. The sign next to it said, "Narcotics Bureau, Sgt. Baldwin Ceja." I tried the door. It was also locked, but it wasn't alarmed. Right above the office door was a fire alarm siren.
I stepped closer and looked around. There were people in the hallway, but no one was really looking at me. "Anil," I whispered. The door latch pushed in, and I slipped past the threshold and stepped inside, quietly closing the door behind me.
The office was a mess. Piles of papers mixed together with chewing gum wrappers and Styrofoam coffee cups that had never made it as far as the trash can. Some of the filing cabinets were partly open, with files stuffed into them halfway. I looked around for anything marked "forms," and finally hit the jackpot at the bottom of the cabinet furthest from the door. I opened it up, and there were a zillion different folders, each with its own kind of form tucked inside. Some were yellow with age. But after methodically walking my fingers through the tabs, I found what I needed: "Evidence Release."
Holding the blank form in one hand, I opened up the large compartment in my black backpack, letting Jeeves out. He brushed off his black outfit and looked around the cluttered office, shaking his head in what must have been despair. He pushed his way back into the backpack and rummaged around, finally pulling out a miniature backpack he had made for himself last year. It contained all the essentials needed by a commando homunculus: a large and small sewing needle, a fifty-five yard spool of unwaxed dental floss, a fishhook, an eyeglass screwdriver, a pencil stub, and a few squares of blank paper.
In the center of the room, facing the door, sat one of those big metal desks that were made in the nineteen-fifties. I walked around it and sat down, reading the evidence release form. The nice thing about detailed forms is that at least they tell you what they want. I started filling it in with the address of the warehouse and a description of what I wanted released.
Which was two things: my thunderbolt scepter and my bell, both of which I used in the rituals of making potions. If I had to, I could have made myself some new ones. But that would be time consuming, and—more to the point—expensive.
The only things I absolutely needed were Tino Huerta's badge number and signature. Anything else I could improvise.
And both of those things could be found in his office next door.
I looked at Jeeves. He looked down at the form.
Jeeves doesn't know how to write. But he can copy like a medieval monk on espresso. And he has a photographic memory.
I pulled a ballpoint pen refill out of my pocket and handed it to him. I rolled up the form and tied it with a bit of Jeeves' dental floss.
"You know what to do," I said to him. He saluted. He always seemed to know. He put on his backpack, tied the form to his shoulder, and waited for me. I pushed back the ceiling tile at the side of the office adjoining Tino Huerta's, picked Jeeves up, and pushed him up into the ceiling gap.
And then I sat down to wait. Buddha's blessings upon Jeeves, but you can't rush him when he's got a job to do.
I nibbled on my fingernail and tried to convince myself that my anxiety was needless. I didn't say baseless—just needless. When five minutes had gone by, I realized that I might be waiting for a long time. I had no way to communicate with Jeeves—or, at least he had no way to communicate with me. No alarms had gone off, there were no noises next door. There was just the beating of my own heart to listen to.
I pulled a travel-sized deck of cards out of my pocket and started up a game of solitaire to distract my mind.
That's when I heard the footsteps. And a pair of voices, a male and female. The footsteps stopped outside the office door. I distinctly heard the sound of a key ring jingling. Crap, I thought. Of all the offices in the building, I had to pick the one with the workaholic and his girlfriend.
I glanced up at the ceiling tile, which was still shoved out of place. There was no sign of Jeeves. Whoever was at the door, I would have to stall them. Or better yet, make them go away. And I had to do it without bringing the whole station down on me.
There was the sound of a key entering the lock.
I wouldn't have time for anything fancy.
I took a deep breath and pulled power from the floor, reaching down into the earth below for more. The power flowed out of me in an expanding bubble.
There is a side effect to magic that affects most wizards—it's that magical fields play havoc on electronics. In fact, strong magical fields are outright destructive. The smaller and more sensitive the electronics, the more vulnerable they are to magical damage. Geeky wizards call this effect Spectral Static Discharge, and all wizards emanate this kind of field. Which means that even at the best of times, most wizards are bad for electronics, and at the worst, an angry wizard can hex an expensive piece of equipment into slag.
Or, almost all wizards. Because some wizards have the opposite effect. When these wizards hex a piece of electronic gear, it turns on. It's an inherited quirk, and it's rare.
But it's my quirk. My tachyon polarity must be reversed, or something.
The old telephone on the desk rang. I ignored it—it was me calling, after all. Outside, a cell phone rang, playing a salsa. It rang again. It was a pretty cool salsa on the first ring. It was annoying on the second.
"¿Holá? ¿Holá?" I heard through the door. "It's still ringing," I heard the man say in Spanish.
"Take the battery out," the woman said.
"What the—it's still ringing! Goddam thing!"
"Are you sure that's the battery you took out? Let me look."
"Yes, it's the battery, you think I'm some kind of moron? It's the battery, and it's still ringing!"
"There must be a second battery."
"The hell with it—" I heard the man mutter. There was a clattering sound. A foot stomped. It stomped again. There was a crunching sound. Silence.
"I didn't like my phone plan, anyway," the man said angrily.
Damn. That didn't take long, I thought.
I pulled harder at the flow of magic, tried to think of something I could quickly redirect it to. I remembered the fire alarm above the door.
Taking a deep breath, I sank myself into the flow and pulled viciously. When I had as much as I could hold—and I admit, I'm not a strong wizard—I let fly at the alarm buzzer. And it did what buzzers do best. The sound was ear-piercing. I held it going for about thirty seconds before I ran out of juice. It went quiet. I didn't hear any voices outside.
I breathed. Nothing happened. No one opened the door. I was alone again.
The black four could go on the red five, I noticed.
Familiar footsteps came back down the hall. They stopped at the door. Those terrible keys jingled.
I didn't have anything more I could throw. I was tapped out. I pulled the cards off the table, put them back in my pocket, pushed my backpack under the desk at my feet, and awaited my fate with serenity.
The door opened. A very irritable sergeant stood in the doorframe. Little pieces of black plastic were strewn haphazardly on the floor behind him. And then he saw me, sitting in his chair, waiting patiently.
"Who the hell do you think you are? What are you stealing from my office?" He barked at me in Spanish. "Are you the asshole who stole my CDs? Well?" Like any trained cop, he knew how to wield words like a club, and I felt them buffeting me.
"If you want to know who I am, come closer," I spoke to him in English.
"What's this? Are you making threats to me, in my own office?" he switched to English, stepping inside and turning the lights on. He looked me over. He noticed the pins on my collar.
For a tenth of a second, he turned green. But a good cop is schooled to take control of a bad situation, and his training took him over. He stood his ground like a terrier guarding the world's last bag of dog food.
"Get out of my office!" he barked, waving his hand at me vigorously. "Get out!"
In the corner of my eye, I saw a thin line of dental floss drop down from the ceiling. I remained seated. "It's okay, you can come closer," I said soothingly. "I'm not going to hurt you."
Sergeant Ceja's face turned red. Veins began to show in his thick neck. He walked up to the edge of the desk, putting the dental floss behind his field of vision, and planted his large hands on the visitor's side of his own desk.
"How dare you sit like that in my own office! You think I care who you are? Do you know what my men and I do every day? We put our lives on the line, morning and night, and this is the reward we get! This is the respect we have earned!"
Jeeves slid down the floss to the floor, the rolled up paper neatly tied to his left shoulder. As soon as his feet were firmly planted upon the tile floor, he gently wiggled the floss until the fishhook anchoring it at the ceiling came loose, falling silently into Jeeve's waiting hand. He peered at the sergeant uncertainly.
I stood up. Ceja lifted his head higher, looking straight at me. He was much taller than me, but then again I'm less than average height. Rolling the floss into a loop, Jeeves slipped between the sergeant's legs and crawled under the desk.
"Tell me, Sergeant," I began, "why do you think I might be interested in your office on a Sunday?" I radiated the calm that I didn't feel.
"I don't know. And I don't care! I just want you out! And I'm not kidding around!"
There was a gentle tug at my pants leg and a rustling sound where I had laid my backpack under the desk.
"I see," I mused, "If that's your wish, then I must go. I only stopped in to sharpen a pencil, anyway."
He blinked at me, nonplussed.
I picked up my backpack from the floor, smiled graciously, and sauntered past him and out the door.
It took a million years to get to the elevator, and nerves of steel to not look back to see if he was following me. I don't have nerves of steel.
No one stood in line ahead of me as I stewed in front of the clerk's window at the Property and Evidence Bureau. But still I had to wait. The lone clerk stared at his computer monitor—which I could not see—and tapped at his keyboard every few seconds, supremely ignoring me. I coughed, I tried talking to him, I rapped my fingers rhythmically on the window shelf that separated the two of us. He was immune. I got him to say, "Just a moment," once, and felt like I had earned a victory.
"Can I help you?" the clerk said, turning towards me. He radiated bureaucratic disinterest.
I pulled out the evidence release form triumphantly. Jeeves has really come through. Everything that I had left blank was now filled out—Huerta's badge number, his signature, even the case number was there. Only Buddha knows where Jeeves located all of the needed information in Huerta's office.
The clerk took the form indifferently and set it on the desk beside his keyboard, pushing a half-eaten sandwich out of the way. He typed in a few keystrokes and read the monitor. His brows furrowed.
"Are you sure about this form?" he asked me without looking up.
"Yes," I said, my confidence suddenly deflating.
"Huh. Was this signed today? It looks like it."
He made a bit of a face, reading through his computer records a second time. "Well," he frowned, "it's just that the narcotics bureau didn't find any contraband in the seizure. There were weird things, but nothing illegal. So, last night the bureau released the entire seizure, and this morning it was transported back to its point of origin. But your form dated today has them just releasing a couple of items. I wonder if we screwed something up."
I just stared at the clerk dumbly.
"Did you say," I asked slowly, "that you shipped everything back?"
"Uh-huh. Maybe I'd better call Lieutenant Huerta and straighten this out."
For a few moments, I just stared at him, fully feeling like the total idiot that I was.
"Um, no, that shouldn't be necessary. The truth is, Lieutenant Huerta gave this to me yesterday afternoon, and this was the first chance I had to run it over to you. He must have changed his mind and released the whole thing last night."
The clerk scratched his nose. "So, why is it dated today?"
"That's my fault," I stammered. "I dated it this morning and didn't think about it."
He seemed to actually look at me for the first time. "If you don't mind my asking," he leaned forward, "so what's a corruption cop doing running forms for a narcotics chief?"
I sighed as if in exasperation while I thought up an answer to that. "There was a citizen complaint about the case. But it turned out to be a misunderstanding. It's all settled, now. You can keep the form for your records, if you want," I added.
He handed it back to me. "Just take it back. It'll confuse the auditors." I didn't argue.
"Thanks," I answered. I could feel a headache coming on.
As I sheepishly slunk away, the desk clerk's telephone and beeper went off simultaneously. That was me. When humiliation gets the best of me, everybody gets fair warning.
Out of prudence, I decided to leave the police station through a different door than the one I used coming in. I didn't want any one person in the station seeing me too often and notice that I was missing key equipment in my disguise.
I took the main first floor hallway around towards the front, and immediately regretted my decision. The waiting area for visitors was overflowing with civilians who were waiting to see a cop, or to pick someone up who was being talked to. I hated to think what a weekday looked like in here. People spilled out from the main waiting area into the hallway. Some people were sitting on the floor, others pacing around. The air conditioner wasn't keeping up.
Visitors looked at me as I got closer, maybe wondering if I was the guy that they were going to talk to, maybe wondering if I was the guy who was going to say that a loved one was going to go to prison. It must suck to be a cop, I thought.
I weaved my way through the throng and into the main waiting room. It was long, and every seat was taken. I felt like I was on display. It was creepy, having so many eyes on me. I perform in community theater all the time. But this was different. No one was here for laughs. All I could do was to keep moving and not look too hard at anyone.
And then they were there, the automatic sliding glass doors, marking the precinct station's main entrance. The morning light shone brightly through them, adding to the stuffy warmth of the crowded waiting area. I pushed my way past a pair of tethered goats, who sniffed at me curiously. I was almost out.
That's when she stepped in front of me to block my path. The most beautiful woman I have ever seen. Dressed in a gray sweatshirt and ratty jeans. She was tightly clutching a bulky brown paper grocery bag in her hands.
I looked at her. I looked at the sliding glass doors not twenty feet away.
"Officer," she said in a Scottish Highland accent, "may I have some assistance?"
She had long auburn hair that ran in natural curls down past her shoulders. Her eyes were so brown they were almost black. The seemed larger than they really were, somehow, and I narrowly avoided direct eye contact. It was as if gravity kept drawing me towards them. It's sort of dangerous for a wizard to look directly into someone's eyes.
Her nose, cheeks, and lips were gentle and feminine. Her cheeks bore a natural blush. I couldn't be sure of her age. She looked as young as me, and I'm only twenty-five, but some instinct told me that she wasn't. She wasn't even wearing a swab of makeup, I was sure of it.
The sliding glass doors called to me again. "Look," I replied, "I'm probably not the right person for you to talk to. Have you signed in at the information desk?"
She touched my shoulder with the tips of three fingers, and I literally felt a thrill course through my body.
"I did," she replied carefully, "But they shuttle me from one person to another. I cannot tell if they are truly helping me or not."
"I see. And what are you here about?" I took out my notepad and a ballpoint pen, hoping that she simply wanted to report a stolen car or some other simple crime that the gears of the station bureaucracy was already handling at its own glacial pace.
"It's my husband. He is missing, and I wish for help to find him."
Well, crap. There just had to be a husband, didn't there? Funny that she wasn't wearing a wedding ring.
"I am just visiting this country, you see," she added. "I feel so helpless to do anything."
"Welcome to Miami, ma'am," I said cheerfully.
"Promise me you will help me find my husband, Officer," she said. Her eyes seemed larger than ever, like a little puppy's. I felt myself falling into them.
Don't make any promises, I heard my mind screaming at me. Head for the door.
"I promise," I heard myself say. I could feel something go click in the back of my subconscious, like a door bolt being closed and locked.
She smiled sweetly.
"Thank you, sir," she said softly. "I am verrah grateful to you."
She's fey. I've just made a promise to a fey. Buddha's 'nads.
She smiled again, radiating innocence.
"I'm telling you, lady, you made a mistake choosing me as your hero," I almost whined. Damn, damn, damn. "I may not be in a position to offer you much help. You would be a lot better off going through the official channels here at the station. I'm telling you this truthfully," I added, with scant hope of wriggling out of my promise.
"I follow my instincts. They are true and never fail me," she answered happily, her eyes shining.
"We'd better go, then. We're both out of our element, here."
As naturally as if we were best friends, she placed her left hand around my right arm and followed me, hitting me with that physical jolt of testosterone again. I was going to have to ask her to stop doing that to me. Eventually. As soon as we found her husband.
Feeling like an ass, I led her out into the daylight.