Chapter 20: Other than that, a quiet year

XX. Other than that, a quiet year

A month later, no one was talking about it.

Sports were always a subject, and while the Cubs were looking mediocre, the Sox seemed poised to move up from third place in their division to second; the Blackhawks were headed for the playoffs yet again; there was also some sort of NBA team in the city but only the divination experts could foresee a certain Michael descending, as it were, from the heavens.

But of course the field hockey team at the Lyceum was polishing off one foe after another, with Daphne and Spiny keeping up with a bunch of expert third years and putting together a near-perfect season, losing only to the Kentucky Colonels, and only by 8-7 at that. In the eight-team playoffs the Zephyrs started by beating Kentucky 10-6, but lost to the Belles of Amherst MA in the semifinals, with star Eliza Lichman out with a broken jaw.

The baseball team did not look so good. They won one of four against Des Moines, a close Daphne win in a pitchers’ duel, 3-2; they won one of four against the Hoosiers, care of relief pitcher Tom Hexane, who got the win by pitching one shutout inning at the end of a 12-11 brawl; they were swept by the Colonels and they took one of four against Marquette, with Willow going all the way despite giving up ten runs. It was the least they gave up in the last eight games, and it just so happened that in that last game the Zephs managed to get to the Marquette relievers for eleven runs.

“Well, it’s official,” said Leonard to Arnulf as they changed in the Marquette locker room. “We suck more than anyone else in the nation.”

“It didn’t help that we managed to get half our best players kicked off the team,” said Arnulf. “Or I wouldn’t have gotten to start at third.”

“You were good,” said Leonard. “Relatively. Hey, head downtown for some burgers?”

“Let me think about that,” said Arnulf. “Hey Daphne.”

“What?” came the Amazon’s voice from behind the invisibility screen.

“Up for a walkie in downtown Milwaukee?”

“Huh. Let me see. No.”

“You guys afraid of getting attacked?” said Leonard. “I thought you loved getting attacked.”

“C’mon,” said Arnulf. “I’ll buy you a vanilla shake back home.”

“Make it chocolate.”

People were also talking, already, about the upcoming year-end exams—upcoming in the sense of two months away. Failing the exams could mean not coming back, and failing in a particular subject might mean crossing that subject off for the foreseeable future.

“That could mess you up good,” said Natalie Lopez as she and Ange and her recent roommate left the library. “I don’t want to eliminate any angles. What do you think you want to be when you grow up, Ange?”

“Feared,” said Angelica.

“Well, you’re feared by the MacMorris types,” said Rachel Rabat. “I’d say you’re feared by the Maroons too. If not, you should be.”

“I don’t even think about them,” said Angelica.

They cut across the garden, and then Angelica led them in between two of the garden sheds. Suddenly they came up on Cath Place and Truman Goth—necking among the ivies.

“Sek—!” said Cath to Angelica. But Angelica’s wand was already twirling a little spiral of force and shooting it at her, and Cath went flying backwards. Rachel and Natalie both hit Truman Goth with magic force and their combined penton weight shocked his attack back into his wand, which flew from him. Their next whack put him out.

“Lek ayn goth,” said Jen Greenbelt from the ivy on the other side, where she had been necking too. “Ag,” said her boyfriend, Bob Flammifer, at the others.

“Oh, don’t even joke,” said Natalie, brushing aside his spell. “Kno eur,” said Angelica. And it worked, after letting her feel a little of the pain of the mind stab. When it was thrown back, Natalie and Rachel were throwing their own sek ag spells at Jen: Bob had gone down. Poor Jen failed to resist against her own stab, and that was followed by a massive overload from Angelica, who was really kind of peeved right now.

“Okay,” she said, as she and Rachel and Natalie stood over the prostrate body of Miss Greenbelt, “so I got Cath, and you two got Truman, and we all got Jen. Who got Bob?”

They turned around and there stood skinny little Jen Chang, blowing the tip of her wand, giggling like the schoolgirl she was.

“Feared,” said Angelica. “Ash House needs to be feared.”

“I’m afraid of you,” said Natalie.

The incident didn’t provoke any further conversation on the campus, beyond how some young lovers had gotten caught in flagrante delicto by pranksters, which, changing one noun, was more or less true. The fact that it didn’t provoke further ambushes said as much as anything about the new situation.

MacMorris’s pentonics class had gotten very dull since February, suddenly got really interesting. It seemed as if MacMorris was trying to give hints to someone who almost got the secret, the kind of hints that would mean nothing to most people. And who he was hinting to was Arnulf. “Yes,” he would say, on the far side of the room, and then he would walk all the way to the right side where Arnulf and Ahir sat taking notes. “A network may incorporate a Field, but also a Market.” Field Museum? Merchandise Mart? Maybe Woodfields Mall? Nah… Or: “The golden apples. Do you believe in the golden apples, Mr Shmoke? No?” (Arnulf had made no gesture either way.) “Well, they are to be found in the fall. In the fall. By the black river.”

“I don’t know what to listen to and what to ignore,” said Arnulf later. “So I write it all down.”

“I’m trying,” said Ahir, “to do a frequency analysis on the symbols he uses. Like he always talks about fruit, you notice that? Fruit and rivers.”

“All I know is,” said Arnulf, “someday we’re gonna be in an apple orchard by a black river, and we’re gonna be like, this is what he meant, now I get it.”

“Hope so,” said Angelica.

Angelica, Natalie and Rachel became the intimidating trio on campus, with second and third year girls giving them a wide berth. They were a sort of anti-clique, toying with the boys (Leonard Harris, Rocky Shore and even the enigmatic Geen Tiaw), being aggressively obedient in class with their favorite profs (Ash, White, Timms, Sear, Temple), sitting with the Ash people at lunch and surrounding themselves with illusions of more kids to take up the nearby tables, and generally being in kids’ faces while looking exactly like perfect little women in all their classes.

Their illusions were getting better and better. Their crowds were excellent, and they had a forest that took all three of them to put up and which could linger, if left alone, for months. And they were starting to get lil gok, scenery-people. The three girls were also, like everyone else, trying to make items, and while they had the theory down pat and got 100 on all the tests, none of them had succeeded in making a decent item yet.

“It’s a sort of rolling ear,” said Natalie. “It’s supposed to roll where you want it.”

“But instead,” said Timms.

“Instead,” said Rachel, “it always follows Angelica.”

“It likes me,” said Ange.

Tom was working on items too—he was getting close to fixing up a sonic screwdriver. “It makes sounds, anyway,” he said. His pentonics was much better. “I’m starting to understand it,” he said. “It’s weird.”

“How about all that stuff about apples and waterfalls?” asked Ahir.

“I never listen to MacMorris,” he replied, “but I’m starting to understand the book, which is scary enough.”

Cloudius, as assistant to Timms, was learning more than the students. His sonic screwdriver did a lot more than make funny noises. He was making toys and letting them wander around Ash House. He was forging a sword under the watchful eye of Daphne. Timms and Janhara Jambis were showing him all kinds of interesting uses for penton pumps. And somehow, somehow, the boy had learned to actually study for tests.

Daphne’s second sword was in the middle of its long process, and now she was learning about armor. At first, that meant making regular old armor pieces, just to learn very well how they worked together. She began the laborious process of making, piece by piece, a suit of Amazon ritual armor, which concentrated on protecting the power centers of the body, and thus left usually armored areas like the belly uncovered.

“Aren’t you worried—?” passers by would ask, as she battled Spiny or Ahir or Keisha in the early morning.

“Are you kidding?” one of the others would say. “You take this sword and try to get near her belly.”

“But it’s not magic armor yet,” Spiny pointed out, after she feinted one way, then spun, then spun back and whacked Daphne on the side of the head with the side of her sword.

“No,” said Daphne, adjusting the slim steel helmet interwoven in her hair, “no, not yet.”

But for Arnulf Shmoke and Ahir Shaheen, it was all about history.

“I have it,” Ahir said one night in April as it rained outside. The two of them, plus Angelica, sat on Ahir’s floor poring over police logs and piles of notes. “Look.”

“What do you mean, you have it?” asked Angelica, who thought she almost had it herself but was completely wrong. She looked at the two sheets Ahir held up: one was her own notes and doodlings, and the other was from a sheet stuck into a 1943 case book.

“It’s Arnulf’s dad’s case book,” Ahir said, “but it’s the year his grandpa Josephus was killed. And this is in Josephus’s handwriting. Well, hieroglyphs, demotic actually.”

Arnulf took the sheet. He stared at it, his lips moving. “I can read it,” he said. “Dad knew hieroglyphs, and Tom reminded me about them, he had a book.”

“So what’s it say?” asked Angelica.

“It says, go get Tom and his book.”

A few minutes later, Tom and Cloudius and Rachel had joined them, and they all sat around Ahir’s room scribbling. “11–1,” said Angelica, “go S, EE, R, S, tower buy coat. It’s not cosmic, but it makes sense, it’s November, he needs a coat.”

“But why the Sears Tower?” asked Cloudius. “It’s not like it’s famous for coats.”

Daphne said, “I got ‘T, EE, Ah, R, Ah, N, man, um, in, in red door.’ Yes. Door.”

“Man? It says that?” asked Cloudius.

“That little guy sitting there,” Daphne explained. “He tells you it’s a guy, not a chick.”

Arnulf cleared his throat. Everyone looked at him. He gazed around at them dramatically, his eyes just visible above the old piece of paper. He pushed his glasses up, and read aloud: “I know Brut here somewhere look for N-Ah-Z-EE segment. Art know tomorrow it is his fight. B R man good young keeper of maps.”

There was a short silence, then a short intake of breath, then a much longer silence.

“Arnulf,” said Angelica at last, “that’s your grandpa’s last note. He’s saying goodbye. He knows Art—that’s your dad—!”

“Ange,” said Arnulf, “I actually do know Art’s my dad. He died when I was two. I wish I knew more about him than his name and some stuff on a sheet of paper. You know?”

“Arn, I’m really sorry. Arn—!”

“Never mind.” He focused on the text. “Nazi segments. They had at least three segments, some people think they might have had seven segments, and then it got broken up by US and Soviet spies, and at least one of the segments got here.”

“But your grandfather did not know where to look,” said Ahir. “All he could do was follow this Brutus around and at some point, they met.”

“Yeah,” said Arnulf. “And we know how that came out. But he mentions B R man, I’m thinking Bertram Rinehart. Good, yes, I’d call him that, young, well, in 1943 he was maybe in his thirties?”

“But keeper of maps,” said Ahir. “What does that mean?”

“It means we thought we had a full collection,” said Tom, “but there’s maps we don’t have.”

And that was the final piece of the puzzle—the final piece they put in the puzzle that school year, anyway. The puzzle wasn’t anywhere close to finished: even the edge pieces weren’t all done yet.

Academically, it was a good year for the Second Floor. Arnulf and Ahir underperformed, at least in the classroom, Pinhead barely muddled through, and Rats rose to the level of mediocre, but everyone else killed. Daphne and Cloudius did particularly well on finals; Angelica and her gang made the grades they needed; and Tom sailed through on strong study habits.

But there were other things that Ahir and Arnulf were studying, other things besides each other’s brown eyes. Two weekends before finals began, the two of them were visiting Bert Rinehart in his nursing home. They sat down, Rinehart in one big comfy chair, Arnulf in the other big comfy chair, Ahir perched on the desk chair. They presented him with eighteen chocolate chip cookies, the ones they had managed to defend since last night out of a batch of four dozen. Then Ahir tried the spell she’d just learned: lil shesh, which she called Quiet Room.

Thus protected, they had a long talk, managing to hit the future of the Cubs and the past of the Chicago machine, the truth about the first Chicago style pizzas and the decline of diner coffee, and Detective Rinehart’s four kids and six grandkids. His wife had died five years ago, but his kids came up to see him every so often and he had his mystery novels—he was working his way back through the Ruth Rendells before indulging himself with the Raymond Chandlers again.

And they talked, still in veiled terms, of what Rinehart knew about the Shmoke legacy, from the life and death of Grandpa Josephus to a few mildly dirty jokes that always used to make Art laugh in the window booth at the Greek’s diner.

And he had something for them, when they explained about the Keeper of the Maps. “Yep,” he said, handing over a packet inside a manila envelope, “old man Shmoke thought I was something special, I always appreciated that. Always knew there was something about him. Can’t picture how scary a person would have to be to be able to take him down.”

Arnulf gave the packet the briefest inspection: maps. Tunnels. Buildings. Odd rural areas—there was some sort of ritual place in the Morton Arboretum, and down in Allerton Park way downstate there was an installation of some sort. He carefully replaced the maps and papers and resealed the envelope.

“Thanks, Detective Rinehart,” said Arnulf.

“We understand Josephus was pretty strong,” said Ahir. “I was wondering what you thought about Arthur, Arnulf’s dad. If that’s okay.”

“He had something too, obviously,” said Rinehart. “Can’t fool me. He’d say, ‘You’re normal, Bert, but you get it, don’t you?’ Well, I wasn’t sure I did. But I did. We were doing regular police work, and on the side he was doing his own police work in that secret world of his. There’s things going on no one knows about, out in the normal world. Normal. Well, that’s what it wasn’t, and I got to know a lot about it because your dad trusted me. I’ll always appreciate that.”

“He had to trust someone,” said Arnulf. “I’m sure he appreciated you.”

“Well,” said Rinehart, “you have to have someone to trust. You have to have someone who has your back. In this job.” He smiled at Ahir, then looked at Arnulf. “You’re lucky that way, young fella.”

“Yeah, I am.”

“Detective,” said Ahir, “can I ask you—?” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “Brutus?”

His face got instantly sad. “I don’t know. I know, but I don’t. Your dad, young man, he talked about that—guy, a lot. I don’t know if he ever met him, but I suppose he did.” He gave Arnulf a long sad look, then went on. “I always knew when we were on one of his special cases. His special case—I think, I think the guy you named was the only special case, really, it was always about him. Anyway, I got used to the fact that there were certain people your dad knew, who your granddad had known, and who could help us or maybe, at least, we could trust them. And there were other faces we saw that he knew to be wary of. And we were. Was one of those—that guy? I don’t know.”

Arnulf looked at him for some seconds after he finished. “You were probably looking at him and didn’t know it,” said Arn.

“My question is,” said the old man, “did your father find him? If he killed your grandfather—!”

“That’s the question,” said Arnulf.

A second ticked past, and suddenly Ahir grabbed Arnulf’s arm. He looked at her. “Arnulf,” she said, “it’s a—you know, if—Arnulf, we need to talk.” She turned her chocolate eyes on Rinehart. “Take care, Detective. We’ll come see you soon.”

“Take care of yourselves, young folks, thanks for the cookies.”

“Don’t go anywhere,” said Arnulf.

And then they were studying, then they were cramming, then they were taking tests and finishing projects, and then they were finding their grades and packing up to head home.

Student: Cloudius Cloud            GPA: 3.67        Cum: 3.33
Class    Teacher    Grade
Defense II    Ash    A
English I    White    A-
Science I    Temple    A-
History of Magic    Sear    B
Items    Timms    A

Commendations: “Excellent worker. Perfect safety record.” –Timms
“Excellent at magic defense.” –Ash

“I’m not just good, I’m safe. Safe. Wait till I tell Mom and Dad.”

“They’ll wonder if it’s really you,” said Daphne.

“Especially when they see the GPA!” He got up and did a little dance.

Student: Daphne Golden        GPA: 3.87        Cum: 3.79
Class    Teacher    Grade
Defense II    Ash    A-
English II    White    A
Science I    Temple    A
History of Magic II    Sear    A-
Weapons    Timms    A

Commendations: “Excellent work with swords. Safety almost up to Cloud standards.” –Timms
“Our best sword fighter and good on defense.” –Ash

“Almost up to your standards. Huh.”

“Oh, come on, Daphne, you beat the heck out of me,” said Arnulf.

Student: Arnulf Shmoke        GPA: 3.27        Cum: 3.50
Class    Teacher    Grade
Defense II    Ash    A
English II    White    C
Math I    Ash    B-
History of Magic II    Sear    A-
Pentonics    MacMorris    A

“No commendations.”

“How’d you get an A in Pentonics?” asked Daphne.

“He gave everyone an A. I think he just didn’t want to get in an argument with Ash.”

“Wonder why not.”

“Struggled in English. Sear was nice to give me an A– in History.”

“Yes, well,” said Ahir, “Ash and Sear gave us their private commendations. And you’re supposed to be comforting me, you know.”

Student: Ahir Shaheen        GPA: 3.67            Cum: 3.83
Class    Teacher    Grade
Defense II    Ash    A
English II    White    B
Math I    Ash    A
History of Magic II   Sear   A-                                                                                                                                                                                        Illusions I    Shag    B+
Pentonics    MacMorris    A

“I just sucked,” Ahir summarized. It sounded charming in her slight accent.

“Oh, you did not,” said Angelica. “You did fine.”

“But for me. Look! I got two Bs!”

“Sweet stuff,” said Arnulf, “you had other priorities.”

“Yes, and what were those?” She gave him a severe look, then they tilted their heads with the skill of much practice and kissed. “Not that I mind the trade, really.”

“I was thinking of looking into Brutus and the, um,” said Arnulf.

“You guys,” said Angelica. “You’re raining on my parade here. I beat both of you!”

Student: Angelica Aliyev        GPA: 3.89            Cum: 3.83
Class    Teacher    Grade
Defense II    Ash    A
English II    White    A
Science I    MacMorris    A-
History of Magic II  Sear   A

Illusions II   Shag    A
Items    Timms    A-

Commendations: “They call her Killer.” –Ash
“Three way tie for best illusionist.” –Shag

“We… are the champions… of the world…” sang Angelica, Rachel and Cloudius together.

“Okay, you guys,” said Tom, “settle down.”

Student: Thomas Hexane        GPA: 3.83            Cum: 3.56
Class    Teacher    Grade
Defense II    Ash    A
English II    White    A-
Math I    Ash    A
History of Magic   Sear   A-

Pentonics    MacMorris   A
Items    Timms    A-

Commendations: “Oddly effective with light spells, and surprisingly good at quiets.” –Ash

“What did she mean by that?”

“She meant,” said Angelica, “that you make up for not being a killer in magic combat by having lights and quiets and things.”

“It means you’re good at lights,” said Ahir. “I thought that was clear.”

“She means despite the fact that you never shut up,” said Cloudius, and they started hitting each other with Tom’s pillows.

“Ah, the kids,” said Angelica. “Tom, you have a visitor.”

He looked up. There was Beep Finger, a tomboy from Fort Wayne with long frizzy brown hair. “Hey Tom,” she said, as he desisted and Cloudius hit him a couple of more times, “I was just taking off for the summer and I wanted to give you my address.”

Tom jumped up. “Hey you guys,” he said to the others as he went to the door, “you’re all coming to Maine to visit this summer. Got that? Hey, Alicia.”

“Call me Beep,” she said, giggling.

“Yeah. Beep. Want to go get some ice cream?”

They were off down the stairs before anyone else could invite themselves along. The others looked at one another. Eva hopped down and pursued her boy.

“Ice cream sounds good,” said Arnulf. “Somewhere other than where they’re going.” He stood up and helped Ahir up.

“Interesting year so far,” said Ahir. “Write me, okay, Angelica?” She smiled at Nulf. “Let’s go get something, um,” and she trailed off.

“Sweet,” said Arnulf. They smiled back at the room and took off.

“Okay, that’s it,” said Angelica. “No more of that for the rest of the school year. That shouldn’t be hard, should it?”

Steps on the stairs produced Jen Chang. “Just got my grades,” she said. “Straight As! Did you get straight As, Cloudius?”

“Not quite,” he said. “But I’m very safe. Timms said so.”

“You’re very safe and buying me a large shake.”

Blushing, Cloudius got up and headed over the legs of Ange and her friends. He smirked back from the door, then smiled at Jen Chang. “Okay, it’s on me.”

“It certainly is,” said Jen, taking his arm.

1 thought on “Chapter 20: Other than that, a quiet year”

  1. One more chapter: an epilogue set in Maine with a Lovecraftian theme. And then we return to the journeys, and relationship progress, of Clay Gilbert and Rachel Andros.

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