My family has a dim view of hospitals. We liken most of them to the Elephant’s Graveyard. They’re associated with death and illness more than healing and comfort. They’re a last resort when there are no other options. For my part, childhood memories keep me away from them. Even my memories of Kara can’t overcome my dread. It’s why I stay away from hospitals and most doctors. I wouldn’t be here now except that my client insisted.
I watch Scott get out of his limo. The car is a classic and one of the kind, a shining example of the beauty that once dominated the roadways until some idiot thought something like a stretch suv or hummer was a good idea.
“Scott, you shouldn’t be here.”
“And hello to you too, Count.”
“Don’t roll your eyes,” Kara said. “You’ll only make things worse.”
I admit, it was the wrong way to start things off. Scott always took a lack of manners and courtesy personally even when there was no time for such pleasantries.
“I’m sorry but there’s danger here.”
Scott smiled, letting me know he had forgiven the slight. “There’s always danger especially when you’re about.”
“He’s got you there.”
Sometimes my guardian angel was less than helpful. This was one of those times. “You both seem to forget all the times he’s dragged me into danger.”
“Scott, I’m serious.”
“I know. I know but a friend on his deathbed asked me to see him. I’m not about to turn down what might be his last request. It wouldn’t be polite.”
With those words, I knew there was no talking him out of this. “You’re walking into a trap.”
“Why don’t you tell me what’s going on?”
I think back to the last time I was here. Did it matter if I broke my word? She might not care but I did. I wasn’t going to betray her trust.
“I can’t. I gave my word.”
Scott nodded in understanding while Kara let her feelings be known through the link we shared. There was a mixture of respect and admiration along with a healthy dose of “you’re an idiot.” She was probably right on that last point.
I watched Scott go, hoping the groundwork I laid months ago will be enough. I’m still going over my plan and all the ways it could go wrong when Scott returned. He brushed by me without a word. The usual pleasantries were forgotten in his haste to leave.
“I hate it when you’re right,” Kara said.
My guardian angel might have sensed something different about my friend. I didn’t need her powers to know something was wrong. Scott might look fine but he wasn’t himself. As I watched the limo pull off from the curb, I went into the hospital. It was time to get to work.
“He doesn’t have long,” Kara said.
George Weatherby was as close to dead as a man could get without a being in a casket. His skin has an unhealthy pallor to it that made me inclined to stay away from him. The machines around his sickbed hissed and pumped with a steady rhythm struggled to do the work his body has forgotten. I wouldn’t have cared except that I knew who was inside that body.
“Count as usual your manners leave a lot to be desired.”
He didn’t open his eyes. I doubted he had the strength to do so and speak at the same time. His tone was the one I had come to expect from Scott. As I moved closer to hear, he wheezed and choked. It took me a moment to realize the death rattle was his attempt at laughter. When he spoke, his voice was much weaker. “Entering a sick room without even knocking.”
“It wasn’t locked,” I replied.
“A locked door is the same as a closed door.”
“Really, Scott. We need to do this now?”
He nodded, trying to smile. “I may not have time for much else. Was this what you were worried about?”
“Yeah. It’s why I didn’t want you up here. Can you tell me how this happened?”
“It’s also rude to interrogate a man in his sickbed.”
Despite his condition, Scott couldn’t resist citing my bad manners. I waited for him to finish wheezing. “It was a magic jar. He used it to steal my body.”
“What’s a magic jar?” I asked.
Scott doesn’t reply. He’s unconscious. For all I knew, he might never wake up again. I turned my thoughts and questions inward to Kara.
“There on the night stand,” she said, indicating the small crystal figurine. “Weatherby made it to house his soul. From there, he could take over another body.”
My stomach twisted and turned as I looked at the figurine shaped like a coyote. There was a seI bet the council of wizards or whatever you called themselves thought of this type of thing when they coined the term, ‘the dark arts’. Still, this shouldn’t be a problem for a sorcerer like Scott. From everything I’ve seen and heard about him, he’s no pushover. Why didn’t he just use the figurine to get his body back.”
“It’s not attuned to him. Weatherby had to spend time preparing the jar. No one else can use it but him. It keeps people from reclaiming a stolen body.”
“So why Scott?”
“Casting spells is a physical as well as a mental discipline. Some forms of magic require you to train mind and body. If he wanted to be able to use magic without years of re-training, he needed to possess someone schooled in the same style of magic.”
Kara seemed ready to go into more detail when I posed another more important question. “So how do we fix this?”
“Given time, Scott’s mind would return to his body. The spell isn’t permanent unless one of the bodies dies.”
“Okay. So Weatherby needs Scott dead otherwise everything he’s done will be undone. That’s gives me something to work with.”
People usually come to me when they’re already neck deep in trouble. It doesn’t leave a lot of time to plan things out or do research. This time was different. I knew who the bad guy was and what he was up to. I just didn’t know how he planned to do it or who his target was.
Scott’s involvement made it personal. I was expecting the target to be a real son of a bitch, like all the others. It made me wonder if I had somehow misjudged my friend. Did Weatherby know something I didn’t? No, I knew my friend well enough to know he didn’t fit the profile.
“Doubt is the enemy,” Kara warned. “You need to trust your feelings.”
“And if they lead me astray?”
“It’s better than second guessing yourself all the time. You’ll make mistakes. It’s only natural.”
I nodded, looking at Scott in his new body. Some things had gotten easier. I wasn’t quite so clueless. I had friends like Nerva, Hagan, Scott, and Sol. I felt more alive than I ever did before but the price of failure was also getting higher. I had more to lose.
“Do you think this will work?” I asked.
“Yes, if you’re right about Weatherby.”
I thought about it everything I learned since I took this case. “I’m certain. I spent the last two months researching how he worked. I have all the pieces I need.”
“So now we wait and hope Scott can hang on till then.”
Hours later, we’re still waiting. It was after visiting hours. The night staff ignored me as they turned off the lights and went about their business. I didn’t exist for them. It helped having a sorcerer like Sol for a friend. He assured me his spell would work. For obvious reasons, it wasn’t an invisibility spell or something he could cast on me. My little gift made casting spells on me problematic. Instead, he had put a spell on the hospital staff. They would ignore my presence unless I called attention to myself. Such a spell wasn’t easy to cast but I had given Sol plenty of time to prep.
As I sat in the corner of the room with the lights off, Kara kept me awake. She didn’t talk about the case or dredge up memories of our first meeting. There wasn’t any talk about how much I needed to learn or why I needed to take this seriously. Instead, she talked about what she liked to do and why she bothered with me. Just when things were getting interesting, she said, “He’s here.”
The opened without a sound. Weatherby walked in wearing Scott’s body. It was strange seeing dressed in anything other than a suit. The dark clothing and turtleneck reminded him of something an old school British commando might have worn in a World War 2 movie. I waited for him to shut the door before speaking.
“Hello, Mr. Weatherby. You were in a rush earlier. Do you have time to talk now?”
He didn’t move or make a sound. I wondered what was going through his mind as I stood up. I didn’t approach him or make any threatening moves. I just watched and waited. When he spoke, it was strange to hear Scott’s voice. The accent was similar but the word and tone were different.
“Who the bloody hell are you and what are you doing here?”
“I’m Count Albritton and I’m here because I was hired to be.” Weatherby glanced at his body struggling to hold on. “No, Scott didn’t hire me. Someone else did.”
“Who?” he asked, still not moving from his place by the door.
“That’s impossible, Alanna died months ago.”
“True. You had left early that day. I think she said she was feeling tired or something.”
“I don’t understand.”
“She knew. I didn’t ask how but she knew your secret. Every time death was near, you would seek out a replacement.”
“I’m not a bad man.”
“You picked the worst of your kind. The ones who wouldn’t think twice about murdering and killing for power or fun. I did my homework but why Scott?”
“You do this long enough, often enough, you get a bit of a reputation. No one suitable would allow me to get close to them.”
“But Scott did.”
“We were to discuss my estate. We both shared an interest in charity and philanthropy.”
“I see,” I said, feeling the relief rush through me. “You used his strength against him. This is what your wife was afraid of. This is why it has to end.”
Weatherby turned away from me, shaking his head. “You’re not going to stop me.”
“He’s going to run,” Kara said.
“Look, I don’t want to fight you. Alanna told me it wouldn’t come to that. She said all you needed was someone to remind you of her and who you are. I’m reminding you.”
Only the sound of the life support machines could be heard in the room. As the moments stretched, I thought about how he had spent each of his lives. When his wife told me about her husband and his power, I was quick to judge. It seemed so black and white until I got to talking with Alanna. It didn’t take long for me to realize that she couldn’t love someone who was evil incarnate. There had to be more to Weatherby’s story so I did my research. Not only did I look at his victims, I looked at his actions. Each life he led, it was spent in service. It was as if giving back to the community could atone for what he and his victims had done. Maybe it was guilt that motivated him? I wasn’t going to judge him. That’s not my job.
“My wife always knew how to keep me in line,” he said, smiling sadly.
“Don’t they all.”
“I’ll put things right with your friend. He’ll be fine.”
Scott was beyond scandalized. It’s not like I could blame him. He thought stealing was beneath a gentleman. I couldn’t imagine what he thought of body snatching. It took a lot of convincing to get him to leave the hospital without making a scene.
Outside, his limo and driver were waiting down the block from the emergency entrance. “What about Weatherby?” Scott asked. “We can’t leave him.”
“He’s right,” Kara said. “He might try this again.”
“I’ll take care of it,” I replied.
“Count, this is serious.”
The edge to Scott’s voice reminded me that he wasn’t the forgive and forget type. For that matter, neither was I. This necessitated action. I had a feeling the action Scott thought might be appropriate involved strolling back into the hospital and either smothering the old man with a pillow or pulling the plug on his machines.
“Scott, go home. Let me handle this, please.”
For a moment, I thought Scott would fight me on this. It wouldn’t be the first time we disagreed. It probably wouldn’t be the last. He simply nodded to me as he got into his car. For a moment, I thought I would have a chance to tease him about his lack of manners when he said, “Thank you.”
Before I could reply, the limo was already in motion. I was alone with my thoughts and Kara. “So what now?” she asked.
“We finish this.”
Weatherby opened his eyes. When they finally focused on his surroundings and me, he seemed surprised. “Count? What are you still doing here?”
I smiled, pulling my chair over to his bed side. “My job’s not over yet.”
“You mean to kill me?”
I shook my head. “No. I’m not an assassin or anything like that. I told your wife I would keep you company.”
Weatherby looked at me as if I were crazy. It wasn’t the first time someone thought or said as much. “I would like that,” he said, now smiling. “She must have paid you a lot.”
I reached in my pocket for the ring Alanna gave me. I never bothered to get it appraised. I had not intention of selling it once I learned what kind of man Weatherby was. I placed the white gold into his hand. “I figure it’s better in your hands than mine. I wouldn’t have taken it but she insisted.”
“Count, I don’t know what to say.”
“I’m sure you’ll think of something. I’m looking forward to hearing about the good ole days. I have a guardian angel who loves history and stories.”