Kieran Baxter turned the knob and pushed the heavy door open. His pistol led the way as he stepped into the Result Mechanism warehouse. Bright light streamed in through the windows along the ceiling, the puddles here and there attested to the previous night’s rain. It took only a moment to see the body lying halfway across the room. With one more quick look around to make sure there was nobody else there, he stepped across the cement floor and knelt down beside it.
“Sweet Kafira,” he muttered when he saw Peter’s dead eyes staring upward.
It was only too obvious that the wizard was dead, but Baxter felt for a pulse anyway. Then he closed the young man’s eyes. Carefully examining the body, he found a bullet’s entrance wound in the chest. He scanned the floor for a shell casing, but didn’t see one. Then he noticed Peter’s hand. The young wizard had drawn a shape on the floor using his own blood. Baxter tilted his head one way and then the other, but he couldn’t make out what it was supposed to be. With his index finger, he traced the design. Suddenly smoke exploded from the spot on the floor. Jumping back, Baxter watched as the column of smoke rose up and coalesced into a shadowy form of Peter Bassington. Then the shadowy form spoke.
“I’m glad it’s you, Baxter. I don’t have much time. It was Pantagria. Bell freed her. She has Philo Mostow, maybe others, helping her. They’re going to St. Ulixes. I don’t know how I know, but I do. You’ve got to stop her. Tell Senta…”
Whatever magic was holding the smoke in Peter Bassington’s form ended, and it became regular smoke and floated up, dissipating into the air.
“Kafira damn it.”
* * * * *
The door opened and the face of Chief Inspector Saba Colbshallow peered out. He looked first at Baxter and then at the child he carried, and his face lost some of its color.
“What do you want?”
“I need a few words,” replied Baxter, “and a favor.”
“And why would I do you a favor?”
“I didn’t say it was for me.”
“Who is it, Daddy?” The face of a six-year-old, with large eyes, one brown and one hazel, and a cute button nose, all framed by a veritable forest of multihued curls peered around the chief inspector.
“It’s just a gentleman and his… little girl.”
“Can she come inside and play?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Perhaps that would be best,” said Baxter, setting Sen down.
“For just a few minutes then,” said Colbshallow through thin lips. “Take her inside, DeeDee.”
The six-year-old stepped around her father and took the three-year-old by the hand and led her inside. Neither looked back.
“I was sorry to hear about your little boy,” said Baxter.
“Just say what you wanted to say.”
“Senta’s brother is dead… murdered. His body is in the Result Mechanism warehouse.”
“Why aren’t you at the police station?”
“The killers have already fled the city. They’re on the train to Mallontah.”
“We can send a telegram to the police in St. Ulixes.”
“It wouldn’t help,” said Baxter. “It’s a magic um… situation. I’ve got to go deal with it.”
“Because I’m here.”
“I’ll get my gun and go with you.”
“No,” said Baxter. “I need you to take care of little Senta.”
“Why me?” asked Colbshallow.
“You know why. You’re the only one who’ll protect her like I would.”
“I’d give my life for her,” said Colbshallow. “But I can’t have her here. My wife will see her next to Dee Dee and see how much they look alike.”
“Maybe she won’t notice,” said Baxter. “All children look alike.”
“Not to women, you ass.”
“You have to do this. I may not come back. I need to know she’ll be okay.”
Colbshallow sighed. “All right. You have my word she’ll be safe here. But I can’t let you go alone.”
“You can’t?” Baxter arched a brow.
“I’ve seen you in action. You’re handy with a firearm, I’ll give you that, but if you’re going up against magic you need somebody with you. You need somebody to cover your back.”
“No wizards. I can’t trust them with this.”
“You shouldn’t trust them with anything,” said Colbshallow. “I’ve got a man for you.”
“All right,” said Baxter. “Have him meet me at the train station. The train leaves at 4:40PM.”