Edna Finkel stood by her husbandís grave in silent anticipation. Al Majius, Level 4 necromancer, stood at her side, his work done for the moment. The Summoning ritual had gone perfectly; the tingling of his sixth through eighth senses told him that the window to the Other Side was open, and the spirit of the late Henry Isaac Finkel was even now fumbling its way through the Veil Between Worlds.
Edna wore her best clothes, including gloves and a pillbox hat with a dark veil. Al guessed that they might have been fashionable forty-something years ago; they had that "Jackie O" look to them that he remembered from documentaries about the Kennedy years. He thought her outfit was a bit much for a pre-dawn Summoning, and not nearly warm enough; he had dressed casually in an open-collared shirt, dark slacks, walking shoes, and a navy blue windbreaker, and was quite comfortable in spite of the cool, damp graveside air. Githros, his flea-sized demon familiar, was naked as usual, but comfortably ensconced in Alís left ear.
Al felt something colder than the dew-laden air brush past him, and nodded in the direction of the grave. "Heís here, Mrs. Finkel," he said.
Something that looked like puff of steam appeared in midair and grew quickly into a vaguely human shape. As it took shape, Edna gasped and raised one hand in a gesture that could have been an attempt to touch the still-forming apparition Ė or to ward it off.
A glowing figure stood on (or floated above) Harry Finkelís grave, one leg intersecting the polished granite headstone. Al saw little more than a vaguely man-shaped blob, since he had no memories of the man to shape his perceptions; from experience, he knew that Edna probably saw a monochromatic, translucent image of the man she had lived with for most of her life.
"Oh, Harry Ė is it you?"
The luminous shape wavered. Al supposed that it was the equivalent of a living person drawing back in surprise.
"So soon you forget what I look like, Edna? Of course itís me, unless the goniffs at this cemetery buried me in the wrong plot!"
Edna blushed. "Iím sorry, Harry. You look Ė different. Black and white, sort of, like the old TV shows."
"Black and white, you say? Feh. A fashion plate I never was, anyway. So Ė what is it you want that you called me back, Edna?"
Edna studied the ground, avoiding eye contact with Harryís spirit (insofar as it had eyes to avoid). "The lawyers called about the trust fund for little Avram and Sarah, something about needing the signed copy of the changes we were making just before Ė "
"Before I died, Edna, I know. Float around for a while with no arthritis, no hunger or thirst, and you get the idea," the luminous apparition said. "The papers for the grandchildrenís trust fund are in the safe deposit box at the bank. Also, thereís some bonds and stock certificates from the good old days, when they gave you a nice piece of paper for your money, instead of just changing numbers in a computer."
Edna nodded, but said, "Thatís where I thought theyíd be, but Iíd hoped maybe they were somewhere else, hidden in your desk somewhere."
Harryís image shrugged (or so Al guessed; it looked like the blob grew wider about where the shoulders would be). "Why would you hope that? Important papers are safer in a safe deposit box. Thatís what itís for, to keep things safe."
"I donít know where the key is," Edna said.
"The key is where itís always been," Harry said. "You should know, youíve seen me take it out and put it back a hundred times over the years."
Ednaís lower lip trembled. "Could you remind me, please, Harry? Iím not so young, and we havenít had to open the safe deposit box in quite a while."
"Six months, maybe seven? Thatís not so long a time, and youíre not that old, Edna," Harry said. "But fine, fine, Iíll remind you. I left the safe deposit box key in the top left drawer Ė you know, where you put my socks and underwear. It should be taped to the underside of the paper liner, near the front."
Edna shook her head. "I looked in all the drawers, Harry, I Ė oh, no!"
"íOh, noí what, Edna? Whatís wrong now? Mr. Majius, whatís wrong with my wife?"
Al Majius shrugged. "Beats me, Mr. Finkel. Iím better at communicating with departed souls like you than I am at guessing what a living person is thinking. Ask my wife, sheíll tell you."
"Edna, tell me whatís wrong," Harry Finkelís ghost said again. "You look like youíve seen a ghost, heh, get it? I made a joke, Edna, smile for once in your life."
Edna managed to look Harry in the eye, or where his eyes would have been if he were more than a washed-out facsimile of himself. "I cleaned out a lot of your things last week," she said. "Most of your clothes I took to the Goodwill box Ė they were in really good condition, Harry Ė but I think I threw out the shelf paper you had lining the drawers."
Harryís ghost dimmed, then brightened again, this time with a distinctly pink glow that Al recognized as a sign of anger. "Itís only been a couple weeks, Edna," Harry said. "Are you that anxious to forget me?"
"Oh, no, Harry, I never want to forget you," Edna sobbed. "But itís been so difficult, seeing your things everywhere I turn. I see your favorite sweater in the closet, and I just miss you so much."
The pinkish glow faded. "Ah, Edna, there, there, I didnít mean to snap at you," Harry said. "But what are we going to do about the safe deposit box? Some of the papers you said the lawyers needed to see are in there."
"Psst, Al," Githros whispered. "The bank must have ways to handle situations like that. I mean, you humans drop dead unexpectedly all the time, and Pandemonium is more organized than the average mortal household."
Al nodded. "Excuse me," he said. "My Ė um Ė associate has just pointed out that the bank must have procedures for this sort of thing. Since the box is in both your names, and Harry is certifiably dead, you should be able to get them to break into the box if they canít produce a spare key."
Harryís ghost raised its arms in relief. "Of course, of course. If I wasnít dead, I would have remembered that."
Clearly relieved that her little mistake would have no serious consequences, Edna chortled, "Your memory wasnít so good when you were alive, either, Harry."
"Ha! This from Mrs. Ďwhat did I go downstairs for?í"
Al looked at his watch. "Sunrise is due in a few minutes, Mr. and Mrs. Finkel," he said.
"And when the sun comes, I go," Harry said. "Well, Iím glad we got your little problem straightened out, Edna."
Edna said nothing for a moment. She seemed to be studying a scuff mark on the handbag she held clutched in her gloved hands.
"I miss you, Harry," she said at last.
Harryís image flickered, its silver light shot through with threads of indigo and violet. "I miss you too, Edna," Harry said. "Iím sorry I had to leave you so suddenly."
"Itís all right, Harry," Edna said. "It was your time. And Iíll be with you someday soon."
"Not too soon, Edna," Harry said. "The kids still need you to keep them out of trouble. High-tech stocks, Asian markets, itís a wonder they still have roofs over their heads."
"Goodbye for now, Harry," Edna said. She stretched out one hand, as if hoping that by some magic Ė not the everyday kind she had hired Al Majius for Ė she could hold her husbandís hand one last time.
Githros, watching through Al's eyes, snickered. "Should we remind the old woman that her hubby isnít all there?" Githros asked. "Heh, if she thinks she can touch him, maybe she isnít all there, either!"
Al flicked his left earlobe hard enough to cause the equivalent of a Richter 5 quake in his ear canal. Githros correctly interpreted this as the unspoken equivalent of Alís favorite phrase: "Shut up, Githros."
Harryís image drifted forward until the glowing mist-shape enveloped Ednaís hand. From the rapt expression on her face, Al guessed that she felt Ė or imagined that she did Ė the cool pressure of her husbandís hand sliding over her own.
"Goodbye for now, my love," Harry said. Then the first rays of the sun cut found their way to Harryís grave, and he was gone.
"Harry Ė "
Al feigned a sneeze and used his handkerchief to wipe the tears from his eyes. "Youíre such a softie, Al," Githros snickered.
Edna buried her face against Alís shoulder and hugged him. "Thank you so much for your help, Mr. Majius," she said. "I know, you were just doing your job, but I think you understand how much it meant to me to talk to Harry again, even for just a few minutes."
"Yes, well, Iím glad things went so well," Al said. "No hurry about the payment Ė it might take a while for you to settle everything, I know." And he did know. His business card and Internet ads emphasized that he would Ďhelp the bereaved to finish unfinished businessí, and that was, indeed, his specialty.
For a Level 4 necromancer, raising the spirits of the recently-deceased was easy enough. Making a living at it was not. Even the simplest of estates could take weeks or months before accounts were settled, and Al was accustomed to being at the bottom of the list.
"Janine told me that you should stop being so easy on these live-beats," Githros said. "Youíre supposed to be raising money for a balloon payment to bring the mortgage down, remember?"
Al flicked his left earlobe again, harder this time. This hurt Al himself quite a bit, but the sound it generated in his ear canal was like an exploding bomb to Githros. The miniscule demon retaliated by doing a demonic folk-dance, apparently involving choreography by the bastard child of Bob Fosse and Michael Flatley. It felt like a hyperactive bug was crawling around in Alís ear.
"Urg," Al said, resisting the urge to jam his car key through his left eardrum.
"Pardon me, Mr. Majius," Edna said. "Iím afraid I didnít quite understand you just then."
Al exhaled slowly, fighting for control. "I was just Ė um Ė clearing my throat," he said.
"Oh, I see," Edna said, although her expression clearly indicated that she thought Al was behaving in a fashion inappropriate for a man in his line of work (dealing with the bereaved as he did).
"About your payment," Edna said, "I actually have your check right here." She reached into her handbag and produced an elegant-looking envelope with ĎMr. Albert Majiusí written on the front.
"Grab it before she makes a break for it, Al!" Githros said loudly.
"Did you hear something just then?" Edna asked. "I could swear that I heard an odd little voice telling you to grab something."
Mortified, Al accepted the envelope from Ednaís outstretched hand. "Well, you know, we are in a cemetery, and we just completed a Summoning ritual. Maybe you heard the voice of another of the departed who was inadvertently awakened."
"Oh, dear," Edna said. "Will they be able to rest again, or will you have to cast another spell?"
"Iíll rest when youíve deposited that check," Githros said, this time for Alís ear only.
Al sighed. "Theyíll be fine," he said, "as soon as we leave them in peace."
Al picked up muffins and coffee at the Donut Barn on his way home. Janine would probably be awake and getting ready for work by the time he pulled into the driveway, and she would appreciate a breakfast that she didnít have to prepare herself. Considering her opinion of Alís culinary skills, she would especially appreciate a breakfast prepared by strangers.
As Al had expected, Janine was dressed and seated at the kitchen table when he walked into the house. She was sipping orange juice while she read the morning paper, but had not made her usual breakfast of toast and scrambled egg substitute.
"Did you get the check?"
Al rolled his eyes. "Good morning, dear. I brought home some coffee and those muffins you like."
"Did you get the check?"
Al handed her a coffee (large, double sugar, skim milk) and a muffin (cranberry bran, a combination that Al found rather revolting). He opened his own coffee and peeled the paper from his banana muffin.
Janine glared at him. Al checked his coffee, was amazed that the milk hadnít curdled. For such an attractive woman, Janine did a very competent impression of a gorgon.
"Yes, I got the check," he said at last. "In a very nice envelope, too."
"Gimme," Janine said. "The gas bill just came in, and itís a doozer."
Al handed the envelope to his wife. "If youíd let me use magic for heating," he said, "weíd Ė "
"Be dead?" Janine interjected. "Stick to talking to the dead, Al. The property damage and death toll will be much, much lower that way." She opened the envelope, looked at the check, smiled at the amount, looked at the check again, and scowled.
"Postdated," she said. "Someday, youíre going to find a line of work where probate court doesnít figure in to when you get paid."
The phone rang, catching Al with a mouthful of muffin and Janine with a half-formed rant stuck in her throat. Al picked up the receiver, swallowed mightily, and said, "Good morning, Majius Occult Communications, may I help you?"
"Mr. Majius, this is Peter Lefkowicz, Director of Operations at the Beth Israel Cemetery. You performed a Summoning this morning for Mrs. Edna Finkel?"
Alís eyebrows went up. He didnít like the sound of this. "Yes," he said. "I raised the spirit of her husband Harry, who was interred about three weeks ago. Everything went fine, and he departed at sunrise."
There was a long pause. Then Mr. Lefkowicz said, "Iím afraid things did not go quite as well as you think. There have been Ė disturbances Ė in the vicinity of Mr. Finkelís grave since you and Mrs. Finkel left."
Al groaned. With his hand covering the mouthpiece of the phone, he said, "Janine, better dig up the malpractice policy."
"Perfect," Janine grumbled. "And by the way, anybody who hangs around cemeteries as much as you do should probably avoid the phrase, Ďdig upí."
When Al reached the cemetery and walked back to the section where he had summoned Harry Finkelís spirit, he found himself wondering for the thousandth time whether Janine had some kind of Talent that didnít show up on the standard tests. From the looks of things, the phrase Ďdig upí was indeed a very bad one to use in the current situation.
A tall, distinguished-looking man in a dark suit stood on the pathway, making notes on a hand-held organizer as he surveyed the damage. There was a lot of damage, and it was obvious that it had either started with the graves closest to Harry Finkelís plot and spread outward, or had started at the edge of this section of the cemetery and then converged on Finkelís headstone.
"How many graves have been, um, disturbed?" Al asked.
The tall man lowered his pocket computer and turned to look at Al. "Mr. Majius, I presume? Iím Peter Lefkowicz." They shook hands, and Al felt the slight tingle that usually indicated that the other party was Talented.
Lefkowicz consulted his computer and said, "It appears that almost fifty graves have been Ė disturbed, as you put it." He pointed to the narrow road just inside the wrought-iron fence separating the cemetery from the adjacent subdivision, then swept his arm in a circle to take in dozens of graves, each with a gaping hole surrounded by mounded earth and sod.
"Not vandalism, I guess," Al said. "Too much damage in Ė what, a couple of hours since Mrs. Finkel and I left?"
Lefkowicz nodded. "Precisely. And the pattern is centered on Mr. Finkelís grave, so it seems unlikely to be a coincidence."
Al sighed. "I donít understand how this could happen," he said. "Iíve performed the same Summoning ritual dozens of times, and the worst thing that ever happened was that the ritual simply failed to work. And thereís nothing in the spell that would seem to call for this Ė this Ė whatever it is."
"Nonetheless, Mr. Majius, Iím afraid that we must hold you responsible," Lefkowicz said. "The damage to the gravesites is bad enough, but can be repaired with enough time Ė and money. The problem is that there is no point in repairing the graves until the occupants have been restored to their resting places."
Al closed his eyes, feeling dizzy. "You mean I accidentally raised almost fifty Ė zombies? That shouldnít be possible. A physical resurrection, even one that doesnít restore the body, is far more difficult than a spirit-raising. Iíve only done it once, and that took quite a bit of special study and preparation."
"And even more work to get rid of the bum afterwards," Githros hissed. "Stuart sure was handy to have around, though, what with all the repairs your house seems to need."
"Shut up, Githros," Al muttered. "My familiar is being a pain in the ear," he said to Lefkowicz.
Lefkowicz slid his pocket computer into a holster and let his jacket fall back to cover it. "I can only imagine," he said. "I have studied the Arts myself Ė not enough to be certified, mind you Ė and I agree with you that it is difficult to see how a simple Summoning could have such drastic effects. But the evidence is clear."
He walked to the nearest plot and poked with one polished shoe at the mound of torn sod and moist earth that surrounded the presumed zombie escape route. "As you can see, the soil was pushed up and outward from inside the grave, not dug up from above. There is even a faint set of muddy footprints, and a trail of um, body parts Ė "
"Where do the footprints lead, Al?" Githros asked. "Do they all go in the same direction?"
Al held up his hand. "My familiar just asked where the footprints lead."
Lefkowicz frowned. "I havenít tried to follow them," he admitted. "They fade out after a few paces as the grave dirt and Ė other things Ė fall away from the Ė uh, the zombieís feet."
Al made a quick circuit of the closest graves surrounding Harry Finkelís plot. "They all go in the same direction, no matter which side of Mr. Finkelís grave they start on," he observed.
Lefkowicz peered closely at the footprints leading from the grave adjacent to the one he had used as an example. "Yes, I see it," he said. "But where could they all have gone?"
"Githros, any ideas?" Al said.
"Just follow your noses," the little demon replied. "That should get you at least a few feet past the area affected by the spell."
Al set off in the direction indicated by the closest set of footprints, gesturing for Lefkowicz to follow.
"Have you deduced the cause of this unfortunate occurrence?" Lefkowicz asked.
Al snorted. "I wish. Iím just trying to see what was important enough to pull fifty dead men Ėmen and women, I mean Ė out of the ground at the same time."
The trio (two walking, one riding) found the answer a short distance from the last opened grave. In direct line with the last few zombie tracks, a structure that looked like a scaled-down version of the Parthenon occupied enough space for perhaps a dozen graves.
"Itís the Morgenstern family crypt," Lefkowicz said. "Look, the lock has been broken."
"And thereís muddy handprints around the door," Al said. "Must be pretty crowded in there, unless thereís another way out."
As they circled the structure, Al tried to make sense of the whole situation.
The Morgenstern family had been one of the most powerful and influential collections of Talented individuals in the city. They had made their fortune by offering a comprehensive package of magical services, having among their ranks experts in scrying, divining, necromancy, apportation, and every other useful Art. But despite their wealth and Talent, within only three generations, they were finished as major players; some of the bargains made to enhance their abilities made it difficult for them to produce healthy children. (Some said that healthy children had been born Ė but had been handed over to certain powers in payment of otherwise fatal debts.)
The last full-blooded Morgenstern had died without an heir almost thirty years ago.
Al paused in front of the entrance to the crypt. "Who were they? Who was buried in all those disturbed graves?"
Lefkowicz pulled his pocket computer from its hiding place and called up the cemeteryís records.
"They were Ė I donít know what the appropriate term would be Ė associates of the Morgenstern family," he said. "In fact, Morningstar Enterprises held the title to most of the plots in that section. Mr. Finkel was one of only a few to be interred in that section who was not linked to the Morgensterns."
"I think I get it, Al," Githros said. "Iíve been looking up a few things in my library here."
Al winced at the thought of a demonic reference library in his ear; no wonder his hearing was a little wonky at times. "Go on, Githros, what have you learned?"
"Thereís a spell, a really high-level job, that would involve a whole bunch of zombies," the little demon replied. "Youíd never be able to pull it off Ė it takes like a Level 10 necromancer."
Al frowned. "My familiar says thereís a high-level spell that involves raising a lot of zombies all at once," he said. "Level 10 stuff, which means even most of the College Masters would have trouble with it."
"The spell takes the residual life-force and spiritual energy from some number of people who were bound to the necromancer in life, and focuses it," Githros continued. "That energy all gets passed on to the necromancer, leaving the zombies dead again, and worse Ė their spirits are drained, thereís nothing left of them but drifting memories."
"Nasty stuff," Al told Lefkowicz. "Sounds like spiritual vampirism Ė the necromancer sucks most of the energy out of a bunch of his minions. Wait Ė exactly how many graves were disturbed?"
Lefkowicz glanced at his pocket computer. "Forty-nine," he said.
"Seven times seven," Al said. "Powerful stuff indeed. So the zombies get drained Ė what happens to the necromancer, Githros?"
"With anything more than a few souls, if the spell-caster's alive, he gets a big boost in power," Githros said. "With exactly seven times seven souls, he goes from a Level 10-plus to something right off the scale."
"And if the spell-casterís been dead thirty years?"
Githros was silent for a moment. Al pictured him flipping through a microscopic grimoire, no doubt bound in leather made from the skin of something small but nasty. Finally, Githros said, "Same thing Ė big power boost. Only a necromancer whoís dead Ė especially dead for a long time Ė may not be exactly what youíd call a nice guy. Or a sane guy. Not that you're any picnic in the park yourself, Al."
Al felt or heard a low rumbling emanating from the crypt. Heíd been in San Francisco once during a medium-intensity earthquake; the growing vibration in the ground under their feet felt disturbingly familiar.
He looked at Lefkowicz, and said simply, "Run."
They ran. But they got no more than thirty feet away before the crypt exploded, raining bits of pulverized marble, granite, and zombies over most of the cemetery. Al dropped to the ground, dragging Lefkowicz with him, and blurted out a hasty shielding charm.
When the rumbling had ceased and the last of the debris seemed to have fallen to earth, Al uncovered his head and looked around. The spell he had cast was a minor one, meant to defend against threats on the order of mosquitoes, blackflies, rain, or at its upper limits, hail. It had deflected the dirt and smaller debris and may have slowed or diverted some of the larger stuff, but enough junk had penetrated the shield to leave Al with an impressive collection of bruises and cuts. He and Lefkowicz lay at the center of a three-meter-wide circle relatively clear of debris, while the surrounding area was covered with bits of marble and granite that ranged from aquarium gravel to tombstone size.
"Youíre not making me pay for this mess," Al exclaimed.
Lefkowicz picked himself up, brushed the dirt from his jacket and pants, and sighed. "I could try," he said, "since your Summoning seems to have set this unfortunate series of events in motion. However, you did just save my life through your timely use of the Art, so Ė "
Al heard a sound that made every hair on his body stand up (including the ones on his back that Janine wanted him to have waxed). He looked back at the crypt, or what was left of it, and saw something moving.
"Oh, crap," he said.
A luminous green mist had coalesced near the smoldering center of the blast zone. As Al and Lefkowicz watched, the mist began to swirl until it resembled a phosphorescent tornado, the tip of which slid over and around the debris like the questing tentacle of a near-sighted octopus. Finally, the magical vortex seemed to find its target, and it vanished through a small hole in a heap of marble scraps.
There was a low rumble, the kind that the old Sensurround theater sound systems would have been perfect for, and flames the color of burning copper spurted through the gap in the debris. Al covered his head in anticipation of another explosion, waited Ė then uncovered his head when the world somehow failed to end.
Aaron Morgenstern floated over the ruins of his familyís crypt, glowing with a fierce green light. Even at that distance, Al could see that Morgensternís thirty-years-dead body had been restored to perfect condition Ė probably better than in life. Unfortunately, his mind had not fared as well.
"I have returned," Morgenstern said, and his voice rolled over them like the rumbling of an avalanche.
"Kinda theatrical, isnít he?" Githros remarked.
"Why was I not awakened before now? You, the short one, the petty wizard, answer me!"
Al cringed, feeling the pressure of Morgensternís gaze like a yoke of heated iron on his shoulders.
"I donít know," he said. "I did a Summoning this morning, so a woman could ask her husband a question, and somehow it triggered the spell you must have set up. I have no idea why it didnít happen before now."
"Ridiculous," Morgenstern said. "I was on the verge of becoming this, almost a god, when I was killed by the cursed weakness of my heart. I had set a geas upon all those who owed me, so their spirits would feed me upon their deaths, raising me up Ė "
"íUpon their deathsí", Al said. "But you died before they did, before some of them, anyway. And the last of them didnít die until Ė when, Peter?"
Lefkowicz groaned, looked down at his pocket computer. Miraculously, it had survived the blast that had obliterated the Morgenstern crypt Ė probably because Lefkowicz had shielded it with his body.
"Jakob Shimerman was buried about a month ago," Lefkowicz said. "He was almost eighty years old."
Al nodded, wincing as his battered head throbbed in response to the slight motion. "The last piece of the puzzle wasnít in place until a month ago," he said. "And even then, it took a minor Summoning to set things in motion, again, I think, because you were dead, so your will could not act as a catalyst."
There was a long pause. Al wondered whether the possibly-mad almost-a-god Morgenstern was about to turn him into something suitable for use as fertilizer.
"I owe my resurrection to you, then," Morgenstern said. "I do not like being in debt to an insignificant speck."
"Um, thatís okay, I was just doing a job for a nice old lady," Al stammered.
"Shut up, Al, let the undead god-boy talk," Githros said.
Morgenstern gestured grandly, and a pile of rubble shifted, rose into the air, and scattered itself. "Look," he said. "In the opening I have just revealed, you will find a chest. In the chest, there is a quantity of gold, and a collection of magical texts that you may find useful. This should be enough to settle our debt."
Morgenstern rotated in the air, and began to rise like a hot-air balloon that has dumped all its ballast at once.
Al climbed to his feet and staggered to the opening that Morgenstern had shown them. He reached inside and pulled out an ornate wooden chest about the size of a picnic cooler. It must have been heavy, even if it was empty (which it was not, unless almost-gods lied about such things), but it moved easily when Al grabbed an exposed brass handle and tugged, as if it was responding to his desires rather than the force he was able to apply.
Lefkowicz joined him in time to see the contents of the chest.
"íA quantity of goldí indeed," Lefkowicz said.
"A large quantity of gold," Al laughed. "This is great! Iím rich! And those books Ė if I can use them, itíll raise me a couple of levels, and if I canít, well, Iíll be richer!"
Lefkowicz looked up and around the cemetery. "A lot of damage," he said. "Just picking up the debris from the crypt so the groundskeepers can mow the grass will take many man-hours."
Al turned to look at Lefkowicz with a sudden sense of foreboding. "Surely you donít mean Ė "
Lefkowicz removed a few gold pieces from the chest, along with the magic books.
"Hey," Al protested. "I donít mind you taking a little gold to cover the damages, but the books are mine!"
Lefkowicz chuckled. "I agree. The books are yours. But Iím afraid you donít appreciate how much it will cost to clean up this disaster area youíve made of our lovely cemetery." He closed the lid of the chest and tugged on one of the brass handles, and the chest obligingly slid toward him.
"You canít blame me for all this mess," Al bleated. "You said I saved your life. And it canít possibly cost that much to clean up."
Lefkowicz shrugged. "I will provide you with a detailed accounting of the value of the chest and the gold I am confiscating, along with copies of the completed work orders for the repairs and clean-up," he said. "And as for blaming you Ė well, you said it yourself." He poked at the controls on his pocket computer, and Al heard his own voice and Morgensternís voice played back through the small built-in speaker.
". . . it took a minor Summoning to set things in motion, again, I think, because you were dead, so your will could not act as a catalyst."
"I owe my resurrection to you, then."
"Urg," Al said, for the second time that day.
"íUrgí indeed, Mr. Majius," Lefkowicz said. "I trust you can find your way back to your car?"
"Urg," Al said.
Wearily, Al gathered up the handful of gold coins and the Morgenstern grimoires and started to pick his way across the debris-strewn cemetery to his car.
"Cheer up, Al," Githros said. "At least you came out a little ahead on this one."
Al managed a weak smile. "Yeah. These coins should be a worth a few thousand, anyway, maybe more if I sell them to a collector. And the books Ė who knows what theyíll be worth, one way or the other."
Then he saw his car.
"Urg," he said.
There was a large chunk of granite protruding from the roof. The other end of the gray slab was embedded in the rear seat.
"Githros, go look under the car and see if that hunk of rock punched all the way through," Al said.
The little demon scrambled out of Alís ear, zipped across the parking lot, and then returned, all within a few seconds. "Youíre in luck," he said. "The undercarriage looks intact Ė exhaust, transmission, gas tank, all that mechanical stuff."
"I guess I should be grateful for that, anyway," Al said.
"Mind you, I think one of the rear tires is blown, and the suspension Ė well, Iíd get it looked at before you get the roof and the seats fixed."
"Urg," Al said.
"Janine will be so thrilled that you helped to raise an undead wizard with humongous powers," Githros said. "She always loves it when your liability insurance premiums go up."
Al drove home in silence, with stops to buy new tires and have the rear suspension fixed.
When he arrived home, Janine was waiting. "Perfect," she said, when she saw the granite slab. "A little big for a hood ornament, and in the wrong place, but itís definitely you, Al."
Al handed her the remaining gold coins and the Morgenstern grimoires. "If we cash these in, I think weíll break even," he said. "Maybe even have enough to carry us until Mrs. Finkelís check clears."
Janine sighed, cataloguing the assortment of bruises and scrapes that the Morgenstern crypt had given him. "I see Githros is in for a treat tonight," she said. "You havenít been this bloody since you Resurrected that psychotic hamster and it tried to turn you into wizard tartar."
"He told you about that? Of course he did, it made me look like an idiot. Well, screw him," Al said. "I think Iíll heal the normal way instead of rewarding the little bastard for all the crap he handed me today."
"Al! Say you donít mean that!" Githros clambered out of Alís left ear and ran down his arm to perch on his thumb.
Al raised his hand close enough to make out the expression on the demonís miniscule face.
"Donít give me that sad-puppy look," Al said. "With that face, itís more frightening than appealing."
"Oh, let him have the blood and fix you up," Janine said. "Otherwise, Iíll have to bleach everything you touch for the next week or two to get the stains out."
"All right, all right, do your thing," Al grumbled.
A minute later, Alís wounds were gone, as were all the bloodstains on his clothes. Githros lay panting in the palm of Alís hand, his belly swollen.
"Life is grand," Githros said.
"Shut up, Githros," Al replied. "Now, letís look at these books."
Bio: The author is currently helping to figure out how to shoehorn post-September 11 security measures into an airport (Toronto) that wasnít designed for them. Several of his stories have appeared in Aphelion, most recently the story that introduced Al Majius and his faithful(?) companion Githros, A Matter of Life and Undeath (February, 2002).
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