THE CENTURION AND THE RAINMAN
By Lou Antonelli
Corporal Doncard bit down on an unlit cigar so his teeth wouldn’t chatter as his antique patrol car eased along the badly rutted streets of Magtown. He gripped the steering wheel, knuckles white. The pre-Change vehicle was supposed to be safe from spell static. He knew not to trust that. Anything with an electrical system was vulnerable.
“The roads don’t get repaved in this neighborhood,” Lieutenant Neely said from the passenger side. “What’s still left of the asphalt goes back to the Obama Era.” He shot the young corporal a glance. “You ever see anyone’s who’s been torced?”
Doncard shook his head. “I’ve never spent any time in Magtown.” He’d heard of torcing, seen crime scene sketches. No photos, cameras wouldn’t operate near a corpse for weeks afterward from the residual magic.
“It’s not a pretty sight,” said Neely. “But with your promotion you also now have to deal with more ugly stuff. Here…it’s here.”
He braked in front of an overgrown vacant lot. There were four muggs–mage thugs–loitering at the street corner. When they saw the patrol car they all sneered, and one spat contemptuously into the dust before turning and sauntering down the block. They must have been confident that a police investigation would stall. Nothing new in Magetown.
Doncard got out of the car, noting a dark green-painted wagon from a local mortuary sitting in the middle of the lot. “The body isn’t going back into the City for a formal autopsy?” he asked.
Neely stepped over some downed and dead power lines along the sidewalk. “No way. It’ll be too contaminated. Could burn all the computers in the building. We make a determination here.”
Two men sat on the wagon’s seat like vultures in T-shirts. The older one nodded as the two policemen walked through the tall grass toward them. Doncard heard the buzzing of the flies before they arrived at the spot where grass had been trampled. As they stepped into the rough clearing he saw the dead man’s shoes.
Neely walked over and stood even with the head, making a come-here gesture. “Just get a look and get it over with.”
The dead man’s elbows were akimbo, his hands clutched at his throat. There was a cloud of flies over his exposed skin, clustering on the dried blood.
Doncard forced himself. This was his job. He’d worked traffic, dealt with bad accidents. But those were indeed accidents. There was something innocent and senseless about that kind of violence. This was directed viciousness. You couldn’t prepare for it.
The man’s face was black and swollen, his eyes and tongue bulged. He had nearly bitten his tongue off. Blood had dripped from his ears and eyes and from his fingertips, which he’d torn to shreds in a vain attempt to pry the torc loose.
Neely pointed to the lead gray collar on the man’s neck. “That is silver, believe it or not. It got that tarnished from the negative energy.”
“How many people did this take?” asked Doncard, looking around. The trampled grass and iron hard ground gave no clue he could read.
“My guess, maybe twenty. They grab the victim, snap the torc around his neck, and then form a circle and focus all their negative energy into the torc. It’s a stupid and expensive killing. Takes a lot of power. Silver ain’t cheap. Whoever did this was sending a message.”
True. If a mage wanted to kill someone, then a knife or a bullet were cheap and easy. “To the whole community. To the Tech side, as well.”
“Yeah. Looks it.” Neely crouched and pushed the man’s head sideways with a branch he’d picked up. The flies buzzed at the interruption. “From the amount of blood, I’d say he died in only two or three minutes. At least he didn’t suffer long.”
Long enough, Doncard thought, fighting his churning gut.
Neely reached into the dead man’s pocket, pulled out a wallet and extracted a government-required ID book. “Name’s Joseph Ledwell. Lives—lived nearby. Born in 2046. Shit, the kid’s only 18.” The lieutenant pointed at the passbook. “Here’s something: he’s a magic user.”
“I wonder what happened?” asked Doncard. “Why would the mages kill one of their own? Was he an informant?”
“If he was, we wouldn’t know in the patrol division, would we? Not much we can do for him now, poor bastard.”
Neely jotted notes on a pad then nodded to the men in the wagon. The older man snapped the reins and the horses pulled the wagon toward the clearing.
“The question is, why? What did this kid do that would piss off twenty other mages?” He glanced at the corporal. “You got a strange look on your face.”
“I’ve seen something like this before,” said Doncard. “From an old picture book that belonged to my grandfather. It was in the 20th century, in a country called South Africa. They had a minority regime that oppressed the majority population. When the oppressed people in the shantytowns caught an informant, they killed him the same way, but they hung an automobile tire around his neck, then doused it with diesel fuel and set it on fire. They called it necklacing.”
“No magic, though.”
“No,” Doncard admitted. “Pre-Change.”
“You’re not the first person to make a connection between that time and what we have here in Texas now,” said Neely. “The American newspapers call us the Tech-parthied regime.”
“Or Tex-partheid, yes, I’ve heard the slurs, too. Still, the similarities….”
“Be careful what you share. Most countries have accommodated magic, but you’re not in most countries, you’re in Texas. My father fought in the War of Independence so we could preserve our way of life against magic users.”
Doncard knew. He didn’t need a history lesson. He’d grown up with it.
The men in the green wagon left with the body.
“Where’s Constable Margrave?” asked Doncard as they walked back to the street. “I would have thought he’d meet us here. This is his turf.”
“He hasn’t checked in since yesterday.” Neely opened the driver’s door of the old white Ford Federal patrol car. They took turns at the wheel, Doncard got them there, Neely got them back. “He has a lot of stroke, being the constable in Magtown, but the muggs are getting bolder and more violent all the time. I worry about him, he’s a fixture, but fixtures get old.”
Neely noticed beads of sweat on the forehead of the young corporal as they slid into the car. He got them clear of the vacant lot and presumably the residual magic. “You look like hell. I’ll risk turning on the a/c,” he said. “Better living through science, y’know.”
The sharp gust of moldy air from the old system caught a stray fly that had left the feast with them, and it hit Doncard in the face. His eyes grew large and he vomited violently against the dashboard.
Neely groaned and pulled out a handkerchief. “That’s okay, kid. Let’s go straight to the car wash, eh?‘
The captain smiled as he poured himself a cup of coffee. “Baptism by fire, as it were.”
“You never get used to it,” said Neely.
“It’s unfortunate that bad magic users kill people for cooperating with the government.” The captain carefully echoed the Technocratic Party line.
Neely didn’t want to talk politics. “Have you noticed the pace of these attacks have picked up?”
“The new generation of magic users doesn’t remember the riots after the Change, and how well Tech protected our property and our rights,” said the captain. He did love his history.
“Any sign of Margrave?” asked Neely, changing the subject.
“Not a peep, at the sub-station or anywhere else.”
“Troubling. He’s useful, even if he is a magic user. And the mayor likes him. Have that new corporal check in on him. It’ll give him the opportunity to get to know Magtown.”
“Or get killed.”
“Well, our young pup of a promising corporal needs to prove himself, to show he can take on additional responsibility. Go with it.”
“He’ll do fine,” said Neely. “From what I’ve seen, the kid’s solid.”
The chief had heard about the vomiting incident. “You trying to be funny?”
“So Doncard, how do you like Dallas so far?”
Doncard looked at the records clerk. Her name tag read ‘Ravenna Covert.’ Was that a joke or a code designation? “People have been friendly. It’s always hard adjusting to a new city. I’m from Houston.”
“So I’ve heard.”
He tried a smile on her, conscious that she was pretty and he was still the ‘new guy,’ but she didn’t smile back. “I’ll be going to Magtown this afternoon, to check on Constable Margrave,” he said.
“You be careful, the muggs will jump you if they can.”
“I can handle myself,” he said. “I’m a nurd.”
Finally, an expression on her smooth face, showing surprise, maybe something else. “I had no idea.”
“My parents, my brothers and sisters—all mages,” he said.
“That must be… strange, growing up in a family of magic users and not being able to work magic. Frustrating?”
Not many he’d met could appreciate that fact. “It’s just like anything else you’re born with—or without—you deal and keep moving.”
Ravenna looked past him, her eyes widening for an instant. “Crap. It’s K-T. Look sharp.”
Doncard turned to see an old bald man in an expensive suit, two aides in tow, coming down the corridor. Doncard shot Ravenna a quizzical look.
“Mayor Klein-Tonio!” she snapped, standing at attention behind the counter.
Doncard followed suit. As the old man passed, he glanced at Doncard’s name badge. He stopped in his tracks and turned to face him.
“You wouldn’t be Henry Doncard’s grandson, from Houston, would you?”
The young man’s posture loosened a bit. “Yes, I am. You knew my grandfather?”
“My God, we went to college together.” He offered his hand. “Sergei Klein-Tonio, Mayor of the City of Dallas. Great to meet you, son!”
Doncard thought he had a strong handshake for a man his age.
“I have to be somewhere right now, but we need to visit some day,” the mayor said, wagging a finger in the air as he walked away. “Stop by my office any time.”
The mayor and aides turned a corner. Doncard turned to see Ravenna nodding her head. “Hey, hey, big boy! Connected, much?”
Doncard wiped his brow. “It’s a small world.”
“Nope. Just Texas.”
Doncard left Central Headquarters, his orders in-hand. His brand-new ’64 Ford Federalist waited, shining, in the parking lot. He enjoyed a swift ride through downtown on well-maintained streets, but slowed as the potholes started and he got closer to Magtown. Fewer cars here, none were new. He hoped there wouldn’t be any bleed over from spell work that would screw up the car’s computer. It would be humiliating to have to get a horse-drawn tow to a shop.
The battered station house on the edge of Magtown maintained three pre-Change antique cars and a dozen horses. Doncard pulled into the lot, his tires rolling over dirty straw and manure. The Old West was alive and well in this part of Dallas.
He asked for the officer on duty and was directed to the captain’s office. The man eyed him, unimpressed. “You’re welcome to enter Magtown on your own, if you want. We hardly ever go in there ourselves.”
Doncard read the sub-text: Don’t expect backup. “Central wants me to check on Constable Margrave,” said Doncard. “Think he’d been done in?”
“Now why would anyone think that? He’s been constable for over thirty years, he’s one of them. He has a special status in the community. They respect age and wisdom.”
But some, like the twenty who’d murdered one of their own, did not respect the law.
The captain handed Doncard an oversized holster. “Here, take a flare gun. Radios don’t work in Magtown with all the spells flying. There’s usually someone on the station roof keeping an eye out.”
It was the best Doncard could expect, considering. “You know where Margrave lives?”
“He has a house on Columbia Avenue. He was in here just a week ago. He’s looking frail, but he is old. Tell him I said hello.”
Doncard slid the flare gun holster on his belt. “How far away is Columbia Avenue?”
“Just three blocks straight east from here,” said the sergeant. “You plan to walk?”
“Yes, I don’t want to mess up the car,” said Doncard.
“I knew that. I meant do you want to borrow a horse?”
Doncard had never boarded a horse in his life. “I need a leg stretch.”
He set off down the cracked and overgrown sidewalks. Children played hoop roll or spinning tops with magic wands. An especially precocious young boy made an old sock puppet dance. The boy flicked a wand, making the puppet bow to Doncard as he passed. Doncard couldn’t help but grin, and impulsively stopped and bowed right back. The boy giggled.
The older children scattered at the sight of his uniform. A pair of muggs loitered on either side of an ancient rusted mailbox. “Yo, blue boy, what makes you take a walk on the magic side of town?” one said between puffs on his musk bidi.
Doncard stopped. “Hey, don’t bust my cojones over being a Tech, eh? Not like we choose what to be.”
The muggs stared.
“I’m a nurd. I grew up in a family of magic users. I’ve got nothing against you.”
“The Technocracy does,” said the second mugg, recovering his attitude a bit. “Why do you collaborate with them?”
“This is just a job. You don’t think I wouldn’t be mage if I had a choice? Y’all know where Burl Margrave lives?”
“The red house on the next block, on the other side,” said the first mugg. “Why you want him?”
“Just checking. One of his friends at Central told me to look in. He thought with my family history that Margrave wouldn’t shoot me on sight.”
They liked his answer and let him pass.
The yard was overgrown and grass hung over the edges of the walk as he went up to the door. He knocked—hard. “Constable Margrave? I’m Corporal Doncard. Lieutenant Neely sent me.”
He heard a weak voice. “Come in.”
Doncard opened the door slowly. The room was strangely cool despite the windless heat outside. That would be a house spell. This place was layered with them. Spells to remove dust, spells to restore and clean things, how his mother loved them, though they were draining to her. This place had a sour acidic taint to the still air. Margrave sat propped up on pillows on a couch that looked new, but the style was fifty years out of date. He was the source of the taint.
He had a revolver in one bony hand. It also looked new. His mage power kept it from aging. The same could not be said of himself. Margrave was a lot older than Doncard had expected. As his eyes adjusted to the dim interior light, he could see the wasting.
Doncard held his badge up. “Hello, sir. Neely wanted me to look in, see how you’re doing.”
Margrave nodded very, very slightly and let the revolver dip to his side. “I’m dying, corporal. I have cancer. That’s how I’m damn-doing. Sit.”
Doncard pushed some dirty clothes off a chair. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“I saw a healer two weeks ago and she told me. I knew she was right,” said the old man. “The way I’ve been bleeding…”
“I’ll go back and get a wagon, a Casspir if we need it, we’ll carry you out of here, take you to Medical City and get you fixed up.”
“There’s nothing they can do but delay the inevitable,” said the old man. “They haven’t found a cure for the kind I’ve got.”
Doncard frowned. He could smell the sickness coming off the old man in waves and had to fight the urge to leave. Instead he picked up an empty water pitcher from a table and went to the kitchen. The ice in the icebox hadn’t melted away. He chipped some from the block, filled the pitcher from the tap, and took it back. Hell of a place to die in, he thought, surrounded by other mages, but alone.
Margrave seemed to read his face. “I’ve lived here all my life,” he wheezed. “I want to die at home. I have a supply of laudanum and friends bring me food. Not that I’m hungry.”
“You can get better treatment than that, sir. They can make you more comfortable.”
Margrave shook his head. “I appreciate your concern, but I’m not going outside again. There are rogue muggs all over the place. They’re not afraid of anything, even their elders. If they knew I couldn’t protect myself, they’d drag me out in the street and torc me.”
“It’s a crap world where muggs would murder a dying man, sir.”
“I’m a symbol of the detested government. I’ve never abandoned my post, even after the Change. I wasn’t the only law enforcement officer who became a magic user. But I wouldn’t leave my job. I couldn’t drive my patrol car, use a radio or a phone. But I’ve always had my badge and gun and attitude. Those used to be enough.”
“It wasn’t like you had a choice,” said Doncard. “My father was in law enforcement, too. Once the magic happened…”
His father’s changed aura canceled out all electronics and technology. Left him crippled, he claimed. Instead of embracing his magic, he turned bitter. His one child born without it had been his last hope, but he’d died before Doncard’s graduation.
“I’ve served in law enforcement in Magtown for over thirty years now,” said Margrave. “Someone had to. We used to call it East Dallas. It was so different then, kid. You can’t imagine. None of them can. Things are getting worse, too. I’m glad I won’t be around. Mayor Klein-Tonio, President Miller, all of them—they can’t keep a lid on things forever. The Republic of Texas is eighty percent magic users. This technological supremacist regime will be overwhelmed. Mexico has a mage government, and the United States has granted magic users full civil rights.” He smiled weakly.
“The polecats here can’t go on forever against the rest of the world. They’re gonna be gone.”
“It’s like South Africa in the last century,” said Doncard, remembering the torced man. He wanted to ask about him, but what was the point? Give the dying man some peace.
“The more things change…” said Margrave, but began to cough.
Doncard poured him water. “I want to help any way I can.”
Margrave weakly drank a few sips. “You already have, just by coming here. I know I’m not alone after all. Tell the guys at the station I expect everybody at my funeral. I’ll be watching.” He cast a glance toward the window. “You need to go, get out of Magtown before dark.”
“I’ll be back. Soon.”
“Don’t expect me to still be here.”
Doncard closed the door carefully and walked to the sidewalk. He saw the two muggs he had spoken to earlier were across the street, smoking. He raised a hand and strolled over. “Keeping an eye on me, eh?” he said. “Can’t blame you.”
“Keeping an eye on the old man,” said the taller mugg. “Some here still respect his power.”
Doncard didn’t sense any deception. “Can you spare a smoke?”
The taller mugg looked at the his friend, who pulled the musk bidi from his mouth and handed it over. Doncard took it and puffed furiously. Both muggs looked rather astonished, even a little amused.
“I picked up the habit at home,” Doncard explained. He’d given up smoking, but after seeing the dying constable, he needed a hit to get past the initial stress. The smoke took the place of that sickroom taint in his nose. “My family all smoked, mages … y’know?”
That amused them further, relaxed them. They were so young.
After a few puffs, Doncard continued. “I need to see your Rainman.”
The tall mugg choked and dropped his bidi. The second man’s jaw flopped open.
“Where does the Rainman live?”
The second mugg gestured in a great arc. “Two streets over that way,” he said. “You can’t miss it. It’s the only three-story house—smack in the middle of the block.”
“Thanks.” Doncard handed back the bidi and walked away. This time they did not follow.
Minutes later Doncard was in front of the house, a Victorian-era gabled wonder painted white and pink with attic dormers and scroll work like gingerbread. It had probably been restored a number of times in the old days, and again by the mages since then. It looked new. There was a lot of power there. Even he could feel it.
He bounded up the steps and walked across the wide porch to the front door. It had a large oval pane of glass, but he couldn’t see past its reflections.
“Oh, my God.” A woman’s voice, muffled by the walls between, but expressing surprise, even horror.
He heard the sound of a scuffling retreat. His cop training kicked in. When someone runs, you chase them and sort the details later. He vaulted over the porch railing and landed in the gravel driveway in time to intercept a young woman dashing out a side door. She ducked around him. He abruptly recognized her.
She stopped in her tracks at her name, raising her arms.
“Put your arms down! You’re not under arrest!” He walked in front of her.
“You’re not going to turn me in?”
“For what? It’s not against the law for a Tech to be in Magtown,” he said. “Though in your case, it’s a little puzzling, since you work at police headquarters.”
“Corporal Doncard!” A rugged-looking man with a thick head of wavy steel gray hair stood in the doorway. “Your reputation has preceded you. My daughter—”
Ravenna gasped and then groaned.
He shot her a look. “Let it go, honey. He’s got to find out sooner or later. Better it’s sooner.”
“Daughter,” said Doncard, his gaze darting between them. There was no real family resemblance…except the eyes. They had the same steady eyes.
The man began again. “My daughter says they speak highly of you at the station.”
“Just the mayor, but he doesn’t know me.” Doncard turned to Ravenna. “I had no idea you were a nurd, too.”
“It’s not something I want people to know,” she said. “I need the job, and they would never hire me if they knew I was the Rainman’s daughter. I was…”
Her father raised a hand to stop her. “On your way,” he said. “We have to talk shop.”
Ravenna hurried quickly down the driveway and out the back yard.
“I sensed something about her when we met, I suppose because I was a raised nurd in a family of mages,” said Doncard. “Now I know why; she’s the daughter of a wizard.”
“It can happen in the best of families,” said the Rainman as he extended his hand. “We would both be grateful if you kept that confidential.”
“Yes, sir,” said Doncard.
“Why are you here?”
“Welfare check on Constable Margrave.”
“You saw him.” The Rainman’s tone indicated he knew about the cancer.
“I did. I have a favor to ask for him.”
“Let’s speak in the gazebo,” said the Rainman. “Out in the open.” Doncard nodded and followed him. They sat at opposite ends of a long wooden swing seat.
“What favor?” asked the Rainman. “If it’s about the cancer, illness is part of nature, and life without death is meaningless.”
Doncard kept his own level gaze on the wizard. “Spare me the fortune cookie platitudes, sir. I know there’s some things even the best healers can’t fix. My father, mother, a brother and two sisters, all mages. I know the score.”
“Yes, it’s hard to be an outcast among your own people. ” The wizard shook his head. “My daughter was fortunate. Despite her handicap, other magic users have always been considerate of her.”
“And because of your position as the chief wizard in Magtown,” said Doncard.
“Being a nurd has made you cynical—but it’s true. I protect her, of course. What do you want from me? Healing? Can’t do it. Take the constable to a hospital.”
“It’s not for his body, it’s his soul.”
The wizard stared at the young corporal. “It’s heartwarming to see that some mage wisdom can run in the veins of a Tech.”
“He feels estranged from his people because he’s worked for the Tech-partheid government all these years, and now that he’s weak and sick, those feelings of self-doubt are doubling back on him,” said Doncard. “I saw it in my father. I don’t ask for a healing; I ask for a peaceful death. The man deserves respect and acknowledgement for his service.”
“We have always respected the constable; there is something heroic in a soldier who will not abandon his post,” said the wizard.
“Then reach out to him—he’s too weak to make a move on his own—put his heart and mind at peace. Let him know he is not alone.”
The wizard tapped a finger on his own knee. “I know what it’s like to be left alone. Do you know why they call us ‘Rainmen’.”
“People think wizards are so powerful that they can pull the rain from the sky,” said Doncard. “Although I know that’s not true.”
“No, it comes from an old movie made years ago, about an autistic man,” said the wizard.
“For decades before the Change, there were children born who didn’t interact with the world around them. They didn’t speak or relate to others very much at all,” said the wizard. “I was one of them. For the first twenty years of my life, I was trapped in my own universe, which I didn’t understand. It was as if I lived in a gray whirlwind. The universe seemed to me like a roaring storm where occasionally I could hear the calls of ghosts and saw fleeting apparitions. I had innate magic skills, I kept trying to cast spells, but unseen hands would grab objects that I tried to use to focus energy, and scatter the associational order I tried to establish. Then one day the whirlwind stopped, and I saw the world clearly as the magic blew away the mist, like light shining from a clear sun. The Change had arrived.”
He stretched his arms along the back of the seat. “The large number of autistic children born in the last century and the early part of this one was caused by the approach of that change. We were sensitive to it, and we all started life in the new world before it overwhelmed the old. Because some of the most adept magic users had been autistic before, the nickname ‘Rainman’ stuck. He was autistic, but brilliant and wise in his own way.
“Do you know why most people turned into magic users, but others didn’t?” asked Doncard.
“No one knows, not even Rainmen,” said the older man. “Why are Techs born to mage parents? And why are mages born to Tech parents?”
“I’ve never heard of a mage being born to Tech parents. I didn’t think that was possible.”
“It’s rare, but it happens,” said the Rainman. “And when it does here, in the Republic of Texas, the parents keep it a secret, to keep the family together. Such children are called changelings.”
“I’ve heard that some people who became magic users in the Change hid their powers,” said Doncard. “They were called moles. But I’ve never heard of changelings.”
“You’ve heard the analogies made between the Texas Technocrats and the apartheid regime in old South Africa?”
“Constable Margrave and I talked about that not twenty minutes ago.”
“That regime was based on racial discrimination, not magic, but there are direct parallels. When someone was black but could hide their origins, it was called ‘passing for white’.”
“I see: changelings hide their origins so they can pass for Techs,” said Doncard.
“Yes, and then all the advantages of first class citizenship are then available to them,” said the Rainman.
“I understand,” said Doncard. “I have certain privileges not available to my siblings.”
“My daughter has more civil rights than I do,” said the Rainman. “For legal purposes she is listed as the child of a single mother, which is literally true. Her mother and I never married. But that way no one knows she is the daughter of a Rainman. Her mother passed away five years ago.”
“She must be a valuable link to the Tech world,” said Doncard.
“She has done more to foster understanding in Magtown of the way of Techs than anyone will ever know.”
”Then do the same. Please—reach out to Constable Margrave and let him know what his people really think of him.”
“Even before the Change, ‘please’ was called the magic word. Of course, I’ll do that. As I said, we will honor his devotion and service to the community,” said the Rainman. “I will speak to him and put him at peace.”
The corporal stood up. “Thank you. And if you ever need anything…”
The wizard rose also. “Just like that you trust my word?”
“Yes, sir. Why should I doubt you?”
“You ever read the Bible, Doncard?”
“I’ve been to church, but I’m not overly religious. Why?”
“There’s the prejudice among Techs that mages don’t believe in the Bible, and that’s not true. There are many who’ve gone back to the old religions.”
Certainly his mother had, insisting the family go to church. Magic and miracles were more understandable that way.
“You know Jesus performed many miracles,” the Rainman continued. “The people who didn’t believe in him at the time called hima ‘magician’. Do you know the story of the Centurion’s servant?”
“Yes, a Roman officer had a sick servant, and he asked Jesus to heal him.”
“For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turned him about, and said unto the people that followed him, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.”
“You see me as being like that Centurion?”
“Close enough,” said the Rainman. “Just understand that I’m no Jesus. I might be able to help a dying old man pass over with an easy heart, but I can’t work miracles with the rogues in this community. Things are what they are. I hope you’ll come to see that. You better go now. The shadows are long, and your fellow policemen must wonder what happened to you.”
Doncard looked up to see the stars were beginning to shine. “Ah, heck.”
The wizard whistled, and two large black mastiffs ran from behind the house. Doncard’s hand brushed his gun.
“Peace, these are friends,” said the wizard. “My familiars, Mambo and Macarena.” He snapped his fingers. The dogs sat, ears pricked and waiting for a command. “Take this man to the police substation and keep him safe from all harm. He is a guest of my hospitality until he leaves Magtown.”
The dogs looked at the corporal. The intelligence in their eyes was unnerving.
“It was a lovely funeral, but I understand why you didn’t go.” Doncard said a few days later.
“It’s just awkward, being a nurd and having conceal it to live all these years on the Tech side of town,” said Ravenna. “Dad understands, too.”
“Everyone from the department was there and hundreds of people from Magtown. All on their best behavior. We were brought together today by mutual respect.”
“That’s good. Margrave would have liked that. It’s a good example for others.”
“They’ll never be able to replace Margrave, he was one of a kind. They’ll never get another magic user to take the constable job in Magtown,” he said. “Crime will get worse.”
“Does the department really care?” she asked.
“I care,” said Doncard. “A week ago I saw my first torcing victim. No one should die that way.”
“Are you talking about Ledwell?”
“Yes. You know anything about it?”
“What would those be?”
“Nothing you can take to a Tech court. Magetown looks after its own.”
“A man died, Ravenna. Someone has to pay. While there was still a mage constable in Magtown, there was the chance his killers would be brought to justice.”
“They weren’t killers. That was—the rumor, I mean—is that they were administering justice.”
She shook her head. “You don’t understand.”
“He wasn’t innocent. There was a confession. He signed it. The rumor is that it’s in a safe place.”
“Confession of what?”
“He was messing with kids,” she said. “Little ones too young to say what was he was doing. If you think Techs hate it, that’s nothing compared to how mages feel. Damage like that can kill the magic in them. The rumor I heard, was that he was tried, a truespeak spell got his confession in the open, and that was that.”
“Your father wouldn’t know anything about it, would he?”
“He doesn’t talk business with me, a Tech, only family stuff.” She spoke with a straight face.
“What about Margrave? Sick as he was, he’d have sensed a group of twenty mages gathered for a torcing.”
“Use your brains, Doncard. Who do you think knew how to cast a truespeak spell with any real power? He never shared it with anyone, either.”
Doncard groaned. “It’ll be a public relations nightmare when it gets out.”
“It won’t,” she said. “No one in Magetown will talk. Rogue muggs will get the blame and never be found. Justice was served. Mage justice.”
“Sorry, I’m not siding with Tech on this one. There was no proof that would have been admitted to a Tech court in this whole country. He’d have gone on hurting kids, and no one cares about Mage kids. Losing their magic isn’t a concern for Techs. Even if caught, then what? A few years in prison, some happy pills to treat his ‘sickness’ and he gets out.”
Doncard let it go. What else was there to do?
“Don’t be so negative. They’ll elect a new constable.”
“There’s no way a magic user will work for this regime,” he muttered.
“Quiet!” Ravenna urged him. “Here comes the mayor.”
The old man steamed down the hallway, aides behind him. He raised an arm and waved. “Corporal Doncard, just the man I wanted to see!” He dropped a skinny hand on the young man’s shoulder. “I want you in my office, in about a half hour?”
“Yes, sir,” said Doncard.
The mayor gave him a fond shake and continued down the corridor.
“I wonder what he wants with me?”
Ravenna snorted. “No telling. He’s a crafty old devil.”
“You’ve been doing a fine job, Andy,” said the mayor. “Word is that the Rainman respects you. The way you smoothed things over between Margrave and the mage community, that was sheer finesse. Even the toughest muggs helped clean up his house and property. He died at peace. The Rainman himself closed his eyes.”
“I’m just doing my best to help,” said Doncard.
“You’re fearless, too, just walking into Magtown like that. Your grandfather was a devil-may-care guy, when he was your age. Sad you never knew him.”
“A lot of people died in the disruptions caused by the Change,” said Doncard. “The riots, the vigilantes.”
“People were scared, son, people were terrified. We didn’t know what was going on. Sometimes the machines worked, sometimes they didn’t. It took years to restore order, as we separated the incompatible segments of society. The Texas-U.S. split was just a sideshow, the two parts had been drifting apart for years. Texans are grateful the Technocratic Party protected our way of life.”
“I heard your family sought refuge here because of the severity of the disorders in Russia immediately after the Change,” said Doncard.
“Yes, Texas protected us, and offered me great opportunity. Like you, I’m a nurd. My family split right down the middle—my mother and sisters turned into mages, my father and my younger brother, along with myself, found we had no magic skills. It tore our family apart. My mother and sisters moved to Mexico, while the rest of us came to Texas.”
“I suppose then you have some small measure of sympathy for magic users.”
“I do, but I also understand how incompatible the two societies are. I probably know better than most,” said the mayor. “Yes, it tore my family apart, but some find a way to live together, if they’re respectful of their differences. Which is why I think you will like the proposal I’m about to present. Your captain and Lieutenant Neely have both given you nothing but the highest marks. They’ve said in a year or two they’re ready to leapfrog you to lieutenant.”
Doncard’s heart thumped. He’d only half-hoped to make that rank in five years.
“The reason I’ve called you in is that I have a different offer, one that only I can make.” The old man leaned forward. “I’d like to appoint you as constable to replace Margrave.”
Doncard had seen that one coming and was not happy. In one sense it was a huge promotion, in another it was a dead end to his career. A non-mage running the law in Magetown? Even with the Rainman’s blessing… “That’s an elected office, sir.”
“We can guarantee you will win all elections. So long as we use electronic voting machines, well…” He laughed sardonically. He pointed a finger at Doncard. “You’re the man for the job.”
“How long do you think the Technocracy Party can keep control of the magic users?”
“Forever.” The mayor was calmly confident. “I know what’s on your mind, you’re afraid there’ll be a reckoning some day. But believe me, neither segment of society wants that.”
“You don’t know that. Sir.”
He steepled his fingers. “The old society was based on technology, and when that began to fail, there was enormous disruption. There were food riots, widespread crime and anarchy. It took time for everyone to realize that the magic being used by four-fifths of the people was somehow interfering with electronics. Because of that, the two parts of society had to separate. Since we, the Tech users, founded this country, it is still ours and we still have the right to run it the way we see fit.”
“You can’t ignore or contain magic.”
He snorted. “If the magic users took over, it would fall apart. They can’t take the Tech from us: they know from how hard we fought in the past, they’d pay dearly for such a victory.”
“They don’t need to take it, just camp out at a power grid and fry the computers with spell static.”
“I’m aware of that, but the Technocratic power structure is not presently endangered. There’s still some balance left and you are in a perfect position to help both sides. I’m trying to do the best job I can, too, but someone like you will be here long after I’m gone. You can prevent total fragmentation.”
“By being a constable in Magetown?”
“It’s a keystone position, young man. You know what a keystone does. It holds up the two sides of an arch, keeps things from falling. Like bridges.”
Doncard rubbed his chin. “If I accepted your offer, would I have a free hand for myself? To do my job as I see fit?”
“I wouldn’t offer you the job if I didn’t trust your judgment,” said the Mayor. “If you want more time to think it over…”
“No, I know my answer. I’ll take it,” said Doncard. “Can I have Margrave’s old house? I need to live in Magtown, among the magic users.”
“Brilliant public relations move, if you want to risk it,” said the Mayor. “I can arrange it.”
He stood up and put out his hand. Doncard shook it. “It’s a deal, I’ll start the paperwork.”
Doncard passed by Ravenna’s desk as he went back to his own. “How’d it go?” she asked.
“I’m getting Margrave’s old job, and moving into Magtown,” he said.
She seemed unsurprised, but then the clerks in every office knew what was going on long before their own bosses. “Are you sure you can handle that?”
“I grew up around magic users, I can take care of myself,” he said. “And I can help keep open a bridge between the communities. What do you think?”
“I think that’s a great idea,” she said with a smile.
He turned and walked away, conscious of her gaze on his back.
The mayor pulled out a blank memo pad and began to scribble the resolution appointing Doncard as constable.
The pencil point snapped.
“Ah, crap,” he muttered, opening his center desk drawer. The pencil sharpener was gone. He had it just yesterday. The damned things must have legs, he lost them by the gross. “I don’t need this,” he growled.
Doncard had closed the office door when he left. The mayor now locked it. After all these years, the protective instincts remained intact, even as he held the highest office in the city.
He sat back in his seat, grabbed the pencil and held it upright with his left hand. He held his right hand over it, and made a very small, tight swirling motion with his right index finger, staring intently. The “lathe” spell peeled shavings off the end of the pencil and brought out a new point.
The mayor whistled a few notes, blew away the shavings, and went back to work.
© Lou Antonelli