Anyone who knows me can tell you--I write LONG. Part of that is because I often have to write something in order to find out if it really happened that way--and sometimes it did not. Another part of that is simply me being wordy. Even once I have what feels like the final draft, I usually have to cut between 30 and 100 pages from every manuscript I submit to make length.
Here, at Reader Request, are some of the scenes I chose NOT to use in the final version of SOMETHING WICKED (and, in some cases, the reasons I cut them). In many cases I'll put "NAME" or "ADDRESS" because, early in a draft, I may not have figured out the right name or place yet. In fact, for awhile, Victor's name was Joe (which I decided I wanted to use as a good guy someday), and the brothers' last name was Gold... I was well into the story before I finally, finally hit on Fisher, which is perfect for them.
Nor have I edited for typos... or even the places where my website builder doesn't include dashes and ellipses when I cut and paste (and I do love my dashes and ellipses). But here they are.
SPOILER WARNING! If you have not read the novel, not only will these scenes not make sense ... they may give away major plot elements.
Take a look below to read:
A DIFFERENT BEGINNING WHICH I REJECTED:
(from Vaughn--I must have tried eight different beginnings before I committed to write SOMETHING WICKED. None of them started strongly enough, in my mind, until I hit upon the one that ended up in the book....)
I honestly thought I was one of the good guys, once.
Okay, yes, so I was a witch. But we're not talking green-faced, cauldron-stirring, "double double toil and trouble" fantasy stereotypes, here. No nose-twitching, levitation, or fireworks. Nope, I was a modern-day Wiccan, an urban pagan in a high-rise apartment. Surely you've heard about us. Harm none? Honoring the cycles of nature? Like hippies, but wearing more Celtic jewelry? And actively good.
I did charity work. I was careful about speaking ill of others, since I really understood the power of words. I fully believed in karma.
And unfortunately, I ended up being right.
What I didn't fully grasp were the depths of evil to which some people descend. But I learned. One windy, moonless night, I learned the hard way.
"Have a good night, Mrs. Phipps," I said to another of the building's residents as I stepped off the elevator, a bag of take-out in one hand and my keys safely grasped in the other.
"Good night, sweetie," said the white-haired widow, her Pekinese clutched protectively to her breast. Then she stage-whispered, "Blessed be."
She'd only read three books about Wicca so far, but she loved the image of herself as a witch. Not everyone can be born into a family tradition.
"Blessed be," I returned with a grin, fighting back the urge to make some secret hand-sign. Not that we have a secret hand sign, but sometimes the temptation to go for the drama can be pretty strong.
I resisted. My hands were full.
The sleek white hallway seemed quiet that nightnot that my previous neighbor, Cecilia, had been noisy. But just knowing she wasn't there anymore it made me melancholy, despite an equal measure of relief. She'd had one hell of a summer, her whirlwind romance with Mr. Perfect degenerating into movie-of-the-week material with Mr. Stalker instead. That's when she came to me, as the unofficial floor-witch, for help. As is generally the case, magic could helpwards on her apartment, a tarot reading to look for future dangers, a protective amulet, all that jazz. But spells are no substitution for mundane action. And the rotten truth of the matter was, this man was in her life because she'd invited him in. She'd been distracted by the good looks, and the money, and the fancy car, and she'd ignored her instincts until, by time he'd turned violent, he'd already infiltrated her apartment, her friends, her family. Only then did she come to me.
Probably the counselor I found her, and the locksmith, and the unlisted numberand finally the woman's shelter, when he came backwere even more responsible for her safety than the amulet.
Just thinking about themNAME'S inability to hear no and, whether this makes me sound heartless or not, Cecilia's gullibility in not noticing that before making him part of her lifejust thinking about it made my teeth ache. So did thinking about the legal system that NAME had cleverly played, and the social system that said a woman should be looking for instant love and expensive cars over slow relationships and strong values in the first place.
But maybe that was the dark of the moon, putting me in this mood. My magical powers seem to bottom out during the dark of the moon, as surely as they peak during the full.
I unlocked my three locks and let myself into my apartment, flipping on the lights as I did so, then relocked the door behind me. Three's a magic number, especially in a big city like Chicago. I put my take-out bag on the dining room table, a kitzchy Formica circle, and started toward the kitchen to get out a plate and silverware.
Only then did I hear the sobbing.
It increased in volume as if it were coming from my bedroom. As if someone had swung open my bedroom door, inviting me to listen in.
Dark moon or not, my instincts couldn't ignore a neon sign like that! I dove for the phone, pressed 9-1-1, drew it to my ear
Disconnected. But we weren't in the 20th century anymore. I slid my cell phone from my pocket.
"Do it," warned an unfortunately familiar voice, Hah-vad to the core, "and she dies."
So I slid the phone back into my pocketthumbing the #9 emergency speed-dial as I did. Hadn't I just been thinking that villains only have the power we give them?
Then again, NAME would probably get suspicious if I asked what he was doing here at ADDRESS/APARTMENT NUMBER.
He stood in the hallway to my bedroom, arms folded, perfect teeth bared in a mockery of a smile.
OVERHEARD RADIO INTERVIEW, AUNT'S HOUSE
(from Vaughn--I wanted to introduce Ben's personality/character earlier than chapter 3 or 4, and thought the radio interview was a good way to do it. In this version, Katie is at her aunt's house when she overhears it, and some of Ben's details are completely different)
"You can't leave it at that," protested another man's voice. This one was affected, unusually deep and clearly playing to a microphone. Realizing that I was listening to a radio interview, I headed in the direction of my cousin Franny's room. "Everyone's talking about it. Murder. Witchcraft. Mistaken identity."
"Al," insisted the voice I'd liked, "No comment."
"You were arrested," continued Al. "That's got to bother you."
No wonder the voice had sounded familiar but why in heaven had it sounded likeable? I stopped in the hallway, beside a wall of family photos, unable to make my feet move.
"Bye, Al," said Fisher, followed by the sound of a microphone being unclipped and set down. But which Fisher?
Victor was still in custody, wasn't he? The idea that the killer might not be in custody made the world close in around me, everything sharp and small.
"Okay, okay, you win." Apparently, Al blinked first. "I'll behave myself and talk about your website. For those listeners just tuning in, our guest tonight is Benjamin Fisher, creator of Prove-Me-Wrong, a debunker website that's making headway on the more established Truth-or-Fiction and Snopes.com. Thank you for taking time for us after what must have been a nightmare of a week, Ben."
"Subtle, Al," chided Ben, his voice amplifying again. "Obviously, certain people have a worse week than I did. But I've got to argue with the word 'debunk'"
Franny appeared in the doorway to her room, wearing an oversized t-shirt. She shrieked, startled, when she saw me.
I just stared at her, ghostlike. Franny was closer to my age than any of our other cousinsmy other cousinsbut we didn't have much in common. The huge curlers on her head were only one example. Heaven forbid she go to tomorrow's arraignment without perfect hair.
"Oh my God!" she exclaimed, grasping my arm with one hand, to steady herself, while clutching at her chest with the other. "You scared the crap out of me, Katie! What are you doing just standing there?"
I didn't answer. From her room floated that voice: "logic holds that you can't prove a negative, so"
"Oh my God," repeated Franny, this time looking guilty. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean for you to hear. I'll turn it off."
She spun back to her room, but I caught her arm. "No. I want to hear him."
"You're kidding, right?"
Without responding, I went into her roomwhich hadn't changed much since she was twelveand sat on the pink bedspread of her single bed.
(The interview continues--too long, in my opinion, since it's just a lot of information instead of really moving the plot forward)
"Even UFO's?" Al asked, presumably about the inability to prove a negative.
"Considering that it stands for 'Unidentified Flying Objects,' I don't know how anybody can say they don't exist," joked Ben. "People see objects in the sky. They're unidentified. Q.E.D."
What the hell did Q.E.D. mean?
"Are you okay?" asked Franny. "Maybe I should go get Mom."
But I went on listening to the interview.
Ben Fisher came across like a nerd, talking a little too fast and using terms that I didn't always get, but he seemed earnest enough. A few times Al, the deep-voiced host, tried to herd the conversation back to Diana's murder.
"One of the categories on your website is twin phenomena. Now, you're one of a pair of identical twins, aren't you?"
Or, "What about witchcraft? Any truth to stories about that?"
Each time, Ben sidestepped him, either by diverting the topic"In fact, multiple births have been increasing over the last twenty-five years"or answering without answering.
"Enough people claim to be witches that there shouldn't be any doubt. Now if you're challenging whether magic works, that gets more complicated."
Does it work? I wondered. Did I really curse you?
As long as I'd cursed his brother, I couldn't work up much guilt yet.
A DIFFERENT FIRST MEETING WITH BEN
(I was well into the story before I decided to include the early diner scene, where Al tricks Ben and Katie into meeting each other. I liked that version because of the inclusion of Al--whom I came to like a lot--and because of the adventure element of the car accident, and because I really needed more evidence of the curse at work. But this is how it MIGHT have happened....)
I first saw the real Ben Fisher at the courthouse, where I'd gone for his brother's arraignment. The whole extended family meant to be there, meant to be a presence for every step of the trial; it was the least we could do for Diana. We'd planned to all ride in my Aunt Maria's minivan, but its battery died, so we'd had to divide into different vehicles. I rode with my cousin FrancescaFrannyin her little hatchback. Then we'd run out of gas.
Which is the long way of explaining, Franny and I were running late.
"I coulda sworn I was at half a tank," insisted Franny again, demonstrating her unique talents by checking her hair in a compact mirror while she ran beside me across the parking garage. "I'm so sorry, Katie."
Not that I was listening much. I'd heard only bits and pieces in the not-quite-week since Diana's death. We hadn't even buried her yetautopsies and evidence gathering and all that crapand already lawyers wanted her killer out on bail?
Unreal. And I mean that in so many ways.
The swelling in my jaw had gone down, and the bruises had faded to brown, and I didn't much care. Two of the three injured teeth had been saved and the other, a molar, could eventually be replaced with a bridge. I didn't care about that either, or that my right hand was in a cast.
Waking up every morning and getting through each day without completely losing it took everything I had. I wasn't wasting a lot of time worrying about anything extra like my makeup, or Franny's ability to keep track of her fuel tank, or, oh, curses.
I mean, really. I couldn't really curse a person, right?
I reached the intersection in front of the courthouse before Frannie did and stepped into the crosswalk.
The blare of a horn snapped me out of my daze even as a hard hand, on my arm, yanked me backwards into a hard, compact body. More horns screamed at my idiocy as I turned, dazed, to whoever had pulled me from harm's way.
His familiar face chilled my blood. Never would I forget those angular features, that small mouth, those dark eyes. That nose.
After days of numbness, I inhaled a sharp breath of reality. It feltnot good. I mean, please; what about this would feel good? But it felt alive. And that was enough.
It was better than Di had.
Because of him.
Something in my expression must have made him straighten, let go. I didn't know if he was armed, but I didn't care.
"You bastard!" I snarled, pushing him hard against a lamppost. Then I hit him with my cast arm, despite the blast of pain that accompanied it. Again. Again. "You murdering bastard! You."
But my words were about as futile as my attack.
The man ducked and retreated, shielding himself with one arm. He yelped things like, "No!" and "Ouch!"
"Oh my god, that's him?" Frannie began hitting the guy with her purse. "My favorite cousin? You kill my favorite cousin? You son of a bitch!"
By then a couple of cops from outside the courthouse had made it across the street and were pulling us apart. I glared through tears
And when my gaze met his own, wide and haunted, I saw my mistake. This guy's hair, curly and dark, was a good inch or more longer than the killer's had been. He seemed to have forgotten to shave. His formal dress consisted of a rumpled blazer pulled over a black T-shirt with some kind of logo on it, and jeans, and Nikes.
One thing that had struck me about the killer. Victor Fisher had been stylishly dressed and impeccably groomed.
Victor Fisher was also inside the courthouse, where a judge would decide whether to grant him bail.
This must be Ben. The guy I'd cursed by mistake.
ANOTHER FIRST MEETING--ATTACK AT FUNERAL
(You can see that I was struggling with these first meetings... nothing was quite strong enough. AND I was taking waaaay too long to get everyone out of the country. At this one, Katie sees who she THINKS is Victor (in this version, Joe) on the edges of Diana's funeral, and goes after him. Note that her cousin the cop is named Vic. When I decided I liked Victor for the bad guy's name, the cop became Ray, in an homage to one of my favorite TV Chicago detectives)
Joe Gold had also been denied bail.
This must be Ben.
"I'm sorry," he insisted. "I shouldn't have come."
I just I felt so bad about everything. I wanted to pay my respects. God, I'm so sorry."
He ducked his head, and when his dark gaze angled back up at me, yearning for something I couldn't even imagine, I felt another stab of sick guilt. So this is the guy I'd cursed, huh?
Maybe, I thought weakly, maybe magic doesn't work.
But if that were true, if it didn't work on Ben, then it wouldn't work on Joe, either. And I still wanted Joe to suffer every bit of Hekate's curse. How badly I wanted that, and how deeply I was willing to sink for it, surprised me.
This guy, in front of me, really did have the eyes of a puppy dog. But the face, I remembered, of a murderer.
"What are you doing?" My cousin, Detective Vic Trillo, looked a lot more respectable in his dress uniform than he is. He wasn't talking to me. "Get the hell out of here, Gold! Your family's caused enough trouble already. Shit."
That last shit seemed to have something to do with a weird sparkling of light at the edge of my sight.
"I'm sorry," murmured GoldBen Goldone more time before he climbed back into his battered old car.
"You will be, you son of a bitch," called Vic, as the engine caught. Then, more quietly, he said, "Good job, Katie. Way to be inconspicuous."
The sparkling turned out to be the light of distant camera flashes. The press hadn't been allowed into the cemetery, but that hadn't kept them away from the perimeter with their telephoto lenses. Nothing like a good murder rake in the advertising dollars.
"I'm sorry," I said, just like Ben Gold had. "Did I ruin the funeral?"
Vic let out a bark of laughter, because it really was the stupidest thing I could have said. Diana would have laughed too, if only she'd been alive. The thought made fat, hot tears well into my eyes and swell my sinuses yet again. Damn.
(Here, the text breaks--all I have is the line "No offense, Katie," which I suspect must come from Vic)
My cousin looped his arm around me and led me back to the graveside, where he passed me off to my dad.
"I'm sorry, Daddy," I whispered into his lapel, as if I were still a baby.
"I hope you gave him a real shiner," he whispered back. He knew, like Vic, that it wasn't even the right brother. But he didn't seem to care.
Having seen Ben Gold's haunted expression, I cared.
Just because you don't mean to take out innocent bystanders doesn't mean you don't feel guilty. Not that it does much good, after the fact.
See, here's the thing with curses. Not only aren't they easy, they aren't safe. Not for the cursee, and definitely not for the curser. A lot of magic users believe that any spells you cast come back at you three times as powerful. Since Di was the witch among us, she would've known better than me, but whether the numbers are right, the idea's sound. You can't kick a door without hurting your foot, right? You can't punch someone without hurting your hand. If you drive your car into a house, you can do a lot of damage to the house, but the car wouldn't look very good either.
When I cast my curse, over Diana's dead body, I'd made two mistakes. One was the curse itselfthat drew a pretty clear, magical target over me. But the other was using the wrong name. I'd been facing the killer. I'd smeared blood on the killer. I'd looked into his eyes as I cursed him. That had to count for something.
But the name I'd spoken three times.
Maybe it would turn out he was just as evil as his brother. Maybe appearance wasn't all he and Joe shared. I wouldn't worry as much if the guy turned out to be a child molester or a tabloid journalist or something.
But if he wasn't?
So, while half of Little Italy was crowded into my parents' home in [name neighborhood], I snuck into the master bedroom where my mother had been saving all the newspapers since Diana's death, maybe for the most depressing scrapbook ever, and I began to read about Ben Gold's initial arrest.
Conspiracy Nut Behind Bars, announced one. That looked promising. But the worst the article could say about Benjamin Gold was that he was a "well known conspiracy theorist."
If you're like me, you're thinking: what the hell is a conspiracy theorist? According to the Chicago-Sun, that meant he was a "multi-published author" and ran a popular website "exploring, supporting, or debunking common conspiracy theories, from the JFK assassination to the existence of secret societies."
Oh, and he was from a "respected [neighborhood] family." Yeah. That had proven out.
DIANA THE GHOST'S ROMANTIC TEASING
(From Vaughn: In earlier versions, Diana saw a romance between Katie and Ben long before they did... and in the end, I thought, before it was really appropriate. Here's some of her teasing of Katie)
"Katie and Benjamin, sitting in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G."
"Shut up," I told Diana, who had somehow appeared beside me. "I'm trying to concentrate."
But she continued her sing-song. "First comes murder. Then betrayal. What's going to happen to the goddess grail?"
"What are you talking about, and oh yeah, shut up."
After her initial shock at hearing I'd placed a curse in the first place, Nonna had put my magical training into high gear. In today's meditation, I was supposed to envision the bonds of my curse stretching out from me in two separate directions. The blood curse wove off toward Victor Fisher. The name curse spun away toward Ben. All three of us were tied together with these lengths of astral energy. If I could envision those connections, then maybe, maybe, I could cut them.
One of them, anyway.
I had no intention of helping Victor.
(Text Break--no idea why. Probably starting over)
"He's cute, though, isn't he? Not enough guys let their hair be curly. Especially heavy curls, like that. It gives him a romantic poet look, don't you think?"
"How can you say he's cute? He looks just like the guy who bashed your head in with a hammer!"
Diana made an 'oops' face and spread her hands across the top of her blond head as if checking for damage. She laughed when she found nothing, because she wasn't hurt here, and she shrugged. "Maybe they resemble each other on the outside, but that's just the shell. Anyone with any sensitivity at all can tell them apart because of their souls. You did, in the lineup."
"It's still a bit too icky a resemblance to consider kissing him, all the same. Now will you let me meditate?"
"I thought you were meditating."
"Nonna told me to empty my mind completely."
"And to notice your breathing, and to relax from your feet uphello, I was the one training in all this while you were out at the mall with your friends. And it's not gonna work."
"Way to be supportive, Di."
"You're scared of magic. It doesn't matter how much natural ability you've gotand sis, you're off the map. You won't be able to control it until you get over thinking there's something evil about it."
I stared at her for a long moment.
She shrugged, all innocent.
"I cursed an innocent man! A drunk driver nearly killed both of us in a freak accident!"
She shrugged again. "Look at Ms. Cup-is-Half-Empty. You cursed a guilty one, too."
A LONGER SCENE WITH MAGGI
(Again... when I start giving information, I go on for waaaay too long. Here are some elements I had in the original scene between Katie and Maggi, but I decided it was too much, and, I think, to have some of it come out in a metting with Ben)
"Then he might mean to hand it over to someone higher up on the Comitatus food chain. Their society is very hierarchicalwhich is what you'd expect from an old-fashioned, all-male organization. If Victor's family isn't part of the inner circle, he may not have the authority to destroy the chalice himself. But he'll earn points for getting it."
"Back up a second. His family?"
"The Old Comitatus is strictly hereditary." Maggi finished the last of her tea. "They believe themselves to be better and more deserving than other mere mortals, simply because of their bloodlines."
"Then I think I know who to call to get my cup back." If the Fishers were part of some special secret bloodline, then surely Victor wasn't the only one to know about it.
I would ask Ben.
It was almost funny, how fast she backpedaled. Very much like a big sister, for sure. "Whoa, Katie. I didn't tell you this so that you could go after Victor Fisher or anyone else. The Comitatus is a very, very dangerous group of men. They nearly killed me and my fiancé both. More than once. I hoped I could get a description of the cup from you, get an idea of how old it is."
"So you can go after it? What about the baby?"
Her eyebrows rose, and she flushed. "It's that obvious? Already?"
"I'm a nurse," I reminded her. "You're what, four months along?"
Maggi smiled as she nodded; no question that this baby was wanted. "You're right. Much as I'd love to go after the Hekate Grail myself, I won't put my baby at risk. My fiance's going to throw a fit over me even coming to Chicago." She paused a moment, as if listening to something. "He's on a plane back from Hong Kong even as we speak. But my pregnancy doesn't make this your responsibility."
"The fact that it's my sister's cup does."
"I've got a friend who can look into it. She used to be a police officer; now she's a private investigator. She knows how to stay safe while she checks out this kind of thing."
"So why did you even tell me about it?" My jealousy at the very idea of someone else going after the Hekate cup surprised me, though I guess it shouldn't have. It's not like I'd had the most stress-free couple of weeks. "If you don't want me going after my own family chalice, why bother to show up at all?"
Maggi reached across the table and took my hand. "I'm telling you because it's part of your heritage. I'm telling you because I believe people who keep secrets are petty power mongers, and people who share information are improving the world. And I'm telling you because if this is why your sister died, I thought you deserved to know."
She was right. It did help to know. I'd gotten home ready to destroy the world if that's what it took to destroy Victor Fisher. Now, after spending just a little time with Maggi, I felt a lot calmer. More grounded, as Diana or Nonna would call it.
"Thank you," I said, freeing my hand. "But you might want to tell your private investigator friend not to get in my way, because I plan on getting my cup back."
"I don't want you to do anything dangerous."
"But it's not up to you. So don't worry about what my cup looks like or where it is. I'm going to find it."
To my surprise, she nodded, accepting that. Whether or not she thought I could pull this off, she understood that it was my decision.
"At least let me give you my private number," she said, and passed me a fancy-stock business card with a vesica piscis design on it. "Call me if you need anything at all. I've got access to a decent amount of money, if necessary. And if I can't come, maybe my friend can."
"Thank you," I said again, and took the card. But I had no intention of calling her. "Can I ask you something?"
"You don't limp. Why do you carry a cane?"
"I'll show you." We went to the foyer, where she reclaimed her cape and her cane. With a flick of her thumb, the top of the cane suddenly slid out to reveal.
"A sword?" I exclaimed.
"You should know that the Comitatus," said Maggi, "are very much into knives as their weapon of choice."
Well goody for them. Assuming this secret society was even involved, which was a big assumption, a knife wouldn't stop a bullet.
Or, if I did it right, a curse.
I watched as Maggi leftpausing to draw a second circle overlapping the first one, half-hidden by new snow. A rental car pulled up to the curb as she approached it, and she waved before getting in.
Her private investigator friend, I thought. The fact that she wasn't traveling alone drove home how dangerous this Com Comi Comitatus might be. Or how dangerous she thought they might be. She hadn't exactly overloaded me with proof.
I wasn't scared. I opened Diana's magic cabinet, and picked up one of her black candles. I could still do some dark magic. I could still clip an appropriate photograph, spill my own blood, call hellfire down on Victor Fisher's head and hope it worked this time. Or.
That could be my Plan B.
Instead, because I was running late, I went to work.
When I got back, despite it being the middle of the night, Cousin Ray was waiting for me. He'd installed a new security systemand he'd brought me a handgun. "Here's how you hold it," he told me shortly. "Here's how you load it. Don't tell people you have it. If kids come over, you lock it in your fire safe. Never assume it isn't loaded, and never ever point it at anything you're not willing to kill. Got it? Good."
I pointed it into the living room, where Victor Fisher had once stood, and wished I'd had it two weeks ago. "Wait, you're a cop."
"Rumor has it."
"Isn't this illegal?"
I put the gun down. "So why?"
Ray took me by the shoulders. "We've got a saying on the force, Katie. Better to be tried by twelve than carried by six. If that crazy-ass bastard is running loose, and you're still the only witness to him murdering Di, then break the damned law."
I kissed him on the cheek, but he pushed me away, embarrassed. "I'm spending the night on your sofa. Tomorrow you get a dog."
"Why do I need a dog? I've got a gun."
"Because bad guys can hear you have a dog while there's still time to change their mind. They won't know you've got a gun until you're already in a situation. Get a big, mean, loud dog. And don't shoot it."
I told him I'd think about it. But I'll admit, I kind of appreciated having someone else sleeping in the house again. Maybe he had a point.
When I got up late the next morningthe result of working night shiftsRay had gone, but he'd left a note with a crude stick drawing of a dog. A dog with a lot of spiky teeth.
I almost didn't want to track down Ben's number. Some part of me briefly considered giving up on Victor, letting him keep the damned Hekate cupit's not like I'd been using itand getting on with my life instead. A dog would be a first step in the direction of having a life without Diana.
Without Diana. As soon as I thought that, I rejected the whole idea. She hadn't been gone a month, and no way was I ready to give up on her, or to let Victor Fisher get away with murder.
I found Ben's number. Called.
And was startled when he picked up before it got through the first ring. I'd assumed that he'd be screening his calls the way I was, to avoid reporters. "Ben Fisher here."
"Ben, it's Kate."
There was a long pause. Then he said, "Kate Trillo?"
"Yes. This may sound strange, but I have a couple of questions about your brother."
"Join the club," he said, sounding surprisingly bitter for the easy-going guy I'd first assumed him to be. Yes, yesterday had been awful. But I wasn't the one who'd done it to him. He didn't think I was involved, did he?
"Is something wrong?" I asked, wary now. "Something new, I mean?"
Ben took and released a deep breath. It made a whooshy noise into the phone. "I went into my desk this morning and found my passport missing. Just my passport. So I checked online, and guess what? It turns out that last night I took a plane to Greece.
"Do you think there's something wrong?"
A Brief Ben-Helps-Kate-Grieve Scene
(Apparently takes place while waiting in the hotel bar for Al)
He nodded. "You haven't talked about her lately. Your sister. How's that been? I mean, hard, of course, but." Then he shook his head, made a face at his own inadequacy. "I'm sorry. I was never much one for small talk."
"Losing Diana isn't small talk."
"No. I guess not."
I actually thought about it. It had been just over a month since I'd found my sister murdered. A month! "I don't cry as much, anymore," I admitted. "In fact, sometimes I'll think to myself, she's dead, as if I'm trying to make myself cry. Like poking your tongue at a loose tooth you can't leave alone, you know? It's unbelievable. That she's gone, and I'm still here. Every day's proof that I can survive without her here, and I it makes me angry. Oh, hell." I covered my face with my good hand.
Ben didn't bother to say anything comforting. Nothing about time healing all wounds, or Diana going to a better place, or things happening for reasons we don't understand. He just watched me through those deep, dark eyes, bright in the shadow of his loopy black curls, and listened.
"I hate your brother, you know," I said. Now that was a surge of emotion I could reawaken any time I wanted. "I hate him more than you can imagine."
"I know," he said quietly.
"Part of me wants all this to be over." I spread my arms to encompass the regal hallway around us. I was in a freaking hotel in Greece! "And part of me doesn't want it to, because when it is."
I swallowed hard, and scowled in a direction where he couldn't see my face. Damn. Just when you think you're past the tears.
"When this is done, your sister still won't be here," Ben finished for me. And he was so right that, despite the burning in my eyes, I looked back at him in amazement. "And you'll have to begin life without her. For real."
"Alone." The word kind of warbled out of me.
LONGER PLAN IN ATHENS
(After the bar scene, I had the characters come up with a more complicated plan, but realized that the Athens parts were beginning to drag on if I did so. I had to get Katie to Turkey, so I cut this business and streamlined what I needed)
"Um here's what we'll do," he said, rallying after only a brief flash of confusion. "Al left a phone number with me. So I'll call him tomorrow, make a lunch date with him, and tell you where it is. You surprise him there, and I'll surprise Vic at his hotel at the same time, and we'll ask them what the hell they were doing together. Hopefully that will throw them both off guard. Then we can meet up here and compare notes, like you said. Is it a plan?"
Here? Only then did I realize that we were already standing in front of Eleni's apartment building. "It's a plan," I agreed. "And Ben, I'm so sorry"
"Please." He held up a hand to stop me. "Please don't be. I'm sure I inspire enough bad feelings as it is."
I wanted to protest that, but he was already reaching past me, pressing the buzzer for Eleni's apartment. Then my cousin was buzzing me in, and I'd stayed out so late already, I was probably a lousy guest.
"Tomorrow," Ben promised, backing away.
* * *
Al Barker spilled coffee down his front when I surprised him by sitting down at his outdoor table, the next afternoon. "Hi, Al," I said, not at all sweet about it.
"Holy crap!" He wiped futilely at the brown stain spreading across his shirt. "Kate Trillo? What are youyou're in Athens?"
"Oh come off it. If Ben didn't tell you I was here, I'm sure Victor did."
"Victor's here?" Oh, he was a smooth one. That radio-announcer voice of his gave him an edge of sincerity that was hard to distrust except that I already knew he was a lying liar.
"Yeah. In the Hotel Zeus. But you already know that, too."
"How did you?" He shut up a few words too late. But it's not like I'd needed his confirmation.
"I have my ways," I assured him, with a lift of my eyebrows and a waggle of my fingers. Witches aren't supposed to use their magic to threaten people, anymore than we're supposed to use it for curses. At least, not any witches I've ever met. I can't speak for the rest.
But that ship had already sailed for me, so I might as well use it. The threat, if not the magic itself. "Talk," I urged.
Al looked at his watch. "I'm meeting with Benny any minute now, Kate. Maybe another time"
"Oh, we can talk while you're waiting. Buy me a cup of coffee, and tell me what you and Victor had to discuss."
After a moment more of hesitation, Al signaled the waiter for coffee.
The waiter gave him a cold look and ignored us.
"What Victor Fisher and I had to discuss," admitted Al, "Was the only thing we have in common."
Okay, I might not be a genius, but. "Ben?"
"We're both worried about him."
Well that was an angle I hadn't expected him to take. Especially since I couldn't imagine Victor worrying about anybody but himself and his precious Comitatus. "Why?"
"Because he packed up and left Chicago for Greece with no warning, for one thing! Do you know the last time he took an actual vacation? Never, that's the last time. It's one of the things that makes him such a good partner."
"Being driven. It's his way. Some people are into drugs. Ben Fisher's into the paranormal. So if this isn't about research, then something's changed in him. Drastically. What kind of a friend would I be if" He interrupted himself, raised his voice. "What does a guy have to do around here for some coffee?"
The waiter ignored him until I looked over and smiled. Then he came to our table. "Pretty lady! What may I bring for you?"
"A coffee would be fine, thank you," I said.
"And one for me," said Al, indicating what was left of the cup he'd spilled. "And a menu, if this place even has one."
The waiter ignored him. I could already tell this was going to be my favorite café in Athens.
"So you were asking what kind of a friend you'd be if you let poor Ben have a life," I prompted, highly skeptical.
"No, I was asking what kind of a friend I'd be if I ignored this change in him." Al pulled a small notebook from his pocket, laid it on the table. "So I talked to him, and when I wasn't satisfied, I talked to the one person who knows him better than anybody else."
"His murderer of a brother?" I challenged.
"His twin brother," Al insisted. "We've done shows on identical twins before, and it's amazing how closely connected they can be. They can feel each other's pain, know when the other is in danger. Telepathy isn't uncommon, either. Whether or not I like Victor Fisher, he's my best insight into Ben."
"Except maybe Ben?"
"Ben blew me off."
I couldn't imagine Ben blowing anybody offhe was too polite. But I could easily imagine that Al was the sort of guy to interpret something as innocent as It's personal business as a brush-off. "So surprise me," I challenged. "What's Victor's take on things?"
Al smiled, a little too eagerly, which should have been warning enough. Then he did surprise me.
"Victor thinks his brother's been bewitched."
His smile widened into a grin. "By you."
* * *
"Of course it's bullshit," said Ben, when we regrouped back at Eleni's.
"But it's bullshit that they agree on." I was pacing. "They both gave us the same story."
That story was that I'd somehow enchanted Ben into turning on his innocent brother. ...
That's it! A few other details are that the love scenes between Kate and Ben were late editions into the story (I'm pretty happy with them, though!) and that I'd seriously considered having Al involved with Vic--no, not THAT way. But as an acomplice or something. Then I decided that no, Ben was a better judge of character than that (his protests of Victor's innocence were always more wishful thinking than logic) and ended up having Al help them in the end, which happened during the copy-edit stage, it hit so late. But for balance, Al needed to show up--significantly--one more time.
I hope you enjoyed these! Feel free to E-MAIL ME and let me know what you think.