November 5th, 1974. 11:10 AM

 

It seemed that every time I woke up lately I was in more pain than the day before.  I guess one could expect that to happen if they’re not going to sleep, per se, but getting knocked unconscious on a daily basis.

            My injuries weren’t bad enough for me to be admitted to the hospital whose waiting room I was currently occupying, just a couple of sutures in my forehead.  But I was told to wait around for some test results as well as for a police officer who wanted to talk to me.  I had no idea what town I was in, but if the size of the hospital was any indication, it wasn’t a major one.  And that would explain me having to wait to talk to a cop, since there probably weren’t that many on duty.

            I still hadn’t received any word on the severity of the accident.  I don’t remember what happened between that awful sound of impact and arriving at the hospital.  As far as Celia, Justin and Gilbert were concerned, I hadn’t been told anything.

            Though several of my bones protested, and were quickly joined by various muscles, I lifted myself off of the uncomfortable couch and limped to the payphone.  Earlier I had called information for the number of The Eye of the Rainbow Dragon, but no one had answered.  I knew there was no reason for Sage not to open her shop on a Tuesday if everything was well and good, and it was making me rather nervous when she wouldn’t answer.  At first I called every 15 minutes, but then it dropped down to every five.  Again no one picked up, so I decided to indulge myself in another awful cup of coffee from the vending machine to kill some time.

            On this trip to the antiquated, hulking cube of metal I pushed the button that offered cream.  My first cup I took black, and the taste was so strong and acidic I didn’t think I’d be able to force another one down unless it was diluted by something…anything.  The monolith spit out 25 cents worth of coffee into the small cup, and I closed my eyes as I took my first gulp expecting the awful flavor to be slightly lessened.  It wasn’t.  When looking into the cup I saw just a black pool of coffee with some white chunks of something that I assumed were supposed to symbolize cream.

            I poured the contents of the cup down the drinking fountain drain and went back to the couch.

 

November 5th, 1974. 11:15 AM

 

The five minutes passed more slowly than most half hours, even with the help of an inane game show playing on the black and white set in the waiting room.  Though I didn’t relish the act of trying to stand again, I was hoping on this attempt Sage would answer the phone.

            I was in the act of groaning – merely anticipating how much it would hurt to stand – when Celia entered the waiting room.  She didn’t look like she had just been in a car accident, in fact she looked like she’d just left the makeup chair on some glamorous Hollywood soundstage.   Her hair, as always, fell into perfect place, and she wore a neatly pressed blazer and matching skirt. 

            “Mr. Louviere, I’m glad you’re okay,” she said.  And though her words seemed to show some degree of caring, her tone told me that my being up and about was merely something to notice, not necessarily be pleased with.  

            “Celia, you seem to have come out of this better than you went into it,” I said after finally having reached a standing position.  Humor didn’t seem to be working on her this morning.  She handed me a shaving kit recently purchased from the hospital gift shop, and pointed to the men’s room door. 

“Go clean yourself up, I’ll be waiting out here.  And don’t worry about your clothes, I have a suit coming.”

“You have a suit coming?”  I was stunned.  “We’re in the middle of nowhere, where are you getting a suit from?”

“When I’m on a job, Mr. Louviere, I like to present myself in a professional manner, and I insist that those I’m working with look just as good.  Now, if you don’t mind, time is of the essence.”

“Wait, wait, just hold on,” I told her.  “First of all, you didn’t answer my question.  I asked where did you get a suit?  And secondly, who said we were working together?”

            “The suit is from a local tailor.  I just guessed at your sizes, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m pretty spot-on. I’m good at that kind of thing.  And secondly…” she continued, mocking my tone of voice, “I said we’re working together.  And if you could just give it a few seconds of thought, you’ll realize that I’m right on this one.  Now hurry up.”  She put a hand on my shoulder and pushed me towards the men’s room door.

 

*   *   *

 

            After splashing a couple of handfuls of water on my face I felt brave enough to check out my reflection.  I looked like hell.  The white bandage just above my left eye was the only thing that wasn’t scraggly, wrinkled, bruised, or just plain filthy.  I had been wearing the same suit for too long, and during its most recent tenure it had not only been through an auto accident, but also spent some time lying in a dirty motel parking lot.  And it still looked better than the rest of me.

            The shave seemed to revive me a bit, and the kit came with a comb so I was able to make myself look much more presentable than I would have believed just a few minutes earlier.  But it was the brushing of my teeth was one of the most refreshing experiences I can recall.

            I was about finished, just making sure I’d wiped all the shaving cream from behind and under my ears, when an orderly entered the restroom with a garment bag slung over one shoulder.

            “My Louviere?  Sam Louviere?” he asked.

            “Yeah, that’s me,” I answered.

            “A young lady in the waiting room told me to give this to you.”  He handed me the suit.

 

November 5th, 1974. 11:40 AM

 

“You clean up quite well, Mr. Louviere,” Celia said, handing me a new fedora as I stepped into the waiting room.  And though  I would have preferred to have taken a long, hot shower, I had to agree with her.  The suit was dark blue with a conservative, yet modern cut, and the fit was so precise it was hard to believe I hadn’t spent several sessions having it tailored.  The shirt was a crisp white, and if I had any complaints they would be with the tie.  It was a boring shade of red.

            Since Celia hadn’t mentioned the conditions of Justin or Gilbert/William, I was aware that the news probably wasn’t good, but I asked anyway.

            “Gilbert will be fine,” she said.  “He has a couple of broken ribs, so he’ll be here longer than we can wait around for him.  Justin…”  she trailed off, noticeably choosing her words wisely.  “Justin didn’t fare so well.  He’ll be kept here until he can be moved to a more modern facility.”  Then, as casual as a customer asking me if I have any moonstone gems on hand. “now, shall we be on our way?”

            I paused, afraid of hearing the answer to my next question, but knowing it needed to be asked.

            “And what about Shirley?”

            “I’m not familiar with anyone named Shirley,” she said in a cold, disinterested tone.

            “Shirley’s my car.”

            “Ah, your car.”  Her head tilted back slightly, and there was just the hint of a smile.  “Unfortunately your car didn’t make it.  Let’s just say, once you see it – or her rather,” there was a mocking tone in Celia’s voice that I didn’t appreciate.  “You’ll wonder how you survived at all.  Don’t worry, though, you’ll have plenty of time to mourn and retrieve whatever luggage, beads, charms and whatnot, when all this is settled.”

            She turned and took a few steps towards the exit when she sensed I wasn’t following her.  She turned, her expression reminding me she was deadly serious.

            “I’m not going anywhere right now,” I told her.

            “Excuse me?”  She seemed genuinely surprised that someone wasn’t doing exactly what she was saying, when she was saying it.

            “I’m still waiting on some test results, and besides, the police want to talk to me.”

            Celia stepped up to me and leaned in close, staring into my eyes.   Then, after a few moments of her impromptu checkup:  “You’re fine.  Let’s go.”  She grabbed me by the arm, leading me to the door.

            “Well what about the police?” I asked.  “I can’t just take off before they get all they need about the accident.”

            “Mr. Louviere, in case you hadn’t noticed, I take care of things.”  Her tone was deadly serious.  “And one of the many things I’ve taken care of while you were wasting your time watching silly television shows was the local law enforcement.  They have all they need, we’re free to go.”

            “Oh really?” I asked, and instead of answering verbally her expression showed extreme impatience.  “Well maybe I want to talk to them.  Have you thought about that?”  Unfortunately for my ego, Celia didn’t respond to threats.

            “And what would you tell them, Mr. Louviere?”  She paused, but not long enough for me to answer.  “That some mysterious strangers and myself had kidnapped you to help us look for some magic beads?”

            “I just might,” I said sternly, but realizing how silly that was.

            “And would waiting around here to talk to them bring you any closer to your precious Sarah?”  Again, she was right.  I couldn’t admit it, so I changed the subject.

            “I like your necklace,” I told her.  It wasn’t much, really, and could have looked quite odd one someone else.  But like everything Celia wore, she made it look great.  It was simply thin, silver strand supporting two faux pearls.  Now, I realize that a faux pearl is a faux pearl, and except for color and size they pretty much all look alike.  But these two I recognized, and I was flattered that she wore them.  “Which of the three clasps did you use?”  For once I seemed to set Celia off balance.  Remembering what she had purchased from me that night in the burger joint – oh, does that seem like it was a hundred years ago – when she was pretending to be an innocent waif in need of a birthday gift, had the hoped-for effect. It wasn’t much, just a twitter in her demeanor that lasted less than a couple of seconds.  But still, I had gotten to her.  Her hand absentmindedly went to the pearls.

            “You have a rather amazing memory, Mr. Louviere.  And I must admit, your recent penchant for head injuries hasn’t made you any less sharp.  That’s good.  I’ll need you sharp.  Now, can we leave here and get on to more pressing matters?”

            I smiled.  I was proud of myself.

            “Sure,” I said.  “Let’s go.”  I offered her my arm, but she didn’t take it.

 

November 5th, 1974. 11:55 AM

 

In the parking lot we wove our way up and down the rows of cars, and Celia knit her brow as she looked for ours.

            “I’d rented us some new transportation,” she said.  “They said it would be out here by now.  As you probably guessed, my car didn’t do any better than yours.  Ah, here it is.”  She checked the license plate against a small slip of paper she took from her purse, but we both new that precaution was unnecessary.  There was only one shiny, new, black Lincoln Continental in this hick-town parking lot.

            “Would now be a good time to ask where we’re going?”

            “Sure,” she responded, but said no more.

            “Then I’m asking,” I told her.

            “First we’re going to retrieve the three beads that Justin, Gilbert and I hid last night.  I told them it was a bad idea not to keep them with us, but Justin was able to convince Gilbert it was the smartest thing to do.  I didn’t like it, but I also hate to argue with an employer.”  

The car was unlocked, and the keys were already in the ignition.  As we pulled out of the lot, I felt my eyelids getting heavy.  I was going to sleep – real sleep, not trauma induced unconsciousness – and I wasn’t going to fight it.  But I did have one thing to say to Celia before I dozed off:  “They’re not going to be there, you know.”

If she responded, I didn’t hear it.

 

November 5th, 1974. 1:40 PM

 

“Okay, we’re here,” was all Celia had to say to wake me.  I’d slept well – a dreamless sleep that I was grateful for.

            “Where’s here?”  I asked, but she didn’t answer.  Just a few steps out of the car and I found out.

            “You left these valuable beads, these things that have caused me, you, and others no end of trouble and expense, at a bus station?

            “If leaving them here was a stupid thing to do, Mr. Louviere, wouldn’t wasting time looking for them here be just as idiotic?”

            “They wouldn’t be wasting any time, Celia, and I think you know that.  They’ve got help.  Moondagger.  He’s lead them right to these beads.  I’m telling you, they’re not here,” I said, holding the door to the station for her.

            “Ah, yes, your plumbing supply spiritualist,” she said.  “I called his shop this morning, and he wasn’t in.  I talked to a young man named Lenny.  He seemed quite worried.  It seems that he was sleeping on the couch, heard nothing, and awoke to find Mr. Moondagger nowhere around.  He says he didn’t hear anything, but in the morning had a horrible headache.  I’m guessing they used chloroform on him.”

            “So, you think they got him.  Then why would you believe your beads are still here?” I asked.

            “Because I don’t believe in psychics, Mr. Louviere, just as I don’t believe in magic beads, gemstones, pearls, crystals or little pieces of silver.  I’ve been paid to do a job, if my employer is off his rocker and wants to believe in enchanted amber, I won’t judge him.  But I will find what he’s looking for.”

            “What do these beads look like?”  I asked her as we stepped over an unconscious man in the hallway.  “I mean, the other four are about the ugliest beads I’d ever seen.”

            “They’re not that bad,” she said.  “According to the legend, these three are the good beads.”

            “The good beads?”  I was extremely confused.

            “Don’t you know the legend?” She asked.

            “Well, mostly, yeah.  Though it is kind of new to me.”

            “Apparently when this Thibaut character was prancing around the world collecting magic beads, he was able to acquire three of them through gentle persuasion, trading, and outright lies that made the medicine men, or whatever they were, hand over the beads of their own free will.  With their blessings, even.  The other three beads, however, were acquired through threat or outright violence.  The mystics who handed over these beads cursed them, filled them with ‘bad’ magic.  That’s part of the power of the whole set together:  three parts white magic, three parts black.  Both sides of the universe represented equally.”

            We had reached a row of lockers and Celia took a key out of her purse.  She checked the number on the key ring to the numbered metal plates.

            “That’s only six beads.  What about the seventh?” I asked.

            “Oh, you mean the one you’re taking me to as soon as we leave here?”

            I didn’t answer.

            “That one supposedly is the ‘buffer’ bead.  It’s placed in the center of the magic necklace or whatever the owner’s supposed to wear.  It keeps the evil and the good separate, so as they’re not in constant conflict with each other.  Without that bead, Mr. Louviere, the powers would be at odds, and of no use to anybody.  Ah, here we are.”

            She leaned over, sliding the key in the lock.

            “It’s a waste of time,” I told her.  “Those beads aren’t going to be in there.”

            And then she opened the locker, and we both looked inside.

 

 

 

 

 

 ..................to be continued

 

© 2006 Brightlings Beads and M. Robert Todd