Saturday, December 27, 2008

124. The Eyes Have It

Contest winner: Linda Carrig

The prisoner smirked as he was led into the interrogation room. The RMB agents looked tired and ill. The wizard, who sat across from the prisoner at the small scarred table, had bags under his eyes and stains on his collar. The witch leaning against the far wall wore sunglasses with mirrored lenses, though it wasn't terribly bright in the room. The prisoner suspected that she was asleep on her feet.

The bailiff unclipped the prisoner's wandcuffs from his own buttonhole and transferred it to the RMB wizard, then left the room with a click of the door. The RMB wizard buttoned the free end of the fine, silvery chain to his lapel. The other end was clamped to the prisoner's wand. For a few minutes, no one said anything; the agents didn't even look at the prisoner. This left him free to chew on his bitterness about this newest RMB outrage: wandcuffs that made it impossible for you to let go of your wand, impossible to unhook it from your captor's control, impossible to do magic. At least it left the prisoner free to use his most important weapon: deception.

The wizard agent unzipped a pocket in thin air and pulled out a clipboard with the prisoner's arrest report on it. He flipped through the report with an air of lazy indifference, then put it down on the table.

"Remind me of your name?" the wizard asked, fixing his eyes on his own fingernails.

The prisoner said, "Fergus Collins."

After a short pause, the woman with the mirror lenses said, "A lie."

The prisoner shrugged. "All right. Dermot O'Leary."

"Another lie."

The prisoner rolled his eyes. "Sylvester Costello."

"You're not even Irish," said the witch, who otherwise remained as still as ever, her shoulders pressed against the wall. "Try harder."

With a sigh of resignation the prisoner admitted, "Felix Willoughby of Number 8, Foxglove Close, Bexley."

"There is some truth in that name and address," said the witch. "They belong to somebody you know, but not you."

"My name," the prisoner snarled in a sudden excess of fury, "is Peter Paul Smith."

"Address?" said the wizard, who had meanwhile begun calmly tweezing his eyebrows.

The prisoner let loose a stream of rapid, agitated talk: "Number Thirty-Two, Elderberry Street, Lewisham. I live on the third floor, across the landing from a fish-and-chips vendor named Lloyd. I forget his last name. My landlady's name is Dorothy Persall, and she has a beagle named Lady Trueblood. I would like to forget that. Shall I ring her for you?"

"No, I believe you," said the witch, who still hadn't moved an inch. The wizard, on the other hand, had begun to rummage in another midair drawer, coming up at last with a thick, battered binder containing Peter Smith's criminal record.

"This is more like it," said the wizard. He wriggled the tip of his wand at the much thinner Fergus Collins file, which stuffed itself into the Peter Smith file.

"Our lot have seen a great deal of you, Mr. Smith," said the wizard. "You have shown consistently poor judgment. But this latest complaint opens up new horizons of tastelessness, even for you. I would like to think it isn't true. Tell me it isn't true, Mr. Smith."

"It isn't true," said Mr. Smith.

"Lying again," said the witch, stifling a yawn.

"I guess it is true, then," the wizard said. He looked more tired than ever. "Would you like to tell us why you did this?"

"How are you doing this?" Smith exploded. "What is she, a legilimens? Isn't that dark magic? How dare you use dark magic on me! Who are you people, anyway?"

"You may call me Agent Dalrymple," said the wizard. "My colleague is Agent Ilonera. I assure you, we are not using Dark magic. Her glasses can detect tiny changes in your body temperature, the amount of sweat on your skin, and the rate of your heartbeat. She only has to look at you, and she knows whether you are lying or telling the truth. Quite appropriate, don't you think, Mr. Smith? You've been dealing in magical spying devices yourself, haven't you?"

"Glass eyes," said Smith, "not spying devices."

"Glass eyes that can see," Agent Dalrymple pointed out, without waiting for Agent Ilonera to tell him Smith was lying.

"So?" Smith challenged. "What's wrong with helping people who have lost their vision to get it back again?"

"Surely there aren't that many witches or wizards who have lost an eye," scoffed Dalrymple.

"I haven't sold many yet," said Smith.

"Why do you bother?" sighed Agent Ilonera.

"All right, I've sold a good few," Smith admitted. "But how do you know there aren't people who would pluck out an eye to have one that can..."

"...turn in all directions, see through solid walls, yes, yes," said Dalrymple. "Since you put it as a question, how can I know, indeed? Now, suppose I ask the questions; and suppose you answer them. Suppose I ask how many muggles have bought your magic eyes. What do you say?"

Smith chewed on the end of his tongue, glaring hatefully at Agent Ilonera.

"There's the statute of secrecy gone," Dalrymple groaned, conjuring up a piece of parchment covered in frighteningly impressive calligraphy. He stuffed it into Smith's file as if he resented having to make the effort.

"I didn't tell them it was magic," Smith said in a soft, chastened voice. "They all think it's a medical miracle, or a miniature machine, or one of those cracked things Muggles believe in."

"Nevertheless," Dalrymple said, shaking his head. "And that's all beside the point that the eyes didn't do all they were supposed to do; and they did one thing they were NOT supposed to do."

"That's a lie," Smith said hastily.

"No, that is," Ilonera countered.

"Your magical eyes weren't very magical, were they?" said Dalrymple, while picking at a loose thread on his cuff. "A bit disappointing, how they could only see through a half-inch or less of wood, and no stone or metal whatever. And even then, you could only see a dim outline of what was on the other side. This is a far cry from the 'X-Ray Vision' you promised to your unsuspecting..."

"They would know there was something odd," Smith spat, "if they could see through six inches of solid lead, wouldn't they?"

"That would really be a violation of the Statue of Secrecy, wouldn't it?" Dalrymple almost smiled. "But what about your clients' secrecy? Or privacy, rather. Did you explain to them that you would be able to see whatever their new eyes looked at?"

"I'm not saying another word," said Smith.

"I'm grateful for that," said Dalrymple, as calmly as ever. "Frankly, I'm sick of the sound of your voice. It isn't just that you do nothing but lie, whine, and make excuses. It's the memory of a great man who sacrificed his life doing the right thing, a memory you have besmirched by stealing his invention and using it for sordid gain. And gain doesn't get much more sordid than spying out people's account numbers, cleaning out their savings, and changing their sterling money into galleons for your own selfish use. How did you spend those galleons, eh, Mr. Smith? Don't tell me. I don't want to hear about cockatrice-baiting or billywig mills or illegally imported firebrandy. All I want to know is how you would cope with being dropped from the same height that Alastor Moody..."

"Garth," the witch agent said in a soft but warning voice.

"I just have one question," said Dalrymple. He pulled out a black and white photograph of an intense-looking, active man in his mid-thirties. The man neither smiled nor waved, but his eyes seemed to search Smith's face as he looked at the picture, and they were eyes full of purpose, full of passion, full of life.

"My question," said Dalyrmple, "is whether one of your clients - your witch or wizard clients, that is - has looked at this face with one of your magic eyes."

"What would it be worth to you if they had?" Smith asked shrewdly.

"That depends on when it was," Dalrymple said.

Smith considered for only a moment, then said: "How about within the week?"

For the first time, the woman leaned away from the wall, slamming her hands down on the corners of the table. "Where is he?" she shouted.

Smith looked up at her - looked up at himself reflected in her mirror lenses - and grinned. "You want him more than you want me," he observed gleefully. "How much more?"

Dalrymple put his hand on Ilonera's wrist. She backed away from the table, keeping her mirrored lenses trained on the prisoner.

"How much?" Smith repeated.

"Enough to make all this go away," said Dalrymple, indicating the thick file with a tilt of his head.

After the bailiff took Smith away, Dalrymple shoved the police file into a random zipper in space. He lingered over the photograph for a moment before filing it, rather more carefully, in another slot. Then he looked over his shoulder at his partner, who was pacing the length of the wall.

"We're almost there," he said reassuringly.

"If we're not already too late," Agent Ilonera said, her voice husky with emotion.

"Don't borrow disaster," Dalrymple advised calmly. "It won't make anything easier."

"Neither does hope," Ilona replied shakily. "I don't know if I can stand another hour of it."

"Then take a sleeping draught," Dalrymple said. "When you wake up, you'll know..." He faltered, shaking his head.

"I'll know whether I still have a husband," Ilona finished for him.


To help choose the direction of the next few chapters of The Magic Quill, visit the Discussion Forum, or send Robbie feedback. The survey answer with the most votes, and the contest entry (or entries) Robbie likes best, will be featured in the chapter after next. [EDIT: This discussion is now closed.]

SURVEY: Which of Mr. Exion's daughters puts up the toughest fight when the RMB storms the Prickly Spindle?

CONTEST: Take your favorite nursery rhyme and alter it to show how wizarding children might know it.

[Originally posted 9/13/07]

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