A high school student finds a grimoire that shows how to make magical disguises.
|Previously: "People Who Do What They're Told -- Or Don't"
"I dunno what your problem is," Jamie says as he sulks in the back seat of his car. "You could'a given your friends their money back, we had plenty with Chip's credit card, could'a bought—"
He's outside the mask but still in Chip's clothes, for you forced him to change as soon as you'd dragged him back to his car. You interrupt his bitching by hurling his own clothes, which he'd left wadded up in a clump in the front seat, at his face. "Hey!" he yells.
"Look, I know you meant well, man," you tell him. "And I know you don't like Chip. And, well, if it was just you and me still, I'd probably say, yeah, let's go for it. But we got my friends Caleb and Keith on board this thing now, and they're not gonna like what you tried doing!"
"Pfft? Whatsamatter with 'em?" Jamie snorts. He glances around the strip center's half-empty parking lot with a baleful expression.
"They're not— Nothing's the matter with them! Only—! Look, you know this stuff is magic, right?"
"Pft, yeah!" Jamie crosses his arms and folds his hands up inside his armpits. He slouches in the seat and glowers impatiently at you.
"Well, this is huge, you know. Magic is real! It, like, upends everything we know about the universe and how it works!"
Jamie only shrugs and looks away.
"Well, Caleb and Keith, and me, we're interested in this stuff. But scientifically, I mean. We wanna figure out how it works and why it works. And how, like, the thing, the magic robot, how it works. And how come the mask—"
Your eye falls onto Chip's mask, which is lying face down on the passenger seat next to you. You blink at it. There's no name in it. "Where's the doodad, the metal doodad that goes with it?" you ask Jamie.
"Huh?" Jamie leans forward to look into the front seat. "Oh, I guess I'm still wearing it." His eyes goes distant for half a second. "Yeah, I guess I have to take it out separately." He falls back and resumes slouching.
"You didn't glue them together?"
"What? When would I'a done that?"
"So how did you—? You just put them on separately, one at a time?"
You sigh. "Well, see, that's the kind of thing we want to figure out," you explain to him. "How this stuff fits together and how it works and what all you can do with it. After that—"
"Yeah?" Jamie's tone turns hopeful. Guarded but hopeful.
"Well, then we'll see."
Jamie rolls his eyes and slumps even further.
"You know," he says, "we wouldn't have to put up with this shit if it was my friends we showed this stuff to."
You shiver. The last thing you want is his friends getting involved in it.
"Look, just go along with me and my guys on this, okay?" you ask. "I promise you, we'll have some fun. Caleb and Keith, they definitely know how to have fun." Eh. Keith, maybe. Caleb, maybe not so much. "And you and me," you add, "if we go along with them, we can still have some fun on the side. You know, after stuff has been figured out. While we're figuring it out, even."
"Yeah?" At least Jamie's curiosity looks piqued. "What kind of fun?"
"Well, like we've been having. Like we've been doing."
You hate the way his eyebrows go up. "Like with the masks we got? What we was doing with them?"
"Uh, sure." Your heart drops like a rock.
Jamie rolls his tongue around in his cheek, and gives you an appraising glance.
"Yeah, okay," he says. "Your guys are making up some new gear, right? We could have fun with that."
"Well, it depends on what they do with it," you tell it. "Who they, uh, use it on."
"We could give 'em some ideas. Steer 'em. They're just looking at it, like, scientifically, right, you said? So it's not going to matter to them who the stuff gets used on. Right?"
"It might matter to them," you caution.
"Okay, we'll see," Jamie tells you. "But so long as I'm around, I can try to steer 'em where to go."
"Sure," you tell him, but your heart remains heavy. "Sure."
* * * * *
You separate, with Jamie agreeing to return Chip Flanagan's things to his house while you resume shopping. He's done quicker than you, so that you find his car parked beside the basement door when you return to the elementary school. He's downstairs with Caleb and Keith, keeping them company while they work. The atmosphere between everyone is cool, but polite.
Yet you're not as pleased as you'd like to be when Jamie cheerfully volunteers to make another blank mask and band, to help out with the experiment, for though his manner and attitude seem very open, you can't shake the feeling that he's up to something. But at least it means that the talk isn't strained as you work, for first you and he have to share the car buffer to polish up the masks, and then everyone concentrates on the rune work which, as you'd warned Caleb and Keith, is long and exacting work. Even after Caleb and Keith take a break to go get some food for everyone for a late-ish supper, you and Jamie don't talk much as you concentrate on the metal bands.
Keith and Caleb have finished, but you and Jamie haven't, when you finally break up for the night, and agree to meet again at the old school the next day at around two. (You have church.) After you're home, Caleb calls you.
"Okay," he says, "that wasn't as much of a painful disaster as I thought it was going to be."
There's a pause. "Well, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be," he says.
"I told you he wasn't a bad guy."
"Eesh, jury's still out on that. But I'll grant he is more normal-ish than I expected. Uh, what does he want to do with the stuff?"
None of the answers you could give Caleb would make Jamie sound "normal-ish," so you parry him with a question of your own. "Well, what do you want to do with it?"
His tone turns wary. "Well, like I said, I want to experiment with it, figure out—"
"No, after that. After you've 'figured it out.' And you're gonna have to use them on people, the way we used the first couple on, uh, Jamie's mom and her friend."
There's a pause on the other end. "I was thinking we could try them on ourselves," Caleb says, a little primly.
"You sure you want to do that?" you ask him. "You sure you want to make something that Jamie could use to, you know, impersonate you?"
Now there's a dead silence. "What are you implying?" Caleb asks.
"Nothing. Not about Jamie. I mean, you don't want to make anything that anybody could use to impersonate you. Right? I'm not saying anything about what Jamie would do, not particularly. But if you left something like that around for someone, even Keith or me, or God forbid one of Jamie's friends to get ahold of—"
"Okay, okay, I get your point," Caleb says. "Well then, if not us, who do we—?"
"That's my question, man. Considering that once you got someone copied into it, you're gonna want to, you know, try it out. Maybe even in public." You feel your face starting to burn. Caleb knows all about how you went shopping while disguised as Jamie's mom.
"I don't see that we'd need to do that," Caleb says. He sounds even more prim.
"So you'd just test it on some rando? Some old person, some fat old guy you ran into at the department store, shopping for—"
"Alright, alright! Jesus!" Caleb says. "But I haven't thought about it!"
Bullshit, you think. You just don't want to say what you've been thinking. Aloud: "Well, maybe you better. And maybe you better talk to Keith. Because I bet you anything, Keith is thinking about how he could use these things to get back at Javits. Or how to use them to get into some girl's panties. Either inside them or to wear them."
"Jesus," Caleb says again. "He probably is, isn't he?"
And now you are too, you think. But you say nothing, and just tell him you'll talk to him tomorrow.
* * * * *
But Jamie's the first one you talk to on Sunday.
Because of course he is.
The call comes while you're still at church, but your phone is off so you don't find his text messages until you turn your phone back on immediately after the service. He sounds frantic, so you get permission from your dad to skip lunch to go help a friend. You tell Jamie where to find you—St. Michael's Episcopal—and ask him to come pick you up.
"Look, it's you guys's fault," he says as the two of you make a fast getaway. "You and your talk about 'experiments'."
"What did you do?" you ask in alarm.
"Well, you guys weren't going to do anything. I could just tell."
"The next spell in the book."
You haven't even looked at it, and you demand to know what he's talking about.
"I took the book home with me last night, when we left," he says. You sit up straight at that, for you hadn't noticed him palming it. "And I looked it over and it was pretty clear you guys wouldn't do it, and that would be the end of it. Because, you know, you have to do a spell in order to turn the pages in the—"
"Why wouldn't we do it?" you yell. "What does the spell do?"
Jamie gives you sidelong look.
"Is this just between us?" he asks. "Or do you wanna get your guys involved? They're the ones who are doing it for science."
That's all for now.