A high school student finds a grimoire that shows how to make magical disguises.
|Previously: "Deepening the Talent Pool"
It was hard leaving Thomason—or "Andrea Varnsworth," as you must now call him—at the McDonald's.
Oh, the actual parting wasn't difficult. You just got back in the Jeep and drove off. Nor did you especially wish to stay behind with him. Yes, that meant leaving behind someone who was shaped like Andrea Varnsworth, a girl with steady eyes under a smooth brow, set over high cheekbones that narrow to a skeptical mouth and a strong chin that tilts provocatively up from a slim neck; a pair of large, rounded breasts clasped tightly within form-fitting Lycra; a swimmer's trunk and a swimmer's tummy and scissor-like swimmer's legs that begged to have the swimsuit peeled off them. But it wasn't hard to remember that beneath it all was Joe Thomason's pale, skull-like face, and only brain bleach will remove the image of his skinny body—tufted with chest hair—inside that swimsuit. You'd moved fast to get the mask onto him; reality had flickered in the driver's seat, like the briefest hiccup in a video feed; and then it had been Andrea Varnsworth, her eyes shut and chin drooping to her breastbone, sitting there. You'd lifted her head with one hand and delicately pinched her nose shut with the other, and she'd come out of the swoon with a gasp and cough. Fear and confusion showed in her eyes when they came into focus.
That's when you'd given her your instructions.
She'd said nothing, just stared at you, and you'd stared back until she'd nodded and quietly asked, "Am I supposed to do anything else?"
"For now, just become Andrea Varnsworth," you reply, and your heart beats as you say it. "That's your homework. Tomorrow morning, I want it so that no one can spot the change. You are now Andrea, except—" You raise a finger. "You are my bitch now. Treat me normal in school, but show proper respect when we're not."
She holds your eye, and you hold hers, and only the revolting thought that it was really Thomason under a mask keeps you from touching her, and caressing her, and pulling her into an embrace. Andrea Varnsworth has never been this available to you before; and at the same time has never been more unavailable, for the attraction of her face and figure are perfectly balanced by the repulsive truth about who "she" now really is.
And that was the peculiar gravitation that so warped the McDonald's parking lot that your legs wobbled, making it very hard to walk away from her.
* * * * *
It's only nine-thirty in the morning, so you go back to the house. Grandfather is still sleeping, and both parents are sitting with him. Mostly they look relieved that he's not woken up yet, but they also look a little disquieted. He doesn't usually sleep this long.
Go to sleep, you'd told him last night. He'd complied. Will he stay asleep until you rouse him?
What if you told him Die already? That thought causes you to stumble a little as you come into the sick room. "I can sit with him for a little while," you offer. Mother and father look at each other, then let you take over.
While they do some household chores, you hunch over in the chair and text George Mendoza—well, the poor bastard who has Mendoza's face. Meeting at the water towers, two o'clock, you tell him. Tell Evans and Thomason. If they say no, I want to know why. Then you text both Chris Trantham and Kevin Hall. Meeting at Hochstetter Park, three o'clock.
Shortly after that, Grandfather comes to life again.
He shrieks and caws and throws out an arm. You grab him and hush him, and he settles back. Your father comes in, and together you put the old man onto the toilet, and while he's there you change the sheets on his bed. You volunteer for duties about the house while others look after him: That, you figure, will earn you enough credit you can get out of the house for a couple of hours in the middle of the afternoon.
You calculate correctly, and after four hours of hard, brisk work in the bathrooms, with the vacuum cleaner, with the duster, and with a mop in the kitchen, you are given permission to leave again while grandfather docilely clucks to himself. You wonder if he's happy.
Then you wonder if there's even a "him" in that bed that's capable of being happy.
* * * * *
"Where the fuck is Thomason?"
Evans and Mendoza look at each other and shrug. So convincing are Trantham and Hall at playing these dipshits that you almost congratulate them. "I told you to call him," you say.
"I sent him a text," says the one who looks like Mendoza.
"Fucking call the douchebag next time. Call him now."
You're on the far eastern edge of town, near a group of small lakes—glorified ponds, really—where some creeks gather and drain. It's a kind of natural reservoir for the city, which the authorities have augmented with a cluster of tall, toadstool-like water towers. There's a nearby subdivision, but the closest houses are a couple of hundred yards off, separated from the towers by a chain-link fence and a wide field choked with grass, weeds, and junk. The neighborhood children would probably like to play here, but for as long as anyone can remember this area has been reserved for the town's more thuggish element: teen boys who come out to swagger and yell and strut in front of the girls they've dragged along as a flushed and eager audience.
There are quite a few cars scattered in the improvised parking areas, but you're off at the edge of one of the ponds, by yourselves, in a corner where you're unlikely to be observed or hassled. You're not surprised that Joe Thomason—who just this morning was a gorgeous girl named Andrea Varnsworth—is not answering her texts, and you're not especially keen to have "him" at this meeting. Mostly you wanted the new Thomason to realize that, so far as his friends are concerned, there's been no change in him; and you wanted Mendoza to handle him so that you wouldn't have to deal with him directly if he proved recalcitrant.
As he's proving now. "Dude says he's sick," Mendoza tells you after a few gruff words have been exchanged via phone.
You grab it from him. "The fuck is your deal?" you demand of poor, confused Andrea Varnsworth. She probably is sick—sick beyond empathy or understanding—at finding herself suddenly and bizarrely trapped inside Thomason's body. But you can't act like you've any idea of what has happened. "You got a tummy ache, asshole?"
"I just can't go anywhere," comes the reply.
"I wanna see you after school tomorrow," you say. "And I want a note from your doctor if you're not in class." You toss the phone back to Mendoza.
"Alright, I'll just deal with you two fuckers," you tell them. "I said I wanted more sales out of you two, you been slacking with only six a month. That goes up to three ounces each next month, so you better start figuring out how you're gonna place it if you don't wanna start smokin' it yourself. Where you been placin' yours?" you demand of Evans.
"Most of it with Nicholas Horner," he stammers. You can't tell if it is Trantham stammering, or Trantham doing a bang-up imitation of Evans stammering. "Like, three to him. The rest to Joshua Call and Jordan Fry. Justin Roth, sometimes."
"How many a month to Roth?"
"Are you asking me?"
"One a month, at most."
"Fucker smoke a hell of a lot more than that. And fucking Call and Fry don't only do one joint a month, do they? They turn you down when you offer them more?"
"I don't—" He turns very red. "I, uh, sometimes turn them down when I've—"
You punch him. "Cocksucking dumbass, how much money have we been leaving on the table? You always give it when they ask, and you offer it when they don't! Christ on a stick! Has anyone else ever asked you and you've turned them down?"
"Jimmy Brewer? But he said he was doing research for a part in a play, so—"
"Pro tip, moron. If a guy offers you a blow job or asks for a joint, he's not 'doing research'. He just doesn't want you to know he's desperate for it. Get out your phone, text me every single fuck who ever asked you for some weed. Yo, Mendoza, tell me something that doesn't piss me off."
He shrugs helplessly. Close questioning shows that he also doesn't push as hard as he could. "Keep after them," you tell him. "Castillo, Vargas—"
"They don't have the money."
"'Cos they don't know what they can get from you!"
You dismiss them soon afterwards, for you've the other meeting to get to. You hope the disguised originals of the dipshits aren't as useless.
* * * * *
"I don't think I can do it," Chris Trantham says quietly. "I mean, I don't think Trantham could. No one would buy him as a seller, not a serious one. He's too much of a dude. You know. 'The Dude'." He makes air quotes.
You stare at him with dull frustration. But he's got a point. Trantham is soft and round and flabby, an unbaked roll of biscuit dough that sags to the touch. "So who over there would be believable as a hard-core dealer?"
He thinks a bit. "Terry Fitzgerald, maybe. More than Trantham would be. Paul Zametti. Adam Karter, maybe. Or one of the basketball players. Uh, are you thinking about giving me a new identity?"
Honestly, you're not sure. It might be best just to pull Evans back into Westside, and to develop a brand-new contact over at Eastman. First, though, you'd have to figure out who that could be.
Next: "Too Many Dumbasses"