The story so far:
January 11, 2009
Everything was planned out perfectly, down to the last detail. We’d spent most of the night before setting up our networks in Le Café Blu. One over each possible exit, from doors to windows, hanging in place and ready to drop down and block any escape at our signal. Many more strung across the ceiling, prepared to drop on Miss-Willsey-Liana-Whatever as soon as she stood underneath.
After the others left, I even spent another two hours layering on the ambiences. It was tricky work, too, since I knew she was an expert. I had to layer each ambience with a few waves of subtlety, while at the same time dropping in hints of other, more innocent ambiences to throw her off the trail. By the time I was finished, the boss himself wouldn’t have noticed anything out of the ordinary in this café.
It wasn’t possible for anything to go wrong.
We got there early, of course, and I found a quiet, secluded seat in the back while Grif positioned himself in full view of the door. The boss here had finally agreed to letting us use a couple more magehunters, so I’d placed one just inside the front entrance while the other kept an eye on the back entrance. We’d taken some time to layer the waves and ambiences back on Grif so he could play the part. We just had to get her through the door, really, but I wasn’t taking any chances this time. She was a sharp one, much as I hated to admit it. If she saw him sitting there without the spiritual-guru-grab-bag floating off him, she’d know something was up.
Various customers came and went, several stopping to chat with Grif. Kid actually handed out a few more business cards. He was learning, that was certain. I couldn’t help a little smile as I watched him employ the tricks I’d taught him so well.
My watch had just buzzed, declaring the ten o’clock hour, when the door chimed.
Miss Tatiana Willsey breezed in through the door as if she hadn’t a care in the world.
I could hardly contain myself. This was it! We had her! I wanted to jump to my feet, see the look of shock on her face as she recognized me, then pull down every last network on her head. I wanted a camera just to capture that expression on her face. I wanted her afraid, realizing that she’d screwed up, been outsmarted, been caught.
But I kept my seat. This moment was too delicious; I intended to savor it a bit longer.
She flittered over to Grif, planted a kiss on his cheek, then moved on… right past him.
That was when the first pang hit my chest. Something wasn’t right here. Something was wrong, and I had to trigger the networks – right now.
Someone moved behind me, and a heavy weight fell on my head. I grunted at the impact and heard the grunt echo back to me.
Many colorful, descriptive, and profane words filled my mind, but none seemed quite strong enough to fit this situation. Someone had just dropped one of my own networks on me.
Willsey continued flitting her cheerful way through the restaurant. Grif was trying his hardest not to look straight at me. He couldn’t see the network from that distance, of course. He was waiting for a signal, as was the magehunter by the door. A signal I couldn’t possibly give.
“My dear, dear friend,” Willsey cooed as she slid into the seat opposite me. “I’m really touched that you went through all this trouble just to see me again!”
I could barely breathe. There she sat, just a couple of feet from me, and I couldn’t do a thing about it.
She giggled. “I imagined you would, of course. You may be a touch short-sighted, but you’re no dummy when it comes to magic. I must say, I’ve never met anyone whose skills come so close to my own before. It’s a shame your narrow-minded ways keep you from using it properly.”
It was my own network. If I could just find and trigger the release cord, I’d be free. Such a simple task… made completely impossible by my own immobility.
“I know!” she laughed, her eyes twinkling. “It’s just maddening, isn’t it?” She shook her head. “Well, Michael, it’s been a pleasure. I’d encourage you not to try to follow me again, but you really do seem to be a glutton for punishment. I guess the little gift I left with Clarence wasn’t quite enough to slow you down, but I imagine you had quite the fun taking care of it, hmm?”
She sighed luxuriously. A movement caught the corner of my eye, and I watched as the Urnet man Grif had met the other day strode to Willsey’s side. He’d been the one to trigger the network. I’d told everyone to be alert for Lilyans; I hadn’t thought to have them watching for her associates. Stupid, stupid, stupid…
Grif stood up and started walking toward us, the other magehunter just behind him. Took them long enough to figure out something was wrong.
“Well, I truly hate to disappoint,” Willsey said, “so I’ll just leave you with some more fun. Ta!”
She moved fast, too fast for Grif to even have a chance. She flew up above me and sent a quick spin of magic around the room.
Every last network dropped straight to the floor.
Grif hit the ground; from his open mouth, I could tell he shouted, but no sound could be heard. The other magehunter at least managed to keep his feet, but he, too, was completely immobilized. The other customers, the employees – everyone froze in place, locked in by the high-quality networks I had spent so much time constructing.
Everyone, that is, except for May-She-Ever-Be-Cursed-Willsey and her new lackey. She kissed my forehead, then fluttered out the door, the lackey just behind her, singing a cheerful farewell as she went.
The café remained frozen like an oil painting for almost a half hour before another customer showed up. It took the police another half hour to arrive, and it was almost an hour before they figured out to call the magehunters. My mind spent the time running through various scenarios, each one ending with Willsey’s ultimate humiliation, capture, and often demise in a variety of creative and fascinating ways.
By the time the magehunters got there, though, I knew the trail would be cold. She’d have gone on to another town. She’d have taken her lackeys with her this time, knowing better than to leave them where I might find them. There was nothing more I could do.
A few of the magehunters ribbed me about getting caught in my own network, but Grif brushed them off. At least some good had come of this; the kid had grown a backbone. The boss showed up, I shook his hand, thanked him for his help, and let him know I’d be packing up and leaving. She’d surface in some other town, do something illegal, and get caught.
It was out of my hands now. There was nothing for me to do but go home and see what new cases my boss had for me to work on.
It was over.