My muscles were stiff when I woke up Friday morning, but it wasn't anything that a little warm stretching and a couple of aspirin didn't hold in abeyance. Mom and Mary were both quiet at the kitchen table as they ate their breakfasts. My other family members were either at work or still asleep. The voices in my head were mostly quiet, too. I glanced at the newspaper as I nibbled small bites from a piece of toast with a little peanut butter. The shocking story about bodies in a freezer and alleged demonic sacrifices had been demoted to the front of the local section. The article didn't contain any new information.
I was mostly concerned that someone might note that a kid with a ski mask, bicycle, and guitar had fled emergency workers right around the same time a supposed teenager wearing a ski mask had killed Guzman. Of course, if the police had managed to turn up a witness who had seen me enter Guzman's backyard with my guitar and bicycle, there was no way they could fail to make the connection. To my small relief, the article said nothing about that. Of course, it was entirely possible that the police had made the link but had managed not to leak it to the press.
Danny's brothers had Jenny duty, so Danny was allowed to join the rest of the shovel crew shortly after sunrise. He, Mike, and Terry, having hit Russ's weight set pretty hard, were in worse shape than the rest of us, and we worked slower than the evening before. Because we weren't being paid by the hour, it didn't matter to our customers.
A portion of our business was from person's whose drives we had cleared the day before. "Do you think they'll be pissed off when we make them pay again?" Terry asked.
"Why should they be?" Danny replied. "It's not like the work we did before doesn't count." Danny's prediction was right. We attempted to charge based on the difficulty of the job, and most people realized it was easier to remove three inches of snow twice, and cost them less, than it was to remove six inches of snow once, at least when one was working with a shovel.
With many adults having to dig themselves out before going to work, and lots of other kids with the same money-making idea we had, the neighborhood was again mostly functional by noon. Because the side streets of Packard were salted but not plowed, there still was some danger of cars getting stuck, but most of them managed to get along by following the tracks established by others.
The snowfall turned out to be not as big as the one earlier in December, but it was big enough. We hadn't had much of a thaw from the first snowfall, so the piles were getting large. We called it a workday and went home at lunchtime.
Mom stuck bowls of her homemade chili in front of her kids. It smelled good. "I bet you two worked up an appetite," she said to Mary and me.
"I could eat a raw buffalo," Mary said.
I didn't say anything. Rich and Charlie began chattering about the snow fort they were building with their friends down the street. Arthur's feelings of guilt were still playing havoc with my desire for food. The huge amount of exercise I'd been getting helped me force down enough that Mom didn't seem concerned, though. When I was finished, I said, "Thanks, Mom. That was good." I rinsed out my bowl. Mary was getting herself some more from the pot.
I gave Kirsten a call. After I briefly talked to Mrs. Kennedy, Kirsten was given the phone, and we exchanged preliminary pleasantries. "Mom and Dad are going shopping after supper for soundproofing stuff," I told her. "Mary and I need to watch Rich, Charlie, and Susan, but we're still allowed to practice. Mom suggested that I give you a heads-up, though, in case your mom didn't want you here without adult supervision."
"I need to talk to my mom." She did that and then said, "My mom wants to talk to yours."
"Bog only knows how long that will take," I said, "so I'll just tell you goodbye now. If you can't come over for practice, I'll give you a call this evening to talk a little." So we put our mothers on the phone.
While Mom was talking to Mrs. Kennedy, I said to Mary, "Could you come downstairs when you're done with lunch, please." She nodded, and I headed for the basement. When she showed up, I put down the book on Egyptian mythology I had signed out of the library and asked, "Would you like to talk about the news you learned yesterday?"
It took her a second to get it. "What? Oh. You told me never to talk about it." She sat down on the couch.
"I see you've put the pieces all together. Yes, it's much safer for me if you never talk about it with anyone, ever, but you've been looking worried, and I don't want you to suffer. I'll try to answer your questions, if you have them."
"He was a very bad man, wasn't he?"
"He was. There's no telling how many people he hurt. He killed at least two, but I suspect there probably were more."
"And you stopped him."
"Yes. I have mixed feelings about that."
"A man died. I killed him."
"I imagine that's just an awful experience; it has to be, but did you have any choice?"
"The demon and I, we fought--either in my head or in a metaphorical place. I won and sent the demon back after his summoner."
Mary's eyes opened wide. "What was that like?"
I described the battle to her, slightly edited for gore. "After I won, I could have called the police, but I chose to go after Guzman, the demon's servant, myself."
"So you decided to go into danger when you didn't have to. Why?"
"I fought with myself, but in the end, I wanted to make sure Guzman didn't survive."
"I think the evil bastard got what was coming to him," Mary said in a fierce tone.
Arthur felt shocked. Ursus remarked, She's her mother's daughter.
Arthur managed to gain control of our tongue for a few moments. "By the law, what I did was murder."
"I don't know what the law says, but I can't see how what you did was wrong."
Thank you, Mary. "Do you have any more questions?" I asked.
"How long do I have to make up my mind about learning magic? I-- I don't know if I could cope with the danger."
"You can have all the time you want--years, even. Are you still willing to be my assistant sometimes?"
"Are you sure you should keep messing around with it?"
"It has gone way beyond messing around. It's part of who I am, now."
Mary thought for a few seconds and then nodded. "I promise never to talk about what happened without your permission first."
"Thank you." Several moments passed in silence.
"I think I'll go see if I can pick out some tunes on my new piano."
"Have fun." She went upstairs.
Your sister is a fine, sensible girl, Ursus said to Arthur.
Shut up, Arthur said.
Shades of gray, I said.
You've been traumatized, Ursus said. We've all been traumatized. Killing a fellow human being isn't easy for most people. It certainly isn't for me. Still, it's best not to brood.
Let's change the subject, Ursus suggested. The next magic ritual we should do is the recharging of our protective-circle amulet.
I felt his fucking skull break under my fucking foot, Arthur thought. That was our emotional limit, and we rushed into our room to cry for a while. Fortunately, we didn't puke up lunch.
Bawling a bit proved to be cathartic, at least temporarily, and once we finished we went upstairs and took a shower. When I came out of the bathroom, Mom said, "Mrs. Kennedy will be staying here while you kids practice tonight."
"I don't blame her for not trusting me," I said, "but I thought she trusted me more than that."
"I'm not sure it's you. Certainly, no one wants you and Kirsten to do anything goddamn stupid, but her big worry seems to be that a couple of kids in grade eight are in your band."
"Mike and Danny aren't the most upstanding citizens, but they never would disrespect you so much that they'd break your rules in your own house. They like you, and they know I wouldn't put up with it, or Mary."
"I know that--at least I hope that--but I understand her concern. Younger kids usually first get exposed to bad shit from either older friends or older bothers and sisters. I should know, being one of eight." She laughed. "Quitting smoking almost killed me, and I've told you about sniffing the gasoline barrels at the wharf."
I shook my head. "My exposure to the drug culture is peripheral, but even I know huffing is idiotic."
"We didn't know any better, and it made us feel good. When Papa caught us, he whipped the hide off our arses, and then when he brought us home, Mama whipped us some more. I had welts for over a goddamn week." We shared a rueful headshake, and then Mom continued with her point. "When Kirsten got the bit in her teeth over you, she gave her parents a wake-up call. They don't want her running wild, and it's older kids she's most likely to do that with."
"Kirsten's really smart," Arthur said. "I can't see her doing anything self-destructive."
"Smarts aren't always enough. It's more complex than that, and smart people don't always take telling. They get used to being right, and go around with the assumption that people who aren't as bright as they are don't know what the hell they're talking about."
Your mother's right, you know, Ursus said. It took me a while to learn that lesson myself. Plus, when you're smart, you can come up with much more creative rationalizations for going ahead with your bad ideas.
"But what's so special about here?" I asked. "We were all allowed to go off together as a group just yesterday."
"There's booze here. And a lot more privacy. And it's a hell of a lot more comfortable if you do feel the urge to get up to no good."
As she spoke, her words activated some memories in my head that originated with Ursus, and it became manifest that a nice warm house was a far more tempting setting for unwise decisions than a clump of scrub in a vacant lot, or any other local privacy spots we could find. "All right," I said. "I don't mind Mrs. Kennedy being here. All we were going to do is practice. Her presence doesn't change that at all."
"Arthur, you know I trust you. Just letting you hang around with that Danny shows how much."
"Yeah, I know."
"Mrs. Kennedy trusts you, too. Just letting you near her daughter shows how much."
"I--" Arthur felt at a loss for words, and Ursus and I refrained from helping.
"Putting myself in Helen's shoes," Mom continued, "I'm hoping Mary stays down on the farm for a long time. I know if she comes to me next year saying that she has a boyfriend, I'm going to be real tempted to send her to school with an armed guard and lock her in her bedroom at all other times."
"What about Mary?" called Mary, who stopped plinking and plunking on the piano in the living room.
"I was saying that I hope Mary stays the thoughtful, sweet-natured daughter that she's always been," Mom called back.
"Thank you," Mary said.
I went back to the basement and read until about a quarter to three. Mike, Terry, Mary, and I walked over together to Hank's Music Emporium for our first music lessons. Mary carried the beginning piano books the parents and I had bought her for Christmas. The rest of us had guitar cases. On the way there, Terry pulled a loose snowball from the pocket of his coat. Mary was slightly in front, and he gently lobbed it so that it landed on her tuque-covered head.
"Hey! Who did that?"
"I remain silent," I said as I pointed at Terry with my free hand. I had brought my new electric guitar with me in its case rather than the acoustic. I didn't want the acoustic seen in public for a while.
"In a place and time of my own choosing, I'm going to get you for that, Prestor," Mary said with a smile.
Mike and Terry's tutors turned out to be a couple of long-haired guys in their early twenties. Hank introduced them as Brian and Andy. Mary and I browsed around the store while Mike and Terry were receiving their lessons. I bought a tuning fork and a used metronome. "What are you going to do with all the money you've been saving?" I asked Mary.
"I don't know yet. I wanted a piano, but there was no way I could save for that any time soon. Now that I have a piano, my stuff hunger seems pretty satisfied, at least for a while." We had worked our way over to the combo organs. She gestured at them. "There's no way I could ever afford something like that, either."
"Maybe some day," I said.
A little before 3:30, a woman with short gray hair came in. She was thin, about medium height, and had impeccable posture. "Mrs. Fedderstein," Hank said, "allow me to introduce Mary Powyr, who I hear is very eager to learn how to play the piano. This is her brother Arthur, who is going to be taking guitar lessons from me."
"Hello, Arthur, Mary. I'm pleased to meet you, and I'm always delighted to work with persons who are eager to learn." She shook hands with us. Her grip was firm.
"Oh, I am," said Mary. "I've wanted this for years."
"For weeks she's been practicing on her own on a chord organ," I said.
"Well, I hope you haven't picked up any bad habits," said Mrs. Fedderstein to Mary, "but such dedication is commendable. Do you want to learn how to play the full-sized organ, too?"
"Yes, but I think it's going to be a long time before I run the idea by Mom and Dad," Mary replied.
"The piano is a good place to start in any case."
Mike, Terry and their tutors soon came out, and Mrs. Fedderstein led Mary to one room while Hank led me to another. The room had two Checker Super Reverbs, two stools, two guitar stands, a table, and a guitar case underneath the table. Hank told me get out my guitar. He opened up the other case and got out his own axe. It was a heavily customized Checker that had its bridge pickup replaced with a humbucker.
"It's gorgeous," I said, admiring the mother-of-pearl inlays in the ebony fingerboard and the variable-hued azure paint job.
"Thanks, I had it done before I got married and quit being a fulltime musician." He put the guitar in one of the stands.
"I need guitar stands," I said.
"Plug in." I did that and got up on one of the stools. Hank had me go through the things I had been working on. I could switch between the open chords smoothly, but barre chords still needed work, and my picking could use some speed. I told him that I could read both tablature and conventional notation, at least for popular songs.
"You have come a long way fast," he said. "It's the fastest I've ever personally seen."
"It doesn't look like you've picked up any bad habits, either."
Of course not, commented Ursus.
"Do you always play in classical position like that, with your thumb behind the neck?" Hank continued.
"I'll wrap my thumb around if I need the leverage to bend the neck a little, but most of my practicing is done with thumb behind." The lesson went quickly. Hank gave me some picking exercises to practice and some advice on making the barre. I decided that I liked him.
Mary and I came out at roughly the same time. Mike and Terry were looking at amplifiers. Their new instructors were still with them talking about effects pedals. "You guys need guitar stands," I said to Mike and Terry.
"Right," Mike said.
"Get one for your bass, too," I advised.
"We made some money shoveling snow the last two days," I said to Hank in explanation. I picked out two stands for myself. I wanted a gig bag for my acoustic, too, but I didn't want to burn through all of my money again. And effects pedals. I wanted effects pedals. As I paid for my purchases and lesson, I said, "Music is an expensive hobby."
"Gearing up is," Hank said, "but once you have your instrument and equipment, it's not so bad."
We said our goodbyes to our instructors. Once we were outside, Mike said, "Brian is really cool."
"So's Andy," Terry said.
"They're in the same band, Honey Lane," Mike said. "You ever hear of them?"
"Nope," I said.
"The whole band went to Thompson High," Terry said, referring the high school that was a short walk from our houses.
"They have an album out. God commands that we hear it," Mike said.
"Indeed," I said.
"Andy usually plays lead, and Brian usually plays rhythm," Terry said.
"But sometimes they switch," Mike said, "and they both can play bass, too."
"And their bass player, Steve somethingorother teaches at Hank's, too," said Terry. "They said they didn't mind if we schedule the occasional lesson with him at 3:00, too; just give them some notice."
"We've already decided that me and Terry are going to trade tutors every few weeks," Mike said.
"That sounds like a good idea," I said.
"I like my teacher," Mary said. "She thinks I learned an impressive amount on my own."
"Brian usually sings lead, and Andy usually does backing vocals," Mike said.
"But sometimes they switch," Terry said, "and Steve the bass guy can sing, too."
"They sound like a versatile band," I said.
"Man," Mike said, "being a musician is a most ek-skellent thing to do."
"How is their record doing?" I asked.
"They said it was selling pretty good regionally," Mike replied, "but that you need a national hit to make any serious cash."
"They mostly pay their bills with performing, though," Terry said. "They round out their income giving lessons."
"Brain said they sometimes help out Hank as salesmen, too," Mike said. "A professional musician, that's the life I want."
Have you ever been a pro? I asked Ursus internally.
He had to think about it. The memories felt hazy. I don't think the relevant memories have been completely installed in this brain yet, he concluded. It appeared that it was going to take a long time for all of Ursus's memories to implant themselves in Arthur's brain. I think I've earned my bread that way a few times, but most of the time I've made my living as a wizard. I believe I was a king once, too.
"I think I'm going to learn a lot," Mary said. She plugged Terry with a snowball just before we went inside.