When I went back upstairs, Mom asked, "Did you want a ride to the music store today?" For a Christmas present, she and Dad had put enough money on account at Hank's Music Emporium for me to pick out a good electric guitar.
"I don't know," I said. "I was thinking that the members of my supposed band might want to get involved."
"Why do you say 'supposed band'?"
"I refuse to believe we have an actual band until we play an actual gig, and performing for family members doesn't count."
"Your friends seem to be taking it pretty seriously."
"Yeah, I'm especially impressed with Mike and Terry. They never stick with anything this long."
"Maybe you've helped them find something they like."
"Maybe. I thought I'd go over to Danny's. Mike and Terry are supposed to be there." They had come by earlier while we were working on the basement and had said that was where they were headed.
"I don't want you to go any farther than that by yourself, and remember to let me know where you are."
"Having to come home every time I change location is going to be mighty inconvenient."
"Tough shit. There's a killer running loose, and I want you to be safe. Make sure you stick together with your friends."
"I read the newspaper article, too. The Guzman guy who got killed had two bodies in a freezer and he was about to make a human sacrifice out of some teenager. It sounds like the guy who offed him did the world a favor."
"Maybe. If so, why did he leave the scene? He rescued that girl; he would have been hailed a hero. Maybe he's mixed up in this Satanic shit himself."
See Arthur, I thought. Mom's a bit confused about why we split, but she thinks that saving that girl was heroic.
We didn't go there to save the girl, he replied. We went there to kill the diabolist.
Ursus mentally interjected, and he was angry, We killed Guzman in defense of ourselves and your family. Saving that girl was a wonderful side benefit.
While Ursus took up the argument with Arthur, I turned my attention back to Mom. "I don't know any more of the details than you do. He could have been anyone." Actually, I knew lots more details than she did. I fled the scene after killing Guzman because I didn't want to try to explain how a not-yet-twelve-year-old managed to take out an adult male in good health. The local cops already knew me as the kid who had somehow beaten the hell out of four other boys around his own size, and my life didn't need the drama. If I got caught anyway, I had acted, presumably, in the defense of an innocent. If things went bad and I got in trouble for leaving the location of a homicide, or some similar violation, I was chronologically not yet a teen and could get away with pleading youth and stupidity, I hoped.
"My ass! Are you telling me he just happened to arrive just in time to hear the screams of the damsel in distress--in the wintertime, through closed windows?"
She had an excellent point. It was time to make a strategic retreat. "Yeah, it does sound like she got really lucky. I'll make sure you know where I am." I headed for the door.
"I still don't like you playing around with this magic shit. Some evil bastard less than a mile away is supposedly sacrificing people to demons in his basement while at the same time my own son is performing God knows what kind of black magic in mine. Is this horseshit some kind of new fad going around?"
Mom saying "black magic" ended Ursus and Arthur's argument and brought their attention back to her. Ursus was already angry with Arthur, and I felt him become toweringly pissed off. I hoped he didn't gain control of our tongue. I said, as calmly as I could, "One, to the best of my knowledge, it's not a fad, just a coincidence. Two, accusing someone of black magic is a serious insult, and in certain times and places, the charge has led to people being executed or lynched. I'm sure you've heard about the witch hysteria in Europe."
"Then why in hell are you frigging around with it?" I noticed Mary walk out of the hallway. When Mom started yelling, Mary scooped up Susan, turned around, and went back the way she had come.
"I've done nothing that can be called 'black magic,' Mother, and I kind of resent you saying that I have. Magic is like any other tool. You can use it for good or bad. My attempts have all been for good."
"I'm not sure the Bible makes that distinction." Ah, there was the essence of her concern. Mom's Christianity was eccentric, but it was there.
I was on somewhat shaky ground. In truth, most of my knowledge of the Bible came from movies and a kid's storybook. I said, "The Bible has good men channeling miracles, casting out demons, and receiving prophesies. Those are all acts of magic. I don't claim to be a biblical expert, but I'm pretty sure it makes an implied distinction between magic used for good and magic used for evil."
That made her pause. "I'll think about it."
"Thank you." I felt Ursus calming down. "Can I go now?" I forced some of the tension out of my body.
Damn, old man, you have a temper.
Sometimes. Did you think yours was purely a result of your environment?
I guess not. So much for age and wisdom, eh?
Wisdom helps one choose the things to get angry about.
"Are you going to call Kirsten before you leave?" Mom asked.
Kirsten Kennedy was about as impressive as a girl in grade six could be. She played several musical instruments--her mother, a former music teacher, had started her on piano at age five--was highly intelligent, and exuded self-confidence and charm. She was also, allowing for taste, one of the prettiest girls in grade six. She had wavy auburn hair, big green eyes, exquisite bone structure, a spray of freckles across her nose and cheeks, and a heart-shaped face. She was tall for her age, and she was already filling out. She wore glasses, but Arthur, a born nerd, thought they gave her an appealing air of intellectualism. Under normal circumstances, Arthur would have been terrified of her, despite knowing her since kindergarten.
Normal circumstances, however, had permanently ended for him when Arthur woke up with Ursus in his head. Because he had taken up residence uninvited in Arthur's body, Ursus felt indebted to him. Although Kirsten made Ursus feel like a pedophile, he had recognized how much Arthur liked her. Spotting a way to pay some of the interest on his debt, Ursus saved Arthur from himself during a few unfortunate incidents involving Kirsten. Kirsten got the message that Arthur liked her and sent the return message that she liked him back.
So at the tender age of not-yet-twelve, Arthur found himself with a girlfriend. The situation appeared to amuse his mother. Kirsten's mother was not so amused, but she realized that her self-assured daughter was going to do what she wanted to do. Therefore, Mrs. Kennedy aimed at containing any damage. She set out a list of firm rules for Kirsten and Arthur, and comforted herself with the thought that Arthur was a better choice for first boyfriend than most.
I, the slowly emerging third mind, hadn't been consulted in the least. Of course, when Ursus first showed up, I hadn't been around very much of the time, and when I was present, my original personality was a great deal like Arthur's. This, presumably, was a consequence of the fact that I had total access to Arthur's memories, whereas Ursus's memories were only fractionally present in Arthur's brain. When Kirsten was near, I usually thought in parallel with Arthur as a unified duo while Ursus tried to make himself as scarce as he could inside a shared skull. Unfortunately, Arthur was now in the throes of guilt, and I was going to be forced to work separately from him, lest he confess. I hoped it wouldn't be too awkward.
I dialed Kirsten's number. Mrs. Kennedy answered. "Hello, Mrs. Kennedy. This is Arthur Powyr. May I speak to Kirsten, please, if she's available?" Mom had drilled decent telephone manners into me. If I ever told someone on the phone, "Hi, is so-and-so there?" she would make me apologize and ask again, correctly.
"Hi, Arthur. I was just about to call your mother. Did you hear about the homicide not too far away from you?" For good or ill--I couldn't decide which--Mom and Helen Kennedy were becoming friends.
"Mom and I both read about it in the paper. It's been bothering Mom. Would you like me to put her on?"
"I'll let you speak with Kirsten first. You can put her on when you finish. Here's Kirsten."
"Hi, Artie." I felt a warm glow of affection arising from Arthur.
"Hi, do you want to go to the music store with me in a little while? The band of hoodlums might be present, if it's OK with you. I was going to ask them along, but I called you first."
"I'm not a hoodlum," shouted Mary, who had again emerged once the yelling had stopped.
"Correction," I said, "the band of hoodlums and Mary."
"I'll ask Mom." I waited. When Kirsten came back on, she said, "It's supposed to snow later, so Mom doesn't want me riding over on my bike. She doesn't want me to be alone, anyway, with killers running loose, so she said she'd drive me. Is it OK if I bring Pam along?" So far as I could tell, Kirsten had a bit of a loner streak, and Pam was her only close friend, if one didn't count Arthur.
"Sure. Pam is generally tolerable."
"I'm glad you approve of my friend."
"Hey, half the time I barely approve of my friends. Pam is practically golden."
"Hmmm, maybe I should tell her that."
"What? That she is a higher being than a band of hoodlums?"
"I'm not sure that's what I'd emphasize, no. Anyway, when should we be there?"
"How about a half-hour? Mike and Terry are probably at Danny's. I'll go check out Danny's Christmas loot and see if they want to come along."
"Half-hour it is."
"All right, I'll see you in a few. Your mom wanted to talk to mine." We said our goodbyes, and I got on my winter gear to go to Dan's. I left the coat and ski mask I had worn during the incidents of the day before at home. It would be bad if I were recognized from my clothing. Instead, I wore my new coat and the tuque Aunt Kate had knitted for me, both Christmas gifts. For the same reason, I left my bike at home and walked. Perhaps I was being paranoid, but the girl I had cut loose from the altar had surely given the police my description.
As expected, Mike and Terry were there, as I could see from the presence of their bicycles. Danny's oldest brother, Tommy, answered the door and followed me to the basement. Danny's mother was at work. Danny; Mike; Terry; Danny's second oldest brother, Russ; their little sister, Jenny; and Russ's friend Shane were all there. I soon learned that Russ had received a weight set and bench for Christmas, and they were all, except Jenny, engaged in trying it out.
"Who got the speed bag?" I asked after I noticed it mounted from the ceiling.
"I got that, too," said Russ without looking at me. He was spotting Shane, who was doing bench presses. "Try it out, if you want.
"C'mon, two more," he said to Shane, who was breathing hard. Both Russ and Shane were shirtless. They were in excellent shape. Both wanted to join the commandos when they graduated from high school.
There was no way I was going to hit a hard leather bag with my unprotected fist. Then again, Ursus's fighting style, my body's fighting style by default, seldom used fists. I gave the bag a series of heel-of-palm strikes and edge-of-hand (sword hand) blows.
"Have you been studying martial arts, Art?" asked Russ, who had finished spotting Shane. Tommy was getting on the bench.
"Nah, I just read a lot."
"I heard you kicked the asses of four guys around your age," said Shane. He was breathing hard, but not gasping.
"I got lucky, and I fought dirty," I said. I also had help from a magic spell, but I didn't say that.
"That's the only way to fight, if it's serious," he said. Russ started counting out Tommy's reps. I smacked the bag several more times, trying to build up a rhythm while attacking it from every possible angle. I ended with an upward palm strike to an imaginary chin.
"Hey, Art, want to give it a try?" asked Dan, gesturing at the weights.
"All right. Break it down to whatever Mike was using."
I got on the bench and did one rep. "Add about ten pounds," I said.
"Oooo, tough guy," said Terry, as Dan and Mike complied with my request.
"Nah, I'm just a bit huskier than Mike." I did nine reps. The last one was getting difficult.
"C'mon," said Russ. "One more." I forced out one more for ten. My arms burned.
I don't think lifting to failure is a good idea, thought Ursus.
I'm not in the mood to start arguing with these guys, I thought back.
When I got off the bench, I was breathing hard. I was in better shape than I had been before Ursus took up residence, but I still had a long way to go. I gasped to my friends, "I came over here to see if you wanted to go to Hank's music store in a few minutes. I was going to look at the electric guitars."
"Got some Christmas money you want to spend?" asked Tommy.
"My mom and dad put some guitar money for me on account there."
"Tolerant parents, buying you a guitar," he said.
"Mom just got me some drums," Dan pointed out to his big brother.
"Yeah, but Mom is gone when you get home from school. It's the rest of us who are going to have to suffer."
Danny flipped him off, and was immediately put in a headlock.
I remarked on Tommy's observation to me. "They were leery at first, but I bought an old acoustic with my own money and started learning. Once they saw how serious I was, they became pretty supportive."
"I can only go if we can get back by 2:30," said Danny, still secured by his brother. "Tommy and Russ are going to work then." He left unstated that it was his job to watch Jenny when everyone else was gone.
"All right," I said. "Kirsten and Pam will be at my house in a little bit. Then we can go."
"Who are these girls?" asked Tommy. Russ and Shane started setting up the weights, this time on the floor.
Mike answered for me. "Kirsten is Artie's girlfriend, and Pam is Kirsten's buddy."
"No shit?" asked Tommy, as he let Danny go. He was grinning. "I didn't even know you were interested in girls yet, Art."
"What can I say? It was kind of an accident."
"How does one get a girlfriend by accident?" asked Shane. "This technique, it intrigues me."
"Well, first she caught me staring at her, and then later in the day, I asked her to dance during the square-dance unit in gym. After that, the rest just sort of fell into place."
"Man," said Tommy, "I hated that unit when I was your age."
"Yeah, I would have said it sucks, but I can't complain about the Kirsten part."
"Let that be a lesson," said Shane. "For some unnatural reason, chicks love to dance."
"We're going to do dead lifts next," said Russ, bringing the discussion back to the business at hand.
"Do we have time for another set?" asked Danny.
"Yeah, but then we should head out," I replied.
"Hold the bar like this," said Russ, "one hand over and one hand under. Before you lift, tighten your stomach muscles. Keep your back straight and the bar right next to your legs." He demonstrated with a light weight on the bar. When he had again put the weight down, he said, "Put the weights right back on the floor between reps, pause, and re-flex your abdomen before lifting again. Don't drop them! We don't have a platform built yet, and Mom will shit if we crack the floor.
"You go first, Terry. See how that feels."
Terry tried it. Russ watched his form and said, "Keep your back straighter. Try keeping your eyes locked on a point on the wall in front of you." We eventually all did a set of dead lifts. While we weren't taking our turns, Dan showed me his new drums. It was a basic set: snare, kick drum, high hat, two tom-toms, and a crash cymbal. Two stacked milk crates with a cushion on top were behind the kit.
"I still need to get a throne and a floor tom, at least," Dan said.
"What?" I asked as I mentally pictured a king's chair.
"A stool. Drummer's stools are called thrones for some reason."
"I figured I'd leave this set here to practice with and keep building up another kit at your house. I'm not going to say anything to my mom, but the stuff I've been trading for is better quality."
"Sounds like a plan to me," I said.
Arthur's three friends and I were about to head upstairs and leave, when Dan said, "I think I'll grab a fast shower. I'll catch up with you guys."
Mike and Terry walked their bikes beside me as we headed home. "This is ek-skellent," Mike said.
"We are actually forming a band. Chicks. Weed. Maybe even groupies."
"Is that some kind of fish?"
"What? Oh, hell no. They're chicks who put out for musicians."
Ursus was familiar with the concept, if not the word. "I think we are a long way from that, and my girlfriend is in the band. And my sister."
They both laughed at me. "You can still have the drugs, Art."
"I don't want drugs."
"Man, why is it you want to be a musician again?"
"Maybe I like music," I said.
"That's fucked up," said Mike. He was grinning.
"You need to work on your priorities, young man," said Terry in an unnaturally deep voice. I just shook my head and laughed. At about the same time we arrived home, Kirsten's mom pulled into our driveway with Kirsten and Pam.
Kirsten and I had a quick hug and kiss, but it felt incredibly awkward without the Arthur part of my brain in charge. Ursus and I were more or less willing him not to take over. Arthur said to us mentally, Look, I promise not to say anything about killing Guzman when Kirsten is around, OK? Being in the same head, we could tell he wasn't lying, so Ursus and I relaxed with more than a little relief.
Kirsten gave me a funny look as I let her go. "Is everything OK, Art?"
"It's--all right," I said as I held the door for everyone as they went inside. Of course, the topic of conversation instantly became the "Satanic" murders.