After a night out drinking some men wake up with an unexpected tattoo. Me, I woke up with a two-foot long penis. It wasn’t a tattoo.
I rushed to the mirror. Had anything else changed? My face, my hair? Had I been turned into a donkey while I slept?
I hadn’t. Only one thing had changed and that thing was now slapping around my ankles.
How could this happen? When? It’s not the sort of thing you forget however much you drink.
But I couldn’t remember a thing. Last night was a blank from the moment I’d stepped into Sam’s bar. My head throbbed and my mouth felt like a home for desiccated fur balls. I’d either been drinking heavily or been drugged.
I’m not sure if there are recognised stages of dealing with sudden penis augmentation but I cycled though shock and denial and even found a ‘wait a minute, isn’t this a good thing’ stage.
For about five seconds.
Do you want to spend the rest of your life in a freak show! Look at it! It’s two foot long!
Cold, hard reality slapped me upsides the head. It wasn’t just a matter of size. This could be life threatening. There was a very good reason cosmetic surgeons were banned from using magic. It had an unpredictable effect on living tissue. In most cases the change was temporary. In a day or two – a month at most – the magic dissipated and the change was reversed. But in ten per cent of cases something unexpected happened. Tumours, gangrene, aneurysms, chronic eczema. My penis might wither and drop off or I’d wake up tomorrow and find my left arm was ten foot long!
I had to find whoever did this to me and force them to reverse the spell while there was still time.
I rang Sam and got voicemail. Which shouldn’t have been a surprise. He worked late at the bar and rarely surfaced before noon. It was now only ten.
Of course there was another way I might uncover what had happened. I was a psychic, after all. I did this kind of thing all the time. Okay, not exactly, this kind of thing. But similar. Part of my job with Magical Crimes was to ‘read’ objects and look for transfers – those little slices of life that, through intense emotion or trauma, became psychically imprinted on an object’s surface.
I’d never tried it with a penis before – skin wasn’t the best medium for taking an imprint – but I’d had some success with corpses.
I took another look at the giant pendulum. Did I feel like taking a reading off that? I wasn’t sure if I could touch it. It felt like it belonged to someone else.
I closed my eyes and slid my hand slowly along its length, opening my mind and trying to drag an image or a sound – anything that might give me a clue as to what had happened the night before.
Perhaps if I rung Pete? He was my partner on Magical Crimes and a forensic magician. If anyone knew about weird magical stuff it was Pete. He’d know if this kind of thing had happened before and what to do about it. He might even be able to identify the magician responsible. You can’t weave magic without giving something away. The way you draw down the power, the way you use it. They all leave a trace.
It would mean showing my pet python to Pete. Maybe even letting him handle it…
I punched in Pete’s number, bemoaning my luck as I did so. Why my penis? Why not a nose or a finger? Something I could show to people!
Pete’s phone went straight to voicemail. Which was strange. Pete never switched off his phone.
I left a message asking him to call me as soon as he could and then waddled back to my bed. What the hell was I going to do?
A few head in hands moments later I had another thought. Maybe I didn’t have to do anything. The odds were in my favour, after all. Ninety per cent of the time things returned to normal after a couple of days.
Ignore it and maybe it’ll go away – my option of choice on all things medical since puberty.
I was just starting to convince myself when the phone rang. I sprang from the bed and grabbed the phone on the first ring.
It wasn’t Pete. It was my boss, Lieutenant Masters, head of the Magical Crimes Unit.
“I know you’re on vacation, Seb, but we need you. There’s been an incident at Mikhail Kozlov’s house at Oak Ridge.”
“What kind of incident?”
“He wouldn’t say, but he asked for Magical Crimes specifically. No uniforms, no press, just the MCU.”
I was surprised. And that from a man standing bare-assed naked with his foreskin grazing the carpet. Why call us in? The last cop who’d got inside Kozlov’s mansion had needed three search warrants and a team of lawyers. The man was a gangster with his own private army – including magicians. He’d never ask for outside help.
“I don’t need to tell you what an opportunity this is. See what he wants and see what else you can pick up while you’re there. The walls of that house have got to be covered in memories.”
I had a problem. One rather large, floppy problem. How was I going to fit my new friend into a pair of trousers? The bulge would be enormous. It would look like I had a coiled python down there ready to burst out like the monster from Alien.
I tried playing the sick card. I even added a cough, but Masters wasn’t interested. Half the team were out of town working on the Sanchez case and I was the only psychic profiler left.
I waddled towards my closet. Did I own a pair of loose fitting trousers? I looked. I rummaged. All my trousers were on the tight fitting side. What can I say? I like snug. I’m slim and according to my last girlfriend my rear end was my only asset.
I could still hear her voice. “Seb, you have a face for radio and an ass for Hollywood.”
Now I had a penis for the circus.
I sighed, there was only one thing for it. I’d go commando, select the loosest fitting suit I had and stuff my extra large little friend down the left pant leg.
And pray I could drive all the way to Oak Ridge without getting aroused.
I drove, thinking non-arousing thoughts about cabbages and mulling over the best way to broach the penis question to Pete. Telling your partner you were packing twenty-four inches of magical man meat was not something you mentioned casually as you trotted up the steps of a gangster’s mansion. It demanded time. And probably a viewing.
I tried calling Pete again – still no answer – what the hell was he playing at? We were on our way to a crime scene. You don’t go offline when you’re on the clock.
Kozlov’s fortified estate loomed into view. Forty acres of house and wooded parkland surrounded by a twelve-foot high stone wall. No sign of Pete’s car but there was a Ford Taurus parked up close by the gates. I pulled in behind it. Was Pete’s car in the shop?
The driver’s side door of the Taurus opened and a vision in black emerged. She was young, early twenties, long chestnut hair. And stunning. She looked like she was dressed for a night out clubbing – expensive little black number, spike heels, legs. And a single black glove – long, black and lacy – rising up her left arm to just above the elbow.
My left knee hit the steering wheel. The rest of me experienced the opposite reaction, and sank. Single long glove, left arm. Only one kind of person wore a combination like that. And where the hell was Pete?
She walked over.
“Sebastian Kemp?” she asked, her southern twang elongating the second syllable of Seba-astian.
I nodded, gripping my left knee at the same time and pressing down hard. Why was I such a sucker for southern girls!
“Hi, I’m Tulsa, your new partner.”
“Uh … what? Where’s Pete?”
I tried not to look at her. I kept my eyes unfocused and roaming somewhere over her right shoulder. But I could smell her. What kind of forensic magician wears perfume to a case!
A naughty one.
Nooo! I screamed at my inner sex maniac. Stop that! What was wrong with me? I’d met attractive women before. Why was my left foot wedged against the roof of the foot well trying to lift the car up by itself!
“Are y’all right?” she asked.
“I … uh had a late night. Where’s Pete?”
“Didn’t Lieutenant Master’s say? He’s been called away. Something about the Van Berg case?”
That rang true. No one knew the Van Berg case better than Pete. And if the papers were right about that copycat case over in Seattle then Pete was the obvious expert to send for.
But why now? Why today of all days!
“This is my first case,” continued Tulsa. “I only graduated from New Quantico last week. I’ve barely had time to unpack. And now I’m here!” She clapped her hands and gave an excited bounce. “I still can’t believe it. Mikhail Kozlov! He’s gotta be the biggest crime boss on the whole East Coast. D’you think this dress is too much?”
She stood back and twirled. The car lifted slightly.
“Only, the lieutenant told me I had to distract Kozlov while you read the place.”
“I’d uh dial it back a notch. We’re supposed to be investigating a case. Anything else is a bonus.”
“How ‘bout this?”
Her dress shimmered and lengthened. I experienced a similar feeling. Another twirl and the car hood might find itself sporting an unusual mascot.
“Better,” I said. “A few inches off the heels, perhaps?”
Thankfully, the gate opened at that moment and an impatient guard beckoned at us to hurry up and drive inside. I used the respite to think deep thoughts about the brassica family. Which was working, until some thrusting florets of a Purple Sprouting Broccoli caught me by surprise.
I needed both hands to free my left leg from the foot well. And emerged from the car with a stoop and swinging a left leg that refused to bend at the knee.
“You sure y’all right?” asked Tulsa.
“Fine. A little stiffness – I’ll soon walk it off.”
Mikhail Kozlov was what journalists – the ones who valued a long productive life with the usual number of limbs and kneecaps – called a respected local businessman. He ran a conglomerate with interests in construction, transport and import/export. He sat on Arts committees, gave generously to charity and loved his mother. People he didn’t love so much had a habit of disappearing – cops included. Where they disappeared to was a question that had taxed the enquiring minds of law enforcement officers for years. We’d tried surveillance, we’d tried sneaking undercover operatives inside his organisation, we’d tried leaning on various members of his gang. Nothing worked. Not even a tax audit on his companies.
Cue the man with the twenty-four inch penis.
Kozlov, flanked by two black-suited bodyguards, was waiting for us at the top of the stone steps that ran up to a columned entrance porch. Impeccably dressed as always – Italian suit, neatly folded handkerchief in his top pocket, matching tie – he looked like he was waiting to greet a head of state.
“About time,” he said. “Follow me.”
But without the manners.
He turned on a pair of exquisitely crafted heels and walked towards the house. I tried to stump after him but the two bodyguards suddenly blocked our path.
“Lift your arms,” one said.
I could not believe it. They were going to search us?
“No!” I said, holding my arm out in front of Tulsa. “No one touches us. We’re carrying sensitive equipment.”
Twenty-four inches of very sensitive equipment that wouldn’t appreciate being patted down. Or might appreciate it too much. And accidentally kicking a bodyguard in the crotch was never the best way to begin an investigation.
Kozlov turned in the doorway. “What sensitive equipment?”
Good question. “Uh, Tulsa’s glove.”
Kozlov stared at me, his face impassive, his eyes boring into mine. I wanted to look away but was worried it might be a test. Liars looked away. Honest men didn’t have to. Two seconds into the staring contest doubt hacked great chunks out of my conviction. What if Kozlov thought I was challenging him? The man was unpredictable, a borderline sociopath…
“Leave the glove,” said Kozlov, his eyes still not leaving mine. “Search the rest of them. Especially him.”
“Wait! I’m a psychic. If anyone touches me it could spark a reading.” I looked at Kozlov imploringly. “If you’ve got anything in there you want me to look at you don’t want my powers drained.”
Long seconds passed. The man didn’t blink. He could have been evaluating the merit of my argument or working out which construction site had a pit with my name on it.
“Use the wand on him. Nothing else.”
My pulse dropped below the one forty mark.
“Thank you,” I said, raising my arms and widening my stance for the electronic wand to weave its path around my body. Luckily they appeared to be looking for weapons and radio transmitters rather than magical penises.
We followed Kozlov on a mazy tour of his mansion. It was like a modern day castle – stone columns, oak panels, tapestries – our footsteps echoed on the marble tiled floor.
I let my fingers brush against the walls when I could, but Kozlov was setting such a pace it was difficult to take any kind of reading.
Even Tulsa couldn’t persuade him to slow down. She stopped by a tapestry and started to gush about how amazing the craftsmanship was but he just kept going, agreeing with her over his shoulder before adding, “please, keep up. This is not a sightseeing tour.”
By the third corridor my curiosity got the better of me. “Why did you call us in?” I asked.
“It’s easier to show you.”
Kozlov was no conversationalist.
Our destination turned out to be a door halfway down the next corridor. A man was waiting outside. Not the usual Kozlov lackey – he slouched rather than loomed, looked painfully thin and, from the evidence of his tie, was not too hot on the old hand-eye co-ordination at mealtimes. Either he was related to Kozlov by marriage or he was very good at his job.
Kozlov stopped by the door and turned towards me.
“What you see in here, stays here, understand? If you need help from anyone else you clear it through me first, okay?”
I was too curious to object.
Kozlov opened the door and the four of us went in.
I steeled myself, expecting something far from pleasant. And found … a bedroom. Large, lavishly furnished and, from the clothes strewn over the bed and chairs, belonging to a teenage girl.
But there were no signs of a struggle. No blood, no bodies, nothing that cried out – ‘Oh my God! Call the police!’
I looked at Tulsa. She looked at me.
“What are we supposed to be looking at?” I asked Kozlov.
“That,” he replied, pointing at something on the floor at the far end of the room. “I want to know if that’s my daughter.”
I walked over, peering as I went. I heard a click as Tulsa switched on her glove. What were we looking at? Those tiny plastic figures on the floor? There were two of them about an inch and a half high. One, a girl, was sat – no, tied – to a chair. The other was sprawled on the floor, their arms and legs twisted as though they’d collapsed unconscious.
I leaned closer. The girl was gagged, her wrists, torso and ankles tied to the tiny chair. The carving, or moulding or whatever it was, was very lifelike – the details were sharp, the colours spot on. Could it be real? Had she been magically shrunk and turned to … plastic or whatever material that was?
The other figure just lay there, face turned to one side. It looked male – maybe teens or early twenties, dressed in a T-shirt, jeans and sneakers.
“Who’s the other figure supposed to be?” I asked.
“Ryan Mullen. My daughter’s boyfriend.”
“And the chair? Is that from this room?”
“It’s from her dressing table.”
I turned to check. One dressing table. No chair. This was either one very elaborate hoax or…
“I’m picking up large traces of magic,” said Tulsa. “From both figures.”
I still couldn’t understand why we’d been called in. Kozlov would have mages more qualified and far more experienced than Tulsa.
“I think it’s time you told us exactly what happened here, Mr. Kozlov.”
He took a deep breath, exhaled audibly then began. “Ryan came to see my daughter at eight fifty-one. At nine twelve my wife received a phone call. ‘If you want to see Alisa alive go to her bedroom. Now.’”
“You’re very precise about those times.”
“I’m a precise man, Mr. Kemp.”
I started. He knew my name? How? I hadn’t said. I was far from well known and I’d only been assigned to the case twenty minutes earlier.
“This house is monitored,” continued Kozlov. “No one gets in or out without being seen. And all calls are logged.”
“Did you get the number the call to your wife originated from?”
“It was from my daughter’s phone. The one on the nightstand.”
“Did your wife recognise the voice on the line?”
“It was disguised – electronically or magically. And, before you ask, no, there is no recording. I don’t record calls made to or from family members.”
Convenient. For the unmap – which is bureau-speak for unknown magical personage. Gotta love those Feds.
“How long was it before anyone came to check on your daughter?”
“Less than a minute. My wife ran most of the way.”
“Can I speak to your wife?
“She’s resting. There’s other information you need to know first. I instigated a search of the house at nine seventeen. The house was locked down, every room was searched and magically scanned. Neither Alisa nor Ryan was found. My men examined the CCTV footage and found no one had entered or left the premises since Ryan’s arrival at eight fifty-one.”
“Is the house warded?”
“Like a drum.”
“It’s state of the art,” added Kozlov’s scruffy minion. “The house is warded, the grounds are warded. Anyone trying to cross the threshold gets their asses frozen and sets off every alarm in the place. Doesn’t matter if they tunnel in, parachute in, or try to walk through the walls. The only people who can come and go are those on our whitelist. If you’re not on that you don’t get in or out period. If we hadn’t downloaded your biometric details from the MCU neither of you would’ve made it through the gate.”
“You hacked the MCU database?”
Kozlov interrupted, glaring at his employee. “I’m sure we sourced the information from public files, didn’t we, Stephen?”
It was not a question seeking a ‘no’ for an answer.
Stephen nodded. “I misspoke. Sorry. I look after the wards I don’t collect the data. I uh expect we have a biometric recorder outside the MCU offices. In a public area.”
I wasn’t sure which was worse. The idea of Kozlov’s minions hacking the MCU database or having a hidden – probably invisible – biometric recorder outside Police Plaza.
“What about shapeshifters?” asked Tulsa. “Couldn’t someone assume your shape and pass the biometric tests?”
Stephen smiled as he shook his head. “They never get the smell right. Our biometric data includes a full scent profile.”
Okay, that was worse. The thought of being sniffed every time I ran up the steps to Police Plaza was not a pleasant one.
“I noticed y’all had a black light array at the front of the house,” said Tulsa. “Why’s that? Can’t your wards detect an invisibility spell?”
Interesting. I hadn’t noticed the array. Black light is what you use to make the invisible visible. And Stephen didn’t look too happy.
“The wards detect everything. The black light’s for the security guards. To make sure no one on the whitelist abuses Mr. Kozlov’s hospitality. It’s all around the perimeter of the house and uh other areas.”
I made a mental note to look for black light arrays on our way back through the house. ‘Other areas’ sounded just the kind of place to look for transfers.
“Have y’all checked to see if anyone tampered with the wards?” asked Tulsa.
“First thing we did,” said Stephen. “All the wards were in place and functioning. If anyone tried to so much as ascertain the nature of one of the wards it would have tripped the alarms. We have wards within wards. Trust me, no one got in or out of here between Ryan’s arrival and yours.”
“D’y’all mind if we check the wards,” asked Tulsa.
“I told you-”
Kozlov didn’t allow Stephen to finish. “I insist you check our system, Miss Tulsa.”
Stephen looked pissed and, for the first time, I could see a reason for Kozlov calling the MCU.
He didn’t trust his magicians.
“When’s the last time you saw your daughter, Mr. Kozlov?” I asked.
“At breakfast. Around seven thirty to eight. She was also captured on camera at eight fifty-one when she came to the front door to greet Ryan. She was wearing the same clothes as she is there. Ryan too.”
Interesting. We had a mystery but what was the crime? Magical assault with intent to kill? Or extortion?
“Have you received any kind of ransom demand?”
“Take a closer look at my daughter, Mr. Kemp.”
I did. Maybe it was my eyes but I couldn’t see anything I’d missed earlier. No, wait! There was a white rectangle on her top that looked out of place. Was that writing?
“Let me take a look,” said Tulsa.
She knelt next to me and let her gloved hand hover over the tiny figure. Then she formed a circle by touching the tip of her thumb to the tip of her forefinger and peered through.
“I can use this as a magnifying glass,” she said. “There’s a piece of paper pinned to her T-shirt. With a message. ‘Kozlov, bring $1 million dollars in diamonds to Cumberland Square at noon today and await instructions. Come alone – no invisible friends – make sure the diamonds aren’t bugged or magically tagged or Alisa stays like this for the rest of her life. Any attempt to reverse the spell will kill her.’”
“Do you have one million dollars in diamonds?” I asked.
“I have exactly one million dollars in diamonds. I acquired them last month. Whoever did this to my daughter knew that very well.”