by Pierce Nahigyan
“Have you been feeding this book?”
Charlie Ben Studdard bit down on his unlit pipe and pulled his hat off his head. He fanned himself and decided what the professor needed was a nice, mild smile. His prescription did not seem to agree with the man.
The professor picked a pink blob off the corner of a page and mushed it between his fingers, frowning. “What is this, hamburger?”
“Well it bites when it’s cranky. And it seems to get cranky when it’s hungry. Can we stay on the subject, please?”
The professor sighed and shut the book. “Mr. Studdard, I find it highly irrational and indeed damning to his character that Professor Thoth is a very good acquaintance of yours. I will ignore the most outlandish things you’ve said – and continually said – since you entered my office and even overlook the fact that you’ve stolen this book from a man with likely much bigger lawyers than yours if you will please leave it here and please leave me alone and please stop asking me to translate the Kandarian.”
Charlie nodded at the professor’s words and continued to stand beside him and fan himself with his hat. He bit down on his pipe stem and tried the nice, mild smile again. “But you’re just the adjunct professor?” asked Charlie.
The professor grit his teeth. “While Mr. Thoth is on expedition I am the head professor of the department.”
“Okay, head professor, you can have the book, just tell me who has enough magical mojo to flashbake a house. The incantation’s on page twenty-seven. It’s the one with the picture of the eel.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said the professor.
Charlie shrugged and reached across the professor’s desk. The man yelped and leaned back. Charlie slid open the top drawer to reveal the headless chicken congealing in its own blood, next to the magnifying glass and some black melted candles.
The professor glared up at him sourly.
“There’s feathers all over this office,” said Charlie. “Melted wax. Pen knife doesn’t cut through bone easy but chicken bones aren’t too tough. Tell me, professor, were you trying to summon a minor demon to grade your papers for you or were you trying to ward me off when you heard I was coming to see you?”
The professor sighed. “Thoth has a black mark on your name in his address book. It doesn’t seem to work.”
“Oh, it works,” said Charlie. “I just make sure to get good and lost before I come by the university. Spell tries to catch up and then it rebounds. Thoth was called away suddenly to Hamunuptra?”
The city’s name or Charlie’s not-so-mild smile seemed to disagree with the professor on a level even with galloping pneumonia. “I don’t know anyone in town that would use the spells in this book,” he said finally. “The punishments to mortals enacted by the serpentine laws of the codex are hardly worth the risk in casting.”
Charlie began to pack his pipe with a musty cherry. “Are werewolves mortal?”
“That depends. They can’t be killed by mortal means. Silver can kill them. Werewolves have some protection against magical curses, as the lupine curse is the abiding one.”
“And how does one unmake a werewolf?” asked Charlie. He lit the pipe and sucked at it eagerly.
The professor wrinkled his nose but did not protest. “Short of death, almost nothing. There are certain talismans that defy the curse – rare, however. I know Thoth would say that most are in the possession of private owners. Lycanthropy can follow generations. His uncle, I believe.”
“His uncle once removed,” said Charlie. He puffed a little cloud of smoke. “You know, my client’s mother’s necklace, she was very distraught when it was stolen. She said her life depended on getting it back.”
Understanding dawned on the professor’s face. “Her life, maybe. Other lives, definitely.”
Charlie nodded. “Professor Ibis, I appreciate your time.” The professor shook his head at the offered hand and Charlie shrugged and stuck it back in his coat and headed for the door. “You can keep the book, but try to keep it out of its rightful owner’s paws until I give you a call. I don’t want to make it halfway to actually solving a case and find myself on fire.”
Professor Ibis made some grumbling noises and began the sticky process of disposing of the chicken in his desk.
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