by Heather Clitheroe
15.01 Disciplinary Action is defined as a written warning, a suspension of Magical talents or removal of Magical equipment, a demotion, or a rendition applied to a Magician for the purposes of discipline. No Regular, Limited Scope, Recurring Part-time or Student Magician who has completed the Probationary Period shall be dismissed, demoted or suspended without just cause.
A message came in on a Sunday evening. Lucian Prando, a minor magician, made the mistake of reading it on his phone while he was at his girlfriend’s house. Cara sat on the couch, watching the red carpet live show before the Academy Awards started, her arms wrapped around an enormous bowl of popcorn. They had been sleeping together long enough that she was wearing sweatpants and an old college t-shirt, her hair drawn up in a no-nonsense ponytail. Glasses. Chapstick instead of lip gloss. Sports bra instead of lingerie. Less effort, more comfort. He heard the chime and angled his body away from her to dig into his pocket.
“Don’t,” she said. “Come on. You’re not working.”
He didn’t say anything: just grunted and swiped at the screen with a finger. He heard her sigh, and she shook her head and pointedly turned her attention back to the television. “Look at that dress,” she said. “What a whore.”
His phone vibrated in his hands. Email from Janice, who was working in New York.
Hi, Lucian – heard you’re the new shop steward. Sucker!
I mean, welcome to the administrative wing of Local 52. We’re delighted that you’ve chosen to serve your brothers and sisters in this vitally important role. As steward, you’ll help the membership to understand the binding collective agreementbetween magicians and their respective employers. Unofficially, you’ll be answering bullshit emails from the whiners and complainers, and sitting in on disciplinary meetings for our brothers and sisters too stupid to follow the rules. Or just dumb enough to get caught.
There’s no pay, of course, but Local 52 does sponsor a weekend at the Bueno Vistas Lodge for the executive and stewards known officially as a leadership and teambuilding seminar. Unofficially, it’s the great drunken weekend of magicians trying to impress each other. I’ll look forward to seeing you there. Start brushing up on your illusions.
Janice Goldblum, Chair and Chief Steward.
(PS – are you still hooked up with that nurse? My sister is single again, if you know what I mean…)
He didn’t want to be a steward. But at the last meeting, he’d been voted in. Unanimously. By the six other magicians who had bothered to show up for the meeting, and only because there was a free dinner provided, and only after they’d waited for an hour to see if quorum could be reached. Lucian had never been a joiner, but when things came with free dinners attached… A weekend long party at the Bueno Vistas Lodge didn’t sound half bad.
Beside him, Cara made another dismissive noise. “She is such a whore.”
15.02 When disciplinary action is taken, the Magician shall be advised of the reasons for the action in writing. Notice shall be sent in physical form; Magical conference may not be used unless a written copy of notice of disciplinary action is provided within twenty-four (24) hours.
7:30 am meeting, the email read. Paul Versterhoffen received written notice of disciplinary meeting and asked for a union steward to go with him. Sorry it’s short notice but I’ve got a gig with the State Department – leaving for Saudi Arabia tonight. Would tell you more but then I’d have to kill you. Ha ha. I’ll forward Vesterhoffen’s emails to you in a minute – Janice.
Cara spoke without turning her head. “What’s it say?”
“Have to go in for a meeting tomorrow.”
“It’s your day off,” she said.
She muttered something under her breath.
“I said, you should just tell them no. You didn’t even want to do that union shit.”
“Somebody has to,” he said. “It’s only for a year.”
“Unless somebody volunteers you again,” she said. “You don’t even get paid for it.”
“I know,” he said. “Look, I’m going to call it a night. I’m sorry. There’s going to be stuff to read, and the meeting is pretty early in the morning, and…”
“Whatever,” she said.
15.03 The Supervisor shall arrange a time and place for the disciplinary meeting. A Magician must be provided with reasonable notice to attend the disciplinary meeting and may be accompanied at the meeting by a Union Steward.
Vesterhoffen sat across the table from him: a shabby old man. He had dried mustard on the cuff of his worn tweed jacket. “I don’t see why they called me in,” said Vesterhoffen. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Lucian nodded, trying to look sympathetic. “Well, the letter says you cast a glamour on a young woman…”
“It wasn’t like it was a full-fledged spell,” said Vesterhoffen. “Just a hint of persuasion, really. I mean, look at me. No pussy in years. Nothing.”
“It used to be different. Back when I was your age, you didn’t even need to do magic. You just showed them your ID. Girls so whacked out on E you could just tell them you’d done magic and they’d believe you. God, those were the days…”
“So a girl talks to me in a bar. So I use a little magic. It wasn’t even on her, kid. I put a glamour on me. Just took a few years off. That sort of thing.”
“People take a dim view of that,” said Lucian.
“You work for corporation or the union?”
“Both. But I’m here as your representative.”
“Listen, kid. You’re too young to understand. You’re…what? Twenty?”
“Same difference. When you’re my age, kid, it’s a fucking miracle if you can even get it up in the morning. You’ll do whatever you can.”
“I don’t think we can tell that to HR,” said Lucian, looking at his hands. “I mean, I’m sure it’s true. But they’ll want a better reason than that…”
“I had a fucking hard-on for the girl is the reason, kid.”
“Right,” said Lucian. “Well…maybe if you just let me do the talking…”
15.04 A Magician’s central personnel file in the Human Resources Department shall be deemed to be purged of any record of the disciplinary action after twenty four (24) months of continuous service from the date the action was taken provided that an additional record of discipline has not been added.
Another email from Janice. Sorry – had to go to Cairo. Bit of truth detection work, that kind of thing. State Dept. keeps me hopping all over the place. Anyways. Don’t worry about Vesterhoffen. Guy’s a prick, and I mean that in as many ways as you can take it. He’s been playing that poor old man schtick for years. In solidarity and shit, Janice. Lucian put his phone back in his pocket, sighed and looked at the board to see where he was supposed to go first. His initials blinked next to exam room three.
He knocked on the door before he went in. A woman sat in a chair, holding a little girl with a split lip. “I’m Lucian Prando,” he said, giving his best smile.
“Oh, Dr. Prando,” she said. “We’ve been waiting for hours. The nurse said she was going to need stitches.” She spoke to the girl. “Show the doctor, honey. He’s going to make you all better.”
“I’m not the doctor,” Lucian said.
“You’re a nurse?”
“No,” he said. “I’m the resident magician.” He handed her a clipboard with a photocopied consent form. The pen dangled from it, attached with a worn piece of string and surgical tape.
She scowled. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“I specialize in pain control,” he said. “It’s quite safe.”
“When is the doctor going to see her?”
“What we do,” he said, trying to ignore her scowl, “is use a combination of glamour and pain blocking spells. It’s very effective. There’s less risk, and it doesn’t require any injections –“
“Just tell me when the doctor is going to see her,” she snapped.
“The spell only takes about five minutes,” he said. “The doctor will stitch her up and then you’ll be on your way…”
The woman was shaking her head. “I don’t think so. I didn’t come here for some hack –“
The door opened, and Dr. Wong came in, tired and in rumpled scrubs. He looked at the woman still holding the clipboard, then back at Lucian. “Did you get started?”
“Uh, not yet,” said Lucian.
“Excuse me,” said the woman. “Are you the doctor?”
“I’m Dr. Wong,” he said. “Mr. Prando…”
“I don’t want a magician doing anything to my daughter,” she said. “I want real medicine. Science. Not magic. I don’t believe in it.”
“Mr. Prando is board-certified,” said the doctor.
“Forget it,” she said. “I know what they’re all about.” She looked pointedly at Lucian. “Freaks and perverts, all of them. Quacks.”
The doctor shrugged and looked over his shoulder at Lucian. “Send the nurse in, will you?”
“Yeah,” said Lucian, taking the clipboard and leaving the room. “I’ll do that.”
15.05 The annual performance feedback document is developmental in its purpose but shall also be considered part of the disciplinary process. Letters of Expectation are disciplinary in nature and should be reviewed during the annual performance feedback process. If expectations are being met the Letter of Expectation may be removed at any time but will not stay on the personnel file any longer than twenty-four (24) months.
Hey, L-man – things in Cairo are pretty quiet. I went to Tahrir Square today. Bought a bullet casing keychain from a kid who swore it was used against protesters. I hear this State Department junket might be going to Malta next, which probably means we’re actually headed somewhere a little more south than that, if you know what I mean. It’s pretty nice. Not too hot. Totally thought it would be.
I won’t be back in time for the council meeting on Thursday, so if you could sit in for me, I’ll bring back one of those souvenir keychains for you. Promise. Vesterhoffen wants to grieve that fine, but he’ll probably drop it if somebody (ie: you) tells him he’d have to submit to a truth spell after the grievance is filed. There’s going to be discussion of the new health plan for the student magicians – basically brings them up to par with the limited-scope and part-time magicians. Easy stuff. There’s the collective bargaining coming up. Don’t sign me up for anything or I’ll give you such a hex that you’ll wish you’d just gone to med school for real. Ha ha. J.
The nurse manager wanted to meet with him. “If you’ve just got a few minutes today, Lucian?”
“I’m free now,” he said. He’d just finished casting an amnesic spell for an old woman with a hip fracture. She’d been so desperate to forget the fall and the pain that she’d signed the consent form before he’d finished talking, lying back with her hands clasped across her chest. The warm tingle of magic was a prickling across his skin, a pleasant after-glow. “Is it about this morning?”
“No-o-o,” she said, but she looked away and fiddled with her phone “I just want to go over your caseload for the past week and see how things are going.”
“Is there a problem?”
“Of course not,” she said. “Just a review, Lucian. Two-thirty okay? In my office?” She walked away before he had time to answer.
He was tempted to begin an incantation in the hallway. It would be so easy: a quick mutter, a flick of the fingertips. The familiar sensation of the magic draining out of him, away and towards the nurse manager, the muzzy pleasure as it worked. He could glean the details, probe for a hint. Nobody would know; he was the only magician working the ER. Nobody would catch him out. Upstairs, the ICU magicians worked in teams, weaving illusions so strong he could feel them leaching through the ceiling,. But down here, with the drunks and the rebound migraines lying on gurneys, it was just him. It would only take a minute…
“Hey,” Cara said, behind him. “Heard the nurse manager was looking for you.”
“She found me.”
“What’s she want?”
He shrugged. “Caseload review.”
“Huh.” Cara leaned against the counter at the desk, typing an order into the computer.
“How’s your day going?”
“Oh,” she said. “The usual. Demented old ladies and kids with food poisoning.” She rolled her eyes. “Same as always. We did a trauma call just after rush hour, though. Car accident. Sent the guy up for surgery.”
“Nobody called me,” he said, affronted. “I could have helped.”
“We were going to,” she said. “But when I checked his wallet, he had his card signed. No organ donations, no magic.”
She looked up from her plate and her expression softened. “Oh, hey — don’t be like that. People just want what they want, you know? You’re a good magician.”
“Not good enough for the ICU.”
“Who’d want to work up there?” she said. “Always on your feet, never get to sit down. The hours suck. And you’d have to wear scrubs and gown all the time.”
He thought of his closet full of khaki pants and button-down shirts. “That might not be so bad,” he said.
“I think you look sexy in plaid,” she said. “Forget about it, sweetie.”
15.06 A letter of expectation is construed to be an agreement between the Magician and the Employer constituting a contractual obligation on the part of the Magician.
He left the nurse manager’s office shortly before three with a copy of the letter in his hand, and a growing feeling of shame. “You need to be more assertive,” she’d said. “We can’t justify the expense when we’re cutting nursing staff. Magic is cheaper than pharmaceuticals; that’s why we have you here. I need you to be a part of the team, Lucian.”
How he was supposed to accomplish that, he wasn’t sure. His caseload was too light, and he was spending too much time trying to persuade patients to sign consent forms and let him work. “It’s not that I don’t want to help,” he’d said. “I want to. That’s what I trained for.”
“Of course you did,” she said. “But Lucian, I really don’t have a choice. I’m going to have to put my budget in, and I don’t see how the Chief of Staff will approve it if you don’t start pulling your weight. I’ll either cut you, or I’ll have to make a cut from the nursing staff. I don’t want to cut anybody, but you understand…”
Waiting for the elevator, he felt the familiar thrill of the ICU magicians. Cara had asked him once what it felt like, and he’d tried to explain: something like a cross between a friendly cat brushing up against you and an electric shock that ran from the top of your head to your feet. The slightest taste in the mouth that identified one magician from the other. A friendly feeling of recognition and comfort.
Adeel was on today: coffee and chocolate. “What do you taste like?” Cara asked him that when they first started dating.
“Cinnamon,” he said. “Maybe a little bit of apple, too. That’s what everybody says.”
Coffee and chocolate. Adeel was a classmate – they’d gone to school together, but Adeel was smarter. Better at spells. Better at everything. He wished that it was somebody else on ICU today, somebody he could go and talk to for a little while, one magician to another. But not Adeel, who looked at him with a small, smug smile. So he folded the letter and put it in his pocket, and when the shifts changed in the ER, he said nothing to the small, dark magician that liked to work nights. “All quiet?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said.
“Bummer,” she said, and smiled at him. “Guess I’ll go troll the waiting room for victims.”
Lucian went to Cara’s apartment and let himself in. “How’d it go?” she called.
“With the nurse manager.” He told her. “She’s such a cunt,” Cara said. “She really gave you an LOE?”
“Fucking cunt,” Cara said. “You should do something to her. Make her forget her name for a day.”
“I can’t do that,” he said.
“Better yet,” Cara said, “make her forget the LOE.”
“I can’t do that, either,” he said, though he was thinking again of Vesterhoffen. Only a fine – not even a suspension. Smoothing things over at work wouldn’t be like trying to get a girl to go to bed with him. Not at all. Nobody would know. Magicians probably did it all the time, and just never admitted it to each other.
15.07 Failure to comply with the terms of disciplinary action, including completion of requirements contained in Letters of Expectation, shall be submitted to the Disciplinary Committee for review and assessment. In exceptional cases, a Magician shall be referred for rendition.
It bothered him that he was thinking of it. But the patients kept refusing. People he could help. He found himself lingering at the foot of a bed after each refusal. It would be so easy to push them. Just a little. To make them reconsider. It wouldn’t be like Vesterhoffen, trying to pawn himself off on women. Not like that at all.
Two more complaints had surfaced about Vesterhoffen — one from a bartender who’d realized that he was methodically clearing off Vesterhoffen’s tab. Vesterhoffen had passed out, and his spell wore off. The second — much more serious — was from a student who’d found herself in bed with him. She’d called the police. The police had called the Corporation after his background check had turned up an entry in the magician registry.
They were after him for sexual assault and theft. He went to see Vesterhoffen in jail after work. The old man looked even worse, shrunken in his orange overalls. Pale and ghastly from the fluorescent lights. Lucian took a seat at the scarred table. “The union sent me to check on you.”
“I didn’t do nothing,” Vesterhoffen said. “Nothing! She told me it was okay. She did! And the bartender lets me drink for free if I just do a little magic on the side…” His voice trailed off.
“Do you have a lawyer?”
“Yes.” Vesterhoffen scrubbed at his with his hands. A guard at the door glanced in. “I got a public defender. Younger than you.”
“You’re being treated well?”
“They suspended me, Lucian. Can’t do no magic — nothing. Can’t even warm up my cell. Not even that, and I’m an old man. I like it warm. They say I can have two blankets, that’s it. Can’t do a transmutation. Can’t do nothing.”
Suspension. Lucian knew there were staff magicians on the force. They must have stripped his magic from him — and taken all of it. It made sense, of course. He couldn’t be trusted to do even the simplest of spells. Vesterhoffen was still talking, now with tears in his eyes.
“…kid, I don’t know what to do. They’re saying there could be a rendition. I can’t live without my magic. I can’t. They can’t do that to me. It’s all I got…” Vesterhoffen’s whining pleas turned to angry denunciations and rants. Lucian left, picking up his wallet and keys from the guards.
Rendition? Instead of rehabilitation? All of Vesterhoffen’s magic taken away. Nothing left, severed from the friendly murmur of the spells working all around him. That warmth of your own magic, the happy thrill, each time. Each and every time. It was why they all kept doing magic. It was why anybody did magic. The money was okay, but the way it made you feel…oh, that was better.
And a rendition would take that all away. He’d heard it was painful. There were rumours that some magicians didn’t survive the experience. But it would be worse would be to live through it, to know what you had lost. To remember and never have it again. The thought made him shiver as he started the car. Without magic, what else was there? What else could there be?
15.08 A Disciplinary Committee may impose fines, sanctions to limit a Magician’s use of magical devices, spells, or talents, or rendition, the latter being reserved for the most serious of offenses.
Lucian, I heard about Vesterhoffen. He brought it on himself, but egads – I haven’t been to a rendition hearing before. Last one was years ago – before my time. The Corp will strike the committee; as Chief Steward, I’d sit on Vesterhoffen’s behalf, but I’m still hopping back and forth between Cairo and Valetta. I don’t see how I’ll make it back in time. Which, I’m sorry to say, leaves you. You can manage, can’t you? I’d ask for somebody else, but Vesterhoffen says he wants you. The hearing is in two weeks. Let me know. J
The disciplinary hearing was set to take place before the civil trial. The Corporation had moved swiftly. They had their evidence, and it was incontrovertible. Magic always left a trace. The meeting would take place at the head office: large, black-clad tower bordering the waterfront. It thrummed with so much magic, and of such variety, that even a normal could feel a tingling of the skin, the hairs on the backs of their non-magical necks standing up, the cold slick of magic like oil in their mouths. They crossed the street to avoid getting close to it.
Cara thought he should bow out. “You’re too busy,” she said. “I hardly ever see you.” She was on nights for the next two weeks, arriving home in the morning with her eyes red-rimmed, still wearing her scrubs, a tote bag filled with empty Tupperware containers and her wallet slung over her shoulder. He cast a tiny spell for her – a glamour to darken the bedroom, drawing a shroud around it that muffled the noise from the street so that she could sleep during the day. She was grateful. And it was nice to do something nice for her, but what he liked even more was the quick thrill of magic that bubbled out of the room when he opened the door. It didn’t go against any rules. Not strictly speaking.
He tried harder at work. The nurse manager reviewed charts at the admit desk at the end of the shift, tracking his cases. He couldn’t bring himself to cast a spell on her. He thought about casting one on himself, instead. Something to make himself look more trustworthy to the patients. Unethical, yes. It was something Vesterhoffen did. And aside from it being against the rules, he couldn’t risk an ICU magician picking up on it if they came down to the ER – the whiff of magic on him would catch their interest if they got close. Too risky.
But he could nudge a patient. A quick glamour, a confusion spell…it would only take as long as long as it took to get a signed consent form. The patient would agree. He’d be able to help them. The nurse manager would be satisfied, and the hospital could bill the insurance company. Everybody wins, he thought.
He tried the spell on Cara when she was packing her lunch for the night shift, talking to him over her shoulder about a potluck on the weekend. “We should go,” she said.
“Saturday. I promised we’d go. So don’t start telling me you can’t.”
He stood in the kitchen, watching her ass as she bent over and got something out of the fridge. He thought about how he’d rather stay in with Cara. Maybe watch a movie. He thought about sitting on the couch, his legs up on the coffee table. Cara leaning into him. Maybe fooling around after the movie. She dropped an apple and bent down again. Fooling around on the couch would be a lot better than a potluck. And before he really thought about it, his fingers flicked out, the muttered words of a spell dropping from his lips like gently falling pieces of glass, tumbling down, end over end, tinkling gently.
“Or maybe we could just stay in,” she said suddenly. “Watch a movie. What do you think?”
“I think that would be fine,” he said, stunned. Just a little nudge. It worked. He felt guilty, but there was a curious elation. If it worked on Cara…
15.08 A Disciplinary Committee imposing an order of rendition must do so unanimously. Rendition must be completed within twenty-four (24) hours. The Employer shall provide medical and psychological care to the Magician after the rendition.
Two days before Vesterhoffen’s hearing, he found himself staring down another mother. This one had a baby sleeping in a stroller and a child sitting on the exam table with a morose expression and a spectacular cut stretching from one eyebrow to earlobe. He held his clipboard out, gave her the pen in his hand. “We try to use magic when we can. It makes the experience much less traumatic.”
She looked at the form. “It’s safe?”
“Very safe,” he said. “Very fast.”
“Then why do I have to sign this?” She looked at the consent form, lifting the sheet to look at the writing on the other side. “It’s two pages.”
“Just one signature,” he said, “on the back side. There.”
“But if it’s safe,” she said, “why do I need to sign this?”
He was supposed to say that it was hospital policy. There was a waiver for everything. Forms ad infinitum. He could try to gently explain that there was a small element of risk in every procedure. That there would be a form to sign for local anaesthetic if she refused magic. He thought of her inevitable arguments. The way she looked at him was enough: how stiffly she held herself, nostrils flared. She shook her head, began to hand back the clipboard and the pen. “I think you’ll agree,” he said. “Won’t you agree?”
And there it was. It lay between them for a moment, the familiar warmth of magic, and for a moment he thought I should stop, but it rolled over him and through him. The woman held the clipboard, a quizzical expression on her face, head half-cocked. She nodded. “I think I agree,” she said in a slow voice. Then she said it again. “I think…I agree.”
She signed her name.
He took the clipboard.
He did the magic to make her child feel better.
By the end of the day, he’d done more magic than he had in weeks. He felt pleasantly tired and spent. An itch he’d finally scratched. He felt useful. The nurse manager complimented him. The patients thanked him. Two of them consented without needing any help. It wasn’t coercion if you were helping, he thought. That was the difference between him and Vesterhoffen. He told himself this on the way home, certain that if he believed it strongly enough it would stop feeling so wrong.
15.09 Upon completion of a rendition, the Registrar shall strike the Magician’s name from the rolls and forward notification to the Union to do the same. A Magician who has completed rendition shall lose all magical privileges. All benefits and pension are forfeit.
Little magics were the safest and the easiest. The smaller the spell, the less tell. The evidence of magic faded quickly. The little magics lacked any heft, much substance. Smaller spells of a no-name variety. He counted on this as he steadily nudged patients with persuasion Mothers signed forms. Old ladies signed forms. Unlikely stories of accidentally sitting on flashlights and carrots signed forms. He was busier than he had been in a long time, and the nurse manager was pleased. In another few weeks, the letter of expectation might be cleared. “Consistency is what you need now,” she told him. “I’m very pleased with your performance. But I want to see it keep up.”
“Of course,” he said. He smiled at her, shifting his weight from foot to foot. “I will. Don’t worry.”
“You’re leaving early today?” She frowned.
“I have an appointment with the Corporation,” he said. “I’m a steward with the union, and there’s a hearing for one of the employees, so…”
“When are you leaving?” Her tone was brisk, but her eyebrows were coming together.
She tipped her head to one side as she prepared to make a note. “It’s absolutely necessary?”
“Oh, yes,” he said. He found himself pushing just a little. Murmuring the spell, after looking around to see if anybody would see him. Her expression cleared
“Yes,” she was saying. “It’s important for you to go. I completely understand.” And she walked away. Just like that.
He felt ill. He hadn’t meant to do it. No, he had meant to do it, but it was a bad idea. A bad fucking idea. But it had worked. Nobody had noticed. She was off his back.
He wandered back to the admit desk, trying to whistle cheerfully.
15.10 A magician is entitled to have a representative from the Union present at any disciplinary hearing. The role of the representative is to ensure that the application of the articles of the Agreement are consistent, to act as observer, and, from time to time, to advocate on behalf of the magician.
Vesterhoffen’s hearing was in a small, windowless room in the remand center. There was a whiteboard on the wall. A clock. A conference table and padded chairs on wheels, and a telephone with instructions on how to teleconference taped to the base. Lucian and Vesterhoffen sat at one of the table, waiting.
“You could still ask to delay,” Lucian said. “You could get a lawyer for this hearing.”
The old man laughed bitterly. “What’s the point? I slipped up. Made them look bad. They’ve already decided what to do with me.”
“But I’m not a lawyer. That’s the point.”
“There’s no way I’m walking out of here with my magic,” said Vesterhoffen.
“The decision hasn’t been made yet,” said Lucian. He fiddled with his tie, then opened the notebook he’d brought with him. It made him look more prepared than he was. “The union could help you find a lawyer…”
Vesterhoffen made a rude noise. He looked rumpled and sallow. He’d been allowed to change into the clothes he’d been arrested in for the hearing. They stunk of sweat. Lucian wondered if Janice would want him to do something about that.
Janice. She’d sent him a long email the night before, with advice on the hearing. She’d talked about procedure, about what to expect. Suggestions on things to bring up: Vesterhoffen’s age. His service to the community. I don’t see how there’s much he can say, she’d written. Too much evidence. He was stupid. He brought this on himself. Just remember that you’re making sure that they go through the process. Object if they try to skip over anything that’s laid out in the collective agreement. Call me later if you want to talk. Don’t worry about the time difference. I’ll keep my phone on. J
“You could try to appeal for leniency,” said Lucian. “You, uh, could talk about what you did before you retired. Your, uh, community service. You…you did do something good for the community, right?”
Vesterhoffen shrugged. “Not really.”
“Surely you worked…?”
“Yeah, I worked,” said Vesterhoffen. “Civil service, during the day. Airport security. And at night…private sector, you might say.” He laughed. It was an old man’s laugh, thick and wheezy.
“Airport security,” said Lucian, “That’s a good one.”
“Not hardly,” said Vesterhoffen. “Spent most of my time playing euchre with the baggage handlers.”
“You could ask for leniency,” said Lucian. “Tell them that you realize how wrong it was, how sorry you are. That kind of thing. Promise you won’t do it again.”
“Thing is,” said Vesterhoffen, “I’ll do it again. Of course I will.”
“You don’t mean that.”
“Sure I do.” Vesterhoffen leaned back in his chair. “Listen, kid. They’ve got me already. Proven it, haven’t they? So this little hearing is just to make themselves feel better. Come in all nice and proper, tell me the error of my ways. I’m old and my control is shot to hell. That’s the only reason they caught me.”
“You could promise never to do it again.”
Vesterhoffen laughed again. Laughed until he start to cough, and then he leaned back in his chair and stared up at the ceiling. “Kid, I can’t promise that. You know just what I mean.”
“No,” said Lucian. He looked away from Vesterhoffen, glancing down at his notebook. “I really don’t.”
“Oh, come on. You never did a little magic to make life easier? Never made it so things worked your way? Just a little bit? Never even once?”
Lucian cleared his throat. “No. There’s the ethics clause…”
“Oh, bullshit the ethics clause. Written by pantywaists having a circle jerk. There isn’t a magician out there who hasn’t done it. Look at you. Can’t even look me in the eyes and say you haven’t. You’re as guilty as sin, and what’s more, I can tell it. It’s all over you.”
Lucian stood up. “I don’t have to take this from you,” he said.
“You don’t, eh? That’s what you think? You telling me you never done nothing wrong?”
“Stop it,” said Lucian. “Shut up.”
“Right,” said Vesterhoffen. “Right, because you’re too good to be like me. You don’t ever use it the way you shouldn’t. Except I know that’s not true. It’s practically dripping off you, kid.” He smirked. “You’re going to help me, and I’ll tell you why.”
“Don’t bother,” said Lucian. He was at the door when Vesterhoffen spoke again, wheedling.
“I’ll tell you, kid. Because I know how to hide it. I was good, kid, before I got old. And I’ll tell you how to turn glamours that nobody will know. You can live like a king.” He looked around the room. “For a while, anyway. Until you get sloppy.”
“No. It’s wrong.” Lucian’s heart began to beat faster, and his shirt collar felt too tight.
“Wrong to make your life better?”
“You what…you work at a hospital? Trying to get people to take pain magic instead of drugs? You spend all your time peddling spells nobody wants because it doesn’t feel half as good as the dope they get. Bet you had to ask permission to get the time off to come here…” Lucian thought of the nurse manager, his stomach knotting. Vesterhoffen kept talking. “Wouldn’t you rather do something about that? Just sit down, and I’ll tell you how I do it. I can help you. You can get me off. We’ll be even.” Suddenly, Vesterhoffen’s voice turned plaintive. “Please, man. Magic’s my fucking life. Just help me. Please? It’s all I’ve got left.”
“No,” said Lucian. “I’m sorry. I can’t.” His chest felt tight. It hurt to breathe. He shook his head. He sat back down at the table. “Don’t ask me to do that.” He’d stop the spells tomorrow. No pushing patients. No convincing anybody.
“If you don’t,” said Vesterhoffen. “I’m going to tell them about you. They’ll find you out.”
15.11 The disciplinary committee shall consist of a panel of six magicians drawn from the membership at large. The Corporation shall be represented by a non-voting member of the committee. All decisions rendered by the disciplinary committee are final.
It went faster than he thought. Vesterhoffen tried to reason with them. He told them he was a changed man, that he’d learned his lesson. He wept. When the committee members began to question him, he grew defensive. When they kept asking him questions, he yelled.
It didn’t work. None of it. They voted quickly, following the procedure to the letter. Rendition. He would be stripped of his magic, and then he would face his civil charges. Lucian watched them take him out, and the old man yelled at him as he was dragged from the room. “You were supposed to help me!”
Only the committee chair was left in the room when Lucian finally stood up. She looked at him with sympathy. “First time?”
“Disciplinary hearings are tough,” she said. “Nobody likes them. But we didn’t have much of a choice with him, did we? Bad for publicity. Rendition was really the only way.”
He tried to smile at her. She was tapping papers neatly into a pile. “Guess not.”
“I honestly thought he’d leave it alone after that last fine. It’s not like he wasn’t warned.”
“He wanted me to do a glamour,” Lucian said. The words came tumbling out. “He said he’d show me how he did it.” She looked up at him sharply. “I mean, of course I wouldn’t have done it. There’s the ethics clause, after all.”
“Right,” she said. “Ethics.” She nodded. “Tempting, though, isn’t it? He was one of the best. In his day.” She gave him a long, measuring look.
“Oh, no,” he said quickly. She said nothing for a moment, and he swallowed and glanced at the clock. “I should probably get going…” His heart pounded in his chest. Was that the taste of lemons in his mouth?
“You’re friends with Janice, aren’t you?” Her question startled him.
“Tell her I’m looking forward to seeing her when she gets back,” the woman said, after a long pause. Then she shrugged slightly, and her smile broadened. “Tell her I say hello.”
“Uh, I will,” he said.
She paused in the doorway. “You know the worst of it?”
“The worse of it?”
“All this.” She gestured to the room, watching him.
“What?” He blinked, nervously tugged at his collar. Sweat trickled down his back.
“That he was stupid enough to get caught,” she said. “People like Vesterhoffen always think they’re smarter than the rest of us. That nobody knows what they’re up to.” And then she left, her heels echoing on the tiled floor like cannons. He stood sweating in the small room, the taste of lemon still lingering in his mouth.
Heather Clitheroe is a card-carrying member of a union getting ever closer to the unlocking the long service pin achievement. Her work has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Lightspeed‘s Women Destroy Science Fiction special issue, Kaleidotrope, and others. You’ll often find her at the Banff Centre for the Arts, tucked away in a corner while she writes, but also online at www.lectio.ca or @lectio.