Margaret noisily collapsed into her salad, startling the people near her in the restaurant. Rich jumped up to help her just as she lifted her head and cried “Scotty!”
Yvonne slumped in the aisle at the Harris Garden Center, falling onto flats of impatiens.
Elaine sat up suddenly on the patio lounge and doubled over in pain, her backyard sunbathing session forgotten.
When Rich brought Margaret back to the house Elaine was on the phone, Yvonne standing next to her.
“I know you haven’t heard anything, Dr. Feeley, but he’s our Staff so we know! He’s probably going to be taken to Strong. Is there any way you can intercept him and get him out to your clinic?” There was a pause as she listened to whoever was on the other end of the line.
“Margaret just walked in with her lawyer boyfriend. He’s a wizard, so he’ll probably help us. We’ll get what we can to you as soon as possible.” She waited for the reply, then hung up the phone.
“What was that all about?” asked Rich. “I heard you mention me, so you’d better let me in on whatever it is.”
“That was Dr. Feeley. Have you heard of him?”
“Doesn’t he specialize in magic-related diseases?”
“That’s him. His clinic is located near Letchworth State Park. I’m trying to get Patton transfered there so Dr. Feeley can take care of him.”
“Oh, I get it! You need a Medical Power of Attorney to do that, which you don’t have.”
Margaret butted in. “You knew I wouldn’t fall for an idiot,” she said to Elaine.
Elaine ignored her. “That’s right. Can you help us whip one up?”
“Sure,” said Rich. “Do you have a sample of his signature?”
“No, but we need to get over to Patton’s house anyway. I’ll bet we can find one there.”
They had a hard time getting to Patton’s house. Sheriffs were diverting traffic, and the street in front of the house was blocked by news vans and sheriff’s cars. The firetruck was still in the driveway, but both the rescue truck and an ambulance had left and taken Patton. They wound up parking the witches’ minivan and Rich’s BMW about a block away and walking to the house.
There was crime scene tape all around the yard. “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to stay back. We have an active investigation going on here.” The deputy was polite but firm.
“We’re his daughters,” said Elaine, remembering how young they looked and how middle-aged Patton was.
“And I’m his attorney,” added Rich. The deputy took their names, and a few minutes later they were led up to the fire chief. His name tag said “Barstow.”
“Chief Barstow, I’m Rich Waters, Mr. Patton’s attorney. Can you tell us what happened here and where he’s been taken?”
“Don’t rightly know what happened, yet. Some sort of explosion in the kitchen blew Mr. Patton clear out of the house. He was found in the yard over against that tree. EMT says it’s amazing he’s alive.”
“That’s good to hear. Do you know where they’ve taken him?”
“I think he was headed to Strong, since that’s the closest ER. You’ll probably find him there.”
Thank you. And what about the house? How badly is it damaged? Is there any risk of fire?”
“The kitchen’s pretty badly damaged, including missing the floor, but we’ve cut off all utilities so we don’t expect any fire or other damage. Funny thing — for all the damage from the explosion, there’s no scorch marks or any other sign of heat. It’s like a sonic boom hit it, but from the inside. Strangest explosion I ever saw!”
Rich headed back to his office to whip up a Power of Attorney, and the Gruff sisters went to the Emergency Room at Strong Hospital. There they were able to persuade the clerk to tell them that Patton had been admitted, but they weren’t allowed back to see him. They sat and practiced patience for an hour until Dr. Feeley arrived with Rich right on his heels.
There was a brief conference, then Dr. Feeley disappeared behind the big double doors. Fifteen minutes later he was back.
“He’s in real bad shape. Frankly, he should be dead, but he’s not. He was blown through a window and fifty feet across the yard only to smash into a tree, yet he only has cuts and bruises and a concussion, no broken bones. His skull should have split like a melon.
“Magically it’s more complicated. There’s signs of serious chi overload, and aura damage. I’m sure there’s more that I can’t diagnose here. I’ve slipped him a crystal to help drain his chi and keep him sedated until I can get him to the clinic. I’ve arranged for the transfer, which should happen in a couple hours. In the meantime I can’t let you see him — the presence of your auras nearby could unbalance him.”
Yvonne spoke up. “What can we do? We need to do something!”
“There’s nothing you can do, except pray if that fits with your beliefs. But tell me, why did you make him your Staff?”
Elaine explained. “He was soaking up manna faster than we expected and wasn’t dealing with it well. We tried siphoning it off while he adjusted, but when he started impulsively starting fires it scared him and us. Making him our Staff was the only way I could think of to both calm his impulses and draw off the excess energy until he was able to get some training.”
Rich jumped in. “I taught him how to light candles this morning, but that’s as much training as he’s gotten, I think.”
“We showed him how to feel auras,” added Margaret, “and he seems to have a talent for it, but again, that’s all he knows.”
“Well, I see there’s a lot of work ahead. I’ll start by showing him how to charge crystals. I have some that should hold several months’ worth of anyone’s manna absorption, even his. That should stabilize him until he can get more training. That is, depending on the extent of his damage. We’ll see.”
James Fuentes called out from the living room of the apartment they were renting. “Hey Boss, you might want to check out the tube!”
Martin Caldwell came in from the kitchen. “Turn it up, Jimmy,” he said with some irritation in his voice. He didn’t really like the living arrangements, but he hadn’t had an opportunity to find better.
“… early in the investigation. The explosion is being considered suspicious but we don’t have any leads at this time,” said Chief Barstow from the TV.
“The fact that the homeowner, James Patton, survived the explosion is considered a miracle by many here. He is said to have been thrown through a window and against a tree sixty-five feet away, and was knocked unconscious without a broken bone in his body. Why he survived and what caused the explosion is truly a mystery. In Henrietta, this is Rebecca Wallace for TV 10 News.” Fuentes turned the volume back down.
“Sounds like a wizard got hit with one of our grenades,” he said.
“Perhaps, but how would one have gotten here? Is someone else producing them, or something like them? I think you and Randy should swing by there tonight and check things out.”
“Sure thing, Boss.”
It was early evening when Rich and the witches were able to get back to Patton’s house. There was still crime scene tape all around, and a “Condemned” notice was tacked to the kitchen door, but otherwise the site was quiet.
“You know, with all the publicity and all this yellow tape, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone breaks in and robs Scotty while he’s in the hospital.”
“I’m with you. Let’s set some wards while Rich and Yvonne look around.” They split up, Margaret and Elaine circling the house clockwise to perform their magic while Rich and Yvonne made a beeline to the kitchen.
“What a mess!” exclaimed Yvonne as they peered through the opening that Patton had flown out of. “That hole is enormous! Why, most of the kitchen floor is just gone!”
Rich made his way to what used to be the window on the other side of the kitchen door. He also looked in. “At least that main beam is still intact.” The beam was a squared tree trunk a foot across with bark still attached in places. There were notches where the floor joists used to sit. “How old do you think that is?”
Yvonne looked at it. “Probably older even than Elaine. Early eighteen hundreds, perhaps?”
“I hadn’t realized this house was that old.” Rich used a spell to cast a little more light into the basement area while Yvonne moved off to another window to check out the rest of the house. He was interested in some of the smaller objects down in the hole, using levitation to pluck them out so he could get a better look. Silverware and broken glasses glittered for his attention. After a few moments of poking around he went to join Yvonne.
“See anything interesting?” he asked.
“Only that Patton’s a lousy housekeeper,” replied Yvonne. “I don’t think all this mess can be attributed to the explosion. He needs some brownies.”
“That’s a good idea!” exclaimed Elaine as she and Margaret came up behind them, their work finished. “While Patton’s in the hospital let’s call some brownies to the house so that the place is cleaned up when he gets home.” Then she looked at the debris on the yard and the hole in the kitchen floor. “Well, as much as brownies can clean this up,” she added.
At two a.m. the street was completely empty except for the rental car that drove slowly toward Patton’s house. “I think this is the place,” said Fuentes.
“It sure is,” Nieves replied. “Pretty heavily warded, too. I don’t think stopping would be a good idea.”