Wizard at Large by Terry Brooks

  “I explained all that, Deputy.”Ben was having trouble concealing his irritation. “Mr. Bennett has identification. Mine was left behind by accident.”

  “Along with that of Mr. Abernathy and the young lady,”Wilson finished. “Yes, so you explained.”

  He eased himself back again in his chair, looking from the skeleton to the gorilla to the shaggy dog to the pale green lady and back again. None of them had taken off their costumes yet, although Ben had long ago removed his death's mask and Miles had finally gotten rid of the troublesome gorilla head. They sat there in that sterile, functional, bare-walled office somewhere in the bowels of the King County Courts Building, where the Washington State Police had deposited them nearly an hour ago, looking for all the world like candidates for “Let's Make A Deal.”Wilson continued to look at them, and Ben could tell exactly what he was thinking.

  The deputy cleared his throat, glancing down at some papers before him. “And the shaggy dog costume we found in the back seat… ?”

  “Was an extra. It didn't fit right.”Ben leaned forward. “We've been over this ground before. If you have a charge to make, please make it. You've seen our card, deputy. Mr. Bennett and I are both lawyers, and we are prepared to defend ourselves and our friends, if that should prove necessary. But we are growing very tired of just sitting here. Are there any more questions?”

  Wilson smiled faintly. “Just a few. Uh, wouldn't Mr. Abernathy be more comfortable with his mask off?”

  “No, he would not,”Ben snapped irritably. He glanced sideways at Abernathy. “It took considerable effort to get it on him in the first place, believe me. And we still hope to make that party, deputy. So another five minutes and that's it. You'll have to charge us.”

  He was bluffing, but he had to do something to move matters along. He still didn't know exactly what Wilson knew or what sort of trouble they were in. Just a mix-up of some sort, the deputy had assured them. Just a matter of straightening it all out. But when it came right down to doing any straightening, they just seemed to continue running about in circles.

  Willow sat next to him in something that resembled a trance. Her eyes were half-closed, and her breathing extremely shallow. Wilson had watched her with growing suspicion. Ben had explained to the deputy that she was just a little under the weather, but he knew Wilson didn't believe him. Wilson believed she was on drugs.

  “Your lady friend doesn't appear to be doing so well, Mr. Holiday,”the Chief Deputy said, as if reading Ben's mind. “Would she like to lie down?”

  “I don't want to leave you, Ben,”Willow said quietly, eyes flickering open briefly before closing again.

  Wilson hesitated, then shrugged. Ben moved his chair closer to Willow and put his arm around her, trying to make it look as much as possible as if he were simply comforting her rather than holding her upright. She sagged against him weakly.

  “I'm going to call local counsel, Deputy Wilson,”announced Miles suddenly. He stood up. “Is there a phone I can use?”

  Wilson nodded. “Next office. Dial 9 to get an outside line.”

  Miles glanced meaningfully at Ben, then exited the room. As he went out, one of several clerks working in the reception area outside stuck her head through the door and told Wilson he was wanted on the phone. Wilson got up and walked over. Ben could hear a couple of the deputies lounging outside talking about how the whole city was overrun like this every Halloween. Witches, goblins, ghosts, and God-knew-what, one said. Zoo animals everywhere, the other said. It was hard enough keeping the peace on normal nights, the first said. Impossible on Halloween, the other said. Bunch of nuts, the first said. Bunch of crazies, the other said.

  Wilson finished his conversation with the clerk. “Excuse me a moment, Mr. Holiday,”he said and went out. The door closed behind him.

  Abernathy looked over worriedly. “What's going to happen to us, High Lord?” he asked in a whisper. He hadn't said a word since they got there because Ben had warned him not to. It was hard enough keeping up this charade about a Halloween party without trying to explain how the mouth in a dog mask could move so much like the real thing.

  Ben smiled, trying to look reassuring. “Nothing's going to happen. We'll be out of here soon enough.”

  “I don't understand why they keep asking if I want to take off my mask, High Lord. Why don't I just tell them the truth?”

  “Because they can't handle the truth, that's why!” Ben sighed, irritated with himself. There was no point in snapping at the faithful scribe. “I'm sorry, Abernathy. I wish we could just tell the truth. I wish it were that simple.”

  Abernathy nodded doubtfully, glanced at Willow, then leaned forward and whispered, “I know you came back for me and I am deeply grateful. But I think that, if we are not allowed to go soon, you must forget about me. You must cross back into Landover and help those whose needs are more pressing.”His eyes flickered briefly to Willow and away again. Willow appeared to be asleep.

  Ben shook his head wearily. “Too late for that, Abernathy. I'm as much a prisoner now as you. No, we'll all go back together. All of us.”

  Abernathy kept his brown eyes locked on Ben's. “I don't know if that's going to be possible, High Lord,”he said quietly.

  Ben didn't reply. He couldn't. He watched as Miles reappeared through the door and closed it again.

  “Help's on the way,”he said. “I reached Winston Sack, senior partner with the Arm of Sack, Saul, and McQuinn. We did some business with them a few years back in that Seafirst case. He said he'd send someone right over.”

  Ben nodded. “I hope whoever it is hurries.”

  Wilson came back into the room, all business. “Mr. Holiday, do you know a man named Michel Ard Rhi?”

  Ben had been ready for that question from the beginning. There couldn't be any other reason that they would be detained like this. He pretended to think a moment, then shook his head. “No, I don't think so.”

  “Well, it appears that Mr. Ard Rhi has accused you and your friends of stealing something from him. Some sort of medallion.”

  The room got very quiet. “That's ridiculous,”Ben said.

  “Mr. Ard Rhi has given a description of the medallion to us. The description is quite thorough. The medallion is silver and engraved with some sort of knight and a castle.”He paused. “Do you have a medallion like that, Mr. Holiday?”

  Ben felt his throat constrict. “Let's wait for the attorney that Mr. Bennett contacted to arrive before we answer any more questions. Okay?”

  Wilson shrugged. “Up to you. Mr. Ard Rhi has contacted someone in the Attorney General's office. That's why you're here. Mr. Ard Rhi's coming down from up around Woodinville, I gather. Should be here in just a bit. The Attorney General's office already has a man in the building.”He got up. “Maybe when everyone gets here, we can clear all this up.”

  He went out again, closing the door softly behind him. There was a moment of silence while he moved away, then Miles snapped, “Damn it, Doc, all he has to do is search you to find…”

  “Miles!” Ben cut him short with a hiss. “What was I supposed to do? Tell him I had it? If he finds out I have it, we'll be charged for sure and the medallion confiscated in the bargain! I can't allow that to happen!”

  “Well, I don't see how you can prevent it! They'll find it anyway the moment they search you!”

  “Listen up, will you? He's not going to search me! He can't do that without probable cause, and he hasn't got any! Besides, it won't come to that!”

  Miles’ round face tightened. “With all due respect, Doc, you are not a criminal lawyer! You're a hell of trial lawyer, but your specialty is civil litigation! How do you know if he's got probable cause or not? Ard Rhi is going to say you took it, and that sounds like probable cause for a search to me!”

  Ben felt trapped. He knew Miles was right. But if he admitted to having the medallion, they would be there in that Courts Building for the rest of their lives, or at least long enough to make it seem that way. He looked fr
om Miles to Abernathy to Willow. Miles was beside himself with worry, Abernathy was within an inch of doing something that would blow his cover, and Willow was so sick she could no longer even sit upright without help. Landover was looking farther and farther away with the passing of every moment. His plan of escape was coming apart at the seams. He could not afford any further complications. He had to find a way to get them out of there right now.

  He got up, walked to the door, and opened it. “Wilson,”he called quietly, and the Chief Deputy left what he was doing to wander over. “I've been thinking,”Ben said. “Why not put this whole matter over until tomorrow—or even until the first of the week. This isn't anything that won't keep. Willow seems to be getting worse. I want her to get some rest, maybe see a doctor. When that's done, I'll be happy to answer any questions you want. How about it?”

  He meant it. He would come back, from Landover if necessary, and set things straight once and for all. He had already decided that he didn't care for the idea of Michel Ard Rhi running around loose in his old world after all.

  But Wilson was already shaking his head. “Sorry, Mr. Holiday, but I can't do that. I might consider it if it were just me making the decision. But the order to hold you came right from the Attorney General's office. I can't release you until they say so. You're a lawyer; you understand.”

  Ben nodded wordlessly. He understood, all right. Somewhere along the line, Michel Ard Rhi had greased some political wheels. He should have expected as much. He thanked Wilson anyway and went back inside the office, closing the door once more. He sat down again beside Willow and cradled her against him.

  “Well, you tried, Doc,”Miles offered quietly.

  Willow's head lifted momentarily from his shoulder. “It will be all right, Ben,”she whispered. “Don't worry.”

  He did worry, though. He worried that time was slipping away. He worried that all the doors out of this mess were closing one after the other, and he wasn't going to be able to do a thing about it.

  He was still worrying twenty minutes later when there was a brief knock, the door opened, and a young man in a neatly pressed, three-piece suit and carrying a briefcase appeared, spoke momentarily over his shoulder to Wilson, and stepped inside. This had better be the cavalry, Ben thought. The young man stopped. He was not prepared for what greeted him.

  “Mr. Bennett?” he asked, looking doubtfully at the skeleton, gorilla, shaggy dog, and pale green lady facing him. Miles stuck out Ms hand and the young man shook it. “Lloyd Willoughby, Mr. Bennett, from Sack, Saul, and McQuinn. Mr. Sack called me and asked me to come over.”

  “We appreciate it, Mr. Willoughby,”Miles said and proceeded to introduce the others. Ben shook his hand. Abernathy and Willow just looked at him, and he in turn looked back at them. Ben thought he looked awfully young—and that meant awfully green. You could tell from the way he was looking at them that he was thinking much the same thing Chief Deputy Wilson had been thinking a short time earlier.

  Willoughby put his briefcase on Wilson's desk and rubbed his hands together nervously. “Now, then, what seems to be the problem?”

  “The problem is simple,”Ben offered, taking charge. “We are being held on a bogus theft charge—a charge made by a Mr. Ard Rhi. This man apparently has some clout in the Attorney General's office, because that's where the order to hold us originated. What we want—and right now—is to be allowed to go home and worry about this another time. Willow is quite ill and needs to be put to bed.”

  “Well, I understood that there was a possible theft charge pending,”Willoughby said, looking increasingly nervous. “Some sort of medallion? What can you tell me about that?”

  “I can tell you that I have it and that it is mine,”Ben answered, seeing no purpose in pretending otherwise. “Mr. Ard Rhi has no basis for his charge that I stole it.”

  “Have you told this to the Chief Deputy?”

  “No, Mr. Willoughby, because if I did, he would want to take the medallion, and I have no intention of giving it up.”

  Willoughby now looked as if he were waist deep in alligators. He managed a faint smile. “Certainly, Mr. Holiday, I understand. But, do you have the medallion on you? Because from what I understand, if they choose to charge you, they might search you, find the medallion, and take it from you anyway.”

  Ben fumed. “What about probable cause? Isn't it Ard Rhi's word against ours? That's not enough for probable cause, is it?”

  Willoughby looked perplexed. “Actually, Mr. Holiday, I'm not sure. The truth is, criminal law is only a sideline in our firm's practice. I handle a small amount to satisfy those of our clients who want one of us to represent them, but I don't do much otherwise.”He smiled weakly. “Mr. Sack always calls me to cover for him on these nighttime matters.”

  Green as new wood, Ben thought. We're doomed.

  “You mean you're not even a criminal attorney?” Miles began, coming to his feet as if he might actually be the gorilla he was dressed as. Willoughby took a quick step back, and Ben restrained Miles with a hand on his shoulder, pushing him back down again into his seat with a quick warning glance in the general direction of the door that separated them from Wilson.

  He turned back to Willoughby. “I don't want them to search me, Mr. Willoughby. It is as simple as that. Can you prevent it?” Willoughby looked doubtful. ‘Tell you what, then,”Ben followed up quickly. “Let's play it by ear. You be local counsel, but I'll call the shots. Just follow my lead, okay?”

  Willoughby looked as if he were considering whether or not he was being asked to do anything unetnical. His brows were knit and his smooth, young face was deeply intense. Ben knew he would be useless if push came to shove. But there was no time to bring in anyone else.

  The door opened to re-admit Wilson. “Mr. Martin of the Attorney General's office has asked me to bring you up to Three Court for a short meeting, Mr. Holiday. All of you, please. Maybe now you can go home.”

  When cows fly, Ben thought dismally.

  They took the elevator up several floors and got off in a carpeted waiting area. The Chief Deputy led them down a short hall to a pair of paneled doors and from there into an empty courtroom. They stood at the head of an aisle that led down through a dozen rows of a viewing gallery to a gate that opened onto the trial floor and the judge's bench. The jury box and the witness stand sat to the left, the reporters’ stand to the right. Further right, a bank of windows that ran the length of the wall opened out onto the lights of the city. Shadows lay over the room, broken only by a pair of recessed ceiling lamps that spotlighted the counsel tables situated directly in front of the gate.

  A man with glasses and graying hair rose from one of the tables and said, “Chief Deputy, would you bring Mr. Holiday and his friends down here, please?”

  Wiiloughby stepped to the forefront on their arrival, sticking out his hand and announcing, “Lloyd Wiiloughby of Sack, Saul, and McQuinn, Mr. Martin. I have been asked to represent Mr. Holiday.”

  Martin shook his hand perfunctorily and promptly forgot him. “It's late, Mr. Holiday, and I'm tired. I know who you are. I've even followed a case or two you've tried. We've both been around the block, so let me get right to the point. The complainant, Mr. Ard Rhi, says you took a medallion from him. He wants it returned. I don't know what the dispute is, but I have Mr. Ard Rhi's word that if the medallion is returned, the whole matter will be forgotten. No charges will be filed. What do you say?”

  Ben shrugged. “I say Mr. Ard Rhi is nuts. Is that why we're being detained—because someone says we stole a medallion? What kind of nonsense is this, anyway?”

  Martin shook his head. “Frankly, I don't know. A lot of what happens anymore is beyond me. At any rate, you better think it over because if the medallion doesn't show up and Mr. Ard Rhi does—he's supposed to be on his way—you are likely to be charged, Mr. Holiday.”

  “On one man's word?”

  “Afraid so.”

  Ben came right against him. “As you said, Mr. Martin, I'm a
lawyer who's been around the block. So is Mr. Bennett. Our word ought to count for something. Who is this Ard Rhi? Why should you take his word? That's all you have, isn't it?”

  Martin was unruffled. He stood his ground. ‘The only word I get, Mr. Holiday, is from my boss, who keeps me employed, and he says to charge you if Mr. Ard Rhi— whoever he is and whatever he does—-signs a complaint. My guess is that if he doesn't get the medallion back, he'll sign. What do you think?”

  Ben couldn't say what he was thinking without getting in worse trouble than he already was. “Okay, detain me, Mr. Martin. But how about letting the others go? Apparently I'm the one who's to be charged.”

  Martin shook his head. “No such luck. Your friends are to be charged as accomplices. Look, I've just finished a long, hard day in court. I lost the case I was trying, I missed my kid's Halloween party, and now I'm stuck down here with you people. I don't like this any better than you do, but that's the way life works sometimes. So let's just have a seat here while we wait for Mr. Ard Rhi. And maybe I can finish some of this paperwork I'm too damned tired to haul back to my office.”He motioned to the gallery. “Give me a break, huh? Talk it over. I don't want to mess with this thing.”

  He trooped wearily back to the counsel table and sat down, bending over a legal pad and notes. Willoughby motioned them all solicitously toward the gallery seats, where they sat in a row.

  Martin looked up again. “Chief Deputy? Your people got orders to bring Mr. Ard Rhi up here when he arrives?” Martin waited for the affirming nod, then went back to his notes. Wilson drifted back up the aisle to the courtroom doors and stayed there.

  Willoughby eased his way down the line to Ben and bent down. “Maybe you really should reconsider your decision not to give up the medallion, Mr. Holiday,”he whispered, sounding as if perhaps Ben should realize that this would be best for all concerned.

  Ben gave him a look that caused him to move quickly away. Willow's voice was a whisper in his ear. “Don't… give them the medallion, Ben.”She sounded so weak it made his throat constrict. “If you must,”she said, “leave me. Promise you will.”

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