If you’ve read Magic in the Headlines, then this might look familiar. The first chapter of Magic in the Jazz Age (book 2) appears at the end of that book. I’m in the process of editing this book for Nanowrimo in preparation for its release in spring 2022.
Chapter One: AJ
Tuesday, April 27, 1925
“Jasper! Jasper!” I hissed, shaking him. He groaned, eyelids fluttering.
“Shut up!” Sid snapped, training the pistol on me.
I swallowed the lump of fear in my throat—it was already hard enough to breath with my asthma.
Faintly, Jasper squeezed my fingers with his good hand. I looked down, pressing the hem of my skirt to the wound in his shoulder to try to staunch the blood. His white suit was drenched in red.
“We could have just left him, you know. No one would find him down here,” Sid said as the van bounced along the underbelly of Chicago, splashing through three inches of foul water and storm runoff. “You’re lucky I had a change of heart. Our boss, he’s always looking for new recruits. And a sorcerer, well, those are always welcome. He’ll need some work, though. We’ll see what we can do with him. You, though. You’ll get us a good price. We get paid double when we bring in real, live, psychics.”
“What do you need psychics for? What do you need any of us for?” I forced a laugh, gesturing at the three unconscious homeless men piled up beside us. There was barely any room, and the smell of them was toxic. “Don’t you know ghosts don’t exist?”
His lips curled into something halfway between a smile and a snarl. “That’s the popular theory, ain’t it? But my bosses, they ain’t fans of the popular theory. They think there’s some real, honest-to-goodness people out there, not just table-tappers and hidden fans and light shows and all of that. No. Is it true? I don’t know for certain. I sure as hell can’t see any ghosts. But that detector there, it sure seems to work.” He gestured to the wood box with the crystals on top. The crystals were dull and dark now, but when we’d first stumbled on Sid and his partner, Dick, they’d been lit up like a New Year’s Eve party.
“All I know is, that box can find power. Sorcerers, psychics, ghosts. And it draws them all in. And that one there—” he pointed to the only other conscious passenger, “Her and her kind, they’re worth a bonus. And if she says you’re one, too, then I ain’t sayin’ no to a steak dinner and some of the good stuff tonight. As for the rest of ’em, well, it’s none of my business what the bosses do with ’em.”
“Who are your bosses?” I asked.
He grinned, showing a set of crooked teeth. “You’ll meet ’em soon enough. Now quit beatin’ your gums. Stay quiet. I’d hate to lose out on that steak dinner just because you didn’t know how to keep your trap shut.”
I looked back down at Jasper. His face was an ashen, grayish color. He moaned again when I pressed down on the wound, but I caught him staring at me through his blond lashes, a sharper, clearer stare than his pallor indicated. I sighed with relief and resisted the urge to slug him; it was all a show—well, mostly a show—for our captor’s benefit.
From the back of the van, I couldn’t see where we were going. It was dark, except for a tiny bit of light coming through the grate between us and the driver. A sudden jolt sent me sprawling on my side, then the light brightened and the road evened out. We were back on the surface.
Sid leaned back against the grate to say something to Dick I couldn’t hear. The gun never wavered. I resumed my position, gently pulling Jasper’s head into my lap while our guard was distracted.
“Are you okay?” I whispered, pretending to adjust his jacket over the injury. It was bleeding sluggishly now, which I hoped meant it wasn’t too serious—if there was such a thing as a non-serious bullet wound.
“Where’s my wand?” he asked.
“He’s got it. Coat pocket left hand side. He grabbed it while you were out.”
“Any chance you can get the mannequin over there to help us?”
I glanced at the psychic, who hadn’t said a word since we first stumbled on Sid and Dick in the tunnels under the city. She’d barely even moved, except to follow one of Sid’s orders.
“I can try, but I don’t think so. There’s something not right about her.” I suddenly longed for Oliver. He’d once told me I had a glow about me, something no one else had, until he met Reggie Wu. Maybe if Oliver saw her, he’d be able to say what was wrong. Clearly, she could still see the dead, but I wasn’t entirely sure she could see the living—not really.
“Hey! I told you to shut up!”
I lowered my head. The van took a sharp right, and I braced myself against the side of the vehicle to keep from falling over again.
We drove the rest of the way in silence. Jasper held my hand the entire way, and for once I didn’t object.
At last, the van began to slow. The thin shaft of light coming from the cab went out as we drove into a garage or tunnel or something. The engine cut out. Sid rose to his feet, keeping the pistol on us—on me—until Dick unlatched the door.
There were two men with him in rough workmen’s clothing. Like the psychic, they had inky black markings tattooed on the sides of their faces, but the design seemed to be slightly different, less intricate. They had the same dull look about the eyes, however.
Dick grabbed me roughly by the arm, dragging me from the vehicle. I tumbled into his arms, my feet tangling on themselves. He let go and I crashed to the floor. The other two hoisted me back up again.
“Load her up. Put her in containment.”
“What about that one, Sid? He don’t look so good.”
“Patch him up. They can take care of him in New York.”
“New York? Why are we going to New York?” I asked.
“Shut her up!” Sid snapped.
One of the tattooed men pinned my arms to my side, lifting me off my feet. Over my shoulder, Jasper let out a yell.
“Jasper!” I struggled and squirmed, but my captor didn’t even seem to notice. “Jasper!”
“I told you to shut her up!”
There was a blinding pain in my skull, and then the world went black.
Like what you see? Check out my Patreon for more previews and exclusive content.