THE SILVER NEEDLE twinkled fiendishly in his hand.
I tried not to watch, turning my head as the delicate sword penetrated my flesh, but my eyes always betrayed me. Each and every time. My heart raced, my breath quickened—
“Mon Dieu!” Hercule exclaimed in his heavy French accent. “This has happened, how many times now? Why still do you fret so much?”
“Yeah, Mrs. W,” Mr. Smith agreed. “You had your head cut off by a ten foot lobster, for Pete’s sake. What’s a little poke with a needle?”
They just didn’t understand. “I never liked needles,” I sighed as Mr. Wesson removed the implement of torture from my arm and gingerly applied an alcohol-soaked cotton ball. Safety first.
Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson, whom I dubbed my mad scientists, came with the house I inherited. Not that most mansions in New Orleans have mad scientists, but who knows? Mr. Smith (sorry, I don’t know either of their first names) was a tall man, barrel chested, with long black hair pulled harshly back into a pony tail. He painted his fingernails black as well. His lab partner was a short skinny man with crazy curly hair, somewhere between Harpo Marx and Albert Einstein.
These days they had a new daily routine for me. They used to make me run obstacle courses, or spar, or practice my time guardian talent, which was what people in the know called my ability to slow down time. But, after the events eight months ago—when I supposedly conjured a gun—they’ve focused solely on recreating that result. Conjuring. Unsuccessfully, I might add. Almost daily they take a little of my blood, analyze it, and try to come up with explanations for why I just can’t do it again.
I rubbed my sore arm. “What’s wrong with yesterday’s sample?” I huffed.
“Nothing’s wrong with it,” Mr. Smith explained. “We need a daily sample. We’ve explained this to you already.” Actually, only Mr. Smith explained things. Mr. Wesson never says a word. “We’re having a hard time nailing down your energy signature since it changes almost every day. So, we’re analyzing it, yes, every day, trying to understand how you’re changing. We’re making … progress,” he smiled, pointing at a monitor from over Mr. Wesson’s shoulder, but he didn’t sound so sure.
I’d heard those words many times now. I scowled my discontent.
About eight months ago, I was tricked into believing Nathan Marble, my lawyer, had killed my husband. In a rage of hatred and vengeance I conjured a gun, right out of thin air. Not my gun; I don’t own one. Not a gun any of my staffers ever saw before. But there it was, in my hand, locked and loaded, ready to make Mr. Marble another New Orleans urban statistic.
It didn’t happen, I’m happy to report. I didn’t pull the trigger. He confessed at that moment that he was my husband’s brother. That was just enough to quell the rage. Just barely.
“S’il vous plaît,” Hercule Poirot said, “I will try to explain.” It has taken me a long while to get comfortable with his small stature, his shiny brown body … and his six legs. And talking, no less. The Great Hercule was a cockroach. He preferred the term cafard. “You are not yet complete in your manifesting. You are still growing. Still changing. When you are fully grown you will have five talents.”
Talent is what we called magic in this world. We don’t like to use the word magic. Apparently, it reminds everyone of the Salem witch trials.
“Yeah,” I sighed, “This I know.”
“You’ve barely achieved two talents so far. The intention of the science monkeys, I believe, is to monitor you daily and see how you change. Thus, the buffoons with lab coats can predict how your talents manifest and help you tap into those energies you have yet to possess.”
Mr. Smith muttered a “hey” at the buffoon reference. He seemed content, however, being called a science monkey.
“What if that’s all I get? Two talents, I mean. I wasn’t born talented. Maybe, because of how I got my talents, they’re limited. Or uncontrollable.” In addition to the house, I inherited my ability from my husband. It was his last act on this earth. Sort of … it’s complicated.
“Possible, yes,” the roach continued. “However, I know you are not complete because you still have no shining.”
I cocked an eyebrow as I donned my powder blue leather jacket, flipping my stark white hair free of it. “Shining?”
“Yes. The shining. The illumination of the eyes.”
“The bug’s right,” Mr. Smith said, overhearing the conversation. “You never shine.”
“Recall, chére, when Nathan, or the one you call Jeeves, or any of the others … when they use their talents, the eyes have a different appearance, do they not?”
They did. Their faces would grow gaunt, almost skull-like, their eyes shining bright green—“Ah. Shining.”
“Oui. It is a sign of maturity,” Hercule said. He perched himself on the lab table, seated upright on the edge, with his back legs dangling and his topmost folded. His middle legs braced upon the metal. Count ‘em: six. “And you have no shine. Or wit, for that matter.”
“Fine. I still have talents coming,” I told the cafard, immune to his sharp tongue. “What I don’t get is why my blood is needed. Isn’t energy, well, energy?” I waved my hands in the air in a type of demonstration. “What does my blood have to do with it?”
“Your energy is in your blood,” Mr. Smith said, “as well as your skin, your hair, and so on. This way, we can study it without you being here.” With that, he made a “shoo” motion with his fingers.
Thank goodness. Officially dismissed, I spun on my heels and headed out.
Such was my life.