Mary Christmas 2: Christmas in July – Chapter 15 – by lostandwhatever
Mary Christmas 2: Christmas in July – Chapter 15
Continued from Chapter 14.
Less than an hour later, a heavily armored FBI squad knocked down the doors to Chuck Timberland’s residence, an old farmhouse that had seen better days. Paint was peeling off the ornate old woodwork, and the nearby barn looked ready to fall down in a stiff breeze. As the FBI cleared the building, Carol and Cadice stood behind Carol’s car, watching from a distance. Another team from Department 8 waited in their own van next to them. Candice was ready to call in backup from the embassy in case Mary was actually home.
“She won’t be in there,” Carol said, sounding disappointed.
“She could be,” Candice said. “That house is pretty hot with magic, according to my sensors.”
“I’m sure we’ll find something in there,” Carol said. “But, she wouldn’t have come back to this place after everything she did yesterday. She knows the dairy has Chuck’s address. Unless she’s more careless than we think, she’ll be somewhere far away by now.”
Candice grunted in reply. Always a step or two ahead of us, she though. I can’t let her get away with all of this. I won’t let it happen.
“You okay there, Candice?”
“What?” Candice said. Carol looked at Candice’s hand, and Candice noticed she had it clenched in a fist so tight that her knuckles were turning white. She loosened her grip.
“You really want to catch her, don’t you?” Carol observed.
“Of course I do. What she did… What she could do still… It’s…”
“…Terrible?” Carol suggested.
“You’re angry,” Carol said. “That’s a good thing, believe it or not. Anger is a great motivator. Just make sure you don’t lose your head. People have done some really stupid, destructive things when they’re angry. I know it all too well. I’ve seen more of the results of blind rage than I want to remember.”
Candice realized that Mary was just another criminal link in a long chain of criminals that Carol had tracked down. “How long have you been doing this kind of work?”
“Well,” Carol said. “I joined the FBI about 12 years ago. They loaned me out to Department 8 a few months ago. So, yeah, it’s been a while.”
“Did you always want to fight crime?”
Carol chuckled. “You’re making me sound like some kind of superhero. I think I always wanted to be a detective. I read a lot of mystery books as a kid. My favorites were the ones with girl-detective Cammy Green. I tore through dozens of those. I wanted to be her so much. She had a photographic memory, like a camera in her brain. ‘Cammy,’ get it?”
“I wanted to be able to help people, like she did. I wanted…”
Her walkie talkie crackled with static and beeped. A man’s voice said, “The building is clear. Marx, you can bring your team in.”
Candice looked over at the farmhouse to see the heavily armed men filing out the front door.
Carol answered, “We’re on our way.”
The forensics team did their job and then gave the all clear for Carol and Candice to come in. Carol led the way in as Candice swept a crystal around her, like a Geiger counter. It glowed faintly. The house looked less rundown from the inside. In fact, it seemed suspiciously normal.
“So, Bob, what have you got for us?” Carol asked the leader of the forensics team.
“You’ll want to see what we found on the kitchen table first,” Bob said, and they followed him in.
The kitchen seemed as normal as the rest of the house except for the large plastic hamster cage on the kitchen table. There was nothing particularly strange about it at first glance. It had a conventional water bottle and even a hamster wheel. What was strange about it were the two small creatures moving inside it on the woodshavings.
“Is that…?” Candice asked.
Bob said, “…a cow and and shrunken man? Yes. That’s what we think they are.” They all stared at the miniature cow as it grazed obliviously on some breakfast cereal. Meanwhile, the small naked man who crouched in a corner of the cage near the hamster wheel twitched slightly whenever anyone moved. Bob said, “I hate magic. This is too damn weird for me. I mean, I’ve seen some weird stuff, but this… It’s too much.”
Candice leaned down to look at the cage more closely. She moved slowly so as not to startle the small man. “This has to be the missing cow from the dairy,” she said. “So, they shrunk the cow, took it with them, and replaced it with Hank? Right?”
“Yeah, that’s what I’m thinking as well,” Carol said as she looked more closely at the man. “Chuck?” she asked him.
The man whipped his head around to look at her. “Y-you!” he croaked. “You know my name!”
He leapt to his feet and put his dirty little hands against the plastic of the cage. “Yes!” he cried, desperately. “That’s me! Are you…? Are you here to save me?” He looked up at Carol, hopefully. Then, fear filled his bearded face. “Wait, are you with her?” He crossed his arms in front of himself and cringed. “Don’t touch me!” he yelled as he backed away from Carol until he leaned his back against the other side of the cage. “Don’t touch me!” he shrieked, hysterically. “Please, just leave me alone!” He slumped to the woodshavings, covering his head with his hands and sobbing. “Go away, go away, go away,” he chanted over and over through his tears.
Carol stepped away from the cage and Candice followed her lead. They turned to each other, and Candice said, “How did he go from working at a dairy and breaking into Department 8 to that…” she indicated the cage “…in a day?”
“It wasn’t him,” Carol said. “Couldn’t have been. Look at his beard. He hasn’t shaved in weeks. The Chuck we caught on our security cameras had no beard.”
“Unless Mary invented a way to grow a man’s beard and drive him half insane in a day, I would bet that there are two Chucks now,” Carol said. “Is that possible with magic?”
Candice shrugged. “It could be. It’s not any kind of magic that I’ve learned. I could see how it might be possible. There are myths about Golems and doppelgangers… magical constructs. There’s probably some actual magical truth behind them.”
Carol nodded. “Well, just when I was thinking things couldn’t get much stranger. Now, we have an elf with a magical construct that looks like a beefy farmhand.”
Bob said, “You’ll want to check out the fridge next.”
Carol walked up to the fridge and opened the door. The light inside turned on to illuminate rows of capped glass bottles filled with milk. They were all labeled in black marker on pieces of tape. Carol read them off, “Cow, chicken, shrink, grow, sexy lady, puberty up/down… They’re all here.”
“There’s eggs too,” Candice said as she looked at the cartons on the bottom shelves of the refrigerator. “They’re not labeled.”
“Maybe the eggs were a dead end?” Carol guessed. “Or, maybe they do something else.”
“We’ll have to test them all somehow,” Candice said.
“Of course,” Carol said. She gave Candice a reassuring smirk. “Looks like you were right about the milk. Good job.”
Candice felt a surge of pride and smiled faintly. “Thank you,” she said.
Bob said, “That’s pretty much all of the out of the ordinary stuff.”
Carol asked, “Did you find any mail?”
“Oh, right,” Bob said. He picked up a stack of letters from the counter. “Here you go,” he said as he handed them to Carol.
“Oooh,” Carol said as she happily took the letters. “This is just like Christmas. Wonderful.”
“I leave you to your presents. I’ve got some cataloging to do,” Bob said and walked off.
Candice stood on her tiptoes to peek at the letters as Carol shuffled through them. “So, what’s the big deal about her mail?” Candice asked.
“The letters in a person’s mailbox can tell you a lot about what they’ve been up to. You can burn all your records, but the mail will keep coming if you don’t tell the post office to stop.” She pulled out a single letter. “Ah ha!”
Carol showed the letter to Candice, and Candice read the return address, “Betty Baker’s Culinary Academy.”
“What do you want to bet that Mary is an alumni?”
“We could talk to her teacher,” Candice said. “More clues.”
Carol turned to look at the hamster cage again. “And, Chuck might have some information for us as well,” she said. They both watched the small man crouching in the cage, lost in his own terrors, shaking his head sadly. “We may have to wait for him to calm down some more. We’ll get a psychologist to talk to him when we bring him back to Department 8.”
Carol’s phone vibrated, and she answered it, “Agent Marx. What’s the news?” She listened for a moment and replied, “Really?” There was a reply, and she said, “Okay. I’ll be heading back with Candice now. We’ve got some news to share as well. Talk to you soon.”
After Carol hung up, Candice asked, “So, who was that? What’s going on?”
“That was Angela,” Carol said. “We need to get back to Department 8.”
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