As you know, I’ve been in the States visiting family the last three weeks. It’s been a happy time spent playing with the nieces and then later huckleberry picking and road-tripping with my sister. It’s been a restful, healing time away from the Guardian and the interview that, I’ll admit, had me pretty frazzled. The last thing I expected when I boarded the plane to Heathrow for the return flight was an encounter with Magda Gardener. Here’s what happened.
“I know what you’re doing.” I’m instantly wide-awake. For a second I don’t remember where I’m at, but then the flight attendant brushes past me in the aisle and I can just make out the sonorous buzz of a snore coming from the man in the seat behind me. The too warm cabin suddenly feels like the arctic, and my arms prickle in a wave of goose bumps. I feel like my insides have turned to ice and the urge to run is cut off at the pass. I can’t run. I can’t even breathe. And just as panic sets in, the feeling passes and I’m breathing again, gasping like I’ve just run a marathon.
A warm finger nudges the hair away from my cheek. “Did you think I wouldn’t figure it out?” A breath of a whisper brushes my ear. I recognize the voice and I’m covered in goose bumps all over again.
Slowly I turn in my seat to find the empty space next to me filled with Magda Gardner, who’s smiling down at me as though we are just two girlfriends having a chat. “I know what you’re doing,” she repeats in a low even voice. “Though I doubt that you have any idea.”
“I figured you’d find out soon enough.” I try to sound like I don’t care, like it doesn’t matter to me one way or another that the woman knows I’m interviewing the demon who lives inside her vampire Scribe. Seriously, you can’t sound anything but bat shit crazy if you say something like that out loud in casual conversation.
“And you didn’t think it might be wise to at least give me the heads-up?” Her voice is still ridiculously conversational, bestie casual.
“I had no way of giving you the heads-up when I don’t even know how to get in touch with you.” Not that I really wanted that information. I’d prefer the woman forget all about me entirely, but Magda Gardener/AKA Medusa, never forgets anything … or anyone if she has a good use for them.
Without being asked, the flight attendant delivers her a whisky in a cut crystal glass. I assume Magda is back here with me because she’s slumming from first class. The attendant delivers me a flute of champagne. Magda Gardener is a lot of things, but she’s not cheap.
She thanks the woman, then dismisses her. Once she’s gone back to the first class cabin, Magda lifts her glass. “To lies and the nasty truths they uncover,” then she sips daintily.
I go through the motions of joining her in a drink. Enjoying what I’m sure is very expensive champagne is impossible under Magda Gardeners scrutiny. “I didn’t lie,” I say.
“Was it Susan who contacted you?” she asks, running a well-manicured nail around the rim of the glass.
“It’s not like he could contact me on his own.” I reply.
“You should have told her you wouldn’t do it unless I knew.”
“He didn’t want you to know. Any good journalist wouldn’t reveal her source.”
“You’re not a journalist,” she says, “and he’s not a source. He’s a demon, a monster, and you’re way out of your depth of experience no matter how good you are at what you do.”
“I didn’t say I was good.” I was neither smug nor arrogant about a situation that scared the crap out of me from the beginning. I would have gladly turned down the offer if I hadn’t feared the consequences of doing so.
“Believe me, there’s no question of your abilities or I wouldn’t have allowed you to write my story and the stories of my people. “But the issue is what contact with him will do to you. It’s already affecting you, whether you’ll admit it or not.”
“You owe him. All of you owe him.” The words slip out of my mouth before I could stop them.
To this she simply chuckles and sips at her whisky. “I rather think it’s the other way round. He owes us, and he knows it. He’s got a helluva lot to answer for, in case you’ve forgotten.” She waves a dismissive hand. “Of course he loves Susan and Michael, at least as much as a being like him can love anyone. And I dare say he’s very fond of Reese and Alonso too. He wants them to think better of him. His existence is easier if they do.” She waves a hand. “As for what he did in the fight against Richard Waters, he has no choice but to obey Susan’s commands. You wrote the story. You know this.”
I stare at my barely touched champagne. I know better than to look her in the face. “You think that’s all it is, he’s just obeying commands?”
She doesn’t answer immediately, and for a moment I wonder if perhaps she’s chosen not to, but then she sighs softly, pushes the ever-present Ray-bans up close against the bridge of her nose and says, “I don’t know. But he and I have a long and unpleasant relationship. Neither of us has any real reason to trust the other. But don’t you think a demon like him would take whatever pleasure he could get in whatever from it took, even if he is a prisoner?”
“You think I’m the entertainment.” A cold shiver ran down my spine at the thought I’d too often contemplated.
“I don’t think anything. But I do know that no matter how completely he’s incarcerated, he’s still dangerous.”
“So what exactly is it you want me to do,” I ask. “It’s not like I wanted this job, but then that’s never mattered much to any of you, what I want, has it?”
Her lips curl in a smile that’s nearly sentimental, as though in her mind’s eye, she’s fondly recalling all of our encounters to date. “No. It hasn’t.” She downs the rest of her whisky then turns to face me, and like it or not, I feel compelled to look at her, even with the chill creeping over my arms and throat. “As for exactly what I want you to do, first I want this conversation to stay between us. He doesn’t need to know we’ve spoken. Second, I want you to limit your time in his presence when you’re doing this silly interview. I’ve already talked to Talia and she’ll be monitoring you more closely.”
“No.” The word comes out lacking conviction and sounding almost like a plea. “I won’t keep our conversation from him. He knows you’ll find out eventually, and I don’t want to be the one caught keeping secrets from him. It seems to me that could be a whole lot more dangerous than being above board.”
To this Magda laughs out loud and the woman sitting across the aisle from me looks up from her magazine in irritation. “Choose very carefully which monster you refuse,” she says. “He fears me, and he’s a lot of things, but he’s not stupid.”
“The way I see it, my choices are pretty thin on the ground,” I replay.
“He would possess you, use you up and spit you out in a heartbeat if he thought he could get away with it,” she said. “Don’t believe for one moment that he doesn’t know exactly what effect he’s having on you. He knows how you crave his company, even as you fear it. He knows how he worms his way into your fantasies, even though you try to deny it. He knows that the longer he drags out the interview, the more danger you’re in. He knows all of this, K D, and he keeps inviting you back.”
“I won’t lie to him,” I say, not even trying to hide the trembling that seems to have taken control of me. “If you want me to stop the interview, then you have to put an end to it. Otherwise I’ve made a commitment. Up until now, I’ve done everything you’ve asked me to, in spite of the uncomfortable, and dangerous situation it’s often put me in. I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t, but I’m not about to make it worse by lying to him.”
The glasses slip down her nose, and I nearly dump champagne in my lap I’m shaking so hard. My heart feels like it’ll beat me to death in its mad hammering. I can just make out the flutter of golden eyelashes before she pushes the glasses back into place. “All right. But we’ll all be monitoring you closely, and if I feel it necessary to put an end to the interviews, I will, no matter what you, or he, want. Is that clear?”
“Perfectly.” My voice is little more than a whisper.
“Good. Now drink your champagne.” She watches until I swallow it back in a single gulp, wishing I’d had her whisky instead. “That’s a good girl, now get some sleep.”
It’s the announcement of the descent into Heathrow that wakes me. The champagne flute is gone and so is Magda Gardener. There’s absolutely no evidence that she’s even been there. I return my chair to the upright position and close the tray table thinking about the encounter. With all that’s been happening to me since I began the interview with the Guardian, I’m well aware that it could have easily all just been a dream. But I’m certain that it wasn’t.