The Magic Quill #81: The Catfish Burglar
by Robbie Fischer
Contest Winners: budd2nd and Shadow Phoenix
“The job what made my first fortune,” Sadie began her tale, “didn’t come my way till I had been workin’ in the property transferin’ line for several years. I had worked me way up, like, from charmin’ galleons out of the pockets of patrons at Axel Exum’s Exhibition of Muggle Marvels, and sellin’ unlicensed commemorative earmuffs in the neighborhood of any Nasal Drip concert. Through a combination of steady effort, skill, daring, and a bit of luck, I had earned a solid reputation as one of the most dependable fetchers of hard-to-fetch things in the country. Not that this reputation helped me get along with the Ministry of Magic. Those blokes just don’t understand that rescuin’ valuables from slobs as don’t want ‘em enough to protect ‘em, and givin’ ‘em to folks as want them enough to pay top galleon for ‘em, is as worthy a use of magic as any.
“But apart from them, my business was startin’ to flourish. Clients were comin’ to me, beggin’ me to nick things for ‘em. My share of the take, I mean, my fee went up. I was actually able to get choosy about which jobs to take…”
Actually, what happened was like this….
SECURITY GUARD: Oi. I say! Where do you think you’re going?
SADIE: I have an appointment with Madam Hardbiscuit.
SECURITY GUARD: Not so fast, there. What’s your name?
SADIE: My name? Hildegard Van Bingen. [Wiggles wand concealed in handbag.]
SECURITY GUARD: There ain’t any Dutch witches on the list.
SADIE: Are you sure? [Wiggle, wiggle.]
SECURITY GUARD: I’ve only looked at it ten times to– Merlin’s beard. Where did that come from?
SADIE: May I go up now?
SECURITY GUARD: Hold on a sec. What’s with the veil?
SADIE: Little mishap last week. Invisibility charm went bad. Made the front half of my head transparent. It’s very icky to look at, but if you’d like…
SECURITY GUARD: No, no. Never mind. Can I at least see some identification?
SADIE: Will this do?
SECURITY GUARD: You wore a veil for your apparition license photo, did you?
SADIE: They didn’t want to allow it, but after strip-searching me to confirm that I am female, it was the least they could do. Good times.
SECURITY GUARD: I say, when did you say that invisibility charm backfired? Only, this photo was taken eight years ago.
SADIE: Oh, that was different. I was married to an Egyptian flying-carpet dealer at the time. This was taken either during our marriage, or during my period of mourning after his favorite Persian unravelled over the Black Sea. Either way, my husband’s religion required…[Gets choked up.]
SECURITY GUARD: [Shuffles awkwardly] I’m so sorry. May I say, you hardly have any accent at all, for a Dutch-Egyptian woman.
SADIE: Why, thank you. I’ve always been good at learning languages. Now may I go up?
SECURITY GUARD: Right this way, Madam Van Bingen.
SADIE: One born every minute….[Whistles a chorus of Que será, será while going up the stairs.]
RECEPTIONIST: I beg your pardon, Madam….?
SADIE: Thatcher. Margaret Thatcher.
RECEPTIONIST: Madam Thatcher, you can’t go in there without an appointment.
SADIE: But I had an appointment for an interview, at two o’clock.
RECEPIONIST: But it’s only…well, I’ll be hexed from here to next week! It’s five to two already! But that’s neither here nor there. You weren’t expected.
SADIE: But I got an owl. Here’s one of its droppings. I’m sorry I don’t have the original memo from Madam Hardbiscuit, but I had to send it back with my acceptance of her offer. Didn’t the owl come?
RECEPTIONIST: I’m sorry, but no one sends owls out of this office except me, and I would remember…
SADIE: Oh, look. The owl is at the window now. [Zaps receptionist with wand when her back is turned.]
RECEPTIONIST: I beg your pardon, Madam Thatcher. Madam Hardbiscuit will be right out to see you. Would you like me to take your veil for you?
SADIE: No, thank you. I got some potion in my eyes this morning. Anyone who looks directly at my eyes turns into a teacup full of tepid Darjeerling. It’s been such a bother wearing it all day, but if you don’t mind…
RECEPTIONIST: Not at all. Not at all. By all means, keep it on. [Uses her wand to pipe her voice into Madam Hardbiscuit’s office] Extremely important caller to see you, Madam.
MADAM HARDBISCUIT: [Coming out of office] Who’s this?
SADIE: I think we had best discuss it in private. [Pushes Madam Hardbiscuit back into her office and closes door.] Now, then, about that job you advertised for inWizard of Fortune…
M.H.: What job? Who advertised? And who, pray, are you?
SADIE: Eleanor Roosevelt is the name. Before you ask about the veil, I might as well tell you that it was stuck on me with a permanent fixing charm when I was eight years old. Broke my parents’ heart, it did, but I’ve gotten used to it. Now let’s get down to galleons.
M.H.: Excuse me, but I still don’t understand what this is about.
SADIE: [Pulls out a crumpled piece of paper, which in better days was used to wrap cheap tobacco.] That reminds me, do you mind if I smoke?
M.H.: Yes, I do. Aaargh! You mean THAT advert. Wait a moment. [Performs an imperturbable spell on each of the doors, windows, and air ducts in the room.] Now see here, Madam Roosevelt, you can’t just come…
SADIE: Time is of the essence, isn’t it, though?
M.H.: Yes, yes, but this is a PRIVATE matter, a very…
SADIE: No better cover for our meeting than a regular job interview.
M.H.: Well! Erm! Be that as it may, I asked for a very athletic WIZARD, not a…
SADIE: I can give you excellent references. Satisfied customers, outraged victims, baffled coppers…
M.H.: But this is DANGEROUS, and it involves a good deal of swimming, much of it underwater; and it also requires a head for herbology.
SADIE: It’s all in me ray-zoo-may. Learnt everythin’ I know about plants from Miles O’Roughage himself. Certificates in bubble-head snorkeling and underwater apparition.
M.H.: Can you speak Norwegian, then?
SADIE: Tolerably well. Can’t understand a word of it, though. I was a test subject for those language-in-seven-seconds spells, but they never worked both ways for me. The stipend paid my way through tobacco rehab, though.
M.H. All right, you have all the qualifications. But you must never come here again. Take this. [Conjures a thick envelope out of thin air.] It explains what we want, where you can find it, and what to do once you’ve got it. You needn’t open it here…[Sighs as the contents of the envelope pour out on the floor.]
SADIE: [Gawking at a moving picture of a flat, undulating fish.] Crikey! A ripply? Is that what I’m to nick for you, then?
M.H.: No, that’s something you will need to accomplish your mission. As you can see, the ripply almost seems to disappear into the surrounding water as it moves. It’s a combination of its distinctive way of swimming, and the magical skin. Catch enough of those to sew their skins into a wetsuit, and you’ll not only be protected from the cold, but also virtually invisible as you attempt your assignment. I’m sure you can appreciate that, being as obsessed with concealment as you are.
SADIE: I beg your pardon?
M.H.: Never mind. No, your assignment is to penetrate the Hidden Fjord of Haakon Tran. It is well guarded by Haakon’s spells, fierce creatures, and diabolical illusions. Then, come away with at least twenty of these reedy stalks, that grow along the banks of just that one fjord. These are sannheten, highly valued for a potion that enables one to see through disguises and lies.
SADIE: [Shudders.] Why on earth would you want that?
M.H.: That is none of your concern. I could just as easily ask you why you want this job so badly.
SADIE: Well, actually, I just need tobacco money…
M.H.: Very well. Bring me a nice, thick bundle of sannheten, and I will make sure you have enough tobacco to die a happy, though early, death.
SADIE: That’s good enough for me! And when I return from Norway…
M.H.: Don’t be silly. The Hidden Fjord of Haakon Tran is in Scotland.
SADIE: Oh. But aren’t all the fjords in Norway?
M.H.: [Wearily] All but the hidden one, yes. Now if you would be so kind as to disapparate, we can avoid advertising our conspiracy to everyone in the building.
SADIE: But I mean, how will I know where to…?
M.H.: My people will find you, don’t worry. Good day.
And now we rejoin Sadie’s narrative…
“’And that’s my final offer,’ she says, looking so desperate that my heart went out to her. So I says, ‘All right. It goes against my better judgment, but since it’s got to be done, and no one else can do it, you have my word.’”
“Excuse me,” said an assistant healer, shifting from one foot to the other as Sadie’s tale came to the end of a paragraph. “Excuse me, but the patient is starting to talk.”
“Oh!” said Endora, beginning to rise from her seat.
“I will see him alone,” said Harvey, firmly.
“And so will I,” Spanky added. Harvey shrugged, and the two of them followed the assistant healer out of the wating room while Endora sank, sulkily, back into her seat.
“Should I wait until they come back?” Sadie wondered, as she stuffed tobacco into her pipe.
“Bother them,” said Endora. “Keep talking. It keeps my mind off…you know.”
“All right then,” said Sadie. “So as soon as I chivvy her out of my office, the first thing I do is..”
+++ DOUBLE CHALLENGE for The Magic Quill #83 +++
To send Robbie your personal feedback or original ideas, visit the Feedback Formhere.
To vote in the Survey and Contest to determine what happens in the Chapter-After-Next, visit the Discussion Forum here.
The SURVEY: Under her veil, is Sadie (A) too pretty to be taken seriously as a criminal; (B) too ugly or weird-looking to get away unrecognized; (C) has coarse, mannish features and a bit of a mustache; or (D) looks completely ordinary, but has really sensitive skin.
The CONTEST: Give the name and symptoms of a magical malady or injury.
The Survey Answer that gets the most votes, and the Contest entry that Robbie likes the most, will be featured in Magic Quill #83. So be sure to visit our Discussion Thread – and if you aren’t a member of COS Forums, join today!