Excerpt: Pyre at the Eyreholme Trust
Eli Coello broke a dozen laws a day simply by going to work.
The first five felonies usually hit before the revolving doors to Penvellyn & Co. had stopped spinning. Within seconds of entering the lobby, Eli could taste the drying ink of cut cheques on his tongue, smell the receipts drifting from pocket to pocket as customers wandered between jewellery cases. Instantly, his skin would shimmer with the sensation of pens scratching over paper, or ink leaping out of typewriter ribbons.
By lunch, he had usually racked up the rest. Without trying, he would note if his boss’s favourite pen was leaking into his pocket again or which salesman had posted a good day by the size of the stains on their fingertips. If the day was slow, he would nip some black from the inkwells in the staff cupboards and use it to darken the hue of his suit, making the faded old thing look new again. Occasionally the corrupted texture of a counterfeit bill would prick at his fingers, and he’d find some excuse to insist on credit instead.
The thing about it was, most days, Eli didn’t need magic to sell engagement rings. But that didn’t make it any less illegal for him to be standing behind a jeweler’s case.
The official reasoning was this: if he wanted, Eli could use his affinity for ink to lift receipts from customers’ pockets and steal their information. He could pluck their signatures straight off their business cards, or massage the numbers in the company ledger to hide missing funds. In theory, he could slide his magic into a man’s briefcase and lift the ink off his mistress’s letter, even as he sold diamonds to his wife.
That was why, during the interview, he’d neglected to mention that he had any magic whatsoever, let alone an unregistered affinity for ink and a talent for making it sing. It was an easy thing to hide in a jewelry store: diamonds had a tendency to sparkle, and the prudent salesmen knew better than to try and compete. It suited Eli to darken himself into a drab shadow, smile faintly at simpering lovebirds, and gently twist their arms into payment plans.
Some days, he could even forget that he had magic at all.
“Isn’t it just darling?” gushed his latest conquest, a flouncy chorus girl with an older woman on her arm. “Just look at how it sparkles!”
“Yes, the Coalsman line is very popular,” Eli said with a bland smile.
“Are you sure this is the one you want, dear?” the other woman asked, glancing down at a matching band on her own finger. “I know you were thinking of something with a morphing sapphire.”
“I was, but—oh, I thought I knew what I wanted, but this one is such a riot!”
“It’s pretty,” the woman said with an air of hesitation, which Eli mentally translated as ‘looks expensive.’
Earlier, Eli had taken one look at the worn state of the older woman’s gloves and known that any kind of hexed jewel would be out of the budget. Instead, he’d carefully arranged a line of Coalsman bands next to the morphing sapphire rings, hoping that the hexed glitter would draw the chorus girl’s eye more than her original preference. It also had the benefit of being fixed at a sale price, which Eli could now reveal as though just remembering, sparing the lovers from looking cheap.
“It really is a fine piece,” Eli said, careful to keep his tone even and his words noncommittal, as though either of the women had looked to him for anything in the past twenty minutes. The two were angled together over the ring, beaming down at the glitter of it against the chorus girl’s finger, awash in the glow of their love.
They kissed, once and then twice, clutching each other close as though they had entirely forgotten that anyone else was in the room with them. Eli was happy to keep on the edge of their happiness, wrapping the ring in a velvet box and accepting their down-payment in cash.
Eli watched the two disappear through the golden revolving doors from his spot behind the jeweller’s case. The older woman’s gloves had hidden a number of ink-smudges on her fingertips, but Eli could still feel the tang of them on the back of his tongue, even as the pair sauntered out onto the street.
“Hey, there, Mr. Funeral Director,” came a drawling voice. Eli started, caught halfway between a daydream and an idle attempt at polishing the glass. “Help a fella out?”
Eli turned his head directly into a haze of smoke and nearly coughed. A man stood on the other side of the glass, a cigarette wilting lazily off his bottom lip, his hands shoved boyishly into his pockets. As he waved the smoke away, Eli’s gaze staggered up and down his considerable height, taking in the unruly thicket of his burnt-amber beard, the dramatic rose-bouquet red of his attire. A wide-lapelled jacket several sizes too large swam on his wiry frame, paired with an uneven black silk collar and a hat with a brim wide enough to cast shadows. Standing against the clean, prismatic sparkle of the jeweler’s floor, he looked like a cardinal who had lost the good sense to fly south for the winter.
Briefly, Eli considered pointing to the ‘No Smoking’ sign at his elbow. Then, without letting himself think too much about why, he decided to flip it over instead.
“Can I help you?” he asked, plastering on his most unthreatening smile.
The man plonked both elbows down on the freshly-polished glass case, and Eli had to take a step back to keep the full scope of him in sight.
“Lookin’ for a handcuff,” the fella said, wriggling his fingers. “What sort’ve ice you got here?”
“Ice,” Eli repeated blandly.