Authors: Patricia Rice
Tags: #psychic, #comedy, #wealthy, #beach, #Malcolm, #inventor, #virgin, #California
THE RISK OF LOVE AND MAGIC
The California Malcolms, Book 3
Book View Café Edition
July 8, 2014
Copyright © 2014 Patricia Rice
Magnus Oswin jimmied his shoulders under the Camaro to bolt in the new electronic engine he’d designed. Brains and power—a Special Forces car if he ever saw one. A loud country tune wailed on the classic muscle car’s speaker system.
The musical tribute to baseball bats and windshields abruptly cut off.
the car cried.
Magnus sat up so fast that he whacked his head against the undercarriage. Rubbing the bruise, he slid the platform from under the car and grabbed the cell phone he’d synched with the car’s new Bluetooth.
was all the caller ID displayed. But he knew who it was. He’d spent weeks of sleepless nights attempting to track the mysterious Librarian’s entreaties.
He was a mechanic, not a computer technician. But even his computer genius brother Conan couldn’t trace these pleas.
Magnus tried dialing back but only reached a disconnect message. He thought about shoving the phone in his pocket and forgetting about it, but he couldn’t. Whether she was liar, traitor, or bait, the Librarian was his key to getting his hands on General Adams—his latest obsession.
No man tricked him, locked him up, and attempted to steal his hard work without paying the consequences. The general had to be insane to have even considered something as whacko as hijacking a military experiment. Insane men should not be allowed access to military channels—even generals who’d disappeared into the desert and fallen off the radar.
Growling, he closed the garage door and set the security locks through the car’s dashboard—his latest experiment. It needed more work, but the Librarian was higher on his agenda.
He carried the phone past his brother’s flashy Mercedes sports coupe and into the ground floor space of Conan’s beach house. Unlike his brother, Magnus had never needed much of a roof over his head. The beach house was a nice perk, but he would be content to live in a tent if that’s what it took to find the general.
The Librarian’s pleas were scraping his nerves raw. She’d helped save a bunch of people, including himself, from the general’s plots. If she needed help, they owed it to her to provide it.
Magnus entered the spacious open area that was Conan’s office. His younger brother glanced up from one of his many monitors.
“Librarian?” Conan asked, turning his screen around so Magnus could see the same message texting across the screen.
“Still no coordinates on the messages?” Magnus asked, handing over his phone so the call could be traced.
“Her computer may be stationary, but the calls are bouncing off satellites. I’m getting closer to finding an epicenter with each call, but as we all know, the desert is a big place.”
Dorrie—Dorothea Franklin—arrived bearing a tray of sandwiches from the local deli. “Francesca just called. She’s receiving fragmented numbers that strike her as frantic, but she can’t decipher them.” She dropped a paper of coded numbers on the desk.
Half Chinese, half Irish, with wild black curls she hadn’t bothered taming today, Conan’s fiancée was related to a family with admittedly weird abilities.
“Receiving?” Magnus asked warily. “By phone, text, or ether?”
“Ether,” she retorted, meaning Francesca’s psychic claims.
Magnus ignored the psychic fantasy and studied Dorrie’s numbers as Conan fed them into his computer. They had a pattern. “We need military code software. These aren’t coordinates,” Magnus told them. “What are the chances this is some play to exchange a hostage for the ’copter?”
“Paranoia doesn’t suit you,” Dorrie told him. “It’s confusing your chi.”
Snorting in amusement at his fiancée’s comment, Conan hit the keyboard. “I’m on the code.” Looking more like a long-haired, blond surfer than a computer whiz, Conan tapped his keyboard faster than seemed humanly possible, accessing dozens of websites that he probably had no business knowing existed.
“How would the Librarian know military code if the general isn’t feeding it to her?” Magnus demanded. “What if she’s leading us into a trap?” He examined the food, found a sandwich not dripping bean sprouts and greenery, and sampled it before nearly gulping it whole and looking for another.
“You may be big tall manly man, but you need to eat your veggies. Sprouts and spinach are good for you,” Dorrie pointed out, before settling cross-legged on a floor pillow to munch her lunch.
She was too damned observant, but he shrugged off the criticism. He had been quarterback on his college team. He wasn’t small. He’d inhale anything. But he preferred meat. He helped himself to another.
“The Librarian is smart,” Dorrie continued. “If she’s figured out that we have ex-military working to find her, she’ll use anything she can. I don’t like the sound of it if she’s growing frantic. She’s never asked for help for herself before. The General may suspect that she’s been aiding us.”
Magnus felt his gut grind. He’d left Special Forces because he didn’t feel capable of carrying the world on his shoulders. His fiancée’s death had proved that he lacked good judgment. He didn’t want to be responsible for saving the Librarian, but he didn’t want to be responsible for her death either.
Scarfing the second sandwich, he helped himself to a laptop, took the couch, and connected with several old Marine buddies. His big fingers didn’t fit the keys as expertly as Conan’s, but coordination, he could do.
Dorrie sipped her drink and murmured, “My, I like watching strong silent men work. Scintillating conversation.”
“Got it,” Magnus said without satisfaction some hours later, staring at the laptop screen. “Psychic mumbo-jumbo doesn’t mean squat.”
Returned from a design consultation and wearing her hair tamed into a knot at her nape, Dorrie took the machine away from him. “Psychic readings aren’t always spelled out, you realize.”
Conan was already studying the de-coded message Magnus had sent to his e-mail. “Starwood. Dollar Lake. We use psychics and secret code and we get a hiking trail?”
“Hiking trail?” Magnus Googled the names and came up with reviews of trails. “No Starwood related to Dollar Lake. If someone has the Librarian tied to a tree, she could scream to one of these industrious hikers texting from a damned mountain.”
“Starwood.” Dorrie pounced on an iPad. “Starwood. I know that name. Have you sent the message to the whole family?”
“Done.” Conan hit a button. “Including Pippa and Oz, although they’re probably out stargazing or doing yoga at this hour.”
“Oz takes his phone to bed with him, and Pippa’s waiting for final arrangements on our wedding. They’ll answer.” Dorrie went back to poking the iPad. “All I’m getting is hotels,” she complained a few minutes later.
“I’ll guarantee there are no four diamond hotels in Dollar Lake,” Conan muttered from his desk.
Magnus rubbed his crooked nose in frustration, then kept typing, digging deeper, not joining the discussion. He studied the terrain around Dollar Lake but saw no indication of permanent habitation. It was a national forest, deep in the mountains outside of San Bernardino. They could fly low over most of it, but without a direction, it would be useless. Campers could be hidden in the trees and they’d never know.
Would crazy hikers name a particular grove of trees
“Francesca says try scrambling the words or letters. She can’t promise she got the numbers in correct order,” Dorrie reported, clicking off her phone. “Psychic reception is not a science.”
Conan shut down his computer in disgust and stood up, stretching his back. “This is nuts. Let’s go get some Thai and think about it.”
Magnus didn’t move. “Bring some back for me.”
He tuned out the protests. This was the best clue they’d had. The general could be moving the Librarian from location to location. If he didn’t act now, he’d lose this chance. Whatever the source, the code had been translatable. It had to mean something.
After the room emptied, Magnus realized Conan’s computer was still beeping with messages. He moved into the desk chair to read them. Dorrie’s extensive psychic—or psychopathic— family offered numerous suggestions, including astrological instructions.
Magnus assumed Conan’s trained investigators could follow up the more logical clues, but given their prior experiences with the Librarian, his bet was that the answer would be illogical.
Stomach growling, his muscles feeling the lack of exercise, Magnus was about to hunt down his own food when a text pinged from their older brother Dylan, commonly known as Oz. They all hated their first names, but Dylan had grabbed the Oz moniker first.
PIPPA’S MOM SAYS WOODSTAR IS THE NAME OF A REHAB FACILITY.
Magnus punched his phone to Oz’s number. “Put her on,” he commanded when Oz answered.
“There’s a reason I sent that text to Conan and not to you,” Oz complained. “Do you even have a life? You do realize it’s after ten and most reasonable people would wait until morning to call? Gloria Jean is probably in bed.”
“Dammit, Dylan, the general could be moving her as we speak. Did you ask Gloria where this place is? Is it even in California?”
“She doesn’t know anything except that she heard it discussed way back when she was disabled and in the rehab hospital, which is in California, so one assumes Woodstar would be here. She thought the place might be a drug rehab or for the mentally impaired. That’s all she can recall.”
“If I can’t find more, I’ll call in the morning.” Magnus hung up without the niceties. He was on a mission—the place he felt most comfortable.
institution would explain a lot. The general couldn’t have found a more painful way to torment him.
He’d be better off handing anything he learned over to someone who understood crazy people better than he did. He was likely to drive an unstable Librarian over the edge—as he had Diane.
Hoping “Dollar Lake” indicated the institution was in California but checking other Dollar lakes, mountains, and rivers just in case, Magnus dug into his research.
Conan and Dorrie arrived with steaming boxes of food. Magnus lifted a hand in greeting and grabbed a spring roll.
“Let’s hope you find the Librarian before the wedding,” Dorrie said, opening a box of vegetables and unwrapping the chopstick paper. She stuck his fingers with a stick until he took the utensils. “We were counting on you being present in mind as well as in person.”
“Of course. I’ll bring the shackles. He’s all yours.” Magnus plied chopsticks to the veggies and typed with one hand, not looking up from the keyboard.
“You can take the laptop downstairs,” Conan suggested helpfully.
“Yeah, right.” With a grudging sigh, Magnus sent his searches to his cloud account, stuck a machine under his arm, and gathered up his food. “I’ll leave you lovebirds alone. I don’t suppose you’re honeymooning in Siberia over the next few months.”
“Sorry, old boy, gotta work. You’re the one free to camp in the woods.” Conan escorted Dorrie from the room, leaving Magnus to carry his load to his own empty space downstairs.
Plugged into his online communities, Magnus didn’t notice he was alone. He was comfortable with machinery, although he preferred engines that roared to silent computers. People were his downfall.
By dawn, after a brief catnap, he thought he had the code worked out. Sending his findings to his brothers, he threw together a backpack, lowered the Camaro from its lift, and cruised into the dawn.
Nadine Malcolm finished inputting the data sheets she’d been assigned, then shoved her cheap black-framed glasses up her nose. With a surreptitious sideways glance, she verified that the guard was busy poisoning his health with sugar and coffee. Swiftly, she hit a series of keys.
The guard turned around before she could do more. The repetitive message she’d stored would automatically go out to the phone numbers she’d recorded. She didn’t hold out much hope that any of the recipients would follow up, but she could annoy the tar out of them if they didn’t. She’d left politeness behind in a faraway time and place.