Valorie frowned. She’d been knocking on Charley’s door for five minutes, and no reply.
He couldn’t not be there, she reasoned. He never went out this time of day. He never went out past four without telling her.
She knocked again, and rang the doorbell for good measure.
Still no answer.
‘Hello?’ she yelled. ‘Is anybody in there?!’
Valorie kicked the door in frustration. The drainpipes running up past the door and up to the gutter rattled, and suddenly a key dropped out.
Valorie looked at the key. Fortunately it hadn’t gone down the drain. She picked it up and slowly put it to the door lock.
It fit. She twisted, and the door swung open.
Inside, there was nothing out of the ordinary. Well, if you counted unbelievably comfortable purple sofas, bugs in jars and a rug that made you dizzy just looking at it as ordinary.
There was no sound in the house. Charley was missing.
Valorie wondered what to do next. All she could think of was waiting until he got back, or sent a message or something.
Valorie ambled into the kitchen. There was a packet of mashed potato out, and a box of Quorn sausages – Charley didn’t eat very much meat. Valorie put them away to stop them spoiling, and went through the cupboards. She pinched a few biscuits. After that, she couldn’t think of anything else to do, so she curled up on the sofa and waited.
Meanwhile, Charley sat alone in a dank, dark room. The chair he sat on was welded to the floor, and his hands were tied behind his back. Charley shifted uncomfortably. He didn’t like sitting down. It felt unnatural to him.
Charley had thought about projecting himself into his etheric body and escaping, but what was the point? Even if he got out without them catching him, he couldn’t do anything. Mortals couldn’t see or hear etheric bodies.
They had kept him waiting for two hours. It was beyond annoying – it was inconsiderate. He was bored, cold, and he needed the toilet.
Eventually somebody did come through. It was O’Hanlon, accompanied by a man he had never seen before.
‘Mr Aether. Might I introduce Derek Williams, head of the Magical Management department.’
‘How do you do,’ Williams said, extending a hand for him to shake.
Charley just looked at him patronisingly, and he pulled his hand back again.
‘So,’ Charley said after a while. ‘Are you going to apologise for being late? For that matter, are you going to tell me why you brought me here and hogtied me in the first place?’
‘We’re sorry, Mr Aether,’ Williams said. He had a thin reedy voice, with a trace of some Scottish accent, most likely Aberdeen. ‘The restraints were necessary. The reaches of your powers were unknown to us, and we couldn’t let you escape as long as we had a proposition to make.’
‘So this isn’t just about my temporarily blinding Mr O’Hanlon here?’
He looked at O’Hanlon, whose eye was still fairly damaged. O’Hanlon squinted back at Charley.
‘Obviously I’m upset,’ he said. ‘But all will be forgiven if you at least listen to what we have to say.’
‘I see,’ Charley said sarcastically. ‘Do you mind if I call somebody?’
‘Ha! We can’t risk you calling for help. You’re going to stay with us until you agree with our demands.’
‘I need to talk to a friend. We have classes together, and she needs to know that I can’t attend for today, or a few days, or however long you insist on holding me captive.’
‘I suppose. We can call her for you. How can we reach her?’
‘I’ll tell you the number.’
The two men looked at each other, and then Williams dug his mobile out of his pocket. It looked expensive. Charley gave them the number, and Williams put the phone to his ear.
‘Hello?… To whom am I speaking?… My name is Derek
Williams… yes, I know Charley.’
‘Valorie! Send help!’ Charley yelled, and O’Hanlon stuck a large clammy hand over his mouth.
‘I’m afraid you won’t be seeing him for a little while… He’s agreed to speak to us about an important matter…’
Charley spat, and O’Hanlon drew his hand away in disgust.
‘Agreed, my arse,’ Charley yelled again, and O’Hanlon stuck the other hand over his mouth.
‘I don’t know. It could be days… We’ll be sure to contact you if anything else comes up… Thank you…’
A pause, and Williams hung up. Then he pressed a single button on his phone, and waited. O’Hanlon removed his hand.
Barely two minutes later, another man entered the room. This man wore a suit that didn’t fit. He was massive, with broad shoulders and powerful arms.
Charley looked at him, determined not to show emotion. The man walked calmly over to him, and delivered a powerful punch in the guts. Charley bent over in pain; his mouth opened and shut but no sound came out.
‘That’ll teach you not to spit,’ O’Hanlon said with satisfaction.
Charley lifted his head with some difficulty.
‘Some figure of authority you turned out to be,’ he snarled. ‘You just don’t have the decency to punch me yourself.’
O’Hanlon’s nostrils flared and his good eye widened.
‘You’re pathetic - crying for help – relying on a little girl to save you.’
Williams changed the subject.
‘We haven’t brought you here to hurt you. But we will not tolerate any unbecoming behaviour towards members of the Government.’
‘Well, what if I won’t tolerate being punched in the stomach by someone I don’t even know?’
‘You are a very stubborn man. All we ask is that, for the moment, you comply with our demands.’
Charley breathed out. The pain was fading slightly now. While they had been talking, the massive man in the too-small suit had retreated into the shadows.
‘What is it you want to say?’ he asked.
Williams and O’Hanlon looked at each other.
‘We are concerned,’ O’Hanlon began, ‘about a young man called Adam Quinn. Perhaps you’ve heard of him.’
Charley nodded. ‘I met him, once. I didn’t take to him. Far too powerful for his own good.’
‘We are asking that you help us locate him and, if necessary, to help us bring him down.’
‘What?’ Charley smiled. ‘You’re joking.’
‘You’re the most expert Wizard teacher we know. You have a lot of power. We think you could take him on.’
Charley realised that they weren’t joking. He looked at them both in disbelief.
‘That’s insane! No one person on the planet could take on Adam Quinn! For Christ’s Sake! He had the power to alter reality itself!’
Back in Charley’s house, Valorie’s mobile rang. She jolted upright. She had fallen asleep. Hurriedly, she answered the phone.
‘Hello?’ said a strange, unfamiliar voice on the other line. ‘To whom am I speaking?’
‘Hang on,’ Valorie said. ‘Who are you?’
‘My name is Derek Williams -’
Valorie stood up. ‘You’re the department of magic guy. What have you done with Charley? You know where he is?’
‘Yes,’ Derek Williams said. ‘I know Charley.’
‘Valorie! Send help!’
Valorie started, hearing Charley’s voice, but then he was cut off again.
‘Where is he? What have you done with him?’ she demanded furiously.
‘I’m afraid you won’t be seeing him for a little while.’
‘He’s agreed to speak to us about an important matter.’
A yell sounded out.
‘Agreed, my arse!’
‘Charley!’ Valorie yelled, but he was gone again.
‘You can’t just take him like this!’ she cried down the phone to Williams. ‘When is he coming back?’
‘I don’t know. It could be days…’
‘I don’t believe this…’
‘We’ll be sure to contact you if anything else comes up… Thank you…’
‘You can’t do this!’ Valorie screamed. ‘We’re going to get him back!’
But all she heard was the dial tone. He’d hung up. In frustration, Valorie flung the phone against the wall, accidentally teleporting herself backwards a few feet. Then she ran out of the house and slammed the door.