Senator Kinbote looked real spry in front of the Mexican-American Center for the Arts. His square jaw, tan cheeks and small eyes gave the impression that he was all mouth, capped white teeth a match for the rough adobe kiosk behind him. His hand fished through the crowd gathered on the lawn for the brown fingers of the women and children and elderly, meeting and greeting, jawing, cameras hovering shoulder level for sound bites and toothsome facetime.

Charlie sat under a birch tree and counted the bodyguards. He had six days, and according to his website the Senator had a busy schedule ahead of him. It was not, so far as the detective knew, an election year. But the good grace of the festive community surrounding him was a pleasant spot for the senator to worm into. Charlie scratched at his stubble and counted the bodyguards again.

On the savannah, separating Kinbote from his handlers would be as simple a matter as running him out of the herd. In LA county the rules were different. But not so different, thought Charlie. He watched as the healthy looking senator reached down for the hand of a small boy. Instead of his hand the boy offered a scrap of paper, white as the senator’s teeth, ragged as the adobe. Senator Kinbote smiled and unfolded the paper. If he felt a little less healthy after reading the inside he didn’t show it; a man in his position, of his disposition, would be adept at balancing the dichotomy.

The opening ceremony continued for twenty minutes before the crowd migrated inside the center. Charlie followed the last of them and hopped the steps leading to the Aztec wing. He sidestepped a sleepy guard and entered the mosaic room. Standing before the mighty South American sun, Senator Kinbote gazed up at the black and red dog crouched beneath its blazing tails. The dog was depicted in the native style of one thousand generations before, symbolic rather than representative – big white eyes and white teeth, hard angles and a boiling red tongue.

Charlie stuck his hands in his pockets. His fingertip traced the outline of the handcuffs’ runes. “Good afternoon, Senator.”

The senator’s small eyes bit into Charlie. The mouth was not so large now. It had retracted to a curt rip on his orange chin. He gave Charlie’s ratty trenchcoat a lingering examination that stopped well short of the disgust it intended. It fell back into out and out disappointment. “Did you give me this?” he asked. He held the wadded up note in his palm.

“That’s right,” said Charlie.

“Hardly,” said Kinbote. He continued to marvel at the coat, confused perhaps how it managed to hang onto Charlie’s thin shoulders.

Charlie wondered if the senator recognized the mud from his own garden on the lapels. He decided to start simple. “As a distinguished senator and model husband, I assume your affair with Miss Thoomesto is not the sort of note you want passing to the public.”

The senator stared at Charlie without any expression whatsoever. Gradually he smiled, and if it was not a laugh that barked out of him it was a hoarse antecedent to the thing itself. “And you can prove this accusation? Otherwise you wouldn’t be wasting my time.”

“I’m not here for blackmail,” said Charlie.

“No,” said the senator slowly. “You must be the man my wife was eager to forget – the same man perhaps that burglarized my home last week. You’re working for Miss Thoomesto.”

“Yes,” said Charlie happily. “I’m a private investigator. You stole the amulet that belonged to your marketing coordinator after she bit you. We both know why. Though I am curious why you chose to have the necklace stolen by Ed Rink instead of taking it yourself. Even if you couldn’t fire her outright, surely you knew she’d know.”

“What’s it like, being a madman?” said Kinbote.

“Not much different from a werewolf, I expect. I put my shoes on five hairy toes at a time.”

“Food for thought,” said the senator. Then he made a little zig-zag gesture with his thumb and forefinger. Charlie smelled sulfur, and leaped back, and then he was falling into the sun of the mosaic. The cut stone pieces grew to the dizzying circumference of buildings, the room was sucked into black behind him, and the unpleasant stench of unpleasant magic swirled over him, he swirling head over heels. He heard the howl of a wide-eyed dog, tongue boiled from lapping at the sun.

For more Charlie Ben Studdard & the Amulet Caper:

Part 5Part 6Part 7

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