Charlie had a mind to just go home. That was his favorite mind to have. Unfortunately, he had another mind, one that was mindful of his responsibilities. It was mindful of his clients, mindful of the rent he had yet to pay. About the only thing his mind wasn’t full of was enough sleep. He knew he was short on that because the word “mind” had just about lost all meaning. He was mindless.

There was a subtle way to finish this job, but Charlie wasn’t in the mood for subtle. His entire body was peeling, his lips were chapped, and he left a trail of dead skin behind him like substitute breadcrumbs from a very bad fairy tale wherever he went. To continue making expressions, he had to coat his entire face in Shea butter.

On his best days Charlie Ben Studdard looked like a wreck of a man. Now, he was the Titanic of humanity.

Meanwhile, Senator Kinbote was a werewolf. Senator Kinbote was also some sort of warlock. No one would believe the former, but it didn’t take very much to get the right sort of people concerned about the latter.

Kinbote’s constituents were good, God-fearing people, and when Charlie put the alligator-hide book in their hands (pointing out the “Property of…” inscription in the inside cover), they did their duty as righteous citizens and took to their blogs, their homeschooling newsletters and their evangelist network to ask the Senator just what he was doing with such illicit literature.

Three days before the full moon, Kinbote publicly brushed off the allegations. Then someone paid his mousy maid a handsome bribe for cellphone footage of the senator’s entire, arcane library.

Was it a violation of privacy? Most definitely. Was it enough to ruin the politician’s reputation amongst the Christian right and baffle the religiously indifferent? Absolutely. Was it wrong for Charlie to take bolt cutters to the senator’s locker while he was in the gym sauna having a shvitz? Of course.

But the senator had tried to feed Charlie to a giant, Aztec dog. And Charlie thought that was rude.

Normally the senator kept the talisman close at hand, but since the allegations of witchcraft and whatnot, he was reluctant to enter the steam room adorned with its pagan runes. When Charlie opened the locker, he was pleased to find the talisman hanging on a hook. He was also pleased that the senator carried cash.

One day before the full moon, Charlie paid his rent and returned the talisman to Ms. Thoomesto. She thanked him, and paid him, but when she asked about her handcuffs Charlie quickly changed the subject.

The senator tried to do the same the next night on local television. He was attending a city hall meeting and deflected any question aimed at his increasingly hirsute eyebrows by lapping at the bottled water provided him.

At dusk, the senator’s handlers whisked him offstage and said the senator was suffering from adynamia. It sounded very exotic and the media ran with it.

At home, watching it live, Charlie sucked happily at his pipe and raised his bottle of beer.

The television – and his home – abruptly went up in flames.

For more Charlie Ben Studdard & the Amulet Caper:

Part 8Part 9Part 1

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