“There Are Rules” by William Stiteler

“There Are Rules” by William Stiteler

“Is this going to involve braising?” Maggie asked.

Davyd glanced in the rear-view mirror. Maggie was sprawled in the backseat, half-lost in a large gray overcoat. As he’d expected, her data goggles were in place over her eyes. They partially obscured several of the tattoos on her face that weren’t already concealed by the spill of her untidy brown hair. Back on Earth, of course, they were using smaller data viewers that interfaced smoothly with one eye, but it was slow going, figuring out how to use them safely on their planet.

“I don’t know, Maggie. I didn’t get many details.”

Maggie nodded absently, her fingers moving slowly in the air as she manipulated the data stream she was seeing.

Davyd took a drink of his coffee and rubbed a hand over his burning eyes. He was fortunate the vehicle was driving itself — he wasn’t up to recalling all the rituals of driving it himself.

“When’s the last time you were up this early?” Kadder Sixsmith asked from the passenger seat. He wore a coat similar to his sister’s, but he was tall enough that it fit him better, most likely because the one she wore was one she’d stolen from him. Kadder also had fewer tattoos, although the one that looked like an abstract tree with six branches covered most of the left side of his face.

Davyd grunted.

“How about sous vide?” Maggie asked.

“I don’t know what that is,” Davyd replied, “and if I did I still wouldn’t know if it has anything to do with the job.”

“What do you know about it?” Kadder asked.

Davyd yawned and reached for his mug again. “Just what I told you. A problem with something someone ate. Somewhat urgent, or at least the woman who called thinks it is. I think she’s an off-worlder.” He took another drink, discovering he’d reached the bottom of the mug.

“Ah,” Kadder said as if this explained a great deal.

“There’s a new rule on parboiling,” Maggie said. “Just discovered last week.”

“Damn it, Mags, he doesn’t know if it has anything to do with parboiling,” Kadder said. “It doesn’t help if you narrate what you’re finding.”

“Bite me,” Maggie replied, her fingers still moving gently in the air as she stared into the inside of her goggles.

“You could do a little research yourself,” Davyd said, tipping his head toward the goggles that hung around Kadder’s neck.

“Ah, she’ll just run down anything I find because she found it first,” Kadder muttered.

“That’s right, I will,” Maggie said.

“Hey, shut up, I wasn’t talking to you,” Kadder said, half-turning in his seat.

Davyd sighed and reached for his mug before remembering it was empty.

* * *

Davyd had half-forgotten the name of the restaurant, even though he’d entered it into his nav system less than an hour before. Even if the nav system hadn’t announced that he’d arrived, though, he’d have guessed that The Barley Sheaf was their destination. It was the most upscale place in the neighborhood, faced with polished zinc interwoven with hardwood in a pattern that had recently been found to elevate mood. Food was expensive in restaurants that traded in ritual recipes, and this place was practically the picture of the sort of establishment an off-worlder would swoop in and open, all starry-eyed about creating a menu that could increase virility or sharpen concentration. Davyd could see it being on one of those shows about failing ritual restaurants soon, the ones where a chef-savant came in and yelled at everyone and turned it around. Especially with what had just happened.

Inside, the aromas of bacon and eggs, and unfamiliar smells of things too elaborate for him to have ever had for breakfast, made Davyd’s stomach growl. The food looked as good as it smelled, although the patrons who were gathered at the tables seemed to be regarding it with a certain lack of enthusiasm. There was no one at the station at the front of the dining room, and the three of them attracted a lot of stares as they stood there.

Davyd resisted the urge to elbow the Sixsmiths — as always, Kadder was looming and Maggie slouching. Maggie had at least moved the goggles onto her forehead, though she was looking around like she was still logging information. He’d had a talk with them more than once about presenting a professional demeanor, and it never seemed to take. Of course, their skills were written all over their faces, so they didn’t need to act the part.

At last, a harried-looking woman appeared at the back of the dining room and approached at a fast walk.

“Mr. Grimshaw,” she said, extending a hand toward Kadder.

“I’m Davyd Grimshaw,” Davyd said, extending his own hand. “My associates, Kadder and Maggie Sixsmith. You’re Amalia Hollister? We spoke earlier.”

“Oh,” Amalia said. She shook his hand, then turned to Kadder. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. — uh…”

“Six-smith,” Kadder said, drawing it out.

“But you can call him Kadder,” Maggie said cheerfully.

Amalia nodded as she shook Maggie’s hand, peering at the profusion of tattoos on her face. She turned back to Davyd, her gaze flicking around his face. “I had thought that — that is, I had thought that you were — ”

“I attended the Invisible University,” Davyd said, rubbing a hand over his cheek. “We all did. That’s where we met.” He always used the nickname for Hoskins, because, thanks to all the statues of the school’s founder, he’d felt like the old bastard was judging him wherever he’d gone on campus, and the name roused unpleasant memories. He straightened his coat.

“Now, we’d best see to your problem.” He said this last loudly and cheerfully — one of his tasks, in these jobs, was to reassure everyone that things were in good hands.

“I’ve put him in my office,” Amalia said as she led the way through the dining room. “We’re trying to make him comfortable, but it’s getting worse.”

“What is getting worse, exactly?”

“Paralysis,” Amalia replied. Her voice lowered as they neared a door. “It started out just making his legs a bit tingly, but they went numb shortly after I called you, and now …”

She opened the door and gestured for the others to enter.

It was a small, tidy office with a good-sized desk and a couch against one wall. There were several abstract paintings and statues scattered around that were ugly enough Davyd assumed they must have been created using ritual to obey the rules. He didn’t know off-hand what any of them might do, but he mentally upped the bill he was planning to charge — clearly Amalia could afford it.

A man was slumped on the couch, and his head lolled around to look at Davyd, but he didn’t seem to be up to moving beyond that. A woman dressed as a server was hovering over him with a cup of water.

“I’ve brought a savant, Mr. Simon,” Amalia said brightly, using a tone and volume Davyd associated with the slightly deaf, or stupid. “Three of them, actually. They’ll soon put you right.”

“Damn well better,” Simon croaked. He raised an arm in a floppy way with some effort, attempting to point at her. “And quick.”

“What did he eat?” Maggie asked.

“Eggs Benedict, designed to increase muscle mass,” Amalia replied. Maggie’s brow furrowed — it seemed that was not one of the recipes she’d researched on the way in.

“You are certified for culinary rituals, aren’t you?” Amalia asked. “It’s just that I talked to a Mr. Stammerton, and he claimed to be the only culinary savant in the city.”

“Stammerton’s always trying to undercut our business,” Davyd said. “Jealousy. Sad to see, really. Show her your culinary mark, Maggie.”

The first time Davyd had tried this gambit, on a farm job back when they’d just gotten started in the business, Maggie had blandly admitted to the client that she wasn’t certified in agriculture, actually. She knew better now, and simply shucked off her coat and pushed up one sleeve to indicate a tattoo on her right arm. “Right there,” she said. There were so many certifications that almost no one recognized them all on sight.

“Oh good,” Amalia said, and suddenly produced a tattoo reader.

“Uh …” Davyd said. Maggie shot him a somewhat desperate look, but she could hardly yank her arm away. The light on the reader scanned her arm, and after a moment there was a beep, and a pleasant computerized voice said “carpentry.”

Amalia turned to glare at Davyd. “What is this, Mr. Grimshaw?”

“Look, Miss Sixsmith has so many certifications, even she can’t keep track. Culinary is probably one of the tattoos on her somewhere else. Time is of the essence, so let’s not get wrapped up in hunting down a particular tattoo. Besides, those certifications, they’re really just guidelines, sort of a box-checking exercise. I’ve filed the paperwork to work with food; that’s the main thing.”

“Just fix this,” Simon growled from the couch.

Amalia shifted her glare back and forth between Simon and Davyd for several seconds. “Fine,” she said at last. “Mr. Stammerton will be here soon, anyway. As soon as he finishes his job at the Copper Bowl.”

“We’ll have Mr. Simon all fixed up before he arrives,” Davyd replied. “Now, could you bring the cook who made the offending meal, and a cup of coffee, if it isn’t too much trouble?”

“We make a cappuccino that aids in memory,” the server said brightly. “I’ll get you one of those.” She bustled from the room, and after a moment Amalia followed.

Maggie immediately slid her data goggles back into place.

“You didn’t get to show anyone the tats on your ass, Mags,” Kadder said after a moment.

“Big talk from someone who barely knows enough to put a mark on his arm,” Maggie said as her fingers began to move.

“Oh, tell us all about the finer points of all your certifications that we never use for jobs,” Kadder snapped.

“Guys, do you mind if we save this for later?” Davyd said, cutting off Maggie’s retort.

“Um, you people do know what you’re doing, don’t you?” Simon asked from the couch.

Davyd stepped closer and patted the man on his shoulder. “Not to worry, sir. Any details we don’t have at our fingertips we’ll get in a moment.”

“I can’t really feel my arms anymore,” Simon said, “and my chest is starting to feel funny.”

Davyd exchanged a glance with Kadder over the man’s head. “Not to worry,” he said. “Shouldn’t take a moment. You’re just lucky Ms. Hollister didn’t wait for that slug, Stammerton.”

Amalia Hollister chose that moment to reenter the office, trailed by a small man who wore a chef’s coat and a sullen expression. “I followed the recipe,” the little man said. “It’s just a coincidence, that he’s having problems.”

Simon shifted his neck slowly over to look at the cook. “Coincidence my ass,” he snarled. “I’d wring your neck if my arms were working.”

“We’re here to find out exactly what the problem is,” Davyd said soothingly. “If it was a coincidence, maybe just an ordinary food allergy, we can work a ritual designed to tackle that. But if it was a ritual gone wrong, we need to know that, and why it went wrong, so we can reverse it.”

“But I followed the recipe exactly. It was guaranteed.”

Amalia cleared her throat. “This is Franz,” she said. “He came highly recommended, and we’ve never had a problem before.”

“Accidents will happen,” Davyd said. “Is that for me?”

Amalia looked down at the mug in her hand. “Oh, yes.” She handed Davyd the cappuccino, and after a moment he took a sip, trying not to look hesitant. He needed the caffeine, anyway, and what were the chances of two rituals going wrong in one day?

Maggie’s head rotated toward Franz; they couldn’t see her eyes through the goggles, but it looked like she was focusing on him at the moment. “Did you use vinegar to coagulate the egg whites?” she asked.

“Of course,” Franz snapped.

“How much, what kind?”

“White. I was told to use white in the recipe. Five milliliters. It’s what I was told to do. Five milliliters for this recipe, seven if I was trying for pain relief, and never nine.”

“No one is saying you didn’t follow the recipe,” Davyd said. “Although if you didn’t for some reason, we need to know. The recipe you were given could be wrong, though.”

“And actually, nine milliliters can be part of a recipe to improve vision, but only if it’s red wine vinegar,” Maggie said.

“Yes, thank you, Miss Sixsmith,” Davyd said before Kadder could make some sort of remark, “but let’s focus on what Franz did for the moment.”

“You swirled the pan counter-clockwise when you added the egg?” Maggie asked.

“Yes, and I kept the water between seventy-four and seventy-six degrees.”

“Anything yet, Kadder?” Davyd asked.

“No, I don’t think so,” Kadder replied. “Maybe a blip when she was talking about swirling the pan, but nothing serious.”

“What kind of blip?”

Kadder shrugged. “Just a vague feeling on a deep dimension, fourth or fifth. Nothing significant.”

Davyd sighed. It wasn’t terribly helpful, but it was more than he’d picked up. The big tattoo on Kadder’s face showed that he could sense six dimensions of fit with the rules. It was better than Maggie could manage, and certainly better than Davyd, so they tended to rely on Kadder for the feedback on whether they were getting somewhere.

“I shouldn’t say this, but this is all very exciting,” Amalia said quietly, as Maggie continued flicking through data, occasionally asking a question. “We heard about this on Earth, of course, but the reality has been different.”

“Do you find our little colony to your tastes?” Davyd asked.

“Oh, yes. So … pleasantly rustic.”

Davyd nodded. Earthers generally found Fenix backward, either charmingly or annoyingly so. Of course, the pilots who brought the small trickle of visitors and immigrants almost all fell into the annoyed camp, which helped account for the lack of those visitors. Even after the disaster of the first landing, it was hard to convince pilots that they had to run through their landing routines in a very particular fashion — flipping switches and running programs in a specific order. Worse was the insistence that none of the more modern, nominally safer landing craft were allowed on the planet. No one knew exactly how new systems had to be worked into the rules, and the only way to find out was to come in hot, which even the most confident savants were reluctant to do.

Aldus Hoskins himself had been a minor officer on the first landing craft into Fenix who’d had a feeling, as his superiors went through the landing ritual, that they were doing it ”wrong.” He’d survived the crash, and as strange things began to happen on the surface, he’d made the leap to realize that he could determine, through experiments and his own intuition, which actions followed the rules and what those rules were. He’d gone on to found a university that accepted those with some sort of intuitive feel for the rules, the institution that trained all the savants on the planet. Other places tried to figure out why the rules existed; the Invisible University was devoted to using them.

“I’m glad you’re adjusting,” Davyd said, and sipped his cappuccino. He could feel the effect that had been worked into it, making his memories more vivid. Unfortunately, it wasn’t doing him much good, since he didn’t know anything that would help in the first place. He wondered if he should offer some to Maggie, but it wouldn’t do her much good either, given she was flying by the seat of her pants rather than trying to remember some training she’d had.

“Did you dip the eggs in salted water after cooking?” Maggie asked.

“No, was I supposed to?” Franz asked, looking alarmed.

“Not as far as I can tell,” Maggie replied. “Just trying to give Kadder something to work with.” Kadder shook his head. “Are you shaking your damn head again, Kadder?” Maggie asked. “Or maybe nodding? I can’t see that through these things, like I’ve told you about a billion times.”

“Nothing Mags, nothing,” Kadder replied. Maggie scowled and the movement of her fingers down by her side got jerkier as she sorted through what the world knew about poached egg rituals.

Maggie had a better intuitive knowledge of what the rules might be in any given situation than most anyone Davyd knew, but he’d gone and put her out of her depth again. She knew enough off the top of her head, had been trained in enough things, that he shouldn’t have to keep taking jobs she wasn’t qualified for. But they needed the money. He had trouble getting them the steady work consulting on rituals to be done, and had to make do with this cleanup work.

The hell of it was, she never complained when he did it; neither of the Sixsmiths did. But then, neither of them had the temperament to spend their time working out rituals for washing rich people’s dogs or the like.

“I understand their roles, I think,” Amalia said, inclining her head toward Maggie and Kadder, “but if you don’t mind my asking, Mr. Grimshaw, exactly what are you doing here?”

It was that phrase that triggered the memory — it was almost precisely the same thing Dr. Waverly had said, but it was the damned cappuccino that made the memory so vivid that it felt like he was back on campus, back in Waverly’s wood-paneled office.

“What exactly are you doing here, Grimshaw?” Dr. Waverly had said.

“Training to be a savant.” Waverly’s office was calculated to impress a student. Many of the chairs and shelves were stacked with books and hardcopies of rules and rituals, and one whole wall was taken up with a display of the symbols for various certifications. Waverly himself was covered with many of those symbols, though only the most important ones were on his face — the five-pointed tattoo showing his sense of dimensions and two that represented knowledge of the rules of medicine and sexual intercourse.

Waverly snorted, and leaned back in his chair. “You’ve barely shown enough empathy to notice how things fit. You plan on using that remarkable memory of yours to file away rules? Perhaps find a job working for someone more empathetic? Someone like young Kadder Sixsmith? He’s shown an aptitude, and you two are as thick as thieves.”


“Well, you’ve certainly showed the knowledge there, haven’t you, in the last round of exams? All set to get marked for what, three skills, is it?”

Davyd had felt the first trickle of unease at that, but had simply nodded.

For a long moment, no one said anything, the only sound in the office the muffled noise of voices and laughter outside.

“Well,” Dr. Waverly said at last, “I gave you a chance. But I see you intend to stick to your story. We know you cheated.”

“I didn’t cheat,” Davyd said. “Those were the open research portions of the test. I was allowed to use the data feed.”

“You arranged to test for the same things Maggie Sixsmith was testing for elsewhere, and tapped into her interface. You wouldn’t have been able to find the information within the time limit without following her.”

“There’s no rule against doing what I did.”

“You know perfectly well you were intended to be doing your own searching. If there is no rule against it, that is only because no one else ever had the gall to do it.”

“Nevertheless, it was within the rules.”

Waverly shook his head. “I trust Ms. Sixsmith was not complicit in all this?”

“No.” It was good that he hadn’t gotten Maggie in trouble, but it stung, how Waverly had assumed her innocence. She was talented, so he gave her the benefit of the doubt. He knew he’d get no such treatment himself, but he was still surprised by Waverly’s next words.

“You’re out, Grimshaw. Expelled. We can’t have people roaming around pretending to be savants. Can you even conceive of the damage you could cause?”

“But it’s the only thing I’m good at,” Davyd blurted.

Waverly snorted. “I do hope there is something you’re better at than this.”

“It wasn’t against the rules,” Davyd said again.

Waverly shook his head. “No, we have to remove you, Davyd. Even if I didn’t think you intended to impersonate a savant, you’re poison to the university. I won’t have you leeching off good students like the Sixsmiths.”

Davyd blinked, shaking off the memory and returning to the present.

“Me?” he asked. “I’m a leech.”

“Pardon?” Hollister asked.

“I said I’m a manager,” Davyd replied. He looked down at his mug and frowned, then set it aside. “Kadder, are you getting anything?”

Kadder shook his head.

“Is he shaking his damn head again?” Maggie asked, turning back and forth between Davyd and Kadder.

“Yes, Maggie, he’s shaking his head,” Davyd replied. “Look, there can’t be much more to poaching an egg. If Kadder hasn’t caught wind of anything through all your discussion it must have been something else. The sauce, maybe.”

“Hollandaise sauce is not a ritual food,” Franz said.

“Not normally,” Maggie said, “but perhaps …” Her fingers began to move more quickly as she sorted through data. “Did you use … a blender?”

“Whoa,” Kadder said. “Whoa. Something there. A couple dimensions.”

Davyd thought he might have felt a slight tickle, himself, though he’d never been able to pick up more than a single dimension of the rules — enough to sense intensity now and again, but not enough to know why something might be important.

“But Hollandaise isn’t ritual,” Franz said. “I always use a blender, it makes it easier to get the sauce to come together.”

“Things that normally don’t require a ritual can sometimes cause problems when they’re a component of something else that does,” Davyd said.

“Aaaand, yes,” Maggie said, fingers moving furiously, “Hollandaise used in Eggs Benedict for muscle mass enlargement — whisk with counter-clockwise motion.”

“I can’t — ” Simon suddenly said from the couch, then made a strange gasping noise.

“I think there are some important muscles seizing up,” Kadder said.

“Not to worry, Mr. Simon,” Davyd said. “We’ve about got it now.”

“Davyd Grimshaw,” a new voice said. “You couldn’t get a culinary ritual if it was standing in front of you.”

Davyd looked up to see Stammerton standing in the doorway, a supercilious smirk distorting the tattoos on his face.

“Is that Stammerton?” Maggie asked. She raised her goggles to squint at him.

“Maggie,” Stammerton said. He turned. “Kadder.”

“You’re late, Stammerton,” Davyd said. “We’ve already got it figured out.”

“Do you,” Stammerton said flatly. He walked into the room, crossing to the couch, and leaned over to peer at Simon. “What seems to be the problem?”

“A problem with Eggs Benedict, Mr. Stammerton,” Amalia said. “But Mr. Grimshaw and the Sixsmiths seem to have figured it out, as he said.”

“Hmm. Didn’t whisk the Hollandaise counter-clockwise, eh?” Stammerton said. Out of the corner of his eye, Davyd saw Maggie hurriedly slide her goggles back into place and begin to move her data fingers with near-spastic speed.

“Gracious, that was quick,” Amalia said.

“Well, I am fully certified in culinary rituals,” Stammerton said. He shot a significant glance at Maggie, who was glowering into her goggles, mouth drawn into a thin line. “Unlike some savants. Now, I take it Grimshaw’s little crew has figured out what went wrong, but the difficult part is reversing the damage. In this case, I think a lin– ”

“Liniment!” Maggie shouted. “One for muscle relaxation, whisk it up counter-clockwise instead of shaking it.”

Kadder laughed. “Suck it, Stammerton.”

“Anyone can look something up,” Stammerton said. “It’s dangerous to apply it without really understanding the background.”

“Maggie has a better feel for any rule out there before she looks it up than you ever will,” Davyd said.

“Almond oil, marjoram oil, and cayenne pepper,” Maggie said. “That should do it. Normally you shake it between twenty and thirty times when you’re mixing it and it loosens muscles. Whisking it twenty to thirty times ought to reverse the problem.”

“Was that what you were going to suggest?” Kadder asked with a grin.

“Basically,” Stammerton said after a moment.

“Looks like you came down here for nothing,” Davyd said.

“Perhaps,” Stammerton said. He turned to Amalia. “You have all those ingredients on hand?”

“We have almond oil and cayenne,” she said. “Not marjoram oil, though.”

Stammerton smiled. “I have a source. I can get some here in twenty minutes.” He pulled a phone from his pocket.

Davyd leaned over Simon, whose breath seemed to be coming in strange hitches. “I don’t think we have twenty minutes.” He looked up at Amalia. “When do you expect the doctor?”

Amalia shook her head, suddenly looking alarmed. “I didn’t call one. It didn’t seem dangerous — I didn’t want to cause a scene.”

“Damn it,” Davyd muttered. “Call them now, but I don’t know if we have the time. Maggie, any other ideas?”

“Nothing yet,” she said, fingers flicking through the air. “We can try a ritual that would just attack the paralysis without worrying about the screwed up ritual, but most of what I’m finding is designed for spinal problems, and they’ll need stuff even harder to get than marjoram oil.”

Davyd rubbed his face. Things had certainly gone to hell fast. Amalia had disappeared, to finally call emergency services, and Stammerton was putting away his phone.

“The oil will be here in fifteen minutes, maybe a bit more.” He glanced over at Simon, and Davyd could see from the look on his face that he knew that would be too late.

“Maggie,” Davyd said, “the liniment recipe. How important are proportions?”

“Ummm, not important at all,” Maggie said after a moment. “It’s all about presence, as far as I can tell, sort of like how you have to use at least one brass nail when you’re building a boat meant for a lake. Not like a cooking thing.”

Davyd turned to Franz. “Get together almond oil, cayenne, and whatever marjoram you’ve got. Bring it back here with a bowl and a whisk.” Franz stared for a moment. “Now!” Davyd said.

As Franz scuttled off he looked up to see Maggie holding her goggles away from her face and peering at him. “You just want to use dried marjoram?” she asked. “It’ll leave little flakes all over the guy.”

“That’s the least of his problems,” Davyd said. “His lungs are shutting down; no telling when his heart will go.” He realized belatedly that Simon might still be able to hear him.

“It won’t work,” Stammerton said. “You can’t make a liniment with dried stuff.”

“There’s got to be some oil in it, even dried,” Davyd said.

“But it won’t have time to infuse.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Davyd snapped. “We’re not trying to make a nice liniment, we’re trying to follow the rules.” He could feel the implications of what he was proposing, with his own weak sense of the way things fit together. It was big, but that was all he got — intensity.

“There’s no telling what it will do,” Stammerton said. “Swapping in another ingredient.”

“It isn’t another ingredient, not technically,” Davyd said. “Kadder, what do you think?”

“I think … it fits.”

“I don’t feel it,” Stammerton said.

“You’ve got four points of empathy on your face,” Davyd said. “Kadder’s working on a deeper level.” Still, he wished Kadder didn’t look so damned hesitant about it.

Franz reappeared, holding a bowl filled with jars and bottles, trailed by Amalia.

“I know of three ritual recipes that use marjoram, dried marjoram,” Stammerton said. “One of them is a soporific — ”

“Maple gravy for turkey,” Maggie said, still staring into her goggles.

Stammerton shot her a glare. “Yes. That could kill him.” He lowered his voice and leaned closer. “He may die anyway, Grimshaw, but that’s not the same as you killing him. You need to follow the rules.”

“Mags, what’s the ritual on that gravy?” Davyd asked.

“Thirty mils of marjoram with thirty mils of thyme and seven mils lemon zest, mixed in a ceramic bowl, then stirred into the liquid ingredients.”

Davyd nodded to himself — proportions, not presence. He looked up at Franz. “Mix it,” he said. “A small amount of almond oil and cayenne, all the marjoram you have.”

“Twenty-five strokes counter-clockwise,” Maggie put in.

Franz hesitated.

“Here,” Kadder said, stepping forward. He snatched the bowl from Franz’s grasp and set it on the desk before beginning to unscrew the caps on bottles.

“Cayenne first, almond oil on top, then the marjoram,” Maggie said. “I guess. I mean, it’s supposed to be oil, too …” she trailed off. Kadder hesitated for a moment, then tapped in a few shakes of cayenne, following it with a healthy dollop of almond oil. Finally, he upended the jar of marjoram flakes into the bowl and picked up the whisk.

“Twenty-five strokes, counter-clockwise,” Maggie said.

“Heard you the first two times,” Kadder muttered. He began to whisk the mixture, counting under his breath.

“What’s going on?” Amalia asked.

“Grimshaw has some insane plan,” Stammerton said. “It won’t work.”

Amalia looked over at Davyd.

“It’ll work,” he said. “More to the point, if it doesn’t I don’t know what else we can do.”

“Mr. Stammerton’s ingredients,” Amalia said faintly, looking over at Stammerton.

Simon wheezed a shallow, stuttering breath on the couch, and Stammerton said nothing, looking suddenly uncomfortable.

Kadder stepped closer to the couch and gave Davyd a questioning look.

“Do it,” Davyd said. Kadder nodded, then tore open Simon’s shirt. He dipped his hands into the bowl and began to rub in the liniment.

“No telling what this will — ” Stammerton began, and broke off as Simon gasped and sat up.

“Sue you,” he wheezed. “Sue this restaurant for everything you have.” He sucked in a deep lungful of air as his chest loosened. “My arms,” he said, “get my arms.”

Kadder smiled and began to rub the liniment on Simon’s arms.

Davyd released a breath, then produced his tablet. “I’m sending an invoice, Ms. Hollister,” he said, tapping on it. “It should be sufficient for your insurance provider, but do let me know if there are any difficulties.”

Kadder raised one hand as his sister approached, giving her an enthusiastic, if oily, highs-five. Maggie raised a hand to Stammerton, still grinning, but he ignored her, instead glowering at Davyd.

“You got lucky, Grimshaw.”

Davyd shook his head. “The nice thing about the rules, Stammerton, is that luck isn’t involved. You just have to know what you can get away with.”

William Stiteler has held jobs teaching, figuring out where things are, battling invasive insects (largely without success), and counting trees for NASA. His stories are published or are forthcoming in markets such as Arcane Magazine and Stupefying Stories, sometimes writing as SM Williams. You can find more of his work at www.internetmanifestation.com.