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The New Houdini 11

Maybe that was why Ben had called out to him, reached out to him in his dreams. Max didn't know the first thing about money and Ben was always made uncomfortable by it. But Chuck knew what money could do. Money afforded his rolls of film, his cameras and shooting permits. Money got him into places that would be barred otherwise; money made people believe in him. Maybe it was cynical and manipulative, but it was true and Chuck never had a problem using this fact. This was why Aderyn wanted him on this job.

It hurt a little, he supposed, to think he offered nothing else but funds and a cheery word toward their endeavors. He didn't have Max's instincts, borne of mourning and brushing against strange worlds, nor of the other Society members' intricate knowledge. If the end result was Ben's return it didn't really matter.

Max's mother opened the door, a firecracker of a short lady. The top of her head reached Chuck's eyebrows.

"Wasn't expecting you this early, Chuckles. The front of this house is a no-parking zone, you know."

Chuck grimaced; the woman had an unholy fascination with terrible nicknames. "It won't get towed, miss."

Kalea thinned her lips before letting him in, and he knew she was suppressing a comment about rules not applying to those at the top. In the kitchen she offered him cereal, which he declined – he couldn't afford crumbs. They stood in the kitchen, Chuck standing tall and smiling benignly, and Kalea studying him openly. This was fairly typical; he learned early on that an effort to charm her was effort wasted. Max had never elaborated on the Museum of Fine Arts attack but her mother was no fool, and Chuck knew she considered him the root cause of her daughter's problems.

Max clattered out of her bedroom and Chuck's felt his eyebrows rise in appreciation. She wore a slim dark skirt and matching ruffled shirt with a cropped jacket, and had styled her hair in a no-nonsense bun. She had followed his directions precisely. Privately he admitted that it flattered her.

"What kind of seminar is this again?" Kalea asked wearily.

"I was supposed to meet you there," Max bit out, "what do you think you're doing?"

Chuck waved cheerily. "I was passing by, thought I'd save you the effort."

"I'm not riding in some limo."

Kalea said with careful mildness, "Do you mind telling me where you're going?"

"It's not a limo." Chuck was remorseful. "I didn't know that's what you preferred."

Max sighed. "Ignore him, Mom. It's a seminar on how to conduct a college interview."

"Conveniently located at my college." Chuck beamed. "Would you like a muffin, Maxine? Carl's muffins are outstanding. I saved you one."

"No, thank you." Max shot him daggers with her eyes.

"I can handle the rejection," Chuck confided to Kalea, before following Max out the door. "But I'm not so sure how Carl's gonna take it."

Kalea didn't answer him. He noticed as they left that she watched them get into the Bentley, her face tired and mouth pursed with worry. He wanted to reassure her. But Chuck didn't dare.

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