The Gold Delusion
“What are we going to do?” I asked, horrified at the thought of Mr Crawley, the grumpy old sod, setting about to destroy the dragons’ home! Not to mention the skiing slopes — Rocky Creek survived thanks to those slopes in winter! Even my aunts, who were popular amongst locals, made half their income from tourists.
“It’s not like Mr Crawley can just close the skiing slopes,” Jason said, calmly.
“But he can,”I replied. I quickly explained to him and the two dragons what I’d overheard at school — it made me believe they were planning to do something dangerous when people weren’t around. Maybe destroy the slopes somehow!
“Hmm,” Jason looked thoughtful. Have I ever mentioned how intelligent he can look?
“You can’t stop him from doing something with his land. You can only change his mind,” Wilson said.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“He means that you have to change what Mr Crawley wants — his will if you so like. He wants to get to the gold because he thinks it will make him rich. Either you have to convince him that there is something he wants more, or that there is no gold worth digging for, which is the truth…” Esme explained.
God, dragons were wise! It was like having a conversation with my aunts…only my aunts usually added plenty of tea, cake and madness to the mix! The dragons just added a silvery shine and smell of berries…
“And if he doesn’t listen to the truth, then you might be able to find something he wants more. If he loved a woman, for example, and she told him to choose between her and the gold, he’d leave the gold alone.”
“I think there’s a third way,” Jason mused. “If we can figure out why he wants the gold, we can beat him at his game.”
“Uh,” I said, “don’t most people want gold to get rich?”
“Yeah, but some want money to feel powerful, some want it to feel secure if they, say, grew up with very little. Many want it because they need to prove themselves. It’s the same reason certain people strive to be great at art, sports, or academics. They need to prove something.”
I nodded in agreement.
“Broken egos seek validation.”
Growing up with people visiting Rocky Creek from Hollywood, I knew all about broken egos. There were people who sought knowledge and skill out of a true love for what they did, then there were those that sought fame, admiration and power. The very same people, according to Agatha, often got addicted to drugs. She had lived in L.A. and Sanctum Sanctorum got plenty of customers from Los Angeles, too. And then, of course, there were local kids like Samantha who had to assert their coolness at any given opportunity.
There were also people like myself, who had made it their business to hide in the shadows. I had started feeling differently about that in the last couple of weeks, but not hiding was also different from the need to be the center of attention.
“But we don’t know why Mr Crawley wants money. He could just want a bigger house for all we know. And the chances of us totally changing his psychological make-up is slim. I mean, maybe if we put my aunts to it…but we don’t have much time. Besides good luck changing an angry old goat like Mr Crawley! If we can find something he wants more, then maybe we have a chance at bargaining. But how do we figure that out?” I asked.
“Well, at least if we know his motive we have a better idea of how to go about things. Like if he just wants validation, getting the mayor to give him some accolade for looking after the slopes can prevent him from disrupting business there. Or if his niece needs surgery, we can do crowdfunding. I don’t really think we have time to even attempt to change his psychological make-up, even if I understand that’s what your aunts do all day long.”
“It’s what witches do. They change people. But only when they ask for it. It’s kind of like mentalism, psychology and herbalism blended into one.”
“So,” Jason said, eyes twinkling, “couldn’t they just hypnotize him?”
“They’d call that black magic. Besides, it only works if the person participating wants it to.”
“That’s not true, you can plant subconscious stuff and sway people to want something.”
“That’s not the same as hypnotizing someone. But yeah, sure you can, but we don’t really have time to plant stuff in Mr Crawley’s mind and wait for it to bloom, do we?”
“I guess not,” Jason looked thoughtful again.
I was trying to think. Psychoanalysis was all very interesting and stuff, but wasn’t there a more direct way of getting Mr Crawley to give up on digging for gold? I gathered we couldn’t convince him there was no gold, because, technically, there was no way for us of knowing that.
Getting close to him wouldn’t be easy. But something rattled my memory. “He used to love skiing. I think he still does. I mean he’s always in the slopes in winter and I think he moved here with his fiancé many, many years ago because of the skiing. He was some sort of athlete in his youth. But for as long as I can remember he’s just been a grumpy old sod.”
“Another British expression,” Jason said, a smile dangling on his lips as he looked at me.
I didn’t know what to reply. Jason looked amused, but also…like he liked me…or just liked my wacko vocabulary. Before I could work out how to respond, Jason continued, “He loves Rocky Creek.”
“How do you know?” I asked, surprised.
“He always shows up to town meetings, he lobbies for candidates when there are elections for positions in local government, he always sponsors local events and he hasstayed put here for many years, as you said.”
I wasn’t convinced.
“It serves his interests to make sure the town does well as he gains from tourism.”
“Yes, but Mr Crawley is a softie deep down inside. I’m pretty sure his grumpiness is just a way of dealing with some old hurt. I think he’s lonely. He is friends with some other people, I’ve seen him have coffees with people at Hetty’s, but often he’s alone. He still goes out a lot — says a grumpy sentence to the owners before having a coffee, or a meal. Likewise, he always exchanges a word with other business people and politicians about town. I just don’t think he’s close to almost anyone.”
I looked at Jason with new respect. He did read people and he clearly paid more attention to grumpy old men than I did! First rule of mentalism: pay attention to everyone, not just the people who you happen to be curious about.
“I guess you’re right. It’s just he’s such a nuisance to deal with I never tried to befriend him. His employees always laugh at his grumpiness, come to think of it, so I’m guessing they quite like him and he lets them laugh. He’s never mean. He’s just so effing grumpy. And it’s really annoying at times.”
“Yeah, but I think the people who really know him, like him. But he keeps people at bay, like you say. My guess is that something happened that made him feel really lonely and then he got stuck in it. Started pushing people away. You know people always bring about their worst nightmares, or wounds, or whatever.”
I nodded. Yep. Agatha 101 — if you get used to something, no matter how horrible, you recreate it unless you make one hell of an effort to shift your focus to what you’d truly like to create. Self-fulfilling prophecy: the more you fear something, the more you focus on it, the more likely you are to bring it into being. That’s why my witchy aunts put spells on people by shifting their focus. Whether they baked cakes, did some ceremony, or gave them an amulet, it was all about thoughts, really.
“But if the man wants to be lonely how do we get to him? I mean even though deep down inside he wants more friends, it’s not exactly easy to break down his defenses. We could also use his love of money, or, if it’s true what you say — his love of Rocky Creek and the slopes — to get him to stop whatever he’s up to.”
Jason shrugged his shoulders.
“I’m not sure yet, but I bet no one loves the slopes he owns more than he does. First we have to find out why he wants the gold. Maybe he has a niece who needs heart surgery, or lost money to gambling. Don’t think it’s either, but you never know.”
“Do some reconnaissance, then decide on the next move. And keep an eye on him so he doesn’t start blowing his way into the mountain before we have a chance to take off, if it comes to it. It could make this cave collapse.”
I looked around at the beautiful cave and the gorgeous creatures in it. Gold versus living beings. The California Gold Rush had already proved once that people go crazy for stones. Sometimes even more crazy than over people they love. Didn’t people always say that humans kill for one or two reasons: money or passion?
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