In Warm Blood is currently available as a part of The Official Private Eye Handbook, first book in the CITY OF MAGICK series. Please, feel free to take a look here, though, and at subsequent chapters. Let me know how you feel about it. For those of you finding your way here relatively late, no problem. The start of the story is just a click away.
IN WARM BLOOD
I was awake. My brain felt like a plate of scrambled eggs, but I was awake. It was gonna be one of those nights. That was the last time I trusted a smart blonde. Of course, the odds of my ever running into a second one were pretty slim.
I started to blink the blur from my eyes, but the view didn’t get any better. The line-up went from bad to worse. I saw a few of the goons from my burning apartment building, some kind of giant hanging back in the shadows and my host, Pietro Ferrari. I struggled to my feet, asking, “Is this the Liebowitz bar mitzvah?”
“Forever clever, Mr. Stone,” Ferrari responded. “Please, don’t trouble yourself. Take a chair.”
“Thanks,” I said, “but I misplaced my apartment recently, so decorating’s really not a major priority right now.”
“Sit,” he ordered, pointing to the chair in front of his desk.
I felt like I had everything except my .44 and I wasn’t sure how much longer I could keep standing, anyway, so I decided not to fight about it. “Where’s the blonde?”
“Guilty,” the shadowy hulk said in a deep, rumble of a voice. I could make out a large hand on the end of a really long arm reaching up to take a pipe out of his mouth as he spoke. “I suppose there might’ve been easier ways to get you here, but none that shared such a balance of relative painlessness and efficiency.”
“Right,” I said, still clearing my head. “Well, you do what you have to do. And you did get me to Ferrari.”
“Graciously understanding of you,” the giant said. “Good form, old man.”
“So, with a group like this,” I said, “somebody must be in trouble, huh?”
“We could look at the situation that way, Stone,” Ferrari said. “Or we could consider that we two are in a position to help each other into more beneficial stations.”
“After all the effort you’ve put into having people try to kill me?” I asked him. “I’d hate to see you throw all that away.”
“For you? Fuhgeddaboutit. It wasn’t no effort at all.”
“And now we’re here,” I said. “Something really interesting must’ve happened during my nap to make you decide that I didn’t have to be dead for you to be happy.”
“Your persuasive…friend,” Ferrari said, gesturing toward the pipe-puffing giant, “suggested that you might have other uses above ground.”
“Such flattery,” I said with a sneer, “I don’t know where to even begin. What sort of a deal did you have in that dark little mind? And I ask that knowing that your favorite hobbies include tossing coins off the roof and torturing small animals, so I‘m really on the edge of my seat over here.” I was pretty sure the handbook recommended keeping the bad guys talking. So many of them loved talking about themselves and their clever plans. Nothing was ever enough for these egomaniacs.
“Nothing unreasonable, I assure you,” Ferrari said with a smile and a disturbing chuckle. “Drink? Smoke?”
“Pass.” The handbook was extra-wordy about getting something for nothing and not making deals with bad guys.
“Very well then,” he went on, leaning forward to his desk and his bourbon. “What sort of needs do you have?”
“Swimming pools, friendly women and a laundry detergent that’ll get out blood stains,” I told him. I heard a few chuckles around the room, Ferrari’s men taking their cues from him. “That’s just for starters, of course. I assume you’ll be wanting me to skip court next week.”
“That’s a given, yes,” Ferrari replied. “Hey, I can’t blame you for taking advantage of opportunities. My man left a briefcase behind in a cab--”
“Alright, then, he’s already dead, either way,” Ferrari said. “Anyway, you learned what you learned. Sure, I’d have blown your car up, but my mechanic was deported.”
“You had me wondering.”
“Well, setbacks aside,” he continued, “there’s no reason we shouldn’t be sensible.”
“Sensible? You’ve got an office like this and you want to talk about sensible?” I asked him. “This place is huge. You must have a ridiculous decorating budget.”
“Well,” he chuckled, “I don’t like to brag.”
“Why bother? You got these guys for that,” I told him. He laughed even harder. “And that mirror…Wow.”
“Ah, yes,” Ferrari said, seemingly proud that I’d noticed the huge item that took up so much of the wall. “Eight feet tall and eight feet wide, made from hand-blown glass with a gold and bronze frame. Look at the detailed work on the frame. It’s a work of art all its own, nearly three hundred years old.”
Yeah, no ego problems there. Some people had a wall of books in their office. Ferrari had a wall of Look at me! to keep him company. As if the blood red velvet carpet wasn’t distracting enough.
“Come on, Stone. I can see you have a taste for finer things,” Ferrari said, holding out a welcoming hand to me. “Be smart. We can deal, no?”
“Let’s see…wealth, power, Bermuda…Oh, right! I’ll need you to start restoring life to the people you’ve killed, well-being to the people you’ve hurt, freedom to the ones you’ve kidnapped and enslaved--”
“Shut him up!” Ferrari shouted, shattering his glass against his heavy oak desk. “You just said good-bye to oxygen! You’re dead, Stone! You’re dead!”
“Well, at least you stopped being so damned polite about all this,” I said, standing up as the goons moved in to flank me. “I was about to start feeling bad about putting you to all the trouble of rubbing me out.”
“And I was starting to think you had a brain under that hat,” Ferrari said. “You’re pissing away everything. In a half-hour, you’re gonna be under a train.”
“You’re gonna fry out at Wardenclyffe, so I‘d say it‘s a good enough trade. In fact, I heard that Tesla and his mad science buddies are trying to find a way to run enough electricity through your evil butt so even they can‘t bring you back anymore.” At that point, I was pretty sure I heard him growl.
“Such a shame,” the giant said, moving from beside Ferrari and heading toward the door of the crime lord’s sprawling office…den…lair…whatever. “I thought you might’ve had a future. Good luck,” he said, still puffing smoke as he left.
“Hey, thanks for all the help,” I said. “Drive safely.”
“He was talking to me,” Ferrari said.
“Oh, no doubt,” I told him. “You’re gonna need the luck.” Then, I was sure I heard him growl.
“You,” he said to the goon on my left, holding out my beloved .44 to the clumsy mouth-breather in the new suit, “take this and put it on the body after he’s dead.”
“Sure thing, boss,” New Suit assured him. “You want us to use the portal?” he asked, gesturing toward the fancy mirror.
Ferrari pulled open a desk drawer and brought out the magic rod I’d played with back in the alley. He held it up and looked it over for a few seconds before announcing, “Yeah, the sooner he‘s gone the better.”
“Right, the chaos magic. I hadn’t pegged you for a regular user,” I said. “Or are you just that prone to extremes?”
“You kiddin’ me, Stone?” Ferrari laughed. “This is the Wayfarer’s Arcanum.”
“Oooh, big words for you, Ferrari,” I said, “but it doesn’t ring any bells.”
“You got a lot to learn, Stone, but sadly little time left.”
Ferrari buttoned his suit jacket as he stood and then walked around the desk with his black magic stick. As he approached the mirror, he ran a hand over his dark hair and adjusted his tie. “Not that I don’t appreciate the attention to detail, but can you really not resist preening?” I asked him. He just looked at me with a grim sneer and tapped one end of the rod to the mirror three times.
The surface of the mirror rippled like a pond and Ferrari started to walk forward into it as he commanded, “Let’s go, boys.” With two goons in front of me and two more giving me a shove from behind, five of us followed Pietro Ferrari through the looking glass and into…surprise-surprise, a mirror version of Ferrari’s office that didn’t smell of smoke. It looked like he was using it largely for storage and there was something distinctly different about the air.
“Air’s flat,” I said. “You might want to get a few plants in here.”
“Shut it, Stone,” New Suit said.
“Bring him,” Ferrari said, walking straight out the office door and into a blackness beyond.
As we all gathered in the blackness, I noticed a line of mirrors like the one in Ferrari’s office. They were arranged as though suspended on an invisible wall, one beside another stretching off…I couldn’t tell how far. The dark lacked reference points. Such was life.
To what I perceived to be my left, the featureless black gave way to stony floor and the light of a blazing fire. The fire burned in an open-topped blacksmith’s forge that stood about three feet tall. Not far from the forge, a slender man, his skin sweaty and gray, stood diligently working over a sturdy, cluttered table. His head was wrapped up like a pirate‘s, but I could see pointy ears amidst strands of white hair that spilled out from under the head rag.
“Smith!” Ferrari called out, the dark elf standing straight and tall in response.
“Who’s the smith?” I asked New Suit.
“Teng Rovo…something,” New Suit whispered back.
“Passing through again,” the tall elf said as he walked toward Ferrari. He looked to be nearly seven feet tall as he passed the crime boss and proceeded on to the line of mirrors. Teng took the rod from Ferrari, asking, “How am I supposed to work like this?”
“Get me where I‘m going and we‘re out of your way,” Ferrari told him. “South Riverside Train Station.”
“I’m a craftsman,” Teng said, walking to another mirror and touching select runes as he moved. “Why do I let you bother me with such trivialities?”
“I pay you,” Ferrari said, following closely, “and supply your experiments.”
“You’re worse than the last one,” Teng told him. “What was his name?”
“Frost,” Ferrari said. “He was weak and now he’s dead.”
Frost. That was a name I knew. I was feeling enlightened as to how these thugs had built their empires so elusively.
The mirror, distinguished from the others only by the fact that it was in front of the drow elf, lit up and began to ripple as moving images appeared within. Teng very deliberately reversed the rod, turning it to put the opposite end from the one he’d been holding into Ferrari’s hand. “Go,” he said, returning to his work.
“You heard him,” Ferrari said. “Go!”
“Ain’t we taking the rod, boss?” New Suit asked. “We gotta get back.”
“Take a cab,” Ferrari said, turning to head back to his mirror office door.
I started to laugh as the muscle ushered me to the door.
“What’s so funny, Stone? Your mind finally snap on you?” Ferrari asked.
“You make me laugh, boss man,” I told him. “If this is the best you can do, you’re more desperate than even you realize. Look at all the trouble you’ve had with just me, one guy. You should seriously consider another line of work. I’m not sure you’re cut out for this. If you really knew how to use that thing, you‘d have made yourself disappear by now.”
“Don’t worry,” I told him, “after I ditch these guys, I’ll be back and we can finish up…just you and me. Don‘t go anywhere.”
“Move it, Stone,” one of the goons said, shoving me through the shadow portal.