Happy Thursday. To help keep my own feet to the fire, I'm using Thursday as my public accountability day. That means, posting a bit of coherently creative output for you to read and feedback on every week. If I perform according to my own intent, what I put here will be available as a whole elsewhere at the same time or shortly after appearing here.
A Knowledge of Heather 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
It was still a dark and stormy night, but things were looking better. That was, of course, from my point of view: not only had I not become part of the evening’s rising body count, I was hunting people who thought that I had become a part of the evening’s rising body count.
After a quick trip back to Pietro Ferrari’s building, I made a phone call to police headquarters from the lobby to let Cross know where to find the “legitimate businessman” I was after. I hadn’t actually been at his arraignment, but I was pretty sure that he’d been violating the conditions of his bail over the last few days. I had the elevator take me to the floor below Ferrari’s penthouse, then crept up the stairs to the luxurious top floor.
Poking my head from the stairwell doorway, I couldn’t see anyone around. Of course, it was after three in the morning, so I didn’t expect there to be too many people standing around. Still, I wanted to act quietly. That didn’t seem like it would be too hard. I guess, since he seemed to control the whole top floor, he felt confident about security. Both the elevator and the stairs opened into an entry hallway and there was no doorway to stop me from walking right into the apartment. I figured he usually kept at least one guard on duty, but whoever was supposed to be guarding probably ended up as a stain at the train station. So I ended up with no door to kick in and nobody to beat up or blow holes in. Ferrari was trying to bore me to death. Still, I was supposed to be dead, so I tried not to take it personally.
As I walked past the kitchen, I heard a toilet flush and turned to see the missing guard step out of the little guests’ room. So they had at least had sense enough to replace the night guard with a small-bladdered substitute. He didn’t notice me as he was zipping up, so I cleared my throat.
“You!” he said.
“Right on the first guess,” I said, grabbing his tie and dragging him out into the entrance hall. After a couple of punches to the gut and a broken jaw, he fell to the floor and stopped trying to get back to his feet. With a satisfied smile, I sauntered back to that kitchen I had spotted. There was a goon with his back to me, staring into the open refrigerator.
“Hey, Johnny,” the guy said, not looking up, “you back? I was startin’ to think maybe you fell in.”
“No need to worry about me,” I said.
“You!” he exclaimed, spinning toward me with that same deer-in-the-headlights look as the first guy.
“Right again,” I said, grabbing his tie and pulling him toward me. “What gave me away? Was it the hat? The coat?” I didn’t get an answer, though. He was about as fragile as Johnny. Ferrari‘s tough guys must‘ve jumped ship when the indictments started coming in. Some bad guys had no stomach for pressure.
I took a bottle of cooking oil with me from the kitchen and found my way through a few of the other rooms. There were only a few lights on through the whole place, but enough to keep me from bumping into most of the furniture. I ended up in a game room. I could see light from under a door and people moving around. I couldn‘t tell how many, but one of the muffled voices sounded like Ferrari. It would have to do.
I dumped the bottle of oil onto the pool table. I grabbed a couple of bottles of rum from the bar and, using the fresh book of matches I’d taken from Aeaea, set the pool table on fire. Hungry flames leapt up and black smoke began to billow. I moved to the wall near the office door and waited. After less than a minute, the smoke alarms started blaring. As expected, the office door opened and one of Ferrari’s men came out.
“Holy--! Hey, boss! We’re on fire!”
He started to run past me, but didn’t notice me so I tripped him. He fell behind the bar. I jumped on his back and broke a bottle of something expensive over his head. I caught a glimpse of the fire extinguisher he must’ve been after and picked it up. Ferrari came out next and stood stunned in the doorway.
“Johnny!” he shouted, dropping his cigar. “Mitch!”
“Catch,” I said, tossing him the extinguisher. He caught it and fumbled with it in a panic for a few seconds. Once he finally got the pin pulled, he emptied the canister putting out the blazing pool table. I flicked on a light switch, saying, “Nicely done, Pete. Now drop the can.” One look at the .44 and he complied. “What’s the matter? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“I was kind of hoping.”
“Well, you can put a stop to that,” I said. “We’re the only ones left. Your boys all dozed off--headaches or internal injuries or some such. You really should try to create a safer work environment. Maybe you’ll do better in the prison laundry.”
“We can still deal, Stone,” Ferrari said. “This doesn’t have to be ugly.”
“It does if you’re involved,” I said, waving him toward the office door. “Come on. Let’s get out of the smoke.”
“I knew you could be reasonable.”
“Shut up and show me what you’ve got,” I told him.
He walked over to ridiculously huge wall mirror and began tapping it with the rod. As before, the mirror‘s surface became like rippling water. Changing up the process a bit, Ferrari turned back to me and touched one of the symbols near the center of the rod‘s length. The black rod began to glow and then the end pointed at me flared with a bright light and unleashed a ball of fire rocketing my way. I was just able to dive and roll, leaving it to blast into the wall. “I thought you’d had enough fire for one night, you ass!“
“The rod has so many uses, though,” he said, “it seems a shame to waste them.”
I fired off two rounds, hitting him in the left arm and leg. Blood splashed out of him as he fell through the mirror, howling in pain. I scrambled back to my feet and ran through after him. Ferrari was whimpering, but still trying to grab the rod he’d dropped when he hit the floor. I kicked his hand away.
“He-Heal me,” Ferrari pleaded, whimpering. “I’m begging ya…please. The rod…”
I felt confused for a couple of seconds, then stupid for taking so long to realize, “The rod heals, too? Of course, like you said, it has lots of uses. What’d you call it? Wayfarer? It’s full of…useful tricks for travellers.”
“I’m dyin’ here, Stone,” Ferrari moaned again. “Just…”
“Quit your moaning,” I told him. “Bleed-out with some semblance of dignity.”
“Hey, come on,” he pleaded. “I thought we was gonna make a deal.”
“I thought I was gonna kick you in the balls,” I said, starting to open storage boxes. “You blew any chance of a happy ending when you started shooting.”
“You mean, you really…would’ve let me go?”
“No, but I wasn’t going to shoot you. Now, what am I looking at?” I asked. There were ledger books and notebooks and photos of…“Is this a sheep? And…wow…three girls and none of them old enough to be mistaken for his wife.”
“I got dirt on a lotta guys,” he chuckled, but with strain. “Other bosses. Businessmen. Cops.”
“I told you you’d need the luck.” I kicked a box on the floor and heard a jingle. The long, wooden box felt heavy and solid. I flipped open the lid and found thousands of gold sovereigns and stacks of shiny metal bars. “Are these silver or platinum in here?”
“Hey, don’t be a sore loser,” I told him, “just answer.”
“Both,” he sighed.
Nice. Ferrari had just handed over records from his activities and incriminating evidence against who knew how many other people. He had just handed me a box of gold sovereigns and other precious metals. “Wow, between all this and being shot,“ I told him, “you’re having a crap week. Hey, what’s in this metal box?” I asked, opening a small money box.
He sighed again and said, “Safe deposit box keys.”
“Don’t like all your eggs in one basket, eh?” I said, scooping a few handfuls of sovereigns into the money box to carry along with me. “Well, it looks like I’m going to be busy for a while.”
I was starting to reach for the magic rod when I saw the smith at the door to the mirror office. His stern gaze was on me, hammer in his right hand and red-hot tongs in his left. “Teng, right?” I asked.
“You struggle for the Wayfarer’s Arcanum,” he said.
I kept the magnum’s barrel on him as my left hand grasped the rod. “Sort of,” I replied. “Struggling part’s kind of done, unless you’ve got something to add.”
“I do not contest,” the elf told me. “I am a craftsman.”
“You don’t say,” I said, standing back up. “I’m a detective. I don’t want to bother your work. I need this loser and his boxes of evidence.” The smith watched me quietly for a few seconds, then put his hammer and tongs on the floor and walked into the office. I put away my gun as he approached me and held out his hand. I watched him for a few seconds, then handed him the rod. He didn‘t seem the handshaking sort.
“The Wayfarer’s Arcanum is a traveller’s convenience,” he said, touching a symbol that made the thing glow, “possessing a score of capabilities.” The elf touched the rod to each of the boxes of evidence, making them glow and then vanish.
“Hey, I said I needed those!”
“When you return through the glass,” Teng began, “touch this rune, fehu, and your boxes will be released.”
“Oh, thanks,” I said. I had neither the tongue for magic nor the desire to develop one. I just nodded and trusted my memory to get me through for a few minutes.
“It’s not a common practice since it drains a lot of power,” Teng said, “but if you want this one healed, touch this rune, uruz, to create a healing aura.”
“This is probably as close as he’ll get to penance,” I said. “Why spoil it?”
“When you return through the glass,” he said again, this time handing me back the rod, “touch this rune again and hold the Wayfarer’s Arcanum to the mirror. Repeat the process when you wish to place the mirror and use it again.”
“Riiight…You say you’re a craftsman,” I said to him. “You make bullets?”
“Bullets?” he echoed.
“Bullets,” I said, handing him a bullet from my pocket. “I’m thinking electrum in this size.”
“Hmm,” he pondered, looking over the .357 caliber bullet. “Should be simple. Any special targets? Undead?”
“Effectiveness against anything generally magical,” I said. “I don’t want to pump a magnum load into a rabid grand shroud hag or a slathering shadow beast and have it laugh at me. When I pull the trigger, there need to be tangible results.”
“Reasonable challenge,” he said. “I’ll probably need to add some sigils. Check back with me.”
“Cool,” I said as he walked out of the mirror office and closed the door, returning to his forge. “Ferrari, you breathing?”
“Wussy,” I taunted.
“Screw you, Stone,” he said, continuing to bleed on his red velvet carpet.
“That’s the spirit,” I said, heading back to the big mirror. “Let’s get you back where the cops can take care of you.”
Reopening the mirror portal, I grabbed Ferrari by the legs and dragged his sorry ass back into his smoky office. Following Teng’s instructions, the boxes of Ferrari’s incriminating insurance/evidence materialized in his office beside him. Then, walking back to the master mirror, I touched the rune again and held the rod against the surface of the glass. There was a glow and the ornate mirror faded away. The sound of approaching footsteps meant it was time for me to get out of the way and let the cops earn their pay. It was way past my bedtime and I still had to find a place to sleep. I tucked the metal box under my arm and the Wayfarer’s Arcanum into the pocket of my private eye trench coat (standard issue) just as Cross came in with a bunch of uniforms and paramedics trailing him.
“Stone! You alright?” Cross asked.
“Just peachy,” I said. “Impeccable timing, as always, Chief O’Hara.”
“What the Hell happened here?” he asked.
“It was like this when I got here,” I told him.
“Oooh…scary dad voice. Look, if it’s illegal, he’s probably done it,” I said. “The D.A.‘ll probably have some extra charges to file Monday. Ferrari needs medical attention and those boxes next to him have some really sick sorts of evidence inside. His henchmen are…around.”
“Yeah, I saw. What happened to them?” he asked.
“They fell down,” I said, pulling down on my hat brim. “A lot. No extra charge.”
“You feel up to making an actual statement?”
“That’s my story and I’m sticking to it,” I said. “Now, I need to go find a bed.”
“I assume that means you’re done leaving bodies on the sidewalk for tonight,” Cross said.
“If at all possible.”
“Great. Call me after you wake up.”
“Don’t be clingy, Cross,” I said. I headed for the elevator. Digging up dirt was one thing, but cleaning up I left to others.
Outside, the storm was down to a drizzle. I had more than enough for cab fare and Ferrari was paying for a decent hotel. I wasn’t ready to start trying to scrape my worldly possessions off my walls just yet. I really hated cleaning. Police and medics were shoving in and out of the building. I was fighting to find my way past their barricades, but almost knocked a long-haired beauty over as I moved through the crowd.
“Hey, Brick, good to see you’re alright,” Overknight said, suddenly catching me in a one-armed hug. “I was actually a little worried about you.”
“Hey, Jen, what’re you doing here? Docs cut you loose with your wing in a sling?”
“Yeah, it was a through and through,” she said. “It looked worse than it was.”
“You slacker,” I said. “You let me take you to the hospital and make a fuss over you for a scratch?”
“I wanted to give you a chance to feel useful,” she told me. “Thanks for the save.”
“Just good teamwork,“ I told her. “I almost didn’t recognize you. What happened to your ponytail?”
“I’m off-duty,” she said, shaking her hair to show off the bounce of her long, black locks, “so I let it down.”
“Looks good,” I told her. “You look a lot better than the last time I saw you, anyway. Got in a little tanning time while you were slacking off?”
“Well, you look exhausted,” she said, walking with me out of the police perimeter. “After they let me out of the hospital, I was going home, but Cross said you called so I figured I‘d come down here and rescue you.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re alright,” I told her, “but you should go home and rest.”
“And you should come with me,” she said. “As I recall, your place needs a few hundred coats of paint.”
“You want me to stay at your place, Overknight?”
“Maybe even longer,” she said. “You’re still a witness, after all. Even if Ferrari is out of action, till word gets out, more hired guns can still come after your ass. Remember the Bogies?”
“Yeah, so hanging around me even with an imagined price on my head isn’t safe,” I told her. “Your insurance premiums up-to-date?”
“Well, yeah…I think so.”
“I’d probably better just find a hotel,” I said. “You’re trying to hug an icy heart, kid. Be smart and head home.”
“I’ll go,” she said, “but you are coming with me. I think we need to practice keeping each other alive a bit longer.”
I was too tired to argue for a change. Overknight slid her good arm back around my waist and we worked through the crowd. Against my better judgment, I could feel myself starting to relax. Being alive together would do for the night. Tomorrow would wait for tomorrow…or maybe even the day after.