Thursday, December 15, 2011

16501--Similarities to Persons Living or Dead (Ch. 13)

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.
Similarities to Persons Living or Dead 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.


Chapter 13
Even though I got back home as fast as I could, I found the door to my new apartment already open, something I never liked. Inside, I found Berlin sitting on my couch holding a bag of frozen peas to the back of her head.

“What’s going on?” I asked her. “You OK?”

“Getting there, I guess,” my assistant reported. “Thanks for asking. You just missed three guys hitting me on the head and dragging your client out of here, though.”

“Dark eyes? Kinda zombie?”

“Yeah,” she said. “Acquaintances or angry clients?”

“More SOC stalkers,” I said. “They’re some sort of reanimated dead. They seem alive, but they’re missing pieces.”

“Souls most likely,” Jonni said. “They looked like they were missing a layer and I thought they smelled funny.”

“OK,” I told her. “If they’ve got her, they’re gonna be taking her to Corvus. Hey, where’d you find peas?”

“In the freezer.”

“Not my freezer.”

“I put them there,” she said. “No, I didn’t open the deadly box,” she assured me, rolling her eyes.

“OK, then, keep on not doing that,” I told her, walking over to my desk.

“What’re you going to do about the incredible wailing woman?” Jonni asked me.

I sighed and opened the center desk drawer. I reached in, ignoring the pens, paper clips and other random items to take hold of the rune-covered, circular rod. “Something drastic,” I responded. “Probably something I’m going to end up regretting.”

“Brick?” Jonni asked, no small concern in her voice. “Why does it look like you’re holding a magical rod?”

“Because I am,” I sighed again as I crossed the room and went around the dining table, to the large blank section of wall between the balcony and the kitchen.

“What is that?” my assistant asked, rising from the couch to follow me. “New toy?”

I touched a specific rune on the rod and then touched one end of the black metal rod to the wall. A heavy 8’x8’ mirror with an ornately crafted frame became manifest against the wall.

“Ooh, impressive,” Jonni said. “That really opens up the room.”

“You don’t know the half of it, Berlin,” I told her as I tapped the end of the rod against the looking glass. The surface of the mirror began to ripple like a pond. “It’s called the Wayfarer’s Arcanum.”

“Oh, that does sound majestic,” Jonni said. “It has sort of a poetic flair.”

“Sure, whatever,“ I told her.

“Really? Then let me borrow your glowing heart pendant,” she said. “I want to do some research.”

“It’s…special,” I said, handing over the rock. “Be careful. Keep the door locked. I’ll be in touch as soon as I can.” With that, I walked through the mirror and found myself in a reflected version of my own living room. Though the scenery was different from my last visit through the darkly reflected realm, the large wooden crate of precious metals was still about where it was before, relatively speaking, just about ten feet in from the mirror. Following the pattern I had learned before, I crossed the room and went through an opening in the wall into darkness.

Breaking up the featureless blackness, there was a seemingly endless line of mirrors to my right and, to my left, a dirty stone floor where a sprawling craftsman’s workshop had been staged for who knew how long. Hard at work at his blazing forge, the lean, tall dark elf known to me alternatively as Teng Rovo-something and as Smith, stood sweating in the hot air as he used his tongs to manipulate something in the hot coals.

Teng looked at me sternly, then back to his forge. Pointing at the bellows with the index finger of his heavy-gauntleted right hand, commanding, “Hotter!” In response to his barked order, the bellows pumped hard, forcing more and more air into the forge. Apparently satisfied for the moment, the mighty smith walked at me with purpose, his long white hair flowing behind him. He pulled off his left gauntlet as he approached and tucked it into his leather apron. “Welcome, Wayfarer. Finally have someplace you need to be?”

“Yeah, that kind of day,” I replied, handing over the Wayfarer’s Arcanum. “Sorry for the interruption.”

“No bother,” he said to my surprise, though still gruffly. “I needed to see you anyway.” He handed over a small wooden box as he said, “Here’s some bullets for you to test. They’re similar to the sample you gave me, but I added some magnetized iron and some extra powder.”

“Yeah, heavy,” I said, taking one out to feel. “I like it. This is great work, Smith. Or do you prefer ‘Teng‘?”

“Either’s fine,” he told me. “Stop trying to make me blush and tell me where you’re going.”

“Corvus Building, downtown,” I said, following him as he bolted off for a mirror before I could even finish speaking. “So you know where it is?”

“What floor?” he smiled.

“Top, thanks,” I told him as he used the obsidian rod to make the rippling mirror show us a bathroom inside the corporate target. “Now, do I need to come back through the same place I go through? I opened a hole in a wall once before.”

“You opened a passage through a wall,” he corrected me. “Use a reflective surface to get back to the mirror hall.”

“Oh, so I made a hole in the wall, like in a cartoon?”

“Sure, I suppose,” he said.

“What if I tap the rod against someone’s head?”

“The Wayfarer’s Arcanum is a finely crafted tool of subtle and ancient magic,” Teng explained, handing it back, “so it will certainly smite your villains mightily, especially when it is applied…upside the head.”

“’Upside the head‘?” I asked in disbelief. “Pick that one up around the forge?”

“Did I use that wrong?”

“No, surprisingly well actually,” I told him.

“Be sure to keep a good grip and remember your follow through. Go forth with confidence and stealth, Wayfarer.”

“On my way,” I said. As I’d arrived, I was off again, stepping through another mirror and back to Corvus. Certainly, it was nowhere near the top of my list of places I wanted to hurry back to and I definitely would’ve been happy about having time to plan, but there were times when evil activities just couldn’t wait to be stomped.

Taking advantage of my speedy travel and the privacy of the bathroom, I pulled the SOC card from my jacket pocket. I took a deep breath and let it out as I whispered, “Murder of crows.” The card began to glow in my hand.

The whispers began at once. A torrent of voices rushed through my mind, a chaotic noise of messages to and from Corvus. Standing still, it seemed that relaxing and clearing my mind would allow me to begin to make some sense of the crosstalk. I also discovered that some of the messages were flying in the form of images. With a little more effort over several minutes, guiding the imagery I paid attention to showed me where to find Harmony inside the Corvus office building. As expected, she’d been brought to the top floor for interrogation.

The Corvus puppet masters were desperate, but they couldn’t lobotomize her and hope to still get the information out of her that they wanted. My best estimation said there was little danger of them dragging her into the ranks of their mindless legions. On top of that, what Harmony and I knew and they didn’t, was that they could spend all night cutting off her fingers and toes without ever getting the info they wanted from her. Neither of us knew the secrets that would save Corvus. They needed to talk to Alex Gold. Harmony needed me to get in and get back out with her. If I was going to have any chance at getting her out whole, it was going to have to be done quickly.

On my last visit, it looked like the heaviest security was down on the first floor. Telling them that I was hired by Moss would’ve gotten me upstairs easily enough. Making up some story about finding their money might even have been enough to get me in the same room with Harmony. After all the effort they’d gone through to get her and bring her in, though, I had the feeling I wasn’t getting her away from them except at gunpoint. On any other job that would’ve given me a big, happy, warm puppy feeling, but I had no idea how many single-minded, reanimated guards and stalkers they might have had that I might not have been able to shoot down even with my shiny, new customized bullets.

Rather than have things play out like a bad zombie movie, I decided to use a technique that had gotten me out of a couple of tight spots before. I climbed up on a sturdy, flipped over trash can and took a disposable lighter to the sprinkler sensor. “What was the name of that restaurant?” I was asking myself when the alarms started blaring. I was soaking wet before I had my feet back on the hard tile floor.

There were only a couple of women screaming and squealing out of the half-dozen running for the stairs. Everyone else I could see was eerily calm, almost sleepwalking away from their cubicles, evacuating in a calm and orderly fashion. Well, at least they knew enough to go…or maybe they were only following an order. Either way, good for me. I didn’t have to kill the lights and the low-light goggles could stay in my coat pocket.

As I moved back through the cubicle maze, I heard a woman yelling from Moss’ corner office. I was surprised I could hear it as far away as I was and in spite of all the relentless noise of the alarms and hiss of the artificial downpour. It had all become unbelievably loud to me. I picked up my pace and stopped at the open doorway. It seemed crazy how very loud everything was. Helen Blazes was standing over Director Moss. I could tell that the office had been wrecked--smashed table, overturned chairs, papers and office supplies strewn about the floor--even before I’d started the water works.

“Get up! Get up!” Helen yelled at Moss as she tried pulling him to his feet. “He’s getting away with her!”

“Stone,” Moss said, hurriedly buttoning his suit jacket to cover a blood stain on his white shirt.

“Brick,” Helen beamed in as charming a tone as I’d ever had thrown my way, “what’re you doing back here so soon? Don‘t tell me you missed me already,” she said, trying to strike a casually sexy pose in a clinging wet dress while the chaos continued around us.

It was almost creepy. “Alright,” I said, “so we’re just pretending that the alarms and the indoor rainstorm aren’t happening? Is that it?”

“I hired Mr. Stone onto the case,” Moss said, sweeping his soaking wet hair back off his face. “Good timing, Stone. That bastard Gold was just here. He made a mess, kidnapped a girl and ran back out again.”

“You just missed him,” Helen added, pointing at the office door.

“So, if I hurry, I can catch him? Got it,” I said. “We’ll talk later.”

Undaunted by the downpour, I raced back to the elevators. By the time I was stabbing at the call button, my mind had been doing flips trying to figure out how I was going to find a homicidal Alex Gold with a captive Harmony Storm. By the time I reached the lobby, it was thick with sleepwalkers filing out the front doors. It felt like I was the only one in a hurry, pushing and squeezing my way through the slow-moving pack. Beyond the doors, I could hear fire engines getting closer and as I made it to the sidewalk along with scores of other people of questionable body temperature the sirens were about two blocks away.

I heard an engine revving and tires squeal nearby. As I continued to push through the mire of drones, I saw an old yellow sedan pulling off from the curb. Alex Gold was in the passenger seat. Well, they were found. That just left catching him and rescuing her. With violent suddenness, more noise and effort, the car swung a U-turn and sped back past the building. Harmony was the driver.

“Brick!” Harmony shouted as they passed.

I could hear the fear in her cry. My heart hammered hard in my chest and my politeness and restraint went for a walk. I started fighting my way forward trying to chase the car. I was pushing and shoving and knocking to the ground people whose only offered resistance came from the inertia of their complete lack of drive to move. Conversely, I was like a lunatic shopping after dark on Christmas Eve and that crappy car was the last of the must-have items on my list.

I felt my hand tighten its grip on the sturdy metal rod it carried as the impulse formed deep in the ancient lizard section of my brain to start swinging at every skull around me. Then, muscles tensing to begin my first assaults, I saw myself. There I was in a frozen moment of rage about to explode, my reflection captured in a window. Weight lifted from my chest and shoulders as I shoved people aside, sweeping them left and right to clear myself a path to the glass just a few feet away. I could just barely see the ghostly image of myself as an image in the glass and began tapping the window with the Wayfarer‘s Arcanum on the chance that it would be a reflective enough surface to get me to where I needed to go.

I fell out of a mirror. To me, it was a random mirror that looked just like any of the countless others that stretched off into featureless black on either side of the one I’d just tumbled through. I picked myself up from what passed for floor and looked to my left and to my right. I saw black and I saw mirrors, but no indication of the fire from Teng’s forge nor the sounds of his work. I had to find him or, at least, the master mirror that would get me home. The rod glowed. Why’d the rod glow? Because I thought of the master mirror? It glowed a little more brightly. Of course, it can point me to the master mirror.

I held the glowing rod to my right and said, “Master mirror,” but the glow faded as I felt only a slight tug to my left. I turned to my left and said, “Master mirror,” again, picturing the huge thing back in my apartment. That time I felt a stronger tug from the rod as it glowed brightly. I started walking. I wasn’t sure how far it was to my reflected living room, but at least I was going the right way.

I had to get on to my next move. It looked like Gold had Harmony driving uptown. The fact that Gold was still alive was becoming less of a secret every passing day. Too many of the wrong people knew he was breathing, in fact, so he couldn’t have been trying to keep Harmony quiet. That ship had sailed. He may’ve finally snapped, but like the folks at Corvus, he must’ve thought she knew something important. Like them, it would make sense that he’d take her to whatever he was calling home to squeeze info out of her…What was the name of that ritzy hotel again?

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