Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Intangible Assets, Chapter 13

I headed to the backstage area as Aimee Simone and the chorus dancers were making their way out front to make the customers feel very special. I didn’t see Rachel come out with the rest of the girls, and it stood to reason that one of Tempeste’s people let her know that I was there.

Rachel was one of the few people that I could say that I trusted absolutely. Her and Calliope, ain’t I just the lucky one? She had come to the attention of White Rabbit, leader of the Resistance in New York, in the course of his trying to move some materiel through Finnegan Family controlled wharves. She had pulled the headman’s bacon out of the fire, and he had asked me to look into her. Despite being a wizard, I find myself more often useful to the Resistance as an investigator, making sure no spies get too close to the operation. Hence my codename: Quisitor.

In the end, it took all of my skills to figure out her history on Earth. My investigation revealed that she was an illegal alien of the most literal variety, a succubus who had not been summoned by an Imperial sorcerer or pressed into the Empire’s Service. A French magician who had actually wanted the most powerful of the Destroyers had summoned her soon after the Resurgence. By dint of a mistranslated rune, he ended up with the youngest of the Tempters for a very brief period. She escaped when an artillery shell destroyed the circle into which she was summoned, along with the house, and managed to avoid the armies then marching across France. She eventually made her way to New York and across my path. There was nothing unresolved in her history to make me suspicious. Since then, we’d been working together as cell. Rachel used the codename Lamb.

That night, I needed her for her expertise. She worked a cycle of clubs in the city. Some nights she worked as Rachel, others Rachelle, yet others as Raquel. The pay she got covered her bills, but it was the people she met that made up for the other coin she needed. With an aura that would catch the attention of any bored apprentice stuck doing screenings at the precinct houses, she needed something better than cash to buy influence to get out of the pen fast. She did that by staying in the know of what was going on in mob land. She used different names to work all of the clubs that were patronized by the crème de la crème of the underworld. She always had the low down on what was happening among the Finnegan, Rinaldi, and Ambrosi families.

I worked my way back to the dressing rooms through the aisles of props and scenes. Rachel was still removing the last of the heavy stage makeup she wore for the number. Without the makeup, she looked as if she couldn’t be more than sixteen. Then again, she would have looked sixteen when she was first summoned eight years before. Hers was hardly the first image that came to mind with the word “succubus”, but I figured that there were guys who get hooked hard on the jailbait. I always found it difficult to describe Rachel. She seemed perfectly at home backstage at a nightclub, but she also came off as sweet as a schoolgirl.  Her eyes and hair were dark, but in ways that seemed to change from moment to moment. She may have been small, no more than five-two, but she can put on attitudes that make her seem to tower over those she confronts.

She saw me approach in her mirror.

“Hey, Sam. What brings you here?”

“I need a reason?”

“To see me? No. To get into hock with Tempeste to see me? Damn straight.”

“I need to know about what went on with regard to Allison Tierney a couple of weeks ago.”

She winced.

“That was some ugly business, but why are you asking? Everyone seems to think that it was all over when Victor died.”

“Let’s just say that dead isn’t what it used to be, and that Allison is still in trouble.”

“Allison? Is she alive?”

“No, she’s a ghost, and she is still being hunted.”

“By Ambrosi?”

“And Tenebrisi.”

Every last bit of the girlie act Rachel concealed herself with left at the mention of Sylvio’s name. In its place was an ancient rage.

“You’re telling me that he hasn’t made his date with my sisters?”

“No, he ain’t burning yet.”

She looked me square in the eye.

“So what do you need to know?”

“I need details on what Victor’s plans were for killing Sylvio.”

“Alright,” she said, “you know that Sylvio was a made man and that Victor wasn’t”

“I’m with you there. Ambrosi had to kill Victor for offing Sylvio.”

“Correct, but he didn’t. At least not right away.”
“Why not?”

“A couple of days after Sylvio killed Allison, Victor went to Ambrosi to ask for vengeance. Everyone was surprised that Ambrosi agreed.”

“Was there any word as to why Ambrosi gave his permission?”

“The story goes that since Allison was Victor’s fiancée, Sylvio had gone way out of bounds when he,” Rachel took a breath to recollect herself, “did what he did.”

“Did that explanation fly?”

“It was the Boss’s word, and no one made any loud noises in complaint.”

“And the quiet noises?”

“The quiet noises were that it was the first that anyone had heard about their engagement.”

“No one knew about their engagement?”

“None of Ambrosi’s boys knew. The girls at the club knew, but that type of thing stays backstage.”


Rachel smiled.

“Take a look at the girls out there, Sam. Half of them are hitched or have steady fellas, but you won’t see one ring in the lot of them. Guys are a lot more generous with an available lady than with someone’s frau.”

“So Ambrosi’s soldiers thought that hitting Sylvio for something that he didn’t know about was a raw deal?”

“Right in one.”

I sat down on the edge of her dressing table, and lit cigarettes for the pair of us.

“So what was the real reason Ambrosi gave the OK for the bump off?”

Rachel shrugged.

“Whatever it was, is, it was something that Ambrosi kept it real close to the vest. Bloody Giuliano probably knows, but then again, he was the one personally making it clear that asking was not the healthy option.”

“So why did Ambrosi change the tune? Why did he blow Victor sky high?”

“If I had to guess, and a guess is all it is, I’d say that Victor didn’t follow through on his end of whatever deal they had.”

“Was Victor spreading stories?”

“No, if anything, Victor wanted to pull a fade and blow town.”

“Heh, instead he blew up.”

Rachel leaned in and lowered her voice to an even more confidential level.

“Well, let me show you why you come to me: Victor was already dead when the car blew.”

     My train of thought came to a screeching halt at that.


“How do I know or how did he die?”

“Tell me both.”

“That’s easy enough to do, I know because one of the guys who was there when Victor died considered it a sweet nothing to whisper in my ear. Hardly my idea of a romantic notion.”

“So what happened?”

“I giggled like a dumb little girl and acted impressed.”

I rolled my eyes at her joke.

“You know what I meant.”

“I know. Anyway, my fella-of-the-moment dragged in Victor for a conversation with Bloody Giuliano. I asked him what the conversation was about, but the only thing he could tell me is that it was too private for him to have been in the room. About a half hour later, Giuliano heads out of the warehouse in a hurry, not saying boo to anyone. My date for the evening looked in on Victor and saw that his head wasn’t sitting right. Something about it being backwards. Anyway, Giuliano comes back barking orders to get the body loaded into a car. Later that night, boom goes Victor.”

“So Giuliano messed up the interrogation, didn’t get the information, then staged the car bomb to at least make it look like his boss wanted Victor dead. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was on the blower to Ambrosi while he had stepped out.”

“That’s my impression.”

I took a draw on my neglected cigarette.

“Victor had something,” I thought out loud.

“Excuse me?” asked Rachel.

“Sorry, putting things together. Victor must have had something as opposed to just knowing it. If it was a matter of something Victor knew, then they could have just bumped him off then and there. If they were having a face to face, then it would mean that he knew something that they didn’t, and I can’t see what it would be other than he had something hidden somewhere.”

“I can’t say I see anything wrong with that. Any ideas as to what Victor had?”

“That’s the rub, but I have an idea. Do you have any notions as to why Ambrosi would have a problem with a monster hunter?”

“Simple, Ambrosi sells protection to the supernaturals in his territory. If the guy makes a move on someone in the neighborhood, Ambrosi has to make good on the policy.”

I had to admit that was a possibility. Before I could ask her another question, I heard a voice by the dressing room door.

“Rachel?” It was Samira. “Sir Arvin has arrived, and Lady Tempeste asks that you attend to him, please.”

“I’ll be right out,” Rachel answered. She then turned to me.

“I don’t need to tell you to be careful?”

“Aren’t I always?”

She reached up and touched the shiner.

“Yeah, but you could do it better.”

She gave me a wink and headed out to the club floor.

Sir Arvin wasn’t going to know what hit him.    

Friday, September 23, 2005

Intangible Assets, Chapter 12

     Club Hades was the “it” place in New York, and had been since shortly after the invasion. The place was a palace, tiers of tables for fine dining, a huge dance floor served by a thirty-piece band, and a stage big enough to put on shows that rivaled Radio City. The bar had a selection that I doubted even the bartenders knew the extent of. If your choice of refreshment ran to things more exotic, then the private rooms were always available. Available, provided that you could pony up the marks.

Despite all of the delights available, I tried to avoid the place whenever possible. It avoided it, because I knew that each time I visited I was pushing my luck.

The push was that everybody, excepting yours truly, wanted to be seen there. Tempeste was a freewheeling hostess, so long as you stayed classy and respected the neutrality of the place. That meant everyone was welcome, so you never knew whom you might run into. The rule of neutrality in the club was absolute, but I was sure that it ended at the parking lot.

I was crossing the parking lot, still contemplating how I was going to talk my way past the mountain at the front door. All right, so Invar might not have been a mountain, but I was sure he must have had one in his ancestry somewhere. Particularly one of those purple ones we used to sing about. The guy was seven feet tall if he was an inch and broad enough that he seemed squat from a distance. I had spoken with him in the past. He’s the type that would stay quiet and let you hang yourself on the assumption that big equals stupid. That was the main reason why I was rehashing the story I was going to use so that it would come out better than “I need to talk to one of the girls, and I promise not to have any fun in the meantime.” Somehow I still doubted that the troll would fall for it.

Instead, when I was a half dozen paces from the door, he beckoned me over. As I approached, he lowered his craggy, blue toned face down toward me.

“Go on in, Watson. She’s expecting you.”

Somehow I knew it wasn’t Rachel he was referring to.

Inside the door I was briefly stopped by a Maitre D who inquired as to my reservation.

“Mr. Watson does not need a reservation.”

The speaker was a young woman, apparently not more than twenty. Aside from the very modern evening dress, she looked as if she had just stepped out of an illustration from the Arabian Nights. Dusky skin, eyes like the desert night sky, and a grace of motion that evoked sand dunes under a steady wind.

“Samira,” I said. I couldn’t help but smile at her. It’s not the people of the place that made me nervous it was more the nature.

She smiled back.

“Good to see you again, Mr. Watson. If you will please follow me?”

As she led me into the main room, I risked a quick look at the magic of Club Hades. The sight that greeted me was a dozen magical auras awash in a current of swirling energies. Samira was the muse of those desert tales; Invar was the dream of warriors who feared the passes in winter. Behind the bar was an embodiment of capricious nature called Bryant, and the dread of shadows at night who went by the name of Nicolai. I saw an ideal of courtly composure and acuity by the name of Lord Corryn ap Taryn, Ambassador from the Sidhe Courts to the Court of the Count of New York City.

Samira led me toward a table upon the second tier opposite the stage, which put it off the physical center of the room. Magically, however, there was no doubt that it was the center. That center was Tempeste Storm. She wore a guise of dreams realized through cleverness and desire. While Fr. O’Brian worked in alliance with the magic of his church, there was no doubt that Tempeste’s will drove the magic in her domain. Not many people realized just how far that domain extended.

I had to close my eyes and let go of the magical awareness I was using. The magic of the club, drawn whole from the fae realms, was intoxicating, and very easy for a mortal to ride into madness.

When I opened my eyes again, I was looking out at the stage. Aimee Simone was singing a tune to set the place swinging. At the time there was no one bigger than Aimee, there wasn’t a producer on Broadway that wouldn’t have traded their left hands to have her in their shows, and yet she played Club Hades on a regular basis. The chorus line was earning their keep, making a pretty frame for the beautiful picture. I spotted Rachel among the formation.

Turning back to the table, my heart almost stopped. Not only because Tempeste, as always, was a vision of elven beauty, but also because I hadn’t noticed her companion. Just another reminder of Tempeste’s power that her aura can make someone fail to notice that of the Sorceress to the Court of Count Addney, Babette de Loring. So far, she didn’t seem to notice that Joe Schmoe private dick approaching her table was lost in contemplation of matters beyond the mortal ken.

Like I said, I was pushing my luck.

Samira had stopped and was looking at me with a hint of a smile on her lips.

“Ms. Storm is expecting you, Mr. Watson.”

I knew that already, and I saw that we were going to play one of Tempeste’s favorite games. Namely, Tempting Fate.

“Miss Storm, Mr. Watson has arrived.”

Tempeste looked up at me with her deep green eyes and smiled. She wore her constant black in the form of a satin sheath dress that covered everything yet concealed nothing. She had her long black hair over one shoulder. She had her midnight black hair draped over one shoulder, revealing one delicate elven ear.

She rose and extended a hand.

“Sam, always a pleasure to see you.”

She turned to her companion.

“Babette, allow me to introduce Sam Watson, one of this city’s finest private investigators. Sam, this is Babette de Loring, Sorceress to the court of Count Addney.”

I took the hand she offered and made a small bow over it. She wore her Order ring, and I could feel the power she ran through it.

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Lady de Loring.”

She gave me a long, appraising look. She was an attractive woman who wore her brown hair in a bob that emphasized her youthful appearance.

Normally, I’d find a way to flirt back when an attractive woman gave me an appraisal like that. That once, I was praying that my concealment didn’t have any holes in it.

“The pleasure is mine, Mr. Watson.” She spoke with a Parisian accent. “I hope that your recent troubles are behind you for now.”

Her comment knocked me askance for a moment, and then I recalled the shiner that Paulie had given me the night before. I laughed. She was relying on the old fortuneteller trick to seem wise beyond the world. I knew it well, used it often, and it hinted to me that she hadn’t seen through my shielding.

“I hope so,” I replied, lightly touching the bruise. “Keeping them in front of me didn’t seem to work too well this time.”

The band chose that moment to strike into a dance number. Almost as if on cue, a gentleman appeared at Babette’s arm.

“Would you care for a dance, My Lady?” he asked.

I recognized him right off: Sir Reginald Blakemore, right-hand man to Count Addney. He had his knighthood, but no explicitly defined role in the court. It was known, however, that if the Count needed something done that could not be connected to him, then Blakemore was the one who saw to it getting done. Not that showing Lady de Loring a night out on the town was something the Count would have been loathe to do.

Lady de Loring looked over to Tempeste, almost as if for permission. Yep, I thought, this place truly does belong to her.

“Oh, go ahead. And don’t worry about me, I can keep myself entertained,” Tempeste said, taking hold of my elbow.

The two courtiers headed out for the dance floor while Tempeste went to retake her seat. I held it out for her and then took my own.

“You certainly have kept yourself entertained,” I said.

“How do you mean?”

“I mean dangling me in front of Babette like that.”

She laughed her little ‘Twas Nothing laugh.

“Sam, I provide entertainment for everyone. You can’t really blame me if your idea of a good time is being uptight and paranoid. Don’t tell me you didn’t get a thrill from dodging the bullet there.”

“I don’t need that type of entertainment, thank you very much.”

“Really? Either that’s an odd choice of eye shadow or you need more practice at dodging.”

We might have been sitting at the most visible table in the club, but I didn’t have any worries about what we were saying. Nothing said at her High Table could be overheard without permission.

I picked up the glass of whiskey that had appeared at my elbow sometime during our conversation. I took a whiff and found it was of a much better caliber than my usual. I looked over at Tempeste. The drink seemed suspiciously like a gift, and she divined my concern.

“You can pay for that with an answer, Sam.”

“No promises,” I said, setting it back down on the table.

“Why is it that you are sticking your nose into Ambrosi’s business?”

I had to think on what I could tell her about that.
“My client is being harassed by someone who won’t let things rest in peace, and I’m just looking to get her out from under.”

She nodded, accepting the answer. The scotch was very good.

“The chorus is about to come out to mingle,” Tempeste said, “Go talk to Rachel.”

I toasted her with the last of my drink, and headed backstage.

“One more thing, Sam.”

I turned.

“Rachel is at work, you know.”

I started to say something. She didn’t let me get started.

“Don’t worry, you can owe me one.”

I was afraid of that.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Intangible Assets, Chapter 11

Dunkirk’s apartment had been cleaned out. Someone in his line of work never just up and leaves. Usually one or the other party has to be dead for that to happen. If Dunkirk had disappeared in such a way that left Fr. O’Brian worried, then I doubted that the hunter was the one who came out on top of his last job. My guess was that he had finally run into something he couldn’t handle, and that that something cleared the place out.

The heat outside was still intense, but at least the sun was low enough that the shadows of the tenements could keep the streets some soaking up even more heat. The neighborhood was starting to show the life that I presumed had gone inside in the face of the sun. There were a couple of elderly ladies dickering over the price of tomatoes with the dwarven owner of the corner bodega. A group of boys were starting a game of stickball in front of a building whose steps had sprouted an ork who was blowing cigarette smoke around his tusk. Voices came down from the open windows, often for the benefit of neighbors across the street.

I slipped the handkerchief with the wood shavings and the foil ring into my pocket. There was a seed of an idea that needed confirmation from Allison. I convinced the boys to pause their game long enough for me to pull out. The drive back to the office was a blur while the majority of my mind was running through the things I had learned in the past few days.

I entered my office to see Calliope and Allison seated around her desk in the waiting room. Their conversation died off as I entered. I had lived for the past decade as a man on the run, keeping an eye out over my shoulder and at a deep level dreading the tread of the Order at my door. So why is it that hearing a conversation between two women come to a crashing halt when I enter the room bring on a screaming case of paranoia?

“You’re a guy, Sam,” answered Calliope.

What she had wasn’t telepathy, and that made it all the scarier. I was yet again glad she was on my side.

“So no problems around here I take it.”

“Nope, not even a peep from Mr. Reiger.”

No complaints from my landlord, always a good sign.

I checked the wards. All good.

Allison was looking at me with a curious look as I sat on the edge of Calliope’s desk. I took the handkerchief out and unfolded it, being careful not to spill any of the wood fragments.

“Ms. Tierney, could you tell me if this means anything to you?” I asked as I held out the foil ring.

“Oh,” she exclaimed, and reached out to take the ring. Her smile fell as her fingers passed through it and my hand.

“Juicy Fruit, right?” she asked.

I nodded.

“It was a little tic Victor had. Whenever he started a new piece, he’d work the foil in his fingers. He started doing that as a kid and I don’t think he ever realized he was doing it until it was done.”

“Did Victor ever talk to you about what he did, exactly?”

“Never anything specific. He worked with stolen goods, moving them from place to place, keeping fences in line, that type of thing.”

And, I thought, he would be the type of guy that Ambrosi would send to clear out someone’s place after Ambrosi had finished dealing with him. A guy like Victor would have known how to dispose of someone’s worldly possessions on the QT while making a decent profit on the side. It would also have been very unlikely that any of the guys with him would have felt a ward or have recognized the physical components of one. I had to wonder, however, if Victor’s experience might have clued him into some things beyond the ordinary.

I nodded as more of the pieces started coming together. What I was learning was also adding to the list of people I needed to talk to.

A quick look at the clock told me that I needed to stick with my plan as to who would was the next person I had on my list.

I looked over to Calliope.

“You said Rachel is working at Club Hades tonight?”

“That’s right, Sam.” Her tone was commiserating, but her smile was telling me that she was taking a bit of good-natured fun at my discomfiture.

Club Hades. That was another headache that I didn’t need right then.

It took me only a few minutes for a quick wash and a change into a cleaner suit.

I was heading out the door when Calliope chimed in.

“Have fun, boss.”

I stopped.

“I almost forgot. Ms. Tierney, I spoke with Fr. O’Brian. He didn’t come right out and say it, but he can protect you if things get too hairy around here. So, Calliope, if there is a problem, get the comb down to St. Mary’s Church on the double.”

Allison smiled at the familiar name. Calliope looked stricken.

“Me? A church? You have to be kidding.”

“Just call ahead if you can, and tell Fr. O’Brian that you work for me. He’ll understand what’s going on and stay focused on what’s important.”

I smiled.

“Have a nice night.”

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Intangible Assets, Chapter 10

So I left the church with two addresses to check out. The first was what I wanted and the second was a surprise. The fact that Fr. O’Brian wanted someone who knew magic to investigate the place knocked it right off of the list of surprises that I enjoyed getting.

It was getting on two in the afternoon when I pulled up in front of Victor’s apartment. The building was a cut above the rest of the neighborhood. The lobby was not secure, but the doors of the units I passed on the way to Victor’s had enough locks to make up for the lack.

One look at the door and I knew that Victor’s place was still vacant. No one would have been living in the place with the door jam fractured as it was. With a quick scan of the hall and my hand on my gun, I pushed open the door and stepped inside.

I had thought that whoever had tossed Allison’s place had done a thorough job. The wreckage of Victor’s place made her apartment look like amateur night. There were holes punched in the wall and the furniture had been turned inside out. I was already giving up on finding the leverage as I started to pick through the debris.

First thing by the door was a coat rack, empty. There was a small table lying on its side next to the rack. It was one of those little things that was small enough to stay out of the way but big enough for a guy to dump the mail and empty his pockets onto. I went looking on the floor for whatever might have been on it when it went over. There were a couple of bills, some loose change, and receipts.

The dust in the place was about as heavy as it was at Allison’s. That made sense; it would put the ransackings at roughly the same time. As for searching the rest of the place, nothing else approached interesting, much less useful. Nothing except broken woodwork, torn fabrics, and disemboweled furniture. I had to write the whole exercise off as a long shot that didn’t pay off.

And speaking of paying off, I still had my part of the deal with Fr. O’Brian to make good on. I briefly considered just shining him on, but I knew he worked for a boss that kept real good track of things like that.

I could have walked from Victor’s to Dunkirk’s apartment. The second was in the type of place that I knew all to well, seeing as how I was living in one. It was the type that you went to when the first amenity you are looking for was anonymity. The rest, including having a floor that doesn’t fall out from under you, you got and felt lucky to have it.

No elevator, and the stairs to the third floor doubled as the trash chute. As I went up the stairs, I slipped my ring onto my finger. The rune engraved silver and the white stone felt like old friends. My sense of the background magic sharpened, and I knew that what control I could exercise on it was enhanced as well. I had always thought of the ring as being like a knife: it didn’t make me any stronger, but I could use what strength I had that much more effectively.

The door to Dunkirk’s apartment was already open when I approached. The signs of force were clear on the jam, and I bent down to take a look. I quickly realized two things: one, whoever broke the door had used a crowbar, and two, there were the remnants of power from a ward on what was left.

I concentrated my sight on the doorway. The ward was no longer active. It seemed to me that it had expired from neglect rather than breaching.

I stepped inside, and after a quick scan to check for occupants in the room, I turned my attention to the interior of the door. Mr. Dunkirk obviously valued protection over getting his deposit back. The interior of the frame had been carved with runes. I couldn’t say that I was impressed by his method; he seemed to think that more was better; there wasn’t an inch of the frame that wasn’t carved. The symbology was religious, but there are only so many ways to make a ward. The caster has to specify what is to be excluded, and Dunkirk had decided not to entertain anything other than red-blooded humans. I recognized runes for all the major classes of demons, fae, ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and dragons. That last struck me as odd, no one had even seen a dragon since the resurgence, but evidently Dunkirk did not believe in taking chances. The wards were created so as to completely block the entry of anything not permitted. I could make out from the doorway that the windows had received the same treatment. When those wards were powered, the place would have been a supernatural bunker.

Dunkirk had most definitely been aware of the supernatural. I reached out to touch the history of the room. Very little living had been done there; it was nothing more than a dormitory for one man. I got the sense of paranoia, fear, and a little madness. Nothing surprising all told, a person would have to be more than a little crazy to make hunting the supernatural his life’s work.

The apartment was a simple studio. There was a bed and an armchair, both divotted in the center and presumably came with the apartment. The cabinets next to a one-burner gas cook top all stood open and empty. A scarred wardrobe also stood open. The floor was littered with greasy bits of food wrap and newspapers. The topmost of the newspapers was dated three months previously, and the food wrappers had been picked clean by the roaches some time ago.

     Over by the wardrobe, I spotted a pattern crushed into the rug. It looked like a pair of rectangles, angled relative to one another and almost touching at one corner. It took me a minute to picture what might have made that impression: a steamer trunk, opened, and standing on end for a long time. Long enough that the rug had a slightly balder patch between the trunk and the edge of the bed. Light brown flecks dusted the rug near the bed. I knelt down and picked one up with the end of my finger. A shaving of wood. More like a part of a shaving that had been stepped on and ground into the rug. I had an idea about the wood, but I still removed a clean handkerchief from my pocket and brushed a few of the flecks into it.

     That done, I bent down to the floor to take a look under the bed. That’s when I saw something that I did not expect to see. It was a thin, silvery ring. I picked it up, its surface was foil crinkled in on itself. And it still smelled faintly of Juicy Fruit.     

Monday, September 19, 2005

Intangible Assets, Chapter 9

     I woke up to find all of the injuries I had taken the day before were back to collect, with interest. My hand felt as if I had been demolishing cars with my fist, and my back was still complaining about my room spanning flight. At least my nose worked, and it told me that Calliope was already in and had made coffee. All in all, I’d had worse mornings.

     “Morning, Sam.”

Calliope, as always, looked like a vision. She had headed out not long before I went to bed, and I doubted that she had gone straight to her apartment. I shrugged the comparison off, I was sure that whatever she had been up to was a lot closer to a sane person’s definition of fun than what I had done the day before.

“Good morning. Any sign of Allison this morning?”

“Nope, haven’t seen her,” she said as she set a cup of coffee and the Imperial Times on my desk.

“Okay. Any appointments for today?”

“None.” She didn’t even let on that that had been the same answer for two weeks straight.

“For once, I’m glad. I’ll be heading out for most of the day. When she does show up, the comb is in the safe.”

“And you’ll be where, may I ask?”

“Looking for more details on Victor. Ambrosi still seems hot on whatever Victor had over him, and our best bet on getting out of this is getting our hands on whatever it is.”

Calliope nodded.

“OK, then I’ll hold down the fort, beat off the creditors, and play hostess to a ghost while you’re away. Never a dull day around here.”

“Never let anyone say I don’t appreciate what you do. By the way, got any ideas on where Rachel is working tonight?”

“And what type of big sister would I be if I didn’t? She’ll be at Club Hades.”

“Oh, swell.” Dealing with that place would have to wait, though.

The morning was already in full swing by the time I headed out to my car. The mercury was up at a decent level and only promised to climb. I quickly regretted wearing the suit jacket, but I would have rather dealt with the temperature than deal with the cops for not keeping my gun covered.

Being an obstacle to Giaccomo Ambrosi was not a calling that had much of a future to it. Victor Caretti hadn’t done too well by it, and he had had something that should have bought him an advantage. If I was going to figure out just what that was, I would need more information than Allison had provided.

My first stop for the day was St. Mary’s Church. It was only a few blocks from Allison’s apartment, and I figured that Victor would not have planned on settling down outside of his old neighborhood, especially if that meant outside of his boss’s sphere of influence. If there were anyone in the neighborhood who knows what was going on in the local’s lives, it would be the parish priest.

The church looked like a small cathedral, stonewalls with tall stained glass windows, all of it topped by a narrow steeple. Behind the church, I could just make out a more institutional building that looked to have been made of stones from the same quarry as the church.

A sensation of power made itself felt as I mounted the steps toward the open doors. I steeled myself as I stepped over the threshold. Fortunately, the presence did not object to wizards crossing into its protectorate. If anything, I felt a sense of welcome, an invitation to relax my guard in this place of sanctuary.

I dipped my fingers into the holy water by the door and crossed myself. Not for the first time, I wondered if knowing was somehow less than simply believing.

A priest in full robes came of a door by the altar as I started making my way up the aisle. I put his age at about fifty, gray and balding, but he still moved quickly without appearing to rush. Beyond the physical, he moved in perfect accord with the power of the place, both served the same purpose.

He approached with a smile. He wasn’t looking at me as if to see what was going on behind my surface, but he must have had me made the instant I passed through the doors.

“Good morning. I am Father O’Brian. Is there some way I may be of assistance, my son?”

“Yes, my name is Sam Watson, I’m a private detective. I was hoping that you might be able to answer some questions for me.”

“Indeed? May I ask what your visit pertains to?”

“I’m investigating the deaths of Allison Tierney and Victor Caretti.”

The briefest flicker of surprise crossed his face.

“Would you care to come with me to my office, Mr. Watson?”

His office proved to a cell-like room with a small desk and overflowing bookshelves leaving little room for two people to have a discussion.

“Could I offer you something to drink, Mr. Watson?”

“Thank you, a glass of water would be excellent right now,” I said as I fanned myself with my hat.

“Certainly. Please, have a seat.”

I took the opportunity to look around at the books on the shelves. There were records dating back a little over a century filling one case. Another set of shelves had numerous books with bindings describing their contents as histories ranging from the city to the country to Europe. Further along were tomes with titles written in Latin and Greek. Among them were treatises on demonology and monsters that I recalled from training.

“Do you read Latin, Mr. Watson?” Fr. O’Brian had returned with a pair of glasses of ice water.

“I recall a bit from school. It is an impressive collection.”

“Thank you. I often wish that it was merely a hobby, but times being what they are…” he let the thought die off as he handed me a glass.

“Oh, thank you,” I said. Where I used the water as an excuse to look around unhindered, he used it to look at my hand as I reached for it. There was no way for him not to notice that I did not wear an Order ring.

He worked his way around the desk and sat down.

“I’ll answer your questions as well as I may, but you must understand that there are some areas of which I am not allowed to discuss.”

“I understand, the sanctity of the confessional. First, I understand that Victor and Allison had been engaged?”

“Yes, we had even made arrangements to have the ceremony this coming December. I understand, however, that they had not made any public announcement of their betrothal.”

“Had they known each other long before the engagement?”

“Oh, yes. Their families lived in the same building since the two were toddlers, and Victor had always taken to protecting her. In the wake of the deaths of both of their parents, they relied even more upon one another. They were inseparable during their time in the orphanage, and everyone who knew them believed that it was only a matter of time before they got married.”

He stopped as if an odd thought had crossed his mind and asked, “Mr. Watson, may I inquire as to why you are looking into this matter?”

“I’m sorry, Father, but I also have an obligation to maintain a confidence.” From what I sensed of the benevolent nature of this church and its caretaker, I decided to take a leap. “Suffice it to say that my client does not feel well served in the official investigation of the murder of Allison Tierney.”

“I was of the understanding that the sheriff had ruled her death an accident.”

“That was the conclusion of the detectives, but my client strongly believes otherwise. From what I have already gathered, Victor was similarly unconvinced?”

“Victor was not unconvinced. He knew that she had been murdered.”

“You say that he knew. I take it that you did not doubt the accuracy of his conclusion, then?”

“No, I do not doubt Victor’s conclusion. I made a few inquiries with other members of the congregation who were at work in the Silver Club that night. They all confirmed that confrontation between Allison and Tenebrisi.”

Fr. O’Brian took a sip of water from his glass.

“Sylvio Tenebrisi was a monster, and that is not a word that I use lightly, Mr. Watson. He used violence upon whomever he chose for any gain, and at times for sport. Allison was a strong woman. Victor taught her how to take care of herself in much the way that she taught Victor how to remain human despite everything that had happened to them. She protected herself, and in the end it may have lead to her death.

“Without her there to be his touchstone, there was nothing left to stop Victor from falling to his desire for vengeance.”

“He didn’t come to you for counseling or advice?” I asked.

“No, I went to him. I told him that vengeance would only scar his soul on top of the wound it had already taken. He did not listen.”

“And afterward?”

“And of afterward I may not speak, for it happened within the confessional, and aside from that, I had not spoken with him.”

Great, I thought, and now we hit the brick wall.

“From what I’ve been able to gather so far, Victor believed that he had something that would have allowed him to avoid Ambrosi’s vengeance for Tenebrisi’s death. Would you have any idea what that might have been?”

Fr. O’Brian looked me over closely at that.

“I’m sorry Mr. Watson, I there’s nothing I can say about anything like that.”

His tone of voice had not changed, but something behind his eyes slammed shut like a vault door. My instinct said that pushing on this topic would burn any further cooperation I might get from the good Father.

“Would you happen to have Victor’s address handy?”

“I could give it to you, but I’m afraid no one has lived there since his passing. Even then, I should be keeping such records private as well.”

“I’d hardly think that Victor would mind very much now.”

“Even so, Mr. Watson. But perhaps…” he said looking me over.


“I could give you the address, in return for a favor.”

“What type of favor?”

“There is another member of the congregation that I have lost touch with. His name is Albert Dunkirk. He aids various diocese in defending their faithful with more, shall we say, active means. If I asked you to go look in on his place, I believe that you would have an appreciation of certain details that the sheriff’s deputies would lack.”

“I’m already working a case, Father.”

“And all I’m asking is that you look in upon his residence with no obligation to pursue further. That is all.”

I had to consider for a moment.

“Alright, but just to look in, nothing more.”


With that, Fr. O’Brian reached into a drawer and removed a large ledger book. Less than a minute later he handed me a scrap of paper with two addresses. The first was Victor’s apartment. The other was that of Albert Dunkirk, Fr. O’Brian’s missing associate.

I prayed that it wasn’t one of those favors that blew up in your face.

“Thank you, for your time, Father,” I said.

“Let me show you out.”

We entered into the nave of the church.

“Oh, just one more thing, Mr. Watson,” said the priest.

I was ready for yet more good news.


“This church,” he said with his arms wide to encompass the whole structure, “is a place of sanctuary. If you or any other soul have need of God’s protection, one needs but ask, and it shall be granted.”

“Thanks, Father, I’ll keep that in mind.”

With that we shook hands, and I headed out to take a look at Victor Caretti’s apartment.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Intangible Assets, Chapter 8

     Once again Allison was standing in my office. There was a list of differences between the first and second visits, however.

     First was that I didn’t even get a tinge from the ward. While I had included her in among those allowed to pass, it still would have warned me of her arrival. She had simply formed where I saw her standing.

     Second, her appearance was just as sharp as it had been in the apartment. I scored one in my column for being right about the comb.

     Third was her expression. I barely had to extend my senses to tell that the fear that made up her presence previously had by now transformed almost entirely into rage.

     “Welcome back, Ms. Tierney,” I said, as if ghosts showed up in my office everyday. People assumed that wizards always knew what was coming, and it took effort to keep that reputation intact.

     She started as if I had shaken her awake. She looked about the office in confusion until she fixed upon me.

     “What? How did I get here? Last thing I remember was trying to cut that bastard’s eyes out.” She stepped around the desk and fell into a chair.

     “Didn’t you hear me tell you to get out?”

     “You mean that he was there? Yes, I heard you, but there was no way in hell that I was going to run from him again. Not when they were burning by apartment.”

     That was something of a surprise. They must have set to that pretty quick after the commotion I had helped make. The more I considered it, however, the more sense it made, at least in the terms I was coming to understand as I slowly reinvented that particular wheel.

     The energy seemed to flow out of her once she sat down. I might not have been able to offer her a drink, but I did have the cigarette trick down by then. She was on her second drag by the time she appreciated the oddity of it, but I made like it wasn’t a big deal. Just another part of keeping up appearances.

“I need to ask you some questions. If we can figure out why they want you gone, then we can figure out how to beat them. You with me on this?”

     She nodded, not taking her eyes off of the curling smoke.

     “Do you know the man who is trying to destroy you?”

     “I wasn’t sure until I saw him tonight. His name is Sylvio Tenebrisi.”
“Good. Why do you think that he is after you?”

She exhaled a wisp of smoke with a sardonic snort.

“Maybe he doesn’t think that killing me once was enough.”

I had to run that one through my head a second time to be sure I got the gist of it.

“You mean that he was the one who murdered you?”

She nodded.

“He’s the type of guy who doesn’t take no for answer. It didn’t matter if the lady’s date was right next to her, he’d move in like he already owned her.”

“And none of the guys had anything to say about this?”

“Sylvio had a nasty reputation. Word was that he was the knife Giaccomo Ambrosi turned to when he wanted a special message sent. There were enough stories about what he did to people to keep guys from getting too chivalrous.”

“Hold the phone, you’re saying that Victor and Sylvio were both working for Ambrosi?”

She nodded.

“Yes. That kept Sylvio off me for a while, but one night he was pretty full of himself, and Victor was dealing with some smugglers down on the docks.”

Her gaze moved to the comb sitting on the desk. As I looked between it and her, I could see that she was wearing one much like it. It was the type without a handle that held up the bun she wore.

“You should know that Victor and I went way back. Schoolbooks and puppy love back. I don’t know why he took to protecting me, but nobody pushed me around without getting a bloody nose. I suppose I helped keep him from turning into a complete bully. He gave me that when we were in middle school.” She indicated the comb with a nod.

“We had both lost our parents during the invasion and ended up relying on each other. He knew that he couldn’t be with me all the time, so he taught me a few tricks to keep myself safe.”

Her hand slid up her leg along the high slit of her dress. The hem rose up until it reached her garter and the item it held.

“I didn’t remember having this until I saw him tonight.” A slight metallic ring and four inches of bright steel punctuated her contemplation. Her eyes went from the stiletto to me. “Another gift from Victor.”

“Like I said, Victor was at the docks, and I was working my hostess job at the Silver Club. Sylvio came over to the table and chased off the high rollers I was making feel welcome. Next thing you know he’s getting all familiar and not letting on that he could hear the word ‘No’. Eventually, I had the knife right up where it counted and told him that if he insisted on playing trespasser, I’d start playing jewel thief. He took the hint at that point.

“I think I would have been okay if one of his boys hadn’t laughed. Wasn’t even much of a laugh, nothing more than a snort. Sylvio heard it, and I might as well have cut off his balls.

“I should have been more careful opening my door that night. Victor had a key, but he always knocked. He said that I made him want to act like a gentleman. So when I heard the knock, I assumed it was him. I’d barely cracked the door when Sylvio shoved it open on me. I hadn’t caught my balance before he was on me.”

Her eyes weren’t focused on anything as she spoke. She wasn’t seeing anything in my office at that moment, and I would have given anything to be able to put a comforting hand on her shoulder.

“He raped me right there in my own home. He laughed at me and looked right in my eyes as he choked me.”

She sat for several minutes, simply watching the smoke of her cigarette curl toward the ceiling.

“The next thing I knew I was back in my apartment. I saw Victor sitting on my bed crying. I wanted to touch him, to tell him that things would be all right. But I knew. I knew that he couldn’t have heard me.

“There wasn’t any way for him to know I was there, but he spoke to me anyway. He had my knife in his hand, and he promised me that he would kill the bastard. Victor didn’t care that Sylvio was a made man. He said that he had plans that would keep him safe. He said that even if Ambrosi found out it was him that killed Sylvio that he had enough on Ambrosi to get one of the other families to shelter him.

“In the end, he killed Sylvio. Victor even used my knife to cut Sylvio’s throat. I was there when he did it, and I know that Sylvio saw me just as he was dying.

“Victor dumped his body into the river, and he seemed to have gotten away with it.”

“Then the bomb,” I said.

She nodded.

“I was in the apartment when I heard the car pull up. I saw Angelo Giuliano get out of the car, and he leaned back in. I leaned out the window, and could hear him talking to Victor.”

I was tempted to break in on that name. Angelo “Bloody” Giuliano was Ambrosi’s number two man. The more I heard of this story, the further up the food chain I found myself.

“He said, ‘Keep the car running, Sylvio wants to have a few words with you.’”

She bit back a sob. “Sometimes I could have sworn that Victor could hear me. Oh, God, why didn’t he hear me then? I saw Sylvio, standing across the street, grinning to beat the band. He looked me in the eye and tipped his hat to me. I screamed at Victor to get out of the car, but he didn’t hear me.”

I gave her a few moments to compose herself while I let the new information run itself through my mind. The first thing that bothered me was that while I could understand Sylvio coming for payback on his own, the fact that he had living goons backing him up meant that someone else was willing to spend some assets on his behalf.

Allison looked bone weary, but I still needed more.

“I take it that Victor was keeping up the apartment.”

“Yes, he and I were going to live there after the wedding, but I had already moved in from my old place.”

“And he didn’t break stuff out of grief or rage?”

“No, if anything, he treated it like a museum.”

“So then it was someone else who tossed the place?”

She paused to consider.

“I don’t remember that happening, but it wouldn’t have been Victor.”

“Was it before or after the bomb?”

“I don’t know, after I think. I don’t remember much after the bomb other than Sylvio’s attack and dealing with you.”

“Did Victor ever say what it was he had on Ambrosi?”

“No, only that it would make Ambrosi think twice about making good for Sylvio.”

She looked to be having trouble keeping her eyes open. That and she was starting to go transparent again. Did ghosts need sleep? Evidently they did.

“Try to get some rest,” I told her. I figured that she’d be right there when she woke up. That is, if my theory that the comb was one of her connections to the world of the living was correct.

She disappeared entirely without opening her eyes again. I picked up my glass of bourbon and downed it without really caring about the pain.

“So what are you going to do, Sam?”

I had completely forgotten that Calliope had been in the next room. She was standing in the doorway with an expression that I was very glad was not directed at me personally.

I picked up the comb and traced its details with my fingertips.

“I’m not sure. What I do know is that we’re in this up to our eyeballs.”

Monday, September 12, 2005

Intangible Assets, Chapter 7

     As I did with the walk to the car, I drove so that I approached the office from the far side. The goons who were looking to clear out Allison’s apartment were probably as anxious as I was to avoid the sheriff’s men. That didn’t mean that I wasn’t going to be careful.

     Strictly speaking, I wasn’t certain that they were working with the other ghost.  My principled aversion to coincidence made up for the uncertainty. Paulie had figured pretty quick that I was talking to a ghost. He had also figured that I might just be useful for an introduction to the lady of the house. They were there to pick up a few things that might get a certain lady’s attention. My experiment went quicker because I was already on speaking terms with her.

Then there was the matter of the wraithly heavy on the fire escape. How long had he been observing the action in that room? Probably long enough to figure that the comb was something important in the spectral scheme of things. My little experiment must have saved them some work.

By the time I parked my car, all of the pain I’d put off clamored for attention with more enthusiasm than my dwarven landlord calling for back rent. I decided to cancel the rest of my appointments for the day by the time I had climbed the stairs and into my office. I was vaguely surprised to see Calliope there. At least she would have been able to contact my clients about the cancellations, had there been any to cancel.

She didn’t even bat an eye when she saw the state I was in.

“This is not what I meant when I said that you should go out and try to have a good time.” She picked up a small pocketbook and headed for the door. “I’ll be right back.”

I slipped out of my coat, wincing at the aches settling into my shoulders and back. Once out of the coat, I opened one of the middle drawers of the filing cabinet and removed the silk, candle, and chalk. I cleared my desk and spread the cloth so that the incomplete circle painted on the silk was smooth. The candle went in the center. I lit the candle and held the end of the chalk in the flame. I drew the runes of warding at the ordinal points of the broken circle, and copied the same runes upon the walls of the office, this time speaking the names of the permitted. This ward was going to be more than just the alert I had up the previous night, nothing magical would cross it without a fight. I named to Allison among the permitted in addition to Calliope and myself.

With that step done, I returned to the desk. Intoning the final invocation of Warding, I drew the last part of the arc to complete the circle about the candle. The sigils flared both on the silk and on the walls. When the lights faded, the runes were no longer visible on either, but the circle on the silk was still complete.

The silk, extinguished candle, and chalk went back into the drawer. The ward complete, I went to the bathroom to take stock of the damage. That’s the way it got done: first the ward, then the wizard.

Thankfully, I still had all of my teeth, though I’d keep my chewing to the left for the next week or so. The only other real damage was to my hand. Knuckles just aren’t designed to channel that much Force. Supposedly there were Chinamen who could throw punches like that all day long. One of these days I’d have to get around to asking one of them how they do that. Just as soon as I met one who could and wasn’t of a mind to demonstrate the technique on my person.

I had just managed to pry open a bottle of aspirin when Calliope returned.

“You in here, boss?”

I responded with a relieved groan as I slipped into my chair.

“I noticed the welcome mat,” she said with a nod that encompassed the office. “Expecting the party to follow you home?”

She set a paper bag down on the desk. A pair of greasy, newspaper wrapped bundles and a rattling ice bag emerged from its confines. Calliope handed me the ice bag and set to unwrapping the packages of fish and chips from the café next door.

I twisted the cap off the ice bag and shook a couple of cubes into a reasonably clean tumbler. The ice was followed with a double’s worth of bourbon before I closed the bag and applied said bag to my face.

“I doubt anyone managed to follow me, but no point in taking the chance.”

The slug I took off the bourbon nearly ended up on the desk. I screwed my eyes shut and swallowed through the pain. At least the newly discovered lacerations on the inside of my cheek were disinfected. The rest of the bourbon would have to wait for later.

“So what’s the case?” Calliope asked as she brought a morsel of fried fish to her full, inviting lips. “Sam?”

It took me a moment to register that she had asked me a question. She didn’t let on if my distraction irritated her. I figured that it was the type of thing a girl got used to as a succubus.

“Oh, sorry,” I popped a chip in my mouth to cover the delay in my reaction. “Her name is Allison Tierney. She came in last night with a story about how someone was trying to, um, kill her.”

“And, of course, Sir Samuel leaped forward into the fray to absorb the blows meant for the fair damsel in distress.” She punctuated her analysis by sucking a bit of vinegar off of her thumb.

“It’s a touch more complicated than that,” I said, concentrating on relieving my injured teeth from chewing duty.

“Really? Complicated how?”

“She’s already dead.”

Calliope paused with a chip halfway up.

“ ‘Already dead’ as in ‘not a customer to list as a reference’ or ‘already dead’ as in ‘who should I be haunting’?”

“More like the second. She said that another ghost tried to off her. I was at her place this afternoon when I ran into some of her attacker’s more physical associates.”

I winced as I absentmindedly tongued a chip to the wrong side.

“Would this Allison be tall, brunette, and wearing a red dress?” Calliope asked. My gaze, which had drifted away from her in order to keep my mind on the case, turned back to her. Calliope was looking over my right shoulder.

“That’s right.”

“Then there is a Ms. Tierney here to see you.”

While the distraction inherent of working with a Lilliam was hardly onerous, there were other advantages. The big one was that Calliope always saw magically while I had to do so consciously. That edge had saved my bacon more than once.

At that moment, however, I intended to have a too long delayed conversation with my client.    

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Intangible Assets, Chapter 6

     I snatched up a piece of mirror and put my back up next to the door. With the shard angled down the hall, I had a decent view of the new arrivals. Their suits were too good for any of the Sheriff’s boys to afford, and the cops wouldn’t have bothered with the lock picks. Clearly the guy who used the picks knew their use, and I didn’t want to bet against him having equal familiarity with the gun he tucked the picks next to.

     The first guy through the door turned to the pick man and handed him a sack.

     “Clear the bedroom. Do it quick,” he said.


     I looked for the windows. The alley side window had a fire escape, but I couldn’t get there without getting spotted. So entirely subtle was out.

     A last glance in the mirror had the speaker moving further into the living room. I swapped the glass for my piece. When the pick man entered the room, I grabbed him by the lapel, spun him around, and pushed him into the wall I had been holding up. His mind gave up shouting while it considered the thirty-two-caliber tunnel I had poked at his eye.

     “Who is he?” Allison asked from over my shoulder. “What is he doing here?”

     “Give me a minute, will you?” I muttered, hoping my voice didn’t carry.

     It’s pretty easy to tell what a person is thinking from six inches away. He was thinking that not only does that guy have a gun in my face but also he’s crazy. Then he understood.

     I wished he had stayed with crazy.

     I went to punch him down with the butt of my gun, but pick man was faster. He was also entirely too strong as I went flying across the room and into the dresser. My fall was accompanied by the last hurrah of the pieces of mirror that survived the first search.

     “Paulie, what the hell ya doin’ in there?”

Paulie was at that moment taking the five paces needed to cross the space he had propelled me across. He arrived and made sure my gun departed. With the return stroke he gave me a backhand that would have rung Big Ben.

“He’s too damn small to be that strong,” I thought.

“We’ve got ourselves a visitor. I think he can introduce us to the dame. I figure the boss would like… aaahh!!”

Paulie let go of my jacket and hobbled backward. I had barely registered the shard of mirror in his calf before I let fly with my fist. The punch itself wasn’t decisive. What settled it was the shot of Force I cut loose with it. I felt his jaw break as he left his feet in favor of his back.

I couldn’t stop to admire my handiwork. I’d scooped up my gun was picking up the comb when Paulie’s pal made it into the room. He was a real Boy Scout, gun prepared and everything. A big Boy Scout at that, six-two at least.

He spotted Paulie laid out on the floor and decided to let his piece collect the payback for him. By then, I was headed for the alley window, spitting a couple of rounds behind me to keep the big guy honest.

“Don’t let him leave with that comb!” said an unknown voice.

I couldn’t tell if the big scout had actually heard the voice, but he fired a round my way as I went headlong through the window onto the fire escape. I thought my number was up when I saw the man in the dark suit standing above me. Then I realized that my hand was in his foot and neither of us had noticed.

“Allison, go! He’s here!” I shouted.

I didn’t stop to see if she heard my warning. I was crawling to the ladder when the fire escape vibrated as if a small hammer had hit it very hard. There was another suit in the alley below joining the party. Over my shoulder I saw a laughing ghost and the big scout lean out the window sporting a fresh gash close to his left eye.

I slid partway down the ladder. Up was no good, ditto with down, and my time was running out.

The fire escape across the alley was at least twelve feet away. If a wizard tries hard enough, he can fly. Too bad I never got to those lessons.

I pushed off the ladder about halfway down, used the third floor railing for a step, and launched myself into space.

My vision had narrowed down to the deck of the third floor landing across the way. All of my Will was focused on the bar at the outer edge. My fingers closed around it, and I pulled, tucked my knees up, and swung. The skin on my palms tore, and my legs slammed into the wall of the building. I forced my mind to defer feeling those new insults until later.

A bullet singing off the metal of the fire escape snapped me out of the state. Big scout had climbed out onto his landing and was shooting at me again. The ground pounder was nowhere to be seen.

For the first time since I came to this town I was glad for the August heat when I found the window I landed next to was open. I climbed in to see an old lady washing dishes while surrounded by a half-dozen cats. She seemed to be having difficulty processing the situation.

“Pardon me,” I said, “I’ll show myself out.”

I figured that ground pounder had to be working his way in once I went through the window. So I needed a way to cover my escape. That was easy enough as I hit the glass-covered fire alarm button.

Some people stuck their heads out into the hallways as I walked for the far side of the building. The sensible ones had grabbed their hats or purses and were starting to fill the halls. The end of the hall had a door to the fire escape, and I joined the few who had taken the exterior route.

Once on the ground, I pulled together my best impression of invisible and took the long route back to my car.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Intangible Assets, Chapter 5

     It was time to check out Ms. Tierney’s apartment. I needed more information about her. Seeing how she lived would give me some insight into her and the bigger picture. If she still haunted the place, all the better. Thankfully, she was in the book.

     Her place was up in the area between Central Park and Harlem. The neighborhood, like any other, had its good points and bad points. The apartment building I was looking at made a fair bid for being one of the better points. Of course, apartments like that tend not to stay vacant very long. She had spoken about “coming to” in her apartment after the attack, so I figured that the apartment was her version of Cutler’s alley. How it wasn’t someone else’s apartment by now was a question that needed answering.

I had to park a couple of blocks off from the apartment. As I approached the building, I saw another resident unlocking the front door. I was too far away to get to it before it shut, but I was close enough to let a bare finger of power nudge the door so that it didn’t latch. Sometimes, as a mage, you get to make your own luck.

     The call box by the door still bore the name Tierney. Inside, the lobby was spotless and echoed the footsteps that rang off the mirror-shined tile floor. I gave the elevator a pass and took the stairs to the fourth floor.

     The place definitely put my office-cum-apartment to shame. No water stains on the ceiling, clean carpet rather than tiles with trails burned into them, and no smell of the cabbage Mrs. Kranski had cooked last year.

     Aside from the number, the door to Apartment 414 looked like all the others, yet another sign this place was of a swanker nature than my own accommodations. I knocked on the door, just in case I was incorrect about the apartment’s occupancy status. When no one answered, I took my case of lock picks out of my breast pocket. I really had no idea how to use the damn things, but they made for a good focus for my actual method. I closed my eyes as I inserted the pick and felt around the interior of the lock with the rake. Visualizing the tumblers, I willed an invocation of Motion into them. The lock turned with a bit of protest, and I breathed a sigh of relief. My fine control of Motion was shaky, and I was fortunate not to have busted the lock entirely. It was a truism of all magic: the creation and control of large forces may be impressive, but subtlety and precision are the marks of true skill.

     The door proved to be a boundary of order. The interior of the apartment looked like a box of knick-knacks that had been rolled a couple of times. Furniture had been overturned, and everything that might have been on a shelf was now on the floor.

Allison’s body had been found on a sidewalk in Chinatown, and the police report mentioned nothing about searching her residence. I had to figure the people who tossed the place weren’t given little metal badges when they signed up. A layer of dust covered the disarray, so no one had been in the apartment for at least a week or two. Miss Tierney had ceased doing anything life related two months ago, and that most certainly would have involved paying the rent. So why was the apartment not occupied by someone else?

     Answer: her rent must have been paid up in advance. I’d have to ask some questions of either Allison or her landlord.

     I carefully stepped my way to the center of the living room. I cleared my mind and let my senses reach out. Fear and the desperate need for just one more breath rushed in on me, and I had to slam down my barriers almost immediately. The residue of the murder was still fresh in the abandoned apartment. There had been no living done in there to dilute the force of the fear with new emotions. Unlike Cutler, who never saw the gun put to the back of his head, Allison had been strangled and she had seen her death coming.

Barely discernable behind that rush of sensation was a presence similar to what I felt cross my ward the night before. With this second experience, I could feel her as fear just as it was being pushed over into anger. The background emotion of the apartment made functioning on that level just too distracting. It would have been like trying to have a discussion in the middle of a steel plant. She’d have to come to me, and that would be on her time.

I took the opportunity to poke around the wreckage. Pieces of mail and fragments of ceramic knick-knacks shared the floor with magazines and cushions from the sofa. The mail was nothing more than advertising flyers. No letters, no bills. The wireless set had been moved away from the wall and its backing had been torn off. I looked for the ventilation grates. They too had been removed. Whoever had searched the place knew all the tricks.

The kitchen was small. All of the cabinets were open and their contents spilled out on the floor. Not that there was much, a couple of brand new pots and pans, a basic set of silverware, and the remnants of maybe a half dozen wineglasses.

I moved on to the bedroom. It sat in the corner of the building, one window looked out across the street, the other across the alley and the next building’s fire escape. The interior of the room was in no better state than the rest of the apartment. The mattress had been up-ended and now sagged down the far wall. The contents of the closet might as well have been spat out onto the bedroom floor. A lot of silk, almost as much satin, and enough fur to denude a zoo. Underneath some of the dresses, was a thin layer of a man’s clothes. A couple of shirts and a suit. The suit would have looked pretty snazzy after a pressing, certainly better than anything I owned.

A chest of drawers stood empty next to the closet. Mostly her stuff, but there was a pile of boxers and socks amid the wreckage. The disarray on top of the chest was mostly the clutter of life: loose change, receipts and the like. Among the scatterings were thin silver rings. I picked one up. It was the foil from a stick of gum, rolled into a rod and its ends joined together. I took a sniff: Juicy Fruit.

I let my nose lead me to the dresser. The mirror above had been smashed, and the small drawers pulled out of their slots. On the floor nearby were smashed bottles, presumably the source of the lingering scent. Lipstick and various powders made small splashes of color under the dust. I spotted a fancy little box in the corner. Scattered about it were earrings, a pendant, and a couple of rings. There were some nice stones in that collection. Clearly whoever tossed the place wasn’t interested in common burglary.

It was time to test a theory. I picked up the pendant, a nice emerald in gold, and slipped it in a pocket. Ditto a ring with a three-diamond setting. Next was a tortoise-shell comb with little paste gems.

She was on me in a flash.

“Leave that alone!” A banshee couldn’t have come on that loud, but it wasn’t my physical ears that were ringing from her shout.

“So I have your attention now?” I asked as I set the comb down on the dresser.

She took a couple of steps back from me as I turned around. She was still in the red sequined number from the night before, and again the sequins shimmered to a different light altogether. What was different was that there was none of the fog. Her appearance was as clear any other person’s.

She ran her fingers over her brows in a gesture of weariness and took a couple of breaths.

“I’m sorry, I don’t really know what came over me.”

“Do you remember who I am?”

She nodded.

“Yes, I spoke to you.” Her brow furrowed. “Watson, that’s it, right?”

“Right. Sam Watson. I’m a private detective. You came to my office last night looking for help.”

She was staring at me as if I had a second nose.

“There’s something odd about you. I can’t put my finger on it.”

“I have a few talents that probably show a little different from your end of the spectrum.” This well outside of the topics I wanted her to know about. “Think you can answer a few questions?”

She nodded and leaned wearily against the wall.

“Whose moll were you?”

I could have chilled a fifth of gin in the glare she gave me.

“It wasn’t like that. I wasn’t just some whore. Victor confided in me, we were going to get married.”



“Victor Caretti.”

I nodded. The name was familiar from the news rags. He was a mid-level gangster connected to the Ambrosi Family. Word on the street was that he was a real up-and-comer until his last boost upward included a couple of sticks of dynamite wired to his car’s ignition. That had been a couple of months ago. Another advantage to mystical training: lots of memory work. And if my skills were up to snuff, that bomb hadn’t been too far from here.

“Was he the one… what?” She had pulled herself upright, not paying the slightest attention to me. She held her head as if trying to make out an indistinct sound.

“Someone’s here,” she said as I heard the latch of the front door pull back.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Intangible Assets, Chapter 4

I started wearing down some shoe leather the next morning. The first stop was police headquarters to dig up any files about Allison Tierney. While the desk sergeant was calling someone who could make a decision about letting me in, I was looking at the numerous wanted posters and rewards offered. I spotted a few recognizable aliases; thankfully none of them were mine.

It took me the best part of an hour to get permission to check the blotter records and less than five minutes to verify the “accidental” death of Allison Tierney two months previously. The photo in the file matched the face I met in my office the night before. The accident determination had been reached about an hour after the discovery of the body. That didn’t really mean much, I’d seen cases involving two stabs to the back and a head jammed in a toilet declared accidents. The file was entirely too thin to be real. No coroner’s report, no evidence collected whatsoever, just the one crime scene photo and a three-sentence detective’s report to put it just inside the bare minimum required. That photo was enough to show ligature marks around her throat.

I considered leaning on the detective, one Arthur Bertram, to learn to whom outside his chain of command he was answering. That was an option to save for later. That would be a situation where I might be giving more information out with my questions than I would get from the answers. As it was, I was taking a chance of drawing attention just asking for the file.

I moved on from the precinct house to speak with a contact that could give me an education on ghosts. Calling Stewart “Rubber Burnin’” Cutler a contact was stretching the word to its breaking point. He had hired me to track down a one-time partner in crime that not only took him for his share of the job but also his life. Ms. Tierney wasn’t my first ghostly client, Cutler had been the first, and that case hadn’t ended too well. I got distracted on a trail that indicated an associate of the Baron was heading the operation. In the meantime, the partner was similarly offed and both trails grew cold.

I still hadn’t come up with a plan when I reached the alleyway where Cutler had been murdered. It was where I contacted him when I had or needed information for the case. From what I knew about ghosts, he should still be haunting this place. For the rest, I needed him to talk to me.

The shadows of the alley shielded me from the street after about ten paces. It was a New York alley, dirty, trash overflowing, and that wonderful scent of ammonia that was testimony of less savory uses.

I opened my senses outward. It was a barrage of sensation that had threatened to drive me out of my mind when I was an apprentice, and that in a controlled workroom. My extra years of experience helped me ride that wave of clashing life and emotion, past and present. Cockroaches and rats, beatings and illicit meetings, fear and rage muffled under a blanket of willful ignorance. I sifted through and looked for the freshest of resonance.

I found a knot of greed and resentment. He was sitting above and to my left on a fire escape. I focused in on him, my will focusing onto resolving his image. Once he had resolved in my mind, I could hear the sound of a key ring spinning around his index finger.

“Eh, Watson. You here to tell me you’ve found my money? Or better yet that bastard Slim?”

“If anything, you’re the one in a better position to find Slim,” I replied.

“Then if you’re looking for entertainment, you are in the wrong place. Unless Ramona has a trick, but even that gets old after awhile. Kinda like Ramona.” Cutler chuckled at his own wit.

“So you wouldn’t mind a bit of conversation then?” I asked as I lit up a cigarette.

Cutler’s eyes bored down on the cigarette, the knot of resentment grew a little stronger. He didn’t bother to keep it out of his voice.

“Why should I have any reason to talk to you? You know what I want to hear, and I got nothing to say to you.”

His desire and a bit of old lore found each other in my mind and turned into an idea. I shook a coffin nail out of the pack and set it on a lidded trashcan. One small push of power into the cigarette, a second push and an invocation of Fire later the cigarette was reduced to ash. My theory had worked out, and I let a smile crook my lips.

“Come down here,” I said in response to his quizzical look.

Cutler vaulted over the landing rail. Before he completed that move, his form discorporated into mist. He reformed rather than landed two steps away from me. The look on his face deepened when he saw the ephemeral cigarette sharing the place of a small pile of ash. Cutler picked up the cigarette and rolled it tentatively between his fingers. He smiled.

“Got a light?”

I rubbed my fingertips together and wove a pattern of Fire without the power to make it material. A mere impression of flame appeared above my fingers, but it was enough for Cutler to light the cigarette.

He drew the smoke into his lungs and blew it out his nostrils. The metaphysics behind the whole process was more complex than I wanted to think about right then.

The moment played out, just a couple of pals enjoying a smoke together.

“I’ve had better butts, but not for a while now. So what is it you want, Shamus?”

“I’m looking for a bit of insight into ghosts.”

“Thought you’d go to the source, eh? What makes you think I’ve figured out anything about my…” he waved a hand through the trashcan, “condition?”

“Because you’re not the type to stay out of the know. At least you weren’t, and I doubt dying changed you all that much.”

“Heh, you’d be right on that one. I’ve seen a few things, been working things out, ain’t much else to do.”

“So what have you figured?” I prompted.

“Let’s see, I know that I get a little fuzzy when I’m out of the alley, like I can’t remember two minutes ago. There are a couple of other places where I’m clear, but I think it has more to do with stuff that’s there, things I remember real clear like.”

“Such as?”

Cutler shot me a look as if I had just made a play on his main gal.

“Ain’t none of your look-out,” he snapped, then calmed down, looking surprised at his own reaction. “Well ain’t that queer? All I know is that they are important.”

He took a drag on his cigarette. “One time, I tried to push just how far I could go from this damned alley. I kept feeling, I guess thinner is the word, until everything just faded out. Next thing I know, I’m at one of my other places, back to normal.”

I filed that bit away and decided not to push him on the “other places”.

I tried a different topic.

“Have you heard about anything attacking ghosts?”

“Well ain’t you just full of good news? I haven’t heard anything like that happening, but then I don’t have much of what you’d call a social circle these days.”

I pulled my back off the wall I’d been leaning on.

“Thanks for the goods. I’ll keep an ear out for the stash, but you’ll be seeing me some time.”

“Yeah,” he sneered, “Don’t be a stranger.”

Despite the cordial farewell, I ashed a couple more butts for him.