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.

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