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.”

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