I had a lot to think about as I headed for the office. My mind was so busy that I forgot one of the basics: Stay alert.
The oak shavings were the clincher. There was one reason for a monster hunter to be carving and it was not artistic. He chose oak for his stakes. While wood in itself wasn’t anything in particular to demons, it was very handy when a sharp piece crowds in on a vampire’s heart. Oak, or any other deciduous tree, additionally lacked the eternal life aspect of evergreens. Of course, I never understood why a tree that seems to die every year yet come back to life was a better symbol, but art and folklore are two things that seldom remain literal.
Parking was as bad as always, so I had to walk a couple of blocks back to the office. My route took me past Molly’s. It was nearly noon, and lunch seemed a damned good idea.
I took my seat at the counter and Molly was right there with a cup of coffee. Molly was a plump, middle-aged Irish woman. I had yet to visit the diner and find her either not there or not cheerful.
Her smile never faded as she said, “Don’t look around, Sam. There have been some men watching your office most of the morning.”
I doctored my coffee so as to keep myself from turning. Instead, I tried for a look in the mirror behind the counter.
“Imperials?” I asked.
“No, too well dressed to be plainclothes.”
Yet another lady looking out for me. Molly does it for everyone; it was simply her nature. She was also my contact with the Resistance. Her code name was Mother Hen.
“I need to make a call,” I said.
“I already called Calliope. She said that she was going to take a friend to church. She didn’t sound too happy about it.”
I nodded. Like I said, Molly took care.
“Maybe they haven’t made me yet. Backdoor?”
“Over by the phone, but you knew that already.”
I made a show of dropping a nickel (I’d be damned if I ever called it five pfennig) on the counter. Molly may have been great for information and local surveillance, but she was not a fighter. Hopefully I hadn’t them off about her role in my subsequent plan.
I looked out the front widows via that mirror behind the counter. I saw ground pounder and the ork from outside of Dunkirk’s apartment. Not good. This time, I recognized him, Carlo Tuskoni. It also meant that the stakes had been upped. Ambrosi knew that I was pursuing the secret that he had killed Victor over.
I had to be quick if I was going to disappear out the back door. That, and lucky.
To say that luck is fickle is to say that a two by four to the gut can wreck your whole day. Sadly, I was reminded of both as soon as I exited the back of the diner.
When I looked up, I saw Paulie hefting the lumber like a Louisville Slugger.
“Hello, shamus.” There wasn’t room in his voice for more scorn. He also kicked me in the ribs to make his point.
I didn’t feel hitting the trashcan or the rubbish spilling over on me, but I did wonder at how well he spoke despite the broken jaw I had given him.
“Boss wants you alive, but I can tender you up some.”
“What in Sam Hill is going on here?!” cried Molly who was sticking her head out the back door.
It was the opening I needed. I didn’t like his jawing. A milk bottle had fallen out of the trashcan and lay barely out of reach. Without time to physically grab it, I put a hefty dose of Motion behind it and sent it into Paulie’s face. I couldn’t tell if his jaw broke again. The breaking glass was loud enough, as was Paulie’s scream as the glass slashed his face.
I climbed to my feet as I saw Big scout and The Tusk round the corner. They were cutting me off from my office. Not that there was anything there that would help me out of the jam, but it would be a defensible position at the least.
I took the only option still available and ran down the alley. Molly’s building ran all the way to the street with a fence cutting the length in half that I would have to deal with.
It was hard enough to run after the kick Paulie gave me, and the climb was even worse. I had just gotten one leg over when a board exploded as if the brick that had hit it had been fired rather than thrown. I looked back behind me to see Big scout picking up another brick. It was only luck that I dropped to the other side of the fence before the thrown brick took my head off. Big scout had thrown it high and tight enough to make Ty Cobb proud.
Despite landing on my feet, I still winced at the pain in my ribs. There were even more reasons to run now, because the pace that big scout put on the bricks let me know that he and Paulie had the same coach. Big scout and The Tusk would not need as much time to go through the fence as I needed to go over it.
Behind me, I heard, “… wants him alive.” More like, “… wants him dead later,” I thought.
There was another twenty yards between the street and me when a car pulled across the mouth of the alley. Ground pounder got out of the Duesenberg and leveled a gun from over the fender.
“Grab air, flat foot!”
I flinched for a brief moment, and then kept charging. Ambrosi wanted me alive, and I didn’t think that ground pounder would risk a shot with his boys down range. I had to time it right. Foot to the fender, foot to the hood, foot to ground pounder’s chin. Another brick went whistling past my ear as the kick landed. I hit the ground hard as the brick found a home through the driver’s window of a car motoring along the other side of the street. My leg gave under me when I landed putting me right next to the insensate ground pounder. I had the ground’s eye view of the stricken car wandering across the median, and of the car forcing a cargo truck to swerve to avoid it. The swerve took it right at where the goon and I were sprawled on the street.
My kick left ground pounder loopy, and he wasn’t in a mood to fight me as I got a bouncer’s grip on him and dragged him out of the way of the oncoming truck. He screamed as the truck’s fender caught his ankle, but better that than the rest of him. By then, the truck had taken the side of the Duesenberg. Pity. The good news was the collision drove the car sideways into the alley, blocking off all the more solidly the mouth of the alley. That bought me a moment or two as not even the dhampyric strength of big scout or the Tusk’s orc might would allow them to move the stricken car, and I intended to make the best use of that time.
I took off across the street and down the alley. Heading down the street would do me no good. I had one advantage over the goons, and it was one that was less useful to me the more witnesses there were around. In this neighborhood, they would probably get more help from the cops than I would. Authority would not be my friend.
My mind was running through the options for havoc that I might throw at them when the Empire State Building landed between my shoulders. At least that is what it felt like. The impact sent me sprawling, and the first thing I saw in front of me was a car’s headlamp, Duesenberg if I wasn’t mistaken, spinning to a rest a few feet in front of me.
I was struggling to get an arm under me when a pair of very large hands hauled me up by my jacket and shirt from behind. In front of me was the big scout. The look was plenty close enough. He was six feet at the least, with a square jaw that certainly wouldn’t have minded a meeting with the barber’s razor. I might have taken him for a Swede, pale complexion, blond hair under the brim of his hat, and blue eyes. Oddly, his eyes didn’t look like those of a killer. If anything, he looked sympathetic.
“You pulled Stu’s fat from the fryer back there. Figure I owe you one for that.”
“Yeah, you’re a real prince.”
The Tusk gave me a hard shake for that crack. I was soon to learn that he has little to no sense of humor to speak of.
“I just look out for my boys. So, I’ll make this quick.”
He was certainly a man of his word. Even standing right in front of him, I never saw the right cross coming. He connected quite solidly.