We stopped at a greasy spoon for Rachel to call ahead to my destination of choice: St. Mary’s. Rachel would need whatever arrangement had been made for Calliope. As I sat in the car, thinking most for the sake of staying conscious, I figured that it wasn’t the wrong thing to do to send my succubus secretary for help from a particularly powerful man of the church. Both had Allison’s best interests at heart, and I doubted he got too exorcised about her visit. Odd thing about pain, when it hurts to laugh everything seems funny. Anyway, I was planning on bringing another Lilliam for a visit.
We arrived at the church about ten minutes later. I could guess what Rachel was seeing as we stepped out of the car: a shining beacon of divine protection that could fry her on the spot. Just to make matters clear, if anyone came looking for Calliope or Rachel, then I would have been the one doing the frying.
Fr. O’Brian met us in front of the church.
“Mr. Watson, you…”
“I’m OK, father. You should see what I did to the other guy’s fist.”
Rachel leaned in and whispered, “What did you do, spit on it?”
“Maybe,” I answered, “but I think it was on fire with the rest of him at the end.”
“I was going to say,” continued the priest, “that I haven’t seen a mug like that since I was a fighter.”
“They probably didn’t have a division where one guy is tied to a chair.”
“Only after the fight in the ring, and only if the fighter didn’t dive as instructed.”
I introduced Rachel and we headed around the church to the old orphanage in the back. It wasn’t my imagination that Rachel kept me between the church and her during the trip.
“You sent Calliope here?” Rachel asked.
“It was the only place available if Ambrosi’s men tracked me back to the office. This used to be Allison’s parish, and the Father has been as much help as he could be.” And then some, I added mentally.
Our trek ended in an office of the orphanage. The construction of the building as a whole implied an attitude of getting as much shelter as possible, amenities be damned. I doubted that daylight or actual use could have made the place seem hospitable. Charity probably only went so far during the Great War and the Invasion.
The office was a little claustrophobic for five people and the desk, although Allison made room by perching on the desk next to the comb.
We found Calliope and Allison in conversation when we arrived. There was no paranoia this time in the cessation of their conversation. Despite not having seen a mirror, I knew that having one eye open does little for one’s looks.
“Holy Hell,” murmured Calliope.
“Yeah, and I feel like it, too. I’m glad to see that you got out safely.”
“Molly called and told me to beat feet. By the way, Doc Moss wasn’t too happy about my taking most of the day off.”
“Figured. Then again, all I got to do is show up like this and he’ll get the clue.” I found that funny enough to launch into a spasm of coughing.
Fr. O’Brian stepped forward.
“I don’t think that your injuries will wait, Mr. Watson. If you would allow me, I think we are among friends.” He held up his hands to show a soft glow brightening upon them.
The two girls looked uncomfortable.
“Hey, Rachel,” said Calliope, “let’s get scarce. Anything else you need, boss?”
“No, and thanks for getting Allison here. I know how little you liked the idea, and I owe you one.”
“I’ll put it in the ledger,” she said with a smile.
With that, Calliope and Rachel left. I didn’t think that the magic of the place would necessarily hurt them, but I knew that Rachel was particularly sensitive about her mortal seeming being penetrated. So much so that she avoided fights as opposed to dropping the disguise and using the full power of her nature. Holy magic and items dispelled her seeming and those of her sisters, Calliope included.
Once they were gone, Fr. O’Brian laid his hands over my eyes and on my side over the ribs. I felt a touch of the power that he was channeling. It waxed and waned like a tide, only with volition of its own. It touched my aura, and an image of having my credentials checked at a roadblock came to mind. By what grace decided that I was worthy I didn’t know, but the power then surged into my wounds. My breathing eased immediately, and I felt the swellings on my face and torso recede. When the power left, I felt only slightly sore, as if I had just spent a couple of days at rest.
He removed his hand, and I realized that I could see with both eyes again. What I saw was Allison looking positively stunned.
“Father, I am sorry for ever having doubted anything you’ve taught me over the years. I feel like Doubting Thomas all of a sudden.”
Both the Father and I let the observation that it took a healing to convince a ghost of that pass. It seemed a touch classless to me at least.
“Allison, Giuliano wants you because he thinks that you would know where Victor would have hidden the book that Ambrosi wants.”
“Why would he think that I know that?” “Perhaps,” offered the Father, “he thinks that he may have confided aloud after your death.”
“We were honest with each other, but I know that he never knew that I was there.”
“Possible,” I mused, “but kind of a long shot. Allison, you and Victor were known as an item even before the engagement, correct?”
Allison smiled and nodded.
“Definitely, even back when we were kids.”
“That is true,” said the priest, “the two of them were thick as thieves, always up to something. I considered assigning a nun to the two of them on a full time basis on more than one occasion.”
“It is that type of thing I am leaning towards here. Is there some place that you knew, as kids, that if you hid something there you could count on no one else finding it?”
“We had several, here and there. Fr. O’Brian and Sister Ophelia kept finding them, however.”
“We knew about those long before you came along, child.”
“But there was one that was never found out.”
Fr. O’Brian looked surprised at that.
“I thought I knew of every last loose stone in the orphanage.”
“That’s why it worked, because it isn’t on the inside. Follow me.”
She led us upstairs. I had to double back to retrieve the comb the first time. She showed us the way to what Fr. O’Brian referred to as the boy’s dormitory. He gave Allison a glare, and I learned that ghosts could blush.
The dormitory was one large room that I imagined could have held twelve sets of bunk beds. At the far end was an empty doorframe, beyond which I could see a toilet stall. Allison led us to a window.
“Victor’s bed was next to this window.”
She leaned out the empty window and muttered a curse.
“Sorry, Father. I tried to move the stone out of the way. I guess I forgot about that.”
I leaned out the window. The boy’s dormitory was on the third floor. Fortunately I’m not phobic about heights.
“Which one is it?”
“The second from the right, second down.”
I found the loose stone and worked it out. It slid most of the way and then caught a back corner. The result was that the stone hinged downward yet remained secure. It was enough for me to reach my fingers into. I felt something wrapped in an oilskin. Getting a secure grip, I pulled out a rectangular bundle, maybe four inches by six. Father O’Brian and Allison gathered in closely to see as I unwrapped the skin.
Inside was a small journal, leather wrapped and stained from much use. A tarnished brass catch once held the book shut, but it appeared to have been forced upon at one point.
“Let’s get this down to where the light is better,” I said.
“Is this what Victor was killed over?” asked Allison.
“No,” I answered, “this is what he was counting on to keep from getting killed.”
Father O’Brian was looking at me.
“You don’t seem particularly happy to find it, my son.”
“I just can’t help but wonder what is in here that Ambrosi finds so important. The word on the deep dark part of the street is that he is a vampire. Now a days, that might not be enough to hurt him too bad with the Empire, especially with the clout he has on the streets. I can see him easily cutting a deal with the Count just to keep the peace.”
The others lapsed into silence as we entered the office. I sat down on a folding chair and set a lantern to shine over my shoulder. My pessimism was only checked by curiosity as I settled down to read.
That curiosity was rapidly satisfied. Engraved on the frontispiece:
By the Grace of the Sword and Rose Society
“Marquis!” I yelped, “Dunkirk was a nobleman!”
And I had thought that Ambrosi’s biggest mistake had been pissing me off.