The Initiate – Snippet 31
As the city sweltered through August Sam found himself busier than he had ever been in his life. He was getting instruction from Sylvia, Moreno, and Lucas — and, of course, he had to keep his contact with Lucas secret from the others.
During those weeks he recruited more spirits to his service. On Lammas Eve he climbed to the roof of Columbia’s Butler Library where he bound a sylph into a tin pinky ring and then secured a year’s service from a song-spirit, making his words more persuasive.
As the equinox ticked closer Sam made preparations. At the beginning of September he took the late-morning train to Bridgeport and picked up a rental car, then drove ten miles north along the Housatonic River to White Hills, where he had once lived. He took his time and stuck to back roads, and stopped for lunch at a fast-food place where nobody would recognize him.
No point in stopping by the house, he thought. Any traces of the attack would be long gone. No point to it at all, he thought — but he allowed sheer muscle memory to direct the car and wound up at the foot of the long driveway up the wooded hillside. The new owners had put in a new mailbox; not the kind he would have chosen. The little patch of flowers around the base was nice, though.
Did they have kids, these new people? Was some new child marking up the walls as Tommy had done? Had they painted over the growth marks on the kitchen door frame?
No, he decided. No point in trying to find out. It wasn’t his house anymore. He gunned the car motor unnecessarily and drove off.
The storage unit was a few miles away, and he could get through the gate with a number code. No need to see anyone at all, which was good. In his current mood he didn’t want to talk to anyone.
All the things it had smashed were long gone . . . but he had kept the hall rug his mother had bought in Bogota. It had walked on that rug; there might be traces. Sam had watched Moreno call up the div which had slain Feng, by using a chunk of wood it had marked. A rug the anzu had marked with its claws would be almost as good.
He found the hall rug — and then looked at the boxes labeled A for Alice and T for Tommy.
Sam knew their full names. He had things which were theirs. Probably even traces of them — hair, blood, whatever. They were linked to him, closer than anyone else.
He could summon their spirits. Her family’s burial plot near New London wasn’t far. He could do it tonight.
The moment it occurred to him he felt two overwhelming emotions. He wanted more than anything to do it, to speak to them both again. And yet the very idea horrified him — for a moment he struggled to keep from throwing up. It felt like a desecration. They would despise him for it.
No. Let them rest. Focus on punishing the guilty.
He unrolled the rug and examined it. Should’ve gotten it cleaned, he thought, looking at the mud and sawdust ground into the pattern. Lucky he hadn’t, though: that meant a better chance of finding some trace of the anzu. Had it made those little tears? Possibly. Yes, there were places where the fabric was torn, in parallel groups of three. Unless the cops and paramedics had been wearing golf shoes, that wasn’t the work of human feet. He had a connection to the killer. Sam rolled the rug up again and tossed it into the back seat of his rental car.
On the way back to Bridgeport he passed the house again, and couldn’t avoid slowing down once more. Not for the first time he thought about just chucking it all. Burn the William Hunter documents and credit cards, smash the phones, delete the email accounts, and stay plain old Samuel Arquero for the rest of his life. No more lying.
Except . . . he wouldn’t be plain old Samuel Arquero. He’d still be a wizard — and a murderer. There was no path back to his old life. Time to admit that. He was William Hunter now, and he had a job to do.
The night before the autumn equinox Sam and Lucas met at Trinity Church, sitting through the end of a “folk-music coffee-house” which proved to be more of a political rally with guitar interruptions. Sam fidgeted while Lucas nodded patiently along with the music and chuckled softly at the slogans. When the event finally ended the two of them went back out to the street and walked up Broadway.
“Why do we always meet in churches?” Sam asked.
“It’s a good place to shake spiritual surveillance,” said Lucas.
“Would a synagogue or a mosque do just as well?”
“There are theological subtleties at work. It must be hallowed ground. This church is Episcopalian, which means it was consecrated by a priest in the line of apostolic succession. Catholic and Orthodox churches qualify as well. Quaker meetinghouses and Christian Science reading rooms don’t. A synagogue is more complicated: It’s not the building per se but the Ark holding the Torah that is sacred, so for our purposes they’re only useful when services are going on and the Ark is open. Mosques are usually safe, although there are a great many ways they can be profaned.”
“But how can all that be true? Those religions all say the others are false. Who’s right?”
Lucas chuckled. “All of them, and none. But to us, they only matter as tools to manipulate the world, both magically and politically. We Apkallu are free. But enough of all that. Here we are.”
Sam looked up. They were standing on the corner of Warren Street and Broadway, across the street from City Hall. Lucas led the way into the building on the corner. A security guard was on duty inside, and looked up alertly.
“I’m here to see Mr. Beach,” said Lucas. The guard’s eyes unfocused for a moment, and he nodded at them and looked away, as if losing interest completely.
“The password is just a convenience. I use this place fairly often and have all the security people conditioned.”
The two of them went downstairs into the basement, passed the pipes and valves of the water system, and eventually reached the eastern wall. Lucas worked his way along the old brickwork of the foundation until he found an ancient-looking cast-iron door, just four feet high. The old iron latch was locked with a shiny new combination lock. Lucas unlocked it and gestured to Sam. “If you would do the honors? It’s often a bit stiff.”
Sam had to hit the latch lever with the heel of his hand to move it, and then swung the door open. The hinges squealed loudly, but Lucas didn’t seem to worry about the noise. Beyond was blackness.
Lucas clicked on a pocket flashlight and went through the little door, stepping cautiously. “Mind the step,” he said.
Sam followed him down a set of three wobbly wooden steps onto a floor of . . . mosaics? Yes, marble mosaics. He looked up as Lucas played the flashlight over the arched ceiling. Gilt patterns twinkled back at him.
“What is this?”
“This is the first and only station on the Beach Pneumatic Subway line. Constructed 1869, but the inventor didn’t bribe the right people and so never got to complete the project.” He pointed off to the east, where a concrete wall cut off the end of the room. “The BMT is on the other side of that retaining wall. Now, tell me why I brought you here.”
Sam looked around and then laughed. “We’re going on a journey.”
“Precisely. Doing this in an active subway station would be awkward, but this one is perfect. We can send our perceptions into the Otherworld without having to worry about the bodies we leave behind. It’s especially useful for us today, given that the Sun is in the wrong decan and the Moon is in an awkward phase. The fact that tomorrow is Wednesday is auspicious, though.”
Lucas spread out a picnic blanket and sat cross-legged. Sam poured out cornmeal to make a pentangle around the blanket, then stepped carefully over the lines and took his own place facing Lucas. The two of them chanted an invocation to Nabu and thrice-great Hermes . . .
. . . And then Sam was startled by a wind and the noise of squealing brakes as a cylindrical subway car pulled into the station. He and Lucas stood, picked their way over the cornmeal, and got into the car. It was very luxurious inside, with leather seats and polished brass fittings. Sam risked a glance out the window as the car pulled away, and saw himself and Lucas still sitting on the picnic blanket.
It was one thing to know, intellectually, that this was a “spiritual journey.” It was quite another to actually see that he was no longer inhabiting his body.
“Have you got something that it touched?” Lucas asked him.
Sam fished out the four-inch square of carpet bearing slashes from the monster’s claws. Lucas had him hold it in a certain way, then invoked Umibael, Larunda, and Ariadne. Sam felt the carpet swatch tugging gently in his grip, as if drawn by a magnet.