The Initiate – Snippet 11
By the time he got back to his apartment he had calmed down a little, but he still felt odd. Unclean, almost. The thought of spending time alone was intolerable. He remembered that Ash’s card was still in his coat pocket. Calling her was a terrible idea on so many levels. He was putting his cover identity in danger, and she probably wasn’t interested in him anyway.
“Ash? This is Sam,” he said when she answered. “Still want to buy me dinner? I’m free tonight.”
He heard her chuckle. “Okay,” she said. “I’m at my office, on Thirty-Eighth and Eighth. Want to meet up at six? I’ll take you someplace good.”
He took extra time getting there, following some of Lucas’s precautions to shed any supernatural watchers. She came out of the building five minutes before six. They wound up at a little Italian place right by the Lincoln Tunnel exit. It was kitschy and old-fashioned, with un-ironic red-checkered tablecloths and old travel posters of Rome and Venice, but the food was good and so was the wine.
He managed to steer the conversation away from himself. They talked about their high school, people they’d known, and what had become of them. She told him a little more about herself.
“I was married for a year,” she said. “After six months we both knew it was a mistake. Both of us were pretending to be other people, and when we stopped pretending, there wasn’t any reason to stay together.”
“No . . .”
Her expression made him change the subject quickly. “So: Have I been in any buildings you designed?” he asked.
“Not unless you’ve been living in an old tobacco barn in North Carolina, or running a start-up from a converted airport in L.A.”
“Sounds pretty cool. What are you working on now?”
“Well . . . we haven’t got the contract yet, and there’s all kinds of NDAs, but it’s a neat project. There’s a big old textile factory complex in western Massachusetts, and a casino looking for a site. If the developer can put it together, we’ll be designing the whole thing. It’ll be about half new construction, half rehab. We’re going for full LEED certification, reduced wastewater . . . sorry, am I drifting into archibabble?”
“I think I understand enough.”
They didn’t leave until nearly eight, when the restaurant began filling up and the waiter began stopping at their table every five minutes or so to ask if they wanted anything else. She paid, as promised, and they walked up Ninth Avenue before cutting over to Columbus Circle. At the subway station they lingered a little awkwardly.
“I’d like to do this again,” she said.
“Me too. You busy Saturday? We could get lunch.”
“That would be great,” she said, but neither of them moved.
On pure impulse, before he had time to think about it, Sam leaned forward and gave her a quick kiss. “See you Saturday, then!”
She smiled, he smiled, and then he almost skipped down the stairs to the subway.
On the platform he was lost in a mix of plans for the weekend and memories of how her skin had felt under his hands back in high school, until he heard the echo of a familiar giggle over the noise of ventilators and approaching trains. All of a sudden Sam was alert and on guard, raising his left hand to ready the ring he had hand forged himself, and making mental contact with the spirit of blindness bound into the iron.
“Is she nice?” asked Isabella, worming her way between two women who seemed oblivious to her presence. She planted herself in front of Sam and grinned up at him. “She’s pretty.”
He noticed that Isabella looked considerably cleaner than he had ever seen her. Even her hair had been combed. “It’s not nice to spy on people,” he said.
Isabella shrugged. “Nobody can ever spy on me. My friends keep any sneaky spirits away. You need to do that, too.”
Sam made a mental note to do just that, as soon as possible. Tuesday would be a good day for it. “Maybe so. But I’d appreciate it very much if your friends wouldn’t hang around me when I’m with my friend.”
She shrugged again. “I’m going to the museum now,” she said.
“The museum’s closed — and anyway, it’s past nine o’clock and below freezing outside. You don’t even have a coat.”
“I don’t care. There’s a cihuateteo in the museum and I think I can catch her.”
“A chihuahua? A little dog?”
Isabella laughed at him again. “No, a cihuateteo. A Mexican dead lady with claw feet and a snake skirt. She’s inside a statue.
I’ve seen her once or twice and tonight I’m going to make her tell me her name.”
She looked thoughtful for a moment, then smiled and shook her head. “It’s a secret.”
The D train came screeching into the station just then and the two of them got on board. Sam noticed that everyone on the platform veered away from Isabella and himself, boarding different cars, so when the train began to move again they were alone except for a man asleep on the handicap seats.
“How do you know so much about” — he dropped his voice to a whisper, which made Isabella giggle — “magic? Did Sylvia teach you all these things?”
Isabella frowned at that. “No, she’s dumb. She won’t teach me anything and she keeps telling me not to do things. The only reason I go to her dumb class is so I can get initiated, and then I’ll be able to do what I want without old Sylvia and Mr. Moreno being all nosy.”
“Then how did you learn so much?”
“I told you before — my friends tell me things. They know everything and they don’t try to keep it all secret. I like them a lot better than I like Sylvia.” She glared up at Sam. “You’re not going to try to stop me, are you?”
“I’ll make you a deal, Isabella. I won’t mention anything about your dead Aztec lady if you don’t tell anyone about my friend you saw me with earlier. And no spying on her, either. Deal?”
“Deal.” She spit on her palm and they shook hands, and as they did so Sam felt the attention of unseen presences around them stronger than ever. He didn’t want to find out what would happen if he tried to break his word.
He met with Lucas one more time before his initiation. This time he took a train to Tarrytown, crossed the Tappan Zee to Nyack at slack tide, detoured through a couple of churches, and finally climbed up Hook Mountain to where Lucas was waiting at the edge of a bluff with a view of Sing Sing prison across the river. “Why can’t we just talk in a” — he puffed a couple of times — “fucking Starbucks or something?” asked Sam. “It’s freezing up here.”
“You know why. Nobody must know that you and I have ever met. Did you try the workings?”
“Yes. Controlling people’s minds is creepy as hell.”
Lucas shrugged. “It has its uses. You have some more guardians about you, too. That’s wise.”
“Do they really do any good?”
“Oh, yes. If nothing else, they would slow down any sorcerous attack against you, giving you time to react.”
“Who’s going to be attacking me? I thought the whole point of the Apkallu was to keep the peace among magicians.”
Lucas chuckled. “We have police to keep the peace among ordinary people, but the stores do a brisk trade in handguns, pepper spray, and burglar alarms. Let me remind you: The Apkallu, especially the oldest and most powerful members, are not bound by any sense of morality. The organization enforces order by superior force, not by shining example.”
He walked Sam through a ritual to improve his perceptions of the spirit world. “It has various names — mostly some variation of ‘Opening the Inner Eye.’ If you perform it every morning when you wake, your senses become more attuned to the invisible commonwealth around us.”
They practiced it a couple of times, but Sam noticed that Mr. Lucas wasn’t giving the working his full attention.
“Something the matter?”
“Eh? Oh — well, yes.” Lucas licked his lips and then took a deep breath, facing Sam squarely. “I will be present at your initiation,” he said.
It took Sam a second to realize what he meant. “You’re one of them? But you said –”
“I was rather hoping you had already deduced it yourself,” said Lucas a little peevishly. “The Apkallu do not allow rogue users of magic to exist. And as I said, I foolishly allowed them to gain power over me. Yes, I am a member; an initiate of the Circle of the Lodge, in fact. When I was younger and full of righteous outrage about some of the things the Apkallu have done, I thought I would simply rise through the ranks and then deal out justice. But since then I have learned that is impossible.
At each new rank there are oaths and confessions. I am bound like Gulliver.”
“Then why are we even doing this?”
“You are not bound! And if we manage things properly, I can aid you without breaking any oaths I have made. As long as you guard your blood and your name, you can fight them where I cannot.”