The Initiate – Snippet 18
Hei Feng wasn’t listed in any directories Sam could find, and he suspected that any kind of asking around would draw Feng’s attention. But he did have one clue to follow: MoonCat. Unfortunately, having murdered her dog didn’t leave him in a good position to cultivate her acquaintance. At Sylvia’s class she routinely gave him looks of unbridled hate.
He didn’t want to use magic to spy on her, so instead he invested a few hundred dollars in a used motorbike, and sat close to the door during the next class session at Post Academy Instruction. He hustled out as soon as Sylvia finished, and went up to the sidewalk to tinker with the bike until MoonCat emerged.
As usual, the burly man in sunglasses was waiting for her in an armored SUV. When they pulled away from the curb, Sam followed, not making any attempt at stealth. On the Henry Hudson Parkway they turned south and he kept the SUV in sight only long enough to establish that they weren’t taking the George Washington Bridge to Jersey.
Over the next couple of weeks Sam trailed the SUV as far south as Canal Street. After that he began skipping class from time to time in order to wait in ambush on a rented bicycle at Canal Park, near the parkway exit. When he spotted the armored SUV going past he pedaled after it, his bright spandex tights and pretentious cycling cap making him effectively invisible. Just another middle-aged bicycle bore.
It took him three tries to tail the SUV all the way to its destination: a fancy building at Howard and Lafayette Streets. That was where MoonCat scrambled out of the car without glancing at the driver, and went inside through the marble lobby.
Sam didn’t want to barge in after her, so instead he called Ash using his old “Sam Arquero” phone. “Want to go out for a fancy dinner tomorrow?”
“A fancy dinner?”
“You know, the kind of joint with cloth napkins and servers who don’t call you ‘babe.'”
“Cloth napkins, no less! All right. What’s the occasion?”
“Nothing special. I just heard about a Chinese-Peruvian fusion place and thought I’d try it. I’ll meet you at the corner of Canal and Broadway tomorrow at seven.”
The restaurant occupied half the ground floor of the building MoonCat had entered. Halfway through the meal Sam excused himself to use the men’s room, but made an embarrassing error and blundered out into the building lobby. He took the opportunity to check out the elevators, and saw that one of them, located around the corner from the rest, had a key-card reader instead of a call button.
When he got back to their table Ash raised her eyebrows. “I was afraid you weren’t coming back.”
“Sorry. I got lost and had to ask a security guard for directions.”
The next morning Sam used a public computer at the Fordham University library to search for tenants of the building where MoonCat had gone. After a couple of hours he had built up a complete list: offices on the lower floors, some apartments on the upper floors, and a complete absence of information about the three-story penthouse on top.
He had never tried using his Inner Eye with binoculars, but that weekend he positioned himself on the rooftop terrace of the 401 Broadway building nearby and took a look at the penthouse.
As soon as he got the lenses focused on the building Sam nearly dropped the binoculars. Something was looking back at him. He couldn’t see it, not with his eyes, but the sense of hostile, searching attention was overpowering. Sam dropped down behind the parapet of the terrace and kept his eyes tightly closed until the feeling of being watched went away.
“O-kay,” he muttered. “Now I know where he is. How do I get in?”
If Feng’s guardian spirits could spot someone merely looking at his penthouse from three blocks away, there was no way Sam could get away with any breaking and entering. He had to get himself invited.
“Is it ready?” he asked Lucas during a “chance meeting” in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
“It is. A very nasty div — a cunning fighter, but I could bind it without using my own name, so it won’t be able to identify me. That’s important. I trapped it in a clay figurine. There’s a time-release spell with a trigger word. Put it into Feng’s home, preferably his bedroom or bathroom, and say the word. When the Sun sets, the div will be released. I have given it Feng’s scent by means of a used napkin, but there is likely to be considerable collateral damage. You don’t want to be anywhere nearby when it gets out.”
“So I have to do this during the day?”
“Yes. I’m sure you can manage it.” Lucas handed Sam a claim check. “The Park West Hotel checkroom. It should be a black leather briefcase with a lock. The combination is 4321.”
Sam retrieved the bag the next afternoon, and tipped the bellman five dollars for bringing it to him. He examined the contents while riding across the Brooklyn Bridge in a cab. Lucas had protected the little clay figure by wrapping it in layers of cotton and plastic wrap. Even by concentrating on it with his inner eye Sam couldn’t sense anything about the figure, except that it was pretty crude looking.
After that it was simply a matter of finding out some people’s names and making them believe his lies.
Nine days after Sam picked up the figurine — which happened to be Midsummer Day — the water pressure in the spirit-guarded penthouse died away to nothing. After an angry phone call from Taika Feng, the building manager summoned the regular plumbing contractors to deal with the problem. They brought along their newest employee. “Phil” was a little old to be a plumber’s helper, and everyone kept forgetting to ask about his union papers, but he showed up on time and did good work.
Sam was almost trembling as he rode the private elevator up to the penthouse with Mitch and Hector. He kept checking his watch — it was already past five. Taika had made the call hours later than he’d expected her to. There was plenty of time, he kept telling himself. Sunset wasn’t for another three hours. He could let Mitch and Hector putter around trying to restore pressure while he found a place to stash the figurine, then have a convenient hunch about the problem — the cutoff valve in the basement, which he had magically commanded the building manager not to check — and be out well before the div got loose.
“Got someplace to be?” Mitch asked him.
“I’ve got a date at eight-thirty,” said Sam.
“Well I’ve got a date with double pay for after hours,” said Mitch. “I can go all night.”
Sam shrugged. He felt particularly naked because he had dismissed all the protective spirits he had accumulated, just in case anyone in the household decided to use the Inner Eye on him. His nervousness mounted with each floor that blinked past on the display over the controls. Suddenly the whole plan seemed utterly crazy. How was he going to beat a master magician in his place of power? Would Lucas’s magical time bomb even work?
If there had been a way to reverse the elevator’s motion and go back down to the lobby, Sam would have done it right then.
“Anyway, you don’t want to be on time for a chick,” said Mitch. “Let ’em wait for you. Isn’t that right, Hector? You’re the pickup master, right?”
Hector, who had been faithfully married to the same woman since he was seventeen, grinned and nodded. “Works every time.”
Sam chuckled along with the joke, then closed his eyes and thought of Alice — the touch of her skin, the smell of her hair when she cuddled up with her head on his chest. All gone in agony and terror one summer night. He’d seen the photos from upstairs. The Apkallu had done that. With that thought he felt the welcome surge of anger drive away his fear.
“‘Sides, wait till you get a look at this place. This dude’s beyond rich. We’re talking Bill Gates territory.”
As if on cue the elevator door opened to reveal an extremely modest vestibule, with spotless white walls and a plain bamboo floor. But as soon as Sam stepped out of the elevator he was almost overwhelmed by the same sense of powerful attention he had felt when looking through the binoculars. That time it had been like hot sunlight; this was like looking into a furnace.
Even Mitch and Hector seemed to feel it; they both looked around nervously. The single door in the vestibule opened and a tall woman with blonde hair so fair it might have been white stood regarding them. Sam recognized Taika Feng, MoonCat’s mother.