The Initiate – Snippet 19
He hoped his new look of beard, mustache, nerd glasses, and a shaved head would be enough to keep her from recognizing him.
She gave the three of them a searching look, which made Sam very glad he wasn’t carrying any spirit outriders. Finally she spoke. “The three of you are welcome in this house today. Please come in.”
The hostile watching presence vanished as if she had flipped a switch. Sam followed Hector and Mitch as she led the way to the kitchen. “All the water’s off. I don’t know what’s going on.
I’ve been out all day and the servants were vacuuming. Nobody was using the water at all, and now it doesn’t work.”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Hector. He didn’t even roll his eyes when she left the room. The kitchen was as big as Sam’s apartment in the Bronx, with stainless steel appliances like a newly opened restaurant.
They got to work figuring out the problem. Hector turned on the tap; nothing came out. He went under the sink and unscrewed the cold water line. “I got water here, but no pressure.”
“See, if the pipe was broken someplace it’d be empty,” Mitch explained to the new guy. “The super says the cutoff is open wide and he’s got pressure in the rest of the building, so that means it’s gotta be blocked somehow.” A flicker of uncertainty crossed Mitch’s face, since he was repeating things Sam had told him to believe.
“I’d better check the other taps,” said Sam, and Mitch nodded.
The kitchen had a passage which led to the front door, and a set of double doors into the dining room. Sam’s eyes widened as he went through them — the dining room could have been part of some old imperial palace under the Tang Dynasty. A framed painting of a woman with a fox’s tail peeking out from under her robes was definitely watching him as he crossed the room.
The penthouse had three floors, and Sam quickly established that the lowest level was all social space and the servants’ quarters. He listened carefully and then tiptoed up the stairs to the second level. That was bedrooms for the family, and what looked like some guest rooms. Sam considered stashing the div in the master bedroom, but with Taika at home he was afraid she might find it before Hei Feng returned.
The third floor was hard to find. The stairs up ended at the second level, and Sam had to open doors along the hallway before he found a cast-iron spiral staircase hidden behind a sliding panel decorated with a glowering Chinese pig-demon face. Sam crept up as silently as he could.
Jackpot. The third floor had a very well-stocked library, a small gymnasium, and — yes! — a magical workroom, furnished with a cabinet of powdered herbs and minerals, a big bookcase, a wardrobe full of assorted robes and vestments, and a whole set of braziers for burning things. The floor of the workroom was covered in black slate, so that protective circles could be conveniently drawn in chalk.
He also noted some items which were a bit more disturbing: A steel chair in the corner had leather restraints on the arms, legs, and headrest. A lovely walnut and brass case held a full set of antique surgical instruments. The walls were tiled halfway up for easy cleaning.
Yes, this would be the right place to leave the clay figure. Sam set it atop the herb cabinet, behind some jars labeled “Rain Water,” “River Water,” and “Sea Water.” Then he took a deep breath, and spoke the command Lucas had written out for him.
“Ziqpa sharay, zimyi Div.”
He checked his phone: ninety minutes to sunset. Time to get out. He sent Mitch a text. “Got 2 go now. See u 2morow.” Then he made his way down the spiral stair to the second level. He was just about to slide the panel at the bottom open when he heard Taika Feng’s voice in the hallway beyond.
“– to that party. It will be full of people of no use to you. Musicians and actors and such.”
“That’s who I want to see! Quavo will be there!” said a voice Sam recognized as MoonCat’s.
“And who is that? This week’s flavor.”
“You don’t even know who he is!”
“By August you won’t remember him either. You should cultivate people who will have influence. Young men who will inherit corporations, sons of political families, European nobility. Make them love you now and you can draw on them for the rest of your life.”
“I don’t care! Those people are boring! I want to be with someone who understands me.”
Taika made an exasperated sound and Sam could hear her footsteps receding down the corridor. He counted to a hundred then eased the sliding panel open wide enough for a quick look.
MoonCat’s room was just ten feet down the hall, and the door was open. He suspected that was deliberate, so that her mother would be able to hear the music blasting from MoonCat’s computer speakers. Maybe he could slip past . . .
As he approached the door Sam was startled to hear what sounded like a dog growling. A second later he realized that he wasn’t hearing it with his ears, only inside his head. Just as he had that thought, MoonCat paused the music. Sam froze.
He recognized that growl. MoonCat’s guardian. The dog he had murdered. No matter what disguise he wore, it would know him.
“Aiti?” said MoonCat from inside the room, and Sam heard the sound of movement.
He bolted back for the sliding panel and got it mostly shut behind him before he heard her voice in the hall. “Aiti?”
The dog growling was louder now, and Sam heard approaching footsteps. He retreated up the iron staircase, staying as silent as possible.
“Baba?” she said, right outside the sliding panel. Sam froze, holding his breath.
MoonCat waited another minute in the hallway before Sam heard her footsteps going away, and he finally risked taking a breath.
Now what? He’d have to wait until she wasn’t in the bedroom between him and the exit. Sam checked his phone again: a little more than an hour until the div’s binding ended.
He waited on the stairs for time, listening for any sign that MoonCat might leave her room. The music resumed, not as loud as before.
Just after eight he heard a new voice from the hall: Feng was talking to his daughter.
“. . . tells me you wish to go to a party in Brooklyn tonight.”
“It’s not a party, it’s an after party! Only lame people go to parties.”
“Ah. Forgive me for missing that crucial difference. Who is the host of this after party?”
“I don’t know. Some girl from Chapin. Quavo’s going to be there!”
“Don’t bother explaining what that means. Mao, your mother believes you are wasting your time with these people –”
“She doesn’t know anything!”
“– but I disagree. You are my only child, and I think you have the potential to be more than a useful marriage to some other Apkal family. If you wish to build up your own sphere of influence, I will let you decide for yourself how to go about it. You may go to this after party –”
“– on one condition! That you remain sober the whole time. No alcohol, no cannabis, nothing but soft drinks. See the other guests, including this Quango person, with open eyes and a clear brain. Study them. See how they make use of each other and learn to make use of them yourself. Can you do that?”
“Very well, then. You probably ought to get ready. Anzor can drive you.”
“It’s an after party, Baba. Nobody’s going to show until three.”
“They could postpone it a few hours and call it a brunch.
To Sam’s horror, he could hear Feng’s footsteps coming toward him. He retreated up the stairs to the workroom and looked around desperately for a hiding place. The only thing which could possibly conceal him was the wardrobe, so he ducked inside and pulled the door shut, just as the iron spiral staircase began to ring under Feng’s ascending feet.
Sam positioned himself so that he could peek through the crack between the wardrobe doors. It didn’t give him a full view of the room, but he could get glimpses of Feng as he moved about — and anything was better than trying to guess what was happening based on sound alone.