The Initiate – Snippet 21
Sam stayed away from Sylvia’s school for a couple of days, until the pain from his cracked rib had turned from a sharp stabbing sensation every time he inhaled to a constant ache. He didn’t dare take the painkillers the doctor at the Montefiore Hospital emergency room had prescribed, for fear that someone would notice. Instead he took double doses of ibuprofen every couple of hours, and slept fitfully in his sweltering apartment.
He had nightmares every night, about Feng. Sam had been in a few schoolyard fistfights as a kid, and one serious fight in the Air Force, when he and a couple of other airmen had been jumped by local punks outside a beer hall in Frankfurt. But even that was not the same as choking the life out of a man as he looked him in the eye.
When he finally went back to the basement classroom, he found that he and Isabella were the only students. Sylvia was visibly nervous as she lectured, lighting up new cigarettes before the old ones were half-smoked, and her answers to his questions were sarcastic. Isabella sat with a half smile on her face, listening but taking no notes.
Finally Sam raised his hand. “What happened?”
Sylvia paused and looked at him. “Feng’s dead. Don’t you read the papers?”
Across the room Isabella giggled.
“I know that, but what happened? What’s going on?”
Sylvia rolled her eyes, then sat down heavily in her chair. “I don’t know. Nobody knows — except whoever did it, and they’re keeping quiet. Someone whacked Feng. He had guards, including a bailong bound to his house. That’s a dragon, just so you know. It took someone with a lot of juice to get past that kind of protection. Everyone’s afraid this is the start of a major fight among the higher-ups, maybe even the Sages. Shimon’s parents took him someplace upstate. I don’t know where MoonCat is. You two are the only ones dumb enough to show up here. And me, I guess.”
“I thought the whole point of having an organization like the Apkallu was to prevent this kind of thing.”
Sylvia glared at him. “It is. We’ve got regular crime in New York, but that’s no reason to give up on having police, right? Same thing. Welcome to the real world.”
“Is there anything we can do?”
“Yeah, you can get a Great Dane and four stoners and figure out who did it in time for the next commercial.” She stubbed out a cigarette in the ashtray while taking a drag from the one in her mouth, then Sam could see her force herself to relax. “Look, the smart thing would be for you two — and me — to keep our heads down, figure out who’s likely to come out on top, and go start sucking up to them now, beat the rush.”
“Like Mr. Stone?” asked Sam?
Sylvia snorted. “That guy? Don’t make me laugh. If he does wind up in charge you can bet someone else is pulling his strings.”
“Who would you recommend, then? I don’t know who most of the higher-ups are.”
Sylvia looked thoughtful. “Well, Feng was a Master of the House, one of the Circle of the West. There are a bunch of others. Stone’s one, though I don’t know how the hell he ever made it that high. I don’t know who else would be making a play for the Norumbega Circle. Maybe the Count, but . . . I don’t know.”
“Is — is MoonCat okay?” Sam asked. Lucas had reassured him, but he wanted confirmation.
“Well, somebody blew the roof off her house and killed her father, so I’m guessing she might be kind of sad right now. Poor kid. Her mom’s not what you call the nurturing type, either. No crying in front of the servants.”
“I wish there was something we could do to help,” said Sam. After Alice and Tommy died, people had brought him a lot of casseroles. He didn’t know how to make a casserole.
Sylvia looked up at Sam, then at Isabella. “You want to help? Find out who bagged Feng.” She frowned. “Okay, kids. Class dismissed for a few days. Get the hell out of here and watch your backs. We’ll resume after the July Fourth weekend.”
The next morning Sam was awakened by a knock on his apartment door. Through the peephole he could see Moreno standing outside, looking a little disdainfully at the filthy hallway. He was dressed in a sharp-looking mohair suit, and a turquoise stickpin shone vividly against his wine-colored tie. Sam took a breath to calm himself, and opened the door.
“May I come in?”
“You are welcome in this house today,” Sam answered.
“I hear you want to help out. I’m always looking for good people. Too many Apkallu just want to bang movie stars and go shopping, or spend all their time in the Otherworld banging succubi and going shopping.”
“Well, I heard about Mr. Feng and I’d like to do something. Sylvia said it could be the start of some kind of magical gang war.”
“Oh, it’s definitely the start of something. This wasn’t an accident and it wasn’t some spur-of-the-moment thing, either. Whoever took down Feng put a lot of preparation into it. High-powered magic. He was the Master of the Norumbega Circle, which is a pretty important slot. Norumbega’s New York. So at the very least we’re going to see some infighting among people who want the job. Plus I know for sure that Taika Feng’s out for blood. I won’t lie: This is going to be ugly. You still want in?”
“Absolutely,” said Sam. “What do you want me to do?”
“Well, why don’t you just ride along at first. Meet people, see how I do the job. Ever been a detective?”
“Sort of.” He’d done image analysis in the Air Force — but of course that had been Samuel Arquero, not William Hunter. “But not professionally.”
“Just keep your eyes open, then. An extra pair always helps.”
Sam took a quick shower and changed clothes. From the other room Moreno asked, “So: Why are you still living in a dump?”
“Rent’s expensive in New York,” Sam called back.
“You’re still worried about money? I’ll give you a name: Wall Street guy, more money than God. Owes me a favor. He’ll hire you for some no-show consultant job, half a mil a year. That’ll put you in a better class of dump, anyway. You can work out some other deals on your own.”
When Sam emerged from his bedroom in his only jacket and tie, Moreno gave him an appraising glance but didn’t say anything. His own bespoke-tailored perfection was a silent rebuke.
“Before we go, one more thing,” said Moreno. “Eresikin William Phillips Hunter iginudug Ruax. Speak only the truth to me, now and forever. Were you involved with Feng’s death, or know anyone who was?”
“No,” said Sam, and he didn’t even have to pretend to be resentful.
“Sorry, but it’s important. If you can’t handle being honest I’ll remove the command and that’ll be the end of it.”
“No, I understand.”
They drove downtown in Moreno’s Citroen, listening to classic Bossa Nova music on the car stereo. Sam thought about the music, the car, and Moreno’s Kennedy-era suits. “Mind if I ask you a question? How old are you?”
Moreno chuckled. “Just turned forty-seven. No magic keeping me young; not yet. I haven’t decided if I want that.”
“Why wouldn’t you?”
The answer took longer than Sam expected. “Well . . . some things are easy enough. You can prevent diseases, get rid of cancer, maybe fix injuries. But real aging, that’s hard to stop. Oh, there are spirits which can do it, but they’re powerful and smart enough to demand payment. And they don’t work cheap. Not at all.” He was silent for a moment, then went on. “In fact, you’ll see what I mean later today. One guy we’re going to visit has been around New York since 1877.”
“He’s a hundred and forty years old?”
“Probably older than that. He claims to be as old as the pyramids, but he’s only an initiate of the Lodge, not a Sage, so I have my doubts. None of the Seven Sages is more than about five hundred.”
Five hundred years old. Sam tried to imagine it: seeing the world go from the days of Cortez and Michelangelo to the city flowing past outside the car window. “How do they manage? It must be like living on Mars for them.”
“Too true,” said Moreno. “It’s a damned good thing the higher-ups spend most of their time in the Otherworld. They’ve got no idea how things work in the world nowadays.”
Moreno parked his Citroen in a crosswalk right in front of the building where Feng had died, and took a large metal suitcase out of the trunk before leading Sam inside. For safety the ground floor was now surrounded by scaffolding, and Sam could see that the penthouse was swaddled in blue tarps. The building manager obeyed Moreno’s command to give them complete access to the penthouse, lent them a key card for the private elevator, and then forgot all about them.
The penthouse was a mess. The fire had set off the sprinklers, so everything was sooty and wet. Moreno obviously knew his way around, and Sam let him lead the way up to Feng’s workroom.
The power was off, so the only light was what leaked through the layers of blue plastic on the outside. It was like walking through an undersea cave.
“Can you see what happened here?” Sam asked as they went carefully up the iron spiral stair. “With magic, I mean?”
“I wish. No, magic can screw with your perceptions of time, but nobody’s been able to actually travel into the past. Can’t predict the future, either. I do have some tools that the subur cops don’t have, though. When you touch something you establish a connection. All I need to do is find a mark made by whatever killed Feng, and then call it to me.”
“Is that safe?”
“No,” Moreno admitted, sounding alarmingly casual about it. “If you want to wait downstairs, go now.”
“I’ll stay. Is there anything I can do to help?”
Moreno took a folded tarp out of the suitcase and spread it on the wet sooty floor before kneeling. “Grab that brazier over there and get a fire going.”
It took Sam a while to find anything dry enough to burn in the brazier. He noticed that the bookshelf was empty. Someone — Moreno? Feng’s wife? — had taken away all the magical notebooks. Eventually he found a blank notebook which would catch, and fed the little blaze with bits of wood that hissed until they caught.
Meanwhile Moreno made a circuit of the room with a flashlight, looking carefully at walls and furniture. He finally gave a pleased-sounding grunt and began to pry away part of the decorative wood molding on one side of the doorway. Sam could see deep gouges in it where the div’s claws had struck the wood.