The Initiate – Snippet 24

Sam raised an eyebrow at that, and waited.

After a minute Moreno went on, sounding almost proud. “I don’t know my real name. Nobody does. I was found in a church, just a week old. The Morenos adopted me — but my birth mother must have named me before giving me up. That’s the only name that really matters, for magical purposes, anyway. No way to find it out. So I can’t be commanded.”

“But how do they control you?” Sam asked. “If you can shrug off any magic, what’s to stop you from taking over the Apkallu yourself?”

“When I have the Mitum on me I can’t use magic either. That’s why I don’t carry it most of the time. It’s kind of a trade-off.

When I bear the Mitum I can defeat any wizard in the world, but some asshole with a Saturday night special could take me out. Plus I’d have to pay for parking.”

Sam nodded absently, privately resolving to grill Lucas for everything he knew about the Mitum. Being able to neutralize magic would make destroying the Apkallu almost trivially simple — plus he needed to figure out how to avoid Moreno using it against him.

“Let me ask you something,” said Moreno. “How’d you like today? Think you want to stick with it? You seem like a guy who knows right from wrong, and you pay attention to details. You might make a good agaus yourself, with some training.”

“It’s certainly interesting. I’m going to need a lot of training, though. I still don’t know what the heck is going on.”

“Well, I haven’t figured out Feng’s death either. Tomorrow afternoon I’m going to meet a couple more people. I’ll pick you up about eleven and we can grab lunch.”

“Okay,” said Sam.

“Oh, by the way — where’d you live before you came here? I’d like to check up on your jogah sighting.”

“Connecticut,” said Sam, trying to sound casual. He couldn’t tell Moreno where he had actually lived — and the last thing he wanted to do was steer him to the real Billy Hunter. “New Haven.”

“Where’d you see the jogah? Or whatever it was.”

“I was hiking,” said Sam. A name came to him. “Devil’s Hopyard State Park.”

“That’s interesting,” said Moreno. “Right near Witch Meadow, isn’t it?”

“I don’t know,” said Sam. “Who are we going to see tomorrow?”

“A couple more members of the Circle of the West. Feng’s peers. The Count and Charles White.”

“Miss Elizabeth said the Count’s a fraud.”

“Oh, that’s true enough — but everybody lies about their real names anyway, so why pick on him? He likes to pretend he’s

Cagliostro, and I think that pisses Miss Elizabeth off because she had a crush on the real one.”

“And White?”

“He’s a nasty customer,” said Moreno, with surprising venom in his voice. Sam waited for an explanation, but didn’t get one.

“Where’d you work?” Moreno asked without preamble.

“Yale Medical,” Sam replied. “Process engineering — mostly contract work.” He felt confident that he could fake that if Moreno wanted to quiz him. And Yale was a huge employer in the state. Just the phrase “Yale Medical” could refer to half a dozen separate entities.

“Can you let me off up here?” he asked as they passed over the Cross-Bronx Expressway. “I need to pick up something.” He gestured vaguely at a group of shops on the other side of the avenue.

Moreno cocked an eyebrow but didn’t comment. As Sam got out he called, “Tomorrow at eleven,” and then drove off.

Just to maintain his cover, Sam loitered for a few minutes in a drugstore, then took a bus up to Fordham University, where he used one of the computers in the library to help him invent a plausible fake history for William Hunter. It wasn’t so much research as antiresearch: He looked for information which wasn’t available on line. He found schools which didn’t have any old class lists on their web sites for his fake education, and companies with good privacy protection to use as employers for his résumé.

It was still light when he walked back to his apartment. Halfway there a man walked up to him and handed him an envelope without saying a word. The name “HUNTER” was written on it in block letters. Sam hesitated, then opened it right there on the sidewalk. If someone was trying to attack him magically, he was safest in public. Inside the envelope was nothing but a takeout menu from a Chinese restaurant two blocks away.

Lucas was at a booth in the back of the dining room, eating enormous oysters with black bean sauce. He waved Sam over.

“Should we be meeting like this?”

“Such a fortunate coincidence, my dear fellow,” said Lucas. “It’s always pleasant to encounter one’s colleagues entirely by happenstance, wouldn’t you agree?” He muttered something and suddenly the two of them were wrapped in a cottony silence.

The other diners, the television on the wall, the kitchen, the city outside — all of it was utterly inaudible.

“How did you find me?”

“Very easily,” said Lucas. “If you are going to be associating with Moreno I must keep a constant watch on you.”

“I’m helping him investigate Feng’s death.”

Lucas grimaced and shook his head. “Risky. Very risky. Although it does give you the opportunity to steer him the wrong way if he gets too close the truth. Who is the primary suspect, at the moment?”

“I don’t know. Today we called up the div, then talked with some people.”

“Was Moreno able to master it?”

“He made it answer some questions, but it didn’t tell him anything.”

Lucas grinned again. “Nor could it. I made sure of that. Who did you talk with?”

“A guy named Zadith and Miss Elizabeth. Tomorrow it’s the Count and Charles White.”

“Mm. I think I see Moreno’s reasoning. They’re old and powerful enough to be able to kill Feng, but not so elevated that he would be unimportant to them. The question before us now is which of them would make the better scapegoat.”

“But –” Sam stopped himself, blushing.

Lucas rolled his eyes. “I am aware they all are innocent of the actual crime. Unless you wish to go to Moreno and confess, one of his suspects must take the fall. You can console yourself with the thought that all of them are definitely guilty of crimes just as bad, if not worse. The Count has been in league with the Mafia since the fifties, Miss Elizabeth requires blood to stay alive, Zadith enslaves and destroys young men at a rate of three or four a year, and White trafficks in the most vile forms of prostitution on a large scale. Don’t worry, my boy: You are working for justice by framing any of them.”

“So how do I do it?”

“You don’t. Leave it to me.” He handed Sam a folded piece of paper. “Keep this on you — don’t read it!” Lucas clapped his own hand down on top of Sam’s as Sam started to unfold the paper. “Just keep it on your person and I’ll be able to follow your movements tomorrow.”

Sam tucked the paper into his wallet. “I’ve been thinking. Maybe Moreno could help me find out who sent the anzu after my family.”

Lucas jerked back, as if a venomous snake had suddenly appeared on the table. “Are you mad? You would have to reveal your true identity to him — and probably expose me into the bargain.”

“No, I could leave you out of it. I’m an orphan Apkal, after the murders I start doing research, discover I can do magic, and that brings us right up to when I started studying with Sylvia.

The bit with the names is just ordinary prudence. All of it’s true, except for you helping me.”

“If you reveal your true name he might command you to tell the whole truth.”

“Yes, but would he? Moreno seems like a good guy.”

“No question about that. And a good investigator must find out all the facts. Whoever sent the anzu to your house would certainly be punished, though it would likely be just a slap on the wrist for carelessness. You — and I — would be killed, as swiftly and painlessly as Moreno could manage. He might feel some regrets, but the Apkallu conspiracy would continue preying on the rest of humanity for another forty centuries. Is that what you want?”

Sam stared at the tabletop for half a minute before answering. “No. You’re right. I guess I was just . . . hoping.”

“There is room for hope. We can do this. Once I can maneuver myself into the role of Sage you and I will bring down the whole rotten edifice. You will live to see the world free of the Apkallu.”

“Would it really be better?” Sam wondered aloud.

Lucas looked at him steadily. “There’s no way to know. Magicians have been ruling from behind the scenes in all literate societies for six thousand years.”

“What about the Inca, or the Aztecs?”

“What about them? They had their own wizard-priests, the Nahualli. Nowadays Apkallu lore insists they were renegades, who fled to the New World in the days of Atra-Hasis.” He chuckled. “If you think that smacks too much of Joseph Smith, I’ve always suspected the Nahualli discovered the secrets of magic on their own, with no help from anyone. Perhaps they made their own bargains. The Apkallu waged a desperate sorcerous war against them in the fourteenth century. The Nahualli hit the Old World with the Black Death and the Little Ice Age, but the Apkallu ultimately broke them. It’s no coincidence that the Spanish found chaotic successor-states of great empires everywhere they went. But we’re straying from our topic, here.”

“I’d like to hear more.”

“Some other time. Do you have any sense of who Moreno suspects?”

“He seemed pretty polite with Zadith and Miss Elizabeth. MoonCat’s staying with her, by the way.”

“From which we may deduce some things about Miss Feng’s personal history. If she were still a virgin I don’t think dear Elizabeth could resist making use of her blood and body parts.”

Lucas’s tone and leering expression made Sam uncomfortable. “He was asking both of them for suggestions. Zadith said it wouldn’t be any of the likely suspects.”

“Shrewd of him.” Lucas stared off into the middle distance for a moment, then seemed to come to a decision. “All right. I think I know how to handle this. Be on your guard tomorrow — if any violence breaks out, your job is to escape. Nothing more. I don’t want all my investment in you to be wasted.”