The Initiate – Snippet 27
“I guess,” said Moreno, adjusting the seat back and closing his eyes. “Asshole tried to fight an agaus. Even if he’s innocent, he’s got to pay for that.” He gave a deep sigh. “Now we know why he didn’t want to meet at his house.”
“Get some rest while I drive. Where am I taking you?”
There was a long pause and then Moreno said, “Jersey City. South end of Washington Street.”
“You live in Jersey City?” Sam chuckled. “I figured you would have some fancy place on Park Avenue or something.”
“I travel a lot. It’s close to Newark. There’s a shuttle . . .” Moreno’s voice faded away and his head slumped to one side. He slept for two hours, only waking up when Sam pulled the Citroen into the valet parking spot in front of a luxury condo tower just across the Hudson from the Battery.
Moreno tried to convince Sam he could make it upstairs on his own, but he leaned very heavily on Sam as they walked to the elevator.
“Thanks, man,” he said once the doors closed. “You handled yourself pretty well out there. A lot of people freak out the first time they see what magic can really do.”
“I guess we’re not going to see Mr. White today.”
“Nope. I’ve got to get in touch with the Sage of the West, and then tomorrow morning we’re going back down to the Count’s house. You still in?”
They got off on the fourteenth floor — since the building lacked a thirteenth, the address would throw off some of the more literal-minded spirits. Moreno’s apartment was good sized but not immense, and was decorated in a Kennedy-era style so perfect that the modern magazines on the boomerang-shaped coffee table looked jarringly out of place. The place was perfectly tidy, though Sam suspected that was due to Moreno not having much free time to mess the place up.
He got Moreno into a chair and fetched him a cold beer. (A Rheingold — Moreno’s taste in beer was as retro as his furniture.) Moreno took a long drink as he looked out toward Manhattan. Sam wasn’t sure if he should stay and keep an eye on Moreno, or leave him in privacy.
“I’m okay,” said Moreno, almost reading Sam’s mind. “Look.” He pulled up his sleeve to show where he’d slashed himself just a few hours earlier. The gash was already closed, as if it had been healing for a week. “Burned up a couple of spirits fixing that. I’ll have to catch some more. Listen, on your way out, make sure the garage guys give my car interior a good cleaning, will you? Shampoo the carpet and everything. I don’t want any bloodstains.”
“Can you trust them?”
“Oh, sure. The whole building staff are my buddies. I tip with twenties, I buy everyone a fifth of Glenlivet for Christmas — and I run the Mitum by all of them every couple of days to make sure they’re not under someone’s control. I’m safe here. Most Apkallu are pretty terrible at influencing people if they can’t use magic.”
Just as Sam reached the door, Moreno called after him. “Do me a favor, okay? Don’t go home, don’t get in touch with anybody. The Count may think I’m really dead, or at least too beat up to make a move. He might do something stupid.” He grinned a predatory grin despite his fatigue. Sam grinned back and nodded.
He took the ferry back to Manhattan, rode the subway up to the bank in the Bronx where he kept his real identity in a safe-deposit box, and William (“Ace”) Hunter ceased to exist for the rest of the day. Samuel Arquero got a room at the Hyatt next to Grand Central Station, Samuel Arquero bought himself a new set of clothes off the rack a couple of blocks away, and Samuel Arquero called up Ash to see if she was free for dinner. Samuel Arquero really wanted to forget about magic for a while.
“I can meet you at eight, if you don’t mind a late dinner,” she said.
“No, that’s fine. I need to clean up anyway.”
He took her to an old-school German restaurant on the East Side, chiefly because it seemed like the least likely place to run into any other Apkallu. She talked about the casino project and how she was planning to cycle gray wastewater through the landscaping to reduce the impact on the local sewer system.
Just after the dirndl-skirted waitress took their dessert orders, Ash looked at Sam and asked, “What’s the matter? You’ve hardly said anything all night.”
“Oh, rough day, that’s all.”
“Want to talk about it?”
He grimaced. “I can’t. I guess you could say it’s confidential.” He didn’t really want to tell her about seeing a huge golden scarab fight a giant made of turquoise in the middle of an abandoned missile base.
“Sam, I don’t want to pry — but I guess I am prying. You never talk about what you do, you vanish for days at a time, and you always seem to be . . . editing what you say to me. Are you mixed up in something?”
“Yes, that’s a good way to put it.” He sighed, angry with himself at having to make up another lie. “Remember how I used to work at Sikorsky? They’re a big defense contractor, part of Lockheed Martin now. Well, that led to some government work — and that’s literally all I’m allowed to say about it. If that’s a problem, I understand completely.”
“No, it’s fine,” she said, and she sounded genuinely relieved. “I thought you were in the Mafia or something.”
“I am not involved with the Mafia,” he said, glad to be able to tell her something that was true.
For the next few hours Sam put more effort into being sociable. They had some drinks, he walked Ash home, and it turned out he didn’t need a hotel room after all. It was good to not be alone.
When he woke in her apartment, he was alone. She had left a note on the kitchen table: “Had to be at work. Lock deadbolt and slip key under door when you go. Or keep it. — Ash.”
Sam showered and got dressed, made himself a cup of coffee, and realized he was trying to find a reason to stay. Her apartment was small and cluttered with books and art supplies. It wasn’t really big enough for two people. Of course, if he followed Moreno’s advice he could get a place with plenty of room . . .
No, he told himself. He didn’t want to get her involved in his other life. Sam finished his coffee, washed the mug, and locked the door behind him when he left. But he kept the key.