<--Younger | The first New York Magician | Older-->
Wollensky left the cruiser in the taxi loading zone outside the Sheraton Towers and marched in at my shoulder, guaranteeing that I received a bevy of raised-eyebrow looks. We went up to the front desk.
"Can I help you, sir?" The first clerk to address me was a short woman with a nice smile and only the merest flicker of her gaze towards Wollensky, who leaned on the counter without saying anything.
"I'd like a room, please."
"Do you have a reservation?"
"No, this is last minute."
"I'll check to see what I have available..." she gave me a practiced worried tone, preparatory to telling me the hotel was full. I reached into my wallet and pulled out one of my best emergency weapons, a ridiculously overpriced and commensurately 'select' charge card.
She took the card and professionally switched attitude straight into 'covertly helpful'. "Is an Executive Suite acceptable, sir?"
"Sure." I was going to have to live here for a bit, after all. "Let's say two weeks and go from there."
After handing over ID and getting room keys, I borrowed her pen and a pad and wrote down the number of my current burn phone along with my room number. Turning to Wollensky, I handed it to him. "Here, this is for Polvani." He nodded, tapped his cap, and sauntered out of the lobby back towards his car.
I went upstairs.
One of the best things about business hotels is also one of the worst. The sameness, the carefully manufactured familiarity, coupled tightly with the awareness that the only part of you that's responsible for the room and its contents is your wallet. It's not yours. You don't care. While that can become soul-crushing, it is absolutely essential when you arrive stressed and exhausted from travel or from having your apartment suffer arson. I closed the door, kicked off most of my clothes, unloaded my pockets, stripped the cover off the bed (it's still a hotel, no matter how upscale) and just collapsed onto it. Before I could even decide whether to get fully undressed, I was asleep.
When I woke up, I realized I had been putting off an unpleasant task and called my co-op board's answering service. "This is Michel Wibert. I'm returning to town and have been informed about my apartment fire. I'm extremely sorry to have brought this trouble into the building. I'll have someone call you as soon as possible with all of my insurance information, and please send any emergency cleanup bills for the common spaces to me at my work address, I'll cover them. I can be reached at the number you have on file, and at my office. As soon as the police tell me it's allowed, I'll start the process of planning the rebuild."
Then I sat there, holding the phone and tapping it against my teeth reflectively. Polvani had my Desert Eagle (well, both of them, although I didn't know if the one from my apartment had survived the fire) as well as the carriage pistols and probably the pocket pistol as well. I recalled giving the NYPD permission to remove it from my office. That left me with only the Beretta, tucked away into its private pocket in the air. While it was a serviceable gun, it didn't produce nearly as much energy for casting as the Desert Eagle did, having a much lower muzzle velocity (especially with the silencer).
As much as I didn't want to admit it, I felt undressed without a pistol on. I'm not a native magic user; I have no Talent whatsoever for casting blood magic. I can only use tools to work with energy already available. Hence my favoring the Desert Eagle; although it is a finicky and relatively unreliable gun, and only carries a few rounds in the magazine, it can produce over fifteen hundred foot-pounds of energy per shot. The downside is that the rounds which do this are expensive, not widely used (the two go together) and heavy. The biggest problem I had had with the Desert Eagle was reliability; the gun had never really let me down, but it wanted a lot of maintenance and checking. I wasn't sure if I wanted to invest in another one, especially since Polvani and her crew knew I favored the big hand cannons.
In this particular case, there was only one thing to do. Call an expert. I dialed before realizing it was dark outside and that I had no idea what time it was, but shrugged. Sure enough, only two rings came before a voice answered. "Fontaine."
"Dreaver? It's Wibert."
"Oh is it, now. At this time of night."
I winced. "Yeah, sorry, I hadn't looked before I called."
"So what can I do for you, Frenchman?"
"I lost my Deagles, Dreaver. The cops have them. I might get them back, but who knows when or in what condition. You've been needling me about using them for a year or so. Here's your chance. I'm naked, and I need a gun."
"Finally, he shows some sense. Okay. Come on down to the shop tomorrow and we'll set you up. Is tomorrow soon enough?"
"Yeah. It's not urgent."
"Not that you know of, at least."
I shrugged. "I guess so. I'm sitting in a biz hotel with no plans to go out until I see you, so I'll take my chances." Dreaver Fontaine was a firm adherent to the notion that you never knew when you'd need something, unless you decided not to carry it. Then you'd know, crystal clear and for sure, that you needed it - and it would be too late.
"All right then. I'll put some thought into it. Requirements?"
"Mostly? Muzzle energy. I went with the Desert Eagle for that, so I don't want to drop the energy down too far. I'd like to stay above a thousand foot-pounds per shot, or close to it. And no revolvers, Fontaine."
"Oh, you're one of those, are you. All right. So. Reliable, high energy. Do you want to maximize energy per clip in favor of per shot?"
"No. Per shot has to stay near one k. I'd rather reload."
"Size constraints? Min, max?"
"No. I was carrying a Deagle, so obviously, it can be big. I'd like something thinner, if possible - something I don't need a trenchcoat to cover, but that's not a requirement."
"All right. Then I might have something for you. Be here after noon." Fontaine hung up.
A belated look at my phone told me it was near midnight. The police had left me my bandolier, fortunately. There wasn't anything in it that would look like a weapon other than the Leatherman in one of the pouches. I didn't know what they would see if they looked at the Patek Phillipe, but either they hadn't looked closely or the face only looked odd to those with Talent of some sort.
First things first. I ordered dinner from room service. After that, tipping an imaginary hat to Fontaine's paranoia, I ordered up a brainless movie on TV, finished both, took a hot bath, and went to bed.
* * *
I woke up around ten, realizing I'd need clothing. I reluctantly put back on the clothes I'd worn the day before, scrapes and sweat and all. I figured I wasn't in fact fully disarmed; thanks to the cabby, I had my silenced Beretta if I needed it. With this armor against the paranoia, I headed downtown. As I entered my building, the smell of smoke was still apparent. By the time I reached my floor, it was a reek. My front door had been smashed open, no doubt by the Fire Department, and there was crime scene tape across it but no one was there. I lifted the tape, swung the door open and stepped into wreckage.
I'd lived in this apartment as long as I could remember. Nan had left it to me, moving out to a small efficiency with assisted living services over my objections when she felt she needed it. The foyer was nothing but burnt walls, the floor ruined. They felt solid, though. I moved through the apartment, mentally cataloguing my losses. The kitchen had an entirely new and more elaborate crime scene web around it, no doubt due to the hand they'd found in the fridge. Raymond's hand, I supposed.
The bedroom closet was a mess. The fire hadn't reached here, but the firemen probably had, judging from the holes in the walls and ceiling, as they looked for embers. That was probably how they'd found the ceiling stash. I looked glumly up at the empty clips where my arsenal had lived. The rubber mat that had hidden it was nowhere in sight. After rummaging through the debris piled around, I came up with my overnight bag, which I generally keep packed as a 'go bag' for business travel - three days of clothes, toiletries and so on.
Before leaving, I dug around again and came up with a trenchcoat. I figured it was probably time to start calling it my 'best surviving trenchcoat' rather than my 'third favorite trenchcoat', but it was better than nothing, especially if Fontaine had gear for me. There wasn't anything else significant in the apartment other than personal memories and keepsakes, so I stayed light. As I was leaving, I called the precinct and asked for Polvani. They transferred me.
"This is Wibert. I wanted you to know I went home and picked up my overnight bag and a trenchcoat, in case your guys are coming back."
"No, they're done."
"So I can start work on it?"
"Yes, we're done there for now." She sounded guarded. I decided it wasn't worth figuring out why.
"Okay. One more thing. I'm getting another pistol. I don't feel safe. But it will be a new pistol, and I will submit paperwork on it immediately and send you copies, so you don't think I'm sneaking around."
"Watch yourself, Wibert. Any more incidents until we get this settled-"
"I understand, Polvani. That's why I'm telling you first."
"Where are you getting the gun?"
"Do you know Dreaver Fontaine?"
"Yeah." She snorted. "I can't afford him, but I know him. So you're a Friend of the Cripple."
"I like to think so."
"Okay, Wibert. I'll call you when I need you." She hung up.
"I look forward to it," I muttered to the silent phone, and stuffed it back into my pocket.
* * *
I got to Fontaine's place around one in the afternoon. He buzzed me up. When I got to the shop floor, there was another customer talking to Fontaine across the counter. They were standing in a small enclosed area, like a shooting range station, which prevented anyone else from seeing what they were handling. I nodded at Fontaine, took a seat against the wall and flipped through a ragged, ancient Playboy.
After about ten minutes, the customer - a short but wide man with a buzz haircut wearing anonymous blue jeans and lumberjack shirt but also a pair of shoes that were clearly recognizable as the NYPD recommended brand and type - walked past, giving me a nod. I nodded back, stood, and moved over to the counter to stand in the privacy station. Fontaine reached under the counter and the door behind me gave a sharp buzzing click as it locked, and he motioned me out to the general counter.
"What've you got, Dreaver?"
"You wanted high muzzle energy. You wanted reliable. You wanted per-shot energy over magazine size. And you wanted it thinner than the Desert Eagles."
"That sounds right."
Fontaine reached around behind himself and pulled a flat case off a shelf there, turning in his wheelchair to slide it onto the counter. He gestured at it. I unsnapped the flap that was facing me, turned it sideways so I wouldn't block him, and opened it. There were two dark blued handguns resting in it; they weren't as big as the Desert Eagle, but they weren't small, either. Six magazines rested in their own niches. Fontaine pulled one of the guns out, pulled the slide back to verify that it was empty, and handed it to me with the muzzle pointed out to the side. I took it carefully, locked the slide back and turned it over. It had obviously (well, obviously to me because I was no more immune to gun mania than any other American boy) started life as that icon of firearms, a Colt 1911. This one, though, had a large protrusion on the front, and a shiny barrel that didn't look original. I held it up to read the markings.
It had what looked like original stampings proclaiming it to be a "M1911A1 US ARMY" and "UNITED STATES PROPERTY" with a serial number next to that. The slide had patent information, and "COLT'S PT.F.A MFG CO. HARTFORD CT USA". On the right side of the receiver, below the slide, was Fontaine's cartouche - a rectangle with a lowercase 'd' and 'f' merged inside, looking quite a bit like a musical note. The protrusion was an add-on which extended an inch or more in front of the barrel, and it had ports - angled and beveled holes - cut into its top. I looked up. Fontaine was looking smug.
"Okay, Dreaver. Give. I don't know what this is."
"Ever heard of Johnny Rowland?"
"No. Should I have?"
"Nah. Doesn't matter. Anyway, this is a 1941 Colt M1911, but it's been converted to a .460 Rowland."
"And now, I presume, you'll tell me what that means?"
Fontaine put two cartridges on the counter. "Have a look." I picked them up. They were the same length, and they looked like .45 cartridges should, but one of them had a slightly longer sidewall - they were the same length overall, but one looked like the bullet was recessed slightly into it. "The longer case is the Rowland," Fontaine continued. He held out his hand and I dropped the rounds into it. "It's got a hotter powder charge. It develops around a thousand foot-pounds. Only two-thirds that of your Desert Eagle, but the gun is much, much closer to standard, it's probably half an inch or more thinner, and in a pinch this gun will fire regular .45 ACP."
I examined the other gun, and noticed it had a consecutive serial number. "Where'd you get...never mind." Fontaine grinned. "So it's more powerful. What's this on front?"
"Compensator. Adds mass to the slide, and the ports on top will redirect some of the gases upward. Makes it easier to hold on target. Also, without the compensator or some huge ports cut into the main barrel, which I didn't want to do, the slide moves too quickly."
"And you think I should carry twin .45s. Who am I, The Shadow?"
"You asked for something more reliable than the Desert Eagle with higher energy than a .45 or a 9mm can give you. There you go. Most of those guns are stock - if high quality - parts. The conversion gives you new springs, a new barrel, the compensator, a few other bits. If you find yourself out of .460, you can use regular .45 ammo but it might not have enough energy to cycle the action with the stronger springs. You can either rack the slide after each shot, or if you have time, replace the spring. I left all the original parts in the case, and spares for both. Oh, and..." he reached over his shoulder again and dumped a tangle of leather onto the counter. It proved to be a pair of holsters attached with leather webbing. I picked it up and let it hang down; the rig would hold both guns in cross-draw below my armpits.
"Is the basement open?"
"Sure." Fontaine flipped a pair of switches behind the counter before putting a box of fifty cartridges on the counter next to the guns. "Let me have your permit. I'll start the paperwork."
I took the box, packed the guns back into the case, and dug through my wallet. I handed him the pistol permit, picked up the arsenal and headed out to the stairs. Fontaine - or whoever his backer was - owned the buildings on either side of Fontaine's shop. I suspected his workshop covered the third floor of all three, but had never seen proof. The most important thing about owning them, though, was that the three buildings were all nearly seventy feet deep. That meant their basements were seventy feet long. I exited the bottom of the stairway and looked up at the small camera on the doorframe. The door buzzed and I went through. There was a two-lane pistol range on the other side of the door, with fans and lights already running. I stripped off the trenchcoat and placed the case on the counter while I tried to work out how the holsters went on. That took me a ridiculous amount of time, but finally I got it into place. Then I picked up the magazines and loaded all six from the box of shells, pressing the fat brass shapes into the well with my thumb. When I was done, I had all six magazines on the counter in front of me. I spent five minutes learning the gun - the feel, the safeties, the slide release, the magazine release - and lifting them to firing position and sighting down them both loaded and empty.
Finally, I slid a magazine into the first one and worked the slide to load a round. I donned a pair of ear protectors and some safety glasses from the wall behind me, and faced the metal target silhouette at the other end of the range with the gun at my right side, finger along the trigger guard. After a few seconds, I brought the gun into battery as smoothly as I could, and with my thumb flipped off the enlarged safety. When it felt like it was on target, I squeezed the trigger.
The sound wasn't actually as loud as the Desert Eagle. The recoil wasn't quite as bad, either. The most surprising thing was the visible puff of propellant gases from the ports along the top of the compensator, but that was it.
It felt fine.
I fired off the other six rounds in the magazine, then reloaded and fired those off. I hit the silhouette with twelve of the fourteen rounds. Not great, but not terrible for a new gun. Finally I reloaded the gun, held my left hand out with my palm facing the silhouette and fired again. I pulled the energy from the shot back, and heard a 'tink' as the bullet landed on the floor somewhere between me and the target; fired again, pulled that back as well, then fired a third time and dumped the energy into the bullet as it left the barrel. It was more than a single shot from the Desert Eagle had carried; at least, it felt like it. The round hit the silhouette and there was a flare of light as the cast energy was released - some as kinetics, some as heat, some as light. With a sharp crack, the explosion opened a hole in the metal plate and the silhouette shuddered.
"Damn it, Wibert, do you know what those cost?"
I turned to face the camera which was visible behind me, monitoring the range, and grinned. "I like this, Dreaver. How much?"
"Heh. You'd better come back up."
"That bad, huh." I loaded both guns with new magazines and slid them into the holsters. The compensators made drawing them something to be done carefully, to avoid tangling, but the holsters had been modified to accept them. The weight wasn't that bad - less, per side, than the Desert Eagle had been for certain. I tossed the extra rounds into the case, snapped it closed, and headed back upstairs to dicker with the cripple.
Fontaine pointed out the modifications he'd made to the guns - replacement 1948 hardened slides, beavertail hand guards, lighter triggers, beveled magazine wells, tactical ambidextrous safeties, a few other completely esoteric technical bits. I cut him short. "I know they're good, Dreaver, you did them. How much?"
He looked hurt, but I snorted. He grinned and named a figure. It wouldn't have bought a car, but it might've bought a used one. I looked at him for a second while he looked back, confident in his handiwork. "These are consecutive serial number, original World War II Colts, Wibert. Matching inspection cartouches. Do you know what these things are worth to collectors?"
"I'm not a collector. And you hate collectors." It was true. Fontaine maintained that guns existed to shoot until they were not safe to do so, not to keep in drawers as investments. Of course, given that he'd come up with these, he must himself have stashes of all manner of odd and rare guns, but to be fair, he was selling them to me to shoot, not collect.
"I could have built you these from crap guns, Frenchman."
"You could." I sighed. "Okay. Bill me."
He nodded, and slipped a folder across the counter. Inside was my pistol permit, along with a bill of sale and several forms. Two I recognized as Form 4473 - the federal form recording a handgun purchase. The other was new to me, and I held it up inquiringly. "That's a 3310. You bought two guns within five days. ATF wants that," Dreaver explained.
I nodded, and noted there were two copies of each form. "Thanks, Dreaver."
"You're welcome, Frenchman. Use them in good health. Take care of them. If I find out you're not cleaning them, I'm gonna come take them away from you."
"Oh, here." He grunted and lifted a box onto the table. It was perhaps half the size of a shoebox. "That's five hundred rounds of .460 with 230 grain JHPs on the front. They should develop around 900-950 foot-pounds. There's data that indicates that a much lighter bullet, maybe 80 grain, would develop around 1500 foot pounds due to doubling the velocity, but I considered that too trick a round. If you want to try it, tell me and I'll make a few up. If you need more of these, let me know. I left you a note in the case that explains how to switch the springs if you want to fire .45." With that, he tossed an empty gym bag onto the table, which proved to be large enough to hold the case, folder and the box of ammunition.
I swung the bag off the table and offered a lazy salute. "Thanks."
"Good luck, Frenchie."
I looked at him. "With what?"
"The cops took your guns, and you're buying new ones? You're into some shit, Wibert. Don't make me regret selling you those."
* * *
I dropped copies of the forms off at the precinct for Polvani, and headed back to the hotel. All the way there, on the subway and walking, I felt eyes on me, but my amateur tradecraft didn't reveal anyone watching me. It bothered me all the same, though; enough that while walking up the stairs from the 53rd street station, I popped a capacitor on the bandolier and washed it back down behind me, looking for anyone concentrating on me rather than their surroundings. Nothing.
Even back in my hotel room, I couldn't shake the feeling. I put Dreaver's bag and my overnight bag down, removed my coat, and sat on the end of the bed. I could still feel the weight of the guns; I wasn't used to them or the holsters. Closing my eyes, I tried to be as still as possible.
In any large New York building, it is impossible to find true silence. Fans, elevators, flexing of the building from the wind, the subway, noises from the street. I was practiced enough at concentrating that I could swiftly identify these and ignore them. Something was left, though - something that my subconscious had known was there. I forced myself to remain calm, eliminating every sound from my attention as I identified it. I was left with a rhythm and something else.
The rhythm was my own heartbeat, but something was wrong. There was something else overlaid on the familiar gentle thumping. Almost but not quite an echo; not a true echo, because it started before the heartbeat and continued after it. A warm but complex noise I couldn't identify, it cradled my heartbeats. I left it behind and continued on to the last anomaly, something outside me, something that didn't relate to me at all.
It took a few minutes before I could place it. Then I understood, and my eyes snapped back open, seeking out the telephone near the bed.
<--Younger | The first New York Magician | Older-->