<--Younger | The first New York Magician | Older-->
I dropped Patrick back at his office to file the small morass of paperwork that my leaving the cop shop had produced, and deputized him to get my Desert Eagle back from the clutches of the NYPD. Then I went home to cannon back up and figure out what the hell I was going to do.
My apartment was almost entirely restored, thanks to the cleaning service Patrick had called in. I didn't know that there were cleaners who specialized in coping with police warrant searches, but apparently there are - you can find anything in New York. I wouldn't have been surprised had some of the employees turned out to by ex-NYPD themselves.
Making sure the door was locked and that I was alone, I put on my bandolier and stood in the middle of my living room. Then I placed my left hand on a capacitor in my bandolier and my right hand on the pocketwatch and fired perhaps a half a kilojoule of power directly into the air around me as nastily jagged electromagnetic energy. I had done this several times when I first hit upon the technique, replacing my home electronics every time with stronger or older models, until I knew for certain that none of my gear would be harmed by the small electromagnetic pulse.
If there were bugs in the apartment, though, I was pretty sure they'd have at least a temporary headache, if not been cooked down to crunchy components.
Then I went into the bedroom and did it again.
After replacing the two strobe capacitors in my bandolier with two fresh from the charger sitting in my office next to another decorative DSLR, I went into my walk-in closet and pulled the cedar chest into the middle of the floor. Standing on it, I could just reach the ceiling, and I hooked my fingernails on the edges of the mat that fit snugly between the moldings there and pulled down.
The ceiling mat, which was a piece of rubberized plastic doing a great job of pretending to be a painted ceiling (it would even thump properly if you didn't know just where to rap it), peeled down and dropped into my hand. Above it, set into clips in the actual ceiling, were several weapons I had taken the calculated risk of not telling the police about.
So far, it appeared the risk had paid off.
I thought about retrieving the second Desert Eagle which rested snugly against the ceiling, but decided in the end that if I was pulled in for any reason, having a second Desert Eagle on me while my original was in police custody wouldn't look at all good, especially as I hadn't told them I had this one, nor would I be able to produce a bill of sale for it. Regretfully, I left it and its brethren in place and carefully replaced the ceiling panel before stepping down and sliding the chest back underneath my hung shirts.
I'd have to rely on the Cabby and my capacitors in case of trouble.
I told myself that that was a good thing; looked at one way, this whole set of troubles had arisen because I was getting too quick to pull out the gun. It's much easier to get away with what geeks call PFM than with gunplay; witnesses often aren't even willing to admit they saw you exercise Pure Fucking Magic in front of them, but everyone's always quick to report a gun seen or (worse) a gun used.
Sure. This would be good for me. Like broccoli. Except if I got myself into a situation where I needed the energy boost that only the big pistol could bring me, I'd be in serious trouble. Of course, that wasn't any place I hadn't been before.
Settling the bandolier more comfortably around me, I checked the time. Six-thirty in the evening. I'd lost almost a full day screwing around with the police. There was really only one thread in the whole situation that I could pull which I so far hadn't, and it made me nervous that I'd gotten it from Raymond. Him I'd have to deal with, find out what he'd done to get me (and, of course, himself) out of the murder rap for the bartender and whoever his middleman had been. First, though, I had obligations.
I called Kharan's place and got Galina. "Galina? It's Michel."
"Hello," she said in a guarded tone. "Do you want to talk to Dad?"
"No, to you. Can you tell me who you were to interview with at the Parks Department?"
"The Parks- what?"
"Your Dad said you had an interview with the New York City Parks department that you missed because of Raymond's idiots. Do you know who you were supposed to meet with?"
"Let me think." She paused for a moment, then said "Hang on. I have it in my phone. I'll be right back."
"Okay." I heard the click as the phone was laid down. Some seconds later, it was picked up again.
"Hi, Kharan. How's she doing?"
"She's young. She's recovering."
"I am..." he paused, continued - "still angry."
"That's normal, Kharan. Healthy. If you weren't murderously angry, I'd be worried about you. Somebody took your daughter."
"Someone that you have apparently declined to pursue, Michel."
Ah. "I haven't declined to pursue him, Kharan. But there's something going on I need to understand before I deal with him, and to be fair, he didn't actually kidnap her, and he did release her."
Kharan blew a sigh. "I know, I know. I'm not holding you responsible. After all, you're the one who get her back."
"I'm still working, Kharan, and I'll let you know what I find."
"Thank you. Here's Galina." He handed off the phone.
"Mr. Wibert? Hi. I was supposed to interview with a woman named Erika Shearson. She's a department head for public travelways in Central Park. Should I call her, or do you think she's involved in all this somehow?"
"I don't know if she is or not, Galina. You do whatever you think you would do if my whole set of complications hadn't come along. Thanks for the information."
"Thank you, Michel. Again." She hung up.
So. Raymond had said that the person responsible for Galina's interview was being followed, but that he hadn't been able to figure out by what or by who. Time to see if I was any better at the game than he had been.
I went to the office, which had better anonymizers than my home, and did some poking around online. Erika Shearson was head of the Capital Projects Division of the New York City Parks Department, which was headquartered in Queens, right near Shea Stadium (cough - I mean Citi Field) and the National Tennis Center. I'm sorry, the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
I got on the phone with a couple of people from the slightly darker side of New York City, and for fifty bucks found that Erika Shearson's home address was 332 West 17th street - we were practically neighbors. Turning, I scooped the not-entirely-for-show Nikon DSLR off the credenza, made sure my bandolier was tight, and headed back uptown.
332 West 17th was a small apartment building, probably a walk-up, on the south side of 17th between 8th and 9th. Looking in the front door, I was in luck - the mailboxes were along the side of the front entry hallway, visible through the window in the front door itself.
I positioned myself across the street and checked sightlines. Yep, the mailboxes were visible. Walking back across, I checked for observers, found none; the lockpicks slid out of the bandolier and I was inside the front door in under thirty seconds. I had no doubt that the apartments were protected more along the lines of Fort Knox, but I didn't need to get into them. Ms. Shearson's last name was on the mailbox second from the end.
With that, I retreated home to have a well-earned sleep.
* * *
Waking at six, I was back on station across the street from 332 by six-twenty. I set up the camera, resting it casually on the roof of a parked car, and blew on my coffee.
Over the next three hours five people left 332, including two women. I got good shots of both of them. Neither, however, checked the mailboxes. Figuring a city employee would be at work by sometime before 9:30, I knocked off for the morning and spent the rest of the day doing maintenance on my gear at home. At four, though, I was back.
This time I got lucky. One of the women I recognized from that morning stopped at Shearson's mailbox. I went back to the office and printed out an inkjet version of her portrait, small enough to fit in my hand and centered on her face. Then I left the camera in the office and went to check in with the incarcerated.
Fourteenth Street has a number of interesting things along it. It's got Union Square and the associated park. It has the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary. Over in Alphabet, it's got a couple interesting bars within a stone's throw. It has the south end of Stuy Town. But on the West side, before you get to the consumerism altar of the Apple Store, it's got the Eighth Avenue subway station.
This station is home to the A, C, E and L lines, and to something else. Tom Otterness contributed a whole series of artwork to the station, entitled 'Life Underground.' It consists of whimsical small figures, maybe in brass, engaged in likely activities throughout the station. There's an alligator coming up from a manhole, snatching a small humanoid. There's a phone booth with a bowler hat and large eyes and a Groucho mustache. There are numerous little people collecting and toting pennies and tokens.
And thanks to me, there's one more figurine than there should be.
I went to the mezzanine level, over the A/C/E train platforms, and moved to the middle, along the east side. There, at the top of stairway P6 (according to its tag), I stopped before the metal figure of a female cop looking disdainfully over the sleeping brass form of a prone woman.
"Hi Cheeky. What's up?" I leaned on the metal railing next to the figures, at ease.
"Fuck you, Wibert," said a small tinny voice in my ear.
"Now, now, Cheeky. Is that any way to treat someone here to take some time off for good behavior?"
The small policewoman figure turned its head ever so slightly towards me. Had I not known it could do that, I would have written it off as a trick of the light. "It's how I talk to the fucker that put me here in the first place. Fucker."
"For the twentieth time, you frog, it's Czekin. Czekin T. Kurvisch. Got it?"
I raised my hands in surrender. "Whatever you say, Cheeky."
The small figure sighed in disgust. "What're you offering? And what d'you want?"
"I'm offering a hundred days."
"A year. No deal."
"You don't even know what I want yet," I protested.
"I don't care what you want. I'm not gonna talk to you for less than a year," said the small figurine. "Making me a cop. A woman cop. Ho ho ho, the irony, I could die."
"Good to see your sarcasm gland's doing OK while brassed, Cheeky," I said, patting the other's metal head.
"Don't...do that," said the poltergeist locked into the small brass form.
"Okay, I'm sorry." I moved my hands away. "A hundred fifty days."
"You're a bastard, Wibert, but okay. Tell me what you want, and I'll tell you if I'll do it."
I pulled out the picture of what I was pretty sure was Erika Shearson - or maybe her lover, who knew? - and showed it to the figure. "Ever seen her before?"
"What if I have?" asked the poltergeist, suddenly sober.
I frowned. "A hundred fifty. Take it or leave it."
"Okay, okay," said Czekin. "I see her all the time. She commutes through here. Takes the A up to Forty-second, and I think switches to the 7 train out to Queens."
Bingo. "How come you noticed her?" I asked.
"Wibert, do me a favor, okay? Leave me out of this," asked Czekin.
I frowned deeper. "Out of what? What's going on?"
"Let's just say that woman? She don't ride the subway alone. Ever."
"What do you mean? Come on, Cheeky, don't get cute."
"She's got a tail. A bunch of 'em. And I don't know who they are, I don't know what they are, but I don't like 'em. One of 'em sees me once and hisses at me, and it's nothing I ever heard before. Hiss like a bad phone line. Never heard that sound from man or beast or kin."
I put the photograph back in my pocket. "Okay. What time does she usually come through?"
"Eight fifteen or so."
"Thanks, Cheeky. One hundred fifty days. That leaves you with what?"
The figure sighed, deeply. "Eight years, one hundred twenty-five days to go. You fucker."
I nodded to him, placed my hand on the pocketwatch inside my bandolier, and said in a flat tone, "I abjure one hundred fifty days of Czekin Kurvisch's servitude to me, in exchange for services done." There was a brief gold glow around the statue, and I took my hand away. "Thanks, Cheeky. See you later."
"Yeah, yeah, Wibert. Get moving, there's tits I could be lookin' at if you weren't in the way."
And with that, I left the trapped poltergeist to his vigil and boarded the A train, heading for Forty-second street and thence, perhaps, to Queens.
<--Younger | The first New York Magician | Older-->