<--Younger | The First New York Magician | Older-->
I lifted the muzzle of the Desert Eagle towards the ceiling and loosened my grip on it. A hand came over my right shoulder and took the gun from mine.
"Thank you, Mr. Wibert. Please move forward. There are two chairs near the watch desk. Be seated."
I shuffled forward slowly, thinking. "You know, you only have a few minutes before New York's Finest start banging on your regrettably distressed front door. I wasn't exactly subtle getting in here."
"No, you were not. On the other hand, this building is very discriminating about what sights and sounds it lets get more than perhaps three or four meters from the outer walls. While I have no doubt you woke up several of the neighbors, the police will find the door shut and whole. Bits of metal are scattered around over Ninety-sixth street, but without a site for an explosion, that's all they'll have. This building doesn't contain people, and its exterior will be unchanged, so they will not enter."
Damn it. It sounded plausible, if he had a high-power slip around the outside of the building and could get the door to look reasonably intact quickly enough. I was willing to bet that whoever he was, he'd done that before following me inside to deal with me. I started cataloguing what tools I had on me as I moved towards the folding metal chairs.
"Before you sit, Mr. Wibert, please hand me your bandolier. And, if you would, the second pistol I believe you carry inside what must be a very heavy coat."
I sighed and unhooked the bandolier, handed it over, and then opened the London Fog and held the left side of it out away from my body without turning around. "I don't have the other gun."
A hand flipped the coat open and back, and I felt it search the cloth panels quickly. "Thank you. Please sit." I did.
As I did, I finally got a glimpse of my opponent. It was a bit off-putting. Despite his deep voice and European diction, he looked...well, a bit comical, I have to say. He was perhaps five four or five five and caucasian. He was wearing a black cloak over what appeared to be a somewhat shabby sports jacket, and looked for all the world like a student playing dressup in what clothes he had available.
Of course, if appearances weren't lying, he'd killed at least one person so far, and tried to kill me. And kidnapped Galina. I felt my face tightening, but I kept my mouth shut. He was holding a nine millimeter pistol of some sort; it looked like a SIG but I wasn't sure. He was, at least, holding it with competence; while I didn't know if he'd ever used it in anger, he appeared to know how to handle it safely and effectively. He picked up the other chair with his off hand and moved it some ten feet from me, then sat down so that we were facing each other. His gun hand rested on his knee, but the gun was aimed at me with a steady bearing. "Well. I've wanted to meet you for some time, you know."
"I'm in the damn phone book."
"I meant professionally."
"Professionally speaking, you've chosen to meet me in a manner which guarantees you're not going to like the outcome."
"Please don't threaten me, Mr. Wibert." His voice was level. "I am holding a gun I know how to use; I have your various tools with me-" he patted the bandolier where it lay across his other knee, the Desert Eagle atop it- "and we haven't even had a chance to talk yet."
"You killed the bartender."
"Why should I talk to you?"
"You talk to many people who have killed others. You do not, as yet, know why I had him killed."
"Okay, I'll bite. Why?"
"Because he took the girl."
I looked at him and felt my brow furrowing. "He took the girl by your instruction."
"No. He was to have approached her and asked- asked, Mr Wibert! -asked her to meet with me."
"And he became enamored of the power that I had given him, and chose instead to abduct her using the tools I had given him for use in case of emergency."
"I suspect I simply chose him poorly. I had little choice; I knew her habits, and he was the only person regularly to come in contact with her who was easily and quickly suborned."
"Who was the middleman?"
"He was an assistant who lost control of the agent, and then lost control of the situation and allowed himself to be taken prisoner."
"You're just right up there with the creepy ruthless vibe, aren't you?"
"It was necessary."
"Oh, come on," I groaned, trying not to make it too theatrical. "'It was necessary?' I can't even say that and keep a straight face. Do you really believe that? Or are you trying so hard to bullshit me that you've lost track, or what?"
He took it well. The gun didn't waver. "You may believe what you wish, Mr. Wibert. My purpose in holding you here is to explain enough of what is happening to you that hopefully you will be willing to refrain from interfering."
"Not much chance-"
"Let me say," he cut me off, "that in my efforts to convince you, I will hand Galina Sharansky over to you. She is unharmed, and the two of you will be allowed to leave together."
I shut up and looked at him for a few seconds. "Okay. If that happens, then you'll have my attention."
"I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to wait until I've had a chance to explain." He shifted in his seat, and carefully laid my bandolier underneath his chair in the cage formed by its struts, laying the Desert Eagle atop it. So long as he was sitting in the chair, getting it out would be non-trivial. He was, so far, entirely too composed for my peace of mind.
"Show me Galina, and I'll listen."
He waved his empty hand. One end of the long room lit up, perhaps thirty feet away towards the back of the building. I saw a larger, more solid chair chained tightly to a large, rusty and apparently abandoned hunk of machinery. Galina was sitting in it, gagged, with her hands tied behind her. She looked equal parts afraid and furious. I raised a hand to her. I didn't know if she would remember or recognize me, but she at least seemed to understand from the gun being held on me that I wasn't with her captor, and nodded.
I turned back to the other. "Okay. You have my attention."
"Thank you." He paused, considering. "My name is irrelevant. I know the position you hold, that of Balancer. I am somewhat similarly employed, but with a more focused set of goals."
"Who are you working for?"
"At present, myself. The current situation has nothing to do with my instructions from my sponsors."
"Do you know what Ms. Sharansky has been training to do?"
"Yeah. She's a landscape architect. Works with parks and public spaces."
"Yes. Some six months ago, I became aware that she was being watched by a small horde of agents for an unknown Elder principal."
"Watched. They were following her in shifts, never leaving her alone. I became aware of this by following her minders to her; I ran across them separately and realized they were trailing her only once I began to investigate."
"What were you doing?"
He grinned. "Nothing relevant to this, I assure you."
"Yeah, I assure you," I said somewhat sarcastically.
"I liked Fletch too, Mr. Wibert," he said. "In any case, I began watching the watchers, so to speak. I found that they were also watching several people who work for the New York City Parks department." He must have seen interest in my face, because he nodded. "Yes. Eventually, one of those under surveillance offered Ms. Sharansky an interview, and I became worried. I decided that before she could accept the position, I had to at least have an idea of what work she was doing; what skills she had that they might find useful. That would give me an idea- well."
"An idea of what?"
"This is somewhat embarrassing, but an idea of who the agents were working for."
"You don't know?"
"No." He looked annoyed. "I have been unable to find out. My...sponsors have not told me anything about this situation. I'm not sure if they're even aware of it, and I have not told them. I asked around the city, discreetly, but was unable to find out anything."
I cocked my head. "How come I've never run into you before? And what do I call you?"
"My name is Raymond. I have been careful to avoid you."
"Yeah. You know, Raymond, that you told your golem to kill both your middleman and me. I'm not about to let that slide."
"Well, I have the gun, Mr. Wibert. Besides, while he may be dead, you are not, and if we can conclude our discussion peacefully, I will return Ms. Sharansky to you."
"I'm just saying."
"Then I suppose I'll have to deal with that when the time comes. You know, the Sam Spade act you seem to enjoy is somewhat tiresome."
"No more than the creepy Blofeld act you're putting on."
"Touché. The diction is-" he grimaced, "really fucking annoying, isn't it?" I think I looked a little surprised. He nodded. "Yeah. My sponsors have trouble with idiom and contractions. I have to come across all fucking BBC for them to understand me without confusion, and it gets to the point I forget I'm fucking doing it. I sound like some kind of b-movie sneering villain, don't I?"
"Occupational hazard, I guess." He waved the gun. "I'll tell you what. Why don't you go get Galina and bring her over here. If you think she'll sit quietly until we're done, you can untie her, but I warn you, she has a hell of a scream on her, so I'd probably avoid ungagging her until you've explained things to her." He tossed a key to me with his empty hand. It landed on my lap.
I picked it up, stood up slowly. The gun tracked me, but he just watched me, an amiable look on his face, so I walked slowly back to Galina. She watched me coming; she'd been too far away to hear what we had been saying over the noise of the few pieces of equipment that were still operating in the echoing machine room. "Galina? Do you recognize me?"
She nodded furiously.
"Good. Listen, I'm going to untie and ungag you in a second, all right? I just need you to listen for a second. When I do, don't scream; don't try to run. I'm going to get you out of here, but you have to come with me over there and sit down where I was before for a bit. Nod if you understand and agree."
She looked at me for a second, then closed her eyes and nodded again, hard.
"Okay." I ungagged her - she let out one sob, then locked her jaw shut - and then untied her hands. She did whimper once when I unlocked the chain and moved her hands around to the front of the chair; I didn't know how long her wrists had been behind her back, but it couldn't be comfortable. "Okay, let's go. Can you walk?"
"Yes." She stood with gritted teeth, but stood. "Thank you, Mr. Wibert."
"Don't thank me yet."
"He's a bit crazier than usual, but he's holding on."
"What's going on?" She was calm, but looked very brittle.
"I don't know yet, but I'm going to find out. Laughing boy over there says he's going to let us go. I'm inclined to believe him at the moment, but let's not do anything that makes him change his mind."
"What do you want me to do?" Cool in a crisis, too, just like her father.
"Just come with me, sit with us, and watch out for anything to happen."
I slid the chain out of the chair's struts and picked it up. Galina walked behind me as we moved back to Raymond, and I put the chair down next to the one I'd been sitting in. Galina sat down and looked steadily and Raymond, who nodded to her. I sat down again.
"Okay, here we all are." I nodded to him. "What's all this about, then?"
"Miss Sharansky is a skilled landscape and outdoor space designer. I was curious as to why she was being watched. I eventually discovered that at least one of the managers in the office which granted her a job interview has been compromised by an unknown actor. His will, put simply, is not his own."
Feeling Galina preparing to say something which I guessed would be angry, I lifted a hand at my side to indicate Galina should stay quiet. She subsided. I nodded at her in thanks. "Raymond, let's get this over with. If you let Galina and myself walk out of here right now, I will guarantee to you that I will return to meet with you in a neutral location, where you can explain your concerns to me."
"I notice you've said nothing about not going to the authorities."
"No, I didn't. In the first place, the person going to the authorities is Galina's father, not me; in the second, I'm not going to promise that she won't, it's her decision. In the third place, people are dead, and in my book that means you take your chances."
He cocked his head at me for a moment. "Very well. I accept. How shall we do this?"
"First, you hand me back my gear as a gesture of goodwill. Then you let us leave. Then you get to leave without us watching."
"I think-" he began, but he wasn't able to finish. There was a sudden mechanical scream from the back of the room, and his face paled as he looked past us. I twisted in my chair to see a hazy glow around the huge roughly round piece of equipment that Galina had been chained to. It looked like a generator with strange bits grafted onto it. "What the hell is that?"
"That," said Raymond as he stood up, the gun dropping to his side, "is a rotary converter that I restored to power the summoning casts I was using. It's spinning up using six hundred volt AC to supply DC to the summoning circuit I inscribed into the outer casing."
I was extremely interested in what he'd just said about summoning circuits, but I didn't have time to examine his words closely. "Are you saying you didn't activate it?"
"No. I haven't cast the summoning, and I presume that unless you made a copy of the CD which someone else has, you're not either."
"No, the CD is in my coat under your chair. Give me my gun."
He started to reach down, but there was a sharp CRACK and a jagged line of otherwhere opened in the space in front of the shrieking converter looking for all the world like a lightning bolt painted in scenery. I couldn't tell what was behind the flaw in space, but I stood and shoved Galina behind me. Raymond moved up next to me, also in front of her. I added a couple of points to his total in my head.
"I'm sorry, Wibert, your gun is still under the chair!" The noise was deafening. Something was coming through the crack in the air; it was about twice the size of a man, although human-shaped. It wasn't a golem; instead, it seemed to be made out of crackling electricity. I risked a look sideways to see that Raymond was staring at it with what looked like honest jaw-dropped surprise. As it levered itself through the portal, it saw us and screamed in the tones of a mountain lion dying of static cling. Raymond suddenly lifted the gun and began firing; betraying his nerves, he was shooting rapidly, without enough time to realign the gun. I shoved Galina to my right, away from him, and began to backpedal. The shape ignored Raymond's bullets, and turned to follow us, beginning to move.
"Wibert! Get your gun!" Raymond screamed, scrambling away from the thing.
No time. I grimaced, annoyed at giving him any more information than I absolutely had to, but then decided I had to. I lifted my right hand, fingers spread, towards the ceiling. There was a moment's pause, with Raymond looking at me in confusion, Galina peering around my shoulder, and the creature itself pausing to determine what I was doing. Seeing no sign of a cast of any kind, it lurched into motion again. I realized that its jerky progress was because it was sliding from metal object to metal object, electricity finding conductors.
My fingers touched the familiar object as the air gently placed it into my hand, and I swung my hand down to point at the thing moving towards me. I waited until my aim reached what passed for its head, ignoring Raymond's look of shocked understanding, and then I pulled the trigger.
Even through the noise of the converter spinning and the creature crackling, the sound was startling. The sudden cloud of choking smoke spread between us and the thing, but I had expected it. The silver bullet flew from the hexagonal barrel of the dueling pistol and, my aim true, struck the oncoming thing in its head.
It screamed, stopped, and fell to its knees. Tendrils of electricity began to stream from it to nearby metal surfaces, and it started to shrink slowly as if it was leaking. I could see glowing marks on the surfaces the bolts were grounding onto, and I pushed Galina towards the door. "Run!" I shouted, waited long enough to be sure she was doing so, and then dove for the chair Raymond had been sitting on. It was close enough to whatever the thing was that it had picked up a dozen cherry-red scorch marks, and although I shoved it aside with my shoulder, the shock I got was enough to make my heart stutter. Electricity. Find an electricity rune for the coat, I thought and tried to file for later as I grabbed my bandolier and Desert Eagle. I didn't stop to try conclusions with the thing, but headed for the exit behind Galina and Raymond, who was following her out. As I ran, I heard the thing screaming in harmony with the converter, which was spinning down, its tones deepening. Risking one look back, I saw it still on its' knees, shrinking into the metal framework that made up the machine room. The dueling pistol fluttered from my hand as I let it droop towards the floor, returning to its mysterious but reliable rest.
Then I was at the door.
Then I was out into the cooling evening, Raymond nowhere in sight, and I grabbed Galina's hand and hauled ass for Broadway, a cab, and somewhere seriously downtown.
<--Younger | The First New York Magician | Older-->