<--Younger | The First New York Magician | Older-->
It was a bit past one in the morning when I got out of a cab in front of the bar. It looked open but quiet, which wasn't unexpected - Thirty-Fourth isn't a venue for late-night drinkers, so much. I checked my hardware reflexively and was about to kick the door down when a stray tendril of common sense intruded. I decided I couldn't avoid it, much as I wanted to, so I moved down the street a few yards and then put my left hand inside my coat to bring up a slip. The street, already fairly dim where I was standing, took on the ever so slight ripple that I'd come to associate with being masked from sight.
Walking back to the bar, I tried the door. It was open, so I looked in the window. There were perhaps a dozen drinkers inside in the gloom; the same bartender was serving one of them a draft. I tested the wind, but there wasn't any, so I settled back to wait until someone entered or left and swung the door for me.
It took perhaps ten minutes before one of the drinkers paid his tab and ambled over to leave. I took position just to the side of the door, opposite the hinges, and as soon as he was past I slipped into the dark, rank-beer-smelling cavern of the place. Nobody looked up as the door swung to, maybe a half-second too late, so I sidled back along the rear wall until I stood near the jukebox. It was dark, turned off, and someone had taped plastic tarp over the broken front.
Since I didn't seem to have much of a choice, I found a corner wedged behind a tall bar table and leaned against the wall, waiting. It took about an hour and a half, but one thing my strange quasi-profession had taught me was patience. Finally, the last drinker wandered out of the bar, around two-thirty in the morning, leaving the tender alone to lock up and start his cleanup routine.
I waited as he came back from locking the door, let him go into the bathrooms to check them and swung behind the bar. As he came out of the john, I dropped the slip.
He jumped, but that was all. I grinned at him. "Hi."
"What the hell are you doing in here?"
"The hell do you mean, wrong answer?"
"I just appeared out of thin air in front of you. The right answer would have been something along the lines of 'how the hell did you do that?' or 'how the hell did you get in here?' but no, you were just startled. Not shocked, startled."
"Get the fuck out of my bar."
"Ah, mistake number two. I wondered if it was your bar. That means it's your jukebox, too, and you lied to me." I leaned forward on the bar and looked him over. His eyes were shifting around the place, but didn't look like he was concentrating on a particular spot. "You're the one who put this disc in the jukebox." I pulled out the CD and slapped it down on the bar. He ignored it, staring at me. "Which means you're used to odd stuff happening, and me appearing in here didn't make a difference."
"Mister, you're crazy. I'm calling the cops." He moved towards the end of the bar where there was a phone on the wall. I didn't follow.
"Suit yourself. But be ready to talk to them about kidnapping, too."
"Kidnapping? You're outta your mind. You come in here and smash up my juke, accuse me of kidnapping? I been here the past four, five days, workin.' When the hell d'you think I had time to snatch somebody?" He had swung around and was staring at me belligerently.
"Huh. Okay, let's say for a minute you didn't kidnap anyone."
"Do whatever the fuck you like. I didn't touch nobody."
I moved down the bar to stand opposite him again. "Problem is, you put that CD in the jukebox."
I cocked my head at him. He was belligerent, and in the wrong way. I reached into my coat. He started to move towards the bar, but I had the Desert Eagle out before he could get far. He froze, staring at it, and I held it aimed at the bar's surface. "Let's say you don't know what that CD is. I want to know where you got it, and why you put it in the jukebox."
"I don't know what you're talking about." He was starting to sweat slightly, staring at the big pistol in my hands. I felt a bit bad about strongarming him, but not too bad. Even if he wasn't involved directly, he was an idiot who'd made bad deals.
I reached into my pocket with my off hand and pulled out the Polaroid, tossing it onto the bar's surface. "Remember her?"
"Yeah, you were asking about her."
"Right." I waved the pistol at him. "Step back and sit down over there." He did so, warily, ending up seated on a high stool at one of the tables near the wall. I moved further down the bar, putting a couple of yards between us, and rested the butt of the Desert Eagle on the bar. "She came in here, like you said. But she never left."
"Course she left. She ain't here, is she?"
"Sorry. I meant, she didn't leave through the door."
"Man, I just don't get you. You come in here, you draw on me, all bent outta shape, and you talk about some girl who left here last night..."
I cut him off. "She didn't leave here under her own power."
"How d'you know? She could easily have gone out while I wasn't looking, and she wasn't here at the end of the night."
I looked around behind the bar, where I was standing. There was the usual assortment of cheap liquor against a mirror, various knickknacks, the phone, the register, and near the rear end of the bar there was a stereo. I waved the gun at him. "Pick up that CD. Put it into the stereo."
He stared at me. I raised the gun to aim it at his head and repeated, slowly, "Pick. Up. The. Disc."
He moved off the chair carefully, down the bar, and slid the CD off the surface into his palm without looking at it, keeping his eyes fixed on my gun. I nodded. "Now put it in the CD player you have down there."
He shuffled slowly past me and turned away as he came even with the end of the bar, to face the stereo. He punched a button and the plastic tongue of the CD drawer popped out. Moving to put the disc in, he suddenly pushed the edge of it against the stereo. There was a sharp CRACK and flinders of plastic fluttered down around his feet.
He turned slowly to face me, a grin on his face. "Oops."
I grinned back, and held it until his own began to falter. "Mistake again. See, that tells me you knew there was something on the CD I shouldn't know about. Something maybe you don't want to hear yourself."
"And what're you gonna prove?" He lowered his hands, still standing some ten feet from me. "You got nothing."
"Move back to the table." He did so, still looking smug. I moved down the bar to stand near the stereo, and, facing him, pulled the jewel case out of my pockets. "What I got is your CD-R. What you had was my copy of Who's Next, and I'm not too happy about that." I popped the jewelcase, ignoring his sudden blank look and worried eyebrows, and stuck the CD-R into the CD player. I hit 'close', waited for the drawer to slide in, and hit Play. There was a slight crackle in the air.
"Shut up." I waggled the gun. "I like the opening bit."
"Look, I'm serious, you don't wanna have that thing play. You just don't. Turn it off, and I'll-" but I never got to find out what he'd have been willing to do. The strange whispering started up, and he jerked up from his seat. "Shit, no. No, man, no, turn it off-"
"Sit back down." I waved the gun at him, but he was staring at the stereo as if hypnotized.
"Oh Christ, I gotta get out, we gotta get out, can't..." and without warning he swung around to spring for the door. I raised the gun and shot, aiming for his right leg. There was a blast of sound, hugely magnified in the narrow space as I pushed a slight cast onto the bullet, melting the outer surface. He spun to his left, falling with a spray of blood coming from his right thigh. He hit the ground screaming. I jumped the bar and moved to him, pulling him sharply upright with my left hand.
He leaned against the bar, vomiting from the shock, his right hand locked against his hip. "Fuck, fuck, you shot me!"
"I know. Shut up and listen." At the reminder, he looked up, eyes slack with fear, but it was too late. I could hear the warbling noises as the CD-R moved through its paces, and before he could say anything else, the air in the middle of the bar swam hazily. A bright winking light came from nowhere, and there was a sudden roar of sound, the call of something huge and lethal smelling blood. I jumped back over the bar, and something enormous and black swept into the space from the bright lights. There was a scream, and it was standing over where the bartender had been, black arms moving. I tried to get a clear shot, but it was already gathering its arms together. It wasn't feeding. It pulled the bartender to its chest, a vaguely man-shaped silhouette clutching the screaming man, and then climbed back up into air. As soon as one arm reached the winking lights, it slipped through the hole and vanished. It was ignoring me, so as soon as it had gone through save for its ankle, I holstered the Desert Eagle, clambered up onto the bar's surface and dove headfirst for the light.
There was a moment of crisp disorientation. Then I fell heavily onto a gritty surface, rolling reflexively. There was a SNAP and the warbling sound of the summoning cast cut off abruptly. Darkness reigned for a moment; utter, complete darkness such as you rarely see in the City. Darkness that admits nothing of the existence of light, anywhere, at any time.
Then there was a guttural mumble, and bright white illumination flooded the area. It seemed to be coming from everywhere at once. I squinted in the glare, and saw that I was lying on the floor of a large room with completely mirrored walls, a dusty chandelier hanging over me, and a ruined grand piano holding court over a variety of what looked like long-rotted armchairs.
In front of me was the enormous silhouette, still holding the struggling bartender. From somewhere behind me a voice, the same one that had called up the light, giggled. Then I heard a deep accent say "Kill him. And hold the intruder."
There was another mutter, and the lights went out.
<--Younger | The First New York Magician | Older-->