<--Younger | The first New York Magician | Older-->
I went back home.
Checking in the mirror revealed that I still looked fairly beat up. I spent a couple of hours sitting in my old, claw-footed cast-iron tub using up a lot of hot water. What the hell, I live in New York; my carbon footprint is miniscule compared to most of this country. While most of the bruises and scrapes were minor in themselves, with only their number betraying my condition, my left hand looked ghastly. The bruising had faded only slightly to mottled purples, greens and yellows, and using the hand hurt. I got out of the tub as the afternoon ground towards two o'clock, dressed, and stuck a bag of ice on the hand for a half hour while sitting on my couch looking at the inside of my eyelids.
As a result, I felt almost human when I left the house again. A couple of analgesics helped further. I had the bandolier on, but since the Desert Eagle was still in the hands of the NYPD, I wasn't carrying a gun. I hoped I wouldn't need one; I was just going in to my office.
At five, security called up from the front desk and I told them to let Mario in. He showed up at the office door wearing clothes that looked like he was planning to blend into the walls at a trendy nightclub, and a shiny GUEST badge from security. I waved him in, and he shut the door behind him before sauntering over to one of the visitor's chairs in front of my massive desk.
"Nice, Wibert. Real nice. Looks all respectable and shit."
"So do you, Mario. You got enough black on to outfit a Goth convention."
He laughed, sat. "So what's up?"
"I need somebody followed for a while. Couple days, maybe more."
He cocked his head at me. "And they know you."
He sighed. "Okay, let's have it."
"The target doesn't know me, I don't think. But she's being escorted, or followed - I'm not sure which - by some other guys, guys from my side of the street. They definitely know me. I don't know if she knows about them. I got word that says she doesn't look too with it."
"So what do I have to do?"
"I want to know if she does know about these other guys or not. I want to know where she goes."
"Yeah. That's it. Don't get involved with the tails, they're bad news."
"Was it them fucked up your face?"
I glared at him.
"Look, I'm just saying. You look kinda beat up."
"It wasn't them. Well, it mostly wasn't them. Some other stuff happened, didn't involve them."
He looked at me for a few seconds, then shook his head. "Wibert, you spend too much time playing Shamus with your weirdo pals. Whatever happened to you managed to at least knock you around, bro. Maybe you don't notice, but I'm not you. If I'm gonna get involved in something with someone - or something - that can knock you around, I want to know about it so I can run away a lot quicker than you did."
I considered. Seemed reasonable. "Yeah, okay. I got beat up by some other things involved in the same affair, but those things weren't from the same team as these tails. I'm very sure of that. The tails themselves did knock me across the 14th street A station into a wall, but they didn't mess with me after they knocked me out. I think they just wanted to keep me away from the target."
"Speaking of which, who is the target?"
I slid the portrait of Erika Shearson I'd taken outside her apartment across the desk. "Her. She lives at 332 West 17th, works out in Queens. Takes the A train to the 7 train for her commute. Lives alone as far as I can tell."
Mario picked up the picture, studied it for maybe half a minute. One of the reasons I like the kid is that he's careful. I knew he'd be able to recognize her without it when he put it into his coat. "Okay. You just want to know where she goes, and if anyone follows her."
"Yeah. And where they come from, if possible. Where they pick her up, where they leave her."
"Sure." I pulled out my money clip and dealt $500 onto the desk. "Two days in advance. Call me after the first day; call me if anything weird happens."
Mario stood, scooped up the money, and snorted. "Anything 'weird?' You're gonna have to give me a bit more leeway than that, Wibert. Around you, that's likely to happen the minute I wake up tomorrow."
We traded tight grins, and he left.
I sat there after he'd gone, thinking. That was pretty much all I could do about Erika Shearson for the moment. That left the part I hadn't been looking forward to. Raymond and his crew. I still didn't even have a good idea who Raymond was. I didn't know where to find him, or who he worked for, but I knew he was still out there and still meddling - the bodies of the bartender and (I presumed) his middleman being found in the Bronx spoke to that. They'd been found in such a way as to reduce suspicion of me, as they appeared to have killed each other while I was sitting in a New York Police Department interrogation room. I knew that wasn't true, but apparently Raymond had modified the bodies to produce that finding.
Still, he had sent the middleman out after Galina in the first place. Even if he was to be believed and her kidnapping hadn't been his intent, he'd set into motion events that had led to it - and he'd killed both the middleman and the bartender.
I called Patrick on his cell phone. Miracle of miracles, he answered. "What."
"Patrick? It's Michel."
"Don't tell me you got arrested again."
"No, no, I'm sitting in my office. I just wondered when you thought I'd have my gun back."
He barked a laugh. "Son, the NYPD likes to keep the numbers of guns on the street as low as possible at all times. By whatever means necessary. That includes major foot-dragging when it comes to things like giving back perfectly legal guns that have gotten into their possession."
"So what you're saying is-"
"I'm saying you shouldn't expect to see that cannon for days, if not weeks. More likely weeks."
"But they finished the test!"
"Yes, they did, in record time too. But that's got nothing to do with them giving it back to you."
I sighed. "Okay. Thanks, Patrick. Do you need anything from me?"
"I need you to get off my phone so I can resume my conversation with this steak that you interrupted."
"Yeah, yeah." I hung up and thought about it for a few minutes. Then I shrugged, stood up, and left the office, nodding to the few late workers I passed as I left.
* * *
The 1 train uptown was delayed. A bored and staticky voice on the PA mumbled something about a 'police investigation' at 125th street holding up the line, so at 14th I got off and switched to an express 2 train, since that train didn't go through the station with the delay. Sure enough, although packed, it moved uptown at normal commuter speeds, and I got off at 96th street only 15 minutes or so later.
In the streetlights, the front of the substation looked much the same as I remembered it from my last visit. I looked around and found a couple of pieces of metal that looked like remnants of my jimmy, but the door itself appeared undamaged. I examined it from the sidewalk, eyes narrowed; it didn't seem likely that Raymond could have fixed it that fast. He had been only a few seconds behind me when he'd taken my gun. I tried to remember if anything had seemed unusual about the door when he, Galina and I had run out through it, but I hadn't been paying attention.
I let my attention slip slightly into the defocused state which let me See better, placed a hand on the pocketwatch out of habit, and looked at the door again. Ah. It was still closed, but there was a shiny crack through its upper hinge, and the lockplate was bent. A chain and padlock, wound through a bar near the lockplate and attached to something inside, held the door tightly closed, solid enough that rattling it didn't cause much motion. It was tight enought that had I not been able to See the padlock, I would have just bought the illusion that it was shut and locked.
Picking the padlock was much easier than opening the door would have been. I slipped into the building and re-chained the door, leaving the padlock hanging open from the links on the inside. As I did so, I realized that Raymond must have come back - I'd left the building behind him.
I reached into the air and pulled the Beretta out from its unknown resting place. The suppressor stuck out in front of me as I moved cautiously into the machine room. The chairs had been removed. The desk was still there, but looked like it hadn't been touched in years. Someone - likely Raymond - had erased nearly all the signs of our presence from a couple of days prior. The only thing left were the scorch marks scattered throughout the room, concentrated around the hulk of the rotary converter that Galina had been chained to. I examined a couple of them, but they were cold, looking like they'd been there for years other than the lack of dust on them.
Remembering what Raymond had said about a 'summoning circuit' I spent a few minutes examining the converter. I couldn't find anything unusual on its outer surface, and it looked like it would take some relatively heavy tools - like, a crane, for example - to get the cover off off the thing, so I gave up on that. The converter had dozens of scorched areas across its metal case, and I wasn't sure it was functional any longer.
I prowled around the room looking for any sort of clue, but there wasn't anything. There didn't seem to be much choice, so I returned the Beretta, left the substation and locked the padlock behind me. When I stopped concentrating, the door wavered and returned to prior undamaged appearance.
Standing on the street I dug out a lancet, pricked my finger and laid it against the spearhead. Then I carefully built a picture of Raymond in my head, complete with the sports jacket and shabby cape he'd been wearing. The spearhead crackled in my head for a few seconds, and then I was surprised to feel a powerful pull. I turned my head until I was facing the indicated direction, and found myself looking almost directly uptown.
There was no way to tell how far away the quarry was. Normally, if I wasn't sure whether my target was still in New York, I would make at least one triangulation trip perpendicular to the indicated direction, to see if the heading changed appreciably. I was fairly sure Raymond wouldn't be too far from Manhattan, though - his explanation of his activities, admittedly vague, still left me convinced he was based in the City. So I got back on the 1 train and headed uptown.
Around the Dyckman Street station, the direction started to swing slightly as the train turned. At the 215th street stop, there still wasn't any major deviation. I was prepared by the wobble, however, and when the indicated direction suddenly swung sharply around, traversing 180 degrees, I was waiting at the subway door. I exited at 225th street/Marble Hill and checked again from the platform. I was not surprised to find the indicator pointing south, but I was surprised to find an appreciable vertical component to it. There weren't any real skyscrapers this far uptown, and I was standing three stories or so above the pavement on the elevated station - already pretty high up for these parts.
I descended to Broadway and started to walk south. A suspicion was growing in my head, but I kept 'watching' the direction as I went. The vertical vector kept growing, and by the time I had reached the south shore of the Bronx, I knew my suspicion was correct.
The spearhead was pointing directly up at the southern tower of the Broadway Bridge.
I walked the length of the bridge, to Manhattan and back. On the way back, on the east side of the span, I found the walled-off stairway that led up to the tower. Car traffic was brisk but there wasn't any foot traffic at the moment, so I grabbed the top of fencing that surrounded the staircase and started to climb. I had to eel in between the fencing and the lowermost girderwork, but the fence ended ten or twelve feet up, and I hauled myself over onto the narrow metal staircase.
The bridge control cabin, which was where I presumed I was going, was a good thirty or forty yards up. As I reached the last flight of stairs before the narrow balcony outside the cabin, I retrieved the Beretta; halfway up that last flight, I stopped. There was a familiar smell, even out here. I cautiously poked my head over the level of the balcony. The smell was stronger - even in the open air at this height, it was almost overpowering.
The blood had pooled on the corrugated metal decking, obviously having run out from under the door into the control cabin. It was mostly dry, but not completely; at the center of the pools it was still tacky. I swallowed twice, trying to keep my gorge down, and reached over from besides the puddles to try the door. It wasn't locked. I swung it in, wincing as the wave of stench flowed out, and then carefully leaned out into the doorway and looked.
The body was in a heap of small pieces, and most of those pieces were burst open. Noting that there wasn't anyone else in the control cabin, I turned my head and vomited over the side of the balcony into the Harlem Ship Canal far below. Careful to keep the gun as steady as possible, I waited for the spasm to pass and then looked back into the cabin. there was enough ambient light from the City and the bridge's lights to make out the interior. Atop an industrial control board which was likely the one used to raise the bridge, a head was resting on its cut-off neck, facing the door.
It was difficult to tell, what with the rictus of shock and pain and the further deformation that the decapitation must have caused to the muscles of the face, but there was very little blood on the head itself. The hair wasn't much out of place. It was definitely Raymond.
Moving carefully, I closed the door, returned the Beretta, and used my sleeve to wipe the doorknob clean of fingerprints. Verifying I hadn't stepped in any of the blood, I made my way back down the stairs. I hadn't used the railings on the way up, I was pretty sure, so when climbing back over the fence, I wiped down the fence top and ended up on the sidewalk, gut still shaking. I walked several dozen yards down the bridge towards the Bronx and leaned over the edge, waiting to be sure I was done being sick.
Then I went back uptown to the Marble Hill subway station and caught a train back home. When I got there, I called the 6th Precinct and asked for Ian DiCanzo. The dispatcher explained that he was on the street, so I left my number. DiCanzo called back within five minutes.
"This is DiCanzo. Who is this?"
There was a silence, but it was a quick one. "Oh. Hey. What's going on?"
"Listen, you guys need to have a look at the control cabin on the south tower of the Broadway Bridge. The one goes to the Bronx."
"It's treyf. Like I said. But it's also a crime."
DiCanzo's voice changed. It sounded like he had the phone up against his cheek while he fished for something. "Okay. Broadway bridge. You were there?"
"I was there. I didn't touch anything."
"I can't keep that out of the report, you know." He sounded like he was walking now.
"I'd rather not have to explain how I knew to climb the bridge tower."
"Look, man-" he was getting annoyed. "If you were there, you were there, you know?"
"Yeah. DiCanzo, I'm just asking you to take a look. If you think that there's evidence I was involved, you do what you need to. I'm telling you I wasn't, and that I'm going to be more use to you walking around. I called you."
He thought about that for a second. "Okay. For now, you're an anonymous tip."
"If anything comes up with your name on it, or that matches what I know about you, though-"
"Yeah. That's fair."
"Okay. Thanks, man." He hung up.
I hung up the phone, looked at soberly, and then went to my closet to get down my backup Desert Eagle. Raymond had shown sophistication and not inconsiderable power. Either something or someone even more powerful than him had killed him, or I had seriously misjudged what was going on.
Either way, it was time to cannon back up.
<--Younger | The first New York Magician | Older-->