<--Younger | The first New York Magician | Older-->
As I reached Hudson Street, still walking steadily, I pulled my phones from my coat. I yanked the card out of the burn phone, a cheap Nokia, and dropped the little tab of circuitry into a storm sewer before repocketing the device. My main phone was an iPhone, registered to me. I poked a needle from my multitool into the top, ejecting the even tinier card from it and dumping it, but I couldn't pull the battery from the iPhone, and I didn't trust it to be completely untrackable. I crossed Hudson and turned downtown.
I had no idea what had happened at my apartment. I hoped nobody had been hurt; the only windows showing fire damage were mine, which pointed to a controlled burn. I had my own suspicions as to why the apartment might not have been completely destroyed, but no data with which to confirm or disprove them.
A couple of blocks downtown, I stopped in a mail and shipping storefront. Pulling a key from my pocket, I moved down the row of mailboxes until I found the one I rented for cash, and opened it. There was a small padded envelope in it, addressed to the box number. I retrieved it, then closed the box and bought an identical mailer and some stamps (again for cash) and left. Walking downtown once more I addressed the envelope to myself at the office, dropped my iPhone into it, sealed and stamped it and dumped it into the first mailbox I passed. Then, having come five or six blocks downtown from my street (which I judged far enough) I hailed a cab and told the driver to take me to Fifty-Third and Park.
The Brasserie is a somewhat battered but still-extant New York institution - a decent French restaurant in Midtown. Unfortunately, it had lost its main draw, no longer being open around the clock, but there was enough of a lunch business in its neighborhood to keep it afloat. I swung in and parked myself at the bar, scanning the bar staff.
Msamaki was on shift. I'd been worried, but he was there. He moved towards me, showing no recognition in his eyes; I put a hundred dollar bill on the bar and left my forefinger on it. He stopped dead before reaching me and met my eyes. I nodded, slightly. He turned and went into the back. I waited four minutes before he returned and handed me a take-out bag with the restaurant logo on it. I dropped another hundred besides the first and swung out of the place without a word.
Out on the street, the last of the sunlight was growing rich and slanting down across the island's skyscraper canyons from west to east. I turned left and headed for Central Park.
The Park was middling crowded for a Saturday. I walked unconcernedly into the greens and found a bench some few hundred yards into the park and off the main paths. Sitting, I pulled out the envelope and opened the take-out bag on my lap. In the bag was a small plastic latched case which, when opened, proved to still contain my emergency stash. Fifteen thousand dollars in cash, two magazines and a box of ammunition for the Desert Eagle which was still under my arm, a spare multitool, two burn phones and four sim cards, a wallet containing a driver's license and two credit cards, and a tiny vial mounted in a leather bracelet. I slipped that on, feeling the Water of Life in the vial sing as it resonated with the vial in my bandolier. The magazines went into my trouser pockets along with the wallet. I distributed the rest of the ammo, the multitool and the cell phones into empty pockets in the bandolier. Keeping one of the four SIM cards, I inserted it into the burn phone I was carrying and powered it up. While I was waiting for it to handshake and find the network, I slit open the envelope I'd picked up and added the five thousand cash in it to the already overstuffed belt.
Shredding the envelope, I stood and tossed it into a nearby trash can. The takeout bag and plastic case went into successive cans as I strolled north, and I tore the cardboard ammo box into small pieces before scattering those. I dropped the plastic tray which had held the rounds into another can, and, imagining I was clanking as I walked, headed back towards Fifth avenue to resume my walk uptown in the dusk as the streetlights flickered on randomly around me. I pulled the phone out, saw that it had successfully joined the network, and called my voicemail.
"Wibert, it's Mario. Where you at? You're not answering your main. Ring me back, yo."
"Wibert, it's Mario. I saw your place, man. What the fuck is going on? Uh, call my box."
Ah. Smart kid. I wiped both messages and dialed Mario's voicemail. "Mario, it's me. Meet me at the big steps." Putting away the phone, I quickened my pace north, passing the Met on my left and turning into the park around Eighty-Sixth street. The Reservoir loomed ahead of me in the gathering darkness, a few determined joggers still moving around the track surrounding it. I avoided them and moved to a now-familiar access door and tested it.
It was open.
I sighed once, then slipped inside, locked it, and moved off down the stairs. Sneaking past the maintenance station, I approached the now-familiar pipe section and clambered up atop it, my London Fog draped open around me like a cheap vampire cape, and looked down.
The massive yellow eye was already open behind the algae-blurred pane of armorglass. I could feel it, a sickening lurch in my soul, when it moved slightly to take in my face.
WHAT BRINGS YOU TO ME THIS EVENING?
"Somebody just burned me out of my apartment. The cops apparently are on the lookout for me. And I'm still in the dark as to what the hell is going on with Galina Sharansky, and how it's connected to my apartment. Also, I have no idea who killed this guy Raymond and left him in pieces on top of the Broadway Bridge."
AND YOU THINK I CAN GIVE YOU THESE ANSWERS.
I sat, awkwardly. "Well, if you tell me that, then no, I'm going to guess you're not going to tell me anything useful."
IT WOULD NOT HELP YOU IF I WERE TO GIVE YOU THESE ANSWERS.
"Why won't you let me be the judge of that?"
I CANNOT TELL YOU ANYTHING YOU DO NOT ALREADY KNOW, MICHEL.
I felt a trickle down my lip and wiped away the blood. "Damn it, will this happen to me every time I talk to you?"
The great yellow eye blinked once, slowly. NO. ONLY WHEN I SPEAK TO YOU.
I shook my head. "Okay. You've gone into oracular mode and started nitpicking my sentences. I guess that's enough of a hint. It would've been nice, though," I said, levering myself back up, "if just once you'd deign to tell me what the hell is going on. Or at least tell me that it has nothing to do with you. It'd make my life simpler. Not easier, but simpler."
There was silence from the pipe. The golden light dimmed as the eye slowly closed. I shook my head again as the window faded into steel, and then swung down off the pipe to sneak my way back out of the pumping station.
When I got outside, it was full dark. As soon as I came out the door I pulled out my phone and called voicemail again; there was a recent call, no message but the system had captured the calling number. I dialed and waited.
"Hello?" The voice was familiar.
"Wibert, where the hell are you?"
I frowned. "I'm nowhere, Ian. You told me- wait." I paused. "Are you with friends?"
"No." It was said flatly, the very lack of affect and banter making it a lie.
"Okay. Anyway, I'm out of town for a couple of days on my business. What's up?"
"Your apartment. There was a fire."
"How bad? How come it's you calling me?"
"We got called in. Smoke-eaters found some stuff. Where are you and when will you be home?"
I disconnected and pulled the sim card and battery out of the phone, tossing the card into a trash bin. As I walked around the reservoir to the west, I slotted up another sim card into one of my two remaining phones and clipped it to my belt, but left it powered off. I fought the sudden urge to just toss all the electronics on my person- all of it was simple enough that I could be sure it was turned off.
The American Museum of Natural History loomed up across Central Park West as I approached the west side of the park. I exited the park and crossed the avenue. As I walked up the middle of the main staircase, I saw Mario detach himself from the wall of the building at the top and head inside. I followed him and paid cash for a ticket, bringing up a slip to pass through the metal detectors smoothly. I picked up a building map and stopped in the center of the lobby while I unfolded the map and turned it around a few times, a tourist trying to get my bearings. Shrugging, I folded it and moved into the museum, following Mario as he tossed something into the trash and vanished into the interior halls. Placing my map carefully in the garbage, I retrieved the one Mario had left there and briskly headed off into the museum.
Mario's map had a cross marked where I expected with the numerals '10' next to it. Ten minutes later, I sidled into the Hall of Minerals and Gems and wandered over to stand in front of the Star of India sapphire. I gazed at it appreciatively for a few minutes before Mario wandered up to stand next to me.
"What's up, Frenchy."
"Hi Mario. What's going on?"
"I was gonna ask you. What happened at your place?"
"Fire. I don't know anything else yet. DiCanzo warned me off, so I went dark. He left me a message, so I called him on my burner a few minutes ago to see if he'd tell me about the fire, but he wasn't alone. He said the firefighters found something in my place, but I don't know what."
"So what's going on? Does this got anything to do with that Shearson chick?"
"I have no idea, kid. What've you got?"
"Well, you're right. Those guys stick to her like glue. As soon as she hits the subway. I watched 'em take her to work and home, but I couldn't get to her at work - I got into the building with a delivery but she wasn't anywhere I could find her."
I frowned. "Had you seen her leave?"
"Nah, but I wasn't watching out - I had to ditch long enough to get props for the delivery."
"Did you see her escort around the office?"
"Nope. No sign. I did see 'em go into the building with her when they got there, though."
I nodded. "No worry. Anything else?"
"Yeah. I figured I'd see what she gets up to on the weekend, right? Well, nada. She stayed home. All day. I buzzed her door to make sure she was home, said I was a pizza guy with the wrong apartment. She was there all right. I left her there about an hour ago and came to meet you." We moved away from the Star of India and started wandering around the Hall. There were enough security systems in here to make my teeth ache from the ultrasonics, and most of them weren't all that new. I was fairly confident it'd be pretty difficult to get a decent eavesdropping signal off of us, and both of us were watching the tourist flow.
"Okay. Thanks, Mario. Listen, leave Shearson. I need help with something else. Cops found a dead guy on top of the Broadway Bridge a couple days ago. All messed up. I was interested in that guy. Can you put out some ears and see if anybody saw anything up there?"
"Sure. You sure you don't want me to watch this Shearson no more? Maybe on Monday?"
I thought about it. "Yeah, okay. Tail her to work Monday morning, let me know when she gets there on my voicemail. I'll probably tell you to ditch at that point, but just in case, wait around until you hear from me." I dug out a thousand dollars and handed it to Mario. "Advance."
"Thanks, Wibert. Okay, I'm on it, I'll see if anybody knows anything about a dead guy on the bridge."
"Yeah. The cops know about him, so I don't care about info about them poking around unless it sounds really strange."
"Right. Where you gonna be?"
I shrugged, the lateness of the hour and my long day wearing down on me. "I don't know. That's the next thing I have to figure out."
"Good luck." Mario bumped his shoulder against me once and wandered away. I went over to the side of the hall and sat on one of the carpeted floor features for a few minutes, just resting. I looked up to see a small child looking at me solemnly.
"Hi," I said, smiling.
"Hello," she said. She looked to be about five or six. I looked around instinctively for her parents, but didn't see anyone in the immediate vicinity before she spoke again. "Why do you have a gun?"
Crap. "Oh, I'm a police officer, honey. Where are your parents?"
"They're over there yelling at my brother." She waved to the other corner of the hall, where sure enough a couple were quietly but fiercely remonstrating with a sullen pre-teen boy. "Do you have a badge?"
I stared at her. "I do, but I can't bring it out to show you. I'm watching some people, and they don't know I'm here. If I bring out my badge, they might see it. They just left, anyhow, and I've got to go after them." I stood up as I spoke.
"Oh." She blinked once, then said "It's okay. I know you're not a police officer. I won't tell." Then she turned and ran off back towards her parents. I stared after her, watching as she stopped near the three and waited for the scolding to stop. The woman turned, saw her and caught her hand and the two adults towed both children out of the room. As they left, the little girl turned around and smiled at me, a sudden bloom of summer, then they were out the door and she was gone.
I stood up wearily and rubbed my eyes before heading towards the 77th st. Lobby. The museum was slowly preparing to close; all traffic through the lobby was outwards. I made it as far as a bench just outside the lobby, set looking at a flowerbed, and sat down. I had been running pretty much on adrenaline and pre-set plans since DiCanzo had warned me away from my apartment, and the stress was starting to get to me.
There were only two things I could chase down - Erika Shearson's puppeteers or Raymond's murderer. I hoped Mario could turn up something on the latter. In the meantime, I needed rest; although the second license and credit cards in my wallet weren't in my own name, and would probably work, I wasn't too sure the license would withstand a DMV check and I didn't know the likelihood of one of Manhattan's hotels doing one of those. Also, both cards were low limit; I was pretty much restricted to the funds on my person.
With that in mind, I forced myself upright again and headed for the C train stop on Central Park West. Forty minutes later, I turned onto Greenwich Street and headed for a smallish storefront. Garber Hardware was closed when I got there; even in New York City hardware stores don't tend to stay open past dark on the weekends. I unlimbered a phone and thought for a few minutes before punching in a number. After five rings, a gravelly voice said "What the fuck."
"Max? It's Wibert. I need a favor."
* * *
Half an hour later I shook hands with Max, passing him a couple of hundred, and shouldered my new packframe before setting back off uptown. Miles to go before I sleep. Garber Hardware is indeed a neighborhood hardware store - but if you know where to look, you can find almost anything in its cramped interior. I would be completely unsurprised to run across a flat-packed backhoe in there, wedged under the dusty shelving.
Another hour later - the clock winding its way towards midnight - and I found myself standing on Ninety-Sixth street. Outside the substation, the door was still scarred when I narrowed my eyes to get past the glamour, but there was a new padlock on the metal gate. It was a keylock. I considered cutting it, then decided against it. A few minutes rummaging in the trash produced a soda can; five minutes with my multitool produced two M-shaped shims, and five more minutes of patient work produced a meaty, satifying click! as the shims worked their way far enough into the detents for the lock bar to pop free.
I lifted my pack inside the short entry hallway and closed the gate. I replaced the padlock with one from my bag, for which I had a key, and left the lock on the inside of the chain where I could reach it. Then I opened the door the gate protected and slipped back into the gloom of the substation.
There wasn't any light, so I pulled a large LED Maglite out of the pack and flashed it around. It looked just the same as it had when I'd last seen it; the hulking dark shapes of the converters and the few bits of furniture scattered around under their blanket of dust. Down below, the buzzing hum of high-voltage circuitry seeped into the building's frame.
I dragged a desk across the entrance hallway, guaranteeing that someone would have to make a considerable amount of noise to get in that way, and looked around. There were two doors in the west wall; one was a supply closet of some sort and contained a number of shelves of unidentifiable gear and the smell of grease. The other led to a small empty room. The door being closed, the dust wasn't as bad. I dropped the pack on the floor and started pulling gear out of it - an inflatable mattress, a tarp, a Camelbak which I'd filled full of water at the Art Bar on Hudson Street on the way back to the A train, a foam pillow and a small brush. I used the brush to sweep an area mostly clear of dust, laid down the tarp (it was large enough to hold the mattress with room to spare) and looked gloomily at the inflation tube before popping the cap off and starting the process of filling it. There was a distant moaning rumble as an IRT train slid into the Ninety-sixth street station somewhere below.
I was so going to need a shower in the morning.
<--Younger | The first New York Magician | Older-->
*Thanks to Annie Lennox and David A. Stewart (Eurythmics) for the lyric which became this story's title and the song it came from.