<--Younger | The First New York Magician | Older-->
Galina made it into the cab before she broke down. She didn't go in for loud, showy tears; instead, she huddled on her side of the bench seat hugging herself and stared into space while tears ran down her cheeks. I looked at her, cursed to myself, and gently took her arm. She turned to look at me, but there wasn't a whole lot there. "Galina?"
I pulled out my cell phone and looked at it. There was a scorch mark in the center of the screen, and it ignored my attempts to make it respond. Great. Swearing, I tossed it back into my pocket and rapped on the plexiglass between us and the driver. "Hey."
"What?" The driver was Middle Eastern, but that was all I could tell. He was wearing a gaudy headset, his right ear blinking sapphire.
"I need to borrow your cell phone."
"What, you crazy, man?"
"No." I reached into my pocket, peeled off a hundred, and waved it. The cabby said something quickly in a language I didn't know, and then shoved his Motorola through the pay slot. I handed him the Benjamin, took the phone and pressed it into Galina's hand. "Galina, call your father."
"Your dad. Call him. He doesn't know you're okay."
"Oh, God..." she opened the phone and started shakily hitting keys. I leaned back against the other door and tried to relax the large muscles in my back, which had torqued themselves into knots that could probably have lifted the Titanic. "Daddy?" I heard Kharan's voice, tinny and small from the phone, shouting in his relief. "Daddy, I'm okay...no, I'm with Mr. Wibert. I'm okay. We're..." she looked at me. "Where are we going?"
"I'll take you to your Dad's place. We need to talk."
"We're going to your place, Dad. Are you home? Yes? Good, we're uptown, we'll be there in...in...I don't know. Just...yes, just wait there, and I'll see you. I have to go." She closed the phone, her hands still shaking, and handed it back to me. I opened it, cleared the recent numbers memory, and handed it forward to the driver. We were passing Seventy-second street.
Kharan Sharansky lived in a modestly-sized but immodestly-decorated apartment on Elizabeth Street. The cab deposited us in front of the building, and a few moments later we were getting off the elevator and Galina was running ahead of me to meet her father, running the other way. I leaned against the hallway wall for a few moments, just watching the scene to play back for the myriad times I knew I would ask myself why I got into the things I did.
Kharan finally managed to open his eyes and found mine. He nodded. So did I. Men, we are. I shepherded the two of them back into his apartment, closed the door, and got them to sit in the living room while I made drinks. I came back, handed Galina a screwdriver (pretty much everybody drinks those), Kharan a whisky, and took a slug of the bourbon I had appropriated before sitting down opposite them.
"Michel, I don't know what to say." Kharan was still holding Galina by the shoulders.
"Don't have to say anything, Kharan. But I think Galina has some questions, and I want to make sure she gets those answered before I head out."
Galina took a long drink, put down her glass on the side table despite her shaking hands, and then looked at me defiantly. "What were the two of you talking about?" she asked.
"What about me? Why did...all that...happen?"
I hunched forward, thinking. "I don't know, yet. But Raymond said he'd tell me, and I'm going to make sure he doesn't weasel out of that."
"Then you can lead the police to him-" Kharan started, but I shook my head.
"No, I can't, Kharan. I told him I wouldn't."
"What? Why does he deserve-"
"He doesn't." I cut my partner off. "I told him you and Galina were free to call in the police, and I meant it. But I don't think I can afford to lose what he might have to tell me. Galina, I hate to ask you about this, but I need to know: did he mistreat you?"
She shuddered, but shook her head. "No. I remember going into the bathroom, and then that bizarre music, and then there was an awful noise and it got very bright for a moment before I found myself in that room we were in. He was there. He was really angry with someone, but he was polite to me, even though he said he had to keep me there. He locked me to that chair, but he gave me ten minutes an hour to walk around, use the bathroom, everything. He was always there, with the gun, so I couldn't run, and I didn't know where I was."
Kharan's hands tightened on hers. She grasped his back, but her voice was steadying. "I think men came to see him once or twice. I didn't see them; he kept the area I was in dark, somehow, and I don't know if they knew I was there."
"But he didn't abuse you." I said it as a question.
"No. Other than keeping me locked up and threatening me," she snapped, flaring up. I raised a hand.
"Sorry, sorry. Bad wording. Okay. Did you see anything else while you were there?"
"There was one small man with...this thing. A giant. He didn't talk. He just followed the small one around and the ground shook when he walked."
"Them I've met. Anyone else?"
"You said it got very bright after you were in the bathroom. Do you remember anything else?"
"It..it was cold." She hugged herself unconsciously. "There were mountains. Far away. And it was cold."
"Was the sun out? Was the moon up?"
"There...there were moons. Plural. I'm sure of it. I'm not making this up," she said defensively.
"I didn't think you were. Huh." I thought for a moment. "And then?"
"Then there was a noise, like the one we heard, and I was in the room with him."
I sat back, thinking. "Then you were in the room."
"Look, Mr. Wibert-"
"Michel. What...what just happened? Who are you? Who was he? What's going on? Please." Galina had control of her voice, but it was a false front. I sighed.
"Galina, I'm your dad's business partner. That's entirely true. What he didn't know until you went missing was that I have another job, sort of, as a sideline."
"I can't tell you. One, because you wouldn't believe me, and two, I don't think you can know. You don't want to be involved with that."
Kharan stood, took his and my glasses to the bar. "My daughter is already involved, Michel. Therefore, so am I."
"Yeah." I rubbed my chin. "Okay. Look, there are all kinds of people in New York City, right? People like you and me. Then there are the other kind. People like Raymond. And, in a few cases, people like the ones Raymond and I work for. I don't like the term 'Gods;' I prefer 'Elders' myself. I don't know what they are or where they came from, in many cases. I do know, in a couple. Anyway, I talk to them. That's all. I can see them, and find them, and I talk to them. Sometimes they want me to, and that's how I survive dealing with people like Raymond. Sometimes they don't, and that's why I carry things like this." I unshipped the Desert Eagle from under my coat and set it on the coffee table.
"Why do you do it?" she asked.
"My Nan- my grandmother. She taught me. She taught me to talk to them, and now it's just what I do."
"How did you know where I was?"
"I tracked you to the bar. I knew you'd gone in but not come out. So I started asking questions, and the bartender gave me a runaround. Then I got interested."
"The bartender..." she shivered. I caught it, frowned.
"Did he do anything to you?"
"No...not except send me there, I guess. He was just all smarmy. He creeped me out while I was there."
"That reminds me, what were you doing there alone? I never figured that out."
"I wasn't alone. I was with a few friends. But we were all leaving, and I stayed to use the bathroom, since they were going the opposite way to get home."
I nodded. "Makes sense then."
Kharan leaned forward. "What are you going to do now, Michel?"
"What do you mean?"
"Do you consider this closed?"
I looked at him carefully; the man I had worked with for five years. He was calm, oh yes, on the outside. But Kharan Sharansky was furious. I could see it in his eyes. "No, Kharan, I don't. But I'm not going to find and punish this man for you."
He jerked back as from a slap. "You think he should just walk away?" he hissed.
"No, I don't." I waited until he had collected himself a bit. "As I told you, call the police. Tell them whatever you like. I will ask you not to tell them about my involvement, but-" I nodded to Galina - "that might be a bit difficult. It's okay, in any case - I can probably find a very, very good alibi."
"Michel! I wouldn't-"
"You will if they ask you the right questions, and you should, if you're going to involve the police. If you start lying to them or omitting things, they're going to assume you were involved with the kidnapping, and start trying to make that case. They won't, but they'll make your lives miserable and waste their time, and be even less likely to pursue other avenues."
"You said you were concerned about what he could tell you. About what?"
"About why Galina was kidnapped. Something's going on. I don't know what. But it's leading to things like this happening, and I don't like that one damn bit. I told you I won't punish him for you, Kharan, but I make you this promise - he told me that Galina being snatched wasn't what he intended. I'm going to find out if he was telling me the truth. If he was, then I'll leave it to the police, if you two call them in. If he wasn't, then I'm going to hold him responsible for this whole chain of events happening in my town, on my watch - nothing to do with you - and I'll deal with him."
There was a silence.
"Deal with him how?" asked Galina.
"Don't ask me, because I don't know yet."
"You said the bartender..." said Kharan. He trailed off.
I blew another sigh. "Yeah. I shot him, but I didn't kill him. Raymond had the golem kill him - he claims for kidnapping Galina without approval. He also tried to have the golem kill me at the same time, but that didn't come off."
They looked at each other. I took their hint and that of my still-aching body and stood up. "Kharan, I'll see you when I see you. Don't come into work for a few days, okay? Stay with Galina."
Kharan nodded. "Thank you, Michel."
"Hey, I have a busybody reputation to protect. Besides," I said, feeling my face harden slightly but involuntarily, "I wasn't kidding. This is my town."
With that, I left them to each other, and headed out into the New York night.
<--Younger | The First New York Magician | Older-->