The first New York Magician | Next-->

The phone call pulled me out of a relatively sound Sunday morning snooze. I fumbled the damn thing off its charger on my bedside table and stuffed it under the pillow because that's where my head was. "Whazzat."

"Michel?"

"Yeah, whozzat?"

"Michel, it's Francois."

I surfaced from under the pillow. Francois was an acquaintance from uptown. He drove a taxicab, which meant he saw all kinds of things as he traversed the islands and peninsulae of New York City. "Francois, what's up?"

"There's a guy asking about you uptown, Michel. He doesn't look right."

I was waking up. "Doesn't look right how?"

"Oh, he's human, but there's something with him. Or he's wearing it, I don't know. I'm parked outside the Intercession. Can you get up here? He's inside, and Mama Jean just came out to tell me he's asking people inside about you and they're a bit nervous."

I pulled the phone away from my face to look at the clock, put it back. "Yeah. Francois, I'll be downstairs in ten minutes. If he leaves, follow him, okay? Put yourself on the clock. You got anyone that can pick me up?"

"Thanks, Michel. I keep on him, no fear. Find you someone."

I hung up and swung out of bed. Moving to my walk-in closet I pulled on appropriate summer wear for me, which meant light trousers, an undershirt, a shoulder rig/bandolier combo over that, and an oversized guayabera over those, baggy enough to mostly conceal them. Then I pulled the Desert Eagle from its mount behind my bedside table, checked the magazine, and stuffed it and two more magazines into the shoulder rig. I checked in the mirror, uncomfortable without an overcoat to fully conceal the gun, but remembered what numerous instructors had told me - "nobody looks, nobody cares. The only people who will know you're carrying are those carrying themselves, and cops." Since I had a legal carry permit (don't ask how) I shrugged and let it be.

Heading out the door I looked left and right, and saw a black car lurking a few yards down the block. I headed for it. The window rolled down as I approached, so I asked the driver, "Francois send you?"

"Yeah. Get in."

"Thanks."

I swung into the back seat and he took off uptown, circling the block and heading towards the West Side Highway at a good clip. "Did you see anything?"

"Nah, man, Francois asked me to get you there quick, is all I know."

"Okay. Thanks."

Since it was Sunday, there wasn't a lot of traffic, and we reached the 158th Street exit in around 20 minutes. My driver swung off and expertly looped us back around to Broadway, pulling up behind a black Camry parked on the downtown side. I handed him a pair of twenties. "Thanks." Getting out, I walked forward to the Camry and knocked on the passenger side window. The locks chunked and I got into the front seat. Francois was looking across Broadway, where the Church of the Intercession sat at the north side of its graveyard and park.

"Hey, Michel."

"Hey. So what's going on in there?"

Francois turned to look at me. "It's Dimanche, man. What you think is going on?"

"Other than Mass, Francois. You called me, remember?"

"Yeah. So this guy, he's maybe six four, six five. Got big shoulders. Wearing a light overcoat, like a rain coat. Got a sports jacket on under it, a tie, and folks saying the coat isn't all buttoned, he's got slacks on too, so he dressed respectful, but that coat."

"And he was asking about me?"

"Yeah. Mama Jean say he say he meet you downtown and you tell him to meet you here. He mostly sitting quiet, but when people talk to him, he ask about you. Always you. Knows your name, knows you helped out Mama Jean and her fam last month."

That wasn't good. Mama Jean had been targeted by a scammer wearing the identity of a Catholic priest. He had approached her in her apartment and convinced her there was some form of demon trapped inside her apartment. She had let him in to 'examine the site', and he had promised to return to exorcise the problem. Although she is devoutly religious, she still mentioned the visit to her cousin Demaine, who had in turn contacted me. I'd paid her a visit, looked through the apartment and found nothing of note. I'd met the 'priest' when he had returned, and convinced him he really didn't want to pursue the matter any further. That hadn't required violence or even overt threats, just a sort of stolid impenetrability and a refusal to leave the doorway.

Of course, that didn't tell me who this guy was, or how he knew my name.

"Francois, is Mama Jean in there?"

"No, she go home."

"Okay. I hate going in there tooled up, it's disrespectful. Do you think I should wait for him to come out?"

"I think yes, but two, three ways he might come out of there, and it's a big place."

"Yeah." I thought about it. "Okay, I'm going in for a look. Give me the description again."

"He six four, six five. White guy. Raincoat on, thin one, it wrinkle. Hair is brown, straight, short, lays sideways. No glasses. Kind of thick eyebrows. Don't know any scars. Oh, the coat, it's blue. Gray jacket, dark tie, light shirt, dark gray trousers."

"Okay, thanks." I got out of the cab and jayran across Broadway (if you jaywalk, in this town, you're a fair-game target). Pausing at the bottom of the steps up into the church, I adjusted the Desert Eagle in its holster under my guayabera and offered a silent apology to whoever might be listening or watching. Heading up, I slipped into the church and moved to the left, standing against the rear of the chapel.

He wasn't hard to spot. He was standing against the right wall, watching everyone, and had seen me come in. My eye was drawn to movement as he started along the right side wall towards the back, his eyes on me. I let our eyes meet, nodded at him once to ensure he knew I'd seen him, and stepped back out through the doors. As the door shut, I moved swiftly to the right along the top step until I was a good five or ten yards from the unlocked doors and turned to face the doorway, hand under my guayabera as his hand had been under his raincoat.

He wasn't dumb. He came out the other door, the one that opened away from me, and swept his gaze right first, catching me. I was prepared for him to threaten, approach, stop and make demands, or generally be a pain in the ass, but not for what he actually did - which was to pull a large sword out from under his overcoat and accelerate towards me.

I was caught a bit off guard. I didn't want to shoot him; in fact, I didn't want to fire the Desert Eagle on the church steps at all, but he was coming towards me faster than I could escape and I was already drawing the gun. Instinctively, and in an incredible display of fiction-soaked stupidity, I did the worst possible thing I could with the big pistol which was to try to block an overhand strike from his sword.

It was a straight blade, but with some width to it rather than having the thin, whippy form of an epee. My right hand moved above and in front of my head, and I was turning the barrel of the gun to my left when the blade struck the top of the pistol. The transmitted shock was brutal; after an initial solid impact, the blade started to slide to my right, towards the back of the gun. I couldn't tell if that was deliberate, if my opponent was trying to either strike my gun hand or just slide around the block, but suddenly the movement stopped and the force on my wrist increased. I realized why - the slide on the Desert Eagle had extended out, backwards. The edge of the sword blade was trapped in the depression formed by the ejection port sides, lower than the gun's frame in front or the back edge of the slide, to the rear.

chunk from the gun’s slide moving back forward, and as I stepped to my left to avoid his taking a cut at my right leg, I brought the pistol up to point at his torso and pulled the trigger.

Nothing happened.

With no time to think about it, I moved further left as my opponent lifted his arms again, recovering the sword. Before he could set up for another swing, I stepped towards him and clubbed him across the cheekbone with the gun. The Desert Eagle, besides being a fairly ludicrous gun, is also heavy. Mine is stainless steel, which means it weighs approximately four and a half pounds. That much metal hitting you in the face is a good way to break your concentration. He flinched back as his head was jolted to his right, and stepped away from me while bringing his sword up into a blocking position as I recovered the gun and my arm.

Then I promptly turned and ran away from him, down the steps and towards Broadway. I could hear his footsteps behind me, which meant he was quicker off the mark than I had hoped. The sword was a relatively long one, which meant I wasn't at all comfortable having him behind me where I couldn't see him, but the pistol was no help. I had to slow him down long enough to reach Francois' car, across the avenue, and I'd barely reached the sidewalk. There wasn't much of an option. Reaching into my bandolier with my left hand, I pulled out a plastic cylinder. When I had it aligned properly, I jumped to the right and spun left, bringing it up in my hand. The guy was maybe five steps behind and still coming, the sword in some kind of high guard, hilt above his right shoulder and the point just in front of his left collarbone. I gave him another half second and pressed the plunger.

The Mace dispenser fired a long stream. He started to angle the sword when he saw my hand move, but the liquid splashed around and past the blade and covered his head and shoulders. I dodged left, holding the stream on him for a few seconds, and then let him go by. He was turning towards me, but was clearly blind, his eyes screwed shut, so I took the risk of kicking his left leg out from under him and running when he tumbled. I did note that he went down in what was clearly a practiced and controlled fall. I guess when you’re going to fight with a sword, the first thing you’re going to want to do is learn how not to chop off your own bits with it when you get knocked down or trip. But that was about all I saw, as I was already making a beeline for Francois’ car. I could hear his engine running, and the rear passenger window buzzed down, simplifying my problem with the door at speed. I engaged the safety on the Desert Eagle, threw it into the rear footwell and dived after it, head first. Note: I don’t recommend this in any way, but it seemed best right then. I screamed something like GO GO GO GO and Francois smoothly pulled away from the curb while I was struggling to get my hips through the window. As he did so, there was a CLANK and a slight tearing sound which, when I twisted my head to the right, turned out to be the swordsman taking a swing at Francois’ left rear fender and actually connecting, despite the fact that he clearly couldn’t see a thing.

“Michel, what-“

“I have no idea,” I panted, twisting madly until I was entirely inside the car. Reaching down, I retrieved the Desert Eagle. As I picked it up, I could see why it hadn’t fired - the slide wasn’t fully closed, and the round in the chamber was protruding back slightly. I winced and ejected the magazine, pulled the slide back and unloaded it. There was a shiny metal divot in the side of the frame just behind the chamber, clearly where the sword blade had struck, and it looked like that divot was interfering with the slide rails. Damn it.

“Where we going?” Francois asked, calmly. I looked around and found that we were already at 150th street and headed downtown. A siren wailed as a cop car dashed past northbound. I hope they found whoever the hell that was staggering around in the middle of Broadway with a sword, but I knew I wouldn’t be that lucky. Good thing I didn’t have an ego, because that had been pretty damn ignominious. I told myself I’d been making a strategic retreat to avoid gunplay near a house of worship, and felt slightly better.

“Well, my gun’s fucked, so I guess we’re off to see the cripple.”

“Okay,” said Francois, and headed downtown.

Francois dropped me off on Mott Street. I thanked him and headed into the block, pausing at a nondescript doorway with three buzzers. I pressed the middle one, randomly, since it didn't matter which. There was a pause before a crackly voice said "What?"

"It's Wibert."

After a moment, the door buzzed. I closed it behind me, checking through the grimy window to make sure nobody was showing undue interest, and turned to head up the stairway which was the only thing behind the door. It ascended two flights with no landings or exits, cameras visible and other things, I'm sure, invisible. At the top there was a final 180 degree turn and then a solid metal door on the right with a camera and button next to it and a sign reading 'BUZZ FOR ENTRY.' I ignored it and kept walking. At the other end of the narrow corridor, closest to the street side of the building, was another door which looked nondescript. It buzzed gently as I approached, and I swung it open towards me, its weight startling if you weren't used to it. Closing it behind me, I stepped inside to find myself in a narrow space in front of a slightly low countertop.

The space behind the counter stretched out, way too far back for the building we were in. Dreaver Fontaine had turned the top floors of three older New York tenement buildings into his workshop, although no-one knew precisely how or what was in the other floors of the buildings. Dreaver was coming towards me from the gloom, his wheelchair moving precisely and silently through the various tables and benches that cluttered the space. He stopped just across the counter from me. "Well, well. The Frenchman. What happened? Was there a surrender? Did you lose your gear?"

Har, har, har. Fontaine had never been anything but dismissive and insulting to me, but I didn't take it personally. He was like that to everyone. He was also the best armorer I'd been able to find in the Tri-State area, and other than a couple of iron-clad rules, he didn't ask questions - although he did insist on legal paperwork. "I didn't lose it, Dreaver. Okay to draw?" One rule was that you didn't draw or lift a weapon in his shop without explicit permission.

"Go ahead, Wibert."

I reached under my guayabera with my left hand, and extracted the Desert Eagle with the thumb and forefinger by its rear. Since I hadn't reloaded it, I knew it was safe, but I adhered to the Rules and turned the empty magazine well to face Dreaver, then worked the slide twice as far as I was able to prove the chamber was empty. Having done so, I turned the butt towards him and offered it. He took it, looked in the mag well, worked the slide expertly and gave me a pained look. "What did you do?"

"I didn't do it!" I said, offended. "Some other guy did it. With a goddamn sword."

"Wait." Fontaine actually looked up from examining the gun and snickered. "You brought a gun to a swordfight? And..."

"Shut up, Fontaine," I said wearily.

"Well," he said, looking back down at the frame rails, "Whoever he was, that's a nice sword, he's not weak, and this is pretty fucked up. I can smooth it, but honestly I'd prefer to magnaflux the thing, impact it looks like it took, before you shoot it again."

"How long will that take?" I asked.

He shrugged. "Couple days."

"Well, sword guy is still out there," I said sourly.

"Well you're in luck," Fontaine grinned at me.

"This isn't the first time you've shown up with a screwed up gun. More screwed up than usual, I mean," he amended. Fontaine didn't approve of the Desert Eagle, and as a gun, I couldn't really disagree with him. "So I figured you might want this." He rolled back to a cabinet, unlocked it and pulled out a hard case before relocking the cabinet and rolling back to me. He placed the case on the counter and expertly spun it so the handle was facing me and nodded. I opened the sliding latch to find, resting in a foam bed, a Desert Eagle pistol identical to the one he was holding and a spare magazine in a slot alongside.

"I guess it never really occurred to me to have a spare," I said. "You're my hero. I'll take it."

"Figured you would. Don't go anywhere, you have a nice 4473 to fill out for me. And it's going to cost you, even though I like you."

"I never thought different, Dreaver," I said, reaching for my wallet. I handed him a credit card and my carry permit, then said "Can I load?"

"Yeah," he replied, busy with a pen. "Make sure you test it as soon as you can, Frenchman. Don't trust a new gun. Even one I give you."

"You tell me that *every time*, Fontaine," I groused as I loaded the loose .50AE round from my pocket back into the loaded magazine I'd removed in the cab, then slid the loaded magazine into the gun. Turning to the right, I moved to the end of the counter and held the gun over a large tub of sand while racking the slide and setting the safety before sliding it back into my shoulder holster and pocketing the two empty magazines it had come with. Fontaine rang up a truly ludicrous amount of money on my credit card, while I carefully placed my broken Desert Eagle in the hard case and re-latched it, then wrote up a repair slip while I was filling out my form 4473. Finally, he picked up a phone to call the FBI's clearance line, gave them his identification and my name and information, and repeated back "Permission to proceed, thank you," hung up and had me sign the charge slip. "Okay, Wibert. I'll call you when I'm happy with it."

"Thanks Dreaver. Oh, one question." He raised an eyebrow at me, holding the hard case on his lap. "Do you know anyone who knows a lot about swords?"

The first New York Magician | Next-->

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