Glass and Shadow
Part Six -- The dust up
It's a quarter til midnight and I'm standing in the gravel parking lot outside of the World of Wheels roller rink smoking a cigarette. The pink neon roller skate on the sign blinks off and off at random like some crazy man's morse code. There was a roller derby bout there earlier tonight and a few drunken losers are lingering around waiting for the girls to come out. A few give me nasty looks. I don't pay 'em any mind. I figure it's too warm of a night to get all heated because some ugly mug's got a staring problem. I crush my cigarette out in the gravel and head over to the front door. I figure it never hurt anyone to be a little early and Clover was very specific about unpleasant things happening if I chose to be fashionably late. There's a tall, homely chick at the door with Ruth on her nametag. She's got buckteeth and big hands and a crazy look in her eyes tells me that she'd enjoy taking out every name she got called in high school on me. I give her my best smile and say, "Evening miss. I've got an appointment with Clover."
She gives me a bored look and asks, "Name?"
"Clover will know. He's expecting me."
"I'm sorry, but I can't let you in here without proper identification, and I need to check your name against my list," she says, clearly enjoying this.
"Look, Ruth-- I'm sure you're just trying to do your job. But Clover's expecting me and if he finds out I was late 'cause the hatcheck girl wouldn't let me in without a Driver's License, I can't imagine he'd be too pleased with either one of us. Now, you know a lot better than I do what happens when he ain't kept happy. But it's your choice."
She seems to consider this for a moment then says, "Come in. But wait inside the doorway."
I do as she says. Seconds later two big lugs in cheap suits come over to me. One of 'em starts to frisk me without saying a word. I say, "A man like me likes to get an invitation to dinner and a movie before the heavy petting. Otherwise, he feels cheap."
The lug doesn't laugh. The other guy takes a piece of quartz out his pocket, clear as glass, and starts to stare at me through it. After a second he turns to the other ape and says, "He's clean."
A redhead in a roller derby uniform rolls over to me. It's the same redhead that did the talking while her friends pummelled me the other night. She gives the two brutes in the sweat shop's finest the eye and they both nod. She smiles at me and says, "Mr. Hutchence. So pleased to see you again."
"I'll bet. You didn't a chance to get your licks in."
She keeps going like I ain't said anything, "Clover has been anxiously awaiting your arrival. He'll be quite pleased to discover that you are so punctual. If you'll follow me?"
She rolls further into the building. I don't bother trying to keep up with her; I don't have wheels. I look around a little as we go past the rink. There's a bunch of girls still practicing beating the stuffing out of one another while whipping round the rink at breakneck speeds. I see one girl crash into another with enough force to give a rugby player pause. What I don't see is Red's two accomplices. Red reaches the far end of the rink and sits down for a moment to take off her skates. She carries them in one hand and goes up a shadowed flight of stairs and I follow. There's a door at the landing, she opens it and gestures at me with a fancy "after you" bow. I enter.
I'm in this room full of antique furniture and gilt-framed oil paintings. There's a couple of persian rugs on the floor and a fire crackling in a granite fireplace. Some soprano is singing about lost love in Italian on the radio. A whole wall of the room is a one-way window that looks out on the roller rink below. It's a classy set-up. And sitting in a wing chair, wearing a smoking jacket and an ascot and that damn white panama hat is the world's hugest gentleman of leisure, Clover. Flanking him are the blond and the brunette with the mean right hook. The blond's carrying a silver tea set. Clover blows out a puff of smoke from his pipe and says, "Mr. Hutchence! Do have a seat," he points at the wing chair across from him.
I sit down and grab a cluster of grapes out of a fruit basket. I pop one into my mouth and munch thoughtfully. Clover temples his fingers and stares at me with those piggy little eyes. He clears his throat and says, "At long last, we can come to a mutually beneficial agreement. Are you prepared to lift the spell on the item?"
"Did you bring the money?" I pop another grape into my mouth.
"You will be compensated after you perform your service."
I shake my head, "Nothing doing. I'm not lifting the spell until the money's in my hot little hands. You've got your lovely little valkyries here, no reason for you not to trust that I won't do my part."
"Your tenacity is admirable. Very well. Brenda, pay the man." Red scurries away a his orders and gets a briefcase from behind and overstuffed chaise. She hands it over to me and unsnaps the clasps. There's a lot of money in there. Slowly and cautiously I count it. After I'm satisfied that it's all there, I say, "Hand me the folder."
"Do you really think I'm going to hand over my asset to you after you've received your money? Undo the spell from there."
"I can't. I have to touch it. It's not so simple as saying bibbity-bobbity boo. Now, hand me the folder."
Clover bites his lower lip but passes it over to me. I pull out a safety pin and jab my thumb. I trace a simpler sigil in blood than last time and chant the words of release. The sigil glows green for a second. I pass the folder back over to Clover. He clutches it close to his chest, then opens it, quickly scanning every page and moving on to the next. I pull a cigarette out of the silver case Dixie gave me last year for my birthday and hold it between my right index and forefingers. Clover laughs, a high, unpleasant sound and gestures to his weird-o sisters, "Kill him."
I laugh like he's just told a funny and say, "Oh, I don't think so."
Then the lights go out. I can't see the tip of my nose in the blackness, but the screams, wet splattering sounds, meaty thuds and sickening crunches are more than enough to give my imagination a workout. After a short while, the screams stop and there's only a sound like a junkyard dog gnawing on a bone. After that, silence. The tip of my cigarette flares up. The tiny, flickering flame gives me enough light to be glad I didn't witness Clover's messy end. I take a deep drag from my cig and the house lights come back on. There's a perfect circle that extends about a foot outward from my chair where everything within is clean and untouched. The rest of the room is spattered with blood, guts and flesh like a mad Jackson Pollock painting. A shadow in the corner lenthengs and darkens till it looks like molasses that can stand on its own. The shadow smiles, it has gleaming white teeth. When the shadow starts talking it sounds like Screamin' Jay Hawkins, "Oh my, but that was the most fun I've had in ages. It's been so very long since I've had a little something to wet my whistle. Mr. Alex don't let poor ol' Mr. Saturday have no fun. Maybe I should stick around you for a while."
I shudder at the thought. Mr. Saturday picks up Clover's blood-splattered white panama hat and cocks it on what would be his head. He dances like Bojangles all through the gore and muck. The radio abruptly changes from Opera to the chit'lin circuit classic "the boogie man's ball". I clasp the briefcase closed. Get up and trudge through a whole lot of Clover to get to the door. I yell back at Mr. Saturday, "That was the easy part. This whole thing ain't over yet."
Mr. Saturday de-materializes and the radio plays only static. I walk down the stairs with fifteen grand in my hand and a trail of bloody footprints. I'm almost to the door when the person I was expecting about four minutes earlier makes his appearance. It's Avery. He's dressed to the nines. His face breaks into a smile like he was meeting his long, lost brother and he says, "Hutchence! You did it. Congratulations. My employer is very pleased with your performance."
"I'll bet he is. I got that kid and I managed to get rid of an annoying rival at the same time. By the way, the extermination service is gonna cost you extra."
"Of course, you're entitled to a reward for your exemplary service. Where is he?"
I spit a grapeseed on the ground, "He's not here. See some things have changed and I figure I'm in a position to renegociate terms as long as I can keep Andy's location a secret."
All warmth drains from Avery's face. His eyes are steely and sharp. In clipped and professional tones he says, "My employer will not appreciate your insolence."
"Well, since he's waiting right outside, why don't you call him in here so he can tell me that."
Avery laughs, it's a wild, dangerous sound. Blue flames appear in a ball in his hand, they lick at his fingers without burning. His eyes glow the same marsh gas blue. I suck in breath in surprise, "You're a sprite!"
His expensive tailored suit bursts into the same blue flame and falls on the floor in ashes. His skin sloughs off and I shield my eyes from the brightness underneath. Floating in the air before me is a thin, glowing being with pointy ears and fingers that are too long for any human. I can't tell whether Avery is a girl or a boy, but either way he's beautiful. In a voice like a bell he calls out, "Master!"
The front doors bang open and in walks a tall man with skin as smooth and dark as polished mohagany. He gestures with one hand near my left and a crystal bauble appears and hovers in mid-air. It's soon filled with a tiny black cloud with shiny white teeth. He's already put Mr. Saturday out of play. He reaches Avery's side and says, "There will be no new deals. You will tell me where you have the child, or I will crush your body and enslave your soul. I will have forever to rip it out of what remains of your mind. You have no room to bargain."
I look down at my hands and slump my shoulder like he's won. The both of them get nearer to me. I try and look meek when the big, bad boss is staring down at me and I say, "Okay, I know when I'm outclassed. I tried to pull a fast one and it backfired. That's the breaks, I guess. And I guess I don't got no more cards to play except this one -- NOW!"
Almost immediately after I shout the word 'now' a cold wind whips up from nowhere and tentacles made of shadows coil up around the three of us. The earth shakes and red bolts of lightning crackle and flicker in the beams supporting the roof. Avery screams in terror and the Boss struggles in vain against the coil of blackness that has him trapped. I shout loud enough that I can be heard above the roar of the wind, "Now you will listen to my terms. You will let me go without harm and you will vow to never seek to harm me and my blood."
"What is this?" snarled the Boss.
I smile and say it just loud enough that he can hear me, "the spell of dissolution!"
"Impossible," he roars, "No one could have taught it to him."
"I could have," I say, "I did."
"Even if this were so, the Spell of Dissolution requires a sacrifice of one's own kin the boy has no blood family" Avery wails.
"He's got kin. Me," I see the fear in the Boss' eyes and know he knows it's true, "Guess your boss didn't share everything with you, Sprite. He wanted you to hire me because someone of his blood could get through the protections his spirits put up easier. Thought I didn't know. My parents never told me I was adopted. But I found out when they died anyway. And Andy knew the whole time. He called me Alex when we first met. I am Alexander Laveau and I am the locus for the spell of dissolution. Andy ain't gonna call it off unless I tell him to."
"But you will be destroyed," the Boss screamed through the howling winds.
"Maybe, but I'll take you two bastards and half this rotten city with me."
A lightning bolt crashes down within inches of the Boss's feet. Chunks of the floor get uprooted and begin swirling in the widening vortex. You can hear the creaking of the steel as it begins to bend under the strain, the boss shouted, "I'll meet your terms!"
"Swear on the seven, you conniving bastard!"
"I swear on the Seven by name, Girzlamek, Vindor, Baruchan, Lor, Aryndiel, Coramin and Tryndael that I and mine will never seek to harm you or your blood and that all rights of vengeance are foresworn. Should I prove false to my oath, may the darkness be upon me."
I wait for the rainbow glow that signifies a true oath then shout, "Andy, call it off!"
A second later the world goes still. The boss looks up at me with true hatred in his eyes, but I know he can't touch me now. He snaps his fingers and the crystal shell around Mr. Saturday breaks. Being the focal point for a spell that could unravel the world is tiring, but I still have a spring in my step. On my way out, I drop an envelope at the boss' feet. He picks it up and asks, "What's this?"
"My bill and some expenses. I figure I completed my end of the bargain. I kidnapped the kid just like you asked."
I hear soft cursing as I open the door and step out into the night. The stars are out and I feel like whistling. Everything's going to be alright. I suppose there's still that Lady in Grey left to deal with, since assassins can be tricky to call off once you've set them on someone, but I figure she's nothing the Laveau brothers can't handle.
My last dance in the wordmongers' masque