<--Younger | The First New York Magician | Older-->

There was a flash of black luminescence around my hand. The card was ice cold. I turned it quickly, a snap of the fingers, to see the front. Whatever was there was intent on not being seen. I could make out the card's shape, and the grubby off-white of dirty laminated surface, but every time I tried to focus in on the card itelf the blur that resided there reached up a little further into my forebrain, dug in its fists and squeezed.

I closed my eyes and pushed the card at the table. It left my hand, clearing my head immediately. I opened my eyes again to the more familiar blur of tears. "What-"

Brian's voice broke through. "You can hold the card. You, and only you, cannot read it."

I picked up the Desert Eagle. "Look, I came here looking for something, or someone."

"Yes." They both said it, in stereo. It was disconcerting. I had to fight down the urge to shoot one of them just to restore normalcy.

"There's someone downtown who shouldn't be here. He shouldn't be here at all. But he is, and he was called. Who called him?"

The other voice spoke. "You did."

"Bullshit. I can't call Others. I can hear and see them, that's all."

Brian's partner spoke again, looking down at the table's surface. "Doesn't change what happened. You called him. Perhaps not on your own. But you did." He looked up suddenly and stared at me through his blind eyes. "And now you know. That's all." He stood, far too quickly for his age, and Brian stood as well. I raised the pistol.

"Wait a damn-"

The room was empty. I jumped backwards reflexively, crashing to the floor as I tripped over some unknown piece of debris. The gun didn't go off (I don't take the safety off until I'm really ready to use it) and I kept hold of it, but at the cost of hitting the ground hard. I sat there for a second in the dimness, then stood up. The light had dimmed; the Coleman lantern was dark. I reached for it gingerly where it sat on the table, and my fingers tore through a thick coating of cobwebs. I pulled my hand back in surprise, then dug in my coat for my Maglite. The lantern was dusty, old, and the glass cracked. There were no mantles inside it.

The cards were gone, and the dust on the table's surface was thick and undisturbed.

"Oh, shit." I rubbed my head. "Shit, shit shit." Holstering the gun, I surveyed the room again. Nothing anywhere. The silence wasn't complete, not underneath the bones of New York, but it was much deeper than it had been some seconds ago. I couldn't figure out why what had just happened had the fright running up my spine; given what I dealt with on a daily basis, this was surely only somewhere middle of the road, but my sympathetic nervous system flatly refused to agree with me. The sweat was coming cold from my brow.

Then the noise started.

It was very faint, and very far off, but it was coming from the tunnel entrance opposite where I'd come in, and it could have been twenty feet or ten miles away. It was a regular metal-on-metal sound, though; nothing random and nothing soft. I twisted the Maglite to open up the field to the full width of the tunnel, pulled the Desert Eagle again, and moved into the tunnel, flashlight held out to my left. I was skirting the right wall, the light held approximately where it would have been in my left hand were I centered in the passage.

Gun in hand, I went to meet the noise.

Fifteen feet past the door, there was a metal grating from floor to ceiling. There was a huge round hole in the center of it, the bar edges flowing and melted at the hole’s periphery. I moved past it uneasily, into a lower tunnel which splashed around my boots. I hoped it was water, but my nose told me that if there was water down there, it wasn’t alone. The noise was rising in volume, coming from the darkness ahead. A regular thumping, or tapping, two beats then a pause, then again. Thump-thump.

After another fifty feet there was a flickering light ahead which took me some moments to realize was coming around a blind corner in the storm drain. I wasn’t positive, but it looked as if the tunnel turned right at least ninety degrees. I leaned against the right wall and raised the gun, watching the light and listening to the sound move closer to the corner.

The sound was regular enough to make concentration difficult. Thump-thump. I could only tell the source was still in motion from the movement of the light on the wall at the corner. Thump-thump. There was no way to determine precisely how close to the corner the other was, so I waited, sweating now in the chill gloom. Thump-thump.

The light, when it moved into my line of sight, was blinding. It came around the corner and stopped, and I lifted the gun. “Fucking freeze right there!”

Nothing happened for perhaps five seconds, then there was a booming laugh which reached out to me from behind the light (another Coleman, I could barely see, twin silk testicles of the mantles burning in their fragile ashen web of white gas). Then the lantern dimmed to the squeaking of its valve, and a voice no less enormous than the laugh said, in a rich Irish brogue, “Sure, and you’d be Michel, wouldn’t you, boy?”

The gun sagged downwards. I recovered enough to re-safety it. As I did so, the other figure moved towards me. In the lower light of the banked lantern, I could see a huge man, dressed in industrial coveralls and boots. In his left hand he held the lantern; in the right, a massive wrench, scraped in bright patterns where it had struck the concrete or stone of the tunnel.

I looked at him for a moment, then lowered the gun entirely. “Who the hell are you?”

“My name’s Kevin, boy. I knew yer gran.”

He was almost up to me. I fumbled the gun back into its holster, and when I looked up there was a huge paw outstretched, which it would have been churlish not to shake.

So I did.

<--Younger | The First New York Magician | Older-->

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