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I went back to my place immediately. Azif was asleep when I looked into the guest room, so I knocked on the doorframe. He woke instantly, rolling to a sitting position. He was fully dressed.
"Azif, I met someone who claims to have information on the ghul. He figured out from my questions that they were coming after someone who was alive, and he's implying his information is useful in that case."
The Djinn rubbed his eyes, a more human gesture than I was used to him making. "What does he want? I presume he wants something, or you would have the information already."
"He wants me to show him the Ondermarkt."
"Ah." Azif grimaced and stood. I moved back to let him pass, and followed him to the kitchen. "Do you mind?" he asked, indicating the coffee tin.
"Of course not." I sat and watched him rummage in cabinets, avoiding the coffee maker, until he came up with a relic of my childhood - a brass coffeepot in the Turkish fashion; tall, narrow, roughly hourglass shaped. I watched him measure water and several scoops of coffee into it and place it on the range, turning on the gas and staring into the blue ring of flame.
"Who is he?" Azif asked finally, still watching the pot.
"He's a cop. He works for CSU. One of my contacts sent me to him. He's seen strange stuff, and from what he tells me, he's seen the ghul, but he doesn't know what they are or where they come from. He says that over the past decade, decade and a half he's been trying to figure out what they are and everything else he can about the Elder world. I think he must be Talented to some degree, because he saw the ghul without assistance, and his partners weren't able to, but he's had nobody to teach him or explain what he's seeing."
"Does he know about the Ondermarkt?" Azif tilted the pot to look within it, then settled it back.
"He knows it exists. I don't know how much he knows about it. He told me he's never been able to find out where it is, and he's never been in. His price is for me to take him there."
"And you wish to know if this is possible."
"More than that. I need to know if you'll come with us. I'm not that bright, but I'm not stupid enough to think that I can walk in there alone - worse, with an outsider in tow - when I know so little about how it works."
There was a pause. Azif continued to watch the coffeepot intently, so I held my tongue. After a couple of minutes, there was a quiet rushing noise as the water within began to boil; the Djinn turned off the gas and removed the pot just as the water hit the dry heated rim of the pot with a hiss. When he looked around the kitchen, I pointed at the appropriate drawer. He opened it. With a look of disgust, he took up the strainer inside, gave me a disappointed glance, and tossed it onto the counter before taking two cups from the cupboard and carefully pouring coffee into both. He managed without spilling a drop, something I'd never done successfully given the great age and somewhat crinkled state of the coffeepot's metal rim, legacy of being dropped onto hard surfaces.
Washing out the pot, he replaced it in its original cabinet, then moved to the table and placed a cup in front of me before sitting down opposite me with his own. When I went to pick it up, Azif stopped me and held up a hand. I looked at him, confused, and he mimed something drifting downwards. Ah. The grounds. We waited for a minute or so, then when he I lifted his cup I did the same and sniffed it.
It wasn't coffee. It couldn't be coffee. I knew damn well what coffee was in that tin, and what I was holding smelled like nothing that it could ever have made. The smell was that of the archetype of coffee; an odor complex and subtle and powerful enough that a breath of it alone would have gotten me out the door and taken me through a hard day. I sipped it, barely daring to hope, and against all laws and physics of coffee, it tasted better than it smelled. The coffee grounds gave it body.
He smiled, taking a drink of his own. "Coffee is one of the oldest magics, Michel. My part of the world knew these rituals before yours was boiling water."
I didn't bother to fence with him. I couldn't. The evidence was right there. "You're not going to tell me how you did this, are you."
"If you do not know, Michel, it is not my place to tell you."
I shook my head, already weeping internally at the thought of drinking normal coffee and at the amount of time and energy I knew I was going to have to put into figuring out this one small demonstration of Azif's power and skill. "Fine. Consider me motivated. Damn you." And I drank more.
"Michel, I cannot return to the Ondermarkt with you and another outsider. You can return, and you will be in no more danger than you normally are, as you wander the streets of New York with the information you have."
I forced myself to put the cup down unfinished. "That sounds pretty damn ominous."
"As you yourself have noted, your knowledge is far from complete. It is, at most times, far from sufficient. That you have survived as long as you have is proof that knowledge is not the requisite - at least, not knowledge alone." He frowned into his own drink. "I would be lying if I denied that your exploits have been the subject of discussion - and at times, wagers - among those of us in New York."
I grimaced. "Malsumis made that clear. A few times."
"But Malsumis is not your enemy."
The laugh was involuntary, bitter, and short. "You could've fooled me."
"Michel, think about the power you hold. Think about the power Malsumis holds, even as a nearly-forgotten embodiment of an ancient tradition. Do you honestly think that you should be able to defeat him were he not, in some manner, permitting it?"
"Are you saying he's fucking with me?" I asked, incredulously.
"No, not at all. Well - not all of the time. But consider that when you and he do meet, he is...restricting himself."
I thought about that, and didn't like it at all. "You mean he's playing some kind of game."
"Everything is a game, of one sort or another, Michel. But when you and Malsumis have crossed paths in the past, the conditions under which you interacted have been constrained, and not by you."
That produced some cold shivers down my spine. "Azif, you're telling me that I've gotten this far not because I'm good at what I do, but because of dumb luck?"
"Not dumb luck, Michel. Not at all. Because you were not aware of the constraints of the game in fact makes your survival more impressive, not less. Yes, at times your opponents have been constrained in their actions. But even so, they retained enough power and freedom of action to destroy you with a fraction of their abilities and available effort. Yet you are still here."
"Azif, this is a fascinating and for me, very disturbing subject," I said, returning to my wondercoffee, "but what does it have to do with the Ondermarkt?"
"Think of it as encouragement," said the Djinn.
"Encouragement?" I spluttered, regretting the wasted sip of coffee. "How is telling me that I've been luckier than good all along supposed to be encouraging?"
"The inhabitants of the Ondermarkt are human, Michel. They are not - most of them - even aware of the Game, and fewer still are even playing it. You have triumphed against adversaries you had no right to expect victory over. I am telling you that your abilities and your resources are of immensely greater relative power when compared to theirs. I tell you this because your tendency to resort to violence - or at least, directed conflict - has stood you well when dealing with entities much more powerful than you. However, in this case, you will be confronting people who view you as you view your traditional opponents, and you will need to restrain yourself accordingly. You wish their cooperation, not their defeat - and it will be more difficult to obtain should you approach them in your..." he hesitated- "habitual fashion."
There was silence for a few seconds. Then I said, carefully, "Did you just accuse me of being a blunt instrument?"
"No, Michel." Azif finished his coffee. "Of being overly fond of them, perhaps."
* * *
I called Kelly back. It was getting to be near seven-thirty p.m. when we met at Nice Green Bo restaurant on Bayard St. I was finishing a plate of soup dumplings when he came in, saw me and came over. "Wibert."
"Hello, Detective. Have a seat."
He sat, his expression halfway between impatience and reluctance. "What's it going to be?"
"I'm going to take you to the Ondermarkt," I said, not wanting to hold him in suspense. He deflated very slightly, enough for me to realize how tense he had been. "But we need to talk, first."
"I told you, I'll tell you what I know after we-"
"I know," I said, cutting him off. "I'm not trying to change the deal. I mean we need to talk about the Ondermarkt visit."
"Okay." He still looked a bit suspicious, but he was a New York City cop, so I expected that. "What about?"
"About what to expect, and about the ground rules. You want dumplings?"
"No," he said. "Can't eat right now."
"Okay. As I was saying-" I waved to the waiter for the check. "Let's talk ground rules. First let me tell you why there are ground rules. I don't want you to think I'm just trying to get one over on you. Okay?"
"I'm listening." He poured a cup of tea from the pot on the table.
"I've only been there once. This means that I'm not too familiar with the rules and customs of the place. I'm going to be feeling my way through, and I need to make sure you don't make things more complicated."
"What do you want me to do?"
"First of all, are you armed?" He gave me a disgusted look. I nodded. "Right. That's item one. We're going to be searched on our way in, and if what happened to me last time happens again, they're going to want us to unload our guns. When that happens, I want you do do it, without hesitating, and I want you to unload or give up all your guns, even if they only indicate one of them. They might be testing us, to see whether we're responding to the letter or the spirit."
"I can't give up my piece, Wibert."
"Look," I said with a bit of impatience in my voice, "I'm not asking you to roll over. I'm saying treat this like an airport, or a Federal building, where you don't have a badge."
"But I do have a badge," he retorted. He wasn't being mulish, but I got the sense he was deliberately pushing.
"Kelly, I know that, but your badge - let's be honest - doesn't buy you anything where we're going, and might be a problem. Remember, you've been prevented from going here probably precisely because you're a cop. If you go in there as a cop, you're just going to get us both thrown out on our ear, probably." I took a sip of tea, deliberately waiting in order to defuse the slight tension. The waiter handed me the check, and to give Kelly more time I took out my wallet and counted bills out to hand back to the waiter. He left, and I turned back to the detective. "So. Can you go along with this?"
"What's the second thing? You said this was the first thing."
"Right. The second thing is that I need you to not speak to anyone - or anything - unless I indicate you should. I'm not trying to belittle you-" I held up a hand to forestall his protests- "I'm just trying to keep what's already a risky situation from getting out of my control as much as possible. This time in, you're a spectator. I agreed to show you the Ondermarkt, I didn't agree to introduce you around. Once we've gotten back out, it's entirely up to you if you want to try to go back by yourself - and if you do, you can act however you want. If I find out, though, that you're trying to take the cops into there, then you and I are going to have an issue."
"Are you telling me you're going to stand off the NYPD?" Kelly asked. He cocked his head slightly.
"I'm telling you that I'm agreeing to take you in there as Kelly, not as Detective Kelly, and not as an NYPD recon. If you can't agree to that, tell me now and we're done, no harm no foul. If you lie to me, then we have a problem. Not the NYPD and me, Kelly and me."
He thought about that for a few seconds. "What if I see something in there that needs a cop? What then? You telling me to just walk away?"
"Yes." I took another sip of tea. "For right then, yes. Look, I'm probably going to feel the same way about it as you if we see anything like that. What I'm asking is that you don't make an issue of it right then. Wait until we get out, and then we can talk about it. I know you don't know much about me, but I spend my time doing things not entirely unlike what you guys do. I'm not a professional, and I work alone, but I don't let bad things happen to innocent people. Not if I can help it. So if something comes up in there, you wait until we're out, and then I promise you we'll talk about it. If something needs to be done, we'll talk about that too. And even if I can't help you, I'll release you from the 'no cops' promise, if the situation is bad enough."
Kelly finished his tea. "Okay. You got my promise. I won't say anything without your okay, and I'll hold my peace if anything comes up. Until we're out."
"That's all I'm asking. I don't expect anything to come up, Kelly. I didn't see anything when I was in there that led me to believe you're going to have your restraint tested." I stood up. Kelly followed suit, and we moved to the door.
We walked the three blocks to the Manhattan Bridge plaza in silence. I turned into the shop that Azif had taken me through - was it only yesterday? - and headed for the back. When I reached the counter, the same Chinese woman was intent on her smartphone. I stopped and waited for several seconds. Finally, she looked up, and did a very small but noticeable double-take, staring at me. I nodded to her.
She narrowed her eyes slightly, and flicked her gaze to Kelly, standing quietly behind me. Then she looked back and arched her eyelids slightly. The question was as clear as if she'd handed it to me in a note - do you take responsibility for him?
"He's with me," I said firmly. She looked at me for a few more moments, then shrugged elaborately and nodded towards the curtained doorway. I nodded back and went through, aware of Kelly following.
Once down the stairs, I walked straight to the sliding metal door and knocked on it. It slid aside, and I found myself looking at two figures. They appeared to be the same ones Azif and I had run into before, but I wasn't positive. I moved into the second basement, Kelly with me, and stopped while the shorter one closed the door behind us. When both were facing us once more, I again opened my coat and drew the Desert Eagle left-handed, holding it between my finger and thumb. While they watched, I dropped the magazine out and placed it in my coat pocket, pulling the slide back to show that I didn't have a round chambered, and then holstered it again, closing the snap over the butt. They both nodded to me, and then turned their attention to Kelly. He looked from them to me, then back, and slowly reached into his jacket and pulled out an angular pistol which looked like a Glock of some kind. Mimicking me, he removed the magazine and worked the action, which in his case resulted in a cartridge popping from the top of the pistol. He caught it with the ease of practice and placed both it and the magazine in his own trouser pockets.
The two security types continued to look at him. I looked at him and nodded. He sighed, then knelt, rolled up his trouser and pulled a compact semiauto from an ankle holster. Rather than removing the clip, he offered it to the larger security guard. The huge figure took it and removed the clip, checking to make sure there wasn't a round in the chamber, and the two of them looked at each other silently for a moment. Then they turned back to us, and the larger handed Kelly back the small weapon and the magazine. Kelly nodded, reholstered it and placed the magazine in his other pocket. I was turning towards the door when Kelly put a hand on my arm, stopping me. I waited, surprised, and he held up a hand towards the security guards. They waited, watching him, while he reached slowly to his belt behind his jacket and pulled a shield off it and handed it to the larger guard.
They looked at each other for several seconds again, then both nodded to him. The larger one mimed putting the badge in his own jacket, and waited. Kelly was clearly unhappy, but nodded back. The guard hid the badge away and gestured towards the door. I was impressed with Kelly's offering of the badge, but tried not to show any emotion as I pulled on the door handle, and walked through into the noise and dim lights of the Ondermarkt.
I could feel Kelly freeze for a few seconds at the top of the stairs, so I waited until I could feel his footsteps behind me, then continued down into the crowds.
I stood at the bottom and looked around. The traffic along the near side of the tunnel was as I remembered it, people moving back and forth. On the other side, in the dim brown light that the tunnel fixtures were producing, the stalls in their riot of different shades huddled. The bright bluish light of compact fluorescents, the whiter light of LEDs, and the flickering illumination of candles and incandescents fought with the general dimness of the tunnel. I turned far enough to look at Kelly. He was looking left and right, with an expression of tightly held excitement on his face. I set off to the left, knowing as I did so where my feet were taking me. I walked slowly, watching Kelly look at the people and the surroundings.
We passed a stall with several people browsing what looked like woodcut prints of some sort. Kelly paused, and looked at me. I nodded, shrugging, and he moved tentatively into the stall to begin looking through them. The prints were in milk crates, the patrons flipping through them quietly. I saw him look at several, confusion on his face, before he looked back at me with a question on his face. I moved over to stand next to him, and looked down into the crate he was standing next to. The prints had been separated, and one was visible at the break. I squinted at it. It was indistinct, looking like someone had brushed the paper with very very light watercolors in a random pattern. I felt it change, somehow, as I squinted at it, so without thinking I reached into my coat and placed my hand on my bandolier over the Djinn's shadow and squinted again. The faint cloudy patterns shivered and coalesced into tightly-spaced writing in an unfamiliar script. I took Kelly's arm with my other hand and nodded at the print. His breath hissed in as whatever I was doing showed him the writing, and I released lifted my hand from the bandolier to see the print's text haze swiftly back into faint clouds.
"You can read them, can't you?" asked a voice. I looked up to see a small man sitting at the back of the stall. I nodded, moving towards him. "I thought so. I felt you."
"What are they?" I asked.
"History." He shrugged. "Poems. Lies. Instructions."
"How are they written?"
"With will, of course. Not just ink. To read them, you must be able to make them acknowledge you." The proprietor (I guessed) was small and, as I drew close enough to see his face in the dim light, very very old. He smiled up at me. "Ah, of course. You would be able to force them to show themselves."
"You know me?" I asked.
"I know of you, of course I do. Who is your friend?"
"He's someone I met. He can see some things, some few things, and he's never been told what they are."
The old man cackled. It was cliched, but so help me, it was a cackle. "Like so many. And he found his way here."
"Can you see them, without his help?" the man asked Kelly. Kelly looked at me. I nodded.
"I can...half see them," he said. "Not clearly. But I can see the shapes of the lines." I realized that here was more evidence that indeed, unlike me, Kelly had some native talent.
"Then you must learn to read," said the old man.
"How...do I learn that?" asked Kelly, and the hunger was audible in his voice.
"You'll need to find someone to teach you," came the reply.
"Can you teach me?"
"I? No. I just sell, I don't teach. You'll need to find a teacher. Maybe this one-" he nodded at me- "but perhaps not."
I gestured to Kelly, moved out of the stall. Kelly looked reluctant, but followed me. We resumed our progress down the tunnel. "Why did you-"
I shook my head. "If you want to negotiate with him when you come back, that's up to you," I said. "Like I told you, I'm not sure what my status is here, and I don't want to get us tangled up in things that may not be your problem."
"Are we going to have a problem?" Kelly asked.
"I hope not. But like I said, I've only been here once, and I know there are people here who don't like me. I'm just trying to make sure we get in and out of here without causing trouble."
Kelly subsided. I led us down the tunnel. As we drew nearer to my destination, I considered guiltily that I'd just lied to Kelly a bit - I had no idea if it was a good idea to be going where I was, but I'd been wondering since I'd been here the first time. We reached the spot where the tunnel was clear in front of the French windows, and I led Kelly up to the solid door in the middle of the frontage. I found I couldn't lead him in without warning him. "Kelly, I've never been in here. If you want to pass it by, it's your call."
He looked at the door and windows, then back to me. "It's a bar, isn't it."
I laughed. "Yeah, I think so. I've been curious since last time I was here."
"I'm Irish," Kelly said. "If I passed it up, they'd yank my card."
"Fair enough." I reached out and opened the door and led him through.
The space behind it was fairly narrow. It was obviously the other half of the double subway tunnel, with the frontage placed along the pillars dividing them. The right and left walls were clearly bodged into place, dividing the space from the rest of the tunnel. The bar was a short one, along the right wall, and another door was visible in the makeshift wall behind its center. There were perhaps ten small mismatched tables scattered around the rest of the place, with perhaps half of them occupied, some by individuals, others by couples or groups of three or four. I moved to the bar, which had two people standing at it, and a tall but cadaverously skinny woman behind it, and placed both hands on the surface, palms down.
She moved over, looking at Kelly to my left, then back to my face. Her expression tightened, slightly. "What do you want?"
"Just a drink," I said quietly.
"That's all." I refrained from asking her what else I might be after. "And for my friend."
The tender shrugged, waved at the shelves along the back wall next to the door. "What?"
I squinted at the bottles visible, unsure if their contents were even what their labels advertised. "Whisky. Whatever you recommend."
She reached under the bar and came up with a pair of small tumblers, placed them on the surface, then reached behind her without looking and came up with a familiar bottle. Lagavulin. I raised an eyebrow, but didn't say anything as she poured two doubles. When she'd replaced the bottle, I said carefully "What's the tab?"
"You're new in here." It wasn't a question.
"The shot is what you think it's worth. We take surface money, but we'd prefer other."
"What else can I offer?"
She gestured down the bar to my right. There was what looked like a Coleman lantern sitting on the bar, unlit. As I looked at it, though, I realized that there was something not quite right about it. I reached under my coat reflexively before remembering, and I froze as she flinched back slightly. "I'm sorry," I said, taking my hand out. "I'm just looking."
The bar had gone quiet, I noticed without turning. Kelly was staying silent. "Go ahead," said the tender, her voice tight.
"Thanks," I said, and palmed the bandolier again. The Djinn's Shadow flexed the air around the lamp, and it suddenly lit up a deeply saturated shade of blue that threw no reflections. I examined it carefully, then extended my other hand towards it slowly. As I drew closer, the glow increased; when I withdrew my hand, it faded again. I looked at the tender, who was watching me intently. "Explain it to me," I asked.
"If you don't want to pay in cash, you can pay in power," she said.
She shrugged. "Again, what you think it's worth. What you can spare."
"What if I get it wrong?"
She showed me her teeth. "Then you're gonna have to find somewhere else to drink."
I grinned back. "Fair enough," I said. Turning back to the lamp, I extended my left hand until I felt the sizzling touch of the lamp's surface. I could feel it pulling, very faintly but insistently. Hesitating, unsure of exactly how to proceed without using the Desert Eagle (which I knew wouldn't be a good idea at all) I concentrated on opening, on flow - and the hand I had pressed to the Patek Philippe's pocket grew suddenly warm. As I felt a slight dizziness, the lamp glow flared up, the color fading as the light grew brighter, edging towards white. I pulled my left hand off the lamp, and had to brace it against the bar as I sagged suddenly. I felt an iron grip on my other arm as Kelly grabbed me, holding me up until I got my balance. The lamp pulsated in my vision even after I removed my right hand from the bandolier. I turned back to the tender. "Will that cover it?"
She was looking at the lamp, her mouth slightly open in what I realized was surprise. "It...you...yeah. Yes, that'll more than cover it," she mumbled. I swore to myself, remembering what Azif had told me about my power and those who inhabited this place.
"I'm sorry," I said quietly. When she looked back to me, confused, I said "I wasn't trying to throw...anything around. I just didn't know."
I saw her professional bartending experience take over. Cocking her head, she looked at me, and her expression softened slightly. "Okay. You've never done this?"
"Never." I looked around; the other patrons at the bar had drawn away from us and were looking at me with some trepidation and the hostile expression that indicates you're not in your bar and maybe you're not welcome. I looked back at the tender. "Is that enough to buy a round?"
She laughed, once, cut it off. "More than."
"Then give everybody a round on me." I turned to the bar. "Sorry to interrupt your drinking," I said. "I just came in for a drink with my friend. That's all." The expressions on the rest of the bar remained guarded and closed, but some of the hostility I'd been aware of seemed to drop a tiny bit. A few people nodded.
I turned back, picked up the drinks, and handed one to Kelly. He took it, clearly holding back questions. We both drank. At that moment, the door opened and two people came in, heading for the bar. When they looked over, they both froze. At the tender's subtle nod, they resumed their path, heading for another clear space at the other end, and she moved to meet them. Several got up from their tables to bring their drinks to the bar, accepting the peace offering.
"What the hell just happened?" Kelly asked quietly.
"I'm not entirely sure," I said truthfully. "But we'll talk about it later."
We turned back to face the bar and hunched over our drinks, unwritten code of behavior for outsiders at a watering hole. We finished them in silence, and I pushed my empty glass across the bar. When the tender moved back to take it, I reached into my pocket and pulled out a twenty which I laid next to the glass. "Thanks."
"Welcome." It didn't sound like I was, actually, welcome, but it was less hostile than I'd expected.
"Can I come back? I'd like to talk to you for a bit."
"Maybe. If I'm here. If it's not busy." She nodded at the others standing around the bar. I realized that they hadn't gone back to their tables, and that the patrons were now generally clustered near myself and Kelly. I recognized the behavior - they had all moved closer to the perceived threat.
"Understood." I wasn't sure if they were defending themselves, or the bar, or the tender, but I raised both hands to shoulder height and straightened. "Maybe I'll see you, then."
She shrugged. I moved towards the door. Just as I reached it and laid my hand on the handle, though, she spoke again. "Wibert."
I controlled my reflexive start at the sound of my name, and turned steadily to look back at her. The crowd was all looking at me, so I raised one eyebrow. "Yes?"
"Your grandmother's name holds weight around here, Wibert. But nobody's gonna take it for granted that you're like her. You understand?"
I didn't. But it didn't seem like the time to admit that. "Yeah."
"See you." She turned away, but the admission that I might be allowed back was heartening. It was as much as I'd hoped to get when I came in.
I turned and left, with Kelly behind me. We stood for a moment in the traffic of the tunnel, and I realized that the people around us were avoiding us - leaving a small but noticeable empty space around the two of us as they detoured left and right in their passing. I shook my head, saddened. I thought of going further down the tunnel, to see if I could figure out why the woman Azif had dealt with hated me so much, but prudence told me that it was a much better idea to quit while I was ahead, especially since I had Kelly in tow. I looked at him, then nodded back towards the stairs. He looked briefly rebellious, but then nodded back.
We set off. At the top, after going through the door, I waited for the Kelly to retrieve his shield from the guards, then moved through the basement towards the stairs up to the shop.
* * *
We walked in silence a few blocks west along Canal Street before Kelly spoke. "Can I go back?"
"I don't know. That's between you and them. I just showed it to you, and that's what I agreed to do."
"Okay." Kelly continued on for a few paces, visibly thinking. "Okay, you held up your end. Thanks."
"Let's get a coffee."
We walked several more blocks, then turned north and wandered until we came to a Starbucks. With a cup of their burnt brew in hand, we continued on in silence until we reached Washington Square Park. Kelly led me to a bench off on one of the smaller paths, and we sat. I sipped coffee, waiting.
"Okay," he sighed. "Thanks. Thanks for that."
"You're welcome," I said.
"So what I got to tell you, this goes back maybe ten years. I told you I first saw them fifteen years ago or so. I've been a cop longer than that. I've been on the force near twenty-five years. I started out patrolling around lower midtown, the 13th Precinct. I saw some weird shit, like I told you. It all involved people, though. Just people. One kid-" he broke off, drank coffee. "Never mind. Anyway, when I transferred to CSU, I saw the ghul. I went kind of nuts; I started running around like a crazy man, trying to figure out what it was I'd seen. One of the guys I looked up was this old horn player. He was homeless, used to play in Grand Central, main lobby. I'd met him earlier, when I first got involved with the first treyf case I was on. I didn't push him; he was old, he wasn't hurting nobody. But I kept asking him. Wouldn't tell me anything, at first, but it was clear he knew stuff he wasn't telling me. I kept after him for weeks."
Kelly stopped, drank some coffee. He was looking out into space, back into the past. "Finally, he gave in, said he'd tell me what he knew. I took him for dinner, he wasn't feeling well. Gave him a good hot meal. I'd tried to get him into a room, but he wasn't having any of it, said he belonged where he was. Anyway, he told me this story. He told me the thing I saw was called a ghul. He told me they were made, like a thousand years ago, by some magician in the middle east. He wouldn't tell me why."
When Kelly paused and looked at me, I nodded. "That goes with what I know about them. Without them, the Elders can, I don't know, they can use human corpses like puppets. They were made to change the dead, somehow, so the Elders couldn't do that."
"Yeah. So anyway, I asked him if that was all, like, if they were a danger to people. People who weren't dead. He hesitated, so I asked him again, and he said there was only one time they could harm living people. I asked him what would cause it, and he wouldn't tell me. But he said he had to tell me what to do, if that happened, because I would need to know, to protect people. He said that if I ever saw the ghul go after a living person, I had to get to them and tell them what to do."
I forced myself to remain calm. "What should they do?"
He turned to look at me. "Will you tell me what this is about? Not now, sometime."
"If I can. I promise."
"Okay." Kelly sighed. "You- the person they're after- has to go to a particular place, at a particular time, and do particular things. I'll write it down for you."
"Did you ever do what he said?" I asked.
"No." Kelly laughed. "I never saw a ghul except when it was doing whatever they do to someone clearly dead. So I figured I'd better not get involved." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a notebook and pen, then scribbled for a couple of minutes. Tearing the page out of the notebook, he handed it to me. "Here. Here's what he told me. If you follow this, you got to tell me what happens."
I took the page. "I will. Thanks, Kelly."
"Good luck, Wibert." Kelly finished his coffee, threw the cup into the trashcan next to the bench, nodded to me and walked off without looking back.