We Are Not Good People (Ustari Cycle)

BOOK: We Are Not Good People (Ustari Cycle)
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PRAISE FOR THE WORKS OF

JEFF SOMERS

“Somers writes with assurance and style . . . just the right mixture of fatalism and attitude, seasoned with plenty of bullets and black comedy.”


SF Site

“A funky wit.”


The New York Times

“Combining elements of Jonathan Tropper, Tom Perrotta, and Augusten Burroughs, Somers’ incisive, pull-no-punches examination of adult friendship is refreshingly witty. Tautly paced and expertly assembled,
Chum
is a darkly comic, deeply insightful, and wildly original novel.”


Booklist
on
Chum

“An exhilarating example of powerful and entertaining storytelling.”


The Guardian
on
The Electric Church

“Jeff Somers has created a wholly original world that, even with magic, feels incredibly real.”


All Things Urban Fantasy
on
Trickster

“Enough gunplay and explosions to satisfy a Hollywood producer . . . but the characters are the real prize.”


Publishers Weekly
on
The Electric Church

“Somers has a crisp writing style . . . I much prefer his clean kind of storytelling over the common pitfalls of info-dumps and overly-cute dialog.”


Fantasy & SciFi Lovin’ Reviews

“With intricate plotting and ink-black humor, Somers’ new series is a gritty, grim success that will keep readers spellbound.”


RT Book Reviews
on
Trickster

“A gritty noir story that challenges and surprises with every page.”

—James Rollins on
The Electric Church

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To my dearest, darling Danette, who kicks my ass in a good way every day and makes everything, including this book, better.

I.
TRICKSTER

1.
“THERE’S A GIRL IN
THE
tub,” Mags said.

I looked up at him. His hair was getting long. It was glossy and silky, a grand black forest of hair. His eyebrows almost met in the middle, giving him a permanently sinister expression. I could not actually pronounce his actual last name, called him Pitr Mags because it was better than calling him Pitr the Indian Bastard.

“A fifty-year-old dead girl?” I asked, thinking bones and webs, a fine bed of off-white dust lining the tub beneath it.

He shook his head, pushing his bandaged fingers into his pockets. “Recent.”

I paused in the act of tearing up the carpet. We were broke again. Sometimes it seemed like we’d done all of this before, an endless cycle of failure. The last seventeen dollars we’d possessed had been spent on Neilsson, passed over with a pinprick of gas to make it look like three hundred and forty in twenties, and all Mags and I had to our names was what was pumping in our veins.

We were fucking incompetent. In all things, we’d failed. We were wallowing in a nice, comfy pit of fucking spectacular failure, deep black and hermetically sealed, me and Mags bound together forever and ever with deep fishhooked ties of ruin.

I hauled myself to my feet. Fished in my jacket pocket, produced a fresh bandage, and began working the thin wrapper free, difficult due to the damp and soiled bandages that adorned all nine of my other fingers and the fresh slice oozing blood on my index finger. Faint sparks of pain flared from my fingertips as I worked at it.

I was careful not to let any blood drip anywhere, get smeared anywhere. Leave no mark, that was rule one. No trace of yourself. Blood was usable for only a few seconds, ten, twenty. After that, you couldn’t burn it away no matter how big the spell. Best not to take chances.

The apartment was supposed to have been a good score. We’d heard
that Neilsson had a card up his sleeve, and the old drunk had a sheen of success about him. Despite floating around our social level, which should have been our first clue. But Neilsson had been a pilot, back a few decades, and he worked art, and thus had an aura of intellect and culture that was powerful attractive to men like Mags and me, small minds drenched in blood and peasant fare. The codger spoke with an adorable accent, and I never had gotten past the childish idea that all people with some sort of accented English must be fucking geniuses. When sober, Neilsson was a good operator, and he’d made some decent kosh from time to time, so we took the rumor seriously. And decided to work him the way only Mags and I could: a little bit of charm, a little bit of booze, a little bit of gas.

It took all fucking night to get it out of the old bastard. We could have bled more and settled some real voodoo on his shoulders and pushed, but Mags and me, we didn’t bleed anyone else, we relied solely on ourselves, so that would have left us too exhausted to do anything useful. So we used our usual tricks. Aside from the faked twenties—the manager would count out the drawer later and discover a stack of one-dollar bills—we used a couple of charmer Cantrips to make Neilsson like us, and then we poured whiskey down his throat until, grinning with his pink lips buried under a forest of yellow-white beard, he crooked a finger at us and told us about a wonderful score he’d heard of: the Time Capsule.

I looked around the room, holding the candle we’d found in the kitchen—misshapen, fleshlike in texture, already claiming a starring role in my nightmares for years to come—out in front of me. The room was cluttered, the furniture all curves and satin, uncomfortable to look at. I could believe that no one had opened the door or a window in fifty years. It smelled like death, and I tried to take shallow breaths. I shot my cuffs, wriggling my toes inside my wing tips. They’d seen better days. There was a thin spot on the sole, beneath the ball of my foot, that was a week or so away from a hole. It was October and if we didn’t manage something substantial in short order I was looking at a winter
spent with wet feet, snow crowding in from the street and making me numb.

“Let’s take a look,” I said.

I had no idea how to monetize a dead girl in a tub, but somehow it seemed like there had to be a way to do so. Why else would the universe construct such a complex contraption if it didn’t roar into life, belch black smoke into the air, and start producing something?

The place had been locked up forty-five years before, the story went. Neilsson telling us with a slurred ruby-red tongue and a yellowed, blurred eye. The owner was a rich bastard whose parents had died, leaving this apartment on East Seventieth Street. He had it shuttered and went to California. And never came back, the apartment sitting here like an unopened oyster, growing some unholy pearl in its center, a Time Capsule of old money. Now that we were here, breathing in decades-old dust and farting into the moldy cushions, it was ridiculous. What had we expected to find? Fucking piles of jewels? Pots of gold? A helpful guidebook pointing out the valuables?

Well, I reminded myself, maybe there was a safe. We could handle a safe. I could bleed a bit more before I got woozy. And if I got woozy, there would always be the rats, if I could get Pitr to go along with it.

I followed Mags. He walked like he was angry at the floor. After a short hallway wallpapered in hideous stripes, a few framed oil paintings that might have been something special hanging every three feet, we were in the master bedroom. It was a large room, no window but a small en suite bath—which was unusual for an older apartment. A huge brown water stain had bloomed on the ceiling, the plaster dropped away and lying on the bedspread in a moldy pile. The room smelled terrible, and I figured if I pressed a hand against the ceiling, it would be damp, a tiny, persistent leak, probably when the tenants upstairs flushed their toilet. A trickle of water that had been invisible for years forming into just a damp spot at first and then just a big damp circle and then just a big damp circle turning black from mold and
then one day five years ago the ceiling had crumbled onto the bed in a silent catastrophe.

I stood on the thick carpet that felt crusty and stiff under me, my throbbing fingers in my pockets, and hesitated. It was strange. No one had been in the apartment for decades, and you could feel it, the emptiness, the shock of movement forcing jellied air back into motion. The place looked like a museum, smelled like the back alley of a butcher shop, and my skin crawled.

There was nothing. Of course there was nothing. I was shaking a little, my fingers throbbing and my newest wound bleeding slowly, the bandage damp and clinging on by sheer determination. This had been our last, best idea.

There had to be something. There had to be
something
.

There was: a dead girl in the tub.

The bathroom was small, covered over with a black-and-white tile design made up of tiny squares, dozens of which had popped from the walls. There was more water damage in here, a humid feel, the ceiling sagging as if filled with brackish, rusty liquid. The smell was bad, trapped in the tiny space. There was an ornate pedestal sink with brass fixtures and a small, basic-looking toilet with a pull-chain flush, the water tank on the wall above it. The mirror had darkened, black spots clouding the silver, one on top of the other until it was a dark, phantom mirror, something that grudgingly reflected you but only after running you through smoke and clouds.

The tub was a big old claw-foot, the porcelain yellow, the brass fixtures matching the sink. There was no showerhead.

The girl was young and naked, lying on her side with her knees drawn up to her belly, her skin milky, blue veins visible. She had short dark hair and looked almost peaceful, curled up on the bone-dry bottom of the tub. I looked around; the place appeared deserted, but someone had been here within the last few days to drop off a body. I stood there, listening, as it suddenly seemed entirely probable that someone had crept into the place behind us.

Mags knelt down and peered at her, cocking his head. “She’s been bled, Lem.”

I blinked and looked at him. The words were just sounds, and then meaning snapped into them and I stepped over to stand next to him, looking down at the girl. He was right. She had the translucent look to her, drained cleanly, every drop of blood sucked out. I knelt next to him and reached in to push aside some of her hair, squinting down at the wound on her neck. It was clean and minimal, familiar.

Mags had the clean-slate cheer of the dim-witted. He crouched there serenely, certain that I would solve this little problem for us. That I would roll her over and discover some ancient cash, or jewels, or that she wasn’t dead at all. Mags’s faith in me was sometimes invigorating, more often exhausting. Mags could survive on rage and profanity; he didn’t need to eat. I thought of him as a pet sometimes, a monstrous kitten I’d picked up and let sleep in my pocket one night, and now—when I looked at his plump, blood-engorged face and twitchy, murderous hands, I felt a stab of horrifying affection—Mags was my responsibility.

BOOK: We Are Not Good People (Ustari Cycle)
13.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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