Read We Are Not Good People (Ustari Cycle) Online
Authors: Jeff Somers
” I shouted, stepping forward and spinning Mags around, checking him. He pushed me away and staggered back a few more feet, hands on his head.
“Shot himself, Lem,” Mags said. “I was just beatin’ him a little, and had a hand on his wrist, but I was . . . I was
the gun away, you know? Away from
. And then . . . he started talking to himself again, and just put the gun to his head, and . . . oh, fuck . . .”
I walked over to Mags and put my hands on his shoulders. He sounded like he was about to cry. “You did good, Maggie.
He blinked at me and dragged an arm across his nose. “Yeah?”
I nodded, tired. I knew if I closed my eyes, I’d fall asleep standing. “Yeah. Not your fault.”
A smile twitched onto his dark face, and I spun away. I could hear Heller’s distinctive roar from inside the motel, and people were moving past us in small groups, cars starting up. As soon as he could get past the crowd bottlenecked at the door, Heller was going to beat the living shit out of us. Twice. I knelt down by the Skinny Fuck and examined him. I thought about giving him the old faerie light, check for runes, but instinct told me not to bother. Instinct also told me this was a man marked, though, a man in the grip of magic—the kind of magic I’d felt creeping up behind us back in the apartment.
His nothing-eyes were staring up at the sky, the gun still in his hand, loose. Skinny had put the barrel of the gun against his temple, and the top of his head had exploded outward, a flap of skin hanging down over his forehead. A trail of yellow-red brains limped away from him on the pavement. His other hand was on his chest, and I stared at it. He’d been fighting with Mags, but his hand was on his chest like he was clutching a cross or something. I leaned forward and pushed it aside, his arm thin as a stick. I tore open his shirt and stared.
Nestled on the bony ridge of his sternum, dangling from his neck by a simple leather loop, was a tiny chip of green stone. Visually, it was just a dull chip, puke in color, rough and jagged. I felt something push up from it against my face. Invisible light, cold heat.
Under it, the skin of his chest was an angry red.
Panic filled me, like someone with a panic pump had connected one hose to my ass and put it on full speed a-fucking-head. This was an
This had been made by a Fabricator, an
with skill beyond anything I’d ever seen. This was the sort of thing only an
fucked with, and if Mags and I had stepped in an Archmage’s shit for the second time in a week, we were completely and irrevocably
I stood up, vision dimming, and turned back to Mags. “Get his feet.”
Mags blinked, still looking dopey and happy that he hadn’t fucked up, looking around at the dissolving party with idle curiosity. “What?”
was, of course, the second word in Mags’s limited vocabulary. I moved to the Skinny Fuck’s head and knelt down again, trying to find some hidden reservoir of energy as I slipped my hands under his moist shoulders. “Get. His. Feet,” I repeated, nodding at the pair of shined, expensive wing tips. “We have to get out of here
Mags ambled over and we lifted the Skinny Fuck. I wobbled and almost passed out, but managed to hang on. I indicated the Beamer, and we dragged the body to it. I peered over the edge of the trunk and locked eyes with the girl again.
“Sorry about this,” I said, and we swung the bloody corpse forward and on top of her as her muffled screams spiked in volume. I slammed the trunk closed and started for the driver’s-side door, pressing my fingernails into my wound again. As I popped the lock, I scanned the night, feeling doom everywhere. I sat down behind the wheel and got her started with another drop of me and a whisper.
“Where?” Mags asked. He sounded tired.
I hit the headlights and jumped in my seat. Two men were standing in front of the car.
“Lem?” Mags said, his voice once again small and unsure, a little boy’s.
“I know,” I said, mouth dry. The minute I’d seen the Bleeder, I knew we were dead men.
THE MAN ON THE RIGHT
was the most handsome bastard I’d ever seen in my life. He was black and well built and wore the
out of a black suit and expensive overcoat. His haircut had cost more than the gross national product of a small island nation, and he practically glowed with the kind of good health only the truly rich and powerful enjoyed—the sort of health insurance they didn’t sell to schlubs or even presidents, the sort of health insurance where you bought new organs on a regular basis and had them sewn into place as needed.
The man on the left was none of these things. He was a corpulent white blob of a human, so fat he probably had trouble walking. He was wearing a simple suit, also black, but cheaper, and it didn’t fit him well. He was covered in scars. His face was a pink web of them, his hands, his throat. I knew he would have scars all over his body, everywhere. Bleeders always did.
“Gentlemen!” the dandy said, smiling. “You have something of mine.”
I didn’t know if he meant the girl or the Skinny Fuck.
,” Mags hissed.
“Shut the fuck up,” I said slowly. “And don’t fucking move. This is firepower, okay? This is a
Mags breathed in and out. “Fuck,” he said, stretching it into an expression of wonder. You didn’t meet a mage of that level every day—at least Tricksters like us didn’t. For a moment I wished I was normal and didn’t know any better. Could walk past a guy like this in the street and not shiver, not spend the rest of the day looking over my shoulder.
The dandy spread his hands. “Step out of the car, please. Let’s discuss your situation.”
My knuckles were white on the wheel. I didn’t know who this was, but if he was what I guessed, he was one of the most powerful men in the world, and I’d fucked with one of his little projects.
The stranger rolled his eyes, and without any obvious signal, his Bleeder whipped out one arm and rolled the sleeve up with automatic, practiced ease. A second later, the fat man had a small knife in one hand, poised over his forearm. I leaped in my seat and my hands flew up, all my cuts throbbing. Panic flooded me—I’d seen what a
could do when one had a Bleeder, an entire human’s supply of fresh blood to work with, all the gas you needed for some serious fucking fireworks. Bleeders were shitty mages. They had the spark, but they generally couldn’t cast. It was like anything else—some folks had a way with it, some folks could spend their lives studying with a
and get nowhere. The Bleeders were the latter, but instead of just living with being crap magicians, they dedicated their lives to their masters, offering up their blood on demand. You could see the light of demented worship in most of their eyes. Most of them, you got the feeling they
their masters to kill them, hoping each day was the day they got bled to death. Sometimes they lived a long time and lived well on their master’s dime; sometimes they died off pretty young. It all depended.
That much blood offered freely and the dandy could blow the whole motel to bits, or put a
on me that would have me licking his hand like a dog for weeks, or turn me into stone, a monument to failure. That much blood and you could do plenty.
I wasn’t tired anymore. Fear had made me sharp as a razor, and I hit the gas and yanked down on the gearshift simultaneously. The car made a grinding noise that reverberated up through my spine and made my teeth click together, and then it surged forward with a screech.
The dandy whirled to the side like a dancer and we slammed into the Bleeder, who disappeared from view, transformed into a bucking speed bump as we crashed over the curb onto the deserted highway. I
mashed the gas pedal down to the floor and leaned forward, tense over the wheel. The dandy had his blood ready, sure enough—his Bleeder had just been mowed down by a car—so we had to put some space between us before he could send something on our trail that we wouldn’t enjoy.
I glanced at Mags. The dim-witted bastard was
“Where we going, Lem?”
I sighed, my arms and hands shaking again, filled with more adrenaline than blood. “Hiram’s,” I said. There was nowhere else.
PULLING UP OUTSIDE HIS
town house shade of brown near Prospect Park, always reminded me of the first time I’d walked up the crumbling stone steps and rung the bell.
I’d been watching him for weeks, struggling to get the courage together to approach him, terrified. In those weeks I’d seen Hiram Bosch do some amazing things—small tricks, I now knew, tiny Cantrips that required a drop of blood and no more. At the time they’d seemed impossible.
Every spell I’d seen him cast in those weeks involved petty theft.
A blueberry muffin floated from behind a diner counter into his waiting hand when no one was looking. A newspaper box popped open without receiving any coins. Taxicabs paid off with blood-smeared dollar bills and told to keep the change without any sense of irony.
Hiram Bosch was a hustler.
He was a
hustler, though; he never spent a dime if he could spend a drop of his blood instead, and he made money by the truckload turning small bills into big, charming people with a Cantrip here, a
there, basically running short cons on a daily basis and coming home every night with marginally more cash in his pocket than when he’d left in the morning. He was also an
a fully ranked magician. We made no distinction of purpose or behavior; you could either make the Words do what you wanted or you couldn’t, and what you
determined how you were styled.
could do some amazing things, but mostly small-scale stuff. They might be capable of something big if they tried. Hiram rarely tried.
Nothing about the house had changed, and I was willing to bet the interior was the same claustrophobic space filled up with rugs and bric-a-brac. Hiram was an unrepentant thief. Everything he saw, he tried to steal. Mags and I left the girl and the corpse in the trunk and walked up the steps to the muffled sounds of her kicking and shouting. The street was deserted, so it would be all right for a few moments, and I didn’t dare release her until we had things under control.
At the top of the steps, I swayed a little, going dizzy, and steadied myself by grasping the dragon’s-head knocker and hanging on to it while I slammed it against the door.
Hiram answered immediately, as if he’d seen us coming and had been waiting behind the door for our arrival, which he might have been, I supposed. The door snapped inward and there he was, an old man who resembled Santa Claus: short, round, white hair and beard. He was wearing a nice suit without the jacket, just the trousers and waistcoat, and looked down his bulbous red nose at me even though I was a foot taller.
“Master Vonnegan,” he said in his rolling actor’s lilt. “Always a disappointment. Mr. Mageshkumar, a pleasure.” He looked back at me. “What brings my erstwhile apprentice back home?”
“I hadn’t been called an idiot in a few days,” I said hoarsely. “Thought I’d get a refresher course.”
He stared at me for a moment. “Ever since you rejected my teaching methods—quite ungracefully—I see you only when you are drunk and belligerent, making demands of me, or desperate and in need of favors from someone I imagine now exists as your sole friend.” He glanced at Mags. “No offense, Mr. Mageshkumar, as I know you have an unreasoning affection for our Mr. Vonnegan.”
Mags smiled at him and shook his head a little, not understanding
any of it. Hiram looked back at me. “So which is it this time, Mr. Vonnegan?”
I sighed. I wanted to get off the street as quickly as possible. I was willing to eat all the shit Hiram had in store for me. Which, if memory served, was quite a lot.
“I’ve got a body and a . . . a girl in the trunk of that car.”
Hiram ticked his head to look over my shoulder, his sharp grifter’s eyes taking in the car. He looked back at me. “Which is stolen,” he said.
“Which is stolen.” I took a deep breath, the oxygen feeling good as it burned into my thinned blood. I didn’t want to tell Hiram the next part, but I owed him at least a warning. “This involves . . . someone out of my league.”
Hiram snorted, moving out onto the steps with us. “You have great ability, Mr. Vonnegan, and always have. You limit yourself.”
I nodded. I was a purist. Hiram was not, though he usually insisted on volunteers for his bleeds. Most of the
the mages of average ability, lacked even those scruples.
out of my league, Hiram.”
glanced at me again, then nodded. “Bring them in. Try not to make any noise. That means you, Mr. Mageshkumar. You make noise just standing there, did you know that?”
THE GIRL KICKED AND
struggled and was smeared in the Skinny Fuck’s blood, which made her as easy as a greased pig to carry. Since Hiram was in no mood to do anything more for us, Mags managed a respectable Glamour that made anyone who looked out the window or passed by simply ignore us cutting a ragged-looking slice on his forearm for the gas. Hiram watched in what looked like increasing horror as first the bloody, kicking girl and then the cold, pale corpse were dragged into the house.
“Put the dead one in the study,” Hiram instructed coolly, gesturing with one arm as if I hadn’t spent years in this house. “Bring the girl to the washroom. Neither of you speak for a while, yes?”
I realized Hiram was furious. I’d been on the receiving end of his anger plenty of times when actively apprenticed to him and was in no rush to revisit my adolescence.
We slipped the girl into the bathtub, which I immediately regretted, seeing her as the other girl, the very, very dead girl in the old apartment. They looked a lot alike, which couldn’t be a coincidence.