Read Wild Cards: Death Draws Five Online

Authors: John J. Miller,George R.R. Martin

Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Contemporary, #Fiction - Fantasy, #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Science Fiction - General, #Fantasy, #Heroes, #General, #Fantasy - Contemporary

Wild Cards: Death Draws Five (9 page)

BOOK: Wild Cards: Death Draws Five
5.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“You’ve got the genes, you’ve got the talent,” Jerry said. “Go knock ‘em dead.”

John Fortune nodded silent thanks and stepped out onto the stage, a fixed grin plastered on his face. The Living Gods had already appeared, presenting a colorful background chorus as the kid made his way onto the set. Jerry could see Siegfried and Ralph, with, yes, a pair of leashed tigers, waiting for their entrance cue in the other wing.

Better the kid than me, Jerry thought, remembering with little fondness his pitiful career as the shape-changing comedian known as the Projectionist. Still, there was no sense dwelling on his own past. He smiled as he realized that the long-running drama he’d been a peripheral participant in over the last sixteen years was finally coming to an end. And a happy end at that. John Fortune wouldn’t need a bodyguard any more. He’d cheated the odds and won a well-deserved chance at life. Sure, “ace” wasn’t the safest occupation, but Jerry didn’t know any that went around with a coterie of bodyguards. Even Peregrine wouldn’t make him do that. With her son having cleared the biggest hurdle in his life she was sure to back off and give him some room to breathe.

“You Creighton?”

Jerry turned. His eyes went wide in surprise as he recognized the speaker. “Billy Ray?”

Ray glanced at his companion, a smoking babe in a leather jumpsuit with a body like a young Sophia Loren and a frown on her handsome face. Ray’s expression suddenly matched hers.

“Do I know you?” Ray asked.

“Uh. No. No, I don’t think so,” Jerry said. Too many faces, too many identities, he thought. It was getting difficult to keep straight who and what each of his many guises was supposed to know.

Of course, he and Ray had crossed paths before, when Jerry had been wearing another face. The last time... the last time had been during the Battle for the Rox, when he and Ray had been part of a government team sent in to smash Bloat’s joker rebellion. It was a long story without a good ending, and he didn’t care to dwell on it.

Ray was still frowning. “You look familiar.”

“I got that type of face,” Jerry said in his best Alan Ladd imitation. “I recognized you, of course. Who wouldn’t?”

“Oh, well.” Ray’s frown vanished. He glanced at his partner, visibly preening. Her frown deepened a fraction.

“How’d you know me?” Jerry asked before Ray had too much of a chance to think about his previous reply.

Ray gestured over his shoulder. “Guy back there told me you’re the kid’s bodyguard.”

Jerry nodded. “That’s right.”

“This is Angel,” Ray said, indicating his partner. She looked at Jerry sourly as he glanced at her. He decided not to voice any of the half dozen or so puns on her name that had immediately popped up in his brain.

“She’s new,” Ray added, as if that explained everything.

“What’s the government want with the boy?” Jerry asked.

“Well—“Angel began.

“You see—“ Ray said.

And suddenly all Hell broke out on the stage.

♥ ♦ ♣ ♠

New York City: Tomlin International Airport

When you return home after a sixteen-year absence and no one is there to greet you and there is no place for you to go, have you really come home after all?

The question ran through Fortunato’s mind in an endlessly repetitive loop like a not very difficult koan as he and Downs flew across the Pacific. There was little else to occupy him. He watched a thread of drool gather at the corner of Downs’ mouth as the reporter slept soundly in the first class seat next to him. Watching spittle drip down Downs’ chin was preferable, he soon discovered, to watching the movies available on the individual screens set into each of the admittedly comfortable seats.

The technological advances that Fortunato had missed out on while at the monastery were amazing, but unfortunately could do nothing about the quality of the movies they delivered. He watched about twenty minutes as some idiot named Jim Carrey cavorted like a fool as he played an ace with God-like powers. The best thing he could use his abilities for were turning his piece of crap car into a high-powered sports job and add a few inches to the circumference of his girlfriend’s already quite suitable breasts.

It would have been laughable if it wasn’t so unhysterically bathetic.

Downs awoke right before they landed in LA for the transcontinental leg of their seemingly unending journey. Unfortunately, his company proved little better than Jim Carrey’s.

The hours finally caught up with Fortunato and he fell asleep before they crossed the Midwest. He dreamed he was an ace again. All the women he’d once known—Caroline, Veronica, Peregrine, and many of the rest—paraded before him. He used his powers to increase their breast size to mammoth proportions. They all thanked him profusely before they left him alone and feeling utterly isolated. He awoke sweating as they landed at Tomlin International.

“Welcome home, Fortunato,” Downs said with a grin as the plane taxied to the gate.

But Fortunato felt nothing, nothing but empty.

Las Vegas: The Mirage Auditorium

A hideous staccato roar shattered the air like a hammer striking multiple metallic gongs in precise rhythmic succession. The Angel had no idea what caused the awful sound. She looked out on the stage horrified as one of the Living Gods floating above the stage crashed bleeding on Kitty O’Leary’s desk. The blonde anchorwoman sat frozen in her chair with a stunned expression on her face as the Living God writhed and bled all over her.

Siegfried and Ralph, accompanied by a pair of leashed tigers, had just been introduced to the audience. They stopped before O’Leary’s desk. Their cats roared in sudden fear, added to the growing commotion.

John Fortune and Peregrine sat on a sofa adjacent to the desk. The boy looked out into the darkness of the auditorium with a puzzled expression. Peregrine jumped to her feet, wings widespread, her face that of a bird of prey. She stepped in front of her son as another blast exploded out of the dark auditorium’s depths.

The Angel suddenly realized that a hail of bullets were screeching stageward, striking Peregrine and stitching a bloody line across her chest and hurling her back against her son as he sat stunned on the sofa. The sofa tipped over, spilling both backwards. Kitty O’Leary, her pert anchorwoman’s face spattered by a fine spray of Peregrine’s blood, started to scream in mindless terror, her piercing shrieks louder than tiger roars or gun blasts. The Living God fell off O’Leary’s desk and tried to crawl away. O’Leary’s screams were echoed by some audience members as a third wave of bullets hammered the air.

“Jesus fucking Christ!” Ray blasphemed.

The Angel was too stunned to reprimand him. Ray moved before she could even gather her wits. She looked wildly at Creighton, but he was only a couple of steps behind Ray as they ran out onto the stage. Ray leaped crazily into the darkness beyond the lights while Creighton headed for the shocking tableau at center stage.

The Angel was completely unused to such chaos. What to do? she thought desperately, what to do? Her heart pounding with wild uncertainty, she followed Ray into the dark and saw men with guns running down the aisles. They seemed to be everywhere. The Angel couldn’t be sure how many there were. Ray didn’t seem to care.

She couldn’t tell what had happened to the first one, the one in the lead. He was already jack-knifing backward, flopping oddly like a broken doll as he flew through the air. Ray had his gun. He turned to glare at the Angel as she landed next to him on the auditorium floor and despite the fact that her heart was as a lion’s in the service of her Lord; she flinched at the expression on his face. It was like when she’d dropped the ice cream on his suit, only horribly, terribly more so. It was worse in that now, underneath it all, he was smiling.

“Can you use this?” he asked her. She shook her head curtly. She’d never fired a gun in her life. She didn’t like them. She didn’t need them. “Then fuck it,” he said, smashing the rifle’s stock to pieces against the floor, and beaning another assassin with the barrel as somewhere a tiger roared and people screamed as the audience tried to surge out of the auditorium, unconsciously hindering the gunmen from gaining the stage.

“On the frigging floor!” someone shouted after letting lose another wild burst of gunfire. “Get on the frigging floor or we’ll frigging shoot you all!”

Anger suddenly burned through the Angel’s breast, making her forget all her bewilderment and uncertainty. Whoever these men were, they were threatening the lives of innocents, and this she could not allow.

She lifted her arms to Heaven. “Save my soul from evil, Lord,” she prayed, willing it to come to her in her time of need, “and heal this warrior’s heart.”

And it did.

The fiery sword appeared in her hands. With a four-foot blade licked by flames from its plain cross hilt to its blunt tip, it was a weapon that could be wielded only by an ace stronger than most nats. The flames burning up and down its length lit the Angel’s face with an almost Hellish glow as she glanced swiftly about. It was difficult to see what exactly was happening, but Ray was spinning like a dervish and the gunmen were retreating before him. Some were out of his reach, and one of those was aiming at the figures clustered at center stage. She lunged, swinging her sword, and the fiery blade chopped through the gun’s barrel like a glowing knife through butter. The gunman turned to stare at her, and the Angel was gratified by the expression that she saw on his face. He slunk away. She turned to look for another victim, and she saw him: The blonde-haired man she’d seen in the Waldorf-Astoria’s parking garage, strong and tall and as beautiful as an angel. He came toward her slowly, smiling confidently. Smugly. He has reason to be smug, the Angel thought. He was the most handsome man she’d ever seen.

He was big, towering five or six inches over her and outweighing her by at least a hundred pounds. He wore track warm ups and a short sleeved shirt that clung to his broad shoulders and massive chest like silk. Perhaps it was. His arms were muscular, but not grotesque. Just pleasing, the Angel thought. His face was handsome without being pretty, with a strong jaw and high but not delicate cheekbones. His nose was hawk-like, his eyes bluer than seemed possible. His hair was a thick blonde mane that swept in loose coils to his shoulders. His coiffure might have looked dainty on some men, but he was masculine enough to carry it off.

“I am the Witness,” he said to the Angel. “I tell you now. Turn away from the path of unrighteousness, or I will be forced to teach you a lesson.”

“Lesson?” the Angel asked. She released her grip on her sword’s hilt and her weapon vanished. This Witness was unarmed and she had never used her blade against an unarmed man. She smiled to herself. For all his muscles, he had never faced the Angel’s God-given strength before.

“Yes.” His white, even teeth flashed in a dazzling smile. “It is called ‘the kiss.’”

Suddenly she realized that he was close enough to grab her and pull her to him. His grip was strong enough to damage an ordinary woman, but the Angel was not ordinary. As he wrapped his arms around her she could feel the heat radiate off his body in palpable waves. She could smell the scent of him. He wound his right hand in her thick hair and pulled her head back, exposing the strong column of her throat. He bent over her and brought his lips down on hers.

The Angel couldn’t believe the sensations that swept over her body. She wanted him more than anything she’d ever wanted in her life. More than The Hand’s approval. More than Heaven itself. She closed her eyes, feeling hot and cold, weak and strong all at once. She wanted to possess him thoroughly and eternally. Her desire flushed her strength from her body as his tongue penetrated her mouth. She had experienced that only once before in her life and her mother had caught her and the boy and had beaten them both with a broom handle. Eventually the boy was able to run away home, but she couldn’t. She was home.

“Angel!” A voice spoke her name from far away, warningly.

She opened her eyes and his face was upon hers, so close that she could barely focus on it. He was smiling. But it wasn’t in joy or with need or even in lust. It was the smile of a conqueror reveling in his superior strength. In his imposition of his will upon another.

The Angel was suddenly horrified. As much as she could never admit it to herself, she had longed for an embrace such as this. Her need was so great as to approach desperation. This man could have been the answer to all her dreams. He was as handsome as she could ever imagine a man to be. His strength matched hers. It had seemed that his desire matched hers as well, but she now realized that they desired two totally different things.

She needed love. If it couldn’t be spiritual, she realized now openly and to her shame, at least it could be physical. Her mother had not succeeded in beating that sin out of her. She had only driven it deep into her soul where it had finally blossomed with undeniable lust.

But the Witness needed only to conquer. To take. To impose his will and then immediately discard. She saw it on his face and read it in his sneering expression and forced embrace. No matter how great her need, the Angel could not countenance this. But did she, she desperately wondered, really have a choice?

She twisted her neck. Her lips slipped away from his, and the Witness looked down at her and laughed, which only confirmed her worst fears. She pushed against him, but he was the strongest man she’d ever encountered. There was no doubt that he was an ace himself. One of her arms was trapped between their chests. The other was pinned against her side by his encircling arm. She could find no leverage to help her break free. He knew this as well, and laughed at her again.

BOOK: Wild Cards: Death Draws Five
5.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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