Winter (The Manhattan Exiles) (23 page)

BOOK: Winter (The Manhattan Exiles)
11.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Winter’s singed brows rose under his cap.
“Beg pardon?”


Winter’s legit.” Gently, Bran took Willa by the elbow and helped her past Winter into the aisle. The line had grown short. They had only to walk between the pews and brave Hannah’s black stare and Darlene’s white casket. “His family’s from New York City, and they’re all as non-human as fish.”


New York.” Willa grunted. “Of course.”

She seemed to grow taller as they approached the stage. Her shoulders stiffened, and she took a deep breath, drawing her slender form straight. By the time they reached Hannah and Lewis, Willa had turned herself into the perfect image of a stone-faced matriarch.

“Grandmamma.” Hannah’s voice was musical, full of the unspoken promise that made slaves of unwary mortals. Bran was wary as they came, and still he had to remind himself to breath. “We’d saved a place for you up front.”


I came in late.” It was obvious Hannah’s innate fay charm was wasted on Willa. “I didn’t see the point of subjecting myself to a second more of this circus than was necessary.”

Lewis bent forward, kissing first his mother’s right cheek, and then her left.

“I’m sorry, Mother. I know you miss her.” Sweat beaded on his forehead, and his eyes were red-rimmed. “We all miss her.”


I found another policeman hiding in the wings.” Bran thought Willa sounded more smug than irritated. “Lewis, this is Detective Healy from New York City.”


D.C.” Bran corrected. Just to do things right, he held up his badge. “My consultant here’s originally from Manhattan.”

Winter smiled like a shark. Hannah inhaled angrily.

“They’ve come about Darlene’s murder,” said Willa, sharp as flint. “I told you was the fairies that killed her.”


Mother.” Lewis looked pained. “Must we discuss this now?”


Certainly not now.” Hannah politely took Bran’s offered hand, but it was Winter she couldn’t look away from. “Later will do, I’m sure. Grandmamma, invite them to dinner tomorrow. We have a burial to attend.”

She had the sharp teeth Bran had come to associate with the
fay. Her dark eyes were more canny than her apparent years. The brush of her fingers against his own made Bran’s heart race.

Winter stepped casually between Hannah and Bran, severing the link.

“Tomorrow we’ll be gone,” he said. “We don’t plan to stay the night. If you have something you’d like to discuss, Ms. Francis, today’s the day.”

Bran admired the kid’s calm. He knew very well what questions Hannah’s existence would raise in Manhattan.

Willa looked from her granddaughter to Winter.


Hannah, my dear.” She cocked her head to one side like a sparrow. “This awful place is finally emptying out. They’ll be waiting on us at the cemetery.”


They can’t start without the body.” Hannah said. “Very well. Tea this evening, say five o’clock? Mama will be safely in the ground by then. Grandmamma will give you my address.”

She turned in a swirl of white dress. Lewis kissed his mother’s cheek once more, then followed his niece from the stage. Willa set one ruined hand on Darlene’s casket.

Bran and Winter stood silently until she turned back with a sigh.


It’s the Hornsby House, on the waterfront,” she said. “You can’t miss it. Everyone knows it. It’s the best bed and breakfast in the district; it was Darlene’s greatest joy.”

 

“I think you should stay behind,” Winter said as Bran unlocked the car.


Not likely. Your mother’s wanting answers, and those people have them. Not to mention my chief wants Smith brought in before he kills again.”


That won’t be a problem.”

Winter’s flat statement had Bran looking around.

“What’s happened?”


Smith’s dead.”

Bran remembered how pale the boy had been, how sick he’d looked.

“What else?”

Winter stuck his hands in his pockets, watching Bran from under his cap.

“Siobahn laid a trap, and Smith bit. Hard. The bastard’s dead, but he took Malachi with him, and Barker may soon follow.”

Bran reached for his mobile phone, but Winter stopped him, knocking him back against the car.

“Hey!”

The kid was much stronger than he looked. Bran realized he’d made the mistake of forgetting Winter was
fay, and dangerous.


Katherine was there,” said Winter, pressing an elbow into Bran’s sternum. “She watched my father fall, and did
nothing
to help.”

Bran felt a chill run through his bones. If Winter truly believed Katherine was behind Smith’s rampage, Bran hadn’t a chance. He’d be dead on the hood of Siobahn’s environmentally friendly rental car before Darlene Francis was loaded into her hearse.

“Katie wouldn’t have a hand in another exile’s murder.”


Yeah?” Winter gave Bran’s chest a shove. “How many of your kind has she used up and tossed away? Don’t fool yourself. She’s as much a monster as the rest of us.”


I know what she’s done.” It was a truth Bran had long ago come to terms with. “I know what she is. Mortal men she’ll use, but she’d never harm one of you. You’re all she has left.”


Maybe.” Winter stepped back. Bran staggered, then regained his balance. “She’s always wanted Siobahn’s crown.”

Bran couldn’t quite swallow down a laugh.
“Crown? What crown? Gloriana is the Fay Queen. Your mother rules over her own prison. Katie’s far too proud to settle. Manhattan is nothing, a game your family plays to keep from going mad.”

Winter rocked back and forth
on his heels.


She stood by when Barker and my father were struck down, did nothing to help. Summer and Gabriel are missing. Whatever Liadan thinks of Siobahn, the Grey Lady has always hated Gabby.”

Bran shook his head.
“That’s true, I’ll admit those two have a bitter past. But you’re not thinking straight, kid. Use your brain. If Katie knew a way to cross the space between, she wouldn’t bring a magic sword across and use it to arm a mortal hit man. If Katie discovered a way across, she’d be long back at Court, on her knees before Gloriana, this world and your family squabbles forgotten.”

It was a hard truth to speak. It meant he had to admit to himself that there would never be a tropical retreat for a mortal detective and
his fay love.


Maybe. I don’t know.” Winter scrubbed at his face. “Maybe.”


Trust me,” Bran said. “She’s not involved.”


I’d like to trust you.” For the first time since Bran had met him, the kid actually sounded like the adolescent he was: a little lost, a little frightened, and very much alone. “I’d like to trust you, and I do, mostly. But I can’t, not where the Grey Lady’s concerned, and not where Hannah’s concerned. Which is why you’re not coming.”

Bran gritted his teeth. He turned
his head away. “It’s not as bad as that.”


Not my place to judge. But I don’t have time to keep an eye on you, Bran. Not this time around. I need to get that girl back to Manhattan, and I won’t have you interfering.” He yanked open the car door and slid behind the steering wheel.


What if she won’t come?” He didn’t need to ask which girl Winter meant.


Best not to ask leading questions, detective. Aine’s round the corner by the shrubbery. Make sure she gets back home to Richard, will you? Until I figure out what to do about her. Bus or train, doesn’t matter, but she’s not ready for a plane.” Winter pulled the door to.


Don’t be a shit!” Bran rapped on the window. “You’re not going anywhere, kid. I’ve got the keys!”

Almost, Winter smiled. Behind the glass, he wiggled the fingers of his hand at Bran. Then he touched his thumb to the ignition. A single blue spark puffed. The engine jumped to life, revving with far more enthusiasm than Bran remembered.

“Fuck,” he grunted, defeated, as Winter backed the little car, then sped off, spitting gravel from beneath all four tires.

 

Aine sat cross-legged next to a dormant shrub. She held a bouquet of blue flowers in her lap. Bran recognized them.


Pretty sure you’re supposed to leave the flowers with the casket.”

She looked up at him. Her irises were the same color as the flowers: soft blue Francis eyes.

“They were for the family,” she said. “But Winter changed his mind. He said they should be mine, for remembrance.”

Bran regarded her steadily. She looked back, fierce.

He held out a hand. “Let’s go. I need a drink.”


What does he mean, ‘for remembrance’?”

Because she didn’t take his hand, he gripped her wrist and pulled.

“We’ll talk about it on the way home. But right now I’m starved. How about a hamburger? There’s got to be a joint around here somewhere.”

Aine let Bran pull her to her feet.

“How’d he convince you to hide out here?” he wondered.


He asked me,” she replied simply. “He’s been very kind.” She looked up at Bran, curls bobbing. “I don’t know about a ‘hamburger’, but I believe I’d like more Doritos.”


You’ve got it, honey.” Her grave regard disconcerted him. “I remember seeing a gas station a few blocks over.”

She buried her nose in the flowers as they skirted the building.

“Aye. And after we have a meal,” she asked, “what will we do?”


Go back to the city.” Bran hedged a little, wondering why he felt the need to spare her feelings. “Winter wants you safe with Richard. While he cleans up a few messes. We’ll take an evening train.”

At the front of the ugly building, Aine paused. She looked up at the arched doors, frowning.

“To which mess do you refer, detective? The attack on his father, his sister’s disappearance, or Hannah?”

Bran rolled his shoulders.
“Fay business. I don’t get involved unless I’m asked. Might be a good lesson for you to learn, Aine.”

The look she tossed his way wasn’t exactly hatred, but it wasn’t friendly, either.

She bent and set the blue flowers on the lowest concrete step.

For remembrance
, Bran thought. He chased a shiver away.


If we’re taking a train,” Aine said as they continued down the sidewalk, “I believe I’ll be wanting a large tankard of Coke with my Doritos.”


Whatever you need, honey,” Bran replied. “Whatever you need.”

 

 

 

 

 

15
. Angel

 

Brother Daniel caught the bronze statue before it connected with his ribs.


Oops,” said Lolo.


Peace.” Daniel swept back into the little room. Shaking his head, he set the lion back onto his desk. Then he tossed a pair of bright white tennies and a blue Mets sweatshirt in Summer’s direction.


Put them on,” ordered the friar.


They’re too big,” Summer said.


They’ll have to do. You can’t go back onto the streets barefoot and bloody. Don’t dawdle. We’re going out the rear.”

That caught Lolo’s attention.

“What’s out front?” he asked. “Did you call the cops?”


On two children grieving their injured pet? No.” Daniel waited as Summer tried the shoes, then bent one knee, tying her laces as though she were a toddler. “Let’s go.”

Lolo held Summer back.

“Where?” he demanded.

The man smiled, showing his gold tooth.

“You took refuge in my church. Now you’ll have to trust me.” He left Summer to rummage through the mess on his desk. Lolo was sure he saw the man pull a pair of knuckledusters from the clutter and secret them up the sleeve of his robe.


I don’t trust anyone,” Lolo retorted. “'Specially not an ex-banger.”

Daniel’s grin only widened. Lolo thought it really wasn’t a very pleasant expression.

“It’s me or the banshee waiting across the street,” he said. “I can get you home safely. She
will
call the police to chase you out, once she determines she can’t come in herself.”


Katherine.” The droopy Mets hoodie hung like a dress around Summer’s knees. It made her look even more fragile than usual. “
Can
she come in?”


Probably not,” replied the friar. “But God knows stranger things have happened. Let’s not wait to see.”

He lifted his hood, pulling it up over his tonsure.
“Ready?”


No,” Lolo said.


Yes,” said Summer at the same time. She looked at Lolo, pleading. “He’s a priest. He has to help, right? That’s their job.”

Lolo wanted to remind her that the priest-blessed sword she wore around her neck hadn’t exactly helped Malachi or Barker. But he’d never seen Summer so frightened, and wasn’t sure how to deal.

“Fine,” he said, wishing for Winter. “But no funny stuff.”


This way,” Daniel said from beneath his hood. “Hurry.”

 

The church was bigger on the inside than it looked from the outside. Brother Daniel led them down a long hallway decorated with pictures of St. Francis. In most of the pictures the saint had birds on his shoulders, and squirrels and deer crouching around his sandaled feet. In one or two faded sketches Francis was seated with children, still wearing birds and squirrels on his shoulder.

Lol
o had spent a Sunday or two in church as a little kid, dressed in fancy clothes and impressed by the stern Latin rituals, but he’d never really believed much in God, at least not until he’d seen two fay snuffed by a holy sword. Now he was starting to revise his opinion, which was troubling, especially since his shirt was still damp with the blood of a man he’d straight out murdered, which was pretty much the biggest of all epic fails when it came to religion.

He shoved the memory of
Smith’s shattered face deep into the dark place in the back of his head where he hid things he didn’t really want to ever think about, and made himself relax. If it came down to it, Lolo decided, he could always argue self defense. Smith was a homicidal maniac. Even God couldn’t argue that point.

The purple carpet on the floor switched to linoleum. They passed through a small kitchen. Daniel unlocked a side door and led them into a narrow, walled garden.

Lolo took a breath of city air, looked up at the sky, and quickly calculated.


Sixth Avenue’s that way,” he said, pointing over the wall. “We can be back at The Plaza in less than eleven minutes.”


You’ll be looked for on Sixth Avenue,” Daniel said. “We’ll go through the Garment District.”

Lolo shrugged, but Summer frowned.

“There’s no gate,” she said, looking around the garden.


We go over the wall,” the friar said, smiling his faint, unpleasant smile. “The banshee will know the usual ways out, but even the brothers often forget the kitchen garden exists.”

Lolo had to give the man cred for solid strategic planning.

“What’s on the other side?”


Garbage,” Daniel said, and before Lolo could protest the friar grabbed him around the waist and tossed him into the air.

The wall was taller than a man, but Daniel had some muscle. Lolo flew up and would have gone completely over if he hadn’t managed to twist and grab a lip of brick.

“Shit on a stick!” He scraped his stomach when he pulled himself back on top of the wall. “I should kick your ass, man! You could’ve broken my neck!”


Oh, I don’t think so.” Daniel looked up at Lolo. “I suspect you’ve a guardian angel minding you. Now help me with your friend.”

The old Summer would have argued loudly against help, and then climbed the wall herself. But the new, frightened Summer let Daniel lift her like a child beneath the armpits. She reached a slender hand to Lolo, and he pulled her the rest of the way up. She was much lighter than he expected.

“Snap out of it,” he whispered as she swung her legs over the lip. “You’re no good to anyone in zombie mode.”

She slapped him with a cold stare.
“Do you still have the rubies?”

He huffed, insulted.
“I didn’t drop them in the flowers, if that’s what you mean. Come on, Summer, show a little spine. Winter never goes all sissy-pants after a fight. Even when things go bad, Winter always gets back up again, and just fights harder.”

Anger brought red spots to her cheeks. Lolo hoped she was about to say something nasty, but she shut her mouth when the friar swung himself onto the wall, robes fluttering.

“Why are you still here?” Daniel asked. “Get moving.”


Yes,” muttered Summer, “get moving!”

Then she pushed him.

Lolo discovered Brother Daniel was right about two things: there was garbage on the other side of the wall, and it was piled so high it was unlikely he’d have broken even a fingernail had he missed the ledge and gone completely over.

Summer
shoved hard enough that he missed his feet completely, landing on his butt in the trash.


Yuck,” Lolo groaned. “I’m gonna hurl!”

Summer followed more gingerly, stepping off the wall and onto the mountain of trash. She almost slipped on what looked like a half rotted pumpkin shell.

“It smells like eggs,” she said, nostrils flared. “And spoiled coffee. Your neighbors should be reported, Brother Daniel.”


Maybe,” the priest replied, “but the compost hill belongs to me.” He lifted the hem of his robe, neatly clamoring over the garbage. “Not strictly legal, I agree, but God loves his green earth.”

Lolo brushed orange pee
l from his knee. “That’s a huge-ass pile for a tiny garden.”

But Daniel was already halfway down the wide alley, Summer at his heels. Swearing, Lolo ran to catch up.

 

Morris waited outside The Plaza Hotel. He stood alone on the hotel’s red-carpeted steps, shoulders hunched beneath his starched chauffeur’s coat.

“Hold on!” Lolo yanked Summer’s arm before she could run headlong up the steps.

She wheeled, snarling.

He was glad she was feeling her mojo again, but also a little bit afraid she was going to bite him.


Necklace.” Lolo took two careful steps away, running one finger across his own throat. “Unless shrinking the sword also broke the charm, your driver might have a coronary.”


His name is
Morris
,” she said, exasperated. Then she yanked at the chain around her neck, snapping the metal with that inhuman strength he’d seen Winter use only once or twice, and tossed the cross at his face.


Keep it safe,” ordered Summer. “Stay here till I come back down.”

Lolo wasn’t sure whether to be flattered or insulted.

“What if your Grey bitch shows up?”


Don’t let her have it,” she said simply, then ran up the stairs to Morris’ side.


Huh.” Lolo watched as the two fay slipped through glittering glass doors into the hotel. “Well. Fuck.”


A gutter mouth will keep you on the street, Lorenzo.”

Lolo jumped. He’d totally forgotten the friar. Winter’s little fairy knife was in his hand even though he didn’t remember grabbing for it.

Brother Daniel pushed back his hood.


It’s going to rain,” he said, smiling. “And the banshee will come sniffing about when she realizes you’ve run. Let’s go inside.”

The fairy knife felt warm against Lolo’s palm.

“No one calls me Lorenzo, no one except my mom.”


I like it better than ‘Lolo’,” said Daniel mildly. Just as he’d promised, rain began to fall from the sky in heavy splats. Pretty soon it would turn into snow.

Lolo made himself put the knife away.

“I’ll go inside,” he said. “You get lost.”

Rain ran down the friar’s face, trickling across the bridge of his nose. For once, he wasn’t smiling.

“Be careful,” Daniel warned.


Sure,” replied Lolo, embarrassed. “Whatever.”

 

The hotel lobby was mostly empty. Lolo sat in an uncomfortable chair next to a potted tree. Tapping the toes of his shoes against the polished floor, he spread his fingers, letting Summer’s necklace snake across his hand.

The little cross glittered against his brown skin.

His mother had had a cross, carved from wood, hung on a string with rosary beads, back when he’d still answered to Lorenzo.

Nobody
knew about Lorenzo, not even Winter.

Maybe he should have sliced up the friar a little, after all. Threatened him.

“Stay out of my business,” Lolo muttered out loud, turning his hand over and letting the cross swing from his thumb.

The necklace continued to look like a necklace, not a magical sword. He had to admit he was surprised and impressed. Seemed like Summer knew something about being
fay.


Sir?”

Lolo snapped his fingers closed over the cross.

“Yeah?”

The woman wore The Plaza’s pressed uniform. Lolo thought she was probably a maid.

“Miss Murray is asking for you.” Between her hands she held a box. “She’d be grateful if you secure the necklace in here, before going up.”

The box was about the size of an egg carton, longer than it was wide. It was mostly made of the dark metal
fay preferred, but the wide hinges and fancy lock were carved from fairy amber.

When Lolo eased the box open, he saw the inside was lined with some sort of animal pelt.

“Cool.”

The maid watched, blank faced, as Lolo coiled the chain inside the box. The cross was almost lost in the thick fur.

“Now what?” He shut the lid.

The maid blinked, long and slow, then seemed to remember herself.

“They’re expecting you, sir. Upstairs. Shall I show you the way?”


No.” Pressing the box against his side, Lolo left her standing beneath the potted plant. “I remember. I never get lost.”

 

He rode the elevator up alone, admiring the gold. He didn’t have Gabby and Summer to tell him not to pick at the trim, but he was pretty sure he was on camera, so he let it be.

Morris was waiting again when the elevator doors slid open.

“You’ve got some cajones,” Lolo said approvingly. “What if the box didn’t work?”


I would be stripped of my strength, if not sapped of life.” Unlike the other fay, Morris sounded foreign. It was as if he’d never bothered to learn correct English, or maybe his tongue just couldn’t get the syllables right. Lolo had to concentrate to understand. “And her Ladyship would be minus yet another soldier.”


I thought you were a driver.”


I can drive,” Morris agreed. “Come. They’re waiting.”


Okay.” Lolo followed after. “But if you
all
burst into flame or melt or something, it ain’t my fault. I’m telling Winter it was your idea.”

BOOK: Winter (The Manhattan Exiles)
11.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

All the Rage by A. L Kennedy
Mistrust by Margaret McHeyzer
Fated: An Alpha Male Romance by Walker, K. Alex
Sherlock Holmes by James Lovegrove
An American Love Story by C. S. Moore
Team Bride by Valerie Comer
Imaginary Enemy by Julie Gonzalez
The Flame in the Maze by Caitlin Sweet
Starfarers by Poul Anderson