Winter (The Manhattan Exiles) (24 page)

BOOK: Winter (The Manhattan Exiles)
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Morris didn’t answer. He herded Lolo down the short hall, then opened the penthouse door, holding it wide. Lolo noticed the
fay kept a careful distance. He decided not to be insulted; he was pretty sure it was the box Morris didn’t want to touch.


You’re sweating,” he said, just to see what Morris would do.

Morris didn’t reply, but he did wipe the drops of sweat from his upper lip with the sleeve of his coat.

“Lolo.” Summer stuck her head around the door. “Stop bothering Morris. Come inside.”

She’d changed into clean jeans and a turtleneck sweater, but she hadn’t washed, because there was still gunk in her long hair.

“You sure?” Lolo held up the box.

She snatched it from him, ignoring his huff of insult.

“Mama says it’s fine. Come
on
.”

He followed her into the penthouse, leaving Morris to guard to the door.

“Is he the new Barker?” Lolo wondered aloud.

The stare Summer shot him was full of disgust.

“Shut up,” she said, then crossed the room, setting the box on Siobahn’s fancy little desk.

There was a fire burning in the fireplace, and rain on the windows again, just like last time. The flames crackled merrily. The rain beat against the glass. Otherwise, the suite was quiet, really quiet, waiting-breath-holding quiet.

“What’s going on? Where’s Siobahn?”


My mother doesn’t want a
new
Barker.” Summer sat in Siobahn’s chair. “She and the others are trying to save the original one. The sword cut him to the bone, but Mama thinks she can save him. She’s not sure about his arm.”

Lolo remembered Sorrow slicing through Barker’s shoulder as though the bone was soft as putty. He remembered Malachi sliding off that same blade, and he swallowed.

“Himself?” he asked quietly, using Gabby’s title for the Prince of Fairies.

Summer looked up from the desk.

“My father is dead,” she said. Her voice seemed loud in the room.

She gazed at Lo
lo from her mother’s chair, dry-eyed and brave, but he saw how her hands clenched in her lap.


Sorry,” he said.

Summer’s hands trembled. She fisted them more tightly.

“Wasn’t your fault,” Lolo added. “So stop thinking that it was.”

She only stiffened further.

“Does Winter know?”

She
nodded. “Mama texted him, after . . .”


Okay, so,” Lolo spoke quickly. He really didn’t want to see her cry. “Okay, so, that’s good, right? He’ll come fix things. Winter always fixes things.”

Summer actually smiled, but it was sort of like Brother Daniel’s smile, full of something that looked like pity.

“Winter can’t fix everything, Lolo. He can’t fix this.”

For the first time Lolo noticed there was a plate of Oreos on Siobahn’s desk, sitting right next to the amber box. The plate was plain white and expensive looking. The cookies were arranged in three layers of widening circles, like some kind of art.

“I told Mama you’d be hungry. She arranged them herself, to thank you.”

Lolo stared at the cookies, transfixed.
“For what?”


For keeping me safe,” Summer said. Then she did begin to cry.

Lolo hurried to her side. She turned away, hiding her tears. He didn’t know exactly what to do, so he sat on the floor at the foot of Siobahn’s chair, and set his hand on Summer’s knee, patting gently in time with the clock in his head.

 

He was trying to decide whether or not it would be polite to start on the cookies when Summer suddenly sat up like she’d been slapped.

“They’re done,” she said, rubbing at her eyes. “They’ve stopped.”


How d’you know?”

Before she could answer Siobahn strode into the room.


Samhradh
,” she snapped. “Bring the priest up.”

Summer looked blankly at Siobahn, then at the amber box.
“Mama?”

Lolo jumped to his feet.

“I told him to leave,” he said. “This time I’ll make sure he does.”


No.” Siobahn pushed hair out of her face with restless fingers. “He’s waiting in the lobby.” Strands of her long hair crackled. “Bring him up to me.”


Ma’am.”

Lolo hustled out of the penthouse like one of the
sluagh
was on his tail, almost knocking Morris over. He danced in place waiting for the elevator, and chewed his knuckles all the way down to the first floor.

Brother Daniel
stood in the center of the lobby. None of the busy guests tracking over the fancy carpets seemed to pay any attention to tonsured, brown-robed man waiting alone and still as a statue.

Lolo thought of Richard and the way he could fool anything or anyone into not seeing.

“I think I’ve made a mistake.” His hand, restless as Siobahn’s, tugged furiously on his beaded braids. “A really bad mistake. Crap in a bun, Winter’s gonna kill me. Twice.”

The elevator doors closed behind Daniel. The friar’s tooth sparkled, gold as the elevator.

“Everyone makes mistakes.”


You gamed me!” Lolo accused. “You fucking gamed me. Me!”


It wasn’t difficult. Pride will always trip you up,” Daniel returned. “Pride and a dirty mouth.”

Brown robes flapped around his ankles when he left the elevator. Lolo jogged after.

“If you work for that Grey bitch, if you’re here to hurt them, I’ll knock you down and cut that shit-eating smile off your smug face!”

Morris actually flinched. Brother Daniel didn’t even look back over his shoulder.

“Lorenzo,” he said, much too loudly, “if you don’t clean up your language, I will have to do it for you.”

Then he walked all easy-as-pie into the
Fay Queen’s penthouse.

Furious, Lolo hurled himself after.

 

Siob
ahn waited in front of the fireplace. Her hair lay flat across her shoulders again, but the flames in the hearth had stretched up out of the grate and were licking at her fingers, blue and red.

Brother Daniel stopped. He folded his hands behind his back. He didn’t seem to notice Summer sitting slumped at the writing desk, or Lolo fuming at his heels.

“You!” Siobahn demanded, “You’re the one who baptized Heremon?”


Henry,” Daniel corrected. “But, yes.”


Your holy water drove him mad.”


He was lost when he found me.”


You meddled. You people always meddle.”

Daniel didn’t bother to answer. Siobahn’s angry fire reflected on the shiny dome of his bald head. Lolo saw a cluster of dots inked behi
nd his left ear: another prison tattoo.


Mama,” Summer said without looking up. “Barker?”

The
Fay Queen narrowed her eyes, then released the flames.


My husband is dead, and one of my men dying. I want you to save him.”

Daniel shifted on the carpet.
“Your people are not my responsibility, madam.”


What of Heremon?”


He came to me.” Daniel tilted his head. “Seeking God, and forgiveness.”


I want nothing to do with your god,” admitted Siobahn softly. “But the blade that killed my lord and poisoned Barker belongs to him. I can’t afford to lose any more of my people. So I, like poor Heremon, must beg your favor.”


Not mine, but God’s. I am only his willing servant.”

The
Fay Queen showed her sharp teeth in the rictus of a smile.


I suspect you are more than that. Will you help me?”

Lolo held his breath. Brother Daniel shifted on the rug again. He considered Siobahn, then Summer sitting hunched in her chair, and finally the amber box on the desk.

“Can you change it back?” he asked.


Of course she can,” Lolo said, even though he wasn’t totally sure. “Right, Summer?”

Summer brushed the hair from her face exactly as Siobahn had.

“I can,” she agreed. “But I won’t, not near Mama, or Morris, or Barker. Because it needs to stay in the box.”

One spring Lolo and Richard had spent almost every evening at the National Zoo, learning the animals. Richard filled an entire sketch book with drawings of lemurs, and Lolo threw stolen peanuts to the elephants. But it was the North American brown bear that Lolo had loved best; he’d spent hours watching the grizzly pace, wishing that some day he would grow to be as big and powerful.

When Brother Daniel moved, he moved like the grizzly, far more smoothly than his bulk suggested. His speed startled Lolo; his shadow spread in front of the fire place as he loomed over Siobahn.


I’ll want something in return.”

Siobahn
stood firm. “I don’t bargain with Adam's children.”


You’ll bargain with me,
sidhe
.”

Summer’s chair scraped on the marble floor as she stood up. Siobahn
Gathered blue flame in curled fists. Strands of her hair rose like angry black snakes.

But it was Winter’s glowing fairy knife that caught Brother Daniel’s attention. The grizzly bear was fast, but Lolo was always faster. He struck hard, but he couldn’t help remembering Smith’s dead, broken face, and he closed his eyes at the last second.

The knife caught in Daniel’s brown robes, tearing fabric.

Daniel’s hand came down hard on Lolo’s shoulder, pinning him in place.

“Stay still,” he said, stern, like Lolo had only spilled a soda or broken a shoe lace, not just tried to stab him in the thigh.

Lolo wriggled, but the friar’s hand was heavy. It pressed and pressed until he was forced to his knees on the patterned carpet.

“When will you stop using children to fight your wars?” Daniel asked Siobahn.


We were all children once. We are stronger for it.” Siobahn looked down at Lolo.  She sniffed. “What is it you want, priest?”


I’ll save your man’s life, God willing. But I’ll need the sword to do it.”


The sword belongs to me. My husband died for it.”


The sword belongs to no one living.”


It will kill them, if you let it out,” said Summer.


It’s a sword, not a
sluagh
,” Lolo said from where he sat on the floor, regarding the dirty hem of Daniel’s robes. “It can’t do anything on its own.”


It poisons us, weighs us down,” Siobahn argued. “We’re helpless before it.”


Not the girl,” Daniel returned. “You’ll leave her with me, and Lorenzo.”


No!” said Siobahn and Summer together.


You’ll leave the children, and the sword. You’ll take yourself, and your guard dog, and any other of your people that lurk in this apartment, and you’ll go take a walk in the park. A long walk. Feed the ducks, war with the banshee. I don’t care, as long as you go.”


No.”

Sparks burst from Siobahn’s fire, fell on the carpet, and snuffed.

“You’re running out of time,” Daniel pointed out. “If your man isn’t already dead, he soon will be, and you’re wasting his breath arguing. You asked for my help. This is my price.”


My daughter?” the Fay Queen spat in disbelief.


No, ma’am.” Daniel smiled. “I’ve something else in mind.”

 

 

 

 

 

16
. Captive

 

The crack in Solemn’s chin had spread, becoming a finger-wide scar, running in a dangerous slant toward the Ward’s right eye. Solemn’s lower lip had crumbled to yellow fairy dust and fallen into the dirt.

Richard leaned on the handle of his rake, considering the yellow powder. He had some idea that if he gathered up the crumbled bits, he could somehow paste Solemn back together.

He’d even gone so far as to get down on his knees in the dirt and scrape the fairy dust into a tiny pile, but he’d only grown more depressed, unsure how to separate amber from soil.

Laughing and Screaming weren’t looking well, either.


Brónach
,” Richard said pointedly. “Sad.”

The three Wards didn’t bother with an answer.

Neither did the mouse.

It was easier to think of her as a mouse because she’d bit
ten him several times when he’d reached for her, and he’d been forced to lock her in an old metal lunch box to keep her from running away.

He’d drilled holes in the lunch box for air, and so she could see out. She’d screamed like a dying rabbit when he’d run the drill, and that’s when he knew for sure she wasn’t Gabby anymore.

Gabriel never bit to draw blood. When she was frightened she chewed her tail just like Winter chewed his fingernails.

Richard sighed. He propped his rake against the wall of the pit.

“If I help you,” he asked Solemn, “can you help her?”

Solemn stared east. The mouse ran in circles in her cage.

“I’ll help you, buddy. Whatever you want. Just let me go.”

Richard shook his head.

“I don’t think so,” he answered without turning from the Wards. “Not yet, at least. We’ll see what Winter says.”

The captive grunted. He squirmed in the dirt. Richard had used heavy zip ties around his wrists and ankles,
but he hadn’t bothered to tape the fellow’s mouth, because there was no one near to hear him yell.


It’s winter now!” pleaded the captive. “I saw snow just this morning. Look, let me go.”

Richard pulled a yellowing handkerchief from his coat. The handkerchief had once belonged to Abraham Lincoln. It had seen better days.

Squatting, Richard spread Lincoln’s hanky on the ground, and began picking amber shards from the dirt, transferring them to the cloth.


Hey!” The captive had a nice set of lungs for a greasy old man. “I won’t tell anyone I found you down here, I swear!”


I’m afraid that’s the problem,” replied Richard. “You can see me. Which means Winter will want to see you. You’re mortal, right?”

The captive paused in his scuffling.
“You’re crazy.”


Not really.”


Look, buddy.” Now he started humping about in the dirt like a worm, trying to move closer to Richard. “I just got paid to do a job. Just deliver the mouse, she said. She paid me good, but not enough for this. She didn’t say nothing about a crazy kid with a gun.”


She didn’t put you on a plane, or a train. You’re too dirty for mass transit.”

The captive swore, panting.
“She put me in a car, with lunch. And cheese for the mouse.”


How considerate. You’re lucky she didn’t kill you. I won’t kill you, and neither will Winter. But if you don’t stop whining I’ll reconsider the duct tape.”

The captive started crying. They were the tears of a drunk, or a junkie, afraid he’ll miss his next fix. They were Bobby’s sort of tears. They didn’t bother Richard at all.

Amber dust stained Richard’s fingers. He was afraid he was crushing more than he was saving.

He stood up.

“I need tweezers,” he told the mouse. “I’ll be right back. Yell if he gets too close.”

Gabby stared through her drill holes, brown eyes glassy. They weren’t rodent eyes, even if they were empty.

The captive snuffled into the dirt.

Richard stepped over him, and climbed out of the pit.

 

The tweezers worked better than his fingers. Still, as the pile of
fragments on Lincoln’s handkerchief grew, Richard worried he was leaving too much fairy amber behind.

When he stopped to rest his strained eyes, he fretted over the cloudy patches behind Laughing and Screaming’s luminescent skin.

“What are those things?” the captive asked. He’d rolled closer to Richard and Gabby, but stopped his inch-worming when Richard smacked him with the rake handle.


Magic.” Richard rubbed his eyes, then blinked rapidly when he realized he’d transferred dust from his fingertips.


You
are
crazy.” The captive snorted. “Crazier than the ones that live in Central Park and think they’re wizards.”

Richard glanced
at Gabriel’s lunch box. Once it had been blue and green with a red handle and pictures of Scooby Doo painted on it. Now it was mostly peeling paint and rust, and Scooby Doo was riddled with holes.

Gabby didn’t stir. Richard thought she was asleep, long tail tucked over her nose.

“Like Harry Potter,” the captive continued, “only I’ve never seen
them
ride broom sticks.”


Do you work for them often?” Richard asked casually. “These wizards in Central Park?”


I didn’t say they were wizards. I said they think they’re like that. Special. And I only work for the one, I never see the others. But I know they’re there, watching. The trees go all quiet-like when they’re about.”


What sort of work?”


My name’s Anthony,” the captive offered hopefully. “What’s yours?”

Richard scowled at the floor.

“Hey! Buddy, what’s your name? Tell me your name!”

Richard
wrinkled his nose. He looked up at Laughing, Screaming, and Solemn, then over his shoulder at the man in the pit.


What’s that smell?”

Anthony made a face.

“Look, buddy, you should know, it’s not like living on the streets gets you regular hot showers and a shave, not unless you got time to do jobs -”


Quiet.”

Richard rose slowly to his feet. He knew the stink, but it didn’t belong, not yet.


Luath
,” Richard said in the Gaelic. “They're early.”

He
held his breath, listening.

It was more of a vibration than a sound, but it was still there, that background rumble that meant safety.

“The trains are still running.”

But the corpse smell was growing stronger. Goosebumps rose on Richard’s skin.

“Sure, they’re running.” Anthony managed to roll to his elbows and knees. “I know because I had to be careful -”

He choked, gagging.

“Christ, buddy, you’re right. Something stinks.”

Richard already had his gun in hand. The mouse woke suddenly in her box, and began to scratch
at the metal.


Get back!” Richard kicked dirt at Anthony. “Back against the wall. Go!”

The mouse squealed. H
er scratching grew more desperate. Anthony scuttled sideways, slowed by his plastic shackles.

Richard set his back to the failing Wards, and looked east.

The
sluagh
materialized slowly, foul fog rising first from the bottom of the pit, swirling in cold spirals where fresh air fell from the street vent above.

Anthony gagged, then spat.

“Try not to breathe too deeply.” The gun was steady in Richard’s hands, his stance relaxed. “It’s poison.”


It’s the miasma of our realm,” the
sluagh
said, growing solid. “It burns our lungs, yet still we live, suffering the pains of our prison.”

Richard swiveled, taking careful aim. The fog rose up, tricking his eye, and almost before he’d squeezed the trigger he knew he’d missed.

“Holy Jesus!” Anthony screamed.

Gabby squeaked softly, then went still.

“Mortal,” rebuked the
sluagh
, “your weapon is no match for my kind.”

It had the leathery wings and porcine face Richard had come to expect, but its voice was deep, almost gentle.

Richard squeezed off another shot. This time his aim was true. The
sluagh
made an animal sound of surprise or pain, and then drew the fog about itself, hiding.

Richard’s eyes were beginning to blur and tear. Even Winter couldn’t stand the fog for more than a few minutes. The tips of Richard’s fingers were growing numb.

“Come closer, ghost.” If he held his breath and pretended he was Bobby before the trap, he didn’t feel quite as scared. “Come closer, shit-for-brains, and let me finish you off. I’ve killed more of you than I can count. You don’t stand a chance.”

The
sluagh
laughed and breathed in with a sound like bellows. The fog swirled down and backwards. Richard could see the monster, mouth wide, swallowing back poison mist like some sort of creepy living vacuum.

It had pointed
fay teeth, but a tongue like a fat white snake, and broken claws at the end of long, graceful fingers.

Tho
se fingers were locked in a one-handed grip around Anthony’s throat.


Not my kind.” It flexed wings that seemed to fill the entire pit. “Not my kind, mortal. My kind danced attendance on the first of the
sidhe
kings, splitting his enemies with our swords.”


Let him go.”


No.”

Those graceful fingers barely flexed. Anthony fell away, head lolling on a snapped neck. He gurgled as he died, eyes wide and surprised.

Richard fired again. The bullet ripped through a leathery wing, leaving behind a smoking hole.

This time the
sluagh
didn’t flinch. It crouched over Anthony’s body, wing torn, watching Richard.


Pain can be mastered,” it said, and if Richard hadn’t known it incapable of feeling, he’d have called it proud. “You’ve used three of your iron bullets. Are you yet satisfied that your weapon is useless against me?”


No,” Richard repeated, but he didn’t fire. “Why are you here?”


The Wards that kept us away are dying.” It flicked a glance at Solemn, Laughing, and Screaming. “There will be more, others less quick than I.”


I’ll stop you.” But Richard knew he would die. “I promised Winter I’d protect the city.”

The
sluagh
laughed once more. The sound reminded Richard of church bells at Christmastime: clear and cold and sweet. Gabby chirruped as if in answer.


I don’t want your city,” the monster said. “What use is a mortal city to me?”

Its torn wing was beginning to ooze. Where blue ichor dripped to the ground, more fog rose. Richard could no longer feel the gun in his hand, or his feet, or even the beat of his frightened heart against his ribs.

“What, then?” he demanded.


Freedom.” It rustled closer. “The changeling. Where is she?”

Richard felt
like he was floating. His brain was giving up, but his body remembered a lifetime of training.

He fell to his knees, tilting. When the
sluagh
bent down, one wing drooping, Richard shot it cleanly though the eye.


Well done
,” said the voice in his head that sometimes sounded like Bobby, and other times sounded like Winter.
“One more time.”

He was already passing out when he squeezed off the last shot, but the monster was screaming and Richard discovered he wasn’t afraid anymore.

 


Help me move him.”

Richard thought his eyes were open, but he wasn’t sure.  The world was too dim.

“Next to the dead man?”


A dead guy won’t hurt him. This puddle of muck might.”


Watchers! They’re broken. It broke the Watchers.”


So long as it didn’t break Winter’s buddy, I can handle a couple of broken statues. Grab his feet.”


Aine,” said Richard. Now he knew his eyes were open, because when she bent over him her curls seemed to shine, the only bright spot in the surrounding dusk. “You need to leave. It came here for you.”

She didn’t answer. The world jolted and swayed.

BOOK: Winter (The Manhattan Exiles)
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