The loss of the Towers has put a slight crimp on my activities in Manhattan. It’s difficult to negotiate with those who live in the Heavens when one can’t get as close to said Heavens. Luckily for me, Art Deco has one thing the Towers didn’t.
A lightning rod on the same building as the Observation Deck.
I stood on the northeast corner of the Empire State Building and looked out over Manhattan Island at night. The air was muggy, oppressive and loaded with the sullen energy of thunderstorms licking their way across eastern Pennsylvania and up the Jersey shoreline. Off in the distance, flickers of heat lightning backed by the real thing could be seen even through the ochre haze of streetlights.
The deck was deserted. It had closed some three or four hours before. I had hidden myself in a corner, helped along by some of the talismans in the leather bandolier beneath my overcoat. The glass vial had rippled me out of sight as the guards swept through, kept the light off me as they passed, and now here I was turning the smooth angled shape over in my hands and waiting for midnight to come.
You’d think that it would be too cliched for the lightning storms to arrive at midnight, but you’d be wrong. Where do you think the cliches come from? From just this sort of situation. I sighed, once, and tried to calculate how quickly the flashes in the distance were coming closer. It looked like the western approach would make the cut, tonight; the front would push across the Island to the sea before being shoved north by the Gulf stream.
The weapon in my hands was ancient, cracked and weathered but still whole. It was perhaps eighteen inches in length, shaped unevenly but with care. I held it to my eye and sighted down its off-white edge and looked down towards the Battery. Light reflected dully off the surfaces.
An hour to go.
It had taken a year and a half, this time. Mostly dry and dusty study, to understand who it was who peered down at me from the barred and closed-in sky; research to determine whose face I was trying to make out in the clouds over midtown. Was it pity? Fear? Anger? Which? Important to know, crucial – especially if one were to unlock the bars as I knew I wanted to. Even then, I knew.
It’s what I do. I find them, seek them out where they’ve been hidden or where they’re hiding. They all come to New York, eventually; there’s sin here, and grace; there’s power and there’s puerile anonymity. Some are curious, some hungry, others lost.
The old Gods all come to New York.
It had taken me six months and a lucky break to identify the faces looking solemnly down from the center of Manhattan. A photograph, done in high dynamic range techniques to commemorate and display the changes in the skyline, caught the face as it gazed down from a sky thick with smog and moisture, and my Talent and will made out the forms in the mists. I can Hear, and See. That’s all. But that’s enough, for I’m a hard bargainer.
His name is Bobbi-Bobbi, and he’s Australian. Original, Aboriginal, and lives in Dream. He’s a snake with features, and he was first friend to Man – he gave Mankind his first prey, the flying fox. When the foxes grew too clever and flew too high, Bobbi-Bobbi gave us our first weapon.
I turned it over in my hands again. The rib bone from his side, planed smooth; a half year of searching in Australasia, advantaged only in that I could See the fakes and the frauds. I’d found it, finally, in the hands of a man living in a stand of swamp as his ancestors had. It had taken me a month to convince him to pass it to me. His sons had gone City; but I…I could See what he could See, and he handed me the bone boomerang wrapped in handkerchief before he died of cancer.
The Desert Eagle rode under my right ribs in its holster beneath the overcoat. I’d gone to Australia with a Glock there, but he’d taught me that that was wasted economy. The gun was a desperation defense I’d only had to use twice, before I met Willant; by the time he died, he’d shown me what a fool I’d been. I’d replaced it with the heavier machine upon arriving home.
I stepped to the middle of the Western face of the deck and looked out at the storm, closer now, visible over New Jersey. Perhaps approaching Newark. Lightning was visible branching between the clouds and the ground. I held the boomerang up before the light and watched its surface; as the lightning flickered off in the distance behind it, the cracks in its surface glowed slightly, in sympathy, small glow-worms of purple and blue runneling between the bone surfaces for moments before grounding into the ivory.
There was a soft gong behind me. I spun around, trying to place it, and even as I shoved the boomerang into my inner coat pocket part of my brain was cataloguing it as elevator – but the doors were sliding open inside. I was caught silhouetted, not expecting the sentry to return for another hour, so I froze rather than offer movement, but too late. The doors clicked and one swung open to admit four shapes onto the deck, three of whom were decidedly bigger than I.
“Michael. What a surprise.” The voice was rough but cultured. I sighed and relaxed, bringing my hands to unthreatening positions midway between my sides and my shoulders.
“Mal. How are you.”
There was a brief rasping sound, followed by the red glow of a cigar. “I’m doing well, thank you, you young interloper. What have you got there, now?”
The smallest of the four shook his head and blew out a cloud of tobacco smoke. “Oh, come, Michel. In your coat, boy. In your coat.”
“Just my usual, Mal.” I didn’t move my hands. I was trying very very hard not to sweat, but was fairly sure I was failing. The man across from me was handsome in a very rough sort of way; his face was heavily lined, as from outdoor life, but his eyes were bright and his shoulder-length hair glossy black. His fingers were adorned with silver rings, and his nails long. I could see that most of his clothes were dark leather.
Also, he was uncountable thousands of years old. Story had it that Malsumis was created, along with his twin Gluskab, from the dust left over when the Abenaki god Tabaldak created man. Gluskab thought man was a pretty cool idea and was generally a booster. Helped us out. Brought forth game, fish, crops, all that kind of thing. He and Bobbi-Bobbi would have gotten right along.
Malsumis, though – yeah. He was most definitely not on the happy and peppy list. He and I had run across each other three times in the past, as I went my way through New York – meeting, searching, gathering. Our first meeting had been a disaster, and I had barely escaped with my life. Only an idiotic amount of luck had allowed me to wriggle out of his reach, and that had only made him interested; the next time we’d met, I’d been doing my research and was upgunned to within an inch of clanking in my Burberry. I’m still not sure if he was actually wary of my hardware or just so amused at my array of charms and trinkets that he let me go for the humor value, but it had worked. The third time we’d actually had interests in common, and a truce had prevailed for the hour we’d spent in each other’s company.
Now, however, he was eyeing me with an avid look which said I had something he wanted and he had three really big guys to pry it out of me. That didn’t bode well for any form of cooperative venture. He sucked on his cigar again and cocked his head, looking at my coat. “That’s an awfully big gun you have there, boy. You do know that can’t possibly hurt me.”
“I do, yes. So there’s no reason you should feel offended or worried if I keep it.” It was true. Mal was pretty much invulnerable to kinetic impact. He reacted almost exactly like an enormous tree if he was hit by bullets – he oozed, very slowly, but it made no difference at all for several months. By which point he’d certainly got done killing you and, most likely, dealing with the wound.
“No, no, by all means.” He waved a hand negligently. “I’m much more interested in that throwing toy you have in the other pocket.”
Damn. Well, at least two of the heavies had looked at each other when he mentioned the gun. They probably weren’t immune.
“This? Just a toy, as you say, Mal.”
“No. Won’t do. Bring it out, Michel.”
I sighed and reached carefully into my coat with the fingertips of my left hand (Mal nodded approvingly) and brought out Bobbi-Bobbi’s boomerang, dangling it from my fingers.
“That would be it. Hand it here.”
I looked at him. He looked at me. His eyes narrowed, and he threw his cigar over the railing of the observation deck. “I said,” he said more quietly, “give me the bone.”
“No.” I said it carefully.
Malsumis made a pursed-lip motion akin to spitting, then turned his head to his left. “Kill him. Bring me the bone.”
There was a moment’s pause, which Mal used to step backwards twice. Then Goon One and Goon Two, at his sides, stepped forward once towards me. I cringed somewhere deep inside, prayed to the Gods of physics and practice, flipped the bone from my left hand to my right. Turning ninety degrees, I drew back my shoulder as the three Goons started to move more quickly; they were perhaps eight or nine feet away now. With my right hand I threw, hard. The boomerang sailed out into the night sky over Manhattan, vanishing into the sodium and mercury light haze. Mal’s head turned to follow it, as did two of the Goons. The third was tracking me as he continued to close, but my left hand had unsnapped the holster and pulled the Desert Eagle out to meet my returning right hand. By the time the Goons were all back in motion, Goon Three (the mover) had almost reached me, and the gun was up in ready position.
There was a series of extremely loud explosions, six in all, in three pairs.
When they were done, the Goons were down on the deck in various positions. My wrists ached, there was a stink of cordite in the air, and the magazine of the Desert Eagle was in midair on the way to the deck flooring. My right hand was moving to my belt for the reload. Malsumis’ face had gone hard and angry, but he hadn’t moved. I finished reloading and brought the pistol to bear on his chest. He looked at it, then at me, and scowled.
“Boy, you and I both know that toy will do you no good. I’ll still rip your lungs out through your ribcage, and neither of us will have the damn-”
There was a meaty THUNK as the boomerang sailed in from the night sky and hit Mal in the back of the head, pitching him forward onto the deck before dropping to the ground. I danced backwards three steps, keeping him some fifteen feet away. He roared and leapt back to his feet, pivoting around his toes in an impossible levering motion with black blood on his lips and nose. His eyes were glowing electric blue with red at their pupils. He quite clearly wanted to kill me, and considered the momentarily sting of a .44 round to be well worth the tradeoff.
I slapped my left hand once to my chest. Anchored there, in its leather bandolier, was a lumpy shape. I saw the slight ripple spread out from me as my hand touched it. Mal saw it, too, as he lunged forward, and I had time to see his eyes draw together slightly in puzzlement.
Then I extended my left hand out, fingers spread towards him, and fired the big pistol with my right.
The pin hit the first cartridge of the new magazine. Powder burned. Physics exulted, and the enormous bullet sang down the barrel, several dozen grains of steel-jacketed lead slamming out the front of the gun towards Mal’s oncoming form –
But before it could reach him, the watch at my chest pulsed, once.
The kinetic energy flowed from the bullet midflight, back, back down the funnel projecting from my left hand, into my body. I felt the waters of Baba Yaga flare in their vial, changing the energy; the vial pulsing silver, the energy flew back down my right forearm, down the gun, rushed out the barrel and past the now slowed bullet and struck Malsumis as he rushed towards me.
In a circle four inches wide, that energy did one thing, and one thing only. Flavored with the water of life in Baba Yaga’s bottle, touched with the Water of Death, it made him flesh; it made him alive; it made him mortal, it gave him death.
His eyes widened.
The Desert Eagle’s slide cycled, and it blazed again, once, twice. Both bullets flew down the silver path of entropy and life, straight, as straight as practice and wrist exercise could hold the gun, into Malsumis’ chest.
Blood, red and human, exploded out the back of his body. He jerked to a halt in midair, and then staggered backwards against the railing of the observation deck and slid to the ground. One hand went tentatively to his chest, and then he looked up at me with a peaceful expression of vast surprise. “Michel?”
I knelt in front of him, the Desert Eagle smoking. “Mal.”
“What have you done?”
“You’re not going to die, Mal.”
“I can feel it happening, Michel…I can feel blood, in me-”
“You’re a god, Malsumis. You won’t die.”
He forced his gaze to me. “This…this is the most…” he coughed twice, blood coming up. “…the most interesting evening I’ve had in years, Michel.”
“Yeah.” I was very, very tired. “Think about how you felt, Mal. Think about how we feel all the time. You know you’re going to make it, now. But you didn’t, for a moment. That’s how we feel, every fucking moment of every fucking day. That’s how they felt.” I waved at the remains of Goons one through three.
Malsumis coughed again. “It’s…just a bullet.” his expression was firming.
“Yeah?” I stood. “Guess what.” I holstered the Desert Eagle and gripped his coat lapels.
“Michel? What are you…” he coughed blood again. “What are you doing?”
I held him up to my face. “I don’t like you, Mal. I respect you. But you don’t think about how we feel. Not ever.” And I dragged him over to the edge of the roof deck, hoisted him up the safety fence. His eyes widened, finally.
“What are you…you can’t…”
“Sure I can.” I hunched my shoulders and threw him over. He went without a sound.
I turned and sighed. I walked back across the deck and picked up Bobbi-Bobbi’s boomerang, looked at my wristwatch, cheap Casio. Five minutes. There was no sound from the corpses, and no sound other than the rumble of the City. I leaned against the fence and waited.
At Midnight, the lightning came down and struck the tower. I held the boomerang up to it, and the power came; the sky ripped open, and Bobbi-Bobbi peered down. I shielded my face from the glare, and when the lightning had gone, there was a jet-black man in a thong crouched on the deck in front of me. He was holding a lethal-looking spear and had an elegant knife. I nodded to him.
He looked around, saw the corpses. He shook his head. “Death still walks among you all, down here. This is why I don’t come down.”
“A god brought that on them. But that’s not why I’m here.”
“Why are you here, Michel-who-talks-with-us?”
I held out the boomerang. “This is yours.”
He took the bone weapon, surprise on his face. “And what do you want in return, trading man?”
“Nothing.” I sat down, wearily. “It’s yours. Take it back.”
He looked at me, then sat as well. Looking over, he prodded the corpses with his spear. They rose up into the clouds, fading into the mists fifteen or twenty feet above the observation deck level. I ignored them. “This has been lost a good number of years, Michel trader man. Done much harm.”
He stood again, slapped it against his palm once then held it to his side where there was a scar. I saw a brief flash of light, and it was gone, along with the scar. He grinned at me, teeth brilliant in the gloom and angular floodlights. “Maybe we talk again, Michel trader man.”
“You know where I am, Bobbi-Bobbi.”
He looked me up and down, nodded. Then he turned and climbed up on the safety fence. I watched him. Before stepping off, he turned again and laughed. Reaching up, he twisted the head from his spear and tossed it to me underhand. “For you, trader man. One weapon for another. You got build your own spear for it, though; no giving you the whole thing this time.”
I caught the stone shape, feeling the warmth in my hand. I looked at him and nodded my head. “I understand, Bobbi. I’ll be here if you want to talk.”
“Maybe, then.” And he stepped off the roof.
I tucked the spearhead into my bandolier, feeling the edged power of it crackle against the watch and the vial. A grin cut across my face. Carefully, I picked up the Desert Eagle’s magazine and empty shells, taking twenty minutes until I had counted all those I’d used.
Then I let myself off the roof deck and descended into the sea of New York light.