Cover 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

 

THE COUNCIL OF SHADOWS

by S.M. Stirling   <joatsimeon@aol.com>


 

CHAPTER THREE:

 

"I look like death," Adrienne Brézé said softly, shifting in the clinic bed and wincing a little. "I feel like death incarnate, and not in a good way."

"At least you're not speaking in SMALL CAPITALS," Tōkairin Michiko said from her chair beside the bed.

There was a pickup overhead, and Adrienne had routed it to the big screen at the foot; the view out through the French doors into the courtyard with its fountains and bougainvillea was pretty, but it got boring after a while. She did look like death in the screen's pitiless image, and not one of the more glamorous versions. Skeletally thin, and having good bones didn't make that any more attractive. Not to mention the discolored, peeling skin and the glistening ointments and the fact that every hair on head and body had dropped out.

Like a famine victim, only not so funny, she thought.

She ached. Her digestive system felt as if it was packed with mud from the back of her throat to the lower intestine. She itched. Not just the amputated foot where the regeneration was starting far too slowly, but all over. Having several dozen milligrams of silver solution and radioactive waste pumped into you would be bad enough for a human, but the Shadowspawn metabolism was more vulnerable to both. If she'd gotten the full dose...

"You do look pretty awful," Michiko said. "It's a good thing I cut your foot off in one swell foop."

Then she giggled. "I only beat Dale to it by a second or two because I had a wakizashi on me. Dale was going to use his bowie, and Dmitri just went around roaring and waving a chair in the air."

"He was a silverback gorilla at the time. It's easy to get lost in the beast when it's that close to your own form."

"Especially with Dmitri and gorillas. But one advantage of all that Old Japan stuff grandfather liked is that I had the shortsword on me."

"That was quick work," Adrienne acknowledged. "I'd have died if you had not cut the foot off before much of that hell-brew got into my circulatory system—and I might have been too distracted to go postcorporeal in time, too. Even the best plans and probability-fluxes are... irritatingly uncontrollable at times."

"Well, your darling brother was involved, which screws the Power. Why don't you just spend more time inside while you're healing?"

"Because it's boring playing games in my head after a while, Michi," Adrienne replied. "So I ration myself, that way it's a relief when I do it. Besides, I have to keep track of what's going on and make decisions."

"You could nightwalk and then sleep away the days," she pointed out. "Your nightwalking manifestation is so good even I can't tell you're out of body unless I really concentrate."

"Nightwalking... my body's still too weak to have the personality gone for long, it needs me in here concentrating on healing. Unless I want to go postcorporeal for good, and I don't, not yet. It would be inconvenient. Iím going to stay corporeal until I get old."

Michiko wasn't being very considerate—but then, they were both Shadowspawn and empathy simply wasn't their breed's strong point; Michiko was nearly as purebred as the Brézé.

There's always Monica or Jose if I feel like sympathy.

The other Shadowspawn was also looking disgustingly sleek and contented, dressed in a pale silk summer dress and strapped sandals; she'd turned her hair blond again—a minor Wreaking—and it fell in silky waves past her high-cheeked Asian face.

"Now, to business," Adrienne said. "My father and mother say things are going smoothly."

Michiko nodded. "The Tōkairin Clan's accepted me... and Ichirō... without much trouble. Only had to kill a few, and no Final Deaths," she said. "I can't be too friendly to the Brézé interests yet, of course. I'm supposed to be here talking to your parents, warning them not to try anything while we settle down under the new management. Nobody suspects you're not gone, as far as we can tell."

"Good cover. And after all, you didn't kill my parents, your grandfather did, so it would be easier for you to negotiate with them now that heís dead all the way."

Under Michiko's grandfather the Tōkairin had ousted the Californian Brézés as the primary Shadowspawn group on the west coast in a neat little coup over a generation ago. Most of the Tōkairin liked it just fine that way. Fortunately Michiko accepted that Adrienne had her mind on larger things, and besides that they were on the same side of the great Shadowspawn generational divide. As her now thoroughly deceased grandfather had learned, far too late and very briefly.

Michiko went on: "We're gearing up for the Council meeting, and we won a lot of support for the way we acted when the Brotherhood terrorists killed Grandfather."

A mental communication passed between them; not words, more like a snigger.

"That's good... I'm a little tired now, Michi."

"Get better soon. I'm not up to heading the Progressives on my own! Besides, we could go clubbing."

"Better I remain dead-dead for a while, to the rest of the world."

The sickroom was part of the casa grande of Rancho Sangre Sagrado, the mansion in the little California town that had been the first Brézé property on the West Coast, back in the 1860's, when they brought the message of the Order of the Black Dawn to this part of the new world.

"Oh," Michiko said. "And the police in Santa Fe are sniffing around about that lucy of yours... the blond one whose blood smelled so edible... those marvelous tits and the way her brain fired when you hurt her... "

"Ellen. Who did this to me, donít forget. Take care of it for me, would you?"

"De nada. Iíll set our renfields in the government on it. Do them good. I can look in if itís more than they can handle quietly, we do want to keep people—"

By which she meant their kind of people, of course.

"—from thinking too much about Adrian. Since Iím the head of the ruling clan in the area, nobody can object."

Adrienne shut her eyes and sighed as her friend-ally-rival left. One of the advantages of being sick was that nobody expected her to take care of business. Whatever was happening in Santa Fe, for example, where Ellen and Adrian and Adrienne between them had been fairly...

Blatant, she thought.

It was still important not to be too conspicuous. Not for much longer, though. Not after the Empire of Shadow returned in force.

Then itíll be just one long party. Except for the ones on the buffet.

The various monitors and the tubes and catheters, gave a tang of ozone to the medicine scents, overriding the greenery from outside. A doctor came in, middle-aged and ginger-haired, with a stethoscope looped around her neck and the head tucked into a pocket of her green scrubs.

"It's time for your feeding, Doña," she said briskly, a slight Scots burr still roughening her voice.

The hunger was there, but curiously muffled. I never thought I'd get bored with blood, she thought. I want to hunt now and then. Or maybe it's just that I crave some solid food as well for variety.

A postcorporeal could survive on human blood alone, but even they didn't want to, usually, except for a few superstitious antique types. Corporeals needed ordinary nourishment at least every now and then.

"I wish I could eat something more tangible as well, Dr. Duggan," she said, a little fretfully. "I'm starting to have dreams about steak, or some crab claws, or sweet-and-sour pork. Or even vegetables."

"Intravenous will have to do. You're not ready, though you should be able to take broth soon," the renfield doctor said. "I'm still amazed you survived, even with the whole-body transfusions we did. Whole organs kept... nearly... shutting down. But once the corner was turned the recovery has been very rapid and it seems to be accelerating. Astonishingly rapid, in fact, as if your body is chelating the poisons somehow."

"The Power was helping, but on an unconscious level," Adrienne said. "I can direct it more now and that'll speed things up, and the more I get rid of the toxins the more my command of the Power will return. It's a positive feedback cycle."

Duggan nodded, obviously taking mental notes. She had been the primary physician at Rancho Sangre for two decades now, and she'd always been intrigued by the Shadowspawn.

"I am feeling a little blood-hungry," Adrienne went on. "Now that you mention it."

Plus of course you needed blood to do more than the most basic Wreaking with the Power. Otherwise you risked draining your own reserves dangerously.

I wonder why that is, she thought.

One of her lucies, Peter, had been—still was—a physicist. He had some interesting ideas about how the Power functioned. What had he said...

The Shadowspawn mind is like a transistor. It modulates the forces it draws from the quantum foam, it doesn't create it. But the modulation itself draws from the energy-maxtrix of the personality.

He wasnít a biologist, of course, so he hadnít been any help with the physical mechanisms, or why human blood was essential. And she was using the Power to heal. She should take as much blood as her stomach could handle.

"Who's on the schedule?" she asked. "I've sort of lost track."

"We were using pickups at first. You weren't really conscious and there was some incidental damage while you fed."

"Are any of my lucies ready? I'm in the mood for comfort food."

"Yes." Duggan consulted a clipboard. "You fed on Peter the day before yesterday, the spare before that, Jose the day before that... so Cheba and Monica are both past due, actually. That's stressful."

"Cheba, then," Adrienne said. "Don't let me overfeed if I go into fuge; my control is still shaky."

And she's the one I'd miss least if I do go all mindless-voracity.

Cheba was Mexican and from Coetzala in Veracruz, mestizo with a touch of African somewhere, dark and slim and very pretty, a girl Adrienne had bought from a coyote people-smuggler with a job lot of refreshments for the party where the previous head of the Tōkairin had died four months ago. She came through the door with Duggan holding one arm, but there wasn't much struggle; after repeated feedings the addiction had her strongly, and she was quivering a little with the need. And averting her eyes in horror from what lay on the bed, but Adrienne couldn't really blame her for that.

I'm not exactly aesthetic at the moment. Very ungrateful of Ellen to treat me this way, after all I did for her! I will have to punish her quite severely when I get her back, which will be a lot of fun. Still, it's a stroke of luck in the long run. Everyone thinking I'm dead makes it all so much easier.

"Sit here, lassie," Duggan said; there was a padded rest beside the bed. "Then lean forward and present your throat for the Doña."

She did. The scent was enough to make Adrienne feel a little more alive; fear in complex layers, shuddering disgust, and something musky that was probably self-loathing. The emotions she could feel directly were a lovely roil too, though Adrienne knew her telepathic sensitivity was still deplorably weak and she could barely pick up the conscious part of the thought-stream at all.

The cinnamon-colored throat came closer and closer... a tear dropped into her mouth, and then the contact of skin against her lips brought the taste of sweat, a sting in the cracks. Her mouth moved in the precise grace of the feeding bite, and the micro-serrations on the inside of her incisors sliced the taut surface.

The girl's whimper turned into a hoarse moan mixed with sobs. Adrienne growled deep in her throat as the blood flooded into her mouth, salt and meaty and sweet and as intoxicatingly complex as a glass of Bollinger VVF 1999, the taste of life. The burst of ecstasy flared in the victim's mind and resonated in hers, mingled with terror and despair, swirling down to a warm contentment as the blood flowed, a delicious yielding. Her mouth worked against the skin...

"That's enough, Doña."

Adrienne growled again in protest as the doctor's hand pressed her head back to the pillow. Cheba slumped down on the padded stool and leaned against the edge of the bed, breathing deeply, smiling with a soft dreamy look on her face. The small cut on her neck clotted with unnatural speed; Duggan ignored it for a moment as she wiped Adrienne's chin and lips with a cloth; the antiseptic stung a little in the cracks.

"Merde, am I dribbling?"

"Just a little." The Scotswoman looked down at Cheba. "She'll be fine. You took about a pint, I think—aye as much as you can handle now."

"Good, I do not want the nausea back. Though I'd like a kill as well, when I'm fit enough. There's nothing quite like it for setting you up."

She yawned; she was feeling better, but from experience she knew the torpor and discomfort would return soon. Duggan was feeling pure scientific curiosity under her impassive exterior; it was a curious emotion, tasting like mineral water or mountain ice, eerily detached. Peter had a similar mind-set when he was working on a problem.

"Will you want Cheba for the kill? If I could dissect afterwards, there might be something interesting in the neurological changes..."

"Oh, no, that would be wasteful, for several reasons. Cheba is progressing nicely. But I'll see if there's anything left for you to poke and prod at of whoever I kill."

"Thank you, Doña." A sigh. "Less likely to be anything noticeable... Shall I call the orderlies to remove her?"

"No, not yet. In about an hour, and she'll probably need a sedative then. I'm going into trance now and taking her with me."

She sank back and crossed her arms on her chest, moving slowly and cautiously. The first sensation of withdrawal was like falling into dark softness, like sleep.

Then she was standing in the entrance to her memory palace, and for a long moment she just focused on feeling good. The fact of her illness faded to the faintest of memories at the back of her brain with a practiced effort of will. The somatic memories tried to manifest here, but she could overcome them.

The mental construct was a pool edged in white Carrara marble, with man-tall alabaster jars standing at intervals; at one horseshoe-shaped end a colonnade of Corinthian pillars supported a roof of bronze fretwork woven with flowering wisteria to make a walkway, with a plinth in the center pouring more water through the mouth of a copper lion. Tall umbrella-pines stood around it, and then oaks amid asphodel-starred meadows, fading away to rocky hills purple under a clear blue sky; the warm air was scented with sap and hot rock and arbutus, birds warbled and insects clicked and buzzed.

Cheba staggered and stared around. Her eyes cleared quickly; now that her mind was running on Adrienne's wetware it wasn't saturated with MDMA analogues and serotonin-boosters. When she was fully alert she looked surprised for a moment, then sullen. In here Adrienne's senses felt as if they were functioning normally, and the waves of murderous hate tingled along her nerves.

"I'm much prettier here," the Shadowspawn said, looking down at herself. "This is how I'm supposed to look. Really, being sick is such a bore, tout court."

I wish she'd killed you! Cheba thought. Or that man did, that brujo.

"I don't doubt you do," Adrienne said happily. "Though really, with dozens of Shadowspawn running around uncontrolled and upset you'd probably have died."

It would be worth it!

Adrienne laughed, and the girl went on: "Where... where is this?"

"My—" Adrienne thought for a moment; Cheba was intelligent but not very well educated. "Inside my mind. In my head. Or you could think of it as Hell. It's where your kind got the idea for Hell, most likely."

It doesn't look so bad, Cheba thought, and looked around again.

While she did the first tentacle slid out of the water, black and glistening and as thick as her leg below the narrow questing tip. With a movement as quick as a lunging cobra it threw a loop around her ankle and jerked.

Cheba screamed as she fell to the marble, but she threw her arms around the nearest vase and held on with frenzied strength, kicking at the tentacle. More exploded out of the water in a tower of spray and lashing flesh and spoiled-seafood stink, dozens, falling on her like whips and tearing at her clothing, squeezing, thrusting—

"Aiiie. A Thesaurus is come. Maim, strangle, violate," Adrienne said as she walked over and smiled down at her. "George gets so lonely here," she explained. "He's quite dead outside, you see, so he's here until my own Final Death. Which will be a very long time, I think. That's why your kind thought Hell could go on forever."

Then, louder: "George, what did I tell you? Not unless I say you can!"

The mauling continued, and beneath it the choked muffled shrieks. Adrienne sighed and looked at the water, frowning. It turned from crystal blue to a rosy pink, and steam began to rise from it. After a moment it boiled, and the tentacles withdrew with a sudden rush, as quickly as the first attack. The water smoked and roiled, and from beneath it came a bubbling shriek of agony as the creature cooked and cooked but could not die.

Cheba was pushing herself backward, naked, her body streaked with blood and welts, her mouth working and white showing all around the dark iris of her eyes. Then she stopped and froze. A moment later she felt behind her.

"It's quite fetching," Adrienne said, as Cheba's fingers made contact with the fluffy white doe's tail at the base of her spine. "And symbolically appropriate for your role in this little drama weíre about to have."

Cheba bolted upright, pawing frantically at the sides of her head. The ears she felt there were tall and pointed and furred, and twitched.

"Dios mio, Jesucristo!"

"I'm the only deity here," Adrienne said, feeling the other's control crack. "Ooooh, yes, that's right. Panic, despair, horror, very stimulating, you saucy sexy minx. Now you run away, sweetie. And when I catch you, I do some really awful, wonderful things to and with you."

Cheba turned and bolted through the trees and into the scrub. As she did a line of wasps rose from the underbrush and followed her, malignant shapes as long as a human hand, whining as they flew.

Adrienne watched her go, then clapped her hands together thoughtfully under her chin.

"Darkness," she said.

The sunlight faded, and sunset cast long shadows through air the color of burnt umber. She'd always liked that time of day; it was so full of little magics and possibilities.

"Not quite perfect," she mused. "Something... it needs just a little something..."

A delighted laugh. "I know! She's phobic about spiders. Spiders it shall be! About the size of Chihuahuas, I think. Anything bigger would be kitsch."

A sobbing scream of loathing came echoing towards the pool. Adrienne laughed again, and willed. The change was easier and smoother than when she was nightwalking in the real world, and here the sun was her imagination and not a deadly enemy to the aetheric form.

The great timber-wolf raised its head and sniffed the air, snarled happily, and loped through the trees with its tail wagging.

 

@@@

 

One of the joys of a policeman's life, Eric Salvador thought the next day, wishing he'd taken more Tylenol with his breakfast. You meet all kinds of people. Most of them hate you. Asi es la vida. At least she's not likely to try and blow me up with a fertilizer bomb.

Giselle Demarcio was in her fifties, with a taut dry ageless appearance and a slight East Coast accent, dressed in a mildly funky Santa Fe look, silver jewelry and a blouse and flounced skirt.

Sort of a fashionista version of what my great-grandmother wore around the house, Salvador thought cynically.

His family, the Spanish part at least, had been in Santa Fe since the 17th century.

Everything old gets new if you wait long enough. Rich Anglos get off the bus and live in pimped-up adobes and you end up in a double-wide on Airport Road.

There was a dash of Irish in his background too, on his mother's side, and the Indio part of the Salvador line had probably thought there goes the neighborhood when the conquistadores showed up asking about those gold mines the pueblo down the river had sworn existed around here.

She had a white mark on her finger where a wedding ring would go, and she fit in perfectly with the airy white-on-white decor of Hans & Demarcio Galleries. He was not, he noticed, being invited back to her office; this was a semi-public reception room. The art on the walls was something he could understand, at least—actual pictures of actual things. Not the cowboy-pueblo-western art a lot of the places on Canyon Road had either, mostly older-looking stuff. There was a very faint odor of woodsmoke from a pinion fire crackling in a kiva fireplace. The whole thing screamed money. It had been a very long time since Canyon Road attracted artists because the rents were low.

Santa Fe, the town where ten thousand people can buy the State and fifty thousand can't afford lunch, he thought.

"Jeanette, take care of the Cliffords, would you?" Demarcio said to a sleek-looking assistant. Then:

"Coffee, detective?"

Wait a minute, Salvador thought. She's not really hostile. She's scared for some reason. Not of me, but scared silly and hiding it well.

"Thank you," he said, and took the cup. "That's nice."

It was excellent coffee, especially compared to what he drank at home or at the station, with a rich dark nutty taste. He enjoyed it, and waited. Most people couldn't stand silence. It wore on their nerves and eventually they blurted out something to fill it. Salvador had learned patience and silence in a very hard school.

"I'm worried about Ellen," the older woman said suddenly.

The detective made a sympathetic noise. "Ms. Tarnowski worked for you?" he said.

"Works. She's my assistant even if she didn't show up this morning, that's understandable with the fire and all. Not a secretary, she's an Art History graduate from NYU and I was bringing her in on our acquisitions side. I'm... she's a sweet kid, but she's gotten mixed up in something, hasn't she?"

"You tell me, Ms. Demarcio," Salvador said.

"I never liked that boyfriend of hers. She met him playing tennis at the Country Club about a year ago and they, well, it was a whirlwind thing. He gave me this creepy feeling. And then his sister showed up—"

Salvador blinked. The sister... the woman who was with Tarnowski?

"Boyfriend?" he asked.

"Adrian Brézé."

"Ah," Salvador said.

As he spoke he tapped the name into his notepad's virtual keyboard and hit the rather specialized search function. He'd long ago mastered the trick of reading a screen and paying attention to someone at the same time.

"Now, that's interesting. Do you have a picture of him?"

It was interesting because Salvador didn't have a picture; or much of anything else. Usually these days you drowned in data on anyone. There was nothing here but bare bones, a Social Security number, a passport number and an address way, way out west of town. Just out of Santa Fe county, in fact. A quick Google Earth flick showed a big house on a low mountain or big hill, right in the foothills of the Sangres, nothing else for miles and miles of miles and miles. The State real property register was a mess, but a check on that showed what seemed to be a single parcel of several thousand acres at least, a chunk of an eighteenth-century grant.

Not even a passport picture to go with the number and he owns ten square miles of scenery. Someone likes his privacy, he thought, looking at the address. Then: Hey, if you had enough pull, could you blank yourself out? Nah, nobody can evade the Web.

Demarcio hesitated, then pulled a framed picture out of a drawer. The glass was cracked, as if someone had thrown it at a wall.

"She told me she was going to break up with him. Couldn't take the emotional distance and lies any more. Then she didn't show up to work yesterday."

"So she's missing the day before the fire," Salvador said, looking at the picture. "She didn't call in? Just nothing?"

"Nothing this morning. That's not like her. She's the most reliable person who's ever worked for me."

Only sheís gone and the place she lived in is a scorchmarck, which conveniently shitcans all the evidence.

The photo beneath the cracked glass showed a youngish man, though on second thoughts perhaps Salvador's own age. Or maybe somewhere between twenty-five and thirty-five. Dark hair worn a little longer than was fashionable these days, a vaguely Mediterranean-looking face that could have come from anywhere. Handsome, perhaps a little too much so, though not quite enough to be called pretty.

Androgynous, that's the word. But there's something dangerous looking about him too. Like a cat, like a snake. Or a weasel, or a razor blade in an apple.

"He's..." Demarcio frowned. "You know, I met him a dozen times and I listened to her talk about him a lot and I really can't tell you much. He's wealthy... very wealthy, I think. Some sort of old money, but that's an impression, not knowledge. He wouldn't tell Ellen anything about that either, just some vague bullshit about 'investments'. American born but he has a slight accent, French I think, which would fit with the name. I know he speaks French and Italian and Spanish... and yes, German too, all of them very well. I couldn't tell you where his money comes from, or where he went to university or, well, anything."

Salvador looked at the photo. Unobtrusively he brought up the composite picture on the notepad. The resemblance to the reconstruction of the man the Lopez family had seen standing motionless outside their house just before the fire was unmistakable. He scanned the picture into the notepad, and the program came up with a solid positive when it did its comparison.

"Would you say this is Adrian Brézé?" he said and showed her the screen.

"Absolutely," she said.

"And this is his sister?" he said, changing to the composite of the woman the Lopez' had seen with Ellen Tarnowski earlier.

"Well..." The picture wasn't quite as definite; they'd only glimpsed the face in passing and through a window. "Yes, I'd say so. It's a striking resemblance, isn't it? Like twins, only they'd have to be fraternal."

"Have you seen this man?"

The composite this time was the older man with the gun who'd frightened the Lopez' out of their home... and probably saved their lives, considering how fast the building had gone up.

"No, I can't say I have. That is, it's similar to any number of people I've seen but it doesn't bring anyone immediately to mind."

Salvador grunted; it was a rather generic Anglo countenance, in fact. Offhand he'd have said Texan or Southern of some sort, there was something about the cheekbones that brought Scots-Irish hillbilly to mind, and the long face on a long skull, but even that was just an educated guess. The Corps was lousy with that type.

"Do you think Mr. Brézé is capable of, mmm, violent actions?"

She paused for a long moment, looking down at her fingers. When she met his eyes again his alarm bells rang once more.

"I think he's capable of anything. Anything at all."

"Had a temper?"

She shook her head. "No. He was always a perfect gentleman. But I could feel it. Sort of a, um, potential."

Which would be a big help in court.

"Now, you saw Ms. Tarnowski later that evening?"

Now Demarcio flushed. "Yes, with Ms. Brézé... Adrienne Brézé. At La Casa Sena, they were having dinner at a table near mine."

That was an expensive restaurant on Palace, just off the plaza, in an old renovated adobe that had started out as a hacendado's townhouse. Not the most expensive in town by a long shot, but up there.

"You didn't speak with them?"

"No. They, umm, didn't seem to want company." Her eyes shifted upward and she blushed slightly. "They seemed sort of preoccupied."

Ah, Salvador thought. That sort of preoccupied. Is this an arson case or a bad movie? Sister catches her on the rebound from her brother, so brother burns the house down? Were do this sort of people come from? Do they step out of TV screens or do the screenwriters know them and use them for material?

"You knew Adrienne Brézé socially?"

"No. I'd never seen her before. Didn't even know Adrian had a sister."

"Then how did you know the woman's name?" he said.

An exasperated glance. "I asked the maitre d'hotel at La Casa Sena, of course! I'm a regular there. So is Adrian."

He hid a smile. I think Ms. Demarcio is a nice lady. She's concerned about Tarnowski. But I also think she's a gossip of the first water.

"Thank you, Ms. Demarcio—"

"Well, aren't you going to tell me anything?"

He sighed. Usually you didn't, but he needed to develop this source.

"We're investigating the circumstances of the fire at Ms. Tarnowski's apartment, and trying to find where she is."

Her eyes narrowed slightly; that meant we think it was torched, without actually saying it.

"I talked to the Lopez family, and there was a man with a gun."

He sighed. Santa Fe was a small town. "True. We've got Santa Fe and Albuquerque and the State Police all looking."

She hesitated, twisting her fingers together. "I... I got a call from Ellen today."

Salvador came alert without tensing.

"You did?" he said, the sort of polite verbal placeholder you used to keep people talking.

"She... she called me on a videoconference link. She said she was staying at Adrienne Brézéís place in California. That she was... working for Ms. Brézé, now, cataloguing her familyís art collection."

Aha! Salvador thought. And again, aha!

"Weíll need the address," he said.

"I... Iím afraid I donít have an address. Just a phone number. But Ms. Brézé said not to use it very often."

This is one scared lady, Salvador thought. And I really donít think sheís naturally a scardey-cat.

He thumbed the number into his phone as she gave it, then spoke:

"Here's my card."

He slid it across the low table. "Please let me know immediately if Ms. Tarnowski contacts you again, or you get any other information."

"Detective," she said as he rose and turned to go.

He turned, raising a brow, and she went on: "Remember I said Adrian was capable of anything at all?"

He nodded.

"Well, his sister struck me the same way. But worse." A swallow. "Much, much worse."

Outside Caesar met him, and they walked down towards the end of Canyon, then turned right across the bridge over the small and entirely dry Santa Fe river with its strip of grass and cottonwoods. That led to Palace just north of the Cathedral, the reddish sandstone bulk of it towering over the adobe and stucco of the neighboring buildings. Salvador jammed his fists into the pockets of his sheepskin jacket and scowled, pausing only to give the finger to a Mercedez that ran the yellow light and nearly hit them. Right afterwards a rusting clunker with the driver's door held on with coat-hanger wire did the same thing.

Then he keyed the number into the Police net, the service that gave you locations...

Not listed, it said.

"This is screwy," he complained, after he'd filled his partner in.

He looked at it again; California area code, south-central coast. But...

Not listed.

"You try, Cesar."

Not listed.

The next time Eric tried a string of garbage scrolled across his phone.

"Now that," he said, "isnít just fucked up. That is enemy action."

Cesar raised his hands palm-up and made a weighing motion; he wasnít as paranoid as his senior partner. Maybe, it said.

"But at least we've got names to go with our composites. Adrian and Adrienne Brézé," Eric conceded.

"That is fucked up, too, amigo," Caesar said cheerfully. "Because the databases are still not giving us anything even though we've got the names. They don't have email addresses; they don't have bank accounts... You did send them out?"

"Yeah, local, state, Fart Barf and Itch, and Homeland Insecurity, which means the spooks. It can take a while, even now they've got the whole system cross-referenced."

"It shouldn't take a while to get something. Everyone leaves footprints. The question is, my friend, should we be thinking of this as an arson case, or some sort of kidnapping?"

"A little early for that. According to Demarcio, sheís wherever-it-is of her own free will. ĎSorting paintingsí, if you know what I mean."

"Yeah, only we canít reach wherever she is and anyone will say anything if they're persuaded right. But!"

Caesar grinned and showed his notepad, a picture of an elderly but well-maintained Prius. "Abandoned car on Palace, ticketed and towed about an hour ago. Registered to—"

"Ellen Tarnowski."

"So maybe, it's not so early to think about maybe some slight element of kidnapping."

Salvador's notepad beeped. "Well, fuck me. Take a look."

The picture was from the security cams at Albuquerque Sunport, the airport in the larger city an hour's drive south; the face-recognition software had tagged it.

"That's Brézé and our mystery man with the gun, all right. Still in the black leather outfit. Nine-thirty to San Francisco last night, just opened up and the request got it. Wait a minute—"

He tapped at the screen. "Fuck me."

"What's wrong?"

"They didn't have tickets. Look."

"Could be tickets under someone else's name."

"No, there were two vacant first-class seats according to the ticketing record. But look, when they cleared for takeoff they recorded all the first-class seats as full. But there aren't any names attached to these two. Which isn't supposed to be possible. Breaks three laws and twenty regulations."

Caesar made a hissing sound of frustration. "Mierda, for a second I thought we'd get a name on Mr. Shotgun. What about the other end?"

"Flight got into San Francisco International... nothing on the surveillance cam there, and it should have got them."

The younger man grinned. "Maybe they got out on the way, si?"

"Yeah, at forty thousand feet. So... possible kidnapping, by one or two different parties. Or possibly the Breze twins are acting in concert. One or the other of themís responsible for the burn, Iíd bet my cojones on it."

"OK, we got her last known location in Santa Fe. Here. Letís go see how Demarcioís story holds up."

The building that housed La Casa Sena and several upscale shops was mainly nineteenth century, adobe-built with baked-brick trim, rising around a courtyard-patio that featured a pool and a huge cottonwood. Originally it had comprised thirty-three rooms of living-place-workroom-storeroom-quasi-fortress that presented a blank defensive wall four feet thick to the outside intended to repel Apaches, bandits, rebels and tax collectors whether Mexican or gringo. Now there was a wine boutique, several stores selling upscale jewelry and froofraw, and the restaurant occupying two sides of the rectangle.

Iron tables stood out under the cottonwoods, vacant this time of year; the flowerbeds were sere and brown as well. A glassed-in box near the entrance covered the original well that had supplied water to the complex. He glanced at the menu posted beside the door; they weren't open for lunch yet.

"Ever eaten here?" he asked.

"Twenty-five for a ham sandwich?" Caesar said, peering at the prices. "You loco?"

"I had dinner here once. An anniversary, the last one before Julia divorced me and went off to Bali to Find Herself."

Cesar snorted. "You canít find yourself in New Mexico, you arenít going to find anything different in Cincinnati or damí Bali."

"Yeah. But the food was actually pretty damn good."

"Jesus, if lunch is like this, what's dinner for two cost?"

"About the price of a trip to Paris," Salvador grinned and read the small print: "And the ham sandwich has green chile aoili, ciabatta, aged Wisconsin Gouda—"

"It's still twenty-five dollars for a fucking ham sandwich. OK, a ham and cheese. I don't care if the butter was made from the Virgin's milk."

"Can I help you?" a young woman in a bow-tie outfit said, opening the door. "Lunch doesn't start seating until—"

They flashed their badges. "The manager, please."

That brought quick action: "I'm Mr. Tortensen—"

After the introductions the manager showed them through to his office, though Salvador felt as if half the contents of his wallet had vanished just stepping over the threshold of the front door into the pale Taos-style interior. Even the office was stylish. The man was worried, brown-haired, in his thirties, lean to the point of emaciation, and licking his lips.

What sort of restaurant manager is skinny? Salvador thought. Well, probably this far up the scale the customers donít like to think eating can make you fat.

"What can I do for you, officers?" he said.

Salvador leaned back in the chair. He knew he could be intimidating to some. People who'd led sheltered lives particularly. He didn't have to do anything in particular, even if they were people who'd consciously think of him as something they'd scrape off their shoe on a hot day.

"You had two guests at dinner yesterday," he said. "From a little after five-thirty to seven-thirty. Ellen Tarnowski and Adrienne Brézé. I'd like some details."

The man started very slightly, then his mouth firmed. "I'm afraid our clients' confidentiality is—"

Caesar cut in smoothly: "Ms. Tarnowski's house burned down last night, and there's suspicion of arson. Her car was found and towed from a parking spot not too far from here. We have independent confirmation that she was here last night, and she's a missing person with this as her last known location."

Salvador nodded. "So we'd really appreciate your cooperation in this arson and possibly kidnapping investigation."

The manager started; short of shouting terrorism it was about the best possible way of getting his attention.

"Let me make a few calls," he said, pulling out his phone.

Caesar worked on his notepad. Salvador crossed his arms on his chest and enjoyed watching the manager sweat as he tried to get back to his routine. People came in to talk to Mr. Tortensen about purchasing and things that probably made perfect sense. At last a harassed-looking man in his early twenties came in; he was slimly handsome, but looked as if he really wasn't used to waking up this early. Which, with a night-shift job like waiting table he might not be.

"Ah, this is Joseph Morales, officer," Tortensen said. "He had A17... their table... last night."

Maricon, Salvador thought;clinically, he wasn't bothered by them.

There had been one he knew who was an artist with a Javelin launcher. He could put a rocket right through a firing slit, which has a good dirty joke in it somewhere.

"Pleased to meet you," Morales said to the policemen with transparent dishonesty, but he was at least trying to hide it. "How can I help you?"

The restaurant manager started to speak, and Salvador held up a hand. "We're interested in a party of two at one of your tables last night."

He held up his notepad with Tarnowski's face.

The waiter laughed—it was almost a giggle. "Oh, them. Yes, I remember them well. They ordered—well, Ms. Brézé ordered—"

He rattled off a list of things, most of which Salvador had never heard of. He held up a hand.

"What did that come to?"

"With the wines? About... twenty-five hundred."

The manager was working his desktop, and nodded confirmation. Caesar gave a smothered sound that had probably started as an agonized grunt, passed through indignation, and was finally suppressed with a tightening of the mouth.

"Tip?"

"Very generous. Seven hundred."

Outside, Cesar shook his head. "Seven hundred for the tip? And you went there?"

"I was starting to get worried about Julia, wanted to show her I thought about something but my job. Didn't work. Three weeks later she told me I was just as far away living here as I had been when they deployed me to Kandahar.

"Ai!"

"Yeah, sweet, eh? And I didnít leave a seven hundred dollar tip, either."

"What's the next stop?"

"I'll try and see if anyone around saw the van that Adrian Brézé and Mystery Man in Leather were using after they left the burn site."

Salvador laughed. "And I'll get back and catch up on my paperwork, and keep trying to locate that phone number. Don't you wish this were a TV show?"

"So we could just work one case at a time? Si, the thought has crossed my mind. Along with a lot else. Like, who was the old guy in black leather? How does he fit in?"

 

@@@

Cover 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

Copyright © 2010-2011 by S.M. Stirling <joatsimeon@aol.com>


These sample chapters have been converted to HTML by Bo Johansson

Home! Index Book page smstirling.com