Madhouse, page 12
Frankly, I didn’t care if the homicidal butterflies ate a hundred muggers or drug dealers. New York could use a little cheap crime control. But, as Niko logically explained while smacking the back of my head, it might not always be a petty criminal they snared.
There were many things I’d done and many things I’d killed, but there was something about killing a giant butterfly, even one with spider legs, that wasn’t going to leave any fond memories. I’d never been one for pulling the wings off something smaller than I was. But when they opened their mouths and I saw poison-dripping pincers and a circular gullet lined with tiny triangular teeth, I changed my mind. Tinkerbell took one in the gut, and, as it snarled with sizzling poison gushing from its mouth, the only thing I felt was gratitude I was out of spitting range.
Other than leaving scattered wings like ludicrously colored autumn leaves, we accomplished nothing. Not a damn thing. The only positive was there weren’t any further attempts on Goodfellow’s life. And I kept thinking it was positive up to the point he showed up at my door with a plan of his own.
Goodfellow tapped his watch when I opened the door. “Tick-tock. We have places to go and cherries to pop.” He looked me up and down. “Could you change into something a little less…homeless-friendly?”
It was five in the afternoon and the last two hours had been spent working out with Niko. That wasn’t anything I couldn’t do in sweats and a T-shirt. Getting my ass kicked by my brother wasn’t a black-tie event. I ducked as a lamp came hurtling from behind to bounce off my shoulder and shatter against the door frame.
“That could’ve been a dagger,” Niko said reprovingly. It wasn’t an idle observation, because the next one was. I caught a glimpse of it from the corner of my eye and dived to the ground. Robin caught it point-first and examined the blade. “It’s dull. Now, what type of teaching tool is that?”
“He’s delicate,” my brother offered gravely.
I growled and rose to my knees, and then tackled Goodfellow to the floor while snatching the thrown dagger from him as I did. I rolled to keep him between Niko and me and held the training blade to his throat.
“You have a hostage. Nicely done.” Niko approached and held out his hand. I slapped the dagger into it. “Assuming someone cares for the hostage.” His lips twitched as he extended his other hand to assist Robin to his feet. “Considering the past several days, that’s not an assumption we would hold true for all. Goodfellow, are you sure you won’t stay here with us until we find out who is behind this?”
“I couldn’t afford the massive cramp in my style.” But there was a fleeting glint of surprised appreciation behind his eyes as Robin straightened his coat and smoothed his hair. “Speaking of style or lack thereof…” He focused his gaze on me. “Would you change already? Even I can’t get you laid looking like that.”
The practice session was nearly over and I looked over at Niko. He exhaled, folded his arms, and gave the most minute of shrugs. He thought I was making a mistake—that Georgina was for me, and that I was too stubborn by far for my own good. But while he thought I was wrong, he understood why I’d made the decision I had. He’d also seen it had actually given me some small measure of peace to have made any decision. I’d spent most of my life on the run. You don’t get to make a lot of decisions doing that. You react and brace yourself in case it isn’t good enough. But giving up running meant standing your ground…on all things. I’d made my choice—I was sticking with it, because I knew, even if no one else did, it was the right one.
The only one.
Niko had suggested I wait. That there might be a nonhuman who could come to mean something to me. Someone safe to care about. The thing was, I didn’t want to care about my first. If it couldn’t be with George, then I didn’t want it to mean anything. If I couldn’t care for her in this case, then I didn’t want to care at all. I wanted it to be just what it was, sex and nothing else.
“Yeah, okay,” I said slowly. “I’ll change.”
Niko lightly bumped my shoulder with his as I passed. I’d say that was the good thing about family: they supported you whether they agreed with you or not. But that was a lie. None of my other family had been remotely capable of that, and I was referring to the human half. I guess it would be more accurate then to say that wasn’t the good thing about family; that was the good thing about Niko.
I dressed in jeans and a black pullover sweater. I imagined Robin would be massively unimpressed. I was right, but he was distracted enough by Niko that when I walked back into the room he let the clothes pass with a minimal amount of ranting and raving.
“Beau Brummell would choke himself with his own cravat,” Goodfellow said scornfully as he looked me up and down, then brightened. “The whole polishing his boots with champagne, he stole that from me, you know.” He extended an expensively shod foot and rested it on the coffee table as he relaxed on the couch. “See the shine? Subtle but impeccable.”
“While I’m immensely fascinated by your shoe-care regimen,” Niko commented as he leaned against the wall, “let’s return to the discussion of who might be trying to kill you.”
Robin admired the sheen on his shoe for another moment before exhaling, “You have no idea what you’re asking.”
“Piss off that many people? I believe it.” I dropped into the chair and hooked a leg over the padded arm.
“Smart-ass pup, fetal flash-in-the-pan,” he grumbled, but it was all surface. Beneath that was a dark melancholy he was usually more cautious about concealing. “I’m a puck. Pissing off lesser creatures is what I do. How can I be blamed for those who have absolutely no humor and a marked inability to hold on to their wallet? But that, while significant, is not the problem.”
“Then what is?” Niko asked with the patience of a man who has all the time in the world. What we’d forgotten was that Robin was the one with that trait.
“I can’t remember.” He dropped his foot back to the floor. “I can’t begin to recall all those I’ve practiced my trickery on over the years, because it is the years that are too many, not my victims. Although, to give credit where credit is due…” He flashed a happily predatory grin. When it faded, he added contemplatively, “I remember the highs and lows, naturally, but if I, for example, stole a boggle’s treasure trove some ten thousand years ago, that I won’t remember.”
“But he would remember you,” Niko stated.
“Yes, I would definitely be a low for him and I’m sure it would stick quite clearly in his muddy speck of a brain cell, but for me?”
“Not so much?” I said.
“Yes, not so much,” he responded impassively. “I have no idea where I was born or when. I’ve forgotten more of my life than I remember. There simply isn’t a way to make a list of the usual suspects.”
“Perhaps if we concentrate on the attempts themselves.” Niko straightened, pale eyes razor sharp in their persistence. “The Hameh birds and the sirrush are all from the same general area. Did you do something memorable down Babylon way? Were you someone’s rough beast?”
Robin met that gaze with an unwavering one of his own. He was either remembering something or doing his damnedest not to. “Poetic.” He stood. “But nothing that could pertain to this, I’m sure.”
I could see Niko wasn’t buying it, and neither was I. But what we believed didn’t matter, because the conversation was over. Goodfellow made some noise about how he’d think on it, mull it over, keep his head down, and thanks so very much for our input, care, and concern, and he was out the door. And there I sat, leg still dangling.
“Your ride on the debauchery express is leaving without you,” Niko informed me blandly.
“It looks that way.” I heaved myself up and grabbed my jacket.
“You’re positive about this?” he asked as I shrugged into it. “You should let Georgina make her own decision when it comes to this. She’s stronger than you give her credit for.”
“I know she is.” I shoved my hands in my jacket pockets and c
He dipped his chin and said only, “You’re strong enough, just in all the mulishly obstinate wrong ways.” Tilting his head toward the door, he continued. “Tell Goodfellow if he gets you in trouble, he can look forward to a few more attempts on his life.”
“Come on, Cyrano,” I said lightly, “people get laid all the time. What could go wrong?”
More to the point…what could go right?
Not a goddamn thing.
The first stop was a penthouse apartment on the Upper West Side. Other than the door being painted black, it was an impressive place. Doorman. Soft, deep carpeting in the halls with subdued lighting. Very pricey. I looked around, feeling a little out of place. “You’re sure she won’t know I’m half Auphe?”
“If she does, she won’t mind,” Robin assured me.
“She’s quite open-minded, a wonderful species, totally without judgment. And they absolutely cannot breed with Auphe, or humans for that matter. In fact, they lay eggs, which requires fertilization at a much later date. She looks very human, though, so don’t pull a groin muscle worrying over that one. I know you’re new to the nonhuman dating scene.” He checked his watch. “Good. We’re right on time.” He knocked lightly on the door, then mentioned casually, “Oh, I nearly forgot. She may…may…try to eat you afterward, but it’s rare. Only if she finds you very, very charming, and with your personality I think we know what the odds are on that.”
On that note, I turned and headed back down the hall away from the door…at a slightly faster clip than when I’d approached it.
The next stop was Central Park and the lake. Goodfellow stood on the shore, careful of his champagne-scrubbed shoes. “Lyrlissa. She’s a limnade, a lake nymph. Once again, eggs, requiring the sperm of not one but two…well, that’s neither here nor there. You’re good to go.”
The moon had turned the water into ripples of silver against black, a spill of platinum chains against velvet. It looked beautiful. It also looked cold as hell. I crouched down and slid a finger into the water. “Huh. Is she coming out?”
“She’s a lake nymph, you uneducated child. They don’t do that.”
“Well, here’s something I don’t do,” I countered, irritated, “get it up in fifty-degree temperature water.”
“No?” Robin frowned.
“Jesus Christ, no! At least not and keep it there. I might be only half human, but the dick? That’s all human, okay? It has its limits.”
“As if you haven’t suffered enough.” He shook his head and squeezed my shoulder sympathetically.
“Perhaps it’s for the best. You would have to hold your breath for the duration, but I figured with your phenomenal lack of experience with the female of any species, you could manage to do that for the forty-five seconds that it would take for you to finish anyway.”
“You are such an ass.” I scowled.
“I do my utmost to live up to expectations.” He grinned, before turning away from the water. “All right. Third time’s the charm, which is apt, because that’s her name. Charm.”
“And she doesn’t live in freezing water or will try to eat me?” I asked suspiciously.
“The most she will do is plait flowers in your hair. She’s a leimakid, another kind of nymph. Meadow. Grass, trees, flowers.” We walked up the path until we hit the Great Lawn. “And reproductively speaking, she spores. However, practice safe sex. There have been cases of moss growing on the north side of the wood afterward, if you get my drift. And termites are not your friend either.”
“Thanks for making the experience so painless,” I growled.
He slapped my back. “Goodfellow Enterprises—we aim to please.” Then he drifted back into the trees. “I was never one much for monogamy,” his voice floated out, “but…it’s not too late to change your mind. If anyone is worth it, it would be Georgina.”
“Good-bye, Robin,” I said quietly. There was a deep silence and then I heard the rustle of leaves as he left, a courtesy—ordinarily he wouldn’t have made any sound.
Charm came to me. If she knew I was Auphe, she didn’t say. She didn’t say anything really. She sang words I didn’t understand and brought blankets woven of supple grass. She was nude and had what I suspected was green hair, although it was hard to tell for sure in the moonlight. Her hands were sure, her skin was soft, and she smelled like clover.
While I’d been doing other things, very interesting things, Niko had been thinking. I got the results of that the next morning as I yawned. I was not a morning person, to say the least. “The subway?” I finished applying the gun oil and reassembled the Desert Eagle at the kitchen table. I was done playing with that cannibal son of a bitch Beane. Big gun, explosive rounds, and one vengefully pissy attitude—if that didn’t take care of him, I might have to check out the going price on a rocket launcher.
“Miles and miles of tunnels, some of them even abandoned and unused, it’s as close to a cave as one can get. More and more, Sawney seems to be a creature of habit. But Ham may have narrowed down a location for us. He called last night while you were out becoming a man.” His lips twitched, but he went out without any more ragging on the subject. “He turned down our invitation to join us for any battles with Sawney, as expected, but he did have some information. Several of the homeless have disappeared. All of them have been the more ‘out-there’ ones. The schizophrenics, the mentally ill. And all of them had been using the Second Avenue Subway construction project for shelter.”
All the SAS construction and mess going on there—it made sense. Easy access to the lower abandoned levels for both the homeless and Sawney. Those poor bastards could’ve walked right into his cupboard.
What also made sense was him going after the ones who were a little off. “You know,” I said diffidently, “Sawney’s made it pretty clear he has a thing for the nuts. Madness seems to be a turn-on for him.” And I tasted just fine.
“I’ve heard what he said. You know it’s not true. And considering what you’ve been through in the past year, the fact that you’re not is a testament to just how strong you are.” He fixed me with a sharp glance. “Don’t make me emphasize that. My hand gets tired from swatting that hard head of yours.”
Niko was at the table opposite me doing a little cleaning of his own. I wasn’t the only one breaking out the big guns. He was rubbing a cloth across the metal of a double-bladed axe. It was a somewhat smaller version than seen in your average barbarian movie, but not by much.
“How the hell do you hope to walk the street with that?” I asked as I carefully slid the clip home. When an accidental discharge can take out a two-by-two chunk of the wall, it pays to put safety first. New York landlords are not especially understanding of homegrown ventilation systems.
“I’ve taken up the cello.” He hefted the axe and measured it with approving eyes. “And this should fit quite nicely in the case.” Laying it on the table, he began to wrap it in soft felt far more gently than was required. To me a gun was a gun, a hunk of expensive metal—nothing more. To Niko a weapon was an object of respect. “Musical aspirations cover a wide number of sharp-bladed sins,” he added with an undercurrent of dry humor.
“I’m all for seeing you sin away on that son of a bitch Sawney.” There was nothing quite like catapulting out of sleep with the absolute certainty there were teeth in your chest and hunks of your flesh being torn away to be eaten while you lay paralyzed. It really put a damper on the whole goddamn morning, let me tell you. “Promise coming with us again?”
“Yes.” He tied a cord around the felt with a simple slipknot. “I think she worries that two helpless creatures such as us need a bodyguard.” Normally, that would be a joke. I wasn’t so sure it was this time.
“And she feels a responsibility. It was she and her friend that drew us into this.”
“Responsible enough to take Robin in
“Believe it or not, very probably,” Niko allowed.
“However, Goodfellow seems extremely loath to give up his independence, even with his life at stake. He’s as stubborn as you.”
Okay, maybe he wasn’t done ragging on me after all about the previous night, but it was said with acceptance. Exasperated acceptance, but acceptance still. I’d made my decision, gone through with it, and Niko was going to stand behind me on it. The swat he delivered to the back of my head as he stood and circled the table didn’t change that. Gave it a helluva punctuation, though. “My hand’s not quite as tired as I thought,” he informed me.
I rubbed the area and scowled, “You can’t smack out stubborn.”
“Oh, I think you’d be very surprised what I can do when I put my mind to it. Promise will meet us here this evening and then…” He looked down at the swaddled axe and smiled. It was something Niko rarely did; he was usually more subtle in exhibiting his emotions—head-smacking aside. This smile, however, had its share. Anticipation, retribution, and an icy anger. Niko would walk out of here carrying a cello case, but it didn’t look like music was going to soothe his beast, not until Sawney was back where he belonged. Dead and in minute pieces. Not surprisingly, I didn’t have a problem with that. And the more old subway tunnels we ended up splashing through and the more rats we dodged, the less problem I had. Even if Sawney hadn’t killed the people in the park and warehouse, even if he hadn’t tried, fairly successfully, to turn me into dinner, I would’ve long lost any tolerance for him.
That night, as planned, we made our way into the tunnels through the SAS. The extension of the Q train to Second Avenue and Ninety-sixth Street was a great idea—and the city had been having that same idea for longer than I’d been alive. After all the false starts and financial disasters, there were enough half-built and abandoned tunnels to hide a hundred Sawneys.
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