Madhouse, page 14
Ishiah had moved from my back to beside me at the bar to say with quiet intensity, “Robin, you don’t want to tell this one.”
It was rather serious talk for what sounded like one of Goodfellow’s usual cock-and-bull stories—heavy on the cock, light on the truth. His glare expanding to include Ishiah, he ignored the warning and went on. “And this god, so very perfect in every damn way as he’d be the first to tell you, met a people. Warm, friendly, open-minded…always a plus…and too unbelievably stupid to possibly kn—”
“Enough!” Ishiah’s hand slammed down on the bar with a force that temporarily halted all conversation in the room. If he had actually been feeling some sort of satisfaction, it was gone now. His wings were visible as well and that wasn’t a good sign. “Caliban, take him out of here now. Do not let him near another drop of alcohol. And”—as he leaned in toward Robin, the scar at his jaw blanched bone white—“if this seems to be a problem for you, Puck, if you wish to be difficult, I’ll be happy to help your friend carry your shiftless, corrupt, and unconscious body out of here.”
The next few minutes proved to be a learning experience.
First: Bar fights are the same, human or otherwise. The enthusiasm is identical; only the level of violence changes. Second: Peris can fly. Really. Third: Peris, flying or grounded, have hellacious tempers. Four: Pucks don’t let anyone tell them what to do. Five: Even blind drunk, said pucks can kick some serious ass.
Before it was all over, there were chunks of fur, scales, feathers, and some things I didn’t recognize littering the floor. There were also pools of blood and splatters of vomit, all covered with the glitter of shattered glass in an unpleasant kaleidoscope that I had no intention of cleaning up. Finally, there were Ishiah and Danyeal. They were flinging drunken fighters through the door while hovering in midair with wings fiercely beating, and it was something to see: The biblical exit from Eden meets a caged death match. I pushed up, sat on the bar, drank half a beer, and enjoyed the show. Meanwhile, Goodfellow took on two wolves with a bar stool and a glass mug. One fur ball ended up choking on ground glass, while the other poor fuzzy bastard ended up impaled with a wooden stool leg. Both would live…werewolves were sturdy.
“I challenge you all.” One of the remaining legs of the stool was waved aloft, Excalibur in the hands of Arthur. After all, if anyone could’ve seduced it out of the Lady of the Lake, it would be Robin. “Every last one of you impotent, parasite-ridden, Yeti-toe-loving…yes, I said it. You suck their hairy toes. You suck them with enormous relish. Now come to me! Come to me, you…gama mou,” he abruptly cursed, and ducked.
I was taking another swallow rich in hops when I deciding ducking wasn’t such a bad idea. As I did, Danyeal came hurtling over my head. He hit the wall behind the bar wings-first and slid down. He twitched once, then lay frozen, copper head tilted to one side, but eyes still blinking slowly. The Amadán who’d done the throwing started toward the bar to finish the job. Amadán, some sort of faery if I remembered right, were nasty. They excreted a venom through their skin. One touch and you’d be paralyzed for at least an hour. It made hand-to-hand combat rather tricky, as Danyeal had been so helpful in demonstrating. Hand-to-hand combat always had been seriously overrated in my book. I pulled the Glock, pointed it between opaline almond eyes, and peeled my lips back in a welcoming grin. “Interesting fact. I get paid whether the customers are alive or not.”
With shining waves of silver and black hair, lithe figures, and ever-changing eyes, the Amadán were the supermodels of the unnatural world. Skinny, hungry as hell, and couldn’t buy a brain cell with a bucketful of credit cards. Fortunately for this one, he was capable of wrapping the empty space between his ears around the fact that a bullet bouncing about in the confines of his skull might be undesirable. He faded back into the seething mass of the crowd, everyone he touched skin to skin falling at his feet as he moved.
Goodfellow, who had fallen during his lunge to avoid Danny, was staggering back up and still looking to defend King and Country. “Come to me….” Then as Camelot fell, so did Robin. I caught him by the back of his shirt before he hit the floor. His head hung as slackly as that of the paralyzed Danyeal with his chin resting on his chest. He was out cold, but unconscious or not, he still kept talking. “I was a god,” came the barely decipherable murmur.
“I’m sure you were,” I snorted as I pulled him up and over the bar. Depositing him in relative safety beside Danyeal, I went to help Ishiah shut the place down. What was left of it.
Two hours later I was home, Goodfellow was on the couch, and I barely made it to bed. I paused only to touch the barrette on my dresser. A reminder…a promise to a dead little girl. Neither Nik nor I had ever gotten to be a normal kid with a normal life. Ours had been taken away before we even had one. This girl’s had been taken away too, and in a far more brutal fashion. I wasn’t going to forget that and I wasn’t going to forget her.
I stripped, fell into bed, and five seconds later was listening to Niko explain his plan. At least it seemed like five seconds—six, if you were generous. Definitely not the hours it had been. Blinking against harsh daylight, I felt the cool rub of the sheet against my face and rocked a little at the firm nudge to my shoulder. “Then we’re clear?” Niko said.
“What? Yeah. Clear,” I mumbled. “Crystal. Bye.”
“You’ve committed every word to memory?”
“Right next to ‘The Road Not Taken.’ Swear.” I rolled over and pulled the sheet over my head. I hadn’t heard Nik come in or the door shutting. It didn’t worry me. I hadn’t heard him precisely because he was Nik. The door would’ve been shut with complete silence, and I tuned out the sound of the key turning in the lock as only he, Promise, and Robin had a key. If I’d heard a different sound, the stealthy one of claws skittering against wood or the scrape of a metal pick against the lock, I’d have woken up instantly. I wouldn’t have answered that door alone either. I slept with a knife under my pillow, a gun under the mattress, and a sword under the bed. If I could have litter-box-trained an alligator, I would’ve had one of those under there as well.
But since my subconscious did know it was Niko—here we were. I’d slept through the plan and was attempting to sleep through the post-game. I knew better, but hope and laziness spring eternal.
“Good. Then I’ll leave the recruiting the boggle up to you.”
That woke me the hell up. A bucket of ice water and a shot of adrenaline couldn’t have done it any faster. I rolled back and propelled up to a sitting position. “No,” I refused as quickly as I could snap the word out. “We agreed. No more boggles.”
“Did we?” He had showered at Promise’s. Damp blond hair, closely shaved face—the goatee of several months prior had disappeared not too long ago. There was the smell of a different shampoo, but the scent of the soap was the same as what we had in our bathroom. Some sort of all-natural herbal, goat-milk concoction without the faintest tinge of artificial chemicals. I didn’t know where he got it. I just used it and went on with my life. Promise obviously did know which store sold it or Nik had started taking stuff over with him. Either way…
I gave him a crooked grin. “You’re nesting, Cyrano. That’s cute as hell.” The desire to yank his chain faded as quickly as it had come. “And, yeah, we did agree. No more goddamn boggles.” I’d once hired werewolves to kill George when I was “under the influence” so to speak. And I’d done the same to Niko and Robin, under the same influence, using a boggle instead. Nine feet of scales, mud, and killing fury, a boggle didn’t have to be pushed very hard to do what was already natural instinct. That I’d personally known that particular boggle had only made it easier.
“It wasn’t you,” my brother said, knowing the twisted lane my memories had traveled down, “and this boggle won’t be that one.”
“Why are we talking about boggles anyway? Shit.” I swung my legs to the floor and rested my head in my hands. “What was that plan again?”
As plans went, it was simple
Boggles, for one, were suckers for jewelry. Gold, silver, precious or semiprecious, as long as it was bright and shiny, they coveted it. It was rather amusing to see a huge hulking figure caressing chunky gold chains that would barely fit around one of his enormous fingers. Good for a chuckle, right up until you remembered where the jewelry came from: people.
“Since when do we depend on anyone but ourselves?” I looked up. “And what are we going to pay? We going to hock your tofu collection?”
“Since doing it alone could take us months or get us killed. As for financial incentive, Promise says she has far more jewelry than she could wear in two lifetimes. Vampire lifetimes,” he added with a quirked eyebrow.
A boggle would definitely demand a good chunk of Promise’s collection. Seemed fair. She had gotten us involved in this bit of community service. Once it was determined Sawney was out of the museum, Sangrida hadn’t seemed to consider it her problem any longer. She’d washed her Valkyrie hands and turned her attention to cleaning up her sirrushs-plattered basement. And Promise couldn’t justify anything to the rest of the human board of directors other than the “reward” money for information, and the reward money wasn’t really enough to make it worth our while following Sawney’s slaughter from beginning to end. Yet here we were.
Back in the old days when we were on the run, we’d been right along with Sangrida—not our responsibility, not our problem.
When had that changed?
“We can also enlist a few wolves. We’re not popular with the Kin, but not all werewolves are Kin.”
True—though the better fighters tended to be. “Okay, wolves are fine. Wolves, I get.” I hadn’t had the opportunity to avoid wolves in the past year like I had boggles. Wolves were everywhere. Let a problem with them get to you and you wouldn’t be able to leave the apartment. “But there’s probably only one boggle in the park.” They were tremendously territorial. Central Park would only be big enough for two, and Niko and Robin had already killed the one we knew of. “Just one isn’t worth the trouble.” It was a lie. One boggle alone could take out his weight in revenants.
“It’s worth the trouble,” Nik corrected with patience, but as his patience tended to be of the ironclad variety, it didn’t do me much good.
I tightened my lips. The boggle had nothing to do with the revenants. We could hire double the wolves, hsigos, or whoever else we came across. No, this was about me. I was getting over Darkling and it was time to do the same with boggles. “Jesus, fine,” I surrendered with ill temper. “I’ll deliver the invitation. Happy?”
“Actually smug would be more precise. Now”—he tossed me a shirt from my bureau—“there is a pool of puck vomit on the living room floor. Enjoy.”
I did not.
I neither enjoyed it nor cleaned it up. I slapped a scrub brush in the slack hand of a bleary-eyed, swearing, and painfully sober Goodfellow before showering, and taking off into the late-morning sun. It was an unusually warm day for November and I would’ve been able to get by with only a T-shirt as long as I didn’t mind my holster showing. I minded, and I thought New York’s finest probably would as well. I ended up wearing the lightweight weathered denim jacket that I wore in the summer for the same purpose. As for Niko, as accessories went, I wasn’t sure if he counted as summer or fall. I wasn’t the type of guy into lugging around extra crap unless it was a weapon, although Nik definitely did fall into that category. “I’m trying to think of you as a backpack or a little dog in a ninja outfit,” I said finally, “but it’s not working. I thought I was supposed to do this myself. Tough love and all that shit.”
“Cal,” he responded with vast tolerance for my idiocy, “it is a boggle.”
“Je-sus,” I growled. Threading through the crowded sidewalk, I planted a rib-cracking elbow into the ribs of a well-dressed pale man with a satchel, a Rolex, and hungrily twitching fingers who was following with voracious intent an oblivious thirteen-year-old girl. He stumbled, snarled, and faded back. He could’ve been human; he could’ve been something else. Sometimes you can’t tell the monsters from the maniacs, and sometimes there’s no difference at all.
Boggles came down on the monster side. They weren’t smart, but they weren’t stupid. They were driven by logical needs: greed and hunger. You could reason with a boggle…as long as you were on equal footing. We’d laid that groundwork with our boggle, although in the end it hadn’t worked out too well for either party, but this other boggle—he was new territory. Friend, foe, or food, we’d have to prove it all over again.
We took the 6 train uptown from Astor Place, got off near the park, and walked east, enjoying the sun. In the park, free of the city’s crush of humanity during the week, I’d be able to smell the boggle out. It might take a while and more exercise than I cared to invest, but I could do it. That was the easy part. After that, it was hard to say what would happen. An invitation to party with revenants in a subway tunnel, that wasn’t necessarily a universal passion, whether you got paid for it or not. Boggles were homebodies as well. But if baubles were what got you through the day, Promise could offer far more variety than the boggle was likely to get from random victims.
I could see it going either way—if, and this was a big if—he wasn’t pissed about what had happened to his fellow mud-dweller. It’s one thing to be territorial; it’s another for the only other member of your species in three hundred square miles to end up dead. Very thoroughly dead. If I were a boggle, I knew I’d be wondering how long it would be until whoever had done that came after me. He was about to get his answer, just not in the way he probably would’ve guessed.
“You think boggles have names?” I stepped off the path into a wide grassy area and shaded my eyes from the sun. We’d called ours Boggle and he’d never offered up anything else. It wasn’t surprising. Snitches don’t love their cops, and Bog had certainly never loved us. We hadn’t exactly loved him either, but I’d…hell, gotten used to him, I guess.
“I imagine they do. I doubt they call themselves Boggle One and Boggle Two as in the highest level of literature you care to pick up.” Niko still hung back in the trees, his black on gray blending in with the shadows.
“You were the one who homeschooled me, Cyrano. If I’m afraid of big words, you have no one to blame but yourself.” I inhaled deeply and after an hour of roaming the park I finally caught a whiff. Mud and boggle. “Got him.”
I’d long passed Charm’s particular meadow. It was impossible to distinguish her scent from that of yellowing grass and the dried remnants of clover warming under the sun, and I hadn’t seen or heard her as we’d gone by. I took it as a sign. As with Ishiah’s opinion of the pucks, it was neither good nor bad. It was what it was. The bittersweet regret had nothing to do with her; that all belonged to me. I knew I had fucked up, but I’d meant to. Aimed to. Amazing how for the best reason, you do the worst thing. And George was my reason, in more ways than one.
I pulled the sunglasses out of my pocket and slipped them on. “Past the far end.” There were more trees there. Through those would be a small area, about twenty-five by twenty-five. Big enough for a wallow, but hidden by the trees—that’s how boggles liked it. “Maybe Ham would help us out with Sawney. I don’t know if he’s a fighter, but we could ask. If you trust him around Promise,” I added with a grin.
“You know I trust Promise.” I did trust her too, at least when it came to Niko. She’d do anything for him, and I meant it. Anything, and God help you if you got in her way. “There’s not much she wouldn’t do to save your neck. But she doesn’t
“That would be Promise’s business, and, as we’ve seen, she is very good at business. If Ham ignored her threat…” A millimeter slice of white teeth flashed, then disappeared. “I only hope I’m there to see the end result.”
“Yeah. I’d buy that ticket.” But his feeling for the homeless or not, I doubted Ham would go down in the tunnels with us. He’d met us once. No way was he that invested in our problem.
Just as we went beyond the next line of trees, we came across a whole mess of them. Or it might’ve been more accurate to say a litter of them—boglets…seven of them, sunning themselves around the edge of the muddy water. They were mud-encrusted creatures the size of a full-grown bull alligator, minus the tail. With lazy yellow eyes, flickering tongues, and claws stained with old blood—they were predatory toddlers in a wide-open playpen. “Great,” I muttered as over a half dozen sharklike heads turned toward us with a curiosity that was becoming more and more avid by the second. “Where’s she going to get a babysitter?”
The more important question—the truly pertinent one—would be whether the boggle we’d killed had been their father. I couldn’t recall any information on boggle mating habits off the top of my head. Did they have two sexes? One? Seven? I didn’t know. If they went with the usual two, I already knew this female didn’t have much of a dating pool to choose from. As odds went for our boggle being her boggle…shit.
“About boggle birds and bees…,” I said, moving a casual hand toward my holster. “Care to do a little informing?”
“Boggles mate for life.”
It didn’t get more informative than that.
As avid curiosity began to change to avid hunger, the boggle offspring began to shift. The slit pupils of their eyes dilated as they rose to muscular crouches. And as they moved, so did the muck on the edges of the water. The surface quivered, then abruptly exploded upward.
She was big. Easily the nine-foot standard, the same flat head and backward curving rows of teeth that I remembered from Boggle. If there was a difference in superficial appearance between the male and female, I couldn’t see it. Classic brown dappled scales glinted here and there through the coating mire, and the claws were identical as well. Over a foot long and the black of volcanic glass, they could cut a tree in half with one swipe, and if they could do that to solid wood, it didn’t take much imagination to picture what they could do to less sturdy flesh.
by Rob Thurman / Science Fiction & Fantasy / Mystery & Thrillers / Horror have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes