Madhouse, p.4

Madhouse, page 4

 

Madhouse
 



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  I knocked the glass through the towel and muttered, “Rot in hell, you bastard.”

  After the shower, I slept for about five hours and then staggered up. Niko and I had already discussed what our next move was. Or, rather, who it was. And at noon we hit Robin’s place in Chelsea just as he was rolling out of bed.

  He answered the door wearing silk pajama bottoms, an untied matching silk robe, and a shitload of morning cranky. Blinking in sleepy ill humor over a steaming cup of coffee, he mumbled, “Who…what…” Giving up, he snared a hand in his tangled curls and took a drink. Green eyes clearing with the addition of life-giving caffeine, he managed to get out an entire sentence. “Why? Why are you wretched creatures here at this hour even Apollo himself would spit upon?”

  “We’re here to pick your brain.” I immediately flopped on his couch, an affair so massive that it could host an orgy. Hell, this was Robin we were talking about. Just go ahead, give the benefit of the doubt, and say it had hosted an orgy. “And by the way, Bob the doorman said the condo association shot down your idea of a condom machine on every floor.”

  “Puritan bastards,” he muttered. “Even I, on occasion, run out.” I wasn’t sure why he used them to begin with. He couldn’t get anyone pregnant. Pucks don’t reproduce that way. In fact, I didn’t know how they reproduced, and quite frankly, that was fine by me. As for the condom’s other use…I wouldn’t have thought Goodfellow would be too vulnerable to STDs…at least not the human kind. That train of thought led me to places my mind had no desire to go…vampire gonorrhea, glowing pixie herpes, who knew what the fuck else. As I hastily mentally kicked those thoughts to the curb, Robin closed the door behind Niko and waved a careless arm at the kitchen. “Coffee. Tea. There.” With that eloquent invitation, he collapsed on the couch next to me and immediately dozed off. Miraculously, the coffee cup remained firmly upright and balanced.

  I shook my head and flicked his earlobe. “Rise and shine, Sleeping Beauty.”

  “Talk about your worst lay ever,” he murmured, and then swatted at my hand, leaving me with fiercely stinging fingers. “And I’ve yet to hear why you are ruining a perfectly good morning of postcoital lazing about.”

  “Sawney Beane,” Niko announced as he leaned against the marble countertop that separated the kitchen from the living area. With arms folded, he ignored the burbling cappuccino machine and focused on Robin. “He may be back.”

  If we were expecting a big reaction, we were disappointed. Sighing, Goodfellow opened his eyelids to half-mast, grunted, and drank more coffee. “So,” I said, relieved, “not such a bad thing, huh? Totally overrated, right? No way the son of a bitch ate a thousand people.”

  “A thousand?” he snorted. “Hardly. Six hundred most likely. Seven hundred tops.”

  Ah, shit.

  I was about to drop my head in my hands when there was a rattle at the door—a very prolonged rattle. One that said “here I come” as clearly as if the person had shouted it through the door.

  “Ah, my housekeeper,” Robin said with amusement, rocketing to complete alertness in a heartbeat—the kind of alertness that seemed to spring straight from the son of a bitch’s crotch. “Seraglio is reluctant to be a spectator to some of my more exotic entertainments. She doesn’t seem to approve of nudity either, certainly not mine anyway.” He put the coffee mug on the slab of rock crystal masquerading as a table and stood. “Considering her name means harem, that’s rather curious, but to each her own. If one cannot appreciate the muse-inspired work of art that is my body…” He held his arms out to indicate the glory of it all. “Then I must respect their mental pathology and get on with my life.”

  He tied up his robe and flashed Seraglio a brilliant smile as she came through the door. It bounced off her impenetrable facade without effect. “You’re looking…professional as always, ma’am. Why, the very air sparkles with your unmatched efficiency.” He gave Niko and me a wink. “Seraglio has always made it very clear that compliments of a personal nature are not welcome and that she has four protective brothers who would be ecstatic to tutor me on the concept. So, as difficult as it is, I behave myself.”

  I could tell he thought it was a pity, though, as he watched her begin to work. With her flawless peach-colored skin, enormous ageless black eyes, and glossy dark hair that she wore piled high on her head, Seraglio was beautiful in all the ways there were to be beautiful. I would’ve guessed her to be thirty-five, but I could’ve been a decade off in either direction. She was also a little person, but not Goodfellow’s kind of little person. She was a human one, barely four feet tall—medically speaking, a person with dwarfism. And if she wasn’t proof positive that once in a while Mother Nature got something right, I didn’t know what was.

  “Why, are you looking at me, Mr. Fellows?” Her voice reminded me of orange blossom honey, Spanish moss, and the thorns of a wild blackberry bush. Georgia or somewhere down that way. We’d lived in a trailer park there once; I recognized the broad drawl and faded Rs. Her words drifted over her shoulder as she bent over to retrieve cleaning supplies from the bottom half of the pantry. Robin’s lips curved into a wicked grin as he watched her uniform pants pull taut over her rounded backside.

  “No, ma’am,” he lied gravely. “I would sooner pluck my own eyeballs out than show you such disrespect.”

  As I rolled mine, other skeptical ones pinned the puck. “Well, sir, if any assistance is needed in that area, you just let me know. I have ice tongs that would be just the thing,” she offered matter-of-factly before turning back to her task. “Now, run along, children. I have work to do.” A bejeweled hand flapped impatiently to hurry him and us on our way.

  So we went elsewhere for the whole seven-hundred-tops discussion. After dressing, Robin decided lunch would be a great forum for cannibal tales and picked the restaurant, because after one three-ninety-nine buffet, he would never let me choose again. This place seemed interesting, though, and I let the thought of a tasty twenty-five-cent eggroll go. The restaurant didn’t look too fancy from the outside, a few dingy windows and a faded striped awning, but the inside made up for it. The tables were old, dark wood with mosaic tile tops, and the chairs…they were just ugly as hell. With claw feet and worn velvet seats, they looked like props from Count Dracula’s castle. From the ceiling hung several non-matching chandeliers. Some were looping metal, some whimsical blown glass, and some looked like they’d been banged together by kindergartners with a lot of enthusiasm and absolutely no talent. Everything in the place did have one thing in common, though—it was all old. Antique, and I could see how Robin would like that.

  He ordered for us, some dish called Tavuk Gogsu, and then got down to business. “Turkish.” He waved off the waiter before Niko or I could even take a look at the menu. “It’s magnificent. Trust me. You’ll bring offerings to my altar in thanks. Now, what about dusty old Sawney? Oh, and by the way, he wasn’t a cannibal, as he wasn’t—”

  “Human. Yes, we’re now aware,” Niko interjected.

  “Promise’s acquaintance at the museum filled us in regarding that, at least that he wasn’t human. She didn’t say precisely what he was.”

  “A Redcap,” Robin said absently as he accepted a drink from the returning waiter. “Try this. Kahlua, soy, honey, very much like a mead I had in pre-Nero Rome. Quite tasty.”

  Niko and I exchanged looks of tolerant resignation, gave in, and drank. Robin operated on Goodfellow time and mere humans, or human-Auphe hybrids, couldn’t change that. After a polite swallow, Niko put his glass down. “Sawney’s a Redcap? I didn’t know they were that powerful. And why the human-style name?”

  My own swallow barely made it down and I pushed my glass away with a curled lip. Pre-Nero Rome could keep that crap. “What’s a Redcap? Some sort of goblin, right?”

  “A Scottish-English legend,” Niko elaborated.

  “They were said to murder travelers and then stain their caps with their victims’ blood, hence Redcap.”

  “And once again,
the folklore monkeys got it wrong. Caps stained with blood.” Robin gave a foamy snort into his drink. “Yes, how frightening. A capering evil wearing a hat. Maybe he wears suspenders and short pants as well. Will the terror never end?”

  “No caps, then?” Niko said mildly.

  “No.” He finished his glass and promptly reached for my discarded one. “They use the blood on their hair. They have this mess of twists and tangles, matted together with gore and stinking to high heaven. They’re unpleasant, filthy, nasty creatures, but only dangerous to the unwary or simply stupid. However…” He tapped my now empty glass against his and frowned. “Sawney Beane was quite a different thing altogether. Is a different thing, I guess, if what you say is true and he has come back. That’s quite the trick, and one I wasn’t aware he was capable of. I’m still doubtful.” Sighing, he leaned back and linked fingers across his stomach.

  “Besides, what he was capable of was more than enough to begin with. As for the human name, who knows? Familiarity? They deal with humans. Fool humans. Eat humans.” He shrugged.

  “Then the legend of Sawney Beane as we know it is mostly true?” Niko was flipping the serving knife from wrist to palm and back again. Lunch was no excuse to let a practicing opportunity pass by. “He and his incestuous clan robbed and murdered travelers during the fifteenth century. They dragged their victims back to their cave in Bannane Head, hung them from hooks, dismembered them, and ate them. You put the body count a few hundred lower, but do the basic facts hold true?”

  “Except for the incest.” Goodfellow beamed at the waiter who had chosen that particular moment to appear with our food. “They’re brothers,” he said to the server, shaking his head woefully. “I tell them that close is good, family is good, but don’t be so quick to limit your options.”

  I lashed out with my foot, but only succeeded in banging the shit out of my toes on his chair leg. Both Robin and Niko gave me a look of disappointment—Robin’s mock and Niko’s more genuine. “Later we spar in the park,” my brother ordered. “If we can find you a worthy opponent from the playground.”

  By that time the waiter had made his escape, the lucky bastard, and Robin continued. “Redcaps aren’t into incest. That was a typical human soap opera addition, because mass murder and cannibalism simply weren’t juicy enough.”

  I swirled a fork through the pale mound on my plate dubiously as he went on. “In reality, Redcaps don’t much care for one another’s company. Loathe each other. The male and the female even more so. Consequently, they have the quickest mating habits one could possibly imagine. In, out, handshake, see you next year—this is how much they hate one another. Which is what made Sawney so unique. He brought over forty Redcaps together. They killed together, dwelled together, and didn’t try to eat each other during it all…astounding.” He took another bite.

  “And what of the rest of the legend?” Niko asked, ignoring his food for the moment. “How they came to their end.”

  “Half true. In the original, the women and children were burned and the men bled to death after having their hands and feet chopped off. In reality there were no women or children. They were only male Redcaps and the humans burned them all. I heard that Sawney, as their leader, was given special attention and burned separately. If his remains were gathered and put in a cask, then I suppose that was true.” Unfazed by the subject matter, he continued to make his way through lunch with enthusiasm.

  “How the hell did a bunch of humans manage to capture and kill these guys?” I finally broke down and took a bite of the weird stuff in front of me. It looked and smelled like chicken pudding. That’s what it tasted like as well, but cinnamon sweet. It wasn’t half bad.

  “How did they manage?” He gave a little shrug.

  “They had an army. Literally. If you have some bizarre fascination with taking up with where they left off, you’re a few short.”

  “Even counting you?” Niko had gone back to playing with the knife. Palm to the back of the wrist, back of the wrist to palm. The waiters were watching the show from across the restaurant—some giving silent whistles in awe at the sight, some looking a little perturbed.

  “I’d advise you not to get ahead of yourself,” Robin said with a jaundiced air. “Is anyone offering to pay you to chase after what may end up only being a phantom? Anyone? Hello?” He cupped a hand to his ear. “What? No answer? Quel surprise.”

  “And if this is real? If Sawney is back…if he isn’t the phantom you hope, what do you advise then?” Niko countered, flipping the knife to tap the table lightly with its handle.

  Robin went back to working on his meal. “Perhaps he’ll be dieting. He is older now. Age wages hell on the waistline.” He looked up to see Niko’s patient eyes on him. “Oh, fine,” he grumbled. “I don’t have any further information on Sire Beane, but I have a friend who may—Wahanket. Well, friend is rather a strong term…an acquaintance. He tends to gather facts, has a desiccated finger in many a pie.” He added smugly, “I do know people.”

  “Yeah, you know people,” I commented sourly, remembering another of his informants, Abbagor, who’d tried to kill us…twice. “Too many goddamn people.”

  Wahanket, though, turned out to not be nearly as bad as Abbagor. Equally as freaky, but nowhere near as homicidal. And he lived in the museum we’d left only hours ago, which made him more likely than anyone to know about Sawney and his Great Escape.

  The Eight-sixth Street station was starting to seem awfully familiar. After exiting and walking over to Fifth Avenue, we were back where we’d started. The Met was packed when we walked in. There were drifting couples, hordes of tourists from every country imaginable, people wandering alone, and a school group of screaming rug rats from hell. They must’ve left their indoor voices on the bus; even the empty suits of armor looked pained as they thundered by. We kept moving past them as Goodfellow murmured something about the lost art of child sacrifices. In one wing, he stopped before a bust with blind marble eyes and the sneer of white stone lips. “Caligula, you dumb son of a bitch.” He shook his head. “I told him horses weren’t the monogamous kind, but did he listen? No, not for a second. Insanity, tyranny, and one screwed-up love life, that was Little Boots for you.” He sighed, “Threw some great parties, though.”

  Shrugging off the nostalgia, he led us to a corridor off the exhibit hall, and that in turn led to another corridor and a locked door marked AUTHORIZED PER SONNEL ONLY. Niko offered, “I’m sure Sangrida Odinsdóttir would be able to provide us with a key.”

  “Please. You insult me.” Robin slid a bright green glance back over his shoulder as he slipped a kit of small metal tools from his pocket. “Not that that can’t be arousing in certain situations.”

  Niko had left the restaurant knife behind and wasn’t practicing with any of his at the moment, but the shimmer of metal was embodied in the minute rise of his eyebrows all the same. “No fun,” Robin muttered and got back to the job at hand. “An entire absence of revelry whatsoever.”

  Within seconds we were on stairs and heading downward into the gloom. The steps ended in a rabbit warren of storerooms. “Wahanket or Hank as I like to call him used to be up top, mixing and mingling, so to speak, but eventually he was shuffled off down here with the other passé exhibits. I think he much prefers it here. Dark, cramped, musty…much more like home.”

  “Where the hell was home?” I turned sideways to move between a row of crates. “A gopher hole?”

  “Not quite.” Robin had produced a small flashlight and switched it on. Either the overheads didn’t work or his friend wasn’t into a lot of light. We moved along and entered an open area encircled by a Stone-henge of piled crates. There weren’t any signs of habitation, but that’s where he stopped, voice echoing in the empty area, “Hank? You up for a visit?” he called cheerfully.

  There was a long stretch of silence, and then a sibilant hiss, dry as dust and abrading as sand, came out of the darkness. “A long time, Peter Pan. It has been a long time, long time.”
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  “Get the guy a VCR and some Disney movies and this is the thanks I receive,” Goodfellow grunted.

  “I’ve brought friends, Hank. Let’s reduce my emasculation in front of them and call me Pan, shall we?”

  A brown figure materialized out of the dark into the dim white light of the flashlight. He seemed to be made entirely of sticklike bones and resin-hardened bandages. A gaping pit of a nose and empty eye sockets were all that could be seen of his face. He looked like the title villain from every bad mummy movie I’d watched when I was a little kid, come to life. But he wasn’t slow like they were. He wasn’t slow at all. He slipped in and out of the thick shadows, scorpion-quick and snake-silent. It was the cowboy hat, though, that was the crowning touch. I wondered if Sangrida knew about her squatter. Or knew that he was raiding the…

  “The lost and found, eh, Hank?” Robin settled on a crate and tilted his head. “It’s a good look for you. Very rugged.”

  Covetous fingers of nut-brown bone touched the brim of the cowboy hat. “It is a crown for a king.” There was a gaping grin of blackened stubs that revealed a leathery curl of tongue and the taut ligaments of a disintegrating jaw.

  The thing was it should have been funny, a mummy called Hank wearing a cowboy hat, but we were looking at what was basically a corpse made of jerky. Not beef, mind you, but human jerky. Not funny. You could’ve dressed him in drag and it still wouldn’t have been funny. Like roadkill dressed in a tutu. It was spooky and more than a little repulsive.

  “The closest you got to a king in ye olden dynasties was stealing their dusty mummified genitals to make your potions,” the puck scoffed before promptly contradicting himself. He was never one to let logic interfere with a good insult. “Niko, Cal, this is Hank…Wahanket. He’s a scholar, like they used to make them in the day when knowledge translated to power. He was the high priest of some cranky Egyptian god or another. He was also the teacher of a minor pharaoh or two. Or five or six. Maybe even ten or twelve. Only Hank knows for sure how many dynasties he pulled the strings on, and he’s not telling.” He clucked his tongue reprovingly at the stinginess of it. “I don’t believe he was ever human, although he’s not telling that either. But he’s the only walking, talking mummy I’ve come across in my lifetime. The human ones just tend to lie there like a bad date.”

 

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