Madhouse, page 7
“Ah, he wanted to be Promise’s special friend, eh?” Robin said gleefully. “Tell me more. Did Niko actually emote? Did righteous jealousy cause a slight twitch of one eyebrow? I cannot wait to…skata.” His face grayed as Seraglio efficiently ripped the bandage from his upper arm. The revealed puncture was knitting but still puffy and reddened. It looked painful as hell.
“I’m no nurse, Mr. Fellows,” the housekeeper said as she swabbed the wound with a mixture of half peroxide, half sterile water. “And I never claimed to be, now, did I? But it’s either me or this tale-carrying young man.”
“Sorry, ma’am,” I drawled. “Healing’s not exactly where my talents lie.”
“Ma’am, is it? Don’t you have the sugary tongue.” She applied an antibacterial ointment with a slightly gentler touch than the one used to remove the bandage. “At least your mother taught you proper manners.”
No, but my brother had. I waited until she finished up dressing all the wounds, helped clean up the leftover supplies, and then closed the bedroom door behind her. “She makes me feel like a kid.” Which in a way was rather nice. It was a feeling I hadn’t had too often in my life.
“She does have the essence of the Earth Mother about her.” There was a weary quality to the satyr quirk of his lips. “Soft hands, sharp tongue, and breasts like sun-warmed velvet.”
“Like you’ll ever know.” I grinned. “You’ve finally found the one woman who’s too much for you.” I watched as he slowly pulled the pajama leg down to cover the last bandage applied. I was torn between mocking his choice of sleepwear and asking a question. I went with the question. “Why are you lying around in bed anyway? Why aren’t you at work stealing some poor guy’s last dime?”
“I like being waited on hand and foot. It is only my due.” He pulled the covers back up to his waist and leaned back against the pillows.
That was true enough…as far as it went. But with his face still the color of clay, there was obviously further to go on the subject. “Niko said it wasn’t that bad,” I said, oddly irritated, although I wasn’t sure if it was at my brother for not being right or at Robin for proving him wrong. Not that I was worried.
I shot a brief look at the door and escape…escape from concern and emotional entanglement. Applying these things to others outside of Niko was still new and scary as hell to me. I didn’t know if I even knew how to do it.
But, in the end, that was nothing but piss-poor cowardice. Goodfellow, who’d saved my life at least twice, deserved better. I looked away from the door, shoved hands in jean pockets, and scowled. “Something’s wrong. Tell me.” And quick before I bolted.
“It’s nothing.” He closed his eyes and laced his fingers across the mound of covers.
“If it’s nothing, then tell me, goddamn it,” I demanded, “before I kick your horny ass.”
He cracked an eye. “Can you feel my waves of unadulterated terror from there? I’m doing my best to suppress them, but I fear I’m wholly unsuccessful.”
“Fine.” I gave him the finger and headed for the door, making my escape. “Screw you.”
He sighed and untangled his hands to push up to a more upright position. “Wait.”
I already had one hand on the doorknob, brass and cold, and I could’ve kept going. An object in motion tends to remain in motion. It’s physics, that’s all. It can’t be cowardice or the easy way out if it’s physics, right? I let myself believe that for several seconds before I dropped my hand to my side and turned, exhaling, “Damn it.”
“I do have that effect on many, many people. And I’m not used to any of them wasting worry on me. I’ve not built up a habit of gracious acceptance.” He gave a tired grin. “Although in all other aspects of etiquette, I am without parallel. The Don Juan of decorum.”
“Yeah, right, and I’m not worried. Just…gathering all the facts,” I said with obstinate wariness.
“Now give them to me already.”
He did. It was poison. The sirrush was venomous with toxic claws and fangs. It could be fatal, but pucks were extremely resistant to poison, so for Robin it was only painful and slowed recovery by a few days. Now, there were some nice mutated super-genes for you. What’d I get? Super-smelling. No wonder I didn’t have my own comic book.
“And it’s a rare excuse to have Seraglio mother me and to catch a glimpse down her polyester shirt at the Promised Land. That’s worth a little pain.” He reached for a half-empty glass of wine on the nightstand and added smugly, “I told her I was injured saving a nun from being mugged. There were orphans involved as well. I’m quite the hero.”
“I’ll bet.” Seraglio was far too sharp to swallow that, I knew, but it was possible she had a soft spot for her employer. “You’re okay, then? A few days in bed and you’ll be annoying the hell out of us as usual?” The relief was sharp. This whole having a friend thing, damn, it was work.
“It’s my calling in life, and, yes, I will.” After draining the glass, he rolled it between his hands.
“Now that you’re done not worrying, shall we hug? Isn’t that what one does in emotionally fraught situations as this? I’ll keep my hands above the belt. I am still mooning after your brother after all. Blonds, they always break my heart.”
He seemed ridiculously pleased with himself, grinning despite the lines of pain creasing his forehead. I strongly considered grabbing handfuls of sheet and blanket and yanking his ass onto the floor, but that was before I figured it out. Robin had said it himself: He wasn’t used to people worrying about him. Concern—I wasn’t in the habit of giving it and he wasn’t accustomed to receiving it. He wanted to be, though. That was plain to see in the grin, the humor-lightened eyes, and the quirk of eyebrows under wildly curly bed hair.
“I’m not hugging you. So shut up. Jesus.” But I did stay and filled him in about Ham and how he was going to investigate the homeless situation for us. Naturally, it wasn’t the homeless theory that he concentrated on.
“A musician,” he said with interest. “Wild and willing groupies, how can one go wrong?”
“About that…” I was sprawled in a chair by the window. “Remember what we talked about before George was taken?” It seemed forever and it seemed like only yesterday. And wasn’t that a trick? “About me not passing on the family name?”
The Auphe might not have a family name—I’d never bothered to ask—but they did have genes. They’d given them to me, but that’s where it stopped. I wasn’t taking a chance of making any more like me…or worse than me. And worse than me was definitely a possibility. It was one reason George and I weren’t for each other. Robin had given me the usual options—rubbers, the big snip—but I didn’t have the faith in them that I had in the Auphe will to be born.
“I remember.” He leaned toward me. “Don’t tell me. You’re finally casting aside celibacy and embracing the nasty, oily arts. Thank the Minotaur’s massive member. It’s about thrice-damned time.”
Facing down a sirrush was nothing compared to the level of predatory attention now aimed my way. “Hold up. I don’t want orgies or sadomasochistic role-playing weirdness,” I said cautiously. “I just want to get laid, pure and simple. Being half Auphe doesn’t mean I want to spend my whole life not getting any.” No one with a dick, working or not, wanted that. And I was twenty. You could make little blue pills out of what was running through me. I wanted George more than I’d ever wanted anyone, but I couldn’t have her. Maybe, though, I could have someone else, even if they meant so much less. And if anyone knew someone it would be impossible for a human-Auphe hybrid to reproduce with, it would be Goodfellow.
Robin nodded and laced fingers to crack his knuckles in preparation—the mental kind, I fervently hoped. “Actually, I’ve been contemplating your horrifying, nay, catastrophic situation for a while now and I’ll be happy to—”
I interrupted hastily, “Yeah, thanks, but no, thanks.”
He snorted, “You should be so privileged. No, you braying ass. As
I answered the unspoken question. “I’ll stay in the Auphe closet if I have to.” Some would know and some wouldn’t, he’d said. The ones that did know wouldn’t fuck me on a bet. The ones that didn’t know were my only chance, and if I were stubborn about hiding what I was, Robin would have a real challenge ahead of him. Stubborn and stupid, I knew the difference between the two.
“Then take your vitamins and get ready, Forrest Hump,” he ordered, cheer reignited. “You’re in for a wild ride.”
I wasn’t thinking about that wild ride when I left. Okay, that was a lie and a half. I was thinking about it all right, but I was thinking about something else too. I was thinking about how the sirrush came out of nowhere, and what if pucks weren’t resistant to poison? I was also thinking about all the times things could’ve gone very differently for Niko and me. The close calls, the near misses…we were good but we’d had them. And how one day a near miss might not be a miss at all. Niko was one of the best out there, and I was good enough. But I thought about the revenants. The best, the good enough, someday that wasn’t going to get it. Get thirty or so really pissed-off revenants or fifteen wolves or just one nearly undefeatable troll, get cornered by that, get boxed in and that very well could be all she wrote.
Unless we had an emergency exit, a way out.
And we did have it. If my Auphe ability saved Niko or Robin, if it could save us all, I didn’t care about headaches or if I bled like a stuck pig. It was worth it, and if Niko was right and my brain did go down for the count, hell, it was still worth it.
Robin’s stairwell was empty. Not surprising. It was daytime; most were at work. I took advantage of it, and sat on the landing off Robin’s floor and let the door close behind me. When I’d built the gate around Robin and me to escape the sirrush, I’d done it in a mixture of effort and instinct. I didn’t have a monster charging me now, so I was going to have to depend on effort. Every gate I’d ever seen or built had been big enough to walk through. But maybe if I started small there’d be fewer nasty side effects.
I held out a hand, tried not to think about the pain from last time, and focused. It came, a little slowly, but it came. It was small like I’d concentrated on—the size of an orange. Gunmetal gray, the light of it was a sluggish whirlpool—spinning as if it wanted to suck you in. It was an ugly thing. Ugly and repulsive. And it lived in me. Hard to come to terms with that, but I was going to have to.
Gateways had to lead somewhere, so this one went to the tiny closet in my room. No one would see it there. Not Nik, who would be highly unhappy about my breaking my word…even if I’d never meant to keep it in the first place.
I felt the touch of liquid warmth on my upper lip, but the headache that began to throb was bearable. So, okay, the bigger the gate, the worse the side effects. Maybe easing up to a size we could get through would help. A slow and steady progress.
And think what I could do with it besides escape. I could do what I’d done to Hob, the puck kidnapper who’d taken Niko and George. I could build one between us and our attackers and let them rush into the Auphe home away from home. Tumulus. Hell. They’d be ripped to shreds there. Turned to a pile of blood and guts and I imagined they’d live for a while as it happened. Strangled with their own intestines. The Auphe did like to play with their food. Why not get them to do the dirty work? Why not let them murder and maim? Why not let them mutilate…
I blinked and let the gate go. Now, where the hell had that come from? If you were attacked, if someone wanted you dead, you did what you had to do. But maim? Mutilate? I wouldn’t do that. Wouldn’t send someone to that god-awful fate. That wasn’t me.
Never mind that I’d done it to Hob. That was different. He’d defeated Niko and hung him up like an animal to be slaughtered. He had George tied up across the room. I couldn’t get to them both to get us out of there, and Hob would’ve defeated me. Was defeating me, slicing me to ribbons. Niko, one of the best. Me slightly less. I’d had no choice. But to do that when I did have a choice…no.
I felt the blood drip down my chin, catching it at the last minute with a wad full of paper towels I’d shoved in my pocket before I left Robin’s place. I’d known then what I’d planned to do. I mopped up the blood and held the stained towels to my nose until the bleeding stopped. With the paper saturated, I pulled off my jacket and carefully scrubbed my lower face with my sleeve. It was black; any leftover blood wouldn’t show, which in turn would keep me from a Niko ass-kicking of righteous proportions.
Half of me thought I deserved it. Half of me knew I was doing what I had to. All of me thought the same thing over and over.
That wasn’t me.
While Robin recuperated, plotting and planning things for me that would make Hugh Hefner cry for his mommy, I ended up in an abandoned warehouse. I’ll say it again…. It sounded trite, and, hell, it was, but one phone call from Promise had sent Niko and me to one. According to any mystery or cop show, these rat-infested, echoing places are a dime a dozen. They’re not, but you can find one if you put your mind to it. Sawney had. How did I know?
Chains and bloody bones.
Like wind chimes, they hung high from the rafters. But no wind would make them sing. The skeletons were held together with ligaments and thin stretches of overlooked flesh, just enough meat to keep them intact. Either Sawney had planned it that way or he hadn’t been as hungry as he’d thought. And they weren’t bodies of the homeless. He wasn’t being careful. Not yet. He was still enjoying himself way too goddamn much.
I looked up to see a stained bike that hung beside a small skeleton. There was a silver sparkle banana seat, a basket blooming with bright plastic flowers, and shiny brown hair tied around the handles like streamers.
That had had nothing to do with hunger. That was evil, pure and simple.
“How did Promise know this was here?” I dropped my eyes to the floor and the large dried patches of brown on it. It had been hours at the very least, this morning or last night. Three sets of remains, two adults and one child. A family…a bike. It had probably been the previous evening. A mom and dad taking their little girl for a bike ride in one of the parks. Katie, Sarah, Maddie…Katie. Yeah, Katie, a tomboy with freckles and brown hair in a long ponytail.
“A friend of a friend.” Niko had knelt to touch a light finger to the largest pool of dried blood as I wrenched my thoughts back to the here and now.
“A relative of a friend rather. Flay’s sister told her.”
Flay was a werewolf acquaintance of ours. Once an enemy, he was now…hell, I had no idea what he was now. Not an enemy, but not precisely a friend either. He was long gone from New York anyway, so it didn’t much matter what label you slapped on him. He was on the run from the Kin, the werewolf version of the Mafia. If he showed his furry ass in the city again, he was dead—the kind of dead that would have the human La Cosa Nostra sitting up in admiration and taking notes like a dedicated college freshman.
“Flay has a sister?” I drifted away as I began to look for more bodies. Sawney might not have hung them all up. He might’ve gotten tired of playing his festive little games. “A scary proposition.” Flay was many things—unbelievably strong, murderously quick, a talented fighter—but he was one homely son of a bitch. No, that wasn’t true. He wasn’t ugly, but he was unusual, damn unusual. Exotically strange enough to draw anyone’s eye.
“Do not judge.” Gray eyes mocked. “We cannot all be the vision you are.” He stood. “They’ve been dead awhile, that is clear. What isn’t as clear is where they came from.”
The warehouse was near the piers. It wasn’t the most likely pl
“Promise put out the word in the community with Sangrida putting up some of the museum’s money as a reward for information. They can’t justify a fee for tracking down a supernatural serial killer of course, but can offer rewards for the damage done to the exhibit. Creative accounting.” Nik kept scanning the area. “Some wolves stumbled across the bodies a few hours ago. Kin wolves. This is a Kin warehouse, although they only use it off and on. Delilah is Kin in good standing, unlike her brother. Once she heard what had been found, she contacted Promise. As to why?” He headed toward the other side of the interior. “Money, and we did save her nephew’s life or did you forget?”
Not likely. I still had the little fuzz-butt’s bite marks scarring my calf to remember him by. It did surprise me that this Delilah would be grateful enough to act on it, but there was the money. The Kin did love their money. It was still risky for her, though. We weren’t loved by the Kin any more than Flay was, but while Nik and I were considered enemies of the Kin, we didn’t hold the special place in their vengeful hearts that Flay did. Flay had betrayed his Alpha to outsiders. If there were a worse crime to a wolf, I didn’t know what it was.
“Kin will be back to clean up the area soon enough, so we need to be quick.” The Kin didn’t like their territory violated or conspicuous. And it didn’t get much more conspicuous than bodies hanging from the ceiling. Niko had moved out of sight behind a far tower of crates, and seconds later he rapped out my name, “Cal.”