Chapter 27: Martha (II)
Copyright © 2013 by Brian Bixby.
I wake up on the cement floor. I’m hungry, but only tolerably so. I sit up, and there is Ivy, watching me. I realize that I hadn’t set my usual protective spells before sleeping, I had been so stupid. But she didn’t kill me. Looks like we have a working agreement of sorts.
Time to find out the details. “Thanks for not killing me while I slept.”
She doesn’t smile. “You’re useless to me dead.”
“Yeah, well, great. I’m here, I’ve started working on these two. What else do you want, Ivy McIlwraith? What were you going to bind me to do?”
She gives me a level look, chews on her lip a bit, then answers, “Shylock wanted to see his former colleagues reinstated as policemen. I was going to bind you to do that.”
I almost break out laughing. “That? Cripes, Ivy, they’re my children. I’m already giving Ned O’Donnell all the help he asks for. Sure, I’ll help them. I already am.” I can’t help myself and break out laughing.
Ivy is not amused. She says to me, “Do you understand what’s going on? Edward Cross is the supreme sorcerer for the Midwest. He thinks you’re part of some conspiracy against him. Until that’s resolved, your children will never get reinstated.”
I stop laughing. “Wha . . . what?” That makes no sense. Or maybe I’m still not right in the head. I need to get away for a bit, rattle my head to see if it’s on properly. Speaking quickly, I say, “Listen, Ivy, I need to go out and get some blood. Nice trick you pulled today for me with the blood and all, but I need to sink my teeth into someone. We’ll talk about this when I get back.” I don’t wait for her reply, but head toward the stairs. She doesn’t try to stop me.
Another damn mystery. I get out of the library, track down prey, and then almost kill him without thinking, I was enjoying drinking his blood so much. I’m usually so careful. The first time I try to do serious magic since London, and it wipes me out, which it shouldn’t. I almost drink a prey dry before catching myself, something else that shouldn’t happen. What the hell is happening to me?
I need someplace safe to think. My home coffin is back in Madison, that’s out. There are some others I have scattered here in Chicago, but I haven’t seen them in a few months, so they’re not safe, for now. And I can’t transform into a bat and perch somewhere high. I’m carrying weapons, and I so do not want to lose them. Particularly not my sorcerer’s wand, not with a ghost sorceress mucking in my affairs.
I end up with another prey in a nearby bar, one I used when I was stalking a cop named Naylor last winter. It’s one of those dimly lit places where I could sink my teeth into half the patrons without anyone even noticing. We get a booth, and my prey orders drinks for the two of us. My prey does the drinking for us both while I sit and think. I want to have my head on straight before I talk with Ivy again. Considering I don’t know what’s going wrong with me, and I’m back in this city of the damned, I don’t know if I’ll ever have my head on straight, but I’ve got to try.
First, Ivy seems to have got my history from Love. If she’s got London, she knows about Jacques, too. Which means she can raise the entire North American Council against me, and toss in the European one as well as soon as they find out. I’m going to have to stay on good terms with her until I can figure out how to destroy her.
Second, I need to talk with Love. I don’t know what Ivy’s done to her. At the very least, she needs to be warned about tackling sadists, and told about what happened to Jenny, if she doesn’t already know.
Third, I’m conspiring against Cross? That’s nuts. I’m not, and he doesn’t even know who I am. Where the hell is Ivy getting that idea? Well, stupid, if you’d stuck around and asked, you might have found out. She must have got it from Kammen, or from Ned. Ned I can check out. In fact, I’m going to have to. But Kammen . . .?
I go over what happened in that basement earlier today, and I get a headache thinking about it. I was really getting off, thinking about what Kammen did to Jenny. No, I was getting off thinking about how I could have done an even more sadistic a job. Holy shit!
But you put Jenny back together, Martha. That counts for something. Makes you better than Kammen. No, stop kidding yourself. Kammen in his current mental state would destroy himself if he could reverse what he did to Jenny. Ivy did a good piece of work on him. He’s a civilized sadist, emphasis on civilized. If Love hadn’t screwed him up, he’d never have done that. Whereas you . . . screw that, I haven’t, not in eighty years.
This is getting me nowhere. I need to ask Ivy what she knows about this supposed conspiracy. Ivy better have one hell of a story to go with that idea, or to hell with it
I disengage from my prey, go back to the library. Ivy has a story, all right. She tells me about what Scratch told Ned, what happened with Sally Truax, what Kammen learned from his sister. It all makes a certain amount of sense. But it’s still based on circumstantial evidence. I need to check out whether Cross really is as paranoid as Ivy makes him out to be.
First, though, I need to talk to Ned and Love. Love turns out to be at this evening’s demonstration by one of the radical groups. After almost getting her brains dashed out last night, she promised to stay away from any fighting if I wasn’t around. And since it’s supposed to be one of the less violent groups running things, I guess she’ll be all right. So, instead, I track down Ned’s makeshift headquarters and go right in. My children are surprised to see me, but point me the way to the room Ned is in.
I step inside, close the door behind me. Three cops there. Ned himself behind his desk. To the left, Walter Zalensky, the highest ranking cop I took down; hard to forget him. To the right, Andrew Hagopian, ex-good cop who was shuffled all over the city because he was also an ex-concealed homosexual.
Take the initiative. Yell. “What the hell is this about a sorcerers’ war that you people may be involved in? I can’t believe you never told me about this, Ned.”
Hagopian is taken aback. Zalensky watches me with half-closed eyes. Ned is surprised, but swallows that. In harsh, level tones, he replies, “You are not supposed to be in Chicago, Mother. And this is an official meeting. You’ll wait outside until we’re finished and then you’ll explain what you’re doing here.”
Hmph. Ned’s actually grown some balls. I was hoping he would. But I don’t have time for this right now. “Or what, you’ll arrest me?”
Ned looks at the other two, comes back to me. “In a word, Mother, yes. Not just for your own good, but because you’re a threat to public safety, and we’re cops.” He stands up. The other two also stand up.
Cops! Why did I ever bite into cops? These are all my children, yet get them together to play cop again, and they close ranks against me, against me! I should have thought of that when Ned said he wanted to be a cop again. But, hey, I could take out these three in seconds. I catch myself imagining it, shut that line of thought down. They are serious. I’m either going to have to take them out, or back down. Taking them out does me no good. Besides, I still like Ned, even owe him for his role in helping get me out of Chicago . . . which I’m now in again. So I back down, turn, head toward the door.
I’m just about to open it when Zalensky speaks. “What’s happened to Sherlock Kammen?”
I turn, look at him. It’s his usual stolid face. What do I tell him? If I tell him the truth, they’ll never want Kammen back. Instead, I tell him, “He had an accident.”
Zalensky frowns. “He was trying to find you, Martha. Did you kill him?”
Ned, I’m gratified to see, looks distressed at what Zalensky is saying. So I reply, “No, I didn’t kill him. No, I didn’t cause his accident. Yes, he’s going to be out of circulation for a while. More than that, you’ll have to ask him.”
Zalensky starts to open his mouth, reconsiders, reconsiders again, and finally says, “If that’s all you’re going to say, then get out of here.”
This time no one stops me from leaving the room. The other cops, they’ve gathered round the door. I glare at them all and they back off. They know not to disturb Mother when she’s angry.
I head over to the demonstration, but it’s over. Love’s not there, nor back at the commune. I guess she’s bedding down somewhere else. I put in a few hours casing Edward Cross’s lair, an office building north of the Loop. It’s well protected. If I have to fight Cross, I’d best find a way to get him away from there.
Once I’ve done as much there as I can, I think about what to do about Ned. Somehow I got off on the wrong foot with him. Until I know exactly why, trying to talk to him again might just make things worse. And then I remember a tidbit I learned from probing Kammen’s mind. I go to the Harlem transit stop an hour before dawn. Zalensky promised Kammen he would be there. And maybe Zalensky will talk with me.
Zalensky is there, as he promised. He sees me, grunts, beckons me to follow him. We end up in an earthen basement four blocks away, where his coffin is stored. Snug basement: no windows, none at all.
Zalensky’s furnished his basement with two easy chairs. He takes one, invites me to take the other. And then he does something unusual for him. He laughs.
He grins at me. “I guess Kammen really is alive, then, else you couldn’t know what I said to him.” His grin disappears. “So what did happen to him?”
There’s no point in explaining. “He had an accident.”
Zalensky sits there, thinks it over. “You’re not going to tell me more, are you, Martha?”
I shake my head.
Zalensky says, “At least tell me this: did he do something stupid, or was it just something he couldn’t have anticipated?”
I have to think about that. “Probably the latter.”
He nods at that. “Good. Kammen couldn’t forgive himself if he’d been taken out by something he should have expected.”
That’s so close to how Kammen actually feels I almost laugh. But Zalensky has a point. I say, “I will tell him you said so.” Maybe it will make Kammen feel less guilty.
Zalensky offers another smile, briefly, then returns to his usual expression. “You know, Martha, Ned was really hurt that you showed up after telling him you were staying away from Chicago. He feels like you betrayed him.”
“I had reasons.” Yeah, that sounds lame. “He didn’t look that hurt.”
Zalensky shakes his head. “The guy’s trying to organize and lead an entirely new organization of police, Martha. He’s doing a good job of it, especially considering how young he is, but it’s tough on him. Your appearing when you did didn’t help his credibility, among other things. And Ned actually likes you, unlike me.”
That’s promising. “So why are we sitting here having a conversation?”
“Liking you isn’t the point, Martha, if we can work together. You came barging in asking about the sorcerers’ war. That was Kammen’s job, at least until Ned tried to take it away from him. Are you taking it on?”
That’s a good description of what I’m doing, what I told Ivy I would do, come to think of it. “Yeah.”
“You going to be able to do anything to help us?”
“I don’t know. Probably more than you can do, in any case. I’ve dealt with sorcerers before.”
Zalensky grunts. “There wouldn’t happen to be one of them hanging around who has a grudge to settle with you?”
“Shouldn’t be. Might be.” Unlikely any of them knows me or knows what I’ve done, but if any of them finds out the same facts Ivy’s learned, then I’m in big trouble.
Zalensky’s eyes narrow. “Well, judge for yourself then. Another reason Ned was unhappy to see you is that the Superintendent, the Chief of the Chicago Police, just delivered a message earlier tonight stating the conditions under which we can get back on the force. It’s not everything we wanted, but we can live with it. However, there’s one requirement that’s going to be a problem. To get reinstated, we have to bring in the body of Martha Fokker with a wooden stake driven through her heart.”
End of chapter twenty-seven