MC Ch. 30

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Chapter 30: Martha (III)

Copyright © 2013 by Brian Bixby.

There’s a dead sorcerer on the floor, and for once I didn’t kill him. There are six other bodies on the floor, too, six of my vampire children, six of Ned’s would-be vampire cops. I was wrong. Ned and his force can take down a sorcerer even now, though at ruinous cost.

There are no other vampires in Ned’s makeshift headquarters, except one. Hiding in the rafters near an open window up near the ceiling is a vampire. He sees me standing there, looking up at him, comes down and transforms. It’s Zalensky. He nods at me. “I told Ned someone should wait around for you to show up, and his safety was too important.”

“What happened?”

Zalensky gives the sorcerer’s body a kick. “He came in, demanding to see Ned, killed Nelson without provocation. Kammen and I had worked out a few strategies that we figured might work on a sorcerer. Turns out you can overload their protective spells if you hit them hard enough from enough directions. But it cost us five more, five of our best.”

“Any idea why he came?”

Zalensky’s face screws up. “I was hoping you could tell us that.”

I shake my head. “A good necromancer might get an answer out of him. But it’s not worth the bother. They’re hunting for me. Cross sent a bunch of them out to find me if they could. They’re supposed to interrogate me, then kill me. And that will be the end of you all getting reinstated.”

Zalensky looks dubious. “And you know all this because?”

“One of them went to Scratch Wilson’s looking for me. I interrogated her thoroughly before I killed her.”

Zalensky raises an eyebrow. “Interrogated. Hmph, I bet. So the sorcerers’ war is real, after all. I wondered. All we had was circumstantial up to this point.” He pauses, gives me a critical look. “So when is the sorcerer behind you going to step out of the shadows, Martha? Because we damn well need his help, no matter what Ned wants to believe.”

I have to laugh, but it’s not a joyful laugh, not at all. “The war is real, and it’s a phony at the same time, Zalensky. There is no sorcerer behind me.” I pull out my blasting rod. Most sorcerers use a dark, polished wood for their rods. So did I, once. Lost that one, well, blew it up. I decided my next one should not look like a blasting rod, so I made it out of bamboo. I take it and point it at the corpse of the sorcerer, and burn it up.

Zalensky pulls at his chin. “That looks like sorcery.”

“It is. I’m a sorceress, Zalensky, as well as a vampire. Yes, I know it’s impossible. It’s one of the reasons I normally keep it a secret. And I didn’t intend for anyone here in Chicago to know, not even you and Ned. And I sure as hell had no interest in taking on Cross. But something I did made Cross suspicious, and he’s been pursuing the nonexistent sorcerer behind me ever since.”

Zalensky nods to himself. He gets it. He finally looks up at me again. “So the bottom line, Martha: are you strong enough to take on Edward Cross?”

Good question, to which I have to give a lousy answer, because it’s too optimistic. “Probably, but there’s a few wild cards that could upset things.”

“So what should we do?”

That I have a better answer for. “Stay away from here, don’t go on patrol or meet up for a few days. Tell Ned I’ll meet him at his parent’s house tomorrow night. Now that I think about it, I need to get both him and his sister Nora to someplace safe.”

“Why his sister and not his parents?” Zalensky doesn’t miss much.

“I bit her.” I can see the look of horror on Zalensky’s face, and add, “She gave me permission. It’s not like I’m going to turn her into a vampire or anything.”

Zalensky shakes his head sorrowfully several times. “I’ll have to come up with some sort of convincing lie if Ned asks. I am not going to be the one to tell him you bit his favorite sister. And you know Ned will realize she’s been bitten the moment he sees her.” Zalensky shakes his head again, and with a sad chuckle adds, “It’s just as well you are a sorceress, Martha, because otherwise Ned would tear you apart with his bare hands.”

 ii.

I’ve warned the other vampire gangs to disperse. Cross isn’t going to find any easy targets if I can help it. And now it’s time to put a spoke in his wheel. It’s time to pay a visit on His Honor, Mayor Richard J. Daley.

I like to study people before I try to manipulate them. But I don’t have that kind of time, because Cross is already after me. So I have to rely on what Ivy told me and what Sally Truax told me. (Funny, that: I’m getting everyone else mad at me, but Sally’s on my side after what I did to help her earlier tonight.) Hope to hell they didn’t leave out anything significant.

Daley’s not just the mayor of Chicago in his umpteenth term in office, he’s the uncrowned king of Cook County, Illinois by virtue of his control over the county’s Democratic machine. Most of the jobs in the city are in his gift, one way or another, and the price for those gifts is counted in votes and campaign contributions. The machine depends on loyalty, and Daley depends on the machine, so he values loyalty over almost everything else. Well, loyalty to him. It doesn’t always go the other way. Daley has a long history of getting someone’s help to rise, then turning on him, either undercutting him or getting rid of him. No one is allowed to be a political threat to Daley for long.

So Kammen’s sister Kate probably has it right that Daley and Cross are increasingly at odds with each other. Cross may have been Daley’s ally for years, but he’s also a threat to Daley, and vice versa. I need to split him and Cross apart as a preliminary step to removing Cross one way or another. It helps that they’re both probably getting more paranoid. Cross apparently always was. Daley’s been coming under more and more attacks since the riots last year, and hasn’t taken it well.

For all his power, Daley tries to be seen as a man of the people. He still lives in a modest house in the Irish neighborhood he grew up in, part of the “Bungalow Belt” of white neighborhoods ringing Chicago. Ned’s family lives in a very similar house. About the only difference is that Daley’s house had an addition built on to house all his kids. The O’Donnells managed in less space.

There’s a police guard around Daley’s house. Sally Truax says it’s been there on and off since the housing riots in the early 1960s. It’s nothing for me to get by. They aren’t expecting anyone to fly in, after all. There are also some wards and spells protecting Daley’s home, but they aren’t very strong. That’s good. It means Cross did something to protect Daley from magical attack, but Cross didn’t really make that protection very effective. He’s about to pay for that misjudgment.

Ironically, considering there are police watching the place, the back door is unlocked. I step into the house, walk into the kitchen. It’s nothing special. There’s a light on somewhere downstairs, shedding some light into the hallway. I follow it to a partially closed door. I need to peek in, to see who’s up, to figure out what I need to do about whoever’s restless. My conversation with Daley can’t be completely silent, and I don’t want other family members butting in, let alone the police.

It turns out Daley is actually up, dressed in a bathrobe, in what looks like an office or study for him. He’s impossible to mistake. His picture’s everywhere. He looks less like the fancy poster pictures, more like the tired and aging man in the newspapers. Balding, and what hair he’s got hasn’t seen a comb tonight. He’s wearing glasses, going over some papers. The bathrobe looks as tired as he does. No one else is in the room with him. Good, I’d prefer to catch him alone. I quietly open the door, step in, close it behind me. And then I deliberately make a noise as I walk into his view. “Good morning, Mr. Mayor. Thought I’d come by for a private chat.”

He almost jumps up when he sees and hears me, but settles down quickly. In stern tones, he tells me, “Young lady, you have invaded the sanctity of my home. This is not my office as mayor, but where I rest in the bosom of my family. Turn around and leave, and may God have mercy on your soul, or else I will call the police detail guarding this house.”

Daley has a reputation for saying little, either by actually not talking much or by running off with platitudes and vague phrases. It shows. Time to shake him up a bit. I zip forward until I’m almost standing on his feet, bare my fangs in his face, and then zip back to my initial position. It always shocks humans how fast I can move. Daley almost jumps up again. I say to him, “I hope you don’t summon them, Mr. Mayor, because I’m a vampire, and I’m fast enough and tough enough to kill every one of them. It’s just that you don’t hold office hours for vampires, so I thought now would be a good time to talk with you. I won’t insult you with threats. I even promise to leave without hurting you or any member of your family. I just want to talk.”

Daley is in his sixties. He’s become heavyset, and it shows in his face, which has substantial jowls. It’s not a poker face, though. I can read fear and anger in his expression, even without using sorcery. But he wouldn’t want me to know. So after a bit, he simply says, “You want to have a talk, then talk.”

I pace the floor in front of him. For this meeting, I’ve changed to a long coat, heavy boots, and dark shirt and slacks. A bit more formal than I usually wear these days, but I want to impress him as a dark menacing figure, and literally being one helps. As I pace, I say to him, “My name’s Martha Fokker, Mr. Mayor. And I want to know why your police department and why your friend Edward Cross are trying to kill me.”

Daley plays ignorant. “I don’t know anything about that. The police have their own chief, who makes their own rules. And Mr. Cross, Mr. Cross is a respectable businessman who does not work for me.”

“Oh.” I come to a halt, sound as if I’m at a loss at what to do next. Because in fact I am, not having anticipated such a simple move on Daley’s part. I should have: he has a history of pleading ignorance to gain time and avoid issues. And I can’t directly confront him about it. Confronting a paranoid and powerful man always sets him against you instinctively. So I have to find another way.

If you can’t talk to them directly, then it’s time to use indirection. Time for me to switch gears and play young and scatterbrained Martha. In an emotionally-charged voice that makes me sound like a retarded teenager, I say, “I guess you’re the wrong person to talk to, then. I’ve got some friends who were cops who became vampires, and they want to be reinstated as cops. I was going to tell you how great it would be to have vampire cops. Vampires are tough to kill and used to working at night. They’d be great dealing with the worst neighborhoods in the city at night. They don’t even need weapons, because they’re stronger and faster than most people. And they can even fly. It would be great! But I thought you were the one who didn’t want them. That’s why I came here to talk to you. I didn’t realize the police and Cross were acting on their own.” I turn and walk and weave slowly across the floor, head hung down, as if I am moping.

My impression is too good. Daley must think I am a complete nitwit. He gets up and starts walking toward the door, hoping to escape, while saying to me, “See here young lady, I’m sorry I can’t help you.”

I turn about and get in front of him so rapidly he has to come to a sharp halt. I raise my voice a bit and plead, “But you can, Mr. Mayor, you can. I know a lot of these vampire cops. Their leader’s named Ned O’Donnell, and he comes from a neighborhood just like this one, I forget which one.” No I don’t. But get Daley to look it up himself, it will stick with him better that way. “I’ve been telling them they should work for you. But I think the police chief and Cross want to kill me so they can get the vampire cops to work for them. Or maybe it’s just Cross. He’s been mad at me since 1918, but he’s not powerful enough to do anything to me himself. So he does this sort of stupid stuff instead, dragging other people in to fight for him. Honestly, I don’t understand why you put up with a loser like him.” I wave my hands about while adding, “I mean, he puts up a spell to protect you and it’s so pitiful I got through it in seconds.” I look sad, put my right index finger to my lips. “Oops, maybe I shouldn’t have said that to you. He’s your friend and all.”

Daley’s eyes are popping out by now. I’ve managed to suggest that the police chief and Cross are in cahoots against him, and that Cross isn’t the powerful sorcerer he claims to be. I can practically see his mind churning through the possibilities.

I snap straight up, look alarmed. “Well, since you’re the wrong person I should go now. I’ll have to deal with Cross myself. I was hoping for help from you, I was hoping we could be friends, but I guess not. Anyhow, if you get a chance, talk to Ned O’Donnell. You’d like him. He’s a good boy. He’d even still go to Mass if he could. Bye now!” I turn and rush off.

iii.

Next step, and I’m running out of time before dawn, is to go see the Chief of the Chicago Police Department, James Conlisk. He doesn’t get the half-witted super-powerful vampire Martha, though. Instead, he gets Martha the vengeful sorceress, who literally drags him out of bed to terrify him up front. I give him this story about how Cross and I were working together when we created the vampire cops, that my being a vampire was part of the cover story, but now Cross has stabbed me in the back, and he and anyone associated with him is going to pay. And I make it clear just who I think Cross’s leading associate is. Conlisk agrees to break with Cross. I pretend to trust him, and leave.

As I head back to the library basement to get some sleep, I am chuckling to myself. Daley will want to know what’s going on with vampire cops and Martha Fokker, and Conlisk will be just frightened enough to cooperate with Daley while looking so uneasy that Daley will think he’s hiding something. Neither will want to trust Cross.

And tomorrow night, I’m going to meet Edward Cross in person, someplace he’d never expect to see me, and put another spoke in his wheel. I haven’t had this much fun engaging in mischief since preying on Napoleon’s soldiers during their retreat from Moscow in 1812.

End of chapter thirty.

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4 Responses to MC Ch. 30

  1. E. J. Barnes says:

    “Most of the jobs in the city are in his gift” — omit “in”?
    When did Martha talk to Kate? Or did she extract the info from Kammen’s tormented brain?
    Presumably Cross’s weak spells over Daley’s house are to ward off non-supernatural beings, rather than supernatural? Which is why Martha gets past them so easily?
    “…go to Mass” — capitalized

    • Brian Bixby says:

      Blame my Protestant upbringing for “mass.” Corrected; thank you.
      “[I]n his gift” is idiomatically correct for this situation.

      Martha did talk to Kate, but it happened off-book, the night before she met Nora, and since Martha speaks in the present tense, she doesn’t bother to explain.

      Close, but not quite right on the spells. Cross is a sorcerer, so one of the services he would provide would be to safeguard Daley. But it’s not really worth his trouble to spend much effort protecting Daley. Daley won’t know the difference, unless something truly powerful attacks him, and in that case Cross would figure he’d have to confront the powerful supernatural entity eventually, no matter what happens to Daley.

  2. crimsonprose says:

    Finally, we’re going to meet Mr Cross. You have a way of drawing the reader very close to the edge of her seat.

    • Brian Bixby says:

      Yes, you will, though, since you’ve read chapter 31, clearly not quite yet. He’s been delayed for three reasons:
      (1) The sorcerers’ war, as Martha points out, has been a bad case of smoke and mirrors, but neither she nor Cross has known it until now.
      (2) There’s a reason that won’t be clear until the epilogue.
      (3) There’s a reason that will become clear shortly.

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