Authors: Unknown Author
Tags: #Don Bassingthwaite
“What about the body?” asked Arthurs hesitantly. “We can’t really pass it off as an accident with a missing hand.”
“I’ll take care of it. Now get going!” He pointed at the gates of the college.
Arthurs swallowed. “Yes, sir. But the professor’s office? My men are still...”
“James!” Arthurs yelled quickly. “Jeffrey!” The two henchmen appeared almost instantly. “Are you done in there yet?”
Arthurs glanced at Solomon. The younger man returned his gaze steadily. Magick could be very subtle. Arthurs turned and headed for the gates. “Come on.” The henchmen followed him. Solomon waited until they were gone before drawing a deep breath and turning back to the professor’s body. Damn Arthurs! Damn him for being the most incompetent, fuck-up
excuse for an investigator!
Unfortunately, there wasn’t anyone better among the Bandog that he could use as easily, Certainly there was the police detective, but he would have needed to use the department’s resources, and the last thing Solomon wanted was a rumor of murder even accidentally leaking to any other members of the Bandog. Until whoever was responsible for these murders was caught, the rest of the Bandog couldn’t know the truth about what was happening. At least Arthurs intimately understood the need for secrecy and had contacts who also preferred to remain in the shadows.
Solomon seized the professor’s body. Now that it was so conspicuously mutilated, there was no way he would be able to make the death look like an accident, much less a suicide. He would have to get rid of the corpse. Muscles straining, he lugged it over to the base of a tree, a stately old maple that stood nearby. He reached up and took a gold earring out of his ear. The shaft of the earring was needle-sharp; he jabbed it into his thumb and watched as bright red blood welled up. Solomon reached over the professor’s body and smeared the blood down the bark of the maple. He shook a few more drops onto the body. Then he stood back.
The tree shivered, the body at its base shifting. There was a groaning, like thick branches in the wind, followed by a quiet whispering, like worms in the soil of a graveyard. The earth around the maple churned suddenly as the tree’s roots — first the delicate, threadlike rootlets, then older and heavier roots — came up out of the ground, flailing hungrily. Solomon took another step back just to be safe.
But the roots found the body before they ever would have found him. They seized the corpse. Earth moved, the dirt sliding aside like water. The roots dragged the professor’s body down to feed the tree. The sod filled back in as though it had never been disturbed. In only a few moments, the professor’s last earthly remains had effectively vanished. Solomon turned away. He no longer had the respect for trees that his earliest teachers had tried to instill in him, but they still had their uses.
, If only his magick could have uncovered the killers as easily as it could reshape or dispose of the victims’ bodies. And he could hardly go for help to another of the scattered mages he knew lurked in Toronto. He would have been destroyed on sight as
— a traitor to the mages of the conservative Traditions. Someone who had chosen to follow the dark paths to power.
And approaching another Nephandus mage would be the same as begging to be taken down in his moment of weakness.
Solomon walked out of the college, shutting the gates behind himself with a heavy clang. David, ever obedient, still had the car running. He opened the door for Solomon, then closed it after him and walked around to the driver’s seat. He slid in behind the steering wheel, tall, blond, and impassive as the rising sun. Solomon looked out through the heavily tinted windows and drummed his fingers on the door panel. David glanced at him. “I saw Arthurs come out holding a hand.”
“We may have a lead, David,” Solomon told him shortly.
David nodded and put the car in gear, turning tightly on the narrow street to point the car north and home. “A lead would be good,” he commented. “The Bandog are getting restless.”
Solomon jerked his head up. “How did they find out about the murders?”
“They haven’t. But they’ve all seen enough by now to be suspicious when two of their number commit suicide.” David turned a comer. “I overheard several of them talking before the last Rite. Some believe it was suicide, that Rooke and Harris just couldn’t stand it anymore. They’re beginning to look for signs of weakness in themselves. Others are wondering if there really might be something more going on than suicide.” “They’re going to be wondering even more, then. The professor has just gone missing.”
“Ah.” David was silent, then added, “In any event, their commitment and belief are wavering. They’re losing faith in Shaftiel.”
Solomon snorted. It was far too late for any of the Bandog to turn away. Like Arthurs, they had all made pacts with him — and with Shaftiel. Most of them were fairly wealthy and influential, but certainly none of them could survive the aftermath of being connected to a demon-worshipping cult; the cult was young, but its members were well-established in their fields. At the same time, though, their willing commitment to, and belief in, Shaftiel’s power made things much, much easier. They couldn’t get away, but Solomon couldn’t do much without them. He needed them. “Damn.” David stopped for a light. “Actually, 1 have a suggestion.” Solomon glanced at him with curiosity. “The Bandog need to feel a closer connection with Shaftiel, and they need to be impressed.” The light turned green. They began to move again. “Conduct a summoning ritual.”
“What?” Solomon sat bolt upright in his seat. “Are you crazy? I can’t do that!” He sat back slowly. “I’m not powerful enough. It takes a lot to summon even a minor demon successfully.”
“It wouldn’t have to be a physical summoning. Let them hear their master’s voice. Whispers through the keyhole of the door between worlds. You could do that.” David glanced at Solomon and flashed him one of the rare smiles that lit his golden face. “And think. There’s a lot of preparation involved in a summoning ritual — even a simple one. Let the Bandog help you with the preparations. Get them working together. Involve some of them, maybe the High Circle. Build up to a spectacle, something big, something that will really let the Bandog taste their power. When Shaftiel speaks to them, it will be even more impressive because they helped make it happen.”
Solomon looked at David for a moment, then turned to watch the first rays of the sun strike the cool concrete and glass of Toronto. A summoning. A spectacle. It was possible. He smiled, half to David, half to himself. He liked the idea. It shone in his mind like the edge of a knife. Something to restore the Bandog’s faith in Shaftiel, in him. Something that would bind them even more closely to the cult, and as much plain psychology as magick. A... sacrifice? Too small. It had to be big. Big enough that the Bandog would be able to see the power that the cult and Shaftiel could wield; but at the same time subtle. Solomon wasn’t the only mage or even the only Nephandus in Toronto. And mages weren’t even the only supernatural beings to haunt the city’s shadows. Whatever he did had to be subtle enough not to draw attention to the Bandog or himself. Not that all of the unseen forces of Toronto were unfriendly to Nephandi.
Just that they would view Shaftiel’s cult as a threat to
David stopped at a corner to wave a pedestrian across. The pedestrian gestured for David to go ahead. No, no.
After you. I insist.
A game played out in cold, sterile politeness, a game that could only happen in Toronto.
Solomon’s smile flickered, growing into a hungry, calculating grin. A spectacle. Big, but subtle. One that would inextricably bind the Bandog to Shaftiel’s service. Solomon slid down into his seat, his T-shirt rasping against the leather, and started to plan.
Sweet to tongue and sound to eye;
Come buy, come buy.
The big man glimpsed her movement and turned away from the fallen bouncer. So
much for the element of surprise,
Tango thought to herself. She crouched, waiting for the man to make his move on her. He would attack her, she was sure of that. There was unthinking rage on his face, and when he caught sight of the Pan’s logo on her staff T-shirt, he bellowed like a bull in a ring. He lunged at her, maybe a little faster than she had expected. She slipped to one side, avoiding his arms and jabbing out with a blow to his kidneys. The man turned quickly, however. The blow glanced away. He snapped an elbow back, striking her on the side of the head hard enough to make her skip aside warily. He turned again. Tango dodged his fists this time, although a third bouncer, coming to her aid, wasn’t so lucky. He received a crack to the face that sent blood flying from a split lip.
Enough of this.
Tango brought the big man around with a few more blows to his side and back. Light blows, though, just meant to get his attention. He pulled one hand back and brought it around in a fast, heavy swing... then crumpled w'ith a gasp and a squeak as
Tango slipped in under his guard and kicked him hard in the testicles.
The watching men in the crowded nightclub drew in their breath in a collective wince.
Never go for the balls
seemed to be one of the unspoken laws that connected men around the world. Maybe that was why they always seemed so surprised when a woman did it. The crowd was silent as Tango gestured for two more bouncers to carry the would-be troublemaker out of the club. The downed bouncer was getting up, with some assistance from the bouncer with the split lip. With the fight over, the crowd began to turn away, going back to the drinking and dancing that had brought them here. Jumping up on top of a table, Tango spotted the woman whose presence had started the fight. She pushed her way over to where she stood at the coat check. “Are you okay?” she asked over the club’s pounding music.
“Yeah.” The woman took her coat back from the attendant. “Messy break-up. Thank you.”
“Where are the friends you were with?”
“They’re staying. I...” She shrugged as she put on her coat, and for a moment Tango sensed something of the anxiety the woman was trying to hold back. “I think I’d better just go home.”
Tango nodded and pulled half-a-dozen free passes out of her pocket. “Just as long as you come back again. I’m sorry you didn’t have a better time.”
A smile flickered across the woman’s face. “Thanks.” The smile vanished as she saw the bouncers walking her ex-boyfriend through the crowd. “I should go before he gets here.”
“Just a second. Rick!” Tango grabbed the club’s largest bouncer, who was acting as doorman. “Make sure she gets into a cab without any trouble.”
The woman smiled again. “Thank you.”
“Catch your cab.” She handed the woman over to Rick, then turned to the man the bouncers were bringing to the door. She stopped them and put a hand on the man’s chest. “I don’t ever want to see you in here again.”
He tried to focus on her and more or less succeeded. “You’re history, bitch!” he slurred. “I want you fired. I want to see the manager.”
Tango looked up at him. He w'as massively built, easily six foot five and at least two hundred and forty pounds. She was what dressmakers so politely called “petite,” and a foot shorter than him, even in her boots. The man still went pale in front of the smile she gave him. “I am the manager, asshole.” She glanced at the bouncers. “Make sure he lands hard.”
She turned away. Running Pan’s, one of San Francisco’s newest and hottest nightclubs, wasn’t easy, but it had its satisfying moments. That was why she insisted on being head bouncer as well as manager — the occasional turn on security was a great u'ay to release stress. Tango pulled her headset from around her neck, disentangling it from her long, brown hair, and settled it back over her ears. “All clear, Alan?” she asked, adjusting the microphone.
Sometimes one fight would touch off a flurry of fights, a chain reaction of violence sweeping through the club. Not tonight, though. “All clear,” crackled the tinny voice of Pan’s assistant manager in her ear. “And you’ve got a visitor.”
“Business or personal?”
“Personal. He came in just as you were asking our burly guest to dance. He said he’d wait over by the main bar.”
Tango kept herself alert, wondering who her visitor could be. She didn’t have many friends, and the ones she did have seldom came to see her at work. At least Tango hoped it was a friend. She’d made a lot of enemies over the years — she knew it was a lot easier to piss her off than to please her, and she liked it that way. It meant that the friends she did have were good ones. And that her enemies were dangerous.
If the swirling hedonism of Pan’s could be said to have a center, then the main bar was it. It had always impressed Tango far beyond the immense video wall or the soaring platforms and catwalks that took patrons up into the club’s rafters and attracted most of the media’s attention. The main bar was a bright oval of brushed steel, somehow managing to transcend the suburban space-cadet feel that bare metal so often had. Instead, the bar was like a movie star: sensual, begging for a caress, yet at the same time cold, aloof, haughty and untouchable. An ice queen. Dancers moved in a gleaming, chromed steel cage raised up over the bar, just as untouchable.
People swarmed around the bar as if that icy glamor could rub off on them. Tango shoved her way through the crowd, craning her neck in an effort to spot anyone she recognized. “Alan,” she asked into the microphone, “did the person who was looking for me say he’d wait...” Fingers dug into her ribs from behind.
Tango’s voice cut off instantly. On pure instinct she grabbed her assailant’s wrists and twisted hard. Not as hard as she might have, but hard enough to produce a yelp of pain. She flung one captured hand away and spun her assailant around, twisting his arm up behind his back so tightly his fingers were brushing his neck
— and his close-cropped, rusty-red hair. Tango blinked and cursed. “Riley?”
“Yes!” the trapped man hissed between clenched teeth. “Not very ticklish anymore, are you?”