Darkfever, p.17
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       Darkfever, p.17

         Part #1 of Fever series by Karen Marie Moning
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  “We’re not doing anything wrong,” I said instantly. “Well, I mean, not that he knows, right? Surely the alarm hasn’t been reported to the police yet, has it?”

  “Whether or not it has, he just got a good look at us, Ms. Lane. We’re on O’Bannion turf. Who do you think pays to have his streets patrolled at these hours?”

  Understanding dawned slowly. “You’re saying that even if the cop doesn’t know now, once he finds out O’Bannion was robbed . . . ” I trailed off.

  “He’ll pass on our descriptions,” Barrons finished for me.

  “We’re dead,” I said matter-of-factly.

  “There’s that pessimism again,” said Barrons.

  “Realism. I’m talking about reality here, Barrons. Pull your head out. What do you think O’Bannion’s going to do to us when he finds out? Give us a little slap on the wrist?”

  “Attitude shapes reality, Ms. Lane, and yours, to coin a grossly overused American phrase, sucks. ”

  I didn’t get what he was trying to tell me that night, but later, when it counted, I would remember and understand. The single greatest advantage anyone can take into any battle is hope. A sidhe-seer without hope, without an unshakable determination to survive, is a dead sidhe-seer. A sidhe-seer who believes herself outgunned, outmanned, may as well point that doubt straight at her temple, pull the trigger, and blow out her own brains. There are really only two positions one can take toward anything in life: hope or fear. Hope strengthens, fear kills.

  But I understood little of such things that night and so I rode in white-knuckled silence as we sped through deserted Dublin streets until at last we pulled in to the brightly lit alley between Barrons’ garage and residence. “What the heck did we just steal, anyway, Barrons?” I said.

  He smiled faintly as the garage door rose. Our headlamps illuminated the gleaming grilles of his auto collection. We drove inside and parked the old sedan in the rear. “It has been called many things, but you might know it as the Spear of Longinus,” he said.

  “Never heard of it,” I said.

  “How about the Spear of Destiny?” he asked. “Or the Holy Lance?”

  I shook my head.

  “Do you subscribe to any religion, Ms. Lane?”

  Page 63

  I climbed out of the car and reached in back for the spear. “I go to church sometimes. ”

  “You are holding the spear that pierced Christ’s side as he hung on the cross,” he said.

  I nearly dropped it. “This thing killed Jesus?” I exclaimed, dismayed. And I was holding it? I hurried after him toward the open garage door. I didn’t consider myself a particularly religious person, but I had the sudden fiercest urge to fling it away, scrub my hands, then go to the nearest church and pray.

  We ducked beneath the door as it slid soundlessly down, and headed across the alley. Shades lurked to my right just beyond the reach of the floodlights illuminating the rear entrances, but I didn’t spare them a glance. I was intent on getting inside and out of the wide-open night where a crime lord’s bodyguard might pick me off at any moment with a well-aimed bullet.

  “He was already dead when it happened, Ms. Lane. A Roman solider, Gaius Cassius Longinus, did it. The next day was the Passover and the Jewish leaders didn’t want the victims hanging on display throughout their holy day. They asked Pilate to hasten their deaths so they might be taken down. Crucifixion,” Barrons explained, “was a slow business; it could take days for the hanged man to die. When soldiers broke the legs of the two men beside Christ, they could no longer use them to push up for breath and expired quickly of suffocation. However, Christ appeared already dead, so instead of breaking his legs, one of the soldiers pierced his side to prove it. Perversely, the so-called Spear of Longinus has been coveted ever since, for alleged mythic powers. Many have claimed to possess the sacred relic: Constantine, Charlemagne, Otto the Great, and Adolph Hitler, to name but a few. Each believed it to be the true source of all his power. ”

  I stepped into the rear foyer of Barrons’ residence, slammed the door behind me, and rounded on him with disbelief. “So let me get this straight. We just broke in to a mobster’s private collection and stole what he believes to be the true source of all his power? And we did this why?”

  “Because, Ms. Lane, the Spear of Destiny has another name, the Spear of Luin, or Luisne, the Flaming Spear. And it is not a Roman weapon at all but one brought to this world by the Tuatha Dé Danaan. It is a Seelie Hallow and just happens to be one of only two weapons known to man that can kill a Fae. Any Fae. No matter the caste. Even the Queen herself is said to fear this spear. But if you like, I can ring up O’Bannion and see if he might forgive us if we bring it back. Shall I, Ms. Lane?”

  I gripped the spear. “This could kill the Many-Mouthed-Thing?” I asked.

  He nodded.

  “And the Gray Man, too?”

  He nodded again.

  “Hunters?”

  A third nod.

  “Even Fae royalty?” I wanted to be perfectly clear on this.

  “Yes, Ms. Lane. ”

  “Really?” I breathed.

  “Really. ”

  I narrowed my eyes. “Do you have a plan for dealing with O’Bannion?”

  Barrons reached past me, turned on the bright overhead in the anteroom, and flipped off the exterior floodlights. Beyond the window, the back alley went dark. “Go to your room, Ms. Lane, and do not come out again—for any reason—until I come for you. Do you understand me?”

  There was no way I was going to go sit somewhere and passively await my death, and I told him so. “I will not go upstairs and cower—”

  “Now. ”

  I glared at him. I hated it when he cut me off with one of those one-word commands of his. I had news for him: I wasn’t like Fiona, pining away for crumbs of his affection, willing to yield to any demand he might make to get them. “You can’t order me around like I’m F—” This time I was glad he cut me off before I betrayed that I’d eavesdropped.

  “Do you have somewhere else to go, Ms. Lane?” he asked coolly. “Is that it?” His smile chilled me, shaped as it was by the satisfaction of a man who knows he has a woman exactly where he wants her. “Will you go back to The Clarin House and hope Mallucé isn’t out looking for you? I have news for you, Ms. Lane, you could be swimming in a lake of holy water, dressed in a gown of garlic, denying an invitation at the top of your lungs, and it wouldn’t stop a vampire who’s fed richly and recently enough. Or will you try for a new hotel, and hope O’Bannion doesn’t have anyone there on his payroll? No, I have it; you’ll go back home to Georgia. Is that it? I hate to break it to you, Ms. Lane, but I think it’s a little too late for that. ”

  I didn’t want to know why it was too late for that: whether he meant O’Bannion would come after me, dazed-eyed Goth slaves would cross water to return me to their Master, or Barrons himself would hunt me down.

  Page 64

 

  “You bastard,” I whispered. Before he’d dragged me from one bizarre “player’s” house to the next, before he’d gotten me to rip off both a vampire and a mobster, I’d still had a chance. It might have been a slim one, but it had been a chance. Now it was a whole different ball game and I was playing in the dark and somehow, everyone but me had night-vision goggles and understood the rules of play. And I suspected this had been part of Barrons’ plan all along: to shave down my options, to whittle away my choices until he’d left me only one—to need him to survive.

  I was furious with him, with myself. I’d been such a fool. And I couldn’t see any way out. Still, I wasn’t entirely helpless. I needed him? I could swallow that if I had to, because he needed me, too, and I was never going to let him forget it. “Fine, Barrons,” I said, “but I’m keeping this. And that’s non-negotiable. ” I raised the spear I was gripping. Maybe I couldn’t fight off vampires and mobsters, but at least I could give the Fae a decent battle.

/>   He looked at the spear for several moments, his dark gaze unfathomable. Then he said, “It was for you all along, Ms. Lane. I suggest you remove the shaft and make it portable. It’s not the original and only the head itself matters. ”

  I blinked. It was for me? Not only did the relic have to be worth an absolute fortune on the black market, but Barrons was also a sidhe-seer and could use it to protect himself, too, yet he was going to let me hang on to it? “Really?”

  He nodded. “Obey me, Ms. Lane,” he said, “and I will keep you alive. ”

  “I wouldn’t need to be kept alive in the first place,” I snapped, “if you hadn’t dragged me into this mess. ”

  “You came looking for this mess, Ms. Lane. You sauntered in here all innocence and stupidity asking for the Sinsar Dubh, remember? I told you to go home. ”

  “Yeah, well, that was before you knew I could find things for you. Now you’d probably tie me up and drug me to keep me here,” I accused.

  “Probably,” he agreed. “Though I suspect I’d have no problem at all finding more effective means. ”

  I looked at him sharply. He wasn’t joking. And I never wanted to know what those “more effective means” might be.

  “But considering everything that’s after you, I don’t need to, do I, Ms. Lane? Which puts us right back where we started: Go to your room and do not come out again for any reason until I come for you. Do you understand me?”

  Mom says humility isn’t one of my strengths, and she’s right. To reply would have reeked of capitulation, or at the least, acquiescence, and although he might have won this particular battle, I sure didn’t have to admit it, so I stared down at the spear in stony silence. The spearhead shimmered like silvery alabaster in the brightly lit anteroom. If I broke it off to a short shaft, it would be only about a foot long. The tip was razor-sharp, the base about four inches wide. It would no doubt fit nicely in my largest purse, if I could figure out a way to keep the lethal point from puncturing the side.

  When I looked back up, I was alone.

  Barrons was gone.

  SEVENTEEN

  My folks have some funny sayings. They were born in a different time, to a different generation. Theirs was the “hard work is its own reward” generation. Admittedly it had its problems, but mine is the “entitlement generation” and it has its fair share, too.

  The EG is made up of kids who believe they deserve the best of everything by mere virtue of having been born, and if parents don’t arm them with every possible advantage, they are condemning their own children to a life of ostracism and failure. Raised by computer games, satellite TV, the Internet, and the latest greatest electronic device—while their parents are off slaving away to afford them all—most of the EG believe if there’s something wrong with them, it’s not their fault; their parents screwed them up, probably by being away too much. It’s a vicious little catch-22 for the parents any way you look at it.

  My parents didn’t screw me up. Any screwing up that might have been done, I did to myself. All of which is my roundabout way of saying that I’m beginning to understand what Dad always meant when he said, “Don’t tell me you didn’t mean to do it, Mac. Omission or commission—the end result is the same. ”

  I understand now. It’s the difference between involuntary manslaughter and homicide: the dead person is still dead, and I highly doubt the corpse appreciates any legal distinctions we make over it.

  By omission or commission, one orange, two candy bars, a bag of pretzels, and twenty-six hours later, I had blood on my hands.

  Page 65

 

  I’d never been so happy to see the first rays of dawn in my life as I was that next morning. I’d ended up doing exactly what I’d sworn I wouldn’t do: I’d cowered in my brilliantly lit, borrowed bedroom from one daybreak to the next, trying to make my meager snacks last, and wondering what plan Barrons could possibly have devised that might guarantee our safety from Rocky O’Bannion, quite pessimistically certain there was none. Even if he managed to scare off a few of O’Bannion’s men, there would only be more. I mean, really, how could one man hope to stand up to a ruthless mobster and his loyal pack of ex-fighters and thugs who’d once taken out twenty-seven people in a single night?

  When the first rays of a rosy sunrise pressed at the edges of the drapes, I hurried to the window and pulled back the curtain. I’d lived through yet another Dublin night and that, in and of itself, was swift becoming cause for celebration in my badly warped little world. I stared dumbly down into the alley for a long moment, as the sight that greeted me slowly sunk in.

  Or didn’t, I guess, because before I knew it, I’d raced from my fourth-floor retreat and was pounding bare-heeled down the back stairs for a closer look. I burst out into the early, chilly Irish morning. The concrete steps were damp with cold dew beneath my bare feet as I hurried down them, into the rear alley.

  A dozen or so feet away, in the early morning light, a black Maybach gleamed, with all four of its doors ajar. It was making that annoying bing-bing sound that told me the keys were still in the ignition and the battery hadn’t yet run down. Behind it, hood to trunk, stretching down into the beginnings of the abandoned neighborhood, were three more black vehicles, all with their doors wide open, emitting a chorus of bings. Outside each car were piles of clothing, not far from the doors. I had a sudden flashback to the day I’d gotten lost in the abandoned neighborhood, to the derelict car with the pile of clothing outside the driver’s door. Comprehension slammed into my brain and I flinched from the horror of it.

  Any fool could see what had happened here.

  Well, at least any sidhe-seer fool who knew what kind of things that went bump in the night around these parts could.

  The cop who’d seen us yesterday morning had apparently reported to O’Bannion, and at some unknown hour after dark, the mobster had come looking for us with a full complement of his men, and as evidenced by their stealthy backdoor approach, they’d not been coming to pay us a social call.

  The simplicity of Barrons’ plan both astounded and chilled me: He’d merely turned off the outside lights, front and rear, allowing darkness to swallow the entire perimeter of the building. O’Bannion and his men had stepped out of their cars, directly into an Unseelie massacre.

  Barrons had known they would come. I was even willing to bet he’d known they would come in force. He’d also known they would never make it farther than the direct vicinity of their own cars. Of course, I’d been safe in the store. With the interior lights ablaze and the exterior lights extinguished, neither man nor monster could have reached me last night.

  Barrons had baited a death trap—one that my theft had made necessary. When I’d reached up and blithely removed that weapon from the wall, I’d signed death warrants for sixteen men.

  I turned and stared up at the bookstore, now seeing it in an entirely different light: It wasn’t a building—it was a weapon. Only last week I’d stood out front, thinking it seemed to stand bastion between the good part of the city and the bad. Now I understood it was a bastion—this was the line of demarcation, the last defense—and Barrons held the encroachment of the abandoned neighborhood at bay with his many and carefully placed floodlights, and all he had to do to protect his property from threat at night was turn them off and let the Shades move in, hungry guard dogs from Hell.

  Drawn by grim fascination, or perhaps some long-dormant genetic need to understand all I could about the Fae, I approached the Maybach. The pile of clothing outside the driver’s door was topped by a finely made black leather jacket that looked just like the one I’d seen on Rocky O’Bannion the night before last.

  Barely repressing a shudder, I reached down and picked it up. As I lifted the supple Italian leather, a thick husk of what looked like badly yellowed, porous parchment fell out of it.

  I jerked violently and dropped the coat. I’d seen that kind of “parchment” before. I’d seen dozens of th
em, blowing down the deserted streets of the abandoned neighborhood that day I’d gotten lost in the fog, all different shapes and sizes. I remembered thinking that there must be a defunct paper factory somewhere nearby with broken windows.

  Page 66

 

  But it hadn’t been paper blowing past me—it had been people. Or what had been left of them, anyway. And that day, if I’d not made it out before nightfall, I would have become one of these . . . these . . . dehydrated rinds of human matter, too.

  I backed away. I didn’t need to peer beneath any more coats to know those husks were all that was left of Rocky O’Bannion and fifteen of his men, but I did anyway. I lifted three more, and that was all I could take. The men hadn’t even been able to see what was killing them. I wondered if the Shades had attacked simultaneously, waiting for all of them to get out of their cars, or if only the front two men had stepped out of each car and then, when the two in the rear had seen them go down, sucked into little scraps of whatever it was the Shade palate found indigestible in humans, they too had lunged out, guns blazing, only to fall victim to the same unseen foe. I wondered if the Shades were clever enough to wait, or merely driven by mindless, insatiable hunger.

  If they’d gotten me that first night I’d been lost, I’d have been able to see what was coming—great big oily darknesses—but I’d not have known I was a Null, or even a sidhe-seer, and although I probably would have raised my hands to try to fend it off, I wasn’t sure the Shades had a tangible form that I could touch to freeze.

  I made a mental note to ask Barrons.

  I stared at the four cars, at the piles that were all that remained of sixteen men: clothing, shoes, jewelry, guns; there were lots of guns. They must have been packing at least two each; blue steel littered the pavement around the cars. Apparently Shades killed quickly or all the guns had silencers, because I hadn’t heard a single shot last night.

  No matter that these men had been criminals and killers, no matter that once before they’d wiped out two entire families, I could not absolve myself of their deaths. By omission or commission, my hand was in it, and I would carry it inside me for the rest of my life in a place that I would eventually learn to live with, but never learn to like.

 
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