|Mark Kalvin <Sahtori@***.COM>
|This is part three
|Sun, 19 Mar 1995 13:58:09 -0500
two sides in the gunfight found a grenade and used it-sound and light in the
distance and then the sound's echo through the speakers. More people falling.
A sound of screaming that was louder than any of the music had been. The
remnant of the fourth aisle was scrambling over into the fifth who who ran to
avoid being trampled pressing them into the sixth. The gunmen fired again and
started running behind them melting into the mass as it ran.
The crowd in front of them became a wave of bodies moving toward them; driven
and driving as it surged forward, bounding over the seats-a tidal wave in
boots and denim; a demonstration of chain reaction performed in flesh and
bone. Stevens saw several individuals fall at the front of the wave: none of
them got up again. He watched some people sit frozen in their seats,
unbelieving, even as the motion reached them.
Muller sat fixed, staring straight ahead in her seat, her mouth open. She
looked up at Redding with blank incomprehension on her face. Redding saw the
wave coming uphill toward them. They were coming too quickly. He said, "Get
up" to the girl and grabbed her arm. He turned to Stevens and shouted.
"This isn't good!"
Stevens raised one hand suddenly, like a child catching a firefly. He brought
it across his body and pulled down. Twelve feet in front of them, the wave
broke and became faces and bodies pressed against something smooth and
shapeless. Redding could see the fear and rage in their faces as they found
the air in front of them immune to the intrusion of their flesh in the
instant before they were swept aside or ground under. The people in the
nearest seats stared out in disbelief as if they had suddenly found
themselves in a movie: one person reached out to try and touch the skin of
the magic in front of him as the crowd broke around it accommodating it like
a river flowing around a rock. The girl with the light patch turned around
and started to say something before she saw Steven's face.
His face was gray. He stood hunched, hugging himself, his hands were claws at
his side and shoulder. Redding paraphrased himself, shouting:
"This really isn't good!"
Magic is the application of human will at a distance powered by an endless
but invisible energy-source that only people capable of working magic saw or
understood. Every spell had a price that varied with the energy that went
into it. Magic was the wax in the candle and the magician was the wick. They
had needed an oasis large enough for three and Stevens had created an Island
large enough for the twenty-six people in the area with him. It was much more
than he should have done, the strain of it had nearly dropped him where he
stood. He was swaying on his feet. His eyes were wild.
"I can't hold this."
People were pounding on the shield in front of them, clawing at it, hating
Redding said, "She can't be here for the police, I want you to leave."
"I can't take both of you." Stevens said, and then he said, "No" His
broke in the vowel; becoming a cry of pain.
"Take her and go!"
Stevens made a cutting gesture with one hand and tried for "no" again. The
word no was an achievement; something that he tried to attain and failed to.
The pain was everywhere-a strong man beating him over every inch of his body
all at once. Soon it would drive him to his knees. When it made him drop the
spell, the wave would reach them. He was going to lose consciousness.
Redding put the gun in his back pocket and raised his hands level with his
chest. His voice had a disturbingly level tone to it. He said, "Get the fuck
out of here."
Stevens said, "come to me and serve me" as he turned to the girl. She had
been oblivious to what had gone on between them; fascinated by the sights.
Stevens grabbed her.
She knew that he wanted the recorder from her belt and that they would leave
her there; leave her to the mad faces of the crowd; that was rushing toward
her. She fell backwards when he touched her and curled into a fetal ball with
the unit on her belt at its center. She kicked at him as his hands circled
her body. She went at him with an elbow and connected with his chin. The
barrier collapsed. Someone near them screamed. Her entire body was shaking,
she wailed something sibilant and mournful in German.
Stevens imaged the linking spell to the air elemental as it settled around
them. Someone's foot found the calf of his left leg; something else struck
him across the kidneys and the pain drove the breath from his body; something
struck him in the middle of his spine so that the lights danced before his
eyes. He felt the linking spell congeal in the air around him. He heard
someone say, "up" from a very long distance and he wondered if it was him.
There was a lurching, dramatic change in perspective as the floor of the
garden dwindled. Far below, the nucleus of quiet was disintegrating and
fragmenting. He saw a shape in light colored clothes approach the space where
Redding must have been and undergo an instantaneous change of vector. The
girl was in his arms rigid and screeching: Something warm and wet flowed down
his legs where their hips met. Across the open space, he saw a red sign
marked "exit" on one of the upper tiers and pointed himself in that
Stevens wore a matrix when they found Redding, a brightly-lit, curtain of
warning colors; alternating bands of orange and black that hid his face, size
and shape-a message from magician to mundane that was clearly understood in
the wide swatch between the South Bronx and Buenos Aires:it said, "You can do
what you like now, but there there won't be reliable witnesses later."
They found Redding sitting in a niche, in a doorway not far from the garden,
across the street from a closed bar with a beer display; a wan light that
gave burglars and graffiti artists something to work by. He could hear the
sirens where the police were holding court behind the barricades-busily
scanning the barcode on ID cards. He was holding his shirt balled up under
his body armor with one hand, using it as a bandage. It was nine-parts red.
He used the other hand to put the small, flat automatic back into the shadow
of his thigh as he recognized them. Muller stopped; keeping the sight of
blood at a respectful distance. Stevens reached for the edge of the shirt and
looked under it.
"Before you ask, " Redding said, "it was someone with a knife and I was
Stevens said, "It's long but not really dangerous, so long as you just sit
here. It looks like about five minute's worth of work."
Redding's eyes flicked to Muller's face for a moment before he asked "when is
"An hour from now-forty-five minutes to the first drop point, I can do it for
you if you want."
"They contracted for both of us."
"Screw them." Stevens said; both of the words spoken with a cold, disturbing
"Yeah?" Redding asked, "what makes them so lucky?"
"It turns out that the pins in her upper arm form an antenna, she has a GPS
that started transmitting sometime after we got to the concert. It's still
"Anyone listening?" Redding asked.
"I don't think so, not through her at least. As a bug, the bandwidth is too
narrow for anything but basic audio, if that much. Burst-transmission Morse
is more likely what it's up for-I can't tell without time and equipment-but
any way you slice it, she's got an added little feature that Mr. Client
didn't tell us about."
"Yeah, a left arm that you can find anywhere in the world."
"Um-hm. Certainly enough to make you out in a crowded space with the right
"What do we do about it?"
Stevens said, "what do you want to do about it?" and then he exchanged a look
with Redding.: it was a look with a quality to it; a brightly imprinting
instant; like staring down into a box with a medal in it. It only lasted a
second, but he knew that it was a significant moment-seconds heavy with the
promise of long reverberations.
Redding tilted his head slightly to one side and shrugged. He closed his eyes
and opened them.
He said, "I want to stop bleeding."
"Then grab a wad of your jacket and hold on to it" Stevens said. "I'm going
to have to do this in stages and it's going to hurt like hell."
They walked to the meeting place. It was as old parking lot in the Village on
Astor place, where they knew the attendant would close his eyes for a few
credits so long as you left the cars alone. The had gone South, downtown,
and then East; he and Stevens with the girl between them. Step, stepping;
walking the way you learned to when you grew up in a place where everyone had
something to do or something to say-what you learned to do when you could
never quite scare up what it took to take the bus. Stevens had worked on
Redding's shirt: it looked new but wrinkled. Stevens was pacing back and
forth; looking like a lookout: keeping his hands in his pockets, occasionally
spitting tobacco-juice; his eyes constantly moving.Cars came and went along
the avenue: Redding had things to say.
"I don't know a lot about a lot of things but I know my business. You're
involved in my business now. You did what we do for money so you're a
"So, one professional to another, the key to the business is to make sure you
get paid for what you do and then keep quiet about it...keep quiet from as
far away as you can"
"What is your point? What are you saying?"
"Me? I'm not saying anything-I haven't said anything in twenty years. Point
is, that they don't want you: they want that slug of quartz you're carrying.
The slug is worth a storm of money-you are only the thing that brings it to
them. I think you should just leave it for them and go do something else with
your silicon. If I were saying anything, I'd say that they've got a lot of
money and they won't miss what's in your head so long as they think you'll
"What do I do with myself? How do I live?"
"There's a big market in witnesses with stim. Someone's always scamming
somewhere: you go to where the accidents are, make a recording, and then talk
about it in court. The insurance companies are always looking for stringers.
We can set you up for a new recorder. If the job is hairy, we could go with
you for a piece of it."
"You are a hero now? You want to protect me."
Stevens stopped pacing. He turned his head to one side and spat something
brown before speaking.
"We're not heroes." He said, nearly shouting.
Muller stood staring at him. Her mouth open. Stevens had spoken in flawless,
accentless German. He went on. "We work hard and we keep our eyes open for
the next chance-heroes are all about sacrifice for the common good: we would
love to be heroes-just once. We can't afford it. To hell with it. Fuck it, If
you get into the car that's coming-"
Redding raised a finger and waved it. "We're not sure about it and we have a
"You are acting," she said. You are trying to scare me."
Redding said, "No. You don't understand: it isn't even scary. It's just the
way things are."
A low and smooth Mercedes, a variation in the key of limousine, pulled into
the parking lot and stopped in the lane between the cars. One the doors it
the rear it opened. It was dark inside the passenger section; dark enough for
a quiet debriefing with champagne and fingerfood: It was dark enough for one
more bad thing to happen in a place where no one saw it.
Stevens looked at her face and there were no more arguments. He said nothing,
he could see that she was already in the limousine; telling her story;
drinking the champagne; sipping a nice warm cup of Miso and laughing. He saw
in her face that she was already preparing with her soul to be loyal to the
company; waiting to hear what a good girl she was; eager to go to her next
concert and the next one, and the one after that-someone about to take the
first steps in a brilliant career.
Stevens positioned himself in the open lane that lead to were the limousine
was waiting; placed himself to be easily seen and targeted. Stevens had
worked for safety; worked for years to make it hard for a bullet or a spell
of any kind to touch him. Redding had the automatic down behind one leg. Cars
were a problem in tactics that they had solved years ago: Redding used
whatever he had to make everyone close the doors and stay inside while
Stevens called a fire elemental that manifested in its fuel tank-the sudden,
unanswerable presence of a thousand-degree flame.
Muller started walking forward towards the door that had opened for her. If
anything happened, it was going to happen in the next few seconds. Redding
was edging to the left with an air of nonchalance in motion that was
natural-barely noticeable-as if creeping around cars for a better shot was
something that he had done ten times a day for years. She was walking to
where the door was open and waiting for her. She was thirty feet away; then
twenty; and then ten feet. All it would take was a spell or a bullet: if a
single loud word from the back of the car happened, people would start to
Stevens' body was like a statue erected as a celebration of tension-seventy
kilos of rigid flesh swaddled in cotton and advanced aramid polymers. Redding
stood behind the hood of a car as if he had grown there; watching and
waiting. But nothing happened. She got into the limousine and It was almost a
relief when she got in; when the door closed behind her; peacefully and
without comment. Redding thought that it would almost have been easier if the
people who had carefully assembled the evening had found the decency to try
and save themselves a little money. The limousine turned in an arc onto the
avenue and went south.
Redding took a last look around him and put the automatic away. Stevens
relaxed and started breathing again. They were done. They had protected her
and delivered what she was carrying. They were going to get paid.
They took a fast mover out to Queens where they still had diners. They went
to a empty one and sat down at a booth. The harsh light from socket
flourescents gave the place an atmosphere of almost surreal cleanness-a
sterility that was like an undertakers' workshop. Redding looked at Stevens
and saw the harsh shadows that his hair cast on his face. He had changed his
contact lenses and his eyes were a borrowed shade of gray tonight. It was at
times like this that Redding wondered at the kind of joke biology had played
on him. He had seen a picture of Stevens' parents: both of them had faces
that were as brown as fresh-turned earth while under the light in the diner,
Redding could clearly make out the small red of veins under Stevens' skin.
And then there was the whole drug situation- three years after the fact, and
he still looked like he was fixing up eight times a day.
The waitress came and asked them what they wanted.
Redding said, "Coffee. Make it real, make it quick, and keep it coming-we've
got a haul for Toronto tomorrow and we want to be awake when we get there."
The waitress turned and went to the kitchen showing them her back. There were
flat screen televisions in the corners of the diner; playing to no one: the
one nearest them showed a scene of the garden from the air; then stock
footage of of Pal Rabenda on stage; a scene from the inside during the
happening; and then a jump cut to a reporter standing in front of the
barricades-blue uniforms in the background.
Redding said, "Do me a thing."
"Pretend for a sec that we're a little different and do a thought exercise.
Money and resources no problem: I want you to do Pal Rabenda for me."
Stevens said "You mean..." He covered the side of his face with his hand and
silently mouthed the end of the sentence, "kill him?"
"Yes." Redding said, "That-do that for me."
"Okay." He said, "Steal or buy a welding laser. Modify the optics,
collimating for a six inch blade at a one half mile; survey a target
reference to somewhere where his head shows up at intervals. Wait for him to
go there. When he shows up, you put one-hundred thousand Joules through his
brain-next case: If resources are really no object, you can have a computer
do it for you."
"Sure. Stay inside forever; never walk through the same door twice-learn to
duck fast at random intervals."
"You'd have to know the make and frequency of the laser in advance-which
frequency you wanted blocked-there are lots and lots of them. Blocking the
whole spectrum transcends the Theory of Characteristics. Block everything and
you end up walking around in a black bubble with no light going in or out.
Find a way to do it and still see your dinner and we can retire on
"What team of hitters don't know this?"
"Bad ones. None who could actually do the job. But you know all this already.
We were trained by the same people."
The waitress brought coffee in two steaming white mugs. She held them with
exaggerated care, up level with her shoulders, before laying them down in
front of them. She asked, "You need milk?"
"Did it come out a cow?" Redding asked.
"Nope. We got some frozen baby formula if you want...take just a sec to zap
Redding smiled. "Thanks, don't need it."
"A lot of sugar for me." Stevens said.
Redding sipped. It was good. The best of the bad coffee, hot and
black-bottled water over beans that should have been buried a long time ago.
He looked over the edge of his mug at Stevens: his hands were hidden under
the edge of the table with one of them was making a circling motion. He was
looking off to the left with slitted eyes; an almost routine look of inhuman
determination crossing his face for an instant. Having done whatever he had
done, He poured a waterfall of sugar into his coffee and turned to Redding
while he stirred it.
"Who do you think commissioned it?"
"Pick a telecom company and point a finger. Maybe Rabenda's Parent company
wanting to teach him to loosen up about the stim thing-you know; 'look how
dangerous it is.' The same people who hired the clown behind us, the
screamer. They figured the chip was easier to get out than the girl was."
Stevens pulled his computer out of the sheath on his thigh. The screen showed
green alphanumerics flashing in and out of existence-money
laundering-thousands of transactions below the threshold where banks kept
records for more than a few seconds. Stevens recalled that he and Muller had
tried it once while Redding was off arranging things. It happened in the
center of the floor in a sleeping bag. Neither of them closed their eyes for
an instant: in the middle of it all, Stevens started laughing and couldn't
have stopped for love or money. Staring into her glass eyes with his, he
thought of the phrase, "The bizarre image of cameras mating." If he had
touched her hand at the concert she would have been sitting there with them.
He would have made her come with them. Magic was good for that kind of thing,
He looked at the computer and said, "we're getting paid."
Redding said, "That's something." and then he saw Stevens look to his left
for a moment and nod. He took a sip of his coffee and then put his mug down
on the formica in front of him. His face was yellow like paper with no life
"Here's something else: her name was Nuala Theresa O'Connor: she was just
disassembled in Brooklyn."
"Where in Brooklyn?"
Stevens smiled. "At a place that I am going to burn to the ground."
He shook his head from side to side. Precise, crisp pronunciation: "I don't
His smile broadened. "Because I want to and because I can."
Redding shrugged, drank from his mug and nodded. He emptied his cup and
motioned for the waitress to come over to them.
He said, "How do you take your coffee? My friend wants to buy you a cup."
She said, "I wouldn't know."
"Come and have a cup with us-we can pay extra."
She looked up at a spot near one of the screens; the place where the
manager's camera would be.
"My boss wouldn't like it."
"Tell you what, go tell him about it-either come back with a mug or tell him
he can come over and explain his policy to my friend here."
She turned to Stevens and looked him up and down. Her eyes lingered on the
tips of his ears.
"You a magician?"
Stevens looked up at her and smiled. "Like they say in the flats... 'right
off the scale.' and then he said, "Don't worry, nothing will happen to you
while you're with us."
A few minutes later, she came back with the coffee pot on a warming plate;
carrying a third mug in the pocket of her apron. Her name was Linda. She had
brown hair and brown eyes with not that much behind them. She asked them if
they worked for the mafia. She told them the story of her life in detail and
they listened: She was in her thirties and had a little girl. Stevens called
a spirit for her and let her use it to take a message to a man whose name she
could barely remember and she got an answer. Redding told her about a vampire
they knew. They drank coffee for a very long time. They sat and talked and
drank coffee until the sun rose and chased them away.