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The boy was all he had now. His blood and seed were poisoned. There would be no other children.
Concerto for Siren and Serotonin
Again they were after him. If you can't even trust your doctor, he wondered, who can you trust? The sirens' wails were almost a steady sheet of sound now.
He hurled chunks of concrete, broke streetlights, and dashed from alley to doorway. He crouched within parked cars. He watched the choppers go by, listening to the steady phut-phut of their blades. Every now and then he heard parts of appeals over some loudspeaker or other. They were talking to him, lying to him, asking him to turn himself in. He chuckled. That would be the day.
Was it all Tachy's fault again? An image flashed before his mind's eye, of Jetboy's small plane darting like a tiny fish among great, grazing whales there in the half-clouded sky of an afternoon. Back when it all began. What had ever happened to Joe Sarzanno?
He smelled smoke. Why did things always get burned in times of trouble? He rubbed his temples and yawned. Automatically he sought in his pocket after a pill, but there was nothing there. He tore open the door to a c.o.ke machine before a darkened service station, broke into the coin box, then fed quarters back into the mechanism, collected a c.o.ke for either hand, and walked away sipping.
After a time he found himself standing before the Jokertown Dime Museum, wanting to go inside and realizing that the place was closed.
He stood undecided for perhaps ten seconds. Then a siren sounded nearby.
Probably just around the corner. He moved forward, snapped the lock, and entered. He left the price of admission on the little desk to his left and as an afterthought, tossed in something for the lock.
He sat on a bench for a while, watching shadows. Every now and then he rose, strolled, and returned. He saw again the golden b.u.t.terfly, poised as if about to depart from the golden monkey wrench, both of them trans.m.u.ted by the short-lived ace called Midas. He looked again at the jars of joker fetuses, and at a buckled section of a metal door bearing Devil John's hoofprint.
He walked among the Great Events in Wild Card History dioramas pressing the b.u.t.ton over and over again at the Earth vs. Swarm display. Each time that he hit it, Modular Man fired his laser at a Swarm monster. Then he located one that made the statue of the Howler scream....
It was not until his final c.o.ke was down to its last swallow that he noticed the diminutive human skin, stuffed, displayed in a case. He pressed nearer, squinting, and read the card that identified it as having been found in an alley. He sucked in his breath as the recognition hit him.
"Poor Gimli," he said. "Who could have done this to you? And where are your insides? My stomach turns at it. Where are your wisecracks now? Go to Barnett, tell him to preach till all h.e.l.l freezes. In the end it'll be his hide, too."
He turned away. He yawned again. His limbs were heavy. Rounding a corner, he beheld three metal sh.e.l.ls, suspended by long cables in the middle of the air. He halted and regarded them, realizing immediately what they were.
On a whim he leaped and slapped the nearest of the three-an armor-plated VW body. It rang all about him and swayed slightly on its moorings, and he sprang a second time and slapped it again before another yawning jag seized him.
"Have sh.e.l.l, will travel," he muttered. "Always safe in there, weren't you, Turtle so long as you didn't stick your neck out?"
He began to chuckle again, then stopped as he turned to the one he remembered most vividly-the sixties modeland he could not reach high enough to trace the peace symbol on its side, but "'Make love, not war,"' he read, the motto painted into a flower-form mandala. "s.h.i.t, tell that to the guys trying to kill me."
"Always wondered what it looked like inside," he added, and he leaped and hooked his fingers over the edge and drew himself upward.
The vehicle swayed but held his weight easily. In a minute he was sequestered within.
"Ah, sweet claustrophobia!" he sighed. "It does feel safe. I could..."
He closed his eyes. After a time he shimmered faintly.
"What Rough Beast..."'
by Leanne C. Harper
Bagabond looked down at her friend Jack Robicheaux. The transformations were coming more slowly now and lasting longer. Right now he was human, and he would probably remain human for the next several days. She had spent some time wondering if she was partially to blame for his continuous transformations. Jack had known he could only communicate with her as an alligator. Even in his coma it was possible that he had realized that he had to change to tell her about Cordelia.
She looked up to catch C.C.'s gaze and shrugged. "I know I promised to stop feeling guilty. I'm going to miss him." Both women looked up as Cordelia entered the hospital room.
"Good news, guys. Dr. Tacky says that Jack may be getting a little better. He's not sure, but he thinks that the time that Jack has been spending as a 'gator may be killing the virus." Cordelia crossed the hospital room to Jack's bed and leaned down to kiss him on the lips. "So there, Oncle. Don't you give up on me now."
C.C. Ryder and Bagabond exchanged surprised glances over Cordelia's head.
Bagabond allowed a smile to sneak onto her face, camouflaged by the tangled hair.
The red-haired singer took Bagabond's hand. "Told ya so."
"What? Never mind. Y'all speak in shorthand anyway. Worse'n Cajuns. When are y'all leaving?" Cordelia stood by Jack's head, looking down as if she could see inside him.
"Plane leaves tomorrow. I dropped the itinerary off at your office this morning.
So, if there's any change, you can get in touch immediately." C.C. looked up at her friend. "Suzanne will want to know right away."
"Do they have phones in Guatemala?"
"Yes, Cordelia." C.C. sighed.
"Bring me back an Indian?" Cordelia held her uncle's hand, but she grinned up disarmingly at Bagabond and C.C. "We're going to help them, not arrange American wives."
"Who said anyt'ing about marriage?" Cordelia's quicksilver emotions turned serious. "Bagabond, I'll take care of him. I promise. I know you don't think much of me sometimes, but-"
"Just need to grow up. Don't make promises to yourself or ' anybody else that you can't keep. The world doesn't need any more saints." Cordelia blushed.
Bagabond looked straight into the eyes of the younger woman. "'Sides, you don't think I'm going to leave Jack unguarded, do you?"
Bagabond swept open her coat and the black leaped out and shook himself before sitting down to begin preening his disturbed fur back into place. Cordelia knelt beside him and tried to scratch behind his ears. The cat backed away and leaped up onto Jack's bed and put his head beside Jack's on the pillow.
"Phones or no phones, tell the black if you need me. It's a long way, but I don't think that distance could stop us anymore. I feel bad going, though."
Bagabond looked down at the floor.
"Dr. Tachyon will take care of Uncle Jack, with appropriate help from me and the black. He'd want you to go." Cordelia looked back at her uncle, lying pale and silent under the tubes and connections that kept him alive.
"I know. He'd say it would be good for me." Bagabond glanced at C.C., standing beside her. "I'm not used to all these people knowing what's good for me. But I always wanted to talk to a black jaguar, and no rock star should be without her bodyguard."
"Rock star." C.C. rolled her eyes toward heaven. "She keeps telling me that one jungle's like another. I don't know who's going to have the greatest culture shock: us or them. Poor guys are trying to build a new country. Just what they need, an aging 'rock star' and a bag lady."
Cordelia reached over and bugged C.C. "They could do a lot worse."
Bagabond watched her appraisingly, then held out her hand. Cordelia hesitated, then took it tightly between both of her own.
"You know how to take care of yourself. Don't cut off something that's part of you." Bagabond raised her head to stare at Jack. "We both did, one way or another. He'd tell you the same. Don't become a cripple. It's not worth the effort."
"I think I figured that out, one night a while back." Cordelia released Bagabond's hand self-consciously. Bagabond walked up to Jack and gazed down on his peaceful face. She rested her hand on his cheek. With her hair hanging down around her face, no one else could see the words she made. She could only hope that Jack heard them, wherever he was. " I love you."
As they left the room, a man walked up to the door. It took Bagabond a moment to recognize him. "Michael."
He clutched a huge fruit basket that almost completely hid his face. What they could see was frightened. No one spoke.
"He's my friend, too." Michael lowered the basket a few inches. "Can I see him?"
Bagabond and Cordelia looked at each other, pa.s.sing judgment on the man who had abandoned Jack months before. It was Cordelia who nodded their a.s.sent.
"We all love him."
Rocking back and forth, Rosemary Gambione wrung her hands as she sat on the bed waiting for the Shadow Fists' lawyer to make it official. It was all over. The Mafia had lost.
The faces of the dead dons, the capos, even the soldiers, were with her now even in the daytime. The nightmare had become her reality.
She was sweating. Her little room sweltered in the August humidity of New York.
On the bed her suitcase was packed and ready to go. Anywhere, as long as it was out of the city.
At the knock on her door she ran her hands down her jeans and grabbed her Walther. She had used it often in the last few months. It felt secure and heavy in her hands.
"Who?" She pulled the gun up to shove the damp hair out of her eyes.
"Swordfish. Or is there some other pa.s.sword you'd prefer?" The voice was elegant and a touch effete. Rosemary recognized it immediately from the phone calls that had set up this meeting. Holding the pistol in her right hand, she awkwardly opened the door with her left. Dressed in a custom-tailored white suit, the man she knew as Loophole sauntered into her room.
"Goodness." He looked at her gun for a moment before surveying the room. "Ah, well, these are troubled times in which we live, aren't they? Not even a desk, I see."
"Use the suitcase, Latham." Rosemary saw his head jerk slightly at the sound of his own name. She had seen him at every bar a.s.sociation dinner for years. She was surprised now that she had not recognized his voice.
"Quite. Much better than that 'Loophole' appellation with which I appear to be permanently a.s.sociated. Please be seated, Ms. Gambione. Or is it Muldoon?"
"Gambione. Let's get this over with." Rosemary sat down across her suitcase from the lawyer, but she kept her Walther in her lap.
"By the way, my ... a.s.sociates are stationed throughout the building and on the street. To provide us with the privacy we need for our transaction."
Rosemary sighed and shook her head. "Loophole, I'm not going to take you hostage or kill you. What's the point? I just want to get this taken care of so I can leave. I don't want any more of my people dead. Let's see the contract."
Latham handed it over and studied her as she read it. Rosemary wondered if he was curious as to how low one of his own could sink. But then he had never seen her as a peer. If she hadn't wanted to keep those of her people who were left alive, killing Latham would be a particularly pleasurable form of suicide.
"It appears to be in order. The interests you represent take over my operations throughout the city, retaining my personnel-"
"Those who are left and still capable."
Rosemary's hand tightened on the gun. "Yeah, right. I'll sign it. Got a pen?"
"Of course." Latham extracted a Mont Blanc from his briefcase and carefully uncapped it for her. "Please. . ." Rosemary laid the contract on her suitcase and in her last act as a Gambione, signed it. She saw her father's face in the background of the paper and her hand trembled. The signature was shaky, but it would keep her people safe.
Latham held up the contract and examined her signature. Rosemary couldn't tell if he was sneering at the wet imprints her hand had made or if it was simply his habitual expression. He was not sweating, she noticed. "I want the money and the ticket."
"It has all been arranged, my dear." Latham opened his briefcase again to stow away the contract and to remove two envelopes. The larger manila envelope was stuffed almost beyond its capacity. "Two hundred thousand and your pa.s.sage to Cuba. I understand it is quite nice this time of year. I do hope you'll enjoy the voyage."
Latham stood and walked to the door. As he put his hand on the k.n.o.b, he spoke again. "By the way, I had understood that you were looking for Mr. Mazzucch.e.l.li.
My sources inform me that he can be found at the address in the envelope. Good luck."
Rosemary stared at the white envelope iying on her suitcase. She did not touch it. After a moment she looked up at Latham.
"Lagniappe." He shrugged. "The interests I represent are not without sympathy, my dear."
The door had been shut behind him for ten minutes before Rosemary picked up the white envelope. Turning it over, she saw the blood-red wax of the seal and smiled in pain.
One of the deals she had made was that the men who were entering the warehouse in front of her would be cared for in the best fashion possible. Most were not men anymore. They were the jokers that had survived the meeting with Croyd. She still wondered how Chris had arranged it.
When she had phoned their relatives to tell them about Chris, she had expected joy at this chance for revenge. She had received dull acceptance instead.
Vengeance would be taken, but it would be taken because it was the proper thing to do, not because anyone, victim or guardian, could take any pleasure in it.
She had been surprised, but now that she was here she understood. She was not pleased at what was about to happen. She felt nothing a all.
Earlier in the day she had found a side entrance and a route to the mezzanine of the abandoned Jokertown warehouse. If Chris had been there, she hadn't seen him.
This time, as she took her vantage point, she heard the victims moving through the warehouse searching for him. The noises they made came close to nauseating her, but she forced herself to watch. It was her fault, after all.
The noises grew in volume. She spotted their prey and gasped. She had not expected this. What had been a thirtyyear-old man was now a fur-covered, shambling thing. Its claws scrabbled on the concrete floor for purchase as it recognized that it was being pursued. As it turned its head to spot its enemies, the sharp teeth in the pointed muzzle glinted in the moonlight shining down through the shattered skylights. The only thing she recognized was the tangled rattail that still fell down his back.
His victims, her victims, shambled and oozed through the aisles of the warehouse toward the author of their pain. Did any of them still know what they had been or how they had become the warped creatures that closed in on the erstwhile Chris Mazzucch.e.l.li? An excited twittering erupted when Chris was spotted for the first time. He hissed at his pursuers, slashing the air with his outstretched claws. They were implacable. Even after he had drawn blood they came on, surrounding him carefully outside his reach.
Chris was backed into an area of the warehouse piled high with rusted machinery.
He could not scale it, and his tormentors closed in for the kill. Rosemary tried to watch, but instead of remembering the man who had tried to kill her, she recalled the caring man she had taken as a lover. She stared down at the execution for only a moment before gagging and turning her back on the high-pitched screams that were followed by liquid gurgles.
Even the sounds were more than she could bear. Rosemary fled, but the noises pursued her long after she boarded the ship and curled up on the bed with her hands pressed against her ears.
Only the Dead Know Jokertown