Madhouse, page 20
A wad of rags and a spray bottle of industrial cleaner were slapped on the bar beside me. “I’ll supervise,” he announced with stony impatience.
I nodded a good-bye to Promise and headed down the bar. It curved like the bow of a ship and by the time we reached the end of it, I could hear the shrill keening coming from the unispecies bathroom down the hall. “Jeez, he’s not still melting, is he? That’ll be one helluva mess, and you can bet your ass it won’t go down the drain in the floor.” Actually, I did feel bad…a little. A vodyanoi would eat you if you dipped as much as a goddamn pinky toe in his particular watery territory, but this guy had been here for a drink, nothing else, and I’d melted the poor son of a bitch.
“You worry about the cleanup. I’ll worry about the vodyanoi.” Ishiah watched me wipe a slick, snotlike substance from the bar before I began working on the set-in gray-green stains. After a few minutes of watching me apply the elbow grease, he said grimly,
“Robin was shot, wasn’t he?”
You had to hand it to the peris; if it was worth knowing, somehow they knew it. It came from running bars. If there was information available, it was going to pass through a bar before anywhere else.
I raised my eyes to his. “Why you asking if you already know?”
“Exercise your social skills for a moment, would you?” He leaned across the bar, nose to nose. “I know he survived. I know he walked away. What I don’t know is how badly he’s hurt.”
“Not bad.” I continued scrubbing and snorted,
“The son of a bitch was wearing a bulletproof vest. Can you believe it?”
“So he was shot and by a human.” He moved back, eyes distant and speculative. “I guess that solves that, then.”
That stopped my cleaning. “You mean you know who the hell is behind this?” The cloth, heavy and ripe with vodyanoi flesh, fell to the floor. “You know?”
“The sirrush, the Hameh birds, now a human.” The wings were out in full force. “Robin Goodfellow once did a…he did a thing that was not quite ethical. It was a long time ago and he’s grown since then. Changed. I hope.” The wings waved, disturbed.
“And it was so very long ago that I can’t imagine anyone seeking retribution now, but…” He shook his head, scar whitening at his jaw. “Obviously that isn’t the case.”
“Let me get this straight. You know who’s behind this and Robin doesn’t?” I said with disbelief.
The wings disappeared instantly as control returned to face and body. “He knows. He may even have known before he was shot, suspected at least. But he’s certainly not going to tell you or your brother.”
“And why the hell not?” The question may have sounded belligerent. It should have; it was.
“He respects the two of you,” Ishiah answered slowly as if he couldn’t quite believe it himself. “He considers you friends—Robin Goodfellow who has had very few of those in his life. He doesn’t want to change that. He doesn’t want to disappoint you.”
Now, there was a concept to boggle. Robin didn’t want to disappoint us? Robin who chased my brother relentlessly before Promise staked her claim. Robin who lied, cheated, and picked pockets just to stay in practice, who had killed a succubus in cold blood because she wouldn’t give him the information we needed? Robin who sold used cars? That Robin didn’t want to disappoint us?
I liked that Robin, I’d finally been forced to admit to myself, but did I think he’d worry about disappointing us? No. I didn’t buy it. Unless…
“Just how not quite ethical was this thing he did?” I asked with apprehensive curiosity.
“You do not want to know, and, regardless, it’s not my story to tell.” He folded his arms across his chest. “I would give you more information on at least who these bastards are, but general knowledge isn’t specific. Knowing the why and the very broad who doesn’t get us any closer than if I knew nothing at all.” The control flickered and I saw more than wings. I saw light and fire and my ears ached from the pressure, and then it was gone. “Go. Ask him. Maybe you can convince him where I can’t. Stubborn bastard.”
Jaw still a little loose from the light show, I was suddenly alone as he disappeared into the back room. I peered over the bar expecting to see smoking footprints burned into the floor, but there was nothing. Peris.
I still had to wonder.
Having given the unprecedented go-ahead to cut out of work early, Promise and I did just what Ishiah suggested. We arrived at her apartment at ten a.m. to find out from Robin what Ishiah wouldn’t tell us. We walked in, I told him what Ishiah had said, and waited for the response. He was completely cooperative. Threw buckets of info at us faster than we could soak it up.
Yeah, right. He wasn’t telling us shit.
“I have no idea what that canary with the overactive pituitary gland is on about,” Robin said loftily from the sofa as he pointed the remote at the television that was normally discreetly hidden behind a reproduction of what was Waterhouse’s Windflowers, or so I was told. It was a woman with blowing brown hair, a violet and ivory dress, and flowers all around her bare feet. It was Promise, I knew it was. She had been the model. Maybe not sketched or painted outside on that sunny morning, but she’d been the inspiration.
“Porn, where is the porn?” Goodfellow complained.
“Does the woman not have a single exotic entertainment channel in her package? Unbelievable.”
“Robin, we need to speak with you. Pay attention.” Niko, playing part bodyguard, part nurse, removed the remote and tossed it with brisk force over his shoulder to me. Fortunately, I both expected and caught it or I would’ve choked on it. Not one moment of one day could I hope not to be tested at my brother’s slightest whim. It was second nature to us both, but it didn’t stop me from tossing it back. Niko ducked gracefully and it bopped Robin in the forehead.
“Charon’s pasty white balls.” Robin glared and rubbed a faint red spot above his eyebrow, but turned the television off. “Nothing happened in some forsaken sand-ridden land, and I have no idea who might want to kill me. Well…” His eyebrows twitched. “Let’s embrace reality. I have no idea who might want to kill me as a concerted plot. How about that?”
“You’re lying,” said Niko. There wasn’t a single doubt to be heard in his voice.
“And how do you know?” The head tilted, chin lifted, eyes narrowed—all in challenge.
“Because you always lie,” Nik said with dark exasperation. “Why would that possibly change now?”
“Ah.” Robin slid down a little on the couch and folded his arms. “Good point.”
“Then stop being an asshole and tell us already,” I demanded.
“Or what?” he asked mockingly. “You’ll hug me?”
“You son of a bitch,” I growled. Niko caught me as I lunged, still cursing, toward the couch.
Cunning fox eyes grinned at me, but the actual curve of his mouth was uncertain, as if that half-assed hug was so far outside his world that he barely recognized it for what it was. Yeah, you and me both, pal, I thought as I glared at him over Nik’s shoulder. Learning how to be a friend was a bitch and a half.
“Robin, just tell us. If you tell us, we can help stop this. I would think you would want that.” Niko pushed me back with a warning glare of his own. His glare was more of an implication…a level glance, but I knew it for what it was.
Niko turned back to Goodfellow at the puck’s response. “No? You…no?” I hadn’t seen my brother at a loss for words often. If not for the situation, it would’ve been entertaining. “No, you won’t tell us,” he went on, “or no, you don’t want the attempts to cease?”
“The first.” Robin aimed the remote and turned the television back on and the sound up. “Now, why don’t you run along and find your Scottish pal? While you’re wasting time here, he’s probably scarfing up a busload of kiddies as we speak.”
It was a low blow, and it was meant to be.
“Robin,” I growled.
“Goodfellow…,” my brother insisted.
“You tiny-dicked piece of shit.” I curled my fingers into a fist.
“Not very inventive, proven false, and no.”
“This is a serious matter.” That was Nik again with the calm reason.
He looked at me, but he didn’t say no this time. He didn’t say anything at all. There was nothing but silence from him until we gave up and left. From a puck…silence.
Which meant, for now, we were shit out of luck.
After a few hours of needed unconsciousness, I woke that evening, took a shower, and went where Niko was sitting on the couch looking at the paper spread out on our battle-scarred coffee table. He must’ve gone out to buy one, because he didn’t tend to swipe the one from that asshole downstairs like I did. Always bitching to the manager about the noise, and I had to admit when you hit the floor after being thrown over your brother’s shoulder, that does make some noise. So I played loud music when we sparred to cover up the floor pounding, lamps breaking, and tables overturning, but apparently he wasn’t a fan of alternative music either. The manager came by and squawked at us once a week or so and the asshole under us lost a paper or three. Niko didn’t approve but as Thou Shall Not Steal wasn’t kissing cousins with Thou Shall Not Kick Your Brother’s Ass in Sparring, I ignored him.
“What’s up?” I asked. “You looking for ‘Ninja needed, soy-eating, anal-retentive required’ in the classifieds?”
“No.” He didn’t raise his eyes from the paper. “It seems Sawney finally received some publicity after all.”
I sat beside him and took a look for myself. The picture wasn’t so bad. Just a gurney and a full body bag. That’s a helluva life to lead, isn’t it, when a body bag is just one of those things? No big deal. The headline made up for it, though: EIGHT SLAUGHTERED AT MANHATTAN PSYCHIATRIC CENTER. “Oh, shit,” I murmured.
It seemed two security guards and six of the mental patients had been killed. Two more patients were missing. Four were decapitated and the other four had their throats slit. All were sliced to hell and back. “Hell, we knew the son of a bitch does have a taste for the psychiatrically challenged.” And for me. I read the rest of the article. The two missing patients were assumed to be responsible for the deaths…with what? Their damn fingernails? Those poor bastards had been taken away either dead to be eaten later or alive for Sawney’s fun and games. I hoped for their sakes they were dead. “Want I should take a smell around?” I didn’t see we could do anything else except make sure it was Sawney.
“I think that is an excellent idea.” He refolded the paper and slapped it against my chest. “Take that down to Mr. Arnold. He’s no doubt been looking for it.”
My brother, occasionally he did surprise me.
We waited until around midnight until dressing in black—jacket and coat, shirt and pants—and took the train up to East Twenty-fifth Street. Niko had done some research online about the place, but standing across the street looking at the fence topped with concertina wire, I didn’t get a warm fuzzy feeling thinking about the mental health field. At least seventeen stories tall, the building was a brown looming mass straight out of a Stephen King book. Hundreds of glowing hungry eyes masquerading as windows, the double doors that took you in never to spit you out again, and the Kingster himself doing the body cavity searches. Then off you’d go to the double-lockdown ward where criminally insane was already preprinted on your name tag. Hi, my name is Cal! I like to knit and kill, and I have father issues.
I kept looking up at the place, hypnotized, then shuddered slightly and looked over at Nik. “Okay, if there’s undercover work involved here,” I said, “Sawney can eat everyone in the damn city.”
Niko snorted and we crossed the street. There was still yellow police tape fluttering here and there, but the cops had come and gone. The hospital was bound to have upped the security, but if we couldn’t avoid them, then we were in the wrong job. We found an area where the tall security lamp had a shattered bulb…courtesy of a silenced shot from my Glock. The Eagle I was saving for Sawney or any revenants. I doubted I’d need it—they’d come and gone, but you never knew. Niko pulled a pair of bolt cutters and we were through the fence in less than a minute. The grounds weren’t all that big in and of themselves, but the building was huge. It took a while to circumnavigate the place while dodging the occasional guard, some of who looked pretty damn scared. Couldn’t say I blamed them. Whether the killers came from inside or out, I doubted the scenario had been in the employment brochure. We were more than halfway around the place before I smelled him…Sawney and the revenants. I pressed close through the bushes, put a hand on the cold stone, and looked up.
“See it?” I asked.
“Yes,” Niko responded. “I see.”
About five stories up was a brand-spanking-new window. Crisscrossed with wire the same as the others, this one was a little more clear, a little less clouded with age. They had gone through there and back out again from the smell. The scent was strong, stronger than a one-way trip. “Did you want to ninja your way up the wall or something?” I dug my hand in my pocket. “I think I have some double-sided sticky tape in here. You could wrap it around your hands and—” I dodged the elbow only to end up with the heel of a calloused hand millimeters from my nose. Busted cartilage, bone shards into the brain…lesson learned for the day.
“You don’t play fair,” I grumbled.
“Have I ever?” He dropped his hand and kept looking up at the window. “And there’s nothing up there to see.” He was probably right. Only freshly scrubbed tile floors and grout stained a bloody brown that wouldn’t come clean again no matter how much bleach housekeeping used.
“Can you follow their scent? See where they left?”
“I’m not a supernatural Lassie.” Hell, I wasn’t even as good as your average beagle, much less bloodhound, but—“I’ll give it a shot.” Keeping an eye out for the guards, I moved across the grass. There was more than Sawney and the revenants to track; there was blood and lots of it. Soaked into the ground and the fading grass, it made itself known just as well. It led to the north side of the fence. Up at the top you could still see the mottled stains of blood on the concertina wire. “Up and over.”
We went through, and from there I wavered. The slaughter had happened last night. A lot of people had come and gone since then. “Okay, you’re going to have to offer me a Snausage or something, because I’ve lost it.”
“What?” I demanded. “No ‘I know you’ve got it in you’? At least give me some sort of inspirational speech.”
“I did.” He repeated it: “Try harder.”
Great. I scowled at him and did exactly that. I tried harder. To my surprise I picked up something…a faint spore. Blood, bone, and Sawney’s coldly cheerful insanity. I only caught traces of it every fifteen or so feet for a block or so and then nothing. I stopped and looked down.
“Ah.” Niko crouched and touched fingers to metal.
“He’s gone to ground.”
More exactly, underground. It was a manhole cover.
More cold concrete, more water, more darkness. I exhaled, wished Sawney’d had a thing for tree houses instead of caves, and pulled the Eagle. Using the bolt cutters Niko pried up the cover, jumped several rungs down, and hung on the ladder for a split second, then kept climbing down. I followed, pulling the cover not quite in place, but enough to fool the casual eye.
It had rained a few days ago and I could hear the rush of water beneath us. It wasn’t much better than the tunnels had been—NYC wasn’t known for its pure mountain streams—and the only things I could smell didn’t have anything to do with Sawney and everything to do with courtesy flushes. It was a storm sewer, not a waste one, but the things water swept off the streets weren’t always lemony-fresh. I breathed through my mouth and kept moving down
Still, dead body parts or not, Sawney might use the sewers as a home base. Cold, dank—it was a possibility, which was more than we had before. Now that we’d been at the Second Avenue Subway construction, he was bound to have left there. Sawney wanted his spider-hole secret. We didn’t know whether he’d actually settled on that location or not before we’d shown up, but regardless we’d spoiled it for him.
Niko switched on his flashlight. “Do you remember when you were five and flushed your fish?”
“He was dead and that was in South Carolina.” I sloshed through the water.
“Mmmm.” The light dipped and I saw a sinuous shape beneath the surface of the water move past us. It was barely three feet long and it was not Freddy. Good thing too. Freddy had been a piranha.
We kept moving and truthfully I was surprised when we didn’t come across any pieces of patients. Sawney wasn’t the neatest of eaters. Unless he’d invested in a bib and a course in table manners, then this wasn’t home or home was much farther down. I was really tired of tramping through tunnels and sewers, but it looked like this wasn’t going to be an easy one. “Jesus. We might have days of this ahead of us,” I said. “We’ll have to get more help, bring paint to mark the off branches we cover, more lights.” I turned and shot the revenant behind me in the stomach. “And get some rubber boots. My goddamn feet are freezing.”
It fell in the water with a gurgle of blood and water rushing from its mouth. Its abdomen was pretty much gone—a bloody ruin of shredded flesh and the cartilage that passed for their bones. But there were still arms, a head and neck, part of a chest, and a frantically thrashing set of legs still joined, just barely, at the pelvis.
by Rob Thurman / Science Fiction & Fantasy / Mystery & Thrillers / Horror have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes