16 NOV 08:52
“IF I HAD THE VOICE”
“What?” Durand asked distractedly.
“I said,” Stepovich began, and then recalled his own words and couldn’t make sense of them. Dove?The word had come to him as a picture in his mind,and he’d vocalized it. The tattered Gypsy reminded him of a small snowy dove. He pushed the image out of his thoughts. “I said some bastard’s been pawing through my private papers,” he extemporized. He pointed accusingly at the day pencil pot. “If it’s under there, it’s private,” he instructed Durand.
The puppy seemed unmoved. “Didn’t know a murder file could be private,” he said coolly. “Unless you’re personally involved in it somehow.”
There was a little moment of silence in which all the implications of that statement settled.
“Are you asking if I’m dirty?” All sorts of minor variables were flipping through his mind. Whether to stand up first, or to take him right from the chair.Whchair.Wherehim first. Brain just humming along like a computer, while he watched Durand know what he was thinking and not back off. One of two things;Durand was either braver than Stepovich had thought, or stupider. Maybe both. He just stood there, blinking those big eyes like a calf. Tiffany Marie probably thought he was cute when he did that.Somthat. Somehowught ballooned the anger inside him. Who the hell did this kid think he was, to imply Stepovich was dirty? He’d been copping since Dumbshit was in grade school.
“Are you telling me there wasn’t a knife?” Durand asked softly, and Stepovich felt his anger turn cold and leak away. Durand had known it all along. Stepovich felt old, and sick, and weary. I want to go home,a little voice inside him wailed, and he suddenly felt the truth of that cry, and the despair of not knowing where home was anymore, or how to get there. He turned his chair away from Durand and tried to slide the papers back into the envelope that was suddenly too small for them. He felt again the sick weight of that knife in his pocket. Are you asking me if I’m dirty, he demanded of himself, and all of the answers were hedging and hesitant.
“You want to talk about this in the car. Step? Or here and now?”
Stepovich didn’t want to talk about it at all, but Durand was taking the papers and envelope from him and sliding the ones into the other as if it were easy.Takeasy.Taking In another minute he’d be taking Stepovich by tile elbow in a firm grip and walking him out the door. That thought was enough to get Stepovich to his feet. He walked ahead of Durand down the hallway. Part of him suggested that if he’d bothered to get to know Durand, if he’d bothered to really make him his partner, that now he’d have some idea of what the kid would do. But he hadn’t, and he didn’t.
His mouth was dry, the grey day seemed too bright,everything was too sharp. The pavement of the parking lot gritted under his feet; he saw brown crumbs of broken beer bottle, cigarette butts, noticed the lettering on the tires of the patrol car. The weatherman had lied-the heavy fog of the day was not dispersing, he felt it damp on his face, and the door handle was cold with it. Frayed spot on the upholstery of the seat. A dead leaf was caught under the windshield wiper. He smelled Jade East cologne from whoever had driven the car last shift, and Camel cigarettcigarettes.Once third year on the force, he’d been shot.A kshot.A done it, with a stolen twenty-two, in a panic when they’d caught him up on the roof of a school with a bag of petty cash. The bullet had gone through his shoulder, clipping one bone, tearing muscle and meat on its way through. At the time the pain had been numbing and he’d thought he was dying and every little thing had suddenly been like this,sharp and concise and realer than real life. He wondered if he thought he was dying now. Maybe. Maybe the last piece of his life that he had any control over was about to be snatched out of his grip. Maybe that was the same as dying.
Durand started the car. “Step,” he said firmly, and Durand couldn’t meet his eyes. It made him sick to know the power Durand had over him right now. “I want to know what’s going on. All of it,” he said,and Stepovich found himself nodding shakily, already editing Ed out of it, already shaving the corners off the truth, he who used to take such pride in telling the whole truth and nothing but. From the moment that damn knife came into his hands, it had cut his life to ribbons.
Sidewalks and parking meters were sliding past the window. Somehow they’d gotten out of the parking lot and onto Cushman without Stepovich noticingnoticing.Hedeep breath. “When we first saw the Gypsy, I knew it wasn’t him. I mean, I know he matched the description and all, but I knew he wasn’t the guy who did the liquor store clerk. Just the way you know stuff sometimes, you know what I mean.”Durand wouldn’t, couldn’t know what he meant, the kid just hadn’t been a cop that long. Sure enough, at the next red light, Durand turned onto Eucalyptus and gave him another shot of calf eyes.
Stepovich shut his eyes for a second, tried to find some logic to hang his reasoning on. “Number one,”he said, trying to sound orderly, except his voice was too shaky. “There’s the weapon of choice thing. Perp uses a gun in one holdup, generally that’s what he’ll use in all of them. The liquor store killer used a gun.But gun.But stop the Gypsy, all he has is a knife.”
“So now you remember the knife?” Durand asked softly.
Stepovich was suddenly too tired to even flinch.”Expired plates,” he said, pointing at a battered red Chevette. Durand put on the lights, hit the sirens for one pulse. The Chevette pulled over obedientobediently.Stepovichthe car, feeling heavy, while Durand went forward to talk to the driver. It was an effort to pick up the mike and call in the plate and driver’s license number. But there was nothing outstandoutstanding.Stepovichave let him off with a warning to get it taken care of, but Durand ticketed him. That was like Durand. By the book, no matter what. No matter who.
Durand got back into the car. They watched the Chevette pull back into traffic, followed it a few moments later. “So,” Durand said after a few blocks.”There was a knife when we busted the gypsy.”
“The liquor store was done with a gun,” Stepovich pointed out stubbornly.
“And he used the knife later.”
Stepovich took a breath to try a different beginning when the radio spit at them. “Shots fired, thirty-four sixteen Oak Street upper, all available units in the area please respond.”
Durand looked at him, eyes wide. Asking, does she mean us?
“Left on St. Thomas,” he barked at Durand, and was suddenly in control again as Durand hit the sirens and lights and whipped around the startled drivers in front of them. Stepovich picked up the mike,said, “Four dash eight responding,” replaced it, and gripped the seat at exactly where the upholstery was frayed, and he wondered briefly how many other cops had grabbed this car here. “Two more lights, then go right and we should be there, or pretty damn close.”Durand’s jaw was jutting out like he’d been chiseled out of rock, and Stepovich realized this was the first time he’d been on a “shots fired” call. The kid’s eyes were darting and bright, Stepovich’s own guts were clenching already, hot damn, this was it, real-time,but it was a better, cleaner kind of fear than what he’d been feeling earlier. Guess he’d rather face a wacko with a gun than answer Durand’s questions.
The merciless daylight exposed the street’s dreariness. Trash mixed with snow in the gutters, and fog lurked sulkily between the buildings with the sodden winos. It took Stepovich a moment to connect where he was to where he’d been last night. When he did,he felt cornered. This gypsy thing was going to have him, there was no avoiding it, and he didn’t need to see Madam Moria stepping up into a park carriage drawn by a mismatched team of horses to know just how bad it had gotten.
Durand drove right past the team and carriage as Stepovich snapped, “Stop here.” The man helping Madam Moria into the carriage was dark; no gypsy,but there was something odd about him anyway. He wore contemporary clothes, but they no more fit him than Groucho glasses and a plastic nose would have.It have.Itthe way he tucked the carriage robe around the old woman, covering her against the damp mists and the lake wind, the way he handed up her canes to her, in the forgotten courtesy of a time long past.
Had to be the Coachman. Stepovich’s eyes took in details with practiced speed. The Coachman wore a flat leather cap pulled down hard over black hair that curled at the turned-up collar of his worn jacket. His eyes were dark and black mustaches framed lips full and soft as a whore’s, but even sadder. His skin was olive, and wind-leathered and lined with good nature despite his mouth. His jacket just grazed the top of his narrow hips, and his jeans were tucked into boots that never came from a store. He looked at the blue-and-white as if it were a pack of wolves. He lifted an arm in a strangely defensive motion, and for an instant Stepovich thought he was reaching for a weapon. But the Coachman only clutched the front of his own shirt, and then clambered up onto the driver’s seat of the carriage.
The Coachman was picking up the reins as Durand crammed on the brakes and nosed the patrol car in right in front the carriage. He and Stepovich were out of the car in an instant, Durand already pulling his gun out. Stepovich tried to calm him. “I’ll take those two and fasten them down. You…”
“I’ll check upstairs,” Durand cut in, and he was off, either ignoring or not hearing Stepovich’s,”Damnit, not alone, wait a second…”
And there he was, torn, his partner going off in the one direction he shouldn’t go alone, and the carriage driver picking up the reins and the wheels were starting to turn, grating against the asphalt. “Damnit, Durand, get your ass back here,” he yelled, and then spun to the carriage, shouting, “Hold it!”
He had his hand on his gun, letting them knowhow serious he was. Madam Moria looked at him with disapproval, as if she were a dowager looking down at him from the back seat of her limousine, and he were a street urchin waving a dead rat at her. She was unimpressed. The driver, in contrast, was sitting very still and straight. Stepovich moved up on them quickly. The Coachman sat so stiffly, Stepovich wondered what was wrong with him. Hiding something?The fingers that held the reins were strong and somehow elegant, a magician’s hands. The horses, grey and brown, were stolid, waiting. The Coachman looked straight ahead, between his two horses, as if he were totally uninvolved in what was happening here.
“All right. Get down from there, both of you. Move slowly,” He intended to shake them down quick, get them into the back of the patrol car and then go after Durand before he got his stupid ass blown off.
They weren’t moving slowly; they weren’t moving at all. “Did you hear me?” he demanded, wanting to grab the driver and shake him right out of his coat.Thecoat. Then swayed slightly as if getting ready to move, then was still again. Sweat was making Stepovich’s uniform stick to him, and his ears were straining against hearing that single gunshot that might come at any moment. There were more sirens approaching, thank god.
“Get in.” Madam Moria spoke softly, but testily, a grandma directing an ill-mannered child. “And be quick. The thread grows brittle in my fingers. If we are to follow it back and see where it leads, we must go now, before She sees it and cuts it short.”
She pushed her canes to one side and gripped the edge of the carriage and leaned back as if to make room for him to climb in past her, and that was when he saw the brightness on her fingers, shining red, wet and fresh and vital. He caught movement from the corner of his eye, the driver turning and lifting something, something black, and Stepovich dove for the man, launched himself across the side of the carriage and over the seat. He hit the point of his pelvic bone going over, and landed sprawled awkwardly in the carriage, gripping the driver’s wrist and shaking the handle and curled lash of a whip out of it.
The driver released it easily, and did not struggle at all. Stepovich dragged his feet up under him and knelt on the seat, gripping the man by one wrist and the front of his jacket. Christ, his hip hurt, and he tasted blood in his mouth where he’d bitten his own lip, but this guy was sitting there as straight as he could with Stepovich hanging off him, and his face impassive, only his mouth pinched tight and hard. Stepovich stared into black eyes deeper than the pits of hell.
Stepovich tightened his grip. “Now, asshole, we are going to get down quietly and slowly, you hear me?” The man nodded slowly, and Stepovich thought he saw a glint in his eyes, but it might only have been the reflection of Madam Moria’s wooden cane as she brought it down smartly on the back of Stepovich’s skull.
AUTUMN DAY, AROUND NOON
The fog still rested on the city like a coachman’s blanket,and the Gypsy decided that there was something at work beyond the capricious ways of the weather. Yet he smelled nothing of evil in it, nor of good for that matter.Smatter. Sohat could lead him to the Wolf, and at the right time? What could lead him to his brothers?His hands twitched, and he thought he could remember a time when he would have been able to learn such a thing easily, and perhaps another time when he would simply have known. He felt a slight desire to escape, to run away, to walk by paths that only he knew. The desire wasn’t strong, but it was familiar. He knew, then, that he had not only felt it before, but had acted upon it. He had turned away and run, and-
His head hurt. He took out the piece of paper,which he understood at last, and crumpled it up and threw it away. To clear his head, he breathed deeply of the fog. Even as he did so, he heard the siren-the siren that had followed him for all this time, and seemed to warn of danger impending rather than to call him toward it.
He turned in the opposite direction and began walking. The fog swirled before him, making patterns that amused him although he knew-he knew they were meaningless. What an odd thing to know, he thought.thought.Are there patterns in the fog that do have meaning?
Then he nodded to himself. Yes. This is the magic of the day, and this is a day of magic. He reached out his hands, to take hold of the power that floated in the air around him, and-“You must do this no more…use the skills of another world in this one.”
Very well, then. But this world must have its own power and skills. He could find and use them, and he would, because he was-
He gathered his memories as a child gathers spilled marbles. No distractions, not now, when he had, perhaps, the chance to do something.
He was here, in the city, in the forest of walls, the ocean of lights, the wilderness of sounds, meadows of currents and tides of forces beyond the imaginings of the old gods. Light? Moving, twin beams stabbing through the streets, eyes to peer and a voice to warn,Walls? Endless, one leading to another, all of them high and eternal and shimmering. Sound? The siren was gone now, but something rumbled under his feet,and music came from nowhere and everywhere, and it was the voice of the Beast. And the streets which linked them, forming a mosaic as intricate as the veins on an oak leaf, each different, each the same.
Light, then, to guide him through the eternal day.
This one, the glow of a storefront office that advertised daily employment, led to that one, the eyes of a panel truck, which pointed to that one, the neon of a barbecue lunch counter.
And on and on, and faster and faster, as beautiful and terrible as the Fair Lady’s kiss, which he had known once, as well.
“THE FAIR LADY”
The sound of the spinning wheel in the next room is constant,and has been for a timeless time when the Fair Lady puts down Her knitting and removes Her feet from the fire. The liderc,which has been chewing on its goose leg, looks up. The midwife stops her song, which she sings to her own newborn babe that she killed, and she also looks up. The nora, which has been playing with its genitals in the corner, hobbles over as well.
“The Wolf is on the scent, ” She announces. “And the Dove is taking to the air.”
“What shall we do. Mistress?” says the liderc, in a voice that sounds like the hiss and pop of the fire in which the Fair Lady has been roasting Her feet.
“Well, you must get onto the track of the Wolf and sour the trail. You may let him follow you back here if you wish,but don’t let him catch you or you’ll be eaten.”
“Yes, Mistress,” and it leaves through the door.
“You,” She continues to the nora, “must see to it that the Wolf is kept busy with other things. Go fetch me its cub.”
“Yes, Mistress,” and the nora leaves through the window.
“What about me. Mistress?” says the midwife.
“You must sing a song to catch a Dove by the wing.”
“Yes, Mistress. Of what shall I sing?”
“Sing of cages that look like feather beds, and blood that smells like apple blossoms.”
“Yes, Mistress. How loud shall I sing?”
“Sing so loud the nests shake in their trees, but not so loud the wolves howl in the hills.”
“Yes, Mistress. How long shall I sing?”
“Sing until the snow falls up from the ground, but stop before the first note reaches your ear.”
“Yes, Mistress,” says the midwife, and she puts her face near the fireplace flue and begins to sing.
16 NOV 12:09
“HIDE MY TRACK”
He was very comfortable, except that something was jabbing him in the back of the head. He was warm,cuddled up in a blanket tucked all the way up to his chin, but a cool breeze was blowing against his face. He shifted, trying to move his head away from whatever was poking him, and remembered that he’d been hit; then he sat up, struggling to get his gun out of the holster he was half sitting on.
“Sit still!” hissed Madam Moria. “Do you think this is easy?”
Stepovich ignored her, twisting to stare wildly around him. He shook his head, trying to clear it of fogs, but the mist swirling and eddying around the coach and in through the open windows was real. So was the good calfskin upholstery under him, and the bright brass catches and handles and trims of the coach, and the brocaded lining of the coach’s ceiling.ceiling.Aed coach blanket was tucked around him,with a large M embroidered in one corner. Nothing remained of the small park carriage he had jumped into. Nothing.
There was a small window facing forward, with a leather cover flap undone, and through it he could get a glimpse of the Coachman up on his box. Stepovich swayed with a sudden wooziness that was only part pain. He gripped the sill of the open window beside him, thrust his head out. Forward, he could see the dim shapes of dark horses, four perhaps,shrouded in fog. Around the coach, nothing. He could see no buildings, no lampposts, no parking meters, nothing. Stepovich had a sensation of movement, but it was a nasty, queasy sort of movement,as if the coach wobbled forward on wheels of Jell-O.There O. Theresound of hooves hitting pavement, no sound of wheels on asphalt. No normal sound at all,only the wind and Madam Moria’s muttering, and other voices, giggling and gibbering at the very limits of Stepovich’s hearing. “Stop the coach!” Stepovich roared, but the fog gulped his voice down whole, reducing his command to a pitiful plea.
“We’re nearly there,” Madam Moria said comfortingly.
“Nearly where?” Stepovich demanded. She ignored him, and went on with her muttering as she fingered something he could not see, for all the world like an old woman telling her rosary beads. He reached up to feel the lump on the back of his head.Wethead. Wet lump. It made him feel sick. Serve her right if he puked all over both of them. He knew he should be taking control of the situation; a good cop would have this situation completely under control.control.Heed the strap on his holster, but Madam Moria shot him a fierce glare.
“Cold iron and steel, oh, yes, fool, that would be a great help to us! Do you want to fall through completely? No? Then sit still!” The wind had fingered some of her hair free of her shawl and the black strands whipped across her face, veiling her brown eyes and high cheeks. Stepovich stared at the snap of command in her voice. He had heard it before. It was the obey-me-or-die voice of a commander in a life or death situation. Something in him bowed to it instinctively.
“Where are we going?” he whispered.
“I don’t know. Back. Following the threads, back to before. She was hiding him.”
“Who?” he asked helplessly.
“The worm. Hush. If She hears us. She’ll cut the thread, and there’ll be no following it forward nor back. There’ll only be the mist and the Coachman.”
“Trust me,” said the Coachman, the first word she’d spoken, and folktales and violins shimmered in his voice, and Stepovich did. But Madam Moria laughed, the laugh of a skeptical old woman. “Trust you? Trust you right down the neck of a bottle!” Stepovich glanced at her blind but focused eyes and then away, clenching his fists. Good Christ, what the hell was happening to him?
He leaned forward to the window again. Mist and fog and clammy air, no more than that. Or was that glimpsed bit of facade, bared by the mist for only an instant, the decorated cornice of the old Masonic temple? If so, he knew where he was; but just as suddenly as it had come, his brief sense of orientation was swept away. They’d torn down the old Masonic temple six years back. The gooseneck street lamps that he could glimpse now had been gone since he was twenty-three. He remembered coming home from one of his attempts at a college education to find them gone.
Understanding broke over him like a cold wave and he refused it, clinging instead to his own reality. “Almost there, mistress,” said the Coachman, and he leaned stiffly down and peered in to speak to them.He them.Hetop hat now, and a black wool greatcoat,but his face had not changed, not one line or hair of difference, except that now he smiled at Stepovich and his teeth were very white. Somehow that was the worst of all, and Stepovich felt his reasoning throwback its head and howl at the moon. Instead he turned back to his window and gripped the edge of it like a drowning man clutches at flotsam.
The mist was thinning around them, tattering away like cobwebs. Warmth suddenly filled the air and the sun broke through like a woman’s smile; trees lined the suburban street of turn-of-the-century Victorian-style houses, children played and laughed, but Stepovich felt as if he saw it all through a dirty plateglass window. There was an echo of distance to the bark of the terrier chasing the ball a small boy threw,and neither child nor dog turned their heads to watch the horse-drawn coach pass. Big elms lined the street.Tstreet.The hadn’t seen elms that size since the Dutch elm epidemic of ’63 had left the suburbs near treelesstreeless. Then wasn’t bothering with the street,either, hell, he wasn’t even on the sidewalk; he was taking it across the lawns, through sprinklers that didn’t wet them, down to an empty lot, overgrown with deep grass, littered with pop cans that weren’t aluminum, and presided over by a live oak.
A ramshackle treehouse perched in its branches, a genuine kid’s treehouse, all impossible angles and salvaged scrap, and a lively battle was going on for possession of it. Two boys in jeans and plain white tee shirts were in the upper level, energetically shaking a knotted rope that a smaller boy clung to. The smaller boy was dressed in clean pale blue corduroys and a button-up-the-front short-sleeved cotton shirt that matched the color of his pants exactly. His belt was white and his sneakers were black and low, like girl’s sneakers, and new looking, not like the battered black hi-tops that Stepovich could glimpse on the other two boys. Everything about him screamed Mama’s Little Precious, and Stepovich wasn’t surprised to hear one of the older boys tease, “Go home to Mommy, little Timmy. She’s calling you. She wants to wipe your nosey.”
Timmy? Timothy DeCruz? No, they hadn’t gone that far back.
“Naw, Josh, she wants to wipe his little baby butt!”jeered the other, and together they gave the rope one final shake that ripped it out of Timmy’s hands. He fell awkwardly, not like a kid, but like a frightened old man, and landed badly, on his back in the dirt.Thedirt. Theoys snaked the ladder up quickly while little Timmy lay on his back, trying to wheeze back the air that had been knocked out of him.
“Lookit, little baby Timmy’s gonna cry now!” one boy sneered, the same one who had made the remark about his butt. Stepovich thought the other boy looked mildly worried. He himself, powerless to intervene, stared at Timmy, feeling a sick sort of sympathy for him, one that was tempered with an innate understanding of how the older boys felt. Spray a sparrow with paint, and the other sparrows will peck him to death.
Timmy got up, his narrow shoulders still shaking with tears. No. Not tears. An unchildlike rage convulsed his round little face. “I’ll get you sonsabitches,” he vowed, his voice breaking on the words.
“Oh, he’s gonna get us, oh. Josh, hold my hand,I’m so scared,” mocked one of the treehouse boys,and he was laughing wildly, mouth open, when the rock hit him.
It was well aimed and flung with fury and it struck right between the boy’s eyes. Stepovich saw his eyes roll up a fraction of a second before he fell from the treehouse. The boy landed with a force that made him bounce, his arms and legs flopping like a straw man.”You killed him!” wailed Josh, and came snaking down the ladder to kneel by his friend. For an instant Stepovich feared it might be true, but then the boy on the ground stirred, and then began crying, the terrible sound of a child who thinks he is too old to cry but is hurt too badly not to. Little Timmy seemed to devour the sound, staring with his pale eyes round,his hateful little mouth drawn up in a bow of pleasure. “I gotcha, I gotcha!” he screeched gleefully, but the two older boys were too deep in shock to heed him. Josh tottered his friend off toward home, and the instant they were clear of the treehouse, Timmy was at the rope, doggedly and clumsily shinnying his way up the knotted length. Once up in the tree house,he pulled up the rope. He leaned out of it, his small face bright with hate and triumph. “I gotcha, and the treehouse is all mine now!” he shrieked after them.
Stepovich was willing to bet he was right. There was something in that boy’s face that no sane kid would cross twice.
There was a thing then, a creature of flames and animal parts-goose leg, horse arm-coming at them,burning over the ground like a range fire. The Coachman cracked his whip at it, but it made Stepovich suddenly realize that none of this was real-that something very bad had been done to his head and he was probably even now in an ambulance, if Durand had it together at all. He wondered if the bullet was in his skull this time, and if the dream would stop when the doctors pulled it out. Madam Moria was shaking her fist at the creature and yelling what were probably curses, but the Coachman was shaking the reins and leaning forward, and suddenly he split the whole world, wide and black, with a piercing whistle.