Manny drove us down to 42nd Street and Grand Central Station.
The entire area was cordoned off so we were forced to park about five blocks away and walk back. There were dozens of police, paramilitary and military people moving people and traffic out of the area. New Yorkers were a bit more skittish than I remembered them but for the most part were easily redirected away toward other destinations.
It took us a minute to get parked since the police were moving everyone out of the neighborhood, so we were forced to wave our badges around until people left us alone. Manny took his taxi magnet off the roof and put up his police magnet complete with flashing light. Then we just parked on the curb like all the other cops did.
We had about an hour to go and I wanted to be on time. Not everyday you got to meet an officially self-sustaining, high order, Chaos manifestation face to face, or face to train, as it were. Wouldn’t do to be late.
Manny popped the boot, the trunk for you Westerners, and showed me his handy weapons cache. These were the weapons he used when he was on an Agency sanctioned mission and needed some quick stopping power. There were a variety of small arms, shotguns, an AR-15 and a variety of already loaded weapon belts for all of this ammo. His formative experiences with the Second World left him with a strong desire to be prepared.
He offered me something from his first selection and when I refused, he mistook my refusal to mean I wanted something more exotic. He then moved to a black gym bag and touched it. He added a simple incantation while he unzipped it.
Once opened, a cold wind sighed from the bag and dropped the temperature in the immediate area twenty degrees. He reached in, leaning all the way to his shoulder and pulled out a frost rimmed bag with a shape coded metal chip on the strap. Inside was a fully automatic combat shotgun. One of his personal favorites. He pulled the shotgun out of the smaller bag and checked the action.
Knowing Manny, it was just a reflex, because I knew when he put it in there, it was already in top working condition. He loaded it, strapped it on and put on its accompanying ammo belt under his long coat which, not coincidentally, looked like mine. He also packed a machete in the coat and two nine millimeter handguns. He checked his ammo, noting the variety of sigils hand carved onto each round. Designed to stop a variety of Second Worlders, each was intricately handcrafted in his spare time.
He fingered a long handled mace lovingly and looked at me.
“Really?” was my reply to that quizzical look.
“You never know.”
“You are already carrying enough ordinance to fight your way through half a dozen grizzly bears and a regiment of the National Guard, I think we’ll be safe enough.” he dropped the mace back into its protective baggy and placed it in the Gym Bag of Many Things.
After fitting himself, Manny stood there, trunk still open. “No piece? This isn’t London or Wales or wherever the hell you’ve been working. This is New York. Everyone is armed here.”
I opened my coat and showed him my rune-carved long knife, half a dozen throwing blades and my spell-enhanced walking cane. He laughed and said what he always said when I eschewed a firearm. “Hokey religions and magic powers are no substitute for a good nine-millimeter.”
“That is why I have you, Manny Rodriguez.”
“Fair enough. Where to, Boss?”
“Something quick to eat. Don’t want to meet a god on an empty stomach.”
We found a pizzeria not too far from Grand Central and needless to say the pizza was magnificent. No matter where I lived, no place made pizza like New York. Yes, Chicago I am talking to you. We stood there eating our giant slices, wordlessly savoring it, until we had reached a point where our hunger would permit conversation.
“Have you worked out what you’re gonna say to the Night Train?” I saw Manny smiling over his mouthful of pizza but I knew the question had serious implications. I hadn’t a clue.
“Honestly, I thought about it all the way here and I have no idea of what to say. I don’t even know who I am going to be talking to. The train normally has people working on-board so I figure I’ll be talking to one of them.”
“Protocol Zero. Still no idea what it means? I mean there are eight to ten million people in New York. It surely can’t mean to make that many people disappear, can it?”
I was going to explain the level of information we didn’t have on what the Night Train was before I got that tingling in my arm that told me, trouble was on its way. I thought it meant the Night Train was arriving early.
Manny’s hyper-vigilance was already on it. “Boss, two o’clock. Two suits, not Feds.”
I wiped my mouth and took up my cane. Two burly fellows, carrying, nice suits, Italian-cut. Not broke. Clean cut, well shaven. Too much jewelry for Feds. Their shoes were well-worn. Working men. My initial assessment was Mafia or at least criminally-associated. I waved Manny down as they drew closer. No need for shooting if there didn’t need to be. I thought I recognized their leader.
There were four of them, two up front, two further back across the street. They were most likely just watchers, there was too much traffic for them to do much if I was as dangerous as they thought I was. “Do you remember me, Mr. Engram? I work for…”
“He prefers to be called Father Nosceti, these days, sir.” The leader was a massive fellow, easily six two and three feet wide. Even so, his suit was custom fitted and by a fine tailor. Being a criminal didn’t mean one had to dress like one.
“What can I do for you? I am on a schedule. If it’s just a friendly visit he’s looking for, it will have to wait until I finished my work.” I knew as I said it, it was likely to be anything but friendly.
“Father Nosceti would like just a few minutes of your time, Mr. Engram. He said it would be okay if you felt more comfortable with your bodyguard along.”
“It’s just a few blocks away. We’ll make it back in time for your appointment.” With those words, they assumed I would follow and began walking away up the street. They never looked back. I decided to let my curiosity get the better of me. The timing was too close to be coincidental. They knew I would be here. I wanted to know why.
“After you, Mr. Rodriguez.”
“Why thank you, Mr. Engram, don’t mind if I do.” Manny palmed his nine and put it into his outer coat pocket as we crossed each other, masking the action in our movements.
The walk was at a brisk pace and we found ourselves standing outside of a church, an old church, that looked abandoned upon first glance except for the new lock on the gate into a little used parking space. Streetlights were out on this side of the street, making the place look more foreboding. As I looked up, a swarm of bats flew from what might have once been a bell tower. I had to give them points for setting the mood.
As soon as we crossed the threshold two odors were clear to me. One of an overwhelming perfumed incense, completely dissonant, unpleasant, designed to put you off your game, capable of distracting you from the second more subtle scent. The scent of a recently opened grave. Dank, smelling of earthworm dung and musty aging fabric, with the mingling of old man smell, of shaving creams used in a bygone era.
It was the smell of Vampire.
Manny stopped as soon as he got a whiff of the place. I put my hand on his back and tapped him to go on. He continued to follow our burly escorts, who had taken positions two in front and two in back.
We walked into the church and down the central isle. Manny stopped to cross himself as we passed the central dais, looking up at the dimly lit Jesus upon the Cross. We were taken behind the raised stage and choir area and into a very tight stairwell and for a moment, I thought we might be about to be trapped.
I squeezed my cane and felt it become hot in my hand as its magics surged to life. I could feel Manny ready to spring left and squeeze off as many rounds as his itchy trigger finger could in two seconds. I knew it was numbered between nine and twelve.
The doorway at the top of the stairs opened and a warm, soft light came out, easing our trepidation. I relaxed my hold on the banister and continued my climb. This area was better lit and filled with religious artifacts, paintings and assorted tchotchkes. Then I felt it. The power, the presence of a supernatural force ahead of me. I stumbled and Manny caught me.
“Restrain yourself, whatever you see in there.” I whispered as he caught me. He grunted his assent and helped me steady myself on my cane.
The guards opened the door and the two in front took station on the inside of the door, while the other two stayed outside. The office was deceptively spacious with a large oak desk directly across from the door. Every wall was a floor to ceiling bookshelf and gentle lighting covered the space completely except for a small corner of well crafted darkness. I could feel the eyes hiding in the darkness but choose to focus my attention on Father Nosceti.
He looked nothing like I remembered him.
David D’Amico was a mob boss who ran a variety of “businesses” in Florida about a decade ago. Some of his work crossed into my territory when he began trafficking in human beings for Second Worlder’s who used living human ingredients in their spell casting. Our interactions led to the destruction of a safe-house, a crazed sorcerer and the deaths of one hundred innocent men and women, whom D’Amico was instrumental in their passing.
I was told to bring him in alive.
I wanted to burn him alive, slowly in the hottest hellfire I could summon, but back then, I was a better soldier than I was today.
Back then, I followed orders.
His sentence was for selling at least three hundred people as laboratory animals for the study of black magic. He was allowed to turn evidence against his trafficking friends and he was “relocated” in a witness protection program. His face was Shaped, his aura altered and he was given the cover of an old, fat priest working for the benefit of the people in New York. His aura shifting was designed to be a painful and continual reminder of his new life and the price of his freedom.
I looked in on him from time to time, mostly to be sure he was still suffering. It’s a karmic thing.
Yes, he was relatively reformed in that he didn’t do human trafficking but leopards rarely changed their spots. He found ways to amuse himself selling the excess spiritual energy from his parishioners to a number of Second World parasites. The Agency overlooked much of this lesser criminal activity because the evidence he turned allowed them to shut down a number of large criminal enterprises and he acted as a resource upon occasions. Didn’t mean I had to like him or be nice to him.
“I’m on the clock. What couldn’t wait until after I was done? By the way, you look like hell.”
Nosceti’s voice was thin and papery, little more than a strong whisper. Nothing like his previous bombastic over the top behaviors. This wasn’t an act. I wanted to Look at him to see if I could figure out what was wrong with him, but I didn’t know what my spell might trigger or what his hidden guests might do if I cast any magic. So I just listened. “Hello Engram, watchdog of the Apocalypse, I wish I could say you were looking equally awful but that would be a lie.”
He had a spasm of moist and unpleasant coughing. His bodyguards moved as one. One went to his back and held him up, the other poured a glass of water and added a squirt of an unknown elixir to it. He drank the water, sat back and pulled himself together. Once his breathing settled down, he continued, “Immortality sits very well upon you, my boy. Very well, indeed. As to why I asked you here, I was one of the people who had received the Protocol Zero request and recommended you for the job.”
Now I knew who I had to thank for the pleasure, but he wasn’t finished.
“As to why I requested you…, I might understand why the Night Train is not amused with New York at the moment.”
“Wow, you actually went with the pregnant pause thing? Or are you catching your breath.” Manny hissed.
I was displeased that Manny had spoken at that moment but I absolutely related to the sentiment.
“Muzzle your dog, Engram, or I will shut his trap for you.” A voice crept across the walls and floors, sinister, oily and supremely confident of itself. A familiar voice, I never expected to hear again.
Neither did Manny. Before I could stop him, his nine appeared in his hand and he emptied his clip into the chair barely visible in the shadows.
The chalky face of Albrecht stepped out of the shadows. He had been struck in the right shoulder, twice. Only the tiniest evidence of blood appeared and he did not appear discomforted by their impacts. He held out his hand and turned it over.
The rest of the bullets tumbled out onto the floor.
As he leapt into the room, he growled, “My turn.”
Motus Vita © Thaddeus Howze 2013, All Rights Reserved