Maybe I should’ve said something about this before now, but the office building where Marq did his business had an infamously creepy appearance. You know the look. Old, dusty windows, always a light on somewhere, utterly untouched by graffiti like it was protected by some kind of voodoo curse. Gargoyles ’n shit. It even had a knocker in the shape of some… thing’s head instead of a doorbell. I don’t think Marq would’ve wasted the money to make a shapeshifting door knocker (he’s got questionable decorating sense, but not that questionable), but I swear to God every time I stopped by that office the thing looked different. It freaked me out, to be honest.
I look up at Marq’s office on the top floor and sigh. Not even a day off and I was already on my second job. Gimme a break, man. I even had to leave Annie with Sostene instead of walking her home myself. The job was apparently that fucking important.
Doubts about my decision to leave my little sister alone with a vampire sloshed around in my head drunkenly like cold soup. Even if it was Sostene, there are just some things an older brother shouldn’t risk when it came to his sister. The way he was talking the other day didn’t really leave me feeling very confident about his behavior around kids either. Sorry Sostene, but no matter how you say that kind of stuff, it’s just gonna sound creepy coming from you.
But I ended up having to entrust her to him. Sad story was, Annie specifically requested that I go on without her. She demanded Sostene be the one to walk her home, because I had “urgent business at the clinic”. Funny how innocent little lies like that always seem to go off without a hitch except when it’s me telling them, isn’t it?
Making a note to myself to return Sostene to re-death if anything happened to Annie under his care, I stepped inside the office building, scuffing the dirt off my shoes on the welcome mat which read “Come on in!”, adorned with a friendly barbershop face. The thing looked so out of place once you knew what kind of shit went down in this building that it made me laugh. “Mr. Tweak says, ‘Come on in! Make yourself comfortable, because you’re gonna be here for a while!’”
Marq’s office connected to the main floor two ways. One was by express elevator, reserved for those with appointments. Publicly, Marq was the head of a small but successful law firm (the irony was certainly not lost on him, I’m sure) which employed most of the family’s defense attorneys. Most of the time, you had to get through an army of pencil-pushers and yes men before you got to talk to Marq. Family was different. We always had an appointment.
I jabbed at the button, expecting the tiny little light to flicker on beneath my finger. Nothing happened. I tried pressing it again. Nothing. Was the thing broken?
Can’t say I wasn’t disappointed. I’d always wondered what riding in that elevator felt like back when I was hired help. Guess I’d have to keep on wondering. I sighed. Guess it was the trap door for me.
That brings us to the second entrance I was referring to. A spiral staircase with a trap door which led directly to Marq’s office. The whole thing was hidden in a broom closet on the first floor, and opened up into another closet in the office, which presumably was not for brooms. I didn’t know. I’d never seen the thing full. All I knew was that the whole “secret passage” thing smelled fucking awful except for that closet. It was a really dirty, sweaty, mildewy kind of deal, with a little bit of rat shit mixed in for good measure, I’m sure. Not to mention the whole place was so sticky with the fumes and shit from the cleaning supplies you could hear your shoes making that peeling noise tape does whenever you took another step up the staircase.
Maybe it goes without saying, but I tried not to breathe in too much whenever I had to use that entrance.
I held my handkerchief to my mouth with one hand so I could breathe better, and held on to the staircase with the other. This was one of the many reasons I wore gloves. As I ascended, I couldn’t help but notice it was getting weirdly quiet. Shouldn’t Marq be doing something while he waited for me to get here? I dunno, yelling at an intern or something? Just something that’d help with this supposedly important problem. I did hear some muffled noises coming from his office, but it hardly even seemed like conversation level hubbub. More like a whimper and some occasional wet thumping sounds.
I grimaced. Please dear jesus tell me he isn’t torturing someone in there.
I opened the trap door. Nope. Just fucking someone.
They’d stopped as soon as they’d heard the trap door opening, but it was already too late. I’d seen everything. The recipient was, to my surprise, the thistle-haired girl from my induction ceremony. Y’know, the one who looked good in a thin-cut suit and had a great set of knockers but who looked like she’d kill you for saying it. Let me tell you, she looked a lot less intimidating from the position I was in just then (not to mention her position, but I’ll spare you the details more for my sake than yours).
We all just sort of did nothing for a few seconds. The only changes were in the body language. Suddenly both of them looked incredibly tense, and Ms. Purple’s face was turning a shade of violet a lot darker than her hair. I, on the other hand, had developed a minor twitch, with different parts of my body telling me to do different things in any kind of workable attempt to get me out of that incredibly awkward situation. Sadly, none of them were working. All three of us were glued to where we stood, frozen like deer in the headlights. Well, some of us stood less than others, but… wait, why am I telling you this? I said no more details.
Thistles was the first to make a move. Not so much yelling as grunting in what I could only guess was incomprehensible anger, she picked up a paperweight and hurled it at my head. Marq’s gal pal had one hell of an arm, because I barely managed to move my face out of the way in time for the little hunk of glass to go hurtling through the wall behind me like a bullet, taking some of the woodwork with it.
It didn’t take a second shot to convince me I needed to leave, but she threw one anyway, another cheapo ornament that made for better ammo than decoration. I’m pretty sure the trap door saved me there, because the lid of that thing was the only reason her fastball bounced off-course and into another wall instead of my face.
I shut the door in a hurry and put a few flights of stairs in-between me and Marq’s office. I wasn’t sure if she could throw one of those things hard enough to make it through a steel hatch door, but I was not taking any chances. I was just gonna head back downstairs, and wait for that elevator instead.
It didn’t take long for Marq and his friend to make themselves look professional again. The door to the express elevator opened, and Thistles walked out straightening her tie, all glares. It looked like her desire to put as much distance between the two of us was winning out against her overpowering desire to start throwing things at me again, which was good because if she spared another second to hate me to death, I’m pretty sure she would’ve literally stared a hole through me.
I hurried past her into the elevator. No buttons on the inside, the tiny metal box only made two stops. Well, I say tiny, but the thing had dimensions that resembled a shipping container than a box. The thing was bigger than my bedroom, for crying out loud. It wasn’t even enough that it was huge either. No, it had to have amenities, like mirrors, a wardrobe, coat hangers, armchairs, and a fully stocked icebox. One of those fancy freon ones, not like the monsters you kept in your house. I reached inside it and grabbed a beer, helping myself.
Something told me I wouldn’t want to be sober for the following conversation.
The office building was about ten stories tall, give or take, but the ride up the elevator took a leisurely five minutes, presumably enough time to change, have a drink, chat, or whatever it was you were supposed to do in that… I hesitated to even call it an elevator anymore, actually. It finally arrived at the topmost floor, which housed Marq’s apartment and office. Man was so busy he lived where he worked. I did not envy that.
This time, I gingerly knocked on the door to his office. If I was going to avoid getting any more paper weights thrown at my head, I needed to start making it a habit.
“Excuse me…” I trailed off as I entered the office, still holding the beer.
“Y’know, I locked the elevator for a reason. It occurred to me you might be early, but I didn’t expect you to come up through the trap door. People who use that entrance need to schedule an appointment so I know they’re coming. That’s ‘cause that thing’s for hired help only, Alfonso, not family men.”
Oh boy. He was calling me by my full name. That couldn’t be good.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”
He sighed. “Whatever. Just.. whatever. Let’s talk business, okay? Can we do that?”
“Good. Sostene told you why I called for you, right?”
“Yeah.” I cleared my throat, reciting from memory. “‘We’ve got a patient in critical condition back at the clinic. Big fish. From what we can tell, it looks like he was attacked in broad daylight. Gang violence. He’s not dead yet, but he’s pretty angry.’ That means the Pescatorres got hit, don’t it?”
Marq nodded. “I know this doesn’t sound like our problem, but the circumstances here are different than you might be imagining them. This attack wasn’t just some punk with a death wish, and it sure as hell wasn’t random. They busted up an entire warehouse in the twelfth ward, right in the middle of Pescatorre turf. Fifteen injured, three dead. All of them Paulie’s boys. It was the kind of job only a man with a lot of muscle backing him could pull off.”
“You know him?”
I shrug. “Just the name. Heard it tossed around here and there on the streets lately. Didn’t really seem important until I heard it coming from Sostene.”
“Then I suppose it’s about time you wise up.”
Marq opened a folder, its contents spilling across the desk. Police reports, photos, mugshots, birth certificates, criminal records, and detailed notes describing the various activities of the individuals within. A dossier for an entire gang. And at the center of it was Mickey Donahue. Second-generation Irish immigrant, twenty-nine-and-a-half years old. Information on him made up the largest percentage of the dossier, more than half of the combined total of every other individual whose records had found their way into this folder.
I picked up a few of the papers, scanning them and committing their contents to memory. I spared nothing in that folder. I wasn’t going to be caught without the right information again. Not after what happened with the Madam.
“Yeah, this looks like the guy I’ve been hearing about. Small-time street gang, right? The Bulgin’ Broncos. Real classy name, by the way. I like the innuendo. What the fuck are guys like these doing on the Pescatorre hit list?”
Marq raised an eyebrow at me.
“Rhetorical question. You know what I mean. Why bother with these guys? ‘Small-time’ doesn’t even begin to describe them. I was better than these high-roller wannabes when I was fourteen! Guys like us don’t even wipe our asses with these kinds low-lives.”
“Watch your mouth, Al. Using that kind of language around a capo can get you the stink-eye from some of the other wiseguys around here. It’s just not good manners.” Marq shook a box of cigarettes he’d had stashed in his desk, and lit one up before he continued. “Anyway, you’re right. These guys aren’t worth our time. They aren’t worth anyone’s time. They’re the lowest of the low, even among the underbelly of society. Just crumbs. But what they’ve gotten their hands into lately… it’s too big for them. They’ve been taking the credit, but there’s no way these bozos were the ones responsible for taking out eighteen of Paulie’s guys and an entire warehouse of product. Either they’ve been getting some outside help, or they’ve got a new weapon.”
“What kind of weapon are we talking here? Can’t be a new kind of bomb, can it? Help from any of the city’s best and brightest is out of the question, since they’re all in bed with the five…” I kept thinking, but coming up blank. “Is it magic or mundane?”
Marq grimaced. I didn’t like the look. Not one bit. He sorted through the pile for a specific picture before clearing away everything else and sliding it towards me. The picture was of a homunculus.
“Magic. Definitely magic.”