“I don’t know what you want me to tell you, Al,” Marq said.
“I want you to tell me what our next move against Mickey is,” I said coldly.
“Al, there is no next move!”
“Bullshit,” I said. “I know you. You’re always working an angle. There’s always a next move.”
“Al,” Marq said. “It’s over. We played our hand, and we lost. That’s it.”
Marq got up, and started circling the room.
“Our involvement in this is over. Twelve hours from now, the Council will put its contingency plan into motion. That’s how long we have to figure out what to do with you, nevermind Mickey or the homunculus.”
“Her name is Theo,” I reminded Marq. “And it’s not just about her anymore.”
“Not about her? You’re damn right it’s not about her! Good men could’ve died today, Al. Some still might! We’ve only barely begun accounting for all the potential civilian casualties. We don’t even know who’s alive and who’s dead yet, and that’s on us!”
“You mean me.”
“No you genius, I mean us! I backed you on this! Me! This is just as much my problem as it is yours!”
“What about Annie?” I asked lifelessly. Marq became quiet.
“The aid we sent to King’s County hasn’t said anything about her. Which means-”
“You don’t know,” I said, cutting to the chase.
“Yeah,” Marq said, sighing. “Listen Al, I’m sure she’s fine. Right now we need to worry about you. Responsibility for this falls on you before me, and the Council is gonna take it out of your hide.”
“What are we looking at?” I asked.
“At best, we’ll be expected to ‘discipline’ you for a few days,” Marq said. “That means torture. Debilitating torture if you’re unlucky. You may be stripped of your status as a made man, or blocked from rising further in the ranks ever again. It’s possible you’ll just be given the boot altogether. At which point-”
“At which point I’ll be easy prey for anyone looking to get even for today’s bombing,” I said. “What’s the worst case scenario?”
“Worst case?” Marq said. “The Council throws its weight around and strongarms us into killing you ourselves to preserve the family’s dignity and goodwill with the Council.”
“I fail to see how that’s worse than what you just said.”
“It’s not. Honestly, if it comes down to it, I might recommend that option. Holding out for a miracle isn’t the smartest thing you could do here. It’d be just like Georgie to let you cling on to hope long enough to make it through the punishment only to cap you in the head once the debt is paid.”
“Gotcha…” I said. “Well then, I guess I’ll just have to skip town.”
Marq raised an eyebrow. “Come again?”
“If they want to kill me, I’ll skip town. If they want to discipline me, whatever the fuck that means, then I’ll grin and bear it. But not before I take care of my unfinished business. We’ve got twelve hours. What’s our next move?”
“Oh for the love of… do you have a plan? You don’t even have a plan, do you?” Marq exclaimed.
“I have a plan,” I said.
“Okay. Exactly how much of this ‘plan’ have you given any thought to?”
I elected to remain silent.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
“I have three fourths of a plan,” I responded.
“So you’re already admitting it’s a half-baked plan.”
“No, I’m saying it’s a three-fourths-baked one,” I said. “I got the basic details worked out.”
“I go in alone and infiltrate Mickey’s operation, take him out myself,” I said.
“Oh, forget what I said, I take it back. This sounds like a great plan.”
“I think I know how I can get to Mickey and get some alone-time with him,” I said, ignoring Marq’s sarcasm. “What I don’t know is how I’m going to handle things once I’ve done that. That’s the three-fourths part.”
Marq pinched his brow together.
“Okay, assuming what you’re proposing isn’t completely suicidal-”
“So what if it is? What else do I have to lose at this point?”
“I said, assuming you can pull this off,” he said, reminding me not to interrupt him, “what are you gonna do when it comes time to throw down with Mickey? You admitted that you have no idea how you’re gonna handle him in your condition.”
“I’m not gonna throw down with Mickey,” I said. “Well, I am, but I’m not. Sort of. That’s the plan.”
“… I’m just gonna repeat myself. Come again?”
“Marq, think about it,” I said. “Has Mickey ever fought us one on one? In the warehouse raid, he had Theo and the Broncos fight the graveyard shift for him, just like in the park. In the restaurant, he didn’t even bother making his move until he’d put a body double, a radio, and half the city between us. He’s always hiding behind something, because he knows he can’t fight us himself. That’s why he always has Theo on hand whenever we meet him face to face.”
“Listen Al, not to rain on your parade here, but this is hardly breaking news. So now we know Mickey’s a coward. What does this change? I mean, it’s not like most of us weren’t already assuming that much to begin with when he puts a woman in front of him and tells her to fight. How does this help us get him out into the open?”
“We trick him,” I said. “Mickey won’t face us unless he knows the odds are in his favor, which is why I have to go alone. If I can take out his parade of shitflingers and corner him when it’s just him and Theo-”
“Then you’re still boned because that homunculus is a goddamn killing machine,” Marq said. “Not sure if you noticed, but that sword seriously jacked her up. How do you plan to fight that?”
I paused. “I think I’ve figured out a way to beat her without killing her. But I need your help with something first, magic man.”
Looking around to make sure no one was listening, I muttered my plan under my breath so only Marq and I could hear it. His eyes widened.
“Get the hell out of here!” he ordered. Suddenly I felt the room itself eject me on Marq’s command, tossing me out onto his doorstep.
“Marq, it’s the only way!” I said. “It’s the only fucking way and you know it!”
“Only way to what? Kill yourself?” Marq yelled. “Here I’m going through all this trouble to keep your sorry ass alive, and this is how you repay me?!”
“There’s no guarantee that’ll happen! You don’t know-”
“Don’t know what? Al, I don’t think something like this has ever been tried before! I mean enchanting a sword or some dinky little knife is one thing, but this? It’s insane! I mean, are you out of your goddamn mind you stupid sonuvabitch?”
“Marq, please!” I said, taking a step back in his office.
“No! No, and fuck you!” Marq said angrily, throwing books at me. “You wanna kill yourself after all I’ve done for you, be my guest! In the meantime, I am going to sit back, drink, and read a nice book while I get Swedish back massages from a bevy of beautiful women! Buon natale, happy New Year, and fuck you!”
He slammed the door in my face. Needless to say, I don’t think he agreed with my plan. I looked around at the books lying at my feet, thinking I should return them, maybe apologize. It was hard to take that thought seriously at a time like this, though.
One of the books caught my eye. “Ghâyat al-Hakîm fi’l-sihr”, subtitled “The Picatrix Unabridged: The Aim of the Sage” and annotated “Tenth Edition, sixth printing”. A grimoire, huh? is what I remember thinking. I picked it up. The thing was as heavy as a fucking rock. I could’ve brained some poor sonuvabitch with it. Just beat the shit out of them across the hall. Which, come to think of it, would explain why Marq had thrown it at me. I opened the cover.
“Originally written in Arabic, the Picatrix was one of the first and most important texts written about astrological magic,” I read aloud. “It also holds the distinction of being one of the largest grimoires in history, and the most comprehensive guide to all basic forms of magic. Although it is impossible to confirm who actually originally wrote it, it is frequently contributed to Andalusian mathematician Ahmad Al-Majriti. Translated into Latin in 1256, the Picatrix went on to become extremely influential on Western magic, being used even by Renaissance mages like Cornelius Agrippa and Marsilio Ficino.”
Impressive credentials, I thought.
“Containing spells that range from ‘how to destroy a city with the Ray of Silence’ to ‘how to influence men from a distance’ and comprehensive, rigorously tested spellwork with full-color images and diagrams, the Tenth Edition of the unabridged Picatrix is the cornerstone in any complete collection on Western occultism and magic.”
I paused, and read it again.
“Containing spells that range from ‘how to destroy yaddayaddayadda’ to ‘how to influence men from a distance’. ‘How to influence men from a distance’, huh…”
I couldn’t believe my luck. I vigorously flipped through a few more pages. Everything I needed was right here.
I tucked the book under my arm, and walked out. I’d never been much for formula magic, but if Marq wouldn’t help me… well, there was a first time for everything.
“Alright, Alfonso,” I said to myself. “Let’s pop that magic cherry…”
It was midnight when I tracked Nayeli back to her apartment. It was dingy, and even crappier than mine, situated on a side of town that could only be called “worse than bad”. Or, alternatively, “I hope I don’t get shivved in a dirty deli bathroom and wake up without my kidney”. She probably couldn’t afford anything better. I approached her door, and knocked twice. It took a few seconds, but sure enough she came to answer the door in her trousers and undershirt, a towel wrapped around her neck.
“Oh, it’s you,” Nayeli said, not exactly surprised. “Looks like you picked the right night to visit. Usually I’m not at home.”
She was still covered in bandages, even more than before. Wrapping her like a mummy… I wasn’t sure if it made her glare less scary, or more. It did however add some je ne sais quois to her ensemble. Made her seem a little more vulnerable and approachable. God help the poor jerkoff who decided to act on that…
“What’s with the new bandages? It’s such a shame to have to hide that pretty face of yours,” I said jokingly.
“Doc says there was mustard gas mixed into the bomb. My pretty face looks like one giant blister,” she said flatly. “If you’re trying to flirt, you’re pretty fucking bad at it. We all know that’s not where you’re looking.”
“So I’m still not allowed to say it looked like you had fantastic technique?” I said sarcastically.
She glared at me, kind of blushing. Or maybe that was just the blood rushing to her head.
“I still haven’t forgotten about that, by the way,” she said defensively. “Once these bandages come off in two weeks and my face is back to normal, I’m going to make damn sure yours isn’t.”
I winced. “Geez, I was just trying to give you a compliment. Learn how to take a joke, will you?”
She sighed. “Whatever. So? Why are you here?”
“… I need a favor.”
“The blood of a demigod, right?”
I stopped. “How’d you know?”
“Marq told me about your genius plan,” she said. “I figured you’d be coming to visit me as soon as he turned you down.”
She reached into her coat pocket and pulled out a small vial of blood. Ichor. The blood of gods. So powerful you could save a life or end it, depending on how it was prepared. In this concentration, it shouldn’t be fatal. I frowned.
“It looks like you had this prepared.”
“Even though Marq told you not to?”
“Then why even give it to me?”
“Two reasons. One, watching you hurt yourself makes me laugh. Two, I think you might actually be stupid enough to go ahead with this even if I don’t help you, and I don’t wanna see the boss crying because you went and got your dumb ass killed. Grief leads to necromancy, and that shit just gets fucking ugly.”
I looked at the vial.
“I hate to say this, but I’m gonna need more than that.”
“Wha…” she said, staring blankly at me for a few seconds. “I am not letting you lick my wounds, you fucking weirdo.”
“Let’s try for something a little less awkward than that,” I said. “How about this? I ingest some of the blood now, and you fill the vial back up for me to use later.”
I pulled out my knife, flicking open the blade. Briefly I considered how fucked up it was that we were openly discussing and trading each other’s blood as a commodity.
Wow. I wonder if this how Sostene feels?
I reached for my flask. Probably better if I had something to wash this down with, you know? I poured out a mouthful of whiskey, and I tipped back the vial, careful to make sure none spilled, letting the blood slide down the sides of the glass vial into my mouth. I gurgled, and swallowed. It tasted kinda sweet. Still a lot of iron though. I waited for me to start feeling the effects. Nothing happened. Well, it was diluted a couple thousand times compared to what Marq had given me. It’d probably take a while.
My drink done, I handed the knife to Nayeli. She picked it up, looking at it like she didn’t know what to do with it.
“The pointy end in goes into the other man,” I said helpfully. She just sneered, and rolled up her sleeve.
Gingerly, she pressed the knife’s edge to her skin. And to my amazement, I fucking kid you not, this blade which had an edge the size of a microbial fart did not cut her. Not only that, she was digging in with it so hard her skin was squeaking like rubber. That literally should not have been possible for any living thing that eats, shits, and is made of divisible cells. What the hell were demigods fucking made of?
Finally she drew blood, and it sounded like it fucking hurt. Which made sense, of course. I was beginning to get the impression that my ultra-sharp knife was about as dull as a butter knife in her eyes. The cut was jagged and not very clean, but she took the vial and squeezed it out over the mouth, filling it halfway with her blood. She wiped the blade off on her wound and it sealed up like a zipper.
She handed me the vial. “Try not to spend it all in one place.”
I accepted it, nodding to show my gratitude. Just like that, Nayeli turned to go. She took a few steps into her kitchen. Then stopped. Nayeli turned back around to face me.
“Come back alive or I’ll beat the shit out of you. And leave a piece of Mickey for me. I still haven’t paid the bastard back yet.”
I smiled. “Can do.”
Without another word, she shut the door on me. I looked at the vial in my hands, thinking about the sacrifices I was going to have to make in order to make this work.
It all comes down to this, huh?
I closed my eyes and remembered the childhood I’d spent with my sister, thinking about how I was going to pay Mickey back a thousandfold for dragging her into this. I thought about Theo, and everything she’d been through. I thought about me, and how low I was about to go to make this happen.