The 7 days of snippiting rampage continues. I would have posted this late tonight, but I’m going out with professional ghost hunters this evening, so I’m posting early. It is unknown if I will get my own unlicensed nuclear reactor at this point or not, but if I do, I promise not to cross the streams. So please enjoy Chapter 4. Once again, if you like this sample, feel free to share. Comments are welcomed.
And if you are just tuning in, I’m posting the first seven chapters, a chapter a day, of my upcoming alternative history/fantasy novel Hard Magic, the first book of The Grimnoir Chronicles. It will be published by Baen Books in 2011.
I do not know why almighty God saw fit to give to man, within this very decade, magics of the elements and a quickening of the mind, Powers beyond reason and comprehension, and spells of energy and the spirit, when we were already so poised to destroy ourselves on our own. We enter tumultuous times. Left to our own devices I believe that I could stay this nation’s course, to hold this Union firm, but now I fear. Only five years have passed since the magicians began to appear seemingly at random from our people and I know not where this path will lead.
Oh why, Lord, did you see fit to give that accursed Stonewall Jackson the strength of ten?
Abraham Lincoln, Document discovered in the Smithsonian Archives, date unknown
Faye’s foot hurt with every step, but she was a girl on a mission, and she had a train to catch.
Gilbert Vierra, Grandpa’s son, who was really more like an older brother to her than anything, had found Faye passed out in the yard. He’d gotten her foot washed out with iodine and stitched shut before she had even come to.
The law had gotten there soon after, but the sheriff had been useless. Merced County was a sleepy place, and a murder investigation was over their head. Nobody knew the three dead men and it didn’t help that they’d all been burned along with the Vierra’s home. A few people at Potter Field had seen the one-eyed man arrive, but no one knew who he was, only that he had chartered a flight from back east and the others had been waiting for him to arrive. The law was on the lookout, but somehow she knew he would evade them easily.
She was bitter, angry, and alone.
The family was gone. With the farm ruined, there was nothing left for them in California. The land, cows, and equipment would be sold and they would go to work on relatives’ farms. Gilbert had asked Faye to come with them, but she knew that the one-eyed man was still out there, and she couldn’t bear to put the others in danger.
So now she found herself at the train station, limping along the platform, ticket in hand, her worldly possessions in a satchel tied around her back, and Grandpa’s little pouch under her shirt. It was no longer that odd for a young woman to travel on her own, and even if it had been, she wouldn’t have let that stop her. She was going to take care of Grandpa’s dying wish.
Gilbert had wanted to help, but he had a young wife and four small children, now homeless, counting on him. He had not known about the pouch, nor had he ever heard his father talk about anything from his past that would suddenly cause a gang of killers to show up on their doorstep. Gilbert had given her the huge sum of $240, which was all of the family savings he dared spare. It represented a fortune to Faye, and was nearly half the cost of an automobile.
The first few dollars went to purchase the train ticket to San Francisco, and then another ten was spent at the hardware store for a used Iver Johnson revolver and a box of fifty .32 S&W cartridges. The owner had sold tools to Grandpa for twenty years, and promised her that it worked fine, but she went behind the shop and shot two cylinders worth of ammunition into an old stump to make sure. Grandpa had taught her how to use a shotgun, but the revolver was a lot harder to aim. It was loud and kind of scary, but she hit wood most of the time.
The stubby little gun fit snuggly in the pocket hidden in the pleats of her traveling skirt. She just knew she would see the one-eyed man again, and when she did, she was going to pretend he was that stump behind the hardware store.
Grandpa’s bag had a strange mechanical implement inside. It was a bunch of metal cylinders twisted together inside a wire frame. It looked like it was part of something bigger, like an engine. The mystery object fit in the palm of her hand, and she couldn’t understand what could possibly make it worth killing people over. There was a hole in the top where the other part she had lost had probably gone, and a slot in the bottom where it had to connect to something bigger. A few words had been stamped on the back. N. TESLA. 1908 WARDENCLYFFE GEO-TEL. MK.1.
Faye listened to the radio. She knew that Tesla was the brilliant Cog inventor who had designed many incredible things, including the amazing Peace Ray that had ended the Great War, and that kept all nations at peace today. The news said that the rays had made it so that there could never be a big war again. Maybe Grandpa’s device was a part of a Peace Ray? The radio had always talked about those things in hushed tones. She had never seen one, but knew there were mighty fortress towers on the coasts, guarded by hundreds of soldiers and fleets of balloons. But how had Grandpa got a piece of one? All he had ever done was milk cows.
There had been one other thing in that bag, a scrap of old paper with a few words, a rough map and an address in San Francisco. She did not know who J. Pershing, B. Jones, R. Southunder, or S. Christiansen were supposed to be, but Gilbert had told her that the Presidio was some sort of army base right on the ocean.
The train pulled into the Merced station nearly twenty minutes late and Faye boarded, alone but determined.
Faye did not know exactly what she was going to do when she got to the spot on the map, but she would figure it out when she got there. She was Portuguese now, and Grandpa had always told her what brave explorers their people had been.
Jake Sullivan had slept most of the last couple of days, trying to shake his miserable cold. He still felt like death warmed over when he walked out that evening. He didn’t know his way around the city, so he hailed a cab outside his hotel.
Staying in hotels had gotten to be second nature. He did not really have a home, other than a $10 a month rented room on top of a diner in Detroit. It was a place to sleep, stash some guns, his library, and served as his office, not that he’d had many regular clients lately. The money was tight for everyone, even for wives who would normally want their husbands tailed to check for mistresses. His only real work recently had been standing around intimidating the striking labor lines at the UBF factory, and J. Edgar’s assignments.
Sure, there was always honest work to be had for a Heavy. Somebody like him was worth five normals on a construction crew, but that seemed too much like breaking rocks, and Sullivan had already had his fill of breaking rocks.
The cab smelled like Burma Cream. “Where too, buddy?”
When Sullivan had a question that he couldn’t answer, it tended to just stick in his craw, bugging him, gnawing away until he figured it out. Hoover had lied to him and his own agents about Delilah, and he wanted to know why. Purvis had mentioned that she had been coming into town to do a job for the mob, so that was where he would start.
“Lenny Torrio’s place.”
The speakeasy was in a warehouse near the new super-dirigible station. For something that was supposed to be a secret, it sure was busy, especially on a Saturday evening. There were two dozen automobiles parked inside the fence, including some Packards and even an expensive Dusenburg, plus there were three cabs waiting to drop off at the curb ahead of his and more coming up behind. The Chicago cops knew about this place, but the upper-crust needed a place to kick back.
Sullivan had traveled the country extensively since his parole. Prohibition was brutally enforced in some states, especially in the South and Midwest, and in others… not so much. It hadn’t been that long ago that one Eastern governor had promised to keep his state as wet as the Atlantic Ocean. The 18th Amendment was a joke from the start, and most everyone outside Kansas knew it. It was just American nature that when some authority told you that you couldn’t do something, that just made you want to do it all the more.
Sullivan was not much of a drinker by nature. Mostly because he was too cheap, and the only thing Prohibition had truly succeeded in doing was raising the price of booze. On the other hand, if somebody else was buying he was in favor of violating the Volstead Act as much as the next guy.
He followed a group of well-dressed men and women down the stairs to a large metal door. The others were far more presentable than he, the men in crisp $75 jackets and the dames in silk dresses with their hair in tight permanents. Sullivan looked a little ragged, since his good black suit had fallen through a train car, and so all he had left was his old brown suit, and it had already been unfashionable when he’d bought it used for $3 the day he’d gotten out of jail. He waited his turn while they gave the password, some of the rich kids giving him the crusty eyeball.
The door opened and music spilled out. The sheiks went through the metal door and it clanged shut behind them. Sullivan waited a moment, then knocked.
A slot opened and two beady eyes scoped him. “Password?”
“I need to talk to Mr. Torrio.”
The eyes looked him over suspiciously. “You the law?”
“Do I look like the law?”
Apparently. “We got a dress code.” The bar slid back into place.
Sullivan just shook his head. He waited a moment, and then knocked again, harder this time. The slot opened. “Password?”
Sullivan stuck a gold eagle through the hole. “Tell Mr. Torrio that Sullivan from the 1st Volunteer needs a minute of his time.”
The goon grumbled as he closed the peep. Sullivan pulled out his pack of smokes and settled down to wait. He had one on his lips when he remembered what the blonde, most likely a Mender, had said on the stolen dirigible. She’d certainly got the part about picking up a cold right. These things were supposed to be good for you, but Healers could see your insides… He frowned and put the cigarette back.
Maybe that was why he was so spun up about this case. There were enough magicals around nowadays that you were bound to have some in gangs. With the times being so tough, there were four times as many people making a living from crime as there was from carpentry, so you were bound to have Actives in there too. They had to make a buck, just like everybody else.
But this crew that picked up Delilah had been different. They weren’t just magical. They had all been hardcore Actives. The German had shadow-walked while being tossed around when every other Fade he knew could barely pull it off taking their time without getting stuck in the wall. The Mouth and the Mover had been better at their Powers than any other he’d met. And the way the blonde had diagnosed him, she had to have been some sort of Healer, and those were so rare they were worth their weight in gold. Even a weak Passive Healer could write their own ticket, so it didn’t make any sense to have one slumming around in a gang.
Sullivan’s thoughts were interrupted when the door flew open. There were two burly toughs there. One leveled a Remington Model 8 rifle at his chest. The other had a Winchester pump and stuck it against his nose. Jake slowly raised his hands. “Bad time? ‘Cause I can come back later.”
“Mr. Torrio says he knew three Sullivans in the Volunteers,” the one with the shotgun said. “Which one is you?”
“Well, I ain’t the dead one. So I guess I’m the pretty one,” Sullivan answered. The goon pumped a round into the shotgun’s chamber for emphasis. “Jake… Sergeant Jake Sullivan. The one that saved Lenny’s sorry ass at Second Somme.”
The goombas exchanged glances, and finally the weapons were lowered. “You’s good. That’s what he said you’d say. Mr. Torrio will see you now.” He put one arm over Jake’s shoulder and steered him into a long brick hallway. The door slammed behind.
“Welcome to the Grid Iron.”
The club was about the ritziest thing Sullivan had seen. The exterior was a crumbling warehouse, but the inside was a palace. The brick walls had been covered in blue and white curtains, and an actual chandelier had been hung from the rafters. There had to be fifty folks on the dance floor, and double that sitting along the bar, drinking themselves stupid on quality Canadian booze. The front of the space was filled with round tables and diners. The smell of fine cooking made Sullivan’s stomach rumble. The waiters were even wearing tuxes.
The back of the warehouse had a stage, and the music was both loud and good. A sparkling bridge spanned the stage over the band, darn near big enough to be an orchestra, and a long-legged dame was crooning a tune. She had great pipes.
One goon had remained at the door, and the other led Sullivan along the wall and up a flight of metal stairs. A balcony circled the room, and once at the top, they entered the private lounge, consisting of some leather couches overlooking Lenny Torrio’s kingdom. There were tables in darkness along the back, and Sullivan could make out a few shapes behind the glow of cigarettes. He had entered the inner sanctum.
There were two more muscle types camped at the top of the stairs. Jake saved them the trouble of the pat-down and handed over his spare gun. It was a beater Smith & Wesson Military & Police .38, but he couldn’t afford to replace his precious .45. “I’m gonna want that back,” Jake stated as the guard carried the revolver away.
Lenny Torrio was sprawled between two chippies in slinky gowns. He was wearing a red silk robe over his clothes. “Sarge! How you been?” he shouted in greeting. He snapped his fingers and the girls jumped up to leave. “Get outta here. Can’t you see I’ve got business to conduct?” He smacked one on the rump as they hurried away. “Have a seat. Have a seat!”
Sullivan settled his mass unto the couch across from Lenny. Physically, Lenny Torrio hadn’t changed much. He was still a skinny, bug-eyed, hyperactive type. The con was going bald now, but he’d slicked what was left over to one side in a failing attempt to hide it. “Hey, Lenny. Been a long time.”
“Sure has. You want a drink?” He didn’t wait for an answer, but clapped his hands. “Yo. Amish, get my boy a drink! What’re you waiting for?” Lenny turned back to Sullivan and frantically rubbed his nose. “Help these days… What can you do?”
Sullivan just nodded. “Nice robe… you supposed to be Rudolph Valentino?”
Lenny cackled, way too hard, slapping his knee. “You were always a crack up, Sarge. Mr. Truth, Justice, and the American way. Funny huh? That I’m on top of the world, and last I heard you were a slave to the feds.” A pair of glasses and a bottle were placed on the table between them by a cross-eyed man, who quickly hurried away. “How’s that treating you?”
“Pays the bills.”
“Good thing I’m a legitimate businessman.” Lenny poured them both a drink. “And Rockville? Is it as tough as everybody says?”
“Worse.” Sullivan took the whiskey, pounded it down in one gulp, and set the glass back on the table. It burned going down. He’d never liked Torrio. The man was slime, always had been, always would be, and the only reason he’d been in the 1st was because a Brooklyn judge had given him the choice between serving his country or serving hard time, and for somebody like Torrio, that meant Rockville Special Prisoner’s Wing.
“So… you talk to Matthew lately?”
So that was why his door goons had asked him which Sullivan he had been. Torrio had always been scared of Jake’s big brother, and for good reason. He had been the meanest bastard in the 1st, after all. Sullivan shook his head. “You don’t want to go there. I ain’t my brother’s keeper.” He changed the subject. “Thanks for talking to me.”
“What? Just because you’d sell your own kind out to the government, I’m not supposed to entertain an old friend?”
Sullivan let the dig flow off him like water on a duck’s back. He didn’t rile easy. “My own kind? You mean crooks or Actives?”
Torrio shrugged. “Both. I heard why you went upriver, so in your case it’s the same thing. Guys like us are better than everybody else, so you got made an example. You should know that better than anybody, Sarge. We should be running this show, not them. Normals just keep us down. Times are gonna change though, I tell you that.”
Sullivan nodded like Lenny was just full of wisdom. He was full of something, but it sure as hell wasn’t wisdom. He scanned the room. The men at the tables weren’t clearly visible, but they were far enough not to eavesdrop over the music. The one named Amish was standing with arms folded about ten feet away. “I need some information…” Sullivan paused, frowning, as he sensed the intrusion. “And tell your boy to get out of my head before I open his.”
Lenny was surprised that his man had been caught, but he played it like he was offended. He turned toward the cross-eyed man. “Amish! Are you trying to Read my guest?”
“Sorry, boss,” the man replied sheepishly.
“Beat it, retard!” Torrio threw his glass at the goon, missed, and it shattered on the far wall. The goon scurried away. “Sorry about that. You know how it is.”
“Yeah. I know how it is.” He decided to get right to the point. “I heard Delilah was coming to do a job for you.”
“Who’s asking? You? Or J. Edgar Hoover?”
Torrio shook his head. “I got no idea what you’re talking about.”
Sullivan leaned back on the couch. Let the games begin. “I can’t afford to pay for information, Lenny. I don’t give a damn about the government, and they don’t know I’m here. I got lied to about Delilah, and I want to know why.”
“I make my living by knowing what’s going on, Sarge. That’d be like me asking you to… I don’t know… lift something heavy for free.”
“I saved your life.”
Torrio snorted. “Are you kidding? You didn’t go out of your way for just little old me. You saved everybody you could. I just happened to be one of them.”
“You did happen to be one of them,” Sullivan said. “Remember that, and every time you look around your fancy club, and your fancy whores, and your fancy booze, you should remember that you should be too busy being dead to enjoy any of it.”
“I worked hard for what I got.”
“And you’d be fertilizing a field in France if I hadn’t carried you, on my back, through a quarter mile of hell.”
The mobster seemed to think about that. “You know, Sarge, the Chicago family could use a tough man like you…”
“I just want to know about Delilah.”
“You were sweet on her back before Rockville, weren’t you? She sure was a babe.” Lenny’s teeth seemed too big when he smiled. “Gotta be nice for a guy like you to have a girl he can’t break on accident.”
Sullivan was tiring of this. Maybe it was just the cold giving him a headache, but he was about done with the mobster’s nonsense. “My business is none of your business.”
Torrio sighed. “All right… for old time’s sake. But then we’re even, and I don’t ever want to see you again. Capishe? Talking to somebody like you hurts my reputation. I show weakness and that asshole Capone will run me out in a box.” He paused to pour himself another shot, got confused as to where his glass had gone, so took Sullivan’s instead. “The Grimnoir was looking for her, but she was on the run. They paid me to find her. I got her to come out of hiding so they could pick her up. Looks like they did, though from what I heard, you gave them one hell of a fight.”
The name meant nothing to him. “What’s a Grim Nor?”
The mobster downed his drink. “Not Nor. Nwarr. You’d think you’d spent enough time in France to not butcher everything. But they ain’t French as far as I can tell. That’s just what they call themselves. I don’t know who they are, real secret bunch, but they seem to know everybody, and their money is green and there’s lots of it. I think they’re some sort of crew, but they’re connected, big time.”
“What did they want with Delilah?”
“Beats me. The one I talked to said they were on the same side and wanted to protect her. Delilah was hiding out up north. The law’s been hunting her since she killed those lugs that went after her.”
The Chicago agents had been told the five mutilated corpses had belonged to innocent victims of her rampage. That had never sounded like Delilah’s style. “Who were they?”
Torrio looked at Sullivan like he was thick. He licked his teeth. “You got no idea what you’re getting into, do you?”
“You know us Heavies are dumb, Lenny. Humor me.”
“They were men you don’t want to cross, Sullivan. When they missed her, they stuck the law on her. Nobody messes with them. Not the feds, not the mob, not the army. They’re bad news. That’s all I’m saying.” He thumped his glass back down and stood. “You need to get out of here, and stay out of this if you know what’s good for you.”
Sullivan stayed seated. The couch was comfy. “So… you told this Grimnoir bunch which blimp Delilah would be on. Was that before or after you told the Bureau of Investigation?” Lenny’s face slipped for a second as he said that, and that second told Sullivan he had called it right.
Torrio composed himself, playing offended. “You calling me a snitch?”
“The BI prefers the term informant,” Sullivan smiled. “How much was the reward on that? Here you are, giving me lip about working for the Man… At least I’m honest about it. I like to pick one side and stick to it. But you… you were always good at playing all the sides.”
“Get out of my club.” Torrio’s robe whipped dramatically as he pointed at the stairs.
Sullivan stood. “See you ‘round, Lenny.”
Lenny Torrio waited until Sullivan had picked up his piece and was escorted out before summoning his imp. The spindly little creature crawled out of the shadows under the couch and clambered onto the table. Half monkey, half reptile, its bat-face opened in a hideous grin of jagged black teeth as it waited for the evening’s orders.
“Follow him,” Lenny ordered. “I want to know where he sleeps.”
The imp shrieked, leapt from the table and scurried up the bricks and out the nearest barely-open window. Spreading leathery wings, it disappeared into the night. Lenny poured himself another shot as his guest inevitably joined him. The Oriental had been waiting patiently in the darkened recesses of the balcony. The man made Lenny uncomfortable because he just stood there, like he was at attention or something. “What?”
“Will this man be an issue?” His English was perfect.
Jake Sullivan was probably the stubbornest, most single-minded, unwavering, bravest, and therefore dumbest son of a bitch Lenny had ever met. “Probably. He was asking about your outfit, about those men the Brute girl killed.”
“What does he know?”
“Not much. He hadn’t even heard of the Grimnoir.”
The man nodded. “So…You told him then?” There was a thinly veiled threat in the words.
“Not about you people, of course,” Lenny sputtered. “I’m not stupid. Look, if I had known you wanted Delilah, I would have turned her over to you, and not them. That wasn’t my fault. I’ve got my sources looking for these Grimnoir people and the other two men you want, and as soon as I hear anything, you’ll be the first to know. Your boss can take that to the bank.”
The Japanese man raised a single eyebrow. “The Chairman will be pleased to hear that, and you will be exceedingly well-paid for your services. By the way…” He reached into his suit and removed a heavy pouch. It clinked as it hit the table and a few octagonal gold coins spilled out. “Your source in California was correct. We found Traveling Joe, but we still desire something that was in his possession. Part of a device. It was missing.”
Lenny nodded as he took the piece of paper, examining it briefly. It was part of a mechanical drawing way beyond his understanding. He stuck it in his robe with one trembling hand. “I’ll see what I can do.” Lenny Torrio could find anyone or anything, because that’s what he did, that’s what had made him a powerful man. He was the best Finder in the business.
“Is there any chance that this man would be willing to be in the Chairman’s service?”
“Hardly.” Torrio laughed, then stifled it quickly. “No offense intended of course. But old Jake has always been set in his ways. He sees things real simple in black and white, and once he sets his course, you can’t sway him.”
“An admirable quality. Alert me when your demon returns. Your friend is too curious and will need to be dealt with. I will require the services of your staff.” He bowed slightly before returning to his table.
Lenny tried to pour himself another drink, but his hands were shaking too bad, and he spilled a bunch of the expensive hooch on the table. His old pal, Sullivan, had been right. He had a knack for playing more than one side. Unfortunately he’d just been drafted by the worst side of all, and there wouldn’t be any turning back now. “Sorry, Sarge.” He finally gave up and took a long drink from the bottle. “This is just business.”