Authors: Jamie Schultz
“Your crew’s got a good reputation. Discreet, thorough, and never caught with your pants down. Is it true Ames is psychic?”
Anna kept her gaze steady. “We don’t talk about that.”
Greaser’s piglike eyes widened fractionally. His grin followed a second later. It didn’t improve his looks any.
Greaser reached into his jacket and pulled out the obligatory manila envelope, the motion quick enough that Anna didn’t have to spend more than half a second wondering if he was going to take out a gun and shoot her right here. “Fifty thousand,” he said, and he tossed the envelope on the table. “Now, the object? Unless you want to sit here and count the cash first.”
She reached under the table, produced the bag, and plopped it down in front of her. Greaser unrolled the top and looked inside.
“Charming,” he said. He slid the bag out of the way, close to the wall, and produced another envelope. It was a large envelope, fat with papers. “Here’s the job,” he said, pushing it across the table.
“Yeah. Did you think I was here for the conversation?”
“What if we don’t want it?”
The big guy shrugged. “Don’t take it. You guys are good, but for two million dollars, I can get ‘good’ lined up all the way down the block.”
Anna’s mouth fell open. She knew she looked like a complete amateur, but she couldn’t help it.
“I’ll be in touch,” Greaser said, and he got up to leave. Anna was still speechless as he took the paper bag and crossed the room. He didn’t even look back, just opened the door and walked out.
Published by the Penguin Group
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First published by Roc, an imprint of New American Library,
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Copyright © Jamie Schultz, 2014
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For Mom, who encouraged me to read all kinds of grossly age-inappropriate material when I was a kid. That has made all the difference.
For Dad, who taught me how to work hard and how to swear. That, too, has made all the
Lots of people contributed to the writing and publication of this book, and without any one of them, you’d likely be reading a much inferior book or no book at all. My heartfelt thanks to each of these folks:
Evan Grantham-Brown, who reads every last damn thing I write and makes each one better.
Janet Sked and Conrad Zero, who offered great feedback on the first draft of this novel. Their input and encouragement helped give me the momentum I needed to spin first-draft straw into final-draft, um, spun straw.
Rose Fox, for invaluable editorial advice and for expressing some thoughts that changed how I look at publication and the cultural role of an author. Rose went above and beyond the call of duty and changed the course of this book’s life for the better, for which I can’t express enough gratitude.
Lindsay Ribar, for editorial suggestions, answering naïve author questions beyond number, and generally representin’ the living hell out of this book.
Jessica Wade, for taking the book on to begin with, for her editorial wisdom and vision, and for getting me to think about the wider picture.
Isabel Farhi, Ms. Wade’s assistant, for handling a thousand details that I know of and probably a million more that I don’t.
Lastly, my wife, Jenny, who gave me unflagging moral support throughout the writing of this book and every book.
“Where the fuck is it?”
Karyn shrugged, at a loss for a response. The damn thing was supposed to be right here, on display in the stupidly cavernous room ahead of them, but even as they huddled at the mouth of the hall in near darkness, she could see that it was gone. The glass case was right where it should be in the center of the room, but nothing rested inside.
So much for recon,
she thought. “He must have moved it. We’re going to have to search the place.”
“I don’t even know what a severed rhino dick is supposed to look like.”
“Like a severed elephant dick, only smaller,” Tommy put in.
Anna snorted laughter. The sound was barely loud enough to be heard a couple of feet away, but to Karyn it seemed to set the silence humming with its echo.
“C’mon, guys,” Anna said, “let’s pretend to be professionals here.” Karyn watched her eyes, the only part of her face visible behind the balaclava, as they flicked from Tommy to Karyn and back. “Any ideas?”
Karyn looked around the room one more time. It looked more like a gallery in a museum than somebody’s living room. Polished wood floor. Sparse white walls broken up with abstract paintings, some with low spotlights on them even at this hour. A couple of couches for sitting back and staring at the walls. The empty glass case.
“You getting anything?” Anna asked.
“You know it doesn’t work like that,” Karyn said.
“Doesn’t hurt to ask.”
Tommy’s low laughter sounded near Karyn’s ear. “Come on, now. If you were a fifty-eight-year-old man, and you had a two-thousand-year-old virility charm—”
Karyn touched the radio at her hip. “Nail, where’s the master bedroom?” she whispered.
Nail’s voice fired up in her earpiece instantly. “Say again?”
“The master bedroom,” she said as loudly as she dared. “Where is it?”
“Upstairs. Southwest corner.”
“Roger.” She nodded at the others. “That way.” She took a step into the gallery and froze as she saw a shadowy shape emerge from the hallway across the room. It crouched, bringing up its hands into a firing position. They jerked twice, as though shooting a soundless gun.
Karyn glanced at Anna, who regarded her with a puzzled expression.
She doesn’t see that.
Ergo, it wasn’t happening—not yet, anyway. “Back down the hall, go!”
Anna and Tommy rushed back away from the room, Karyn close behind them. They ducked into the nearest doorway. Moments later, clicking footfalls echoed to them from the gallery.
The footfalls faded.
“Clear?” Anna asked.
Karyn listened for another few seconds. “Think so. Just a security guard. Armed, though, I’m pretty sure.”
Anna frowned. “I thought they didn’t carry guns.”
“They didn’t, yesterday.”
“Should we bail?”
Karyn peered toward the gallery. She saw nothing alarming, and while she wasn’t going to bank on that or get cocky about it, it was reassuring. Her hallucinations weren’t exactly reliable, but they tended to be up-front about anything that was going to clean her clock in the immediate future. “No, I think we’re OK.”
Karyn paused at the end of the hall again, searching the gallery. Nothing moved, real or imagined. She strode
quickly across the floor to the doorway in the right-hand wall, then through and up the stairs beyond.
On the second floor, heavy carpeting muffled the already faint noise of her steps. There was less light, too, which she regarded as a mixed blessing. Running around here waving flashlights was to be avoided if at all possible, especially if the guards were carrying guns now.
She put her hand on the wall to her left and used it as a guide while her eyes adjusted. The only light came through closed curtains—not much, but enough to give her a sense of the things in the room. Looked like a little living room/kitchen suite up here, decorated in what she’d come to think of as Rich Guy Standard. Leather furniture lined the walls, thousand-dollar barstools sat in front of the bar. Anna elbowed her and pointed. A huge painting hung above the couch. “Original?” Anna whispered.
It was impossible to make out, but Karyn nodded. “Of course.”
The two women relaxed somewhat, and Karyn knew Anna was smiling. She felt the same relief. There was nothing weird here, just the trappings of a garden-variety investment banker.
For once, they hadn’t wandered into the lair of some kind of cult leader, underworld magician, or sexual pervert. By all appearances, the pudgy, balding, middle-aged man who owned the place was just a pudgy, balding, middle-aged man who’d accidentally stumbled across the wrong family heirloom.
Karyn crossed the room, turning toward a door off the kitchen. She pressed her ear to it, heard nothing, tried the knob. Locked.
She stepped aside and nodded to Anna.
As Anna approached the knob, lockpicks at the ready, orange-and-yellow light flared up from behind the door, blazing through every crack and seam.
Karyn’s heart clenched like a spasming fist, and she threw up a hand to block the light. She squinted through the glare. Anna, unperturbed, started to fiddle with the lock, but Tommy looked at her with worry in his eyes.
“Yeah.” She lowered her hands. “It’s cool.”
Now Anna looked up. “You want me to open this or what?”
Karyn squatted to get a better look at the light coming from beneath the door. Orange, yellow, red, screamingly bright in the gloom. It flickered like it was blinking, too regular to be flame.
What is that all about?
she wondered. She had no idea. It didn’t look like an overt threat, but who could tell?
“Yeah,” she said. “Carefully.”
Anna turned the knob and slowly pulled the door open, taking care to keep the door itself between herself and the opening. Rays of brilliant golden light, shot through with red, poured from the room, and once again Karyn held up a hand against the worst of it.
“There,” she said. “On the table.”
Tommy stared into the room. “What table? I can’t see a thing in there.”
“Come on,” Karyn said. She ducked into the room, waited for the others to follow, then shut the door with a quiet click. She didn’t know what the others saw, but for her the whole room was lit up with a bloody golden radiance, emanating from a table near the head of a nondescript king-sized bed. The red light pulsed, alternately letting the gold shine and blocking it out.
“Light?” Anna asked.
Anna flicked on a flashlight, which presumably helped her and Tommy out quite a bit. Karyn couldn’t even tell it was on except by the way Anna held it in front of her.
The three of them approached the table.
“That’s nasty,” Anna said.
Karyn nodded. The rhinoceros penis, she presumed, sat in the center of the table, a wrinkled tube of desiccated skin about the size of her forearm, with a weird kink in the middle. Symbols written in silver paint covered its length.
“I thought it was the horn that was supposed to have magic powers,” Tommy said. “I mean, you know. Not that I’ve really looked into it.”
“I don’t know,” Karyn said. She suddenly realized
what the flashing red among the gold reminded her of—an alarm, or maybe the flashing red light of a police car. “Don’t touch it.”
“Somebody’s messing with us.”
“How do you mean?”
Karyn studied the object on the table. Interpreting her visions wasn’t always straightforward, but a red strobe that only she could see was pretty suggestive. “I mean—I think that thing is trapped. Some kind of magic alarm or something. Can you check?”
Tommy pulled a piece of paper and a little packet from his pocket. Anna held the flashlight for him while he sketched a quick diagram on the paper. He poured a handful of gray sand grains onto the diagram and spoke a few low words.
Karyn glanced back toward the door. Nothing.
Tommy held the paper over the table, shaking it gently from side to side so that the sand sprinkled from the diagram onto the table. He watched the sand fall, waited, and then shrugged. “Nothing here.”
“Try it again.”
“I don’t think—”
“Just do it.”
Scowling, Tommy went through the whole process again. He took a little longer this time, seeming to take more care enunciating the stream of mangled Latin- and Greek-sounding phrases that fell from his lips. This time, the moment he poured the sand onto the table, the red-gold light winked out. The room around Karyn fell into darkness, with only the beacon of Anna’s small flashlight illuminating the scene before her.
“Damn,” Tommy said. “There’s something here, all right. It’s subtle, though. Really good work. Pick that thing up from the table, and it’ll be like a fire alarm goes off in here.”
“But you can undo it,” Karyn said. She thought that’s what the vanishing light meant. Either they’d get the alarm disengaged, or they’d leave the item here.
“I’m not sure there’s any point.”
“What do you mean?”
Tommy took Anna’s flashlight and pointed it at the dried penis. “It’s alarmed out the wazoo, but I’d bet my share of the score that the object itself is inert.”
“What?” Anna said.
Karyn nodded. “I told you. Somebody’s messing with us.”
“It’s a fake?”
She thought about that. It didn’t add up. Their recon and everything about the place said the owner didn’t know a thing about real magic. Sure, he probably thought the penis held some kind of charm, and the ultimate buyer certainly did, but that didn’t mean anything. All around the edges of the occult underworld were hangers-on, collectors, wannabes, and grifters, most of whom weren’t plugged into the real scene at all. They still paid up, happy to trade green for their delusions. Most of the crap the crew was hired to steal didn’t have so much as a scrap of magic clinging to it as best as Tommy could tell, and this job had all the hallmarks of another one in that vein. Except for the alarm.
“I don’t know,” Karyn said. “Screw it. Let’s grab this thing, and if the buyer’s got a problem with it, tell him he needs to be more discreet next time. I swear, somebody knew we were coming.”
“Okay,” Tommy said. “Gimme a few minutes.” He frowned down at the table, his fingers wriggling like they did when he was thinking hard.
Karyn turned back to the door. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
Anna moved to her side. “A
Karyn smiled weakly. “No, just a regular bad feeling.”
“It’s not too late to ditch, if it’s that bad,” Anna said.
A brief crackle, and then Nail’s voice in their earpieces:
“Party’s over, guys. Our man’s home early, and it looks like he brought a date.”
“Where is he?”
“Car just pulled into the garage.”
At the table, Tommy had gotten out a short dagger and was in the process of opening the skin of his palm. The cut looked deep, a grinning black slash in the blue-white beam of the flashlight, and Karyn winced. “How much longer?”
Tommy didn’t look up. “Ten minutes. Fifteen at the outside.” Blood trickled from his hand to the table, a drop here, a drop there. “Please don’t interrupt me.”
Maybe if the couple stopped downstairs for a chat, that might be enough, Karyn thought. Maybe—
More blood splashed to the table, a flood of it coming from a sudden hole in the side of Tommy’s head. Before Karyn could scream, it was gone, leaving his face pristine, unblemished.
Jesus. We need to get out of here.
“New plan,” Karyn said. “Grab the table and let’s get the hell out of here.”
“Take the whole table?” Anna said.
“Tommy, you said if we pick the item up off the table, the alarm goes, right?”
“Uh, yeah. I think so.”
“So we take the table.
The table was a glorified nightstand, big enough for a lamp and a few books. Anna picked up one end as Tommy lifted the other. “Go,” Anna said.
Karyn moved to the bedroom door, listened, and opened it for the other two. Once they were through, she moved as quickly as she could to the stairs. A glance down revealed nothing. “Come on,” she said, starting down the stairs. “Be careful.”
She thought she glimpsed the faintest flash of white as Anna rolled her eyes, but she ignored it. She reached the bottom of the stairs and peered around the corner into the main gallery. A light flicked on in a room across the way, and distant, ghostly snatches of conversation drifted across the space to her.
Anna and Tommy reached the landing behind her, and she waved them forward frantically.
Go, go, go!
Any second now, a half-drunk couple or a security guard was
going to come walking through here, and then they’d be screwed.
The three of them scurried across the gallery floor like roaches heading for cover, every breath and scrape of shoe ringing in Karyn’s ears. The conversation in the far room ebbed, and a woman giggled. Something fell, clattering to the floor. Anna and Tommy moved faster.
Another low exchange came from the lighted room, and Karyn swore she heard the word “upstairs” clearly above the rest.
Then they were in the hall they’d come in from. The front door was just after a little jog in the hall. A clatter of drunken footsteps came from behind them as Anna and Tommy hustled the table around the bend and out of sight.
“Quickly,” Karyn said. “That guy’s gonna be really pissed in another minute or so.”
“We go right out the front door, I suppose?” Tommy asked.
Anna nodded. “You know it. Just give me a sec.” She set down her end of the table and crossed the short foyer to the front door, wood with a gleaming oval of translucent stained glass. A shadow fell across the window.
Anna held her eye to the tiny peephole in the center. Ten seconds passed. Twenty.
“Not a lot of time here,” Karyn said.
Karyn saw the set of Anna’s shoulders stiffen for a fraction of a second, and then Anna moved. She threw the door open with her left hand while her right moved in a blur from her hip, arcing upward. Before Karyn could even register what was happening, the security guard on the front stair spun around and caught a blast of pepper spray in the face. He threw his hands to his eyes and Anna planted a foot in his crotch. As he fell, she stepped casually forward and plucked the gun from his belt, then his radio.