Authors: Suzanne Francis
Jane followed her gaze. "Who is that? Do you know him?"
"Nope, I don't go for the crazy types, myself. Shall we keep walking and ignore him?"
Jane nodded and clutched Tessa's arm a little tighter. "Just head for the corner. There's another guy up there and he looks big enough to handle Thor. We can always play damsels in distress..."
The blond man waved his arm. "Which one of you lovely ladies wants to be my friend for the evening? I have lots of money!"
Jane snorted in disgust. "What a creep! I have a mind to..."
He whistled appreciatively and waggled his hips. "Come on, baby. You know you want me."
Tessa held on to Jane, who had been about to cross the road. "Let's just run for it. I know a shortcut through the buildings." Tessa lunged confidently under a sheet of rusty corrugated iron, before dragging Jane along a path that wound between the closely set warehouses and over a board bridge crossing a narrow canal. They conducted much of this retreat in pitch darkness, but within ten minutes they were at the door of Tessa's cottage, Seadrift, out of breath but unharmed.
* * * *
Once he saw the women depart, the blond man stopped shouting and loped across the road, cutting off the two black-suited creatures from their prey. He waited for them in the mouth of the alley.
"Evening, gentlemen. How nice to see you again. Sorry to interrupt, but you will have to abandon your little game for this evening. I believe we have some unfinished business." He withdrew a stout length of iron chain from behind his back and twirled it suggestively.
The dark suited ones did not speak. One gazed back at him, its eyes cold with impenetrable loathing. They were very like the eyes of a seagull; always hungry, always angry. Jakob studied its face, thinking how a Polydactyl almost, but not quite, managed to look human. In the harsh glare of the mercury vapor lamp its skin looked bluish -- pale as a cadaver, and unnaturally smooth, like some sort of demonic infant. But Jakob knew of another quite important difference, one hidden by the boots that covered its feet.
"Shall we get started?"
They stepped towards him, with their fingers flexed wide.
The Polydactyls did not carry weapons. They had no need, for they each had the strength of a dozen men, and the dogged determination of a hundred. You couldn't stop them unless you killed them. But Jakob was not afraid. He had plenty of strength of his own and far more imaginative ways to use it.
He backed into the alleyway, and they followed. As the first one made a grab for him, he swung the chain hard, wrapping it around his assailant's arm. With a twist of Jakob's brawny shoulders, the first Polydactyl slammed in to the second. Both fell in a tangled heap amongst a row of empty metal drums, creating a deafening clamor. They stood again, hardly scratched, and sauntered forward.
Jakob tutted. "You creeps just don't know when to quit, do you?" He slashed the chain across both his assailant's faces, laying the flesh open to the bone. Clear fluid dripped down, leaving little smoking rivulets that stained the concrete yellow. Neither Polydactyl slowed their advance. Jakob backed up, realizing too late he had stepped into a trap
* * * *
Jane watched Tessa poke at the glowing heap of coals in the fireplace. "How in the hell do you do that?"
"Well, I just put a lot of wood on..."
She gave a groan of frustration. "Not that, stupid! I meant run full speed in the dark, and find your way through all those passages. I don't know anyone with night vision as good as yours."
Tessa scratched her head. "It's just something I have always been able to do. Gran said I was blessed by the faeries."
"Fairies, eh?" She took a sip of coffee and nestled back on Tessa's threadbare couch amongst the profusion of throws, pillows and stuffed animals. "Your grandmother sounds like quite an eccentric. Probably where you get it from."
Tessa stood and gave the fire another fierce prod. "She was amazing. I was so lucky to have her."
Jane shrugged. "Sorry. I forget sometimes how close you two were."
"She was the only family I had, remember?" Tessa handed Jane a tattered leather-bound volume. "Here is the journal I was telling you about. I have only read a few pages, but it looks like it was an account of Suvi's wartime experiences. She must have translated it into English when she came here. I wonder why she would have bothered?"
Jane hazarded a guess. "Maybe she wanted someone else to read it? Which war are we talking about anyway? World War One?"
"I don't know yet. None of the place names are at all familiar. She seems to be living in a place called Severnessa. Have you ever heard of it?"
Jane shook her head as she nibbled at some bitter chocolate, and chased it with coffee. "Not Inverness, like in
"No, it definitely says Severnessa. Grandmother had perfect handwriting. See? Take a look."
Jane did. Tessa was right -- the names were exotic.
"So who did you fall in love with? That is what I really want to know." Jane gave Tessa a sly glance.
"Here is an early entry from April 7th." Tessa pointed to the neatly printed script. "She's talking about her friend, Ludde. He is a fisherman who lives along the coast from her:
Ludde is forty, perhaps, but he seems much older, like a relic from times past. In his dark blue eyes I see the depths of the ocean, where such creatures hide as never see the light of the sun. He is a mystery to me, is Ludde. As strong as three grown men put together, but as ignorant as a child about the ways of the world. Doesn't talk much except when he is drinking.
But in his quiet way, he is a friend, maybe the only one I have since I started Carina. He gives me enough smoked fish to feed the children and Chelah, and in return, I mend his rough fisherman's clothes or cut his long hair. It is the color of a Dureg's mane, and just as thick.
Jane's tone was teasing. "I didn't know you went for strong and silent. Ted is more the weak and whiny type if you ask me."
Tessa frowned. "I didn't. Ask you, that is." Then she changed the subject. "What's a dureg; any idea?"
Jane shrugged. "Never heard of it. Must be some weird African animal."
* * * *
Spying a rusty fire escape ladder ten feet above his head, Jakob jumped straight up and caught the lowest rung. He kicked hard and sent the Polydactyls reeling backwards. Before they could regain their balance, he was on top of them, laying in a series of bone-shattering punches. They took them, all of them, without so much as a grunt. Jakob decided it was time to end the fight. From a baldric slung across his back, he withdrew a long two-handed sword with a jeweled hilt. It gleamed cold and blue in the light of the street lamps.
With a fearsome cry that sounded something like "
Asta ne faircorwan
," Jakob was upon them, blade flashing. He beheaded the closest Polydactyl, and gave a cry of pain as its smoking blood splashed against his bare arm. This distraction almost cost him his life. The second waded in and grabbed him by the waist, locking his hands at his sides. Jakob felt his ribs compressed to the cracking point. He snapped his head forward in a vicious butt that smashed the Polydactyl's nose, spraying his chest with more blood. His captor responded by tightening its grip until Jakob's head swam in agony.
Twisting his wrist, Jakob managed to turn his sword so that the blade faced upwards. Using all his strength, he forced his right arm downward, so that he could bend it at the elbow. Then, leaning forward, he brought his face close and bit hard on the Poly's broken flesh. It gave a tiny grunt but loosened its hold slightly. Jakob felt as though he had swallowed burning oil as his mouth and throat erupted into fiery pain. "Garr... Die, you shite stain. Die for what your kind did to Maia."
With another cry, Jakob forced his sword between the Poly's legs and brought it straight upwards, cleaving its gonads and then its pelvis cleanly in half. As its legs went from under it, the Poly let go of Jakob and dropped without making a sound. It writhed mechanically, like some crippled insect, still trying to rise, to attack again. Jakob finished it off with a calculated thrust through the heart, then used his shirt to wipe as much of the caustic blood from his skin as he could. When he got home, he would bathe in vinegar to neutralize the rest. But for now, he had some tidying to do. He stuffed the severed head into the shirt of its former owner, picked up the bundle and disappeared, with a rush of displaced air. After a moment, he returned, and shouldered the other body. Then he stepped away again, into silence. The alkali that remained in the alley would occasion little comment in an industrial area.
* * * *
Jane spent a few moments idly perusing the journal, then put it back on the table, next to the mirror. "So what's next, girl detective?"
Tessa's eyes lit with enthusiasm. "I'll do some research at the Beckwith Library, first off. I want to find out more about my grandmother's life. She never told me any of this stuff when I lived with her. There must be a record of these places somewhere."
"What about that dig in Anenoa? I thought you were supposed to be spending all your spare time on that."
"On Ted's holy grail? It can wait. He's been sending his graduate students there for years. No one has found a single bone yet -- though according to local legend it's supposed to be the location of some kind of relic sacred to the Irrakish. Ted located the site years ago, as a student, and he's convinced we'll find something if we keep digging."
"Well, you know Ted. Head like a breeze block."
Tessa grimaced at this unkindness. "He gave up on it for awhile. Then about six months ago he started again, and told me I should reopen the dig. He promised it would be good for both our careers. So I did. But I haven't found much of anything -- unless you count potsherds and vegetable matter. Still, though..." She paused and shook her head.
"There is something odd about it. Strange shell and bead necklaces, and the remains of a high earthwork, like nothing else in the area. I don't blame Ted for being interested in it -- I get the feeling there is something there, too." Tessa laughed self-deprecatingly. "Listen to me -- I'm starting to sound like him."
"Guess I should get moving." Jane stood and stretched. "Got an early date with some slides in the morning."
"Are you going to walk back?" Tessa had a mischievous twinkle in her eye.
"No, I don't think so. As I've tried to tell you many times, the streets are dangerous at this time of night. I'll ring Smitty at Ace Cabs. He owes me a favor." She dug in her purse for her mobile, then grumbled, "No proper phone service in the boondocks, of course." After making the call, Jane settled back to finish her coffee.
Tessa stared at the fire for a long while before she spoke again. "You know that word -- boondocks -- actually has nothing to do with docks or water? It's from a Tagalog word,
, which means mountain. American GI's brought it back to the
, using it to describe isolated places that are hard to get to."
"Thanks for the lecture, Professor Kivelson."
Tessa sighed. "I wish I
a professor. Right now, I'm only Assistant Instructor Kivelson. But," she added, brightening, "Ted says he has me on a fast track for tenure. All I have to do is..."
"Everything he says," Jane finished for her, as the cab's horn sounded. "Stick to the ghost, that's my advice. You will be better off in the long run. Ciao!"
"Bye-bye," Tessa called to Jane, and then circumnavigated her little house, closing all the shutters against the chill mist coming in off the bay.
Grandmother Markku's cottage stood within a cluster of tumbledown fishing shacks, their boards as bleached as washed up bones on the shoreline. But flashes of color -- lines of limp nets hung to dry, potted petunias, overturned rowboats -- belied this lifelessness. Little
, the locals called it, not for the Mediterranean island, but rather for the resemblance the tiny dwellings bore to the familiar tins of fish.
had once belonged to Suvi Markku, and now it belonged to Tessa.
Most of her neighbors came and went with the seasons. Wintertime meant few permanent occupants. Joe Romine, the retired fisherman. Ellie Rayne, an elderly woman who lived alone. Recently a plume of smoke had appeared above a ramshackle combination house and boatshed on the edge of the settlement, but Tessa hadn't met whoever had moved in there yet.
Ted's nasal voice rang in her head. "Sell up, Tessie. You are starving while you sit on a goddamn gold lobster pot."
It was a long-standing argument between them. But Tessa would never evict Captain Romine or Miss Rayne or any of the others from their homes, nor would she join Ted in his soulless gated community on the other side of town.
The water slapped the shore, but otherwise the night seemed eerily quiet, almost ice-locked. A white ring shone dully around the moon.
"Beware girl. 'Tis a night for faerie mischief," Gran would have said.
She felt a curious thrill of not-quite-fear and then shook it off, chastising herself for letting Jane's dour pronouncements get to her. Nevertheless, when Tessa went inside she locked her door, something she would normally not bother to do.
After blowing out the lantern in the front room, she went into the largest of the three closet-sized bedrooms, the one that had once belonged to Suvi Markku. She undressed quickly and got into bed. Seadrift had no outside electrical power, only a small solar panel that fed a battery. Clouds had swallowed the moon, leaving it very dark inside. Tessa waited for sleep, but it did not come.
"Maybe if I read a little." Tessa spoke out loud as she reached for the journal and her book light. She started with the entry dated April 17th.
A curious thing happened as I was on my way back from Fredrik's...