Authors: T. Frohock
Elena hurried into the foyer from the direction of the kitchen. “He is, SeÃ±ora.”
“Take these packages.” SeÃ±ora Ferrer clacked down the hall on her precariously high heels, wavering slightly. Knowing her fondness for sherry, it didn't take much to guess she was drunk. “Salvador!” she cried out. “Why have they canceled our account at Santa Eulalia?”
Santa Eulalia. No wonder Ferrer was going broke if his wife shopped at such high-Âend stores.
In the foyer, Elena juggled the packages. One thin box slid from the pile. The maid knelt to retrieve it and glanced toward the office.
Diago ducked back inside; in doing so, he jarred a picture on the wall. He caught the rosewood frame and righted it. Encased behind the glass was a manuscript fragment. Judging from the reddish color of the ink and the amber coloration of the paper, the document was ancient.
The fragment was small, no more than eight centimetres wide and ten tall. The edges were charred, as if someone had tried to push it into a fire with a poker.
A sigil was drawn in the center of the page. Scorch marks obliterated most of the details, yet Diago clearly made out an “X” superimposed over a cross. The left and right arms of the cross bore crescent moons facing away from one another. The position of the opposing moons told Diago the glyph was for a daimon.
But which one? And why would Ferrer have a daimonic sigil hanging in his house? Very few mortals knew or cared about the Nefilim, and of those that did, none hung glyphs openly in their homes. Mortals who engaged in supernatural activities were more secretive than Los Nefilim.
Intrigued, Diago reached out with his left hand to lift the frame from the wall.
“SeÃ±or Alvarez.” Ferrer's voice was loud and close.
Diago started and looked up at the industrialist. Ferrer was built like a bull, broad-Âshouldered and still somewhat narrow at the hips in spite of middle age thickening his paunch. He towered over Diago.
This is awkward. Think of something.
He pointed at the fragment. “This is an extraordinary piece. I didn't know you collected antiquities.”
Ferrer was nonplussed by the compliment. “I don't. It was a gift from one of the old families in the Gothic Quarter. Iniguez was the name.”
“Don JosÃ© Iniguez?”
“Why, yes. He stopped by yesterday and presented me with the fragment as a gift. He is interested in investing in Ferrer y Esperanza. Do you know him?”
Clearly not as well as I thought.
Diago never imagined JosÃ© would be interested in investing money in anything other than whores and gambling. He realized Ferrer was waiting for an answer. “I rented a room from his mother DoÃ±a Rosa. I had very little contact with Don JosÃ©, but DoÃ±a Rosa is an honorable woman.”
Ferrer nodded. “Good to know.”
“Why hang such a lovely gift in the dark?”
“Don JosÃ© said to keep the fragment in the shadows in order to preserve the ink.”
I'll bet he did,
Diago thought. Nothing rendered a daimonic sigil impotent like too much sunlight. “It's an intriguing document. Did he say where he found it?”
“No.” Ferrer's tone indicated he didn't care either. He'd probably only accepted the gift and given it a token place in his home in order to court JosÃ© and his money.
Diago wondered how JosÃ© had come into possession of the document. Prieto? Maybe. The angel had paid JosÃ© to trick Miquel. He'd also promised DoÃ±a Rosa he would divert JosÃ© from his self-Âdestructive behavior. Maybe Prieto had made good on his agreements. But why give JosÃ© a daimonic sigil? Was Prieto trying to hide it
the daimons or
the daimons? And why here?
So many questions .Â .Â . and not nearly enough answersÂ .Â .Â .
Ferrer interrupted Diago's speculations. “Elena said you wanted to see me.”
“Ah, yes.” Diago reined his questions under control. There would be plenty of time to puzzle through the mystery later. “I came to repay you.” He withdrew an envelope from his breast pocket. “You gave me a most generous advance, but I'm afraid I won't be able to continue as Enrique's instructor.”
Ferrer took the envelope and thumbed through the banknotes. No amount of restraint could hide the pleasure in his eyes. “It's no matter. We sold the piano. Enrique showed no interest in it. I'd be happy to give you a referral.”
“I appreciate the offer, but I've secured employment elsewhere.”
“Really? With whom?”
“Don Guillermo RamÃrez. He is a landowner just outside of Barcelona.”
“I've heard of RamÃrez. Isn't he something of an artisan?”
“He does ornate metalwork on commission.”
“Like GaudÃ was in construction.”
Ferrer grunted and didn't look impressed. He went to his desk and opened the file drawer, removing the CONFIDENTIAL folder. Diago's pulse kicked up speed. He almost didn't hear Ferrer's next words. “I understand from Inspector Garcia you stopped an anarchist from setting off a bomb near a child.”
Diago nodded and barely managed to move his numb lips. “That is true.”
Ferrer placed the folder in his briefcase alongside the ledger. “CNT?”
Some of the tension loosened in Diago's chest. “It all happened very fast, but Inspector Garcia assured me the anarchists were involved. He asked I not say too much, because they're still investigating.”
“I understand.” Ferrer snapped shut his briefcase, and Diago's heart rate returned to normal. “Thank you for coming, Alvarez.”
Ferrer's abrupt dismissals used to rankle Diago to no end. Today he felt nothing but relief. He bowed his head in Ferrer's direction. “Please give my regards to your wife and son.”
“Thank you.” Ferrer rang for Elena.
Diago followed her to the door, trying hard not to step on her heels. He expected Ferrer to call him back into the office to explain why he'd been pawing through the man's private papers.
They had reached the foyer when SeÃ±ora Ferrer's voice called from the kitchen. “Elena! Don't we have another bottle of La Gitana?”
“An excellent sherry,” Diago said as he aimed himself toward the door. “I'll see myself out.”
Elena's jaw tightened with irritation.
He didn't wait for her answer. Instead, he fled the apartment and headed for the elevator, quite happy to be done with the Ferrers once and for all.
Except for the fragment.
That might necessitate a return trip. He would let Guillermo decide what to do with the information.
Diago rode the elevator to the main floor and exited the building. Outside, Garcia was nowhere to be seen. Either he had hidden himself well, or he was off on another task for Guillermo.
Relieved, Diago turned toward the Gothic Quarter and decided to avoid the metro. Another encounter with Alvaro was the last thing he needed.
He had just crossed the street when a police car rolled to a stop beside the curb. Had Ferrer discovered the missing memo? Diago made a conscious effort to keep his hand away from his pocket.
The youth behind the wheel cranked down his window with ferocious speed. “Excuse me, Doctor Alvarez!”
Doctor? Oh Jesus, what now?
Diago bent over and saw Garcia's terse face glowering from the passenger side of the car. This day was not getting better.
Garcia emerged from the car. The urgency in his step alarmed Diago. His concern shifted from the stolen memo to Guillermo and Miquel. Had something happened to them?
Garcia rounded the bumper.
“What's the matter?” Diago asked.
Garcia clenched Diago's bicep and propelled him to the car's back door. “You're a doctor now, do you understand?”
Diago twisted free and lowered his voice. “Don't touch me again.”
“Just get in the fucking car.”
“At least tell me what kind of doctor I'm supposed to be.”
Diago calmed somewhat. Guillermo was in no danger if he had sent for Diago to play the role of a criminal psychiatrist, and that likewise meant Miquel was safe.
Whenever mortals were involved and his friend had needed someone to read the patterns of a daimon attack, he'd called on Diago and passed him off as an alienist. Now that he was Los Nefilim, Guillermo must have decided wining and dining him was no longer a necessary component of the request. “And what kind of crime am I investigating?”
“We don't have time for questions.” Garcia jerked the door open. “Get in.”
No use arguing. The sooner he got inside, the sooner they'd arrive .Â .Â .
There could be only one place. Guillermo had mentioned a visit to DoÃ±a Rosa Iniguez. Diago got in the car.
Garcia slammed the door hard enough to rattle the window in its frame.
Diago caught the young mortal's gaze in the rearview mirror. “What's happened?”
The young man licked his lips. “He killed them all,” he whispered. “He's insane.”
Garcia rounded the right bumper.
Diago resisted the urge to lean forward. “Who?”
The officer clutched the wheel in a white-Âknuckled grip. Before he could answer, Garcia jerked open the door and got in the front seat.
he lump, which had settled in Diago's stomach outside the Casa MilÃ , grew heavier when they stopped at the corner of Carrer de les Magdalenes and Carrer de Montsio. A few doors down Montsio, two young officers guarded the entrance to DoÃ±a Rosa's home.
Don't assume the worst.
Maybe DoÃ±a Rosa escaped whatever calamity befell her house. She could easily have been at church, or out with friends. Diago didn't ask. He didn't want his illusions shattered too soon.
Their driver stopped the car in front of one of the barricades. More police blocked both ends of the street and held back a crowd of spectators. Death didn't just draw the ravens anymore.
Diago got out and followed a few steps behind Garcia. They had only gone ten paces when a photographer stepped away from the crowd and aimed his camera at them.
Just what I don't need.
Diago dropped his head and angled his hat to obscure his features. Judging from today's adventure, Ferrer read the papers extensively. What if he saw Diago's picture and a caption identifying him as an alienist investigating a crime scene? Christ. Garcia should have brought them in through the alley behind DoÃ±a Rosa's house.
Too late now.
Diago gritted his teeth.
The flash popped and spun back the shadows. Garcia shoved the camera into the man's nose. The crunch of cartilage was loud enough to carry over the murmurs of the crowd. A spectator cried out at the sudden violence. The man dropped his camera and clutched his bleeding face.
Garcia ripped out the film. “Arrest that man. I'll deal with him later.”
Brutal but effective.
Diago didn't wait for Garcia. The inspector caught up with him faster than he would have liked.
“Was that really necessary?” Diago muttered.
“Mortals are like dogs, Alvarez.” Garcia straightened his sleeves. “Make an example of one”âÂhe gestured over his shoulder at the photographer, who was being shoved into a police carâÂ“and the rest of them stay out of our way.”
Diago wasn't sure if Garcia's “our” referred to the police or Los Nefilim; although knowing Garcia's contempt for mortals, Diago guessed it was the latter. He would have argued the point, but they had reached the front door. Both of the older mortals guarding the entrance gave Garcia twin smiles of tacit approval over his handling of the photographer.
Diago had to admit Garcia knew how to manipulate their allegiance.
know what he's doing, but it doesn't mean I have to approve of his tactics.
One of the officers opened the door. “It's ugly.”
“I'm sure the doctor has seen worse.” Garcia gestured for Diago to enter first.
Inside, the smell hit his sinuses like a club. Diago withdrew his handkerchief and used it to cover his nose. The thin cotton did little to mask the odor of feces and rotten flesh. The first analogy entering his mind was Valencia during the plague years, but that was wrong. The plague had left a definitive odor of illness in its wake. There was no smell of sickness here.
This was a charnel house. A fly dragged its bloated body along the scuffed wainscoting. The telephone stand was crushed to splinters, the telephone itself lost somewhere beneath the rubble.
When Diago had sufficiently gotten his gag reflex under control, he lowered the handkerchief. Like the touch of a ghost, he detected the faint scent of DoÃ±a Rosa's talcum. The smell hung in the foyer and left a sickly sweet taste on his tongue.
Garcia closed the door on the street sounds. Silence descended over them. Diago thought of tombs and the quiet dead.
He looked at the blood-Âspattered walls. Notes of a black song inched across the wallpaper. One sound wave fluttered beside the banister, buoyant as a moth. In it, Diago heard the echo of a moan. He thought he recognized the voice of one of DoÃ±a Rosa's other tenants: Anselmo was his name. That was all Diago could remember about himâÂhis name and his love of sour candies, the wrappers of which followed him like a trail. The echo of Anselmo's death touched a bloodied handprint on the wall, then slithered into the stain to disappear beneath the wallpaper.
Diago glanced at Garcia, who made no sign the sounds bothered him. Just like on the train, the inspector was less receptive to the resonances than Diago. So while Garcia might glimpse the vibrations from the corner of his eye, he wouldn't see them as clearly as the daimon-Âborn. Too, in a place as old as Barcelona, the Nefilim had learned to tune out the darker sounds as a matter of self-Âpreservation. Those who listened too long, or too deeply, sought suicide as a release from the echoes of grief.
Like the others, Diago detached himself from the darkness around him, but he didn't blind himself to the shades of death.
Blindness creates mortals like Ferrer. Or Nefilim like Garcia.
It was better to see clearly. Even the ugliness of the world had its place.
Eventually, the death-Âsong in DoÃ±a Rosa's house would fade. Only the most sensitive mortals, perhaps those with a touch of daimon in their soul, would perceive something bad ever happened in this house. Decades from now, the dark sounds would be gone, washed away by time and the resonances of new lives.
Diago looked away from the ghostly whispers. “What happened?”
“JosÃ© murdered his mother and the two tenants.”
Diago felt as if he'd been punched. He hadn't realized how much he'd been hoping poor DoÃ±a Rosa wasn't dead. He recalled the sympathy in her eyes when he told her he'd never known his father.
She didn't deserve such an end.
A touch of anger filtered into his voice. “When?”
Garcia shrugged. “The coroner is working out a time frame. We know they'd been dead for several days. A neighbor called about the smell. The police found JosÃ© up there this morning.” He nodded at the stairwell. “Writing on the walls. Don Guillermo got here and charmed his way inside. Chief Inspector Mieras knew I had business at the Casa MilÃ . He sent a car to find me while I was babysitting you.”
That explained Garcia's rage back at the Casa MilÃ . He had missed being first on the scene. Babysitting apparently kept him from his more important duties. “Where are the bodies?”
“They've already taken them to the morgue. What was left of them.”
Diago winced. “JosÃ©?”
“They've taken him to the hospital.”
The lunatic asylum.
The creak of footsteps on the boards caused both of them to look up. Diago recognized Miquel's footfall. His scuffed boots emerged on the threadbare carpet. He stopped at the landing and squatted. The shadows hid his features and for one terrifying instant, Diago thought his face had been erased.
Stop it. You're spooking yourself.
Miquel shifted his position and was bathed in the electric light's harsh glow. “Our alienist has arrived.”
Guillermo's voice drifted down from the top landing. “Dr. Alvarez?”
Miquel gave Diago a wan smile. “Yes.”
Whatever was up there, it was bad. That much was clear from his lover's face.
Miquel rose and backed against the wall. ÂPeople were coming down. Within moments, another police inspector descended, his eyes as glazed as if he walked in his sleep. Blunt-Âfaced and stout, he made Diago think of a bear. His fierce appearance was dulled by his slack jaw and vacant stare.
Suero accompanied the man, holding his elbow and guiding him toward the first floor. Like Miquel, Suero held a coveted place in Guillermo's inner circle. When he wasn't coordinating the movements of the other Nefilim, he posed as Guillermo's driver.
His quiet song spun webs of gauze over the mortal's eyes. A thin sheen of sweat coated Suero's forehead; he had been at it for a while. Blinding mortals to the truth was a difficult task. Whatever evidence this house held, Guillermo wanted it badly.
Suero and his charge halted in front of Garcia. The mortal's mouth worked as if he chewed the words carefully before ejecting them from his tongue. “Inspector Garcia, I want you to bring Dr. Alvarez's findings back to the station when you're done.”
Garcia nodded to the mortal. “Of course, Chief Inspector Mieras.”
Mieras wavered slightly as if drunk before he faced Diago's general direction. His gaze finally landed somewhere just over Diago's left shoulder. “Dr. Alvarez.”
“Chief Inspector. I'll examine the premises and get a written report to you. I assume photographs have been taken?”
“Yes.” Mieras hesitated, looking first from Diago to Garcia, then back again. “Yes.” He affirmed once more. “Yes.”
“Good. I may need to see those later.” Diago continued the pantomime of conversation as he glanced at Suero and wished the younger Nefil could read his mind.
Get him out of here.
Diago wasn't sure if Suero intuited Diago's thoughts, or maybe he was simply growing weary from the energy he expended on Mieras, but he got the message. His song changed in pitch and speed, offering a note of urgency.
Mieras straightened. “I hope you will forgive me. I must return to the station. I have important matters to attend.”
Diago and Garcia murmured good-Âbyes. Diago was certain Garcia was as relieved as he when the awkward interaction ended and the door shut on Suero and Mieras.
“We need to hurry,” Miquel said from his place on the landing. “Guillermo and I have overstayed our welcome already. Mieras had come up to tell us it was time to leave.”
“Let's go,” Diago said.
At the top floor, they followed Miquel into the loft. The furniture was as Diago and Miquel had left it. Nostalgia for their days in the small apartment touched Diago as he followed his lover to their old bedroom, but he didn't give the feeling room to grow. He wasn't here to reminisce.
Guillermo stood by the bedroom's sole window and examined the wall. Words were written on the wallpaper in both ink and blood. In some places the force of the pen had torn through the paper to gouge the wall. Bits of plaster were scattered around the baseboards.
Miquel said, “I'm going downstairs in case the mortals get curious. Four knocks means your time is up.”
Guillermo nodded. “Good idea.” He turned to Diago after Miquel left. “How did it go with Ferrer?”
“Their maid had me wait for him in his office. I took advantage of the opportunity.” He withdrew the memo and handed it to Guillermo. “I couldn't make sense of it.”
Garcia sounded amused. “So were you playing the spy?”
Diago shrugged and waited to hear Guillermo's judgment on the document's value.
Guillermo scanned the paper, then gave it to Garcia. “He's helping the police use agents provocateurs within the CNT.”
“How did you get that out of a primer shipment?” Diago asked.
“It's code.” Guillermo explained. “The Âpeople he's listed will hide the âprimers,' the sparks that will set off an incident. During the next CNT protest, one of the primers will guarantee the march turns deadly. They'll attack the police.”
“Or innocent bystanders.” Garcia added. “When the protestors are arrested, the âprimers' are released. They're never booked. They just disappear. The protestors are sent to prison.”
Diago felt as if he'd bitten into something sour. “They help the Âpeople oppressing their coworkers and get away free?”
“Your politics are showing, comrade.” Garcia passed the memo back to Guillermo.
“I have no love for Lenin.”
“A socialist, then.” Garcia dug a cigarette out of his pack and lit it. “Doesn't matter to me. It's mortal business of no interest to us.”
Guillermo pointed one blunt finger at Garcia. “
mortal business is of interest to us. I have a gut feeling the angels' game is bleeding into our realm, and if it is, their wars affect the mortals.” He folded the memo and tucked it into his breast pocket. “Not what I wanted to hear, but at least now I know. Good work.”
The compliment warmed Diago. “There's more,” he said. “I found a daimonic sigil hanging on the wall in Ferrer's office. The fragment is ancient. Ferrer told me JosÃ© had given it to him.”
Garcia said, “I've been in Ferrer's office three times and never saw a fragment.”
“According to Ferrer, JosÃ© just gave it to him yesterday.”
Which meant JosÃ© was at Ferrer's office while the bodies remained here.
Diago stifled a shudder. “Besides, it was hidden in the shadows. I wouldn't have seen it if I hadn't bumped into it.”
“You're a clumsy spy.” Garcia grinned.
Diago ignored the jab. Garcia was baiting him, and trading insults would get them nowhere.
Guillermo took his lighter from his pocket and flipped the lid open and shut, a nervous habit Diago knew well. “Could you determine the sigil's purpose?”
Diago shook his head. “I didn't have enough time.”
“Or you're protecting the daimon,” Garcia said. “A relative of yours, perhaps?”
Diago didn't dignify the comment with a response.
Neither did Guillermo. “Let's forget the fragment for a minute and look at what we have in front of us.” He checked his watch. “We're running out of time. The police said JosÃ© claimed to hear voices, telling him what to do and write.”
“Which indicates a possession.” Garcia tapped the ashes of his cigarette onto the floor. “And a possession means daimons.”
Diago glared at the mess. Â“People died here. Show some respect.”
Garcia sneered, but after a hard stare from Guillermo, he relented and stubbed out the cigarette in a cup beside the bed. “You've been living among the mortals too long.”
Maybe he had, but at least the experience had left him with a modicum of empathy, a quality sadly lacking in Garcia.
He's trying to rattle me. The best defense is to do my job.