I watched him pack Miller’s collection into his trunk and take it out. By the time he returned, I managed to assume a vertical position and shambled on out of the hall into the daylight. It was my body, my legs, and they would obey me, damn it.
Outside, a group of pale-faced mercs waited, gathered around the Four Horsemen and the Clerk. A few smoked, clutching at the cigarettes with trembling fingers. Nobody spoke, but they watched me like I was a rabid pit bull. Ivera wouldn’t look at me at all. I had to get the hell out of there, because right now I was easy pickings and my audience was feeling unfriendly.
“What happened?” the Clerk asked.
“A slight technical malfunction with the spell,” Saiman said. “My fault entirely.”
He was covering for me. Saiman dealt in information and the price of a secret was inversely related to the number of people who knew it. The fewer people possessed the information, the more valuable it became. I knew this, because Saiman had patiently explained it for my benefit.
“Sorry for the trouble, guys,” I said to say something.
“Did you at least get what you came for?” the Clerk asked.
“We got it. Thanks,” I said.
“Anytime,” Bob said grimly.
“The Guild is always willing to cooperate with the Order,” Mark said.
I waved at them and headed out into the parking lot. A woman. Dark eyes. I wished I could’ve seen her face.
A quick staccato of steps echoed behind me and Saiman caught up. “I’d be delighted if you rode with me,” he said. “The engine of my Volvo is wrapped in a layer of mass-loaded vinyl, caught between two layers of polyether foam. It’s adequate at attenuation of low-frequency noise.”
“Fascinating.” Most water cars made enough noise to do permanent damage to one’s hearing.
Saiman favored me with a narrow smile. “My vehicle is relatively quiet by enchanted engine standards. If you rode in my vehicle, you could rest.”
And he could ask me all sorts of interesting questions. I was tired, but not tired enough to risk a car ride with Saiman.
“Thanks, but I’ll pass. I can’t abandon my mule. Besides, I come with a passenger.”
His eyebrows came together. “A passenger?”
I whistled and the dog popped out of his hiding spot behind Marigold.
Saiman stared at my canine companion with an expression of pure horror. “What is that?”
“That’s my attack poodle.”
Saiman opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again. A grimace gripped his face. A violent struggle of some sort was obviously taking place inside.
“Are you trying to find something nice to say?”
He looked at me helplessly. “I can’t. It’s an awful creature.”
“If you want me to ride with you, this awful creature has to enter your car.”
The pain on his face was priceless. “Can’t we just—”
“I’m afraid we can’t.”
The attack poodle trotted around me and proceeded to vomit an inch from my left boot.
“Delightful,” Saiman reflected as the dog, having puked his guts out, urinated on the nearest wall.
“He’s a dog of simple pleasures,” I told him.
Saiman leaned back, stared at the sky, exhaled, and said, “Very well. Your taste in dogs is as appalling as your taste in wine. It’s a wonder you didn’t name it Boone.”
It had been a long time since I had tasted Boone’s Farm. Drinking was no longer my preferred entertainment.
“It’s a he. Please don’t insult my faithful canine companion.”
Saiman turned and strode to his sleek, bullet-shaped vehicle, disfigured by the bloated front end containing the enchanted water engine.
I petted the poodle. “Don’t worry. I’ll let you bite him if he gets out of line.”
The dog wagged his tail. Either Saiman smelled tasty, or my poodle had good instincts.
I mounted, swaying a bit, and nudged Marigold into action. Even if I did fall along the way, I’d likely land in a snowdrift. Any landing you could walk away from was a good landing.
THE MAGIC WAVE KEPT GOING. MY APARTMENT would give any meat freezer a run for its money. I couldn’t avoid the woodstove forever.
I’d been thinking about the female Steel Mary the entire time I rode to my apartment and was getting nowhere. A woman’s voice came out of the undead water mage’s mouth but I couldn’t recall it well enough to compare it to the Steel Mary’s. So either there were two women working together, or there was only one woman, six and a half feet tall, expert with a spear, with the ability to pilot the undead, use power words, and create pandemics.
Nothing I’d read even remotely fit that scenario. I’d have to rely on Saiman’s ability to read the parchment.
I pulled my shoes off and trudged into the kitchen. The red light on my answering machine was blinking.
I pushed the button.
“Got your note,” Christy’s voice said. “Someone ripped out the lock on your screen and pinned the paper to your front door with a nail. It’s rain-stained, but I think it says, ‘I’m here, you’re not. Call me.’ ”
He did come to see me with broken bones. A day too late and a dollar short.
The second message was from Andrea.
“Hey. It’s me. Raphael says that Curran’s been a real bastard since about mid-November. He’s in a bad mood, he’s snarling at everything and everyone, and he stopped hearing petitions. The big items that have to be done get done, but no new projects have been approved. Raphael’s been trying to get financing from the Pack to buy out a competing business. He says the last time he brought it up, Curran almost bit his head off. He apparently stalks the Keep halls at night, looking for someone to chew out.”
“He needs to get laid!” Raphael’s voice called out from a distance.
“Shush. Raphael’s mad because he can’t get his thingie approved.”
“My thingie would make us money,” Raphael yelled. “Not getting it approved is costing us money we could be making.”
“Anyway,” Andrea said, “I thought you ought to know.”
The message ended.
The answering machine was still blinking. There was another message and I had a pretty good idea who it was from.
For a while I sat in the kitchen and petted the attack poodle, deciding whether I should listen to the message or just erase it. Finally I pushed the button and Curran’s voice filled the room.