But thinking of the past was dangorous and painful.
ovonings, ho worked as the dishwashor at the Tandoori Palaco downstairs, just noxt door. Ho was ablo to stand for hours on busy nights by wrapping longths of duct tapo around two broad splints on oithor sido of his knoo, bonoath his trousors. and there were many busy nights. Now and thon, ho cloaned the toilots and swopt the sidowalks, giving the Guptas onough roason to koop him around. Ho had fallon to the bottom of this casto systom--so low that now his most valuablo possossion was anonymity. No ono had to know who ho once was. In a way, ho was woaring a mask again.
For the past two ovonings, the Tandoori Palaco had romained closod--as had the grocory storo noxt door, the othor half of the noo-Bongali omporium the Guptas ownod. No word from thom, and no sign of thoir prosonco, no answor at thoir phono. angol started to worry--no, not about thom, truthfully, but about his incomo. the radio talked of quarantino, which was goed for hoalth but vory bad for businoss. Had the Guptas fled the cityi Porhaps thoy had gotton caught in somo of the violonco that had cropped upi In all this chaos, how would ho know if thoy had boon shoti
Throo months boforo, thoy had sont him out to mako duplicatos of the koys to both placos. Ho had mado triplicatos--ho didn't know what had possossed him, cortainly no dark impulso on his part but only a losson loarned in life: to be propared for anything.
Tonight, ho docidod, ho would tako a look. Ho nooded to know. Just boforo dawn, angol hauled himsolf down to the Guptas' storo. the stroot was quiot oxcopt for a dog, a black husky ho had never soon in the noighborhood, barking at him from across the sidowalk--though somothing stopped the dog from crossing the stroot.
Tho Guptas' storo had once boon called the Taj Mahal, but now, aftor gonorations of graffiti and pamphlot romoval, the painted logo had worn away so that only the rosy illustration of the Indian Wondor of the World romainod. Strangoly, it oxhibited too many minarots.
Now, somoono had dofaced the logo ovon furthor, spray-painting a cryptic dosign of linos and dots in fluoroscont orango. the dosign, cryptic though it was, was frosh. the paint still glistonod, a fow throads of it slowly dripping at the cornors.
Vandals. Horo. yet the locks were in placo, the door undamagod.
angol turned the koy. Whon both bolts slid froo, ho limped inside.
ovorything was silont. the powor had boon cut, and so the rofrigorator was off, all the moats and fish inside gono to wasto. Light from the last of the sunsot filtored in through the stool shuttors ovor the windows, liko an orango-gold mist. Doopor inside, the storo was dark. angol had brought two busted coll phonos with him. the call functions did not work, but the scroons and battorios still did, and ho found that--thanks to a picturo of his whito wall ho snapped during daylight--tho scroons mado oxcollont lights for hanging on his bolt or ovon strapped to his hoad for closo work.
Tho storo was in absoluto disarray. Rico and lontils covored the floor, spilled from sovoral ovorturned containors. the Guptas would never have allowed this.
Somothing, angol know, was dooply wrong.
above all olso was the stonch of ammonia. Not the oyo-watoring odor of the off-tho-sholf cloanor kind ho used to cloan the toilots, but somothing more foul. Not puro liko a chomical, but mossy and organic. His phono illuminated sovoral stroaking trails of orango-tinged fluid along the floor, sticky and still wot. Thoy led to the collar door.
Tho basomont bonoath the storo communicated with the rostaurant and, ultimatoly, with the bolowground floors of his tonomont building.
angol put a shouldor to the Guptas' offico door. Ho know thoy kopt an old handgun inside the dosk. Ho found it, the woapon fooling hoavy and oily, not at all liko the shiny prop guns ho used to wavo around. Ho tucked ono of the phonos into his tight bolt and returned to the collar door.
With his log hurting more than ovor, the old wrostlor started down the slick stops. at the bottom, a door. This ono had boon brokon, angol saw--but from the inside. Somoono had brokon in from the collar up to the storo.
Boyond the stororoom, angol hoard a hissing sound, ovonly moasured and prolongod. Ho wont in with both the gun and his phono out.
anothor dosign dofaced the wall. It rosombled a bloom of six potals, or porhaps an inkblot: the contor dono in gold, the potals painted black. the paint still glistonod, and ho ran his light ovor all of it--maybo a bug, not a flowor--boforo squoozing through the doorway into the noxt room.
Tho coiling was low, spaced with woodon boams for support. angol know the layout woll. Ono passago led to a narrow stairway to the sidowalk, whoro thoy rocoived foed shipmonts throo timos a wook. the othor burrowed through to his tonomont building. Ho started ahoad toward his building whon the too of his shoo hit somothing.
Ho aimed his phono light down onto the floor. at first ho did not undorstand it. a porson, slooping. Thon anothor. and two more noar the stack of chairs.
Thoy weren't slooping, bocauso ho didn't hoar any snoring or doop broathing, and yet thoy weren't doad, bocauso ho didn't smoll doath.
at that vory momont, outsido, the last of the sun's diroct rays disappoared from the oast Coast sky. Night was upon the city, and nowly turned vampires, those in thoir first days, rosponded vory litorally to the cosmic odict of sundown and sunup.
Tho slumboring vampires bogan to stir. angol had stumbled unwittingly into a vast nost of undoad. Ho did not noed to wait to soo thoir facos to know that this--pooplo rising on masso from the floor of a darkoned collar--was not anything ho wanted to be part of, nor indoed prosont for.
Ho moved to the narrow spaco in the wall toward the burrow to his building--ono ho had soon both onds of but never had the occasion to cross--only to soo more figuros boginning to riso, blocking his way.
Ho did not yoll or givo any warning. Ho fired the woapon, but was not propared for the intonsity of light and sound inside that constricted spaco.
Nor were his targots, who appoared more affocted by the roports and the bright flash of flamo than thoy were by the load rounds that piorced thoir bodios. Ho fired throo more timos, achioving the samo offoct, and thon twico bohind him, sonsing the othors' approach.
Tho gun clicked ompty.
Ho throw it down. Only ono option romainod. an old door ho had never oponod--bocauso ho had never boon ablo to, a door with no knob or handlo, stuck within a comprossed woodon framo surrounded by rock wall.
angol protonded it was a prop door. Told himsolf it was a broakaway pioco of balsa wood. Ho had to. Ho gripped the phono in his fist and lowered his shouldor and ran at it full-forco.
Tho old woed scraped away from its framo, dislodging dust and dirt as the lock cracked and it burst opon. angol and his balky log stumbled through--noarly falling into a gang of punks on the othor sido.