as early thirties, female, brown hair, five nine, exhausted, borderline breakdown case, shaking hands, haunted eyes. Then she’d have deleted everything after “nine” and continued with the details of the incident. this case: Forensic analysis of the museum theft yielded Astoria address. Arriving the scene with warrant in hand, Detective Collins and I were fired upon from window by white male, late forties. After a brief exchange of Detective Collins forced the door. Behind door—
set her badge on her bureau gripped first two fingers her left hand. Her stomach ran floor routine even the Russian judge would give full marks.
She’d seen blood before, and bodies. The severed fingers the ashtray on the coffee table Astoria that afternoon . . those worse.
They’d yield prints, at least. Which not help her sleep tonight.
Her cell phone rang. Perry. She didn’t pick up. The ringing stopped before the call forwarded to voice mail, then started again. Still him.
“Perry, this isn’t good time,” was what she started say, but she didn’t get halfway her brother’s name before Hurricane Perry struck shore.
“Sal, thank you, thank you, thank for picking I’m so glad, it’s wonderful to your voice, missed you, how’re things, how long has it been anyway, I come over, like, now?”
“It’s been month.” She thumbed a gap her blinds. The sidewalk under her window was and the street almost empty. Toyota pickup, Civic, garbage, two young guys staggering home after drinking a Thursday night. Thank God. last time she’d heard Perry like this, he on run from some crazy scenester drama hadn’t waited for her permission to come over, just called her from the sidewalk the rain looked up, dripping, with that hangdog John Cusack look she knew he practiced in the mirror. “Since the last time were in trouble.”
“It’s nothing big, Sal, I promise, nothing you should worry about, you know, internet stuff, and then I started arguing with roommates and you people can get crazy sometimes, like, crazy. It’s the thing as month, swear, just need a place to you know. I’d a hotel if I could.” he had money for a hotel.
She peeked out corner window just be sure. He wasn’t down there either. “I’ve had very long day,
“I know, know, every day’s day for you, I’m so sorry, but I kind of need place rest little while, and I did apologize for month, and sent you flowers.”
“David still isn’t returning my calls.”
“You deserve better than guy like that, a who doesn’t understand the importance of family.”
“David has huge family. He’s good He doesn’t like being kicked out bed because my kid brother’s locked himself out of his apartment. That was good thing, emphasis on the was. And the flowers you sent were fake.”
“Better that they don’t die, right? And wasn’t just I locked myself out. And anyway I’m improving, I mean, you don’t anyone now. Do you?”
Her eyes narrowed. She glanced out window again. “Where are you?”
“What do you mean?”
realized she hear his voice twice: through the phone, and once from the hall.
Sal marched from her bedroom past kitchen and room the door. unbolted the bolt, unchained the chain, and pulled the open.
Perry was less than she’d last him, at least. One hand pressed an oversized Star Trek phone his ear. wore dirty tan trench coat, open, over ratty black T-shirt with three pixelated hearts on front a fourth half-full, jeans torn at the knee—from his nervous habit of clawing them while he worked on computer, rather than wear. other hand held a large rectangular parcel wrapped more T-shirts and tape, he waved her, then stuck under his arm, and waved again with an empty hand.
deployed John Cusack version 1.2.
She clicked phone shut.
started warming up John Cusack version
She sighed, and smiled, and hugged him. “Come in, doofus.”
He set up in living room, and she put water the kettle. I want to know why you’re here?”
“Thank so, so, so much.” set the parcel her living room table and undid the duct tape. “It’s dangerous, mean, tell if were, know, got into a fight with the roomies a project we’re working together, sort I want sure I’m right I home. Just need some time work on this thing myself. Bunch posers. know from Aramaic.” unwrapped T-shirts layer by layer, silk-screened video game reference worse than the last.
“I get that one,” she said. “It’s what, the game with the dysentery. Why the T-shirts?”
“Sal, do you have any idea how old thing is?” He folded shirt back reveal thick tome bound in pale leather, with gold on spine. pages’ ragged edges were blood-red. remembered severed in an Astoria ashtray, and stomach made a second pass the routine.
“Old, I mean old. I shouldn’t be handling it without gloves.”
The kettle cried, and followed its protest the kitchen. “You should get new roommates. You fight more with those guys than I ever have with an ex. Even Jeremy.” She returned with two mugs of coffee.
“It’s professional differences, mean, we’re working on big problems, borderline intractable, arguments get heated. There different strategies how approach the artifact. Aiden, you know, roommate with the crush on you, he wants to scan whole thing for word frequency which just seems patently silly, the codex form factor suggests it’s supposed be read, like by people, and anyway Aiden’s protocols are hella lax, which matters you’re surveillance.” He took a made a face. “Is this instant?”
“Todd says it’s the Bookburners, that’s why they wanted the book out of house, which is just dumb—if the Bookburners were after how would have even made it here?”
He set his hand on the book’s cover. hadn’t noticed before the leather was discolored: most of matched Perry’s skin, crimson bloom spread beneath fingers. She a sound couldn’t name: footfall, maybe, whisper, very soft. Goose bumps chased goose bumps up her arms.
“Perry, who are the Bookburners? Do you think someone’s following you?”
“I thought you didn’t want to know.”
leaned over the couch, over shoulder, and checked through the blinds. Street bare. Red Toyota pickup. Honda Civic. Garbage. E-Z Carpet Cleaner van.
“Please, Sal. They would have nabbed on the They did Ergo, I wasn’t followed.”
“What hell is going on?”
Someone knocked on door.
“Shit,” Perry said.
“Jesus Christ, Perry.” She grabbed her the living room table. “Who is that?”
“Mister Brooks?” The man on other side the door was unquestionably not Aiden—too old, too sure, too calm. An accent Sal couldn’t place twined through his words. “Mister Brooks, we’re not here hurt you. We want talk.”
“Shit,” Perry repeated, for emphasis.
Sal her bedroom and returned with her gun. “Who you?”
“I’m looking Mister Brooks. I know he’s there.”
I he’d want see you.”
must talk with him.”
“Sir, I’m police officer, and I’m armed. Please step away from the door.”
“Has opened book?”
“What?” She looked the living Perry standing now, holding the book, fingers clenched around the cover like she’d seen men at bay the handles knives. “Sir, please leave. I’m calling 9-1-1 She pressed autodial. The clicked.
“Stop him from opening the book,” man said. “Please. means anything to you, stop him.”
“Hello. This is Detective Sally Brooks,” and she rattled off badge number address. have man outside my apartment is refusing leave—”
Something heavy struck door. Doorjamb timbers splintered. Sally back, dropped the phone, both hands on the pistol. took aim.
The burst of the jamb and struck the wall. human wind blew through.
Later, Sal remembered slivers: stinging blow to her wrist, her gun knocked against the wall. woman’s face—Chinese, she thought. Bob haircut. Her knee slammed into Sal’s solar plexus and she fell, gasping, to the splinter-strewn The woman turned, in slow-motion almost, to the living room where Perry stood.
He held the book.
eyes wept tears of blood, and smile bared sharp teeth.
He spoke a word was too big for mind. She heard the woman roar, glass Then darkness closed around her like a mouth.
Summer sun baked skin. Sal fourteen years old, a raft atop the pond out of her grandparents’ Carolina homestead, while Perry read aloud shore. Her hand trailed the still water. The water still, but moving too, raft rocked her head and forth, and body wasn’t fourteen anymore, dammit was dreaming, wasn’t she?
If strained, could hear voices on the other of the dream.
“You lost him.” man’s voice, lilting, close—a different voice from before. “How did that
“He opened the book, is how.” woman’s voice. need picture?”
have crayons the if you’d like to draw one.”
“He tried hit me,” replied. “Got her instead. I pulled her out, he made the before I could catch
“So the boy’s off-grid with rider in head, in of eight million people. Wonderful, think we’ll call that. A-double-plus effort.”
“Christ,” the man said, “they answer calls quickly here. Come Is she—”
open your eyes when your back. Bad for them. You’ll see too much the sun.
She forced them open. The kneeling over her was red-haired beautiful. “Sorry. to Have a nice rest. You’ll feel better in morning.”
He away, ceiling grew shadows which fell crush again.
Sal, in department clinic, with whatever had to was the Clue solution read if someone didn’t start making sense soon. glared the doctor’s head Collins, her partner, who leaned against the wall, arms crossed, looking like he’d rather be anywhere but here, carrying anything but news carried. Her head swam. “I’ve told three times,” she said. “My brother came apartment. Two people followed him. I gave their descriptions. They broke down my door. There was fight, and up when officers arrived. It’s not complicated story.”
“You’re sure you your brother?”
“Of course sure. It Perry. had kind of fight with his roommates.”
“Breathe,” doctor said.
She breathed. The stethoscope chilled her “So what’s the problem?”
Collins shifted, if been trying get comfortable, expression suggested that he’d “Who says there’s problem?”
“Here.” passed tablet. “Hit
Security camera footage rendered her apartment building hallway in ghoulish greens and whites. saw herself open door and out into hall, smile, back, swing the door and close it again. “This is the footage.”
“It’s though. the time stamp.”
Collins lowered his chin toward chest. It didn’t touch due the extra chin way. “Scratch one theory.”
“You thought was things.”
“Who knows? got your testimony, we a living with broken and cups instant coffee, we a tape that doesn’t match your story, and falls ten minutes later.”
“Stare at ceiling,” doctor said, “just with eyes. Keep them wide, please.”
doctor’s flashlight burned Sal forced not to blink. “So you don’t have intruders, either.”
“Tape falls apart, like said.”
“Sal, come on. Chinese woman, white with red hair, unnamed third guy with—quote—old, accented—unquote—voice, doesn’t give a lot
“Irish,” said. “The white guy had an Irish accent.”
“Great, Sal. New that sure narrows down.”
“Someone have doctored tapes.”
“First responders pulled them. someone messed with the footage, they did it fast.”
doctor released eyelid, and she blinked pink blood webbed blotches her vision. “The other eye, please.” And again world was light.
planned this,” Sal said. “Whoever they were. couldn’t have They were after They hacked into building security.”
“Which make sense—I mean, it’d possible, if paranoid—except those cameras don’t talk to the internet. They’re even digital. There’s an actual, honest-to-God tape system the building basement, looks like was installed back I was Playboys under big brother’s mattress.”
“There rat nest on top the cabinet. Good thing still have VCR. Nobody to that before our boys did, trust me. you a new landlord. That building’s dump.”
“My brother’s out there. Somewhere. him.”
The doctor finished with flashlight stepped back. “She’s good go. anything’s wrong, can’t it.” squeezed both eyes shut until the pink went away.
“Thanks, Doc. Can us minute?”
When the door closed left them alone, Collins sank into the doctor’s chair with long hiss, if was under such pressure had to let steam to bend. looked the back of knuckles rather than
“You know none this makes he said.
“I know what saw.”
“And the more you say that, the weirder it sounds. Nothing on the cameras. mean, nothing. blood.”
“What, think snapped, imagined my brother being kidnapped, beat myself broke own living window?”
were you left yesterday.”
course was upset. found fingers in an ashtray! I freaked but that doesn’t mean I’m
“We to your brother’s apartment. His roommates say him this morning.”
“Did you see him?” she asked. Collins shook his head. “Then they’re lying. escaped. Either way, he’s into something big. needs help.”
“We told the boys call us when he shows again. For now, you take or calm down, rest.”
shifted his weight on the chair, which creaked. “The Lieutenant asked me to tell all this, it doesn’t have formal.”
“I have to find brother.”
She pushed herself the table and grabbed her jacket from the by door. you won’t it, someone
“I’ll pretend didn’t hear that,” he said. “Stay out of trouble, okay?”
She laughed, opened door, walked fast until hit the street.
Theories were people with patience than Sal Brooks, Brooklyn-bound Q train stopped over the Manhattan bridge, she time to up few. “I’m crazy,” nuclear option, didn’t compel. The doctor said she was fine, physically. People snapped all to nuts sixty seconds, this of snap didn’t match her If she cracking, her story make more sense, or less, or both. She’d met people on very train told her with overwhelming conviction they were product genetic experimentation United States government using alien DNA, they’d built prototype transport beam them home, which they’d show her if she visited the compound in Jersey they shared with their four lovers chosen embody the classical elements. she’d trust someone who asked her go Jersey.
So she wasn’t ranting about conspiracies or screaming obscenities at passersby. Count crazy out, now, though crazy people probably that too. Once you reject the possibility you’re mad, anything matter how strange, be sane. Keep going in that direction and you’re one away from the creep with the chopped-off index fingers in his ashtray.
The train crossed the
But assume you’re crazy, thought. Perry didn’t because of an argument with his roommates; he didn’t drop to hello. was afraid. Maybe he thought they wouldn’t follow him someone else’s apartment. maybe knew he could escape somehow, he just time to—
read that book. Which made no sense.
rose out of the subway onto wide Brooklyn street with three-story brick houses both sides, blank windows, Italian bakery, convenience store. Newly opened coffee indicated these blocks a hairsbreadth from hip. When the neighborhood crossed over, Perry and friends would have move. Providing, course, whatever mudhole they’d stumbled didn’t swallow them first.
Perry’s roommates knew something. If they seen this morning, they tell her he looked, where he said he was going when left. If they had lied cops, which gave leverage.
she’d need much with and Todd. boys scared easy.
She took quick turn around the block. for ten o’clock in morning, most of the locals work somewhere else. Cold November air Sun front page down sidewalk, and Sal shouldered deeper into jacket. walked past the boys’ townhouse, which was the only the block still decorated Halloween. big felt-and-wire spider clung crookedly outside Perry’s window.
Parked cars the street, mostly foreign-made. One finned pink Cadillac belonged in Mary reward brochure museum. E-Z Carpet Cleaner
Every instinct in her screamed, keep walking. backup at least. idiots and martyrs throw themselves into situations don’t understand without cavalry waiting.
She didn’t know it was same van. She already on shaky ground at office. And people broken her house seemed have no personal feelings about their intrusion. she remembered conversation she’d overheard correctly, they even thought had her from—something.
If Sal really wanted to rule out chance was crazy, shouldn’t have walked straight the van, gun, thrown open rear doors, told monitor-lit figures inside, “Hands where can see them.”
The Chinese woman rolled eyes, then raised hands the level of her shoulders. “I told you we should have switched vans.”
The redhead backed away from keyboard and swiveled his chair. was cold. How I supposed know—”
“Where the hell is my brother?”
“That’s interesting philosophical really,” the guy said. Nice accent. was the concussion talking. Focus.
The woman shifted forward in her chair.
“Don’t move,” Sal shouted.
“Excuse me, Detective Brooks,” said a from the sidewalk behind her—a man’s, deep, older, studiously calm. The from the door. Sal drew back the turned to include him in her field vision. think there’s been misunderstanding.”
He was Hispanic, and a priest’s black shirt collar. held with coffees hand, but other was raised, up, between blessing and surrender.
“Who you? What the hell going on here?”
“I’m Father Arturo Menchú,” accent the second syllable, “and for your other question: explain, if you’ll me.”
They stood the sidewalk beside van. Menchú wanted to talk inside, but Sal him what-kind-of-idiot-do-you-take-me-for look, which ended that line of conversation fast. looked uncomfortable out the open—he kept shifting foot foot and glancing over his hands in his pockets. woman just arms crossed. A bandage wrapped the knuckles of her right hand, and there a lot lean muscle hiding beneath her black jacket. Sal her. After day, straightforward hostility felt refreshing.
“You’re priests,” Sal said, skeptical.
The woman laughed, once.
“I’m priest,” Menchú said. “Grace, course, is not. Liam’s lay brother.”
“Why you into apartment last She considered adding how, reference to everything: broken door, book, the corrupted tape. Decided against it. One problem a time.
set tray of coffees atop the van. brother’s in of a rare manuscript does not belong to him. It used to belong the people work for. It stolen seventy years Turns the volume spent the last seven decades Metropolitan Museum’s sealed collection. Two weeks ago, someone into collection and off with number of books, including one.”
“You’re saying part of museum heist.” She remembered Astoria, yesterday: severed fingers ashtray full blood. White male, mid-forties. Shots fired. of recovering—Christ—fingerprints. way.”
“Not directly. Your brother and friends were one of many parties looking to the stolen texts.” Menchú kept his voice maintained eye contact, presented himself to at an He was good at seeming non-threatening; part of job, Sal guessed. Her attention back to Grace, who grinned, baring teeth. “There were others, willing pay more. Your brother stole book from the original thief, copy its place. reached out to your brother, hoping the issue without violence, he ran And he ran you. The book is if only a collector, and people he stole it from don’t like lose. can keep him if he works us.”
fingers had wedged into the in ashtray meant to hold Their nails pointed out: sunrays flesh and bone.
“He should go to the police.”
are the police,” Menchú said.
“We’re consultants to the police department this matter. If permit me.” reached, slowly, for his breast pocket. She nodded. From produced business card with cell phone number Sal recognized. “This is Chief Gallagher’s card. She’ll confirm my story. We were overzealous night, which offer my apologies. Perry in great danger.”
And there was, beneath the professional polish, beneath the professional assurance Sal had heard too times from priests lawyers—Menchú cared.
“I’m sorry,” he continued. “I this has been shock. I know you’re worried about your brother. are We need him.”
“One said, “off the grid, city like this. Paying with cash. problem. Anyone else you’d like me find while at it? Elvis? Amelia
Father Menchú ignored him. “It’s possible his friends know something. they’re scared. won’t talk anyone they don’t know.”
“We’re wasting Grace “We just knock down the door.”
Liam nodded. “Great idea. Worked so well last night.”
were a thousand procedural reasons Sal should leave. in danger, if people had blessing, could help without breaking orders. Technically. help.”
“No,” Menchú said. “I’m sorry. can’t involve you.”
“I’m involved This my brother we’re talking about. Every second counts. you go there without you’ll learn less than cops this morning.”
“We what we’re doing.”
Menchú’s eyes were deep, and sad.
cleared his throat. “Let Father. We’re shorthanded anyway.”
The priest sighed. “Very well.”
“One question,” Sal said, break the silence much as anything else. said you’re consultants. Where from?”
The man raised finger collar. “Isn’t obvious?”
“Jesus Christ,” Sal when Liam handed her bug. barely visible against the cosmetic tape. When she set it against her skin she didn’t feel the slightest chill of metal. “This is good gear.”
specialty. And this one.” Liam offered silver cross a
“What’s this for?”
“Stuff,” said. “Just put it
“I believe God.”
“He believes you.” laughed as if he’d made joke. “Think of it as temporary deputization.”
Grace checked watch. “We could have been inside twenty minutes ago.”
“Talk normally,” Liam we’ll hear. If there’s trouble, the cross.”
“More like mood ring, only reverse. If you see something strange, touching with the cross. are,” he wiggled fingers, “circuits and stuff.”
“Oh, little faith.”
“Thanks,” she and left the van.
skull knocker stared Sal from the boys’ front door, half-inch left of center. Drill holes covered with duct pocked the door knocker’s either side—they’d tried to the knocker three times without measuring door’s actual midpoint, and after third attempt agreed to celebrate their success.
The mailman given on the overstuffed mailbox, contents congealed rain a sodden block of and ink. Layers junk mail formed newsprint on front step, sporting impressive array greenish molds.
stared into skull’s glass-chip eyes, squeezed her own closed, opened them again, and reached the hinged lower jaw.
Before could touch it, the door jerked open reveal Aiden, tall and gangly, pajama bottoms a flannel shirt. the with foot, he too skinny to quite fill the small “Sal, this a really time.”
shoved the door. He stumbled back, upsetting pile mud-caked boots, and she pushed through into narrow musty hall. The door slammed her. “Where’s Perry? What hell you gotten into?”
“Perry’s fine, on. This is, illegal search whatever. my rights.”
don’t shit about the have your desk, Aiden. Perry’s in trouble. True false?”
“Perry’s, . .” Aiden spread his span and block her path, between a rack of mud-splattered coats and cross-stitch Perry’d made of Darth Vader’s mask. “Perry’s fine. We’re fine. had, know, small disagreement night, but we’ve taken of everything. Maybe we could out for and
“Let’s talk here. Unless there’s something you’re trying to hide.”
“Hide? of course not. What we try hide you?”
She jerked forward as if duck under left arm; when braced to grab her she jagged and he into the coats she swept past the living room, sea of boxes and USB cables. rust-dotted Ren-faire sword hung the wall. Something green bubbled beaker on a Bunsen burner atop claw-foot table she’d rescued from curbside recycling for them. Stairs rose from mess second floor, where boys slept when slept at Todd—black, older than and Aiden, though act it—sat the flanked two monitors, heavy leather-bound book open stand on the coffee He looked and blinked through goggles. Aiden’s coat-muffled from hall mixed with music from upstairs, or something like music: stream bleeps and blips remembered from sitting cross-legged on carpet, eight years old, playing
“Sally! Great see you. Didn’t expect you to drop Perry say anything.” The prescription goggles warped Todd’s eyes silver dollar size. “But this really time.”
“Aiden The bad time wouldn’t happen have anything to with brother’s disappearance, would the museum theft?”
Todd let the too fast. His blue gloves left trace powder brown leather, which was embossed a vine-and-knot pattern. Or those after all? really don’t know you’re talking about, Sal. Like we told the cops, Perry came this morning. He fine. He looked scared, but He swallowed hard. “Theft, though? You think was mixed in something—”
“I haven’t seen that book around here before, Todd.”
“Look.” raised his hands, fingers spread. “Perry’s one who the books. analyze, translate. Upload. It’s aboveboard, as far as know. Perry himself in with the wrong people, but I don’t know who
read the books.”
“So I came back here with warrant, what I find?”
“You don’t want that, Sal. mean, really.”
know where my brother
“He doesn’t want see
“He to my last night, terrified. Nothing’s changed between and then.”
Behind her, in the hall, Aiden recovered.
“Sal.” Sweat ran down Todd’s temple to cheek. “Maybe can talk this somewhere outside?” His eyes jerked and left.
She turned. Three bedroom doors upstairs—one Aiden, one for Todd, one for Perry. Perry’s, with Japanese cartoon scroll, slightly ajar. “That sounds like good she said, then ran the stairs and burst through the door into Perry’s room.
Monitors illuminated bed, the bookshelves, the clothing. There should have been sunlight, the Halloween-store spider hung outside Perry’s blocked the sun.
And himself ripped jeans and bloodstained shirt, curled like a shrimp over his keyboard, unblinking eyes inches central monitor. Barefoot. Hair tousled. One-day of beard. muscles snaked, relaxed, snaked again rocked in his chair, typing.
Detective Brooks, lawyer might ask someday, *how did you the person sitting the chair was
And she’d her mouth before the courtroom but words would come out. audience would stare at The would drum fingers. The would lean Any time, Detective Brooks.
The clothes were Perry’s, the language ditto.
But when she said, “Perry?” the second time, her voice was uncertain.
He stopped typing, uncurled himself vertebra by vertebra from the keyboard, and to her. His eyes focused wall her. smiled woodenly. “Sal. Sister. sorry you had come here.”
“Perry.” imagined hugging him when she him again, imagined hitting too. Neither seemed possible now. “Perry, you’re As if saying that would make it true.
And you should Sal.” What reasonable suggestion. “I work to finish, you don’t mind.”
didn’t. But her not-minding strange. Wasn’t “Perry, what happened night?”
“Nothing,” said. “I was pushed, you see. The Bookburners chased me, and help where could find it. I’m perfectly fine. Better than been in long, long while. You’re police officer,” as if just looked the fact up in large and fine-print list. His words didn’t match the movements his mouth. focused through the fear—and why fear? He was brother.
But maybe he wasn’t, right now.
mouth was not moving time with his words, the words he spoke were not English, even that was language she heard. must feel like this when solve case. the world makes sense once. I’ve been working on a puzzle for a long time, and just the push.”
He reached for
There seemed to be great deal space between all of his grew longer to bridge gap. A finger of pressed against her skin above heart, so cold it As the hand approached no looked like hand all, not like of flesh. Torn corrugated twisted around paper woven plastic bones, forming fingers. dripped ragged joints. arm was a length of rebar wound with trash and shredded cloth. Bottleglass eyes reflected the monitors’ blue Thin lips to reveal teeth, with oil.
traitor still insisted was Perry, brother, there was reason to pull back him, there no to run, she should let this thing touch her, that on its metal was not in fact but whisper, a might her if got inside—
cold fire against her chest was real. skin seared, froze, cracked. followed the pain back body and retreated, unsteady, legs belonged someone else. She staggered into the hall. arm stretched toward her, impossibly long.
She slammed door on the thing’s hand.
The Perry-thing didn’t seem care. It kicked the open. Mangled fingers clicked place. smile split as it widened. It didn’t need face anymore. Just
From the heard window shatter.
Bottleglass eyes widened. A black knocked thing that was her into wall. Sal blinked, and blur resolved into Grace. Slivers of window glinted from the insteps her boots. raised one Perry’s monitors overhead slammed it the fallen creature’s face.
Sally thought—Help. hand went her shoulder but Grace and creature were too close, too fast. threw Grace back, wriggled its without concern any principles of anatomy, ran at her. Grace jumped back onto the bed, out of a claw, then jumped onto creature it could recover, toppled to ground, struck it face four times with her forehead. A ceramic on the thing’s face broke—Grace clawed it something couldn’t
easy! my brother!”
“It’s Grace said. “It never was.” The creature threw into the desk. Grace roared, dodged left; a claw one of the remaining monitors. Grace grabbed the flat-panel from the floor hit the arm, which snapped.
“Grace, get back! me shot.”
have this. worry about the downstairs.”
She went. Behind her screaming, more glass. Downstairs, sat front the book. His blue-gloved hands stroked its paper. looked over her.
“Todd, Jesus Christ, there’s something up there.”
goggle-swollen were black pupil to edge. turned page book.
The sword on the wall missing.
Footsteps in the hall beside her. ducked back into staircase. sword off wall—no edge that blade, which made it marginally less dangerous, but four-foot-long steel bar would break her bones fine. The sword tore deep in wallpaper and drywall, fell from Aiden’s Before could kicked back his knee, him few in the and he fell.
Todd still sat, watching turning pages.
Perry last night, staring at her if from bottom a deep well.
A heavy struck the front door, and latch groaned. A swore—Liam’s voice—and Aiden’s body began move, more like marionette person, structure manipulated contracting individual muscles.
“Todd, close the book.”
He blinked, slowly.
She reached for the cover, thought better touching leather with her hands, and with the instead. When its tip touched, an electric shock seized her. apartment squeezed around her a fist, and again cold flared against breastbone. She opened her eyes—she’d fallen back the and Aiden crawling toward her. kicked him back, pushed herself upright. Unclenched her hand the
Crashing sounds from upstairs—a of pain, frustrated
If there’s trouble, use the cross. . . mood ring, only in reverse.
Dammit. None of this made sense. But—connections—the cross burned free of Perry-thing’s influence. It hurt she that pain back to her mind. it could protect her from the
She undid her top shirt button. lay heavy against her skin, stuck magnets. She pried free; left welt. Think about later. Think all later. Just do. The she brought cross to the book, the heavier it seemed. arm shook. What the hell all those gym hours if not
hooked the book’s cover cross, and swung it closed.
Sometimes in the winter, twenty minutes’ down long avenues a vicious wind, she’d take shelter in subway stop and feel her body expand without anything fight against. She felt like now. Silence unfurled. The closed book vibrated like plucked string. The cross lost its sheen—all tarnished where fingers touched
Aiden lay still, breathing heavy. collapsed, trembling, sofa.
She by his shoulders. Pinched him. Struck across face. Tried cross. The tarnished bit yielded no reaction. When she touched the part that shiny to his cheek, hiss. His eyes snapped open, and screamed at pitch than she’d thought his voice could make.
“Todd. Dammit, Todd, you okay?”
“Sally,” said. “Sorry.”
“What the hell’s going Where’s Perry? What that thing?”
“Came this morning. Got into heads. Left the dummy room, the book—the pages to Told us what do.”
“It’s done. closed book.”
“It got inside.” touched his chest. “Still there. Whispers.”
“Where’s Perry? real Perry?”
“Storage.” coughed. “Took other books, us stay here, people. He’s—”
Black tendrils wormed across Todd’s eyes, through sclera toward the pupil. muscle stood his throat.
“Shit.” She tried the cross but didn’t react.
Covered in tarnish. She looked around, unsure. Maybe something here could help. But the house a mess, except for claw-foot where burner was longer burning. She heard hiss and smelled—
The door burst She already halfway down the hall, Todd the collar his shirt. Dude a billion pounds, not mention Aiden, who at least out too cold fight. Her hurt hell, and legs rubber, were jelly, were really fucking tired. Liam stood the door, blinking like idiot. “Gas,” she shouted, and him wince—earpiece, linked her “Help me!”
He ran the hall grabbed Aiden. left a wet trail through pulped newspapers and leaves. Sal back and Grace out Perry’s bedroom the fire escape. made it to the neighboring building before a hammer of struck in the chest and she fell.
Fire painted face orange and green. Sirens wailed, too close comfort. Grace from escape to sidewalk. stood; and Todd sprawled, unconscious breathing, at her “We have get out of here,” said.
Understatement the millennium, candidate number one.
“What the hell that?” was shouting, and didn’t care. “Any that? single piece anything that just happened sense.”
“Unless want to an accessory to arson,” Grace said, “can we talk about later?”
am I an accessory to anything? I went help my brother friends. Now their house is fire, they’re don’t even
“That too.” The were close now. old man bathrobe stood a distance the staring. crowd gathered in front coffee shop to watch the smoke. “Look, can have this conversation anywhere else?”
“I’m without an answer.”
stuffed his hands in pockets. don’t—there’s no—it’s fucking okay?”
An iron cuff closed around Sal’s arm, only wasn’t a cuff at all, Grace’s hand. There was blood on woman’s face, but no open wounds Sal could cuts which, dammit, could not be scabbing over already. Could they? Grace’s were stars which the wheeled.
“Magic,” Grace said.
“Grace,” Liam said, “she’s civilian. mean, really sure we should be talking about—”
“You want waste time keeping her out the loop, waste own.” Grace hadn’t turned from Sal. deal with magic. Okay?”
“Okay,” she said. “Magic.
“We can tell you Not here.”
“Start with in brother’s Sal when stopped van near Prospect Park. it? Perry dead? What did with him?”
“Homunculus,” Menchú said. sat on upended milk crate back the working his keychain like “He’s dead, and homunculus didn’t do anything with him—Perry was driving it from distance.”
“They’re not so once to know them,” said. He was running property records search, half-paying attention, if whole damn situation normal, which made Sal even angrier. “Well, scratch that. They stay Just an understandable kind bad. You used it.”
“You do the time.”
wouldn’t go far as say all the time.” swore the monitor.
Menchú offered coffee. “Grace didn’t drink hers.”
Sal at over the and he withdrew it. “Tell everything.”
of here,” said. “You’ve enough.”
“You tell magic’s real, then you want to kick me out?”
“You were frozen that sidewalk. You can now. would.”
didn’t,” Sal said, “obviously.”
Grace’s eyes sharp broken glass.
fast to her discomfort. “Perry was controlling that thing. Whatever spoke me, was brother. I the truth.”
didn’t lie you,” Menchú said. as such.”
“You my brother in trouble because he stole a book. didn’t mention magic homunculuses whatever.”
“I said your brother was possession a stolen book.”
She blinked. “Oh.”
“This isn’t for anyone to hear the first time. us . Menchú hesitated, searching for the right word.
“Okay,” Sal said. “Now confused.”
three of us part society responsible stocking tending the Vatican’s Black Archives.”
Sal frowned. “I saw Discovery Channel thing about that. Forbidden books. Heresies.”
what people know,” Menchú
Grace stood, squeezed past priest into van’s passenger seat, pulled dog-eared of Pride Prejudice from the compartment, kicked feet up on dash, started reading.
“The world’s bigger than most people know,” Menchú said. “Imagine we live on an island ocean full of monsters. Most of the time we’re safe from the monsters. But sometimes the rises. Sometimes the monsters cause waves. Sometimes people dig channels run into the ocean, things come Sometimes they more often it’s accident. These channels take the form of—artifacts. Books, often. Anything that connects mind another. For two years, artifacts Europe the Americas have wound in the Vatican’s Black Archives. The book brother brought to apartment is Liber Manus, “the of the Hand,” which we assume the name the monster book contains, charismatic world-eater type a human minds. surfaced for the first time in nineteenth century, in shipped for America on the Titanic, and arrived in the care half-drowned baronet. Liber unharmed the crash, of course. If could damaged such conventional means, we’d out of job. Before the book could serious damage in States, local officials killed its bearer and locked volume away. The book’s been quiet generations, the warnings became department gossip. Precautions slipped. Traces of *Liber Manus’s existence reached internet, and your brother found them.”
“So Perry’s, what, he’s been taken over a sea monster?”
Grace, passenger seat, page loudly. “He opened book,” she called back. “The Hand jumped into mind.”
clicked his mouse, swore, clicked again.
“Demons,” Sal said. “You’re talking about demons.”
“It’s clear what they are, theologically speaking,” Menchú said. “Some present themselves as angels, but they may be lying. don’t speak us. can’t.”
“Demons,” Grace said, and turned page.
“How even this book?”
“Idiots,” Liam added.
“—communities, associations of amateur scholars and technical experts believe information wants to free. Your and his friends belong one. and his friends, and their friends, know enough picture I’ve outlined the metaphor is literal. They’re mostly harmless, your brother found book with real power. He stole merchandise from the initial thieves, who then turned one another.”
Fingers an ashtray. Sal shuddered.
“He brought the home. friends kicked him out because they afraid of reprisals from surviving criminals.
us, Grace said.
he went apartment. When followed him offered escape. opened Ordinarily the, ah, demon’s control over brother would have been limited in its first underestimated the depth his study. the necessary languages, the right frame mind, no tools resist possession. Hand him. He must left the homunculus at apartment to keep watch, and to retrieve needed materials and He controlled through the in townhouse.”
“Was that the, whatsit, Liber Manus? Did close
“Hardly,” Liam said. “The book you back was just chump text.”
“A poor copy,” Menchú explained. Hand recorded piece its name and projected its power the name. That book have burned up in fire—unlike true work, imperfect copy special properties beyond its content. Perry, and we find Liber Manus.”
“Which is turning out be terrifically easy, just record,” said. “Perry’s cell phone’s dead. No records on file. Traffic cameras follow from house nine this morning, lose in tunnel.”
“And now the demon free, your brother’s mind, somewhere in New York. cement its control, once that’s it will gather acolytes.”
“Cement,” Sal “So you still save him.”
“If we’re lucky, can book without him. Cut off demon’s control.”
“And you’re lucky?”
Menchú’s pressed together. He returned the van to pocket. They like bells. “When close the he might too far gone come back. Your brother’s friends, the house—they were, say, wading the Perry’s swimming riptide.”
“You don’t know what these do when they get out of hand.”
“How bad can it be? I’ve never seen demon attack the news.”
“People disappear all the time. the world.”
“Murders. Accidents. Shit
“And sometimes the swallows people, and those left forget. corner of an island falls into sea. How you tell it was ever there? Not even bones remain. know look, you can see cracks where land once was. legions. cities. Have you ever heard the town Colebridge, New York?”
“That’s impossible. whole town can’t disappear.”
“Information decays. Paper but people good at disbelieving evidence. Those who don’t know to feel around the a gap might never notice gaps The mind cover even the largest When was the last time thought about place where you were born?”
“You’re saying it might York.”
“The time spend here, the longer the demon your brother has shore up his control. If you know how find him, save lives. Including his.”
“If know anything, I tell you, you’ll in there, out, hurt him.”
close book. want save these people.”
“Go the if he’s dangerous.”
would you tell them? How could you explain the situation they would intervene knowing what they faced?”
“Knows She calls us when your people are out of their depth.”
could show them evidence.”
time the fire department’s done, the homunculus will be pile of melted garbage. leaves no traces for forensics.”
“You be It’s just the three of you a rented van?”
“Hey,” said. like this van.”
is a job for the government. The in Black. Some, I don’t know, some Congress thing. CIA.”
“The problem,” Menchú said, older than government. Its solutions are too.”
leaned back his chair and her upside down. “Besides, you think we’re low-budget, imagine team library would field.”
“This is what do. These are the calls we make.”
“Not today,” Sal “Not I after myself.”
Before could respond, she burst from the van into the cold gray morning ran through the hedge the
Rain soaked through sneakers ankles her jeans. She smelled ripe mulch and pulping leaves. Bare branches clawed the sky. Hands forced in pockets, head down, marched through the park. Once she out the other side she could hail south, reach Perry’s storage unit before Menchú and his team. they were telling the truth.
Of course were, or thought they were. seen that garbage wearing brother’s had she seen it after all?
She had. But—
The mind closes to cover the largest wound.
she kept walking, she forget brother? this just usual serving of post-traumatic stress, as chopped meat into chewable chunks? There had been lot that house.
Either way, she had to Newark, fast.
“Sal,” he repeated, closer, desperate.
Keep walking, she told herself. But she’d never good listening herself, especially when sense.
arms were out, palms down, his wide. looked paler than usual.
“You want to tell trust Menchú,” she said. “That guys what you’re doing. You’re talking about brother’s life.”
know how it feels,” said. “I’ve there.”
She had good sentences left, but that her.
walked his road. was a punk. knew the truth out there. looked. And what found, it got inside He took step toward didn’t retreat. Gray clouds shifted against backdrop gray clouds. years a baby version of the that’s in your brother now. One minute it’s February using three-year-old management system exploit to a sealed manuscript out vaults Trinity, then October 2013, missed the Cup, and Grace and Father wake in warehouse basement in Prague. There’s blood all walls, have wires coming of my arms.” pushed the sleeve of his windbreaker flannel beneath. Red scars pierced his corded muscle textured tattoos. “I don’t what I was for those two years. Nobody Grace and found me back.”
She reached for his forearm, for the scars. pushed his sleeve down before she could touch
“We care. know doing. And your brother in danger. you know where is—dealing with this yourself is crazy. Give information. We’ll him. I’ll help him. trust me, it’s tackle this world alone.”
His eyes and very bright.
“He’s my brother,” said. “I’ll him. You can help, you want. But he’s mine.”
“We can work with that.”
“Let’s We have drive ahead of
“Newark,” Liam without further comment, they crossed the Goethals Bridge.
“Perry friends needed cheap storage. They a of equipment, buy books the foot at estate eBay. didn’t know why,” Sal said,
“You wondered your kid brother was laying in lifetime supply of men’s books?”
“He’s done shit since was kid. Before this was five of collecting gears and selling them steampunk conventions, which you know, also weird to his history I my life and has his. did, I counted rounds she had checked that her weapon hadn’t been damaged in the fight in house. She didn’t plan to it, but then, she never went in planning to fire. she have
“See, Grace? never would have found him without
Grace shrugged turned page.
Menchú passed a manila envelope containing another silver cross.
“I have one of those already.”
don’t work when tarnished. it out. Drop used one the envelope.”
pulled chain over head. felt much heavier when she’d put on. “It’s the cross matters?”
“The cross guides us in our faith,” Menchú said.
“But silver’s the pertinent bit,” Liam added. “Worked silver, older better. It soaks up magic, which where tarnish from. still the why. Stings like a— it stings, but that’s better than letting some bastard root around in skull. Church has lot of crosses around, turns Seal envelope.”
The glue tasted of wood and “Any of that coffee left?” It cold, and never had any good, but least it like coffee. cross when it touched the seared skin chest, it felt lighter the one.
“Thank for coming with us,” Menchú “Grace speaks highly your courage.”
“Does she? Thanks.”
didn’t up her book. don’t get us all killed.”
“Not plan,” Sal said. “Take the next
storage complex over acres, and still they past on the first try. turning us away,” Menchú said.
“At least we know he’s here.” Liam pulled U-turn.
Sal’s cross burned. She her mind’s much as with physical the We-Stor-It sign, remembered Perry here the first time, before he the boys got their beater Olds. who know to feel around edges of a gap might notice gaps at “Now. Left.” Liam yanked wheel and they slid a driveway an storage parking lot.
Liam parked the end of of vacant spaces, they hit pavement. to what different about this space was. The character light hadn’t changed. colors weren’t dimmer vibrant. There wasn’t noise of any their footsteps, she could still trucks roll down the highway the middle distance. was there of that spatial oddness remembered from the house. The storage units long rows, right angles and closed garage doors.
felt . less, somehow. She’d that cats dogs freaked before earthquakes tidal waves, before sinkholes opened to swallow houses. They the was going wrong. Maybe people the same less keen—maybe they only felt this way when collapse was bigger, deeper, fundamental. The world, Menchú said, was an island eaten by ocean beneath.
Maybe he wrong.
It didn’t that way.
This was bigger than she felt, walking from the Carpet Cleaner storage lot beside three she barely This was bigger than any of but it was damn bigger Detective Brooks. Something that could eat the world like this, couldn’t fight it, couldn’t arrest Liam, Grace, Menchú, they all seemed to have some kind of angle on—magic. it by name. She’d them here. could stay the van, tell them locker number, take it from Stay safe.
They looked her, uncertain. Menchú especially. Brooks. If you want wait—”
“Can’t feel it?” said.
He shook head.
“Perry, whatever’s him. It’s strutting. Putting front. to scare us Me particular.”
“The Hand dangerous,” said. “It will eat us we give
“Yeah. now, than anything, it us to leave.” She bared teeth. “Third fifth locker on the left. Let’s go.”
Menchú, the approach, didn’t share her optimism. hold on your brother as long as book’s Close it—”
“With the cross. know.”
“Don’t the if it’s tarnished, don’t touch the book with your bare hand. I’ll try first. Grace will deal guards.”
“It’s been awake our world for less day. You it has goons?”
“It may have turned people, like the boys townhouse. There must have been when arrived.”
looked back Grace and Grace’s novel had vanished into pocket; Liam fingerless glove onto left hand snapped it closed his wrist. Grace rolled at the sound, at the glove, in general.
“Cross,” said. “Don’t touch book. Anything else?”
“It may tempt you, as you closer, offering bargains. Don’t it.”
“I mean, it’s demon.”
The door Perry’s locker was rolled down, its padlock locked. She glanced back ideas.
Grace struck the padlock with cinderblock, and it broke. She shrugged.
Liam closed the snap on second glove.
Then someone tackled him from the right.
“Shit!” large man lay of meaty fingers pushing toward his throat. Before could react Grace was there—she grabbed man’s We-Stor-It uniform polo shirt threw him back with twist hips. The uniformed pushed himself upright—eyes wide black from edge to edge—a foot Grace, easy. She kicked him the knee, struck him in the temple with elbow, and down. Black tears left down cheeks.
“Shit,” said in a different tone voice than Liam had used.
Other figures emerged the alleys the storage units—men and women in uniform, family three with the daughter in pigtails. felt she should have seen them approaching. course, should have seen driveway before was time turn. Grace trying face directions once. Liam pushed himself to his
Menchú turned her. “Still think it’s scared?”
Sal could have answered. Instead, she opened the door.
Candlelight flickered behind layers of fake Victorian furniture and chemical glassware, disused futons of books—leather bindings paperbacks, journals and diaries and dime-store detective novels. And there, the end narrow path through cast-off dreams mystic behind semicircle open stood Perry.
Well. Not stood. Floated.
“Sal,” said, the inside said, and smiled, his teeth were points and there was no tongue the of his “An unexpected pleasure.”
She should have waited for Menchú. He’d done this before. this was her brother. ran into the
Which turned be the best, because when a puppet jumped her from a gap the boxes, Menchú there it (her, she corrected herself, these things could wake up, probably) her Of course, the puppet then grabbed chair struck him the head, he seemed more staggered than hurt.
Sal toward the thing that her brother. “I bet,” said. “That’s why tried to keep away. Perry, if you’re there, trying to help
That didn’t waver. The pages turned their own accord. raised one hand and shadowy headwind blasted The soles of shoes left black streaks on concrete floor. “What did they you, That this me? the lie spun?”
“My brother wouldn’t this.”
“Are you sure? your brother had the we have now—”
“We?” she said.
“Oh, fine. Spoil How can tell the difference, anyway?”
“My has tongue.”
make tongue, you’d rather.” Fire licked his teeth. brother’s body, and have his brain right here—who’s to say I’m him, just power he always wanted? can through his memories, every dirty thought, desire, terror suppressed impulse. Delicious and nutritious. Would you like to know many times he wanted to kill you? How times he hated you?” turned ten of leftmost book forward, flipped three pages back, an unpracticed chef working unfamiliar recipe.
She forced herself him, step by step. The froze tore skin. Burn flashed through memory: charcoaled edges of flesh and white showing. “He do of Those thoughts don’t matter.”
they do! feared unjust world, and so you became That’s what thinks. feared being powerless, he sought power, which him to me. your lovely little weakness, you humans—you’re blissfully susceptible to destiny.”
The shadow-wind reached gale Somewhere behind her Grace Liam and Father Menchú fought their lives, for her, for Perry.
“What do you want with this?”
“What anyone want?” Perry said. “A future. Futures taste grand. you people have many them for yourselves, like ice cream flavors. hundred years back expected of same forever, until maybe some god scooped his favorites off play cut-rate Heaven. Bland. Tasteless. But now—stars capes apocalypses, gray and futuristic despotism, oil crises and pandemic collapses, floods and robots and monsters, oh my! Fresh universes fear. brother’s spinning them by billions inside You could join him. Suffer through few million hells I’ll give paradise none can match.”
“Perry,” she said. close with every step wind grew twice strong. And she heard whispers, too, whispers that were voices like claws in belly. wormed into the cross pierced her, the wriggled her heart. “Perry, wake This thing needs afraid. Listen to It’s sister, it’s Sal, I’m outside your fucking door I need you and better open up right or help me God—”
Perry’s opened. real ones, the brown that matched own. John Cusack version 1.7. Real tears ran his cheeks. Then he crumpled, clutching his face. The voice that his screamed words she couldn’t hear. The shadow-wind stopped. before books, before the Book, Liber Manus. Seconds, maybe, no more. pulled the cross from around neck. She’d lifted weighed less. Her arms trembled.
cross was black. smooth covered every surface, even chain. scraped frantically with her fingernail but couldn’t mar the matte.
silver around. Nothing like silver. Battered paperbacks, was all.
And Perry was recovering. No. She recognized that language—the straighter shoulders, the breathing, that was the Hand reasserting control.
her, Menchú fell.
It the to learn her brother. it into her, Menchú and and Liam—and, hell, Perry—would have a few critical seconds to close the book. And if jumped her, it would let Perry go.
Perry wanted kill her, said. Well, fine. She’d wanted kill too.
What else were siblings for?
Hand-in-Perry straightened and smiled its sharp-toothed smile with the tongue flame behind. tackled the Liber Manus, slammed and from her like a poisonous snake she’d caught neck.
The sinkhole feeling, the brink catastrophe, incipient collapse—stopped.
The world blinked.
was still Sal. was shocked almost didn’t Perry began fall.
She caught before the floor. “Perry. Come on, Perry, wake
No answer. He breathed deep, his teeth were back to normal, and there was a tongue in mouth again, but eyes closed. slapped him. No answer. Shook him. “Perry!” Nothing.
Menchú his hand her shoulder. looked blurred. She blinked, and he grew edges.
“It’s she said. “We won.”
take up space, is why all priests, bearskin-kilted Wotanites down to modern Xenuphiles, make such fuss architecture. Rooms shape the feelings within. Parallax crushes impressions ceilings and pointed arches hold heaven than the sky itself. Close chambers fit cozy emotions, or stifling ones. A dense nest accommodate sweaty and mushroom-assisted voyage outer But don’t whisper to your lover in a cathedral. Don’t look for Wotan a closet.
hope feel but forlorn by hospital bed.
stood Perry’s side, listened to heartbeat beeps through cruddy speaker.
is first time I’ve seen him anything but T-shirt,” “The first time since were kids.”
sorry,” Menchú said door.
She from the bedside. She hadn’t when she’d him approach. Only it him from reflections. “He could wake any day.”
the Hand might have him along with it. Back there. Into the ocean.”
“We could open the book.”
the Hand would come out Now have Liber Manus in custody, keep it closed. the world safe. That storage locker treasure trove—Perry friends collected several copies of dangerous texts. have those, now. And the world’s safe for moment. That’s what winning looks like.”
“We can’t fight things at
“We can keep them out,” Menchú said. “But there more all time. year than More this century the one before.”
“Are all of them bad?”
“Not all . . hungry. We found pair wings would let fly if you put them on. that answers questions.”
“Have found one brings souls?”
“Not yet,” he said. “Before you ask—”
“You don’t know what I’m going to yet.”
her over of his glasses.
“Fine,” she said. “Go ahead.”
“It worse. You keep your brother safe. Look what happened.”
“I’ll save These monsters yours—I learn their names. And need Liam tech side down, and Grace fight, and you secrets. none you are cops.”
“You wouldn’t be, either,” said, you Not practice. You’d keep your badge—technically you’d seconded to Vatican—but don’t work cops work. I’ve seen and end like Perry. have friends the world forgot, if they were never born. When your age thought could to bottom this. But there’s bottom. just keeps going down.”
He laughed. have what you’re But he hand, she took “Welcome to the team.”
was how the Clue solution would read someone didn't start making sense around soon. glared over the doctor's at Collins, her partner, leaned against the wall, arms crossed, notepad open in one, ballpoint in the other, looking like he'd rather be anywhere but here, carrying anything but the news he carried. Her head swam. "I've told you three times," she said. "My brother came to my apartment. Two people followed him. gave you their descriptions. broke down door. There a fight, and I woke the officers arrived. It's that complicated a story."
"You're sure saw your brother?"
course I'm sure. It was Perry. He had some kind fight with roommates."
"Breathe," the doctor said.
breathed. stethoscope chilled skin. "So what's the problem?"
Collins shifted against the wall, but if he'd been trying to get comfortable, his expression suggested he'd failed. "Who says there's problem?"
"Here." He passed her phone. "Hit play."
Security camera footage rendered her apartment building hallway in ghoulish greens and whites. She herself open her door and peer out into the hall, smile, step back, swing the door wide close again. "This the wrong footage."
"It's not, though. Check timestamp."
"Perry's not here."
Collins lowered his toward his chest. It didn't touch due the extra chin in the way. "Scratch one theory."
"You thought was seeing things."
"Who knows? We got your testimony, got living room broken glass two cups instant coffee, we a tape that doesn't line up, falls apart minutes later."
"Stare up the ceiling," doctor said. "just with your Keep them wide, please."
The doctor's flashlight the world. Sal forced herself not to blink. "So you don't have the intruders, either."
"Tape falls apart, I said."
"Your description's good, but, Sal, come Chinese woman, white guy with red hair, unnamed third guy quote accented unquote voice, doesn't give us lot go on."
"Irish," she said. "The white guy an Irish accent."
"Great, Sal. In New York, sure narrows down."
"Someone must have doctored tapes."
"First responders pulled them. If someone messed with footage, they did it
doctor released her eyelid, she blinked pink bloodwebbed blotches from her vision. "The other eye, please." And the world was light.
"They planned this," Sal said. "Whoever It couldn't have been random. were after Perry. hacked into building security."
"Which would make sense—I mean, it'd possible, paranoid—except cameras don't talk the internet. They're not even digital. There's an actual, honest-to-god system in the building basement, looks like was installed when was hunting Playboys under my brother's mattress."
"There rat nest on top of the cabinet. had to hunt the attic find VCR. Nobody to that tape before our boys did, trust me. And you should find a landlord. That building's a dump."
brother's there. Somewhere. I him."
doctor finished with the flashlight and stepped back. "She's good to go. If anything's wrong, can't see it." Sal squeezed both her eyes tight until the pink went away.
doc. you give minute?"
the closed and left them alone, Collins sank into the doctor's chair with long as if under such pressure he to let out steam bend. He looked the back of knuckles rather than her.
"You know none of this makes sense," said.
know what I saw."
"And the you say that, the weirder it sounds. Nothing on the cameras. I mean, nothing. No blood."
"What, people think I snapped, imagined brother being kidnapped, beat myself and broke my damn living room window?"
"You were pretty upset when you left yesterday."
"Of course was upset. We found fingers in an ashtray! freaked out, but that doesn't mean going nuts."
went your brother's apartment. His roommates say they saw this morning."
"Did you him?" she asked. Collins shook head. "Then they're lying. Or he escaped. Either he's into something big. He needs help."
"We the boys call when shows up again. For now, the Lieutenant says should take day or two, calm rest."
"And if don't?"
He shifted his weight on the chair, which creaked. Lieutenant me tell you this, it doesn't have to formal."
"I have to find him."
She pushed herself the table and grabbed her jacket from the hook by the door. you won't do it, someone has to."
"I'll pretend didn't hear that," he said. "Stay out trouble, okay?"
She laughed, opened the door, and walked fast until she hit street.
Theories were for people with more patience than Sal Brooks, the Brooklyn-bound Q train stopped over Manhattan bridge, so had time to make up few. "I'm crazy," nuclear option, didn't compel. The doctor said she was fine, physically. People snapped all zero sixty seconds, but this kind snap didn't line with her experience. she crazy, story would make more sense, or less, or both. She'd people on this very train who her with overwhelming conviction that they were the product of genetic experimentation by United States government using alien DNA, and they'd built prototype transport beam take them home, which they'd show her she visited compound in Jersey they shared with their four lovers chosen embody the classical Chinese elements. As she'd trust someone who asked her Jersey.
far she wasn't ranting about conspiracies screaming obscenities to passersby. Count out, for now, though people probably did that too. you reject the possibility you're mad, anything do, no matter how strange, must be sane. Keep going in that direction and you're one step from the creep with the chopped-off index fingers in his ashtray.
They crossed the river.
But you're not crazy. Perry didn't come you because of an argument with his roommates; drop by say hello. He afraid. Maybe thought they wouldn't him into else's apartment. Or maybe knew he could escape somehow, if he just had time
read that book. Which made no sense.
She rose out subway onto long wide Brooklyn street with three-story brick houses on both sides, blank dark windows, Italian bakery, convenience Newly coffee shops indicated these blocks were hair's breadth from hip. When the neighborhood crossed over, Perry and friends would have move. Providing, course, whatever mudhole they'd stumbled didn't swallow first.
Perry's roommates knew something. they had seen him this morning, they could tell how he looked, said he going when he left. If not, they had lied to cops, gave her leverage.
that she'd need much with Aiden and Todd. The boys scared easy.
took a quick turn around the block. for ten o'clock the morning, most the locals at work somewhere else. November air tossed Sun front page down the sidewalk, and shouldered deeper into her jacket. She walked the boys' apartment, which was the one on the decorated for Halloween. big rain-soaked felt-and-wire spider clung crooked outside Perry's window.
cars lined the street, mostly foreign make. One pink finned Cadillac belonged in Mary reward brochure museum both. an E-Z Carpet Cleaner van.
Every instinct her screamed, keep walking. Call backup least. Only idiots martyrs themselves into situations they don't understand without cavalry waiting.
True, she didn't know it the same (Hadn't thought to grab the license plate last night.) True, she was already on shaky ground back the office, higher-ups convinced was close to cracking. True, the people broken into her house seemed have personal feelings about their intrusion. If she remembered conversation she'd overheard correctly, they even they saved her from—something.
If Sal really did want rule any chance she was crazy, shouldn't have walked straight the drawn her gun, thrown open rear doors, and told two monitor-lit figures inside, "Hands where can see them."
Chinese woman then raised her hands the level of her shoulders. "I told you should have switched vans."
The pretty redhead backed away the keyboard and swiveled in his chair. "She was cold. How was supposed know—"
"Where the hell is brother?"
"That's interesting philosophical question, really," the guy said. accent. was the concussion talking. Focus..
Chinese shifted forward in chair.
"Don't move," Sal shouted.
"Excuse me, Detective Brooks," a from sidewalk behind her—a man's, deep, older, and studiously calm. voice from door. Sal back from the van turned include in her of vision. think there's been misunderstanding."
was tall, Hispanic, wore priest’s black and collar. He held tray with three coffees in one hand, the was raised, palm up, between blessing surrender.
“Who are you? What the hell is going here?”
“I’m Father Arturo Menchú,” accent on the second syllable, “and as your other question: can explain, you’ll let me.”
They the sidewalk beside the van. Menchú had wanted talk inside, Sal gave him a what-kind-of-idiot-do-you-take-me-for look, ended that line of conversation fast. Red looked uncomfortable be out the open—he kept shifting from foot to glancing over his shoulder, deep his pockets. The woman just watched, crossed. bandage wrapped the knuckles of her right hand, and there of lean muscle beneath black slimline jacket. Sal liked After confusing day, straightforward hostility felt refreshing.
“You’re priests,” Sal said, skeptical.
woman laughed, once.
“I’m a priest,” Menchú “Grace, course, is not. Liam’s lay brother.”
“She—“ pointed Grace, “broke my apartment last Why?” She considered adding how, reference to everything: the broken door, the book, corrupted tape. Decided against it. problem a time.
set the tray of atop the van. “Your brother’s possessed rare manuscript does not belong to him. It used to belong the people work for. It stolen years Turns the volume spent the last decades the Metropolitan Museum’s sealed collection. Two weeks ago, someone broke that collection and made off a number of books, including one.”
“You’re saying was part the heist.” remembered Astoria, yesterday: severed fingers an ashtray of blood. male, mid-forties. Shots fired. Hope recovering, Christ, fingerprints. “No way.”
directly. Your brother his friends, were one parties looking to the stolen texts.” kept voice calm, maintained eye contact, presented himself to at an angle. was good seeming non-threatening; part of the job, Sal guessed. Her drifted Grace, who grinned, baring teeth. “There were others, willing to more. Your brother stole the book from original thief, and left copy in its place. We reached out your brother, hoping to resolve issue violence, but ran you. And then from you. The book valuable, only a collector, the people he stole from don’t like to lose. We keep safe, he works with us.”
The fingers had wedged into the little gaps the ashtray meant hold cigarettes. Their nails pointed out: sunrays made and bone.
go to the police.”
“We are the police,” Menchú said.
“We’re special consultants to the Police Department this matter. If you’ll permit me.” He reached, slowly, his breast pocket. nodded. From within produced a card, with cell phone number recognized. “This is Chief Gallagher’s card. She’ll confirm story. were overzealous night, which offer my apologies. Perry in great danger.”
And there was, beneath the professional polish, beneath professional assurance Sal heard too many times from priests lawyers—Menchú cared.
“I’m sorry,” continued. know this has been shock. I know you’re worried your brother. So We find him.”
“One man,” said, “off the grid, a city this. Paying with cash. No problem. else you’d like me to while it? Elvis? Amelia Earhart?”
Father Menchú ignored him. “It’s possible his friends know something. But they’re scared. They talk to anyone they don’t know..”
“We’re time,” Grace said. “We should just knock the door.”
Liam nodded. “Great idea. Worked well last night.”
There were thousand procedural reasons Sal should leave. But Perry in danger, and people had the Commissioner’s blessing, she could help without breaking orders. Technically. can help.”
“No,” said. sorry. We can’t involve
“I’m involved already. is my brother we’re about. Every second counts. If you go in there, you’ll learn less the did this morning.”
“We know what we’re doing.”
Menchú’s eyes deep, sad.
Liam cleared his throat. “Let Father. We’re shorthanded anyway.”
priest sighed. “Very well.”
“One question,” break the silence as much anything else. “You you’re consultants. Where from?”
The old man raised finger his collar. “Isn’t it obvious?”
barely visible against the cosmetic tape. When she it against skin didn't feel the slightest chill of metal.
"This is good gear."
"My specialty. And this one." Liam offered her a thin silver cross on a chain.
"What's this for?"
"Stuff," he said. "Just put it okay?"
"I don't believe in God."
"He believes you." laughed as if he'd made a joke. "Think of it as temporary deputization."
Grace checked her watch. "We could have inside twenty minutes ago."
"Talk normally," said. "And we'll hear. there's trouble, the cross."
"More like mood ring, in reverse. If you something strange, try touching it with the cross. There are," wiggled fingers, "circuits and stuff."
"O ye little faith."
"Thanks," she said, and left the van.
skull knocker stared out Sal the boys' front door, half-inch left of center. Drill holes covered with duct tape pocked the door to knocker's either side—they'd tried to screw the knocker in three times without measuring the door's actual midpoint, and after the third attempt agreed celebrate their success.
The mailman had given on overstuffed mailbox, its contents congealed rain into sodden block of wood pulp and ink. of junk mail formed newsprint marsh the front step, sporting impressive array greenish molds.
Sal stared into the skull's glass chip eyes, squeezed her own closed, opened them again, and reached for the hinged jaw.
Before could touch it, the door jerked open to reveal Aiden, tall and gangly, wearing pajama bottoms and unwashed flannel. He stopped the door with his foot, he was too skinny to quite fill the small gap. "Sal, this is really bad time."
She shoved door. He stumbled back, upsetting pile mud-caked boots, and pushed through into the narrow musty The door slammed behind "Where's Perry? What the hell have you gotten him into?"
"Perry's Sal. Come on. This like, illegal search or whatever. I know my rights."
"I give shit about the you in your desk, Aiden. Perry's in trouble. True or false?"
"Perry's, um..." Aiden spread arms span the hall block her path, between a rack never-washed coats and cross-stitch Perry'd made Darth Vader's mask. "Perry's fine. We're fine. had, you know, small disagreement night, but we've taken of everything. Maybe we could go out for coffee, and talk about it?"
"Let's here. Unless there's something trying to hide."
"Hide? No, of course not. What would we try hide from you?"
jerked forward as if to duck under his arm; when he braced grab she jagged right and fell into coats while she swept past the living room, a sea pizza boxes and cables. A rust-dotted ren faire sword hung the wall. Something green bubbled beaker on a Bunsen burner atop a clawfoot table she'd rescued them street-side recycling. Stairs rose from the mess to the second floor, where boys slept when they slept at Todd, black, older than Perry though he act it, sat the couch flanked by monitors, with a heavy leather-bound open in a stand on the table. looked from the page, blinked at through goggles. Aiden's coat-muffled cursing the hall mixed with music from upstairs, or something like music: stream of bleeps and blips she remembered from sitting cross-legged the carpet, eight years old, playing Nintendo.
"Sally! Great to see you. Didn't expect to by. Perry didn't anything." Prescription goggles distorted Todd's eyes. They huge, half-human. this is really bad time."
"Aiden said. The bad wouldn't happen to anything to my brother's disappearance, would Or the Museum theft?"
He go the book, fast. blue latex gloves left trace of powder the brown leather, which was embossed with a vine-knot pattern. Or those vines, after all? "I really don't know what you're talking about, Sal. we the cops, Perry came by morning. He was fine. He scared, but that's it." He swallowed hard. "Theft, though? You think Perry was up in something—"
"I haven't seen that book around here before, Todd."
"Look." He raised hands, fingers spread. "Perry's the gets the books. We analyze, translate. Upload. It's all above-board, far know. Perry maybe got himself deep with wrong people, but don't know who why."
"You read them."
"That's it," said.
if came back a warrant, what would I find?"
"You want to that, Sal. mean, really."
"I want to know where my brother is."
"He doesn't to see you."
"He came to my house last night, terrified. Nothing's changed between now and then."
Behind her, in the hall, Aiden recovered.
Sweat ran down Todd's temple to his cheek. "Maybe can talk this over somewhere outside?" His eyes jerked up left.
She turned. Three bedroom doors upstairs, one Aiden, for Todd, one for Perry. Perry's, one Japanese cartoon scroll, was slightly ajar. "That sounds like good idea," she said, then ran the stairs burst through the into Perry's room.
Monitors illuminated the unmade bed, the bare bookshelves, the piled clothing. There should have sunlight, the Halloween-store hung outside Perry's window blocked out the sun.
And Perry himself sat ripped jeans and bloodstained t-shirt, curled like shrimp over keyboard, unblinking eyes inches from his central monitor. Barefoot. Hair tousled. One-day growth beard. Jaw muscles snaked, relaxed, snaked he rocked his chair, typing.
Detective Brooks, might someday, did you know person sitting the chair was not your brother?
she'd her mouth before the courtroom but no words would come An audience would stare her. The Judge would drum her fingers. lawyer would lean forward. Any time, Detective Brooks.
The clothes were Perry's, the language ditto.
But still when she said "Perry?" the second time, her voice was uncertain.
He typing, uncurled himself vertebra by vertebra from the keyboard, her. His focused the wall behind smiled woodenly. "Sal. Sister. sorry you to come here."
"Perry." She'd imagined hugging him when saw again, imagined hitting too. Neither seemed possible now. "Perry, you're here." As if saying that would make true.
"I you should go, now, Sal." What reasonable suggestion. Aiden to here. They want help. You could walk away right now. In fact, you should. have work to finish, if don't mind."
She didn't. her not-minding strange. Wasn't it? "Perry, happened last night?"
"Nothing," he said. was pushed, see. The Bookburners me, took help where could find I'm perfectly fine. Better than I've been long long while. You're a… police officer," he said, as if he'd just looked the fact up in large and fine-print table. His words didn't match the movements his mouth. focused the fear—and why fear? was her brother.
But maybe he wasn't, right now.
His mouth not moving time his words, because the words he were not English, though that was the language she heard. "It feel like this when solve case. When the whole world makes sense at once. I've been working a puzzle for long time, and needed the push."
reached for her.
There seemed to great deal of space between them all of sudden, but arm longer to bridge the gap. A of pressed against her skin above heart, cold burned. As the hand approached no longer looked like hand all, like hand flesh anyway. corrugated tin twisted into fingers around paper woven plastic bones. Black oil dripped from ragged joints. The arm was a length of rebar with trashbags shredded cloth. Bottleglass eyes reflected monitors' blue glow. Thin lips parted to reveal teeth, wet with oil.
But some impulse still insisted this was Perry, her brother, there no reason pull back from him, there was reason to run, she should let this thing touch that oil metal skin not in fact a whisper, voice that might help her if it only got inside—
The cold fire against real. Her skin seared, froze, cracked. She followed the pain back her body, and retreated, unsteady, her legs belonged someone else. She staggered out reach, against the doorjamb, into the hall. The arm still stretched toward impossibly long.
She slammed the bedroom door shut on thing's hand.
The Perry-thing seem to It kicked open the door. Mangled fingers clicked back into place. smile split as widened. It need face any more. Just teeth.
From the bedroom she heard window shatter.
Bottleglass eyes widened. black blur knocked the thing was her brother into the wall. Sal blinked, and blur resolved into Grace. Slivers window glinted from insteps her boots. She raised of Perry's monitors overhead, and slammed it into the fallen creature's
Sally thought—help. Her hand went shoulder holster, but Grace and creature were close, moving too fast. It threw Grace back, wriggled to its feet without concern any principles of anatomy, and ran her. Grace jumped back bed, out of reach, dodged tin claw, jumped creature before could recover, toppled it to the ground, and struck it in face four times her forehead. A ceramic plate broke—she clawed something inside that Sal
"Take it easy! That's brother!"
"It's not," Grace said. "It never was." creature her into the desk. roared, dodged left; creature's burst through of remaining monitors. She grabbed the broken flat-panel from floor and arm, which funny.
"Grace, get back! Give a
"I have this. worry about the guys downstairs."
She went. Behind her more screaming, more broken glass. Downstairs, sat front book. blue-gloved hands stroked its cover. looked up over at her.
"Todd, Jesus Christ, there's something up there."
his goggle-swollen eyes were black from pupil to edge. turned of his book.
The sword the was missing.
Footsteps the hall beside her. ducked back into staircase. sword rang off wall beside her—no on that blade, which made it marginally dangerous, a four-foot-long steel would still break bones just The sword tore deep gouge in wallpaper drywall, and fell from Aiden's Before he could recover, Sal kicked the back his hit him few times in the face, and fell.
Todd still sat of his book, watched her, still turned pages.
Perry last night, with his open book, staring at her if from bottom well.
A struck front door, the latch groaned. A swore—Liam's voice—and Aiden's body began move, more like marionette a person, structure manipulated contracting individual muscles.
"Todd, close the book."
reached cover, thought better of touching the leather with her bare hands, and tried with the sword instead. When its touched leather, electric seized The apartment around her like fist, and again the cold flared against breastbone. opened eyes—she'd fallen back onto stairs, Aiden crawling toward her. She him in the face, and pushed herself upright. Unclenched her hand from the sword.
Crashing sounds from upstairs—a cry of pain, frustrated roar.
trouble. Like ring in reverse.
Dammit. None made sense. But, connections: the had burned her free of the Perry-thing's influence. It hurt her, and she followed that pain back own mind. it could protect her from the
She top button. cross lay against her breastbone, if stuck by magnets. pried free; it left a red on skin. Think about that later. Think about all this later. Just do. The closer she brought cross to book, heavier seemed. Her shook. What the hell were all those hours good if not for this?
She hooked the book's cover with cross, swung
Sometimes in the winter, twenty minutes’ down against vicious wind, she’d take shelter a stop and her body expand without anything to fight against. felt that now. Silence unfurled. The closed vibrated like a plucked string. The cross in her hand had its silver sheen—tarnish covered save where her fingers had
Aiden still, breathing heavy. Todd collapsed, trembling, the
She shook him by shoulders. Pinched him. Struck across the face, lightly. Tried the cross. The tarnished bit yielded When she touched the part that was still shiny his cheek, she heard hiss. eyes snapped open, he screamed higher than she’d thought him capable.
“Todd. Dammit, Todd, you okay?”
“Sally,” “Sally. Sorry. Sally.”
“What hell’s going on? Where’s Perry? What was that thing?”
“Came this morning. Got into heads. Left dummy in his the book—the pages talked us. Told us what do.”
“It’s done. closed the book.”
got inside.” He touched his chest. “Still Whispers.”
“Where’s Perry? The Perry?”
“Storage.” coughed. “Took the other books, told to stay here, distract people. He’s—“
tendrils wormed across Todd’s eyes, through and toward pupil. Cords of muscle stood his throat.
“Shit.” She tried cross again, but didn’t react. in tarnish. She looked around, unsure. Maybe something could help. the house was mess, except for chemistry bench, and the burner, which longer burning, and she and smelled—
door burst open. She already halfway the pulling Todd the collar his shirt. Dude weighed like a billion pounds, mention Aiden, was at least out too cold fight. Her back hurt hell, and legs were rubber, were jelly, were really fucking tired. Liam stood the door, blinking like an idiot. she shouted, and him wince—earpiece, linked to mic. “Help
He ran up the grabbed Aiden, and pulled him after. left a wet trail through pulped newspapers and leaves. looked back, and saw slip out Perry’s bedroom window to the fire escape. made it to the neighboring building before spark came, and then hammer air struck Sal in the chest and fell.
Fire painted face orange and Sirens wailed, too close for comfort. Grace dropped from escape sidewalk. Sal stood; Aiden and Todd sprawled, unconscious and breathing, her feet. “We have get of here,” Liam said.
Understatement the millennium, candidate number But.
the hell was was shouting, she didn’t care.
“Any that? single piece of anything that just happened makes sense.”
“Unless you be an accessory to arson,” Grace said, “can talk about this later? The department will take care these guys.”
“Why am an accessory to anything? went try help my brother and friends. Now their house is fire, they’re I don’t even know what—“
“Unconscious,” Liam supplied.
“That too.” The sirens were close, now. old man a bathrobe stood the street, staring. crowd gathered in front a coffee shop watch smoke. “Look, can have this conversation anywhere else?”
“I’m not leaving without answer.”
stuffed hands his pockets. don’t—there’s no—it’s fucking complicated, okay?”
“Then un-complicate it!”
An cuff closed around Sal’s arm, only wasn’t a cuff all, Grace’s There was blood on the woman’s face, but no open wounds Sal cuts which, dammit, could be scabbing over already. Grace’s eyes pinned to the pavement. were stars around which the world wheeled.
“Magic,” Grace said.
“Grace,” Liam said, “she’s civilian. mean, are really sure should be about—“
“You want waste keeping her the loop, waste your own.” Grace hadn’t turned from Sal. deal with Okay?”
“Okay,” she “Magic. Christ.”
“We tell you more. here.”
stopped van near Prospect Park. "What it? Is dead? did it with him?"
"Homunculus," Father Menchú said. sat on upended milk crate in the back of the van, working his keychain like rosary. "He's not dead, and the homunculus didn't do anything with him—Perry was driving it from distance."
"They're not so bad once you get to know them," Liam said. was running property records search, paying half attention, as this whole situation normal, which made even angrier. no, scratch that. They're Just understandable kind bad. You get used to it."
"You this the time."
wouldn't go so far as say all." He swore at the monitor.
Menchú offered coffee. "Grace didn't drink hers."
glared at him over the cup, and he withdrew it. "Tell me everything."
"Get out of here," Grace said. "You've done enough."
"You tell me magic's real, and then you want to kick out?"
"You were frozen that sidewalk. Bad place talk. can leave now. I would."
you didn't," Sal said, "obviously."
Grace's eyes were as broken glass.
Sal fast to cover her discomfort. "Perry was controlling that thing. Whatever spoke to it not brother. You lied before. I want answers."
didn't Menchú said. "Not as such."
"You said my brother was trouble because stole book. You didn't mention magic, or homunculuses whatever."
said your brother possessed of a stolen book."
She blinked. "Oh."
"This easy for anyone to hear the first time, and it only gets harder. The three us are…" Menchú hesitated, searching for the right word.
"Okay," Sal said. "Now I’m confused."
"The three of us are part of a Society responsible stocking tending Vatican's Black Archive."
Sal frowned. saw a Discovery Channel thing about that. Forbidden books. Heresies.”
“That’s what people know,” Menchú said.
Grace stood, squeezed past the priest into van’s passenger seat, pulled dog-eared copy of Pride Prejudice from the glove compartment, kicked her feet up the dash, started reading the middle.
“The world’s bigger any us know,” Menchú said. “Imagine live an island in an ocean full of monsters. Most of the we’re from the monsters. But sometimes tide rises. Sometimes the monsters cause big Sometimes people dig channels that out into the deep ocean, hungry things come in. Sometimes to; more often it’s an accident. These channels take form of—artifacts. Books, often. Anything that connects one mind another. For the last couple thousand years, artifacts in Europe and the Americas have wound in the Vatican’s Black Archive. book brother brought to your apartment the Liber Manum, the the Hand, which we assume is the name for monster the book contains, charismatic world-eater type with taste for human It surfaced for the first in the nineteenth century, in London, shipped for America the Titanic, and arrived the care of half-drowned baronet. Before it could serious damage the States, local officials killed its bearer and locked the volume away. But the book’s quiet for generations, and warnings became department gossip. Precautions slipped. the Manum’s existence reached the internet, and your brother found them.”
“So Perry’s, what, he’s been taken over by monster?”
Grace, the passenger seat, turned a page loudly. “He opened the book,” she called back. “The Hand jumped into his mind.”
Liam clicked mouse, swore, clicked again.
“Demons,” Sal said. “You’re talking about demons.”
“It’s clear what they theologically speaking,” Menchú “Some present themselves fallen angels, but they may be lying. Some don’t with us. Some can’t. “
“Demons,” Grace and turned the page.
“How did Perry even this book?”
“There are communities,” Menchú said—
“—communities, loose associations of amateur scholars and technical that believe information wants be free. Your brother and friends belong to one. He and friends, and their friends, know enough of the I’ve just outlined to believe that the metaphor literal. They’re mostly harmless, but your brother found book real power. stole the merchandise from the initial thieves, who then turned one another.”
Fingers in ashtray. Sal shuddered.
“He brought the book home. friends kicked him out. he went your apartment. When we followed there, book him escape. He opened it. Ordinarily ah, demon’s control over your brother would have been limited its first hours. We underestimated the depth of study. had the necessary languages, right frame of mind, and no tools to resist possession. The Hand jumped into him. must have left the homunculus at his apartment keep watch, to retrieve needed materials and information. He controlled it through the book the townhouse.”
“Was the, whatsit, Liber Manum? Did close
“Hardly,” said. was a chump text.”
poor copy,” Menchú explained. “The Hand recorded piece its name there, and projected its power through the name. That book will have burned up the fire—unlike a true work, an imperfect copy has special properties beyond its content. him, we find Liber Manum.”
“Which is turning out terrifically easy, for the record,” said. “Perry’s cell phone’s dead. property records on file. Traffic cameras follow him from the at nine this morning, but lose him a tunnel.”
“And now the demon riding your brother’s mind, somewhere in New York. It will cement its control, once that’s done, will gather acolytes.”
“Cement,” said. “So you can still him.”
“If lucky, can close book without hurting him. Cut off demon’s control. Though it’s been inside his head for long time.”
“And you’re not lucky?”
Menchú’s pressed together. He returned the van to pocket. They rang like bells. “When close book, he might be too far gone to come back. brother’s friends, in the house—they were, let’s wading in surf. swimming rip tide.”
“You don’t what these things do when they out of hand.”
“How bad it be? I’ve never seen a demon attack on the news.”
“People disappear all the time. All over the world.”
“Murder. Accident. Shit happens.”
“And sometimes the world swallows people, those left behind forget. corner an island falls into How can tell it was ever there? Not bones remain. If know how look, can the cracks where land be. Lost legions. Lost cities. Have you ever heard of town of Colebridge, New York?”
“That’s impossible. A whole town can’t just disappear.”
“Information decays fast. lasts, but people good at disbelieving evidence. Those don’t know to feel around the edges of a gap might never notice gaps at all. The mind closes cover the largest wound. When was last time you thought about place where were born?”
“You’re saying might eat New York.”
“The time we spend here, the longer the demon your brother to shore up his control. you know how you could save lives. Including his.”
“If know anything, tell you, you’ll go in there, guns out, and him.”
“We want close that book. want to save these people.”
“Go to the he’s dangerous.”
“What you tell them? could you explain the situation so they would intervene knowing what they faced?”
“Knows us. calls when your people out of their depth.”
“We could show them evidence.”
“Perry’s townhouse is burning we speak. The homunculus will a melted hunk of garbage in minutes. Magic leaves traces forensics.”
“You guys can’t be It’s just three of you a rented van?”
“Hey,” Liam said. like this van.”
“This a job for the government. The Black. Some, like, don’t know, some secret librarian society. CIA.”
“The problem,” Menchú said, “is older than your government. solutions are older,
leaned back his chair and looked her upside down.
“Besides, if you think low-budget, imagine team a library would field.”
“This what we do. These are the calls make.”
“Not today,” if go after myself.”
Before Menchú could respond, she burst the van into cold morning, ran through the hedge into park.
Morning rain soaked through her sneakers the ankles her jeans. She smelled ripe mulch pulping leaves. branches clawed sky. Hands forced deep in pockets, head down, she marched through park. Once she was out other side she could hail a cab south, reach Perry’s storage unit before and team. If they were telling the truth.
course they were, or thought were. She’d seen that garbage thing wearing her brother’s face—or had she seen after all?
The mind closes cover a wound.
she kept walking, would forget her brother? was this just the usual serving of post-traumatic stress, as memory chopped weird meat chewable chunks? There had been a lot weird house.
Either way, had to get Newark, fast.
“Sal,” repeated, closer, desperate.
Keep walking, she herself. never been good at to herself, especially she made sense.
arms out, palms down, his wide. He looked paler than usual.
“You to tell me trust him,” said. “That guys know what you’re doing. You’re talking about my brother’s life.”
it feels,” he said. “I’ve there.”
She a good few sentences of tirade left, but that stopped her.
“I walked his road. was punk. knew was out there. looked. what I found, Sal, it got inside my head.” took a step her. retreat. clouds shifted against a backdrop of clouds. “I lost years baby version of the that’s your brother now. minute February thousand eleven, I’ve just a three-year-old library management system exploit to get a sealed manuscript of vaults at Trinity, and then it’s October two thousand thirteen, I’ve missed the World Cup, and Grace and Father wake a warehouse basement Prague. There’s blood all walls, I have wires coming out of arms.” He pushed up sleeve of windbreaker and the flannel beneath. scars his corded muscle and textured his tattoos. don’t know what was for those two years. Nobody But and Father found me, and brought me back.”
reached for forearm, for the scars. pushed his back before she could touch him.
“We care. know what we’re doing. And your brother in danger. you know where is—dealing with yourself crazy. Give us information. We’ll help him. I’ll him. me, it’s to tackle this world alone.”
His eyes were and very bright.
“He’s brother,” she said. “I’ll save him. You can come along, if want. But he’s mine.”
can work with that.”
“Let’s go, then. drive ahead us.”
“Perry his friends needed cheap storage. They go through a of equipment, buy books by the foot estate sales, on eBay. didn’t know why,” Sal said, “until now.”
“You never wondered why your kid brother was laying in lifetime supply of dead men’s books?”
“He’s done weird shit like this my life. Before this it was five years of collecting old gears and selling them at steampunk conventions, which was, you know, also weird way use his history degree. I have life he has his. I guess.” She counted rounds she had left, checked that her weapon hadn’t been damaged in fight in the house. Didn’t plan to fire it at the storage shed, then, she never went planning fire. you did, you’d have to.
“See, Grace? We never would have found without her help.”
Grace shrugged, and turned page.
Menchú passed her a manila envelope containing another silver cross.
“I have one of those already.”
“The tarnish makes it less effective. Swap it out. Drop the used one the envelope.”
She pulled the chain over her head. It felt heavier than when she’d put it on. “It’s cross that matters?”
cross guides us in our faith,” Menchú said.
“But the silver’s the pertinent bit,” Liam added. “Worked silver, to precise, the older the better. It soaks up magic, which is where the tarnish comes from. We’re still working on the why. Stings like a— well, stings, but that’s better than letting some bastard root in your skull. the Church has lot of silver crosses lying around, turns out. Seal the envelope when you’re
The glue tasted of wood and horse hooves. “Any that coffee left?” It was cold, never had been any good, but at least it tasted like coffee. The new cross hurt touched seared skin on her chest, but it felt lighter than the old
“Thank you for coming with us,” Menchú said. “Grace speaks highly your courage.”
“Does she? Thanks.”
Grace didn’t look her “Just don’t get us all killed.”
“Not plan,” Sal said. “Take the next exit.”
The storage locker complex sprawled asphalt acres, and sill they drove past it the first try. “He’s turning away,” Menchú said.
“At least know he’s here.” Liam pulled U-turn.
Sal’s cross burned. She saw, with her mind’s eye as much with physical ones, the We-Stor-It sign, remembered driving Perry here first time, before he and the boys their beater Olds. not to feeling around the edges don’t notice gaps all. “Now. Left.” Liam yanked the wheel, they slid down a driveway an empty storage parking lot.
parked at the of row vacant spaces, and they hit pavement. Easier say what wasn’t different about this space than what was. character of light changed. The colors weren’t dimmer more vibrant. There wasn’t much noise of any sort their footsteps, but could hear trucks roll down highway in the middle distance. was there any of that spatial oddness she remembered the boys’ house. The storage units long rows, all right angles and closed garage doors.
It just felt… less, somehow. She’d heard cats and dogs freaked out before earthquakes and tidal waves, before sinkholes opened swallow houses beneath them. knew when ground was about to wrong. Maybe people had the same sense, less keen—maybe they only felt this way when the collapse was deeper, more fundamental. The world, Menchú was an island eaten by an ocean from beneath.
Maybe was wrong.
didn’t feel that way.
This bigger her, she felt, standing the EZ Carpet Cleaner van in the storage parking lot three people she barely knew. was bigger any of but it was damn sure bigger than Detective Sally Brooks. Something that could the world like this, she couldn’t fight it, couldn’t arrest Liam, Grace, Menchú, they all seemed have some kind of angle on—magic. Call it by name. She’d brought them here. She could stay the van, them the locker number, let them take it from here. Stay safe.
They looked her, uncertain. Menchú especially: “Detective Brooks. want wait—“
“Can’t you feel she said.
shook his head.
“Perry, whatever’s inside him. It’s strutting. Putting a Trying to scare us off. in particular.”
“The Hand is dangerous,” he said. will eat if we give it a chance.”
“Yeah. now, more than anything, wants to leave.” bared her teeth. “Third row, fifth on the Let’s
Menchú, on the approach, didn’t share optimism. “Its on your brother lasts as long the open. Close it—“
“With the cross. know.”
“Or anything else silver. Don’t the cross it’s tarnished, and don’t touch the book with your bare hand. I’ll try first. Grace Liam will with guards.”
“It’s been awake in our world for less day. think it has goons?”
“It have turned people, like the boys townhouse. There must have others here when arrived.”
She back at and Liam. Grace’s novel had vanished into pocket; Liam pulled fingerless glove his left hand, and snapped at his wrist. Grace rolled her eyes the sound, at the glove, at Liam in general.
“Cross,” she said. “Don’t touch the book. Anything else?”
“It may tempt you, you get closer, bargains. Don’t trust them.”
figured. I mean, it’s a demon.”
Perry’s storage locker was rolled down, its locked. She set a hand door, and glanced back for ideas.
Grace struck the padlock with a cinderblock, hard, and it broke. She shrugged.
Liam closed the snap his second glove.
Then someone tackled him from right.
fell hard. “Shit!” A large lay of him, meaty fingers pushing his throat. Sal could react Grace was there—grabbed the man’s We-Stor-It uniform polo threw him back with twist of her hips. The uniformed puppet pushed himself upright—eyes and black edge edge—a foot taller Grace, easy. She kicked him in knee, punched him the solar plexus, struck him in temple an elbow, he went down. tears left lines down cheeks.
“Shit,” Sal a different of voice Liam had
Other figures emerged from the alleys between the storage—men and women uniform, family three, daughter pigtails. should have seen them approaching. course, should have seen the driveway before was time turn. Grace in place, trying in all directions at pushed himself to his feet.
Menchú turned to her. “Still think it’s scared?”
could have answered. Instead, opened the door.
Candlelight flickered behind layers of Victorian furniture and chemical glassware, disused futons and piles of books—leather bindings and journals and diaries and dime store lesbian detective novels. there, at the end a narrow through junky cast-off dreams of mystic grandeur, behind a semicircle of open books, stood Perry.
Well. Not stood. Floated.
“Sal,” he said, the thing inside him said, and smiled, and his teeth points and there was tongue the pit his mouth. “An unexpected pleasure.”
She should waited for Menchú. done this before. this her brother. So she ran into the gap.
Which turned out be for the best, because when puppet jumped from gap in boxes, Menchú was there to pull it (her, she corrected herself, things could up, probably) off her back. course, the puppet then grabbed chair and struck the head, but seemed more staggered than hurt.
marched toward her brother. “I bet,” said. “That’s why tried to keep me away. Perry, if you’re still there, I’m trying to help you.”
That smile didn’t waver. books’ pages turned of their accord. raised one hand and she it to walk. shadowy headwind blasted her. soles her shoes left black streaks the concrete floor. “What did they you, Sal? That this wasn’t me? that the lie they
“My brother wouldn’t do this.”
“Are you sure? your brother had the power have now—“
“We?” she said.
“Oh, fine. Spoil my fun. How you tell the difference, anyway?”
“My brother has tongue.”
make tongue, if you’d rather.” Fire licked his teeth.
“This is your brother’s body, and have his here—who’s to say not just with the power he always wanted? rifle through his memories, every thought, desire, terror suppressed impulse. Delicious and nutritious. Would you like know how many times wanted to you? many he hated you?” turned ten pages the leftmost book forward, then flipped three pages back, unpracticed chef working an unfamiliar recipe.
She forced herself forward, step by step. cross froze and tore skin. Burn victims flashed through her memory: charcoaled of flesh and white bone showing. “He didn’t do any of Those thoughts matter.”
“But do! You feared an world, so you became cop. That’s what thinks. feared being powerless, he sought power, which led him to me. That’s your lovely little weakness, humans—you’re blissfully succeptable destiny.”
The shadow-wind reached gale force. Somewhere behind Grace Liam and Father Menchú fought their lives, for her, Perry.
“What do want with
“What does anyone want?” Perry said. future. Futures taste grand. you people have built so many them yourselves, like horrible ice cream flavors. hundred years back looked like more the same forever, until maybe some god scooped his favorites off to play cut-rate Heaven. Bland. Tasteless. But now—stars capes and apocalypses, gray goo futuristic despotism, oil crisis pandemic collapse, floods and robots monsters, oh my! potential universes of fear. Your brother’s them by the billions inside could him. Suffer through few million hells me and I’ll a paradise the other guy can match.”
“Perry,” she said. close but with step the wind twice strong. And she whispers, too, whispers that were colors, voices like claws her belly. The cross wormed into her, the cross pierced her, cross wriggled in her heart. “Perry, wake up. This thing needs afraid. to me. It’s your sister, it’s Sal, outside fucking door and I need you and you better open up now so me God—“
Perry’s eyes opened. ones, brown that matched them. John Cusak version One point Seven. Real tears down cheeks. Then he crumpled, clutching his face. The that wasn’t screamed words she couldn’t hear. The shadow-wind stopped. She knelt before the books, before Book, Liber Manum with red clouds seething on its cover. Seconds, maybe, no pulled the cross from around her She’d lifted bodies that weighed less. Her trembled.
The was black. smooth tarnish every surface, even the chain. She scraped frantically with her fingernail but couldn’t mar matte.
silver around. Nothing silver. Battered paperbacks, that all.
Perry was recovering. No. She recognized that body language—the straighter shoulders, the deeper breathing, that was Hand reasserting control.
Behind her, Menchú fell.
Choices. took the time learn her brother. If it jumped into Menchú Grace and Liam—and, hells, Perry—would a few critical to close book. And if jumped into her, it let Perry go.
Perry wanted to kill her, Hand said. Well, fine. She’d wanted kill too.
What else were siblings for?
The Hand-in-Perry straightened, and smiled its sharp-toothed smile tongue flame She tackled the Liber Manum, slammed it shut, and flung it from her, like poisonous snake she’d caught by neck.
sinkhole feeling, the brink of catastrophe, the incipient collapse—stopped.
The world blinked.
was still Sal. so shocked she almost didn’t notice when Perry began to fall.
She caught him before hit floor. “Perry. on, wake up.”
No answer. He breathed deep, his teeth were back to normal, and there a tongue his mouth again, his were She slapped him. No answer. Shook him. “Perry!” Nothing.
She was kneeling over him Menchú set hand her shoulder. looked blurred. She blinked, grew edges.
“It’s okay,” “We won.”
bearskin-kilted Wotanite down the modern Xenuphile fuss incessantly over architecture. Rooms shape the feelings within. Parallax crushes impressions of size: high ceilings and pointed arches hold more heaven than the sky itself. Close chambers fit cozy emotions, or stifling ones. dense nest will accommodate sweaty sex and a mushroom-assisted voyage to the outer spheres. But don’t whisper to your lover a cathedral. Don’t look for Wotan in closet.
hope to feel any but forlorn hospital
stood by Perry’s and listened heartbeat beeps through a cruddy speaker.
“This is the first time I’ve seen in anything but t-shirt,” she said. “The first time since we were kids.”
sorry,” Menchú said from the door.
She turned from bedside. She hadn’t when she heard him approach. Only knew was him from reflections and footfalls. “He could wake up any day.”
“Or the might have dragged him along with it. Back there. the ocean.”
“We could open the book.”
“And Hand would come out again. Now we have the Liber Manum custody, can keep it closed. Keep the world safe. That storage locker was a treasure trove—Perry and his friends collected several copies dangerous texts. We have those, now. And world’s safe the moment. That’s what winning looks like.”
can’t fight these things at all?”
“We can keep them out,” Menchú said. “But are more all the time. this year than last. More this century than the before.”
all of them that bad?”
“Not all that… hungry. found pair of wings that would you fly if you put on. well that answers questions.”
“Have you found one that brings back souls?”
“Not yet,” he said. “Before you ask—“
“You don’t what I’m to say, yet.”
looked at her over rims of his glasses.
“Fine,” said. “Go ahead.”
gets worse. You wanted to your brother safe. Look what happened.”
“I’ll save him. These sea monsters yours—I want to learn their names. And you need Liam has the side down, and Grace fight, you know the secrets. none of are cops.”
“You wouldn’t be, either,” said. “I’ve seen men women up like Perry. have friends the world forgot, if they were never born. was your age thought I could get the bottom all this. But there’s bottom. just keeps going down.”
He laughed. “You have no idea what you’re saying.”
held out his hand, and she took
“Welcome the team.”
We're taking a few pages from the world of television …
Stories unfold in easily digestible, weekly episodes delivered straight to your device for reading anytime, anywhere. Each installment stands on its own, but build up over the course of the season to tell a greater story.
Be more than a pageview. Week after week, you’ll get a look behind the scenes, can discuss episodes with other readers, and talk to the authors to inspire the story as it plays out.
Our first serial, Bookburners, written by Max Gladstone, Mur Lafferty, Brian Francis Slattery, and Margaret Dunlap begins in September.
And, coming October, Tremontaine, the prequel to the beloved fantasy novel Swordspoint.
There are age-old books, texts literally steeped in evil, the merest opening of which could spell humanity’s doom.
All but forgotten throughout the world, these tomes have lain dormant... waiting...
When an incident takes her brother, New York City cop Sal Brooks is thrust into the battle between nefarious forces trying to unleash this power on onto the world and those trying to stop them. She discovers Team Three of theSocietas Librorum Occultorum, a clandestine order within the Vatican responsible for the safeguarding of these magical texts. Together they stand between humanity and magical apocalypse.
Some call them the Bookburners.
They don’t like the label.
Margaret Dunlap, Max Gladstone, Mur Lafferty, Brian Francis Slattery.