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“I think the cops are following me,” Hannah said.
“Paranoia,” Silas said.
“It’s not paranoia if it’s true.”
“That’s what every paranoid person says.
“Seriously,” she said. “Liz and Tom called the cops and now they got a tail on me. I keep seeing the same black car everywhere.”
“Oh, that proves it,” Silas said. “Relax. The cops have better things to do. And so do we.”
They were walking down an unexceptional Manhattan street. Pre-War buildings were sandwiched between skyscrapers. At the end of the street was a heavily renovated building. There was something professorial about it, with the red brick and ivy. Contrasting were the art deco tapestries in the windows. Hedgerow lined the sidewalk, leading to the door. Silas grabbed it by its massive handle and pulled.
“What is this place?” Hannah asked as she stepped inside the lobby.
“Neo New York,” Silas said.
It was more art gallery than lobby. There were marble floors, white-washed walls, and abstract sculptures. Misshapen wolves reared up on either side of a Lucite receptionist’s desk. A waifish creature with jet hair mindlessly tapped away on a keyboard. Silas walked up to him. The man ignored him. The detective rapped on the desk to get his attention.
“Please don’t tap on the glass,” he said without turning from his computer screen.
“I thought that was just for fish tanks,” Silas said.
The receptionist looked at him deliberately. His heavy-lidded eyes were almost closed.
“Can I help you?”
“Moirai Enterprises?” Silas asked.
Slowly, the man pointed to something besides his desk. A plaque on the wall listed the building’s tenants. At the very top, on the sixth floor, was a company called “Moirai Enterprises.” Silas looked back at the receptionist.
“Do you know if Abernathy’s in?” he asked.
The man glared at Silas, but he picked up the phone. Pushing a button, he immediately spoke. “Is Peter Abernathy in today?” He hung up once he got his answer. “Yes, but he’s not taking any visitors.”
“That won’t be a problem,” Silas said.
“Whatever, elevator’s to your right.” The receptionist returned to his computer and immediately forgot anyone else was there.
Silas gestured for Hannah to follow him into the elevator bank. One opened, letting off a man in a frock coat and fedora. They waited for him to pass and got on. Silas hit floor six and the doors closed.
“This place is like something out of The Fifth Element,” Hannah said.
“Never seen it.”
“What’s Moirai Enterprises?” she asked.
“A business concern,” Silas said. “Part commercial, part philanthropic. That’s all I know. It’s run by Peter Abernathy. A very old and terrible man.”
“I take it he’s not a friend?”
“No. He was a colleague of my father’s, for a little while. They had a falling out over a club they attended. A bunch of historians fighting over worthless artifacts. Ridiculous.”
“They both wanted the same… scepter?” Hannah asked.
“No idea. They were friends once. Then friendly rivals. Then just rivals. Then enemies. Abe still hates Henry, even though he’s dead. Takes it out on me.”
“Then what are we doing here?” she asked.
“Unfortunately, we’ve got no choice.”
With a ding, the elevator opened onto the sixth floor. Classical music followed them down the hall. At the end was a glass partition and a door. They entered a bright, sterile-looking waiting area. On the wall was written, MOIRAI ENTERPRISES in giant black letters. A receptionist’s desk was empty.
Hannah looked around. “So…”
A door opened on the other side of the room. A cluster of people walked out. They moved silently, oblivious to the newcomers. Their footsteps were in sync, almost robotic. Hannah wasn’t sure if they were breathing. A few of them were tapping on tablets. Once they reached the other side of the waiting area, another door opened and they disappeared.
Hannah pointed after them. “What the hell was that?”
“It’s best not to ask.”
A tall, pristine woman appeared. She had blonde, almost white hair, pulled tight behind her ears. Her smart blouse and skirt were a shade of off-gray. In her hand was an enormous computer tablet. Upon seeing Silas and Hannah, she smiled.
“Hello, welcome to Moirai Enterprises. My name is Luxa. How may I help you?”
Silas studied Luxa carefully, looking for seams.
“I’m Silas Black. This is my assistant, Rick Deckard. We need to see Peter.”
Luxa tilted her head as Silas spoke. She was still smiling in a placating way. “I’m sorry, Professor Abernathy is not taking unscheduled visitors.”
“He’ll see me,” Silas said. “Tell him who I am.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” she said. It sent shivers up his spine. “But I’ll be happy to answer any questions you have.”
“What’s ‘Moirai’?” Hannah asked.
The woman called Luxa answered with encyclopedic fluency. “According to Greek mythology, the Moirai–or Furies–were the living embodiments of destiny. As the founder’s favorite classical figures, he named his organization after them.”
“Listen Luxa,” Silas said, “I came all the way from Brooklyn to see your boss. Can you please just let him know I’m here?”
The receptionist paused as she processed the request, the smile still on her face. “I will be back in a moment.” She turned and disappeared through a door.
Hannah looked at Silas. “Who the hell is Rick Deckard?”
After a moment Luxa returned. She gestured smoothly to Silas and Hannah.
“Professor Abernathy will see you.”
They followed her down a short hall. Luxa stopped at a set of doors, nodding for them to go in. At first glance, the office looked like the typical professor’s. There was the oak desk, bookshelves, and diplomas. But the chandelier made of bone was different, as were the animal-skin rugs. Beside the diplomas were a wolf’s head and witch doctor mask.
Seated in a high back chair was Abernathy. He was leaning forward, his hands steepled over the desk. There was something unnatural about the way he looked. Silas chalked it up to a trick of the light, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that the old man was coated in formaldehyde. His glasses glowed like a jungle cat in the dark. Behind them, beady eyes moved to and fro. He spoke, thin red lips moving like a doll’s.
“To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Need information,” Silas said.
“And you came to me? Surely, you have a library card.”
“Got revoked,” the detective said. “Forgot to return The Bridges of Madison County.”
Abe sneered. “It must be important.” He looked at Hannah. “Who the hell are you?”
“I’m Hannah Rhodes,” she said.
“What are you, us girlfriend?”
Silas and Hannah spoke at the same time. “No.”
“She’s my assistant,” he added.
The old man rolled his eyes and gestured to the chairs in front of his desk. “Sit. You have ten minutes.
“Why thank you, Abe.” Silas sat down. “I must say your office is looking very fetching. Very Robinson Crusoe meets Hannibal Lecter.”
“Silas, I do not have all day,” Abernathy said. “Tell me what you want so I can promptly reject you.”
“Alexander Daragon,” the detective said.
“Never heard of him.”
“You answered a little too fast, Baldy,” Silas said. “I have a feeling you do.”
Reaching into his coat, Silas retrieved the diary. Removing the library printout, he unfolded the picture of Daragon and slid it across the desk. Abe’s eyes were fixed on the diary. He picked up the paper, tsking as he looked it over.
“What is this?” he asked.
“Daragon and his chums,” Silas said. “Circa 1920. He was a big thing back then.”
“I wasn’t even alive,” Abernathy said. “What does this have to do with me?”
“It’s not about the party, Abe. It’s about the banner above them,” Silas said. “Look familiar?”
Abe’s irate face lost some of its mettle. Concern was in his eyes. He scoffed and tossed the paper back at Silas.
“What are you talking about?”
“The symbol, Tiny,” Silas said, pointing at the image of the eye with wings. “The Soaring Eye. That’s what you used to call it. It was the symbol of the Society of Muninn.”
“What if it was?” Abe said.
“Can you explain to me why a group of magicians a hundred years ago was using the same symbol?” the detective asked.
“If you had the same wits as your father, you’d know symbols can mean many things to many people,” Abernathy said.
“And what did this symbol mean to you?”
“It represented knowledge,” the old man said. “We were historians. Professors. We aimed to preserve the past through our collection.”
“Oh sure, preserve the past.” Silas shrugged. “And achieve apotheosis,” Silas said.
Abe chuckled. It was a grating sound. “Such a big word, my boy. Have you been reading the dictionary? Yes. It is the dream of all intellectuals to achieve apotheosis. Immortality. Whatever you want to call it. It’s simply ego.”
“So you refuse to admit there’s a connection between you and Daragon?” Silas said.
“There’s nothing to admit.”
Hannah held up her phone. “Funny, I only see mention of this symbol on occult websites. They all say it’s a secret sign between fellow practitioners.”
The old man glowered at Silas. “Who is she?”
“Annoying right?” Silas said.
Abe pressed his fingers into his temples and sighed. “Is this why you came here? To berate me over the past?”
“I just want to know the truth, Rumpelstiltskin,” Silas said.
“The truth? That is all we ever want. But the world is too big a place for truth.”
“Save me the poetry and just answer my question,” the detective said.
“Yes. The Society of Muninn practiced witchcraft,” Abe said. “Is that what you want to hear?”
Silas waved a finger at him. “See, I can’t picture you codgers flying around on broomsticks. You need to give me more.”
“I’m afraid I must disabuse you of your antiquated notions, Silas,” Abernathy said. “We were intellectuals, not pagans from a fairy tale. We searched for the meaning of life. Every artifact we found told a story about the history of the world. The occult is a part of that story. We would be fools not to pursue it.”
“What did you do?”
Abe smiled. It made him look like a very old snake. “Come now Silas, I can’t reveal all our secrets.”
“Even my father?”
The professor nodded slightly. “A pity he never bothered to tell you.”
Silas’s face darkened. “Spare me.”
“You brought it up,” Abe said.
The detective looked down at the diary in his hands.
“Then you must know something about Daragon. If you were researching the occult, he must have come up.”
“Maybe I know a little about him,” Abernathy said. “But I have no reason to tell you.”
“Why not?” Silas asked.
“You have given me no incentive, boy,” he said. “Information, good information, is never free.”
“You have enough money,” Silas said.
“I’m referring to the Beast Stone,” the old man said. “You may not have it in your possession, but I’m sure you know where to look. You have access to Henry’s paperwork. Maybe he donated it to a university. Maybe he sold it. You tell me where it ended up and I’ll take the steps to acquire it.”
Silas stared at the man. He never liked being in someone’s debt, least of all someone like Abernathy. “It might take time to track it down.”
“I’m patient. But not forever.”
“Fine,” Silas said. “What do you know about Daragon?”
“I never met him,” Abe said. “His story, though, was a cautionary tale among people like us.”
“I bet,” Hannah said.
Abe cast her a glance that said she should no longer speak for the duration of their visit.
“Daragon was a pioneer of the supernatural,” he said. “He started a movement, gained some followers, and built a commune or something in the mountains.”
“I know all that,” Silas said. “Tell me about the massacre.”
“Rumors spread that he was planning to overthrow the government,” Abernathy said. “Foolish notion, of course. Why overthrow it, when you can simply control it? But, some of his followers got scared and wanted out. To retaliate, he murdered everyone. Women, children, everyone. The National Guard had been sent to take control of the town. It didn’t go well.”
“What happened after that?” Silas said. “How did he escape?”
“Escape? Daragon didn’t escape. The soldiers killed him, right in his house.”
“When was this?” Silas asked.
“I’m not clear on the dates,” Abernathy said. “Around 1935, if I’m remembering correctly.”
“How did he murder everyone?” Silas asked. “What kind of magic could do that?”
“Daragon was a subtle man,” Abernathy said. “He didn’t send fire down to smite the backsliders. He drove them insane. The old boy mastered the art of preying on a person’s fear, anger, lust. You know, those raw emotions we little creatures have such a hard time controlling. They killed each other. It’s a terrible kind of magic, Silas. The kind true practitioners detest.”
“Yes, you’re all so noble,” Silas said.
“Daragon slaughters a whole town, just to be shot by the National Guard?” Hannah asked.
“Girl, that is the first intelligent thing to come out of your mouth,” Abernathy said. “As I said, Daragon was subtle. He wouldn’t let something as trivial as death stop him.”
“So he survived?” Silas asked. “How?”
“It’s all speculation,” Abernathy said. “But if you ask me, Daragon could have become a lich.”
“A lich?” Silas said. “Are you positive?”
“It is only a hunch,” the old man said. “But Daragon wasn’t stupid. He knew his number was up. He’d find a way to come back, even if the soldiers got the best of him.”
“What’s a lich?” Hannah asked.
“A revenant,” Abernathy said. “Someone that’s returned from the dead. A lich is a powerful undead creature.”
“Imagine a zombie,” Silas said. “With full control of its faculties and able to perform magic.”
“Silas, why are you even asking about Daragon?” Abernathy said. “Where on earth did you hear that name?”
“He’s been busy, Abe. Kidnapping women all over the city. For God knows why.”
Abe straightened up in his chair. The expression of disdain fell from his face. It was replaced with full-blown fear. “You’re joking. Tell me you’re joking.”
“I’m not. Not about this.” Silas held up the diary. “Case led me to Daragon’s old house. This was written by the man himself.”
“And you dared to bring it here?” Abe’s voice grew rasped with panic.
“It’s just a book, Abe.”
“Do you understand what you’ve yourself gotten into?” the old man said
“No worse than what I normally do,” Silas said.
“No, much worse, you little idiot,” Abe said. “I saw a lich, only once. We were in Egypt, seeking the lost temple of Osiris. After weeks of digging, we uncovered the entrance. There, in the darkness, we found it. One of the guardians of the tomb. A lich. With just a touch it killed three of our number. Only by dumb luck did the rest of us escape. We sealed the tunnel with dynamite and never returned.”
His eyes unfocused and he seemed to look off into the distance. “I watched their flesh sizzle. In a blink of an eye, they were bones.”
There was an uncomfortable silence in the room. Silas sat up and cleared his throat.
“Do you have any idea why a lich would be taking women?” Silas asked.
“Are you even listening to me, boy?”
“Of course I am, but this is my case,” Silas said. “I’m not going to abandon it just because it’s dangerous. The best I can do is close it as fast as I can.”
“I can’t imagine what Daragon is doing,” Abernathy said. “All I can say is you’re better off staying as far away from him as possible.”
“Your concern is noted,” Silas said. “And touching, in a creepy sort of way. But I’m seeing this through to the end.”
“It might be your end.”
“Not the first time.”
“What else do you know about liches?” Hannah asked Abernathy. “Do they have, like, psychic powers?”
The professor shrugged. “There’s no telling what they can do. Daragon’s power might be limitless.”
“The spirit might be limitless, but the flesh is weak,” Silas said. “His body will burn like anything else.”
Abe looked doubtful. “Is there anything else you want? I’ve told all know.”
“I guess that’s it,” Silas said.
“Then I invite you to get out of my office.”
Silas stood up and made for the door. Hannah followed. Abe called as they entered the hall.
“If Daragon has come back, you will warn me, Silas. Won’t you?”
The detective looked back and smiled. “I have a feeling you’ll find out. One way or another.”
As the door closed, Silas caught glimpse of the man rifling through a box on his desk. Something gold was in his hand.
“That didn’t instill me with a lot of confidence,” Hannah said as they made their way to the elevator. “Daragon’s a lich? An undead wizard?”
“It’s not as big a leap as what we already knew,” Silas said. “He can be stopped, no matter what he turned himself into. I just wish Abe had more to tell us.”
“Do you think he wasn’t telling us something?” she asked.
“Oh, definitely,” Silas said. “He wouldn’t show all his cards. But you saw his face. Abe has a reason to fear Daragon. If there was something he knew that could help us stop the lich, he would share it. Let us do the hard work.”
They left the building and made their way down the street.
“What’s our next step?” Hannah asked as they stopped at the corner.
“We find Daragon,” Silas said. “There are only a few places a lich could be hiding.”
“I hope this doesn’t involve grave digging.”
“You never know. He’s staying somewhere out of the way, but with easy access to victims.”
“An abandoned warehouse?” Hannah said. “Plenty of those by Gowanus.”
“It would also have to be pulsing with arcane energy,” Silas said.
“It’s not easy keeping a dead thing ‘alive.’ You need a strong source of magic to keep it animated. There are different sources, like spirits of children, trapped in dolls.”
Hannah looked at him quizzically.
He waved it away. “You don’t wanna know. Also ley lines, i.e.: magic in the earth.”
“There’s one way we might be able to find him,” she said. “I can use the fetish again.”
“No way, Evel Knievel,” Silas asked. “Not after what happened last time.”
“We found Barrow Hill.”
“And that was a glimmering success,” he said. “I’m not letting that happen to you again.”
“It’s not your call, it’s mine.”
“No, I have the fetish,” Silas said. “Besides , you’re in greater danger with Luther’s talisman extinguished.”
“Then how do we find Daragon?” Hannah said.
“We try more conventional methods,” he said. “Research the local ley lines. Dig up more on Daragon’s life. Hell, if we need to, we can get the cops to lend a hand.”
“You can always talk to the one that’s been tailing me,” she said.
“For the last time, Butch, you’re not being–“
The light turned green. Silas stepped off the curb as a black sedan cut across traffic to block him. The driver door popped open and the square figure of Detective McClelland emerged. He looked at Silas and Hannah and nodded to the car.
“Let’s go for a ride.”