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McClelland licked his spoon before putting it back on the plate. He leaned back, the vinyl booth squeaking beneath him. Silas was still thumbing what was left of his meal, a dried piece of bread saturated with ketchup. He had no intention of finishing it. Hannah was beside him, cradling a cup of coffee. She didn’t eat. At the moment, she was watching the liquid swirl in her mug.
They were at a diner somewhere in the outer boroughs. The dinner rush had yet to start, but it was emptier than a New York restaurant ever should be. It may have had something to do with the inclement weather. Darkness came early and traces of rain started to appear on the windows. The only noise above the radio was the clanging of dishes.
“As much as I love a free meal, Rick,” Silas said. “Why did you bring us here?”
“Who said it was free?”
“I’m not paying,” Silas said.
McClelland sighed. He sounded like a racehorse nearing retirement. “I brought you here because I need news, Black. I assume you’re still on the case.” His eyes darted to Hannah. “Or she wouldn’t still be with you.”
Hannah looked at Silas. “You told him?”
“Of course not,” Silas said.
“I’m a detective, Rhodes,” McClelland said. “I can put two and two together. So what, the boogeyman’s coming for you too?”
She nodded, eyes on the mug.
McClelland groaned. “Dammit.” He turned back to Silas. “You have to have something by now.”
“Fetishes like the one we recovered from Emily’s apartment are being circulated throughout the city,” Silas said. “I surmise they’re being used to mark the kidnapper’s victims.”
“Alexander Daragon,” Silas said. “He’s our guy.”
The cop cocked an eyebrow. “Who?”
“An occultist from the 1930s,” Silas said. “Did a very bad thing upstate.”
“Why do you think he’s our guy?” McClelland asked.
“Got evidence linking him to the case,” Silas said.
“Real evidence, or your kind of evidence?” the police detective asked.
“Peaches. So how old is he?” McClelland said.
“Very. He’s dead,” Silas said.
The police detective gave him a sour look. “How, then, is he behind it?”
“You know being dead’s never stopped anyone before,” Silas said. “He’s come back.”
McClelland sighed as he rubbed his eyes with his knuckles. “You’re telling me our perp is a ghost?”
“What am I supposed to do with that?”
“You?” Silas said. “Nothing. This is my domain. We’re hunting him down as we speak. You could help on your end, though. Dig up–no pun intended–anything you can on Daragon.”
“And what’s your plan?” the cop asked. “Can we arrest him?”
“Don’t be silly,” Silas said. “We burn him.”
“Sure,” McClelland said. “The NYPD regularly burns suspects.”
“We’ve been down this road before, Rick. Daragon’s the kind of perp you just deal with.”
“You think that’s even gonna work?” McClelland asked.
“Everything burns,” Silas said. Hannah and McClelland looked at him skeptically.
“If not,” he continued, “there’s another way. He’ll probably have a phylactery. It’s an object that bonds him to this world and gives him his power. We destroy that, it’s Bye, Bye, Birdie.”
“What does a… phylactery look like?” McClelland asked.
“Could be anything,” Silas said. “Won’t know until I see it.”
“Do you have any idea where we should be looking?” the police detective asked.
“It’ll be inside the city. That’s the best I can do for now.”
Hannah pushed her mug away. “Whatever happened to that homeless man, Rick? The one from the station. If we could find him, we might find a way to Daragon.”
McClelland looked at her, confused. “You mean the drunk that was bothering you?”
“Daragon may be using homeless for legwork,” Silas said. “Makes sense. He can’t go around in public.”
“You know, it’s stuff like this you’re supposed to tell me right away,” the cop said.
“Did you hold onto him?” Hannah asked.
“Gone in the wind,” McClelland said. “We let drunks sleep it off and let ’em go. Not like they have an address we can follow up on.”
“At least keep an eye out,” Silas said. “I’m sure he’ll pop up again. Okay, I showed you mine. What do you have for me?”
“We found the guy Emily Lisbon went out with a week ago,” the police detective said. “He told us they only went on one date. She took him to some dive bar.”
Silas shrugged. “And?”
“He said the only thing that stood out was when Emily bought a strange doll.”
“Now we’re getting somewhere,” Silas said. “Did he say anything about who sold it to her?”
“Couldn’t give a description,” the cop said. “Too dark and loud at the club.”
“Got an address?”
“Emily took him there,” McClelland said. “He couldn’t remember.”
“This guy’s loads of help,” Hannah asked.
“Emily might have written down the address,” Silas said. “Or have a flier or matchbook from the place. I need to get back into her apartment.”
McClelland shook his head. “Hell no.”
“If we track down the guy who sold her the fetish, he might lead us to Daragon,” Silas said. “We were close in Chinatown until your buddies interrupted.”
“I can’t very well let you into her apartment after you’ve been kicked off the case,” McClelland said. “I’ll have my people look it over.”
“That’s it?” Silas said. “You bring me here, prod me for info. Why? So you can take credit for my work?”
McClelland stuck a finger in Silas’s face.
“You really have such a low view of me, Black? After all we’ve been through?”
“Recent history has clouded my judgment of you, Rick,” Silas said.
The conversation was put on hold when the waitress dropped the check. Silas stared at McClelland. The cop snorted and took it, sliding out from the booth. Hannah got up from the table and went to the bathroom, just happy to be clear of the argument.
It was a muggy room that smelled like rusted pipes. Hannah held her breath as she washed her hands. She rubbed her temples, vainly pushing back a headache. She caught her reflection in the mirror. Something was wrong.
Her eyes were glowing. She pressed them shut and looked again. The reflections stayed in place as she moved, like two stars stuck in the glass. The same fuzzy sensation came over her as when she used the fetish at Silas’ house. It gave her an idea. Placing her hands on the mirror, she stared into her eyes. Reaching out with her thoughts, she tried to summon the location of the dive bar Emily had visited.
Hannah expected the address to pop into her head. Instead, there was nothing. A wave of dizziness hit her and she grabbed the sink. The bathroom rumbled. Water gushed out of the toilets. The faucets turned into geysers. The mirror was vibrating. Hannah left before they shattered in her face.
Outside, the diner was quiet. Silas and McClelland stood by the booth, neither speaking. Shaking the water from her clothes, Hannah started toward them. As she got close, she noticed a man by the counter. He was emaciated, his face caked in dirt. He wore a brown cap and layers of coats. The greeter was trying to kick him out in the most humane way, promising some food if he left. The homeless man looked ready to comply when he saw Hannah.
He opened his mouth and a snapping, croaking noise came out. His eyes turned black. Pushing the greeter out of the way, he ran across the diner. Silas intercepted him. The homeless man leaned into Silas, sending him into a table. McClelland shouted at the homeless man. He got a chair shoved into his chest for his troubles.
Hannah dove under a table. The man crashed on top of it. She crawled under the next table, desperately making for the door. People were screaming, some cowered under tables, others tried to get away. The attacker jumped onto the nearest table, landing on all fours.
A chair connected with his face. The man fell as Silas pulled the chair back for another swing. He clasped Silas’s neck and slammed him against a booth.
Shots thundered through the diner. A round grazed the homeless man’s arm. Releasing Silas, he bounded over a booth and crashed through the window. Customers continued to scream and run in all directions as the man escaped down the street.
McClelland ran over to Silas. “You okay?”
“You could’ve shot me!”
The cop ran for the door, gun still drawn. Silas helped Hannah to her feet and they followed. Ambient shouts filled the street. They followed the sounds down an alley. In the distance, they saw the homeless man, back on two legs. He pressed a hand against his bleeding shoulder. Silas pulled ahead of Hannah and McClelland as the attacker disappeared around a corner. Silas reached it and stopped.
McClelland came up behind him, flashlight paired with his sidearm. He checked the alley. It was a dead end, with no entrances or fire escapes. But the homeless man was gone.
“What the hell?” Hannah said.
“Here.” Silas bent down and pulled back a half-covered manhole. Around the opening were drops of blood.
“Yeah, he went into the sewer,” McClelland said.
Silas and Hannah looked at the cop. His phone was at his ear.
“What are you doing?” Silas asked.
McClelland shrugged. “What do you think? Calling it in.”
“Me,” said another voice.
They turned to face the lithe figure of Detective Lang as she marched toward them, gun and flashlight in hand.
“Somebody better fricking bring me up to speed.”
Sharon Vesely says