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“This is all your fault,” Hannah said.
“Me?” Silas said. “I’m hurt. Wounded, even.”
Hannah leaned over her chair toward Silas. It was difficult, given she was handcuffed to the armrest. “This is the second time I’ve been in handcuffs since I met you. Do you want to know how many times I’ve been handcuffed before this?”
“I wanna say three.”
Silas tried to point at himself, forgetting he was also cuffed. “I didn’t slap them on you, Thelma. Thank Detective Hot Pants McGee.”
“She wouldn’t have had to, if you didn’t insist on riding in the ambulance,” Hannah said.
“They could’ve used my expertise,” he said.
“They’re paramedics, I think they had it covered.”
Silas blew a raspberry and slouched in his seat. He hated hospital waiting rooms. Not because of the proximity to germs or the overwhelming sense of sadness and loss. They were just so boring. A TV in the corner was blasting some sitcom they only air at three in the morning. The canned laughter grated against Silas’s spine. He scanned the room. A few orderlies mulled around a coffee maker. There was a nurse quietly filing away papers. The rings around her eyes were noticeable even from a distance.
Opposite him was a row of vending machines. Squinting, he tried to make out what was inside.
“Is that a Baby Ruth?” he asked Hannah.
“I dunno,” she said, not looking up.
“I think it is. You want something?”
She looked at him, then at the machine. “How are you going to get over there?”
“Watch and learn.” Silas yanked the armrest with both hands. With a pop, he dislodged it from the chair and slid his handcuff free.
“Cheap hospital chairs,” he said, tossing it to her.
“Why didn’t you do that earlier?” Hannah asked.
He shrugged. “Wasn’t hungry.”
Hannah pulled at her arm rest. “Help me do mine.”
Silas waved a hand. “Can’t. That chair looks new.”
He sauntered over to the vending machine, ignoring the stream of curses coming from his assistant. Hannah wrestled with her armrest. It gave, slightly. She struggled to push the handcuff through the small opening, pinching her fingers in the process. Keeping her back to the cops by the front desk, she walked over to the machines.
Silas’s finger hovered over the buttons. Carefully, he pushed B-5. Nothing happened. He kicked the machine. That didn’t help. Placing his hands on it, he tried to rock the candy free. A voice from the nurse’s desk mechanically asked him to stop. Hannah stepped between him and the machine and slipped a dollar into the cash slot.
“Candy comes out when you pay for it,” she said.
“It was about to fall.” He nonetheless reentered the code and pulled out the candy bar.
“Now that we’re free, let’s see what the fuss is about.”
Hannah followed him from the waiting area down a bleak, not well-lit hall. People in flower-printed scrubs ran back and forth passed them. Silas and Hannah were forced to moved as a gurney rolled by, surrounded by shouting people. Hannah turned her face so she didn’t have to see the person on it.
“Do you think we could get a few of those?” She pointed to a doctor who was wearing a surgical mask.
“Didn’t peg you for a germophobe,” Silas said. “He finished his candy bar and was licking his fingers.”
“I’m not,” she said, watching him in disgust. “Your hands are probably covered in Ebola.”
“Meh.” He gave the empty wrapper to a not-so-appreciative woman in pink.
“It’s almost morning. We haven’t even had time to change.” She sniffed at herself. Her clothes had dried, but the stench of the sewers was overwhelming. “I’m amazed they haven’t kicked us out of the hospital.”
“Trust me, they’ve smelled worse.”
They reached a door flanked by two officers. One of them nodded as a cadre of doctors went inside. Attempting to slip in with them, Silas followed.
“Not so fast.” An officer caught Silas by the arm and pulled him back.
“I need inside,” he said.
“Authorized personnel only.”
“I helped rescue that woman,” he said.
The cop folded her arms. “Weren’t you handcuffed in the waiting area?”
Silas hid his hands behind his back. “Let’s not focus on the past. I need to speak with Emily.”
“We should just go back,” Hannah said.
Silas turned to her. “We need to see her when she wakes up.”
“You think she will?” she asked. “She seemed pretty out of it when they brought her in.”
“She has to recover eventually. But I’d feel a lot better about it if I was in that room.”
He walked over to the policewoman. “You know, Mel. Can I call you Mel?”
“You have amazing bone structure. Those cheeks, wow. You hardly look like a man.”
Hannah covered her face.
“I mean, because of the uniform,” Silas said. “It’s not very flattering for a woman. Especially one of your girth.”
Before the officer could get Silas into a headlock, the door opened. Detective McClelland leaned out and gestured at Silas and Hannah.
“What makes you think you can flirt with cops?” Hannah asked as they went inside.
“Got us in, didn’t it?” Silas said.
“No, it didn’t.”
McClelland removed their handcuffs as they took in the scene. Voices mingled with the sound of beeping machines. Silas managed to part the crowd of medical staff around the bed. Emily had been washed and dressed in a hospital gown. Her hair was pulled back to make room for a breathing tubes and various sensors.
“Well,” Silas said. “I’ve seen worse.”
Her skin was green. Ulcers covered her face, running down her neck, all the way to her arms. A nurse stuck a needle into a boil, extracting yellow pus.
Hannah suddenly felt sick. The room was moving counter-clockwise. She collapsed into a chair. Her throat burned and she fought the urge to vomit. The strong scent of antiseptic didn’t help. Breathing through her mouth, she closed her eyes until her head settled. McClelland was standing over her.
“You okay, kid?” he asked.
She had trouble speaking. “I… didn’t notice she looked like that when we found her.”
The cop snorted and shook his head. “Poor kid. You can wait outside if you want.”
“I just need a minute,” Hannah said. “What have the doctors found out?”
“Are you sure you wanna talk about this?” McClelland asked.
“Just tell me.”
“She’s stable, more or less. Her temperature is around ninety-nine and they’re monitoring her vitals.”
“What about the… boils?”
“They don’t know,” the police detective said. “Could be a severe allergic reaction. They’ve already taken samples of the discharge to the lab.”
“Has anyone contacted her family or friends?” she asked.
“She’s got no family in the area,” McClelland said. “We’ll reached out to her coworkers, find her friends.”
Their attention was drawn back to the bed. One of the doctors was shouting at Silas. He had taken the medical chart.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” The doctor yanked the chart back.
“I’d like to know Emily’s condition,” Silas said.
“It’s serious,” the doctor said. “And I don’t need unnecessary people in the room.” He cast an angry glance at McClelland. Reluctantly, he stepped between the doctor and Silas.
“Doctor Wilson, this is Silas Black, private detective. He and Miss Rhodes helped rescue Emily.”
“Congratulations,” the doctor said, “but unless they have medical degrees, I don’t want them in here.”
“You said Emily might wake up soon,” McClelland said. “I want Silas here when we speak with her. There may be a few things he knows that can help.”
“I said if she wakes up,” Wilson said. “For now, he stays outside.”
“Don’t you want to hear my diagnosis?” Silas asked.
He gave it anyway. “The patient is covered in lesions. They could have been caused by a chemical reaction, burns, or allergies. But my opinion says otherwise.”
The medical staff stopped what they were doing to look at Silas.
“And what is that?” McClelland asked.
“Ms. Lisbon has been exposed to a mutagen,” Silas said. “Something that altered her genetic makeup.”
“A mutagen?” the doctor said. “What kind?”
“I have to do all the work for you?” Silas said. “Figure it out for yourself.”
For the second time that night Silas was about to be in a headlock. Dr. Wilson and his staff converged on the detective, intent on ejecting him from the room. The wave of violence was thwarted by the appearance of Detective Lang. She pierced the air with a well-practiced whistle and pushed through the angry mob.
“What the hell is going on?” she asked.
“I want these people out of my room,” the doctor said.
“I need everyone to leave, except my team.”
Dr. Wilson took a step toward her. “Detective–“
“Is there anything you need to do right now for the patient?” she asked, leveling her eyes at the man.
“I said out.”
He handed the chart to McClelland and marched out of the room. His staff followed, giving Silas questioning looks. The only people remaining were the police detectives, along with Silas and Hannah.
“So, we’re a part of your team?” Silas asked.
“Don’t push it.”
Keeping her eyes on Silas, Lang walked over to McClelland and took the chart. She glanced over it for a second, as if she understood the jargon, before putting it back on the edge of the bed. Silas assumed she did it for show. She looked at Hannah in the corner.
“What’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing.” Hannah stood up and joined the group.
Lang sat beside the bed. “Any chance she’ll wake up tonight?”
“Doctors said she might,” McClelland said. “They took her off the sedatives, hoping she’ll come around on her own.”
Lang stared into the unconscious woman’s face. “Can anyone tell me what the hell she was doing in a sewer?”
“The kidnapper was keeping her there,” McClelland said.
“That means he’s down there,” Hannah said.
“Great, were need to search miles of sewer and subway tunnels,” Lang said.
“Units are sweeping the tunnels near where you found her,” McClelland said. “MTA and DEP are on the lookout for anything suspicious.”
Silas stood at the foot of the bed. His eyes were glued to the victim.
“I don’t think he’s down there,” he said.
“Of course, you don’t,” Lang said. “You have to take the most difficult position.”
“Somebody’s got to, Amy,” Silas said.
“Don’t call me Amy.”
“It makes sense that Daragon’s men would use the sewers,” he said. “The tunnels run under the entire city and they can move around, unnoticed.”
“Men? You mean those… things,” Lang said.
“They were men,” Silas said.
“What are they now?” McClelland asked.
“Never seen anything like it before,” Silas said. “One mutated before our eyes. I call ’em shamblers.”
“What’s a shambler?” McClelland asked.
“Couldn’t think of a better name.”
“I’d try harder.”
“Anyway,” Silas said. “The sewers aren’t a great lair for a lich. They’re damp, unsecure, and too crowded.”
“Then what was Emily doing down there?” Lang asked.
“She could have gotten free,” he said. “Got lost trying to escape. We won’t know how until she tells us. And I don’t think we have to wait long.”
They all looked at Emily. There was a flicker of eyelids. She tried to lift her head. With a moan, she pulled the breathing tubes from her nose. Silas leaned over to help. Lang started, but didn’t interfere. Emily coughed and took in a gulp of air.
Lang shooed Silas back. “Ms. Lisbon. Emily. Can you hear me?”
Emily slowly turned her head to look at the cop. Her voice was gravelly.
“I’m Detective Amy Lang. This is my partner, Rick McClelland.”
Emily looked at them, then at Silas and Hannah.
“Those are… some other people,” Lang said.
“Where am I?” Emily asked.
“You’re at a hospital,” Lang said. “We found you in the sewers. Do you remember?”
Emily stared at the ceiling. “I remember the water. It was cold… comforting. It was calling me home.”
“Do you remember how you got there?” Lang asked.
“I don’t remember,” she said, almost sounding embarrassed.
“You’ve been missing for a week,” McClelland said. “We’re happy we found you, but we’d feel better if we caught the man who took you.”
A noise rolled up Emily’s throat and bubbled out of her mouth. She was laughing. “You can’t catch him. You don’t even know where he is.”
“Where is he, Emily?” Silas asked.
She locked eyes with him. “He is inside of me.”
She looked to the end of her bed, at Hannah. “He is in you too. I can feel it.”
Reaching over, Silas turned Emily’s head to face him.
“Focus on me, sweet cheeks,” he said. “The man who took you is more than dangerous. I need to know where he is.”
“You’re not a cop, are you?” she said.
“Of course not.”
“Good,” Emily said. “The police can’t stop him. All they do is help his kind.”
“Spare us the criticism, kid,” McClelland said. “Who kidnapped you?”
Emily spasmed with laughter. Her bed shook as she tried to flail her arms and legs. The restraints prevented her from flying off. Silas leaned over and tried to look her in the eyes.
The woman stopped. Tears welled up in her eyes. They poured down her face in great, heaving sobs.
“Emily, please,” Silas said.
“They took me,” she said. “Took me from my home. I was somewhere far away. They burned me on the inside.”
“How did they burn you?” Lang asked.
“He said I was unworthy. Left alone in the emptiness. They stopped watching me. I knew they were waiting for me to die. So, I slipped away. Into the darkness… until I found the water.”
“You mean the sewer?” Hannah said.
“What can you tell us about your kidnappers?” Lang asked. “A face? Anything?”
Emily shook her head back and forth. “He is nothing. He is everything.”
“You need to tell us something, Emily,” the cop said.
“I’m just a shell. Just an empty shell. Let me die.”
Silas raised a hand, begging Lang with his eyes to let him speak.
“I know it’s hard,” he said to Emily. “But more women will be hurt if you don’t help us. You can make the difference.”
She opened her eyes. The tears stopped.
“Tell me about the doll. Do you remember it? A little wooden guy with beady eyes.”
Her eyes lit up, just a bit. “My doll. You’ve seen my doll?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I’ve seen dolls from all over the world, but none like yours.”
Emily smiled again. “I got it on a date.”
“Oh, yeah? A hot date?” Silas asked.
“Not really. He was a loser. But the club was good. Played my favorite songs.”
“You got the doll at the club,” he said. “They sold them there?”
“A man was selling them,” she said. “No one was interested, but I liked the look of the thing.”
“Did you catch the guy’s name?” Silas asked.
“What did he look like?” he said.
“He was a little green man,” Emily said.
Lang sat back and sighed.
“Anything else you can tell me?” Silas asked.
“He wore a black cap,” she said. “And smiled like a shark.”
“Do you remember the name of the place?” Silas asked. “The address?”
Her head dropped back on the pillow. She closed her eyes. Silas thought she had fallen asleep, when her lips parted.
“The golden bowl. There was a golden bowl.”
“Can you give us anything more, Emily?” Lang asked.
Emily didn’t speak again. Silas’s eyes darted to the monitors to make sure she wasn’t crashing. Carefully, he pulled the oxygen tubes back over her nose.
“What was that all about?”
Lang and McClelland loomed over Silas and his assistant as they sat in the waiting room. They were back in their original seats, though the cuffs were gone. Silas had a notepad out, scribbling in it with the stub of a pencil.
“I’m gonna need a new book,” he said. “This one’s waterlogged.” He flipped the soggy notepad closed and returned it to his coat.
“Did anything she say in there make sense to you, Black?” Lang asked.
Silas groaned as he stretched out his back and legs.
“Maybe. It’ll all depends,” he said.
“On what?” Lang said.
“On you hiring me.” He nodded at Hannah. “Us.”
“You’re gonna pull that crap now, Silas?” McClelland said.
“You were the ones who kicked me off the case originally,” Silas said, “jeopardizing Emily and the other victims. If you want anything from me, you’ll have to officially bring me back in.”
“Or I can charge you for obstructing a police investigation,” Lang said.
Silas smirked. “You were in that room, too. You heard the exact same thing I did. Asking me for an interpretation of what she said is consultation stuff. I’m not obstructing your case if I say no.”
“Just give them something, Silas,” Hannah said. “Every second we waste, he’s out there. Isn’t this more important to you than money?”
Silas looked at her. Surprisingly, he wasn’t annoyed.
“Emily told us as much as she could, given her condition,” he said. “Daragon’s influence has left her traumatized, obviously. The fact that she was able to talk to us at all was a miracle.”
“But was anything she said useful?” Lang said.
“From what I can gather, Daragon lost interest in her. Whatever he wants from these women, she didn’t have it. He left her to die. But the kid’s strong. She escaped and found her way to the sewers.”
“Or he let her go,” Lang said. “She did show up right as those freaks attacked us.”
“You think he wanted us to find her?” Silas asked.
“I don’t see what he would gain from that,” McClelland said.
“I do,” Hannah said, casting her eyes to the floor.
“What about this Daragon,” Lang said. “The man you think is responsible. Who is he?”
“You’re not going to like this part,” Silas said.
“I’m not liking any of this.”
“We believe,” Silas said, gesturing at Hannah, “the kidnapper is an early nineteenth century occultist named Alexander Daragon.”
“Who is most certainly dead,” McClelland added.
“We’re back to ghosts, now?” Lang said.
“Not a ghost,” Silas said. “A lich.”
“A what?” she asked.
“Zombie… wizard… thing,” Hannah said.
“What am I supposed to do with that?” Lang said.
“You listen to me,” Silas said. “The only way we can stop Daragon is to destroy him. We can do that.”
“This is ridiculous,” she said. “A live human being is behind this.”
“Have you not been paying attention, Amy?” Silas said. “We spent the night running from monsters. There’s a mutated girl in there, baffling medical science. What more proof do you want?”
“I’m a cop,” Lang said. “I can’t take your word for it. Not without solid evidence.”
“Once we find this guy, you’ll see,” Silas said.
“That’s been our problem all along,” Hannah said. “We can’t find him.”
“We got a new lead,” Silas said. “The little green man that sold the fetish to Emily.”
Lang rolled her head in irritation. “That was the most confusing part of her story. She was at a club. Great. We don’t have a name or location.”
“There might be a way to find out,” McClelland said. “We’ll search her apartment again, look for a receipt or flyer from this place.”
“Spending time we don’t have,” Lang said.
She took a step back, discussing with her partner plans for revisiting Emily’s apartment.
Hannah looked over at Silas. “Do you think what happened to Emily is going to happen to me?”
Silas paused for a millisecond before answer. “Of course not.”
“Her mind is all scrambled,” she said. “If we don’t stop Daragon soon…”
“We will,” Silas said. “You’ve been fighting him so far. Don’t count yourself out.”
Hannah felt a little better. Rummaging through her sewer-stained bag, she found her phone. The screen was cracked, but it worked. She managed to open her emails and started searching. After a few minutes, she jabbed Silas in the side.
“Ow, what was that for?” he asked.
“I think I found something,” she said. “That golden bowl sounded familiar. A friend of mine who writes for the Times once told me about an underground venue. It’s behind a grocery store. The only sign is a decal in the window. He called it the Gold Saucer.”
“Gold Saucer?” Silas said, looking into the air. “Sounds familiar. Do you have an address?”
“Yeah. He sent it to me, asked me to meet him there. Think it was a date or something. I turned him down.”
“I didn’t ask you all that,” he said. “You got the address?”
“Good,” Lang said. She had been listening from across the room. “Let’s have it.”
“You really think you can get into this club, Officer Narc?” Silas asked.
“I have this.” She pointed to the badge around her neck. “I’ll get in.”
“You’re gonna need our help,” he said.
“Mmm, I’m thinking no.”
“After everything I just told? You still won’t hire me?”
The police detective took Hannah’s phone and relayed the address to McClelland. Tossing it back, she marched away, barking more orders. McClelland gave Silas a conciliatory shrug. Silas responded with a not-so-conciliatory hand gesture. Getting up, he took Hannah’s arm and led her out of the hospital.
The Sun was breaking the skyline, bathing the city in amber light. Silas stood at the curb and tried to flag down a taxi.
“Up for another trip?” he asked Hannah.
“If we leave now, we can get to this club before the cops,” Silas said. “Not that I think Lang will be welcomed in, anyway.”
“I’m exhausted,” Hannah said. “I stink. And I haven’t eaten since yesterday morning. I need a break.”
Silas was visibly irritated. But he relented. “Fine. We’ll get some rest. Cops’ll bungle it up and we’ll pick up the pieces. We should go at nightfall.”
“We’ll see,” she said.
“If you’re not, you got Barnabas duty.”
“I’ll be ready.”