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“I’d knew you’d show up again. Just my damn luck.”
“Language, Abe, language.” Silas crossed the office and sat down. “A man your age should know better.”
Peter Abernathy harrumphed and crossed his arms over his chest. His spectacles glinted as he looked at the young man. He was trying to evoke a commanding air. It wasn’t working. Silas could taste the old man’s apprehension. The detective also noticed the protective charm sticking out of Abernathy’s shirt. Silas smiled at the sleepiness nights he must have had worrying about the lich.
“What’s with the arm?” the old man asked. “You tried skateboarding again?”
“I’ll have you know, Poppin’ Fresh, I’m an excellent skater.”
“What do you want?”
“I come with good news,” Silas said. “You can unclench. The lich is dead.”
“So, you got it done. Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
“I was busy.”
“Are you absolutely certain he’s dead?” Abernathy asked.
“Yep,” Silas said. “Not something you can forget.”
“How were you able to kill him?” he asked.
“I’m not giving you a play-by-play,” Silas said. “Just know it wasn’t easy.” He tapped his cast.
Abernathy studied his face. After a moment, he relaxed.
“Fine.” He unclasped the talisman from around his neck and tossed it into a drawer.
“Is that all? I’m a busy man.”
“Your Monte Cristo can wait, Abe. I have more.”
With his good arm, Silas reached into his satchel. He retrieved a bundle roughly the size of a football, wrapped in newspaper. Unceremoniously, he dropped it onto the desk.
Abernathy gawked at the parcel. “What’s this?”
“What do you think?”
Adjusting his glasses, the old man scooted forward. Slowly, he peeled the paper away. His eyes bulged as he got a look at the thing. With both hands he picked up a seven-headed leopard made of black stone. Light refused to reflect off its surface. It seemed to suck it in like a black hole. Awe washed over the old man’s face. Silas thought he saw a tear trickle down his cheek.
“It’s more beautiful than I remembered,” Abernathy said.
“Beautiful? I can see why you never married.”
Anger flashed over the man’s face. “You said you didn’t have it.”
“Whaddaya know, I was wrong.”
“Are you really just giving it to me?” Abernathy asked.
“Come on, Abe,” Silas said. “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”
“I see,” the old man said. “You want money. That’s fine, it’s what I promised.” He took out his checkbook. “Will ten thousand be enough?”
“Yeah, ten’s good–no. No money,” Silas said. “Not everything’s about money.”
“Silas, I’ve known you your whole life,” Abernathy said. “You’re just like your father. And neither of you were generous.”
“Maybe you didn’t know Henry as well as you thought,” the detective said. “I said I’d get you the stone. Here it is.”
Abe nodded his approval.
“Care to tell me what’s so special about it?” Silas asked.
The old man smiled like a viper. “No.”
He ran a hand across the statuette. His fingers traced the intricate patterns etched across the leopard’s back. He rotated it in the air to examine every angle. A shiver of joy passed over Abernathy.
“Should I leave you two alone?” Silas said.
Abernathy set the stone down. “What about Henry’s collection? It’s now incomplete.”
“It’s my collection now,” Silas said. “I can do with it as I please.”
For a moment Silas detected a glimmer of jealousy in the old man’s eyes.
“If you’re satisfied with the cat, I’ll be going.”
“Thank you, Silas.” Abe reached across the desk and offered his hand. Silas took it. “The Beast Stone will be the centerpiece of the new Society of Muninn.”
“You’re bringing it back?” Silas asked.
“Yes,” Abernathy said. “Of course, you’ll have seat at the founder’s table, if you’re so inclined.”
“I’ll chew on that.”
Silas escaped the office. He didn’t relish the thought of Abe actually liking him. The old man waved to him as he disappeared behind the door. With unusual speed, Abernathy raced to a chest on the other side of his office. Unlocking a drawer, he took out a cell phone. There was only one number in it. It rang for a minute before someone answered.
“It’s me,” Abernathy said. “I have the Beast Stone.”
A voice on the other end spoke, fast and excited.
“Yes, yes, I know,” Abe said. “We have all of them now. We will begin as soon as possible.”
Silas made his way downstairs. He stopped at the receptionist in the lobby and tried making conversation. It didn’t go well. He strode out of the building, casting a final glance at the facade. He knew something was supposed to be happening, something he didn’t quite understand. Crossing the street, he approached a car sitting quietly on the corner.
It was a 1975, four-door Bentley. It was a dismal creature. The silver paint had turned gray. It sat lower than any car should. The iconic hood ornament had long ago wandered off. Silas bought the beast to commemorate his partnership with Hannah. She had not been impressed. Walking over to the driver side, he slapped the roof.
“You said to wait twenty minutes, right?” he asked.
The window slowly rolled down. “This car doesn’t even have power windows,” Hannah said. “I have to turn a crank, like an animal.”
“Oh, what a burden” Silas said. “Can you focus on the job?”
“You could have just come back to the car to wait,” she said. “You don’t need to be in the building for it to work.”
Silas paused. “I knew that. So, is it working?”
He stuck his head through the window to get a look at the computer in her lap. Several complicated-looking windows were open, the largest showing a sound file. A pair of expensive headphones were connected to the device and draped around Hannah’s shoulders.
“I’m getting something,” she said, pulling the headphones up. “I can hear everything going on in Abe’s office. Where did you stick the bug?”
“Under the lip of his desk,” Silas said.
“Did he see you?”
“Not a chance. He was too busy ogling that statue. Get anything good yet?”
“He made a phone call,” she said. “Said something like, ‘We have them all now.’ What do you think that means?”
“Dunno,” Silas said. “We’ll have to look into it. I want to find out just what Abe plans to do with that stone. And if it’s something I’ll have to stop.”
“The sound’s a bit muffled,” Hannah said. “Wish we could’ve planted a camera.”
“One felony at a time,” Silas said. “Let’s just hope he doesn’t find it and call the cops.”
“The bug’s battery will be dead before he can trace it to us.”
He crossed the front of the old sedan and climbed into the passenger’s seat.
“You really learned this stuff in college?” he asked Hannah.
She nodded, a little sheepishly. “It wasn’t course material. But it’s little tricks like this that can give you an edge on a story.”
“Bit of a gray area, though, ethically,” Silas said.
“Tell that to paparazzi.”
She slid the computer onto his lap as she fumbled with the keys.
“Aren’t you glad I convinced you to get this equipment?” she said. “This’ll make case work much easier.”
“Yes, you’re very smart. Shut up.”
“Your plan was to dress up like window washers and scale the building.”
“It’s worked in the past,” he said.
She turned the ignition and the Bentley belched to life. Black smoke chugged out the exhaust. The seats vibrated like unruly motel beds. They had to shout over the engine.
“I can’t believe you bought this,” Hannah said.
“I got it for you,” he said.
“Why didn’t you get a new car?” she said. “Something nice. Not a British-made, Titanic on wheels.”
“The Titanic was British,” he said.
“Only helping my argument.”
“This car’s got a lot of personality,” Silas said as she shifted into first gear. The behemoth lurched onto the street, emitting a series of high-pitched whines. It squealed as they pulled into the intersection. The light turned green and the Bentley stalled. A chorus of horns assaulted them as Hannah tried to coax it back to life. Silas pointed a finger at her.
“Not one word.”