"Add thy name, O sun, to tell thee how I hate thy beams, That bring to my remembrance from what state I fell..."
--Milton, Paradise Lost
It was a beautiful night for murder, but wet work was wet work and had to be done regardless of conditions. Still, Karl Vance had time to appreciate just how crisp the autumn air had become as the wind pushed up the side of the building and buffeted him where he stood on the rooftop ledge, watching. On the horizon, the silver blade of the moon sliced through a dark cloud. Around him, Boston sprawled in every direction, its lights drowning out all but the brightest stars.
A car pulled into the parking lot below him. A silver Mercedes AMG. The one he'd been waiting for.
Karl had a SIG-Sauer P-226 9mm in a holster beneath his left arm. In the right pocket of his cargo pants he could feel the weight of the silencer pressing against his leg. He'd mate them in a little while, but not yet. He had plenty of time.
Plenty of time.
The Mercedes parked and three men got out. He recognized them, by face and reputation, all of them made men in the Lucatti crime family. The driver was "Frankie Lost" Carrara, the Lucattis' most feared enforcer. Supposedly, he'd earned the name for his ability to make his victims disappear. The fat man in the tracksuit was Jimmy Fucci. The one climbing out of the backseat and adjusting his sport coat was Jimmy de Carlo.
Why Don Alberto Ricardi wanted this piece of work done didn't matter. This was business, nothing personal. Even the eighty-five thousand he'd been paid to make it happen mattered only in the abstract. Still, the fact that he was allowed wide leeway in how it went down was an important fringe benefit.
The sound of their heels on the asphalt rang in his ears like gunshots as they made their way toward the front door below him. He could hear one of them laughing--the harsh sound rolling through the parking lot and echoing off into the darkness.
They entered the apartment building and he lost sight of them. No matter. He knew where they were going. He closed his eyes and listened, sorting through the city sounds as he allowed the men time for the ride up the elevator. A plane overhead, inbound for Logan. The sharp, staccato sound of a small dog barking. Two blocks over, a stereo booming rap music. Nothing amiss.
Time to go to work.
He turned and began to scale down the side of the apartment building. The brick felt cold to his fingers, but it didn't slow him. He kept to the shadowed side of the building, away from the moonlight.
"Frankie Lost" Carrara was the most dangerous of the three, a man who had once put six bullets in an informer and then ripped out his tongue with pliers and shoved it down his throat. He had to die first and die fast. Jimmy de Carlo was no saint either, but he was second in line. He ran numbers for a Lucatti capo named Tazetta and sometimes did side jobs leaning on underpaying "clients". Rumor had it he once made a guy swallow twelve of his teeth, one by one, after he'd knocked them out with a cue stick.
Fat Jimmy Fucci was by far the least dangerous and the poorest of the three. He burned his money gambling as fast as his fat hands grasped it. Tazetta had paper on him for bad bets that would've ensured Fucci spent the rest of his life crawling around with two shattered kneecaps, except that Fucci was a made man. So instead he spent almost all that he earned keeping up with the vig--Tazetta's back-breaking loan interest--on the debts he owed. Hence the rundown apartment he would soon die in.
Fucci's apartment was on the fifth floor. Karl paused outside on the narrow window ledge and listened. He could easily pick up the sound of their voices through the glass.
"Nowadays who can afford to drive one of those? Gas prices are kicking my ass."
"You mean to tell me you wouldn't take one of them Escalades because gas costs too much? I oughta kick your ass."
"I told you. Things have been tight. War's bad for business."
"What are you? A fucking economist? You're killin' me."
"Hey, Jimmy, do us all a favor and shut the fuck up."
Karl moved slightly to the left from where he clung to the bare brick wall so he could see inside. Beer bottles lined the tables and gathered in clusters on the marred hardwood floor. Curling centerfolds of nude women hung from the walls. A playing card, a square mirror and a small bag of cocaine lay on the coffee table in front of an expensive high-def television. No religious icons and no silver, though. That was good.
The three men stood close together in the small room. Even through the glass Vance could smell the blood in their veins.
Jimmy Fucci sat on the stained sofa near the mirror. He picked up the playing card with fingers like a balloon animal and began to cut the coke into even lines, tapping the card on the mirror to shake off clinging dust. He leaned low and snorted a line, then sat up quickly and gave himself a shake, like a dog running out from the spray of a fire hydrant.
Dammit, Karl hated cocaine. His eyes moved to de Carlo, standing with his arms crossed over his blue sport coat. It would have to be him.
Karl moved out of sight. Carefully, he drew out the silencer, pulled the 9mm's slide back, and screwed the silencer onto the threaded barrel. There was an old legend that Karl Vance's kind couldn't pass into a house without first being invited. That was bullshit.
He stepped in front of the window, brought his fist back and rammed it through the glass. The window shattered, frosting the air with slivers that glinted in the light of the bare ceiling bulb. He hit the carpet and rolled, blades of glass cutting wounds on his face and hands that healed as fast as they were made. He came up in a crouch and lifted the SIG-Sauer, the pebbled stock rough against his pale hand.
Frankie Lost reacted first, his hand sliding toward his waistband. The SIG hissed twice, the ratchet-click of the pistol action the loudest sound in the room. Frankie staggered back and fell over the arm of the sofa, a hole in his forehead and one in his chest.
The air was suddenly drenched in the smell of blood, so vibrant that Vance could almost taste it. He stood slowly, smoking pistol in hand, his gaze trailing over the blood spatter on the walls.
"You bastard." De Carlo clutched at the weapon beneath his coat, but Karl took two steps, moving so fast he doubted de Carlo's eyes registered anything but a blur, and slammed the man in the gut, doubling him over. As the air whooshed out of de Carlo's lungs, Karl slipped his hand into the man's jacket, grabbed the butt of his pistol and sent it spinning out the broken window. Then he turned to Fucci.
Jimmy Fucci stared at him as if he were some kind of acid trip nightmare. Snot streamed out of one of his nostrils. "Oh God don't--"
Karl's pistol whispered again. Jimmy Fucci slumped over on the couch and didn't move.
Karl turned to Jimmy de Carlo, who had staggered back against the wall and was staring at him with fear in his eyes and his lips skinned back into a snarl.
"I heard you once made a man eat his own teeth," Karl said.
"What the fuck do you know about that?"
Defiant. Even now. That was good.
One of Karl's fangs peeked out of his smiling lips. "I'm going to show you something new about teeth." He grinned even wider.
Jimmy de Carlo started to scream.
The church of St. Rosa was empty, its rose window and stained glass dark. A small, wrought iron cross sat atop the spire, lifted against the stars. To Karl's eyes, the cross burned with a pure, blue-white light that had nothing to do with reflected moonlight. Staring directly at it caused too much pain, as if somebody were slowly and steadily pushing a thumb into his eye.
He kept well away from the borders of the holy ground, which he could see smoldering like blue coals, the shimmer completely enclosing the hundred-year-old church and the small cemetery beside it. Standing this close felt like holding a live wire--the closer he got to the church, the more current ran through it. He wanted to be gone, the sooner the better.
The weight of obligation made him stay. The short, cobblestone street was empty, and few of the surrounding buildings had lights on. At the bottom of the street, traffic occasionally zipped past, even at this late hour. He knelt on the sidewalk, in the shadows between streetlights, and prayed for the souls of the men he had killed.
It felt as though he were sending radio messages out into the void of space, hopeless of ever receiving a reply, but he did it anyway. A ritual was a ritual. Sometimes the details of the faces had already begun to fade from his memory, smearing like ink in thinner. He'd seen a lot of death. He couldn't be expected to remember them all.
He prayed for their souls, but he did not pray for forgiveness. What would be the point?
For a few moments longer, he endured the pain, almost welcoming it. Then he stood and vanished into the darkness, while behind him, the cross continued to blaze its holy light against the backdrop of stars. The stones of the old church said nothing.
Five hours until dawn.
Karl slid open the balcony door to his twenty-first-floor apartment on Beacon Hill and stepped through Xiesha's wards of protection. The hair on his arms and the back of his neck lifted as he passed through. This close, the vibration of the ward was very strong, almost uncomfortable.
No lights were on in the apartment, but the surrounding lights from downtown, the Financial District and Chinatown provided more than enough illumination. He stepped to a small decorative table that held a Mikasa crystal bowl filled with filtered water. The water was cool on his hands, and pink with blood after he washed.
The air in the room shifted the tiniest fraction and the temperature dropped a few degrees. He sensed Xiesha enter the room, though she made no sound.
"Welcome back, Master," she said.
"What did I say about that word?" He dried his hands on a towel and turned to her. "How many times do I have to ask?"
Xiesha bowed, her form a faint shimmer in the darkness. Her beauty was haunting, her dark eyes intense. Those eyes had always seemed more there than the rest of her, crackling with power like arcing electrical wires. She wore her long brown hair in a braid over her shoulder, and her pale skin glowed softly in contrast. Tonight she wore the red and black kimono, the one with the tail-eating dragons. She was currently obsessed with the Orient. Twenty years ago it had been Africa.
"I don't understand your discomfort with it." Xiesha's voice was soft, almost a whisper, but musical, as if tiny bells chimed as she spoke. "You are my Master, after all."
Except he wasn't. A long time ago, he'd saved her from the Order of the Thorn. Crossing an ancient religious order that hunted supernatural creatures was no small risk. To repay her debt she'd chosen to guard him during the daylight. But the term master was entirely her choice.
He unstrapped the shoulder holster and moved toward what had once been the dining room. He'd converted it into a small library, with teak, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves holding hundreds of books. Everything from linguistics tomes on modern slang and dialect to volumes on string theory, evolution and the relative nature of time. He'd read them all.
Relative nature of time. Between killings, all he had was time.
He walked into the kitchen and set the pistol on the kitchen counter, near Xiesha's crystal scrying bowl and her necklace, which resembled the design on a peacock feather. A small mound of gray ash and another of salt sat on white filter paper near the sink. Beside them stood two jars filled with amber and green liquids, things he did not recognize and didn't really care to know about.
"Any luck?" he asked. She had located Jimmy Fucci's apartment by scrying when Karl's street contacts had come up empty. Now he had her searching for someone else. Someone he wanted to kill for purely personal reasons.
"Not yet. I'm sorry. He masks himself too well."
He'd figured as much, but he nodded in thanks anyway. Someday things would be settled. Soon.
He left her in the kitchen and walked to where his laptop sat charging on a glass end table next to the leather couch. The blue glow that bathed the room as he powered up reminded him for a fleeting second of the blue-white glow of the cross and that spike of pain in his eyes. To his relief, the blue glow disappeared as the loading screen gave way to the desktop--a wallpaper image of the eclipsed sun. He smiled slightly. What delicious post-modern irony. Nosferatu of the digital age.
One new email, from the Ricardis. Five hours until sunrise and they wanted to meet, tonight. That didn't give him a lot of wiggle room before dawn, and dawn was something he never played around with.
But he didn't have much choice. The message had been sent to him only a half an hour ago and ended with a cryptic promise of profit, enough to make it worth his while. He'd heard that before. No mention of the hit they had ordered, though he'd no doubt be asked about the results. The middle sentence had a cell number for him to call.
"Will you be in for the rest of the night?" Xiesha asked from the doorway.
"No. I have to go out again."
She smiled, her dark eyes suddenly playful. "Be back before curfew ... master." Then she withdrew with a bow, shutting the door behind her.
It was a wonder he tolerated it. He guessed seventy-five years of service had earned her the right to be impudent.
He moved out onto the balcony and looked up at the cold stars gleaming overhead. The skyscrapers of Government Center and the Financial District rose off to the east. The Zakim Bridge spanned the Charles River like an illuminated sculpture with an electron flow of traffic streaming along its lanes. He could just see the dome of the State House, and beyond it, the dark swatches and bisecting lighted paths of Boston Common. The night breeze brought him a riot of sounds and scents. Car exhaust and the faintest whiff of garbage from far below. The young couple two apartments over were making love again. His next-door neighbor, the lady lawyer, was warming a bottle for her newborn, and he could hear the child's impatient whimpering. His mouth curved into a smile.
He dialed the cell number and waited.
"Yes?" a male voice said.
"This is Vance."
"I see. Thank you for calling. Mr. Ricardi would like to meet with you, if you have the time."
Very polite. Not exactly what he was used to. "I have some time."
"Excellent. He would be most pleased if you would meet with him at the Riddark Hotel restaurant. He will be holding a table."
He flipped the cell shut and slipped it into his pocket. He chose a suit. Armani. Gray, double breasted. It wouldn't do to show up in his bloodstained work clothes. Neither would it do to bring a weapon to a meeting with a boss.
He left through the front door for a change, the pistol still lying upon the counter.
He hardly needed it to kill people, anyway.