By Robert Lee Beers
San Francisco’s fashion mavens are dying in odd and gruesome ways. It is up to Tony Mandolin to find out who is doing the killings, and he will need Landau Bain ‘s help, but Bain, the Bay Area’s most powerful wizard has been drinking
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“Whoever did the killing is in there, third floor,” Bain said, staring up at the building he’d led us to.
Once we got past the shops and the various forms of public houses, including some curiously intriguing bordellos, the size of the buildings became narrower and more closely packed together. The street traffic also thinned a bit and lost a good portion of its diversity. Once we entered an area where each house had its own yard, I only saw one predominate species.
Bain explained it, “The wealthier ones in each of the fae species like living among their own kind, even if it’s not in what they consider their homeland.”
This building was your basic 1800’s style estate house with manicured lawns, neatly trimmed hedges, trees and bushes and a walk leading up to a covered front porch large enough and wide enough to hold dances along, complete with band. Pillars at least 4 feet wide, braced the roof of the porch, which looked like it went all the way around the house.
The third floor Bain was pointing out was dead center on the top of the house, perched up there kind of like a cupola, but one a hell of a lot larger than normal. Each side had 13 windows and they were all lit.
I asked, “Why pick that spot?” I remembered something I was once told about the Caribbean practice of voodoo and how it was more of a religious offshoot of what the islanders thought Christianity was all about. It seems the missionaries weren’t actually believers themselves so the original message got a bit garbled. Part of the ritual mix took into itself a particularly nasty form of actual dark magic, the stuff that is used to take control over others like that compulsion spell that pissed off Bain. What the voodoo ritualists do is just form without substance, but what the actual practitioners do is downright scary. With just one item from the victim-to-be, they can, within a certain distance, do whatever they want to the poor sap by sending the magic through the effigy, the voodoo doll if you will. According to Bain, this is how the three folks Monahan was concerned about died.
“So,” Frankie said, “What do we do, walk up and knock on the door?”
“Jackson,” Bain replied, his eyes still on the cupola, “That’s a hell of an idea.”
♦ ♦ ♦
Surprisingly, or perhaps not so much, no guards or warriors came rushing at us as we push ed open the ornate wrought iron gate and walked up to the porch.
Bain turned around and looked the neighborhood over. There wasn’t much to see as a fog had sprung up, turning everything beyond the fence a soft gray. “Interesting,” he said.
Still facing the street he said, “Mandolin, put on your gloves and try the door.”
As I was fumbling on the gloves, thin leather dress types that still let me use things such as my gun, he barked, “Now!”
Lessons learned over several painful examples, I tried the door. It felt like the handle was trying to bite me through the glove. “Uh… Bain?” I asked.
He turned, nodded and said, “Thought so. Jackson, please remove that door from our sight.”
Frankie grinned, chuckling, “Stargate Atlantis. I knew he was a player.” Lifting his foot, he kicked out and the door, along with who or whatever was standing behind it disappeared into the room.
“Inside the house,” Bain snapped, “Hurry!”
I glanced over my shoulder and wished I hadn’t done that. The fog was rushing toward us. I got the impression it was hungry.
Right after Frankie and I ran through the door, Bain raised his staff and roared out a short, barking word. The opening in the door shimmered and then the fog slammed into it as if it was a pane of invisibly transparent glass.
“The ward covers the entire house,” he said, breathing as if he’d just finished a run. “We will have to deal with the one who called them, and I’ll bet it is the same power behind our killer.”
“Them?” I asked.
“Tony…” Frankie called softly, “This isn’t fog…”
I turned. The big guy was back at the door and peering closely at the gray mass pressed against the ward. I crossed the room and looked. Nope, whatever it was, it wasn’t fog. I’d seen, smelled, tasted and worn fog. Fog isn’t composed of tiny spidery things with wings and very sharp-looking pincers with serrations on them.
“What are they?” I asked.
“I don’t know the name and you don’t want to know,” Bain growled. “Come on, we have to get this done. Jackson, you take point.”
“Me?” Frankie squeaked.
Bain nodded, a single jerking motion as he pointed to the wide stair that led to the second floor, “You,” he said, “You’ll know why soon enough.”
Then Bain looked at me, “Mandolin, pull out your gun and have it ready.”
I did not argue. After seeing those… things trying to chew their way through the wizard’s ward, I was about as jumpy as a cannibal’s entrée a half hour before the dinner bell. After yanking back the slide to make sure a round was in the chamber, I cupped my left hand over my right and nodded to Bain.
He nodded back and said to Frankie, “Right. Okay Jackson, let’s do this.”
Frankie gulped, “Oh—my—god,” as he held his favorite head knocker. Then he took the stairs, one…step…at…a…time.
Halfway up, Bain muttered, “We don’t have all year, Jackson, hurry it up. The first two floors are empty.”
“Are you sure?” Right then I knew the big guy was petrified. You do not backtalk Bain, not if you enjoy a life without pain.
The wizard surprised me, “It’s all right, Jackson,” he soothed, “You’re not the target. You’ll understand when we get to the top.”
“Landau…” I had serious misgivings about this whole deal.
He held up the hand not holding the staff. “Patience, Mandolin. This is necessary.”
I swallowed, hoping the action would add something to my desert dry mouth and throat. Bain may have been at ease, but I was right there with Frankie. This, whatever it was, made hinky look downright normal.
Bain was right, the second floor was as empty as the first. I was thinking the wizard and I were going to be needing a nice long talk about things such as the need to know, and so on when I heard Frankie blurt, “Tawnie?”
We were standing on the landing leading up to the third-floor cupola. The big guy, at point was looking up into the entrance to the cupola when he spoke.
I asked, “What’d you say, Frankie?”
He looked at me and then pointed up the stairs, “That’s Tawnie, Tawnie Osawa. She was in my fashion design class at the community college a couple of years ago.”
The light went on. I said to Bain, “You knew all the time, didn’t you?”
He shook his head, “No, I didn’t, but there was this intense feeling that Jackson had to be the one to confront the focus. Now we both know why.”
I grunted and slid over to where I could look past the big guy and see into the cupola.
Standing at the edge. Looking down at us was a young oriental woman of average appearance. At first glance, she was nothing special. She could have been one of a thousand faces I passed while in Chinatown. The look she sent my way was not what was on her face when she faced Frankie. If it had just been me, I think I’d have wound up as dead as Alphonso.
Frankie asked, “Tawnie, what are you doing here?”
She turned back to him and the rage left her replaced with a sad compassion. “You can’t be here, Frankie. Not now, not with what I have to do.”
“What do you have to do that you can’t do back home?” Frankie asked, putting a hand on his chest. “Come with me, Tawnie. You know me, you know I’d never let you be hurt.”
She stared at Frankie for several seconds and then, when she answered, the voice was not hers. No, not at all, “Then why are you here with my enemy, little human?”
I doubt any human larynx could make that sort of sound, not without an effects pedal or two.
Frankie turned to look at me, “Toneee?”
I still held the five-seven ready, “I know, big guy. Believe me, I know.”
Bain stepped in and said, holding his staff before him, “You know who I am and who I represent dark power. You have one chance, let this vessel go and leave. If you refuse you will be destroyed. Along with your vessel if need be.”
Frankie gasped, “Did you hear—?”
I nodded. Things were not looking on the happy side for the big guy.
Bain repeated, “Refuse and you will be destroyed.”
Tawnie, actually… what was controlling Tawnie, glared down at Bain and sneered, “You would not dare…”
Bain’s staff began to glare, “So,” he growled, “you refuse.” He said as an aside, “I am truly sorry Jackson.”
Frankie shocked me to my toes with, “I understand. Goodbye Tawnie, I will miss you.”
As the staff’s head flared brighter and brighter, the girl at the top of the stairs flinched back, “You would not—“
“Leave now,” Bain snapped, “Or be destroyed for eternity.”
Tawnie collapsed, falling as if her strings were just cut.
Frankie rushed up the stairs yelling, “Bain, please stop!”
I stood there, wondering what in the hell I was supposed to do.
Bain chuckled, “I love it when a plan comes together.”
♦ ♦ ♦
“I was there, but I wasn’t there,” Tawnie said as we sat at a corner table in The Snug. Bain absolutely refused to let Monahan take her downtown. When Pat asked for an explanation, Bain suggested he get it while paying for the bar tab.
It took some arm pulling and a couple of suggestions I’ll probably regret to convince Manahan it was in the city’s interest to hear the man out.
Once we were seated and Bain had tossed back his first double like it was water, Monahan asked, and not at all patiently, “Somebody please tell me what has been going on, or I swear—“
Bain held up a palm as he signaled for a refill, “What you have here, Captain is a classic case of puppetry. This young woman was under complete control while the murders were being committed. She is no more guilty than the gun used by a killer.”
Pat looked at me and asked, “Huh?”
I nodded and then sipped some of Tiny’s draft Anchor Ale, “He’s right Pat. I saw it, this girl was being controlled. I heard the two voices. She’s not the killer.”
“Then who is?” Monahan almost cried as he asked.
“Captain Monahan,” Frankie said, placing both baseball mitt-sized hands onto the table, “Have you ever had a case where you knew the killer had been killed but the body was not recoverable in any circumstance?”
Monahan stared at the big guy as if someone’s dog had started speaking intelligently, “Ye…sss” he said, after a pause.
“Then why not write it up that way?” Frankie asked, “Because the killer was dealt with, and there is certainly no body to be found. I can assure you of that.”
Pat looked at both me and Bain and we both nodded.
“You will sign statements to that effect?” He asked as if grasping at the very last straw.
We nodded again.
Pat nodded back and then drained the last of his beer. He held up the glass and called out to Tiny, “Send me the bill.” And then he left.
Tiny came over and put our refills onto the table. “That is one intense man,” he murmured. Then he asked, “So tell me about this focus.”
Bain threw back his double and held up the glass. “Give me another. As to the focus, this girl,” he looked at Tawnie, who was suspiciously clingy to the big guy, “It was her anger at being passed over for a fashion award that triggered the whole thing. At some point she did something that allowed the entity to take over and, since she’d been fooling around with voodoo rituals, including playing with the dolls,” he gave Tawnie a hard look, “That was the avenue it used to begin making its sacrifices. If she’d been able to complete four more the thing would be free to take physical form on this plane and the death toll would have been in the millions.” He glanced up at Tiny, “Remember the 1200’s?”
Tiny grunted an assent.
Bain nodded back, “I think I’m going to have to deal with her once and for all. Too bad, she was once nice to be around.”
Frankie asked, “Why was that house empty?”
“Because it wasn’t a house,” Bain replied.
“Huh?” I said.
Bain turned his scowl on to me, “Think, Mandolin. Use your head for something besides a resting place for your hat. What shape was that place? It was different from every other one in the neighborhood, right?”
I thought back and then said, as I worked it out, “The second floor sat on the first, just a bit smaller, and the third smaller yet… kind of like a layer cake.”
“Or perhaps a pyramid?” Bain filled in the holes.
“A pyramid!’ Frankie exclaimed, “Of course.”
Tawnie said, “I don’t know how to thank you,” to Bain.
Bain shrugged, “Well, like I said to Coco one day, young lady, I said, don’t do fashion, be fashion. The advice worked for her.”
Frankie stared at Bain, his face resembling a fish starving for water. I ordered another round of drinks. It looked like it was going to be another very long night in San Francisco.