“What the hell do you want?” Neil said to the short man who had walked through the door to the rat trap Neil called an office. The newcomer was wearing a heavy coat with a wide brimmed hat pulled down to hide his face. Neil new him; his name was Van Calhoon and he wasn’t somebody you did business with if there was any way you could help it.
“No need to be rude, friend.” Van took his coat and hat off with a small flourish and hung them on the coat rack by the door. The dark coat was still dripping from a trip through the torrential downpour that had started three days ago and showed no signs of stopping.
“We ain’t friends Van, and I can be rude as I want in my own damned office,” Neil said.
Unfazed, Van sat down in the chair across from Neil’s desk wearing a smile. It was the smile of a man who knew he had the winning hand. It was a face that made Neil want to light the cigarette he had been sucking on for the last hour. He’d promised June that he had stopped smoking, and he was trying his best, but it still felt good to have a cigarette in his mouth even if it wasn’t burning.
“What I want, my surly friend, is to help you.”
Neil grunted and tossed his cigarette in the trash. He had three packs stuffed in the back of a drawer in his desk if he didn’t like what he was about to hear. “I can’t afford your help, and I don’t want it. So if you can see yourself out, I’m busy.”
“Busy,” Van pursed his lips, “Should I let Mr. Pearson know that you’re too busy then, Neil?”
“Shit,” Neil muttered, reaching for a fresh cigarette, “Fine, talk fast.”
“Of course. I can see you are very busy today. Mr. Pearson needs someone found and I suggested you might be able to find this person. You would, of course, be well compensated for your time.”
“Why me? Pearson owns half the cops in Chicago. They can find anybody he wants a hell of a lot easier than I can.”
Van nodded, his bald head reflecting neon light from the bar across the street, “Yes, yes. The police would usually be most helpful. But they are not discrete, you understand. You can not trust a man who will sell himself to the highest bidder. You’re a man of integrity; you can be trusted in this matter. Discretion is of great value to a man like Mr. Pearson.”
“If I’m a man of integrity, why would I help your boss find anybody? Somebody who doesn’t want you lot finding them probably has a good reason to stay hidden.”
“Speak to Mr. Pearson, that is all I ask. I think you will choose to help us,” Van stood up as he spoke, making it clear he wasn’t expecting an argument.
He wanted to tell Van to leave. When he’d been a cop, he had learned a hard lesson about getting involved with crime families, and it wasn’t one he wanted to risk repeating. Turning down the job could go worse for him than taking it, and the only way to find out was to meet with the city’s most dangerous man. Neil jerked open the drawer next to his desk and grabbed the .38 S&W revolver he kept there. To his credit, Van didn’t twitch at the sight of the gun, and he didn’t protest when Neil shoved it into the holster attached to his belt. The weight of the gun was comforting, but Neil knew that the sense of security it gave him was an illusion. It was up to Pearson whether or not he walked away.
“Let’s get this over with,” Neil said. The desk drawer stood open, and Neil hesitated before reaching back inside to grab a pack of off-brand cigarettes. June would kill him, assuming she got the chance, “Hope you don’t think I’m walking in this shit, though.”
Outside the door to Neil’s office two black-suited goons were waiting for them, “Nothing to worry about,” Van said as he exited the office, “There’s a car waiting outside.”
“Right. And the gorillas?”
“Insurance, in case you needed more convincing,” Van said with a smirk. The little man loved a chance to throw his wait around, and nobody said no to Pearson. The car outside was brand new, a black ’55 Crown Victoria. It wasn’t the kind of car you saw much in South Chicago, and when you did you knew not to mess with the guys inside. Neil’s thinning hair was soaked in the short walk to the curb, sending water cascading down the open neck of his coat.
“This keeps up, the rats are gonna have to learn to swim,” Van quipped once they were safe inside the car.
“This keeps up, we all might,” Neil said. There was standing water on most the streets now, pretty soon cars wouldn’t be making it anywhere., “What’s so important your boss wants to meet in this.”
Van glanced at the two men sitting up front and shook his head, “Mr. Pearson will explain everything, my friend.”
Neil just grunted and lit up another cigarette; at this rate he’d need to run to the store by midnight. The smooth burn of tobacco rushing into his lungs took Neil’s mind off the rain outside and the small man sitting next to him. Pearson lived in what Neil could only think of as a small mansion fifteen minutes outside Chicago. The car pulled up to the front door beneath a large covered entry that had greeted senators, police chiefs, and movie stars all alike. It greeted Neil with the same glitz, a polished mahogany door opening to a view of the main hall. It was an old Chicago home dating back to before the fire and filled with all the trappings of wealth that it took to make a good impression with Chicago’s elite. The goons closed the door behind him and took up spots on each side. Somehow, the gun at his side didn’t bring Neil any comfort. If it came down to bullets, he wasn’t walking out.
Van lead him to a small room to one side of the large staircase in the center of the main hall. Inside a well-dressed man was reclining in an oversized red leather chair. A fireplace offered an excess of warmth despite the chilly night. When the man, Pearson at a guess, motioned him to sit Neal collapsed into the seat across from him, soaking up the warmth. If he was going to die, at least it wouldn’t be cold and soaked to the bone.
“Detective Malone, I’m glad you decided to join us,” Pearson said and offered a toothy smile. His voice was smooth silk, the practiced voice of a professional liar, or a career politician.
“It’s just Neil. They don’t let you keep the title when they drum you out,” he said.
“Of course. But they do let you keep the gun, I see.”
Neil ran a finger along the grip of the revolver. The wood was worn smooth from long years on the firing lane though it hadn’t seen much use in recent years. “You didn’t call me out here in the middle of a flood to talk about my bad career choices.”
“I apologize for the short notice. It’s my daughter.” Pearson stood up, facing the fire with closed eyes, “I understand that you have a daughter?”
Neil felt a familiar itch in his throat, an old thirst that talking about his daughter always brought back, “So your cop buddies looked into me, is that why I’m here?”
“Children are a joy, Detective. I was sorry to hear about your family; that must have been devastating. Italian dogs, they talk about honor and family, right up until someone gets in their way,” there was an edge to Pearson’s voice when he talked about the Italians, rivals and competitors in his line of work, that hinted at the man who made his fortune pushing drugs and women. “A man would do anything to protect his children.”
“Anything,” Neil agreed and leaned back in the overstuffed chair.
“Someone has taken my daughter,” Pearson looked away from the flames, and Neil could feel that he was weighing his reaction.
“So pay them what they’re asking. You don’t need me for that.”
“If he wanted money, I wouldn’t need you to start with,” Pearson’s voice came out in a growl. Out of the corner of his eye, Neil could see Van shifting closer from his spot by the door, Pearson saw it too. “Van, wait outside with the boys.”
The small man’s face fell, “Are you sure you should be alone with him Mr. Pearson?” when Pearson nodded a reply Van went on, “At least let me take his piece.”
“He’s not going to shoot me,” he offered Neil a smile, “Are you Detective?”
“I haven’t decided yet.” Neil clamped his teeth down the moment the words were out. He wasn’t in a position to make threats. To his relief, Pearson laughed and sent Van scurrying off with a jerk of his head.
“I see the things they say about you are true. That’s good, I need a man I can trust right now.”
“You said they don’t want money. Why’d they take the girl, revenge?” Neil changed the subject. Pearson’s friends didn’t fair much better than his enemies. With a little luck after his business with Pearson ended; he would forget Neil existed.
Turning back to the fire, Pearson took a breath. The slight tremor in the man’s well-manicured hands didn’t touch his voice, but Neil knew the sound of a man hiding his fear. “Do you believe in magic, Detective?”
Neil considered the question a long time before answering, the crackle of logs in the flames and the patter of rain outside were the only sounds that broke up the silence. “No Mr. Pearson, I don’t believe I do.”
“The man who has my daughter does.”
“And what does a man like that want with your daughter?”
“I made a lot of deals to get where I am today. I have made a lot of enemies, and I’ve survived. The man who has my daughter helped me get where I am, a long time ago. I made him a promise, and he’s come to collect on my debts,” Pearson had turned to face him, but his eyes kept shifting away from Neil’s gaze, working to look anywhere but at the man he was asking for help.
“You promised him your daughter? You’re a son of a bitch Pearson, what could have been worth that?”
Pearson’s eyes locked onto him and Neil regretted his choice of words for the second time. “I was young, brash. I didn’t think I’d live long enough to be a father back then, and I didn’t understand what it would mean to me. She’s only twelve years old Detective; she shouldn’t be any part of this. I thought you’d understand that sometimes our work can put the people we love at risk.”
“You still haven’t said what he gave you.”
“I don’t know his name,” Pearson said, his eyes sliding away from Neil’s gaze again now that the heat had left his voice, “I was introduced to him as ‘The Monk’, and that’s all anyone ever called him. He’s Russian; I can tell you that much. He said that he could give me anything. Fame, power, fortune. All I had to do was make a promise. Six months after I said yes I was making back room deals with the mayor. I don’t know how he did it, and I never asked. After that, he disappeared and I didn’t hear from him for fourteen years. Yesterday he showed up on my doorstep, asking for his payment. I told him to go to hell.”
“But he took her anyway. Got past all your guards and your fancy gates and walked off with the girl,” Neil finished the story.
“He killed three of my men on the way out. I want that bastard dead.”
“But you can’t find him, and if word gets out that you couldn’t protect your daughter in your own house…” Neil let the sentence hang in the air. To a man like Pearson reputation was everything. The other families would come sniffing around like hounds after a wounded buck if they got the idea that Pearson was vulnerable. Neil had seen gang wars when he was on the force, a lot of innocent people tended to get caught in the crossfire.
“Bring her home to me Detective. And if you have to put a bullet in The Monk in the process, I can promise you the police will not ask any questions.”
“I’m not going to kill anybody for you Pearson.”
“No, I didn’t think you would. Just keep her safe, that’s all I ask,” Pearson reached into his jacket and pulled out a brown paper envelope, “This should more than cover your expenses.”
Neil stood up, straightening his coat as he did. He was dry and warm now, and if he was lucky he’d be able to stay that way the rest of the night. “Keep your blood money. I don’t work for guys like you. Van could have told you that.”
“But you will find her,” Pearson said.
Neil nodded, heading for the door as he did. “I’ll find her. Not because it’s you asking, and not because you could have me killed and nobody would bat an eye. I’ll find her because a kid shouldn’t have to pay for her father’s mistakes.”
Pearson said something else that Neil couldn’t make out. He was already on his way to the car.
The sign above the green door was unadorned, with one word printed in bold red letters. Kelly’s. During prohibition, it had been a speakeasy catering to lowlifes and boozers. When that come to an end, the bar found other reasons to want to keep the cops from sniffing around.
At the door, a large slab of a man patted Neil down. He didn’t find anything, trying to bring a gun into Kelly’s was a good way to end up in a dumpster. Fragrant smoke enveloped Neil when he walked inside, cigar smoke and Turkish cigarettes. All around him, men in fine suits drank expensive whiskey and everyone with a pretty girl to keep him company. On the stage, a woman swung around a metal pole leaving nothing to the imagination. Neil tried his best to keep his mind on the job even as two young women offered to keep him company. He declined with a smile and headed for the bar, on a detective’s pay he couldn’t afford their company.
Bottles of brown and green lined the counter behind the bar, old friends that wanted to know why Neil never visited anymore. He ignored them too. Next to them were the bottles that had brought him to Kelly’s, clear bottles shining like torches from light reflected in a mirror behind the bar. Vodka. Kelly’s had always catered to an Irish crowd, but an old friend had tipped him off to a few new items in stock. If the Russians were moving into Kelly’s, then O’Bannon was starting to slip. Rumor had it the old man was sick, whether it was too much whiskey or too many women no one could say. Either way, it looked like it was starting to get in the way of protecting his business.
“What’ll it be pal?” the bartender asked.
“Information,” Neil said, “I’m looking for a Russian.”
“We got girls, and we got booze. What we don’t got is information,” he said.
“But you do have Russians,” Neil said with a nod toward the bottles of vodka.
“People come in, they order a drink, they cozy up with a girl. I don’t get their life story,” the bartender glanced around at the bar and walked away. A smart man who knew when to keep his mouth shut was good for customers and bad for Neil.
“You got a light?” a woman’s voice said next to him.
“Sure,” Neil said, pulling out his lighter and the half empty pack of Lucky Strikes. The woman was a tall brunette with a pretty face and a body that was all too visible through the clinging silks she wore.
“Thanks handsome,” she said after he had lit the slim cigarette sticking from the corner of her red lips.
“I’m not looking for company,” he said and puffed on his cigarette.
She laughed. It was a fake laugh, too loud and too sudden to be a real response to anything he’d said, “Well pretend you do. Smile, the boys always smile for me.”
Neil turned his eyes toward the mirror behind the bar. Three men in black suits sat with a pair of pretty blonde girls; they weren’t even trying to hide the fact they were watching him. Neil forced a smile on his face and turned his full attention to the woman in silk.
“What do they want?”
“You think they wouldn’t notice you asking questions hon?”
“And they sent you to figure out why?” He asked, looking her over like a man appreciating the view.
“They don’t need the girls to get answers for them; they have their own way of doing that. You want to know about Russians?” She placed her hand on his shoulder, leaning in like a lover whispering secrets, “Come with me.”
Neil put his arm around her waist and let her lead him upstairs. What had probably been built as a loft for the bar’s owner had been converted into small private rooms. The woman led him into the first room at the top of the stairs and locked the door behind her.
“You are here about The Monk.” It wasn’t a question.
“That ain’t supposed to be common knowledge.”
“Viktor knows about Pearson’s daughter, and Viktor’s boys talk too much when they drink,” she said, “When you came asking about Russians, I thought you might be looking for her.”
Neil sighed. “So much for Pearson’s secret search. Viktor, huh? Don’t know the name, guess I’m out of the loop. So if you’re working with Viktor’s gang, why are you talking to me?”
“My family owes The Monk a debt. One that might disappear if something happened to him,” she said.
“I’m not here to kill anybody. And if you don’t mind me asking, what kind of debt? No offense, but what do you have to offer a man who makes deals with the likes of Pearson?”
“The Monk makes many deals, with people from all stations. Sometimes he asks much, sometimes he demands what seems like very little. Few say no to him,” her eyes were wet.
The door burst open with the sharp crack of splintered wood, and two large dark haired men burst into the small room. Like the bouncer, they towered over Neil wearing scowls. Neil’s heart dropped at the sight of the small black Luger clenched in one giant fist.
“You come with us,” one of the men said to Neil in a thick Russian accent, “And you, girl, get back to work.”
The men could have been brothers with their dark hair and scar covered trunk-like arms. Each one had a small compass tattoo on the soft skin between thumb and the forefinger of their right hands. Neil slumped his shoulders and pulled his hat down over his eyes, shrinking inward to hide his bulk beneath the heavy raincoat he wore. “Buddy, I’m just trying to spend some time with a pretty lady, I don’t want no trouble.”
“Too bad,” the other one responded. The unarmed man stepped forward, moving toward Neil to grab him. It was just enough to put him in the way of his friend’s gun. Neil struck out, slamming a clenched fist into the big man’s nose. Before the Russian could respond, he shoved the injured Russian, who had clasped a hand to his face to stem the sudden gush of blood, into his friend. The sound of the Luger going off in the small room was like a crack of thunder and Neil heard the vase on the small dresser shatter as a bullet passed through it. He charged forward like a bull while the two men tried to untangle themselves, pushing them out the door. Gravity took over from there. The two men, arms tangled, fell sideways and tumbled down the stairs to the floor below. The sound of screaming told him their sudden fall hadn’t gone unnoticed.
“I need another way out,” he said to the woman inside, “Now.”
“There’s a window down the hall, opposite the stairs. It has a fire escape.”
“Perfect. The name’s Neil Malone, come by my office on 83rd if you still want to talk, I’ll be there late,” Neil grabbed his hat from the ground where it had fallen in the scuffle and jogged down the short corridor to the open window. As soon as he dropped off the fire escape and into the streets he hunkered down, catching his breath. Neil knew he was better off hiding in the dark than trying to outrun anybody in the shape he was in.
Back at his office Neil poured himself a glass of milk from the refrigerator he kept in back. It was a trick he learned when he was getting sober, every time he wanted to pour a scotch he’d have milk instead. It didn’t kill the urge, but it blunted it just a little. He called June and let her know he’d be home late again and not to wait up then he got to work. The file on his desk was thin, all he’d learned in the past two days of searching was that The Monk hadn’t left town yet, but not why. No real name, no other alias, and not a hint to where he was keeping the girl. The only reason he even knew The Monk was still in town was because Van had dropped by and told him. Van wouldn’t say how he knew, only that he was sure of it.
The night stretched on, and Neil was closing up the office when the tale-tell sound of a woman’s heels on the sidewalk outside his window made him stop. The woman that walked into his office looked different without the heavy makeup she had on at the club. She was wearing a black dress and tall sexy heels that had warned him she was coming, but she moved just like any other woman with a purpose. It was clear that the swaying walk and coy looks were all just part of the act when she was entertaining customers.
“I’m glad you decided to show miss…” Neil said, leading her into his office.
“Call me Kira, please Mr. Malone,” the woman said. She sat down in the cheap wooden chair across from Neil’s desk.
“Kira, thanks for helping with this. I hope I didn’t get you in any trouble.”
“No trouble. Alexei and Pasha will not tell Viktor that they were injured by an American detective, and I made sure no one followed me tonight,” she said. The accent was thicker than it had been in the club, “What do you want to know about the Monk.”
“Anything you can tell me. You know about Pearson’s daughter; that he has her. I’m trying to get her back.”
“A brave man. Or a fool. The Monk is koldun. No man steals away his prizes.”
“Koldun,” he repeated. The word reminded him of something half buried by long years, “It means…warlock, right?”
“You speak Russian, Mr. Malone?”
“Not much,” he said, “I was stationed in Berlin after the war. I taught a couple of Russian guards to play poker and they taught me a little bit of the language.”
“A war hero.” She pursed her lips.
“We weren’t trying to be heroes miss; I was just trying not to get my head shot off.” He shifted in his seat. “So you’re telling me this monk character is a magic man? Why? If you’re looking to scare me off, you’ll have to come up with something better than that.”
“That’s not my intent, Mr. Malone. If you want to find The Monk I can tell you where he will be, and when. But I could not send you to face him without a warning.”
“Before I take any tips from you, I’m gonna need more information. For all I know you’re planning to send me into a trap for your friend Viktor.”
Kira’s eyes widened, and her shoulders pulled up, raising the hem of her dress above her crossed knees. Neil thought she was going to spit at him. “Viktor is no friend of mine.”
“You’re on a first-name basis with his men,” he pointed out.
“His men always pay, and they are no crueler than the pigs your American mob bosses employ. Bratva men who cause trouble are disciplined, harshly,” she growled.
“All the same sweetheart, why don’t you tell me why you’re putting your neck on the line coming to me with this. I already told you I’m not killing anyone, so I can’t help you with whatever you owe him.”
“My father was a farmer, a proud man who worked hard and fed his family with the fruits of his labor. He was not a wealthy man, but he had land. It was his, passed down from his father. Then the communists came and they told my father the land was no longer his. It belonged to the people. He went from being a free man to a tool of the state, much to his shame. That was when The Monk came to us. I was only a little girl, but I remember his eyes when he looked at my sister. Like staring into the heart of a Siberian winter.”
“Your father made a deal,” Neil chimed in when Kira fell silent.
“He was a proud fool, and he paid a fool’s price. The Monk promised to make the communist party go away. That my father could keep his land and his freedom for a small price. Girls, they do not have much worth on a farm you know. My father traded my sister, his oldest daughter, for his freedom.”
“And you think you could free your sister if The Monk wound up dead?”
“I do not even know where to find her, or why that creature wanted her. If he dies, if such a thing can even be killed, perhaps she will be free. I am not sure. It was a slim hope.”
Neil leaned back and considered her story. It was touching, the right mix of tragedy and realism. The wet sheen in her eyes convinced him, though. “So tell me, how do I find this warlock?”
“Tomorrow night there will be a party for The Monk. Viktor owns a home outside Chicago.”
A tall fence surrounded the house, just the way Kira had described it. Wrought iron ended in sharp spikes pointing up toward the sky, discouraging would-be fence-hoppers and thieves. Loud music played from the open windows of the ballroom where, Neil had been told, a party in The Monk’s honor was just getting started. The light pouring from the large downstairs windows didn’t reach the fence, and Neil hid in the depths of the shadows created by a large oak tree. Men with guns patrolled the front of the house but, as promised, the gate by the kitchen was unguarded and unlocked.
Three steps lead up to the service door in the back. The plain brown door to the kitchen showed none of the elegance of the house’s main entrance. Leaning against the wood Neil put his ear to the door expecting to hear the bustle of a kitchen in full swing. Silence. Kira had said that Viktor didn’t trust servants and had them all cleared out before the guests arrived. So far her information was good. Neil walked into the gleaming kitchen with caution, but the noise of the music playing one room over drowned out any sounds he might make. The girl would be upstairs; the plan was to get her and leave while The Monk was entertaining guests and drinking wine.
More stairs, leading from the kitchen to a narrow hallway built for servants carrying food. There were a dozen rooms upstairs, and Neil was surprised when he found the girl on the first try. Not in a bedroom, tied up or drugged as he’d expected, but in a small library instead. Old books bound in leather with worn spines lined the walls, and the smell of dusty tomes filled the air. The girl, wearing a simple dress of pure white, lay unconscious on a black cloth with gold trim. Candles arranged around the girl provided the room’s only source of light.
“The girl is not harmed,” a voice said from the shadows. The voice was cool and tinted by a Russian accent that had almost faded away. “She is of great value to me.”
The man who stepped into the light looked down at the girl with a hint of a smile touching his lips. The well-tailored suit he wore shone with reflected firelight and his eyes seemed to burn with their own flame. Thick black hair fell over one side of his face, half concealing a scar that ran from chin to hairline.
“I’m getting her out of here,” Neil slid the S&W from its resting place at its hip. The weight of the long barrel and the feel of the well-worn grip felt good in his hands, “It’s been a long time since I shot anybody, but I’m not leaving without her.”
“Come now, Mr. Malone. We are businessmen.” The Monk’s eyes flicked to the side, looking over Neil’s shoulder, “I trust we can come to an agreement.”
Neil turned on his heel, holding his gun steady with both hands. The two men in the doorway were, large, familiar hulking figures silhouetted by the hallway lights. “Don’t take another step,” Neil said.
“Restrain him,” the well-dressed Russian man ordered.
One of the figures moved forward, a bright flash of metal appeared in his hand as he came. Neil’s finger was hovering over the trigger. He gritted his teeth and let out a breath the way he had been taught years ago, and he squeezed. The recoil was barely noticeable, a shudder that rippled up his arms and nudged the barrel of the gun up. Without taking the time to think he squeezed off two more shots. Every bullet hit its mark center mass, taking the big man in the chest. A knife clattered to the floor as the wounded man staggered backward.
When he didn’t fall Neil raised his gun, pointing it at the man’s head. “Body armor, huh?”
“Before you waste any more ammunition Detective, you may want to wait just a moment,” The Monk said behind him, “Alexei, show him.”
Alexei unbuttoned his shirt with deft fingers to reveal a chest of chiseled stone with three neat holes in it. The bullets had entered in a tight circle through his chest and should have gone through his heart. The wounds didn’t bleed, and they looked scorched where the bullets had pierced the flesh. Neil stepped back, bumping into the table and raised a hand to his head. Neil had never hallucinated, not during the worst of his withdrawals, when the sweats had left him drenched and his hands were shaking so bad he couldn’t hold a fork. Hallucinations were the only explanation he could wrap his mind around at that moment. The other one, the word Pearson had used when they met two days prior, forced its way out of his mouth anyway. “Magic.”
“Magic is a spectacle put on for the entertainment of fools,” The Monk said, “What I offer is something far greater. My word.”
Alexei stepped back, taking up a place by the door across from his counterpart. Neil holstered his gun; hands steady from years of practice despite the fear burrowing into the pit of his stomach and turned toward the warlock. “What the hell are you?”
“A man of means Mister Malone, a man who can offer you anything you desire. But, if it is a name you seek, I have worn many. The Monk is an old moniker, a bastardization of a time when I was known as Grigori Rasputin. It was not the first name I wore, but it will suffice.”
“Rasputin,” Neil grasped the edge of the table, “You’re dead.”
“I have been told. But that is neither here nor there. For now, let us do business as gentlemen. Come, come. Sit,” The Monk motioned to a pair of chairs sitting by an unlit fireplace, “I would speak with you.”
“I’ll stand,” Neil answered.
“As you wish. You have many questions, you will have a chance to ask them, I promise,” he said, “but first you may wish to hear my offer.” When Neil nodded, he went on. “I know much of you detective. I would offer this. Accept my terms and I will return your daughter to you.”
“If you know so much about me, you know that’s something you can’t promise,” Neil said.
“I can offer you her return, much as I promised Alexei and Pasha that they would not be harmed again. They are brothers who came to me before being sent to fight the Persians two centuries ago. They offered me their eternal service if I would protect them in battle. They have held up their end of the bargain, as have I.”
In and out. The simple act of breathing could dull the edge of fear that threatened to cut Neil off from his sanity. “Either you’re mad, or you’re the greatest snake-oil salesman in history. What is it you want from me?”
“Two things, small things Mr. Malone,” The Monk’s eyes flashed toward the holster at Neil’s hip, “The first is your father’s gun.”
“Why the hell do you want this old thing? Pearson could get you crates of weapons, and I’m guessing Viktor wouldn’t have too much trouble with it either.”
“My reasons are my own; I do not make a habit of explaining why things are valuable to me.”
Neil grunted and placed the old revolver on the table in front of him, “What else?”
“Leave the girl to me. Tell Pearson I had already left the country by the time you tracked me down, that I am back in the Motherland and out of reach. Tell him anything you like, for I will be out of his reach by the time you speak to him again.”
Neil’s eyes surveyed the room; the two men would be on him in a second if he said no. It was all too much. Sorcery, resurrection, men who could take a bullet to the chest and not flinch. He needed time to think. “Why aren’t you? You could have left the night you got the girl, why are you still here?”
“You haven’t figured it out, detective? When I heard you were going to be looking for me, how could I resist introducing myself?”
“Alexei…the goons at the bar,” Neil glanced behind him, “Kira said they were Viktor’s.”
“Yes, the girl was happy to accept my terms. She got what she wanted, and she delivered you to me. It was an equitable bargain.”
“Son of a bitch. How did you get to her, was it her sister?”
“I don’t discuss the details of my arrangements with others, but I can assure you that the woman you speak of has no sister. Indeed, no family of any sort anymore. She is one of Stalin’s many war orphans and a refreshingly ambitious young woman.”
“Fine. Why stay in town for me? Why make a deal with me?”
“I have an interest in people. I used to make deals for my own profit, but that became tiresome some time ago. Now I seek something more out of my arrangements. I offer the impossible Mr. Malone. In return, I ask for something of equal valuable. Something irreplaceable. I ask men to give me a piece of their soul in return for my gifts.”
“I can always get another gun,” Neil said.
“The gun will serve another purpose entirely. What I want to see is how far a good man will go to get back one who was so suddenly ripped from his life.”
“I give up the girl and the gun, and you give me back my baby girl,” Neil’s voice came out with a sandpaper rasp, his throat felt raw. The memory of finding his daughter’s body still woke him up at night; the booze had been the only thing that let him rest undisturbed.
“Yes. Don’t worry about this child, I assure you her father was more than happy to trade her in return for his fortune. The pain of her loss is no more than he deserves.”
Neil nodded, thinking about all the families Pearson had torn apart. The Monk was right, Pearson deserved to suffer. All of the crime families did. The girl laying in front of him had chestnut curls and pale skin, she looked almost dead in the candlelight, like a child victim laid out for a wake. Neil clenched the edge of the table until his knuckles made a loud pop. The Monk watched in silence, not shifting his eyes away from the detective as if he could read Neil’s mind by concentrating hard enough. For all Neil knew, he could.
“No deal,” the detective said at last.
“You’d choose this child over your own?”
“You’re a sick bastard; I’ll give you that. I don’t know if there’s magic here; I don’t know if you can deliver your promise…”
The Monk interrupted, “I assure you, I can.”
“And I don’t care,” Neil kept going, “I went along with Van, I listened to Pearson, I trusted Kira. I’m just about fed up making deals with you sadistic sons of bitches. She’s a child, an innocent girl. She isn’t going to be punished just for being that jackass’ kid.”
“If you won’t reconsider…” Neil shook his head before the Monk could finish the thought. “That is most unfortunate Mr. Malone. I have looked into the souls of many men in my life. You are better than most, though not so good that I thought you incorruptible. I had believed the return of your daughter would be worth any cost.”
“Five minutes. Five more minutes with my family would be worth my life,” Neil said, “But this? Trading kids like cigarettes for favors? How the hell could I look at myself in a mirror after that? How could I look into my daughter’s eyes knowing what it cost? Five minutes would mean the world to me, but not this way.”
“It seems I underestimated you,” The Monk nodded to the men standing behind Neil.
Neil went for the gun. His hands were shaking now, the adrenaline of what was about to happen pumped through his veins and every muscle tensed in anticipation. Alexei was almost on him when Neil shoved the gun in his face.
“That will not do you any good,” The Monk said, “You can not hurt them.”
“I kind of figured that out,” Alexei was relaxed, facing the gun without fear. Neil had turned to face the big Russian; the monk was on his right. Neil could see the Monk out of the corner of his eye, a curved smile and dark eyes watching with interest, waiting to see if he would shoot or try to talk his way out. “When I got here I told you it's been a long time since I shot anybody.”
“Did I mention that I used to be pretty good at it?”
Neil’s gun was inches from the point of Alexei’s nose. The big man's eyes took in the barrel without blinking. “I used to be pretty good at it.” Everything after that happened fast. Alexei reached out to take the gun away at the same time Neil swung his arm out pointing the barrel to the right and behind him. The Monk jerked back, the smile slipping from his face as the gun went off. One shot, a loud bang followed by the acrid scent of gunpowder. The big Russian fell into Neil knocking him off his feet. A sharp crack and a dazzling pain followed the feeling of Alexei’s weight crashing into his gut. The big man didn’t move, and with an effort, Neil shoved him off. When he stood up Alexei’s eyes were glassed over, and his skin was mottled and gray.
On the other side of the table, The Monk’s expensive leather shoes were pointed into the air. Black ichor, unlike any blood Neil had ever seen, dribbled from a neat hole in The Monk’s forehead. By the door, the other Russian collapsed. As dead as his brother before he even hit the ground. Neil tried not to think about the how and why. On the table, the girl stirred coming out of her dream with an uneasy groan.
“It’s okay honey; we’re gonna get you home.”
On his way out the door, Neil tipped over the candles that had made up the girl’s altar. The black cloth covering the table went up in a blaze and the rug underneath caught fire almost as fast. “Just in case,” He said as the flames lapped at the warlock’s legs.