Staffel 5
Staffel 1

Blind Shrike Page 11

"Yes, ma'am. A very agreeable tuk-tuk. Very luxurious."

"There's no such thing as a luxurious tuk-tuk," said Shrike, pulling on her boots.

"Yes, ma'am."

The day was starting slow, but all right, thought Spyder. He remembered that Shrike had not wanted him to speak much. That request was working out fine since, once again, he didn't know what she and Primo were talking about other than they were all going somewhere and, happily, using a boat for part of the journey. He'd been on boats before, so at least he would recognize something.

When they'd dressed, Shrike ordered both Primo and Spyder out of the room. She stood in the doorway with the little book open flat on her hands and said a few words. As Shrike slapped the book closed, the bed and carpets were gone and room was back to its original dingy state. Even the dust hadn't been disturbed. Shrike tucked her cane under her elbow and took Spyder's arm. "Lead us to the boat, Primo."

"This way, please, ma'am." He hurried down the steps ahead of them as Spyder walked down with Shrike. Spyder couldn't tell if she was walking slowly because of the hangover or because she wanted to appear relaxed and indifferent to their voyage. In any case, it was pleasant to have her on his arm again. Though all through the walk, Spyder felt as if he were floating beside his body watching himself. He was so out of it, in fact, that Primo was handing them the boat tickets before he realized where they were.

"These are tickets for the Alcatraz tour. We're at Fisherman's Wharf," said Spyder.

"Yes, sir. You're very observant," said Primo brightly.

Spyder let it go since another thought had popped into his mind. "We're going to get in line for the boat. Please give us a moment alone, Primo."

"What the hell are you doing?" asked Shrike as Spyder pulled her away from the little man and toward their gate on the dock. "It's dangerous for us to be alone like this. He might think we're plotting against him or Madame Cinders."

"That wine we had last night. What was in it?" asked Spyder.

"Grapes. Spices. I don't know all the ingredients."

"Was it some kind of magic wine?"

"No. Not magic."

"Then chemical. My mind keeps floating and my memory feels like it's been pissed all over. And don't tell me this is normal for a hangover because I've had about a million, none like this."

"It's a special wine," said Shrike. "I didn't know you well last night. If it had gone badly I would have let you drink a little more. I would have had more, too. Then we would have both forgotten. That's all. It's just something I keep around for passing situations that might turn sour. No one needs that kind of thing cluttering up their head. You understand, don't you, pony boy?"

"Passing and sour, you know how to make morning-after sweet talk, don't you?"

"I didn't let you forget it all. I didn't forget, either. And it turned out to be better than passing. Kind of nice. If you could remember, you'd know that I stopped you from drinking too much."

"If I could remember," said Spyder.

"Don't worry," said Shrike. "When we do it again, I'll make sure it's memorable."

"Think you're going to get to kiss a commoner again?"

"I'm a girl with her own sword. That's your type, right?" Then she added quickly. "Don't kiss me now. Primo will be watching. Wave him over. Be careful from here on. No smiles and no talking. You're the quiet, deadly type."

"Easy for you to say. You don't have a hard-on."

"Shh!"

Fifteen

I LUV LA

They crossed San Francisco Bay to Alcatraz with a hundred other tourists and their children. Spyder hadn't been to the island in a couple of years. He'd always regarded the place as a bore and used the foggy crossing and general gloom that surrounded Alcatraz's abandoned maximum security prison as compelling seduction tools. It -usually worked, too.

Jenny had been the last woman he'd taken there and it felt odd to be going back again. He looked at Shrike. She was at the bow of the boat, looking fierce in the bay wind, and clearly enjoying the feel of it on her face. Primo stood a few steps behind her and from where Spyder stood on the opposite side of the deck, the little man looked even more ragged than he'd first thought. Not only was Primo's suit too small, but the seams and the fabric itself looked frayed and was clearly torn in places. Spyder wondered, if this Madame Cinders is such a big deal, can't she dress her help in something that doesn't look like it was copped from a dumpster behind the Salvation Army?

When they moored at Alcatraz, Spyder and his companions waited until most of the families had gone ashore before exiting the boat. A park ranger was giving the group a canned orientation lecture, explaining that they shouldn't damage the facilities and that donations were always welcome. From his previous visits, Spyder remembered that the place had originally been a military prison during the Civil War. He'd hated being there just a few hours. He couldn't imagine what being locked for years in that frigid, wind-beaten rock would be like. Alcatraz made him think of a nasty monster-movie castle looming over a doomed village. He wondered what Shrike's castle had been like. Nothing like this, he hoped. If, of course, she were telling the truth and there was a castle. It occurred to Spyder that she might have been telling him a tall tale. She'd slipped him a Mickey Finn because he didn't matter. Why should she bother telling him the truth about herself? She was beautiful, but he resolved to be more careful around her, then smiled to himself knowing how unlikely that was. He was into something whose depths he couldn't begin to guess. This was pretty much a hang-on-and-hope-you-get-to-wear-your-skin-home situation and that didn't leave much room for being aloof.

The ranger finished her spiel and the tourists split into smaller groups to explore the island. Spyder and Shrike followed Primo up the hill toward the prison cellblocks. As they climbed the steep grade, Spyder became aware that many of the tourists, especially the fathers in family groups, lumbered under the weight of demonic parasites that were attached to their bodies. Some of the parents bore scars from the Black Clerks. Spyder met one man's gaze-he still had his eyes-and the look the man gave Spyder was filled with such resigned despair that Spyder had to turn away. Out of the corner of his eye, Spyder watched the man herding his wife and children into the prison gift shop.

Past the cellblocks, on the edge of the island looking back toward San Francisco, were rusted, steel double doors. They were chained loosely together and with a little effort, Primo was able to push himself through the opening. Shrike, smaller, slid easily through the gap. Spyder had to take his leather jacket off to get through and even then there was a lot of grunting and dragging himself inside by inches. But he finally made it.

"I probably could have picked that lock," he said once he was inside the tunnel.

"Don't worry. I have a key," said Primo and walked away into the darkness.

"Then why…?" Shrike elbowed Spyder to remind him not to speak. He followed them, giving up trying to understand his companions' logic.

"This is one of the old animal pens," Primo told them eagerly. "The soldiers kept their horses here during the winter rains. You can still hear them whinnying if you put your ear to the wall during storms."

In the near, but never total, darkness, they climbed down ladders and through storm grates. They walked passages with floors of mud, passages lined with planks, cobblestone passages and some whose floors seemed to be some kind of soft, spongy metal that made Spyder want to run like a little kid. He was sure that there was no way all these passages were part of the prison complex. This was confirmed for Spyder as they moved through a rocky tunnel whose walls were lined with clay water pipes marked with inscriptions in Latin and Greek. Were they moving in time as well as space?, Spyder wondered.

They went through underground vaults and what looked like old sewer sluiceways. Occasionally, they would meet another group moving in the opposite direction. Some were dressed in rags, some looked like ordinary city dwellers, while others looked like escapees from some particularly mean and decrepit Renaissance Faire. The groups never acknowledged each other. Spyder got the impression that the passages weren't the safest place to be.

Up ahead, he noticed that Primo had slowed down and was nervously wringing his hands. At a watery inter-section that reminded Spyder of the high gothic sewers where Orson Welles met his bloody fate at the end of The Third Man, Primo stopped. The little man turned in slow circles, peering into the distance. He stared hard at the walls, as if looking for a message.

"What's wrong?" asked Shrike.

"Our transport isn't here. A tuk-tuk was supposed to be waiting."

"Did Madame Cinders pay them in advance?"

"Naturally."

"That was your mistake."

"No. She knows this family well. They are reliable. That's why she employs only them to transport her guests."

"Maybe they broke down," said Shrike. "If they were anywhere nearby, we could hear the damned racket from the tuk-tuk's engine."

"We shouldn't remain still too long. It's dangerous. I suppose we should start walking."

"That would be my suggestion," said Shrike. Spyder didn't like the idea of being in the passages any longer that they had to. He looked back the way they had come and saw things moving in the darkness. Golden eyes glinted and slid along the floor. Spyder caught up to Shrike and made sure not to fall behind again.

After what seemed like hours, they were moving through a passage lined with old red brick and dry rot -timbers. A cool breeze touched Spyder's face. Sand had piled in miniature dunes where the timbers met the floor.

"Oh dear," said Primo leaning over a broken machine in the tunnel ahead. Twisted wheels lay on the bricks. Spyder could already smell the stink coming from the wreck. Melted rubber, gasoline and burned flesh.

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