Anna Dressed in Blood / Page 53

Page 53

We drive across town, through the retail district and into the industrial. The scenery changes every few blocks, from trees ripe with golden and reddish foliage to streetlights and bright plastic signs, and finally to railroad tracks and stark, unlabeled cement buildings. Beside me, Will’s face is grim and not at all curious. He can’t wait to show me whatever it is that he’s got up his sleeve. He’s hoping that I’ll fail the test, that I’m full of smoke and mirrors and bullshit.

Behind me, on the other hand, Thomas looks like an excited beagle who doesn’t know he’s being taken to the vet. I have to admit that I’m sort of excited myself. There’ve been few opportunities to show off my work. I don’t know what I’m looking forward to more: impressing Thomas, or shoving Will’s smug expression down his throat. Of course, Will has to come through first.

The car slows almost to a crawl. Will is peering out at buildings to his left. Some look like warehouses, others like low-rent apartment complexes that haven’t been used for a while. All are the color of washed-out sandstone.

“There,” he says, and mutters, “I think,” under his breath. We park in an alley and get out together. Now that he’s here, Will seems a little less eager.

I take my athame out of my bag and sling it over my shoulder, then hand the bag off to Thomas and nod to Will to lead the way. He takes us around the front of the building and down two more, until we get to one that looks like an old apartment. There are residential-style windows at the top with paned glass and an unused window box. I peer along the side and see a fire escape with the ladder hanging down. I test the front door. I don’t know why it’s unlocked, but it is, which is good. We’d have cut a damned conspicuous picture if we’d had to shimmy up the side.

When we walk into the building, Will motions to head up the stairs. The place has that boarded-up smell, sour and unused, like too many different people have lived here and each left behind a lingering scent that doesn’t mix well with the others.

“So,” I say. “Isn’t anybody going to tell me what we’re about to walk into?”

Will doesn’t say anything. He just glances at Carmel, who dutifully speaks.

“About eight years ago, there was a hostage situation in the apartment upstairs. Some railroad worker went crazy, locked his wife and daughter in the bathroom and started waving a gun around. The cops got called in, and they sent up a hostage negotiator. It didn’t exactly go well.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“She means,” Will cuts in, “that the hostage negotiator got himself shot in the spine, right before the perp shot himself in the head.”

I try to digest this information and not make fun of Will for using the word “perp.”

“The wife and daughter got out okay,” Carmel says. She sounds nervous, but excited.

“So what’s the ghost story?” I ask. “Are you bringing me into an apartment with some trigger-happy railroad worker?”

“It isn’t the railroad worker,” Carmel answers. “It’s the cop. There’ve been reports of him in the building after he died. People have seen him through the windows and heard him talking to someone, trying to convince them not to do it. Once they say he even talked to a little boy down on the street. He hung his head out the window and yelled at him, told him to get out of there. Scared him half to death.”

“Could be just another urban legend,” Thomas says.

But in my experience, it usually isn’t. I don’t know what I’m going to find when we get up to this apartment. I don’t know if we’ll find anything, and if we do, I don’t know if I should kill him. After all, nobody mentioned the cop actually harming anybody, and it’s always been our practice to leave the safe ones alone, no matter how much they wail and rattle their chains.

Our practice. The athame is a heavy weight on my shoulder. All my life I’ve known this knife. I’ve watched the blade move through light and air, first in my father’s hand and then in my own. The power in it sings to me—it courses through my arm and into my chest. For seventeen years it has kept me safe and made me strong.

The blood tie, Gideon always told me. The blood of your ancestors forged this athame. Men of power, bled their warrior, to put the spirits down. The athame is your father’s, and it is yours, and you both belong to it.

That’s what he told me. Sometimes with fun hand gestures and a little bit of miming. The knife is mine, and I love it, like you would love any faithful hound dog. Men of power, whoever they were, put my ancestor’s blood—a warrior’s blood—into the blade. It puts the spirits down, but I don’t know where. Gideon and my father taught me never to ask.

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