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By The Sword
A Repairman Jack Novel
By F. Paul Wilson
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2008 F. Paul Wilson
All rights reserved.
They weren't making muggers like they used to.
After trolling for about an hour through the unseasonably warm May night, here was the second he'd found — or rather had found him. Jack was wearing a Hard Rock Cafe sweatshirt, acid-washed jeans, and his I [love] New York visor. The compleat tourist. A piece of raw steak dangling before a hungry wolf.
When he'd spotted the guy tailing him, he'd wandered off the pavement and down into this leafy glade. Off to his right the mercury-vapor glow from Central Park West backlit the trees. Over his assailant's shoulder he could make out the year-round Christmas lights on the trees that flanked the Tavern on the Green.
Jack studied the guy facing him. A hulking figure in the shadows, maybe twenty-five, about six foot, pushing two hundred pounds, giving him an inch and thirty pounds on Jack. He had stringy brown hair bleached blond on top, all combed to the side so it hung over his right eye; the left side of his head above the ear and below the part had been buzzcut down to the scalp — the Flock of Seagulls guy after a run-in with a lawn mower. Pale, pimply skin and a skull dangling on a chain from his left ear. Black boots, baggy black pants, black Polio T-shirt, fingerless black leather gloves, one of which was wrapped around the handle of a big Special Forces knife, the point angled toward Jack's belly.
"You talking to me, Rambo?" Jack said.
"Yeah." The guy's voice was nasal. He twitched and sniffed, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. "I'm talkin a you. See anybody else here?"
Jack glanced around. "No. I guess if there were, you wouldn't have stopped me."
"Gimme your wallet."
Jack looked him in the eye. This was the part he liked.
The guy jerked back as if he'd been slapped, then stared at Jack, obviously unsure of how to take that.
"What you say?"
"I said no. En-oh. What's the matter? You never heard that word before?"
His voice rose. "You crazy? Gimme your wallet or I cut you. You wanna get cut?"
"No. Don't want to get cut."
"Give it or I stab you in the uterus."
Fighting a laugh, Jack said, "Wouldn't want that." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of cash. "I left my wallet home. Will this do?"
The guy's eyes all but bulged. His free hand darted out.
Jack shoved it back into his pocket.
"You crazy fucker —!"
As he lunged at Jack, jabbing the blade point at his belly, Jack spun away, giving him plenty of room to miss. Not that he was worried about any surprises. Most of his type had wasted muscles and sluggish reflexes. But you had to respect that saw-toothed blade. A mean sucker.
The guy made a clumsy turn and came back, slashing face-high this time. Jack ducked, grabbed the wrist behind the knife as it went by, got a two-handed grip, and twisted.
The guy shouted with pain as he was jerked into an armlock with his weapon flattened between his shoulder blades. He kicked backward, landing a boot heel on one of Jack's shins. Wincing with pain, Jack gritted his teeth and kicked the mugger's feet out from under him. As the guy went down on his face, he yanked the imprisoned arm back straight and rammed his right sneaker behind the shoulder, pinning him.
And then he stopped and counted to ten.
At times like these he knew he was in danger of losing it. The blackness hovered there on the edges, beckoning him, urging him to go Mongol on this guy, to take out all his accumulated anger, frustration, rage on this one pathetic jerk.
Plenty accumulated during his day-to-day life. And every day it seemed to get a little worse.
He knew now the origin of that blackness, where it hid in his cells. But that didn't make it go away or any easier to handle. So when one of these knuckle draggers got within reach, like this doughy lump of dung, he wanted to stomp him into the earth, leaving nothing but a wet stain.
A thin wire here, one he Wallenda'd along, trying not to fall off on the wrong side. Spend too much time there and you became like this jerk.
He did a ten count and willed that blackness back down to wherever it lived. Let out his breath and looked down.
"Hey, man," Polio fan whined. "Can't you take a joke? I was only —"
"Drop the knife."
The bare fingers opened, the big blade's handle slipped from the gloved palm and clattered to the earth.
"Okay? I dropped it, okay? Now lemme up."
Jack released the arm but kept a foot on his back.
"Empty your pockets."
"Hey, what —?"
Jack increased the pressure of his foot. "Empty them."
He reached back and pulled a ragged cloth wallet from his hip pocket, then slid it across the dirt.
"Keep going," Jack said. "Everything."
The guy pulled a couple of crumpled wads of bills from his front pockets, and dumped them by the wallet.
"You a cop?"
"You should be so lucky."
Jack squatted beside him and went through the small pile. About a hundred in cash, a half dozen credit cards, a gold high school ring. The wallet held a couple of twenties, three singles, and no ID.
"I see you've been busy tonight."
"Early bird catches the worm."
"Yeah? Consider yourself a nightcrawler. This all you got?"
"Aw, you ain't gonna jack me, are ya?"
"Interesting choice of words."
"Hey, I need that scratch."
"Your jones needs that scratch."
Actually, the Little League needed that scratch.
Every year about this time the kids from the local teams that played here in the park would come knocking, looking for donations toward uniforms and equipment. Jack had made it a tradition to help them out by taking up nocturnal collections in the park.
The Annual Repairman Jack Park-a-thon.
Seemed only fair that the oxygen wasters who prowled the place at night should make donations to the kids who used it during the day. At least Jack thought so.
"Let me see those hands." He'd noticed an increasingly lower class of mugger over the past few years. Like this guy. Nothing on his fingers but a cheap pewter skull-faced pinky ring with red glass eyes. "How come no gold?" Jack pulled down the back of his collar. "No chains? You're pathetic, you know that? Where's your sense of style?"
The previous donor had been better heeled.
"I'm a working man," the guy said, rolling a little and looking up at Jack. "No frills."
"Yeah. What do you work at?"
The guy lunged for his knife, grabbed the handle, and stabbed up at Jack's groin — maybe thinking he'd find a uterus there? Jack rolled away to his left and kicked him in the face as he lunged again. The guy went down and Jack was on him once more with the knife arm yanked high and his sneaker back in its former spot on his back.
"We've already played this scene once," he said through his teeth as the blackness rose again.
"Hey, listen!" the guy said into the dirt. "You can have the dough!"
Jack yanked off the glove and looked at the hand within. No surprise at the tattoo in the thumb web.
These guys were starting to pollute the city.
"So you're a Kicker, eh."
"Yeah, man. Totally dissimilated. You too? You seem like —"
He screamed as Jack shifted his foot into the rear of his shoulder and kicked down while giving the arm a sharp twist. The shoulder dislocated with a muffled pop, nearly drowned out by the high-pitched wail.
He hadn't wanted him to finish that sentence.
The Rambo knife dropped from suddenly limp fingers. Jack kicked it away and released the arm.
"Don't know about the rest of you, but that arm is definitely dissimilated."
As the guy retched and writhed in the dirt, Jack scooped up the cash and rings. He emptied the wallet and dropped it onto the guy's back, then headed for the lights.
He debated whether to troll for a third donor or call it a night. He mentally calculated that he had donations of about three hundred or so in cash and maybe an equal amount in pawnable gold. He'd set the goal of this year's Park-a-thon at twelve hundred dollars. Didn't look like he was going to make that without some extra effort. Which meant he'd have to come back tomorrow night and bag a couple more.
And exhort them to give.
Give till it hurt.CHAPTER 2
As he was coming up the slope toward Central Park West he saw an elderly, bearded gent dressed in an expensive-looking blue blazer and gray slacks trudging with a cane along the park side of the street.
And about a dozen feet to Jack's left, a skinny guy in dirty Levi's and a frayed Hawaiian shirt burst from the bushes at a dead run. At first Jack thought he was running from someone, but noticed that he never glanced behind him. Which meant he was running toward something. He realized the guy was making a beeline for the old man.
Jack paused a second. The smart part of him said to turn and walk back down the slope. It hated when he got involved in things like this, and reminded him of other times he'd played good Samaritan and landed in hot water. Besides, the area here was too open, too exposed. If Jack got involved he could be mistaken for the Hawaiian shirt's partner, a description would start circulating, and life would get more complicated than it already was.
Sure. Sit back while this galloping glob of park scum bowled the old guy over, kicked him a few times, grabbed his wallet, then hightailed it back into the brush. Jack wasn't sure he could stand by and let something like that happen right in front of him.
A wise man he'd hung with during his early years in the city had advised him time and time again to walk away from a fight whenever possible. Then he'd always add: "But there are certain things I will not abide in my sight."
This looked to be something Jack could not abide in his sight.
Besides, he was feeling kind of mean tonight.
He spurted into a dash of his own toward the old gent. No way he was going to beat the aloha guy with the lead he had, but he could get there right after him and maybe disable him before he did any real damage. Nothing elaborate. Hit him in the back with both feet, break a few ribs and give his spine a whiplash he'd remember the rest of his life. Make sure Aloha was down to stay, then keep right on sprinting across Central Park West into yuppieville.
Aloha was closing with his target, arms stretched out for the big shove, when the old guy stepped aside and stuck out his cane. Aloha went down on his belly and skidded face-first along the sidewalk, screaming curses all the way. When he stopped his slide, he began to roll to his feet.
But the old guy was there, holding the bottom end of his cane in a two-handed grip like a golf club. He didn't yell "Fore!" as he swung the metal handle around in a smooth, wide arc. Jack heard the crack when it landed against the side of Aloha's skull. The mugger stiffened, then flopped back like a sack of flour.
Jack stopped dead and stared, then began to laugh. He pumped a fist in the old guy's direction.
"I needed that," the old dude said.
Jack knew exactly how he felt. Still smiling, he broke into an easy jog, intending to give the old dude a wide berth on his way by. The fellow eyed him as he neared.
"No worry," Jack said, raising his empty palms. "I'm on your side."
The old guy had his cane by the handle again; he nonchalantly stepped over Aloha like he was so much refuse. The guy had style.
"I know that, Jack."
Jack nearly tripped as he stuttered to a halt and turned.
"Why'd you call me Jack?"
The old man came abreast of him and stopped. Gray hair and beard, a wrinkled face, pale eyes.
"Because that's your name."
Jack scrutinized the man. Even though slightly stooped, he was still taller than Jack. Big guy. Old, but big. And a complete stranger. Jack didn't like being recognized. Put him on edge. But he found something appealing about that half smile playing about the old dude's lips.
"Do I know you?"
"No. My name's Veilleur, by the way." He offered his hand. "And I've wanted to meet you again for some time now."
"Again? When did we ever meet?"
"In your youth."
"But I don't —"
"It's not important. I'm sure it will come back to you. What's important is now and getting reacquainted. I came out here tonight for just that purpose."
Jack shook his hand, baffled. "But who —?" And then a sixty-watter lit in his head. "You don't happen to own a homburg, do you?"
His smile broadened. "As a matter of fact I do. But it's such a beautiful night I left it home."
For months now Jack had intermittently spotted a bearded old man in a homburg standing outside his apartment or Gia's place. But no matter what he'd tried he'd never been able to catch or even get near the guy.
And now here he was, chatting away as casually as could be.
"Why have you been watching me?"
"Trying to decide the right time to connect with you. Because it is time we joined forces. Past time, I'd say."
"Why didn't you just knock on my door? Why all the cat-and-mouse stuff?"
"I doubt very much you like people knowing the location of your door, let alone knocking on it."
Jack had to admit he had that right.
"And besides," Veilleur added, "you had more than enough on your plate at the time."
Jack sighed as the events of the past few months swirled around him. "True that. But —?"
"Let's walk, shall we?"
They crossed Central Park West and headed toward Columbus Avenue in silence. Though they'd just met, Jack found something about the old guy that he couldn't help liking and trusting. On a very deep, very basic, very primitive level he didn't understand, he sensed a solidarity with Veilleur, a subliminal bond, as if they were kindred spirits.
But when and where had they met before?
"Want to tell me what's going on?"
Veilleur didn't hesitate. "The end of life as we know it."
Somehow, Jack wasn't surprised. He'd heard this before. He felt an enormous weight descend on him.
"It's coming, isn't it."
He nodded. "Relentlessly moving our way. But the key fact to remember is it hasn't arrived yet. Relentlessness does not confer inevitability. Look at your run-in with the rakoshi. What's more relentless than a rakosh? Yet you defeated a shipload of them."
Jack stopped and grabbed Veilleur's arm.
"Wait a sec. Wait a sec. What do you know about rakoshi? And how do you know?"
"I'm sensitive to certain things. I sensed their arrival. But I was more acutely aware of the necklaces worn by Kusum Bahkti and his sister."
Jack felt slightly numb. The only other people who knew about the rakoshi and the necklaces were the two most important people in his world — Gia and Vicky — plus two others: Abe and ...
"Did Kolabati send you?"
"No. I wish I knew where she was. We may have need of her before long, but we have other concerns right now."
Jack stared at Veilleur. "You're him, aren't you. You're the one Herta told me about. You're Glae —"
The old man raised a hand. "I am Veilleur — Glenn Veilleur. That is the only name I answer to now. It is best it remains that way lest the other name is overheard."
"Gotcha," Jack said, though he didn't.
So this was Glaeken, the Ally's point man on Earth — or former point man, rather. Jack had thought he'd be more impressive — taller, younger.
"We must speak of other things, Jack. Many things."
There was an understatement. But where?
"You like beer?"CHAPTER 3
"An interesting turn of phrase," Veilleur said, pointing.
Jack glanced up at Julio's FREE BEER TOMORROW ... sign over the bar. It had hung there so long, Jack no longer noticed it.
"Yeah. Gets him in trouble sometimes with people who don't get it."
They were each halfway through their first brew — a Yuengling lager for Jack, a Murphy's Stout for Veilleur. In the light now Jack could see that Veilleur's eyes were a bright, sparkling blue — almost as striking as Gia's — in odd contrast to his craggy olive skin. He watched him pour more of the dark brown liquid into his glass and hold it up for inspection.
"All these years and I still don't understand why the bubbles sink instead of rise."
Jack knew the answer — someone had explained the simple physics of the phenomenon to him once — but he didn't want to get into it now. No side-bars, no amusing anecdotes. Time to get to the point.
Julio's was relatively quiet tonight, leaving Jack and the old guy with the rear section pretty much to themselves. An arrangement Jack preferred on most occasions, but especially tonight.
Probably best to conduct discussions about the end of the world — or at least the end of life as anyone knew it — without an audience.
He glanced around the bar with its regulars and its drop-ins, drinking, talking, laughing, posing, making moves, all blissfully unaware of the endless war raging around them.
Jack envied them, wishing he could return to the days, a little over a year ago, when he had shared their ignorance, when he thought he was captain of his life, navigator of his destiny.
Excerpted from By The Sword by F. Paul Wilson. Copyright © 2008 F. Paul Wilson. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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