City of the Snakes (The City Trilogy Series #3)

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Overview

For ten years Capac Raimi has ruled the City. Created by the first Cardinal to continue his legacy, Capac cannot be killed.

Then Capac disappears. His trusted lieutenant, Ford Tasso, suspects the mysterious villacs, ancient and powerful Incan priests. To Ford, only one man has the cunning to outwit such adversaries-Al Jeery, who has taken the guise of his father, the terrifying assassin Paucar Wami.

Al has no love for Capac and no wish to ...

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City of the Snakes (The City Trilogy Series #3)

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Overview

For ten years Capac Raimi has ruled the City. Created by the first Cardinal to continue his legacy, Capac cannot be killed.

Then Capac disappears. His trusted lieutenant, Ford Tasso, suspects the mysterious villacs, ancient and powerful Incan priests. To Ford, only one man has the cunning to outwit such adversaries-Al Jeery, who has taken the guise of his father, the terrifying assassin Paucar Wami.

Al has no love for Capac and no wish to tangle with the villacs. Until Ford promises him the one thing he truly craves-retribution against the man who killed those he loved most and destroyed his life. Lured into the twisted, nightmarish world of the Incan priests, Al will learn more about the City than he ever imagined, and be offered more power than he ever desired.

But in the City, everything comes at a cost...

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Editorial Reviews

Book Reporter
"With City of the Snakes, Darren Shan seems to have filled a very particular niche. This is a dark series but well done, equal parts mystery and horror...Should captivate readers."
Genre Go Round
"The third City thriller is an enjoyable but extremely dark and bloody fantasy as people use horrific power to create, destroy, and resurrect lives."
From the Publisher
"With City of the Snakes, Darren Shan seems to have filled a very particular niche. This is a dark series but well done, equal parts mystery and horror...Should captivate readers."—Book Reporter

"The third City thriller is an enjoyable but extremely dark and bloody fantasy as people use horrific power to create, destroy, and resurrect lives."—Genre Go Round

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780446573467
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 6/12/2012
  • Series: City Trilogy Series , #3
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 613,109
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Darren Shan

Darren Shan is the New York Times bestselling author of Cirque Du Freak and The Demonata, whose novels have sold over 15 million copies worldwide. Darren lives in Ireland, where he writes and collects art, comics, and film.

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Read an Excerpt

City of the Snakes


By Shan, Darren

Grand Central Publishing

Copyright © 2012 Shan, Darren
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780446573467

part one

pretender to the throne

1

a toast

The Cardinal is dead—long live The Cardinal!”

Cathal Sampedro and the three other men in my office applaud soundly as Gico Carl makes the toast. They’re all grinning inanely—they love me to death. I smile obligingly and tip my crystal glass to Gico’s. I’m not a champagne man by nature, but when the occasion calls for it…

“Ten years, Capac,” Gico beams, licking his lips nervously. I pretend not to notice the giveaway gesture. “Seems like only yesterday.”

This is boring. I know they’re here to kill me. I wish they’d stop wasting my time with small talk and just get on with it.

“Remember the night…,” Cathal begins and I tune out. Cathal has the gift of making the most fascinating anecdote sound incredibly dull. His stories are best ignored if possible, and since I’m The Cardinal, lord of the city, I can ignore anyone I damn well please.

The Cardinal is dead—long live The Cardinal. It’s been said to me many times over the last decade, occasionally by those who mean it, more often by fools like these who think they can replace me.

Ten years. A long time by most standards, but Gico—once-loyal Gico Carl, the man I chose to succeed Frank Weld as head of the Troops—is right. It does seem like yesterday. I can recall every detail of Ferdinand Dorak’s twisted expression as he stepped up to the edge of the roof of Party Central. Half excited, half fearful, thoroughly demented. “Here’s to a long life, Capac Raimi,” he cheered. Then, with one final “Farewell!” he leaped and the reins of power passed to me. I’ve been fighting to cling to them ever since.

I’ve had a lot of people killed since I took over, but nowhere near enough. Running a corrupt cesspit like this city is damn near impossible. No ordinary man could do it. You’d need several lifetimes to stamp your authority on these streets and make them your own. Fortunately I have those lifetimes, and more besides. I’ll wear down the dissidents eventually, even if I have to die trying… repeatedly.

Cathal and Gico are rambling, quaffing champagne, working up the courage to kill me. They were fine servants of the original Cardinal. When I stepped in, they swore allegiance to me and for several years remained true to their oath. But their loyalties have swayed. Like so many, they’ve come to believe I’m not up to the task of leadership. They see the trouble I’m in, the strain the city’s under, the threat of rival gangs, and they think the time has come to push me aside and install a new supremo.

Slipping away from the knot of assassins, I gravitate toward the balcony, brooding on how it’s all gone wrong. For the first few years I ruled smoothly. I faced opposition, and assassination attempts were frequent, but that was to be expected. Things settled down as The Cardinal had predicted in the plans he’d left behind for me. It seemed that I was over the worst and I commenced planning for the next phase, expansion out of the city. That’s when it all started to fall apart.

I study the dozens of puppets hanging from the walls. Dorak’s macabre Ayuamarcans. He could create people. He had the power to reach beyond the grave, bring the dead back to life, and give them new personalities. A group of blind Incan priests—villacs—constructed puppets and aided Dorak in his resurrection quests. It sounds insane, but the Ayuamarcans were real. I know because I’m one of them.

I step out of the office. The balcony’s a new addition. I’ve kept this place in much the same state as Dorak left it—sparsely decorated, a long desk, a plush leather chair for myself, simple plastic chairs for the guests—but I replaced the bulletproof glass. When The Cardinal created me, he made me immortal. I can be killed but I always bounce back. As a man with no fear of death, I don’t need to cut myself off from the world as my predecessor did. I like to step out here and gaze down upon my city. Normally it calms me, but not tonight.

Why am I struggling? Why the unrest on the streets? Why the renewed assassinations? Those days should be behind me. I haven’t weakened. I’ve stayed true to my course, as my nature dictates. I’ve pushed ahead with The Cardinal’s plans, improvising when I have to, using my initiative. I’ve been generous to my supporters, wrathful to those who oppose me, fair with all. I should be respected and obeyed as Ferdinand Dorak was. But I’m not.

The villacs shoulder much of the blame. The blind priests helped create me, with the intention of using me, but I’m The Cardinal’s son, not theirs, and they resent that. They’d have me concentrate on making the city great, ignore the outside world completely. But I can’t. I must have the world in all its glory. Nothing less will suffice.

The priests have become dangerous adversaries. Their power rivals my own, maybe even eclipses it. They’re undermining my authority, setting people and gangs against me. It was an uneasy relationship from the start, but recently it’s deteriorated entirely. They used to send emissaries to consult with and advise me, but I haven’t had word from them for eighteen months. There was no defining argument. They simply lost patience and have been doing all in their power to rock the boat ever since.

“What would you have done?” I murmur to the ghost of Ferdinand Dorak. “Should I cut a deal? Make contact, grovel, surrender to their whims?”

Inside my head I hear him chuckle, and the clouds on the horizon seem to lift into an elongated sneer. I grimace. “Dumb suggestion. You’d hunt them down and exterminate them like rats, and if you lost everything, so be it.” That’s how he was. Failure didn’t worry him, and the threat of it never held him back. It doesn’t worry me either, but I’m faced with different dilemmas. The Cardinal had only one life span to consider, but I’ll go on forever. I’ll stand triumphant in the end, if only by outliving everybody else, and that makes me cautious. I can afford to cede ground to my enemies, knowing I’ve got all the time in the world to regain it.

Were I human, I’d come down hard on the villacs and force a conclusive confrontation. All or nothing. But I’m superhuman. I can wait. If I forced the issue, there’d be bloodshed. The city would burn. I’ll avoid such dramatics if possible. Take my time. Endure the defections and betrayals. Reassert control gradually, imperiously, completely.

Gico Carl steps up beside me. Cathal lurks close behind, his features twisted with regret. This wasn’t his idea. Gico talked him into it. Gico can be very persuasive. It’s one of the reasons I elevated him so high, placing him in charge of the Troops. Too bad he lacks faith in me. He’ll rue his betrayal soon enough, but that’s little comfort. I’ll have to ferret out a replacement for him. It’s a headache I could have done without.

“Capac,” Gico sighs, draping an arm across my shoulders. “You’re a good lad, but it wasn’t meant to be. ‘Too much, too soon,’ as they say.”

“You’re a fool, Gico,” I smile as the other men step onto the balcony in a show of force. “You think handing control over to the villacs is the answer?”

“They’ve nothing to do with it,” he grunts.

“You’re acting alone?” I sneer. “Then you’re dumber than I thought. With the support of the priests, you could have held on for six months, maybe a year. Alone, you wouldn’t last a month.”

“We’ll see,” Gico snarls, then nods sharply at Cathal. Ducking low, Cathal propels himself into the small of my back, knocking me over the ledge. Gico grabs my feet as I spin over the rails and shoves hard, to hasten my descent. The faces of both men are contorted with gleeful terror.

It’s a fifteen-floor drop. Plenty of time to admire the scenery. I sail to earth relaxed, knowing it can’t hold me. I smile against the rush of air. “They’ll have to do better than this,” I chuckle, then hit the ground and die in a shattering explosion of bones and shredded flesh.

On a train, approaching a gray, sprawling, menacing city. For a few minutes I don’t know who or where I am. Then my memories return. I’m Capac Raimi, The Cardinal, recently deceased, freshly resurrected, on my way home. Coming back from the dead threw me for a loop the first few times, but like most things in life, a man can get used to it.

A conductor passes up the aisle, asking for tickets. I fish mine out and hand it to him with a polite smile. I’ve never worked out how I re-form and wind up on this train, fully dressed, with a ticket from Sonas to the city in my pocket. It bothered me to begin with, but I’ve given up worrying about it. One of those mysteries of the universe I’ve learned to accept without query.

It’s been close to four years since my last execution. I’d aged slightly, gained a few pounds, developed a spray of gray hairs, picked up wrinkles around the eyes. But now I’m the way I was when I came to this city eleven years ago, bright, fresh, youthful. “Hi, handsome,” I mutter to my reflection in the window as we enter a tunnel.

We pass Vidalus—a shantytown for immigrant Eastern Europeans—on the outskirts of the city. I check my watch—two p.m. It will be another forty minutes before we hit Central Station. Might as well lie back and make the most of the break. It’ll be all systems go once I’m back in the thick of things.

Closing my eyes, I drown out the sounds, smells and sights of the city and think about immortality. Ferdinand Dorak had the power to bring dead people back to life, instilling them with talents and drives of his making. The villacs were the source of his power. Over the centuries, since coming to this city, they’d placed their fate in the hands of men they called Watanas, who could summon shades of the dead and create leaders to cement their control of the city. The Cardinal was the last of the Watanas, charged with the task of creating a leader who could meet the demands of the twenty-first century and all the millennia beyond. Me.

When The Cardinal created an Ayuamarcan, he was given a doll, a replica of the creation, with a heartbeat of its own. When the Ayuamarcan had served its purpose, The Cardinal wiped that person out of existence by piercing the doll’s heart. A green fog then enveloped the city, eradicating memories of the Ayuamarcan from the minds of all.

I was created differently. To guard his empire indefinitely, he required an heir who could withstand the march of time. So he made me immortal. I’ll live forever, aging slightly (he said I’d stop when I hit my early forties, though I revert every time I’m killed). I’m more resilient than most—minor wounds heal quickly—and though death knocks me back, it can’t keep me down for more than a handful of days at a time.

It’s a strange existence, but The Cardinal designed me to cope with the staggering implications. I don’t like the hand fate has dealt me, and I dread the loneliness the centuries will bring, as old acquaintances die and new generations come to regard me as an unapproachable god, but I’ll get by. I’ll have to. You can’t mope around angst ridden if you’re doomed to last as long as the sands of time itself.

Jerry’s waiting for me at the station, decked out in his uniform. I’ve told him he doesn’t need to wear it, but Jerry Falstaff’s a stubborn man, slow to change. “Good to have you back, boss,” he says, helping me off the train, taking my bag (it changes with the reincarnations, keeping up with the latest fashions—a nice touch).

“How long have I been gone?” I ask, stretching, waiting for the crowd to disperse.

“You were killed at 23:14, Tuesday,” Jerry says matter-of-factly. “It’s now 15:03, Friday.”

“How’s Gico bearing up?”

“Great.” Jerry grins. “A natural leader.”

We follow the last few stragglers out of the station, to the waiting limo. Thomas holds the door open for me. Dry, faithful Thomas. He’s been my driver almost as long as I can remember. Nothing shakes Thomas (though the bomb that took the two smallest fingers of his left hand seven years ago came close).

“Party Central, Mr. Raimi?” he asks as I get in.

“Party Central,” I concur, and discuss affairs of state with Jerry during the ride.

Jerry’s one of the few who know the secret of my immortality. The city’s awash with rumors, but to most people that’s all they are, fairy tales circulated by a power-hungry despot to psych out his opponents. Only those closest to me know about The Cardinal’s legacy. I was on the point of letting Gico Carl in on the big secret, but I sensed something weak in him. It didn’t surprise me when he turned.

Jerry’s a soldier, a long-serving Troop who came to my attention when he took a bullet intended for me eight years ago. Once he’d recuperated, I had Frank Weld—still head of the Troops in those days—assign him to the fifteenth floor of Party Central, where our relationship developed. He was shaken when I first displayed my Lazarus trick, but now he takes my comebacks in his stride.

“What about Mr. Sampedro?” Jerry asks as we draw close to Party Central, the fortress I inherited from the previous Cardinal. “He’s been led astray by Gico, but we could still use him.”

I consider Cathal Sampedro’s fate, then shake my head. “He’s blown it.”

Jerry nods obediently and draws a pistol from his holster.

“It was Alice’s birthday yesterday, wasn’t it?” I ask.

Jerry looks surprised. “I didn’t think you’d remember.”

“Death’s a small matter,” I quip. “Birthdays are important. Do anything nice with her?”

He shrugs. “We meant to go away for a couple of days, but your getting iced put paid to that. I took her out for a meal. She wasn’t overly impressed, but she knows how it goes.”

We stop at the rear of Party Central and Thomas gets out to open my door. Frank Weld materializes out of the shadows, flanked by ten of the toughest-looking sons of bitches I’ve ever seen.

“Capac,” he greets me, grinning edgily. He’s never come to terms with my indestructibility. My returning freaks the shit out of him, but he puts up with me because he senses—in a way Gico Carl and Cathal Sampedro can’t—that I’m the future. Frank, like Ford Tasso before him, is a man propelled by instinct to identify and follow the strongest master.

Frank quit as head of the Troops three years ago. He moved up in the organization, becoming overseer of my international interests. Although eternity is mine to play with, I’m limited physically to the boundaries of this city. If I spend more than three or four days away, my body unravels and I find myself back on the train. I can handle most of my global business from Party Central, and by arranging short trips abroad for face-to-face meetings, but it helps to have a strong lieutenant active in the field.

“Sorry to pull you away from your regular duties.”

Frank sniffs. “Diplomacy’s boring. I’m looking forward to running with the Troops again.”

“As long as you realize it’s a temporary measure. As soon as I find a fit replacement, you’re out of here.”

“If I didn’t know better, I’d swear you wanted to get rid of me,” Frank laughs, then draws his gun, checks with his men—all armed with rifles—and leads us through the backyard, past a posse of Troops who look away and wait for this latest power game to reach its inevitable conclusion.

Gico’s guards don’t intervene when they spot us. The men we draft into the Troops are smart enough to know which way the wind blows. Besides, most were blooded by Frank, so even if they were prepared to take a shot at me, they wouldn’t dare raise a hand against their old taskmaster.

In the past you had to check in your shoes at reception. The floors of Party Central are lined with some of the finest carpets you’ll find this side of Arabia. Dorak was obsessive about them. I don’t share his love, so we march to the room marked BASE in our shoes and boots, sparing not a thought for the priceless floor covering.

Mags is on duty. She’s another of Dorak’s finds. Best secretary bar none. I’d be lost without her. She looks up and smiles as we enter. I’ve never explained the truth about myself to Mags, but she’s seen enough to guess. “Glad to have you back, sir,” she greets me. “I’ve got lots of forms that need signing when you’re through with Mr. Carl and his associates.”

“Why didn’t you get Gico to sign them while he was acting CEO?”

“I had a feeling he wouldn’t be acting for long,” she replies. Then she asks cheekily, “Shall I check to see if he’s receiving visitors?”

“I’m sure he’ll make time for us.”

Breezing in without knocking, I find Gico, Cathal and two of their allies examining a map on the table that dominates the room. Four burly Troops are positioned by the windows. They raise their weapons when they see me, then lower them when Frank snaps his fingers.

“Good afternoon, gentlemen.” I smile lazily as their jaws drop. “Hope I’m not interrupting anything important.”

“You… you…,” Cathal gasps, taking a few involuntary steps away from me as if I’m some supernatural monster. Which I suppose I am.

“You four—beat it!” Frank barks at the Troops by the window. They stare at him uncertainly, then at the ten men behind him, then nod obediently and make themselves scarce.

“You just can’t find good help these days,” I tut, locating my chair and slumping into it.

“We killed you,” Gico moans, face ashen. One of the men to his left is crying. The other’s shaking his head numbly. Cathal has backed up to the window. If it were open he’d probably back all the way off the balcony and save us the price of a bullet.

“Some men are harder to keep down than others,” I murmur.

“We killed you,” Gico says again, stubborn to the last. “You’re dead. I pushed you over.” He looks to Frank and Jerry appealingly. “We killed him!”

“Time to return the favor,” Frank grunts and gives the signal. His Troops circle the traitors.

“No!” Gico howls, trying to break through to me. “You’re dead! We killed you! We—”

A Troop clubs him over the back of the head and he falls limp to the floor. The others are swiftly subdued, even the normally fierce Cathal Sampedro. I tend to have that effect on people when I return from the dead.

“Take them to the yard,” Frank says, and his Troops bundle the prisoners out of the office, down the hall to the elevator. The executions will be short and unceremonial. No need for me to be present.

“Nice to be back?” Jerry asks.

“There’s no place like home,” I agree, testing the chair, making sure Gico hasn’t tampered with it.

“I’d love to stay and chat,” Frank says, “but I’ve got work to do. Three years is a long time. It’ll take awhile to get back into the swing of things.”

“You’ll manage,” I reply confidently, then call him back as he heads for the door. “One last thing. There’s a photo I’d like you to look at.”

“This the guy you were asking about before?”

“Yes.”

The weekend before I was killed I called Frank, having guessed what Gico Carl and his companions were planning, to check that he was willing to return as head of the Troops. While on the phone, I tested his memories of Paucar Wami—Dorak’s most sinister and singular Ayuamarcan apart from me. I asked if he recollected a famous serial killer who’d terrorized this city and worked for The Cardinal. He didn’t, but maybe the photo will jog something inside him.

“This was taken last Saturday,” I explain, digging through my drawers for the photo and tossing it across the desk. “He stood close to a security camera out back and stared straight at it for a full minute.”

The photo’s of a tall, lithe, extremely dark-skinned man.

Bald. Strange green eyes. Tattoos of colored snakes adorn both his cheeks. He’s dressed in dark pants and a black leather jacket.

Frank breathes out heavily through his nostrils, then looks at me warily. “That’s a photo of Al.”

“Al Jeery?”

“Yeah.”

I shake my head. “No. It isn’t.”

I know Al Jeery as intimately as you can know someone you’ve never actually met. I became interested in him when he chose the name of Paucar Wami and adopted his guise. I’ve had him shadowed, researched and photographed in any number of compromising positions. This isn’t him.

Frank studies the photo again. “Sure looks like Al. Jerry?” Jerry and Frank were both colleagues of Al Jeery’s long ago.

“I’ve seen it already,” Jerry says. “I thought it was him too, but Capac’s right—it’s someone else.”

Frank squints. “Yeah, I see it now. His ears are smaller, his face is slightly sharper, his contact lenses are a darker shade of green.”

“I don’t think they’re contacts,” I say softly, retrieving the photo.

“Who is he?” Frank asks.

I’m reluctant to voice the crazy words, but I force them out. “I think he’s Paucar Wami.”

“That’s the name Al uses,” Frank notes.

“I mean the original Paucar Wami. The Ayuamarcan who popped out of existence ten years ago when Dorak died.”

Frank and Jerry share an uneasy look. They never quite believed my tales of the Ayuamarcans. They’ve seen me return from the dead, so they know there’s more to this world than meets the eye, but there are some things they find hard to get their heads around.

“Never mind,” I mutter. “It’s not your problem. Focus on running the Troops. Leave me to worry about the ghosts of the past.”

Frank opens his mouth to say something, can’t think of anything, salutes and exits. Jerry shuffles after the departing Frank Weld, leaving me alone in my aerie to brood.

Paucar Wami isn’t the only ghost who’s come back to haunt me. There have been others. People who never truly existed, who died, who’ve lived these last ten years only in my memories. Until this one was captured on film, I thought I was imagining them. Now I’m not sure.

Sighing, I slide the photo back into its drawer and leave the puzzle for another day. There’s much to be done. I’ve been gone less than three days, but a lot can happen even in that short a period. Time to catch up on the state of play, reassert my authority and let people know that The Cardinal’s back from the dead… again.

2

the relic

The city’s most exclusive nursing home, Solvert’s, is situated in a quiet corner of Conchita Gardens, a park built during Ferdinand Dorak’s time. Dorak’s wife, Conchita, pleaded with him to do something beautiful and unexpected for her birthday one year. He responded with the park. He could be a sentimental old goat where Conchita was concerned.

The Cardinal left behind a trust fund to pay toward the upkeep of the park, and I chip in with my own annual contribution, making up the shortfall, in tribute to the memory of Conchita Kubekik, who was a dear friend of mine.

Thomas drops me at the front of Solvert’s. I’m recognized as soon as I enter and the staff scurry to look busy—nobody wants to get mixed up with a notorious gangster like me. Finally I flag a nurse and ask to see Ford Tasso. She gulps nervously and scampers ahead, leading the way. I could find it myself, but they don’t like visitors walking around unattended. Ford isn’t the only ex-gangster on their books. They worry about assassinations.

He’s sitting outside in a wheelchair, under a leafy tree, enjoying the spring morning. He’s an impressive sight, even from the back and seated, as broad and rocklike as ever.

I relied on Ford heavily when I took over. I’d still be depending on him if a stroke hadn’t rendered him inactive.

I thank the nurse and cough to announce my presence. “No need to throw a fit,” Ford wheezes. “My ears are good as ever. I heard you coming.”

“Hello, old friend.” I bend to shake his left hand. His granite features haven’t softened with time. If anything he looks rougher than ever, his face impassive and deathly gray on one side. The stroke hit him hardest down the right, paralyzing his face and arm, almost destroying his leg. He can get around on his feet when he has to, but walking’s slow and painful, his right leg dragging leadenly with every labored step.

“You must be in deep shit to come here,” he grunts.

I smile wryly. We both know I wouldn’t waste time on a social visit. Sitting on the grass, I grimace. “Deep as it gets.”

He pivots to face me and waits. It’s been four years since the stroke. For six months he wasn’t able to speak. Gradually he learned to produce sounds, although at first his slur was so bad that even his full-time nurse couldn’t understand what he was saying. With untold hours of practice and treatment, he’s trained himself to speak again. He talks slower than he used to, and occasionally he’ll stumble on a word, but he’s more coherent than he has any right to be. The doctors didn’t think he’d survive the first year. I guessed differently. Death will have to go a full twelve rounds with Ford Tasso before it forces him out of the ring.

“How’s life?” I ask.

“Not bad. Still in sex therapy. I sustained an erection for three minutes a couple of days ago. My best yet.”

“Still refusing Viagra?” I grin.

“I don’t mess with voodoo shit like that. Don’t need it.”

“Why are you worried about your staying power anyway?” I ask. “Not like you’re going to get any action here.”

“I like to be prepared for anything,” he sniffs, then fixes me with his left eye (he lost sight in his right but refuses to wear a patch). “Enough of the crap. What’s wrong?”

“You heard about Gico?”

“Him and Cathal killed you and seized control. Didn’t last long.”

“They never do, but that’s not the point. Gico and Cathal were two of my best. I thought I could rely on them.”

“Maybe they got greedy,” Ford suggests, rubbing the flesh of his gray right wrist. His circulation is poor down the right. He has to work on his muscles continuously when he’s by himself.

“No,” I mutter. “Fear motivated them. They thought I wasn’t in control. They saw me as a weak link. If my closest aides don’t have faith in me…”

Ford nods slowly. “I’d heard things weren’t so hot. Tell me more.”

I fill him in on all that’s transpired since my last visit two years ago. The city’s heading for riots. Old gangs have splintered, new gangs have formed, fighting is rife. I’ve tried holding things together, but they refuse to pay heed. I’m the most powerful force in the city but I’m not obeyed as Dorak was. People fear me, but they don’t respect me.

Ford listens silently. When I run out of words, he mulls the situation over, then asks, “And the villacs?”

“Keeping low. I’m sure they’re behind a lot of the unrest but they’re doing it subtly, without showing their hand.”

Ford grunts. “I told The Cardinal to take them out years ago, but he was always in awe of them.”

“It’s not just the priests. Others oppose me, men who’d never have dared face up to Dorak. Eugene Davern’s one.”

“The guy who runs the KKK?” Ford asks, surprised. The Kool Kats Klub has always been a hive of racists, but we never had to worry about them in Ford’s time. Rich white kids talking big. Harmless.

“Eugene’s moving up in the world. He’s been uniting supremacist gangs under one flag for the last few years. They call themselves the Kluxers. I know,” I laugh as Tasso groans. “Dumb name. But they’re serious. They’ve abandoned the hoods and burning crosses of the Klan. Expanded steadily. Davern’s never once asked for my blessing or sought my approval. He’s an independent operator, and others are following his lead.”

“So eliminate him,” Ford barks. “A dawn raid, corpses galore, Davern’s head on a plate… that’ll put paid to that.”

“We don’t do it that way anymore,” I sigh. “The corporation’s in the process of going straight. Taking Davern out would set us back ten or fifteen years.”

“Maybe things need setting back. Christ knows, you can afford to wait.”

“I guess. But…” I don’t know how to explain it. Bloodshed doesn’t deter me but I want to conquer by intrigue and cunning, not brute force. The game must remain interesting if it’s to entertain me for eternity. My greatest fear is waking up one morning, the rest of time stretched out ahead of me, only to find myself with nothing to do.

Ford reads my thoughts and chuckles mirthlessly. “You have to get real, Capac. Dispose of your enemies. Kill those who look at you crosswise. Be merciless. It’s the old way but the only way.”

“Wise advice.”

“Which you’ll ignore.” We smile at each other. He understands me better than anyone ever has, with the exception of my creator. “So why come see an old fart like me if you’re not gonna listen?”

I shrug. “I thought you might have something more constructive to say. I was hoping the serenity of retirement would have opened your mind to fresh ways of thinking.”

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” he snorts, “and I’m as old as they come. Quit pissing around, Capac. Why are you really here?”

He’s seen through me, as I knew he would. Time to come clean. “I’m frightened, Ford.” A pause. “I’m seeing ghosts.”

Ford doesn’t remember the Ayuamarcans. Like everyone else in the city, he forgot about them in the wake of The Cardinal’s downfall. But I’ve filled him in about them before, so he knows what I’m talking about.

“I’ve been catching glimpses of Ayuamarcans for weeks now,” I tell him. “Y Tse was the first.” Y Tse Lapotaire, real name Inti Maimi, one of The Cardinal’s rare failures. He was supposed to succeed Dorak but he didn’t work out. A colorful figure when I originally knew him, he dressed in robes, daubed himself with paint, wore the most overstated jewelry he could find.

“He was in a crowd of people outside the Skylight. I’d gone over to greet some business associates but I had to wait to get in. Some rock star was staying and groupies had gathered out front. While I was relaxing in the car, I saw Y Tse. He was ten or twelve feet away, staring at me silently. At first I didn’t recognize him—it’s been a long time—but then he raised his arms above his head and bellowed, ‘The time is ripe, friend Capac!’ ”

“That means something?” Ford asks.

“He said the same thing to me the first time we met. The words struck me like a bullet. When he saw that I realized who it was, he smiled, waved, then disappeared into the crowd. I raced after him but the crush was too great. By the time it cleared, he’d vanished.”

Ford clears his throat. “Might have been someone who looked like him.”

“No. A few days later I saw him again, lurking in front of Party Central. I sent Troops after him but they lost track of him after a couple of blocks. Said it was like he disappeared into thin air.”

“But they saw him?” Ford interrupts.

“They saw someone. They couldn’t describe him accurately. Said they didn’t get a good look at him. Then, a week later, I saw Leonora Shankar and Conchita.”

“Leonora’s the woman you say founded Shankar’s restaurant?”

“Yes.”

“And Conchita would be Conchita Kubekik, Dorak’s alleged wife?”

I nod. As far as Ford and everyone else remembers, The Cardinal never married. They think Conchita Gardens was named after a local Indian girl.

“What were they doing?” Ford inquires.

“Swimming.” In response to his quizzical look, I elaborate. “I go for a swim every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, schedule permitting. I use the Kargan pool—not conveniently situated, but it’s longer than most. You can really stretch yourself there.”

“Fascinating,” Ford grunts impatiently. “The women?”

“They’d been sitting by the side of the pool for ages. I didn’t pay much attention. It was only when I paused at the end of a lap to catch my breath that I saw them. I was dumbstruck. I stood in the water at the shallow end, mesmerized, for maybe five minutes, until they rose and slipped into the changing room. Then I charged after them and tore the place apart.”

“I bet that made you popular with the ladies,” Ford comments drily. “But it was for nothing, right? You couldn’t find them?”

“Not a trace,” I sigh. “That’s when I started to think I might be losing it. I had myself checked and drew a clear bill of health, but that was little consolation. I spotted them several times over the next few weeks, together, with Y Tse, singly. I ignored them. Didn’t waste time giving chase. I figured, if they were products of my imagination, running after them was useless. If they were real, they’d make contact in their own time. Then this.” I pass the photograph of Paucar Wami to him.

“Al Jeery,” he says immediately. Ford knew Jeery too, before the guy lost his marbles and took to the streets as Paucar Wami. Thought highly of him. I wanted to drag Jeery in, find out what he knew about the Ayuamarcans. Ford convinced me to leave him alone—said the guy had been through enough.

“Look again,” I tell him, and he studies the photo some more.

“It’s like Al,” he rumbles, “but it’s not. Some guy made up to resemble him?”

“Maybe. Or maybe this is the guy Jeery made himself up to look like—the real Paucar Wami.”

“I thought Wami was a myth,” Ford says uneasily. Like some other people, he has vague recollections of the serial killer. I don’t know how fragments of Wami’s existence survived The Cardinal’s passing, but they did. He’s not a substantial figure—he exists in the minds of those who knew him as a creature of shadows—but part of his evil legacy lives on.

“Wami was real, an Ayuamarcan. And on the basis of that photo, he’s back.”

“You’re sure it’s not a ringer?”

“He’s not someone you forget in a hurry. That’s Paucar Wami. I’d stake my life on it. And if he’s real, the others probably are too.”

Ford passes back the photo. “I don’t understand this—I never really did—but let’s say it’s on the level. Why does it bother you?”

“Wouldn’t you be bothered if ghosts returned to haunt you?” I snap.

“Sure, but I’m human. I can be killed, so I’d have reason to worry. You don’t.”

“I’m not so certain I believe that anymore,” I mumble. “The Cardinal made me immortal, but he reserved the power to destroy me. He could have wiped me out before he died, if he’d had a mind to. If someone else has the same kind of power—and if Wami and the others are real, only somebody as gifted as The Cardinal could have brought them back—maybe they can eradicate me too.”

Ford’s good eye half closes. “Didn’t think of that.”

“I didn’t either until this photo materialized. Now it’s all I can think about.”

Ford chuckles bleakly. “How does it feel to be faced with mortality again? Must be a shock after all these years.”

“Don’t mock me,” I growl, but he only laughs at my tone.

“That explains why your knees are shaking. But why come to me about this? If the Grim Reaper’s got you in his sights, what can I do to help?”

“The villacs must be behind this. I need to find them, confront them, stop them. But I can’t chase the priests and run this city at the same time. I need someone to—”

“Whoa!” Ford stops me. “If this is going where I think it is, forget it.”

“I need you,” I press. “Frank’s back in charge of the Troops. He’ll do a good job, but he’s not Cardinal material.”

“I’m not either,” Ford grunts.

“But you could fill in for me short-term,” I insist. “You’re still closely identified with Dorak. People would obey you. You could keep things ticking over while I sorted out my problems. Think about it—back in charge, everyone having to kiss your ass. You’d love it.”

He shakes his head, genuine regret in his live left eye. “I’m past that. People wouldn’t take orders from a cripple. I hate retirement. I talked about it a lot toward the end of my run, but now that I’ve tasted it, I think it sucks. I’d jump at the chance to return, but I’d be a liability. Look elsewhere.”

“There isn’t anybody else,” I groan. “I’ve been running the show single-handed, the way The Cardinal wanted. I don’t have anyone groomed to step in. By the time I trained someone, it would be too late. I have to act now, before the villacs strike.”

Ford shakes his head again. “I won’t be held responsible for what’d go wrong. I’m useless to you.”

“What if I went down on my knees and pleaded?”

“You won’t. It’s not your style.”

“Bastard,” I mutter, then stand and walk away without a farewell, leaving Ford Tasso to the shade, his reminiscences and the wheelchair.

I didn’t expect the old warhorse to accept my offer—at his stage of life, in his condition, he’d have to be insane to step back into the firing range—but it was worth a shot. With him at the helm I could have pursued the villacs without worry. Now I’ll have to struggle on alone as best I can.

What the hell are they up to and how are they managing it? I know from firsthand experience that the dead can return, but the same corpses rising twice from the grave is a bit much. Could the Paucar Wami in the photo have been a double, as Ford suggested? Leonora, Conchita, Y Tse too? I’m sure the villacs remember what the Ayuamarcans looked like. They might be plaguing me with look-alikes to distract me. Perhaps they want me to abandon my post, clearing the way for insurrection. They’ll have a long wait if that’s their game. Time, as the song goes, is on my side. I can wait those bastards out. They won’t panic me into—

The car crashes through a red light. Horns blare. We accelerate sharply. “What’s wrong?” I shout, looking out the rear window, checking for pursuit.

“Just taking you for a spin, like in the old days. Sit back and enjoy.”

My insides tighten—that’s not Thomas. Throwing myself forward, I press my face close to the glass panel separating me from the driver. I only have a view of half his face, but it’s enough to make a positive identification—Adrian Arne, an Ayuamarcan. He was my chauffeur when I first started working for The Cardinal. He’s been RIP these last ten years. Now here he is, grinning broadly, not looking a day older.

“Adrian,” I moan, crashing to the floor as he takes a turn without braking.

“Miss me, Capac?” he asks mockingly. He’s controlling the wheel with a couple of fingers, oblivious to the traffic.

“You’re dead!” I gasp.

“So are you,” he retorts.

“What are you doing here? What do you want?”

He laughs ecstatically. “I want to be James Dean.”

He takes his fingers off the wheel and presses down harder with his foot. The car roars ahead, veering sickeningly from left to right.

“We’re going to crash,” I note dully.

“Do I look like I’m worried?” Adrian whoops.

“Where have you been? Do you recall the past? How have—”

“Too late!” he shouts, covering his eyes with his hands. “We’re doomed!”

There’s a metallic, demonic shriek as we hit something hard and cartwheel through the air. We crash back to earth and the world explodes. Adrian goes up in a ball of fiery fury. A split second later, the fire engulfs me, and I scream with pain and shock as I thrash, burn and die.

3

lady of the mausoleum

I slump in my chair on the fifteenth floor of Party Central and gaze at the face of the puppet I retrieved from the wall when I returned from my latest bout of death. It’s Adrian’s. The Cardinal used it to bring him to life. I raise its chest to my ear, listening for a heartbeat, but there isn’t any. None of the dozens of puppets has a heartbeat. I’ve checked each and every one of them over and over again. It’s all I’ve done these last few days.

My door opens and Jerry slides in. He stares at the puppets scattered on the floor and over my desk, then steps forward gingerly. “Mr. Raimi?” I don’t respond. “Sir?” No response. “Capac!”

“What is it?” I sigh, lowering the doll but not letting go of it.

“Are you OK?”

I laugh shortly. “Never better. What do you want?”

He clears a path through the dolls and crouches beside me. “Snap out of this. You’re acting like a loon and it’s gonna be the end of us.”

His candor catches me off guard. Jerry knows I value his advice but he’s never spoken this bluntly to me before. It’s a risk. I could have him executed for addressing me so plainly.

“What’s up?” I ask, laying the doll on the table, directing my thoughts away from Adrian, the car crash and the other Ayuamarcans for the first time since coming back to life on the train.

“We’re on the brink of losing everything,” he hisses. “Do you even know what’s been happening?”

I shake my head.

“Eugene Davern invaded Hugo turf and annexed about seventy percent of it.” The Hugos are one of the largest gangs in the city, loyal to me. They control most of the northwest, a largely undeveloped area, a valuable source of income in the years to come. Losing it to an independent operator like Davern is a serious blow and it jolts me out of my daze.

“Is he crazy?” I snap. “He can’t believe we’ll let him take the northwest.”

Jerry shrugs. “Apparently he does.”

“That’s it,” I growl. “He’s been picking and poking at me too long. If this is designed to test how far I’m willing to let him go, he’s misjudged terribly. Call the Troops and have them assemble in the—”

“Hello, Capac.” The voice comes from the balcony. Jerry and I spin toward it. Jerry’s hand shoots to his holster and he draws his pistol.

“No,” I stop him, laying a hand on his.

“But—,” he begins.

“It’s OK.”

I step ahead of Jerry and face the girl on the balcony. In appearance she’s thirteen or fourteen years old. Long, shiny blond hair. An innocent, beautiful face, body covered from the neck down. But appearances can be deceptive. I know she’s a woman, older than me, the victim of a cruel, unique disease.

“Hello, Conchita,” I croak. Conchita Kubekik—Ferdinand Dorak’s ex-wife—was a special friend of mine. Seeing her again, after all these years… I almost feel human.

“Long time, big guy,” she grins. “How’s tricks?”

I stop at the door to the balcony. Conchita’s leaning against the railings, playing with her hair, smirking. There’s something not right. She has a glint in her eyes that I never noticed before. But there’s no doubting it’s her.

“Why are you here, Conchita?” I ask. “How?”

“Two reasons. To pass on a message—Ferdy wants to see you—and to fly. How is easy—just spread my wings and dive.”

I frown, not certain what she’s talking about. Then I remember Adrian (“I want to be James Dean”) and my eyes shoot wide. “No!” I scream and dash for her, meaning to clutch her to my chest and protect her—I promised The Cardinal I’d look after his wife if she survived. But I’m too late. She swings away from me with a laugh, hoists her legs over the railings and lets go. She yodels wildly and plummets fifteen floors, as I did myself not so long ago.

I don’t chase to the railings. I just slump and shut my eyes to the nightmare.

“Capac?” Jerry says, bending to help me. “Who was that? Are you—”

“Go and bring me her body,” I cut him short.

“But what about Davern and the—”

“Go. And bring me. Her body.” My tone leaves no room for argument. Jerry’s seen me order people’s deaths before. He knows, the mood I’m in, I could easily order his. Saluting with a snappy “Yes, sir!” he leaves me on the balcony and goes to sweep up the debris. After a few minutes alone, listening to the sounds of the city, I drag myself back inside to my chair and the silent, lifeless puppets.

There was no body. The ground was bare. I didn’t believe Jerry. Insisted on checking for myself. Walked all around the building—nothing. Which means she disappeared in midair, or someone cleaned up ultra-quick after her, or she really did learn to fly.

I retired to my office once I’d abandoned the search. Told Mags to let nobody disturb me, not even Jerry or Frank. Sat on the floor, surrounded by dolls, and gave myself over to madness. But it refused to take me, and after a slew of numb hours, I replayed my brief conversation with Conchita and recalled what she’d said before taking off. “Ferdy wants to see you.”

“Ferdy” was Conchita’s pet name for The Cardinal. I’m not sure what she meant—Dorak was human, so I can’t imagine any way for him to return—but as I play her words over, I begin to think that I know what she wanted. Leaving my fortress of dolls and memories, I order a limo—Thomas is still off work, recovering from the crack over the head Adrian gave him before taking his place at Solvert’s—and tell the driver to take me to the Fridge.

The Fridge is another of The Cardinal’s grotesque playthings. A huge morgue, home to thousands who died in his employ or opposing him. The dead lie in refrigerated caskets, preserved against the ravages of time, awaiting Judgment Day and the call to arise. I’ve added my fair share of corpses to the pile but never visited personally until now.

The Fridge is camouflaged by the shell of an old building. Access is through computer-coded doors. Inside, row upon row of metal caskets, stacked five high, twenty wide. The rows stretch ahead, seemingly without end, and rise all the way to the distant ceiling.

There’s great excitement at my appearance. Staff crowd the landings overhead, eager to catch a glimpse. I guess I’m the next best thing to royalty in this city, and it’s not often that my minions—apart from those who work in Party Central—get a chance to gawk at me.

I stand my ground where I entered, waiting for a guide to come. It turns out to be the chief pathologist, Alex Sines. We’ve met before, at various functions, and a couple of times in Party Central. He’s a pain in the ass but the best in his field.

“Capac,” he beams as if we’re bosom buddies. “You’re the last person I expected to find. Come to check up on us, or is—”

“I want to see The Cardinal’s coffin,” I interrupt.

That throws him. “The…? Oh, you mean the other Cardinal. Mr. Dorak.”

“Yes.”

He smiles falteringly. “It’s rather late for a visit. May I ask—”

“Just take me to him. Now. Before I replace you with someone who knows how to obey when he’s given an order.”

Sines bristles but has sense enough not to bite back. He leads me through the maze of coffins. I follow silently, ignoring the onlookers, turning a deaf ear to their speculative whispers.

We end up at a crypt deep inside the Fridge. A small, octagonal, metal growth, the only freestanding structure within the building. Everyone else has to share. The Cardinal, in death as in life, resides alone. The entrance to the crypt is barred by a computerized door.

“I’m the only one who knows the combination,” Sines boasts, keying it in. “The walls are lined with every kind of alarm imaginable. The Cardinal made sure his body wouldn’t be vulnerable to grave-robbers.”

“What happens when you die?” I ask.

“I keep the code on file, in a secret location. My successor will be able to retrieve it.”

I step back as the door swings open with a series of heavy clicks. A light is shining inside. “It comes on automatically when the door opens,” Sines explains in answer to my inquisitive look.

I edge forward. The Cardinal’s coffin is set on an ornately carved slab of marble in the middle of the room. He used to say he didn’t care what happened to his body when he died, but the specific instructions he left about what he wanted done with his remains proved that was a lie.

“Lock the door after me,” I tell Sines.

He blinks. “The room isn’t ventilated. A few hours inside and you’ll run out of air.”

“That’s OK. I’ll signal when I want to leave.”

“There isn’t a button you can press, and nobody would hear you if you hammered on the door or walls—they’re too thickly insulated.”

I frown. “Then give me an hour and come back. If I want to stay longer, I’ll let you know when you open the door.”

“You’re the boss,” Sines mutters, hits a couple of buttons and watches, troubled, as the door slides shut, entombing me with The Cardinal.

“And then there were two,” I mumble, turning to face the coffin.

No answer.

I circle the coffin. Long. Wide. Black. Ferdinand Dorak’s name engraved on a silver plaque, along with birth and death dates, and a short epitaph—NOBODY TOLD ME THERE’D BE DAYS LIKE THESE. I laugh out loud when I read that. Nice to see the old bastard’s sense of humor didn’t desert him at the end. I skipped The Cardinal’s funeral. Had other things to worry about, like running a city all set to blow in the wake of its former ruler’s death.

“Where are you now?” I whisper, touching the coffin (it’s warm, some kind of hard plastic, softer than I expected). “Riding the devil’s ass in hell? Tearing up the heavens? Simply rotting here?”

I don’t know whether or not I believe in life after death. I’m proof that the dead can be brought back, but that doesn’t mean they can move on. What happens to the billions of spirits not waylaid by the villacs? Do they find rest elsewhere, or did the Ayuamarcans, by their very existence, signify that this plane is all there is? The priests are powerful, but I can’t picture them wrenching control of a soul from a god or devil. Perhaps they’re only able to wield power over the dead because the dead have nowhere else to go.

Shaking my head, I check the lid of the coffin. It’s held in place by screws that can be easily turned. Suppressing a shiver, I undo them all and gently slide the lid aside. I’m ready for anything—a living, grinning Ferdinand Dorak, a villac, an empty coffin—but all I’m faced with is a standard, gray-skinned corpse.

The Cardinal’s hair is a mess, and his nails look jagged and long on his shrunken fingers, but otherwise he’s much as I remember. His hands are crossed on his chest in the traditional manner of the dead. I check the smallest finger of his left hand. It used to bend away from the others each time he created a new Ayuamarcan. Now it’s straight. Whoever’s bringing the dead back to life, it isn’t this decrepit stiff.

Curious, I press a couple of fingers to the flesh of the former Cardinal’s left cheek. There’s a thin snapping sound as the bone gives way. I pull back quickly before it crumples. The Cardinal was in a pretty sorry state when they scraped him off the pavement at the foot of Party Central—a fifteen-floor drop takes it out of even the toughest son of a bitch. The undertakers did an incredible job piecing him back together for the televised funeral, but it’s all spit and glue. One punch to the jaw and his head would explode.

I grin at the thought of desecrating the corpse—part of me hates The Cardinal for creating me and sentencing me to eternity—but I don’t. He was only obeying his nature, as I’ve obeyed mine since taking over. The villacs are the real enemies, the sly bastards who manipulated us.

I lever the lid of the coffin back into place. I feel foolish for coming. Conchita’s message must have had some other meaning. This has been a waste of time. Dead men can’t see. As soon as Sines lets me out, I’ll high-tail it back to Party Central and refocus. There must be…

A groaning sound stops the thought dead. I spin toward the door but it’s stationary. The sound isn’t coming from outside but from in here.

Backing up against a wall, I stare at the coffin. I expect the lid to creak open, the way it would in a horror film, and the corpse of The Cardinal to stumble out. But that doesn’t happen. Instead the entire coffin slides off the marble slab. At first I think it’s magic, but then I spot a thin metal shelf supporting it and I realize this is technology at work, not the supernatural.

The coffin comes to a halt. Taking a couple of steps closer, I see that the marble slab is hollow. There are steps set within. As I stare into darkness, pondering this arcane twist, a head appears—someone’s coming up. My throat tightens and I search for a weapon, but I gave up carrying guns and knives many years ago. No call for them when you’re immortal.

Fighting the urge to lurch away from the slab and hammer on the door, I stand my ground, facing up to whatever horror awaits. As the figure mounts the steps, I realize first that it’s a woman, tall, dark skin, long black hair. Next I notice that she’s naked. As that sinks in, the even more incredible truth of her identity strikes me.

“Ama?” I wheeze. Her head lifts and her eyes settle on mine, but that’s her only response. “Ama,” I moan, taking a staggering step toward her. Ama Situwa was the love of my life, the woman The Cardinal created for me. She could have been Eve to my Adam, for a few decades at least, but I sacrificed her. Part of the price I paid when agreeing to my demonic deal.

Ama puts a finger to her lips. Mouths the sound, “Shhh.” I stop and stare. I want to cry but I’ve forgotten how. She lowers her hand, then stretches it out, offering it to me. I shake my head, afraid. She cups her fingers and beckons, smiling reassuringly. Trembling, scared of what will happen if I take her hand, terrified of what will happen if I don’t, I slide my fingers into hers. She squeezes, then turns and starts back down the stairs. I hesitate at the top—it’s dark down there, I can’t see the bottom—but she squeezes my hand again and nods to say it’s safe. I shouldn’t go—this is insane, placing my life in the hands of a naked ghost—but I can’t help myself. Reason has fled. The spirits of the past have claimed me as their own.

Holding on to Ama, I follow her down the stairs into the unknown, only dimly aware of the coffin sliding back into place overhead, plunging us into total, all-encompassing darkness.

part two

assassin

1

in the name of the father

My father was a demon. He killed thousands of people, wicked and just, innocent and guilty—it made no difference to him. Paucar Wami was tall, black as the devil’s heart, bald, with uncanny green eyes and colorful tattooed snakes running the gamut of both cheeks, meeting just beneath his lower lip. He butchered for pleasure and gain. He lived solely to destroy. Ten years ago he passed from the face of this Earth and his unique strain of evil passed with him.

Between murders, Wami fathered a crop of children. I was the firstborn. I’ve spent the past decade trying to revive my father’s twisted legacy. I’ve become his living ghost. I’m an assassin’s shade, death to all who cross me.

My name is Al Jeery.

Call me Paucar Wami.

Friday, 23:00. I’ve been shadowing Basil Collinson since early evening. If the pimp sticks to his schedule, he should roll out of the Madam Luck casino shortly after midnight and head for a club. That’s when he dies.

Basil’s a poor gambler but he never drops more than a thousand in a single sitting. He’s careful that way. Likes to maintain control of his life. Dresses in the same smart suit every day. Takes care of his wife and kids, hides the true nature of his business from them. Cuts a slice of his profits to all the right people. On drinking terms with influential police officers and lawyers. Even pays his taxes in full and on time.

Basil’s only weakness is his violent appetite for the women who work for him. He has between fifteen and twenty ladies on the books at any given time, and though he sees that they’re fairly paid, every now and then he takes one off for a weekend and goes to work on her. He drops the façade, hits the bottle and subjects his victim to a torrent of abuse and torment. Mostly they limp away nursing bruises and cuts, but occasionally he’ll put one in the hospital, and at least twice that I know of, the damage has been fatal.

Pimps don’t ruffle my feathers—live and let live—but murderers are fair game.

My motorcycle’s parked out back of the casino, ready if I need it, though I doubt I will. Collinson normally walks to a nearby club when he’s done gambling. I’m waiting for him in an apartment on the fourth floor of the building opposite the casino. It belongs to a guy called George Adams. He works nights. Lives alone. He’ll never know I’ve been here. I prefer to stake out prey from the comfort of an apartment or office. Beats loitering on the streets, disguised as a beggar, hidden behind layers of soggy newspapers and cardboard.

Midnight comes and goes. The air fills with the vicious beat of fuck-it-all music, guilty laughter, drunken cheers and jeers, the growl of taxis, occasional gunfire. The city’s hotting up. There’s been a lot of unrest recently. Gang clashes, street riots, attacks on police. Word is The Cardinal Mk II has gone AWOL. If it’s true, it’s bad news. I have no sympathy for Dorak’s successor, but at least he held things together. If he’s been killed or abducted, this city will erupt and the streets will run with blood.

Collinson exits through the arched, glittering doorway of Madam Luck. I check my watch: 01:23. Later than usual. Must have been on a winning streak. Letting myself out of the apartment, careful not to leave any trace, I slip down the stairs and tag Basil as he turns the corner at the end of the street. He’s alone, which is a bonus. A companion would have complicated things. Now it’s simply a case of picking the ideal moment to strike.

Keeping to the sides, stepping over broken glass and sleeping bums, I close on Collinson, unseen, unheard, a child of the shadows. Ahead, my prey hums and clicks his fingers in time to the tune. Chances are he wouldn’t hear me even if he weren’t so self-absorbed. I’ve had nine years of practice. Only the very rare victim sees or hears me coming. To the rest I materialize out of the night like the monsters they were told not to fear when they were children.

Basil turns onto Hodgson Street. Angling for the Nevermind club—’90s retro. He’ll have to detour through Steine Avenue. The lights are inadequate there at the best of times. Useless these last four nights, since vandals smashed two of the lamps. That’s where I’ll take him.

I get close enough to Basil to identify the tune he’s humming. Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.” A good song, and he carries it well, but I turn a deaf ear to it. Can’t afford to think of him as human. He’s a pimp, a killer, prey. I’m Paucar Wami, self-appointed executioner. I show no mercy. Fuck his taste in music.

Collinson hits the darkened Steine Avenue. Picking up speed, I stroke the varnished human finger hanging by a chain from my neck and slip up silently behind him, sliding a long curved knife from my belt. The blade’s freshly honed. I take no chances. Murder’s messy if you don’t put your target down with a single swipe.

At the last moment Basil senses me. He begins to turn, but too late. Bringing the knife up, hissing like the jungle cat I become at the moment of death, I slash it sharply across his throat, using the momentum of his swiveling head to drive the blade deep into his flesh, all the way across from right to left.

Basil’s dead before he hits the floor, though it takes him awhile to realize it. He jerks spasmodically, blood arcing high into the air from his severed throat. I stand clear of the spray, letting the wall take the burst, watching emotionlessly as his legs and arms go still. When he’s at rest and the flow of blood has subsided to a steady trickle, I step forward and crouch, working quickly. I’m wearing disposable plastic gloves. Dipping my index finger into the pool of blood spreading around his head, I rip the front of his shirt open, then scrawl on his chest (pausing to re-bloody my finger several times), THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS TO PIMPS WHO MALTREAT THEIR WOMEN. P.W.

Done, I close Basil Collinson’s eyes and say a silent prayer over him. “This son of a bitch is yours, Lord. Do with him as you will. Just don’t send him back.” The prayer’s instinctive. I mutter similar words over many of those I kill. A force of habit I’ve never bothered to break, though I should—wasted seconds.

Standing, I check I haven’t been seen, then slip away, offering myself to the shadows of the streets and alleys. As usual they accept me, and soon I’m invisible to all but the city itself.

I wake early, before seven. I’d have appreciated another couple of hours, but once I’m awake there’s no slipping back to sleep. Better to get up and on with the day than lie here thinking about Collinson and the other lives I’ve taken. I can reconcile myself to the life I lead when I’m active

(when I’m Paucar Wami)

but if I sit back and brood, doubts flood in, and doubts will be the end of me if I give them their head. I have to keep busy. My sanity depends on it.

Temperatures have been hotter than usual for this time of year, but it’s cold this morning and I start with a series of push-ups to warm up. I break three hundred before the first beads of sweat flow. I’ve spent most of the last ten years exercising. Approximately six hours of sleep each day, a couple of hours wasted on eating, washing, cleaning and shopping, the rest working out or pounding the streets. No leisure time. I don’t read, watch TV or listen to the radio. Sometimes I dip into newspapers, do research in libraries and scan computer files to check on certain facts, but otherwise I’m continually on the move, acting and reacting, thinking only of the challenges at hand.

I finish with the push-ups and segue into sit-ups, focusing on my abdominal muscles. I’m in great shape for a man pushing fifty. I have to be. The streets devour the weak. I must be stronger than those I hunt and kill.

My eyes flick to the photograph hanging on the wall at the foot of my bed. This is a small apartment, a bedroom, living room, kitchenette and bathroom. The wallpaper was old when I was young. The smell from the alley is suffocating in hot weather. But it’s home. I deserve and long for no better.

In the photo, an off-duty police officer has an arm draped paternally around the shoulders of a young amateur actress. They’re beaming at the camera. I’ve loved both of them, in different ways, and hated them more than I’ve loved. The woman died by my hand before I became Paucar Wami. The man is missing, presumed dead, but I believe he’s still alive. My sole purpose in life is to find him, put a gun to his temple and blow his brains out. On that day the killing can stop, and so can I. Until then I act out the part of my father and roam these streets without rest, hunting, killing, searching.

I start on neck rolls. Whisper softly to myself as I rotate my head, a word or short sentence each time my chin touches my chest. “Paucar. Wami. I am. Paucar Wami. The night. Is mine. No rest until. He dies.”

He—Bill Casey, the cop who destroyed me, who robbed me of everything I ever had and was, reducing me to this pale shadow of my inhuman father in the process. I have Bill’s small left finger—the digit that hangs from my neck—and one day, if he’s out there, I’ll have the rest of him too.

I think about Bill and Paucar Wami every day, every hour. Even when trailing prey, they’re foremost in my thoughts. Everything I am, I owe to them. Everything I do is in response to the hell of their creation.

Wami was my father, a legendary serial killer, beloved of The Cardinal. A beast who tormented and murdered to pass the time. Somewhere along the line his path crossed with Bill Casey’s. I haven’t worked out what Wami did to Bill—I suppose he butchered someone close to him—but it drove Bill mad. He swore revenge and spent decades plotting a bizarre retribution. Befriending me as a child, he guided me through much of my life, keeping me close by his side, only to strip me of everything I valued when the time was right, slaughtering those close to me, pinning the blame on Wami in the crazy belief that I’d take up arms against my father and kill him.

I confronted Bill once I’d unmasked him. When I asked why he didn’t kill Wami himself, he cited poetic justice. That didn’t make sense then, and it hasn’t grown any clearer with the passage of time. Unless Bill’s alive, and I can find him and squeeze the truth out of him, I doubt it ever will.

My head comes to a stop. I take several deep breaths, then head for the kitchenette to prepare breakfast. A simple meal—dry cereal, toast, slices of cold meat. Food doesn’t interest me. I eat to keep my body—my engine—ticking over. It’s fuel. Without it, I’d stop. And stopping’s something I can’t allow myself to do, not until Casey’s severed head rests on a spear before me.

And if he really died in the blast he engineered—the blast that left my body scarred and burned—and didn’t plant a corpse in his place? Then I’ll carry on until I grow old and withered, and perish on the streets of blood that I have chosen to make my own. Either way, there can be no rest. Not for the wicked.

I was an alcoholic once. In the nightmare months after Bill’s awful revelation, I almost gave myself over to the bottle. That would have been the easy way out. I often wish I’d taken it. But I hung tough, and gradually, when only the abyss loomed large in my life, the plan presented itself.

My father wasn’t human. The original Cardinal, Ferdinand Dorak, said he’d created Paucar Wami out of thin air, assisted by blind Incan priests who’ve controlled this city for centuries. He said he’d created others too—Ayuamarcans. Whenever he destroyed one of his creations, a green fog crept over the city and gnawed away at people’s minds, eliminating all memories of the unreal person.

I don’t know if The Cardinal was telling the truth or if he was a hundred percent bugshit, but there was something supernatural about Wami and the others. I’m the only one who remembers the Ayuamarcans. When The Cardinal died, those who were left faded out of existence and memory, except for Wami, whose legend lived on vaguely.

The plan was to re-create the serial killer, and thus lure Bill out of hiding. Since Bill had devoted so much of his life to destroying the hated Paucar Wami, I figured he wouldn’t be able to stop. He’d pursue his crazed quest, even if he was no longer sure whom he was chasing. The trouble was, with Wami gone—banished to the realms of nothingness when The Cardinal died—there was no one for him to chase, no reason for him to come out of hiding.

So I gave him one.

Following the food with half a pint of milk, I edge into the tiny bathroom and relieve myself. While washing my hands, I study my reflection in the mirror. I’m dark skinned like my father, very similar in appearance. The main differences—Wami was bald, with green eyes, and sported tattoos of twisting, multicolored snakes, one down either cheek, their heads locking in the middle beneath his lower lip.

I started with the hair. Scissors and a razor rid me of that. Green contact lenses for the eyes. Then the tattoos (which, as a bonus, hid the worst of my scar tissue). It took awhile to find a tattooist capable of replicating my father’s serpentine design, and several lengthy, painful sessions to ink in every last coil, scale and link, but eventually it was done and I took on the full look of Paucar Wami, down to the leather jacket and motorcycle that were favorites of his.



Continues...

Excerpted from City of the Snakes by Shan, Darren Copyright © 2012 by Shan, Darren. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 4, 2012

    Great! :D

    I got the book like a few days after i ordered and the book is great! i hope he makes another book to the city series
    -noah

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  • Posted April 22, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    An enjoyable but extremely dark and bloody fantasy

    The City has been ruled by the Cardinal, but with his death Capac Raimi became in charge with one difference from his late predecessor; he cannot be killed. Capac is not human; instead he is an Ayuamarcans created by The Cardinal abd capac is reanimated after each death. This is of little interest to Al Jeery, who is unconcerned with the blind Villac Inca priests living in the underground beneath the City though they control the Ayuamamcans. He has one interest to find and kill Bill Casey.

    Bill killed the woman he wanted as well other people who meant something to Al. For a decade he lives for revenge. To draw Bill out, he dresses as the cold blooded killer Paucar Wami who happens to be his father and involved with the Incas. Al leads the gang that created the snakes that are part of the Inca's magic. The plan is to create guerilla warfare in order to cause hostilities to force open warfare. When the City calms down, the Villac will be in control and take charge. Having dealt with Bill, Al can leave The City, but feels obligated defeat the Incas.

    The third City thriller (see hell's Horizon and Procession of the Dead) is an enjoyable but extremely dark and bloody fantasy as people use horrific power to create, destroy, and resurrect lives. Al is a reluctant hero who seeks redemption when he makes his mind up to move past revenge and takes on the puppeteers as he risks his life to try to liberate +The City.

    Harriet Klausner

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