Splintered: An Arcane Underworld Novel

Splintered: An Arcane Underworld Novel

by Jamie Schultz

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“Like a cross between the TV show Leverage and Jim Butcher’s ‘Dresden Files’ books.”—Library Journal
The author of Premonitions continues his Arcane Underworld saga...
Anna Ruiz is on a mission: Help her friend and partner-in-crime Karyn Ames break free of the tangle of hallucinations and premonitions that have cut her off from reality. With the aid of her crew—ex-soldier Nail and sorcerer Genevieve—she’ll do whatever it takes to get Karyn help, even if it means tracking down every lowlife informant and back alley magic practitioner in the occult underworld of Los Angeles.
But since a magical heist went to hell, the crew has been working for crimelord and doomed magus Enoch Sobell. Between fighting Sobell’s battles with some seriously scary demonic forces and tangling with a group of violent fanatics who want to manipulate Karyn’s abilities for their own gains, Anna, Nail, and Genevieve are beginning to realize they’re in way over their heads.
And now that Karyn’s secret about seeing the future is out, even more unpleasant parties—human and otherwise—are about to come knocking…
"Jamie Schultz breathes new life into the urban fantasy genre." (Fresh Fiction)

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780451467454
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/07/2015
Series: Arcane Underworld Novel Series , #2
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 1,004,658
Product dimensions: 6.70(w) x 4.10(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Jamie Schultz is the author of the Arcane Underworld novels, including Premonitions and Splintered. He has worked as a rocket engine test engineer, an environmental consultant, a technical writer, and a construction worker, among other things. He lives in Dallas, Texas.

Read an Excerpt


Also by Jamie Schultz


Chapter 1

“I hate this,” Anna said. She twisted her body to look out the back window of the parked car. Street mostly dark, nobody moving. A pair of headlights swung by and vanished as somebody made a wrong turn onto the street and then turned right back around. “I hate every damn thing about it.”

Nail didn’t say anything from the driver’s seat, but he scowled. She heard the sandpapery sound as he ran a hand over his shaved head, and she could feel the annoyance radiating from him. It wasn’t hard to imagine what he was thinking. Something along the lines of I heard you the first six times. She turned to face forward again, held still for almost ten seconds, and then started monkeying around with the car’s side mirror. She caught a glimpse of the side of Genevieve’s face, watching out the window from the seat behind her, just a line highlighting the profile of her cheek and a small arc of metal gleaming above the shadow of her eye socket.

“What time you got?” she asked.

Nail made a slight, skeptical smile and raised his eyebrows. “One forty.” A long pause, and then, with a smirk playing around the corners of his mouth: “One forty-one.”

“Not funny.”

“The hell it ain’t. I never seen you with nerves like this.”

“I never fuckin’ kidnapped nobody before, neither.”

He shrugged. She wasn’t sure if he was conceding the point or indicating that it wasn’t really a big deal. You think you know a guy . . .

He was right, though. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been so jittery. Ten years, maybe, back when she and Karyn had first gotten into their bizarre line of work, swiping items of usually dubious occult value from their so-called rightful owners. Maybe the first job, the first time she’d found herself standing in a stranger’s house at night, wondering, hey, what if they were actually home? And armed? Maybe not even then. Her heart raced like she’d downed a pot of coffee, and the acid- burning sensation in her gut wasn’t too dissimilar, either.

The fatigue wasn’t helping. She hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in weeks, not since the disaster at Enoch Sobell’s office after the last job. There had been a showdown—gunfire and magic, a demonic creature summoned by the cult known as the Brotherhood of Zagam, and once the bodies had been cleared away, Anna’s little four-person crew found itself in a sort of indentured servitude to Sobell.

And Karyn, Anna’s friend and partner-in-crime for over a decade, had been put out of commission, wandering her weird interior world of visions from displaced times.

Helping Karyn, however she could, was job one, but Sobell’s demands never stopped, and Anna was in no place to tell him to go fuck himself. But the current mission had now dragged on for weeks, diverting attention from Anna’s real job. She just wanted to get it over with, however horrible it was.

“Van Horn’s taking his time,” Anna said.

Nail nodded. “Yeah.”

She checked the side mirror. Still nothing. No movement of any kind. There was an empty lot, overgrown with high weeds and strewn with bricks and other construction debris. Then a body shop, closed down with metal shutters at this time of night. Past that, Bobby Chu’s party shack, a big metal building that pulsed with bass. Lights flashed through the seams, extending multicolored fingers out through the windows of the cars that crowded around.

“What’s he doing here?” Anna asked.

“Depends what he needs, I guess,” Nail said.

“I guess.” Still, it wasn’t quite in pattern. They’d found Van Horn and his creepy entourage three nights ago, and this was by far the lowest the group had crawled down the socioeconomic ladder. The last few nights, Van Horn had been visiting well-off criminals who were plugged into the occult underworld in some way or other—one of them had, in fact, given Sobell the tip that had led the crew to Van Horn. Bobby was plugged in, but not with the grade of crook that Van Horn or Sobell trafficked with. More like the kind of scum that grew on the rocks at the bottom of the lake.

I hate this, Anna thought, again, but at least this time she kept herself from singing that refrain aloud and aggravating Nail and Gen with it once more. Bad enough that Sobell had them doing every odd shit job under the sun, but it was escalating. She’d thought she’d drawn a sharp line when he told her to act as a bagman—just this one time, and then it’s back to business as usual, she’d said, her voice stripped down to a cold steel edge. He’d pretended to hear, or maybe she’d read agreement where none had existed, and then sent her out again the following week. The week after that, it had been another “pickup job,” except she knew it wasn’t, not really, not when Sobell had said, “Far be it from me to instruct you in the finer points of your business, but I strongly suggest you bring that big fellow, Nail, along. For the ride, as it were.” And the pickup job had turned into a beatdown when Ernesto “Spaz” Rivera chose to live up to his nickname. He’d been short on the cash, but rather than talk it out he’d gone for intimidation, which rapidly turned into violence. Nail hadn’t actually been necessary. Pepper spray, it turned out, was more than adequate for the likes of Spaz Rivera. That wasn’t the last beatdown, either, and there had been a couple of other unsavory demands sprinkled in as well. It had barely come as a shock when Sobell upped the stakes to kidnapping.

“I shoulda told him to fuck right off,” Anna muttered.

“Who the hell are they?” Nail said. Anna followed his pointing finger to the barrels and tubs stacked against the side of the body shop. “I don’t . . . huh.” No, there was somebody there. Hard to see in the shadows thrown by the streetlight, but there were at least a couple of people lurking among the trash. As she watched, one peeked around the corner at Bobby’s place.

“Here comes Van Horn,” Genevieve said.

Anna checked the side mirror. Van Horn and his crew were leaving Bobby’s place, throwing long dancing shadows as, bizarrely, they jumped and spun and collided with one another. Somebody fell down hard, and the first sounds of the group reached the car—laughter, high and hysterical. Seconds later, the whole group erupted in the same sort of frenetic, desperate laughter as well, making an eerie chorus that grabbed Anna’s spine at the base and twisted.

There was a ripple of motion to Anna’s left as Nail actually shuddered.

“You okay, tough guy?” Genevieve asked.

He nodded. Anna studied his face for a moment, then slid down in her seat and resumed watching the mirror. It looked like the same drill out there as the last several nights. Van Horn walked in the middle, head down, fedora pulled low, hands in the pockets of his pin-striped slacks. He wasn’t close enough for her to see his face or hear him well, but if the past nights were representative, he was either grinning like a fool or whistling an eerie music-box-sounding tune. Around him, a shifting, spinning cloud of chaos. Maybe half a dozen men and half a dozen women, and a more motley assortment couldn’t easily be imagined. Two of them looked like Genevieve’s crowd—lots of black, trench coats despite the scorching heat of August in Los Angeles, and lots of piercings. The others, not so much. There was a skinny black kid in a basketball jersey. An old white guy with a mustache, wearing a black suit. He’d look like a slimeball attorney, if only he weren’t capering and shouting and stumbling down the street without any shoes on. A twentysomething hippie in what appeared to be a tie-dyed muumuu, tossing invisible handfuls of something at the group and laughing.

It looked as though the membership had dwindled again. Seemed that every day, one or two of Van Horn’s entourage disappeared. There had been fifteen or so to start with. Genevieve had joked that maybe the missing ones had been eaten by the others, and nobody had laughed. Anna had wondered if she and the crew could just wait until nobody was left and Van Horn was alone, but she eventually decided there was no guarantee that would ever happen, and Sobell was not a terribly patient man.

The mob got closer, and the shouting got louder, and Anna slid farther down into her seat. Even Nail did his level best to make himself small. They hadn’t been noticed before, but Anna couldn’t help feeling that, if Van Horn’s deranged entourage ever did pay them any attention, a bad scene would follow.

In the mirror, Anna saw the lawyer stop. He weaved unsteadily on his feet, waved his hands in the air, then pointed at a trash bin that had fallen over in the mouth of an alley.

The trash ignited.

“Oh, shit,” Genevieve said.

Van Horn spun on the lawyer and, in a sudden move totally unlike the easygoing, down-on-his-luck businessman he’d seemed to Anna all week, clouted the other man viciously on the side of the head, shouting something Anna couldn’t make out. The lawyer rocked, then fell back, tensed and half crouched, and Anna could have sworn he was about to spring on Van Horn. She had the sudden crazy impression the man was about to attack Van Horn with his teeth, and then the rest of the entourage formed up, standing to Van Horn’s left and right. The lawyer’s body went limp, submissive, all trace of a fight gone. He laughed. Even from here, Anna could tell he was playing it off like a joke. Hey, sorry, man. Just got carried away. That kind of thing.

Van Horn’s entourage wasn’t placated. They began spreading in a semicircle around the lawyer.

“They’re gonna kill him,” Genevieve whispered.

Anna thought she was right. The hippie chick’s face was contorted in a crazy sort of zeal that was visible even from here, eyes avid and gleaming with red and blue light from the party shack, and the Goth kids had curled their hands into fists. No, not fists, but claws. A brief crazy thought ran through her mind. Call 911. The lawyer was undoubtedly an asshole, but he didn’t deserve this. Whatever was about to happen, it was going to be awful.

The lawyer evidently reached the same conclusion. His strength deserted him, and his legs gave out. He fell to the asphalt.

The semicircle closed around him. Anna stopped breathing, her chest locked tight in horrified anticipation. It didn’t matter if she called 911 or not. Nobody could get here in time. And yeah, she was armed, but the guy about to get himself killed had started a fire in a trash can from forty feet away. Who knew what the others were capable of?

The whole group paused, coiling to launch themselves on the prone lawyer, and then Van Horn stepped inside the circle and extended a hand to the man. The others held where they were, seeming to tremble with the strain of it.

Sudden movement pulled Anna’s attention from the reconciliation as the guys behind the body shop stepped out. There were four that Anna could see. Before she could say anything, they opened fire.

The man—kid, really, one of the Goths—on Van Horn’s left went down first, shot in the back. The others dropped to the pavement, spreading out and staying low behind the row of cars. One of them began laughing hysterically.

Another barrage of shots sounded. They went wild, shattering glass and punching holes in car doors, but if they hit anybody, Anna couldn’t tell.

The remaining Goth kid stood. A blade shone under the light, and he slashed it down his palm. Sparks flew as a bullet spanged off the car in front of him.

He flicked his hand at one of the shooters. Drops of blood flew from his fingertips, and the man was flung backward, slamming into a pile of fenders. Nearby, another barrel went up in flames. The kid in the basketball jersey uttered some strange words and tore a piece of paper in half, and a shower of rocks skittered across the sidewalk and pounded into the group’s attackers.

“Go!” Van Horn said.

Anna thought it was a sign to run, but it turned out to be anything but—the mob of ten or eleven stormed over and around the cars, charging the group by the body shop. After that, confusion in the darkness. There was noise and shouting, the sound of running feet.

Less than a minute later, Van Horn and his entourage emerged. They scurried for a van and a busted-looking old station wagon, got in among shouts and crazed laughter, and a few moments later, pulled out.

They left the Goth kid’s body in the street.

“Follow them,” Anna said.

Nail started the car. “Ain’t gotta ask twice.”

Van Horn and his entourage drove an erratic, circuitous route, probably assuming somebody was following them at this point, but they ended up back at the same place they’d ended up the last couple of nights—an abandoned meatpacking plant at the end of a very quiet tenement block. Nail pulled the car up a short way at the other end of the street and watched them get out and then file into the building.

He turned off the car and killed the lights. The three of them waited wordlessly in the vehicle. An hour passed. Anna played with the button on the glove compartment and wished for a cigarette. Nobody else showed up, and nobody came out of the building.

“Where’s that leave us?” Genevieve asked finally.

Nail grunted. “Same as before. He doesn’t go out alone, he doesn’t stay in alone. Either we grab him on the street and risk being killed or seen, or we go in.”

“And just risk being killed.”

“Any idea who those other guys were?” Anna asked. “Seems like we aren’t the only ones gunning for him. Sobell got somebody else on this, you think?”

“Doubt it,” Nail said. “Not if he’s so concerned about taking him alive. Which probably means we got even less time than we thought.”

“We scope the place tomorrow, then,” Anna said. “When they’re out doing . . . whatever.”

It was action, anyway. Motion in some direction. That didn’t make her feel any better.

*   *   *

Anna jolted awake, heart pounding and breath coming panicky and shallow, but Genevieve was there, close, hand on her shoulder, hip touching her hip. Ready with soothing words in the darkness. “It’s all right; it’s okay. Shhh. It’s just a bad dream.”

“Jesus Christ,” Anna said. She sat up and pushed the blanket away. Her T-shirt was glued to her body with sweat, her hair greasy and gross and hanging down in her eyes in wet tangles. “Jesus fucking Christ.”

“It’ll be all right,” Genevieve said. She moved her hand to the back of Anna’s neck, kneading as though pushing on the flesh would somehow purge the fear. “Really.”

“What time is it?”

“I don’t know. Four or five in the morning, I guess.”

So she’d gotten, what? An hour of sleep? Two? This was exhausting. “Did I scream?”

A pause. “Only a little.”

Anna grunted with disgust. She brushed the hair away from her face and stared into the blackness of the room. The room was entirely dark, and she figured that was just as well. The cinder block walls were oppressive, and she was convinced the pile of debris in the corner concealed a nest of wriggling, squirming creatures of some kind. Better not to see it . . . though now that she was listening, was there movement over there? A tiny piece of plasterboard sliding down the pile as some creeping creature pushed its nose out of its den?

You’re imagining that, she thought, but she grabbed for her phone anyway and flipped on the light.

Genevieve held up an arm, squinting. “A little warning would’ve been nice.” She looked worn down, too, in disturbing contrast to her usual energy. Genevieve had two arms tattooed in full, colorful sleeves, a shock of pink hair at the base of which blond roots had begun to show, over a dozen piercings in her ears and more in her tongue, lips, eyebrows, and nose, and she had an upbeat swagger about her that seemed impenetrable most of the time. Not tonight, though—she was peevish and tired, like Anna. Couldn’t really blame her.

Anna turned the phone so that it threw its fragile, diffuse beam of light toward the pile of stuff in the corner. Nothing moved. She swept the light around the room. A backpack and some basic camping equipment lay over by the wall. Near Genevieve’s sleeping bag, a stack of Genevieve’s paperwork—occult stuff, notes and fragile old documents covered in cryptic scrawling. Anna found that stuff almost as creepy as the pile in the corner, but in the circles they traveled, having somebody with a little occult know-how was as necessary as lockpicks and police scanners, and Genevieve was among the best Anna had worked with.

She moved the light back to the pile in the corner. Still nothing moving, and she wondered if that was because there was really nothing in there after all or because it was too smart to move in the light.

“We’re getting that cleaned out of here in the morning,” she said.

Genevieve nodded. “Same dream?”

“Same kind of dream.” Bang bang bang bang. Four shots, four holes in a human being. Another night spent reliving the clusterfuck at Sobell’s. She’d killed a man there, or what was left of one, before the bony horror the cult had summoned up tore itself loose from the guy’s carcass and attacked. The dreams were jumbled, fragmentary, and Anna no longer had a clear memory of what she’d seen and what her mind had reconstructed for her. She’d emptied an entire magazine into the bad guys; she was pretty sure that had happened. Adelaide had been there. She was definite on that. Hadn’t seen her since, which was a major fucking problem, since Adelaide was the only one who knew how to brew or conjure up the stuff Karyn called blind, the stuff that blunted her visions and kept her most of the way in the real world. In the dream, Karyn shoved Genevieve away from the business end of a shotgun just before it went off. In the dream, the blast caught Adelaide full in the face, turning her head into red mush and fragments. It hadn’t gone down quite like that in real life—Adelaide had survived, taking a few pellets instead of the whole blast—but it might as well have. Adelaide was gone, and Karyn was physically present but mentally in another time entirely, farther from Anna than if she’d been across the continent.

Now every time Anna got a few hours in the rack, instead of a stretch of blissful oblivion, she got to relive that night’s violence over and over. Nobody had ever told her that the hangover off an ugly adrenaline high like that could last for weeks. Or months. There had been tough guys on the street where she grew up, before she ended up a ward of the state, hard-core gangbangers who claimed to have killed a dozen motherfuckers each. Maybe some of them had. They sure didn’t act as though they’d lost any sleep over it. Maybe that was just bluster. Maybe they were wired differently.

Maybe I should just go ask them.

Genevieve tried to pull her close, but Anna held up a hand. “I’m just gonna get up,” she said.

“Come on, it’s late.”

“And I’m done sleeping. I keep seeing his face. Its face. Both of them.”

“Anna, he was a monster. It was a matter of survival.”

“I don’t feel guilty,” Anna said. “I just feel bad.”

Genevieve nodded, but it seemed perfunctory. That’s what you did with the traumatized woman, right? You agreed with her, even if you didn’t have the faintest clue what she was talking about. Genevieve’s heart was in the right place, she supposed, but it was still all so tiring.

“I’m gonna get up.” Anna stood up. No need to get dressed—they were all sleeping in their clothes anyway, awaiting the moment when everybody had to suddenly get up and run to meet Sobell, fend off a small army of Van Horn’s deranged entourage, or deal with whatever other nasty surprise turned up. Maybe she didn’t smell the freshest, but she wouldn’t get shot trying to put on her pants, either.

“Want some company?”

“No. Thanks anyway.” She bent down and kissed Genevieve on the corner of her mouth.

Concern warred briefly with exhaustion on Genevieve’s face before conceding defeat. Genevieve lay back on the bedroll the two of them shared and exhaled heavily. “Okay.”

Anna pulled on her beat-up old jean jacket and left the room. The main space outside, where most of the interior walls had been torn down, was dark. Just enough of the city light made its way through the broken-out windows and holes in the walls to reflect off the moldering piles of sheetrock and make the path visible. The building they were squatting in was an abandoned elementary school, half-collapsed and full of debris. As bad as Anna felt, the building made it worse. The place was familiar in layout, but disturbing and alien at the same time. She hadn’t gone to school here, but schools were all the same, and hanging out in this place felt like walking through the bombed-out ruin of her childhood. She would have thought she’d feel some kind of smug satisfaction at that—her childhood had been no great shakes—but no. Instead, it was more a reminder that everything went to shit in time, as though she needed a reminder.

She knew why they were there. She got the logic of it. They were about to orchestrate a kidnapping, and you didn’t want to haul the guy you’d kidnapped back to your apartment, after all. It still sucked.

Anna took the path around a pile of construction debris to the next room over in the row. Like most of the rooms, it hadn’t had a door when the crew moved in. Unlike with all the other rooms but one, they’d put a door on it right away. This one was a sloppy construction of three-quarter-inch plywood with some hinges Genevieve had scrounged up from somewhere. The other was somewhat sturdier.

Using the light from her phone again, Anna found the bar that held the makeshift door shut and slid it out. The plywood’s slight bow sprang back, pushing the door open for her.

Karyn was inside. Awake, unfortunately, and sitting in the corner with her knees pulled up to her chest. Her eyes didn’t move toward Anna, didn’t register her presence at all, even though the pupils dialed down to tiny dots as Anna moved the light over her. She was seeing another time, Anna knew, or more likely an amalgam of dozens or hundreds. Waking nightmares.

This was what Karyn had been most afraid of, back when Anna first met her. Not of going crazy, but of losing her mind in a more literal sense. The distinction was probably moot anyway. The effect was the same.

“How are you feeling?” Anna asked. She always did. Always said something. Karyn seemed to understand fragments of it sometimes, and Anna figured she must be awfully lonely in there.

If Karyn got any of it this time, she made no answer. She pulled her ponytail holder loose from her brown hair and retied it, seemingly apropos of nothing. The faint, permanent lines of anxiety in her forehead seemed deeper than usual, but that might just have been Anna, projecting her own fatigue on everything around her.

“I’ll find you,” Anna said. “I’ll bring you back. Just hang tight.” She waited a few minutes, hoping maybe Karyn would catch sight of her and say something. When Karyn remained silent, she left, barring the door once more.

“You’re up early,” Nail said. He sat in front of the door to the next room over, back braced against the cinder block wall. From here he was little more than a low, lumpy silhouette. If not for the orange ember of the end of his cigarette, she might not have seen him at all.

She walked over and sat next to him. He was a big guy, ex-military, still carrying most of the muscle, but she wondered if he was wearing down, too. He seemed squared away most of the time, though—boots polished, shirt tucked into his fatigue pants, clean-shaven every single day. “Any trouble?”

“Nah. Night’s pretty calm.”

“Wish I felt the same.”

Nail took a drag from his cigarette and offered it to her. She followed suit, watching the end flare up in the darkness.

“Can’t sleep?” he asked.

“What was your first clue?’

He tapped his forehead with his index finger. “Can’t hide nothin’ from me.”

She inhaled again, burning down a third of Nail’s cigarette in one long drag. Genevieve would give her a hard time, if she saw her now. I thought you quit, she’d say, frowning. No, Anna thought, suddenly confused. Karyn would do that. Gen never knew me when I smoked.

“You ever kill anyone?” she asked.

Nail took the cigarette back. Another brief orange flare as he inhaled. “Yeah.”

No surprise there. A guy didn’t tour Iraq with Marines First Recon to tickle people. She was surprised at his tone, though. Less matter-of-fact than she’d expected, a little heavier. Or maybe she was reading too much into it.

“It bother you?”

He flicked an ember onto the concrete floor. It fragmented, sending up a tiny shower of sparks. “Depends what you mean by that.”

She wished she could read his face, but there wasn’t enough light. “Like, you know. Insomnia.”

“Bad dreams.”


He turned his head to look toward her. She wondered if he could see anything more than she could. Maybe it was because he couldn’t that he continued.

“First guy I ever killed was because my brother’s a fuckin’ idiot,” he said. Not what she’d expected, though by all accounts his brother was, in fact, a fuckin’ idiot. “You know, he was in college? UCLA, where Dad worked maintenance. He woulda been the first on that side of the family to finish, if he’da finished.”

Anna waited while Nail seemed to collect himself. She remembered his brother, DeWayne. They’d met, briefly, during the first job Nail had ever worked with her and Karyn. Nail’s whole share of the take, or as near as made no difference, had gone to bailing DeWayne out of the kind of jam that usually ended with a body in a Dumpster or behind a warehouse somewhere. A whole lot of Nail’s money went down that hole, she thought, though she never asked about it.

“Trouble with DeWayne,” Nail continued, “is that he got more brains than sense. Everybody knows he got no sense. Always running some clever scam, always thinks he’s got the angles figured . . .

“He started running sports book his second semester at college. He’d made a little pile of cash his first semester betting on that kind of shit, and he thought he’d make a whole lot more if he set himself up as the house, you know? Thing is, it took off. Started with a few guys he knew, and then a couple guys at one of the frats wanted in, and they told their friends, and so on. Before too long, there’s thousands of dollars changing hands, I shit you not, and he’s takin’ his ten percent off the top. But that ain’t quite good enough. DeWayne, he’s figured all the angles, decides that the Badgers are a lock for the fuckin’ Rose Bowl or some shit, so he takes the money he’s supposed to be sitting on to pay the winners and he bets it himself.”

“Ouch,” Anna said. “He lost it, huh?”

“No, he won. Stuck his neck way out on the chopping block with other people’s money, and for a goddamn miracle, he didn’t get his head cut off. Won something like thirty grand.”

“I don’t get it.”

“DeWayne’s the kind of guy—let’s just say he’s got a knack for turning gold to shit. If everybody’s got one God-given talent, that’s his. The bet wasn’t the problem. The problem was that he just couldn’t stop himself running his mouth after. He couldn’t help it. He just couldn’t help it. Couldn’t help flashing the cash, neither. He took care of himself, yeah, but he also put new tires on Ma’s car, bought me a new computer. I swear he was talking to roofing contractors before Dad asked him where the hell the money was coming from. DeWayne told him it was a scholarship, and I don’t think nobody believed that shit, but that’s all we could get out of him, so it just ended with Dad telling him to spend it on school.

“Me, I knew the score. I was just too stupid to care. Far as I was concerned, DeWayne was the coolest big brother a kid could want. He let me hang with him and his boys, never tried to get rid of me. I was seventeen, hanging with college kids whenever I wanted, having a great time.

“I shoulda seen it coming, though. Whenever DeWayne gets real nervous, real jumpy, it’s because he done some shit he knows he shouldn’t have, and he’s waiting for it to hit the fan, and he got real jumpy late that spring. He didn’t leave the apartment he was staying at for three days. Wouldn’t go near the windows, even though it was a hundred damn degrees in there. Sent me out to get him some smokes twice, to pick up some food once.

“So what happened was some low-life wannabe connected guy running book heard about DeWayne’s business from one of the frat kids, then heard about the pile of money from—well, who the fuck knows? Anybody coulda told him by that point. Anyway, he puts two and five together and thinks, ‘Okay, here’s some son of a bitch cutting in on my business, and now he’s got a pretty good stash to fund it.’ It’s one thing when a guy’s coordinating bets between a handful of buddies, but it’s something else entirely when he’s working twenty, thirty clients or more, and he’s got enough dough to pay out. Starts to look like a real business, you know? So I guess he made some threats, and DeWayne told everybody that that motherfucker was toast if he messed with him, or something like that, and word got around, and DeWayne wised up and hid his ass.

“Anyway, I show up at DeWayne’s on day four, and the door’s kicked in. I walk in, stop in the middle of the living room when I hear yelling from the back. Begging, really. ‘Jesus, Trigger, take the money, take all of it, man. I don’t care.’ All that kinda noise. Then some shit smashing. Then a gunshot, and the real screaming starts.

“That’s what gets me moving. I grab a fork—a fuckin’ fork, because it was lyin’ on the coffee table next to a plate with some dried tomato sauce on it, and I didn’t have a goddamn brain—and I run back. DeWayne’s on the ground, blood squirting out of a hole in his leg, and this big dumb asshole—Trigger, I guess—is standing on the wound, got his heel on it, grinding away, yelling, ‘You like that, motherfucker? You like that?’ And he’s not paying too much attention to the gun, just sort of waving it around, but for one second it’s not actually pointing at nobody, and he’s half-turned, and I jump on him.”

Anna passed the cigarette back. Nail took it, took the last drag off it, and crushed the butt against the concrete. He exhaled heavily, and the plume of smoke took on a brief, swirling life of its own before dissipating.

“You know what it takes to kill a motherfucker with a dinner fork?”

Anna shook her head.

Another deep breath let out. “Sorriest goddamn mess you ever saw. My arm was sore for a week.”


“Yeah. Didn’t sleep any too good for a long while after that. Then 9/11 happened, and I enlisted, and I seen a whole lot worse since.”

“This where you tell me it gets better with time?”

He shrugged. “I guess you already know that.” He shifted, stretching one leg out in front of him. “I knew guys in the service who got a taste for it. Power trip. Cap some guy, and you can feel like a big man for an hour, or whatever. I get that, but it ain’t my thing.”

“So what’s your thing?’

He looked away from her, slowly surveying the wreckage around them. “When you’re in a spot where you got to ice somebody, it’s . . . it’s like eating your vegetables. You gotta do it, no matter how bad it tastes. Bad for your health if you don’t. Best get it over with quick and not think too hard on it.”

Anna waited a moment to see if he had anything to add, but he stayed silent. “That’s it?” she asked. “That’s your expert advice on the subject?”

“It’s what I got.”

“I can’t tell if you’d make a worse therapist or inspirational speaker.”

He laughed quietly. “I imagine I’d be pretty bad at both.”

“Hey, you recognize any of Van Horn’s crowd?”

Nail nodded. “T-shirt and cargo pants and the lawyer-looking guy for sure. Might be others.”

“From the Brotherhood. Mendelsohn’s guys.”


That confirmed the worst of Anna’s fears on the subject. Nathan Mendelsohn had run a cult known as the Brotherhood of Zagam. He’d also owned the jawbone that Sobell had hired the crew to steal, the goddamn thing that had gotten Tommy killed and come inches away from wiping out the rest of crew and even Sobell himself. Only, in the end, it had turned out that Mendelsohn had been dead awhile, and some guy named Hector had been running his cult the whole time. That guy was still around, somewhere, and so, apparently, were the remnants of the cult. Anna hated to think what they’d do if they recognized her or any of the others. The jawbone had been a precious relic of theirs, and things had gotten considerably fucked-up after the crew stole it. In the end, Genevieve had destroyed the relic in full view of Hector and others. “What’s Van Horn doing with Mendelsohn’s guys?”

“Sobell’s all tangled up with ’em somehow. Don’t surprise me none.”

“No. I guess not.”

They sat in companionable silence for a few minutes longer. Anna felt no fatigue coming on—she felt energized, oddly. It wasn’t a good kind of energy, more that of her brain running a hundred miles an hour, but there was no chance she’d sleep. “Hey, why don’t you crash out for a bit? No sense in both of us being up the rest of the night.”

“Yeah, all right.” He stood, knees popping, and headed down the short path to the room he’d claimed for himself.

Sunrise came slow, preceded by an uptick in the distant sound of traffic, honking horns, and sirens. Anna wondered if there was anywhere you could go in L.A. and not hear it. The city’s circulatory system, as clogged and dysfunctional as it was. Omnipresent, like the blood rushing in her ears, like the sound of her own breath. It had its own rhythms, locked tighter to the clock than to the sun or the stars. Today was Thursday, and the commuters had already jammed up the 5. Must be about five thirty, then.

The sky lightened soon after, and weariness arrived with it, dragging a nice headache behind. This was life now. A few hours of sleep snatched between bone-deep fatigue at the end of the day and the moment not long after when nightmares woke her up. Nights spent tracking Van Horn, and any other time that wasn’t nailed down spent chasing one shitty lead after another, hoping to find someone, anyone, who could help Karyn. So far, that had been an almost laughably varied series of failures, ranging from simply disappointing to expensive and life-threatening. Dodging bullets, trading favors, and bartering for charms, occult concoctions, and spell fragments that she needed Genevieve to interpret for her. All useless so far. One so poisonous she’d had to be rushed to the emergency room for a stomach pump after testing it out on herself. Her nerves were shot. She’d lost weight, too, and as Nail was fond of telling her, she’d been built like a broom handle before.

This couldn’t go on indefinitely, but she didn’t see what choice she had.

Five thirty in the morning. Most of her remaining leads would likely be asleep. Fuck ’em.

She flipped open her phone and got back to work.

Chapter 2

Enoch Sobell looked up from his desk and frowned. He recognized the woman standing in front of him, but he couldn’t remember from where. She was about fifty, dressed in a conservative blue suit, and her face was all creases and sharp angles, as if it had been hacked out of a stump with a machete. Her burned-in scowl and ramrod-straight bearing made him want to start humming the Marines’ Hymn. She stood directly in front of his desk at the exact center, not in the least awed by the high ceiling, the dozen or so pedestals in alcoves showcasing a fraction of Sobell’s collection of ancient and unusual objects, or Sobell himself.

“Has there been an election?” Sobell asked. “I seem to remember the mayor being somewhat taller. Male as well.”

The woman said nothing, but he thought her scowl intensified. Call that a victory, then. “Would you care to have a seat? Perhaps I can get you something to drink?”

“The mayor is very busy.”

“No drink, then?”

“He’s likely to be busy for the foreseeable future.”

Sobell leaned back. He tapped his fingers on the arms of his chair in a kind of low-key drumroll. His mouth tightened. “Hmm.” The woman showed no signs of impatience, and he got the impression she’d stand there, impassive, until he died of old age if she had to. “Hmm.” Well, one didn’t get to his position in life without trying to make a few friends, even if some of them were detestable. “I’m sorry. I think we’ve started off poorly. I’m Enoch Sobell. I can’t say I’ve had the pleasure of making your acquaintance.”

“Denise Watterson.” She produced a business card from her jacket pocket and offered it to him. “Trask, Hopper, and Watterson.”

“That sounds suspiciously like a law firm.”

“It is.”

“Pardon my thickheadedness, but you’re not with the mayor’s office, are you?”


“Perhaps I’m being sued, then? Except that one doesn’t usually employ a named partner at a prestigious law firm in the capacity of a process server. What is going on here, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“I represent Mayor Vargas’s interests in a number of areas. I have recommended to him, in light of recent events, that he terminate all contact with you.”

“You’re what, then? His consigliere?”

To her credit, she didn’t even blink. Tough customer. Sobell had to respect that, even as annoying as it was.

He sighed. “Madam, I have known Ramon for fifteen years. I’ve used every legal device imaginable to donate the maximum amounts possible to his reelection campaigns. You can check that. It’s a matter of public record. We have had several successful business partnerships. You can check . . . some of that. Now I invite him over for a couple of drinks and pleasant conversation, and he sends a polite but none-too-friendly attorney to cut ties with me? I find that hard to believe. Or at least in very poor taste.”

“Was that a question?”

“Has Ramon Vargas’s head grown so big he won’t deign to do any of his own dirty work anymore?”

“Mr. Sobell. There was a massacre in your office building. Nineteen bodies were carted out of here while the news cameras rolled.”

“Nineteen, eh?”

“Two police officers were killed just outside.”

“Perhaps if we devoted more resources to keeping down gang violence in our fair city . . .”

“Nobody, least of all you, believes this was a random act of gang violence.”

“Not random, no. I was targeted for being such a staunch supporter of local law enforcement.”

Still no sign of a crack. Well, she did do this for a living after all.

“There are also eyewitness accounts of a man matching your description fleeing from a firefight in East L.A.”

“Slander. Who are these so-called eyewitnesses? I’ll have my attorney file the appropriate defamation suits immediately. I wouldn’t be caught dead in East L.A.”

“I’m not here to recount the evidence or listen to all the reasons why you’re innocent.”

“Just to deliver a message, is that correct?”

“It is.”

“Perhaps you’d like to make me an offer I can’t refuse?”

He’d thought Watterson was at maximum humorlessness before, but her face hardened and a little muscle bunched at the corner of her jaw. “I hope you’re not suggesting the mayor has ties to organized crime.”

“Heavens no.”

“Good. If you have further questions, you have my card. As I mentioned before, the mayor is extremely busy.”

“Too busy to take my calls for, ah, how did you put it? ‘The foreseeable future.’”

“That’s correct.”

“Just as well, I suppose. I’ve long thought he was soft on gang violence. That Henderson fellow, though, seems like just the man to clean up our increasingly violent and dangerous streets.” The words were a mistake, Sobell thought as soon as he said them. Threats just made him look weak, and surely Watterson was comfortable dealing with them. That was what she would have expected. I’m slipping.

“Maybe you should call him,” she said. With that, she left.

He sat, hands folded and his elbows on his desk, watching the closed door she’d exited through. He felt oddly . . . soiled, somehow. It was the office, he thought. The office used to be his nerve center, the place from which all his considerable power radiated out through the city and even beyond. Gresser and the Brotherhood had befouled that, Gresser when he’d moved in and taken Sobell’s chair and his identity through the power of that accursed jawbone, and the Brotherhood when they’d flocked to the man and then perpetrated a slaughter here. For Watterson to come in and rub his face in it seemed to him to be practically obscene.

He reached for the phone to dial his assistant, and the light for her extension flashed on even before he touched the handset. He picked up the phone in the middle of the first ring. “Ms. Ely, excellent timing. Please send up some of the custodial staff. We’re going to move my office down to the forty-eighth.”

“Sir, the FBI is here. They have a search warrant.”

“Excuse me?” The police had already been through the place, top to bottom, after the event Ms. Watterson had characterized as a massacre.

“A search warrant. They’re demanding access immediately.”

“They’ve waved credentials at you, then?” Sobell said, mostly to buy a few moments’ thought.

“Yes, sir. Special Agent Gina Elliot. I’ve verified her with the Los Angeles division.”

Sobell suppressed a sigh. “Splendid,” he said, with all the good cheer he could fake. “Have her meet me at the bar. And can you call Erica Tran and tell her to get here as soon as possible?”

“Right away.”

A dozen questions sprang to mind, but Ms. Ely would have answers to none of them. There had to be an angle here, some reason the issue had escalated to the federal level, some reason beyond the LAPD’s rank incompetence that they’d need to take another swing at a basic search rather than simply going through the records from the previous search.

“Thank you, Ms. Ely.”

Sobell left his office and walked toward the stairs at a leisurely pace, fretting. Special Agent Elliot, hmm? That didn’t sound good. Not at all. The police were already up in his knickers enough—they tended to go a little berserk when one of their own bought the farm, so to speak. Hence contacting the mayor’s office. Ramon could call them off with a phone call, but evidently Sobell was too dirty now even for Ramon Vargas to touch. Sobell supposed he ought to be angry about that, but it was mostly just vexing. That was how this worked, after all, and he’d been shut out by better men than the mayor dozens of times. Either he’d get through this and the mayor would likely find himself out of office the next time around, or he wouldn’t, and the mayor would have been correct all along. Best to be a big boy and acknowledge that this was standard operating procedure. Expecting a politician to stand by you in a hurricane like this would have been like expecting a viper not to bite you when you poked it. I knew it was a snake when I picked it up, Sobell thought.

The most vexing thing about all this was that it was a giant distraction. The cult, the massacre in his building, the death of his most trusted lieutenant, Joe Gresser, and now the invasive probing of law enforcement—it was all a big fucking sideshow, unpleasant by-products generated on the way to achieving his real goal. The jawbone had been a catalyst, nothing more. The plan had been simple enough: While Mendelsohn’s ridiculous cult was dealing with the patsies Sobell had sent in to steal their precious relic, they’d leave their pet demon untended, and Sobell would take the opportunity to go bargain with the creature.

It had all worked, sort of, but it had all gone more than a little sour, too. The demon hadn’t been able to help him with his central problem, that of his imminent demise. By appearances, Sobell seemed a smartly dressed, fit man in his mid-forties, fifty at the oldest, with blandly handsome features and distinguished salt-and-pepper hair, but the truth was that, after centuries of magically extended life, his body was wearing out. He was dying. He was also beyond the point of being able to use magic to wring a few more years out. At bottom, magic was a deal with demons, and if you used enough of it over a long enough period, it eroded your mind or your soul—your defenses, in any case—and left you wide-open to what was, inevitably, terminal demonic possession. He’d hoped to bargain for more life, but the demon hadn’t been able to help him. All it had done was point him back toward the last demon he’d bargained with, a detestable little worm called Forcas, and then give him a few weak tips on how to find the creature.

The only thread that had seemed promising from the demon’s cryptic messages had been a simple image, that of a man Sobell had known years ago: Edgar Van Horn. But before Sobell had been able to follow up on any of that, the situation with the cult had exploded, and all the other dominoes he’d unheedingly kicked on the way had fallen. In the end, he’d been lucky to survive—had, in fact, taken a bullet to the head, a deep graze that still sported a crusty finger-wide scab along the right side of his forehead. Ironically enough, he’d been shot by the new leader of poor dead Nathan Mendelsohn’s cult, a man named Hector Martel, who, in all likelihood, was harboring the very demon Sobell sought. But by the time Sobell had put all those pieces together, Martel had vanished, and things had gotten very complicated indeed.

That left him with Van Horn. Sobell needed to be working on the Van Horn problem and offering whatever small assistance he could to Anna Ruiz’s crew, his latest reluctant allies. If there was anything worth getting dirty over, Van Horn was it. Dealing with law enforcement was simply a nuisance. A worrisome, vexing nuisance that had now ascended to an entirely new level.

He descended the spiral staircase to the forty-eighth floor. Most of this story was open, scattered structural columns the only things obscuring the view of the city through the floor-to-ceiling windows. The floor was marble, and the bar was well stocked, and all in all, it was a hell of a place to host a soiree of an evening, not that he’d felt much like partying lately. Even debauchery couldn’t keep his mind off his more pressing problems for more than a few minutes. The situation was dire indeed.

He wasn’t sure moving his office down here was the best idea he’d ever had, but it had to be better than leaving it where it was.

The black woman standing by the bar wore the customary dour FBI suit, and her hair, pulled back in a bun so severe it seemed to stretch the skin of her forehead, did nothing to soften her image. Sharp eyes met his gaze through rectangular lenses mounted in a pair of black designer frames. She seemed a spiritual counterpart to Sobell’s earlier visitor, and he got the impressions from her stance and the set of her jaw that she was eager for a fight.

“Would you like to have a seat?” Sobell asked. “This may be a business meeting, but we can at least be civilized about it. Would you like some water? Coffee? Something with a little more kick?”

“This isn’t business,” she said.

Sobell smiled. “I’m Enoch Sobell.”

“Special Agent Gina Elliot. FBI.”

“That’s what Ms. Ely tells me. How can I help you?” Sobell took a seat on the next barstool.

She brandished some paper at him. “This is a search warrant.”

“So I’m given to understand.” He folded his hands on the bar and did his best to look sincere. “What is this about?”

“A lot of people died here a little while back.”

“Upstairs, actually. It’s all very tragic and horrible, but I think you’ll find the local authorities have my complete statement on the matter. I’m not sure what else I could add.”

“We think those bodies might be just the tip of the iceberg, Mr. Sobell.”

“An iceberg of bodies? What a needlessly gruesome metaphor.” Special Agent Elliot, Sobell was glad to see, wasn’t quite the consummate stone-faced professional that Watterson was. A sort of guarded curiosity opened her face—she wasn’t charmed by him, he didn’t believe that for an instant, but she was interested. In him, in everything around them. Each time she moved her head or shifted position, her eyes did a quick sweep of the room, checking the walls, the corners, the ceiling. The movements carried nothing of the kind of security paranoia he might have expected—just that curiosity.

He wondered if she was here for a bribe. That didn’t quite feel right, but something was off here. “I assure you, the police have been all up and down and through this building, and if they’ve found a hidden cache of corpses, they have yet to inform me about it.” He cocked his head as though an idea had suddenly occurred to him. “Unless that’s what you’re here for.”

“I’m here because your man, Joseph Gresser, appears to have had his hand in virtually every type of criminal enterprise on the books, and new ones besides.”

“Again, that’s no more than the LAPD has explained to me.” Sobell rolled his eyes heavenward and put on his most long-suffering, martyred grimace. “Good help—tremendously difficult to find in these decadent latter days.”

“Let’s be real about this. Every street rat and no-account son of a bitch from Burbank to Anaheim knows Gresser wouldn’t so much as unzip to piss except on your orders.”

The sudden vulgarity surprised him, but he thought he knew what Elliot was about now. Taking his measure—poking at him from a few different angles to see how he jumped. He answered her avid grin with a bland smile of his own. “Oh, I highly doubt that. You see, I’ll have nothing to do with no-account sons of bitches. Won’t be seen on the same street as them, as it happens. Anything they claim to know about me is, what’s the legal term? Hearsay, I believe. Utterly inadmissible as evidence.”

Her laughter came warm and throaty, and Sobell thought it genuine. She was having fun, he realized.

“I don’t need that kind of evidence,” she said.

Sobell nodded. “Hence the warrant. Very well. Have at the premises. You’ll find no more than the police have.”

“The police,” she said, very deliberately enunciating each syllable, “were looking for a different kind of evidence.”

This time, her gaze stayed fixed on his face. He wondered what she hoped to find there.

She presented a sheaf of papers—the warrant, no doubt. He took it from her and set it on the bar without a glance.

“What is it you want, Agent Elliot? I’m as anxious to get this over with as you are, so if you can jump to the point, I can hopefully clear this up. I can go back to my work, and you can ransack the premises, satisfy yourself that the police missed nothing, and get back to your work.”

“I’m not looking for bloodstains,” Elliot said. “I’m here for documents.”

“I don’t follow you.”

“I need you to provide company financials, documents of incorporation, minutes from board meetings, org charts, and anything else that shows company structure or income.”

“I see.”

“For every company in which you own a controlling interest.”

“That’s several companies.”

“Then it will probably be a lot of documents. I also need real estate records and the location of any property you own personally or any of your companies own.”

There could be no doubt now—she was enjoying this. There wouldn’t be much of anything to find in the documents, Sobell thought—he was very careful about that—but the scope and the nature of the demand were alarming.

“That doesn’t seem like the sort of thing you might need for a murder investigation, even if there is a surplus of victims by normal standards.”

“Nevertheless,” Elliot said.

Now he glanced toward the paperwork on the bar. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to have my attorney look at this before you proceed.”

“I don’t think you understand, Mr. Sobell,” Elliot said, her eyes positively sparkling. “This is a search warrant, bearing the signature of a federal judge. This is not a negotiation. I don’t need your permission, or your attorney’s permission. My people are already hauling documents and computers out of the building by the cartload.”

“Already? How industrious.” He started taking a mental inventory. This was the center of a legitimate business, and he was, for the most part, scrupulous about treating it as such. There shouldn’t be anything for them to find, and yet he worried. “I think you’re mistaken about at least one thing, though. If this isn’t a negotiation, why are you talking to me? You don’t need me to let you in the building, obviously, and you don’t need my imprimatur of approval of your actions.”

“I want your passwords. I want encryption keys. I want every last bit of knowledge you have stored away here opened up for me.”

“It’s been quite some time since I worked in tech support.”

“Very funny.”

“Just subpoena them,” he said, knowing no such thing was possible. The Fifth Amendment right to refrain from incriminating yourself apparently covered giving up your passwords, a fact that he’d had more than one occasion to be grateful for. Goddamn digital world and its endless trails of ones and zeroes.

She opted, wisely, he thought, to dodge the legal argument. “If you cooperate willingly, it’s possible we can make this a little easier on you.”

Sobell gave her as parental a frown as he could muster. “Is it possible to cooperate unwillingly? By which I mean, is that actually cooperation, or is it something else entirely? Isn’t ‘cooperate willingly’ a wholly redundant construction?”

Elliot said nothing, but Sobell saw her fist clench on the counter.

“You’re going down, Enoch,” she said. “The only question is how hard.”

“I want a vodka and cranberry juice. Anything for you?” He got up, turning his back to the FBI agent, and made his way around to the end of the bar. Elliot hadn’t rattled him, exactly, but it wouldn’t hurt to take a moment to compose himself, either. Elliot was casting a very wide net here, and he was mildly surprised she’d managed to get a judge to sign off on it. There wasn’t much to find, and the obvious legal connections could largely have been traced through public records, if with a great deal of labor. The other connections, either unobvious or illegal or both, were more concerning. Was everything clean? Had somebody, somewhere, made an injudicious note in some forgotten file? What could be traced to whom?

Perhaps the mayor knew what he was doing after all.

“Yeah,” Elliot said, surprising him. “What the hell? Seven and seven.”

Sobell busied himself with the glasses. Once he finished pouring the drinks, he slid Elliot’s glass across the bar to her. “Cheers,” he said.

His hand shook as he brought his glass to his lips. A slight tremor ran up through his elbow and through his wrist, and the surface of the liquid rippled. It worsened, and vodka slopped out, a cool kiss on the back of his hand. A wave of dizziness followed. He dropped the glass. It bounced off the edge of the sink and cracked, then fell into the metal basin and broke into four pieces. He leaned against the bar.

The FBI agent just watched.

The dizziness abated. Sobell pushed himself upright. “My apologies. Ever since I got shot in the head, I’ve been prone to dizzy spells.” The words were calm enough, but he felt a sudden rage at his frailty. He wanted to smash something, to pick up the broken glass and grind it into somebody’s face, to kick and break. His shakes had been getting worse, along with bouts of weakness, fatigue, and dizziness, and it had nothing to do with getting shot in the head. It had everything to do with the fact that he was slowly dying. He was slowly dying, his body giving out and his magic unable to stop it, and he needed to find Van Horn, and instead he was wasting his time on the ambitious pipe dreams of an FBI agent with a typically banal agenda. Stupid. He didn’t have time for this.

“You’ll have to excuse me,” Sobell said. “This conversation has taxed me as much as I care to be taxed today. I’ll leave you to your business. Best of luck.”

“The passwords?”

“Oh, those.” The rage swelled again, roaring with fury at being hounded, hassled with trivial stings and tiny, meaningless arrows, while Sobell’s personal Rome burned. Nonetheless, he summoned up one more smile. “Kindly go fuck yourself.”

*   *   *

After walking out on Elliot, Sobell had gone back up to his office, the damn office, and waited for his hand to stop shaking. He wasn’t sure what had happened after that. He thought he’d stared at his hand until it steadied, but it was steady now, and he didn’t remember when it stopped shaking. The phone was ringing now. How long had that been going on?

He picked it up. “Yes?”

“Ms. Tran is here.”

Sobell looked around the room, got oriented, and checked the clock. He’d been out of it, but not for more than ten minutes or so, he thought.

“Send her in,” he said.

Erica Tran, to Sobell’s shock, looked tired. She’d done legal work for him in some way or another for over fifteen years, since she was barely out of law school, and he’d never seen her so much as yawn, that he could remember. She worked her fellow associates into the ground. Now, though, she looked bone-weary, at that stage where all but the tiny part of the world that has your complete focus becomes blurry and the highest-octane coffee might as well be water for all the good it does.

“Please, sit,” Sobell said.

She shook her head. “If I sit, I won’t get back up until tomorrow.”

Another time, he might have insisted, but not today. There was too much happening now. If Erica thought she needed to keep at it, he wouldn’t dissuade her.

“What have you found out?” Sobell asked.

“This is bad, Enoch.”

“Everything is dire these days. A product of the terrible times in which we live.”

“Did you read the search warrant?”

No, he realized abruptly, though he should have, and normally would have done so straightaway. Instead, he’d left it on the bar. He didn’t like that one bit. He shook his head.

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