Muninn stares at him.
“Hello, my boy. You don’t seem to be alive, but those are interesting choices you’ve made. You wouldn’t happen to be a Sapere, would you?”
Johnny nods and grins, but doesn’t talk. He’s overwhelmed by Muninn’s gewgaws.
“I’ve never really seen one up close before. Saperes, of course, leave the Backbone. They don’t come in.”
“Johnny’s doing me a favor. I’m trying to learn everything I can about Drifters.”
“Because someone is using them as a weapon. And one of them bit a friend of mine.”
Muninn sets down his glass.
“Oh. I am sorry. Is she…?”
“Turned? No. Vidocq has her in the Winter Garden.”
“That’s the best thing for her, I’m sure.”
I look at the table for a minute. My brain is churning with questions and answers that don’t hook up and don’t make any sense.
“Mr. Muninn, do you know what’s happening in the Backbone or up in the city?”
“I’m afraid not. A few of the dead wander out every now and then, but never before in this number. How did you and your Sapere friend find each other?”
“Cabal Ash sent me to his minders.”
“Ah, Cabal,” Muninn says. He chuckles.
“What a charmer. He must be feeling generous these days. He paid off a sizable debt recently. It was very unlike him. My impression was that he’d fallen on some hard times.”
“Did he say where he got the money?”
“It never occurred to me to ask. Do you think he has something to do with our migrating wildebeests?”
“Definitely. I was thinking that he’d released the Drifters to settle some old scores, but if he’s suddenly rolling in cash, maybe he did it for someone else.”
“Who would want that?”
“If I could figure out what they wanted, maybe I’d know who’s doing it. Releasing all these dead fuckers in the tunnels will make it even harder to tell who had a hit out on them and who just didn’t run fast enough. At first I thought this was a Sub Rosa feud that had gotten out of hand, but today I got mugged by a couple of Lacunas and I’m pretty sure the Golden Vigil sent them.”
“That is a strange collaboration.”
“What’s this?” asks Johnny.
He holds up a sculpture that looks like a tarantula with wings.
“That’s a spider deity worshipped by natives on a small island lying between Japan and Russia. They used to capture larger spiders, sew wings onto their backs, and toss them off cliffs so they could fly up to the great Spider Mother in the sky. The spiders, of course, didn’t fly so much as plummet into the sea. They weren’t a particularly bright people and disappeared along with their island in a volcanic mishap.”
“Has anyone else who had a debt with you paid it off recently?”
“There was a strange one just the other day. Do you know Koralin and Jan Geistwald?”
“Their son, Rainier, purchased some potions from me a while back. Later, there was some talk that had me concerned about payment, but then he appeared out of nowhere and settled the entire debt with some very lovely Etruscan gold.”
“What’s so strange about that?”
Muninn finishes his wine and pours himself another glass.
“It’s strange because what I’d heard was that the boy was dead.”
“Are you sure?”
“Fairly. I’m certain I’d seen young Rainier in the Backbone with my own eyes.”
Johnny is moving around behind us. Pawing through Muninn’s shelves. Knocking things over and laughing at what he finds. Can you give Ritalin to a corpse?
“What was he buying?”
“An assortment of potions. A few rare plants and extracts. None of it particularly sinister. I got the impression that he wasn’t buying them for himself since he didn’t seem to know what any of the substances were for.”
“I saw the Geistwald kid at his parents’ party just a few nights ago. Are you sure it was him you saw in the Backbone?”
“As certain as anyone can be in the tunnels. The dead appear and disappear so quickly. But I’d met the boy before and I’m sure it was him.”
“So, if the kid really is dead, then the Rainier who paid you is impersonating him. If he can fool you and the family, he must be using a pretty potent glamour. That’s some tight hoodoo.”
“Maybe not so tight as all that. Some of the potions I sold him, when combined with other more common ingredients, could be used to create a very powerful disguise, more powerful than your average young Sub Rosa could conjure up with simple spoken magic.”
“I’m going to need to talk to him and Cabal. Making glamour for a con man sounds exactly like the kind of job Cabal would be good for. If he paid you off, he’s done some work for someone and it sounds like the fake Rainier has some coin to spare.”
Muninn laughs quietly to himself.
“You’re becoming quite the gumshoe, aren’t you? When Eugène first introduced you, I thought you’d only be good for walking through walls and punching people very hard, but here you are puzzling through clues like a champion. If we were drinking tea, we’d practically be Holmes and Watson.”
“I feel like both these days. I had a kind of accident recently, and there’s a couple of different me’s punching it out in my head. Sometimes it’s me and sometimes it’s this better, stronger, smarter me, but even more pissed off and with a massive stick up its ass.”
“And which one of you am I speaking to now?”
“I’m not always sure, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the Stark me putting all these clues together because whenever it starts, I sort of go out for a mental cigarette and let not-Stark talk.”
There’s a loud crash behind us.
“Sorry,” says Johnny.
“You know if you break the Holy Grail, you have to pay for it, right?”
“Don’t be too hard on him. He’s a lovely boy. Much more interesting than the tall, dark, silent types in the tunnels.”
“What’s driving me crazy is that none of this feels like any of it is getting me any closer to helping Brigitte.”
Johnny asks, “Is she the one you said was bitten?”
“Why don’t you just cure her?”
“There isn’t a cure. You told me so yourself.”
Johnny turns and gives me a puzzled look.
“Did I? Wow. I must have really been out of it.”
“You’re saying there’s a cure for a zombie bite?”
“Sure. It’s simple. It’s my blood. Well, any Savant’s blood.”
“What do you do with it?”
Johnny drops a papier-mâché devil’s head he’d been holding and comes to the table.
“It’s super easy. You just mix my blood with a little Spiritus Dei and goofer dust—graveyard dirt—and boil it over a fire made from white oak. Scoop off the clear liquid that floats to the top and inject it into her heart.”
“Johnny, can I have some of your blood?”
He looks at Muninn and me.
“Sure. I’m not using it.”
“I’ll get you a jar,” says Muninn, heading for the shelves. “I believe you have your own knife.”
I get up and let Johnny have the chair. He examines the Visible Man model while I get out the black blade.
“You probably want to cut the femoral artery up here near the thigh.”
He points to the Visible Man’s upper leg.
“If I remember right, there’s a lot of blood in there and the skin is easy to bite through, so it should be easy with a knife.”
“Thanks, Johnny. I appreciate this.”
“It’s okay. You’re fun.”
Muninn comes back with a smooth pearlescent black flask with a gold stopper.
“That looks like it’s worth more than the space program. Don’t you have a regular bottle?”
Muninn shakes his head.
“The boy is right. You’re a fun addition to our collapsing city. If it makes you feel better, consider the vessel a gift for poor sleeping Brigitte.”
I kneel down by Johnny’s leg and roll up his sweatpants. He’s still studying the model.
I lay the blade on his inner thigh and press. He doesn’t react. I press harder until I break the skin. Still nothing. His surface nerve endings probably died off a long time ago. I shove the blade in until it hits bone, then slice down his thigh until the skin falls open. He doesn’t flinch.
Johnny’s blood is dark and thick, like black maple syrup. It isn’t easy scooping it out, and getting it into the flask is just as hard. I have to sort of trowel it in. I don’t want to rip into Johnny’s leg too much. He still needs to be able to walk. It’s slow going.
“Don’t be shy,” he says. “I don’t know how much you’ll need, so take a lot.”
I scrape out his arteries and veins until the bottle is almost full. When I’m done I look at Muninn. I have no idea what to do with the dissected leg. Muninn hands me a roll of duct tape.
“Can you hold the skin closed for me?”
Johnny puts down the model and holds the two halves of his thigh together. I run tape around his leg from the crotch to just above his knee. When I’m done, he flexes and nods.
“Good as new.”
I stopper the bottle and press it down, making sure it’s tight.
“Mr. Muninn, I have a feeling that your handwriting is better than mine. Would you write down what Johnny said to do with the blood?”
He gets a quill pen, purple ink, and an old Fillmore West flyer and scribbles the formula on the back.
I can barely think. There’s something like relief rumbling in my gut, but I push it down. I can’t deal with it until I see what happens with Johnny’s magic juice. I didn’t see Alice in the Backbone and that’s both a disappointment and a relief. I don’t know what I would have done if she’d been there. I’m not a hundred percent sure I could have survived that. There must be a lot more of Stark left in here than the angel wants to admit, because the guilt and fear and anger and hopelessness are squirming around my skull, making the few seconds of relief I felt earlier easy to ignore. I have to keep it together and keep thinking. I want to kill my way out of all this confusion, but that won’t work this time. Going after Mason was simple. Chasing the Kissi was simple. I knew who they were and what they wanted. I’m lost at sea right now, but I have to see this through. Too many people I care about are locked in their apartments hoping they make it through the night. I don’t want to lose any more friends. The Kissi killed a waitress at Donut Universe last New Year’s to get my attention. I don’t want any more dead donut girls on my conscience.
“There you are,” says Muninn.
He takes the flask, holds the note against it, and wraps them together with silk ribbon.
He says, “Go and help your friend. And when you finally figure out what all this business is, your only debt will be to come back and tell me the whole story.”
“It’s a deal.”
Johnny puts the Visible Man down.
“Keep it,” says Muninn. “We can’t send you home empty-handed.”
“Come on, Johnny. I have to get this to Brigitte and take you home.”
“No thank you. I’d rather stay down here.”
He puts his hands in his lap and looks down at the floor.
“Yes. I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but I think I’m tired of being alive. I’ll miss Tracy and Fiona and I’ll never get to finish the dictionary, but I like it down here. It’s quiet. I don’t think I want to answer anyone’s questions anymore. I want to smell the dirt and be in the dark for a while.”
“You’re welcome to stay here with me,” Muninn says “You’ll have access to all my toys and the Backbone is just a stroll away.”
Johnny looks around the piles of junk that seem to stretch forever in every direction.
“Do you want to ask me things?”
“I’ve been down here for a long time and will be here for quite a bit longer. Life and death don’t interest me terribly much.”
“Okay. I’ll stay.”
He turns to me.
“Will you tell Fiona and Tracy that I’m sorry and that I’ll miss them and to not worry about me?”
“Sure. Thanks again, Johnny. When I come back I’ll bring you some jelly beans.”
“That would be nice.”
“Thanks, Muninn. If you don’t hear from me in the next couple of days, look for me out in the Backbone.”
There’s a good shadow by the bottom of the stairs. I step through and leave behind the nicest dead guy I’ve ever known.
I COME OUT in the old apartment. Vidocq and Allegra are studying a pile of books.
“Jimmy, are you all right?” asks Vidocq. “Allegra told me about what happened with the revenants.”
“I’m fine. Everything is fine. This is for both of you, but you in particular.”
I hand Allegra the flask.
“You want to be a healer? Here’s your chance to be a famous one. Follow the instructions on the paper and you’ll be the only person alive who can cure a Drifter’s bite.”