“I see Aki over there and I see a pampered little prince taped to a chair. His heart is beating like a scared rabbit and his soul is bouncing around like a Super Ball in his chest. Then I look at you and I don’t see anything. You’re hollow and I can’t help noticing that you don’t seem to have a soul.”
“The Geistwald line discarded them centuries ago. They’re done away with at birth.”
“Are you dead by any chance, Koralin? Are you Death Born?”
She shoots Aki an angry glance.
“Der Todes Geboren. Yes. All Geistwalds are. It’s our gift. The source of our strength.”
“You’re Drifters. Your whole fucking family. That’s your secret. Savants might be special, but you’re something else entirely. I bet no one even knows there’s a fourth kind of Drifter.”
“Not many. The few who do either work with us or they die quickly.”
“I bet. That’s a big secret to hide for centuries. Is that why you came to America? You couldn’t stay in the old country without someone finally figuring out what you were? Pretty soon you’d have to wipe out every Sub Rosa in Europe. Not the way to make friends and influence people.”
“Something along those lines. But we also came for the same reasons as the Springheels. There was no room for new dynasties at home. Here it was open land and fertile soil. The East already had settled families so we followed the Springheels to the West. It was paradise for many years, but then things changed.”
“Other Sub Rosas came and started crowding you out?”
“Of course not. We encouraged them to follow us. You can’t build a true dynasty in the wilderness. A dynasty must be appreciated and acknowledged.”
“Then why are you doing this? How many old families do you have to kill off to prove you’re the best? How much more wealth and power do you need? What the hell is it that you really want?”
“The next million years,” she says. Koralin paces as she talks. I’ve hit a nerve.
“This land is ours. It belongs to Der Todes Geboren. The other families can stay as long as they understand who rules here. But not you. Not your stores or industry or cars or noise. When we came here, the Indians living along the river didn’t trouble us. They recognized what and who we were. They respected our privacy and we respected theirs. Then others came. Traders from Mexico. Spaniards on ships. European trappers and settlers. They ran out the Indians. We poisoned the river. We called down the haze from the ocean. We froze and choked them, but they wouldn’t go away. They planted trees and brought their stinking cattle. They built their cities and bred like rats. They changed the land completely. We hardly recognized our home.”
“But they learned to keep out of your way, so you must have made contact sometime.”
“Charles Springheel was a fool. He decided that we should coexist with you people, and being the oldest family, he convinced the others to go along with him.”
“So, you decided to kill off everything to get back at Charles for snubbing you. It sounds convincing except that when I look outside I don’t see any kind of organized attack. All I see is chaos. I mean, Aki here was running around prying open manholes by hand like some teenybopper playing pranks on Halloween. This isn’t how it’s supposed to go, is it? This isn’t your plan. It’s Eleanor’s revenge. Stealing the Druj screwed up your timetable and you weren’t ready.”
“It doesn’t matter. Tonight. Tomorrow. This has been coming for a long time and now it’s here.”
“It’s going to end tonight.”
“Yes, it is. The golems we’ve released should make the situation clear. You people can leave now and live, or you can die here and wander the Jackal’s Backbone until the stars burn out.”
“I wonder what would happen if I held you down and pulled your head off your pretty shoulders.”
She smiles and touches a hand to her lips.
“Aelita said that you would make threats when you didn’t get your way. She gave me something that’s valuable to you. A Jade named Candy.”
“A head that won’t stop talking.”
She waits for me to say something. I don’t. I stand still.
“Interesting. Aelita told me that this is when you would attack. She said that you would erupt at anything resembling a threat.”
“I’m not like that anymore. Getting all theatrical is only about making the attacker feel better.”
“I couldn’t agree more.”
“Then why don’t you put down whatever else Aelita gave you and let’s figure a way out of this together.”
She takes an athame from inside her sleeve.
“Do you know what this is?”
“I have one just like it.”
“Good. I’ll keep it out where you can see it, but I don’t think I’m ready to give it up quite yet.”
“Whatever. Here’s the deal. I’m willing to give you back the Druj. You use it to put the Drifters back in the Backbone. When you do, you get Aki and I get Candy and Kasabian.”
“Why wouldn’t I just use the Druj tomorrow and all this would begin again?”
“Once the Drifters are back inside, I’ll get Muninn to seal the caves good and tight. The dead will stay put for a thousand years. Assuming you don’t blow yourself up like Rainier, you can try your plan again then.”
“Let me have the Druj.”
“Get my friends over here and I’ll hand it over. Do anything stupid and your fair-haired boy is dead and you won’t be able to do a damned thing about it.”
“This is an angel’s knife. It might just kill you.”
“I think I can outrun your knife, but I’m positive Aki can’t outrun mine. Make the call and everyone gets to go home and sleep in their own bed.”
“I don’t have a phone.”
“There’s one on the desk over there.”
She goes to Lucifer’s desk and dials.
I give Aki a once-over. The tape is still good and tight on his arms and legs. There’s a small pool of blood around his foot. Enough to make him light-headed, but not enough to worry about.
Koralin says, “They’re on their way. It will be a few minutes. Traffic is a bit heavy tonight.”
I go to one of the sofas and sit down.
“Take a load off. The room is comfy enough. For us. Poor Aki must be hurting pretty bad right now.”
I look back at him.
“How are you doing, champ? Foot throbbing?”
He garbles something through the tape. Even gagged, I can recognize a sincere “fuck you.”
Koralin perches on the sofa opposite me, barely resting her ass on the edge. She holds her knife upright, the point between her breasts.
“Since we seem to have struck a bargain, I’ll put down my knife if you lay down all of your weapons.”
I take out the Smith & Wesson and put it on the table. I set the black blade and athame next to it. I put the na’at at the end, where she can get a good look at it.
“So what was it between you and Eleanor? She must have really hated you to run off with your secret weapon.”
“She was a troubled child.”
“That’s an interesting way to put it because the moment you bring her into your story, it doesn’t add up. You Geistwalds are Death Born. But Eleanor was bitten by a vampire and turned. That means she had to be alive.”
“Eleanor wasn’t Der Todes Geboren.”
“I thought so. Was your husband?”
“Of course. He was the patriarch. And Rainier. Eleanor, however, was like you. The family grotesque.”
“She was Daddy’s girl, wasn’t she? It’s his fault Eleanor wasn’t dead like Mommy.”
Koralin doesn’t say anything for a couple of minutes. Just stares at Aki. I wait. I count the molecules that make up the pearls in the necklace.
Finally, she says, “Not being alive ourselves, we can’t produce our own children. Jan conceived Eleanor with a living woman.”
“Was she pretty? Was she nice? Did he fall in love with her?”
A slight smile plays around her mouth likes she’s found a pleasant memory.
“Tell me about your father,” she says.
“Which one? I seem to have a lot.”
“The human one.”
“He was all right. I wasn’t an easy kid. He tried his best, but he never really took a shine to me.”
“What a surprise. And your other father?”
“Until an hour ago, I thought it was Lucifer.”
“That would be almost as good a family secret as ours.”
“So, Jan was in love with a pretty human and they had a girl. Then what?”
She looks at her hands and then starts.
“Jan was a romantic. He loved the woman and didn’t want their daughter to be Death Born. The Geistwald children receive the death bite at birth when the head of the family removes the umbilical with his teeth. Jan refused. He stole the child, and by the time he brought her back, it was too late for her to be reborn.”
“So you tortured and tormented Eleanor and her father every day of her life.”
“They deserved worse. I would have killed her, but she was still a Geistwald and there would have been talk.”
“Rainier was born right, though. And you weren’t going to let him get away.”
“Rainier was a good boy and I took care of him.”
“But he was still too stupid to live. Even with all your torture, I think Eleanor and Dad got the best of that deal.”
“My new Rainier will be born properly and become the new head of the family.”
She waves to him.
“I love you, dear. Hold on just a little longer. Daddy is on the way.”
“You just said you have to be Death Born at birth. Aki is at least twenty-five.”
“There are ways around that. Sorcerers who can remove his spirit and put it into the body of a newborn. I’ll personally make the child Der Todes Geboren and Rainier will be reborn.”
“But he’ll still be Aki. You keep choosing fuckups for sons.”
She leans forward on her seat.
“Now tell me about your real father.”
“I don’t know him that well. He’s a doctor, but it’s a second career. He used to be an archangel.”
“Kinski? How funny. And you only just discovered this?”
“If Lucifer was telling the truth. I think he was. It’s more fun for him to kill you with the truth than with a lie.”
“I wish I’d been there to see your face.”
“It wasn’t all that dramatic.”
“Seeing you in any amount of pain would be a joy.”
“I cut my arm on a piece of glass earlier.”
“Did it hurt?”
The phone rings. Koralin goes to the desk and exchanges a few words with the caller.
“Jan is here.”
“Tell him to take the elevator to three.”
I pick up my gun and go to the door.
“Our deal is still on, but if you get near Aki while I let them in, I’ll blow his head off.”
I push open the door just as the elevator arrives.
Candy comes through first. She throws her arms around me and holds on tight.
“He’s dead. Doc is dead,” she says. “That angel bitch Aelita killed him.”
“I know. It’s all right. We’ll get through this.”
Jan comes in after her with Kasabian’s bowling bag.
I gesture to him with the gun.
“Go over to the table and let him out. Then sit down next to your wife.”
Jan unzips the bag and puts Kasabian on the table. Jan sits down at the far end of the sofa, as far from Koralin as he can.
“Fuck you, you Kraut shit.”
I set Candy in a chair by the desk.
“You all right, Kasabian?”
“No thanks to these pricks. That bitch stood there while that crazy-ass angel stabbed Kinski.”
“Sit tight and keep quiet. This will be over with soon.”
“Excuse me,” says Koralin. “You have your friends. Please put the pistol down.”
I look at Aki and then at her and set the gun on the table.
“We’re going to do this slowly and carefully so there aren’t any misunderstandings, all right?”
“Good. Koralin, stand up with your hands where I can see them. Come down to the end of the table with me. I’ll take the Druj from my pocket and hand it to you.”
I stand up while Koralin comes around, put my hand in my pocket, and take out the Druj. I exaggerate my arm and hand movements so she can see what I’m doing. When it’s out, I show her the Druj and that I’m not holding anything else.
“Put out your hands.”
She does and I set the Druj there. I step back as Koralin smiles and holds it up so Aki can see.
“We have it, darling. It’s ours.”
She turns to me, all motherly and full of aristocratic outrage.
“You’re all dead. I’ll call every golem in the city down on you. They’ll each get one shallow bite. It will take days for you to die.”
Koralin really wants Drifters by her side, so they come to her. The ones I brought in from the hall and lobby stashed around the edges of the room earlier are drawn to her and the Druj. When she sees them she laughs with delight. She’s amused just long enough for me to grab the na’at and whip the end of it into her chest like a dagger. There’s no time to aim well, but I do all right.