All it took was a pair of bolt cutters on a padlock to get into the underground parking garage. The rows of “for lease” signs dotting the windows in most of the floors of the modest high-rise were a good sign, and Morales staked it out just to make sure there wasn’t an errant rent-a-cop who might stumble upon them and cause problems.
Even to his eyes, the parking garage was almost too dark to see. Only faint moon and streetlight filtered down through a vine-choked lightwell. The smell of rotting leaves and old gasoline lay heavily in the stagnant air.
He shook. Morales told himself it wasn’t because he was anxious but because it was cool down there. He often got the shakes when he was on a squad, but never this bad. He held himself tense, listening for footsteps, but all he heard were the whine of mosquitoes and a steady drip of water echoing from somewhere behind him.
Headlights reflecting off the concrete nearly blinded him. Morales winced against the retinal burn and flung his arm over his eyes to guard the remainder of his night vision as Kier’s car pulled slowly down the ramp. He shut his headlights off after he’d parked the car near where the bum had been sleeping, but it took a couple of minutes for the retinal flashes to fade so he could see them.
Tali wore a denim skirt and a white blouse, and had her hands tucked into her pockets. Her hair partially covered her face, and her expression was hard to read.
“I told you to make her look like a prisoner. He’s not going to fall for it if he sees her arms unbound and her face uncovered.”
“Eh, she needs her face free for sorcery.”
“What can she—” Morales cut off suddenly at the sound of footsteps at the top of the stairwell. A woman came down the stairs. She wore a lavender blazer over a turtleneck, despite the heat outside, and her fair hair had been elaborately braided. She carried a small overnight bag clutched to her chest.
“Ola?” Kier asked, making it sound like a cross between a greeting and a curse.
The woman said something back to him. She came forward, holding the bag to Kier as she reached for Tali with the other hand. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Faco was supposed to come himself.
“No,” Tali said, and then she said something else in that funny language of theirs, and Ola took hold of Tali’s arm.
“What’s going on?” he asked. And where was Faco? Morales tried to scan the darkness for the elusive faerie, but the headlights had all but ruined his night vision.
Ola was shouting and pulling at Tali’s arms. Tali struggled with her hands jammed into the pocket of her skirt. Kier ran towards them, and just as he got there, Tali got whatever it was out of her pocket. She blocked Morales’ view with her body, but there was a hissing sound, and then he could tell by the smell what she’d done.
Even a vampire nose knows when pepper spray has been used. This must be the secret plan she’d been so confident of. Pepper spray. They were screwed.
Kier yelled in pain and clutched at his face. Ola screamed and dropped her bag to rub at her eyes. The overnight bag fell from her petrified grasp, revealing a few grubby bills and scrap paper with the illusion of money flickering halfheartedly across the stacks. Even Tali cried out, her eyes weeping from pepper oil.
Faco roared into the garage, seemingly out of nowhere, blade poised wickedly overhead. Morales hadn’t heard the sound of his footsteps over Kier and Ola’s screams.
The fucker was huge. Morales had seen enough faeries to think they were all skinny anemic model-types, but this guy looked like he could bench press a cow. He wore a blood-red coat buttoned all the way up, and matching leather gloves. His dark hair had been tied in a knot on the top of his head like a samurai. He said something again in that language of theirs, and flipped his blade from one hand to the other. When he caught sight of Tali, his face took on a cruel smile.
He stalked forward, monologuing to Tali as if she were vermin caught in a trap instead of a sorceress with half a can of pepper spray. Tali didn’t move. She stood frozen in the headlights, reeking of terror.
Morales raised his gun and took aim. He wouldn’t falter this time.
He was a split second too late. With a roar, Faco launched himself at Tali, blade swinging so fast that it whistled. Tali dove forward, rolling behind Ola. Faco continued his arc as if Ola weren’t even there.
He cleaved Ola almost completely in half, diagonally from collarbone to hip. At the sight of white rib and red viscera, Morales almost vomited, but he made himself ignore it and aimed again at Faco’s head. Faco was tugging at the blade, glaring at Ola as if she had allowed her hip bone to trap the blade out of spite.
“Run, Tali!” Morales ordered, raising the gun again.
Tali stepped closer and lifted her hand to Faco’s face.
“Tali, move!” Morales cursed. He no longer had a clear shot. What was she doing? Faco didn’t need the blade, he was strong enough to strangle her with his bare hands.
Except he didn’t. Tali murmured quietly, and when she pulled back, Faco remained still, as if hypnotized. More than hypnotized, he remained frozen. His lips poised in an awkward position as if he had been shaping a word, and his free hand splayed out as if he’d been raising his hand to slap her.
Tali grabbed the handle of the blade and pulled, trying to work it free of Ola’s hip. The blood around Ola had pooled large enough to cover a parking space, and was snaking its way towards a drain in the floor. Tali yanked at the blade, grunting as Ola’s corpse jerked.
Morales waded into the blood. He put his hand on the blade and pulled it free.
Tali stepped free of Ola’s entrails. She wiped blood off on her skirt, then sniffed and rubbed her eyes with the back of her wrist. She still managed to get a streak of red across her cheek. The blood had soaked her shoes and socks, and she’d even got some on her face. She reached for the blade.
“I’m the reason all of this happened. I should end it.”
Morales looked down at the blade. It had a deep nick in it, and glistened wetly with gore. He handed it to her.
The blade was almost as long as her arm, and while the handle had clearly been made for a single grip, her palms were so dainty she fit both palms on there, like a baseball bat. Her hands shook. She held the tip of the blade to his throat, but it wavered.
“I can’t,” she cried. Tali fell to her knees, sobbing.
Faco was starting to twitch. Whatever she’d done to immobilize him, it was wearing off. Morales raised his gun to Faco’s head. He could do it this time. In cold blood, yes, but he didn’t have much time. He had to do it.
A loud clang came from the stairwell as someone flung the door open. Morales whipped his gun towards the sound. It was Kit Melbourne, running down the stairs. She wore jeans and a tee shirt. Her hair was unbelievably long and glittering with jewels, and her ears held glittery earrings.
“Look out!” Kit yelled.
Faco was moving. He drew himself up slowly, creaking like a stone golem come to life. Tali stared up at him, paralyzed with fear. Faco snatched the blade out of her hand and drew it back. A shot rang out, and a circle of red appeared on Faco’s chest.
On the landing, Kit shot again. Her stance was braced and arms raised confidently in the posture of one who has put in many hours at the range. She shot twice more, cleanly, making a cluster of holes in Faco’s ribcage.
Kit held the gun out in front of her as she approached, as if she weren’t sure if Faco would rise again and cut someone’s head off. Never taking her eyes off him, she kicked the blade free with her foot.
“Tali?” Morales asked, as Tali picked up the blade.
“You don’t have to if you don’t need to,” Kit said. “Morales and I can take care of this.”
“I need to.” Tali raised the blade overhead. She sniffed and with a faint cry, brought it against the side of his neck like she was chopping down a tree. Sobbing, Tali hacked again and again at his neck. She missed a few times, hacking into his shoulder, but she kept chopping. It took her over a dozen whacks before the vertebra finally severed and Faco’s head rolled free.
“No one ever decapitated him,” Kier said, still sniffling from the pepper spray. “In all his bouts in the arena, no one ever managed to sever his neck.”
“Too bad,” Morales said. He thought of poor Rosenkranz, and of Sprocket, and of the others who died because they got in the way of this man. If anyone deserved to lose his head, it was this fucker.
“Melbourne and I can take care of Tali. Can you get these out of here?” Kier asked, nodding at the corpses.
“There’s a grave ready,” he said.
Kier helped Tali to her feet. She was so overwrought she could barely support herself, and Kier had to half-carry her to his car.
“Morales,” Kit said, holstering her gun. “Maybe it’s better for everyone if you were the one who did this.”
Morales nodded and waved her off.
It wasn’t the first time he’d disposed of bodies, but it wasn’t a task he relished. He slid the bodies into extra-large garbage bags, one over the head, and one over the legs. His trunk had been lined with more plastic, which he would throw into a dumpster after they buried the bodies. It also had two large jerry-cans of water. He poured these over the pools of blood, rinsing off his hands and making the bulk of the gore sluice in a pink river towards the drain.
His clothes were covered in gore, and would have to be burned. They were his favorite khakis, and he almost pitied himself, but remembered Tali shaking and crying and counted himself lucky that he had the easier job.
A few phone calls and a twenty minute drive later, Morales pulled his car onto the driveway behind Councilman Williams’ vast estate. He had several acres of wooded park surrounding his house. Morales had only been in the house once, when he tagged along with Siang. The inside was dark and Edwardian, with heavy drapes, the ever-present smell of must and furniture polish, and a bevy of cringing, simpering human servants who made Morales deeply uncomfortable.
Councilman LeBlanc looked up as Morales drove across the lawn to the grave site. Like Councilman Albers, he was pale and blond, but whereas Albers had a curvy figure, LeBlanc had a build like he’d spent most of his formative years in a famine and never quite recovered. They stood by the soggy grave dug into the lawn at the edge of a copse of trees. Next to them stood a nursery sapling and a vampire he didn’t know very well named Livitz.
Livitz was a white guy, with wispy black hair and eyes that were too round, like those people in Ellis Island photos from the nineteenth century. When Morales popped the trunk and hoisted out Ola’s body, he saw what looked like grim approval on Livitz’ face.
“This the one who did it?” Livitz asked.
“No. She’s collateral damage,” Morales explained, as Ola’s bifurcated corpse fell into the hole, staring up sightlessly at the sky. It should have bothered him more, but he felt disconnected, as if he were watching a horror movie.
Faco’s body came next, and the headless corpse was so massive that Morales grunted and strained as he hoisted it into the grave. He grabbed the head by the hair and was about to toss it too, but Livitz stopped him.
“The boss wants Melbourne to verify this is the right guy.” Livitz took a photo of the head with his phone.
LeBlanc’s mouth quirked up at the corner, and he know what the asshole was thinking. Morales was so far fallen that the Guild Leader trusted a human’s weight above his own. “I heard Melbourne got decapitated.”
“She’s alive,” Councilman Albers said. She glanced over at Livitz, whose phone had chimed. “And?”
“She says this is the guy.” Livitz deleted his message. “I guess Miriam can rest easy now.”
“You trust the word of Holzhausen’s pet human?” LeBlanc asked.
Livitz shrugged. “She’s a terrible liar.”
“Think this guy is coming back?” Morales asked, tossing the head into the hole with more casualness than he felt. The head had rolled as it struck Faco’s back, falling crown down, with the stump crooked in Ola’s arm. “He didn’t smell quite human.”
“He does, I’ll shoot him.” Livitz spat into the hole.
The wind picked up, smelling of rain. LeBlanc looked at the sky as if it were a servant who had spilled some tea on the carpet. “Make sure you leave this site clean. I don’t want my gardeners tracking bloody mud into the greenhouse.” He nodded at the piles of dirt and compost on the tarpaulin near the hole, and then extended an arm to Councilman Albers. “Joyce, would you care to join me for a drink?”
Councilman Albers took his arm, but before the two of them strode off to the house, she looked back at Morales and smiled briefly. Just a brief smile, but it said that his exile had come to an end, that he’d bought his way back into the Guild with blood and filth and gore.
He turned back to the grave. Taking the shovel from Livitz, they began to pile earth on top of the dead faeries.