The door is simple, a run-of-the-mill office door, nothing that sets it apart from any of the dozen along this corridor. It's a little shabby, that's true, but it matches the general shabbiness of the whole building anyway. The words "A. Lightwood" are stenciled in black paint on the pebbled glass door panel. Come on in - the door isn't locked, although the door that connects the reception room to my office almost always is, nowadays.
There's nobody in here but me, and an almost-empty bottle of cheap whiskey.
Have you ever wanted to forget anything so badly, you wished you could cut it out of your head? Sometimes I wish it were that easy.
Thinking back, I remember the stupidest things; the way his face crinkled when he laughed, the smell of his cologne, the way his index finger always hovered over his glass of whiskey the way he held it. The small smudge of a birthmark on his lower back that I had kissed a dozen times, a hundred times. The way he always kept his eyes closed after we kissed, as though if he opened his eyes it would all have been a dream.
Sitting here listening to the rain pouring outside, with my drink turning bitter on my tongue, my past stretched behind me like a series of mistakes, and my future - well, my future was blank, bleak, colourless.
Maybe I’ll live so long that I’ll actually forget him. Maybe I’ll die trying.
Perhaps this will make more sense to you if I start from the beginning.
I would like to say that it started on the day I walked up the steps to knock on the door of the Belcourts all those months ago, but maybe it started the day Izzy brought Simon Lewis to my office, asking me to help the bumbling, sorry excuse for a private detective. The beginning of an end, if you will.
In the month following the case of the Morning Star, I had been hired to solve another two cases where the guilty party had consulted the Princeling of Hell, and had consequently received another two cat-eyed stones. I didn't know if he had stepped up his game because he was taunting me, or if he simply enjoyed the challenge of having someone to pit his wits against. But I did notice that he tended to sell his services to people seeking a particular brand of justice - people whom the law had failed. Perhaps Detective Garroway had not been so far off the mark in suggesting that he was some sort of vigilante.
I had been going through a file from Garroway containing all the records he had managed to weed out from the police archives of cold cases that seemed like they could be the work of the Princeling of Hell, when I heard the buzzer from my reception room. I stowed the file away quickly, surprised when my visitor boldly twisted the doorknob.
"Alec? Why is this door locked?"
It was Izzy. I got up to open the door, and my sister swept in like a whirlwind with Simon Lewis trailing helplessly in her wake.
"Why is your office door locked? You never used to lock it," she asked me with her brows furrowed.
"There are some pretty tough people in town these days. Penalty of growth," I told her. "What is Lewis doing here?"
"He needs your help."
"Izzy, please, I told you I could handle it on my own," Lewis said.
It was stormy and overcast, the sky heavy with dark clouds. The central heating in the building was weak but still working in the barest definition of the word. But it must have been freezing outside, now that we were in the dead of winter - and Lewis was moping sweat from his brow, looking equal parts nervous and annoyed.
"What have you gotten yourself into, then?" I asked him.
"It would be a violation of confidence," he told me defensively.
"And yet you obviously told Izzy. Spit it out, Lewis."
He had the decency to look embarrassed at being caught out. "A dame came to me yesterday. Said her sister ran away with a guy named John Shade."
"And she wants you to help her get her sister back, I suppose?"
"Yes. She's meeting him tonight - he says if she gives him enough money, he'll make himself scarce."
"Looks like she's already found a way to get her sister back. Then why does she need you?"
"She wants me as more of a bodyguard," Lewis explained. "And if he backs out on the deal, she was hoping that I could follow him and find her sister that way."
"You, as a bodyguard," I repeated skeptically. I could see why Izzy had found this whole thing very suspicious. Although, to be fair, Lewis as a detective was also a stretch of the imagination.
"Alec, I think he needs back up," Izzy told me.
Lewis shook his head vehemently at that, and drew her aside to talk to her without me listening in. It might have worked better if they weren't both still in my office, which was about the size of a rather large closet.
"Izzy, I've got this," he told her. "We don't have to bother your brother with this, I'm sure he has bigger fish to fry."
"You said yourself that she was suspicious!"
"Izzy, I have to do this on my own, don't you see? I have to show you that I can take care of you, that I am a man who deserves someone like you."
"I don't need you to take care of me, I can take care of myself. Besides, I think you're plenty deserving, Simon Lewis."
"No, Izzy. You deserve a man who can at least handle the job he's supposed to be doing. You deserve a man who won't let you down, who isn't an embarrassment and a joke. God knows you deserve so much more than me - so at least let me prove that I could be the man you need me to be."
I thought I could stand his incessant talking a little better if he always spoke to Izzy like this, and he always looked at her like she had hung the stars and the moon in the sky.
I cleared my throat. "Lewis. It's not unheard of for private investigators to pool resources for a case. If you think your client is not being square with you, if you think you might get double-crossed, it might not be a bad idea to have a partner."
Izzy beamed at me, but Lewis shook his head. "I've got this. I've even got a gun of my own. But I probably won't need to fire it."
Judging from the last time he'd been asked to handle a gun, I thought that was probably for the best, but held my tongue for Izzy's sake.
"Where is this deal going down then?"
"At her room in the Hotel Talto, at nine."
"She's from out of town?"
"I didn't ask. But she did have a bit of an accent."
I nodded. "And, out of professional curiosity, what about this woman made you feel that she might not have been entirely square with you?"
"Besides the fact that I'm me?" Lewis laughed a little nervously. "Well, she offered me five hundred upfront for the job. And there's a five hundred for after. Doesn't that seem a bit... much? Like she was really desperate that I should want to take it."
It did, but some people just had more money than they knew what to do with.
"Maybe this man she's meeting isn't someone to mess with," I suggested.
"God, you think so?" he asked worriedly, then remembered Izzy's presence and pulled himself together. "I'm sure it'll be fine." I couldn't decide whether he was trying to convince us, or convince himself.
"I'm sure you have it well in hand," I agreed. "Good luck with... what did you say her name was?"
"Um, I didn't. Her name is Satrina Kendall," Lewis replied, seemingly satisfied that I was going to leave him to deal with his client and give him a chance to prove himself. I hummed and pretended to be engrossed with sorting my mail.
Izzy had Lewis go on ahead, then doubled back to kiss me on the cheek. "Thank you, big brother."
I shrugged it off with a smile, already mentally calculating what time I would have to leave the Black Cat to make it to the Hotel Talto in time.
We left the Black Cat at half past eight, and Magnus dropped me off at the Hotel Talto by a quarter to nine.
"Don't wait up," I told him, pressing a kiss to his forehead in the relative privacy of the car before I got out.
Magnus smiled fondly at me. "As if I could sleep without you in my arms. See you later, darling, and please be careful."
I indulged in watching the cream Cadillac disappear into the night, then walked up into the lobby and made my way to the cigar counter to buy a packet of cigarettes I didn't need, scanning the lobby quickly while I waited for my change. I lit one and retired to one of the chairs near the check-in counter to pull up a set of the evening papers, pretending to be so engrossed my cigarette was turning into a cylinder of ash.
Lewis came in ten minutes later with his coat collar turned up and holding himself so strangely he might as well have announced that he had a gun in his left coat pocket, darting from potted plant to potted plant unnecessarily. At least he'd finally lost the stupid tropical hat and dark glasses. I heard him ask for Miss Kendall, and make for the elevators.
I gave him a few minutes' head start, then made for the fire stairs, taking them two steps at a time. Miss Kendall's room was on the third floor, the door closest to the elevators. I hadn't been intending to step in, unless Lewis really needed back up, so I lurked in the stairwell with the door ajar. I was just in time to see him enter Miss Kendall's room.
About half an hour later, the man Miss Kendall had supposedly arranged to meet was still nowhere in sight. It was making me antsy, and I had half a mind to knock on Miss Kendall's door on some pretext when there was the unmistakable sound of a gun going off, and Lewis came out of the room and quickly walked towards the elevator - or at least somebody wearing his coat did, because I would know Lewis' walk anywhere. I was out of my hiding place in an instant, gun in hand, probably just in time for whoever was in the elevator to see someone moving along the corridor and not quickly enough for either of us to see any discernible features.
I hesitated for a split second, then opted to go to Lewis' aid instead of chasing after the mysterious coat thief.
I raced down the corridor and kicked open the door. Lewis was lying on the floor with a gun in his right hand. I knelt next to him - he was breathing and still had a pulse, but he had been shot in the gut and needed an ambulance urgently. I dashed towards the phone on the nightstand, and couldn't help noticing that although I had clearly only heard one shot, there was a dead man lying in the bed with a hole in his head.
This fic is the only one in this series that occurs chronologically after the one-shot Alec Lightwood, Private Eye. And yes, it looks like it might be the last one in this series.
I'd also like to quote the esteemed Captain of our Malec ship, Matthew Daddario: "Sometimes its cloudy and sometimes penguins swim like ballerinas. Still rises and still waddle." Personally, I like to think that this is true for Malec in every universe in the multiverse ;)
I had been hoping to get anybody but Pangborn assigned to the case, even Rodriguez, but Pangborn wasn't going to pass up a chance to stick his nose in my business.
"Lightwood," he greeted me with his usual sneer. "I hear the murderer was seeing your sister. Wasn't it her husband who killed a bunch of people a while back? She really knows how to pick 'em, eh? Or maybe she likes them that way."
I knew better than to rise to that bait. "Lewis didn't kill him," I said, indicating the corpse on the bed.
"Even an idiot can see it, Lightwood. It's plain as day. Shot each other, didn't they?" he scoffed.
"Well, apparently only an idiot would see it that way. I only heard one shot, and that was probably for Lewis. You should be out looking for this Satrina Kendall instead."
"Are you trying to tell me how to do my job, Lightwood?" Pangborn scowled.
"Somebody has to. Lewis was left handed, but the gun was found in his right. Obviously this was supposed to be a set up."
And a poorly done one, at that. This at least meant that it wasn't the Princeling's work - he usually had more finesse than this. Whoever Satrina Kendall was, she had obviously hired Lewis to be her scapegoat. I had of course taken the liberty of searching the hotel room and the dead man's pockets before the cops had arrived, and had found absolutely nothing - so Kendall had also stripped the dead man of all his belongings. She must have murdered her target before Lewis was supposed to arrive, then knocked Lewis out and set the scene before leaving the room in his coat. With the collar turned up, nobody else would have thought to look twice.
Unfortunately, in the fifteen minutes that it had taken for the police and ambulance to arrive, Kendall's trail had probably gone cold. I was almost certain that her real name wasn't even Satrina Kendall, although perhaps the counter clerk might be able to give me a physical description of her.
"Well, I'm off. You know where to find me if you have any questions," I told Pangborn curtly. My night wasn't over - I still had the unenviable task of having to break the news to Izzy.
"The hell you are," Pangborn barked. "We've been finding you at the scenes of murders a bit too often. I knew you were going to slip up some day, and we've got you this time."
"And how did you figure that one out, Pangborn?" I asked sardonically. "You think I shot this fellow in the bed here, called Lewis to the hotel, knocked him out and shot him in the gut, then called the cops and ambulance - oh, and I also pointed out my mistake in planting the gun in the wrong hand, and I'm also a master of disguise and can pass off as a dame about five-foot-four in heels. If you're done wasting my time, Pangborn, some of us actually have work to do."
One of the uniforms sniggered, and didn't even try to hide it.
I left without waiting for him to recover from his furious silence, but I knew I was going to pay in some way for making him look bad in front of the uniforms. I made a mental note to watch out for him trying to meddle in my business, more than just his usual posturing. The last thing I needed was a ham-fisted goon getting in my way when I was trying to pin someone as cunning as the Princeling down.
Sure enough, Pangborn came strolling into the Black Cat the next evening, bold as brass and suspiciously smug.
"Alec Lightwood. Where were you between 5 and 7 o'clock yesterday evening?" he asked, trying to seem like he was on official business.
I wasn't fooled - he didn't have the usual uniformed policemen with him as he should have had if he was making an arrest. He was lucky Magnus was otherwise occupied in a conversation with someone else at the other end of the room, or he would have thrown Pangborn out.
"I was right here. Dozens of alibis."
He looked around the Black Cat as if it was a den of iniquity rather than a high-class bar. "You ever fuck Bane here?” he asked, leering at me.
“I’m impressed,” I said. “That question is coarse, offensive, annoying, and voyeuristic. That’s quite a lot to get into a simple question."
"I know what you are."
"I thought I told you not to waste my time, Pangborn. What do you want?"
"Five grand, to keep my lips sealed. If you can't afford it, I'm sure Bane can," he said confidently.
"He can, but he won't. Neither of us will, because neither of us care."
"Maybe you don't, but Detective Inspector Garroway might. I hear you've been pretty close lately - or perhaps there's a different reason why he doesn't mind?"
I couldn't help but smirk at that. "Let me know if you ever grow the balls to ask Garroway about that. I intend to get a front-row seat."
"What seems to be the problem, gentlemen?" Magnus asked, eyes glittering dangerously at Pangborn.
Pangborn took one look at the both of us and stormed off with his face twisted in a vicious, impotent grimace of anger. I knew I hadn't seen the last of him; people like him seldom seemed to understand when they were beaten.
"What was that about Detective Garroway? I didn't realise you were still working with him on a case," Magnus asked conversationally.
"It's not about a case, exactly. It's about, well..."
"Your admirer?" Magnus guessed. "I didn't know Detective Garroway was involved."
"As much as he can, which isn't much - he has a lot on his plate. Are you alright? You seem bothered."
"I'm fine," he assured me immediately. "You seem close to Detective Garroway. It just seems a pity that I have never had the opportunity to meet him."
I frowned. "Garroway and I don't exactly have a social relationship, Magnus."
"But you trust him. You respect him."
"He is a good man."
Magnus hummed and nodded absently. "A family man?"
"A wife, but no children, I think. Why the sudden interest in him?"
"Just idle curiosity, darling," Magnus shrugged. "By the way, how is Simon doing?"
"Embarrassed, but he'll live," I told him.
Simon had woken up from surgery a few hours ago. Unfortunately, he had not been able to add much to the hotel clerk's description of Satrina Kendall, and dames with black hair and red lips were a dime a dozen. I had left him with Izzy fussing over him, so I was sure he was in good hands. After all, he had only been a means to an end - I doubted Kendall was going to come around the hospital to finish the job.
"Haven't much to go on, though. I'm hoping the identity of the dead man will provide a clue." Pangborn was definitely not going to be forthcoming with that information, but I was hoping Garroway would.
"It's been a long day for you, darling," Magnus said. "What do you say to going home a little earlier today? Besides, I have some unpleasant business that needs seeing to tomorrow morning, and I think I could do with a little time alone with you to sooth my nerves..."
"Of course. Anything you need," I told him. And I let him take me home to bed, to lose ourselves in the rhythm we had perfected over our time together.
But in the morning he was gone like a ghost, leaving me to an empty bed in his empty house.
Detective Garroway was not in his office the next morning. I decided to see if I could convince the NYPD's resident forensic pathologist Lydia Branwell to throw me a bone. Branwell's office was in the basement of the Beth Israel Hospital. I had never liked hospitals - the smells of sterility, stale coffee, that overpowering smell of bleach that could never truly mask the underlying stench of misery and sickness. It was death masquerading as hope. The morgue was the worst, all those row of drawers, that shiny metal and pretense of cleanliness. What did it matter how neatly they sewed you up, or where you lay, once you were dead? Once they were done with you, once they had mined your body for the secrets that had led to your demise, you were only so much skin and flesh and bone.
Branwell was just wheeling away her first cadaver of the day when I came in. "Lightwood! This is a surprise."
"Any word on the stiff that came in the day before? He probably came in close to midnight."
Branwell raised an eyebrow at me. "You're not a cop anymore, Lightwood."
"Yes, but I found the body. And someone I know was hurt."
"Why don't you take it up with the detective in charge?" she asked, flipping through her files. "I believe Captain Pangborn is in charge of the case."
"He came around last night trying to pin it on me. Somehow I don't think he's going to share his notes."
"What about Detective Inspector Garroway?"
"I tried him first thing this morning, but he wasn't in. Come on, Branwell. I owe you one."
She pursed her lips but went through her neatly-alphabetised files for me. "Single shot to the forehead, time of death between 5 and 7 o'clock in the afternoon."
"That's the one. Have they managed to identify him?"
"There was a match from Chicago. His name was John Shade, he was a retired businessman."
I had expected as much, but it was good to know for sure. I was about to thank her and make my excuses when she continued: "He wouldn't have been alive for much longer, anyway. The shot to the head was practically a mercy killing."
"And why was that?"
"He had been drugged up for a long time and kept in bed, probably on minimal food and water - I'd say for at least a month. His muscles were beginning to waste away, and his internal organs were in bad shape."
"So it wasn't just murder, it was kidnapping and torture. And nobody reported Shade missing in all this time?"
"Perhaps he had no family," she shrugged. Shade had looked to be about 60 years old, and I hadn't seen a wedding ring. It was not unconceivable that he would have lived alone.
I had assumed that this was going to be a simple case with simple motivations - a jealous mistress, perhaps, smart enough to think of finding a scapegoat but not smart enough to do it well. And maybe the part about not planning the set-up well was still true, but keeping someone against their will for a month suggested dedication to revenge. The fact that we had found Shade in a hotel room Kendall had checked into only two days before Shade's body was found suggested that she had had an accomplice to help her move her unfortunate victim. Nothing in my life was ever simple, these days.
"Do me a favour and don't tell Pangborn I was snooping around, will you?" I asked her.
"That's a lot of favours you're owing me, Lightwood," she replied wryly. "Go on, get out of here."
I doffed my hat at her and made myself scarce.
I wasted an afternoon spending favours I couldn't afford to spend.
John Shade might as well have been a cardboard cutout, a name for a man who didn't truly exist. I had exhausted all my sources in Chicago, but all that I had been able to turn up about him was more or less what Branwell had already told me - a businessman in his 60s, retired, no family. Lived alone with some hired help that came in once a week. He had left them a note about seeing to some business in New York, to ask them not to come in for two months - that had been seven weeks ago. Nobody seemed to know what his business had been in. And maybe it wasn't that strange for people to be alone in the big cities of the world, because god knows there were plenty here in New York. But what kind of man seemed to have no history, or anybody who knew anything personal about him - his likes, his dislikes, his favourite bar, who he had loved or hated?
I went home to find Magnus nursing a glass of whiskey and a cigar in the study, lost in thought. He usually had the radio on, but today the house was deadly silent.
"You left early, this morning."
"Sorry, darling," he got up to kiss me. "You know, if I had the choice, I would have liked nothing better than to be right there when you woke up every morning."
"How did your business go, then?"
"As well as could be expected," he sighed. "An old business associate of my father's is in town, and I was forced to go and make nice."
Mentioning his father sparked a memory in me. "Didn't you say you were from Chicago?" I asked him.
"I was," Magnus replied, turning away to put his drink down. "What about it?"
"The dead man that was found in the hotel room with Simon Lewis - he was a businessman from Chicago. I couldn't find out what he made his business in, but I was wondering if you might have heard of him. His name was John Shade."
Magnus startled visibly. "But... that can't be."
"Did you know him?" I asked, surprised by his reaction.
"He used to do business with my father," he finally replied. "I had heard that he had left Chicago, but I wasn't expecting to hear that he had turned up dead right here in New York."
"Who was he? Why would you find his death so hard to believe?"
I could see him begin to prepare to brush me off before he thought better of it. "It's not his death that I find hard to believe, but the fact that he was murdered," Magnus said. "John Shade is - or was a powerful man, at least when my father was still alive. Although times change, and people fall out of favour."
"Out of whose favour?"
"Other powerful people, or Lady Luck herself - who's to say?"
"So this Satrina Kendall - she must have been extraordinary lucky to get the drop on Shade," I mused. "He wasn't just murdered, you know. Branwell says he was held captive for at least a month."
"Either extremely lucky, or very dangerous," Magnus said. I couldn't argue with that.
"Doesn't it seem a bit of a coincidence, that Shade's body turns up the week that another of your father's business associates comes to town?" I asked.
Magnus quirked an eyebrow at me. "Are you suggesting that he had Shade murdered?"
"Would that be so inconceivable?"
Magnus worried his lower lip for a while, and shook his head. "I thought they had an understanding. But I could be wrong. Many years have passed since I was forced to get involved in my father's business."
"Magnus, exactly what sort of business was your father involved in, that an agreement not to murder each other seems to be a common business arrangement?" I asked him shrewdly.
Magnus was silent for a very long time after that. "There are things in my past that I'm not proud of. I told you I inherited my business from my father. But there were parts of it that I just couldn't agree with, so when I took over after his death, I moved to New York for a fresh start," he said. "Lately, it seems that there are some things I just can't run away from."
A chill ran down my spine, a fear thrilling in my blood. "Magnus, are you in danger?"
"Oh, my sweet Alexander," he smiled, a hand lingering on my cheek. "I can take care of myself, don't you worry."
"How? You don't have a gun, and most of the time you're in your car with just your chauffeur. Remember what happened to Elias? If your father's associates are dangerous men, and with me hunting down the Princeling... Magnus, I couldn't live with myself if something happened to you that I could have prevented."
"Would it make you feel better if I stayed home, at least until this blows over?"
I nodded, grateful that he was willing to see things my way.
"Then I promise you I will try to lay low. But I cannot promise that trouble will not come and find me."
Just then, the phone rang. Magnus frowned and moved away from me to pick up the phone. "Magnus Bane speaking."
His expression hardened, then smoothed out in the next second to one of polite interest. His posture, though, remained absolutely still while he listened to whatever the other person on the line was saying. "Of course," he replied amicably, and put the phone down.
"Who was that?"
"Nothing to worry about, Alexander," he told me, and finished his drink in one go. "Just one of my staff informing me of a leak in one of my warehouses. Easy enough to fix."
I knew that trouble had already come to find him.
The next morning, I woke up to an empty bed and cold sheets. The sun hadn't even risen; Magnus was never up this early. I pulled on a dressing gown and crept downstairs. The blue pre-dawn light made everything seem dream-like and unreal.
He wasn't in the study, nor was he in the living room, or the kitchen. But I knew he was in the house somewhere. Was I dreaming still? I walked through the house like a ghost, searching for something that was forever out of reach. I played the hunch and went back into the kitchen, then down into the wine cellar in the basement, feeling like I was about to wander into a forbidden room filled with the skeletons in Magnus' closet.
The stone steps down into the cellar were icy cold in the winter, seeping through the soles of my bare feet. I had never been down here before, having had no interest in Magnus' collection of alcohol. The space was smaller than it should have been, judging from the proportions of the rest of house, and I could hear the faint sound of voices coming from the other side of the far wall.
Even with my ear pressed against the cold stone wall, the voices were muffled and distorted. I could make out two distinct voices though, one of which I thought might belong to Magnus.
"Hale, you know I want nothing more to do with this."
"They are all dead, those who were in Chicago, and now you tell me Belphegor is dead too - don't you see? You and I are next on the list!"
"If you're worried, you know that Nix is in town. You could always seek his protection."
"If he wasn't the one calling the hits in the first place."
"I was in his company for the better part of the yesterday morning. If he wanted me dead, I'd be dead."
"So you're worried too. Why else would you seek him out?"
"One does not ignore summons from Lucifer, no matter how unwelcome those summons might be."
"We're stronger together. Mammon and Asmodeus-"
"Asmodeus was my father's title. I want nothing more to do with that name. Asmodeus is dead."
"Oh, come off your high horse. Did you think nobody would figure out what happened with Theo Monroe?"
"Are you threatening me?"
"Everybody knows about your pet shamus, Bane." I frowned at Hale's emphasis on Magnus' name - was it not his real name?
"Leave him out of this, Hale - or there'll be hell to pay." I could hear the snarl in Magnus' voice now.
"Then consider my offer. It's time to return to the fold."
"This conversation is over."
I backed away from the wall then. I had to get back upstairs before Magnus and his guest knew I had overheard them. I moved as quietly as I could even though my heart was pounding and my head was reeling from all this new information - this new side of Magnus that I had never seen.
I stumbled back into bed and pulled the covers over myself, every one of my senses tingling. Was that the sound of the front door, or was there another entrance to the house that I had never noticed in the month that I had been living here? Were those footsteps on the stairs or just my imagination? I screwed my eyes shut and tried to even out my breathing to mimic that of a sleeping person. I felt the bed dip beside me, and Magnus settled back under the covers. After I was sure he was asleep, I got dressed and got out of the house. I couldn't spend another minute inside there lying next to a stranger.
The sun had risen but it was hidden behind the dark clouds. It was cold, but not cold enough for snow; just an endless freezing drizzle. I turned my collar up against the cold, got in my car and drove on. I had nothing left, nothing left to do but play the hunch.
I found myself walking up the steps of a church - not for solace, since I was not a religious man, but for answers nonetheless. It was warm inside the church, which accounted for the many huddled bundles of rags seeking refuge from the cold. I found an empty pew and picked up a bible. It was falling to pieces, the paper it was printed on so thin and so cheap that it was translucent. Summons from Lucifer, Magnus had said - and where better to find out how to beat the devil? I flipped through the thick book from cover to cover, but couldn't find anything on Asmodeus or Belphagor, although I did spot the name Mammon.
I walked up to the front of the church, to knock on the door of the preacher's office. The door was opened by an old man with kindly eyes.
"Can I help you, son? My name is Father Jeremiah."
"Father, have you heard of the names 'Asmodeus' or 'Belphagor'?"
"Ah, you would not find those in the bible. But they do sound familiar. Perhaps in Binsfeld's excellent treatise... "
The elderly preacher gestured that I should come in and take a seat in his office while he pored through stacks of dusty manuscripts and religious texts. After a few minutes, he finally extracted a book from his shelves and handed it to me. It was a book about demons and their classifications.
"The seven deadly sins," he told me, and flipped to the relevant page. On it was a list of names, some of them familiar from the conversation I had overheard - Lucifer, Asmodeus, Mammon and Belphagor - and their associated sins.
"What are these, Father?"
"Oh, these? They are the names of the seven angels who fell, together with Lucifer - the seven Princes of Hell."
Magnus was not the Princeling of Hell. He couldn't be. After all, Magnus had said that he wanted nothing to do with the name Asmodeus - perhaps someone else had taken up that mantle, and was threatening him and Hale. All the things Magnus had said about the past catching up with him were starting to make sense now. And the key to all this had to be Satrina Kendall, who must be working for the Princeling of Hell to take down all of the people involved in this strange business.
I drove down to the Hall of Justice as quickly as I could, intent on hunting down Garroway - I couldn't have an idiot like Pangborn on the case, not when it was of such grave importance now that I put a stop to the Princeling and Satrina Kendall.
I was relieved to find him in his office, but my relief was short-lived. He was sitting behind stacks of paperwork and dropping cigarette ash all over everything as usual, but I knew something had changed when I stepped in the door.
"Garroway. We need to talk."
"Whatever you have to say you can say here, Lightwood."
I stared at him. "Garroway, it's about the person we've discussed. We can't talk here. I think I have a lead," I told him, but he only grunted.
"Leave it alone, Lightwood. You're biting off more than you can chew," he said, and wouldn't look me in the eye.
"Are you serious? What happened to wanting the law to win?"
"I may be a cop, and not even a very good one, but I am only a man," Garroway said. "There are things that I value more than even seeing the law win."
"My family, Lightwood. Keeping them safe," he bit out.
It dawned on me then. "He got to you."
"I don't know who you're talking about, Lightwood. You're no longer a cop - you have no business strolling in and out of our offices as if you own the place. I see you around again, Lightwood, when you haven't been expressly called in for questioning - and you'll be spending the night in the can," he barked out. "Now take the air. Beat it."
I nodded curtly. "Message received, Sir - loud and clear."
He stubbed his old cigarette on the overflowing ashtray as I turned to leave. "Lightwood, listen to me. If there ever was a time to be smart, this is it. Drop the case."
I didn't bother answering him as I left.
I didn't go back to Magnus' house that day - or at least I didn't go back in. I wondered if Magnus was wondering where I'd gone off to - I'd left a message with Izzy, telling her I had gotten a call from a new client all the way out in New Jersey, but I didn't know if he would buy that. Magnus would have recognised my car, so I borrowed Lewis' ugly mustard yellow coupé and parked it on a side street pointing at the boulevard almost opposite Magnus' house.
The rain drummed hard on the roof of the car. I was long overparked, but nobody was going to notice me in this little side street in this weather. And it was cold. I was going to catch my death in here before Magnus came out of that house, and maybe that wouldn't be so bad. I remembered him asking after Garroway - hell of a coincidence, wasn't that? Play the hunch. Play the hunch and get stung.
It was close to 10 o'clock when I heard the sound of an engine. Magnus lived in a relatively quiet neighbourhood, but even then it was only because I was watching the house so closely that I noticed it. There really must have been a back door to the house somewhere - I saw the grey Plymouth going past the street behind the house, and in the driver's seat, unmistakably, Magnus' profile.
I started the motor and kept a steady two-block distance away from Magnus' car. It was quite a long drive in this weather - all the way out to the Bronx, and even with the low traffic it wasn't easy to keep his grey car in sight while staying far enough that he wouldn't be suspicious. Then he turned west, and by the time I got to the turning, his car had vanished. I cursed myself and slowed down to a crawl. It was an industrial area, plenty of empty warehouses standing around. I kept my eyes peeled, searching the buildings around me, and sure enough, I spotted it - a glimmer of light on the third floor, probably in the room not facing the street.
I parked my car and made my way up, conscious of my wet soles squeaking ever-so-slightly on the bare concrete floor. I didn't know who I was expecting Magnus to be meeting in secret, but it certainly wasn't Pangborn. The third floor of the building in question was just a large empty concrete room; brand new. Magnus and Pangborn were standing on opposite ends of it. There were several bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling, enough light to expose my position if I came out of the stairwell, so I was forced to keep my distance.
"Didn't you know? I was from Chicago, myself," Pangborn was telling Magnus. He looked smug, but Magnus was holding himself with an easy, relaxed posture. Whatever this meeting was about, both seemed sure they had the winning hand.
"And I don't suppose you were on the straight and narrow, if you knew the name Aldous Nix went by," Magnus replied.
"Maybe I took a little something to line my pockets every now and then," Pangborn shrugged. "A fellow has got to do what he needs to do to survive."
"I don't think you and I have the same understanding of that word, Captain," Magnus replied. "You are hardly living from hand to mouth."
"I don't have to justify myself to the likes of you," Pangborn sneered. "So which one are you, then? Beelzebub? Mammon?"
Magnus ignored that. "Why don't you get to the point, Captain."
"I found out that Lightwood has been trying to investigate someone who calls himself the Princeling of Hell - he's got Garroway helping him, and it was easy enough to snoop which files he'd been pulling from the archives. And if you have connections to Nix, you must be him, right? The Princeling?"
"Did you call me to meet you here in the middle of the night to talk about your wild theories?" Magnus asked icily. "If that's the case, I'm going home."
"Oh, it's not just theories," Pangborn replied. "You forget I know people who know Nix. All I would need to do is point Lightwood in the right direction, and he would find out. That's why we're both here, right? You are afraid of Lightwood finding out."
"That’s it? You know someone who knows someone, and you're trying to threaten me with that? It's just you - why would Alec believe anything you told him?"
"Oh, but what if I told Nix your pet detective was poking his nose in this business?" Pangborn asked nastily. "I've heard Lucifer is the trigger-happy type. He'd probably order Lightwood's head on a plate just to be sure."
"Have you told this to anybody else?" Magnus asked quietly.
"No. And if you pay me enough, it'll stay that way," Pangborn offered. "Now, I don't want to seem greedy, but I was thinking ten grand to sta-!"
He didn't even get to complete his sentence. Magnus drew a gun from inside his coat and fired once, and Pangborn was dead even before I could react.
I must have gasped or shuffled my feet or otherwise made some sound - Magnus turned in my direction with his gun still out.
"Show yourself," he demanded.
I raised both hands up and stepped into the light.
His eyes widened in shock, and his face cycled through a number of emotions before finally settling on resignation. The hand holding the gun fell to his side.
"How much did you hear?" he asked me quietly.
"Enough," I bit out. "I heard your conversation with Hale this morning, too."
Magnus nodded solemnly. "I had wondered if you did. You left so suddenly this morning."
"Is your name really even Magnus Bane?" I asked, my voice bitter, and he flinched.
"It is not the name I was born with, but it is the name I've chosen to define myself with - it's the name I have chosen to live and die by. Is that not good enough for you?"
"There's another name you go by," I said quietly.
Magnus turned away. "Ragnor said I should have gone with something else, to distance myself from my father's legacy."
Ragnor? Of course - Magnus couldn't have done this all alone. There was a whole web of deception and lies here. Everyone that he had ever introduced me to, every so-called friend or colleague - anyone could be a part of this.
There were many questions I had meant to ask - how many people were involved, how long he had been doing this, how he chose his clients. But what eventually came out of my mouth was: "How could you?"
"Alexander, I thought you of all people would understand," he said a little impatiently. "The law isn't justice. It is imperfect, a mockery of justice - if a man happens to be lucky enough to be in the right place, at the right time, and meets the right people, then yes, perhaps he may find justice. But how often does that happen?"
"So everything you did, you did for a higher principle. Even murder," I said sarcastically.
"There are some things in life that I regret, but this is not one of them. Until the law can be trusted every time and always, in all times and conditions, to seek the truth out and bring evil to justice - until that time comes, I will keep providing my services."
"You taught people how to commit murder without getting caught! You call that justice?"
Magnus looked at me incredulously. "They were scoundrels! Bigots, murderers, rapists, the worst kind of scum, going unpunished for their sins. Without me, Valentine Morgenstern would still be living in the lap of luxury living off the money he got from selling your brother's paintings! Without me, Stephen Herondale would still be out there preying on women!"
I looked down at Pangborn's body. Magnus had shot him squarely between the eyes - he must have been a crack shot. Another lie in the long list of lies he had told me.
"But they were still human beings."
"Are you going to turn me in, Alexander?"
"People have died, Magnus."
"Are you going to turn me in?" he repeated quietly.
"If I try to, are you going to shoot me too?"
"No," he whispered. "Not you, Alexander, never you."
I closed my eyes against the pain. "I'm a private detective. It's my job to work to my client's interests, but I have no client here other than my own conscience. You've killed so many people, even if you weren't always holding the gun yourself. You've had a hand in burglary and blackmail. If I let you go, doesn't that make me guilty of everything too? And what reasons do I have to justify letting you go? All we've got is the fact that I love you, and maybe you love me."
"Maybe? You know whether I do or not," Magnus replied, his voice breaking.
"Do I? There can never be any trust between us after this. It's over."
"I see how it's going to be," Magnus said, his voice colder than I had ever heard it, and I knew then that I had broken his heart, just as he had broken mine. "Goodbye, Alexander."
I listened to his steps echoing down the concrete stairs. After a while they got faint, then they got silent, until all I could hear was the rain. I kept on listening anyway. What for? Did I want him to stop and suddenly turn and come back, and provide a miraculous explanation that would talk me out of the way I was feeling? Well, he didn't.
I saw Pangborn's death reported in the newspapers the day after, but with no witnesses forthcoming and nobody to care about him enough to find justice for him, his murder just became another one in a long string of unsolved cases. Another miscarriage of justice, another mark on Magnus' secret rap sheet.
I moved home to my old apartment with Izzy and Jace, taking care to always leave before they woke and to be home only after Izzy had exhausted herself trying to wait up for me. And during the day, I sat in my office alone with the four cat-eyed stones in front of me, trying to think; or not to think.
There was blood on his hands, but there was blood on mine too.
I had gone a week like this, when I received a call from Branwell: "Lightwood? I have something you'd want to see."
I was at the morgue in twenty minutes. Branwell quickly locked the door behind me and handed me two files before pulling out the drawers.
"Aldous Nix, in his 70s, native of Chicago. He was found yesterday morning in a hotel room, cause of death was a self-inflicted gunshot wound - he put the gun in his mouth. He had been castrated, presumably not self-inflicted, at least an hour before his death, and there were rope burns on his wrists and ankles."
She moved over to the next corpse. "Barnabas Hale, in his 40s. Lived in New York - he ran some sort of jewellery business. Found dead yesterday evening, but he'd probably been dead longer. He had a window open, you see, and it's been snowing. Cause of death was the amount of gold coins and jewellery he had swallowed - straight out of his own safe."
"From the state of his teeth, I'd say they were forced down his throat until he choked."
"My God." I had seen plenty of horrible things as a cop, but nothing quite prepares you for the cruelty people are capable of imagining.
"Then I saw the case notes from Captain Rodriguez - Hale was from Chicago too. And I thought about your interest in John Shade, and I just had a hunch. Was I right?"
"Yes," I nodded, my mind racing.
Hale had said that there were only three of the Princes remaining - Nix, himself, and Magnus. Now that I knew who Magnus really was, I thought I had a pretty good idea what he was capable of, and I had no doubt that he could take care of himself. But Nix - Magnus had been afraid, or at least wary of Nix. If whoever had done this was capable of getting at Nix, they had every ability to get at Magnus.
I thanked Branwell, ran to my car and drove to Magnus', the silver key to his house heavy in my pocket. I ran two red lights to get to his house, and I was running up the steps and banging at his door in record time. He didn't answer the door, so I took the risk of him blowing my head off and used my key to let myself in. I checked the house from top to bottom, even the wine cellar with the secret room, but Magnus was nowhere to be found. There weren't any signs of a struggle, but there was an air of disuse about the place, a chill in the air.
My next stop was the Black Cat. It wasn't open for business yet, but I knew the manager Maia would be around.
"Boss says you aren't allowed around here anymore," she told me flatly.
"So you've seen him lately?"
"Sure. He was in here last night," she replied. The vice around my chest loosened a little. "He's been in here every night, drinking himself to an early death," she continued, and the vice tightened again for a different reason.
I stood there staring at her, not saying anything. What was there to say? I went back to my car and got into it and drove back to my office.
I spent the afternoon calling everybody I could remember Magnus introducing me to. Catarina's secretary hung up on me, and Ragnor slammed the phone down the moment I opened my mouth.
Maia had seen him only last night. I told myself that maybe his house had felt so abandoned because he, too, had found it difficult to be in that place, so full of the memories of us. But what the mind knows and what the heart feels are two different things. Knowing all the things I knew about Magnus now, I was afraid, and but not of Magnus, never of Magnus - I was afraid for him.
The next day, I went into the office prepared to call Ragnor as many times as it took for him to either listen to me or get angry enough to come into my office to punch my lights out, if that's what it took for him to talk to me. I wasn't expecting to find a client waiting for me in my reception room.
It was a pretty blond woman in her early 40s, with lipstick like a smear of blood on snow, dressed in a fitting dress that put her curves and legs on display. I almost sent her away, assuming she was another one of those wives who had misplaced their husbands or pet poodles, when I noticed that there was a hint of black in the roots of her blond hair.
"Mr Lightwood. I got your name out of the phone book," she said, wide eyed and nervous-looking as she stood up. She was about the right height - five-foot-four in heels.
"Come in and take a seat," I said, unlocking my office door while being careful not to leave my back towards her. "Now what can I do for you, Miss...?"
"Miss Odam. Effie Odam. I'm so afraid, Mr Lightwood. I just don't know what to do. Someone is after me. I took something precious of his, you see - and he'll do anything to get it back."
The memory of the manuscript Father Jeremiah had shown me was still fresh in my mind. John Shade had been Belphegor, associated with the sin of Sloth - he had been kept drugged up until his muscles and organs had started to waste away. Aldous Nix had been Lucifer, associated with the sin of Pride - I could only guess that perhaps she had doped him up and mutilated his body, then given him the choice to end his own life on his own terms rather than face the shame of the mutilation. Barnabas Hale had been Mammon, associated with Greed - and he had quite literally choked on his own hoarded wealth.
And Asmodeus? Well, Asmodeus was the Prince of Lust.
I smiled at her as pleasantly as I could manage, as if there wasn't a chill running down my spine. What were the chances that she was sitting here in my office and didn't know exactly who I was and what I had been to Magnus? "Suppose you tell me about it, from the beginning, and then I'll know what needs doing. Better begin as far back as you can."
"That was in Chicago. I had seven brothers, and we ran the family business together."
She gave me a small tremulous smile that had to be fake. She was a good actress though, I'd give her that. "Well, we had some arguments about how to run the business and my brothers forced me out of the business entirely. I was so angry with them, you know? But in the end blood is blood, and I managed to get each of them alone to talk it out, and I think I've managed to come to an understanding with most of them."
For the first time I wondered if she wasn't a little mad - Kendall, or Odam, or whatever her name really was. "That sounds good. So what's the problem?"
"Well, my last brother - he has been avoiding me, and refuses to meet me. So I tried to speak with him through his son, but my dear nephew didn't want to have anything to do with me either. I suppose I can't blame him - he grew up without even knowing of my existence. I must seem like a complete stranger to him."
"I'm afraid I'm not seeing how I can help you with your situation, Miss Odam. Unless you expect me to go and talk to this nephew of yours on your behalf."
"Oh, that's exactly what I need you to do! You see, I think I was a bit too pushy the last time I saw him, and I may have done something to make him a bit angry with me."
"And what would that be?"
"It's hard to explain. But it's not him I'm afraid of, it's his friend."
I frowned. "What does this friend look like?"
"Oh, he's about your age, and about as tall as you. He has dark hair too."
"Hazel, like yours. In fact, he looks remarkably similar to you."
I tried not to show my confusion. She seemed to be deadly serious though. What was she getting at?
"And why would this man be a threat to you, Miss Odam?"
"Oh, I don't know. Aren't men supposed to be quick to anger when the ones they love are in danger? At least I hear that's the case."
All this time I'd been tense with the expectation that she was going to get the jump on me and use me as leverage to lure Magnus to her. I hadn't anticipated this being her very roundabout way of getting me to come to her, of telling me that Magnus was in her power now. Maybe she thought the conversation was being bugged, and didn't want to say anything incriminating. But whatever the reason for this insanity, I was playing an odd game of charades with her, where I pretended not to know what she was talking about and she pretended not to know I knew exactly what she was talking about.
"I've arranged for him to meet me tonight," she continued.
"Where are you meeting him?"
"The Hotel Dumont on 116th. Do you know the place?"
"Yes. I assume you want me to come along with you, for protection." She nodded, turning dark pleading eyes on me. "And what time is he coming to see you?"
"After 8 o'clock."
"All right, Miss Odam-"
"Mr Lightwood, I understand you might have men that work for you to do this for you, but do you think you could look after it personally? I don't mean that the man you'd send wouldn't be capable, but I'd feel safer if it was you. And it'd probably be better if you came alone - I wouldn't want to make him agitated, in case anybody got hurt. I'd expect to be charged more, of course." She opened her handbag with nervous fingers and put five hundred-dollar bills on my desk, all the while careful to hold her bag at an angle so that I would see all its brothers in her bag - as well as a very familiar signet ring with a bold florid letter 'B' on it. I would recognise it anywhere. How many times had I pressed my lips to the finger that wore that ring?
"Would that be enough?" she asked.
I swallowed thickly, my heart pounding with fear. "Yes, of course."
"Oh thank you, thank you!" she cried, grasping my hand. I fought the urge to shake it off.
"Not at all. You're paying me good money, after all. I'll see you tonight."
"I know you won't let me down," she said with a smile, and left.
It was exactly 8 o'clock when I reached the Hotel Dumont. The fear I had felt for Magnus and myself - for I would have been a fool not to feel afraid - had solidified into steely resolve. I knew without a doubt that I was probably walking into a death trap, but there had never been any other choice.
I hadn't dared to call on any of my usual resources or on Magnus' friends, not knowing who I could trust or who could be listening in, so I had no backup. I hadn't even dared to leave a note for Izzy to find in case everything went south, because I knew her and I didn't want her digging into this - I found that I was starting to understand why Magnus hadn't told me anything about his dangerous past. I had no idea what was waiting in store for me other than the fact that it would probably be something very unpleasant.
I had nothing with me but my gun and my wits - and it would have to be enough.
I went up to the hotel counter to ask for Miss Effie Odam, and was directed to a room on the fourth floor. Before I went up, I took a look at the fire escape plan they had pinned up - the rooms had connecting doors. It was safe to assume that she had taken up both rooms. I took the elevator up, and caught a glimpse of my own reflection in the gilded surface of the interior. It was the face of a man who had made up his mind to drive off a cliff, provided his enemies were with him in the back seat.
I walked down the carpeted hallway as quietly as I could, and put my ear to the door of the connecting room, 424. It was all quiet in there, but I thought I could risk picking the lock and seeing if Magnus was in there, or at least use it to give me an element of surprise and catch her unaware. I was already reaching for my wallet to take out my usual lock-picking tool - the celluloid cover of my driver's license - when the door opened a crack.
"Mr Lightwood," she greeted me, and opened the door wider. There were two men standing inside the room near the door, eyeing me warily. "I'm so glad you could make it. Please come in."
The door clicked shut behind me with a finality, but still I kept my back to it and my eyes on the three people in the room.
"Oh, where are my manners!" she chided herself. "This is Axel Mortmain, and Johnny Rook."
"And what about you?" I asked her. "What's your name?"
She smiled at me. "Well, I suppose there's no harm telling you now. My name is Lilith Patrota. They gave me the nickname the Princess of Edom, because of that."
"They called you Princess, and you killed them all."
She dropped her friendly demeanor abruptly, her smile becoming a snarl. "They called me Princess, and they locked me in an asylum and threw away the key!"
"All that stuff about the family business in Chicago - how much of it was true?" l asked, hoping to keep her talking while I figured a way out of this. People like her did tend to love to hear themselves talk.
"Mr Lightwood, I have been absolutely frank with you," she replied, voice suddenly sweet again. "The eight of us ruled Chicago's underworld. And for a time everything was good. We each had our own places, our own specialities, and we were invincible. Until, of course, they came together and decided that they disagreed with my methods."
"Methods of?" I asked. I was certain the two men were armed, but Lilith herself wasn't. Still, it was three against one, and I didn't like my chances, not when she was as sly as a fox and her two goons must have been something special to get through to people like Nix. There was no light coming from under the door of the connecting room she was supposed to have been in, but there was no other place in the small hotel room to hide a prisoner, so Magnus had to be next door. Luck, it seemed, was not on my side.
"Discipline, of course," she continued. "How is an empire to survive if you don't strike fear in the hearts of your enemies? Sometimes I buried our allies at sea in a barrel of concrete just to keep everyone on their toes."
No wonder they'd put her in the asylum - she was stark raving mad.
"They got some doctors to trump up some nonsense about my health, and locked me away for nine years. When I finally escaped, I promised myself that they would all pay for what they'd done. And I got them all - except Asmodeus, who had the bad manners to die before I could get to him."
I grabbed her then, pressing my gun to her head. Her two goons had their gats out and pointing at me, but I doubted they would risk accidentally shooting their boss instead. "Well, at least we've finally come to the business I wanted to discuss. Let Magnus go, and I won't put a slug in your brain."
"What about you, then?" she laughed. "Even if I let him go, do you think you'll get a chance to leave unharmed?"
"Were you expecting me to tell you my daring escape plan?" I asked her, and she laughed some more, a high wild sound that raised all the hairs on the back of my neck.
It was the oldest trick in the book, and I should have seen it coming - she suddenly slumped forward. Unprepared for the dead weight in my arms, I let go, and one of her goons took the chance to come forward and slam his fist into my jaw. Someone else twisted the gun out of my hand and the two men pinned my arms behind my back before hauling me back up into a standing position.
"Such a pity, Mr Lightwood. We were having such a nice little chat," she said, her impeccable hair-do all askew now, but she didn't seem to have noticed. She finally looked as deranged as she actually was. "I guess it's right down to business," she said, and took out a key from her pocket to unlock the connecting door to the next room.
The lights were not on, but she didn't have to turn them on - the red neon from the building across flashed glaringly on the ceiling, turning the whole room red. Magnus was sitting on the bed, his wrists and feet bound tightly and his mouth gagged with a rag. His eyes widened when he saw me. But before I could do anything, Mortmain and Rook tightened their grip on me, making it impossible for me jerk away, and Lilith drove a syringe into my neck.
My vision went blur almost immediately. Either Mortmain or Rook pushed me, and I went stumbling into the room and onto the floor. I gasped and pulled at my collar, suddenly finding it hard to breathe, and my skin felt tight, like I'd been squeezed into a rubber tube. I was vaguely aware of them moving around in the room, of a gasp of pain from Magnus.
"First comes the nausea and the dizziness, and the shortness of breath. Within three minutes the tremors start, and in five minutes it'll stop your heart," Lilith said conversationally. "Luckily for you, I have the antidote to it. But only one dose of it."
"Go to hell," Magnus grated out, his voice hoarse with disuse.
"Love is such a dull word, don't you agree?" she mused. "It amazes me that the English language, so rich in the poetry of feeling, can accept such a feeble word for it. It has no life, no resonance. But lust... now, there's a four-letter word with character."
I saw her feet moving out of the corner of my eye as she paced around the room. "I couldn't believe it when I heard about the two of you. The son of the great Asmodeus, sheltering a nothing, a washed-out bloodhound in his own bosom - all for something as insipid as love. When I saw Mr Lightwood, I thought I finally understood - he is very pretty, Magnus. You really know how to pick them. But do you really think this is love? After all, it's easy to mistake lust for love, until it's time to make a real sacrifice."
I heard a thump of something being placed on the nightstand. Still coughing, I looked up through watering eyes to see a revolver and a small white pill on the nightstand.
"One antidote, and one bullet. Have fun deciding who gets which," she smiled, and shut the door.
They had untied Magnus' bonds and dumped him on the floor when they had injected him with whatever was now flowing through both our veins. He was only a few feet away, clutching at his throat.
"Don't fall for her tricks. She's not going to let either of us go," I told Magnus urgently. I was almost certain that pill on the table was just poison. Two ways to die, after Lilith had had her fun. She had been too easy with her information to let me live, and the point of this whole song-and-dance had been to kill Magnus.
He raised a finger to his lips, and glanced at the direction of the other room where Lilith and her thugs were waiting. The message was clear: they were listening.
Magnus looked me dead in the eye. "I know. She just wants to see us fight each other, and try to kill each other for that antidote."
My throat was dry as the Sahara and every breath hurt. "What she shot us up with - is it really poison?"
"I don't know. But if it's the same stuff she demonstrated on my chauffeur yesterday, then she's not lying about the effects." His gaze softened. "I'm sorry I dragged you into this mess."
"I promised you, not too long ago, that there was no world in which anything you did would make me walk away from you."
He turned away from me then. "I didn't think you would come for me tonight."
I swallowed hard, trying to speak despite the pain. This might be our last chance to talk it out, after all. "I'm not saying I forgive you, because I'm not sure I'll ever be able to. But I need to know why."
"Why what? Why I taught people to commit murder without being caught, as you so eloquently put it?" he asked bitterly.
"Did you think you would be able to hide it from me forever? Why did you send me those cat-eyed stones?"
"I'd like to say that it was hubris, but it wasn't, not entirely. I guess a part of me was hoping that you'd figure it out. I'm just so tired of the lies, Alexander."
"And what did you think would happen when I figured it out?"
He shook his head and his mouth twisted into a sad smile. "I knew even before we began that I would lose you when you found out, but I loved you anyway. And I wanted to go on loving you."
There was a silence in the room then, broken only by our harsh breaths.
"Magnus, I still love you. Even after everything."
I saw the tear running down his face, and my heart ached.
"You said you would never be able to trust me again, but could I ask you to trust me one last time?" he whispered.
I nodded mutely, and he smiled. "Close your eyes."
I did as I was told, and in a few moments I heard a scraping sound, then the telltale click of a gun safety. My eyes flew open - Magnus had pulled himself closer to the nightstand, and he had the revolver in his hand.
He raised the gun and brought it to his own head.
"Be happy, Alexander," he said, and pulled the trigger.
I heard the gun go off, and saw Magnus crumple to the floor in a heap - but had I been imagining a soft pop from the direction of the bed? I crawled towards Magnus to cradle his limp body in my arms. The sleeve of my jacket at the crook of my arm where his head was resting remained dry. My eyes flickered to the bed, and sure enough, in a corner, I spotted the bullet hole - somehow, with a twist of the wrist that I must have missed in my panic, he'd managed to put the slug in the thick duvet and mattress instead of in his own temple.
I shifted my body over the spot in the carpet where he should have been bleeding out and buried my face in the crook of his neck where I could hear the steady thump of his heart and the rasping sounds of his breathing. It was a trick, I reminded myself, willing my racing heart to slow down. He was alive and warm in my arms; it was only a trick, and now it was my turn to play my part.
A pokerface I could manage; pretending to be feeling anything I wasn't really feeling was damned near impossible. I didn't blame Magnus for his little trick - he had had to make it believable.
Sure enough, my cries and the sound of the gunshot were enough to convince Lilith to unlock the connecting door and come over to gloat at the misery she had wrought. I felt Magnus' breathing still immediately at the sound of the latch clicking open, and did my best to shield his face and chest from view so that she couldn't see that he was just faking it.
"I thought you would have been the one to bite that bullet, not him," she observed. "I suppose I read the both of you wrong after all. I heard your conversation through the wall - very touching."
I didn't answer her, I didn't trust my voice, in case I gave the game away. Instead, I concentrated on planning our next move. It was two against three now, but Magnus and I were weak from whatever we'd been shot up with, and Lilith might still have more syringes of god knows what up her sleeves.
"Are you giving up the fight already, Mr Lightwood? Are you planning to hold your lover in your arms like that until the poison takes its hold and you join him in death? Well, I hate to have to disappoint you - you were only given scopolamine, not poison," she went on, not seeming to mind my lack of response. "To think, he gave his life for you to have a chance at the cure, when both of you would have recovered in less than an hour's time, none the worse for wear. You could still join him, though. That pill I left you is not an antidote but cyanide - just one little pill, and your pointless, miserable life will be over."
"Or we could just shoot 'im," one of her thugs grunted.
"But where's the poetry in that?" Lilith asked.
I felt Magnus tug on the hem of my shirt.
We sprang apart. Magnus used the rest of his strength to launch himself at Lilith, and I grabbed the duvet off the bed and flung it over the goon nearest to me. The other one was torn between coming at me and helping his boss, and his moment of hesitation cost him. I rammed into him shoulder first, using my bulk and weight against him, and wrestled his gun away from him. Even with my head spinning from the drugs, I would have been a damned fool to miss this close up - I put two slugs in his chest, just to be sure, and he went down like a tree.
I wasn't so lucky with the second guy. He'd already freed himself from the heavy duvet and was aiming his gun at my head. I ducked in time to feel the bullet whistle by my ear and punch a hole in the wall just beside my head.
In the meantime, Magnus had pinned Lilith to the floor and had been using the butt of the empty revolver to hit her about the face, but she was tougher than she looked. She shrieked like a wild thing and clawed at his face, bucking to throw him off, but even with the drugs messing with him, he was still stronger and bigger. He would probably have been able to knock her out if the remaining man hadn't dragged him off her.
He had his gun to Magnus' head in a second, but I'd been anticipating that. I raised the gun in my hand and shot him twice. The gun in his hand left his grip as surely as if it had been kicked. He reached both his hands for his stomach, and then he fell like that, straight forwards, holding himself together with his broad hands.
That left us with Lilith - Lilith with her face bruised and bloodied, and eyes burning crazy with hell fire, coming at Magnus with a syringe in her hand. I had a feeling this one wasn't filled with scopolamine.
I was too out of breath to get up, but I still had two bullets left. But I didn't have a chance to use them. Magnus kicked Lilith's legs out from under her and pounced on her, twisting her wrist so viciously I heard the bone break, then he plunged the syringe into her neck.
She gasped and clawed at the syringe in her neck, but it was too late for that.
"First comes the nausea and the dizziness, and the shortness of breath. Within three minutes the tremors start, and in five minutes it'll stop your heart," Magnus said, repeating her words back at her. "I hope that's poetic enough for you."
She snarled at us, but it was an empty threat. Perhaps it had been a stronger dose, or she was smaller, but it didn't take that long for her to end up writhing and spasming on the floor in agony, although that all stopped before the five minutes were up, even if it felt like a lot longer. And after that there wasn't a sound from her.
And now we were left with three corpses, two of which had died by my hand. I had never killed someone before this, and I couldn't say that I regretted it.
We slumped against the wall, sliding down to the floor, struggling to catch our breath.
"Are you alright?" he asked me.
"Fine," I replied, shaking myself and coming back to the present. "You?"
"I'll be fine," he said, then looked troubled. "Alexander, I'm sorry about the trick with the gun. I couldn't-"
"It's alright, I understand," I told him. "We have to get out of here, someone must have heard the shots."
But first - I stumbled around the room until I found the bag Lilith had been carrying in my office earlier today, and reached into it to retrieve Magnus' ring.
"I believe this belongs to you."
"And this belongs to you," he said, and I saw that he had my Colt in one hand and an empty bottle of whiskey in the other. He put the bottle down and picked up a cheap lighter from the table. "Let's go."
We straightened our clothes quickly as best as we could so we could get through the hotel lobby without raising too much suspicion, then we got the hell out of there. We had to lean on each other a bit, but with enough luck, people would just assume we were drunk. The shouting and screams for the fire department started when we were almost out of the door.
It probably wasn't a good idea for either of us to drive, but the effects of the drugs Lilith had shot us up with had worn off enough that I thought it would be less of a risk than getting into a taxi and being driven by a stranger. Besides, I didn't want to leave my car here for the police to find.
It was snowing, the roads were slippery and the street lights hazy. I drove as slowly as I could without pissing too many people off, and soon we were stumbling up the steps of Magnus' house. When the door was finally locked behind us, I could finally breathe a little easier.
"You have to leave New York," I said to him, not a question but a statement of fact. It was too dangerous for him now, and maybe he would never be able to come back. After all this trouble, his life here was over.
He nodded solemnly. "I'll be gone tonight."
We stood there staring at each other. There was too much we had to say to each other, but it was too late for us to say any of it. It should never have happened between us, but I couldn't say I regretted any of it either.
"Stay, just for a little while," he said, and I couldn't have said no.
The snow fell soft against the windows and the roof, shielding us from the world outside for just a while. We undressed and got on the bed, kissing each other like drowning men gasping for air, but with so much love that it was almost too much to bear; was too much to bear. A long goodbye, the final farewell.
We fit together like two puzzle pieces, him and I, and when I sank into his body it was with the knowledge that I would never ever find this other matching piece again. We made beautiful love together, but everything else about the world was sad and ugly. And when it was over, we held each other so hard there were bruises in the skin under our fingertips, as if we could merge into one being and everything could be alright again.
"I have to go," I told him.
"I know, darling. I know," he whispered, and pressed a kiss to my forehead.
I got up and put my clothes on. I took the silver key out of my pocket and placed it on the bedside table, then I went downstairs and put on my hat and my coat. When I reached the sidewalk in front of the house, I finally looked back.
The house was completely dark now. No one lived there. It had all been nothing but a dream. I got into my car and drove home.
I felt so bad about that previous cliffhanger, I got this out within 24hours! (Sleep? What is sleep?)
Scopolamine is nicknamed "devil's breath" and in urban legend it's supposed to make the victim more susceptible to suggestion. In reality it's used (in very small doses) as a motion sickness remedy.
So there you have it. All the streets are dark, all the whiskey is cheap, and all of the stories are sad on the bad side of town. And mine is just another sad tale of the City.
But the world still turns, and the sun still rises and sets. Every day I leave the apartment I share with my siblings to sit in my office, to watch the day come and go, until the neon signs come up across the boulevard. And then I go to bed, and wake up to do it all over again.
There was a bit of fuss in the papers about the triple murder and arson at the Hotel Dumont, and then a series of mysterious deaths of people from different echelons of society. The cops didn't come knocking and I didn't turn myself in. Then Ragnor Fell retired from his practice at the peak of his career, which made some waves in the legal circle. But none of that had anything to do with me anymore.
Everything had changed, yet everything remained the same. The faded green settee was still faded, the curtains still dusty. I unlocked the door to my office, locked it behind me, and sat down behind my desk. Wherever I went, whatever I did, this was what I would come back to - a meaningless, empty existence, in a meaningless, empty room.
I started to pour myself a glass of whiskey, then changed my mind and lifted the bottle straight to my lips. The alcohol burned going down, and brought tears to my eyes. That was all there was to it, nothing more.
The telephone started to ring. I picked it up and said emptily: "Yes?"
"Is this Mr Alec Lightwood?"
"Paris has been trying to reach you, Mr Lightwood. I'll call you back in a little while."
I put the phone down slowly and my hand shook a little. Drinking too much, or not enough sleep.
The call came through in fifteen minutes: "The party calling you from Paris is on the line, sir. If you have any difficulty, please flash your operator."
I closed my eyes. I missed you, I wanted to say, but what I said instead was: "You shouldn't be calling."
"I missed you," he whispered, and why was it possible for three words to contain so much pain?
"Aren't you afraid that I might put the cops on your tail?" I asked, a little harsher than I had meant to.
Magnus ignored this. "I've tried to forget you. I haven't been able to, and I don't think I'll ever be able to."
"The world is full of other men and women."
"I don't want the world, Alexander. I want you."
"God, Magnus. What do you want from me?" I asked him in despair. I couldn't forget him, but I couldn't have him.
"Come to Paris."
"What good would that do? You're still you, and I'm still me."
"And I still love you, and you still love me."
"I wish that was enough, Magnus. I wish to God it was enough."
"Why can't it be? We could start all over again, in a new place. I don't regret the things I've done, because of why I did them - but maybe there's a better way. We could do it together, Alexander."
"And why should l trust you?"
"I lied to you to protect you, before - don't you see? I thought that if you knew too much about Chicago, you'd be in danger. But now they're all dead, and I'm free from that past forever. I guess Lilith did me a favour after all. No more lies."
"So we are both free to make whatever choices we wish to make now. But what if you are not that choice?"
"I can't control that. I've never wanted to own you. I only wanted to love you."
It sounded too good to be true, and nothing in my life had ever been that easy. "I don't know, Magnus. I feel like I don't know anything anymore."
"I'm sending you a plane ticket to Paris. It'll probably reach you in a week - so you'll have time to think it over."
"Magnus, I-" I should say no. Izzy was here, and Jace. They needed me, and all my life I had only lived in New York. This was my home, or had been for so long that I had gotten used to saying it. And Magnus... well. I knew what he was, and there was a side of him that was hard, and as ruthless as he was beautiful. I knew what he was, and yet it made no difference at all.
The silence stretched out over the phone. I should say no.
But Magnus knew me. He knew there was no universe in which our souls did not cleave towards each other, in which we did not find our way back to each other.
There was a smile in his voice when he said: "Why don't you tell me, when you've found out?"
The phone clicked, there was a buzzing sound, and then the line went dead.
Thank you, dear readers, for all your comments and reactions. I'm a little sad about saying goodbye to this series too, but I guess all good things come to an end. I have loved writing this for you and you guys have been amazing! <3
Special credits go to Matt and Harry for inspiring this whole thing in the first place at THOS Con 2017, Chet Baker for his soulful music providing the soundtrack to my writing experience, and Raymond Chandler for his defining influence on the genre of hard-boiled detective noir fiction.
I have some random floating ideas floating around in my head at the moment, so I doubt this is the last you'll see of me. Until next time! XOXO
In the meantime, you can find me on tumblr @la-muerta or on Twitter @tethysea. ;)