Strangiato’s train puffed its way east. The dark-eyed man sat in his palace car away from his desk, smoking a cigar and sipping from an elegantly deco glass whose twin was in the hands of a woman across from him. She was dressed as stylishly as her host though in gray instead of black. Her face was long and thin, youthful up to her eyes. No wrinkles, no crow’s feet betrayed her age. Her eyes, though, spoke volumes about things she’d seen and experienced in a long life.
“Thanks for the ride,” she said. “You know I could have made it back on my own power?”
“Of course,” Strangiato said. “However, chivalry isn’t quite dead in this day and age.”
“Don’t look so hurt,” Eyre said. She stood and walked to the bar, took a decanter of dark liquid and poured her glass half full. “You never had a sense of humor, did you?” She turned to face him with her glass to her lips.
Strangiato puffed on his cigar, breathed out the thick blue smoke and swirled his drink. “No, I did not.”
“I’m grateful to you for taking me back to the city.” She raised the glass in a toast and sipped at it again. She looked at the liquid in the glass and smiled. “And for the drink. I don’t think I’ve had this fine a cognac in forever.”
“Merci,” Strangiato said. “Vous êtes bienvenu.”
Eyre strolled back to her chair and stood next to it, trailing a hand across the back. “What can I do for you? You mentioned a client.”
“Carina Arecibo,” the dark-eyed man said. “Her dossier is on my desk.” He related the conversation with Fyodor Arecibo and his station. “I suspect she’s connected with the DSE.”
“Oh?” Eyre went to his desk and began casually leafing through the information on Carina Arecibo. She wrinkled her nose once and then frowned. The lady flipped through the entire dossier and closed it before coming back to sit across from Strangiato again.
“Do you have any insight?” he puffed slowly, the thick smoke swirling around him.
“Are you staying in Chicago?”
“If you were going to stay for a day or so,” Eyre said coming back to her chair, “I would put you in touch with Leonard Burroughs.” She crossed her legs at the knees, resting her drink hand across her lap. “He’s a dealer in Spark paraphernalia.”
“Then I will be staying in Chicago.” Strangiato almost smiled.
Walking north on Damen Avenue in Bucktown, Strangiato abhorred the clacking and electricity of the Blue Line El as it clattered above him. “Best to walk the last six blocks or so. It’s a nice neighborhood at least,” Eyre had advised him. Crossing Shakespeare and heading towards Webster, Strangiato wondered if Eyre had played some kind of joke on him. “You should fit right in,” she’d said.
The girl who came out of the falafel house looked around wildly and when she saw Strangiato in his black suit, she screamed. He stopped. She continued to scream until he held out one hand to her, unmoved by her emotion. “Child,” he said.
The girl was shocked into silence then drawn to him. Quiet, she took his hand and immediately relaxed. “I,” she said. Strangiato nodded.
“You will come with me,” he said. “You will be safe.”
The dark-eyed man was calm and his lips barely moved as he spoke to her. The girl let go his hand and hung her head. “There is no shame,” Strangiato said as he began to walk and she fell into step beside him. “It’s a common enough mistake and one that has served me well enough in the past.”
The pair walked farther up Damen and turned left at Webster. The girl did not speak but stared at the mingled buildings, hundred year-old houses and newly constructed industrial lofts side by side. When Strangiato turned right to cross Webster to Seeley, she didn’t notice.
He was waiting across the street when she caught up to him. “Jest to Kozie Prery?”
Strangiato nodded. “They call it Bucktown now. Stay close and do not speak unless I ask you to.” They proceeded up Seeley to the point where it became Avondale Avenue and stopped at a well-kept brownstone. He looked again at the girl, whose eyes were wide. He put a hand on her shoulder and they ascended the stairs and she rang the bell on the right side of the green and red double doors when he indicated she should.
The bell was audible through the door and soon enough the locks were turning and the right side door opened enough to allow a small man to come into view and step out onto the stoop. “Yes?” He smiled at the girl.
When the small man’s gaze rose to Strangiato, he blanched. “Oh, no,” he said and stumbled backward into the barely open door. He fell through the threshold and scrambled backward. The dark-eyed man walked slowly through the door and the girl trailed behind.
“You have nothing to fear from me, Leonard Burroughs,” Strangiato said. “I am here only to gain information.”
Burroughs crab-walked as far as he could until he banged his head into a wall. The girl followed the two men inside, looked around and then quietly shut the door to the street. She turned and watched Burroughs try to melt into the wall at his back. She cocked her head. “Tell her to stop looking at me like that,” he said, squeaking. “Tell her to stop.”
Strangiato turned and squinted at the girl, then stepped forward and put out a hand again to help Burroughs to his feet. “Stand up and speak as a man does,” he said. “I have little patience.”
Burroughs nodded, took the hand and climbed to his feet. “What,” he said quietly, “what can I do for you?”
“What about it?” Burroughs was as flat against the wall as he could be. Strangiato scowled. “The DSE,” Burroughs said. “I trade there sometimes.”
“How?” Strangiato was now taken aback, but recovered his demeanor quickly. “You are neither ---“
“Angelic? Demonic?” Burroughs sniffed and stood out from the wall as straight as he could. “I have Dispense. I trade the Lost if no one claims them.”
Strangiato stood back from Burroughs, narrowed his eyes at the little man. “I see now,” he said. Long moments passed. “From Brahmen.”
Burroughs nodded. “So --- what do you want?”
“Carina Arecibo,” Strangiato said. “Do you know her?”
Burroughs smoothed his shirt and stepped out from in front of Strangiato, more at ease in his surroundings. “The name’s not familiar. Do you have a likeness?”
Strangiato handed over a picture. “Mmm. No,” Burroughs said and handed it back. “She’s pretty though. Do you claim her?”
“Where is the next Exchange?” Strangiato put his hands in the pockets of his jacket.
“Ah,” Burroughs said. “That would be telling.”
Strangiato stepped close to the little man, looming, his face darkening with rage. “Where,” the big man said, “is the next Exchange?”
Burroughs, trapped, put a hand to his chin and cringed. “Kansas City. The Divine Spark Exchange will be in Kansas City tomorrow at 1900 Greenwich. Near the Bottoms, I don’t have the exact address yet.” Burroughs, shaking, tried to push past the dark-eyed man and failed. “Let me go, please.”
Strangiato stood back. “My card.”
Burroughs reached out and took the card from Strangiato, trembling. He nodded slightly.
“Come, child,” Strangiato said turning to the girl. “We shall leave Mr. Burroughs to his thoughts.”
Back on Strangiato’s palace car, the girl was eating an ice cream cone and standing next to Eyre in the dim light.
“Of course,” she said. “Anything to help.”
Strangiato nodded and looked at the girl. “Miss Eyre will take you to the Shepherd, who will guide you from there.” He tried to smile, but it was a painful thing and the girl shrank from him as he did it. “Take care, Emily.” He straightened and adjusted his cufflinks.
“You’re off to Kansas City, then?”
Eyre swooped over and kissed him on the cheek. Strangiato, surprised, frowned. “Be careful,” Eyre said. She whipped around and took Emily’s hand, led her out of the palace car without a backward glance.
“Evans,” Strangiato thumbed the intercom at his desk. “Kansas City, please.”
The train whistled and chugged its way south and west.
The wood floor of the Exchange creaked. The man and the woman stood in the center of the arena-sized room. “Are you sure?” She began pacing. “I’m so close now.”
“I’ve put some special measures in place,” the man said and watched her walk back and forth. “There will be no problems.”
“I can’t go back,” she said, still pacing. “I can’t. I won’t.”
“Your husband must love you very much to engage the Seeker,” the man said.
“I never loved him the way he did me,” Carina said, her back to the man. “There’s no going back.”
©2009 By Jason Arnett.
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Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States
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