Back | Next

Chapter One

Pistol in hand, Doc ran through the deserted streets of the city of Neckerdam.

The skyscrapers around him looked like the misaligned, broken teeth of some long-dead giant, spikes of black or gray or checkered white-and-green pointing accusingly at the sky.

At the stars. These weren't the stars Doc knew, not the ones that belonged above the true Neckerdam. That, and the fact that he had not seen one other living soul on the streets, told him he was dreaming.

But was he experiencing a true dream or a sending-dream? The second kind could be meaningful . . . and dangerous.

Ahead, on a street corner, he saw the wanted poster.

Above the text was a picture of Doc, but this was not the sort of picture normally posted on the walls of the city jails. In it, Doc stood in a heroic pose, gun in hand, wearing explorer garb better suited to exploration of the Dark Continent, his shirt ripped, his long snow-white hair flowing in a wind.

The words beneath the picture read, "Sought by the Crown, Doctor Desmond MaqqRee of the Sidhe Foundation. Also hight Doc, also hight Doc Sidhe."

There was something missing from the text. Doc shook his head; it was so hard to think in a dream. Then he knew: There should be some specification of charges, some indication of the reward being offered.

He looked up the street and now, where none had been before, his wanted poster was thickly plastered on every wall and light pole.

He heard and felt a grinding from beneath the pavement only a few steps away. Two large bronze plates set into the sidewalk clattered open and the elevator beneath them rose into view.

On it was a bed, a beautiful four-poster of ornately carved hardwood, draped in sheer bed-curtains, with a lavender canopy above. And lounging on the pillows lay Ixyail del Valle, Doc's lover.

She was a small woman, not just in comparison with Doc's generous height, but by any human standard; yet she was well and sleekly muscled like a panther in human form. Her features were delicate, the legacy of royal ancestry from the Old World, but her mouth was broad and generous. Her skin was a light brown, natural to her rather than the result of sunning. Her hair, flowing and glossily black, was far longer than Doc remembered it, as long as the silken nightdress that came barely to her thighs.

She gave him a smile that was all invitation and crooked a finger to summon him.

He took a last look around. There was no sign of an enemy. He felt nothing that indicated this was a sending-dream. He set his pistol down on the concrete and climbed in.

As he passed through the curtains his clothes disappeared. Ixyail seized him, pulling him atop her. This time, she had no need of love-play; she was ready for him, clutching, clawing, her skin hot to the touch. He tore her nightdress from her with a single yank and she drew him into her. She purred a true cat's purr and wrapped herself around him.

Too quickly, he spent. He held and kissed her, tried to form the words to soothe her, to appreciate her. But the words wouldn't come. He could see from her smile and her eyes that she'd understood his intent. Yet there was something odd to her eyes, an expression he had never seen in them before, an anxious expectation—she seemed to be asking a question he could not understand and could not answer.

She rolled over so that she was above and he beneath, and said, "I'll return when you are ready again." She slid from atop him and vanished as she passed through the curtains.

Doc tried to follow but found that his wrists and ankles were bound by heavy bronze shackles that held him, splayed, to the bed. He struggled but they were unyielding.

He tried to wake up. But above him the canopy of the four-poster bed remained stubbornly in place.

He looked around, but still there was no one to be seen on the streets of this phantom Neckerdam. Even his wanted posters were missing.

And he wondered if he were dead, gone to some place of afterlife punishment like the one the members of the Carpenter Cult described.

That's when the memory returned to him: the gunman emerging from behind the pillar, his rifle rising into line, aiming at him, firing—

* * *

Zeb Watson wondered for the twelfth time where he'd seen the minister before. He also waited for words he'd once been certain he would never hear.

"I now pronounce you husband and wife," the minister said. He peered at the bride and groom over metal-rimmed glasses and waited. "Oh. You may kiss the bride."

Harris Greene, the groom, was a lean man, darkly handsome, with features best suited to a cheerful rogue on a TV show; he was dressed in a tuxedo the green of late-summer oak leaves. He took his new wife about the waist and drew her to him. The gesture was theatrical and dashing.

Gaby, the bride, Latina ancestry evident in her coloration and features, had a jaw that suggested stubbornness and alert eyes that spoke of keen intelligence. She wore a wedding dress in a matching green and a wreath of laurel leaves. She smiled at his display as she kissed him.

The crowd in the hotel ballroom applauded, the wedding party joining in.

The couple gave no sign that they were ready to break their clinch. The minister smiled as he stepped around them and past Zeb. He was a young man with a wispy brown beard and mustache and open features suggesting that stress, to him, was nothing but a word in the dictionary. He was dressed in the same style of green tuxedo as the groom's party. "Attention, please. As soon as we can pry Harris and Gaby apart and get the members of the immediate families up here, we'll start taking wedding pictures. If you can sort of gather in the open spaces, the hotel staff will be able to drag the chairs up against those two walls and get the buffet set up."

Zeb ignored him and kept his attention on Harris and Gaby. They were different from the last time he'd seen them. Six months ago, Harris had been an unsuccessful professional kickboxer, his career spiraling away to nothingness in New York. He and Gaby, a programming director for a UHF station, had been together for a while but signs had not looked good between them. Then something had happened—a neighbor had reported Gaby kidnapped, then she'd turned up again, then she and Harris had dropped out of sight.

There had been little word from them after the reported kidnapping. Zeb had received a note from Harris saying that all was well and that he'd explain later. The explanation had never come, but a wedding invitation had, eventually. Now Harris and Gaby looked confident, healthy, as happy as Zeb had ever seen them . . . and he still didn't know why.

Not that Zeb minded a happy ending. He just wished he knew how they'd gotten there.

* * *

At the back of the columned hall, in the last row of the seating devoted to the groom's guests, Rudi Bergmonk cupped his chin in his hand and decided that he needed a shave. On the other hand, he wasn't here to impress the wedding attendees with close-shaven elegance. He might have to shoot one of them, in fact. He might have to shoot several of them.

He and his four brothers stood as the rest of the audience did. That cut off their view to the head of the hall; the tallest of them was a head shorter than most of the men present. Rudi knew that this wasn't the only thing that set them apart, visually; the black suits they wore were badly fitted to their thick-chested, short-legged builds, and all five, unlike the genuine wedding guests, wore gloves.

Albin, the oldest and the only one whose beard was completely gray, said, "I still don't see him."

Jorg, the biggest of them, mopped a handkerchief that was as floridly red as his hair over his sweaty forehead. "Then he isn't here."

Albin fixed him with a look of contempt. "Have you even been looking among the crowd? He might be employing a disguise."

"Of course I have," Jorg said, his voice rising in protest. "We all have. Right, boys? No sign of him. Maybe he'll come later."

Albin still frowned. "I don't like it. I've done research on their weddings . . . but they're not doing it right."

Egon, the second oldest, though he still had some blond in his hair and beard, shrugged. His hands were in his pockets; Rudi knew that one hand would be on a knife hilt even now. "Perhaps you did your research wrong."

"Shut up," Albin said. "The part we've just seen, they're supposed to do in a temple. Then they have cameos taken. Then they have rice thrown at them as they leave the temple."

Otmar, youngest of the brothers except for Rudi, young enough not to have any silver decorating the brown in his beard, laughed—giggled, rather. "Messy."

Albin took a deep breath, an effort, Rudi knew, to keep his temper in check. "Dry rice, you idiot. Then they go to the hall where the food is—that's the best place we could have taken them, on the trip from temple to hall. But these cretins have cobbled together both parts of the ceremony. They do everything wrong." He looked around, directing his contempt against the other attendees instead of his brothers. "They actually let duskers into the hall." He gestured toward the head of the room, where, until the audience had stood, they'd been able to see the tall black man standing beside the groom. "They've got a dusker for the best man. I think the bride's a dusker passing for dark."

Rudi said, "That's not our problem. The fact that they're not doing things according to their own traditions is. So we'll have to improvise. Where do you want to do it?"

Albin curled a lip, still obviously distressed about the presence of the black man. "When they go to change their garments, I think. We'll follow them and catch them in their rooms, one by one or two by two."

* * *

The bride, the groom, and their families collected at the front of the room to endure the photographer's instructions. Zeb was far enough to one side to be out of the camera range but close enough to hear the photographer's victims talk.

The bride's mother—small-boned, more than a trifle overweight, a frown seemingly a permanent feature of her face—leaned in to whisper, "That Minister Jones, is he a real minister?"

"Yes, Mother." Gaby kept her smile on for the camera.

"I think he's an actor. I think I recognize him from a peanut butter commercial."

"He is an actor from a peanut butter commercial. He and Harris studied theater together in college. But he's also a minister. He founded his own church. Government-recognized and everything."

"Well, it's not right. You should have been married by a real priest. A Catholic priest."

"Well, maybe we'll do it again with a real priest next time."

"How about next week?"

Minutes later, the families immortalized, the photographer maneuvered them away and had the wedding party step in.

Zeb put on his photographic face. He knew his close-cropped beard and mustache gave him a distinguished look, and his eyes were expressive—but only when he put on the right face. He had other faces for other situations. There was his war-face, developed and polished for the boxing ring, his I'm-not-to-be-messed-with face for walking certain neighborhoods in New York, his I'm-so-nice face for persuading people he was no threat to them. He had a face for every occasion. He sometimes wondered if any of them was his own.

While the photographer was changing cameras, Zeb leaned forward over Harris's shoulder. "Sorry I was so late."

"Don't worry about it," Harris said. "You got here, you didn't lose the ring, and in the original tradition of the best man, you're the most dangerous guy I know, so I had no worries that anyone would come and steal Gaby away."

The photographer said, "All right, bride only for a while." Harris and Zeb obligingly moved to one side and relaxed.

"We haven't had a lot of time to talk," Zeb said. He couldn't keep a trace of suspicion from his voice. "Months I don't hear from you or Gaby, and then boom! You're living in California, you're getting married, and you're doing what?"

"Freelance consultants. We're hotel reviewers and inspectors."

"Meaning what, exactly?"

"We're on the road most of the year, going from hotel to hotel under assumed names. We just look around, see how good the hotel staff is at doing its job, use all the hotel facilities we can without being obvious, cause a weird problem or two to see how they deal with it, and file reports to the companies that hire us. We might work for the corporation that owns the hotel, a corporation that owns rival hotels, a chain of travel agencies, a credit-card issuer, that sort of thing." Harris shrugged. "It's good work that pays well. And we like the travel."

A crowd of well-wishers descended upon Harris, shaking his hand, clapping his back, and then moved on to linger in a predatory fashion around the buffet table setup.

"Harris?" Zeb said.


"Where are the pictures?"

Harris gestured at the photographer, still posing Gaby and members of her family. "They won't be ready for weeks."

"No, not those. You've been travelling the last few months from hotel to hotel. The last time you and Gaby went anywhere, she came back with a lot of photographs. She was into photography and journalism in school, right? I remember she likes taking pictures when she's on vacation."

"You don't forget much."

"So where are they?"

"Hell if I know. I told her I don't like looking at pictures. She packs them away somewhere."



"You heard me."

Harris frowned, but not at Zeb's remark. He watched someone toward one side of the hall. "Stay here a second. There's a guy I want to talk to."

"You're avoiding the question."

"No." Harris broke away and moved into the crowd.

* * *

The short, stocky man moved behind one of the columns on the long wall where chairs were stacked. Harris followed as closely as he dared. He peeked around the column, saw the man's broad back, saw over his shoulder as the man lit a pipe.

Harris moved out from behind the column and asked, "Pardon me, goodsir, what's the bell?"

The stocky man turned, revealing his bulbous nose and bushy brown beard; he automatically reached into the pocket of his vest and fetched out a large pocket watch whose lid was ornately engraved with the image of an apple tree. He opened it up. "Why, it's—" Then, guilt dawning on his features, he looked up.

He dropped the pipe, reached under his armpit. As he brushed his jacket lapel aside, Harris saw the gun butt and shoulder holster beneath.

Harris hit him, a knuckle-punch to the solar plexus. He stepped in even closer, slammed his forearm into the man's head, driving it back into the column, and followed through with a knee to the man's groin.

The stocky man let out a faint moan and slid, unconscious, to the floor. The plaster of the column was broken where his head had hit it.

Harris glanced around. With stacks of chairs all around them, no one appeared to have seen or heard their exchange. He bent and dragged the bearded gunman behind several tall stacks of chairs, an adequate place of concealment. Then he undid the man's bow tie and tied his wrists behind his back.

And cursed. The man's nose was a bloody mess, and so was the forearm of Harris's jacket.

He drew off the jacket as he emerged from behind the chairs. And Zeb was right there, waiting for him. "Dammit," Harris said.

"Man, why are you acting so strange?"

Harris sighed, then grabbed Zeb's tie and pulled him around to look behind the chairs. "That's why."

"What the hell happened to him?"

"I hit him."

"Why? What is he to you?"

"He's a fairy."

Zeb pulled back and looked appalled. "Harris, that's not like you at all. You've never been a gay-basher."

"No, no, no. He's not gay. Or maybe he is. I don't know. He's a fairy."

"You've lost me."

"In other words, he's someone from the fair world. Come on. We need to find out if there are more of them." He drew Zeb back around the column and into the crowd. "You see any guys about chest-high, built like bowling balls, point 'em out to me."

"So you can beat them up. Sure."

The photographer called, "Husband, please stand beside the bride again."

"Dammit! Zeb, give me your jacket."

* * *

Zeb watched Harris rejoin Gaby in front of the camera. Zeb could tell Harris's smile was forced. It looked genuine enough, but Zeb had known him long enough to distinguish between reality and acting where Harris was concerned. Zeb returned to the man Harris had slugged.

He didn't find an invitation among the man's effects. But he did find the man's gun. It was a strange piece, brassy in color, large for a revolver.

Okay. So someone had crashed the wedding with a gun. Harris might be crazy, with all this talk of fairies, but he wasn't paranoid. And he'd suggested there were more strange folk out there. Well, if there were potential enemies in the crowd with firearms, Zeb didn't intend to be unarmed. He wrapped the gun up in Harris's jacket and took it with him.

Zeb returned to the edges of the crowd and looked around. He immediately spotted men so like the one Harris had slugged that they had to be relatives: short, squat, thick-chested, most of them bulbous-nosed and bearded. They were wearing the worst off-the-rack suits Zeb had seen in a long while. All four stood at the main doors leading into the hall, but as he watched, three departed—leaving the tallest one behind.

A guard, Zeb decided.

* * *

Harris took Gaby in his arms and kissed her. Kissed her long past the point the photographer said he had the shot. Then he whispered, "There are fair folk here."

Gaby held her smile. "I thought you were acting strangely."

"Side by side, please," the photographer said.

They obliged. Gaby asked, "Someone Doc sent to guard us, maybe?"

"Nah. Son of a bitch wouldn't have drawn on me if he was guarding me. Is that another one? Over by your mother. Short, nose like a squashed avocado?"

"No, that's my Uncle Ernesto."

"What's he doing out of jail?"

"Attending our wedding, silly. Wait, there's one, at the doors out. Oh, damn."


"Zeb's headed right for him."

* * *

Zeb snagged a glass of champagne from a waiter's tray and added a drunken sway to his walk as he approached the door. Convince him you're crippled, he told himself, and his guard will come down. 

On his way through the door he bumped into the squat red-headed man and sloshed champagne all over his chest. "Oh, man, I'm sorry. Here, hold this." He managed to get the glass into the man's hand and began mopping the stain with Harris's jacket. Beneath the man's suit coat he could clearly see the hard edges of the butt of another handgun.

"Stupid buggering dusker, see what you've done."

"Oh, man, I'm mortified. This jacket has to have set you back at least twenty bucks. I'll fix it right up." He grabbed the squat man's lapel and dragged him out into the empty corridor, mopping away at the stain. "Harris is a friend of mine. Friend of yours? You know he fights, right? I used to fight with him. Then I was his manager. What's a dusker?"

"That's you, lad. Dusky, stupid, and drunk, like all your kind—"

"That's what I figured." Zeb took a quick look up and down the corridor; sure that there was no one to see, he swung the gun wrapped in Harris's jacket and hit the man once in the side of the head, hard enough to jar his own arm. The man's eyes rolled up in his head and he fell.

Zeb looked around. Still no witnesses. He took several long moments to pull free the man's cheap tie and bind his hands with it, then stuffed him under one of the backless couches lining the hallway. Its shadow nearly hid the unconscious man.

* * *

The groom's party sweated under the photographer's lights. Zeb, lacking a jacket, stood behind Harris again. He leaned close and whispered, "There was another one, at the door. I got him."

Harris's eyes opened wider. "You got him? What does that mean?"

"I killed him and I ate him. What do you think it means? He's sleeping it off under some furniture."

"Hey, you! Straighten up, would you?"

Zeb glared at the photographer and did so. He stage-whispered, "There were originally four at the door. Three of them left. I don't know where they went."

"Great." Harris smiled and waved at Gaby, showing three fingers, then blew her a kiss. She caught it and ate it, then turned to her family. "Okay, she knows."

"Would the groom please quit waving and talking? We'll get this done a lot faster if everyone cooperates!"

Harris sighed and whispered, "The Donohues hired the photographer. Since we wouldn't let them arrange everything—"

"God, what a catastrophe that would have been."

"—they insisted on being helpful. Hey, watch Gaby. She's going to her uncle Pedro, the cop. I bet she lifts his piece."

"You're kidding." Zeb watched. Gaby hugged a middle-aged Latino man, talked sweetly to him, tucked something away in her flower bouquet as she was doing it. "Je-zus. What have you two really been up to the last six months?"

"Tell you later. Okay, she's got fire."


"A gun. Time for us to take off. These guys can't be here for anyone else but us, so our departure will probably draw them off, keep everyone else safe."

"I'm with you."

"I meant, me and Gaby. Bye." Harris made a strangled noise loud enough for half the hall to hear. He tugged his tie free. "Enough! Time to change before this thing kills me." The crowd laughed. The photographer, plainly upset, tried to wave him back to his position, to no effect.

"Gaby and I will be back in fifteen minutes, dressed to gorge. We'll eat until the first guest blows up." More laughs. He moved through the crowd toward his wife.

Zeb caught up with him. "I meant it, man. You owe me some answers."

"I do. You want someone to shoot at you while you get them?"

They reached Gaby. Harris snagged her by the waist, pulling her from the embrace of her father. "I'm stealing her away again, Ted. Be back soon."

When they were a few steps away, Zeb continued, his voice a growl, "I don't want them shooting at you, either, moron."

Gaby said, "I didn't spot any more in the crowd."

"They left," Harris said. "Probably not far."

"What do you want to bet they're either in our rooms or between here and there?"

Harris gave her an admonishing look. "Sucker bet." They reached the doors and the hall beyond.

"So, you're going to call the police on this?" Zeb asked.

Harris shook his head. "Nah. Too many complications already. What did you do with the door guard?"

Zeb pointed at the couch.

"Get his gun. If he doesn't have it when he wakes up, he can't use it."

Zeb stooped beside the couch and dragged the unconscious man's revolver out. He shoved it into Harris's jacket beside the one he'd taken earlier. "I do all this, I do get an answer, don't I?"

"Oh, I imagine," Gaby said. "Okay. You want to earn a hundred bucks the easy way?"

* * *

Zeb shook the concierge's hand and pressed the fifties into it. "My pal just got married down in the Catalina Suite. I want to play a little practical joke on him. I'd like to borrow a staff jacket and one of those rolling dinner trays . . . and to charge some champagne to my room."

* * *

Zeb knocked on the bride's door. There was no response. Gaby slid her card into the lock and Zeb opened the door, then pushed the cart ahead of him as he entered. He slowed the door's closing so it came to rest against the jamb without latching. "Room service," he called.

He didn't see them until he was almost through the entry hall; beyond, two men, one whose blond beard was heavily tinged with gray and another who was clean-shaven, sat on the bed to the right, and a third, an older man, sat in a hotel chair dragged against the wall to the left.

All were squat and surly. The two on the bed had hands hovering near their armpits. The third, the one with the grayest beard, held something, the size and shape of an egg but a gleaming black; this he rolled delicately around in his hand as he stared at Zeb. There was something unnatural about the little item; it didn't roll the way it should, but wobbled as though something alive were inside it. The man kept his other hand tucked into his jacket pocket.

Zeb managed a smile he didn't feel. "Champagne for the bride's party. Compliments of the house."

There was suspicion in the older man's voice: "What house?"

Zeb just stared for a moment. Was there anyone in the U.S. who didn't know what "compliments of the house" meant? "The hotel," Zeb said. "Compliments of the hotel. That means free."

The hands moved away from the concealed holsters, but Zeb didn't sense that the men's guards were lowering. "Put it there," said the grayest of them, pointing to the window.

"Yes, sir." Zeb positioned the rolling rack just so, then gestured like a game-show hostess at the bottle and the bucket of ice. "Shall I bring more glasses up?"

"No," said the graybeard. "Get out."

The door into the room widened. Silent, Harris entered. Zeb forced himself not to glance in that direction. "Yes, sir," he said.

He took a step as if to leave, then stopped and looked expectantly between them. He gestured at all of them, two fingers toward the men on the bed, one for the one in the chair. "Sirs, a gratuity is appropriate."

"What's that?" asked the graybeard.

Harris moved forward. Gaby entered behind him. She had Pedro's revolver in both hands, barrel raised toward the ceiling.

"A tip," Zeb explained patiently. "An informal reward of money for services rendered. At a hotel like this one, an appropriate tip is, well, too damned much."

They looked at each other, confused.

"Okay, forget it," Zeb said. "You look like some cheap bastards anyway." He lashed out with his left foot, hitting the beardless gunman in the side of the head, a gratifyingly solid connection.

Graybeard was fast. He lobbed the black egg toward Zeb. It hit Zeb in the chest and split open with a moist noise. Graybeard said something; Zeb thought the word was "beater."

And suddenly Zeb was wrapped up tight in a black sheet. It felt and smelled like rubber, constricting his arms and legs, holding him tight. He lost his balance and tipped over backward across the bed.

Someone was shouting in his ear, a wordless yammering, "Ya ya ya ya ya!" Zeb, wrestling with the black sheet, turned to look—right into the glowing eyes of a black rubber face. It was flat as a paper plate, approximately human in its arrangement of features, but looked like a cartoon image of a wild, buck-toothed native, and continued to shriek at Zeb.

"Goddammit, get this thing off me!"

Zeb heard a pair of thuds and a click that sounded like the cocking of a gun. He heard Gaby say, "Don't move. These are steel-jacketed slugs. You know what they do to you." Then hands were on him, rolling him over, yanking at the black sheet.

It seemed actually to struggle, but finally came away from Zeb, and he could see Harris tugging at it. Harris gave it another yank and Zeb rolled free, off the bed and onto the floor.

What Harris held was something that looked like what would result if a large black cartoon man were squashed beneath a steamroller. It was sheet-thin and large enough to be a bedspread, but had definable limbs and head—a lolling head that continued to yammer. Its body now lay limp. Harris thoughtfully began rolling it up into a tube, starting with the head so the yammering was cut off.

Zeb sat up. Nearby, Gaby stood covering the graybeard, the one squat man who was still conscious; she held her gun in a two-handed grip, her wedding dress making it a curious picture. Zeb's gunman was unconscious, leaning against the bed's headboard; Harris's target lay flat on the bed, holding his throat and making choking noises. The graybeard was standing, gripping his right forearm in a way that reminded Zeb of hairline fractures.

Zeb asked mildly, "Now will you tell me what's going on?"

Harris smiled. "Nope."

* * *

"What do you mean, no police?" Zeb, tying the silent gunmen's hands with drawcords cut from the curtains, found time to glare at his friend. Harris stood easily, one of the brassy revolvers in his hands, while in the adjoining room Gaby shed her wedding dress in favor of a pullover sweater and slacks. Zeb tried not to be distracted.

"Police can't do anything about it," Harris said. "Gaby, ready?"

"Shoes," she said, and came in to sit on a chair and put them on.

"Police can get answers. Make them talk."

"No." Harris shook his head. "We could get some answers if we felt like employing torture. Which I don't. We could hand them over to the police and these poor sons of bitches would be dead in a day or two."

"L.A. cops aren't that bad."

"No, but these guys are likely to be dangerously allergic to ferrous metal. Put them in the wrong kind of handcuffs, in a cell, in an ordinary hospital room, they'll be poisoned to death before the doctors even figured out what was wrong." Harris looked from prisoner to prisoner. "You guys. I'm going to take you to the bottom of the stairwell and tie you up there. Eventually you'll get loose and can split. I'm doing this just 'cause I don't want your deaths on my conscience. You owe me your lives. Remember that sometime."

They just glared.

"Your red-headed pal is under a couch outside the Catalina Suite, and your other pal is under some chairs stacked at the side of the suite." Harris offered the squat men a mirthless smile. "Don't say I never gave you anything."

"Ready," Gaby said. She took up her uncle Pedro's gun and trained it on the three men.

Harris went into the adjoining room.

"Harris, are you going to write the note?"

"No, you do it, I'm changing."

"Well, I'm guarding."

Zeb sighed. "I'll guard." He took up one of the brass handguns, swung the cylinder open to assure himself it was loaded, and closed it again. He held it at the ready. "Just like a normal revolver?"

"Just like," she said. "Except that it's devisement-reinforced bronze, or maybe beryllium bronze, instead of steel. It fires a big, slow bullet, kind of like the original Webleys. In spite of its weight, expect a fair amount of kick." She set her own gun down and dug around in the bedside table's drawer until she found hotel stationery and a pen.

"Let's see," she said, and began writing as she talked. " `Dear Mama and Papa, and Mom and Dad Greene, please tell everyone we know about what they did to the Toyota, and you're not going to catch us that easily.' "

"Good start," Harris said.

Zeb aimed at the silent, glowering gunmen. "This is surreal. Gaby, I thought you hated guns."

"I do, pretty much," she said. "But if you're going to shoot somebody, there's nothing better for it. `By the time you read this, we'll be gone, halfway to our honeymoon, which isn't really in Toronto, despite what Cousin Jane thinks. Fooled you.' Aren't you ready yet, Harris?"


She smiled at Zeb and whispered, "I knew he wouldn't be. But he was bothering me about it—"

"So you have to bother him. Right." Zeb gave Graybeard his war-face. It was something to do that fit the unreal mood of the situation, and he was gratified to see one of the other gunmen lean away from his intensity, though Graybeard did not.

" `And now you've fallen for our master plan. We're gone, so you have to do everything. Jane can pack us up and check us out; we're already paid up through tomorrow. Mama and Papa and Minister Mike, if you'd act as hosts at the party, we'd be grateful forever. Pedro can throw everybody out when the time is right, and if Mom and Dad Greene would pack up the presents and have them shipped over to our apartment, we'd really appreciate it. We love you all. Signed—' "

" `P.S.,' " Harris called. " `I think Uncle Pedro accidentally left his gun in my room; I've put it in the bedside table.' "

"Oh, good point." She scribbled that down.

Harris stepped back from the other room, now attired in blue jeans, dark T-shirt, and jeans jacket. "Ready."

"About time. You men, always slowing things down with your dressing and your makeup . . ."

"Well, I'm about to do it again," Zeb said. "I'm not dressed, I'm not packed, and I'm not checked out."

"Okay, you go down to your room and do that now," Harris said. "While we're disposing of our squat little friends. We'll meet you in the lobby in . . ." He checked his watch. "Ten minutes?"



Back | Next