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Chapter 7


12:27AM-12:45 AM

"Do you like ragtime?" asked Winnifred as they approached the tavern.

"It beats the hell out of the stuff that passes for music these days," replied Mallory. "As far as I'm concerned, it's been going straight downhill ever since the Andrews Sisters stopped recording.''

"Good," said Winnifred. "I think you'll like this place."

Mallory stopped in front of the building. "Are you sure you've got the right spot?" he asked her. "This joint's a Chinese laundry."

Winnifred chuckled heartily and opened the door, and a blast of frenzied ragtime music emanated from the dimly lit interior.

"Follow me," she said.

Mallory, carrying Eohippus and followed by Felina, fell into step behind her as she briskly made her way to an empty table at the far end of the crowded room. Couples, foursomes, and even larger groups clustered around the tables and at the long mahogany bar, obviously enjoying themselves, while a number of white-jacketed waiters carried drinks on silver trays. Most of the men were dressed in old-fashioned tuxedos, and Mallory noticed that a number of them wore spats. The women, all with short hairstyles and shorter dresses, seemed to be engaged in a contest to see which of them could look the most like Clara Bow.

"Mephisto's not here yet," announced Winnifred after scanning the low-ceilinged, smoke-filled room. When they finally reached their table and seated themselves, she turned to Mallory. "Isn't this a charming little bistro?"

"The place is filled with gents and flappers," he replied wryly, as the piano player ripped into a new tune and half a dozen patrons began dancing the Charleston. "Are they the cast of some Broadway show?''

"No, they're customers just like you and me."

"They may be customers," responded Mallory, "but they're sure as hell not like you and me. What is this place, anyway?"

"The Forgotten Speakeasy," answered Winnifred.

"Speakeasy?" he repeated.

She nodded, amused by his reaction. "It's been in continuous operation since 1925." She lowered her voice confidentially. "In fact, they still make their own gin in one of the upstairs bathtubs. It's quite good, actually."

"Don't the customers know that Prohibition is over?" asked Mallory as he observed the clientele at play. "Or isn't it?"

"Oh, it's over," she assured him. "And to be perfectly truthful, some of them probably don't know. This place is so popular that a number of them have never gone home. They talk about Lucky Lindy and Big Al, they wonder if talking pictures are just a passing fad, they think the market will never crash." She pointed surreptitiously to a tall man who stood in a corner, his back to the wall, a toothpick in his mouth, flipping a silver dollar in his right hand. "See him?"

Mallory nodded.

"He was hired to assassinate a famous bootlegger," she whispered. "Nobody's had the heart to tell him that the bootlegger died more than forty years ago."

A waiter approached them, and Mallory noticed that his hair, like that of all the other men, had been slicked down with grease.

"May I take your orders?"

"I'll have a hot toddy," said Winnifred. She turned to Mallory. "You really should try one. They're quite invigorating."

"I'll try anything that won't make me go blind," said the detective.

"Make that two hot toddies," Winnifred instructed the waiter. "And when Mephisto comes in, tell him that I want to see him."

"Will the  . . . ah  . . . young lady have anything?" asked the waiter, indicating Felina.

"Milk," said the cat-girl.

The waiter made a face. "We don't have any."

"Can you make a Brandy Alexander?" asked Mallory.

The waiter nodded.

"Good. She wants one—and hold everything except the cream."

The waiter looked at Mallory as if he were crazy, but finally shrugged, nodded again, and departed toward the bar.

"Oh, dear!" said Winnifred suddenly. "We forgot about Eohippus!"

"It's all right," said Eohippus, who was sprawled across Mallory's lap. "I don't drink."

"You must be uncomfortable like that," said Winnifred. "Let me put you on the table."

She lifted Eohippus up and placed him next to a bowl of peanuts. Felina stared at the tiny animal and' leaned forward slightly.

"If you do, I'll thrash you to within an inch of your life," said Winnifred earnestly.

Felina, all innocence, leaned farther forward and straightened the tablecloth, then tilted her chair back on two legs and pouted.

Suddenly a tall man with very thick horn-rimmed glasses entered the tavern, walked up to the bar, exchanged greetings with the bartender, and began wending his way toward their table. He wore a modern tuxedo, a red and black satin cape that would have been right at home in a Dracula movie, and a pointed hat that had all the signs of the Zodiac embroidered on it.

"Hi, Winnie," he said, pulling up an empty chair and sitting down. "You wanted to talk to me?"

"Yes," said Winnifred. "Mephisto, this is John Justin Mallory. And these," she added, gesturing in turn to his companions, "are Eohippus and Felina."

"The Great Mephisto, at your service," said the magician, extending his hand to the detective.

"Pleased to meet you," said Mallory. He reached forward, only to discover that a small rabbit had suddenly appeared in the palm of the magician's hand. Mephisto placed it in a pocket just before Felina could pounce on it.

"Colonel Carruthers tells me you're the best magician in New York," continued the detective.

"In the world," Mephisto corrected him. "You want proof?" he added, producing a deck of cards out of empty air and fanning them out. "Pick a card. Any card."

"I'm not interested in card tricks," said Mallory.

"You should be," said Mephisto. "They're all the rage at parties these days." He flicked his hand and the cards vanished.

"Do you just do tricks, or are you really a magician?" asked Mallory.

"What's the difference?" asked Mephisto.

"Life and death, in this case," said Mallory.

"Oh?" said Mephisto, suddenly interested. "Then I'm a magician, adept at creation, prognostication, and spells. What can I do for you, my friend?"

"Tell me about the ruby embedded in Larkspur's head."

Mephisto turned to Winnifred. "Larkspur?" he repeated petulantly. "I thought you were offering me a job!"

"No whining!" she snapped. "Now, behave yourself and answer his questions."

"A magician could starve to death in a place like this," he muttered. "The way everyone wants free advice, you'd think I was a doctor!"

"The question, Mephisto," urged Winnifred. "Or are you simply a sleight-of-hand artist after all?"

"O ye of little faith," he said with a sigh, and turned to Mallory. "What do you want to know about Larkspur's precious gem?"

"Everything," said the detective.

Mephisto stared at him for a moment, and then suddenly snapped his fingers triumphantly. "Now I've got it! You're the guy that the Grundy is after!"

Mallory nodded.

"Hah!" grinned Mephisto. "Then he's trying to steal the stone!"

"He's already stolen it," said Eohippus.

"If he's stolen anything, it's the unicorn, not the ruby," said Mephisto.

"There's a difference?" asked Mallory.

The magician nodded. "A friend of mine just ushered in the New Year at what we used to call 'a house of ill repute.' Since his wife is aware of his favorite haunts in this Manhattan, he chose to do his carousing in your Manhattan." He paused. "He couldn't have done that if the Grundy possessed the ruby."

"Why not?"

"Because, among its other properties, the ruby permits transit between your world and mine."

"I find that hard to believe," said Mallory. "There are an awful lot of people here from my Manhattan, and none of us used a ruby to get here. Hell, I came in an elevator."

"Nevertheless, the ruby made it possible."


"It's difficult to explain," said Mephisto. "You see, there's a membrane between the two worlds."

"You mean like a skin?" interrupted Mallory.

The magician chuckled. "Nothing so tangible; it's more like a very special zone that connects your world with mine. At any rate, as long as Larkspur lives, the membrane is permeable and passage between the worlds is possible. When he was born, it became possible to pass from one world to the other. When he dies—and the only thing other than old age that can kill him is the removal of the ruby—the membrane will harden within a matter of a few hours, and our worlds will be closed off from each other."

"Until the next ruby-bearing unicorn is born in 1,000 years," suggested Mallory.

"Forever," replied Mephisto.

"But I thought that a unicorn was born with a ruby every millennium or so," said Mallory.

"That's true," acknowledged Mephisto. "But each ruby gives us access to a different world. Once Larkspur dies—from whatever cause—your world is inaccessible to us for all eternity. The next ruby will open up some other world, just as the last two did."

"How long should Larkspur live?" asked Mallory.

"Let's see," said Mephisto, rubbing his bony chin. "He must be about sixty now." He turned to Winnifred. "What is a unicorn's life expectancy?"

"Between one hundred and one hundred and twenty years," she replied. "But that's for a normal unicorn. With one like Larkspur, who can say?"

"But he's not likely to die of natural causes in the next few years?" persisted Mallory.


Mallory frowned. "Then I can't understand why the Grundy wants the ruby. The second he removes it, Larkspur will die, and the second Larkspur dies this world is sealed off for another thousand years. That just doesn't make sense, given a demon who can reasonably be expected to want plunder from both worlds."

Mephisto smiled and leaned across the table, squinting at Mallory through his thick lenses. "Nothing is ever quite as simple as it seems," he said, producing a lit cigarette out of the air and taking a puff of it as Felina, startled, hissed and crouched atop her chair. "Especially in the world of master magi such as myself and the Grundy. For one thing, the possessor of the stone always has free passage between the worlds. For another, allowing transit through the membrane is only one of the ruby's properties."

"What are the others?" asked Mallory, raising his voice in order to be heard over the patrons, who were now singing "Lili Marlene" to the accompaniment of the pianist.

"The Grundy has certain talents," said Mephisto uncomfortably. "Insignificant and amateurish compared to those of a magician like myself, you understand"—he paused, frowning—"but they do seem to make him rich and powerful, while mine are only appreciated at parties and produce barely enough income to keep my rabbits fed." He sighed. "At any rate, the ruby tends to amplify its possessor's abilities—and of course the Grundy does have two other rubies already."

"What will this one enable him to do that the others didn't?" asked Mallory.

"You don't understand," explained Mephisto patiently. "This particular ruby has no properties the others don't also possess. But adding its potency to that of the others will give the Grundy even greater power than he already possesses. It's like running on three cylinders instead of two—which is all the more impressive when you consider that nobody else has any cylinders at all. He will be virtually invulnerable to attack; he'll be able to dominate not only people but events by sheer force of will; he may even be able to hasten the birth of the next ruby-bearing unicorn."

"Back up a sentence or two," said Mallory. "You said that Larkspur's ruby, added to the other two, will make the Grundy invulnerable to attack."

"Virtually," repeated the magician.

"Then he's not invulnerable now," said Mallory. "How do I get at him? What weapon do I use?"

"Well, you certainly can't use physical force," said Mephisto. "He's quite capable of destroying a gorgon with his bare hands. And weapons are out of the question, too—the two rubies he's got are more than sufficient to protect him." He paused. "I suppose magic is the only way to get to him."

"All right. How do I go about it?"

"You don't," said Mephisto. "You're not a magician."

"Can you teach me?"

"In one night?" laughed Mephisto. "Do you know how long it took me just to master that card trick I was trying to show you?"

"Then will you help us?" asked Winnifred.

Mephisto frowned and straightened up in his chair. "I don't know," he said. "I'd like to, I really would—but he's the Grundy!"

"I thought you were the greatest magician in the world," said Felina with a feline purr.

"I am," said Mephisto., He paused. "But for reasons that somehow elude me, he seems to be the most successful one."

"He'll be even more successful if he gets his hands on that third ruby," Eohippus pointed out.

"I'll have to think about it," said Mephisto. He turned to Mallory. "I need more details."

"Ask away," replied the detective.

"Why are you here in the first place? You're not even from this Manhattan."

Mallory paused for a moment as the waiter approached, then answered when it became obvious that the drinks were for another table. "I was hired by an elf named Mürgenstürm."

"What's he got to do with this?"

"I'm not sure yet," admitted Mallory. "He was ostensibly in charge of the unicorn when it was stolen by a leprechaun named Flypaper Gillespie, who works for the Grundy."

"Then the Grundy may not have it in his possession yet?" asked Mephisto.

"It's a possibility."

Mephisto got to his feet.

"Well?" said Winnifred.

"You can't rush a decision like this," he replied. "I'm going over to the bar to meditate."

He snaked his way between a number of couples who, having tired of the Charleston, were lining up for the Bunny Hop.

"He'll join us," predicted Winnifred confidently.

"I hope you're right," said Eohippus.

"I know I am. It's a matter of pride."

"He thinks he can beat the Grundy?" asked Mallory.

She chuckled. "Not really. But he'd die of shame if we won without his help."

"And," added Eohippus seriously, "he'd probably like to own a ruby or two himself."

"Let's worry about one problem at a time," said Mallory.

"I agree," said Winnifred. "We have more serious things to consider."

"Such as my cream," pouted Felina.

"I'm sure it will be here very soon," replied Winnifred soothingly. "Tonight is the busiest night of the year for them."

Felina sniffed and turned away.

"You were about to mention some serious considerations?" asked Mallory.

Winnifred nodded. "We have to decide how best to utilize our forces."

"I'm open to suggestions," replied the detective.

"I think you should return to the Morbidium."


"Because if Mürgenstürm shows up, we need someone there who recognizes him."

He shook his head. "It's not necessary."

"Oh? Why not?"

"Because if he's a party to the theft, he won't show up. And if he does show up, he'll identify himself. I think it would be better simply to phone the Morbidium in an hour or so to see if he's arrived yet."

"That makes sense, Mallory," agreed Winnifred. "All right; this frees you to help us search for Flypaper Gillespie."

"And the Grundy," he added.

"We don't want to confront the Grundy unless it's absolutely necessary," she said adamantly. "We'll let Mephisto find out whether he's got Larkspur or not. He has more circumspect means than you or I do."

"I didn't notice much about him that was subtle," commented Mallory.

"He may not be socially adept," said Winnifred, "but he's a fine magician. You'll have to take my word for it."

"Then you think that we should go hunting for Gillespie?" asked Mallory.

"He was the last one to have Larkspur, and he's much less formidable than the Grundy." She paused thoughtfully. "If we split up, we can cover twice as much territory."

"I haven't got the foggiest notion where to begin looking."

"He's a criminal," said Winnifred. "Scour the underworld. That's what I plan to do."

"I don't even know where to find the underworld," replied Mallory wryly.

"Hunt up some shady characters. Spread some money around. Ask a policeman." Winnifred stared severely at him. "You're a detective, Mallory. You'll find a way."

"We'll need a meeting place," said Mallory.

"Let me see," she mused. "The Morbidium is too far out of the way, Times Square is too crowded on New Year's Eve. So are the hotels and the theater district." Suddenly she smiled. "I have it! We'll meet at the New York Stock Exchange!"

"Where is it located?" asked Mallory.

"On Wall Street."

"Just making sure it's at the same address as the one in my world," he explained. He paused. "Just out of curiosity, what's so great about the Stock Exchange?"

"It's centrally located, and it will be completely deserted. They don't do any business on New Year's Day."

He shrugged. "Okay. What time do you want to meet?"

Winnifred checked her wristwatch. "It's nearly twelve-forty-five now. How would two-fifteen be?"

"That's only an hour and a half," he pointed out.

"I'm an optimist," she replied. "And it's harder than you might think to hide a unicorn in Manhattan. Besides," she added, "we'll want to exchange information by then." She looked up as the waiter finally arrived with their drinks.

"Thanks," said Mallory. "What do I owe you?"

"Sixty cents," said the waiter. Mallory handed him three quarters, and he departed. "This is some place, this tavern," he said. "I guess no one ever told them about inflation, either."

"I believe this is yours," said Winnifred, placing the cream in front of Felina. The cat-girl glared sullenly at her, then reached out for the glass, downed its contents in a single swallow, and turned to face the wall.

"Not bad," said Mallory, taking a sip of his hot toddy. "By the way, I've been wondering: how did you ever become a big-game hunter?"

"My Manhattan may seem new and interesting to you," replied Winnifred, "but I grew up here. I always wanted to see what lay beyond the next hill, to visit the wild places before they had all been tamed, to see clear to the horizon with no buildings blocking the view."

"So you took up hunting?"

She nodded. "I went out to pit myself against animals no one had ever seen before, to climb mountains that had never been scaled and cross rivers that had never been crossed, to explore lands that no civilized man had ever seen." She paused. "I did it, too. I spent twenty-seven years in the bush, and the zoos and museums are filled with my trophies."

"Is that when you joined the army?"

"I never joined the army," she replied. "I don't think I'd have liked the regimentation."

"But you're a colonel," noted Mallory.

"Oh, that," she said with a shrug. "They made me a colonel when I helped put down an uprising among some trolls out in the bush."

Mallory finished his hot toddy. "You must have had some fascinating experiences," he said idly. "Which was your favorite?"

"My favorite experience?" she repeated, closing her eyes and allowing a nostalgic expression to cross her face. "I remember the silver moonlight over a tropical lagoon, the feel of a strong hand on mine, and the whisper of words over the rippling of water. Mostly, I remember the jasmine, sweet and fragrant on the cool night breeze."

"It sounds very romantic," said Eohippus.

"It does, doesn't it?" agreed Winnifred. She smiled a bittersweet smile. "The funny thing is that it never once happened, not to me."

"I beg your pardon?" said Eohippus, confused.

Winnifred sighed. "I went into the bush a fat, awkward young girl, and I came out a fat, wrinkled old lady." She paused. "Still, I remember it as if it were yesterday. They say that the heart plays tricks on you, but don't you believe it: it's the mind. That memory is more real to me than any of the things that really happened. I can still smell the overpowering fragrance of the jasmine. The faces are hazy—mine looks prettier than it was, and I can't quite recall my lover's—but the scent and the feelings are real, as real as if it had actually happened." She paused. "Isn't it funny that that should be my strongest memory of a life in the wilderness?"

"I don't think it's funny at all," said Mallory sincerely.

"You don't?"

He shook his head.

"Well," said Winnifred, suddenly uncomfortable, "so much for nostalgic nonsense." She straightened up in her chair. "We've still got a job to do. Is everyone ready to proceed?"

"I suppose so," said Mallory. "How do you want to divide up the troops?"

"I'm going with Mallory," put in Felina suddenly, grabbing his hand and rubbing her cheek against it.

"Then I think I'll take Eohippus," said Winnifred.

"I'm happy to accompany such a famous hunter," said the little horse. "But I should warn you that I don't know anything about leprechauns."

"That's not why I'm taking you," said Winnifred.

"Oh?" said the little horse.

"Do you really want to be alone in Felina's company while Mallory is busy making his underworld contacts?"

Eohippus trotted across the table to Winnifred. "I see your point," he said earnestly.

"Then let's go," said Winnifred, picking him up and walking vigorously toward the door.

Mallory got to his feet and turned to Felina, who remained seated.

"Are you coming?"

"I don't like her," hissed the cat-girl.

"She probably doesn't like you either," said the detective dryly.

"I like you, though," she replied with a feline smile.

"Then let's go."

She considered it for a moment, then leaped to her feet so quickly that a passing waiter jumped and spilled a tray filled with drinks.

"I'll protect you, John Justin Mallory," purred Felina.

"That's very comforting," replied Mallory.

"If she touches you  . . ."

"Colonel Carruthers isn't the enemy," said Mallory wearily.

"You choose your enemies and I'll choose mine," said Felina.

When they joined Winnifred at the door, she turned to the bar.

"Well, Mephisto?" she said in a loud voice.

The lean, angular magician got grudgingly to his feet.

"All right," he said unhappily. "But I'm going to hate myself in the morning, assuming I live that long."

He joined them as they walked out into the frigid night.

"I've been assigned to the Grundy, I suppose," he said.

Winnifred nodded. "Don't try to fight him. Just find out if he's got Larkspur with him." She paused. "We rendezvous at the New York Stock Exchange at two-fifteen."

"I keep wondering if ninety minutes is enough time to gather any useful information," said Mallory.

"It will have to be," said Winnifred. "You may be on an even tighter schedule than Mürgenstürm."

"What do you mean?" he asked apprehensively.

"It occurs to me that if you're here when the Grundy gets his hands on the stone, you could be stuck in this Manhattan forever."



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