Here’s another excerpt, and a link to the previous one. Merry x-mas. Er, although it’s not very jolly…
Back at the station.
No sign of Wyte. The other detectives had left, too, except for Gustat. Frantically packing up his things. Finch looked at Gustat with a kind of scorn. Gustat just ignored him in his haste. Strange horse-like footfalls. The croaking bang of the door behind him.
Then it was just Finch.
Soon the curtains would part. Night would truly begin.
Wyte had placed a hasty typo-filled report on Finchâ€™s desk. About the situation in Blissâ€™ apartment. â€œJohn Finchâ€ typed at the bottom of it. Brave of you, Wyte. A blotch of purple obscured a few words in the middle. A smudged green thumbprint on the left corner. Where Wyte had tried to wipe away the fungus.
Under it, another sheet, handwritten, with some crude facts about Stark.
â€œStark is now the operational head of Stocktonâ€™s spy network.â€
Stating the obvious. No one started liquidating the competition unless they were already secure in their position.
â€œHe carries a sword.â€
Who didnâ€™t, these days? Thought about pulling it out. As he did several times a week.
â€œHe wears medals on his chest….Heâ€™s a psychopath…Heâ€™s been seen…â€ well, practically everywhere and nowhere, if Wyteâ€™s information was correct.
Nothing solid. Nothing that linked him to the case except Bliss saying Stark had asked him about those words theyâ€™d found on the scrap of paper. Bellum omnium contra omnes. Wondered what Bliss wouldâ€™ve said if heâ€™d shown him the symbol on the back.
Finch kept a stack of cigars in his desk in a box converted to the purpose. Took one out. Trillian brand. Several years old. Common and popular in its day. A little dry by now.
Nothing new in this city. Not whisky. Not cigars. Not people.
The kind of thing his father used to say.
Cut the tip. Used his oil lamp to light it.
Ash was even. The burn slow. Puffed on it, waiting. The congregation will be here soon enough.
Thought about Wyteâ€™s flask. Went over to Blakelyâ€™s desk, opened the top drawer. Sure enough. Something plum-colored in a bottle. Homemade cork. Pulled it off. Took a whiff. Rot-gut, but good enough. Took a couple of swigs right from the bottle. His throat burned. His tongue felt numb.
Saw double for a second. Took another puff. Went back to his desk.
His vision felt apocalyptic, false. In his mind, mortar fire rained down on the city. Artillery belched out a retort. Blasted into walls, sending up gouts of stone and flame. The war raged on, unnoticed by most. He was an agent of neither side. Just in it for himself.
Tried to think past the eveningâ€™s torment. To the walk back to his apartment. In the dark. Of who might be waiting. Sintra. If he didnâ€™t screw it up before that.
A little after six, the gray caps began to arrive. The night shift.
The first one pulled aside the curtain. Had emerged from the wide, awful red-fringed hole at its back. Perfect parallel to the memory hole. Only larger. Could see its face under the hat. Pulsing. Wriggling. The eyes so yellow. What did they see that he could not?
In the light of day, on certain streets, Finch could almost pretend that the Rising had never happened. But not here. Not now. Any fantasy was fatal. Any fear.
Finch walked out onto the carpet. Puffing. Feeling the brittle squeeze of the tobacco filling his lungs. Contracting.
Let the cigar burn down toward his fingers to feel the distracting pain.
The gray cap pushed past him. Strong scent of rotting licorice. Ignored him as it sat down at a desk. Gustatâ€™s desk.
Nine more. One for each desk. Along with whatever familiars they decided to bring with them.
Wished he had a club. A knife. Anything. The fungal guns didnâ€™t work against gray caps. Thought again about the sword. Bring it across Hereticâ€™s rubbery neck.
Drove the image away as irrational. Heretic had asked him to be here. If Heretic ever wanted him dead, heâ€™d send a present to his apartment. Or dissolve him into a puff of spores in front of the other detectives.
Heâ€™d stayed after hours five times in his life. Survived each encounter. But talking to a single gray cap during the day was different from being among many of them at night. It brought back memories of the war. It reminded him of night duty in the trenches, the crude defenses Hoegbotton & Sons had created for its soldiers. Sighting through the night scope at some pile of rubble opposite. Hoping not to see anything. Feeling the sweat and fear of the others to each side. The flinch and intake of breath at the slightest movement.
Moving past him in silence. Sitting at the desks like distorted reflections of their daytime counterparts. Had never learned their names. Thought of them only by the names of the humans whoâ€™d been assigned the same desks. Or once had. So there sat Dorn, and there sat Wyte, and there sat Skinner and Albin.
The fifth was Heretic. Heâ€™d brought something with him. On a leash. Finch couldnâ€™t tell what it was. It had no face. Couldnâ€™t tell where it started or ended. A sense of wet, uncoiling darkness. An endless fall off a bridge at night, under a starless sky, into deep water. The only way he could describe it to himself. That one glimpse and Finch never looked at it directly again.