“There will be killing till the score is paid.”
― Homer, The Odyssey
“You took your sweet fucking time.”
So, this type of kill—just waiting, not dreading, only marking time…
The man’s words weren’t Snow’s first clue it was going to be this type of job, but they confirmed it.
These bags were few and far between. The living wanted to live. They fought, cried, tried to get away until the last breath left their lungs with gurgle or a sigh. That was normal. That was typical, but some people were dead already.
Alexander Pope hadn’t run, hadn’t tried to put on a new face or take up a new life, like most of the others. He would be number 24, or possibly 26, if Snow’s contacts in Montreal and Caracas had done their work. He’d wanted to do the runners himself, but the way the two had booked, they’d needed taken care of faster than Snow could get to them. Snow wanted to get this over with, and he had more interesting things to do than hunt down a nurse and a low-level dealer running home scared.
For instance, Alexander Pope. Snow knew his name well.
Pope was a genuine believer, a true right hand. He was in early with Gabriel, at least ten years, maybe more. Snow knew him from before the faces were too many to remember and too stupid to give a shit about. Pope had been loyal, and, judging by the gold, marble, and burnished wood atrocity of a living room, that loyalty had not come cheap.
This guy wasn’t a loser. Gabriel, at least at the beginning, had the knack of finding the ones who’d had skills overlooked and ambition denied.
“You’ve been waiting for me?” Snow asked, even though he already knew the answer. He had taken his sweet fucking time, watching the man who now sat in a velvet-covered armchair in front of a massive fireplace. No guards, no weapons—Snow had done the sweep twice before he entered the only inhabited room in the penthouse.
“I knew you were coming,” Pope answered. “I helped set you up, remember. You’re Gabriel’s boogeyman because of me.”
The man took another swig from his glass and asked, without looking away from the flames, “How many so far?”
“Their families too?”
“Everyone involved,” Snow replied truthfully.
“Everyone involved …” Pope nodded, then added with a snarl, “I hope they hound you to your grave, you sick bastard.”
Pope didn’t swear before. He was square, 90 degrees at every angle square, but that was before everything came crashing down. He wasn’t the first to degrade after the shit hit the fan.
“He was a cold and crazy son-of-a-bitch, your brother.” He nodded again. “Nice to know that ran in the family.”
It took you a piss-long time to realize what I knew when I was ten, Snow thought. Maybe Pope wasn’t so smart after all.
“Gabriel didn’t always act insane. We built so much in those first years. Near the end he started to slip, but the signs were there before,” Pope said with a sigh, like he was finally admitting the truth. “Putting you in charge of clean-up should have been my first clue.”
He reached for a bottle of what looked like single malt sitting on an ornate table beside the chair. The rest of the furniture was arranged further away. The effect was a solitary Pope, lit by firelight.
“He set it up, and you destroy it.” Pope said it as an accusation. “I’m alone in this goddamn house because of him—no wife, no kids. At least I have no one else here for you.”
He took a pipe that perched on the table next to him and threw it into the fire. He wouldn’t be needing it anymore.
“At first they listened, the ones on the payroll. He scared the hell out them.”
Gabriel could do that. A complete lack of boundaries or limits could do that. When you were with him, the frontier of pain and ruthlessness opened wide, ready to be explored. It was terrifying, but thrilling. It was living in all its entirety, like no one else dared, smack in the middle of death.
“After a while, though,” Pope continued, “after the other bosses stopped trying to get to him … or died trying … when no more threats came, they got lazy. They got weak. I think they didn’t believe he’d go through with his threats.”
“They should have,” Snow said, checking the room’s corners again.
“Or maybe they couldn’t live with themselves,” Pope offered, as if this was just a hypothetical conversation. “You know the Nazis had the highest suicide rate of any standing army in the world? Maybe that’s why they didn’t save your brother. Maybe that’s why they didn’t kill her … in the end.”
Pope took another swallow. “Or maybe they did what everyone does … they took their jobs for granted, and got sloppy.”
Pope sniffed. “Gabriel seemed untouchable. I knew he wasn’t. That’s why I never brought anyone else into this mess.” He twirled his hand, gesturing around the expensive and vast apartment. “I wouldn’t take the chance that you’d show up someday and do … what you do …”
The guy was a little drunk, but Snow had to respect the balls it took to look him in the eye. Not many men could look death straight in the face. Pope was making it interesting. After the last ones Snow had done—the crying and whimpering were starting to drive him bat-shit again—interesting was at least worth something.
“You want anything before we finish this?” Snow asked.
Pope ignored the offer to ask another question. “So, you kill the kids too?”
“I don’t kill kids.” Gabriel didn’t get that from him anymore.
“Wow, good for you, asshole. You should get a gold star.”
The good feeling evaporated. Snow brought up the Glock.
“But you might want to rethink that policy, since one took part in killing your brother,” Pope said, seeming to pay zero attention to the weapon ready to make him meat. The bastard didn’t even put down his drink.
It felt like a mistake, but Snow bit. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
“You get her yet? Chandler?”
Snow said nothing.
“No, you haven’t, or you’d know.”
“What the hell am I supposed to know?” Snow asked. It felt like another mistake.
“She was pregnant,” he gestured around with the glass, “the whole time we had her. That’s why he kept her alive.” He took another sickening gulp. “Your brother wanted the baby.”
“What the hell would my brother want with a baby? He never wanted kids.” That was an understatement. They’d told each other, they’ promised each other, they’d never even have the chance to be what their father was.
“I bet you’re right,” Pope said, looking down, remembering. “He didn’t seem to care, at first. We took her for information, but she wouldn’t give us a damn thing. Your brother was going to have Harper kill her straight out, didn’t give a damn if she was pregnant or not.”
The man stared into the flames.
“That was before he got a nice long look at who … what … the father was.”
Snow wasn’t enjoying this B-movie, bullshit explanation. Maybe it’d been a long time since they’d seen each other, but Gabriel had never broken with his ideals before. Snow didn’t believe it.
“I saw it myself, the thing that … impregnated her.” Pope lengthened the word into disgust. “It came for her, to the warehouse on Vestry, but we got her away. I urged your brother to let her go then. Nothing good would come from keeping something that … that thing wanted. I told him, but when he saw it—saw what it was, saw what it could do—your brother became obsessed.”
Pope reached for something under his chair. Snow nearly shot his head off.
“Calm down, psycho …” He thumbed through some papers and pulled out a blurry photo from a video still. In the center was something flashing sharp, white teeth about to bring a hand, or claw, down on an armed guard who looked too frightened to shoot. It could have been a mask, a costume, but if it were, Snow had never seen anything that good, and Pope wasn’t the type to go off the deep end. He was solid … and this was crazy.
The lawyer’s gossip wasn’t shit after all. [i]
“That photo’s from the first time the thing tried to save her. The second time around, he got her out despite ten armed guards. She killed your brother, but I think if she hadn’t done it, he would have. He did that a lot, killing for her,” Pope said, pointing to the picture. “And after Vestry, your brother wanted Chandler investigated, looking for anything related to him. I got to see some photos I wish I hadn’t.”
Pope’s gaze returned to the fire.
“Yeah, takin’ care of her loose ends, that’s what that monster did. That was his job too.” He laughed sarcastically, pretending he only now thought of it. “Huh. Just like you.”
He handed Snow the papers before he took another long pull of his whiskey.
“Those are the medical reports on the woman and her demon spawn. She was still pregnant when the thing took her down into the subway tunnels. I traced them that far.”
Snow was still looking at the photo. “You didn’t follow them?”
“It was over. I knew you’d be coming, like some kind of sick wrath of God.”
Pope refilled his glass and took another generous gulp while Snow flipped through the papers. They didn’t make any sense to him, other than the words “abnormal” and “non-human”.
“Since the videos or news of the baby haven’t hit the press yet, Maxwell must have kept it quiet.” He pointed to Snow with glass in hand. “That’s the other way you find her, through him. She got into this because of our illustrious District Attorney. Follow Maxwell, you find her, and then you find that thing … and maybe its kid, too.”
Pope took the photo and papers out of Snow’s grasp. “I hope it’s dead already. Any brat your brother wanted should be wiped off the face of the earth.”
Snow couldn’t argue with that logic.
“So, good luck, asshole,” Pope said in a tone that meant just the opposite. “Thought you should know,” he proclaimed and threw the pages, then the picture, into the fire. Snow almost went in after it, just to see the thing again, to prove it wasn’t real … or to prove it was, because, if it was, his quarry got a whole lot more interesting than a rich-girl A.D.A.
Gesturing at the fire, Pope laughed. “Yeah, if you find her, you’ll find him,” he repeated. “Then he’s going to kill you, or you’re going kill him. Either way, I die with a prayer answered …”
“… one dead monster or the other.”
He considered the flames one long last time.
“Now get this the hell over with.”