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Dreaver did know a guy, in the very New York sense. He gave me an address and a reference, the latter being the important bit. In New York, generally, and particularly in the community that Dreaver was a part of, a reference could be the difference between a handshake, a suspicious glare, or even a locked door and visible weapon when you came calling.

First, though, I had to test the new Desert Eagle. There aren't any publicly-accessible firing ranges in New York City that will let you shoot something that ridiculous, so I headed out to the Fordham Road stop on the Hudson Metro North line. Walking uphill a couple of blocks from the station brought me to a flashy but uninteresting self-storage business. Entering, I signed in at the desk and showed my ID in order to receive a key from the attendants. I didn't know either of the two on the job at the moment, but I wasn't worried.

Heading down to the basement of the storage warehouse, opposite the shiny signage and inviting elevator, I opened a locked gate and moved through to the east side of the gloomy area before unlocking a beat up metal door in a row of similar portals. On the other side was a space just more than double the size of a standard TEU - twenty-foot equivalent unit, or what us normal folks call a shipping container. There were a few pallets of bricks sitting against the walls, and at the far end was an above-ground pool rising some five feet from the floor. I climbed the short set of steps against it and looked in. The pool was approximately sixteen feet across and roughly circular, filling the space from side to side. In the pool was a carefully arranged circular mass of bricks. I inspected them, found nothing wrong, and used a hose connection on the wall to dump another few gallons of New York water into the pool to bring it back up to the fill line. After coiling the hose back up, I went to a bench against the middle of the right wall and pulled a bulky headset from a drawer. Turning it on, I walked back up the steps and unshipped the new Desert Eagle. Taking careful aim along the edge of the pool, avoiding the bricks, I fired east towards the back wall, which due to the hill the building was built on faced the earth underneath West Fordham Road.

The big pistol's report lifted brick dust from the nearby surfaces and, despite my noise-cancelling ear protectors, made my hearing stutter for a moment. The bullet struck nearly precisely where I'd been aiming on the surface of the water some ten feet away and left a splash and line of white water as it slowed to a stop and sank to the bottom of the pool. I fast-fired the remainder of the magazine; the gun functioned perfectly. Satisfied, I locked the door and headed out.

As usual, I got a strange look from one of the desk guys. I paid the owners of the facility a 'maintenance fee' which got me a note in the desk system telling the attendants I was using my facility as a workshop, and to ignore all machine noises from inside. Mario Viloro had recommended the place, and I knew for a fact I wasn't the only one taking advantage of this service. The basement units required additional finesse to acquire, and I was sure at least two others were being used as illicit firing ranges and armories. I made it a point not to keep firearms in the unit. If it was ever entered and inspected, I hoped the lack of any obvious contraband might keep whoever had gotten in from getting too nosy about it.

I was lucky enough to get a taxi on Fordham Road which took me back into Manhattan. It left me in front of my building, and after paying the hack I went upstairs. Opening my closet, I pulled out my Burberry and laid it on the bed. It was summer, sure, but after what I'd just been through, I decided that a bit of sweating was a small price to pay for the protection it was increasingly clear I needed. Fortunately, the day had clouded up, and a typical late-afternoon New York shower was predicted for later.

I unbuttoned the thick liner from the Burberry, converting it from a warm winter outer garment into a relatively thin raincoat. Pulling it on over the guayabera, I opened my dresser's bottom drawer and sorted through a pile of variegated junk until I came to a long, thin cardboard box about eighteen inches in length. Opening it, I pulled out a plastic-wrapped metal cylinder, which I unwrapped, tossing the plastic and the cardboard into the trash. The cylinder had a rough-textured handle at one end, a button just above the handle, and a round metal bulb just wider than the cylinder at the other. Holding the handle, I pressed the button and flicked the cylinder out to one side; the inertia of the lead shot in the bulb slid a telescoping metal baton out, locking in place as I released the button. I took a few experimental swings with it, using my left hand. I was not skilled in its use, but I'd picked up a couple of them a few years before when experimenting with various forms of concealable weaponry, before I'd gotten the Djinn's Shadow. Given that I'd gone up against a nutjob with a sword, I felt having some blocking weapon would be better than none.

Thus equipped, I reloaded the magazine I'd emptied in the storage unit from a box of .50AE rounds in another drawer before heading back out into the darkening evening.

* * *

Another taxi took me back uptown to the Church of the Intercession. I slipped inside, into a quiet dark space with a few worshippers sitting in the pews or lighting candles. I peered around the interior, but I couldn't see any sign of anyone I knew, or of the sword-wielding whackjob. After looking about me for a few minutes to be sure, and taking one slow lap of the interior space, I headed back outside and thought for a moment. In that moment, I got lucky, because in the corner of my eye I saw a man straighten up from where he had been leaning against a car parked across Broadway. He'd done it casually, and I immediately turned left and began walking downtown trying to show no sign I'd seen him, but it was definitely my unknown assailant. If I couldn't sneak up on him, well, second best was to get him to sneak up on me when I knew he was trying to.

He cut diagonally across Broadway to follow me, dodging traffic with the practiced ease of a native New Yorker. I noticed that he was still wearing his long raincoat, which I presumed meant that that damn sword was under there as well. Although that made me wary, the fact that I'd put on my Burberry definitely made me feel better. I'd been an idiot to just charge into an unknown situation without having every possible edge I could give myself, and - not for the first time - I reminded myself to talk to myself sternly about that. Later. When I wasn't doing the same thing again.

We continued south, downtown. I walked purposefully, a man with a destination. There was occasional foot traffic around us. At 150th street I turned right and waited for the traffic light before crossing Broadway to the western side. I casually checked both directions, and caught a glimpse of my pursuer a few dozen yards back. I didn't let my gaze linger but set off down the western side of Broadway, crossing 150th. As I did so, I could feel the back of my neck prickle, and I heard the quick screech of an abused tire along with an angry horn blast. I didn't look back, but the position was such that odds were good it was the swordsman, cutting directly across the avenue against the light. I looked along the block in front of me. Not much there - a laundromat, a clothing store, what looked like a wire office...ah, and a bodega. I drew abreast of the latter and turned into it, not too suddenly, but quickly. As I came in, I took stock - a cashier behind a high and guarded counter to the left of the door who looked at me incuriously but slightly suspiciously, as his job required; drink fridges along the right side, and a single dividing shelf in the middle. The back of the store was mostly visible, but directly to the right of the front entrance was a closed door which likely led to the basement. Moving quickly, I yanked it open, ignoring the shout of the counterman, and felt the cheap latch fail as it swung open. Leaving it ajar, I moved further in to the store and turned left around back of the counter area where I was hardest to see from the entrance, then pulled out both the Desert Eagle and the baton. I flicked the baton halfway out and locked it, leaving a two and an half foot weighted steel rod in my grip. The clerk, who had come to the back of the counter to yell at me, saw the gun and paled, opening his voice to shout. I shook my head, urgently, and said loudly "Get on the floor. There's someone coming in after me. Get on the floor, now."

He gave me a furious look and turned to look out the front. What he saw there changed his mind, though, and giving me one more poisonous glare he dropped to the floor. From that, I presumed the swordsman was on his way in, probably with his weapon out. I was right; he burst through the door and - I shit you not - shouted "Where are you, demon?" on the way in.

Demon? Whatever. He spotted the open door and turned towards it. I saw he had the sword out at a mid-level guard position; as he turned, it brought it up higher over his head, the better to clear the various racks and obstacles in the store. As his attention focused on the dark staircase entry, I swung around the end of the counter and then swung the baton at his sword as hard as I could, wishing I'd changed hands. I wasn't nearly as strong or as coordinated with my left. He was quick, as before, and the sword leapt into a blocking position, which was what I wanted - I wanted a good solid strike on it, to knock it out of the way so I could drop the baton and use the Djinn's Shadow. I had the cast I wanted in the forefront of my mind - pure kinetics, amplified and focused.

Except it didn't work that way. I hit his sword, all right - which moved perhaps a couple of centimeters before he flicked it to his right and the baton flew out of my hand into the wall.

Well, Michel, I told myself, next time maybe consider that if he's carrying a sword he might know how to use it. I added that note to the stern talking-to I had scheduled for myself later and let go of the baton as it flew off, moving both hands to the Desert Eagle's butt. He was still turning back to his left, and I was backpedaling to keep distance. He wasn't able to begin moving towards me effectively until he could finish turning, to clear the two or three snack racks that were crowding him on both sides, and I was willing to give ground in order to change the angle, so I wasn't casting towards the clerk or the street.

He obliged, sliding to his right as he turned and following the right-hand wall, framed by racks of soda and beer, lit in harsh fluorescents. As soon as he was entirely backed by furniture, I swung the gun to the left slightly and pulled the trigger. The noise was almost indescribable, inside the cramped space full of flat surfaces; without the permanent filtering cast I had on my ears, I'd have been worried about hearing damage. I pulled as much of the energy from the shot back as I could, moving my right hand off the butt of the gun as it recoiled, the gas system throwing the slide backwards and the shell out directly up towards the ceiling. As I spread my right palm, he was moving towards me, the sword swinging backhand towards his right, angling down towards my wrists and arms. Before it could connect, I felt the surge of energy from the shot, which at that moment just barely broke the glass to his left, having given up all the rest of its kinetics into the Djinn's Shadow. Spreading my right hand, I hastily pushed the cast out through my palm. The wave emitted from my hands rippled space slightly and then the concentrated and amplified kinetic energy pulse hit him directly in the sternum. He was punched backwards a yard, the sword swinging out in front of him as it was pulled along by the hilt, before he smashed into the drinks fridge. Glass shattered, and he caught himself before he hit the floor by grabbing the now-hanging door of the fridge. I could see he was wearing arming gloves, light leather, but enough to prevent damage from the glass. It was clearly safety glass, as most of it had turned into a hail of pebble-sized cubes and gone flying across the floor.

The clerk screamed something from behind me, but I ignored it, trying to think of a way to save the situation. I'd hoped to take away the sword with both initial attacks, but he still had hold of it and was struggling back to his feet. I wasn't worried too much about what he could do to me through the Burberry, but I was desperate to contain him before he hurt someone, whether that someone was me or someone else.

I spared one quick glance around for the baton as he struggled back to his feet, but couldn't see it anywhere. As I looked, though, there was another enormous noise and I felt someone lightly punch me in the back. The swordsman flinched, looking past me, then shouted something like that won't work before launching himself at me. I pulled the Desert Eagle back towards my chest, to retain control of it, and found myself stumbling slightly as the noise came again and I was struck a second time. I turned left, slightly, then drove off my right foot as hard as I could. My shoulder struck the swordsman in the middle of his torso, and I pushed backwards with everything I had. I felt another strike on my right shoulder and hunched as the sword glanced off my coat after being swung inwards wildly. As he fell backwards again, I turned to see the clerk pointing a revolver at me. I couldn't tell for sure, but judging from the extremely short barrel, the enormous noise it had made and the general shape, I was pretty sure it was a .357 Magnum. His face was a rictus of surprise and fear, which I suppose made sense since he had just fired into my back from a distance of a yard or so and I was still on my feet. I took the time to fire the Desert Eagle, this time safely into the floor, and with my right hand I cast the Djinn's Wave at him in turn. This time the cast was much more effective; the clerk was blasted off his feet a foot or two into the air, losing the revolver, and into the shelves of cigarettes behind him. He crumpled in a tsunami of cardboard and nicotine products, and I continued the turn to face the swordsman.

Who, it turned out, had already gotten up at least to his knees, and was moving for me in a lunge with the sword extended. I tried to dodge, but to no avail; the sword hit the right panel of my coat. I was prepared for it to bounce outward, but to my dismay it didn't. It did slow sharply as it hit the coat, clearly throwing him off balance. But after that, it continued through the cloth panel despite my firm conviction that that wouldn't happen, and I felt it burn across my ribcage as I continued to twist away from it.

I was turning to my right, robbing the sword strike of some of its force. My left ribcage hit the flat of the blade, shoving the sword to my right as I turned, and I felt him struggling to retain his grip on it as he stumbled towards me. Since the Desert Eagle was in my left hand, I swung it as hard as I could and felt the butt strike his face with a solid THUNK and crunch. Since my finger was outside of the trigger guard, it didn't fire. I began to backpedal, halting my turn and moving towards the back of the store. I could hear the clerk struggling under the pile of cartons behind the counter, and as I began to move, the swordsman finally got a decent grip on the hilt and pulled the sword straight back. Since the blade was mostly vertical, it didn't gut me as it went, but I felt it rip through my overcoat again. I staggered before catching my balance, feeling parts of my coat dangling around me as I faced the front of the store. My assailant staggered to his feet as well, sword in hand. I still had the Desert Eagle in my left hand pointed at the floor in between us. We stood there for a moment, panting, measuring each other. I wasn't sure what he saw. I saw a relatively fit man, in his later thirties, with a face I could only describe in the moment as 'unmemorable' which no doubt suited him fine. He was holding his sword in front of him in a guard position. I knew next to nothing about swords, but I squinted at it, trying to remember details. As I was doing so, I caught movement as he reached behind himself, under his coat. He had started backing away slightly, and I raised the gun in case he came out with a firearm of his own. Instead, he came out with what looked like a soda can and lobbed it towards me as he turned towards the door-

Damn it.

The cylinder hit the floor in front of me at around the same time the swordsman wrenched open the door and flung himself out onto the street. I looked once at the clerk, who was still struggling behind the counter, then looked at the cylinder, swore, and threw myself onto it, wrapping my arms and thus the remnants of my coat as far around it as possible, my head tucked behind my arm. I just hoped my ears wouldn't-

blam

The sound was almost soft to me, as both my hearing protection and my body's own response to the shock deadened it. There was a discontinuity, a period of intense and violent motion and light and sound. My eyes instantly flared into phosphenic darkness despite the shielding, and I felt a strong impact against my back as I was thrown to the back of the store, again.

Concussion grenade. A big one. The coat had done its job, and I was nearly unharmed from the explosion, but apparently I hadn't managed to make it entirely over the top of the grenade before it detonated. I'd been rolled slightly to the right, between it and the counter, which was good; the clerk was still struggling, meaning he had survived. The entire drinks wall was destroyed, legacy of the shockwave which hadn't hit my coat traveling outward and striking that entire side of the store, bringing the remaining glass refrigerator doors down in waves of fragments with burst drink containers everywhere. There were several small fires burning, legacy of the explosion igniting packaging between us and the wall.

I staggered to my feet. The Desert Eagle was still in my hand. I was pleased to note that I had managed to safe it before the explosion. It appeared unharmed. I holstered it, shaking badly, and looked around for the baton. I found it against the wall opposite the drinks, half buried; compressing it back into carry position, I slid it back into my coat, which is when I realized that my Burberry was destroyed. Literally. There were fragments of cloth hanging down my front; the coat panel had blocked the explosion, as the imbued cast on it had intended, but so much kinetic energy had hit the garment that even just that part of the blast front touching the seams and other small unprotected areas were enough to rip the panels back and apart. Burn marks covered the rest - some were residue that would likely wash off, but where the coat had ripped and the cast had failed, the material itself was smoldering.

I hastily shrugged out of the coat and then out of my shoulder rig. I looked wildly around the place, and saw the telltale bubble of security cameras along the ceiling. Looking behind the counter, I saw the LEDs of what looked like a small server. Although I hated to do it, I reached to my bandolier and felt the Djinn's Shadow. There was still some power there, but not enough, so I pulled the Desert Eagle again, aimed it at the floor and pulled the trigger. The explosion caused the the clerk to struggle harder as I grabbed the kinetics from the shot as hard as I was able. Reaching out with my right hand, I dumped them at the server behind the counter. It sparked angrily, and all its lights went out. I put the Desert Eagle away, then reached down and grabbed the cartridge case and bullet from the shot I'd just fired. Moving over to the fridges, I concentrated, using the last of the power from the shot in a search cast, and came up with the components of the two shots I'd fired during the fight with the swordsman. I stuffed them into my pocket.

Reaching behind the counter, I pulled the clerk to his feet. He was glazed, still stunned from the shock. I pulled a card from my trouser pocket, and stuffed it into his hands. "Listen!" I shouted. He focused on me, blearily. "Listen, I can make this right, okay? But only if you don't tell the cops about me!"

He looked at the plain telephone number on the card, his eyes still mostly unfocused. His face was changing, anger making its way back in. I grabbed his shoulder, shook him a bit. "I can make this right," I shouted at him again. "That's my number on the card, okay? I have to go!" Letting go before he could react, I rummaged behind the counter and came up with several plastic bags. I could see, out of the corner of my eye, people beginning to approach the blasted-out glass storefront. I stuffed the shoulder rig and the Desert Eagle into a bag, then rebagged it and stuffed the remains of the coat in on top of it until it was an anonymous looking bundle, with the overcoat panels visible, and limped out of the bodega.

There were five or six people there, and more coming over. In the distance I could hear the sirens, and I turned left, uptown, and started walking. Several of the onlookers moved as if to stop me, and I stopped and stared at them. They stepped back. I can't imagine I looked all that sane.

I kept walking. The sirens stopped after I'd gotten two or three blocks, but I kept going until I made it to the subway entrance at 157th, and then I gratefully sank below the earth and headed uptown, not wanting to pass back by the scene.

At 242nd Street terminus, in the Bronx, I wobbled down the stairs from the elevated station, still shaky as hell. There were, as usual, two or three gypsy cabs lounging around waiting for subway fares; I waved to one and got in the back. When I told him where I wanted to go, he nodded and took off towards the Deegan.

I got out at Fordham and made my way back to the storage unit. The desk guys gave me a bit of a stinkeye - it was full night, by this time, and I looked a bit wobbly - but handed over the key with no objections, and I headed downstairs, locked the door behind me, and fell into the chair I kept next to the workbench with a groan. I dumped the bag out onto the bench. The shoulder rig went straight into a nondescript shoulder bag, one of two or three I had stacked in a corner for occasions when I ended up with things to carry. The coat I shook out and draped along the bench surface, looking at it sadly.

I'd had this coat for years. It was an old friend, and was the second piece of gear I'd ever attempted to imbue wth a permanent cast of any sort. It had saved my life numerous times, along with the contents of the storage unit. But this looked like the end. The back of the coat was mostly in one piece, albeit scorched, but the front and sides were shredded. A few small pieces of it were missing, and I had to assume they were somewhere in the bodega. That meant the coat had to go, but I was already mourning it.

First, though, before I destroyed it (or tried to) I needed to remove the cast from it. I pulled the Djinn's Shadow from my bandolier and placed it on the bench, face up, the hands of the watch showing the correct time. Concentrating, I cupped my left palm over it and felt for the triggering link that Azif had left within the cast, and in some way I absolutely couldn't explain, I felt it - the equivalent of a big red hanging ribbon with the words "PULL IN EMERGENCY" written on it in white. I reached into the cast, feeling a chill in my limbs as the pocket watch stole energy from wherever it could find it in order to do what I was asking, and pulled the ribbon, hard. There was a nanosecond of silence, then a loud splashing noise from the pool in the corner told me that the contagion link was broken.

Removing my hand from the watch, I returned it to the bandolier and looked sadly at the remains of the Burberry. There wasn't much of an option. I'd left too much of it in the bodega, and I hoped the telephone number I had bore fruit, but there wasn't much I could do about it right now. I bundled the remains of the Burberry back into the plastic shopping bag and stuffed it into the shoulder bag.

Moving over to the pool, I looked in and saw that several bricks on the inner ring were shattered, which made sense. I rubbed my back in sympathy, despite the fact that none of that energy had in fact touched me. I thought about doing regular maintenance on the contagion sink, but realized that I'd have to be out here again whenever I found a way to replace the Burberry, so there wasn't much point in doing so right now. Rising to my feet, I headed back out with the shoulder bag draped over my somewhat tall frame. I got lucky and ran into a borough taxi right outside on Fordham Road, and engaged him to take me back home to the West Village. We got there late in the evening but not quite into the next day.

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