“Some days,” said Martin, “I scuttle. Some days I gallop. Some days I trot.” He lifted a hand to show me a heavily calloused palm and fingers. He laughed at my expression. “I used to have soft hands. Now I could probably sand wood with them.”
“Is the transformation continuing?” I asked.
“It seems that way,” he said. “I turn my head 360 degrees. I can do the same at my hips and shoulders. I can’t quite manage to do it with my spine but I’m getting close.”
Sandeep measured the spices by hand, a pinch of this, a pinch of that, a crumble of something else, then a spoonful of something from unlabeled jar. With each addition a new aroma rose from the pot and blended with the scents already there. It was calming. It was relaxing. It made me very hungry.
Sandeep handed me a wooden spoon. “Stir slowly but constantly,” she said. She watched as I got a rhythm down, nodding as I reached the proper speed.
She said, “My grandmother met your grandmother when she was young. I mean, when my grandmother was young. I know your grandmother is older than old. My grandmother did her a favor. That favor has been passed down to me. I am hesitant to ask because I do not know if you honor family obligations and, if you say no, it might mean the end of my family.”
I stirred. I said, “I honor honest debts. Tell me what your grandmother did. Then tell me what you need. If I can fill that need I will. If I cannot, there are others who owe favors to me.”
Standish said, “You see him when it rains. You don’t see him every time. If the rain is light or it’s the middle of the day he probably won’t be there. But when it’s pouring or if the sun is low, he’ll be out there. You’ll never be able to get too close. He’s never on a road so if you’re driving you’ll have to watch out. The ground’ll be bumpy and make you have to move slow. The minute you take your eyes off him he’ll be gone. You’ll get to where you saw and him and there’ll be nothing but much. Any tracks he might have left will be washed away.”
Dr. Daniels said, “Cancer kills because it interferes the regular bodily processes. Cancer cells only have a goal of making more cancer cells. They’re stupid. They don’t understand that they’re killing their host.”
Dr. Ryan’s smile was somewhat condescending. “You’re oversimplifying again, Daniels. And anthropomorphizing.”
Daniels shook his head. “I’m simply simplifying. I know the process is more complex than how I’m describing it. I’m less interested in lecturing about the disease than I am about offering a solution.”
Ryan folded his arms and raised his eyebrows in disbelief.
Daniels smiled. “I’m suggesting rewriting the cancer process. Rather than having it be a destructive invader, what if we were able to make it an ally in the patient’s health?”
Dr. Daniels lifted his transformed hands and regarded them. He wiggled the fingers. He grinned. He said, “One of the biggest popular misunderstanding about the process of evolution is that evolution works in a specific direction. There’s this idea that intelligence and, especially, human beings were the end goal. That’s nonsense. The goal of evolution is adaptation for survival. Many species become so well adapted to their native environments that they can’t survive when that environment changes. Environments change. That’s inevitable. Therefore extinction is inevitable. Humans got luck. We developed a big brain that has allowed us to adapt to environments that would otherwise kill our bodies. My experiments are intended to give us bodies that are as powerful and versatile as our brains.”
“Not everyone is going to want to become an ape lizard,” I said.
He nodded and said, “I wouldn’t expect them to. I’m hoping to provide more varieties of body types. But even so, I don’t intend to make the process widely available. I want it to be available for catastrophic emergencies not casual party tricks.”
Karina rubbed her forehead. “There’s a voice in my head,” she said. “It can read the minds of everyone around me. It tells me what people are thinking. It helped me escape the hospital when the faceless men came.”
I nodded. There did not seem to be a better response. I said, “There was a lot of blood in the tenth floor hallway. A lot of blood. As if someone had slaughtered a couple of cows. Or perhaps a squad of faceless men. Furniture was smashed. The walls were torn. A hole was ripped in the outer wall and it looked as if something clawed its way up to the roof. Was that you?”
Karina looked at her feet and shook her head. “The voice says that she did it. She’s laughing.”
I nodded again. I asked, “Is the voice able to read my mind?”
Stacy said, “Third times the charm, right?”
I nodded uncommittedly. “So I have heard,” I said.
Stacy half frowned, half smiled. “But you’re going to tell me that you’re old enough to know that’s bullshit?”
I mirrored her expression. “Why would I want to ruin a good superstition? Let me add another – it is the two of us against the one of him. The odds are in our favor.”
The smile became her dominant expression. “Two pretty angels against pure evil? Yeah, we’ll win this one.”
Nonetheless, I thought, I’m keeping my fingers crossed and saying a prayer to my grandmother.
Jordy Pittman lead us to a grave site in a western corner of the cemetery. It was a much abused plot. Only a few patches of sickly looking grass clung to its surface. The earth beneath was dry and scarred as if someone had stabbed it with sticks and knife blades. Broken bottles and cigarettes, and somewhat incongruously: dead roses, confettied the grave. The headstone was small and unreadable. It was cracked in multiple places and the name had been scratched off. Pittman added a gob of his tobacco juice to the litter.
Pittman said, “She’s buried here. But she ain’t properly dead. Every three, four years some dumb bitch calls up her spirit and she kills again. We’ve had priests and exorcists and preachermen say prayers over this grave every year and it does fuck all to stop her. I lost my brother because of her twenty years ago. I lost a cousin six years back. If you can put her down permanent you’d be giving this town a peace it badly needs.”
Stacy looked at the grave and then smiled sweetly at Pittman. “I’ve heard the stories. Amelie kills out of vengeance. So let’s start with the obvious. What did your brother do to make him worth killing?”
The little girl flashed a gap toothed smile. She patted the fur of the wolf skin. She said, “I killed him myself. Stupid wolfs. He kept trying to eat me. I don’t know why. I sure that squirrels taste better than me. I had bites all over. It hurt. Apa would try to catch him but he was faster and hid better. I gots tired of it. So I ‘cided to chase him. I got fingers. I got smarts. I got swords and knives and axes and clubs and I throws hard and fast. We friend now that he a hat.”
Stacy watched Laurence Poulsbo through the telescope. She yawned. She lifted her head from the device and looked at his apartment with unaided sight. She turned to me and asked, “Why don’t we just kill the fucker? Why wait until he sets his sights on someone else?”
I did not want to admit that I had been considering that course of action. I preferred to play the voice of care and caution. It was not as if I cared about due process of law or a fair hearing for this accused. Even if Poulsbo was not the monster we suspected him of being he was not the sort of person with whom I wished to spend time. He had done nothing to deserve his wealth. He was unpleasant and abusive to his staff. He was cruel and vindictive to those who failed to show him the deference he desired. The world would not miss him.
I realized that Stacy was actually waiting for me to answer her questions. I sighed and shrugged. I said, “We aren’t just going to kill him right now because, here in Manhattan, he is part of a system that will strike us down if it feels that we are a threat. If we wait until he heads for his hunting ground we are more likely to be able to avoid having to deal with the forces of law and order.”
Stacy rolled her eyes. “That’s so fucking safe and practical.”