Crescent City Creeps #7

 

Late to the party? Catch up here.

 

Give Up the Ghost

 

Sturgis pulled Parker into a side room away from the attention of the party.

“When did you lose the peregrine?” Sturgis coughed as he whispered and tamped a cigarette on the lid of its gold case.

“It was gone when I went to retrieve it,” Parker stammered. “The tabernacle was empty.”

“Did you set the lock right?”

“I hadn’t opened it since you handed it off to me last night.”

“Did you have a thief in the nigh…wait a second. You don’t think…?”

“Le Bec?”

“That’s right.”

“Doesn’t he return everything he steals?”

“Unless he knows what the peregrine is.”

“How would he know what the peregrine is?”

“I hear he’s pretty spooky. Like a sorcerer or something. What’s the Sleeper’s condition?”

“It’s opened three of its eyes already. It still gazes within, but it’s getting restless.”

“We don’t have much time. Get in touch with the Ghost.”

“Do we really need to employ the likes of Winston Cross?”

“We’re up shit’s creek here, Parker. You have any better…”

Guy poked his head in the door. “Judge, the mayor’s about to make a toast.”

“For Christ sake, Corbin, for what?” Sturgis sighed.

“Who knows? He’s very drunk.”

 

After Parker’s intrusion, the party fizzled to an uneasy end. Guy returned home with Shelby and continued his study for the peregrine with a new vigor. He was hunched over a desk riddled with open books, and bordered by piles of closed books. The peregrine sat in a clear space in the middle. Shelby leaned on the other side of the desk with her chin in her hands gazing at the jade figurine. She stared into the dark spots between the iridescent whirls. She felt as though she was entering a dark channel that revealed another world of twisting pools of green oil and water, spooling and unspooling in the light that glowed beneath. She raced toward the dark spots between these swirling pools and found an identical world. Another tunnel, another world. She reached out to touch the liquid walls that congealed into intertwining vines, growing into all the voids between twisting green. A loud cracking began echoing through all of them. With every crack, this emerald dimension began to tear a little more, until it smashed into tiny raining fragments revealing Guy snapping his fingers in her face.

“No, no, Mouse,” Guy said. “Don’t touch it. In fact, it’s best if you didn’t stare at it too long.”

“Why not?” Shelby asked, still in a haze.

“The Empress Jade is a primordial arcane power source, and if she grabs a hold of you you might not get out.”

“Why do you return everything you take?”

“I don’t burgle to amass trinkets. Like I said, it’s the art of it I’m after. So I return them out of courtesy. Also, what better challenge for the great Le Bec than burgling the same place twice?” he laughed.

“That’s easy to say when you don’t need anything.”

“You’re my apprentice, now. You’ll never be in need.”

“You gonna give the bird back?”

“I wasn’t going to. This is a far too powerful a thing to be left in the hands of power mad amateurs, but I think it would be in the best interest if I did.”

“Why?”

“I eavesdropped on Judge Sturgis and Professor Parker. It seems they are using it keep something called ‘The Sleeper’ sleeping. They seemed very concerned about it waking up.”

“What’s ‘The Sleeper’?”

“I wish I knew. Parker and Sturgis are members of secret, at least they think it’s a secret, society called the Nocturne. They extended me an invitation once but I declined. Not really one for clubs. I’m curious if this involves the society.”

“Can I come with you when you take it back?”

“No.”

“Why not?” Shelby sat up.

“Too dangerous.”

“Oh, get lost.”

“They’ll be expecting me.”

“I can handle myself. Me and Mr. Delareux been in plenty of scraps. I helped bag Andronikov.”

“Mouse, have you ever heard of Winston Cross?”

“The Ghost? Sure, he’s a hitman. Used to work for Lou Boccherini. Turned coat and now he’s with Ari Gerber.”

“He’s with Gerber, now?”

“Yeah, since a few months ago.”

“I guess I have nothing to teach you about street knowledge, Mouse. You’re teaching me. But here’s a tidbit of high society knowledge; Gerber is a member of the Nocturne as well. This is curious.”

“So can I go?”

“Sturgis told Parker to ‘get in touch with the Ghost’. If the Ghost is going to be there, you are not. The Ghost makes Andronikov look like a Sunday school teacher.”

“No fair.”

 

Toli sat in the corner of the office while Delareux sat at his desk across from Barclay. Toli examined Barclay’s face. His skin appeared rough, almost coarse, like burlap. His mouth, lips and voice were brittle and dry. His eyes. Did he even have eyes? His thick round glasses enlarged and exaggerated two black spheres that never seemed to blink. The rest of him was covered. His gloves were tucked into his high collared coat; the cuffs of his starchy pants, into his boots. His neck appeared wrapped in several scarves, it was hot and muggy and not a bead of sweat fell.

“The Lady Winthrop wishes it,” Barclay rasped at Delareux. “She insists I accompany the investigation.”

“You ever been investigating before, Mr. Barclay?” Delareux asked.

“‘Barclay’ will do, detective. No, I haven’t. As I said, it is not my wish, but the Lady’s.”

“Well, tonight after dark, we’re going to take a look around Professor Parker’s house. Because that’s where Le Bec stole it from,” Delareux fixed on Barclay. “What’s your angle, Barclay?”

“I beg the detective’s pardon?”

“You ask us to get an heirloom stolen from Sylvia Winthrop, who’s been a banshee since that unfortunate LBRP accident twelve years ago. Stolen by Le Bec, who I happen to know is a high society type that only steals from his friends and then gives the stuff back. Turns out the only part of your yarn that was true was Le Bec stole the peregrine. And you’re an animated scarecrow.”

“That’s it,” Toli snapped his fingers. “Ray Bolger. That’s who he reminds me of.”

Barclay gave Toli the stare.

“Why don’t you come clean?” Delareux said to Barclay. “Who knows, I might still even take the case if it’s a good enough sob story.”

“As you have correctly identified,” Barclay began, “I am a golem. The Lady Winthrop created me as the family’s manservant. I continue to serve the Lady Winthrop, even in her current unfortunate condition. Have you ever heard of ‘The Nocturne’, Mr. Delareux?”

“Some high falutin’ secret society,” Delareux replied. “All the city big wigs are supposed to be involved.”

“Twelve years ago, the Nocturne sabotaged my lady’s rituals, resulting in the death of her husband, her transformation into a banshee, and the orphaning of her infant daughter. The jade peregrine can restore her.”

“I bet it could. Why did the Nocturne want to kill your boss?”

“I have reason to believe she discovered something dark. As a result, the city’s powerful silenced her.”

“But you don’t know what she knew?”

“No.”

“Why the ruse?”

“Would you have helped me steal it from a thief who had stolen it?”

“It’s one of my many services. Why did you wait twelve years?”

“They keep it locked away in a tabernacle. It kept it hidden from my scrying attempts, but when Le Bec had taken it, it was out in the open and no longer hidden.”

“Look,” Delareux leaned forward, “Me and my partner will get it from Le Bec and get in touch with you when we have it.”

“There is one more thing. I insisted on my presence because only I can safely handle the stone.”

“Yeah? Why is that?”

“If you were to handle the stone, your soul would be eternally entangled in the current of life itself. I, being a golem, have no soul.”

“Couldn’t I just put it in a bag for you?”

“Please, Mr. Delareux, the faster I can get this to Lady Winthrop the better. What she knew got her the next worse thing to killed. I won’t let it be in vain.”

 

Delareux and Barclay sat in Toli’s car across the street from Parker’s house. Toli was scanning the area through a pair of binoculars. He could see three armed men patrolling the grounds. Parker and Sturgis were standing on the porch in some sort of heated conversation. Sturgis paced and Parker wrung his hands.

“Hey, Delareux,” Shelby said poking her head in the passenger window. Toli jumped and dropped his binoculars.

“Heya, kid,” Delareux said. “How’s the high life?”

“Weird. What are you guys doing?”

“Waiting for your new friend.”

“What do you guys want with him?”

“My client in the back there, is very interested in the item he lifted from Parker. We were hoping to convince him to let us have it.”

“The jade peregrine?”

“Yeah, that.”

“He wouldn’t let me come with him, can you believe that?”

“Eh? Why’s that?”

“He said it was too dangerous. Sturgis called in the Ghost.”

“Winston Cross? Jesus, man, drive, drive,” he slapped Toli several times on the arm.

“What? Why?” Toli asked.

“I don’t mess with Cross.” Delareux slumped down in his seat and pulled his hat over his face.

“Why does he have you so rattled?”

“The man walks through walls. You’re either corporeal or incorporeal, you can’t be both. Pick one.”

Shouting could be heard coming from Parker’s house and the armed men were running about. Beams from flashlights swept between the treetops, but all they could catch was the rustling of the leaves and the swaying of recently dismounted branches. A gunshot went off and glass shattered. Parker ran around with his hands on his head.

“I think Le Bec’s here,” Toli said squinting through binoculars.

Shelby did a crouch run toward the house and dove behind the hedges. Toli, Delareux and Barclay hopped out of the car. Delareux drew his pistol.

“So much for getting to him first,” Delareux grumbled.

“What a mess,” Toli sighed.

Parker’s hired guns converged their flashlights on a single tree. Perched on a branch was Le Bec, his head down. The long nose of his mask poked out from under his wide brimmed hat. He hand flicked and littered the ground with a handful of smoke bombs. The men began firing into the billowing clouds. Le Bec darted out of view and grappled onto an ivy choked trellis fixed to the side of the house, then disappeared onto the roof. A dart flew and caught one of the security detail on the neck. He grabbed at the dart, dropped to his knees and tipped forward onto his face. His gun went off when he hit the ground and struck another of the watchmen in the meat of his calf. The last of Parker’s men began shooting wildly at the roof of the house. Parker protested, but crouched with his hands over his head as the firing began.

Delareux raced over to join Shelby in the hedges.

“Shel, tell your guy he’ll be fine with us,” Delareux said. “Let’s just get out of here.”

“I don’t know if he’ll listen,” Shelby replied. “He’s real into his art.”

“He can return it some other time. But right now we need that peregrine.”

“Why does everybody want this thing?”

“I don’t know about Sturgis and Parker, but my client believes it can help restore the banshee Winthrop.”

“I’ll believe anything at this point, that thing is cuckoo.”

Shelby scaled up the house and onto the roof where she found Le Bec tending to a gunshot wound.

“Oh jeez, are you alright,” Shelby gasped and crawled over.

“Occupational hazard,” Le Bec grinned, cleaning the wound. “I was grazed, that’s all.”

“Look. Mr. Delareux says he can get you out of this if you go with him. He’s alright, honest.”

“I need to know why the Nocturne wants this so badly. What the hell is the Sleeper? What’s Detective Delareux’s interest in all of this?”

“He says he needs the peregrine to restore the banshee Winthrop.”

“The banshee Winthrop?” Le Bec’s eyes began to wander. “Let me tell you, Mouse, this normally isn’t this complicated.”

 

A long white luxury car pulled up to Parker’s house. A tall, thin man dressed in a crisp white suit and purple tie stepped out. He adjusted a pair of small, round glasses that perched at the end of his sharp nose and smoothed his stark, white, combed back hair. He opened the back seat and pulled out a long, narrow rifle.

“Gentlemen,” he said in a calm voice as he approached, glancing at Parker’s downed security detail, “You called?”

“You’re late, Cross,” Sturgis yelled as he charged from his hiding spot on Parker’s porch.

“No, I’m not,” Cross replied, still calm. “Le Bec is still here. On the roof, if I’m not mistaken. Which I’m not.”

“Yeah,” Sturgis groaned, looking spooked. “Just get it done.”

Cross glared at Sturgis, then began to flicker. What little color Cross had drained until he looked like an old film reel, then became translucent. His spectral form began to distort and smear toward the eaves of the house. The ghostly smear snapped toward the roof like someone released a taut rubber band.

 

Le Bec and Shelby were startled by a hazy, growing glow that formed into the translucent Cross. Cross solidified and aimed his rifle at Le Bec’s head.

“There’s nothing in the contract that requires you to die, Le Bec,” Cross explained, “Just give me the peregrine.”

Le Bec grinned and locked eyes with Cross. He pulled the peregrine from a pouch.

“Fine,” he said, holding out the figurine, “You don’t argue with the Ghost. Just tell me, what does the Nocturne need this for?”

“The Nocturne is not my concern. I’m not here on Sturgis’ contract.”

“Is Gerber going rogue?”

“I never worked for Gerber. Or Boccherini. I was laying the groundwork for my employer’s arrival.”

Cross took the peregrine and transported back to the ground.

“Gentleman,” Cross said waving the peregrine. “My employer thanks you.”

“Where are you going, Cross?” Sturgis hollered. “Give me that peregrine. Gerber will get an earful about this. We had a contract.”

“This wasn’t your contract, Judge. Gerber’s finished. I’ve seen to that. Boccherini, as well. There’s a new boss in town, boys. I don’t think you’re going to get along. He can be…disagreeable.”

 

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