I don't remember making it back to town, or going to my apartment, but that's where I was when I finally woke up.
I was clutching the book and staff tightly to my chest. I was still clothed, head to foot, including my shoes and my flogger. I even had my hat on.
"All in all, a better way to wake up than with a psycho bitch," I murmured.
The sun was streaming through my bedroom window. I glanced at the clock ticking away beside my bed. It was half past noon.
I grunted and stood, stretching my weary arms and legs, feeling and hearing everything popping and cracking back into place. This felt like routine. And I was glad for the feeling.
I stripped to my skin and headed for my tub. I felt like I was wearing a swamp's worth of grime. I lathered up a few minutes later, creating a game plan in my head.
Step One: make sure the Codex Rusembrae and the Claw of Hargon are safely out of dangerous hands. Check. I would take them to the office and put them in my safe.
Step Two would be harder: find Three-Fingers. He was the only piece of this puzzle that had completely eluded me. I was gonna need Louden's help for that.
Step Three would be simple once I accomplished Step Two: find, and rescue, Betty Harkins. I briefly considered showing up at Vivian Vanderhoff's door with ol' Pappy in hand and Louden at my side, blasting our way through the Vanderhoff estate until we got some answers. I said briefly considered it. Practically as soon as the thought crossed my head, I decided that a much quicker way to commit suicide would be to simply walk naked from the tub and walk off the end of the fire escape. It would unquestionably hurt less, and be over much sooner.
Vivian Vanderhoff's time would come, but I couldn't take on her whole goon squad on my own, or even with just Louden. I wasn't sure just what she might have at her disposal when it came to supernatural defenses, but something had been bothering me about how long that dog had managed to keep going after a shot that should have put it down.
I finished in the shower and dried off, then got dressed. I was somewhat relieved to see that no one had broken into the apartment and stolen the book and claw. But then, unless Vivian had other ways of watching me, and I didn't think she did, there was no way she'd know I had the Codex or the claw. She probably thought they were still locked up tight with Probst at the room above Racks. Poor old Probst, I thought. All he ever wanted to do was make a dishonest living.
Of course, seeing what became of him, I had decided already that no matter how long they remained with me, I was not going to even open the Codex, not to mention read from it.
I walked into my tiny parlor and called the office. Glenda's eminently professional voice greeted me. "Zeddicker, Private Detective, Glenda speaking."
"Glen, it's me," I said quickly. "Listen, my case is starting to blow itself wide open. Tell me you have some calls for me."
"Well," she said, sounding a little wary. I don't often get brusque with her. "I got a call on behalf of Vivian Vanderhoff, but it wasn't her. Guess it was someone on her staff. She would like you to call her asap. Something about a stolen car? Is there any truth to that?"
"Not stolen," I explained, trying to sound casual. "Borrowed. I'll have to deal with that later. Anything else?"
"That's all I got for right now," she said. "So, Zed...I gotta know if everything's okay. I got a funny feeling about this case, and you don't usually shut me out like this."
That was my Glenda. She can usually tell what's going on with me, and the more I try to keep her out of harm's way, the more she realizes something is up.
"I'll be okay," I told her. I knew she didn't believe me. I could practically see the expression on her face. "Listen, it's better if I don't say anything more for now."
There was a long silence on her end of the phone. "Okay," she said. "For now."
I walked to my office along my normal route, stopping at Sandy's news stand. The old vendor was there, as usual, snipe in his mouth and a frown on his face. I didn't like that. Sandy usually looked cheerful.
"Sandy," I called when I was nearly at the stand. He hadn't looked up and didn't seem to hear my approach. At my call he turned and fixed me with that frown.
"Zeddicker," he said. His voice sounded strangely monotone, like he was trying to keep emotion out of it. "What the hell are you involved in? I'm hearin' things I can't believe. I told my guy no way, that ain't true. Tell me it ain't true, Zed." His face pleaded louder than his flat words. I felt bad for the old guy. He'd been a good source of buzz for years. I had a feeling this particular well was about to dry up.
"The less you know," I said. "The better. I know that's never been the case for you, but it is now."
"Jesus to Christ, Zeddicker," said Sandy. "The things I heard...you killed Cicci, didn't you?"
I sighed and decided the unvarnished truth was best. "I don't know."
"Whaddaya mean, you don't know?" he practically shouted. "You either plugged him or you didn't!"
"I shot him, yeah," I said. "I just don't know if I dropped him or not. Look, Sandy, Cicci was into something hard. Harder than anything his type usually gets into. It...changed him." I paused for a second and reflected how often lately I'd said the exact truth out loud, only for its meaning to be completely lost. "I don't know what happened to him. I just knew I had to shoot or he'd do something to me. Something to make me wish all he'd done was hurt me."
Sandy stared at me for a long time. His face told me I'd confirmed what he'd heard.
"These ain't normal times," he said. "But I know Cicci's dead. I'll give you that one for free. I know that when they found him he...he didn't look like Cicci. But they knew it was him. Somehow." He paused and took another drag off his snipe. "But I heard somethin' else. Somethin' that's gonna cost you a couple a' sawbucks."
"I'll take it," I said, digging out my wallet.
"Before you do," he said solemnly. "You gotta understand somethin'. This is it. This is the last you get from me. After what I been hearin', I got no further interest in keepin' my ear to the ground. Understand?"
"I got it," I said. "And I'm sorry. You're a good man, Sandy. I never meant for you to get drawn into this."
"Well, what they say about the road to hell," he muttered. "Sorry, Zed. It's been a hard couple a' days." He took the rhino from my hand. "Three-Fingers," he said. "He surfaced a couple of days ago. He's at a penthouse on Northampton Drive."
"You got an address?" I asked. Sandy grabbed a grease pencil and a scrap of newsprint. He scribbled for a few seconds and handed the paper to me. "Thanks," I said. I pulled another five-spot out and handed it to him. "You earned this," I said. "You've been my best stoolie for years now, and losing you hurts." He took the money and nodded, barely. He looked like he might have tears in his eyes.
"Listen," I began. "I know you got some green put away. My advice? Pack up and head for a safe place. Being in this town is dangerous right now, especially for a man known for keeping his ear to the ground." He nodded again, tipping me a small salute. "It's been nice knowing you, Sandy."
I left him sitting there behind his kiosk. I felt like I was losing a family member. Sandy was only one source of street buzz, but he was the best. I'd just cut off my thumb and still expected to be able to hold a gun.
Louden was waiting for me in the heap when I got to the office.
"I hear there was some excitement?" he asked.
"You could say that," I answered. "It's getting hot out here, but I think we're getting the upper hand finally."
"Yeah?" Louden pushed his cap back from his eyes. "Do tell."
"In the car," I said. "Here's the address. I'll formulate a plan on the way."
Inwardly I added the words, I hope.