“Sounds like he’s got a lot of stupid rules,” I muttered.
Just then a barrel of a man with big-knuckled hands, a flattened nose, and cauliflowered ears approached. “Good to see you again, Mr. Barrons. Mr. O’Bannion invites you and your companion to drop by the back and say hello.”
It wasn’t really an invitation and no one pretended it was. Barrons rose immediately, collected me, tucked me into his body again, and steered me along behind the battered ex-boxer as if, without guidance, I might blindly bounce off walls, a short-circuited Stepford Wife.
I was going to be really glad to get out of this place.
“By the back” meant another building quite some distance behind the pub. We got there underground, following O’Bannion’s man through the kitchens, down a long flight of stairs, and into a well-lit, damp stone tunnel. As we hurried past openings to more tunnels that were either blocked up with stone and concrete or sealed by heavily padlocked steel doors, Barrons murmured close to my ear, “In some parts of Dublin, there’s another city beneath the city.”
“Creepy,” I muttered, as we ascended another long flight of stairs.
I guess I was expecting something out of a movie: a pack of dissolute, heavy-jowled men crammed into a smoke-filled room, gathered around a table, wearing sweat-stained shirts and gun holsters, chewing cigars and playing high-stakes poker, with centerfolds of naked women tacked to the walls.
What I got was a dozen or so well-dressed men talking quietly in a spacious, handsomely appointed room of mahogany and leather, and the only woman on the walls here was the Madonna and Child. But the Madonna wasn’t alone; the august room was virtually wallpapered with religious icons. Interspersed with built-in bookcases graced by a collection of Bibles that I suspected might make even the Pope covetous, hung crucifixes of silver, gold, wood, and even one of those glow-in-the-dark plastic ones. Behind a stately desk hung a series of twelve paintings depicting Christ’s last moments. Over the fireplace was a reproduction of The Last Supper. At the far end of the room were two prayer shrines covered with brightly flickering candles, flanking a larger shrine that held an elaborate antique reliquary containing heavens only knew what—perhaps the tooth or heel bone of some obscure saint. A powerfully built, dark-haired man stood before the ancient religious chasses, his back to us.
I pretended to stumble at the threshold of the door. Barrons caught me. “Oops,” I said meaningfully. Though we’d not agreed on a code, I thought saying OOPs was pretty clear. I was telling him there was an Object of Power somewhere nearby. Not in this room, but close. From the sudden acid in my stomach that seemed to be boiling up through the soles of my feet, I suspected whatever it was lay directly beneath us, in Barrons’ “city beneath the city.”
If Barrons got my not-so-subtle message, he gave no sign of it. His eyes were focused on the man at the shrine, his jaw set.
As the man turned from the reliquary, the two Unseelie flanking him turned also. Whoever the big, bad Unseelie was that was after the Sinsar Dubh, he’d stationed his watchdogs here, too. Our unknown competitor was watching the same people Barrons was interested in: McCabe, Mallucé, and now O’Bannion. Unlike the Rhino-boys at McCabe’s and Mallucé’s, however, these were casting no glamour of being human whatsoever, which perplexed me until I realized that they really had no need. In their natural state, they were invisible to everyone but sidhe-seers like Barrons and me, and we seemed a pretty rare breed. I had no idea why these Rhino-boys had chosen to remain invisible rather than inserting themselves into O’Bannion’s tangible reality as others had done with McCabe and Mallucé, but they had, which meant I had to determinedly not look at them at all. At least when Unseelie were faking passing as humans, I could notice whatever illusion they were presenting and not give myself away, but when they weren’t, I didn’t dare observe the space they occupied, which was easier said than done. Sliding your gaze over something that looks so alien is a little tricky.
I took a cue from Barrons and focused my attention on the man between them who was, no doubt, Rocky O’Bannion.
I could instantly see how he’d gotten where he was. In any century, this man would have been a fighter, a leader of men. Dark, brawny, six feet of graceful, glistening muscle in black trousers, a white shirt, and a fine, soft Italian-made black leather jacket, he moved with the confidence of a man who knew his slightest wish was the rest of the world’s command. His short black hair was thick, his teeth the perfect white of an ex-boxer with money, and when he smiled, which he did now at Barrons, it was lightning quick and full of dark Irish deviltry.