I’d never been so happy to see the first rays of dawn in my life as I was that next morning. I’d ended up doing exactly what I’d sworn I wouldn’t do: I’d cowered in my brilliantly lit, borrowed bedroom from one daybreak to the next, trying to make my meager snacks last, and wondering what plan Barrons could possibly have devised that might guarantee our safety from Rocky O’Bannion, quite pessimistically certain there was none. Even if he managed to scare off a few of O’Bannion’s men, there would only be more. I mean, really, how could one man hope to stand up to a ruthless mobster and his loyal pack of ex-fighters and thugs who’d once taken out twenty-seven people in a single night?
When the first rays of a rosy sunrise pressed at the edges of the drapes, I hurried to the window and pulled back the curtain. I’d lived through yet another Dublin night and that, in and of itself, was swift becoming cause for celebration in my badly warped little world. I stared dumbly down into the alley for a long moment, as the sight that greeted me slowly sunk in.
Or didn’t, I guess, because before I knew it, I’d raced from my fourth-floor retreat and was pounding bare-heeled down the back stairs for a closer look. I burst out into the early, chilly Irish morning. The concrete steps were damp with cold dew beneath my bare feet as I hurried down them, into the rear alley.
A dozen or so feet away, in the early morning light, a black Maybach gleamed, with all four of its doors ajar. It was making that annoying bing-bing sound that told me the keys were still in the ignition and the battery hadn’t yet run down. Behind it, hood to trunk, stretching down into the beginnings of the abandoned neighborhood, were three more black vehicles, all with their doors wide open, emitting a chorus of bings. Outside each car were piles of clothing, not far from the doors. I had a sudden flashback to the day I’d gotten lost in the abandoned neighborhood, to the derelict car with the pile of clothing outside the driver’s door. Comprehension slammed into my brain and I flinched from the horror of it.
Any fool could see what had happened here.
Well, at least any sidhe-seer fool who knew what kind of things that went bump in the night around these parts could.
The cop who’d seen us yesterday morning had apparently reported to O’Bannion, and at some unknown hour after dark, the mobster had come looking for us with a full complement of his men, and as evidenced by their stealthy backdoor approach, they’d not been coming to pay us a social call.
The simplicity of Barrons’ plan both astounded and chilled me: He’d merely turned off the outside lights, front and rear, allowing darkness to swallow the entire perimeter of the building. O’Bannion and his men had stepped out of their cars, directly into an Unseelie massacre.
Barrons had known they would come. I was even willing to bet he’d known they would come in force. He’d also known they would never make it farther than the direct vicinity of their own cars. Of course, I’d been safe in the store. With the interior lights ablaze and the exterior lights extinguished, neither man nor monster could have reached me last night.
Barrons had baited a death trap—one that my theft had made necessary. When I’d reached up and blithely removed that weapon from the wall, I’d signed death warrants for sixteen men.
I turned and stared up at the bookstore, now seeing it in an entirely different light: It wasn’t a building—it was a weapon. Only last week I’d stood out front, thinking it seemed to stand bastion between the good part of the city and the bad. Now I understood it was a bastion—this was the line of demarcation, the last defense—and Barrons held the encroachment of the abandoned neighborhood at bay with his many and carefully placed floodlights, and all he had to do to protect his property from threat at night was turn them off and let the Shades move in, hungry guard dogs from Hell.
Drawn by grim fascination, or perhaps some long-dormant genetic need to understand all I could about the Fae, I approached the Maybach. The pile of clothing outside the driver’s door was topped by a finely made black leather jacket that looked just like the one I’d seen on Rocky O’Bannion the night before last.
Barely repressing a shudder, I reached down and picked it up. As I lifted the supple Italian leather, a thick husk of what looked like badly yellowed, porous parchment fell out of it.
I jerked violently and dropped the coat. I’d seen that kind of “parchment” before. I’d seen dozens of them, blowing down the deserted streets of the abandoned neighborhood that day I’d gotten lost in the fog, all different shapes and sizes. I remembered thinking that there must be a defunct paper factory somewhere nearby with broken windows.