Today’s post is Part 1 of 2 posts offering the first chapter draft of Cold Cell. Read part 2 here.
It rained blood the day that I enacted the first stage of my revenge, and not in the romantic, metaphorical sense.
Three weeks had passed since Sergei robbed Vassily’s grave: Three weeks to heal, to regain my fitness, to test the limits of my magic, and to get my very first tattoo. I had it done at a small, no-name shop just off Times Square, the same place where Vassily had gotten most of his ink. As I’d hoped, they still had his designs on file. I learned that his python tattoo, which began on his right shoulder and looped its way down around his arm to weave through the sockets and mouth of an empty skull on the back of his hand, was called a ‘sleeve’. So that was what I got, a sleeve that was the mirror image of Vassily’s, winding down the full length of my left arm in coils of shaded navy-blue ink. The only change I made to the design was to the color of the snake’s eyes. Vassily’s had been red. I had mine done in blue.
Getting the tattoo finished was a part time job. In between gym and learning to ride a motorcycle, I spent a good five hours a week in the parlor with my artist, Jose, straddling the seat with my shirt off and my eyes closed. There, I could lose myself in the purr of the tattoo machine and the aura of focused energy that played along my magical senses, listening to the soft background of rock music and thinking of very little. In that emptiness I found under the needle, dark inspiration germinated and blossomed into plans.
The 22nd of October found me in the Financial District, on my way to visit one Yegor Gavrilyuk, CPA, who worked out of an office in 44 Wall Street. It was an old and stately building, standing solidly under a low, gunmetal-gray sky. In a good suit and tie and a good-quality wig of fashionably blond, slicked-back hair, I looked like any other yuppie bustling between his office and the New York Stock Exchange, one of many pushing through the canopy of black umbrellas that were out in expectation of rain. No one gave me or my carry-on bag so much as a second glance as I entered the atrium of Yegor’s building, stepped into the elevator, and pressed the button for the 28th floor. Surrounded by a forest of suits, I read the front page of the Wall Street Journal and listened to the awkward throat clearing, clicking rustle of too many people crammed into a too-small metal box.
By the time I reached my floor, my healing tattoo was itching and I felt hot under the collar, queasy from the press of bodies around me. Pulling my carry-on behind me, I gratefully emerged into a marble foyer and clacked my way down the echoing hallway to the glass-fronted reception of Weiss & Co Financial Services. The lady at the desk – financial executive receptionists were always female, weren’t they? – was a pencil-thin redhead with dark eyebrows and brown eyes. She wore an artfully fitted gray dress that was probably worth more than my entire suit. Both of them.
“Good morning, sir,” she chirped. “How can I help you?”
I didn’t bother smiling, and I let my usual Trans-Atlantic accent drop so that she could hear the Russian accent I typically worked to conceal. “I am here for an appointment with Mr. Gavrilyuk.”
The woman’s pale brow creased slightly. “I’m sorry, but Mr. Gavrilyuk doesn’t have any appointments until eleven.”
“I know. He forwards his calendar to my boss in case we need to speak with him urgently,” I replied. “Please call his extension, and tell him that Nicolai Chiernenko would like to discuss one of our accounts.”
The receptionist blinked at me, deer-like and mildly indignant, but she slowly picked up the receiver and began to dial. I was a better liar than I thought.
While she hung on the line, I nosed around the office, marking the fire escape, the location of cameras, and the patterns of energy in the room. Practically every building in the Financial District had wards – good wards, wards that I, a single spook working alone, could not hope to overcome in an emergency. These were enchantments laid down by the Adepts of the Inner School and other Masonic orders. They were beautiful, though, and playing my senses out along the elegantly formed strings of magic woven through the stone and metal was a satisfying distraction from the meeting I was sure to have.
“Hello, Mr. Gavrilyuk? Yes, this is Lisa… I have a Mr. Chiernenko here who would like to see you regarding one of his accounts, if you have time? He says it’s urgent. No, he’s alone. Alright, thank you. I’ll let him know.”
I turned as she hung up, and she smiled with double rows of laser-white teeth. “Someone will be out to see you in in just a moment, Mr. Chiernenko. Take a seat.”
“Thank you, but I would rather stand.”
She smiled again, a little woodenly this time, and then turned back to her monitor and keyboard.
Perhaps five minutes later, another woman strode around the corner from the same direction I’d first arrived, and pushed through the glass door separating the reception from the lobby outside. She was also well-dressed, her blond hair pulled into a tight bun. When she saw me, her eyes narrowed slightly.
“Mister Chiernenko?” She asked.
“Yes?” I cocked my head.
“Oh… I’m sorry. Excuse me for saying so, but I remember someone who was taller and… less well-built.” There was an uncertain lilt in her voice, green-yellow.
“That would be Nicolai. I am Roman Chiernenko. Nic is taller and I am wider,” I said, forcing a small, stiff smile and trying to make the most of my temporarily blue eyes.
Her face suffused with hidden laughter for a moment, and then she gestured with hand and head towards the door. “Yes, well, please come this way, Mister Chiernenko.”
The P.A – I assumed she was the P.A – led me back to the elevators. Yegor Gavrilyuk was a wealthy man and the Accounts Director of AEROMOR Shipping and Freight, and he didn’t work in the boiler room with lesser accountants and analysts; he had his own private suite. A well-insulated suite, in a building as old and solid as this one.
I was led to a solid oaken door in a gold-and-cream corridor. The P.A swiped her card, knocked, and then opened it a crack, but before she got too far, I gently touched her wrist with one gloved hand.
“Excuse us, please,” I said, meeting her eyes. “This is a sensitive matter.”
“Oh… of course.” The lady blinked and withdrew from the momentary contact.
After she was a good ways down the hall, I opened the door myself and then closed it behind me with a sharp click as Yegor stood up in alarm. The blood drained out of his face. His eyes widened.
“YOU! What are YOU doing here?” He pushed back from the edge of the desk, putting distance between himself and his chair. “I’ll call security, I’ll-”
“Tzain.” I spoke the word calmly, forcefully.
Energy thrummed through my gut and hands with a thrill of pleasure. The lights flickered; the door behind me made a grinding sound as the lock failed, short-circuiting, and every other electronic device in the room simply died. We were left in the confines of a strange, humming silence.
Yegor stared at me in desperate shock. He was a soft, paunchy man with a fleshy face, small eyes, and a fluff of brown hair. He had turned the same color as his yellow linen shirt.
“Please, Yegor Vladimiovich. Take a seat.” I motioned to his chair. “And put your hands on the desk where I can see them, or I will speak another word of power and boil your brains in your skull.”