The Weird Sisters, home of the Daughters of Hecate, was a punk club and it showed.
It was housed in an old two-story wooden building that had more than a hint of Greek architectural influence, with an arched, shingle-covered roof and a pediment carved with lithe, wicked looking figures in the midst of something obscene. At their center towered three solemn looking women in robes. In place of the frieze, the club’s name shone out in sharp angular letters of purple neon. It was covered, down to the windows, in peeling black paint. On either side tall brick tenements leaned in like conspirators. Presumably the people who lived in them couldn't afford to move anywhere quieter.
Lyfantod hung back in the shadows of an alley across the street, performing reconnaissance. Close to the center of town, the place was busy, even on a week night. Young rebels armored in skinny jeans, body-hugging leather, and spikes hung around the doors in noisy groups, venting clouds of foul-smelling smoke as people streamed steadily in and out of the church-like double doors. Ragged patches and pins proclaimed their loyalties; left no one in doubt of anyone else's world view. Nary a nose was left unpierced nor an eye unlined, and the shaved heads and mohawks were not limited to the men-folk. He could respect their appreciation for combat boots. They were practical and stylish.
There was a band playing inside, and Lyfantod could catch snatches of discordant melody and hoarse-voiced lyricism even when the doors were closed. If the Rose Buds looked anything like their poster, Lyfantod could understand why they were popular. Beauty and anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist world views did have a certain appeal. If his brief glimpses inside were any indication, the building was packed from wall to sweat-stained wall.
He shuddered to think what would happen if the zombies picked this minute to show. How many would die if Bones--for it had to be Bones, didn't it?--attacked now? The rush for the doors would become a stampede, and it would be no few of these children who survived the undead only to fall under the feet of their friends. Seeing it though, he knew he'd been right. This was the place. There was no way that the bloody Moon Boys were the target. Not with this going on at the same time. Maximum disruption. That was the game.
He had to warn them—but how to make them listen? They had no regard for authority. Regardless of the more complicated truth, they’d see him as a pawn of the System they loved to hate. Strawman. Cop. Private Eye. To them, it was all the same. He was a Tool of the Law. He was too old. Too square. He was still standing there in the dark deliberating when something hard and round pressed into the small of his back through the layers of his coat. He didn't think it was a flashlight.
“Allo, love,” breathed an impish female voice. “Be a dear. Turn around slowly, and don’t make any sudden movements.”
He managed not to jump, a feat for which he silently praised his steady nerve as he raised his hands and made a very slow, very unthreatening one-eighty. His eyes widened as he beheld the woman holding her little silver pistol pointed in the general direction of his small intestine. She was gorgeous.
Her head was shaved, except for the blood red mohawk, and she wore mascara like war paint. Her ears had been pierced countless times, her nose only once. Her shirt, if it could be called that, was open black mesh, through which he couldn’t help but see a matching black bra and a tattoo of two crossed daggers between her breasts. He wondered how she hadn't frozen to death. She wore skin-hugging black leather pants with a studded leather belt, and high-lacing black boots that added a few inches to her height. She was smiling, but not in a friendly way. Lyfantod tried not to stare. He wasn’t quite old enough to be her father, but he was quite old enough.
He considered his options and decided to go with cheek. “Rufio, I presume?”
She didn’t get the reference.
“It’s not safe to walk alone down dark alleys these days,” she said pointedly. “You never know what kind of predators might be lurking.”
“You’ve got the wrong idea,” said Lyfantod, hands still in the air. “I wasn’t lurking.”
“‘Oo said I was talking about you?” She shrugged, taking the gun off him for a brief moment. “But you must agree, it's a might suspicious to find an old toady in a trench coat standin’ conveniently where no lights happen to be. Havin’ a bit of a gander? Or just tryin' to work up the nerve to join the boys and girls at the party?”
“I’m not that old,” he said, stung as she gave voice to his own troubling thoughts.
She shrugged again. “So what’re you’re doing here?”
“I’m working,” he said.
“Must be some job,” she said, an eyebrow raised. “'Ow can I get paid for standing in alleys? Nothing unlawful, I 'ope.” Her eyes twinkled with dark humor.
He pointed toward his jacket pocket. “May I?”
“Long as you remember what I said about sudden movements, be my guest.”
Slowly and deliberately, Lyfantod reached into one of his many inner pockets and pulled out a business card, printed on dark-colored paper with silver foil. He carefully didn’t show her his gun. He handed her the card and she looked it over. The pistol never wavered. “Fancy,” she observed. “A private dick, huh?” She made to hand the card back.
“Keep it,” he said. “Maybe it’ll come in handy someday.”
She tilted her head sideways in acknowledgement of the possibility and slid the card into a back pocket. “Lemme guess,” she said. “Somebody’s mummy and daddy don't approve of their little darling’s dangerous lifestyle, and they sent you to… what? Make sure they don’t do anything too naughty?” She wiggled her hips as she said it.
“Not exactly,” he said. “I’m looking for the Daughters.”
“Now that does sound naughty,” she said. “Maybe you’re someone to worry about after all.” She winked at him, smiled with pointed white teeth. “Which daughters are you looking for?”
“The Daughters of Hecate,” he said.
She closed the distance between them faster than he’d have thought possible, her body pressing close to his—a fact that would have made him feel entirely differently if it weren't for the cold tip of the gun barrel pressing into his ribs. She looked up at him--her boots made her tall but he was taller still--with fierce dark eyes that were no longer smiling. “That’s a dangerous name to be throwing around, friend.”
He tried not to swallow too audibly. “So you know them then.”
“What’s it to you?”
“I’ve come to deliver warning,” he said, and the pistol dug even deeper.
“A warning from who?”
“And 'oo the hell are you, Pee Tee Lyfantod?” She’d seen the name on his card, of course. Points to her for pronouncing it correctly. "You know anything 'bout the Daughters, you'll know that the only reason I'm carrying this pistol is because it's a threat that simple folk will understand. But perhaps you'll believe me when I say that I don't need it to do worse to you than put a few extra holes in."
“I’m a private investigator, just like my card said. And I believe you’re in danger. Not from me.”
“You don’t even know who I am.”
“Not you specifically. All of you.”
“From a man far more dangerous than me. I’m on your side. If I tell you what I know, will you promise not to shoot me? Or turn me into anything with four legs?”
“No,” she said, but she took the gun from his ribs and backed away a few paces. “I’m not making any promises,” she went on. “Say what you 'ave to say. And if I don’t like what I hear? Well…” She thumbed back the hammer on the pistol with an audible click.
“Fair enough,” he agreed, massaging his stomach. “The man I believe you’re in danger from is called Aminus Bones. He—”
“Why would Bones come after us?” she interrupted.
“Wait a minute. You know who he is?”
“Course I fuckin’ know. There’s a bounty on his head that ol' Midas 'imself wouldn’t turn up 'is nose at. Shades, Thorne, and the Blue-Faced Boys all want to get their hands on 'im. Alive."
Lyfantod was nonplussed. “You know... a lot more than I expected.” He ran his half-frozen fingertips across a few days' worth of prickly stubble. "I guess that makes this easier. I assume that you also know he that he’s leading a horde of ravening undead? That he's been targeting large, public gatherings? You know, like...” He nodded toward the club.
“‘Eard rumors.” She squinted at him. “But what I don't know is what 'e would want with us. Got no beef with this bloke. Wouldn't know him from the bloody Queen 'erself.”
“Neither did any of the others. You ask me? He's making noise. He's plotting something, and needs a distraction to get it done. It started when he faked his own death... left that bloody mess at the school for everyone to find. Let them come to their own conclusions. That a spell had gone wrong. That he'd been murdered. Doesn't really seem like he cares what. And then he started raising the dead, and sending them after people. It would be easy enough to mistake it for random violence, if it weren't for the targets."
"Well, criminals." Lyfantod coughed. "Present company excluded."
That earned him a glare. "Nice theory. But you've left out why 'e's targeting us criminals."
Lyfantod considered that. "He's not just going after any old crooks or gangsters. He's going after..." he frowned. "I wish there was an actual word for this. People with some connection to magic."
"Havers," she repeated, exaggerating the "H."
She rolled her eyes. "There's those what have it, and those what don't. Those that do are 'avers."
This line of reasoning intrigued him. "And the rest are havenots?"
"Either that or call 'em muggles," she replied acidly.
Lyfantod tilted his head in acknowledgment. He gazed skyward. "Wouldn't it be better to call them knowers, rather than havers? I mean, as far as I can tell, there is some talent involved, but magic is more like... like playing the guitar. Anyone can do it, with a little know how. Not everyone's going to be Hendrix, of course, but even the worse of us can manage a few simple chords."
"Look, I didn't come up with it, and to be perfectly honest, I don't much give a damn. That's what they're called, and I don't see a reason to question it."
"And you--you're a... haver?"
"I'm a witch." She seemed to grow a little taller as she said it. "And you still haven't told me why you think Bones is coming here. I'm beginning to lose my patience. I'm beginning to think you're stalling."
"Well it's obvious, isn't it? Bones is up to something, and he needs the Guild out of the way to do it."
She made a rolling motion with the pistol. Go on.
"Think of it this way. They're the beekeepers and you're the bees. If he runs around kicking the nests up into a swarm, they've got to come and take care of it. The bigger the mess he makes, the thinner they've got to spread their already-limited resources. So he chooses groups with lots of members, who are most likely to play into his hands."
"What do the Daughters, the Thorne, the Nightshade Gang, and the Mountain Men all have in common?"
Lyfantod began ticking off fingers. “Well firstly, you hate each other pretty much universally. Which means if an attack comes out of nowhere, you're bound to suspect the others. You're quick to anger. Prone to violence. Contemptuous of authority. Consider the Guild's primary driving motivation."
"To stop bad guys."
"No," Lyfantod held up a finger, "that's number two. What they really care about is keeping the havers a secret from the havenots. The good ones and the bad ones. And all of the other things that the existence of havers would suggest. Faeries. Trolls. Ghosts." He tilted his head. "To be perfectly honest, I don't know why they care so much. The world might be a better place if everyone knew." He tilted the opposite direction. "Or maybe not. In any event, as far as the Guild is concerned, the lot of you are like... like secret dogs who hate each other, being kept in different rooms of a flat with no pets allowed. Bones comes after you. He gets you riled up, opens all the doors, and lets you do what you do best. You go to war, set things on fire, start... hexing things. It's bloody anarchy. Soon enough the landlord is breaking down the door, demanding to know where all these mangy, flea-ridden mongrels came from."
"In this metaphor, I would be a mangy flea-ridden mongrel?"
"And the landlord. That's the Guild?"
Lyfantod shook his head. "No, the landlord is normal people. The havenots, I guess. The police. Neighbors. The Guild is the renter of the flat. They're trying to keep the dogs secret and--"
She held up a quelling hand. "I get it." She stared at him in narrow-eyed silence, rolling her tongue back and forth across her teeth behind her black-painted lips. "You talk a lot," she said at last. "But 'ow do I know I can believe anything you say? 'Ow do I know you’re not working with Bones? Or Di Marco, or Bloody Angus? Maybe you’re tryin’ to do exactly what you accuse him of doing. Set us on the wrong trail.”
“No, no. I came here tonight because I don’t want any more people to get hurt. I've been trying to find this bastard for a week. He's killing people, and I've been hired to stop him. I have to stop him.”
"What would you've done if I 'adn't come upon you 'ere?"
"I'd have gone inside, found someone in charge and told them--"
"And yet I find you, lurking in the shadows across the street." She shook her head. "Bloody suspicious."
"I wasn't lurking! I was assessing the situation!"
"So you say."
"What do you want me to say?"
"I want you to tell the truth. And who knows," she gave a little shrug, "maybe you are. But maybe you're not. And right now, I have no reason to trust you and every reason not to."
"I'm telling you, Bones is coming here. Tonight!"
"See, when you say things like that, it makes me trust you less. Because I don't see any way for you to know that. Which makes me feel a lot more confident in my decision."
She raised the pistol and waved it at him, muzzle first. "To have you questioned. Now march."
"Go!" There was ice in her voice, and not an ounce of friendliness. The gun barrel moved from his belly to his forehead.
Lyfantod had no choice but to do as he was told. Hands raised, he turned and took a step toward the mouth of the alley, and the club across the street. He was flabbergasted. He really did think that he'd been getting through to her. That the facts spoke for themselves. “I’m telling you the truth!” he protested over his shoulder. “Damn it I came here to help you!”
“And I’m telling you,” she said, extending her arm fully so that the barrel of the gun was a few inches away from the bridge of his nose, “that if you don’t do what I say right fucking now, your only chance of walking out of this alley is if Bones decides he needs a zombie with holes in it.”
Lyfantod slumped, let out a heavy sigh, and turned toward the club across the street. It was as though the universe were mocking him. Why does doing the right thing always have to be so bloody difficult? None of the club-goers seemed to have noticed their back alley argument. As he walked sullenly toward the doors and the crowd, the pistol digging now into his kidney, he wondered petulantly why nobody ever, ever listened to him. Hadn’t he earned some damn respect by now?
As they approached, a bone thin, leathery, spike-studded punk called out to his captor. “Oi, Em! ‘Oo’s the geezer?”
He felt more than saw her wave with her free hand. “Just another of the uninitiated masses,” she called in a smiling tone, and pushed him ever more firmly forward. The black doors opened before them, once more loosing the strain of rebellion into the night. Inside was all sweaty bodies and strobe lights, an ecstatic disarray. "In your head, they are dyin!” wailed one of the girls on stage, “in your head, in your head…”
Em pushed him forward into the throng with the pistol in his back, but with her free hand pulled him backwards by the collar. “Make the wrong move,” she whispered, her breath hot in his ear, “and it’ll be your last.” They passed a long bar backlit with black light, manned by more beautiful, tough-looking punkettes, and then the stage where the Rose Buds screamed oppression and resistance. When they finally pushed free of the writhing sea of flesh at the back of the club, Lyfantod found himself standing before a black velvet curtain. Em gave him another shove. “Through there,” she shouted over the noise. “Go.”
Behind the curtain was a short hall leading back, and left. Another hall, another turn. Right, and down. A darkened stair leading down into the earth, unlit except for two dim, bare yellow bulbs at the bottom landing, on either side of a heavy wooden door covered in shallow carvings. Lyfantod had a sudden, powerful feeling that he didn’t want to know what was on the other side. How am I going to stop Bones if I'm tied up by these girls? His odds weren't great, but if he was going to make his move, the time was now. They began to descend. One step down, then another. He sensed her there, still behind him, still close. If he could get out of the line of fire, and just…
He bent his knees and dipped into a crouch, then as swiftly as he could, he threw a heavy elbow back and up with all his weight behind it, hoping to catch her in the stomach. He was quick, despite his injuries.
She was quicker.
The elbow caught nothing but air. Lyfantod landed gracelessly on his bottom, the steps above digging into his back and his arm. He cringed, waited for the gun to fire. Braced himself for the pain, his shoulders up around his ears, but it never came. He looked over his shoulder to see her face, a mask of anger; the gun held loosely at her side. Her voice rang out, louder than it should have been and painful to his ears. Clamorous, inhuman syllables rolled off her tongue like bricks. Something cold snapped in the back of the head where his spine met his skull, and he smelled purple. The world dimmed and he crumpled, tumbling down the stairs, only vaguely conscious of the moment he landed at the bottom. His perception of time grew disjointed. He knew not how long he lay there, senseless. Booted footsteps reverberated on the stairs for hours, growing louder and quieter at the same time. The last thing he heard before he fell entirely into oblivion was a single muttered word, dripping with disdain.