4pm. At a benefit event at the American Museum of Natural History with Clara Spark – cool marble and ice-cold drinks to counter a city sweltering in its own heat.
Among languid discussions of art, culture, melon drinks, and other inconsequentials were discussions of the SS California, the ocean liner whose crew went on strike for wage negotiations while out at sea, holding the cargo hostage. No passengers, thank goodness. Uncivilized.
There were a number of cronies from the Scarlet eye there. Conversing together for the most part. One I’d never met before, slippery as hell, very hard to pin down to meet him. Eventually I managed — Darren Von Harrod. American, late 30s or early 40s. Pleasing to the eye, distinguished touch of silver at the temples, filled out his tuxedo nicely. Socially skilled beyond reason. Practiced, at the very least, if not studied.
Clara spotted David Drake wandering off by himself. We thought it at the same time: a professional art thief might be a liability wandering around alone in the museum. We decided to go say hello. No need for that sort of excitement. Far too hot for it.
David said someone had reduced the security in the wing he’d just entered. Wires clipped, cases pre-jimmied. I wandered back to the banquet area, intending to notify security. Instead: pandemonium. 80 guests being held hostage by 20 waitstaff with scimitars.
Scimitars. It bears repeating.
I backed away, but not as silently as I would have liked. Two of the men with knives pursued me, I went soft-foot and lost them by the wooly mammoth.
David opened the locked door to the security station. Planned to call the main security office. Inside was a guard, dead, cut throat. Not as much blood as you’d expect. A half-drunk bottle of rye, a rag newspaper, and a crank telephone.
Clara called the main office, made her report, and hung up. Heeding a nagging doubt we all felt, we left the office immediately.
5 people arrived – 4 armed waitstaff and Mr. Von Harrod. They looked for us, but Von Harrod was impatient and told them to stop delaying. The waitstaff started scooping jewels into sacks, while Mr. Von Harrod opened the case for the DeLong Star Ruby. He tucked the ruby into a velvet-lined box. Had clearly brought the box just for that one piece.
Clara and David and I were all at one end of the hallway from the thieves. Realizing that they had a clear getaway down the other end of the hall, I sauntered around in the other direction, looping back to the main area to try to cut them off there. Pulled together a few knicknacks from my bag as I walked. Improvised a little something.
I heard a few shots go off — Clara doing her job.
Soon I heard footsteps running toward me. Von Harrod, with his briefcase. I held up my toy and suggested he stop. Said I didn’t have a particular attachment to what he’d stolen. He got what I meant.
Either Von Harrod knows explosive devices far better than your average socialite, or he knows about my private hobbies, or something about a woman threatening him with a tangled ball of whatnot gave him pause. Regardless, he skidded to a stop. Put the briefcase down and let Clara handcuff him.
He gave up too easily. Obviously had the cops firmly in his pocket. I’m content not to have blown him up – it would have been a shame to destroy the ruby, and I’m not so callous as to enjoy killing people, and the IED came in handy a short time later. I’m callous enough to wish Clara had shot him in the knee, though. Smarmy bastard.
After we turned Von Harrod over to the cops, one of the unfinished skyscrapers across Central Park started glowing. Crimson. There was a thunderclap, and a red pulse, and the first rain we’ve had in weeks began sheeting down
David and Clara and I ran across the park to the building. Clara might perhaps have been distracted by the bodies on the ground. I might perhaps have scooped up a few handfuls of jewels that lay scattered nearby. They were pretty. And they might be just the components I end up needing. You never know.
Took the elevator to the top of the building. Several armed goons, some scientists calibrating a machine, and Lotus Flower and Tommy Tungsten there facing off against them. Sheets of rain pounded the deck, gusted by wind. Red lightning started to strike the building. Intermittent at first, then more regularly. Seemed like the goons at the dials were controlling the strike frequency with their machine.
The building vibrated with a noise like the inside of an enormous bell.
Clara voiced my opinion that the machine had to go. I was about to toss the IED I’d made at the museum when Tommy jumped in to try to save the operator. Now, I don’t love killing people, but here was my math: a few fellows, who have clearly made poor life choices, versus goodness knows how many people in the city affected by whatever mischief glowing towers and controlled red lightning strikes foretell. Also, versus our lives, because I don’t know how long that building would have withstood the repeated strikes. Looking at it that way, they were dead men anyway. I just wanted to save the rest of us.
Tommy grabbed the guy, and the momentum and the wet deck sent them skidding toward the edge of the building. David grabbed Tommy, but that just meant three of them would go over. I made eye contact with David. He got the message. Reached up to grab the grappler out of the air as I threw it to him, just as they went over the edge.
Clara and Lotus Flower engaged the men with guns, which took the attention of the flunkies at the machine away from their task. I wandered over and wedged the explosive in against the ruby that seemed to be at the heart of it. Ducked away. And —
Explosion. A reverse red shockwave. The rain and lightning stopped as abruptly as they’d started. The red glow and humming faded more slowly.
Across the cityscape, the other towers glowing red also faded back to steel.