“You never fail to astound.”
Margrit was uncertain if Daisani meant humans in general or herself in particular, though as he raised a palm and added, “I know. You’re a lawyer. Everything is a negotiation,” she suspected the comment was meant for her alone. “Rescue the gargoyles. Margrit, do you deliberately set up dramatic deliveries or is it just fortune and happenstance? Never mind. I don’t want to know. You have my undivided attention, Miss Knight. Do go on.”
“Do we have a deal?”
“Oh, we most certainly do, as I wouldn’t miss the rest of this for the world. One rescue for one piece of priceless information.” Daisani finished his water and steepled his fingers in front of his mouth as Margrit explained the fight that had led to Alban and Biali’s capture by sunlight. “I do think you’re getting the better end of this deal, Margrit.”
“Which has happened exactly never in me dealing with the Old Races, so how about you let me have this one? Besides, your honor’s at stake here, right?”
“It is, but perhaps Alban would be so grateful for the rescue he would offer me what I want to know in exchange.”
“No.” Margrit’s certainty earned another questioning look from the vampire. “You can’t risk Alban being exposed. Being killed. His memories would go to the gestalt, and you don’t want that to happen. I’ve watched enough of your interactions to know he’s keeping secrets for you and Janx both.”
She knew considerably more than that, but Alban had cautioned her more than once about letting either vampire or dragon know she could sometimes access the remarkable gargoyle memories. Psychically shared, the repository held aeons of history, not just of the gargoyles themselves, but of all the Old Races, ensuring none of them would be forgotten to time. Alban Korund had set himself apart from his brethren to protect the secrets of two men not of his race, refusing to share any memories at all in order to protect one that might have changed their world.
Centuries earlier Janx and Daisani had loved the same human woman, and she had—perhaps—borne a child to one of them. Only literally within the last few weeks had the Old Races lifted their exiling law against those who bred with humans. Margrit was confident that neither Daisani nor Janx was sure their transgressions, hundreds of years in the past, would be given carte blanche now. Even if they were, she was equally sure they wouldn’t want their old secrets made public unless they controlled how and when. Alban’s premature death would simply send his memories back into the gestalt via the nearest gargoyle, and then everything dragon and vampire had worked to hide would be exposed to all the Old Races.
“You’ve learned to drive a hard bargain, Miss Knight.” Admiration and warning weighed Daisani’s words in equal part. Margrit allowed herself a nod, the same kind of understated motion she was coming to expect from the Old Races. A smile flickered across Daisani’s face as he recognized their influence on her. “How do you propose we retrieve our wayward friends?”
“I was thinking helicopters, speaking of dramatic.” Margrit pulled a face, then shrugged. “They won’t fit in elevators. The only other thing I can really think of is just getting security in there so nobody’s around at sunset. Anything else is going to draw a lot of attention to you.”
“To me.” Amusement lit Daisani’s voice, reminding Margrit of Janx. “Are you so concerned about my profile?”
“Only insofar as it seems probable that Eliseo Daisani taking an interest in a couple of statues on a rooftop would make the media interested in them, too. I’m going to kill them,” Margrit added under her breath.
“The media?” Daisani asked, polite with humor.
Margrit gave him a sour look. “Alban and Biali. Why they had to have a fight in human territory…”
“There is no other choice.” Daisani traced a fingertip over his glass’s edge, humor fled. “We’re obliged to live in your world, Margrit, either on its edges or in its midst. Our other choice is to retreat, and retreat and retreat again, until we’re mere animals hiding in caves and snapping at our brothers. It’s no way to live, and so if we’re to fight, to breathe, to sup, to speak, it must be done in your world. You may have stemmed the tide of our destruction, but I fear there will still come a day when we cannot hide, and so must die.”
“You fear,” Margrit echoed softly. “I didn’t know you could.”
“All thinking things fear. Sentience, perhaps, is facing that fear and conquering it rather than succumbing. A tiger will drown in a tar pit, but a man who can clear his thoughts may survive.” Silence held for a few long moments, disturbed but not destroyed by the sounds of traffic around them. Then Daisani shook it off, bringing his hands together with a clap. “If common sense prevails over dramatics, then security is the best option. Either way, I’m afraid my name may come into it. Your building manager will want an explanation for security.”
“Do you have a better idea?”
“Sadly, no. Vampires are quick, not strong, and even Janx would be hard-pressed to rescue a sleeping gargoyle.” Daisani’s expression brightened and Margrit found herself grinning, too, at the idea of Janx’s sinuous dragon form struggling to haul a gargoyle through the sky.
“Good thing humans don’t look up,” she said to the idea. “Alban says we don’t,” she added to Daisani’s quirked eyebrow. “Still, a news chopper would probably notice your company helicopters flying in a gargoyle statue.”
A smile leapt across Daisani’s face. “What if we give them something else to look at?”
“This afternoon, from atop the Statue of Liberty, legendary businessman Eliseo Daisani has called an impromptu press conference to announce the latest development from Daisani Incorporated’s charitable arm. We have news cameras in the air and a reporter on the ground—or as close as it gets when it comes to the high-flying philanthropist. Sandra, to you—”
Margrit, smiling, thumbed the radio function on her MP3 player off and dropped it into her purse. She’d spent the morning at her soon-to-be former office, filing papers and reviewing arguments with coworkers who were taking over her caseload. After four years at Legal Aid, being down to her last three days was in equal parts alarming and exciting. Her coworkers were merrily marking off the hours with a notepad affixed to the side of her cubicle. Every hour someone stopped by and ripped a page off. When Daisani called at a quarter to twelve, bright red numbers on the notepad told her she had twenty-one hours left in which to wrap up a career she’d imagined, not that long ago, would see her through another decade.
She tore off the twenty-one herself as she left the building. By noon Daisani had captured every news center in the city with his ostentatious announcement. “The Liberty Education Fund Trust,” he’d said deprecatingly, first that morning to her in the car, and then again to the newscasters. “So I can show people how far to the LEFT we’re leaning here at Daisani Incorporated.” It would be a hundred-million-dollar grant pool, available to any student seeking higher education whose family income was less than fifty thousand dollars a year.
The project, he’d assured Margrit, had been under development for months, and while it wasn’t yet ready to roll out, it was close enough to finished that an announcement could be staged. The program’s title combined with his own power got him hasty permission to make the presentation at the Statue of Liberty, and just as surely, that combination drew the attention of all the newshounds in the city.
Margrit, cynically, thought that the timing was convenient for the tax year, too, with April fifteenth on the horizon. But given that Daisani was helping her with an otherwise impossible situation—and, she reminded herself with a shiver, the price that would be exacted—she wasn’t in a position to cast stones. Suddenly grim, she hurried into Hank’s building, knocked on the manager’s door and opened it in response to his grunted reply. “Hey. Good news, I got some guys who’ll help me move the statues, and…What’s wrong?”
Hank’s glower was darker than it had been earlier. “Ran into Rosita awhile ago.”
Blank confusion hissed through Margrit’s mind, the morning’s details rushing over her in a jumble as she tried to sort out who Rosita was, and why it mattered that the building manager had seen her. Then dismay knotted her hand around the doorknob. Long, telltale seconds passed before Margrit mumbled, “You said I was with Rosita, not me.”
“Well, I’ve been all over the building now and nobody had a friend named Maggie staying over from out of town last night. And funny, nobody mentioned you knocking on their doors this morning, either.” Hank clambered to his feet, expression grim. “So you wanna start again with the whole story? Who are you, and how’d you get those things up there?”
“Are they still there?” Even whispered, Margrit’s question broke and cracked. “You haven’t destroyed them, have you?”
“Not yet.” Dangerous emphasis lay on the second word, but Margrit sagged with relief. “But if I don’t get an explanation, I’m calling the cops and then smashing those things to pieces.”
“Don’t do that.” Margrit cleared her throat, trying to strengthen her voice. “I’ve got a collector on the way to remove them. Are you the building owner?”
“Am I—what? No, I manage the prop—”
“Too bad. I’ve been authorized by the collector to offer a substantial cash payment for the statues. Perhaps you’d like to give him a call.” Margrit lifted her eyebrows and nodded toward the phone, trying to give the impression she was happy to wait all day. Hank couldn’t feel the coldness of her hands, or, she hoped, see the way they shook. There was nothing illegal about offering the man a bribe to look the other way, not when the gargoyles on the rooftop were their own possessions, not stolen or lost property. Her erratic heartbeat, though, didn’t believe her, and it took an effort to keep her expression steady as she watched the building manager.
He turned gray, then flushed with interest. “How substantial? I’m, uh, I make the decisions regarding the property, so you can just tell me….”
“Ah. I’m prepared to make an offer of twenty thousand dollars. Cash.” Margrit slipped her purse off her shoulder and withdrew an envelope, holding it with her fingertips.
Hank turned redder, flesh around his collar seeming to swell. “For a couple damned statues?”
“The collector has some familiarity with works of this size and feels it’s a fair offer.” Like Hank, Margrit had turned pale when Daisani casually unwrapped a billfold and began peeling off hundred-dollar bills. “Cash,” he’d said as he handed over considerably more than the amount Margrit had just offered, “tends to distract attention from most offenses. If your building manager proves at all recalcitrant, don’t bother negotiating.” Then he’d dropped a wink, adding, “Even if that is your specialty.”
“Sure,” Hank said hoarsely. “My boss’d be happy to let your guy take ’em.”
“Great. Should we call him to—”
“No! No, that’s okay, I’ll, uh, I’ll take care of it all, don’t worry. How, uh, how’re you getting them out of here?”
“Well, if you’re sure the arrangements will be to your boss’s satisfaction, I can have them picked up in…” Margrit turned her wrist up, looking at the watch she hadn’t been wearing earlier. “In about five minutes. I’ll need to go up to the roof, of course.” She tilted the envelope toward Hank.
His hands twitched. “Sure, yeah, whatever you need.” Margrit set the envelope on his desk under his avaricious gaze, and she heard paper rustle as she turned away. “Hey. Maggie. How did you get up on the roof?”
Margrit looked back with a sigh. “I flew.”
She took the elevator to the roof, not wanting to lose time to twenty flights of stairs. Even so, she had too much chance to consider the ethics of what she’d just done. Margrit nudged her purse open, looking at the second envelope she’d put the rest of the money in. Daisani’d handed over nearly seventy thousand dollars without blinking, and she’d accepted it as readily. There was nothing illegal to the transaction, but it made her spine itch between the shoulder blades, as if she’d begun the slow process of setting herself up for a fall.
And if that was the price for Alban’s safety, then she would spread her arms and plummet. It was an axiom that everyone could be bought, though her naive and self-righteous self would have said only a few months earlier that she couldn’t. The mighty had fallen, and for all the nightmares and regrets, Margrit wouldn’t change that if she could. There was too much heretofore unknown magic in the world, and learning of its existence was worth very nearly any cost. The moral high ground she’d stood on had far less appeal than living in Alban’s society, outside and above the rules of the life she’d known.
That was the road to hell, jaggedly paved with good intentions. Margrit pressed her lips together, wondering if Vanessa Gray had found herself traveling a similar path a hundred and thirty years earlier. She would have to ask Janx; Daisani would never answer. The doors chimed open and Margrit scurried to the roof, searching her purse for her cell phone so she could call the helicopter pilots and supervise the pickup.
She pushed the rooftop door open, drawing breath to give the go-order, but silence caught her by the throat and held her.
The gargoyles were gone.