He set his hand on the book’s cover. Sal hadn’t noticed before how the leather was discolored: most of it matched Perry’s skin, but a crimson bloom spread beneath his fingers. She heard a sound she couldn’t name: a footfall, maybe, or a whisper, very soft. Goose bumps chased goose bumps up her arms.
“Perry, who are the Bookburners? Do you think someone’s following you?”
“I thought you didn’t want to know.”
She leaned over the couch, over his shoulder, and checked through the blinds. Street still bare. Red Toyota pickup. Honda Civic. Garbage. E-Z Carpet Cleaner van.
“Please, Sal. They would have nabbed me on the way. They did not. Ergo, I wasn’t followed.”
“What the hell is going on?”
Someone knocked on her door.
“Shit,” Perry said.
“Jesus Christ, Perry.” She grabbed her phone off the living room table. “Who is that?”
“Mister Brooks?” The man on the other side of the door was unquestionably not Aiden—too old, too sure, too calm. An accent Sal couldn’t place twined through his words. “Mister Brooks, we’re not here to hurt you. We want to talk.”
“Shit,” Perry repeated, for emphasis.
Sal ran to her bedroom and returned with her gun. “Who are you?”
“I’m looking for Mister Brooks. I know he’s in there.”
“If he is, I doubt he’d want to see you.”
“I must talk with him.”
“Sir, I’m a police officer, and I’m armed. Please step away from the door.”
“Has he opened the book?”
“What?” She looked into the living room. Perry was standing now, holding the book, fingers clenched around the cover like she’d seen men at bay clutch the handles of knives. “Sir, please leave. I’m calling 9-1-1 now.” She pressed the autodial. The line clicked.
“Stop him from opening the book,” the man said. “Please. If he means anything to you, stop him.”
“Hello. This is Detective Sally Brooks,” and she rattled off her badge number and address. “I have a man outside my apartment who is refusing to leave—”
Something heavy struck the door. Doorjamb timbers splintered. Sally stumbled back, dropped the phone, both hands on the pistol. She took aim.
The door burst free of the jamb and struck the wall. A human wind blew through.
Later, Sal remembered slivers: a stinging blow to her wrist, her gun knocked back against the wall. A woman’s face—Chinese, she thought. Bob haircut. Her knee slammed into Sal’s solar plexus and she fell, gasping, to the splinter-strewn carpet. The woman turned, in slow-motion almost, to the living room where Perry stood.
He held the open book.
His eyes wept tears of blood, and his smile bared sharp teeth.
He spoke a word that was too big for her mind. She heard the woman roar, and glass break. Then darkness closed around her like a mouth.
© 2017 Max Gladstone, with permission from Saga Press
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