I was feeling pretty good about this one. I'd been hired by the mother of a teenage pyromancer. The talent ran in the family so he had plenty of training, but random fires were still popping up in his neighborhood and school and the authorities were eyeing him as a budding pyromaniac.
Turns out the kiddo had attracted a little flock of firebirds. They were pretty, but tended to set things that they roosted on for too long on fire. I'd caught and released most of them back into the Nevernever, but there was one large one that had escaped my first trap. Using a feather I'd yanked out of his tail I'd tracked him down to the Field Museum and cornered him and trapped him. He was trilling out a very unhappy song in the cage but, as is the way with birds, it was still pretty. Sure, a few corners of the room were blackened - firebirds, as you might guess by their name, can spew out little balls of fire kind of like a miniature dragon. But the building was not on fire and everyone was unharmed. All in all the case had gone really well.
There was a soft almost-sound behind me and I turned, half-expecting the rumored night-security guard to have finally caught me.
John Marcone stood leaning against one side of the door. It was a pose meant to look casual but I knew better. Marcone was always alert. The half-grin did look real though.
"I should have known. Where there's smoke, there's you." He pushed off of the wall and moved toward me. I sighed and picked up the cage, shaking it gently in his general direction.
"Why does everyone always assume that I'm setting things on fire? I've only burned down two buildings. The smoke's from the damn bird."
"Yes, yes. I'm certain. I would like to point out, if I may, that your two burnt down buildings are still two more than the average citizen can claim. And you've set fire to a great many more things that didn't have the poor luck to be entirely engulfed."
"Whatever. I didn't burn down anything tonight. We'll call that a win." I glanced around the room, checking for anything I might have dropped that could clue people in to my late night museum visit. "Hey, what're you doing here anyway?" I turned my gaze back to Marcone, focusing on his green eyes. It was nice, if such a word could be applied to anything having to do with a mob boss, to be able to meet someones gaze straight on.
"I have a key." He'd walked past me and was examining something that looked like a lump of rock to me but was under glass so I assumed it was at least an important lump of rock.
"Oh, of course. Of course you have a key. Why the hell do you have a key to a museum? A lot of arms deals go down in the pre-Etruscan exhibit do they?" Marcone sighed and straightened up, turning to face me.
"Harry," in that chiding voice he had, "the museum doesn't have a pre-Etruscan exhibit. You really should spend some time here. It's very educational."
"Don't call me Harry." But it was more automatic than anything else. "Fine. I still want to know why the hell you're here in the middle of the night."
"For culture." And his tone said, 'of course'. "I am a major donor to this facility and in return they are very understanding about my strange hours and the difficulties involved in my getting here during normal hours."
"You bought yourself a museum. I- I'm not even surprised." I shook my head and turned to walk out the door. The firebird, which had been still, chose that moment to fling itself against the magically reinforced bars of the cage. It was only the size of a chicken, but it was *strong*. Strong enough to pull me off balance. Surprise flickered through me and I tried to correct and wound up leaning too far in the other direction. I went down in a tangle of limbs, the cage slipped out of my hand and my head thumped into something much softer than the floor.
I closed my eyes and wished that I was somewhere else.
"Harry. I would appreciate it if you could get off of me." Marcone's voice was dry and empty. He was either laughing at me or pissed. I wasn't sure which option was worse.
I sighed and got my arms and legs under me, pushing up so I was crouched over Marcone. Feeling ridiculous at keeping my eyes shut, like some kid hiding from the monster in his closet, I pried them open. Marcone was sprawled on the floor, eyes hooded and staring up at the ceiling past my shoulder. Shit.
"Sorry." I muttered and pushed back, kneeling and then standing between his sprawled legs. Manners got the best of embarrassment and I reached down to help Marcone up off the floor. He took my arm without hesitation and rose, compact and graceful even from flat on his ass. It just wasn't fair.
Marcone started dusting himself off, still not looking at me and I left him to it, going for the stupid bird. The cage had held and the firebird was clucking in agitation, his bid for freedom having failed. True to my luck I'd managed to lose the cage right into one of the displays. There was glass everywhere and the dumb lump of rock Marcone had been checking out earlier was on the floor, cracked.
Great. Maybe no one would notice. I picked the cage up and pulled a face at the bird. "If it was up to me you'd be in a pot in an hour. Dumb bird." I leaned down and scooped up the rock.
"Well. Now we're more on track for you Harry. You've managed to inflict property damage." Marcone crunched over the shards of glass and reached for the rock. I pulled it out of his reach. Childish and yet still satisfying.
"Screw you. It's just a rock and technically the bird broke the case, not me."
"As you like." I glared at him. He was definitely laughing at me. I grumped and let him grab the rock this time. The electric shock that shot up my arm and down through my body was sharp and not painful enough to feel anything but good. I had a second to raise my eyes to Marcone's and see a reflection of shocked feeling in them and then the world dissolved into a green haze.