Author: Chris Cook
Tara was deep in thought as the elevator clanked up two floors. The Shadow - she had heard that name before, a rumour someone had been talking about. It had been in the papers, but she hadn't read it at the time, and had little memory of what the story had been. She vaguely recalled some suggestion among her acquaintances at the club that the papers were making it all up.
The elevator shuddered to a halt and Tara pulled the iron gate open. She didn't notice at first that all the hall lights were on, instead of the single lonely bulb that normally remained on during the night, but a movement from ahead of her drew her attention back to her surroundings, and she stopped having only taken a few steps from the elevator.
Two policemen were standing in the hall, between her door and that of her neighbour Robert. Both doors were open, and the lights in Tara's apartment were on. Robert and the policeman he was talking to both looked up and saw her, while the other disappeared through her door. Robert nodded and spoke to the policeman, who turned to meet her as she hurried to him.
"Miss Tara Maclay?" he asked. She nodded. "I'm Officer Walters. Is this your apartment?" he went on, jerking a thumb over his shoulder at the open door.
"Yes, w-why? What's-" she began. Walters sighed.
"Ma'am, I'm afraid you've been burgled."
Tara gasped, and sidestepped Walters. He stepped in behind her as she crossed the threshold, looking around at the open drawers, the scattered books, papers and mementos that had been on the shelves and tables.
"I'm sorry Ma'am," Walters said quietly. The other policeman was dusting the sill of the main room's only window. Out of the corner of her eye, Tara noticed him nod to Walters.
"My partner's just about finished with the forensics," he said, "if you could just make a quick visual inspection, see if anything obvious is missing? We'll fill in the rest of the details later. Oh, let me know if there's anything heavy that needs lifting."
"Thank you," Tara murmured, stepping gingerly across the floor. She picked a diary out of a pile of books that had been swept off a shelf, and placed it gently on a side table. She checked her bedroom, finding the shelves and drawers there similarly emptied - except the dresser beside her bed. Only the top drawer was open, its contents dumped unceremoniously on the bed. The other drawers remained closed, and so far as Tara could tell when she checked them, had been completely undisturbed. A suspicion reared in her mind. She sifted through the collection of items on the bed.
"I had a book," she said to Walters, who remained respectfully outside the bedroom, "a-an antique, I suppose. Very old. It's gone."
"What did it look like? Would it look valuable to a thief?" Walters asked. Tara considered this.
"I guess so," she answered, "i-if they knew anything about books. It's about this big," she gestured, "leather-bound, with silver brackets. There's a picture of a gate on the cover. The text is in Latin."
"No kidding," said Walters, jotting notes on his pad. "Never even learned French, myself. Well, I'll wire the description in, if we pick up anyone carrying it we'll bring them in. We'll need to do a proper report, but that can wait a while. Can you come down to the precinct house tomorrow?" Tara nodded. "Okay, just go to the desk and ask for me, Officer Walters. It's real unlikely a thief like this would come back, but we'll leave a man outside on the street just in case. Try to get some rest."
Tara thanked the two policemen and saw them to the door. Robert offered to help repair the damage the thieves had done, but Tara declined, given the late hour and the fact that there was nothing really to do except put things back on shelves and in drawers. He wished her a good night and vanished across the hall, suppressing a yawn. Tara picked a few particular valuables out of the mess, then decided to leave it until the morning. With a final check of the door and the latch on the window, she retreated to the bedroom.
The Eleventh Precinct house was an old stone building buzzing with activity. Tara navigated through the main hallway, keeping out of the way of hurrying clerks and policemen, until she reached the main desk. After waiting for a harried-looking businessman to finish, she made herself know to the officer on duty and asked for Walters.
She was led beyond the reception area, between rows of cluttered desks where officers were interviewing people, or scrutinising reports, until they came to an empty desk where she was given a seat and asked to wait. She glanced at the pages scattered across the desk, then caught sight of Officer Walters across the room. He greeted her, informed her regretfully that her missing book hadn't turned up, and spent a few moments taking details and asking routine questions.
Just as the interview seemed to be drawing to a close, another officer stopped beside Walters' desk and bent down to talk to him, in a low voice that didn't quite carry to Tara across the background buzz of the precinct. Walters nodded, excused himself to Tara, and left, leaving the new policeman to take his seat. He was quite young, and capable-looking.
"Morning Ma'am," he began, all professionalism, "I'm Officer Alexander Harris. Sorry about that," he nodded over his shoulder, "but there's a chance your case might be linked to a case I'm working on. If I could just take a few moments of your time?" Tara nodded. "Thank you," he went on. "Now, this antique book that was stolen, could you describe it in more detail please?"
Tara was about to answer when something caught her attention. Harris had produced a notepad as he talked, and rather than rest it on the desk he kept it in his right hand, with a pen in the other. It was arranged such that Tara could clearly see the hand holding the pad, and on the forefinger of that hand was a silver ring, with an emerald set in it. Tara stared at it for a moment, then fixed her gaze on the man's eyes. She raised her own hand to her mouth, and faked a cough. Harris glanced deliberately at her hand, with its emerald ring, and then nodded slightly.
"It's called the Codex Nocturnus," she said quietly. "It was a gift from my mother, a-and before that my grandmother had it..." she paused, not really wanting to go into detail about her family. "It's about mythology," she resumed, "the afterlife. The spirit world. That sort of thing."
"I see," said Harris. He leaned back in his chair. "We'll certainly keep a look out for it, Ma'am," he went on, returning the notebook to his pocket and standing up. "Thank you for your help, we'll take it from here. Oh," he said, just as he was about to leave, "if you're interested in antique books, the State Museum has a collection you might enjoy. I recommend it," he added, slipping the pen back into his pocket - the emerald on his finger glinted.
"I'll do that," said Tara, slightly bemused. Harris smiled and escorted her to the reception area, then disappeared back into the workings of the precinct.
Tara stopped for lunch at a café near Central Park, then crossed the parkland and arrived at the State Museum on the other side. The imposing Greek-style building looked more like a temple than a museum, aside from the banners advertising the exhibition of a collection of relics from the pyramids of Egypt. Tara made her way past the queue of excited children and chattering academics lined up to see the Pharaohs, and finally arrived on the second floor, which was relatively deserted. Only a snoring caretaker and a handful of quiet visitors moving from room to room disturbed the silence. Tara made her way to the rare books section, where the volumes were displayed in glass cabinets. She looked around, but the room was empty. On a hunch she scanned the books on display, wondering if the museum somehow had a copy of the Codex.
She jumped as a hand reached out from beside her, holding a book. She turned to see the Shadow, cloaked and masked, standing in the gloom between the shafts of afternoon sun shining in the tall windows.
"Y-you could just say hello," she said, recovering herself. The Shadow chuckled.
"Force of habit," she said. "Recognise this, Miss Maclay?" Tara turned her eyes back to the book held out to her.
"The Codex- wait, this isn't mine." And indeed it wasn't - the leather was darker, and the bracket at the right hand side of the top of the cover was as smooth as the others binding the cover, missing the tiny dent Tara's copy had picked up somewhere years ago.
"From my own collection," the Shadow explained. "Ssh!"
A visitor had wandered into the room, and seeing Tara he nodded politely. He seemed oblivious to the black-clad figure at her side, and turned his attention instead to the cabinets in front of him. The Shadow moved silently behind Tara and turned back to her, catching her eye. She nodded towards the doorway, and Tara followed her out, down the stairs and out of a side door, into the shady grove behind the building.
"Rare books doesn't often have visitors," explained the Shadow.
"But... he didn't see you?" asked Tara.
"But he saw you," the Shadow replied, "and a woman talking to herself tends to draw some attention."
"How do you do that?" asked Tara, leaning this way and that to see her mysterious benefactor from other angles. She seemed quite solid.
"A long story," she answered, looking off across the treetops of the park. Her gaze turned back to Tara. "But perhaps you should know some of it. I am trusting you to keep an important secret." Tara nodded earnestly.
"Hypnotism," the Shadow explained, "the power to cloud men's minds. Your eyes see shapes, colours, contours and edges, and your mind assembles this information into the familiar world we see around us. If the mind can be convinced that some of that information is false, a person can look right at me and never know. Stage magicians use a soothing voice, and the focus of a pendulum. But if the power is strong, and concentrated enough, there doesn't need to be a focus, or even a voice. The suggestion is enough."
"You're talking about telepathy," said Tara, understanding. "You can do that? Put a suggestion like that in someone's mind without them even knowing?"
"Yes," said the Shadow. "You've seen me vanish, last night. I thought that was an isolated incident, but I may have been mistaken. According to the police report, and my agent at the precinct, your apartment was searched, with the specific aim of finding the Codex Nocturnus, at exactly the same time you were abducted. I don't believe in coincidence, Miss Maclay."
"The man in the taxi," said Tara, "he didn't want money."
"No," said the Shadow, "he wanted you. But why? Something to do with the book. It was your mother's, and your grandmothers?"
"And now yours," the Shadow continued, "the Book of Night. Passages describing the afterlife, other realms, forms of ghosts, souls, spirits. Do you believe in magic, Miss Maclay? Not hypnotism and suggestion, but real magic?"
"I," started Tara, unsure of herself, "I suppose... yes. My mother... taught me, a little. I can do a few things, nothing much, not wizard-stuff! But, blessing, fortunes, auras... yes, I believe."
"And you know what the Book of Night could allow a person to do, if that person had the necessary skill?"
"Yes," breathed Tara, "they could see the spirit realms. Touch the afterlife. But, I've never..." she trailed off.
"That's powerful magic," the Shadow said softly, "dangerous, if misused. I don't like the conclusions I draw from this. Someone wanted your gifts, as well as your book. For what use, I'll have to find out."
"D-do you think I'm in danger?" asked Tara. The Shadow look at her intently.
"You'll be safe," she said, placing a hand on Tara's shoulder. "I'll make sure you're safe."