After abandoning his post with Sophie, Avery drove to Dr. Lewis’s veterinarian clinic and pulled up to the back entrance. He made a very polite, very menacing phone call to the proprietor while his partner sat in the backseat with Apollo’s head in her lap. She seemed incapable of following protocol; he’d reminded her three times to call the incident in to the Operator before she’d picked up her phone.
Miles would want to know. He wasn’t just a recruiter any more than Sophie just played with computers or Avery just enjoyed target practice. Depending on who you met, Miles was a brother, an uncle or a father. He was the heart and brains of the organization, and everyone knew it. Even the police knew it, which was why an untraced call to the Operator that would take hours to transmit would have to suffice for the bad news.
Avery waited, his gun cocked, and listened to the highway’s hum echo over from the Epstine Marshall Exchange. As the metal door cracked open, emitting a sliver of bright light into the darkness, he thought that the road out of Rochester had never seemed so far away. Avery leveled his gun at the veterinarian and watched the older man freeze on site, his muscles tensed for the anticipated shot.
And that was the problem with card holding citizens, thought Avery with a grimace of disgust. They’re all afraid of their shadows.
“What’s the word?” he called out the window.
“We don’t have time for this shit,” hissed Sophie from the backseat. With her silent vigil, he’d almost forgotten her presence.
“Allergies,” responded the man in a quavering voice, his eyes still closed tight.
Avery holstered his gun and stepped from the vehicle, glad to be free of the combined stench of urine and blood coming from the backseat. The alley, however, was no better. Night air pressed down heavy, combining garbage and animal stink with the various odors of the city itself. The result was a soupy air almost too foul to breathe.
The man scurried into action, seemingly immune to the noxious odors of the street as he carried half the burden of Apollo’s dead weight. The two men moved slowly, heaving the body between them step by step over slick cobblestones to the small gurney waiting inside the door. It was too small to hold the young man’s lean form; his limbs dangled over the edges as they wheeled him down the corridor.
Avery followed the small gurney while Sophie moved the car. The sterile room they entered was lined with stainless steel counters and unidentifiable equipment mounted on rolling racks. They set the body down, and then the veterinarian rolled Apollo onto his side. Human stench caught Avery hard, and he stepped back involuntarily; he’d seen what happened to men too weak to control their gut.
He hovered uselessly while Dr. Lewis cut Apollo’s bloody shirt away and prodded his torso for internal bleeding. The wiry man assembled monitors, scalpels and oxygen tubes designed for canines without glancing at his observer.
“How bad?” he finally managed to ask.
“Too weak for anesthesia,” the vet answered without looking up.
Avery nodded at the confirmation of his suspicions. Truthfully, Apollo probably wouldn’t feel it anyway. His face was nearly unrecognizable beneath the blood and swelling, though Avery had never seen him before anyway, and he would have needed a medic even without the stray round. At most the man would whimper; he was sure there would be no screams tonight.
Avery left before the scalpel had a chance to test his faith and found Sophie sitting in the half-empty kennel. She didn’t understand either, he saw. On the drive over, when he’d worked up the stomach to ask who Apollo Passos was, she had responded simply. He was the shadow of Hesiod.
Avery shivered now at the thought. The man was young, his face hardly one to be mistaken for a murderer’s, but everyone in the Family felt his protective presence like a woolen blanket to ward off the dead winter. He was a ghost, a man whose touch dropped men and women with fearsome impartiality and faded into darkness again without a trace, but he was their ghost. In the old days men might’ve hunted, marked, cursed and denounced him as evil, but the embodiment of death could never die; he was immortal, and he kept the wolves at bay.
At least, he wasn’t supposed to die, thought Avery, his eyes on the bloodstains spotting the hem of Sophie’s shirt. He wasn’t sure anymore. If shadows could die, maybe men could, too.