Behind an abandoned furniture warehouse near Battery Street, they ducke_hrough a hole in the hurricane fence and stomped through weeds and smashe_lass to the back of the building.
Spyder, who had broken into more than his share of warehouses, spotted _mashed window near a rusting fire escape on the second floor. "Looks like w_an get in through an upstairs window," he said to Shrike.
Shrike was feeling her way along the back wall of the warehouse. When she cam_o a door, she jiggled the knob, but the door was locked.
"Hey, there's an open window," said Spyder.
Shrike kicked in the door with her big boots. Her cane had already flicked u_nd transformed into a sword. She held it in striking position as she strod_nto the warehouse. Spyder was impressed, but kept quiet.
"Stay behind me," she whispered.
"Rats. People. Shh."
The interior of the warehouse was a black hole decorated with a few grime_indows inlaid with chicken wire and decorated with graffiti. Shrike move_autiously, but quickly, seemingly sensing where the trash and broke_urniture lay and avoiding it. Spyder stumbled along behind her trying to kee_p.
"Is it all open down here or are there any rooms?" Shrike asked him.
Spyder tried to see as deeply as possible into the dark. "I can't see much, but it looks all open down here. I think I can see some offices upstairs."
Spyder led Shrike upstairs and she checked all the rooms until she found on_hat was still locked.
"Move back," she told Spyder.
Faster than his eye could register, Shrike bought her sword arcing down an_liced the padlock off the door. The lock clattered to the floor noisily. Hal_f it skipped way and rattled down the stairs. Spyder heard low voices fro_he edges of the room.
Shrike turned toward the darkness and leaned casually on her sword. "You'r_ll welcome to stay here, but anyone stupid enough to come through this doo_ill end up like that lock."
The interior of the office was dusty and littered with paper and rat turds. I_ooked as if it might have been a records office. Old filing cabinets stoo_gainst one wall along with a tilting, three-legged desk. Spyder had stayed i_orse places, but not recently. He described the scene to Shrike, who walke_rom wall to wall, pacing off the room.
"Would you push the old furniture into a corner?" she asked.
When he'd dragged the rusting junk out of the way, Spyder said, "There wer_ome old sofa cushions and maybe a futon out there. I'll go get them."
"If you want to sleep on mildewed trash, feel free. I prefer something clean."
Shrike had her pop-up book open to a page that, in the dark, looked like _cene from The Thief of Baghdad. She whispered a few words and the storag_oom was flooded in light and warmth.
The light came from burning braziers set at each corner of the room. Th_loors were covered with Persian carpets and bright pillows. There was a_normous bed against one wall and storage vessels and cabinets against th_pposite. The place smelled instantly of incense and spices.
"Welcome to my home away from home," Shrike said.
"When I was five, I had a metal folding cup that I thought it was the cooles_hing in the world," said Spyder. "But I was wrong."
"I'm glad you like it. You're my guest. Please sit down. Are you hungry?"
"Now that you ask, yes."
Shrike dropped her coat and sword onto the big bed and went to the cabinet_ithout hesitation. Spyder sat down on the edge of the bed watching her sur_ovements. Even though it was occupying an alien space, he thought, this wa_learly her room.
"I've been on the road for a while, so I'm not really Suzy Homemaker thes_ays," said Shrike, opening and closing the cabinets. She came back to the be_ith a couple of bundles. "All I have is some wine and focaccia."
"The breakfast of champions," Spyder said.
"My glasses are all broken, so we're going to have to share the bottle,"
"That's okay. It'll give me a chance to look butch for once tonight."
Shrike smiled and sliced the wax and cork from the top of the bottle with th_dge of her sword, then handed the wine to Spyder. It tasted like wind felt a_he top of a hill on a summer night. He handed the bottle back to Shrike.
"Wow," he said.
Shrike took a long drink. "Don't forget to eat, too. Give it a chance, an_his wine will leave you half-naked, shoeless and wearing a dog collar, wit_nly a vague memory of how you got that way."
"Does the wine have a sister?"
Between bites of spicy focaccia Spyder said, "You're not at the Coma Gardens.
How is your client going to find you?"
"You're not much like most girls."
"I'm going to take that as a compliment."
"That's how it's meant."
"Slow down on the wine, pony boy. You don't want your mouth getting too fa_head of your brain."
"How long have you been living like this? Out of your little magic book?"
"A long time. Since… Almost half my life."
"You and your business partner, the one I'm standing in for."
"He'd be the one."
"What happened to him?"
Shrike chewed with great deliberation for some time. "He was killed b_ssassins. Hellspawn."
"You don't ever do anything halfway, do you? It's not enough that your frien_ot iced. He was done in by hell's hit men."
"I didn't ask for an exciting life, believe me. I crave boredom."
"I know the feeling."
"I don't remember what seeing is like," Shrike said.
"You used to be able to see?"
"Yes. After I went blind, I could still remember things. Colors. Moonlight. M_ather's face. It's all gone now, though."
"When you cut that lock, I thought you were playing me. A pretty girl jus_retending to be blind to look less dangerous."
"You're not the first person to think that," she said, and took off he_hades. "But I really am blind."
Spyder looked at her for a long time. He wanted to be sure that what he wa_eeing wasn't a trick of the fire light. Shrike's eyes were fractured, lik_racked glass. The misshapen pupils were ants trapped in amber. Shrike's eye_ere bright, but dead.
"That can't be natural," he said.
"I was cursed."
"The bastard lover you talked about?"
She nodded. "It's a story I don't feel like telling right now. " Shrike dran_ore wine and lay back on the bed. "I've answered enough questions for now.
Tell me about you, Spyder Lee."
"I'm a Leo. I like wine and focaccia, Seventies Kraut-rock, and I dig chick_ith their own swords." Spyder lay down next to Shrike and kissed her hand.
She let him, he noted, but a moment later she put her hand on his chest t_eep him from going any further.
"Slow down, pony boy."
"Sorry," he said. "To answer something you asked earlier, I'm not Spider Clan.
Or, Hell, maybe I am. My father loved cars and he loved James Dean. I'm name_or the model of Porsche Dean raced. It's also the car that killed him."
Shrike laughed. "You're named for a dead man's car?"
"I think the saddest day of my father's life was when I saw my first Jame_ean movie and only thought it was okay."
"What did he do?"
"Nothing. We already had some problems, then he just sort of lost interest i_e. He wasn't mean or anything. We just didn't ever talk much after that. _hink I broke some kind of sacred bond I didn't even know was supposed to b_here. It was his own fault. He took me to see Journey Into Fear. The old ma_ad James Dean, but on my planet, Orson Welles was the man to be."
"I've heard of him. Tell me more."
"Citizen Kane's still the greatest movie ever made. People don't even kno_hat it's a pure special effects flick. It all looks so real, so natural. Yo_ever stop believing you're watching the rise and fall of the richest man i_he world. And Journey Into Fear. Most people haven't even heard of that one.
Welles directed it, but didn't get a screen credit. He was just a little olde_han I am now and was already washed up in Hollywood. He plays a Turkish cop.
He looked ten feet tall. I wanted him to be my father and I wanted to be hi_t the same time." Spyder sat up and fumbled in his pockets for a cigarette.
The wine had left him light-headed, but happily so. He found half a pack o_merican Spirits and lit one. Shrike held out two fingers in a V shape. Spyde_laced the cigarette there. She took a drag and handed it back to him.
"I always wanted to do something like Welles," Spyder said.
"Be washed up at an early age?"
"No, dummy. Do something great. Something permanent. Even if it was just a ne_attoo style. Something that would tag some little part of the universe that _ould point to it from Heaven or Hell and say, `I did that.' That's mine."
"And here you are, huddled in a warehouse with a blind stranger surrounded b_noring winos."
Spyder brushed stray hairs from Shrike's face. "I'm not complaining."
"What's it been, two minutes?"
"Thank you for pointing that out, princess. Okay, I told you my shameful fil_eek secret. Tell me yours."
"You already guessed it. I'm a princess."
"Like with a crown or did your daddy just dote on you?"
"Both. I even had my own castle. Well, a wing of my father's. Before it al_ame down around us."
"Let me guess: the bastard lover?"
She nodded. "He was a general in my father's army. Unfortunately, we were in _eriod of prolonged peace. Without anything to conquer, some generals can gro_estless. When he wasn't screwing the king's daughter, he was studying magi_ith the most powerful wizards he could bribe or blackmail. He studied har_nough that he became a powerful wizard himself. Powerful enough to depose m_ather, throw my lands into chaos and make himself king."
"Damn. He's still running things?"
"No. He went completely mad. Some of his senior officers were still san_nough to see this. They banded together and killed him, burning his body an_cattering his ashes in three different oceans."
"Why didn't you go home?"
Shrike frowned. "He still has potent allies in power. And I don't even have _usiness partner, much less an army." Shrike held out her hand and Spyde_gain placed the cigarette in her fingers. She smoked quietly. "I didn'_ntend to tell you because I thought you'd laugh at a princess caught up in _asty little fairy tale."
"How does the fairy tale come out?"
"The princess dies," said Shrike, handing the cigarette back to Spyder. "I_he story goes on long enough, that's how they all end. It's what happens i_etween that matters."
"I never kissed a princess before."
"You think you're going to kiss one now?"
"Pretend I'm a ten-foot tall Turkish cop. That's your type, right?"
Shrike laughed and when Spyder leaned down to her, she didn't pull away.
Spyder felt her hand in his hair and she kissed him back hard, as if sh_adn't kissed anyone in a long time and had missed it. She rolled on top o_im, grinding her crotch into his as they tasted each other's mouths. Spyde_lipped his hands under her shirt, sliding over smooth skin and hard muscle, to cup her small breasts. Whatever cord or clasp was holding Shrike's hai_ack came undone. Her hair fell in fat dreads and braids halfway down her bac_nd brushed Spyder's cheeks. Mostly black, her hair was streaked purple, crimson, yellow and grasshopper green. Spyder rolled Shrike onto her back an_inned her hands above her head. He kissed her and ran his tongue down th_ide of her throat. When he bit her shoulder, her legs wrapped around him an_queezed. Spyder felt her shudder.
Shrike broke her hands free and took Spyder by the shoulders, telling hi_ravely, "I am a princess and I order you to take off every stitch of clothin_t once."
Happy to play the diplomat, Spyder did exactly what he was told.
Later, covered in sweat, focaccia crumbs and spilled wine, Spyder kisse_hrike on the neck and said, "Tell me more about the princess biz." Shrike wa_urled against his side, her head tucked into his neck. "Is your kingdo_omewhere I would have heard of?"
"No. It's not even in this Sphere. Where I'm from, magic runs the world. You_phere built the internal combustion engine. In mine, we transmuted gold int_ead."
"Do you miss it?"
"I miss my home. And my father."
"Did he escape?"
"He's dead. I don't even know where he's buried."
"What about your mother?"
"My mother died when I was born. I never knew her."
"Sorry. What's the best and worst part about princessing?"
Shrike thought for a moment, running a hand idly around Spyder's nipple. "Th_est part was the shoes and learning to fight. The worst part was stat_inners where you had to be charming with a full mouth."
"Did the princess have a horse named Princess?"
She pinched his nipple. "I didn't call my horse Princess because he wouldn'_ave liked it. He was a hundred shades of gray and terribly sick when he was _olt. I nursed him and when he grew strong, I named him -Thunder."
"Thunder is just the boy version of Princess."
Shrike bit his ear.
"Why was your partner murdered?" asked Spyder.
"I don't know."
"Was it for someone you two killed?"
"Does it have something to do with this new client?"
"I honestly don't know. But, yes, it could."
"Peachy," said Spyder. "By the way, when this is all over, can I tattoo m_ame on your ass, princess?"