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Hell's Horizon tct-2

Darren Shan

  Hell's Horizon

  ( The City Trilogy - 2 )

  Darren Shan

  Shan’s second book about the City takes place during roughly the same time period as the first (Procession of the Dead, 2010) but features many new characters, only tying together events from both books at the very end of the story. Al Jeery is a dedicated soldier for the Cardinal and happy to do his job until the day he takes a body to the morgue only to discover it is his girlfriend. Asked by the Cardinal to investigate, Al takes on the duty, persevering through a complex and often seemingly impossible investigation. Like Procession of the Dead, this story takes place entirely within Shan’s fictional yet modern-day city, run by the Cardinal, but the plot is constructed in the fashion of a mainstream police procedural. With almost too many twists to believe, dozens of characters, and the complex mythology of the City itself, Hell’s Horizon is not an easy read, yet it may appeal to those who enjoyed China Miéville’s The City & the City.

  Darren Shan

  Hell's Horizon

  The City Trilogy — 2


  Bas, Biddy & Liam — my personal chakana

  OBE (Order of the Bloody Entrails) to:

  Helen Johnstone — the Paucar Wami of publicists


  Sarah Hodgson — the Ford Tasso of the present

  Simon Spanton — the Frank Weld of the past

  And all the villacs of the Christopher Little order

  prologue. “room service”

  In Room 812 of the Skylight Hotel a woman lay close to death. She was sprawled facedown across the bed, naked and lacerated. Her back had been cut to fleshy shreds. Dark blood seeped from the wounds, trickled down her sides and gathered in the folds of the crumpled sheets beneath. A spider crept across her face, sensed death and scuttled away to safety.

  A maid entered. A thick-limbed, middle-aged woman. She spotted the blood-drenched body instantly. Anyone else would have shrieked and bolted. But death was nothing new to this lady.

  Closing the door gently behind her, she moved closer to the body. A dripping knife lay on the floor close by. She was wearing plastic gloves but didn’t touch it. Instead she stood over the corpse, gazing down appraisingly.

  Kneeling, she pressed two fingers against the victim’s neck and checked for a pulse. Nothing. She was about to leave, when…

  A slight vibration. She prized an eyelid open. The pupil dilated in the light and when she took her finger away the lid twitched and the woman’s mouth moved a painful fraction.

  The maid frowned, then picked up the knife and scanned the wounds. She settled on one near the heart. Leaning over, she prized the flesh apart with her fingers, inserted the tip of the blade and wriggled it around in gentle circles, holding the woman down with her other hand, until she felt the body shiver for the final time.

  She checked the pulse, the eyes, the lips.


  The maid dropped the knife, went to the bathroom, rinsed the blood from her gloves, balled them up and pocketed them. She strolled to the door, opened it, mussed up her hair, took a deep breath, then let fly with a scream, bringing staff and guests running.

  part I. “she’s my girlfriend”


  Bill reeled in his line and switched hooks. We’d been fishing since Friday and all we had to show for our efforts was an undernourished trout we’d have thrown back any other time.

  “Reckon that’ll change our luck?” I asked.

  “Probably not,” Bill sighed, tugging at the collar of his jacket. He wasn’t enjoying himself. I was happy to sit and chill, but Bill was a demanding angler and grew impatient when things weren’t going his way. “I told you it was the wrong time of year.”

  “Quit moaning,” I retorted. “What else would you be doing? Reading or fiddling with fireworks in your cellar. At least here we can enjoy the fresh air.”

  “Long way to come for that,” Bill grumbled.

  “There’s the view too,” I noted, nodding downstream at the trees and fields. In the distance we could see the hump of the city’s skyline, but it didn’t distract too much from the beauty of the open countryside.

  Bill’s expression softened. “Know what we should do? Build a shack and move out. Fish from dusk till dawn.”

  “Sounds good to me, Huck Finn.”

  Bill smiled and jiggled his line. “We should do it.”

  “I’m with you all the way.”

  He sighed. “But we won’t, will we?”

  “Nope.” He looked so miserable, I had to laugh. “We’re city boys. We wouldn’t last pissing time living wild.”

  “Speak for yourself,” he snorted, but he knew I was right. Bill thrived on city life. Take him away from the metropolitan buzz and he’d shrivel up and die.

  We were silent awhile, thinking about the lure of the simple country life. Then Bill spoiled it all. “How’s The Cardinal?”

  “You know I don’t see much of him,” I muttered.

  “It’s not too late to get out,” he said. “There’s plenty of security jobs going. A man with your experience could make a—”

  “Bill, don’t.”

  He cocked an eyebrow at me. “Conscience pricking you, Al?”

  “We’ve been through this before. I like what I do. I’m not gonna quit.”

  “What if you’re asked to kill a man one day?”

  I sighed and stared into the cool night water.

  “Maybe you’ve already been asked,” Bill said softly.

  I maintained my silence.

  “Have you killed for that monster, Al?”

  I looked over at him. “You really want to know?”

  Bill chewed his lower lip, studied my face and shook his head. “No. Guess I don’t.”

  Bill was a cop. I worked for a gangster. Our friendship eased along nicely so long as we didn’t discuss work. He’d only raised the subject now because it had been a long weekend and he was irritable.

  I checked my watch. “Monday morning beckons. We’ll have to be on our way soon if you want to beat the rush.”

  “I should have taken the day off like you.” Bill sounded regretful. He reeled in his line and began dismantling his rod. Stood and gazed off at the city, then said, “Fog’s up.”

  I squinted and saw banks of thick green fog billowing over the roofs of the city like a dome. The city was famous for its mysterious green fog, which blew up at random and made a mockery of meteorology.

  “Great,” I groaned. “That adds a couple of hours to our journey.”

  “Roads are fairly quiet this time,” Bill said. “Shouldn’t delay us too long. Want me to drive?”

  “You drove coming. My turn going back.”

  “I know, but it’s my car — I don’t want you wrapping it around a tree. I’ll take the wheel if you’d prefer.”

  I shook my head. “I don’t mind.”

  “In that case, I’ll treat myself to another beer.”

  While Bill was cracking open a can, I began tidying everything away. It didn’t take long. I asked if he wanted the trout but he said I could take it. I put it on ice and loaded it along with the gear.

  I looked at the distant city again, which had all but disappeared under the fog. A stranger to these parts might have missed it altogether, mistaken it for a shrouded lake.

  “Looks like it’s down to stay,” I noted.

  “Yeah,” Bill agreed, rolling up a sleeping bag and sticking it in the back of the car. “Could be a bad one.”

  I hit bed as soon as I got back. Since I’d booked the day off to make a long weekend of it, I left the alarm off and slept in late, a luxury I rarely enjoyed. I woke about twelve and spent the next hour propped up on the pillows, listening to the sounds of the
street outside. It wasn’t as busy as normal — the fog kept a lot of people inside.

  I turned on the radio. A DJ was talking to a woman with piles. She was sick of the attached stigma. She wanted to build a society where people could discuss such matters openly, without fear of embarrassment. The DJ was on her side and invited listeners to call in with their own — as he elegantly put it—piles files.

  I surfed the airwaves. Found a couple of politicians arguing about the fog. One wanted to know why more wasn’t being done to make life easier for the citizens during times of siege. He wanted extra-strong streetlights, emergency buses and trains, home delivery services for the elderly and single mothers.

  I didn’t stick around for the counterargument. I’d heard it all before. You got these idiots on the radio every time the fog rolled in. If I kept on searching, I’d find a thin-voiced professor of whatever explaining how the fog formed, how long we could expect it to last, what the authorities should be doing to prevent future upsets.

  I switched off and went to the bathroom. Drank some water, dug out a good book, switched on my reading lamp and sat down for a couple of hours of glamorous molls and steel-eyed heroes.

  Early afternoon, I rang Ellen.

  “What’s up?” she asked.

  “Just checking if tonight’s still on.” We’d made arrangements to go for dinner together. The Golden Moon — I’d blow most of the week’s wages there, but Ellen was worth it.

  “Why wouldn’t it be?” she snapped.

  “You’ve been busy lately. I thought you might want to beg off.”

  “I have been busy but I’m no slave. I’ll make it. Meet you there at nine?”

  “Nine,” I agreed and she hung up.

  I called Nic next. She’d wanted to come on the fishing trip. Got in a huff when I told her it was guys only. I wanted to make things right but there was no answer. I let it ring till her voice mail cut in, then severed the connection — I hate leaving messages.

  I took the trout out of the fridge, stared at it and sighed. It seemed a waste of time, going to all the effort of cleaning and cooking a pissant fish like this. But I didn’t want to throw it away — I wasn’t raised to dump good food. So I set to work.

  As I was cutting off its head, I realized there was something in the trout’s mouth. Prying its jaws apart, I discovered a black ball. I dug it out, wiped it clean and held it up to the light. It was a pure black marble, with two golden worm-like squiggles down the sides. Puzzled — how had the trout taken the bait when its mouth was stuffed? — I laid it on a shelf over the bread bin and got on with the cooking.

  A few hours later, in the smart-casual clothes I kept at the back of my tiny wardrobe for special occasions, I hailed a cab and went to meet Ellen, my recently decreed ex-wife.

  The fog had started to clear, sooner than expected, so the cab made good time and I arrived early. I waited for Ellen in the lobby of the Golden Moon, which was a favorite restaurant of ours. The prices had escalated sharply since our courting days, but little else had changed. It was one of the few physical links we had to our happier past.

  Ellen arrived promptly at nine, looking her elegant best. She kissed my cheeks and gave me a hug. The eyes of the other men in the lobby were tinged with green. That was the great thing about dining with her in places like this — I might be shabby as a sheep in the run-up to shearing, but I still had the most beautiful woman in the city clinging to my arm.

  “You could have worn a suit,” she said critically as she let go of me.

  “If I wore a suit, next thing I’d have to start shaving regularly, washing daily and changing my underwear once a week.”

  “Horror of horrors.” She smiled, straightening my tie. “Did I buy you that shirt?”

  “Probably.” It was a dark purple satin number. Of course she’d bought it — I despised the damn thing and wouldn’t have worn it otherwise.

  “Suits you,” she murmured, then we headed up. A curt waiter directed us to our table. We ordered before sitting, without looking at the menu. In the old days there’d have been two or three bottles of wine to accompany the meal, but tonight we shared a bottle of mineral water instead.

  “Any luck with the fishing?” she asked.

  “Don’t ask,” I groaned.

  We discussed work — mostly Ellen’s, since she never enjoyed hearing about the Troops — and old friends. Not a word about my alcoholic past or all the times I’d let her down. Ellen wasn’t bitter or vindictive that way.

  It was my fault the marriage didn’t work. I was an asshole. Got too involved with work. Spent endless nights out drinking with the boys. Slept around. Treated Ellen like a cheap accessory. She didn’t need that shit. She was a beautiful, intelligent, career-minded woman who could have had her pick of men. She chose me when I was young and passionate, prepared to listen to what she was saying and be there for her. When I hit the bottle and acted like a prick, she dumped me, the way any sane woman would.

  The food arrived and we tucked in. We’d always shared a healthy appetite, so neither of us said much till the plates had been cleared.

  I glanced around the restaurant, noting how few of my own race were present. The city opens its doors to people of all colors and creeds, but if you don’t think there’s a wide dividing line between whites and blacks, you’re living in a dream world. In the Golden Moon — a place of money and style — I stood out like a drag queen in a church choir.

  “What’s the special occasion?” Ellen asked, burping lightly.

  “Nothing. Just fancied a night out with the woman of my dreams.”

  “Don’t bullshit me, Jeery,” she snorted. “I know how that mind of yours works — you don’t do nothing without a reason.” The double negative was an old joke between us. “Last time you invited me out on a date was the day our divorce went through. Need money? Representation?” She worked for a law firm, one of the best in the city.

  “You know I wouldn’t come to you for that,” I said, upset that she’d think such a thing.

  “I was joking,” she said, covering my big black knuckles with her small white fingers. “Don’t go getting precious on me, Al.”

  I smiled, turned my hands around and tickled her palms the way she liked. “Know what day it is?”


  “Six months since the divorce was finalized.”

  She frowned and calculated. “That was a Friday, wasn’t it?”

  “Yeah, but the date’s the same.”

  She shrugged. “If you say so. That makes this… what… a semi-anniversary?”

  “Yeah. I tried not to dwell on it, but the date got stuck in my mind and I felt we should commemorate it.”

  “You’re a strange guy, Jeery.”

  “Only figured that out now?”

  “This isn’t a ploy to win your way back into my good books, is it?” she asked suspiciously.

  “You mean get you drunk, harp on about the good old days and hope it leads to your place and a roll in the hay?” She nodded. “Absolutely.” I raised my glass of mineral water and clinked it against hers. “Drink up — a couple more of these and we’ll be flying.”

  “To flying,” she smirked.

  We lingered over dessert, reviewing the past six months. We’d been separated nearly two years by the time of the divorce, so it wasn’t as if we were raw from the rift. I’d straightened myself out and Ellen had forgiven me long before one of her colleagues drew the final legal line between us.

  “Find a woman yet?” Ellen asked as the meal drew to a close.

  “No one could replace you,” I said, giving her the doe-eyed treatment. She tossed her napkin at me.


  I thought of Nic and smiled. “I’ve been getting some action. Nothing meaningful. You?”

  She sighed. “The only men who chase me these days are married, middle-aged lawyers who think I’m easy because I’m a divorcée. It’s becoming a struggle just to get laid.”

  The waite
r brought the bill and I settled up, trying not to stare at the figure at the bottom. Ellen offered to go halves but I waved her money away. I hadn’t treated her much the last few years of our marriage. I owed her a meal or two.

  “Where are you off to now?” she asked.

  “Back to the apartment.”

  “Ali still working downstairs?” I nodded. “Tell him I’ll be by one of these days for a bagel.” As newlyweds we’d lived in the apartment block that I’d returned to following the dissolution of our marriage. We’d shared some good times there, poor as we’d been.

  “I’ll pay for the cab,” Ellen said as one pulled up in answer to her hail.

  “That’s OK,” I told her. “I’m walking.”

  “You sure? The fog’s still pretty strong in places. You might get mowed down.”

  “I’ll take my chances.” I kissed her cheeks. “See you, Ellen.”

  “Soon,” she said. “You don’t need to wait for special occasions to call. Get it?”

  “Got it.”


  We smiled, then parted. I watched the cab disappear into the fog, then went for a walk. Back home I collected the marble from the kitchen and took it to bed. I studied it for ages, running my fingers along the streaks of gold. I fell asleep with it in the palm of my left hand, but when I woke in the morning it was gone, and although I searched all over, I couldn’t find it anywhere. It seemed as if it had been lost to the shades of the night.


  Tuesday morning. Back to work.

  I cycled to Shankar’s for breakfast. One of the perks of working for The Cardinal — free meals at Shankar’s. I wasn’t a regular — most mornings I grabbed a bagel from Ali or a sandwich at work — but I liked to pop by a few times a week.

  I parked out back. My bike was my only means of transport. I cycled everywhere, unless on a job with the Troops. I started using it when I got busted for drunk driving some years ago. Enjoyed it so much, I stuck with it even when I got my license back.