The building was a stone, steel, and glass spire the likes of which New York had never seen. It simply appeared out of nothingness on the Winter Solstice between the Langham and the Dakota on Central Park West. Up close, it appeared to be like every other high-rise apartment complex in the neighborhood. The farther you backed away from it, however, the more it took on the appearance of a medieval fortress tower perched atop a craggy bluff. At its appearance, everyone from the neighborhood committee on up to the Offices of the Mayor and the Governor of New York got involved in investigating how it got there without anyone knowing about it, where the extra land to fit it came from, who authorized the permits, who built it (and with what labor!, the unions demanded to know), and who owned it. What baffled everyone who looked into the mysterious building was that there were people who already lived in the beautifully eerie edifice. People with personal histories and legal identities that were unimpeachable and, as far as they knew, the Storm Tower was always there.
The Storm Tower. That was what it came to be called because every storm that came through seemed to batter the seemingly invulnerable spire thrusting into the cloudy skies with dazzling displays of Mother Nature’s fury in the form of incandescent streamers of lightning that did not stop until the storm passed. Meteorologists began noticing that every storm to pass over New York City seemed to linger, as if attracted by some weird weather magnet, over the exact spot where the Tower was located on their maps. Lightning strikes to buildings like the Chrysler and the Empire State Building also fell drastically from the time New Yorkers noticed the Tower’s existence. Eventually, people found other things to worry about and New Yorkers did what New Yorkers do: ignore the oddity and get on with life.
Well, most New Yorkers.
The wind blew through the trees of the Park with a howling moan, as if the tortured soul of the body lying on the frozen ground was still in agony. The crime scene techs were still scraping bits of charred skull and brains out of the snow, fastidiously ignoring the group clustered around the headless corpse. The body had been clothed, but most of those clothes seemed to have been burnt up in whatever happened to his head with the exception of the remains of jeans around the groin. Enough to know the body was definitely male, probably Hispanic, and for some reason had been in the process of unbuttoning said jeans when ... whatever happened happened.
The uniformed officers were in a holding pattern around the body, eyes pointed outward, away from the scene around the body. Five plain-clothes detectives stood around the corpse, huddled in their coats, watching two techs probe and prod it like a gruesomely interesting lab specimen.
“Well! Is it the same?” the oldest of the detectives snapped, his craggy face scrunched into an irritated scowl. He was so obviously Polish he might as well have had the Polish flag tattooed to his forehead. He was also well into middle age and beginning to lean towards portliness, despite the imposing physique bundled up in a fur-lined black trench coat. “Lightning?”
“If you would give me a few minutes of peace, Lieutenant, I could tell you. This equipment does not run at light speeds, expensive as it was for the City Council to buy,” said the woman in the rather stunning red sequined ball gown under the long black wool coat that said “Medical Examiner” on the back of it. She was in her late thirties or early forties and her honey brown eyes were intent under amber eyebrows scrunched together in concentration as she scraped the samples into the hole at the center of the box of electronics she held in her left hand. Watching the digital screen on its side keenly, she grinned when it finally flashed its results under the powerful lights surrounding the scene. “Lightning. And given the state of his fly when said lightning hit, he was probably here in the park for something less than legal, like all of the others. Do you want me to call the feds, or shall you, Lieutenant?”
The elder detective growled down at her and stalked away. “F•©king feds! As if they knew what the hell was going on any more than we do!” he groused as he pulled out his cell phone. “Chief, Lieutenant Drombrowski here, sir. Yes, sir. Yes, sir. No, sir. I have no idea and you know Dr. Kluvalla, but if I were to guess I would say we probably got an almost-rape victim out there somewhere who just got lucky enough for this idiot to have tried to take her into the Park. No, sir. But sir ... yes, sir. I understand, sir. What do you want us to do until they get here? Yes, sir.
“F•©king bureaucrats,” he grumbled under his breath as he put his phone away and turned back to the scene. The other four detectives were looking at him with hope. “The Chief of Detectives says we can investigate this ourselves until the feds get here in the morning. Apparently the entire unit went to DC to testify to Congress and report to their bosses. That means we probably have about four hours until Special Agent No Idea gets back in town and we hand it over to his people. So this is how we are going to do this. Johnson and Tortarelli, head over to the Tower. Knock on doors and see if any of them saw anything unusual about two hours ago besides a flash of lightning. I know that damned tower has something to do with all of these bodies. Oh, and see if any of them knows who owns the building. But don’t ask it like that. See if you can get them to give up the address of whoever gets their rent checks and answers their maintenance calls, as if you need that person to give them permission to view any security footage they might have gotten. They may just tell you it is the super, but it is worth a try. Noidalla and his goons refuse to give us any details on what they have found out about that side of their investigation, so we can use this opportunity to get our own answers. Aimes and Arvan, head back to the office and get with the tech boys. Get them to find you some video of Mr. Crispy coming into the Park. If he had a victim with him, get them to ID her. We need someone living to tell us what the hell happened here and hopefully she can and will.
“And remember, if you write anything down, make copies of it because as soon as Noidalla shows up, they will be taking our notes with them into that black hole they call an office,” Drombrowski told them urgently as they all walked out of Central Park and back to their vehicles. “Let’s get to it people. I want updates in three hours. If you need me, call my cell. I might be away from the office and car for a bit chasing down another angle.”
Detective Marcus Johnson was a solidly built black man in his early thirties with a shaved head and bright green eyes peeking out of a handsome and warmly friendly face. A football career killed in college by a blown knee shunted him into the police academy where he found, much to his surprise, that he was rather good at solving puzzles. The Tower was one of his hobbies. His succession of girlfriends all found his spare bedroom at first amusing, then creepy, and finally infuriating since, when he wasn’t at work or required for something social by said girlfriends, they inevitably found him staring at walls littered with pictures and scraps of paper and other bits he had managed to pick up over the years since the Tower’s appearance. He was one of a handful of detectives the NYPD had who were considered local experts on the edifice and so he was automatically included on their task force when the Mayor of New York got tired of getting no answers from the Federal Tower Task Force created to investigate the serial “crimes” committed in the Park using what all the experts agreed was lightning.
Detective Antony Tortarelli was a short, bulky Italian whose family came over from Italy when he was a child, giving him an authentic Italian accent that turned any straight female (or gay male) he came across into helpful goo. He was smart, seductive, charming, and courteous, and women tended to want to tell him just about anything he was willing to listen to. He was not a Tower expert. He was simply a very good natural interrogator whose talent was honed by the Army in Afghanistan and Iraq over the course of his ten-year career. When he got home, there were not very many opportunities outside of intelligence work and he had seen enough of that sort of thing for a lifetime. When his cousin suggested the NYPD, Tortarelli felt that was a good way to cleanse some of the bad karma he had built up. The Chief of Detectives insisted his inclusion on the revamped NYPD Task Force because he was one of the best interrogators they had and nobody was talking about the bloody Tower to them.
The two seemingly mismatched detectives pulled up to the gate of the Tower. The gate was a fully functional defensive structure that would probably turn away anything short of a tank. It was made of some kind of steel alloy the scientists couldn’t identify and was harder than anything they had ever seen. It pierced the three-foot thick, ten-foot high granite wall sheathed in black marble that surrounded the Tower. Said wall was topped with steel spikes as well and the bodies of three cat burglars hinted that they were probably electrified. The two liveried doormen approached the car stiffly, the one on the driver’s side pulling his scarf away from his mouth.
“May we help you gentlemen?” the bland-faced man inquired politely of Tortarelli in a deep monotone voice. All of the doormen of the Tower seemed to be the same. They looked the same. They sounded the same. They had the same mannerisms. They were about fifty years old, looked like they were former military, and looked very, very Nordic.
Tortarelli smiled and flashed his badge. “Detectives Tortarelli and Johnson, NYPD,” he replied, nodding towards his partner. “We have a few questions to ask and we had hoped we could talk with your chief of security here about an incident in the Park about two hours ago.”
The doorman sniffed disdainfully. “You mean another ruffian has gotten what he deserved and you want to know how,” he retorted with satisfaction. “Very well. I am sure Captain Odingaard will be most cooperative. Enter and park there if you would.”
The gates parted and just inside was a small parking lot with signs marked “VISITOR” at the head of each of the six slots. Tortarelli drove through the gate and coasted into the first space, turning off the engine but showing no sign of getting out. He was looking in the rearview mirror, watching the gate close and the two doormen take up their stations to either side of it. Neither one showed any indication they were aware of the subfreezing temperatures or the biting wind as they stood in their liveried uniforms without huddling in their woolen trench coats against the chill.
“What?” Johnson asked, shooting his partner a concerned look. “I know that look. It is the same look you had when we found that string of victims that turned out not to be the Tower’s boogeyman. It took you all of two days to figure out who it was based on talking to three guys. And you knew before the ME even got her results back what we had.”
Tortarelli nodded at his rearview mirror. “I’ve seen men like him before. Before I got on this task force, I mean,” he said quietly. “Their eyes are as cold as tonight’s weather and seem to know a lot more about the bodies on the ground than they should. They are the ones that go around behind someone else and make sure that someone never gets bothered by people like us. They protect the battlements against the barbarians meddling in matters that aren’t theirs to meddle in. And I don’t know if you have had the pleasure of Mr. Odingaard’s company yet, but he is another step up the scary ladder. He is the type who arranges for the bodies to be found in the first place. He may be security here at the Tower, but I would be willing to bet he was somebody very bad’s right hand in a past life.”
Johnson gave Tortarelli a long, searching look and shook his head. “Unless Captain Odingaard can shoot lightning out of his ass, he isn’t the suspect in this one. If this is something as mundane as a serial killer, then we are looking for someone smart enough to invent a type of weapon nobody we have talked to has ever heard of that lets him ‘control lighting or shoot electricity of sufficient strength to mimic lightning at specific targets, ‘“ the detective reminded his partner. “Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been looking into this long enough that mundane possibilities seem more and more unlikely with every crispy scumbag we wind up looking at. Nobody who lives at the Tower has ever come up dead in anyway other than old age or other natural causes. Meaning that Odingaard and his cast of look alike doormen are good enough at their current jobs that we can leave them be and not poke them while we are here for something completely different. Right?”
Tortarelli started when the gate clanked shut and swallowed. “Riiiight. We don’t want to poke the bears while we are locked in the cage with them,” he whispered before clearing his throat and opening his door. “Let’s do a little door-knocking and see how far the good Captain and his henchmen let us get.”
On the logic that those who live at ground level would not have seen anything through the wall that blocked their view, Johnson suggested starting at the top floor. They got exactly three doors into their door-knocking before a large, imposingly muscular man in a black pin-striped suit got out of the elevator and walked down the opulently carpeted hallway lit with gold and crystal light fixtures and decorated with priceless paintings the Metropolitan Museum of Art called “the finest collection of lost masterpieces of the great masters in the world.” He was well over six feet tall and probably easily weighed in at over three hundred pounds, very little of it fat. His craggy face straddled that line between intimidating and handsome, depending entirely on his facial expression. He had snow white hair that was probably the same color now as when he was born and ice blue eyes that seemed to see everything.
He smiled blandly when he saw the two detectives leaving their third interview of the penthouse occupants. “Gentlemen, welcome to the Tower. Detective Tortarelli knows me already, of course, but I am Captain Odingaard, Chief of Security,” the giant said, holding out his hand to Johnson.
Since he was a football player in college, Johnson was not at quite the disadvantage the shorter Italian man was. He could look Odingaard in the eye and was probably only giving up an inch or two and maybe fifty pounds to the Nordic man. He grasped the hand, tensed for a game of knuckle-crusher and was pleasantly surprised the larger man simply shook his hand firmly.
“Detective Johnson, sir. We are looking into the disturbance in the park and were hoping some of your residents might have noticed something,” he replied amiably, since his partner was all but glaring at the security head.
“Then it is fortunate that I came to greet you, no? Our cameras caught video of a woman going into the park shortly before the ... ah, disturbance,” he informed them blandly. “If you would follow me back to the security office, my men have the video cued and waiting for your perusal.”
There was an amazingly complicated knot circle in the frosted window that, if you had the time and inclination, you would find was made entirely of one piece of bleached hemp rope without a beginning or an end. In orbit around it were ankhs and pentagrams and moons and various other mystic symbols in silver or wood all below a red neon sign that said simply “The Magik Shoppe.” It was an ancient (for the Americas) edifice, having been originally constructed in 1612 and rebuilt after a fire that had more than a little help in 1652. Until the New Age wave of the ‘60s and ‘70s, The Magik Shoppe was better known as Adair’s, the oldest used and rare bookseller in the United States. The occult, for obvious reasons, was kept out of sight in the basement behind secret doors.
Lieutenant Stosh Drombrowski was a God-fearing, highly devout Catholic who was about as conservative as life in New York as a NYPD detective will let you be. He hated going into Greenwich Village and he really hated The Magik Shoppe. Ironically, he actually liked the owner of the Shoppe, Aisling Adair. Aisling was a willowy red head with shining emerald eyes, peaches and cream skin dusted liberally with freckles, and an open, infectious smile that welcomed all into her domain. She was also the local high priestess for those in New York City who followed the Celtic-flavored paganism, hence the knot work in the window. Aside from that, she served as Drombrowski’s paganism and occult expert. She always playfully hinted that she knew things that would blow the Pole’s Catholic mind. Stosh was beginning to think it might be time to let her try.
The silver bell over the door announced him with a sweet, musical ring. The Magik Shoppe looked like a tornado hit it if you did not know to look for the order in the chaos. It was mainly to draw newcomers and those inexperienced yet dangerous beginners to the flashy stuff on top of the mess while the old customers and more experienced practitioners knew where to wade through the mess to find what they wanted.
At the back of the store, behind a long wooden display case filled with silver daggers and various noxious and poisonous substances, sat an altar with a silver bowl and an incense-holder burning some kind of flowery herbal scent. Between the altar and the case, was Aisling. Her eyes were smiling as Stosh lumbered through the aisles of purposeful disorder, her red hair pulled back from her oval face and braided into two ropes of scarlet fire resting on her breasts. Her shapeless white robe with silver knot work at the sleeves, hood, and hem disguised the thin yet somehow still curvy body beneath.
“Well, if it isn’t my favorite skeptic and defender of the faith!” she exclaimed, grinning impishly. “I had a feeling I would be seeing you today, so I kept the doors open well after closing time.”
Stosh smiled back, shaking his head. “Any other day that would get you a trip downtown, Aisling,” he warned her direly with a mock growl. He placed his big hands on the glass case and sighed. “The day has come, Ms. Adair.”
A shapely red brow arched over a green, green eye. “Oh? And what day is that?” she asked, suddenly serious.
“The day I let you try to ‘blow my Catholic mind.’ The day I let you talk about some of the stuff we both know you avoid talking to me about unless I specifically ask. The day you level with me about what the hell is going on over on Central Park West,” he told her wearily.
The druidess gave him a long look before nodding slowly. “In that case, you should probably go lock the door, flip the sign to ‘Closed, ‘ and follow me to the basement,” she told him, her tone ominous. “We won’t want some newbie walking in on this discussion.”
Drombrowski gave her a long look before nodding and trudging to the front door. He found her already in the basement when he returned, scurrying around a small desk, lighting candles surrounding a large tome bound in leather and covered in dust. He sneezed, his eyes watering, as he approached the desk.
“Grab the chair and bring it around here. You are going to want to read some of this for yourself,” she told him as she settled into the large cherry wood chair behind the desk. The gloom of the basement was almost palpable and he wondered why she didn’t just turn on the electric lights. “We can’t use the lights because some of the stuff down here doesn’t react well to artificial light. This book being one of them. It is hard enough to read some of the print without the lights burning the rest of it away. Not to mention the way it reacts to electricity.”
He gave her the look he always shot her when she seemed to be reading his mind. “What is this?” he asked, nodding to the book that had a very faded sword embossed in gold on the cover.
“What do you know of the Norse religion?” she asked, opening the heavy volume and carefully flipping through the pages. “Pre-Christianity Norse religion.”
“Not much more than I picked up from my comic books as a kid,” he admitted with a shrug.
She grinned impishly. “Hmm, this might be a little easier than I hoped,” she said thoughtfully. “While Marvel was not very deep and they used artistic license a little freely, the Thor comics did give their readers some basic education into the mythos of the Norse religion. Don’t get me wrong, they are way off on some things, but you will at least be able to follow me without us having to stop and go through a primer lesson on the Norse religion.
“Having said that, let me start nearer the beginning than you probably want me to,” she began, her tone more serious than he could ever remember hearing from her. Hers was an impish, teasing personality, at least when she dealt with Drombrowski. Even when he came to her asking about very dark stuff, she always had a light about her. “The Lord of the Norse Gods, Odin, took for himself the supreme power of the universe. With it, he endowed all of the Aesir with power over mortals and Midgard, and gave them the ability to match their strength with the other immortals of the Nine Realms. Now this did not sit well with some of the other races, the Giants and Dwarves and Dark Elves. The Dwarves eventually got over it since they were a more insular people anyway. But the Dark Elves conspired in secret against the Aesir and their allies the Vanir, usually to no end.
“The Giants, the Frost Giants and Fire Giants and Mountain Giants, were forever battling the Gods over this or that bit of power, usually to the Gods’ benefit. The Giants had no real worshippers to give them strength, and so they would often lose such battles,” Aisling explained, her careful page-turning finally ceasing. The book lay open to a picture of a bearded, helmed warrior with a fierce expression on his face. He wielded a sword but also had a short-handled war hammer on his belt. “Loki, the Trickster God of the pantheon often helped out this or that opponent of the Gods, just to see what chaos a little nudge from him would bring.
“Now that we have the background laid, we come to more modern times. Your Christianity has all but won their followers from them. The few scattered adherents to the Aesir and Vanir give them little power and so they are on more equal footing with the Giants who, though they are little known individually, have managed to stay in the consciousness of human poets and writers and moviemakers. The few, like Thor, who are also so known, are little to add to the collective ... worship is too strong a word but it will have to serve. Suffice it to say that the Giants seized the upper hand about a decade ago and won a substantial victory against a very powerful Aesir,” the druidess informed him grimly, laying her hand on the picture of the warrior. “As a prize for this victory, they demanded the banishment from Asgard of one of the most powerful of the Aesir. Who, mortals do not know. Not even those few who still worship them can find out, but they were able to learn that part of the banishment precluded this God from dwelling in the lands of the Norse and wherever he went he had to stay until the banishment was lifted.”
“So this banished god can’t live in Scandinavia any more? What does this have to do with why I am here in this creepy basement?” Stosh demanded, getting a little irritated that he came to open his mind and Aisling was filling it with lunacy from Norse mythology and the imaginings of Marvel.
She shook her head. “You should know better than that, even if you did sleep through history class, Stosh,” she chided him. “It means that he can’t live in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltics, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Sicily, Ireland, Britain, Iceland, Greenland, and the northeastern Canadian provinces. No place the Norse settled while the Gods were still worshipped by most Norse. Fast-forward to modern times. What happened about a decade ago that got everybody’s panties in a twist?”
“The damned Tower appeared,” he replied flatly, his eyes glaring at her to no effect. “Are you trying to tell me there is a Norse God living in the Tower?”
She shook her head with a sad smile. “You are still thinking like a good Catholic boy, Stosh,” she said, patting his cheek. “I am saying that a Norse God created a large tract of land out of nothingness, moved two very large, occupied buildings without anyone noticing they were being moved, willed the Storm Tower into being so that he could take up residence as close to old Norse lands as he was permitted, and then summoned as many people as he could to dwell within that Tower as his worshippers, priests, and warriors. And since I read the papers and have heard you talking about it in the past, I will go out on a limb and guess that this is your ‘Lightning Vigilante.’”
She moved her hand and Stosh could see the words under the picture in the book. Thor, God of Thunder and son of the All-Father, Odin.
Stosh in turns berated himself for even going to Adair’s shop and pondered the possibility that she was right as he drove back to One Police Plaza. What she had to say was so impossible that she had to be crazy. Right? On the other hand, there was the maxim that said once all other possibilities have been discarded as unlikely, whatever was left, however improbable, was the answer. And nobody else had an answer, however improbable, that stood up to the smallest effort to prove it wrong. It was the modern, educated, Catholic side of him that kept saying the crazy pagan had to be wrong. The words “I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.“ kept coming back to him every time his brain kept swinging back to the idea that maybe Aisling was right.
He screeched into the parking garage and slid into his parking space. Stosh took a minute to get himself together. They had about three hours now before the feds swept everything into their bureaucratic black hole again. A hundred and twenty-three bodies crisped in the Park in the last ten years and nobody knew how, why, or who. Certainly not the f•©king feds! he thought to himself angrily. He never wanted this damned assignment. He was perfectly happy in Homicide with occasional loan-outs to the Joint Terrorism Task Force. But after four other guys burned out on the irritating, never-ending, solution-less puzzle that was the Tower Investigation, Stosh had been shanghaied, promoted, and instructed to find answers; even if it meant going around, under, or through the FBI.
And he had. Found answers, that is. Not many and not nearly enough to satisfy himself, never mind his bosses. There were days he wanted to claim to be burnt out, too. Days like this. Days where another body drops and you know there are answers to be had but it seems they are in a language not your own. And they are there only for a limited time before they disappear. Or rather, they are disappeared. The FBI was unreasonably territorial about the Tower and nobody could figure out why. Noidalla was not just a regular Fed, just as Drombrowski and his people were not regular cops. They were all at the top of their craft, but those at the top of their craft in the FBI often did things other than solve crimes. Profiler. Sniper. Undercover. Cyber. And some things that just get whispered about. Things Tortarelli would only hint at every time they wound up trying to go around Noidalla and his people.
Stosh took a deep breath and got out of the car. He walked to the elevator and rode it down to the basement where the NYPD Tower Task Force dwelled. Their offices were located right next to the evidence room and used to be storage space and clerks’ offices before the amount of evidence and files began overwhelming their suite of offices closer to the Chief’s office. The longer the Tower went unsolved and the more clutter built up by the investigators, the more the old Chief looked upon his task force with disfavor. When a new administration came in and a new Chief saw the mess, he immediately reassigned everyone on the Task Force and relocated the new officers assigned to it to the basement.
Most people would have seen the move as a bad sign for the future of both the Task Force and those officers assigned to it, but (to the grudging credit of Chief Killian, in Stosh’s opinion) good officers were assigned and given raises for having to put up with the FBI and their crap. The TTF was actually Killian’s secret baby, one the Chief of Detectives wished had been still-born. Any time a body dropped near the Tower and the Chief heard about it, Killian rode the Chief of Ds until the leads ran cold.
Stosh walked into the office and was pleased to see Aimes and Arvan crowded around a flatscreen TV watching something with avid expressions. They were an odd pairing Stosh never thought would work out. Alice Aimes was a barely thirty-year-old, five-foot-nothing, hundred pound red head with electric blue eyes and a chip on her should bigger than the Freedom Tower. She held four black belts in some seriously esoteric martial arts like Chi Gong and Krav Maga and was probably the most dangerous person Stosh had ever met despite looking like his little sister when she was twelve. She always dressed in black combat boots, skin tight black or white pants, and frilly, almost archaically blousy shirts that laced up the front.