I watched as Louisa gazed into James’ eyes, her hand caressing his cheek. He looked back at her, his face open, so much devotion in his eyes. He watched her, almost as if in amazement. Louisa brushed her lips against his and passionately whispered, “I Love you, more than anyone.” Except her eyes didn’t match her words. James must not have noticed. Maybe he didn’t want to notice, or maybe he was just too blinded by her because he still said. “That is why I’m leaving you everything.”
I rolled my eyes and turned on my bar stool, away from the telenovela. The drama was far too predictable, by next week he’d be dead, she’d have all of his riches and his family would suspect her but never investigate. Why would they? One of them would be in on it.
“Why do you bother to even watch the show if you always have the same reaction and then never watch it again for weeks at a time?” Jada asked me.
I shrugged. “I just like to see if I’m right.”
She rolled her charcoal lined brown eyes. “You’re always right,”
We were sitting at Dead Daves. It was busy for a Tuesday evening. The music only a soft background noise to all the conversations going on around us. Hardly drowning out the howling of the Were family in the back or the cackling laughter of the Elephant clan to our left. We were sitting right next to each other squeezed between a vampire and a Faye, it was a surprise we could hear each other without shouting.
“So. Do you think I should tell Chris?” She asked me again. Chris was the Halfling Jada has been dating for the past two years. The longest I’d ever known for her to stick to one guy.
“That depends. How do you feel about him?”
“Chris? I’m crazy about him, you know that.” She said.
“Yeah but what about the other guy?”
She shook her head, her short black hair bouncing with the movement. “Oh, Derek, no. He was just a thing that happened you know?”
“Like you tripped and slipped kind of thing?”
She tossed a fry from our nearly empty basket at me. “Don’t poke fun, Ash.”
I laughed. “Oh. Come on, that one was just too easy.”
“Seriously. He didn’t mean anything to me. Nothing that has changed how I feel about Chris. There was just all this built up sexual tension between us from way back when and I don’t know. Being around him made me feel sixteen again and it just happened.”
“So, don’t tell Chris.”
“Don’t tell him?”
“Don’t tell him.”
“How could you say that? He deserves to know. I kind of betrayed him.”
“Kind of? You slept with Derek, that is a betrayal.”
“So why did you just tell me not to tell him?”
“What would you do if it was the other way around?” I asked. Though it was a rhetorical question and we both knew it because we both knew that she would break up with him for the same indiscretion.
“Okay I see your point.”
“So then don’t tell him. If the hook up meant nothing, there’s no point in telling Chris. Why cause a huge fight for something that may not happen again?”
“I guess you have a point.” She said.We both took a drag of our beer. “I just feel bad about it you know? And it’s weird and I don’t know how to deal with it.”
“How to deal with feeling guilty?”
I took a long drag of my beer, emptying the bottle, and setting it closer to the bartender so she would know to get me another, I turned to Jada. “We both know I’m the last person to hand out relationship advice but telling him to alleviate your guilt, just hurts him and then hurts you for hurting him. It’s a dirty cycle. Obviously, it’s up to you. But if it were me, I wouldn’t say anything. It happened. So unless you think it will happen again, or you want it to happen again?” I let the last part trail off a bit. She was my closest friend and I did my best to stay out of my friends’ personal lives unless asked otherwise. This also meant I did know her well enough to have to ask.
“I don’t.” she said. But her conviction fell flat and we both knew it. “At least I don’t think I do. Shit, this is a mess already.” She dropped her head into her hands, raking her polished nail through her hair.
I took a deep breath, and gave her a steady look. “Nothing is a mess. You said it didn’t mean anything.”
“It didn’t but it doesn’t mean it wasn’t really good sex.”
I rolled my eyes. “Jada.”
“Okay yea, I know, you’re right. I shouldn’t let good sex with one guy ruin the good thing I got going with the other,” I watched her visibly relax into her seat again. “Besides, Chris has his own things going for him in the bedroom.”
I cut her off with a laugh and a wave of my hand. “Nope, stop right there. I so do not need that mental image. “
We laughed and enjoyed another round of beer before we paid our tabs and headed out into the cool night air. It was just warm enough to make my blazer acceptable without being too cold. Jada slid her own tan blazer that matched her a line skirt, over her black sheer blouse. In her three inch pumps she still fell short of my five foot seven. I’d parked my car two blocks away both because I didn’t want anyone to see it parked out front of Dave’s and because there just wasn’t parking any closer.
“Do you want me to give you a ride?” I asked her.
“No. I’m okay. I’m going to take the bus and surprise Chris. It’ll give me some time to sober up.” Though I knew that just a few beers is far from drunk for her, but I understood what she meant. It gave her an out if she changed her mind and just wanted to go home.
“Okay. Be careful. I’ll text you.”
The breeze playing through my curls helped relax me as I walked to my car. There were few people on the street, though it was close to seven so that wasn’t much of a surprise. Most civilians didn’t come out after sundown, rushing home from work and school to lock themselves in from the things that go bump in the night. Though a lot of us operated the other way around. Otherworlders have only been out for the last two hundred years, not long enough for everyone to stop seeing them all as boogeymen or demons. In their defense, the demons were a big issue but not everything that came through the portal was evil or meant harm to our world.
Back in twenty thirteen, one branch of the government was keeping the human population in the dark, distracting them with false threats of nuclear bombs from Korea, and a special branch of that same government was busy recruiting Witches, Shifters and Slayers to help keep hells minions back when The Portal Between Worlds opened. It can still be debated to this day how the portal got opened in the first place, but no one knows for sure. At least, not anyone who is talking about it. At the time, that special branch of the government had used their army of power to close down the portal for good and kill most of the major players that had come through. For every demon killed there was one to step into place and power up with the city that never sleeps as their new playground.
Truth be told we owed most of our technological advances to the Otherworlders and even a few high powered Demons. The same people enjoying the new transit and communication systems are usually the same ones petitioning for an open season hunt on all Otherworld creatures. Thousands of years of evolution and yet, here we are.
As my own precaution, I always parked under a street light, it was just common sense and I had a knack for finding the perfect spots. My smoke gray four door sat low, her dark interior highlighted by the street lamp. It also highlighted the figure leaning on her hood.
Tall and broad shouldered the figure rose to meet me as I approached, hands loose at his sides. One held what looked to be a folder. As I got closer, I knew I was right once the figure called out.
“I knew I’d find you here.”
“No, you didn’t.” I said back.
Detective Charlie Gerwaldy worked with the CIA but in the Otherworld Crime branch. We worked together from time to time, but I had no other association with the agency. I’m not big on authority and the government was still shitty in my opinion. It’s been months since I’d seen Charlie last, which was on the last job I did with him. An undercover job that took three weeks but turned out for the best. It wasn’t the longest job I’d done but certainly one of the harder ones. Cases involving children always were harder. He didn’t look much different now than he did then. His hair was a little longer, the curls, even brushed back curled behind his ears now. His beard was nicely shaped up, and his grey pants suit sharp. I wasn’t good at recognizing designer anything but it looked expensive and he looked good in it. The royal blue shirt underneath complimented the tan skin that peaked through the open collar.
“No, I didn’t but it wasn’t too hard to find you.”
“I wasn’t hiding.” I was standing in front of him, though he towered over me with his five ten frame. But while I knew he was capable of making me feel much smaller than I am, I never felt intimidated by him.
“You never are.” We greeted each other with open arms. He embraced me as he always did, with a big squeeze, lifting me off of my feet. You never really realize how much you miss someone until you see them again.
He set me down and I adjusted my blazer back into place. “So what’s up, Charlie?”
He was here with a folder which I’m sure had the government seal on it, which meant he was here on business. Which also meant, he somehow wanted to involve me in all of this. In the few years I’ve known him having met him during one of my internships at the CIA, as much as I liked him, he did have a pattern.
He waved the folder at me, and like I suspected, the big hawkeyed seal of government approval. “I’ve got something that I’m working on. Can we go back to your place and look it over?”
“Did you drive?” I asked.
He gave me a knowing smile, “No.” Which meant that he flew.
Charlie was a shifter of the bird variety, part of a long line of Vultures. Though looking at him, you didn’t see it, which was kind of beautiful to me, in a dangerous kind of way even though he’s never let me see him shift and I’d never seen him up close in bird form.
I walked over to the drivers’ side. “Get in.”
“You know, I still can’t believe you have this thing. It’s basically ancient.” He said as he climbed in.
“What are you talking about? Honda’s are classic and besides, it’s not that old.” I said in defense.
I’d found it in a junk yard four years ago but it was from twenty one eleven. Maybe it was aged a bit, but it had character, even though I’d basically worked it back to new. The frame was old but I loved it. Everything inside was only a couple or so years behind.
He laughed. The warmth of it filling the space. “You did do good work on upgrading her.”
“It was my concept but Liam did all the work.” I said. While it was true I can handle changing and rotating my own tires and changing the oil, rebuilding a car from the engine up wasn’t exactly on my resume. Liam and I went back a long way, and if it involved an engine, he was the guy.
“Remind me to get him to look at my collection. I’m sure a few things need tuning up.”
Merging on the highway, the roads were open in the late night so I rolled up our windows and pushed it to seventy. Charlie was one of the few people that didn’t mind riding with me. He loved the speed as much as I did and in the last eight years, I’ve never even gotten a speeding ticket.
“You collect cars? You can fly.” Obviously.
“Yeah but not all of my dates can.”
I nodded. It made sense. “It also doesn’t hurt if the cars happen to be classic and rare, I’m sure.”
“Even when it hurts, it’s good.” We both laughed at that.
“So what’s this about, Charlie?”
I slowed the car and pulled off of the highway. The next two lights were green and I made them both with enough time to make the left turn. We waited at the stoplight.
I felt him shrug in the dark confines of the car. “There’s something about this case I’m just not seeing. I need fresh eyes.”
I made a right two streets down and pulled into the buildings lot. Low income housing sure did come up in recent years though it’d done little to change our homeless issue. I parked the car in the space marked with my apartment number and climbed out.
“If you’re here, it’s Other. What are you getting me into?”
“I’m not getting you into anything. It looks like magic is involved but the kills don’t add up.” he said.
We walked over to the garage elevator and pressed eight. It was a smooth ride up in the small silver lined elevator. His arm brushed mine and I gave him a soft shoulder bump. “If it weren’t for whatever is in that folder, I’d say I’m glad you’re back.”The elevator dinged and we stepped out.
My apartment door read 8G and was two doors away from the stairwell. It wasn’t planned but I was thankful for it. You could never be too careful. Unlocking the door, the apartment was dark and quiet. Exactly as I’d left it. walking down the hall to the open living room and kitchen area, I flicked on all of the lights, the only one that always remained on, was the bathroom. It was just too much of a hassle to get it working once it was off.
Heading into the kitchen, Charlie made himself comfortable tossing the folder on the bar and settling into one of the stools. I pulled out a couple beers and handed him one after popping the cap. The buzz from the bar had already worn off and I wanted to be prepared. Charlie also looked like he needed it. Behind the green eyes was caution.
“So are you going to spit it out?” I took a pull of my beer and set it aside.
He slid the folder to me but kept his hand on top of it. “I just want you to read through it and give me your first impressions,” He paused. His eyes measuring and assessing but not in the way a man assesses a woman he wants to sleep with, it was the way you watch someone you’re trying not to scare away. “also remember you have the option to turn me down on this one.”
I know his intensity should have worried me, should have made me cautious but it just made me that much more interested. “I’m not that delicate. Just let me see it already. You know how I feel about unnecessary suspense.”
I moved the folder from underneath his hand and opened it up. It took a moment for the images in the photos to come across clearly. It was as if my brain refused to make sense of what it was seeing and was giving me a moment to change my mind with no consequence. Then it snapped into place. There was so much blood. The first photo was of a body lying next to a dumpster spread eagle and covered in blood and chunks that looked like other body parts. Organs were hanging out of large lacerations and the joints all bent at awkward angles. Bodies were not meant to bend like that.
As I flipped through the stack of photos, they looked more and more the same in the way the bodies were discarded and torn apart. I can see why Charlie suspected magic. There were markings on the bodies, symbols that I wasn’t familiar with but coupled with the weird angles of the bodies, it could be from possession or specific rituals. I remember learning about a few of them back in college but nothing that could result in this.
“This looks animalistic.” I said. l attached to every small stack of photos was a missing person report and a photo of what the victims looked like, before they were torn apart. All of them were women in their late twenties with dark hair and exotic looks about them. “Clearly someone or something was hunting these women, they all look alike but don’t. Only magic can make a human body contort like that. What kind of evidence was found at the scene?” I asked.
“Not much of anything was left at the scene, there was hardly any evidence that didn’t belong to the victim. There were also organs missing. The medical examiner noticed it.” he said.
I looked at the file again. “Gild did the autopsies?”
Pamela Gild was an incredibly skilled medical examiner who also worked in the Otherworld Crime branch. The best in her field as far as I’d ever heard. She was one of the few Otherworlders that joined government ranks, specializing in anything involving Other activity. She did amazing work.
“Some of her notes are there but she wasn’t comfortable putting everything in the file.”
I asked the obvious question. “Why not?”
“I don’t know. I think she found something she either isn’t sure of or doesn’t think everyone’s eyes should see. This file was on my desk with a note that said she would see me tomorrow night and give me more information off book.”
I agreed with that. If I was unsure or thought someone I suspected would see it, I wouldn’t want them to know what I found, though, if that were the case, it would also make me more inclined to include it. Attempt to flush them out.
“Do we know what any of these symbols mean or where they came from?”
He was twisting the beer bottle in his hands, “I was actually hoping you could reach out to some of your contacts. These symbols don’t show up in any of our databases which isn’t surprising.”
Charlie was right, it wasn’t surprising. There were too many types of magic in our world that we don’t know about on top of not knowing enough about the ones we’ve discovered. With all the layers to magic, our systems would never be up to date or much help in these cases. It just came down to knowing people who knew magic, the one thing that could not be computerized. I knew just the person I could ask.
“I know someone, I’ll reach out to him and see if he can get us anything.” I said. “Are there any leads?”
He shrugged, draining his beer, suddenly looking very tired. “These files have been landing on my desk for the last six months, sometimes two at a time and with all the canvasing and tiny pieces of evidence, we’ve still got nothing.”
“What do we know about the women?” I tossed our empty bottles into recycling, reached for the chips on top of the fridge and grabbed a seat next to him.
“Like you said they look similar so that starts off the profile but everything after that,” he shrugged, “the dots just don’t connect. Of all of them, there are maybe three that came from the tristate area, and as far as we can tell they never crossed paths.”
I shook my head, “Somethings connects these women besides their looks, we just aren’t seeing it.”
While all of these women were beautiful, they weren’t taken because of it. Whatever happened, someone wanted their organs, which also meant their blood was likely to be involved if it was ritualistic. Something deeper than their exotic beauty connected these women.
“You’re wearing your thinking face.” he said, watching me.
That had always been something about myself I didn’t always love, my face could give away a lot if I wasn’t careful. It came with its own pros and cons. I wasn’t comfortable sharing my theory yet until I had more information so I just said. “I’m going to reach out to my guy tonight,” I said checking the time. It was already eleven. “Would you mind if I go with you to see Dr. Gild tomorrow? I’m curious what she found.”
“Yeah, sure. So much for not dragging you in on this, huh?”
“I’m not in on anything yet. I just have a theory.” I said honestly.
“And you have to see if you’re right.” He said. Flashing his knowing smile again.
I shrugged. “I’m not sure if I want to be right about this or not,”
“But you’ve got see it through.”
“Exactly,” I said.
“You can keep that copy of the file. I can have my assistant get me another.”
“Thanks.” I closed up the folder and pushed it away a bit.
“Have you worked on anything since the last time I saw you?” he asked.
“I’ve taken a few jobs, nothing major, mostly research. The worse was a civilians’ involvement with a Lower Demon, but luckily the wording of the agreement was sketchy enough I found him a way out.” That was a close call. Making a deal with a demon of any flavor was bad business. If you didn’t hold up to your end of the bargain, you were forced into servitude, your identity entirely stripped for however long the dealer wished. Death always looked easier than that.
“You always were good with words.” He laughed. “Remember that job in Atlanta? We went to get coffee and you got the asshole of a customer to apologize to the hostess and got us that free meal.”
I laughed at the memory. “She was being a passive aggressive bitch without a cause. I just said what the hostess couldn’t without consequence.” Because heavens forbid a worker defended themselves on the job from jerks.
“That was one of the best parts of that job.” He said. His eyes still bright with laughter.
“I had sunburn for a week after that job. I peeled so much I was sure I’d have no skin left.” We both laughed at that.
“That Faye really loved the sun.” he said. And he was right. Faye loved the outdoors and even the bad ones loved to bask in the sun.
He rose from his seat and grabbed his jacket from the back of his stool, “I should get going, I want to get into the office early, see if there’s anything else I can dig up.” He moved toward the door and I followed behind him.
“I’ll dig up what I can on my end and see you after.”
He turned and gave me a hug as he stood in the door way. “Thank you. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Locking the door behind him I thought about going back into the kitchen and looking over the file again. Looking at it on the kitchen island, I knew if I opened it, I wouldn’t put it down. I needed to clear my head first so I walked passed it and straight into the bathroom to take a shower.
Taking my gun out of my holster I sat it on the small shelf above the toilet along with the two knives I kept, one strapped to each ankle holster. Tossing my clothes in the hamper, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. The dark lace of my bra complimented me, burgundy did wonders against my brown skin. I shed the underwear and climbed into the shower. Letting the hot water massage the stiffness in my shoulders and tightness in my neck. It’s been a while since I had a decent nights rest, and tonight I’m just hoping for a solid five hours.
I tried not to think about the folder sitting on my kitchen counter as I moved on to conditioning my hair. The last time Gerwaldy put a case file on my countertop, we spent eight weeks chasing a Faye that was into kids. She kidnapped them, human and non-human alike and tried to keep them like her own. Whichever kids gave her a hard time, she fed to a pet demon she had held in her basement. A powerful Faye with a mental illness is a nasty piece of work. It took me almost two weeks to recover for the magic involved in that one.
Rinsing off, I shut off the water and climbed out of the shower, wrapping myself in a towel. Truth be told, I could use the work. Working at the college would be nice but if I was being honest, it wasn’t enough for me. I needed more. The money had nothing to do with it. I was tired, but I knew I wouldn’t sleep without doing something for the girl in the folder.
Switching from the towel to my silk kimono, I quickly rubbed in some lotion and face moisturizer and headed back to the kitchen. The light blue folder looked ominous against the smoke grey marble of the countertop. There wasn’t a lot information in the fifteen pages someone managed to put together on each of the five women. Besides their physical appearance, they didn’t have much in common on paper. The up-close photos of the bodies showed symbols carved into them. As far as I could tell they were ancient symbols, one was consistent on each woman.
I glanced at the clock. I was already three hours in and against a wall. I reached for my phone and took a photo of one of the symbols. Michael Mckoon came from a long line of Readers. He protected the world library that very few civilians knew about. As far as I knew he’s read almost every book in it. Which meant that if anyone could find anything out, it was him. He’d yet to disappoint me and I was crossing my fingers as I sent the photo in a text message. I left any ideas I had out of the message, asking only if he could get me any information he had by sundown. Leaving my phone on the counter, and the files open, I went to my bedroom.
There was nothing else I could do for those women tonight. I draped my kimono on the foot of my bed and crawled under the down comforter I was gifted years ago, for my house warming. Even after time, it was still so soft against my naked skin.My hair was mostly dry so I didn’t worry much about soaking my pillow as I settled in. I could feel the sun coming up behind me. The pressure of the sun’s rays pushing against us and anything that stood in its’ way of touching the earth. I felt myself drift off and succumb to its offering of warm safety.