Shia and Patterson poured blood-spiked coffee from the carafe – hers black, with plenty of sugar, theirs with cream and even more sugar.
“How are we doing this, then, boss?” Shia asked, leaning against the counter.
Patterson tilted their head in thought, “This dude’s a telepath – and by all accounts, a strong one. I think we persuade him to show, rather than tell.”
Shia nodded, “OK. You or me? Or can he do both?”
“That’s one of the things we need to find out. But first, we need to make him talk to us.”
The pair had run down yet another lead on the witch. On arrival, they found yet another almost abandoned house, the only person there a short, weedy man, tied to a chair with multiple bruises.
His relief at being freed made him open his mouth to begin with. Before his reticence had returned on the way to the Lawkeeper station, he had revealed that the witch – or her cronies, at least – had captured him some weeks ago, and were trying to get him to use his powers as a tracker. According to his rap sheet, this was his regular job, so quite why he required kidnapping for it, neither were sure, and at this question he had remembered himself enough to shut up.
Shia kicked the door closed with one boot, hands full of grocery bags, keys in her mouth. She mumbled at Frankie as she poked her head out of the home office.
Frankie grinned, interpreting the grunts as the request for help that they were, “I can help, one sec.” She disappeared back into the room and returned in a few seconds, bare feet padding across the hardwood floor to the breakfast bar.
She began passing items to Shia, who placed them in their correct spots – cupboard, fridge, freezer, counter, “Good day?”
Shia shrugged, “Quiet one. No sign of the witch, she’s gone to ground again and Patterson is getting antsy. Did manage to bust a couple of vamps trying to trick humans into being eaten, though, so that was good.”
Frankie steeled herself, “So when you find the witch. Like. What then? You go in with lots of backup and keep out of danger, right? You’ve told me how powerful she is, surely Patterson won’t let you in the way of her magic?”
Shia’s shoulders stiffened and she half-turned to Frankie, voice ever so slightly cold, “Patterson and I will decide together at that time, and if finally catching her means going into danger, then that’s what I’ll do.”
“And what about me? If you die, what do I do?” Frankie asked, handing over a packet of deli ham. “Your blood keeps me alive, it fights my leukaemia. Without it, I’m dead.”
The first human to reach over 130 years old stared out of the car window as they passed through the neighbourhood he had grown up in.
“This was so different in my younger days,” he sighed, almost to himself.
The driver nodded politely and made an agreeing noise, unsure if the old man could even see or hear them through his reverie.
A medical marvel, he was. Not only the first human to reach 130 (and still that – 30 years later, nobody else had come close than 120), but also, apparently, regenerating. Aging downwards. Becoming younger by the year.
Arriving home, Kyra locked the door to her flat, her shoulders visibly slumping as she let the weight of the day pass. She removed her coat and scarf, hanging them on an old-fashioned hat stand. She looked longingly for a moment at the soft sofa, then shook her head. Later. There was one more thing she had to do today.
Kyra entered the darkened room and closed the door behind her, activating the deadlock ward with one thumb. A light shimmer passed over the door, confirming that nobody else could enter.
She turned to the room itself. It was small, barely more than a cupboard.. A ball of light magic cast a soft glow over a desk and chair. On the desk, sat a black box.
Kyra pulled out the chair and sat down. She turned two sets of dials on the box to the right combination, and snapped open the double lock. The front and top opened, and she pushed the box towards the back of the desk as she reached inside.
Cradled carefully in her slender hands was an old, battered typewriter. The metal casing gave it weight, and the slight aura of magic gave it gravity, as she set it down within reach and laid her fingers on the keys.
Kyra folded her arms and sat back in her chair, “You want to do what, now?!”
Patterson looked over at Shia, who shrugged, and back at their boss, “I want to set a trap for Justinia.”
“Using yourself as bait.”
“And me as a lure.”
Patterson nodded again.
Kyra reached up to run her hands through her hair, then remembered she’d had it cut short last week in a moment of…self doubt? Madness? Need for change? Something. She already missed the hair that reached down to her tailbone. It would take years to grow back. She sighed. She knew why she’d done it, and it was too late now.
Patterson was patiently awaiting her attention. Their reaction to her haircut had been extreme, but then, they understood, at least a little. They’d known each other a long time, as friends, then lovers, then friends again. She had moved up the ranks while Patterson had chosen to remain in the field, determined to capture Justinia. She understood, but sometimes that meant saving them from themselves.
Patterson shifted in their sleep, the cot in the back of the van creaking as they sought a comfortable position. Shia looked back in concern as they gave a whimper. And then another.
With a sharp intake of breath, Patterson woke, one arm flailing to escape the blanket. They looked around, their soft brown eyes wide, taking deep breaths as they brought themselves back to the here and now.
In the apartment. Across from a large, empty, rundown building. Another stakeout, a long one this time, information gathering rather than taking action. It meant downtime, time to think, time to dream. Time to remember.
Losing the witch again had triggered a flood that Patterson had long been holding back. There had been no sign of her since, and the captive they’d taken was unable to tell them anything about her whereabouts, as he had only ever seen her as a projection. As far as Patterson was concerned, the other information he was spouting in hopes of making a deal could be dealt with by someone else. And yet, here they were, following up a lead from the guy.
Patterson stretched in the back of the black van, their eyes never leaving the monitors showing feeds of the front and back of the house.
Shia yawned and slumped further down in her chair, I. Am. So. Bored!”
Patterson shrugged, “Sometimes that’s the job. You want be a Lawkeeper, you have to take the fun with the…less fun.”
“Sitting in a van, drinking coffee-laced blood, staring at screens where nothing is happening. Definitely the less fun.”
Patterson leaned back in their chair, “My first long stakeout was watching the entrance to a cave lair – there were more of those back then, houses were still the place where humans lived, only the fanciest of extranaturals dared join the natural world. We’d been tipped off that this was where a particularly nasty creature was taking young men from nearby towns. We didn’t know what creature it was, so we had to watch and find out. Anyway, me and my mentor, Xulien, sat for three days, in a hastily constructed tree blind, waiting for something to happen. Eventually, it came out to get its next meal. Turned out to be a rather large and especially ugly Manticore.”
Pattinson straightened their suit jacket as they got out of their car. Sniffing the air, they sighed as the scent of blood permeated the miscellaneous smells of a quiet neighbourhood. She never waited for them. Always eager, always running in ahead.
Opening the front door of the house they had spent most of the last 3 days watching, they stared at the bodies on the ground, at the girl covered in blood.
Her eyes narrowed as she stood up, “You’re late.”
She snorted, licking blood from her fingers, tongue darting quickly between her extended fangs.
“Took a minute longer than expected to persuade the Council of our findings. Fortunately for you, they agreed to the execution order.”
“Of course they die, these ghouls were killing people for their parts. They knew the laws, they broke them, they paid. Drink up while it’s still warm, then you can take me somewhere nice before you do the boring paperwork.”
Pru frowned into her rearview as the banging from the trunk became louder. No way that was just stuff rolling around, and besides she never left things free in the trunk, everything was always secured.
She pulled into a layby, drawing the zipper up her jacket as she climbed out, looking around at the deserted road. Shivering slightly, the night eerily silent even with the soft hum of her idling engine, she made her way around to the back.
The banging had stopped, replaced instead by a muffled…cry? There was a person in her trunk?!
Pru ran back around to the front and fumbled her keys, dropping them to the ground in her panic. She rescued them and hit the trunk release as she ran back again.
She lifted the hood of the trunk, bracing herself for the horror that would come. Her face turned white as the hoarse voice whispered, “Just let me explain”.
“Jimmy?!” Pru glared at her ex as he sat up, bringing his legs over the edge and rubbing feeling back into them. His face was bloody, like someone had laid a few punches into him, and Pru suppressed the urge to ask who he’d borrowed money from this time.
Pru continued to glare at him until he looked up, wearing that sheepish “I done wrong but ain’t I cute enough to forgive’ expression she once loved, then came to loathe. Now, a year or so down the line from the day she’d finally walked out, all it brought her was indifference, and mild annoyance.
“What the fuck are you doing in my trunk?”
.”Uh… Thanks for letting me out. There’s a super good explanation, maybe we could grab a coffee and talk?”
“No. I want to hear your explanation, and then I want you to get back out of my life. Or, I’m calling the police. You still have a restraining order, or did you forget about that?” Pru grabbed her phone from the pocket of her jacket and raised her eyebrows at him.
Jimmy sighed and hung his head, his typical pose for when he was called out on his shit, but he seemed to realise his tricks weren’t going to work, and shrugged instead, “I miss you. I thought maybe if something bad happened to me, you’d realise you missed me too and come back to me. So I paid some guys to pretend to beat me up and leave me near your car, so you’d find me, but it’d look like a coincidence. Only, they took my money, beat me up, and decided to stuff me in your trunk instead…”
Pru rolled her eyes, “That is the most ridiculous fucking thing I have ever heard, and that’s saying something given the shit you used to try and tell me. Get off my car, Jimmy.”
Jimmy slid off, wincing as his cramped legs complained about carrying him,”Can I at least get a ride? They stole my phone and my wallet.”
Pru snorted laughter, “Fuck off, Jimmy. It’s only a few miles back to civilisation, enjoy the walk. If you pull any shit again, I’m calling the police first, and you’re on your last warning with them. I don’t particularly want to see you go to prison, but I also don’t particularly care if you do. Stay the fuck away from me.”
Jimmy glared at her, his dark eyes glinting in the moonlight, “Fucking bitch.”
Pru laughed, getting back into her car, “And don’t you forget it!”
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It started off so simple. A kid’s imagination begins younger than you might expect, I discovered, but it’s small things. I’d feel the urge to go cuddle her, and wouldn’t be able to resist, but that’s just normal parent stuff, right? Well how about more pudding appearing out of nowhere? More block toys? An extra stuffed toy shaped like no creature on this earth?
I mean, I denied it, of course. The human mind has an almost infinite ability to explain away the inexplicable, and what can’t be explained, it just works around. Rebecca was a normal child, so what if abnormal things sometimes happened around her? That was my mantra, followed by denial.
But eventually something happened that no amount of excuses could ignore. That was the day Jenika appeared.
It started off simple. Rebecca was 2, and she would do something she shouldn’t, or she’d be chatting to thin air while she played. And when I asked, she’d tell us Jenika suggested it, or Jenika was playing with her.
She told me Jenika was an invisible alien, and after a chat to her paediatrician who said it was in line with her development, and should fade as she got older, but in the meantime it was fine to play along, I did just that.