Science Fiction & Fantasy

FEAR CITY by F. Paul Wilson

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Fiction

Blue Lace Agate

Jamie Keller and his partner hadn’t found the shoggoth larva smugglers yet, but his boss, the head of the Bureau of Paranormal Investigation’s southeast hub, had other things on his mind: “And, ah, how are you and Sharpton doing, Keller?”

It was a loaded question, and Jamie considered it carefully before he answered. “Me and Sharpton—Sharpton and I, sorry, sir—are doing just fine.”

Jesperson’s eyebrows went up. He knew it was a lie. But Jamie met his eyes steadily.

“I’m not complaining, sir.”

“No, you’re not. Another two days and you’ll beat the record, you know.”

“Yessir.” Jamie had been Mick Sharpton’s partner for two weeks and three days. He knew why no one lasted longer than that.

“Well, all right then. Be off with you.”

“Thank you, sir,” Jamie said, and was not surprised, when he got back to the office the six junior-most agents shared, to discover that his partner had already left for the day.

He grabbed his jacket off the back of his chair, turned off the lights on his way out the door. Shrugged into his jacket in the elevator. He checked his watch and booked it to the bus stop, just in time to catch the southbound M that would get him home.

Where Lila would be waiting.

The elderly white lady sitting across from him gave him a funny look, and he knew she was probably afraid his smile—incongruous on a man 6’4”, black, homely, tattooed, and built like a Mack truck—meant he was high on something and about to start ripping chunks out of the bus. He nodded at her, and she looked quickly away.

He got off the bus at Lindale and Davis and walked another five blocks to the ugly concrete apartment building he currently called home. The guys in 1A had left the front door propped open again, and Jamie sighed, foreseeing yet another unpleasant conversation about why the safety of the building’s thirty other tenants was more important than the convenience of their lazy asses. But for now, he just kicked the wedge free and went upstairs.

Third floor, apartment 3B. Lila was on the phone, and after ten seconds and an exasperated eyeroll, he deduced that the person on the other end was her mother. Jamie kissed the back of Lila’s neck as he edged past her into the kitchen, and started scrubbing potatoes.

He wondered if there was something wrong with being so happy with this rather tawdry domesticity, and decided he didn’t care.

***

Three days of nothing, and today promised to be more of the same. Mick Sharpton sat fuming in the passenger seat of the Skylark—he didn’t drive, and Jamie had decided early on not to ask if “didn’t” meant “wouldn’t,” “couldn’t,” or “shouldn’t.”

Jamie drove as an alternative to engaging with Mick’s anger. He was, as it happened, perfectly capable of driving and holding a conversation at the same time, but Mick seemed to want to believe Jamie was a big dumb lump, without a thought in his head that Jesperson didn’t approve first. And if that was what Mick wanted to believe, Jamie was happy to play along. It made his life easier.

And he didn’t want to fight with Mick. He didn’t want to compete with Mick, didn’t want to threaten Mick. He wanted to keep this job—more than that, for the first time in his life, he’d found something he wanted to do well. And having had a chance to evaluate the other junior agents, he knew Mick Sharpton was his best hope of being not merely good at his job, but remarkable.

Three years older than Jamie, Mick Sharpton was a sharp-boned, pale-skinned man with long dyed-black hair and long lacquer-black fingernails. The left side of his face bore evidence of reconstructive surgery: the cheekbone that didn’t quite match, the skin that responded stiffly when he smiled. Jamie had not asked what had happened, and Mick showed no signs of wanting to tell him.

Mick Sharpton was also a clairvoyant. That was why Jesperson had hired him, had kept him on despite the trouble he caused—why Jamie was willing to put up with a great deal to keep Mick as his partner.

Mick’s esper rating was 3(8); most of the time his clairvoyance meant only that his hunches were unusually good, that it was useless to try to lie to him. But that latent eight meant he was liable to precognitive and retrocognitive flashes, telepathy, rescognition, all the usual occult trappings of seeing ghosts and auras. Unfortunately, the latent eight also meant none of it was under his conscious control, a fact which irritated Jesperson profoundly. Thus far, Mick had refused to take esper training—and made his decision stick by daring Jesperson to fire him. Jamie was just as glad to have missed the resulting explosion; he’d gotten several gleeful eyewitness accounts from agents happy in their schadenfreude that he was the one saddled with Sharpton now.

Jamie parked the Skylark in the lot of the Tree of Life. The next informant on their seemingly endless list was the proprietor: Charlene Pruitt, better known as Madame Anastasia. She used the hippy-dippy froufrou of her store to camouflage a much darker and more serious class of transactions. She was very careful, and therefore never prosecutable—at least, not yet—but her desire to keep on the Bureau’s good side made her frequently quite helpful as a source of information.

“Oh, fuck it, Keller. Not here!”

Jamie turned off the engine and looked over at Mick. “She’s next on the list.”

Mick rolled his eyes and muttered, “Fucking Jesperson,” but he didn’t argue, and Jamie smothered a smile as he got out of the car.

“Your door locked?”

Yes, the fucking door’s locked. Come on!”

Jamie followed his partner’s nervy, arrogant stride across the parking lot and into the Tree of Life, where they were greeted by the sweet jangle of a string of tiny bells. Sitar music permeated the air, as strong and characterless as the incense. Mick muttered something under his breath and stalked away to glare at the Tarot decks. Jamie went up to the counter and asked if Madame Anastasia was available.

The white college-age clerk, pierced in eyebrow, nostril, and lip, and wearing enough sandalwood to choke a phoenix, looked up at Jamie, at the broad, unlovely lines of his face, at the octopus tattooed on the shaved side of his head and down his neck, black swirling lines on skin nearly as dark, and said, “I’ll, um, go see, okay?”

She scurried off in a flap of Birkenstocks and long shapeless skirt, and Mick prowled over to say, “Charlene sure can pick ‘em, can’t she?” then began running his fingers restlessly through a basket of cheap silver rings: Celtic knots, snakes, dolphins, pentacles, hearts.

Jamie noticed the bitterness in Mick’s voice, and was just deciding, again, that it would do more harm than good to ask, when Mick said, “Hey! This one doesn’t—”

Glancing at the ring Mick had picked up—silver set with blue lace agate—Jamie was about to ask what on Earth Mick thought was wrong with it, when he saw the wear on the edges of the band, the brass showing through the thin silver wash.

He looked up, but whatever he would have said died in his throat at the expression on Mick’s face. Mick’s eyes had gone wide, his mouth a little slack. He said, “We have to go now,” in a voice unlike anything Jamie had heard from Mick Sharpton before, the voice of a child who is frightened and trying to hide it.

Jamie couldn’t argue with that voice. “Okay,” he said and shepherded Mick to the door, calling over his shoulder, “We’ll come back later,” as the rattle of the beaded curtain announced the clerk’s return.

Jamie unlocked the passenger-side door first, which normally would have provoked a sharp comment from Mick about not being that kind of girl. This time, it barely seemed to register; Mick got in and fastened his seat-belt, and then simply waited, pale blue eyes staring a hole in the dashboard, until Jamie, seat-belt buckled and engine started, said, as gently as he could, “Where are we going?”

Mick said, his voice not much louder than a whisper, “She’s in the river.”

“Oh, Christ.” Jamie considered for a fraction of a second telling Mick to call it in, but he didn’t think Dispatch would be able to make heads or tails of Mick in his current state. He grabbed the handset and reported November Echo and November Foxtrot en route on a rescog.

Heading west toward the river, Jamie counted. Thirty-four seconds after he cradled the handset, the radio crackled to life with Jesperson’s voice: “November Foxtrot and Echo, report!”

“Mick had a flash, sir.”

“A flash of what?”

“I don’t rightly know. We were in the Tree of Life, waiting for Ms. Pruitt, and he picked a ring up out of a basket. And now we’re on our way to the river.”

“Latent bloody clairvoyance. All right, Foxtrot-niner. You two go check it out. I’ll give Juliet Victor and Mike the rest of the list.”

“Yessir. We didn’t get a chance at Ms. Pruitt.”

“Duly noted. Able out.”

Mick gave him directions as they went, leading them to a residential neighborhood: one-story houses, most in dire need of new siding, and decrepit docks sticking out into the muddy river like half-rotted teeth. Everything shabby, faded, cars rusting, grass dying, and the river behind it all like a stain that won’t come out.

But there were children playing in the yards and on the sidewalks, mostly white, although some black and some Hispanic. A pair of long jump-ropes were being wielded with professional aplomb by two teenage girls, and the little girls standing giggling in line for their turn were every shade from as white as Mick to as black as Jamie.

All at once, Mick said, “Here!” his voice so urgent that Jamie slammed on the brakes in instinctive response, hard enough to throw them both forward against their seat belts. He swerved the car over against the curb; Mick was already clawing at the door, scrambling out, leaving the door not only unlocked but flapping open. Jamie locked the car and followed him more slowly, knowing that it wasn’t going to matter. Not precognition or telepathy—Jamie’d never scored higher than a two on the esper equivalencies—just brutal truth. The woman who had worn that ring was dead, and he didn’t need to find her to know that.

But he went after Mick, picking his way through the crabgrass and old Coke cans. Mick was down by one of the docks, up to his knees in river water, tugging at something that seemed to be trapped in the dock’s underpinnings, something limp and pale and horrible.

“Mick,” Jamie said. “Mick, come away. We need to call the police.”

Mick wasn’t listening, his breath coming in sobs, but he wasn’t making any progress, either. She was well and truly stuck. Jamie’s imagination offered him a hideous picture of Mick trying to dive under the dock to get her loose, and that was enough to make him step off the bank himself, to take Mick’s arm and say gently, “Come on, Mick.”

Normally, Mick reacted to being touched with a sidestep and a snarl. But this time, he let himself be led out of the water and then back to the car, where he sat obediently in the back, his wet feet dripping onto the curb, while Jamie, sitting likewise in the front, called Dispatch and got them to notify the police. For once, Mick wouldn’t be sneering at him for doing things by the book.

After a thoughtful look at Mick, he did not suggest that they leave. They waited quietly; Mick’s eyes had not regained their customary sharp, shuttered expression, and Jamie knew it was only his own presence in the car that kept Mick from going back down to the dock and the poor, gruesome thing trapped under it.

After a few minutes, he noticed the blue lace agate ring lying on the floor of the car and picked it up. It told him nothing, just a cheap graceless ring—there were probably thousands like it in this city alone. Blue lace agate was supposed to be protection; it hadn’t even done that much for the girl who had worn it.

He twisted to hand the ring to Mick. “What else do you know about her?”

Mick held the ring on his palm as if it were some strange, possibly poisonous insect. “She was with her friends. Excited, laughing. They were going to—oh Jesus!” He shuddered, his fingers closing hard over the ring.

“Mick?”

“They figured they’d found a way to live forever. One of them—a boy—had a book. He said it told them everything they needed to know. But they didn’t tell her.”

“What was her name?”

“Don’t know. She thought they were all drinking, but they weren’t. Just her. And he kissed her—Bobby kissed her, and he never had before. And she was so happy. She thought they were playing when they tied her to the chair. But they weren’t. They all had knives, and they took turns cutting her until she died. That was the ritual. Then they each took something of hers, so her death would defend them, and dumped her in the river, chair and all. Please take this ring away from me.”

His tone didn’t change, nor did his pained frown, so it took Jamie a moment to realize what he’d said. When he did, he came immediately around to kneel in front of Mick, whose hand was cramped so hard around the ring that prying his fingers loose took some effort, even with Mick trying to help. Finally Mick’s hand was open, and none of the fingers broken, and Jamie took the ring, wincing in sympathy at the angry red welt where it had dug into Mick’s palm.

“I hate this,” Mick said, his voice so soft Jamie could almost believe he’d imagined it. And before he could decide what to say—or if he should say anything at all—the police had arrived, in a whoop of sirens and spatter of lights as if that would make some difference to the thing wedged beneath the decaying dock.

***

It was two hours before Jamie was finally able to get Mick away. Partly that was Mick’s own fault—it seemed he could not be satisfied until the body, still tied to an ugly old wooden office chair with all its casters missing, had been pulled out of the river. Then Jamie got distracted by an officer who wanted an account of how two ghoul hunters had come to find a murdered girl, and when he managed to get away, the detective in charge of the case had Mick all but pinned against the police car, snarling questions at him as if she thought she could lever answers out of him by sheer nastiness.

Something seemed to have drained out of Mick with the recovery of the body; Jamie could see the tremor running through him, the unprotected wideness of the pale eyes. Another man might have left Mick Sharpton to be flayed by the police detective. Jamie intervened, patiently, gently, putting his own bulk between the detective and her prey, insisting that her questions could wait, that Mick had told her all he could. Finally, she grudgingly acquiesced, and Jamie dragged Mick to the Skylark before she could change her mind.

Jamie called Dispatch to say November Foxtrot and Echo were emphatically off-duty for the day, and drove to Mick’s apartment, which was in a part of the city as shabby as Jamie’s own neighborhood, but older, still clutching its fading gentility to its bosom. Mick lived on the second floor of a looming brick monstrosity. Jamie had never been inside.

He found a parking place directly in front of Mick’s building and touched the luck charm hanging from the rearview in thanks. He killed the engine, looked across at his partner. Mick was a huddle of long limbs, his head down, and he was still shaking, a fine shiver like a scared cat.

Jamie heaved a sigh. “Come on then, blue eyes. Let’s get you home.”

He supposed it would have looked funny to an observer: the massive black man and the long-limbed white ragdoll he was trying to maneuver. Mick didn’t fight him, exactly, but he was clearly disoriented, confused, and very frightened. He responded to Jamie’s quiet-voiced coaxing, though, and was even able, when they at last made it up onto the porch, to fish his keys out of his pocket.

He promptly dropped them and flinched; Jamie couldn’t tell whether it was from the sound, or from an expectation that Jamie would whack him one. Jamie picked up the keys, unlocked the door and propelled Mick inside with a hand between the shoulder blades. It wasn’t quite a shove.

He followed, made sure the door latched behind him, and then chivvied Mick up the stairs, grateful there was only one flight. Another round with keys and locks, and finally Jamie was able to urge Mick into the apartment, so close behind him he almost stepped on his heels. He locked the door before he did anything else, then turned and examined Mick’s home.

It was a studio apartment—one room, not overlarge, with sink and stove and refrigerator and a minuscule amount of counter space along one wall. Nice big windows, at least. There was a futon mattress on the floor, a chair, a card table, a lamp, and a motley assortment of bookcases, cinderblock and plywood shelving, milk crates, and cardboard boxes, some of which seemed to contain clothes, but most of which housed stacks upon stacks of books and CDs. The only thing in the room that looked like it would be worth the bother of stealing was the stereo, and even at that, Jamie thought, any sensible thief would just let himself right back out again and go try somebody else’s place.

Jamie steered Mick to the bathroom, which was directly across from the front door. A shower, a toilet, a sink with a mirror. No room to swing even the smallest and most patient of cats. Clean, though, and Jamie said firmly, “You need a shower. Can you manage? Because honestly, I don’t think both of us are gonna fit.”

A wide-eyed stare, and then Mick nodded. “Good,” Jamie said. “I’m gonna use your phone. Okay?”

“You won’t . . . leave?” A creaky little whisper.

Jamie smiled at him. “Nah. Won’t go noplace. You go clean up.”

Mick nodded; Jamie hoped this eerie tractability would wear off soon. Then Mick was in the bathroom, the door firmly closed, and Jamie went to call Lila and let her know he’d be home late.

***

Mick went straight from the shower to the mattress on the floor, long white nude body so skinny Jamie could have counted the knobs of his spine if he’d wanted to. Mick dragged the sheet up over himself, both eyes shut tight, and said again, “You won’t leave?”

“Staying right here,” Jamie said from the chair by the card table. “‘Til you tell me you want me gone.”

“Okay,” Mick said and was immediately asleep.

Jamie sat in that uncomfortable chair, one elbow propped on the card table, and read, rather slowly, a book he’d found on Mick’s shelves called The League of Frightened Men. At five o’clock, he called in—very quietly, although it was clear that nothing short of a tactical nuke was going to rouse Mick—and got an update: the girl’s name had been Bethany Timms. She was twenty-two, a record-store clerk; her boss hadn’t liked her gothy friends. The clerk at the Tree of Life, who might have known something about the ring, had gone off shift before the Juliet team got there; Charlene Pruitt denied emphatically that she had ever seen the blue lace agate ring before in her life and was not much more helpful on the question of shoggoth larvae.

When it got dark, Jamie turned the lamp on. It was a couple hours after that when Mick rolled over, said, “Fuck me gently with a chainsaw,” and sat up, his hair in tangles down his back.

Jamie raised his eyebrows at him. “You better?”

“Yeah.” Mick ran his fingers vigorously through his hair, said, “Christ, what time is it?”

“Quarter after eight.”

“You must be wanting to get home. Girlfriend waiting, right?”

It wasn’t quite a sneer, but the walls were going back up.

“You gonna be okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” A hesitation, quite palpable, although Jamie didn’t think he was supposed to notice it, and Mick said carelessly, “It takes me like that sometimes, when I get something really strong. No big deal.”

“Okay,” Jamie said; he didn’t need esper to know Mick was lying, especially about the “no big deal” part, and he thought, as he got to his feet and replaced Mick’s book on the shelf, that that went a long way toward explaining why Mick was so allergic to esper training.

“See you tomorrow, then,” Jamie said to Mick, and Mick, rummaging for clean clothes, ostentatiously preoccupied, said, “Yeah.”

And that was that.

***

In the morning, Mick looked like cold leftover death, and Jamie knew without either of them having to say a word that he hadn’t slept. Jesperson noticed it, too, but did not comment beyond a dubious quirk of one eyebrow.

He was bringing them up to speed on what Gonzales and Peters had accomplished the afternoon before, when Mick said abruptly, “What about the Timms case?”

Jesperson gave Mick a dry look over the tops of his glasses. “Not our jurisdiction.”

“It was an occult murder. Doesn’t that make it ours?”

“She was killed by living human beings.”

“Practicing unlicensed necromancy.”

“We have no direct evidence—”

“Rescog is admissible.”

“Not as hearsay.”

“So give me the goddamned ring and a tape recorder,” Mick said between his teeth.

Jamie said, trying not to sound like he was intervening, “Have the police caught up with that little clerk yet?”

“No,” Jesperson said. “Natalie Vowell didn’t go home last night, and didn’t show up for work this morning.”

“I thought we weren’t supposed to listen to the police band, sir,” Mick said nastily.

“I don’t.”

Jamie said, “You could give us another day off from the shoggoths, sir. I did see Miss Vowell face to face, after all, which’ll be a help in finding her.”

“We don’t know the girl had anything to do with it,” Jesperson said.

“Why the hell else would the ring have ended up where it did?” Mick demanded.

“If we find Miss Vowell, we can ask her,” Jamie said to Jesperson, trying desperately to pretend both to Jesperson and himself that Mick wasn’t being unreasonable, trying to forestall another shouting match. But Jesperson’s attention seemed to be somewhere else, for after a moment he said thoughtfully, looking at Jamie rather than Mick, “All right. You can have the morning to track this errant clerk. But I go no farther than that.”

“Thank you, sir,” Jamie said before Mick could get his mouth open. “Come on, Mick,” And Mick was sensible enough to see he’d won as much ground as he was going to; he followed Jamie without demur, down to the garage to get the Skylark.

As he was backing out, Jamie said, “Where do we start?”

He had half expected to get snapped at for asking something so stupid, but Mick said, “Tree of Life. Lord knows I don’t want to do another rescog, but if we can find something of hers there . . .” He trailed off, then muttered unhappily, “Christ, I feel like a fucking bloodhound. Just give me something with her scent on it and watch me go.”

“If you think she was one of the people who murdered Bethany Timms, then we want to bring her in. Don’t matter how we do it.”

“No, I suppose not. Tree of Life, then, and let’s hope Charlene isn’t there.”

Mick’s luck was not in. Madame Anastasia was minding the counter, and as soon as they walked through the door, Jamie understood why Mick had been trying to avoid her. “Mitchell, darling!” caroled Madame Anastasia, a big white bosomy woman with her hair dyed henna-red. “How delightful to see you again! And who is your very large friend?”

“Didn’t know your name was Mitchell,” Jamie said out of the side of his mouth.

“And if you like your balls where they are, you’ll pretend you still don’t,” Mick muttered back, then said with bright, false cheer, “Charlene! Don’t tell me I forgot to let you know I’d gone to work for the BPI.”

The expensively made-up face of Madame Anastasia fell so fast it was a wonder her foundation didn’t crack. “The . . . the BPI? Mitchell . . .”

“We were here yesterday,” Jamie said politely, and did not let himself smile at her double-take. A lot of white people reacted that way, as if a man his size and color oughtn’t to be able to code-switch. “We didn’t get a chance to speak with you.”

“I told those two other agents everything I know,” she said, rather shrilly.

“Of course you did,” Mick agreed, hitching one buttock up onto the counter in a way that suggested he was settling in for the duration. “We’re not here to ask you more questions, Charlene. We just want to know if Natalie Vowell left any of her personal belongings lying around.”

She stared at him for a long moment; then her eyes narrowed in vindictive triumph, and she said, “I knew you could rescog.”

Mick didn’t miss a beat, just smiled back and said, “Actually, that’s my partner. Things, Charlene. Did she leave any?”

She looked from Mick to Jamie. “I should ask to see your ID. I know you, Mitchell. I know how far—”

Mick, with a long-suffering sigh, flapped his badge at her.

She was turning red. Fury, Jamie thought, and remembered Mick’s bitter crack of the day before: Charlene sure can pick ‘em, can’t she? He wondered how long Mick had worked for Charlene Pruitt, and filed it away with the rest of the questions he was never under any circumstances going to ask.

“I’ll go see,” she said in a tight voice. Her heels beat a hard staccato rhythm into the back of the store.

Mick turned to Jamie, poised to say something, and Jamie said, “Man, you don’t need to tell me how much you hate her.”

It was almost funny, watching Mick trip over his own tongue. Finally he said, “Oh. Good.” Then a sudden frown pulled his eyebrows together, and he said accusingly, “You’re not nearly as stupid as you like to make out.”

“Well,” Jamie said, grinning, “I guess you caught me.”

Mick’s jaw sagged, and Jamie would have quite liked to find out what he would have said, but the trip-trap of Madame Anastasia’s returning heels brought them both sharply back to business.

Natalie Vowell had left her umbrella at the Tree of Life; after last week’s rain, it was hardly surprising. Jamie thanked Madame Anastasia with great politeness, took the umbrella in one hand and Mick’s elbow in the other, and marched them out of the store before Mick had time to object. Once in the parking lot, he let Mick pull away and tossed the umbrella at him. “You want to do your bloodhound thing, now’s a good time.”

“I don’t,” Mick began, trying for indignation, and then his hands clamped on the umbrella and he said, “Fuck.”

“It bad again?”

“Not as much. It’s just—God! The people who have touched this thing! Let’s hurry, okay?”

“You got it,” Jamie said, unlocking the Skylark. “Just tell me where to go.”

“She’s at the Greyhound station,” Mick said, slinging himself and the umbrella into the car. “Panhandling to get enough money for a ticket.”

“She getting close?”

“Not very.”

“All right then,” said Jamie, and put the Skylark into gear.

***

They had no difficulty in either finding or apprehending Natalie Vowell. She panicked when she saw Jamie looming through the plastic benches and crumpled travelers, and tried to run. Mick caught her easily, shoved her one-handed up against the nearest wall, his long nails threatening to tear the limp cotton of her blouse. “Okay, princess,” he said, in a low, controlled voice. “I think we all know why we’re here.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“Oh, please. You can’t lie to me, princess, so don’t even try. Tell me about the ring.”

She was starting to cry, not the pretty tears girls of her age sometimes used to get their own way, but big, gulping, snotty sobs. Jamie didn’t blame her, though he wished she’d be quieter about it. He smiled pleasantly at the approaching station official and showed his badge, which caused both that man and several others to back off in a hurry.

“Mick,” he said under his breath. “Not our jurisdiction.”

“I want to know first,” Mick said, leaning close enough to Natalie Vowell to kiss her. “I want to know, Natalie. And you’re going to tell me. All about Bethany Timms and that blue lace agate ring.”

There was a long moment, queerly intimate, silent except for Natalie Vowell’s sobbing breaths as she stared into Mick’s pale, fanatical eyes. Then, as suddenly as if someone had flipped a switch, she howled, “It was Bobby’s idea!” and the rest of her confession poured out of her. She’d helped murder Bethany Timms, taken the blue lace agate ring. But then she’d had second thoughts, yesterday morning; she’d wanted to get rid of the ring and its load of guilt, and hadn’t been able to think of any better way to do it than to add it to that basket of cheap rings in the Tree of Life.

Poor silly bitch, Jamie thought without any sympathy, and Mick said, “Let’s find some goddamn cops.”

***

Their afternoon was chewed up by the police and the paperwork and the great disgruntlement of the detective at having her suspect nabbed by ghoul hunters, unameliorated by her officers’ steady success at collecting the people Natalie Vowell had named as participants in the ritual, the murderers of Bethany Timms.

Mick kept his composure this time—clearly the umbrella really hadn’t been as bad as the ring—although that was a mixed blessing at best. Jamie finally had to invoke Jesperson to dispel the threat of being brought up on charges.

“The Old Man wouldn’t like knowing you’re taking his name in vain,” Mick said, sliding into the Skylark.

“If you tell him, I won’t ever give you a ride home before turning the car in again,” Jamie said mildly, and grinned at Mick’s startled glance.

The same spot in front of Mick’s building was free. Jamie pulled in. Mick made no move to get out, and after a moment, Jamie gave him a sidelong glance, eyebrows raised.

Mick was staring down at his hands. “I, um. I need to say thanks.”

“You’re welcome. What’d I do?”

“Um.” He was blushing now—a thing which Jamie had never expected to see, no matter how long they were partners—and he shook his head so his hair fell to shield his face. “You, um. Yesterday. You took care of me. Nobody’s ever . . . oh fuck I am not talking about this.”

“You don’t have to. I don’t need to know.”

One bright pale eye peered at him from behind the curtain of dyed-black hair.

“Mick,” Jamie said patiently. “I am not out to get you. I don’t care what shit you pull or how hard you ride me. I don’t care that you’re white, I don’t care that you’re gay, I don’t care that you’re a son of a bitch, and I don’t care that your fucking esper ratings can kick my ass. You’re my partner, and that means we’re on the same side. You read me?”

Mick pushed his hair back behind his ears, looking at Jamie strangely. “You really think it’s that easy?”

Jamie burst out laughing, a great bass roar that had Mick trying and failing not to join in. “Oh hell no. ‘Course it ain’t that easy. It’s just the way it is.”

“Oh,” Mick said and grinned at him, nothing held back. “Okay then.”

“Get your skinny white ass out of the car and go get some sleep,” Jamie said, grinning in return. “We’re back to them shoggoth larvae tomorrow.”

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Sarah Monette

Sarah MonetteSarah Monette grew up in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, one of the three secret cities of the Manhattan Project, and now lives in a 105-year-old house in the Upper Midwest with a great many books, two cats, one grand piano, and one husband. Her Ph.D. diploma (English Literature, 2004) hangs in the kitchen. She has published more than forty short stories and has two short story collections out: The Bone Key (Prime Books, 2007—with a shiny second edition in 2011) and Somewhere Beneath Those Waves (Prime Books, 2011). She has written two novels (A Companion to Wolves, Tor Books, 2007; The Tempering of Men, Tor Books, 2011) and three short stories with Elizabeth Bear, and hopes to write more. Her first four novels (Melusine, The Virtu, The Mirador, Corambis) were published by Ace. Her next novel, The Goblin Emperor, will come out from Tor under the name Katherine Addison.