The Diary of Algiers Stanton Stunning Contrast, the Park and Miss Human Pants
The murder of a close friend led me to become an investigator. He put the bug in my ear months before he died but I dismissed the idea as quickly as I did any responsibility which threatened my fast and loose lifestyle. Only when I lost something dear to me did I embrace detective work.
Years on the job didn’t make it any easier to visit a crime scene. Each time I set out to examine a corpse, I questioned my sanity. If I didn’t feel called to my profession, if I didn’t owe my friend’s memory, I might’ve given up a long time ago. When the phone rang at three-thirty in the morning, I struggled with my self-imposed obligation.
The wind held a hint of winter, a chill promising twenty degree days and gray skies for the foreseeable future. I wore a thick wool coat buttoned up to my neck with the collar up. My ears burned, my nose felt like a foreign object on my face and I’d only been away from the comforting warmth of the car for twenty minutes. An endless trickle of rain made for a miserable morning.
Demons were not designed for cold weather.
Mud glistened in the moonlight, clumps of grass and broken branches sticking out at odd angles. Bodies rarely found themselves on dry, even ground. They ended up half buried in mounds of leaves and filth. It kept the smell down but delayed discovery. Forensics might suffer if we were subject to normal human practices.
As Society investigators, we enjoyed esoteric methods considered fantasy by the regular police force.
Ophelia and I walked along a recently blazed trail down a slick incline. Grime worked its way into the leather of my boots and flecks of filth soaked through my slacks. Moisture coated my black hair and made my tie wrinkle. I didn’t have time to change before we left which meant I probably ruined a ten-thousand dollar suit.
I glanced back at my partner, hoping to share in my disdain for our environment. As usual, we couldn’t have been more different.
Where my expression set in a brooding, irritable scowl, she wore a nonchalant smirk. She practically skipped along, bumping into me every fifth step. I glared at her and she patted me on the shoulder, a placating gesture one might offer an old dog whining about the weather.
“You’re doing the brow frowny thing again.” Ophelia motioned to my face as she shoved by me. “Those’re going to be permanent someday. Incubus wrinkles probably never go away either so you should be careful. Try some yoga…or maybe get a cat.”
“We don’t wrinkle,” I grumbled. “Why’re you so calm? This place is horrible.”
“It’s the suburbs, Algy.” Ophelia shrugged. “Besides, what’s there to be unhappy about? Outside smells like dirty tree and rain. It’s like…suck multiplied somehow with bitty numbers by the bigger ones. I figure all the negatives make a positive, right?”
“Sure, when logic spills on the floor and a rat steps in it, that’s what you get.” We paused before stepping into the flood lights illuminating a small clearing. An army of regular cops milled about with cameras and scientific equipment. I leaned close to her. “I don’t get why we were called in for this.”
“It ain’t your charm.” Gavin’s gruff voice came from the left. The grizzled wizard wore his overcoat drawn tight on his thick frame, hands buried in his pockets. “I thought you two could use something easy. Take a look and see what you think. We’re not convinced it’s a Society case.”
“Can I see? Can I see?” Ophelia bounced on the balls of her feet, her wild white locks dancing about her head. “Is it all yucktified or is it clean? What kinda nutter are we thinking? Cutter or a beater? Skinner or a strangler? Eater or a shooter?”
“Um…” Gavin looked at me. “The way she grouped those shocked me the most.”
I shrugged. “Now you know what I have to deal with every day.”
“Anyway, we’re not sure yet.” Gavin led us into the clearing and motioned to a white sheet stained red. “It’s pretty bad. Tracks leading from the building suggest the victim was dragged here still struggling. The wounds…are ghastly.”
“What the hell did the killer do?” I asked.
“Take a look.” Gavin gestured but didn’t budge. If he was moved then it must’ve been incredibly bad. He’d been on the job for three decades and considering our cases, anything grotesque enough to make him squeamish must’ve been over the top.
Ophelia got there first and crouched, her hand poised to reveal the body. We made eye contact, her lavender to my blue, and I nodded once. With a quick tug she revealed the victim and struggled to stay upright.
We looked down on a nightmare.
The flesh on the right shoulder was pealed back, revealing bone. A long cut yawned from the throat to the navel, parted like a garment with a broken zipper. Empty eye sockets stared into nothing. The lips were removed and the cheeks ruined to reveal broken teeth, creating a macabre smile.
Blood coated the corpse like a thin blanket. Gore and grime matted the hair and offered some measure of modesty over the privates. One knee bent the wrong way and several fingers were gone.
“Ew!” Ophelia covered her mouth and nose. “What the hell!”
“No shit.” I turned away. “Cover it back up.”
Ophelia dropped the sheet and stood. “What would’ve done something so vile?”
“What about a shifter?”
“Nope.” Ophelia shook her head. “They don’t torture people. Even the total assholes and infectious shifters are stuck with the instinct to eat. Hurting takes too much thought…it requires some rationality.”
“So who’s into pain play?” I asked.
“Body tapper maybe?”
“Body…tapper?” I raised a brow. “What the hell are they?”
“Oh, it’s what we called necros.” Ophelia shrugged. “Cause they tap the bodies for resources. You know…like Mana in Magic.” Her eyes narrowed. “Why, what did you think I meant?”
“Um…” I cleared my throat.
“Ew, really!?” Ophelia shook her head. “You’re nasty, Algy!”
“Hey, how the hell was I supposed to know what you were talking about?” I turned back to Gavin. “What do we have on this? Are there more victims in the house?”
“Yeah, and they’re worse off.” Gavin rubbed his eyes. “There’s so much blood in there it looks like Satan threw a birthday party. Whoever’s responsible had a great time.”
Ophelia grabbed my arm and pulled me closer to Gavin. She lowered her voice into a harsh whisper. “Why are all the normals here? If it might be our case, they should be gone. Our mojo advantage is kinda handicapped, ya know? This isn’t standard procedure.”
Gavin and I stared at her.
“Oh, stop.” Ophelia shook her head. “I do remember some stuff.”
“This is a special situation,” Gavin replied. “Politics are involved. After the little demonic incursion you thwarted with the vampire kid and the Hermes Foundation BS we needed some help cleaning up the mess. The council negotiated with some of the humans and so we’re tentatively trying a little co-op to see how it works out. That’s where you two come in.”
“First off, Vinny’s like a thirty five year old vampire so kid is a little weak,” Ophelia said. “Second, I feel like I should be saying uh oh because whatever you’re on about doesn’t sound good.”
“I’m with her,” I added. “What’s going on?”
“Let’s head back to the front.” Gavin motioned. “There’s someone I’d like you to meet.”
We trudged through the mud and across the yard, my feet sinking several inches into the saturated grass. We headed for the house, a three story brick affair built sometime in the eighties. Storm windows were the newest addition and the garden surrounding the foundation could’ve been on a magazine cover.
Whoever tended it had a serious green thumb bordering on too good. I sensed a subtle power working in the soil but beyond the general sense of energy, I couldn’t make out what left it behind. Was it important? Maybe. But then again, the landscapers may have been wood sprites making some extra cash on the side.
Police cars parked in the grass and the street. Wagons, cruisers and even two motorcycles positioned in a chaotic pattern only law enforcement seemed capable of creating. I fancied a bird’s eye view would show some demonic symbol meant to summon one of my people from home.
The nearest house stood a thousand yards off and their lights were out. They probably didn’t want to be bothered by whatever happened but if this event took place in the city proper, two dozen curious onlookers would’ve been rubbernecking for a glimpse at something horrifying.
Humans loved to indulge their fascination with suffering.
Gavin led us to the nearest forensic truck. Two technicians seemed to be briefing a dark haired woman wearing a sharp skirt suit. I put her age around thirty though the excessive professionalism made it tough. An air of confidence surrounded her and the bulge under her left arm suggested she was some sort of detective.
She stood five-six with flat, sensible shoes and far more polish than a regular cop. Maybe a lieutenant or captain though it seemed premature for her age. Regardless, I appreciated her brown eyes and the curve of her jaw…the swell of her breasts and…
Ophelia whacked me on the arm and I stood straighter, clearing my throat.
The woman dismissed the techs and turned an appraising gaze on us.
“Algiers, Ophelia, meet Special Agent Rebecca Marsh.” Gavin made the introductions. I should’ve guessed FBI but I was distracted by her…ahem. “Rebecca, these are two of our senior investigators, Algiers Stanton and Ophelia Dupré. You’ll be working together for the duration of this investigation.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Rebecca shook my hand. “I look forward to working with you.”
“Yeah, I’m sure it’ll be kittens, rainbows and candy corns.” Ophelia frowned as she shook Rebecca’s hand. “Nice to meet you, even if this makes no sense.”
“We’re not sure how this will go, Ophelia,” Gavin said. “Cooperation like this may change our relationship with humans. Instead of working for us they could become partners. If I were you, I’d get to it. Report to me when you have something.”
“Great.” I waved at Gavin as he left. “So…are you FBI or something?”
“Yes, we started a new branch called The Park. It’s a liaison organization to your Society. A member of your council works closely with our oversight.”
“Gotcha.” I motioned to the house. “Have you already been through the place?”
Rebecca sighed. “Yes, it’s a total mess. It appears the perps forced entry through the living room window and front door. The evidentiary team identified several sets of foot prints in the blood and they’re eliminating the victims and first responders right now. They didn’t bother to clean anything up so we’re bound to find some good leads.”
“What about our field ops?” Ophelia asked. “Have they had a chance to go through the place yet?”
“They’re on the way,” Rebecca said. “Do you want to examine it while we wait?”
“Sure. We’ll meet you just inside, okay?”
“No problem.” Rebecca nodded once and headed off.
I turned to Ophelia.
“Why’re your feathers all ruffled?” I asked. “This isn’t a bad thing.”
Ophelia shrugged. “Meh. Our sense of justice differs from theirs a lot. We don’t have loopholes people can jump through. If one of us screws up, we tell them to stop. If it’s not too bad but happens repeatedly, we correct their behavior through places like the Pit and if they go over the top, we kill them. It’s simple. Direct. There’re no complications. Human rules…confuse me. They’re stupid.”
“I understand where you’re coming from.” I patted her on the shoulder. “Let’s just focus on this case for now and worry about becoming their buddies later. If this does turn out to be ours, you know we’ll deal with it our way. Don’t worry.”
“I’ll try.” Ophelia looked down. “You know…I just…I really hate change like this. It doesn’t feel safe. Maybe it’s a fairy thing but when they talk about hanging with normies, it gets weird. And how do you make the transition from keeping stuff hidden from humans to sharing with them? What’s next? I’ll tell you. Groundhog revolution…or worse.”
“Groundhog revolution, huh?” I raised my brows. “Why would groundhogs be bent out of shape?”
“It’s that shadow business.” Ophelia shook her head and made for the house. “They’re sick of humans watching to see if they get scared. Now, they’re hate filled and rage fed ready for justice…or something.”
“Right. Makes about as much sense as what you were talking about earlier, what was it again?”
“Robot monkey overlords prepping Japan to help them with their simian world domination plans. It’s in the works, I promise.”
“Yep, that one.” I reached the porch. “This whole place is being cataloged by the humans. I suggest we don’t touch anything without gloves. I wouldn’t want to explain my fingerprints and God knows yours are probably laced with LSD or some other psychotropic fairy disaster waiting to happen.”
“Hey, my hands are cleaner than your hairy paws, boner demon.” Ophelia wrinkled her nose. “Ew! Whatever did this really unleashed some emotions. Can you feel it?”
“Yeah, just about as well as the desire to punch you for that quip.” An aura of misery settled over the place thick enough to cut with a plastic spoon. Several dead bodies were inside and I felt their lack of essence. It wasn’t as traumatizing as hanging out at the morgue but a sense of unease tickled the back of my mind. “If this is our kind of investigation, whatever did it might still be here.”
“True.” Ophelia hummed softly. “I wish I would’ve brought my sword.”
“Blame Gavin for this whole let the cops stick around thing.” I stepped into the house.
Forensic technicians moved about, gathering up evidence. Glass and broken furniture littered the floor. None of the victims were there but a trail of blood led through the room to a side door. I scanned the room for any obvious signs of supernatural activity such as claw marks or scorch wood on the walls. Wizard energy balls tended to go high when they missed and shifters tended to like tearing up the floors.
Neither proved true in this case.
Rebecca joined us and motioned at the stairs. “One of the deceased is up there and the others are in the kitchen.” She squinted down the hall. “We didn’t find anything in those rooms but they’ve all been ransacked. My guess is the victims were terrorized and chased through the house, leading to the collateral damage.”
“What about theft?” I asked. “Maybe they were looking for something.”
“If they were, they wanted something specific,” Rebecca said. “I found some expensive jewelry on the dresser, sitting there in plain view.”
“So you’re thinking thrill kill.” Ophelia tapped her chin. “Any number of things could be involved. Shifters and vampires can go bad enough to torture their prey. Ghouls don’t bother to play with their food though. When they show up, they open the buffet and pass the salt.”
Thankfully, the human technicians were too busy with their own conversation to eavesdrop on ours, especially considering how brazen Ophelia chose to be. Maybe they thought we were speaking in code. We certainly seemed an unlikely pair to be detectives. Those around us kept their heads down and worked.
I lowered my voice. “You know, regular people do this kind of thing too.”
“Sure, but they wouldn’t need us if some jack ass picked up an edger from Home Depot and decided to pay a visit to the suburbs for some late night human pruning,” Ophelia said. “So I’m speculating in a way which makes sense for us. Caput?”
“Pretty sure you mean capiche.” I looked around. “Just don’t rule out normies, okay?”
“Why are you being quiet about the one thing they can hear about?” Ophelia shook her head. “Sometimes, you’re really daft, Algy. Hmph. Capiche. Sounds like a fast food tomato sauce sandwich or something.”
I shrugged at Rebecca, offering my best apologetic expression. She didn’t seem to care.
We walked through the house amongst the remnants of a normal life destroyed. Photographs of special events and smiling people were scattered about the floor or askew on the walls. The color scheme was bright and vibrant, purple and teal covered the walls. Underneath the scent of gore, I detected a combination of pine and Febreze.
Rebecca stopped us as we arrived at the kitchen. “The blood’s about an inch thick all over the floor. Two bodies were left in here. One they left on the counter and the other they jammed behind the stove. Someone tread through to check the corpses but they won’t fess up. After them, nothing’s been disturbed.”
Gory destruction covered every conceivable surface, littering the walls and counters as if someone pumped it through a high pressure hose. Chunks of organ dripped from a rack of utensils while other unmentionable parts piled high in the sink. I sneered from the odor. Rebecca put a rag over her mouth as Ophelia crouched at the entry.
“There’s a lot more blood than two bodies can hold.” Ophelia motioned with her hand. “This is gallons. What did they do, bring some with them? We’re going to need large samples if we’re going to differentiate the number of victims we’re seeing here.”
“I agree.” I turned to Rebecca. “Are your people collecting this stuff? We’ve got some experts who can help us out. They can provide specifics without the inaccuracies of DNA testing.”
“They’re on it.” Rebecca pressed the rag hard enough against her face that her voice came out muffled. “Anything else?”
“Just as long as they get tissue samples and move the bodies to the morgue, we’ll be good.” I hummed. “I hope this is the kind of cooperation our bosses were big on.”
“Done.” Rebecca backed away. “Do you want to see the second floor?”
“Yep.” Ophelia stood up. “We need to make a clean sweep but I’m most interested in the basement.”
“Why?” I asked.
Ophelia sighed. “I have a bad feeling the people were killed there.”
“She may be right,” Rebecca added. “There’s even more blood downstairs. Do you think they were executed then mutilated posthumously?”
“For the sake of the victims,” I said, “I hope so but I wouldn’t assume. This is deranged enough, they must’ve had a purpose…even if they were pulling a thrill kill.”
The second floor proved to be much the same as the first. Broken furniture and gore made up all but one room, a bathroom no one seemed to disturb. The covered body proved to be mutilated beyond recognition, what was left of the face appeared twisted in terror.
“Were the bodies holding anything in their hands?” Ophelia asked. “Or did they have anything in their mouths?”
Only the woman.” Rebecca gave my partner an odd look. “A tiny flower crushed in the palm of her left hand. We bagged it for the lab to ID it.”
Ophelia nodded. “I’ll need to see it before it leaves. It’s important.”
“How’d you know?” Rebecca asked. “Seems like a random guess.”
“Cults do weird stuff, Miss FBI,” Fi replied, “and while I didn’t know what you’d find there, I figured there’d be something. Even if it has nothing to do with the supernatural, calling cards are not unheard of in ritual murders. The flower is the least creepy I’ve seen.”
“I’d hate to hear what the creepiest was,” Rebecca replied.
Ophelia deadpanned “you’re right,” and headed downstairs to the basement. It was the only room without a cadre of investigators taking up space as if they hadn’t gotten there yet. The darkness didn’t bother my eyes but I couldn’t make out any details.
“This is better.” Ophelia grinned at me. “Let there be light!”
She snapped her fingers and the whole room began to glow blue. Large pools of blood covered the floor. Four squares marred the gore, each perfectly spaced for a chair. Red splatters covered the walls and the shelves were conspicuously empty.
“Is this a robbery too?” I asked. “Where’s all the stuff. No one’s basement is ever this clean.”
“Notice how the blood collected?” Ophelia motioned. “That’s not all from the victims. I wonder why they did the BYOB…I guess it could be a vitae demoralis cult again but I swore we put all those bastards down a long time ago.”
Rebecca tilted her head. “What’s a…whatever you said cult?”
“Basically, blood cults,” I said. “A long time ago, some wizard cult got clever and called themselves vitae demoralis which translated to ‘the immoral blood’. They hunted down victims they believed were impure and tortured the hell out of them.”
“Do I even want to know how?”
“Not really,” Ophelia answered. “They’d brutally execute people and drain their bodies of blood before conducting rituals. Sometimes they’d drink the stuff…which never made sense to me since you know…they thought their victims were icky.”
“Okay, wow.” Rebecca frowned. “I thought the Society didn’t allow that sort of thing.”
“It all depends,” I said, “on whether or not the humans start figuring it out. When there’s a risk to all of us, then we intervene. Otherwise…”
Rebecca nodded. “You let them do what they do. So if this mess is one of those cults, what happens then?”
“We’d have to find their lair.” Ophelia snapped her fingers and the light died. “Which is usually a big pain in the ass. They burrow deep and always have more hiding places. It sucks.”
“Let’s make sure they’re the problem before we worry too much,” I said. “I think we’ve seen enough here. If we have to come back, it’ll be cordoned off and we can have another go. How many victims are there total?”
“Four,” Rebecca answered. “Two teenage children and two adults. The photographs suggest they were all related but we haven’t technically identified the kids yet. We found the mother outside, the father upstairs and the…well, the others were in the kitchen.”
“Names?” Ophelia prompted.
“Matilda Blake, forty-five and Brian Blake, forty-seven.” Rebecca pulled out a notepad. “Their children are Jim and Sandy, seventeen and sixteen respectively.”
“A whole family…” Ophelia shook her head. A haunted look crossed her face but was quickly replaced by rage. Her lavender eyes burned. “This is so…senseless.”
“We’ll need records on them, anything you can get.” I tapped off my fingers as I made a list. “Friends, relatives, acquaintances, bills, debts…we need someone to delve into their lives and see if anything normal compelled someone to do this.”
“I’m on it.” Rebecca scribbled notes.
“For now, let’s get back to the office,” I said. “Give the specialists some time to research.”
“Am I tagging along?” Rebecca asked.
“If you’re not needed here, you’re more than welcome.” I looked around. “Do they have it under control?”
“Let me issue a few more instructions and I’ll meet you out front.” Rebecca started off.
“Don’t forget to get us a sample of the flower,” I called.
Ophelia and I returned to the car in silence. Once we were alone, she cleared her throat. “As awful as this crime is, I don’t think it’ll be our case. I mean, I want to beat the living Snickers out of whoever did it but I’m sure most of the guys combing the scene feel the same way.”
“What about the emotional stuff we felt? It seemed more than you’d get from a standard psychotic killer.”
“Don’t underestimate humanity’s cruelty, Algy,” Ophelia warned. “They’ve always done worse things to each other than we ever could. Think about the horrible events in their history and the people responsible: Jack the Ripper, Bosnia, the Holocaust and even earlier during the French revolution and the massacres of the Hundred Years War. People are made to kill each other and they’ve turned it into a science.”
“I can’t be sure Hitler and Jack weren’t influenced by demons,” I said, “but point taken. I’m surprised to hear you talk so…seriously.”
“Anyway, while you’re right, something doesn’t seem right to me. I’ll bet you the evidence turns up something crazy.”
“We’ll see.” Ophelia sighed, closed her eyes and leaned back in her seat.
“Okay, what’s wrong?” I turned in my seat to look her over. Blond-white hair stuck up in a dozen directions, proving to be less tidy than usual. Her skin seemed a touch paler and her suit jacket looked wrinkled as if she slept in it. One of the butts of her two pistols peeked out from behind a lapel. “You look tired.”
“I am tired.” She didn’t open her eyes. “This case woke me up from a bad dream. I know it’s horrible to say but I’m glad this happened in a way…or at least I’m happy they needed us. I got to wake up early.”
“Ouch.” I never had nightmares. Demons possessed a unique perspective on dreaming in general and when we experienced them, even the most frightening visuals weren’t enough to cause real problems. I imagined a fairy’s subconscious could be terrifying though so I erred on the side of sensitive. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“Not really.” Ophelia pointed past my head, still with her eyes closed. “Your girlfriend is ready to go.”
I looked up and saw Rebecca approaching. “Okay, how’d you do that? I should’ve felt her before you did.”
“I was peeking.” Ophelia leaned against the window. “Let’s get back to the office so we can get this thing going. Grumpy fairy is grumpy.”
“Grumpy fairy should not refer to herself in the third person nor try to define her emotional state with the same word. It doesn’t work.” I rolled down my window to address Rebecca. “We ready then?”
“Yep. I’ve been given orders to be notified when they’re done with all the tests.” Rebecca leaned on the hood of the car, looking back up at the house. “It’ll be a while though. I don’t know how fast this lab tends to be.”
“Maybe we can expedite things,” I said. “Our sources generally jump on cases fast. Anyway, let’s get out of here.”
Ophelia remained silent throughout the drive, just staring out the window. I couldn’t remember the last time she proved so quiet and introverted. Any other time she would’ve been bouncing around in her seat, carrying on like a teenager overdosed on Red Bull. I didn’t know what to say so I focused on the road and let the stillness in the car grow uncomfortable.
We’d been through a lot since our last major investigation into an infectious shifter causing havoc in the city. The experience left a mark on both of us though Ophelia took the brunt. Her mentor, Aleister Keats, had been responsible for the carnage and it made her question things on a person level.
The Society considered anyone trained by the rogue to be at risk. Even though Ophelia had been directly involved in the death of Keats and ultimately one of two people who resolved the problem, an internal investigation hounded her for nearly four months. The council became paranoid and saw plans within plans regardless of how farfetched they might be.
Ophelia accepted their probing with as much good nature as to be expected. The stress wore on her though. Keats pressed her so hard to join him, it made everyone suspicious. They were convinced they’d find something but they quickly ran out of leads and reasons to bother her.
One of them went so far as to paint an elaborate scheme where Keats, knowing the Society would win the battle, sacrificed himself. They figured he left Ophelia some secret instructions on how to bring him back. I guess since he trained as a necromancer, the council decided he could bubble from death like the Mummy.
Eyewitness testimony as to what happened and Ophelia’s reaction to it all did nothing to ablate their fears either. She endured a great deal in a short time but there were other events which put some points on her scoreboard.
Her private investigation with Vinny Presaro saved the region if not the world. Her vampire friend became a resource as well with his precognitive dreams which alerted him to the threat. They ran the investigation together, off the books, and eventually turned it over to the Society to wrap up.
Then we had the official case of helping Nicolas Chabrier with a wizard problem. Ophelia risked her life on several occasions to save the city. Her selflessness earned her favor and though they weren’t entirely convinced of her innocence (because frankly, they’re assholes), they stopped giving her shit and let her get back to normal case work.
I figured Ophelia deserved to have an attitude. She gave the Society everything and the first time something questionable happened, they tried to hang her out to dry. Action movie villains blew up cities for less and she would be far more dangerous than any gun toting ex-cop with a vendetta.
Of course, she never talked to me about her feelings so I was speculating. For all I knew, she might be upset a goldfish died in her neighborhood.
I bought our office building in an upscale part of town by a man-made lake. Cops frequented the area and their presence kept the crime rate down. The central location made most of our resources a short drive away and it provided a fantastic base of operations. I also liked the view.
I hopped out and started up the walkway with Ophelia close behind. Rebecca hadn’t quite reached us when a breeze caught the door and it tapped against the frame. I cast a glance at my partner. She’d already drawn her weapon, altering her posture from casual to dangerous in half a second.
“This is why we can’t have nice things,” Ophelia muttered, holding her hand up to make Rebecca slow down. “We have an intruder.”
“Really?” Rebecca noted the firearm and drew her own automatic. “You want me to call for backup.”
“Nah.” I pulled my gun. “We’ve got this, right Fi? You want to take point?”
“Point?” Ophelia rolled her eyes. “It’s not like we’re about to take them by surprise. They saw us drive up and if they didn’t, we don’t have to be fancy.” She nudged the door with her foot then raised her voice. “Whoever’s in there should probably give up and stuff. Fair warning before we shoot guns.”
The room seemed darker than when I left it. I left two lamps on before I locked up. “Hey, you want to do the light trick?”
“I just tried,” Ophelia muttered. “Nothing happened.”
“What?” I rasped. “What do you mean nothing happened?”
“I mean someone blocked me.” Ophelia waved a hand at me to be quiet and shouted in the building again. “We mean it: if you don’t show yourself there will be bullets. We’re good with the bullets! Now come out!”
“Ophelia?” A quiet, woman’s voice responded. I didn’t sense the presence inside but I heard fear in her timbre. “Is… is that you?”
“Neesa?” Ophelia immediately lowered the gun but didn’t dash inside. “Are you… I mean… what are you… how is this… wait, did you do the dark thing?”
“Oh, yeah! Sorry!” Suddenly, the darkness gave way to the warm glow of my two lamps. “I heard a car and got nervous. Thought it would be safer if I dropped the lights for a bit.”
Ophelia put her weapon away as she rushed inside. She made a direct line to our guest and reached for her. “I can’t believe you’re here! You’re… you’re older!”
Neesa took Ophelia’s hands and stood up. They appeared to be the same physical age with all the curves to prove it. The newcomer’s dark hair provided a stark contrast to Ophelia’s white but they certainly had a lot in common. I felt the light in her, the sense of wonder my partner enjoyed but it seemed subdued, suppressed.
She wore blue jeans and a black sweater, her white tennis shoes scuffed with dust. I shrugged at Rebecca’s questioning expression. I had no idea what was going on.
“Yeah, a lot has changed.” Neesa frowned deeply. “And now I’m here and… this place… it’s… all so scary…”
“It’s okay.” Ophelia reached out and touched Neesa’s cheek gently, offering a bright smile. “Did you leave a family or something? The real world doesn’t have to be scary. I can show you! I’ve been here a long time!”
“Hey.” I cleared my throat. “What the hell is this?”
“Oh, Algy, I’m sorry!” Ophelia turned and motioned to both of us. “Neesa, this is my partner Algy and Miss Human Pants. Guys, this is Neesa. She’s…an old friend.”
Ophelia considered few people to be close friends, let alone old. Vinny Presaro made the cut as did Sierra Gardener. Elora Danning, a fellow investigator, spent some time with her but they were all people she worked with at one time or another. Much as I wished otherwise, my fairy friend was the job.
“Friend, huh?” I shrugged. “Where from?”
“The Veil,” Ophelia replied. She smiled wider than I’d seen in a long time. “She and I arrived roughly at the same time there. She’s a fairy like me!”
“Um…” I paused, unable to reply. I knew other fairies in my day but none as functional as Ophelia. Most of them were strange beyond compare, even worse than her on a bad day. I checked the registry at one point and there were less than a handful in the books all over the world.
“I guess I should say welcome.” I turned to Rebecca but she remained a silent observer, lifting her shoulders to fend off any attempts for advice. “Would…anyone…like some pie?”
“Me!” Ophelia and Neesa cried at the same time. Inwardly, I sighed. We were already busy with breaking in a new human investigator and dealing with a grip of dead bodies without having two sugar shocked fairy in a small one thousand square foot office. I guess it didn’t matter. Either way, we were in for a long morning.