The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 70

The ‘transport’ had turned out to be a handcart pulled by two burly men, and it was only big enough for Callindra to ride.  Since the rest of her friends were posing as her guards, she thought it was fitting that they walk, regardless of how much Reed grumbled about it.  Besides, there was no way she could have walked that far in the gown and shoes.  Even if it wasn’t so tight she could barely breathe, she would be worried about soiling her hem in the dirt of the street.

Following the winding wooden platforms that connected the dirt and cobblestone streets, they arrived at Ellen Eth ‘Orien’s mansion.  It was three stories tall, each story made of a different color of marble.  The courtyard was paved with gold coins instead of gravel, and guards in matching jet black livery stood at the polished blackwood doors.

Callindra stepped from the cart, gratefully accepting Reed’s hand to steady herself when her bloody skirts nearly tripped her.  Now she understood why Ladies had attendants.  Approaching the guards at the door, she gave them a slight inclination of her head and walked through the door.  The ballroom was so breathtaking it took her a moment to notice her companions hadn’t entered behind her.

A man in black livery with a staff of office stepped from behind a podium, looking at her appraisingly.  “And you are?”  He inquired in a voice that suggested she was dressed in strips of rotting meat.

Her temper flared, and a gust of wind swirled around her before blowing an inkwell over onto a stack of paper before also blowing the documents to the floor.  “Invited.”  She said shortly, gliding past him as he jumped to try and save the parchment.

“My attendants should be joining me shortly,”  Callindra said over her shoulder, and then she had to focus on her surroundings.  The arched entrance led down to a floor inlaid with gold and jade in intricate swirling patterns.  Richly dressed men and women stood in groups, talking and listening to an orchestra playing in a minor key.

As she walked through the archway, a gentle chime sounded, and the assembled folk turned to look in her direction.  A light above illuminated her as she walked down a wide staircase, and a servant in white livery came to offer escort.  A man in a perfectly tailored suit of dark red satin with lace ruffles at the cuffs and collar approached and bowed.

“Delgrin did not introduce you, but I gather you must be Lady Sol’Estin?”  He took her hand and brushed it with his lips.  “I am Count Drake Ardent.”

Callindra took her hand back to curtsey as Rrayu had taught her, “I am indeed, it is a pleasure to meet you, Count Ardent.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 69

“She’s barely left that room for two days.”  Vilhylm said, “I can’t imagine something’s going to have significantly changed in such a short time.”

“Maybe not, but I ain’t gonna be the one to mess up my part,”  Reed said, helping himself to a glass of wine.  “We’re all supposed to be escorts.  You’re all guards of one nature or another; that sounds easy enough to me.  I gotta be like a runner or something; hopefully, I can chat up some of the servants.”

“None of us have to change who we appear to be.”  Holt said, “She is undertaking a much more difficult task.”

“I’m certainly not a guard.”  Connor said, “I should probably just stay behind so I don’t mess anything up.”

The door to Callindra’s room swung open, and a vision in forest green silk with a matching handbag hanging from her right wrist on a delicate silver chain swept into the room.  The lines of her dress made a gentle hourglass shape, the bodice and skirt accentuating her figure.  Velvet slippers peeked out from the gold-embroidered hem.  Subtle touches of color highlighted her cheekbones and the seafoam green of her eyes.

“You shall indeed remain here and employ your arcane talents to study our situation further.”  She said, “The rest of you are to attend me at Lady ‘Orien’s ball.  Accord yourselves well and do not embarrass me.”

They all stared at her in momentary shock.  Reed was the first to find his voice.  “Callindra?  You actually look like a Courtier.  Gods and bloody demons, you SOUND like a Courtier.”

“Language Reed.  Holt, please close your mouth before you catch flies.”  The corner of her mouth quirked, and she started to laugh.  “By the nine hells, you should see your faces!”

“You’ve worked very hard, and the results are plain to see.”  Vilhylm said with a smile, “I didn’t think you could accomplish so much in such a short time, you will do us all proud.”

Callindra gave him a hug, a slight flush coloring her cheeks.  “I feel so bedamned awkward.”

“You look the part quite well,”  Holt said, seeming to recover from his shock.  “Hiding your sword in your magical bag is brilliant.”

“We need to be ready to depart shortly.”  She said, falling back into character.  “Please make yourselves presentable.”

Callindra moved to a table and sat primly, gesturing for Rrayu to bring her refreshment.  The others looked at her for a moment before realizing she was serious.  They left to make final preparations before presenting themselves for Rrayu’s appraisal.  She made minor adjustments, straightening and smoothing before sighing that they’d do.

“My Lady, I have asked for transport to be brought, they should be out front now,”  Rrayu said, giving Callindra a final once over.  “Gods all bless.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 68

“What was his name?”  Rrayu asked, eager to be helpful.  “Perhaps I know him.”

“He didn’t introduce himself.”  Callindra said, “Now I understand why.  He was above average height, wore clothing that usually had armor over it, and carried his longsword as though it was a part of his body.”

“What color were his eyes?  His hair?”  Rrayu asked, “I could narrow the number of people, but he sounds like one of the city guardsmen.”

“I have no idea what color his eyes were; I think his hair was black or dark brown.”  Callindra said, “Why would I notice things like that?”

“A Courtier needs to look at all the subtleties every person shows.  Their hair color and style can reveal much about who and what they are.  Their eyes can give the lie to any tale they may try and spin.  The cut and fit of their clothes can speak to their ability to choose their servants and how they treat them.”  Rrayu sighed, “But I suppose you are new to the ways of court.”

“Sounds like I have a lot to learn in the next two days, then.”  Callindra said, “I accepted a formal invitation to attend a ball and it’s up to you to make sure I don’t make a complete ass of myself.”

“Two days?”  Rrayu squeaked, “I cannot possibly even get you a proper gown in two days!”

“I’ll try to be the best student I can be, but I don’t know the first thing about being a Courtier.”  Callindra said, “I didn’t choose you as a servant exactly, but I’m choosing to trust you to with this.  Let’s see how good my judgment is.”

“Get out of those clothes immediately,”  Rrayu said, rising and moving briskly to the closet.  “If you wish to pass as a Lady, you will need to spend every waking moment getting accustomed to stays and skirts.”

“Shadowsliver sort of ruins the image though, doesn’t he?”  Callindra smiled lovingly at her sword.  “I’ll never pass for a Lady I’m afraid.”

“The only thing I have ever seen a Lady carry is perhaps a small bag,”  Rrayu said, gesturing to Callindra’s coin purse still tied to her belt.

“Ah, then perhaps I can simply carry a small bag.”  Callindra grinned, picked up her coin purse and thrust Shadowsliver inside.  Despite the sword being many times longer than the pouch, it vanished into the magical space, disappearing from view.

“My Lady, that is purely inspired,”  Rrayu said, relief evident in her voice.  “Now out of those clothes while I select you some appropriate after-dinner attire for you.”

With a sigh, Callindra began removing the garments she’d worn to the common room.  Rrayu began pulling garments out of the closet, muttering to herself and discarding them one after another.  She finally brought a set of strange looking undergarments, a dark blue dress with a cream bodice.  Matching tights and slippers completed the outfit.

“That’s a bit elaborate for me in my own sitting room, isn’t it?”  Callindra asked, looking at the pile of fabric.  “I’m not expecting any visitors.”

“This is the simplest and least constrictive garment that still meets the requirements of propriety.”  Rrayu said, “I’m going easy on you because I don’t think you’re ready for something more.”

Callindra stood and allowed Rrayu to help her into the tights, strap the stays over her chest and tie her into the dress.  The restrictive skirts forced her to take much shorter steps than usual and the pressure of the stays and bodice made it impossible for her to take a full breath.  If someone attacked her, she would be unable to defend herself properly.

“I don’t like this.”  She said, “I can barely move.”

“You can move as much as you need to.”  Rrayu said calmly, “A Lady’s battlefield does not require the use of swords.”

Callindra tried to sigh but found the bodice wouldn’t allow it.  She tried to flop down in a chair but found that the rigidity of the stays kept her back straight, and she ended up awkwardly perching on the edge.  The extra heat generated by the layers of clothes combined with her nervousness made her feel like she would sweat to death.

“I can’t do this.”  She said, clutching the coin purse that held her sword.  “I’m too vulnerable.”

“You have attendants who will deal with your personal safety Lady Sol’Estin.”  Rrayu said, “You must rely on them for that purpose and they will depend on you for defense against the politics of court.  I will do as much as I can to provide you the proper weapons to go along with your armor.”

Callindra let out her breath and tried to imagine that the clothes she now wore were armor, that the way she spoke to others would be like sword strokes.  “The first Korumn is of the Breath.”  She said, breathing gently in through her nose and out through her mouth.  Her shoulders relaxed as a feeling of calm descended over her.

“If this is what it takes to be a leader, then I will find a way to rise to the challenge.”  Squaring her shoulders, she looked Rrayu in the eyes.  “Teach me what you can.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 67

A woman wearing an elaborately pleated green silk gown swept across the dance floor and favored Callindra with a dazzling smile and a graceful curtsey.  “Lady Sol’Estin, I am Miss Dinneh, may I join you?”

Callindra smiled back and gestured toward the seat across from her.  “Of course, Miss Dinneh, please have a seat.  Reed, won’t you pour her some refreshment?”

Reed barely missed a beat, pouring a goblet of mead and placing it before her with a flourish.  “With your leave, my Lady?”  He said, waiting for her nod before vanishing onto the dance floor, already taking a laughing girl by the hand.

“What brings you to my table?” Callindra asked, sampling her mead.

“I am an emissary from the Lady Ellen Eth ‘Orien.”  She replied, lifting her goblet in salute.  “I am here to bid you welcome to this last bastion of civilization in a world gone mad.  The Lady graciously offers to shelter you beneath the wings of her benevolent protection.”

“I confess, I find you a much more congenial companion than the last messenger the Lady sent my way,”  Callindra said, nibbling on a small sweet bread.

“Our sincere apologies, we were unaware that you possessed a Title.”  She winced,  “My Mistress wished to ascertain if you were an imposter and may have sent a rather less polite representative to see what sort of reaction would result.”

“Judging by your appearance here, I gather I passed her test?”  Callindra asked, raising an eyebrow.

“She sent me here to offer an invitation to a ball she is putting on two days hence by way of apology.”  Dinneh said, “I am here to bring your response back to her.”

“I gratefully accept both apology and invitation,”  Callindra said, smiling to keep the look of panic off her face.  “I look forward to meeting your Lady and her court.”

“Wonderful,”  Dinneh said, rising gracefully and dipping another curtsey.  “We shall be honored to host the Sol’Estin.”

Callindra kept her face impassive until the other woman had moved out of sight.  Someone had let her secret slip, and if there was anyone from The Order in the Undercity, she would be in danger.  More than that, she had told Rrayu specifically not to tell anyone and nobody other than her friends knew of her title.  It was time to go and have a chat with her maid.

She climbed the stairs with determined strides and flung open the door to her chambers.  “Rrayu, come here right bloody now and by the gods and demons explain to me why you revealed my Title to Ellen Eth!”

“Please, my Lady, I swear I did not say anything!”  Rrayu entered the sitting room, wringing her hands in supplication.  “I have not even made a report yet; I could not have betrayed your secret!”

Callindra looked at her with skepticism, “Where else would Lady ‘Orien’s agents have found out about it?”

“I don’t know my Lady, but please believe me; I didn’t breathe a word of it to anyone.”

A thought struck Callindra, and she knew her maid was telling the truth.  “It was that man.”  She said in a flat voice.  “He must have been from The Order.  I should have known by how he carried his sword.”

The Angel Murders – Jack Part I

“What’s the matter Jackass?” Bryce asked, kicking Jack in the stomach.  “I thought you liked dancing.  We’re just asking you to dance for us!”

Jack tried to draw in a breath but only succeeded in making a pathetic noise and throwing up.

“Bryce, that’s disgusting.”  Jeannie made a face, “I thought you were going to have a fight not just pick on some stupid little kid.  God, that puke reeks.”

“Hey, I thought he’d be more of a challenge.”  Bryce said, “Let’s go, babe.”

The two of them turned and walked away, leaving Jack laying in a puddle of his own sick.  Tears of humiliation streamed down his cheeks, this made an entire month of beatings in a row, and they’d only been getting worse.

He’d tried to eat his lunch, but Bryce had found him sitting behind the bus garage. Carson Academy was an elite school and he’d thought things would be different here, but they’d only gotten worse.  Jack finally got his breath back and sat up, wiping his mouth.  He went to the only place he knew they wouldn’t bother him, the library.

The door opened and he smelled the familiar scent of paper, ink, and the peppermint candies the librarian always had.  Jack walked in with his head down, turning toward the fantasy section.

“Oh Jack, are you OK?” Miss Fitzsimmons asked, “Looks like someone got the better of you .”

“Fine,” He muttered, trying to avoid her.

“Here, have a mint.” She offered a tin of Altoids peppermints and he took one gratefully.

“Thanks.  I think my lunch just didn’t agree with me.” He said.

“Your lunch didn’t give you that black eye.” Miss Fitzsimmons said, “But I don’t need to know if you don’t want to tell me, Jack.  What are you looking for today?”

“You don’t have the latest Callindra Chronicles yet do you?”  He asked hopefully.  “I heard it was going to be released this week.”

“Our book shipment is supposed to come in tomorrow.”  She said, “I’ll set it aside for you if we get it.”

“Thanks,” He said and walked back into the stacks.  Only once he was alone did he allow the tears to come.  Slumping against the bookshelves Jack sobbed into his arm until the fear and pain were gone.  He took a deep breath and wished he had something to wipe his nose on.  A crackle of paper under his hand made him glance down.

A corner of yellowed paper stuck out from underneath the bookshelf.  Jack tugged at it and pulled a piece of parchment that looked ancient out from where it had sat for who knew how long.  Although it seemed very old and it was written, not typed, he could read it easily.

‘How to get exactly what you want.’ Was written in elegant cursive across the top of the page.  Below was a set of fairly simple looking instructions for how to summon your own personal demon.

“What is it you desire?” A beautiful young woman in a simple black dress and four-inch stiletto heels casually crossed her legs exposing half her thigh.

Jack had thought about this for days.  He hadn’t really believed it would work, but if it did, he wanted to make sure he got exactly what he wanted.  Now that the ‘demon’ had arrived in the pentagram he’d drawn on his bedroom floor sitting on a three-legged iron stool he just stared.

“Oh dear, have I left you speechless?” She leaned forward, exposing a lot of cleavage. “Is this all you want little boy?  I’m more than happy to oblige.”

“I want,” Jack began, pausing to clear his throat, “I want people to do what I tell them to.”

She sat up straight and smiled, “Oh yes, that’s certainly possible.  All you have to do is agree to take me with you.”

“What?”  Jack blinked, this wasn’t what he’d expected. “I thought I had to sell my soul for a demon contract.”

“Only half of it boy.” She smiled, “I just need you to make room for me to ride along.”

“You’ll be with me?” He asked eagerly.

“Oh yes.  I’ll be with you forever.” Her smile seemed unnaturally wide, but all he could see were her eyes.

“I agree.”  He said, spellbound by the seafoam green of her eyes.  Then the pain began.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 66

With a sigh, she squared her shoulders and led them downstairs.  The eyes of hundreds of people followed them as they entered the common room.  An obviously freshly scrubbed barmaid led them to a table without them having to ask.

“I love the music.”  Trying to soothe the nervous maid as she leaned Shadowsliver’s naked blade against the table.

“Yes, Lady.” She said, bobbing an awkward curtsey.  “Drinks?  Food?”

“Please,”  Callindra replied, inclining her head in what she hoped was a regal manner.  Reed was obviously trying not to laugh.  She pulled a handful of gold coins from a belt purse that shouldn’t have been able to fit her fist, let alone that many coins, and put them on the barmaid’s drinks tray.  “Bring us some of whatever that heavenly roasting scent is, any vegetables you might have, some mead, some ale, and a round for the bar as well.”

This last pronouncement brought a ragged cheer from the patrons close enough to hear her.  She smiled in what she hoped was a magnanimous way.  The barmaid looked at the gold and glanced behind the bar.  Hagar nodded, and she smiled, striding away to a chorus of calls for drinks.

When the food came, it was far better fare than they’d had in months, and the drinks were as good as any they’d tasted.  The music continued, including some dance numbers, which added to the carnival atmosphere.  A few people started to dance and soon first Reed, then the other men at the table were pulled onto the dance floor.  Callindra sat, half wanting to join in and half relieved that she wouldn’t have to.

“If you put up your steel, I’d love a dance, Lady.”  A man dressed in clothes that, although clean, had noticeable wear marks from where armor straps were usually cinched.  He was extending a hand that had clear sword calluses on it.

“Ah, well, that’s not really possible,”  Callindra said, feeling a bit out of place in her fine clothes.  “We’re a bit joined, and I don’t have a sheath.”

His eyes followed the chain on the hilt to her right wrist with interest.  “Why no sheath?  That seems awkward.”

“That would be a long and dull story, why don’t you join me for a drink and tell me about yourself instead?”  She poured him a tankard of something random and gestured to an open seat.

He looked at her with a raised eyebrow for a moment before sitting, his foot moving to kick the scabbard of his longsword aside as he sat.  Callindra blinked; she hadn’t noticed that he was wearing a blade. It moved like it was a part of him.

“Lady Callindra!”  Reed sat down, his face flushed from drink and the exertion of dancing.  “Who’s yer friend?”

“Apologies, I fear I neglected to introduce myself.”  She stood and offered her hand to the man, “I am Callindra Sol’Estin.”

“I know who you are.”  He said, rising himself.  “Perhaps we’ll meet again.”  He spun and moved off into the crowd.

“Who the hell was that?”  Reed asked, “He seemed like a rude bastard.”

“I don’t know.”  Callindra said, “But I’m sure he’s going to be trouble.  He was asking me to dance as a pretext to get me to leave my sword behind.”

“You’re talking even fancier with the fancy clothes on.”  Reed grinned, “But you still get suspicious of anyone who tries to part you from that blade.  I think you’re just getting jumpy, relax and have some fun.”

“I somehow doubt having fun would be seen as very ladylike,”  Callindra said with a sigh, remembering Rrayu’s voice telling her about posture and poise.  “I’m supposed to keep up appearances, you know.”

“You’re carrying a sword chained to your wrist.”  Reed scoffed, “Nobody’s gonna think you’re much of a delicate flower.”

“I can tell you’re not a woman.”  Callindra said, “We’re rarely taken as seriously as we should be, especially when we’re dressed in pretty clothes.”

Reed looked at her, a quizzical expression on his face.  “Damn.  You gotta point there.  Your sword doesn’t look normal, and that chain looks a lot more delicate than it really is too.  I guess most guys would probably think it was just for show.”

“Precisely, young master.”  Callindra picked up her goblet of mead and looked at him over the rim before taking a sip.  “Just as they likely misjudge you due to your age.”

The Angel Murders Part VII

“Happy birthday love!” Alison woke Lacy up with a kiss.

“I don’t wanna think about it.” Lacy groaned, trying to push her away.

“Well, I made you coffee with cardamom, crispy bacon, hash browns, and eggs sunny side up with a side of rye toast.” Alison said with a smile, “I brought a bottle of Tabasco and there’s plenty of cream and sugar for your coffee.

“I knew I married you for a reason.” She said, giving her a kiss back and sitting up.

“I’m pretty sure there were at least a couple more reasons.” Alison said with a wicked laugh, “But it’s too early for that kind of thing.”

“Says you.” Lacy grinned, “But I need coffee first.”

She took the first drink of coffee and almost dropped the cup. Over her wife’s shoulder, she could see an indistinct shape standing outside the second-story window. Twelve Twelve. The twelfth day of the twelfth month. The killer’s deadline had come and now it was her turn. The shape pointed at her and somehow she knew she had until noon.

“Baby?” She said, her voice sounding vulnerable even to her own ears. “Can we just say in bed for a few hours?”

“Hey.” Alison took her chin in her hand and raised it so they were eye to eye, “It’s your birthday, you get what you want.”

“Then I’m very much afraid this wonderful breakfast you’ve made is going to get cold.” Lacy spilled her coffee and didn’t even notice.

“Don’t tell me you’re going into the office.” Alison crossed her arms and gave her a stern look.

“No, I’m getting a bottle of wine.” Lacy said, “Also I need a cigarette and I don’t want to smoke close to the house. I know how you hate that.”

“If you’re not going to work then I’ll allow it.” She said, “You need to take a break from your job even if I have to lock you in the house.”

“I’ll be right back.” Lacy gave her a kiss and zipped up her coat. She walked briskly down the block, lighting a cigarette to steady her nerves. This had to work. It just had to.

As she had promised, she bought a bottle of wine for dinner. It was her favorite New Zealand chardonnay, a lactic fermentation that gave the wine a smooth buttery finish and went astonishingly well with grilled salmon. Purdue walked out of the liquor store and trudged through the snow into a small park across the street.

The air was cold enough that the snow squeaked underfoot and her breath came in clouds of steam. Nebecenezer was sullenly silent, but to show her appreciation she lit another cigarette. She arrived at a small stage in the center of the park where sometimes a small theater company would perform in the summer months and leaned against the railing to wait.

“You didn’t run or try to hide.” A pleasant voice said from above, “Just as I had anticipated. You’re the type to take things like this head-on. Quite refreshing actually.”

The creature above her was floating, not really flying since the wings that spread out to keep him aloft didn’t flap like a bird. They also appeared to be made of soft golden light instead of feathers and bones. His face was achingly beautiful; so perfect it seemed alien, which she supposed it was.

“Thank you for giving me the morning.” She said, not flinching, “Just in case it was my last chance to be with her I wanted to make it memorable.”

“You don’t seem surprised to see me,” He said, coming to stand in front of her, although his toes never touched the snow. “Even the others who came as close to you about guessing what was happening at least registered a little bit of shock.”

“It was the only explanation,” Purdue said, exhaling a cloud of smoke. “When I looked into the history of all those others you murdered they all had one thing in common. In the past, on the same day, they were killed they all had some kind of major life event. From that moment on they seemed to live perfect charmed lives, getting everything they wanted and experiencing unparalleled success.

“I wasn’t sure what could have happened to them until you started to come after me. The only thing I had in common with your victims was that I had ample opportunity to get the same things they had. If only I was foolish enough to leverage my own personal demon, I could have wealth, power and whatever else I wanted.

“I don’t know if you were trying to give me a clue or just scare me with your notes, but I have to thank you for that. Without the warning about my anniversary of meeting Nebecenezer I might never have thought of how to survive.” She lit another cigarette, carefully flicking the cherry from the first before tossing it in a trash can.

“All the machinations in the mortal world can’t change your fate, Lacy Purdue.” He said, “The Almighty put us here to do his bidding and the words he speaks are law in the same way that gravity is law. However, as an agent of the divine realm, I am allowed to make you an offer.

“Since you have resisted the temptation regularly offered by the thing that taints your soul, you are allowed to forsake the part of you that caused the trouble in the first place and join us instead. Your dedication to upholding the rule of law is admirable, all that is left is for you to understand the portion of yourself that is keeping you from becoming perfect.”

Purdue laughed and looked at the angel. “Instead of giving up my free will, how about I make you an offer instead?”

“Bargaining won’t work.” He smiled sadly, “You see I am not burdened with the illusion of choices. You can say whatever you wish, but the options I am able to offer you will not change.”

She withdrew her pistol from beneath her jacket and pointed it at him, “Either you go away, stop murdering people in my city and never come back or I’ll kill you.”

It was his turn to laugh, “Even if you had the power to injure me, mortal, as I mentioned before, free will is not a problem I am forced to endure. I cannot change the options available to you.”

“That’s too bad. I have no intention of becoming god’s hitman.” She said and pulled the trigger twice.

The gunshots shattered the quiet of the park. The angel looked down in surprise at the two quickly closing holes in his chest as his feet touched mortal soil for the first time.

“My wings!” He cried, “What have you done to me?”

“Nobody murders anyone in my city and gets away with it.” She said, holstering her pistol and taking out her handcuffs. “I figured out your weakness by the placement of the wounds on your victims. A little help from Nebby let me momentarily bypass your invulnerability and two precise shots clipped your wings.”

He turned a horrified face to her, understanding dawning at last as she slapped the cuffs on his wrists. “Welcome to the mortal world. You’re under arrest.”

 

The Angel Murders Part VI

Purdue sat at her desk, desperately wishing she could have a cigarette.  Of course, smoking wasn’t allowed in the office anymore and the IA officer assigned to her probably wouldn’t have let her smoke anyway.

“Inspector Purdue, I am Investigator Lawrence.”  The powerfully built man in the off the rack suit tapped the stack of papers carefully straight and set them exactly squarely on her desk.  “I have been assigned to look into your so-called ‘wing murders’ case file.”

“Lawrence, glad to see you.”  She said, “What can I do for you?”

“Well, we’re wondering why there’s such a lack of progress.”  He said, laying a perfectly sharpened pencil next to the files.  “You’ve been working this case for six months now?”

“Eight months actually.”  She said, “The first incident I looked at occurred two months before we discovered this was a serial case.”

“Eight months.”  He smoothed his hair carefully and looked at her, “You haven’t produced any real results in that time?”

“Nothing in the case makes sense.”  She took her cigarettes from her breast pocket and tapped one out of the pack.  “I haven’t been able to draw any conclusion from what I’ve found at the crime scenes.”

“But surely after this amount of time you’ve begun to form some kind of idea about who is behind this series of murders.”  He said, “Please humor me and give me some insight into what you have discovered.”

“Officer Lawrence, I assure you that my official statements encompass the entirety of my knowledge about the case.”  She put the cigarette between her lips, “I wish I had more information.”

“I’m happy to step outside if you want to smoke,”  Lawrence said.

“Fucking serious?”  She smiled and stood, “I really do need a cigarette.”

“Of course.”  He said, standing and opening the door.

They walked out to the alley behind the station and she lit her cigarette.  Purdue turned and looked him in the eye. “So, what do I have to get IA off my back?”

“We need results, Purdue.”  He said, “I know the chief has warned you, but the Mayor is hitting this one hard.  He can’t afford to look weak on crime, and this case is getting a lot of media attention.”

“The only problem is that it’s all impossible.”  She blew twin streams of smoke from her nostrils, “The last three?  There’s no way anyone could have placed them there without disturbing the snow, but the only footprints were from the person who discovered the bodies.”

“She’s not a suspect?” Lawrence asked, leaning against the wall.

“Jessica Chang is about five feet tall and weighs ninety pounds soaking wet.”  Purdue shook her head, “There’s just no way she could have carried an adult corpse, and even if she could have, there weren’t any footprints around the bodies anyway.  No footprints where the sick bastard drew those wing outlines, not between the bodies, no evidence that anyone had stepped on the corpses themselves and furthermore, not one of them had an injury that the medical examiner would call fatal.”

“I did read that report.” He admitted grudgingly, “The coroner’s office said, and I quote, ‘The superficial wounds below each shoulder blade are only skin deep and show no sign of toxicity.  None of the bodies lost enough blood to cause death. ‘There is no evidence of murder, it is as though their bodies decided to peacefully shut down.’ and that’s just impossible.”  

“None of it makes any sense.”  She said, stubbing her cigarette out and dropping it into the butt bin.  “If I tried to say someone used magic to stop people’s hearts and then teleported them to the center of the street I’d get locked up.  I can’t even begin to imagine the horror of that paperwork.”

He laughed, “I hear you there, but you have to give us something Purdue.  I certainly don’t envy you right now.”

“I’m not just going to make something up so that the mayor looks good.”  She held the door for him and they walked in out of the cold, “I have one last lead I’m going to chase down, provided you don’t think I’m somehow mishandling the investigation?”

“You’re a good cop Purdue,” He said, “I want to make sure you understand that I respect the work you’ve done in the past.  I don’t know that you’ve done anything wrong here, but nobody can deny the lack of results. I trust your lead will pan out in the next couple of days, I’ll get out of your way and let you do your job.”

He turned and walked past her office and into the maze of cubicles, amicably greeting a few of the people he passed.  Purdue pursed her lips, he wasn’t making an overt threat, but she knew a warning when she heard one. It was time to call in that favor from Nebby.  She had something very specific in mind. He was going to hate it.

The Angel Murders Part V

Purdue stepped out of her squad, lighting the cigarette she already had between her lips, “Here we go again.”  She muttered.

“About time you got here.”  Officer Whitehead gave her cigarette a dark look.  “We gotta block off an entire street just because some psycho likes to finger paint with his victim’s blood.”

“A pleasure to see you as always officer.”  She said cheerfully, “Where’s the victim?”

“Victims.”  He corrected, “There’s three of them down there.”

She followed him under the police tape and looked around at the area as they walked.  A dusting of fresh snow covered everything, there were several sets of footprints on the sidewalk and a single set of vehicle tracks that went in and out.  The vehicle had stopped a hundred feet from the bodies and a single set of footprints walked to and from the bodies. There were no other footprints that came near.

“These are from the person who called it in.”  Whitehead said, “Nobody else has been here. How the hell the perp managed to get them here without leaving any marks is anyone’s guess.  I’m just a beat cop, you detectives get the fun job of figuring out the details.”

Three men’s bodies were laying in a triangle, their feet almost touching, their hands over their eyes and bloody wings almost touching where they unfurled from their backs.  Two of them were wearing clerical collars and the third wore an Armani suit.

“Any ID on these guys?”  She asked, walking carefully around the corpses.

“We got orders not to touch any of them.”  He said acidly, “They all got the wings. That means hands off.”

Purdue pulled on her gloves and removed the tweezers from her breast pocket.  Kneeling, she opened the mouth of the man in the suit carefully. Under his tongue was a familiar piece of parchment.  This one had a portion of a word on it. She bagged it with shaking hands and repeated the extraction from the other two.  

After pocketing the evidence bags, she found the men’s wallets, put them in their own evidence bags and handed them to Whitehead, “Get these to the lab please.”

“I ain’t your delivery boy.”  He grumbled, but took the bags and stalked down the street back to where the forensics van was parked. 

Purdue was about to take her necklace off when one of the men’s hands twitched.  She quickly knelt and put fingers to his throat. There was no pulse.

‘Don’t touch that.’ Nebecenezer said, ‘It’s dangerous.’

“If you don’t tell me what you’re talking about I’m going to ignore you.”  Purdue muttered, “I don’t see anything dangerous here.”

‘What’ll ya give me?’ He asked.

“You’re the one who wants something.”  Purdue said, reaching her hand out again, “What will you give ME?”

‘What?’  Nebecenezer exclaimed, ‘That’s not how this works!’

“Yeah, it is.”  She said, lighting another cigarette, “Just because the tables have turned doesn’t change the nature of the relationship.”

The demon paused, making a high-pitched keening sound. ‘Fine.  I’ll give you one favor if you don’t touch them.’

“Excellent.” Purdue said, “I have just the thing.  I’ll tell you about it later. I won’t even ask why.”

‘Wait, no!  You have to make the deal right now!’ Nebecenezer protested, ‘I can’t have something like that just hanging over my head.’

“Oh, you’ll get used to it.”  She said. “Some of us have had to deal with that for years.”

Purdue took the evidence bags from her pocket and held them so the tears all matched.  She shuddered as the symbol drawn on the whole piece of parchment was revealed. The random-looking lines resolved themselves into an outline of a rosebud on one side and a set of roman numerals on the other.  

The numbers XII-XII were significant.  They represented her birthdate and one other anniversary.  December twelfth was also in three days.

The Angel Murders Part III

“Bad day, babe?” Allison Purdue took her wife’s coat and handed her a cold beer.

“You’re a lifesaver.”  She said, taking the beer and killing half of it in one swallow.  “Not so much a bad day as the culmination of a month’s worth of bad days.”

“Lacy, you need to take a break.”  Allison said, “Come on, I made your favorite extra spicy enchiladas.  You can tell me all about it.”

‘Yeah, tell her all about it!’ Nebecenezer chimed in cheerfully, ‘She needs to know all your crazy theories!’

“I can’t tell you about it.” Lacy Purdue said with a long-suffering sigh, “It’s still under investigation.”

Allison guided her to a chair and put a plate of food in front of her.  “You don’t have to tell me anything specific, just let me know what’s bothering you the most.”

Lacy took a bite of food and let out a moan of pleasure, “You are a Goddess in the kitchen.  OK, I’m almost certain that the thing killing people in my latest case isn’t human.”

“I know it’s normal to think of your enemies as different from you.” Allison said, “Why do you say they aren’t human?”

“I realized the only thing that tied all the victims together.”  Lacy said, “They were all sinners beyond redemption. Every single one of them had some kind of criminal record that broke biblical law more than seven times.”

“Isn’t that a little thin?” Allison asked, “You’ve never resorted to something as ephemeral as scripture to make a legal argument before.”

“What if the things listed in the Bible were true?”  Lacy asked, “What if there is some kind of divine justice?”

“Don’t you think we’d be the first to suffer from the sword of God?” Alison laughed, “Aren’t we homosexuals supposed to be on the top of the naughty list?”

“Not according to the Ten Commandments or honestly really any bible passage.” Lacy said, “There actually isn’t anything in the bible about lesbians directly.  Even the passages about gay men are more or less understood to be about sexual abuse, not about consensual same-sex love.”

“So give me an example.  I thought the last victim was just a kid.” Alison said, “What could some kid have possibly done to warrant divine retribution?”

“I can’t tell you.”  Lacy said, her face a hard mask, “Not just because it’s part of an ongoing investigation but also because I want you to be able to sleep at night.  It’s bad enough this shit has to live in my head; I’m not going to subject you to it if I can avoid it.”

“Baby, I’ve heard everything under the sun from you by now.”  Alison said with a smile, “Nothing you could say at this point can make things that much worse.”

“He was just a kid.  He’s not that much older than our daughter, Ali.  Can you imagine Reese being a murderer or a rapist?”  Lacy shoved her plate away, only half empty. “This is beyond normal human awfulness.”

‘You would know, wouldn’t you?’ Nebecenezer asked gleefully.

“I hate to see you like this baby.” Alison said, reaching across the table to take her hand, “Why don’t you just take a shower and come to bed?”

“You go first.” Lacy said, “Thank you for dinner, I want to do up the dishes before tuning in.  I hate leaving you with all the housework. It’s only fair I do my share.”

“Come soon, I demand snuggles.  You missed dinner last night, and you have to pay the piper!” Alison said mock-severely, “I love that you want to help out around the house, but I want you to get your rest, and I want to feel your arms around me before I sleep too.”

Lacy kissed her deeply, running a hand down her back.  “I will be in bed soon, I promise.”