The Jade Court Part I – Return

Author’s note:  I’ve been reading a lot of The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher and Alex Verus by Benedict Jacka and have the urge to write a short story that has some kind of bridge between them… I don’t really think it’ll be very good, and I might not even get to any kind of tie-in to either book series, but once I get something in my head I have to try to write it or it makes me crazy.  I thought I’d make it about the return of the Jade Court of vampires and tell it through the lens of one of my favorite Pathfinder characters.  Longtime fans might remember the bloody adventures of Shirasiau Sai’Li; well here she comes back from the depths of my weird and twisted imagination to play the starring role.  Anyway, enough bullshit, I love writing this kind of thing.  Hopefully, you’ll enjoy reading it.

 

Tan Son Shu finished sweeping the courtyard and stretched, knuckling his back.  Taking care of the ruins Shimoda Castle was his life’s work.  His family legend said the small volcanic island of Izu Oshima was home to a line of royalty whose power made the world tremble in the late 1500s, and that his family had been their trusted servants.

Charged with maintaining the castle and its grounds until their return, Tan’s family had been living here for generations, but now he was the last of the Son Shu line.  The older of his relatives had all died and the younger had left for, lured by the neon lights and excitement of cities.

Turning to a line of ancient Bonsai trees that clung to a ring of stones in front of a mosaic showing a striking woman in a kimono holding a parasol over her head and a fan before her face walking a garden path with a tiger at her side.  Tan took his shears from their pouch and carefully trimmed a few branches.  He was absorbed in his work, Bonsai was a meditative practice, but a flicker of motion caught his eye.

He looked around to try and identify what had disturbed him, over the past few weeks some youngsters had been trespassing, trying to find a place to smoke and drink cheap sake.  They pretended to be Yakuza, but really they were just rebellious kids.  Tan didn’t see anyone and was turning back to his work when his eyes passed over the mosaic.  He rubbed his eyes and looked again.  The woman and her tiger were moving, walking up the garden path toward an archway.

Tan took a stumbling step backward as the pair stepped through the archway and into the courtyard.  Her kimono was black and elaborately embroidered with scenes of travel, accented with glittering gemstones and thread of gold.  The tiger’s claws and fangs were sheathed in jade and tipped with diamonds.  She looked around, only her eyes visible above her fan.

“What have you allowed to happen to my estates?”  She asked in an ancient and formal dialect, her voice like silk sliding over a katana’s blade.  Her eyes met his and he felt the crushing weight of her will.

Tan fell to his knees and pressed his forehead to the stones, “Great Lady, I am the last of the Son Shu line.  I have done my utmost to care for your property.  My deepest apologies for my failure.”

The tiger’s hot breath washed over his neck, smelling of alcohol and fresh blood and Tan was certain that would be the last thing he felt.  Something slithered into his mind, subtle yet powerful, and he could no more have stopped it than he could stop the tides.  Tan heard the sharp snap of a fan being closed and a mild exhalation of breath that might have been a sound of annoyance.

“Ignis, my pet, leave this one be.  He has been loyal when the rest of my retainers have forgotten.”  The hot breath retreated, and he saw a pair of jeweled sandals with perfectly formed feet stop before his still downcast eyes.  “Tan Son Shu.  You have spent your life in service to me.  It is time for your reward.”

“Great Lady, I desire no reward.  It has been an honor to serve.” He managed.

“All the same you shall have one.”  She said, lifting his chin with the toe of her sandal.  “I value loyalty and honor above all things.  You have spent the best years of your life in service to me, rise and receive your payment.”

He stood on trembling legs, eyes still downcast and felt the press of cold lips on his forehead.  A shiver ran through his body and his vision blurred, his chest felt tight and something changed.  With a shock, he removed his glasses to find his vision was perfect.  The tightness was a result of the return of youthful musculature straining against his undershirt.  Tan watched the gnarled arthritis of his fingers twist and straighten into strong, young joints.

He fell to his knees again, his fingertips daring to touch the edge of her sandal, “Great Lady, my life is yours.”

“You may call me Lady Shirasiau.”  She said before the sound of raucous laughter interrupted her.  A hiss and a gesture of her lacquered nails signaled the tiger and despite its size, it melted into the small bamboo thicket that grew on the east side of the courtyard without causing a single grass stem to waver.

“Hey old man!”  A boy’s voice rang out, slurred with drink. “You ain’t got the balls to call the cops on us this time!  We got the Yashida clan backing us now!”

Ten boys swaggered up the path, the one in the lead carrying a bokken over his shoulder.  The others carried bottles of sake and all were smoking cigarettes.  They were dressed in cheap suits and white dress shirts with the sleeves rolled up to show fresh tattoos on their forearms.  Tan moved to stand between Lady Shirasiau and the gang, hands closing into fists.

“You boys do not belong here.”  He said, “Please leave.”

“Woah, who’s the broad?”  The leader said, “And who the hell are you?”

“Yashida clan?”  The Lady asked, gliding forward, her sandals clicking on the cobblestones. “How interesting.  What would the Yashida clan want with such filthy infants?  Surely they have not gotten this soft.”

The kid with the bokken leered and pointed at her with it, “Bitch, I’m gonna enjoy breaking your bones.”

“Child.”  She said, tapping the end of his wooden sword with her fan, “You do not wish to make threats that are fundamentally impossible to make good on.”

“Lon, shoot this bitch.” The kid at the front said.  Nobody responded, and he looked around.  Tan noticed there were only nine; the last kid in the pack was gone.  “Lon?”

“I will give you a single chance to live.”  The Lady said, snapping open her fan. “Beg my forgiveness and pledge your life to me.”  A tiger’s rumbling cough came from the bamboo thicket and a shoe with three inches of bloody leg sticking out of it flew out to land in the middle of the boys with a sickening wet sound.

The punks scattered, running in different directions.  Every few minutes Tan heard a scream of fear that was suddenly cut off.  After nine such screams, the tiger padded up with blood on his chin and a satisfied gleam in his green cat eyes.

“Such a good boy.”  Lady Shirasiau said, laying a fond hand on the big cat’s head.

Tan was looking at her with a mixture of horror and awe.

“Tan Son Shu, you will secure me proper lodging befitting my station until my beloved castle can be rebuilt.”  She said, tossing a small silk purse at his feet.  “Send messages to the clans.  Tell them it is time for them to come and pay their respects to the Jade Court.”

 

The Seven – Part 2

The problem with being a bank teller is it’s boring.  For most of the day you literally have nothing to do, but you can’t surf the web or whatever because your position is so public and obvious.  All there was to do was sit and stare out the window for hours on end, but really, I couldn’t even enjoy being lazy. It was just so damn boring.

Then the flip side was that when you needed to do work it required a lot of focus.  People were picky about their finances, and rightly so. It was hard enough to see your hard-earned money dwindle just from bills; let alone someone making a mistake with a deposit.

“Sweetheart, you’re new right?  You’re new.” I snapped out of my daze to look at the little old lady standing in front of my teller window.

“Yes, I-” I began.

“I don’t like working with new girls.”  She said, turning to the person behind her.  “You can go first, I’ll wait for Samantha.”

I sighed in resignation, “Can I help you sir?”

“I need to get into my safety deposit box.”  The man said, fiddling with his key.

I got his account number, had him sign and let him into the vault.  Taking his key and the master key, I opened the fiddly little door and pulled out his surprisingly heavy box.  Brining it to the private room, I set it on the table and withdrew so he could do whatever he was going to do. I leaned against the wall and zoned out for a few minutes.

A crash from inside the room, muffled by the thick door, snapping me out of my thoughts.  I knocked on the door, “Sir? Excuse me Mr. Anderson are you OK in there?” There was no answer.

I bit my lip, knocking again before trying the handle.  The door was locked, but I had a key and carefully opened the door.  “Sir?” I looked in the room and saw him sprawled on the floor. His safety deposit box had fallen to the floor, and small bars of gold with a swastika stamped on them were scattered around the room.  Still inside the box were wads of 100 dollar bills bound with rubber bands.

Fucking Nazi gold?  I felt a flash of rage and swiped a bundle of bills.  Fucking Nazis, this bastard didn’t deserve this money.    In a flash of insight, I quickly stood on the chair, lifted a ceiling tile and tucked the cash inside.  I didn’t know what possessed me to do it, my pulse was racing in exhilaration. Jumping back down, I checked for his pulse and almost threw up.  He had no pulse. Turning back to Mr. Anderson, I took out my cell phone and dialed 911.

“I work at State Bank downtown, our address is 11 West Second street, we need an ambulance.”

“What is your name and what is the nature of your emergency?”

“A man collapsed, I don’t think he has a pulse.  Oh gods I don’t know CPR.” I felt myself panicking.  What had I been thinking, taking that wad of cash?

“Just stay on the scene miss, emergency personnel are on their way.”  She sounded almost bored.

“OK, thank you.”  I said, “I’m going to hang up and tell my boss.”

I ran out to tell the bank president that there was a corpse in his safety deposit room.

“Nice push with the anger at the Nazi’s, Wrath.” Said Greed.

“You started it with those twinkling gold bars, Greed.” Wrath said with a nod. “But let’s not forget Envy’s contribution.”

“We make one hell of a team.” Envy agreed.

“If you two are done jerking each other off we need to plan our next steps.” Said Lust.

“There’s nothing wrong with a little well-deserved satisfaction.” Pride said.

“Oh good, it’s lunch time.” Said Gluttony.  

Sloth was asleep.

The Seven – Part I

I stood outside my new home with my single suitcase clasped in my arms.  The stiff wind blowing off the lake made me shiver and I wished I’d been able to afford a thicker coat.  Minnesota was colder than I thought it would be, I was unprepared for how strong the wind could be, nothing had gone as planned.

Originally I was supposed to be moving into an apartment building right downtown, but when I’d arrived the apartment management hadn’t gotten my deposit, hadn’t reserved my space and had been totally unhelpful.  With the majority of my funds having been lost in the check I’d sent the apartment manager I was unable to put a deposit down on another apartment.

Aimlessly wandering around Canal Park, watching idiots feed seagulls and take their pictures in front of a weird fish fountain I’d eventually wound up slouching between the Dewitt Seitz building and a Mexican restaurant; enjoying the smells of tortillas frying from one side and smoked fish and Vietnamese cuisine from the other side.

“Hey, kid.”  I jumped at the voice, having been lost in my thoughts.  “You got a light?”

I looked at the short man who had exited from a side door, an unlit cigarette held between his lips.  He looked like he must be a cook from one of the restaurants, white apron, white pants, white kerchief holding back his mass of blonde curls.

“Yeah.”  I fished in the pocket of my jacket and produced a battered Zippo lighter.  It was scarred from being used to open beer bottles and from me drunkenly dropping it on more than one occasion but it always lit on the first flick of the wheel.

I took my last precious hand-rolled smoke from my cigarette holder and lit it, then extended the flame to the man sharing the alley with me.  He leaned in and lit up and gave me a curious look that took in my suitcase, travel-worn appearance and seemed to pierce through to lay all my troubles bare.

“What you doing out here?”  He asked, exhaling smoke through his nostrils.

“Just keeping out of the wind.”  I said, trying not to show how uncomfortable I found his piercing green eyes.

“You gotta place tonight?”  He asked, pointing his chin at my suitcase.  When I didn’t answer he shrugged, “None of my business, but I know of a place that’s up for rent.  Landlord really wants to get someone in it and he ain’t too picky about background checks and whatever.”

I shoved my braids back and blew out a cloud of smoke.  “What’s this then?”

He pulled an order pad and a pen from his pocket and scribbled a phone number on it.  Holding it out he shrugged, “Tell Dave that Jon gave ya his number.”  When I took it, he flicked the cherry off his cigarette, tossed the butt in a dumpster and went back inside.

That was how I’d ended up taking a bus a few miles down the narrow strip of land that divided the St Louis River bay and the mighty waters of Lake Superior to a cluster of tiny cabins nestled in a copse of evergreens.  The number 7 hung crookedly above the door and I had a feeling foreboding that I just couldn’t shake.

My landlord had said he’d stop by in the morning to, “Talk about my rent and whatever.” He’d also told me the key was under the mat, which didn’t make me think anyone gave a shit about this place, much less him.  Still, I needed a place to stay and it was fucking cold.

I found the key as promised in its spot under the mat, unlocked the door and walked inside.  The cabin smelled of cedar, candle wax, and wood smoke.  I fumbled about for a light switch, found it, flicked it on and winced as the bulb flashed once and died.  A flick of my thumb brought the flame of my trusty Zippo to illuminate my surroundings and I lit a few candles that were placed conveniently close to the door.

After looking at the propane heater for a few silent minutes, I decided to make a fire in the woodstove instead.  If the light bulb had randomly exploded I didn’t want to tempt fate with my dubious skills with natural gas.  Although honestly maybe it would be better if I just blew myself up.

A few tears leaked from the corners of my eyes, as I crumpled newspaper and stacked up kindling.  What I really needed was a little food, a nice fire and maybe a beer.  My finances were so strained that it was silly to think about it, but I was so hungry and I’d had such a horrible day didn’t I deserve a little treat?

I lit the fire with my zippo and smiled; getting a lift from knowing I could at least build my own fire.  A flash of anger at the apartment manager who had cost me my security deposit made my decision for me.  I pulled my phone from my pocket and a quick search pulled up a food delivery service.  They even offered to stop by Hoops brewing to pick me up a couple of beers.

There were a few dog eared paperbacks on the windowsill, and I picked up a Danielle Steele novel I hadn’t read yet.  Trashy romance novels were a guilty pleasure; I don’t know why, but the lurid scenes made me feel better. I wished to be one of those characters swept up in her lover’s arms, just letting him take care of everything.

When the pizza arrived, I ate the entire thing and drank both the 24-ounce beers.  I even convinced the delivery boy to give me a couple of cigarettes and sat close to the fireplace smoking and feeling too full, but too lazy to try and walk it off.  I leaned back in the chair and stared at the ceiling, already feeling better.

‘Wow, I never would have seen this coming.’ Said Pride, ‘She actually understands.’

‘Hungry enough to stuff herself silly.” Said Gluttony.

‘Giving in to her addiction enough to talk a couple of smokes out of the delivery boy.’ Said Greed.

‘Reading that awful romance novel.’ Said Lust.

‘And wishing to be one of those damsels who doesn’t have to worry about anything.” Said Envy.

‘Angry about those who have wronged her.’ Said Wrath.

‘Too lazy to bother doing anything about it.’ Said Sloth.

‘We’ve kept everyone else from this place without meaning to.’ Pride said, looking down on the girl asleep in the chair before the fireplace.

‘Now one who truly understands us has arrived.’ Greed said, ‘We must help her and make her stay.’

On Writing: Things That Make It Harder to Read Your Story

On Writing: Things That Make It Harder to Read Your Story.

I’ve recently discovered things during my writing and editing process that have helped me to make my writing better, so I thought I’d share them.  They’re not things I’d have noticed on my own, but with help from friends and technology, they’ve come to my attention.

First is I overuse adverbs.  Holy shit do I overuse adverbs.  Enough with the goddamn adverbs already!  I know I was taught to use them frequently to help set a scene or describe what a character was doing, but I think they are rarely helpful.  If your scene hasn’t told your reader that the hero is carefully removing the detonator from the nuclear device, you need to re-write the scene.  Throwing that adverb in there is only going to slow your reader down and give them a mental stumbling block.

Same goes for adjectives, only not quite so much.  The urge to describe every detail is annoying, and beyond that, it limits the imagination of your reader.  Compare the following sentences: ‘She opened the heavy oak door and scanned the room, noting the black velvet drapes moving in the wind from the half-open window.’ Or ‘She opened the door and scanned the room, noting the drapes moving in the wind from an open window.’

When you read the first one, your brain notes that the door is heavy and oak, then remember that the drapes are black velvet, and by the time you get to the window, there are a jumble of details that all need organization.  The second sentence gives you some detail but lets your subconscious imagine the rest.  For me, this allows me to read and my brain to set the scene on its own without a bunch of clutter.  It helps draw me into the story because I’m creating my own details.  Unless it matters that the door is heavy oak later in the story, there’s no reason to include it.

I also struggle a lot with throwing passive voice bits into my writing.  I never knew how annoying these could be until I started paying closer attention.  What’s passive voice?  It’s generically when actions are described instead of just having a character do them himself.  It breaks story flow and at least for me, it transposes the proper order of the sentence.

For example: ‘The chief of police was told about the crime.’ VS: ‘Inspector Anderson told the police chief about the crime.’  The first sentence shifts the focus first to the chief before revealing the action, and for me, at least, it makes my brain work harder to keep things in order.  I dunno, maybe it’s just me, but I find it annoying, so I’ve been stamping it out wherever I find it in my writing lately.

Not that I’m sponsored or anything, but I have been using Grammarly, and find their paid professional version of their tool to be very handy for catching these kinds of things.  I figure I’ll use the paid version for a couple of months since it’ll give me the incentive to finish all my editing all at once and then I can cancel the subscription until my next book is ready to go through the meat grinder.

Happy writing, hope this helps or at least lets you know there are more of us out here in the literary trenches making all the typical mistakes.

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 IV

‘You finally figured it out did you?’ Nebecenezer sneered, “You can run all you want, but the truth was going to catch up with you eventually wasn’t it?”

“I haven’t done anything I need to apologize for.”  She snapped, angrily wiping melted cheese from a plate.  “My only crime is finding a few pages of an ancient Sumerian text that detailed how to make an alliance with a supposed dark power.”

‘Here I am and you dare to say you’re innocent?’ Nebecenezer laughed, ‘I have made you all but immortal and given you a window to the knowledge you so desperately crave!’

“I only asked you for help once, and that was out of adolescent ignorance.” Purdue said, “You’re also not nearly as powerful as that text claims.  Nebe, you’re just a shitty little con artist and you know it.  I figured you out decades ago.”

‘Hey, I know a lot more than I pretend.’  Nebecenezer said, ‘I’m telling you all the answers you want are literally at your fingertips.  I just need a little more from you.’

“You’ve taken all you’re getting from me.”  She put the last plate into the drainer and dried off her hands.  “I have this damn habit and I can’t kick it thanks to you.”

‘Oh quit complaining.  You know you wanted to be a smoker anyway and thanks to me it won’t kill you.’ Nebecenezer said, ‘That was your first command.’

“Request.”  Purdue said, “I asked for it, I didn’t issue an ultimatum.”

‘That’s not how it works and you know it.’ He said and laughed bitterly, ‘I have to obey your commands and I get to take things in return.’

“At first you said you wanted to be allowed to stay out of hell.  You failed to tell me that meant  you got to take half my soul.”  Purdue walked to the closet, pulled on her jacket and stepped outside, tapping a cigarette out of a fresh pack.   “I doubt I’d have agreed to it if I’d really understood that you’d be hitchhiking along in my brain.”

Snow swirled in front of her as she cupped her hands to light her cigarette, the wind seeming to outline a vaguely humanoid shape leaning against the porch railing.  She squinted and looked closer at it, “Nebby?  Is that you?”  He’d never manifested a physical form before.

Purdue blew a stream of smoke at the figure and it passed through it without slowing down or distorting.  Whatever it was, the figure wasn’t really there.  She flicked the cherry off her cigarette and tossed the butt into the garbage can, barely taking her eyes off the thing.  Just as she was slipping through the door, she was almost sure the figure pointed at her.

Nebecenezer was uncharacteristically silent.  A shiver ran down her spine.  It was time to get to bed.

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.”

The Angel Murders Part II

“Where are you getting with these wing murders, Purdue?”  Dennis Lopez strode into her office with a pair of styrofoam cups of steaming black coffee.

She looked up from the file she was studying, “I just can’t figure out what the connection between them is Chief.”  Taking the cup he offered, she took a drink and shuddered, “God, did you brew this in one of your old boots?”

“Well, I have some bad news for you.”  He said, taking a sip from his own cup, “The mayor is running out of patience.”

“He wouldn’t give a shit except this is an election year,”  Purdue said pinching the bridge of her nose.  Almost absently, she drank half the cup of coffee in one long swallow.  It was so hot she exhaled a small cloud of steam.  She glared at the cup and Nebecenezer laughed in the back of her mind, the bastard.

“I’m not arguing with you there, but it is what it is.”  He shrugged, “I know you’re a good detective Purdue, but you’re the lead on this one and it’s getting a lot of attention after that kid got killed.”

“Interesting how nobody pays attention when it’s a few homeless people and a few people of color, but kill some rich white kid and suddenly it’s an epidemic.”  She picked up her jacket, “I need a smoke.  You wanna come?”

“You know I quit.”  He said, “I can’t stand the smell of tobacco smoke now.”

“Can’t resist it you mean.”  She tapped a cigarette from her pack and tossed it on the desk.  “I get it.  I know I should quit too, but it’s just one more straw on the camel’s back.”

Purdue walked out to the alley and lit up, drawing smoke deep into her lungs.  “Why can’t I find the common denominator?”

‘You know I could help you.’ Nebecenezer whispered, ‘It’d be easy.  All you need to do is ask.’

“Yeah, I know better you little bastard.”  She muttered through a cloud of smoke, “You’ve got enough of a hold over me.”

“What was that?” Lopez walked out the door with one of her American Spirits in his mouth.

“You quit.”  She said, “You don’t want to start again for something as stupid as this do you?”

“You ain’t telling me everything.”  He said, “You got a light?”

Purdue handed him her Zippo.  “You’re right, I’m not.  Are you sure you wanna know?”

He lit the cigarette, handed her lighter back, and looked at her with narrowed eyes.  “Yeah, I want to know.”

“I can’t prove it, I have no evidence, but my gut is telling me this is religious.”  She blew a smoke ring, “I know that might seem obvious what with the angel wings, but not everyone sees things in the same way.”

“What religion?  What sect?”  He coughed and sighed.

“I don’t know.”  Purdue said, flicking the ash off her cigarette, “Although Christianity is really the only religion with angels.  Other cults have winged humans, but really I don’t think it’s any of them.  What I can’t figure out is why angel wings would be involved with all the victims.”

‘I can tell you!’ Nebecenezer whispered mockingly.

“Maybe it’s some kind of cult, or some guy with a vendetta?”

“It could be any number of things.  There’s just not enough evidence.”  She stubbed out her cigarette and threw it into a trash can.  “Whoever is doing this is too careful.  All they’ve left is pieces of old parchment under the tongue of their victims.  No words or anything to identify what the significance of it is.  The only thing that forensics can tell is that the paper is likely torn from the same sheet, and that it’s old; around two thousand years old.”

“Who would use such an ancient piece of parchment and what kind of message would they be trying to send?” Lopez mused.

‘Pick me, pick ME!’ Nebecenezer crowed.

“Oh hell.”  Purdue said.  “This is bad.  This is really really bad.”

The Angel Murders Part I

“Whaddya got for me?” Inspector Purdue ducked under the crime scene tape, lighting a cigarette.  “I was just about to eat dinner, this shit had better be good.”

“Right up your alley Inspector.” The uniform holding the tape said, “Your wife will forgive you.”

She took a deep drag on her smoke and looked at the figure sprawled in the snow.  “The fuck she will. Terese hates it when I don’t eat her home cooking. I hate it too.”

The boy was laying with his hands covering his face, the school uniform marking him as a middle school student from Carson, a prestigious local academy.  Purdue flicked the cherry off her cigarette and tossed the butt into a trash can. She sighed and pulled her phone from her breast pocket.  

“You did right to call me in, Jackson.  This is obviously related.” She began taking pictures of the corpse, and more importantly the outline of wings that projected from the body.  They were drawn in blood, presumably the victim’s blood, although the boy didn’t appear to have any visible wounds.

“Ya think?”  Jackson said, quirking an eyebrow.   “The chief said to bring you in on any of these fucking wing things.  Any chance you’re gonna tell me what the fuck is going on?”

“Whenever I figure it out, you’ll be on my goddamn list.” She said, bending to look closely at the body.  “Has anyone touched the corpse?”

“No.  I mean orders have been clear from the top down.   When we see the wing murders we block it off, take photos, and keep our hands to ourselves.”  He said, shoving his hands into his pockets.

“As long as you’re sure.”  She said, taking a pair of gloves from her kit and pulling them on. “I don’t want to report something falsely.  We don’t want someone to go down for this who doesn’t deserve it.”

Reaching into the boy’s mouth with a pair of tweezers, she pulled an ancient-looking piece of parchment from under his tongue.  She unfolded it and scrutinized it for a moment before placing it in an evidence bag and sealing it.

“Jackson, get this to the lab.”  She said and waited until he had gone before taking an amulet from around her neck and placing it on the boy’s forehead.  For a few moments, the tiny golden rosebud sat perfectly still, and Purdue was just about to let out a breath of relief when the petals began to quiver and open.

“Shit.”  Purdue rocked back on her heels and took another cigarette from the pack with shaking fingers and watched the flower bloom.  A flutter of motion caught her eye, but when she glanced at it she didn’t see anything moving. “Is this the one?”

She crushed the cigarette out and flicked it at a trash can.  The shaking of her hands made her miss. Cursing, Purdue walked over and plucked the butt from the sidewalk.  A gasp made her spin around. The boy was sitting up with wide staring eyes.

“He. Is. Coming. For. You.”  The blood leaking from the twin holes just beneath each of his shoulder blades connected him to the shimmering outline of the bloody wings gently fanning around his body.  He collapsed sideways, the blood splattering down behind him.

“That’s not very helpful.”  She said, plucking the charm from his forehead,  “You’ve fucked over my crime scene too.”

“I sent that paper off for analysis.” Jackson paused, “What the hell happened?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”  Purdue lit another cigarette, “It doesn’t matter anyway.  Goddamnit, I’m dead anyhow.”

“What?”  He had his gun in his hand in a heartbeat,  “Did you find something on the body? Are you getting threats again?”

“Easy killer.”  She exhaled twin streams of smoke from her nostrils, “Some things you can’t stop with a bullet.  Nobody is gonna kill me today, I’m just embracing the inevitable.”

“So what happened here?”  He demanded, holstering his pistol.

“The demon possessing half my soul awakened this boy’s last breath.  It was supposed to allow him to tell me who killed him or at very least give me valuable information about how to put a stop to it.”  Purdue lit another cigarette from the butt of her current one, “All he told me was that his murderer is coming for me. Hardly the most helpful statement since we don’t know who the FUCK has been doing this.”

“Jesus.”  Jackson shook his head, “If you didn’t want to tell me you could have at least made something halfway believable up.”

“Yeah.”  She shrugged, “Let’s go get some coffee and a doughnut.”

‘Chocolate with bacon sprinkles.’ Nebecenezer demanded.