The Dresden Files: Portland

Side Job: Ransom
Karkana Chronicles: Twenty-Nine
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Side Job: People of the Moon
Karkana Chronicles Twenty-Eight

January 2 – 14, 2014

Brianna has heard nothing from Nerise or Clive since New Year’s Eve. She contacts Quincy to let him (and the Patriarch) know about the political coup in Portland. Retelling the events of that night re-ignites the fury and frustration that still simmers inside her. She asks Quincy to pass along any more information that he can find.

“I’ll see what I can do, but that’s Raith politics.”

Brianna also asks him to help track down Madeline Raith’s contact information. After the events in Seattle, Brianna figures she owes her a favor, which Brianna plans to collect. Quincy last heard that Madeline was in Chicago, but he’ll see what he can do.

“Thanks. I feel like I’m walking blind here. I don’t know what the hell’s going on. I just know that Perry Raith is now in charge, and Perry and I don’t like each other. Any information you can find out will be helpful.”

About a week later, Brianna gets a phone call from Quincy. He’s not going to be get in touch with Madeline.

Brianna is confused.

“Scuttlebutt is that she got iced in Chicago by a Council wizard by the name of Dresden.”

“What the hell?! They can just attack us?”

“Well,” Quincy admits, “It sounds she started it.”

“Oh, Madeline,” Brianna groans. “That’s just fucking awesome. I knew she was reckless, but goddammit.” She shakes her head. “Did you hear anything else about what’s going on?”

“A little bit. What Perry did wasn’t ordered by the Raiths, but there aren’t going to be any repercussions either.”

“Well, knowing that he wasn’t ordered to do it still says something about the situation.”

“I think the idea is that if Nerise couldn’t hold her position, then she shouldn’t be allowed to.”

“I guess we’ll see what happens if Perry can’t hold it,” Brianna mutters darkly. She thanks Quincy and hangs up.

January 15, 2014

During one of her semi-nightly phone calls with Shawn, he mentions that he may be out-of-pocket for a while.

“What’s up?”

“Well, I got a phone call from back at the Rez. A guy I used to know, Jimmy Torrence, was apparently attacked. They don’t know by what. The Elders want me to check it out.”

Brianna is silent for a moment, picking her words carefully. “I guess this is kind of a hard thing, going back?”

“It’s not something I’d rather do.”

“But you have obligations?”

“Jimmy was an okay guy.”

“They’re calling you in what capacity, exactly? As a cop?”

“Partially.”

“Or for other reasons?”

“Partially.”

“So, this isn’t just something that they’d call the local police about then?”

“There are no local police on the Rez. We tried to get a police department in 2008, but couldn’t get enough money from the BIA to do anything. So now they’re just on an as needed basis with King County.”

“Are you going by yourself?”

“That was the idea.”

“Do you want someone to go with you?”

There’s a bit of a pause.

“And by someone, I mean me,” Brianna says in a lighter tone. “Someone to watch your back.”

“Okay.”

“I’m trying to lay low as it is. Getting out of town for a bit may not be a bad idea.”

“Yeah, it might be good to have another set of eyes.” Shawn is planning to head out tomorrow, so Brianna offers to drive up to Seattle tonight. In regards to how long this may take, he doesn’t think that he’ll be at the Rez for more than a week.

“Let me get some stuff squared away here first, then I’ll get on the road.” They hang up

Brianna lets Joey know what’s going on and asks him to keep an eye on everything while she’s away. Then she packs, throwing in her Kevlar and the remaining holy water as well. She tries to look up information on the “Rez,” but she doesn’t have a lot of luck. There are multiple Reservations in Washington and Shawn has never really talked about details about where he grew up.

January 16, 2014 (early morning)

It’s very early in the morning when Brianna knocks on Shawn’s door. He opens it and lets her inside.

“Are we leaving now? Or can I catch a few hours of sleep?” she asks, stifling a yawn.

“You can get a bit of sleep first.”

Being this close to Shawn makes Brianna very aware that she has still not fully recovered from using so much of her supernatural powers in the fight against Perry’s gunmen. Afraid of how her Hunger will react when mixed with desire, she is careful not to let her touch linger on him for very long. If he notices, Shawn doesn’t comment.

Later that morning, they both pack up into Shawn’s truck and head out of town. He tells her that it’s only about a thirty-minute drive.

“What’s the name of the Reservation?” Brianna asks.

“Sonqualmie.”

“Well, tell me what I need to know before we get there. You’ve not talked about it a lot.”

“Not much to say. It’s like a lot of small towns. It’s pretty insular. Everybody knows everybody. It’s poor.” He pauses. “I don’t know what you want to know.”

“So, the Elders asked you to come in?”

“Well, specifically one Elder.”

Brianna tries to gather her thoughts. “In the past, you’ve said things like the Elders wanted you to be someone that you weren’t. I’m trying to get a little bit of context of how you’re going to be received. Who’s really in charge.”

“It’s governed by a tribal council.”

“So, they’re pretty much the law on the Reservation?”

“Yeah, it’s the constitution and the tribal council. It’s kind of like city codes and ordinances”

“One person specifically asked you back?”

“Yeah, Tom Clark.”

“Do we like Tom Clark, or not?” Brianna’s voice is serious.

“He’s a good guy, but he thinks I’m some kind of spirit totem.”

“I take it that makes you very uncomfortable.”

“Yeah.”

“And the rest of the Elders?” Brianna continues to carefully ask questions, watching Shawn’s face as he drives. “I guess I’m assuming you know everyone who’s currently on the council.”

“Not all of the Elders are on the council.”

“Okay, then who are we really going to be dealing with?”

“The Elders.”

“So, do you know the rest of the Elders? It’s been a while since you’ve been back.”

“They all figured into my childhood one way or another. It’s a small place, so we’ll probably run into them.”

“And do we like them?”

“We don’t dislike them. Well, except for Sheila. I don’t think she ever cared for me.”

“How many people know about you? All of the Elders? Or just a few?”

“Most of the Elders.”

“I’m assuming this was something that was hard to keep a secret in such a small, insular community.”

Shawn nods, “Exactly. Several of the people in my generation have some idea, they just keep it to themselves. Who’s going to believe them?”

“Are a lot of the people that you grew up with still there? Do they leave?”

“They’re still on the Rez. It can be hard to get out.”

Brianna is quiet for a moment, processing everything he’s said. “Those people who know about you, do they know about the rest of the supernatural community?”

“No, just me.”

“So, not even the fact that there are other weres out there.”

“No, they just know I’m a freak.”

Brianna’s expression hardens. “You are not a freak.”

His voice drops to a mock whisper. “I know that, but they don’t know that.”

Brianna’s anger flares and her hands involuntary ball into fists. She breaths out slowly, then forces herself to relax. “Okay, that gives me some parameters on what things to say and what things not to say. Are we going to be staying there?”

“Yes.”

“Did you tell them you were bringing someone?”

“No. I didn’t know I was at the time.”

Brianna doesn’t have many other questions to ask, so shifts the conversation to relate what she learned from Quincy. “I haven’t heard from Nerise or Clive since New Year’s.”

“They may be laying low.”

“Aren’t we all?” After a moment of driving, Brianna speaks up again. “I need to mention that if we’re going to be here a full week, I’m going to need to go into town every so often.”

“Ah.” Shawn’s voice is knowing.

“I’m still a little bit shaky from New Year’s. I don’t want to be this close to the edge and not feed for an entire week. I don’t have as much control of things as I’d like.”

“Well, there’s not going to be places like Seattle here.”

“If we’re here that long, I may just have to go back to Seattle. I don’t want to cause trouble on the Reservation. I don’t want to be known as the person who causes fights.”

“Yeah, that could be problematic.”

“I just may need to borrow your truck.”

“Okay.”

About half an hour later, they pull into the small town of Sonqualmie in rural Washington. The population is about 650 people. Brianna feels claustrophobic just driving into town. Shawn pulls into the parking lot of the Tribal Building and the two get out of the truck. He leads the way inside the front lobby. A receptionist sits behind the desk. She smiles at the two of them. “Hello, how can I help …” Her voice trails off as her eyes widen. “Shawn Loomis! As I live and breathe!”

“Hello,” Shawn replies evenly.

“What can I do for you?”

“I’m looking for Tom Clark. He said I could meet him here.”

“Well, he’s just around back. Let me go get him.” She leaves her desk. After a few minutes, an older Native American man enters the lobby.

“Shawn,” Tom says heartily, “Good to see you!” The two shake hands and exchange pleasantries.

Shawn gestures, “This is Brianna Karkana. My friend.”

Brianna smiles. “Sir.”

“She’s going to be helping sort all of this out.”

Tom blinks for a moment, then says “Well, good. I suppose you’ll be wanting to view the body then.” Shawn agrees. “Then come with me. We haven’t called King County yet, but we can’t delay too much longer.” The man leads the two of them to a back room. A body lays on a table, covered by a sheet. Tom pulls back the cloth and reveals a heavily mauled body.

Brianna takes off her jacket, pulls back her hair, and dons a pair of gloves. She’s not able to determine much besides that the man was probably in his 20s or 30s. Shawn works next to her. “This person is just mangled,” he observes, “not eaten. There are bite marks, claw marks. Looks canine.”

Brianna looks at Tom. “Where was he found?”

“He was found behind his trailer house on the outskirts of town.”

“Do you have anything in this part of the country that tends to eat on people?”

“Not generally. There’s coyotes. There are timber wolves, but they don’t tend to go after people and stay in the deep woods.” He gestures, “That’s one reason we called Shawn here. It’s unusual.”

“Do you have a good estimate of when the attack happened?”

“I think it happened the night before he was found.”

“Who were his closest neighbors? Did anyone hear anything?”

“He doesn’t really have neighbors, per se. There were no witnesses and no one heard anything. We did have Joe Reed take a look around.”

Brianna looks at Shawn and raises an eyebrow. Shawn speaks up, “Did he find anything?”

“Well, he did find some pretty large wolf tracks. Big ones.

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Side Job: Auld Lang Syne (Part III)
Karkana Chronicles Twenty-Seven

December 31, 2013 (Tuesday)

Brianna decides to keep a really low profile until Nerise’s party on the 31st. She asks Shawn if he would come down early a bit early. Brianna wants to get him up to date.

“So, you know about the deal that I had to make.”

“Yes.”

“He’s asked me to do two things for him. Neither one was very awesome. No one got hurt doing the first one, but I got spotted. People are asking about me in the community and trying to figure out who I am. I was especially not fond of this last job, however. He wanted me to hurt someone. I worked it out with the other person involved and got away with following the letter of the law.”

“With this person’s cooperation?”

“Yes.”

“That must have been a neat trick.”

“Well, I was willing to go to some pretty extreme measures to make sure that he didn’t get screwed. I think he saw that and decided to pay the piper, so to speak. Anyway, there was yelling involved, as sometimes happens with me. I told him that I did exactly what he asked for and now I’m afraid that he’s going to be a lot more specific with what he asks. That I’ll have a lot less wiggle room if he asks me to do something I don’t want to do.” She sighs. “I’m just trying to keep everyone out of the collateral damage. I don’t want things blowing back on my friends or my House. I’m trying to figure out ways to get around it with the resources that I have. Otherwise, I’m not sure who’s going to be standing at the end of a year and a day, but I’m afraid it won’t be me.” Brianna’s lips quirk slightly, “Although who would have known that I would have taken out a Red Court noble, so I guess anything is possible.”

“You’re never not surprising.”

“I wanted to let you know before we go to this party. Depending on how well connected Nerise is, it could come up tonight. I don’t want you to be taken unawares.”

“I appreciate it.”

Brianna meets Shawn’s gaze. “I should also let you know that I can be a bit … possessive. If I think someone’s getting too handsy with you, I’ll make sure that they stop.”

Shawn looks quizzical.

“It’s generally bad taste to feed on someone else’s date,” she explains.

The two spend some time getting ready for the event. Brianna pours herself into the white dress and heels that Nerise bought her. Loomis strikes a very handsome figure in his tux.

Brianna looks him up and down with an appreciative eye. “This was a much better model than I was promised. I’m impressed.”

When they emerge from her bedroom, Joey stares at Brianna. “Wow.”

“I will say this about Nerise. She knows how to pick out a dress.” She smiles at Joey. “Don’t wait up.”

Brianna drives them to Nirvana, snickering silently to herself as she turns her keys over to the valet. This is probably the crappiest looking car the man’s ever had to park. Brianna puts her arm in Shawn’s and they head up to the door. She hands over her invitation and is welcomed to the festivities. Right before the doors open, she takes a deep breath and releases it. She turns to Shawn. “Are you ready for this?”

“Well, I’ve faced Red Court Nobles, Fae Folk, Were Folk, and Mrs. Rooster, my fifth grade math teacher. I think I can handle it.”

“Well, Mrs. Rooster’s got nothing on this.” The door opens, washing them in a rush of lights and sound. Brianna silently reminds herself to look like she’s having fun. Then they enter Nirvana. A security crew wands them down. Shawn has to turn over his small .38 for the evening’s event.

Silver glittery confetti is everywhere. A D.J. is playing music near the central dance floor. The bars are open and crowded with excited people. Most of the women guests are wearing provocative evening-wear in similar styles to Brianna. The dancers, who are mingling with the crowd, are dressed in diaphanous flowing outfits that leave nothing to the imagination.

Brianna seeks out the dancers that she knows and sells hello, introducing Shawn. Occasionally, her hand tightens almost uncomfortably on Shawn’s arm as they move through the crowd. On a raised dais on the dance floor, a male and female dancer perform a very erotic number on poles. Up on a balcony terrace, Brianna spots Nerise and Clive watching the crowd. She leans in slightly to Shawn, carefully describing them without actually pointing at them.

After talking to all of the people she knows, she asks Shawn if he’d like to dance. He agrees, and she reminds him that most of the dancing she knows fits in at an angry mosh pit. “This may not be pretty, but I’d like to dance with you.” She smiles. “It’s the prom we never got to go to. But with more strippers. And naked people.”

They start to dance and Brianna continues to make snarky comments to make them both laugh. It help keeps her mind off things. When the dance ends, one of the staff dancers she doesn’t know approaches and says brightly, “Welcome to Nirvana! Are you aware of the private room option.”

“Yes. I’m very aware of the private room option.” Brianna’s voice is as dry as the desert.

Shawn interjects with a broad grin, “I’m not. What’s the private room option?”

Brianna’s fingers dig into his arm and her smile is a lot more strained around the edges.

The dancer doesn’t appear to notice. “Yes, we have private rooms for assignations as it were,” he says in a conspiratorial tone, “where we can bring you cocktails of various delights and we also provide private dancers.”

“Private dancers?” Shawn prompts. Brianna’s expression turns murderous.

“Oh yes, private dancers. Only the best for our guests.”

“How much does such a service run?”

The man leans forward and whispers something in Shawn’s ear. Shawn’s eyes widen slightly. “Oh. My. Well, we’ll definitely keep that in mind.”

“Certainly keep us in mind!” the dancer smiles, then leaves.

“Don’t encourage them!” Brianna hisses when it’s just the two of them again.

“I wanted to hear about assignations.”

She punches him in the arm.

The two move off the dance floor towards a round bar area. In light of the possibly political situation that might be going on, Brianna keeps an eye out for anyone who looks like a dignitary or a person of power. She suddenly notices a stir about someone who just walked into Nirvana.

It’s Peregrine Raith.

“God-fucking-damn it.” Brianna growls. “Peregrine Raith.”

“Am I missing something?” Shawn asks quietly.

“The asshole who just walked in. The last time I saw him, I fucking hit him.”

“He’s still walking?”

Brianna’s voice turns tight, “He is Lord Raith’s nephew. He’s tied into some of the original reasons I was in Seattle with Alyssa and that business.” She narrows her eyes. “This may be our power play right here.”

They head to the bar. Brianna, uncharacteristically, refuses to drink anything. Shawn sips on a beer. She watches who Perry talks to and what he does.

Perry moves onto the dance floor, picking out a woman seemingly at random to dance with. Almost immediately, she’s all over him.

Shawn mutters, “Damn.”

“Yep. That’s another reason why we don’t get along very well.” Her tone is icy. “He tried that shit on me.”

“Oh, really?” Shawn’s tone is incredulous, but also tinged with anger.

“That’s why hit got hit.” Her voice goes deadly quiet. “No one feeds on me.”

Brianna goes back to watching the crowd. She sees Nerise and Clive moving down the balcony. It’s about 11:00 p.m. Nerise begins mingling with people, shaking hands and kissing cheeks.

The music starts to intensify as does the vibe in the air. Shawn leans over. “Is that the Raith equivalent of mood lighting?”

“Yeah. It’s just going to pick up from here. The last party I left was nearly a full-blown orgy.”

The two remain at the bar, chatting. Brianna sees Nerise moving her way and stands. Shawn gets to his feet as well.

“Brianna, I’m so glad you could make it.”

“Nerise, I was so glad to get an invitation this year.” She gestures to herself, “Thank you. Your taste in dresses is stunning.”

“I saw it and thought of you.”

“Then I’m flattered.”

The White Court vampire turns her eyes towards Shawn. “I see you’ve brought a guest.”

“Yes. Nerise Patel, this is Shawn Loomis, my date.”

Nerise offers her hand, which Shawn takes. “Brianna has told me so much about you.”

Nerise laughs lightly, “Not too much, I hope. A woman likes to keep some mystery.”

Shawn looks a bit at a loss for words, so Brianna interjects, “It looks like this year’s event is going to be as magnificent as last year’s. I see you have visiting dignitaries.”

“Yes.” Even Brianna can pick up on the pique in Nerise’s tone.

“Is he staying long?”

“I do not know Perry’s plans.”

Brianna nods.

“I hope you have a fine evening. Go out and dance. Show off that dress.”

“Of course, I would love to. If you need to call on me at any time this evening, please do so.”

“If I need you, I will call.” Nerise moves away, Clive following in her wake.

After she is gone, Brianna turns to Shawn. “Well, I think that was our cue to get back on the dance floor.”

“Okay with me.”

Brianna tries to stay away from Peregrine, who now has two women rubbing up against him much to her disgust.

As they dance, she whispers to Shawn. “Nerise never had a metal detector before.”

“She must be expecting trouble.”

“That could be another reason why she really wanted me here.”

As Brianna and Shawn dance, they each keep an eye out for anything odd or someone who looks like they want to cause trouble. Brianna can pick out several of Nerise’s guards. There are more than usual, about ten in total. Nerise appears to have finished mingling and is heading back to the balcony. On her way there, Nerise heads towards Perry, moving into his line of sight. She is clearly expecting him to acknowledge her presence, but Perry continues to dance with the two women.

“Fucking asshole,” Brianna mutters.

Nerise pauses for only a moment, then turns on her heel and walks away. Clive follows.

Brianna leans in very closely to whisper in Shawn’s ear. “He just snubbed her on the dance floor. He did not even acknowledge her presence.” Brianna starts slowly dancing closer to Perry, trying to not attract his attention. She’s convinced he’s going to do something stupid.

Shawn catches her attention. “See that guy?” Brianna looks. “He’s got a piece.” Brianna doesn’t recognize the man. He could be trouble. He could be someone undercover. The two dance start dancing that way in case there’s trouble.

The beat of the music starts to intensify. The dancing itself is starting to shift into something more sexual and primal. The air itself seems to thicken with lust and desire. Brianna manages to ignore it, however, she feels Shawn’s hand creeping over her ass, caressing her through the silky fabric of her gown. She turns, pulling Shawn to face her.

He seems to come to himself. “Oh, sorry.”

“Don’t apologize for grabbing my ass.” She smiles. “I just can’t think of that right now.”

“I shouldn’t be.” He shakes his head sharply. “I’ll be fine.”

They go back to dancing and observing the crowd. Brianna’s watching the guy with the gun. Shawn’s keeping an eye on Nerise. Close to midnight, a short, petite blond woman approaches Shawn and starts gyrating against him. He begins to respond in turn.

Brianna turns to the woman and hisses, her expression deadly. The woman’s silvery eyes widen and she backs quickly away. Shawn seems dazed. Brianna pulls him to her, digging her nails into his arms hard enough to hurt. “Shawn.”

“Uh. Yeah.” He blinks hard.

“Stay with me.”

“I’m here.” As the glaze looks disappears, Brianna can briefly see something else move behind his eyes. It almost looks like what happens when he changes.

“Are you sure you’re alright? Your eyes just went odd.”

“Yeah. I’m good.”

A huge glitter ball is starting to lower over the dance floor. Nerise leads the countdown.

“Ten. Nine.”

Brianna looks towards the man with the gun. He seems to be paying less attention to the music, but is instead looking across the room at the dance floor.

“Eight. Seven. Six.”

She follows his gaze. The man is staring at one of Nerise’s guards.

“Five. Four.”

Brianna steps in close, dropping any pretense of dancing.

“Three. Two. One.”

The man is starting to go for something underneath his jacket. Brianna grabs his arm, hard. “What are you fucking up to?”

Suddenly, sounds start erupting all around her. A series of strange weird popping noises, followed by actual gunfire. Then the panicked screaming starts.

Shawn’s hand is on her other arm. The man takes a swing at her, but misses.

Brianna tries to feed on him, but is also unable.

Another round of firing deafens the room. People are running, trying to avoid the danger.

The man misses her again, but Brianna lands a punch, bloodying his nose and feeding at the same time. He snarls at her, filled with rage. He can’t seem to hit her, but Brianna drops him with the next hit. “Loomis. Get his gun.” She’s in the moment now, looking for the next target.

Shawn picks it up, weighing the gun in his hand. “I’ve heard of these. It’s plastic.”

“Son of a bitch!” Brianna swears, realizing how they got past the security guards. “Come on, we’ve got to make sure Nerise is okay.”

Several of Nerise’s guards are firing at men wielding more of the plastic guns. Nerise and Clive are on the balcony, making their way to her office as Clive shields her with his body. Brianna identifies the closest shooter and uses her inhuman speed to rush him. She leaves her shoes behind on the dance floor.

She punches him, making enough contact to bloody his nose and feed. The man tries to shoot at her, but misses. She breaks his jaw with the next punch and feeds again. He drops.

A bullet misses her, barely, from a man by the circular bar. Brianna can tell that the shooting is dying down because most of Nerise’s guards have fallen. Peregrine’s voice can be heard over the din. “Everyone, calm down! There’s no need for theatrics.”

Brianna is furious. She ignores Perry and goes straight for the man by the bar. Her first punch misses. The man shoots her this time. It hurts, but Brianna can also tell that she’s been drugged. She misses him again. He shoots her at almost point blank range. Brianna is hurting badly, but also starting to feel groggy from the effects of whatever she’s being shot with.

She’s also vaguely aware that Shawn has managed to shoot the man with one of the stolen plastic guns. Using his own drugged state to her advantage, she finally manages to punch and feed from him. He shoots her again. Loomis shoots the man as well. Brianna snarls and smashes him with her full strength. The man drops.

Brianna’s Hunger surges in her, uncontrolled. Shawn reaches out a hand and pulls her behind him. “Don’t look now, but we’re surrounded.”

Four men stand in a circle around the two of them, guns leveled in their direction. Peregrine calls out in light warning, “Brianna, don’t do this.”

“Shut up, fucking Perry.” Her voice is ugly. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“What needs to be done.”

“That’s the biggest load of horseshit I’ve ever heard!” Brianna’s is shaking with rage.

“Come on out, Nerise.” Perry ignores Brianna, which pisses her off even more.

“You’re a viper, Perry.”

“No, I’m a Raith, and it’s about time one ran the operations here.”

“I’m going to fucking hit you again,” she warns.

“Now, now. We all know how you really feel.” His voice is knowing, oily.

Brianna’s vision goes red and she’s running at him, all of her focus on hitting him in his fucking smug face. His eyes widen and he dodges her fist. A round of shots go off and Brianna dimly feels her body jerk from the impact of two bullets.

Then she’s sliding to the floor and all goes dark.

Brianna doesn’t know how long it’s been when she starts to regain consciousness. She opens her eyes to find that she’s on the floor of Nirvana. A grizzly bear stands over her, roaring at several people who are keeping their distance.

Brianna slowly rises, her entire body shaking with an almost berserk rage. Her eyes are glowing bright silver and her hair dances as if being tossed by an invisible wind. All of the guests are gone. Some of the remaining staff huddle on the stage as the gunmen pace nearby still clearly wary of getting too close Shawn’s claws and fangs. Perry stands on the balcony, looking down at the scene.

Brianna cannot touch Shawn with so much Hunger coursing through her veins, but she stands next to him, fixing Peregrine Raith with her burning gaze.

“Call off your boyfriend, Karkana.”

“Where’s Nerise?”

“She fled.”

“Good for her,” Brianna mutters. She turns to Shawn, who’s settled back a little bit now that she’s standing. She looks up at the balcony again. “How’s this playing out now, asshole?” There’s seven guns pointing at her.

“This is how this plays out. Nirvana and the Portland holdings for Raith are mine. I need you to acknowledge that.”

“Why does it matter if I acknowledge that?”

“Because if you don’t, you won’t be leaving here.”

“I will acknowledge that you took them by force, and I will acknowledge you have them for now.” Her voice is sub-arctic.

“That’s all I ask.” Perry’s voice is deceptively mild. “So, as the representative of Lord Raith in Portland, and you, being a member of the White Court, my will is that you leave these premises until I send for you. Do I make myself clear?”

“Crystal.”

“Good.” He nods. “And if you see our good friend Nerise again, let her know that she and that toady of hers are banished from Portland.”

In response, Brianna turns her back on him and starts looking for her shoes. She finds them among the debris.

Perry continues, “Now, you take your …” he pauses for dramatic effect. “Honestly, Karkana, even the Raiths don’t go in for bestiality.”

Brianna meets his gaze, her body entire body going still for one long moment. “Say one more word and I don’t fucking care how many guns you have on me. We are done.”

She looks at Shawn, turning her back on Perry again. “Are you ready to go?” The bear nods and starts padding towards the exit. At the door, Brianna finds Shawn’s .38 and discarded coat. They walk outside together, easily finding her car now that everyone has left.

Looking around for any witnesses, Shawn transforms back into a naked human. Brianna tosses him the coat. “Thank you.”

Brianna just nods. She can’t seem to stop shaking. The berserk hunger is roaring through her body, making it almost impossible to think straight.

“What do we need to do?” Loomis asks, his voice urgent.

“We need to find you some fucking pants.” Her voice is strained.

“Okay, but is that going to help you?”

“No.” She locks her arms around herself. “I need to get out of here.” She’s almost whispering.

“Let’s go.” Shawn says, heading for the front seat. It’s clear that Brianna’s in no shape to drive.

Inside the car, Brianna presses herself as far away from Shawn as she can. “I’m going to have to feed before it gets worse.”

“Tell me where to go.”

“I can’t even go into public like this. Take me home. I at least have to get sunglasses or something.” Her breath is coming in shudders.

Loomis drives quickly back to the apartment. She tells him to go up first, that she’ll be along in a minute. Brianna takes several moments to try and get herself under control, then heads inside.

Joey is incredulous at their appearance. “What the fuck happened? What do you need?”

“I need to feed. I need to change clothes.”

“Let’s load up then,” Joey says, gathering his stuff together.

Brianna looks at both men. “If I start going too deep, I need one of you to knock me out.”

“Alright,” Joey nods.

Brianna gets out of her ruined dress and throws on grungy workout clothes and a pair of sunglasses. They head back to her car, Brianna crawling into the backseat. She is completely silent as Joey drives. Shawn explains the evening’s events to Joey, who punctuates the story with occasional curses of “holy shit!”

He eventually pulls up in front of an old warehouse. “I’d heard about this place and thought we’d try it some time. I guess now’s a good of time as any.”

Brianna slowly gets out of the car and follows the two inside. It’s dark and dingy inside, the rave blasting music so loud that she can feel it in her bones. Brianna slowly blends into the crowd, Joey and Shawn staying close. When the opportunity presents itself, she reaches out and makes skin contact with one of the nameless ravers, feeding deeply on the rage she evokes. She manages to pull away before doing any permanent damage, but also sparking a small riot.

They quickly leave, heading back to the apartment. On the way back, Brianna takes off her sunglasses, exposing eyes that have somewhat returned to normal. She pulls out her phone and calls Clive.

Clive answers, his voice still smooth. “Not a good time, Miss Karkana.”

“Well, I figured if it was a fucking bad time, you’d just have let it go to voice mail,” she retorts. “Are you alright? Is Nerise alright?”

“We’re fine.”

“Then call me when you can.”

“We will,” his voice warms slightly.

“Be careful.”

“Always.”

Brianna throws the phone down on the seat. “Well, in the many ways I thought this evening might have gotten fucked up, this was not one of them.”

“On the plus side, no Red Court.” Shawn offers.

“No. But I’ve got Peregrine fucking Raith.”

“I notice you didn’t deliver his message.”

“I didn’t even think about it.”

“Not surprising.”

She picks up her phone and texts Perry’s warning to Clive’s number. A return text dings back. “We’ll see. NP”

Brianna smiles faintly, then texts back. “I will do everything I can to help. Be safe.” Then she leans back in the seat, thinking out loud. “Politics. It’s always politics. He couldn’t have made a move tonight if he didn’t have some backing. This was fairly well orchestrated.”

“Nerise certainly thought something was going down,” Shawn remarks.

Brianna asks Joey to drive them to their “regular” late-night diner. She needs coffee. When they pull up to the restaurant, Brianna takes Shawn’s arm and holds him back for a moment. “Thank you for having my back tonight.”

“Always.”

“I don’t know what have happened if you hadn’t been there.” She squeezes his arm and then they follow after Joey, together.

View
Side Job: Auld Lang Syne (Part II)
Karkana Chronicles Twenty-Seven

December 23, 2013 (Monday)

After Joey and Brianna get home from working out at the gym that morning, Brianna’s phone rings. She recognizes the number. It’s Hubbard. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me, she thinks to herself, but answers. “Yes?”

“How’s tricks?” Hubbard sounds cheerful, which makes her even more suspicious.

“Things are alright.”

“Are you having yourself a merry little Christmas?”

“Not yet, but I will. And yourself?

“Oh, I don’t do the holidays of the White God. But we do celebrate the Solstice.”

“I see.”

“Boy, do we do the Solstice.”

“Isn’t that coming up? It’s around this time of year.”

“Yes, indeed. But we have business. Why don’t you come by the house?”

“I only have a vague idea of where you live. Isn’t it in the Portland Heights area?”

“It is. I’m surprised you don’t have your Baker’s Street Irregulars out looking for me.”

“I figured we’re at a different place in our relationship now. If I need to talk to you, I know how to get in touch.”

“Mmm.” Hubbard makes a noncommittal noise, but then gives her the address of 1017 Southwest Rivington Drive. “I’ll have the eggnog.”

“Let me get cleaned up and I’ll be there.” She hangs up the phone and looks at Joey. “That damn fairy. I’m off to Hubbard’s home.” She gives him the address in case something goes badly. She takes a shower, dresses in her best manager’s outfit, and get into her car. She also makes sure that the box of nails is in her glove compartment before driving off.

The address is for a very sleek, modern, and expensive-looking home. Hubbard himself answers the door. He’s barefoot, in jeans and a button-down shirt that’s open about midway down his chest. “Come on in.”

Brianna enters.

Hubbard leads her into a fashionable living room. She can’t hear anyone else in the house. He gestures to a couch that probably costs more than her apartment. She sits.

The Sidhe sits down across from Brianna and pushes a mug of eggnog in her direction. “Greetings and salutations on this festive holiday.” He picks up a mug of his own.

Brianna takes the mug. “I thought you were just joking about the eggnog.”

“I never joke.” Hubbard tilts his head, “Well, that’s not entirely true.”

Brianna smiles slightly, “I don’t know that I would call that a truth, and I thought you were supposed to be careful about that.”

“Well,” Hubbard, “I sometimes jest. I sometimes exaggerate.” Brianna holds onto the mug, waiting to see if Hubbard is going to take a sip. She truly doesn’t like eggnog, but also is hesitant to eat or drink anything offered. “I have a job for you,” he continues.

“Alright, perhaps this one won’t involved targeting a business that’s directly sponsored by the Envoy.”

Hubbard gets a very serious look on his face. “You’re not telling me my business, are you?” He voice has chilled considerably.

“I would never dream of telling you your business.”

“Good.”

“I will remind you, though, of the terms of our agreement. I won’t be doing anything that would go against the interests of my House or my Court.”

“And the Envoy has nothing to do with the interests of the White Court.”

“Well, politics have a way of getting back to one’s Court, don’t they?”

“If you’re going to make that argument, then everything touches everything else. What are you? Some kind of holistic healer?”

Brianna looks at him flatly, “You have a job for me?”

“Yes. I want you to collect some blood from a guy named Thomas Cromwell. He lives in Beaverton. He’s a writer. He owes a debt he hasn’t paid, so I’m sending you to collect in pain and in blood.” Hubbard explains further, “The guy writes best-selling crime novels. You know the type.”

“I suppose.”

“He made a deal with me to receive some insider information on some of the doings in Portland. I know some things. I’ve my fingers in various pies. He was supposed to pay me a year of his life. He’s reneging on the deal. Thus, I want the blood, and the pain is a lesson.”

“This is a mortal?” Brianna asks.

“Oh, very much so. Should be easy peasy for someone like you. Of course, if you let him talk to you, he may, you know, set you off. He tends to get under the skin. He knows how to push buttons. You already have rage issues.” Hubbard’s voice is almost hopeful.

“I know all about my issues,” Brianna says drily.

“You looked a little confused,” Hubbard retorts. “I have an address for you. 15890 Southwest Nighthawk, Beaverton. Oh! I almost forgot,” he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a little vial. “Here you go.”

Brianna takes it. “Do you need this full?”

“I need it ample.”

Brianna knows that blood can be used for a lot of things: to control a person, locate a person, or to get information about a person. If someone was a magic user, they could even key a spell to a specific person. “How exactly do you reneg on paying someone a year of your life?” she asks, curious. “How do you have any control over that?”

“Not your business.” His voice is pleasant, but steely. “Your business is blood and pain. That’s why I called you.”

“How’s the Glenfiddich working out for you?”

“Hmm. Warms the tummy, don’t you know? Chug-a-lug, chug-a-lug.” Hubbard actually sings the words in a soft tone.

Brianna finds that she can still dislike the Sidhe even more than she did before, but she tries not to show it. “Has there been any word in your circles about the events at Raven and Rose?”

“Why do you want to know?”

“Well, I don’t know if it came across in the dialog that I had with your man, but I was spotted on the way out. I was yelling quite a few things at him at the time, so perhaps he didn’t pick up on that fact.”

A low chuckle rumbles out of Hubbard’s throat. “No, that slip-up did not get past him. Or by me.”

“If want a thief, hire a thief. If you want someone to break in, steal something, and then leave, that’s when you point me in that direction.”

“Ah. But like I said, when I want to cause someone pain, that’s when I send you.”

“So, any word getting around?” Brianna ignores his comment.

“You have a vial getting warm in your pocket.”

“Well, I was going to trade you for the rest of the information that I picked up that night, but …” she shrugs and lets her voice drop off.

“Trade me? Now, that is an interesting proposition.”

“Information for information.”

“You want to know if I have any information regarding the word on the fairy streets, as it were, about your little operation?”

“I had thought it prudent not to ask myself.”

“And in return, you want to give me information about … the wine list at the Raven and Rose?” His voice is sarcastic.

“No, just bits of a conversation heard from behind a door that someone didn’t know I was listening at.”

“You were eavesdropping? How gauche.”

“It’s whatever gets the job done. I don’t considering eavesdropping as much as collecting information, something you should be very familiar with.”

They stare at each other for a minute. “The problem is that I don’t know how much your information is worth,” Hubbard comments.

“I guess it depends on how much you like to gamble.”

He chuckles. “I only like to gamble when I win, silly.”

“If you always knew you were going to win, then it wouldn’t be called gambling now would it?” She maintains a cool expression on her face, hoping that the reputation regarding Fae and bargains has some truth to it..

Hubbard is clearly interested. “How about this? We make your little bargain, but if your information is worthless, we add a day to our previous bargain?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Oh, come now.”

“Considering you’re the only one who’s going to determine if the information is worthless, how would I know I was getting a good deal?”

“Would I lie?”

She makes an amused sound. “No, we’ve already had that conversation. You don’t lie, not directly.” Brianna shakes her head, “You’re either want to know, or you don’t. I’m not interested in potentially lengthening the terms of our agreement. If I want to find out badly enough, I have other avenues I can explore without having to be the one who asks directly. I just thought while I’m here …” Her voice trails off.

“Okay. How about this? You include in your information what avenues you’re talking about.”

Brianna laughs out loud. “No.”

“Oh, come now.” he repeats.

“No, I’m not telling you where I get my information on the Fae Courts.” She looks at Hubbard, who’s clearly getting agitated. “You’re making this very difficult. How ever do you get anything done?”

“Very well. We shall make this bargain.”

“Alright. In good faith, then I will go first.” Brianna tells Hubbard more details about what she saw while inside the building, the behavior when the Envoy arrived, specific information on David Shenaut, the odd glowing alcohol, and then the exact conversation she heard between David and the owner. Brianna watches Hubbard’s expression to see his reaction to this information. He does seem to be considering her words and then smirks.

“Very good. Well, your little escapade has embarrassed the Envoy and also the fact that you were seen has put you on her radar. Inquiries are being made about you on the street. I, of course, have said nothing.”

“I would assume not.”

“Because we don’t know each other, as far as they know.”

“As far as they know,” Brianna repeats.

“Speaking of which, I do hope you took discretion in coming here.”

“Well, I wasn’t making a big announcement about it.”

“That’s good. Now, is that exchange of information to your satisfaction?”

“It was to me.”

“Good.”

“And yourself? Were you satisfied?”

“I think it’s fair to say I’m never satisfied. That’s how I’ve gotten where I am.” Hubbard points a finger at her. “So, vial, blood, pain. Not necessarily in that order.”

“Am I bringing this back to you here?”

“No, let’s not risk that. Let’s have you take it over to Sam at the B-Side. So, when do you think you’ll have this wrapped up?”

“I have no idea. I’ve not even had a chance to start looking into the situation.”

“Well, you still have Sam’s number. Give him a call when you’re ready to meet at the B-Side, or where ever else you’d like, just arrange to meet with Sam.”

“Alright.” Brianna stands up, putting down her mug, eggnog untouched.

“Happy holidays,” Hubbard tells her, almost cheerful-sounding again.

“And to you as well.” Brianna returns to her car and drives around for while, thinking about her options. She decides to go by the author’s house to see the general layout. It’s a very nice neighborhood and a nice house. Brianna takes one look and thinks That’s going to have security on it, goddammit.

Brianna decides to go the public library and do research on Thomas Cromwell. She’s not much of a reader and isn’t familiar with him at all. She finds out that Cromwell has written a bestselling series of books called “The Central Precinct series” set in Portland. The main character is a cop by the name of Michael Steele. According to the book jackets, Cromwell lives in the greater Portland area with his basset hound, Lucky. Brianna takes a look at his author website, noting that Cromwell has just gotten back from a book tour promoting his latest novel. He is apparently known for his extensive knowledge of the criminal underground in Portland. On another website, she also finds a reference to a divorce settlement.

She decides her best course of action is to go back to Beaverton in the middle of the night to check out the house. Around 1:30 a.m., she arrives and parks a distance from Cromwell’s home. Brianna is dressed in black and puts on a pair of gloves. Approaching cautiously, Brianna keeps an eye out for security cameras or any other sort of alarm system. She spots motion security lights and three stationary security cameras. The lights primarily focus on the doors and windows. There is a light on inside the house, probably some sort of small room located over the garage.

Brianna quietly observes for about an hour. At one point, a shadow passes in front of the window, but she never gets a good look. Brianna’s decides it’s time to move on when the light suddenly shuts off. She thinks that there are some blind spots in the security system where she could get up to the side of the house without tripping a motion-activated light. It’s even possible she could get up to the garage room window, but the window itself has a security light on it. She sneaks back to her vehicle and drives off, pondering the situation.

December 24, 2013 (Tuesday)

Brianna picks up a ski mask to wear when she approaches Cromwell’s house again at night. She decides to drive the neighborhood once again during the day in order to determine the best place to hide her car. From there, she plots out the best route to and from the house. As Brianna’s nearby, she happens to notice a grey Lexus drive up to Cromwell’s residence and pull into the garage. Brianna can’t see anyone moving around in the home. She decides to again return to the house around 1:30 a.m.

Late that night, Brianna approaches the house. She waits, observing, until the light above the garage goes off about an hour later. Brianna moves up closer, trying to stick to the security blind spots. She makes it to the side of the house without any of the motion detector lights activating. Looking around once more to make sure she’s not observed, Brianna slips on her ski mask and quietly climbs up onto the roof.

She moves stealthily over the roof, avoiding any security features, and heads towards the window over the garage. Listening carefully, she hears a light snoring coming from inside. Looking at the security light from this angle, Brianna can see several wires connecting it. Gritting her teeth and hoping nothing bad happens, she yanks them loose. Almost immediately, Brianna hears a steady beeping noise come on from inside the house. A dog starts barking from inside the room.

Cursing to herself, Brianna uses her inhuman speed to cross the roof and climb down. She quickly follows her escape route back to her car, removing her ski mask when she’s far enough away from the house. She drives away, frustrated at the night’s events.

December 25, 2013 (Wednesday)

Brianna and Joey spend a low-key Christmas together. They exchange gifts, laughing when they discover that each has bought the other a wrapped bottle of Jameson. Brianna also calls Shawn to wish him a Merry Christmas.

The White Court vampire knows that she wants to get Hubbard’s job finished before the New Year’s Eve festivities. She’s still unhappy that she tripped the alarm system, but she knows that she’s got to keep moving forward. Briana remembers that there was a home across the street from Cromwell’s residence that had a “for sale” sign on it. She throws together a duffle bag full of gear (ski mask, binoculars, energy bars, extra clothes, etc.) in preparation for a stake-out. She tells Joey that she’ll be back after a while and that she’ll keep him posted via texts.

Brianna pulls up to the empty house and looks around to see if anyone’s noticed her in the driveway. She doesn’t see anyone, so she uses her inhuman strength to force the garage door open. She drives her car inside and shuts the door behind her.

Wearing gloves, Brianna moves cautiously through the house. She sets herself up behind a set of windows that overlook the front of Cromwell’s residence, adjusting the blinds slightly so she can use her binoculars. About 5:00 p.m., the grey Lexus pulls up. Brianna can see Cromwell sitting alone behind the wheel. The garage door opens and shuts behind the vehicle.

Brianna continues to watch the house, trying to observe Cromwell’s behavior and patterns. She can see lights turn on and off in the house as he moves around. As she’s watching, Brianna also notes a high number of police vehicles cruising the neighborhood. Eventually, around 8:00 p.m., the light turns on above the garage.

December 26, 2013 (early Thursday morning)

Around 2:30 a.m., the light above the garage shuts off. Brianna stays up through the night to observe any other behavior. About 6:00 a.m., lights come on in what is probably the dining room. About an hour later, that light goes off and Crowell’s car pulls out of the garage.

Brianna paces a bit, thinking. If she can get close enough to the house, she might be able to use her supernatural speed to run into the garage as the door is closing. During the day, she wouldn’t have to worry about tripping any motion-activated lights, and there is a blind spot nearby where her movements wouldn’t be picked up by cameras. If she can make it inside before the garage door shuts, then she will have essentially bypassed the security system. There might be the dog to worry about, but that’s not as much of a concern to her. Then, she could just wait for Cromwell to come back home and set an ambush for him.

There’s still some room for mishap, but Brianna thinks this is her best plan. She texts Joey to let him know that everything is okay, then decides to nap off and on to try and catch Cromwell arriving back at home. About 1:00 p.m., the grey Lexus returns. Brianna follows his movement inside the house with the binoculars. Cromwell sits down at a table and pours himself a tumbler of some sort of alcohol. He drinks it alone, staring at apparently nothing. When he’s finished, Brianna watches him leave the table and go about his routine.

About 4:30 p.m., a police officer comes by and the two men chat for a bit at the door. Brianna can tell that Cromwell is a bit agitated, although not at the officer. Around 5:00 p.m., the Lexus pulls out again. Brianna frowns, wondering where the author is going, but remains in the house.

By 8:00 p.m., Cromwell returns. Brianna notices that he is driving very, very carefully, like someone who is drunk and trying not to show it. Soon after, the light goes on over the garage. Brianna continues to watch.

The light stays on all night.

December 27, 2013 (early Friday morning)

Brianna gathers her belongings together, preparing to move. She puts her ski mask in her jacket pocket and dons her gloves. She also throws her cell phone charger, some more snacks, and her Leatherman tool in her pockets. Everything else she returns into the duffle, which she then places in her car.

She exits the front door at dawn’s first light and heads stealthily to Cromwell’s house, making sure to avoid the security cameras. Right before 7:00 a.m., she shifts to the balls of her feet, ready to move quickly.

7:00 a.m., nothing happens.

7:05 a.m., nothing happens.

7:10 a.m., nothing happens. Goddammit, where is he?, Brianna curses to herself.

At 7:15 a.m., the garage door opens and the grey Lexus starts to pull out. Brianna bolts. Moving with inhuman speed, she manages to slip underneath the garage door just before it closes with a thud. Brianna takes a look around, her body alert for any sort of security cameras inside. She doesn’t see any and breaths a sigh of relief.

It’s a spacious garage, but there are no other cars parked inside. A trio of bicycles sit nearby along with a stack of book boxes. Mindful to move quietly because of the dog, Brianna finds an outlet and plugs in her cell phone. For the time being, she flips on the light switch, ready to turn it off again at any sign that the garage door is opening.

Brianna identifies a good place to hide and set up an ambush. She knows she won’t want to engage Cromwell until the garage door is completely shut and he’s out of his car. After her phone charges, she places everything back in her pockets and stays near her hiding spot. She’s not sure when he will return, but wants to be ready to move.

A little after 1:00 p.m., Brianna hears the hum of the garage door starting to raise. She quickly hides, pulling her ski mask on.

The garage door shuts and Cromwell gets out of his car. Brianna moves in with her regular speed and punches at him, but misses.

“What the hell?” Cromwell is clearly shocked. “Hey, take it easy now! We can talk this out!” Even in his confusion, he seems like a really nice guy.

Brianna pauses for an instant, but Hubbard’s instructions to her clearly specified that the lesson must involve pain. However, if she can land a good one, that would meet the letter of their agreement. She punches Cromwell again.

This time, she lands a solid hit, breaking Cromwell’s nose. Blood flies. And there’s the blood, Brianna thinks.

“Jesus Christ!” Cromwell howls in pain. “What the hell are you doing?”

“Sit down.” Brianna uses every ounce of her intimidation to make him comply.

“Yeah, I’m sitting! I’m sitting!” He quickly sits on the floor.

She hands him the vial. “I need your blood.”

“Excuse me?”

“I need your blood,” she repeats calmly. “You’ve pissed someone off.”

“You’re going to hit me again if I don’t do this, huh?”

“Yep.”

Cromwell takes the vial and swipes it under his nose, capturing some of his blood in the tiny glass tube. Then he hands it back to Brianna who returns it to her pocket. “Who did I piss off?” he asks, his voice trembling slightly.

“Someone you made a deal with.” Brianna can see the wheels turning in Cromwell’s head. Then it all clicks.

“Oh, God.” His face is pale. “Oh, God, you’ve got to give me that back! I’m serious! You’ve got to give me that back! You have no idea what you have there!”

“I do have an idea of what I have here,” Brianna replies grimly.

“Then if you do, don’t put me through that! Come on!” Cromwell sounds desperate.

“Friend, I can’t really help you much. I’ve made a deal myself.”

“Oh, God. Look, I’ve got money. I’m a best-selling author, I’ve got money. I’ve got booze. Whatever you want. Do you like this car? I’ll give you this car. Seriously, I need that vial!”

“I’ve made a deal. I can’t break it.”

Cromwell slumps, closing his eyes in utter defeat. “Merry fucking Christmas to me.”

Brianna isn’t pleased at how this conversation is going. She doesn’t like being pressured into this situation by Hubbard in the first place, but she especially doesn’t like the fact that Cromwell doesn’t strike her as some sort of sleazy asshole. He seems like a decent human being.

Cromwell eventually opens his eyes again and looks at her. “Why are you still here? Are you going to beat me some more? You’ve already as good as killed me.” His voice is broken.

“I don’t like this any more than you do.” Brianna’s voice is soft.

“Then do something about it!”

Brianna pauses, then asks, “Why did you break your deal?”

The man sighs. “Do you know what the deal was?”

“I was told it was for a year of your life.”

“Yeah. Just that. I got a divorce not too long ago. I got two kids. Brattiest little kids you ever saw, but they’re mine. I only get to see them every other weekend and for a few hours on the holidays. At least when I don’t have a book tour or when my ex comes up with some bullshit reason where I can’t see them. So, I broke the deal. Because I wanted at least one more year with them.”

Brianna looks at him. “If it’s a year off the end of your life, does it matter as much?”

“You mean when I’m old and grey and get to see my children’s children? Do you think it’ll matter then? I’m young now and every minute I don’t get to see them is a minute stolen. He was going to do it again. So, yeah, I reneged.”

“What did you think was going to happen? Promises with his kind are very serious.”

“I don’t know. I thought he would be reasonable.”

“Oh, no. He’s not a reasonable person.”

“I suppose he’s not.”

“This leaves us in a predicament.”

“So, what are you going to do?”

Brianna folds her arm, thinking. If she mixed Cromwell’s blood with some other blood, it would be tainted. Maybe Hubbard’s magics wouldn’t work quite as planned, but it wouldn’t necessarily negate the magic completely. It could even make it worse. She might be able to add iron filings to completely counteract the Fae magic, but that would also be very obvious. What little she even knows about magic may not apply anyway. Faerie magic is more elemental than mortal magic.

She looks at Cromwell again. “How did you meet him? Did he approach you? Are you aware of the communities he runs around in?”

“I was an investigative journalist. I used to do the cop beat and heard about some pretty weird stuff. His name came up as a source of information about the criminal underworld of Portland, which I needed to know for my books. That’s why I approached him. I didn’t know what he was at that time.”

“You know what he is now?”

“I have some idea, yes. I don’t know if I fully understand it, but at least I know what he’s not.”

“Sometimes that’s just as important.”

“So, we made our arrangement. When I did, frankly, I thought he was just bonkers.”

“As someone who also knows what he is, that statement is not far from the truth.” Brianna leans against Cromwell’s car. She’s not fully letting down her guard in case he tries something, but her body posture is much more relaxed.

The author continues, “But then I heard things that made me think that I had gotten myself into some real trouble. When he approached me to collect on the bargain after my latest bestseller, I told him no,”

“He was going to take your year right then?” Brianna shakes her head. “I don’t know how that works.”

“I don’t know either, but apparently me telling him no was enough.”

“You telling him no was a breach of contract, which is a big deal for his kind This is going be a problem for you no matter how our transaction goes. He is going to keep coming after you. I don’t know how I can help you with that.”

“I guess I’ll just have to figure that out. But based on some of the stuff I’ve heard, I won’t be able to do anything if I don’t have that vial. I don’t trust him not to use it in that manner. Look, I’ve got money … I’ve got resources…”

I don’t want your money. I’m just trying to figure this out. You’re not the only one that made a deal."

“Really, what was your deal?”

“I’m in his service for a year and a day in order to keep him and his agents away from other people. So, he gets to bark and I get to run. I was hoping this was going to be more of a partnership, but I don’t think it’s going to work that way. So, now I have to look for ways to find leverage in our agreement, because this isn’t what I want to be doing.” She sighs. “The one thing that works in my favor is that his kind believes in the letter of an agreement, not the spirit, which means that I can take his orders very literally. He specifically said that he wanted me to retrieve your blood and to cause you pain. I think he envisioned me beating you to a pulp, but we’re going to go with what I did.”

“Well, thanks for that.”

“Let me make a phone call. You just sit there.” She points at the garage floor.

“I’ve got no place else to go.”

“I’d like to try and figure out a solution that will benefit the both of us, so just don’t do anything that’s going to force me to make snap decisions.” Cromwell doesn’t move. Brianna gets out her phone and dials Sydney’s number. “Hi. I’ve got a question for you. I don’t know how much detail I can get into the phone.”

“Okay.”

“Is there something you can do to a personal sample of blood that would make it unusable magically-speaking?”

“Well, many things can contaminate a sample depending on the effect that you’re wanting. If you’re wanting to negate it completely, that’s more difficult.”

“What about at least just mitigating it then? If I have to give a vial of blood to someone, but I don’t want that other person to do really horrible things to it, what do I need to do?”

“If you contaminate it in some matter, mix it with anything that will dilute it in some fashion, that will lessen the potency and it will become less useful. I don’t mean just dilute it with water,” Sydney clarifies, then asks “Is there any way you can switch the blood for something else? That would be the best way. Even a little bit of blood can be incredibly potent.”

Brianna sighs. “I think I’m fucked with this one.”

“I’m sorry.” Sydney sounds distressed.

“It’s not your fault,” Brianna tells her, “I got myself into this mess.”

The young sorceress offers a few more suggestions, “Depending on what they’re going to do, the effects could fade at sunrise, but blood is one of the most powerful symbiotic links you can get. Even if you dilute it, if there’s any blood, it still can be used against someone.”

“That’s what I was afraid of.”

“I could work on a talisman. It might offer a modicum of protection. The best protection would be running water, a magic circle, or distance.”

“Distance would help? I should let you know that this has a lot to do with the last sort of situation you helped me with.”"

“Generally, the further they have to go, the more power they have to generate. Blood definitely makes it easier, but depending on what they’re planning to do, distance could make a difference.” Sydney pauses. “But it all of this has to do with that other thing, then whatever I tell you may not make a difference.”

“That’s also what I was afraid of.”

“Is a friend of yours in trouble?”

Brianna chooses her words carefully. “It’s actually someone I just met. I have to be very careful with what I tell you, but it would be safe to say that previous deals that I had to make are going to make this a problematic year and a day.”

“Well, outside of of switching it out with an inert sample, I’m not sure what you can do. If you just dilute it, it’s still there. And if it’s still there, it can be used. That’s the nature of blood. That’s why it’s so powerful and sought after. I’m sorry, I really want to help.”

“Well, I’m the one who got myself into this. You’ve already helped quite a bit.” Brianna is resigned.

“if we knew what the blood was going to be used for, I could try to make something to specifically combat it. If I make a talisman just against magical interference, it will be more general and thus weaker. I could still work on one if that would be helpful.”

“Thank you. How long will it take?”

“I could have it by tomorrow night.”

“Well, I haven’t been given any time frame, so that might work. In the meantime, what if I slightly dilute this sample. Do you think those things would work together?”

“Every little bit will help. It depends on how you contaminate it.”

“Well, I don’t want it to be noticed. I was thinking another kind of blood.”

“If you put another person’s blood that would be just as bad.”

“I was thinking animal blood, just something to mix it.”

“That could help confuse the magical elements of the spell.”

’I’m just trying to mitigate it as much as possible. Do you think that distance could be the third piece of the solution?"

“It depends on what he’s trying to do, but it could help. I’ll work on the talisman. You dilute the sample.”

“Great. I’m going to suggest distance as well. I’ll text you when I have more information.” Brianna hangs up and looks at Cromwell. “Well, I don’t know that I have a complete answer for you, but I have someone who’s willing to help me mitigate the effects of whatever he might throw at you.”

“Okay.” Cromwell sounds hopeful, but wary. “So, what does that mean?”

“It means that I need to contaminate this sample. Do you have raw steak or something in your house?”

“Yeah. I have a filet in the fridge. I can take you to it.”

“I also have someone making a talisman for you that may help.”

“Wow. We’ve come to that. It seems a little cliche, but okay.”

Brianna continues, nonplussed, “The person you made a deal with, his kind, follow slightly different rules. Some of these things are our best guess. But another thing that may make a difference is distance. At the very least, distance will make it harder for him to find you or send other people after you, myself included. I’m taking a chance that he won’t notice my interference and be pissed at me.”

“Distance I can do. If you’re willing to do all this, I can offer you some distance too.”

“No, but thank you. I’ve got too many people I’m watching out for here in town.”

He nods. “Let’s get you that steak.”

Brianna lets Cromwell lead the way. She’s still watching in case he tries to hit a panic button or use a cell phone, but she’s feeling more relaxed about the situation. The author pulls out a steak and sets it on the kitchen counter. Brianna uses a toothpick and carefully adds some of the beef blood to the vial and mixes it together.

Cromwell watches her movements. “Well, what now?”

“Well, my friend won’t be done with the talisman until tomorrow night. What sort of arrangements do you need to make in order to leave town?”

“I have a few things I can get started.” Cromwell pauses, then adds softly, “That son of a bitch. He’s still stealing the time with my kids.”

“I don’t know what to tell you. To be perfectly honest, even if I walk out of this door and get hit by a bus, he’s still going to send people after you. I doubt the next person is going to care that you have kids. I do and I’m sorry that it’s come to this.”

Cromwell is silent for a long moment. “You know what? I am too. Why don’t you just take me to your boss?”

“You want me to take you to him?” her voice is incredulous.

The man’s expression firms. “If he’s going to do something to me, I may as well be there. I made the deal, I better fess up to it.”

“Are you sure? Because I’m willing to help you as much as I can.”

“And put yourself at risk?”

“I do that all of the time.”

“Yeah, well, not for strangers.”

“Well, sometimes I do that too.”

“No. This is my fault. I’ve got to pay the piper.”

“Are you sure this is what you want to do?” Brianna insists.

“Yeah.”

“I will still technically be bringing him pain and blood then.” She smiles thinly, “You’ll just have all of your blood inside.” She dials Sam’s number.

Sam answers on the first ring, as solicitous as usual. “Brianna! I’ve been looking forward to this phone call.”

“I’m sure you have.” Brianna’s voice is dry. “I want you to tell your boss that I need to bring the blood by the house.”

“That wasn’t the deal. He doesn’t like changes to the deal.”

“That’s why I’m listening to your dulcet tones rather than just showing up.”

“Why do you need to change the deal?”

“It’s going to be more difficult to the the blood to the bar than I originally thought.”

“Why? Is there traffic? Drive around.”

“Look, are you going to ask him or not? Or are you just going to give me shit?” Brianna is getting pissed and her voice is icy cold.

“Alright, alright! Jeez!” Sam backs down quickly.

“Call me back.” Brianna hangs up. While she’s waiting, she turns and looks at Cromwell. “Look, I think at this point we’ve moved beyond masks. And I’m fucking hot.” She takes off her ski mask and puts in back in her pocket.

Her phone rings. It’s Hubbard. Brianna answers, “Yes?”

“Hello, Brianna. Did my holiday greeting come out oddly? Did it come out in a different language? Are we having trouble communicating? I told you call Sam and the B-Side. Now I’m getting phone calls from Sam that you want to come here. This is confusing to me.” He sounds incredibly irritated.

“Is that a no?”

“I don’t understand the change in venue. We do not need to be seen together.”

“So, you want me to leave the blood with Sam at the B-Side?” Brianna asks carefully.

“Yes! A thousand times, yes!”

“Alright. It’ll get arranged today.”

“Good!” Hubbard huffs and hangs up.

Brianna shrugs at Cromwell. “Well, I may not be able to give you directly to the man in charge, but maybe his agent. We’re going to have to play this one by ear.”

“Let’s get the show on the road,” the author replies, “my face hurts.”

Brianna hands him a wet towel and some ice. She tells him to wait here while she gets her car. Brianna quickly moves across the street and retrieves her car from the empty house. Once they are pulling out the driveway, she calls Sydney and tells her to wait on the amulet. The person in question has decided to instead talk to the person he made the deal with."

“Okay. Well, good luck.”

“Thanks. We’ll need it. This situation is going to require some fancy footwork on my part. I’ll call you when it’s done.” The two friends say their goodbyes and Brianna heads for the B-Side Tavern.

When they arrive, Brianna leads the way inside. She quickly spots Sam at the bar and heads over to him, Cromwell in her wake. Sam glances up as they approach. He looks confused for a minute, then his eyes widen. “You have got to be shitting me.”

“What?” Brianna says in a very neutral tone.

“Don’t look at me all innocent!”

She crosses her arms over her chest. “I was told to bring back two things and that I have done.”

Sam starts to laugh, incredulously. “If you think I’m explaining this to the boss, then you’ve got another think coming. You’re going to explain this.”

“I tried to.”

“No, you didn’t.” Sam is still laughing.

“Well, I tried to come by the house,” Brianna amends slightly.

“You didn’t try to explain shit!”

“He was not in a talking mood. Sometimes he’s just not interested in what other people have to say. And if you try to tell me that’s not the truth of it, I don’t think you can.”

‘Lady, you’ve got nerve. That’s all I’ve got to tell ya."

“I wouldn’t have gotten to where am I today without having balls.” Brianna’s gaze never falters from his.

Shaking his head, Sam starts pulling out his cell phone and walks to the back of the bar. Brianna tries to overhear what she can about the conversation, but isn’t very successful. It’s just clear that Hubbard isn’t happy about the turn of events.

She turns to the author. “Thomas, you look like you need a drink. I need a fucking drink. It’s on me.”

“Yeah, I could use a drink.”

Brianna leans across the bar to gesture to the bartender. “I don’t care how much it costs me, but tonight we need two doubles of your best whiskey.” She clicks her glass with Cromwell. “Sometimes when you’re over a barrel, the only satisfaction you can get is following something exactly to the letter of the law.” He laughs. Brianna flicks her gaze over to Sam, but he’s still getting an earful from Hubbard. She leans in close to Cromwell and speaks in a low voice. “The letter of the law is very important to these people. Have you done any research on other things to protect yourself.”

“Some.”

“So you know about the cold iron?”

“Yeah.”

“Part of our dilemma here is that there’s not as much you can do once you’ve started making deals, but you can focus on the letter of the law. Oath breaking is very bad.”

Cromwell sighs. “That’s why I’m here.”

“That’s why I’m here, too.”

Sam comes walking back. “Yeah. We’re going to meet the boss.”

“Alright then.”

“I’m parked out front, you can follow me.”

They leave the Tavern and Sam pulls away in his vehicle. Brianna and Cromwell get into her car and follow. She’s not sure what’s going to happen when they meet Hubbard. It could get ugly. As she’s driving, Brianna leans over to the glove box and pulls out a handful of iron nails, stuffing them in her pocket. Cromwell sees what she’s doing and does the same.

Sam leads them to an old warehouse. Brianna’s not pleased at the remote location. Before she gets out of the car, she texts the address to Joey. So far so good. As usual, managed to piss someone off. This is where I’m heading in to talk to him.

He texts back. Do you need backup?

I don’t think you could get here fast enough. I need you to know where I am. If you don’t hear from me in a couple hours, you come looking for me.

Okay.

We’re going to talk after this. Brianna promises. Then she and Cromwell get out of the car.

Sam goes around to the back of the warehouse and opens up a padlock. He holds the door open and Brianna boldly walks in first, although she’s keeping an eye out in case someone is waiting to clock her. It appears she’s in a small dingy office. The only light inside comes from single bulb dangling on a wire. Hubbard is sitting in an old, beat-up chair, his feet causally propped up on the desk in front of him. Brianna feels her irritation surge, but comes to stand in front of him.

“So, you brought me blood,” Hubbard drawls.

“I brought you pain,” Brianna points to Cromwell’s broken and swollen nose. “And I bring you blood.”

“Well, Brianna, you never cease to surprise.”

“And blood that came willingly, I may add.”

“It’s not as fun when it’s willing.” Hubbard’s voice goes low and silky.

“I guess we have different ideas of fun.”

“I’m sure we do.” He flicks his gaze to Cromwell. “So, what did this weasel promise you?”

“Nothing.” Brianna says simply.

“Nothing?” Hubbard scoffs.

“Nothing. He said it was time to pay the piper. I can be very persuasive, you know.”

“And this is what you thought I wanted?”

“I could not even begin to comprehend what it is you want in life.”

“What I wanted …” Hubbard suddenly kicks the desk away from him, “was for him to suffer!” He’s yelling now.

“You think this is fun for him? I think he’s suffering right now! I bet whatever you’ve got cooked up in your head is not going to be fun for him either!” Brianna’s anger flares hot as her voice raises to match Hubbard’s. “But he walked into here with his head held high, so give the man some fucking dignity!” She seizes the edge of the desk and slams it into the side of the wall. Her eyes turns slightly silver as her rage and hunger rise.

Hubbard mouth stretches into a grin, but his voice is cold. “Well, I believe we’ve got your dander up. Good! That’s what I pay for. Now if I could just direct it, we’d both be happy.”

“I sincerely doubt it.” Brianna spits the words at him.

The Sidhe stalks over to where Cromwell has been standing quietly this entire time. “So, you’ve decided to pay your price now that the cutting has begun?”

Cromwell shrugs. “What can I say, the lady is persuasive.”

Brianna watches the two of them, her arms crossed.

Hubbard narrows his eyes, “Do you think that your last minute plea for mercy will grant you clemency, oath-breaker?”

The author sighs, wearily. “To be honest with you, with the day that I’ve had, I don’t really care one way or the other. Do what you’re going to do and get it over with. I’m done.”

Hubbard turns to face Brianna, pointing at Cromwell. “That? That is your_ mortal dignity_.”

That is a man who knows exactly how much he is giving up, but still comes forward.”

“Well, what a dramatic pose we’ve all stuck. You with your righteous indignation. This one, with his world weary so-called dignity.” Hubbard sighs. "I grow bored. “Very well.” He steps up to Cromwell.

Cromwell suddenly pulls the handful of nails from his pocket and shoves them into Hubbard’s face who screams at the contact. Hubbard makes a quick, sharp gesture with this hand and the mortal goes flying backwards across the room, hitting the wall and collapsing to the floor.

Brianna makes no attempt to hide her actual shock. “What the fuck was that?”

Hubbard turns on her, snarling. “You, I will deal with later!” His normally flawless skin is now marred by black burns where the metal touched him. He stalks over to Cromwell, kicking at his hand and scattering the nails. The Sidhe easily picks up the mortal by the front of his shirt and Brianna can tell that Hubbard likely has a strength on par with hers. Hubbard reaches out with his other hand and twists at his broken nose. The man screams in pain. “That was for my face,” Hubbard hisses and lets him drop back to floor. “I was going to stick to the dictates of our original deal, however you have angered me mortal. Now, first of all,” he begins conversationally, kicking Cromwell in the stomach, “I wanted you to suffer.” He kicks him again. “So, you’re going to suffer.” Kick.

The Sidhe shoots a dark look at Brianna. “This is what I had in mind.” Kick.

Brianna returns his gaze, her eyes shooting daggers.

Hubbard stoops to the whimpering Cromwell. “Now, I’m going to take what is mine.” He puts a hand to the mortal’s head. Brianna sees a slight frosty rime form under Hubbard’s hand. Cromwell doesn’t cry out, but looks slightly dazed.

The Sidhe straightens, then turns to Brianna. “Now. For you. I told you I wanted blood and pain.”

“You did.” Brianna’s voice is equally icy.

“And you brought me a pathetic, broken-nosed man. Is that what we’ve come to?”

“If you send me to go and do your dirty work, beat up mortals, and bring back their blood, and I will do exactly what you ask me to do. I don’t think it’s quite a surprise what my thoughts are on being ordered around like a common criminal every other week.” Briana clenches her fists in anger.

“You impudent thug. Who do you think I hired? I tried to send to you on a more subtle mission and you complained. So then I send you on a mission showcasing your particular talents and I get more complaints. So short of sending you to drive an ice cream truck for little children, what, do tell, will you be pleased with?”

“To fucking start, you can stop sending me after mortals who have no clue what they’re getting into when they bargain with you.’

“Don’t be naive,” Hubbard shakes his head. “This is so boring now. Go home, Brianna, until I send for you again.”

Brianna looks at Cromwell who is laboriously trying to rise to his feet. She makes her way to the mortal, careful never to turn her back on Hubbard. The Sidhe makes no move as Brianna offers her arm to Cromwell and helps him outside.

Once safely outside, Brianna loads Cromwell into her car and drives off. They drive in silence for a little while, then the author raises his head. He has tears in his eyes. “What did he do to you?” Brianna asks softly.

“I can’t remember.”

“You can’t remember what he did to you?”

“No. I can’t remember the first year of my children’s lives.”

Brianna draws in a hissing breath.

“It’s like it’s not there.” Cromwell’s sounds lost and broken.

The White Court Vampire yanks her car over to the side of the road. “Thomas. Fucking look at me.” Her voice is commanding and he numbly obeys. “What he did to you was really shitty, but you do not get to let it define you. You do not get to let him win. Do you understand? Do you hear me?” Her voice is raising with her anger at Hubbard, at the entire situation. “It is utter crap what he did. He did it because he is vindictive and mean and a faerie asshole. But, you can overcome this. You can make another life with your children. You will never get those memories back and that’s always going to hurt. But what you do moving forward is what will make the difference.” She narrows her eyes at Cromwell. “And if you do something stupid, he wins. I can tell you that a lot of times these fights aren’t fair, but how you choose to react is only fucking difference that you can make. Do you hear what I’m telling you?”

“I do.” Cromwell voice is soft.

“And whenever you think that you can’t make it or you’re feeling weak, you just remember that you put a motherfucking handful of nails in that asshole’s face!” She laughs. “Because that was fucking amazing! You really pissed him off!”

A small smile curves around Cromwell’s lips. “Yeah, I guess I did.” He pauses for a moment. “I think I’d really like to go to the hospital.”

“I can drop you off,” Brianna starts the car moving again. “At some point, I don’t think we should have conversations any more.”

“I understand. I won’t forget you though.”

She sighs. “But I’m going to give you my cell phone number anyway, alright?”

“Okay.”

“If you need someone to talk or someone just to yell at, call me. My name is Brianna.”

“Good to finally meet you.”

The rest of the drive is in relative silence. When they get to the hospital, Brianna puts the car in park and opens the door to let Cromwell get out. Then she drives off, texting Joey. Coming home.

When she gets back to the apartment, Brianna slams the door shut behind her. She texts Sydney to let her know that things (somewhat) worked out. Then she gets out the bottle of whiskey and sits down at the kitchen table. She pours herself a double and pours one for Joey. He joins her. “So, I’ve been trying not to tell you much of what’s been going on, especially since I’ve been specifically told to be discreet on a lot of it. But, I don’t know that I’m going to make it a year and a day with this guy. At least, not without doing something really stupid.”

“So, what are you saying?”

“He gave me a lot of loopholes in this last job, which meant, while it was still not optimal, I was able to at least work several aspects in my favor. But he kind of called me on the whole doing exactly what he asked thing. I’m worried that the next time he tells me to do something, he’s going to make his instructions so explicit that even if I don’t like it or find it objectionable, I won’t be able to get out of it.” She drains the rest of her whiskey and pours another double. “I’m not sure what my next plan is going to be. If he’s going to continue to up his game, then I feel we’re heading towards some sort of DEFCON situation. I’m not sure that I can take him out. He’s seems out of my league.”

“That was going to be my next suggestion. It sounds like he needs an ass-kicking.”

“Oh, he needs an ass-kicking. I just don’t think he’s in my social circle, let alone my power circle. There’s still a lot of stuff I don’t know. I can’t break my oath though, that’s the problem. You’ve been around this community long enough. You know how that goes.”

“Yeah. But if there isn’t anyone there for you to break your oath to, it’s not really a problem.”

“That’s true,” Brianna frowns. “I just think I’m going to have to start thinking of alternate plans. By the end of the year and a day, I have a feeling only one of us is going to be standing … and I would like it to be me. The last job I did for him has resulted in people now asking about me in the supernatural community. So that’s shit. I don’t want to get run out of Portland. I’ve got friends here. I’ve got a business here.”

“Such as it is.”

“But it’s still mine and yours. I don’t want to have to leave just because of him.”

“I don’t know what to tell you.”

“I’m not looking for an answer, I just want to be as open as I can with you about this.”

December 28, 2013 (Saturday)

Brianna invites Sydney over to the apartment and shares most of what she told Joey the day before.

“Perhaps what you need is some sort of counterbalance to him.” Sydney suggests.

“Yeah. I just don’t know it’s going to be. I’m worried about getting more and more debt with people, especially people who are going to ask me to do crappy things.”

“I know how that goes.”

“Ah, hell, Sydney. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up bad memories.”

“Well, it’s a big problem.”

“It is. I got myself into this mess. I should have known the deal seemed too good to be true.” Before she leaves, she also alerts Sydney that inquiries are being made about Brianna in certain circles after the recent activities.

View
Side Job: Auld Lang Syne
Karkana Chronicles Twenty-Seven

December 20, 2013 (Friday)

Brianna has been laying low over the last week, only venturing out to go to fight club and retrieve her car. On the day of her birthday party, Loomis drives down from Seattle to pick her up. Joey follows in his vehicle and they all head to Produce Row Cafe, where Brianna has reserved a table for dinner.

Ezekiel arrives in his old farm truck. Sydney shows up in a cute party dress and a small reticule. Even in the daylight, Brianna can detect a faint green glow from her handbag. They are sat in a deep, high-backed booth in a corner of the restaurant. When the coast is clear, Regi crawls out of Sydney’s handbag. “You should keep some gum in here,” he tells the young sorceress, “it would smell better.”

Brianna thanks her friends for coming to her party. Everyone orders food and drinks and Brianna offers whiskey to Regi as a token of her appreciation. “Your gift is accepted!” he tells her happily.

Brianna asks Ezekiel how things are going to the north. “The usual, I suppose, which is all we can ask for.”

Everyone sits and chats, clearly having a good time. One of the wait staff suddenly approaches the table, carrying a white box. “Brianna Karkana?”

“Yes, that’s me.”

“This was left at the front desk for you.”

“Thank you,” Brianna is polite, but doesn’t reach out to take the box. The staff places it on the table and walks away. She looks around the table to see if anyone seems to recognize the box, but everyone looks just curious. She looks at Ezekiel and Sydney. “If this contained something odd would you be able to tell?” They look at each other, but confirm that they don’t sense anything. Brianna turns the box, positioning the lid so that it lifts directly towards her, then slowly opens it an inch or two.

Inside is a white gown with a small card sitting on top. Fuck, Brianna thinks, but fishes out the card. The card is an engraved invitation to the New Year’s Eve ball at Nirvana for Brianna and a “plus one.” A hand-written note at the bottom reads “Happy birthday … Nerise.”

Brianna takes the lid fully off the box and holds up the gown. It is very expensive looking, with a long slit up the side, backless, and sleeveless. “Huh. I guess she didn’t want me wearing red this year,” she remarks. She carefully lays the dress back inside the box and puts the lid back on.

Regi pipes up, “It’s a pretty dress, but there’s not much of it.”

Brianna looks distinctly uncomfortable, “No, there’s not.”

“Is this a good present?”

“I think so. This is from the agent for House Raith here in Portland. She throws a large New Year’s Eve party every year, and this is my invitation to attend. Last year it wasn’t dictated what I was to wear, but apparently this year I have my outfit picked out for me.”

Loomis comments, “It gets my vote.”

Brianna tries to respond, but is flustered and not much comes out.

Ezekiel muses, “A White Court party. That must be interesting.”

“It is.” Brianna shifts awkwardly, “It was. I mostly tried to stay on the peripheral. White Court events are probably exactly what you’re expecting.”

Regi props his elbows up on a salt shaker and asks innocently, “What am I expecting?”

“Well, at the end of the night, that gown probably will be covering more than what most people will be wearing.”

“Hmm, sounds like some Fae parties I know.”

Brianna blinks, then just says “I try to stay in good with my Court here in town, so I’ll be going.”

Joey looks like he’s going to open his mouth for a comment. Brianna shoots him a dark look and he apparently thinks better of it.

Brianna is still a bit disquieted, especially by the fact that Nerise knew where she was going to be this evening (and included a plus one on the invitation), and tries to move the conversation onto other topics.

Eventually, the evening draws to a close. Brianna says goodbye to everyone and thanks them again for coming. Then she and Loomis get in his truck and head to the Sentinel Hotel. As he drives, Brianna mentions that she finds it very interesting that Nerise knew where the dinner was tonight even though she wasn’t invited. She pauses, then adds, “And clearly she has some idea of what’s going on in my personal life, because this is the first year my invitation has had a plus one.”

“Ah.” Loomis nods.

“I guess this is part of the danger of staying in one place for too long.”

“There is that, but the other part is that you build a network of support.”

“I will say that this is the largest birthday party I’ve ever had, so there is something to be said for that. It’s usually just Joey and I.”

“So, why do you think she wants you to know that she has this information? Because I doubt it was a slip up.”

“Oh no, I doubt it as well.” Brianna speaks slowly, thinking, “I just think it has more to do with showing that she knows a lot of what I’ve been up to. A reminder that she knows about anything that goes on in her city.”

“Could be.”

“The fact that she is actually dictating what I wear is a bit troublesome. She does have a lot of power here in Portland, but we’ve had a fairly amicable relationship. I currently owe her a favor, but that’s come and gone before.”

“You owe her a favor?”

“Mmm-hmm.”

“That’s significant.”

“She’s owed me a favor before, I’ve owed her. We pay our debts. To me, this seems to be a more overt message of who’s in charge. She knows what I do, she knows who I see, and she’s going to tell me what to wear.” Brianna smiles thinly. “And I will wear this dress, and I will attend her party.”

“Would you have attended the party without the invitation?”

“I don’t think so. She mailed an invitation to our apartment last year and I attended. It’s a major event for my Court. I would never party crash one of Nerise’s events,” Brianna shrugs, “but I was honestly expecting another invitation. To me, the message is that she knew where I was having my birthday party. Everyone sitting at that table tonight was specifically invited. Unless one of those people told her, which I find incredibly unlikely, she found out through other means.”

“So why does someone make a power play? Why does somebody flex their muscle?”

“Usually when they think someone is becoming a threat.” Brianna shrugs again, “I can’t see that she thinks I’m much of a threat.”

“So if you’re not the threat, who is?”

Brianna makes a “hmm” noise. “Maybe there’s someone new in town, who she thinks is a threat, or maybe it’s someone attending the party.”

“All things to think about.”

“Yeah. I’m just worried that she’s going to get angry if I don’t bring someone with me.”

“If you need a plus one, I’m here.”

Brianna looks at Loomis, “I don’t know. It’s not going to be pleasant.”

“In case you haven’t noticed, I do unpleasant.” His voice is dry.

“I know. I just try to keep as many people as possible away from the Court stuff. My House is fairly up front about things, as you might imagine.”

Loomis makes a sound of agreement.

“House Raith, on the other hand, likes their intrigue and likes it deep.”

For a moment, neither of them say anything. Finally, Loomis speaks up again, “So, are you saying that you don’t think I can handle myself at a party like that?”

“No. That’s not it. It’s something more primal.” She struggles with words for a moment, “I don’t want to share that part of my life with her.”

“So, I guess the question is who are you willing to share that part of your life with?”

His tone is quiet, but serious, and Brianna doesn’t respond for while, clearly deep in thought. Finally, she turns to face him directly. “Shawn Loomis, do you have plans for New Year’s Eve?”

“Well, I’ll have to check my calendar, but I’m pretty sure I’m free.”

“I would like you to be my date,” she says, enunciating her words slightly.

He smiles at her. “I would like that.”

“I’m going to warn you, this party is going to be in a strip club.”

“You always take me to the best parties.”

Brianna throws back her head and laughs, the last bit of tension in the air draining away. “Well, as strip clubs go, it’s a good one. It will be formal attire.”

“I think I still have my high school prom tux.”

She laughs again, “Well, by the end of the night, we may be the only ones wearing our nice outfits.”

They finally arrive at the hotel and get checked in. Brianna has reservations for one of the luxury suites with a terrace view of the city. They pile everything into an elevator and head for the top floor. As the doors slide close, Brianna can feel her nervousness growing. She tries to hide it, but Loomis takes one look at her and asks, “Are you alright?”

“Yeah.”

“I was only kidding about the high school tux bit.”

Brianna laughs, although perhaps a bit too loudly. “Well, good. This will be nothing like prom. Of course, I didn’t go to my prom so I guess really don’t know.”

“Neither did I. I didn’t go to high school.”

“You didn’t have a high school?”

“I didn’t go.”

“Well, I ran away from home my senior year, so I guess we’re both going to be outstanding in our class together.”

“No high school reunion for us.”

“No, although I suspect mine was a bit longer ago than yours.”

They are quiet for a moment, watching the elevator climb floors. “So how …” Loomis breaks off suddenly, “No, you don’t ask a lady that.”

Brianna snorts, “If you think I’m a lady, then you’ve been severely mistaken about our relationship so far.”

“So, how old are you?”

“Yesterday, I turned 53.”

“Wow.”

“If you say something about dating an older woman, I will throw this luggage at you and it will hurt when I do it.”

He laughs. “I was just going to say something about you dating a younger man.”

“If it’s any consolation, the last I dated anyone was in high school, so it’s been a while.”

“Well, you’ve go to take the training wheels off sometime.”

“I agree with that,” she murmurs, almost to herself.

They arrive at their floor and finally enter their suite. It’s very spacious and modern looking. The weather is too cold at night to explore the terrace, but it will most likely be a nice view in the morning. Brianna holds up the white box. “Well, I guess I can go try this on. I’m sure Nerise has my exact size, but it doesn’t hurt to be sure.” She heads for the bathroom and slips into the dress. It’s very slinky and clings to her body in all the appropriate places. At the bottom of the box are a pair of matching stiletto heels, which she puts on as well.

She emerges from the bathroom and does a slow turn in front of Loomis. “So, what do you think? It looks like she got the size right.”

His eyes fix on hers, intense. “It’s breathtaking.”

She smiles at him. “And if anyone gives me trouble at the party, I’ll always be able to take off my shoes and beat them to death with them.” Brianna pauses for a moment, then quietly takes a deep breath and moves to stand right in front of him. “Will you unzip me?”

“Sure.”

Brianna turns around so that her back is to him. He’s so close that she can feel the heat of his body behind her. Loomis reaches out and slowly unzips her dress. Brianna’s heart feels like it’s pounding in her chest. “Thank you,” she manages, then walks quickly back to the bathroom. She shuts the door and leans against it for a minute. Chicken shit, she tells herself, Get it together. She carefully places the dress and shoes back into the box, then puts her clothes back on.

Back in the suite, Loomis is still standing where she left him. Brianna moves in close and places a hand on his shoulder, gazing into his eyes. “I’m very glad you were able to make it this weekend.”

“I wouldn’t have missed it.”

Her voice lowers, “I’m glad I met you.”

“Me, too.”

Brianna slowly leans in and they kiss, softly at first, but then it deepens and grows into something more hungry and intense. It’s not long before Brianna leads Loomis back to the bedroom. They slowly disrobe, never taking their eyes off each other. Then Brianna moves onto the bed, pulling Loomis down with her.

As their bodies move together, Brianna feels the stirring of her demon deep within her. It never awakens fully, but it’s all tightly wrapped up with everything else that she’s feeling: the passion, the love, the insecurity, and the tinge of rage that never leaves her completely.

Later, as they lay naked in each other’s arms, Brianna lightly runs her fingers over the scars on his body. She asks Loomis to tell her about them and he tells her stories of hunting vampires, fights when he was a bear out in the wild. One of them was even from a fight on the Rez.

She makes a small noise, “It must have been a hard life.”

“It was like living in any ghetto.”

“I know about living on the wrong side of the tracks,” she says softly. She takes his hand and uses it to trace her scars, telling him how she got them. When she gets to the huge bite mark on her abdomen, she comments “That one was from a wolf. He was crazy.”

“Was that when you went out of the country?”

“Yep. Got it protecting other people. It was going to be me or him, and I’m the one here. So there you are.”

“Sometimes that’s what it comes down to.”

Brianna is silent for a moment, her hand still entwined with his. “So, this is the first time I’ve been intimate with someone since I turned.”

“Oh,” Loomis says, sounding surprised. “I knew it had been a while, but I didn’t realize it was that.”

“Well, like I said, it’s different for me now in many ways.”

Loomis’s voice is soft. “Thank you.”

She squeezes his hand, “It’s different, because I can still feel it moving when there’s so many other emotions.”

“Feel what moving?”

“The Hunger in me. I didn’t think it would be there for this.”

“It’s part of who you are. It’s why this is so scary and intimate: you lay bare all of it.” He pauses slightly, then adds “I was mentally prepared for the possibility of your hunger stirring, but I trust you.”

“I trust you too,” Brianna says, “I just wanted to say something in case I ever push you away. I don’t want to do that to you.”

“I appreciate that. A fellow could get confused.”

Brianna laughs softly.

“It hasn’t been since the 70s, but it’s been a while for me too.”

“Have you dated anyone since your ex-wife?”

“I’ve dated, but nothing …”

“Intimate?”

“Not really.”

Brianna shifts to lay her head on Loomis’s naked chest. “All of this intimacy means a level of trust that I hadn’t really found before. Joey’s the only one I’ve trusted to have my back and that’s not how it is between the two of us.”

“Well, if it makes you feel any better I do come with my insecurities as well. They don’t come with berserker rage, but I do have them.”

“I wouldn’t say berserker,” she smiles.

Loomis’s voice grows serious for a moment. “Just so you know, when I make light of it, it’s because you have to.”

“There’s really nothing else to be done about it,” Brianna agrees, “It’s how things are. It’s just been a long time. Even when I did have sex in high school, it wasn’t really for the right reasons,”

“It never is.”

“And then it gets all very complicated when the majority of my Court lives and breathes sex. It gets awkward and then I get angry because I’m awkward, and then it just becomes very confusing.”

“Yeah.” Loomis strokes her arm lightly. “That’s why I’m glad you’re going to let me be there on New Year’s. You’ll have somebody to have your back and make it less confusing.”

Brianna rolls over onto her side and looks at him. “I’m glad you turned out to be a decent person. I didn’t like you very much when I first met you.”

Loomis laughs, turning to face her as well, “That’s because I’m a dick.”

She laughs in return, “Well, I don’t respond well to people pushing my buttons, as you might imagine, and you had my cousin. And were being a dick.”

“Comes with the job. It’s part of the Academy Training: Prick 101. When you graduate you get the cop mustache.”

“Even the women? That must be awkward.”

“It is.”

“Remind me not to come to your Christmas parties.” She pauses for a moment. “I first knew I liked you when we were in that courtroom. When you made the comment about how people like us weren’t used to being hunted like prey. I knew you were someone who gets it.”

“I thought you had nice legs and desperately needed a drink.”

“I desperately needed a lot of things.” Brianna looks at Loomis, her eyes suddenly smoldering as she asks him to slide over and give her a bit more of what she needs. He laughs softly and comes to her.

Over the next few days, they seclude themselves in their hotel room, ordering room service and exploring the new physical aspect of their relationship.

December 22, 2013 (Sunday)

Brianna and Loomis pack their bags and head out of the hotel. He drives her to the apartment and on the way they plan out New Year’s. Loomis will stay the night before heading back to Seattle. Before Brianna gets out of the truck, she leans over and kisses him deeply, then says goodbye.

She carries all of her luggage back into the apartment. She gives a brief greeting to Joey then starts unpacking in her bedroom. As she’s putting things away, Joey yells from the living room, “I hope you nice kids used protection!”

Brianna grins, “You better believe it!” she calls back, “I don’t want a bunch of little White Court vampires running around! That would be insane.”

“Bunch of damn teddy bears with rage issues!”

“No kidding! I don’t want rugrats!” Somehow this conversation is easier for both of them when they’re yelling at each other from across the apartment. “Don’t worry Joey, you’re not going to be a godfather!”

“Wait a minute, that would be cool!”

“No! I’m not having children just you can be their godfather!”

“I’d make them an offer they couldn’t refuse!”

Whatever!” Brianna is laughing now. Eventually, she heads back towards the living room. She tells Joey that Shawn has agreed to be her “plus one” for the New Year’s Eve party.

“Oh, it’s Shawn now,” he drawls.

“Well, once you’ve seen someone naked, Joey, I feel that last names just aren’t appropriate.”

He makes another sarcastic comment and Brianna throws a pillow at him. Then she then goes back to her room to take a nap. She hasn’t gotten much sleep over the last few days. Later that night, she and Joey go out to fight club so she can feed.

View
Side Job: Whiskey in the Jar (Part III)
Karkana Chronicles Twenty-Six

December 14, 2013 (early Saturday morning)

Brianna drives back out the Ladd Carriage House around 3:00 a.m. She parks a good distance from the building and walks over. She saw some exterior cameras earlier, but wants to make a few passes again to scope out the outside.

There are no lights on inside the building. All the cameras she spots are fixed on the doors and main windows. There are some windows without cameras, but they are either too small for a person to fit through or very near the roof. Remembering the inside layout of the Rookery, Brianna knows that going through one of those windows will mean dropping down several feet to the floor and it may be difficult to climb back up without something to aid her. There are no fire escapes, but gutters lead down from the roof.

Brianna heads over to building next door to see if she can climb onto its roof. She’d like to get a better view of the Carriage House from up high. Heading up the fire escape, she pulls herself onto the slanted roof. Looking over at the Carriage House, Brianna can tell that there aren’t any cameras, but also that there isn’t any roof access. She decides that the best way into the Rookery would be to climb up one of the gutters to one of the very top windows, then drop down inside. There may still be someone inside, she really can’t tell, but Brianna is ready to get this over with.

The White Court vampire heads back to her car to get a set of gloves and fill her pockets with nails from her glove compartment. Then she returns to the Ladd Carriage House and starts climbing one of the gutters up to the top floor. She loses her grip near the top and slides down several feet, making some noise. Brianna curses silently, but pauses, listening for any sound inside the building. She hears nothing, so continues climbing back up to the top window. Peering in, the only bit of illumination is the faint red glow from the exit sign.

Brianna forces the window open with a slight ‘pop,’ then eels her way inside. When she drops to the floor, she pauses again to listen. No alarms or any other sounds. She stealthily makes her way towards the bar, moving around the shadowy shapes of the table and chairs. Brianna first heads to the cabinet that is locked, but not warded. She forces it open, breaking the lock. Using the light on her cell phone, she scans the bottles. She isn’t really surprised to see that the Glenfiddich isn’t inside. She pushes the cabinet door shut, then quietly moves over to the other.

Not knowing what the ward might actually do to her, she touches the cabinet cautiously with her foot. She can feel her foot shoved back. Brianna looks around, visually mapping out the best path to the window in case she has to move quickly. She takes off her coat, moving the nails to her pockets, so that she something to use as padding in which to wrap the bottle. Brianna reaches towards the cabinet, then suddenly stops as someone clears their throat from directly behind her.

Brianna turns and raises an eyebrow. David is standing behind her with his arms crossed. “You keep late hours,” she remarks calmly.

“Don’t we all.” They stare at each other for a minute. “I’m going to have to buy a new lock for that other cabinet. i don’t wish to re-lock that one,” he inclines his head at the warded cabinet. “You set off the silent alarm, but I told the alarm company that everything was fine and I could handle it. I thought something was wrong with you when you first came in, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I had no idea you were a cat burglar.”

“I’m a woman of mystery.”

’Now the question is, what do I do with you?"

Brianna is on the balls of her feet, ready to move, but she keeps a calm expression on her face. “I don’t know, what do you think you can do with me, David?”

“I don’t like thieves. I could put you on ice until I figure out what to do with you. That would be amusing.”

“I suppose you could try.”

“But I’m more curious as to what it is you want.”

“Something that I think is in that case.”

“Haven’t we moved past the obvious?” His voice is cold and dry. Brianna slowly pours herself a drink, keeping her eyes on David. She’s ready to throw it, not drink it, if necessary. “You’re more than just a pretty face,” he remarks.

She smiles slightly. “That would be true.”

“Are you working for somebody or do you work alone?”

“There’s only one of me here tonight.” She pauses, “It doesn’t sound like you’re completely without plots yourself.”

“You’re the one breaking into my cabinet,” David’s voice raises slightly.

:She shrugs, “I’m just calling it how I see it.”

David suddenly moves very quickly and is standing almost nose-to-nose in front of her. “I grow tired of these games.”

“Are we playing?”

“I’m not.”

“Neither am I.”

“What is it that you want?”

Brianna’s tone is matter of fact. “You have a drink in there I want. A fifty-year old bottle of Glenfiddich. I hear it fetches quite a pretty penny. I’m not interested in whatever you’ve been serving people in that green decanter of yours.” Brianna notices that David’s eyes now have a slight cant to them, almost feline in nature, and a slight blue hazy glow surrounds him.

“Then you’re just a petty thief.” His voice is disgusted.

“If you don’t want people stealing from you, I guess you could just give it to me.”

“I think not.”

Things start to move very quickly. Brianna pulls a nail from her pocket and swings at David. She manages to hit his hand with it, searing his skin, but then she drops the nail and it rolls to the floor. In return, a cold blast shoots at her from David’s hands, but Brianna manages to dodge out of the way. A set of dragonfly wings suddenly emerge from his back, illuminated in a blue glow.

Brianna punches him hard. David looks clearly surprised by her speed and strength. A long, nasty-looking dagger is suddenly in his hand and he slashes her.

She punches him again, bloodying his nose. He misses her.

Brianna hits him once more and suddenly David isn’t there. She hits out at the air where he was standing, but nothing is there. She turns her head around, trying to see if she can hear him. Nothing.

She quickly heads to the cabinet, grabs the edge, and yanks hard. She painfully bounces off the ward. Snarling, she tries again. A blast of cold, icy power rushes out at her. She dodges most of the blast, but still feels chilled. The door hangs open, the lock broken. Brianna quickly peers through the bottles and spots the Glenfiddich. She grabs it, wrapping it in her jacket, and heads for the window.

She starts shimmying down the gutter as fast as she can, but loses her grip almost immediately. Brianna manages to tuck and roll, cradling the Glenfiddich to her chest, and hits the ground unhurt. As she stands, she sees flashing red and blue lights nearby.

Moving with supernatural speed, she dodges between buildings and down alleys, heading for her car. She can hear the wail of distant police sirens as she drives off. She passes a police car, which suddenly turns to follow her, its lights on. Brianna lets out a steady stream of curses, trying to lose her pursuer.

She barely does, pulling into a narrow side street and killing the engine and lights. Brianna realizes she’s going to have to abandon her car for now. She grabs everything she owns from it, including her insurance information and the box of nails, and heads out. Muttering darkly, she starts walking towards her apartment building.

Pulling out her phone, she calls Sam Jones. The events of the evening have made her hungry and angry. As soon as he picks up, she lays into him. “I don’t care what time of the night it is, you’re going to come get this fucking bottle from me as soon as fucking possible. If it needs to be delivered to Hubbard himself, then we’re going to his fucking house right now. I don’t care what sort of fucking Fae orgy he’s got going on at his house at fucking 4:00 in the morning, he’s getting his glass of whiskey now!”

“Somebody’s cranky.”

“Somebody’s being chased by fucking cops, so get me the hell off the street and let me get this bottle to your boss.”

“Well, we need to arrange a drop.”

“Then let’s do that! It’s cold out here and I’m carrying your damn whiskey around in my coat!”

“Alright, alright! Don’t get excited. There’s a bus station,” he gives her an address, “and there’s a locker. Put the bottle in there. Easy peasy.”

“It better fucking be,” she growls and hangs up.

It’s a very long walk to the bus station. Brianna puts her coat on and hides the bottle under it. She eventually gets to the locker and makes the drop. It’s nearly 6:00 in the morning at this point, so Brianna calls Joey to come pick her up. Once back in the apartment, she crawls into bed and falls asleep.

View
Side Job: Whiskey in the Jar (Part II)
Karkana Chronicles Twenty-Six

December 13, 2013 (Friday night)

Brianna turns to Sydney. “Will you be willing to come look at something for me? It’s somewhat of a private matter and I’d rather you didn’t talk about it to anyone else.”

The young woman pauses for a moment, then agrees.

“Then I’ll come pick you up, take you to a place of business, and have you tell me what you See.”

“With the Sight?”

“Yes. There will be other people there.”

“Wow. I’d prefer to only do that for a short time.”

“I think that can happen. There’s an area of the building i’m specifically interested in.”

Sydney explains, “It can be psychically harmful to me to be in the Sight too long.”

“Oh.” Brianna looks concerned. “Is this a bad idea, then?”

“No, I just don’t want to do it for a long time.”

“Well, I don’t want you to do it for a long time if it’s going to hurt you, but I could use your help. There are magics involved and I’m just flying blind here. It’s not my area of expertise.”

“Okay.”

Brianna arranges to pick Sydney up tomorrow at 7:30 and describes what sort of attire to wear. Back in her car, she checks the Raven and Rose’s website to see if she can find more information on this David character. His full name is listed as David Shenaut.

It’s around 11:00 at this time, so she swings by the apartment to pick up Joey. They head out to fight club so that Brianna can feed.

December 14, 2013 (Saturday)

Brianna hits the streets early, asking around the supernatural community for any word on David Shenaut. She discovers that he’s part of the “scene,” connected with the Winter Court in some way. She’s pretty sure he’s Fae, but she doesn’t know what type.

Brianna also asks around about the business owner, LIsa Migrant. Migrant is a mortal, but she has some sort of arrangement with the Winter Envoy. Word on the street is that it’s because she’s in debt with the Winter Envoy. The Ladd Carriage House itself doesn’t have a long history with the Fae community. But when the restaurant became the Raven and Rose in 2011, it became a hot spot for Winter Court and Wild Fae to gather. Apparently, it is one of the “cover” business that the Envoy has started to give Fae reliable, legitimate jobs in the mortal world.

This business has Abby Miyazaki’s fingerprints all over it. Fuck that man, Brianna thinks again sourly, cursing Hubbard’s name.

At 7:30 that night, Brianna pulls up to Sydney’s house. The young woman is wearing a slinky red party dress and looks quite striking. As she drives, Brianna lays out the situation. “As far as tonight goes, this is something that I need you to not reveal to anyone else. Not the name of the business, nor what I was having you look at.”

“I understand.” Sydney takes Brianna’s hand. “I swear upon my Power that everything we do this evening will stay a secret.”

Brianna nods at the seriousness of her vow. “I greatly appreciate it. I’m working for a client, and the client wants something that this business has. I have a feeling that it’s in some sort of warded area, but it’s hard for me to tell.”

“Okay.”

“And there are a lot of Fae around. When I was doing a bit of research today, I found out that apparently this a really happening place for them to hang out. This is why I suspect that it’s Fae magic we’re dealing with. I don’t know if that makes a difference in what you need to do.”

“Well, it’s just that sometimes Fae magic acts differently than mortal magic.”

Brianna explains the general layout of the building. “There are two locked cases behind the bar. I’m not which one has the item I’m looking for in it, but at least one of them has some sort of ward on it.”

“So you want me to look for the ward?”

:“Yes. If you do see anything else like detection spells or traps, that would also be helpful to know.”

When the two women arrive at the Ladd Carriage House, the hostess directs them upstairs. Light music is playing and people are everywhere. The bartender recognizes Brianna and calls out a greeting. Brianna and Sydney move towards the bar and find a place to sit. Brianna pays for drinks, then tries to engage the bartender in idle chit-chat to distract him from whatever Sydney is going to do. He does talk with her a bit, but still moves around to help other guests.

Sydney is slowly looking around the bar, taking in the room. Although she’s very good at hiding it, Brianna can tell that she’s under a bit of distress. Brianna leans closer and whispers quietly, “Are you okay?”

After about a minute, Sydney takes a deep breath, “Okay.” She picks up her drink and downs it. Brianna orders her a second one. She doesn’t want to ask Sydney any questions yet, so engages in light conversation. As they’re chatting, Brianna notices that David Shenaut has entered the Rookery and is looking in her direction. Brianna suggests that they get a table and move away from the bar.

David intercepts them as they’re heading to the table. He turns to Brianna, “Welcome back.”

Brianna gives him a quizzical look, drawing out his name as if trying to remember it. “Daniel?”

“David.”

“Ah. Yes. Why thank you.”

“I see you brought a friend.”

“Yes.”

“I hope you both have a good time this evening. If you’d like, I can mix you a drink. Complementary, of course.”

Brianna smiles, “Thank you, that would be lovely.”

“Excellent.” David moves over to the bar and starts pouring alcohol.

Brianna leans over and whispers in Sydney’s ear, “Watch whatever he’s doing.”

“Do you mean watch watch?”

“Not necessarily that. Can you tell if he puts anything weird in our drinks?”

“Possibly.”

“Okay.”

Both women watch David mix the drinks. Brianna can’t see that he’s put in anything different that what the bartender’s using. Sydney remarks that he’s not moved towards the warded cabinet.

David returns with two swirling green drinks in martini glasses. Brianna thanks him. “Thank you for your patronage,” he replies in turn. Although his words are pleasant enough, Brianna can feel a very cold attitude from him. David smiles, then moves away.

After he leaves, Brianna asks Sydney to check and see if she can detect anything on the drinks. The young sorceress shakes her head no. "Well, he said one thing, but sure as hell meant another. Did you feel how cold he was behind his words?

Sydney shakes her head again, “No. He just seemed very pleasant.”

Brianna takes a small and cautious sip from her drink. It appears to be just a very fine cocktail. The two women hang out for a little bit, watching the scene. At one point, the bartender pulls out a bottle from the other locked cabinet for a well-to-do patron. Afterwards, he locks it back up. Brianna takes a look around the room to see if she can spot any security cameras, but she doesn’t find any.

After a while longer, they head out. One the way downstairs, Brianna tries to spot any sort of surveillance. She doesn’t spot any inside the building, but outside there are fixed security cameras over doors and windows.

Once inside the car, Brianna turns to Sydney. “Well?”

“I’d say that half the staff and about a third of the clients that I saw had glamours, including your bartender.”

“Yeah, I spotted a glamour on the bartender yesterday.”

“The guy that gave us the drink wasn’t upstairs when I was looking.”

“I have reason to believe that he’s Fae as well. I don’t know what kind of Fae, just that he is one.”

“The locked cabinet on the left definitely has a ward of some sort, but it may also have a land mine. I think it has something to do with cold.” Brianna explains the hand gesture that she saw David use when opening it. “It’s probably something to deactivate or temporarily disable the ward.” Sydney didn’t see any other magic traps or wards inside the bar. The two chat about the possible effects of the ward for a bit, then Brianna takes Sydney home.

View
Side Job: Whiskey in the Jar
Karkana Chronicles Twenty-Six

December 13, 2013 (Friday)

Brianna has invited Joey, Loomis, Ezekiel, Sydney, and Regi to her birthday party on the following Friday. She also lets Joey know that she will and Loomis will be away for the rest of that weekend.

Brianna has just finished her morning workout when she gets a phone call.

“Hello, Brianna. This is Hubbard.”

“Good morning.” Her voice is neutral. “I take it that this isn’t a social call.”

“Well, it doesn’t have to be anti-social.” Brianna rolls her eyes, unseen. “But no, I have a job for you.”

“Are we having this conversation over the phone?”

“No.”

“I didn’t think so. Where do you want me to go? Shall I meet you at the B-Side Tavern?” Brianna drops the name of the establishment that she knows Hubbard frequents.

“Yes. That will do nicely. Meet me there at 4:00.”

Brianna agrees and hangs up. She talks to Joey about Hubbard’s request. She wants him staying away from the Sidhe as much as possible, but also wants him to know where to find her. Later that afternoon, she changes into her manager’s outfit. Putting her box of nails back in the glove compartment, just in case, she drives to the B-Side Tavern.

The B-Side is a bit of a dive. When Brianna walks in, she sees Hubbard sitting at the bar with his back to the room. She looks around to spot any “muscle” that may be keeping an eye on things. Sitting a nearby table, Brianna notices Sam Jones watching her. He tips his glass her direction. She nods in return and heads for the bar, sliding onto the stool next to Hubbard.

“Hello, Brianna.”

“Hubbard.”

“What are you having?” Brianna names a good whiskey. “Ah,” Hubbard seems privately amused at this, then calls the bartender over and orders her drink. “So, you’re a whiskey girl, are you?”

“Well, the last person who tried calling me girl got an unpleasant fist to the face, but yes, I do enjoy a good whiskey.”

“Oh, no harm is meant. I didn’t mean to ruffle your feathers. My respect for you has just gone up a few notches.”

“Well, I cannot tell you how much that excites me to hear that,” she deadpans.

“It seems that the fates are kind, with you being a whiskey woman and all. You may even enjoy this job.”

Brianna takes a sip of her drink. “I’ll bite. What do you need me to do?”

“I need you to get me a bottle of whiskey.” Hubbard’s expression is particularly self-satisfied, so Brianna just takes another drink and waits for him to explain further. When he realizes that she’s not going to ask questions, he sighs. “You’re no fun.”

“I don’t like to be baited.”

“Well, as I’m sure you’ve probably guessed it’s not just any bottle of whiskey.”

“i didn’t think so. Our bargain was too dear for you to just ask me to make beer runs.”

“No. What I want is a fifty-year old bottle of Glenfiddich.”

Brianna whistles. “That will set you back about twenty thousand.”

Hubbard looks at her, his voice silky and low. “No, you misunderstand. I don’t want you to buy me a bottle of whiskey. I wish you to get me a bottle of whiskey.”

“I’m assuming there is something about this job that made you think my particular talents would be useful? As I’ve told you, subtlety is not one of them.”

He grins at her. “Go subtle. Go flashy. If you cause a bit of chaos, it doesn’t matter to me. So long, and let me make this very clear, my name and my fingerprints don’t come anywhere near this.”

“People have tried to lean on me to give them names before and they weren’t particularly successful. I don’t plan to start now.”

“Very good. That’s what I’m counting on. Now, I happen to know where such a bottle should be.”

“So, this is a hypothetical bottle then?”

“I would say, more than just hypothetical.”

“And where should this bottle be?”

“There’s a place called Raven and Rose. It’s downtown in the historic Ladd Carriage House. The bottom floor is a fine dining restaurant, the upstairs floor is a cocktail lounge called the Rookery. In a locked cabinet in the Rookery, you’ll find my whiskey.”

“Do you know anything about the layout of the Rookery or the general security situation?”

“That’s not my job.”

“Are you aware of any persons of interest that may be hanging around the place that I need to keep an eye out for? Do these people run around in our circles?”

Hubbard just blinks at her.

Brianna inwardly sighs. “Okay, so where do you want me to bring said bottle of whiskey since you want your fingerprints no where this? I’m assuming you don’t want me to bring it back here.”

“No, no that won’t do.” Hubbard pauses, “You still have Sam’s number don’t you? He’ll arrange a drop.”

“Are there any time constraints that I need to be aware of?”

“I would prefer it to be done before the bottle gets sold or drank, but sooner is better than later. Not many patrons walk around with that much cash, but it could be parceled out. Let’s not take any chances.”

“I’d rather not,” Brianna agrees.

Hubbard finishes his drink. “I’ll leave you to it.”

Recognizing a dismissal, Brianna finishes her whiskey and leaves. Once in the car, she calls Roy Dale and asks him to get her as much information as he can on Raven and Rose and the Rookery.

Brianna drives by the establishment to try and get a sense of the building. She parks her car and finds an outdoor cafe where she can watch the traffic going in and out Raven and Rose. After a couple of hours, Roy Dale calls her to share what he’s learned. The Ladd Carriage House is on the register of historic buildings in Portland. He sends Brianna an image of the general layout. It’s a bit barn-like, large and open, with a peaked roof and many narrow windows. The owner and founder of the five-star restaurant and bar is Lisa Mygrant. While the building is quite old, Mygrant started the business in 2011. Roy also shares the names of the executive chef and other prominent staff. Brianna thanks him and hangs up.

Brianna has noticed that Raven and Rose is attracting a fairly nicely dressed clientele. She’s still wearing her best manager’s outfit from meeting with Hubbard, so Brianna feels she’ll not stand out from the crowd. Upon entering, Brianna is greeted by a hostess who directs her upstairs. The floor plan seems to match what Brianna saw earlier. The bar is expansive with places to mingle or to sit and observe the crowd. A few people are already there as the place starts to fill for the evening. A male bartender with a big smile on his face is polishing glasses and distributing drinks.

Something seems off in the room to Brianna. She gets a bit of a supernatural vibe, but she can’t tell from where. When the bartender turns at a particular angle, it’s as if a glamour slipped for just a second and she sees a bit of a bat ear. Brianna sighs to herself. Goblins. She heads up to the bar.

“Hey, what can I get for you?”

She orders a decent brand of whiskey. While the bartender moves away to get her drink, Brianna scans the back of the bar. Two locked hardwood cases sit behind the counter.

When her drink arrives, Brianna pays in cash, not wanting to give out her name. Then she moves through the room trying to pinpoint why it feels so odd to her. She spots another staff member dressed in a nice suit with glasses and dark hair. He walks over to the bartender and has a quiet word. The man scans the room, then makes his way downstairs.

Brianna decides to follow and see where he goes. When the man gets to the bottom of the stairs, he suddenly turns and addresses her directly. “So, how are you enjoying the Rookery?”

Brianna curses inwardly. “It seems quite nice.”

“We definitely try to make it a good experience. I hope you’re enjoying the beverages here. That’s what I’m in charge of. My name is David and I’m the beverage and operations manager.”

“Oh!” Brianna tries to seem pleasantly surprised by the sudden conversation. “Well, you do seem to have a nice selection.”

“We try to carry the best.”

“If I was going to see about dinner, do I need to make reservations with the young woman I spoke with when I came in?”

“Yes.”

“Good to know, thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

Brianna heads back upstairs, fighting the urge to turn around and see if he’s watching her. Upon reentering the Rookery, the bartender catches her eye and asks if she’d like another whiskey. Brianna agrees. The place has gotten pretty busy, so Brianna sits and quietly observes the scene. After a while, she sees David return and head for one of the locked cases. Before he unlocks the case with a key from his vest pocket, he murmurs something and passes his hand over the lock. He opens and retrieves a small bottle from the case, then re-locks the case, running his hand over the lock once more. The bottle itself is made of green depression glass and bears no label. David turns and heads downstairs again.

After waiting a few minutes, Brianna finishes her drink and heads to the ground floor. She approaches the hostess stand to see about dinner and is seated immediately. Brianna takes a discreet look around the dining area. Even here, she can tell there is something off about the place. She spots David conversing with the downstairs bartender and tries to avoid staring at him. There is no sign of the small green bottle.

Brianna orders a light meal, but decides that she’s going to move on afterwards. She’s going to need help of a magical nature. As she’s eating, she notes a striking beautiful Asian woman in a long white coat suddenly enter the dining room. The woman has long green hair, a pierced lip, and a small white scar along her left cheek. At her side is a bulky man, probably hired muscle. Another woman, probably the owner, comes up to greet the green-haired visitor.

Brianna shamelessly eavesdrops as the two exchange pleasantries in low voices. “We have your table,” the owner says as she leads the other woman to a table, “What’s the occasion, Abby?” Fuck that man Brianna thinks to herself, realizing who this must be. The Asian woman, Abby, says “Just celebrating the continued success of our little venture.” As Abby and the hired muscle sit down, the chef appears from the kitchen to greet her and begins telling her about the meal planned for that night.

Brianna decides to order dessert so she can continue watching the events unfold. She can tell that Abby is noticed by a good third of the room. A couple of people even go by her table to say hello. It’s as if they’re meeting a celebrity for the first time. Brianna begins to suspect that a great number of the clientele are part of the supernatural community.

As Abby finishes her meal, Brianna notices David mixing a drink at the bar. One of the ingredients is poured from the small green bottle. David brings the glass to Abby, who accepts it graciously and takes a sip. She is obviously pleased with the drink and raises her glass to him. He bows in return.

Abby hands the drink to her bodyguard to take a sip. David reaches out and snatches the glass, saying in a very low and cold voice “I did not make it for him.” The Winter Envoy visibly bristles and gives him an unpleasant look. Then she suddenly laughs, “There’s no need to be rude, David.” The man turns on his heel and heads back into the staff area, still carrying the drink.

The tension stars to die down in the room. Abby and her bodyguard start making their way out of the restaurant. Brianna pays her bill as well, then stands and heads for the bathrooms. The door to the nearby office is closed. Brianna takes a look around to make sure no one is watching, then steps up to listen behind the door.

One voice, a female, says “Are you crazy? We need to stay on her good side.”

A second voice says, “That’s what I was trying to do before the bodyguard got involved.”

“David, were you meddling again?”

“We’re all trying to do our part.”

“But your way is going to get us killed or worse.”

“Have faith. These things have ways of working out.”

Brianna steps quickly away and ducks into the women’s restroom. She carefully cracks the door to see who leaves the office. It’s the owner, who heads upstairs to the Rookery. David emerges soon after and heads into the dining room.

Once the coast is clear, Brianna leaves the building. She doesn’t notice anyone following her to her car. Once inside, she calls Sydney and asks if it would be alright to stop by either tonight or tomorrow to chat with her and Regi. Sydney tells her it’s okay to drop by tonight.

Brianna picks up a pizza to share with Regi on the way, but soon is sitting inside Sydney’s living room. Brianna asks her two friends if there’s a way to see past glamours without necessarily breaking them.

Sydney shares that the Sight will allow a person to see past glamours. Brianna visibly shudders and shakes her head. “I don’t have access to that kind of power anyway.”

“While it’s theoretically possible to make a potion or ointment to do the same thing, it would be beyond my capability. Faerie magic is very powerful and very strange. It’s different than my magic. We’d be talking about Senior Council level magics.”

Brianna makes a impressed noise, then asks Regi if he has anything to add about glamours.

“If the Fae is good at them, then it’s hard to see through them. If the Fae isn’t good, then it’s easy to see through them.”

“But there’s nothing that would help a non-Fae see through them?”

“No. That’s kind of the point. We usually don’t want you to see through them.” He looks at Brianna. “You got glamour trouble? Of course, how would you know?”

“A little bit,” she admits, “I can tell that something’s off. My senses can pick up that much.”

“Well, that’s half the battle.”

“Yep. I just can’t see to the truth of things.”

“Do you need to practice seeing through glamours?”

“Will it help?”

“I don’t know.”

“It couldn’t hurt to try,” Brianna concedes.

Suddenly, there is a small cat where Regi was only seconds before. Brianna stares hard at it and then there is only Regi again. “I can see you,” she tells him.

“Maybe you’re getting better!”

Brianna smiles, “Maybe. That’s what I’m going to hope for, my friend.”

View
Side Job: Interlude II
Karkana Chronicles: Twenty-Five

December 8, 2013 (Sunday)

A few nights after Loomis returns to Seattle, Brianna calls him to chat. The conversation starts out like many others, but the tone changes slightly as she starts asking him many questions around a particular theme. When working with Ezekiel, he often has to do things that aren’t always in accordance with the law. As a cop, how does affect him? Does it bother him?

Loomis says that it bothers him every time, but he realizes that sometimes things are necessary. He just tries to help and protect people, even when that doesn’t fall in the constraints of human law. Sometimes, you have to do the right thing, even if it’s not the legal thing.

Brianna talks to him a bit further, but never offers an explanation as to why she’s asking these kind of questions.

December 10, 2013 (Tuesday)

After thinking about their conversation for a day or so, Brianna calls Loomis on Tuesday morning. She says that she needs to talk with him in person and asks if they can meet up in Seattle when he gets off work that night. He agrees and they arrange to meet at the Triangle Pub, an older, established bar in town.

Brianna gets to the bar a bit early and has a drink to calm her nerves. She’s not sure how Loomis is going to react to what she needs to tell him. When Loomis arrives, Brianna orders a second whiskey and he gets a beer. They exchange greetings and if Loomis notices her nervousness, he doesn’t remark on it.

“So, what’s up?”

“Something’s just been on my mind lately and I wanted a chance to talk to you about it.” Brianna chooses her words carefully, “As far as us and our relationship goes, if you don’t, or can’t, approve of what I do for a living, what does that mean for us?”

Loomis takes a deep breath, “I suppose that would depend on my objections. If you were a hired assassin, I think my objections would be stronger than if you were an Amway salesman.”

Brianna gives a short laugh. “Well, Amway salemen are fuckers.” She pauses, then continues, “What if I told you that while your job is to uphold the law, what if my job is to avoid it.”

“Your job is to avoid the law?”

“Well, if I told you my job exists by avoiding the law. Would you want to know? Or would it make it worse because every time you looked at me, that’s all you would see?”

Loomis doesn’t respond at once, clearly giving her words serious consideration and thinking out his answer. Brianna takes a drink, quietly waiting his response. Loomis finally speaks, “I want to know about you. I want to know you. Your job is part of it. When I look at you, knowing what you do for a living, I will see that, but I will see other things as well. Once again, it is a matter of degree of what we’re talking about here.”

“I’m not a hired assassin,” Brianna tells him.

“Well, that’s a relief,” he deadpans.

She laughs again. “No, that’s not my line of work.”

“But, I’m no angel either, and I’m not an idiot. I’ve had an inkling that what you do isn’t above board, whatever it may be. I’m not a fool.”

“I don’t think you’re a fool.” Brianna’s voice is quiet. “I don’t particularly like hiding this from you.”

“I figured you would tell me when you were ready to.”

Brianna sighs. “I just don’t want you to be conflicted with your sense of duty as a professional and what I tell you.”

“Well, I appreciate that.”

" And this doesn’t just impact me. Joey is truly my business partner.

“Once again, it’s a matter of degrees, of what we’re talking about. I have learned over the years to look at things with a matter of relativity. I take my oath to protect and to serve seriously. If what you do conflicts with that, then we may have more of an issue than if it’s just illegal. Do you understand what I mean?”

“I understand what you mean. I don’t think the nature of my work goes against that. No one is being taken advantage of.”

“That doesn’t seem like something you would do.”

“No, not really. I’m no angel either, and I’ve done stuff that I’m not proud of, but I like my work. It’s just that it gets problematic if it’s something that the authorities notice.”

They both sip their drinks for a while, each lost in their own thoughts.

Finally, Loomis says. “I don’t know what else to tell you, without knowing what it is you’re talking about.”

Brianna reaches out and takes his hand, watching his face carefully as she begins speaking. “I told you once before, that most of who I am and who I have become has to deal with what I am.”

Loomis makes a noise of agreement.

“In order to feed in the way I like to feed, the safer way for me to feed so I don’t lose control, is to be around people who are very angry.”

“So, you work for the DMV?”

“No, although that could be an alternate career path, I suppose.” She smiles wanly. “So, my lot in life has fallen in with fighting.” Brianna pauses, then continues, “When I ran away from home my senior year, things were pretty bad. I had just turned full vampire. I was furious at my mother, at everyone, at me, and I started living on the streets. I learned pretty quickly that I was going to have to fight to keep myself safe. One day, someone saw me fighting and offered me a job doing just that. I figured that I could make a bit of money and feed the hunger at the same time, and I was good at it.”

“Ah.” Loomis nods thoughtfully.

“I was a bit of a novelty in the rings, as you might imagine, but it helped me work out a lot of my anger.” Brianna pauses, searching his face for any reaction, but it’s hard for her to get a bead on him.

“So, Joey is your manager?”

“No, I’m Joey’s manager.”

“But, I thought you were doing the fighting.”

“I was. I slowly came out of that part of the business. The story of how Joey and I met is a different story for a different day, but we came to an arrangement. For me, it’s enough now just to be in the room. There’s enough ambient rage for me to eat. But that’s where I am almost every night.”

“You know that some of those rings are run by the Mafia. Those are not nice guys.”

“I’m not very nice either.”

They look at each other for a long moment. Finally, Loomis speaks. “I’m glad you told me this.”

“I am too. Again, I never know what will be some sort of deal breaker between us. I’m not asking for some sort of huge commitment from you, but I don’t date casually. I find it very hard to trust people at this point in my life, so I guess it’s kind of like ripping the band-aid off. If this means that it isn’t going to work out between us, I’d rather know that now than three months, a year from now, or whenever you found out. Because it’s possible that you would and I’d rather be the one to tell you. I don’t have a police record, but I do try to avoid police entanglements as I’ve said before.”

Loomis chuckles.

“And I’m breaking my own rules on that one,” Brianna continues a bit more hotly, “Believe me, I see the irony in this relationship we have.”

“It’s not a deal breaker,” Loomis tells her.

Brianna sighs, some of the tension leaving her body.

“I won’t say I like it.”

“I didn’t think you would.”

“But, it’s not a deal breaker. Unless you’re selling Amway on the side.”

She smiles, “No. I told you. Those people are fuckers. Occasionally, I’ve also picked up work on the side for my House or for other people. I suppose I could tell you about the couple of times I’ve worked for the V.U., but then I’d probably have to kill you.”

Loomis looks at her quizzically when she mentions the V.U.

“The Venatori Umbrorum are like freemasons with machine guns. They’re in the Know, but not really supernatural themselves.”

“Well, you are a busy girl.”

“Yeah. Portland’s been really interesting. Some things have been very good, some not. A lot of this stuff lately has just been weird. My paths cross with a lot of different people and sometimes I have to tell those people to get the fuck out of my way. That’s when things happen.”

After the two finish their drinks, Brianna asks Loomis if he has any weekend plans coming up as she’s thinking about doing something for her birthday. He says that he can clear his calendar. Brianna says she’d like to go out for a weekend and get a nice hotel or something. He tells her to make the call and let him know.

View
Side Job: Krampusnacht (Part II)
Karkana Chronicles Twenty-Four

December 5, 2013 (Thursday) continued

Brianna pulls up at Klein’s house and parks her car. It’s about 10:30 at night and the neighborhood is quiet. She looks at Loomis. “I’d like to take a look around the perimeter of the house and see if anything is odd.” He nods and she slides out of the car.

Sticking to the shadows, Brianna approaches and starts looking in windows. In the living room, she sees a balding man in his thirties, sitting in an easy chair in front of the television. The man seems distracted and isn’t really paying attention to what he’s watching. In the kitchen, she sees a couple of books on his kitchen table with unreadable titles. Brianna doesn’t know what language they’re written in, but it isn’t English. She also spots a piece of paper showing two circles with runic figures between them. Brianna recognizes the diagram as ritualistic in nature.

As Brianna moves in closer, she accidentally kicks the side of the house. The man bolts out of his chair and quickly approaches the window. Suddenly, the two of them are staring eye-to-eye. Klein is visibly startled to see her. Brianna raps sharply on the window and then crooks a finger at him. Klein points at the front door and Brianna moves to meet him there.

“Who are you and what are you doing to my house?” Klein asks her, his accent thick.

“I’m not doing anything to your house. Are you Mr. Otto Klein?”

“Yah.”

“Teacher over at Alliance at Benson High School?”

“Yah.”

“I’d like to talk to you about some kids that have turned up missing.”

“And who are you?”

“An interested party.”

“You go away.”

Brianna’s anger, which has never quite subsided since her encounter with the Krampus, flares up again. “I don’t fucking think so.”

Klein narrows his eyes. “I know your type. You do not scare me. Go away. You are not police.”

“No, I’m not. I get to deal with the kind of shit that the police can’t. So, I want to hear if you know anything about these missing kids and why you have ritualistic books on your kitchen table.”

“You’ll be going away now.” Klein repeats stubbornly.

Brianna leans in close. “I have had to protect one of your students this entire evening from something nasty that someone summoned and sent after him. And if that was you, you’re going to regret it.”

“You. Will. Be. Going. Away. Now. Or I will call police.”

The hostility is thick in the air as Brianna’s voice drops to a bare whisper. “If you’ve been using rituals to hurt children, the police won’t be able to help you. You’ll be a dead man.” She turns and walks back to the car, shaking with suppressed rage.

She flings herself into the car and slams the door. Brianna pulls away from the curb, her fingers tight on the wheel. “Fuck,” she mutters, then addresses Loomis, “He had hand-written diagrams on his kitchen table that showed some sort of ritual with circles and runes.” She shakes her head angrily, “I don’t know if he truly didn’t know what I was talking about or if he was lying to me. I didn’t see evidence that he was doing the rituals there, though.”

Loomis suggests, “Let’s head back and see if we scared him out of his nest.” Brianna offers to let him drive, since she’s no good at vehicle surveillance. Loomis agrees and parks the car about half a block away from Klein’s house, then kills the lights. “Now we wait. Welcome to cop work.” Brianna gives him a wan smile. She’s not particularly a patient person.

About ten minutes later, Loomis says “Well, look there.” A car is pulling out of Klein’s driveway. “Let’s see where Herr Klein goes.” The cop pulls away from the curb begins following the hatchback.

As they drive, Brianna addresses Theo, “I’m not sure exactly how this evening’s going to pan out. There’s been some very odd things that have gone on today. It may get weirder.” She turns and looks him directly in the eyes. “But Loomis and I are here to protect you and help any of your classmates. So, no matter how weird it gets, I need you to listen to us. If we tell you to run or to stay put or to hide, I need you to pay attention.”

“Okay,” he agrees.

Loomis continues to follow Klein. Eventually, the hatchback pulls into the parking lot of Augustina Lutheran Church. There are no other vehicles in the lot, so Loomis hangs back. They see Klein get out of the car, head to one of the side doors of the church, unlock it, and go inside. Once the man is inside, Loomis parks the car nearby.

Brianna leans over to Loomis. “How do you want to do this? We need to see what he’s up to, but I don’t want to leave the kid by himself either.”

“Do you want to go in and I stay with the kid?”

“Okay.”

She turns her phone on silent, “If I’m not back in thirty minutes and you haven’t heard from me, come in.” He agrees. Brianna gets out of the car and heads for the door of the church. The door is unlocked, so she quietly opens it and slips inside. It’s dark inside, but a very faint illumination comes from the emergency exit signs. There’s a hallway leading further into the church.

Brianna very faintly hears a door shut somewhere ahead of her. She stealthily moves down the hall, passing a few offices and a janitorial closet, until she comes across a door that leads to the basement. This is where she thinks the noise came from. Reaching out, she tries the handle. It’s locked. She puts her ear to the door and can faintly hear rhythmic speaking beyond it.

She quickly sends a text updating Loomis what she’s found. Then Brianna takes a step back and delivers a incredibly powerful kick to the door, busting it open with a loud crash. There is a lit staircase leading down. Using her inhuman speed, Brianna runs down the stairs. At the bottom, Brianna sees two concentric black painted circles on the basement floor. As in the diagram, runic symbols fill the space in between them. At the very center, a bound bundle of birch branches and a chain shackle lay on the floor. Klein is standing nearby, staring at Brianna wide-eyed.

“Well, this isn’t what you usually see in the bottom of church, asshole.” She glares at the man.

“I tried to send him back! I tried to send him back!” Klein seems sincerely distressed.

“What did he do with the kids he already took?”

“They go away.”

Brianna makes a strangled noise. “Yes. Go away, but where? Hell? Because that’s where the myths say he takes them!”

“I don’t know!”

“What the fuck did you think you were doing?”

“You don’t understand what they do! They were naughty!”

“I don’t care if they …” her voice chokes off again in anger, “They are kids! And you are sending them to hell with some evil Krampus!” She tries to control herself. “What does the spell do, exactly?”

“It brings the Krampus on Krampusnacht.”

“Yeah. Well, he’s fucking been here.” Her voice drips with sarcasm. “When you say you’re trying to send him back, what does that mean?”

“I try to send him back from whence he came.”

“And?”

“And nothing.” Kleins’ voice is small.

Suddenly, Brianna’s phone vibrates in her pocket. It’s Loomis calling her. She picks up.

“We’ve got trouble.”

“Yeah, I’m in the basement with this yahoo. What’s going on with you?”

“Krampus.”

Goddammit!” She glares at Klein. “This is your fault!” Brianna turns and runs back up the stairs. When she hits the parking lot, she can see the Krampus at her car, rocking it with its enormous taloned hands. “Hey, goat breath!” Get away from my car!" It turns and says something to her in a language she doesn’t understand. “The children. Bring them back!” She hears footsteps behind her and steps to the side, never taking her eyes of the creature. Klein steps up beside her and Brianna says, “Tell him to bring them back. You’re the one who brought him here, maybe he’ll listen to you.”

Klein yells something to the Krampus in a language that Brianna assumes is German. The Krampus replies and laughs. Klein continues to converse with the creature, growing more and more frantic.

“What the hell is he saying?” Brianna asks.

“He is saying that they are naughty and shall be punished and are in his domain.”

“Goddammit!” she curses again.

“And so, too, will this one.” Klein indicates the car where Theo and Loomis are trapped.

“I don’t fucking think so.” Brianna points at the Krampus. “No more!” she yells, “You give them back! And stop touching my car with your meaty goat hands!” Brianna briefly notes that the Krampus is favoring his right leg before running forward to engage him. She slams her fists into the creature and feeds deeply upon contact. The Krampus slumps, unconscious. His bag falls to the ground nearby.

A muffled “Fuckin’ A!” can be heard from within the car. Brianna stares at the fallen creature, her mind trying to work out what to do next. She knows it won’t stay unconscious forever. Brianna picks up the sack. She halfheartedly turns it over and shakes it. No kids fall out. She turns to Klein. “In your books, was there anything about reversing what it did? Anything at all?”

“Nein. It wasn’t the point.”

“Loomis, do you have any ideas? This isn’t my realm.”

The cop has gotten out of the car and is standing next to her. “No. It’s not mine either.”

Brianna gets out her phone and calls Sydney, stepping aside for privacy. She asks Loomis to keep an eye on both the Krampus and Klein.

When the young woman answers, Brianna says “I apologize for calling so late. I wouldn’t call if it wasn’t urgent.” She tries to quickly explain the situation. “I’ve got a guy here who’s been summoning Krampus, some sort of evil German anti-Christmas goat man that steals naughty children. He could be taking them back to hell or just maybe his realm, I’m not sure. He’s already got some kids tonight. I’ve got him unconscious. I’ve got his bag that he’s been using to steal the kids. I just don’t know how to make him give me the kids back, Sydney. I don’t know where they are. I don’t even really know what kind of magic I’m looking at.”

“You say he places the children in a bag?”

“Yes. I know he takes them somewhere, but I haven’t seen an actual kidnapping. We’ve just been trying to keep a kid safe all evening.”

“I’ve heard of this Krampus,” Sydney says, “outside of the legends that everybody hears. If you bring me the bag, I might be able to figure out what’s going on. I have a theory and I may be able to confirm it.”

“Do you have any idea on how to bind the Krampus? I’ve got it unconscious in a church parking lot, but I don’t know what to do with it.”

“If the Krampus is from the Nevernever, then it can be bound in a circle.” She pauses slightly, “Where are you?”

Brianna gives her directions.

“Alright, I’ll take a cab and be right there.”

Brianna tells Loomis that Sydney is on her way. She moves her car to make sure there’s plenty of room around the Krampus, never letting go of the sack. She paces angrily, waiting. Klein mutters to himself, softly. “You don’t understand. The same thing. Every day. Over and over.”

After about twenty minutes, Sydney shows up. She looks at the Krampus, “Oh my, he’s big!”

“Yep.”

“Interesting. Well, let’s get started.” She starts drawing a large chalk circle around the creature. As soon as she finishes, Brianna can feel a slight ‘pop’ in the air. “That should do it.” Sydney turns to examine the bag, turning it over in her hands. “That’s what I thought. Interesting.”

“Interesting good? Or interesting bad?”

“A bit of both.”

Brianna sighs and leans tiredly up against her car.

Sydney begins to speak again, but the Krampus stirs and stands. Everyone tenses as it begins walking forward. It suddenly stops short as it runs into the barrier of the magic circle. The creature looks around, then down, then its face contorts in anger and growls something.

Brianna asks Klein, “What did it say?”

“He is very angry at being bound. He says the night is almost over and he must go.”

Brianna turns to Sydney. “What are your theories about this bag?”

“It is an item of power. I believe it transports whoever or whatever is put in it to his domain. I don’t believe that’s hell. I just believe he has a domain in the Nevernever.”

“So, how do we get the kids back?”

“Well, that’s the bad news. We’d have to go through the sack to the Nevernever.”

“Well, how would we not get stuck there?”

“That’s the trick.”

Brianna sighs, frustrated, and runs her hands through her hair.

Sydney continues, “I believe that the Krampus is Fae. It may be that its domain is part of or adjacent to Winter. It may be that if the Krampus owes some sort of allegiance to the Winter Queen, some sort of negotiations may be possible. It would be dangerous, however.”

Brianna agrees. “I have had some dealings with the Winter Court. I’m not sure who came out on top, but I suspect it wasn’t me.”

“Most people seldom come out on top when dealing with them.”

Brianna considers her options. Then she opens the car door and asks Theo how many kids are missing. Only three other kids: Alexis, Jamal, and Kumar. He also gives her a brief description of each. Brianna nods and shuts the door again.

“I don’t know a lot of the details, but my family does have some ways of moving between the Nevernever and this world. I’ve not done it myself, but it should be able to be done. You think I can get to his domain through this bag?”

“Just put it over your head and you’ll go there, but you’ll have to find your own way back.”

The Krampus angrily stomps its uninjured hoof and says something in German. Klein translates, “He demands to be released.”

Brianna retorts, “Not until it returns those children.”

Klein speaks to the Krampus, listens to its response, then looks defeated. “He says that was not part of the bargain. The children were naughty.”

Brianna’s temper flares again. “You can tell him that if he ever wants to see his object of power back, we’re going to change the bargain right now.” She brandishes the sack.

After a brief conversation, Klein says ’The Krampus wants to know if you will bargain with him." The creature has turned to Brianna and is staring at her balefully.

“Tell him yes.”

With Klein acting as translator, Brianna and the creature start a conversation.

“You want the children I took tonight?”

“Alexis, Jumal, and Kumar. You do not get to keep them in your realm. You bring them back. You will be collecting no more children tonight. They will be off your naughty list.” Brianna turns briefly to Klein to ask if he had to give the Krampus the names of specific children. He confirms that it was part of the ritual. She turns back to the creature, “Theo, Alexis, Jumal, and Kumar. Their names will be off your naughty list. You will return the three and you will leave all four of them alone.”

“And in exchange, you will return my sack.”

“Yep. I don’t personally want your sack, but I imagine there may be other people in the Fae Courts that would be interested. I know Hubbard’s in town. Perhaps I’ll go there.”

“I cannot return them if I’m still bound in this circle.”

“You will bind yourself to this deal three times before we let you out of that circle.”

“You know the old ways, vampire.”

“I’m learning them.”

“Very well. I will return the three children and I will bother all four no more.” It repeats the promise three times.

Brianna nods, then approaches the circle. Not breaking eye contact with the Krampus, she scuffs the chalk with her foot. She feels a release of pressure and the creature reaches out a huge hand for the sack. Brianna hands it to the Krampus. It disappears.

A few minutes later, the Krampus reappears with a young woman in its arms. The girl is awake, but clearly frightened. The creature sets her down, the disappears again. Brianna asks if she is Alexis.

“Yeah.”

“Go wait in the car.” Still stunned, the girl obeys.

The Krampus brings back two young men, one at a time. Brianna orders each of them to go sit in the car. The creature looks at Brianna, “Our bargain is complete.”

“Yes, it is.”

“The night wanes and I go.” The Krampus disappears.

Brianna waits a few minutes, cautiously looking around in case the creature comes back. All remains quiet. Then she turns to Sydney. “Thank you, I appreciate your help.” She turns to Klein, “I’m not sure what I’m going to do with you yet, but you’re going to give me those books and that diagram. You don’t get to keep them.”

“I’m not going to turning it over to a vampire, to be sure.”

“I’m not going to be keeping them.” Brianna retorts, “I’m going to give the books to someone else for safekeeping.”

“You can not come into my house.”

“I can come into your house.”

“You will not,” he says, stubbornly.

“You don’t know me very well.”

“I don’t know you at all!” Klein exclaims.

Brianna takes a few steps forward and hoists the man up by the front of his shirt. “You could have cost these kids their lives! I don’t care what you think you were doing! You clearly cannot be trusted with such things!”

“You are nothing but a bully!”

Brianna pauses for a moment, then slowly sets him down. “I don’t like it when people hurt kids, although clearly that doesn’t bother you.”

“I am tired of being bullied,” Klein says softly.

“What you did tonight was not the answer. I had hope for you, you looked like you were trying to stop what you did and reverse it. I like to think you at least felt bad for what you did.”

Klein just stands, silent.

“You better go clean up your mess. I’m sure the church is going to wonder why such things are in their basement.” He shuffles off.

Brianna turns back the rest of the group. “Sydney, I’d offer to give you a ride back home, but I don’t think Ihave enough room. Can I call you a cab?” She agrees and Brianna pays for her fare home.

Before getting into the car, Brianna turns to Loomis. “Well, this is a mess.”

“Yep.”

“I don’t know what to do with these kids. I wish there was something like in that stupid movie where they could just look at a light and forget these last 24 hours. I guess nobody is going to believe them, so it’ll be up to them to make up some sort of story as to where they’ve been all this time.”

Brianna and Loomis get back into the car. She turns to the back seat, “How are you guys?”

“Much better now,” Alexis replies, “We’re no longer in that basement.”

“Is that what it looked like?”

“Yes. It was cold and dark there. There was a door, but it was locked.”

“We need to take you guys home, it’s late.” Brianna drives the group to Theo’s house. Before they get out of the car, she tells them to stop being assholes to their teachers. No good comes of it.

“Apparently,” Theo says.

“I’d recommend you make up some story of where you’ve been.”

“We’ll figure something out.”

“Well, I’m just glad you guys are safe.”

The kids thank her and pile out of the car.

As Brianna drives away, she looks at Loomis. “I just don’t think we get to have good dates,” she comments ruefully. She drives them to a quiet place and parks the car, removing her sunglasses since it’s just the two of them now. Her eyes still have a metallic hue to them. “Well, now I guess I just have to figure out whether or not to call the Warden. I don’t want him to still have those books. What if he gets another bad student?”

“Sounds like you’ve answered your own question.”

Brianna pulls out her phone and calls Capstone. The line is very scratchy, but the Warden’s voice is still audible. Brianna briefly explains the night’s events. “At the end, he did sincerely seem that he was trying to stop it,” she comments, “but he has books that he was using, which at the very least need to not be in his hands.”

“Yes. I’d would like to talk to this Mr. Klein. I’ll pay him a visit.” Brianna gives the Warden his address.

Brianna wishes her good hunting and hangs up. She remarks to Loomis that she’s glad she didn’t have to go into the Nevernever and that she didn’t have to make any big bargains with the Fae. She talks to him of her recent dealings with Hubbard, although she is careful to leave out any details about her place of business. “Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of leverage with the Fae, so I contracted with him for a year and a day to do the odd job he needs done. I hopefully left enough loopholes to get me out of anything that I don’t want to do, but we’ll have to see. He’s not called in any chips yet.”

“Hopefully, he won’t call upon you to compromise too much.”

“Yeah, we’ll see.”

“Just don’t get in over your head.”

“I try not to, but sometimes it just feels like one big balancing act. Portland has been really good in some aspects, but maybe it’s because I’ve stayed here longer than anywhere else.” They talk for a bit more, then head back to her apartment for the night.

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