The Dresden Files: Portland

Side Job: The First Domino (Summary)
Karkana Chronicles: Thirty-Two
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Side Job: The First Domino
Karkana Chronicles: Thirty-Two

An Invitation to Dinner

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Brianna goes out to her mailbox outside of her apartment and collects the usual assortment of junk mail and bills. Nestled amongst the usual is an envelope of fine paper stock. She takes the mail inside and begins sorting through it.

Inside the envelope is a business card for lOmbre Burlesque as well as an invitation to meet Boris Vladimirovnan for dinner and a show this coming Friday night.

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After slowly reading the envelope’s contents, she turns to Joey and asks, “What the fuck is this?” She holds it out. “Who the hell is Boris Vladimirovan and why is he sending me personal invitations?”

Joey barely looks away from the television screen where he’s been playing “Punch Out” on an old NES that he got at a pawn shop. “Fuck if I know. Sounds like you’re getting someone’s attention. Again.” After a beat, he says, “Is he one of those Romanians you dealt with last year? The werewolves?”

Briana frowns, thinking. “I don’t remember meeting anyone by that name.” She silently flexes her shoulders, feeling the large scar on her abdomen tug slightly. “I guess it could be someone looking for revenge, but mailing a letter to my apartment seems an odd way to go about it.”

Holding the invitation close to investigate the handwriting, Brianna recoils when she suddenly detects the presence of blood. “Shit. There’s White Court blood mixed in this ink.” She drops the invitation on the table, shaking her head. “Is it a warning? Or a secret message?”

She decides to take this problem to the streets—check and see what her contacts know about this Boris Vladimirovnan.

Turns out, not a lot. He’s apparently been in Portland for some time. He owns L’Ombre Burlesque, a dark club. She really doesn’t learn much more than that. She decides to try the Internet.

She finds a website: Moive-Night-Website.odt

Brianna looks through the club’s website, then closes her internet browser and looks at Joey. “I’ll be damned. I think there’s a Malvora in Portland.”

At Joey’s blank look, Brianna will explain about the Malvora. They are a branch of the White Court that feed on fear.

“Well, my dinner invitation isn’t for a few days and I feel like checking this place out in the daylight.” Brianna raises an eyebrow at Joey. “Want to catch a Sunday matinee?”

Sunday, March 2, 2014 (11:00 am)

There are three entrances into the burlesque. The main entrance opens into a lobby area with a ticket stand and door opposite. There is a security camera overlooking the two doors and ticket stand with a well-built body guard standing by. The back door opens into a hallway with a set of stairs that go up and a sign that says Club “Fear”. There’s a security camera overlooking the stairs with a well-built body guard standing by. A second back door is locked, but a brief look in as someone exits shows a hallway with four doors and a security camera overlooking the back door.

Brianna notes the bodyguards and security cameras. She approaches the bodyguard at the main entrance and asks him questions about the Club. When does it open? Is there a dress code? She doesn’t really get much information out him. She moves on to the ticket stand. She notes that the guard is wearing an earpiece and that there is no dress code on Sunday.

The young lady behind the ticket stand says, “Hi! How are y’all today?“ with a big smile and way too much enthusiasm to be a Malvora. “Are y’all going to be watching both shows today or would you like an all-day pass?”

Brianna buys an all-day pass for herself and Joey and then they head inside. The security guard steps aside and lets them pass. The lobby has the traditional long counter with a popcorn machine in the middle flanked by two cash registers and two soda machines on the back wall with the food price display overhanging them. Behind the counter is two employees, a set of double-doors with a sign over it that says “Movie Theater.” On the opposite side of the entrance there is a door with a sign over it that says Club “Fear”.

Brianna moves up to the counter and orders popcorn and a drink. She’ll chats up one of the employees, being generally talkative about the movie and how nice it is to see a theater that shows classic films. In the middle of her interaction, she asks about the sign for Club Fear.

“So, there’s also a club upstairs? How cool. Have you been up there? What’s it like? Is it as scary as advertised?”

The employee seems like she likes it here and says that she has been up to the club, but she just thinks its a little to scary for her taste. The other employee overhears the conversation and brings the ordered popcorn and drink. He says “It’s not to scary. I guess it depends on your taste." He looks at the double-doors and says “I think the show is about to start.”

Brianna thanks him, then she and Joey head for their seats.

Inside the theater is a small breezeway with stairs on ether side. Black velvet curtains lined with purple and a velvet rope with a “V.I.P. Only” sign blocks the stairs. The breezeway opens up into the two story theater. The ground floor slopes down towards the stage with the V.I.P. section overhanging more than a third of the ground floor. The ambient lighting is very dark and barely enough to see by. On stage, the floor to ceiling curtains are pulled back as far as possible revealing a projection screen for movies. The remodel has taken out the three-hundred old cramped theater seats and allowed for seating 250 occupants or more comfortably. There are roughly ten couples seating in various spots in the audience. Also there are about four other people sitting a row back and off to one side of the various couples. Brianna can tell the show is about to start. The V.I.P. section houses elegant dining tables with four to six comfortable seats around each table—there are about forty seats altogether.

The four people sitting in the back row are not all together. One is behind a couple that’s getting a little handsy with each other. One is behind and off to one side of a younger couple. One is behind two sets of couples about equally spaced out. The last one is sitting off to one side of another couple and appear to be having a conversion with them before the show starts.

There are also four security cameras watching the crowd.

Brianna and Joey sit two or three rows toward the back, but far enough to the side that they can get keep most (if not all) of the occupants in line of sight.

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The movie is a double-feature, “Night of the Hunter” and “Night of the Living Dead.” In the former, it’s the Great Depression. In the process of robbing a bank of $10,000, Ben Harper kills two people. Before he is captured, he is able to convince his adolescent son John and his daughter Pearl not to tell anyone, including their mother Willa, where he hid the money, namely in Pearl’s favorite toy, a doll that she carries everywhere with her. Ben, who is captured, tried and convicted, is sentenced to death. But before he is executed, Ben is in the state penitentiary with a cell mate, a man by the name of Harry Powell, a self-professed man of the cloth, who is really a con man and murderer, swindling lonely women, primarily rich widows, of their money before he kills them. Harry does whatever he can, unsuccessfully, to find out the location of the $10,000 from Ben. After Ben’s execution, Harry decides that Willa will be his next mark, figuring that someone in the family knows where the money is hidden. Despite vowing not to remarry, Willa ends up being easy prey for Harry… The latter follows Barbra and Johnny visiting their father’s grave in a remote cemetery when they are suddenly set upon by zombies. Barbra manages to get away and takes refuge in what seems to be an abandoned farm house. She is soon joined by Ben who stopped at the house in need of gas. Beset by the walking dead all around them Ben does his best to secure the doors and windows. The news reports are grim however with creatures returning to life everywhere. Barbra and Ben are surprised when they realize there are 5 people hiding out in the basement: Harry, Helen and Karen Cooper; and a young couple, Tom and Judy. Dissensions sets in almost immediately with Harry Cooper wanting to be in charge. As their situation deteriorates, their chances of surviving the night lessen minute by minute.

At the Intermission, Instead of the traditional “let’s all go to the lobby to get ourselves a treat” song, a music video plays. It sounds like soft goth metal and the lyrics are about the band joining a priest on a hunt for the dead on a Friday night, and how temping it was to just let the priest be feasted on by the dead for he was a jerk. It sounds like not only was the priest seriously injured but also one the the band members might have been seriously injured as well. The video has the clips of the band playing with flashes of pictures from what looks like the fight. The strobe light flashes along with the pictures makes it hard to tell if its all real.

As the two friends are watching the movies, Brianna finds that Joey isn’t really making a running commentary. In fact, he seems to be getting into the movies—they seem to be making him uneasy and a little scared.

Brianna elbows Joey in the side. “What’s up with you?” she whispers, “You’ve slept through scarier shit than this.”

The three figures that are only next to individual couples are moving closer and placing a hand on one of the couples or just on the back of their chair . The other guy between the two couples is not moving from his seat. He just looks over at one them and then over at the other couple.

Brianna looks around to see if anyone has moved up behind her and Joey, including looking up to check out the V.I.P. balcony.

As Brianna looks around her, she notices a guy sitting behind herself and Joey. She gets up and starts coming over the seat at the guy—a vampire—and grabs his shirt in a clenched fist. She then hears the double-doors burst open and a second later, a man dressed in a nice suit approaches them. He looks over at the vampire sitting behind them and says “Stop that now”. Brianna notices that the four individuals look a little worried that this man is here. He looks back at the two of them and says “Please come with me, i’m sure you would like to file a complaint in my office.”

As the nicely-dressed man intercedes, Brianna’s gaze is locked with the vampire’s, their faces inches away. In an hollow voice she says “I would not recommend trying that again. He’s mine.” She slowly lets go of the vampire’s shirt collar and stands.

Brianna then turns to the nicely dressed man. “Yes, let’s go to your office.”

As the three exit the theater, the man leads Brianna and Joey to the door with the sign that says Club “Fear." Going through the door, he leads them down a hallway that runs next to the stairs. They find themselves in a hallway with four doors. The man opens one of the doors and says “This is my office." As Joey enters, Boris will place one of his hands on Joeys back and look him in the eye, “Are you OK ? Do you need anything?” He offers Joey his other hand. “What’s your name? You look like a big strong guy. Do you work out? Hit the gym a lot?”

As joey takes a seat, Boris walks around to behind the desk and sits down. The monitors on the desk are all tuned in to the four security cameras watching the crowd In the movie theater. Boris types something into the keyboard and all of the monitors go black. He turns towards Brianna and says “Adrenaline can trigger many emotions. My Club and Theater prides its self on Fear. There’s an Adult club in town that is Lust and (cough) Sex, and from what I have been told there’s a Fight club that prides itself on Pain and Anger". As he looks into Brianna’s eyes to see how she reacts to this information, he says “As you can see your friend, he is doing better now.” He has a thick Russian accent.

Joey is obviously very pissed off but holding it together. He doesn’t say anything, only gritting his teeth. Brianna…same. And she holds herself like one who has been in a fair amount of fights and is ready to get into one now. Very pissed off. At the mention of the fight clubs, she narrows her eyes in suspicion.

The well-dressed man turns back to the desk, opens a drawer and pulls out two pieces of paper and places them before joey and Brianna. Glancing at it, Brianna realizes it is a standard complaint form. The man reaches for a quill and ink sitting on the desk, stops and grabs the pen setting next to it, and sets it on the paper in front of them.

Brianna looks at the piece of paper and pushes it back across the desk at the nicely dressed man. “I don’t think this is necessary.” She folds her arms across her chest and leans back in the chair. “I’ll settle for an apology at this point.”

The man twiddles his thumbs a little and then reaches for the phone. He picks it up and hits a few numbers. “Get in here now.” After a few seconds, the vampire that was sitting behind them walks in the door. Boris tells him “The lady would like your apology now”.

The vampire looks at Brianna, then at Boris, and then back at Brianna. “I apologize,” he says. “I did not know that the…young man…was yours. Please forgive my ignorance.” He bows stiffly at the neck.

Although Brianna’s body posture does not change, she nods in acknowledgement of his words. Her eyes follow the vampire until he leaves the room.

Once is is just the three of them, she stands up and looks at Boris. “I think we’re done here.”

Boris stands up looks over at Brianna and says “Just one more question. What is your name?” and adds “And please don’t deny your vampire heritage.”

Brianna smiles widely, showing too many teeth for it to be considered a completely friendly expression. “I’m curious about your name, too. Why don’t you go first?”

Boris looks over at Joey and then back at Brianna. “I have gone by many names, but my original name was Ivan Malvora.”

Brianna raises an eyebrow, “And the name you’re going by now?

“I’m the owner of this theater, lOmbre Burlesque, and the night club ‘Fear’, and hopefully soon Baron of the Malvora. The name I go by now is Boris Vladimirovan."

Brianna stares at him silently for a second longer than is comfortable. Then she nods and replies, “My name is Brianna Karkana. You sent an invitation to my home to meet in your club on Friday.” She lifts one shoulder in a shrug, “I thought I’d catch a movie before then.”

A smile comes over Boris’ face. “If you had shown that ticket I sent you, you would have gotten a lot more answers to your questions.”

“I like some of my answers to be …” She pauses slightly, then finishes “Unscripted.”

It’s fairly easy to tell that Brianna is still pissed off from the events in the theater, but Boris caught a deeper current of emotion. Brianna is also defensive and suspicious because he tracked her down where she lives.

Brianna shifts on her feet, looking very much like a fighter sizing up her opponent in the ring. “So, it’s not Friday, but I’m here now. Why the invitation? What is it you want?” Her tone is blunt.

The Lovecraft Bar

Boris sits back down. “Well I guess seeing how you are here, please have a seat.” as he points back to the seat Brianna was just sitting in. “Have you heard of Peregrine Raith?” Boris pulls out a blank piece of paper and jots down a number 421 SE Grand Avenue slides the paper over to Brianna. "I hear he is planning on opening up a bar not too far from here.” He leans in and says “A new club that offers the same style as mine. It could hurt my business or, if he could change his mind…” Boris leans back in his seat. “Of course I can’t have this lead back to me.”

Boris looks over at Joey than back at Brianna. “Of course whatever you need will be at your disposal, within a reasonable time frame.”

Brianna sits back down. She glances at the piece of paper, but doesn’t reach for it.

“I know Peregrine Raith. He’s Lord Raith’s nephew and the representative of the controlling House here in Portland.” She looks closely at Boris. “If he’s opening up a club nearby, why do you think it will be in competition with yours? You seem to both cater to those with different … tastes.”

Boris sighs. “I have it on good authority that he is going to be hosting dark goth bands, tarot readings, burlesques, and the like.”

“That certainly doesn’t sound like the typical Raith businesses around here.” Brianna’s voice is very neutral. “Do you think this is an intentional move against you and your interests?”

Boris looks like he is in deep thought. “It could be. Like I said before, I’m trying to become Baron, and if it looks like I can’t maintain a stable business, then how could I maintain a stable house.”

“Why would Peregrine Raith care if you became a Baron of the Malvora? Would that somehow make you a threat to his territory?” She drapes an arm along the back of her chair and waits for his answer.

Boris says, "This could be Peregrine Raith’s move to put a Malvora he knows as Baron. Cosmin Ionescu works with Madrigal Raith and Peregrine is his lawyer.” He looks back at Joey. “Or it could just be coincidence. Either way I would like you to go check it out.” He smiles a little more. “Think of it as a investment in your future.”

“I’ve met Madrigal and Cosmin before…” Brianna’s voice is still very neutral, but her hands twitch as if she is resisting the urge to ball them into fists.

She sits up straight and leans towards Boris, placing her hands flat against the surface of his desk. “What exactly are you asking me to do? And what are you offering in return?”

“i would prefer if he had other ideas about a club, but if he can’t change his idea, then maybe you could make it harder on him to open the business and buy me some time.” Boris continues. “If Peregrine does not rebuild, then I could buy it off of him and invest in providing you and your friend a starting business.” Boris leans in close. “Use your imagination.”

Brianna holds her position even though their faces are now very close together.

“A business investment?” She raises an eyebrow. “I have no interest in owning a building. If I do this favor for you, then you would owe a favor to me.”

Boris pulls back. “You don’t want to own a gym, or some other kind of business?” He looks back at Joey than back at Brianna. “i don’t like the word favor; it’s so fae. I prefer the term investment. But yes I would owe you.”

Brianna’s lips twist in a small smile. “Why the hell would I want to own a gym? Sounds like something that would just tie me down. I prefer to deal in a more traditional currency.”

She leans back, snagging the piece of paper and tucking it into her pocket. “If I need to get in touch with you, do I visit you here?”

Boris opens up a drawer on the desk, pulls out a cell phone, puts a battery in, and turns it on. As he slides it across the table "Call Bill or Tim Duke “ as he points at his phone on the desk rather than at his cell phone. “If you need anything or when you get done.”

Brianna nods and slides the phone into her pocket as well. Then she stands, “I’ll be in touch.”

Boris smiles “See you Friday.”

Brianna pauses with her hand on the doorknob, turning her head slowly to face Boris. “So, your invitation still stands then? I’m taking it that after our conversation today, this is more of a social event rather than a business meeting.”

Boris nods. “Social event, yes.”

“I take it that there won’t any more incidents like in the theater?” Brianna’s voice is flat. “I would take it … personally.” Although her body language doesn’t change, her eyes suddenly have a slightly silver sheen to them.

Boris stands up and says, “While you are in my houses, my theater, or my club, you and any you bring with you are under my protection. Until you no longer see fit.” He bows to Brianna and Joey and says, “Now I have a rogue vampire to track down."

Brianna nods, then she and Joey leave.

Taking Stock

After they leave lOmbre Burlesque, Brianna suggests getting a drink at a local dive bar. On a Sunday afternoon, it’s fairly quiet and the two are able to find a private booth away from any other patrons.

Brianna takes a long drink of her whiskey, then looks Joey up and down. “You okay?”

Joey is okay, but pissed off.

Brianna comments that this situation may be a foothold to get back at Perry.

“So, you’d use this fucker to get back at the other fucker?” Joey asks, matching her drink for drink.

“Yes.”

“That’s two fuckers deep.”

Brianna snorts at that. “Perhaps the enemy of my enemy is my friend. I don’t know Boris. I don’t know his house. But it seems like a strange coincidence that the two assholes I met in Romania may be involved. And Perry is moving in this direction? Why now? Nerise would have known Boris was in town, but never went against his club.”

She pauses. “I don’t like that Boris was snooping around in our business, but he still doesn’t know me. If he did, he wouldn’t have offered to buy us out with a gym.” Brianna grins wickedly at Joey, “Regardless, a favor is much more valuable to us right now.”

They finish their drinks and head back to the apartment.

Later that night…

Brianna decides to call Quincy. She doesn’t understand enough about Court and House politics to get a sense of the undercurrents going on.

Quincy answers his cell phone and the two spend a few minutes catching up, then Brianna says she’d like to know how exactly the Malvora and Raith interact. What does it mean to be a Baron of a House? Is that a big deal? Nerise was always referred to as an “operative.” What did that really mean?

Quincy says that “Baron” is a bit of an archaic term for someone who holds territory and has a voice in the Court. Kind of like a feudal lord. The White Court is old and some of the old traditions hold fast. “Jason doesn’t really recognize the old titles,” he explains, “As long as his people are loyal to him, he doesn’t really care. Technically, in the formal court, his title is Lord Karkana, Head of House Karkana.” He continues that a Baron is the lowest rank of nobility as recognized by his betters. A Baron would have a voice in the Court, but just a small one.

Quincy’s voice takes on a quizzical tone. “Why are you asking? Are you looking to score yourself a title?”

Brianna laughs, but then explains that she’s met a Malvora who has aspirations of becoming a Baron. She’s trying to figure out what that really means and how it might impact the White Court presence in Portland.

Quincy makes a noise of disgust. “Malvora. Those guys are just creepy. Kick his ass and be done with it.” However, he goes on to comment that House Raith wouldn’t like it. Nerise never took a formal title, she was just holding the position for Lara. Perry might have different goals in mind. Two Barons within the same city would being vying for resources, and, obviously, there’s always been rivalry between the two Houses. That can cause problems."

Brianna sighs.

“Are you in the middle of something again?” Quincy asks.

“Yep.”

“Ever see the Kurosawa flick about the samurai that played one faction against the other? He got his ass handed to him.” Quincy’s voice is light, but Brianna can hear the warning behind it. “If you’re getting caught up in Raith politics, be careful. Denver could get involved.”

“And you’d be heartbroken if something happened to me,” Brianna remarks teasingly.

“I’d be pissed off,” Quincy tells her.

They both laugh and she hangs up.

Monday, March 3, 2014 (Morning)

Brianna calls Roy Dale and asks him to look into the Lovecraft Bar on 421 SE Grand Avenue. When is it opening? Who owns it? She also wants to know as much property information as he can find. Floor plans and the like would be excellent.

He is happy to do the research for her. They make the appropriate financial arrangements.

After she hangs up, Brianna comments to Joey that she’s “paying for Roy’s fucking graduate degree.”

Later that night

Brianna finally gets in contact with Patrice to see what she can pass along about what’s been going on at Nirvana.

Peregrine has moved some of his own people into Nirvana. Patrice has barely been able to keep her job. She’s just not good at keeping her head down. But, for now, she’s still managed to keep working.

Peregrine’s made some cosmetic changes to Nirvana. “He’s putting his own stamp on the place. Less exotic Indian, more New York night club.” Patrice doesn’t sound impressed.

He’s also been meeting with someone as of late. Patrice calls the person “Mr. Mysterioso.” The figure always arrives wrapped up in a hooded cloak that obscures his features. He’s escorted in and out of Peregrine’s office. She guesses that he’s some sort of dignitary. When Brianna asks, Patrice observes that the meetings are random, but that they’ve become much more frequent as of late.

Patrice also mentions that Peregrine is talking about a big event coming up. He’s planning a grand re-opening for Nirvana on the night of Saturday, April 5th.

Brianna thanks her and hangs up.

She paces around the apartment for a bit, thinking.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Brianna pulls out her phone and texts Clive.

Political climate shifting. Big event on April 5th. Time to talk?

It’s not long before she gets a return message.

Club Beat. Tonight. 11:00

Brianna’s heard of Club Beat. It’s not really her scene. Mostly kids in their early twenties dancing to electronica music and drinking fruity drinks. She tells Joey she’d like him along tonight to watch her back and keep an eye out. He agrees.

Late Tuesday night

Brianna and Joey enter Club Beat. It’s just as bad as Brianna imagined and they both share an eye-roll. They’ve not been inside long at all when a man approaches them. He’s handsome, in a game-show host kind of way.

“I’m Castor Lennox. You must be Brianna,” he says enthusiastically, holding out his hand.

The White Court vampire stares at his hand, but makes no move to offer hers. “Yes,” she acknowledges.

“And you must be her friend.” If Castor is upset by Brianna’s attitude, he doesn’t show it. “What can I get you? Drinks? A cocktail?”

Brianna names a very expensive whiskey.

Castor nods easily and asks Joey what he wants. A Coors? A Bud Light? He looks like a beer man.

“My eardrums back?” Joey comments snarkily, then says he’ll take the same as Brianna.

“Great, great. So, I’m going to take you to the back room, then I’ll get you your drinks.” Castor leads them into the back of the club and through a private door. Brianna mentally notes that when the door shuts behind them, she can’t hear any noise from the dance floor.

Sitting on a nice leather couch is Nerise. Clive stands behind her, as usual.

Brianna greets the other vampire, then takes her seat. She suggests that she’ll wait to start until their drinks arrive.

Brianna’s side-eye after the man must have been apparent, because Nerise comments, “Castor has his uses. Loyalty is one of them.”

It’s not too long before Castor returns with the whiskey. He leans up against the door, then quickly notices both Nerise and Clive turning their heads to stare at him. “Oh!” he says, “I’ll just be heading back out to the club then.”

When the door shuts behind him, Brianna turns to Nerise. “Do you know a Boris Vladimirova?”

“I’ve heard the name.” Nerise is as guarded as ever.

“Well, he’s worried that Perry’s trying to maneuver Cosmin Ionescu into being a Baron.” She explains what she knows about the situation. Perry’s new club business. The encroachment into Boris’s territory. The trading of one favor for another.

Brianna also shares the information she learned from Patrice. The mysterious cloaked figure. The grand re-opening. When she mentions Perry’s remodeling of Nirvana, Nerise is blank-faced. However, Brianna catches Clive gritting his teeth at the news.

Nerise looks at Brianna. “The Cosmin – Madrigal – Peregrine discussion is a non-starter. Nothing will come of it.”

Brianna is confused.

Nerise clarifies. “Madrigal is dead. He was killed in Chicago not long ago.”

“What?” Brianna is shocked. “How?”

“By the same high-powered wizard that killed Madeline.”

Brianna’s eyes flash dangerously. “How the fuck does that happen? What’s going to happen now?”

“I’m not going to discuss House business,” Nerise replies.

“So, are they focused on taking care of this wizard issue?”

“I said I will not talk about House politics,” Nerise repeats, a sharp edge to her voice. It’s the most emotion Brianna has seen or heard from her all night.

“The reason I ask,” Brianna says slowly, “is because I want to know if the powers in Chicago aren’t going to be focused on what’s going on here in Portland.”

“The powers in Chicago are quite aware of what’s going on in Portland,” Nerise replies. Although Brianna still can’t get a read on her emotions, she can tell that Nerise is holding herself more stiffly than usual. It could be from some sort of injury, but she’s not sure. Clive, on the other hand, is clearly angry at this statement. The anger isn’t directed towards Nerise, but on her behalf.

Brianna explains that she thinks that this situation could be turned against Perry. Maybe weaken him a bit with the loss of the Lovecraft Bar, but then make a much bigger move on the night of the 5th. Brianna doesn’t have any plans yet, but she’s working on it. Squarely meeting Nerise’s eyes, Brianna comments that “I think there’s some bitches you shouldn’t cross.”

Nerise returns her gaze. “Indeed.”

Brianna promises to keep Nerise informed. There’s not that much time between now and the 5th. They may have to be ready to move quickly.

Nerise informs Brianna that she can either text Clive or contact Castor. The club owner can be trusted.

Brianna nods. “Be careful.” The two exchange good-byes, then Brianna and Joey leave for home.

Boris’ Phone Call

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Boris calls some of his contacts to find out when was the last time anyone saw Nerise or Clive. New Year’s Eve was the last time most people saw them. That was the night Peregrine Raith took over Nirvana, her base of operations, and banished them both from Portland. Brianna was there that night. So was her date—a were-bear. It was quite a memorable scene for those “in the know.”

Since then, nobody has seen hide nor hair of Clive or Nerise, though there is a rumor that they retreated to the Nevernever for a time.

Boris then turns his attention toward trying to get information on the were-bear. His contacts do not yield a name but do get him a description—young, handsome, clean-cut, possibly Hispanic, possibly Native American. All of Boris’ other leads are dead ends.


Brianna’s new cellphone starts ringing. The called ID shows “Tim Duke” as the caller.

Brianna answers. “Yes?”

The voice on the other end says, “We need to talk ASAP. Where can we meet?”

“The Yamhill Pub. I can be there in 30 minutes."


Once Brianna arrives, she grabs a table in the back corner of the bar.

Boris walks into the bar wearing not his expensive suit, but a trenchcoat. , He looks around, walks up to the bar, and orders the most expensive bottle of vodka they have. After the bartender pours a shot glass, Boris say “No, the whole bottle." The bartender, upon taking Boris’ order, brings out a bottle of Smirnoff with a raised eyebrow. “Our dee-lux brand, miss-ure,” he says with an exaggerated French accent. When Boris asks for the whole bottle, he chuckles. “Well then allow me, miss-ure.” He takes the bar rag and wipes down the bottle before handing it over. Boris pays for the bottle, picks up the shot glass and bottle and walks over to were Brianna is seated, and sits down. He seems more comfortable like this. Boris leans in and whispers “Do you know Nerise Patel or Clive?”

There are a couple of hardcases sitting in a booth sharing a bottle of Wild Turkey between them with a couple of PBRs. They seem to be minding their own business. Other than that, no one else is in the bar except the bartender who just looks at Boris with amusement.

“Yes, I know who they are.” Brianna takes a slow sip of her PBR. “I would be surprised if any of the Court here in Portland didn’t know of Nerise.”

Boris reads Brianna as being suspicious and wary in her answers, but not untruthful.

“I was told you were one of the last people to see her. I was hopeful to meet and talk with her or Clive about dealing with Peregrine Raith sooner rather than later.” He pours another shot.

“I was at Nirvana the night she was banished from Portland, if that’s what you mean. A lot of people were there. It was a big event.”

Boris cracks a smile as if he is humoring her answer. “You must have made quite the impression. Some of my contacts named you but could not remember your date by name.” Boris drinks the vodka and pours another shot. “The matter I wish to discuss with her involves the White Court incident in Chicago.” He downs the shot and fiddles with the glass a little.

Brianna’s return smile is fierce. “Yes. I’m sure I did.” She raises an eyebrow as she leans back in her chair, her body taking up more physical space. “What incident are you talking about?”

Boris can tell that she is still wary and suspicious, but more hostile when he brings up her date.

Boris seems a little reluctant to say more. He looks around the bar to make sure no one else is listening in. "There has been some Raith and Malvora killed by a wizard during a recent summit of the White Court in Chicago at the Raith compound. The move is seen by most as a coup by the Raiths against the Malvora. However, the conflict doesn’t seem to have spread to the west coast as of yet…Peregrine Raith may be distracted from Nerise holdings here in Portland .” Boris pours yet another shot and looks at Brianna’s beer to see how empty it is.

The bartender is watching a UFC fight on a beat-up set and the two hardcases are still sipping Wild Turkey and shooting down PBR like it’s going out of style. No one seems to be paying the two vampires any mind.

Brianna’s eyes narrow. “I had heard that Madrigal Raith was killed by a wizard in Chicago. You’re telling me that this fucker was going after more of us at a Court summit?” The anger is clearly rising in her voice, although she’s careful to keep her voice down. “I don’t understand how this is turning into a fight between Houses.”

She looks hard at Boris. “If you think the Raiths are going after Malvora, why are you trying to find Nerise Patel?”

Boris downs his shot. “Self preservation , I want a Raith in Portland that won’t try to dissolve my House . And I think she will want reclaim her holdings for Lara Raith.”

“When we talked a few days ago, you seemed to think that Peregrine Raith is working with a Malvora. If not directly, then at least supporting his moves toward becoming a Baron. That doesn’t sound like someone who’s trying to dissolve your House. Why aren’t you trying to kiss up to Perry?” Brianna asks.

Boris drinks another shot. “I guess that was just a coincidence,” and he orders Brianna another beer. He gets up and says “if you see Nerise Patel again let her know I wish to talk to her.” As he straightens out his trench coat, Brianna can see a little bit of a sheath inside the long folds. He thanks her for meeting with him and then heads out the door.

Brianna replies that she’ll see him on Friday.

Juggling Plates

Wednesday March 5, 2014

Brianna finishes up her cheap beer and leaves the Yamhill Pub, nodding at the bartender as she goes.

She gets in her car and decides to do a drive-by of the Lovecraft Bar. What is the general layout of the street? Are there nearby buildings/cafes/alleys to use for hidden observation? Does it look like just a bar? Or does it appear to have a residence attached? Are there obvious security features? Exactly how close is it to Boris’s Theater?

If Cosmin is in town, Brianna wants to track him down & solidly connect him to this bar. Then, all it may take is one phone call to put a serious crimp in his plans.

Along the way, she texts Clive. B. V. wants to meet with N. Perhaps could help with 5th?

As Brianna gets in her car, she spots Boris, a block or two away, but watching the door of the pub.

Brianna slides into her car, drumming her fingers along the steering wheel for a moment. Then she puts her car in gear and drives down the street a few blocks. She pulls up alongside Boris and rolls down the window. “Did you need a ride back to the theater? I’m heading to that part of town anyway.” Her voice holds equal parts amusement and annoyance.

Boris sees Brianna pull up and says “I’m not going that way.” He pulls out his car keys and starts walking off towards his car.

Brianna re-routes and heads towards The Lovecraft Bar. She keeps an eye in her rear view mirror for anyone tailing her car. Along the way, she calls Joey and tells him also to stay alert in case he picks up a shadow.

While she’s scoping out the bar, she texts Clive. BV says he wants to meet her about our common problem. He thinks I’m his connection. What does she want to do?

The bar is about 4-5 blocks southwest of L’Ombre Burlesque. It appears to be just a bar under renovation. There are standard security features—locks, lights, etc. She doesn’t spot any cameras.

Clive texts: Set up a meet. Make it Edgefield. Tonight.

Brianna texts back: Time?

8 pm

Brianna pulls out the phone Boris gave her and hits redial.

Boris pulls his car over and answers the phone. “Yes Brianna, do you some information for me?”

“Do you have plans for tonight? There’s someone I’d like you to meet.”

Boris smiles “When and where?”

“I’ll swing by and pick you up at 7:15.”

Boris requests she pick him up at a spot about two blocks away from Nirvana.

After getting her phone call, Boris calls some of his people to meet him at the same location to stake out the club. He tells them that if they see anything unusual call him.

View
Side Job: Full Court
Karkana Chronicles: Thirty-One

February 18, 2014 (Tuesday)

Since returning from Seattle, Brianna’s been in contact with Quincy to find a Karkana family lawyer to consult regarding any potential courtroom appearances. As she has no desire to be in prison for the rest of her life, she wants to get ahead of any trouble that might head her way.

On the morning of the 18th, her cell phone rings. Brianna curses silently to herself. It’s Hubbard.

“I hear you’ve been a busy girl.” His voice sounds disturbingly chipper.

“I try to keep myself active.”

“Well, good. Idle hands and all that.” Hubbard switches topics. “I have a job for you. It should be easy”

“Alright.” Brianna doesn’t sound convinced. “Is this something we should talk about on the phone?”

“Nothing untoward. I simply need you to meet me at the Elysium Ballroom on Saturday night. About 8:00.”

Brianna has heard of the Elysium Ballroom. It’s a premier event venue in Portland, used for wedding receptions, fancy parties, etc. She’s also heard that it’s associated with the Winter Court. “Should I be dressing for Court or is this a casual affair?”

“Oh, no. You should pretty up for me.” He pauses. “However, you will be acting as my bodyguard for the evening, so I’d suggest nothing too constrictive.”

“Well, that’ll dictate my choice in shoes,” she comments wryly. “You want me to meet you there? If I’m to be your bodyguard, we should arrive together so I can watch your back on the way in.”

Hubbard concedes the point. “Shall I pick you up then?”

Brianna pauses, trying to decide if Hubbard already knows where she lives and if she wants him anywhere near her apartment.

The Fae correctly interprets her silence. “Or do you want to meet in a neutral location and I’ll wear a red carnation?” His voice is amused.

“Let’s go with the latter.”

“Where do you want to meet? I’ll let the lady decide.”

“Let’s meet outside Powell’s.”

“The book store? Very well. Shall we meet at 7:30, then? Outside the book store?”

Brianna matches the sarcasm in his tone. “That works for me. I was assuming we weren’t meeting for drinks ahead of time.”

Before hanging up, Hubbard adds “You are acting as my bodyguard, but don’t be so gauche as to bring iron.”

Brianna spends the rest of the day trying to discretely ask around in the supernatural community if this Saturday is a particularly meaningful date or event for the Winter Court. She also purchases an appropriate outfit: an expensive, tailored pantsuit that is flattering to her figure, yet in subdued colors.

Her contacts tell her that there is a gathering of the Winter Court this weekend. It’s a anniversary celebration of the ascension of Abby Miyazaki to Winter Envoy.

February 19, 2014 (Wednesday)

That morning, around 10:00 a.m., there’s a knock on the door. Joey gets up from the couch and answers it.

A friendly voice at the door asks, “Is Brianna in?”

“Who wants to know?” Joey replies, suspicious.

“My name is William London. I was sent by Quincy.”

“Yeah, really?”

“Yes, I was, in matter of fact. He’s paying my retainer, so the longer you keep me at the door, the longer he pays me.” Brianna recognizes the name and the voice. London is Quincy’s personal lawyer. He was the one assisting Quincy during his murder trial.

Brianna grabs an extra amulet and heads for the door. “Mr. London,” she says in greeting.

“Ah, Brianna! How are you doing?”

“Well.”

“Your boyfriend doesn’t seem to like me much.”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” she smiles.

“Oh, good. I thought you had better taste.”

Joey scowls and pops his knuckles.

“He’s a business associate.”

London nods. “Business associate. I can respect that. So, is anyone going to invite me in or are we going to have lunch somewhere else?”

Brianna hands him the amulet. “Come on in. You’ll just need to put that on first.” The lawyer puts it on, then looks at Joey who is still blocking the doorway. “Joey, you remember London. He helped out Quincy.” The fighter gives the man another look, then steps aside.

London enters the apartment. Brianna notices that he doesn’t step on the threshold, but he carefully steps over it. She also realizes that when he knocked on her door, it was 10:00 on the dot. Brianna offers him a drink of water, whiskey, or whatever he fancies. London accepts a glass of water as he takes stock of the apartment. He intentionally selects the third chair from the right.

Once seated, London opens up his briefcase and takes out a pad and pencil. “Quincy briefed me a little on what he knew, but I want to get your take on what happened. The truth.” He smiles slightly, “I find that the truth can be a fairly effective weapon.”

Brianna sits down across from the lawyer. “Well, some of this truth can be a little too much truth for the courtroom, if you catch my drift.”

“I understand that, but I also find that I find that as close as we can stick to it, the more effective it will be.”

“That would be good. Prevarication is not my strong suit.”

“Nor is it mine. Why don’t you start with the night at the club?”

Brianna gives him a detailed account of the events in Seattle, not leaving anything out. “I expect that any sort of testimony I give in court will be more focused on the arrest of Benato. That’s also the place where I feel that the other side will start trying to pick apart my story and pick apart me.”

“If it comes to that. But the reason I want the truth of what happened is because I don’t want any surprises. I want to know what really happened and what could potentially come my way.”

“That’s what happened that night, yes. I’ve been in Seattle a lot lately and lots of other things have gone on. I don’t know how much that may get drug into this.” Brianna looks at him closely, “Did Quincy tell you about my business?”

“He didn’t tell me exactly about your business, no. He only mentioned that it was …” London pauses, “I think the word he used was ‘elicit,’ but that’s not unusual concerning the family.”

“I would assume not. If you need those details, I will give you them.”

“I don’t think I need them at this time.”

“If it makes a difference, there is a local mob presence in my line of business here in Portland.”

London nods, but says that they’ll cross that bridge if it comes to it. He wants to stick to the details of that night. “If they start trying to follow too many tangents, I think I can convince the judge to rein them in.”

“So, you’re intending to be there when I have to go on the stand.”

“Absolutely. In fact, I’m hoping to keep you off you the stand all together.”

“That would make me incredibly happy. I have no desire to get myself known to the court system.”

“They’ve not ordered a court date yet, but I would anticipate seeing a subpoena any day now. My guess is that the federal court date will be sometime within the next three to four weeks.”

“Since this is going to be a federal trial, the only other thing that I should mention is that a few months back my bank accounts were frozen by the federal government for suspicion of money laundering.” She explains that there was some pressure on her about a particular situation, then how the pressure backed off when everything was resolved. She’s not sure if an official charge would show up.

“Do you know where the pressure was coming from in either direction?”

Brianna, pauses, but then opts for the truth. “Well, this doesn’t need to be bantered around very much, but it was the V.U.”

“The V.U.” London seems to be mulling over the word.

“The Venatori Umbrorum.”

“I’m afraid I’m not familiar with these individuals, but I probably don’t need to be.”

“Probably not,” she agrees, “but the crux of the matter is that the pressure disappeared when we worked out our differences.”

“Well, let’s just hope that the pressure left no ‘fingerprints.’”

“That’s the only wild card, because I don’t have any way to check.”

“I’m glad you told me this. I’m not going to be able to work with it, unfortunately. We’re just going to have to hope for the best, and I’m going to have a couple of sleepless nights. Any other details you need to tell me? Any workings with the Illuminati?”

“Unless you want me to get into details about all of the dealings I’ve had …”

London is quick to decline. “I was being facetious.” He continues, “I am relieved that it sounds like you were trying to do the right thing in Seattle. I’m not a consigliere to criminal mob bosses. I only try to take cases where justice is going to be done. That’s why I primarily work with Quincy. He’s a good guy.”

“Quincy is a good guy,” Brianna agrees.

“I can’t say the same for everyone in your family, unfortunately. However, Quincy vouched for you. This was as much of a test for you as it was for me.” London hands her a card and tells her to call when she gets the subpoena and they can talk strategy.

They shake hands and Brianna retrieves the amulet as he leaves. Once the door is shut, she texts Quincy. Just spoke with William. Thank you. I wasn’t expecting him to be on retainer.

Quincy texts back. Merry Christmas.

February 20, 2014 (Thursday)

As Brianna heads to the mailbox that morning, a woman jogger passes by. “Brianna Karkanna?” she asks.

“Why?”

The woman hands her an envelope. “You’ve been served.” She jogs off. It’s a subpoena to appear in Federal Court on Tuesday, March 4th at 8:00 a.m. The judge Ricardo S. Martinez will be residing.

As Brianna grabs her mail, she calls London and tells him the news.

“Martinez. Yep, they definitely shot this case to the top. They’re also moving a bit quicker that I would have expected.” They agree to meet on Thursday, February 27th to talk more about the plan.

Brianna starts flipping her through her mail while she dials Shawn’s number. He’s at work. “Just as a general FYI, I got my subpoena today. Delivered by the finest jogger in all of Portland.”

He chuckles. “I wonder if I’ll be getting my today.”

“Well, watch out for exercise fanatics.” As she is speaking, Brianna suddenly comes across a an expensive-looking red envelope. Her name is written in flawless calligraphy. There’s no return address. “Hmm. That’s odd,” she remarks out loud. She opens it up.

Inside is a fancy invitation cordially inviting her to meet with the Margrave of Seattle at Edgefield this Friday evening at 8:00 p.m. She’s entitled to bring one guest. The usual niceties of the House will be observed. Brianna lets loose with a long string of expletives. “Have you checked your mail lately?”

“Not recently, I’ve been at work.”

“Then you’re not aware of getting an invitation from the Margrave of Seattle for this Friday?” Her voice is rising slightly.

“No…”

“Well, then maybe I’m just the lucky one!”

“Excuse me?” Shawn sounds confused, but concerned.

“This isn’t a conversation to have at the mailbox.” Brianna heads back inside her apartment and shuts the door.

Joey’s sitting on the couch, watching a game. Brianna gets his attention, “Hey, Joey!” and tosses the envelope his way.

Joey reads it. “What the fuck is this?”

Brianna continues speaking with Shawn. “I just got a very fancy envelope from the Margrave of Seattle asking me to meet on Accorded Neutral Ground this Friday. Let me know if you get one as well.”

“Are you going?”

“Well, it’s at Edgefield, so it’s Accorded Neutral Ground.”

“They’ve reneged on that before. Although, I’ve heard that Solomon has put in some more defenses against that.”

View
Side Job: Dead Man Stomp
Karkana Chronicles: Thirty

February 14, 2014 (Friday)

Shawn has invited Brianna to stay the weekend in Seattle. He wants to take her to a club known as the Blue Heaven Ballroom. It’s a fairly swanky place that harkens back to old-fashioned speakeasies. It’s a little bit retro, a little bit hipster, but he thought that the impressive whiskey selection might impress her. Brianna still has to wrap her head around the fact that she has a date for Valentine’s Day, something that hasn’t happened in many, many years. However, she’s certainly willing to try it out.

The Blue Heaven Ballroom actually has a dress code. Brianna looks sleek in a fancy new dress she bought for the occasion and Shawn is dressed in a tux. The street entrance is a simple unmarked blue door. Upon heading inside, the two are met by a pair of very large men in tuxedos. They stare at Brianna and Shawn, sizing them up, but the couple is allowed to pass. A set of blue carpeted stairs lead up to a second level.

A coat check room faces the stairs. To the left is a gentleman’s lounge and stairs leading up to another floor. A small placard reads “Casino.” To the rights is a ladies’ lounge and the entrance to the ballroom. Chrome fixtures and mirrors are everywhere.

Shawn holds open the set of swinging doors leading into the ballroom. An unctuous man, most likely the manager, is waiting there. He smiles and signals for them to follow. Waiters hover in the wings, eager to assist. There is a general buzz of conversation and laughter among the tables in the room. An opulent bar stretches one side of the room, on the other, a band plays jazz music on a large stage. An old fashioned easel sign indicates that they are the Five Star Band.

Between the bar and the stage is a small dance floor and small round tables surrounded by plush arm-less chairs., Each table has a little lamp for intimate lighting. Chandeliers hang suspended around the room, casting subdued hues of blue and gold. The men and women are as sumptuously dressed as the decor, with jeweled necklaces, earrings, and cuff links sparkling softly in the light.

Shawn mentions that he’s heard this is a pretty famous hangout in certain circles. New York money men. Stars of the stage and screen. Honest politicians. Not-so-honest politicians. Mobsters and moguls. Across the country, those who are movers and shakers know about the Blue Heaven Ballroom.

The Five Star Band is comprised of five musicians. A note on the placard mentions the band leader is Mitch Westin, a young African-American man who plays clarinet and does vocals. As Brianna and Shawn enter the room, the band is playing Dr. Jazz. The manager apologizes for the crowd and leads them to a large four-top table near the bar where they have reserved seats.

There is already a man sitting on one side of the table, appearing as if he’s waiting for someone to take the seat next to him. As the two sit down, he doesn’t say anything but nods amiably. Although he is facing the band, the man doesn’t seem to be listening to the music. Brianna notes the slight sheen of sweat on his face as he nervously drums his fingers on the table.

Brianna leans in very close to Shawn and whispers in his ear, “Does our table-mate seem particularly nervous to you? He’s sweating.”

The band launches into another song: Clarinet Marmalade.

Behind the table, a door opens and a tall, thin African-American man in a suit enters. He’s carrying a shiny trumpet. The man clearly wants to make his way to the stage, but their table is blocking his path. Brianna can tell he’s clearly had a few drinks. He studies their table carefully, then turns to the nervous man. “Sir, I got lost backstage. Would you be so kind as to let me by? I really apologize for asking.”

The man snaps angrily, “Find some other way boy, or I’ll have you thrown out.”

Shawn raises an eyebrow at the hostile words. The man apologizes, “Sorry, sir, sorry.”

“Rude, much?” Brianna comments loudly. She and Shawn get up to let the man pass by. The musician thanks them as he heads toward the stage. Brianna notices that the trumpet he’s carrying looks odd. It has four valves instead of the traditional three.

The bandleader makes an announcement to the crowd, “Ladies and gentleman, his Honor the mayor is here with us tonight. Congratulations on your re-election, your Honor. Your opponent thought he had you beat, but you can’t keep a good man down! This song’s for you.” The crowd applauds. Brianna sees the horn man take his place on the stage. His rumpled brown coat and pants are in contrast to the snappy outfits on the rest of the band. The band leader calls out the next song: The Dead Man’s Stomp. The musicians are in fine form as the horn player seamlessly joins in. People begin dancing on the small dance floor.

Brianna and Shawn sit close together, talking quietly, listening to the music and watching the dancing. Her hand rests lightly on his leg as Shawn points out various people of note in the crowd. While there’s quite of bit of noise in the room, the sound of a .45 automatic at close range is still unmistakable. Brianna jumps at the report. When she turns her head, the man who had been sitting across from them slumps forward, a huge hole in his forehead. A man stands behind him with a gun. Brianna glances down at herself. Bits of brain and bone and blood are all over her. The guy holding the gun takes note of the two of them. He slips the gun in his pocket and starts making his way towards the same door the horn man came out of earlier.

The room begins to panic as people start screaming. Brianna is incredibly pissed off and angry. She bolts out of her chair and starts after the man. Shawn stands, pulls his gun out of his pocket, and yells “Freeze! Seattle PD!” Undeterred, the man uses the cover of the crowd to slip out of the service door.

Shawn and Brianna follow quickly through the door, trying to apprehend the shooter. They can see the man bolting down a staircase leading down into the main entry. Even in heels and her fancy dress, Brianna is closing the distance between them. The shooter gets through the front door just before her, slamming it shut and nearly hitting Brianna in the face.

Brianna flings open the door and rushes outside. She is just in time to see the shooter jump into the open door of a grey Mercedes. Brianna notes that the license plate has been removed. The Mercedes accelerates and pulls away quickly from the nightclub. Brianna sees all of the human bystanders and realizes she can’t use her supernatural speed to pursue. She throws one of her expensive heels after the car, yelling a particularly colorful string of words.

Shawn goes after her shoe. “Do you want to back inside? Do you want to leave?”

“I’m assuming you have obligations here.”

“Yeah. Technically, I do.”

“Well, maybe I can run into the bathroom or something. Clean this up.” She gestures at her ruined dress.

Shawn opens the door again for her and they head inside. As they climb the stairs, they’re fighting against the crowd of people who are trying to leave. Brianna’s cursing silently to herself, refusing to yield to people in front of her, when suddenly Shawn says incredulously, “What the hell?”

Brianna looks up. At the top of the stairs is the shooting victim, a big red hole in his forehead. He’s staggering down the stairs, moaning the word “Joey.”

She stops. “Have you ever seen anything like that before?” she asks Shawn, staring.

“No. Thus the surprise and alarm in my voice.”

Brianna isn’t sure what could take a shot to the brain like that and still walk around.

While people are rushing down the stairs ahead of the gunshot victim, there are also people behind him trying to get out. The man is bowled over and goes down, tumbling down the stairs. He is completely trampled, turning into a bloodier and bloodier ruin of a figure, but Brianna can still hear him moaning, “Joey.” One of the guards notices the gory scene and gets wide-eyed in horror. “Fuck this!” he says, bolting out the door.

The figure manages, somehow, to get its feet and stumble outside.

“What the hell?” Shawn mutters, “What is going on here?”

“I don’t know,” Brianna replies quietly.

The band leader, Mitch Wester, passes by on the stairs. Wester stops in front of Brianna, staring. “You hit? Oh my god, are you hit?”

“No. Someone got shot and I was just within the splatter range.”

“Oh. As long as you’re alright!” he tucks his coronet more tightly under his arm, then turns and leaves with the rest of the crowd. Brianna notices a card flutter from his suit pocket to the ground. She reaches down for it. The card is plain white, with black print. It says Morgan and Dupree Christian Funeral Home. Serving families of African descent since 1851. 172nd and W. Charles Streets. There’s a phone number listed. When Brianna turns the card over, handwritten on the back is February 15th, 2014. 11 a.m. sharp. New Orleans style. She pockets the card.

As people continue to exit the club, Brianna can hear the sound of approaching sirens. Before she can say anything, a man approaches from the stairs and flashes a badge at them. “Roger Daniels. I’m with the FBI.” He looks at Shawn. “You said you’re with the Seattle PD?”

Brianna, on hearing the word FBI, tries to look very blank. Shawn nods, “I am.”

“So, what do we got?” Daniels asks him.

“As far as I can tell, we’ve got a gun shot. The shooter got away in an unmarked Mercedes. I got a good look at his face. And apparently, we’ve got a murder victim that’s decided to leave the building.”

Daniels blinks at that. “Okay.” He pauses. “You say you got a look at the shooter?”

“We both did.”

“That’s good. Maybe we can work together on this and figure it out.”

Brianna can tell that Shawn is guarded about this conversation. “Well, of course I’d be willing to help in any way that I can.”

“Good.” Daniels seems genuinely pleased.

The sirens now sound like they’re outside the building, when suddenly they hear the sound of a car screeching to a halt and the sound of metal grinding against metal. The three of them head outside to see what’s happened. A patrol car has hit a light pole, pinning what’s left of the gunshot victim. The figure’s almost completely cut in half, but is thankfully no longer moving and moaning.

Shawn starts moving quickly to the smashed patrol car. Brianna and Daniels follow. Several other squad cars arrive and Shawn starts talking to the officers. Brianna hangs back, trying to stay out of the way, and attention, of the police.

As she’s watching Shawn, Daniels turns to her. “I didn’t get your name.”

“Brianna,” she replies evenly.

“Brianna, well, I’m sorry your fine evening was cut short.”

“So am I.” She smiles, trying for polite, and goes back to watching the scene play out. Shawn seems to know some of the officers, calling them by name. Even though he’s friendly, he’s clearly taking control of the situation and the officers seem to be deferring to him. Shawn gets into conversation with a senior ranking cop, both nodding in agreement about something.

Shawn brings the man over to where Brianna is standing . “This is Sergeant Price. He’s going to take our statements so we can get out of here.”

“Alright.” Brianna can feel her face tense. Inwardly, her discomfort at being around so much law enforcement is growing.

Daniels speaks up, “Well, did you want to look at mug shots?”

“I’ll be taking care of that in the morning. This evening, I’ll be getting my friend home. She’s had a hard night” His tone allows for no argument.

The FBI offers concedes, “Of course. And I’ll be happy to give my statement as well and coordinate with the Seattle PD.”

Price says, “That would be much appreciated, sir.” Then he takes Brianna aside to get her statement.

Brianna is feeling a bit frayed. She answers only what she is asked, no more, but is fairly truthful about the events of the night. She phrases some things to obscure any hint of the supernatural, but never quite lying. For example, instead of saying “a dead man got up and walked down the stairs,” she says that he “was shot, but clearly not seriously as I thought.”

As she talks with Price, Brianna can see other uniformed officers talking to witnesses. Price wraps up his questions, thanks her, then gets her cell phone number in case there are more questions. “Are you planning on staying in Seattle for a while?”

“At least a couple of days,” she replies.

“Please do, in case we need to follow up.”

Shawn is waiting for her. He takes her arm, “You ready to get out of this joint?”

“Yes, please.” Her voice is tight.

They head to his truck. As they get in and drive away, Brianna looks down at her gore-covered dress and exhales noisily, trying remain calm. Shawn comments, “In the morning, we’re probably going to have to go look at some mug shots.”

“Alright.” She looks at him, “Police entanglements, Shawn. We’ve had this conversation.”

“It wasn’t my intention.”

“I know.” She pauses. “This is why we can’t have nice things.”

“There does seem to be a cloud over us,” he agrees.

“Eh, I wouldn’t say a cloud,” Brianna replies, “It just makes things interesting.” After a beat, she says “So. What’s more interesting? That you have the FBI trying to nose around this? Or the fact that a dead man walked down the stairs?” She shakes her head. “I think he was dead. I don’t think anyone takes a bullet like that and walks about from it. Something weird is going on.”

“Yep.”

Thinking back on the events of the evening, Brianna remembers that the victim got up while the band was playing Dead Man’s Stomp. She mentions it to Shawn and they both comment on the irony.

“Things like this tend to need to be wrapped up within the first 48 hours or they linger.” He pauses. “The gunman bolted from the scene. I don’t know if we have any real leads. Hopefully, we can get this done by the weekend and you won’t be inconvenienced by being asked to stay in Seattle a little longer.”

Brianna looks at him, “I truly don’t mind spending more time with you. I hope I didn’t give that impression.”

“I know this was unexpected … and I know you don’t like being made to do something.”

“That is very true. I’m just trying not to think of it that way. I don’t want to walk into the police station as angry as I usually am.”

“That would be helpful,” he says lightly.

“That’s me. Helpful.” He voice is sarcastically cheerful.

He makes a small snort.

“I should have thrown my shoe at that fucker earlier. Hell, I should have thrown a fucking chair.” Brianna shakes her head, “I could have caught him, but there were too many people.”

“Yeah. Too many people. Too much shock at the situation. That’s probably what he was counting on.”

“Yeah, but he wasn’t counting on me.” Brianna is fairly certain the man was dead, but somehow resurrected. “We don’t talk about your work a lot,” she begins, “but you’re the head of a special Task Force. My understanding is that you handle a lot of the weird that goes on up here. Have you have any problems with undead walking around lately?”

“Not like that, no. Most of the undead I deal with are of the Red Court variety, or some variation thereof.”

“Well, the gunman got a good look at us.”

“Yeah. That worries me as well.”

The two of them head back to Shawn’s house. Brianna takes multiple showers, scrubbing at herself until she feels clean again. She wraps herself in Shawn’s robe and finds him sitting in his living room watching the local news on TV. The coverage is of the events at the Blue Heaven Ballroom. Brianna sits on the couch next to him.

The victim is identified as Peter Manusco, a self-employed accountant. The news anchors describe how Manusco was mortally wounded, but indomitably willed himself to stay alive as he tried to reach help. Then he was ironically cut down by the very aid he sought. “Oh, shit.” Brianna mutters, “None of this is going to go well.” There is already talk on whether or not the Ballroom will be able to survive this particular incident.

As Shawn gets ready to turn off the TV, a familiar face appears. It’s agent Daniels. He acknowledges the events of the evening, and says that the FBI will be looking into the victim’s background, cooperating of course, with the Seattle PD. Unfortunately, the Blue Heaven does have a reputation for being a haven for some members of the organized crime community. He postulates that perhaps Mr. Manusco was mistaken for some sort of criminal foe of the shooter. Regardless, he has every confidence that, between the Seattle PD and the FBI, this case will be fully investigated.

“Well, he has just invited himself to your game on public television,” Brianna comments.

Shawn is visibly grinding his teeth.

“I think the word you’re looking for is fuck,” she tells him. She pauses, thinking. “The guy could have been an accountant for the mob. The money has got to get clean, somehow.”

“Could have.” Shawn acknowledges, still clearly irritated.

Brianna decides to change the topic to what’s she wearing. She got into Shawn’s robe, but she offers to let him take her out of it. The two spend the rest of the night occupying themselves with more pleasant activities.

February 15, 2014 (Saturday)

Early the next morning, Brianna and Shawn head to the police station. Shawn talks to the desk sergeant about why they are there. Brianna is then introduced to Detective Emily Batista. Brianna tries to portray a calm and collected demeanor, even though she is inwardly antsy at being around so many cops.

Batista seems friendly, saying “Let’s see who did this.” She then takes Shawn and Brianna into separate conference rooms. She tells Brianna, “Alright, we’re going to be displaying some mug shots for you. Quite a lot of them. If you recognize anyone, let us know. Then we’ll start putting some pieces together.”

Brianna goes through photo after photo. It’s a tedious process. Eventually, she comes across a photo that looks like the gunman. “Hello,” she calls out, looking into the (what she assumes) is one-way glass.

After a minute, Detective Batista comes in the room. Brianna taps on the mug shot with her finger. “That’s him.”

Batista looks at the photo with what Brianna considers a “cop face,” not letting any reaction slip through. “That is interesting.”

“I’m assuming Shawn picked out the same picture?” Brianna asks, then corrects herself when she sees Batista’s unchanging expression. “Ah. Yes, you can’t tell me that.”

“What it does tell us, is that we have a lead. Which makes me happy.” Batista escorts Brianna out of the room and back to Shawn. “If we need anything else, we’ll be in contact.”

“You have my cell,” Brianna comments.

“You are staying in Seattle?”

“I was planning to stay through the weekend.”

“Well, this may be a little complicated, but we’ll probably be able to contact you on your cell.”

“Complicated, how?” Brianna asks pointedly. She catches Shawn and Batista sharing a glance.

Batista shares, “The man that you identified has a complicated backstory that could make the investigation interesting.”

Brianna makes an irritated noise. “God, save me from complicated backstories. What does this mean for my role in this particular matter?”

“Your roll in this particular matter is to lie low, be safe. If you feel like you need further police protection,” Batista flicks her eyes briefly to Shawn before returning her gaze to Brianna, “let us know. The Seattle PD would be very interested in keeping you safe.”

“Well, that makes two of us,” Brianna remarks.

“I can’t get into more detail other than that, but suffice to say that your safety as a witness is something that we’re very much interested in.”

Brianna starts silently cursing to herself. I’m not getting on a fucking witness stand. I’ll never hear the end of it from my family.

Shawn thanks Batista and says that they’ll be in touch. As he escorts Brianna outside, his phone goes off. He answers it. “Oh. Frank, what do you got? Okay. Thank you.” Shawn doesn’t say anything further until they get into the truck. “So, if you have questions Emily couldn’t answer, I may be able to.”

“Did you recognize this person? She seemed to recognize who he was.”

“I dido once I had a little bit of a memory nudge. I recognized the name, although I hadn’t seen his face before.”

“Is this organized crime?”

“Yeah. This guy’s name is Joey Larson. He’s a gun for Archie Benato.”

Brianna has actually heard of him. “Archie Benato. He’s not the big boss in Seattle, but he’s one of the power players, isn’t he?”

“Yes, he is.”

“I’ve heard of him.”

“So, not a random shooting.”

“Oh, no, I wouldn’t think so.”

“Witnesses being alive is not the usual M.O.”

“Yeah, but that’s a really odd thing to do. If he really didn’t want witnesses, then he would have tried to shoot the two of us. And what does this mean for you? That one of those witnesses was a member of Seattle’s finest?”

“It means that we’re probably going to have a tail. In fact, we have one as we speak.”

“Wait, from your side or their side?”

“Our side.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake. This is where things are going to get kind of interesting.”

Shawn makes a noise in agreement. “Here’s another interesting tidbit. My friend Frankie at the coroner’s office says that the initial report states the head wound would have been immediately fatal. More than half of the brain volume was shot away in that gunshot.”

Brianna agrees, “That was a dead man walking at us.” She ponders the situation a bit. “Did you find out anything about Manusco. Did they know him?”

“I didn’t get a chance to do a lot of digging. Emily’s a good cop. I don’t want to step on her toes too much.”

“I was just curious. I have someone I can ask.”

“Well, I’m not saying that I’m not curious.”

Brianna pauses, then says “I need a burner phone.”

Shawn looks at her a bit sideways, but drives her to the store.

On the way, Brianna asks, “Are we going to have a tail everywhere we go?”

“I would not be shocked. If they do get this Larson, they’re going to want to put him away. And what’s going to put him away? Eye-witness testimony that he’s the shooter.”

“Goddamn it,” she hisses under her breath, then continues, picking her words carefully. “The reason I ask is because we’re going to have to hit a club at some point. The longer I wait, it’s going to get more problematic. That’s not something I really wanted a police escort for.”

“No. Chances are good that if we go to a club, they’re not going inside. They’d be watching our car to make sure we come in and out of places. We’re not under police protection at this point. They’d tell us. However, they don’t have to ask permission.”

Brianna’s hands tighten slightly.

“That would be a little heavy handed for Emily, but this also would be a big collar.”

“Am I going to be able to go back to Portland?” she asks, bluntly. “I need you to be really honest with me.”

“It depends, to be honest. They have witnesses eyeballing Larson, so if they can find him, you may not be able to go back for a while. They’re going to want to put you on ice until Larson goes to trial.”

“I can’t be put up somewhere,” she interrupts.

“I’m not disagreeing. I’m telling you the facts. If they don’t find Larson, then they have no reason to keep you.”

A very dark thought flickers across Brianna’s face, but she just says, “Good to know.”

“The other fly in this potential ointment is what happens if Emily tries to take this investigation as a step towards Benato.”

“You’re killing me, Shawn,” she whispers ruefully, shaking her head.

“In that case, unless they actively have a trial pending, you’d probably be able to leave in a few days. They can’t hold you indefinitely … unless, and this is another wild card, if Daniels puts his big toe in because of the organized crime angle. If the FBI gets involved, they could shuffle you off into witness protection program. Me, as well.”

“Let’s just hope it doesn’t come down to that decision.” She doesn’t look happy, but changes the subject. “I need that burner phone.” Shawn takes her a seedy little store and Brianna heads in. As she’s cashing out, Brianna catches sight of a small free circular called the Emancipator and Union Leader. The paper seems to be geared towards the African American community. One for the advertisements is for the Morgan and Dupree Funeral Home.

Brianna grabs a copy and heads back into Shawn’s truck. She calls Joey on the new phone and gives him a rundown of what’s happened.

“That’s really fucked up,” he comments.

She agrees. “I’ll keep you posted as I can, but for right now I’m trying to avoid police witness protection. I don’t think there’s going to be ripple effects in Portland, but keep your eyes out.”

Brianna hangs up and calls Stan Lyman’s office. A sweet, chipper young thing answers the phone with Stan’s latest fake business name. Conscious of the fact that Shawn is in the car, Brianna is careful not to say too much out loud. “Please tell him that Brianna Karkanna’s trying to get in touch with him.” The young woman agrees she’ll pass on the message.

As she waits, Brianna flips through the circular. She spots the obituary section and notices that there is a funeral and procession scheduled at Morgan and Dupree’s at 11:00 a.m. The deceased is a gentleman named Frederick Lincoln Fayette. Brianna notes out loud that this is the same information as was on the card she found. Shawn makes a “hmm” noise. According to the obituary Fayette dies of an accidental gunshot wound two days ago. He is survived by his wife Elizabeth Wester Fayette. Mr. Fayette was a delivery driver in a private service. Brianna recalls that Wester is also the last name of the band leader from the nightclub.

Brianna is silent for a while, thinking about the events of the past few days. The raised dead. The music. The funeral home. There are just so many weird coincidences. She asks Shawn if he’d be okay driving by the funeral home. She doesn’t want to interfere with the actual funeral, but perhaps they can just get some names of people. He agrees and he starts driving.

“Chances are pretty good that Larson didn’t raise him,” Shawn says as they drive, almost thinking out loud. “Why would he do that and then just shoot him? So something else did.”

“Yeah, I think so, too. Larson was already on the run when it happened. I don’t know how you would even raise the dead, but that wasn’t a lot of time.”

Outside the funeral home, a crowd of people is gathered outside. A procession is ready to start. Brianna sees the band mixed in with the procession. There are a couple of policeman on motorcycles who look to be leading the way, most likely to help control traffic. From the hall of the funeral home, six pallbearers appear with a long pine coffin. The band strikes up a song, “I’ll See You on Judgement Day,” as the procession begins moving down the street towards a nearby cemetery. Mitch Wester, himself, leads the band.

Brianna spots the horn player standing in a doorway across the street. It looks like he’s smoking a cigarette and watching the parade go by. As the band strikes up “Closer Walk with Thee,” the man puts out his smoke and steps out with his trumpet raised. He steps up next to Mitch Wester and begins playing melancholy notes in fine counterpoint.

As the funeral procession passes Brianna and Shawn, she hears a soft moan come from within the coffin. “Holy shit,” she mutters. Then suddenly, the pallbearers lurch as if the weight in the coffin has shifted. Alarm and confusion is on their face as the crowd gasps at the faux pas. The music fades and dies as the lid smashes open. The pallbearers drop the coffin and pull back in horror as a figure emerges from the coffin. It was a large African American man at one point in time, but now is ashen-skinned and puffy. It looks around, in seeming bewilderment.

That’s when the screaming starts. Some people even start trying to help the man out of the coffin. A small woman in a black mourning veil emerges from the crowd. Even from this distance, Brianna can see that her cheeks are wet with tears. “Freddie is that you?”

The man in the coffin lurches forward and looks at the woman in shock. Then he throws his head back and gives a terrible scream, almost as if he realizes what’s going on. He collapses at the woman’s knees in despair. The woman puts her arms around him and the trembling stops. The body collapses.

Clamor is sweeping through the crowd. Some people look angry, staring at a nearby man in a suit, probably the mortician. Brianna can hear some people yelling things like “buried alive!” She looks at Shawn. “That’s no fucking coincidence.” She starts moving forward. On the other side of the crowd, Brianna notices a white man in a brown suit who’s also witnessed these events. He backs away and walks briskly to a waiting grey Mercedes. Before Brianna can get close enough to see its license plates, the car drives away.

“Did you see that Mercedes?” she asks Shawn.

“Yep.”

“Did you recognize the guy?”

“He seemed kind of familiar.” They both agree that it looked like Larson.

“This isn’t good. Something is making the dead walk and I don’t think a mob boss needs to know what that is.” Brianna speculates that while Larson was taking in the entire scene, she noticed that he was watching her specifically.

“We have more than one tail. Shit.” Shawn mutters.

Brianna re-focuses on the crowd. There is still a lot of tension in the air, but the body appears to be just that. A dead body. When she draws closer, people eye her a bit askance. “Is everything alright? There seemed to be some trouble.”

One person speaks up, “I don’t know what happened. Them assholes over there done tried to bury this man when he was still alive.”

Another person adds, “Yeah, the shock of it probably killed his heart.”

The band has mostly broken up into the crowd, but Brianna sees the man in the brown suit heading away. She decides to approach him. He turns, startled, as she walks up behind him. He has his trumpet clutched in one hand. “Oh, it’s you. From last night.”

“Yeah. We just happened to be in the neighborhood and saw some of the scene that just went down.”

“In the neighborhood, huh?” He sounds skeptical.

“Is that a stranger statement than what happened on the street just now?”

“Well, I reckon not.”

“Seems like some weird end of days thing, doesn’t it? And the dead will rise?”

“I don’t know. All I can say is that it’s nothing that I want to talk about standing in the street … and probably not without a good stiff drink.”

“Well, I’m a fan of stiff drinks myself. Where’s a good place to get one?”

“I know a place.” He leads the two of them to a neighborhood dive bar only a couple of blocks away. They sit in a secluded booth away from the other patrons and Brianna orders drink for the table. The man belts back his first drink, so she orders him another.

“I’ve played trumpet for ten years. Nothing ever happen like this.”

“Well, it does seem a little bit odd. I’ve been around a while, myself, but I’ve not seen anything like what’s been happening over the last few days.”

“No, mam,” he agrees, shaking his head.

The musician set his trumpet on the table when they sat down. Being this close, Brianna sees that the metal finish looks somehow crinkly, almost like the hide of some kind of reptile. Inside the bell of the trumpet is a ring of strange symbols. “That’s an unusual piece,” she comments, pointing, “I thought that they usually had three valves, not four.”

The man brightens. “Oh, yes. This is an unusual piece. This trumpet was given to me by someone no less than Wynton Marsalis. A few days ago, I was playing with a scratch band, just making some extra money. When I went outside for a reefer, Mr. Marsalis approached me in the alley. He said, ’You’re such a good player, Leroy, that I want you to have one of my horns.’ And he gave me this trumpet right on the spot.”

Shawn nods, then comments “That’s a pretty uncommon occurrence, I’m sure.”

“Yeah, it is a bit unusual.”

“Was there anything else ‘unusual’ about what happened?”

Leroy says, “Well, it was really intense. Mr. Marsalis, his eyes looked like they were pools of blackness. It was real strange.”

Brianna gets the impression that Leroy just thought of something. She asks him about it.

The man hems a bit, but eventually confesses, “I’ve never had a horn play as good as this.”

“He gave you this horn a few days ago?” Brianna asks, “You’ve only played it the twice?” Leroy nods. Brianna buys him another round of drinks and begins asking him other questions about the band and other topics, trying to distract Leroy long enough to take a picture of the symbols inside his horn.

Shawn picks up on what she is trying to do. “So, if this is a horn you got from Winston Marsalis, it seems that it would be worth some cash.”

Leroy shakes his head. “Oh, I’m not selling this horn. It’s my living. It sews my body and soul together. I ain’t never found a horn as good as this.”

Brianna asks if he knows what the writing on the inside of the horn means.

“It’s probably a maker’s mark or something.”

“Have you had it checked into?”

“I don’t rightly see how it matters.”

“It just seems to be some of the flavor of the horn. Adds to the character of it.”

“That’s why I don’t think it matters.”

Brianna decides to try a different tactic. “Would you mind if I took your picture with it?” She holds up her phone.

“Yeah, alright.” Leroy strikes a pose with the horn. However, Brianna secretly focuses the shot on the symbols inside the bell. “Is this going to show up on your blog or your Instagram page? The name is Leroy Turner for when you do. I am available for parties.”

“Do you have a phone number?” He recites it for her. “Thank you Mr. Turner.”

Brianna pays the tab, then she and Shawn head back to the car. "It seems that Ezekiel might know what these symbols are. Or do you have someone else in town that you use for this kind of research? I can tell you that someone with pools of blackness for eyes handing out horns in the middle of an alley does not sound like Winston Marsalis to me. Although, I guess I’ve never met Mr. Marsalis… "

“That’s an angle we could check. See If he’s actually in town or not. But we could still get those symbols to Ezekiel and see what he thinks.”

Neither of them want to lead a potential tail back to Ezekiel’s farmhouse, so Shawn calls to see where the might be able to meet somewhere. While Shawn and Ezekiel talk, Brianna calls Roy Dale to find out where Winston Marsalis is right now.

Shawn asks “Do we want to know more about this Leroy Turner?”

“I think so. Something’s wrong with that horn. The story of how he got it is weird. He’s had that horn for just two days, and in the last two days the dead have been rising. I don’t read people as well as you do. Was he telling the truth back in the bar?”

“I think he believed it, although I think there’s more to the story.”

“Well, at the very least we need to know where he lives.” Brianna is quiet for a time, thinking about the black pools for eyes. She’s pretty sure she’s encountered that before, she just can’t remember when or where.

Her phone rings. It’s Roy Dale. “Apparently, Winston Marsalis is doing
a series of shows at clubs across Seattle. Scuttlebutt has that he’s staying at a downtown hotel.” He gives her the name. Brianna thanks him and hangs up. She tells Shawn that Marsalis is physically in town right now.

Shawn pulls up to a small diner. Brianna has noticed a tail, but not a grey Mercedes. Shawn confirms that it’s the police.

Brianna and Ezekiel greet each other warmly. They all sit down at a table. “So, Loomis told me you have something you’d like me to take a look at.”

Brianna describes the events over the last few days. The dead rising. Winston Marsalis with his black pools for eyes. Rather than touch the smart phone himself, Ezekiel has her pull up the picture and hold it up for him to see. The wizard peers carefully at the screen. “I don’t know anything about horns, but I do know about those symbols. They indicate Unseelie magic may be at play.”

“Unseelie magic.” Brianna repeats slowly, thinking. “Is there a court that’s prevalent in Seattle?”

“As far as I can tell, it’s kind of up for grabs. It’s mostly Wild Fae, but those symbols are definitely Winter Court. I haven’t had much dealing with the Courts, so I’m not certain if the description matches.”

Suddenly, it comes to Brianna. When she was stealing the bottle of whiskey, the Winter Fae, David, had black eyes when he dropped his human guise. And when Hubbard got really angry, his eyes turned turned into black pools. She leans back in her chair, “Well, now that I think of it, the black eyes does sound like it could be a Fae thing. When they get all intense and fairy-like.” As far as why a Winter Court might get involved with a mortal, Brianna knows that Fae motives tend to be buried and odd from a mortal point of view. “That trumpet doesn’t need to be out and about. We know he’s not going to give it up willingly, he’s already said as much. So, unless we know away to break the magic, we’re going to have to take it from him.”

“That’s going to be fun with our uninvited guest,” Shawn comments.

“Which one? The police tail or the mafia?”

“Yes.”

Brianna lightly punches Shawn’s arm, then asks Ezekiel “when we do get this thing, do you have some vault that can hold it safely? Or do we need to go dump it in Puget Sound?”

“I can turn it over to the White Council. They would keep it out of the wrong hands.”

“Have you heard anything about the Winter Court trying to take control here in Seattle?”

“No, the major power has been the Red Court for a long time. Fae aren’t usually a threat …”

“They’re just a nuisance.” Brianna interjects wryly. She pauses for a moment, thinking. “If we can’t stop the horn from playing again, is there anything else we can do to stop the dead from rising?”

“Unfortunately, this is Unseelie, so it does’t work like normal magic.”

“The first guy got decapitated by a cop car and that seemed to stop him. The second guy was held by his wife and he sort of just collapsed.” She shakes her head, “Well, we’ll just have to figure it out.” She smiles at Ezekiel, “Thank you your help.”

“Sure.”

The three of them head out of the restaurant and to their own vehicles.

Brianna turns to Shawn, “I think our best bet is to focus on the horn right now. I don’t think we’re going to be able to do anything about our tails. We need to find out more about Turner. Where he lives, that kind of thing.”

“Let’s head back to that neighborhood.”

Brianna and Shawn spend several hours walking around and talking to people. Shawn is good at rapport, but many people recognize them from the funeral which opens a door for conversation.

It turns out that Leroy Turner is not a very popular person. No one doubts that he can play, but even among the other musicians, he’s just too irresponsible. He says he’ll do things, but he doesn’t. When he moved here from New Orleans two years ago, his lover got run over and killed when a car didn’t stop. The locals think it was some college boys, but no one ever got charged with the crime. They feel a little bit sorrier for him because his heart is broken. That’s probably why he goes on all of those benders. Still, no one can rely on him."

As the two of them finish up talking with the neighbors, Brianna notices Leroy walking down the sidewalk. All of the sudden, burning around a corner, is the grey Mercedes. Two white men jump out of the car, grab Leroy, and pull him back in.

“Oh shit!” Brianna exclaims, but before she can even react, the car has driven off. Shawn also noticed the exchange and looks grim. There’s no way the two can get back to their car in time without losing the Mercedes. However, there’s a taxi on the nearby corner and they jump in.

“I need you to tail that car,” Brianna snarls, pointing.

The driver just shrugs. nonplussed, “Apparently, we’re dealing in cliches today.”

Brianna leans over the seat and places a very large bill next to him.

The man shoves it into his pocket and pulls away from the curb. “You’re the boss.”

“That’s what I thought you might say.”

They follow the other vehicle for a while, but then the Mercedes starts making some erratic turns. It’s apparent that the taxi has been spotted. Brianna tells their driver to keep going, placing a second large bill on the front seat. He does his best, but the Mercedes still manages to get away.

Shawn tells the taxi driver to stop. “Let’s get out now,” he tells Brianna, “we might be able to figure out where they went on foot.” They investigate the side streets and alleys, when Shawn finally spots the grey Mercedes parked next to a large, lonely-looking garage. The neighborhood is not a good one, filled with weed covered lots and tumbledown buildings. The Mercedes is empty.

“Do you have a knife on you?” Brianna asks.

Shawn looks confused. “I don’t normally carry one, no.”

Brianna bends down and starts letting the air out of the tires. Shawn starts chuckling. “They are not fucking getting away again,” she retorts, “I am fucking done with that shit.” He pulls out one of his keys and begins helping her.

When it’s clear that the car isn’t going anywhere, the two stealthily approach the garage. Brianna carefully peers into one of the grimy windows. Two heavy semi-trucks sit inside. The front door is on the opposite side of the building. An interior room has been converted into some sort of office or hangout area. She sees Leroy Turner being tied to one of the chairs by two thugs, although his hands and arms are being left free. Joey Larson watches over the proceedings as does a big man in a button down shirt and waistcoat. The man puffs away on a large Havana cigar.

Brianna leans over and whispers in Shawn’s ear, “Would you recognize Archie Benato if you saw him?”

“I think that’s him,” he replies softly.

In the room, one of the thugs places the trumpet in Turner’s hands. The man with the cigar asks Joey, “Is this our boy?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Tell me again what you saw.”

Joey describes the funeral and how dead Freddie Fayette got up and walked. He also adds that his girlfriend, Larette, saw the whole thing. She says that it’s voodoo and something that they can use.

Brianna starts shifting on her feet, getting ready to move.

The man with the cigar puffs away for a few minutes, considering. “You sure?”

“Yeah, I’m sure.”

“No screw-ups, Joey, not like you did with Manusco.”

“No way, boss!”

“That was a dumb piece of work, Joey. Keeping Blue Heaven closed is costing me money. All you had to was warn the guy, now I’ve got to get a new accountant.” He puffs some more.

Brianna happens to catch a flicker of a look between the man and the two thugs. “They’re going to shoot him,” she whispers to Shawn.

“Okay, Joey. I’ll bite on what you say.” He looks at Joey’s hands. “I want you to shoot yourself.”

Joey twitches, but doesn’t move.

“Look Joey, if this black boy here can bring you back to life, like you say, then what’s the problem? Shoot yourself.”

Joey just stands there.

Shawn slowly draws his gun. “Ready?” Brianna asks.

His voice is grim. “No, but you never are.”

The man with the cigar turns to one of the thugs. “LIttle Jimmy, you do it.”

Brianna does not want the mafia to find out that the horn can really bring people back from the dead. However, the door into the building lies on the other side of the garage. She makes a split-second decision. “I’m going in.” It’s all the warning Shawn has before Brianna dives through the window.

It’s not the best landing, her foot snags on the window on the way in, but the sudden shattering of glass proves to be the distraction she was hoping for.

The guy with the cigar looks at Brianna, incredulous. “What the fuck? Shoot her!”

A shot rings out from Shawn’s gun, the bullet hitting the ground right between the man’s feet.

Brianna scuttles further into the building, trying to keep to cover between her and the others.

The man yells at the thugs, pointing at Joey and Leroy. “Grab them and let’s get the fuck out of here!” He starts heading towards the front door.

Brianna moves to intercept the thug next to Leroy, swinging a punch at his face. The thug looks stunned as blood streams from his nose. She just laughs. After all of the anger over the last several days, It feels good to finally get a hit on someone.

The man retaliates with a solid punch of his own.

Leroy’s yelling to let him out of here. “This is some crazy shit!”

Brianna punches again, feeling the man’s nose break beneath her fist. She dodges his return blow. Brianna can tell that the other gangsters are getting further away. With one last punch, the thug falls to the floor, unconscious. As she crouches in her fighting stance, looking around for any other threat, Brianna hears Shawn’s voice yelling from outside. “Seattle P.D.! Everyone down on the ground!”

“Just hang tight,” she tells Leroy, and starts moving towards the front of the building.

“You just going to leave me in this chair?” Leroy yells, panicky, “This is some fucked up shit!”

Brianna ignores him, heading for the front door to backup Shawn. She stealthily cracks open the door to check out the situation and hopefully get the drop on someone. Shawn has his gun trained on the man with the cigar. Little Jimmy stands nearby with his hand on Joey’s collar. Joey, looking shell-shocked, has his hands half-up in the air. The man Brianna assumes is Benato has his hands in the air. The gangster’s staring at Shawn with an expression that clearly says that he doesn’t believe Shawn is going to shoot him.

The White Court Vampire moves fully out of the building, her arms crossed. “I suggest you fucking listen to the man.” Her voice is deadly.

Benato turns to look in Brianna’s direction. “Alright, get on the ground boys.” They all begin slowly lowering themselves to the ground.

“Do you want me to call it in?” she asks Shawn, whose gun is still trained on the men.

“Yeah.”

Brianna digs out her cell phone and makes the call.

“So, what’s the charge officer?” Benato asks, his voice smooth.

“I saw enough to get you on attempted murder.” Shawn’s voice is even.

“That was just a conversation between friends. Nobody was really going to hurt Joey. I was calling him on his bullshit story. You also going to tell people about the story that was behind it?” The man clearly doesn’t think he’s in any real trouble.

“I think attempted kidnapping is also something the law frowns on, asshole.” Brianna interjects angrily, “Or do you think our friend in there just got tied up on his own?” The smug expression on Benato’s face is the last straw. Without thinking, she strides forward and crouches down in front of the gangster. “I hope you have plenty of conversations between friends when you’re in fucking jail, Mr. Mob Boss.” Her voice is a harsh venomous whisper. “I will laugh my fucking ass off.”

Snake-like, Benato reaches out to grab Brianna, but she manages to get out of the way. In his other hand, a knife has appeared. There is a distinct “click” from Shawn’s gun. Brianna just sneers at Benato. “Don’t make me laugh.” She walks away to stand next to Shawn.

As they’re waiting for the rest of the cops to arrive, Brianna notices Leroy down one of the side alleys. He’s clutching the horn to his chest and running for all that he’s worth. She silently curses to herself, but refuses to leave Shawn’s side. Eventually, a few squad cars pull up. The officers talk to Shawn, then collect all of the gangsters.

The entire time, Benato is watching Brianna with a burning glint in his eye. Right before he is put into a car, he tells her quietly “I don’t see no badge on you. That means you’re fair game.”

Brianna’s stance is aggressive. “You try it and it’ll fucking be the last thing that you ever do,” she hisses back. “Yeah, I don’t have a badge. That means I don’t have to play by the rules, asshole.”

The cop cars finally pull away, leaving just Brianna and Shawn behind. He turns to her, “Well, that went well.” His voice is dry.

“Yeah. I think I just threatened to kill Benato.” She shakes her head, “Anyway, Leroy ran off. We have to track him down. He’s the whole reason behind this mess in the first place. Could someone just go pick him up?” she asks Shawn, “He’s a witness. That’s something that the cops would do, right?”

“There may be trouble if he doesn’t want to give up the horn,” Shawn comments, but calls for a squad car to go pick Leroy up. As they start walking back to a better neighborhood, Brianna tries to figure out the best way to get the horn to White Council “lock-up.”

Shawn’s phone rings. He has a brief conversation with the person on the other end of the line. “Yeah, I’m on my way. Keep him on it.” He hangs up and turns to Brianna. “So, they swung by Leroy’s house to pick him up, but he wasn’t there. One of the neighbors thought they saw him heading to the cemetery near the funeral home.”

Brianna recoils slightly. “Oh, no. That’s a really bad, bad thing if he begins playing that horn in a cemetery. We need to get there now.” She flags down a taxi.

They are soon dropped off at the cemetery and enter the front gates. Looking around, Shawn and Brianna catch sight of Leroy striding purposefully across the grounds. He’s clearly focused on something.

“He’s going for his girlfriend,” Brianna exclaims suddenly. A quick glance around doesn’t reveal any security cameras, so she takes off in a burst of supernatural speed. The vampire catches up to Leroy just as he stops in front of a particular plot. The tombstone reads, “Marti Smeeton.”

Leroy raises the trumped to his lips. “This next number’s for Marti,” he murmurs quietly to himself.

Brianna reaches out to grab the trumpet, but Leroy manages to dodge her. He begins to play. The first note is so incredibly sad and filled with emotion. There’s a low rumble. A wing cracks and falls off of a nearby angel statue and another slate tombstone starts to crumble. The earth at Marti Smeeton’s grave begins rippling.

The vampire punches Leroy in the gut, aiming to knock the breath out of him. He gasps for air, clutching his stomach with one hand. “Leave me alone,” he moans.

“The dead are meant to stay dead, Leroy.”

“She wasn’t meant to die.”

“Everyone is meant to die at some point. Sometimes it really sucks ass when it happens, but it’s all meant to be. None of us live forever.” Brianna’s voice is intense, “You’re causing the dead grief, man. You’ve got to stop.” She reaches out again and grabs onto the horn.

Shawn arrives at the scene. He begins speaking to Leroy in a soothing voice. “You got to put it down, Leroy. Deep down, you know this isn’t right.”

The man looks at Shawn, then looks at Brianna, then something seems to break inside him. He lets go of the horn, falling to his knees. The rumbling stops.

Brianna finds herself holding the instrument in her hands. A very compelling voice deep in her subconscious begins telling her to play the horn. Gritting her teeth against the mental pain, Brianna refuses to comply. Her eyes flash silver as she struggles against the magic.

Leroy is still is on the ground, despondent. “Somebody just put a bullet in me.”

“Come on, let’s get out of here,” Shawn says to Brianna.

“I don’t like this horn.” Brianna’s voice is tight.

Shawn looks at her oddly. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” She feels twitchy. “It just really wants to be played. I don’t think a lot of people should touch this.”

“Let’s get out of here and make the call.”

“Good plan. I think I can still put it down.”

Shawn turns to the musician. “Leroy, you’re going to have to get yourself together. This horn ain’t going to help at all. It’s only going to cause her pain. I know you don’t want that. Here’s my card if you need anything.” Leroy doesn’t reply, but numbly takes it.

They leave Leroy behind at the grave site and head for Shawn’s truck. Brianna conceals the horn under her jacket. For something that looks like its made of metal, the horn isn’t as cool to the touch as one would expect. As Shawn pulls away, he calls Ezekiel. “We have a delivery to make.”

As they drive out to Ezekiel’s farmhouse, Brianna continues to resist the horn’s voice. It’s not nearly as overwhelming as before, but it clearly doesn’t want her to put it down.

When they arrive, Ezekiel gingerly reaches out for the instrument. “It likes to talk to people,” Brianna warns.

Once in his hands, a surprised look comes over his face. “Oh yes. This needs to go away.” Brianna agrees emphatically, glad that she doesn’t have to touch it anymore.

Shawn and Brianna head back to his home.

In the morning, Leroy is picked up for questioning as a witness. Brianna is given leave to return to Portland. However, she will also likely be subpoenaed to be a witness regarding the murder of Peter Manusco, the kidnapping of Leroy Turner, and the attempted murder of Joey Larson. The Police Department highly suggests that Brianna allows them to put her into protective custody. She manages to (somewhat) politely decline.

Brianna privately asks Shawn if she can just give some sort of written statement. He shakes his head. She’ll have to go into the courtroom.

“I can’t go into a courtroom, Shawn.”

“That’s the way it works.”

“He’s going to have good lawyers. They’ll be looking at me.”

“Which is why you have to go into a courtroom.”

“They’re going to be looking at me, Shawn!” she replies, her voice heated. “While a lot of my life may look good on paper when it comes to paying taxes and the like, I don’t know if it’ll hold up when a crime boss’s lawyers are looking at it.”

She takes a deep breath, trying to calm down. “I guess I’ve got time to get my story together.” The wheels in her mind begin turning as she figures out her next steps.

View
Side Job: Ransom
Karkana Chronicles: Twenty-Nine

January 20, 2014 (Monday)

Brianna and Joey are at their apartment. It’s the late afternoon when there’s a sudden knock on their front door. Brianna looks at the peephole to see a dapper looking gentleman in a suit on her doorstep. He evens carries a cane. She doesn’t recognize him at all.

“Okay, Joey. I don’t know who this joker is, so head’s up.” She opens the door slowly.

The man cocks his head. “Good afternoon. Are you Brianna Karkana?”

“I might be.”

“Yes.” He drawls slightly. “Well, I have a business proposition for you, if you are. Would you be so kind as to invite me in?”

“And you are?”

“Mr. Bradbury.”

Brianna doesn’t recognize his name, either. A quick glance at the man tells her nothing but that he is very confident. “Is this something that we can just discuss right here?”

“I would prefer not to discuss my business out on a stoop.” He sniffs.

“I would prefer not to invite people I don’t know into my home,” she counters.

“Well, that is very disappointing. Not for me, truly, but for Ms. Patel and Mr. Clive.” He turns to leave.

Brianna quickly calls out to him, “Mr. Bradbury.” He pauses, turning back to her. “Come inside my home.”

“Very good then.”

She holds out one of the amulets needed to pass through the wards on her apartment. The man nods at her, then take the amulet and enters. As he passes by, Brianna feels an indomitable presence, a supernatural weight, to him. Mr. Bradbury looks around the shabby apartment and Brianna offers him a chair.

“Thank you.” The man pulls out a handkerchief and brushes it off before sitting down.

Joey, who was kicking back on the couch, is watching the situation with a what the fuck is this? expression. Brianna resists an eye roll, then offers her ‘guest’ a drink.

“That would be wonderful, do you have any tea?”

She looks him up and down, then says “No.” She offers an expensive whiskey instead.

“Well, it’s a little early in the day, but why not?” He has a slight accent, American, but cultured.

Brianna pours a glass for all three of them, then sits down on the couch next to Joey.

“Well, this has been extremely pleasant, but I suppose we should get down to as they say ‘brass tacks.’ I have a proposition for you. It’s quite simple actually. I have something that you want and I can return it to you in exchange for you bringing me something that I want.”

“How does this tie into Ms. Patel and Mr. Clive?”

“Oh, as I said, it’s quite simple. I have something that you want: Ms. Patel and Mr. Clive.”

Brianna very carefully sets her glass down.

“Now, I have it on very good authority that you owe Ms. Patel a favor.”

“And who told you that?”

“Oh, I have it from Ms. Patel’s lips herself. She made a very interesting proposition to me. In return for their freedom, she would trade that favor to me. So my proposition is to use that favor to have you perform a service for me. In return, Ms. Patel and Mr. Clive are released unharmed and said favor is spent.”

Brianna’s expression isn’t particularly friendly. “So, if I get whatever you’re wanting and give it back to you, you’re going to release Ms. Patel and Mr. Clive unharmed?”

“That’s correct.”

“And let them go?”

“That’s correct.”

“And you’re swearing this on your Power, are you?”

“I will once I’m sure we have a deal. I can assure you my oath is binding.”

“No one has ever accused me of being a deal-breaker.” Her voice is crisp. “I honor my promises.”

“Well, good!” Mr. Bradbury folds his hands over his lap.

“What is it you need me to do?”

“What I wish you to do is return with me to the NeverNever and go into the domain of a rival. There, in that domain, is a shield embossed with the symbol of Chaos: eight intersecting arrows pointing in all directions.”

“And that’s it? Just pick up a shield and walk out?”

“Well, obviously the owner of the shield is not going to be giving it up easily.”

“Who’s the owner of the shield?”

He smiles. “Her name is Quillathrix.”

“Any pertinent information that I should know about Quillathrix? Is she fae … ?” Brianna trails off.

“Not pertinent.”

“Not pertinent.” Brianna repeats, “Okay, am I going to have to go up against magic or is this going to be a physical situation?”

“You’re going to be in the NeverNever,” Mr. Bradbury comments dryly.

“I’ve never been to the NeverNever,” she rejoins, “although that may come as a surprise to you. I also don’t necessarily do well against magical things, I tend to just beat the shit out of people.”

“That’s what I’m counting on.”

Brianna makes a slightly frustrated noise. “And how am I supposed to get to and from the NeverNever?”

“I will take you there and I will give you the means to return to me.”

“How big is this shield?”

“Approximately two and half to three feet in diameter.”

“What can you tell me about her demesne? It’s not underwater is it?”

He smiles. “No. At least not last time I was there.”

“Do I need to bring anything in particular?” she presses. “From what I’ve heard about the NeverNever, sometimes you’re in Summer lands, but sometimes you’re close to Winter.”

“This is very much out of the domain of Winter, thank you.” Mr. Bradbury seems offended at the very thought.

“So, we’re in the Summer lands, then?”

“There are more realms than those of the Fae in the NeverNever.” His voice rises in agitation. Brianna’s notices that his eyes briefly flash red-gold.

“How much time do I have to prepare?”

“Prepare?”

“I’m getting precious little information about what I may encounter along the way. I may need to bring something like, I don’t know, a gun.”

Mr. Bradbury chuckles. “Yes, you may bring a gun.”

Brianna narrows her eyes. “I’m glad you find my personal safety such an amusing topic. If you want me to do this successfully, then information is valuable. Unless this is just some sort of exercise in futility you’re sending me on.”

“No, I very much want to have that shield. However, I can tell you that the idea of you approaching Quillathrix with a gun is a little ludicrous.”

“Well, if I do this right, I won’t be approaching her at all.”

“Very smart,” he nods.

“But is she really the only thing protecting this shield?”

“No, I can only assume that she has other guardians.” There’s a pause. “How long do you need to prepare?”

“Twenty four hours.”

“I can spare that.”

“Good. In twenty four hours, I will get your damn shield and you will let Nerise and Clive go. You will swear to this on your Power.”

“I swear to you on my Power.” Brianna feels a slight rumble beneath her feet at his words. Mr. Bradbury says he will return in twenty-four hours. Brianna sees him out, reclaims her amulet and shuts the door behind him.

Brianna turns to Joey. “What the hell was that? Did you get any vibes off him?”

“What am I? An antenna?”

“Oh, for god’s sake.” She rolls her eyes. “When he was throwing that hissy fit, his eyes flashed a different color. Something’s odd about that man.” Brianna wants to do research, especially of a supernatural nature, but she still is leery of being noticed while asking a lot of questions in that community. Joey agrees to ask around on her behalf, while Brianna goes to Powell’s to do research on the NeverNever.

Since the topic is so broad (and she has such little true information), she decides to focus on the nature of demesnes. The owner of a demesne has immense control of the physical aspects of it. In essence, it is their own little reality. Would she detect Brianna’s presence the moment she sets foot in the demesne? Only if she also has an intelligent Loci, or spirit, that controls the area. Theories vary on what would happen if the owner of a demesne dies or is killed.

Brianna attempts to research the chaos symbol and any known shields bearing that mark, but comes up with nothing.

She leaves Powell’s and begins gathering things for her trip into the NeverNever, from bottled water and small amounts of food, to holy water and cold iron. She decides not to bring a gun (especially based on Mr. Bradbury’s reaction), but more practical items such as binoculars, a first aid kit, a flashlight, and extra batteries.

Brianna calls Shawn on his cell phone. “Without getting into a lot of detail over a cell phone, I’m getting involved in a job that’s going to send me into the NeverNever.”

“Do you need some backup?”

“Unfortunately, this is a one-person ticket to and from.”

“I don’t like that.”

“No, it’s not my favorite situation, but it’s to get a couple of friends of mine out of a tight spot.”

“These friends of yours better be worth it.”

“Yeah, I think so. I also owe one of them a favor.”

“Be safe.”

“I’ll call you when I get back.”

They say their goodbyes and they hang up.

Brianna calls Sydney next to let her know that a job is sending her into the NeverNever. “I’ve been, so this may be interesting.” Brianna pauses, “So, if something happens and I have trouble getting back, is there a way that you can find me? I don’t know how this works.”

“Do you know where you’re going?”

“I know who lives there.”

“Well, any information you have will be helpful, but the NeverNever is as vast as the imagination.” Brianna makes a unhappy noise. She asks if she can stop by, so that they can talk more freely. Sydney agrees.

While at Sydney’s apartment, Brianna asks her if she’s heard of Quillathrix. The young woman hasn’t. Brianna also more details about how she might be located in the NeverNever if something goes wrong. Sydney says that if she wants to leave something personal behind, then it might help. The more personal the better. Otherwise it would be like trying to find the proverbial needle in the proverbial haystack.

Brianna is clearly displeased at the idea, but says “I’d rather be found, Sydney. And I trust you.” She pauses, “How about hair?”

“That would work very well.”

Brianna yanks out a few strands of blonde hair and hands them to Sydney. “I’ll let you know when I get back into town, and then you can just burn that. You can keep in touch with Joey, too.”

They say their goodbyes and Brianna heads back to the apartment. Joey is waiting for her, pacing.

“Hey, what’s up? I found out a little, not much.”

His expression is grim. “I found out a little, not much, but what I found out, I don’t like”

Brianna sighs. “You go first.”

“I didn’t find out anything about this Mr. Bradbury. Nobody had heard of him. But, I did come across somebody who had heard of Quillathrix. According to them,” he pauses briefly, shaking his head, “Hell, as much as I’ve seen it may even be true, Quillatrix is a dragon.”

“A dragon?” Brianna repeats, incredulously.

“That’s what they said.”

Brianna knows a little about dragons. They’re extremely rare and powerful supernatural beasts with alien and inscrutable motives. While they are ancient and immortal, they are not unslayable. “Well, that’s just swell,” she mutters. “I don’t even know what to do with that piece of information, except try not to run into her at all.” She paces a bit herself while sharing what she learned with Joey. “I left some of my hair with Sydney,” she adds, “If I don’t come back, I wanted to have a way from you to track me down.”

January 21, 2014 (Tuesday)

Brianna gets the rest of her duffle bag packed, then heads to Powell’s for one last chance to research dragons. She doesn’t learn anything new, however. Dragons are rare and haven’t been seen for a very long time. Dissatisfied, she heads back to the apartment to hang out with Joey while she waits.

Later that afternoon, a knock sounds on her front door. Slinging her duffle over her shoulder, she opens the door. It’s Mr. Bradbury, looking as dapper as ever.

“Ah, Ms. Karakana,” he says, “Or, may I call you Brianna?”

“Do you have a first name as well?”

“Mister.”

She pauses, trying to decide if he’s bullshitting her, then says “Brianna will be fine.”

“Very good. May I come in?”

Brianna hands him the amulet to get past her wards and Mr. Bradbury enters. Once again, she feels that supernatural pressure as he moves past her. She reclaims the amulet immediately.

“So, have you made your preparations?”

Watching his expression carefully, she replies, “As much as I can, I really don’t know if anything I have is going to do much good against a dragon.”

He cocks his head and smiles a little bit. “Well, I’m hoping that you will work something out.”

“I guess we’ll see. I have every expectation of succeeding.”

“I can tell you that Ms. Patel has every confidence in your abilities. Well, if you are ready, then so am I. Shall we?”

“Yes.”

He walks to her front door and opens it. Brianna feels almost a shifting in the air. When the door swings open, Brianna doesn’t see a view of Portland. Instead she sees the interior of a ski chalet. The faint smell of wood smoke wafts past her nose. “After you.”

Brianna nods at Joey, who is goggling at the view. “Sydney may be in touch. Catch you on the other side.” She steps on through.

She truly appears to be in a very posh ski chalet. A window takes up one entire side of the room, framing a spectacular view of a mountain. Snow drifts down from the sky. Plush carpet lines the floor and huge wooden rafters span the ceiling. A fireplace burns merrily in front of a large circular couch.

On the couch sits Nerise Patel and Clive. Their faces reveal little, but Brianna doesn’t spot any obvious signs of a fight or mistreatment.

Mr. Bradbury comes in behind Brianna and shuts the door. He hands her back her apartment key and gestures to the couch. “Please, come. Sit.” He turns to a nearby wet bar. “May I pour you a libation?”

She agrees, asking for a whiskey, neat. Taking the drink, Brianna chooses to sit on the other side of Nerise, flanking her with Clive.

Mr. Bradbury sits opposite of Brianna. “So, I will let you finish your drink and then, you will be on your way.”

“Is this your demesnes or hers?”

“This is mine.” Brianna can sense an underlying possession behind his words. “I can give you this bit of advice. When you leave my domain, you will travel through the forest perilous. Don’t stray from the path.”

“Alright. Any advise you might have about where she would hide the shield? Anything applicable as to how I would get back?”

“Oh, you not straying from the path is very applicable to you getting back.”

Brianna poorly stifles a sigh.

“But, no, I do not know where in her domain the shield resides.”

“And you have a way to get me back here?”

Mr. Bradbury reaches into his vest pocket and flips something at the White Court Vampire. She catches it. It looks like a communion wafer, but embossed upon its surface is a single arrow. “Break that and you will return here.”

Brianna turns the wafer over in her hand several times, then tucks it away. “Do you think she’s going to be inclined to disguise the shield as something else? I can’t see through magic. I’m not a wizard.”

“I don’t pretend to know her mind.”

Frustrated, Brianna is done with this conversation. She turns instead and looks at Nerise. “Are you alright?”

“We are well,” Nerise replies calmly. “We are both ready to return home, but our host has been hospitable.”

“As hospitable as be held hostage can be,” Brianna mutters.

Mr. Bradbury interjects, his voice stiff. “Madame, you insult me. I am no kidnapper. I merely dealt with trespassers in a hospitable manner. I would have an apology.” His eyes flash red gold briefly and the flames of the fire flare up. The temperature raises noticeably.

“If trespassing is the reason why we are in this position, then I apologize.” Her voice is quite sincere.

Brianna senses a cooling of the room, both literally and figuratively. “I accept your apology,” Mr. Bradbury nods.

Brianna tips back the rest of her whiskey, grabs her dufflebag, then rises. “I’m ready to begin this journey.” Mr. Bradbury stands as well and leads her to the door. When he opens it, this time Brianna sees a path cutting through an old growth forest. She shoulders her pack and steps out onto the path. After a couple of steps, she hears the sound of a door closing behind her. She turns. There is no sign of Mr. Bradbury’s domain, just the surrounding trees and a path continuing on behind.

She moves quietly along the path. The sky is dark with the occasional flash of lightning, and the air around her feels electric. Brianna pulls out her cell phone, just to check. There’s no signal. The smell of earth, leaves, and the occasional whiff of ozone fills her nose.

Without any warning, Brianna suddenly finds herself enveloped in a sticky web that is trying to pull her off the path. She digs in her heels and uses her supernatural strength to pull away. Emerging out of the woods is an enormous pony-sized spider. Its hideous, human-like mouth speaks something in a language she doesn’t understand.

It’s quick, but Brianna is quicker. She moves into the spider’s path and attacks. Her punch doesn’t land, but the spider successfully bites her in return. Brianna can feel a burning coursing along her veins from its poison. Angry, she lashes out at the spider, feeding on the rage she invokes. The creature is frenzied, but still manages to bite her in return. Brianna hits and feeds again. The spider is clearly doing poorly and can’t seem to make contact. Brianna hauls back and punches one last time. She feeds deeply and heals her injuries with its death.

Brianna spins slowly around, looking for more threats. She spies eyes watching her from the trees. She stares back and points at the dead spider. “I’m not prey.” Her voice is icy. The eyes slowly withdraw.

The White Court vampire continues down the path, wary of other dangers. Eventually, Brianna finds herself at a large stone bridge spanning a river of brown sludge. Standing in front of the bridge is a strange figure. It stands about 13 feet tall, with rubbery muscles, warty skin, and a misshapen head. It stares at her with tiny, beady eyes. Brianna recognizes it as a bridge troll.

Brianna slowly retrieves a few iron nails and sticks them in her pocket. Then she strides purposefully towards the bridge and the troll.

He looks down at her and in a rumbly voice says, “Halt.”

Brianna stares up at him. “Yes?”

“This my bridge.”

“I’m sure it’s a very lovely bridge.”

“You won’t find out unless you pay toll.”

“What’s the toll to cross your bridge?”

The troll smiles broadly, showing crooked teeth. “What you got?”

She pulls open her duffle. “Well, I don’t know what kind of things you like. I’ve got some interesting food in here. When was the last time you ate?”

“Do you have a naughty child?”

“Mmm. No. I’m afraid not. I have a power bar.” She holds it up.

“Power bar?” It leans down and sniffs the proffered item. “Puny.”

“I’ve got a flashlight.” She pulls it out and turns it on. “Look at this. Makes light where ever you want. I bet you’d be the only one around that has one.”

“Bah. Puny.”

“Well, I wasn’t wanting to give this up quite so early, but I do have holy water.”

“Holy water.” It pauses. “How does water have holes?”

“Magic water,” Brianna clarifies. “It works very well against those who don’t like things of a spiritual nature. I’ve used it to kill ghouls. They didn’t like it much.”

“Oh. The water of the White God.”

“Yep. The water of the White God. In a jar.” She lightly shakes the container. “This is some pretty powerful stuff.”

The troll looks interested. “I will take your White God water.”

“In exchange for crossing this bridge … unharmed?”

“You will have safe passage across my bridge in exchange for the White God water,” it agrees. “Do we have an accord?”

“We have an accord.” She places the holy water in his outstretched hand.

Brianna crosses the bridge and continues down the path, leaving the troll far behind. Eventually she comes to an enormous wall made of thorns and vines. It stretches 15 feet high and blocks her path. The only option seems to be up.

Although she gets pierced a few time by thorns, Brianna manages to climb over without too much difficulty. She drops down on the other side. Looking around, she notices that she is no longer in a forest. The land is spring-like, lush and green. The skies are bright blue (although there is still no visible sun), and birds flitter from tree to tree. The path continues, leading towards a hill in the distance. At the top is a castle, seemingly a replica of the one at Disneyland.

Brianna is already tired of being in the Never Never. She trudges up the path, muttering to herself. As she gets closer to the castle, she sees that the path eventually leads to a gatehouse. It appears to be the only way inside the walls. Standing before the double doors are two figures that look like human-sized toy soldiers. At her approach, their heads swivel to face her and each draw a saber.

She slows down, trying to take in details of the situation. The soldiers appear to be made of wood, but their sabers definitely look to be real. Brianna tries to edge around the one on the left. The soldier’s saber flashes at her, but Brianna manages to dodge the blade. Brianna backs up. The creature follows, lunging again with its saber.

She punches at it, but misses. The solider reposts, hitting her, but the weapon bounces off her Kevlar. There is a flurry of exchanges, Brianna slamming into it with her fists and the creature cutting at her with its saber. However, the White Court vampire has difficulty getting through its defenses and takes more and more damage.

Finally, Brianna has no choice but to break away and retreat down the hill. The toy soldier doesn’t pursue. Panting and cursing to herself, Brianna slowly makes her way around the outer wall of the castle, looking for another way inside. She can’t see any other choice but climbing the wall.

She positions herself underneath a large window. Fishing around in her dufflebag, Brianna pulls out a length of rope and a small grapple. After two failed attempts, she finally hooks the grapple on the wall and tugs it tight. With a bit of a running start, Brianna barely manages to get up to the narrow ledge outside the window.

Looking through the glass, Brianna doesn’t see anyone inside the room. The window is locked, but she uses her supernatural strength to break it open. She carefully slides inside and pulls the rope up her behind her.

The room is completely empty. An arched doorway leads out. She tries to quietly move to the doorway. There are rooms to both her right and left and a door straight ahead. Brianna moves into the room on her right.

A saber suddenly sweeps at her head. Brianna’s armor manages to deflect some of the blow, but she grunts at the impact. It’s another of the human-sized toy soldiers. She seizes it by the head and uses her supernatural strength to snap its head from its body.The soldier drops to the ground, motionless. The room is empty, save for a door at the end. Brianna angrily stores the saber in her duffle. She is tired of this castle already.

She listens behind the door the toy soldier was guarding. She hears nothing, so opens it. Sunlight floods into the room as she overlooks the second level courtyard. Brianna hears the marching of wooden feet from somewhere in the courtyard. She shuts the door again, but is unable to bar it before it swings open revealing two wooden soliders, one behind the other.

Brianna reaches out and pulls the first solider’s head from its body with a splintering of wood. Its companion moves up and hits her with its blade. Furious, she beheads it as well. Dragging both bodies into the room, Brianna takes a moment to listen for anyone else approaching. She hears nothing, so she shuts the door.

She moves to the other door. Hearing nothing behind it, she looks out. It opens up into the same courtyard.

Brianna goes to the room on the left. Inside is a spiral staircase heading up and yet another connected room Based on what she could see of the castle outside, Brianna guesses there are likely four floors above her still. She decides to go up. She passes the third floor, stopping when the stairs end on a landing on the fourth floor. A long empty room stretches out to her right with several doors branching off of it. At the far end, a soldier stands motionless.

She uses her supernatural speed to rush at the soldier, beheading it before it has time to react. Brianna quietly opens door after door. The rooms are empty. Brianna shakes her head, puzzled. It’s as if no one lives here.

Brianna goes back down the stairs to the third floor. The landing opens into an empty room with an arched doorway along one wall. The doorway leads into a familiar-looking gallery-like room. At the end, a soldier stands.

Guessing that the third floor will be much like the fourth floor, Brianna goes back downstairs to the courtyard. She finds two doors, side-by-side, that lead into the central part of the castle. She opens the left-hand door. There is an arched doorway in the back corner. Sighing quietly to herself, Brianna continues to explore.

She goes through a series of doorways and empty rooms, moving deeper and deeper into the castle. Eventually, she comes upon a very long corridor. She hears the sounds of marching feet approaching, so closes the door and hides behind it.

The door slams open and a toy solider steps inside. She reaches out and rips its head from its body. Its companion manages to hit her with its saber, but Brianna makes quick work of as it as well.

Brianna resumes searching the castle. She finds a larger set of stairs heading up. She takes the stairs up to the sixth floor, where they open onto an arched doorway leading to the north. She tries to move quietly through the doorway, but isn’t particularly successful.

Brianna finds herself on a mezzanine overlooking what appears to be a throne room on the floor below. The throne itself is large, wooden, and ornately carved. The floor surrounding the throne is a large cache of gold and jewels. She can see other objects such as weapons, toys, and even mundane household items. Sitting on the throne is a little girl wearing a pair of red footed pajamas with a kitten embroidered on the breast. She has long, red curls and orange cat-like eyes.

The little girl looks up and in a lilting voice asks, “Won’t you come down and play with me?”

“I don’t really know a lot of games,” Brianna replies, not moving.

“You know how to break my toys.”

“I suppose I do.”

“Would you like me to come down?”

“It makes it hard to play if you’re up there.”

Brianna heads downstairs to the fifth floor, carefully approaching the girl’s throne. Being this close to the horde, the randomness of it all is even more apparent. Priceless artifacts are mixed in with worthless junk. Even in the midst of it all, Brianna manages to catch sight of the rim of a shield, arrows embossed upon its shiny surface.

As Brianna approaches, the girl settles herself more comfortably into her throne. The White Court vampire can tell that even as a glamour is covering her true form, the childlike behavior is also an affectation.

“Who are you?” the girl asks.

“My name is Brianna.”

“Why did you break my toys?”

“They were coming after me with very sharp pointy things.”

“But you were coming into my house.”

“It’s a very empty house,” Brianna comments.

“But it’s mine.” Her words are suddenly full of a powerful sense of possession. “So why are you here? Did you come to play with me?”

“What sort of games to you like to play?” Brianna asks, slowly.

“Hide and seek. Chase.”

“Somehow, that doesn’t surprise me.” Brianna’s voice is darkly amused. “I didn’t think it was going to be skipping rope, no matter what your glamour is.”

“Did you come to play with me?” The girl’s eyes are intense and very disconcerting.

“We might be able to play a game. It depends on the stakes, I suppose.”

“Why did you come, if not to play a game?”

“What game should we play then?”

The little girl pauses, thinking. “We shall play Truth or Dare.”

Brianna blinks and the girl smiles, cat-like. “How does one win this game?” Brianna asks.

“If you answer truth, but get caught in a lie, you lose.” Her voice is eerily intense.

“So, we’re just playing until one of use loses?”

“Isn’t that what games are?”

“How does one get caught out in a lie, exactly? We don’t particularly know each other.”

“How does anyone get caught in a lie?” the girl replies. “When the truth is obvious, lie.” She pauses. “Will you take truth or will you take dare?”

Brianna thinks about her options, but clearly too long, because the girl pronounces, “Then you take truth. Why are you here?”

“To repay a favor,” Brianna replies, calmly.

The girl makes a slightly displeased sound, but says “Very well. I’ll take truth.”

Brianna can’t help but ask, “Do you really live here by yourself?”

“Yes.”

“It seems awfully lonely.”

“Truth or dare?”

“Let’s try dare, I suppose.”

Her child’s face brightens. “Good. I dare you to break my new toy.” Brianna suddenly hears a rumbling behind her. She spins to see a seven-foot tall toy soldier approaching.

“Well, that wasn’t very nice,” Brianna remarks to the girl, but she moves to engage the creature. The White Court Vampire grapples one of the soldier’s legs, but isn’t able to break it. The enormous toy soldier swings an arm at her, but misses as Brianna jumps back.

The two exchange swings for a while, but neither manages to connect. Finally, the soldier manages to swipe at her with one fist. Her armor takes most of the blow, but it still hurts. Brianna manages to grapple it again, but still cannot break its wooden leg.

Suddenly, the girl speaks up. “This is boring.” Brianna finds herself sprawled on the floor as the soldier disappears. “You tried, I guess you did the dare.” She stares at Brianna. “I’ll take the dare.” She taps her foot against the throne, waiting.

“I dare you to show me your true form.”

The girl pouts. “If you didn’t want to play, just say so.”

“That was a no? I won?”

“Well, if I took your dare, you would die and the game would be over. Or I don’t take the dare and I lose and the game is over. So, I suppose I lose.” She looks very cross.

“Well, alright then,” Brianna says, slowly. “Then do I get a boon or a prize or something for winning.”

The girl looks at her slyly. “Is that what you came for? A boon?”

“Or a prize, or something. You’ve got a lot of stuff laying around here.”

“It’s mine,” she says, her voice caressing the words.

Brianna looks at her squarely, “Did I just win, or what? I wouldn’t think you’d go back on your word.”

“I never said I would give you a prize. I’m not going back on my word!”

“So, you don’t have rewards for people who win your games? Huh. That’s just not how they play them back where I come from.”

The girl looks sideways at her again. “What is it you want?”

Brianna points at the shield. “That.”

“My shield? I like my shield. I like all of my things.”

“That, I can understand. I am well known to guard what is mine.”

The little girl suddenly narrows her eyes, suspicious. “Did somebody named Bradbury send you?”

“What an odd question,” Brianna replies, “That’s so very specific.”

“He did! That weasel!” The girl thinks for a moment, then says “I will give you the shield, if I have your oath to give Bradbury something further.”

“I have to be careful of that. Are you wanting me to to take him something that will be dangerous?”

The girl only repeats her words, adding “and you must place it in his hand.”

Brianna looks squarely at her. “The lives of two of my friends hangs in the balance. I can’t do anything that will jeopardize their safety.”

She sticks out her bottom lip and her orange eyes start to smolder. Suddenly, it’s very easy to see the dragon behind the facade. “Then I will take your dare,” she hisses.

Brianna explodes into action as the dragon begins to take form. Even though it’s not even fully formed, Brianna can feel pain as the very foundations of her mind begin to shake. She dives for the shield. As soon as her fingers close around its edge, Brianna reaches into her pocket and breaks the wafer.

In the blink of an eye, Brianna is lying on the floor of the ski chalet, her hands clutching the shield. Her mind still echoes with the lingering nightmare of even the barest glimpse of a true dragon.

Nerise and Clive stare at her, but Mr. Bradbury looks nonplussed. “Ah, Ms. Karkana. How nice of you to join us.”

Brianna is still a bit wild-eyed, but rises. “Here’s your shield.”

He smiles and takes it. “Hmm. Still warm.” He sets the shield down beside him, placing a protective hand over it. “I had a feeling that making that arrangement with Ms. Patel would be lucrative.” He nods, “Very good. As I am a being of my word, the three of you are free to go.”

Brianna looks at Nerise and Clive. “How did you get here originally? Can we leave the same way?”

Mr. Bradbury points, “The door is over there.”

Brianna moves and opens it. She is looking into her apartment again. Joey is laying on the couch. He looks up at her, bleary-eyed. “Is that wood smoke?” he asks?

“I’ll explain later,” she replies, opening the door wide and allowing the other two vampires to leave step through first. Brianna follows close behind and shuts the door. She pauses for a split second, then opens the door again to see the streets of Portland. “Fucking creepy,” she hisses, then slams the door shut once more and locks it. “I need a drink.” She heads for the kitchen to pour herself some whiskey. “Remind me never to try and look at a real dragon,” she comments to the room in general. She offers her guests a drink.

“That would be delightful, thank you.” Nerise replies, her voice as unreadable and polite as ever.

“Well, welcome to our home,” Brianna says, as she gets out what passes for the good glasses. She sets down their drinks. “It feels like there’s a story behind how you came to be where you were.”

Clive only blinks, while Nerise comments, “There’s very little to tell. When the events of New Year’s Eve occurred, Clive and I felt the need to make a expeditious retreat. So, we stepped from Nirvana into the Never Never, apparently into the domain of Mr. Bradbury. As we were trespassers in his domain, we were forced to partake of his hospitality and be his hostages.”

“I see.”

“In an effort to protect our lives, for which I will not apologize, I traded my favor.”

“Oh,” Brianna comments , “No apology necessary. That’s not why I was asking that question. When I told you I would do anything I could to help, I was being serious. It wasn’t just because a favor was involved. Although, I must say I am glad that debt between us is resolved.”

Nerise only smiles, a shadow of the little girl’s smile curling around her lips.

“So, where do you go from here?”

“I regroup. I rebuild. And I get bloody satisfaction.”

“Good.” Brianna’s expression is purely Karanna, her eyes turning a slight sliver.

“Then I can count on you?”

“Yes.”

“Good. I will be in contact.”

Brianna comments that she still has someone at Nirvana willing to feed her information.

“Use them.” Nerise informs Brianna that Clive’s number is secure if she needs to contact them.

“I’m sorry that the events of that night did not go differently.” Brianna shifts slightly. “i don’t like to lose a fight.”

“Neither do I.”

Clive speaks up for the first time that evening. “It is as they say, a lost battle, but the war is not over.”

A grim-faced Brianna raises her glass to Clive, then tosses back the rest of her whiskey.

View
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, that 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, there’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 for a bit.”

“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. Whatever did this was playing with him.”

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.”

Brianna keeps her expression blank. “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. But, like I said, timber wolves don’t normally come down this way … and these sets are big.”

“Was he able to figure out what direction the tracks went?” Brianna asks.

“East, but then he lost the trail.”

Brianna turns to Shawn. “What’s east?”

“Some big natural areas.”

“We should get out to Jimmy Torrence’s place and take a look around.” Shawn nods and the two start taking off their gloves.

Tom enthusiastically claps Shawn on the back. “I’m glad you’re back here, boy. You’re back where you belong!”

Shawn doesn’t respond to the comment, only saying “We’ll go check out it and let you know what we find.”

The two load up in the truck. As they drive along, Brianna asks about Joe Reed. It turns out he’s another one of the Elders. Shawn says he’s a good hunter and tracker.

Torrence’s home is on the very outskirts of town. Brianna comments on the isolated location. It would be much easier to attack someone this far away from the rest of the town and not be noticed. Shawn leads the way around the back of the house. He takes his time gauging the scene of the crime, taking his pen out of his pocket and moving trash around, examining under the trailer, and judging distances between the house and any surrounding cover.

Leaving the investigation to Shawn, Brianna keeps an eye out for people watching them or any other potential threats. When she spots a pickup truck heading their way, she calls out “Hey. There’s someone coming.”

The truck stops and an older man gets out. Shawn comments, “Oh, that’s Dave Bowie.” He pauses, “And yes, he’s heard all of the jokes.” Brianna looks at him blankly. “Like David Bowie,” he explains.

Brianna nods. They wait for him to approach. “Shawn, how goes it?” Bowie asks.

“It goes.”

“Yeah, it always does.”

The two men clasp hands.

“I heard you were back in town so I thought I’d see if I could offer any assistance.”

“Well, it’s appreciated. I’m not sure what you can do, but I appreciate the thought.”

“Always like to help, that’s all. If anything, let me buy you lunch.”

Shawn agrees, “Well, I may take you up on that offer.” He makes introductions, “Dave, this is Brianna. She’s my friend and helping me out.”

Brianna shakes his offered hand.

“Got any ideas?”

Shawn shakes his head. “It’s still early yet. I try not to have any ideas until I have a bit more evidence.”

“Probably smart, probably smart.” Dave says amiably. “Well, I’ll just stand back here and get out of your way.”

As Shawn continues to investigate the scene, Dave turns to her. “So, Brianna was it?”

“Yes.”

“So, you a policeman too?”

“No, I do more contract work.”

“Okay.” When it becomes obvious that Brianna isn’t going to offer any more explanation, the two stand in awkward silence for a bit. Shawn finally finishes up and heads back to them. He sighs and tells Dave that he’s ready for that promised lunch. The man agrees and tells them to follow him to the Tavern.

As soon as they are back in Shawn’s truck, Brianna asks what he found.

“Signs of a struggle. Some traces of blood. Probably came out of the trailer and then was jumped.”

“Well, that shows a bit more intent that you usually find in wild animals, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you aware of any other sentient creatures that are running around here? From the supernatural community?”

“No one that’s been out here traditionally, but we may have some new players.”

Brianna thinks for a moment, then comments, “What I remember you telling me about the Were community is that it’s not that organized. There’s not a big Counsel of Weres or anything.”

“Not that I’m aware of.”

“So, if it was someone encroaching on an area that wasn’t theirs, there isn’t anyone to take grievances to.”

“No, there’s not. I’m afraid this may be a pack that has decided to claim this area as their hunting ground. They may need to be dissuaded of that idea.”

Brianna agrees. “Do you have any idea where they may be staying? Seattle is 30 miles away by car. Unless they’re truly feral and living in the woods, they’ve got to be staying somewhere.”

“That’s the trick, isn’t it?” He pauses, “I might be able to sniff them out.”

“This happened several days ago? I don’t have a idea how your good your sense of smell is.”

“Every day makes the smell that much more faint.”

“Something we need to try tonight, then?” Shawn agrees.

They eventually pull up in front of a place called “Smokey Joe’s Tavern.” Dave leads the way inside and they grab a table. The older man buys them all lunch and a pint of beer.

During the meal, Dave turns to Shawn, “We’re all really glad to see you back in town.”

Shawn replies that he’s happy to help.

“I know you’ve got your own life to live and I respect that. But that doesn’t mean we’re not glad to see you.”

Shawn nods, as if he’s heard this before.

“If you need anything, just let me know. Do you have a place to stay?”

“I’m going to get a room at the lodge.”

“You don’t have to. You can stay at my place if you want to. But it’s your decision, do what you want.”

Brianna is listening to the conversation between the two men, but also scanning the room to see who’s taking note of them.

Shawn replies, “No, we’ll stay at the lodge. That will be fine. I don’t want to put anybody out.”

“That’s fine, that’s fine. So, what do you think our trouble is?”

“Like I said before, it’s a bit early to say. I think our trouble is that somebody killed Jimmy Torrence and I’m going to find out who. Then we’ll go from there.”

“Fair enough, fair enough. Did Tom say when he was going to call King County.”

“Not yet. He’s going to give me a bit of time to look around first. That may cause some trouble for him, but I think Tom can handle it.”

Dave comments that “In the old days, what happened on the Rez, stayed on the Rez. That may be what’s called for here.” Brianna looks over sharply at that.

Shawn replies evenly, “Well, I think that depends on what’s going on, don’t you? If we’ve got a killer on the loose, we’ll want him arrested and dealt with.”

“Sure. If we have a killer on the loose. Now, if we have something else entirely. Well, the County Sheriffs may not be equipped to deal with it, will they?”

“I think we can just cross that bridge when we get to it. Until then, this is a murder investigation.”

“Of course,” Dave is amicable again.

Brianna notices an older woman come into the Tavern. She takes a look around, does a double-take when she notices their table, then starts stalking in their direction. “Shawn.” Brianna’s voice holds a warning.

Shawn looks up. “Oh, shit.”

“Is this Sheila?”

“Yes.”

Brianna pushes back ever so slightly in her chair, giving herself more room to move.

The woman stops right at their table. “Shawn Loomis, what are you doing in town?” Her voice is unfriendly.

“I forgot some old library books that I needed to bring back.”

The older woman narrows her eyes at him. “We don’t need your kind of trouble.”

Dave speaks up, “Don’t you have some place to go, Sheila? We’re just trying to have a nice lunch.”

She snaps, “You be quiet, Dave Bowie.” Looking at Shawn, she continues, “You always bring the kind of trouble we don’t need, Shawn Loomis. Always bringing trouble. You just eat your sandwich and get on out of here.”

Brianna’s expression is openly disdainful as she asks, “And who the fuck are you?”

Shawn speaks calmly, “I’ll leave when the time is right, Sheila, and not before. Trouble seems to follow me, I can’t say that it doesn’t.”

Brianna interjects, “It sounds like you had plenty of trouble going on already otherwise Shawn wouldn’t even be here. Would he?”

“I don’t think I asked you,” Sheila counters angrily.

“No one asks me for my opinions. I give those for free.”

The older woman looks Brianna up and down scornfully. “Is that all you give for free?”

Brianna shifts in her chair, the tension in the air growing thicker.

Dave raises his hands, “Now, now. There’s no need for any of this. Sheila, why don’t you get a beer or something? I’m going to pay this tab and we’re going to leave and do what we need to do.”

“You just don’t cause any trouble here, Shawn Loomis.” The woman turns on her heel and storms to the bar.

“Well, she hasn’t changed a bit,” Shawn remarks.

“I don’t like her either.” Brianna adds.

“Ah. Most people don’t.” Dave pays the bill and they head out of the Tavern. “I meant what I said about my place if you change your mind about staying at the lodge. If you need anything, just holler. My number hasn’t changed in thirty years.” The two men shake hands.

Back in Shawn’s truck, Brianna asks him “So was that woman like that your entire life?”

“Pretty much.”

“Why does she not like you?”

“She thinks I’m a freak.”

“So she knows about you.”

“Yeah. She think’s I’m a blight on the Reservation. That I bring bad spirits.”

“Well, if she does’t think her negativity doesn’t bring ‘bad spirits’ to air around her, then she’s blind.”

“Yeah, well it took me a long time to realize that.”

Brianna sighs, “I understand. Being a kid is a bitch.”

“Yeah.”

“So, who raised you?”

“Dave, and Tom, and Joe. Even her a little bit.”

“Where did you stay?”

“Dave’s, and Tom’s and Joe’s… I moved around a lot. And then later, I stayed with Officer Skyler.”

“He’s the one who encouraged you to join the police?”

“Yes.”

They decide to get set up in the Travel Lodge. Shawn won’t be able to track until nightfall and he wants to talk to Joe Reed before then. Brianna sets out her Kevlar vest for later as well as her jug of holy water.

Joe Reed lives in town. When the older man answers the door, he remarks, “Hmm. Shawn Loomis. Didn’t think we’d see you around here again.” Brianna senses a bit of hostility behind the words.

“Hello Joe,” Shawn replies evenly, “This is my friend, Brianna. Tom called us in to look at this Jimmy Torrence matter. I understand you tracked some canine prints from Jimmy’s trailer. I was hoping you could take us to those tracks. I’m going to see what I can find.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yeah.” Shawn’s voice holds a hint of defiance.

“So, you’re actually going to do something, are you? Take some responsibility for your people?”

“I was asked to help. I’m happy to do so.”

“Well, isn’t that something.” Joe’s hostility is a little more open now.

Brianna interjects. “So that was a yes, you’ll take us out to see the tracks? Or are you just going to keep us in your doorway?”

“Yeah, I’ll take you. Give me a few minutes. Come on in.” Joe gestures for them to wait in his living room while he puts on his coat and boots.

Brianna spots a picture of Joe and a kid that looks a bit like Shawn. “Is that you?” she points to the framed photo. He nods. “Look at you all tiny,” she smiles. Joe grabs a rifle off the nearby gun rack, and says he’s ready to go.

Back at Torrence’s home, Joe points out the tracks he found and points out their unusual size. As Joe leads the way, Brianna keeps an eye out around them, wary of a potential ambush. They walk in silence for a while, then Joe comments, “This kind of reminds me of when you were twelve and we went to Idaho, doesn’t it?”

“I suppose.”

“I only get so angry because you have a responsibility to your people.”

“We’ve been over this.”

“Yes, we have, and you still don’t listen.”

“I listen.” Shawn’s words are clipped short. “I just don’t obey.”

The older man is silent for a time. He finally stops, pointing at the ground. “This is as far as the trail got. I lost them at this ring of trees.”

Brianna speaks up, “How any of them do you think there were?”

“It’s hard to say for certain, but I’d say six or seven.”

“All big prints?”

“One’s bigger than the others. Probably an alpha.”

Shawn takes some stones and makes a small stack where the trail ends. “Let’s head back.” It’s silent on the way back to Joe’s home. They drop him off, then decide to kill a few hours before nightfall. They grab a bit to eat and swing by the Lodge so Brianna can pick up her Kevlar.

“What happened in Idaho?” Brianna asks.

“A hunting trip.”

Shawn’s response is terse. After a long silence, she speaks up again. “I know this wasn’t a good place for you, and I don’t mean to keep bringing up a lot of bad memories. If you want me to stop asking questions, just tell me. It’s just that I’m getting to see a part of you I haven’t seen before.”

“No, just ask me.”

“Okay.” She pauses, “Was this some of bonding hunting trip? He just doesn’t seem to like you very much. Was that before or after you left the reservation?”

“It was because I left.”

“He brought that up several times within the space of two minutes, so I figured it was something still on his mind.” Brianna smiles wryly.

“He thinks that because I am what I am, I have a responsibility to stay here and protect the People. That I’m some kind of savior. When I didn’t stay …. well … that I’ve betrayed the People.”

“What do you think?”

“I think that’s a lot of bullshit to put onto an eighteen year old boy.”

She nods. “That’s my opinion as well, but this isn’t my history.”

“But, then again, that’s kind of the responsibility I’ve taken on for the people of Seattle. So, there you go.” His voice trails off.

They are both quiet for a moment, then Brianna nods solemnly. “Alright, let’s go find what’s killing people.” She gathers up her jacket, a pair of shades, and throws a flashlight in her duffel bag. They make it back to the pile of stones just as the sun is sinking below the horizon.

No one else seems to be around. Shawn starts stripping out of his clothes, placing them in Brianna’s duffel-bag. Then a large grizzly bear is standing in front of her. The bear starts sniffing around the ground, searching for a scent. He turns, then begins loping off into the Three Forks Natural Area. Brianna quickly follows.

It’s heavily forested and visibility is difficult. Brianna tries to keep an eye out for anything lurking. Suddenly, out of nowhere, two large wolves spring out of the darkness and attack the White Court vampire. One misses her completely, the other is unable to get through the Kevlar vest she’s wearing. “What the fuck?” she calls out. Two other wolves pounce at Shawn. He swats at them, but misses.

Brianna’s eyes gleam silver as she uses her supernatural speed to quickly punch one of the wolves before it has a chance to react. She misses, but both of their attacks also miss her. The wolves on Shawn tear into him with their teeth. He bloodies one of their snouts for their trouble.

Next, Brianna manages to punch one of the wolves on her. One of them lands an attack on her as well. Shawn hits a wolf with such force that it breaks its jaw.

Brianna slams her fists into the wolf she is fighting. Neither one hits her. Shawn takes hits from both wolves, but then drops one with his return attack.

The White Court vampire punches the wolf, then feeds. It falls unconscious from the stress and damage. Shawn is visibly hurting from the wolf still on him. He misses.

Snarling, Brianna shifts her attention from the wolf still on her, to the one savaging Shawn. She lands a solid punch. One wolf manages to damage her even through the Kevlar vest. The other misses. Shawn hits the wolf as well.

Brianna punches the wolf one last time, then feeds deeply on its emotion. It falls unconscious to the ground. The other wolf narrowly misses her. Shawn misses as well.

She manages to punch the wolf, dancing nimbly out of the way when it tries to bite her in return. Shawn hits it with a swipe of his paw.

Brianna’s eyes glint as she hits the remaining wolf, again feeding deeply. It drops, taken out. The forest is suddenly quiet, except for their panting breaths. Four naked humans now lay on the ground around them. One of them doesn’t appear to be breathing. Brianna moves over to Shawn to check out his injuries. He looks pretty beat up along with a cracked rib, but he’s still alert.

“What do you want to do?” she asks. “Mine are just unconscious. We could take one back for questioning.”

He nods.

One of the unconscious forms belongs to a young female. Brianna picks her up and they start heading back to the truck. They leave the others on the ground.

When they return, Shawn shifts back into human form and gets dress. He pulls out a set of cuffs from the truck and secures her wrists. He also throws a blanket over her naked form. “We’ll just wait her out.”

“Fine with me,” Brianna replies.

After a while, the woman starts regaining consciousness. She looks around, clearly trying to figure out what’s going on. When seeing the two of them, her expressions sours. “Aww, shit.”

Brianna cocks her head. “It’s really rude to bite first, then answer our questions later.”

The young woman looks accusingly at Shawn. “You probably killed Darryl.”

“I reckon I probably did.”

Brianna raises an eyebrow at the woman. “I don’t think those were love bites you were giving us earlier, so tough shit.”

“Yeah, well you’re going to get worse than that when Darla finds out.”

“And who exactly is Darla?”

Shawn interjects, “Is that your Alpha?”

“She ain’t going to be happy one bit.”

Brianna moves closer until her face is inches away from the woman’s, her expression dangerous. “Why don’t you answer the question before I do something we’ll both regret.”

The woman looks away from Brianna’s cold stare, cowed. “Yeah, she’s the Alpha.” She turns to Shawn. “Is she your Alpha?”

Brianna raises an eyebrow at Shawn, surprised at the comment. He replies dryly, “I’m a bear, I don’t have an Alpha. She’s just pissed off, like I am. Now, why don’t you tell me where this Alpha is and we can hash this out.”

“She’ll find you when she’s ready to talk.”

Brianna reaches out and uses her supernatural strength to pick the woman straight off the ground by the handcuffs. “I don’t think that was an answer to the question that was asked you.” Her eyes glint silver in the moonlight.

The young woman flinches, then begins to talk quickly, “Look! There’s a cave out in Three Forks, about a half mile from the golf course. That’s where we’ve been holding up!” Brianna slowly lowers her to the ground again.

“Exactly how big is your pack?” Brianna asks.

“There’s six of us now, including Darla.”

“He’s going to want to talk to Darla,” the White Court vampire says conversationally, inclining her head at Shawn, “but I’m curious about your impression. Why the fuck are you out here messing with people on the reservation?”

“Darla said it would be easy pickings.”

“Easy pickings for what?”

“Territory.”

“And you just killed that man for the fun of it then?”

“Something like that,” the woman’s voice is faint. Brianna catches something in her tone. The woman is lying, that’s not why they killed him.

Brianna crouches down in front of the woman, leaning in close, then drops her human guise completely. Her eyes glow a metallic silver and her hair dances around her face as if caught in a sudden breeze. “You’re lying. So why don’t you try that again before I decide that I’m hungry and need a midnight snack?” Her voice is as soft as silk.

The woman gulps, recoiling away from the White Court vampire. “D-Darla said to, she said that was the job,” she stutters.

“Explain.”

“I-I don’t know much more than that. Darla said that was the job, to kill that guy.”

Brianna gives her a hard look, “You normally make it your job to kill innocent people?”

“I do what Darla says. “That’s what it means to be Pack.”

Brianna steps back from the young woman and looks at Shawn. “Anything else you want to know from her?”

“No. I think that anything else we need will come from Darla.”

“Sounds like it.”

“Now, what to do with her?” Shawn looks at the naked woman.

“Anyone you trust to sit on her, especially in case she decides to go all wolf?”

“Yeah. You watch her while I make a couple of phone calls.” Shawn moves quite a distance away to avoid eavesdropping.

Brianna leans on the side of the truck, arms crossed, watching the young woman. “What’s your name?”

“Alice.”

“How did you get involved with Darla, Alice? She seems like a real winner.”

“Why do you care?”

“Just passing the time, I guess. Just because she’s in charge, that doesn’t mean you have to do everything she tells you to do. So I’m wondering if she’s got a hold on you … or if you just like killing people. Some people do, I suppose.”

“This is hilarious,” Alice replies sarcastically, “I’m getting a lecture on killing people from a goddamned vampire.”

“Did I kill you? No. Did I kill your two buddies? No. If I thought it was my life or theirs? Then, oh hell, fucking yeah. Maybe it’s a were thing or maybe it’s some wolf thing, but it doesn’t seem to be an excuse for making bad decisions.”

Alice just stares into the distance, silent. Eventually, Shawn comes back. “Did you find a place to put Alice?”

“Not so much a place, but someone to watch her. It’ll take Ezekiel about a half hour to get here.”

Brianna shakes her head, looking at Alice. “I don’t understand this pack mentality thing. I know that my own Court has its politics, but if someone tells me to do something I don’t want to do, I do just the opposite.”

“I can’t say that I hold to it. My kind is kind of solitary.”

“Well, that’s why we get along so damn well, I think.”

The two of them wait about half an hour. Alice remains quiet, wrapped up in the blanket against the cold night air. Eventually, Ezekiel’s truck pulls up. The man gets out and greets them both, then gestures to Alice, “This my new charge?”

Shawn agrees, “Yep.”

Ezekiel turns to the young woman, “What’s your name?”

Brianna interjects warningly, “Be polite.”

“It’s Alice.” She rolls her eyes. “So where are you taking me? Are you a cop?” She nods at Shawn, “This one smells of cop.”

“Well, that all depends on what happens when we get to the bottom of this. For now, you’re going to sit tight. This man here is going to watch you. If you make any unwelcome moves, he’s going to fill you with 120 gigawatts.”

Alice looks confused. “Say, what?”

“He’s going to fill you with 120 gigawatts,” Shawn repeats.

Ezekiel opens his palm and a small bolt of electricity flickers in the darkness. “120 gigawatts.”

Alice narrows her eyes, “Goddamned wizard.”

Ezekiel replies calmly. “More or less.”

Brianna grins, showing a lot of teeth.

Shawn continues, “So, you’re going to play nice, Alice. You play nice with us, we may just play nice with you. We’re going to go find Darla and get to the bottom of this.” Shawn turns to Brianna, “You ready?”

“Yep.”

Ezekiel calls out, “Happy hunting” as they leave. Brianna can see him start to etch a circle around Alice.

The two walk off together, Shawn preferring to shift back to bear form once they’re further away. “So, how do you want to handle this?” Brianna asks.

“I want to take Darla alive. We need to find out who hired her to do this and why.”

Brianna nods, “So, about this pack and Alpha thing. What the hell is up with that?”

“It’s not much different than being part of a clan or powerful family. Do you have to do what the White King says? What the head of your family says? How much pressure would you be under?”

“Well, the last time I met the head of my household, I found ways to get around him.”

“But how unusual are you in that?”

She gives a small chuckle. “Well, some people think I have a death wish.”

“Exactly. It’s the same thing with packs. And for wolves, it’s part of their DNA. They can actually communicate with each other at a pack level. It’s under the skin, this powerful bond being part of a pack, and you don’t want to give that up.”

“Well, then the responsibility falls doubly hard on Darla, doesn’t it?” She pauses, “I guess we need to try to leave as many people alive as possible tonight.”

“Well, we’ll still need to defend ourselves.”

“Oh, I believe in defending myself,” Brianna interjects.

“I got a little carried away,” Shawn shakes his head, “but I was hurting.”

“I sure as hell can’t cast any stones. There’s a reason why I try to feed the way I do. Depending on my hunger, sometimes the Hunger takes more than I intend. I can’t even say that won’t happen tonight. I’m still psychically damaged from New Year’s.”

“Okay, let’s just try not to,” he agrees. When they get deeper into the woods, Shawn strips down and changes into his bear form. Brianna follows, trying to keep her flashlight low to the ground. Eventually, the two find themselves in front of a cave. Shawn stops.

Brianna leans down and whispers in his furry ear. “We can do this one of two ways. We can go in or we can call her out. Can you tell if they’re in there?” They both listen for any sounds of movement. Brianna can’t tell, but Shawn nods his head. “I can try calling her out then.” He nods again.

Brianna straightens and calls out in a loud, ringing voice, “Darla, we want to talk to you. Why don’t you come out?”

A female voice calls back, “Why don’t you come on in here? We’ve got a fire and some beer.”

“I don’t think so. We’re not in a drinking mood.”

Three people walk out of the cave. A young brunette woman, a young African-American man, and a slightly older blonde woman. The older blonde is holding a can of beer. She takes a long look at the Shawn and Brianna. “Well, if I had to guess, I’d guess that is Shawn Loomis. But who the fuck are you?”

“You can call me Brianna. How do you know Shawn?”

“I only know him by reputation.”

“Apparently, you’re getting one as well.”

“I don’t give a damn about my bad reputation,” the woman sings, slightly off-key.

“Cute.” Brianna remarks. “We’re here to find out who’s been hiring you to do jobs on the reservation.”

“Amway.” The woman’s grin stirs sparks of rage deep within Brianna’s chest.

“Look, bitch.” Brianna’s voice is ugly. “We can do this the easy way, or we can do this the hard way. I, personally, like the hard way, but Shawn’s got a softer touch.” She enunciates each words carefully, “Who hired you to do the job at the reservation?”

“Alright,” Darla shrugs, “He actually wanted me to tell you anyway.” She smiles, “The Margrave Diego Aguire de Calderon of Seattle sends his regards.”

Well, fuck, Brianna thinks. “So, working for the Red Court, are you?”

“What can I say? I follow the money.”

“Well, looks like someone’s getting a refund, because you’re leaving the reservation alone.”

“Heh.” Darla barks a laugh. “I already marked my territory, as it were.”

“Well, I don’t give a fuck. Go away and go bother someone else, or it’ going to be the last thing you fucking do.”

The two women stare at each other for a long minute, then Darla sighs, dramatically. “Sarah. Tyrone. Take this bitch down.”

Suddenly, everyone explodes into action. Heedless of the other two weres, Brianna goes straight for Darla. The woman barely dodges Brianna’s fists, then shifts into wolf form. She lunges for Brianna, but misses. The other two wolves attack. One makes contact, but the other misses. Shawn strikes out, but misses.

Brianna lands a good punch on Darla, stunning her. The woman misses with her return attack. The other two wolves also miss Brianna. Shawn makes contact with one of the wolves, breaking its jaw.

The White Court vampire hits Darla again, then feeds on her rage. Darla’s muzzle is bloody and her eyes crazed. She bites Brianna, getting a bit of damage past the Kevlar. One of the other wolves attacks Brianna, but misses. The other goes for Shawn, but can’t make contact. Shawn doesn’t miss.

Taking advantage of Darla’s injuries, Brianna lands another good punch, breaking her jaw. As the White Court vampire feeds, Darla falls unconscious to the ground. The uninjured wolf bites Brianna. Shawn dodges the wolf on him, but misses in turn.

Brianna bloodies the wolf on her. The wolf and its companion turn to flee. Brianna lands a powerful blow on it, feeding on its rage. Shawn also manages to powerfully swipe at the wolf near him. Neither attack drops them, however, and the wolves run off into the darkness.

“Goddamn Red Court motherfuckers!” Brianna curses loudly, staring down at Darla’s unconscious human form. “The Warden warned us what would happen with a power vacuum. Looks like there’s a new Margrave in town.” She slings Darla over her shoulder and they start heading back to the truck.

When they get close, Shawn changes back into human form and puts his clothes back on. They find Alice still in the circle, Ezekiel watching her with his staff at hand. Without taking his eyes of Alice, he calls out, “Did you find what you were looking for?”

Brianna dumps Darla’s body on the ground. “Yes.”

“Ah. You keep finding nude women in the woods.”

“God, it must be my lucky day.” Her voice is acerbic.

Shawn pulls another set of handcuffs from his glove compartment and puts them on Darla. He also throws another blanket on top of her.

“What did you do to her?” Alice asks, hotly.

“Not what I’d like to have done to her, but she’ll be fine, I’m sure.” Brianna rolls her eyes.

Eventually, Darla wakes up. She can’t speak very well due to her broken jaw, but Brianna can still see the rage and pain in her eyes. “What do you want? I told you what you wanted,” she manages.

“I don’t know,” Brianna says “I think this situation is a direct result of you refusing to go away, now isn’t it? You’re not going to be preying on the people of this reservation any more, Darla.”

Shawn gets in her line of sight. “No, you’re going to leave this place. You’re not coming back. If I hear of you or any of your pack coming back here, we’ll be back. And we’ll take care of business. We won’t leave anything unfinished. Do I make myself clear?”

Darla turns and tries to spit, but it just drools down the side of her face. “Yeah, I’m going.”

“I’ll have you swear on your Power.”

She looks at him, wide-eyed.

“Did you think we were just going to take your word on it,” Brianna asks with deceptive lightness.

Darla narrows her eyes. “Fine.” She touches her face in pain.

“Do it.”

“I swear, by my Power, to never set foot on the Snoqualmie Reservation again.” She pauses, “Will that work?”

“That’ll work,” Shawn replies. Brianna just shifts slightly, watching and alert. “Get out,” he growls, then points at Alice. “And take her with you.” Ezekiel reaches out with a foot and scuffs the circle surrounding the younger woman.

The two women, still handcuffed and naked save for the blankets, turn and head off into the night. Brianna watches them go. When she can no longer see them, she turns to the men. “Well, that was definitely interesting. Fucking Red Court business again.”

“Red Court?” Ezekiel asks.

Brianna just curses again. Shawn says, “Yeah. Apparently Darla was hired by a Margrave Diego Aguire de Calderon.”

Ezekiel comments, “Then we have a new player.”

“Have you noticed any unusual activity in the Red Court?” Brianna asks Ezekiel.

“It’s been a little quiet, actually. Maybe somebody’s been putting things in order.”

They all contemplate that for a moment, then Ezekiel says he’s going to get back. They say their goodbyes and he drives off. Brianna leans up against the truck and stares into the night sky. “We probably need to tell Tom what’s going on,” Shawn says.

“What are you going to tell him?”

“Well, Tom has an idea to the truth of things. I’ll let him handle the rest in regards to the Tribe.”

They head back to the Travel Lodge for the night, each a bit sore and bloodied from the fighting. In the morning, they check out and head to the tribal center. Tom seems as glad to see them as ever. They convene in his office and Shawn gives him a fairly accurate accounting of what happened, leaving out Brianna’s particular role in it. “Someone may sweep those woods and find a body. Maybe not if the pack cleans up after itself.”

Tom nods. “We’ll have someone look into it. Don’t want a tourist coming across that. That’s Tribal business. This thing with the Red Court. Is that dangerous for you?”

“No more dangerous than it has been.”

“You protect and serve the people of Seattle, which is noble. We’re very proud of you for that. You’ve come back to protect us here. I’m appreciative, I really am.”

“You’re welcome.” Shawn’s voice is guarded.

“I just wish we’d see you more often.”

“Well, I’m pretty busy.”

“Well, sometimes you’ve got to make time for things, you know?”

“I’ve got to get back home.”

“Yeah. Home. Well, it was good seeing you, Shawn.”

“It was good seeing you, too.”

Shawn turns and leaves, Brianna following close behind him. They don’t say much as they pull out of town, each lost in their own thoughts. Suddenly, Shawn’s cell phone buzzes. He lets it go to voice mail. It rings several more times. “Do you need to get that?” Brianna asks.

“Maybe.”

“Do you want me to see the number?” He nods his head and she fishes his cell out of his pocket. She reads off the caller ID, “It’s from the Seattle P.D. I bet you need to take this.” He agrees and pulls the truck over to the side of the road. “Do you want me out of the car?”

“No,” Shawn says, punching in the number for his voice mail. As he listens, he gets an increasingly concerned look on his face. He immediately dials a number and begins a conversation with whoever’s on the other end. “This is Loomis. Yeah. Update me.” A long pause. “What are you talking about? There’s no way. These guys are good cops.” Brianna can faintly hear a raised voice on the other end of the line, catching only a few words: “botched,” “bloodbath,” “inquiry,” “special crimes.”

“I’ll be there this afternoon.” Shawn’s voice is grim. “Yeah, you can count on it.” He hangs up. Brianna can tell he is confused and angry.

“What’s going on? I could only hear part of that.”

“Apparently, while I was at the Reservation, the Special Crimes unit that I work for was involved in supposedly botched raid that turned into a bloodbath. Several civilians were killed. So, now my unit is on the line. There’s going to be a Special Inquiry. They want me to get my ass to work to look into it. Special Crimes is the unit in the Seattle P.D. that handles the, well, weird stuff. I just figure it’s awfully coincidental that while I’m handing this bullshit …”

“This shit goes down?” Brianna interjects.

“Yeah.”

She suddenly gets a thought. “Shit.” She calls Joey. He answers. “Hey, are you alright?”

“Uh. Yeah. A little hung-over, but okay.”

“Okay. Just be on your guard. There’s apparently a new Margrave in Seattle.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, it’s the same shit we’ve been dealing with. He caused a lot of trouble for Shawn, so watch yourself. I’ll call you when I’m heading back. If see or smell anything weird, call me.” They hang up. She turns to Shawn. “The shit’s not migrated south yet.”

“Well, that’s something.” He shakes his head, “Classic misdirection.”

She nods, “To get you out of town. Is there anything I can do?”

“No. This is internal cop politics.”

“Just be careful.”

“Yeah.”

“So, if this goes badly, could your unit be disbanded?”

“Yes, possibly. Which means that one more line of defense against the weird stuff is gone.”

They drive back to Seattle. Shawn drops Brianna at her car. “I have to go in.”

“I know. Call me when you can.”

She gives Shawn a brief kiss, then climbs into her own vehicle. After calling Joey, Brianna heads back to Portland.

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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.

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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.

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