I stood in the shadows of
a deserted shop front across from The Blood and Brew Pub, trying not
to be obvious as I tugged my black leather pants back up where they
belonged. This is pathetic, I thought, eyeing the
rain-emptied street. I was way too good for this.
and black-art witches was my usual line of work, as it takes a witch
to catch a witch. But the streets were quieter than usual this
week. Everyone who could make it was at the West Coast for our
yearly convention, leaving me with this gem of a run. A simple snag
and drag. It was just the luck of the Turn that had put me here in
the dark and rain.
“Who am I kidding?” I
whispered, pulling the strap of my bag farther up my shoulder. I
hadn’t been sent to tag a witch in a month: unlicensed, white, dark,
or otherwise. Bringing in the Mayor’s son in for wereing outside of
a full moon probably hadn’t been the best idea.
A sleek car turned the
corner, looking black in the buzz of the mercury streetlamp. This
was the third time around the block for it. A grimace tightened my
face as it approached, slowing. “Damn it,” I whispered. “I need a
darker door front.”
“He thinks you’re a
hooker, Rachel,” my backup snickered into my ear. “I told you the
red halter was slutty.”
“Anyone ever tell you
that you smell like a drunk bat, Jenks?” I muttered, my lips barely
moving. Backup was unsettlingly close tonight, having perched
himself on my earring. Big dangling thing—the earring, not the
pixy. I’d found Jenks to be a pretentious snot with a bad attitude
and a temper to match. But he knew what side of the garden his
nectar came from. And apparently pixies were the best they’d let me
take out since the frog incident. I would have sworn fairies were
too big to fit into their mouths.
I eased forward to the
curb as the car squished to a wet-asphalt halt. There was the whine
of an automatic window as the tinted glass dropped. I leaned down,
smiling my prettiest as I flashed my work ID. Mr. One Eyebrow’s
leer vanished and his face went ashen. The car lurched into motion
with a tiny squeak of tires. “Day-tripper,” I said in disdain. No,
I thought in a flash of chastisement. He was a norm, a human. Even
if they were accurate, the terms day-tripper, domestic, squish,
off-the-rack, and my personal favorite, snack, were politically
frowned upon. But if he was picking strays up off the sidewalk in
the Hollows, one might call him dead.
The car never slowed as
it went through a red light, and I turned at the catcalls from the
hookers I had displaced about sunset. They weren’t happy, standing
brazenly on the corner across from me. I gave them a little wave,
and the tallest flipped me off before spinning to show me her tiny,
spell-enhanced rear. The hooker and her distinctly husky-looking
“friend” talked loudly as they tried to hide the cigarette they were
passing between each other. It didn’t smell like your usual
tobacco. Not my problem, tonight, I thought, moving back
into my shadow.
I leaned against the cold
stone of the building, my gaze lingering on the red taillights of
the car as it braked. Brow furrowed, I glanced at myself. I was
tall for a woman—about five eight—but not nearly as leggy as the
hooker in the next puddle of light over. I wasn’t wearing as much
makeup as she was, either. Narrow hips and a chest that was almost
flat didn’t exactly make me streetwalker material. Before I found
the leprechaun outlets, I had shopped in the “your first bra”
aisle. It’s hard finding something without hearts and unicorns on
My ancestors had
immigrated to the good old US of A in the 1800s. Somehow through
the generations, the women all managed to retain the distinct red
hair and green eyes of our Irish homeland. My freckles, though, are
hidden under a spell my dad bought for me for my thirteenth
birthday. He had the tiny amulet put into a pinky ring. I never
leave home without it.
A sigh slipped from me as
I tugged my bag back up onto my shoulder. The leather pants, red
ankle boots, and the spaghetti strap halter weren’t too far from
what I usually wore on casual Friday to tick my boss off, but put
them on a street corner at night . . . “Crap,” I muttered to
Jenks. “I look like a hooker.”
His only response was a
snort. I forced myself not to react as I turned back to the bar.
It was too rainy for the early crowd, and apart from my backup and
the “ladies” down the way, the street was empty. I’d been standing
out here nearly an hour with no sign of my mark. I might as well go
in and wait. Besides, if I was inside, I might look like a
solicitee rather than a solicitor.
Taking a resolute breath,
I pulled a few strands of my shoulder-length curls from my topknot,
took a moment to arrange it artfully to fall about my face, and
finally spit out my gum. The click of my boots made a snappy
counterpoint to the jangling of the handcuffs pinned to my hip as I
strode across the wet street and into the bar. The steel rings
looked like a tawdry prop, but they were real and very well-used. I
winced. No wonder Mr. One Eyebrow had stopped. Used for work, thank you, and not the kind you’re thinking of.
Still, I’d been sent to
the Hollows in the rain to collar a leprechaun for tax evasion. How
much lower, I wondered, could I sink? It must have been from
tagging that Seeing Eye dog last week. How was I supposed to know
it wasn’t a werewolf? It matched the description I’d been given.
As I stood in the narrow
foyer shaking off the damp, I ran my gaze over the typical Irish bar
crap: long-stemmed pipes stuck to the walls, green-beer signs, black
vinyl seats, and a tiny stage where a wannabe-star was setting up
his dulcimers and bagpipes amid a tower of amps. There was a whiff
of contraband Brimstone. My predatory instincts stirred. It
smelled three days old, not strong enough to track. If I could nail
the supplier, I’d be off my boss’s hit list. He might even give me
something worth my talents.
“Hey,” grunted a low
voice. “You Tobby’s replacement?”
Brimstone dismissed, I
batted my eyes and turned, coming eye to chest with a bright green
T-shirt. My eyes traveled up a huge bear of a man. Bouncer
material. The name on the shirt said cliff. It fit.
“Who?” I purred, blotting the rain from what I generously call my
cleavage with the hem of his shirt. He was completely unaffected;
it was depressing.
hooker? She ever gonna show up again?”
From my earring came a
tiny singsong voice, “I told you so.”
My smile grew forced. “I
don’t know,” I said through my teeth. “I’m not a hooker.”
He grunted again, eyeing
my outfit. I pawed through my bag and handed him my work ID.
Anyone watching would assume he was carding me. With readily
available age-disguising spells, it was mandatory—as was the
spell-check amulet he had around his neck. It glowed a faint red in
response to my pinky ring. He wouldn’t do a full check on me for
that, which was why all the charms in my bag were currently
uninvoked. Not that I’d need them tonight.
“Inderland Security,” I
said as he took the card. “I’m on a run to find someone, not harass
your regular clientele. That’s why the—uh—disguise.”
“Rachel Morgan,” he read
aloud, his thick fingers almost enveloping the laminated card.
“Inderland Security runner. You’re an I.S. runner?” He looked from
me to my card and back, his fat lips splitting in a grin. “What
happened to your hair? Run into a blowtorch?”
My lips pressed
together. The picture was three years old. It hadn’t been a
blowtorch, it had been a practical joke, an informal initiation into
my full runner status. Real funny.
The pixy darted from my
earring, setting it swinging with his momentum. “I’d watch your
mouth,” he said, tilting his head as he looked at my ID. “The last
lunker who laughed at her picture spent the night in the emergency
room with a drink umbrella jammed up his nose.”
I warmed. “You know
about that?” I said, snatching my card and shoving it away.
appropriations knows about that.” The pixy laughed merrily. “And
trying to tag that Were with an itch spell and losing him in the
“You try bringing in a
Were that close to a full moon without getting bit,” I said
defensively. “It’s not as easy as it sounds. I had to use a
potion. Those things are expensive.”
“And then Nairing an
entire bus of people?” His dragonfly wings turned red as he laughed
and his circulation increased. Dressed in black silk with a red
bandanna, he looked like a miniature Peter Pan posing as an inner
city gang member. Four inches of blond bothersome annoyance and
“That wasn’t my fault,” I
said. “The driver hit a bump.” I frowned. Someone had switched my
spells, too. I had been trying to tangle his feet and ended up
removing the hair from the driver and everyone in the first three
rows. At least I had gotten my mark, though I wasted an entire
paycheck on cabs next three weeks until the bus would pick me up
“And the frog?” Jenks
darted away and back as the bouncer flicked a finger at him. “I’m
the only one who’d go out with you tonight. I’m getting hazard
pay.” The pixy rose several inches in what had to be pride.
unimpressed. I was appalled. “Look,” I said. “All I want is to
sit over there and have a drink, nice and quiet like.” I nodded to
the stage where the postadolescent was tangling the lines from his
amps. “When does that start?”
The bouncer shrugged.
“He’s new. Looks like about an hour.” There was a crash followed
by cheers as an amp fell off the stage. “Maybe two.”
Jenks’s chiming laughter, I wove my way through the empty tables to
a bank of darker booths. I chose the one under a moose head,
sinking three inches more than I should have in the flaccid
cushion. Soon as I found the little perp, I was out of here. This
was insulting. I had been with the I.S. for three years—seven if
you counted my four years of clinicals—and here I was doing intern
It was the interns that
did the nitty-gritty day-to-day policing of Cincinnati and its
largest suburb across the river affectionately known as the
Hollows. We picked up the supernatural stuff that the human-run
FIB, short for the Federal Inderland Bureau, couldn’t handle. Minor
spell disturbances and rescuing familiars out of trees were in the
realm of an I.S. intern. But I was a full runner, damn it. I was
better than this. I had done better than this.
It had been me who single
handedly tracked down and apprehended the circle of dark witches who
had been circumventing the Cincinnati Zoo’s security spells to steal
the monkeys, selling them to an underground biolab. But did I get
any recognition for that? No.
It had been I who
realized the loon digging up bodies in one of the churchyards was
linked to the spate of deaths in the organ replacement wing in one
of the human-run hospitals. Everyone assumed he was gathering
materials to make illegal spells, not charming the organs into
temporary health, then selling them on the black market.
And the ATM thefts that
plagued the city last Christmas? It had taken me six simultaneous
charms to look like a man, but I nailed the witch. She had been
using a love charm/forget spells combo to rob naive humans. That
had been an especially satisfying tag as she had tried to run.
Three streets I chased her. There had been no time for spell
casting when she turned to hit me with what could have been a lethal
charm, so I had been completely justified in knocking her out cold
with a roundhouse kick. Even better, the FIB had been after her for
three months, and tagging her took me two days. I made them look
like fools, but did I get a “Good job, Rachel?” Did I even get a
ride back to the I.S. tower with my swollen foot? No.
And lately, I was getting
even less: sorority kids using charms to steal cable, familiar
theft, prank spells, and I couldn’t forget my favorite—chasing
trolls out from under bridges and culverts before they ate all the
mortar. A sigh shifted me as I glanced over the bar. Pathetic.
Jenks dodged my apathetic
attempts to swat him as he resettled himself on my earring. That
they had to pay him triple to go out with me did not bode well.