For those of you who missed the post earlier this week, TREEMAKER(book two) is now available in paperback. DAYRUNNER should be available July-ish. Its release has been delayed by forces outside my control.
Anyway, here’s chapter two. Chapter three will be up by next Monday. Enjoy.
Kit pulled herself invisible as she carried the bundle of sheets to the laundry room, tiptoeing quietly so that Chris wouldn’t hear. She shoved them in the laundry basket, then thought better of it and shoved them behind the ironing board instead. Closing the laundry room door quietly behind herself, she slipped back into the house. She let the invisibility slip as she went back into the house.
She took some clean sheets out of the linen closet. The sheets belonged to Chris; he’d rented her the room as furnished. In exchange for her rent, she got to use his sheets and towels, cook with his pots and pans. He had even shared his friends, which is how she met Jackie. She put the new sheets on her bed and messed it up to look like it normally did when she woke up in the morning. She’d wash the old sheets after Chris went to work.
Yawning, she walked into the kitchen. Chris leaned against the counter, brewing coffee and brushing his teeth at the same time.
“You up for work already?” Chris was wearing his giant fuzzy purple bathroom. He took the toothbrush out of his mouth and spat into the sink. “Didn’t you get in after midnight last night?”
“Yeah,” she said.
“Getting a jump start on your honeymoon?” He stuck the toothbrush back in his mouth and used his free hand to butter some toast.
She slipped past him to put the kettle on. “I wish.”
“Yeah, right, where else would you be out to until two am on a weeknight?”
“Work,” she said.
Chris made a disbelieving grunt around his toothpaste. He spat into the kitchen sink, rinsed his mouth, and continued in a falsetto. “Work. Yeah, right. You weren’t at Fenwick’s house, getting it on?”
“No, I was at work.”
Chris clasped his hands under his chin as if he were tying an imaginary bonnet. “Just a few more weeks until you’re married. He’s gonna sweep you up and carry you over the threshhold. He’s gonna unbutton all those little buttons…and then he will claim your maidenhead! Oh, darlin! Aren’t you afeared?”
Kit snorted, blushing. She tried to come up with a sarcastic rejoinder, but she heard her phone ring and ran to answer it. She dug through her purse on the side table in the front hall and just barely fished out the phone before it went to voicemail.
“Hi Fenwick, I tried to call you earlier.” she said. “Did you get my message?”
“Yeah,” her fiancé said. Background noise came over the line, a crowd of people, and traffic. A car door slammed. “I meant to call you back sooner, but my flight got changed.”
“You didn’t get my message?”
“No, I haven’t checked my messages. What’s going on?”
“Something came up,” he said. “I’m going to be out of town for a while. Two weeks in Atlanta, then a weekend in Galveston, then two weeks in Chicago. It’s the first stage of that project we’ve been planning.”
She felt her face fall. Chris met her eye and shrugged his shoulders as if asking her what was going on, but she shook her head. “I thought that wasn’t until September.”
“I’m sorry.” Fenwick cursed under his breath, and it sounded like he dropped something heavy onto a cart. “The guy who was going to do this for June is in the hospital with a broken leg, so I had to take over for him.”
“I’m sorry, Kit. It will only be a few weeks. I can call you every night.”
“It’s not that, it’s that Holzhausen gave me an extra assignment. It’s going to be a huge timesink. I won’t have any time to finalize the wedding arrangements. I was hoping you could take over.”
“How much do you have left to do? Would your mom be willing to help you?”
“Oh, she’d love to help.” Kit rolled her eyes. “She’s been begging to help.”
“Can you ask her?”
Kit sighed and rubbed her face with her free hand. “I guess I’m going to have to. When are you going to be done with the project?”
“My flight gets in at midnight the day of our wedding, so we’re going to have to skip the rehearsal,” Fenwick said. “Kit, I’m so sorry. There’s no way I can easily get out of this.”
“No, that’s okay. It’s just bad luck that it happened now. My mom would love to help. Asking her will make her day. And anyway, it doesn’t matter that much. I’m not going to be bridezilla.”
“It’s your wedding. It should be perfect.”
“It’s our wedding, Fenwick. And the wedding’s not the marriage, it’s just a party.” An expensive party. A very expensive party. A very expensive party that they’d been planning for months. And she still didn’t have a wedding dress. “I’ve already outlined what I want, and she knows my taste, and we have the venue reserved. It will be fine. Most of it’s already planned. Even my mom can’t mess it up.”
“I’ll call you every night,” he said. “Kit, I’m sorry.”
“I’ll manage, sweetheart. It’ll be okay.”
As soon as she and Fenwick said their goodbyes, Chris lit into her. He narrowed his eyes. “What kind of project is so important that you can’t plan your own wedding? Spill. It’s for the Guild, isn’t it? Is it something dangerous? Are you going to shoot someone?”
“It’s secret, I can’t, yes, probably not, and not if I can help it.”
Chris noticed too much. When she’d moved in, she had hoped that she could keep the supernatural elements of her life private, but Chris was too astute, and too relentless. He’d figured out that she worked for the vampires. He figured out that she’d been to the Realm of the Faerie. He’d figured out that she had inadvertent bouts of telekenisis (and he’d forgiven her for all the broken plates.) He even knew about the little bindi she wore on her forehead, about how it let her see through glamours and spot lycanthropes. If she wasn’t careful, he’d find out about the dirty sheets, and how could she explain that?
After he left for work, she went to the laundry room to gather up the dirty ones in her arms. She opened the back door and shook the sheets out. Twigs and leaves and dirt went flying. As she wadded them back up again, she caught sight of a bare human footprint in the mud near the stoop. She’d have to cover that with leaves or something.
Kaa cawed at her and then flew down from a nearby tree to land on her head. She’d read on a forum that you weren’t supposed to let your bird perch higher than your head, because it made them think they were dominant. Kit let him. Her familiar had given up so much when he bonded with her, the least she could do is let him perch wherever he wanted.
Sometimes she could even see through his eyes, watching the treetops coast underneath her. She could sense enough of his feelings to infer what was happening in his life. She felt his frustration when he lost the female he had his eye on to another crow that was a year younger. Kaa wanted a family. He wanted to court some pretty black crow and make a nest of eggs with her. By his age, most crows were on their second clutch of eggs, but having to arrange his life around a human had held him back.
“The mage casts the spell, and the familiar appears,” Elaina had said. “If he hadn’t wanted to be a familiar, he wouldn’t have come. Besides, it’s not like he doesn’t get anything out of it. His life is bound to yours. He’ll live longer as a familiar than as a wild crow. Or he would, if you’d stop feeding him junk food.”
As if he were listening, Kaa cawed from his perch on her head. “Ukkat.”
“Nugget,” she said, smiling.
Kaa tried again. “Nukkat.”
“Better.” She scratched his neck feathers. “But I don’t have any chicken nuggets for you right now. Would you like to come inside?”
Kaa flew back up to the tree. He wasn’t a pet, he was a wild animal. He didn’t like to be indoors (except when in bad weather) and he hated to ride in a car. He would obey, if she asked him, but she didn’t want him to come along with her on her errands as much as she wanted him to enjoy this nice June weather. They’d had two full days of warm sunshine, and it looked like it might not rain that day either.
Kaa ruffled his feathers and sidestepped on a branch until he perched in the sunlight. Some of the other crows joined him, cawing and jostling with one another. A few of them had the paler plumage of juveniles, but some others were adults who, like Kaa, had missed out on the dating game and had to spend another summer single. So he wasn’t the only crow who hadn’t hooked up. And, like Elaina said, since he was the familiar of a mage, he had a few extra years to try.
She glanced at her watch. Nearly seven a.m. Late enough for Morales to have gotten home, but not late enough that he’d be sleeping. She’d better get going. Unlike Morales, she had to fit this investigation around a day job.
When she got to his apartment, she found Morales had left the door unlocked for her. Some vampires had a second door past the entry door, serving as a light-shield, but Morales had a heavy curtain instead. She shut the door behind her and pushed through the curtain to find him in the kitchen.
Morales was sitting at his kitchen table, wearing sweatpants and a tee shirt so old that the image had faded off of it. His face had a thick layer of stubble on it, and his eyes were red like he’d been up all day as well as the night. When he saw her, his mouth flattened into a line. She wasn’t sure what she’d done to piss him off. Maybe he didn’t need a reason. Some vampires were just assholes.
The kitchen table was beautiful, a heavy, carved oaken antique with an aged finish and polished nicks on the edge. It stood out in the kitchen like a blooded Arabian stallion in a corral of swaybacked trail ponies. The linoleum was cracked and rippled in the middle or the room, with a large burn mark in the shape of a frying pan. The cabinet doors had been removed and leaned up against the far wall, as if they were going to be repainted or refinished, but a layer of dust indicated they’d been waiting for a while. Two molded plastic chairs sat at the table. Morales sat in the unbroken one, and kicked the second one with his foot to push it towards her.
She lowered herself into it gingerly. Only three of the legs were sound, so she couldn’t lean. She cleared her throat and laid the folder on the table.
“How about I start by telling you what I know, and you tell me if you know anything different,” she said. Morales said nothing, so she continued. “Rosenkranz was twenty-three years of the blood, sixty-four years old, chronologically. She wasn’t made in Seabingen. She was originally from some small Guild town on the east coast. Got exchanged with Castillo about ten years ago. Castillo arranged it. He’d burned some bridges and decided that he needed a change of scene. Rosenkranz fit in better than Castillo did.
“Politically, she was strongest allied to Morinaga and Evans. Holzhausen wants to avenge her quickly in part because he wants to solidify his alliance with them.”
Morales’ face remained stony. “I’m going to give you a little piece of free advice, Melbourne. You shouldn’t stick your nose in vampire politics.”
She flattened her mouth into a line. The hell she shouldn’t. He life hinged on knowing and being able to manipulate Guild politics. She was Holzhausen’s Dayrunner. If he got ousted, she wasn’t likely to live long enough to cash her last paycheck. She continued.
“Rosenkranz worked as a stripper at a club downtown. She tithed to the Guild regularly, and on time. She had a small coterie of hosts, and she didn’t poach anyone else’s. She also had a small business on the side, something to do with antiques. I wasn’t able to find out anything about that yet. I also haven’t been able to find out much about her non-Guild connections, who she was friends with, if she had enemies, that sort of thing.”
“You’re not going to find that out.”
“My boss asked me to–
“Let’s get one thing straight, Melbourne, You don’t have an investigator’s license, so don’t go messing around where you have no business being.”
She laced her fingers together and rested her chin on them. She meant to look aloof, but the chair wobbled under her and almost gave out underneath her. “What do you propose I do, then?”
“You’re going to investigate the human. Her host.”
“That’s pointless busywork. Rosenkranz was decapitated. She was obviously the target. Her host was nothing more than collateral damage.”
“A good investigator explores every angle,” Morales said. “You can find out who she is, where she works, how she knew Rosenkranz. Find anything that looks interesting, especially if you discover the names of her other hosts. Someone might know something. Report back to me in a week with what you’ve figured out.”
She could have protested that Holzhausen had put her in charge of this investigation, which was true. But she also knew that the reason Holzhausen put her in charge had everything to do with politics and nothing to do with competence. She’d never conducted an investigation, Morales had.
For the sake of the investigation, she’d swallow her pride and play nice. For now. If Holzhausen avenged Rosenkranz before the police put the culprit away, he’d make the Guild look good, which would make Holzhausen look good. Morales may not give a rat’s ass if Holzhausen looked good or not, but Kit did.
“I’ll get right on that,” she said, giving him a smile which felt fake, and probably looked it. “And when it leads to nowhere, I’ll help you with investigating Rosenkranz. Do you have the host’s name?”
“Paisey Cypress,” he said.
“Do you have an address?” she asked. The plastic seat of her chair pinched her where it had cracked open.
Morales copied her address down on the back of an envelope and shoved it at her “I would have thought that Holzhausen’s precious new Dayrunner could figure that out on her own.”
She gritted her teeth. She had been meaning to give him the benefit of the doubt, despite Palmer and Fain’s negative opinion of him, but Morales wasn’t making it easy.
“There might not be anyone else there who knows her,” Morales said. “If she lived alone, this is a dead end. If you do find someone, ask around for the names of her friends. Don’t mention vampires. Most people don’t believe in vampires.”
“I’m not a moron,” she said.
Morales leaned back in his chair. “Why don’t you see yourself out?”
The chair fell over as she stood up. She left it there and made her way to the light curtain.
Outside, the buzz of a lawn mower filled the air with the scent of cut grass. She squinted at the bright sunlight and used her hand to shade her phone so she could look up Paisey Cypress’ address.
Paisey’s apartment was deeply downtown, in a small yuppie enclave which lacked cheap parking. Colorful banners next to the quarter-sucking meters flapped in the breeze, advertising free wi-fi and access to the private gym. The saplings dotting the sidewalk still had plastic tags from the nursery and padded guy wires holding them to the iron plates protecting their roots.
She wondered what kind of person Paisey was. Generally, vampire hosts were either cash-strapped young people or Guild initiates. Often they were both. Frequently, they were also deeply gothic, fantasy-prone credulous types. A vampire’s hardest job was to find people willing to sell blood for money. Everyone knew what a vampire was, but most people didn’t really believe in vampires, so when you offered to tap a vein for fifty bucks, you needed someone poor enough to say yes, and/or credulous enough to think there was a good reason for it.
After force-feeding the meter all the quarters she could rustle up, she glanced up at the towering brick structure with its dainty balconies and color-coordinated awnings. A one-bedroom apartment here would cost as much as a four bedroom house in New Haven, or a slightly run-down three bedroom rental in the University district. If Paisey was desperate enough to sell blood to a co-worker for money, how could she afford the rent here? She must have been a vampire-groupie. But if she were that in love with vampires, why wasn’t she an Initiate?
Inside the lobby, marble and brass gleamed, and the receptionist eyed her suspiciously as Kit pressed the button on the elevator, but Kit’s work clothes and sense of purpose let her go to the third floor unquestioned.
She hadn’t expected her knock to be answered by a faerie.
He was a faerie of the Realm, one of the Clanfaeries, either a Vargel or an Indel. She’d met a couple of Vargel before, and she didn’t really like them. There was something intrinsically untrustworthy about them. His hair was a pale gray, and it hung down over his shoulders. He looked as though he were in his mid-twenties, though of course it was hard to tell with immigrants from the Realm.
“Paisey Cypress?” He answered her inquiry, with a foreign inflection. “Dead.”
“I know she’s dead. I’m investigating her death. Do you mind if I come in and ask some questions?”
“No,” he said, without unblocking the door.
She peered past him. The apartment wasn’t large, and even though the gray haired faerie blocked the door, Kit could still see three other faeries in the background. They were Vargel, or Indel and they had the same tall stature and long hair in shades of gray. They spoke loudly to one another in a language she didn’t understand.
Over his left shoulder, she saw a large, newly remodeled kitchen with granite countertops and a stainless steel refrigerator. Over the right shoulder, she saw a living room with a large window. The apartment seemed to be devoid of furniture.
“No, you don’t mind, or no I can come in?” she asked, but he just looked at her as if he didn’t understand. She tried again, using the common tongue pidgin of the Realm. “I would be asking questions about your fallen companion.”
The faerie shut the door.
“Guess I’m gonna need a translator,” Kit said to the closed door.