The alarm went off just before dusk, but Morales was already awake. As spring melted into summer, he had been finding it harder and harder to sleep the day away. Not for the first time he thought about finding a cute little fishing village to spend the summers in. Some place with long, balmy nights. In Puerto Rico, maybe? He had been there as a boy to visit his grandmother. It was warm in Puerto Rico too, he remembered, when it wasn’t unbearably hot. As he stepped into the shower he thought about his grandmother’s painted pink kitchen and the taste of her banana bread. Gran was dead now, but Tia Nina still made that bread. He could almost taste it, warm and flavored with cinnamon.
He stepped out of the shower and pulled a comb through his hair. At thirty two, it had just been starting to thin, but becoming a vampire had halted his hairline from further retreat. He was as wiry as he had been twelve years earlier, although much stronger and faster than you’d guess from his physique. Morales got dressed in the chinos and sport coat he usually wore when investigating. Back when he had worked for the insurance company he wore a suit, day in, day out, even through the hottest Miami weather. Suits were good for certain people. The middle and upper class, white people especially, felt comforted by a man in a suit. A suit made him look official. Others clammed up at the first sight of tailored wool or linen and wouldn’t tell you anything. Dressing down was better when you worked for the Guild. The vampire stillness was intimidating enough without having people mistake him for an IRS auditor.
Morales stepped onto the porch of his condo, noting with dismay that it was still raining. The rain had knocked all the blossoms off the fruit trees in the small courtyard in the middle of the complex. He could just see a patch of lawn turned muddy from all the spring rain, edged by sodden flowerbeds. Beyond the denuded trees was the black cover of the swimming pool. The pool was part of the reason he chose this complex. Miami summers were so hot that a cool blue swimming pool was almost a necessity. By this time in Miami, it would already be warm enough to swim. He and his brother and sister and cousins used to spend all day in the pool as children, and when they were older, they’d go to his mother’s house with his nieces and nephews and watch as the kids had fun splashing all day.
He also remembered the way his mother had crossed herself when seeing that her son had become a vampire, and how quickly his fiancé had found another man. He remembered how his brother and sister hid their children behind their legs when he came to visit, and how his so-called friends threatened to stake him one day if he didn’t get out of town. As if there weren’t other vampires in Miami! It still hurt. Twelve years, and Mama still hadn’t apologized.
Maybe Seabingen wasn’t a bad place to be, despite the crappy weather. He shut the front door against the chill and put the newspaper on the kitchen table, then walked into the kitchen and grabbed his last pint from the fridge to drink for breakfast. Should eat some real food too, as soon as he got some, but nothing warms you up like the taste of human blood. The phone rang.
“Are you drinking blood?” Mei asked, when he put the phone on speaker.
Morales had to pause before answering. He was chugging the AB, swallowing heavily as his body overwhelmed his desire to savor his last pint. “Yes,” he finally said, licking his lips and then sucking the bag flat.
“Good. About time. Everyone has noticed how wan you’ve been.”
“Okay, just me,” she said. “But that’s enough. How did the meeting go?”
“He’s asked me to help Dayrunner Melbourne with her investigation.”
“You didn’t hear–”
“I heard. Suck it up, Rick. It’ll do you some good to have a woman as a boss. Machismo is about as sexy as a hairy palm.”
“I’m–” he sighed. “Yes, Sire.”
Mei Siang laughed, but it was a gentle laugh. “I know this isn’t easy for you, Rick, but this will help everyone get past the Sandpoint incident, including yourself.”
“I don’t want to talk about Sandpoint.”
“Well, other people have been talking about it, and they’re not going to stop unless they’ve got a reason to. Holzhausen likes his new Dayrunner. Her star is rising, and yours is in the crapper right now. Be nice to Melbourne, make her look good, and she’ll be a valuable ally. You need allies, and you need more human connections.”
“I have been completely civil to her.”
“You can’t lie to me, Rick.”
“And I have no problem making connections with humans.”
“Who’s your favorite host?”
“You don’t have to worry about me, Mei.”
“You called to ask if I knew where Rosenkranz worked. She worked for Councilman Stewart at her club. It’s called ‘Cherry Pickers’.”
“I thought Rosenkranz was an antique repairer.”
“I’m not saying she wasn’t, but I know for a fact she also worked for Councilman Stewart too. I told her you’d be by tonight.”
“I’ll check it out,” Morales said.
“Thank you, sire.” He put the phone in the pocket of his jacket, shrugged it on, and headed out the door.
Cherry Pickers was a tall, thin, matte black building shoved upright between two decrepit brick factories. The buildings on either side of it were over half a century older, and an earthquake or some earth settling had caused them all to list to one side, making it appear as though Cherry Pickers was a recalcitrant domino that refused to fall.
Morales could hear the rhythmic beat of the music even from his parking spot two blocks away. Despite the homeless people sleeping in the stoops and the feral cats that chewed open the trash bags that had been dumped on the curb, the cars that lined the street on either side had the gleaming patina of new toys. Three months’ worth of car payments for one of these would buy his Mustang outright.
The hulking doorman let him in without a fee, for which Morales was more grateful than he let on. When he got inside, he glanced around the dim interior, trying to spot Councilman Stewart. It wasn’t easy. The interior had very little ambient lighting, just candles on the cramped side tables. The close placement of the tables made navigating the floor difficult. The corseted young women ferrying drinks must have memorized the layout, because rotating colored spots on the stage destroyed even vampiric night vision.
The second thing that made it difficult to spot Councilman Stewart was that the woman on the stage was the first naked woman Morales had seen in more time than he could admit without embarrassment.
The first time he had been to a strip club, he had been sixteen, using a fake ID that his brother and cousin had cribbed for him. His cousin Jesse had been in love with one of the dancers there, a dark skinned “older” (in her twenties) woman with long eyelashes. At the time, Morales had been extremely shy and inexperienced around women, and he’d stood, transfixed, unable to move away from the door until his brother and Jesse physically sat him down.
The stripper on stage seemed young, but these days even thirty seemed young to him. She had thick black curls, fake eyelashes, and plastic platform heels. Her panties were scant enough to reveal that she’d completely waxed, which was kind of a disappointment, but she was still entrancing. Sweat beaded on the dancer’s forehead as she smiled at the crowd. The crowd whooped as she took off her bikini top, revealing large breasts with dark brown aureoles as big as his palm.
A commotion near the door made him turn. A group of three people, two men and a woman, were standing near one of the cocktail waitresses. The man said something to the woman in a low tone, with words muffled out by the loud music. Morales recognized the threat and menace, however, and he recognized the look of fear on the waitress’ face. She said something. One of the men drew back an arm and slapped her.
The music was still blaring, but conversation stopped and people turned. Even the dancer stopped, mid boob-jiggle, and watched to see how this would play out.
Morales thought the bouncer would come over and put an end to it, but Stewart herself was on the scene first, a pink blur who navigated between the tables with the ease of water falling. One moment she was behind the bar, and the next she had the man’s hair wrapped around her fist and her knee on the back of his neck. He struggled, but she kept him pinned. She leaned down to whisper something in his ear, and he nodded, tensely, as if something he wanted to keep intact was right at the snapping point.
The bodyguards arrived, two bruisers with pectorals so thick they couldn’t touch their elbows together. Stewart picked the man up by his hair and shoved him in their direction. The bodyguards shoved the man and his friends towards the exit, while Stewart spoke briefly to the cocktail waitress. The waitress nodded, then shook her head, and lifted her hair to show Stewart the side of her face. Stewart asked something else, and the waitress nodded and left.
Stewart turned, and caught his eye. She beckoned him over.
Councilman Stewart was the second oldest vampire in Seabingen. She was a real Goth, or, a Visigoth, to be more accurate. At about five foot three, she’d probably been a giantess when she was human, but now she boosted her height with six inch platform heels.
“Siang said you were coming tonight.”
Morales blinked, as if waking from a trance. “Councilman. I wanted to ask–”
“When you’re in the club, I’m Bunny.” Stewart pointed to a table in the corner, which had a card on it marking it as reserved. “Sit. We’ll talk.”
Morales checked her out surreptitiously as he eased into the seat she’d indicated for him. Bunny Stewart had bubblegum-pink hair, and a tight, pink, leather corset-and-miniskirt ensemble that was bedecked with black lace and fluffy feathered trim. Her ass was amazing.
“Sit,” she pushed him gently down, choosing a chair that had a poor view of the stage. “I suppose you want to know about Rosenkranz and Paisey.”
“I’ll tell you what I told Holzhausen. Rosenkranz worked here for about fifteen years, off and on. She got turned young enough she can still draw in tips on stage.” Bunny’s eyes narrowed. “Could. Could still draw in tips. Damn but it pisses me off when the good ones die too young. You find the bastard that did her in, I wanna get in line to hurt him before he goes to his grave.”
“Do you think it was one of your customers?”
Bunny shook her head slowly. “I’ve been over that and over that in my head. It seems obvious, doesn’t it? Guy falls in love with a stripper, gets jealous of other guys looking at her, tells her to stop, she won’t, he cuts her up. I’ve seen that in the movies a lot, but I’ve never seen it here at my club. As you can see, I put an end to that shit as soon as it starts. No one hurts my girls.”
“Was she seeing anyone?”
“She had a human boyfriend. He had a really boring name. Jim Brown? James Brown? Something like that. He was sharing her apartment over on fourteenth, but I think that didn’t work out and he moved downtown. She mentioned it in passing.”
“You didn’t think to ask?”
“I didn’t know she was going to be killed. And I make a habit of not asking about my employee’s lives. Anything they don’t see fit to tell me isn’t my business to know. As long as they show up on time and not too drunk or coked out to dance, they’re entitled to their privacy.”
“Was he her host?”
Stewart shrugged. “I don’t know about him, but I know that Paisey was her host.” She shook her head. “Poor thing. Wrong place at the wrong time.”
“So she was a stripper too?”
“No,” Stewart looked at him. “That’s the funny thing. She wasn’t. None of them are. You know the joke about the difference between a cocktail waitress at a strip club and a stripper? Well, that’s not true with them.”
“They say they’re from Estonia.” Stewart pointed at the young woman who had been slapped earlier. She wore a pink corset, similar to Bunny’s but with white piping instead of black lace trim. The young woman set the drinks on the nearby table, gently twisting and bowing as she did so. As she walked back to the bar, he understood what Bunny meant. She wasn’t American. She walked differently, more restrained, as though she were used to wearing corsets, or perhaps as though she were used to not drawing attention to herself.
“That’s Tali. I put her in the ‘Sugar’ costume because she was the same size as the last girl, but she fits the role better than anyone I’ve met in a long time. She’s sweet. Through and through sweet.”
“She and Paisey are from Estonia?”
“No.” Stewart called out something to Tali in a foreign language. Tali stared at her blankly. Stewart said something else.
“Do you need something, Bunny?” Tali asked.
Stewart shook her head and waved Tali off.
“What was that?” Morales asked.
“Either her mother really is a whore, and she eats dog shit for breakfast, or she’s not Estonian. I don’t know where they’re from, but they aren’t Estonian.”
“Why would she lie about that?”
Bunny Stewart shrugged. “I don’t ask. They’re peculiar. They’ll do lap dances, and they’ll suck on anything without batting an eye, but they won’t take their clothes off for more than two clients, and then only in the back room. They’re all thin, though, and you know that’s fashionable this century.
“I like Tali. She’s sweet. it’s not just an act. She’s got a good soul. She’s a gentle girl. Paisey had a bit of a bitch in her, she was more like me in that regard, but Tali never says a bad word about anyone. If you’d asked me who was more likely to get unfairly murdered, I would have said Tali. Like I said, sweet girls like that attract bad men.”
“Can I talk to her?”
“She’s going to give a lap dance right now.” Stewart said.
Morales watched Tali lead a customer by the hand into the back. Tali didn’t have any bite marks on her neck, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything. Most vampires, those with any sense, took blood from hosts through a sterile needle. Biting was more fun, but it was the kind of thing you did once in a while, or with people you never expected to see again.
It didn’t matter, really. Even if Tali had been Rosenkranz’s host, she wouldn’t necessarily know anything about Rosenkranz’s enemies. Rosenkranz’s head had been severed with strength and precision, with one blow. Morales was certain her killer was either another vampire, or a human with unusual strength. Either way, he’d need enough proof to satisfy Holzhausen.
“You can ask Crystal.” Stewart snagged another waitress by the arm. The waitress had incredibly long fake lashes and a wig that looked like it could have gone with a Cleopatra costume.
Crystal glared at him sullenly.
“Did you know Rosenkranz?”
“She went by Cardamom,” Crystal said. “Yeah, I knew her.”
“Did you know anything about the kind of clients she went with? Did Rosenkranz attract bad men too? Did she maybe, meet someone here who turned out to be more violent than she could handle?”
“No. Even Tali’s smart enough to know you never pick up a man you meet in a strip club. Men who go to strip clubs are all filthy and pathetic sleaze bags.” Crystal gave him a look like she included him in the description.
“Crystal, be nice,” Stewart said, but not like she meant it.
Crystal huffed and walked away.
Stewart smiled proudly, as though one of her students had performed well at a recital. “Oh, Crystal. So reliably bitchy.”
“You need at least one bitchy girl. You have to have a full palette. A type of woman for every type of client.”
“What type was Rosenkranz?”
“She was trying for the ‘Lolita’ look, but she was really more of the ‘Soiled Schoolgirl’.”
“Were she and Rosenkranz more than friends?”
Councilman Stewart pursed her lips and paused. “Roommates. I know Paisey was Rosenkranz’s host, but if there was anything else going on, they were subtle about it.
“You ask me, I think her boyfriend was the one who did her in. He didn’t seem the type, but you can’t tell just by looking at someone. Some of the men who seem nicest on the outside turn out to be rotten under the skin.”
Morales nodded. That had been what he was thinking too. The closer a person was to you, the more likely they were to kill you. Boyfriend, or ex-boyfriend, was always number one suspect.
“Guess I’d better find out what I can about Jim Brown.” He pushed out the chair and stood.
“Come back later,” Stewart said, snatching his sleeve. This time she fluttered her eyelashes and vamped for him, Bunny Stewart, not Councilman Stewart. “I’m sure we have your type too.”
“Bunny,” he asked, just before he got out of polite speaking range. “What’s the punchline?”
“You said ‘What’s the difference between a cocktail waitress and a stripper?’ You didn’t say the punchline.”
“Two weeks,” Bunny said. “It takes two weeks.”
He thought he ought to laugh, to be polite, but the joke didn’t strike him as funny, for reasons he wasn’t comfortable thinking about.
A small lockbox hung from the doorknob to Rosenkranz’s condo. Morales typed in the code that Melbourne had given him to retrieve the key. Rosenkranz was young enough to have family alive, Melbourne had told him, but her niece wouldn’t be able to come for several weeks, and the police had already come and gone. He turned the handle and felt the grittiness of fingerprinting powder. He wiped if off on his pants.
The living room held neither television nor couch, but instead had several long tables pushed end to end, making a giant L along one wall and across the center of the room. Half of the L contained a jumble of antiques, mostly radios, piled atop one another, some in boxes, some without. Some were in good condition, while others had peeling finishes or dirt and mold visible through the trash bags they’d been wrapped in. Here and there the dust had been wiped off by many fingers, probably Rosenkranz herself, and here, too, he saw traces of fingerprinting powder.
The second table had been set up as a work table. In contrast with the jumble of the junk on the left, the right branch of the L held an early radio, laid open with the precision of a dissected frog. Her files and pliers and clippers and other tools rested neatly inside cases whose green velvet flocking had won thin from touch.
Morales saw a business card taped to the edge of the table, and he copied the name and number into his phone without touching the paper. Her apartment was somewhere between crime scene and someone else’s property. He’d been given the combination and let himself in with a key, but his vampiric aversion to trespassing still made him want to wrap up his business and leave as soon as possible.
The living room area led into a dining area. Here he saw the angle he’d seen in the photo, minus the dead woman, Paisey. He knelt on the carpet. The blood stains covered an area about as large as a manhole. It looked like someone had been through with a carpet cleaner, but some fluids that never got completely out of carpet, no matter how you cleaned. He spread the fibers of the carpet apart. The reddish stain ended halfway down the pile, leaving the underside still pale. He sat back on his haunches.
He could still smell her blood. He’d lost most of his sense of smell when he became a vampire. He couldn’t smell the dust or the mold from the radios, nor could he smell the brown spotted bananas gathering flies on the counter in the kitchen. To make up for losing the scents that a human took for granted, vampires gained a sensitivity to other scents. He could smell Rosenkranz’ personal scent, and the smell of a human man, deeper but older than the smell of the police. He smelled blood and the effluvia of death, and the chemicals that people secrete when they’re terrified. These smells made him hungry, and his hunger disturbed and embarrassed him. His body felt hungry, but his mind just felt sad. Rosenkranz had died, and all she’d left was a pile of rotting bananas, a broken radio, and an apartment that would eventually be cleaned out by a great niece who had probably never met her. He rose to his feet and stepped away from the bloodstained carpet.
From what Councilman Stewart said, Rosenkranz’ boyfriend had broken up with her several weeks before her death. Her host had died with her, a cruel victim of the crime of befriending a vampire. Stewart would find a new woman to wear the sexy librarian outfit, and even her clients would forget her.
Which of his own nieces or nephews would come to clean out his apartment if he died? Maybe, if he lived long enough, it would be a great-niece, or a great-great-niece, who didn’t even know she had a Tio Rico until the Guild lawyers contacted her.
Excepting the bananas, Rosenkranz’ kitchen was neat and tidy. Small tiles labeled the halves of the sinks as “meat” and “dairy” and both were empty save a single dirty spoon in each. The floor held two bowls, both empty. That explained the sound he’d heard earlier.
Silently, he crept down the hall to Rosenkranz’ bedroom. A window had a broken latch, but had been taped shut again with packing tape. In the bedroom, the human man’s smell grew stronger. He searched for a photo of this man, but all he caught was the scent of him, mixed in with Rosenkranz’ own scent. She didn’t have a computer in her apartment, so either it had been stolen, or she did everything on her phone, which had likely been confiscated by the police detectives and was therefore lost to him. He wanted to see this man, to put a face with the bland name of Jim Brown.
He’d investigated insurance scams before, but that had mostly been people who’d driven cars into the swamp and pretended it had been stolen, or people who had injured themselves while drunk in their backyard and pretended it was on the job. Simple crimes. Easy crimes, and he had full access and cooperation of all the parties.
For this job, he was picking over the leavings. He was supposed to find Rosenkranz’s killer before the cops did, but he didn’t have their resources. It was like being asked to out-cook professional chefs when they had access to a gourmet pantry and you had to dig through the dumpster. The only thing he had that the cops didn’t was the name of Rosenkranz’s ex-boyfriend. So far, that wasn’t doing him any good.
He called all five of the J Browns in the phone book, the two Jim Browns, and fifteen “Browns,” but everyone denied having any knowledge of her. He’d logged into his social media accounts (which he still didn’t like to use, but Siang said was a good way of making human contacts) and searched for Jim Brown or James Brown or maybe John Brown. He found hundreds.
It occured to him that Holzhausen was setting him up to fail. Maybe that’s what they all wanted, for him to fail. Holzhausen hadn’t forgotten the Sandpoint incident. Nguyen certainly hadn’t forgotten. Nguyen had alliances even among Glavin and Albers’ crowd. Who did Morales have on his side? Only Siang seemed to care about him, and she wasn’t too pleased with him these days. He couldn’t let her down. He had to show them all that he wasn’t a fuck up. He would do the impossible.
What he needed was a lucky break.
He sat on the bed, waiting silently. This was something he did better as a vampire than as a human. As a vampire, he fidgeted less, twitched less, spent less energy shifting his weight, holding it for bursts of speed to take down a human and drink his blood. Once upon a time, vampires did that, but those days had vanished along with nomads and unowned land. He was built for a world which didn’t exist anymore.
But there were times when being a predator had its benefits. He thought of the spoons in the kitchen, and the bowls on the floor, and the window with the broken latch. He went back to the door and opened it, then slipped down the hall and opened a cabinet in the hallway, looking for, and finding, a pillowcase.
Just outside the kitchen door, he baited his trap with a can purloined from the pantry. The rancid meaty smell filled the air and turned his stomach, but he ignored it. He waited, silently, not moving. As he waited, the world seemed to grow still, and as he slowed his breathing down, every sound grew louder.
The clocks ticked in the apartment, slightly out of synch with one another. The traffic rushed outside, white noise like water or wind. He had to wait for nearly two hours, completely still, paying attention. This, too, vampires were good at.
Eventually, a small white nose slipped around the corner, followed by a striped head, a red collar, and the rest of the cat.
Morales scooped the cat up before it had time to react. It yowled and scrambled to get away, but he held it fast and rotated its collar until the heart-shaped charm reached the back of the cat’s neck.
The cat didn’t respond to its name, but Morales was less concerned about the cat’s name than he was about the name and number on the other side of the tag. Bingo. Here was his lucky break.
“You’re coming with me, fuzz-butt.”
Morales’ arms were a bloody mess by the time he was able to stuff the cat into the pillowcase. It hissed and yowled at him as he tied the cloth at the top into a knot. He didn’t know if that was the right carrying case for a cat, but he’d seen a television show where they did that with snakes, and anyway, it would keep Sprocket from jumping out of his car on the drive to Siang’s apartment. He’d call her on the way to let her know his plan.
He tried to pat it, as consolation, but the cat managed to bite him through the cloth of the bag. He pulled his hand away. He’d take it to Siang’s house. She could take care of it. Women liked cats. It was a rule somewhere.
“It’s not forever, cat,” he said to the sulking lump on the front seat of his car. “Just until you’ve served your purpose.”
An hour later, Morales was swearing as he fumbled to untie the knot of the pillowcase, cursing under his breath as he mimicked his sire’s voice.
“I’m allergic to cats,” he said, in an angry falsetto. “You want to steal a dead woman’s pet, you keep the thing at your own place.”
How had this never come up before? Surely she would have mentioned a cat allergy?
He finally got the bag open, but the cat, despite its piteous meows on the ride over, now appeared to be in no hurry to leave.
“Get out, Sprocket,” he said, lifting the pillowcase to dump the cat on the floor.
Sprocket’s tail was fluffed up like a bottle brush, and he glared pure hate at Morales with his malevolent yellow eyes.
“Yeah, I don’t like you either,” he said, rubbing his chest and arms, where the bleeding scratches were already hot and festering.
Sprocket slunk off, keeping close to the edges of the room. Morales called the number on the tag and left a voice message saying that he had Jim’s cat, and asking for him to call back to make arrangements to get him.
Half an hour later, there was a knock at the door, and then it opened and shut. Morales lifted aside the light curtain to find Mei Siang standing there, holding a cardboard box that dwarfed her small frame. He’d told her “mi casa es su casa” often enough that she wouldn’t feel the territorial itch that made vampires uncomfortable when they trespassed in another’s demesne. It always pleased him when she came in without being invited.
“I knew you’d change your mind,” he said, smiling.
“I haven’t changed jack shit,” Mei said.
Mei looked like the young girl she’d been when she’d been turned, except when she wore her custom tailored suits, when she could sometimes pull off “midget.” Despite her overly petite frame, or perhaps because of it, her beauty struck Morales in a way that no other woman’s could. Her large dark eyes looked as if they’d been painted with a deft hand on a porcelain face. She had use her little-girl looks to hunt, back when she was rogue, but now she only devoured people financially, sitting on enough boards and having her fingers in enough trusts that if someone moved money half a world away, she knew about it.
“I just brought some stuff over. I figured you’d need some help. Why’d you take her cat anyway? You can barely take care of–” She sneezed, then set the box down. “What kind of a plan is this? You’re not a cat person.”
“Her ex-boyfriend’s name is on the tag. When he shows up to get the cat, I’ll tail him home.” The box contained a covered litterbox, a bag of kitty litter, and some kibble, probably more than he’d need, since the cat was only going to be here a couple of days at the most.
“And if he doesn’t?” Mei’s eyes were already red and puffy.
“If he doesn’t, I can get his address from the phone number, it’s just going to take a little longer. I’m pretty sure this is faster. I just left a message now. He’ll probably call as soon as he gets off work.”
Mei sneezed. “If he killed her, he knows her cat has no home.”
“If he killed her, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t want the cat. It could just mean that he didn’t want to go over there to get it.”
“What are you going to tell him, when he asks how you got it?”
“I’ll say it escaped and I found it.”
“He’s gonna know something’s up. There aren’t that many vampires in town,” she said. “Too much of a coincidence if he sees a second vampire happened to be the one who found the cat.”
“I can pass for human,” he said. “And anyway, Stewart didn’t say he was her host, too. He may not have known she was a vampire. Not everyone believes in us. You told me that yourself. Vampires today are like lesbians in the nineteenth century–”
“–Respectable people pretend that they don’t exist,” she finished.
The official line was to deny, deny, deny to anyone but someone you got your blood from, and them too, if it was possible. There were people who knew, of course, that was inevitable, but the goal was to keep them on the fringes, like the people who knew the truth about Roswell, or the people who knew the truth about 9/11.
“You just got back from a Council meeting?” he asked, hope making his voice rise. “Any new word on the picks for–”
“Rick,” Mei said gently. “It’s gonna take more than a year for everyone to forget Sandpoint, if they even do, which is debatable. You need more than a stopgap. You need a Plan B.”
“Not many night jobs open.”
Morales clenched his jaw, then forced himself to relax it. “I’m not a kid anymore, Mei. I can do better than working at a quickie mart.”
“At the feast of pride, everyone goes hungry.”
Morales sighed. “I’ll send out some resumes. Maybe I can get consulting work. Just until the Sandpoint thing blows over, and I get a position on a squad again.”
Mei’s eyes were so swollen and red that he couldn’t read the look she gave him. She reached in the box and handed him a lint roller. “See ya, Rick. Don’t be a stranger.”