Morales sat on his bed with his laptop open on his lap. He hadn’t gotten dressed yet, even though it was almost nine pm. The sun wouldn’t be safely below the horizon for another twenty minutes. He felt irritated that he’d been cooped up all day, trying ineffectively to track down the elusive Faco Cypress that Melbourne had told him about right before she disappeared.
Sprocket seemed delighted that Morales had stayed in bed so long. Staying in bed all day was Sprocket’s favorite thing to do. Sleeping gave him the energy he needed for his main hobby—demanding attention from his new favorite human. When he wasn’t meowing or running the end of his tail under Morales’ nose, he was trying to lie down on the keyboard.
“Fine, I’ll pet you.” Morales relented after the cat drew a long line of fffffs across the screen. He scratched the cat behind the ears. Then he rubbed his stubbly chin along Sprocket’s forehead, which never failed to make the cat purr.
“Watch the claws,” he said, as the cat began to knead too close to Morales’ lap.
His phone rang, and he set the cat aside. Sprocket meowed in protest, curled up like a fuzzy space heater next to his leg.
“Whatcha got?” Morales asked by way of greeting.
“Eh, very little, I’m afraid,” Kier answered. “No one seems to have any information about the fellow who murdered Melbourne, if indeed she was murdered. In fact, even people who thought they knew something when I asked them yesterday seem to have forgotten today.”
“You think someone threatened them?” Morales asked.
Someone knocked at the door, but Morales ignored it. He didn’t answer the door before sundown, and if it were Melbourne, she would have called first.
“I think perhaps they were ensorcelled to forget.”
“Is that even possible?”
“It appears that Faco Cypress has retained some ability to enchant despite being here in the dying lands. This complicates the issue.”
At the familiar sound of the front door opening and closing, Morales bolted upright, scrambling for his gun and knocking an angry Sprocket to the floor. The cat he meowed in protest and shot him a flat-eared look of indignation. Morales had just gotten his gun loaded and the safety off when a the light curtain pulled back to reveal a big eyed-girl, staring at him.
“Mister Morales?” The fair-haired waif asked. “Do you remember me?”
“Tali,” he said, lowering the gun. “What are you doing here? Kier said he got you safely out of town.”
“I want to help you stop Faco.” She looked down at her hands. “I cannot hide on an island while he destroys my friends, not when I am the true subject of his malice.”
“No offense, but I don’t know if you’re up to taking this guy down. He’s pretty brutal.”
“Do you know where he’s living?”
“Then how are you going to help?”
“I know a way we can bring him to an ambush,” she said. And then she told him her plan.
He didn’t like her plan. It was dangerous, and he didn’t think there was any way she’d get out of it alive. He tried to tell her that, but she just looked at him with those big eyes and blinked. He sighed. He knew what she was offering, and he didn’t like it, but it was probably the best plan they had.
Morales was only wearing boxers and an undershirt, and he hadn’t shaved or showered. These facts had bothered him less before Tali showed up. He went to the back room, where he threw on a pair of jeans and a tee shirt, then picked up the phone. “Kier? You still there?”
“Eh, yes? What was that commotion?”
“You’d better get over here. Tali has a plan that might work.”
“Tali? What is—I will be there shortly.”
“Out of the question!” Kier said half an hour later, when he heard Tali’s plan. They sat around Morales’ table. Tali looked down at the glass of juice clenched in her hands. Juice was the only thing he had to offer his guests, and both accepted but neither drank. Tali didn’t look up, or respond while Kier fumed at her like a principal scolding a vandalizing kindergartener, explaining how disappointed he was that she hadn’t stayed at his house on the island in Puget Sound, safely away from Faco, and how was he supposed to protect her if she wouldn’t do what he told her to do. She didn’t defend herself, or offer rebuttals.
But in the end, Tali got her way.
He made a plan. Morales called Melbourne to help them, since she at least knew the right way to hold a gun, but it went straight to voicemail. He called Siang.
“Rumors are flying,” Mei Siang told him on the phone, “I heard Melbourne was murdered. No one knows where she is now.”
“Is she dead?” Morales had asked her.
“Hell if I know,” Mei said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the truth was even weirder. I like Melbourne, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something a little freaky about her. She attracts strange events.”
“Can you help out? I know you haven’t been on a squad in a while, but at least you—”
“Come on, Sire, no one else in the Guild will even answer my phone call. What are you busy with, anyway, can’t you postpone?”
“No. This is your show, Rick. Call me when you’ve got a body to bury.”
Morales wished he were more surprised.
The Mexican take-out stand had once been a convenience store, judging by its architecture. It opened like a mouth towards the parking lot, slanted roof propped open by a brightly lit wall of glass. Morales saw the station wagon in the parking lot when he arrived. Tali had been kind of hazy about what Denny looked like, but she’d been spot-on about Denny’s vehicle. It was one of Chrysler’s new boxy, small-windowed station wagons, quite hideous yet inexplicably trendy. A new car like that, you really ought to lock it up or set an alarm so that vampires can’t quietly open the back door and slip inside.
The back seat held enough fast food wrappers and other junk that a geologist could have taken core samples. He almost gagged from the pervasive body odor. He could barely smell flowers, or food, or gasoline, or the sea, or any of a thousand other odors, but he’d made up for it in a sensitivity to all human chemicals. He could smell fear, and arousal, and he could tell who a person had been hanging out with just by holding their jacket. He could tell from the reek in the back seat that Denny had spent a lot of time being afraid recently. He also spent a lot of time in the company of faeries. He held still, trying to keep his breathing shallow and through his mouth.
Morales watched the customers eating their tacos and burritos along the formica counter and wondered which was the dipshit who had decided that being the roommate and gofer for a faerie killer was a good idea.
When Denny came out of the restaurant, balancing his keys, bag of takeout containers, and tray of drinks, he didn’t even look in the back seat. He dumped his food on the passenger seat and started driving. Morales almost laughed when he drove his car less than two blocks before parking.
Morales grabbed him by the shoulders, pinning him to his seat.
“Let’s talk, Denny.”
Denny immediately tried to writhe out of Morales’ grasp, but he wasn’t nearly strong enough. After struggling just long enough to become winded, Denny flopped back against the seat. He looked into the rearview mirror. Beads of sweat dotted his brow, and he squinted as if he were trying to spot Morales in the darkness.
Morales leaned behind the headrest so he was less visible. “Faco Cypress. You know him?”
“Yeah?” Denny’s voice went from worried to curious. “Yeah, I know him.”
“I heard that Faco is interested in a woman named Tali Willow.”
Denny glanced at the rear view mirror. He looked wary but hopeful, like a man who has been offered free money by a stranger. “He’s talked about her.”
“I know where she is. For ten grand, he can have her.”
“Faco doesn’t have any money.”
“He wants Tali Willow, he can fucking come up with some, can’t he?” Morales said. He knew that Faco couldn’t come up with ten grand, but he didn’t really expect to be paid in real cash when he asked for blood money from a faerie. “Write this down. I’m giving you the when and where. Make sure he’s there.”
“He’s gonna want proof that you have her.”
About time he asked for that. Morales didn’t want to have lugged around this shirt for nothing. “Here.” He thrust the plastic bag up between the front seats. Tali had been reluctant to part with the heavy brocade overtunic, said it was one of the few things she had brought with her when she came from the Realm of the Faerie, but Morales had said Faco was going to want proof.