Magic Dreams Page 16

Boom! Boom!

I kept firing. Finally the revolting flood stopped. I waited, listening, but no more skittering came. My calf burned. The pain didn’t bother me too much, but I’d be leaving a blood trail, which would make me ridiculously easy to track. I had five shots left in the AA-12. No way to know if I had killed them all or if this was the calm before the second wave of insects. I had to get Mr. Haffey out of here.

He was sitting in the coal bin, staring at the pile of insect parts. “Damn. That’s some shooting.”

“We aim to please,” I told him.

“You aim like you mean business.”

Funny thing, praise. I knew I was a great shot, but hearing it from the PAD veteran made me all warm and fuzzy anyway. “Have you seen Mrs. Truman?”

“I saw her body. They ripped her to pieces, the assholes.”

Poor Mrs. Truman. “Can you walk?”

“The fuckers got me in the leg. I’m bleeding like a stuck pig.”

That’s why he’d hidden in the coal. He’d buried his leg in the coal dust to smother the scent. Smart. “Time to go, then.”

“You listen to me.” Mr. Haffey put some cop hardness into his gruff voice. “There’s no way for you to get me out. Even if I lean on you, I’m two hundred and twenty pounds and my weight will just take you down with me. Leave me a gun, and you get out of here. Kayla must’ve called over to the station. I’ll hold them off until …”

I swung the shotgun over my shoulder and picked him up out of the coal. I wasn’t as strong as a normal shapeshifter, although I was faster and more agile, but a two-hundred-pound man still wasn’t a challenge.

I double-timed it to the hole, Chief at my heels. The bulldog had a death grip on a chitinous leg as long as he was. He had to lean his head back to carry it, but the look in his eyes said no army in the world could take it away.

“This is embarrassing,” Mr. Haffey informed me.

I winked at him. “What, Mrs. Haffey never carried you over the threshold on your wedding night?”

His eyes bulged. “That’s just ridiculous. What are you?”

I’d spent most of my life pretending to be human. But now the hyena was out of the bag, and sooner or later I had to start owning up to it. “A shapeshifter.”


“A bouda.” Well, not exactly. The truth was more complicated, but I wasn’t ready for those explanations yet.

We reached the hole. If I were a regular bouda, I could’ve jumped out of the hole with Mr. Haffey in my arms. But I knew my limits and that wasn’t happening. Throwing him out would injure his dignity beyond repair. “I’m going to lift you. Can you pull yourself up?”

“Is the Pope Catholic?”

I lowered him down, grabbed him by the hips, and heaved. Mr. Haffey pulled himself over the ledge and I got a real close look at that wound. It was a four-inch rip down his leg and touching his sweatpants left my palm bloody. He needed an ambulance yesterday.

I tossed Chief and his prize out of the hole, jumped, caught the edge, and hopped up.

“Will you at least carry me fireman-style?” Mr. Haffey huffed.

“No can do, sir. I’m trying to keep your blood from dripping out of your leg.”

He growled deep under his breath.

I picked him up and started out. “It will all be over soon.”

He guffawed.

I caught the familiar scuttling sound behind me, coming from the master bedroom.

“I thought the Order didn’t allow shapeshifters.”

“They don’t. When they figured me out, they fired me.”

The scuttling chased us.

“That’s bullshit right there.” Mr. Haffey shook his head. “And discrimination. You talk to your union rep?”

“Yes, I did. I fought it as long as I could. Anyway, they retired me with full pension. I can’t appeal.”

Mr. Haffey gave me an appraising look. “You took it?”

“Nope. Told them to shove it.”

I dropped him to the floor as gently as I could and spun, shotgun ready.

A huge pale insect lunged at us. I pumped two slugs into it and it thrashed on the floor. I gathered Mr. Haffey up and double-timed it to the door.

“Listen, most of my contacts have retired, but a few of us have kids in the department. If you need a job, I can probably fix up something. The PAD will be glad to have you. You’re a hell of a shot. Shouldn’t let that go to waste.”

“Much appreciated.” I smiled. “But I’ve got a job. I work for a business. My best friend owns it.” I started up the stairs.

“What sort of business?”

“Magic hazmat removal. Protection. That type of thing.”

Mr. Haffey opened his eyes. “Private cop? You went private?”

That’s cop mentality for you. I tell him I’m a shapeshifter and he doesn’t blink an eye. But private cop, oh no, that’s not okay.

“So how’s business?” Mr. Haffey squinted at me.

“Business is fine.” If by fine, one meant lousy. Between Kate Daniels and me, we had a wealth of skills, a small sea of experience, and enough smears on our reputation to kill a dozen careers. All of our clients were desperate, because by the time they came to us, everybody else had turned them down.

“What does your man think about that?”

Raphael Medrano. The memory of him was so raw, I could conjure his scent by just thinking about him. The strong male healthy scent that drove me crazy …

“It didn’t work out,” I said.

Mr. Haffey shifted, uncomfortable. “You need to drop that silliness and get back in uniform. We’re talking retirement, benefits, advance in rank and pay …”

I ran up to my door. “Mrs. Haffey!”

The door swung open. Mrs. Haffey’s face went slack. “Oh my God, Darin. Oh God.”

In the distance the familiar sirens blared.


THE CAVALRY ARRIVED with guns and in large numbers. They loaded Mr. Haffey into an ambulance, thanked me for my help, and told me that since I was a civilian, I needed to keep the hell out of their way. I didn’t mind. I’d killed most of what was down there and they had gotten all dressed up and gone through the trouble of bringing flamethrowers. It was only fair to let them have some fun.

I tended the cut on my leg. There wasn’t much to do about it. Lyc-V, the virus responsible for shapeshifters’ existence, repaired injuries at an accelerated rate, and by the time I got to it, the gash had sealed itself. In a couple of days, the leg would be like new, without scars. Some Lyc-V gifts were useful. Some, like berserker rage, I could live without.

I was scrubbing the bug juice off my face with my makeup removal washcloth, when the phone rang. I wiped the soap off my face and sprinted into the kitchen to pick it up.


“Nash?” a smooth voice said into the phone.

The smooth voice belonged to Jim, a werejaguar and the Pack’s security chief. He usually went by Jim Black, if you didn’t know him well. I’d dug through his background during my tenure with the Order. His real name was James Damael Shrapshire, a fact I kept to myself, since he didn’t advertise it.

Atlanta’s Shapeshifter Pack was the strongest in the nation, and my relationship with it was complicated. But the Pack backed Cutting Edge, the business Kate owned and for which I now worked. They had supplied the seed money and they were our first priority client.

“Hey, Jim. What can I do for you?” Jim wasn’t a bad guy. Paranoid and secretive, but then cats were odd creatures.

“One of our businesses got hit last night,” Jim said. “Four people are dead.”

Someone obviously had a death wish and that someone wasn’t very bright, because there were much easier ways of committing suicide. The Pack took care of their own and if you hurt their own, they made it a point to take care of you. “Anybody I know?”

“No. Two jackals, a bouda, and a fox from Clan Nimble. I need you to go down there and check it out.”

I headed into the bedroom. “No problem. But why me?”

Jim sighed into the phone. “Andrea, how many years did you spend as a knight?”

“Eight.” I began pulling my clothes onto the bed: socks, work boots, jeans …

“How many of those did you spend on active cases?”

“Seven.” I added a box of ammo to the clothes pile on the bed.

“That’s why. You’re the most experienced investigator I’ve got who’s not tied up in something, and I can’t ask the Consort to look into it, because A) she and Curran are working on something else and B) when the Consort gets involved, half of the world blows up.”

Kate the Consort. The title still made me grin. Every time someone used it, she got this martyred look on her face.

“This mess looks to be complicated and the cops are in up to their elbows. I need you to go down there and untangle it.”

Finally. Something I could actually sink my teeth into.

I held the phone between my shoulder and my ear and took a pencil and a notepad off the nightstand. “You’ve got an address?”

“Fourteen-twelve Griffin.”

Griffin Street ran through SoNo, one of the former financial districts, sandwiched between Midtown and Downtown. The name came from “South of North Avenue.” It was a bad, unstable area, with old office buildings crashing down left and right.

“What were the shapeshifters doing there?”

“Working,” Jim said. “It’s a reclamation site.”

Reclamations. Oh no. No. He wouldn’t do that to me. I kept my voice even. “Who was in charge of the site?”

Please don’t be Raphael, please don’t be Raphael, please don’t …

“Medrano Reclamations,” Jim said.

Damn it.

“Raphael is being questioned by some cops, but I’ve sent some lawyers down to make sure they don’t keep him. He’ll join you as soon as they spring him out of there. Look, I know things aren’t good between you and Raphael, but we all have to do things we don’t want to do.”

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