I am well aware that I am not a small woman. I’m not obese, though I weigh more than I’d like to. I’m freakishly tall, especially for a woman. That height brings with it a certain level of mass- And again, this is not an invitation for a joke about my weight, because I genuinely am sensitive about that. When I punch someone, they might not get knocked on their ass, but they should damn well have the decency to stagger. It’s not a matter of strength or toughness, it’s a question of relative mass.
As I drew my fist back from the man, shaking my arm, he sighed. “Look, Miss.” He spoke with a slight New Jersey accent, though that wasn’t entirely unknown in Binghamton. “How about you let me take you for a little ride. We’ll talk. Nice and quiet. Things don’t have to get violent.” I took a step back, and looked over my shoulder. It was two blocks to home. If I could get there… “Ah,” he said warningly. I turned back to face him. There was a pistol in his hand now. A very professional-looking silencer was screwed onto the end. I took a step back, and he raised it. “Ah ah.”
“Look,” I said, taking a deep breath to steady my nerves as I looked down the barrel. “If you want my wallet-”
“Miss, we both know you’re not stupid. That’s not what this is about. You got that case with the girl. You’re going to get into that car, and we’re going to make a little deal.”
I swallowed. “And if I decide I don’t like that deal?”
“Well. Then, we make you an offer. And this one, well-”
“Yeah, thanks, Vito, I get it. You’re giving the whole Mafioso thing the old college try, and- might I add- really selling it. But what’s with the redheaded chick with the soccer ball?”
His expression didn’t change. “Yeah, I’m not going to fall for that old trick.” Then the soccer ball struck him in the side of the head, pitching him into the car.
The car’s door-frame crunched under the impact, and the man sagged. The soccer ball rolled down his side and struck the concrete hard enough to throw out a spiderweb of cracks. It rolled along at a surprising clip to the feet of the young woman who’d sauntered out of the darkness between two suburban houses. She had hair so red it almost lit up the night, and eyes that glowed green in the dark like a cat’s. She was also wearing a rather ragged forest green jacket around her shoulders, and stood in green athletic shorts and a pair of dented steel-toed cleats. The ball rolled up onto her foot like an affectionate puppy, and she lifted her foot absently, catching it on one knee. “I’m not with him,” she said lightly, her Irish accent as thick as Guinness.
The man was up in a second, and the pistol coughed three times. His aim was both excellent, and terrible. All three shots were aimed right for the red-head’s face, but were caught partway there by the soccer ball, which had launched up off of her knee with one smooth movement. Rather than pierce the ball and drill into her excessively pretty face, the bullets ricocheted off, leaving small scratches that revealed something dull gray inside. Then she struck the ball with her forehead, and there was a ponderous moment before it moved, its inertia visible.
The thug tried to lift his hands to catch the ball, and cursed in pain as it ricocheted off of his hands, into the air. As he tried to recover, it landed heavily on his skull and bounced again. He was left flat on the ground, gasping and coughing and swearing and choking. Then the soccer ball landed firmly on his crotch, and there was nothing but a high, keening noise from him.
“Bloody cunt,” she murmured, as the soccer ball rolled back up to her feet. “Now, as for you-”
Another series of shots rang out. A second man emerged from the car, pistol in hand, muzzle flashing. I felt the world spin as the redhead threw herself into me, bearing both of us to the ground. There was a squeal of tires as the car sped off into the night, both men safely inside. My savior stood up, cursing and holding her stomach. Blood was dripping down her fingers. In the giddy rush of sensory acuity that follows any sudden, unexpected survival of a near-death experience, I noticed that her hair had turned a muddy auburn. “Oh, god,” I whispered softly, both hands over my mouth.
“I’ll be fine, I’ll be fine! Just… tell me you’ve some damn red hair dye.”
I sat in the bathroom, slowly running the tinting brush across the woman’s faded auburn hair. With each stroke of the brush, her pain seemed to fade a bit. “So, Miss LeRoux… why the hell do you have red hair dye-”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” I snapped, as I continued to run the brush down the lock of hair. I noticed the woman’s hair seemed to almost drink the dye down, going dry and brilliantly red within seconds of being painted. I’d bought the tinting brush at the same time as the dye. I’d gotten both out of a misguided notion that I’d do my hair in a new style, look fantastic, and turn everyone’s heads. Then I’d researched more into the side effects of using hair dye, and had reconsidered. That broadly sensible attitude towards life had somehow failed me entirely when it came to choosing a career where I wasn’t going to be shot at.
Shot at. With guns. Who did I know that would use a gun to try to kill me? The things that I worked with didn’t use guns for three reasons. One, they were obvious and easily traced by the police compared to, say, death-curses or salamander venom. Second, they were unreliable in the hands of the supernatural. It wasn’t a major difference, but a gun was about fifty percent more likely to jam when held by a non-human. Alfred had told me that, once. And finally… guns simply didn’t have the style that most supernatural creatures demanded. A sword, sure. A thrown knife. Even a bow or a dartgun. I could imagine all of those, easily. A gun just felt so classless.
“Aaaah, damn that feels good.” The red-haired woman raised the hem of her shirt, exposing her stomach. The gut wound had become little more than a fading pink spot. I inhaled sharply through my nose, and kept brushing. “So, full disclosure. I was hired by Earlen Wen to kill you.” The brush fell from my numb fingers, and struck the ground. “Oh, come on. You just saved my life with this hair dye. I’m not going to kill you after that. It sets a horrible precedent when you murder people who save your life.”
“Why on earth did you stop those two, then?” I asked, feeling slightly dizzy, as I reached back down and grabbed the tinting brush like my life depended on it. Thank god for insecurity. This girl seemed much more like Earlen Wen’s style. The soccer ball sat in the corner, where the woman had gently set it down. I’d tried moving it while getting out the hair dye. It weighed more than she did.
“Well, come on. I kill people with a lead-filled soccer ball. You show up in the morgue with several small-caliber wounds, nobody’s going to believe I was the one who killed you.” She sighed. “It’s just as well. The Earlen’s a bitch, and Alfred would never have forgiven me.”
This didn’t shock me. In honesty, how many redcap women could there be in one city? And I knew it had only been a matter of time before Alfred started dating a woman who would try to kill someone besides him. The real surprise was that she hadn’t been able to go through with it. “You’re Polly Ryan, then. Fine. So, you were working for the Earlen. What’s happening with us now? Are we friends, or do I just get a pass this once, or do you owe me your life…”
“I’m not entirely sure.” She frowned. “How about let’s start as friends and see where it goes?”
“Is the Earlen going to try to kill you?”
“No, no. Well, not personally. She might order me to be killed alongside you, but she’s not going to hold a grudge against me. No self-respecting fairy would screw over someone who saved their life.”
“And you’re self-respecting, dating Alfred?” I asked. She gave me a sour look, and I winced. “Sorry. He’s… got some bad habits. He’s dated more than a few women who were… unstable.”
“Well, yes, we’re not generally considered the kind of girls you bring home to mother, are we?” She gave a quirked smirk. “I don’t think I would’ve gone through with killing you even if those two hadn’t shown up. I’d hate to disappoint him, and he does seem to think very highly of you.” She sighed softly, as the last of the red hair dye soaked into her roots. “God damn, that feels better. That’s the fancy stuff, isn’t it? Doesn’t need any bleaching or nothing?”
She ran a finger through her hair. Normally, hair dye was supposed to be rough on the hair, making it fray and frizz. That’s what I’d read. The fact that her hair actually seemed to grow sleeker, fuller, and more attractive with the dye seemed like just another one of life’s little crotch-kicks. Still… She’d effortlessly demolished a trained gunman, and shrugged off a bullet wound. I tapped my fingers across the brush, considering. “Is there any way I could hire you as a bodyguard?”
She rubbed her chin in what she probably thought was a calculating way, but I could see the hungry gleam in her eyes. “Weeeell. I suppose I could consider it. How much ya thinking of paying me?”
Her eyes widened with greedy excitement. “Five hun-”
“A day, until this trial is finished. For that, you live in this house, you escort me to and from work, and you keep awake while I’m asleep. You make sure that I don’t get my dumb ass killed.” I stood up, and cricked my neck. “Two things. First, you swear to me that you won’t kill me, or anyone I tell you not to kill.”
“Sure, I swear I won’t kill you or…” She paused a moment, trying to parse the rest of it, but I moved on. I could get all of this down in writing later.
“And second, if you do marry Alfred, I’m writing a prenuptial for him, and you are not allowed to kill him if the relationship goes sour.”
She puffed out her cheeks, standing up, staring up at me with her hands on her hips. “You really think I’m just some murdering nutjob, don’t you?”
“You’re a redcap. You are the Murdering Nutjob Fairy.”
She opened her mouth, and closed it, looking annoyed. “God, I want to tell you off, but being the Murdering Nutjob Fairy does sound pretty great.” She grinned up at me. This woman, capable of such sudden shocking violence, had one of the brightest, warmest smiles I’d ever seen. “Alright! Where’s my room?”
I’ve called the house small, though that may be giving the wrong impression. It is, in fact, a fairly large house by my New York City standards. Purchased from an old lady, its decorations were mostly still in place. The old woman had been devoutly Christian, putting crosses, relics, and pictures of Jesus everywhere. I once had toyed with a fixture, and it had opened to reveal a small censor used for sprinkling holy water and a guide on how to give someone their last rites in case of an emergency. It was the supernatural equivalent of moving into James Bond’s apartment. I was pretty sure that the wallpaper had bible verses printed on it. I personally didn’t have enough faith to make it dangerous, but it was still a nice intimidating factor, and protected the place while I was out. The old woman herself was now living in Florida, and I liked to believe she was wreaking havoc with any undead or demons down there.
Polly Ryan did not look like the women that Alfred usually dated. I’d never actually known him to get into a relationship with a human woman, but he still tended to favor the more unusual fairies. The kind who were distant and icy and beautiful. Polly was not any of those. Well, I was being a little catty on the last item. She was certainly attractive, but her skin was freckled, her clothing raucous, and she wasn’t classy. She was, however, deeply appreciative of the bed. She flopped down heavily, dropping her soccer ball to the side with a thump that made me wince. “Heeey, this is a nice room! You must make a real bundle to be able to afford a place this great, huh? Not to mention paying me five hundred a day.”
“It’s a fair amount; You may be on call at any time, and I’ve already had one person try to shoot me.” I sighed. It would cost a lot. But the redcap had already proven her ability, and you knew you’d hit the big time when you hired your own bodyguard. I couldn’t keep her on retainer like that for long, but I hopefully wouldn’t need her for long. “Now, as for food-”
“Oh, that’s fine. I think there’s going to be plenty of fear and intimidation while I’m around you, Atina.” She winked at me, and I rubbed my forehead. I stepped back from the room, and closed the door softly, leaving her to sleep off the bullet wound.
Then I turned my head towards the opposite door, where the Celtic cross hung. Jenny’s room. I felt a little pang of sorrow. I hadn’t heard from her on the phone. I stepped up to the door, and rapped it gently with my knuckles, almost hoping I wouldn’t get an answer. “Jenny?” My voice was soft, but I tried to be heard. I needed to make sure she was doing alright. I’d taken responsibility for her by becoming her defense. As a lawyer, that didn’t really extend past her legal needs, but I was never a very good lawyer. I gently opened the door, and leaned my head in.
Jenny sat on the large bed within. The curtains were all drawn, her head lowered. Her right hand was red, and she held it with her left. She looked up at me, and there were tears in her eyes. “I… It was gloomy in here. I decided to let in a little light.” Her fingers tightened around the burned hand. “I wasn’t thinking. It…” She sniffled. “I’m a monster.”
“In one sense, yeah.” I sighed softly, and closed the door behind me as I stepped into the room. “You’re going through a serious trauma, Jenny. You just had a lot of bad things happen to you, and you’re experiencing some strange new things. Kind of like puberty all over again, except this time, the blood is going in rather than coming out.”
She stared at me. Then she laughed, sharply, almost disbelieving, a little sob mixed in with it. “I can’t believe you said that.”
I smiled. “It’s the nature of dark work. Humans use humor to mock dark things, and make them less frightening. Why do you think there are so many jokes about lawyers?” I took a seat in the large, overstuffed chair, flicking the light switch as I went. A large, elaborate crystal chandelier hung from the middle of the ceiling, casting light across the room. “Did you have anything to eat? I left that blood pack in the fridge for you. You can microwave it for a minute or so on half power, and it’s supposed to taste like it’s straight from the vein.”
“Is this so mundane for you?” she asked, her hands clasped together. I’d picked up a fresh set of clothes from the dollar store; She wore a white undershirt and a poorly fitting pair of sweatpants. I’d burned the previous set of clothes and dumped the ashes into the Susquehanna river. I tried to avoid entanglement with mortal law enforcement, even when I was the one crimes were being committed against. It would get everyone involved a lot more edgy and frightened. That wouldn’t help Jenny or me one bit.
“Yeah. Everything gets mundane if you experience it often enough. That’s what mundane means.” I leaned back in the chair. “Anyway, you’re not a monster in the sense you meant. Whatever you are, it’s a natural phenomenon. You’re not cursed, though it may feel like it at times. You are in a new state of your life. My job is to make sure it’s a long and happy state.”
She looked down. “I still don’t remember what happened that night. What if it turns out I killed him?”
I rubbed my face briefly, and took a deep breath. “Alright. I’m going to level with you. If you killed your boyfriend, and I’m not saying you did, there are leniencies in the Undead legal system. Gluttony is a crime, and a serious one, but-”
“Gluttony?” She frowned.
“Ah. Okay, yeah. See, the Undead are very old-fashioned. To them, killing a human is not the crime, it’s just an act. The motivation for killing a human is what matters, and they like to use the Seven Deadly Sins because- and you’re going to have to learn to deal with this, Jenny- they are a bunch of melodramatic centenarians who are very bored, and very out of touch. They’re like your senile grandparents, except in perfect physical health and capable of snapping you in two like a board.”
“I like my grandparents,” Jenny said tartly.
“Then you should get along fine in Undead society. The charge of Gluttony is because they think you killed him out of hunger. Murdering a human to satisfy your own needs is a big taboo in Undead society. Despite their unemotional attitude towards it, they dislike killing, especially for so stupid a reason as a lack of control. The ones with a conscience despise it as a waste of human life, the ones without despise it as a huge hassle for the entire undead community because you couldn’t keep it together. But, your circumstances were unusual. Most Gluttony cases have to do with someone who’s already established and who got careless. You were just changed, every drop of blood sucked out of your body, and starving. I’m going to make a strong argument that the fault was not yours, that it was your maker’s.”
“But… I killed him, nonetheless,” she said softly, her eyes turned down.
“Maybe. We don’t even know that. It may turn out you weren’t responsible for it at all. But even if you were, the punishment for taking his life shouldn’t be death. Maybe you’ll have to spend a long time atoning, but you can’t do that if you died. Do you understand me?”
She nodded meekly.
“Good. Next, we have to deal with the charge of being makerless. This is a lot more serious to the Undead, because of what it means. They don’t know who you might be working for, or what you’re really capable of. Let’s say they accept you, and 30 years down the line, your maker reveals your true power, and you’re suddenly one of the most powerful beings in the country, and you know exactly how to tear apart everything they’ve built?”
She stared at me. “God, that sounds like the ravings of a paranoid mind. Is that really how they justify it?”
I coughed, and looked down at my hands. “That’s… actually just an idea I came up with on the spot.”
We were both quiet for several seconds.
“Let me get you some blood and oatmeal. You don’t need to eat, but it’ll make you feel better.”
A few minutes later, the two of us sat together at the small breakfast table sitting in the kitchen. A bowl of red oatmeal sat in front of Jenny. She eyed it uncertainly, before taking a bite. Her eyes widened, and she began to gulp down heavy spoonfuls of the stuff, gulping it down, and licking the bowl. She looked a little embarrassed as she finished, licking her lips hungrily. Three bowls of oatmeal and a full pint and a half of blood later, she sat down heavily, letting out a sigh of relief, sinking into the chair. I smiled. “Feeling better?” She nodded quickly, her head lowered. “Yeah, it’s amazing how much food can remind you that you’re alive.” To my gratitude, Jenny did not seem to notice the accidental faux pas.
“Do you think that you can convince them that I deserve to live?” Jenny asked, her hands folded in her lap, the rush of energy disappearing as quickly as it had arrived. Her cheeks were still pale, but a bit of the red had returned to them. “I mean, that… I won’t be a danger to them.”
“I am always very clear with my clients. I don’t promise anything. There is never certainty in these trials. All I can promise you is that I am a very good defense attorney among the supernatural, and I will be doing everything I can to protect you.” I smiled. “I know that might not sound like much, but I’ve got some good friends. This isn’t hopeless. I think we can make a very strong case for leniency. After that, we can worry about finding your maker and helping you settle down. And you’ve got a home here for as long as you need.”
She nodded slowly. “Who was that woman who you brought home?”
“Oh, that? She’s my best friend’s girlfriend, and now, my bodyguard. There was, uh…” I frowned. “Look. I wouldn’t tell you about this except it might save your life, but someone drew a gun on me. And I think it had to do with this case. So I am going to suggest you not answer the door, and if any suspicious guys come around, don’t let them in. I don’t think they want to kill us, but they certainly seemed ready to. I think this case is more than just you getting changed into a vampire. Someone’s got a political agenda.”
She paused a moment, and frowned, looking at me. “You are doing a great deal to help me, and for very little pay. You are getting 38 dollars for this from me, correct?” I nodded. “So what is your motivation? This political agenda? Do you want power? Is someone paying you?”
I looked down at my lap. “I just want to feel like I’m helping people. I became a lawyer to help people, and most of what I do, I don’t really feel like I’m making the world a better place. Most of the time, I’m working for people that patronize me, that act as though I am lesser for being a human. Even when their freedom, their life, depends on me, they can’t help but look at me and say ‘You poor, limited thing.'” I sighed. “I want to feel like I’m helping someone in a way that really matters. If you survive this, you have a chance very few people get. You could change the way this town works, which is something that I’ll never get to do, because I’m just a human.”
She frowned. “You sound almost like you want to be one of them.”
“No. I decided a long time ago that I wasn’t going to accept power. I’ll succeed on my own terms. I don’t need the supernatural,” I lied.
The doorbell rang again at 4 AM. Jenny was curled up into bed, her arms under her head. Polly was at the front door before me, and her eyes were narrowed. “You’ve got bollocks up to your neck to be coming around here, buddy,” she said, bouncing the soccer ball on one knee. I had no idea how she could move the thing so lightly. “Now turn around and buzz off before I decide to cut them off.”
The man in the door crossed his arms obstinately. The punk ghoul from before. “Is that supposed to be a Welsh accent?” he asked, sniffing, looking unconcerned with her. I saw her teeth clench.
“It’s Irish, ye bloody tan-”
“Polly, it’s alright.” I shook a squeeze-bottle in one hand, and the ghoul took a step back. “I know this guy. He’s not going to make any trouble, is he?” Polly gave him a brief glare, and then stepped back. She caught the soccer ball on her head and walked into the kitchen with it balanced there like she’d spent four years at an exceptionally sporty finishing school. I said a silent prayer that she not drop it and destroy my floors. “What brings you to my door, Johnny Rotten?”
He raised an eyebrow. “I’m here with a warning.” I raised the squeeze bottle threateningly, and he held up his hands placatingly. “Not like that. I’m sorry about getting rough with you in the office, and in deference to that, I won’t insult you by asking to come in. I’ve been around the block a couple of times. Met a few solicitors and a few humans in the supernatural. Not many of them with nerve worth talking about.” There was the faintest trace of a British accent, although I wouldn’t have been able to tell where in Britain. “You’ve got nerve in spades. Soaked me right and proper, I don’t mind telling you, made me feel like a right fool. Some men might take offense to that. I personally think it’s damned attractive.” He gave a broad, toothy grin. “Now, do you want to hear the warning?”
“Sure.” I squared my shoulders, arms crossed, squeeze bottle held loose so I could spray him. I was admittedly interested to hear what he had to say, but I wanted to look like I didn’t believe a word of it. Arms crossed, jaws tightened. All those little things to project a fake aura of intense dislike. “Then get off my property.”
“Fair enough, fair enough. You know who I am?” I raised an eyebrow. “No? Damn. I’m Arthur. I kill the Undead, and eat them. Specifically, I kill and eat them’s what’ve done wrong.”
“That sounds precisely like vigilantism, Arthur. What, you don’t have any trust in the Undead courts?”
He gave me a long, slow look, his eyes shaded and dark. “You and me, we both know what the score is with the dead. I’m more like you than I am like them. I don’t get stronger. I don’t become a prince or a noble or some great bloody dark god just by not getting my dumb ass killed long enough. The real Undead, they’re the ones who get stronger because they don’t change. You and I have to change to keep up. We aren’t given power. We earn it.”
“I don’t have to kill anyone for that,” I said, tone sharp, giving him a hard look. He looked to the side, frowning.
“True enough. I don’t kill because I want to. I kill because it means protecting humans. I don’t expect you to agree with me, but we’re both trying to do right by the ways we know.” He took a deep breath, and shook his head. “I’m getting ahead of myself. That girl, they’re saying that she killed a human, drank him dry, right?”
I gave him a cold, level look, tensing one hand. “There are charges against her that she did. I intend to prove that she didn’t.”
“And if she did?”
“What if she did, and I get her off the hook, you mean?”
“That’d be about the shape of it, yes.”
“Then she goes free, and you don’t kill her.”
“Even if she was guilty of murdering that boy whose only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time?”
“That’s the only crime she was guilty of, either. She’s not the murderer here. She’s the victim. If you come after her, there’ll be hell to pay. Your beef is whatever asshole transformed her into a vampire.”
Abruptly, his face split into a grin. “Fantastic! Just what I wanted to hear!” He tapped the side of his nose. “Had to make sure you weren’t a turncoat type. Here’s what I know, then. My employer thinks that this is a ploy on the part of the Notte Nostra. They think they’ve got something nasty planned, they want to screw with Lady Ann Willing, and divide the city. This is a big issue, and one that might get the Lady Ann into some deep trouble. My employer’s trying to make sure that they don’t. If that means that Lady Ann has to kill Jenny, so be it, but what’s important to them is that the city not get torn apart. Find some way to get everyone on the same page. A close decision won’t do it for this one.” He shook his head. “You gotta win this thing all the way, or it’ll all end in tears. Best of luck.”
“Thanks for telling me that a lot’s riding on this case, I had no idea.”
He gave a short salute, turned on his heels, and strode down to the sidewalk, and disappeared into the night. I walked back into the house, locking the door behind me out of some random paranoid impulse. Then, I took a seat in front of my computer, and began paging through my files. I picked up my phone, and dialed Alfred.
“Mmmgh. Mluh. Hell, Atina, why are you calling me at this hour?” Alfred’s voice grew tense. “What’s the matter? Did your house get burned down? Was it another coyote?”
“No, jesus, Alfred, I just wanted to make sure you were alright. I’m fine. Polly’s here. She’s been shot, but she’s fine too.”
“Atina, I think that your jealousy over Polly is getting a little out of control.”
“Oh, funny man, very funny. Look, the jury selection is in about 20 hours. I want you to come by at sundown. I’m going to invite Fang Fen as well, and we’re going to start strategizing.”
“Oh, excellent! I’ll bring along a nice hot dish.”
“Alfred, this is not a party, this is evidence.”
“Atina, I’ve known you for about two years, now. In that time, do you know how many times I’ve seen you socialize?”
“I work a lot, so what-”
“You only work. When was the last time you went out on a date?”
“Well… I mean, in law school-”
“When was the last time you visited or threw a party?” I was silent, and sighed, lowering my head. “No booze, I promise, just some barbecue. We’ll have a great time of it. I’ll bring over meat, we’ll all sit out on the patio, it’ll be awesome.”
“Just… Jesus. Fine, whatever. Just be there.”
I didn’t say it, I didn’t admit it, but I had to be honest with myself. I was glad that he cared enough to force me to be social. Even if he could have chosen a better time.