01 1.0 The Light Who Shines3Bluebell Kildare

May 26, 2022, Red Ages

The boy is stark naked, and dried blood streaks extend from the crushed area of his forehead down to the hollows of his eyes where they pool like small, bloody twin lakes. The lines of his ribs stick out so much I could climb them like a ladder. A stark white shaft of bone sticks out from his leg, gleaming against the bloody rupture on his thigh. A pattern of crimson, crossed lines decorates his crushed left hip. His skin is dirty and he stinks like crazy, but not from death. Not yet. More like a latrine.

Under this layer of grime is a layer of bruising, both fresh and old. His feet and toes are black. How he was able to stand on them, I can’t imagine, as it looks and smells as though they are rotting. Calluses surround his ankles and wrists. He must have been tied up. Another pool of blood spills from under his head, spreading wide on the asphalt road. He looks sixteen to eighteen in age with the slightest bits of young facial hair growing about his chin. His body sprawls out on the street with his limbs twisted at awkward angles around him.

I’m going to catch the person who did this. I want to tear his heart out with my bare hands and squeeze it into a bloody pulp.

My fantasy of mushy heart muscle squeezing through my fingers as blood drips to the ground is unsatisfactorily interrupted. Dr. Nathan Perlman leans over the boy’s hand with a pair of tweezers and carefully plucks out a piece of dark red thread snagged on a fingernail. It gets tucked away safely in a clear plastic evidence bag for future analysis. Realizing my hands are still fisted from my little fantasy, I release them, trying not to look like the vengeful murderer I momentarily wish I were.

Nathan looks up at me and says, “I’m ready to move the body. Can you step back?”

“Sure.” I remove myself from the body, giving room for the Medical Examiner and his assistant to hoist it onto the gurney.

While the men are in mid-lift, I take the opportunity to examine the boy’s underside. With one hand squashing my hat to my head, I lean over until my hair drags on the asphalt. “Great Plane of Fire!”

Nathan’s assistant stumbles at my exclamation and drops the boy’s leg.

Nathan’s fury overflows. “Holy shit, Patrick! Hasn’t this boy been through enough?”

Four hands jostle the body until they manage to get it on the gurney.

Nathan’s foul mood and abuse of Patrick is unusual. His typically jovial face is soured, and his smile lines twist in the wrong direction. My chest tightens at the pained look on Patrick’s face. My heart goes out to both of them, really. I can feel the anger and pain rolling off Nathan. Patrick feels empathy for the boy and anxiety at having made a mistake on the job. I push their pains aside to focus on the matter at hand. Dealing with my own emotions is enough. Luckily I can’t feel everyone’s emotions all the time, just the stronger ones—unless I open up my sixth sense, that is. Then I feel it all.

When the body is safely enshrouded in clean white linen, I turn to Nathan. “Did you see the lacerations on his back?”

Nathan grimaces. “I hate to see shit like this.”

I agree, and my heart squeezing fantasy transforms into daydreams of watching the perpetrator’s flesh slowly disintegrate in a vat of acid. Propping my hands on jean-clad hips, I observe Nathan and Patrick load the destroyed body into the hearse.

Senior Detective Tony Gambino stands on the sidewalk next to the street where the body was found, spilling over with anger and determination. I can feel so many emotions at a murder scene where angst runs high. However, the job at hand requires I center on the victim.

“Gambino, can you give me a minute? I have questions, but I need some time here first.” Why can’t someone hanging around just feel guilty? My job would be so much easier.

Gambino nods his assent, and I admire how despite his abundant passion he looks the epitome of calm concentration.

I circle the taped off crime scene, stopping here and there, closing my eyes, feeling with my sixth sense for lingering signs of magic or strong emotion. A biting breeze blows by, sending a chill up my spine. The air, independent of the breeze, is awash with feelings. Coming directly from where the body had lain, a strong, sharp pang of pain mixed with duller threads of anguish hits me. My pulse escalates and my heart stammers as the agony and torment submerge me. I seek solace in slow, deep breaths, reminding myself this pain belongs to another.

Another emotion tickles my consciousness a few steps from the body. It’s a small sliver of sensation, which indicates that it only lasted a brief moment of time, but it’s intense. Confusion? No—it’s surprise. I walk into the cloud of surprise only to be hit by another impression. My feet are positioned exactly where the shards of glass were scattered. The fine hairs on the back of my neck rise as I’m pummeled by a blast of shock and horror in one small space. This emotion is incongruent with the first because it comes with a different signature, a different resonance left in the air. There were definitely two parties here.

My feet carry me down the street a few steps where the signature shifts back to the first. I do not own these sentiments, but I certainly enjoy them. I sense liberation and triumph. Not the usual feelings one would expect to be haunting the body of a severely tortured young man. I discern something else warring with the feelings. It’s a deep, primordial fear, the feeling of being prey. This boy was hunted or chased, or perhaps he was hiding from something terrible.

I stand still and further ratchet down my normal awareness, turning it almost completely off so I see more fully with my sixth sense, searching for any hint of magic. Emotions wash over me freely. Reaching past them, I look for something deeper and more elemental.

Something is coming from where the boy’s body had lain. It’s nothing more than a light tingling in the air, low to the ground, but I can feel its significance. Moving closer to stand outside the body outline, I crouch and fan my hands through the air close to the ground. A slight buzz zips through my hands, telling me the boy had a magical gift. The magic is clear, but its purpose vague. It’s something basic yet powerful, and the reverberations don’t speak to a specific gift. I sift my fingers through the prickly air. I can’t feel that any magic was used, but rather just that magic had been there in the boy. Damn it! It’s too elusive, and I don’t have much to go on.

I straighten and open myself up to the world again. Gambino stands well outside the perimeter of my work area wearing a quiet, thoughtful expression. His fellow officer’s face is full of wonder. Gifted sensitive work must be new to him. Well, at least it’s curiosity and not fear that radiates from his expression. I shake off the lingering emotions and collect myself as I move toward them.

Most detectives work to blend in with everyday pedestrians, but Gambino is most at home dressed in a suit and tie with gleaming dress shoes. With his suave Italian looks, he wears it well. However, it only takes drink or anger to bring out the Irish side of his heritage, causing him to turn a signature shade of cherry red. Right now bright red spots highlight his cheeks, announcing his controlled anger to those who know him well. I know him well enough, but his freckled and fresh-faced companion is new to me.

As I approach, Gambino gestures to the crime scene clean-up van. Two men unload industrial-sized power washers and vacuum equipment, obviously preparing for an inefficient bout of manual labor.

“You know, Gambino, any one of a number of magic potions, powders, or spells would do the job more effectively,” I say.

Gambino grunts. “Humph. You know the precinct isn’t ready to use magic craft like that. You can’t change the world in a day, but I’m working on them.”

A familiar exasperation washes over me. It’s the twenty-first century of the Red Ages, and the Gifted have helped keep the Norms safe from Dark Vampires since year one, but still they refuse to get over their fear and hatred of us. It’s an old, festering wound I try to ignore. I turn my mind to the situation at hand.

“Okay, I’ve gotten what I can. What do you have?”

Gambino inclines his head toward his companion. “Officer Warren was exiting the Cock and Bull Tap with some guys from the force when they heard tires squeal. They saw the body when they turned the corner.” Gambino indicates the corner where the Cock and Bull Tap makes its home.

I address Officer Warren. “Did you see anyone or a car?”

Officer Warren stands at attention, eager to divulge any detail that might be required. “No, Ma’am. We thought someone was just driving like an idiot when we heard the tires squeal. We didn’t hear anything else. We didn’t see the body right away when we turned the corner, because of those shrubs there.” His sweeping hand takes in three medium-sized bottlebrush buckeye shrubs that grow a few feet from where the body had lain, positioned between the sidewalk and the street. The dense foliage could easily have hidden a body from view.

“It couldn’t have taken more than a minute and a half for us to pass the shrubs and see him lying there. He was already dead, Ma’am. I ran to him right away and checked. No heartbeat, no breathing. The car was long gone.”

“Did anyone move the body?”

Officer Warner’s mouth tightens at the perceived slight to his professionalism. “No, Ma’am!”

I nix my next question, switching it to accommodate his pride. “Do you remember anything else?”

We seem to be on smoother ground with his next reply. “No, Ma’am. Besides that, it was quiet. No cars or pedestrians around. This is the end of the Warehouse District, and there isn’t much between here and the river except the cemetery. Most first shift workers get off at three o’clock, and either head over to the Tap for a drink or head straight home. It was approximately 3:47 when we left the tap, and we found the boy at approximately 3:49.”

My lips twitch in a smile. Officer Warren knew exactly what time it was. My guess is he’s never anything even close to approximate. “Thanks, Officer Warren. You’ve been very helpful.”

As he leaves, I see the forensic guys take down the tape and start closing up shop. I throw Gambino a look. “Did your guys find anything?”

Gambino’s eyes shift over to the team before shrugging his reply. “Some paint chips, some glass. Nothing much. We may have enough to identify the car. The boy was pretty young, I doubt even eighteen. I hope he’s on our missing persons list so we can identify him easily.”

I hope so too. “I’ll stop by tomorrow after I visit the Medical Examiner to check out his findings.”

Just then, my chimerator tightens, so I flip open the lid and see Jack’s countenance reflected in the dark, glossy surface of the black pearl. “It’s my boss,” I tell Gambino.

Gambino’s eyes flick down to my ring, but unlike most Norms, he doesn’t flinch at my use of it. A chimerator is an enchanted ring that projects the image and voice of a person contacting you. It also generally gives Norms the heebie-jeebies.

A smile ghosts over Gambino’s lips. “Well, I’m heading out. We’ll talk tomorrow.”

As I watch Gambino walk to his car, I say “Hola” into my chimerator, trying to sound casual. My boss, Jack Tanner, is quite possibly the sexiest man alive. He exudes danger in a quiet, stealthy sort of way. I often think I should be frightened of him—quite possibly because he’s a very old and incredibly strong Vampire. But I can’t seem to muster any fear, even when he’s in an obvious rage. That only makes me question my sanity. It’s a constant struggle to feel casual, so I usually settle for sounding casual.

“Hi, Blue. So what’s happening?” Jack asks.

Jack is not one for small talk, so I give him a quick rundown. “Well, an older teen boy, approximately sixteen to eighteen years old, was apparently hit by a car. Some off-duty officers were just leaving a tavern and heard tires squeal before they came upon the scene. The car was gone and the boy was dead when they reached the body two minutes later. Forensics picked up paint chips and glass at the scene, and the deceased has a large impact injury on his hip. The scene is located behind the Cock and Bull Tap at the intersection of the alley behind it and River Road. No other evidence was found, and no one else appeared on the street at the time of the incident. Unfortunately, I didn’t sense any magic used at the site in the perpetration of the crime.”

Jack asks, “So a standard hit and run?” He pauses a moment. “Wait, Blue, how did you see an impact injury on his hip?”

I scuff my boots on the sidewalk. “I wondered if you’d catch that. This is no standard hit and run. Before this boy was killed, it appears he was stripped, starved, beaten, tied up, and left to stand in his own excrement.”

“Jesus Christ,” Jack mutters.

“What’s worse is that he felt free. I got the distinct impression of a feeling of triumph before he died. He thought he’d won. And then he got hit by the damn car and his brain was bashed in.”

“For Christ’s sake,” Jack says. There seems to be an exceptional level of swearing with this case thus far.

“Although this looks like a standard hit and run and no magic was used at the death scene, the boy had a magical gift of some sort, and he was tortured, so I want this case. We’re not going to let the boys in blue keep it for themselves.” I say this last part with a level of confidence I don’t feel.

“Who’s working it from the precinct side?”

“Senior Detective Tony Gambino.”

“It will be fine then,” Jack assures me. ”Gambino doesn’t mind working with SIB. I’ll file the paperwork.”

“Thanks.” I breathe a big sigh of relief, realizing how afraid I had been of losing the case on a technicality. The Supernatural Homicide Investigation Unit has limited jurisdiction, only working cases where death is caused by a Supernatural or the motive relates to the Supernatural. Supernatural hate crimes also fall into our ballpark. Unfortunately, there are far too many of those happening lately. A standard hit and run of a magically Gifted would not get us involved. It’s regular work the police could do. But cases including torture of Gifted individuals have a statistically high chance of relating to the magical gift.

Jack voices a warning that brooks no argument: “Keep me updated on this one. I want daily reports. Whoever you’re dealing with is a real gentleman.” He practically spits that last bit of sarcasm out, and then his face fades from the surface of my chimerator.

I snap the lid closed and hook my thumb into my jean’s pocket while I take another look around. All the police are gone. The sun is lower on the horizon causing me to shield my eyes to look west. Across the street sits a beige, corrugated steel warehouse with two tall loading docks and a discreet office door. Next to it sits a plain gray stucco warehouse with three steel loading docks and bright blue awnings over the office door and windows. I look northward, and more of the same nondescript warehouses line the street. Southward lies a stretch of unused land, and past that the street ends at Red Wood Cemetery and Half Moon River.

I look down at the faint stain of blood remaining on the asphalt. The subtle remnants invite me to reexamine the area with my sixth sense. With the crime scene tape gone, I decide it’s best to work from the sidewalk; otherwise, I might end up joining the poor boy on one of Nathan’s tables. It’s never a bright idea to stand on the street while disengaging your five senses. My sixth sense is always active, but I only catch subtle impressions of strong emotions or magic until I shut off my other senses. I can also sense souls, but this boy’s soul has already passed on.

I close my eyes, pulling my awareness in and tucking it neatly away. I shift to my sixth sense, letting it grow and take the lead.

When it’s fully engaged I open my eyes and scan the area for any magic or emotions that linger. My eyesight is dimmed, and I see the world in a different way. What normally appears in vivid color dulls to muddy shades of gray. And what I normally miss stands out in stark contrast. The feelings I track seem almost like visible scents that appear as elements lingering in the air without distinct form. Magic feels like vibrations similar to ripples through a pond.

My interpretation of souls usually comes in the form of colors and more solid characteristics defining the essence of their beings. Deeper than personality, it’s more an understanding of someone’s fundamental nature, which is greater than who they are in this lifetime.

I scan the street where the body had lain, looking for something previously unseen. Proceeding at an excruciatingly slow pace, I wrap my awareness around every inch of space in the vicinity. After a few minutes, I notice a faint trill of what seems like static electricity tickling the air around the bushes behind me. Like an eagle targeting prey, I center on the depths of the greenery. A deep, thrumming magic comes from the middle of the closest bush, something extremely subtle and very old. I try to focus in, but whatever it is . . . it’s well hidden.

My full awareness springs to life again when I reengage my regular senses. Peering curiously at the bush, I wonder what secret it holds. I kneel and part the branches to view the shady center. When nothing is immediately obvious, I give the branches a good shake.

A glint of early evening light reflects off a metal object deep within the bush. With a fresh pair of gloves from my pack and an evidence bag at the ready, I push my arms into the bush up to my elbows and slowly feel around until my fingers run into something flat, hard, and circular. When I pull my hand out, a large, gold amulet is clenched between my slick latex-gloved fingers.

After carefully dropping the amulet in the bag and sealing it closed, I examine it through the clear plastic. Its face is smooth and decorated with a beveled jade triangle. The triangle has an eye-shaped cutout in the center with a circular hole that goes all the way through the pendant. A pattern of irregular ridges and grooves radiates out from the hole like rays of sunshine. Each ridge has a series of tiny, white beads dotting its edge at irregular intervals. A plain golden chain is threaded through the pendant, and it holds the greatest treasure of all: a small, dark red string caught up in the clasp—a fiber exactly the same color red as the fiber snagged on the boy’s nail. The boy was naked, so where did this thread come from—or rather whom did this thread come from?

I put the evidence bag in my pack, heft it to my shoulder over my black leather vest, and hurry toward the Cock and Bull Tap.

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