01 1.0 The Light Who Shines3Bluebell Kildare

May 27, 2022, Red Ages

I enter the precinct headquarters and step into the sallyport, conscious of the knife tucked in my waistband. It’s not the knife that makes me uncomfortable, but rather how improperly sheathed it is, which I find shameful.

The officer at the front desk invites me past the sallyport and asks me to wait in the general station room while he calls Detective Gambino. The room has scuffed, stark white walls and gray linoleum floor tiles that could use repeated washings. Outdated metal desks pressed against each other give little privacy or work ambiance. A few officers writing reports and doing paperwork glance at me in mild curiosity. I stalk the open area by the doorway, anxious to finish at the precinct so I can get to my office. It’s already been a long and exhausting day.

As I wait, two officers walk in from the back. One officer, heavyset, with short, thin hair plastered in small wisps to his oily face, leers at me. Lust rolls off him, filling me with disgust. I know the other one and hold no love for him either. His name is Detective Dean Schmidt. He’s tall and broad-shouldered with coarse blond hair. He’s built like an athlete who’s gone slightly soft in the middle. His hazel eyes are a bit too wide-set for his face, and his thin lips rest in a permanent sneer when he looks at me. He’s holding a box of Ma Farina cookies in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. Ma Farina is the best bakery in town. What a waste of cookies. He stops when he sees me and snarls with disgust, “What are you doing here, Aberrant?”

Internally I cringe. You would think I’d be used to insults by now, but they still sting. Instead of outwardly reacting, I use the skills I learned in the orphanage and put on a brave front. “What’s your problem, Schmidt?” I spit out Schmidt’s name like it’s a curse word.

“You’re my problem. I just arrested one of your kind, and I come here and you, another Aberrant, are in my building.”

His buddy interjects as his lascivious stare rakes me up and down. “But she sure is hot. I wish they all looked like her.”

I ignore the buddy and say to Schmidt, “Listen, Slick. Why don’t you put your little snack down and get Gambino for me. I don’t have time to listen to your prejudiced idiocy. I have a murder to solve.”

Detective Schmidt moves his hand toward me like he is going to hit me and his box of cookies falls to the ground. The lid of the box opens during the fall, and cookies roll around at his feet. One cookie rolls in circles, around and around, before spiraling to a stop.

I back up. Maybe being on the offensive was the wrong tactic.

Schmidt looks at his cookies, and his mood turns even blacker. I can’t blame him, really; those are darn good cookies. He takes a step forward with his fist raised. I look around for help, and I see two wide-eyed officers staring at us with mouths agape. No help there.

I move to a defensive fighting stance. Schmidt is well-trained and much larger than I, so I don’t stand a chance, but I am not going to take his abuse lying down. I feel comforted that I have the knife, but I won’t be the first to pull a weapon.

Gambino’s voice suddenly cuts through the room in a tone brooking no argument. “Stand down, Schmidt!” An avalanche of protective rage from Gambino warms me. It’s nice to know he feels that way.

Schmidt steps back.

Gambino says with a calm that is remarkably contrived, “Inspector Kildare does excellent work. She has solved more homicides in two years than you have in the last ten, Detective Schmidt. I expect you to treat her with respect when she comes to this office.”

Detective Schmidt’s mouth is closed in a white line of fury, and if looks could kill, I would be pierced with a million shards of glass.

Gambino looks at Schmidt’s buddy and says, “Officer Randall, she is not a piece of meat. Get your dick out of your hand and get back to work.”

Officer Randall turns bright red all the way up to his ears while I struggle to maintain a straight face.

Gambino turns to me. “Right this way, Inspector Kildare,” he says kindly but firmly.

I follow him to his office with as much dignity as I can muster. Gambino shouts over his shoulder, “And pick up those damn cookies, Schmidt.”

”I’m sorry you had to deal with them,” Gambino says once we’re safely in his office. “There are many good men on the force, but a few fall short in certain areas. We’re working on it.”

I nod in acceptance of this apology. Prejudice is rampant these days. The Gifted are human, just like Norms. The only difference is we have a gift, a magical power of some sort. Some, like Dragomira, are Gifted in spell casting. Others, like me, have a special strength in one specific area. Prior to the birth of Vampires, the Gifted were hunted down as Witches and burned. But once the Vampires were born, the Gifted often helped protect the Norms. Due to this help small pockets of humans survived until the Great Pact between Daylight Vampires and humans was made. Since then, many of the Gifted have stayed in public service positions like mine.

Unfortunately, there are still those who are subject to selfishness and greed, and a percentage of us, just like humans, do immoral things. Being Gifted allows those so inclined to take greater advantage of Norms. Even when we don’t, many Norms are fearful simply because the Gifted are mysterious and unpredictable to them.

Because they keep the Dark Vampire population down, Daylight Vampires are generally well tolerated in society, except by the more extreme hate groups. During the worst of the Red Ages, Daylight Vampires struck an agreement with humans. Each human, Gifted included, provides a pint of blood to the blood banks every three weeks, and in turn they do not hunt us. They also agreed to keep their populations down, and police this rule strictly amongst themselves. Anyone who makes too many children is using too much of the blood supply and is hunted down.

There are many hate groups, particularly among orthodox religions, who would like to see all Vampires and Gifted wiped out. The requirement to give blood every three weeks is considered by many as inconvenient, and this alone causes plenty of resentment.

Due to the nature of the prejudice that permeates our society, I am not new to hate rhetoric. Still, it hurts.

Doing my best to brush off the encounter, I ask Gambino, “What have you found out about our boy?”

Gambino opens a folder on his desk. “The boy was on our missing persons list. He was seventeen years old and was missing for twenty-eight days. The investigating officer thought he was a runaway, but the parents claimed there was no reason for him to run. We have already notified the parents, and they identified the body at the Medical Examiner’s this morning. The boy’s name was Jason O’Connell.”

I stand up and pace a little in Gambino’s tiny office. My blood is still high from the incident with Schmidt, so the office feels confining. I hardly take three strides before I have to turn. “Please don’t mind me,” I say to Gambino. “I can’t stand to sit still too long. Continue, if you would.”

Gambino nods, obliging me. “The M.E. faxed over the grill pattern they found on the boy’s skin. We’re searching for the model car it belongs to. We also have paint chips from his skin and glass from the scene at forensics. Hopefully between these three pieces of evidence we’ll get a match on a car registered in the area.”

“Have you read the preliminary report from the M.E. yet?”

Gambino taps his folder in disgust. “Yes. I’d like to nail the asshole who did that to a seventeen-year-old boy. Our perp is a real sicko.”

“You and me both. Do you have any persons of interest?”

“Well,” Gambino pauses as though reluctant to reveal what he must. “There was some trouble in the family. The parents have been estranged for about four months. The mother is Gifted, and she hid it from her husband for almost twenty years. When Jason’s gift came to light and his father rejected it under no uncertain terms, his mother revealed her gift and stood by the boy. The father left home when this happened. We’ve talked with both parents, and I don’t see any evidence pointing to either of them, but maybe the father was so ashamed he decided to off the boy.”

Gambino pauses for a moment and shakes his head. “I just don’t see a father who loved the boy for seventeen years, turning around and doing this kind of work on his own son.”

Gambino points to a photo of the boy’s back with the lash marks highlighted under a bright camera flash. It is a gory photo, not nearly as impactful as what I saw hours before, but I get his point.

“He doesn’t seem like that type of man, and has no history of violence,” Gambino continues. “But for now, that’s all we have.”

I offer, “Well, there might be something else going on.”

I reach into my pack, take out a small glass vial, and place it on the table. “This charm will prevent others hearing what I’m about to say, and I need you to stop taking notes.”

Gambino looks at it curiously. “What’s in it? Sand?”

I laugh because it does look like sand. “It’s filled with dried, ground worms as they are one of the few creatures that can’t hear.”

Gambino makes a noise, clearly expressing his distaste.

I defend myself. “It could be made of octopus or squid, but they are out of my price range. This is just as effective.”

I can see by his face that he’s unsettled but accepting, so I continue with my news. “After your forensics team left, I did another search with my sixth sense and found an amulet in the bushes. After some research, I learned it’s an ancient piece with significant powers. I have it in an evidence bag stored safely for now. What’s interesting is the piece of dark red thread caught in the clasp. Do you want us to keep it, or do you want to store it in the evidence locker?”

Gambino looks up. “That’s very interesting. The preliminary report from the M.E. said a red thread was snagged in the boy’s fingernail. I’d like to see it, so if you could bring it down, that would be excellent.”

I nod. “You can start taking notes again.”

When he lifts his pencil, I go on. “I went back to the Cock and Bull Tap to question the bartender about the man in the red cloak, and got the following description: in his forties or fifties, about six feet tall and thin with a long nose. He has a neatly trimmed, full beard and mustache. His facial hair is dark brown to black and slightly graying. Eyes are dark. Head hair could not be seen due to the cloak’s hood. He was well dressed in trousers, a white dress shirt, and tie.”

When I stop speaking, Gambino stops taking notes. That’s what I like about Gambino. He’s professional with good attention to detail.

“Does that description match anyone in the family?”

Gambino says, “It doesn’t match the father, and no other men lived in the household.”

I pause to think for a moment. “Do you know what the boy’s gift was?”

Gambino leans back in his chair, stretching his legs out. “That was one of the strange things. Neither parent seemed to know. It makes sense from the father because he wanted nothing to do with the boy after finding out he was Gifted. But the boy’s mother stuck up for him, and I would have thought she would know. All she said was the gift was kind of crazy and would interfere with other magic. That’s all she knew for sure.”

I try to give this information some context for Gambino. “Sometimes when a child has a gift, it takes a while for them to figure out how to work it. The gifts usually show themselves around puberty, so this boy may have been a late bloomer, gift-wise. I struggled to understand my gift. Since a child’s gift is often nothing like their parents’, even a Gifted parent can’t guide their child in understanding their gift.”

Gambino’s eyes reveal a new understanding when I finish. Then he asks, “Do you have anything else?”

“Yes and no.” I fiddle with my hands as I say this next part. “This morning I was disarmed and held briefly at knife point while a masked man asked me about the amulet.”

At this Gambino stands up and curses. “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!”

His protective streak resurfaces, and I wait patiently for him to sit down and reassume his mask of calm. When he does, I go on.

“I didn’t see anything new or helpful beyond the description the bartender gave me, but the man could have fit that description. Obviously because he was masked I can’t identify him. I was able to get away, but when I reached my gun and turned around, he was gone. He did his disappearing act again.”

Gambino raps his fingers loudly on the desk. “The disappearing man,” he muses. “Is there anything else I should know about?”

I give him a wry smile. “No, not at this time. I do want to talk to the parents myself though. Can you send their information over to my office?”

“Sure. Let me see you out, then.”

I pick up my privacy charm, and Gambino escorts me back to the sallyport.

As I walk to my car, I notice Officer Schmidt and his cohort are standing by a patrol car talking. They’re standing in profile and must see me, but make a point of ignoring me.

As I hop in my car, my chimerator pulls tight. I flip the lid and see Jack’s face reflected. I answer the call, “Hola.”

Jack growls, “Blue, I told you I wanted daily reports. Are you alright?”

“I’m just leaving the precinct. I’m on my way over.”

“Well, hurry up.” Jack disconnects.

Cripes! He really needs to learn some manners.

I turn on the ignition, and with my arm stretched over the back of the passenger seat, I slowly back up. A crackling and popping noise followed by a slow hissing sound emits from my tires. Just my luck.

Heaving a huge sigh, I slide the transmission back into park and climb out of the car. Both rear tires are as flat as pancakes. I get down on my hands and knees to carefully feel around on the pavement under my back tires. Sure enough, I pull out a handful of sharp nails, all the same size and all shiny new as though fresh from the box. I shield my eyes with my hands and look into the sun toward the direction of Officer Schmidt and his accomplice. I can see they are laughing and taking sidelong glances at me.

I kick my tire in frustration and look up at them again only to see they are still laughing. I could go over there and accuse them, but they’ll surely deny it. I could threaten to hex them. I wonder if they’d believe it. That would be funny but a bit childish. Unfortunately, I think my revenge will have to wait until an appropriate opportunity presents itself.

Leaning up against the side of the car, I flip the chimerator open and chime “Rubalia.” Rubalia is our office assistant extraordinaire. The chimerator works its magic, and a few seconds later, she answers.

“Rubalia speaking.”

“Rubalia, I’m at the precinct and I have two flat tires. Can you send a tow truck?”

Rubalia’s reflection shows her glasses slipping down the bridge of her nose as she peers over them. “Two flat tires. That’s quite a coincidence, and at the precinct too . . . ”

“It’s no coincidence, as you darn well know. Please tell Jack I’ve been held up and will be in as soon as I can.”

Rubalia purses her lips and furrows her brow. “Of course. I’ll get someone out to you right away.”

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