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Sevardin Harker. Venday, Pisces 11th 2351. 11:30 AM. Downtown Los Angeles (AKF Central Precinct).

“Here’s the score,” Rorick Grimm began. “We’ve got one dead actress, another on borrowed time, and if history is any indication, another soon to follow.”

The five assembled ventures sat in a high-rise conference room of the LAKF chapter’s central precinct. Wolf had dedicated ventures from each city affected by the Black Lotus deaths to the task force: Sev’s self-selected venture from Arroyo, a venture each from South Arroyo’s and Glendale’s homicide units, Burbank’s Cold Case Division, and the LAKF’s own Cold Case Division. Glendale’s and South Arroyo’s detectives were on the older side, which Sev was grateful for. I don’t know what the hell we’d do if we had another puppy like Lecarde on the team.

“First rule of Black Lotus Club is very simple: no press. Second rule of Black Lotus Club is also no press. For rule three, refer back to rules one and two. Am I being clear enough? Only a handful of folks know Esmine Carter received a card so far. And we want to keep that the case for as long as possible for reasons my associates will soon explain.”

Rick gestured to Sev and Zuiker who stood on either side of him in the Amagium’s traditional attentive pose. Rick placed his hand on his chest:

“On paper, it’s my name attached to this shitshow. Central is your mouthpiece to the families, the city, and the inevitable media circus. That will keep us very busy. We also don’t want to hijack this case because, as of present, it has yet to actually involve anything in Central’s jurisdiction. Therefore, Arroyo and Burbank will be calling the shots.”

Again, Rick gestured to Sev and Zuiker:

“If Senior Detectives Lowin Zuiker or Sevardin Harker give you marching orders, fuckin’ march. If you require approval for something, their words carry as much weight as mine. That said, if you need warrants, or your investigation takes you out of Los Angeles County, come to me, because they don’t have time for logistics and legal. That clear enough?”

Murmurs of assent filled the room. Grimm nodded decisively.

“Good. Harker is going to walk you through the rough history of the case we’ve gathered so far, then he and Zuiker will go over assignments.”

Sevardin stepped up to the podium and started describing their timeline, from the very first death up to Esmine Carter receiving her card earlier that morning. He proceeded to explain that the spell was demonic in nature, and that the more word of mouth that spread, the stronger the curse would become, ultimately culminating in a sort of entropic trap that would kill Carter.

 “Arroyo is going to be talking to Roth Bush, the only person who was alive for both sets of murders,” Sev said. “We’d like South Arroyo’s venture to look into the players involved with the earlier two sets; agents, studios, people who stood to gain and lose from the deaths.”

Zuiker cleared his throat and picked up when Sev had finished.

“We will be interviewing Steline Levine and Oletta Brown, Garfield and Carter’s agents, to get a feel for their projects, rivals, and so on. Glendale will be reviewing the security records from the Keystone Studios’ lot. We want to know everybody who went in and out that day. Who they work for. Why they were there. If any of them have any connections to the victim.”

Grimm stepped back up to the podium.

“Detective Fuller and Sobek will be on hand to assist South Arroyo and Glendale specifically. If you’ve got questions, come to me. Otherwise, get to work,” Grimm said, and gestured that the ventures were dismissed.

—Juel. 3:46 PM. Hollywood Hills—

It looked like six o’clock outside; dismally gray, and threatening to rain. Sev pulled their cruiser up to the front gate of Rothford Bush’s expansive estate in the verdant, unincorporated expanse of Los Angeles nestled between Hollywood and Studio City. Each wing of the gate was made of imposing black metal inlaid with polished strands of blonde wood. It was flanked by a metal mailbox and an intercom, overlooked by redundant, symmetrical cameras.

Ironic. You’d figure an Aheme of all people would know how fallible they are. Though they probably had heat-sensitive and enchanted lenses to catch urdic disturbances, but even those security measures could be fooled by clever enough magic.

Due to the cruiser’s odd chevron-shaped trio of front seats, Juel had to jump out of the car to address the intercom. He pushed the button and a voice picked up on the second ring.

“May I ask who is calling?” A clear feminine voice replied.

“Senior Detective Juel Flores, Senior Detective Sevardin Harker, and Detective Jecia Singh of the Arroyo Keeping Force, acting under jurisdiction of the Los Angeles Keeping Force. We need to speak with Rothford Bush.”

There was a long pause. One that struck Juel as longer than necessary.

“What is this regarding?”

“A homicide investigation. The rest is confidential.”

Another pause, followed by:

“Please hold.”

Juel waited half a minute, then turned back to Sev and Jecia who peered at him with confused and irate expressions. They don’t know how Hollywood works. ‘Open up, police,’ doesn’t play as well with people who think they are gods.

“Mr. Bush isn’t home at the moment.”


“This is extremely urgent. We will wait here if necessary.”

A briefer pause, followed by:

“Please hold while I try to contact him.”

After about fifteen seconds later, there was a chiming noise and the two gates slid open.

Juel got back in the car and shut the door, shrugging and chuckling.

“Apparently, he isn’t home. So I told them we would wait.”

“It took two minutes for them to figure that out?” Jecia asked.

“He’s home,” Juel said. “He just wants us to piss off.”

Sev guided them up the sweeping concrete drive. The path cut a stylish curve across expansive green lawns, dotted with bare spindly trees. The place felt secluded. Spartan. Bleak. Sev turned to him as they ascended the hill to the primary residence:

“Juel, just in case you haven’t heard, we aren’t supposed to refer to as afflicted humans as vampires anymore. The preferred term is aheme.”

Juel and Jecia both cracked up.

“What?” Sev asked.

“Hermano, if you honestly think I could spend four years hobnobbing with Hollywood pricks and working public outreach without knowing every polite euphemism for magical conditions, you really have no clue what my day-to-day is like.”

Sev chuckled.

“It was news to me. But my day-to-day is about three decades in the past, on average.”

“Here I figured you were just old-fashioned,” Jecia mused. “The sort to speak his mind and drop his coat in puddles for women like a fool.”

Sev gestured a concession and Juel laughed. Damn. She’s got your number. I think she’s also into you. He couldn’t actually see Sev blush, but Juel recognized the expression on his face.

The house itself was a black, angular pseudo-box of concrete, polished metal, spotless glass, and wooden double doors that matched the same blonde paneling on the gate. A perfect palace for your modern-day storybook Drakuel. Sev parked the cruiser in the broad, circular drive that stretched from the main house to a separate building—probably a guest-home, pool house, or employee residence—and what appeared to be a tiered garage with three double-wide doors. Another car, a Nelson Grand Galleon, was parked near the front door.

As the venture disembarked an attractive, young blonde woman in a charcoal tabard suit exited the wooden front doors and came to greet them.

“Hello, detectives. Please come inside. Mr. Bush is currently entertaining another guest, but he should be able to receive you in about fifteen or twenty minutes.”

“I thought Mr. Bush wasn’t home?” Sev asked with a mild smile.

“Oh. I must have misspoken,” The woman said, perfectly pleasantly.

Oops. Funny how that happens.

“What is your name miss?” Sev asked.

“I’m Vecca Reese. Mr. Bush’s executive domestic assistant.”

Juel had to suppress a snicker. People often accused amagia of unnecessary pretentions with their titles and ranks, but they didn’t come close to approaching the overblown monikers of Hollywood jobs. Dangled carrots to make a single employee do five peoples’ worth of work.

“Please follow me to the salon,” the woman said, and led them inside.

The interior was nearly as austere, sterile, and imposing as its surroundings. The floor was white marble and the walls a muted, matte gray, adorned with abstract geometric paintings; the sort of lines and colored squares that Juel found hopelessly dull. There were a few semi-spherical works of art, but no personal effects. None of the pictures with famous friends or framed movie posters that Juel had come to expect from Hollywood elites.

As she led them through the hall, a bright red lynx with vermilion wings and a feathered tail padded across the room, stretched, and flopped down on a black and tan rug. All three of the Keepers paused, assessing the potential threat.

Vecca turned to them with a smile.

“There’s no need to worry. Iblissa is very well-trained and quite docile.”

Juel gave the woman a questioning look. Then why the hell does her name translate to ‘she-devil?’ In response, Vecca knelt and scratched the marble floor with her fingers. The tiger-sized, gryphanoid chimera rolled onto her back and made an odd noise between a click and a growl.

“She’s being coy. You may pet her if you like.”

Sev and Juel exchanged a look and both shook their heads, but Jecia walked over and gently brushed Iblissa’s exposed chest. The chimera purred loudly.

“I assume Mr. Bush has a special exemption permit for exotic pets?” Sev asked, joking but not joking.

“Oh yes. Her wings have been clipped so she can’t leave the estate grounds, and she was a gift from a certified breeder. She is also fully permitted. I can fetch the papers if you’d like.”

“Not necessary,” Sev said.

Vecca showed them to a wide room—again ultra-modern décor and furniture to match the architecture—that overlooked the valley and lower foothills, as well as a marble patio with a black-bottomed infinity pool.

“May I get you anything while you wait?”

Each of them declined in turn.

“Please let me know if you change your mind. Mr. Bush will receive you shortly.”

Vecca bowed and glided out of the room. Juel watched her go carefully. She has military training. More impressively, she’s also been trained to hide it fairly well. But the way she moved; always keeping the majority of the room within her field of view, an alert but relaxed posture and muscular surety betrayed her.

“How much do you think this place costs?” Sev asked.

“Can’t even afford to speculate,” Juel replied.

—Sevardin. 3:53 PM. Hollywood Hills—

After about twenty minutes, the venture heard voices, and Iblissa’s ears twitched. She made a sort of clicking, meowing noise and ran out of the salon, heading toward the voices, whose lively conversation gave way to boisterous laughter.

Sev looked after the big cat and spied a curly haired woman in glasses; middle-aged, tall and somewhat plump. When the woman saw the chimera, she beamed and knelt to the floor. The cat-bird hybrid head butted her in the face, purring loudly and puffing its wings as the woman scratched her tufted ears.

“Oh hello, Iblissa! Yes, hello my beautiful girl. Oh, Rothy has been taking good care of you hasn’t he? Yes, oh, yes.”

Behind the woman, stood Rothford Bush. Even though he was over one hundred and twenty, he resembled a man in his mid-forties. Dark-haired with silver blaze dusting his temples and nape like a laurel crown. His skin was white as polished bone, sharply contrasting his navy shirt and black blazer. The pupils of his blue eyes were ringed with an angry red; another tell-tale symptom of vampirism.

The woman looked up abruptly and drew her head back.

“Oh. Hello, detectives. I didn’t mean to keep you waiting. Why didn’t you tell me you had other guests, Roth?” She said accusingly.

Sev didn’t buy her surprise. For one, you called us detectives instead of officers without seeing our pins, and for another, you’re a worse actor than Juel’s toddler. Her expression had the same forced qualities of a person acting delighted about a surprise they clearly expected.

“They arrived unexpectedly and offered to wait,” Roth said, shrugging. “Who am I to rush a reunion with an old friend?”

“You get caught bathing in virgin blood again?” The woman teased.

Bush tsked and gave her an over-sharp, wounded look.

“Don’t be tasteless, Triga. You know I am more partial to finely aged vintages. Virgins make my teeth ache.”

He opened his mouth and briefly flicked out two huge canines which bore equal resemblance to the fangs of a wolf and a snake. More laughter. It also seemed forced, the sort of empty exchange that made Sev feel sick. The social equivalent of empty calories, cloying and corrosive.

“Well, I won’t keep you any longer. I’m sure this must be important.”

“Always a pleasure. Give Timessa my best.”

“I will Roth. Try to stay out of trouble.”

She kissed his cheek.

“Too late for that it seems,” he remarked and started walking toward the salon.

Triga laughed again and shrugged on a raincoat that Vecca had retrieved, then brisked out of sight. The chimera followed them. Rothford Bush regarded the venture with a chiseled smile.

“Thank you for your patience, Detectives. I wasn’t expecting company today.”

“Mr. Bush,” Sevardin said gesturing respect. “I am Senior Detective Sevardin Harker. This is Senior Detective Juel Flores and Detective Jecia Singh of the Arroyo Keeping Force. I take it you didn’t receive our attempts to contact you?”

“I did,” Bush inclined his head. “But I didn’t have time to compose a reply. It’s been a busy week. I have a film exiting post-production this month and there are many T’s to cross and I’s to dot before we can get it out the door.”


“Was your guest part of the production?” Sev asked.

Bush flashed an openly insincere smile.

“Is that germane to your investigation?”

“You tell me. If you’ve heard our calls, you know why we’re here.”

Bush’s smile dimmed for a split second when he realized he had been outmaneuvered.

“Triga is an old friend. A retired talent agent who enjoys reminiscing about the good old days and Tinseltown’s current goings on. But as I said, I wasn’t expecting company today. I had to push back a meeting in Santa Monica to five o’clock, and I’m hoping I won’t have to delay it further. Bearing that in mind, I’d appreciate it if we can keep this brief.”

Sev nodded and gestured understanding, hoping he didn’t come across as too snide.

“Yesterday, Glianna Garfield died unexpectedly. Two days earlier, she received a Black Lotus tarot card anonymously in the mail. Seeing how you’ve been affected by similar deaths, we were hoping you might be able to discuss your experiences. Share any insights that might otherwise be lost to time.”

Bush inclined his head, momentarily dropping his veneer of superiority and annoyance. He seemed tortured.

“I hoped I’d never read that headline again. But I’ve been dreading it for the last fifty years.”

“Why’s that?” Juel asked.

“Because it conjured some very painful memories, detective. And as you get older, you come to realize we are all ruled by patterns. Two sets of deaths, fifty years apart could conceivably be a coincidence. But three completes a cycle. Establishes a rhythm. And fifty years from now, I imagine you’ll be seeing a fourth.”

Thanks for the vote of confidence.

“Not if we break the cycle now. And you are uniquely qualified to help us catch the murderer behind it.”

“They’ve finally been confirmed as homicides then? That’s news indeed. Tell me, what else have you learned?”


“No offense Mr. Bush, but this can’t be a two-way street. The prior investigations were impaired by information leaks. The more people who know specifics, the harder it is to verify legitimate tips.”

“I’m not sure what I can tell you that my prior statements wouldn’t cover, if you still have those files. Calea was the love of my life. We were young, yes, but nobody understood me or inspired me like she did. And Trimina’s death nearly destroyed my career. At first, the studios refused to work with me, and then they typecast me as a tragic lead. And when I lost Loti… I became a prime suspect. Save for the victims and their families, nobody has lost more to this curse than I have.”

“Then help us catch the son of a bitch who cast it,” Jecia insisted.

Bush snickered.

“Well, here’s one insight: I doubt the same murderer is responsible for all these deaths. As you’ve observed, I am one of few people alive who has been alive for each act of this tragedy. Given how little overlap there is between the first and second sets of murders, and how much time passed between them… you are either searching for separate people, or someone extremely long-lived. My only theory is that each culprit discovered the… ‘mechanics,’ of this curse independently and killed the victims for their own ends.”

“You and Calea were extremely close. Did she mention the card to you before her death?” Jecia asked.

Bush nodded.

“We didn’t think anything of it at the time. The card didn’t seem enchanted in any obvious way, though neither of us were interested in magic, or the occult, and I knew much less then than I do now. Most of what I know, I learned from trying to research her murder.”

“She looked up the card’s significance after she received it. The Tower is the only universally negative card in the traditional tarot card deck. I was unsettled to learn it, but she decided to keep it as a sort of… ironic good luck charm. She kept it in the corner of her mirror for about two weeks. The only other indicator that something was amiss were the phone calls.”

“Phone calls?” Sev asked.

Bush sighed and gave the venture a disgusted look.

“I would have assumed you read my statements before coming to harass me. Like I told the police, both times, Calea received several threatening phone calls in the second week. ‘Your days are numbered,’ ‘I’m watching you,’ and other similar but vague threats. I have to assume it was the killer. But as far as I know, nobody else received similar threats, so it may have been some crazed stalker.”

That tracks, actually. If the curse relies on the Black Lotus’ notoriety, and the victim’s growing fear, the first murder would need something to kickstart it.

“Was the caller male or female?” Juel asked.

“Impossible to tell. She said the voice was distorted by some kind of contract, meant to sound menacing.”

Each member of the venture took down notes, as Bush waited impatiently.

“I suggest you review my statements, because I don’t know what you don’t know, detectives. And unless you want me to start making things up…” He shrugged with a bitter snicker. “Do you think you are the first venture to ask me for a magic bullet? Why would I have withheld it until now? This shadow has shaped every day of my life since I lost Calea.”

Time for some hardball.

“Why did you become an aheme?” Sev asked, point blank.

Jecia bristled, and Juel directed an emanation at Sev to the rough effect of “be careful.” But Bush laughed.

“Come now detective, if you’re going to make crass accusations, call a spade a spade. I’m a vampire, and I can’t abide this politically correct horse shi—”

“I can’t speak from experience,” Sevardin interrupted. “But If I lost the love of my life, I can’t see myself being eager to live indefinitely.”

Bush looked so offended he was astonished.

“Life goes on in the face of loss, Detective Harker. Hope defines the human condition, vampire or not. At first, I hoped I might find someone else like Calea, and even after I gradually gave up on love, I could still appreciate beauty. I believe I can still contribute to peoples’ happiness through art. And I like to think that is worth living for.”

“We found a second card,” Sev said. “She’s young, talented, and beautiful, just like Calea. If you’re looking to make a difference, help us save the recipient. Who do you think killed Calea? And why?”

“I followed the investigation of the first deaths like a dog chasing a car. At first, I was convinced it was Trimina Fillmore. She was the only one who directly benefited from Calea and Elice Harding’s deaths. But I can’t fathom why she would kill herself. As for Loti and the others…”

He seemed to genuinely consider the question for a moment, then sighed and shook his head before continuing:

“Hollywood will always be a nest of vipers. It is tamer in some ways than it was at the turn of the century. Worse in others. There are simply too many people with bad blood, or who stood to gain by killing rivals. I’m sure you know that Byanka’s murder was highly politicized. She instantly became a weapon in Ericia’s cold war against the SSS.”

“What can you tell us about Lotine Churchill?” Sev asked. “Our understanding is that your relationship with her while you were shooting Engagement was… somewhat turbulent.”

Bush rolled his eyes.

“If you are implying that I had a talented woman full of promise murdered because it was a convenient way out of development hell, you may leave now and speak with my lawyers.”

“Just an observation,” Sev said.

Bush continued:

“Do you know that the average life expectancy for Ahematolazaria Stokera is fifteen years? I was bitten at seventy-five, and I am currently one hundred and twenty-five. The only reason I have survived it as long as I have, is that I have absolutely no taste for bloodshed. I find violence repugnant. When I feed, I will not draw blood from living humans, even willing volunteers, because it makes me faint or regurgitate. Each time I drink from my allocated rations, I feel a self-loathing that makes the pain of hunger seem quaint by comparison.”

Nice speech. Again, I can’t help but wonder why a pacifist such as yourself would voluntarily become a bloodsucker. And you sure as hell didn’t deny that it was voluntary.

“Do you remember anybody acting strangely in the time period of the first murders? Or seeing any unusual faces on set?”

Again, Bush seemed to give the question some earnest consideration, but ultimately shook his head.

“Vampires age slower than humans, but our memories are still fallible, detectives. I gave my statements. If you want to know what I know, look to your records, because I have done my best to forget. The only comfort I have left, my only mercy in all this, is that I know I won’t live to see the next string of deaths.”

“You sound convinced that the curse is an inevitability,” Juel said.

“I have yet to see any evidence to the contrary. And now, I’m afraid I have to take my leave. If you want to continue, come back with a subpoena, or some more specific questions. I am tired of being haunted by this. I’ve done all I can, and I’ve had enough.”

—4:31 PM. Hollywood Hills—

“You lose your cool easier than you used to,” Juel observed, once they were back in the cruiser.

“He’s hiding something,” Sev said.

“Everybody in this godforsaken city is hiding something,” Juel replied. “You came at him like a bull. These people aren’t used to being confronted by any higher powers than themselves.”

“Sorry. I’m new to Hollywood etiquette. Was I supposed to thank him for the twenty-minute wait?” Sev asked.

“No, but if we attack head-on, he will either clam up or double down on hostility.”

“What would you suggest?” Sev asked, trying to sound patient and reasonable rather than exasperated.

“Calling him out for getting bit was a bit much. Everybody knows vampirism is voluntary among celebrities. It’s hidden in plain sight, but actually accusing him of it might be going too far given our other goals. Making him mad won’t help us.”

“Making him feel vulnerable might,” Sev said. “If he feels less self-assured, he’s more likely to do something dumb or rash.”

They reached the gate and waited as the two metal sheets started to part. On the opposite side of the street, a black figure astride a motorcycle had a camera with a telephoto lens leveled at their cruiser. The rider paused for a second, then let his camera fall to his back, secured by a shoulder strap, and gunned the bike for all it was worth. The motorcyclist had disappeared before the cruiser could even clear the gate, and by the time they pulled out of the driveway, he was long gone. In the foothill’s nest of snaking turns, trying to catch him would be pointless.

“God damn it!” Sev snapped. “Who the fuck was that?”

Jecia shook her head, bewildered.

“Probably just garden-variety paparazzi,” Juel said, less concerned. “There are folks who follow cops around this neighborhood hoping to snap a picture of a juicy arrest. Amagia are especially tantalizing. No crime like magic crime.”

“I didn’t notice a tail driving up,” Sev said.

And after my abduction, I’ve become damn good at spotting them.

“They’re very good at what they do. Many of them also have spotters.”

Sev swore again as he started driving back toward the LAKF’s central precinct. I have no idea what our next move is. If that bastard does know something, we’ll need leverage to get him to talk. Sev suddenly felt Jecia’s wyrd light up like a bulb in the right seat of the cruiser, as if an epiphany struck her. Without explaining, she dialed her phone and held it up to her ear.

“Hello, this is Detective Singh with Arroyo. I know you’ve just started digging into the records, but does the name ‘Triga’ mean anything to you? She’s a retired talent agent.” After a pause, her face lit up. “Really? Now that’s very interesting.”

Juel and Sev both looked at her, eager. She nodded and started scribbling down notes.

“She was at Bush’s house when we arrived and he was less than cooperative. Thought it might be worth looking into her…. Yeah, definitely.… Dig up everything you can on Triga Shapiro and call me back when you find a current address…. No. Avoid talking to her or her people…. Okay, thanks.”

Jecia hung up and turned to Juel and Sevardin.

“Guess which retired talent agent represented Marigold Tyler, the sixth Black Lotus victim?”

“No way,” Juel said, floored.

Jecia nodded, smug. Fire flooded Sev’s heart and he looked at her with an exhilarated smile. I could kiss you right now. Her smile broadened.

“How did you think to look her up?” Sevardin asked.

“Just had a hunch. The way she acted so surprised to see us struck me as off. Somehow, I doubt her visit was as casual as Bush made it out to be.”

“We need to hit her up. Tonight. If she’s involved, she may try to skip town.”

“I agree.”

“Should we wait here? If she’s in the hills, it’d be stupid to drive all the way back downtown.”

“Yeah. Let’s park where Mr. Motorcycle was waiting, in view of those cameras. At the very least, it may make Bush sweat a little.”

—5:15 PM—

While the venture waited, they looked up Triga Shapiro on the arcanet. She had dozens of film credits to her name, and had been active in the industry from 2292 to 2340. From what he could gather, she had come to Hollywood with big dreams of acting, but never exactly looked the part, and after two extremely minor supporting roles in middling films, she pivoted to represent other actresses. She started her own agency at 2298, which took off after she landed Marigold Tyler, and later Stiva Arthur. Later in life, Shapiro dabbled as casting director, and finally, became the producer of several symvision shows that all flopped or fizzled out after a couple seasons.

“In terms of movers and shakers, how would you rate her, Juel?” Sev asked.

Juel considered his own phone and notes for a couple seconds, considering the question.

“She’s not a queen bee, but this is what a very successful career looks like for somebody working behind the scenes. Consistent work. Some major successes in terms of talent, and has her name attached to a good mix of crowd pleasers and a couple critically acclaimed films. Not a household name, but I guarantee people in the industry knew who she was in her heyday.”

Sev nodded and took a few more notes.

It was hard to tell if Shapiro had directly benefited from the Black Lotus murders, but Sev noticed that her career took off when the actress Stiva Arthur received a role that was supposed to go to the fifth victim, the Academy Award-winning Lotine Churchill. Losing Marigold Tyler was unquestionably a blow to her career though; she was far and away Shaprio’s most prominent and successful client prior to employing Arthur.

Finally, central called back with an address in the foothills of Glendale.

“Hate to be that guy, but do you think you two can handle Shapiro on your own?” Juel asked.

“Sure. What’s up?” Sev asked.

“Like I mentioned, Lami is having a tough time with Ethano lately and I want to be there for bedtime tonight. I can research at home and hit it early tomorrow, but I need to be a dad as much as I am a cop.”

Sev nodded and stoked the cruiser to life, hiding his disappointment. He knew it was a perfectly reasonable request, but he remembered a time when Juel’s hunger for police work rivaled or exceeded his own.

Then again, he has a life beyond the Keeping Force. And I really don’t.

It wasn’t the first time the realization struck him, and it hurt as bad as it always did. In certain respects, Sev’s injuries and recovery had provided him with an excuse to neglect his personal life. Between the job and learning to walk again, he never had to concern himself with his lack of a social life, meaningful long-term goals, or other things that made life worthwhile for most folks. Deep down, he knew he had lived in stagnation for the past two years. That truth waited on the floor of his mind like a discarded toy, painfully tripping him up whenever he had to compare his life to Juel’s.

As they drove back to Central in silence, he saw something familiar in Jecia’s expression, idly peering out the window. A sort of wistfulness that seemed similar to his own. I wonder if she feels the same as me. After all, she had enough money to retire, enough to supposedly buy happiness, but she ended up coming back to the Force. He chuckled inwardly. Maybe the two of us should find a support group for fucked up cops. Or maybe we can start one.

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