Jecia Singh. Venday, Pisces 11th 2351. 6:03 PM. Glendale (Foothills).
Triga Shapiro’s home wasn’t as obviously opulent as Rothford Bush’s estate, but it still represented a level of luxury Jecia did not understand and never truly craved. Shapiro’s residence sat on the crest of one of Glendale’s foothills, bordering Pasadena. It had a sort of iceberg like design; the house at the top was relatively modest, but the property stretched down the face of the hell with a number of tiered terraces, ending in a brush-filled bowl between the foothills.
As soon as the cruiser crossed the metaphysical threshold of the property limit, Jecia sensed an extremely high collective inherence from the house. Many people—no, many entities—call this place home. The grounds were also heavily warded, which was relatively rare for civilians, though more common among the wealthy. But Jecia determined the spells were designed to keep things inside, instead of repelling hostile magic. Curious.
Things starting falling into place as they walked to the door. Jecia and Sev heard a sharp, keening bird cry. Both of them looked up to find a green fox with peacock wings standing vigil on the roof. A second later, it was joined by a macaque with golden fur, and a quails’ topknot sprouting from its brow. Both of the chimeras wore collars inlaid with gyves.
“More chimeras,” Sev said, voice heavy with distaste.
Sounds like there’s a story there.
“Didn’t you sense the enclosure spell?” Jecia asked airily.
“Not ‘til you pointed it out,” he admitted.
“She must raise them. What would you wager Bush got his little demoness from Shapiro?”
Sev gestured ‘pass,’ and grunted:
“I miss the days when drug dealers were the only ones who collected designer chimeras.”
Jecia snickered. She found Sev especially charming when he was blunt. He was deft at dealing with the ambiguities of police work, but she had learned that he preferred things to be cut and dry, honest and humble. Foppishness and drama annoyed him. To her eye, Sevardin Harker was a man out of time. Somebody born in the era of shining armor, who was dragged off his horse by his cape to a more superficial future. He belongs to an age where duels were still an acceptable way to settle scores. Because he would duel the right people, and he would win. Better yet, he’d only kill a fool when they had well-and-truly earned it.
Sev rang the door, and by the time somebody answered, Jecia could feel dozens of pairs of eyes on her; powerful hybrid wyrds swirling in the periphery of her own. She always found chimeras fascinating and beautiful. She found people who tried to domesticate them to be exceptionally stupid and cruel.
The idea that all natural-born chimeras were solitary predators was a myth; as was the notion that all ‘designer’ breeds were tortured monsters, created for combat. A chimera’s over-all temperament varied depending on its crossbreeds. But they were—without exception—more intelligent than average animals. In Jecia’s opinion, they were too smart to be treated as pets. But even geniuses can be made into slaves.
Jecia made a note. She keeps slaves.
Shapiro answered the door wearing comfortable-looking slacks and a sweater, with what appeared to be a feather boa; loud and eccentric, even by Hollywood standards. But as Jecia passively brushed her wyrd, she realized that the scarf had a wyrd of its own. Another chimera. The boa was a literal feathered snake. It was a beautiful creature, with scarab green and iridescent indigo plumage. The snake’s face ended in a strange split beak that segued into fangs, with a small slot for its forked tongue to flick out.
“Hello detectives,” Shapiro said with a weary smile.
Her expression was completely different from the faux-surprised woman they had met at Bush’s. It was knowing. Resigned. Genuine.
“You called us ‘officers’ back at Bush’s place,” Sev observed.
Shapiro grinned back, still weary.
“I figured if I pretended hard enough, I had a tiny chance of avoiding this back at his place. Come inside. It’s dreary out there.”
Shapiro noticed Jecia’s gaze and smiled.
“This is Roxine,” she said, gesturing at the chimera. “She gets cold and lonely, so she likes to ride around on my shoulders when I’m at home. But I can put her back in her enclosure if snakes freak you out.”
Jecia shook her head. Sev also waved her off.
“You want coffee?” Shapiro asked, as she retreated deeper into her home.
Sev looked to Jecia. She nodded.
“I could use a cup.”
“Make it two.” Sev said.
Whereas Rothford’s house was golemic and impersonal, Shapiro’s was ostentatiously social. Her walls were a who’s-who of Hollywood A-listers. Jecia made a point of avoiding tabloids and celebrity gossip, but even she recognized several of the faces.
What would a stranger make of my new home? It was a very nice house, even for a Keeper in Pasadena. It was a two-story, three bed, two bath; which was one more of everything than she felt was strictly necessary, but it charmed her. And she’d given it nothing. A few framed photos of her parents, her cousins, and some old girlfriends—People she’d lost touch with after the Athenaeum, to say nothing of Newam.
All of her friends from Newam were still in a box.
“Wow.” Sev said.
Jecia blinked away from her reflection in one of Shapiro’s framed movie posters. I have got to stop zoning out like that! She followed Sev’s gaze. Shapiro’s front hallway opened into a central hall of hardwood, surrounding a glassed-in Japanese-style courtyard, filled with chimeras of every combination.
“My little menagerie,” Shapiro said as she went to the kitchen, which had an open counter view of the garden. “The studios used to call me ‘The Props Pound.’”
Jecia tilted her head to the side and looked side-long at Sev, who shrugged.
“I’m sorry, I don’t follow.”
“Sorry, I’m being obtuse. Each one of those beauties was made to spec for a movie, television series, commercial, or sym-game promotional stunt,” she said the last with particular contempt. “And then slated to be terminated immediately after. Because ‘monstrum’ don’t have the same legal rights as other animals.”
I don’t know what to say to that. She exchanged a tense glance with Sev.
“Oh!” Shapiro said, emanating apologies. “No, that’s not meant to be a dig at you or your people. I mean, personally. I’m just a bitter old—”
“It’s a stupid amagiate definition,” Jecia interrupted. “‘Monstrum,’ I mean. Automatically ascribing ill-will to urdobiology is medieval thinking. Its language has allowed the ass-end of certain states in the Republic to actually qualify half-fae as ‘monstrum’ for the purposes of emergency treatment and insurance coverage.”
“No! My god, that’s awful!” Shapiro said scandalized.
She’s over-acting again. Or acting like she’s over-acting? Christ. This woman is going to be exhausting, I can feel it.
“Yeah. I just. My heart breaks when I see these… powerful, intelligent creatures. Imagine spending two million dollars to breed one of these beauties to just the right shade of yellow, only to…” she shook her head. “Breaks my heart. And I have the means to do something, and nothing better to do.”
“Was Iblissa a gift to Rothford?” Jecia asked.
Shapiro smiled and nodded.
“She’s a beauty, isn’t she? He’s just been so fucking dour lately. Talking about how he is ‘playing chess against the devil’ and his time is coming… like bubby, you’ve had a good run for one, and two, how the hell am I supposed to enjoy my time left when you’re acting like you’ve got nothing to live for? And like me, he has the means to do something, and nothing better to do, so… yeah. I gave him a Chimera cub from a shoot for a fancy brand of Chinese perfume. Roth pouted for a week. Now he refuses to go anywhere without her.” She chuckled.
“Are you and Rothford close?” Jecia asked.
“I’m sure he’d say I’m ‘over-stepping myself,’ but I think I am as close to him as he lets anybody get. Which is to say; at arms-length.” Shapiro extended a cup and saucer to Jecia. “How long did you live in Newam?” She asked.
Jecia froze. What?
“How did you know?” She asked. Her own voice sounded brittle.
“Oh, just something in the way you walk, honey. I can’t explain it. My wyrd isn’t mighty, but it’s got a nose for where people come from.”
“Can you do me?” Sev asked.
Jecia couldn’t describe how, or why, but she knew that he was asking on her behalf, and that she was grateful. Shapiro’s question implied an unhealthy insight. And the last time—focus Jecia. Get it under control.
“You’re from here!” Shapiro said to Sev as if he were kidding. Then added, as an afterthought: “But your parents are from somewhere… cold and snowy. Scandinavian, right? You’re a sunny, southern California boy if I’ve ever seen one. Through and through.”
Jecia didn’t know why, but she could tell that answer tickled Sev. It had only been a handful of days, but she already recognized the goofy, private smile he wore when something made him happy. Shapiro squinted at him again, and probed his wyrd more carefully when she gave him his cup of coffee.
“But you were born over there, weren’t you? Back in the old country?”
“I’m impressed,” Sev said, raising his cup in a toast.
She doesn’t only know about me. The tension in Jecia’s head, wyrd, and chest dissipated. She just has a knack for places like I’ve got a knack for things. Her paralysis immediately gave way to curiosity.
“Do you have to visit the place in order to get an impression of it first?”
Shapiro shook her head.
“Nah. I just have to have an idea of what it’s like. I get people wrong all the time, actually. But usually, they either… They’ve been to that place recently, or they ‘live there,’ ‘up here,’” she air-quoted and then pointed to her temple and gestured ‘brain.’
Jecia laughed. You’re interesting.
“So. Why were you hoping to avoid this?” Sevardin asked.
“Nobody likes to be a suspect, bubby. Especially in this godforsaken city. It can help a star, but for people like me? Just bad for business. Even if I’m already technically retired. But putting that aside, being blamed for something you didn’t do feels shitty.”
Jecia decided she liked this woman better than the one she had met at Rothford Bush’s estate. That woman was completely artificial; less of a person than a rock. This one was more earnest. But Jecia still wasn’t sure she trusted her.
“Why do you think we would suspect you?” Jecia asked.
“You’re here about Mari,” she said, sighing as she sat down. “And because I was at Roth’s house. You find the second card yet? I mean. Why else would you be here.”
Sev and Jecia said nothing. Triga took a deep breath and her wyrd withdrew. It seemed as if she was suddenly very far away.
“That poor girl.”
She’s performing again. Reveling in the drama of the situation, but she was also more sincere than she had been at Bush’s house. A better performance? Or more honesty?
“Mari wasn’t just my client,” she said at last. “She was… she was mine. And I was hers.”
“You were in a personal relationship?” Sev asked gently.
Triga nodded, wiping tears from her eyes, but keeping her voice gruff.
“I visited Roth because he lost Calea. And Trimina, and Byanka, of course, but Calea was the one who broke him. He had it hardest from the start. And I caught it at the very end.”
“I’ll be honest,” Sevardin said. “We got off on the wrong foot with Rothford, mainly because we haven’t had time to properly review his prior statements yet. Truth is, we don’t know what we don’t know. So tell us everything. Anything you noticed. Any observations you have had, or things you’ve figured out over the years. Just lay it on us.”
Very smooth, Sev. Jecia observed.
Shapiro sighed and nodded:
“When Byanka died, I figured it was the fucking Soviets. I thought they were trying to mimic the original deaths to make some sort of statement. But after Lotine died,” She shook her head. “I became a suspect. She and I were on bad terms, and when she heard that Byanka died. Nobody took her seriously of course, but then she died, and it’s like, oh my god…”
“Why were you on bad terms?” Sev asked.
“Tabloid spat,” she said, rolling her eyes. “In an interview, I said that Mari could act circles around Lotine Churchill, the headliner of her day, and the little homophobic bitch never got over it. Do I regret it? I mean, I’m a pragmatist, so yes; obviously. I did the dumbest thing you can do in this goddamn business. I told the fucking truth.”
Jecia made another mental note. She is bitter about this. Again, she’s so bitter that I can’t tell whether she is overselling it.
“What do you remember about the general time period?” Sev asked.
“There was a new age boom at the turn of the century. Just like there was an occult boom back in Roth’s day. I dunno, maybe people turning to Fae. Counter religions. Xenomancy, or…” She shook her head, looking for the words. “You know better than me. The kinds of kids your Satanic Panicked mothers warned you about. People always point their fingers at the Black Lotus when they go talking about Hollywood like we’re all deviants, and they always include me because I’m a lesbian.”
“Who do you think killed Mari, Triga?” Jecia asked delicately.
Shapiro looked like she expected the question, and still didn’t know the answer.
“Sometimes I wonder if it’s some kind of… chain. The ghost of the first girl haunts the second, and so on, but… I don’t know. It ruined Roth all over again, and it ruined me three times over,” She shook her head again, thinking. “It’s always women. I don’t know why, but it’s always women who die. And for some reason, that makes me think a woman is behind it. But since it’s been a hundred years, I don’t think it’s a human woman either.”
“You think the same killer is responsible for all the crimes.”
Jecia made a note: No hesitation.
“Involved, at least. Maybe a vengeful ghost, or a demon, or…” she shook her head. “Again: I don’t know—I hope you people have a better idea than I do.”
Shapiro sniffled again, genuinely crying. But maybe also overselling it? I can’t get a read on her. People were much, much harder than objects. Her wyrd had trouble making sense of other people’s supposedly obvious emotional emanations. She could read expressions well enough and detect bad acting or obvious guilt, but the subtle stuff was much harder. Jecia looked to Sev. Fortunately, I get the sense that you’re better at that, so I’ll let you handle it.
“Do you have any mementos from Mari? Pictures?” Jecia asked.
Shapiro gave her a horrified look. Not offended, but… hurt. Scared. Embarrassed? Finally nodded her head. She gestured ‘wait here,’ got up from the table, and walked out of the room.
In the chimera garden, a shadow fell out of the sky. One of the rarest, most valuable, and iconic animals ever birthed by alchemy. A panther-raven. The icon of a sports car line, three different capes-and-tights heroes, and at least as many tech-bro start-ups. She bowed her head at them, and laid down in the middle of the garden. The other chimeras gave her a wide berth. Jecia decided she liked that one.
Shapiro headed back in, ashen faced, and handed a double photograph; the sort you could get at photobooths. Jecia looked at it before touching it; it helped to know what you were walking into when it came to photographs. But the thing practically bled wholesomeness. An attractive young woman with voluminous red hair was kissing a much younger, very embarrassed Shapiro on the cheek in the first photograph, and biting her cheek in the second.
“May I?” Jecia asked.
Triga handed the photo to Jecia. It was hot to the touch. And looking into it blinded her.
The emotions were too intense for clear visuals, or coherent insights. The regret, upfront was so intense that it literally and metaphysically blinded her. Jecia nearly dropped the photograph, coming away with only a couple—very sharp—impressions. The first was that Triga Shapiro loved Marigold Tyler. In every sense of the word. Loved her when she was alive—not as much as she should have—but Triga still loved her, and felt guilty for being alive after Mari was gone. Guilty for having the temerity to keep going.
“I’m sorry,” Jecia said, nearly yelping.
“Honey, are you alright?” Shapiro asked.
“Yeah,” Jecia said, taking several quick breaths, followed by: “I’m sorry for your loss.”
Shapiro deflated. It’s like I murdered Marigold all over again. Sev cut in, just after the pause got awkward:
“Uh, it’s getting late, and as you observed, it’s dreary out there. I think we should probably be going. You know how people are on the one-thirty-four when it rains.”
“I dunno, bubby, she doesn’t look too good. Honey, are you sure you don’t want a pill? Water or something?”
“No. Thank you for your help, Triga. We’ll be in touch if we have any more questions.” Jecia said.
Sev bowed and followed Jecia to the door, with Shapiro sort of clucking after them, segueing from amorphous concern to a long, drawn-out farewell.
“Could you get a read on her?” Jecia asked, once they were strapped back into the cruiser.
Sev furrowed his brow and pursed his lips.
“I get the feeling that she is a bad actress, but a good liar. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Either way, I can’t make heads or tails of her yet.” Sev turned to Jecia before starting the car. “What did you see when you touched that photograph?”
“Pain,” Jecia said.
She wished that was sufficient. Just thinking back to it gave her a headache. It was the kind of pain that threatened to bring other old injuries back to the fore.
“It’s hard to explain. She feels angry, bitter, and guilty. There was so much psychic energy in that paper that it would be impossible to parse it. It’s even denser than a Black Lotus card, which is actively trying to shut you out. That photograph has fifty years of misery stored up in it.”
“You said guilty,” Sevardin said. “Can you determine what kind of guilty?”
“I wish I could, but it’s an extremely messy emotion. She feels guilty every time she draws breath. Guilty for surviving when Tyler is dead. She feels like it’s her fault, but I don’t know if she’s actually culpable, or that’s just self-loathing and loss talking. I wouldn’t stake my career on it.”
Sev started the car and they drove in silence until the car’s radio crackled to life:
“Detective Grimm calling car five-thirteen. You there, Sev?”
“This is five-thirteen. Go ahead Rick.”
“Yeah, we have a problem. People are talking about demons on social, and somebody gave an anonymous tip identifying Carter as the second recipient. Apparently, it’s ‘gone viral,’ whatever the hell that means.”
It means we’re fucked! And our window for saving Carter just got a hell of a lot narrower.
“Do we know who leaked it?”
“I think it had to be somebody from Carter’s talent agency. A tabloid broke the story; probably offered somebody a payday for the tip,” Grimm sighed before continuing. “I don’t suppose you have any good news for me?”
“No. Bush might know something, but he was less than cooperative. Shapiro seemed more forthcoming, but she didn’t have anything actionable. And that was a nice dodge, but I want to know who let the word ‘demon’ out of their mouth. Rick?”
There was a long pause. Sevardin continued to press him:
“It was that half-wit second dick from Burbank, wasn’t it?”
“Look, Sev. What’s done is done. Kid knows he fucked up.”
“Unbelievable,” Sev said.
“Literally nothing we can do about it tonight. We aren’t gonna have a weekend until this thing wraps up, one way or another, so I suggest you and your crew clock out for the night and get some rest.”
Sevardin shook his head in disgust and Jecia snorted. Right. Like I’ll be able to sleep a wink.
“We’re going to cover the night shift,” Grimm continued. “You know leaks shake things loose on occasion. See what people call in, and plan a press strategy for tomorrow morning.”