by L. Lambert Lawson
Narrated by Bob Eccles
You don’t scrape jumpers off the sidewalk and keep a tender heart. You just don’t. Half the time, I wish they’d jump with notes pinned to their shirts because there’s a tentative truce between the paranorms and the humans. One new murder blamed on either side would be enough to blow it all to hell. A note would help make sure someone’s swan dive doesn’t become the YouTube-video-seen-round-the-world, becoming the flashpoint for the next war.
Other times, I’m glad there are no notes. The visions I suck out of the smashed corpses show me more than I need to know.
This new jumper, this redheaded banshee – well, red-haired; she doesn’t have much of a head anymore – she’s the kind I wish had a note. There’s not enough left of her to get a good reading.
Luckily, Simone knew a little bit about her. Personal trainer or marathoner or some active shit. Happily married. Two-story brownstone owned free of any mortgage. A boy-toy on the side that the husband knew about – and condoned. What the hell wasn’t there to live for?
And that’s the question. That’s why I’m here, the force’s resident lamia. I get information out of people others can’t. Legends say I seduce and suck the life out of people by drinking their blood. Other legends say I’m a serpent who devours children. Let’s just say I’m somewhere in between.
“Llama,” Simone calls. She’s mouthing words into her shoulder, and I can hear the static reply of dispatch.
“You want it in the eye? On your shoes?” I purse my lips, ready to unload.
“Yeah, she’s right here.” She passes her shoulder mic to me.
I spit on her badge and take the mic. “Lami here.”
“We’ve got a lead on your jumper,” the nasally static says. Probably Eugene. Puberty will likely hit him sometime in his 40s.
“I just got here. How can you be ahead of me?”
“Turns out 911 got a call.”
“Oh,” I say. “Is that why all the cops are out? I thought it was some kinda kink convention.”
“We got your lady on tape. Screaming.”
“No one likes jumping,” I say. Except most of them do. And they don’t usually call pre-jump – or post-jump for that matter, though there was the zombie back in ’08. Simone shakes her head. She knows what I’m thinking.
“No one likes being pushed either,” Eugene says. “You need to hear this.”
“Push it over the air,” I say. “I can hear you fine.”
Silence. Crackling static. “Lami. Every retiree within fifty miles listens in on these lines. Come in to the station.”
“On a Tuesday? Are you out of your mind?”
I roll my eyes. “Down in 10. Lami out.” I drop the mic into Simone’s hand and walk away.
“Hey,” she calls after me. “Who’s cleaning this mess up?”
“Llama’s don’t clean,” I shout over my shoulder. I slip into my car before she can choke out a reply.
For a Tuesday afternoon, the station has the feeling of a morgue. I can’t tell if the few people plodding though the halls would play the part of mortician or corpse. Usually, Tuesday’s our busy day. Three local bars run happy hour promotions that are far longer than an hour with results that are far from happy. Fights, maulings, Roma curses and the like.
You do not want to mess with a Roma curse.
Last Tuesday I came in, this Roma granny and I bumped into one another in the hall. She recognized me instantly – I look just like the paintings, minus the serpent tail, of course – and I knew her too. She’d hexed me in the old country, and she hexed me that Tuesday as well. Couldn’t open my mouth for a week. Literally fused shut. Romas . . . wow. Do not pass go on those motherfuckers.
The dispatch door slides open and Eugene pops out. “Looking fine today, Lami.”
I push past him into the small office. I smile. “Don’t start.”
“Just trying to be nice. You still mad at me?” He closes the door and presses a pair of headphones into my hands. “I was supposed to know you didn’t like Shakespeare?”
“After how I got it in The Tempest? Yes.” I shove the headphones over my ears. “What am I listening for?”
He hits play.
“Codex building. South side of the promenade. I’m on the roof, but she followed me up the stairs. 6’2″. She’s . . .” I yank the headphones off, the shrieking unbearable.
Eugene snaps them up and passes them back. “We’re almost done.”
I can hear the woman in the background, moaning, some sort of unintelligible bullshit.
“Stay away from me. You monster. Stay . . .” More shrieking, but all I can think is Why is she still talking on the phone? I hear clattering and then the line goes dead.
“That was the phone hitting the pavement. Or her. I don’t know.”
“So, what do you think?” He leans back in his chair and sucks soda through a straw. Most men chugged outta cans. Not this kid.
“Some lout followed her, probably wanting something she wasn’t willing to give, and killed her.”
“But why’d she stay on the phone? Wouldn’t you run?”
“I don’t run.” I mean it. They exiled me from the old country, but I didn’t tuck my tail between my legs – and I actually do have a tail, though most people never get to see it. Instead of fleeing, I burned their cities. Then, there was nothing to stay for.
“Well, I’d run,” Eugene says. “I wouldn’t narrate the end of my life. I’d fight back and run.”
“So how do we find out who the chick is?”
“You’re asking me? That’s your department. I just splice audio.”
I tip my fingers from my forehead as though I’m doffing a cap. “Good day to you then, Captain Useless. Not sure why you couldn’t push that over the mic.”
“She died on that call, Lami.”
Eugene shakes his head. “Maybe it is a good thing that second date never happened.”
“Maybe,” I say. I lean back against the door, pushing it left to right with my ass, and backpedal out of the room.
The thing I didn’t say about Simone is that she doesn’t sleep, doesn’t eat, doesn’t even take a deep breath until she’s solved her shit. Me, I prefer to take it slow. We have a saying back in the old country: The chicken never outruns the axe. Basically, what needs to happen will happen. Eventually.
Simone, though, she’s parsed the 911 call down to a second-by-second crawl. She’s ripped the waveforms to her computer and measured the peaks and valleys against a database we keep of all the baddies that have strolled through our doors.
And you know what? She finds a match.
“Colleen McQuint,” she says, holding the printout as though it were a four-leaf clover.
“McQuint,” I say. Something about the name scratches at the base of my brain and knocks me a bit off-kilter. “Why do I know that name?”
“She ran that faery hostel where the . . .”
I hold up a finger. “Say no more. Please.” I remember now. “Where is she?”
Simone tells me an address. I touch the place inside where all my rage lives, touch it like vets on the force flick the safeties off their pistols, and I go.
I know about Colleen.
When I came to this country, I didn’t come the clean way. I got trafficked in with all the other paranorms. The faeries, the bunyips, the mechanical dragons. They need us here. They devour our skills. But they won’t give us the paperwork we need to leave the underground and earn an honest living. Only a lucky few of us ever climb the grease-slathered ladder, ever get accepted by “normal” society – whatever the fuck that means. The others, after they get trafficked over here, sometimes don’t get to where they were going.
And the faeries never get to where they were going.
There’s something about faeries, some latent electricity holed up inside their bones, that excites men. Well, not men. Scumbags. Faeries secrete their electricity when they have a naughty, enhancing the pleasure scumbags feel. They’ll pay a lot of money for faeries, not realizing – or maybe despite realizing – that once faeries orgasm, it’s over. With the innocence goes the magic. The faerie’s dead within a day.
The state outlawed faery brothels in ’03, but Colleen McQuint didn’t go away; she just went underground. She trafficked the same number of faeries, all looking for a better life, all believing the promise of clean beds and perfumed soap and walking straight into the cells of a private hell.
Some of the jumpers I scrape up, they’re faeries – and faeries leave notes. Yeah . . . let’s say I know all about Colleen.
The man at the door puts his hand on my shoulder. He says, “We’re closed.”
“Since when do malls close at 1 PM?” A cover, of course. No mall could survive in this part of town. I push past the man, some skullhead I’ve never seen before, but his grip is tight. I can’t read his gaze behind his sunglasses, but I imagine he’s scowling. Henchmen tend to scowl, in my experience.
“Since snoops started coming around,” he answers.
Snoops? With an s? You let one slip there, mate. Who else has been around? “Don’t make me pull out my warrant. I’d hate for you to break your brain trying to read it.”
“You got no warrant,” the man says. “No judge’d give a paranorm the time of day. Should give you the heave-ho.”
I pull a paper out of my jacket and wave it in his face. “Got it right here.” I push it under his nose and shake it. “Those black squiggles? They’re letters. Put them together and you get words. The words . . .”
He pulls back to punch me, but before he gets to my chin, his eyes roll up into his head and he pitches forward onto the sidewalk. I do not catch him, and his head crunches into the cement.
No lamia magic here, just a trick I picked up from Simone, of all people. Powdered chloroform. I drop the warrant, really just a parking ticket I don’t intend to pay, making sure not to breathe in any of the residue that might still linger, and head into the mall.
It’s brilliant, really. If I weren’t so disgusted, I’d be in awe. Each shop looks like a shop, selling what you’d expect a shop to sell: trendy clothes, high-end electronics, home furnishings. But what people don’t know about, don’t see unless they know what they’re looking for, are the doors set into backs of the shops or in the dressing rooms, each a gateway into a perverted faery fantasy.
Luckily, or unluckily, I know what I’m looking for.
I hit the boutique computer store first. I burst through the hidden door with my rage blazing, ready to suck the soul of any human I find, but the boudoir’s empty. Same with the clothing shop. By the time I get through the fifth store, I realize someone’s been through before me. That or someone tipped Colleen off. This place is cleaner than a Swiss bank account.
Then I remember the man and his “snoops.”
How Simone got here before me I don’t know, but she and her partner, Dawn, have Colleen on the handicapped toilet, her hands cuffed to the metal rails on either side of the stall. Dawn’s got her pistol trained on the Madame’s temple, her face pinched like she’s working out a trigonometric formula. It’s simple, I want to say. Shoot her. Spray the stall with her brains.
But Dawn doesn’t.
“What’s the sit?” I ask, knowing I sound like the worst sort of police drama.
“She’s saying she doesn’t know the redhead, but Dawn found this on her.” Simone tosses me an ID. Even though I met this one a few hours after she became hamburger below the Codex building, I know it’s the redheaded banshee.
I hold the card up toward Simone. “What’s her explanation?”
“She came in for one of my faeries. It’s SOP to take IDs,” Colleen explains.
“And then she jumps off the Codex?”
Colleen shrugs. “What they do after they leave here? Not my concern.”
I place my thumb under my jaw and snap my head to one side, cracking the vertebrae in my neck. I toss the ID to the floor. “Unlock her.”
Simone safeties her pistol and slips it into her holster, but Dawn doesn’t follow suit. “Dawn,” Simone says. “This is what we have her for.” Dawn darts her eyes toward me, back to Colleen, and then to her weapon. She holsters it, and Simone pulls out a key. Dawn does the same.
“Ready?” Simone asks.
I put my hands on both sides of Colleen’s face and nod. I release the rage as soon as the cuffs fall away. It begins as a flash burn in my belly, quickly bubbling into my lungs, my throat, my veins. My fingers ignite, and Colleen bucks against me. Her mouth opens, and we hear it all.
“The redhead came in for Shae. I knew that banshee the second she walked in. They came over on the boat together, but no one’ll pay for a banshee. I ain’t got room for paras that can’t pay their way. I put Shae somewhere special in case the redhead came back.”
“And she did,” I say.
Colleen’s face twists until it is unrecognizable. “War is coming, para. You can’t fight it.” And I know she’s right. The banshee’s death is likely already trending on Twitter, the troops are already being gathered. Fuck. I press deeper into her mind, and her face goes slack. “Another dead para,” she says, the smile creeping back into her lips.
“Simone. Dawn,” I say. “Step back.”
No matter what happens here, war’s coming, so I want a head start. I channel rage into my fingernails, press into her scalp, slip my lips over her mouth, and suck. This part of the legend is true. I suck her ashy soul out of her body. Her essence tastes like nails on my tongue, and I wretch before I can get her all, but I get enough. Her corpse slumps against the wall and slides down, sticks between the toilet and the stall. I stagger, and Dawn, of all people, catches me. “Alright?” she asks.
“No,” I say. “You?” She shakes her head. “Simone. Radio HQ. Tell them . . . make something up. I’ve got to go.” I pull free of Dawn and stumble toward the door.
Simone pulls her mic but hesitates. “Where are you headed?”
“Home. Gotta sleep this off.” And I do. Last time I sucked a soul, I stayed up 96 hours on an ether-high. When I came down, I wasn’t the same person. This time, I needed to keep my head in the game. War’s coming, and I need to make sure the humans remember which side I’m on.
BIO: L. Lambert Lawson’s work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Liquid Imagination Online, Every Day Fiction, Roar and Thunder, and Travelers’ Tales. His non-fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He tweets @llambertlawson