Alternate POV: Andy Meets Shade
(please remember, this scene is unedited and unpolished)
Scene: Bryan Foundling, security guard at the FBI, friend of Agent Andrew Bradford, and former resident of Shade’s village, brings Shade to the FBI to help Agent Bradford.
Andy’s been having a weird feeling in the house of a missing architect. Bryan thinks it’s a ghost, and Shade is just the person to tell him…
* * * * * *
I didn’t want to get my hopes up when a break in the case of missing architect Helen Miller finally arrived. But the source was not only someone I trusted, it was one of the only guys at the Cleveland FBI office that I might call a friend of sorts.
Bryan was one of the men who worked security for the FBI building. He was also a friend of sorts. Work-only, we didn’t get together to watch football or anything, but he understood my dislike of small talk, and I appreciated that. So when he’d told me there was someone he wanted me to talk to, someone who might be able to help me find my missing architect, I had no trouble telling him to meet me in my office with his witness.
A foot away from my office, I heard a woman’s voice. The witness, I assumed.
Then I heard another voice, higher-pitched. It sounded almost cartoonish, and I didn’t catch the words. A memory flitted through my head. A witness who would only speak to me through a hand puppet—which he had provided the voice for.
Please don’t let that voice be a hand puppet.
I paused outside the door, listening. The woman spoke again.
“It’ll be all right. Honestly, of all the Otherworldly beings we could be dealing with, at least ghosts are fairly mainstream. For all you know, Andy might already believe in ghosts.”
Ghosts? I muffled a sigh. And here I’d been worried about hand puppets. More crazy, different flavor. I took the last step to put myself squarely in the doorway. “No, he doesn’t.”
The woman spun around in her chair. She had long dark hair and brown eyes, no makeup. It was hard to judge height and weight when she was sitting, but I guess somewhere around five-two or five-three, north of a hundred and thirty pounds.
“Andy,” Bryan said, standing. He scratched at the barely-there beard that meant he hadn’t shaved this morning.
“Is that why you needed to talk to me right away, Bryan?” I asked, keeping my voice even.
“You want to tell me about a ghost?”
Bryan tensed. It was clear he was at a loss for words, so I turned to the “witness” and crossed my arms. “What are you selling him?”
The woman raised her eyebrows. “Selling him?”
“I caught what you said about wanting him to introduce you so you could tell me about a ghost. You’re a psychic, right? Trying to ‘help?’”
Immediately the corners of her mouth tilted down in disapproval. She crossed her arms, mirroring me. The effect wasn’t the same. Her chest was too big for her to cross her arms comfortably, and she seemed to have forgotten that. The result meant she had to shift to find a comfortable way to hold the position, and whatever intimidation she’d been going for was lost.
“No, I’m not a psychic.” She pressed her lips together, then seemed to make a concerted effort to relax. When her eyes met mine, there was an odd look on her face. Determination and something else. Her gaze dropped to my pocket and she dropped her arms before raising one hand.
She snapped her fingers. “Ignesco.”
“What the—?” I blinked down at my pocket where my pen had just burst into flames. For a split second, my brain screamed at me to get it away from me before it burned through my suit, but immediately after that, I realized there was no smoke, no smell of burning fibers. The pen wasn’t burning. It was glowing.
I could feel the woman and Bryan both staring at me. Slowly, I grasped the pen between two fingers. Very carefully, I drew it out of my pocket and held it in front of me.
I considered the writing implement for a long minute. It was definitely glowing. I didn’t drink, or do drugs. So it wasn’t my brain playing tricks on me. And there was nothing wrong with my senses. So the woman wasn’t a psychic.
She was a magician.
I tried not to let my irritation show on my face. “How did you do that?”
“I’m a witch.”
Bryan shifted uneasily beside my desk, but the woman kept her eyes on me. I watched her steadily, waiting for some twitch of her facial muscles to give her away. What was she doing here? If she was a magician, what benefit did she get coming here and toying with me? I sure as hell wasn’t going to hire her. And the witch angle wasn’t cute. Interesting, maybe, but still irritating when I’d come here expecting a witness. Someone helpful. Bryan had said she’d help.
If Bryan thought she could help, I could give him the benefit of the doubt. For now.
“A witch,” I repeated.
I gestured with the pen the way she no doubt expected me to. “This was a spell.”
I nodded. Then I put the pen back in my pocket and buttoned my jacket, hiding the light. “Excuse me a moment.”
The woman watched me as if my reaction intrigued her. She and Bryan watched without a word as I left the office.
I walked down the hall to the conference room where I was working on the Miller disappearance. At the front of the room was a huge whiteboard covered in photographs of Helen Miller—my missing architect—with various members of organized crime. Helen had apparently specialized in hidden rooms and other hidey-hole type building features, and I strongly suspected one of her former clients had been involved in her disappearance.
Someone who wanted to make sure their secret room stayed secret.
The woman in Bryan’s office should have been easy to spot. Long hair, no makeup to disguise her features. Shorter than average—probably five-two, maybe five-three. And if she always wore leggings that loud, she should stick out.
I looked through all the photographs I had, but didn’t see her. It wasn’t until I opened the file on the table that I realized I’d never gotten her name. I pressed my fists into the table. Stupid mistake. Unbelievably stupid mistake. I should have gone home hours ago, I was obviously too tired to be any good here.
The pen was still in my pocket. Whatever the woman had done to make it glow, she wasn’t here now. I pulled on the edge of my pocket and looked down.
I debated whether or not I wanted to engage with the trickster. In my experience, magicians often came with a sense of humor fed not just by the shock and awe of their audience, but by their confusion. They weren’t a “sure, let me explain how that works” sort of people. And when it came right down to it, I didn’t actually care how the trick was done.
Still, there was no sense leaving without getting the woman’s name, so I went back to my office.
I froze in the doorway. There was a coffee mug on my desk. And inside the coffee mug was a…
I stared. I had no idea what it was. It looked like a tiny person with delicate wings. She was pink from head to toe, and she seemed to be taking a bath in the mug, scrubbing at something blue and sticky clinging to her skin.
She looked up at me with large multi-faceted pink eyes. “Do you have any soap?” She scowled and tugged at a thick blue strand stuck to her elbow. “I’ll take dish soap if that’s all you have.”
Bryan rose halfway out of his seat, but I stopped him with a look.
“No,” I said. “No, don’t move. Don’t. Move. Just sit there. I’m going to…” I shook my head and pointed at Bryan and the woman in turn. “Don’t move.”
I left. My brain went in a hundred different directions. Instead of going over the photographs I had in the conference room, my thoughts turned to other things. Suddenly I was remembering other conversations I’d had with Bryan. Tapes he’d shown me. Interviews with applicants whose facial features seemed to change more than they should have from one interview to another. As if their skin was part of a disguise that changed each time they wore it. Or his story about a guy without a trace of drugs in his system jumping out of a two story window and running off without so much as a limp.
Against my will, I thought of Helen. The woman in my office had mentioned ghosts. I didn’t believe in ghosts. But even as I had that thought, I couldn’t help but recall that strange feeling I got when I went to the Miller home. That cold that seemed to cling to my skin, even after I left.
I headed for the breakroom and poured myself a cup of coffee. I had a glowing pen in my pocket. And not more than thirty yards away, there was a…something, taking a bath in a coffee mug.
Of its own accord, my head turned to the small sink in the break room. And the bottle of Dawn dish soap sitting in the corner.
I needed more information.
I grabbed the dish soap and my coffee and headed back to my office, stopping briefly to get a notepad from the conference room. When I got back to the office, everyone was staring at me. I ignored them and focused on the creature bathing in the coffee mug. With all the composure I could manage, I leaned forward and added a drop of dish soap to the mug.
The creature beamed at me. “Thank you, Andy.”
“You’re welcome…” I said automatically, trailing off when I realized I didn’t know her name either.
I pressed my lips together and nodded. “Peasblossom. And you are a…?”
“A pixie.” I nodded, the crick in my neck telling me I was bobbing my head harder than I meant to. “All right.”
Sleep deprivation could make someone hallucinate. I wasn’t that tired, was I? I took a big sip of my coffee, then hissed when I realized it was too hot to drink yet.
I circled around the desk to my chair and sat down—harder than I’d intended. I covered the clumsy movement by planting the coffee on the desk with a satisfying thud, then slapped down the notebook before reaching for my pen. Answers. Answers would help me focus.
“All right. Tell me—”
The sentence died as I realized I’d forgotten about the “spell.” I studied the glowing plastic for a long moment. Magic. Spell. Pixie. Witch.
Bryan plucked a pen out of the cup on the desk and offered it to me. I let him take the glowing pen and accepted the replacement.
“So you’re a witch,” I said. “Name?”
I wrote Shade Renard – witch then Peasblossom – pixie.
“And the ghost you mentioned.”
“Mrs. Miller. Helen Miller, your missing person.” She paused. “Only she’s not missing. She’s dead.”
“And you know she’s dead…” I hesitated, unsure if I could make myself say the words out loud. “Because you saw her ghost.” I put the pen down. I couldn’t write this down. They’d use it as evidence when they committed me. “Perhaps you should start from the beginning.”
Shade seemed to be in a cooperative mood. She told me that Bryan had approached her with concerns about me and the Miller case. Namely, that he felt there was something “off.” Apparently, the cold feeling I’d been experiencing had been more outwardly observable than I’d thought.
Shade went on to talk about Mrs. Miller’s ghost, how she couldn’t speak. After a brief hesitation, she added that she’d looked into Helen’s clients and found one that wasn’t human. She finished with a statement that she believed Helen may have been murdered because someone wanted information on a secret project she’d worked on. By the time she finished, I was feeling calmer. Some part of my brain had relaxed. The part that remembered the cold.
The part that had wanted an explanation for that cold.
And other things.
“I trust Bryan.” I took a cautious sip of my coffee. “He’s a good worker, and a good man.”
Bryan remained silent.
“I’ve been to Dresden a few times,” I continued. “And I’ll admit, I noticed people there have a shared…openness for…things. I passed it off as a quirk of a small village.” I drained the rest of my coffee in three large gulps, making sure that I wasn’t sleeping before meeting Shade’s eyes. “Let’s say I believe in this…other world.”
I did not look at the pixie. It wasn’t easy, considering she’d started singing under her breath as she twisted her hair into bubble-infused coils on top of her head.
Pixies sing in the bath. This can’t possibly be a useful fact, there’s no reason to fixate on it.
I need to get a grip.
“If I’m going to take you seriously, you need to be honest with me. You need to tell me what the ‘secret project’ was. And you need to tell me exactly what you think happened. Who this non-human client of Mrs. Miller’s is.”
Shade leaned toward me, using my desk for support. “You just found out about the Otherworld. It’s good you’re willing to believe, but this is only the first step. You don’t understand it yet, and it will take time for me to explain it to you—if you want me to explain it to you.” She took a deep breath. “So for now, you must trust me—”
She held up a hand when I opened my mouth to argue. “I’m sorry to ask for your faith so early in our relationship. I know it’s hard to trust a stranger, but I promise you I will earn that trust. For now, understand that even though I want to tell you everything, I can’t. Not because it would put you in danger—and it would—but because I swore a blood oath to protect confidentiality.”
“The way you say ‘blood oath’ makes me think it means more than a pinkie promise.”
“It means if I answer all your questions now, I’ll wish I was dead a long time before I die.”
That got my attention. What were witches afraid of? Vampires? Werewolves? Could I arrest a vampire or a werewolf? What sort of prison would hold them?
I leaned back in my chair, gripping the arms just to confirm that the world was still real, still solid. I wanted answers. Shade wasn’t ready to give them to me yet. And she didn’t seem like a woman that would be bullied into giving up information faster than she was ready. I might have to wait this one out.
I dropped my hands to my knees and leaned forward. “If I accept your help, will you tell me who did this?”
Shade frowned. “I don’t have that answer yet.”
“But when you find out—if you find out—are you going to tell me? Or will this super-secret other world culprit disappear, never to see trial?”
She squirmed. I congratulated myself on the question.
“A human prison won’t hold whoever did this.”
I nodded. That was almost exactly what I’d been thinking. Which left me wondering…even if this “witch” did bring me information on some “other worldly” criminal, what exactly could I do about it?
Still, it wouldn’t hurt to let her bring me any information she did find. I could work the case as I had been—the human way—and she could work it…her way. The “other” way. At worst, I’d waste some time listening to her ramble on about monsters that didn’t exist and I’d have interesting stories to think about when I was trying to stay awake on long nights like this one.
I stood. “Keep in touch.”