Episode Ten: Hunters: Scene 31

I got his name out of Roderick on the grounds that I thought he might be the person who’d been following me around.

She had darker hair, but he obviously thought I was her. Or, still, red herring. I just couldn’t decide whether I was on the right track or not.

I wasn’t surprised to find that the stalker lived around here, in a fairly cheap apartment. This was a reasonably affordable neighborhood by DC standards, probably because there was nothing around but fast food joints and a mediocre supermarket. There was a mall somewhere, but it was like a mile from here.

So, yeah, rich people didn’t want to live here. People who couldn’t quite afford anything decent lived here. Or who didn’t care about a twenty minute metro trip to get anywhere. And a few who probably wanted a house.

Not really rich people. The apartment was in a multi-building complex that was full of fir trees. The outer door, of course, was locked to residents. I hadn’t managed to work out lock picking skills yet, and this wasn’t a situation that warranted kicking it down.

Temporarily stymied, I moved to hang out somewhere where the fact that I was watching the door wasn’t particularly obvious. And then watched the door until an elderly lady struggling to get it open with groceries showed up.

I moved to help her, and that got me into the building. She was too grateful to properly question my presence. He was on the top floor. I let her take the elevator, then ran up the stairs. I didn’t want her talking to me, questioning me, working out that I didn’t belong there.

I turned right, remembered the number, then knocked on the door.

No answer.

“Hey. Scott. You in there?” I raised my voice.

There was a grunt from within.

I took that as a yes and waited. The door opened and a man in, despite the temperature, plaid shorts and a white T-shirt opened it. “Eleanor.”

“I’m not Eleanor.” I was in the apartment before he could close the door in my face. “Look at me. Look at me properly.” I tugged on my hair.

“You dye it.”

“Nope. Au naturel. My name is Jane. I am not Eleanor.” This was my man, I knew it. I looked around, and saw ammunition on the table, although no sign of the gun. But the voice, the voice was the same.

“And you’re a lousy killer.”

“I’m helping you. I understand why you disappeared yourself.”

“I’m not Eleanor,” I repeated. “Maybe she did disappear herself, maybe she’s dead. I’m not her.”

I should have known pushing the guy was stupid. The gun did appear…he picked it up from a chair. Pointed at me, but it wavered.

“Put that down. You don’t want to shoot me.”

“I did it all for you.” The gun was still wavering, then he pulled the trigger.

I dodged, but not quite enough. A burning pain in my side indicated where the bullet had grazed me.

I rushed him before he could fire again, had him against the table, my hand around his wrist. “I didn’t come here to hurt you.”

“Eleanor…they…they were hurting you.”

“What Eleanor’s father did was terrible.” So was what Kanesha’s had done. “But an old woman?”

“A mafia bitch.”
Not an unreasonable conclusion. “She was not my enemy. Or Eleanor’s.”

I managed to get my hand on my phone, dialed 911. I didn’t want the cops, but I needed them for this.

I needed them to make sure he ended up where he needed to.

Episode Ten: Hunters: Scene 30

Unfortunately, the warehouse was way out on the blue line. The snow wasn’t thick enough to close the above ground sections, but it was thick enough to cause delays. And the area around Van Dorn Street was a hybrid industrial mess…dingy apartment blocks, warehouses, and fast food hole in the walls.

It wasn’t a comfortable place to be, I decided. Not Southeast, but not…comfortable. I felt as if I needed a reason to be here as I trudged along the street. It curved quite a bit, but there it was.

Carlton Montana Shipping. Okay. I took a deep breath, walked up to the door and knocked on it.

“We’re not exactly open.”

“I’m not a customer.”

The door opened, and I came face to face with what was obviously Roderick Montana.

He was obviously not our man. Well, I would have been very surprised anyway. He would have made two of Mike horizontally, and was slightly shorter.

“Elean…” Then he peered at me. “No. You look like her, but you’re not her.”

I marked my face with disappointment. “I thought I might be…it’s a long story.”

“Come in. I have hot chocolate.”

I followed him inside. “I lost my memory. Haven’t been able to work out who I am.”

“The cops would have worked it out, I reckon.”

“DC cops? Most of them couldn’t catch a cold.” Most, because I didn’t want to say anything against Mike, and he wasn’t the only competent cop.

“Good point. But no. I’m pretty sure Eleanor’s dead.”

I nodded. “It was worth a try, I suppose. Did she dye her hair?”

“No. And she certainly wouldn’t have dyed hair like yours. She always wanted to be a blonde.”

Then it might all be a red herring, I thought. I’d half expected to find, thinking about it, that there was no Eleanor Carlton, that it was something Loki had planted.

But there was, and she was probably dead. “Did she have a boyfriend?”

“Not a boyfriend, no. I mean, if she’d ever said yes to him, sure.”

I frowned. “A stalker, then.” Maybe that was our man. Or maybe I needed to find another missing girl.

“He wasn’t that bad, but he promised to hurt anyone who tried to hurt her. And…” A pause. “Did you read the full story? You know her father was murdered, right?”

I tensed. “Murdered…no. Just dead.” Kanesha hadn’t passed on or hadn’t found that titbit.

“He was shot.”

Which might be a coincidence, or it might mean I had three murders to pin on this guy. “And you think stalker boy did it.”

“James was my partner. I never saw all of his flaws.”

A shudder went through me. I was going to find stalker boy and find out what was going on.

Episode Ten: Hunters: Scene 29

“Eleanor Carlton, aged 16. Disappeared a year ago.”

The face was similar to mine and I felt a sudden disorientation. What if everything was a hallucination? What if I was Eleanor Carlton and I was simply crazy. The hair was darker, but she could have dyed that.

“That’s a tad disconcerting.”

“Darker hair and her nose is a bit smaller than yours, but it’s close enough that somebody might make the mistake. Assume hair dye.”

I nodded. “What if this is all a giant delusion and I actually am her?”

“Then I’m as insane as you are.” Kanesha grinned at me. “And I’d rather be insane than lonely.”

Lonely? But thinking about it, Kanesha had never been that popular. Too smart. People probably felt threatened by her. “I don’t know about that. But she vanished a year ago, and she looks enough like me that somebody might put it down to changes.”

Except the hair, but hair was easy enough to dye. I tugged my blonde locks into my vision. Didn’t look died.

“And whoever this is…”

“He was pretty close to me when I shot Clem. So, tell me about her?”

“Daughter…only child…of a local businessman. Thing is, it can’t be her father.”

“He’s dead,” I said flatly.

“He died. Two weeks later, she disappeared.”

I nodded. “No siblings. What did her father do?”

“Small local shipping company.”

“Drugs?” It had to be a question. “Morrow will have found this.”

“So why hasn’t he moved on it?”

“He must know I’m not Eleanor.” I frowned. “There must be some obvious reason I’m not her. I’m not going to ask, though, just in case he somehow missed it.”

Kanesha nodded. “It could be Carlton’s partner, who now owns the business. Roderick Montana.”

“Then I’m paying him a visit.” I stretched a bit. “Ask him if he thinks I’m Eleanor. I mean, maybe…”

“You found out about her. You think you might be her. Maybe he’ll know if she dyed her hair.”

“And maybe he’s our man. Where’s their HQ?”

“You’d need to…”
“Snow day, remember.” It was definitely going to be one. “This winter is ridiculous.”

“He may be closed.”

“I’d bet he’ll be in the office.” I stretched. “I’ll check him out tomorrow.”

Episode Ten: Hunters: Scene 28

A human who didn’t know about the supernaturals and thought something else was going on. That was the crazy thought, and I even briefly entertained the idea that it was Morrow.

Somebody who used cop weapons and didn’t want me to know who they were and who had now committed two murders; one of them so I wouldn’t have to.

Somebody who…oh, the amusement at the next thought. Was it possible that whoever this was thought I was his lost daughter? Now I knew I was going crazy. That was a television show plot, not reality.

Odd how it was much easier to buy demons and valkyries than such a stupid story. But… “Kanesha, I have a crazy idea. And you’re the one with the mad internet skills.”

“Not so mad.”

“It’s not hacking or anything like that. Look for missing girls who would be my age, my coloring.”

“You think we might…”

“I don’t know what we have, but I want to find out. And then find the person and let him down easy.”

And not get him arrested for murder. Or maybe get him arrested for murder. I supposed that would depend on what I found. What kind of person he was. Whether he could be convinced to listen and think before he acted.

Trusting Kanesha to handle the internet stuff – she could do it in a fraction of the time it would take me – I headed back out into the street. I knew I shouldn’t be wandering around on my own right now, when there was somebody after me.

I didn’t really care. I needed to clear my head. I’d rather have vampires and fairies than humans, I decided. Humans just screwed things up, even the ones with the best intentions. I hoped Kanesha found something and hoped she didn’t at the same time.

But whoever it was had killed Clem so I didn’t have to. That part I got. I didn’t get the assassination of Her Ladyship.

I didn’t get that at all. My footsteps took me to the Capitol. I stared up at the dome, up at the bronze figure on the top. The statue of Freedom, which nobody ever saw up close. They had a replica in the visitor’s center. But from here, she was a blob.

Freedom was kind of laughable anyway, I thought. The freedom for homeless people to freeze to death. The freedom to starve, the freedom not to get a job. I was lucky, I knew, at the human level.

At other levels? As annoying as humans were, it would be almost nice to only have to worry about their problems.

I turned, the snow crunching under my feet, to go back to the house. More snow, I knew, than there should have been, but I didn’t exactly remember a normal DC winter.

And as I stepped inside. “I think I found something.”

Episode Ten: Hunters: Scene 27

Just how much I shouldn’t trust Morrow became clear a couple of days later. I suppose I should have realized.

It became clear when they tried to arrest Thruor. Of course, she knew what she was doing and talked herself out of it within a few hours – with Mike’s help – but apparently Morrow now thought she was the culprit.

Which wouldn’t have been impossible, but I knew the culprit was a man. And there were sure as heck no male valkyries. Plenty of male einherior, but some females too, from what Thruor had said.

Women had always fought when they needed to or wanted to, always, perhaps since the beginning of time. Or since humans had been humans and I felt that the gods reflected humanity as much as creating it.

Or maybe it…the idea that came into my mind was that seeing it as one thing or the other was narrow folly. That everything was part of one thing. Men, gods, demons, fairies, animals, plants, the Earth.

Thruor, again, talked herself out of it, but she was in an utter fury. “That…that…”

“It’s partly my fault.”

She shook her head. “No. I told him I’d demonstrate just what a bad shot I was if he kept pressing, though.”

I held a hand to my mouth to keep from laughing. Thruor was, as it happened, quite terrible with a gun and had no real interest in learning. I was definitely better.

“You really should fix that one of these days.”

She shrugged. “If I really need a ranged weapon, I’ll find myself a crossbow. Much more civilized.”

I disagreed. Maybe you could make that case for a straight bow, but the difference between a crossbow and a gun. “Well, she was shot with a gun.”

“With, I happened to overhear, cop issue bullets.”

“That does it. Just like Mr. Clem.”

“It’s not that hard to get hold of the same kind of bullets for civilians, though,” Thea pointed out, thoughtfully.

“No, it’s not. And if you wanted everyone to think it was a cop.” We turned down the street. “It’s a guy. It’s somebody with a motive to take out Mr. Clem and her Ladyship. I think I have an overzealous protector.”

“Or somebody trying to impress you.”

“If it was that first of all, he’d tell me who he was. Second of all, he wouldn’t have apologized for shooting Mr. Clem.”

It wasn’t a suitor. I was fairly sure of that. But who would be so keen to remove my various irritations…but restrict themselves. “And who only kills humans.”

“…you’re right. Only the human irritations. They didn’t touch the demons, the fairies…”

“Whoever it is is human. And whoever it is…no, that would be crazy.”

But sometimes a crazy idea was the thought you needed.

Episode Ten: Hunters: Scene 26

Actually, I decided I didn’t hope Morrow got eaten by a vampire. I hoped he almost got eaten by a vampire. Maybe he couldn’t explain that away.

But maybe it was better if he did explain everything away. Maybe the feeling of threat I got from him…the feeling that he was playing me like a fish…would become rather more real if he lost the ability to do so. He certainly wasn’t somebody I wanted on the team, as it were.

But I wasn’t above using him. I also wasn’t above my own investigations.

Her Ladyship really was a lady – minor British nobility. Unmarried, no children, her title would pass to a nephew. To the son of her younger sister. And I knew she was or had been some kind of a witch.

She hadn’t received any warning, any more than I had sensed those kids coming. I knew, though, that he had nothing to do with this. Not remotely his style. Definitely not Loki’s.

And it did, of course, occur to me that the two things were not, in fact, connected. Given the ham handed nature of her people, her Ladyship had undoubtedly had a good, solid number of enemies. Probably more enemies than me.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Morrow, or the local cops, found it was the mob that had taken her out. No, I wouldn’t be surprised at all.

Fairies didn’t use guns. Mostly, humans did. Hunters did. Drug dealers did. All kinds of people used guns.

I used guns, but not as a primary thing, not as something I wanted to do all the time.
Cops used guns. And hadn’t the person who had shot…oh dear.

The person who had shot Mr. Clem had used a police gun. What if…what if this was a cop? I knew Mike wouldn’t – he wasn’t a killer.

Somebody who had shot Mr. Clem so I didn’t have to and then taken out her Ladyship on the mistaken assumption that doing so would make my life easier, not harder.

This wasn’t an enemy. It was an ally. A blundering one, but still an ally. One of Freya’s people? No, they didn’t tend to use guns either.

A blundering ally with a gun. A man, based off of the one time I had heard their voice. And I felt a paralyzing chill, oddly, at the thought of telling anyone about this, even Kanesha, even my father.

I had to find this person myself. And I’d already, stupidly, set Morrow on them. Or maybe not stupidly. It had distracted him from me. And…this wasn’t an ally I wanted. Somebody who killed people for me without checking that I actually wanted them dead?

But they’d apologized for shooting Mr. Clem. Or maybe the apology had really been meant for Kanesha.

Maybe. I was, though, going to find them. Somehow. I had very little on them, though.

Male, used guns, and knew plenty of what was going on. That wasn’t enough.

I would have to let Morrow find them and then deal with the consequences.

Episode Ten: Hunters: Scene 25

So, that was the situation. Her Ladyship was dead, and I managed to tease some details.

She’d been murdered, and she’d been murdered here, in DC, one day before Odin’s visit. So, he’d known, but not directly warned me.

Which was his style. Or it was all a test. He was training me, I thought sourly. Teaching me. Making sure I learned how to work it out for myself.

And using kids to do it. No, I wasn’t forgiving that any time soon, regardless of how well he might have protected them.

Whoever had killed her had been rather uncreative. They’d shot her, in her apartment. So, she’d probably let them in.

I couldn’t imagine why anyone would think she’d have let me in, truce or no truce. But the only way I could actually prove it wasn’t me was to prove who it was.

And I knew exactly who could do it. The problem was finding him.

I didn’t trust Morrow, of course. But he was a far more experienced detective than Mike and if I could get him to cooperate…he could solve the case and maybe I’d have secured a new ally.

Maybe. The feeling that I shouldn’t trust him grew more and more as I thought about it. But maybe I could use him. As long as I didn’t put him in danger…and he liked a good mystery.

I found him in a deli outside the FBI building. Which was almost too convenient.

“You…join me?”

“I found out more about what’s going on. A woman was murdered on January 6.” I didn’t know her name. “In an apartment in Pentagon City.”

“And she’s…”

“She was their boss,” I said, bluntly. “They don’t know I’m telling you this, and they mustn’t know. But I could confirm her identity with a picture.”
“A wealthy Englishwoman. I do know the case. Do they…”

“…they think I might have killed her. I didn’t. I had no motive, plus whoever did it was a way good shot.”

And probably was better than me, in all honesty. I still wasn’t up to par with guns the way I was with more antique weapons.

“The locals are handling it. But I can poke my nose in. Except. How do I know you aren’t a killer?”

“Because I’m not one. I know you’d love to nail me on something, but there’s really nothing there.” I found myself momentarily hoping he got eaten by a vampire, then decided that was a horrible thought to have.

It was a horrible thought, but that didn’t stop me from having it.

Episode Ten: Hunters: Scene 24

To say I didn’t appreciate the little test was an understatement, but I didn’t discuss it with anyone either.

Would he have let me or, worse in my mind, Kanesha kill an innocent person? I didn’t think so, but I knew the stories.

I knew he wasn’t always the good guy in the picture. Be careful.

Be careful not to be tricked into hurting somebody who’s fault it wasn’t. I got that picture. Of course, it wasn’t like he was going to show up.

He was going to wait until I’d simmered down, I supposed. So, I was still hunting cultists, but I was going to be careful.

Not to fire first and not to kill any of them. I was going to give them no justification for breaking the ceasefire and every reason to reestablish it. So, I suppose, the little test worked – assuming that was the goal.

Instead? I put a notice out in the personals, a well chosen code inviting them to meet me for lunch on Saturday in a nice, public place – the downtown Busboys and Poets. I wasn’t sure it would work.

It did. The person who showed up was in his fifties with near-white hair, and I pushed out the chair for him.

“Why are your people attacking me again?”

“You don’t know.”

“No. I don’t. I haven’t done anything other than, I’d note, try and make sure the world doesn’t end.”

“Is that what your conversations with Loki are about?”

I nodded. “I’m keeping him…well, convincing him that starting Ragnarok right now is utterly premature. I hope.” The truth struck me as the best thing to say. “But it’s not just that, is it.”

I had my gun. But I was not going to shoot first and I wasn’t going to shoot at all if I could avoid it.

“You really don’t know.” His tone was flat.

“No. I don’t.”

“Her Ladyship is dead.”

I flinched, visibly. I didn’t try to prevent myself from doing so, knowing it might go a good way towards convincing them that I had nothing to do with her death. “No. I had no idea. You don’t think I killed her?”

“Some elements do. And with her gone…”

“The truce is off. But I don’t want to hurt people who are, after all, aiming for the same goals.” Which I knew to be true. “So. Let’s get the truce back on.”

“It might not be that easy.”

Episode Ten: Hunters: Scene 23

“Not good,” was Thruor’s pronouncement.

“Was it Surtur?”

She shook her head. “Neither his style nor, really, his capabilities. Usually that kind of mind control means demons, but the green fire doesn’t match that.”

“Great. Somebody else who wants to sleep with me, probably.”

She didn’t disagree with me, which left me tracing a shape on her table with the tip of a finger and trying to think. Kanesha was using Thruor’s shower. She said she felt filthy after touching them.

I felt a bit the same way, but I’d let her go first; and besides, I had to worry about finding out who it was and stopping him.

And working out why the cult was after me again.

And, knowing my luck, there would be more trouble. “Okay. Other than demons, what can do that?”

“Wendigo, but that doesn’t seem likely. A wendigo can only possess people who have tasted human flesh. They were just gangster kids, right?
“Ghosts?” I asked. “I mean…”

“Not impossible. Who’s died recently that we know about?”

“Nobody important. I mean, nobody who would want to test me.” Of course, it could be somebody who had died a while ago. “I don’t know anything about ghosts.”

Thruor pursed her lips. “If it’s a ghost, I’ll take care of it. Dead people are part of my job.”

Kanesha came out of the shower in time to hear that. “I noticed,” she teased.

“Just try not to end up being part of it,” Thruor said with a slight smile. “Ghost is definitely possible, but it would have to be a very powerful ghost to possess multiple people.”
“None of them talked until I told it to get out.”

“And did it sound like the kid’s own voice or somebody else’s?”

“It sounded…” I frowned. “Like both the kid’s own voice and somebody else. And the more I think about it, the less I buy ghost. But it didn’t feel like a demon either. Heck, it didn’t feel that malevolent, but it got those kids beaten up. And if I’d been paying less attention, I might have killed one of them.”

“Maybe that was the test. Somebody was playing games with you…or something. But whoever it was was capable of possession.”

“Or straight up mind control,” Kanesha suggested. “Mesmerism with a magical component. The speech could have been like, pre-recorded.”

Thruor perked up. “You’re the smart one again. That’s not impossible, in which case it could be…”

“…I know who it was.”

I did, too. And I was not happy. Not happy that I could have killed one of those kids; but then I knew it would not have gone that far.

Only a test. Of course. To make sure I was being as careful as he had asked. “It was the Old Man.”

And I was sure as sure could be.

Episode Ten: Hunters: Scene 22

I decided it was time to go hunting. I wasn’t going to fire first, but I was going to track them down and talk.

“Hey, Kanesha. I’m going cultist hunting.”

“Can I come?” She reached for her jacket.

I thought for a moment, then nodded. “Sure. Just one thing. We don’t fire first.”
She nodded. “I’ll get behind you if they start shooting.”

I bit back laughter, but it was the smartest thing for her to do. I ran upstairs, grabbed my gun, my sword, and the second gun Mike had not-really-given us. I handed that one to Kanesha and she tucked it under her jacket, albeit seeming less than comfortable about it.

Kanesha preferred to just beat people up. “Call it insurance. Let’s go.”

In a month, Kanesha would be able to get her driver’s license. As it was, we weren’t that mobile, but I wasn’t sure we needed to be. If they’d broken the truce then they were looking for me.

So, where would I look for me? The first place I checked out was a small neighborhood park. Our entrance spooked a raccoon, who glared at us before trotting away with his striped tail trailing behind him.

“We aren’t popular.”

“We’re trespassing,” Kanesha pointed out cheerfully. There were no gates but the sign did, indeed, read ‘Closed at dusk.’

“And?” I crossed the park quickly. “We’re somewhere we shouldn’t be. First place they’ll…”


I whirled, hand on my sword hilt.

It wasn’t the cultists, of course. It was some kids, and they’d come out of practically nowhere behind us. I cursed myself for not paying attention, then drew my sword.

As a weapon of intimidation, it beat a gun hands down. Kanesha was already practicing her martial arts on one of them. Two more fled, but another two decided to brave the crazy woman with several feet of steel.

“Oh for…just go home. Whatever you planned on doing to us, it isn’t worth it.”

They didn’t have much to say for themselves. I decided that was entirely suspicious and made sure to use the flat of the blade on the one that approached the fastest, knocking him out at his buddy’s feet.

“I think…they’re hopped up…on something.”

“Not hopped up enough.” The one still standing fled, and Kanesha had the other one in a painful-looking hold.

“Talk,” I said as I stepped over, lowering my sword tip to the ground.

He didn’t say anything. There was a green flicker in his eyes. I sighed. “Not hopped up, Kanesha. Possessed.”
And did that explain the cultists?

“Call the Father?” she suggested.

“I don’t think I need to.” I met the boy’s eyes. “Nice ambush. Now release him and go back where you came from, and don’t try this again.”

Now he did speak. “Just a test, Lokisdottir. Just a test.” Then the green light was gone and he slumped, unconscious.

“Last thing I need is somebody playing games with me.”

And willing to use innocents to do it.