Episode Ten: Hunters: Scene 11

That didn’t save me. I had study hall after lunch, but when I got there, the two men were at the front of the room.

“Ladies and gentlemen.” The person with them was the assistant principal. He looked sour and annoyed. “This is Agent David Morrow of the FBI.” He didn’t introduce the other man. “He’s going to talk about the fire.”

Of course he is. And he launched into a talk about how we had a duty to report anything we knew or remembered and should come to him in a spare classroom if we did. His eyes rested on me the entire time. Probably they would have rested on Kanesha, but she was in AP English.

Which meant I knew I had to talk to him. Cops didn’t bother me. Cops were a long way from bothering me. He did.

I got up as soon as he left and followed him, at a slight distance. “Ah. I was hoping to talk to you. Ms. Doe…”

“Ms. Rudi. At least once I’m old enough to legally change it.” It was a challenge for his respect.

“Ah. Well. I wouldn’t want to go through life with that name. Can I just call you Jane?”

I nodded.

“Your home burned the same time the school did. We haven’t been able to prove it was arson, but we haven’t been able to prove it wasn’t. We don’t believe this was a coincidence.”

It wasn’t, but I somehow felt telling this man the truth would be a bad idea. “I don’t know why anyone would burn out a CPS group home.”

“Unless the target was you or Kanesha Clem. Who’s father was murdered in Southeast not that long ago. We still don’t have a suspect.”

He thought it was aimed at Kanesha! It was a good cover, I thought, unless he tried to disappear her into witness protection. “He was.”

“Do you have any idea who did it?”

“No,” I said, truthfully. “I know he was shot. It was in Southeast, so who knows.”

“Does Ms. Clem have any gang connections that you know of?”

I shook my head emphatically. “No.” A pause. “But maybe somebody wants her to.”

“That’s one definite theory. But she’s in a fairly protected place now.” The detective frowned a bit. “I want you to be careful, Ms. Rudi. There’s something going on…and for that matter, you were recorded as an amnesiac?”

I nodded.
“So we don’t know who your family were.” He put an obvious cant on the word family.

I honestly wished I could reassure him, but I couldn’t tell him the truth. And I sensed that he had one goal. I could feel it. Punishing people for their wrongdoing, defined under the law. Defined as the law, with no concept in his mind that the law might sometimes be wrong.

A true follower of Tyr, I thought with amusement, but not in the good way.

Not in a way, I hoped, Tyr himself would approve of.

Episode Ten: Hunters: Scene 10

I didn’t have the courage to broach New York schools with Kanesha just yet. She was waiting on applications and scholarships, and I knew at least one of them was there, but most were here. Where she could get in-state. But I did mention to Mike that I wanted to set aside a college fund and had him help me set up a savings account.

I didn’t tell him it was for both of us. And I would help her even if we split up. I knew that could happen.

But when I got to school, it seemed that us being together had leaked. Somebody had put a “God hates dykes” sticker on my locker…except I could only see the d of dykes because somebody else had stuck a rainbow over it. I couldn’t help but laugh. I wasn’t sure who our hater was or who our supporter was, but there was something oddly refreshing about seeing both.
And then the new history teacher saw me. “Are you…”

Then she saw that. “Oh. I have something in my office that can help you remove that.” She shook her head. “Although you’ll probably have to remove the nice one too.”

I laughed. “Thanks. I might take you up on that.” I wasn’t going to let them get to me, although if they actually started bullying Kanesha I might just have to knock some heads together and get yelled at by Mike later.

“People who go around telling God who He’s supposed to hate annoy me.”

I noticed she was wearing a small, discreet cross. “I hadn’t seen it put that way before. Thanks.”

“You’d better get to class.”

She was, I decided, a definite improvement over Merrifield. And maybe Kanesha should talk to her. I noted over my shoulder, “There’s somebody who might want to talk to you.”


“Kanesha. She wants to teach high school history.”

“Want me to talk her out of it?”

I laughed again. Definitely an improvement on Merrifield. And, to be honest, on every other teacher in the school. They tended, I’d noticed, to lose their sense of humor.

Maybe she could help Kanesha keep hers. If Kanesha really did get to teach high school. If the world didn’t end first.

Those thoughts sobered me all the way to first period. Which was, of course, my least favorite subject: Math.

At lunch time, I noticed a couple of people wearing visitors’ badges were hanging out in the library. Maybe they were outside speakers for some class I wasn’t taking but, for some reason, their presence seriously bothered me. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to be in the same building with them, let alone the same room.

I quickened my pace and hurried away.

Episode Ten: Hunters: Scene 9

At least the shoot that weekend was indoors. We weren’t doing winter stuff, so it had to be. We were doing spring stuff, for a catalog that would come out in March.

Well, that was how they put it. It was all for a website, but they still used those terms. Ordinary, everyday clothing. Ready to wear. I felt even more normal posing and then relaxing afterwards.

“I heard about what happened to you,” Olivia said. She was a brunette with reasonably fair skin, but had a slight slant to her eyes. I couldn’t tell if it was Asian, Native American, or what.

“I’m fine.”

“Nah. Nobody would be completely fine after losing their entire wardrobe,” she quipped.
“Eh. I didn’t lose anything that couldn’t be replaced.” I stretched a bit. “Nobody was hurt.”

“That’s the important thing, but still…I know it’s just stuff, but…”

“But sometimes things can’t be that easily replaced, I know. I’m managing, though, and I’m in a foster home now, not the group home crap.”

“You should just emancipate yourself.”

“I’m going to graduate high school first.” With the income I was getting, though, I realized I could do it.
“Oh. That’s smart. College?”

“My grades aren’t that great.”

Olivia rolled her eyes. “Should at least do community college. Get some business skills. Try your hand at design. Maybe even try to transfer to FIT. You’re good. You could go all the way, but if you don’t get your business skills…”

“Somebody will probably exploit me.” But could I get away with being famous? Business skills sounded like a good idea for somebody who didn’t have other things to worry about.

“Right. Avoid the for-profit schools. Unfortunately, there isn’t a school here that offers an associates in design. But you…do you have any ties here?”

I…hesitated. I wasn’t sure I wanted to admit it. Finally, “Girlfriend.”
She didn’t miss a beat. “You need to be in New York. Would that be a good option for her?”

“Only if she gets a scholarship.”

“Pfeh that. You get to New York and in with an agency there and you’ll be paying her tuition. What’s her field?”

“History. She wants to teach high school.”

“Then it doesn’t really matter where she goes as long as it’s a good school. She’ll need a full college, but…”

New York. I wondered if it would be safer there, or… There was Mike, too. He couldn’t just up and go to New York, but I knew he’d support me if I did.

It was an odd feeling to have people that close to being family.

Episode Ten: Hunters: Scene 8

And, of course, the time without school, but it started again entirely too soon. And on the first day they pulled us all together.

They’d made a lot of progress on the repairs over the break, the cafeteria was open again, and things were starting to return to normal.

But they were still cracking down. We were no longer allowed to share food with anyone under any circumstances in case something had bacteria in it or something. I thought of how we’d all chipped in to get something to the free lunch kids…of course, at one point I’d been one of them. They stopped us doing that in another case and there might just be a riot.

And, of course, we were reminded that cell phones weren’t allowed to be used in class – they’d relaxed the rule and let us carry them after the fire, but the teachers had better not see or hear them. Reminded about excessive talking between class; as if there was time for that. There wasn’t even time to pee.

I thought I’d be glad to graduate and get out of here, but I knew I had to stick it out. And besides, after thinking I might have to drop out and disappear, I was almost glad to have rules yelled at me.
Almost. There was a new kid standing near us. Red hair, freckles, kind of cute in his own way. I kept an eye on him – after Mr. Merrifield I didn’t trust anyone new.

Probably a cynical attitude, and he seemed to just be some kid. I hoped he’d keep his head down if something happened. I hoped none of them would have to.

No sign of Merrifield. His replacement was an over-sized black woman with a truly spectacular afro. One that would have been dress coded if seen on a student. I glanced at Kanesha, lips quirking. “Hopefully she won’t turn out to be an African fairy. Are there African fairies?”

“The only ones I know of are Azizas, who are little people and know a lot and are, well, much nicer than European fairies.”

I stored that up. Nice fairies sounded good. “She’s not anything, I think I could tell. But let’s not relax.”

“What we really need is a British librarian who actually knows a lot about demon hunting.”

I laughed. We’d watched a few episodes of the show over Christmas. It was a pretty old show, something our teachers would like, but it was also pretty good.

The vampires were all wrong, though. And far too sexy, but that was a trope these days. We didn’t have to worry about sexy vampires.

Just demons and the vague sense of dread that followed me through my day, but I wasn’t sure that wasn’t just memories of all the crap that kept happening.

Episode Ten: Hunters: Scene 7

Christmas was quiet. Four of us at the table. It felt almost more like a double date than a family dinner.

Yes, it had got to that point. Sneaking hand touches under the table. Stupid and childish, perhaps, and I knew I shouldn’t let myself be with her. I couldn’t help it. I wondered if Thruor was going through the same thoughts about Mike.

Mike could look after himself most of the time. So could Kanesha. And we could protect them the rest, but the difference was that as far as I knew nobody was trying to seduce Thruor into marriage.

I thought that anyone who tried wouldn’t be marrying anyone ever again, one way or another. Maybe that was how I needed to be, but I wasn’t her. I wasn’t her in dress, in attitude, and I didn’t have a pack of loyal sisters behind me.

Christmas and gifts – I bought Kanesha a necklace and she bought me a couple of DVDs of movies I’d never managed to see. Normality that I knew would not, could not, last. It was a harsher winter than normal, too, the temperature plunging below freezing, the city turning into an icebox. People didn’t know how to deal with it. Homeless people were dying of hypothermia – although fortunately not that many of them. The community center had people sleeping on the floor.

The thought of winter chilled and excited me all at the same time. Chilled because it was the language used to describe Ragnarok. Excited because…well…first of all, I hadn’t seen a fire giant since the temperature dropped.

And I felt quite comfortable in it. And no school meant I didn’t have to anything other than look after myself and keep my eyes open for danger. Still, nobody tried anything on Christmas day. Or until New Years. It was almost as if they were considering it a truce.

Or maybe too busy putting coal in people’s stockings, in the case of the fairies. I wondered if Santa was a fairy. He was, after all, supposed to be accompanied by elves. Woodcrafting elves, making cool toys.

It was a great image even if you knew Santa was just people’s parents. Or was he? I wasn’t about to deny the potential truth behind any myth. That truth was there in the core of it.

The day after Christmas, we walked through the cold, wrapped up against it. “I’m wondering if Santa’s a fairy.”

Kanesha laughed. “I suppose he could be.”

“If the gods are real and angels and demons, why not Santa?”

“And the tooth fairy.” She grinned. “Or more likely that’s a metaphor. Fairies and children, and when you lose a tooth you lose a bit of your childhood.”

I considered that. “Fairies taking children. They always give them back when they turn into adults, or so I’m told.”

“And they’re never right. Changelings. But I haven’t heard of it literally happening.”

I thought of some of the kids on the street. Maybe it was all metaphors. And real. Both at the same time. But for now, I was enjoying the brief period of peace.

Episode Ten: Hunters: Scene 6

Later, we had hot chocolate at Mike’s place. He sneaked some Bailey’s into his.

I couldn’t ask him for some – asking a cop to corrupt a minor? I couldn’t expect that of him, but I thought I would have appreciated it. Instead, I just curled my hands around the cup.
They’d grilled us about what we saw, but it wasn’t very helpful. Mike had had to undergo a longer debriefing.

Kanesha was in the kitchen and she came out with bowls of mac and cheese for everyone. Just cheap premade mac and cheese.

And hot chocolate. It was about what we needed right now. I felt a little bad that she’d made it and I hadn’t helped her, but I had so much going on in my mind right now.

“So, we have a ring of devil worshippers.”

Mike nodded. “And that’s why we had Sanchez with us. An extra person, plus several of the suspects we had were Hispanic.”

“She was your translator.” Mike’s Spanish was no better, from what I’d heard, than mine.

He nodded. “And I got her killed.”

I shook my head. “You’re not responsible for your enemies.” The same thing I had to tell myself over and over again. That I wasn’t responsible for what people did to get to me. The same thing I’d told Merrifield. Before I’d gotten mad with him.

“I know, but I should have taken a better fighter with me, I suppose.” He sipped his improved cocoa and then put it down to take the bowl from Kanesha.

“Hindsight’s 20/20,” she said as she handed me my bowl and fork and then sat down. “It always is. Don’t get into the blame spiral. How do we get the rest of them?”
“Honestly, this one is a police matter. At least until they summon another demon.”

I nodded. “Well, then, the cops handle breaking the ring and I’ll send the demons back where they belong. And if you need me…”

“Believe me, if I need you I’ll call, but right now it’s detective work and, no offense…”

“…neither of us is very good at that yet.” I set my own mug down and ate silently for a few minutes.

“I’m working on it,” Kanesha broke the silence with. “You concentrate on beating people up. I’ll try to learn this other stuff. I’m not as strong or as fast as you are.”

“I think your unarmed is slightly better, though.” But it was a good point. She was the smart one. I’d always known that.

“But for now, let Hargrove work the case and please don’t get in his way.”

“I won’t. Unless you get kidnapped again, at which point all bets are off.”

He knew better than to argue with me.

Episode Ten: Hunters: Scene 5

At that point it was mop up. Taking a cue from me, one of the cops managed to get Mike down. He promptly went to help Thea. Within a matter of minutes, we had a bunch of tied up thugs and two bruised and battered, but alive cops.

Hargrove was regarding me with a certain amount of respect. “I don’t know what we’re going to do with you. I should bring you in for that gun, but I don’t think I can.”

I knew he couldn’t. I could see in his eyes that he wasn’t going to do that. “We need to find their boss. Thea, any idea where he went?”

“She,” she corrected. “She went out the back door the second we came in. Probably figures these guys are replaceable from any day labor site.”

It was close to that. “If they’re that expendable, how come they were giving you that much trouble?” I quipped.

“I was trying not to kill any of them.”

Hargrove was checking on the fallen cop. After a moment. “Thank God.”

I turned. “He’s not dead?”

“Nope. He’s going to need a hospital stay, but he’s not dead.”

That bit of good news did brighten my mood slightly. And we had Mike and Warwick back, and it…

…probably wasn’t over. I just had the feeling it wasn’t over. “This still isn’t good. I’m betting this isn’t all of them.”

“It isn’t,” Mike said quietly. “But thanks for getting here before they sacrificed anyone else to Satan.”

“Is that really what was going on?” There was something horribly cliched about actual devil-worshippers that almost, for a moment, made this surreal. True, it was about what I had been expecting to find, but it was harder to buy into than vampires.

“Yes. And haven’t we had a lot of demon problems lately?” He said that quietly to me.

I nodded. “We have, haven’t we.” These people might have been responsible for my demon prince problem. “If it’s true that it’s hard for them to get here without somebody opening the door…”

“…then we need to shut these people down.” Louder. “Detective Hargrove, I think we need an evidence team here.”

“Already called one.” He glanced at me. “You, don’t go anywhere.”

I nodded. “Don’t worry. I won’t.”

“But put that gun somewhere I don’t have to see it. Or give it to Mike or something.”

I tucked it inside my jacket. He was going to officially pretend he didn’t know about it. Or pretend I’d grabbed one from the bad guys. Or…something.

I decided Hargrove was okay.

Episode Ten: Hunters: Scene 4

The Stenton Building was dark and dingy, most of the windows boarded up. It had apparently been some kind of light manufacturing unit, but was now gathering dust. The sign outside read St n on.

I kept one hand inside my coat, then forced myself to relax.

“No. Let the uniforms go in first, it’s their job.” Hargrove shot me a steel gaze.

“It’s our job if they find a demon,” I told Hargrove. “Let Thea go with them.”

To my surprise, he agreed to that compromise – more willing, I suppose to risk a grown woman than a teenager.

If it was a compromise. Thea winked at me, then moved in with them. I waited, but if I sensed real danger I’d go in. Hargrove looked in about the same state.

I didn’t ask him about the mob guy. I didn’t want to know what deals got made in the underworld. That they did I had no doubt of, none whatsoever. But…well…what they were was not something I wanted to think about.

Deals involving people’s lives. Deals to keep the city quiet and at something resembling peace. It wasn’t my problem.

The feeling of fire inside the warehouse was. I broke for the door, got it open, got inside.

Mundane fire licking around some of the crates. Mike and Warwick were dangling from the catwalk. They were both alive, but unconscious. And Thea was fighting a group of thugs. She could have beaten any one of them, but they had her outnumbered. Two of the cops had ducked behind. A third was dead on the ground. And I wasn’t sure who had started the fire, but there was also tension. It wasn’t quite another blaze. It wasn’t quite magic. It was…something.

Thea yelled something it took me a moment to understand.

Blood magic.

I then realized she hadn’t spoken in English. I didn’t worry about it right then, but moved between more of the thugs and the fallen cop. They couldn’t get his blood. That was the meaning of her warning.

The special treatment for Mike and Warwick? Both of them had some talent. They were hunters and these people had something in mind for them. Something I wasn’t going to allow to come to fruition. I struck open handed at the first one, sending him spinning. One of the cops shot the other, although he was not injured enough to end the threat. He did, though, slow down.

“Their boss already ran!” Thea called.

I didn’t answer and rather thought she should save her breath. Hargrove had ducked behind cover with his men.

I looked past the guys I was tussling with to see how they had the two suspended. Then I backed up, pulled my gun, and shot through the straps holding Warwick. I’d rather have freed Mike, but it was a much tougher shot.

The young cop landed in a bit of a tangled heap, but was already picking himself up. One down, one to go.

Their boss might have fled, but at least he didn’t have his prey.

Episode Ten: Hunters: Scene 3

I slowly poked my head out, ready to duck back in again if the firing started again.

It didn’t. Everyone was in cover and maybe at least some people were out of ammo. I knew I still had a couple in mine, if I needed them.

Mundanes. Maybe wannabes, but definitely mundanes. I sensed nothing from them except the slightest hint of darkness.

The one of them stepped out. “You guys going to shoot me?”

“No,” Hargrove called. “But your people started it, and you know about firing on cops.”

“I will deal with the people who fired first. What’s with the dead girl?”

“The dead cop. You didn’t do it?” Hargrove emerged slowly.

Mob. Intrigue. Evil, yes, but I wasn’t sensing the kind of evil that had killed Sanchez.

“I don’t kill cops.” The man examined his gun. “Unless it’s self defense. I’ll deal with them.”

“Two of mine are missing.”

“I don’t kidnap cops either.”

“Then maybe you can give me some idea who would.”

I listened to the negotiations with half an ear, checking to see if I had another clip in my pocket. Drat. I should have checked before leaving home.

Well, if I ran out of bullets, it was my own stupid fault. Or maybe the cops had something compatible.

That they couldn’t give to me. I stuck the weapon back in my pocket before anyone had to see it and listened.

“I think it’s a new player in town.”
“We think there might be a ritualistic element.”

The mob man shuddered. “I don’t run with that crowd. You believe me, right?”

“He doesn’t,” I said, stepping out. “There’s…there’s no taint on him.”

His eyes flicked to me. “Cops running with hunters now?”

I shrugged a bit. “Got an interest in the missing cops. I think they’d rather I was somewhere else.” If he thought I was a hunter with some magic, then…

…in a way it was true.

“Well. I don’t know for sure where your guys are, but if I were you, I’d check the old Stenton building.”

Hargrove nodded. “Thanks for the tip. Go deal with your trigger happy rookies.”

I hoped the dealing wouldn’t involve concrete overshoes. I rather felt it would involve something unpleasant but far less permanent.

Episode Ten: Hunters: Scene 2

When we pulled up, the cops had her body on the street and EMTs were standing nearby.

She’d been beaten and her throat had been slashed. It was a message, I could tell that, and it didn’t bode well for Mike’s survival. Or Warwick’s.

Hargrove was there. “You…whoever has that police scanner…”

I hopped off the bike and tugged off my helmet.


“I’ve seen worse,” I told him, firmly. “Any sign of the other two?” I tried to sound as if one of them wasn’t somebody I cared about. I tried to sound like some kind of professional. Truth was that I didn’t really want to look at the body. There wasn’t as much blood as there should be.

Thruor frowned. “There’s not enough blood. They took some of it.”

“Not vampires.”

“No. Definitely not vampires. She’d stink of them if it was. Much more likely people who fancied themselves as witches. Or demon worshippers. Or, like Hargrove said, the mob. Maybe they have some other use for the blood.” She sounded doubtful on that.

“Vampires are real.” Hargrove almost asked that as a question.

“Yes, and they don’t sparkle,” I told him with slight amusement. “They stink. But this wasn’t vampires. Thea’s right – the body would smell of them if it was, and it would be puncture wounds, not a slash from a bladed weapon.” I sighed. “Okay…she was found here?”

“She was found in that dumpster.” Hargrove pointed.

Wishing for the fyrhund…or even a mundane dog…again, I headed over to the dumpster and peeked into it. “Where’s her badge?”

“Gone. Probably, they’re hoping they can use it to get entry or something. People keep thinking they can do that.”

I wondered what precautions cops took against badge theft and counterfeiting that I didn’t know about. They had to have some measures to keep people from stealing a badge and then using it to break into somebody’s home. “Yeah. Probably.”

Even if Thea was right and this was some kind of black magic ring, they were still crooks, with a use for a police shield. But in that case…

The back of my neck pricked. I dropped behind the dumpster automatically.

Gunshots. Several of them, from the far side of the area. One of the cops fell as the others scattered to cover. After a moment, they returned fire.

Mundanes, definitely. Thea had also found cover behind the ambulance. The bullets were putting holes in it.

I reached for my own gun then hesitated. In front of the cops. Finally, I decided they could avoid officially noticing in this and snapped off a couple of what I hoped were helpful shots.

Then, things went quiet.