In Warm Blood is currently available as a part of The Official Private Eye Handbook, first book in the CITY OF MAGICK series. Please, feel free to take a look here, though, and at subsequent chapters. Let me know how you feel about it. For those of you finding your way here relatively late, no problem. The start of the story is just a click away.
IN WARM BLOOD
The funny thing about sleep was that no matter how little you got there was always some clown who’d decide for you that you’d had enough. My latest clown came in the form of a persistent knocker on my new apartment door. It was obviously someone with a death wish.
I grabbed my .44 (not some wimpy, standard issue .38), put on my private eye bathrobe (standard issue) and staggered to the door. In as swift and smooth a set of motions as the team of my angry brain and half-sleeping body could manage, I yanked open the door and brought the .44 to bear. It turned out that the barrel was inches from the forehead of a 5-foot-tall, pimply faced kid. The little brown-haired acne factory didn’t even flinch. He just stood there, chewing his gum with his mouth open.
“Who let you in?” I demanded. “What do you want?”
“Cash,” he said flatly. “Same as last time, old man.”
Last time? “Oh, right,” I said, lowering my gun. “I remember you.” Good-for-nothing kids didn’t pay attention to anything that wasn’t electronic or hocus-pocus. I had something for him, though. I dug into the pocket of my robe and pulled out a dried chicken bone with a feather tied to one end. Like the gun, I brought it to bear with meaning about an inch from his greasy forehead. “Ogo-pogo Susquehanna!”
“N-N-No! Aaah!” he screamed, sprinting down the hall.
“Ha! Look at him go,” I smiled. “Hmm…He didn’t wet himself. Well, points for that.” I noticed as the kid disappeared into the elevator, he passed some joker in a brown suit and narrow tie…shiny shoes. I sighed. Cops wore shiny shoes. He looked to be about 5’10”, maybe a hundred and fifty pounds and he made my neck hairs stand up. Unfortunately, he got a bead on me before I could close the door and head back to bed.
“Hey! Hey, Stone!” he called out as he started trotting down the hall.
My keenly trained private eyes (standard issue) spotted the bulge of what I was guessing was…a .38 and gave me cop vibe that I had no interest in at whatever time of morning it was.
“Barry Cross,” he said, extending his right hand.
“Very weary. Blow,” I said, ignoring his hand.
“Detective Lieutenant Barry Cross.”
“Never heard of him.”
“I’m him,” he said, flashing his I.D. The picture had the same constipated look as the cop in front of me. “I’m new downtown. Say, who was that kid?”
“Paperboy,” I told him. “The little punk keeps tryin’ to collect, but I don’t think he’ll be back for a while,” I said, tossing the chicken bone to the coffee table. “How’d you get up here?”
“Why don’t you just pay him?”
“Why start now?” I asked. “I never ordered a paper and all they‘ve done is make my life aggravating.”
“Oh,” he said, following me into the kitchen. “Oh, right, wasn’t that your picture--?”
“With the naked--?”
“Doppleganger. Just drop it.”
“OK, you got a permit for that bone?”
“Unclench,” I told him. “Sometimes a chicken bone with a feather is just a chicken bone with a feather.”
“Oh,” he said. “OK. I get it.”
“So, you here to be a new piece of furniture or is this a social call or what?” I asked him as I ran cold water into a mug.
“Let me be straight with you, Stone,” he said, “there’s been a lot of bullets flying around you lately, some right here in your own apartment and the latest ones out on the streets just a few hours ago.”
“Yeah, thanks for the newsflash,” I told him, spooning coffee crystals from the can into my cup. “I’ll try not to sleep through those things anymore, then we can skip these little update visits.” I added a second spoonful and stirred the water. I had a feeling I was going to need it strong. It started to steam right away.
“That instant?” he asked me.
That was probably the limit of his detective skills. I looked at him disdainfully over the brim of my mug. “You’re still here?”
“I haven’t finished yet,” he said. “You gonna make with the Joe?”
“If it’ll get you back on your bike,” I said, getting him his own mug of water.
“You’ve been awfully lucky, Stone,” Cross told me, “for a guy known for not dealing with magic. Hell, in this town, even I walk around with a few protective talismans.”
“Rabbit feet help you sleep at night, Cross?”
“Father Craft runs this city, Stone, which makes magic its life’s blood, in case you slept through that news, too,” Cross said. “You got any cream?”
I gave him another disdainful glare.
“I like it light.”
“You want some puff pastries and bon-bons with that? This ain’t high tea. Act like a man and drink your coffee so you can blow,” I told him. “I’ve got errands to run.”
“You need to stay put,” he said, “under police protection.”
“I work for a living, Cross,” I reminded him. “Sitting in a safe house isn’t going to pay for my bullets or get bad guys off the streets.”
“The work you do for a living is threatening to get you killed,” he insisted.
“I need police protection like I need a hole in my head!”
“Without it, you may get a hole in your head!” Cross said. “I just came from a meeting with the D.A. and we think Pietro Ferrari is gunning for you. If you‘re luckier than most who cross him, maybe you‘ll only need mechanical assistance to breathe and use the toilet.”
“Well, Ferrari needs to take a number,” I told him. “I piss off a lot of people and the day‘s still young.”
“Well, this is the one we happen to care about,” Cross said. “You’re the witness who can make the case against him. We all want him gone. Without you, it‘s just not strong enough to bother taking to court.”
“Forget it, Cross. I’m a big boy,” I said. “I get dressed, tie my shoes and cross streets all by myself. This is all the babysitter I need,” I said, holding up my pistol.
“Look, Stone, I’m not asking you, I’m telling you,” he said. “This is straight from the D.A. You work with us or I pull your license and take you downtown and let you cool your heels in the graybar hotel till trial time.”
I was pretty sure I heard myself growl.
“We’re not talking about a safe house,” Cross said, “just a couple of plainclothes watching your back for a few days. How bad could that be?”
“A question presented by a limited imagination,” I said with a sigh. “Alright, but I want to pick the sitters.”
“No deal,” he said. “They’re already on the way. Does that couch fold out?”
“Sure, I use it for all my slumber parties.”
“What a shame I’ll have to miss out,” he said, finishing his coffee. “I’m sure you triplets will have a blast. They’re parking the car, so they should be up here any minute.”
“Gee, I hope they didn’t forget their PJs and toothbrushes.” I sounded cocky, but Cross wasn’t wrong: it wouldn’t hurt to have some back-up since my odds of becoming a favorite target for every local gun-for-hire were getting better by the hour.
I had recently taken the case of a client who hired me to track down his missing daughter. In the process of finding her, I uncovered evidence on Ferrari that tied him to kidnapping, prostitution, human trafficking, elfin trafficking, dwarf trafficking, faerie trafficking, smuggling, dealing in controlled magical items and murder. He liked making money and he had put together a productive organization for doing it. Whether I liked it or not, smart money was on my going face down before he did. It would’ve been a good time for me to find a bookie. If I lived through the trial I could make a fortune.
There was another knock at the door. Cross was on his feet and heading through the apartment with his gun drawn before I made a move. Suddenly, I had an unpaid butler and private security. And here I thought this was a bad day.
“Let me get it, Stone,” Cross said. “It’s probably my detectives, but it couldn’t hurt to be careful.”
“That makes you and my grandma.”
“Funny man,” Cross said. “We’re trying to keep you from an early funeral. Be quiet a second. Who is it?”
“It’s us, Lieutenant Cross,” a man shouted from the hallway. “All clear.”
“Alright,” Cross said, opening the door. “Come on in. Stone!”
“Meet the detectives who’ll be watching you: Sergeants DeBrave--”
“Good morning,” DeBrave said, dropping a duffle bag on the floor and starting to remove his wet coat.
“--and Overknight,” Cross continued with a twisted, triumphant grin.
Overknight stepped in past her partner. First thing I noticed, of course, was that she was a woman. They both looked a little young, but I figured I was getting my money’s worth. I sure wasn’t getting it from Fred. Why did he keep letting all these people up here?
“Looks more like I’m babysitting them, Cross,” I said.
“They’re young, but they’re good,” Cross insisted. “You’ll be fine.”
“Had to bring in a skirt, huh?” I asked. “Nothing personal, Overknight, it just has a track record of making things complicated.”
“Tell you what, Stone,” she said, dropping her own duffle bag, “we’ll start with you closing your bathrobe. From there we’ll just mount each hurdle as it pops up.”
“That might be a solid idea,” I pondered aloud, sliding my .44 back into its shoulder holster. “Complications do seem to occur in conjunction with the mounting of things popping up, so…let’s monitor the situation closely while I continue to act like this is my apartment and we’ll see how it goes. Meanwhile, we’ll keep your closed bathrobe proposal on standby.”
“And I’ll keep reminding myself that I’m under orders to keep you alive,” she said.
“Hey, your bosses are the ones who want me alive,” I shot back. “Don’t go thinking you’re doing me any favors.” She was sharp and definitely worth a second look…even a third. I just had to make sure I didn’t let myself get distracted by the combination of long black hair pulled back tight in a ponytail and her all-day legs and the unbelievable sweeping curves between those upper and lower regions. With any luck, she and what’s-his-name wouldn’t talk too much. “Well, Cross, you’ve done your dirty work here. Don’t let the doorknob hit you in the ass on your way out,” I said, pouring out both cups of coffee before he tried to come back for more.
“Detectives, keep him alive,” Cross ordered on his way out. “He can be rude and offensive and he pisses off a lot of people, but he’s all we’ve got.”
How insulting. I was not rude. And after I gave him coffee. “So, who’d you two piss off to end up here?”
“Actually, she volunteered us.”
“Yeah, I heard we might have a chance at some action against Ferrari’s mob. From what I heard about you, Stone, I also got the impression you might be worth keeping alive.”
“I’ll add you to the short list,” I told her, “behind mom.”
“Wow,” she said, “an extra Christmas card.”
“Don’t get carried away,” I said. “We just met.”
“Good point. So, I’m thinking eight-hour shifts, partner,” Overknight said. “Cool with you?”
“A third person would make that a lot easier,” the other one said, “but we’ll get by.”
Third? There were two too many already. Whatever his name was, he obviously didn’t realize that I made efforts to keep my apartment traffic to a minimal level. Then, the phone rang. Someone else had decided to be a bother. “Stone here.”
“Practicing your bullet-dodging, Stone?”
“Got a name, funny guy?” The last thing I needed was some fool calling me up to push my buttons.
“Call me the guy who might have some info on snipers with magic bullets,” the voice on the phone said.
“Last time I checked, the Kennedys hadn’t hired me and no one on the Warren Commission could‘ve found out my phone number without help.”
“It’s in the book,” the joker said.
“What’s your point?” I asked him.
“I’ll be at the alley by the newsstand by your office, but I won’t wait long.”
He hung up and I went to change into my private eye working clothes (standard issue). More info on whoever plugged Whitney could only be useful. I just wasn’t expecting it to come easily. I didn’t need the Official Private Eye Handbook (standard issue) to tell me that nothing about this smelled right.
“Hey, Stone,” DeBoned called out, “you got anymore of that coffee?”
“For you, DeBoned?”
“DeBrave,” he said.
“No, none of that instant crap for you, Debbie.”
“DeBrave,” he said.
“Pretty sure, yeah,” he said.
“Whatever. We’ll go out,” I said. “I know a great place for coffee. Give me a minute to get dressed.”