Finally, finally I get around to finishing a story in time for #fridayflash! This one is specially dedicated to @jolantru, fellow urban fantasy geek– this was the story I was telling you about.
Comments, critiques and RTs very welcome. I love you too.
“Are you in charge of this building?” my boss asks.
The woman we’re interviewing responds with a roll of the shoulders, mouth busily working on gum, heavily-mascaraed eyelids opening, shutting, opening, shutting. She suits the building she guards perfectly, a stolid thing laid down in the seventies and slowly taken over by cheap hole-in-the-wall boutiques and tattoo parlors that draw chainsmoking teenagers in droves. Tobacco-stained and grime-encrusted, her clothes are a bewildering mishmash of torn lycra, faded tie-dyes and cheap faux leather.
My boss holds up her documentation. “I’m Inspector Lee. I come from the Locations department of the police force. You know what that is?”
“I have a few questions I’d like to ask you.”
I hold my pen at the ready, waiting to take her statement.
“Did anything unusual happen in the building the night of the twenty-seventh July?”
“Twenty-seventh July.” I start scribbling as she recounts. “Let’s see… first floor. Kids fighting like dogs. Third floor ladies’. Girl and another girl. Her first time. Girl, not other girl.”
“They’re all disturbances.”
My boss shows her a photo of the victim. “Do you recognize this woman?”
She shakes her head. “Never seen her. Never been inside.”
The set line of my boss’ mouth means that she believes we’ve hit a dead end here. Another half hour wasted.
The girl spits out the gum she’s been chewing and I suddenly realize that it hasn’t been gum all along, but bones. Tiny little rat bones. She, catching my reaction, smirks. “New one?” she asks my boss.
My boss waves me towards her. “Come on, Hot Soup, we’re done here.”
It’s like this, every day, spending the days trawling through casefiles hoping a clue will come in, and spending the nights trawling the streets with our summonses, praying for a lead. I’m not sure if my boss even sleeps. She’s always in the office when I arrive and still in the office when I leave.
Right now she’s chewing pensively on a mouthful of bubble tea pearls. We’d covered all the buildings in the area with no luck. “They must be hiding something,” she says. “It’s not possible that no-one knows anything.”
“I thought you said they couldn’t lie.”
The standing-space tables around the bubble tea stall are crammed with loud pushy teens enjoying the Friday night. My boss puts the last vacuum-sealed summons packet on the table. “We haven’t spoken to the Parklane building yet.”
“Wasn’t there was a raid on the night of the murder? Wouldn’t Enforcement have seen something?”
“Enforcement? They wouldn’t notice an elephant’s ghost if it was shitting in front of them.” She puts down her drink resolutely. “No. We must talk to the Parklane building.”
“He knows nothing,” a whispery voice interjects, and when we turn there is a thin girl with round eyes, who doesn’t introduce herself even as our mouths start to gape.
“What are you doing here?” my boss demands to know. “You’re not supposed to leave your domicile.”
“I was summoned,” she says quietly. “By a dead spirit.” I recognize her, I think: she’s from at least six blocks away. A brief memory of a diminutive building barely four storeys high, with one small convenience store on the ground floor. What was her name? Stamford Court–?
“It’s the murder victim,” she says. “There’s something you need to know.”
Holy shit, I think. This has never happened to me before.
My boss glances quickly around as if we were about to do something illegal, and leans forward. “What is it?”
“She was killed someplace else and brought to where your people found her,” Stamford Court says. “Her killer was one of the shophouses in Chinatown.”
“A building guardian?” my boss asks at the same moment I blurt out “You’re joking!”
“We don’t joke,” she says.
“And you don’t kill people either,” I rebut. “Boss, this girl’s just taking us for a ride.”
My boss is silent for a long moment. “Guardians can go rogue,” she says, finally. “And they’ve killed before. Do you remember the Hotel New World collapse? No, you’re probably too young for that. It’s a bit extreme, for sure. But that is the extent of what a guardian can do.”
“But that was due to shoddy construction…”
“It was ruled as due to shoddy construction. Back then there was no Metaphysics Dept, no Locations, and even if there was the verdict would have been the same anyway. Nobody likes to think of the supernatural world as having that much power.” She shrugs. “Even if it’s true.”
Stamford Court unfolds her tightly-laced fingers. “That’s all she knows. She apologizes.”
“There’s no need to apologize,” my boss says, speaking to the air on the left side of the building guardian. “This is very helpful.” I realize she’s talking to the spirit of the dead woman, and the idea of there being a dead person standing there gives me the chills. Yes, I am new to this job.
My boss picks up the last summons package and holds it out to Stamford Court. “For your trouble,” she says.
The guardian shakes her head. “I don’t need your offerings. I was summoned by someone else, and I am also doing this for my own purposes. And I don’t really like the taste of mice.”
“Then I’ll just offer you my thanks.” She turns back to the space where the spirit should be. “I’m sorry, Alicia. I hope you find peace.”
Then they are both gone.
“A shophouse in Chinatown, that would be an Elder,” my boss muses, her forehead working as she speaks. How she can handle these things so fast, I have no idea– but then she’s been doing it for a lot longer than I have. “This goes much deeper than we thought.”
I don’t even know what to say.
“I think, Hot Stuff, that we are seeing the beginning of a war between the guardians.”