A Night in Electric
by Sarah Monette
Some days, Mick Sharpton was almost normal.
Those were the good days, the days when he did his job and went
dancing after work, days when he enjoyed eating and slept well
and sang in the shower. Days when flirting with a good-looking
man was fun, even if it didn't lead to sex, and he didn't lose
his temper with anyone unless they deserved it. Those were the
days when he liked himself and liked his life, and some months
there were more of them than others.
The bad days were when the world wouldn't stay out of his
head, when everyone he looked at wore a swirling crown of color,
and everything he touched carried the charge of someone else's
life. Those days were all about maintaining his increasingly
precarious control, snarling and snapping to keep anyone from
getting too close. Trying not to drown. Sometimes he
succeeded; sometimes he didn't.
Today was a good day. He could almost pretend he wasn't
clairvoyant. His head was clear, and he felt light, balanced.
He had not remembered his dreams when he woke up, and that was
always a positive sign.
Mick and his partner were wading through a backlog of
paperwork that afternoon. The sheer monumental bureaucracy was
the downside of working for a government agency like the Bureau
of Paranormal Investigations; left to his own devices, Mick
would have let it slide, as he had always done with schoolwork,
but Jamie had a stern, Puritan attitude toward unfinished
reports, and it was useless to argue with him.
It was always useless to argue with Jamie Keller.
But the perpetually renewed struggle to find the right
words--where 'right' was a peculiar combination of 'accurate'
and 'decorous' as applied to descriptions of interrupted Black
Masses and the remains left on the subway lines by ghoul
packs--was both tedious and frustrating, and Mick was positively
grateful when the phone rang, summoning them to Jesperson's
office. Jesperson would have something for them to do.
"It'll just be more paperwork later," Jamie warned.
"Oh, bite me, Keller."
"Not my thing," Jamie said placidly.
When they came into his office, Jesperson was leaning over a
ley line map, spread out on the big table and weighted down with
a fist-sized chunk of the Tunguska meteorite, two volumes of the
Directory of American Magic-Users, and a lumpish pottery
bowl with a deep green glaze, made for him by his daughter Ada
and used for keeping paperclips and sticks of red chalk in. Ada
lived with her mother in Seattle; Jesperson saw her for one week
each year, at the Winter Solstice, and nothing was more sacred
in the office than Jesperson's annual week of vacation, even if
most of his employees politely pretended they had no idea why.
Jesperson looked up and said, "There you are," as if
they should have known to be somewhere else, and waved at them
impatiently to sit down.
They sat; Jesperson stalked over to stand between them and
glowered at them both impartially. "What do you know about
"It's a nightclub," Mick offered. "Goth scene. Lots of
"And?" Jesperson said, looking from one to the other of them.
Mick had told him all he knew--Electric Squidland had always
been too trendy for his taste--and it was Jamie who finally
said, reluctantly, "They get into some heavy shit on the lower
"You've been to Electric Squidland?" Mick said.
"Used to work there," Jamie said and became unaccountably
interested in the backs of his own hands.
"You worked at--"
"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir."
Jamie said, not looking up, "This is about Shawna Lafayette,
"It might be."
"Who's Shawna Lafayette?"
"A young woman from Murfreesboro. Three years ago--just
after the Carolyn Witt scandal, if you remember it--she
disappeared off the face of the Earth."
"Just like that?"
"She went into Electric Squidland," Jamie said in a low
voice, "and she never came out."
"Vanished without a trace," Jesperson said, "and now it's
happened again. Maybe."
"Maybe?" Jamie said. "You mean somebody sorta
"Actually, yes," Jesperson said and allowed himself a small,
crooked smile at their expressions. "What we have are the
remains of half a person."
"Um, which half, sir? Top? Bottom?"
"The right half, I believe, Mr. Sharpton."
Mick and Jamie looked at each other. "Well, that's a new
one," Mick managed after a moment.
"Quite," Jesperson said dryly. "We got a tip this morning.
Anonymous, of course. Here."
He pressed the play button on the tape recorder that sat, as
always, on the corner of his desk, and a woman's voice, drawling
with a hard nasal edge, spoke into the quiet room: "There's
something y'all need to see. Right now it's out in the Sunny
Creek Dump in a big black garbage bag, but I don't know how long
it'll be there, so you better hurry. And if you wanna know more
about it, go to Electric Squidland and ask 'em what happened to
Brett Vincent." A solid clunk of metal and plastic as she hung
up the phone, and Jesperson pushed the stop button.
And then both he and Mick were staring as Jamie lurched to
his feet and said in a strangled voice, "I'll be right back."
He almost fell against the door on his way out. Mick glanced at
Jesperson for permission and followed him.
Jamie hadn't gone far; he was leaning against the wall next
to the water fountain. Dark-skinned as he was, he couldn't go
pale, but he was definitely gray around the edges. "Jamie?"
Mick said, half-expecting his friend to slide to the floor in a
"Sorry," Jamie said. His eyes were closed, and Mick thought
he was doing one of the breathing exercises he'd learned from
"About what, exactly? Are you okay?"
"I'll be fine. Just wasn't expecting . . . ."
"Well, I wasn't expecting any of it, so I'm not sure how that
gets you out here in the corridor looking like you're about to
have a heart attack. You're not, are you?"
That got Jamie's eyes open. "Mick!"
"You look bad enough. And if you are, I want enough warning
that I can call down for a gurney or something."
"Christ. No. I am not going to have a heart attack.
I just wasn't ready for . . . . "
"Oh," Mick said, feeling like an idiot. "You knew the guy,
didn't you? Brett whatsisface?"
"Vincent. Yeah, I knew him." Jamie smiled, but there was
neither mirth nor pleasure in it. "All too well."
After a moment, Mick said, "I didn't know you were bisexual."
"What I am is monogamous," Jamie said--mildly enough, but it
was a clear warning to back off.
"We're going to have Jesperson out here in a minute," Mick
"Yeah," Jamie said. "You go on. Lemme get a drink of
water. And, yes, you can tell him about me and Brett."
"Okay," Mick said, touched Jamie's shoulder lightly,
awkwardly, wanting to give comfort but knowing he was no good at
it, and went back into Jesperson's office.
"Jamie, um, had a relationship with the deceased," he said to
Jesperson's raised eyebrows.
"Did he?" Jesperson said, and added just as Jamie came
through the door, "Then perhaps he can identify the body."
An hour ago, this had been a good day. Now, it was beginning
to feel more like a nightmare.
Mick and Jamie were in the BPI morgue. Cold, echoing, the
lights harsh on gray tile and metal, the psychic residue of
death like dirt on every spotless surface. Mick hated it.
He hated it more today, watching Jamie's grim impersonation
of a hard-as-nails, ice-cold BPI agent. He wasn't fooling his
partner, and Mick doubted he was fooling himself, which meant he
was hanging onto the act because it was either that or go off in
a corner and have a meltdown.
Mick spared some hate for Jesperson while he was at it.
He understood the logic, and Jesperson wouldn't have been
competent to run the BPI's southeast hub if he didn't grab every
advantage he could get and wring it bone-dry. But knowing that
didn't make it any more bearable to watch the way Jamie's hands,
carefully clasped behind his back, tightened and released
against each other again and again, like the beating of some
murderously overworked heart.
The morgue staffer seemed to catch the mood, for she was
silent as she led them to the autopsy table, and remained silent
as she pulled the sheet back.
Mick had to turn away. Even the mental images conjured up by
the phrase 'half a body' had not prepared him for the reality:
the raw, ragged edges of bone and skin; the way what remained of
the internal organs spilled untidily out of the body onto the
table; the way that one staring dead eye was somehow even worse
Jamie regarded the body for a long time, perfectly silent,
then said in a level, almost uninterested voice, "Yes. That's
Brett Vincent. I recognize him, and he's got the tattoo."
"Tattoo?" Mick said; his voice, unlike Jamie's, was a
"We went and got 'em together," Jamie said, touching Mick's
shoulder to get him to turn around. He did, carefully not
looking at the table, and saw that Jamie had rolled his right
sleeve up, was indicating the bend of his elbow, where the Wild
Hunt who rode in somber, frenetic glory the length of his arm
broke like sea waves to either side of a design clearly the work
of a different artist. For a moment, Mick couldn't make sense
of the lines, and then it resolved into a circle made of two
snakes, each biting the other's tail. Without knowing he was
going to, Mick reached out and touched the tattoo gently, as if
it might still be sore all these years later. His finger was
shockingly white against Jamie's dark skin, and they both
pretended they couldn't see how unsteady it was.
Jamie said, "Anyway, that body's got Brett's tattoo right
where Brett had it. It's him."
"I'll write up the report," the morgue staffer said. "Thank
Jamie was unhurriedly rebuttoning his cuff. "And I guess we
go see what Jesperson wants us to do now."
Jesperson wanted them to go to Electric Squidland.
"Never thought I'd see the day when the Old Man would send us
clubbing," Jamie said when he picked Mick up that evening.
"Never thought I'd see the day when the Old Man would send us
on a date," Mick countered, and was delighted when Jamie
They left the Skylark three blocks from the nightclub and
walked the rest of the way, enjoying the mild night air. At
10:07 p.m. (Mick noted the exact time from force of habit) they
walked into the Kaleidoscope, the first level of Electric
Squidland, mirrors and colored lights everywhere, and were
greeted with a loud cry of, "Jamie! Lover!"
Mick stared disbelievingly at Jamie, who winced visibly
before turning to greet an extremely pretty young man who was
making the most of his Hispanic heritage with a pair of pale
blue satin toreador pants. Mick, observing the pretty young man
with the eye of an expert, saw that he was not as young as he
was trying to appear, and he would be prettier if he admitted
"Ex-lover, Carlos," Jamie corrected, but he let Carlos kiss
"Oh, nonsense, darling. Once I let a man into my heart, he
never leaves. But who is your Marilyn Manson here? This
your new flame, sweetie?"
Mick opened his mouth to say something withering about blue
satin toreador pants, but Jamie's abashed, apologetic expression
stopped him. He swallowed his venom, said, "Mick Sharpton," and
endured Carlos' cold fish handshake. He and Carlos understood
each other very well.
"Mick's never been to Electric Squidland," Jamie said,
adroitly avoiding the issue of whether Mick was or was not a
'flame.' "So I said I'd show him around. Suzanne working
"Is it Wednesday and is the Pope Catholic?" Someone across
the room was trying vigorously to attract Carlos' attention. He
said, "We'll catch up later, sweetie. When you're not so busy."
When you've ditched your gothboy, Mick translated and was not
sorry to see the last of Carlos. "I'll assume Carlos has hidden
qualities," he said in Jamie's ear.
"Me-ow," Jamie said, and Mick felt himself blush.
"C'mon. We won't find what we're looking for up here."
"What are we looking for, exactly?"
"Gal who has the Wednesday night show in the Inferno."
Jamie grinned. "The two lower levels are Members Only. And
I don't think Jesperson's going to let us put membership on our
expense accounts. But Suzanne can get us badges, if she has a
"And will she?"
"Will she what?"
"Have a mind to?"
"Oh, I think so," Jamie said, and there was a private joke in
there somewhere. Mick could feel it, and it made him a little
uneasy. But only a little. He trusted Jamie, in a way he'd
never been able to trust a partner before. He'd wondered
sometimes, the first two years he was with the BPI, why he kept
torturing himself, spending his days--and sometimes his
nights--with a series of agents who disliked him, distrusted
him--some of them had openly hated him, and Mick had hated them
back, fiercely and with no quarter given.
He had expected Jamie to be more of the same, Jamie with his
bulk and his heavy hands and his deceptive eyes. And he still
didn't understand what was different about Jamie, massive,
gentle Jamie with his night-dark skin and his tattoos like
clouds--didn't understand why Jamie had decided to like him and
made that decision stick. Mick was painfully aware that he
didn't deserve Jamie's liking--ever a proponent of 'hit back
first,' he had been unconscionably nasty to Jamie in the early
days of their partnership, until Jamie had proved, immutably,
that he would not be nasty back. So whatever it was Jamie was
waiting to spring on him, he knew it wouldn't be too bad.
He followed Jamie obediently from the Kaleidoscope down the
open corkscrew staircase that was the centerpiece of Electric
Squidland's second level, the Submarine. The Submarine was
classier, the level for those who fancied themselves Beautiful
People. No disco balls here, and the music was dark, very
techno, very European. Mick bet the bar on this level went
through a lot of synthetic absinthe.
Jamie used their descent of the staircase to reconnoiter, and
at the bottom, he grabbed Mick's elbow and said, "This way."
"Your gal's here?"
"Is she drinking synthetic absinthe?"
"Never mind." By then, he could see the woman Jamie was
aiming for, a petite woman with long plum-red hair, dressed in
trailing, clinging black. The liquid in her glass was lurid
green, and Mick moaned quietly to himself.
She looked up at their approach. Her eyes widened, and then
she said, with apparently genuine delight, "Jamie! A very long
time, and no see at all!" And then she gave Mick a once-over,
seeming to take especial note of Jamie's hand on his elbow.
"Are you attached to this delectable creature?"
"At the hip," Jamie muttered, only loud enough for Mick to
hear, then said, "Sorta. I'm showing him around tonight."
"Well, you can just leave him to me." Suzanne extended a
hand, the nails as long and black as Mick's own, and said, "Hi.
"Mick." He did not let Suzanne's hand linger in his,
although he knew he probably should have.
"Sit down, please," Suzanne said. "How have you been?"
"Oh, fine," Jamie said. "Listen, Suzanne, I really want Mick
to see your act tonight."
It was hard to tell in the Submarine's dim lighting, but Mick
thought Suzanne blushed. "Jamie, how sweet of you."
Jamie kicked Mick's ankle; resigned, Mick picked up his cue:
"Jamie's told me the most amazing things."
She was blushing. "He's probably exaggerating. But .
. . ." She looked at them, an expression in her eyes that Mick
couldn't read. But whatever she saw pleased her; she smiled and
said, "I'd hate to let you down. Let me see what I can do."
She left with a generous sway of her hips, and Mick leaned
over to hiss in Jamie's ear, "She can't think I'm
"I'm sure she doesn't." He shifted guiltily. "Suzanne, um.
She has a thing for . . . ."
"She's a fag hag," Mick said, several things falling into
place; Jamie winced, but did not dispute the term. So that was
Jamie's private joke. Mick grinned. "You son of a bitch. And
you want me to--"
"Jesperson wants information. Of the two of us, I'm the one
who knows where to look, which means you get to play
"But do I have to distract her?"
"You can distract her. And if you're distracting her,
I can tell the bouncer at the Inferno's side door I'm running an
errand for her, and he's likely to believe me."
"Your plan sucks," Mick said.
"It's the only one we've got. And anyway, she's coming back,
so it'll have to do."
"Your leadership technique also sucks," Mick said and
forced himself to smile at Suzanne. Suzanne had
brought them two pin-on black badges, each saying Inferno
in fiery letters. "I've got to run and get ready," she said.
"Sit where I can see you, and I'll talk to you after, okay?" It
was clear to both Mick and Jamie which one of them she was
talking to, and Mick only barely managed not to sigh audibly.
"Be glad she brought two badges," Jamie said, then
hesitated. "Suzanne's really not that bad. She's like a lot of
the kids here--thinks it's exciting and sexy to work in a
nightclub with a reputation. She doesn't know what goes
on in the Neon Cthulhu."
"And you do? What did you do, when you worked here?"
"Chief bouncer for the Inferno. Adler called me Cerberus and
thought he was being funny."
"You must've been good at it. Why'd you quit?"
Jamie smiled widely, mirthlessly, the same smile he'd had
when he'd confessed to knowing Brett Vincent. "Because they
were gonna give me a promotion."
"Most people," Mick said, cautious now because he didn't know
this mood on Jamie, didn't know which way Jamie would jump,
"don't find that offensive."
"They wanted to put me on the door of the Neon Cthulhu, the
lowest level. And I wasn't stupid enough to be interested.
Inferno's bad enough, and it's really just play-acting." He
held up one broad palm, anticipating Mick's objection. "Nothing
illegal in the Neon Cthulhu. Leastways not out in the open.
It's all consensual, and they got a license for public
occultism. But it is nasty shit. I was only down there
once." And he shuddered, as if even the memory made him ill.
"Jamie?" Mick said uncertainly. "You okay?"
Jamie shook his head, a weary gesture like a bull goaded by
flies. "Don't like it here," he said. "Lot of real crappy
"I'm sorry," Mick said helplessly, and was relieved when
Jamie smiled at him, even if the smile was thin and forced.
"Not your fault, blue eyes. C'mon. Let's go to Hell."
Suzanne, it turned out, was a class eight magician; her act
was very good, very smooth. She had a rather pretty young man
as her assistant, and looking at him, looking at Suzanne, Mick
saw his own twenty-year-old self and understood what Jamie had
been trying to say about Suzanne. So eager to be wicked, but
with no clear idea of how to go about it, so ready to admire
anyone who seemed to have the secret information she lacked. He
was able to relax a little, though, more confident that she
would not turn out to be the sort that would try to get him into
After her curtain calls, Suzanne came and sat at Mick and
Jamie's table, instantly making them the cynosure of all eyes;
she preened herself, and Mick felt his patience with her slip
another notch. Jamie, with his customary talent for evading the
spotlight, went to get drinks, then muttered something about the
restroom and disappeared.
Leaving Mick alone with Suzanne and several dozen interested
spectators, including her seething pretty boy. Mick knocked
back a generous swallow of his screwdriver, and offered the
first conversational gambit, asking a simple question about how
she accomplished one of the effects in her act.
An hour later, he was wishing Suzanne's pretty boy would just
go ahead and slip strychnine in his glass, because it would be
less excruciating than this. The boy was hovering, green with
jealousy; Suzanne, well aware, was flirting with Mick in a way
he could have put paid to with a few pithy words, except that he
was supposed to keep Suzanne distracted until Jamie got back,
and where the hell was Jamie anyway?
Shouldn't have let him go running off to play James Bond on
his own, Mick thought, while acknowledging ruefully that there
was nothing else he could have done. He smiled at Suzanne--a
little too hard, but she wouldn't notice in the dim light--and
choked on his screwdriver when she asked, a trifle too
nonchalantly, "Have you been Jamie's partner long?"
The coughing fit was merciful; by the time he recovered, and
Suzanne was saying, "I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to embarrass
you," he'd realized what she meant. She thought he and Jamie
were lovers; her curiosity was prurient, not professional.
"You just surprised me," he said. "I didn't realize you ..."
and as he hesitated, trying to decide what he ought to say,
whether he ought to play along, or whether he ought to tell her
about Jamie's girlfriend, the image crashed into his mind,
brutal as an SUV through plate glass--blood, black in lurid
green light, and the harsh scent of cedar incense.
"Shit!" he said, setting his glass down hard enough to slop
orange juice and vodka onto the table. "Jamie's in trouble."
Suzanne looked as if she couldn't decide whether to be
offended or alarmed. "What, are you psychic or something?"
"Yeah, actually. Three-latent-eight."
She and her pretty boy stared at him with identical wide-eyed
"And I mean it," Mick said. "Jamie is in serious trouble.
Will you help me find him?"
"But where would he . . .?" She twisted around, and only
then seemed to realize that Jamie was not lurking anywhere
"Fuck," Mick said between his teeth. But Jamie needed
him, and he knew he'd never find his partner without help. He
gambled on the truth. "We work for the BPI. We're
investigating the death of Brett Vincent, who was found out in
Sunny Creek this morning."
"BPI? Jamie Keller went to work for the BPI?"
Mick wondered tangentially what Jamie had been like when he had
worked here, and if that was why he'd been so unhappy to come
"And Brett?" Her eyes had gone even wider, and under her
makeup, she'd gone pale. "Brett disappeared a week ago. Adler
said he'd taken vacation, but Brett hadn't said anything about
it, and that's not like him."
"Jamie identified the body. It really was him."
Suzanne thought a moment, her teeth worrying her lower lip,
then turned to her pretty boy and snapped, "Give him your
Pouting, frightened, the boy unpinned the badge--black like
the Inferno badge, but with Cthulhu written on it in
lurid green black-letter.
"Trade," Suzanne said. "Nobody wears both."
Mick did so quickly, lucky to avoid stabbing himself to the
bone with the pin.
"Good. Come on."
"You don't have a badge," Mick said, getting up to follow
"I've worked here for years. They won't stop me."
Neither the bouncer at the top of the stairs nor the bouncer
at the bottom seemed at all inclined to argue with Suzanne.
This was the job Jamie wouldn't take, Mick remembered and showed
his Cthulhu badge. The bouncer waved him on with no further
interest, and Mick felt a pang at how completely Jamie would
have been wasted on this job.
He got out, he reminded himself fiercely. And you'll get him
out again. Get him out and not come back.
Then he got his first good look at the Neon Cthulhu. Mick
was no stranger to S&M, and although he was not himself a magic
user--and had no desire to be--he had been trained to recognize
the more esoteric byways of the various disciplines. But the
Neon Cthulhu still rocked him back on his heels--almost
literally--and it took him a moment to realize Suzanne looked as
shocked as he felt. He remembered Jamie saying she didn't know
about the Neon Cthulhu, and it appeared that had been the truth.
"Stop looking like you're about to puke," he said, low and
fierce. "C'mon, Suzanne. Pull yourself together."
"God," she said. "I mean, I knew it was a heavy scene down
"It doesn't matter," he said, resisting the urge to shake
her. "Help me find Jamie, and then you can get the hell out of
"Okay." She took a deep breath and said it again, more
firmly, "Okay. But where ..."
Mick looked around, a quick, comprehensive glance. "That
door," he said, with a jerk of his head toward the only other
door that had a man on guard. "Can you distract the bouncer for
"Can I . . . ."
"For Jamie," Mick amended hastily, and that seemed to steady
her. She nodded. "Good. Then pretend like this is all part of
your stage act, and let's go."
That got her spine straight and her face, finally, settled,
and they stepped away from the door together.
Having gone through all the stages from raw newbie to elite
inner circle at more than one goth club, Mick knew perfectly
well that the second most obvious sign of a tyro--after the
wide-eyed gape--was the overdone look of blasé nonchalance. The
trick was to look appreciative but not shocked, and he could
manage that if he pretended strenuously to himself that the
occult signs and mutterings and bits of ritual were just
exceptionally impressive window-dressing for the S&M scenes
being enacted in cages and on altars at various points around
the room. He also reminded himself that Jamie had said Electric
Squidland had a license for public occultism, and thus nothing
going on here was illegal.
They stopped by a cage in which an ecstatic young man was
being flogged by an Asian woman whose long braids snapped around
her like another set of whips, and Mick pretended interest while
Suzanne sashayed over, all hips and sex appeal, and engaged the
bouncer's attention. Mick ghosted forward, aided by a sudden
rapturous scream from the man in the cage that turned
everybody's head for a split-second. Then Mick was at the door,
wrenching the knob with clammy fingers, and then he was through,
the door closed behind him, feeling his way down a much darker
staircase, the bite of the cedar incense almost enough to make
him cough. And he knew Jamie was close.
He could hear voices; as he reached the bottom of the stairs,
his eyes adjusting to the darkness, he realized that the stairs
were masked from the room beyond by a curtain. Green-tinged
light seeped around its edges, and he drew close enough to make
the voices come clear.
". . . he must know something, or he wouldn't be here!"
"Could've been just listening to the rumors again. You
always were a gossip, weren't you, Jamie boy?" A heavy thudding
sound and a grunt: somebody had just kicked Jamie in the ribs.
Mick's hands clenched.
"He's a threat, Adler," the first voice insisted.
"And I'm going to deal with him."
A beat of loaded silence, and the first voice said, appalled,
"You're not going to give him to Brett's--!"
"I really don't think it will care." Adler sounded amused.
"He certainly won't. At least not for long."
"We're not ready," the first voice said. "After last night .
. . ."
"Oh, Jamie will keep. No one's likely to come riding to
Wrong, asshole, Mick thought with considerable satisfaction,
listening as Adler and the other man, now discussing logistics
and supplies for what sounded like a very complicated ritual,
moved away from the stairs, growing distant and more muffled,
until finally, with the click of a closing door, they became
Mick pushed the curtain aside only enough to slip through.
The room beyond would have seemed ordinary enough--a waiting
room with benches and chairs along the wall--if it had not been
for the terrible greenness of the light, and Jamie Keller lying
like a foundered ship in the middle of the floor, wrists bound,
ankles bound, mouth stopped with a ball gag that could have been
borrowed from any of the scenes going on in the Neon Cthulhu's
There was blood on Jamie's face--it looked like it was from
his nose, and Mick was cursing Adler viciously under his breath
as he dropped to his knees beside Jamie and fumbled at the
buckle of the gag, trying not to pull Jamie's already disordered
braids, trying not to hurt him more than he'd already been hurt.
He eased the ball out of Jamie's mouth, and Jamie took a
deep, shuddering breath, and then another; Mick hadn't been the
only one with visions of asphyxiation. Then Jamie let his head
roll back on the carpet as Mick started working on his wrists,
and croaked, "How'd you find me?"
"Had a flash," that being Jamie's term for the times when
Mick's latent 8 blindsided him.
"No shit?" Jamie sounded amazed and delighted, as if Mick had
given him a birthday present he'd always wanted but never dared
to ask for.
"Yeah," Mick said, and the leather thong around Jamie's
wrists came loose. "But enough about me. What happened to
"Being a Grade-A Prime fool, I walked slap into Mr. Henry
Adler on my way back to the stairs."
"On your way back?" Mick said, untying Jamie's ankles. "Did
you find out--"
"Yeah," Jamie said, his voice tight with the pain of
returning circulation. "Only let's get out of here before we
have Story Hour, if you don't mind."
"You could hardly have suggested anything I would mind less,"
Mick said and braced himself to help Jamie up. Jamie was
perfectly steady on his feet, and Mick hoped that meant he had
not been hurt too badly, despite the blood. He was glad to let
Jamie take the lead as they proceeded cautiously into a positive
rabbit-warren of storerooms and access tunnels.
"You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike,"
Mick quoted uneasily. "Where the hell are we going?"
"Back door. Heck of a lot easier than trying to get out the
way we came."
"And where's it gonna get us? Atlanta?"
Jamie laughed, and Mick was ridiculously glad to hear it.
"Alley in back of the Kroeger's on Lichfield."
"That's three blocks away!"
"Halfway to Atlanta," Jamie said dryly.
"Adler can't own everything between here and there."
"Steam tunnels. Hell, Mick, you know how this city is.
Everything's connected underground."
"Fucking ghouls." Much of the undercity of Babylon had been
constructed in the late nineteenth century by a series of
Reconstruction mayors who had preferred the local necromancers'
money--and at a choice between the necromancers and the
carpetbaggers, Mick wasn't entirely sure he blamed them--to the
safety of their citizens. It was the ghouls, though, who kept
those tunnels clear, as patient and industrious as moles.
"Works in our favor this time," Jamie said, and a voice said
in answer, "It might."
Mick and Jamie both whipped around, and then Mick shied back,
right into Jamie's unyielding bulk. He might have screamed;
later, he could not remember and could not bring himself to ask.
The thing that had crept into the corridor behind them had
once been human. It might still be able to pass, to anyone
except a clairvoyant, although the way Jamie's arms tightened
around Mick for a breath-stealing moment before letting him go
suggested otherwise. Mick could see the broken wings it dragged
behind itself, black as tar and shadows, and the way its eyes
glowed fitfully sodium orange in the dim light. But the way its
voice blurred and doubled, as if it were neither one person nor
two, but perhaps one and a half--that, he thought, registered on
the material plane, where Jamie could hear it just as well as he
And then there was the way it crawled, like a spider or a
crab, and the fact that its legs ended in stumps where the ankle
bones should have been; even if it could have passed for human,
it could never have passed for normal.
Jamie said, his voice unnaturally steady, "You used to be
Shawna Lafayette, didn't you?"
"'Used to be'?" Mick said, hearing the shrillness of his own
voice. "Then what the fuck is she now?"
"I am ifrit," the thing said, its eyes flaring brilliantly,
its voice warping and splintering, and it raised itself up like
a cobra preparing to strike. Then it sank back again, the light
in its eyes dulled. "And I think that, yes, this shell was once
called Shawna. Much is lost."
There were several thousand questions demanding to be asked,
and Mick couldn't find the words for any of them. Jamie cut
straight to the heart of the matter: "What do you want?"
"I am hungry," the ifrit said in a plaintive, unconvincing
whine. "I am hungry, and I am tired, and I am starting to lose
my grip on this shell. You carry pain with you. You could
release it to me." It licked its lips, not like a human being,
but with the darting, flickering motion of a snake.
"No, thank you," Jamie said. "I did figure out what they're
doing with the Neon Cthulhu, you know. You got all the
pain--and all the sex--you ever gonna need."
It hissed, again like a snake. "It would be better this
Mick suddenly figured out what they were talking about and
lurched back into Jamie again.
"He is eager," the ifrit said, its voice warbling with its
"He is scared out of his mind, thank you very much,"
Mick snapped. "Jamie, what--"
"Shut up, Mick," Jamie said, and very gently put him aside.
"I have a better idea," he said to the ifrit, advancing slowly.
"Why don't I help you let go of that body, before things get
really ugly, and then you can go your way, and we can go
"Shut up, Mick."
"You will not kill this shell," the ifrit said. "You know
its name." It sounded certain, but it had backed itself against
the wall, and it was watching Jamie with wide unblinking eyes,
very orange now.
"And if you understood thing one about human beings, you'd
know that's why I'm willing to kill you. That body's in misery,
and it used to be someone I knew." He stopped, just out of
arm's reach, and stared down at the ifrit. "It'll be quick, and
then this whole clusterfuck will be over."
"I do not want . . . ." But the ifrit's voice trailed off,
as if it could no longer be certain what it did want, or didn't
want; Mick remembered for no reason that mongooses were supposed
to mesmerize their prey by dancing for them.
"Hold still, Shawna," Jamie said, his voice terribly kind,
and then he moved.
Greased lightning had nothing on Jamie Keller, and Mick was
still shocked at the idea that anyone so big could move so fast
when he realized that small dry noise he had heard, like a twig
breaking, had been Shawna Lafayette's neck. The body was just a
body now, slumped and broken. The ifrit was gone.
"Is it dead, too?" Mick said hoarsely.
"Fucked if I know," Jamie said, and it was clear he didn't
care, either. "Shawna's better off, though. I'm sure of that."
They reached the Skylark half an hour later, without another
word being exchanged; Jamie folded down into the driver's seat
with a sigh of relief and reached for the handset.
Mick caught his wrist. "Tell me first--are you okay?"
"Yeah. Adler got me down with a hex, not a cosh. Hadn't
gone face-first, I wouldn't even have the bloody nose." He
sounded disgusted at his own clumsiness.
Mick hadn't really meant physically. "Jamie . . . ."
"I'm fine, Mick. Let's report in and get this over with,
Mick couldn't argue with that, although he had a vague
feeling he should. He listened as Jamie called in; neither of
them was surprised when Jesperson's voice interrupted to pepper
Jamie with questions. Jesperson really didn't sleep, and
he almost never went home. The first was the result of being a
class nine necromancer–a necromancer dux, they called it in
Britain--even if officially non-practicing; Mick often wondered
if the second was as well.
"Did you find out what killed Brett Vincent?"
"Yes, sir. And Shawna Lafayette, too. Well, part of Shawna
"I'm not going to like this, am I?"
"No, sir. Because Adler's hosting ifrits."
Jesperson's vocabulary became briefly unprintable. "Are you
sure? Adler's only . . . ."
"Class four, yessir. That's what happened to Shawna
Lafayette. And Brett Vincent."
"That . . . oh. Oh, bloody hell."
"Yessir. Adler and his boys, they're talking 'bout it like a
ritual, and I know for a fact Henry Adler ain't got the math.
He can't figure a tip without a calculator."
"I like this even less than I thought I would. How long do
you think this has been going on?"
"Dunno, sir. But I know what happened to Brett Vincent's
body was on account of them getting the phase wrong, and the
stupid bastards didn't even know the word."
Becoming aware of Mick's goggle-eyed stare, he covered the
mike with his palm and hissed, "What?"
Mick just shook his head, and Jesperson said, "'Brett
Vincent's body.' You don't think--"
"I think Brett Vincent's been dead for a long time. Same way
I would've been if Echo hadn't come and got me out."
"Yes, what was November Echo's part in this evening's
"Echo was invaluable, sir," Jamie said, and elbowed Mick hard
in the ribs to make him stop laughing.
"Good," Jesperson said. A pause, probably while he wrote
something on one of the legal pads that littered his office like
shed snakeskins. "How many ifrits do you think there are in
"There can't be that many," Mick said, and now it was Jamie's
turn to look goggle-eyed at him.
"How do you figure that, November Echo?"
"Yeah," Jamie said. "How do you figure that?"
"Well, you said it yourself--and how did you get to learn so
much about necromancy, anyway?"
"I don't spend my off-hours fornicating like a bunny
rabbit. Go on--what did I say?"
"That they didn't know what they were doing. I mean, I don't
either, but if they had to repeat the spell every so often--?"
"Yeah. 'Bout once every five years. Ifrit starts losing its
grip, and that ain't pretty. Well, you saw."
"Yeah. And they've fucked up twice that we know about
in the last three years--they can't be maintaining an army of
ifrits, or we'd be up to our asses in Missing Persons."
"They must've lost the person who knew what they were doing."
"Carolyn Witt," Jesperson said, startling them both badly.
"She was part owner of Electric Squidland. Sold her share to
Adler just before her arrest. And she was class seven. I think
a word with Ms. Witt might clear up a great many questions."
"Yessir," Jamie said and yawned.
"Go home, November Foxtrot and Echo," Jesperson said, and for
a moment the rasp in his voice sounded less like irritation and
more like concern. "You can finish the paperwork when you've
got some sleep."
The BPI raided Electric Squidland that same night,
discovering things in the rooms beneath the Neon Cthulhu that
would keep the state Office of Necromantic Regulation and
Assessment busy for years. Suzanne Parker was not among those
arrested; she had taken Mick's advice and gotten the hell out of
At 11:34 the next morning, Mick set two cups of coffee on the
desk he and Jamie shared, and sat down opposite his partner.
Although his head was clear this morning, and the world was
coloring within the lines, Mick had a gloomy feeling today was
not going to be a good day at all. They were facing a
mountainous stack of paperwork, including the closing of a file
on an seventeen-year-old boy named Daniel McKendrick who had
disappeared from a Nashville suburb in 1983. His fingerprints
matched those of Brett Vincent.
Jamie pushed back from the desk, stretching until his spine
"Lila going to forgive you?" Mick asked.
"Maybe," Jamie said dolefully. "She hates my schedule."
"That's because you don't have one."
"Bite me." Jamie took a generous swallow of coffee and said,
"Do you think we're right to say that body is Daniel
"It is Daniel McKendrick."
"Not like that. I mean, his family's gonna be notified, and
they been thinking he's dead all this time, and now they get
half a fucking body to bury? Aside from which, Daniel
McKendrick has been dead all this time--or at least most
of it. That body was . . . . somebody else, if it was a person
"You mean, you think when you were sleeping with him . . . ."
"Oh, I'm sure of it. Because he didn't give a shit when
Shawna Lafayette disappeared, and now I know why."
"Do you want to talk about it?" Mick asked, red-faced at his
own stupid clumsiness.
"No, but I'm gonna have to put it in the report anyway."
Jamie sighed, took another slug of coffee. "It's the reason I
quit Electric Squidland. Well, one of the reasons. Shawna was
a waitress in the Kaleidoscope. She caught Adler's eye, because
she was pretty and not very bright, and I was worried about
it--because she was pretty and not very bright. And then she
disappeared, and nobody cared, and I asked Brett if he didn't
think there was something strange about it, and he essentially
told me to mind my own business. And, you know, I'd seen him
talking to Shawna before she disappeared. Talking to her a
"Seducing her," Jamie corrected. "And I don't know how many
other people he seduced like that, or why he didn't try it on
"Jamie, you're not helping yourself--"
"You know, that's the worst part. He let me go."
"He let me go. Oh, he tried to make me stay on, but
when I wouldn't, he was okay with it. He never used magic on
me, or tried to get me to play Adler's little games. Hell, he
never even asked me to go down to the Neon Cthulhu with him, and
he must have known I would have. I think about the shit he
could have pulled on me and the fact he didn't pull it, and the
fact that he fucking let me go, and ... Well, fuck it, Mick, I
don't know. Was I just not worth it? Or do you think ifrits
"I don't know," Mick said, wanting desperately to give a better
answer but simply not having one. "I really don't." And
hesitantly, almost cringing, he reached out and put his hand
over Jamie's, feeling the warmth and the strength and the
roughness of Jamie's knuckles. And Jamie turned his hand over,
folded his fingers around Mick's hand.
They sat that way for a moment, saying nothing. Jamie
squeezed tighter, then let go and said briskly, "This ain't
getting the paperwork done." But his eyes were clearer, as if
some of the pain knotting him up had been released, and Mick
returned to his share of their report feeling better himself.
Today might turn out to be a good day after all.
About the Author:
her Ph.D. in English literature, Sarah Monette now lives and writes in a
99-year-old house in the Upper Midwest. Her first novel, Melusine, was
published by Ace Books in August 2005; the sequel, The Virtu, is
scheduled for July 2006, with two more novels to follow: The Mirador
(2007) and Summerdown (2008). Her short fiction has appeared in many
places, including Strange Horizons, Alchemy, and Lady
Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, and has received four Honorable Mentions from
The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror. Visit her online at
Story © 2006 Sarah Monette.