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There is nothing more beautiful than the city at night, thought Rosalind Barrymore Gryffald as she hit the freeway toward downtown.
Being that the city was Los Angeles, it was easier to feel that way late at night, the later at night the better, because traffic did let up eventually, even if it was sometimes well after midnight. But then, oh, then, the city was all hers, in all its shimmering glory.
L.A. Lotus Land. The dream machine, the end of the rainbow. Was there anything in the world more romantic?
And Rosalind Barrymore GryffaldBarrie for short, which unfortunately she was; pixieish, people tended to say, to her eternal exasperation a copper-eyed, copper-haired sprite of a girlloved her town.
Oh, she knew L.A. had its detractors, the ones who were always joking that there was no there there. But those people just didn't know where to look. She knew where to look. In fact it was her job to look.
Not only did she live in the most exciting city in the world, she also knew its most secret excitements: there was a world within the world, even more magical than the movies. And that world was her job.
Her day job well, her day job was actually a night job, the night shift on the Los Angeles Courier where she worked as a crime beat reporter. But her secret job, her all-the-time job, her passion, her calling, was Canyon Keeper of the shape-shifters of Los Angeles.
She was startled out of her thoughts when the digital billboard on the Wilshire Grand Building suddenly loomed up in the dark, a twenty-story-high architectural lighting tour de force featuring car-size butterflies flitting across a rainbow landscape. She was at the downtown turnoffs already.
She steered her vintage Peugeotwhich she'd wheedled out of her father when he'd left the countryto the right and took the Third Street exit into the island of glittering skyscrapers that was downtown. L.A. was made up of those dense clusters of tall buildings sticking up in the middle of the relatively flat residential neighborhoods around them, a landscape that was never so apparent as at night.
Downtown L.A. was the oldest and most decrepitly grand of those islands, and the Courier building was right in the middle of it.
It was always a thrill to drive up to the historic Art Deco building in the heart of downtown, lit up like a wedding cake at night, to drive under the building using her very own official parking card.
Barrie charged up the escalator from the garage and breezed past the huge decorative globe in the center of the domed lobby. Ten-foot-high murals towered above herher cousins would say everything towered above her, but she had a long history of ignoring them.
She rode the decadent Deco elevator up to the sixth floor and felt her heart lurch a little as the ancient contraption jerked, then settled.
Something was up; she could tell from the second she stepped into the newsroom. The entire floor was buzzing.
Her reporter's mind scrolled through the possibilities.
Terrorist attack? Stock market crash? Assassination?
Or, seeing as this was L.A .Celebrity death?
She grabbed the sleeve of the nearest scrambling reporter, tall, thin, redheaded Steve from Metro.
"What's going on?"
"Saul Mayo," Steve said breathlessly, and yanked his arm away.
Saul Mayo, head of World International Pictures, one of the town's six major movie studios.
"What about him?" Barrie demanded, turning to yell after him.
"Dead!" he called over his shoulder, and skittered away.
Barrie relaxed, at least as much as she ever relaxed. Not that it wasn't big news; in an industry town, a studio head in his relative prime dying was not just big news, it was huge.
But it wasn't the kind of news that she was in journalism to pursue. There was only one kind of story that interested her, and that was anything concerning the Others and the Otherworld.
Because Barrie, along with her cousins Rhiannon and Sailor Ann Gryffald, was a very new member of a very old tradition. They were Keepers, from a long line of Keepers, charged with an ancestral duty to guard and keep peace among the communities of vampires, shape-shifters, werewolves, Elven and all non-human beingsthe Others, who lived all over the world, hiding in plain sight among mortal populations.
As anyone who knows anything about paranormal beings might guess, there was a large population of Others in Los Angeles. Just as mortals were lured by the shining promises of the city, so, too, were Others drawn here, some hoping to exercise their talents and find the spotlight as actors, musicians and other artists, some seeking protective camouflage in this famously eccentric town. There was a saying that "Everyone in California is from somewhere else." So not true; Barrie herself was a proud native Californian. But in a community of outsiders, no one looked twice at someone different, and that made Others relatively safe in their conspicuousness.
And almost since the first appearance of an Other, there had also been families born with the mark of certain beings, indicating their potential as Keepers: mortals with some of the powers of the beings they were marked with who could communicate and facilitate between the worlds.
Keepers were sworn to uphold the Code of Silence: to keep the secret of the existence of the Otherworld. And to that end, if there was trouble or outright crime in the Otherworld that threatened to spill over into the human world and expose the existence of the Others, it was the Keepers' duty to keep the peacequietly.
Barrie had been waiting to take on that duty all her life. Even so, it had been a shock when it happened so quickly, just months ago, when her father and his two brothers, Keepers of the shifters, vampires and Elven of the L.A. canyon districts, were called to the newly established international Council of Keepers in the Netherlands. Barrie, Rhiannon and Sailor had suddenly been thrust into the Keeping of the Canyon.
Now, instead of the endless waiting and training, it was all real. Rhiannon and Sailor had already been instrumental in solving two recent cases, a series of murders committed by a power-mad vampire and the mystery of a rare blood disease killing off Elven.
Every morningwell, some days more like afternoonsince Barrie had taken the oath in front of the local Keepers' Council, she'd woken up with a fluttery feeling of exhilaration, almost like that feeling you get when you know you're going to meet someone. It wasn't that she wanted trouble, or crime, of course not, but trouble was inevitable, and when it came, she would be ready for it.
Until just recently she'd been struggling along doing "filler" stories on the Courier, and in the current journalistic climate, with newspapers shutting down all over the country, she'd felt lucky to get those. But a piece she'd done on the string of vampire murders that her cousin Rhiannon and Rhiannon's now-fiance, LAPD homicide detective Brodie McKay, had solved, had not just solidified her job but moved her up to the crime beat.
Barrie's job on the paper perfectly complemented her Keeper duties. As a crime beat reporterwell, actually, crime beat stringer, but she would get there eventuallyshe was able to get a first look at police reports to scan them for Other-related crimes that needed immediate attention or intervention, to ensure that: 1) humans were not harmed by out-of-control Others, and 2) the Others and the Otherworld remained a secret from the human population of the city.
So, Saul Mayo the movie mogul, being a human, or formerly human, didn't interest her.
Good riddance, anyway, she thought uncharitably. Mayo hadn't been known for his humanitarian efforts.
She steered away from the swarm of her colleagues and was headed for the local crime editor's desk when she saw the one person she didn't want to see coming toward her.
A newbie on the paper, and a thorn in Barrie's side from the instant he'd shown up. For one thing, jobs were scarce enough without extra competition. But that was only the start of it.
Townsend was waaay too good-looking to be a journalist, and too stylish, too. In a city of surreally gorgeous people, he was truly heart-stopping, if you liked men who were a combination of all the best parts of young Leo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman.
Only movie stars were supposed to look like that; there was something almost preternaturally beautiful about him. Dark gold hair and green eyes under perfectly arched eyebrows, cheekbones that could cut glass. The way he held himself, that casually aristocratic elegance that was the territory of actors and, well, aristocrats . He moved like a cat, strong as a panther and just as lithe. He was tall, too, which made Barrie glad she was wearing some serious heelstonight, Chanel pumps to go with the little Balenciaga number she'd found in her favorite thrift store in Echo Park. Vintage was a particularly good look for her. People were smaller then, too.
Mick Townsend stopped right in her path, blocking her way and towering over her in an alarmingly commanding way. "Gryffald."
She put up all her defenses as she coolly replied, "Townsend," and was proud that she didn't blush.
"You're looking very Audrey Hepburn tonight," he said lazily, and looked her over, a direct examination that managed to be slow and sexy and aloof all at the same time, which didn't help her state of mind at all.
She sidestepped him and kept walking toward the crime editor's desk. Unfortunately, he turned and walked with her.
"A lady on the scent of a story, if I ever saw one."
"Looks like there's only one story tonight," she said, glancing at their huddled coworkers.
"Ah, yes. The Prince of Darkness. Requiescat in pace," Townsend added. Rest in peace.
But there was a bitter quality to his voice that belied his words, and made Barrie stop and look at him for a moment; it seemed more than mere journalistic cynicism, but some deeper feeling.
Interesting, she thought. I wonder what that's about?
"But that's not a story you're interested in," he said.
"No point. Even if he was murdered, they're not going to give it to a rookie like me," she answered innocently. "Enjoy your night."
She sidestepped him and continued to her boss's desk where she snagged the police blotter while he paced and talked on the phone a few desks down. She caught his eye and held up the blotter, and he nodded at her distractedly. Now that she'd checked in, her time was hers for the rest of the night.
She had a desk of her own in an anonymous row of desks, and she settled down at it with the blotter while her coworkers swarmed on the Mayo story.
Unfortunately, her hormones didn't settle down with her; her pulse was racing out of control from that brief encounter with Townsend.
What kind of name is Mick Townsend for a journalist, anyway? she thought irritably. It sounded more like a rock star. And she had a rule: no musicians, no actors. In L.A., that was simple survival.
But she didn't really think Townsend was an actor. She had darker suspicions: he was a spy from corporate, skulking around to find more people to give the ax. The newspaper would be all of three pages long by the time the suits were through with the bloodbath; it seemed neverending these days, the worst time in the world to be a journalist. She'd had to fight tooth and nail for the tiny bit of turf she had on the paper.
Fortunately, as a Keeper, she had more than a passing acquaintance with tooth and nail, or fang and claw, or just about any variation on the above. And bloodbaths, come to that. When a person dealt dailyor at least weeklywith the loves, lives, deaths and turf wars of vampires, werewolves, shape-shifters, Elven and whatever supernatural creatures happened to present themselves, a little backbiting among journalists was small potatoes.
Well, okay, it wasn't the backbiting that was the problem this time, it was Townsend's charm.
Barrie really hated the fact that he made her uncomfortably aware that she hadn't had sex in she didn't even want to think about it. Except that she was being forced to think of itconstantly. With Rhiannon engaged to Brodie McKay and Sailor newly engaged to nightclub owner Declan Wainwright, the House of the Rising Sun was a literal hotbed, licit though it might be. Barrie frowned and thought darkly, Might as well rename it House of the Rising
All right, enough of that, she told herself, and forced herself to stare down at the police blotter.
The list of the night's crimes was already long: Burglary/Theft from Motor Vehicle. Grand Theft. Vandalism. Battery. And the usual collection of oddities: the owner of a La Brea Avenue business reported that someone tipped over a Porta Potty and attempted to break into a storage barn; a Vista Street woman reported a female who had delivered pizza to the address the night before had shown up at 2:00 a.m. with blood dripping from her nose and asking for money; a resident of Orange Grove Avenue reported an unknown person stole four solar lights and a garden gnome from his yard.
Barrie knew how to scan for potentially Other-related crimes; you developed a kind of sixth sense about it. But tonight it didn't take any special skill to find the case that she would need to look into; it jumped out at her from the reports as if it were lit up in neon:
Dead body in alley off Hollywood and Gower. Mixed race, late teens, street name Tiger. Suspected OD.
Barrie felt as if she'd been punched in the stomach.
She knew Tiger. Had known him. He was a street kid, a runaway, one of the eternal hopefuls who left their small towns and got on buses to Hollywood with big dreams of fame, fortune, loveand ended up turning tricks on the Boulevard instead.
Boulevard of Broken Dreams, they called it. You got that right, she thought, feeling a flare of anger and grief.
The Boulevard was part of her Keeper jurisdiction, so she spent a lot of time with the street kids. She was drawn to them, she ached for them, most of them running away from exploitation at home only to fall into the hands of the same kind of predator on the streets.