A Nocturne City Novel
By Caitlin Kittredge
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2009 Caitlin Kittredge
All rights reserved.
No one could help the jumper on the ledge. You get a sense for these things, after a few months of listening to people scream, "I'm gonna do it, man — I mean it!"
Most of the time, they don't mean it. The man on the ledge did. Lucky me.
Sergeant Fitzpatrick tapped me on the shoulder. "Wilder, you good?" I flipped up the visor of my tactical helmet and pantomimed gagging.
"This negotiator would give a daytime TV host hives." The negotiator was a lieutenant from the Robbery Division named Brady. He was in way over his head, and had resorted to yelling into a PA.
"Think about what you're doing! I'm sure you have something to live for."
"Jesus Christ, I've got a parent–teacher meeting at eight," Fitzpatrick muttered. "Can we get on with this?"
I looked through the scope of my M4, centering the crosshairs on the man's face. He was halfway up an apartment building across the street from the Garden Hill Cemetery. A spotlight pinned him against the crumbling granite, his tennis shoes scrabbling for purchase against the ledge. Overhead, an almost swollen moon cast a harsher light.
The jumper had a blocky face and body, shorn black hair, and absolutely nothing remarkable about him, except for the fact that he was about to drop a hundred feet onto an ambulance crew, an engine from the Cedar Hill fire company, and Tac-3, Nocturne City's third SWAT unit, which included me.
"Just come on down and we can work it out!" the negotiator bellowed, his voice rolling from the hill of tombstones at our back.
"He's not coming down," I murmured, still looking at the man's face through my scope.
"No shit," muttered Fitzpatrick. "I don't want to be cleaning up sidewalk pizza. That's a grunt job. Our shift was over an hour ago." Fitzpatrick could go to a reception at the Playboy Mansion and bitch about the champagne being cold. Normally he was sort of an endearing curmudgeon, but now I punched him in the shoulder of his body armor.
"Fitzy, shut the Hex up. Do you really want to see some poor guy splatter himself over a one-block radius?"
"He ain't gonna jump," Fitzpatrick muttered. "They never goddamn jump. Just want the goddamn attention."
The jumper's eyes were calm as he flicked from the Nocturne PD prowl cars and their rotating red-and-white lights to the spot on the back of the ladder truck to the negotiator crouched behind his unmarked vehicle. He wasn't crying. He didn't even look upset. His jaw rippled as he clenched his teeth, but that was all the expression he allowed himself.
"I wouldn't be so sure about that ...," I muttered.
"You have a lot to live for!" the negotiator shouted. "It's a beautiful world!"
The man's eyes locked with mine, or seemed to, through the narrow crosshairs. I froze. He raised a hand, a sort of weak and half-regretted good-bye.
Then he jumped.
All the sound in the universe got sucked away from me for the few seconds it took his body to fall, small and dark against the white granite of the Garden Vista building.
Everything slammed into me again when Fitzpatrick grabbed my shoulder. "Move!"
He jerked me behind his riot shield as the man's body hit. I glared up at Fitzpatrick through my visor. "Were you expecting an explosion? Perhaps a couple of falling anvils?"
I shoved him off and joined Eckstrom and Batista, two of the remaining three members of Tac-3 at the body. Eckstrom, the squad medic, felt perfunctorily for a pulse in the man's twisted neck and shook his head. "He's roadkill."
Batista jerked his thumb at the small crowd gathered behind the cordon. "Wilder. Go help the uniforms with crowd control."
"Help yourself," I said, crouching next to Eckstrom and examining the man. His face was pulpy and bruised where it had hit. His internals would be liquid. He was staring up at me.
"Hey," Eckstrom said. "You ain't a homicide dick no more. Back off the body until the suits get here, all right? I'm not getting another reaming because we poked the deceased when poking wasn't allowed."
"Sorry," I muttered. Fitzpatrick finally managed to stir himself and made it to our little sewing circle.
"Hex me. Never thought the crazy bastard'd actually do it. Why?"
"You just said it: because he was loco," Batista said. "What other reason do you need?"
My radio crackled. "Looks like it's all over, cowboys. And girl. Lady. Whatever."
I clicked my set. " 'Wilder' would be fine, Allen." Greg Allen was our sniper unit, a military vet with no neck and no idea how to handle a female teammate. Otherwise, I had landed pretty lucky with Tac-3. Fitzpatrick was an equal-opportunity insensitive prick but Batista and Eckstrom actually sort of got along with me.
Considering I was an ex-detective, a werewolf, and had girly parts, that was a minor miracle.
"Ten-four," Greg said. "Let's pack it in."
"I'll clear us with the scene commander," I offered. Batista held out his hand for my rifle and gear belt and I handed it off to him, stripping my helmet as I ducked under the cordon to the negotiator, who was sitting in the passenger's side of his car.
"Excuse me, sir," I said. "Is SWAT clear to leave the scene?"
"I don't know why he did it," he said softly. His hairline was pulling back and he would have been ugly and hook-nosed even with a full head. Probably took the negotiation class in hopes of a promotion that never came around and got stuck talking to people like the man on the ledge.
He had looked at me so calmly. He waved good-bye.
"Stop it," I muttered out loud. The suicide had no more singled me out of the crowd than I'd chosen to be in it. "Sir," I said again, more firmly. "We're all tired. It's been a long shift and overtime pay doesn't really take the place of sleep. Well, except for Allen, and we have this sort of bet going that he doesn't actually need sleep."
"That sound it made ...," Brady muttered, and I knew he was talking about the body.
"Do you know his name? The jumper?" Not too long ago, more of my job involved talking to victims than running around in full body armor with a gun. Instincts are hard to kick.
"Jason," he said. "He told me, before you got here. He said his name was Jason."
"Well, sir, what Jason needs now is for someone to take care of his remains and for you to go home and try to put this behind you. We'd all like that. Could you make it happen?"
He rubbed a hand over his face and looked at me, really seeing, for the first time. "You're that detective."
Oh, fantastic. Another celebrity spotter. "I'm not with the Detective Bureau any more, sir. I'm a response officer with Tac-3."
"Good move. Not a lot of room for advancement once you've closed down a company that employs half the voting base in this city."
"Sir, don't take this the wrong way, but if you don't release us from the scene someone — and I'm not saying who — but someone is going to lose their temper and might punch you. Perhaps even in the face."
He turned his head away from me. "Get the fuck out of here. You're useless."
I had a feeling that the last was meant specifically for me as opposed to Tac-3, but I kept my temper in check. It had already gotten me into enough trouble over the last half a year. Being short-tempered is one problem, but being short-tempered and a were is a bigger one. Not so very long ago, my first impulse when someone pissed me off was to break their fingers ... and that was on a good day.
Batista was leaning against the van, the rest of the team already inside, when I came back. "Everything cool?" he asked me.
"Other than Lieutenant Brady being a mean old bastard, yeah. We can go."
"About fucking time," Fitzpatrick muttered. "I'm gonna have to show up to this meeting in my tac gear, we keep going at this pace."
"I had a date two hours ago," Eckstrom said. "You whining about domestic issues don't even compare."
"Hex you," said Fitzpatrick.
"Funny, your sister said that after I turned down a blow job." Eckstrom grinned widely.
"Lady present," Batista reminded them.
"Go right ahead," I said. "Blow jobs and parent–teacher meetings are the spice of life."
"What about that boyfriend you got?" Batista asked me as Allen moved the van slowly out onto Garden. "He and you got any plans this weekend? Marisol thinks she's gonna do a barbecue."
I made a noncommittal noise, because really, that's much more polite than saying Sorry, Javier, my boyfriend would rather take a plastic spork to his eyeballs than socialize with plain humans.
"Well, lemme know," he said. We drove for a while, Eckstrom and Fitzy still going back and forth with their jovial bullshit, and got dropped in the motor pool at the bottom of the Justice Plaza, the area behind the court house that used to hold condemned prisoners just before they were hanged. Now it's a big warren of administration and one little nest of cubicles dedicated to SWAT.
"Sweet dreams, princess," Allen said when the team and I parted outside the women's locker room.
"They'll all be of you, Greg," I assured him. It was about 9 PM, long after most of the workers in the plaza had gone away for the day. I used to work night shift as a detective in Homicide, and my internal clock still thought it had six or seven more hours of good fun ahead.
I didn't bother showering, just stripped out of my body armor, black jersey, black canvas pants, and combat boots. They weren't as comfortable as the old steel-toed Corcorans I usually wore on the job, but they were made out of space-age material and assured me that if I really needed to I could stop a bullet with my toes.
Sweats and an old CHCC T-shirt would see me home. I whipped my hair into a bun, the pink streak I'd put in when I transferred twisting through it like a vein, and checked myself out in the wobbly mirror for blood on my face. One speck rested dead center on my cheek, and I scrubbed it off violently with a paper towel.
I got my sidearm, badge, wallet, keys, makeup bag, and then screamed. A male figure had appeared between the rows of lockers and was staring at me with the vacant and slightly bug-eyed expression I usually associated with pickled frogs.
"Seven hells!" The figure threw up its hands. "Wilder, keep it down! You want the whole building to hear?"
My heart jackhammered for another split second, and the were screamed Attack until I recognized the person in front of me. It wasn't a locker room peeping pervert. He was much worse. "David Bryson. Give me one good reason I shouldn't rip your trachea out through your nose."
He started to smile. "How you been, Wilder? You look ... good. Love the hair."
I cut him off by thrusting my finger into his face. "What the hell are you doing in the women's locker room?" I let him see my teeth, which had fanged out when he startled me. "Death wish? Please say it's a death wish."
Bryson hadn't spoken to me since I'd shown him my were on one memorably bad night when we'd both been detectives at the Twenty-fourth Precinct, but now he was looking at his feet and seemed almost desperate. "Wilder, I need your help."
"Very funny. The other one has bells on it."
That made me snarl. "So am I: if you don't get out of here in the next five seconds you're going to be in a world of hurt."
Bryson tried to say something else, but I grabbed him by the shoulder of his Bisquick-colored polyester suit and shoved him out the door of the changing room, locking it. "Hex off," I muttered, collecting my gym bag and making my escape through the service entrance.
When I banged open the door to employee parking, a scent of too much cologne and male sweat tickled my nose.
Bryson was standing next to my '69 Fairlane. At least he knew better than to touch it.
I sighed. "David, for the last time ... no, I won't go to the prom with you."
"I meant what I said." He looked more earnest than I knew Bryson was capable of being, not a sneer in sight. He wasn't even staring at my chest.
"Are you in some kind of twelve-step program? Ass-hats Anonymous? Because I gotta tell you, David ... I'm really not looking to make amends."
"Hex it, you're still such a bitch!" Bryson yelled, finally sounding less like a pod person and more like the testosterone case I'd known and loathed.
"I'm tired, is what I am. Is there a reason you chose me out of all the people in the gods-damn city to harass, Bryson?"
He clenched his fist, unclenched it, eyes roaming anywhere but my face. Finally he gritted, "I already told you. I need your help."
"David, I told you ... waxing is the only way to get all the hair off your back."
"Gods above and daemons below ...," he started.
I cut him off with a gesture and dug my car keys out of my gym bag. "The answer is no, David. Whatever it is, no."
"It's a murder case," he said. "Wilder, you gotta give me an assist here ... I am in over my goddamn head."
Strange as it was to hear Bryson on the verge of begging for something, especially from me, I held firm. "I don't investigate murders anymore. Now can I go home?"
My cell phone buzzed against my hip. The caller ID blinked DMITRI. "Hold on," I instructed Bryson, who stood obstinately in front of my car with a hangdog look.
"This bed is awfully big without you in it." Dmitri's voice sounds like dark red wine spilled on pale skin, Eastern Europe blended up with clove smoke.
"Hi, honey," I said flatly. Bryson gave me the eye, like I'd just started speaking in Esperanto.
"Do you know what I wanna do to you right now? I'd start right between your thighs ..."
"Sure, no problem. Gotta go." I slapped the phone shut and jerked open my door. "The answer is still no, Bryson." I turned the Fairlane's engine over with a roar. "Either get out of my way or be my speed bump."
"It's weres!" Bryson yelled at me. "Dead weres! Four of them so far!"
I hit the gas and squealed out of the motor pool lot before he could finish, leaving him in a trail of exhaust.
At home, I unlocked the front door of the cottage softly. The sky was still light at the very edges, over the water, pink and frayed like glimpsing silk through a torn skirt. "Dmitri, you awake?" I called. It was a courtesy. Dmitri could scent me as soon as I stepped out of the car in the little circular driveway that pushed up against my broken-down rental cottage on the edge of the dune.
"Up here." He didn't sound husky and pleasant anymore. I kicked off my flip-flops and climbed up the stairs to the bedroom rather more slowly than a woman coming home to her sexier-than-anything were boyfriend who had given up his pack and his entire life to warm her bed should climb.
"Hey," I said, sticking my head around the door. "Thanks for waiting up for me."
The lights were off but I didn't have a problem seeing Dmitri wrapped in nothing at all atop my sheets. It was stuffy in the room, stale and unpleasant, and I sneezed.
"If you're sick, do me a favor and don't spread it around."
"Oh gee. Hex you, too." I sat down on the edge of the bed and slipped out of my sweats, rolling over to lie next to Dmitri. He shoved me away. "Get off. It's too hot."
"Oh gods," I hissed at him. "Look, I'm sorry. I was tied up when you called and I came straight home to apologize. I didn't realize that tonight was the night we both acted like twelve-year-olds."
There was silence for a long time, and I listened to Dmitri breathe and smelled his sweat mixed in with beer and a little bit of soap. "I'm sorry, too," he said finally. "Just ... I heard someone else's voice, and I assumed ..."
"Sweetie." I took his hand in the dark. "My captain is a man. I work with four guys. Hell, even my manicurist has a penis."
He stiffened again. "Was that your manicurist I heard on the call?"
"No," I said, moving my free hand over his stomach, fingers scrubbing in small circles. I stopped, thinking about the desperate way Bryson had followed me.
"Who was it, Luna?" Dmitri sucked in his breath.
"It doesn't matter. It was nobody I want to keep thinking about."
He jerked away from me and sat up with a snarl. "Tell me who was fucking there with you! I can smell him all over your skin!"
I sat up too, rod-straight, and we quivered silently with our backs turned to each other. "It was David Bryson," I said. "He accosted me in the locker room after I was washing the blood spatter from a suicide jumper off me, and he followed me out to my car and I have had a really shitty gods-damn night, by the way, so thanks for asking and you have sweet dreams." (Continues...)
Excerpted from Second Skin by Caitlin Kittredge. Copyright © 2009 Caitlin Kittredge. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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