Archive for March, 2012

14. Jaws

“This is very Hawai’ian!” Marla shouted into the wind as the convertible cruised down the highway, a longboard poking up out of the back seat next to a visibly miserably Jon-Luc. “Wind in my hair, salt in the air, a song in my heart, and murderers to catch!”

“Have you ever surfed before, Mrs. Mason?” Pelham said.

“No, but I’m good at everything, so I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

It was hard to tell, with the wind and all, but she thought Jon-Luc groaned from the backseat.

The drive took about an hour and a half, plenty of time for Marla to prepare various strategies, even though she knew, when the time came, she’d probably just improvise. How often did a detective end up telling their client: “I think I know who did it. I think you did it.”

Eh, maybe it was pretty often, at least in books. She’d have to ask Rondeau when they got back home. He’d read more mysteries than she had.

Jon-Luc directed them down a paved side road, and told Pelham to pull over just before it turned to dirt – or, more accurately, mud. “It rained recently,” Jon Luc said. “I wouldn’t try driving any farther. There’s no parking or anything there anyway, it’s all undeveloped land. It’s only a mile or so. We can walk it.”

The muddy road ahead was lined with the burned-out hulks of derelict cars. “What happened here?” Marla said. “Demolition derby?”

Jon-Luc shook his head. “People tried to block access to the beach years ago. They dragged cars across the way, and even dug trenches, so you couldn’t drive this way without getting stuck. The old cars got moved out of the way, but there’s still a lot of junk around. Technically, all the beaches in Hawai’i are public land, but…”

Marla nodded. “Rich assholes trying to make it a private party for themselves, huh?”

Jon-Luc shook his head. “Not this time, not exactly. See, Jaws is the best place to surf on the island, if you know what you’re doing – and I mean really know. I wouldn’t even try it myself, I’m not good enough yet. You get sixty-foot waves out here sometimes. But when the surf gets really big, tourists and posers and kuks all flock down, get in the water, and screw things up for the serious people. Back in 2004, it got really bad, and a few people got hurt, so some of the really well known big wave riders complained. After that, people took steps.” He nodded toward the wrecked cars. “It’s sort of an invitation-only spot now. I mean, you can get there, if you’re willing to hike, but… you might not find the best reception.”

“Ah, but you’re inviting us, right?”

“I guess so.” He didn’t sound happy about it. That was okay. Marla wasn’t that invested in his happiness.

“So, we walk from here?” Marla said, climbing out of the car.

“Unless you’ve got an ATV in the trunk,” Jon-Luc said.

She looked at Pelham, just in case. He cleared his throat. “Alas, no, ma’am.”

Jon-Luc carried the board she’d rented, balancing it on top of his head as they walked around a burned out Chevelle. “You can’t actually go out on this board,” he said.

“Why not?”

“I heard you say you’d never even surfed before. This isn’t the place to start, okay? The water will just destroy you, it’s carnage, it’s chaos. You can’t even really paddle out into the waves – people do tow-in surfing, they get a jet ski to pull them out to the right spot so they can catch the waves. The surf is biggest in the winter, and – ”

“Is that what Glyph and the Glyphettes do?” Marla asked. “Tow-in?”

“No, but they’re different. They’re magic.”

“Me, too,” Marla said. She hadn’t actually been that interested in trying to surf before, but if someone was going to tell her she shouldn’t, that changed everything. They squelched along, avoiding the mudpits as best they could, occasionally walking on the shoulder, where their legs were whipped by knee-high grass. Finally they crested a hill, and Marla finally got a view of the cliffs leading down to the ocean. A few jet skis bobbed on the water, but it wasn’t the frenzy she’d been expecting. “Doesn’t look so scary to me.”

“Water’s not doing much today,” Jon-Luc said. “That’s how it is sometimes. Getting here’s a pain, and there’s not much point if there’s no big surf – most people will just go over to Ho’okipa and surf the Middles. On certain days, though, when you get waves taller than a building, you’ll see people lined up along these cliffs, watching… it’s unreal.”

“So why aren’t your tribe at Ho’okipa, if it’s better today?”

Jon-Luc shrugged. “They don’t care as much about big waves. They like them, don’t get me wrong, but they’re in the water every day, whether the surf is high or not. They say the ocean always whispers, but this is a place where the ocean shouts. They come here to listen.”

“Preserve me from mystics, Pelham,” Marla said. “If I ever start communing with giant chaotic systems, lock me up for my own safety.” They followed a rocky trail down to the beach, such as it was – this clearly wasn’t a place you came to set up a volleyball net or sunbathe or grill a few hot dogs. It was mostly cliffs and reefs and pounding waves, with a handful of people in wetsuits milling around. Jon-Luc handed the board to Pelham, who took it with relatively good grace, then ran down to the sand, waving, and calling out the names of his friends – “Leis! Ryan and Josh! Mad Gary! I brought the detective!” The surf-hive welcomed him warmly with embraces and shoulder-pats, then all their heads swiveled to look at Marla.

“I don’t see Glyph,” Marla said. “Do you – wait, you haven’t met him.”

Pelham nodded. “I have not had that pleasure.”

Marla squinted out at the water. “There, on that wave, I think that’s him surfing.”

It wasn’t much of a wave, and Glyph didn’t look too excited about it – from this distance, at least, he looked like a guy standing around at a dull cocktail party, hoping the cute waitress with the shrimp puffs and the short skirt would come by again soon. Then, for no apparent reason, he lost his balance and fell off the board, disappearing under the waves. Marla joined the hive on the beach.

“Marla Mason,” a dark-haired man – he was either Ryan or Josh – said politely. “How is your investigation progressing?”

“Not bad, I have some leads.” She shaded her eyes and looked out in the water. She saw Glyph’s board, rolling in on a wave, but not the man himself. “I just wanted to ask Glyph a few questions. Are you guys sure he’s not drowning?”

“He won’t drown,” Ryan (or Josh) said, and the others chuckled. “We’re drown-proof. I’m not sure why he went off the board. He must have seen something interesting underwater – ” The man frowned, then shook his head. “That’s… strange. He broke his connection with me.”

A chorus of “Me too” rose up from the half a dozen surfers on the beach, and they all hurried toward the water, suddenly alarmed. Marla followed. Glyph’s board bobbed in the water a few yards out, not floating all the way in to shore for some reason, as if anchored. Jon-Luc and the others waded out, grabbed the board, and began feeling around in the water for something.

“The board tether,” Pelham said, pointing. One of the surfers pulled on the bright yellow cord trailing from the end of the surfboard… and after a few moments, they found the ankle it was attached to. The wave-mages lifted their comrade out of the water and flopped his body onto the board, then began walking it in to the shore.

Before they reached the sand, Glyph’s body was already melting, his flesh crumbling like wet sand, his blood appearing briefly red before going the clear of seawater, and the other mages wailed and sobbed and scooped up bits of his deliquescing body, only to have it run through their fingers and into the water.

“Well, hell,” Marla said. “So much for that theory.” The surfers came out of the water and sat on the sand, staring blankly at one another, in shock or quiet communion, Marla couldn’t tell which. She waited a respectful interval – respectful for her – then said, “You all saw that, didn’t you? His throat?”

“A shark,” one of them said. “There are shark attacks here, sometimes…” He subsided.

“I don’t think so,” Marla said carefully. “Unless it’s a shark with thumbs, and a knife. His throat wasn’t ripped out. It was cut. I saw it, before he…”

“Returned to his mother,” a freckled redhead said. She blinked. “Is this… do you think…”

“It’s the same person who killed Ronin?” a blond man said. “The cut, it was the same kind of cut, he was killed in the same way…”

“Is this all of you?” Marla said. “The whole family, tribe, crew, whatever?”

They nodded, all in unison, even Jon-Luc. Damn it. So much for the inside job theory, unless Glyph had cut his own throat to throw off suspicion, which was a pretty extreme tactic. Besides, the way he’d fallen off the board, it was like something had pulled him under. The killer might still be out there, under the water, but if it wasn’t one of these people, who was it? “I think we have to proceed on the theory that whoever killed Ronin also killed Glyph,” Marla said finally. “And that could mean all of you are in danger.”

“You think someone wants to kill us?” Jon-Luc said.

“It’s a possibility,” Marla said.

“I understand why you think that.” Reva approached from direction of the road, and Marla narrowed her eyes at him. She never liked it when gods showed up unannounced. “But there’s something you don’t know.” He took a deep breath. “I’m the one who killed Ronin.”

Marla was on him in an instant. She kicked his legs out from under him, and then knelt down on his chest, holding the dagger Death had given her against his throat. “I didn’t think you were the type to go in for human sacrifice,” she said. “So why’d you do it? And why kill Glyph?” She frowned. “And why tell Glyph to hire me?”

“I did not kill Glyph,” Reva said, as unperturbed as if he didn’t have an angry sorceress pinning him to the ground at all. “That’s my point. It wasn’t the same killer. If you’ll let me up, I’ll explain.”

“Ha. Like that’s going to – ”

A moment of blankness passed over her, or rather, she passed through it, and in her next instant of awareness she was sitting in the sand, in a circle with all the other sorcerers. Reva was on his back in the center of the circle, and Pelham was standing over him, the unsheathed length of a sword cane pointed unwaveringly at the god’s throat. “Are you with us, Mrs. Mason?”

“I, uh – the fuck?”

“Reva has the power to control the minds of any of ‘his people,'” Pelham said. “Anyone who feels they are an exile, or otherwise away from home, is susceptible to his powers.”

“It’s not mind control,” Reva said, though now he sounded a bit annoyed. “It’s just a form of direct communication, stripping away all niceties, talking to the deep down true parts of a person.”

“His power does not work on me,” Pelham said, “for I am home, which is to say, by your side, Mrs. Mason. But, alas, it does work on you. He used that ability to stop you from questioning him so sharply. At least, he attempted to. I stopped him.”

“I am a god, you know,” Reva said. “What do you think this is going to accomplish?”

“I know that you prefer to use physical bodies,” Pelham said. “I know that destroying this body will inconvenience you. And I assume you are capable of feeling pain.”

“Fine,” Reva said. “I’ll explain. I wanted to explain, anyway, I just didn’t want to do it with a knife at my throat.”

“And look how well that turned out,” Marla said. “Don’t you ever try to mess with my head again, little god. There are things more powerful than you, and some of them owe me favors.”

Reva sighed. “If I can sit up? No? Fine. I only meant to help you, Marla. I could see you were bereft, without hope or purpose. I knew you were attempting to become a detective, without much luck. So I thought… I might help you get a case.”

“This is true, Mrs. Mason,” Pelham said, still keeping his eyes firmly fixed on the supine god. “I regret to admit that he discussed this plan with me some weeks ago. I met him during my travels – he was in a different form then, a different body – and he said I should rush to your side, and assist you. He said he had a plan…” Pelham shook his head. “I am sorry. I should have told you.”

“I see. Tell me about the plan.” There was enough frost in Marla’s voice to kill a thousand crops.

“Ronin wanted to die,” Reva said. “We were friends – he’s one of my people, he never got over how much he missed his home in Japan, never felt at home anywhere else, not really. He lost faith in the ocean, and he was going to kill himself. I told him there was a way his death could help another exile, and he agreed to let me stage a murder.” Reva sighed. “That’s why you couldn’t find any traces – I am a god. After I cut his throat, as per his request, I covered my tracks. Then I talked to Glyph and the others, and told them they should hire you, and that you could find the killer.”

“You set me up with an unsolvable case? Just busywork to keep me occupied, like a bored housewife doing crafts or something? And these people, you fucked with them, too, with their minds, with their grief? What’s wrong with you?” The surfers nodded their heads in unison.

“Ah, not unsolvable, I thought you’d figure out it was me eventually, I hoped that you’d understand what I was trying to do – ”

“Gods,” Marla said, disgusted. “You’re like children putting bugs in bottles, shaking them up to see what they’ll do.”

“I believe he did mean well, Mrs. Mason,” Pelham said. “Though his methods are questionable.”

“So why murder Glyph, then?”

“I didn’t, like I said. Someone else did, the same way I killed Ronin, and I have no idea why.”

Marla rolled her eyes. “Why should I believe you? How do I know this isn’t another fake mystery, one set up to seem real?”

“What can I do to convince you?” Reva said. “There’s been a real murder here, one that you should investigate – these people actually do need justice now, it’s not playacting anymore, it’s serious!”

“Huh. Jon-Luc, the rest of you – what do you think?”

“It’s different, this time,” the redhead said. Apparently she was the new speaker for the hive. “The killing, the method of attack was the same, but last time there were no traces at all. This time… we can sense something. Look.” She scooped out a depression in the sand, while one of the others ran to scoop up a double handful of sea water. When the water was poured into the depression, it began to fizz and splash, shapes forming in the foam. The redhead said, “I see… spinning roulette wheels. Butterfly wings. A double pendulum. Three spheres, circling one another, orbit decaying. An apple – ”

“Chaos magic?” Marla said.

The redhead nodded.

“What’s your name?” Marla said.

“Call me Leis,” she said.

“Ah, a bride of Poseidon,” Pelham commented. “Very clever.”

“How do you know I’m not actually her?” Leis said.

“She was Greek, and you appear to be mostly Irish,” Pelham said politely, still holding his sword to Reva’s throat.

“I know a chaos witch,” Marla said, bowing her head and staring at the sand. “There was a prophecy, I guess you’d say, that she was coming to the island. I didn’t think – why would she do this? Just to mess with me, I guess, to disrupt my investigation, to amuse herself. I’m sorry. Glyph dying – it’s my fault. One of my enemies, trying to get at me, hurt one of your friends.”

The surfers exchanged glances in that eerie way they had, then Leis shook her head. “You are not at fault. You didn’t hold the knife. Life is unpredictable. The waves push some of us together and push some of us apart. You can’t blame yourself. Might as well blame Reva, for telling us to hire you.”

“That’s not a bad idea,” Pelham murmured.

“Or blame the sea, for sinking Reva’s island, and making him a wandering god, so long ago,” Leis went on. “No, we blame the actor, the one directly culpable. And we wish her brought to justice. Do you think you know the killer, Marla Mason? Then we ask only that you bring her to us.”

“Nicolette,” Marla said. “Her name is Nicolette.”

“Can I get up now?” Reva said. “I’ve finally got this body broken in, and I don’t want to start over with a new one.”


Elsie appeared in the middle of the office, sopping wet and grinning, bringing with her the mingled smells of blood and salt. Dr. Husch started squawking about her ruining the carpet, and Crapsey said, “Did you fall off the island?”

The witch sat down on Husch’s loveseat, the cushions making a squelching noise, and said, “I had a little talk with Lupo. Well, he thought he was Marla’s old murdered mentor Artie Mann, dragged back to life and enslaved by my will, but anyway. He did some spying for me, listened in on a little lunch date Marla had, where she was playing detective.” Elsie rolled her eyes. “I found out where Marla was going, and who she suspected of committing the dastardly crime she’s investigating, so I thought it would be funny to get there ahead of her and cut her prime suspect’s throat. Isn’t that the way it always happens in detective novels? The PI thinks they’ve figured everything out, and they go to confront the bad guy, only to find him headless and stuffed in a closet? I love a good plot twist.” She tilted her head and tugged on her earlobe, apparently trying to shake some water out. “My victim was a surfer, out in the water, so I got to play shark attack with him. Death from below! Fun, but damp.”

“So was the guy you killed really a murderer?” Crapsey said.

“Don’t know, don’t care, don’t know why you’d bother to ask,” Elsie said crisply.

“Because it would be interesting if you turned out to be a tool for justice, I guess?”

“If a murderer gets hit by a garbage truck, that’s not justice. It’s not even karma, despite what some people want to believe. Remember, kiddies: Stuff Just Happens. Trying to figure out why will make you crazy.”

“I did not release you so that you could kill innocent people,” Dr. Husch said, sitting behind her big desk like a judge presiding over a particularly disappointing trial.

“Thpt.” Elsie stuck out her tongue. “You can’t make an omelet without stabbing a surfer in the neck. Not any kind of omelet I’d like to eat, anyway. I might have to send a few more people to the bottom of the sea before I’m done, Doctor Prettyface. Besides, maybe that guy really was a villainous killer, did you think about that? Either way, if you’re so upset – are you calling me off?”

Husch sighed. “No. Try to keep collateral damage to a minimum from here on out, would you?”

Elsie shrugged. “We’ll see, won’t we? Anyway, between the dead people wandering across Marla’s path and this sudden exciting development in her investigation, and the grim foretellings of oncoming doom that Rondeau told Dr. Husch about, I’d say Marla’s pretty well softened up. It’s time we got the whole gang over to the islands, I think, and moved on to phase two of Operation Murderkill.”

“I don’t guess we’re chartering a plane, are we?” Jason said miserably from his seat in the corner.

“Nah,” Elsie said. “I thought it would be more fun to steal one.”

“I thought you were planning to teleport?” Nicolette said. “Not that I’m complaining, but – ”

“Here’s the thing,” Elsie said. “Teleporting is like setting off a flashbang. It’s noisy, magically speaking, when you rip gaping holes in the flesh of the world. When I do my little moving-the-Earth thing, that’s quiet, almost undetectable. I know Marla’s on edge now, so if she’s got any sense, she’ll be on the lookout for intra-dimensional incursions. I teleported Lupo over, and if Marla starts sniffing around, she’ll find a trace of that, and a little divination will tell her that two people came through. According to what Rondeau told the good doctor, Marla thinks Jason and Nicolette are the ones coming to kill her. So – let her think you two are the ones who teleported, why not? We’ll travel by more conventional means and then, boom, element of surprise, a whole crowd when she expected a duo. I doubt she’s watching the airports. Everybody pack a bag, we’re leaving in half-an-hour. I’ve got my eye on a nice redeye flight we should be able to mind-control our way onto.”

“Uh, all my shit is at the apartment Nicolette and me rented,” Crapsey said. “I haven’t changed my shirt in two days – ”

“You can steal new shirts from the corpses of your slain enemies,” Elsie said. “Really, do I have to think of everything?”

13. Everyone Is Someone’s Dog

Elsie Jarrow stepped out of a rip in the flesh of reality, dragging a blindfolded man after her by the arm.

“Jesus Christ,” Jason Mason said, pulling the black scarf down off his face. “What the hell was that? When you said you knew a shortcut I thought – ” He looked around the assemblage in the office, then took a step back, almost bumping into Dr. Husch’s desk. He pointed. “You look just like Rondeau.”

“Come on,” Crapsey said, striking a pose and flexing. “Why you gotta insult me? I’m way more buff than that weedy little shit.”

“This is Crapsey,” Dr. Husch said. “You might think of him as… Rondeau’s brother.”

Jason didn’t look reassured. “Look, I don’t know what you heard – ”

Elsie patted him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, Jason, Crapsey doesn’t mind that you shot Rondeau right in the guts and left him for dead, do you, Crapsey?”

“Ha. I just wish I could’ve seen it.”

Jason twisted around and stepped away from Jarrow’s touch. “Left him for dead? You mean Rondeau didn’t die? How could he have survived that?”

“Magic, man.” Crapsey shook his head. “We’re all tough to kill. Which is why we’re going to have to try extra hard to make sure Marla gets dead and stays that way. Oh, and Rondeau, too, we’ll get another shot at him, he’s with your sister.”

“This isn’t really my scene.” Jason ran his fingers through his hair. “I don’t really do killing, except when it’s unavoidable. Don’t get me wrong, I’d sleep a lot better if I knew Marla was buried six feet deep – hell, make it ten – but I don’t know what I’m doing here.”

Jason looked like Marla, sort of – same strong features, a little angular, but while Marla fell a bit short of pretty, Jason was well over the line into handsome. Crapsey could see how he managed to charm desperate middle-aged women out of their life savings and family jewels, but he was nervous now, and honestly, Crapsey wasn’t sure what use he’d be in their current circumstances either. But Elsie wanted him, so here he was.

“We’ll all have our parts to play,” Elsie said. “And it’s about time we got into position. I’m just waiting for one last member of our merry band to show up.”

“Who?” Husch said. “You haven’t consulted me about adding anyone else to the team.”

“That’s just one of the many things I haven’t consulted you about!” Elsie said. “Isn’t it fun?”

A buzzer sounded, and Husch went around her desk to look at her computer screen. “Why is there a man with metal in his face on my doorstep?”

Elsie clapped her hands. “That’s Talion! Oh, yay. Where’s Nicolette? I want her to meet him.”

“She’s preparing some weapons for the coming war,” Dr. Husch said. “She stole all my paperclips and rubber bands, a dish full of jelly beans, a box of pushpins, and one of my garter belts.”

“A mighty arsenal in her hands, no doubt,” Elsie said. “Well, Husch, send one of your orderlies to let our guest in, would you?”

Husch grunted and picked up her phone.

“Who is this guy?” Crapsey said.

“We used to hunt werewolves together in Europe,” Elsie said.

“You have to be fucking kidding me,” Jason muttered, shaking his head.

Elsie smiled, dimpling adorably. “This was back when I was just starting out, before I became almost godlike in my vast power. Oh, we’d pursue lycanthropes all night and fuck all day, good times. We had a little falling out about what to do with our kills, unfortunately. I wanted the teeth, claws, and eyes for my rituals, and he wanted intact trophies he could stuff and mount, so we went our separate ways. But he’s one of the best trackers and trappers I know, so I thought, who better to join our merry band of assassins?”

The office door opened, and Talion entered. He was tall, long-faced, and broody, with spiky black hair cut in an asymmetrical style that was probably avant-garde somewhere. He had enough silver jewelry in his face to melt down and make a ten-piece place setting: half a dozen rings in his eyebrows, a large-gauge septum piercing, a labret, and what looked like fishhooks dangling from his earlobes. He looked around the room, a sour expression on his jingling face, then bared his teeth; they were all capped in silver, the better, Crapsey presumed, for biting werewolves. Talion marched up to Elsie. “You,” he growled. “You dare summon me?” He had some accent Crapsey couldn’t place, but that wasn’t surprising – in his home universe, there wasn’t a lot of communication between the continents. At least the guy was talking English. “I am not your dog, and I came only to tell you I will never help you.” Talion slapped Elsie across the face so hard it snapped her head to the side.

Jason cowered behind a potted plant, and Crapsey sucked in his breath and waited for Elsie to do something truly nasty, like making the guy’s blood turn into maggots or something. Instead she just grinned, a handprint showing up in red on her cheek, and looked at Dr. Husch. “And the best part is, Talion hates my guts, and every other part of me! Won’t this be interesting?” She stroked the werewolf hunter’s cheek. “Dear boy, do you still hold all that business against me?”

“You tried to feed me to a pack of wild dogs,” he said. “I stank of dog’s blood for weeks afterward! And when I returned home to my estate, no one remembered who I was, my idiot cousin acted as if he’d been the heir forever, and everyone agreed! Security threw me out of my own home!”

“Technically not your home anymore.” Elsie’s nose crinkled adorably when she smiled. “Since I wiped every memory of your existence away, and rewrote all the records, and made it so you never were. I had a magic quill pen back then, good for that sort of thing. I wonder whatever happened to it? I vaguely recall stabbing a beauty pageant queen in the neck with it, but so much of that decade is a blur…”

“I have been wandering the Earth for years upon years,” Talion said. “Hoping for the opportunity to meet you again, and spit in your face. I’d heard you were imprisoned. I was glad. But if you are free now, perhaps I should kill you.”

“Better plan,” Elsie said. “Help me out now, and I’ll give you everything back. The estates, the family money, all of it.”

Talion lifted his chin. “I have made my own fortune since then. I do not need your gifts.”

“Even better plan, then,” Elsie said, and stuck him in the neck with a hypodermic needle. Talion staggered backward, hand clutched against his neck. Dr. Husch opened a bag marked “Biohazard,” and Elsie dropped the used needle inside. “Uh oh,” Elsie said. “Tally got a boo-boo.”

“What have you done to me?” he said, hand pressed to his neck.

“Injected you with a nasty infection, sweetie. Get ready to loop-the-loup-garou.”

Talion spat on the floor. “Fool. I cannot be turned into a werewolf. I break my fast each morning with wolfsbane.”

“That explains your breath, sweetie.” Elsie sat down on the edge of Husch’s desk. “And, you’re right, I misspoke, you’re not going to be a lycanthrope – but I hope cyanthrope is close enough?”

Talion paled. “No. No, there’s no such thing – ”

“Oh, sure there is. Not as glamorous as werewolves or even werejaguars or weretigers, obviously, but it’s amazing what someone with Dr. Husch’s connections in the supernatural medical community can track down. I almost went with were-hyena, but hyenas are too cool. So instead, you get to be a were-dog. Oh, I hope you turn out to be a sheepdog, you’ve already got the hair hanging down in your eyes, it would be perfect! Don’t widdle on the carpet, or mommy will spank.”

“This is ridiculous. I refuse to believe – ” Talion suddenly screamed, clapping his hands to his face, which – alarmingly – was starting to smoke. He tore the rings out of his ears and nose and eyebrows, howling as the silver burned his fingers, bits of bloody jewelry falling on the carpet.

“Ah, were-dogs do have the traditional silver allergy.” Elsie crouched to examine Talion as he writhed and tried to tear out his own teeth. “I wasn’t sure, but I guess cyanthropes are probably an evolutionary offshoot of werewolves, just like dogs are descended from wolves. Huh, look at that, though, all your face holes are healing up nicely, that’s a benefit, isn’t it? Would you like me to get you a wrench to smash out those nasty teeth? You should grow new ones.”

Jason sidled over to Crapsey. “This… this is so fucked up.”

“What did she do to recruit you?” Crapsey said.

“Turned my house into bugs,” Jason said. “Then threatened to turn my cock into beetles, more or less.”

Crapsey nodded. “Yeah, Talion’s got it a lot worse. Then again, he shoudn’t have slapped her.”

“Would you like another needle in the neck?” Elsie said. “I can make the pain go away.”

“Yes!” Talion sobbed. “Yes, anything!”

Elsie held out her hand, and Husch wordlessly passed her another needle. “Boys, come sit on him, would you?” Crapsey and – more reluctantly – Jason stepped forward to hold down Talion’s arms. Smoke and the smell of burning gums rose up from his open mouth, until Elsie jabbed her needle into the other side of his neck. After a moment, his writhing and jerking stopped, though he went on sobbing. Crapsey and Jason let go and stepped away. Elsie straddled Talion’s chest and stroked his face. Without all that silver piercing his skin, he looked younger, and more vulnerable. “All better, puppy?” she said. “That’s not a cure, now, it’s just temporary relief. The cure comes later – if you always heel, and sit, and roll over when I say.”

“How could you curse me?” he said, eyes so filled with tears they reflected the overhead lights like little mirrors. “I’ve devoted my life to fighting these monsters, and you turn me into – into something just as vile, but not even as… as…”

“As cool? I know. I was afraid that deep down you secretly wanted to be a werewolf – why else spend so much time around them? But nobody wants to be a were-schnauzer. Anyway, it fits that whole ‘dog’ theme you and I had going on all those years ago, with the leashes and the collars, and you remember that little cage? Super fun. So listen. This is easy. You fight a lady I want you to fight. That’s all. Pretend she’s a werewolf, it’ll be easy. If you do a good job, Doc Prettyface here will fix you up, purge all the nasty dog-o-toxins from your system, and you won’t have to sleep at the foot of my bed anymore. Deal?” She stood up, and held out her hand.

“You weren’t always like this,” Talion said, ignoring her hand and wrenching himself to his feet. “What happened to you?”

“Power corrupts?” Elsie said. “When you look too long into the abyss it also looks into you? Be careful hunting monsters, lest you become one? Ve are nihilists, ve believe in nuffink?” She shrugged. “I’m just Elsie being Elsie, baby.” She snapped her fingers. “Somebody get this man a flea collar! I have to step over to Maui for a minute and see what our advance scout is up to. Marla’s cage should be pretty well rattled by now.”

“Lupo shouldn’t be left for so long without supervision,” Husch said, but without much heat. “He’s unstable at the best of times.”

“I gave him a few disguises to wear,” Jarrow said. “Lupo’s not even Lupo right now. You worry too much. Besides – what’s wrong with unstable?” Crapsey expected her to tear another hole in space-time – that couldn’t be good for reality – but instead Elsie bowed her head, whispered a few words, then took a step, and another step… and vanished. She was using her Sufi trick, then. Must be nice, to never be more than three steps from anywhere in the world.

Crapsey held out his hand to Talion, who, after a moment, shook it limply. “Since it looks like you’re part of the team, let me introduce you around,” Crapsey said. And what a team it was. The crazy homunculus doctor, the cowardly con man, the psychic parasite with a wooden jaw, the master of disguise who believed his own disguises, the one-armed chaos witch, and a tumor with a mind. What a bunch of freaks and misfits. We’re not the Superman Revenge Squad, Crapsey thought. We’re the friggin’ Doom Patrol.


After the Bay Witch left, Marla finished her food, though she didn’t really taste it, deep as she was in thought.

“Holy shit,” Jon-Luc was saying. “The Bay Witch, wow. She is legendary. I can’t believe you know her.”

“She has been an ally of Mrs. Mason for many years,” Pelham said.

Jon-Luc frowned. “I can’t believe what she said about Glyph, though. He’s, like, the most Zen surfer I know, all about give and take, ebb and flow. I mean, killing Ronin? It just doesn’t seem like him.”

Marla patted Jon-Luc on the back. “Always expect the worst of people, kid. That way, you’ll only ever be pleasantly surprised. Tell me, are you integrated into the pod well enough to sense their location yet?” She tapped her temple. “Got that magical GPS in your head and all?”

Jon-Luc hesitated, obviously considered lying, then thought better of it. Smart kid. He nodded. “They’re at Pe’ahi – Jaws beach – on the north shore. Maui’s not the best island for surfing, but Jaws is as hardcore as it gets. We’ll find them there.”

“Why haven’t you taken the plunge?” Marla said. “Joined up full time?”

He shrugged. “I still have my mom to think about. She’s a concierge at one of the hotels. Broke her heart when I dropped out of school, but at least I’m working, you know? If I just started surfing all the time, no visible means of income…” He shook his head. “She’d get really worried. I know I want to join Glyph’s crew someday, but… . Now you’re saying one of them might be a murderer. So I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

The poor kid looked miserable. “It’s just a theory,” she said. “But I tell you what. Take me to see your friends. I’ll ask Glyph a few questions, and maybe we can clear all this up. Even if he is a bad guy, that doesn’t mean the rest of them are.”

“I just… why would Glyph hire you to find Ronin’s killer, if he was Ronin’s killer?”

Marla shrugged. “To throw off suspicion, maybe? Because the others in the hive were demanding action and he had to do something, so he figured he’d hire the dumb haole newcomer, who doesn’t know anybody or have any resources, so he can say he tried? That’s just off the top of my head.” She started to grin, saw Jon-Luc’s stricken expression, and stopped. “I’m sorry, I know this is bumming you out, but I finally feel like I’ve got this thing in my teeth. The game is afoot.” She paused. “You know, that expression never made any sense to me. What kind of game has feet? Clearly we’re not talking about poker here.”

“I understand it means ‘game’ as in ‘prey,’ Mrs. Mason,” Pelham said. “It is a Shakespearean metaphor derived from the practice of fox hunting.”

“Then I guess that makes me the hound,” she said. “People are always calling me a bitch, so why not?” She tossed some cash on the table and rose, thinking about what she’d say to Glyph. A good interrogation was almost as fun as a fistfight, after all –

Her old mentor Artie Mann sauntered out of the restaurant’s bathroom, wearing a cheap-looking aloha shirt and puffing a filthy stump of a cigar in clear contravention of all anti-smoking ordinances. And, given that he’d been dead for more than a decade, in clear contravention of natural law, too. “Do you guys see that?” she said, pointing. “That short fat bastard with the cigar?”

“A fine cigar is a gentlemanly pleasure,” Pelham said, “but that does appear to be a rather cheap and unpleasant variety.”

Right. Pelham had never known Artie. But at least he saw the guy, which meant this wasn’t simply a hallucination. Marla stepped up her vision, and, just like with Susan Wellstone, saw no indication of illusion or ghost. The dead man caught Marla’s eye, winked at her, and then kept walking, disappearing around the building and heading in the direction of the parking lot. “Give me a minute.” She hurried after him, but when she reached the lot, there was no sign of the man, except a smoldering cigar end on the asphalt. Marla watched the smoke spiral up into the sky for moment before Jon-Luc and Pelham caught up with her.

“What’s wrong, Mrs. Mason?” Pelham said.

“That fat guy was a dead friend of mine. That makes two dead people I’ve seen today.”

“Ghosts?” Jon-Luc said. “You’re seeing ghosts?”

“Oh, how I wish it were that simple,” she said.


They stopped by Handsome Bob’s, where Marla handed over a fat wad of Rondeau’s money and said, “Jon-Luc’s offered to give me a personal tour of a couple of good snorkeling spots, is it okay if he leaves work a little early?” She found people had a hard time saying no when they were being given money, and it worked out that way this time, too.

“Sure thing,” the old guy said. “Just make sure you don’t serial kill him or something, because I remember your face and your license plate and all that.”

“Understood,” Marla said. She paused. “Do you rent wetsuits? And, I guess, surfboards?”

12. Brotherly Love

Jason Mason had been laying low in Mississippi, only occasionally emerging to count cards at some of the riverboat casinos to keep himself in whiskey and cigarettes, afraid to touch any of his various bank accounts in case his sister was keeping tabs on him. Who knew what people like her were capable of? She’d killed his partner Danny Two Saints, and done her level best to kill him, and she had more than connections – she had fucking powers.

Then his mother called to say Marla wanted to talk to him. Mom tried to lay a guilt trip on him for not mentioning he’d seen his sister recently, so he gave her a line of bullshit about how he didn’t want to upset her, he knew Marla was a sore point, and all that. He wasn’t fond of his mother, exactly, but he’d never quite managed to disentangle himself from her, and anyway, she was always good for an alibi, so he kept in touch.

So now he sat in the living room of his rented Airstream trailer, parked on a scraggly lot in the middle of some bare fields, nothing for miles but crows and farmhouses and leafless trees. He watched dust swirl in the yellow light coming in through the dirty half-closed mini-blinds, smoking a cigarette, and tried to work out the angles. What was the percentage in calling Marla back? What did she want? Their recent history was even uglier than their ancient history, and now she was trying to reach out. Why, why, why? A trick, a trap, a lure?

The only way to find out was to call and ask. He gazed at the disposable cell phone in his hand, the number his mother had recited repeating itself in his head – he’d always been good with numbers, almost as good as he was with people – and thought, Screw it, why not?

Before he could dial, someone pounded on his door hard enough to make the trailer rock on its wheels. Jason slipped out of the chair, drawing his pistol, and waited.

“Avon calling!” a woman’s voice shouted, and Jason frowned. Avon? Who still sold Avon door-to-door?

“I don’t want any!” he called, rising, but keeping his hand in his gun.

The door creaked open, despite the fact that he was sure he’d chained it shut, and he squinted against the rectangle of daylight. A woman climbed the steps into the trailer and looked at him, hands on her hips, just a silhouette against the brightness.

“Lady, you aren’t welcome. Beat it.”

The door slammed shut, apparently of its own accord, but he could make himself believe it was just the wind. When his eyes adjusted to the new dimness, he raised his pistol – because for a second, he thought it was Marla, come to finish him off. She was the right height, and the shape of her face was almost the same, but her hair was wild and long and red, and anyway, she was too young, closer to twenty than thirty. Marla didn’t dress like that, either, in a scarlet silk blouse and tight skirt. The woman gave him a big goofy grin like nothing he’d ever seen on Marla’s lips, and any residual resemblance dissolved then. “Cute gun!” she said, and the voice was a bit like Marla’s, too, but brassier, and too loud for the small space. “Point it somewhere else, would you?”

“I don’t know who you are, but – ”

“I know who you are, though,” she said. “A boy who can’t follow directions.”

The gun twisted in his hand, and he shouted, dropping it – the weapon had transformed into twenty or thirty big cockroaches, the monsters the locals called tree roaches, and he wiped his hand on his shirt as he backed away, the bugs scurrying for the corners.

“My name’s Elsie Jarrow, Jason. I’m here to talk about your sister.”

Shit. Marla must have sent this woman to finish him off. Figures she wouldn’t bother to do it herself. Why had she tried to call him, though? Just to gloat?

Jarrow didn’t try to attack. She pulled over the straight-backed wooden chair set up by the “kitchen table,” a folding thing smaller than a card table, and sat down, crossing one leg over the other. “I’m told you and Marla don’t get along. Why the sibling rivalry? Is it a Cain and Abel thing, or more like Michael and Fredo Corleone? Ha, I hear you tried to shoot her, so I guess it’s the latter. Cain just used a rock. Oh, those were simpler times.”

“What, Marla didn’t tell you?” Jason had another gun, in the little built-in drawer by the bed. Could he get to it and shoot her before she turned it into a bunch of snakes or something? It was probably a longshot, but he’d beaten worse odds.

She waggled her finger at him. “Assumptions get you in trouble, Mr. Mason. Marla didn’t send me. I represent a group of people whose interests may align with your own.”

He lunged for the drawer, and she started laughing. When he pulled it open, dozens of pale white moths fluttered out, and flew straight for his closet. “I know what you’re thinking – I turned the gun into moths. But not at all! I conjured moths who eat guns. Nice, huh? Of course they eat cloth, too. They’re going to ruin your suits. But a bullet hole would have ruined this nice blouse, so it’s only fair. Listen, sit, and tell me – why did you try to kill Marla?”

Jason knew when he was outgunned, even if his enemy didn’t use guns. Better to play along and wait for an opportunity, maybe. He returned to his chair, got comfortable, picked up his tumbler of Jack and Coke, and shrugged. “It was nothing personal. Just business. Her dying would have made me some money.”

Jarrow widened her eyes in mock alarm. “You would have killed your own flesh and blood? For mere filthy lucre?”

“Sure, she’s my sister, but so what? She’s really a stranger. I went almost twenty years without seeing her, without hearing a word, and I had to track her down. Hell, she was an ingrate even when we were kids, she never appreciated anything I did for her. Then she grew up and got rich, became a big boss running Felport, and she never even reached out to me. I don’t owe her shit.”

“Blood is thicker than water, but money is even thicker, huh?”

Jason scowled and took a sip of his drink. “Doesn’t matter anyway. The plan kind of blew up in my face, and come to find out Marla’s not just a criminal – she’s some kind of goddamn witch. Like you are, I guess.”

“Some kind,” Jarrow murmured. “You killed a friend of hers, too, didn’t you?”

Jason shrugged. “Somebody got on the wrong side of my gun. It happens. Marla came at me, tried to kill me. Didn’t work. I’m not saying I don’t see her side of things, but I’m not going to go down easy. Did she send you to try and see, what, if I’m remorseful? If she could get an apology? Won’t happen. She was just another mark to me. My mistake was not realizing the kind of power she had, that’s all. If I’d known, I would have played things differently.”

“I told you I don’t work for her. I don’t work for anybody – I work for me. More fun that way. But if you keep contradicting me, you won’t like what happens next. Or did you think guns were the only things I can turn into bugs?”

Jason narrowed his eyes. “What, you’re going to turn me into a mosquito?”

“I was thinking more of turning your genitals into dung beetles,” Jarrow said. “It’s a lot more traumatic when you ruin just parts of someone, instead of outright killing them. Killing is boring. A good maiming will pay dividends for years to come.”

Jason held up his hands. Who knew what this crazy bitch could do? “Fine, okay, you’re not from Marla. So what do you want?”

“Two things: to make Marla miserable. And then to kill her. I know, I just said killing is boring, and it is, but that’s what my associates want, so I’ll go along with it.”

Jason shrugged. “So kill her. What do you want with me? I don’t know any of your voodoo shit.”

“Ah, but you have other skills, and besides, Marla probably has very complicated feelings about you. Having you on our team is going to make her distracted, and it’ll bother her, so it works for me.”

“I wish you the best of luck. Marla, dead, that’s a load off my mind. But I don’t want any part of it.”

Jarrow snorted. “This isn’t an invitation. These are marching orders. You’ll help me.”

“What if I don’t?”

“Well, I could control your mind and make you into a puppet, or even have this guy I know transform himself into your exact double, but it’s more fun if you do things of your own more-or-less free will, give or take a little bit of extortion. So: this is a nice trailer you’ve got here. Be a shame if something… happened to it.” She snapped her fingers, and the walls began to shimmer and groan, then exploded outward in a cloud of millions of small gray birds, leaving only the floor intact.

Jason tilted his head back and watched as the birds rose up into the sky, clotting together into a flock and then flying off toward the west. A cold autumn breeze blew across the fallow fields around him, making him shiver. Ha. Like it was just the wind making him do that. He was lucky he hadn’t pissed himself. No way he was getting back his security deposit on this place now.

“Oops, something bad already happened,” Jarrow said. “I always mess up threats that way. Those were passenger pigeons, by the way. They were extinct until four seconds ago. Look at me, I’m an environmentalist! Anyway, yes, I will do bad things to you. How’d you like to vomit tiny brass gearwheels for a week? Or have sentient shit lurking in your colon? Or have everything you touch turn to quicksilver? Much runnier than gold, and more toxic, too. All this and more can be yours for the low, low price of disobedience.”

Witches. Shit. “So we’re going back to Felport, then?”

“Felport? Oh, no. Marla got fired from that job. She’s licking her wounds in Hawai’i. How do you feel about kicking someone while they’re down?”

Jason considered for a moment, then said, “I can’t think of a better time to do it.”


“What are you doing here, Zufi?” Marla said.

The Bay Witch took her long blonde hair in her hands and twisted it, wringing water out onto the steps, then came forward and sat in one of the low plastic chairs around the table. “Hamil sent me a message, from you, to me, he said you wanted to talk, so here I am, for talking.”

Marla blinked. “Well, sure, but – I thought you’d call.”

“I don’t have a phone,” the Bay Witch said.

“So, what, you hopped the first plane?”

The Bay Witch began to draw on the metal surface of the table in a puddle of her own seawater. “Swam.”

“You swam here? In less than a day? How did you even do that from the East Coast? Did you paddle through the Panama Canal?”

The Bay Witch shook her head. “The ocean is deep, and vast, vaster than space sometimes in some ways, it goes down as much as it goes side to side, more so. There are places in the deep deeps where space is folded over, tunnels the ancients of the drowned continents used for their wars and their business, and there are fearsome things there but they all fear me, or call me friend. You can go places fast fast if you can stand the pressures.”

Marla sat back in her chair and whistled. Ancient magical (or maybe technological, or a hybrid) wormholes, deep in the ocean? First she’d ever heard of that, but then, she’d never been a big fan of the deep blue sea, ever since some bad experiences in her early twenties, dealing with a terrible tentacled thing in the ruins of an undersea megalith. “That’s pretty crazy. You learn something new every day.”

“When you’re in the ocean, you learn something new every few minutes,” Zufi said. She turned her blank attention on Jon-Luc, who was simultaneously trembling and staring at the Bay Witch’s breasts, which probably looked pretty tantalizing to him in the slightly-unzipped damp wetsuit. “Hello. You are to be joining Glyph’s crew?”

Jon-Luc managed to drag his eyes up to her face. “Yes ma’am.”

She nodded. “I used to paddle with them, ride with them, ride on them sometimes, once upon. They tell you they are a perfect blend, yes yes, all together, all one with the waves, yes?”


Zufi shook her head. “Always there are currents, you see, always there are treacheries, because the crew reflects the sea, and the sea is all things: destroyer of sustenance and giver of food, killer and giver of life, she soothes wounds and pours salt in wounds too, she lifts you gently up and slams you cruelly down, yes? The sea is one thing that contains oh so many things, and so it is with the crew.”

“Ha,” Marla said. “So one of them might have killed Ronin?”

The Bay Witch cocked her head. “I will tell you about Ronin. He was once a warrior of the sky. He was the divine wind.”

“A Kamikaze pilot?” Pelham said. “During World War II?”

“They taught him only to fly! But not how to land.” The Bay Witch shook her head. “He loved his country. He loved the sky. He watched the planes smash into great ships and erupt in gouts of flame. His purpose, his service! But his plane failed, his engines died, he glided down, close to the water, far from the target. He tried to set off his bombs, tried to boom boom, but nothing happened. He sat and waited, ashamed of his failure. His plane hit the water. Even then it did not explode, it only broke apart.”

“And he survived?” Pelham said.

The Bay Witch nodded. “He floated on wreckage. He floated for seven days and seven nights, very significant, he went through the door of death and looked around and came back out again.” Zufi leaned forward, water dripping from her chin to plop plop plop on the table. “And the sea spoke to him. The ocean herself! So rare, such a rare thing.”

“Hallucinations aren’t that rare,” Marla muttered, but Zufi went on.

“The ocean told him, I saved your life, you are mine now. You will serve me always in all things. And so kamikaze became Ronin. The man moved by the waves. He drifted. He drank rain until he learned to drink seawater. The ocean taught him oh so many things. He came here, to Hawai’i, eventually, and I met him – this was long long after the war, yes, when the Japanese were welcomed for their wallets and not hated for the actions of their ancestors anymore, and so he blended in, became the wise old man of the beach. He looked for likely ones. Prospects. He recruited me, and Glyph, and others, some others, he taught us to be one with the waves, but that means: to contain multitudes.” She fell silent for a moment, staring at the puddle on the table, or somewhere farther away.

“He was a great man,” Jon-Luc said. “At first he just gave me some pointers about riding my board, but later, he taught me lots of things.”

“He had a sadness in him,” Zufi said. “An empty place where home used to be. He knew somehow deep inside he had failed his country, even if his country had failed him by asking him to die in fire in the sky. The waves never carried him home, never never in all the drifting years. He felt himself an exile, oh, yes, ”

Marla thought about Reva, the god of the wanderers, and resolved to have a little talk with him about Ronin, too.

“We spoke, not long ago,” the Bay Witch said. “Ronin came to see me, we were still friends, he was still my teacher, but we had not seen each other in oh such a time. I left the crew long ago, I did not get along with Glyph, we had different ideas: I believed in protecting the life of the sea, he believed the sea should be protecting him, I wanted to sink whaling ships and he wanted to catch bigger waves and ride higher on the ocean’s strength.” She paused. “He would say it a different way, a way to make me sound crazy and bad and make him sound smart and good, but people always say things that way, don’t they just. I missed Ronin, and I was happy to see him when he came, but he was sad so sad. He cried, salt tears, tears because the ocean had destroyed his home. He grew up in a little fishing village in the east of Japan, and…”

“There was an earthquake, and a tsunami,” Pelham said.

Marla frowned. She’d seen some of the footage on TV, a wall of dark water sweeping across the land, burying fields, houses, and fleeing cars. She shuddered.

“Ronin knew it was coming,” the Bay Witch said. “He knew the sea, knew its patterns, could read the likeliest futures in the swirling chaos, the chaos that is only part of a pattern too large to perceive, and he tried to intercede. He performed rituals, he implored, he hoped to speak to the sea again, but she would not talk to him, and his magics… . He had great magics. But there is no force on earth like the tsunami. He had family there still, in those coastal lands, and he tried to warn them, he sent letters, he made calls, but they did not believe him: the man he claimed to be, the name he dredged up from the past, that man had died long, long ago in the war, he could not be alive anymore. The waters rushed in, and the ones he loved were lost in the dark waves.” Zufi licked her lips. “He came to me, after, to talk, to tell me he had… lost his faith. Strange, strange. How could I reassure him? Imagine a wise and ancient monk on a mountaintop, coming to a young one, a student at the temple, and asking for reassurance? What could I say? The ocean, it moves in mysterious ways?” She laughed, bitterly, the first hint of bitterness Marla had ever heard from the woman. “I told him the ocean does not care if we live or die. It is vast and deserving of worship, and it rewards devotions, sometimes, a bit, but there is no shortage of life. It gives and it takes. He knew, he knew, but he thought, he had a personal relationship, because once, the sea spoke to him.” Zufi shook her head. “He swam away from me. He came here again, and he sat on the shore, and he didn’t go back into the water anymore. He forsook the sea, as he believed he had himself been forsaken.”

Jon-Luc swallowed hard and nodded. “That’s true. He said he was getting too old, the ocean was getting too rough for him. He still came to the beach, he still gave us tips, but he didn’t go out on the water anymore.”

“They’re a group, though,” Marla said. “The wave-mages, they’re like a hive, drawing power from each other, right?”

Zufi nodded.

“So having their eldest, most powerful member renounce his powers, that can’t be good for the group as a whole, can it?”

“It would have weakened them,” Zufi said. “Yes, all of them.”

“Huh. So from a certain twisted point of view, killing Ronin might look like a necessary evil, or maybe even self-defense. So tell me, Zufi. This guy Glyph – is he capable of murder?”

“Anyone is capable of anything, if the current flows just right,” Zufi said. She stood up. “I am sad that Ronin is dead. But he was sad to be alive. Perhaps he is happier now. But if someone killed him, yes, I want them to be sad, too. They should not gain from my loss. You will find them, Marla?”

“I’ll do my best,” Marla said. “And now I’ve got a good idea of where to look.” She paused. “Assuming my enemies don’t kill me first.”

Zufi frowned. “Who’s trying to kill you?”

Marla shrugged. “Nicolette. My brother. Who knows who else.”

“I could stay and help you,” Zufi said, thoughtfully. “Let me ask: if you die, will you still be able to repay the favor you owe me?”

Marla hesitated. She didn’t have anything against telling lies, but when you were talking about a bargain made with another sorcerer, it was better to be straight. “No. I’d rather live, but if I die, I might actually be able to do you an even bigger favor.”

Zufi didn’t ask for details. Marla didn’t understand how her mind worked, even remotely, but the Bay Witch just nodded. “Okay okay. I will swim home instead.”

“Fair enough. But before you go – look at something for me.” She took Death’s ring from her pocket and slid it across the table.

The Bay Witch picked it up, holding it in the palm of her hand, then chewed on her lower lip. After a moment, she shook her head. “Magic. Not of this Earth.”

Marla grunted. “I could tell that much.”

The Bay Witch nodded, and slid the ring back across the table. “Viscarro might know more, the spider, the hoarder, the wanter-of-things, but he is dead, his soul chopped up, consumed by the monster you set loose on Felport.” Zufi said that entirely without noticeable rancor, but Marla winced anyway. The Mason had killed a lot of good people in her city. Along with nasty-but-useful people like Viscarro.

“I will go now. Tell Rondeau I said: What is it I should say?”

“Hello?” Marla hazarded.

The Bay Witch considered. “Aloha,” she said after a moment, and then walked down the steps, across the sand, and into the sea, where she vanished.

11. The Dead, Walking on the Beach

Marla found Arachne seated on a broad, flat stone beside a pool of water fed by a stream that plummeted off a higher cliff, and could have been called a waterfall by someone feeling sufficiently generous. The kahuna was weaving together a mat of vines and leaves and grasses. That was how she worked her magic, apparently, though Marla didn’t know the details – she’d never been much of a maker, so it wasn’t a discipline she favored. “Aloha,” she said, leaning against a tree, after making sure there weren’t any bugs or lizards on the trunk. Hawai’i was too damned fecund by half.

Arachne ignored Marla until she’d finished plaiting together a few more bits of plant fiber, then looked up. She was in her forties, probably, with long black hair woven into intricate (and, doubtless, magically significant) braids, dressed in a skirt of ti leaves. She was topless, apart from a cascade of shell necklaces, which was actually more modest than the swimsuits a lot of the tourists wore on beaches. She looked at Marla, her face expressionless. “Aloha,” she said after a long moment. “What can I do for you, Marla Mason?”

“I was wondering if you know anything about a pack of surfers, led by a guy named Glyph?”

“They have no ‘leader,'” Arachne said. “They are a collective. Glyph is more connected to the secular world than some of the others, so he is often their spokesman. I suppose they showed a certain deference to their eldest member, Ronin. He has, sadly, passed away.”

“I know. He was murdered, and they’ve hired me to find out who did it. Any ideas?”

“Why ask me?” Arachne said.

Marla thought about that, and decided she might as well go with honesty. “I don’t know anybody to ask. The locals haven’t gone out of their way to make me feel welcome..”

Arachne half-smiled. “All right. You did me a good turn, and you have been discreet about our dealings, so I am willing to help. I fear I cannot offer much: the wave-mages have no enemies, as far as I know. They spend most of their time in the water, drawing their power from the sea – its motion, its depths, the life that teems within it, the deaths that sink down. They use their power to help the very sea that gives them that power. They have no goals – they just want to be connected to the ocean, which they know is their mother, and their father, and their confessor, and their grave. How can people with no goals make enemies?”

“Good question.” Marla crouched down and leaned her back against the tree. “I guess that’s been my problem all along – too many goals. What can you tell me about Ronin?”

“He was old. Older than I am, and I am older than I seem. He came from Japan, originally, though he has lived here for a long time. Do you know what the name he chose means?”

“Ronin? It’s some kind of samurai, right? My friend Rondeau made me watch a movie called Ronin once, but it was just some crime thing.”

“A Ronin is a masterless samurai,” Arachne said. “It means ‘wave man,’ which is appropriate for a sorcerer devoted to the sea, but more specifically it means someone carried by the waves. Someone given over to the waves, and taken wherever those waves take him. I met him a few times. I gather he had a dark past, that he had performed terrible acts, and that he had chosen to give up his own personal agency in favor of letting the sea guide his actions.” She shrugged, and began weaving again. “How can a man who makes no decisions make an enemy? A mystery.”

“It couldn’t have been a random attack, though. Whoever did this has big magic, and used it to cover their tracks.”

“Perhaps a dark sorcerer hoped to steal his power?” Arachne said. “We’ve had experience with such people before, as you know. Everyone who comes to Hawai’i wants something, it seems. Our fish. Our soil. To own the beauty of our islands, and make them ugly in the process.”

“Right. So it must have been an out-of-towner, then.” Marla had read enough mystery novels to know that people always wanted to blame atrocities on outsiders.

“I suppose it’s more likely it was someone close to him,” she said. “Aren’t most murders committed by those who know the victim? Though I hate to think so. One of the others in the collective, perhaps? It is hard to imagine any of them striking against Ronin, but they are certainly powerful, and probably capable of hiding the signs of such a crime. As I said, they aren’t hierarchical, so there couldn’t have been much of an advantage in killing Ronin… but there may be currents and schisms and conflicts in their group that are unknown to me. It’s hard to know how close they are, truly – if they’re more like a family, or more like a nest of ants.”

“Families kill each other all the time,” Marla said, thinking of her brother.

“This is true,” Arachne said. “Is there anything else I can help you with?” Her tone said she hoped not.

Marla brushed a many-legged, winged thing away from her face. “You ever heard of a guy named Reva? Claims to be a god of the lost and the exiled?”

Arachne frowned. “I sensed the arrival of a minor power, and heard rumors, but I have not encountered this being myself. You have?”

“He introduced himself, yeah. He thinks I’m primed to become one of his worshippers, I guess.”

Arachne grunted. “Serving a god is a tricky business.”

“I don’t serve anyone,” Marla said. Or anyplace. Not anymore. “Anyway, thanks. Sorry to bother you.” She stood up.

“Wait,” Arachne said. “I doubt it is important, but… the wave-mages, they occasionally recruit, and they have been grooming a new member, a boy named… John? Luke? Something like that. He shows some natural aptitude for magic, and has the appropriate reverence for the sea, but he is not… hmmm… ‘assimilated’ yet? He may be able to give you a more informed perspective on the group than I can, since he knows them, but is not yet fully of them.”

“Hey, a lead’s a lead,” Marla said. “I’ll talk to him. Do you know where I can find him?”

“He works at a dive shop called Handsome Bob’s, in Napili,” she said. “Beyond that, I do not know – he is often out on the water.”

“Thanks – uh, mahalo, Arachne. I owe you one.”

Arachne bowed her head in acknowledgment. “I shall keep you in mind if I need future assistance. I wish you luck in your investigations. Ronin was… a good man, or at least, a man trying to be good.”

“That’s all any of us can do,” Marla said. “Though some people don’t even bother. Aloha.”


Marla found Pelham looking down at one of the seven sacred pools. “What, you don’t want to go for a dip?”

“It looks enticing,” he admitted, “but I thought it would be ill-advised to be submerged in water, in case you had need of my assistance.”

“My visit went off without a hitch, though I don’t know if I accomplished much. Arachne did suggest someone I could talk to, though. You up for the drive back around the island?”

“Of course. But, may I suggest you stop for a meal along the way? I fear you don’t take proper care of yourself.”

Marla sighed. “I’ve always been better at taking care of other people, and by ‘taking care of,’ I guess I mean ‘beating up.’ Sure, let’s eat. I bet you have a place in mind, right?”

Pelham drove her to Mama’s Fish House, a restaurant on the North shore, about halfway back to Lahaina. At first, she objected because it was too fancy, but Pelham started going on about how she was married to a god, her worth exceeded those of diamonds and gold, and she agreed to eat there just to get him to shut up. The restaurant was nestled in a gorgeous cove and surrounded by palm trees, the walls of the building mostly windows, and thus largely open to the air. The place was decorated with tiki sculptures and outrigger canoes and oversized bird cages – it might have been kitschy anywhere else, but this was Hawai’i, and they were probably actual local antiques. The hostess led them to a table near a window, and a delicious sea breeze wafted through, cooling them as Marla read the menu. “Wait,” she said, “this thing tells you the name of the guy who caught the fish.”

“Let’s hope it tastes good, then,” Pelham said. “Or you’ll know the man to whom you should complain.”

“Ha.” Marla was a long way from being a foodie – she tended to think of food as fuel, and got by on jerky, peanut butter, power bars, and boiled eggs most of the time. Really enjoying food seemed like an indulgence, and indulgences were for the weak… but what was the pressing reason to be strong? Sure, Nicolette and Jason were apparently coming to try and kill her, but Nicolette had never been half as good as she thought she was, and Jason… well, she still had hope she could talk to him, and talk him out of whatever he was doing, and anyway, he wasn’t going to get the drop on her. Whatever chance they’d had to kill her had been blown as soon as Death told her about it, as far as she was concerned. Forewarned was forearmed and all that. Eating something opulent wasn’t going to put her in mortal danger.

They ordered lobster guacamole to share – so that’s what heaven tasted like, good to know – and she got the stuffed mahi mahi. Pelham ordered prawns, and welcome to them. Marla thought the things were too rubbery by half, though Pelly said she’d just never had a good one. They chatted, and it was pleasant. He was a lot less deferential than he used to be. Traveling the world for a few months had been good for him. He actually told her some jokes, though his delivery could’ve used a little work, and –

Marla dropped her fork, and it hit her plate with a clatter. She half rose from her chair, craning her head to look out the nearest window. Pelham looked at her with alarm until she shook her head and sat back down. “Can’t be,” she muttered.

“What’s wrong?” Pelham twisted in his chair to look out the window. “Did you see something?”

“Someone. Someone who’s supposed to be dead – damn it, who is dead, she must be. Probably just someone with a resemblance… . Listen, I’ll be right back, okay?” Marla tossed her napkin onto the table and rose from her chair again, winding her way through the tables toward the walkway that led out of the restaurant. She caught a glimpse of a woman with short blonde hair, in a white silk blouse and flowy white pants, disappearing around a stand of trees.

Marla followed her, soon reaching a small but gorgeous stretch of beach, a miniature cove adjacent to the restaurant. A family was posing on an outrigger canoe (or a prop recreation of one) on the sand while the mother took photos, and a few other tourists were wandering around, but the woman was down by the water, alone. It was hard to tell from the back, and from this distance, but the way she carried herself…

The woman turned, looked at Marla, and raised her hand to wave.

Marla hissed in a sharp breath, the same sound she might make if she’d inadvertently burned herself. Even thirty feet away, there was no mistaking the angular beauty of Susan Wellstone, Marla’s onetime rival for the rulership of Felport. Susan had dropped her plans to assassinate Marla and seized the opportunity to become chief sorcerer of San Francisco instead, but that hadn’t made the two of them any friendlier, so seeing her was never a pleasure.

But this time was worse, because Susan was dead, murdered many weeks ago on the West Coast. So what was this? A ghost? Ghosts tended to haunt specific people or places related to their deaths, so what would Susan’s shade be doing outside Mama’s Fish House? More likely it was someone wearing an illusion to fuck with Marla’s head.

As Marla approached, she let her goddess-vision rise, dispelling all illusions… but the woman by the water’s edge didn’t change at all. “You’re not a ghost,” Marla said, stepping beside Susan. “You’re not wearing a glamour of bent light and twisted perception, either. So what the fuck are you? Evil twin? Or, ha, good twin? A clone? Did Susan make herself a backup body and download her consciousness?”

The couldn’t-be-Susan looked at Marla, her gaze disconcerting as always because of her heterochromia: one eye was green, the other blue. “You’re going to die,” she said. “Your past is catching up with you – and your future is catching up with you, too, and isn’t that so much scarier? I don’t know why I’m not dead anymore – I was, they tell me I was – but I’m glad to be back, so I can see your suffering, followed by your end.”

“Threatening me never worked out that well for you when you were alive,” Marla said.

“Ah, but you had friends then, Marla. You had power, and influence, and artifacts.” Susan – no, not Susan, don’t buy the bullshit – knelt and reached into the sea, cupping her hands and lifting up a measure of glistening water. “But you let all that go, didn’t you?” Susan opened her hands, and the water poured out onto the sand. Marla gasped, doubling over and vomiting up all the water she’d drunk at lunch, and pretty much everything else in her stomach, too. A simple but nasty bit of sympathetic magic, entangling the handful of sea water with the water in Marla’s belly – pouring one out had caused the other to come pouring out as well. Marla straightened, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, the surge of nausea thankfully passed. She looked around, but Susan’s double was nowhere to be seen, and the family by the outrigger canoe was staring at her with horror.

“Stay away from the prawns,” Marla called, and they turned away, talking amongst themselves. No one showed any gratitude anymore. Kneeling – not too close to her puke – Marla scanned the ground and tried to find a trace of Susan’s footprints, but this was a popular restaurant, and a lot of customers had come down this way, so the sand was pretty well crisscrossed. With her goddess-vision still active, Marla scanned the beach, in case Susan had draped herself in a glamour, but there was no one here but ordinaries. She trudged back up the beach toward the restaurant.

Pelham was still at the table, fretfully twisting a napkin. Marla sat across from him and took a long sip of ice water to clear out her mouth. “Are you all right?” he asked.

“I think those old enemies Death mentioned have made their first move,” Marla said. “They’ve got better tricks than I expected, I’ll give them that. Way beyond what Nicolette or my brother could come up with alone. Makes me wonder who else is in on this little vendetta.”

“What should we do?” Pelham asked.

Marla shrugged. “Lay traps. Get prepared. But first, we’ve got a murder to solve.”

“Surely the case can wait, if your enemies are attacking – ”

“That wasn’t an attack. It was a taunt. And I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of changing my plans just because they did a little something like raising the dead.”


“Are you Handsome Bob?”

The grizzled, white-bearded, sun-roughened man behind the counter grinned, showing incongruously white and shiny teeth. “Look at this face. You’re telling me that ain’t self-evident? Yeah, I’m Bob. What can I do you for?”

“You’ve got a kid working for you,” Marla said. “His name’s John, or Luke, or – ”

“Jon-Luc,” Bob said. “His parents are French, or from French Polynesia, hell, I forget which. He mess up a transaction or something?”

“Not at all,” Marla said. “He recommended a great snorkeling spot on the road to Hana, and I just wanted to thank him, and see if he had any other tips.”

Bob grunted. “Normally I’d be offended you aren’t asking me, but I have to admit, even though I’ve lived here twenty years, that boy knows more good hidden spots than I do. He’s out back hosing off some equipment.”

Marla and Pelham went where he directed, down an aisle full of dangling snorkels and facemasks in assorted styles, and out the back door to a little concrete slab where a boy of perhaps nineteen with a shaggy blond mop of hair stood, washing sand off a row of brightly colored body boards.

“Jon-Luc?” Marla said, and the boy turned off the water and looked over, his face open and guileless.

“Can I help you ma’am?”

“I think we have a mutual friend,” Marla said. “Glyph? My name’s Marla. I’m… helping Glyph out with something. You know what I’m talking about?”

The boy swallowed, and nodded.

“Great,” Marla said. “Want to take a break? I’ll buy you a soda.”


Jon-Luc cleared it with his boss, then walked with Marla across the parking lot to a little restaurant that specialized in mixed plates, that uniquely Hawai’ian collision of Pacific and Asian cuisine, and secretly one of Marla’s favorite things about life on the island. The three of them took seats around a metal table under an umbrella in one corner of the wooden deck, just a few steps from the beach and a few yards from the ocean. Marla was hungry, having lost most of the lunch she’d eaten at Mama’s Fish House, so she ordered the kalua pig and cabbage plate, which came with the traditional one scoop of macaroni salad and two scoops of rice. Jon-Luc and Pelham made do with iced tea, and once they were all settled, Marla gave Jon-Luc her best friendly smile and said, “So, which one of your friends murdered Ronin, anyway?”

The kid went all wide-eyed, mouth falling open, but Marla kept smiling. He looked at Pelham, who nodded encouragingly. “Uh,” Jon-Luc said. “I don’t know. I mean, I don’t think it was any of my friends.”

Marla leaned across the table toward him. “Here’s the thing. Somebody cut Ronin’s throat, which means he had an enemy. Except he didn’t, because as far as I can tell he spent literally all his time out paddling around in the waves with his buddies. So if I’m looking for suspects, I have to look first at his friends. You get it?”

Jon-Luc pushed some hair out of his face, sighed, and shook his head. “I get it. But I don’t think you do. Glyph and them… they’re like one person. They have to remind themselves to talk out loud when I’m around. None of them would try to kill Ronin – that would be like trying to kill your, I don’t know, your lungs or heart or something.”

“Come on,” Marla said. “There’s no conflict in the group? No disagreements on philosophy – some who want to save the whales, and some who want to kill the whalers? Anything?”

Jon-Luc shook his head. “No way, they’re in perfect harmony, with nature and with one another, they – ”

“They tell all the newcomers that,” a kindly voice said. “But it’s not true, oh no, not true at all, how could they be all one mind when even one mind is all full of contradictions and conflicts and inner voices shouting, shouting over everyone and each other and everything?”

Marla twisted around in her chair, grinning at the woman in a dripping wetsuit standing on the steps down to the beach. “Well, this is really turning into a reunion show. Nice to see you.”

“True true, I am very nice to see,” the Bay Witch agreed.



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