Reyes sends McLean out to the boyfriend’s house, see if he can catch the guy off guard. She sends me home with an assignment. She wants me to read up on a few other unsolved child abduction cases the department has had from the past year. She sends the files to my email, then tells me I need some rest. I’m guessing I look like a turd warmed over. My chest burns a little where the demon touched me and then I remember I had puked all over the playground. Reyes remains in the SPI cave, preparing the reports that will undoubtedly be handed over to the special victims division.
My apartment isn’t too far from the station, next to the BART station on 19th and the Oaksterdam University. Not the best of neighborhoods, but it’s within walking distance of headquarters. Can’t afford a car with all the money my father is forcing me to pay back. He figured since I threw away the military career he had bought me, I should pay him back for it.
When I enter my building, the stench of urine assaults my nostrils and I sneeze. Reminding myself to complain that someone is letting in the homeless, I climb the stairs to the third floor. The wide hall is quiet on a Sunday afternoon; everyone is out enjoying another sunny autumn day.
Taking off my holster, I fall on my couch as soon as I lock the door behind me and close my eyes, trying to forget the two ghosts I’d seen that day. My hand gropes through the trash beneath the coffee table. When my fingers find the cool neck of a half-finished Tequila bottle, my muscles relax and I finish off the amber liquor as fast as I can. It burns the demon’s touch off my chest and I can breathe again.
My phone buzzes in my pant pocket and I remember that Reyes sent me those files. Groaning, I fish it out. The text is a little blurry, but as far as I was concerned, not blurry enough.
It’s my brother, Diego, wondering where I was at.
I was about to text back that I was at home where I intended to get drunk and maybe a little stoned, too, when I remember – it’s my father’s birthday.
“Shit,” I say to my empty apartment.
* * *
I show up late and pound on the door before I fumble with the doorbell. I’d never used it before. This is my home.
Was my home.
Someone decorated the stoop with a plastic Halloween globe, its electric glow spilling on my scuffed dress shoes, reminding me that I hadn’t polished them in days.
Everyone had to have one of those damn things now. Since the solar storm, and all the ghost came out, having a night lantern on your doorstep during this time of year actually meant something.
My oldest brother, Julio, but we call him Jules, opens the door.
“What are you doing here?” Jules says.
The half-smile on my face disappears. “Diego told me–”
Jules’ nostrils flare and his frown deepens. “He shouldn’t have. Dad doesn’t want to see you.”
Diego appears behind Jules.
“You made it!” Diego says, pushing past Jules. He leans out as if to hug me, but father’s training kicks in, and he stands erect, waiting for me to say something.
Damn him for trying to get us all back together. I shove the gift I got for my father towards him.
“Take it,” I say. “Don’t tell him it’s from me.”
“No, come in,” Diego says. “You give it to him.”
“I don’t want to cause any trouble,” I say.
Diego grabs my arm, pulls me in. Jules moves out-of-the-way and the three of us fill the foyer, like wooden dolls packed in a closet.
Father is standing in the waiting room off to one side, a drink in his hand. His nose is beet-red, a sure sign he’s been hitting the bottle, probably since he got up this morning. I’m the apple that didn’t fall far from the tree.
“What are you doing here?” my father says, a sneer dancing on his lips.
I take a deep breath.
“I invited her,” Diego says.
“I only reserved a table for three people,” Jules says. “We’ll have to change it.” He’s already reaching for a cell phone.
“No, I’m not going to dinner,” I say, staring at my father. “I just wanted to say happy birthday,” I add and plaster a smile on my face.
“You’ve said it,” father says. “Now get out.”
I nod, forcing myself not to salute like he taught me since I could walk. Hell, probably before that. I didn’t know how else to move except like a soldier. Extending my present to him, I let it drop and spin on my heels to leave.
“No, wait!” Diego says, intercepting me. “Dad, I mean, she’s our sister–”
“Not anymore,” father says.
“It’s fine, Diego,” I say, wanting nothing else but to get out of there. This had been a mistake. How could I have thought dad had invited me? I should have known it was just Diego.
I grab Diego by his shoulders, the closest thing I would come to a hug.
“I said what I wanted to say,” I tell him. “I better go now. I have a lot of work to do anyway.” I give him an uncertain smile.
Father barks out a laugh.
“Work?” he sputters. “What kind of work will some piece of shit like you do? Huh? Answer me!”
I don’t turn around. My hands are shaking and I’m afraid the rest of me will soon follow. I always bring out the worst in him. Plus, I have no idea what he’s talking about. I hadn’t told him I was working for SPI. Wasn’t it bad enough I was a PES? I couldn’t tell him I was actually using that ability for work. That would make it too public. One thing he had stipulated when he had disowned me – I couldn’t tell a soul. Wouldn’t want to taint the family name, would I?
“What sort of work, eh?” my father continues. “The work of the Devil! You’ll go to hell, you know. Don’t you? You disgusting bitch!”
Father moved while yelling and is within striking distance now. I have to leave or turn around and defend myself.
Now that I wasn’t his daughter, would I defend myself? Or would I just let him beat me like always?
I say over my shoulder, “I work for Oakland PD. Remember? You got me the position.”
Maybe that would give him pause. He wouldn’t want to send his daughter bruised and bloodied to parade his handiwork. Not that anyone would do anything, but it would, at the very least, be unseemly proof of father’s bad behavior.
“You’re a spooooook!” he says, spittle landing on my chin.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Diego hang his head, and I remember I had mentioned I had gotten a “promotion”. But I hadn’t given any details. I didn’t tell Diego that my commanding officer hadn’t known what else to do with me after I came into work drunk one too many times, so he had to move me over to SPI, hoping to bury me since he couldn’t fire me. Diego must have told father I was promoted and father would have checked with the commissioner, who would have told him I worked for SPI now.
I turn to face my father. A vein on his forehead threatens to pop. It never does, no matter how hard he hits. I offer as neutral a face I can muster with my stomach roiling.
“I’m a detective now–”
“A spook detective!”
He spits on the hardwood floor.
“I have partners. Two, in fact. Detectives Sarita Reyes and Keith McLean. They are not spooks. Nor are they disgusting bitches.”
At my last word, his eyes go wide at my small jibe and his fist swings back. Diego steps between us, hands up.
A pent-up breath escapes me, and I cower behind my brother.
I don’t know what I hate more; that Diego has to protect me or that he has the power to protect me. Father would never hit his precious sons.
Before anyone can stop me, I leave. My feet tripping over themselves to get away.
I end up at Club 21 on Franklin and Broadway. It’s the closest bar to my place and it’s as gay as rainbows get. The Go-Go dancers are listless, but for a Sunday night, I’m surprised the place has as many twinks, lesbos, and daddies as they do. Not much, but enough to people watch.
The cockroaches always come out at night, don’t they? Me included.
I find an empty corner booth. A Pacific-Asian waitress with hip-hugging leather pants and a sequined shirt just as tight takes my order and I knock ‘em back as fast as she can saunter across the room. The entire time, my gaze flicks from the TV, showing news snippets of Merryweather’s parents pleading for information about their grandson, and the roll of fat that squeezes out over the lip of my waitress’ pants.
The thought that she should just get comfortable and walk around naked crosses my mind when someone slides into my booth. She’s older – mid-thirties, dirty-blond hair. She’s got on a halter top with a plunging v-neckline but there’s nothing there to show. Her arms are toned, though, and I like her shy smile.
I don’t tell her I’m not a lesbo and we talk a bit. While she flirts with me, I don’t think of my father, the job I just got kicked out of, and the next one I’m surely gonna lose. After a while, she and the alcohol even make me forget about those ghosts.
* * *
Pain behind my eyes wakes me the next morning. I groan and roll to one side, trying to figure out why my skull feels like it’s been used as an anvil. A pressure in my throat forces me a few inches over the edge of the bed and I vomit on the carpet.
With my eyes cracked just enough to keep me from banging into the bathroom door jamb, I get up. A sore groin forces me into a crab walk and I grab a towel. I mop up the mess, swearing to myself that I have to stop mixing my drinks. When I notice the bedside clock blazing a red, digital nine A.M., sweat breaks out on my hands and neck.
I’m an hour late for work.
Then I see a dirty-blond head poking out of my foul-smelling bed sheets. She’s got my dildo tucked under her pillow, one hand possessively laying atop it. Whoever she is, she’s still asleep and I don’t have time for this shit. In less than fifteen minutes, I shower, dress in the cleanest jeans and shirt I could find, and head for the door.
Before going, I leave a note on the frig: I’m not a lesbo. GET OUT.
I slam the door shut loud enough to wake the dead.
The only good thing about being late on a Monday morning is no Monday morning traffic. I run the few blocks down to headquarters. Each stride makes my head feel like it’s about to pop off my head, but even if my head doesn’t want to run, my body does. It feels good to get air deep into my lungs again.
On the way through the officer’s reception room, I grab a jumbo-sized bottle of water from a dispenser and head for the stairs. By the time I get to SPI’s floor, I’ve finished it off and think to check my phone. I pull it out as I rush down the hall.
There’s only one text from Reyes – an address on 7th. A low number, I’m guessing it was some place at the port. It was sent an hour ago. I doubt she’s still there and I expect both she and McLean to be in their office, but the door is locked when I get there. Even the light above the door is out.
Not knowing what else to do, I head back out, texting Reyes that I was on my way. Her response comes immediately, informing me to meet back at the Fairyland Playground.
Shit. That was back uptown. Farther than the port or my apartment. Since I didn’t have a car, and I doubt I would get issued one without Reyes’ approval, and I didn’t want to have to ask, I would have to use AC Transit. I swore when I reached into my pockets for change and came up near empty.
So, I ran.
Next time, I promised myself, I would wear running pants and a hoodie to work.
I get there to find McLean and Reyes squatting over the ground where Merryweather had been hung. I join them, forcing air through my lungs and wishing I had re-filled my water bottle. My head is about to explode.
“Did you run here?” McLean asks.
If I wasn’t hunched over about to puke again, I would have hit him. Instead, I give him a one-finger salute.
“You should have said something,” Reyes said. “I could have picked you up. We’re just about done here.”
“My fault…I’m late…” I try, but I don’t have enough air.
Wasn’t it just a few months ago I could outrun Diego or anyone else in my unit?
“Don’t worry about it,” Reyes says.
McLean rolls his eyes. “I know what you would say if I came in an hour late and hung-over.”
“I’m not hung over,” I say, but we all know that’s a lie.
“Drop it,” Reyes says. Thrusting her chin at McLean, she adds, “Fill her in.”
Looking at him expectantly, I try to exude a calm and competent curiosity. The kind that got me far with my trainers.
“Not much to tell,” he says. “Lou Jing had a boat. A yacht.”
“Think maybe he could have taken the kid?” I ask.
If Jing got away by boat, out into the Pacific, they could be anywhere.
McLean shook his head. “It’s at a boat repair place,” he said. “He might be planning on leaving by boat, but he hasn’t yet.”
I rub my sternum. “That’s good, right?”
McLean shoots me a look as if I’m dumber than shit. To Reyes, he says, “Doesn’t Oakland PD have standards anymore?”
Reyes shakes her head. “Give her break. Blyrthek touched her.”
“What?” he says. “You didn’t tell me that.”
“Believe it or not, I don’t tell you everything.”
“Apparently,” McLean says, shifting on his feet. “But I would have thought you’d tell me something like that. Why’d she do it?”
“Isn’t that what we’re talking about?” McLean shoots back.
“I’m right here,” I say.
“What’d you do?” McLean says.
There’s an accusation in his voice, but I can’t figure out why. I hold up my hands.
“I didn’t do anything,” I say at the same time Reyes says, “The girl’s mother said Blyrthek was afraid of Tesserak.”
McLean narrows his eyes at me and lets out a whistle of appreciation. He dips his head a little, and says, “Noted.” Then he’s back to scrutinizing the ground.
“I don’t think that’s what she meant,” I say. “The kid was afraid of me. It, I mean, Bly-, Blythe-, dammit, Bly the Fly never touched you all?”
“If she had,” Reyes says, “we’d probably be dead.”
I rub my chest again, where Bly the Fly touched me while I say, “There was a shock. Sort of like touching a live socket, but it wasn’t too bad. Maybe it was weak?”
Reyes doesn’t say anything. She’s just looking at me like I’m something that needs washing. She’s probably right. Sweat gleamed on my rosy, brown skin.
McLean snorts and says, “Maybe it’s all the alcohol in your system. Numbed you to the pain.”
I clench my fists and heat floods my face and ears. Before I know it, he’s flat on his back. My right hook landing neatly on his chin, thumping him on the playground mulch.
That was pure luck. I won’t have the surprise advantage next time.
Reyes shouts and sprints to McLean’s side. Helping him up a little, she says, “What the hell is wrong with you?”
I open my mouth to say something, but nothing comes out. Why did I do that? I take a step back and my phone rings in my pocket. Fishing it out, I see that it’s Diego and I ignore it.
“I’m sorry,” I say to McLean.
He’s sitting up, cupping his chin. I want him to be mad at me, but instead the look he gives me is a mix of trepidation and, I think, fear.
Why is everyone afraid of me?
“Sorry is not going to cut it,” Reyes says. “You’re suspended.”
“No,” McLean says. “I deserved it. I shouldn’t have pushed.”
He gets to his feet with Reyes’ help.
“Apology accepted,” he says to me, hand extended out.
I know it’s a trick, but I take his hand anyway. The moment we touch, I flinch, but all he does is shake my hand. A sly smile spreads on his face and he laughs.
“Apology or not,” Reyes says, “That suspension still applies.”
My phone rings again. I glance down and it’s Diego.
I give Reyes’ an apologetic look and she waves me away. I can see on her face that she’s wondering how she’ll get rid of me permanently.
Stepping away, I take my brother’s call.
“You have to come,” he says.
“Where?” I say. “M.A.I.?”
Only 17, he was still at the Military Academy Institute, on Lusk and 39th.
“No,” he says, panic in his voice. “Dad did something.”
I can hear sirens in the background.
“What?” I say.
“You have to come,” he says. “The police will be here soon.”
Fuck. Father finally beat the shit out of someone who mattered.
“I’m on my way,” I say and hang up.
Reyes and McLean are conferring with each other, their heads close, concern marring Reyes’ normally smooth brow. Her hand is resting on McLean’s shoulder.
I don’t want to interrupt. And I can see they don’t need me. Besides, Reyes was likely to fire me at just about any moment. I might as well give her another reason to. So I leave.
What will Tesserak discover at her father’s place? Read Part 5 to find out.