Flight from mayhem fly b.., p.9
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       Flight from Mayhem (Fly by Night #2), p.9

           Yasmine Galenorn
 

  “Here, take my stash.” She glanced up as Alex entered the room.

  “Ready to go?” He held up his keys.

  “So, we’re off to see the Wizard?” Ralph slipped on his jacket.

  “Yeah, and the yellow brick road leads directly to a big bad salamander. Let’s just hope we can work a little magic that isn’t illusion and ship it back to the Elemental plane of Fire before Lydia’s blunder goes all Godzilla on the U-District. Chai is on the way there.”

  And with that, Alex led us out the door, into the night.

  * * *

  The U-District was so named because it comprised the vast swath of city where the University of Washington sprawled. Composed of sixteen actual colleges and schools, the UW—pronounced “U-Dub”—was also the home of the Huskies, western Washington’s beloved favorite college football team. With a massive number of buildings spreading out over block after block of the city, the UW was commonly called one of the “public ivies”—a public version of the Ivy Leagues.

  I didn’t fully understand the hierarchy of education among humans, but I knew the University of Washington was considered an excellent university, and that they had an incredible medical college. In fact, it was widely accepted that the best place in the world to have a heart attack—and survive—was Seattle. Whether it was the EMTs or the medical facilities, I didn’t know, but the city had a good reputation, and the school an even better one.

  But a salamander the size of a large, magical Komodo galloping through a bunch of college students wasn’t exactly in the same risk category. In fact, it was one of the worst ideas ever. Images of Godzilla—which I’d recently been exposed to thanks to Stacy and her love of old movies—raced through my mind.

  As we wound our way into the U-District, my phone rang, startling me. I didn’t know many people. Who could be calling me? I glanced at the Caller ID. Tonya? Surprised, but pleased, I answered.

  “Hey, good to hear from you!” I poked Alex in the arm as he drove and mouthed, Tonya. He nodded back.

  “I’ll be in town tonight—well, late night, early morning. I thought I’d drop by and say hello.” She sounded tired, her voice strained.

  “Are you staying long?” I had to admit, after working with her on the peninsula to cope with ghosts and forest wights and all sorts of nasties, I had a newfound respect for humans who worked magic. Plus, I just really liked the woman.

  “I’ll be there for a couple of days. At least through the week. I have some . . . well, I’ll tell you about it when I see you.” She sounded even more depressed. My empathy took over. Something was seriously wrong—it echoed through her voice.

  “Tonya, are you okay?” I narrowed my brow. “I can tell something’s happened.”

  “You’re right, but wait till I get there. I’m coming in on the last ferry, so I’ll be in Seattle by around two A.M. I have to find a hotel, but I can meet you for breakfast, if you have the time.”

  I relayed the info to Ralph and Alex, both of whom immediately began shouting invitations to drop by the office. Ralph grabbed for my phone, but I wrestled it away and brought it back to my ear.

  “I take it you heard the guys?”

  “Yeah, and tell them I thank them. Feels nice to hear friendly voices who want to see me.”

  Yikes. Something had definitely gone down.

  “Come straight to the office when you get in. We should be back by then. Bette will be there if we aren’t. Just introduce yourself and tell her we told you to wait for us. And you’re not going to a hotel. You’ll stay with Chai and me. That’s final. So don’t even think of looking for a place to check in.”

  She laughed then—though I could still sense her worry behind the laughter—and agreed.

  I stared at my phone, wondering what was wrong. “I miss her. I never thought I’d say that about anybody, especially a human, but it’s true.” A sudden flare of light in a park up ahead caught my eye. Sliding my phone back into my pocket, I pointed. “What the hell is that?”

  “I dunno, but that flash wasn’t normal. That’s Sakuma Viewpoint.” Alex veered off Boat Street into the parking lot. The small waterfront park overlooking the Lake Washington Ship Canal was barely big enough to hold a couple of benches and a few picnic tables, and it was adjacent to the Boat Street Marina, a one-hundred-slip dock used primarily for long-term moorage.

  As Alex brought the Rover to a screeching halt, we slipped out of the car. It wasn’t hard to see what had caused the flash—Chai was over near the water’s edge, doing his best imitation of a croc wrestler. But instead of a crocodile, he was wrestling with the salamander. Wispy flames flared around them, though I didn’t think they were actual fire. I knew Chai well enough to understand that what we were seeing was astral fire—the Elemental form of heat and flame. But even if it wouldn’t catch the vegetation alight, it could burn anybody who got in the path of it. Psychic napalm, Chai had once called it.

  “Crap. Somehow, I don’t think Chai has the upper hand.” Ralph stared at the pair.

  “I think you’re right.” I cocked my head. Chai was looking down for the count. The salamander had body-slammed against him and Chai was on the ground. The Elemental beast let out a low rumble. Breathing fire on Chai wouldn’t do anything, and I had the feeling the creature knew that, but he could still—“Oh hell!”

  The salamander opened its mouth and bit into Chai’s massive bicep. The djinn roared, leaping to his feet, bringing the giant fire lizard with him. It held on, but Chai began to spin—faster and faster, rising off the ground into what was quickly becoming a flaming whirlwind. There was a loud noise and the massive salamander went flying.

  It landed on the ground in front of us and I jumped back. Alex did the same—fire could kill a vampire. Ralph stared at the creature, and the next moment he had turned into a large beautiful white wolf, and then he ran beneath the nearest bush. I didn’t blame him in the least. In fact, I scrambled to join him. As Chai—in the guise of his whirling dervish fire tornado—dove for the creature, the salamander let out a loud keening wail. And then it began to vanish, fading to where it was barely visible.

  Chai landed on the ground, and the tornado rapidly vanished, leaving the seven-foot tall djinn looking stunned. The next moment, the translucent salamander loped off down the street, out of sight.

  “Well, fu—” Alex stopped himself, glancing at me. He had a thing about not swearing in front of women. Quaint, but lovable, and I did like the way he respected the women that he met.

  “Yeah, I agree.” Chai pushed himself to his feet, brushing off his jeans.

  Ralph emerged from the bushes, back in his human form. But one look at Chai, who was sporting a bloody arm from the bite of the giant lizard, sent the werewolf to the ground. Ralph face-planted right at the base of Chai’s feet.

  “That didn’t go like we hoped it would.” Alex sounded both grumbly and bewildered. He leaned over to make certain Ralph was all right. Ralph mumbled something, then slowly began to open his eyes.

  I quickly turned to Chai. “Cover that up.” I nodded to his injury.

  Chai shrugged, and the next moment a bandage covered the bloody arm. “Ralph needs to get a handle on that little problem of his.”

  “Yeah, well, tell that to my subconscious,” Ralph groaned as we helped him up. “Damn it, not another pair of glasses.” His glasses were broken on one side. “I really need to invest in some contacts, except I have an insane fear of touching my eyes. I don’t think I could ever put them in. Good thing I always carry a spare pair in my messenger bag.”

  “You’re just one bundle of neuroses, dude.” Chai laughed. “Are you all right, though? Glasses can be mended. The body isn’t quite so easy to fix.”

  “I’m fine.” Ralph let out a sigh and dusted himself off. “Seriously, I have tried to get help for my problem with blood, but the phobia is so deeply ingrained that my therapist has never been able to make it go away.”

  Neither Alex nor I had ever asked him what caused it—
it seemed like an invasive question. But Chai wasn’t as reticent.

  “What happened to make you so afraid, Little Wolf?”

  Ralph didn’t bristle at the nickname. Chai called me Little Sister, and he had taken to calling Ralph Little Wolf with the same familiar fondness. He did not, however, call Alex Little Fang, which was probably for the best.

  Ralph sighed, then shrugged. “I seldom talk about it, but maybe it’s time.” He sounded so grim I was about to tell him not to bother. I could feel the tide of emotion swelling up within him and it wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was terrifying and stark and I could sense the turmoil that surrounded the problem. But before I could say anything, Ralph led the way back to the car, telling his story as we followed.

  “I was barely four years old. My mother left me in the care of an uncle who has a farm out near Snohomish. I was playing with some blocks or something—I don’t remember what. I actually don’t remember much about that day, except for what happened next.”

  He opened the backseat and dug through his messenger bag to find the spare pair of glasses, then continued. “My cousin Jonathan was outside, cutting firewood with a chain saw. I idolized Jon. He was fifteen, strong as an ox, smart—and he always took time to explain things to me. Anyway, the next thing I remembered was the sound of Jon screaming. Uncle Sanders ran outside and I followed.”

  He paused, grimacing. “We saw Jon there, on the ground, bleeding like a fountain. It took me a moment but then I realized that his arm was no longer attached to his body. And then I saw that I was standing next to it, so close that I could reach down and touch the bloody stump. It was like some nightmare where I couldn’t wake up, where I couldn’t control my actions.”

  “Cripes, mate. I can just imagine what came next.” Alex swung himself into the driver’s seat.

  “Yeah, pretty much. I poked at the end of it—the part that had been attached to his shoulder. And then, as I stared at the blood on my finger, Jon shrieked again. I’ve never heard anyone ever sound in so much pain since then. As I watched, Jon convulsed and died. Uncle Sanders was screaming at him—something about ‘Don’t you dare die on me, son’ . . . He was on his knees next to the body. As I stared at the blood on my fingers, something clicked. I realized that the blood had been inside Jon . . . that the arm had been part of Jon, until a few seconds before. And I fainted. After that—I’ve never been able to stand the sight of blood. I faint every time.”

  I could feel the swirl of emotions. “You really idolized your cousin, didn’t you?”

  “Yeah. And Jon always told me that he’d be there for me. For a long time after the accident, I was terrified he was going to turn into a zombie and come back to get me. I was afraid that he’d tear off my arm, too, so that I’d die.” Ralph shook his head. “My parents took me to a therapist—we knew one who was a Were—but it didn’t do much good. And I still talk to one now and then, but still . . . The image is too ingrained into my memory. I still see it sometimes, when I see a large pool of blood.”

  Chai let out a slow whistle. “I wouldn’t recommend tackling the problem magically, either. Memory spells can backfire in a big way.”

  “There are spells to wipe a memory out?” Ralph sounded all too eager, and I flashed Chai a glowering look.

  Alex started the car. “Buckle up, everybody. And no, Ralph, you are not going to go hunting out a witch to help you with your memories. I’m very sorry about what happened to your cousin, but mate, come on. Messing with your mind? Letting someone go in and rearrange your memories and thoughts? That’s not a good idea.”

  “I suppose you’re right.” Ralph sounded compliant, but I had the feeling he was still mulling over the idea. There wasn’t anything I could say, though.

  I stared out the window, thinking about how unfair the world could be to children. And then Ralph’s story vanished from my thoughts as I saw a flare-up in the center of the street—the same flash of energy I had seen when we first approached the salamander.

  “Got it!” Alex apparently had seen it, too, because he headed in that direction.

  As we skidded into a parking space along the narrow sidewalk and clambered out of the Range Rover, I glanced this way and that but couldn’t see anything. “Where did it go?”

  “Don’t bother.” Alex pointed to an area in the middle of the street. “See the manhole cover? The damned thing just went down the sewer.”

  “I’m not going down there.” I stared at the gaping hole. The manhole cover looked like it had been twisted—like a penny set on the train tracks.

  “Neither am I.” Alex glanced back along the street. There were no other cars in sight. “Stay here.” He headed toward the manhole. Along the way, he picked up the cover, then cautiously peered down the gaping hole. A moment later he returned to the car.

  “See anything?” Ralph leaned forward, seeming eager to change the subject.

  “No, but see how it mangled the steel? This tells us one thing: The salamander is insanely strong and dangerous. We can’t follow it down there; we don’t even know where the sewers lead.”

  “I think . . . hold on. Let me check something on my iPad.” Ralph tapped away and a moment later he grunted. “As I thought—Werewyx lists the sewers in this area as eventually leading into Underground Seattle. Once the salamander finds its way there, there’s no telling where it will hide. We need to figure out how to lure it out before we have a hope in hell of catching it.”

  And with that, Alex handed the manhole cover to Chai, and we headed back to the office.

  * * *

  By the time we got back to the office, Bette had another client waiting. Alex glanced over the form all clients filled out when they first arrived, then motioned the man to follow him back into his office. He didn’t say a word to us, but I could tell he was worried.

  Bette glanced at me as the door closed behind them. “Trouble?”

  “Salamander made it down into the sewer. We lost it. That thing is big and it’s dangerous. Chai couldn’t stop it.” I paused as Ralph waved at Bette, then headed back to his cyber-lair.

  Chai watched him go. “Shimmer, keep an eye on Little Wolf. I did not mean to put ideas into his head, but I fear I might have. If he takes it into his mind to hunt up a witch who can wipe memories . . .” When Chai worried about influencing others, I knew that he was serious.

  “Yeah, I think maybe you did, too. And Ralph’s brilliant. If anybody can dig up a witch who could—and would—attempt a spell like that, he can.” I shook my head. “What a memory to carry around.”

  Bette cleared her throat. “Ralph told you about his cousin, didn’t he?”

  I nodded. “You knew, then?”

  “I have a way, child. I have a way. People tell me things. If I ever decided blackmail was an option, I could be rolling in dough.” She arched her eyebrows and stared at Chai. “So I assume somebody mentioned something about memory-wiping spells?”

  “Unfortunately, I did. I really didn’t think about the ramifications.” Chai let out a rumble, then sat down, easing into one of the leather chairs.

  I was about to say something when the door opened. Damn, we were busy tonight—we seldom worked on more than a few cases at a time.

  The couple who came in looked vaguely familiar, though I knew I hadn’t ever met them. But there was something to their facial structure . . . They nodded to me, then turned to Bette. She froze, the smile half-fixed on her face.

  “Miss Bette, nice to see you again. Is Ralph around?” The man walked a couple of steps in front of the woman, I noticed, and while her shoulders were back, she made no move to speak.

  Bette cleared her throat. “Let me see if he’s here. I think he might have just stepped out.”

  I blinked, not used to Bette lying outright.

  She stood, giving me a very slight shake of the head. “Shimmer, watch the desk for me.” Her look telling me to keep my mouth shut, she headed toward the back. I swung around behind the counter.

  “Won’t you
have a seat . . .” I trailed off like I’d noticed humans do when they weren’t sure of whom they were talking to.

  “Pardon me. I didn’t mean to be rude. My name is Leon Spangler, and this is my wife, Emily. We’re Ralph’s parents.” He tipped his head to me, taking off his hat.

  It took a moment, but then it clicked. Ralph’s parents. Which meant they were werewolves. The man was burly and big. I could see the muscles straining beneath the work shirt. Emily was wearing a blue dress, tidy and modern but along the modest side. She was pretty but had a look in her eye that told me she was used to running things behind the scenes but never getting the credit. She flashed me a soft smile and I felt an instant camaraderie with her.

  “I’m sure Bette will be back in a moment. Please, sit down. That is . . .” I glanced over at the chairs, but Chai was gone. He had gone poof, and probably for the best. Werewolves and magic didn’t get along, and djinns were magical creatures through and through. As I cleared my throat, the Spanglers sat down. I had the feeling they weren’t going to leave the building without talking to Ralph, no matter whether or not Bette said he was out. No, they’d wait for him.

  I was about to offer them coffee when the phone rang. I picked up. It was Chase Johnson.

  “Shimmer speaking. I’m afraid you’ll have to talk to me, Detective. Alex is in a meeting with a client, and Bette is away from her desk.”

  Chase mumbled something that I couldn’t understand, then said, “We may have another. One of the Fae went missing. He was in the same art class as Marlene at the Supe Community Action Council. The one Bette teaches. And they both belonged to the OBC—the Otherworld Book Club.”

  I glanced around, looking for a pen. Quickly, so I didn’t miss anything, I scribbled down notes as he talked. “Classes . . . book club . . . got it.” Then, softly, I laid down the pen. “Detective—”

 
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