EXCERPT: Burning Bridges

(ISBN 0373802749)

“Miss Valere.”
Wren stopped.  “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Andre Felhim was sitting on her stoop, the elegant sixty-something black man in an equally elegant suit and matte-shined shoes sitting on cold cement steps as though the seat of his pants didn’t cost more than she paid in rent every month.
“I apologize for simply appearing like this, without warning, but I had reason to believe, based on our last exchanges, that you would not accept a phone call.  Or, if you did, your emotional reaction might …create some static on the line.”
“Oh, ya think?”  Sarcasm dripped like butter on a baked potato.  Static was the least she was going to give that smarmy, slimy, no-good, people-using bastard…
“Miss Valere, I had nothing to do with your difficulties during the Nescanni situation.  I was no aware until after the fact that your contact had been intercepted” – taken out in a staged – and fatal – car accident, Wren interjected mentally – “and I most certainly was not aware that your dossier on the situation was not complete.  I would never intentionally send my people out –“
“We’re not your people.”  God, he understood nothing.
“I don’t care about your little internal screw-ups and back-biting and political one-upmanship.”  She bit off each word as though if she got them sharp enough, he might just keel over and bleed to death.  I told you once and I’ll tell you again – keep away from me, and keep your paws off my partner.  We work for you – fine.  Although I don’t see how you’re doing your bit, protecting me from the Council.  But you have no call on us other than that.  None.  Don’t contact us unless it’s a paid job.  Got me?”
“I got you,” Andre said.  “I had hoped that we could establish some sort of rappaport, but if it is not meant to be….”
“It’s not.”
He stood and turned to go, then turned back to issue one parting shot.
“We are maintaining out side of the agreement,” he said.  “Why else do you think that both you and Sergei are still alive?”
And with that, he walked off down the street, lacking only a cane to be the stereotypical Mysterious Stranger.
If he meant to unnerve Wren with that last comment… he succeeded.  But it made sense; they might not have many Talents in their organization, but they dealt with them – and magic in general – all the time.  It would be logical that they’d developed some defenses against it, somehow.  Not all fairy tales were bunk, after all.  You could dispel glamours, ward your home against fairies, that sort of thing.
She pulled her keys out of her bag and unlocked the door, thudding wearily up the stairs.  And stopped cold.
The apartment door was open.  She didn’t think it was Andre’s doing.  He had too much style, too much class, much as she despised him, to be that obvious.
Wren stepped backward, moving into the shadows of the landing, and sent out a quick burst of current, a faint yellow tracer that would let her know if there was anyone in her home who meant her ill.  It was a nifty bit of spellwork, something she’d read about in one of those old books and been messing around with, to see if she could make it work.
The pulse came back negative.  Nothing moving.  Nothing dangerous.  Whoever or whatever had come to visit, they were long gone.  Assuming the spell was working properly, that was.  Always a risk.
She entered the apartment, her knees bent, ready to fight or flee as the situation needed, still wired from the sugar and caffeine and trip home spent putting herself into a working frame of mind.
“I need to get new locks,” she said, grousing to herself as she turned to do up the deadbolt and the chain lock behind her.  What used to be normal and acceptable-for-Manhattan paranoia now clearly wasn’t doing the job.  And be damned if she was going to move.  Housing in the city was insane, and the bubble didn’t look to be bursting any time soon.  Besides, this place was going to go co-op sooner rather than later, and she was going to be on the inside to buy when it did.
This was home, damn it.  No matter what sort of…
Sort of groaning noises she heard.
What now? Wren flexed her hand, trying to remember a single defensive cantrip that wouldn’t also damage her home.  The power she had pulled down from the power station was still in her, and the current practically sparked, but she had no desire to have to patch and repaint anything just because some joker thought it would be amusing to burgle her home.
“Get out get out wherever you are” she called in a soft, sing-song voice.
Nothing answered.  She moved forward into the apartment barely aware of the fact that silvery twitches of current were jumping from fingertip to fingertip.  Neezer would have slapped her silly for wasting current like that.
The kitchen was the source of the noise: a pile of what looked like fur coat, tossed in one corner.
“P.B.!”  She dropped to her knees beside him, grimacing when one knee came into contact with a sticky puddle of something disgusting.  It wasn’t his – demon blood was black, and their urine was blue-tinged.  Unless he’d taken to throwing up yellow, the way one her mother’s cats had, when they were growing up…
“P.B.?”  A hand came up to touch him; tentative, almost terrified, and the current sparked, jumping into the coarse fibers of his fur and burrowing down into his skin
“Urrrgghh” he said again in response.  “Uuuurrrgh?”
Wren exhaled, long and thankful.  “Open your eyes, you ungrateful walking carpet,” she said, using one of Sergei’s favorite descriptive phrases for the demon.  “Come on, damn you, open your eyes.”
“I don’t have a concussion,” he said, opening his eyes slowly and staring directly into her own worried brown ones.
“How would you know?”  She dropped the question as pointless.  “What happened?”
P.B. struggled to sit up.  Her hands, now bare of visible current, pushed him back down, carefully examining his head through the fur, checking for anything that might indicate real damage or bleeding or… she had no idea what she was looking for; anything that seemed wrong.
He put up with it for about twenty seconds, then slapped her concern away weakly.  “Two guys.  Humans.  One through the door, one through the window.  Have you ever thought about moving, Valere?  This address is getting way too busy.”

-© Laura Anne Gilman