; The limo glided to the curb. He waved a hand through his creation reducing it to glittering shards that flew off in all directions. A quick word to his friend and he ran down to the car as I pushed open the backdoor. He slid in next to me. “Hi, daddy.” He flung himself into my arms and I hugged him tightly. He smelled of child and Sweet Tarts.
McTate jumped back in. “Her assistant said she was trying to buy your company.”
“She made an offer. It was declined.”
“Word is she offered more than once. Why would she do that?”
“Because my business model was proving to be more profitable than hers. She was using traditional methods. I use aces to achieve my goals.”
“She had filed a complaint against you with the Better Business Bureau and with OSHA.”
I shrugged. “Corporate games. I thought nothing of it.”
“So you weren’t pissed? Looking for a little payback?” Fong asked.
“It would be a rather stupid way to register my annoyance,” I said. I added softly, “Do I seem stupid to you?”
“No, you seem like a dick!”
McTate laid a soothing hand on his partner’s arm. “We talked with your foreman and the workers who made the final sweep through the building before Rustbelt came in. They said no one was in there.” I didn’t answer. The quiet stretched between the three of us. Quiet has a devastating power. Most people can’t stand quiet so they so say more than they intend. Which is why I kept my mouth shut.
“You’re an ace,” McTate finally added.
“A teleporting ace,” Fong added.
They both peered at me. “You sure there isn’t something more you’d like to tell us?” McTate suggested softly.
“Where were you last night?” Fong asked.
“At my apartment.”
“Anybody to verify that?”
“How about this morning?” Now it was McTate’s turn. They were so predictable.
“In my office. You can verify that with my assistant. I presume you’ve looked at the husband. Murder is so often a family affair.”
“Do you think we’re stupid?” Fong demanded.
I rubbed at my mouth thoughtfully. “I’ll decline to answer that on the grounds I might incriminate myself.”
“Keep laughing, asshole.” McTate pulled Fong back into his chair.
My lawyer made sad dog eyes at me. I gave him a not-so-rueful shrug. Deciding I had learned as much as possible from the interview I gave Herriman a significant glance.
He grasped my meaning and stood up. “If you’re not charging my client than we’re done here.”
I also stood and shot my sleeves and retrieved a small bug from my coat pocket. I reached up and clapped McTate on the shoulder as I walked past, setting the bug beneath his collar. Not for nothing had I spent years as a famous stage magician.
“Don’t leave town,” Fong huffed as a parting shot.
We passed through the bullpen. Hostile stares followed us. Outside not even the stinks and exhaust of Manhattan in general and Jokertown in particular could trump the noxious smells that clung to my clothes. Not that I wasn’t familiar with jails. I had been in more than a few during my career with MI-7. “Where is Pretorius” I asked. My tone had been merely inquisitive, but the young joker reacted as if I’d slapped him.
“Uh… in Chicago. Murder trial. I’m—”
“Charles Santiago Herriman. Yes, you said that. Apparently you are also known as Flipper, but if I were you I wouldn’t let the cops call you that. Rather undermines your authority.”
“I want to have a good rapport with them,” he said defensively.
“No you don’t. You want them to hate and fear you. To believe you’re a stone cold son-of-a-bitch … but never mind, you’re what I’ve got. I’m going to call you Charlie, all right?”
I slipped in an ear piece and picked up the end of McTate saying, “.…a warrant.”
“Home and office?” Fong’s voice.
“Yeah. Got a feeling this guy is slippery.”
“Hey, I hate being the bad cop. Can we switch it up on the next one?” Fong asked.
“So I better get your story,” Flipper said.
“Let’s do it over a drink. I need one.”
* * *
It took one martini to tell what little I did know to Charlie. After he left I had two more while I contemplated my situation. It was clear the cops were wearing blinders and weren’t going to look past me. If I was going to avoid being charged I would have to find the real killer and deliver him or her on a platter to the fuzz. I really wished I could see the autopsy report and determine what actually killed Belinda. But first things first. I needed to scrub my place before the cops arrived.
My apartment is a dismal place. It’s a furnished one bedroom in the midtown Manhattan Oakwood. Oakwood is temporary corporate housing, but what it really is is ground zero for men who are divorced or separated from their wives. Whenever an actual business woman checks in, she will find herself immediately hit upon by the sad and desperate males. The fact I’m still there shows that I’m… ambivalent about my decision to leave.
I gathered up my extra passports and driver’s licenses, the guns I kept in New York, various knives, the garrote, and my laptop. Once I’d cleaned the apartment down to utter anonymity, I transformed into Ilya and teleported to an apartment I keep in a poor neighborhood in Vienna. I have several of these scattered around the world maintained under different identities. I dropped off the weaponry and documents and with the sun just kissing the ripples on the Danube I made the jump back to New York before sunset trapped me and I had to wait for full dark back in Manhattan.
I settled onto the couch and checked back in with the Dynamic Duo. They were talking to the grieving spouse. Well, to be more accurate, they were listening to the grieving spouse blubber. His sobs were so shattering that I could hear them easily through the small microphone on McTate’s collar. “I failed her. I let her down. I can’t tell her how sorry I am. She was always stronger then me. How did this happen?”
It went on and on in that vein. I was saved from the litany of self-pity when my cell phone rang with the ringtone that belonged to Niobe—I’m Falling, Baby Through the Sky”.
“Hi,” she said hesitantly.
My heart still gallops a bit when I hear her voice. “Hi yourself. You okay?”
“Yeah. I was wondering if you could pick up Jasper? I’ve got an opera guild meeting that I’d forgotten about.”
“I probably won’t get home before seven—”
“I’ll pick up dinner for us.”
“Thanks, I really appreciate it.”
“Anything for you.”
“Really? Then you should come home.” She hung up on me before I could respond.
* * *
Once back in my own form, I called for my car. Jasper attends an upscale private school on the Upper West Side which apes British boarding schools but without all the bullying and buggery. My son was sitting on the front steps with a friend. His backpack rested on the step next to him and his knees, exposed by his uniform, were red from the cold. He was busy weaving the light from the setting sun into intricate patterns to the evident delight of his companion. Jasper was an ace and the result of very tedious and very expensive medical efforts so that his two wild card parents wouldn’t produce a child that would die instantly or be a deformed freak.
it was a technique that relied on Niobe’s ace power that flipped the dreadful odds associated with the wild card. The doctors utilized the genetic material in her ovipositor eggs and mixed it with my sperm and her normal, human egg. Niobe had mused about donating some of these wild card eggs to other wild card couples, but I had argued against it. It smacked too much of the way she had been forced by the government to birth tiny, short lived aces. Those other wild card couples could just take their chances with the virus’s shitty odds
Jasper could make beautiful fractal snowflakes out of starlight and sunlight and even the harsh light from electric bulbs. In time he might learn how to plait those photons into something destructive, but I was glad it hadn’t occurred to him yet. I really didn’t want him following in his father’s footsteps.
I explained about Niobe’s meeting. “So what do you want for dinner?”
I sighed. Eventually he would grow up and we could share an actual meal. I called for a pie to be delivered from John’s, and we made our way through Manhattan traffic to the condo on the other side of Central Park. Jasper chatted artlessly about school and soccer practice, and what he should do for his science project. I leaned against the corner of the car and listened while my heart felt too large for my chest.
Once home he scurried to change out of his school uniform, calling out to me to load up Lego Takisian Wars on the Xbox. I did so. He returned and sat cross legged on the floor in front of me, controller clutched in his hands, tongue peeping out of the corner of his mouth as he fought his way through Swarm monsters and other evil aliens.
I sat on the couch behind him and made a list of all the known teleporters or aces with powers that could put a person in a place they weren’t supposed to be. At the top of the list was Mollie Steunenberg, the ace known as Tesseract, who hated me with a passion. A quick phone call established that she was still in the nut house and still wearing the ankle bracelet that prevented her from using her power. Next up was the private eye Popinjay, but I couldn’t imagine why he would want to fuck me over. Pop Tart, another former contestant from American Hero, was a grifter and conniver—my kind of girl—but her power was very limited in range, and somebody would have noticed her on the demolition site. Especially given the way she dressed. She was catcall bait.
This seemed like a dead end, so I turned back to my two employees who had been tasked with sweeping the building. Using Niobe’s laptop I delved into their on-line life. Like everyone else in the world (except for us in the intelligence biz who know just how dangerous it is) they had left a massive trail across social media. Brent had signed up for no less then three dating sites. It didn’t look like he was having much luck, which considering his looks was not surprising. Dominic frequented the fantasy football sites and played on-line poker. Once I was on a safer machine I would delve into the owners of the various sites where Dominic played.
The doorbell rang. I carefully deleted all record of my activities on Niobe’s computer before answering, and even took the added effort to wipe off any fingerprints.
I accepted the pizza, paid the delivery man, gave him a sizable tip, and we settled down to eat. “Do you think the Takisians were good guys are bad guys, daddy?” Jasper asked.
I chewed thoughtfully and contemplated the aliens who had brought their hell born virus to Earth some seventy years ago. I thought of those few of us blessed with meta-human powers, balanced that against the hundreds of thousands dead when they drew a black queen, the tens of thousands twisted and deformed by the virus. The key grated in the lock and Niobe entered, dragging her heavy ovipositor tail behind her. Thick bristly hairs dotted the leathery skin. I considered the generations of jokers reviled by their societies or murdered because of their deformities. Niobe rejected by her family because of her affliction. “Bad guys,” I said.
“Mommy!” Jasper ran to her and wrapped his arms around her waist. Niobe’s acne-scarred face glowed with joy and love. I crossed to her and gave her a hug. She kissed my cheek. She gave a sniff. “That smells good.”
“There’s plenty left, mama.” Jasper led her over to the table and she tried to find a comfortable way to accommodate the tail. She grimaced and pressed a hand to her back.
I drained the last of my wine, moved behind her, and began to massage the small of her back. She gave a groan of pleasure. “Thanks, that feels good. What have the two of you been up too?”
“Debating the finer points of alien diplomacy.” Both she and Jasper looked confused. “Shooting down Takisian ships and Swarm monsters,” I amended.
“Oh.” She pulled my head down and whispered in my ear. “I’m not sure I like him playing these violent games.”
“Don’t worry,” I whispered back. “He’s not likely to follow in my footsteps. He’s a far sweeter and better person then I ever was.”
“You were and are good to us.”
“I should get going.”
Niobe checked her watch. “Oh good heavens, look at the time. Jasper, you go brush your teeth and get in your p.j.’s. It’s bedtime.”
I held up a preemptory finger, cutting off the whine. “Do as your mother says.” He drooped off down the hall. Niobe and I shared a look and a laugh. I kissed her on the lips and she held me tight. Her head rested against my chest. “I wish you weren’t.…”
“Me?” I suggested.
“A better you. A you who hadn’t left us.”
* * *
Back at my flat I checked in briefly with Detective McTate, only to hear a toilet flush and then Fong tell him they had caught a new murder. Since it wasn’t about me I didn’t particularly care. I turned to Brent and Dominic. I needed to set in motion the moves required to get close to them.
Brent was going to be easy. I went into the bedroom and laid out a pretty silk top and a bra. I then allowed the shift to take place. Soon Lilith was looking out of the mirror at me. Jet black hair tumbled to my waist and covered my unnaturally firm breasts. Silver eyes gleamed and my skin was almost marble white. I lifted a strand of hair and wondered if my avatars would go grey when I did. I dressed, grabbed my cell phone, and snapped a selfie.
I joined one of the dating sites frequented by Brent and gave him a wink. I got back a response in seconds. There was no danger my female avatar would be recognized by a guy who worked construction for me. We chatted, and he tried to be sexy and debonair but only ended up seeming pathetic. We agreed to meet for a drink the next night. I hated to delay but it seemed unlikely that a woman as beautiful as Lilith would be eager enough to meet this sad loser right away.
I returned to Austria, booted up my laptop, and located Dominic playing on-line poker. I lurked and watched. Dominic was not having a good night … probably because he wasn’t very good. I am a decent poker player on line, but superb when there are actual cards involved. Cards that I can manipulate. Meaning I can cheat. I would have to consider if there was a way to draw Dominic into a real game.
I next sent emails under my own address to both men, requesting they come to my office tomorrow morning at 9:00 and at 10:30 so I could get their statements. Then I teleported back to the Manhattan Oakwood.
At that point I was exhausted, and still felt the stink of the precinct even on my Lilith body. I took a long hot shower and crawled into bed. I contemplated shifting back to my normal form, but it makes my joints ache if I change too many times in a day. I had been Ilya, me, back to Ilya, me, and now Lilith. I decided to sleep as Lilith and let the dawn do the work for me. I might be able to sleep through the discomfort of the change.
The top sheet rubbed against my nipples, stiffening them and sending a flare of heat to my groin. Apparently my imperfect body was horny. I considered masturbating, but I found it harder to get the female body to respond, especially when I was distracted. Bringing Lilith to climax was like playing a violin. When I was Ilya I just needed to grab hold. Being a hermaphrodite my vestigial dick is nothing to write home about, so I usually use my uber male form to find release and relief. By the time I had considered all these ramifications I found myself drifting off to sleep and the “romantic” moment had passed.
* * *
The next morning, clutching coffee and nursing a headache, I sat in the back of the limo heading to the office. We had just pulled up to the building when my phone rang. It was the manager at the Oakwood informing me the cops had arrived with a search warrant.
I told him to let
them, then instructed the driver to take me back to the apartment building. I arrived just in time to hear Fong grouse, “This guy has about as much personality as a piece of fucking cellophane.”
“I’m British, what did you expect?” I said.
McTate was just pulling off his gloves. They gave a sharp snap from the force of the pull, the only indication that he might be irritated. “It is a little unusual for a place to look like a hotel room,” he said mildly.
“My wife and I separated a few months ago—”
“Kicked your ass out, did she?” Fong snorted. “Can sure as hell see why.” I almost told him that I had left them, but forced back the words, angry that I had allowed the man to get under my skin.
“Do you think she’d be okay with us searching her place?” McTate asked.
“I’m certain she would not object.”
“There’s no computer here,” Fong said.
“No. I spend enough time on a computer during the day. I leave work at work. When I’m home I read.” I gestured at a pile of library books on the coffee table. “And I watch football—you know, real football—and cricket.”
“You’re a magician. Where’s your equipment?” McTate asked.
“A full show requires quite large props. They’re all in a warehouse in Oxford.” I gave Fong a smile. “That’s in England.”
“Keep it up, asshole. You won’t be smirking when we nail you,” the cop growled. I gave him another smile.
“May we take a look at your phone?” McTate once again, very humble and very polite.
“No. You need a separate warrant for that, also for my work computer.”
The cops left. While I was locking up the manager approached. “We provide corporate housing for upscale clients. We don’t need this kind of trouble.”
“Am I being evicted?”
“We’d prefer that you make other arrangements.”
“Fine. Expect to hear from my lawyer.” He didn’t like the sound of that, but also didn’t suggest I stay on. My headache intensified. The day was just getting better and better, and tonight I had a date with a particularly unprepossessing man who also happened to work for me. For a moment I was shaken with a desire to call Niobe and ask if I could stay with her.