It wasn't the most secure arrangement, but I didn't worry too much.
For one thing, my apartment was on the second story above Mrs. Browne's
Olde World Bakery. Mogwai's route to the screen porch involved a
series of feline acrobatics, dumpster to fence to porch, that I
doubted many humans could duplicate.
As for non-humans... well. Those who were my friends, I trusted.
As far as I knew, those who weren't didn't want much of anything
to do with me.
I slung my folding chair in the carrying case over my shoulder,
locked the apartment behind me and headed down the stairs into the
alley alongside the park. In the front of the bakery, there was
a line of tourists spilling out the door and down the sidewalk.
There always was this time of year. Most locals would avoid the
place until after Labor Day.
It was quiet in the rear of the bakery. That was where the magic
happened, but it happened in the wee hours of the night, after the
bars had closed and the last tourist had staggered home, before
the sun rose.
Cutting through the park, I headed for the river, dodging meandering
families pushing strollers, small children clutching ice-cream cones
that melted and dripped down their chubby hands.
It could be a pain if you're in a hurry, but I wasn't, so it made
me smile. I still remembered my first ice-cream cone. It was Blue
Moon, a single scoop in a kiddy cone. If you've never had it, I
can't even begin to describe it.
Truth is, for all its quirks and flaws, I love this town. I wasn't
born here, but I was conceived here. And when my mom returned here
four years later, a desperate young single mother with a half-human
child who couldn't manage to fit into the mundane world outside,
Pemkowet took us in.
Twenty years later, I'm still glad to be here.
My feeling of benevolent well-being persisted the entire two blocks
it took to reach the gazebo. The gazebo was perched in a smaller
park alongside the river. It was a fanciful structure of white gingerbread
wicker strung with white Christmas lights, dim in the still-bright
daylight. The band was setting up and a good-sized crowd had already
gathered, locals and tourists alike. The river sparkled in the sunlight.
It had its own unique smell, dank and green and a little fishy,
yet somehow appealing.
The hand-cranked chain ferry, its curlicued canopy also painted
white, was making its way across the river, the big chain rattling
as a pair of small boys hauled furiously at the crank, their efforts
encouraged by the amused operator in the best Tom Sawyer tradition.
I'd begged for a chance to turn the crank when I was a kid, too.
Beside the ferry landing, a massive weeping willow trailed an abundance
of graceful branches into the water. Beneath its green shadow, tourists
fed popcorn to the ducks, the adults hoping for a glimpse of something
more eldritch and exotic, the children delighted to settle for greedy
Life was good. A vast affection filled me, making me feel warm
and buoyant. I held onto the feeling, willing it to last.
The moment I caught sight of Jen, it fled, leaving me feeling as
shriveled as a pricked balloon. Envy rushed in to fill the empty
space it left behind.
I'm okay with being cute, honest. I shouldn't complain. I recognize
the fact that there's a certain irony in it. On a good day, I can
aspire to pretty.
Jen's pretty on an ordinary day, and on a good day, she can aspire
to gorgeous. She's got that perfect Mediterranean coloring with
dark hair and olive skin, and she's one of those girls who always
looks sort of glossy. When we were both teenagers, my mom said she
looked like Phoebe Cates in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I'd never
heard of the movie, which shocked Mom, so she rented it from the
library and we watched it together. We watched a lot of TV and videos
together, Mom and I. Turns out it was a pretty good movie, and she
Jen was having a good day, in part because the light was hitting
her just so, and in part because she was flirting with a guy who
obviously found her attractive, mirroring it right back at him.
A guy I knew.
In a small town, practically everyone knows one another. When you
combine the entire population of Pemkowet, East Pemkowet and the
outlying township, it's only about 3,000 people. Between the tourists,
the cottagers and the boat-owners, that triples during the summer,
but they don't count in the same way people you went to high school
I not only went to high school with Cody Fairfax, I worked with
him at the Pemkowet Police Department, where he was the youngest
patrol officer on the force and I was a part-time file clerk. Or
at least that's what I'd started out as. I did a lot more behind
the scenes, but that was mostly between me and the chief.
Unfortunately for me, I had a whopper of an unrequited crush on
Cody Fairfax, currently lounging on a blanket at my best friend's
feet, propped on his elbows, legs crossed at the ankles. Unfortunately
for him, I also knew exactly what kind of closet case he was. When
it came to women, he had a reputation for being a player that he'd
earned fair and square, but there was a reason behind it, and it
wasn't fear of commitment.
Cody was afraid of being found out.
Envy and anger, two of the Seven Deadlies. I could feel them coiling
deliciously in my gut, wanting to rise and consume me. I had to
be careful with that sort of thing, especially anger. When I lost
control of my temper, things... happened. With an effort, I made
myself envision the emotions as a glass filled with roiling liquid,
and imagined myself emptying it slowly on the ground.
Bit by bit, my mood eased.
While the band tuned their instruments, I picked my way through
the throng, unpacked my folding chair and plunked it beside Jen's.
She glanced over at me. "Hey, Daise! It's about time."
I made myself smile in response. "Yeah, sorry. I was hoping Mogwai
had forgiven me."
Jen laughed. "After you had him snipped? Not likely."
Cody acknowledged me with a studied casualness. "Good evening,
Miss Daisy Jo."
"Officer Fairfax." I shot him a covert glare. He raised one eyebrow
Members of the eldritch always recognize each other and we can
usually identify each other in time. Cody knew perfectly well that
I knew what he was. After all, in some circles in Pemkowet, it was
common knowledge. But the soothsayers aren't the only ones with
a code. There's a code of honor in the eldritch community, too.
You don't out each other. Everyone in town knew about me because
the story had gotten around when I was conceived, even before Mom
and I moved back here. It was different with the Fairfaxes. And
I wouldn't out Cody for spite or any other petty reason. I'd catch
some serious flak if I did, and his reclusive clan was rumored to
be pretty dangerous, too. But that didn't mean I was about to let
him work his wiles on Jen. She'd had a hard enough life.
I just wished he wasn't so damn good-looking and that I didn't
have a crush on him.
I couldn't help it. For me, it went back to the fourth grade. Cody
was in the seventh grade, and we rode the school bus together; me
to the mobile home community alongside the river out in the marshy
sticks where Mom rented a double-wide, him to his clan's place out
in the county woods.
There were bullies on the bus, and if I wasn't exactly afraid of
them, I was afraid of the reaction they might ellicit from me. They
had heard the rumors. They made it a point to pick on me.
Cody made them quit.
It was as simple as that, and I'd been infatuated with him ever
since. Even through his transformation from a promising young JV
basketball star to a semi-dropout loser and alleged stoner, through
his myriad high-school-and-after conquests, none of which ever lasted
longer than a month or two, and through his surprising rebirth as
an officer of the law.
Once, he had protected me. It was enough.
"Ladies, I should be going." Uncrossing his legs and hoisting himself
from propped elbows, Cody rose to his feet. He did it in one effortless
movement, the kind you might expect of someone who had been a JV
basketball star. Or, say, a feral someone who occasionally howled
at the moon and turned into something wild, untamed and bloodthirsty;
possibly quite furry. "I'm on duty tonight."
I glanced surreptitiously at the sky, where a crescent moon hung
pale in the fading cerulean. The chief and I had never discussed
it, but I was pretty sure he scheduled Cody for patrol duty very,
"Call me?" Jen asked hopefully.
Cody's gaze slide sideways toward me. He had light-brown eyes speckled
with gold, a distinctive topaz color. There was a hint of phosphorescent
green behind them that only I could see. "We'll see."
He left, and the locals in attendance retreived various prohibited
adult beverages they'd hidden from his view.
"Jeez!" Jen muttered under her breath. "Call or don't call, but
you don't have to be a jerk about it." She paused. "Do you think
I shrugged. "I guess we'll see."