Authors: Robert J. Crane
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Contemporary, #Paranormal, #Urban
Out of the Box, Book 1
Robert J. Crane
Out of the Box, Book 1
Copyright © 2014 Midian Press
All Rights Reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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Dedicated to my wife, who somehow always believed my potential was limitless.
Two Years Later
The alley smelled of blood and fear, the stench and signs of death spread all over the red brick. It was a backstreet in Chelsea, a barely passable gap that wouldn’t have qualified as an alley in America. A car might have been able to squeeze through, but only one of the smaller models that were popular in London.
London. Again. I’d wanted to come back, but not like this.
I took another sniff of the smells drifting through the alley. Blood was the easiest to identify. I had a lot of experience with blood. I had a lot of experience with fear, too, but the smell of fear I scented here was different. The sort of thing you’d catch in a toilet, if you get my meaning. Each step I took, my heavy boots thumped on the cobblestones.
I passed under the yellow crime scene tape as though it was something I did every day. It wasn’t, but I had done it enough to not even feel the thrill of unease or anticipation anymore. From just the smell of this place, I could tell it was going to be messier than the stuff I was usually called in to consult on.
I rounded the corner into a narrower space, a dark offshoot of the alley that was even smaller and more foreboding than the one I’d followed thus far. There was a man waiting for me just around the corner, wearing a tan trench coat to protect him against the April chill. He had a mess of light brown hair that was styled in such a way that I knew he had either spent an abundance of time on it or almost none at all.
“Ms. Nealon, I presume?” He spoke with a British accent, of course. He looked to be in his late twenties or early thirties, and was tall enough. He was a wearing a white dress shirt with the tie just a little loose around his neck. He wore his trousers pretty well, I had to say, even from the front. He rested his hands on his hips expectantly, standing sentinel in the middle of the narrow passage.
“I’m Sienna Nealon, yes,” I said, giving him a short nod. I wasn’t really in the mood for pleasantries, but for him I made an almost unconscious exception.
He gave me a beautiful smile, and I felt my patience growing by the moment. “I’m Detective Inspector Matthew Webster.” He offered me a hand, which I stared at only for a moment before I shook it quickly and without ceremony. “If you’ll follow me?”
“Sure,” I said, following him. I’m not much for gawking, but I was cursing his trench coat every step of the way.
“Delivery man found the remains early this morning,” Webster said. “He actually walked around the scene for quite a while before realizing there even was a body. Trudged through carrying fresh produce into the restaurant’s rear entrance here.” He gestured to a solid steel door built into the wall.
“Okay.” I listened to his commentary as I trailed behind him. I rubbed a hand over my face and stifled a yawn.
He glanced back and caught me before I could finish covering my mouth. He gave me a brief look of contrition. “I suppose they woke you in the middle of the night to get you over here so quickly.”
“Caught me about an hour after I’d turned in, yeah,” I said, trying to shake the sleep out of my head. I gave him a tight smile. “It’s not unusual, though. Go on.”
“Right.” He turned and kept walking, just a few more feet to what I assumed was the scene. I didn’t see much, but the blood smell was more pronounced here. “We found the largest part of him here.”
“Part?” I asked. I hadn’t exactly gotten a ton of information before I’d flown over. “So, the victim was in pieces?”
Webster looked at me, lips pursed as he concentrated. “What exactly did they tell you?”
“Almost nothing,” I said, stifling another yawn. “State Department called my agency, requested me for some sort of murder investigation that you boys in the Met had cooking. They call, I go.” That’s the way it was. The way it had been for two years now, moving at the beck and call of the U.S. government.
“They really didn’t tell you anything?” Webster looked a little pained. He kind of had angel eyes. His empathy was touching.
“I get called all over the place, and I’m rarely told anything until I’m there,” I said with a shrug. “Hazard of the job.” Or at least it was nowadays.
“I suppose there aren’t many people with your particular set of skills at this point.”
I looked him right in the eye. “There aren’t any.”
“Right. I suppose,” Webster said, averting his eyes. “So, yes, we have a body. The commissioner called your State Department for a different reason than you think, though—”
“So this isn’t a metahuman crime?” That was my job, policing the people who had powers beyond those of normal humans. Usually my jurisdiction was limited to the United States, though. I’d only consulted with foreign governments a few times.
“Well, we think it might be,” Webster said, bobbing his head slightly left and right as he answered.
The alley was empty save for the sick smell and us. “You already moved the body?”
“Couldn’t leave it out,” Webster said. “We assumed that you’d be the better part of a day arriving, so the scenes of crime officer already cleaned up and did their work.” He flashed that smile again; I still liked it. “Imagine my surprise when you show up four hours after the commissioner made her call.”
“It would have been less, but your government made me land in an empty field north of London and ride in via car,” I said, staring at the crusted brick on the wall next to us. I glanced at the heavy steel door at the back of the restaurant, noticing hints of blood here and there throughout the scene. “So, the body… how many pieces?”
Webster blanched. “A lot. More than I’ve ever seen.”
“That’s messy,” I said and knelt next to one of the spots of blood that had already dried. “Victim’s name?”
“Maxwell Llewelyn,” Webster said, and he squatted next to me. I felt a cold, clammy chill run up my spine that had little to do with the London weather. “Sound familiar?”
Shit. “Yeah, I knew him.” I couldn’t place the face, but I remembered the name. “He was a meta, all right.” One of us, we few who remain.
“We gathered as much,” Webster said, looking quite comfortable squatting down next to me. His coat dragged on the alley floor. “Checking up on him, we found his travel arrangements to America a couple years ago. Seeking sanctuary from what happened when you lot had that crisis—”
“Yeah, he was one of a group I tried to protect during the war,” I said. Webster blinked when I said it. Most people didn’t think of what had happened as a war. Then again, most normal humans didn’t even know it was happening until it was already over. I let my finger drift over the blood that caked the ground, watched it flake at the tip of my finger.
“I’m a little surprised he ended up dead in an alley,” Webster said. “Aren’t your people supposed to be stronger, faster, all that?”
“We are,” I said. “Some of us are stronger and faster than others. Max was low on the power scale. Not much of a fighter, either. We had him doing secretarial work until he and the others decided they’d rather hunker down and hide from the rest of the war on their own.” I stood, leaving the blood behind. “I don’t know what I’m looking at here, other than a murder scene. Maybe it involved a meta as the killer, maybe not. A normal human could have overpowered Max, potentially, in a few ways—”
“Well, that’s actually not why we called you, either,” Webster said, breaking my concentration. I stared at him, at that chiseled jaw. “There’s a little more going on here than that—”
“Listen,” I said and ran a hand along the back of my neck. “I like to help as much as the next person, but my agency is a bit maxed out at the moment. Besides, I’m not the person you should be talking to on this.” I glanced toward the mouth of the alley and saw a hint of the grey day that waited out of the darkness. “There are a few metas over here who were closer to Max than I was. I’ll put you in touch with them. Maybe they can tell you what he was up to.”
“Why are you whispering?” he asked, leaning toward me a little conspiratorially.
I shrugged. “Because of the EU ban on metahumans in your countries.”
His eyes ticked slightly left, then to the right. “I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the UK isn’t doing very much to enforce that ban.”
I chuckled, humorless. “Then you’re the only ones who aren’t.”
He matched my chuckle with a low guffaw. “It’s a bit of that old American invention, ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ around here. Brussels went a trifle mad with sanctimony after that Italian incident. It was your brother who did it, wasn’t it?” He said it like
“My brother, yeah,” I said, peering back at him. It wasn’t exactly a secret, since that little incident had been reported on every major news station in the world, and my name got dragged into it even though I’d been safely at home, in Minneapolis, at the time.
“Anyway, we’ve had more than a few barneys with Brussels from things like bends in bananas to whether inmates have the right to vote, though, and I reckon one’s coming up about their stance on metas.” Webster shifted, pushing his hands down in his pants pockets, elbows out. He was a wonderful specimen, standing like that, a crusader for justice and whatever.
“That’s a nice blow for equality,” I said, almost yawning. “Still, I don’t think I can help you with Max. I’m not much of a detective, and I only knew the victim in passing. Like I said, I can put you in contact with a couple of people over here who worked with him in the past.”
Webster made a
noise. “By any chance, are you talking about your friends Janus and Karthik?”
I blinked and felt a slight chill. There was a chance he could have picked those names up off the same list that he’d found Max on. “Yes. Why?” A chance.
“Ah, well,” he said, shifting his attention back to the puddle of dried blood at our feet, “that’s why the commissioner called your State Department asking for you. See, their names did come up when we started looking into poor, bloody Maxwell here, but they’d already been brought to the attention of the Metropolitan Police weeks ago.”
“For what?” I asked, frowning. Janus and Karthik were many things, but criminals?
Well… not exactly.
“Missing persons,” Webster said, and he dropped his hands into the pockets of his trench coat, snugging it tight. “They were reported missing six weeks ago by another person on your sanctuary list—Rory Kilmeade—and we haven’t been able to ferret out a peep from either of them since.”
I let Webster give me a ride back to his headquarters in his car. It was one of those smallish British ones, might have been parked in the alley for all I knew. I stared out the rain-dotted window as he drove, mulling over what he’d told me.
Janus and Karthik were missing. One or the other would be suspicious enough, but both? And in the short span of time before an acquaintance of theirs turns up as a dismembered corpse? Beyond suspicious. There was a connection here, and the only thing troubling me was whether it had something to do with them being metas.
“Did you know them well?” Webster spoke into the silence. The only sound other than the engine and his smooth, British voice was the clicking of his turn signal as we prepared to make a right.
“Janus, yes,” I said. “Karthik, a little less so. I worked with them both for a while during the war, but Karthik left before the end.” The heat blew faintly out of the car’s vents. Janus…
… he’d stayed with us to the very end.
“Can you think of any enemies they might have had?” Webster said, wheeling the car to the right.
“I’m sure they had them,” I said. “But I don’t know who they might be, specifically.” With Janus, especially, the list could go on for pages.
rogues’ gallery, perhaps?” Webster said this with a smile.
If anyone else had been asking, it might have sounded smug and slightly asshole-ish. He managed charming, which was why I answered as sweetly as I could. “I don’t have much of a rogues’ gallery, I’m afraid.” Like that was a bad thing. I felt my face straighten into hard lines, and I looked back out my window. “They pretty much all ended up dead.”