by Lewayne L. White
Part 1 and Part 2|
appear in this issue.
The room was dark, and I instinctively reached for my gun and pocket flashlight.
“Over here,” her voice said from the nearby window. The slightly opened slats let in moonlight, but not much of it.
“Why’s it dark?”
“I didn’t want you to see me before I explained.”
I wasn’t putting my gun away until I found out what was going on.
“I- I haven’t always been beautiful,” Swan said. “In fact, I’m not really beautiful at all.”
Oh, great, I thought. Now I have to soothe her.
Swan switched on a small lamp.
The woman standing before me vaguely resembled Swan, but shorter, softer, and with some actual color to her. Her hair had become dishwater blonde, and her skin had suddenly developed a few acne scars. Her eyes were now as brown as mine, and her fingernails looked severely chewed.
I kept my pistol in a relaxed but ready position.
“Who are you?”
She paused to put on glasses, then said, “I’m Swan. Or, I’m the thing that becomes Swan.”
“You’re not a thing. You’re a woman.”
“But not a beautiful one.”
I shrugged. “I admit you don’t do much for me. But I prefer men with mustaches.”
Swan smiled slightly. “You’re so funny. I bet lots of men like you.”
I holstered my pistol. “I wouldn’t say lots.”
She said nothing, and I added. “The vitamins must be potion capsules.”
“Do you know what it’s like to be ugly?”
She raised a hand. “Don’t. I can see in a mirror.”
“Where I come from, there’s a condition some people have-”
I paused, remembering a best friend from years ago. Then I spoke again, to avoid thinking about what happened to her.
“This condition makes you see yourself differently than you really are.”
Swan shook her head. “But I know I’m ugly. He always told me-”
“Who always told you?”
“My step-father. He said I was ugly, and no one would want me.”
“And he always told me how pretty Moonie was.”
Swan turned and walked toward the window.
She stared out through the slatted blinds, and said, “I always tried to protect Moonie. I did everything I could to make our step-father pay attention to me.”
“Moonie’s your brother?”
Swan nodded. “He was always such a pretty little boy, and-”
Swan shivered, and I realized she wasn’t entirely in the room with me. “I had to protect him.”
“We ran away a lot. And they took us away from our mother and wicked step-father. And eventually, we ended up with Madame Chain.”
“She adopted you?”
“She’s our fairy godmother.”
“Is she the source of the potions?”
Swan shook her head. “Gingerbread.”
Swan nodded. “He knew someone who knew someone who was looking for someone to try the potion. It worked on me. It made me beautiful, and then people loved me.”
Swan swung around to face me. “Do you know what that’s like? To finally be beautiful, and be loved.”
I shrugged. “My family always loved me. Even when I had green hair, dated bad boys, and got this tattoo of- Well, never mind the tattoo.”
Swan blinked. “Is green hair unusual where you’re from?”
“Never mind that, either,” I said. “What are you getting at, Swan?”
“Now, I’m lost.”
“The DUCKlings. I- They- I’ve begun to wonder if I’m doing the right thing.”
“You’re having doubts about being Swan. Is that it?”
She nodded. “Especially with the threats, and now Moonie...”
“When did you start getting these threats? Wait, let me try this a different way. Have you mentioned your feelings to anyone?”
“About not being Swan anymore?”
“I told Moonie, and he said that maybe it would be for the best.”
I raised my eyebrows. That wasn’t quite what I expected.
“Madame Chain. She thinks it might be a good idea, too. She really doesn’t like me taking potions she hasn’t made herself.”
That’s two, I thought.
“And who else?”
“Mr. Gingerbread, of course.”
Third time’s a charm.
“When, specifically, did you tell him?”
* * *
Dagan let me kick in the door of Gingerbread’s office.
I didn’t even have to beat him at “Rock, Paper, Scissors.”
Gingerbread was on the crystal ball, which worked well for us, because it happened to be with the guy who shot Moonie.
He jumped up, tried to run, and got as far as “Can’t catch me, I’m the Gin-” before I lobbed a chair at him.
He crashed to the ground, and I cuffed him very, very tightly, then dragged him out to the unmarked unit. Along the way, I read him his rights, and helped him up a couple times when he tripped and fell.
By the time we actually dropped him in an interview room for a chat, he’d have sold out his grandmother not to be left alone in a room with me.
So, I watched through the interview room magic mirror, while Gingerbread spilled it to Dagan.
Turns out Swan was Gingerbread’s only successful client, but she’d been bringing in enough money for him to live the good life.
“She told me she might quit taking the potion, quit the business. I couldn’t afford that.”
“She’s insured, right?” Dagan asked.
Gingerbread nodded. “If she’s injured or disfigured, it pays a fortune. Double if she’s killed.”
“You threaten Moon, too?”
Gingerbread snorted. “That little fruit. I just wanted him edgy. The way she babies him I figured she’d get careless, and my guy could get her.”
Gingerbread scowled. “Next time I hire a guild assassin. These freelance types-”
“I don’t think there’ll be a next time, Gingerbread.” Dagan said, stepping around the table to help the agent to his feet.
A smile formed on Gingerbread’s doughy lips. “You never know, pretty boy. Maybe I didn’t like how your partner treated me. I might-”
As near as anyone can tell, Gingerbread stumbled, fell, and banged his head on the table.
Two or three times.
“You’re a terrible influence,” Assistant District Attorney Candlestick said as we watched Dagan help Gingerbread to his feet.
“Must be from my association with a known criminal element,” I said.
Candlestick, a human who looked more like a keg than a candle, said, “I’m not here to discuss your relationship with Casey. I’m just here to talk to Gingerbread’s mouthpiece about how it’s in his client’s best interest to rat out the hit man.”
“My client isn’t talking,” said a raspy voice behind Candlestick.
We turned, and the puckered face of Algier Leech, attorney at law, met us.
“You’ve got nothing,” Leech said.
“I’ve got plenty,” Candlestick replied. “For once, one of your clients is going down.”
Leech snorted. “We’ll see about that...”
The two of them walked away speaking lawyer.
I sighed. I wanted a Purple Zombie and a nap.
Dagan approached. “I see the fine firm of Shark, Barracuda, and Leech is here.”
I nodded. “Candlestick thinks he’ll get Gingerbread to roll on the hitter. Leech thinks otherwise.”
“Couple wizards ran a trace on the crystal ball Gingerbread was using and we just picked up the shooter.”
“Anyone we know?”
“Some low-rent amateur, like Gingerbread said. No guild affiliation or representation, so he might flip on Gingerbread.”
I nodded, then said, “Did I ever tell you about my best friend when I was a kid?”
“You had a friend?”
“Shut up. I’m about to reveal something about myself.”
Dagan pulled out his notebook.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m reminding myself to mark this day on the calendar,” he said. “Please continue.”
I shook my head, grateful that Dagan was already taking the edge off the story.
I sighed, then said, “Her name was Lisa. When we were little, everyone would tell us how cute we looked. Then we got older, and everyone still called me cute.”
“But not Lisa.”
“No,” I replied. “Somewhere along the line, she became beautiful.”
“She started modeling. Long story short, she got bitchy, and then she got skinny, and then she got dead. But not before she got to experience prescription addictions, eating disorders, and starring in some amateur adult films.”
I shrugged. “I hated everything about her ‘new’ life. I hated the whole industry and everyone associated with it.”
I sighed. “Even Swan. I couldn’t get past her looks, and maybe that makes me as bad as the bastards that killed Lisa.”
* * *
Several days later, Dagan and I rode with Swan to the hospital to pick up Moon. His gunshot wound, though serious, had healed sufficiently to allow his release.
“I’m so nervous,” Swan said. “He hasn’t seen me like this in a long time.”
She hadn’t taken any magic potion capsules since the day Moon had been shot.
“You look good,” Dagan assured her.
“No, I don’t,” Swan replied.
Before I could disagree, she added, “I look like me, and I am someone special.”
After a pause, Swan looked at me. “I’m still not sure I believe that.”
“You keep spending time with the DUCKlings,” I said. “You will.”
Swan smiled. “They’ve been really great. I’ve met so many wonderful people... People who like me for who I am.”
I smiled back, surprising myself.
We arrived at the hospital, and Swan and I stepped out of the car.
“We’ll be back in a minute,” I told Dagan.
He nodded, and Swan and I started toward the revolving entrance.
“You know, Ace, I really-”
The glass of the revolving door shattered.
Reflexively, I lunged toward Swan, planning on throwing her to the ground.
But she was already falling, bright red flowers blooming on her chest and back.
I caught her, and sank with her to the ground. Cradling her, hands covering her wounds, I heard myself demanding that she not die.
* * *
I leaned against a wall outside the Witches of Mercy ER surgery. Dagan stood beside me, watching the Chief Surgical Warlock approach Bert Moon and Madame Chain.
“You gonna be okay?” Dagan asked, voice low.
I wiped my eyes, and tried not to look at the Rorschach blots of Swan’s blood on my clothes.
“Remember what I said about crime prevention and tidying up?”
“We’ll get the guy who did it,” Dagan said.
I nodded toward Madame Chain and Bert Moon, who had just gotten the word. Moon burst into tears, and after a moment, so did Madame Chain.
“Swan’s still dead,” I said. “Nothing we do is going to change that.”
Then I slid down the wall, sat on the floor, and cried.
Copyright © 2007 by Lewayne L. White