The noontime sun beat down on me as I pushed my way through the squalling crowd of press and gawkers that had materialized just after the yellow police line had gone up to cordon off the alleyway. It was usually an ordinary, run-of-the-mill New York City alleyway, smooshed between two apartment buildings, but the yellow tape had a way of attracting attention. It was a pain to get through the press – cameras flashing, microphones shoving in faces – but I made it to the front and ducked under the police line.
One of the officers on ‘keep-the-press-out’ duty gave a start at my sudden intrusion, but calmed when he saw my badge. “Detective Nathaniel Chalker,” I said.
The officer nodded and motioned me down the alley, blocked off from sight by tarps that only made people more eager to know what was going on. “Right down there, sir. We’ve already got ‘bout a dozen CSI techies going over the scene,” the officer said. “Detective Sumpter as well.”
Damn it, I thought. Sumpter was a plenty nice guy, but he wasn’t exactly the NYPD’s sharpest. It was a constant source of wonder that he’d ever become a detective. “Good, we should have this wrapped up in time for lunch,” I said.
The officer developed a bit of greenness behind the gills. He cautiously glanced at the press, then leaned closer to me to whisper, “I don’t think you’re going to want lunch after this.”
I could have read his thoughts or memories to find out what he was talking about, but I figured that would spoil the surprise. “You’ve seen it?”
“Half of it,” he said, grimacing. “The bottom half.”
I groaned. A weird case, as usual. “Just another day in the Big Apple,” I said, and walked down the alley.
The tarp concealing the crime scene crinkled as I pushed it to the side, and the smell of blood, like old iron, was heavy in the air. The first thing I saw was the corpse’s legs, and that was when I realized how much of a pain this was going to turn out to be. The legs looked like they would be found on a very large dog, complete with the hairy tail. The torso, however, was broad-shouldered and humanoid, with a head like a wolf, arms like a bear, and claws like a Halloween costume. Both halves of the body were wearing white spandex with silver trim, and if the torso hadn’t been face down, I would have been able to see the insignia on the chest of a snarling wolf inlaid over the full moon. He really didn’t need it; it wasn’t like people wouldn’t be able to recognize the superhuman vigilante called Howler.
I wondered why such a shapeshifter like Howler even needed a costume, before realizing that it was a moot question at this point.
“Chalky! So glad you could join us!” a familiar, annoying voice called out. I closed my eyes, mentally preparing myself for the biggest headache in the forensics department.
“Good morning, Lloyd,” I said, as the forensics technician slapped me on the back.
“Close! Twelve oh five!” he informed me, that stupid omni-present grin on his face. Forensics tended to attract a bunch of strange people, but none of them were like Lloyd, who tackled every corpse with a joie-de-vivre that went far beyond revolting. He was in his early thirties, his dark hair retreating up his pale scalp, but he acted like a teenager. “Messy one we got here, huh?”
“Yes, Lloyd,” I said. “So what’s the deal?”
“Well, in case you haven’t noticed, mister super-observant detective-man, we’ve got a dead super,” Lloyd pointed out. “Howler, lord of New York’s strays, hunter of the concrete forest, servant of the-”
He looked like he was going to keep going, so I took the liberty of getting the information from him directly. I directed my mind’s ear at Lloyd, and scanned his brain for the relevant information. I had a surgeon’s precision for reading minds, and was able to find it without disturbing any other memories.
The corpse had been called in this morning by a jogger. Forensics estimated time of death as being at some point between midnight and three a.m., judging by the coagulation of the blood pools. Cause of death, being cut in half, obviously. The cut was perfectly clean, and was being investigated for any metal residue to indicate the presence of a bladed object. Lloyd had eaten an everything bagel with cream cheese for breakfast, and for lunch he was thinking of grabbing some –
I stopped, having no interest in Lloyd’s lunch plans. “-full moon,” he finished.
“I know who he is, Lloyd,” I said.
“Yeah, who doesn’t? Did you see his interview on Conan last week?” Lloyd asked me, excited. I scowled at him, and he held up his hands defensively. “Okay, okay, clearly not a fan.”
Idiot. “Where the hell is Sumpter?” I asked, hoping to deal with someone who wasn’t Lloyd.
“Yo!” came the answer from behind me. I had been hoping to leave Lloyd behind to talk to Sumpter, but now it looked like I was the meat in an idiot sandwich. “Morning, Chalky. How’s it going?” asked Detective Charles Sumpter, a short man with a round, rosy face, took a sip of his coffee.
“Twelve oh seven,” Lloyd said, pointing at his watch. I ignored him.
“Good morning, Chuck.”
“I just said-”
I continued ignoring Lloyd. “How’s the wife?”
“Oh, the wife, she’s good,” Sumpter said. I didn’t even need to read his mind to know that he was lying, and a cursory scan told me that he was having marital issues. “But what a case, huh?”
“Seems fairly cut and dry,” Lloyd said, grinning. I glared at him, but Sumpter snorted. “Okay, jokes aside, estimated time of death is sometime between midnight and three a.m., looking at the coagulation at the edges of the blood pools.”
“No witnesses? No reports of any hubbubs in the area last night?” Sumpter asked as we investigated the body closer. I stood on the edge of the pool of blood surrounding the legs; the cut was perfectly clean. Looked like it had gone clear through the spinal cord with no resistance. A CSI tech took a picture, the camera flash brightening the wolf-man’s insides.
“None and none,” Lloyd answered.
“Looks like Slice’s work,” I mused. “Never seen anybody cut this clean before. Any metal particles found?”
“Let me check.” Lloyd turned his head to look down the alley at a techie going over Howler’s top half. “Yo, Tracy! Chalky wants to know if you’ve found any metal particulates!”
“Nothing yet, but I’m still looking!” was her shouted response.
“She said there’s nothing yet, but the search continues,” Lloyd reported. I prayed for salvation.
At the sound of a new pair of footsteps getting closer, I realized that I should have been more specific with my preferred source of salvation. I recognized the sound of those footsteps, the staccato pace and the pressure with which they clacked against the concrete. I didn’t even have to look up. “Good morning, Detective León,” I said. A moment later, I added a “Shut up, Lloyd,” before he could correct me.
“Detective Chalker,” said Detective Carmen León, casting her shadow over me. “Been a while.”
“Yes it has,” I said drily, straightening up. “A bit out of your precinct, aren’t you?”
Carmen León, an olive-skinned woman in her mid-thirties, stared flatly at me, her plain-featured face framed by her dark bob cut hair. “I’m here by the request of the commissioner,” she told me. “He wants every capable detective in the area on this case. Dead supers tend to make people nervous.” There was sharp determination in her brown eyes. She was a head shorter than me, but she could twist me up like a pretzel without even touching me.
I crossed my arms. “I think we’ve got this under control. Don’t we, Detective Sumpter?”
“Yesh,” Sumpter confirmed through a mouthful of doughnut. “H’lo, Carmen.”
“Hello, Chuck,” she responded, a brief smile appearing on her sharp lips. “So, Nate, are you going to let me help out, or will I have to call the commissioner?” She flared her nostrils twice; an old signal we’d shared in years past. I directed my mind’s ear at her. Nate, Wolfe was a friend and I want to help find out who killed him. Quit being such a dick and let me help.
“Then by all means,” I said, stepping to the side. “Come right in.” León and I had had a… strange relationship over the years. We’d graduated from police academy in the same class, became detectives at the same time, even spent a few years working together. Up until one day about six years ago, we’d worked well together, but these days our relationship was a lot like the Cold War. Both of us knew secrets about the other, leading to mutually assured destruction if either of us spilled the beans.
She smiled. It didn’t reach anywhere above her cheeks. “What’s the theory?”
“Howler got cut in half,” Sumpter said, pointing at the two halves of the body.
“Thank you, Chuck,” León said. She looked at me, waiting for a better explanation.
“Personally, I’d say it’s Slice’s handiwork. Can’t think of anything besides another super that could make such a clean cut through Howler’s hide,” I said, pointing at the wounds. “But there’s no signs of metal particles in the cut yet, so it may have been someone else.”
“Zephyr, maybe?” León suggested, crouching nearby the torso to watch Tracy work.
“Nobody’s seen her since Brainstorm beat the snot out of her in Grand Central back in April,” I told her, knowing that she knew that very well.
“Man, that was so cool,” Lloyd gushed, grin wider than usual. “I mean, I only saw the footage on Youtube, but I wish I could have been there.”
“So you could’ve seen how many tens of thousands of dollars in damages they caused?” I asked, very pointedly not looking at León.
“So I could see two hot chicks in spandex wail on each other. Duh,” Lloyd said. It constantly amazes me that he’s still a bachelor. “Have you seen Brainstorm? I swear, she could deflect bullets with that bu-”
“Any other signs of struggle?” León asked, rising from her crouch like she was spring loaded. How the hell do you work with this guy? she thought, knowing that I would be listening.
“No idea,” I said, answering both questions.
“Might have been placed here post-mortem, then,” León said.
“What makes you say that?” Sumpter asked.
“There’s nowhere near enough blood, for starters,” León said. “And if he had been cut in half, both his halves wouldn’t be so far apart, and the blood pools would be connected.”
“Maybe he was cut in half in, like, mid-air,” Lloyd offered, pantomiming how it would have looked with his hands. And sound effects.
“If that was true, the blood would be all over the place,” I said. “Unless we find some evidence to the contrary, let’s move forward assuming that Detective León’s theory is correct. Check the body for fingerprints. The perp may have gotten sloppy.”
“Might take us a while,” Lloyd said. “Spandex and all. Doesn’t hold the fingerprinting dust very well.”
“Just do it and keep us posted,” León said. “Catalog the rest of the scene, and get Howler’s body to the morgue. And don’t tell the press anything yet.” Nate, cough if you’re listening.
Wiseass. Invite me to lunch, say it’s for old time’s sake. We need to go to the deli and talk to Petros.
“León, while we’re waiting, care to finally buy me that lunch you owe me?”
I hate you so much. “Let me guess. Pete’s Deli?” she asked, a look of friendly aggravation on her face.
“Where else?” I asked.
“Pete’s Deli? At fifth and twenty-second?” Sumpter asked eagerly, and I caught whiffs of his imagination as he thought about Pete’s fare. My mind translated his imagination into sensory input, and it was like I could smell the smoky chicken myself. I closed my mind’s ear before I made myself hungry. “Mind if I tag along?”
“Yes,” we both said, on our way out of the alley.
I was the first to come out from behind the tarp, and immediately wished I hadn’t. I should have expected that she would be here, on the trail of a bloody, violent story like a vulture with a camera crew. As soon as she saw me, her face – very pretty, thanks to the hard work of half a dozen plastic surgeons – lit up, and I immediately snapped my mind’s ear closed.
“Detective Chalker! Detective Chalker!” she called out, leaning over the police line and stretching her microphone out as far as she could. “Detective Chalker, could you please comment on the rumors of a police cover-up on this case?”
“Your biggest fan,” León joked, grinning at my displeasure.
“I don’t know how the hell she finds me,” I cursed. “Just keep moving. If you don’t pay any attention to her, she’ll go away.”
We slipped around the edge of the crowd, but that damned woman shoved her way towards us like a professional football player, trailed as always by her cameraman and sound crew. “Gloria Gilman, channel seven news, Detective Chalker, can I have a few moments of your time?” she asked, an unnatural smile on her spray-tanned face. I had a suspicion that she was actually a very tall oompa loompa.
“No comment,” I said, which to her ears must have sounded like ‘please keep asking me questions’.
“What about the rumors of a super-on-human homicide? Has the victim been identified? Are there any suspects in custody? What does this crime mean for the city at large?” She was persistent, I’ll give her that. I was usually very good at dealing with reporters. I could anticipate their questions long before they asked them, determine what sort of answers they were hoping to hear, and then use that information to decide exactly which way to tell them to fuck off. Gloria Gilman, however, was a woman that I would not read the mind of, because she always pictured me naked when she talked to me.
I was fairly certain she was doing it right now; her nose was pointed at my face, but her eyes sure weren’t. “No comment,” I said again, my police cruiser already in sight. I retrieved my keys from my pocket and-
With my mind’s ear closed, I never saw it coming. León swooped in as soon as my keys were in sight and snatched them from me with the deft fingers of a pickpocket or a professional magician. “The NYPD will be issuing a statement as soon as we know more. As always, we would like to remind all citizens to maintain standard personal safety procedures, particularly in areas with heightened superhuman activity. Thank you and have a nice day, goodbye.” She smiled, unlocked the driver’s side door of my cruiser, sat down, and almost immediately started adjusting my seat.
“Detective Chalker-” The rest of her final question was muffled as I closed the passenger side door. She kept pace with the cruiser while León pulled out, and kept running after us as we zoomed away, making me grateful for León’s lead foot on the accelerator for the first time ever.
“It’s amazing that she can run that fast in heels that high,” León said, as my rear view mirror adjusted itself seemingly without any outside forces acting on it. A moment later, my radio clicked off, again without a single touch. “She’s still picturing you desnudo?”
“Always,” I said. “God, that woman is the bane of my existence.”
“Maybe you should ruin all her fantasies. Show her what you really look like naked,” she laughed, punching my shoulder.
“Maybe you should prove Lloyd’s theory that you can deflect bullets with your ass,” I shot back.
Carmen flicked a finger at me, and some loose change in the cup holder between us shot up towards my face. With Gloria Gilman now safely out of my range, I had opened my mind’s ear just slightly, and I caught her intentions a split second before the coins started flying. It was enough, and the coins hit my palm before they could hit my face. “Sometimes I hate how good I look in spandex,” she grumbled.
“There’s a very easy solution for that,” I said, dropping the thirty-seven cents in my pocket. “Stop wearing the stupid costume.”
Carmen groaned tiredly. “Didn’t even take you two minutes,” she said. “Let’s just get this argument done with quickly and move on with our day, okay?”
“Sounds good to me,” I said. “You are an attention whore who should stop parading around in colorful spandex, treating the city like it’s your own personal playground and causing outrageous amounts of collateral damage.”
“And you are a self-righteous prick who thinks he knows best and tries to force his viewpoint down the throats of anybody who makes the terrible decision of letting him talk uninterrupted for more than five minutes.”
“And we’re done. How’ve you been?”
“Fine. Had a run-in with the Rat King last night. He was planning on using his rats to steal the Cheesecake Factory.” The light was green, and we turned left. Overhead, a bodybuilder with a bright green cape flew past. “And no, I don’t mean ‘from’ the Cheesecake Factory. He wanted to kidnap all the chefs so they would reveal their secret method of combining cheese and cake.”
“Truly a devious criminal mind,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Let me guess, he got away, squeaking about how he’d ‘get you next time’?”
“That’s how it goes,” Carmen said.
“And that’s what you were doing around the time Wolfe was done in?” I asked, using Howler’s real name. It was honestly amazing that nobody had drawn the connection before.
“Yeah,” Carmen said. “Think it really was Slice?”
“I don’t know, honestly. Doesn’t really seem like something he’d do. That’s what we’re going to find out.”
Pete’s Deli was the sort of New York deli that you wouldn’t give a second glance to. From the outside, the only thing differentiating it from other businesses was the sign over the door, and the big posters in the windows proclaiming prices and specials. Through the front window, León and I saw the owner, Petros Ioannou, a large-framed, stocky man with arms like hairy tree trunks and a mustache like a push broom. He was on the receiving end of a conversation with an old woman at the counter, and didn’t notice us until the bell above the door jingled. He looked up to see us, and I could see the surprise on his face and in his thoughts. It was tough to understand his thoughts – all in Greek, his first language – but I could hear the ‘tone’ behind them.
There must have been something in the way we were holding ourselves that hinted we were there for business, because he quickly started trying to move the old woman along. He grabbed a handful of sliced roast beef, wrapped it up, and forced it into the old woman’s hands. “I hope this will be to your liking, ma’am, please come again,” he said with a faint Greek accent as we stood behind the old woman like we were waiting in line.
“But this isn’t what I wanted,” the old woman said, peering at the meat through her thick glasses. I heard Petros curse her in his head, and he grabbed handfuls of each sort of meat behind the counter, bundled them in paper, and dropped it all in front of her.
“One of them should be what you wanted,” he said, looking at us nervously. León was casually checking her fingernails for dirt. “On the house for one of my best customers.”
“Why, thank you,” the old woman said, sounding confused. How can I be his best customer if I’ve never been here before? I heard her thinking as she hobbled past me towards the door. It took her a minute, but finally she was gone, and the bell above the door rung out her departure.
Once the door was closed, the lock was clicked shut by an unseen hand. León was still checking her nails. “Hello, Pete,” I said, all smiles. “How’s business?”
“León, Chalker. Been a long time since the two of you have walked through that door together,” Petros said, his hands on the counter. “I get the feeling you’re not here for lunch.”
“Not right now,” León said, keeping her eyes on Petros’s hands. “We’re here to ask you a few questions.”
The ‘tone’ of Petros’s thoughts was uncertain. “You mean you’ll ask me the question and Chalker will read my mind?”
“Yeah,” I said, standing across the counter from him. “What were you doing last night?”
It was like telling someone not to think about purple elephants. My question instantly brought his memories of last night to his mind, and I was treated to a highlights reel. After closing up the deli for the night, he had gone upstairs to his apartment, had dinner, and watched TV until falling asleep while watching a talk show that he couldn’t remember. “It wasn’t him,” I reported.
“What wasn’t me?” Petros asked. “Did something happen last night?”
León and I had a silent conversation, and quickly came to an unspoken agreement. “Howler was murdered last night,” León said.
Petros’s bushy eyebrows shot up in what I knew was sincere shock. “Howler’s dead?” he repeated, stunned.
“Sliced in half,” I said, being very particular about my word choice.
“And you thought I did it? In six years, have I so much as harmed a fly?” Petros asked. He was being sincere; as Slice, Petros was a small-fry supervillain. He wasn’t even evil, really; he only ever donned the spandex to let off some steam or get revenge for some petty grievance. His biggest accomplishment had been slicing his way into a bank vault to steal a few thousand dollars. Most of it was anonymously donated to small charities around the city, and he kept only five hundred dollars that the bank had refused to loan to him. He always followed the terms of the Evening Treaty, went to church every Sunday, and made the best pastrami on rye in the city.
“No, you haven’t,” León said. “But you understand why we had to make sure.”
“Wolfe, dead,” Petros repeated, obviously not liking the way the words fit together. “Such a shame. I hope you find whoever was responsible.”
He turned to the back, retrieving fresh cuts of ham and pastrami and dropping them on the cutting board. He outstretched his pinky on his right hand, and I watched as it flattened, stretched, gained a steely luster, and finally turned into the sharpest knife in the state. He went to work, his finger-knife cutting through the meat like it wasn’t even there. “He worked at that dog shelter on Ninth during the day, didn’t he?” Petros asked conversationally. “I think I might drop by there later with some scraps for the poor dogs, in his memory. He was a good man. Never roughed me up too bad when we tussled.”
“When was the last time you two fought?” León asked, part of her thoughts consumed by the sight of the ham.
“Must have been March, I think,” Petros said after a bit of thought. “I was going after those damnable food trucks that had been stealing my business. Wolfe showed up, kicked me around, then sent me home with my tail between my legs.” He laughed, and finished slicing the pastrami. “Because he could turn into a wolf-man, you see?”
“I got it,” León and I said.
“City won’t be the same without him,” Petros sighed, his finger returning to normal as he put two sandwiches together using the ham and pastrami. He still remembered our usual order. “Hasn’t been a super death in the city for years. Thought we had gotten past that.”
“We’ll figure out what’s going on,” León said, laying a ten and a five on the counter. “Keep the change, and let us know if you hear or remember anything.”
“Of course,” Petros said, placing the wrapped sandwiches in front of us. “Anything for my best customers.”
“That was pointless,” Carmen said as she drove, taking another bite of her sandwich. “Except for the sandwich.”
“It’s one less suspect,” I said, enjoying my own lunch. “Who else do we know that could cut Howler in half so cleanly?”
“Unless she’s back from LA, Zephyr’s out,” Carmen said, “And I doubt she would have done it anyway. She loved dogs. The Crimson Samurai?”
“His dad got sick a few months ago. He quit so he could take over the restaurant. I can’t think of any other villains who could have done it.” An idea had been bouncing around in my head for the past while, but only now did I choose to put it to words. “But what if it wasn’t a villain?”
Carmen’s glare could have cut me in half, just like Howler. “Are you suggesting that a hero could have done it?”
“Only a super could have done that to Howler, and I can think of a few of your vigilante buddies who could have pulled it off,” I said.
“We’re not vigilantes,” Carmen said, turning her glare away from me and back to the road.
“Fine, tourist attractions. Performance art. Flashy, attention-seeking show-offs. Any of those work for you?” I was being unreasonable, and I knew it.
“Nate, I swear to god-”
As if sensing the opportune moment to interrupt the argument, my phone rang. We both jumped a little bit. Giving Carmen one last sharp look, I answered it. “Detective Chalker.”
“Chalky! Guess what we just found!” Oh god, Lloyd.
“Fingerprints? Like I asked you to?” I guessed.
I waited for him to continue, but he didn’t. “Then what did you find?”
“Come on, guess again.”
“Lloyd, you can’t see it right now, but I am glaring at you. Quit it with the games and tell me what you found.”
“Okay, geez, get that baton out of your ass. So, we were just about to get the corpse ready to bring it to the morgue, but Tracy thought she’d give the cuts one last quick check. Found something she missed the first time, and get this…”
Half a minute later, our sirens were wailing, and we were racing back to Pete’s Deli.
The bell rung cheerily as we stormed into the deli once again. Petros looked back at us, in the process of slicing some lunchmeats, this time with a regular knife. “You’re back?” he said, questioning. My mind’s ear was fully directed at him, and I felt that he really was confused why we had come back. That confusion was becoming tinted with fear as he realized just how angry we were. “What’s the-”
His knife flew out of his hand at a motion from León. Another flick of her wrist, and Petros was slammed face-first against the counter, pressed down as if by some massive, invisible hand. “How’d you do it, Slice?” she asked, bringing her hand down on the counter an inch from his ear. He winced. “How’d you fool Chalker?”
“What?” Still confused, still afraid.
“We just got a call from forensics,” I explained, towering over him. “They found metal residue in Howler’s cut, and it perfectly matches what you left behind at the bank robbery. So, we’re going to ask you again. Did you kill Howler?”
“No!” Petros cried. “I was home all night! You saw! It couldn’t have been me, it – it must have been planted there! I’m would never have done it!”
“That’s what I’m going to find out,” I said, and placed my fingers on Petros’s temples.
I really, really didn’t like having to do this. It was different from reading Petros’s memories normally. More direct, more of a brute force approach. The closer I am to my target, the more I can get out of the mind reading. At around fifty feet, I can feel basic emotions. Thirty-five, and I can hear whispery thoughts. Twenty and I can hear conscious thought clearly. Ten and I can access memories. Physical contact, and I can read a mind like a book.
I needed to see more details about what Petros had done last night, and so I watched his memories again, paying much closer attention. Eight hours of memories only took me a few seconds.
After his last customer of the day, Petros had locked up the deli at the usual time. After storing his day’s earnings in the safe, he had gone upstairs to his small apartment. For dinner, he had enjoyed leftover beef stew. After that, he plopped down in his big old armchair to watch some television, aimlessly flicking through the channels in the endless search for something good to watch. He finally settled on a talk show, though he couldn’t remember which one, and slowly drifted off to sleep. In the morning, he woke up, got out of bed, took a shower, shaved (except for the mustache) with his own sharpened hand, and opened the deli for the morning rush.
All perfectly natural, but I had to make sure. I went through it again.
Final customer. Locking up. Beef stew. Channel surfing. Fall asleep in armchair. Wake up. Get out of bed. Take a shower –
It was so simple I almost missed it.
Petros had fallen asleep in his armchair, watching television. But he had woken up in his bed.
Either Petros was a sleepwalker, or something was very wrong.
I went deeper. Now that I knew what to look for, I could feel some difference in the texture of his memories before and after waking up. There was no doubt that he really had woken up in his own bed, but everything before that was slightly off. I followed the strange texture farther back, looking for the moment when it first appeared. Falling asleep. Channel surfing. Dinner. Closing the deli. Final customer. Hearing the doorbell jingle and looking up to see –
There. That was the exact moment that the texture changed. As soon as Petros looked up from his work to see his final customer of the day enter. In the odd-textured memories, he couldn’t quite remember what the customer had looked like. The face and the body were just an indistinct blur. But if my hunch was correct…
“Petros,” I said, out loud. “Somebody was messing with your memories.”
“What are you – talking about?” he grunted.
“Somebody’s planted false memories about last night in your head,” I explained. “I’m going to see if I can get around them.”
“What does that even mean?” León asked.
“Don’t distract me,” I warned, and pinpointed my focus on the exact moment when the falsified memories started. Trying to find a seam where I could slip under to see what was being hidden. I found it in his knife.
At the moment Petros turned to look, the shining surface of the knife caught the reflected image of the final customer before he could. The customer’s features were indistinct, but I had the weak point I needed. Using that reflection, I pushed, and got through the façade.
It hit me all at once, so hard it made me stagger backwards, releasing my hold on Petros’s temples. Shaking, I fell on my ass, feeling a cold sweat rising to coat my skin. “Oh god,” I uttered. “Oh, god.”
On the counter, Petros let out a keening cry. The façade had broken, and he’d seen everything that I’d seen. “I killed him!” he wailed. “I – I killed Wolfe!”
“What?” León shouted, and Petros cried out as she put more pressure onto him.
“Carmen, wait!” I said, clutching my throbbing skull. The memories were still parsing, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. Intense memories rarely are.
Central Park. Late. Petros begging for help, while his mouth refused to obey him. Howler, terror in his disturbingly-human eyes as he stood perfectly still. The order was given, the body obeyed. Petros’s arms, against his wishes, shifted into sharp blades below the elbow. In his mind, Petros screamed as his feet carried him across the distance to Howler, and his arm swung, biting into Howler’s midsection and carrying through without resistance. The blood, so much blood, spilling out over the tarps underfoot. Laughter, bright and horrible. Ordered into a van, dropped off in front of the deli. New orders. Clean up. Dispose of clothes. Go to bed. Forget this happened. You had a normal night. Orders carried out, while Petros screamed in his mind. A hot shower, blood down the drain. Clothes hidden in the depths of the dumpster out back. Head hitting pillow. Perfect oblivion.
It was like I was there in the flesh, feeling every sensation, every emotion. “He – he was used. Not the murderer, murder weapon. Some super. Mind control,” I said, unable to form full sentences yet. I delved deeper into the memories, forcing myself to keep going. I had to find a picture of the controller. I picked up traits piece by piece, fitting them together like a jigsaw puzzle.
Unnaturally blonde hair. Face stuffed with Botox. Plastic smile on red lips, like a Barbie doll. Skin coated in spray-tan.