I couldn’t tell where I was as I looked around the crowd and saw only vague silhouettes of buildings. Everybody’s faces were blurred and indiscernable. The crowd then moved like an ocean, curving from side to side before parting completely. Through the parting came a large ceremonial Chinese Dragon, dancing like I’ve never seen. It was made of all the typical costume material; bamboo, cloth, and paper, though there were no performers moving it from below. I observed at least twenty joints among the entire cosume, and was in awe at how elegant it moved, far more than I’ve ever seen with performers. In the air it seemed weightless as it floated and moved like a snake towards me.
Chinese New Year.
The Dragon roared while it danced towards me. It lifted its head and prepared to lunge, but was tackled by a large blur in front of me. Claws and teeth tore into the Dragon’s paper flesh, and wooden splinters sprayed in all directions. The Dragon couldn’t fight back as pieces of human organs and limbs spilled out of the torn holes within its paper flesh.
The brutality felt like it lasted for hours on end as I couldn’t do anything but watch.
When the Dragon fell, its silken head landed upon a pile of guts and splintered bamboo. That was when the blur shifted and I saw the Wolf’s head. It looked me with one blue eye and one gray eye, its fur bright red and dripping, its amorphous form stepping slowly towards me.
I tried with all my strength to move, my heart raced, my body chilled to the bone.
The Wolf stopped within an inch to my face and opened its mouth. Blood poured from its mouth and streamed from its eyes.
I awoke in a cold sweat, ready to tear apart the first thing I saw. When I realized it was a dream, I looked down at the bed’s aluminum railing. My hands gripped around it so tight it made imprints in the metal. I got up and went to the window in the tiny kitchen, my head pounding with every step. I lifted one of the blinds and peered through, looking passed the red neon sign just a few yards away. Still dark.
I flipped open the luggage bag, and threw on some clothes and a leather jacket. I needed to clear my head.
New York’s Chinatown was a lot quieter than I was used to, which I didn’t mind at all. It was good to be able to hear myself think and not have to resort to the spirit world every night. Be that as it may, I still needed to seek a way in.
I peered through every other alleyways to see how much people strived to survived, dozens of the impoverished huddled in whatever fire pit they could get going.
I searched the streets for about ten minutes to find a locus. I stood at the entrance to an antique shop, looking at a small set of wooden whindchimes. I couldn’t help but chuckle at the appropriateness of it, given the fact that the umbra tends to appear like I’m in the past, despite the distortion.
Although the open streets seemed devoid of people and prying eyes, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being watched. The looked up at the apartment complex built on top of it. Maybe the Gauntlet was thin up there too. I noticed the alleyway next to the building was empty, but I figured the roof would have a much less chance of being seen by a wandering civilian.
I entered the alleyway and went up the fire escape, careful not to make too much noise as the metal stairs creaked and jangled with every step. As soon as I made it to the roof, I checked the Gauntlet again.
Good, still thin.
For a few minutes, I concentrated, bringing my spiritual aspect to the forefront. Soon, the physical world faded like one of those slow film transitions, only a lot slower. The scent of the city began to face with it, the new smell slightly more rustic.
The Umbral side of Chinatown looked like I was sent back a few decades. The newer, modern building designs were gone, reverted back to their previous materials. I looked over the edge of the building. The sidewalks looked more plain and roughly constructed. Neon signs were gone, metal and wooden signs took their places. I could hear faint sounds of wooden carts rolling along the pavement, people conversing in Mandarin over various things. I scanned the area and saw various spirits, though I didn’t see any other Uratha about.
Until one stepped up to the ledge of the building next to mine. Still in his human form, he looked young, maybe late teens, early twenties. He didn’t seem to notice me as his gaze was cast down to the street. I figured he was looking down and admiring the view, but then I saw him raise his arms up like your stereotypical jumper would do before letting gravity do the rest.
I didn’t want to assume anything and jump to conclusions, pardon the pun, before I had a chance to talk with him.
I carefully made my way over to him, jumping over the gap to the building he stood on. He looked over to me when I landed on the roof he was on. There was maybe 30 feet of space between us when he noticed me. I could see the look of sadness on his face.
“Hi,” I said.
His eyes diverted back to the streets below. “Go away.”
“My name’s Fank.”
“‘Fraid I can’t do that. What’s your name?”
“If you think you can talk me out of jumping, it won’t work. Sure, people like us could probably survive a fall this high, but if I hit the pavement just right…Splat!” He laughed nervously. The way he spoke, I could almost make out hints of second thoughts.
“I’m not a psychologist or anything like that.”
“Yeah? What are you?”
“You mean like in CSI?”
I sighed. “Something like that.”
He let out another nervous laugh. “You’re early. Wait a few minutes, you can go to work.”
All this while, I was taking baby steps towards him, and already closed the gap between us by 10 feet. “At least tell me your name. You know us cops and paperwork. Just something I know I can fill out later.”
He glanced to an area behind me to my left before looking back at me. I didn’t see anything when I got here, but my gut tells me somebody must be hiding somewhere on this roof. I couldn’t hear any breathing, though, except for the faint hissing of the steamy a/c unit. Maybe a spirit or some sort? Either way, stopping this guy from jumping is more important.
He finally spoke up. “Name’s Chase. Now go away, will ya?”
“Why are you doing this?”
“None of your goddamn business!”
“Fair enough.” I got to the roof’s ledge and put my hands on the concrete guard “Do you mind if I sit here? I just want to talk to you.”
Chase shrugged. “I guess. Just don’t try nothing.”
“I understand. Believe me.” I hopped up and sat on the roof’s edge. “You know, you’re not the first guy to think of this. Everyone’s got problems, especially with a shitty season like this one.”
“You don’t know shit!”
“Wrong, pal. You’re wrong.” I reach into my jacket and take out my wallet. “I almost tried this once, too. Seriously.” I opened up the folds and looked at the edge of a picture. My hand stopped when I pulled out the picture halfway. I hadn’t seen her face in quite a while, and just seeing her brought back painful memories. I noticed me hands shaking a little bit when I held it up to Chase.
“Wife?” asked Chase.
“Fiance.” I took another moment to stare at the photo again.
I put the photo back and put away the wallet. “She was killed. Murdered.”
“They ever catch the guy?”
“Yup. Got the death sentence.”
“At least your life got some closure.”
I looked up at Chase with a glare. “Closure? You think that just because the bastard got what he deserved, that’s going to make things all better? No. It won’t bring her back, it won’t make me forget the time we spent together, and it certainly didn’t make me happy. Not by a long shot.”
I stood up and took a step towards him. He took a step back. “Whatever fucked up shit you got going on, doesn’t mean this is the way to go about it. Do you understand, Chase? I chose to live and continue to do my job. All the things that happened, I still gotta live with that. I still choose to live with that. And while I’m still here, I’m still going to help people. That’s not just my job, it’s my life.” I held out my hand to him. “So what do you say? Let me help you? If it turns out I can’t, you can throw yourself off later. Hell, I help you.”
Chase took another look at the other side of the roof area and then to me. He t
I heard a hiss coming from behind me, both of us turned to face the sound. Up from the far side of the roof, behind the air conditioning unit, a large glob of a spirit rose up, it’s amorphic face curling itself into a snarl.
“Ghssssst! Damn you, interloper! How dare you ghssssinterfere with my emotion fea-ghsss-st.”
“Ardor?” said Chase. “What are you doing?”
“I’ve been trying to get thissss kid to jump for a while now, he was thisssss close to jumping, if you hadn’t ghssstepped in. It would have been ghssss-glorious!”
I should have known. “I had a feeling something was helping out.” I hopped to my feet and charged, going into my War Form. The spirit threw small blasts of steam at me, burning my flesh. I powered through the barrage to strike at the spirit as hard as I could. He put up a surprisingly good fight, but after a short exchange of blows, the spirit exploded into a large cloud of steam. It would seem manipulation was better than his hardiness.
When the fight was over, I looked over to Chase to find he was long gone. What the hell was that all about? I looked over the burn marks on my skin from the steam. Not life threatening, but will certainly take a couple hours of healing.
I made my way back to the streets when I heard a voice from the antique shop.
“That was impressive!”
I turned around and was met with a spirit near one of the items behind the display window. A statue of Buddha. “I hate seeing today’s youth in such a depressive stupor. They have much to deal with, and shouldn’t commit to such shortsighted decisions. I liked how you talked him out of it, especially since that other spirit put such an influence on him. Tell me something, did that story you told ring true? Or was it something you conjured up to tell people thinking of jumping?”
I nodded. “It’s true. I had the picture blessed so I could take it wherever I go.”
“And this murderer you spoke of. Did this person-”
I cut him off right there. “Is there a point to these questions? I’m not exactly in the mood to talk much right now.”
“Not really, I’m just curious. But you are right. The reason I’m speaking to you is I thought I would like to bestow a gift to you.”
“A gift? Don’t you need some kind of chiminage for that?”
“Already been done, my boy,” said the spirit. “Just witnessing such a sight was good enough for me. You possess potential for conversing with others, and this gift I have will help you in choosing…The Right Words.”
I spent what early morning I had left in the umbra before going to work, not able to catch sight of any other Uratha. Just as well, it would be nice to get to know the place before possible territory disputes happen, I suppose.
I took the bottle of scotch from the table and set it on the of the fridge. I again looked over the two files I swiped from the office, sipping on a somewhat fresh cup of coffee. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get more from these files that I already have, at least not in terms of coming up with theories. Nobody was written down as having known the victim. I needed more information, and right now my only lead were where one of the victims, Larry Po, lived. The other victim had no listed address.
As soon as I got in, I saw Lee and Fiona chatting.
“Hey, Frank,” said Fiona. “You look better like that.” She pointed to my simple shirt and jeans combination.
“She’s right,” said Lee. “Suits don’t look good on you.”
“Gee, thanks.” I said. “I thought I looked all right.” Really, I did.
Both of them went “meeehhh”, and I rolled my eyes.
“So, Captain wanted to see you when you got in,” said Lee.
Swell. “Did he say what about?”
“Just that he wanted to see you, and only you.”
The Captain was in the middle of slamming his phone on the desk when I got in. “About time you got in.”
After the ear-full I got from him the other day, I didn’t say anything.
Captain Gaska just stared at me. “…‘And a Good Morning to you, Captain. How’s the ex-wife and kids?’ Oh, they’re fine, the kids. The ex-wife’s a pain in my ass, but thanks for asking anyway! How are you this morning?”
I spoke up. “Uhm-”
“Shut up! And sit down.” He continued as I took a seat. “As I understand it, Lee’s a good way through with sorting those files. So, I’ll be moving your ass onto something else. One of my Detectives, Chris Topher, was investigating a robbery and hit a dead end. I need an extra set of eyes on this case, so go see him when you leave here.”
“May I make one request?”
“Do you think you’re in such a position to make requests, Marlowe?”
“Just hear me out. I will help with this case, because you told me to. But as soon as this one is finished, I would like to work on a murder case gone cold. It involves a tattoo I noticed on the victims as well as on a couple of people around town.”
“Is is that case that had you manhandling civilians the other day? Are you out of you’re damn mind, thinking I’m going to let you try something like that again?”
“Maybe I am, sir, but the fact remains that I think there’s something more to those two than it looks, and nobody put two and two together since they were separate incidents done by different detectives. At the very least, I’ll be working on a case that will be out of your hair, and you won’t need to see me again until you awant to. What do you say?”
Gaska hesitated as he glanced to his desk. Apparently, my new Gift was working, because he looked like he was pondering. After a moment, he looked back up at me. “I’ll think about it. Right now, you focus on helping Topher and only that. You got me?”
“Absolutely, Captain.” For some reason, I thought about trying to repair the beginning of the conversation. “By the way, how are the kids?”
That didn’t help. “Get the fuck out of my office!”
“Right away!” I was out in a split second.