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Words... Sunstruck... Three Chapters

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Return to Sunstruck (Bigfoot Mysteries #1)

Sunstruck is an urban fantasy novel about Bigfoot living in Spokane, Washington. It's book one of the Bigfoot Mysteries. Here are the first three chapters of the book. More information about the book can be found on its information page.

Chapter One · Ari

Early Evening

There wasn't nothing in this part of Spokane, other than houses and more houses. Humans got a thing about surrounding themselves in walls, like it'd kill them to share their living space. Ain't sure why anybody would sign up for being alone like that.

Other than maybe TV, heating and all the hot chocolate you can drink. I guess it did beat waiting on a street corner.

A dog barked as somebody in a nearby house closed their curtains. I reckoned the dog thought I was loitering. I hoped its people wouldn't agree and call the cops. Biker gear wasn't the best for blending in. I also didn't like the tinted visor much. It was like wearing rose-tinted glasses, except it made the world dirty instead of better. But I'd been in a hurry and it was all I could find to borrow.

The light started to fade, along with any warmth. It was too early in spring to be real warm. My fur and clothes weren't enough to stop the wind cutting through. The bar was so much better. It got heating. Wasn't my choice though. Late afternoon, city council people came with an ID card and told me I'd got the job. The phone call from my new partner came in soon after.

I saw a flash of blue and sighed. The little blue jay landed on a mailbox. His feathers were rich blue on top. His white underside shone in the last sunlight. He tilted his head and chirped.

"Go bother somebody else." I scowled at him, then realized he wouldn't see it through the helmet anyway.

The jay chattered and flew off in the direction of Chief Garry Park. The park was about the only other thing out this way, and the reason I was standing here turning into an ice cube. I would've gone to the park direct, but my partner thought we should arrive together. More professional or something. I guess they do arrive together in mystery shows.

The phone call from my partner told me some things. He was called Ben and he got a red car. He'd told me some other stuff about the car, but I didn't care. They got wheels and go. That's enough for me.

A few cars passed, some of them red, all of them going too fast to be looking for somebody. My feet were going numb. Just before I lost all feeling in them, a red car came crawling down the road and stopped. The window slid down.

"Ari Smith?" the driver asked. I recognized Ben's voice from the phone. Less tinny for real, but it was obviously him.

"Yeah." I fumbled in my jacket pocket and got out my new ID. Even got a photo on it. Not me, of course. Some human guy with extra beard.

"Just to check…" He motioned to my helmet.

Like a human wanted my job. Anyway, not worth starting a fight over it. I checked there weren't any bystanders, then flipped the visor up.

He looked at me longer than he needed to see I was a bigfoot. The fur's the giveaway, so the details don't matter. Maybe he hadn't seen a bigfoot before. This was a new job for both of us.

I closed the helmet back up.

"Pleased to meet you." He didn't smile.

I figured if I said something, it wouldn't be polite, so I walked round and opened the passenger door. The car looked brand new inside. There wasn't even junk hanging from the mirror. I felt untidy just climbing in.

Ben wasn't much better. His suit was immaculate. He'd tied his black hair into a neat ponytail. It looked soft, but I figured if I was the first bigfoot he'd met, touching his hair might not go down well. Humans get the wrong idea and it wouldn't be so tidy after.

He started the car. We were only a couple of blocks away from the park, but I made the most of sitting in the warm. My feet tingled as they came back to life.

Foot crisis over, I took a closer look at Ben. I figured he was a migrant from the phone call. His voice got the hard edges of a migrant accent, not the highs and lows of a local. And they pretty much gave all the important jobs to migrants. The pale sort especially. But Ben wasn't pale and the shape of his face was wrong.

It was as good a conversation opener as any. "You local?"

"I'm from Wellpinit."

"That's yeah, right?" I thought he must be. I mean, I knew Wellpinit was in the reservation. Just wasn't sure why he'd be coy about it.

He didn't answer as he pulled in to park. I reckoned I was right. Accents can change, but people look how they look. Unless they try to magic up a new face anyway.

The cops came over to shoo us away, till Ben flashed his card at them. "We're from the Spokane Ecology Board."

"Detective Anders is waiting inside." The cop looked a little confused. Don't blame him. It'd be hard to figure why his boss would call us to a murder.

My helmet got some quizzical looks from the cops as we got out the car. Nobody said nothing though. I guess Anders told them not to hassle us.

The park was a grassy field with trees lining the edge. A dozen dogs had marked the park boundary. The last smelled fresh, so probably not long ago. Maybe walked by somebody pretending to be out with the dog, but really trying to get a look at the cops. Or the dead body. I'd never get the fascination with peering at dead things, only to decide it was traumatic afterwards. Why look in the first place if you're gonna cry about it?

Over all that, there was a faint trace of disinfectant. And cars, of course. The cops got several along the side of the road. Didn't see why they needed that many cops as they weren't searching for clues. Most were lurking on the sidewalk.

"This way," said one of the cops, a brunette with her hair in a bun. She'd done it up using hair pins. Must've taken her a while. The sort of girl who took the time with the small things, hoping to be noticed for promotion.

She led us through the park entrance. I concentrated on making my walk as human as I could. It felt like every one of the cops was watching me. Maybe my walk wouldn't be good enough. They'd ask me to take off the helmet and then what would I do?

"Sir?" asked the brunette cop. I'd been focusing so much on walking right, I'd fallen behind her and Ben.

"Leg injury," I said, trying not to sound annoyed. Not that I minded her checking on me, but I did mind being called a guy. It was part of the disguise as human girls don't get so tall or stocky, but it didn't mean I liked it.

I added a bit of a limp to my walk and sped up. There wasn't much to the park. A few buildings near the entrance, but it was mostly the field. We were heading towards a white tent, pitched near the trees about half way down the park's length. The closer we got, the stronger the smell of disinfectant.

There were humans outside. A few cops and some people dressed in white. Science people probably. Anders was easy to spot, as he was the only one who looked like a real detective. He was a migrant with a crumbled gray trenchcoat and a crooked tie. He'd probably been blond once, but now his hair was a mix of light brown and white. Hair like that often looked wirier than it felt.

When he saw us, Anders said something to the others and they left. He waited for our guide to return the way she'd come.

"You must be Ari." He smirked a little. "Interesting disguise."

I folded my arms and the leather jacket creaked. "Didn't get time. Ain't got many clothes."

"Mr. Cabot." He inclined his head slightly at Ben, the way humans say hi without touching. "I've heard a lot about you. Sorry, didn't introduce myself. Call me Anders. I don't know what you prefer to be called?"

"Ben," he answered, before Anders could start talking again.

There was something in the way Anders looked at Ben. Almost calculating. I guess detectives are always up to something. Can't catch criminals if you ain't smart like one.

"Hope the drive wasn't too bad. We almost hit a few drivers who didn't know what a siren was. Earlier then, though. Rush hour's mostly over I suppose."

"Car was warm," I said. Could've done with a traffic jam. Longer to soak up the heat.

"It was fine." Ben stood with his hands clasped behind his back.

I got a feeling neither of us was chatty enough for Anders. That or we weren't answering the way he expected. He shifted his weight from foot to foot, like he wasn't sure what to do.

"Anyway, getting late. Wife'll worry. Shall we?" Anders motioned for us to follow him inside the tent.

The disinfectant radiated from the tent canvas, though it wasn't enough to mask the death. Crushed grass and humans hung under all that. A sheet covered a body-sized lump and some of the science stuff was still in the corner. I guessed the people would be back later to finish.

"A dog walker found him." Anders crouched by the sheet. "Or her dog did anyway. Thought it was a man in a fur coat. The things people make themselves believe. You wouldn't believe the number of 'gorilla' sightings—"

"Ain't detectives supposed to be quiet?" I asked. It was bothering me. It was like he opened his mouth and words tumbled out. Not natural.

Anders laughed, in that strange way humans do. Sounds like they're suffocating. "Of course not. If I didn't talk, other people wouldn't talk, and then how'd I find out they were guilty?"

"I guess." It was logical, but they weren't chatty on TV and still solved cases.

Anders pulled back the sheet. The bigfoot was curled up, almost like he was sleeping. The dent in his head showed he wasn't. I don't like dead bodies at the best of times, but knowing I got this job because of the sudden vacancy made my fur itch.

The body smelled like he'd been dead a day at least. Couldn't be here during park opening, so somebody moved him later. Why here and not the river? Somebody wanted him found.

Ben was even tenser than he'd been in the car. He covered his face well, but he probably didn't realize how he smelled. Guessed a suit like him might not be used to bodies. I'd seen enough that one more wasn't gonna make me queasy. One of the few jobs I got in the bigfoot colony was helping burn the dead. Sounds kinda heartless not to care, but I can't stop every time.

At least I got a helmet on. Nobody would see if I didn't look upset.

Ben was doing his best not to look at the body. "Have you found the weapon?"

"Not yet," Anders replied. "I can't put everyone on it, just in case they find something they shouldn't."

"How many know?" Ben asked.

"About bigfoot? A handful. Not many magic types join the police, but enough to get by. Ought to recruit some more. Anyway, we don't have an official ID yet, but we think—"

"That's Rera," I said.

"You knew him?" Anders sounded more matter-of-fact than surprised.

"Yeah, by smell. Talked a few times."

"Really? I didn't think they did, no offence intended."

I grunted. Rera talked as much as anybody in the colony. A few words here and there. Polite. Far too polite. But it wasn't real talking. They didn't care how my night had gone. Just that I kept out of their night as much as possible.

"If there's anything you want to do…" He gestured vaguely.

Maybe he expected me to sniff the murderer out, despite the science people trampling in and out. I couldn't even smell the dog over all that. Or maybe he thought I'd use my bigfoot magic, but I reckoned Anders knew better than that. He was too relaxed about bigfoot to be new to this.

"Nah, I'm good." I picked apart the things Anders said in his rambling. "You magical?"

"Oh, yes." He covered the body again with the sheet. "No one told you? I'm a hedgewitch."

One of the locals at the bar was a hedgewitch. Handy when we got a pixie infestation. She got rid of them pretty quick. Rumor was she bribed them with cookies rather than anything magic. It always comes down to cookies with witches. "Do you make cookies?"

Anders grinned. "No. I don't make hedges either."

"There'll be an autopsy?" Ben kept glancing at the sheet. I guess he wasn't in a mood for joking.

Anders stopped smiling so quick, I wondered if it'd been fake in the first place. "In a few days. There's a separate lab. A bit understaffed, but they'll get to it."

The discussion went on to labs and procedures. I don't do science, so I waited outside the tent. I don't do magic either, but at least I know how to talk about it.

The dead grass smell was still strong out here. I didn't breathe too deep. Sneezing in a helmet you can't open ain't good for anybody.

The only problem with coming outside is I started to think. I could've refused when I got the job. All the guilt-trips about the colony leaders recommending me didn't mean much. Nobody wanted the job at the best of times. After a murder wasn't the best time. If I turned up dead, it'd solve the colony's problem.

I shivered. It was easy to imagine solving the murder from the comfort of the bar. How hard could it be? Exciting car chases. Shady motives. And when it was over, respect. It wasn't the same as joining the colony, but respect was a start.

I could've kicked that earlier me. Not so easy now. It wasn't like the shows where a clue would turn up at the right moment. It was real bodies and death. What if I couldn't figure it out?

It was too much to hope that Rera was killed for something else. He didn't do nothing other than the job. My job now. The murderer might be watching. Didn't they do that, go back to the scene?

I should've turned the job down. I was gonna die.

A blue jay called from the park buildings. I snapped out of it. A few deep breaths and I got my focus. Stay alive. Impress the colony. I could do this.

Ben came out the tent, which gave me something else to focus on. He stayed silent as we went back to the car. Didn't know if it was shock or he was allergic to speaking. Maybe a bit of both.

"Now what?" I asked.

He turned to me, though didn't look straight at the visor. "Did you park nearby?"


"Your bike."

"Just a disguise. Took the bus."

He took a breath like he was about to say something, hesitated, then said instead, "We should talk to Martin Bluejay."

I snorted. "He ain't Martin, just Blue Jay."

Ben got in the car without saying nothing more. I climbed in the passenger side. Can't say I liked cars for distance. They're real cramped compared to buses. But it wouldn't take long to get to Riverside.

I didn't need to ask why we were going. Rera wasn't the only one who turned up dead. The human half of the team—Vance O'Connell—was dumped on the roof of Blue Jay's Bar. Odd place to leave a body. It's a slopping roof without access, so the murderer must've used a ladder to get up there. Maybe it was a warning, to any bigfoot who dared take the SEB job. Why else single out the bar?

Took a few more days before Rera turned up, but they'd already been searching the river. Last thing they wanted was someone finding a bigfoot body. The placement was kinda suspicious, as it happened after Ben got his job. Maybe the murderer was warning locals too, choosing that park.

Warnings or not, we were doing this anyway.

Once the car was going, I tried to think of things to say. I'm okay with getting to know people, but only when they talk back. I settled on, "You're kinda quiet."


More silence.

"Ain't locals supposed to be jolly, you know?"

I didn't know, but the locals in the bar laughed a lot. Then again, when I was serving, they wouldn't be unfriendly. Jay still spread rumors about me throwing things. That was years ago and the table missed the guy, so it wasn't a big deal. Can't live anything down around Jay.

About when I'd given up on talking, Ben asked, "Is Blue Jay a bigfoot?"

I could've laughed, but didn't want to put him off speaking. "Nah, he's Blue Jay. Looks human most times though. I mean, birds can't serve drinks." Yeah, I was rambling, but somebody gotta fill the space. "Steals shiny things. Usual jay stuff."

Ben didn't answer immediately. He was the worst sort of quiet person. The sort that spends ages deciding what to say, so it sounds awkward and you ain't sure what they really think. "He's the Blue Jay? From the stories?"

"They're your stories. Ain't my place to say."

I'd heard plenty of stories from the locals. Sometimes Jay was a girl. Sometimes he did kind things and other times he was scary. Never knew which stories were true though. Jay wouldn't answer. Anyway, I hoped he was the Blue Jay. I didn't think the world could handle more than one.

Ben's knuckles tightened on the wheel and he smelled a little apprehensive. I guess he knew Jay could be scary too. Maybe I should've said, Nah, a totally different Blue Jay. It'd be less of a shock that way.

I shut up for the rest of the ride. Too many shocks in an hour and he might faint at the wheel.

Chapter Two · Ari


Some people hide things by putting them out of sight. Jay hid his bar by putting a flashing neon sign on the wall. It spelled "Blue Jay's Bar" in friendly bubble writing. A cartoon blue jay smiled, as best it could with a beak.

Among the other businesses in Riverside, the bar didn't stand out. The usual club people ignored the happy blue jay. Not trendy enough.

It was members only, so nobody thought nothing of the guard at the door. Tonight's guard was Paul and he was much like the rest. Muscly and grim. He got typical guard armor—a dark blue suit with a blue jay embroidered on one side. It didn't sound much, but I'd seen them suits stop bullets. Blue Jay kept his people safe. Mostly with bits of magic he'd stolen.

"Leave the talking to me," I whispered to Ben.

"Sure," he replied.

I could use my membership card to take in guests, but Jay didn't like just anybody being taken inside. I'd kinda hoped Paul might know Ben. From the way Paul narrowed his eyes as we got close, I wasn't so hopeful anymore. They were both local, but Paul was from the city, so maybe he didn't know people from the reservation.

I showed my card and flipped the visor up.

"Hi, Miss Ari," he said, still looking at Ben. "Who's this?"

He didn't mean his name. Usually, if we took a human in, they was different somehow. I figured if Ben was different he'd know more. "He's a local. Does it matter?"

The lines on Paul's face hardened. I needed a new strategy.

"I'm Ben Cabot. I phoned earlier…"

"Now you get chatty," I mumbled in bigfoot.

Ben was giving me the side eye. Doubted he knew bigfoot, but me glaring at him must've got the feeling across.

"Boss said he'd meet you downstairs." Paul took a key from his jacket and unlocked the door for us.

I stomped through the doorway and waited in the corridor with my arms folded. We got a whole car ride to talk. Ben could've mentioned phoning ahead and arranging a meeting. But he was all stoic silence, like I was a migrant or something.

Ben took his time getting through the door. I guess it looked strange, as the bar had been a house once. This level was still arranged like one, with a hallway and doors. Even a hat rack for some reason. There were stairs at the end of the hall leading down into the basement and up to the second floor.

I waited for the front door to close behind us. "You ain't one for listening, are you?"

"It worked."

"Yeah, this time. Next time, let me talk."

The thing with Paul wasn't normal. Anybody wanting to talk to Jay gotta hassle him into listening. They didn't get meeting times and arrangements with the guards. Jay being interested in Ben meant something was going on.

"Up or down?" asked Ben.

I stared at him for a moment while I took that in. Everybody knew the bar sat on one of the bigfoot tunnel entrances. It wouldn't work if the bar was upstairs. I mean, who ever heard of caves up in the sky? I'd better get used to the idea that Ben didn't know the things everybody knew. Maybe he'd taken it for granted I'd know things too.

"Down." I thought about explaining more, but that'd be something for another day.

One more door at bottom of the stairs, and we were in the main room of the bar. I reckoned Jay was having a big ego day when he decorated the room. It was in his colors. Blue walls, white tile floor and black furniture. Some photos of blue jays lined the wall behind the bar. I'd asked if they were relatives once, but Jay hadn't been in a mood to answer. Maybe they were all him.

It was still early in the evening, so the bar wasn't too crowded and people were busy catching up on the goings on. Judging from the glances coming our way, me and Ben were one of them. Couldn't hide it really. I'd been here when the call came. Word got around quick.

What wasn't typical were the mud men sitting at a table in the corner. I'd always found them kinda weird. They were like unfinished clay models of humans, as though a kid made them but lost interest before getting the details right. Not that the bar didn't get odd sorts. It's just I didn't think any were members. Mud men don't drink, other than soaking up water for their mud.

"Is Blue Jay here?" Ben studied the humans in the bar.

"Can't see him." We probably got a bit of time. Jay flew quick, but he was distracted easy. Yeah, I wasn't totally sure it was him at the park, but following me usually meant it was.

I did see somebody else though. Owl was sitting at the bar, holding a conversation with a bigfoot in our language. Kinda funny. I'd never known a human able to make the right sounds. He didn't look right neither. I'd borrowed the helmet from him, but he didn't dress like a biker. His jacket wasn't the biker type of leather. It was brown suede with tan fur lining. He wore jeans and a t-shirt like anybody else. If it wasn't for the helmet and the faint smell of oil, I would've never guessed.

But the thing that always got me is he wasn't a member. Didn't know how he got in. Jay couldn't figure it out neither. Saying it annoyed Jay was an understatement. That's why I liked Owl, even if he did cut his hair too short. Brown and spikey. Might as well be a bigfoot if you're not gonna let it grow out.

I took the helmet off and brushed it out. My spring molt hadn't started yet, but I wanted to be sure it was fur free.

"Thanks." I put the helmet on the bar by Owl. His bigfoot friend took one look at me and shuffled away.

"You're welcome." He looked past me and smiled. "Who's your friend?"

Ben had followed me over. Seeing as Owl couldn't kick nobody out, I went with the truth. "Just a local."

"Owl Keyonnie." He offered a hand to Ben. If Ben being ordinary bothered Owl, he didn't show it.

Ben took Owl's hand. "Ben Cabot."

They barely shook hands at all. Never got why locals shake hands. They don't get into it, so why bother when migrants ain't around? But maybe there were other reasons. Some bigfoot loved hand-shaking. I reckon it's because our traditional greeting involves punching each other's shoulders. Not so many bruises with handshakes.

The bar door slammed open and Jay hurried in, his braids flying out behind him. He skidded to a halt on the tiles. Some people might look dramatic doing that, but he was kinda short even by human standards. Skinny too, like the wind was gonna blow him away any minute. Always wondered if he chose to look like that or it just happened when he turned human.

Most nights, Jay's eyes would dart here and there before he found something to complain about. Instead, he focused right on the bar stool where Owl was sitting. Except it was empty and Owl's bike helmet was gone. Must've heard Jay coming.

"Hey," I said as cheerily as possible.

Jay's hands clenched into fists. "Follow."

He went over to an empty table and sat, though he did pause for a moment when he saw the mud men. Interesting. Maybe he didn't know why they were there neither.

"Nice seeing you too," I said as I sat down.

Ben wasn't so enthusiastic about following me this time. He wasn't controlling his face enough to hide the worry. I guess I could've said something reassuring, but it'd be a lie. Can't trust Jay. Sometimes he's on your side and sometimes he's not.

The table was round, but Ben pulled his chair in closer to me than Jay. I guess between the two, I was the least scary.

Jay settled and his face softened from his usual irritation. That was it. Jay was up to something.

"So, what did you want to know?" Jay asked.

I nudged Ben when he didn't immediately answer. All I knew about interviews was from shows. I didn't think good cop / bad cop would be a great idea with Jay. I mean, I could think of lots of questions he'd never answered for me. Maybe I could fit a few in at the end, make the most of the good mood. But they weren't about the dead bodies.

"I wondered if we could run over some of the details." There was a note of apology in Ben's voice.

"Of course."

Jay was definitely on his best behavior. I glowered at him a little, so he'd know I was on to him.

"Who found the body?" Ben asked.

"Maggie," Jay replied. "My wife."

He might've told the cops that, but I bet they didn't put it on file. Maggie don't got records and the cops avoided handling that. Not unless they thought somebody was guilty.

"Was anything touched before the police arrived?"

"No," said Jay. "Nothing needed covering up."

"The police say there was an Indian charm on the body…"

News to me. Maybe I should've listened to the science talk earlier. I thought it was all cutting up dead bodies and stomach contents.

Jay flicked a hand dismissively. "A bunch of feathers and beads. Nothing real."

"You didn't tell the cops that?" I asked. If they told Ben, they must've wasted time trying to figure it out.

"While I'm at it, I could tell them there's a secret colony of bigfoot under my bar."

Didn't see it mattered much, as cops like Anders knew anyway, but Jay didn't like that stuff being written down. It was one of the few things we agreed about. Once it's on paper, it's only time before somebody you're hiding it from gets hold of a copy.

"Could've said you was a medicine man," I suggested. "Migrants love that stuff."

Ben actually smiled a bit. Not a lot, but I saw it. Maybe I was going about talking to him the wrong way. I could try some jokes and see if he cracked.

Jay shrugged. "The police aren't my concern."

Nor was Vance. Jay took one look at the guy and made sure nobody would let him in. It wasn't just the red curls and freckles. Vance rubbed Jay the wrong way, and not like me teasing him. Total hatred. Whatever Jay's motives for helping us, it wasn't because he cared who killed Vance.

Bigfoot were something Jay took an interest in, but only in a general way. Rera was one person and not so important in the big picture. Jay wasn't gonna be upset for the sake of sentiment. He only cared if it interfered with his plans.

"You should talk to Owl." Jay said it in an off-hand way, while watching the mud men. A bit too off-hand. "Vance argued with him outside the bar, the day before."

"Do you know why?" Ben asked.

Jay shook his head.

I could see Jay cooperating to get Owl arrested. I knew you gotta keep options open for motives and all, but I wasn't buying Owl as a suspect. He could've run anytime and nobody would know where to look. If mystery shows taught me anything, the murderer is usually somebody who don't look suspicious, not the mysterious stranger.

Jay tapped his fingers on the table, the way he did when he was bored. There's only so much good behavior he could manage, even when he wanted to impress somebody.

"If that's all, I need to have a little chat with my new patrons." Jay stood up. "On that note, welcome to the club." Jay pulled out a white membership card and offered it to Ben.

Ben took the card from him and it darkened to blue. "Thank you."

Simple idea, but it worked. You couldn't transfer a card, because it only went blue for the owner. Even worked against magical trickery. You might look like somebody else, but the card wasn't fooled.

Jay left abruptly and went over to the mud men.

Ben turned the card over a few times. He raised it and examined its edge. Then he tried dropping it on the table and picking it up, to see the color change. "How does it work?"

"Magic. Like TV."

"Televisions aren't magical."

"How'd they go then?"

"It depends." Ben tucked the card away. "Early televisions worked by firing electrons at a florescent screen."

"Sounds magic."

"It's science."

"You're kinda strange." I realized it wasn't the best thing to say once I said it, but it was too late to take it back. Just when I'd got him talking too.

"Thank you." He sounded so solemn about it, I wasn't sure if he meant it or not.

* * *

I did the polite thing and walked Ben back to the entrance. The silence this time was thoughtful, rather than awkward. I guess he got a lot to think about. Or he was still trying to figure out the card.

When we reached the top of the stairs, Ben asked, "What do you know about Owl?"

"Been around about a month. From Arizona. He ain't a member, but he gets in somehow. Jay's probably trying to get revenge for all the sneaking in. Owl's pretty sharp though. Might know something."

Ben considered that. "I can drive you home if you want?"

"I live here." I nodded to the stairs leading up. Not a lot up there, other than the apartment.

"I didn't realize."

"Maggie adopted me." When I was being less charitable, I'd say Jay stole me. Ain't entirely true though. His baby-stealing reputation aside, nobody else wanted me. I didn't want to get into all that with Ben. Maybe some other day.

"Like the bar?" I said instead.

Another of them overthinking pauses. "It wasn't what I expected."

"How's that?"

"Why're there only Indians?"

There were bigfoot and mud men too, but I knew what he meant. "Jay don't like migrants. Bigfoot don't neither. Think Jay hopes all us locals can change the world together."

"Do you believe that?"

I shrugged. "Migrants run everything. Can't change that."

I wasn't convinced Jay believed it either. It's not that he didn't do stuff for other people, but only when it helped him out too. The bar gave him an edge, whether it worked or not.

Ben took a business card from his pocket. "The office address. The door code's on the back."

I took it, read both sides and handed it back. "Got it."

He hesitated before putting the card away again. Guess he might've wanted me to keep it, but I didn't need it. I walked to the front door and knocked. The lock clicked and the door swung open.

"Goodnight," he said as he left.

I stood thinking for a little while after the door closed. I'd talked to humans before, but I'd never been stuck with them for very long. Working with one for hours was new. I wasn't sure I was gonna like it.

Chapter Three · Ben

Wednesday 8:32pm

It was dark by the time I left the bar, partly due to the sun fading, but also the thick clouds hiding the moon. The working day had been longer than I'd expected. First days usually have induction talks and paperwork, not murder cases and discovering the city is hiding numerous supernatural beings.

The death threats hadn't improved the situation. No one was calling them that, of course. Happening to choose Chief Garry Park when the new recruit is Spokane could be passed off as a coincidence. Dumping the other body on the home of the Bigfoot recruit was pushing coincidence to breaking point.

The troubling thing was how the murderer knew. It was possible they heard I had the job, but the placement of Vance's body happened before Ari was officially employed. I'm sure someone knew she was in the running, as bureaucracy can take a few days to process these things, but it wasn't public knowledge. Someone must have leaked the information.

About all I had as reassurance was Rera being dumped in the park, rather than outside my house. That implied my home address hadn't been leaked. Yet.

I didn't drive off immediately, as I made the mistake of checking my phone for messages. My mom had tried to call several times, and left equal numbers of voice messages. You always think that it'll settle down once you're an adult and have a family of your own, but it doesn't work like that. In Mom's eyes, I was still a child who undoubtedly needed parental advice after my first day.

Once the messages were deleted, I checked my mirrors and drove off. I'd phone her tomorrow, once things had settled down. If they settled down.

As I turned the corner, I caught a glimpse of one of the clay humanoids from the bar. Despite assurances from the city council that supernaturals usually hid themselves, this one wasn't even trying. It stood under a streetlight and watched me drive past. My last sighting of it was in the mirror, as it started walking after the car.

I hadn't thought to ask about them. They weren't that strange in a bar full of Bigfoot and there were a lot of other things I needed to know first. But now one of them was following me.

I was imagining things. It couldn't follow a car at walking speed. Perhaps that's just what they did. Hang around on street corners watching cars, when it was late enough that people might think it was a trick of the light. I should look them up in the files tomorrow. What would they be filed under? Dirt golems? Clay people? I could ask, but I didn't want to mention it to Ari if it was normal.

I slowed down as the traffic lights changed. A second clay person waited at an empty bus stop. It turned its head and gazed straight at me. This time, I took the opportunity to stare back. It really did look like it was made from clay, brown and heavy with water. Paler sandy areas were swirled in at random. The patterns could probably be used to tell them apart, should I need to in the future.

They couldn't be following directly and I doubted they'd actually catch the bus. No one uses a bus to chase someone. All I'd have to do is drive off the bus routes and I'd be away. That left one other possibility—there was some sort of tracking device on my car.

The lights changed. I watched the clay person in the mirror as I drove away. It didn't move, but it never stopped looking either. Perhaps I was paranoid, but I'd had enough of coincidences today. After a lifetime of never seeing clay people, two in a few minutes was a bit much.

I chose a busy street and pulled up at the side of the road. After a quick check to make sure everyone on the sidewalk was human, I got out.

I'd washed Gallium this morning and nothing had been out of place. It'd be easy to see if something had been attached. Her front was surprisingly clean. The days were warming up, but apparently not enough for the usual spring decoration of suicidal insects. Underneath also looked clear.

The back was muddy. I could have picked it up driving, but it was focused around the license plate. Could mud be used to track someone? For people made out of clay, anything was possible.

I got back in the car and waited to see if any more clay people would turn up. I scanned the area for anything out of place. The car parked in front wasn't lined up properly with the sidewalk. The wheels were still at an angle. Sometimes I wished I had magical powers, so I could nudge things a little, to get them back in line. It's not as though the owner would notice.

Other than the misplaced car, and a cracked paving slab creating a trip hazard, everything was normal.

I couldn't shake the feeling that I was being silly. Now I knew clay people were out there, I was more likely to notice them. I might have driven past them all the time before. And they were bound to look at me if they realized who I was. The council did say they'd be informing all the local groups.

More time passed and no clay people appeared. I should have gone with my first instinct. They didn't move fast enough to follow and mud was just mud. Even if it was caused by them, perhaps they'd tried to steal my license plate and couldn't pull it free.

Now I knew I hadn't been getting enough sleep. Why would a clay person want my license plate? I checked around for any lurking clay people, then started my car again. I should go home before I started panicking about anything else. What did I think, that all supernaturals were out to get me?

But it wouldn't hurt to stop by the car wash on the way.

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