Excerpt: The Case of the Arms Dealers

It pained John to have to go to the Bureau for Supernatural Protection and Defense for help. Still, it wasn’t like he needed them for actual police work, so he could stick to his principles. A man had to do what he had to do when it came to research.

Bearing all this in mind, he went up the stairs. The building was easy to overlook. Part of that was deliberate—all praeternatural government buildings had Psychogenics keeping them safe from prying human eyes. Part of that wasn’t—it was just one more brick row house in a neighborhood of brick row houses. He pushed the front doors open and strolled into the bustling reception area of the Boston BSPD like he had every right to be there.

The tiny waiting area was packed. A few drifter types with far-off looks in their eyes, like Psychogenics on the edge of losing themselves. A man knitting some sort of long, thin hat (or possibly underwear, though the very idea of a knitted banana hammock made John itch) and talking to himself quietly. Two agitated women fighting over a small cardboard box containing a calico cat—or, who knew, maybe the cat was a Beast, one of their lovers or children or something to that effect shifted into animal form. (Yes, John liked that story better.) And of course, there was also the push of uniforms coming in and out about their business, which gave John the most remarkable urge to mutter the word pig while coughing into his hand.

Seeing as that would not be the best start to his endeavor, he wrestled the impulse down. He approached the desk sergeant, a petite black woman, young and bright-eyed, and she smiled. “How can I help you, sir?”

John grinned at being called sir. First time for everything. “Officer DeLancie.” Weren’t name tags a fantastic invention? “Hello, hello. Name’s John Tilney. You might’ve heard of me—I write a lot of mysteries and that.”

She waited for a moment, like she expected more, then shook her head. “Ah, no, sorry, not a big reader.”

John frowned, but there was no accounting for taste. Especially among those who served the Establishment. “Well, anyhow, I’m working on a new direction for my writing right now, and I need to do some research. Wondered if there was some sort of outreach or shadow program where I could talk to a detective, maybe follow them around a bit, possibly even be of some help.”

“Like Castle?” She arched an eyebrow.

“What’s Castle?” John asked.

“A TV show.”

“Oh, sorry, I don’t own a TV. Though if my new direction works, I could finally afford one.” John gestured expansively with one hand. “You see my difficulty, yeah?”

Still smiling, she shook her head. He’d gotten worse reactions. Lots of them. She said, “I never heard of that, and honestly, most of the cops here would say you were a damn nuisance. But you’re funny, and I needed a laugh today, so I’m gonna ask the chief about it.”

He beamed. He liked being called funny. Mostly, he just got weird. Which was also fine but not nearly as complimentary. “I’ll wait.” He slid a card across the desk.

John Tilney

Author, Man of Mystery


She took it, snorted out a laugh, and picked up the phone. As she spoke into it, she gestured for him to settle down near the arguing cat ladies. To whom he listened with interest, of course:

“You can’t have him!” said the taller one. “I bought him fair and square!”

“You can’t buy an animal!” said the shorter one.

“You only say that because you’re a Beast!” The taller woman made it sound like an insult.

John watched with open curiosity, not bothering to hide the sudden disgust that twisted his lips. As an Elementalist himself, he’d heard a lot of anti-Beast racism; there was no surer way to immediately lower his interest in a fellow praeternatural than to start that shit.

“Oh, and it’s so far-fetched to expect a Terran to respect an animal? Aren’t you supposed to be the guardians of all living things? Not just yourselves and a bunch of trees?”

“The cat is mine!”

John already had his phone out to take notes. Terrans were generally far more tolerant toward Beasts than any other praeternatural faction, so the whole argument had shifted from disgusting to a point of interest. He could use this!

Alas, the desk sergeant returned and said, “Mr. Tilney?”

Reluctantly, he tucked away his phone and returned to the desk. Another cop, a tall tanned man with eyes like a hawk, emerged. He ran his gaze all over John quickly, critically.

John held out his hand. “John Tilney.”

The Chief—or whoever—shook but gave him a look that was more amused than anything else. “Mr. Tilney, we don’t need hangers-on getting in the way of our work. I’m sure you can understand.”

John took his hand back and made a face. It seemed a bit off that a “busy” police chief would come out here to tell him that for no reason. “I wouldn’t get in the way,” he said. “And I’m useful: I’m a crack researcher.”

The chief snickered. “Yeah? Well, sorry, buddy, but people around here are trained detectives, so your brand of crack research doesn’t do us much good.”

John frowned. “How do you even know? I have a résumé, if you like. I’ve worked on several exposés and articles—”

The chief waved him off, still smiling as if at some private joke John wasn’t in on and never would be. “You’re funny, kid.”

John sputtered a little. This was not the kind of funny he liked being called, thank you very much.

Meanwhile, the desk sergeant was obviously trying not to laugh too. “I’m sorry, sir. If you’ll—”

“No, I will not!” John was about to launch into a tirade about how this was why law enforcement was entirely irrelevant in the modern age, how they treated young people—not to mention people of color, women, and don’t even get him started on Beasts and Necros—like criminals without a single real question, and it was a travesty, and damn The Man!

But the chief suddenly turned back to him and said, “Wait. I know just the mutt for the job.” His grin became positively wicked. “Send him to Kanaan.”

John narrowed his eyes. “The mutt?” Sounded like a slur against a Beast to him—some kind of dog-shifter? Racist police, as usual! “I should’ve known better than to think the BSPD could manage a single, solitary, nonracist discussion of—”

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