“Come on, Al, sit down!” Annie invited me. “I just finished making some of your special tea.”
As much as I would’ve liked to, I was frozen. Dammit. Why did it have to be him? Why did it have to be now? Why was he here?!
“Anyway, I can’t believe you’re a detective now, Dante,” Annie said with genuine admiration in her voice. “I mean, how long has it been? Everything’s so different it… feels like I’m meeting you for the first time.”
She laughed, trying to get him to ignore the awkward pause. So she did still have a crush on him…
Cavvy laughed. “It’s been fourteen years. And you’re the one telling me. Last time I saw you, you were barely up to your daddy’s shin. You were riding around on your brother’s back all the time, that’s how small you were. I’m the one who can’t believe you grew up to be such a doll, Annie.”
“Oh!” My sister blushed. “Umm… thank you!”
She giggled. Ignoring the fact that Cavvy was hitting on my little sister (she could certainly do worse), this was still bad. Very, very bad. How much could he see? How much had he already seen? There was Theo, my knife and gun, the crutches, my cocaine pills, the potted nepenthe plants I’d been-
Cavvy smiled at me fondly. Was that really Cavvy being Cavvy, or was that him saying “I’ve got you now, you son of a bitch”?
“I didn’t realize you and Annie were living in a tenement, Al,” Cavvy said. “Tough times. Depression must’ve hit you hard, huh?”
“Y-yeah,” I responded. He was right, though for completely different reasons. I looked around at the modest trappings of our everyday modern life. Like I did every day, I found it… let’s just say somewhat lacking.
There was about as much space to the place as half of a floor of a normal house, most of it taken up by appliances and furniture either bought looking like crap or worn down into such a state by years of abuse and institutional frugality. Mold lined the corners of the walls where the apartment bordered the spriggan’s (though thankfully, it was non-toxic and easily cleaned), and the paint was peeling at a frankly disquieting pace. The kitchen was just about the coziest part, and all there was to that was an icebox, an old black stove, an ironing board, and a matching cabinet and table squeezed away into the corner on the fringes of an ugly, frayed rug that covered the creaky wooden floor. There was my room of course, which I’ve mentioned before, but that’s about 10% bed and 90% jungle, especially after Theo moved in with her unique… needs.
All in all, the phrase “fixer-upper” didn’t quite do it justice. That implied that there may have once been something worth fixing.
“And yet,” he said as he stood up to interrogate me. “You’re wearing a brand new suit and scarf that probably costs more than the rent on this place.”
He looked me straight in the eye for a full ten seconds before poking me in my chest.
“Learn to manage your clam better, man. You’ve got a little sister to feed.”
“Yeah,” I said, laughing nervously. “I’ll work on that.”
We all sat down again.
Theo! I screamed internally, putting on best poker face. Theo where are you?!
A few tries later she picked up.
Master Alfonso? What is wrong?
Where are you right now?! I hissed mentally.
Mistress Anastasia said we were running out of fresh vegetables, so she sent me out to buy some, Theo responded, sounding worried. I am only a block away, I can be home in five seconds-!
No! Don’t do that! Anything but that!
What? Why? she asked.
“So what kind of cases do you handle?” Annie asked, sipping on some of my homemade herbal tea.
“Mostly narcotics, but they do call me in for some homicide cases now and again,” he said. “The kinds where some bozo ODs on Red Dragon or gets bumped off with a hex bag, that sort of thing. Last thing they had me working on was the Mickey Donahue case.”
“Really? Then you should’ve stopped by sooner! Al and I were actually a part of that case!”
“What?” Cavvy’s eyes widened. “Are you serious?”
“Yeah,” Annie said nonchalantly. “Though I only got caught in the gas. My idiot brother’s the one who helped out with catching him.”
You’re saying too much, Annie… I thought, biting my lips.
What did she say? What is wrong? Theo asked.
The fuzz is here! I said, turning my thoughts back to my familiar. The pigs! P-O-L-I-Z-I-A!
Nothing. I groaned out loud.
The cops, Theo!
“Al, you’re lucky Annie didn’t get hurt back then. You really need to… Hmm?” Cavvy looked at me. “Something wrong, Alfonso?”
“Oh. Uh, me? It’s nothing, my legs just hurt a bit is all,” I said. “Still need to take it easy after everything that happened. You know. With Mickey.”
“Hmm…” Cavvy grunted in understanding. “Anyway, like I was saying, you need to be more careful. Chemical weapons are no laughing matter. Your sister could’ve been seriously-”
I tuned him out.
Did you get that? I asked Theo, returning to our silent conversation.
Yes. You screamed it quite loudly, Theo snarked back. Why are the police at your house? Do you know?
Her voice took on a sudden nervous edge.
They have not found my cache, have they?
No, but they still might. Which is why I need you to come home right now.
But you just said not to-
I meant don’t be obvious about it! Look, just don’t come charging in here knives akimbo. All you need to do is sneak in my window and clear out all the evidence. He hasn’t been in there yet, and if you’re quick and if you’re quiet, he might not find anything once he starts looking. Understand?
I could feel her nodding. I understand, Master Alfonso.
Great, I said. Once you have the stuff, book it. Try to be just as quiet on your way out as you were coming in, but if you have the stuff, don’t be afraid to bolt if I give you the signal. All that matters is that he doesn’t see you, and he doesn’t find anything in my room.
And Mistress Anastasia?
She won’t talk. She’s smarter than that. I hope.
Alright. If I may ask, Master Alfonso, who is this man?
I sighed. An old friend.
I hung up. Now I just needed to keep him focused on me until I could find a way to make him leave.
“Al,” Cavvy said, presumably pissed that I wasn’t listening to his speech. “You hear me?”
“Yeah, yeah. You know you really should’ve called,” I said, changing the subject. “We coulda cleaned the place up a bit.”
“Ah, don’t be silly,” Cavvy said. “You think after all the work I’ve done some dirt’ll scare me? Trust me, my apartment looks way worse anyway.”
There’s a noisy rattling like a chain-link fence on the fire escape outside, like something heavy and suspiciously person-like just landed on it.
Theo that is not stealthy! I thought to myself. That is not stealthy at all!
My apologies, Master Alfonso. I am feeling a bit under the weather right now. My magical powers appears to be waning. Perhaps if we had performed the ritual…
Now is not the time, Theo!
Listening closely, I thought I could hear the latch on my window being jiggled open. The rusty window squeaked for an eternity, getting louder and louder each second. That’s what it sounded like anyway. I cringed.
He’s gonna hear it he’s gonna hear it he’s gonna hear it!
The squeaking stopped. Cavvy still hadn’t noticed. I took a deep breath, exhaling the fear-soaked air from my lungs. The worst part was over. Then I heard a loud thump and my heart skipped a beat.
Cavvy looked around the apartment.
“You hear that?” he asked, his eyes finding my room.
“What?” I asked. I had to misdirect him.
“That thumping noise,” he said, getting up. “I swear I heard somethin’ just now.”
“You’re hearing things, Cavvy,” I deflected nervously. “That’s just the Johnsons next door. Mr. J’s a mean drunk. Hits Barb all the time. I keep telling her to move but she doesn’t listen-”
A potted plant broke in the adjacent room. Cavvy silently reached for his gun. Shit.
“Al, pipe down and get behind me,” Cavvy whispered. “There’s someone tryin’ to bust into your apartment. You stay here and make sure Annie stays safe.”
“Whaaat?” I said, exaggerating maybe a little too much. “You’re crazy, Cavvy. This is the third floor! Nobody could just crawl in like that!”
I laughed, my tone obviously and embarrassingly fake. Cavvy didn’t seem to think it was as funny as I did. He was dead silent. Sometime when I hadn’t been looking, he’d slipped back into his uniform (figuratively speaking). I wasn’t talking to Dante Salvo my best friend anymore. I was talking to Dante Salvo the cop.
Theo I don’t know what you’re doing but hurry it the fuck up! Throw everything out the window if you have to, Dante is coming!
More loud noises came from the room without a reply from Theo. I looked at Cavvy, who was creeping along the wall towards my bedroom door, gun drawn.
“I-It was probably just the damn cat,” I lied, even though we don’t have a cat. “Seriously Cavvy, it’s no big deal. You hear sounds like that all the time in the tenements.”
But he wasn’t listening to me anymore. Annie looked up at me with a stern glare that said “if you get caught, I’m not covering for you”. Message received loud and clear, Annie. You’re still upset.
There was another bump, then things went quiet. Cavvy gripped the doorknob, and I wrestled with the options inside my head. I couldn’t kill Cavvy, but I couldn’t break omerta either. Annie was an exception. Getting found out here wouldn’t be. I’d either have to kill Cavvy or hold my tongue and go to the hoosegow. I wasn’t prepared to do either.
I gulped. Maybe Theo or I could grab him. Tie him up, give him a puff of the peace pipe and then take him to someone in the family to have his memories erased. They’d do that for me, right?
Right. Because any plan that starts with abducting and drugging a police officer is obviously already off to a good start.
I looked around nervously. Theo are you out yet?!
No, not yet. I am almost finished clearing out our possessions. Just give me one more minute.
We don’t have one more minute! I screamed internally. Cavvy is about to open the-
The doorknob clicked, turned, and opened the door, swinging inwards to reveal Theo, dressed in an apron and holding a feather duster and a hissing, spitting cat. There was absolutely no trace of any drugs or guns to be seen, except a smashed potted plant with an innocent petunia poking out of the spilled dirt.
“Ah,” Theo said to me. “Master Alfonso. I am terribly sorry. It appears the cat has knocked over another one of your potted plants again.”
The cat yowled, scratching away at Theo’s impenetrable skin. I stared. Cavvy stared. Then we both looked at each other.
“Who the hell is this?”
Where the hell did you get that cat?
The three of us sat back down quietly as Theo pretended to finish her cleaning and relieved us of our empty teacups and saucers. Annie and I were nervous. Cavvy was suspicious. None of us were talking. We just sat there and listened to the rush hour symphony of honking horns, busy sidewalks and yowling, hissing cats. I tried to think of something to say that’d break the ice, but I was coming up short.
“So. Where’d you get a maid?”
Cavvy spoke up for me. I didn’t like the way he was still eyeing Theo with that sort of sleuth’s sensibility. I could tell that, inside his head, he was still working a case.
“We let her- I mean hired her a few weeks ago,” Annie said, stammering.
“Few weeks ago…” Cavvy trailed off. “You mean around the time that Mickey business was going on?”
I tried not to look at Annie in any way, lest I give myself away too easily. Dammit though. She couldn’t lie. Not like me. I was sure I could trust her to keep a secret, but that didn’t mean I thought I could keep Cavvy from wriggling one out of her.
“A bit after that, actually,” I said, jumping in. “We hired her so someone could look after Annie while I wasn’t home. Isn’t that right, Theo?”
Her ears perked up. “Yes, that’s correct. I cook, clean and tend to Mistress Anastasia while Master Alfonso is out of the house.”
I laughed nervously. “She uhh… she takes the job very seriously.”
“I see…” Cavvy said. I don’t think I got him to stop suspecting her of something, but I at least dodged that bullet. “Her services come cheap?”
“Why do you ask?” I said. “You planning on hiring her?”
“My apologies, but my contract is exclusively with Master Alfonso,” Theo said almost matter-of-factly. God I hoped she wasn’t gonna choose now to be her usual literal self.
“Nah, I was just thinking it must be because of the ears. That’s why you can afford her, right? Demihuman labor?”
I spit out my tea.
“W-What?” I stuttered, trying to piece together where that came from. Annie was quicker to respond.
“Dante!” she scolded. “Don’t be rude! Apologize to Theo!”
“What?” Dante said defensively. “I’m just telling the truth! A lotta lycans work lower income jobs. They’re menial labor types, that’s just a fact.”
“No, they’re not!” Annie said. “Theo is really smart, and sensitive-”
“You sure you want your partner to know you said that?” I responded. “Remember, there’s more than one demihuman in this room here.”
Cavvy sighed. “Look, whatever. I wasn’t talking about you anyway, Al. Let’s just… forget it, okay?”
He nibbled on a cheap biscuit. Well, on the bright side, his secret racist opinions at least made the conversation awkward enough to steer it away from Theo.
“Say…” He said, picking up a picture of me and Annie that I took on Ellis Island. “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but how are you and your folks getting along? Everything okay?”
I visibly tensed, knuckles turning white. Cavvy was too preoccupied with the picture to notice.
“I ain’t trying to pry or anything of course, it’s just I’ve been looking around and they don’t seem to be in any of your photos. Did you have some sort of falling out?” he asked before hmmming to himself.
What did I tell him? That our parents abandoned us in New York and never came looking?
“… We got separated,” I said, telling him half the truth. “After the war. They’re back home in the old country.”
He looked up at me, his face betraying his surprise. “Separated? You mean they put you on different boats?”
I remembered my father’s face. That soft, reassuring smile he gave us as he told us to get on the boat. We’ll be right behind you, is what he said.
“Something like that,” I said, fidgeting.
“Well they came looking for you, right?”
Annie looked down, crestfallen. I sighed.
“No? Whaddya mean ‘no’?” Dante said, some of the old country slipping back into his voice. “Are you saying you and Annie lived all by yourselves for the last fourteen years? You’re kidding me, right?”
“No, I’m not,” I say with a little more hostility than I intended. He picks up on it and I flinch.
“… Look, it’s not something we like to talk about, all right?” I said, deflecting it with a sigh. “It happened a long time ago. All that matters is that we managed to make do, okay?”
Dante scoffed. “Make do? Al this is not making do. I don’t care if you do have a maid, you’re living in a tenement hall. Your father was a surgeon, Al. He made good money. There’s no reason you should’ve had to grow up like this, and if we just try to find him and get in contact with him I’m sure he’ll do whatever he can to-”
“I don’t care if he’s still alive, I’m not asking that bastard for anything!” I nearly yelled without thinking. But then, as if to save me from having to explain myself, we all heard the static from Dante’s police radio flare up through the open window, scratchy voices shouting some indeterminable alert to all available units. Without even saying anything, Dante jumped out of his chair and started climbing the fire escape. Man was dedicated.
He rushed to the car and opened the passenger side door, scrambling to pick up the receiver.
“This is Special Detective Dante Salvo,” he shouted into the microphone. “What’s the news?”
There was a moment of brief static as the station relayed information only he could hear. Judging by the look on his face though, I could tell it wasn’t good.
When he was done, Cavvy had this wide-eyed look, and he didn’t even bother to hang up the receiver. He just dropped it and looked up at us.
“Hey… Cavvy ol’ pal?” I said hesitantly. “What’s eating you? You’re freaking me out here. You trying to give me the evil eye or something?”
“Annie, Alfonso,” Cavvy said, swallowing. “I’ve… been asked to take you in.”
“What?” Annie shouted, panicking. “Why?!”
“An official order for the arrest of the person or persons responsible for the Arizona attack has come in,” Cavvy said. He looked every bit as hurt and betrayed as I felt when I heard what he had to say next. “You two have both been listed as persons of interest. You’re going to have to come with me.”
“Oh no…” Annie whispered. I was a bit less subtle.