(The sixth book in the Connor Grey series)
A novel by Mark Del Franco
Thanks as always to Anne Sowards, my editor, for her input and advice. Sara and Bob Schwager have been copy editors for the Connor Grey series from the beginning, and I am thankful for their knowledge (and recollection!) on each successive book.
My family members have always been among my biggest advocates, and I am deeply appreciative of their continued support.
Finally, a special thank-you to my partner, John Custy, without whom I would have stopped writing long ago.
Please note that a short section of “The Second Coming” by W. B. Yeats makes an uncredited appearance (for stylistic reasons) within the text. The poem, one of my favorites, has had a strong influence on the Connor Grey series—as has Yeats in general. Sharp-eyed readers will notice that the titles of the first two books in the series can be found in, respectively, Yeats’s “The Rose in the Deeps of His Heart” and “The Stolen Child,” and his ideas about gyres and geometry inspired much of the concept of Connor’s world. You cannot go wrong reading his poetry.
Detective Lieutenant Leonard Murdock’s car was parked out front, so I knew which building had the dead body in it. That was the way of the Weird, my little corner of Boston, where the fey went when they had nothing left. And when they had nothing left, they ended up dead, in a building without an intercom or an elevator or someone to stick around and talk to the police.
Leo and I went back a few years now. I often wondered if he regretted meeting me. I’ve caused him a lot of pain, none of it intentional, but painful nevertheless. I spent time trying to figure out how to make things up to him, but I worried I might never be able to. Despite that—and the past—we remained friends, and when Leo called asking for help, I showed up. I walked up the stairs that spiraled around the open atrium and led to the sixth floor. The air had the tang of bleach and turpentine and blood. No one opened his door as I passed, caution winning out over curiosity. No interest meant no involvement, and no involvement more often than not was the best course in the Weird.
The last door on the top-floor landing stood open, somber yellow sunlight cutting through the darkness of the apartment interior. I paused on the threshold, sensing Murdock’s body signature and that of an elf. Murdock’s signature was faint, a touch in the air from his passage. The elf’s signature saturated the area, the gradual accumulation of essence from spending time in one place.
“Back here, Connor,” Murdock called out.
He did stuff like that now, sensing things he couldn’t see, like my presence in another room. When I met Leonard Murdock, he was a detective lieutenant with the Boston Police Department, and he was human. He was still a cop, but not quite human anymore. Recent events had unearthed secrets about his family—and me—that revealed that the Murdock siblings were half-druid, the children of a human father and druid mother. As his druidic abilities appeared, Murdock took them as a matter of course. He had a body shield, which was hardened essence, and increased strength, which was part of the genetics of a druid. As the spell that had hidden his abilities for years faded away, he seemed to be picking up a bit of a sensing ability. His wasn’t a refined ability—even full druids didn’t always have full use of their abilities—but Murdock was learning how to use what he had.
I moved through the spartan living room—a simple couch with two armchairs, all castoffs from some other time and place. In the corner was a kitchen setup, small studio-style appliances, a drain board with a single plate and mug. Like most living space in the Weird, it was interior decorating via street finds. A fine layer of dust covered everything else, not quite dirty, but untended.
Murdock didn’t look up as I entered the bedroom, cool professionalism on his face, dark eyes hiding his thoughts. He wore his standard work outfit of khakis, pressed white shirt, and understated tie. With a small flashlight, he studied the items on the nightstand. He had an analytical mind that served him well in his job, yet he didn’t use that same approach with his personal life. He didn’t anguish about the day-to-day crud that came his way. That attitude was why we worked so well together. I couldn’t stop thinking about crud.
The elf lay on the bed, a sheet pulled to the waist and exposing a naked torso. A quick read of his body signature told me he was the apartment’s occupant. He was a man in prime physical condition, skin sculpted with muscle but riddled with old scars. His relaxed face gave the impression that he was asleep, as if oblivious to the black arrow embedded in his chest, a clean shot to the heart. Between the lack of odor and the evident body signature, he hadn’t been dead that long.
“Looks like he died in his sleep,” I said.
“They say that’s the best way to go,” Murdock said. With a gloved hand, he picked up a bottle and read the label.
“Where’s your team?” I asked.
He replaced the bottle and flicked through scraps of paper. “On the way. Priority delays.”
Priority delays were standard op these days. Everyone was short-staffed—the Boston police, the Guild, and the Consortium. Riots and terrorist attacks will do that to a city’s administrative functions, and Boston had seen more than its share of both in the past few months. The most immediate cause was the destruction of the Boston Guildhouse, headquarters of the diplomatic arm of the Seelie Court, which ruled over the Celtic fairies. A number of Teutonic elves had died in the building collapse, which tied up personnel from the Teutonic Consortium, the Guild’s counterpart and ruling body of the elven people. That left the Boston police to fend for itself, dealing with an anxious human population and not a few fringe elements taking advantage of the disarray. Hence, priority delays.
“Who called it in?” I asked.
“Street worker. She hadn’t seen him in a while and wondered if he needed some of her expertise,” he said.
“I didn’t notice any street worker when I came in,” I said.
“She’ll call if she remembers anything,” he said
“You let her go?”
He picked up a wallet. “Believe it or not, Connor, I have a few longtime sources down here I can trust.”
That was a little bit of an ouch. Murdock and I started working together because I could provide a perspective on the fey in the Weird that a human cop might miss. Sometimes I forgot that didn’t mean Murdock didn’t know how to do his job. “Any signs of entry?” I asked.
“None. Door was unlocked when I arrived,” he said.
I leaned over the body for a better look at the wound. Elves used arrows as their weapon of choice. Arrows were hard to trace unless someone was cocky enough to have them made custom. Another advantage was that they could be charged with essence and fired with precision, helpful when one’s ability to control essence-fire wasn’t fine.
“Notice anything funny about the body position?” Murdock asked.
The arrow in the victim stuck through the heart. A residual trace of essence on the arrow shimmered a faint emerald green. “Sheet’s on top of him, so he wasn’t standing with it wrapped around him. If the arrow had been elf-shot, it would have packed a punch when it hit. His body wouldn’t be this composed. He would have gone flying