Jack arrived bearing Starbucks, which automatically made him my favorite person in the whole, wide world. As he handed me a mocha, however, he looked around and asked the question I'd been dreading, "Where's Valentine?"
Gennieve, who sat at the wide oak coroner's desk collating our research, glance up, clearly on the scent of relationship gossip.
I took a sip of the espresso to avoid having to answer right away, but they both continued to stare at me expectantly. Finally, I had to say, "Gone."
Jack nodded, like he understood. He perched his butt against the corner of the big polished desk. Despite the weather, he wore black jeans, engineer boots, and a royal blue tee-shirt with a Tardis/British police box on it and the words 'The Doctor is In.' His short curls were as disheveled as always. I wasn't sure I'd ever seen hair looking anything other than 'slept on.' In fact, one side was a bit flattened, like he'd literally just been sleeping.
"Did you have a fight?" Gennieve asked. Jack had brought her coffee, too, and I could smell something pepperminty. I wondered how he knew what she liked or if he'd somehow used magic to guess right. "Did you guys break up?"
I didn't really want to talk about this, but it seemed like they wouldn't listen to anything about the case until I discussed my failed love life... or maybe just failed LIFE. "He said South Dakota was too small for him."
Gennieve made a little grunt, like 'should have figured.'
Jack, however, shook his head, "That makes no sense. The sky is very big here. I should've thought it would be perfect for a..." he glanced at Gennieve, and changed tact, "...for someone like him."
"Obviously, the man was more cosmopolitan than 'Big Sky,'" Gennieve said with a tisk of her tongue. "Who can blame him? The nightlife here is dead. I'm sorry, honey," she said to me in faux companionship. "He was very hot."
"He can't have left for good." Jack scratched the short, unshaved hairs on his chin. "Can he?"
I knew Jack was thinking about Valentine's role in my life as my 'familiar,' but, from what everyone was always telling me, dragons were notoriously fickle companions. But, what did I know about it? It'd only been a few month since I even realized that was even what he was... and he'd had no problem staying away from me before.
To be fair, he'd been jail.
I sipped my mocha morosely and muttered, "Can we talk about the case now?"
"Oh, right." Jack said. Standing up, he ran his thin-boned fingers through his mess of curls. "Sorry."
"No worries," I said and then proceeded to lay out everything we'd discovered, starting with the conversation I'd had on the bus with Nana Spider than got me thinking about homeless people. Jack listened intently, studying the various newspaper clippings that Gennieve had printed out from the historical society's web page.
"There's definitely a pattern," Jack said. "I do think you might be right about the stone eagle, though it's very unusual for something inanimate to spontaneously gain sentience like this, particularly with malicious intent. A hex seems more plausible. But, for it to continue... perhaps a curse? Even so, there's usually a triggering event. I don't see anything here that seems, well, 'big' enough, if you will."
I had settled into the 'guest' chair and was swiveling back and forth, thoughtfully. My mocha was gone, but I was still tapping the empty paper cup to my lip. "The thing that I keep thinking about is how the eagle is this symbol of America, right? But, it seems kind of... I don't know, un-American to go after homeless people, gays, and hippies."
"Maybe it's a Republican eagle," Gennieve suggested.
I nodded like it was a possibility, but I really didn't think it was that simple. "I don't know. I feel like something's missing."
"Agreed," Jack said. "Like the actor. The original curser. Who was it? What was their beef?"
We all sat in thoughtful silence for a long time. No one had the answer. We seemed to be out of ideas. The hum of the air-conditioner the only sound.
"Will you take this stuff to Spenser?" I asked Jack, gesturing at the pile of articles spread across the desk. "I mean, maybe he has a clue. He's lived here a long time, hasn't he? Or... at least his family."
Gennieve looked up at that, curious. Then she shook her head. "I don't want to know what you mean by that." With a stretch and a yawn, she stood up. "In fact, I'm going home and leaving you freaks to figure out your magical mystery. I need a stiff drink."
We said good-bye to her and I thanked her for her help. She gave me an eye like she wasn't sure if I was being sincere or not, so I spontaneously hugged her. Which turned out to be very awkward, all stiff limbs and not-returning-the-hug-at-all. "Seriously, though, you've been a huge help, thanks," I muttered, but, as soon as I let go, she fled.
"Still marvelous with people, I see," Jack teased.
"It's a skill set," I said.
He laughed. Then, reaching into his jeans pocket, he pulled out my cell phone. "Sarah Jane wanted you to have this back."
"Thanks," I said. There were a few claw scratches on it, but otherwise it looked as good as new. Actually, better. Like someone had polished it.
"It had a bit of poo on it," Jack said, noticing my inspection. "Birds, you know, have no sphincter control."
"Lovely," I said, tucking it gingerly into my pocket.
We stood facing each other in my fancy office, not knowing what to say. It was almost as awkward as the hug.
"Right," Jack said, breaking the growing silence. "I'll take this to the Precinct headquarters and see what people there make of it. I suppose I'll have to pass it off as my own research, since you're meant to be on the lam."
"I'd turn myself in," I said, walking him to the door, "But I can't say I appreciated the accommodations."
"And, it's not like I've pressed charges," he said. "So, you know, it's all good."
"Oh, yeah, um... sorry about that?"
"It was an accidental curse," Jack said. "You don't know your own strength."
"I could have killed you," I said. "I blinded Devon. I mean, thank god he's a vampire... or werewolf, whichever it is that gives him healing power."
More awkward silence at the door. I felt like I should probably apologize more or something, but then the thought occurred to me, "You don't suppose that's how it happened with the eagle? An accident?"
"You mean an unfocused hex?"
"I don't know. Do I?" I asked, once again feeling like a numbskull for the vast lack of knowledge about magic I seemed to possess.
"It's a possibility," Jack admitted. "If we could figure out what the actual curse was, we could probably counter it. Which would be good, if your calculations are correct. In the mean time, I hate to suggest this, but..." His bright eyes sought mine and held them, "... it would be helpful if we, say, had a flying ally on our side. You know, something that could battle the eagle in flight."
"You mean... like a dragon."
Jack glanced at where my cell phone was tucked into my front pocket. "Just so."
YOU ARE READING
Alex Connor thought that being the South Dakota Hughes County Coroner was going to be a boring cushy job. She didn't count on the fact that her first case would leave her with a magical, living tattoo and awaken her latent magical powers. Now she'...