...fairytales often end violently...

...fairytales often end violently...

Saturday 7 January 2017

So Many Secrets ~ Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty

They stood in a shaft of sun yet her hands, when he gripped them, were death cold. “Stay inside,” he said. “Lock the door. Do not answer for anyone and draw all the blinds.” Dammit, he did not want to leave her alone.

Her fingers squirmed out of his and when they did he found he did not want to let go of her hands, either. “I promised I’d keep you safe.”

“I’m not a job, Owen.”

He’d hurt her. It was in her sunrise eyes. But how the hell had he hurt her? All he was trying to do was show compassion. Protection, dammit.

“Hurry,” she said. “Go.”

He stayed welded to the floor. “I don’t want to abandon you.”

“I…” Her hand twitched as if she wanted to latch onto him again.

He’d let her.

“I’m not alone.” Her chin jutted to the right. “Vincent Haslom,” she whispered and glanced out the open door, making sure Steve was out of earshot.

He looked in the direction she’d indicated. Nothing. Still—“He threw you against a damn counter this morning!”

“I know, but…” She glanced at what he could not see. “I don’t think he’ll hurt me. And…” She shuddered. “I don’t think he’ll let someone hurt me, either.”

How could he believe her when she looked so damn…breakable? “Natasha…”

“Go!” She shooshed him over the threshold. “I promise I won’t tell Jakob you left me alone.”

“Like I give a sweet shit about Jakob.”

“Yes, well…I do.” Her eyes pooled. “I’m afraid for him.”

“Because you think he killed Galinko?”

“No! Because…he’s never said goodbye to me before.” She looked anguished.

He hated leaving her.

“Owen!” Steve yelled.

“Just go.” She pushed him out, shut the door.

Rob’s new housing development looked like a neighborhood of cops. Police cruisers were haphazard and everywhere. The local Detachment had to have called in assistance from the larger station in Cascadia. After all, Vestemere had never had a murder he could remember, and even any suicides that had occurred were so rare that some already twenty years old were still spoken of as if they were news. He parked behind Steve, a significant distance away from the flurry of uniforms and yellow crime scene tape. A half dozen carpenters made up a rather lost looking group where they’d parked and Rob Haslom paced amongst them. Jessalyn too, hoisting onto tiptoe to try seeing beyond, where the police were working. Owen approached them. “Hey, Old Man.” He stilled Rob with a hand on his shoulder. “You didn’t need this.”

“No.” Jessalyn stalked up to them. “What we didn’t need was Jakob and Natasha Nikoslav and however they’ve contributed to this…to whatever the hell’s gone on here! Where were they last night when this poor guy was killed?”

Poor guy? He considered her. Had Rob never told her the name Galinko? Hell, hadn’t her Dad shared the name of the murder he’d been trying to solve since he was in uniform?

“Well?” She tapped a foot. “Where were they?”

“In the cottage you rented them.” He hesitated a beat. “So was I.”

She gaped. “You’re sleeping with her now?”

“Jessie!” Everyone, even Owen himself, took a collective step back at the snarl in Rob’s voice. “That’s enough.”

She stabbed her chin at him. “Look,” she said. “I know you think she’s—”

“Rob Haslom?” A constable in uniform approached, but Owen’s brow remained quirked. Rob thought the Tsarina was what?

“Yes?” Rob said tiredly, and stepped forward. Owen stayed with him, shoulder to shoulder.

“You made the report about threatening storybooks being sent to your residence?”

“To my wife, yes.”

The officer hoisted a brow at Jessalyn and Owen nursed an internal grin. Aha. How does it feel to be within the scope of suspicion, little Harpy?

“We found a stack of storybooks in the tenement Galinko was renting,” the cop said, then paused. “Some were defaced just like yours.”

“So this is our guy.” Rob’s shoulders drooped, relief, and Owen was alarmed to see how ashen he was. Old Man, you really don’t need more stress.

The cop said “Were you out here at all last night, Mr. Haslom?”

“No. I sent my last worker home around seven. Had supper myself about eight.”

“With you, Mrs. Haslom?”

“Yes,” Jessalyn held her chin high. “My father joined us. Corporal Cory Chandler?”

The RCMP member shrugged the name off as meaningless. Owen wanted to clap him on the back. “We’ve noticed you don’t have security cameras out here,” he added.

“It’s Vestemere,” replied Rob, and his big eyes looked so perplexed, so guileless…Owen wanted to groan. “Officer, what does it look like happened?” Rob asked then, still big-eyed. “What I saw looked like someone stabbed this guy with a shoe.”

The cop grimaced, and Owen recognized the debate playing over his face. What to share versus what to hold back to maintain the integrity of the investigation. “Is that what you saw?” the officer asked finally.

Rob nodded.

“Standby,” said the cop, and walked back to the scene.

Owen wished he could go take a look himself. A shoe? Seriously? How had she, the woman Sondra had profiled, done it? “Did they get into it and he fell down? Did she stomp him?” He surprised himself by murmuring aloud, and when he looked, everyone was ogling him. He turned to Jessalyn. “Where is your Dad, by the way?”

“I beg your pardon?”

Oh, cut the affronted bullshit, Harpy. “This is a murder scene. He’s a cop. I’m surprised he isn’t here.”

“I think he had to run errands back in Cascadia.”

‘I think’? She ‘thought’? ‘Thought’ was a bullshit word. A liar’s word. What did she know about Cory Chandler he didn’t? More importantly, what did Cory Chandler know that they all didn’t?


Vincent Haslom was glaring, but Natasha refused to shrink within the chill of his stare. “I do not approve of Owen Brophy,” he said.

“Really? Well, I’m sure his girlfriend couldn’t care less who you approve of.”

The spirit narrowed its eyes and she was keenly—in fact sharply—aware that she did not feel frightened without Owen beside her.

She felt lonely.

“You keep glancing out the window like a lovesick teenager,” Haslom said.

“Be still,” she retorted tonelessly.

“Over a Brophy. My God. What is it about that blue collar trash that compels all my children?”

“So you do call Rob and Sabrina your children?”

“I never said they weren’t mine, darling girl. I only said I didn’t want them.”

Yet he did want her. Lucky her. Fatherless a lifetime and now a monster had risen from the grave to claim his paternity.

“You don’t trust Brophy, either,” he said, shrewd.

“Should I?”

“No. He still hides behind the same dimples he used when he was a kid and thought I didn’t know he was sly.”

Nothing she hadn’t picked up on herself. “Well done, Tat’ka.” She bowed. “Perhaps it is you who’s been my psychic lineage, not Matka.”

He met her sneer with his own. “You don’t have to be psychic to be smart, darling girl. And clearly you don’t need to be smart to be psychic. Brophy is beneath you. Cut contact.”

Play her remained, a Shadow on the wall. Still—“When you were living, Vincent Haslom, was it so easy for you to simply walk away?”

“Easier than wringing a cat’s neck.” He smiled pointedly in the direction of Shoes, cowering beneath the wingback. “Figuratively speaking,” he added.

“You’re a monstrosity.”

“Go to the door,” he replied. “You have a caller.”

Out the window a spear of sun glinted off strawberry curls. “Cory Chandler.” Here, yet another member of the Galinko family currently lay dead on his son-in-law’s property.

Haslom followed her to the entrance. She rounded on him. “You,” she said, “Will say and do nothing.”

“Like that fool will see me.” His dead breath was a blast of heat. “He never could see the flesh right in front of his face.”

She drew a bracing breath, opened the door.

Chandler’s hand fell back to his side before he could knock. “Precognition.” A smile filled his face, wide and fond.

“No.” She stepped back. “I saw you through the window.”

“Oh? Not in shadows?” His freckles were merry.

He knew she was psychic. She took another step back, felt the Hell-heat of Haslom. “Policii Chandler, my Uncle Michael—”


“—was not my blood relative. We share no genetic…anomalies. He was married to my mother’s sister.”

“Yes. Danieta.”

The name unlatched her Aunt’s Shadow: “You’vesold your abilities to the police?” She looked so aghast Natasha winced. Auntie Danieta had always been discreet to the point of denial about her abilities, so demure that Baba had teased she must be part Galinko.

Jakob, though, was more cynical—he maintained that his mother’s reticence with her psychic prowess was a way to hide all she couldn’t do compared to the rest of them. Yet now Natasha observed her Shadow, fretting before her husband Mihajlo, and her heart contracted. “Michael,” said Danieta. “We don’t tell people what we can do. It...it’s not safe.”

He laughed, looking so much like Jakob Natasha’s breath caught. “The policii are paid to keep people safe, Danieta.”

Yet as he spoke, the toxic skull and crossbones fell over his Shadow, green and…bitter. The tasted arrived on her tongue. Don’t show. She flicked a hand, so subtle it would make Auntie Danieta proud, then refaced Chandler, a hunch emerging at the back of her mind. “What happened to my Uncle?” she said.

“Diabetic shock.”

That had always been the official story. Still LIAR! was a smudge floating from Chandler’s lips. She regarded it. “Family lore is that you and he were known as ‘The Grimm Brothers’,” she lied. “Who named you that?”

He shook his head. “Natasha, Mihajlo did not kill your Matka.”

There was pain on his face. Yet on her left Haslom spoke. “Fool,” he spat. “Blind, trusting fool.”

She edged closer to him as another Shadow, her Matka, Silva, shimmered in delicate color. “Come, darling,” she said and scooped a tiny, silver-haired toddler up, a baby in fussy lace and crinolines like little Robyn would wear. That’s me. Natasha clung to the image. “She loved me,” she whispered.

“No, she loved me,” Haslom replied. “But darling child—she worshipped you.”

Tears leapt to her eyes and she glared at Chandler. “My Matka was murdered.”

“No.” He looked helpless. “It…a car accident. I’d moved by then, my own baby and me, but Mihajlo…he called me, told me. He was devastated. He’d cared deeply for your mother. Like a sestra.”

‘Sister’. Her heart was pounding. Haslom was growling.

“He adored you too. Yes,” Chandler added, addressing her surprise. “He spoke of you. He and Danieta used to babysit you when you were an infant, wanting to give Silva a break because she was so young to be a mama…” He trailed off, carried wistfully, she could see, by whatever sort of Shadows a person with no psychic ability had. “Mihajlo used to chuckle at Silva’s defiance. She flat-out refused to disclose who your father was, would only say he was the ‘Great love of her life’.”

Haslom made a tortured sound and laid his hand on her shoulder. The heat branded her so intensely she yelped.

“I’m sorry,” said Chandler. “I’m upsetting you.”

“N-no.” She wanted to hear this. Needed to hear this. Somewhere within everyone’s Shadows of the past was every reason they’d arrived at this future.

“Mihajlo called you Sleeping Beauty,” he said.

Her heart stopped.

He smiled. “Said you were such a content baby. That his Jakob doted on you.”

‘His’ Jakob? This threw her. Surely Uncle Michael—Mihajlo—had known how fractured his connection to Jakob was. He, with his unerring ability, had to have seen that Jakob knew Mihajlo had love and time in abundance for everyone…except he and his mother.

“Mihajlo was so heartsick when Silva died,” Cory murmured, oblivious. “She was just a girl. Hell, little more than a child.”

“She was a woman!” Haslom thundered. “A woman who knew everything. Everything!”

“Like what?” She turned to him.

Chandler looked confused. “What?” he said, then shook it off. “Natasha…Mihajlo was a good man. My best friend. My bratr. He would never…he didn’t kill your Matka. He loved her—and you.”

“Naïve,” spat Haslom. “A rube. No wonder this fool loves my son as if he were his own.”

Natasha’s head spun and she whispered “Stop” to both of them as Shadows thundered around her, a kaleidoscope of all she’d already seen. She cataloged through them rapidly, pulse cresting as—“What about your wife?” she blurted as Shadows of Silva and Elayna whirled by, Silva slapping Elayna’s face. “Did Elayna kill my Matka?”

Chandler looked startled. “Ne. No. Natasha, Elayna was already dead when Silva was—”

“—murdered. No accident. And does that matter, Policii Chandler? Didn’t your dear bratr Mihajlo ever tell you what the dead can do?” She spared a quick glance at Haslom.

He smiled. “That’s my girl.”

Chandler shook his head, red curls bobbing. “Natasha, no. Elayna…what have you seen about Elayna?”

It was none of his damn business what she’d ‘seen’. “I know she was connected to my Matka.”

He looked skeptical. “Elayna had nothing to do with Galinko.”

Meaning he knew Silva did? She felt Haslom inch closer, blistering heat.

“And as far as anything else…” Chandler grimaced. “Elayna was never as important as…well, as she wanted to believe.”

Her brows arched. What did that mean?

A rueful, twisted little smile met his mouth. It unleashed her tongue. “Is that why you—”

‘Cheated on her?’ was lost as he said “Natasha, I know you came to Vestemere because of Galinko, and I know you must have all sorts of questions. Hell, after all these years so do I, but one thing I can answer for certain: Mihajlo did not harm your mother.”

“Then who did?”

The fondness dropped off his face. “I don’t know,” he answered, yet a Shadow breezed over him, a younger version of himself holding a baby—Jessalyn!—and alongside her Uncle Mihajlo. “Have you taken your insulin?” he asked him.

Mihajlo scowled, an impatient expression. “You are not listening, Cory. I—”

“Your needle,” said Chandler. “You’re ornery.”

“Dost!” Mihajlo grasped him by the upper arms. “You are being hunted!”

A chill lanced Natasha’s arms, yet “Ne,” Cory replied, laughing. “I’m the hunter, kamarad. I’ll hunt Haslom till—”

“Forget Haslom!”

The infant Jessalyn started to cry.

“The Zlý Kralovna is far more dangerous than Haslom.”

‘The Wicked Queen.’ A rash of goosebumps seized Natasha arms, and a trickle of blood began to leak from her nose as the scene faded beneath new Shadows forming words, shock-red slashes on the air.





©bonnie randall 2005

Sunday 25 December 2016

So Many Secrets ~ Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Twenty-Nine

She reached up, cupped the air where Galinko’s Shadow had swung from the rafter. “Show.”

Nothing. The ink painted everything black. “Show light,” she amended then concentrated, like back in the cottage when she pushed hard enough to make those tiny her pinpricks of sunshine pierce the darkness. “Please,” she whispered. “Where is he? How is he?”

A Shadow jumped onto the floor, but Walter Galinko did not lie there before her. Instead Rob Haslom gurgled blood and had the stiletto jabbed into his chest. “Natasha. Help me.”

She gasped but “Tsarina?” Owen stepped between her and the Shadow, blocking it. “You’re bleeding.”

She latched onto his hand. “Look!”

His gaze hopped to the floor where Rob was bleeding. “Help…me,” it whispered.

They stared then it faded. She slipped her palm from his hand.

“You’re bleeding,” he repeated, and stripped his shirt off, handed it over.

She hesitated and he flashed a tight grin. “You snooty about my sweat, Your Highness?”

Hardly. She folded the shirt—“Thank you”—and pressed it to her face, eyes averted from his chest, chiseled and inked in a riot of colors. He’d held her against his heart outside and now she craved the scent permeating his t-shirt; musk, man, and rain. “Crazy,” she mumbled, and ignored his quizzical brow. Not only was this not the time, but she’d made this mistake once before—lusting for someone who belonged to another. Although…she sneaked a peek at him. It wasn’t like Owen Brophy would care that her heart turned disquieting somersaults around him. He had his little red-haired Shadow named Sondra, a memory that followed him where-ever he went. Case in point; even when he’d held her (so tenderly. Dammit! Why had he been so damn gentle?) outside, she’d been able to hear Shadow fragments of the phone conversation he’d had with Sondra Mitchell. Had heard Sondra say “Play her.”

So all these peonies raining petals all over the floor could politely go to hell. Any tenderness he’d shown was just another undercover op, and he was playing a role. She stuck a foot out, stomped a peony under her heel.

He cocked his head. “I’d ask why you’re always surrounded by flowers, but I think we have more pressing ground to cover. I asked Steve to ask some discreet questions about Walter Galinko. If this was all just a scare tactic, and the guy’s still around, we need to warn him.”

By saying what? That a member of the psychic family he’d been raised to hate saw him in danger? Like he’d believe them. Like she’d even be safe telling him. And besides—“I don’t think we can help him.” Her Shadows were ink but her gut wasn’t.

And Owen Brophy, Knight Crawler and policii wasn’t fazed. “So he is dead? Why kill him?”

She didn’t know, but a guess—“He’s no longer needed?”—felt right.

He pursed his lips. “Let’s get out of here,” he said, and took her elbow.

Back in her cottage, Shoes mewed and wound ’round their ankles with her hobbly gait. Owen stooped, scooped her up. “Who could Galinko be working for?” he said, for they’d theorized the entire way over; if the assailant was indeed a woman like Sondra said, then Walter Galinko was a mere hired gun, a willing participant due to his grudge-filled history with the Hasloms, Cory Chandler—and with the Nikoslav family and there supposed guilt after the suicide following her attack with the red brush back in Alberta. The suicide which, according to Owen, remained a hot-button topic on a website called Alberta Unsolved.

“Could our threat-maker be someone who calls herself Third Eye 20/20?” he asked.

“W-ell…” She considered it. “Whoever she is, she does have psychic abilities.” And it was a relief, actually, to think that it wasn’t a Galinko; after indicting her so harshly for so many years, it had somehow felt like an insult to imagine any of them having even latent prescient ability. She hunted for her phone. “Here.” She handed it to him. “Find the website, let me touch the names.”

He palmed the device with one hand while cradling Shoes with the other, and the kitten purred, a ball of fur sweetly content against the riot of color on his skin. The contradiction of soft and tough made her heart turn another now-familiar cartwheel, and she turned quickly—“One second”—then disappeared into Jakob’s bedroom. Surely her Armani-wearing cousin had at least one t-shirt to his name. She rummaged rapidly through his dresser. Nope. Then his closet.

Oh, God. His closet.

Tucked behind an acre of dress shirts, pressed jackets and, yes, a couple t-shirts, the portrait, Calling In Light, was propped against the back wall.

“Got it, Tsarina,” called Owen.

She couldn’t tell him, wouldn’t tell him. Hangers jangled as she slid the clothing back over the painting then, snitching one of the hanging t-shirts, she called “Coming!” then dropped Owen’s bloodied one into the hamper by the door. “J-just getting you something to wear.” Her mouth didn’t work right. Felt like it had been mashed full of electric cotton. When had Jakob gotten that painting?

“Here.” They both said simultaneously back in the living room, her handing him the shirt, he passing her the phone. Her fingers trembled as they slid over the screen, touching names. “Night Crawler,” she whispered, and glanced at him.

He grunted, a tight sound, then slipped the t-shirt on, hiding his skin in a way that made her both relieved and hungry. Her gaze darted quickly back to the phone. “Grace 02. That’s…Anna Wright?” She was astonished. “She owns the bakery in Echo Creek. I…I thought she hated me as much as everyone else.”

“Apparently not.”

The way he watched her…another somersault seized her heart and peonies….God. There were peonies everywhere.

“Play her.” His girlfriend’s little red-headed Shadow stepped out of the wall with a smirk.

Right. ‘Play her’. Peonies wilted as she sank to the sofa. “Third Eye 20/20.” She touched the name and a Shadow leapt before her. She quickly read through the thread of messages he’d written, his Shadow sardonic and vaguely defensive as he sparred with @Night Crawler. “Jakob,” she said, because nothing he’d written gave her reason to protect him, and she had to tell the Knight Crawler some things. She could, after all, play him too. “He said he’d meet you.” She looked up.

“This morning,” he confirmed, and though his Shadow tossed an arm up to block, she still saw a rapid-fire exchange. ‘Protect her,’ Jakob had said.

Ah. So everyone was playing her. “I see,” she said. “Is he paying you?” She was proud it came out absent.

“No,” he replied, arctic cold.

She shrugged nonetheless. “I can protect myself.” Then went back to the phone. “Avenger911. That’s Walter G,alinko.”

“You sure?”

Ja. Yes.” She kept her fingers lightly atop the name, but yelped as Shadow visages of fists, knives…and then a red brush turned everything into blood.

“You okay?”

Protect her. A duty. Those tender arms around her outside Jakob’s shop had only been a job. “Yes,” she murmured, and slipped away from him.

“The woman?” he prompted.

She set her phone aside. “Cory Chandler,” she answered, unbidden.

He sank to the chair across from the sofa, waited for more.

“He…when I first saw his Shadow it kept saying ‘Be true’, and I didn’t know what to make of it. Then I picked up all the angst about his wife, Elayna—”

“—who Jessalyn hates.”

“Yes, but it’s normal, sometimes, to hate and blame the non-offending parent, blame them when…when the other parent strays.”

He squinted, confused.

“Chandler cheated, Owen. All the guilt and regret I see…he cheated on Elayna.”

“And is the woman he banged the one we’re looking for? Has she been packing a grudge because he didn’t leave his wife like he’d promised? Didn’t hook up with her even after Elayna died?”

Possibly. For hadn’t she, once upon a time, resented Gregory with every cell of her being because he didn’t leave his wife? “I…maybe,” she mumbled. “People…people are complicated.” She looked away lest he see the memories, and the shame.

Yet he watched her like he had before, in that penetrating way that made her feel like he was somehow taking stock of her soul. “Natasha,” he said.

There was compassion in his sea eyes. It was the softest thing she’d ever seen.

“I know life happens.”

Her gaze clung to that softness but then a Shadow darkened it. Play her. She looked away. Shoes was batting at dust motes in the corner. She watched her instead. “If it redeems me at all, Gregory is the only man I’ve ever been with.” She smiled, humorlessly, at the shock she could feel. “So much for your theory that I am some sort of bordello masseuse, Policii Brophy.”

Lonely. The thought flashed through his head before his Shadow could toss its arm up and block it. She shook her head. “That’s Jakob’s word for me,” she said. “Not mine.”

He watched her again. “You lying to me, Tsarina?”

About some things? Yes. About this thing…? Tears smarted her eyes. Yes. “No,” she answered. “And we’ve crept off topic. Cory Chandler,” she repeated.

He held up a hand. “Wait.” He’d glanced beyond her, out the window. “My brother’s here.”

She hurried to the door, Owen beside her. “Steven! Come in.”

“Natasha.” He nodded, then looked at his brother. “You,” he said. “Need to come with me.”

There was dead serious on his face and in his tone. Dread unfurled in her belly and she was surprised when Owen folded her hand into his larger one.

—Just stay close—

he said.

Play her, replied a Shadow, angry and black.

She froze and Steve said “You two must have been reading tea leaves or something.” A puff of drywall dust drifted off his head as he shot a hand through his hair. “Rob found a body in one of the houses in the new development.”

—Oh, God, Owen! Walter Galinko!—

He squeezed her hand. “Galinko?” he asked.

Steve waggled his head. “Not sure. But the cops are there and Rob’s a mess and Jessalyn is bleating.” Here he fired a quick little apologetic look her way.

She clawed for her voice till she rasped, high and reedy, “H-how did the person die, Steven?”

He winced and she could tell he didn’t want to repeat anything gruesome. A warm rush of affection coursed through her and Owen said

—He’s liked you from the start—

then added

—He’s a good judge of character—

PLAY HER became a floor-to-ceiling Shadow. Ignoring it, and slipping her hand from his, she said “W-was it suicide? Like…a hanging, or—”

“No. The guy…” Steve whipped his hand through his hair again, wafting more dust. “The guy had a fucking shoe, a high-heeled shoe, jammed into his chest.”

©bonnie randall 2005

Tuesday 13 December 2016

So Many Secrets ~ Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty Eight

The breath Natasha drew would expel as a scream, so he pulled her into him, wrapped her tight. “Shh, shh, shh.” He held her. “Don’t look. Close your eyes.” She shook so bad he vibrated too as he pulled out his phone.

“911, what’s your emergency?”

“Need police,” he said. “There’s a body—” Natasha whimpered as he rifled off the address. He held her tighter.

She peeled out of his arms. “And an ambulance! Owen, we need an ambulance! He’s—”

Dead, Tsarina. We don’t need an ambulance

She looked stricken. He reclaimed her, snug against his chest. “It’s a hanging,” he told the operator, calmer than he felt.

“Dispatching police. Stay on the line, sir.”

He kept Natasha locked against him while he delivered his name and address to the operator, crooned “No, no, no” every time she impulsively tried to turn ’round and look.

Vestemere was small enough that he heard the whine of sirens immediately. Natasha did too and battled out of his arms. “If Walter Galinko was our threat-maker, then wh-who did this to him?” She hiked a thumb over her shoulder.

“A woman,” he replied, tight.

“How do you…” She grabbed his hand, touched his palm. “Your girlfriend told you?”

She looked confused and he was glad she was distracted enough not to look back at the body whose entrails…he glanced. Had congealed. Were drying. Were…he squinted as Galinko seemed to weave before his eyes. Christ! Was he still alive? He made for the body, but…no. Galinko remained where he was, all motionless gore. Still…something was off.


He kept his eyes on the corpse. “Yeah?”

“How…how does your girlfriend know about this?”

“Because I told her.” He remained affixed to Galinko. “She’s a cop.” He sensed her surprise, then added, wry, “and you’ve been saying ‘Night Crawler’ wrong, by the way. It’s not knight as in hero. It’s night as in dark. It was an operation. I was the operation—because Sondra wasn’t just my girlfriend. She was also my sergeant,, and when we went undercover it…went bad.”

“You mean she went bad.”

He stiffened, but couldn’t take his eyes off Galinko. Something was off. What, the hell, was off? “I’m not quite that judgmental, Tsarina.”

“Yet here you are calling me Tsarina,” she retorted, yet against his chest he could feel her start knitting her fingers. “I’m sorry,” she said then, quietly. “I know what it’s like to have people judge someone you love. I…I have Jakob, remember?”

Yeah. Jakob, who’d bade him to take care of her, yet who’d brought her here into danger—then left her alone again and again.

She shrank, clearly misreading his stiff posture. “Jakob didn’t do this, Owen. He couldn’t have. I was up until light—you saw all my baking!—he didn’t leave his room. He—”

“I just finished saying it was a woman,” he snapped, immediately regretting being curt, but still. This same woman, whoever she was, had shown her her tombstone. And precious cousin Jakob knew that.

A police cruiser roared up, siren howling, and as its lights spilled blue and red hues on the street someone yelled “Owen!”

Rob Haslom, sprinting over town square. Steve lumbering behind. “What’s going on?” he asked, and as Natasha pushed herself away, searched her face. “You okay?”

What the hell, Old Man? What was with all this undisguised infatuation whenever the Tsarina was around?

Owen! He’s just being kind

He glanced down, and—Well, look at that. She’d latched her cold, delicate hand onto his. He slid his palm, flush with hers.

Now who’s being naïve?

He turned to Rob. “Accident inside,” he said, and the police officer left his cruiser, approached.

“You Owen Brophy? Want to show me what’s going on?”

“One sec.” He turned to Steve. “Where’s your ’burbie?”

Steve jabbed a finger to his old rusty suburban across the street. “You,” Owen peeled his fingers away from Natasha. “Go plant yourself in that truck. And stay there till—”

“No! I need to stay, Owen. I saw...” She did not, likely could not, look at her cousin’s store.

He gave her a severe glare.

Her cheeks pinked, still—“Owen, I have seen terrible things before.”

Meaning her Shadows? Or all the cruelty that had left the sorrow in her eyes? “I’m sorry,” he murmured. For always barking at her. For bullying her. For saying something stupid and cruel like “I don’t like you” when it was a lie and had been from the start. Sorry too that her ability, her mind, tortured her with horrors like Galinko, now hanged and gutted like an animal in her cousin’s so-called ‘store’. “I’m just trying to help, Tsarina.”

“So am I,” she said.

“Then stay close to me.”

Their eyes caught and shared something he couldn’t decipher before the cop, emerging from the store, said “Is this some sort of joke?” He fixed Owen with a glare. “Thought you told 911 there was a body in there.”

“I—” It was see-through. The realization occurred as he looked at the now wide-open doorway and saw that nothing was there. Just the massage table with its bow, and a muscle chart affixed to the wall. Galinko’s body, what he’d known to be something ‘off’…it had been see-through.

“Hey!” A new voice cut into their small crowd at the curb. Jessalyn, Cory Chandler tailing her, said “What the hell’s happened now?” She sounded harried and scared, and the cop barked “Hey!” as she tried to barrel through the shop door to see. Then she rounded on Natasha. “What did you do?”

“I—” The Tsarina backed away, and he quickly tucked her behind him.

“Back off!”

All of them, even the cop, shrank back. But it was Natasha who spoke next, to the officer. “It was me.” She stepped out from behind his shoulder. “I came to get something from my cousin’s store, and when I opened the door I saw—” Her hand was a mess of tremors as she pointed. “Well, I guess I saw that muscle chart, but the way the light hit it, and with that red bow on the massage table…” She swallowed, an audible click. “I…I thought it was a body.”

The cop stared at her.

“I-it scared me,” she added, “so I called Owen, and—”

“—and you didn’t look?” This, the cop directed at him.

“She was hysterical.” He shrugged and, playing his part, slid an arm ’round her. “I was more concerned about her than what she said she saw.”

The cop hissed with a sigh. Owen didn’t blame him. Still, he slipped his free hand into Natasha’s, melded their palms.

Good thinking, undercover officer

She replied

I hate lying

and he could practically hear her hands, itching to fret.

The cop said “I wish I could charge you both with mischief.”

“But I didn’t mean to be mischievous!” Natasha blurted, and Owen winced. Would the officer think she was being a smart ass?

Nope. He squinted in a way that took her for a dumb blonde. Playing along, he snugged her up close, shot the billion-watt smile in a way that said ‘What can ya do, man?’

The officer didn’t smile back, instead spoke into the radio affixed to his shoulder. “10-74,” he said, a 10-Code Owen knew. ‘False alarm’. “Cancel ambulance,” he added then walked back to his cruiser without further ado.

“Excuse me.” Natasha slipped out from his under arm with a sheepish smile to the others.

He grabbed her hand

Where are you going?

She said

Galinko is somewhere. I want to try reading my Shadows

Cory Chandler stepped forward. “Silva,” he said, hoarsely.

Natasha turned and Owen was staggered by the momentary flash of rage on her face. But then, in an effort reminiscent of her cousin, she swiped her expression clean. “Natasha.” She annunciated each soft vowel clearly. “My mother Silva is dead. My Uncle Michael killed her.”

Chandler’s face drained and “Ne.” It seemed to fall out.

“I’m afraid so,” she replied, then added something in her native tongue.

Chandler nodded. “Ja,” he said hoarsely. “But not…not fluently anymore. I no longer have anyone to speak Czech with.”

“That’s a shame,” said the Tsarina, all silver hair and all-seeing gold eyes.

You’re amazing, Owen thought, and hoped she could hear him.

“Please excuse me.” This time she pointed her gaze at Jessalyn. “I’m going inside. I’m afraid I’ve embarrassed myself terribly, over-reacting to shadows.”

He caught the double meaning with ease.

“My cousin left a gift and here I thought it was something sinister.” She smiled thinly, then bowed to Jessalyn. “Good day.”

In other words, screw you. He felt like grinning, but then

I need you with me so you can see

she said, her voice sliding like a silken ribbon into him, soft and satiny. Feeling it made something deep inside of him shudder


she prompted.

As you command, Your Highness

It was strangely delightful to feel her scowl, all prickly nettles.

Shut up

she pouted, all petulance and prickles.

And stop calling me that!

©bonnie randall 2005

Tuesday 29 November 2016

So Many Secrets ~ Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Seven

He’d showered but was still toweling off when the doorbell rang. 6:53. Evidently the Tsarina didn’t want to waste any time.

Neither did he.

Alberta Unsolved was cued up on his laptop and he dressed quickly, shouting “Hang on!” as he jerked his jeans up, raked back his hair. He supposed he should have brewed coffee, but who knew she’d be here so soon? He sprinted downstairs, balking as he pulled the door open.

A man’s back faced him, broad, and in a wool trench coat he’d never have afforded even if he’d made it to the top of his pay grid. “Can I help you?” he said.

The man turned and Owen knew him instantly; his coloring was the Tsarina’s opposite— coal black to her snow blonde—but the sun ray eyes were the same. “Kava?” said Jakob Nikoslav, and handed him a cup. “You do take it black?”

Owen jacked a brow, but reached out, took the coffee.

Nikoslav nodded, polite. Then he tilted his head. “I’ve come to impart an understanding upon you, Owen Brophy.”

Fuck, seriously?

“Oh, very,” Nikoslav answered aloud. “And it is this: You may choose to hurt my sestranek.” He smiled, beatific. “But only if you are a gambler with a preference for impossible odds.” Owen flashed his million watt smile. “Threats, Mr. Nikoslav?”

“It is actually Antonovich, as you’re about to discover.”

As he’d already, discovered. That hick cop out in Alberta had told him.

“And I find threats to be banal,” Nikoslav added and smiled, a row of perfect, polished teeth. “I do, however, make assurances. And I promise—I am highly reliable.”

Owen folded arms across chest, coffee cup dangling from one hand. “She has no clue that you’re here.”

Nikoslav’s smile became broad. “Why, how very presentiment of you, Policii Brophy. My cousin sleeps. Exhausted because she has neither the experience nor the taste for anything….criminal.”

He should have been used to the way Nikoslav raked a gaze over his tattoos and hair, yet— “So she’s a pampered princess,” he replied, knowing it was bullshit, but wanting to goad.

“Pampered? Ne. She’s hardly had that luxury.”

But she deserves it. The thought was an unbidden reflex, and he wasn’t sure what surprised him more—that he’d had it, or that Nikoslav answered it.

“Yes,” he said. “She does.”

A bit of hot coffee hopped out of Owen’s cup, burned his fingers.

Nikoslav’s smile flattened. “Sorry to startle but, unlike my cousin, I can raid your every thought, Owen Brophy, and see through your every intention.”

And he thought the Tsarina couldn’t?

“So if the mere inclination to abuse her floats through your mind I will not only know it, but I’ll then make it my ambition to create for you a life that makes any playacting at bereft you did out on the street seem like heaven.”

Breath hissed through Owen’s teeth. His free hand clenched.

“I’d think twice,” murmured Nikoslav.

Owen set his jaw. “What makes you so certain I’ll hurt her?”

“Because you can. And because…she’d let you.”

What horseshit. The Tsarina had come out swinging every time he’d taken a poke at her. “She’s tougher than you think. She’s not foolish. Not weak.”

“She is also not loved.”

No one’s thrown a rock at her in ages. He swallowed. “Maybe not in that Hickville she’s from, but not—”

“Here? Really?” Nikoslav stared at him and at once Owen could see himself, hear himself, with Jessalyn.

Nonetheless, he didn’t shrink. “What the hell do you want?”

He was unprepared for the swiftness of the reply.

“I want you to take care of her,” said Nikoslav. “I want you to make an assurance of your own: that Natasha will come to no harm.”

“If what?” The image of her tombstone revisited him, cold and dismal.

“Why, if anything,” said Nikoslav, and flicked a shoulder.

Owen looked at him, hard. “What the hell do you know—”

“I know Natasha is brave,” said her cousin. “And strong. But I also know she is lonely and…sheltered. Therefore vulnerable. I have seen her hurt before.”

“And you’ve retaliated.”

Nikoslav didn’t reply.

“Why the hell does she martyr herself in a town full of zealots?”

“Ask her. She needs to hear the answer. Now: have we struck a deal?”

“For a price.”

Nikoslav’s face revealed nothing, yet Owen didn’t have to be psychic to feel his disgust—and perhaps disappointment. Yet “How much?” the man asked, placidly, and plucked lint from one well-heeled cuff.

“Not money.” Christ. For someone he’d asked to protect the precious Tsarina, Nikoslav damn sure had a low opinion of him. “I want a name. I can keep Natasha and everyone else safe a hell of a lot easier if I know who this woman is with the grudge.”

“And you think I know because…”

“Because it strikes me as something that would be very presentiment of you.”

An unamused snort. “I see,” he said. “So what if I said it was Sondra Mitchell?”

Owen rocked back, shocked.

Nikoslav launched a brow. “Ah,” he said. “You cannot believe someone like her is capable of terror and cruelty. ‘I’ve seen her loving,’ you say. ‘I’ve seen her funny and warm.’ And that is true.”

His heart hammered his throat. “So then…why?”

“Because there is an appetite inside of her, Owen Brophy. A bottomless well that can never be filled, and when she’s reminded it’s there she gets frantic, tries to drag everyone into her misery just so she does not have to feel so apart.” His gaze drifted then, distant. “But it never works. And so her cycle of rage and resentment wheels on, and the reality becomes such that, if given a choice, she will always chose darkness over light.”

“Because that’s where she’s most comfortable?” He hoped so. For at least then he could still feel the same tenderness. The same sympathy.

“No,” said Nikoslav. “Because that’s what she thinks everyone who’s fortunate enough to not be like her deserves.”

It tracked. From the so-called presentiment part of him that lived between heart and gut, it…tracked.

“Sometimes,” said Nikoslav, softly, “The person you’d take the bullet for is the one behind the trigger.” He lifted his collar, stepped off the stoop. “For the record, the person we seek is not Sondra Mitchell,” he said. “But is remarkably like her. Except perhaps with more malice. Take your bullets with care, Owen Brophy. And remember our deal.”


It was well after eight when Natasha stumbled into the kitchen, Shoes frantically weaving ’round her feet and mewing. “Hush, dítě!” Owen Brophy would think she stood him up, and Jakob…? She listened, all of her senses. Gone. “Dammit again!” She hurriedly spooned food into Shoes’ waiting dish. A note caught her eye as she stooped to set it down, a square index card whose presence punched her, invisibly and inexplicably, in the chest. She reached for where it was propped between the two pans of cinnamon buns she’d baked, an effort to quell the confusing Shadows last night—jumbles of dark shapes and nonsensical words like CHEAT and LOVE.

Vincent Haslom materialized, halting her. “Your matka also used to make sweets whenever she felt troubled.”

Natasha shank back and Shoes, hissing, bolted out of the kitchen. “I-I didn’t call you.”

“You didn’t dismiss me, either. Your cousin did. But he’s gone now, meddling just like his Papa.”

Tat’ka,” she corrected, inane, then forced her tongue to work around the adrenaline in her mouth. “Th-that’s twice now you’ve said you knew my Uncle Mihajlo—”

“Michael,” Haslom corrected, crisp. “Michael Antonovich. Psychic for hire. He’s why my Silva was killed.”

Michael. Mihajlo. A hired psychic—and a remembered Shadow who called him “Kamarad,” she murmured. “He was Cory Chandler’s psychic.”

“And none of this is about Galinko.”

A wave of nausea rocked her as he approached. “Stop,” mumbled, hand over mouth. “I get sick—”

“Toughen up!” he barked and grasped her shoulders, shook her hard. “At least the other one acts like a daughter of mine!”

He was touching her. Shaking her. How? Jakob said the dead couldn’t harm you. Jakob said they were just brighter Shadows. “Jakob says—”

“Antonovich’s whelp says a lot! Sliding words around like chess pieces on a board, all strategy and purpose and half-truths and lies.”

“No!” Jakob did not lie to her. “Take your hands off…” She tried besting his grip but her fingers cut through his hands like smoke.

“Michael Antonovich lied!” Haslom shook her again. “Lied to cover his own dirty tracks because Silva knew far more secrets than just mine with Galinko! So Antonovich set her up. He let her die. And all while he did it, that stupid cop couldn’t see what was right in front of his own goofy face. But I did!” He thrust her away then and she stumbled, back hitting the lip of the counter and knocking her wind out with a bright bolt of pain. “Know your enemy, Natasha-child,” Haslom sneered. “Your killer has always been closer than you think.”


Owen Brophy, from the front door. Haslom disappeared.


“H-here,” she croaked, winded.

He burst into the kitchen. “Where the hell have you been?”

She clutched her back. Fixed him with a glare. “Getting a manicure. Then a pedicure. I took a bubble bath.” She massaged the spot where the small of her back had collided with the counter. “I slept in,” she said then, and winced from pain. “I was up most of the night—” She tossed a gesture toward the table of baking.

He glanced too. “You opening a store?”

She straightened, inhaling and exhaling around pain. “It’s what I do when I’m—” Troubled, had said Haslom. “—upset.”

He squinted. “You okay?”

He was just noticing now that she wasn’t? Typical man. “Vincent Haslom was just here. Over your right shoulder.”

He turned cautiously around. “Is he still?”

“No. Well…maybe.”

“Huh.” He flipped his middle finger to the blank space. “Just in case. Up yours, you old prick.” He turned back. “He hurt you?”

Ja. Yes. He…the dead aren’t supposed to be able to touch living people.”

“Tsarina, the dead aren’t supposed to be able to appear to living people.”

She stared. “You’re so naïve,” she said, then wrenched around, tried to look at her back.

“Here.” His hands were on the hem of her shirt before she could say no, and though his touch was impartial, sparks nonetheless jittered all over her skin.

“You’ll have a bruise.”

He sounded angry. “And why does my bruise make you grouchy? Ah,” she jerked her shirt down, “let me answer. It is because you set law enforcement aside yet now you’ve been dragged into this mess.”

“That the psychic talking?”

“No. The human being.”

“They’re the same thing, Natasha.”

And that was pity talking, still…she liked how he said her name. Did not like that she liked how he said her name. “Don’t you mean Tsarina?”

“My apologies, Your Highness.”

She hid a spontaneous smile. “I also know you’re starving and that’s not ’cause I’m psychic either. Your stomach sounds like my cat.”

His dimples made her heart turn a somersault. She looked quickly away—and he popped the lid off another of his shake containers. How many of those things did he have? “No. No, Owen Brophy. Whatever sort of vile potion you swill, it smells like dead leaves and feet, and I am nauseous, so no. In fact, here.” She grasped his cuff, hauled him over to her table of baking. “Eat real food.”

“This is crap.”

“Pardon me, but my Baba’s cinnamon rolls and poppy seed pretzels could win prizes, Policii Brophy, now eat.” She shoved him into a chair, tore a roll from a pan then plucked a pretzel off the baking rack.

“I don’t eat—”

“Just do as you’re told!” she barked and he gawped. So did she. What had gotten into her?

He kept a wary eye on her and bit into the cinnamon roll. Gobbled the cinnamon roll. Inhaled the pretzel too then grabbed another.

“You have poppy seeds in your teeth,” she said.

He leered, theatric, and she clucked her tongue, grabbed Jakob’s note. His voice, psychically, filled her mind, and it was like he read aloud what he’d written.

My Dearest Sestranek A surprise waits for you in the shop I had rented on pretense. I believe you will find it, and the shop itself, to be of excellent use. Shadows say we might be apart now, Natasha, and if that’s true please remember that I have ever, and will forever, love you.


There were tears on her face. Involuntary reflex.

“What does it say?” Brophy plucked the note from her lax fingers and she let him, knowing he would not read it and understand it like she did. Jakob was not coming back. It was not with Shadows, or instinct, or by logic she knew. This letter, and whatever gift he had left her….this was goodbye.

“I need to get to that shop.” She leapt, whacking her thigh on the underside of the table, yet not feeling the pain that made the Knight Crawler wince commiseratively.

“Wait!” he said as she fled to the door, then flashed his keys. “Your chariot, your Highness.”

He took her elbow and ushered her to the passenger side. Stayed beside her as she rushed from his car to Jakob’s shop. Protecting me. The Shadow wafted in, wafted out, and she was aware of it yet didn’t care as she fumbled for the key Jakob had given her when they’d landed in Vestemere what now felt like decades ago.

—Bratranek, where are you?!

A wall of ink fell in a drape behind her eyes and she shrieked.

“What?” Owen Brophy got in front of her, sea eyes probing her face.

“H-he blocked me.” With the ink. How? He’d said—“He said he didn’t know how.”

—Yeah well he’s a fucking liar—

She flinched and “No,” she said. “Not to me, Owen. Never to me.”

His mouth set, a grim slash, and he jabbed a finger at the door.

She opened it and saw the massage table first. Front and center, topped with an enormous red bow, it was impossible to miss. But the body—Walter Galinko, the Beer Run server who’d made her two margaritas—she saw him too. Hanging from a rafter with a slash in his stomach that made the gore of his innards fall out.

©bonnie randall 2005

Tuesday 22 November 2016

So Many Secrets ~ Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Six

Jakob met her at the door with a blister-pack of Gravol. “The dead, sestranek? You contact the dead? I’ve told you what it’s like.”

“I wanted answers.”

“You wanted risk. The dead can neither be predicted nor trusted—and you know that too.”

So then perhaps she wasn’t Vince Haslom’s daughter? Her knees floated, relief, yet a Shadow of Silva, roundly pregnant, wafted in then wafted out and her breath shuddered.

“I’ve been moving heaven and earth to keep you out of danger!” Jakob railed.

She tossed the Gravol aside. “I am not glass nor a child!”

His lip curled. “My family is dead, sestranek. Every person I love. Except you. You are all I have.”

“I…you….you have your matka. Auntie Danieta—”

“Left me, left everyone, to live all over the globe. But you…”

never did

She stepped back. He looked hellish. Too thin. A blue cast under his skin. How many days had it been since she’d seen him? How could he look so bad, so fast? “Jakob, I…I wasn’t thinking about risk. I just…I want this to end.”

“End.” He shot a hand through his hair. Began pacing. “And where was your sea-eyed Knight tonight? Brophy? He was supposed to be with you.”

Clearly for once his precognition had missed the mark. “He was, but not like you seem to think. We…don’t get along.”

“So sleep with him. You’ll get along better.”

“The man who wants me safe also wants me to have random sex?”

“There’s this remarkable device called a condom, Natasha—”

Dost! My God Jakob, you will be the death of me.”

Ne. No. Not me. Never.”

“It…” She stepped back. “It was just an expression, bratranek.” Where on earth was his humor? Sensibility? He was so wrapped up in what had happened to her—what had happened to him?

“Your retching burst a blood vessel in your eye, Natasha.”

It had? “It…was intense.” Which eye? she wondered, right or—

“Left,” he said. “I need to show you something.” He drew out his cell phone, swiped the screen. “Seems you were right. Recognize?”

The person in the photo was grainy, yet the features—“That’s my waiter.” Who’d served her the margarita earlier.

“He is also Walter Galinko. He commutes here from Cascadia.”

“H-he served Sabrina and Jessalyn tonight too.”

“You say serving. I say casing his victims.”

She wrapped her arms ’round herself. “A Galinko with preternatural abilities strong enough to turn the whole world into ink.” She was angling for flip, but her voice trembled. “H-how proud his family must be.”

He cocked his head. “The dead you called knew nothing of this Galinko?”

She uttered an abrupt, unhappy laugh. “The dead I called couldn’t care less if his son or daughter both get murdered. Jakob…sit.” She pointed to the sofa, beside a sleeping Shoes.

He sank and a mass of Shadows she could not define sank with him, all meaningless shapes and movement. His confusion over her past? Or her own? “Vincent Haslom,” she said, and the Shadows seemed to lean forward as she told him everything.

His large eyed astonishment made him look like the little boy whose pictures Baba had held onto well after he’d become a teenager, then a man. It made her heart ache somehow, and when he said “No. That can’t be” she wanted, strangely, to cry. “Ne,” he insisted. “Haslom cannot be your tat’ka.”

‘Daddy’. Something about the endearment made her chest twist and she found herself reluctant to say “Just…ask your matka.”

He gaped. Quickly recovered himself. “My matka,” He cleared his throat “Would certainly not have approved of an affair.” He looked up at the ceiling. “Nor of me, really.”

Meaning his ever-changing cast of married women. She wrinkled her nose. “She’d likely disapprove of me too.”

He cut her a look. “Does your Sea-Eyed Knight know about Grigori?”

“Gregory,” she returned, flat, no accent. “And why would Brophy care?”

Something playing with his expression reminded her of Sabrina. “Dost!” she scolded. “The Knight Crawler is in love with his drug-addled girlfriend.”

“In love with? Or bound to?”

She blinked. He laughed, mirthless. “It has been my experience, Natasha, that you grow to loathe those you’re bound to, not love them.”

She regarded him. “Are we talking about Brophy? And if not, who are we talking about?”

His lips jerked, a rough smile. “Sit, Natasha. Your pacing is unnerving your creature.”

Shoes mewed and Natasha patted her absently as she sank down beside him—then she glanced at him, sidelong. “Jakob, do you…feel beholden to me?”

He gawped. She waited. Then “Natasha,” he said, clear and slow. “Do you remember when we were children and I had that…that accident, broke my arm?”

How could she forget? “You and Auntie Danieta came to visit and there you were in a cast. Baba fell to pieces—‘Ach, my Jakob Michael!’—then cooked you twelve plates of everything you loved. Do you remember?”

He grinned.

“I was jealous,” she confessed.

“Really?” He laughed. “I didn’t know.”

She swatted him.

“No, really! I only remember what you said. Do you?”

Of course. “I begged Baba and Auntie to let you come live with us. It seemed to me then that the city where you lived was a scary place. Where older, stronger bratraneks got broken arms.” She smiled, leaned her head on his shoulder. “I was worried about you.”

He placed his cheek on her hair. “Yet you ask if I am beholden to you. Natasha, no one has ever loved me like you do.”

Tears gathered in her eyes. “Jakob—”

“You wanted to rescue me back then. Just like—” He tossed a thumb toward Shoes.

“I still do.” She turned, faced him. “Tell me why you look so dreadful.”

He tsked. “You’re beginning to insult me like your idiot Railey.”

“As if Railey has ever thought you look dreadful. Open your all-seeing eyes, bratranek. But first: Tell me.”

He fell quiet, obviously debating, then “Galinko.”

Her heart began pounding. “W-we need to tell the policii—”

“Ha! The police, myself, and any member of the Galinko family is an unholy trinity.”

“So then—”

“I need you to stay with your Sea-Eyed Knight and the– er – your sister. Galinko…will be leaving.”

A leaden weight dropped her heart and “Jakob,” she began, but an old Shadow floated forth, a little boy with a stiff, white cast on his arm. ‘You have to be careful,’ it said. ‘If you’re not careful you get hurt really bad.’ His eyes looked solemn and sad.

His eyes still looked solemn and sad.

She grasped his gaze with her own. “How do I help you?”

He shook his head. “Ne, Natash—”

Dost! Whatever you are planning, whatever you do—Jakob, I will make certain you never get caught.”


“Don’t hang up.” Owen shouldered his way into his parents’ home, muscle memory attending to the lights while he focused on his phone. “Where are you?”

“In your ear, Night Crawler. You alone now? I heard that woman with you. She sounded sexy.”

“No, she sounded scared.”

“Ah. The Night Crawler’s found a damsel to rescue.”

Any irritation he felt was eclipsed by a sudden recollection of two seemingly meaningless words that had drifted through his thoughts as he’d crouched before that tombstone the Tsarina had shown him. Knight Crawler. He laughed, sharp and humorless. “Christ, is she saying that wrong.”

“What?” Sondra rallied. “So she’s not a distressed damsel? Why? No body to go with that soft, sexy voice?”

When had she become petty? “Where are you?” he barked. “I looked for you at your treatment center.”

“You…I…left there.”

Obviously. “Dammit, Sondra, they won’t hesitate to take you into custody—”

“Night Crawler, please. Just…can we just talk? Pretend things are the way they used to be?”

No. I—” He faltered there in his mother’s kitchen, upon a glimpse of himself in the night-darkened window. All beard and hair, yet still standing in the place where he’d grown up. A place where his mother would demand, much like Steve, that he clean himself up.

“Tell me about this investigation you’re doing,” said Sondra.

He sighed.

“Night Crawler, please. Let’s…let’s just be cops again. Just…just for tonight.”

Would that help her off the ledge she was so determined to teeter on? He dropped down to the table, started talking.

She listened like the cop—the excellent cop—she’d been, frequently peppering him with questions, the first one, “Is she delusional?” after he said

“The Ten Code, 10-30 M, what is that one?”

“Danger,” she answered. “Mental case. Head case.”

The Tsarina wasn’t nuts. “Sondra, the things she’s told me…she’s bang on.”

“Huh? Who? Oh. The psychic.” She sounded distracted. So much that he could all but see her ruffle her red hair, just like she always used to when she was thinking. “Your perp,” she said then. “And these fairytale references. Think this weirdo is living out a story?”

His gut told him no. And also said “He feels wronged. Like a fairytale victim. You know how the roles are always exaggerated in those stories—the victims are always really wronged: starved, locked up. Cannibalized.” All the things that had horrified Natasha.

And the punishments for the villain are always exaggerated too,” added Sondra.

“Yeah. ‘Fairytales often end violently’,” he quoted. “And not only that, but the retribution for the villain is always exquisitely timed.”


“Meaning it’s always dramatic, how the ogre gets ate, the wicked queen gets burned up, or whatever. But that’s part of what’s been picking me: why is the threat maker waiting to deal their so-called big death blow? If they’re into all these theatrics, then what’s with the taunting and cat-n-mouse crap?”

“You’re thinking like a man,” Sondra laughed, irony crouched in the sound.

He frowned.

“And Night Crawler, you’re also looking for a man.”

He flopped back. “Well, fuck.” A perp who skulked in the shadows. Who threatened instead of just waging war with guns blazing. Who took pleasure in horrifying by nailing a kitten to a stoop—and then in humiliating by calling someone ‘beloved’ when they knew damn well that same person had ‘No Friends To Show’. “A woman,” he said.

“A complete bitch,” Sondra replied. “You’re looking for a chick with an anvil-sized chip on her shoulder.”

He rapidly woke the mouse on his laptop. Which members of the Galinko family were women? Which members of Alberta Unsolved were female? He raised the website, scoured the message board. Would Natasha be able to touch these names and tell?

“Owen?” said Sondra as his eyes enlarged, took in a new message directed to him.

“Yeah?” His gaze was hitched to a line that read @Night Crawler.

“Can…can we meet?”

He choked a little for there, on the screen, it also said We need to meet. “When?” he said and could feel the adrenaline the Tsarina had spoke of, coursing up his spine.

“Soon?” asked Sondra, and on the screen it said Tomorrow

“Yeah,” he agreed more to the screen than to her, looking at the sender field. It read ThirdEye20/20.

©bonnie randall 2005

Tuesday 15 November 2016

So Many Secrets ~ Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Five

In the dashboard glow she looked ghoulish; dark half-moons under her eyes, and so pale the blue dash lights made her face look luminous. He reached to turn the stereo off. She beat him to it, turned it up. “Trust me,” she muttered, then tossed him a look. “Although I know that’s difficult.”

“You’re awful lippy for a shut-in. You steal all your best lines from TV?”

He didn’t need to be psychic to feel how much she wanted to clock him, but it was worth it. Riling her up seemed to make her forget to keep shrinking away from her window and its proximity to the cemetery. “Tell me what really brought you to Vestemere,” he said.

“Tell me how you know I’m a shut-in.”

“I’m a cop. It’s my job to find out things.”

She regarded him and—Christ!—there was puke on her shirt. So much blood it looked like she’d been flailing a scalpel in some primitive sort of O.R. Still, she looked regal. Tsarina.

“Stop calling me that,” she snapped, then fixed him with a gold stare. “‘I am a cop,’ he says, yet he sings when he builds houses for Blue Eyes. Off-key and often with the wrong words, yet…he sings.”

He set his arms in an X over his chest.

“You never sing when you police your Downtown East Side. You’re too busy being alert and…” She closed her eyes. “Feeling adrenaline. Like lightning up your spine. You felt it again, out there, tonight.” She pointed, no looking, out at the graves. “You…like that feeling.”

Yeah. He did.

“But you don’t sing,” she said softly.

That pissed him off. Kind of. Her upside-down smile, what she said…it also made him want to talk. Confide.

Maybe that was why he felt pissed off.

“I came here with my cousin,’ she said then, switching gears, and he listened, learning terms like ‘Shadows’. ‘Blocked with ink’ And ‘Fairy tales often end violently’. There he stopped her.

“What do you know about that?”

She offered empty hands. “I’d never read a fairytale in my life before I came here.”

Hence her uptight abhorrence about the stories. It had not been an act.

“And what have you found out?” she asked.

“Galinko,” he said, smacking the proverbial card on the table. “A website on unsolved crimes seems to think your family hung and gutted him.”

She visibly curdled. “I…I did not do that.”

Christ, obviously.

She didn’t notice him roll his eyes. Started knitting her hands. “The Galinko family, they’re…stiff. Disapproving. Churchy. What we are, Jakob and me, what we can do—”

“Second Kings Seventeen and Thirteen,” he said.

Yes.” She crumpled in her seat like so many other witnesses he’d seen, weighted with the relief of being understood. “I’ve scrubbed that Bible verse off my house a thousand times. Yet, if one of the Galinkos is this threat-maker, then they too are psychic, so…” She trailed off, brow folding. “…I guess it seemed like a better theory when it was just in my head.”

He grunted. “Welcome to policing. Tell me about your cousin. He really a collectables dealer?”

Yes. And does he use his clairvoyance to cheat people? Often. Next question?”

“He really setting up a store here?”

“No. And not in Cascadia, either. That’s where he senses our threat-maker is holed up.”

Same town where Cory Chandler lived. He tabled this, said “He looking to have an affair with Jessalyn Haslom?”

“Wha—no. Absolutely not.”

“You sure? She’s an artist, he’s a collector—”

“And if he wanted to add to the appallingly long list of married women he’s deflowered, he’d be far more gratified by her husband being alive and bested, not dead.”

Huh. Real stand-up guy. “Okay, next topic: You just tried interrogating Vincent Haslom about his Galinko. You’ve surmised that the Galinko family is the link you share with Rob.”

“Yes.” She stiffened, prim. “That…that is the only link.”

Horseshit. Her hands had just started re-knitting. Yet he tabled this too and shifted his car into gear, began creeping away from the graveyard.

“Thank you.” She sagged again, replete with relief.

Pity stabbed him in the chest right where she said Rob would be injured. Killed. He looked at her. “What did Vince Haslom tell you?”

“Nothing I valued,” she retorted, and stared out her passenger window.

Her reflection was twisted. Pissed off. His mouth curved into a sardonic corkscrew of its own. “Well, old Vince never was the type to make anything easy.”

“Horrible man,” she said, mostly under her breath, and he wondered—what the hell had Haslom’s ghost done? Christ knew the old prick had always looked at him like he was dog shit staining his shoe.

“He hurt you?” he asked, too sharp, for she immediately flinched.

N-ne,” she said, but distraught, and with more hand fretting. “It’s just…I’m not a medium. Not usually. I didn’t know how sick it would make me to…call the dead.”

She shuddered, and as he felt himself do the same the stereo switched tracks. An ancient Eagles tune, Witchy Woman. Grimacing, he flicked it off. She quickly turned it back on. “Owen, this needs to be private.”

“From who?”

“Jakob. I…I need to sort out how to tell him about…Haslom.”

Didn’t she say she’d told him already? He lifted an eyebrow.

“He can’t hear me through music,” she added.

Really? He cocked his head. “What can’t you hear through?”

She looked surprised. “Many things. Most things. I…I’m not like him. I am not a strong psychic.” She pulled a face at his expression. “I am not usually a strong psychic. I only see the past and even then, I have to have touch as a conduit. Though I can prevent it with massage oil. Massage…it’s a good career for me. Then I can touch people and not…”

She fell quiet and he sailed back to how he’d crowded her against her front door. “I don’t like you.” “I know. No one does.” He wished he could chew the words back in. Swallow them whole.

She turned, faced him. “You do not have to pity me, Owen Brophy.”

His shoulder twitched, unnerved at how aptly she’d raided his thoughts—and irritated too. “Why the hell do you stay where you know you’ve been branded? You have to know it isn’t you. Because even despite circumstances, you’ve already made friends here.”

“With one person! Jessalyn Haslom can’t stand me.”

“Jessalyn is a suspicious cop’s kid who’s not just abrasive with you. You should hear some of the things she’s said to me. Or seen her go toe-to-toe with Sab.”

She looked skeptical. Talk about ‘suspicious’.

“And besides Jessalyn or Sabrina, you have Rob wrapped around your little finger.”

She flinched and looked…aghast, he believed the word was. What a puritan. He could not resist poking. “He’s quite taken with you.”

Her sunrise eyes were large enough to swallow her face. “Rob is….are you implying….ne. No. He is devoted to little Heart Face, wise Policii Brophy. You forget. I see.” She touched her temple.

“Thought you said it was only my head you could burglarize and paw through like a book.”

“A comic book,” she said acidly. “And it is. I’m not talking about my Shadows. A woman doesn’t need preternatural abilities to see how a man looks at someone he loves.” Her face softened then and despite the blood, the puke, and her fear, she truly was beautiful. Ethereally so.

“Plus,” she said, “she’s having his baby.”

“Jessalyn?” He blinked. “Her too? Sab’s pregnant.”

She didn’t ask how he knew, bust him for one more thing he’d eavesdropped on, and instead gasped as her gaze trickled up the block. “Pull over!” she said. “Right now!”

He obeyed, quickly wheeling to the curb.

“Jakob.” She pointed toward the cottage where a silver—holy shit, that’s a Maserati!—vehicle was parked outside. “I’m not sure I want him to know that I’ve talked to you.”

“So you don’t trust him.”

“No, I want him to trust me.” She swiveled to face him. “But before I go I want to check a theory.”

He jacked a brow.

She lifted her palm, fingers splayed. “Give me your hand, Policii Brophy.”


“You say Tsarina, I say policii. And close your eyes.”

He hesitated.

She sighed. “Owen, please.”

Please, Owen. Her plea from when he’d pinned her to the door. He raised his hand. Shut his eyes.

Their skin met and that rush, electric euphoria, coursed through him. He heard her gasp and “Natasha?” he murmured. What was that sensation? Did she feel it every time? But then…footfalls. Footfalls fell over anything he might say, methodical and crunching through…he listened. Dry grass? An inward scene floated into focus.

“Do you see that?” she whispered.

Yes. They stood in the middle of a prairie. An endless vista. He could see forever yet…could see nothing at all; it was twilight and everything was monochromatic, blacks and greys. “Is it supposed to be black and whi…” he began, but his voice dwindled as fog drifted around his ankles, clouding as he crouched. There was a bouquet of fluffy flowers clenched in his hand, and “Tsarina,” he heard himself say, quietly, then placed the flowers at the foot of a tombstone. BELOVED, it read and, above: NATASHA NOREENA NIK—“Jesus!” He yanked his hand back. The prairie disintegrated and they were back in his car, faces lit by blue dash light, not twilight. “That date. It’s less than a month.”

“I know.” Her eyes were enormous.

“You didn’t tell me you were on this bastard’s hit list too!”

“I…” She shrank from his tone. He didn’t care.

“Dammit, Tsarina, there’s nothing more frustrating than when a vic withholds information!”

“Y-you saw that Facebook page before I did! She has a knife in her chest!”

“And you said that a lot of this stuff is symbolic! Now I see that you’re about to be murdered?”

She fretted. “I just wanted to see if I could show you the date. If you could see what I see the way I see you. I…I didn’t think you’d care—”

“Jesus Christ, Natasha, I’m a cop. Of course I care if someone’s about to get whacked.”

“You…yes. Of course. You care because you are a cop. Policii.”

This time it didn’t sound like an insult. She was trying for a smile.

Screw that.

She shrank even smaller. “Owen, I…I told you before, I really don’t have that many people in my life who would care if I was dead.”

Their eyes met and, internally, within him, he felt it start to rain. He shook it off, said “How the hell do I shut you out of here?” He pointed to his head.

“You…just did.”

He squinted.

“I smelled rain and your Shadow…it held up an arm, blocked me so I couldn’t see.”

He glanced down at his forearm.

“Not…this arm.” She placed a gentle hand on his wrist—then jerked back as if she had burned him. “Your Shadow,” she said. “Here.” She touched her temple. “How did you…not even Jakob can do that.” She beamed a little, impressed.

He didn’t know what to say.

Her grin fizzled and she cleared her throat. “There is something else I need to tell you.”

“Oh? Just one thing?”

She scowled. “I am not withholding information on purpose.”

He believed her. She was just…inexperienced. And painfully awkward. “Okay.” He beckoned with his hands.

“That portrait Jessalyn painted of the psychic, Calling in Light?”

Which was MIA right now. “Yeah?”

“Well, I tried it. Calling light instead of Shadows. And it broke through the ink block. Just pinpricks, but still. That…that’s what I was doing when you came to the cottage tonight.”

“You were surrounded by bloody Kleenex when I came to the cottage tonight.”

Ja.” She waved this off with a hand. “Because it is difficult, but I still saw something. Heard something, more accurately. I think it’s a date or a time of some sort. Ten-thirty M. Could that be May? Next month? Does it mean anything to you?”

“Ten-thirty,” he repeated. It rang vague bells. Why?

“M,” she added.

Ten-thirty M. Ten-thirty…“Wait,” he said, it was dawning.

“Um…your phone is ringing.”

He heard her, but only absently. Ten-thirty. 10-30. It was a ten code. A police code.

“Owen. Your phone is ringing.”

Dammit! He pulled his cell from his pocket. It was set to silent, yet the screen was lit up with a call. “Look,” he said, shaken. “You need to stop doing stuff like this and listen—”

“No, you listen. Pick up. It…it’s your girlfriend.”

He glanced at the screen. An unfamiliar number. Sondra. Where the hell was she?

“I…I’ll give you privacy.” Natasha reached for the door.

“Wait! Ten—”

“Owen, answer your phone. A woman…a woman doesn’t need preternatural abilities to see how a man looks when he loves someone…remember?” Her mouth fell into its upside-down smile.

And, inside, rain started to fall. “Tsarina—”

“Your phone, my subject,” she said, exasperated, then slipped outside.

“Wait!” he barked, and swiped his screen, snapped “Wait!” into the phone too.

Outside, and illuminated by a weak pool of streetlight, her clothes were even filthier, and her gold eyes…Christ, she looked sad. Unbearably. He pinned his gaze into that sorrow. “Meet me tomorrow.”

Her head waggled, uncertain.

He rattled off his address. “Just down the street. Private. Natasha, I can help, you.”

She shrank back, withdrawing.

You can help me.”

She hesitated, clearly torn.

“Rob’s my best friend,” he tacked on, angling for guilt. “I’ll see you in the morning.” He reached over, slammed the passenger door shut before she could say no, then drove away.

©bonnie randall 2005

Tuesday 8 November 2016

So Many Secrets ~ Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter 24

That was twice now the Tsarina had lopped off his balls, this time tossing them into the mess of peanut shells on the barroom floor. “’Scuse me, ladies,” he said, and pivoted to follow her.

“Owen wait,” called Jessalyn. “You need to know the latest.”

“Latest what?” Sabrina, narrow eyes and flinty mouth, sized them up. The CEO, he thought, and a hitch found his chest. Where did the wild, uninhibited Sabrina he grew up with flee to when the CEO in her took over?

Maybe to the same place where the ‘clean-cut cutie’ she’d called him stayed hidden.

She had two fingers pointed, a vee aimed at them both. “Exactly what the hell is your problem with Natasha?”

Jessalyn flicked a shoulder, and Sabrina’s eyes crackled. “Uh, no,” she said. “You don’t get to pull your prima donna artist bullshit with me. And you.” Her colorless gaze impaled him, making him bristle just like he used to when old Vince Haslom would glare at him from down his haughty nose. “Both of you purposefully make Natasha feel small every chance you get. And if she’s done something to earn that? Spit it out. But if this is some sort of mean girl horseshit—” She glared at Jessalyn. “It stops now.”

Jessalyn, ever the pugilist, jabbed her chin out. “She and her cousin are terrorizing me—us,” she amended. “Me and Robbie.”

Sabrina snorted.

He cleared his throat, faced her. “Rob and Jessalyn have been receiving weird threats. Passive-aggressive stuff. Cryptic and creepy. Then, before her art show, whoever the threat maker is got more ballsy, came right up on their doorstep, left a note and…” A tortured kitten. Jesus! “…and blood. The note said ‘The little princess should suffer’.”

“And today the entire collection I sold at my show was shipped back to me courtesy of someone who calls himself Third Eye 20/20.”

Shit. Really?

“Except for one painting.” Jessalyn added, and gave him a meaningful look.

Calling in the Light. The portrait the Tsarina had wanted.

“And you think it’s Natasha,” said Sabrina.

“Or the cousin,” said Jessalyn.

Sabrina peered at her. “And how about your Dad? What does he say?”

“What does that mean?”

“It means he once policed out in eastern Alberta,” Sabrina replied, then tossed a thin smile his way. “Or did you think you were the only one who could dig up history, Badass?” Back to Jessalyn. “Your C.C. made a mission out of nailing my poor, maligned father—sarcasm intended—for shit he also pulled out on the prairie. So how are they, our dear daddies, connected to Natasha and this cousin of hers? Or did neither of you ever consider that maybe they’re victims of something too—and that they think you’re up to something?”

Sort of. Twice now his head had kicked out that little fantasy of Natasha drowning in a rainstorm of tears. He glanced over at the swinging saloon doors she’d escaped through, but then Jessalyn, in a tone of syrupy pleasantness, said, “You know, Sab, whenever you point the finger at C.C. I can’t figure out whether it’s because you think everyone’s dad is a bastard, or if you just want them to be.”

Ouch. That was low. He peeked to see how it was taken.

Sabrina’s smile sent ice up his spine. Why, hello, Vincent Haslom.

“What I think,” she said, “is that your father was a cop. And as a cop his toes would have always been in and out of some damn toxic water.” Again she stabbed him with a gaze. “Am I right? Hell, look at yourself. You know I’m right.”

He inhaled, but whether the breath was indignation or guilt, he wasn’t sure.

“Ever read Nietzsche?” asked Sabrina. “He said ‘when you look into the abyss, the abyss looks into you’. That’s cops. All cops. Or why do you think so many of them are drunks, or druggies, or can’t keep their damn pants on for anyone other than their own wives?”

“C.C.—” sputtered Jessalyn and Owen found himself floundering too, wanting to defend himself. Defend Sondra. Yet nothing he could say could refute a single point Sabrina made.

“C.C.’s no different,” Sabrina snapped. “And if you really think he is, you’re a silly, naïve child. And I love you anyway, Jessalyn, you know I do, but I will not tolerate cruelty to anyone who doesn’t deserve it—and I sure as hell won’t stand for anyone being cast as a saint when he’s nothing more than a mere human being. I kept enough secrets and appearances growing up, and I sure as hell endured enough cruelty for ten or twenty people—so did your husband, by the way—so I’ll never sit back and watch bullshit being dished out.” She gathered her bag, then fixed him with a look. “You must have thought I was joking when I said ‘be nice’, eh, Badass? Well, I wasn’t. And I will be watching.”

She sailed out, feet smooth and head high. He exhaled as the doors swung behind her. “The CEO has left the building,” he said.

“Uh-huh,” agreed Jesslyn. “You going to obey?”

“Hell no.”


The Tsarina was visible through the cottage window, kitten on her lap and hands curved into the shape of a cup. Filled with potato chips? He squinted, but…no. She was bleeding. And piles of wadded up Kleenex littered the ottoman before her, all dappled scarlet. Grimacing, he rapped on her door.

She stiffened, he could see her posture through the glass, and more spotted Kleenex fell to the floor as she rose. She opened the door, but only a crack. “What?”

He turned on the million watt smile. “You in a better mood? We didn’t finish our chat.”

“I am not talking to you.”

He slid his foot between door and jamb. “Oh, I think you should.”

“I…I’m calling Sabrina.” With one hand fast on the doorknob, she reached blindly with the other for her cell.

“I wouldn’t bother,” he said. “She’s the one who asked me to come.”

Hurt slid across her face and he winced, but then “No.” She peered at him. “You’re lying.”

Of course he was lying. Yet in that moment her stance had gone slack and he was able to push the door wide enough to crowd past her, get in.

She inhaled, the sound unmistakably fear, and her gold eyes became big, looking for escape.

“We need to talk,” he said amiably, but her face. It churned the guilt inside, sharp and twisting.

She whispered “Get out”, voice scarcely more than a breath.

“Natasha,” he said, but she, like he, was watching body language, and as he stepped forward she ducked under his arm, made for the porch.

He spun and shot a hand out, slamming the door with a crack that made the walls quake. “I said let’s talk,” he murmured, butting his mouth up next to her ear.

Her scent—roses and fear—roiled the guilt in his belly. Still—“Here’s the thing, Natasha.” His voice moved silken tendrils of her hair. “I don’t like you.”

“I…I know,” she whispered. “No one does.”

His chest tightened. He clenched his jaw. “And?” he said. “Why is that?”

“I…” Her knuckles stood out, white and lumpy as she clutched the doorknob. “You wouldn’t believe me.” The whisper stuttered out.

He kept his mouth on her ear. “Try me.”

“N-no. No.” This, stronger.

“Would it help me trust you?”

She laughed, mirthless, and when she shook her head the scent of roses was frantic. “God, no.”

“Why? Do you have a criminal record, Natasha?”

The skin behind her ear fluttered with goosebumps, yet “N-no!” she exclaimed. “I-I’ve never hurt a soul in my life.” A tear, opaque and rapid, slipped down her cheek.

He squeezed his eyes shut. No guilt, he told himself. No regret.

Still, a quiet sob escaped her and it pissed him off, how it gripped his ribcage like a snakebite. Speaking through gritted teeth, he tried different leverage. “You’re hiding something in your bedroom.”

“N-no! I’m not! Nuh-uh!”

So quick and frantic. Christ, she was the world’s shittiest liar. And he was the world’s cruelest prick. “And that facebook profile, Sleeping Beauty. It isn’t yours yet you said that it was.”


So dubious, like she knew not to even believe herself. He said “You’re covering for someone.”

Ne! No.”

“You are lying for someone.”


So uncertain. A lie she did not want to tell. At last they were getting somewhere. “Lying for who, Natasha? Give me a name. Let me help you. Tell me who.”

Y-you’re the liar! I’m not telling you!”

Petulance? She was practically pissing her pants and yet she was petulant? He stepped closer, chest hard against her back. “Oh yes,” he breathed. “You’ll tell me.”

“N-no.” Her face was so close to the door she could scarcely shake her head.

He stepped closer.

Her breath shook and “P-please, Owen,” she whispered.

His heart contracted. She’d never called him by his first name and now he had to clench his jaw against a craving that just wanted to pull her close, give her comfort. Instead he made himself growl. “Tell me or I’ll kick your bedroom door down. Give me a name or I’ll ransack your room till I find—”

In a trice his flat hand was pried off the door and she slammed her palm against his.

A rush, like an ocean wave of something electric, something magnetic, swept into him and he teetered, leaning into it. A word occurred—seduction—and he wavered, wanting more. Then she said “You never used to like stupid milkshakes that look like someone threw up the lawn.”

Wha—? He blinked. Weaved. Couldn’t orient.

She clamped her opposite hand on his wrist, kept their palms together. “You…you fed your broccoli to the dog beneath the table. You were eight, and when your matka caught you she took your plate away. She sent you to your room without supper, but then….”

He swayed as the tide of electricity, of euphoria, intensified. Every centimeter of his skin was afire.

“Your…Grandma was there, except you called her…Boss?” It came out like a question, then—“Yes,” she said. “Boss. Boss felt sorry for you, so when your matka wasn’t looking she made you jam sandwiches on thick slices of homemade bread. You shared them up in your room with a carton of chocolate milk.”

Yes. That’s exactly what had happened.

Tears trickled down her face. “Then, before Boss died, you reminded her of that story in the nursing home. You hoped it would make her open her eyes.”

It hadn’t. And the anguish that gutted him then enraged him now. He yanked himself free and “Where?” he sputtered. “Where did you…how did you…who told you that?”

You told me that!” She pointed to his palm. “You want to know who I am? I’m the person you mock and call Tsarina, thinking I can’t hear you. I’m the person who can’t sleep because I see horrible things about people I don’t even know. I’m the person who never asked for any of this and damn well doesn’t want it, yet despite that, I’m still the person you’d like to throw a rock at right now!” She whirled then, bolted out the door.

Fuck! “Tsar—Natasha!” He couldn’t follow. Legs were a mess of shakes. That broccoli story, him and Boss…it was colorless. Innocent. Still, it had been a part of Boss he’d for once never had to share with his siblings, so he’d never told a soul. And when Boss had been floating in that blank space between life and death, he’d been so sure it would rouse her, make her gather him close as if he were still just eight. Now he stared down the empty street. He hadn’t meant to lose his temper. Hadn’t known how to react. “Grab Natasha Nikoslav’s hand. Then tell me why you think people are prickly. “A psychic,” he whispered. He’d never encountered one, but other cops (Cory Chandler would no doubt count himself among them) spoke of them with reverence and awe. Hell, he’d even seen fist fights bust out in squad rooms when skeptics laughed, trying to make the believers look like fools. Now he opened his hand and scraps of that same seductive electricity still skittered over his skin. “Where are you?” he murmured, and moved out the door.

A yowl resounded near his feet. Her kitten, Shoes, was hobbling outside too, mewing and dragging its injured leg. “C’mere.” He scooped her up.

The kitten hissed. He clucked his tongue. “Like Mama, like baby? Don’t be scared.” He examined the bandage boot on its paw. “What sort of sicko tortures an animal? A baby?” He carried it through the cottage, looking for something to distract it from crying at the door.

Two fussy food bowls were set out in the kitchen, one with mush, one with milk. “You’re spoiled like the moppet,” he said, and dumped the milk out, replaced it with water. “She’s trying to pamper you. She doesn’t even know that milk’s bad for your tummy, right, little girl?”

The kitten mewed. He chucked it under its chin. “Where d’you think she went?”

The kitten lapped water, parched, and as its little body started to vibrate with purrs, he recalled what Jessalyn had said on their way to Vancouver and his gut sank. “Aw, shit, kitty. I think I know exactly where to find her.”


Her feet pelted up the sidewalk, falling silent once they sank into the cemetery’s manicured lawn. “Vincent Haslom,” she panted. “Come.”

A thin sort of quiet tided through the graveyard. “Please,” she whispered. “I need answers. I need to get out of here.” She could still feel Owen Brophy’s breath on her ear. Her heartbeat was still jacked and too loud.

And peonies, stupid peonies, had fallen before her feet all the way over here. “Don’t show!” she hissed and they withered while around her the night remained vacant. She approached Haslom’s tombstone, trailed a fingertip over the indent of letters ENDLESS SLEEP. “Please.” The stone was rough and cold. “Come.”

Silence, then…the wind chimes trilled. Her ears pricked and as she turned to them a scent registered. Cologne. Expensive. Male. She squinted down the long row of tombstones, gaze swallowed by the silken darkness of nothing—yet the air was alive, a glittering electricity making her skin zing.

“She named you Natasha.”

She whirled.

Vincent Haslom was no Shadow. Shadows, no matter how sharp they could be, still always looked like film projections. This… “Flesh and blood?” she whispered.

“She said she’d never call you anything ethnic.” He watched her, colorless eyes identical to his other daughter. His real daughter.

“Y-you,” she croaked, then swallowed. “I need you to tell me where the bones are. Galinko.”

He leaned against the tree next to his tombstone. “I always wanted you to come here because you knew it was home. Yet you’ve come because of them.”

‘Them’. Blue Eyes and Sabrina and Heart-Face.

“What a waste.”

She growled, a primitive sound. “They are your children.”

He rolled colorless eyes. “When someone gives you a gift you don’t want, is it still really yours?”

She choked. Stared.

“Robert married that cop’s kid for spite.”

“No! He loves—”

Haslom laughed and it echoed, silent thunder. “And then there’s the man that bitch who stole my company landed with.”

A gasp of outrage squeaked in her throat, but—The dead have no filter. The dead have no filter. She repeated it, grinding her teeth.

“It is obvious what you think of me, darling daughter.”

“I am Silva’s daughter.”

“And she helped me hide those bones you seek back in Alberta. So was she really a better parent than I would have been?”

“She…you…she was a seventeen year old child and you…you bedded her!”

“Who bedded who?” Thunder-laughter shook the windchimes in the tree. “She was never a child, darling girl.”

“I’m not your girl.”

The mirth fell off his face. “I would have given you everything. Every company. Every dime. She forbade it and I…I would not defy her, but Natasha, my daughter. I love you.”

Her skin crawled, and as he approached her nausea crested. Her bowels became loose. Was this…normal? “Jakob?” she called, forgetting, as she swallowed bile, that he could not hear her, calling aloud.

Haslom raised both eyebrows. “Ah, your real family. Jakob Antonovich.”

How did he know the name Antonovich? “Nikoslav,” she spat, and flattened a hand over her turning stomach. “He is a Nikoslav like I am a Nikoslav.” She retched then, barely making it behind the tree.

Haslom drifted with her, and in a tone smooth as cream said “Your cousin Jakob knows—or, rather, knew—a Galinko too.”

“Implying something?” She glared at him through the fall of sweaty hair over her eyes. “Jakob is no killer.”

“No. More like an assassin.”

“Stop it.” Stop it.


she called


then threw up again, nausea rocketing out of her gut.

“Both of you eschewed the names of your fathers,” mused Haslom, head cocked and watching her swipe her mouth. “One more unique thing you share.”

She panted around another tide of dizziness. “What do you know of Jakob’s father?”

“More than he was ever able to learn about me, thanks to your matka.”

So cavalier about murder and concealing a body. This was not a dead man with no filter. This was simply who Vincent Haslom was. And his blood seeps through my veins. She threw up again, calling





The blast hit her forehead, made her blind.

Natasha, where are you?

She clutched her belly, said

With the dead

Alarm, Jakob’s alarm, washed through her, and it was like the ground was giving way under her feet.

Where is your Knight Crawler? Brophy? He is supposed to be with you!

Since when? She brushed this aside and panted, short, quick breaths to keep the vomit at bay

Jakob, I need you to tell me how…

My God, Natasha, how did you call the dead?

…to cope with how sick I feel

You don’t cope with how sick you feel! That’s how it is!

But he..


The shout cracked like thunder through her skull, and Haslom balked, said “What was that?” then—


Jakob commanded, and Natasha teetered, gasping as another bout of nausea bolted up. Then Jakob roared


and her nose burst, a spray of blood, watery and slick.

“No!” shouted Haslom, and she couldn’t tell if he was shouting at Jakob, or crying out because she was bleeding. He reached for her, clutched her face, and she could see he was fading. Still his hands burned like the force of a brand. “Listen!” He held her still. “Galinko was just a coincidence.”

She couldn’t speak. Blood gushed down over her mouth, suffocating her.

“The Grimm Brothers could have met over any case. It just happened to be Galinko.”

“Grimm Brothers?” Her gaze ripped through his colorless eyes. Her Shadows had whispered to her about the Grimm Brothers before—she’d assumed they were referencing fairytales. “Who were they?”

“Ask your cousin,” Haslom barked, then clucked his tongue and held fast to her face, eyes roaming the way she was bleeding. “And call your matka, my child. Tell her…tell her I’m sorry. She was punished because of me. If she hadn’t hid Galinko, the Grimm Brothers never would have worked together so long, and then….that is my only regret, Natasha. I…” Pain puckered his mouth and she shocked herself by clutching his hands, holding them to her face.

“…it breaks my heart every day that your matka was murdered.”

“She was murder—”


Jakob shouted, and what was left of Haslom disintegrated, sinking into the velvet night.

“Dammit!” she cried. “Come! Come back!”



Jakob in her head. Owen Brophy, calling from down the long row of graves.

I’m fine!

this she gave to Jakob then patted her pockets for her phone. She needed music. Couldn’t answer his oncoming blizzard of questions, not right now.

“Natasha!” The Knight Crawler sounded winded. She ignored him, cued up the playlist on her phone. The soothing tones of Handel eased through the cemetery, and Jakob’s frantic shouts faded from within her inner ear. Owen Brophy, though, was now directly behind her—yet not nearly as close as he’d pressed himself back in the cottage. She got the sense that the distance he kept was atonement.

“Can we talk?” he asked.


He sighed, noisy. “Look. I didn’t mean—”

“Yes. You did. Don’t back-peddle now and insult us both.”

He fell quiet and she refused to so much as peek at him. Handel drifted, bar after bar, then—

“I know it’s a kitten,” he said.

She stared at Vincent Haslom’s tombstone.

“What you’re hiding in your room. I know it’s a kitten. I knew all along. It…it was just the cop in me bluffing you, Natasha. Not…not the man.”

She spun then, looked him in the eye. “Oh, so you do know they’re different?”

He blinked. Stepped back.

She snorted. “You carry a question around like a placard: ‘Who am I? Who am I?’ Well I can tell you. You’re the one you feed,, Owen Brophy. And that might not be the one you like.”

He jabbed his tongue in his cheek and his jaw twitched. She raised her chin “Want to know anything else?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Why are you bleeding?”

And why did she also smell like vomit? She took a graceless step back. “I…because I can’t always manage what I see.”

He glanced around. “What brought you here? To him?” He jabbed a finger at Haslom’s name.

She pulled a breath in—how much did he know?—and said “Galinko.”

He exhaled. Nodded. “Learn anything?”

Okay, where was the scoffing? The ridicule? The fear? “He…he told me about the Grimm Brothers. Does that mean anything to you?”

“No. And he who?” His eyes snagged the tombstone. “Haslom?”

She folded her hands together, aware, suddenly, that she was bloodstained. And did smell like vomit. “I…I would like to clean up.”

He ogled the tombstone, then her, then—“Let’s go,” he said. “I drove.” And tossed a thumb in the direction of the gate.

She grimaced. “You don’t want to ride in a vehicle with—”

“Natasha, I just chased you into a graveyard and clearly almost came face to face with a ghost.”

“No. You wouldn’t have been able to see hi—”

“—so believe me when I say staying here bothers me a hell of a lot more than the smell of barf which, incidentally, I became accustomed to when I worked the Downtown East Side.”

“Doesn’t mean you like it.”

“I prefer it over spooks.”

“And…and over psychics?” Her breath froze, she froze.

“Psychics I can handle.” This, smoothly. “But…you might want to shower after I get you back to the cottage.” His nose wrinkled and his dimples flared then, real, not for show.

She couldn’t smile back. Could not forget the way he had so rapidly disempowered her, mashing her against the cottage door. So when he held his hand out and said “Cease fire?” she could not reach back in détente. Yet a Shadow began to leak into her periphery, and when she peeked another tombstone, her tombstone, stood next to Vincent Haslom’s. Beloved>, it read, and she could feel the mockery in the epitaph.

“Yes,” she said, and shook.

©bonnie randall 2005