An Excerpt From To Catch a Queen
Central Park—New York City
Wednesday, 1:00 p.m.
Michael Murray ducked under the crime scene tape his partner held up for him and asked the uniformed officer at the scene, “What’ve you got, Milton?”
“Dead body. You’ll have to wait for the ME to know if it’s natural causes or not, but it is weird.”
“Define weird.” Michael’s threshold for “weird” had shifted radically in the last couple of months.
“See for yourself.” Milton gestured toward the body lying sprawled in the grass nearby.
At first, Michael didn’t notice anything obviously out of the ordinary. Then again, he didn’t consider fairies and magic to be all that strange, these days. It was his partner, Marisol Lopez, who spotted the anomaly. “Well, they do say that disco is dead,” she quipped.
That’s what was strange. The body looked like it had fallen through a time warp from sometime around 1977. It wore tight white bell-bottom trousers and a shiny shirt with a huge collar. The clothes looked new, but the body didn’t. Michael guessed that the dead man was in his sixties, old enough that he might have worn these clothes back in the heyday of disco when he was of an age to hit the town for a little Saturday-night fever.
“This stuff isn’t coming back in style, is it?” Michael asked Mari.
“God, I hope not,” she replied, then winced. “Sorry. I guess I owe a dollar.”
“I’ll just stand over here where the lightning bolt won’t hit me.” Michael had given up trying to talk his colleagues out of teasing him for his goody-goody reputation by charging a fine for swearing or irreverence in front of him. At least it meant the precinct got a free lunch every so often when they emptied the penalty jar.
Michael leaned closer over the body. The dead man looked aged, but not weathered, and his skin was so pale that either he was religious about wearing really good sunblock or he hadn’t seen the sun in decades. Even his hands were free of liver spots. His hair was white, but worn in a longish, feathered style that matched his wardrobe.
“He looks scared,” Mari commented as she, too, studied the body. “And not just ‘Ay! My heart!’ scared.”
“Detectives!” Milton called out. Michael looked up to see a few uniforms struggling with a man dressed similarly to the dead man. He looked to be about the same age, with the same lack of weathering. “We just found this guy hiding in the bushes over there. Think maybe they’re connected?”
Michael and Mari went over to the captive, who looked nearly as frightened as the dead man. “Please, let me go back!” he babbled. “I’ll be good, I promise! Let me back in. I don’t want to stay here. I don’t like getting old.”
“What’s he talking about?” Mari asked.
“No telling,” Milton said. “I don’t smell booze on him. Actually, he smells pretty good for a guy wandering through the park and babbling.”
“Sir, do you know that dead man over there?” Michael asked.
The man’s eyes filled with tears. “He’s my brother.”
“I’m sorry for your loss. Did you see what happened to him?”
“They made us leave.” His voice broke. “We were happy, but they sent us away, and then we got old.” His eyes went wild—wilder—with terror. “Are they still coming after us?”
“He may not be drunk, but I bet a tox screen comes up with something,” Mari muttered.
“Should we take him in?” Milton asked.
“Yeah, at the very least he’s a person of interest, and we probably need to get him some medical attention,” Michael said. He had a funny feeling, though, that the tox screen would come up clean. There was something about this man that seemed familiar, an aura he could barely detect. When he slipped his hand into his pocket and clutched his keychain, the aura became stronger, almost a halo.
“Is something wrong, Rev?” Mari asked him.
“You mean other than the dead body?”
“The dead body is all in a day’s work. You look troubled.”
He rubbed his shoulder. “My old PTSD is acting up again.”
“You should get that looked at. But while you have your flashback, or whatever, I’m gonna take a look around. Let me know if you need a hug or a slap.”
“Will do,” he replied, his voice already trailing off because of what he’d just noticed. The park around him was full of fae creatures, but he was getting used to seeing that. What caught his eye was another man sitting with his back against a tree. Milton and his buddies had walked right past him without noting a potential witness. Michael squeezed his keychain again and the closer contact with the laminated four-leaf clover in the middle of it showed him the reason why. It was a fairy not even bothering with a human glamour. In fact, he looked like he was barely able to conceal himself from humans. Not that most humans would have recognized him as a fairy if they’d seen him.
Real fairies weren’t the cute winged creatures of little girls’ Halloween costumes. They looked more or less human—both more and less. They were too beautiful, too ephemeral, and too odd to be truly human, with the kind of coloring that didn’t occur in nature. And that was just what Michael could see. He had a feeling that even with his enhanced senses, he couldn’t see down to the heart of what they truly looked like.
Pretending he was looking for clues on the ground, Michael made his way over to the fairy and crouched beside him. “So, what’s your story?” he asked. “I take it you have something to do with those two.” He gestured with his head toward the body and the man who was being put in the back of a squad car.
The fairy blinked in surprise. “You see me?”
“Four-leaf clover. And I’ve spent a little time in the Realm. I’m friends with the queen.”
That got a reaction. “I’ve done nothing wrong!” the fairy insisted frantically. “I don’t deserve exile. You must tell her majesty.”
“Exile? The queen cast you out, and those men?” That didn’t sound like something Sophie Drake, the current queen of the fairy realm, would have ordered, Michael thought. She hadn’t shown any signs of forcing anyone out. In fact, Michael was getting a little frustrated with her about that. On the other hand, the fairy looked terrified, which was common in people who’d dealt with Sophie.
“Her men did, under her name. The humans had to go, as did others who refused to swear fealty.” He jerked, startled and whipped his head around like he was looking for pursuers. “They’re still after me,” he said in an anguished whisper as he clutched at Michael’s arm. “And I am so weak in daylight.”
Michael would have said the fairy was paranoid, but he sensed something malevolent. It wasn’t visible to the naked eye, so none of the nearby police had noticed, but Michael felt it, and he wasn’t armed against the fae. He hadn’t thought it necessary in daylight. Glancing around to make sure no one was watching him, he reached into his coat pocket and brought out the half-eaten sandwich from his interrupted lunch. “Please accept this offering,” he said, holding the sandwich out to the fairy.
The fairy accepted it greedily, without thanks, unwrapped it, and gobbled it up. Then he suddenly stood and whirled, emanating a flash of something that looked like an almost-visible sound wave. The sense of threat dissipated, and the fairy ran away without a word to Michael.
Michael took a moment to catch his breath and had just risen to his feet when Mari approached.
“Find something?” she asked.
Since she didn’t mention the odd man Michael had just been talking to or the brief magical battle, he assumed she hadn’t noticed any of it. “I thought I saw something on the ground, but it was nothing.”
Her phone rang, and he took advantage of that opportunity to place a phone call of his own. Turning his back to his partner and walking a few yards away, he found the number in his directory. As usual, the call went into voice mail after three rings. “Sophie, it’s Michael Murray. I have a question for you,” he said after the tone. “And no, it’s not about Jen, though that deadline is getting awfully close. I’m working on a case that may fall into your Realm. That’s the one with the capital R. Call me, please.”
He didn’t hold out much hope, unless he’d piqued her curiosity enough to get her to stop dodging his calls. Maybe her sister would be able to reach her, he thought. Just then, his phone rang, with Emily Drake’s name on the caller ID. He shook his head as he took the call. Those Drake girls really were uncanny.
“Hey, Emily, what’s up?” he asked.
“I was wondering if you could look after Beau for me. I probably won’t make it home between the matinee and the evening show, and I might go out tonight. I don’t want to leave him there alone all that time.”
“No problem. I’ll stop by and get him when I get off work.”
“Thanks, you’re a lifesaver.”
“It’s funny, but I was just about to call you. Have you talked to Sophie lately?”
“We mostly exchange voice mails. But she hasn’t forgotten you. She is working on it.”
“I know.” He’d found the baked goods left on his kitchen table several times a week, noticed the missing wedding photo with a note left in its place. He had evidence that Sophie was still around. He just never saw or spoke to her. “But that’s not why I wanted to talk to her. I’m working on a case that falls into her area of expertise, and I wanted to pick her brain.”
“No, her other area of expertise.”
“Huh. But I wouldn’t be surprised if one of those bunheads went postal. They’re pretty highly strung. If you can’t reach Sophie, maybe you could talk to Amelia and Athena. They probably know as much as Sophie does in that area.”
“Good idea. Thanks. And how are you doing? I hardly see you anymore, and you live right below me.”
“Well, you know, being a superstar keeps me busy.” He’d have bought that, considering that she was Broadway’s latest sensation, but her tone was a little too bright. She sounded like someone working hard to fake a normal good mood and overshooting the mark by a mile. That worried him. He’d promised Sophie to keep an eye on Emily after her sojourn in the fairy realm, and he didn’t think one could break a promise to Sophie Drake and escape lightly. He’d just recovered from one critical injury. He didn’t want to sustain another.
“Okay then, but take care of yourself, and let me know if you need anything other than dogsitting. If you talk to Sophie, ask her to call me.”
“Will do!” As he ended the call, he made a mental note to leave Sophie a message suggesting she check on her sister.
“You okay, Rev?” Mari asked, startling him out of his thoughts.
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
“You look a little pale.”
“And you sound like your mother.”
“Ouch, that’s mean. But seriously, are you okay? Do you need to sit down and take a break?”
“I’m fine. Back to one hundred percent, cleared by the doctors and all. You don’t have to worry about me.”
They started heading toward the car. “Oh, but now that I’ve seen you bleeding and gasping for breath, the light fading from your eyes, there’s no going back. You’ll always be helpless and vulnerable to me.”
“Helpless, vulnerable, and armed,” he warned. “You know, if you went through the same thing I did, it would be a real bonding experience for us as partners. I could arrange that if you keep this up.”
“Yeah, but you’d try to counsel me and save my soul before you pulled the trigger,” she said, opening the passenger door of their sedan for him.
“I did that once. And it worked,” he shouted while leaning across to open the driver’s side door as she came around the car.
“And that’s why you’ll always be the Right Reverend Saint Michael,” she said, sliding into the driver’s seat. He braced himself as she took off and joined the flow of traffic. She was a native New Yorker who navigated the city streets like a veteran cabbie, so he never bothered asking to drive.
“So, whattaya think about this case, Rev?” she asked, expertly steering around a stopped bus and ignoring the symphony of car horns that followed her maneuver. “Murder or natural causes?”
“I suspect this is going to turn out to be a case for the fashion police, not us.” At least, that’s what it would look like to normal people if it turned out to be what he thought it was.
“Still, you’ve gotta love finding a geezer in disco gear in Central Park. I wonder if any clubs are doing a seventies night tonight. I’m suddenly in the mood for that. Want to join me?”
“No thanks. Not really my scene.”
“You know, it wouldn’t hurt you to get out. You’re only an old married man on paper.”
“It wasn’t my scene when I was single. And I do have plans. I won’t be sitting at home alone.”
“Yeah, I bet you’ve got a really rocking Bible study going on.”
“Something like that.” He couldn’t help but smile at the thought of how she’d react if she knew what he did have planned.