Staring down the barrel of a gun isn’t a particularly fun experience, even if it can’t actually kill you. As a dream lord I’m not immune to bullets but the death of a dream body means I can’t use that identity anymore.If I got shot, I could always set up another identity but it would be time consuming and more difficult to “sell” to the world. Reality would be a bit too stretched if there were too many people who came out of nowhere and had the interest in playing amateur detective for the same missing persons case. Also, I liked ‘The Amazing Jin’. I’d paid special attention in dreaming up that identity, even studying the basics of stage magic so that the dream magic would have a solid frame to build on. As a result, being a stage magician was more fun than I’d expected. If the man holding the gun on us decided to ruin that I’d be all sorts of unhappy with him.
“We didn’t break in.” I said. “The door was already broken when we got here. We just came inside to see what had happened.”
The cop reached to his side and flicked the switch for the single bulb that hung over the center of the room. I blinked at the illumination but the poor bulb didn’t make the room much brighter than the streetlights had managed so it wasn’t much of a transition. The added light did give me a better view of the cop though.
He was older, which wasn’t surprising, and Chinese-American, which was. His uniform had the rumpled wear of someone who’d been working for too many hours. Despite that, his aim was steady and solid and he didn’t appear sleepy in the slightest.
“Strange thing for a pair of young ladies such as yourselves to be troubling yourself with. Especially since none of the other lights in the building are on either.”
“It’s easier not to be noticed when the lights are off.” Way said.
“And why would you not want to be noticed, I have to wonder?” the cop asked.
I considered the possibilities that we were faced with. A police uniform and gun proved nothing. He could as easily be Shurman’s killer as a beat cop who happened to stumble on us. Him being the killer would make a lot more sense really. It would explain how he’s happened to just stumble on us like he did. Something told me he wasn’t our gunman though.
One of the other perks of being a dream lord is a special sort of awareness that you develope. It’s like getting to read the stage directions and glance at the cast list of the play of “Life”. It’s not full blown omniscience or even precognition, but it gives a dream lord access to a lot of information they wouldn’t normally be able to possess. I had mine clamped down almost completely due to the fragility of Earth-Glass but little bits could still sneak out. Or in other words, I didn’t know who this cop was, but I my guess that he wasn’t the killer had better than even odds of being right. So I took a gamble.
“Because Mr. Shurman was working for me and someone killed him less than an hour ago at the Chimera Club.” I said. That got the cops attention the same way a mallet blow to the forehead would.
“Rick’s dead?” the cop asked, his gun lowering under the weight of the news.
“I’m afraid so, and I’m pretty sure it’s because of what I asked him to look into.” I admitted.
“What do you mean?” the cop asked.
“He was supposed to meet us at the Club tonight if he found anything. We were performing there for the new talent night. In the middle of our act, someone dropped him from the rafters after shooting him in the head.” I explained.
“What was he looking into?” steel returned to the cop’s voice when he asked the question.
“Information concerning the disappearance of Guy Mcintyre.” I said.
“And you’re saying someone killed him for that?”
“Unless he had a jealous ex with an incredible knack for coincidental timing.” I said.
“Why did you have him looking into the Mcintyre case?” the cop was angry, and it was coloring how he saw us. He was talking though so there was still hope of bringing him around to our side.
“Mr. Mcintyre holds the loan for a community development project my city is doing. One of our repayments didn’t go through because of a bad wire transfers and the bank that represents him changed their collection terms. We only have until the end of the month to pay the loan off or they’re going to declare we’re in default and take the collateral that was put up.” I said.
That was true, in a sense. There was a town, Windy Springs, that had received a generous development loan from Mcintyre. They’d missed a payment due to a snafu at their Western Union office and the First National Bank of San Francisco was eager to take ownership of the collateral. I was even, nominally, the representative of the town, though that was only because I’d been the one to volunteer at the town meeting. Everyone else was convinced it was a lost cause, but I’d pleaded for a chance to locate Mcintyre and have him tell the bank that he didn’t want to exercise the penalty against “us”. The mayor and the rest of the town were already making plans to move though since no one believed I’d find Mcintyre. And even if I did, they argued, he might be unwilling or unable to change the bank’s mind.
It was a solid background. Anyone who checked out the story would find plenty of support for it. It just had nothing to do with why Way and I were really involved in this case.
“What’s the collateral?” the cop asked.
“The town. Or the land the town is on to be more specific.” I said. Land that was much more valuable than it had originally been due to the railroad’s interest in it, which was why the bank was so eager to claim it.
“And Stone’s involved in that too?”
“He shouldn’t be but we don’t know. That’s part of what Mr. Shurman was looking into.” Way said.
The cop put his gun back in its holster and sighed.
“I need to take you down to the station. Have you say all this on the record. Then I can get some police protection for you.”
“Thank you, Officer…” I prompted, since he still hadn’t told us his name.
“Smith, and yes, I know it’s an unusual name for a guy like me.” he held out his badge and showed us the back. His name, “Frank Smith”, and official number were recorded there. I blinked in a surprise at the name. Smith was an uncommon name for a Chinese-American. It was also my last name.
In my case it was because my Great-Great-Grandmother had been something of rebel. She’d married an outsider, named Smith, and had a whole bushel of kids with him. My Great-Grandfather had reconciled with his mother’s family and married a “nice Chinese girl”, but he’d been close with his father and had kept his name. Most of that branch of my family was ethnic Chinese but succeeding generations held onto the Smith name.
I had the suspicion that Officer Frank Smith’s story might be rather close to my family history. With Earth-Glass lagging about a century behind my world, you could find echoes of the past in it. As a dream lord I tended to draw weirdness to me, so in a sense running into Officer Frank Smith wasn’t so much a coincidence as a natural by-product of who I was.
“Before we go though, let us help you look around here. I think whoever killed Mr. Shurman was the one who did this.” I pointed to the ransacked office.
“I can’t do that. This is a crime scene. I can’t let you disturb anything.” Officer Smith said.
“I just need to know what Mr. Shurman recorded about our meeting. He had to have at least written down the Chimera Club somewhere or the killer wouldn’t have known to find him there. If he wrote down our names then the killer may be looking for us too.” I said.
“We’ll find that out. Don’t you worry.” Smith said.
“His log book is there.” Way said pointing across the room to a small lap stand, behind which was lodged a notepad with it’s pages sprawled open. While I’d been talking with Smith, she’d been searching the room by sight.
“We’ll leave that there till the Detectives get here.” Smith said.
“You knew Mr. Shurman? Didn’t you?” I asked.
“Yeah, Rick’s the one who got me on the force.” Smith said.
“Then we need to see what’s inside that notebook. He might have mentioned who the killer was.” I said.
Smith wrestled with that for a few seconds before temptation and his own need to know got the better of him. He strode over to the lamp stand and picked up the notebook smoothing out its pages. I saw him start flipping through it and moved to read over his shoulder.
The last page had three entries on it; “Talk to the Money at his office, 8:00am”, “Lunch with the Mrs. at the Blue Gala, noon” and “Talk with the skirt at the Chimera, 9:00pm”.
“Was he married?” I asked.
“Yeah, twice. First one hated him enough to move to Europe. Second one left him for a doctor on the east coast.” Smith said.
“So who was meeting at the Blue Gala then?” I asked.
“Nobody you need to worry about. This is police business. We’ll look into it.” Smith said.
I sensed danger a moment before the glass of the street side window shattered. I dropped to the floor on reflex, only catching as I fell that I’d been standing in front of the window in clear sight of the buildings outside.
The crack of a rifle seemed to come at the same time as I saw blood spray from Officer Smith. I was out of the line of fire, but by ducking out of the window I’d left Smith a wide open target. Way, grabbed him as he fell too and pulled him down with her, taking them both out of the line of fire. No more shots rang out, probably because there was no one left to shoot at.
I shimmied over to Way and Smith and looked for where he’d been hit. There was blood everywhere in the few seconds it took me to reach them, which wasn’t a good sign. When I looked him over I saw that the bullet, and several glass fragments had hit him in the head and neck. I couldn’t tell how bad the damage was but I knew any head wound would bleed like crazy.
Breathing out slowly I let my imagination spin out a tale as I tore a strip of cloth from my dress to use as a makeshift bandage. Bullets that hit bone can do all sorts of things. Sometimes they make great big holes in the bone and scramble tissue anywhere near the impact sight. Other times, they can glance off the bone doing only superficial damage. This was going to be one of the latter occasions.
I couldn’t change the fact that Officer Smith had been shot with dream magic. At least not without fracturing the world. What I could change was how badly he’d been injured. Since it was perfectly possible for a bullet to behave in the manner I’d suggested, a glancing blow that left a nasty bleeding gash without damaging anything vital, it only took a small spark of dream magic to make sure my story was the ‘real’ one.
“How much were you able to heal him?” Way asked. After working together for four years, she knew me well enough to guess when I was cheating with unobservable dream magic.
“He’ll live. He’s going to have a concussion though.” I said.
“I’m going after the shooter.” Way said. She wasn’t any more bulletproof than I was but given that there was a good chance the killer was coming over to finish us off in person, going on the offensive was possibly one of the safest things she could do.
“Be careful. I don’t want to have to do the rest of this without you.” I told her, grabbing her sleeve.
“I know.” she replied. Her frown echoed my own. “I’ll be careful.” she promised and laid her hand over mine and gave it a squeeze of reassurance. It was nice to feel her warmth, even though the thought of her leaving left me with a cold pit where my stomach was supposed to be.