My biggest problem with Nathan was that there wasn’t anything obviously wrong with him. I didn’t trust it. He was shy, sure, and looked like a strong wind would knock him over, but I couldn’t figure out what a boy like him was… well… doing here. There were plenty of apartments in this area, and the house I was in was a wreck, its peeling paint and collapsing balcony betraying a wistfulness for years long past. The hydro bills weren’t bad, and nothing had fallen down yet, but… Ah, who am I kidding? I was convinced that you had to be running from the cops or escaping rich white suburbia to be trying to live here. Probably not the healthiest sentiment, but I don’t pretend to be at peace with my own issues.
And, I mean, I was technically doing both. So. Whatever.
“What’s the rent like?”
“Five hundred a month.” I quietly closed the study door before he could get a glimpse at the disaster area—not that the rest of the house was a great improvement, but the rest of it was mostly just…bare. “Kitchen, bathroom, and then this is your bedroom over here.” I opened the door. Dustbunnies were still trying to breed on the hardwood floor, but the last tenant’s removal of the bed had exposed them to sunlight for the first time in years. I imagined I could hear them shrieking in misery.
“Oh! That’s bigger than I thought it would be.”
I snorted and let him move past me into the room. He looked like an excitable kid. “I think it was two rooms at some point. The hardwood in the middle there looks all weird.”
“Where’s your room?” he asked.
“Oh, it’s that one there.” I jerked my thumb back at the closed study.
He raised an eyebrow in a sudden fit of skepticism. It didn’t look right on him. “Isn’t that your office?”
“What would make you think that?”
“The sign that says ‘Jamal Kaye, Private Investigations.’”
“Where does it say that?” I squawked, turning my head—Right. I’d leaned it up against the wall, even if I hadn’t put it up yet. “Oh. Never mind.” I turned back to him. “Yes, it’s my office. What’s your point?”
“You’re sleeping in your office?”
“I’m conserving space,” I retorted. “For five hundred a month, you come up with a better plan.”
I saw the idea flash into his eyes. Even if I knew he wouldn’t say it.
“I don’t care how big this bedroom is,” I added, somewhat dourly. He gave me what he probably thought was an innocent look, although the embarrassed flush on his face said more than that. Straight men. Gross.
“I like it here,” he said after a moment.
“It’s a dumpster,” I corrected him. Although it was a nice statement.
“It’s got character.”
“God.” I resisted the urge to roll my eyes, although I could feel a smile starting on my face. He did have a certain charm to him.
Charm or not, though, he’d wasted my time. By the time I managed to kick him out and lock the door behind me, it was getting dark out. I didn’t admit to being scared of anything, but that didn’t mean I was an idiot. If I wanted to scout LeBreton Flats, it had to be soon.
After Johara died, I started seeing them everywhere. And I mean everywhere. I guess I’d blocked them out after a few years when I was little, but now, I saw them in in the supermarket. I saw them on the highway. I saw them clustered in groups on park benches, shivering in the foreverness of death under a blazing July sun.
Death was everywhere. It hovered at my shoulder, it whispered in my ear, it followed me and it taunted my sister with its presence. I started seeing it in the eyes of people I knew. People I hated. People I didn’t.
So I ran. Maybe I couldn’t really outrun Death, but I was sure as hell gonna try.
Until she came to my door with sad eyes, a plea for help, and yet another ghost at her shoulder.
There was a cab across the street, and I tucked my hands into my pockets, shoulders hunched against the wind as I sprinted across the road. The driver—I assumed they were the driver, anyway—was leaning against the blue Tennessy Willems mural, sucking on a cigarette with a distracted gaze upwards. They were Black, with distressed-denim trousers and a silver charm-bracelet on their wrist.
“Hey.” I tried to grab their attention. “Hey, is this your car?”
“Hm?” They lowered their head and blinked at me. “Ah. Yes, she is,” they said, voice a rich contralto with just a hint of an accent on their vowels. “Looking for a ride?” They tucked a long, purple loc behind their ear, pushing themself off the blue wall.
“Yeah. LeBreton Flats?”
They took another drag on their cigarette. I got the sudden feeling that they were laughing at me. He? I couldn’t tell—these days, I just didn’t assume, and the few friends I’d had in high school had taught me better. Besides, between the long purple hair and their slim, striped-shirted figure, there wasn’t much to draw from.
“I can do that.” They dropped their cigarette and squashed it under the heel of their boot, then leant down and carefully peeled the butt from the ground, dropping it delicately into the dumpster.
“Alright, hop on in.”
They nodded at their cab, a sleek, dark Chrysler with a few dents and bruises along its side. I gathered it had seen better days, but as I climbed into the back seat, I noticed that the back had been reupholstered. I gave the cabbie another intrigued glance. It was my job to notice things about people—and I always made note of the interesting ones.
“So, LeBreton Flats? Anywhere in particular?”
“Just drop me off in front of the museum, I guess.”
Their hazelnut eyes appeared in the rearview mirror with a curious glance, but they kept their own counsel. “The War Museum it is. They’ll be closed by now.”
“That’s alright.” I leant back—and just managed to suppress my yelp of surprise as Johara appeared in the seat next to me. I kept my mouth shut. Thankfully.
“I’m sorry!” she cried out as she saw my face. “I didn’t want to miss out!”
I wondered if I could express ‘get back inside before I figure out how to whup your ectoplasmic ass’ through facial expressions. I couldn’t say anything. Not with the driver up front.
Johara knew that perfectly well. Which meant she was doing this on purpose. “I’ll be useful! I can be your spy.”
I satisfied myself with a stony glare.
“Oh, come on.” She sighed in exasperation, grey ringlets bobbing. “I’m fourteen. I’m allowed to do things. And besides, I can’t get hurt, I’m dead. You don’t need to be overprotective.”
I pressed a hand over my mouth to stop the squawk of annoyance from bubbling upwards. Being dead didn’t mean she got to do anything she wanted!
Again, I got the horrible feeling that the driver was laughing at me. I hoped they weren’t watching me be ridiculous. I slouched down into the leather seat, then pulled my pad of paper out of my pocket. Three days. Gurjas had been missing for three days.
I flipped to a new page, chewed on the end of my pen, then wrote ‘GREENEYES’ in the middle, circling it for good measure. Mob boss? Ottawa wasn’t big on mafia, and whatever organized crime there was stayed out in suburbia hell, not downtown. Or maybe it was a descriptor. Green Eyes. Right. That meant a decent chunk of the human race.
From the corner of my eye, I caught the cab driver glancing back at me. I ignored them as best I could. They made me…not uncomfortable, exactly. But they kept giving me this slightly unnerving sense of knowing. It was probably just my paranoia acting up again—but if you assumed everybody was watching you, you ended up being right eventually.
I closed my pad, marking it with a thumb, and stared out the window, watching the river flow by with the refuse of early autumn. Then, a few moments later, the jagged roof of the War Museum came into view. We were on the Flats.
They pulled to a halt in front of the museum, and I leant forward to check the meter. It was dead and silent. “Hey, you didn’t…” I stared at it with suspicion, waiting for the catch.
They just gave me a crooked grin, dark eyes sparkling. “Just stay out of trouble, okay?” This time, I caught the hint of a French accent lingering under their words.
“Uh. Sure.” I started to crawl back, but their hand flashed out to grab my arm —warm, gentle, but firmly and suddenly enough to make me freeze. I raised my eyes to meet theirs, and a lump of fear rose in my throat at the sudden steely fire I met there.
“I mean it. Stay out of trouble.”
I clawed at their hand, tearing it off of me. “I didn’t ask you.” I climbed out of the car, gave them one last look—and paused. They weren’t looking at me anymore. They were looking into the back seat, and right at Johara.
That was impossible.
I slammed the door, and the impact reverberated through the entire cab. I watched them drive away and tried to make my heart rate slow down. Finally, I let myself look at Jo. Her eyes were wide, and even through her grey pallor, she was pale and drawn. “They looked at me.”
“They looked at me,” she repeated insistently.
“Why were they looking at me?” she said again in a strangled voice.
I should have had something better to say. Instead, I shook my head. “Don’t worry about it.” And I tried not to.
I had a body to find.
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