TW: mild violence
“Help?” Will echoed, her voice slightly slurred. She cleared her throat. “Who is this? Like, great opening, but I just woke up, man.”
I closed my eyes, sat down on my desk chair, and rubbed my temple in frustration. “…Jamal? Jamal Kaye?”
“…Yeah, not ringing a bell. Are you a telemarketer?”
Wow. I mean, I was too busy being furious to be scared anymore, which was a step up. “Are you actually this stupid or am I going to have to go hit somebody again—”
“Cool it, cool it,” she laughed. “Okay, you’re the cutie from last night.”
I groaned and lowered my forehead to my desk. “Don’t say it like that. God, even when you’re on the phone you’re fucking with my head.” Beat. “You, uh. You can’t read minds through the phone, right…?”
“If I say yes, can I keep screwing with you—?”
“This is kind of serious.”
Will cleared her throat again. “Sorry. Yep. So you’re not calling me for a date?”
“I—No!” I debated hanging up, and—just barely—managed to resist. Apparently she was even more annoying during daylight hours. “I—you—you and Avery were talking about a lot of things last night. And…” I trailed off. Words were hard.
“You want the proper welcome wagon.”
“No! I’m not joining your secret society!”
She snorted. “It’s not a secret society. For one, we don’t have a handshake.”
“I just want to know what the fuck is going on. Can you meet me somewhere? There’s a Starbucks over on Wellington or something—”
“No offense, but I’d rather stay private. You live near Wellington, right?”
I hadn’t decided whether to be offended or not. “Yes. Is that a problem?”
“Yeeeeah… You’re stuck in the hipster neighborhood.”
I was suddenly very aware that I could see the Elmvale Oyster House from my window. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I replied, probably unconvincingly. “That’s—that’s not the point.” I was so glad she was taking this seriously. “I don’t particularly want you in my house.”
“Isn’t your house your office? ‘Jamal Kaye, Private Investigator—”
“Are you—did you google me?”
“It’s a nice Facebook page. Very professional looking. You need some testimonials, though. Like, ‘she found my neighbor’s cat so quickly, ten out of ten!’”
I pinched the bridge of my nose, and turned around, catching Gurjas’s eye. Gurjas. Right. There was a point to all this. “Just get your ass over here,” I grumbled. I hung up on her with a cathartic click (although it wasn’t nearly as good as slamming down the landline at my old house) then glared at Johara and Gurjas, who were studiously looking anywhere but at me. “What? What are you looking at?”
“Nothing,” Johara said in an oddly squeaky voice.
The phone rang again. I picked it up—
“Where do you live, genius? Wellington’s a long-ass street, and it was dark last night.”
I stared at my feet, then gave her my address with a grumble. Which wasn’t even on Wellington.
Then I hung up. I wasn’t going to be denied the last word.
Will showed up more than half an hour later, and my first sign of her was a cheerful “Knock knock!” from outside. I groaned, and went to let her in—
“Are you sure about this?”
I glanced over at Gurjas. It was the first time he’d spoken in a while, and I’d forgotten how gravelly his voice was. “…No. But I’m not sure of anything.”
“You don’t have to get involved anymore.” He sounded almost… embarrassed? “I—came to thank you. But you should move on.”
I gave him a smile that was almost genuine. “So should you. But I don’t think either of us can do that without answers.”
He glowered at me. “I have all the answers I need. I don’t want you dying in search of yours.”
“Suit yourself. I’m stubborn, I’m curious and I’m stupid. It’s a terrible combination.” I would have probably brushed off the ‘dying’ thing a little more if he wasn’t, well, floating in front of me all dead as a warning sign. All the same, it didn’t deter me quite as much as it should have. Concern for my own skin was maybe… four, five on my priority list?
I went downstairs and opened the door.
“There you are. I thought you were going to keep me waiting.” Will pushed her way inside, handing me one of the fountain drinks she was holding. “I got you a soda.”
“…Uh. Okay.” I took it, eyeing the Subway logo, and glanced up at her. She was a little less intimidating in daylight, I had to say—I could see the pink streaks in her hair, and the butterflies in her earlobes. She hadn’t gotten any less frustratingly tall, but that was life as a hobbit. “Uh—” I just pointed upstairs. I wasn’t entirely sure how to open the conversation.
She snorted and climbed the stairs. “Enjoy the view.”
“The—Oh, for—” She was wearing a miniskirt, black with lace on the bottom. “I don’t do that.”
“What, appreciate nice legs?”
…They were nice legs, I had to admit. Aesthetically. But not the point. “I meant ogling people randomly,” I mumbled, but she probably didn’t hear it.
“Ooooh, pretty skirt!” commented Johara from above, and I glared up at her.
Great. I’d forgotten. Jo wasn’t just my own personal heckler anymore. I grumbled something incoherently to myself, then followed Will upstairs…then grabbed her before she could go exploring the rest of the house.
“Office is this way.”
“My roommate isn’t even moved in yet.”
“Is she cute?”
“He’s tall, awkward and otherwise a total blank. Please stop asking me questions.”
Will took a sip of her soda, but it didn’t hide the little smirk on her face. I just pushed her towards my office with a huff.
“Wow, this place is a shithole. I thought my apartment was bad—”
“I don’t remember asking for your opinion.”
“Technically, you invited me.”
I was already getting a headache. “I haven’t even unpacked. Can I get the home reno commentary once I’ve actually settled in?”
“Fine, fine.” She waved her hand. “So what do you need?”
I sat down at my desk and opened my computer, glaring at her a little over the top of the screen. She was so…chipper. But I hadn’t forgotten what kind of abilities she had.
I pulled up the image I needed. It was one from Facebook, nice and clear. “This is Gurjas Chaudhury. I found his body in the Lebreton Flats yesterday.” I turned the computer over to Will—and oh, I could see the look on her face. Instant recognition. “You know him?” I asked. I might not have been a mind-reader but the change in mood was obvious.
“Uh—only in passing. How’d you get involved?” It wasn’t a denial. She was too smart for that. But her hand strayed up her arm anyway, fiddling with the sleeve of her t-shirt in sudden discomfort.
“I’m a private investigator-”
“You’re seventeen. Don’t get cute with me.” There was a rough edge to her voice. “You’re supposed to be chasing down lost bikes and investigating shoplifted candy bars.”
“Well, I got stuck with this instead. Are you going to start giving me answers?” She’d probably plucked my age from my head at some point. I wasn’t particularly comfortable with that, either.
“I don’t have any. I thought you wanted the welcome wagon.”
“I told you, I don’t give a toss about your secret society. All I want to know is which of you fucks can disguise yourselves as other people.”
Will froze, blue eyes wide. Then her mouth twisted into a humourless smile. I’d hit a nerve. “Right. That’d be Mercuries. They’re the shapeshifters.”
“Shapeshifters.” I kept my voice steady, even as i felt my heart beat a sudden taboo against my ribs, quaking and frightened. At least she’d answered me.
“I can feel you freaking out—”
I slammed my hand against the desk and was both gratified and ashamed to see the way she jumped in her chair. She was paying attention now, at least. “How do I keep you the fuck out of my head?”
“By keeping that temper of yours in check,” she drawled, deliberately too cool, too calm.
Temper. Right. “I’m surrounded by cryptic assholes who think straight answers are too much work. I’ll calm down when I feel like it.”
“If it’s any comfort, nothing about me is straight.”
The line took me enough by surprise that I laughed, although it was abrupt and bitter. I buried my hand in my hair, covering my eyes and trying to let the new information settle in. Shapeshifters. Fucking hell. Whoever was commissioning me to keep investigating Gurjas’s murder had taken Mrs. Chaudhury’s form – what, just to screw with me? It was hard not to feel that way, let alone wonder whether or not it’d been the real Mrs. Chaudhury who had hired me the first time. It had to be. It was the only way any of this made sense. I’d been talking to two versions of her at once. “Okay,” I breathed. “So shapeshifters, mind readers, and… whatever I am.”
“I’m not using that word.”
“Shame. Loud weirdo talking to dead people is such a mouthful.”
Johara snorted in laughter behind me, and I wouldn’t have minded so much if I didn’t know perfectly well that Will could hear her too. “Laugh all you want,” I shot back at her, “She’s sassing you too.”
“Yeah, but it’s funny.”
“One day I’ll make you pay for how much you stab me in the back.” I sighed and pushed the palm of my hand into my eyes, wondering if I should tell Will about the shapeshifter. “Okay. So—rewind. You know Gurjas.”
At the sound of his name, Gurjas drifted curiously through the wall—and blanched, as much as a ghost could. It was confirmation that Will wasn’t just talking out of her ass. They knew each other. I didn’t acknowledge him, and if he didn’t say anything…well, I didn’t know how this stuff worked. But I could pay attention.
“Only in passing,” Will repeated, showing no awareness that Gurjas was there. “He’s out in Nepean area. Bayshore? I dunno. Avery and I kind of go everywhere.” She scratched at her ear, obviously uncomfortable.
“You and Avery? Are you two—” I wiggled my hand awkwardly, trying to find the right word.
“God, no.” Will pulled a face, then laughed, the tension falling from her shoulders. “What, are you jealous?”
“No. I was just asking.”
She snorted, then pulled some of her hair out of her face where it had fallen out of her ponytail, a sad smile twitching at the corner of her mouth. “I was hoping he was okay. I guess not.”
Gurjas still hadn’t said anything, but his stony masquerade was starting to falter. I wondered if he’d let himself even think about being dead yet, or if this was the first time it’d started to sink in. Then—
“You make it sound like he was in danger.”
Will definitely twitched that time. But I must have let too much slide, and I still didn’t know how to lock down my head completely. “Are you in danger?” she answered my question with one of her own.
“You sound so concerned.”
“If you are it’s probably your own fault, so I’m not sure concerned is the right word.” She tightened her ponytail with a smirk. “You seem to throw yourself into stupid situations.”
“You’ve met me once.”
“Yes, and you were punching my mentor in the face.”
“I don’t know if I regret that.”
“Yes, you do.”
I—just barely—resisted the urge to slam the desk again. “This isn’t going anywhere if you don’t tell me how to stop you doing that.”
She blinked, then shrugged. “I’m sorry.” It sounded mostly sincere. “Avery has an easier time just not picking things up.”
“What does that mean?”
“Do you actually want to know or is this step two of your weird ass-backwards interrogation style?”
…Dammit. I wished I had a defense against the interrogation thing. “I do actually want to know.” I left out the part where knowledge was power and/or a defense against whatever bullshit was coming my way.
“Avery and I can do the same thing, but we do it differently.” She was still fidgeting with her hair, and I stuck my hand between my knees to stop myself from drumming my fingers on the desk. She was nervous enough. “Avery senses things, like… tendrils? That’s how they described it last time. They pick up on things but it’s easier for them to ignore things, although that came with practice.”
“Tendrils. That’s not creepy.”
“Look, describing brain shit is hard. You try it sometime, see how far you get.”
“I actually hear things. I can’t stop myself from hearing whatever’s rattling around people’s heads. It’s not like I dig for it. It’s just… there. As obvious as your voice. Just quieter.” Her eyes flicked downwards, staring at the ground in a sudden display of genuine shyness. It was weird, seeing an actual person peeking out from behind the glitter-coated bravado. “I really don’t mean to hear. It’s just hard not to. I’ve been working on it for a while and if I make jokes about it, it usually puts people a little more at ease.”
I chewed on the inside of my cheek. “That’s… frightening. Can you tell the difference?”
“Pft, yeah. It’s not identical.”
“So how do I keep you out?”
“You have to think of something consistently. Like a brick wall, or a nursery rhyme. My ex used lines of poetry.”
Well, there was only one option for that. Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down—
“…Really?” Will seethed. “You couldn’t think of anything—” Then she stopped, head cocked.
“What?” I could feel my heart skip a beat already. “What’s—”
She lunged forward, slapping her hand over my mouth, and my nose was filled with the lingering scent of nail polish. “Hush.” Then in my head—Somebody else is here. Another elemental. Follow me.