Samantha Kane is struggling with this thing called "her life" and how it can be turned completely upside down in the span of one week. Her partner and mentor is hospitalized, followed quickly by her father, who slips into a coma; her teenage brother decides now is the perfect time to rebel; and her mom lays the guilt on as thick as molasses every chance she gets. Work isn't much better. Recently promoted to detective, her job is suddenly in jeopardy, and the cops she's worked with for years no longer respect her or want her around. Not to mention the fact that Ghosts, Vampires, and Werewolves are real and apparently want her dead.
According to a crazy man who showed up out of nowhere, Sam was never meant to be a cop. She's supposed to be a Wizard.
Patrick Hester is a two-time Hugo-winner who presented us with a great new urban fantasy series, "Samantha Kane." Patrick is also a podcaster and audiobook producer and he is completely dedicated to his new series. INTO THE FIRE will enthrall you and hook you into the series of a young woman who wanted to be a cop but is supposed to be a wizard. – Kevin J. Anderson
There've been a lot of days in my life where I've stopped and asked myself, Why? Why did I even get out of bed? Why didn't I listen to that little, nagging voice in the back of my head telling me to stay home, snug in my fuzzy slippers and warm kitty pajamas? The same voice telling me all the signs were there, the planets had aligned just so, and today, Samantha Kane, today was going to be a bad day.
That voice was always right.
I winced. Not just because of the shouting, although that's bad enough; I'm actually used to people shouting at me (it's a long story called my life).
No, my captain had just kicked open his office door like a scene out of a bad '80s movie, letting it fly back and crash into the bookshelf behind it. A few little things I'd never noticed before came crashing down and scattered across the floor. Why did he have a Tony Romo bobblehead? Or a Garden of the Gods kissing camels sculpture? And don't get me started on the wild honeysuckle aromatherapy candle.
I carefully stepped over everything and followed him into the office, one of the few with a window on this floor and with a fairly decent view of the Rocky Mountains. Only the lightest dusting of snow up there. In late October, you expect to see a bit more powder, but we'd had a dry summer, and the winter didn't look to be much better. At least, that's what the too-cheery blonde girl had just been saying on the television out in the squad room.
"Shut the door!" he bellowed.
I complied quickly, closing the door in one quick, smooth motion and sliding into the wooden chair in front of his desk. I don't do meek—at least, not well. Can swing faux penitent well enough to fool the nuns and priests back in my parochial school days, but that's about as far as those skills go. Still, I clasped my hands together in my lap. Honestly, I didn't know what else to do with them. After a second, I gripped the armrests instead.
My brain flashed on times when I've been in trouble: sneaking out with Jenni to see a concert or hit a party after curfew; the frat boys we went skiing with; the "incident with the squad car," as my dad called it. None of which compared to this. This time, a man might die. A good man. A friend and mentor. All because I couldn't let it go, couldn't walk away.
Captain King stared out the window and began mumbling something. The serenity prayer? Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.…
Thomas King was easily twenty years my senior. Gray just starting to come in at his temples, the rest of his curly hair remained as dark as his skin, which revealed nothing of his age. Not a line, wrinkle, or crack. He stood at least a head and a half above my five-nine self, with a barrel for a chest, long legs, and thick arms that belonged on a professional wrestler. He remarked once how he kept in shape by chopping wood for himself and his neighbors. Staring at those biceps, I could believe it.
Which brings to mind another thing that damages my calm: those muscles were perfect for crushing Sam to death. I've never considered my Captain a particularly violent man, but the bookshelf could sing a different tune. Plus, the sudden image of him dressed in an outfit similar to Triple H's and coming at me with a chair raised above his head didn't help.
That's me, by the way—Sam. Samantha Kane. Detective with the Denver Police Department, celebrating my third week as a detective, sixth year wearing the badge. Started off on patrol like my father, following in his hallowed footsteps to protect and serve. More on that later.
Captain King, my captain, the man who used to give me piggyback rides in my parents' backyard, paced behind his desk. No more praying. His face turned a darker color with mottled splotches, either in anger, frustration, or a combination of the two. I had that effect sometimes. Okay, a lot of times. There's a long list of people who have found themselves frustrated or angry as a result of their interaction with Samantha Kane. My father tells me I push too hard and people don't like it, don't like being challenged constantly. I'm surprised there's not a support group or club or something. Maybe a Facebook fan page. "The Samantha Kane Survivors Club" or something. I should probably look it up.
A twinge pulsed up my arms. I'd taken a death grip on the wooden chair's armrests the moment Captain King stopped praying. Easing my grip caused a sharp pain to shoot through my fingers. Fingers covered in dried blood. I turned them over, shaking. Blood beneath my nails. Splatters of the stuff on my jeans. My shoes. My shirt. It was in my hair, too; I could feel it like a weight pulling me down. My partner's blood all over me. My—
"Sam," said the captain, voice softer than I expected.
I shuddered and turned. He'd come around the desk and reached out to take my hands in his rough and calloused hands. This close, he smelled of Old Spice and sweat. His eyes held conflicting emotions. This man has known me all my life. He wanted to take care of me and wring me out all at the same time.
"I need you to focus," he said.
With a very small smile surely meant to reassure me, he released my hands and moved back to the window. "Sam. Can you explain to me what the hell you were doing in that apartment building last night?"
I'd expected yelling. I'd expected rage. Instead, I got a soft, almost gentle tone from him. Somehow, it made it all so much worse.
Words wouldn't form. My mouth went dry as the Sahara. I coughed and tried again. "A lead," I said. "Lead came in. Suspect sighted there. We decided to check it out."
"We, huh?" he asked. He turned, arms crossed. A couple steps forward and he leaned against the desk, looking down his nose at me.
The urge to jerk away crept up from my toes, and I fought it hard.
"A lead. On a case you were no longer working? Did the fact you'd been reassigned somehow slip your mind? Or Jorge's? You had no reason to be running down any leads on that case. Log them for the detectives actually assigned to it; that's your job. Your only job, Rookie."
Every word jabbed my heart and made me wince. All of it true and accurate.
"I know we were reassigned," I said slowly, "but the tip came in, and who knew how long the guy would be there? Time wasn't on our side." The more I spoke, the faster the words spilled out. "I went to log it into the computer; I did, but the computer kept giving me an error, and no name came up, so I couldn't actually call the detective on the case. No one in the squad room knew who'd taken it over. The guy could vanish again, and maybe he'd killed the cashier or maybe he knew who did or saw something, and Jorge agreed, and so we went. And he was there, and—"
"Stop," he ordered. "Just stop."
A knock at the door made me jump.
A man walked into the room without being invited and closed the door behind him. A smoky, acrid scent followed in his wake and tickled my nose. Like someone out of a very old movie, he wore a dark brown trench coat and matching fedora, the former bundled up all the way to his neck despite the unusually warm weather. Between the coat collar being up and the brim of the hat down, his features were pretty well hidden in shadows.
From the crook of his arm, he produced a couple of thick folders and said, "Tom," in a gruff voice that spoke of too much whiskey and cigarettes.
"Jack?" my captain asked, his voice faltering.
I turned. All the color had drained away from his face.
"What—" he began, then cleared his throat. "What brings you down here?"
Wait, was he scared? Giant Captain Thomas King with a pro wrestler's physique, scared of scrawny Jack?
"Transfer," Jack answered. He handed over the folders and waited.
Curious about anyone who could make Captain King uncomfortable, I studied him. He returned my gaze steadily. I could make out his face now—angular, with a sharp nose and keen, dark eyes. Day-old stubble covered his chin, a bit lighter in color than the bits of brownish hair escaping from the edges of his hat. His face told the tale of someone painfully thin: sunken eyes, hollowed-out cheeks, and very pale, if not outright pallid. Pale enough to easily be mistaken for someone with the plague, and thin enough to drive the idea home. Maybe he had a cold? It would certainly explain the coat. And the scarf around his neck. The smoky scent radiating from him mixed with something else I couldn't quite place.
I didn't smile back.
"What if she declines?" Captain King asked.
His smile deepened.
They were talking about me? Eyes wide, I turned back to my captain. "Transfer? What?" I asked. I don't think I could've gotten more attention if I'd jumped up on the desk and started singing "Mamma Mia" from the musical. Neither man paid me any attention. They were too busy staring each other down and discussing me as if I weren't in the room.
I hate that.
"Signatures from the chief of police, the mayor, and the governor, Jack?" Captain King whistled through his teeth. "You've been busy."
"I like to have all my ducks in a row," Jack said.
"A two-person task force?" Captain King snorted. "You work alone, Jack. Always have."
"Not entirely true. I have a team of civilians who work with me. But there's enough work now for another cop. This is the easiest way to go," Jack said. "She gets to keep her badge, continues to get paid and call herself a cop, but she works for me and does what I tell her to do."
"Wait a second—" I said, heart hammering in my chest. Did he just imply—? I know I screwed up, but they couldn't fire me … could they?
Captain King's eyes said they could. They would.
"I have a responsibility to my officers, Jack," he said. "To protect them."
And he would, too. Protect me. Even if it meant his own neck.
"You and I both know the powers that be will want a head to roll for last night's … incident. If she's with me, they'll consider the matter closed. I can protect her in ways you can't."
There had to be another way. "Look, Jack, is it?" I asked. "I don't know what's going on here, but—"
"I don't know, Jack," said my captain as if I hadn't spoken.
"I promise you, Tom. She'll be safe with me."
"Hello?" I asked, waving my hands in the air between them.
My Captain took a deep breath and blew it out again. "Samantha Kane, meet Jack Mayfair." He didn't even look at me. "Your new boss."
Mayfair smiled and nodded. "You've been reassigned, Detective Kane. You're with me now. I trust you were done here, Tom?" he asked. He held his hand out for the folder to be returned.
"Wait a minute. My partner?" My voice went into high-pitched girl stratosphere zone. Blushing, I took a breath and tried to calm down. "My cases?"
"No longer your concern," Mayfair said. "You will be working out of a different office altogether, with me. Tom?"
Captain King put a hand on my shoulder. "Sam, I'm sorry. There's nothing I can do." He handed the folder back to Mayfair.
Mayfair ruffled around in the folder and handed a stack of the papers back to Captain King. "Copies for your files."
"Hold on," I said and took a step back to shrug off the hand on my shoulder. "Just like that? I'm transferred? How the hell does that happen?"
Mayfair spun on his heel and opened the door. "You're with me, Detective Kane." He exited the office without another word.
I searched my captain's face—my former Captain—for some sort of answer. There wasn't one.
"Sam?" he asked. "Good luck." Another deep breath. "And be careful."
He ushered me out of the office and closed the door.
What the hell just happened?
* * *
I caught up with Mayfair just as he stepped into the old elevator. My head swimming, I squeezed in after him and gave him the once-over. Like my former Captain, this man stood taller than me. I put him at about six four. Long, tall, and lanky, or "built like a runner," as my dad would say. A beat-up badge clipped to his coat flashed in the fluorescent light of the elevator.
The doors closed, and his hands went into the deep pockets of the trench coat.
"Lieutenant John Mayfair," he said. "Garage?" he asked.
I pushed the button.
"Most folks call me Jack," he added with the shadow of a smile.
Lieutenant Mayfair. I filed it away for future reference. The name didn't register at all. How had I never seen or met him before? I knew just about everyone in the Denver PD; hell, most of them have been to my parents' house for barbecues and football Sundays.
"Samantha Kane, but everyone calls me Sam. Who are you, and what the hell just happened?"
"Straight to it, then?" he asked. "I am a specialist. You've been transferred to a new task force created in the early morning hours by a special grant of the chief of police, mayor, and governor. You should be honored to be chosen. I only take on the best. We work out of a different office, by the way. You'll like it. Very homey. Do you have a car?"
"Yes. Don't you? How could I be transferred? Shouldn't I get a choice?"
"Yes, I have a car, but it's not here. I expedited the paperwork given these are very special circumstances. And I only deal with very special circumstances." He winked at me. "And yes, you do get a choice. Your choice is to come with me or not come with me."
"Well then," I said, a little mollified. "I choose not to come with you."
"All right. I can't force you," he said. "Have your desk cleaned out by five. The duty officer will accept your badge and weapon. Have a good life as a civilian."
The elevator dinged, the doors opened, and Jack Mayfair stepped out into the garage and left me standing there. The doors started closing, and I reached out with a hand to hold them open. The bloodstains stood out in this light, or maybe it was just my imagination. The cuff of my light jacket had a ragged stain fading halfway to my elbow. Irregular blobs went up my arm. The smoky scent clung to the elevator, and I had to admit, some of it radiated from me, from last night.
I caught my reflection in the elevator panel and froze. Part of me wanted to burst out laughing maniacally, just let it all push me over the edge and embrace the madness flirting around the edges of my mind. My partner hospitalized, my job in jeopardy, my life in shambles. I'm a cop. To protect and serve, that's my mission. Just like my dad. Telling him about all of this would be …
I ran out of the elevator and shouted, "Wait!"
Jack Mayfair hadn't made it far, only around the first of the thick stone support columns. Maybe he waited for me?
"I just," I said, "I need to know what that means."
"You prefer to be called Sam?" he asked.
I nodded. My parents called me Samantha. They managed an inflection conveying disappointment and guilt in equal measure, too.
He regarded me, and I felt self-conscious, memory flashing to that momentary glimpse in the elevator. My red hair hung loose about shoulder high and gave the impression rats had built a nest in it. Ten rats, maybe twenty. With babies. And the blood—I didn't want to think about the blood anymore. To my eyes, I looked heavy. My ex often said I simply had curves in the right places. Men.
"You disobeyed orders," he said. "You continued to investigate a case taken up the food chain to more experienced detectives. You were expressly told not to touch that case anymore, and you did it anyway. As a result, your partner lies in a hospital bed with a dozen tubes going in and out of his body. A giant machine breathes for him. All in the hopes he'll stay alive just long enough for his body to do that thing our bodies do: heal. Not a great chance, but hey—you gotta hope. After all of that, what did you think would happen to you? Medal of commendation?"
Stunned, my mouth flopped open and closed like a fish out of water. Yeah, I knew I'd screwed up. My partner … all my fault. And I'd have to pay a price for it, but I thought … well, I thought disciplinary actions, sure, maybe even suspension without pay or something. I could even see riding a desk for a couple of years, but fired?
A rising tidal wave of panic threatened to wash over me.
"Face it, Detective." He began walking again. "You're lucky I want you in my task force at all."
I pushed the panic down. Swallowed it. I turned and started saying something smart-ass, then stopped. He stood next to my 2002 Ford Escort. Had walked right up to it.
"Nice car. Ford." He frowned. "I never did like a Ford. I'm a Chevy man."
"Yeah? So where's your car?"
"I didn't bring it." He tried the passenger-side door and found it locked. "I prefer alternative transportation most of the time. Easier on the environment."
Great. Eco nut. Not that I don't do my part; I recycle my beer bottles. Piles and piles of them. "I appreciate that you want me in your task force; I do." Standing in front of my car, I did the best I could to stare him down. "But there has to be an appeal process, something I can say or do to get my real job back!"
"Nope. Sorry. It's my way or the highway." He tried the door again. "Power locks?"
A sea of emotion swelled inside of me. The walls I'd spent years building cracked. From the first day I'd put on the uniform, male cops had tried to get me to cry, to show emotions. Emotions meant weakness in their eyes, and I'm a woman—the breasts give it away every time—and women only come in two varieties: the crying, simpering, useless waste they don't want riding in the car with them, and the stone-cold bitch nothing touches so she must be a dyke. I showed them what they needed to see: a cop. I locked my emotions behind those walls every day, released them only at night when I'm back in my own home behind a locked door with the curtains pulled and a goddamned cold beer in my hand.
The need to curl up into a ball on my couch overwhelmed me, and I pushed it aside along with the fear and pounded it down into a dark hole in my brain where it couldn't touch me.
I couldn't break down in front of this stranger.
I stomped to the driver's side door (okay, so maybe I hadn't managed to pound all of my emotions down as far as I would've liked) and pressed the unlock button on the keychain. Did I slam the door a little too hard getting in? Maybe. Mayfair had to shove the seat all the way back to accommodate his long legs, and he still appeared a little uncomfortable. Key in the ignition, I started the car and flipped the switch for the air conditioning. Screw Jack Mayfair. My day just got shitty, so could his.
He frowned and said, "Take a left out of the garage, head to the Broadway and Sixth area. I'll tell you more when we're in the neighborhood."
"You want to tell me, maybe, what the fuck I'm getting into?"
"Of course. Since you asked so nicely," he said.
That almost made me stick my tongue out at him. Almost. Decorum, Sam. Professionalism. Resolved face.
He continued, "I'm only called in on the most difficult cases involving the strangest of situations. My squad, though mostly civilian contractors, are elite. Do you mind if I smoke?" he asked as he pulled a pack of cigarettes from his coat pocket.
"Yes, I do."
He sighed. "Pity. Everyone used to smoke, you know."
"Right. Most of them are dead now. You were telling me about your squad?" Didn't the Captain say he worked alone?
"Hmmm?" He returned the cigarettes to his coat pocket and pulled his coat close around him. "Oh, yes. Very special unit. Very elite. I take only the best candidates. You should be very proud."
"I am. Very proud. Can hardly contain myself. So why me?"
"Well, that's easy enough. Why don't you tell me about the Ghost you saw last night? Oh, red light."
"What? Shit!" I slammed on my brakes, the car skidding and sliding towards the intersection. I hadn't even seen the light change.
How the hell did he know?