Spacer Killers in the Shadows 5
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    Lucky, who seems to know a little bit about this sort of thing, did some sniffing around—literally. Apparently she has more talents than we knew. After a while she touched a finger to one of the bloodstains, sniffed, then licked at it while the rest of us looked at her askance. I thought I heard one of the attendant cops mutter something unflattering.
    "Cinnamon. And I smell flowers." She kept sniffing and seemed to pick up a trail leading away from the scene. Phoenix, Reilly and I shrugged and followed her. We wound up in the basement of one of the old brownstones which give the area its charm. There the trail dead-ended against a wall. Lucky sniffed around a little more, but that was definitely it. Phoenix looked for hidden catches and secret doors until she decided he was wasting his time.
    "Stand back." With that scant warning she summoned her staff and swung it against the wall. It broke through, into a hidden tunnel. She widened the opening with little apparent effort, and the three of us followed her cautiously, Lucky in front, her position marked by the faint glow of the stick, myself in the middle, Phoenix bringing up the rear. Reilly stuck close to me, gun in hand.
    We had no idea where we were going, of course, but Lucky still seemed to be on some sort of trail she considered worth following, so I tried to be ready for anything. It had begun to look as if these tunnels did indeed connect the buildings the victims had lived in, but that got us no closer to the perpetrator.
    Then the daemons attacked—a half dozen hulking figures in the darkness, which sent my adrenaline level through the roof. I'm not used to violence.
    "They're UGLY!" Phoenix whooped as he waded in, bokken charged and ready. Behind me, Reilly made a choking sound as one of the creatures caught him by the throat; I managed to extend a shield over him, forcing the clutching hand far enough away that he could breathe. Then I reached out for the daemon with my mind, grabbed hold of its arm and twisted. It didn't feel right, somehow—it wasn't there, but it was obviously there, and just as my head started to hurt from the tactile contradiction it really was gone. Just like a soap bubble, leaving a strong smell of flowers. I grabbed another one, intending this time to try to capture it, but it too vanished, as did the ones my teammates engaged. We were alone again, in a tunnel that smelled like a garden, the only sounds our own breathing and the soft shush of wary movement, but nothing stirred in the darkness beyond.
    "You all right?" I asked Reilly softly.
    "Yeah. God, what the hell..."
    We held a brief discussion; Reilly was deemed sufficiently injured to go back above and track operations from there. He sent two uniformed men to keep us company as we continued our slow progress.
    At long last we emerged into a meeting of ways, where several tunnels came together to form a low, arch-ceilinged "room." Someone had turned the space into living quarters; a mattress and chest of drawers were half-hidden by a mess of scattered clothing. None of it smelled very good, and Lucky's expression suggested that keen senses carried a penalty, but she confirmed that the trail was the same. We searched and found little of interest, although Lucky pocketed a small, leather-bound book in a language none of us recognized.
    The trail seemed to end in that room, but picked up again some way down one of the tunnels, as if its maker had walked through the wall—which presumably is what he did. It went on for a considerable distance before stopping again. Above us a vertical passage seemed to offer an escape route; I was just about to suggest that I float up and take a look when Phoenix jumped, caught a handhold and began to climb, and then the ceiling collapsed.
    There wasn't enough time. That doesn't make me feel any less guilty for being unable to save him. Lucky was strong enough to catch one of the cops in one hand and haul herself up through the tunnel with the other. I did my best, but I couldn't lift the other as well as myself, and within too few seconds the shaft was collapsing on itself as well, threatening to seal off all escape. I floated up into a scene of violent conflict.
    We appeared to have found the killer; Lucky and Phoenix circled around a man standing in a pentagram, wielding magic. They proved a match for him, Lucky battering away at his protections with her staff until eventually Phoenix broke through with one of his trademark flashy assaults. He wound up with a long-stemmed red rose for his troubles as the suspect collapsed into a heap on the ground and we all stood there for a moment, waiting to see what happened next.
    It seemed to be over. Backup arrived in short order and began the official process of fanning through the tunnels, looking for evidence and making sure the suspect was secure. The late Officer Hal Stevens would be removed. Like I said, not a great day.
    It got worse. Lucky looked up at me floating there, watching the proceedings. "Hey, Tinkerbell. This isn't the same guy I smelled. It's not the killer."
    Great. Just great.

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© 1999 Rebecca J. Stevenson