The following is the first section of the short story Silver Bullet, from my (self published) upcoming short story collection, Silver Bullet and Other Stories. Tentative release date for this collection is July 15th. Stay tuned for future updates
Casey Winter sighed. Details in a murder case were like a magician's
secrets. Once the audience knows them, you're screwed. The sniper might
not be Corpus Christi's first serial case, but she couldn't think of
another. The bullets he fired were silver plated, and it was bad, bad,
bad that she knew about them now.
She folded up the newspaper and put it back in the stand beside her register.
wasn't a large city. You could fit its population into Houston three or
four times and have plenty of room left over. The perks of living on
the coast, though, compensated for small town misfortunes. Beachfront
property, camping trips where the ocean sang you to sleep (and sometimes
soaked you awake), and all-you-can-eat fried shrimp at the tourist
dives. Some even counted the mild winters. Personally, Casey felt
broiling in summer wasn't worth a forty average in December.
here was mostly drug related. There was a gang problem; people locked
their doors, stayed off certain streets. The last month, though, had
changed everything. Four people had been murdered, and not in domestic
disputes or drug deals. At random, via custom made armor piercing silver
bullets. Though the public hadn't known about that until yesterday.
Sitting on unique details, like gun caliber and specific wound patterns,
was standard operating procedure for cops. After all, if the
information didn't come from them, they could track it back to the hands
that fired the shot. At least, that was the plan before the local news
broadcast CCPD's hole card to the world.
Silver bullets. Silver
freaking bullets. Way to go, Channel Ten. Casey shuddered. Now, anyone
with psychotic delusions, impulse control problems and an electro-plate
kit could go wild and blame it on the crazy already roaming the
streets. Thank God, this Leopard Street gas station was a regular stop
Corpus's few nasty places all empty into Leopard
Street. Even the anemic weeds crawling through the sidewalk cracks
looked desperate. A few blocks over, Loaves and Fishes offered a free
meal for the homeless every day. Gang signs proliferated on pawn shop
windows. This time of year, autumn fog draped curtains over everything.
Nothing was hidden. If you were on Leopard Street, chances were you'd
A sniper was not something they were ready for.
first man killed had been a Hispanic gangster down on Staples Street.
People assumed drive-by. One week later another gangster was killed,
this time on Airline and Williams on the opposite side of town. He'd
been waiting for a bus ride home. The men were connected—best friends,
cousins, members of the same gang—so the press speculated about a gang
Then the next two victims were killed. Neither had ever been in a gang.
retail usually devolved into massive amounts of polishing, sweeping and
window-scrubbing. The door alert rang. Casey gave off dusting the candy
bars and turned with her happy customer face in place. A black buzz cut
walked past the five-foot-two mark by the door, followed by a blond,
and if reality had any justice he would be modeling underwear a thousand
miles from here. She smiled. Arthur Ramirez was a Hispanic fireplug
disguised as a cop. His drank biblical amounts of coffee; cuppa of black
joe every hour, on the hour. Casey ran the only twenty-four-hour
convenience store in his patrol area, so he bought his fix from her.
she wondered how much of that habit had to do with discovering a
crippled woman behind the cash register of Leopard Street's favorite
stop-and-rob. When the attacks started, Arthur'd been given the Leopard
Street patrol. He'd come back two times that first night, three times
the next night, then settled into a four-cups-a-night coffee habit.
Casey tried to argue with his concern, but she was five-five of skinny,
pale and brown. And no matter how fit she'd been a couple years ago,
her ex husband had blown a big hole in her world when he'd shattered her
right knee with a rolling pin. She'd divorced him the second she'd
recovered enough to hold a pen. Free at last…which didn't count for
much. She was still picking broken-life pieces up every time she turned
around. In one aching moment of now, Jackson Winter had turned her life
into a whole before and a broken, nasty after.
and overprotective nature were, well, endurable. But Arthur Ramirez also
had a heavy case of hero worship, and it kind of sucked. She finished
dusting candy bars just as he came to the counter with his tall cup of
liquid rocket fuel. The odds of someone in Corpus Christi knowing who
fantasy novelist K.C. Winter was, these were pretty good. Relms' Con
would commence over at Bank of America Center in a couple weeks, and
nerds galore would flock to the seller's tables. Knowing K.C. equaled
Casey, those odds were a little slimmer. Knowing her by sight, you're
moving into lottery-winner territory. For the cop assigned to her
working neighborhood to be a rabid Ambercross fan? God's irony fairy was
And he'd been horrified to find her working
here. Like everyone else on planet earth he'd assumed that "successful
published writer" meant "millionare in Victorian mansion". Okay. So
Casey could have lived off her writing income alone, if Jack hadn't gone
nuts and ended their marriage with a bang. Between the legal bills, the
medical bills, and the general costs of living, she couldn't make
enough money writing to stop working. But she also couldn't make enough
working to stop writing. At least, not at the kind of job that would
hire a cripple pushing forty without a college degree.
knew she deserved better. No one should waste time selling coffees and
gas with a big target pinned to her back. But escaping the grind
required effort, and she just had nothing left to give. And why should
she try, anyway? Jack was gone, her money was gone, her body was shot,
her family had pretty much disowned her, and her career…contrary to
popular opinion, midlist author was pretty much a dead end. A gas
station on Leopard Street was a perfect fit from that perspective. If
you didn't have a future, this was where you belonged.
had a couple perks. Arthur Ramirez's first visit of the night usually
came with Marco Creed, Arthur's extraordinarily hot best friend. His
pattern was even more predictable than Arthur's: Buy one hot-dog with
mustard, take up residence at small yellow table, read and do paperwork
until dawn. There was a big sign on the door that said no Loitering, an
identical sign over Casey's register. But Marco and Arthur had taken the
owner aside two weeks ago and had a talk. Marco could camp here if he
wanted, as long as he escorted the nightshift girls in and out of the
It certainly improved the view. She glanced over at
Marco. Six-two of blond, blue eyed gorgeous. Twenty years too young for
Casey, goddamn it. He came to the register with money and the hotdog.
She took the money. His garage, Anderson-Creed Auto, was a few blocks
over. He made very glossy custom jobs, and guarded them with a large
fence and a very ugly dog. The yellow table he'd staked out two weeks
ago sat beside the door. Now he loaded it down with paperwork and a
paper bag full of books.
All but one of the sniper attacks had
happened between two and four a.m. Casey traded shifts with her relief
at three. Marco would be here when Jeannie came on and she clocked out,
and he would leave with Jeannie when the day manager finally showed.
was all because of that first dead girl. Two dead gangsters weren't
scary. Nicole Hartman, however, had been a pretty blond college kid
studying history. She had good family, good grades. She had type two
diabetes, though, and didn't like the stuff in Del Mar College's vending
machines. She'd made a run to the Stripes on a corner, like she did
every night, and had been standing on the median between highway lanes. A
black car had passed her on the left, and a rifle had fired.
had read every news story obsessively. Nicole had been studying Celtic
history. She had a little brother named Jerry and a gap between her
front teeth that turned her smile dazzling in its imperfection. She
wanted to be a teacher. The bullet had shattered on her pelvis and she
died after three hours of pain.
The bell over the door rang
again, this time admitting two Hispanic men. One of them looked okay,
Casey thought. Only one tattoo, a skillful tangle of roses across his
upper back which must have been a considerable chunk of change and pain.
The other one looked like he'd gotten out of jail two days ago. Arthur
stiffened like someone had stuck a broomstick up his spine. Marco just
read and ate his hotdog. It was nice of Arthur to engineer protection,
Casey thought, but she'd rather have had the garage's ugly dog. At least
Marco's puppy knew when bad guys had shown up.
"What are you doing here, Julio?" Arthur asked.
"Hey man," the rose tattoo said. "We just buying groceries, man. Can't a man buy groceries, man?"
please. Casey rolled her eyes. Julio put a hand on the little guy's
shoulder. Cool it. "My lady blew through her cigarettes. Tony here needs
to get some beer, too."
"It's your probation if you drink, bro," Arthur said.
"And I'm not doing a goddamned thing to risk it. I got two kids now, Artie. I got one more shot, and I'm gonna make it count."
the Rose Tattoo, meanwhile, leaned into a cooler and pulled out a six
pack of beer. He looked old enough to buy it, barely. There was a
mermaid amid the roses on his back, and Casey was stunned by its beauty
and realism. Whoever had done it was really talented. Tony dropped the
beer on the counter and said, "Pall-Malls."
"Where'd you get the ink done?" She asked.
it to you, bitch?" Tony asked. He puffed up like a fighting rooster,
sans spurs. "Gimme a pack of fuckin' Pall-Mall already."
Okay. Sorry, kiddo. You watch too many gangster movies. She rang up the beer and the cigarettes. "ID?" She said.
"Bitch, do I look like I'm under age?"
"You look twenty two. I have to check. Sorry." She shrugged. Grudgingly, a wallet was produced. He was twenty-five.
him, Arthur and Julio appeared to be deep in conversation. Casey heard
the name Amaya Hernandez, and her stomach lurched. Amaya had been a
slightly overweight itty bitty Hispanic woman with gray hair, a big
heart and nerves of steel. And she, too, had died.
Casey thought as she handed Tony his change, was a nice, big word. You
felt good dropping a fifty dollar check in an envelope addressed to
Ethiopia. You win the Cheerful Giver merit badge…but make sure it's the
right charity. Make sure that your drop in the bucket goes to some
college fund for the deserving, or a teen mother choosing adoption over
abortion. Make sure your charity is socially acceptable. Places like
Loaves and Fishes weren't that kind of charity. They didn't ask for
blood tests, or your status in AA. They didn't check to make sure you
were furthering your education through the socially approved networks.
It's one thing to give to people who are trying hard. It's another thing
entirely to devote your life and time to people who have already given
up. Perhaps it's not a better gift, but it certainly is a bigger one.
Hernandez had been an administrator for Loaves and Fishes, until she
resigned to become a social worker for CPS. She was a children's
advocate in CASA. She connected needy families to Habitat for Humanity.
She had touched the hearts of wealthy philanthropists and gangsters with
three or four murders under their belt, she had probably saved more
lives than she could count, and she'd been gunned down on Leopard Street
two nights ago, while escorting a pair of children home.
the news had leaked: She'd been shot by the same killer as the gangsters
and Nicole Hartman. All linked by a silver bullet.
Julio shook his head at Arthur. "Look…I don't know who killed Miz Maya, alright? You can bank on that, sir."
Tony rolled his eyes and took his beer. Arthur said, "Alright, man."
eyes had a crazy white cast to them now. "Because if I did know, you'd
be arresting me right now, Artie. She took care of my kids. She took
care of my mom. My wife, when she had nobody, she knew Miz 'Maya would
be there. I find out who did it, I shoot the motherfucker. And then I'll
call you, and shit on the son-of-a-bitch's face 'fore you get there."
"Get in line," Casey said quietly. Julio, Arthur and Marco all looked at her, then smiled. The tension broke like clouds.
"Hey, Miz Winter, right? When we gonna get another book? You left that Leythorne dude in a nasty mess last time."
Oh for God's sake. Can we give Irony Fairy a break, already?
Arthur and Marco looked like puppies begging for treats. Even Tony
looked interested. She sighed. Fantasy novels. Elves and Faeries. Even
things out of her personal nightmares. For some people, it was better
than candy. "You'll get it when you get it, mkay?" She said, demurely.
"Let's get, dude." Tony said, and shuffled out of
the store. Julio took a minute longer, clapping Arthur on the back,
shaking Marco's hand, and giving Casey a smile that left her craving a
"That guy," Marco said, "is bad news."
rolled his eyes. "Julio and I went to highschool together. He's screwed
up. Bad. I don't know if he can pull himself out of it, but I think he
is going to try." He rubbed his scalp.
"I meant the kid." Marco turned a page.
"What's wrong with Tony?" Casey asked.
sighed. "He's nothing. Gangster wannabe. If he gets busted for selling
one more time, he's going in for longer than Julio. I'll see you kids
later." He waved at Marco, at Casey, and then went back to his patrol
Marco settled onto his stool and took a book out of a paper bag. Naturally, it was one of hers.
* * *
the last few nights, walking out to her car had been Casey's personal
hell. Her tiny red Nissan glowed in the October fog like a bulls-eye.
Footsteps echoed off walls like a gunshot in a concrete canyon.
Stoplights blinked like eyes; orange streetlamps caught the air on fire.
Cars drifted out of this haze like sharks. If you wanted to sneak up on
someone, all you had to do was sit just up the road, lights off, and
It was two-forty-five. She got off this shift at three.
amazed you're not more worried." Marco's words startled Casey out of
her reverie. She shook herself, studied his face, and smiled. He wore a
ball cap even indoors, and would have looked naked without it. Nobody,
she decided, should look that pretty. "You saw the news. Sniper's
packing silver plated bullets with the ends filed to points."
Casey said. "I still have to walk to the car, you know? Damned if I'm
gonna crawl on the ground because some lunatic's tired of shooting at
Marco chuckled. "You know…you're a lot braver than you come off."
"Thanks," she said, dryly. Then she chuckled to herself.
will bet you money, I'm the only person to hear about the bullets and
not immediately think 'werewolf." She grinned at him, and he smiled
"You'd lose," he wraggled the book at her. In Casey's
novels, Faeries reacted to steel the way vampires reacted to holy water.
A stainless steel fork could burn them worst than napalm, not that they
had forks in Ambercross. Or napalm. Or gunpowder, for that matter. The
darker species of Faerie—she supposed they'd be the unseelie court,
though she didn't divide them that way in her novels—were just as badly
injured by silver. In Ambercross, it was standard for an Elf to carry a
silver plated knife in a boot so that, if one such nasty should appear,
he could kill it without damaging himself or another Faerie. If an Elf
owned a gun, he'd carry silver bullets.
fifty-five. Casey closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Jeannie Weston
pushed through the door at exactly two-fifty-nine. Casey's relief was
an overweight red-headed single mother of two. She slammed the door
behind her and said "Safe!" dramatically. You only saw the white skin
and trembles if you knew her really well. Jeannie was terrified of the
sniper, but she'd turned her anxiety into a running gag. She was, Casey
decided, an okay human being to know.
Jeannie nodded to Marco
as she made a b-line for the back room time clock. Casey followed. In an
hour, she would be home. Thirty minutes later, she'd be asleep. Wake up
at noon, try to get some writing done, shower, drive out here. Life was
like the instructions on a shampoo bottle. Lather, Rinse, Repeat. And
repeat. And repeat.
Marco stood as she neared the door. "Walk
you out, Lady Winter?" He asked. She let him open the door for her. He
tapped the brow of his ballcap as she passed. It was their evening
ritual. Part of her would be very sad when this was over and Marco
stayed at his body shop all night again. God he was handsome. Why
couldn't he be forty? Or even thirty five?
They stepped into
the banks of October fog. Cars and buildings across the street were
hunkered shapes. She shivered. Given the events this month, not being
able to see was—
Tires squealed, and the world slowed down.
car broke through the fog like a glossy black bullet. Light gleamed off
its mist shrouded curves. The grill was chrome teeth, and the rear
driver's-side window was down. A long, narrow tube poled out of the
window. Reality melted like an icicle. The car oozed forward, motor
purring. The gun barrel had a wide and staring eye, and it was looking
right at her.
Run, she thought, and came down wrong on her bad
knee. Fire shot through her bones and her good knee gave out. Marco
grabbed her, twisted her under him, and the retort echoed off buildings.
Something hard grazed her shoulder. A small black hole opened on the
back of her car. Marco's weight pulled her to the ground. She rolled
across asphalt, scraping her bad cheek against the gravel. Another shot
fired, and something wet and hot splattered over her. Marco screamed.
There was a third shot, and then the murderer's engine roared. Red
tail-lights flashed once in the darkness, and then the car was gone.
Life exists in terms of before, now, and after. Casey thought, in the shocked silence that followed. I was in before. This is now, and when this passes everything that follows will be changed. So are we done? Am I after, yet?
dribbled across her cheek. Marco's blood. It dribbled out of a hole in
Marco's shoulder. He rolled away, groaning, and she stared at the harsh
lights of the gas pump overhang. Blood pumped furiously through Marco's
Blood, she realized, that was the wrong color. A
shallow and transparent amber, far removed from human blood. It was
pouring out of his body, and she felt cold. She knew what bled like
that. Oh God, oh God, oh yes she did.
This is it. This is now.
Jeannie poked her head out of the convenience store. "What the hell--"
the police!" Marco shouted. Casey couldn't move. His hat had fallen
off, and through his tangled curls Casey saw the tip of one pointed ear.
He met her eyes and smiled ruefully. One pale finger arched to his
lips, shhhhh. Slowly, a little theatrically, he put the ball cap on with
his uninjured hand. The blood flow slowed, then stopped. Whole white
flesh showed through the bullet hole in his shirt.
It had healed. Completely.
The only reason, Casey thought, to shoot a silver bullet is to hunt a monster…or to avoid killing a Faerie.
This is after.
The man who saved her life was an Elf.