“You should name him Beau. Beauregard. He looks like Beau. Anyway, this came for you from Savannah.”


He left and I checked the shipping manifest. Evidence pertaining to Savannah Mary #7, aka Steel Mary, aka the Guy in the Cloak. Oh goodie.

I reached over to lift the stack of paperwork out and my fingers grazed something solid. Hmm. I dragged it into the light. A lead box, six inches long, four inches wide, and three inches deep.

In the magic trade, people often referred to lead as black gold. Gold, being a noble metal, was inert. It didn’t rust, tarnish, corrode, or decay, and most acids had no effect on it. Magically, lead imitated gold. It resisted enchantment, ignored wards, and absorbed most magic emissions without suffering any consequences.

A lead evidence box had to contain something spiffy. The small sticker in its corner stated, EXHIBIT A, MARY #14, OCTOBER 9TH. I dug in the paperwork. October 5, October 8 . . . October 9. Here you are.

I perched on the corner of my desk and scanned the report. The Steel Mary crashed the monthly cage match held in the bottom floor of the Barbwire Noose, a booze hole on the southern edge of Savannah. The proprietor of the Barbwire Noose, Barbara “Barb” Howell, reported a seven-foot-tall, hairy man walking through the door, wearing nothing except a tattered cloak and what she described as leather Bermuda shorts. Barb proceeded to communicate her refusal to serve the intruder by leveling a Remington 870 pump-action shotgun at the man, accompanied by “No shirt, no shoes, no service.”

I liked Barb already.

The man laughed. At this point, the head bouncer decided to get involved. The man put the bouncer’s head through the wooden bar, which indicated to Barb that she should use her shotgun. Unfortunately, the magic wave had hit and the shotgun misfired. The man confiscated the shotgun and bashed Barb over the head with it. Her recollection of the following events seemed understandably murky.

One of the regular patrons, one Ori Cohen, twenty-one, got up off his chair and held up a locket to the hairy man. According to Barb, the man “snarled like a dog” and backed away. He continued to retreat and Barb thought that Ori would “walk him right out.” Unfortunately, a tall person in a cloak entered the bar through the back door and chopped through Ori’s neck with an axe. The hairy man then proceeded to demolish the place, while the second intruder watched.

The descriptions were vague at best. According to Clint, Barb’s second in command, the first man was a “giant, shaggy sonovabitch with glowing eyes . . . veins on his arms the size of electrical cords.” Not exactly a quality description. “Hi, I’d like an APB on a giant shaggy sonovabitch . . .”

The second man was described as tall. Nobody saw his face.

Because of the unusual height and near naked status of the intruder, the incident was classified as a possible Steel Mary sighting. The Steel Mary had struck in Savannah the night before, and the Savannah Biohazard preferred to err on the side of caution.

The report came equipped with several photographs. I spread them on the desk. Ori, a thin, slight man, curled into a ball in the middle of a trash-strewn floor. The second shot showed the body from the back. Ori’s face stared right at the camera, his cheek resting in a puddle of thickening blood. He looked at me with milky dead eyes. His face was clean shaven, narrow, and shockingly young.

Just a kid, really. A kid who saw a bully, stood up to him, and was crushed. The good guys didn’t always win.

The third photo showed Ori’s toolbox, tucked neatly under the bar. Somehow it survived the destruction. Inside the box lay chisels and brick trowels, stacked, clean, organized. A small wicker box tied with a pink bow sat on top of the tools. Close-up of the box. Chocolate-dipped strawberries.

Masons earned good money, but he was barely old enough to be a journeyman. Chocolate was expensive and strawberries were way out of season. He must’ve saved up for weeks to buy them. Probably planned to give them to somebody special. Instead he ended up on the filthy floor, discarded like some piece of trash.

“We have to find this bastard,” I told the attack poodle. “We’ll find him and then I’ll hurt him.”

I flipped through the stack of pictures. A close-up of Ori’s hand. A broken silver chain wound about his dead fingers. Something must’ve been attached to it. An amulet, an idol, maybe a charm of some sort . . . Something that made the Mary back off.

I flipped through the report to Barb’s interview. It mirrored the report summary until I came to the “No shirt, no shoes, no service.”

Barbara Howell stated that the hairy man laughed like a woman.

The phone screamed at me. I picked it up. “Kate Daniels.”

“I’m done with this game,” Curran snarled.

I pushed the disconnect button and pressed Maxine’s extension. “Maxine, if he calls again, please don’t put him through.”

“Dear, that was the Beast Lord.”

“Yes, I know. Please screen his calls.”

“Very well.”

I looked back at the paper. The hairy man laughed like a woman. Just like the undead mage.

Why the hell was Curran calling me anyway?

I picked up the phone and dialed Christy’s number. Christy was my closest neighbor—she lived only a few minutes down the road from my house near Savannah. She answered on the first ring.

“Hey, it’s Kate. How are you?”

“Fine, fine. What’s up?”

I’d regret this later. “I need a favor. Could you go up to my house and see if there is a note anywhere by my door?”

A month had passed. Unless he stuck it under the screen door, which had glass panels, even if the note had been there, it would be long gone.

“Sure. I’ll call you back in a few. Your job number, right?”

“No, my apartment is better. Thanks.”

I hung up. Even if there was a note, it changed nothing. Nothing at all.

If the big and shaggy man who attacked Barb’s bar did laugh like a woman, and if the second intruder was the Steel Mary, it meant they were batting for the same team. Was it a new faction trying to carve a territory in Atlanta? Argh. The deeper I dug, the more confused I got.

I went back to the evidence photos. A wide image of the bar. The inside of the Barbwire Noose had been demolished. Everything that could have been broken was. Splintered chairs. Crushed tables. Shattered glass. Holes in the walls. A chaotic twisted wreck that might have been a pool table at some point. The definition of

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