Kyle Monroe’s encounter with a strange, gelatinous creature in an alley leaves him scarred and forever changed, revealing odd abilities he wishes he didn’t have and earning him reassignment to a precinct where all the cops have defective paranormal abilities.
Just as he’s starting to adjust to his fellow misfit squad mates, Kyle’s new partner arrives. Tall, physically perfect, reserved and claiming he has no broken psychic talents, Vikash Soren irritates Kyle in every way. But as much as he’d like to hate Vikash, Kyle finds himself oddly drawn to him, their non-abilities meshing in unexpected ways. If they can learn to work together, they might be able to stop the mysterious killer who has been leaving mutilated bodies along the banks of the Schuylkill.
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Strange how half the briefing room chairs were empty and still there was no place to sit. Kyle surveyed his choices, trying to pick the least of several evils, mindful that he was ten minutes early with greater evils yet to come.
He decided on a chair far to the left, in the row behind Loveless and in front of Zacchini. That way he might have odd cravings or sudden flashes of disconnected images for the next two hours, but he could handle it. Neither of these would harm anyone around him. The precinct didn’t have enough officers to fill the room, so no one would need to sit near him.
Someone always seemed to forget.READ MORE
Krisk shambled in, blinked slowly at Kyle with his slit-pupiled golden eyes, and wandered to the other side of the room. No one could explain to him how Krisk had made it through the police academy, or why he had wanted to. The lizard man seemed to understand human speech, though he never spoke, and the legality of his arrests had to be questionable.
Gatling, Lourdes and Wolf all wandered in with early-morning bleary eyes but were aware enough to avoid Kyle’s side of the room. Only Lourdes should have been worried, but it was becoming habit for his department colleagues to give him a wide berth.
The steady, military tick-tick-tick of Lieutenant Dunfee’s heels reached them from the hallway and everyone scrambled to settle, eyes front and at least pretending attention. She patted Kyle’s shoulder absently as she stalked by, perhaps reminding him that she, at least, had no need to fear his abilities.
The lieutenant tapped her papers straight on the lectern at the front of the room, her hard gaze pinning her officers one by one. “Good morning, ladies and gentle—”
Running footsteps interrupted her as Officer Virago skidded to a halt in the hallway then changed course to rush into the briefing room.
“Damn it, Vance, if you can’t get here on time, don’t make such a production out of gracing us with your presence,” Lieutenant Dunfee snapped.
Virago shot her an unrepentant grin and plopped down two chairs over from Kyle. Normally, Kyle would have moved or warned him off, but the lieutenant was speaking again. Interrupting her a second time, now that she’d started roll call, didn’t feel like the best idea. I can hold this together. Just a few minutes. Nothing has to happen.
In front of Kyle, Carrington Loveless III raised his marshmallow-white hand languidly. “Here.”
See? Nothing’s happening. It’s fine.
Kyle raised his hand in acknowledgment and a gout of flame rocketed from his fingers to slam into the ceiling. He yanked his hand down, tucked both hands under his thighs and cringed amid a rain of burned ceiling tile shreddings and mortification.
“Here,” he choked out.
“Vance! Move!” the lieutenant bellowed. “Damn it, you know better!”
Virago scrambled out of his seat and claimed a spot standing along the opposite wall. “It’s raining out, ma’am! How’m I supposed to know Kirby can suck up my shit when I can’t even get a spark?”
“Watch the language, and what did I tell you about that nickname?”
Virago ducked his head with a muttered apology, but more than one person in Kyle’s hearing grumbled that the nickname fit too well.
“Not something you can control, Monroe. But these other chuckleheads can be a little more cognizant of where they are in relation to you.”
With an exasperated shake of her head, she finished roll call, confirmed assignments, then waved someone unfamiliar up from the front row. “Boys and girls, this is our newest officer, Vikash Soren.”
Kyle sat up straighter, shifting to see between the heads in front of him. Soren looked like a poster boy for the model police officer, tall and straight, uniform crisp and sharp. He stood at parade rest beside the lieutenant, impassively surveying his new colleagues. A little knot of resentment lodged in Kyle’s stomach. At his own introduction to the 77th, he’d been nervous and fidgety, freaked out by the collection of…freaks. How can he be so calm?
“Officer Soren transferred from the Harrisburg PD—”
“Don’t they have enough freaky shit of their own up there?” Wolf called out in his rasping growl.
“Since Harrisburg is in our jurisdiction,” she continued with a quelling glance, “he’ll start out partnered with Monroe.”
“What does he do, ma’am? That it’s safe to put him with Kirby, er, Kyle?” Shira Lourdes asked as she flicked nervous glances across the room at Kyle. An empty chair slid away from her and fell over. Her partner, Greg Santos, shook his head and righted the unfortunate piece of furniture.
“Officer Soren’s abilities are his business, which he may or may not choose to share if you ask. And don’t bully him about it either, any of you.” Lieutenant Dunfee swept the room again, pinning each of her officers like captive butterflies with her needle-laser gaze. “Monroe, my office after briefing. Info on your current case.”
She dismissed them, stalking from the room with thunderclouds in her eyes. Kyle found himself approaching the new guy and trying his best not to be awkward. Did he offer to shake hands? Was it safe? Would the guy flinch like so many people did at the sight of Kyle’s scarred hands? Soren was even taller up close, six-foot-three of lean inscrutability, his blue eyes startlingly bright against smoky bronze skin.
“Um, hi, I’m Kyle Monroe.” Kyle fidgeted when Soren didn’t offer his hand either. “You’re with me, I guess. I’ll show you our spot in the squad room.”
Soren followed him silently and Kyle was starting to wonder if he was like Krisk in the not-speaking department until he finally spoke in a smooth, soft baritone, making Kyle startle and miss a step. “Why do they call you Kirby?”
“You’d hear it sooner or later, I guess.” Kyle shrugged. “It’s this thing I do, absorbing other people’s talents temporarily. If they’re close to me. Or touch me. Like Kirby, the little pink dude in the video game.”
Just that? Soren didn’t edge away, or change expression at all. Was he made of stone? “It’s a thing. Everyone here has a thing.”
After a few more steps, Soren asked, “Always?”
“What… Oh, was I always like this? Who knows? I mean, maybe I’ve picked up stray thoughts or something, but no. It’s pretty recent. Knowing that I do this.”
Kyle took a wide arc around Vance as he entered the squad room, pointing to the double desk in the far corner, well removed from everyone else. “That’s ours. Coffee’s over there, but you might not want that coffee. Let me grab my file and we’ll go see the lieutenant.”
A flutter of wings sounded overhead—a brilliant flash of feathers shooting in front of Kyle to land on Carrington’s desk at the back of the room. With a raucous call, the pink and neon-blue raven folded his wings and waddled over to snap at Carrington’s pen.
“Stop it, Edgar.”
“You couldn’t get laid at a clusterfuck!” Edgar squawked, making another grab for the pen.
Carrington sighed and handed the ballpoint over. “There. Go play. Try not to get ink all over your feet this time.”
Edgar seized the pen in his Pepto-Bismol-colored beak and flew to his perch on the other side of the room where he called out, “Fuck you very much!” then proceeded to draw random lines on the paper tacked up beside his perch for Edgar’s art projects.
“So what’s your story, Soren?” Vance called across the squad room. “What flies your freak flag?”
“Yeah, what do you do?” Jeff Gatling stopped teleporting his banana from one corner of his desk to the other.
“I don’t really do anything,” Soren answered as he hefted the empty coffeepot. “Guess I’ll make fresh since I’m the new guy.”
He opened the top to remove the filter and every human voice in the squad room yelled out, “No!”
Most people would have startled, maybe dropped the carafe. Soren just blinked at the roomful of people gesturing wildly. He took the filter out and emptied it over the trashcan. “Why not?”
“You don’t want to do that.” Kyle stayed by his desk, a nice safe distance from the coffee station. “That’s Larry’s job.”
“Larry’s not keeping up then.”
The container of sweetener packets began to rattle. It shivered across the counter and leaped to a messy end, ceramic shards skittering across the floor. The desk that Krisk and Wolf shared rose from the floor several inches then slammed back down. Wolf fled with a squeaking yelp just before the desk flipped on its side.
Soren glanced toward Kyle. “Larry’s not a cop, is he?”
“He is…he was! A dead cop. Larry’s a ghost. He gets ticked if anyone else makes the coffee. Put the stuff back, please!”
“Larry?” Soren raised his voice but to all appearances remained completely unruffled. “I’m new here. I’m very sorry I invaded your jurisdiction. See? I’m putting the carafe back. Closing the top. Are we good, Larry?”
A breeze ruffled through a stack of papers, but no further mayhem ensued. The carafe slid from its pad on the coffeemaker and floated to the water cooler where Larry, who never manifested in a visible form, whistled tunelessly while he filled the carafe.
From his dim corner of the room, Carrington said in his dry, genteel way, “Welcome to the Island of Misfit Freaks.”
* * * *COLLAPSE