Frost Moon                     by Anthony Francis                       BelleBooks                 www.bellebooks.com     ...
Frost Moon             by Anthony Francis               CONTENTSDedication1.2.3.4.5.6.7.8.9.10.11.12.13.14.15.16.17.18.19....
Frost Moon                   by Anthony Francis26.27.28.29.30.31.32.33.34.35.36.37.38.39.40.41.42.43.44.45.46.The Dance Co...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francis                            ****    "There is more to magical tattoos ...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francis    This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places andincidents ...
Frost Moon                  by Anthony FrancisLandscape (C) Michel Mota Da Cruz—Dreamstime.comdragon (C) Jaguarwoman Desig...
Frost Moon                    by Anthony Francis                      Dedication          To Isaac, who inspired me to wri...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francis                               1.    Dakota Frost    I first started w...
Frost Moon                       by Anthony Francisbe wrong; in case anyone misses the point, I even have thedesign sewn i...
Frost Moon                       by Anthony Francisoutpost. All thats left here are a few Atlanta PoliceDepartment offices...
Frost Moon                       by Anthony Francisknown I was coming—and probably engineered this wholething.   "Dakota,"...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francis   "Miss Frost isnt here for floor five, Jack," Rand said. "Shesworkin...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francis    "Oh, no," Rand said. "Dont tell me your boys messed upbookings—"  ...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francisfollowed him through, and the door closed behind us. I lookedback at t...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francisupper quarter of the design, but after a moment I puzzled outwhat I wa...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francis     "Holy—" Balducci breathed. I looked up, and saw him notlooking at...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francistwitching as he saw me—not unfriendly, but . . . in pity? ThenI notice...
Frost Moon                       by Anthony Francis                              2.   Gods Finest Canvas   I stared in hor...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francissmoothly polished and finely worked, despite the bloodstains.Suddenly ...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francis    "Yes," I said, nodding at the skin-covered board. "I wouldlike to ...
Frost Moon                         by Anthony Francis   "And the full moon is next weekend," I said. "Just afterHalloween....
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francis   "The full moon is like, ten days away," I said, with falsebravado. ...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Franciswanted to pop a blood vessel, but just stood there, seeingSumnerss lif...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francisjust like I did, which meant he ended up reusing the samedesign. Sure ...
Frost Moon                     by Anthony Francis  And then a creepy voice breathed in my ear: "Give mesome skin, Dakota."...
Frost Moon                       by Anthony Francis                              3.   Enter the Rat   "Jeez!" I cried, rec...
Frost Moon                       by Anthony Francis    "Ah," Spleen said, suddenly knowing. "But this time yourewrong." He...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francisglittering spires, glowing with fairybook promise denied tothose of us...
Frost Moon                       by Anthony Francisperilously close to the foggy, haunted tombs of OaklandCemetery—Margare...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francisdidnt want to look down to see whether they were crackbottles or blood...
Frost Moon                       by Anthony Francisdoubled back the way we came, revealing a wider, vaultedtunnel, paralle...
Frost Moon                       by Anthony Francis                              4.    Enter the Wolf    At night you cant...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francis    "Dont lose it," Spleen cried, reaching out impulsively anddamn nea...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francis    "Of . . . course," the werewolf said. "But this cannot taketoo lon...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francis    "NO," the wolf said. "Its not safe—"    "This," I said, "is the tw...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Franciswhat drove him to that—but I did know I didnt like how guiltythat lie ...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francisfeel it out there, looming, itching for fullness, an hour closerto mid...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francis                               5.   Trust but Verify   In the morning ...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony FrancisI and the other artists are usually there by eleven forconsultations a...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony FrancisLittle Five Points was the center of the Edgeworld, a brandnew subcult...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francisforth in the little space like an animated garden gnome,rattling the c...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francis                               6.   The Accursed Flash   "Its what?" I...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francis    "Next Sunday, I know," I said, staring at the tattoo, at theGerman...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francispower of free-range horn. I stood there a moment, spinningthe newtseye...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francisfees on a "new" design. Take out the Rogues twenty percentcut . . . an...
Frost Moon                         by Anthony Francisface. "Wait, youre . . . serious? Set him on fire? Tattoos cando that...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francis    "Sure," Annesthesia said, sounding irritated. "Spleen leftlike fif...
Frost Moon                       by Anthony Francis                           ****   —   "Christopher Valentine," I breath...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francis                               7.    The Valentine Challenge    The My...
Frost Moon                         by Anthony Francischarlatans, so why did I still idolize this guy? But like manyother E...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francisturtleneck. Subtle, colored streaks wove through his wavyblond hair an...
Frost Moon                       by Anthony Francis    "Weeell, then," Valentine said. "Perhaps you could help us.I and my...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francisflushing, looking up at me at last, his eyes catching on minewith a bi...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francis    "Obviously not," I said, pointing at the zodiacal marks."Its calib...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francisquality photocopies, either. I need something as close to theoriginal ...
Frost Moon                       by Anthony Francisno better than the photocopy. Can I email you when I getback to my hote...
Frost Moon                       by Anthony Francis    "Thats the beauty of global warming for you," I said."Blow the leav...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francis                               8.    Secret Agent Man    In shock, I d...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francisexuded a gentle sincerity, staring up at me with an easydirectness I r...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francis   "It wasnt my idea," he said, mouth quirking up in anembarrassed smi...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francis    "So youre better than Sumner?"    My face flushed. "Im not saying ...
Frost Moon                       by Anthony Francisthe suit, on the other hand . . . hed be buffer than AlexNicholson. Oh ...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francis     I told him about my theories—the potential victims in thebook, th...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francis    Oh, Lord. Me and my smart mouth—I hadnt meant toopen that can of w...
Frost Moon                       by Anthony Francis   He smiled at me, the same warm, quirky smile hed givenme back at Hom...
Frost Moon                        by Anthony Francis                               9.    Elegant Gothic Lolita    The Star...
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Frost moon 1

  1. 1. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis BelleBooks www.bellebooks.com Copyright ©2010 by Anthony Francis First published in Trade Paperback, 2010NOTICE: This eBook is licensed to the original purchaseronly. Duplication or distribution to any person via email,floppy disk, network, print out, or any other means is aviolation of International copyright law and subjects theviolator to severe fines and/or imprisonment. This noticeoverrides the Adobe Reader permissions which areerroneous. This eBook cannot be legally lent or given toothers. This eBook is displayed using 100% recycled electrons. 2
  2. 2. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis CONTENTSDedication1.2.3.4.5.6.7.8.9.10.11.12.13.14.15.16.17.18.19.20.21.22.23.24.25. 3
  3. 3. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis26.27.28.29.30.31.32.33.34.35.36.37.38.39.40.41.42.43.44.45.46.The Dance ContinuesAcknowledgementsAbout Anthony Francis **** 4
  4. 4. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis **** "There is more to magical tattoos than just show," I saidloudly, letting the glowing ball rise slowly over the designsinked in my palms, then jabbing it so it exploded in athousand fiery sparks that jetted out among the crowd ofvampires and shifters, pushing them back a full yard from theedge of the pit. "And more than just function. True magic isbeauty incarnate: let me show you." I swayed my nearly naked body, drawing mana throughthe vines on my arms, concentrating it into my upraised leftwrist so the tattooed gems gleamed, the flowers bloomed,and the butterfly flapped its wings and raised off my wrist intolife. I whispered, "Fly," and the butterfly flew on a wind ofsparkles and sunshine. The weretiger squealed and held up her hand, and trailersof magic bounced off her harmlessly. The butterfly settled onher hand, fluttering, and she stared at it with wide eyes, andsomething closer to delight than fear. It flickered, once more,then lay its wings down and merged with her hand. "You get one tattoo for free," I said. "More will cost you." And then I was swarmed with a hundred werewolves,tigers, and stags, pressing around me, all asking what I coulddo for them—or just trying to get close enough to rub upagainst my bare, magically inked, skin. **** 5
  5. 5. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places andincidents are either the products of the authors imaginationor are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons(living or dead,) events or locations is entirely coincidental. **** Bell Bridge Books PO BOX 30921 Memphis, TN 38130 ISBN: 978-0-9843256-8-9 Bell Bridge Books is an Imprint of BelleBooks, Inc. Copyright (C) 2010 by Anthony Francis Printed and bound in the United States of America. All rights reserved. No part of this book may bereproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanicalmeans, including information storage and retrieval systems,without permission in writing from the publisher, except by areviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. We at BelleBooks enjoy hearing from readers. You cancontact us at the address above or atBelleBooks@BelleBooks.com Visit our websites—www.BelleBooks.com andwww.BellBridgeBooks.com. 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 Cover design: Debra Dixon Interior design: Hank Smith Photo credits: woman—(C) Stanislav Perov—Dreamstime.com 6
  6. 6. Frost Moon by Anthony FrancisLandscape (C) Michel Mota Da Cruz—Dreamstime.comdragon (C) Jaguarwoman Designs:Lw:01: **** 7
  7. 7. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis Dedication To Isaac, who inspired me to write To Richard, who taught me to think To Sandi, who reminds me to dream ****[Back to Table of Contents] 8
  8. 8. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis 1. Dakota Frost I first started wearing a Mohawk to repel low-lifes—barflies, vampires, Republicans, and so on—but when I foundmy true profession my hairstyle turned into an ad. Peopleseyes are drawn by it—no longer a true Mohawk, but a big,unruly deathhawk—a stripe of feathered black, purple andwhite streaks climbing down the center of my head—but theirgazes linger on the tattoos, which start as tribal vines in theshaved spaces on either side of the hawk, and then cascadedown my throat to my shoulders, flowering into roses andjewels and butterflies. Their colors are so vivid, their details so sharp manypeople mistake them for body paint, or assume that theycant have been done in the States. Yes, theyre real; no,theyre not Japanese—theyre all, with a few exceptions, doneby my own hand, right here in Atlanta at the Rogue Unicorn inLittle Five Points. Drop by—Ill ink you. Ask for Dakota Frost. To attract the more . . . perceptive . . . eye, I startedwearing a sleeveless, ankle-length leather coat-vest thatshows off the intricate designs on my arms, and a cutoff topand low-rider jeans that show off a tribal yin-yang symbol onmy midriff. Tying it all together is the black tail of somethingbig, curling up the left side of my neck, looping around theyin-yang, and arcing through the leaves on my right shoulder.Most people think its the tail of a dragon, and they wouldnt 9
  9. 9. Frost Moon by Anthony Francisbe wrong; in case anyone misses the point, I even have thedesign sewn into the back of a few of my vests. Those who live on the edge might notice a little moredetail: magical runes woven into the tribal designs, workingcharms woven into the flowers, and, if you look real close atthe tail of the dragon, the slow movement of a symbolicfamiliar. Yes, it did move; and yes, thats real magic. Drop bythe Rogue Unicorn—youre still asking for the one- and-onlyDakota Frost, the best magical tattooist in the Southeast. The downside to being a walking ad, of course, is thatsome of the folks you want to attract start to see you as ascary low-life. We all know that vampires can turn out to bequite decent folk, but so can clean-cut young Republicanslooking for their first tattoo to impress their tree-huggergirlfriends. As for barflies, well, theyre still barflies; butunfortunately I find the more tats I show the greater thechance that the cops will throw me into the back of the van,too, if a bar fight breaks out. So I couldnt help being nervous as two officers marchedme into City Hall East. City Hall East is in the old Sears building on Ponce deLeon, a great brick fortress squeezed between the emptyparking lot that used to serve the Masquerade dance club andthe full one that serves the Borders bookstore. Once it buzzedwith activity, but now, in 2006, its like a tomb, soon to bedemolished and turned into yet another mixed-usedevelopment as part of the new Belt Line project. Even thesnack shop has closed. This is the last year of the grand oldbuildings spooky incarnation as a kind of lonely government 10
  10. 10. Frost Moon by Anthony Francisoutpost. All thats left here are a few Atlanta PoliceDepartment offices, more offices for the Feds, and some forpermits and land planning. And lots of police officers, more than I expected for thattime of night, most of them scowling. Lots of them,muttering: Look at her? Whats she in for? Is she a stripper?If shes under arrest, why isnt she cuffed? The two officersescorting me—one black, one white, both wearing identicalbuzz cuts—had no answers, for them, or for me. Just: Thepolice need to see you, Miss Frost. No, youre not underarrest, but it is urgent. Please come with us. Our footsteps echoed hollowly as we walked through acanyon of white tile and glass walls towards the metaldetectors. There had briefly been a gallery and shops on thisfloor, but now empty offices surrounded us like cages, only afew showing signs of life. We paused before the metal detectors, where a fat femaleofficer sat, right hand pumping on her mouse in what couldonly be Minesweeper. "Anything to declare, Miss Frost?" sheasked. "Frost?" Beyond the barrier, a sharply dressed, Kojak-baldblack plainclothes officer perked up at the sound of my name:Andre Rand, my dads best friend. "Dakota Frost?" "No, Ive nothing to declare," I said, trying to ignore himas he stalked briskly towards me. The woman waved me in,and I swept through the metal detector just in time for him tocorner me. I sighed, folded my arms, and stared down at theblack man. He was tall, but I was taller. Wonderful. Hed 11
  11. 11. Frost Moon by Anthony Francisknown I was coming—and probably engineered this wholething. "Dakota," he said, voice forced cheeriness, sparkling eyesgenuine. He was twice my age—Id bounced on his knee whenhe and my father had been partners—but he was still afashion plate, if you go in for the whole GQ look. "Your dadwill be glad to hear youre doing well—" "Hey, Rand," I said, smiling, shaking my head—half at hisinfectious grin and half at whatever he was planning. "Letsget this over with. Where is he, and when did he get in? Youknow, I do have a cell phone. He could call me. Theres noneed for the goon squad—" Rands face fell. "I—your dads not here, Dakota. Weneeded to see you." "We?" I asked. Rands face went stony, blank. "Homicide, Dakota.Homicide needs to see you." We got in the elevator and Rand punched the sixth floor,motioning to me to join him in the back. The officers—bigmen, almost my height—stepped in front of me, making mefeel even more like a prisoner . . . or perhaps someone beingguarded? But the guard theory evaporated when a sandy-haired older man slipped past the officers and joined us in theback of the elevator, leering at me and nodding to Rand. "Hey, you old cockroach," he said. After a moment hiseyes slid to me, my tattooed arms, and my bare midriff, thenforward to the officers. "Forgot to pay your fees?" he leered. "What the fuck?" I asked. 12
  12. 12. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis "Miss Frost isnt here for floor five, Jack," Rand said. "Shesworking with me." "Well lucky you," the man said, slapping his shoulder. Hecaught my pissed-off, puzzled look and shrugged, with theconspiratorial leer suppressed but still trying to peek out."Floor five is where you get your stripper license." "And fuck you too," I said. "We dont license for that," Rand said, deadpan. "Im just saying, girl, you could do the job if you wanted." "Which one?" one of the officers said, and the other onechuckled. "Floor five is also where you get your license to do magicaltattoos," I snapped, "which always sounds funny until youwake up with a working asshole tattooed on your forehead." Suddenly the cab got quiet. The two officers stiffened up,and Rand jammed his hands into his pockets and leanedagainst the back wall of the cab. He was trying to look pissed,but he looked so hot he came off more as a brooding GQmodel. But the sandy-haired Jack was staring at the officers,suddenly serious. "Cut the boys a little slack," he warned me."Things are crazy. You dont want to go to jail tonight, doyou?" "Kind of feels like it," I said. "Nobodys going to jail tonight, unless its you, Jack," Randsaid. "Already been," Jack replied, not the least bit perturbed."Second time this week—" 13
  13. 13. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis "Oh, no," Rand said. "Dont tell me your boys messed upbookings—" "Nope," Jack said, grinning, "one of your boys tripped apower cord. Again." "Jeezus," I said, abruptly hot under the collar. One of theonly college jobs Id enjoyed had been lab tech, and I couldntstand people who fucked up my computers. "You should setup a webcam to find out whos doing it." Jack blinked at me. Then smiled and said, "Not a bad idea,for a girl." And just when I was starting to warm up to him. "Blowme, you old cockroach." The doors opened, and Jack just grinned. "Not a bad ideaeither." Jack strolled out to the right and began beeping adoors keypad, and we followed. Once again our footsteps echoed hollowly down a long,narrow corridor. On the left were conference rooms and APDoffices, but on the right was a long wall of tinted glass with aFed-smelling seal engraved on it. Behind one window I saw afigure standing; as I drew closer I saw dark sunglasses and adevilish goatee. Sunglasses, at night. Come on. We paused before another keycoded door, and I becameacutely aware that the man behind the glass was checking meout, staring at me, sipping his government coffee. Finally, Ilooked over and saw a trim form inside a crisp black suit. Hewas looking straight back at me, raising his cup towards mein salute, his smile not a leer but . . . appreciation? Jack opened the door with a beep beep beep, strolled inand disappeared into a warren of ratty old cubicles. We 14
  14. 14. Frost Moon by Anthony Francisfollowed him through, and the door closed behind us. I lookedback at the big, knobbly lock. I was sure you could get outwithout the code, but . . . it still slowly swung shut with asolid click, and I felt trapped. In moments I was in a plain white "evidence" room,looking down on a salt-and-pepper haired, Greek-lookingofficer improbably named Vincent Balducci, seated at a largetable in front of a large manila folder. There was a side doorto the right, and a huge mirror dominated the rest of the wall.If you squinted you could just see the blinking light of acamera, or maybe a video recorder, and I felt the invisiblepresence of a dark figure somewhere behind the glass. MaybeI was imagining it, but, come on, Ive seen this movie before. "Taller than I expected, Miss Frost," Balducci said, notmoving to greet me as I sat down. My long leather vestcoatshhhed against the tile as I settled into the chair, but afterthat, the only noise was the hum of the air conditioning. Rand was seated at the edge of the table, naturally, easily,like an Armani model dressed on a police officers salary, butlosing none of the class. Finally he seemed to lose patiencewith Balducci and said, "Show her." "This is pointless," Balducci said. "She cant tell usanything that—" "Chickening out?" Abruptly Rand flipped the manila folderopen and turned it towards me, then stood and staring at theglass. "What can you tell us about this?" Curious, I stared at the picture: it was a bad photocopy ofa circular design, some kind of braided wreath with a chainand a snake eating its own tail. Big black blotches covered the 15
  15. 15. Frost Moon by Anthony Francisupper quarter of the design, but after a moment I puzzled outwhat I was looking at. "This is flash," I said. At Balduccispuzzled look, I explained: "A tattoo design, or a part of one." Balducci nodded dismissively. "Told you," he said to Rand. "And?" Rand asked. "And . . . you need to tone the contrast down on yourcopier?" I said. It was half blotted out . . . but then I realizedit wasnt a photocopy, but some kind of printout of an image,posterized to the point that it was almost illegible, with large-brush black blotches of a digital pen redacting some of thedetails. But it still had that distinctive natural look that meantit had started life as a photograph, not a drawing. "This isnt flash," I said. "Its an actual tattoo." "Told you," Rand said. As my eyes studied it I became suspicious. Thereproduction was terrible, but something about the wreathand chain had the flavor of a magical glyph. What if it wasmagical? These mundanes would have no way of knowing.But how could I tell from this printout? "Do you have a betterpicture? No—a different picture?" Balducci sighed, and slipped another piece of paper out ofthe folder. A similar shot, similarly degraded, but . . . I putthe two next to each other and planted my hands on thetable, staring down upon them. After a moment I saw it: thehead of a snake in the design was three links past the belt ofthe chain in one, and five in the next. It was moving. "This is magical," I said. "This tattoo is moving. Its amagical mark." "Told you," Rand said triumphantly. 16
  16. 16. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis "Holy—" Balducci breathed. I looked up, and saw him notlooking at the flash, but at my hands. "Hers are doing it too. Iswear the fucking butterfly flapped." "What, did you think they only moved after?" Rand asked. "What do you mean, after?" I asked. No one said anything,and my stomach suddenly clenched up. "What do you mean,after? You dont mean, like, after death—" "I cant discuss the details of an ongoing investigation,"Balducci said. "Why did we bring her here if not to discuss it?" Rand said. "It was your idea," Balducci said. "Shes your old partnersdaughter—" The side door opened. The dark-suited Fed I had seen in the hall walked out. Hiscrisp goatee and short wavy hair made him look more like anevil Johnny Depp than a laid-back agent Mulder. One handwas in his pocket, the other still holding the cup of coffee. Inhis dextrous fingers, the Styrofoam cup looked like alabaster. "Show her," he said, with unassuming authority. "Or quitwasting our time." Balducci looked up, at a loss. "Youve got it," he said. The Fed just looked at me, mouth quirking into a smile, atwhich point Balducci touched his head in a "senior moment"gesture, then hit the intercom. "Rogers," he said. "You gotit? Yeah. Bring it." After a moment, a tall, drawn man stepped out of a backdoor I hadnt noticed, gingerly holding a large, white plasticenvelope with the same Fed logo on it. The cadaverous manpaused in the white light of the doorway for a moment, eyes 17
  17. 17. Frost Moon by Anthony Francistwitching as he saw me—not unfriendly, but . . . in pity? ThenI noticed a long plastic tray in the mans other hand, and sawthe padded envelope bulging with something. I suddenly didnt want to see it. The Fed touched his left ear for a moment, then turned togo. "Arent you going to stay?" I asked nervously. I wasntquite sure why I was asking him for reassurance, but there itwas. He paused. "Ive seen it," he said, and stepped into theblackness. The tray clattered against the table, shockingly close to myhands, and Balducci and I both leaned back a little. Theevidence technician, if thats what cadaver man was, put on apair of blue gloves before opening the envelope andwithdrawing a smaller, plastic-wrapped object. "Even thoughit is wrapped," he said, putting it in the tray, "it would help ifyou do not touch it." My skin grew cold. **** — It was a ripped piece of human skin pinned to a stainedwood board. [Back to Table of Contents] 18
  18. 18. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis 2. Gods Finest Canvas I stared in horror at the scrap of human skin, stretchedacross the board like so much canvas. The braided wreathcurved across the flesh, marred by a few small cuts that hadbeen blacked out on the print copy. On most sides the skincurved over the board, but at the upper left, the skin was tornaway, revealing both the bloodstained wood and a set of tornholes in the skin that indicated it had been stapledunderneath, like a leather seat cushion. Without another nod to Balducci, Rand took over,channeling Joe Friday. "Do you know what this is?" "Its a tattoo," I said, unable to take my eyes off it. "Do you know what it means?" "Its a . . . magical ward." "To protect against evil spirits?" "No, its . . . like a capacitor. It collects, or deflects,magical power," I said. "Which depends on the intent of thewearer." "Do you know who inked this?" Id have to look closer at the design to tell that. I reallydidnt want to do that. I looked up at Rand, eyes pleading. Hisface had gone cold, a bit stony; not unfriendly, but all cop. Ileaned forward, looked through the clear plastic bag, at thewreath, the inking. The board exposed through the rip was 19
  19. 19. Frost Moon by Anthony Francissmoothly polished and finely worked, despite the bloodstains.Suddenly I knew. "Yes, I know the artist," I said. "Not, I mean, personally.Its Richard Sumner." "Do you know where he is?" "Buried in Cincinnati," I said. "Sumner was famous, but hedied in . . . 2005, I think?" "Hell," Balducci said. "That rules out a suspect—" "Do you know who this was inked on?" Rand asked. "No," I said, closing my eyes at last. That piece of skin hadcome from a living human person. Id really been trying notto think of that. My mind cast around for anything else."Sumner did thousands of people. You could email theLancing Dragon in Cincinnati, though. Sumner took extensivepictures. Theyre stored there." Rand smiled. "Well do that." His smile faded. "Do youknow of anyone who had a grudge against Sumner, or againstany of his subjects?" "No," I said. "I mean, I dont know anyone who has agrudge against anyone—" "Really?" Rand said. "What about against other tattooartists? Especially magical ones?" "According to our newsletter," I said sarcastically, " thereare over two hundred licensed magical tattoo artists in theUnited States, so its a pretty big list—" "Could we get a copy of that newsletter?" Rand asked. I thought about it for a moment. "Yes." "Is there anything you would like to add?" Rand said. 20
  20. 20. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis "Yes," I said, nodding at the skin-covered board. "I wouldlike to add a what the fuck is that thing? " "Tell her about the box," Balducci said. "What about the box?" I said, eyes drawn back to the thingon the table. "We had a witness," cadaver man said. "He didnt live longenough to tell us much, but he mentioned . . . a box. A boxcovered in scraps of tattooed skin—" "Dont tell me more about the box," I said, getting up."Oh, God, its a fucking lid—" "Dakota," Rand said, motioning to cadaver man. "You dontneed to stay any longer, Dakota, though our friend the Fedthere may have more questions for you later—" "Why did you bring me here?" I said, watching cadaverman slip . . . it . . . back into its opaque envelope. "Is thissome kind of cruel joke, some kind of arrangement with mydad to get me to come home—" "Dakota," Rand said. "I didnt lie. We did need to see you,and not just for your expertise—" "Rand," Balducci warned. "Shes just a civilian. And just akid—" "Shes got to know," Rand said, staring up at me with thesame sad eyes I remembered looking up to as a child."Dakota, this just fell in our lap, but our friends tell us theyhave had a dozen killings over the past five years wheremagical tattoos were taken, almost always on or near the fullmoon, moving from state to state each time. This last onewas in Birmingham, and our friends tell us all the signs pointto an attack here in Georgia . . . soon." 21
  21. 21. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis "And the full moon is next weekend," I said. "Just afterHalloween." "So you see, Dakota, I needed to talk to you," Rand said."We dont think youre a specific target but . . . Kotie, staysafe. Your Dad and I are very worried about you." My childhood nickname rang in my ears as I watchedcadaver man carry it back through the door of white light. "That makes three of us," I said. I said my goodbyes to Rand and then got the hell out,escorted by the black-and white twin officers whod picked meup. Tweedle-White and Tweedle-Black turned out to beHorscht and Gibbs, old buddies of Rands, who were doinghim a favor by scooping me. Gibbs was a sexy beast, like a younger version of Randhimself, but after staying for the show with the lid, Horschtturned from stony Aryan Nazi to protective den mother. Aftersome arguing, they agreed to take me back to Marys to pickup my Vespa. But as we started to pull out of City Hall Eastsgarage the colorful lights across the street gave me a betteridea. "Wait," I said. "Drop me at the Borders." "Are you sure?" Horscht said. "Its a long way to EastAtlanta." "Its . . . nine fifty-five," I said. "I can take care of myselfin a brightly lit commercial fortress, and call on a fare-slaveto cab me back to Marys for my Vespa. I never leave beforemidnight, anyway." "But after seeing that—" 22
  22. 22. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis "The full moon is like, ten days away," I said, with falsebravado. "Im not worried." "The lady can take care of herself," Gibbs said, smiling."Anything else we can do?" "Sure thing," I said. "Next time you give me a ride, I wantto do it in cuffs." Horscht was befuddled, but Gibbs whistled low. "Surething, girl." "But if she hasnt done anything wrong—" "Damn, Horscht, you never got a Sunday morning call?"Gibbs said, punching my raised fist gently. "Ill explain it toyou later. Youre all right, girl. Later." I started sniffing around the bookstore for something onRichard Sumners. It was hopeless—I hate bookstores and thisone was a brightly lit warren. I ferreted around theircomputer kiosk for a minute, browsing for any of the books Iknew: The Craft of Ink—no. Flash, Ink, Flash—out of print.Anything by Richard Sumners—yes! One, titled RichardSumners, three in store, shelved improbably in Art &Architecture—Photography—Photography Monographs, whereI had absolutely no luck. Finally I collared a pimply-faced teenmanning the Customer Service kiosk, whose end-of-day funkbrightened considerably as soon as he saw my breasts. "Oh, yes, that," he said, staring straight at the bulge in mytop. In fairness, my breasts were about level with his head,and he seemed scared to make eye contact. "Right overhere." In Bargain Books: Richard Sumners by TASCHEN—$7.99.Right between Sicily in Pictures and More Amazing Kittens! I 23
  23. 23. Frost Moon by Anthony Franciswanted to pop a blood vessel, but just stood there, seeingSumnerss life work end up in a bargain rack. Finally I pickedit up, thick little brick, thumbing its thin but curiously heavypages. "At least its selling," I said. "Anything else?" he asked, eyeing my breasts again. "You got an almanac for 2005?" I asked, but he shook hishead. As I turned to go, finally his eyes darted upward. "That,"he said, "is one cool-ass shirt." I looked down. Edgar Allen Poe stared upside-down at mebetween the lapels of my coat-vest. Id sewn glitter andsequins onto the shirt to jazz it up, and his sparkling eyes hadridden up over the ridge of my breasts. "Thanks," I said, butby that point the kid had fled. I grabbed a maple mocha and camped out in the cafe.There in the ghetto library, as we affectionately called it, Istarted flipping through this glossy tombstone to RichardSumnerss work, looking for clues to who might have wornthe tattoo. Richards magical inking began before I was born, back inthe 60s, but the wreathed snake had a modern flair to itsdesign. I started to see some of the distinctive elements thatmade up the tattoo crop up in THE EARLY NINETIES section,but it wasnt until EVE OF THE MILLENNIUM that I hit paydirt. At first I thought I had it: a man covering his eye with atattooed hand bearing a mark nearly identical to the one onthe lid. But it was too small, and I remembered Sumner didntdesign his own flash: he had graphomancers do that for him, 24
  24. 24. Frost Moon by Anthony Francisjust like I did, which meant he ended up reusing the samedesign. Sure enough, there were three other people withsimilar tattoos, ending with a full-page shot of a youngwoman with the mark just above her breasts. The tat was close—really close: the same size, on a flatpiece of skin, sans belly button or the curve of a shoulder thatwould have shown up as a wrinkle on the lid. I stared at her—she had sharp, punkish hair like I did, and a sexy, come-hither smile. Automatically, I checked out the curves of herbreasts, pressed beneath one delicate hand—they were fulland luscious and looked quite lickable. Then my eyes driftedup to the tat, and I felt queasy. Had I just seen this woman inthe flesh—flesh torn from her chest and stapled to a boardlike a seat cushion? There was no way to know. Id give the book to Rand atthe first opportunity and hope he could find out. But then Istarted thinking: Sumners was tattooed himself, and some ofthose tats had to be marks of great magical power. I flipped to the bio, trying to find out a clue about how hedied, but it was no help. It had been printed in 2003, and themost interesting piece of information was that Sumners hadrecently had his hands insured with Lloyds of London forover a million dollars. Useless. Id originally gotten the book to try to find out who hadworn that tattoo. But now here was a new question: didSumners die near a full moon? **** — 25
  25. 25. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis And then a creepy voice breathed in my ear: "Give mesome skin, Dakota." [Back to Table of Contents] 26
  26. 26. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis 3. Enter the Rat "Jeez!" I cried, recoiling from the foul-smelling breathbehind the voice, splattering my mocha across the table."Spleen, dont do that!" Life had cursed Diego "Spleen" Spillane to look like a rat—long, pointed nose, thick, scattered, grey-brown hair, and oneyellowed, fake eye. Generally he played above type. Today hewas full of himself, and apparently couldnt resist working it. "Come on," he said, curling his head around my shoulder,breath foul. "Be a sport." And then I saw his hand hovering over the table, held outfor five. "Garlic," I snapped, grabbing his hand and pullinghim round to deposit him in the opposite seat, nearly losingthe rest of my mocha when I brushed it again. "Dont be sucha fucking sneak—" "Cops give you crap?" he said, grinning. "No—how did you know—wait, how the fuck did you findme?" "Marys," he said. "I showed up just in time to see yasnatched. You werent in cuffs—" "I tried," I said, but Spleen didnt take the bait. "—so I figured you were all right, but I tailed themanyway, figuring—" "What do you have for me that couldnt wait?" I leanedback and looked at the ceiling. "I keep telling you, no oneneeds an emergency tattoo—" 27
  27. 27. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis "Ah," Spleen said, suddenly knowing. "But this time yourewrong." He got up and held his hand out to me. "Let me takeyou on a little trip." I got up from the table. "This is a bad idea." I started toleave the mocha and the book. Then I stopped, and lookeddown at the book, stained on one corner where Id splatteredit. The ghetto library had given me what I wanted; but Iwasnt a college dropout anymore. In a good year I madeover fifty thousand dollars tattooing. And besides, it was aclearance book, probably about to go out of print; Id be abutt if I pointed Rand or the Fed to it and it turned up gone. "Just let me pay for this," I said. "Need it for reee-search," Spleen said, "or just wanking?" I glared at him. "What do I wank, Spleen?" "Anything that moves," he responded. "Youre moving," I pointed out. "Touchy," he said, though it sounded like he meant touche."Lets tango." We tore south on Moreland at what felt like two hundredmiles an hour in Spleens battered old Festiva, though wecouldnt really have been doing over forty. Hed bought thecar off of me, well-used, five years ago and had not treated itwell. The engine squealed like a worn-out carnival ride. Atone point we hit a tiny bump and my hair scrunched againstthe roof. "Spleen!" I said. "Thought of new shocks?" "Shocks?" he said. "Just another mechanics scam—" We bumped on, getting a brief panorama of downtownAtlanta as we crested Freedom Parkway. I stared over at the 28
  28. 28. Frost Moon by Anthony Francisglittering spires, glowing with fairybook promise denied tothose of us who lived across the canyon of the DowntownConnector. Somewhere in there was the real Five Points,financial heart of Atlanta, but the view was quickly cut off bythe King Center. We kept going, and I kept staring to theright, as if by keeping my eyes turned away, to the city, tothe King Center, to John Hope Elementary, oh hey, look,theres Javaology—that I would not notice when we crossedAuburn Avenue. "Thinking about her?" Spleen said, suddenly serious. "No," I said. "We split two years ago, Spleen—" "Never too late to catch up on old times," he responded,livening up a bit. "I could whip it back around, take a littledetour down Auburn to Old Wheat—" "You do, I get out and roll." "This is the vampire district," he reminded me. "Nasty tohave a scrape—" "I dont care. And I thought you said this was anemergency?" "Im not saying we should stop, just, its not out of ourway—" "If you really cared about making time youd have takenGlenn Iris—" and I suddenly drew a breath. Glenn Iris turnedinto Randolph— "That would have taken you right past her front door,dipshit." Spleen said, scowling again. "Give me a little credit.I was just needling you." True to his word, he kept driving, taking us onward, southof Auburn, south of Decatur and the tracks, growing 29
  29. 29. Frost Moon by Anthony Francisperilously close to the foggy, haunted tombs of OaklandCemetery—Margaret Mitchell, Bobby Jones, Reb and Unionsoldiers from the Battle of Atlanta—before finally hookinground the Mill Lofts back up north into Cabbagetown. "I thought you said we were going to the Krog StreetTunnel—" "Not Krog Street, babe," Spleen said. "Just Krog. The KrogTunnel—" "Oh, hell," I muttered. "The Underground." To most locals, "the Underground" means "UndergroundAtlanta"—a subterranean tourist trap downtown near FivePoints, reclaimed from turn-of-the-last-century storefrontsthat had been covered over by modern streets and buildings,rediscovered in the 60s. An ordinary historian might knowthat before then, "the Underground" referred to the Atlantasewer system. But ask an Edgeworlder . . . and theyll tell youthat the real Underground is a series of tunnels beneathAtlanta, covered over by the Confederates just prior to theburning of the city, and forgotten to the wider world since theCivil War. Spleen parked on a side street off Wylie and led methrough someones back yard downstairs to an ancient,crumbled well, half hidden in the curve of the slope by anewer upper room held up by rusted pipes. Scattered aroundwere magical tags—wards and wayfinders scribbled on wallswith chalk or spray paint. The magical Edgeworld was alive,here. Something fragile crunched under my boots when Istepped back to let Spleen lift the grating, and I scowled. I 30
  30. 30. Frost Moon by Anthony Francisdidnt want to look down to see whether they were crackbottles or blood vials. Id thought this area was comingback—I often ate a block or two away at the Carroll StreetCafe—but its amazing what even an Edgeworlder like me canmiss. We climbed down a rusted steel ladder about one floorbefore stepping off into a damp tunnel. The air was foul, andthe floor was piled with garbage. I heard the rustle ofsomething moving and, in the distance, the clink of a bottlefalling to the stones. Spleen looked off sharply into the darkerpart of the tunnel, eyes narrow; I saw nothing, not even arat, but after a brief moment Spleen saluted the darkness,then turned his back on it and marched on. The garbage trailed off quickly as the tunnel brightened.This part looked new, with utilitarian lights that were part ofthe actual sewer system, but with tags hidden in corners andon sills that marked this as the border of the Underground.We went north for maybe a quarter mile until we could hearthe squeal of a train overhead, and then Spleen pried open adingy, metal door and gestured down a dirt-encrusted, well-warded stairwell. "After you, my dear," he said. "Fuck that," I said. "Im just messin with ya," he said, and led the way down. Here, there was no light other than a dim, yellow,fluorescent wand he carried as he stumbled down worn steps.The stairwell switchbacked through a grim, cinderblockshaft—one flight, two flights, three flights, four: by my count,three stories beneath the streets, maybe more. The door 31
  31. 31. Frost Moon by Anthony Francisdoubled back the way we came, revealing a wider, vaultedtunnel, paralleling the one above us, filled with still, blackwater. A rowboat floated in the bile, waiting. "You have to be kidding," I said, as Spleen got in the boat. "The old Confederate runoff tunnel," he said, looking downinto the water. "Or maybe a secret train tunnel that gotflooded. Everyone who knows . . . is looong dead." "Lets get this over with," I said, getting in behind himgrumpily. "Ready? Ready. Ready!" Spleen said, pushing off andclambering forward to grab the oars. "You sit yourself backand enjoy the ride." "Whatever you say, Spleen," I sighed. The bastard grinned, and then started singing. "Were off to see the werewolf," he warbled terribly, andmy blood grew cold. "The wonderful werewolf of Krog. He isthe were the wonderful were—" "The full moon is like, ten days away," I muttered. "No,Im not at all worried." [Back to Table of Contents] 32
  32. 32. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis 4. Enter the Wolf At night you cant see the color of my tattoos—unless Iwant you to. The darkness robs the blue from the scales ofthe dragon, the red from the feathers of the eagle, and thegold from the wings of the butterfly, leaving a black patternof tribal runes like columns of hieroglyphics. Theyre mesmerizing—at least I hoped thats why thewerewolf stared at me so intently with his gleaming eyes. Oh,he looked human, even handsome, crouched on the dockunder the yellowed lantern light, but his white incisors were abit too sharp, his brown beard a little too scraggly, andsomething hungry lurked behind the lashes of his green eyes. I stared back, frozen. Deep in a maze of tunnels markedwith magical signs I couldnt decipher, surrounded by blocksof stone that rose above us like a dungeon, trapped in arocking boat too precarious to even stand, here I sat with thebare flesh of my arms exposed to a werewolf staring at melike dinner. Charming. The tension grew thick enough to scare me out of my witsbefore the werewolf said, in a deep, rumbling voice thatchilled me to my bones, "Such exquisite color. Such attentionto detail. I could gaze on them all night, and not ask thequestion—can you do this?" The werewolf flicked an old photograph at me, but I wastoo stunned to catch it. 33
  33. 33. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis "Dont lose it," Spleen cried, reaching out impulsively anddamn near falling out of the boat, and both the werewolf andI reached to steady him. Our hands touched—the werewolfs was shockingly warm—and we both jerked away. Spleen leaned back up, one handdrenched where hed pitched forward, but the other—and thephotograph—still held high and dry. "Idiot," Spleen snarled at me, shaking stinking drainwateroff his hand. "Why do you think I brought you down here? Sohe could eat you?" "No," I said, staring at the werewolf a bit sheepishly. Wewere both holding our hands carefully, mirroring each other,and Id caught a lively spark in his eyes that seemed topromise that he was interested in more than dinner. "Thatwasnt what I was worried about." "What then?" he asked, handing me the photograph. I ignored him, holding the photograph gingerly, trying toparse it. It depicted a . . . stone carving of a wolf—a wolf inchains, which looped around it in an elaborate design. "A control charm?" I guessed. "Im told you are the best," the werewolf said. "Seeingyour work—" he stared hungrily, no, appreciatively, at myarms—"Id trust no one else. Can you ink the image on me?" I pocketed it. "Of course, but I have to get this vetted by alocal witch. I dont ink marks I havent done before without asecond opinion—you never know what lurks in the magic." The wolf pursed his lips. He had nice lips. Very nice lips,and a strong jaw beneath the scraggle. I notice these things. 34
  34. 34. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis "Of . . . course," the werewolf said. "But this cannot taketoo long—" "She can do it," Spleen said, jerking forward slightly."Believe me. Dakota, give him the show. He needs to knowwhat hes buying—" "No need," the wolf said, eyes fixed on me. "I can see themagic in her marks." I held his gaze, then cracked my neck a little and preparedto breathe a word. It didnt really matter what word; an old-school magician or one of my Wiccan friends would no doubthave a whole vocabulary of nonsense for every differentoccasion. But the specific word didnt matter: with magicaltattoos, all that mattered was the intent of the wearer. "Show him," I said, and the tiniest magical tremor rippledthrough my body, the barest fraction of power, gleamingdown my tats, spreading through the vines, illuminating thescales, the feathers, the wings in a sparkling array like acloud of fairy dust marching down my skin. I even made thewings of the butterfly on my left wrist lift up and flutter in theair. The big bad werewolfs eyes lit up like a little child,dancing over my form, drinking in the magic, edges crinklingup in a smile. "All but these are mine," I said, holding up my rightforearm as the last glimmers of magic sparkled away, "andthe man who did my inking arm works with me in the Rogue." The wolf leaned back, impressed. "I would say I am nowconvinced, but I was before." I glared at Spleen. "You could have brought him to theRogue—" 35
  35. 35. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis "NO," the wolf said. "Its not safe—" "This," I said, "is the twenty-first century. In Atlanta. InLittle Five Points. Trust me, no one is going to hassle awerewolf. Heck, no one will even notice you." "I didnt mean it wasnt safe for me," the werewolf said,still staring at me with those hungry eyes. His eyes no longerlingered on my tattoos, but roved all over me, like I was aparticularly delicious banquet. Then he caught himself andlooked away, shaking his head, face twitching in a painedgrimace—I was a banquet he was forbidden to touch. He was embarrassed. I felt sad for him, forced to hide inthese tunnels, afraid of himself, holding on to what littlescraps of dignity he could, like his battered suit. Even lookingaway, his chin was held up with pride, as of he were trying tobe more than the monster most people would choose to see. Not that a twinge of fear wasnt still nagging me: here Iwas, facing a real Edgeworlder, ripe with danger, popping hiscork monthly, all too interested in my tattoos. I couldnt helpbut think of that skin-covered lid in the evidence tray. But Isensed no malice in this werewolf—in this man, thisdangerously scruffy but still charming man with gleaminggreen eyes. And behind the hunger and the pain in those eyesI saw sadness . . . and interest? "Whats your name?" I asked. The green eyes looked away. "Uh . . . Wulf." A lie. Charming. Unoriginal. But not unexpected. He washiding in the basement of the Edgeworld; no big surprise thathe felt like he needed to hide even his name. I didnt know 36
  36. 36. Frost Moon by Anthony Franciswhat drove him to that—but I did know I didnt like how guiltythat lie made him feel. "Well, Wulf," I said, cracking my best smile, "Ill get righton it." Wulf glanced back to see acceptance, not judgment, on myface. He smiled back, an odd, shy grin, and I brushed backone of the feathers of my deathhawk, where it had curledabout my neck. Then Wulf leaned back again, all the way onhis heels, putting his hands easily on his knees. "This," hesaid, addressing Spleen, "has been an unexpected pleasure." And then he looked straight at me, eyes hungry withsomething new. "I look forward to seeing more of you,Dakota Frost." Without another word he rose and left, climbing stonestairs up into the blackness of the vault. Even as Spleenturned the boat around, my eyes still lingered, watching Wulfgo. **** By the time we got back to Marys in East Atlanta it wasdamn near 1 a.m., and my evening was a lost cause. The tinydance floor was empty, the VJ was putting up his discs, andeven the bar was starting to thin out. I was so stressed Idebated downing a Jager, but it was just too late and I had todrive. The streets glistened blackly as I steered the Vespa backto Candler Park, and hidden shapes flitted among the bonyfingers of the trees. The moon had long since set, but I could 37
  37. 37. Frost Moon by Anthony Francisfeel it out there, looming, itching for fullness, an hour closerto midnight each day. When I parked my Vespa underneath the stairs andlurched up to my flat, I could feel a presence behind me,every step of the way. Wulf, stalking me? The yowling of mycats and the mechanics of setting down some canned food onthe kitchen floor did nothing to dispel my mood. In the end I lay in bed, alone, staring at the ceiling. Someone out there wanted the skin off my back. And I just might be doing a tattoo for him. [Back to Table of Contents] 38
  38. 38. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis 5. Trust but Verify In the morning light I felt better. The timing of Wulfsrequest was creepy, coming right on the heels of Randswarning, but I didnt think a tattoo killer stalking a victimwould arrange a meeting with a witness present. In fact, Ihad no reason to believe that the killer was after mepersonally, other than Rands mothering; if hed had even awhiff of evidence that I was the target, Rand would have putme in overprotective custody faster than I could blink. My clients were another thing: scattered all over Georgia,with some of the best magical tattoos in the Southeast ontheir bodies, and without relatives on the police force whocared enough to track them down and warn them. I neededto figure out how to get the word to them—in my discreet lineof work, clients didnt often share their email addresses or cellnumbers—but there was some time before the full moon. Firstthings first—Spleen. The little rat had extracted a thousand promises from meto meet him "the very next day," to go over the contract forWulfs tattoo, and Id agreed—though hed have gotten thesame effect just by showing up for my shift at the RogueUnicorn. One of the glories of being a tattoo artist, other thanhaving Gods finest canvas at your disposal, is that I rarelyneed to get up before ten. Like most high-end shops, theRogue doesnt open its doors to the public until noon, though 39
  39. 39. Frost Moon by Anthony FrancisI and the other artists are usually there by eleven forconsultations and prepwork. So despite yesterdays excitement I was able to sleep in,stroll to the Flying Biscuit cafe—after the breakfast crowdshad died down, but before the towering, eponymous biscuitshad lost their fresh-baked, morning fluffiness—and still putterin by ten-thirty to meet Spleen. As I buzzed off of McLendon onto Moreland, I smiled. LittleFive Points is the true heart of Atlanta. Forget the bigger FivePoints, forget Buckhead, forget Midtown—its only in LittleFive Points, in that vortex of alternative culture whirlingthrough the colorful pile of eclectic shops at the crux ofEuclid, Moreland and McLendon, that Atlanta truly lets itselfbe Atlanta. The main square is a parade of dudes hanging out withyuppies, homeless people harassing executives, hot younggay men and cute old lesbian couples, consignment shops forNew Age crystals and recycled old duds, bookstores andbondage shops, teahouses and tattoo parlors, protesterscrying, "No blood for oil!" and vendors crying, "Get some hotpizza!" Glorious. If you look closer, you can see more—pale, gothy boyswhose high collars hide the bites on their necks, tough butchchicks trying to disguise that bit of wolf in their eyes, andNew-Agey grandmothers pretending not to be as hale andhearty as their potions made them. Plus a whole carnival offiredancers and piercers, taggers and tattooers brimming overwith magic and trying to hide nothing at all. In the Southeast, 40
  40. 40. Frost Moon by Anthony FrancisLittle Five Points was the center of the Edgeworld, a brandnew subculture rejecting the secrecy of magical tradition anddefying centuries of religious oppression, dragging magickicking and screaming into the light. Even more glorious. The Rogue Unicorn wasnt the largest tattoo shop in LittleFive Points, but it was the best—and one of only two licensedto ink magic. Catty-corner from the giant skull that markedthe Vortex Bar and Grill, the Rogue occupied most of the topof a converted Victorian whose sprawling bottom floor housedthe quite decent Make a Wish clothing shop. The sign for the Rogue was easy to find—a brushed metalunicorn, rampant, that wed gotten in a deal with the city afew years back when they were trying to push a new artist—but getting into the shop itself was quite the trick: you had topark in the back, climb rickety wooden stairs, and wormround the balcony to the Herbalists Attic. But—for the viewalone—the trees, Little Five, the skull of the Vortex—it wasworth it. And I had the best view. My office was small, butstreetside, with a broad front window whose dark-slattedblinds were always cracked to give me the aforementionedview of L5P. A glass, L-shaped desk held my computer,scanner and papers. A narrow bookshelf put all my books andtapes within easy reach from the desk . . . or from the sturdymarble workspace of the butchers block, whose locked glasscabinet held my precious magical supplies. I started the scan and leaned back in my chair, regardingSpleen, whod arrived right on time. He bounced back and 41
  41. 41. Frost Moon by Anthony Francisforth in the little space like an animated garden gnome,rattling the cabinet periodically. "Wulfs one of my bestclients," he said. "I swear it, if you could just do this for me—" "Hey. I said Id do it." I shagged my hands through myhair, trying to shake my deathhawk back to life after beingpinned under my helmet. "So stop trying to persuade me, or Imight change my mind." The scanner whirred to life, and Ikicked up my feet, staring out over Little Five. Something waswrong. Spleen was nervous, damp, almost sweaty. Damp andsweaty werent new, but—"Should I change my mind?" "N-no," Spleen said. Another lie. Not that he never did it,but—even more charming. At my scowl he turned away,stammering; but it was too late; I had him. "What is it, Spleen?" I asked. **** — "Crap, Frost," he said. "What can I say? The design isfucking Nazi." [Back to Table of Contents] 42
  42. 42. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis 6. The Accursed Flash "Its what?" I said, falling forward in my chair to look asthe scanner finished its pass and the image popped up on thescreen. The contrast was all fucked, but a moments tweakingin Photoshop brought the contrast back up, along with all thenice German letters and genuine swastika printed on thebottom of the singed photo. "Its Nazi, Frost," he said. "I dont mean neo-Nazi orskinhead or anything. Its a genuine fucking World War Twobuzz-bombs-and-lost-arks Nazi tattoo design." "Holy . . . crap," I said, staring at the image on the screen.Then, gingerly, I raised the scanner cover, hoping nothingwould leap out and bite me. The photograph was very old,yellowing, and quite singed. Half the wording was gone, but arescan at 600 dpi and a bit of fiddling would recover it. Noamount of fiddling would bring back my forgotten high schoollanguage classes . . . but with what was left, I recognized thewords as unmistakably German. "Look, look, look," he said, wheedling. "Wulfs one of mybest clients—" "For how long?" I asked. "The last six weeks—" "Hell," I said, disgusted. "What have you gotten me into?" "He says he needs the discipline, or hes going to lose it atthe next full—" 43
  43. 43. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis "Next Sunday, I know," I said, staring at the tattoo, at theGerman words I could no longer read. "I dont know how Ifeel about inking some Nazi . . . occultism. If I was Jewish Idprobably throw this in your face." "I wanted to chuck it at first," Spleen said, a bit bashfully."But Wulf says he looked for years and couldnt find a betterdesign. And he paid me a lot of money—" "Slide," I said, standing, and Spleen moved so I couldunlock the cabinet that held my supplies. I pulled out a long,plain wooden case and opened it slowly. The inside wasdivided into two long compartments, one holding a glass tubecontaining a fragment of a long spiral horn, and the otherholding ten compartments for tattoo needles, six of themempty. I held up the fragment and examined it. "Enough for theneedles, I think—" "Is that—" Spleen breathed, eyes gleaming, reaching outfor the horn. "Yes," I snapped, "mitts off. Its naturally shed, vestalgathered. I need needles made from untainted horn to ink awhite charm—this is a white charm, isnt it?" "A . . . Nazi . . . white charm?" Spleen asked, perplexed. "The Nazis had candy and ice cream, didnt they?" "Well . . ." "Just because Hitler painted pictures of Baby Jesus, Jesussimage didnt suddenly go bad," I said, checking the bottlesof ink. Newtseye green, nightshade black—Id need areplacement for my cinnabar red; a recent FDA study hadlinked it to melanomas, even when inked with the healing 44
  44. 44. Frost Moon by Anthony Francispower of free-range horn. I stood there a moment, spinningthe newtseye in my hand, watching it glimmer, when Istarted to get a sinking feeling that I was getting ahead ofmyself. The design was made by Nazis. There were noobvious swastikas or more subtle black magic marks on it,but really, I knew nothing about this tattoo . . . or its futurewearer. "Look, Spleen, I only ink white or grey." "That looks green," he said, somehow playing dumb andwheedling at the same time. "You know what I mean," I snapped. "What do you knowabout this tat, other than what he told you?" Spleen looked at me helplessly. "What about Wulf? Other than the obvious?" Nothing."Who recommended him to you?" "I, uh . . ." "So he found you, is that it?" I kneaded my brow. "So youknow zip—" "He seemed genuine," Spleen repeated. "And he paid a lotof money—" "How much?" I held up my hand. "How much is my cut?" "I . . . dunno?" Spleen said. "I mean, how much would youcharge—" "Stop being a dick," I said. "And dont lie. Ill have himunder my needle for . . ." I squinted at the screen " . . . threeor four hours. I guarantee you, hell spill the details." "Seventy-five hundred," Spleen said. A thousand for the needles, five hundred for the ink andpowders. Another five hundred for graphomancy and license 45
  45. 45. Frost Moon by Anthony Francisfees on a "new" design. Take out the Rogues twenty percentcut . . . and I could stand to land close to forty-five hundreddollars—putting me halfway to a new Vectrix electricmotorbike to replace my old Vespa. "Ill d—" I began, and stopped. Before the money mademe stupid. I have rules. I dont do black ink. I dont do religiousmarks. And I sure dont do bad charms. And I knew zip aboutthis tat. For all I knew it was originally an evil Norse markdesigned to curse a werewolf with terrible pain every fullmoon, but after the Nazis fiddled with it . . . the tat might bejust as likely to set him on fire. "Ill . . . consider it. Mystatement to Wulf stands—I need to get this flash vetted by awitch before I ink it." "Do we reeeally need to deal with that?" Spleen said. "Imean, the fees—" "Whens the last time you changed the oil on your car?" "You last changed the oil on that car," Spleen said. "I savethe money—" "Spleen!" I said—then stopped and kneaded my brow."Look, I know you dont think your engines going to catch onfire, so why spend the money—" "Exactly," Spleen said with triumph. "Ex-ZACTLY—" "—but if this sets him on fire in my chair, we wont get anymoney. He wont pay up." "Hes got the money, hes got it," Spleen said, waving meoff. "I got a retainer, yes I did, five thousand when he cameto town, so dont josh old Spleen . . . " But then he saw my 46
  46. 46. Frost Moon by Anthony Francisface. "Wait, youre . . . serious? Set him on fire? Tattoos cando that?" I squeezed one hand tight, letting power flow into the yin-yang in my palm, then thrust it under his face, letting themana out explosively into a tiny ball of lightning. Spleen leaptback and yelped, eyes wide in terror, and I blew him a bigkiss, sending the little crackling ball of light towards him. Itbounced around him like a kitten, and he stumbled back,batting frantically at it with a folder until it disappeared into acloud of sparks and color. "Jeez, jeez, JEEzus," Spleen said. "Dont do that—" "This is a fifty-year-old Nazi tattoo, Spleen," I said, takingthe folder from him. "For all we know it was designed to makea werewolf explode on contact with moonlight as a kind ofliving magic bomb. So no, Im not going to ink it untilsomeone can vet it." "Well, tell that someone," Spleen said, shuddering, "Hello,spooky-eyes. For me. " "Spleen!" I said. "Be nice. What if Jinx heard you?" "You call her that," he protested. "Ive known her forever," I replied. "Now shoo. I have tomake some calls." And I needed to make them quickly. If Wulfs problem wasas bad as it sounded, and the tat was as good as he claimed,we needed to move right away. First I called Jinx, who agreedto meet me on my break that afternoon. Then I buzzed ourreceptionist and asked her to pull the licensing paperwork forsome new magical flash. 47
  47. 47. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis "Sure," Annesthesia said, sounding irritated. "Spleen leftlike fifteen minutes ago—why arent you ready yet?" "Ready for . . . what?" "Dont you check your emails? You have two clients waitingfor a consult—" "Ive been with a client," I snapped, "and I dont checkemails until—" "Hell freezes over," Annesthesia replied. "Im sending themback now—" "Wait," I said, but the line clicked dead. Really. The waitingroom was thirty feet away. She could have knocked orsomething. But Annesthesia is pretty, coquettish, andbeautifully tattooed. Other than me, shes our bestadvertisement—no, honestly, for straight guys, she is ourbest ad, since I can scare the little dears—so I put up withher. I opened the door to the hall, hoping to intercept thevisitors and draw them off to our "conference" room beforethey could see the mess which was my office, but steppedback in shock at the sight of a small but wiry old man with aflaring beard and hair. He was standing so close to the door itseemed like hed materialized. Behind him, a dark-suitedyoung man with blond hair smiled down at him, eyes lightingwhen he looked up and saw me. The kindly old man stepped forward, and my jaw droppedin more shock. "Hello," he said with a wicked, cheerful grin,devilish black eyebrows serving only to accent his twinklingblue eyes. "Im Chris Valentine, and this is my colleague, AlexNicholson—" 48
  48. 48. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis **** — "Christopher Valentine," I breathed. "The MysteriousMirabilus!" [Back to Table of Contents] 49
  49. 49. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis 7. The Valentine Challenge The Mysterious Mirabilus smiled, and gave a slight bow."The one and only." Christopher Valentine, AKA "The Mysterious Mirabilus," wasthe worlds most famous magician—and debunker. Technicallyhe was what real practitioners called an illusionist—someonewho simulated magic through nonmagical means—but thisEinstein-haired "illusionist" could do without magic things thatmost experienced sorcerers couldnt do with magic. I mean,showy, big league stuff like walking on water, parting a smalllake, and, most famously, appearing in two places at once, atrick hed demonstrated on TVs famous talk show way backwhen, The Night Shift with Jack Carterson. Id caught that one live. As a child, before I was oldenough to know stage magic from real Magick, the MysteriousMirabilus had been my hero, and Id stayed up countlessnights to catch his appearances performing his latest trick. Bythe time I grew older and had turned to real magic, theMiraculus Mirabilus had come out as Christopher HeywoodValentine, stage magician, and had turned his considerabletalents to debunking what he considered "the flim-flammeryof our age." He traveled the country, issuing the ValentineChallenge to all magicians: to do a magic trick he couldntreplicate under controlled conditions. I know, I know, youre thinking, charmingly naive—no realpractitioner would advertise themselves, and the rest are all 50
  50. 50. Frost Moon by Anthony Francischarlatans, so why did I still idolize this guy? But like manyother Edgeworlders, I find myself sifting through endlesstomes of New Age fuffery looking for something real.Valentines probing books and debunking tours helped mewinnow through the crap to get to the occasional nugget ofgold. And so—"I have all your books," I blurted. Like aschoolgirl. How embarrassing. But the Mysterious Mirabilus looked at me with sharp newinterest. "How interesting," he said, sitting in the clients chairopposite me as I sat down at my desk. "That strikes me asvery unusual. Given your profession." I grinned. "And why cant a tattoo artist read ChristopherValentine?" "I meant, as a professed magician," Valentine said, allserious, dark pointy eyebrows beetling into a serious look ofconcern. He was much more interesting in person: on camerahe looked all pale and WASPy, but with him sitting in myclients chair I could see a slight Middle Eastern slant to hisfeatures and a subtle, swarthy tint to his skin that would havemade it a wonderful canvas to ink on. "After all, I have spentthe last few years of my life—" "—exposing all the junk in the so-called magickal world,"I replied, "freeing the rest of us practitioners to focus on thegood stuff?" Valentine and Nicholson looked at each other. At this point I really noticed his colleague, Alex Nicholson:young, not too tall, tanned, with firm angular features thathinted at little or no body fat beneath his trim suit and 51
  51. 51. Frost Moon by Anthony Francisturtleneck. Subtle, colored streaks wove through his wavyblond hair and the trimmed tuft on his chin. A single bluecaptive-bead ring hung in one ear. Like a slightly edgy Kendoll. Yummy. "A skeptical witch," Valentine said at last. "How aboutthat." "Technically Im not a witch or warlock," I said. "I donthave a magical bloodline—I do technical magic, with potionsand tools and leylines, which makes me a magician—" "I thought I was the magician," Valentine said. "A practitioner would call you a illusionist," I replied,"though I prefer the term wizard. As in Mister Wizard?Because what a stage magician can do with science is farmore than conjuring. But . . . I somehow dont get the feelingyou came here to quiz me about what I call you, because itmight be different when youre not around. How can I helpyou?" "Well, then," Valentine said, rubbing his hands together. "Ihoped you might help me with, as you put it, helping peoplefocus on the good stuff. Ive heard you claim to be able tocreate magic tattoos—" "I claim nothing. My work speaks for itself," I responded,shrugging my shoulders so the vines and snakes rippled downmy bare arms. Nicholson was trying not to look, but it wasntworking; I was trying not to smile, which wasnt workingeither. "I am an expert artist, and if you have a tat in mind, Ican ink it, whether the design be mundane, magical, evenspiritual." 52
  52. 52. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis "Weeell, then," Valentine said. "Perhaps you could help us.I and my lovely assistant—" "He is that," I said. Nicholson suddenly looked down,embarrassed, which made him doubly cute, and Valentineblinked a couple of times before continuing. "Ahem. I and my assistant would like you to participate ina little test. We would like you to draw a magical tattoo—andthen I, who happen to be trained in the tattoo arts myself,will attempt to replicate it, to our mutual satisfaction." "Are you issuing me the Valentine Challenge?" I said, nowopenly grinning. Valentine bowed. "That I am." I leaned back in my chair. Fuck the Vectrix—this was abrand new Prius, with a house and garage to put it in. "Amillion bucks. Mmmm. I do so hate to take your money.BUT—I dont ink as a performance, or for tricks. Tattooing isan invasive procedure that violates the body. It needs asterile environment—and an encircled one, if magic isinvolved. And its a permanent mark on the human body; Idont ink as a stunt—" Valentine had listened with mild interest, then with atriumphant smile. "So you wont do it?" he asked, grinning atNicholson. "I didnt say that," I said, looking straight at Nicholson."Does your lovely assistant actually want me to make apermanent mark on his body?" Nicholson looked up, caught my gaze, and looked awayagain, embarrassed. It was so cute! "Actually, yes," he said, 53
  53. 53. Frost Moon by Anthony Francisflushing, looking up at me at last, his eyes catching on minewith a bit of electric desire. "On my wrist." He held up his left hand, pushing his watch down toexpose his wrist. "A hider," I said, reaching for the Big BlueBinder. "I have a good selection of magical flash for thewrist—" "Actually," Valentine said, smiling, "we had a specificdesign in mind." "Oh...kay," I said. "But if you want a magical tattoo—" Nicholson pulled out an envelope, "I hoped you could dothis." Oh...kay. This was a bad scene. I took the envelopegingerly, while Valentine and Nicholson looked on—Valentinegleefully, Nicholson bashfully, a bit skeptically. I opened it upand unfolded a bad photocopy of an ornate bit of flash, aVictorian-inspired design with constellations and Romannumerals and circular filigree that was the magical equivalentof gears. It took me a moment to realize what it was—a clock. "Im not going to do this," I said, tossing the paper down. "I knew it," Valentine said, slapping Nicholsons shoulder."You owe me—" Nicholson batted him away. "Why not?" he said, almosthurt. "Its a watch," I said. "This is a permanent mark and youwant me to do a watch?" "Why not?" Valentine said, grinning even more broadly. Iwas starting to dislike the man, and this after such a goodstart. "Wont it keep time—" 54
  54. 54. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis "Obviously not," I said, pointing at the zodiacal marks."Its calibrated to the stars, to a sidereal day, not a solar day,so it will lose time—a whole day, as the Earth goes aroundthe sun. Didnt you take astronomy in school? And what if hemoved? It would be off by however many time zones wereinvolved!" Valentines jaw remained open. Nicholson remainedundeterred. "It has knobs so you can reset it," he said, pointing. I stared at the design for a moment. "It . . . does," I said.The more I looked, the more masterful the design appeared."Thats . . . good. To use the knobs, Ill need to tattoo contactpoints on the fingers of . . . oh. Thats these associated discdesigns here?" Nicholson leaned forward. "Uh, yes. So they are." "Who did this?" I looked back and forth at Nicholson andValentine, who looked back and forth at each other. "This isexpert work, but I certainly didnt do it, nor did anyone Iknow of in the Southeast. Where did you get it?" "I have my sources," Valentine said, leaning back in hischair. "Weeeell," I said, miming his earlier intonation. "I cantjust ink this as is—" "I told you so—sorry, am I jumping the gun?" "Dont be a dick, old man," I snapped. "I take myprofession as seriously as you do, and I am not going to put apermanent magical mark on the human body without twothings: first, you have to get me some virgin flash—meaningunfolded, without lines that obscure the design. And no low- 55
  55. 55. Frost Moon by Anthony Francisquality photocopies, either. I need something as close to theoriginal as possible or a high-resolution digital image, TIFFpreferred." "A . . . tiff?" asked Valentine, looking at Nicholson. "Its a . . . graphics format," Nicholson said. "Like a JPEG.Not a problem." Valentine shrugged, nodded. "Sounds fair," he said. "Wecan do that." "Second, I need to get it vetted by a local witch," I raisedmy hand before Valentine could say anything. "Im notweaseling. I can ink a known design, but for something thiscomplicated . . . I need a second eye, someone trained ingraphomancy. Normally that would cost some coin, but I canget a witch to do it for free. If—and only if—she approves, Illdo your tattoo, and I guarantee it will do what shell say it willdo. But I make no guarantees about what Mister Valentinecan pull off, no matter how skilled a tattooist he is. And if hecan replicate my work—" I cracked my neck, then cracked asmile. "Hey, more power to him." After that, I fixed my smile and stared straight atValentine. He stared back at me for a moment, then looked atNicholson. "Sounds fair, Alex?" "Sounds fair," Nicholson said. "Can you get her somebetter flash?" "Today, preferably," I said. "I have an appointment withmy witch this afternoon—" Valentine jiggled in his pocket and pulled out an USB driveon his keychain. He scowled at it for a moment, then seemedto think better of it. "I have a picture on here, but its really 56
  56. 56. Frost Moon by Anthony Francisno better than the photocopy. Can I email you when I getback to my hotel?" "Sure—it s just dakota at rogue unicorn dot net, no dash." "Will that take large files?" "Yes, it just goes to my gmail account," I said. "A skeptical witch with a gmail account who wants TIFFfiles," Valentine said, jamming his hands back into hispockets. "What is the world coming to?" "Im not a witch," I replied. "Im just a tattoo artist." Valentine was as good as his word—I had the file beforemy break. I printed out a copy of his "watch" and Wulfssuspected Nazi flash on the 11x17 printer to speed things up,and dumped his files and my scans on a USB key to meetJinx. Im nothing if not prepared. A distant noise of a leaf blower greeted me as I steppedback to our reception area, and I grinned at Kring/L, a big,beefy bald man with a walrus moustache, going over flashwith a young couple over the distant noise of the leaf blower.Unlike me, he did jinxes—lovers names—so he got work Igenerally didnt; but he still felt the same way I did aboutthem, and was trying to sell the kids on matching designsrather than something theyd regret in six weeks. "You think all the leaves would have fallen by now," hesaid, looking up at me, cocking his head back at the mutedwhine from the parking lot. He was a great artist, and yetdidnt sport a single tattoo. "I thought they did this onWednesdays." 57
  57. 57. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis "Thats the beauty of global warming for you," I said."Blow the leaves around enough with a gas mower, and youget to watch them fall later every year." He cocked his head at the two kids—they were actuallypretty cleancut, kind of preppy, and had stiffened at mycrack. I took the hint and shut up. I slipped out the door,then stomped in my big old boots back to the balcony at theend of the stairs. I was willing to bet Id see a huge-ass SUVin the parking lot—no, two. Why should I expect that theydridden together? My jaw dropped. A black helicopter sat in the back parkinglot of the Rogue Unicorn, its blades spinning down slowly froma light whine to near-complete silence. **** — The leafblower had wings. [Back to Table of Contents] 58
  58. 58. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis 8. Secret Agent Man In shock, I descended the stairs, watching the set ofcounter-rotating, oddly spaced blades slowly come to a stop.The helicopter was simultaneously sweeping and angular,landing gear curving back from its nose in a horseshoe, tailswooping up like a fin, making it look like a giant metalShamu carved from matte black panels that ate up all thelight. Then I noticed the same Fed logo Id seen at City Hall,black on black, embossed on the helicopters side in a slightlyshiny effect similar to what you get if you push the levels toofar on Photoshop . . . and leaning against the copter, next tothe logo, was the same dark-suited Fed. "Miss Frost?" the Fed said, detaching himself from thecopter. People in movies duck when stepping under achoppers blades, but he just strolled forward, letting the windtousle his wavy brown hair. "Special Agent Philip Davidson.We met at Atlanta Homicide, but didnt really get a chance tospeak. I was told you would be expecting me?" He extended his hand, and I stared down at it, not surewhat I was seeing was real. His suit was tailored from a fabricwhose sheen somehow matched the copters hide, and hiswell-trimmed goatee still reminded me of Johnny Depp ormaybe Spocks evil twin. His sunglasses were straight out ofthe Matrix, and I swear if hed had a tie with a horizontal tietack Id have started calling him "Agent Smith." But he 59
  59. 59. Frost Moon by Anthony Francisexuded a gentle sincerity, staring up at me with an easydirectness I rarely saw in shorter men. His surprisinglydelicate hands were warm, his handshake firm. "In not so many words, but yes," I said. "Rand saidsomething about it." "I would have made an appointment," he said, in a voiceas warm and firm as his hands, "but since we were in theneighborhood I thought Id drop by and hope you were onyour break." Abruptly the twin sets of counter-rotating blades whinedand folded up, closing like two Chinese fans and tuckingthemselves back over the body of the craft until it was narrowand compact enough to fit in the width of a single parkingspace. "You decided to drop by in that?" I asked. "Really?" "Budget cuts," he said, spreading his hands—as if budgetcuts explained anything. "Ever since we lost one in Iraq itsbeen harder and harder to justify spending money onShadowhawks, so the brass took them public and is playingup their silent-running so we can market them to local lawenforcement. One of its features is the ability to land quietlyin a restricted space—so I told the pilot to land here, kill twobirds with one stone." Suddenly I could see an APD officer inside the coptertalking to the pilot—no one I knew through Rand, but clearlyhigh ranking and highly interested. I laughed out loud. "Secret-agent-man, now copter-salesman-man—" 60
  60. 60. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis "It wasnt my idea," he said, mouth quirking up in anembarrassed smile that made him seem even less agent andeven more human. "Theyre fun, but personally, I drive aPrius." "Riiight," I said. "Well, as it so happens Ive made anappointment for my break, but I dont want you to havewasted all the gas on this trip. What can I do for you?" "Based on your comments last night, I believe you canhelp our investigation into the murder. I had hoped to askyou a whole series of questions," he said, calmly staring up atme, radiating disapproval without dropping into an accusatorytone. "Is this appointment of yours something that cantwait?" "Yes, its urgent, and a friend is doing me a favor," I said.Suddenly, inspiration struck me. "Hang on. You dont happento have a picture of the victims tattoo on you?" "Why?" I expected him to say yes or no or play neutral,but he had a cheerful directness that was hard not to like,and when he pursed his lips thoughtfully I felt like I couldstare at his lips all day. Then they moved. "It is evidence, youknow." "Im seeing a graphomancer," I said. "Maybe she couldshed some light on it—more information about what the markdoes, or who did the design." He leaned back, thinking, and, damnit, I started to thinkthe smile was just from looking at me. "I thought you saidSumner did it?" "Sumner didnt do his own designs," I said. "He usedgraphomancers. Even I use graphomancers—" 61
  61. 61. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis "So youre better than Sumner?" My face flushed. "Im not saying that, its just . . . mytraining is—" "Thats all right," he said, smiling. "Look. I didnt mean tohold you up. Ill get straight to why Im here. I want yourclient list." He must have seen my jaw tighten, so he raisedhis hand. "Now, dont get antsy. I wont force you to turn itover—" "Youre right about that," I snapped. "In Georgia tattooingis practically a medical procedure—that list is private, andsensitive. I could lose my license if I gave it to you without awarrant, and I really doubt you can get a warrant." "Really?" Philip said, raising an eyebrow. "You dont think Icould get a warrant?" "Maybe," I said, "if you were investigating a crime, and nottrying to prevent one. Unless I or one of my clients weresuspects in the prior killings. Are we suspects?" "Well, no, but given the circumstances there are otherlegal avenues I could—" Philip began, then stopped. "Look,Im not trying to be a dick here. I know how the Edgeworldworks—I dont want to come down heavy and scare off thevery people I want to protect. But I would like to talk to youabout setting up a procedure to warn your client base. Theycould be targets . . . if you are as good as you look." His eyes were drifting over the tattoos on my arms, but hismouth quirked up a bit as he said it, and I gaped. I couldswear the cheeky little gnome was hitting on me! OK,perhaps "gnome" was too strong: that was just an automaticreaction to an advance from anyone in a suit. Strip him out of 62
  62. 62. Frost Moon by Anthony Francisthe suit, on the other hand . . . hed be buffer than AlexNicholson. Oh my. Either way, I was too dumbfounded tospeak, so he continued. "Think it over," he said, all serious. "I know you think Imspooky-black-helicopter man, but Im really a nice guy whodoesnt want to see you or any of your clients hurt. Pleasethink about how we might warn them—perhaps you couldcontact them, let us know whos willing to talk to us?" He heldup his hands. "No innuendo here—seriously. Twelve peoplehave been killed. I dont want to see that number hit thirteen.You should think about it." "Ill . . . ask. No promises." "Okay. For now. And about the tat we showed you," hesaid, "we dont normally let evidence into the wild. You neverknow what may tip off a suspect, or spawn a copycat.Perhaps your witch would come to the offices and view thepiece there?" "No," I said. "For this witch, you bring things to her—shesgot an elaborate computer setup to analyze images. Makesher fees high, but its worth it." I stared at him. "Twelvepeople murdered? You should think about it." "Ill ask," he said. "No promises." "Fair enough," I said, turning to my Vespa to ferret out theSumner book from my saddlebags. "And now I have a presentfor you, Special Agent Davidson." "Oh, you shouldnt have," he said, throwing up his handsin mock astonishment. Then he saw the books title and thefew bookmarks Id put in it, and his face went solemn."Scratch that—you should have." 63
  63. 63. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis I told him about my theories—the potential victims in thebook, the good chance that someone else might have the tat,the likelihood that a graphomancer had inked it sometimearound the turn of the millennium, and even my fears aboutSumners death itself. "So much fucking time lost," he said, staring at the book inhis hand. "We should have been looking for graphomancersfrom the very beginning—" "You didnt have a name until yesterday," I said, hoping itwould reassure him. "We had hints," he snapped. "Were supposed to be theones that follow up on them. Were the ones whore supposedto catch the bad guys based on a torn receipt and a funnysmell. At the first clue the tattoos were magical we shouldhave been talking to magical inkers and graphomancers andthe whole lot." He was silent for a moment, glaring off intothe distance. "We—they—those dolts at the Bureau—treatedit like a normal serial killer case for two years. Two wholeyears! And when they finally get wise, we have to pick up thecrap—" "Im sure you did your best," I said. "Not likely," he snorted. "We could have found out at leasthalf of what youve told me without knowing Sumners name.Five minutes listening to you and I feel like Im caught withmy pants down—" "Well...not yet youre not," I said. "Dont you start," he said, eyes back on me with that sameappreciative look hed had scoping out my tattoos. "Scratchthat—do." 64
  64. 64. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis Oh, Lord. Me and my smart mouth—I hadnt meant toopen that can of worms. I already had a werewolf as a secretadmirer; I didnt need another suitor. I held up my hands,which made his eyes light on the yin-yang and magic circletattoos on my palms. "Agent Davidson," I began. "Ill do whatI can to help you find the killer—" And then a horrible thought struck me. All the othertattoos, presumably, had been ripped from someones body.But this time, we had the tattoo, not the victim— "What?" he said sharply. "What else have you thought of?" "You . . . you dont have a body for the last one, do you?" Isaid. Davidson scowled, hand clenching on the book, and mystomach churned. "I mean . . . at least I hope the victim wasdead when they . . . when they took the tattoo..." There was an ugly pause. He just looked at me. Oh, God. "Ill talk to my clients, and to the witch," I said. "Ill talk to my agents, get them on this," he said, holdingup the book. "And talk to Nighy about releasing images of thelid, maybe even some of the other tattoos—" "One more thing," I said. It had been bugging me thewhole time, but still I hesitated a moment; this would reopenthat can of worms. But that held me back only a moment. I reached out and took his glasses off carefully. Hetwitched, just a little, and I guessed it was more from oureight-inch height difference than the invasion of his space. Iwaggled the glasses. "I could see the smile in your eyes eventhrough these. You have wonderful eyes." I slid the glassesinto his pocket. "You shouldnt hide them, Special AgentDavidson." 65
  65. 65. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis He smiled at me, the same warm, quirky smile hed givenme back at Homicide, given me a few minutes ago, nowenhanced by warm, blue-grey eyes. "Its Philip, Miss Frost." "Dakota," I said, turning and walking away. Id just met one of the fabled "black-helicopter men," ofconspiracy theories and New World Order fame, and he wasdarned cute. Talk about having men falling out of the sky... [Back to Table of Contents] 66
  66. 66. Frost Moon by Anthony Francis 9. Elegant Gothic Lolita The Starbucks in Little Five Points is on Moreland, at itsfarthest northern edge, as if the raw power of LFPs eclecticvortex had repelled the chains sterile corporate heart andthis was as close as it could come. Me, I come for the darkroast—at least Starbucks claims its made from sustainablebeans. My young witch pored over a book, murmuring, dressed inhead to toe in frilly black—ornate petticoat and satin dress,Victorian corset and ruffled jacket, black bonnet and folded-back veil, all outlined here and there in shocking white lace.Elegant Gothic Lolita, the style was called, though you rarelysaw it outside of a science fiction convention. Yet here Skye "Jinx" Anderson sat, decked out in themiddle of the Starbucks, oblivious to the stares of the collegeboys at the next table as she moved one hand over a spiral-bound book, still murmuring. Whenever she took a sip,raising her coffee to her lips with a delicate hand wrapped ina fingerless black lace glove and jingling charm bracelets, theboys drew in a breath; when she set the cup back down withdeliberate grace, they all seemed to sag. I knew the drill by this point—Jinx already knew I washere, but didnt care to be interrupted. So I waited in line andgot some coffee, creamed it, and joined her. Jinx looked up at me over her black disc sunglasses, andnow I drew in a breath. I never failed to be shocked by her 67

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