“I heard every word you said,” I said stiffly. “And for the record, I don’t always wear pink. I often wear peach or lavender. You braced me for another Gray Man or Hunter or Shade. You didn’t brace me for this.”
“How much worse could it have been?” he said disbelievingly.
“Much,” I told him. “You have no idea.”
I did, as succinctly as possible, stumbling a little over its proportions. I got nauseated all over again merely recounting its grotesque appearance. When I finished I said, “What was it?” How does it kill? was what I really wanted to know. I didn’t care about their names. I didn’t want to see them at all. But I was developing a burgeoning obsession with the various ways I might die. Especially given what the thing’s intentions had seemed. I’d rather the Gray Man got me, or a Shade. I mean, really, just hand me over to the Royal Hunters, please. Let them skin and stake me as Barrons had said they’d once done.
“No idea. Was it alone or with others?”
“It was alone.”
“Are you absolutely certain it knew you could see it? Could you be mistaken?”
“Oh no. No doubt there. It touched me.” I shuddered, remembering.
He laughed, a hollow, humorless sound. “Funny, Ms. Lane. Now tell me what really happened.”
“I just did. It touched me.”
“Impossible,” he said. “If it had, you wouldn’t be here.”
“I’m telling you the truth, Barrons. What possible reason could I have to lie? The thing grabbed me.” And I wanted desperately to scrub, especially my hands, because I’d grabbed it right back, trying to fight it off. Its skin had been reptilian, slimy, and I’d gotten much too close a look at those many convulsively sucking, revolting mouths.
“And then what? Said, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, Ms. Lane, I didn’t mean to wrinkle your lovely blouse. May I press that for you?’ Or perhaps you gouged it with one of your pretty pink nails?”
I was really beginning to wonder what his hang-up with pink was, but I didn’t resent the sarcasm in his voice. I couldn’t make sense of what had happened next, either, and I’d been mulling it over for nearly half an hour. It certainly hadn’t been what I’d expected. “Frankly,” I said, “it seemed strange to me, too. It grabbed me and then it just stood there looking . . . well . . . if it had been human I would have said confused.”
“Confused?” he repeated. “An Unseelie stood there looking confused? As in, perplexed, confounded, baffled, consternated?”
Behind me, Fiona said. “Jericho, that doesn’t make any sense.”
“I know, Fio.” Barrons’ tone changed when he addressed her, softened noticeably. It was sharp as a knife when he resumed his interrogation of me. “So, it looked confused. Then what, Ms. Lane?”
I shrugged. While the thing had stood there looking stymied, finally, finally a little steel had kicked in. “I punched it in the gut and ran. It chased me, but not right away. I think it stood there a minute. Long enough that I was able to flag down a taxi and get away. I made the cabbie drive me around for a while, to make sure I’d lost it.” Also to try to muddle through what had just happened. I’d been grabbed by Death but granted a reprieve, and I had no idea why. I’d been able to think of only one person who might. “Then I came to you.”
“At least you did one thing right and muddied your path here,” he muttered. He stepped closer, peering down at me as if I were some strange new species he’d never seen before. “What the bloody hell are you, Ms. Lane?”
“I don’t know what you mean.” You don’t even know what you are, Alina had said in her message. If you can’t keep your head down and honor your bloodline . . . go die somewhere else. . . . the old woman in the bar had hissed. And now Barrons was demanding to know what I was. “I tend bar. I like music. My sister was murdered recently. I seem to have gone insane since then,” I added this last almost conversationally.
He glanced beyond me, at Fiona. “See if you can uncover any record, however obscure, of this kind of thing happening.”
“You don’t need me to do that, Jericho,” she said. “You know there is.”
He shook his head. “She couldn’t possibly be a Null, Fio. They’re mythical.”
Fiona’s laugh was airy, musical. “So you say. As are many things. Aren’t they, Jericho?”