I Never Told You What I Do for a Living

story by Mabel Harper & Emrys Webb
written by Emrys Webb


Jules pulled his Volvo up to the curb near the Bethel Lutheran Church in West Garfield Park and turned off the engine, then rolled down the windows and sat back in the driver’s seat with a sigh, watching children scream and tear around on the playground at the nearby community center. He checked his phone—no word from Caliban yet—and absently rolled up his left sleeve, traced the scars from his recently-repaired tattoos. When the late afternoon sunlight hit his arm at just the right angle, you could still make out the word TRAITOR etched into the flesh. Thanks to this and the other, even more embarrassing brand on his right arm, Jules had started wearing sweatshirts to bed lately with Max, giving the excuse that he was cold. Max had accepted this explanation without too much questioning, assuming it was because of the rift, which she herself always wore a t-shirt to hide. But her disappointment at never getting to see or touch parts of Jules’s body was palpable, and Jules couldn’t help but think he owed it to her to suck it up and just show her what he’d done to himself—explain how it had happened and why. She already knew his sob story, after all.

It was somehow a hell of a lot easier, though, to open up about his past when he could say, But all those things happened to poor Juliana, and she’s dead now. Jules, the new and improved, was supposed to be invincible.

Caliban’s Challenger rolled up beside the Volvo, purring like a wildcat.

Jules climbed out of the driver’s seat. The merc strolled over, clapped him on the back. “How ya holdin’ up, kid?”

“Fine. Yourself?”

Caliban seemed to study him, though it was always hard to be sure what his eyes were doing behind those mirror-lens glasses. “Fine, fine. The usual.”

“Is this the place?”

Caliban looked around. “Looks like the same church.” He wandered around the back. Jules followed. “Lotta new graffiti by now, but…” The merc stood back, squinted at the wall. “Yup, there it is.” He approached the wall, pointed. “Half-painted over, but there’s the Playboy Bunny. And here’s Air Jordan doin’ his Jumpman pose. This is definitely the place. Good fuckin’ call, kid.”

Jules nodded acknowledgment. “In that case, I have a few things to show you.”

“Oh yeah?”

Jules reached in his satchel, pulled out the file he’d assembled on the location, which was labeled Bethel Lutheran Church, 3/8/1990. “I started off searching online, found a few vague references, then had the people at the Harold Washington Library pull up a couple of old articles on microfiche.” He showed Caliban a printed-off mugshot. “That’s our guy, yeah?”

Caliban studied the photo. “Think so. ’Bout a lifetime’s more wear and tear on ’im nowadays, but pretty sure that’s our buddy who was managing Lit Sister. Place burned to the ground the day after we raided it, by the way. Dunno if you heard.”

“I saw on the news. I guess the apostates really don’t want us coming back and picking up more of their breadcrumbs.”

Caliban glanced at the name on the mugshot. “‘Devin Blanco,’ eh? Never did get a name out of ’im when I was probing ’im.”

Jules handed him an article. “Read.”

Caliban skimmed the page. His hairless eyebrows shot up. “Christ on a bike. ‘…Shootout between the Vice Lords and the Gangster Disciples in West Garfield Park Thursday night progressed to knife attacks, clawing, biting, strangling… Blanco, a member of the Vice Lords, fled the scene and was the only survivor. The others fought to the death, with the lone victor apparently committing suicide by cutting his own throat with a switchblade just minutes before police arrived on the scene.’ Holy fuckin’ Moses.”

“It was a notoriously brutal incident in an area already noted for its gang violence. And that was 1990, which is consistent with you dating Blanco’s memory to the late eighties or early nineties. You also mentioned Blanco seemed haunted by whatever happened here. I’m thinking it might be because he sold out his own gang brothers—used some kind of mind-altering spell or elixir to deliver them to their violent deaths, in order to fulfill some unknown Nihilite purpose. That’s all just speculation, of course, but a little more investigation might turn up more definite answers.”

“Well done, kid. Well done.” Caliban touched a knuckle to his lips. “Where you reckon we go from here?”

“I already looked into Blanco’s family. Just a single mom, dead within a year of his arrest from an overdose of prescription pills. I’m thinking that could’ve been the Nihilites covering their tracks. We could try to see what the mundane police have on her. We could also try talking to the families and friends of the kids who were killed that night, see if they can tell us anything. But I’m not incredibly optimistic about that. If they knew something, the Nihilites have probably dealt with all of them too.”

“Still worth a try. You said you got a busy couple a’ days comin’ up, right? Get me the names and addresses. I’ll look into ’em.”

Jules eyed him. “You’re not gonna…?”

Comprehension dawned on Caliban’s face. “Jesus, whaddaya think I am? I always save it as a last resort. You saw. I fuckin’ tried everything else in the book first.”

Jules gave an uncertain nod. “I also have a code expert helping me out with those ledgers we found in the office at Lit Sister. So hopefully that’ll turn up some leads.”

Caliban surveyed him. “Someone at the A.M.?”

“Someone I trust.” Jules raised an eyebrow, inviting objections.

Caliban heaved a sigh, nodded. “Good enough for me, I guess.” He tilted his pockmarked head to the side, studied Jules. “You sure you’re, uh—doin’ all right, kid? After…y’know.”

Jules eyed him flatly. “Made more progress on this investigation than you did, didn’t I?”

Caliban cracked a gruesome smile. “Point. But I get the feeling you’re one a’ those guys who works ’imself to the bone when he ain’t doin’ so great, tryin’ to distract ’imself. Ya know?”

“I think you missed your calling as a mental health counselor.” Jules turned away. “Get in touch if you find anything, yeah?”

“Yeah, yeah. Smartass.” Caliban headed for the Challenger. “You do the same.”

•─────☾ ☽─────•

“I wish I could hear what they’re saying,” mumbled Leshayva.

She sat on her bedroom floor with her knees pulled up, legs crossed at the ankles, the orbuculum resting on its sheet in front of her.

Colin was stretched out on his stomach on the other side of it, feet swaying idly in the air, face half-buried in his folded arms. This was what Shay’s social life had turned into these past few days—her cousin coming over after school and the two of them, between half-assed attempts to get homework done and Daddy calling them to dinner, spying on Dad.

Since that first night, everything Elisha had done had been so normal and boring that Shay had almost decided she must be wrong and given up. But tonight, for the second time in a week, he’d put on his creepy glamor and met with Jules Nimri away from the Enclave.

Which didn’t look good.

“There’s no way we can hear them without a Favorov’s Ear,” Colin muttered in reply, his eyes looking tired.

“Yeah, well, I somehow don’t think we’re gonna be able to get an executed dead dude’s ear,” spat Shay. She’d been grumpy with Colin lately, and she knew it, and she felt really bad about it. But she couldn’t help herself. “God dammit, I so wish one of us could drive. There’s, like, no way we can fucking follow him. Buses and cabs are too slow. And your chauffeur would tell.”

“I think you just need to talk to him,” Colin sighed, rolling onto his back.

“Oh, great idea, genius. ‘Hey, Dad, inquiring minds want to know—are you actually in cahoots with Jules Nimri and trying to assassinate Grandpa and destroy the Auctoritas Magicae? I was just wondering.’ ’Cause he’s totally gonna tell me if he is, dumb-butt. Jeez. Come on.”

“I know he’s not gonna tell you if he is,” said Colin, a bit sharply for once, and sat up. “But if he’s not, then it gives him a chance to explain. That’s what I’m saying. And he’s probably not, right? There’s probably a perfectly good explanation for this.”

“You think so?” Shay was desperate for it to be true.

“I really, really do. Don’t you? He’s your dad, for God’s sake. You know he wouldn’t do anything bad. And Jules is my friend, and I know he wouldn’t either.”

Shay took a deep breath, nodded. “You’re right. You’re right. Jesus. God. I’m such an asshole.”

“Dude. Calm down. Just ask him. If he doesn’t give you a really, really good explanation, then you can worry.”

Shay continued to nod. Wondered why her heart wouldn’t stop thumping ominously in her chest. “Yeah, yeah, okay. I’ll ask him. Give him a chance to explain. That should clear everything up once and for all.”


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