Deleted Scene from UNHOLY MAGIC
This scene introduced a character I’d planned to give a larger part to in the book, but didn’t get a chance so I had to cut her. I think she’ll show up again, though.
This was the original “opening” to the chase-to-the-crematorium scene; I’ve clipped it where the chase begins. I basically decided, after writing the Nightsedge Market scene, that it was a lot more dynamic, and I could find a better way for Chess to “catch” the bad guys; if they were following her, keeping an eye on her because of her/their involvement with Fletcher, it made sense for them to be at the Market with her. So I liked that a lot better.
Chess washed down a couple more Nips with her Cepts to stave off the tiredness creeping in around the edges and looked around. Only fifteen blocks away from Bump’s territory, but another world. Here red lights shone in windows and banners painted with gold Chinese characters fluttered outside storefronts. Warnings, or announcements, or simply the names of the stores. She didn’t know. Didn’t particularly care. All she cared about was getting this done. It was too fucking cold to stand around outside for hours, and after what had happened at Berta’s earlier, about earlier still at the Pyle house… If she hadn’t had the speed she probably would have curled up and fallen asleep on the grungy pavement, no matter how cold it was.
Lex took her hand and led her past a group of young men, hats pulled low over their faces. She felt their hostile gazes disappear when he touched her. With her coat on the tattoos announcing her profession weren’t visible, but her pale skin and Caucasian features still were. West of Forty-fifth she was Bump’s Churchwitch, Terrible’s friend, one of the residents—a familiar face to most, even if they didn’t care. East of it, she was a face that didn’t belong. Prey or a possible threat to all instead of just some.
“Figure we start with the newest one, aye?” Lex’s hands were almost as cold as hers. Not that she could complain. He owned gloves; he’d left them off so the tattoo on the back of his hand could be seen. The tattoo that said who he was with, the one probably saving her life at that particular moment.
“Only till we get there, tulip. Then you in charge. You brought all them stuff you use, aye?”
“No, Lex, I left it all at home because it’s such a nice night for a walk. Of course I brought it.”
He flashed a smile. “Just checking, is all.”
They passed the entrance of a side street, lit up with red and white lights. A market, teeming with people even on such a cold night as this one.
“Care to head over? Get some food in you, something for the thirst?”
“Aw, c’mon. Could use a drink myself, and it’s a cut-through.” His tugged her toward the firecans marking the entrance. A tendril of warm air from one of them brushed her cheek. It felt wonderful.
“Okay, but…don’t talk to anyone, okay? Let’s just get a drink and get out. I really don’t want to be seen.”
“Doubt anybody who see you might know you. This ain’t a public market, dig?”
That was even worse. Her chances of blending in were less than zero, and those weren’t odds she liked. “Maybe I should wait here.”
“Nay, nay. Not a good thought for here. True thing, tulip. Just don’t look nobody in the face.”
“You’re so comforting, you know that?”
“Didn’t think comfort was what you was looking for.”
She couldn’t think of a good reply, so she didn’t try to give him one, concentrating instead on keeping her head down and watching where they were going with furtive little peeks from under her lashes.
The paved street ended and turned into hard-packed dirt as they entered the market proper. She imagined it, like her own market, had once been a building, torn down or burned down and the basement filled in. Her market had been cemented over. This one hadn’t. Instead the earth was discolored from years of blood and sweat and who-knew-what-else sinking into it, harder than stone beneath her feet.
The smells were similar—roasting meat, boiling noodles, smoke and the dry husk of herbs—but the sounds totally different. It took her a minute to realize what it was. Nobody spoke English. All around her voices rose and fell, harsh unfamiliar syllables cutting through the faint mist.
Lex stopped, presumably to get their drinks. She waited without moving, feeling like a concubine with her head down and her free hand in her pocket. It was strange to be out in public with Lex. They didn’t spend a lot of time together outdoors. They didn’t spend much time together with their clothes on, in fact.
He nudged her, handed her a steaming cup. Her fingers curled gratefully around it, and when she took a sip heat blossomed in her chest and spread through her body.
“What is this?”
“Doesn’t taste like any tea I’ve had before.”
“Aye, well, ain’t any tea you had before.” He gave her hand a squeeze. “C’mon.”
They threaded their way down the aisle, avoiding animals and running children. Chess felt like she was blind, picking her way through an obstacle course, trying to drink her tea before it went cold. A goat bumped into her, its hoof sharp even through the toe of her boot; her tea splashed onto her hand. “Fuck!”
Lex stopped short, but didn’t reply. Chess slurped cooling tea off her thumb and looked up, ignoring her throbbing toe. She felt stupid enough licking herself clean. She was not about to start dancing around on one foot.
The girl was lovely, smooth tawny skin like Lex’s, straight black hair a shining frame around her face. Her lips curved in a faint smile as she studied Chess up and down. Bitch.
“Hey there, Kee. What you doing this night?” The air went thick around them.
Bitch who made Lex uncomfortable. It was fascinating to watch. Chess hadn’t even known it was possible for him to care enough about anything to get so rattled.
And what did it say about her that she didn’t give a shit? She stood and watched him have a halting conversation with Kee, and all she felt was cold and bored.
The interlude only lasted a minute or so, but Lex didn’t speak again, leading her through the rest of the market by the hand without looking back. Chess kept silent. Let him have his time. Wasn’t like she wanted to talk about the girl.
He’d apparently decided the subject didn’t need discussing, either. “About two block over this way,” he said. “Happened about five days past now? Girl name of Mai. New on the street.”
“Were there any markings on her?”
“Why? Bump’s girl marked?”
She sighed. “Were there any markings on her?”
“Aye. Some etchy thing, what was told me. Like a triangle got hair on it. That what happened Bump’s girl?”
“Where was it? On her body, I mean?”
“Hey, tulip, you ain’t gonna get all lock-lipped on me, is you? Thought you was gonna help me out.”
“I’m here, aren’t I? I’m ju—”
“Aye, you here. But sound to me like maybe you planning on keeping all from me, reporting back to Terrible.”
She stopped short. “Terrible has no idea I’m here, and I somehow doubt he’d be too pleased to hear it, don’t you? I am trying to help you, if you’d answer my questions. I’m trying to figure out what’s going on here, and I’m trying to keep myself from getting fucking killed in the bargain, okay?”
“You fratchy of cause Kee back there?”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake.”
She started to spin away, heading for she didn’t know where, but he grabbed her arm before she could take a step and pulled her close for a kiss, and she let him. Because there was no point in arguing, because it didn’t matter. Because it was cold and he was there. Because she knew he was treating her like shit and she knew she deserved it, and kissing him allowed her to forget why.
“There, now,” he said finally. “I ain’t mean to get you mad, aye? Just on the edgy side, me. You too, guessing.”
She nodded. “Yeah, I guess so.”
“Right. Let’s head on, then. You able to tell me if you figured aught out? Still thinking it’s the Cryin Man, with someperson giving him the help?”
“Yeah, looks like it.” The speed was kicking in now, sending little shivers of pleasure through her body and quickening her step. Her vision cleared. “I didn’t find anything to prove it one way or the other.”
“Hoping maybe we do, like to know what we’re—hmm.” He stopped, looking up the street to their right where a lone girl stood. She wasn’t easily visible, but the intermittent glow from a stuttering streetlight on the corner showed the height of her heels and the purse dangling from her hand. A hooker.
“What? What’s wrong?”
Lex shook his head. “She ain’t supposed to be alone,” he said slowly. “Come on.”
Chess followed him across the rough cobbles in the street. “What do you mean, she’s not supposed to be alone?”
“They working in threes these days, dig? So when one’s busy the other two ain’t alone.”
“Maybe both of the other two got picked up.”
“Nay, ain’t supposed to. We just set the plan, got the word out on yesterday. All of them oughta heard it, can’t see as how she ain’t.”
Chess found herself speeding up, almost pulling him as her skin started to crawl. This didn’t feel right. Maybe it was only the speed making her heart beat so fast, but something just…she couldn’t put her finger on it, but it wasn’t right. They practically ran the last block.
“Why you alone, girl? Where’s your friends?”
“Lona onnna job.” The girl stepped back, her eyes widening. “Barrie just tucked into the alleyway, see, needed to have a private.”
Lex looked at Chess at the exact moment Chess realized what was bothering her. The smell. The herbal smell from the metal box, the herbal smell Terrible said reminded him of Tyson. Barely discernable over the smoke and garbage, but there just the same.
“Fuck. He’s in the alley.” She yanked out her knife and started running, with Lex right beside her.
The streetlight popped and went dark. In the absence of its flickering glare Chess saw the fainter glow of a flame dancing on the alley wall.
Lex passed her and reached it first, almost hitting the corner of the building in his haste to stop. For a second the firelight caught the long, slim blade he kept in his jacket. Then he disappeared into the alley.
Chess started to turn the corner and follow when something—someone—slammed into her. Her fingers scraped the wall, trying to grab hold, but she missed and fell, landing on her left elbow.
The muted thunder of wings overhead like audible death. A girl’s shrieks echoing off the alley walls. Chess sprang up from the sidewalk, ignoring the pain in her arm. The bastard snapped a left and disappeared, but she could still catch him…
She and Lex could catch him. Lex barreled out of the alley, not even pausing to speak. Chess didn’t either. She pointed with her free hand, already breathless and ready to get more so.