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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Indigo

A Novel

Charlaine Harris, Christopher Golden, Kelley Armstrong, Jonathan Maberry, Kat Richardson, Seanan McGuire, Tim Lebbon, Cherie Priest, James A. Moore, and Mark Morris

St. Martin's Press

MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK

1


Nora could have vanished into the shadows, but she didn’t need to. The people crowded around the sidewalk memorial for Maidali Ortiz were so lost in their grief she might as well have been invisible. Normally she had to work a little harder to hide in plain sight, but not today. It made her job much simpler.

The girl’s body had been dumped at the top of the steps that connected Heath and Bailey Avenues, a broad set of concrete stairs with black wrought-iron railings, shaded by lush oak trees. Fall had arrived at last, and a cool breeze rustled the leaves of those trees. During the day, the long descent from Heath to Bailey would be pleasant enough, but at night, with streetlamps that were constantly broken, the stairs would be dark and forbidding.

She wove through the crowd to get a better look at the steps. Stout, middle-aged Dominican women clustered together, keeping mostly to themselves, but the high school and middle school kids weren’t so discriminating. The Irish and Dominican and Cuban kids stood together, girls holding each other, while others added flowers and stuffed animals and framed photos to the memorial that had grown up around the graffiti-covered US mailbox to the left of the stairs.

Nora listened to the quiet weeping and the words of comfort and shock spoken by those around her. Inhaling the scent of the flowers, she glanced around at the homes on either side of the stairs. The small, three-story apartment house with a façade of tan bricks and the squat little single-family row house had only two things in common: each had a small patio in front and bars on all the windows. This was Kingsbridge. While other Bronx neighborhoods were being gentrified, Kingsbridge had been sliding in the other direction for years.

“Did you know her?”

Nora blinked and frowned at the man who’d appeared beside her. Early thirties, sweater pushed up to his elbows, facial scruff, and two-tone brown wing tips. She marked him as a former hipster who missed his glory days, but he was handsome. Odds in Kingsbridge suggested Cuban or Dominican, but she wasn’t going to guess.

“Not at all,” Nora admitted quietly, turning aside to move the conversation away from the gathered mourners. “I’m new to the neighborhood. Just out for a run, to be honest, but it seemed disrespectful not to at least stop and offer up a prayer.”

The former hipster cocked his head, brown eyes warm. “That’s kind of you.”

“It’s a horrible thing.” Nora hugged herself with a shudder. “I know it’s not the safest neighborhood, but I never expected something like this. Three kids in a row.”

Though she had her magenta-streaked hair tied back and was dressed for it, the out-for-a-run story was only a cover. The shudder, however, was real.

“It’s awful, no argument,” he said. “But you just got here. Don’t give up on Kingsbridge yet. There are a lot of good people here, families that go back generations—”

“Yours?”

A news van pulled up at the curb and the crew began to climb out. The former hipster scowled at their presence and nodded to a spot farther up the sidewalk, away from the crowd and the cameraman. A police car rolled silently up the block, and Nora could see a competing news van approaching as well.

“Both sides of the family, yeah. Half–Puerto Rican, half-Albanian, but a hundred percent Kingsbridge.” He offered his hand. “I’m Rafe Bogdani.”

They shook, and she lied, “Shelby Coughlin.”

Rafe commented on her Irish name, how down on Bailey Avenue there were still clusters of Irish families that went way back, but she wasn’t paying much attention now. Church bells were ringing inside the Dominican church at the bottom of the steps, echoing out across the bright autumn morning, and the people at the top of the stairs moved to either side, waiting for the procession they knew was coming.

Nora saw pain in Rafe’s eyes. “You knew her?”

Rafe glanced at her, hesitant. But then he nodded. “I teach history at the high school. I had Maidali in class last year. She was a smart kid, thoughtful in a way so few of them are.”

Nora forced herself not to look too interested. She shifted to get a better view past the crowd and down the stairs, where a procession ascended from the church on Bailey Avenue. “What about the other two?”

“The boy was an eighth grader, I hear. Never met him. Supposedly the other girl, Corinna-something, was from Yonkers. Down staying with her cousins, was it?”

Nora nodded. “Sounds right.”

Corinna’s last name had been Dewar. A fifteen-year-old ginger with more freckles than there were stars in the sky. The eighth grader had been Tomas Soares, a future track star, tall for his age and unafraid of running at night.

Nora and Rafe stood in the midst of the crowd on the Heath Avenue sidewalk, watching as Maidali Ortiz’s parents and grandfather and little brother climbed the stairs. The fall breeze had stilled as if the morning held its breath, and the murmuring on the sidewalk also fell silent. The only sounds were the quiet sobs of the family members and their dearest friends, the people who had been in the church for this morning’s memorial. The police wouldn’t release Maidali’s body yet, but the family hadn’t wanted to wait any longer to offer up prayers, both in the girl’s memory and in search of some comfort. Some small bit of grace that might alleviate the screaming pain in their hearts.

Nora wondered if they had found even a sliver of that grace, of peace. She hoped so, but from the looks on their faces as they were confronted by the neighbors and spectators waiting, she doubted it.

“How could someone do that to a child?” Rafe whispered.

She didn’t have to ask what he meant. Nora had seen a couple of the crime-scene photos thanks to her police contacts. Maidali had been mutilated, her face and body marked with a knife, her eyes removed postmortem. The girl had been murdered elsewhere, her body dumped down the steps sometime between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. on Wednesday morning. Whoever had killed Maidali had returned her to her neighborhood, dumped her seven blocks from her house, like some car thief who’d gone for a joyride and then left the car nearby in apology.

Not an apology, Nora thought. They were done with her. Tossed her back where she’d come from.

The idea made her clench her fists. Whoever had killed Maidali had to be stopped before doing it again. The police might find the killer, but if they didn’t …

Nora hadn’t yet been able to get her hands on the autopsy reports for Corinna Dewar and Tomas Soares—she had no informants in the Fiftieth Precinct—but Maidali’s killing had made the murders a serial crime, which bumped the whole thing up the ladder. The entire city was paying attention now. Nora expected to get access to the complete file eventually, but today it had been important for her just to be here, to get a feeling for the crimes.

Nora stuffed her hands into the pockets of her fitted hoodie and made herself small, hoping to draw as little attention as possible. Some of the relatives of the first two victims were on the stairs as well, and she had already spoken to several of them while working on the larger story. At thirty-one, she had already paid her dues as a journalist, both in print and digital media. Early on, she had written about her generation and its place in American culture, about social justice and modern media, and occasionally about New York City itself. Over time, New York took over, with Nora focusing more and more on crime and corruption. For the past two years she’d worked as an investigative reporter at NYChronicle, the premier urban-news source in the region, and one with a global readership.

The job was perfect for her for other reasons also, but those were after-dark reasons, not thoughts for the bright of day.

The priest reached the top of the stairs just as Maidali’s mother saw the sprawl of flowers and mementos and photographs that had been placed around the graffitied mailbox. Somehow the graffiti added to the beauty and the pain of the memorial. Lit candles burned in tall glass cylinders, their flames dancing as the late-September breeze kicked up again.

The dead girl’s parents held hands and lowered their heads. The two news teams crowded in at the edges of the mourning circle, cameras rolling. Some of the spectators took out their phones, and only then did Nora do the same. Rafe frowned at her, a ripple of distaste crossing his features, but she forced herself to ignore him, taking thirty seconds of video and then snapping a few quick photos of Maidali’s little brother—You don’t know his name, Nora … you should know his name—kneeling by the mailbox and picking up one of the flowers there. A white-and-purple lily, its head fat and wilting.

The past year had seen a growing concern about children going missing in New York. Statistics suggested a certain percentage of them were runaways—some kids’ day-to-day nightmares were too dark, or dreams were too big, and they wanted to find their own corner of the sky. But every law enforcement source she’d spoken to off the record had indicated that the past few years had seen a slow but steady rise in these numbers that could not be attributed to runaways. The other options were abduction and murder. Her ex-colleague, ex-boyfriend, and current friend-with-benefits, Sam Loh, had been working on an in-depth series on human trafficking in the northeastern United States, and how traffickers—so long unpunished for the thousands upon thousands of immigrants they’d tricked or stolen and sold into slavery—were now feeling bulletproof and had been expanding their business, snatching children who were sure to be missed. Children the police were going to make a real effort to find.

Those kids never came back.

As Nora stood and let the grief of Maidali Ortiz’s family wash over her, she wondered if it would have been better if Maidali had never been found. Was it better to have a missing child, one you could imagine might in time have escaped harm, might have found a way back into the sunlight … or better to know for certain that the baby you’d held swaddled in your arms, the one whose every fever had filled you with fear, the one whose laughter had filled your heart to bursting … was it better to know that child was dead?

God help her, she thought it might be. It was the ugliest question, and the most hideous answer, that had ever planted roots in her mind.

Nora snapped several more photos with her phone, pictures of the people gathered in that mourning circle, even a few shots of the news teams that filmed the scene. She avoided taking a shot of Rafe, mostly because of the guilt she felt pinking her cheeks, knowing he must think her just another vulture.

The priest cleared his throat, sighing heavily before he launched into a prayer. Nora had thought Maidali’s father might say something to those who had come out to honor the memory of his daughter, but she could see the pain in his eyes and realized that he barely registered the presence of others.

Rafe lowered his head while also shifting slightly away from her. She saw his disapproval, the wrinkle of his brow, and she wanted to speak to him—tell him she wasn’t as heartless as he thought, that her photos weren’t gruesome souvenirs but a vital part of telling Maidali’s story. The feeling frustrated her, that need to apologize for who she was and what she did, and she felt herself drawing away from him, too. At least she wasn’t crowding the dead girl’s family with a TV camera, van parked at wrong angles against the curb, turning their daughter’s murder into a ratings grab, with a warning that if you didn’t watch their report on the killings, the same thing might happen to your child. The media didn’t like to do stories about human trafficking because those stories never had an ending. Murder, though, was an ending of its own. Even without answers to the who and why of it, people could understand mourning. But a missing child … those stories haunted. Lingered. The public didn’t like those stories.

The priest finished his prayer. He put a hand on the father’s shoulder and faced the crowd, offering a blessing to them for their support of the Ortiz family in their time of need. The boy handed the mother his wilting lily and she took it, eyes wide with such pain that she must have slipped into a world of numb incomprehension.

Nora had wanted to blend. To get the story from inside the sorrow, not merely as an outside observer. Now she wished she were anywhere else.

Rafe gave her another disapproving glance, and she moved away from him even farther, barely even aware of the priest’s intonations. Circling behind Rafe and the rest of the onlookers, she moved toward the stairs. She had left her car down on Bailey Avenue, thinking she’d return to it when the family was gone and the crowd had mostly dispersed. Now she did not want to wait. She had the information and the photos. The one thing she didn’t have was the only thing that mattered—answers.

The sun had shifted in the sky, moving the shadow of the house to the top of the stairs so that she could not avoid passing through it. Five steps from the summit, adjacent with the first lamppost, she entered the shadow and faltered, sucking in a tremulous breath. Her limbs felt leaden and cold, and a sharp pain stabbed at her eyes. A dreadful stink washed over her, along with a wave of nausea.

Just go, she told herself, and staggered down two or three more steps.

Pain lanced through her skull again, and her knees felt weak. The shadow around her seemed to breathe with malice. Angrily, she pushed it back, casting the shadow away so that it clung to the wall of the house and left the stairs in full sunlight for an eye blink before she allowed the shade to return to normal.

The shadows were hers.

She refused to fear them.

* * *

The block of Seventy-Fourth Street between Columbus and Amsterdam was lost in time. The sidewalks were broken and uneven and interrupted at regular intervals by old trees whose branches created a canopy over the street, their leaves rustling pleasantly three seasons a year. Cars parked on either side narrowed the one-way street to the bare minimum needed for vehicles to pass. Despite its location in a busy part of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, that block tended toward a kind of quiet much of the city never achieved. Nora always imagined that her little block had changed hardly at all in the past half century. Only the cars gave it away.

She lived in a third-floor studio in a building that looked even narrower than the street. Three flights of stairs kept her in decent shape, but she nearly always stumbled on the way to her floor, as if the stairs conspired against her, with steps taking turns being the one that unaccountably grew in height on a given day. An extra inch or so, just enough to catch the toe of a shoe. The banister had saved her many bruised shins.

The original advertisement for the apartment had described it as a “loft,” but she’d quickly discovered that this was code for “studio so small that you’ll put your mattress in a loft space not much bigger than the top shelf of a closet.” Still, for all the time that she spent at home, the studio suited her needs well enough. A bathroom, a tiny galley kitchen, a closet, and a high-ceilinged living room complete with a ladder that let her climb up to the shelf above the kitchen. Her mattress smelled like food 24-7. A tiny space, but enough room for Nora and her three cats.

Kelso, Red, and Hyde had been named after her three favorite characters from That 70’s Show, which turned out to have been a generous gesture on her part because the cats were assholes.

Nora told anyone who would listen, My cats are assholes. But at least they’re my Assholes.

She regretted it every time, but somehow she couldn’t stop herself from saying it.

Just after eight o’clock that night she sat on her sofa, a thirdhand piece of furniture whose original color was lost to history and its fabric threaded through with cat hair that the vacuum cleaner never drew out.

“I hate you little shits,” she told Kelso.

He arched his back and sneered down his nose before marching away.

Hyde jumped onto the sofa, walked onto her lap as if he’d barely noticed her, then curled into her lap. He knew a lie when he heard it.

Nora preferred dogs, but she spent too much time out of the apartment to be a dog owner. In truth, she disliked other people’s cats and other people’s cats disliked her, but she loved her three Assholes.

Sometimes, though, they watched her with more than typical feline interest. On early mornings when she stumbled out of bed or on exhausted late nights when she fell asleep watching television, she would mutter accusations that the three of them were hatching some sinister plot. Joking, mostly.

Hyde purred as she stroked his fur.

On her TV screen, Jason Statham used his fists and a sharp knife to avoid being killed by a trio of grim men with guns. Nora had been channel surfing when she stopped at the sight of Statham’s chiseled features. She had no idea what the movie might be, but it didn’t matter. After a full day at work, she needed to unwind with something that did not demand much of her attention.

One thing she refused to do was watch the news. She’d spent the entire day writing about dead kids and grieving parents, with tangents into New York City politics and various criticisms of the police investigation into the Kingsbridge murders.

She’d had enough of reality.

A quick rap at her door brought Nora off the sofa. She dumped Hyde from her lap and hurried to answer the knock. The deliveryman from the Golden Lotus stood in the hall with a fat brown paper bag, redolent with the smell of Chinese food. Nora’s stomach growled as she quickly signed the credit-card slip, adding a nice tip as she thanked the man.

Breathing in the delicious aromas from the bag, she began to close her door only to be interrupted by another loud knock. Nora turned to find Shelby Coughlin waiting on her threshold.

“I saw the delivery guy!” Shelby said happily, slipping inside. “So hungry!”

“Me, too.” Nora closed the door. “Ravenous.”

“You’d better have remembered the beer!”

“I acquired the beer as instructed, Your Majesty,” Nora said archly.

“Well done, lowly creature,” Shelby replied, playing along. “Although I still object to the delivery thing. The whole point of going to the Lotus for Chinese food is that they make it fresh. If we get it delivered—”

“Y’know, you keep using that word, but I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

Shelby smiled as Nora carried the brown bag into the galley kitchen. “Which word is that, Inigo Montoya?”

“We.”

“Yes, okay, you have been buying the Chinese food lately, and I’m deeply grateful. But it’s practically on your way home, right?”

Nora sighed. “Fine. Next week, I promise I will go and pick it up myself. But you are bringing the beer.”

Shelby grinned. “You are my hero. Really.”

“You’re lucky you’re my favorite person.”

“Am I really your favorite person?”

Nora opened the bag of Chinese food. “Absolutely. If you liked cats, I would give you all of mine.”

Shelby tied her long red-and-gold mane back with an elastic and took plates down from Nora’s cabinet. “You hate your cats,” Shelby said drily. “I don’t hate cats, but I don’t want your cats.”

They put the food out on the coffee table and then did battle with the cats to keep them away from the spread. Shelby turned off the TV and opened Nora’s laptop, choosing the eighties alt-rock channel that Shelby herself had set up on Pandora radio. They’d known each other less than eighteen months, but the girl from Atlanta had been making herself at home since day one. Every time, Nora surprised herself by finding it endearing instead of intrusive. If anyone else behaved as presumptuously in her home as Shelby did, Nora would never stand for it, but whenever Shelby swept into the apartment and took over Nora’s life, it never seemed to be selfish.

“I was watching that,” Nora said, mostly because she felt that she should issue some sort of protest.

“Not really.” Shelby settled beside Nora on the sofa and nudged Red away from the edge of the coffee table. “You just like having the TV for company, and now you’ve got actual company, not to mention food and beer and music.”

Nora wanted to argue, but she couldn’t fight the truth. Instead, she ate her kung pao shrimp and listened to Shelby detail every hour of her day, from the aggravating old-school condescension of her boss at the fashion-design company where she worked, to the constant efforts of her ex-boyfriend to get back into her good graces. Twenty-five-year-old Shelby had too much ambition to let either man get in her way, but somehow she couldn’t help letting them under her skin.

They shared their frustrations over the building’s unreliable hot-water heater and the landlord’s delays in getting it repaired. Shelby lived on the top floor—the fifth—and had taken to showering right before bed, when the hot water was less likely to run out so quickly. But as Nora chimed in, she found her friend studying her a little more intently than usual and stopped midsentence.

“What?”

“I read your piece about the girl’s memorial today. You doing all right?”

Nora dished some more rice onto her plate, letting it soak up some of the spicy kung pao sauce. She picked up her beer bottle and held it. “I’ll be okay when they catch whoever’s doing it.”

Shelby took a swig of her own beer and looked around the room. “You’ve got a lot of lights on in here. All the lights, really. I noticed it right off, but didn’t want to ask.”

“And now that you’ve had half a beer, you’re ready to ask?”

“Something like that.”

Nora glanced around and saw that Shelby was right. Without even realizing it, as night had fallen, Nora had turned on every light in the apartment, including the little buzzing fluorescent bar above the kitchen sink and the string of white Christmas lights that stayed stapled above her picture window year-round.

“Just keeping the darkness at bay, I guess.”

“Well then, I’m glad I’m here.”

“Me, too.” Nora was tempted to say more, but how could she explain without revealing at least some of her secrets? If she tried, she knew she’d end up spilling the whole story. She trusted Shelby, but the woman was so intent on helping that Nora feared what she might do with the truth. Eventually, it would get her hurt.

Nora couldn’t have that, so she kept her concerns to herself.

She didn’t explain that the shadows were starting to worry her, that whenever she wasn’t exerting her control over them, she could not escape the feeling that they bore her some profound ill will.

A buzzing sound made her jump, and she felt foolish when she realized it was only the vibration of her cell against the coffee table. Swallowing a mouthful of food, she reached for the phone. Shelby and the cats gave her an array of reproachful looks, but she glanced at the screen and saw that it was Rajitha Perera, her editor at NYChronicle.

“Sorry,” she mumbled, swiping her thumb across the screen to answer. “Hey, Raj. What’s news?”

Nora listened, feeling the blood drain from her face as she turned toward Shelby. When the call ended, Nora sat for a few seconds with the phone in her hand, staring at its screen as if the phone itself had upset her.

“Hey.” Shelby nudged Nora’s knee. “What’s happening? What did she want?”

Sadness had welled up inside Nora, but now anger rose to replace it, burning all the sorrow out of her. Despite all the lights in the apartment she could feel the shadows pulsing, reacting to her emotions, ready to lash out at her command.

“They found another one. A thirteen-year-old girl, six blocks from the stairs where the bastard dumped Maidali.”

“Oh, no,” Shelby said quietly. She exhaled, and all of the bright humor and enthusiasm left her with that one breath. “You’ve got to go. Cover the story.”

Nora stood, appetite forgotten. “Yeah.”

But the time had come to stop worrying about covering the story. Whatever it took, she intended to bring the story to an end.

* * *

Outside in the dark, she wasn’t Nora anymore.

Night had fallen on her little block of Seventy-Fourth Street. The leaves still rustled overhead, but without the daylight the sound might not have been the wind at all. The higher branches might have been infested with inhuman things with sharp teeth, the rustling the sound of their moving lower or simply shuddering with the nearness of prey. She had faced such things before, so she knew all too well that such thoughts were not paranoia but wisdom.

The possibility did not frighten her. Not this other woman, the one Nora became when she allowed herself to melt into the blue-black shadows. Indigo, she called herself then. Indigo, now.

Three doors down from her apartment, in a deep patch of shadow where the wan yellow streetlights could not reach, she inhaled a cleansing breath and reached out her hands to summon the darkness. It wrapped itself around her, cleaving to her body and flowing outward, a cloak of shadows. To the naked eye it would have looked like an actual cloak, woven of fabric the color of night. Her face was hidden by a hood, and the darkness moved to keep her features obscured.

With a gesture she summoned the shadows closer and fed them so they blotted out all the light around her and wrapped her in a dusky cocoon. An image formed in her mind, a memory from that morning—the stairs where Maidali’s body had been found, where the streetlamps were always broken. She reached out into the shadows and then stepped through …

… and emerged on that staircase in Kingsbridge.

A kid in a red hoodie dodged to his left on the way down the steps, unconsciously avoiding the deeper patch that had gathered around Indigo. She watched him go by, saw him shudder as he felt her presence without ever peering into the depths of her shadows. He hurried down toward Bailey Avenue as if he feared the darkness might follow.

Ascending to the top of the stairs, she stared for a moment at the graffitied mailbox and the detritus of mourning that still lay piled around its feet. All that remained of Maidali Ortiz were memories. The same could be said of Corinna Dewar and Tomas Soares, and the child who had been found dead in Kingsbridge tonight. The desire to find the killer felt a little like vengeance, but Indigo knew she could do nothing for Tomas or Corinna or Maidali. What she did now, she did for the child who would otherwise be next.

Rajitha had given her an address, and now she glanced around, refreshing her memory. Far up the road a white box truck sat at the curb, silent and abandoned. The shape of the truck blocked out the illumination of the streetlight behind it, throwing a strange geometry of shadow onto the pavement. With merely a thought she stepped from one patch to the next, flowed from the small shadow beside the mailbox to the one cast by that truck, a block and a half away.

In the same fashion she continued through the neighborhood, slipping from gloom to gloom, until she emerged in a patch of airless black in the service alley behind an elementary school. Grass grew up through cracks in the pavement, and the Dumpster was rimmed with rust. Blue lights flashed at either end of the alley, throwing pale ghosts against the back wall of the school and the high fence behind it. The police cars were silent, the officers guarding the crime scene just waiting by their vehicles, and Indigo knew that the detectives had not yet arrived. Except for her, only two people were in the alley, and one of them was dead.

A single police officer had been posted to guard this new body until the detectives and the crime-scene techs arrived. Tall and broad-shouldered, he must have been in his midtwenties but had a sweetness to his face that made him look younger. A good cop, though, or the others on-site would not have posted him here. They trusted that he was smart enough not to contaminate the scene by touching anything he shouldn’t.

The dead girl lay on her side, wrapped in a blanket. One arm was flung over her head as if she’d just gone to sleep in the alley behind the school. Thirteen years old, according to Raj, which must mean that the police had already identified her. Or had Raj made assumptions? The detectives hadn’t even arrived yet, but if a girl of this age and description had been reported missing, both the cops and Raj might have leaped to conclusions.

Nora needed a closer look.

Indigo stepped out from behind the Dumpster, some of the shadows trailing after her.

“What’s your name?” she asked quietly.

The big, baby-faced cop whipped around. His hand dropped to the butt of his pistol, but he froze when he saw her.

“Holy shit,” he whispered.

“You know who I am.” It wasn’t a question.

The cop exhaled, glanced toward the blue lights at the nearest end of the service alley—gauging how long it would take his fellow officers to back him up if he shouted for them. His chest rose and fell but the hand resting on the butt of his gun did not tremble.

“Hey,” she prodded. “Officer…”

“I know who you are.” He shifted his head in an attempt to get a look at her face beneath the hood, unaware that the shadows wouldn’t allow it. “I thought you were just a story.”

“Now you know better. What’s your name?”

“Pacheco.”

“Officer Pacheco, I need to take a closer look at the girl.”

The cop stiffened. His grip settled more firmly on his sidearm. “We’re supposed to secure the crime scene. You’re going to want to step away now. Anything you want to know, you can—”

She took a step toward him. “I’m on your side, Officer.”

Finally, he drew his gun and held it down by his side. “Ma’am, you need to back the hell up right—”

Indigo swept the deeper shadows out from behind her, and the darkness washed over Pacheco like a wave. All light fled the patch of alley around them, leaving Indigo, the cop, and the dead girl in a circle of total darkness about twenty feet in diameter.

Pacheco shouted for help, terror in his voice and etched on his features. He spun around in a panic, aiming his gun at nothing, rendered virtually blind. But Indigo could see perfectly well. She slid toward him and wrapped a hand around his wrist. He pulled the trigger, fired into the impossible dark. The sound was thickly muffled, as if they were underwater instead of lost in shadow.

“I’m on your side,” she said again, ripping the gun from his hand and tossing it along the alley. It skittered out of the pool of darkness.

Officer Pacheco dropped to his hands and knees, cursing her as he scrabbled around in the dark for his weapon. He shouted for backup again, but the shadows swallowed his voice and returned it in echoes.

Indigo knelt by the body of the dead girl. Thirteen years old, if Raj had been right, but she looked younger. A mess of blond hair haloed around her head, veiling part of her face, but the blanket was what interested Indigo the most. None of the police statements had mentioned the dead children being in any state of undress, but she’d reported on enough crimes to know that the police routinely held back vital details from the public. If a suspect knew something that the detectives had kept out of the media, it could indicate guilt, or at least complicity.

A wave of unease rushed through her. She reached out and gripped the edge of the blanket. Distant shouts penetrated the gloom as Pacheco’s fellow officers began to respond, his shouts not quite muffled enough to keep them from hearing.

She drew the blanket back and her heart sank. Sorrow and guilt warred inside her, and then were obliterated by fury.

The girl’s eyes had been removed, yes, but her body had suffered other mutilations. Her chest had been cut open, ribs exposed. On her arms and legs, and most explicitly on her abdomen, her killers had carved arcane symbols that Indigo recognized immediately. Ritual markings.

“Oh, you bastards,” she whispered.

The Children of Phonos had murdered four children. She had dealt with members of the cult several times. She had fought them, exposed individuals, even taken lives, but she had always stopped short of simply destroying them all. It would have felt like murder, and she had drawn the line. Now she had to live with the knowledge that if she had crossed that line, four children might still be alive.

This didn’t explain all of the other missing kids in New York, but now she knew what had happened to these four. Horror. Human sacrifice.

The police were shouting and she felt them trying to enter her sphere of darkness. Numb with anger and sick inside, she stood and walked back toward the Dumpster. Pacheco cried out in relief as the shadows withdrew and he could see again at last. It was the last thing Indigo heard before she slid fully into the shadows between shadows …

… and stepped out again into that darkness just a few doors down from her apartment.

Over on Columbus Avenue, a car went by with music blaring through open windows. A chilly autumn wind caressed her and a few leaves danced along the sidewalk at her feet, and then she turned and vomited kung pao shrimp onto the concrete.

Unsteady on her feet, Nora Hesper shed the cloak of shadows and started back to her apartment, knowing she could never again hesitate. She had drawn the line, but now all the lines had been erased.


Copyright © 2017 by Charlaine Harris, Christopher Golden, Kelley Armstrong, Jonathan Maberry, Kat Richardson, Seanan McGuire, Tim Lebbon, Cherie Priest, James A. Moore, Mark Morris