Trigger Warning: Smoking, Violence, Some Cursing, Mythical Creatures, Noir
defenestrate - to throw someone out of a window (Definitions from Oxford Languages)
The darkness gets into everything here on the south side. Smoke from my cancer-stick winds its way up into my nose and I stifle the urge to sneeze, admiring my own reflection. A thirty-two year old with clean-cut hair left over from the Marine Corps, same place I got the habit, stares back at me. I’m going to pay some day for those cancer-sticks, but in the world in which I live, dying of cancer would be a privilege.
For one thing, it’s not my window.
And it’s not my body splayed out on the floor behind me. The smoke from my cigarette catches some hidden breeze and flips into my eye bringing with it a burning sensation that makes both eyes water. Now the reflection is crying and I use my fag-free arm to wipe my face.
Someone went through this window.
Or so I’m told. The glass lays spread across the shag carpet before me, carpet that got lost somewhere in the seventies while the rest of the house was taken over by an eighties bulldozer. A poster of ALF with his bad-combover-styled hair stares back at me, next to a poster of Max Headroom. He laughs at me as I step toward the opening, bits of glass crunching beneath my feet like popcorn.
All this glass should be outside if a person had been properly thrown through a window.
I take a closer look, and notice bloody fingerprints on the glass. Botched job alright. Any two-bit cop would have known this was a murder and not a … whatever reason they gave for police not coming to this neighborhood. There, below the window, I see her. The dame has thick eyelashes and legs jutting out of a skin-tight black dress. At first, I’m confused. The woman looks exactly like the corpse on the ….
I turn. Gone. It’s evaporated into the night somehow, and I didn’t hear a thing. Too focused on the window. No footprints, no nothing. I push closer to the aperture for a better view and can see a thin trail of red down the back of her dress. That’s her, yeah. But what’s up with corpses walking around now?
I dart over the glass, glad to be wearing thick-soled shoes and even then bringing a few straggling glass-needles me out of the overpriced and underwhelming apartment and into the sterile hallway.
Nothing there. No footprints etched in blood, no drips, no nothing.
I sprint to the elevator and rapidly jab at the down button, and only when I stop do I notice my fingertip turning red. Blood caked into the button. I push through the door before it’s fully open and tap the close button as rapidly as I had the down button. It treats me with the same arrogant disgust, refusing to comply.
By the time the elevator ejects me into the lobby and I make my way out through the front door, there’s nobody there any longer. I mean nobody. The strange woman is gone, and so are all the cars that had been waiting by the light, thwarted by illumination. But that means that they’d been crossing while she was there, so she must be on the side street still, thwarted by moving cars.
I give chase, quickly pushing my fast walk into a run and round the corner of the building in time to see….
It’s surreal. Cars are piled onto and into other cars, some stacked upside down upon others. And down past the sculpture, complete with twisted and broken drivers stuck in time, walks the woman. But she must not be a woman, and that fact is going to cost extra if I live to ask for it. If she’s what I think she is, then fifty-thousand dollars won’t be enough to finish. Hell, if she’s what I think she is, then I might just give the money back. Now on her, my animated corpse, who didn’t seem in too much of a hurry, I fall back. I raise a cigarette to my lips and light it with one quick motion.
She reaches me in less than a second, less time than it takes to think about whether to say “mississippi” or “one-thousand” in between counts. She smiles, and red drips down her chin, and I know it is way too late to give the money back.
“Why do I feel like you’re following me?”
“Maybe because I am.”
She already made me, so there’s no point in lying about it. I take a drag as my fingers shake and pummel the perfect line of smoke into a stuttering flock of birds. “Or maybe I ain’t.” I follow with that just in case.
“You know what I am?”
Not sure if I should, but I nod. Lamian. She’s one of the old race, the ones who live for centuries and drink human blood and, apparently, kill motorists by the droves. Of course I know, how could anyone not know having seen what she did to an intersection’s worth of cars and drivers.
“Then why are you following me?”
I shrug. Her kind kill whatever they want. It won’t matter to her if I tell her or not - not really. The end result is the same: me dead or dying, and quite possibly dismembered in the process. If I’m going to die anyway, though, I’d just as soon know what happened in that room.
“Someone went into that window,” I said. “And someone else came out, right?”
She stares at me like I’m lunch, cocking her head and imagining me on a sandwich or in a nice soup. I wonder whether I was fully clothed in her imaginings, but know better than to ask. This time. What I don’t expect are her eyes filling with tears and a hand wiping away the blood from her face, exposing her slender fangs in the process as her lips flex under the movement.
“This wasn’t me. I don’t know how I got in that room at all.”
I shake my head. For some reason, she was flustered. I could tell because two perfect breasts rise and fall rapidly, and her eyes won’t stay in one place, like she’s scanning the horizon looking for something. I’m less confused about what happened now that I know what she is.
“That part’s easy. What was he - an old boyfriend? And you happen to be flying by, stalking him probably like your kind does, when you see him in there with his new girlfriend. Rage settles in, but you know better than to act right away. You bide your time, wait for his girl to leave, and then swing through the window. He struggles as though he has a chance, but we both know how that ends.”
I briefly consider whether I can get her in for questioning, but decide that if I get through this encounter in one piece, I’ll hand this case over to the Advance Crimes Unit. They’ve got some of these on the payroll, unlike my one-man detective agency. (That’s not fair - Mary “man’s” the desk most days she’s not pissed off at me for something). That part’s academic, though, and this woman walks toward me like a predator.
“Asher didn’t have a girlfriend, and I wasn’t stalking him.”
That throws me. If he didn’t have a girl, who was that tall blonde thing that wafted into my office just this morning.
“Sure he does. Cozbi Kemper, about 5’2”, wealthy from the look of the amount of money she gave me - could afford that apartment anyway.”
The woman smirks and I can’t tell if her lips are red from blood or lipstick, but whichever it is, the corners draw up into a slight smile.
“Lying Serf? You’re a bright one.” Her look went pouty and I felt stupid not knowing that ‘cozbi’ meant ‘liar’. We can’t all know everything though. Then she continued. “Are you going to offer a lady a cigarette?”
Charmed by the virtue of still being alive, I dutifully pull out my pack and slide a stick her way. She accepts and stands patiently while I light.
“Didn’t know your kind smoke,” I tell her. Shouldn’t be too surprised though. If you don’t die, why would you care about a few cigarettes. I finish lighting and she takes a long, slow drag.
“Passes the time. Especially when company is being tedious.”
I guess she means me. Sighing, I drop the lighter into my pocket and nudge backwards with my head.
“Next thing you’ll tell me is that wasn’t you either. Those cars weren’t like that a minute ago.”
“Not me. Mister…”
“Slade. Thomas Slade, private investigator. Someone hired me to look into this before your man’s body was even cold. I walk in, and find you on the floor, and a bloody mess. And now here you are - moments later, looking like -“
I briefly scan her from top to bottom and I don’t see any glass. Save the thin line on her back, no blood either. I’m starting to believe her.
“-like you just walked out of a magazine,” I finish.
“And you think a girl looks like this after crashing through a window, defenestrating her former lover, and playing Tetris with a bunch of cars?”
“Who was she then. You have to know - that blonde chick. What was her name?”
For a second, I thought I’d stumped her, but then I realized she was only thinking as she rose her hand to her chin, touched it, and gave up the hand again to her side.
“Cassidy, perhaps. Did she wear a blue dress with a veil and pointy high-heeled shoes?”
“You do know her.”
“That’s his daughter.”
“But he didn’t look that old.”
“How old do I look, Mr. Slade?”
Not a day over thirty and my body finds the state of hers very… impressive.
“He was one of you?”
Now I’m confused. The man died by being chucked through a long window and falling to his death among the cars below. Why didn’t he fly away? Then it hit me.
“Come with me,” I tell her, forgetting my place in my excitement to prove myself, but she doesn’t seem to mind. We forget about the cars for a moment - but we’ll have to have that conversation when the police show up (if we’re dumb enough to stick around). I believe her. It wasn’t unusual for her kind to get their jollies through random acts of mass cruelty. The cars could have been someone else.
Back in the apartment, I move to the bottle of port on the floor where it lay. Cracking it open I take a whiff, but it doesn’t smell unusual. I guess if it did, she wouldn’t have helped herself to a glass. Casing the room again, I see it. A third glass, the one that she’d been using, rolled back under the sofa.
“The wine,” I repeat. Laced with dead-man’s blood, if I have to guess - and that’s what I’m paid for. He didn’t die from the fall. He died because he was poisoned and the fall was to cover it up. “You think it was his daughter?”
“She was a bit of a bitch.”
Only then do I notice that she’d brought her cigarette in through the lobby, having about as much respect for the no-smoking signs as I do. Now that I know he was Lamian too, I had to ask the next question.
“His real daughter?”
The woman nodded.
“So she was one of you too?”
Again, she nodded, and I wonder how much else Cassidy hadn’t told me, and I miss Mary and am pissed at myself for offending her. If she’d been at the desk when Cassidy walked in, I’m sure she would have gotten more, good information. A beautiful dame walks into my office, and I’m taken to the cleaners. Which made me wonder if that’s what was happening now? I realize I never asked for her name.
“What’s your name?”
“I don’t have a name, Mr. Slade. And it wouldn’t help anyway. I told you, I’m not involved here. I came to visit my friend, and helped myself to his wine to steady my nerves.”
“Your kind don’t get nerves.”
“Of course we do, your kind just can’t tell. We don’t advertise our feelings the way that you do.”
My investigation is changing. Now I have two suspects, both Lamian and both deadly.
I see it almost as a glimmer just over her shoulder.
Should have thought about the possibility, but I didn’t. A long, serpentine figure rises against the background of stars and halogen lights and desparation.
We’re both at the window now, and she’s close enough that I can smell her lavender perfume and if I’m not mistaken flop-sweat. It’s only a shadow still, but it’s enough to strike fear into my heart and put a good foot between me and my companion.
The woman beside me is human-female enough to trigger all of my “sensitivities”, but that snake-like shadow outside, stretching taller than three cars stacked atop each other, lurks somewhere within her elegant feminine botice. As tight as it is, I don’t know where she would hide something like that. But my guess - if it wasn’t her who stacked the cars, and it wasn’t her who killed her husband, both of which I now believe, then I’m about to find out how that works.
She sprang through the open window, dress ripping as she parted her legs to land still on a surfaced that would have bounced me like a basketball. The shadow approached even more quickly, as though it sensed the impending combat and lusted for it. Rounding the corner was the top of the woman named Cassidy, and the pieces started to come together.
I was supposed to uncover that a Lamian did this- that was what the pay was for and the over-staged crime scene. Shattered glass usually lingers around the window, not halfway across the floor to the door. After that, I was supposed to discover that our dead friend had a lover, a lover who turned out to be …whatever her name was. I make a mental note to actually ask her and demand a response if she lives. But there was another problem with that - the woman with no name wasn’t Asher’s girlfriend, according to her. What’s the likelihood that we would ever have found a Lamian who didn’t want to be found anyway?
No that isn’t it.
Then what is it? I turn my attention to the window to see that what’s-her-name changed and now rising up thirty feet into the air on a black, slick wurm body. Her human torso soars, botice in-tact, flying around in the air like a sock puppet airplane.
And here I am watching this clash of the titans, when a sick thought churns it’s way through my brain like a drill bit. This is clan ownership.
The Lamians are so old that they still operate in clans. Asher was the head, and now the battle is between Asher’s daughter and his … sister? That seemed right. Sister. I was hired for two reasons. The first was to flush black-snake-woman out into the open, and the second was to bear witness, because there always had to be a witness - an observer who can attest to the fairness of the fight, and to vouch for the winner. I have no idea if both will die here, one, or neither. But if neither do, then I’ll be the only person who sees who actually wins.
And either way, I piss off one Lamian and whoever she happens to align with. There’s no way to get out of it.
Except to not be here when it ends. I hear a blood-curdling scream echo down the empty streets - sounds like no-name is winning.
Fine by me.
I turn and make my way down the alleyway. I’ll never see a dime of the rest of that money anyhow, I guess. Lighting a lonely cigarette, I listen to Cassidy’s next scream, only to hear it muffled short by a dull crunching noise. No need to look back to see what that was.