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Divine Misdemeanors (Merry Gentry #8)(10)

By:Laurell K. Hamilton

“Four, five. I’m not sure.” She hid her face against Robert’s neck. Her thin shoulders began to shake, and we realized she was crying again.
All we’d learned so far was that they’d been male elf wannabes complete with long hair and ear implants. There were anywhere between four and six of them, though there could have been more. Bittersweet was only certain of four, or more. She was very fuzzy on time, because most fey, especially ones who still do their original nature-oriented jobs, use light, not clocks, to judge time.
Robert got the demi-fey to eat a little more cake. We’d already explained to the detectives why the sweets were important. Oh, and why were we still here? When we’d gotten up to leave, Bittersweet had gotten hysterical again. She seemed convinced that without the princess and royal guards to make the human police behave, they would drag her off to the police station and all that metal and technology, and they would kill her by accident. 
I’d tried to vouch for Lucy being one of the good guys, but Bittersweet had lost someone she loved to just such an accident decades ago when she and he first came out to Los Angeles. I guess if I’d lost one of my loves to police carelessness, I might have trouble trusting too.
Lucy tried again, “Can you describe the wannabes who ran down the hill?”
Bittersweet peeked out with frosting smeared on her tiny mouth. It was very innocent, very victim-looking, yet I knew that most demi-fey would take fresh blood over sweets.
“Everyone is tall to me, so they were tall,” she said in that little piping voice. It was not the voice that had screamed at us. She was playing the humans. It might be suspicious, or it might simply be habit, camouflage so the big people didn’t hurt her.
“What color was their hair?” Lucy asked.
“One was black as night, one was yellow like maple leaves before they fall, one was paler yellow like roses when they fade from the sun, one had hair like leaves when they’ve fallen and lost all color save brown, though it’s the brown after a rain.”
We all waited, but she went back to the cake that Robert held up for her.
“What were they wearing, Bittersweet?”
“Plastic,” she said, at last.
“What do you mean, ‘plastic’?” Lucy asked.
“Clear plastic like you wrap leftover food in.”
“You mean they wore plastic wrap?”
She shook her head. “They had plastic over their hair and clothes, and their hands.”
I watched Lucy and her partner both fight not to give away the fact that the news excited them. This bit of description must help explain something at the crime scene, which gave credence to Bittersweet’s statement. “What color was the plastic?”
I sipped my tea and tried not to draw attention to myself. Frost, Doyle, and I were here because Bittersweet trusted us to keep her out of the clutches of the human police. She trusted as most of the lesser fey did that the nobles of her court would be noble. We would try. Lucy had insisted that Doyle sit on the couch with me rather than looming over them. So I sat on the couch between the two of them. Frost had even moved from the couch arm to the actual couch, so he wouldn’t loom either.
“It had no color,” Bittersweet said, and whispered something in Robert’s ear. He reached carefully to bring the china teacup up so she could drink from it. It was large enough for her to bathe in.
“Do you mean,” asked Lucy, “that it was colorless?”
“That is what I said,” and she sounded a little more irritated. Was it glamour, which the demi-fey were very, very good at, that gave an edge of bee buzzing to her words?
“So you could see their clothes underneath the plastic?”
She seemed to think about that, then nodded.
“Can you describe the clothes?”
“Clothes, they were clothes, squished behind the plastic.” She rose suddenly upward, her clear dragonfly wings buzzing around her like a moving rainbow halo. “They are big people. They are humans. They all look alike to me.” The high angry buzzing was louder, like an undercurrent to her words.
Lucy’s partner said, “Does anyone else hear bees?”
Robert stood, raising his hand toward the hovering fey like you would to encourage a bird to land on your hand. “Bittersweet, they want to help find the men who did this terrible thing. They are here to help you.”
The sound of angry bees rose high and higher, loud and louder. If I’d been outside, I’d have been running. The tension level in the room had gone way up. Even Frost and Doyle were tense beside me, though we all knew it was a sound illusion that would keep curious big people from coming too close to the small fey, or her plants. It was a noise designed to make you nervous, to make you want to be elsewhere. That was the point of it.There was another loud knock on the door. Lucy said, “Not now.” She kept her eyes on the hovering demi-fey. She wasn’t treating Bittersweet like a child now. Lucy was like anyone who had been on the job long enough; they get a sense for danger. All the best cops I know listen to that crawling sensation on the back of their necks. It’s how they stay alive.
Robert tried again, “Bittersweet, please, we are here to help you.”
Wright opened the door enough to relay Lucy’s message. There was urgent whispering back and forth.
Doyle’s leg was tensed under my hand, ready to spring him forward. The line of Frost’s body had a slight tremor up its entire length where it touched mine like an eager horse. They were right. If Bittersweet used the same power on the detectives that had knocked Doyle and Robert down, they could be badly hurt.
For the first time I wondered if Bittersweet was more than just scared. Once was lashing out in hysteria, but twice? I wondered, was she crazy? It happened to the fey just like humans. Some fey went a little mad in exile from faerie. Had our star witness hallucinated the killers? Was this all for nothing?
Robert moved forward, his hand still upraised. “Bittersweet, my sweet, please. There’s more cake, and I’ll send for fresh tea.”
The angry buzz of bees grew louder. The tension in the room rose on the strength of the sound like a musical note drawn out too long so you almost wanted it to change at any cost rather than simply continuing.
She turned in midair, her wings making a silver and rainbow blur around her body. Tiny as she was, all I could think was that she hovered like one of those fighter planes. The analogy should have been ridiculous for someone four inches tall, but malice rolled off of her in waves.
“I am not some foolish brownie to be calmed by sweets and tea,” she said.
Robert lowered his arm, slowly, because the insult was a true one. Brownies had often taken their payment in sweets and tea, or good liquor in the olden days.
There was some kind of commotion outside the door, raised voices, as if a crowd was trying to get past the policemen whom I knew had to be on the other side. Bittersweet did another of those precise, almost mechanical turns, this time toward the door and the noise. “The killers are here. I won’t let them take my magic and destroy me.” If someone forced the door now she would hurt them, or at least hurt Wright and O’Brian, who were on our side of the door.
I did the only thing I could think of. I spoke. “You asked for my help, Bittersweet.”
The malignant hovering doll turned toward me. Doyle moved slightly forward on the couch, minutely, so that if she had another burst of power he could shield me. Frost’s body was so tense beside me it felt like his muscles should ache with it. I fought not to tense, to be calm, and to send calm out to Bittersweet. She was a buzzing, rage-filled thing, and I wondered again if she was mad. 
“You begged me to stay here and keep you safe. I stayed, and I have made certain that the police did not take you somewhere with more metal and technology.”
She dipped toward the ground, and then hovered again, but not as high, and not as precise. I knew enough of winged beings to know that that was puzzlement, a hesitation. The sound of bees began to fade.
She scrunched her tiny face up and said, “You stayed because I was afraid. You stayed because I asked.”
“Yes,” I said, “that’s exactly right, Bittersweet.”
The voices outside grew louder, more strident. “It’s too late, Queen Meredith. They’ve come.” Bittersweet turned toward the door. “They’ve come to get me.” Her voice sounded distant, and not right. Danu save us, she was mad. The question was, had the madness come before or after she saw her friends dead? The sound of bees began to grow louder again, and there was the smell of summer and sun beating down on the grass.
“They aren’t coming to get you, Bittersweet,” I said, and I sent calming thoughts to her. I wished we’d had Galen or Abeloec with us; they could both project positive emotions. Abe could make warriors stop in the middle of the battle and have a drink together. Galen just made everyone happy to be around him. None of the three of us sitting here could do any of that. We could kill Bittersweet to save the humans from harm, but could we stop her short of that?
“Bittersweet, you called me your queen. As your queen I command you not to harm anyone in this place.”
She looked back over her shoulder at me and her almond-shaped eyes glinted blue with her magic. “I’m not Bittersweet anymore. I’m just Bitter, and we have no queen,” she said. She began to fly toward the door.