Detective Inspector Ray Jones checked his watch and winced at the late hour, he picked up his pace. He should have been home ten minutes ago. A uniformed officer brushed by him, the brief contact sloshing the cup of coffee in Ray’s left hand, splashing its hot contents over his fingers. He muttered a curse, ignoring the officer’s hurried apology.
Training DI Marsh was already seated in the interview when he arrived, tapping her fingernails on the table. Her steely gaze flicked to Ray before darting to the analogue clock on the wall.
Ray ignored the temptation to explain to her why he was late. Juliette Marsh was younger than him, less experienced and technically his subordinate, but that didn’t stop her from expressing her general dissatisfaction with Ray’s work ethic. Pulling out a plastic chair beside Marsh, its legs scuffing the vinyl floor, he placed his coffee on the table and sat, trying to establish a facade of composure whilst straitening his shirt cuffs.
Mind focused firmly on the task at hand, he lifted his gaze to watch the accused woman pace back and forth, the click of her heels punctuating each step. He took a sip of his coffee, stealing a few moments to get a feel for the ambience around the accused before diving right in with the questions. A minor headache was beginning to tighten the back of his neck, he rubbed at the pain and watched the accused snap her attention to him.
Ray momentarily hesitated, unaccustomed to receiving such a penetrative stare. He’d experienced his fair share of disgruntled criminals, received a few punches, been spat at, kicked at, attacked with various weapons but there was something in this woman’s gaze that roused a sense of trepidation within him. She wasn’t someone he would peg as dangerous, her slim fitting clothes, dainty top and snug jeans, revealed a lithe but hardly muscular physique. The sweeping lattice work of tribal tattoos climbing both her bare arms appeared to be the most aggressive thing about her and yet he couldn’t deny the creeping sense if unease.
“Shall we proceed?” Marsh asked, still tapping her fingernails on tabletop.
Ray cleared his throat, leaning back while drawing in a deep breath. “Ivy May,’ he said, letting the accused’s name hang in the air. “Is that your real name?”
Ivy released the DI from her stare and continued her pacing, crossing the room back and forth, strides swift.
Ray rested an arm on the table, rubbing his fingertips together as he watched her march. She was making no attempt at hiding her anxiety, as though it wasn’t the Detectives she feared. Everything about her was in motion, from the darting gaze to the restless tapping of her fingers on her thigh. It had a slightly dizzying effect, forcing Ray to look away and refocus before continuing his questioning.
“Well, Ivy May, we don’t seem to be able to find you registered anywhere, so why don’t you tell us your real name so we can move this process along.”
Ivy wasn’t listening, not really. She heard the DI’s voice, knew the meaning of his words, but nothing in this room was relevant. The upright and professional T/DI Marsh had tried to reach Ivy with smalltalk, but the woman’s words were little more than flies trapped in the room with them. These two people were oblivious to the danger. While they tried to determined who she was, Ivy was struggling to find a way out of this without revealing her true self, and that wasn’t something she could do lightly. The punishment for that would be severe, more severe than if she just accepted the fate the two Detectives were determined to deal her.
She wouldn’t survive prison. She had barely survived the cells they had locked her in overnight. The cold concrete had leeched the warmth from her flesh, the steel door bleeding the light from within her. She couldn’t stay here another night and if they didn’t let her go soon then she would have no choice but to fight for her own survival.
“Ivy,” Ray drew her wayward attention back to him, feeling the full weight of her gaze once more. He shifted in the chair, inexplicably uncomfortable. “Why don’t you tell us who the man was, the one we found you with.”
Ivy stopped pacing. She rubbed her bare arms, fingers lightly brushing across the intricate tribal tattoos as though she could draw strength from the markings. She lifted her head, looking into the pale glare of the artificial fluorescent lights.
“He…” her voice failed her, forcing her to swallow and moisten her lips, “He was nobody.”
Ray couldn’t place her curiously sing-song accent, she certainly wasn’t local. He pushed the mental query aside and continued. “Well, clearly he was someone. Would you like to explain how you came to be found kneeling over his dead body?”
Ivy slid her green eyes back to the male Detective. She hadn’t bothered to really notice him until now. His hazel eyes betrayed an age approaching forty, short brown hair speckled with splinters of grey, whilst his plain dark green shirt and black trousers did little to reveal much of his personality. She did however notice a few top buttons were undone, as were those at his cuffs. His shirt was etched with as many creases as his weary expression. She noticed he wore a gold wedding ring, his fingers often touching the band. Detective Jones had a heavy soul.
He shifted in his seat and Ivy recognised his restlessness as a sign of his instincts warning him off. He would do well to listen.
Marsh’s chair scraped across the floor as she abruptly stood, breaking the heavy silence that had enveloped the interview room. “This is where you stand, Miss May. You were found beside the body of an unidentified man. You have made no attempt to declare whether you’re innocent or guilty, until you tell us otherwise we’re going to treat you as a suspect. Do you understand?”
Ivy pinched her lips together, eyes narrowing on the younger Detective. “Of course I understand.”
“So why don’t you explain what happened?”
It was such a simple question, but there was no hope of the Detectives’ understanding her. She had killed Damien. She was guilty. Partly because it was her job to kill those that defied the laws, but mostly because she had wanted to. Damien had hurt her so deeply, both physically and mentally, she wouldn’t even know where to begin. How do you explain to two mortals the depths at which an eternal being can be tortured. If she tried to explain, they’d lock her up. If she didn’t explain, they’d lock her up.
Ivy’s shoulders dropped, despair pressing down on her. She didn’t want to hurt these people, even the ambitious Detective Marsh. They didn’t belong in her fight, and yet it was her fault they were now a part of it.
Ray frowned, sensing a change in the dynamics between them. The lights above flickered. He leant forward, lifting his chin and meeting Ivy’s gaze full on.
“You can tell us.” He said.
Ivy smiled. She slowed her breathing, accepting the inevitable. The only way out of this room and away from this building was to drop the act and reveal what she was. If the Authority discovered what she had done she’d find herself on the run from both sides, but what choice did she have.
“I like you, Detective Jones.” She said. He misread her tone as an attempt at flattery and let the comment roll off him, Ivy wasn’t concerned. “You should spend more time with your wife.”
Ray closed his hand, wedding ring glinting in the pale light. This woman was right and had the advice come from anyone else he would have ignored them, but there was something woven through Ivy’s words, a thread of truth, as though she knew him. He tried to recall if they had met before, ignoring Marsh’s skewed glances.
Ivy dropped her hands to her sides, the delicate tingling of magic tickling her fingertips. It would be a relief to shake off this mortal guise, like a snake shedding its dried and brittle skin. She called the power within forth, whispering to it, embracing it like a long lost friend and as she did she felt the strength of it swell beneath her skin, swirling around the tattoo ink across her arms, up and over her shoulders. She rolled her shoulders, easing the suffocating layers of illusion from her skin.
Ray’s chair toppled as he jerked to his feet. Had he seen correctly? A purple light seemed to writhe beneath Ivy’s exposed skin, rippling the tattoos like things alive. Marsh backed up, disbelieving what she was seeing unfurl before her.
Ivy’s very appearance shimmered like that of a reflection sinking in a lake. The air around them crackled with energy, the touch of it sending shivers darting through Ray. He found it difficult to look directly at her, shielding his eyes with the crook of his arm. The tattoos had become writhing, living things, dark tendrils reaching outward, tasting the air, whilst others wrapped around Ivy’s arms like armour. Behind her, translucent wings unfurled, fanning outwards, their ragged tips touching the ceiling. Marbled light swirled across their gossamer surface.
Marsh ran for the door, trying to handle only to find it locked against her. She hammered, hollering for help.
Ray couldn’t look away. He had never witnessed anything so beautiful and yet been so afraid. For she appeared like a angel, but there was a darkness about her. Clothing gone, wrapped tightly in the tattoos, he could see how her skin appeared to breathe both light and dark. The wings shivered, dark soot-like dust falling from their edges. Whatever she was, it wasn’t godly.
Ivy reached out a hand to him, palm up, sharp nails glinting like claws. Ray stepped back, trembling limbs flushed with icy fear. He knew he should run, his heart raced, body prepared to flee and yet he couldn’t move.
Marsh had seen enough, she kicked at the door with renewed vigour.
Ivy threw an arm out, the movement casting some invisible force into Ray’s partner, slamming her against the door. She crumpled in a heap, dead, unconscious, Ray wasn’t sure. He forced himself to meet Ivy’s emerald eyes.
“I have a little boy. Please…” he said.
“I’m not going to hurt you.” Ivy lowered her offered hand. “I just wanted you to see that there are more things in this world than you know, some which do not have explanations.”
She opened her arms, summoning the energy swirling around her, breathing it back into her. Her dark wings fluttered and began to fade, dissolving like dreams upon waking. The dark tendrils of armour began to unravel, loose threads spilling free, lashing around Ivy before retreating into the markings running up her arms. Within moments, she was normal again, just a woman. Just a young woman standing relaxed before Ray.
Ray’s breath came in short panting gasps. The normality surrounding them felt cold and alien, nothing would be normal again. As Ivy approached him he made no attempt to move, fear and a curious desire conspiring to delay his instincts to run.
“Detective Ray Jones,” she said, briefly skipping a light touch across the roughness of his jawline, “I cannot be here, with you. It’s time I left. I’m going to walk out that door and you aren’t going to stop me. Trust me when I say the man I killed deserved to die. You continue doing your job and I’ll do mine.”
She turned to leave but Ray snatched her wrist. Ivy looked at his grip as though it had stung her, then met Ray’s gaze once more. He was scared of her, and he didn’t know the half of it, and yet he was prepared to stand up to her. Ivy respected that.
“I can’t let you go.” He said, voice surprisingly calm.
A brightness danced in Ivy’s eyes, a hint of mischief. “You don’t have a choice.”
He didn’t want to physically let go. Their touch felt weighted, a gesture laden with emotion. “What do I tell them?” There would be so many questions. You don’t let a suspect in a murder enquiry walk out the door, not without ramifications.
Ivy flicked her hair back, taking a breath. Ray’s warm touch sparked a surprising reaction deep at her core, in a place of weakness and vulnerability, a place she thought Damien had long ago destroyed. “By tomorrow morning there won’t be a body. No body. No murder. It’s none of your concern. Lose it in paperwork.” She simply couldn’t stay another night surrounded by the manmade barriers of concrete and steel, it would kill her.
Ray bowed his head, unconvinced. He could lose his job over this, his career.
Ivy tipped his chin up, searching his eyes for the source of his sudden sorrow. “Perhaps it’s for the best.”
He reluctantly let her wrist slip from his grip and with it any hope of an explanation. He watched her crouch down by Marsh and touch her arm, instantly his partner began to stir. Ivy left the interview room, the door clicking quietly closed behind her. Ray listened to the retreating click of her heels until all he could hear was the buzzing of the lights above and the sound of his own ragged breathing.
He checked his watch. The second hand continued to tick the passing of time and yet he still should have been home ten minutes ago. He let that thought stew in the back of his mind as he helped Marsh to her feet. She searched the room behind him but there was no indication of the nightmare she had witnessed.
Marsh leant against Ray, her body feeling a little disconnected. “What the hell just happened?”
“You passed out.”
“I did? But I thought…”
He arched an eyebrow, wondering whether the lie would hold. It would have to do for now. He could delete the interview recording later once he’d listened to it. He needed to know it had been real, that she had been real, because with every passing second he began to doubt himself. A glance at his watch, Marsh’s acceptance. He could believe his own lie and life would return to normal.
“I have to get home.”
Marsh nodded, pressing the back of her hand to her clammy forehead. “Sure, I think I’ll do the same. What happened to our interviewee?”
“She didn’t show.”
“Shouldn’t we find out where she is?”
Ray left his partner behind, ignoring the question, searching the faces of those he passed for any sign of suspicion. How had anyone not heard or seen anything. How was that possible? He needed to get outside, to get out of the building and away from its stifling normality.
He refused to believe his own lies. It had been real. Ivy had been real and he wasn’t entirely sure what he intended to do with that information. Had Ivy taken a disliking to him, she could have quite easily killed him, of that he was certain. She spoke of having a job to do, like him. What did it all mean? For now, he would be content to just see his Son again, to make amends with his wife. Tomorrow he would check with the coroner for the status of the body; tomorrow would determine how he lived the rest of his life, but tomorrow could wait.