Little-known fact: Action-mystery is one of my all-time favorite genres to write.
As I was trying to create the characters for this story, a thought occurred to me. I already had a story about a pair of cops who occasionally deal with weird crap. So I decided that rather than build new characters for this tale, I'd pull them in and let you guys see a bit more of them. This led to me rereading my other cop story. It could maybe use a rewrite. And probably several more pages to flesh things out better.
But this isn't about that story. This is an entirely new story. Or maybe just a new chapter in these character's saga.
It was a lot of fun to write. I expect I'll see more of these two in the long run.
inhaled deeply through his nose and exhaled slowly through his mouth.
They always made this part look so easy in cop movies, but it never
was in real life. Your heart pounded in your ears. Thoughts of the
unknown tugged at the corners of your mind. The perp knew they were
there. What if he was armed? They were always armed. What if he was
waiting for them just on the other side of the door? Breathe in.
Breathe out. Follow procedure.
is Detective Wilson of the Los Angeles Police Department,” he
shouted. “We have a warrant for the arrest of Neil Billings, and we
know you're in there. Open the door and come out with your hands up!”
looked across the doorway. His partner, Bruce, shook his head.
Billings wasn't coming out, and in the time it was taking them to
follow procedure, he could be sneaking out the back door or setting
up traps or.... Breathe in. This hadn't been standard procedure from
the start. They had been asking questions at a neighbor's house when
they saw him walk by. For a moment, they had locked eyes, and then
Billings had taken off. Bruce and Terry had not hesitated to follow.
Billings was an incredibly dangerous man. Breathe out.
should have covered the exits and called for backup. First mistake.
Too late now. If they didn't move quickly, that mistake might be
nodded toward the door. Bruce returned the nod. He stepped back from
the door frame and kicked the door firmly just below the handle.
There was a splintering sound as the lock gave way and the door swung
open. Bruce held his gun ready and stepped into the house. Terry slid
out of position to follow, but Bruce wasn't there anymore.
kept his gun ready, eyes scanning. The living room stood before him.
Bookcases lined the walls. An overstuffed couch and a coffee table
sat in the middle of the room. A hallway led off to what looked like
the dining room and kitchen. Stairs led to the upper floors on the
left. A door to a closet or a bathroom was closed on the right.
Nothing moved. There were no footprints on the carpet and no signs of
said Terry softly. There was no answer. Cautiously, Terry stepped
through the doorway.
instinctively ducked his head and closed his eyes as he was hit by a
blast of heat and light. When he opened them, the living room and the
house were gone. Sand blew around him and the sun beat down overhead.
A few feet away, Bruce was standing with a hand shielding his eyes,
scanning the horizon.
big man turned. “I was beginning to think you weren't coming,
Terrence.” He grinned and gestured at the desert landscape around
them. “I don't suppose you thought to bring water with you. Or
maybe a plane to get us out of here.”
looked over his shoulder, expecting to see a door open onto an urban
street, but all he saw was more sand. He waived a hand behind him
experimentally, but all he felt was air. “Have you figured out
where 'here' is?”
shrugged. “My hot-shot detective skills tell me it's a desert,”
he said. “One of the sandy ones.”
“Good job, smart-ass. Any idea where Billings is?”
gestured at the ground with his gun. “Well, boss, one of the great
things about sand is footprints are really easy to find in it.
Barring that, if you squint over at that huge dust storm coming in,
looks like there's some sort of civilization there. And I don't know
much about dust storms, but I don't think standard-issue
detective-style business suits over Kevlar are going to be much
the wind will blow away the footprints.”
Terry holstered his gun and headed off in the direction of the footprints. “Couldn't have done this without you, rookie.”
grinned wolfishly and holstered his gun. “Glad you finally see it
my way, old man.”
the time they reached the town, the winds had kicked up considerably.
The sky overhead had turned from a blindingly clear blue to a dusty
brown, and the footprints they had been following had disappeared as
the sandy landscape began to shift like a gently rolling sea. Terry
held his sleeve in front of his nose in a futile attempt to lessen
the amount of sand he was breathing in. He and Bruce had considered
taking off their jackets and using those, but decided against it in
favor of keeping their shoulder holsters concealed. There were no
procedures for what to do when one found one's self spontaneously in
a desert, possibly in a foreign country, in the middle of a dust
storm, but he was pretty sure asking for shelter while brandishing a
gun wouldn't be very well-received. Not that looking like a pair of
FBI agents was going to help much.
village was surrounded by a wall of tightly-packed, sand-colored
brick. A pair of heavy wooden doors stood in an archway, blocking the
don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Auntie Em,” said Bruce, then
he broke into a fit of coughing.
didn't respond. He walked up to the door and pounded on it with his
fist. They needed to find shelter or they might not last through the
storm. He pounded on it again.
There was a creek of hinges and a peephole slot opened. Dark eyes
looked out. “Please, let us in,” said Terry, pushing aside the
thought that the doorman probably couldn't understand a word he was
saying. “We need to take shelter from the storm.”
slot closed. Metal grated on metal, and one of the doors swung open
just enough for the men to squeeze in. A man wrapped from head to toe
in loose cloth stood behind the door, holding it against the wind. As
soon as they were inside, he pushed it shut. The storm was hardly any
better inside. The man motioned for them to follow and ducked inside
a building built into the wall. Terry and Bruce exchanged glances,
squinting at each other through the sand, then followed.
man shut the door firmly behind them. Outside, the storm beat at the
building, sand rasping against stone, making the heavy wood shutters
on the windows rattle. Inside, the room was small and only lightly
furnished. An arched hallway led away from the room, sloping gently
with the curve of the town's wall. Two chairs sat at a heavy wooden
table. A stone fireplace was nestled in one corner like some sort of
huge bird's nest. A basin and a pitcher sat on a smaller table near a
large ceramic jar. The man unwrapped the cloth from his face. He drew
some water from the jar and poured it into the basin, then dipped a
towel in and ran it over his hands and face. “You are not from
here,” he said in clipped English.
this guy's almost as good as me,” Bruce muttered as he brushed the
sand from his shoulders.
raised a hand to silence him. “No, we aren't,” he said.
man nodded, apparently ignoring Bruce's comment. He rinsed the towel
in the basin and handed it to Terry.
you for letting us in, “ Terry continued.
man shrugged. He refilled the pitcher and began pouring water into a
few ceramic cups. “Ba'atar said to make sure you were taken care of
if you came. I am simply following his wishes.”
man nodded and handed them each a cup. “He said if men in foreign
clothes came, I was to offer them shelter until the storm had passed
and he could meet with them. And here you are, so I have given you
tapped his fingers on his cup. “Who is this Ba'atar?” he asked.
“How did he know we were coming?”
is a wanderer who comes through here from time to time,” said the
man, “usually when something has happened that we cannot fix. He
said maybe some men had followed him through the doors between the
worlds. Given your dress, I must think he meant you.”
Of course he had expected them. They had chased him right to his
front door. But now what? There were no procedures for what to do
when you spontaneously found yourself being held prisoner in a desert
town in God only knew where. Breathe in. It was easier without the
sand constantly blowing around him. Investigate. They still had their
guns, and this man, at least, looked unarmed. Then again, Billings
had killed four men without firing a single shot.
said he shows up when something happens that you can't fix,” he
said. “What happened this time?”
man swirled his cup gently and stared into its depths. “There were
criminals, terrible men. He had tracked them here, and then he chased
them beyond the doors.”
and Bruce exchanged confused looks. “The doors between worlds?”
man nodded. “Ba'atar holds the keys to the doors. It is how he
comes here, even though most everyone else has forgotten our village
that supposed to be a metaphor for something?” said Bruce.
man's eyebrows crinkled up. “A what?”
doors between worlds,” said Bruce. “I mean, does that mean he has
a jet or a car or something that can get us out of here?”
man blinked in apparent confusion. “He holds the keys to the doors
between worlds. Forgive me, I know little of the language beyond the
doors. Perhaps the keys are called 'jet' or 'car' there?”
sure hope so,” said Bruce, “though usually the only thing we call
keys is keys.”
wasn't getting them anywhere. They may have been trapped, but this
man at least seemed willing to provide them with information. And
information could save their lives. Breathe out. Take a step back.
Get a feel for your surroundings. “Where are we, anyway?'” he
said. “Does this place have a name?”
are in the town of Al'eratish in the Desert of Forgotten Ways,”
said the man.
is that in, like, Africa, or the Middle-East?” said Bruce.
man stared at him blankly.
thought back to the house and the blast of heat that had met him when
he stepped over the threshold. “No,” he said. “It's beyond the
doors between worlds.”
Terrence, not you, too.” Bruce sniffed at his cup, and Terry
noticed he had not touched its contents. He didn't blame the younger
man. One got suspicious of a lot of things when they were saddled
with him as a partner. Bruce, unfortunately, seemed to get suspicious
of all the wrong things.
men your Ba'atar was chasing,” said Terry, “what was their
man stared at the floor and said nothing for a long moment. Bruce
tapped a foot impatiently, but Terry leaned back against the stone
wall and waited. The man's eyes flicked to them and then back to the
floor. “They showed up in the desert and asked for shelter, much
like you did,” said the man. “Of course we took them in. There is
little around here, and if one does not know the desert well, it will
take their life without mercy. But they were not men like us, nor
like we had seen before.”
their crime was being different?” said Bruce.
said the man. “Every man has a fire inside him, but the fire in
these men was too great. It overflowed from them through their skin,
and with it they scarred those who did not bend to their will and
consumed those who dared to challenge them. Then Ba'atar came, and
they fled through the doors. Until then, we had thought only Ba'atar
had that skill.”
raised an eyebrow, then shook his head and rubbed his temples. “I
know I'm going to regret asking this,” he said, “but how did this
Ba'atar drive off men who could apparently turn themselves into
is a man of many skills,” said the man. “He also has a great fire
within. He has never used it to hurt any of our people, but he used
that and his blades to drive them away.”
Bruce groaned outwardly, Terry groaned inwardly. This was why he
never got any promotions. Somehow or another, it was always the weird
cases that ended up on his desk. And now he wouldn't just have to
figure out how to explain being dropped into another world. He was
also going to have to amend all his previous reports on this
investigation to somehow account for people who could turn into fire.
those kinds of things totally flew with the Los Angeles police
it too late for me to wake up and find this is all a dream?” said
Bruce. “I want to go back to Kansas now, Auntie Em.”
you wish to go back, you will have to wait for Ba'atar,” said the
man. “Unless you, too, hold the keys to the doors between worlds.”
took another sip of his water and licked his lips. “Look, Mr....
I'm sorry, I don't know your name.”
name is Oton,” said the man. “I am the gatekeeper of Al'eratish.”
Oton,” said Terry. “Nice to meet you. I am detective Terrence
Wilson, and this here is my partner, Bruce Sutter.” He swished the
contents of his cup. “Oton, would you perhaps have something a bit
stronger around here?”
made a gesture Terry decided to take as apologetic and looked away.
“We only have water in the gatehouse today,” he said.
said Terry. He really could use a stiff drink right now, even if
drinking on the job was highly frowned upon. “Look, we know we're
not really in a position to negotiate for things here,” he said,
“but is there any chance we could get a little privacy for a bit?”
was clear that you should not be treated as prisoners,” he said. “I
shall retire to the other room, but please call me if you need
that, he bowed through the arched hallway and disappeared.
pulled out the other chair at the table and sat down. Bruce was still
rubbing his temples. “Well, hot shot,” said Terry, “it seems
like we've got until the sand clears to figure out how we're going to
get home and how we're going to successfully take into custody a man
who is is these people's hero, a swordmaster, and can also become
winds outside lessened from a howl to a hum, and Oton returned to the
room. If he had overheard anything they had said, he gave no sign of
it. Presently there was a knock on the door. Terry and Bruce jumped
to their feet as Oton opened it.
man who entered was garbed in loose, flowing cloths like the ones
Oton wore, but his eyes were a sharp, almost unnaturally pale blue,
and his face was unmistakable. A pair of short blades were strapped
to the small of his back, in plain sight.
Billings,” said Terry.
nodded. “I go by many names, but that is the one you would know me
Detective Wilson and this is Detective Sutter. I suppose you know why
nodded again. “But I'm afraid I cannot let you take me into
custody, detectives. I'm sorry your world got caught up in this, but
I assure you I only did what I had to do. Those men I killed were not
men as you know them, and their crimes spread across more worlds than
just these two.”
told us a little about it. It seems all our investigations into
deaths of civilians burnt and maimed beyond all recognition were for
nothing,” said Terry. “Our world is just a bunch of innocents who
got caught in the crosshairs of some sort of interdimensional
like that,” said Billings.
crossed his arms and paced across the room, keeping his breathing
level. He was only going to get one chance at this. “Detective
Sutter,” he said as he paced, “what is standard procedure in this
boss, usually I' think we'd-- holy shit!”
Bruce spoke, several things happened very quickly. Terry reached the
far wall and pivoted on his heel, pulling his gun out of its holster.
Billings's eyes went wide and he reached behind him toward his
blades. Terry leveled the gun at Billings and pulled the trigger. And
Billings burst into flame.
dropped the gun and held up his hands. Rapidly-warming steel pressed
against his throat as waves of heat washed over him. Through the
flames, Terry could see Bruce fumbling in his suit jacket for his
gun. “Leave it, Bruce,” said Terry. “We're obviously well out
of our jurisdiction.”
pillar of fire before Terry shimmered and condensed. Billings stood
before him again, blade still pressed to Terry’s neck. “What is
the meaning of this, detective?” said Billings. “Answer quickly.”
beaded on his forehead that had nothing to do with the warm air still
swirling around him. Breathe in. “Oton here said there's a fire
that burns in every man's soul, and that yours was particularly
great,” he said. “I just wanted to see if it was true.”
it too difficult to simply ask?” said Billings.
also implied you used it to keep the peace and not to hurt
innocents,” said Terry. “You'll forgive me if I was a bit
skeptical of Oton's explanation. In our world, people don't usually
turn into fire or jump through the doors of urban houses into the
middle of deserts.”
Billings's cold eyes pierced his, but Terry stared back with a level gaze. Slowly, Billings lowered his blade and stepped away. Terry exhaled
slowly through his nose. Behind Billings, Bruce stood with every
muscle tensed like a startled cat, and Oton had pressed himself as
deeply into the corner of the room as the stone would allow.
sheathed his blade and Terry slowly bent to pick up his gun and put
it back in its holster.
cannot let you take me into custody,” Billings repeated.
I said, this is out of our jurisdiction,” said Terry. “Right now
we just need to get home and figure out our paperwork. Oton suggested
you might be able to do something about that, too.”
course,” said Billings. He turned to Oton, who had begun to crawl
out of his corner. “You have a room we can use?”
nodded and gestured down the hallway. “Second doorway,” he said.
“No one uses that room anymore.”
sure they continue that tradition at least until sunset,” said
Billings. He started toward the hall, then stopped. “I'm sorry I
could not come sooner, Oton. Do not let that room stand empty
continued down the hall, and Terry and Bruce fell into step behind
him. Terry cast a quick glance over his shoulder at Oton. The man was
slumped in the corner, face buried in his hands.
son was one of the ones they killed,” Billings said softly.
entered the room and Billings shut the door behind them.
said Bruce, “how does this work?” He still hadn't quite shaken
off the shock from the scene earlier, but his voice, at least, was
stand back,” said Billings. “I go first. You follow after.
Quickly. The door will not stay open for long.”
that, he pulled a book from the folds of his clothes and set it
against the door, balancing it underneath with one hand. With his
other hand he opened it, then flicked the pages. They began turning
of their own accord, faster and faster, while Billings muttered under
his breath in a strange tongue. Terry heard Bruce sigh in annoyance
beside him. Terry said nothing, but stood and watched.
book slammed shut and seemed to dissolve into the door. Billings
lifted the latch and pushed it open. “Follow quickly,” he called
over his shoulder.
hate magic,” said Bruce.
just wait til we get to the paperwork for this,” said Terry. He
took a deep breath and stepped through the door.
smell of smog and car exhaust assaulted his nostrils. He was standing
in the middle of the street near Billings's house. Billings was
already on the sidewalk dressed in plain clothes. A moment later,
Bruce stepped out of nothing and blinked at the change of
surroundings. Terry waved a hand at the space Bruce had stepped out
from. There was nothing there.
only works one way,” called Billings. “And you might want to step
out of the street.”
and Bruce made their way over to the sidewalk.
are back in your world,” said Billings. “Now I must return to
mine. Believe it or not, I have paperwork of my own to take care of.”
world has its semantics,” said Terry.
laughed softly. “Believe me, you have no idea,” he said.
raised his hand in a small salute, then headed up to the door of his
house. Again he removed a book from his clothes and performed the
same strange ritual on the door. Then he opened it and stepped
it looks like we managed to track Billings to his house,” said
Terry. “Care to put your hot shot detective skills to use and poke
around a bit in it?”
had taken a seat on the curb and was dumping the sand out of his
shoes. “I think I'm good for the day, boss.”
nodded slowly. “Yeah, me too.” He kicked at Bruce as he walked
by. “Common, rookie. That paperwork isn't going to rewrite itself.”